Last week we were invited to take a closer look at what drives us, what prompts us to do the things we do – fear or love! If we are filled with hatred for someone or something then our lives are being driven by fear. If we are filled with care and compassion then our lives are being driven by love!
Today in our first reading from the second Book of Kings, we continue the story of Elisha. In the time of Elisha to have children was seen as a blessing from God. Not to have children, to be barren, was like a curse from God. Likewise, wealth was seen as a blessing, an affirmation that you were a righteous person. While this woman was a kind and righteous person, she lacked the ultimate blessing, children.
Elisha, who has been the recipient of the hospitality of this rich woman and her husband, seeks to bless her. When he discovers that she is childless, he calls her and promises that she will embrace a son. This despite their advanced age.
In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter ten contains various events and sayings around what it means to be a disciple – a follower of Jesus. The disciples are sent out on mission and Jesus instructs them on what a disciple does and does not do. They don’t use family relationships or commitments as an excuse not to pay attention to God – to act as a disciple. Jesus highlights the importance of letting go of things that we hold dear/cling to so that we can live out the commandment of love. Hospitality is important and our acts of hospitality bring with them blessings. Being hospitable to the poor literally transforms our lives.
Paul speaks to the Romans about baptism. He reminds them that when we are baptized – we are baptized into the death and new life of Christ. What that means concretely is that we die to sin – we literally turn away from sin and we choose to do those things that are life giving. Our fundamental orientation directs us to do only those things which are good and life giving. While we might sin from time to time, we no longer choose sin as a pathway for our lives. Sin is no longer the dominating force in our lives – love is; life is!
This week I baptized a child. Because of the virus there was his mom and dad and his family and me – the parish community was absent. Despite the small numbers this child was baptized into the Church, the Body of Christ.
He does not yet, really know God!
He does not yet, really know that he belongs to the Body of Christ!
He does not yet really know how to pray!
He does not yet really know what sin is!
He does not yet know what he is to do with his life!
How will he come to know God? How will he come to know and appreciate the blessings of God, the call to follow God, the difference between sin and grace, the importance of love and hospitality, the meaning and purpose of his life? He will rely first and foremost on his family. Secondly, he will rely on the parish community. If his parents don’t teach him then the journey he began this week will be a difficult one! If the parish does nothing to support the family then the journey he began this week will be a difficult one!
What we as adults do and don’t do has a huge impact on the children we baptize. Our children learn lots of things from us – we are teaching them intentionally and unintentionally!
Over 30 years ago I walked my little niece to school after lunch. She was in grade one. As I walked her to the door of the school we passed some of her classmates. One little boy was punching his classmate over and over again. It was a Catholic school, I am a priest, one kid was getting beaten up and nobody was doing anything and my niece was concerned. I suggested he stop. He turned to me as defiant as could be and began to swear using words that I am pretty sure he did not learn from his teacher in the classroom.
Did his family sit down and teach him those words? Probably not! But he heard them somewhere!
When we spread rumors, when we repeat gossip, when we share information that is not true, when we shame or belittle people, when we use verbal, emotional or physical abuse we are teaching our children, our society how to live.
When we forgive, when we are patient, when we care for the poor, when we respect people who are different, when we are curious, when we seek to learn, when we seek to settle conflicts with dignity and honor, when we make room for opinions that are different from the ones we hold we are teaching our children, our society how to live.
Our birth marks the beginning of our human life and it is a wonderful thing. Our baptism marks the beginning of our Christian journey and it is a wonderful thing. Our founder St. Eugene de Mazenod says that we have three tasks. We are to teach people to be human, we are to teach people to be Christian and we are to teach people to be saints.
Whether we have just been Confirmed, whether we are just finishing high school, whether we are getting married, having our first child or becoming grandparents – the things we say on Facebook, in person, in the Church, in the school, at work, at the lake – they have an impact on others and they shape the color of our lives, the color of our faith. We are disciples 24/7. We are responsible for one another.
In our first reading the old couple provided a meal, they provided shelter for a stranger and they recognized him as a holy man. In the gospel, Jesus emphasized the importance of not making excuses for those times we have chosen to forget about God and about our poor neighbour. Paul reminds us that we are baptized – we choose life and love not sin and death.
As this week unfolds let us pay attention to what we choose – what do our words and actions say about what we value? What are our words and actions teaching our children? What are we doing to shape the lives of our children as people, as Christians and as saints?
Today, June 28th is the feast day of St. Irenaeus of Smyrna (Bishop and Martyr)! He is famous for saying, “the Glory of God is the human person fully alive!” When we are fully alive we love others as Christ has loved us! Take some time to notice the fierce love Jesus has for you and for your family!
I want to give the people who are taking part in our liturgy from home a sense of what we are living this morning. When people arrived at the Church I greeted them from a distance. I checked their names off a list and reminded them of many things:
While we may find this moment difficult or odd given our liturgical history, while we may not like this moment; while this moment is unfamiliar it is our moment. We are doing these unusual things, because we love one another and we are concerned about the safety of each other. This is our best effort given what we know. While we are afraid of what this virus can do to people we love, these actions are rooted in love.
In our first reading, from the book of the prophet Jeremiah we get a sense of what happens for the prophet Jeremiah as he responds to God’s call. He experiences the threat and intimidation of those who oppose his words – words he is speaking on behalf of God. In the midst of this fear of his opponents, Jeremiah speaks of his confidence that God is with him, taking his side.
In the Gospel, Jesus reminds his followers to Fear No One. It is almost like a command. He reminds the people not to be afraid of those who can harm the body. They should fear those who can kill the soul. In other words, fear the evil one – the one who can distract you, stealing your soul, the capacity to love, to be compassionate, to be generous, and to care. Stealing your goodness – those are the people you need to fear.
In our second reading, St. Paul tells the Romans that Jesus – his life, death and resurrection have brought life. Sin and death have entered the world through one man; Adam. Life has entered the world through one man; Jesus. As I prayed with sacred scripture this week my imagination was captured by the theme of fear and what it often does to us.
As a child I remember being afraid of the dark, of bees, of chickens, of doing things wrong, of being the centre of attention, of not impressing/pleasing my mom and dad, and of getting in trouble at school which would displease my parents. These fears at times paralyzed me. I retreated into myself. I hid myself from the world. I said very little. I did not connect much with others. I worked hard but I worked quietly.
My childhood fears have been replaced by different concerns. The dark, chickens, bees, pleasing mom and dad are no longer uppermost in my mind. Today, I still want to do what is right, I want to do a good job, I want to please God, I don’t want to leave anyone behind, I don’t want to hurt anyone, I want to lead people to God and to freedom. I want people to serve God out of love and not out of fear. I do not want to stand in someone’s way as they journey towards God.
Jeremiah is afraid. He says that God is beside him so he is not afraid. While his confidence in the nearness of God is praiseworthy, we see the evidence of his fear in his desire that his enemies be crushed. Fear hardens our hearts. Fear creates shame, blame, resentment, hurt, anger and exclusion. Fear makes us hard, spiteful, vengeful, and resentful.
Jesus says, do not fear those who can harm the body, rather be afraid of/worry about/be concerned about those who can harm the soul. Fear harms the soul.
We are not good at dealing with our fears. We often deny them. That is not helpful. Paul says that Jesus has given us a way to deal with our fears. He invites us to love. Paul invites us to imitate Jesus.
Fear hardens our hearts. When we are fearful, mercy and compassion disappear and forgiveness goes out the window. When we are afraid we freeze up and we alienate others, we drive people away and we exclude. When we are afraid we create our own hell; we miss seeing the God who dwells within us and around us.
Swirling around us today are concerns about systemic racism, about our economy, about our right to do what we want, when we want and how we want, about our health and many other things.
As we face these fears let us remember that our God is with us. John tells us God is love. When our hearts are soft, caring, generous, patient, forgiving, merciful, compassionate, inclusive we know we are loving. When we blame, shame, accuse, harden our hearts, exclude we know that fear is driving our car.
Whether we are here in this Church or reclining in our favorite chair we are called to love. As I interview the children in preparation for the celebration of the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist I remind them - the Spirit comes to awaken in us our mission to serve one another. Jesus feeds us so that we can serve one another. Each time we serve our brother and sister in need we give our God exquisite thanks and praise.
This week let us praise our God often as we love one another unconditionally.
In our first reading today, Moses reminds the people of Israel of how God led them through the desert (40 years); he talks about the long journey. The purpose of that long journey was to help the people remember who their Lord and God is. When they were enslaved, God freed them. When they were hungry, God fed them. When they were alone, God accompanied them. When they were thirsty, God gave them water. When alone in the wilderness, God stood by them and protected them. They did not understand or appreciate the ways of God, but all that happened was for their own GOOD, even though they did not see it at the time!
In Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, Jesus reveals that he is the bread of life; he bread for their hunger and wine for their thirst; his flesh and blood will provide for them. In the same way God provided for the people of Israel long ago, God is providing for you today; in a new way. Your ancestors did not appreciate the bread and water they received, the protections they received; will you appreciate what you are being given today? Jesus promises that those who eat and drink of his Body and Blood will live forever! This is a new teaching, a new promise. Will they trust it?
In our second reading, Paul asks the Corinthians, “Is not the bread we eat and the cup we drink, is it not a sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ?” He leaves that question for them to ponder. Paul reminds them that because there is one bread and one Body – we are One.
I have celebrated mass almost every day since I was ordained (37 years). When I consider those masses and all the people who took part in those liturgies I wonder; I wonder what they hoped for, what they were expecting to see, to hear, to do at mass.
During this pandemic we have been sharing in the mass online or on TV. Hundreds of people have taken part in this mass, virtually. Some have watched and made comments. Some have clicked on one of the available emojis. Some have sung along, some have spoken the responses as if they were at mass, some have sat and stood and prayed aloud and some have simply watched; silently taking it all in.
People have told me, that from this community, the mass has been shared in other parts of Saskatchewan. People from Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, British Columbia, and from countries around the world, have shared in the celebration of the Eucharist, reminding us that we are one Body. As this virtual mass ended, we have made every effort to take the Word we have heard and put it into practice. Even though we were not physically present in this space, we were touched by God, we connected with others and in response, we reached out to family and friends and strangers.
If you are comfortable doing so, I invite you to type in the comment section, your nearest town or city. Let your brothers and sisters , who are taking part in this liturgy virtually, experience firsthand the wonder of the Body of Christ. We have been brought together by Jesus Christ. Our image of what Church is has grown. It goes far beyond Meadow Lake, Green Lake and Waterhen Lake. We are a wonderful mix of people – of language, race, age, orientation, way of life and system of beliefs! We, all of us, are the Body of Christ. We, all of us, are the Blood of Christ
As we prepare to gather physically, in limited numbers, we are invited to ask ourselves, ‘what am I expecting to think, feel, see?’ Will we recognize in the proclamation of the Word, the very presence of God? Will we recognize in the masked people who are 2 meters distant from me, the presence of God? Will we recognize in the priest who now celebrates so differently, the presence of God? When we silently receive the host, gently placed in our hands, will we recognize the Body of Christ and what this gesture means? When our movements, postures and gestures are changed and limited, our songs silenced and our Church space modified, will we recognize the God who cannot be contained or completely understood?
Or will we who are so devotedly Catholic, be so disturbed by the changes that our reaction will prevent us from believing and praying and celebrating? Will we forget that the God who communicates in and through such ordinary means is much more than a place, a space, a language, and a way of doing things!
The liberation from Egypt and the journey to the Promised Land was so not what the people of Israel had imagined. The manna was not like the food they were used to! God gave it as food! God’s idea of protection was so different from their idea of protection. Jesus was so not like the messiah they were expecting. Jesus proclaimed that he was the new liberation – not from a country or a leader, but liberating the people from sin and death. Jesus proclaimed his Body and his Blood, his way of being, was the new food the people needed if they were to really live. Jesus proclaimed that something new was happening. And what was the response of the people? They struggled to believe.
Paul said our sharing the Eucharist is a sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ – the very life of God. Paul said, because we share this One Bread, this Body and Blood, we are one Body, we are ONE people.
When we come to Eucharist, virtually or physically, many things will be different. God is inviting us to be liberated, to be changed, to become one with him, to be his Body and Blood for the life of the world. I cannot share in this Eucharist except that I walk away a different person. If I come to mass to feed me – God will encourage me to feed others. If I come to mass to feed others – God will feed me. If I come to mass so I can change you – God will invite me to change. When I come to mass and allow God to change me, I will go out and you will see a difference.
God knows what we are up against today. God is alive in our world; feeding us in marvelous ways. He feeds me when:
During this pandemic, God has asked us, not to come to Church but to be CHURCH, to be ONE BODY, to be his Body and Blood, feeding one another.
As we (some of us) prepare to return to our Church buildings, we imagine returning to what was; to that which is familiar. It is not going to happen. We cannot go back. While we will receive his physical Body, which is not an end in itself but a reminder that God is feeding us, here in this Building and in the world beyond these walls; feeding us, that we might feed one another, our lives are no longer the same. There will be no return to what was. Our lives will be new and our Future will be new!
God is pleased when we come and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. God is pleased when we become Body and Blood, food for those around us who hunger and thirst. We don’t get to heaven because we are perfect. We get to heaven because we have become ONE BODY, caring for and feeding those who are most in need in the world around us.
Let us ask our God to make of us, his Body and his Blood!
Throughout the Sundays of the Easter Season, the Church invites us to examine the various aspects of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Church wants to help us explore and understand what the death and resurrection of Jesus might mean for us at this moment. How do we understand it, experience it, celebrate it, proclaim it, and live it, not just in the Church building but also in our homes, at work, when we are having fun and when we are struggling? Asking what the death and resurrection of Jesus means for us now is not a once and done event. It is an ongoing event – we do it when we are 10, 30, 50, 70 and 90…we do it until Jesus calls our name and takes us to the place he has prepared for us in heaven.
In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the story opens with this image of the apostles gathered in a house; they hear throughout the house the sound of a VIOLENT WIND. Not a gentle breeze or a wind – rather it is a violent wind. The storyteller continues reminding us that tongues, like fire, come to rest on them. As a result, they begin to do extraordinary things. The coming of the Holy Spirit is not a peaceful thing…it shakes up the people and it shakes up the house. The result is new life, new capabilities for all those who experience the Holy Spirit. How many people gathered here have experienced the Spirit shaking up their lives in this way?
In the Gospel reading, John gives his account of how the Holy Spirit comes to the disciples. It would seem that the group is larger than just the apostles – it includes other followers of Jesus; the ‘who’ is not clear. They are gathered and they are afraid. Jesus comes to them and twice he wishes them peace. The first time is a simple greeting of peace. The second time he greets them with peace and then he gives them a mission – he sends them as the Father has sent him. John tells us that Jesus breathed on them – giving them the Holy Spirit. Connected to the gift of the Spirit is the ability/the mission to forgive others. As we know from experience, forgiveness given, received or withheld, changes everything, the way we live and the way we die.
In our second reading, St. Paul speaks to the Corinthians about the Spirit. He tells them that the gift of, the presence of the Holy Spirit enables them to recognize Jesus as Lord of their life. Does that mean without the gift of the Spirit we cannot recognize who Jesus is? Not at all! The Spirit does shape how we see and understand Jesus.
Paul tells the Corinthians we receive the Gift of the Spirit for the common good – the good of others and not for ourselves. Paul affirms that there is one God and one Spirit blessing and gifting all of us.
So what do these readings have to teach us, gathered as our virtual community this morning?
First of all, the Spirit comes to each of us in different ways. Sometimes with a huge disruption to our life and sometimes quietly, peacefully and all things in between. In all instances the gift of the Spirit is for the good of others, to help others understand the God of Love, the God of forgiveness, the God who gives gifts. In all instances when the Spirit comes our lives are changed – something shifts within us.
If we need the gift of the Spirit to recognize Jesus then let us celebrate that gift of the Spirit as soon as possible – let us pray for the gift of the Spirit – let us recognize that we are not in charge of the Spirit – the Spirit is in charge of us.
The Spirit diminishes the power of fear and strengthens our courage. The Spirit diminishes confusion and anxiety and strengthens peace; always. If we are not at peace then we need to make room for the work of the Spirit. The gift of peace has little to do with nice, with control, with order, with easy. The gift of peace has little to do with ‘keeping things the way they have always been’. Peace is the awareness that ‘God is with us.’ Peace is not the absence of struggle.
God is at work in our world. We have to be really careful when we talk about who God is because God does not play by our rules. While we often think we know what God wants and who God is, the fact is, God surprises us. Violent wind and tongues of fire – new energy and the capacity to do things never done before, quietly, peacefully, diminishing fear and strengthening courage – bringing goodness. Our God is alive!
If you are wondering about your behavior – the things you do and whether or not God is okay with them…today’s readings give us a little test…
As we continue our prayer let us ask God for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Remember God does not play by our rules. If you pray expect that God will shake up your life – the way you do things – the way you treat people – the way you see yourself; God will do it.
Remember also that the Spirit brings forgiveness and sends us to be ‘forgivers of people’.
Finally remember the Spirit is about NEW LIFE – about GOOD NEWS! The Spirit is about news that is good for all people – not just those of us who have our lives all figured out and are perfect in every way. The Spirit challenges the self-righteous attitudes that sometimes find their way into our lives and prompts us to see that we are all sisters and brothers – even those people who see things differently than we do.
This week let the Spirit live in you!
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI