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Saturday, August 29, 2015

FORM, FEELINGS, FUNCTION


[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – B
August 30, 2015

FORM, FEELINGS, FUNCTION

I feel convicted today … and for good measure and for good reason. I am told to quit mere form. I am told to veer away from shallow feelings. I am told to function commensurate with the form and the accompanying feelings.

Moses told the Israelites to “hear the statutes and decrees which [he] has taught them to observe.” James, for his part, reminds everyone to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

Now, the Lord has a pretty nasty word (for our politically correct generation) for everyone who subscribe only to form and feeling, not substance … And the winning word in our scrabble game today is … HYPOCRITES!

Ouch! That hurts. And why not?

We are all hypocrites in one way or another, at some time or other in our lives.

That time is now. That place is here. And that person is you and me! The Pharisees and Scribes were pretty notorious … then – and now! They focused on rituals and externals. They knew all the rules. But they knew all the tricks of the trade to break the very same rules.

They focused on externals. They zeroed in on form and feelings. Oh, what better way to control people than capitalizing on their fanatical, and “religious feelings!”

No, dear friends. A note to self, first and foremost … not lip service alone … not feelings alone. Function must follow. Action must ensue.

People are not willing to hear God-talk alone, but God-walk.


I feel convicted. I feel challenged. I need to do more than focus on form and feeling. “The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.”

Saturday, August 15, 2015

WISDOM ON ALL LEVELS; WISDOM IN ALL SENSES

[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
20th Sunday OT_B
August 16, 2015



WISDOM ON ALL LEVELS; WISDOM IN ALL SENSES

Wisdom is definitely what binds all three readings today. The first reading extols it, and exhorts all to pursue it: “Forsake foolishness that you may live!” The second reading makes much of it, and Paul tells us to “live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because days are evil.”

The Gospel presents to us who the Wisdom incarnate is … Jesus presents himself as God’s wisdom in human form, as Daniel Donovan puts it.

Now, pray, tell me … who among us does not need a good dose of this wisdom? Who among us would refuse the gift of such wisdom? The “days are evil,” yes … We feel lost. We are confused. We can’t tell who speaks the truth. We can’t anymore decide whether what we see and hear in mainstream media, in surveys, in polls, and in opinion pages, is really the truth, nothing else, nothing less, and nothing more than the truth.

I definitely could use a bit more of such wisdom. I certainly need more than just a single dosage of this wisdom. I need to acquire the virtue and the gift of wisdom that lasts, not for now, but for all time.

The pull of foolishness is strong. Its claim on the minds of people, including me, is almost unstoppable. Like everyone else, I fall for what glitters. Like most people, I get swamped by the information overload. I get carried away by propaganda, from mainstream media and big political and economic giants.

Culture is in decline, and the world of the spiritual has been covered over by the world of the material.

Today, the Lord does not just offer Himself as Wisdom personified. He also gives Himself as Wisdom to be shared … wisdom to partake of … wisdom to consume and He offers Himself as food, not only for the spirit, but also for the body.

It might help us to note that today’s gospel appears to be the climax of the whole discourse on bread, food, and heavenly sustenance. From the opening “rising action” of the feeding of the five thousand (not counting women and children!), to the developing and unfolding mystery of people looking only for material food and missing out on the spiritual side, to the point when the Lord claims directly and clearly to be “the living bread that came down from heaven,” today’s episode is a point of no return. It reaches a high point. It cannot go up higher. It needs a resolution and a conclusion, an image so well explained by Joseph Pellegrino.

I choose to remain for a while today on this “high point.” This is the summit of the Lord’s claim that will be a problem to be discussed next week. Today, you either take Him for His word or reject Him altogether. The die is cast, so to speak.

Jesus clearly makes this claim: “Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Our search for holistic wisdom could not get any better than this.  Why is that?

For one, the Lord cuts through our need for both material and spiritual gifts. He gives us food – food for the body and food for the soul. Wisdom goes beyond merely assuring oneself of a sandwich to go for the material journey. Wisdom offers more – much more, in fact. The Lord, the personification of Wisdom, offers food to assuage more than physical hunger, but more importantly, our spiritual hunger.

Taste and see the goodness of the Lord! … That is what we said after the first reading. Yes, today and for all days, the Lord gives us wisdom on all levels, and wisdom in all senses: food for the body and food for the soul.

“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

“Whoever eat this bread will live forever.”


Saturday, August 8, 2015

O JESU, VITA MEA ES TU!


[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
August 9, 2015

O JESU VITA MEA ES TU!

Elijah was then a potential picture of you and me. You and me and that guy who looks so happy and fulfilled, and seemingly wanting for nothing in his or her life, could very well be what Elijah then was – a forlorn, tired, and disappointed prophet who went to the desert wishing for no other thing, but death.

Elijah was a discouraged man. The task of prophecy hung heavy on his shoulders, and no one seemed to bother to listen to him.

Allow me to be a bit cheesy today, if being cheesy is what this means to people now … Back in the day, one of our favorite songs in seminary went like this:

O Jesu vita mea es Tu, sine te est mors: (O Jesus, you are my life; without you means death)
Tu viaticum es, sine Te labor: (You are sustenance; without you only labor)
Tu laetitia es, sine Te dolor: (You are our joy, without you only pain)
Quies mea es tu, sine Te pugna o Jesu. (You are rest, without you only struggle)

The air we breathe is heavy, not just with smog, but with all sorts of human concerns. The so-called “big one” continues to terrify us. The threat of terrorists still worries millions all over the world, whose lives are in danger every day. The effects of climate change (no matter what position one might have about it) seem to take center stage everywhere in the world these days.

But above everything else, the moral compass that used to guide people’s actions and behavior seemed to have vanished in thin air and libertinism, in the name of personal freedom and free choice, has taken its place.

We prophets are often weary of standing by the truth and preaching the same truth in season and out of season. Most days, we feel that our message is too much counter cultural, too much out of kilter with what the majority of peoples believe.

I am discouraged. And like Elijah, there are times I want to give up.

But days such as today, and the past three Sundays where the image of a provident God with food for everyone come as solid reminders that hopelessness and helplessness are not what divinely revealed Scriptures call us to.

Today, you and I are reminded once again that not all is lost yet. You and I are told to let go of “all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and reviling.”

Yes, dear friend and fellow prophet. There is hope. And there is concrete help from above. As in the case of Elijah, food was provided. And when he ate, “strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.”

As a priest since 1982, I am doing my more than fair share of “sweat, care and cumber; sorrows passing number.” I don’t claim perfection in all I do, but I can lay claim to one thing … I try my best each time. I do my part and play my role. And when I take certain stands, not all are pleased … not all agree … and some do take to active anger focused on the messenger, not the message.

The Lord Himself was not immune to such. “The Jews murmured about Jesus,” we are told. People focused on the bread, but not on the message. People looked for freebies and stopped short of what could give them total inner freedom. People missed the forest for a few trees. The Lord Himself was probably weary at times, which explains why he had to go up the mountain or to the desert or to an out-of-the-way place to pray and commune with His Father.

We now have the possibility to commune with God, in and through the gift of Bread – the ultimate gift of Himself in the Eucharist.

Join me in the feast. Join me as I gather strength for the journey that is life in this world. Join me fully, actively and consciously in this Eucharistic celebration.

O Jesus, my life, without you means death.
O Jesus. My sustenance, without you there is only toil.
O Jesus, my joy, without you there is only pain.
O Jesus, my rest, without you there is only struggle.



Saturday, August 1, 2015

COMPLAINING, CRAVING & CHANGING

[BREAKING THE BREAD OF GOD’S WORD]
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – B
August 2, 2015

COMPLAINING, CRAVING & CHANGING

Complaints are a daily reality everywhere. I complain when it rains. I complain when it’s hot. I complain when traffic is snarled (now, that means I complain almost everyday!)

The Israelites, blessed enough to be free from slavery, soon found reasons enough to complain. Food wasn’t good enough. The meat wasn’t tasty enough, for want of spices they got so used to back in the day when they were slaves in Egypt.

But God, who always hears the cries of the poor and the needy, according to Biblical tradition, supplied them with manna and meat. Moses, ever the wise leader, reminded them that what they ate was “the bread that the Lord had given them to eat.”

We humans are a curious lot. We never are satisfied. There is always something missing. There is always something better, something more, something worth pinning our covetous eyes on. The other man’s grass is always greener, and the neighbor’s cows are always fatter and plumper.  How true the words of St. Paul are! We all are “corrupted through deceitful desires,” “lived once as Gentiles do.”

We don’t just complain. We crave for more.

The crowds, who were given free fish sandwiches last week, are back in the race. This time, they did not walk. No … they traveled in style and boarded boats, looking for the Lord. The sandwiches must have been too good. The free lunches must have been too tempting that they preferred not to work for their keeps, but to just be free-loaders.

If you don’t call that craving and longing for more, I don’t know what it is.

But the Lord told them point-blank: “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.”

How shallow we all can be! St. Paul was right. We need to shed off that “old self” and our “former way of life.”

How about changing the rules of the game? How about starting the race with that ever important reality that we all should face? … that we were once slaves, for one. But here’s another … that we all too soon forget. When we get used to comfort and abundant graces that are sufficient, we want more. We crave for more.

How about looking at the reality about who we are? … That ultimately, we are really craving for the ultimate, for the highest, the noblest, the best, and that which no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart ever dreamt of!

Yes, we all crave for God and His ultimate gift.

We all crave for bread that never grows stale and food that does not spoil. We all crave for eternal life.

Today, cut out all the complaints. Get into the groove of change. And crave all you want for the ultimate. For today, the promise is given loud and clear …

“My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

What else are you looking for?