The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

XXII SUNDAY – A – 31.08. 2008

Jeremiah 20: 7-9; Psalm 63; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16: 21-27

Last week we heard in our Gospel reading about Peter's spontaneous profession of faith "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." This was followed by Christ's great mandate to Peter and his successors, "You are Cepha, and upon this rock I will build my Church."

And yet here we are with the immediately following text where Jesus calls Peter a stumbling block and says, "Get behind me Satan"! It is hard to credit that these two things should be in the same Gospel, let alone in the same chapter. Did you notice what happened in today’s Gospel? Why such a change in Jesus reactions?

Matthew has deliberately chosen to put these incidents together to teach us something really deep.

„Get behind me, Satan! You are stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things”.

In the original Greek text Jesus uses even the stronger words: “Go away Satan, You scandalize me and others, because you take the things not in the God’s manner but you try to please the people”.

Why is Jesus so harsh with Peter today? Because Peter starts to think in worldly terms, to please the people, to gain popularity and crowds. When Christ says he has to go to Jerusalem, to suffer, and be killed, Peter went into shock. Peter still thought Jesus would make Israel the powerful kingdom, just like when David was king. This means: thinking in the worldly manner. But there is something more, Peter tries to erase, to eliminate the cross from the Gospel, from the history of salvation? He tries to “take it easy”, to soften, and to moderate the strong teaching of Jesus. He is afraid that this teaching about the cross and suffering will be absolutely not attractive, nobody will buy it. “God forbid it., Lord. This must never happen to you!!” Take it easy Jesus, don’t be so serious, so tragic and catastrophic, you will scary the people, nobody will follow you!

What -many of our contemporary Catholics and even priests- try to do nowadays? Don’t they try to erase the cross from the Gospel? Don’t they try to please rather humans than to follow God’s way? Deep commercialization touched even the Gospel. If something is not nice and contains even a smallest suggestion of pain and suffering, people will not buy it! We have to take care and not bother or scary our parishioners. Everything in the church must be nice and easy, every homily must be smooth and kind, otherwise people will feel upset. I have to feel good in the church otherwise I quit. Is it not the worldly style of thinking, is it not the “scandalon ei eimon”?

The problem plagues us to this day. How often we think in worldly ways, how easily we ignore the ways of God. We do not like to suffer. We don’t even like to hear about the commandments. But, here's the point. Sticking with God, we have to take up our crosses. Jesus said to Peter, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." “Who loves me will keep my commandments.” We do not like the cross, we do not like even to mention the idea of commandment. It’s offending my feeling of freedom, it’s humiliating and mortifying me. Pain and difficulties and hard times come into our lives, and we ask, Why me? God din not create us for suffering but for joy and happiness.

Peter did not mean to offend Jesus, and he certainly did not want to do anything to obstruct Jesus' plan of salvation; it is simply that he didn't understand it, in all its fullness. Peter was simply saying the kind of thing any other “good pastor” would say in the circumstances; he can't really believe that Jesus would need to suffer and die. Because he loves Jesus he does not want him to die and so comes out with his statement of disbelief. But also Peter tries to avoid the unpopularity of the Jesus’ teaching. He is afraid that speaking about suffering, crosses and dead will certainly not gain for Jesus new disciples. This is what sometimes we can hear from the “good pastors” nowadays: “father don’t scary the people stressing to much the commandments, talking about the cross and suffering, otherwise the church will become empty.”

The underlying assumption of Peter is that suffering is bad and it is something that we should be protected from, and this is an assumption that we all share in our everyday lives. Christ, though, tells us something different; he tells us and shows us in his own life that suffering is redemptive. He tells us that suffering is essential to his work of salvation. Even more, the suffering is essential and necessary to our life and our salvation.

One of the greatest problems in the world is that people do not seem to understand this anymore. And indeed one of the most common arguments against the existence of God put forward by ordinary people today is that God allows the innocent to suffer. What they fail to take into account is that:

- the source and origin of suffering is not God but wrongly used human freedom, and
- the suffering has a meaning. They fail to understand that it is often only through suffering and struggle that a greater good can come about.
Now this is not to say that suffering and pain are good in themselves or we would feel obliged to flagellate ourselves few times a day! No this would be a distortion of God's intention. But we do know that in suffering there is something deeply mysterious, valuable and redemptive.

In time Peter was to come to understand the meaning of the Cross. We know that when faced with his own crucifixion at the hands of the Romans he asked to be crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to imitate Christ.

We don’t need to be afraid of the cross in the church, we don’t need to change and accommodate the message of Christ to make it easy and acceptable by the “Hallmark culture” of nice and pleasant life.

Matthew puts these two things together as a warning to us, the members of the Church, the people to whom this Gospel is primarily addressed. It is a warning that we should not take the first part of the text in any sort of triumphal way. We should not become so confident that we are members of the true Church of Christ that we start to believe that this means we can do no wrong.

We find this to be very reassuring. Jesus did not choose the perfect man on which to build his Church. No, he chose a man like us; someone with all the same sorts of faults and contradictions that we recognise within ourselves and yet someone who is essentially good and straightforward.

Even when we get to the moment of Peter's greatest betrayal, when he denies Christ three times, we find that it is not something blatantly bad that he is doing. Actually he is trying to be near Jesus, to find out what is going to happen to him and, one is tempted to think, try to help Jesus if he can.

What happens is that his cover is blown, he is recognised and it is the panic that this induces that causes Peter to deny that he even knows Jesus.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Isaiah 22:19-23 Romans 11:33-36 Matthew 16:13-20

Three Unavoidable Questions

Today's readings confront us with three questions:
- of God's existence,
- the divinity of Jesus and
- the divine authority of the Church.

There are three questions that no thinking person can avoid.
Everything depends on how one answers them. The three unavoidable questions are:

1) Does God exist?
2) Is Jesus God?
3) Did Jesus found the Church?

Today's Scripture readings address these questions. Regarding God's existence, St. Paul exclaims: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his way!"

St. Paul knows that God is far beyond human reason. Still, in that same letter to the Romans, he explains that it is reasonable to believe in God. In fact, argues Paul, what is unreasonable is to deny God's existence: those who deny his existence have clouded their own thinking process. You can read Paul's argument for yourself. (You will find it in the first chapter of Romans.) What I want to underscore is that the gift of faith - while it transcends reason - does not ultimately go against reason. Faith completes reason, gives a new power to human understanding.

Now, if a person recognizes that God exists, then the second question follows: Is Jesus God? Today Jesus asks the disciples who people say that he is. There are a lot of opinions. Some say that Jesus is a sage, a kind of guru who leads his followers to a new level of consciousness. Others say he is a good man, maybe the best of men, but still only a human being. Others say he was a great moral teacher like Socrates or Confucius.

But Jesus will have none of that. He looks each disciple in the eye and asks: "But, you, who do you say, that I am?" You have to answer that question for yourself, directly to Jesus. No one can force you. What you say to Jesus depends on your own heart. I can, however, tell you my answer: Jesus is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father. In a few minutes I will invite you to make that profession of faith with me.

Before doing that, I would like to consider the third question: Did Jesus found the Church? In some way this is the most difficult question, because it demands so much. It is one thing to believe in God and in Jesus, but something else to believe in the divine authority of the Church. People can keep God and Jesus at arm's length - or at least try. It is not so easy with the Church. For better or worse, the Church has had a significant role in human history - and a considerable presence in the modern world.

I say "for better or worse" because the Church is composed of human beings with negative (as well as positive) tendencies. We readily admit the weakness and fallibility not only of little people like you and me, but also the top leaders in the Church. But the question is not whether the Church is composed on sinful human beings. Rather, we have to ask what Jesus meant he when told Simon Peter that he was the rock upon which he would build his Church.

Peter the Rock
There now follows a passage which will be the foundation for the authority given to the disciples and to Peter in particular in the post-Resurrection community. In response to Peter's declaration of faith, Jesus now says, "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church." In the English translation, the play on words here is lost. In the Greek, 'Peter' is Petros ()' and 'rock' is petra () while, in the Aramaic language which Jesus and his disciples normally spoke, both words would be represented by kepa. Hence, Peter is called Cephas in some New Testament letters. cf. for example, Galatians 2:11.

Peter is the rock, the foundation of the community which will carry the name and the authority of Jesus to the whole world. On him, together with his Apostolic companions as the faithful communicators of Jesus' life and message, will be built the Church, the ekklesia , the assembly of God's people. (In all of the four gospels, this word ekklesia appears only twice, here and in Matthew 18:17, "And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church [ekklesia]...").

And what happened to the keys that Jesus gave to Peter? Are they buried in his tomb under St. Peter's Basilica in Rome? I don't think so. We have an early list of popes. It says that - after Peter - a man named Linus received the keys with their power to open and close, loose and bind. After him, Cletus, then Clement and so on. Today Pope Benedict XVI holds those keys. It is not just an earthly power, but a divine authority. Jesus said, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.

Now, I know that there are many congregations more attractive and more dynamic than Catholic parishes. And I may as well admit it - the most attractive would be a new congregation composed of me and those think like me. It would be called the "church of Phil Bloom." Its doctrines would be the Bible verses that I - and those who agree with me - like the best.

The "church of me and mine" is tempting (sort of) but that is clearly not what Jesus had in mind. He did not say to look for a community where you feel most comfortable. He founded a Church with divine authority - the power of the keys. The keys do not lock us in. What they do is unlock our hearts. They open us to people who may not - at first - attract us. And, above all, the keys open vistas that the "church of Phil Bloom" could never imagine.

Today we consider a text that is crucial to the Church’s understanding of itself. The words of Jesus addressed to Peter, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.

I suppose this is one of the most famous puns in the whole of history, Peter meaning rock. But that aside, the claims that the Church has made based on those few words are very great indeed. And they have provoked a good deal of criticism and have been an obstacle to many.

The claims are these: that Jesus gives authority to Peter and his successors to lead the Church, that the Holy Spirit will keep the successors of Peter free from error in matters concerning faith and morals, and that being in communion with the successors of Peter (i.e. the Popes) is essential to being a member of the one true Church of God.

We must remember the context in which these words of Jesus arise; Peter has just made an extraordinary confession of faith in response to Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” Peter’s reply, as we all know so well, is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus then declares that this extra-ordinary statement of faith was directly inspired by God the Father.

So clearly Peter is important, indeed vital, to the work that Jesus was to accomplish. It is clear also that leadership for the Church, for the followers of Jesus after he returned to his Father, was needed and it was the intention of Jesus that Peter should fulfil this role.

A special kind of leadership
The leadership of Peter and his successors is not one of coercion and political power but of example and service. As long as faith, hope, and love are strong in the community, it will survive and flourish. It is not just a matter of unquestioning obedience to the decrees of an institution, issued from some far-off headquarters.

Today we see in the pope the successor of Peter. He shares the same charism or gift of leadership, a leadership of service. Traditionally the popes have called themselves Servus servorum Dei, the 'servant of the servants of God'. The pope is not a dictator with absolute powers, as he is sometimes depicted. He is limited by the faith of the whole Church. He is not the originator of that faith; he does not decide what we should believe. Rather, he communicates to the Church at large what it already believes. He is the focal point of unity of that one faith, the unity in the Spirit. The pope is the servant of that one community united in one faith.

Point of unity
In a Church where there are now so many conflicting theologies and spiritualities, there has never been a greater need for a focal point not of uniformity but of Christian unity. "There is one body and one Spirit... there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, there is one God and Father of all, who is Lord of all, works through all and is in all..." (Ephesians 4:4-6) This is something which many of our Anglican and Lutheran brothers and sisters have become strongly aware of. It is something whose importance is so well realised by our Catholic brothers and sisters in China, scattered and cut off from each other as they are.

The pope is our point of reference, whom we must always take into account, as we search for new understandings of what it means to be a disciple of Christ in a constantly changing world. He is the shepherd that keeps us in fellowship with Christians everywhere but who must not stifle the creativity of the Spirit in living out the Gospel in such a huge variety of contexts. For we are simultaneously one Church and many churches. For us here in our own church, our concern will be to remain in close union with fellow-disciples everywhere while at the same time living a Christian life in a way that most effectively will bring the spirit of the Kingdom among us in these challenging times.

Who contests the authority of Peter contests also the authority of Jesus Christ. Who contests the authority of Christ contests also the authority of God. I cannot claim that I believe Jesus Christ and at the same time refuse the authority of Peter and his successors.

If Jesus tells Peter:

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Who am I to deny His authority?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

The meeting of Jesus and the pagan Canaanite woman was providen¬tial. It led to a miracle and to her and to our deeper understanding of faith.

That woman believed that Jesus was the Messiah even though she knew very little about the Jewish prophets who were sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah. She grew in her faith from the "scraps" that fell from the Old Testament table.

The Catholic Church often finds great faith particularly amongst those outside her visible membership. Through His church the Lord has prepared a table full of spiritual gifts for his children.

What a pity though that some of those children receive only some of those gifts! Fortunately, they may still achieve salvation with what they have received from the Lord, namely, the Scriptures and and often Baptism which brings them grace, virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Just think, how much better off these children of the protestant reformation would be if they were able to receive their full inheritance!

Often protestants once exposed to the truth will accept it fully and join the Catholic Church.

One would think that those exposed to the fullness of truth have the greatest chance for salvation but sadly, receiving the full inheritance of the truth is not a guarantee of salvation either - for receiving and accepting the Truth are two different things.

It has been pointed out that one of the biggest phenomenon of today’s Christian world is that many of our separated brethren still attend the Catholic Church.

Many still minister in it even though they do not believe in all the truths of the faith.

Others still consider themselves Catholic while rejecting Catholic teaching, all the while taking part in many of the Sacraments but often with a different point of view then those who are orthodox and in full communion with Rome.

During the protestant reformation it was common for those who dissented from Church teaching to leave the Catholic Church and start another church of their own. Martin Luther led the way.

But nowadays it is very common for those who openly dissent from church teaching to stay with the church to try to change it from within, for they have received the fullness of truth but for various reasons reject all or part of it and often teach others to do the same.

So then we see that evangelization has as its goal not only to plant the seeds of faith among the unbaptized but also to win back those Christians souls separated from the church both within and without.

The Church has the mission “to build up the body of Christ till we become one in faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, and from that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature” as St. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians.

Revealed truth can never change. Any "reformation" within or without that seeks to do this becomes heretical. The Catholic Church, however, constantly works hard to better explain the revealed truths and to offer to her children a deeper under¬standing of them.

"Is there to be no development of religion in the Church of Christ? Certainly ... But it must truly be development of the faith, not alteration of the faith" (Liturgy of the Hours IV, p.363).

Sadly, in today’s Catholic world we live in a church which continues to be divided by dissent. We have many “protestant” Catholics amongst us.

Dissent is that situation whereby some people accept some of the truths taught by the Catholic Church but are selective in denying other truths. Often for personal reasons or pride they dissent from certain teachings of the church and then often misuse conscience as their excuse.

One of the highest ranking Americans in the Vatican has written an eye-opening and deeply personal retrospective on the world shaking events which took place in the Catholic Church 40 years ago with the signing of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life). The non-celebration of which was observed in July this year.

Cardinal James Stafford says that the deadliest thing to hit the Church in the last 40 years was not the encyclical itself which re-stated again and reaffirmed the Church’s continued and historical stand against contraception – but rather the dissent that came as a result of the Church’s affirmation.

Cardinal Stafford says that (I quote) “The summer of 1968 is a record of God’s hottest hour. The memories are not forgotten, they are painful…. They inhabit the whirlwind where God’s wrath dwells. In 1968 something terrible happened in the Church.

Within the ministerial priesthood ruptures developed everywhere among friends which have never healed. And the wounds continue to affect the whole church. The dissent, together with the leaders manipulation of the anger they fomented became a supreme test,. It changed fundamental relationships within the church.”

The Cardinal explains that dissenting theologians, led by Charles Curran and other dissident clergy, attempted to bully their fellow priests into signing on to documents of formal dissent represented by the Washington Statement of dissent.”

Quote “The violence of the initial disobedience was only a prelude to further and more pervasive violence”, He writes.

“Contempt for the truth, whether aggressive or passive, has become common in Church life.

Dissenting theologians, priests, sisters and laypeople have continued their coercive techniques. From the very beginning the press has used them to further its own serpentine agenda”. Unquote.

Unfortunately, Father Richard Rohr, Father Richard McBrien, Father Timothy Radcliffe and other priests as well as religious sisters continue to openly foster dissent in the church. It is unfortunate because the fact that they are priests, religious sisters and well educated men and women increases their credibility amongst the faithful and because of this many have fallen into error with them.

In 1968, just before issuing the document, Pope Paul the VI called for episcopal unity on Humanae Vitae because it truly presented the teaching against contraception which stems from the law of God, and not from the Church.

The Pope was therefore deeply dissapointed when the Catholic Bishops of Canada even after the Pope’s appeal to them issued a devastating letter to Canadian Politicians which encouraged and permitted them to support the legalization of contraception in Canada. And in that way the floodgates of the Culture of Death were opened in Canada.

Pope Paul the VI prophetically foresaw that dissent against Humanae Vitae would open the door to pre-marital sex, an increase in divorce, co-habiting couples, abortion, same-sex marriage. All of it came true.

In the upcoming edition of Catholic Insight magazine, Canada’s greatest defender of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, 92 year old Msgr Vincent Foy called the letter by the CCCB “an incredible betrayal of Catholic teaching on the intrinsic evil of contraception.”

And then this was followed up by what Msgr Foy calls the “Winnipeg disaster of Friday Sept 27, 1968” when the Catholic Bishops of Canada published a Statement on Humanae Vitae embracing the error of allowing married couples to break God’s law by the subterfuge of subjective conscience. Thereby thousands of Canadians fell and continue to fall into error.

This formal statement on Humanae Vitae called the “Winnipeg Statement” has never been retracted and still stands today.

“For 40 years rebellion has been widespread in Canada, says Msgr Foy.

For 40 years we have experienced the deadly fruit of turning away from Christ in the most critical area of life and marital love.

Pope John Paul II called dissent from Humanae Vitae the “Great Lie”.

This lie remains in Canada like a festering, cancerous wound”.

Canadian Catholics have a right to ask their bishops to revoke that statement……In concrete terms it is not our defiance of the episcopacy but love of the episcopacy which leads Catholics to ask our bishops to restore orthodoxy” Unquote.

Jesus foresaw such problems.

Jesus warned his followers to be on guard against false prophets and wolves in sheep's clothing. He advised patience in the struggle with his parable of the Good Seed and Weeds.

The good seed and weeds refer not only to individuals but also to correct doctrine and errors.

Someone has said, "To know history is to be Catholic." This is so true because history proves that Jesus has always fulfilled his promises.

Jesus promised, "And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world" (Matt. 28:20). This promise was made to His Church.

Jesus also promised St. Peter, I for my part declare to you, you are `Rock,' and on this rock I will build my church, and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).

Almost prophetically Psalm 95 says in part “Today, listen to the voice of the Lord; do not grow stubborn as your fathers did in the wilderness, when at Meriba and Massah they challenged and provoked me, although they had seen all of my works.

40 Years I endured that generation. I said “They are a people whose hearts go astray and they do not know my ways” So I swore in my anger, “They shall not enter into my rest”.

You know somebody said to me that it must be quite depressing for you and for those who listen to you to continually hear this message about the bad news – the disobedience and dissension in the the church – is there no hope? Is there no good news?

Yes, there is good news and that good news is Jesus Christ. In spite of our sin – and we are all sinners – He came so that we might have life – and that to the full – eternal life for those who believe in Him. We have to remember that He created us for Heaven not to condemn us to Hell. We need to accept the truth. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Accept the good news – turn away from sin – turn to Him – for He is our hope.

Despite over 40 years of struggle against the dissent, 92 year old Msgr Foy still sees hope. “Yet there is hope on this 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, “writes Msgr Foy “God’s grace, always sufficient, will be mercifully given and generously if there are faithful bishops, priests, religious and laity prayerful and ready to make the sacrifices required.”

The best defense has always been good religious instruction of the faithful and prayer.

After 40 years, as the dissenters of our church grow older and pass away one by one we can be certain that their heresies, their works and their errors like chaff will eventually pass away with them. But the words of Christ will not pass away.

So in spite of scandals, errors, claims and counterclaims, it is always possible for us to discover which is the Church that Jesus founded and where are those in it who are teaching the truth. Who in our Church may we believe? Who is teaching the truth - for there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing. The answer is:

"Where Peter is, there is Christ's Church!" and the gates of Hell have not and will not prevail against it. Whoever stands with the Vicar of Christ stands in the truth.

In chapter 16 of his letter to the Romans, St. Paul warns us with these words: “I urge you brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles, in opposition to the teaching you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve your Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the innocent.

In Chapter 15 he prays for unity in the church. “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Following the exhortation of St. Paul let us therefore join Msgr Foy and pray for a united church, one in truth, one in Christ, one in obedience and one in unity under the visible Head of His Church on Earth, the Vicar of Christ, Pope Benedict XVI and we pray also for the Archbishop of our Edmonton Archdiocese, His Grace, ArchBishop Richard Smith as he seeks to maintain unity and truth in our Archdiocese. They both seek to lead us all to Christ by continuing to always and everywhere proclaim the Good News – The Good News of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world. Our Creator who came to earth so that we might all join Him in Heaven. That is His plan and that is Good News Indeed!

Deacon Bernard Ouellette

Sunday, August 10, 2008


1 Kings 19:9.11-13 Romans 9:1-5 Matthew 14:22-33

WE HAVE TODAY in the Gospel a continuation of last week's story about the feeding of thousands of people by Jesus in the desert. Immediately after the event, we are told that Jesus "made" the disciples get into the boat and go to the opposite shore while he himself sent the crowds away. Was there reluctance on their part to go? Certainly there is the implication that the disciples were not too willing to leave the scene. They were enjoying the reflected glory of being part of Jesus' 'miracle' and the enthusiasm of the crowds for Jesus, 'their' Jesus. They were basking in the reputation of being partners with Jesus. Yet, it won't be very long before they will be hiding, even denying under oath, ever having had connection with him.
What type of power?
Jesus himself, after having dismissed the crowds, "went up into the hills by himself to pray". In John's version of this story he tells us that the people, after being fed by Jesus, actually wanted to make him their king. They, like the disciples, have totally missed the meaning of what has happened.
Here indeed was a real source of temptation. Jesus could easily have convinced himself that here was a golden opportunity to get control of the crowds and 'save' them. They were so ready to follow him -- it seemed. The world was at his feet. Is there not an echo here of one of the temptations in the desert after his baptism? "The devil took him to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them: and he said to him, 'All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me'."
Instead, Jesus flees to the shelter of the mountains not to have a panorama of the world's kingdoms but to pray to his Father and renew his purity of heart and his commitment to the Father's way. His power will be exerted through love and service and not through domination, control and popular appeal. Jesus' work is not to be seen in terms of crowd-pleasing miracles or supernatural powers. It is primarily for him -- as it is for us -- in the quality of his relationships: with God, with people and with himself. Jesus' mission -- and ours -- gets its significance in a life of service, sharing and community building, in the 'Kingdom-ising' of our environment. It does not consist in having power over others, in becoming an idol of the crowds.

Having a hard time
The story now switches back to the disciples. They are far out on the lake by now, battling with a heavy sea and fighting a strong headwind. It is quite clear that here we are seeing a parable of the Church itself, represented by the disciples in their fragile boat surrounded by hostile winds and waves. It was the common experience of the Church during its first centuries and, in many parts of the world today, continues to be the case. It was a situation to create, then as now, much fear and anxiety.
Then, all of a sudden, they see Jesus approaching them walking on the lake. Far from feeling reassured, they become even more terrified. "It is a ghost!" It is a measure of their superstitious natures and, as such, a measure of the long way they have to go in exorcising such superstitions and replacing them with a genuine faith in God. One still meets a great deal of such irrational fears in people, including Christians, today. For instance, how many of us here would be comfortable walking alone through a large empty cemetery on a dark, moonless night?

No need to fear
Then out of wind and wave and terror comes a comforting voice. "Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid." The disciples need courage whose source is their confidence and trust in the protection of their Lord. Through the words "It is I" (literally, 'I am' Greek, ego eimi), Jesus identifies himself with the saving power of God himself. They are the words spoken to Moses from the burning bush. As such, there is no need for fear or anxiety in spite of the apparently threatening dangers around them.
Characteristically, Peter is the first to respond. He is the impulsive one but he is also the group's leader. "If it is really you, Lord, tell me to come to you across the water." "Come," says Jesus, inviting him to leave the shelter of his boat and go to where the wind and waves are. Peter starts to make his way to the Lord, who is in the wind and the waves, but his fear is too much and he begins to sink. "Lord, save me!" is the cry, a cry echoed by Christians all down the ages who have felt that the world was ready to crush them.
There is something for us to reflect here: Jesus is not in the boat; he is in that hostile environment into which we often fear to enter and instead huddle in the security of our church. I think it is significant that Jesus is also found outside the boat in the middle of the stormy sea, the world. And we have to go out there to meet him in spite of the dangers and possible setbacks. Too often we Christians spend much, if not all, of our time in the shelter of the boat, taking care of ourselves and neglecting those in the stormy sea who need to hear the words of life. "Man of little trust, why did you doubt?" How often has Jesus had to say those words to each one of us?
Jesus and Peter now step into the boat and the wind drops. There is peace and calm. In Mark's version of this story, the disciples are simply amazed at the sudden change but do not draw the obvious conclusion. In Matthew's version, however, they understand and believe. They even anticipate Peter's later confession (in chap. 16), "Truly, you are the Son of God". The conclusion, then, is that Jesus can also be found in the boat but only when we also are ready to leave the shelter of the boat to find him in the "world", that place which is at least indifferent and at worst very hostile to the Christian vision.

Our own situation
All in all, today's Gospel reflects problems in the early Church, problems which are not unknown to us today. From the inside there were always problems of unity, conflicting opinions, theologies and spiritualities. From the outside, there were persecutions and misunderstandings from both the Jews and the secular powers. Paul, in the Second Reading, reflects what must have been something very painful to many Jews who had become followers of Christ, namely, the division and hostility of their fellow-Jews who had not converted. Even today, this relationship still causes pain.
Matthew also here features the special role of Peter, something he constantly stresses. Peter is the leader and so he is the one who steps out of the boat to go and meet Jesus in the midst of the storm. This surely is an image of the Church's apostolic mission to reach out to find and make Christ present in the world, however hostile it may be. It is not the role of the Church to stay cowering in the shelter of their boat. One remembers the disciples after the death of Jesus hiding behind the locked doors. Pentecost soon changed all that and literally blew them out on a mission that would bring them and their successors to the remotest parts of the earth.
Of course, there are dangers in the world. And the Church, like Peter, is weak and vulnerable. But the Lord is there wherever we go and he will not allow his Church to sink beneath the waves. It has looked very often as if it might happen but each time the Christian community has risen from the ashes stronger than before. One has only to think of the experiences of Christians in China over the past four centuries and especially in the last 40 years or so.

Jesus our peace
One important lesson of today's readings is that, in our turbulent world (and much of the turbulence is in our own hearts), Jesus is the source of peace. Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper (John 14:27), "Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid." These words were spoken just before Jesus was to be arrested, tried and executed by his enemies. The "world" cannot provide peace in such a situation but Jesus can and does. It is for us to learn how to find the Jesus who gives peace in the ups and downs, in the storms of our own lives.
It is put beautifully in today's First Reading where Elijah is told to "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord". And the Lord himself passes by. But he was not in the mountain-shaking and rock-shattering wind. He was not in the earthquake. He was not in the fire. He was, however, in the sound of a gentle breeze and Elijah knew that he was in the presence of the Lord. Jesus touches our cheeks with his gentle breezes every day but we are too concerned about the buffeting winds, the earthquakes and the fires in our lives that attract both our attention and our fears.

Call to be....
Today's readings, then, are saying two things to us:
a. There is never any need for fear and anxiety, for Jesus is always close to us and, no matter what may be happening in and around us, his peace is there for us to share. (As the Buddhist saying has it: "Why worry? If I worry, I die. If I don't worry, I die. Why worry?")
b. On the one hand, we have to reject the ambitions and dreams of the world and separate ourselves from them (as when Jesus went into the mountains to pray) but, at the same time, that world which both attracts and threatens is the arena where we are to live out our mission to build the Kingdom of God. We are called to be "not of the world", a counter-witness to its ways, but to be "in the world", as taste-giving salt and growth-giving leaven. To lead people to that moment when they can fall to the ground before Jesus present and active in their lives and say with full recognition, "Truly, you are the Son of God".
To the ancient people, the seas represented chaos. Fishermen and sailors, then, as well as now, know all too well the sudden turmoil caused by rough waters. The sea hits us in the front, the back, the left and the right. There is no escaping it when we are in the middle of it. That is chaos.
But God conquered the seas. And Jesus walked on the water. He continues to walk on water. He walks on the chaos of our lives.

That is what the Gospel reading is telling us today. No matter what the chaos is in the world and in our lives, Jesus walks on it. He conquers the chaos.
Jesus conquers the chaos that is caused by things that our beyond our control. Life itself is chaotic. Just when all is seems to be calm, a loved one suddenly dies. All of us have experienced this. We did not cause the chaos, but we do suffer from it.
Jesus conquers the chaos, even that chaos which we ourselves cause in our lives. Many of us have made bad choices. Many of us have sinned. Many of us suffer the results of our sins or the sins of others. For example a person finally recognizes that he has gotten into a relationship which is destroying his family and destroying himself. He returns to his family, but the damage has been done. He and his family suffer the results of his sins.
It makes no difference whether we caused the chaos or whether we suffer from the chaos caused by others. Jesus still walks on the water. He conquers the chaos. Then, do you know what he does? He calls us to walk out onto the chaos and walk towards him. “Come Peter.” Peter walked on the water. At least for a bit.
That’s what Jesus does for us all. He walks on the chaos of our lives, and then calls us to come and join him. He gives us the strength to walk on water.
And what if we fail? What if we blink, and sink like Peter did? “Don’t be afraid,” the Lord says. He is there to reach down and lift us out of the water, out of the chaos, just as he lifted Peter out of the water, out of the chaos of his life.
The Lord knows that we are not saints, not yet anyway. He knows that we are weak. He accepted Peter, that loud lout, that well meaning coward, and turned him into the Rock of the Church. He takes us as we are and walks with us on the water. He only asks us to have the courage to put our faith in Him. He gives us the strength to join Him in conquering the chaos.
Where is the chaos in your lives, in my life? Is it sickness or death? Is it chemical dependence? Is it some other addiction? Is it turmoil in your marriage or your family? Where have the seas raised up to chaotic dimensions? Wherever that chaos is, please remember, that there is nothing, no chaos that is too great for Jesus to conquer. And there is nothing too devastating for us to conquer with Him.

He walked on the waters, and He calls us to walk with Him.

Monday, August 04, 2008

18 Sunday in Ordinary Time - A

Give them some food yourselves.

When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
Then he said, “Bring them here to me, ”

It’s obvious that today’s Gospel is presenting us the miracle of the multiplication of food as an announcement, a foretelling of this what is happening on the altar during every Eucharistic celebration. But I think that this event is bringing to our minds also some social justice issues. We cannot avoid this problem, because Jesus is telling openly: “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.”

According to the report PNUD “Reconsidérer la Richesse” prepared by Patrick Viveret in 1998

• We need 6 billion dollars yearly to assure the education for all children in the world who are not yet in school

• At the same time in the USA, people spend annually 8 billion dollars on perfumes

• Nearly 1 billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.

• The world needs 13 billion dollars annually to feed all who are hungry

• At the same time in the USA, 25 billion dollars is spent each year on pet food

So, wealthy Christians in the USA are spending almost twice as much on pet food as is needed to feed the hungry of the whole world.

• Each day some 30 thousand children under the age of 5 are dying due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.” That is about 210,000 children each week, or just under 11 million children under five years of age, each year.

• Each day in France with a population of 63 million, 60 thousand tons of food goes to the garbage

The 3 richest people (and two of them are Christians) in the world have more total wealth than the total GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the world’s 48 poorest countries.

GDP = 46 billion 890 million dollars almost 50 billions dollars

Global Priority $U.S. (Billions)
Basic education for all 6 billion
Water and sanitation for all 9 billion
Reproductive health care for all women 12 billion
Basic health and nutrition 13 billion
Total 40 billion
Military spending in the world 780 billion
only in USA 550 billion

We are fortunate. We have much more than what we need to be content. 20% of the population in the developed nations consume 86% of the world’s goods.
Let’s try not to feed this endless cycle of consumerism and immorality in which this “modern and advanced” society forgets and ignores the other two thirds of our brothers and sisters.

“The biggest scandal of the contemporary world and especially of the Christianity is that while in one corner of this world thousands of people is starving every day, at the same time in the other corner of the same world thousands of people is dying because of the health problems caused by obesity.”