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

Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 26th – XVII Sunday in Ordinary Time

Pope Benedict XVI begins His Encyclical Letter "Caritas in Veritate" by the challenging words:

"Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life, death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity." (no 1)

Charity in truth, should be the principal driving force behind the authentic development.

Charity in truth and not greediness, charity in truth and not the success, charity in truth and not avarice and selfishness should be the only driving force of an authentic development. Without charity and truth there is no development, there is not a sincere and honest progress.

Preparing today's homily I read also the introduction to 17th Sunday liturgy from the "Living with Christ" booklet. What I found there are the following words:

"It's hard to believe, but the statistics are just as shocking as they are dreadful: in our day and age, some 800 million people still suffer from malnutrition or starvation. More than 35 thousands children die from hunger every day, when our society claims unparalleled living standards and unmatched technological sophistication." Why?

Pope in his Encyclical letter answers in a direct way:

"Life in many poor countries is still extremely insecure as a consequence of food shortages, and the situation could become worse: hunger still collects enormous numbers of victims among those who, like Lazarus, are not permitted to take their place at the rich man's table, ..." (no 27)

And this is due to the fact that we won't like to understand that we are lacking in our daily life "charity in truth".

In today's psalm we read:

"All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord

And all your faithful shall bless you ...

You open your hand satisfying all our needs"

Yes all our needs are satisfied but we are constantly unhappy and unsatisfied, greedy and disappointed, because we are lacking truth.

When the man bringing the food to Elisha (in the first reading today) objects: "we have not enough food for a hundred people to feed them", Elisha repeated his order: "Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord".

When Andrew and Simon Peter in today's Gospel complain: "we have only five loaves and two fish but what are they for so many people?" Jesus repeats His order: "Make the people sit down and give them to eat."

Are we not in the similar position? Do we not complain constantly that we do not have enough? Are not rather lacking charity in truth? Charity toward those who less fortunate than we and truth about our own wealth and prosperity?

From today's readings we learn that God is a life-giving God, who cares for hungering and poor crowds. And when God gives, He always gives over-abundantly. Prophet Elisha and Jesus the Son Of God show us that God always provides more than we need, for He wants us to share our goods with all His children. We, who are privileged to have all the food we need and more, can make a difference by sharing what we have.

And this is what Pope Benedict XVI says in his Encyclical letter:

"The reality of human solidarity, which is a benefit for us, also imposes a duty. Many people today would claim that they owe nothing to anyone, except to themselves. They are concerned only with their rights, and they often have great difficulty in taking responsibility for their own and other people's integral development.

Nowadays we are witnessing a grave inconsistency. On the one hand, appeals are made to so-called rights, arbitrary and non-essential in nature, accompanied by the demand that they be recognized and promoted by public structures, while, on the other hand, elementary and basic human rights remain neglected and are violated in much of the world. ... Claims to a “right to excess”, and even to transgression and vice, within affluent societies, are in a scandalous contrast to the lack of food, drinkable water, basic instruction and elementary health care in areas of the underdeveloped world and on the outskirts of large metropolitan centres." (no 43).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

In the First Reading, Jeremiah chastises the official leaders because they neglected their duties towards the people. These leaders have to take the blame for the misfor¬tune that has fallen upon the people.

But God will not let His people suffer for long. God Himself will assume the leadership, and He will entrust His flock to the care of good and faithful shepherds.

And then we see in the Gospel. Jeremiah's promise is fulfilled in Jesus. We see Jesus, the Good Shepherd, in action. First of all we see His care for His chosen Twelve, His disciples who have just returned from their missionary work.

These are tired and obviously in need of a break. Secondly, we see His care for the ordinary people, whom He calls the sheep of His flock and whom He teaches at length.

What a contrast we see between Jesus and the official leaders of His time. It’s no wonder that the people flocked to Him. In Jesus we see the divine compassion in action.

The disciples, having returned from their teaching mission, were tired, so Jesus invites them to come with Him to a lonely place across the lake where they could rest awhile. Take a sort of a retreat.

Jesus knows that his co-workers need a rest in order to renew themselves. And so, He wants to be with them, to encourage them and to strengthen them.

However, so many of the people were after Jesus that there was barely enough time to eat and so, in order to get some rest from the crowds, they set off in a boat for a "deserted place;' that is, some place remote and isolated. But the people saw where they were going and walked around the shore and got there first.

Though He was very tired, Jesus teaches them at great length and then in the next chapter in St. Mark’s Gospel we will see Jesus feed them with the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Here Jesus gives a good example which could be held up as a model for all the ordained ministry, bishops, priests and deacons.

The priest who is in charge of a parish is usually called a pastor, which is really a Latin word meaning 'shepherd'. And all the readings today are very much about shepherding, the care of the people committed to the parish priest (the pastor) and to his as¬sistants, if he has any.

In the reading from Jeremiah God is taking a very dim view of the shepherds. God says 'Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered.'
God was in fact speaking of the kings of Israel and their many wrong-doings and neglect they had been guilty of for centuries.
You see, the rulers of Israel were both kings and shep¬herds, as the psalm reminds us: The Lord is my shepherd' and what is more, as we see from the lives of David and Solomon, they were priest-kings who led worship in the tabernacle and the Temple.
The moral well-being of the people was to some extent regarded as dependent on the conduct of their king. They were ministers of God for the people.
Unfortunately, as it so often happens in so many human arrangements, they were not faithful and so now on the eve of the exile and captivity of the king and his people, Jeremiah chastises them but he also speaks of the day when God will raise up a king who will be wise, honest and just.
Here Jeremiah is speaking about the coming of Jesus. Jesus is of the line and house of David whose throne and kingdom He will not only in¬herit but will also transform.

It is however, Jesus the pastor, the good shepherd, we meet in the gospel story today. For some months now Jesus has been teaching the people, healing their sick and calling disciples.

He had sent some of these disciples out on their first mission to do very much the work he had been doing, and now that they have returned Jesus invites them to come to a place apart to rest and pray.

But as the Gospel says, they are interrupted. The people clamour round Jesus and his disciples and Jesus 'took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shep¬herd'.

The people wanted to hear Him, so He taught them but it was this same crowd, it seems, whom in the next chapter he fed with the five loaves and two fish. That was indicative of Jesus. How He is the Good Shepherd: compassionately providing both food for the spirit and food for the body.

The work of the pastor or parish priest is the same today, although he can never hope to perform as Jesus did or even as his disciples would do after the resurrection.

For we can tell by the gospel account what is already suggested in the passage from Jeremiah, the pastor must be with the people.

Through these Pastors God says’ 'I will gather my people, I will gather my flock, I will bring them back to the fold.' This Jesus would do through His life, through His teaching and by His death and resurrection;

He would ‘gather together in unity the scattered children of God' (Jn 11:25) and when He was 'lifted up' on the cross and in the resurrection He would draw everyone to Himself (12:32).

This shows us something about the kind of shep¬herding Jesus does, the kind of example he sets for the priests of today, the pastors of His parishes, the shepherds of His flock.

The pastor, the chosen shepherd of today, must be with His people, understand¬ing and sharing to the best of his ability their joys, their sorrows and their hopes.

To them too he must deliver the word, the word of God, mindful always that it is God's word and not his own, the teaching of the Church and not his own opinions, that he is to faithfully com¬municate.

For the Pastors, Christ, through the Sacrament of ordination, has put in his priest’s hands the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments through which Jesus Christ our Saviour communicates His very life to us.

Through the sacrament of reconciliation and his reconciling work in the community, the priest seeks to bring together those who are divided in opinion or at enmity with one another.

It is the priest who journeys with the sick, offering them the holy anointing, and it is the priest who, when someone is dying, in the name of Christ, absolves them and gives them the viaticum (the Holy Eucharist – food for the journey) that will accompany them into the next world.

With the local Church community the priests offers the Eucharist for them and, when someone dies, the priests prays with the bereaved at the grave that the deceased will enter into the everlasting light and peace of heaven.

There are many other activities, often very mundane activities, that are forced on the priest by the demands of modern life and while it is true that he may not be very good at handling them, at the same time if he is with his peo¬ple, and the flock is with him…

If he is always ready to offer them what Christ has put into his hands, then he will be a true pastor, a minister of His Lord, a shepherd reflecting the passion and love of Jesus for His flock.

We know that there is an essential connec¬tion between the Mass and the sacrificial death of Jesus on Calvary two thousand years ago.

However, some of us may be surprised to learn that even though we are invited to participate in Holy Communion, because this is how we become one with Christ and with each other it is in fact the consecration of the bread and the wine making them become the Body and Blood of Christ that is more important than the reception of Holy Communion.

Why? Because, It is this very consecration that is in fact a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary, an act which accomplished our redemption.

And while we are obliged by God and directed by His Church to attend Mass every Sunday, we are not obliged but rather invited to receive Holy Communion - there is no obligation to receive Holy Communion every Sunday.

The Mass has been well defined as "The unbloody presence of the unique bloody sacrifice of the Cross" This means that the Mass and Calvary are the same sacrifice, only the mode of offering is different: on the Cross the offering was bloody and brutal, in the Mass it is unbloody and peaceful.

But, however, the Mass is not a different sacrifice from that of Calvary — it is the same sacrifice, only the presence is different. Christ is now glorified in heaven; as such, he is substantially present under the species of bread and wine. The grace of Calvary is now applied to us through the Mass.

In the Mass today the victim, Christ, is the same Christ as on Calvary, and the priest is the same priest, for it is Christ operating through the our priest and offering Himself to the Father in reparation for our sins.

The heart of the Mass, the central part then, is the consecration of the bread and wine. The priest says, "This is my body" and "This is the cup of my blood." The Mass is not a "repetition" of Calvary — it is rather making the sacrifice of Calvary now really and truly present on the altar.

How is this done? It is done by the almighty power of God — it is a miracle. And it is a mystery of faith — Mysterium Fidei — because Jesus told His apostles at the Last Supper, "Do this in memory of me."

This is why the consecration of the Body and Blood of Christ requires our utmost devotion, attention, reverence and respect.

And because of this we the sheep of his flock also have a responsibility towards these His chosen shepherds.

This is why Catholics traditionally have the utmost respect for the Catholic Priesthood. Not because of the man but because of what he becomes when he offers the sacrifice of the Mass at the Altar on our behalf.

This is why we call Him Father. For truly he is our Father, our priest, our pastor. Chosen by Christ and directed by Him to be the shepherd of His people. Without the priest there can be no sacrifice of the Mass. Without the priest there can be no Celebration of the Eucharist.

For it is in the Mass the priest truly becomes the Pastor of God’s People, the Shepherd of His flock.

In this Year of the Priest, we are invited therefore to renew our support freely given to those chosen by God to lead us as Pastors. For we are the Sheep of His flock and we need to hear His voice clearly through these pastors so that we might come to know Him and to follow Him allowing Him to shepherd us and feed us with His body and Blood. -

Which is made truly present for us on His Altar by the actions of His chosen instrument, the Catholic Priest.

Let us, the sheep of His flock, pray for our Holy Father, Our Bishops and all our priests that they may be truly faithful to Christ’s calling and be true and faithful pastors, true and faithful shepherds to God’s people.

God Bless You.

Deacon Bernie Ouellette

Saturday, July 11, 2009

XV Sunday in Ordinary Time - B

The first and the third of today's readings area certainly a continuation of the theme we did have last week. Last week the prophet Ezekiel was chosen to go to the nation of rebels and in the Gospel Jesus wasn't accepted by the citizens of His hometown because He said the unpopular truth.

In today's first reading we have prophet Amos expulsed from Bethel by Amaziah the priest, because Amos was preaching the unpopular truth. And in the Gospel we have Jesus sending His Apostles and warning them that they can be rejected.

Jesus is aware of the fact that His teaching will not always be accepted. His will of saving all and have all in the Kingdom of God is all inclusive, but He is aware that not all will accept His will, that some will reject it. He will never contradict Himself and deny the freedom given to humans.

This is why He warns and advises His Apostles: "Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them".

More generally we can say that God is always ready to give each of us all necessary graces and gifts, but at the same time I am able to refuse His gifts and reject the graces offered by God including the Good News. This is; my freedom, my dignity and at the same time a danger.

The danger a making His graces and gifts fruitless. I am able to reject it because I am free. And God will never force me to accept His gifts because I am free. I am able to do it, to reject the graces of God by my stubbornness, my bad will, my negligence, by my selfishness, searching only my pleasure, my -so called- rights, finally by my pride. These are the reasons making God's graces useless!

Finally there are the reasons which lead me to the eternal damnation.

Why? Because God is serious in giving me freedom, even if I misuse it revolting against Him. But I have to be always aware of all possible consequences of my free decision. This is why Jesus says in today's Gospel: "Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them".

What is the other possible way?

I can search the understanding of God's will and accept it. Of course, this requires and presupposes the faith; means I believe in God and I believe God, I trust Him. If I trust God, I believe that His will is the best of all possible solutions in my life, because I believe and I trust that He loves me like nobody else, and I believe that He cares for me like nobody else.

I have always a choice, I am free. I can accept the will of God, His Good News, His truth even if it is awkward and unpopular, or I can reject it and try to live by myself, trusting only my means and my solutions.

It seems that this is the main theme of the newest Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI "Caritas in veritate", where Pope is giving the answer for the fundamental question: "why the contemporary world is facing such big economical and social problems?" The answer is very simple and obvious. We are facing the problems because we are not living in the truth, we neglect the truth, we search the good of the people basing only on our human resources and our human understanding, and very often this human understanding is selfish, egoistic and rejecting God's love and God's commandments.

He concludes His Encyclical by very strong and relevant words:

"Without God man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is. In the face of the enormous problems surrounding the development of peoples, which almost make us yield to discouragement, we find consolation in the sayings of our Lord Jesus Christ, who teaches us: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5) and then encourages us: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

Only a humanism open to the Absolute can guide us in the promotion and building of forms of social and civic life — structures, institutions, culture and ethos — without exposing us to the risk of becoming ensnared by the fashions of the moment. Awareness of God's undying love sustains us in our laborious and stimulating work for justice and the development of peoples ..." (n. 78)

Sunday, July 05, 2009

XIV Sunday in Ordinary Time – B – July 05, 2009

Today's readings give us a lot of possibilities, a lot of topics to talk about.

Surfing on the internet in search of some good thoughts for today's homily I saw that some preachers are talking about the (!!!) virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary because in the Gospel there is a sentence:

"Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?"

Some others are talking about the psychological problems of St. Paul because in the second reading we have the sentence:

"... a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated."

I choose however, the subject which apparently is not very popular but which is present in both: the first and the third readings; means Jesus' or God's claims and our attitude, our "delicateness" or "fragility". Does God have the rights to claim something from us? Does He have the right to tell us that we are wrong in some of our acts and deeds?

In the Old Testament God sent prophets like Ezekiel to call people back to the right path. They did not listen because their faces had become hard. (Ez 2:4) Easy to recognize that hardness in others, but more difficult to see when we look in the mirror. If I am told that my behaviour is not correct or that I am doing something wrong, I feel immediately offended, upset, hurt or even insulted.

Ezekiel was not eager to take on the role of prophet. He knew the people would say, "Who are you to tell us what to do?" And this is the case of each prophet. This is the case of the pope or bishop. This is the case of those who were chosen by Christ to teach and to take care of the spiritual good of the flock of Christ.

St. Paul in his Second Letter to Timothy writes something which is perfectly fitting today's topic:

"I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths." (2 Tim 4,1-5)

In our lives everything should be nice, smooth, soft and pleasant. I don't pretend that it should be always rude, harsh, cruel and unkind or impolite, but ... should it really be always soft and pleasant?

To the priests Pope Benedict XVI said recently: "Do not try to be understood by the world, but rather to be of Christ in the truth." And this is what we have to admit, we have to be all "of Christ in the truth" even if sometimes this truth is very awkward and uncomfortable.

The same thing happened to Jesus when he went back to his home town of Nazareth. You would have expected the people to have received with honours. But instead of being proud of their most famous son, they reacted with envy. Jesus also received an unenthusiastic reception from his countrymen. “They took offense at him.” (Mk 6:3)

That kind of reception will become more common for those serious about their Catholic faith. They will be judged as offensive, harsh, unpleasant and so on. History professor Philip Jenkins has written an insightful book titled "The New Anti-Catholicism". Not a Catholic himself, he analyzes what has become the “last acceptable prejudice.” The prejudice shows itself not just in fringe groups who are openly anti-Catholic, but right in the mainstream: major even catholic newspapers, movies, television, and the arts. One reason for this hostility is the teaching of the Church on matters like divorce, contraception, abortion and homosexuality. Church is not soft, not kind, not tolerant ... these are the claims of those who feel offended or upset with the Church (and finally Jesus') teaching.

We have to be politically correct; we have to be by all means "tolerant" and kind, liberal and "charitable".

More generally it is the mentality coming up from the 60' and 70' conviction expressed in the principle: "If you feel good, just do it". And if you don't feel good it must be wrong, it must be an offence and injustice.

Pope Paul VI wrote the Encyclical Letter "Humane Vitae" and ... how many Catholics disagreed with Him and revolted against the teaching of the Church because they didn't feel good. Pope Benedict XVI said about the immorality of using the condoms and ... how many Catholics protested and even left the Church?

I read somewhere on the internet that over 10% of American adults have left the Catholic Church after having been raised Catholic. Two-thirds of those former Catholics, say they left the Church due to no longer believing in some of its teachings. Nearly six-in-ten former Catholics who are now unaffiliated said they left due to dissatisfaction with Catholic teachings on abortion and homosexuality. About half cited are upset about Catholic teachings on birth control.

Cardinal J. Ratzinger (present Pope Benedict XVI) in the book “God and the World” wrote:

If the Church simply aims to please everybody or to avoid conflict, merely to ensure that no disturbances arise anywhere, then her real message can no longer make any impact.

The Church which tries to please everybody and to be politically correct loses her credibility, and becomes a traitor, a betrayer of Christ, Her Founder.

Card. André Vingt-Trois – archbishop of Paris commented this problem in the words:

Christ didn’t come to accept the opinions of the majority or to adjust to the politically correct ideologies of His time. He did have much greater ambitions; He came to call sinners to repentance and holiness.

Because the Catholic Church does not claim to have the authority -other churches claim to have- to change “the Deposit of Faith” entrusted to her by Christ, she cannot allow such things as divorce, or priestesses, or sodomy or abortion, however fashionable these things may become in society. Her Lord is not ‘society,’ or the world, but Christ.

This was the mission of Ezekiel:

"I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day. Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. But you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD GOD!

And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house— they shall know that a prophet has been among them."

In today’s Gospel we have some men who did not want to have their minds disturbed. They thought they already knew Jesus – his job, his family. They had observed him growing up. Also his “brothers and sisters” although perhaps on that score they were confused as some people today. But hearing about miracles and wisdom, they did not want to investigate.

In that regard they are like people today. Many think they know who Jesus is – a good man, a great teacher, like the Buddha. However, they don’t want to consider his claims: “Before Abraham came be, I AM.” “The Father and I are one.” Jesus forgave sins, proclaimed himself Master of the Sabbath and the Bridegroom in whose presence no one fasts. In other words, he claimed divine status.

We need to see beyond appearances. Jesus Christ is the Son of God and His claims are justified. Something similar can happen if we open ourselves to Jesus and his teachings. I do not deny that Jesus – and his Church – make some astonishing claims. Like the Nazarenes we can take offense, be upset or feel bad – or, like Peter, worship. There is no middle ground.

If Jesus is the Son of God and He is the Founder of the Church, I believe and I trust Him and the Church. This is what we profess in Creed, when we say: "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church".