Redwood Journal

Writings by Harry Martin, Dcn.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Sunday ~ 15 August 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass (Mass during the day): I: Revelation 11: 19a; 12: 1 – 6a, 10; Responsorial: Psalm 45: II: I Corinthians 15: 20 – 27: Gospel: Luke 1: 39 – 56

By: Juan de Jesus Munera Ochoa

August 15th on the Church calendar is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This year this great celebration comes to us on a Sunday. The origins of this feast are veiled in antiquity. However, there are numerous indications that it was celebrated in the church as early as AD 500. Belief in the Assumption has been a part of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity for centuries. Mention of the event is found in the writings of the early church fathers as early as the second century. In the Catholic faith, Pope Pius XII affirmed this as infallible teaching in 1950.

The actual date of the death and assumption of the Virgin Mother is uncertain. Long-held tradition places her dormition anywhere from three to fifteen years after the resurrection of her Son. The location is uncertain as well but tradition places it either in Jerusalem or Ephesus. That there is the church with Mary’s empty tomb in Jerusalem tends to add merit for many.

The Church of the Tomb of the BVM and her empty tomb

It is, in many ways, fitting that the temporal specifics are less than clear as this profound event is first and foremost a lesson of thresholds. The death and assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a vivid reminder of that eternal threshold of which we are called to cross, the threshold of eternity. It is also a passionate message of the desire of God that when that threshold is crossed it be into Heaven for eternity.

The Assumption of Mary is believed to have occurred after her actual death. Tradition (Catholic and Orthodox) holds that the apostles witnessed her passing. It was, from the beginning, always seen as a powerful and distinct affirmation of the fullness of holy grace that infused this young Jewish woman and enabled her to be a living tabernacle for Emmanuel, God with us. It is, then, a celebration of Mary, the Theotokos, (Mother of God). It is a blessed time to acknowledge Mary, the Queen of Heaven and the Mother of all believers.

But in Mary’s powerful affirmation at her Annunciation when she was told by the angel that she would bear the Messiah she responded: “My soul does magnify the Lord…”. It is therefore not surprising that at her passing and assumption into Heaven Mary continued to magnify Christ. And, as she always did seek to bring us ever closer to her Son.

The Assumption of Mary is a dynamic and resounding affirmation and lesson of the resurrection of Jesus. It is also an undeniable message of the intent of God for the faithful to share in the resurrection victory. As Scripture proclaims: “Death is swallowed up in victory!” The taking into Heaven by the angels of God for the Mother of Jesus illustrates this truth in the boldest of ways. The great painter Caravaggio captures this holy story in his painting of the Assumption.

The Assumption by Caravaggio

In the classic Caravaggio dark setting, the apostles mourn the death of Mary. Mary Magdalene is seen distraught beside her. But already, in the background, some are sensing this is not as usual! The reality of Marys’s death cannot be denied. But already there is an holy wind of hope stirring their souls as they start to look upward. The angels were coming! The Annunciation of Mary clearly proclaims the resurrection hope and promise for the faithful.

But this hope we share with our Blessed Mother is also for our soul. Church teaching is very clear. Mary was assumed, body and soul into Heaven to reign with God. God created our soul for eternity. Through the birth, death and resurrection of Christ all stain of sin is conquered. This brings us to know we are called to be seated with Him, with Mary, in heavenly places as St. Paul expresses in his epistles. Our soul, created, loved, redeemed by God is intended to be present and rejoicing in the heavenly kingdom. Body and soul Mary, the first disciple of Christ leads the way once again in her assumption.

The promise, the plan, our heavenly hope, shared by Mary at her Assumption is that the fullness of who we are, body and soul, in heaven will be freed to experience the fullest freedom found in the Holy Spirit. Mary shows us what St. Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica what it is to be set apart for God, spirit, soul and body.

We will then proclaim, to the eternal glory of God, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”

Reverence, Respect, Renewal

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 8 August 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: I Kings 19: 4-8; Responsorial: Psalm 34; II: Ephesians 4: 30 – 5:2; Gospel: John 6: 41 – 51

Jesus ~ The Bread of Life

The prophet Elijah, in our first Bible reading, is overwhelmed and exhausted. He has been faithful to God in proclaiming the need for repentance for the people of Israel and the great hunger of God to forgive and bless. But they have persisted in their sins and rebellion. And Elijah is worn out. He has run away into the desert. He sits under a broom tree praying to God to die. God, in His mercy, as He at times does with all of us, declines Elijah’s prayer. Instead, God sends an angel and commands the prophet to get up and eat the meal God has provided. Elijah obeys and is led, by God, on a forty-day journey, sustained by the one holy meal, to Mt. Horeb. Elijah, like all believers and servants of God, experienced and grew in the holy graces of reverence, respect, and renewal.

Our Gospel readings these past few weeks have blessed and challenged us with the Biblical truth, Jesus is The Bread of Life. Jesus, in this famous discourse from John chapter 6, teaches without any equivocation that His actual Body and Blood are real and truly present in the Eucharist. As Catholics, we believe in this holy promise. As Catholics, we believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine. We believe they really and really are the Body and Blood of our Savior.

But, as it was when Jesus proclaimed this truth, so it is now. There are many who say it is, at most, only a remembrance that we are called to share. There are many who may believe but are struggling perhaps with basic doubts or simply with the weariness at the way some Catholics (and other Christians) argue over these matters or the ways of worship to which we are called.

The belief, the awareness, of Christ’s Real Presence is often obscured by intense daily cares and worries. It also can be veiled by actual ignorance, irreverence, and even abuse.

However, none of these challenges or problems in any way diminish the holy fact, Jesus is truly Present in the Eucharist. Jesus is the Bread of Life! Our ability to believe and realize, with ever-growing faith, this glorious gift, is what God calls us to, just as He called Elijah. We are on a journey of faith. We are called, together, to experience this personal relationship with Christ, the Living Bread. We are called, as the refrain from our psalm affirms, “to taste and see the Lord is good”.

Why, then, is it so difficult to actually experience this promise and provision of God? The reasons may be many. And many well-written, well-expressed reasons have been shared. But perhaps that is part of the problem. It isn’t about our human reason, alone. It is about our relationship with God. Perhaps we need to allow God to simply bring us to His holy meal and feed us. And all we need really bring is our reverence, our respect, and our willingness to be renewed.

St. Paul, in the epistle to the Ephesians, commands: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…”. I sadly sense that God’s precious Holy Spirit is grieved however by a lack of reverence for the Body of Christ, for the Eucharistic Presence, and for the Body of Christ, the Church, the people of God. There have been allowed, for far too long strife and divisions between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. And within each of these places, there are even more divisions. Within the Catholic Church there is strife over the ways and traditions of worship. Where there should be reverence and respect bringing renewal there is judgment, strife, and the quenching of God’s Spirit. Instead of grieving the Spirit of God we are called, again, to be a people of reverence, respect, and renewal.

REVERENCE ~ There is a frequent lament and complaint of the alleged lack of reverence at Mass. Noisy chatter, children running up and down the aisles, use of cell phones are all sad examples of what too often occurs before and at Mass, saddening the Spirit of God. And for some, there is a frequent focus on the lack of “proper” postures or the lack of correct language, such as Latin. There is often consternation at the style (or lack thereof) of dress some may have when coming to God’s house. The matter of head-coverings for women is another example and a concern for some. All of these reflect some aspect of the externals of reverence. They all contain valid concerns. But none of them are worthy to distract us of our worship of God, our reverence for Jesus in His Word and in the Blessed Sacrament. It is a holy and good custom if women want to cover their heads for worship or for people to wear their “Sunday best”. It wasn’t that long ago that those styles were the norm in all churches and in society in general. They are good but they should be seen as only diverse expressions of our inner worship. Life and styles change some for good, some not, and some that don’t really matter. What matters is the posture of the heart and soul before God. Are we clothed in garments of compassion, kindness and forgiveness instead of judging and pride?

RESPECT ~ This brings us to a word that is actually considered synonymous with reverence…RESPECT. In our worship of God we need have true reverence for the reality and Presence of God in Word and Sacrament. But we also need to share deep respect (reverence) and recognition for the Presence of Christ in each other. This will quench the temptations to judgment and strife, to pride and spiritual cliques that may seek to oppress. As we, properly realize and worship the Real Presence of Jesus in the Chalice and Host, as we kneel before the Tabernacle containing those consecrated Hosts so we should remember and reverence the Presence of Christ in each other, these living tabernacles. We should respect, deeply, the truth that we are Temples of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul, again, admonishes us to be a people and place of compassion, forgiveness and kindness. True reverence for the Real Presence of Christ will lead us to look to Christ in the Eucharist and in each other. It will lead us to faithfully see that what may be improper dress, posture or talking of others, in our eyes, is their best for the place they are today. And it will affirm for all of us our journey to be renewed.

RENEWAL ~ When we come, seeking God in growing reverence for His Presence and respect for His people we will be fed, as Jesus promised. We will truly “taste and see the goodness of the Lord”. We will experience God’s renewal in our hearts and in our faith communities. When we come to Mass with a clear intent to expect to meet God, to receive the Bread of Life, we will be nourished, guided, and strengthened. But we must come in an active, seeking faith. We need always come to Christ expecting to grow…even change. You may realize that you want, you need to quietly wait, kneeling in prayer. You may sense that yes, you do have something better to bring to Christ in what you wear. There may be those women who wonder if God might be please if they wore a mantilla, or for some it isn’t necessary. For all of us we are renewed as we allow the Holy Spirit to renew and refresh both the reverence of our hearts and actions and the respectful realization of Jesus in each other.

As we allow this quiet, holy miracle to be in our lives we will grow in our reverence and respect for God, not just at church but in all the places God will lead. We will grow in the glorious, holy adventure to bring and see God’s Presence in creation, in our families and neighbors, even in our world. And we will see, as we grow in reverence from the heart, and respect from our soul, we will see renewal in our midst. And we will then understand that our reverence for God, our respect for His Presence in each other, cannot be contained to a language, a style, a place, or our understanding. For it is a result of our relationship with God and the joy the Holy Spirit will bring as the life of Christ grows in our midst.

I AM the Bread of Life

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 1 August 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Exodus 16: 2-4, 12-15; Responsorial: Psalm 78; II: Ephesians 4: 17, 20-24; Gospel: John 6: 24 -35

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.'” [John 6:35]. These summer weeks of Ordinary Time the Holy Spirit would seek to focus our hearts upon the Eucharistic Heart of Scripture, the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. And this week we hear the clear call of Jesus to know Him, the Bread of Life. This is one of the great “I AM’s” of Holy Scripture. These statements found throughout the Old and New Testaments invite us to know God in a deeper, clearer way. Today let us explore this invitation and promise from God to receive and be nourished by Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.

There is great hunger in the world. The threat or reality of inadequate food, of physical famine, is very real in many parts of this earth. The threat of inadequate food is fueled by droughts and floods disrupting the growth of basic food and sustenance. But even greater is the hunger, the famine, found in the human soul unaware or separated from the provision of God for eternal life. The great surge of violence, fear, greed, and lusts each illustrate the intense hunger pangs of humanity for sustenance that fills, not just the stomach, or bank account but the human soul with the bread of angels.

And we read, we hear, at least in our minds, the promise of Jesus. “I AM the Bread of Life.” “Whoever comes to me will never hunger and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Yet in our churches, in our own lives, we may realize there is hunger. There is thirst. What is wrong? Is Jesus being less than honest?

Jesus is indeed and in truth The Bread of Life. The light of the Word of God in our readings brings us insights that we may know in our hearts the truth of Jesus and to be fed.

First we must look to our hunger. We humans are always seeking and hungering. And often we may consume, or even feast on…garbage. There is no fast food of faith. Christ is not going to be found in a microwave meal or an APP of an apple. We must let the Spirit of God lead us from the junk food of the so-called meals of this world to the holy altar of the Bread of Life. We must learn to hunger for the simplicity of living for God and for listening to God.

To find and receive Christ the Bread of Angels we must, like the people of Israel in our first reading LISTEN to, and LISTEN for God. In our prayer life, do we spend most of the time talking? Or do we allow God to set the table of our heart as we wait, in silence? Like the Israelites, we must allow God to lead us beyond ourselves and the noises of the world into our wilderness where we learn to hear God’s Word and bring us to His place for us, His meal that alone will satisfy.

We then realize, ever more deeply, we are called to be a people of FAITH. We follow, we seek Christ, not just with temporal feelings but with souls growing in trust of Him who beckons us to see beyond what our eyes may see, who embrace the substance of Him who may not always be felt. This is profoundly celebrated as we see the consecrated Host elevated above the altar or the Holy Blood of Jesus in the chalice. And it is also shared with each other as together we come to that holy communion offered and found in Jesus the Bread of Life. The eyes of faith are essential, as we look to the consecrated Host. The eyes of faith are essential as we see each other, all those “WHOEVERS”, Jesus said could come.

And it is as we cherish and reverence His very Real Presence in the holy meal AND in each other, we grow to be a people of PRAISE to God. It is a sad lesson we read in our first reading that the people set free from slavery to Egypt had become a gathering of grumblers and complainers. Far too often in our churches, our faith communities we hear litanies of complaints or choruses of grumblings. Problems, trials, failings are all part of the journey. But instead of being the ingredients of our meals together, we need to trust God to use them to bring us to His Presence and His provision. The people of Israel would never have had the experience of the miracle of the manna in the wilderness, without their hunger and need. And it was the need of God’s mercy and forgiveness that brought His Son to shed His blood and allow His body to be broken, to bring us eternal life. Thus it is, early in the Mass we proclaim the Gloria:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.
We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.
Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mer
cy on us.
For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Today let us each listen for and hear God and His holy angels calling us to worship. May we come to Mass expectantly anticipating, knowing, that God is Present and that in His Real Presence, The Bread of Life, Jesus will feed us.

The Abundance of God

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 25 July 2021~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: II Kings 4: 42-44; Responsorial: Psalm 145; II: Ephesians 4: 1-6; Gospel: John 6: 1-15

We are so often occupied with the needs and cares of life. This brings us to be focused upon our resources and abilities. It also often fuels an intense need to maintain a semblance of control and independence. This seems especially so in the western world. Our choice of what we do, where we go, with whom we share, and even what and when we eat is so often the passion of life for so many. When, in life, we are brought to a place of dependence it is usually experienced as an imposition upon ourselves and even as a trial.

We see this in the pandemic that is still with us. We see it in the great fires, the drought in the west, and the floods in other places, as humanity is brought to the place of realizing we need help and we need to help each other. And we experience particularly when we realize our need for and our need to share for God.

Scripture for this holy day speaks of the hunger and needs of humanity. And God’s Word speaks of the abundance of which God longs to provide for, and through, the faithful. The refrain from our responsorial psalm sings: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” God knows and understands the needs we have. And from His holy hands, Jesus wants to meet those needs. It is through His sacred Body, His hands, the Body of Christ our Lord reaches out to feed, heal, encourage, to provide. St. Paul, in the reading from Ephesians, affirms the Spirit in which this occurs. As we allow the Holy Spirit to unify the faithful in humility, gentleness, and patience we are then freed to unite in one Spirit of peace, sharing our one calling to experience and share the abundance of God. It is then we realize in the offering of ourselves, sharing what God has given we see His hand multiply with many graces to meet the needs around and within us.

In the Gospel, as we read of the thousands of souls hungering for a meal, we are reminded of our own limitations. We are reminded that sometimes in life we aren’t in control. The disciples with Jesus were very likely stressed as they saw the immense throng of people. They had been listening to Jesus with rapt attention. But they all knew hungry people can quickly become crabby people. So when Jesus asked “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” they were stressed. Their stress was not helped as the well-understood Jesus knew there was nowhere close by to by food enough for the multitude. They, like His followers today, had been brought to a place beyond their resources and abilities. And they had been brought to a place to share what little they found.

It is vital to see from where God provided His abundance. It wasn’t from a committee to deal with hunger. It wasn’t from a learned scholar or theologian. God provided with the love, the faith, the obedience of a boy who was willing to share his lunch with God.

The abundance of God is beyond our ability to measure, quantify, organize or express. But it is for us to experience and share, in our daily bread, as we walk with Christ. The feeding of the multitude is a reminder of this abundance God longs to share. But it is also a powerful lesson of all that was and is to come. The multitude was focused, yes on listening to Jesus, to a point. But they were hungering for more. They wanted to see miracles. Little did they realize their physical hunger would be used by God to seek to minister and feed the hunger of their soul and spirit.

God meets us where we are to bring us to where we should be, with Him. Jesus did not instruct the apostles to choose or decide who was worthy to be fed. He simply told them to have the crowds to…sit and rest. The meal of God was not rationed or restricted. We see this in the Old Testament reading and we see it in the Gospel. In fact, there was so much leftover that 12 baskets of barley loaf fragments were gathered, that nothing be wasted. They all saw the abundance of God!

We must never withhold this abundance of God. And we must never waste it either. In the abundance of His, Word, the Bread of Life, in the Holy Spirit in Whom we are called to be one, in the Real Presence of His Eucharist we are called to receive and share…Christ. Yes there will be the doubtful, there will be those unworthy or failing in their understanding or acceptance of all of God’s teachings or of our specific understandings. There will be those in the crowd struggling simply to believe. There will be…each of us. But as we both receive and share God’s abundance with others we will realize and grow in the Truth who is God and the freedom of His daughters and sons. Then, as His son or daughter, we can grow on to share our meal for and with God. We will grow in the abundance of God!

Shepherds for God

16th Sunday of Ordinary ~ 18 July 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Responsorial: Psalm 23; II: Ephesians 2: 13-18; Gospel: Mark 6: 30-34

The Light of Scripture shines brightly this weekend on a topic of great relevance, that of Shepherds for God.

The Old Testament reading in Jeremiah confronts the pain and damage inflicted by false shepherds who scatter and divide the flock belonging to God. As the prophet addresses this cruel reality he also affirms that God will provide His Shepherd / King who will bring the faithful to their place of peace and justice.

St. Paul in the epistle brings our focus on the heart of Christ our Shepherd who longs for the church, the family, the flock of God, to be one. It is clear that enmity and strife, the spirit of “them and us” have no place in the flock of God. Jesus, through His cross, would gather together into His peace and holiness all, making us one in Christ.

And it is in our Gospel reading from Mark we see Jesus, shepherding His disciples to rest and renewal but also seeing the immense need and hunger of humanity for the grace and love of shepherds for God. These three readings challenge and encourage us to recognize that very real perils exist in our world and that there would be those false shepherds who would lead, not for and into Christ and His Kingdom but for their own agendas, designs, and gain.

For many people, especially in the “developed” world, there is a difficulty about knowing and understanding the role of a shepherd. Perhaps it would be better for some if the popular term “influencer” was used instead. The role of an influencer is evidently quite the rage among some people. The use of social media, internet outlets, and social prestige play an immense role in the degree and extent of the power exercised by these new-style shepherds. We may be tempted to dismiss the concept of influencers. But even for those of us who are older, or for those who avoid cyber-settings, the role and power of these 21st century shepherds is very real and pervasive. Whatever term we prefer we need to realize the impact shepherds, or influencers, have in life.

As we read and meditate upon our readings today we may tend to think of the recognized shepherds of the church, our pope, bishops, priests, and even deacons. Many use technology and internet tools and resources to seek to shepherd and influence the flock of God. This is often for great good, but can also be for evil. The gifts and grace of social media provided tremendous help for the faithful during the pandemic.

As we consider these realities we need to allow our hearts to be always aware and practicing the power and promise of the responsorial for today, Psalm 23. In many ways we need to allow this ever-familiar psalm to be a frequent confession as we seek to follow Christ and true shepherds for God. For this psalm gives us strong grace and wisdom for all the days of our life.

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. God’s true shepherds will lead us, together, to Christ our Shepherd. God, in the grace and wisdom of the Church, leads us to the fullfillment GOD KNOWs we need, not what We think we should have.

In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me. He refreshes (restores) my soul. As sheep we may decide, or think, we know the best pasture and not want to change. We may feel “this is what really feeds me” so we resist our shepherd as He would seek to bring us to new places. Thankfully the ever faithful angels (perhaps God’s sheepdogs?) will push and show is time to move on. It is time to grow. God will provide rest. Our shepherd will restore our soul…with Him. In the holy times and places of His choosing. But not necessarily in those places and times of the past where we sometimes think we should be.

He guides me in right paths for His name’s sake. God will guide us. The Church today is being led by the Shepherd of our souls, through the shepherds of His choosing. God is faithful to His promise. While some false shepherds and influencers may arise, in all matter of status and garb, we must pay attention. Is the flock of God being brought together, even if diffcult matters are being dealt with? Or is the focus upon set specific agendas, spiritualities or liturgy?

Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and staff that give me courage. You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. God’s shepherds bring us ever closer to the side of Christ. And together in His Presence we need to fear no evil. False influencers and shepherds nurture division, the sense of “them vs. us”. The practice of assumed spiritual superiority is pervasive. As is the attitude that others are not worthy or properly reverent and thus must be excluded from the table set before us. If we look to the Gospels, to the entirety of Scripture, we learn it is to the very table of God that healing, restoration and grace, so urgently needed, is found as the anointing of the Holy Spirit sets us free to be all we can be for God. And it is there, we His sheep, discover the abundance of mercy and goodness in God. We see our cup overflowing, not to be withheld, but to be shared.

Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come. This great psalm is written in the singular. It applies to each individual sheep. But it is helpful to remember that sheep are the only common livestock where the individual and the flock are all called by the same name. SHEEP. For individually God’s shepherds seek to minister and guide that TOGETHER we may grow in the fullness of His Body, His flock. God’s shepherds, following the Great Shepherd themselves will leave a legacy of growing in God, TOGETHER. There may be difficult times and places. They may indeed lead us out of places where the entire flock is unable to flourish. They, with God, will lead through sorrows and struggles but ever closer to Jesus.

God is leading, Let us follow.

God’s Calling

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 11 July 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Amos 7: 12-15; Responsorial: Psalm 85; II: Ephesians 1: 3-14. Gospel: Mark 6: 7-13

Jesus Sending Out the 12 Apostles

The theme, the lesson from our Scripture readings today is quite simple and clear. It shares the truth of the calling from God of a prophet, and the apostles to go and proclaim the Gospel of Christ, the Good News. It is the lesson of the essential place, plan, and power of the proclamation of God’s call to repentance, mercy, and healing, in Christ. The Greek word, kerygma, to proclaim, is used to teach this vital truth of genuine Christian faith.

When Christians think or speak of the holy calling of God, or vocations, it is often focused or relegated to priests, ministers or specific religious vocations such as a Carmelite nun, or Franciscan monk. It is sometimes applied to aspects of life, such as the calling of marriage, to be a spouse or parent. Each of those perceptions is correct. But often it is in this effort to organize and specify the grace of God’s calling we may actually project the grace upon others and away from ourselves. There is a long litany of saints who, perhaps initially, felt a calling from God in their lives was not going to happen. The reasons may have been a sincere realization of unworthiness or also sincere fear of what listening to God may bring. And of course, for some saints, there was a real desire to pursue what the world was offering instead of what God would bring, such as St. Augustine.

The Scriptures for this Sunday provide us powerful insight into the gift of God Calling. The Old Testament reading from the Book of Amos shares how the prophet did not see himself as a prophet. He was, simply a shepherd and farmer. He was not from the school of prophets. In the vernacular of today, Amos would have a profoundly inadequate and inappropriate resume for the job of a prophet. But, God called Amos to go and proclaim the message of repentance and hope in following God.

The Prophet Amos

St. Paul, in our second reading, from the Epistle to the Ephesians shares his deep faith and understanding that it was Jesus Christ who was calling and empowering him to share with the faithful in Ephesus. For Paul it wasn’t about him but about the proclaiming of the truth of who we are as the redeemed of God, who we are as disciples following Christ.

And the Gospel shares the short, but intense, sending out of the twelve apostles by Jesus to the surrounding communities. Working in pairs they shared the Good News. They healed the sick and set free those possessed by demons. They lived out the Gospel they shared.

These accounts might bring us to join with those who think that God’s Calling applies to those special people, the saints Christ chooses to do great works for Him. And in doing so we may try to comfortably avoid hearing the great gift that indeed, for each of us…God is Calling.

The Word of God, the history, and the teachings of the church all affirm it is all the people of God whom Jesus would call. While some are called to profound and great tasks for His Kingdom we cannot forget the simpler vocations that helped them hear God’s voice. The parents, the siblings, the people in their parish all can be a significant part in hearing and responding to God’s plan in life. (Sadly the opposite can be true. Many a vocation to the will of God has been thwarted or hindered by voices of doubt, ridicule, and fear.). The influence of family and parish in the ability of St. Teresa of Calcutta to hear God’s Call would be a blessed example.

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

For all responding to God’s Call to live a life proclaiming the hope and healing mercy of Christ there are key steps in the journey.

It is God who calls and chooses for the work of the Kingdom. We may well realize our inadequacy, inabilities our weaknesses. Yet if we allow our hearts to be taught and reminded by the Holy Spirit we will see that God chooses, God calls us, beyond ourselves, and in spite of our faults, to follow with those who listen, hear and say…Yes to God. We may look at someone’s life and say..”no, God can’t call them. They are not as they should be”. But it actually is God who is calling and saying, “That soul, indeed with their faults and brokenness, I can redeem and enable to be an humble servant for me.” The Call is for God to make. It is for us to respond. One way or another.

As God calls so God will prepare. It is as we say yes to God we learn that with our Lord nothing is wasted. The Holy Spirit will use our talents, gifts, and abilities. But God will also use our failures, our weakness, those parts of life that seem all out of order, to become that specific servant, daughter, or son He needs in His work. The sinful doubt of Thomas Jesus used to both reveal to Thomas His resurrection but also to all people of faith ever since. The fiery zeal and murderous errors of Saul of Tarsus the Spirit of God would bring through the reconciling Blood of Christ to send out the Apostle to the Gentiles. So it is with each of us. Whether we think we are too young or too old, too strong, or too weak, with Christ we will be freed to proclaim Christ our life.

So… God Calls, God prepares and God then sends us outto experience His Presence and power as we never have before. As we allow our hearts to hear God’s Call, as we give Him our Yes and experience the Holy Spirit preparing us for what lies ahead we can know the hand of the Crucified upon us. Always. Jesus will lead us where, when, to whom we should go. And as we face each step, each opportunity to proclaim His Kingdom we can know His enabling, promised power, when and where we need it. St. Mother Teresa would never have known the immense graces and blessing in Calcutta if she had not said yes to God. The farmer / Prophet Amos would never have known the holy adventure that God had for him until he said yes to the Holy Spirit. The twelve apostles would never have experienced the healings, the deliverances in their ministry until they would be sent out by God.

Christ Calls, each of us, to follow Him. The path may not be easy or even clear all the time. But that is ok. It is in the hardness of the journey, it is when we can’t see the way, that we draw closer to Christ, to better learn to listen and follow… God’s Call.

The Wandering Path, Photographer: Piotr Halka

Seeing Jesus

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 4 July 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Ezekiel 2:2-5; Responsorial: Psalm 123; II: II Corinthians 12:7-10; Gospel: Mark 6: 1-6a

“Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.” – So sings the refrain from the responsorial Psalm for today. To have our eyes, the focus of our life upon God is an holy call the followers of Christ share. It is, in so many ways, the path and the goal of our pilgrimage of faith. To see Jesus in Heaven, but also to “fix our eyes” upon Him this side of eternity can seem to be an impossible quest.

The Scripture readings help recognize the immense difficulty of this call. But the light of God’s Word also provides us clear guidance to grow ever clearer in our vision of Christ.

One of the most important graces we need to better see Jesus is to realize that to behold God, in the beauty of His holiness and the power of His love, is to allow the Spirit of God to heal our vision, to remove the cataracts of this life that blind us of the reality of God. Jesus, in the beatitudes, said “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. These words, so simple, so powerful also seem so…impossible. To see God my heart must be pure?!?! If we take the Words of our Lord as a destination to be reached prior to seeing God, then yes…without complete sanctification, it would be…impossible. But when understood within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, and the other beatitudes we realize it is a journey to which we are called. With Jesus. And as we walk, as we follow Him His mercy can cleanse our hearts. The Spirit of God can heal our cataracts that we may see, bit-by-bit, more of God.

The Pilgrimage of Faith ~ The Quest to See Jesus

To see Jesus we must be growing in faith. An hiker climbing up a tall mountain may experience a long path, perhaps perilous, perhaps shrouded in clouds. And to see the destination, the mountain top may be blocked for most of the way. In fact as most hikers know from a distance the peak may be very clear. But the closer one is to the actual top the more the view, the peak may be obscure. S it may be in our longing to behold our Lord.

St. Paul in the second reading and Jesus in the Gospel each relate some of the difficulties we may realize in the journey. For it is as a of people of faith we are learning to see as our vision is being healed. We are learning:

  • To see beyond our senses: The people of the hometown of Jesus were crippled in their faith, and blinded in their ability to see Him as the Messiah because the cataracts of their senses crippled them to see Jesus beyond just the carpenter, or Jesus just the neighbor with His family. They were so focused on THEIR VISION and THEIR UNDERSTANDING. They could not grow to experience His fuller Truth. We should always be learning to realize our senses, our feelings are not the same as our faith.
  • To see beyond our issues: The prophet Ezekiel, in our first reading, was called by God to preach to the rebellious Israelites in exile, in Babylon. There were for the people, and Ezekiel, an abundance of issues that were challenging them to see God and His mercy. For the prophet he would have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead and heal him beyond his fears and uncertainties. For some of the Israelites they would allow their vision to be healed and they would experience restoration and renewal in God. We too, in our personal lives, our families, in the church and in the nation must recognize the temptation to focus, not on Christ, but on the faults of another, the guilt within our own soul, the seeming impossibility of the challenges, or simply some sacred cow of an issue we may face or even cherish. Whether it be our senses, our understandings or our issues we are always called to see, yes they are real, they are valid, to a point. But they are not God. For if we are to see Jesus we must look beyond our own small horizons. We must learn:
  • To see beyond self. As humans we find it easy and comfortable to live within what we sense, (see, smell, taste, feel, hear). We also become quite comfortable within our closley held understandings and issues. The people of Europe, prior to the age of discovery were certain and deeply settled in the visible truth that the world is flat. All their senses, understandings, even their religion upheld that perspective. It was only as some few courageous souls believed and chose to exercise their faith and courage to explore did the bigger truth come to be known. So it is with our vision of God, of Jesus.

As Catholics, we believe Jesus is truly and fully Present in the Blessed Sacrament. With eyes of faith, we can see the consecrated bread and wine as the true Body and Blood of God, of Christ, of Jesus. But His very Real Presence in the Euharist will empower us to see even more of Him in His Body, the entire people of God. We also rejoice in the holy revelation of Truth found in Scripture and Sacred Tradition. But in humility we must also accept the fullness of Truth is found IN CHRIST and it is in a growing relationship with God incarnate that we grow in seeing…more and more of Jesus, His holiness, His mercy, His love.

Seeing Jesus is the quest we share. To behold the eternal peace and glorious joy of God is the call we share in our Psalm: “Our eyes are fixed on the Lord…” But it is, simply impossible. IF we depend only on our holiness or perfection. To see our Lord we must draw close to Him. And we must remember that if we walk with Him there will be the crosses of our life.

In World War II there was a middle-aged Dutch spinster lady who lived with her elderly father and sister each of deep Christian faith. When the Nazis came they took to helping the Jews to hide and escape. They all were captured by the Gestapo. The two sisters were imprisoned in a concentration camp. Their father and other family members were all killed while incarcerated. The elder sister, Corrie Ten Boom, watched her sister beaten and fall gravely sick. She watched her slowly die at the hand of her captors. From that place of deep evil and darkness, Corrie was miraculously released just prior to being executed. She would go on, for many years to witness to the mercy and peace of God. She would witness of Jesus she had learned to see in the darkest of places as she grew beyond her senses, her issues, her self. She would go on to encourage others to look for and see Jesus, even as we carry our crosses.

Corrie Ten Boom

Called for Healing, By and With God

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 27 June 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Wisdom1:13-15, 23-24; Responsorial: Psalm 30; II: II Corinthians 8: 7, 9, 13-15; Gospel: Mark 5: 21-43

We have lived through a prolonged and difficult time of great sickness with the pandemic. Intense afflictions have infected the social, political, moral, and spiritual health of creation. The suffering, the losses have been very real. But we must remember, with Christ we find hope, we find, healing. The Scripture readings we share are messages of that hope, messages, and lessons of healing for anyone afflicted in spirit, soul, or body. We are urged to realize we are called for healing, by God, and with God.

Yet this call to healing seems challenged by the seeming conflict expressed by our first reading from the Book of Wisdom where the harsh reality of death and its source, in evil, are shared. The Book of Hebrews speaks of the same painful truth in telling us “all are appointed once to die and after that, the judgment”, Hebrews 9:27. It is vital to realize, that with Christ, death is but the final gateway to eternal life and the ultimate fullness of healing we find with our Savior.

But the Gospel today is clear. We are called for healing, by and with God. In this account in Mark’s Gospel we read of Jairus frantically coming to Jesus seeking healing for his young daughter. By all indications she is critically ill. Her father, a leader in the local synagogue, in intense and desperate faith seeks that Jesus would but come and lay his hand upon his beloved child. How encouraged Jairus must have been as Jesus came with him back to his home and the sickbed of his little girl. But his prayers were interrupted.

While enroute to the house, with a great crowd pressing in and following to witness the drama, a woman, sick for over a decade comes as well. Her exhausted faith believes if she can but touch the hem of the cloak Jesus was wearing she would be healed. Pressing through the crowd she succeeds. Coming from behind she touches his cloak. She knows, at once she is healed. And Christ realizes, at once, grace, power have flowed from his Body. To the dismay of Jairus, Jesus stops and seeks who has touched his cloak, in such faith. It is worthwhile to note the reaction of his disciples. People are pressing in upon Jesus from all sides. They wonder and question…Jesus, don’t you realize what is going on? What follows is a powerful part of our call to healing.

The woman realizes she is caught. In fear and trembling, she falls down before Jesus and confesses the whole truth. This is a poignant reminder that often healing involves great courage and humility. This woman, by the standards of the Law and Hebrew people, was unclean. Her issue of blood excluded her from close contact with others and especially someone like Jairus, as a leader of the synagogue. She was, as it were, deemed unacceptable to seek or receive the healing and graces of God without proper following of the liturgy of that day. Her fear was well-founded. But she shows us courage, faith often cannot be fully experienced except in the face of great need and fear. Jesus speaks. He commends her faith and affirms her healing with the blessing to go in peace. Great is the healing. Great is God’s blessing.

And great must have been the heartache of Jairus as he watches this delay. So often we fail to realize our prayers are not shared in a singular dimension. Our faith, our prayers are a part of a much larger environment of petition and praise to God, shared by many. We are reminded delay is not necessarily denial. Jairus, Jesus, the disciples, with the crowd once again press on to the sick little girl. But in the eyes of the world, it is too late.

Before arriving at the home of Jairus they are confronted by mourners. The little girl has died. But Jesus tells Jairus, “Do not fear. Believe!” In the house Christ makes the doubters, the mourners leave. He takes the father and mother, with Peter, James, and John, and goes to the girl. He takes her by the hand and calls for her to arise. She is healed. God, has again, called out to, and for healing.

There are some vital elements to this lesson from Christ. First Jesus, the Living Word, speaks, calls us for healing. Even in the Gospels when Jesus is rebuking sins He speaks and shares in the Spirit of hope and healing. The Gospel, “the Good News” is meant to be words of hope and healing. Secondly, it was the hand, the Body, even the cloak upon His Body, that brought healing. In His holy and sacred incarnation, Jesus came to deliver and heal His creation, His creatures. The Body, the Blood of Jesus, His most sacred and Holy Real Presence is intended to be a place of healing…of hope. As our Gospel today affirms, this is for the well-placed, the faithful. And it is for the unclean, the frightened, those on the fringes of humanity. This does not just apply to the incarnate Presence of Jesus in the Gospels. This sacred Truth applies to the Body of Christ today, perhaps now more than ever.

The Epistle today seems out of context, at a glance. St. Paul is writing to the Corinthian Church and to you and me. The message is essentially of the self-emptying, the kenosis of Jesus. Paul proceeds that this same emptying of self and selfishness is the call of God for all the people of Christ, the Body of Christ. We are called for healing, by God and with God.

Great is our own need of healing. As we listen to Christ, His holy Word, and as we allow His Real Presence, His Body and Blood to touch us we shall be healed for and in the will and designs of our heavenly Father. But the healing is never meant to end there. We are called to be healing, WITH God. Do our Words proclaim the hope, the healing, the faith that brings others to know Christ? Do we act and live, as individuals and as the people of God witnessing to the truth that we are the Body of Christ? Do our words and our hands bring hope and healing to the many wounded and damaged by this world? Do we allow our lives to be interrupted for the moments of grace when Jesus wants to help someone through us? Or do we focus on the sickness, the wounds, the perceived unworthiness of those in our world?

May we, together, realize and live, as the Body of Christ, for holy healing, by and with God.

Summer Solstice & Christianity

Summer Solstice marks the day when the earth is at the maximum tilt for the respective hemisphere allowing for the longest hours of daylight. Throughout the world it is a time of celebration that goes back to the most ancient of times. In ancient cultures and religion it is infused with great spirituality and hope for light, fertility and life. Since the growth of the Christian faith it became a time of Midsummer Festivals, often with bonfires as a celebration of light.

Some would claim that this is another example of Christians taking from the pagan religions and making them their own. That is certainly one way to look at it. However it also can be realized to be a very natural GROWTH of the human soul to LIGHT. The correlation between light and growth is something very sacred and precious in the pagan religions. It is also a grace that the Christian Church holds in great fervor. In the ancient world as pagans entered into a relationship with Christ and His Church it was seen as only proper that this relationship would be a step of growth, of greater light. Of course for some it was seen as blasphemous to leave the beliefs of the ancient ones. But for many places, especially like the Celtic regions it was seen as the next step with their Creator.

In our present day, in some regions, the growth and resurgence of the pagan religions is often seen. The old arguments of Christians stealing from the pagans is seeing a resurgence. There are profound differences in the celebrations, to be sure. But there are also values that are shared.

As we enjoy this midsummer season, the summer solstice, we might look to the example of St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Francis and many others to help us better understand and celebrate the beauty and graces of Creation, to learn and respect the ancient lessons of the past as they anticipated the coming Light of the world. To borrow from the soul of St. Francis we can celebrate the great gift we have with Brother Sun and Sister Moon as a part of this good world God has made. May we all grow in the eternal light and life who is Christ.

From ancient portals the light of Christ dawns

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