Homily 17th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B July 29, 2018

It certainly is a Gospel story that feeds the hungry who follow him, sort of like the daily feeding of the hungry they provide at the now famous St. John’s Soup Kitchen, or even on a smaller scale like our own food pantry here at our Church. It’s also a Gospel story of not wasting the precious commodity of food, being commanded by Christ to gather up not only the bread and fish left over, but also find enough wicker baskets to place the food in. Wicker baskets don’t fall out of the sky, do they? It’s also a Gospel story that tells us of the power of Jesus’ words, his teachings, how they speak to the human heart in ways that touch us deeply if we so open ourselves to his verbal power. The proof being the number of people who follow him, leaving behind their homes and daytime jobs to allow his heavenly persuasion to form and shape them into persons they previously were not. We do well to do likewise.

                There are many angles to this Gospel story of a large, hungry crowd following Jesus to an out-of-the-way deserted place where there are no grocery stores to purchase enough food to satisfy their hunger. They’ve backed themselves into a hunger corner. But the angle at the heart of this rich story is that of Divine Concern.

                Jesus tests Philip, asking, “Where can we buy enough food for all of them?” Poor Philip is dumbfounded. He’s at a loss, where we sometimes are. While Philip is at a loss, Christ is confident that this hunger problem will be solved; that this puzzle will be put together. But not in the normal way of putting a puzzle together. Divine Concern is not your normal, average human form of concern for the basic needs of others or us. It would be nice if we could say that our concern for the hungry, the sick, or whoever is in need is just as powerful and solves problems as well as Divine Concern does. But that wouldn’t be accurate.

                We can say that our concern for others is an extension of God’s concern for us. But on our own we cannot match the love and concern of God’s generosity. What human being could feed 5000 men, thousands more women and children, with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish? And then have 12 wicker baskets left over when there was only one basket to begin with carried by a young boy? Beware of those who either promise you things they cannot deliver on, or those who think they can irrationally fill the shoes of God without God’s partnership.

                Without Christ, first of all, there would not be a crowd in this Gospel. Without Christ, the stadium would be empty, including this one here on the hill. The crowd gathers because he speaks God’s truth with authority and love. They hunger for more of his word, just like we do. And, like the crowd that day in the Gospel, this is a good place to be.

                Without Christ, the crowd would starve and steal from the boy carrying the loaves and fish. Things would get very ugly, like a Red Sox-Yankees brawl. The Apostle Philip talks money – 200 days wages are not enough to feed such a vast crowd – and, Andrew talks about a boy with a few fish and bread. Both Apostles show genuine concern for the hungry crowd; Philip with his lack of money, Andrew with his lack of food. But their concern hits a stone wall when it comes to the big job of feeding everyone there. That’s one form of physical and spiritual surgery they cannot perform. This is why we don’t place our faith in human beings alone, especially for the big stuff. We place our faith in human beings who are open to the presence of God in their lives. Which Philip, Andrew, and the rest of the Apostles are. Probably even Judas was open at this early stage before Satan sifts him like wheat.

                The crowd is fed and satisfied because of Divine Concern, which translates into human beings working in union with the power of God. This is a very good place for our faith to be when addressing the needs of others and ourselves. Not only is the food abundant to satisfy their hunger, but his grace is abundant to satisfy the more serious needs of death, suffering, addiction, labor issues, and all that causes concern to body, mind, and soul.

                Whatever our concerns, we don’t need to go it alone. We can make some headway if we try to, like 5 loaves and 2 fish worth of headway. But that won’t satisfy the crowd within us. If we want wicker baskets left over, for future use, then invite Christ, invite Divine Concern into your world. Go to your inner room, and invite Divine Concern into your life.

                12 wicker baskets left over: what’s in each one, besides bread and fish? The 1st basket; love. 2nd basket; mercy. 3rd basket; generosity. 4th basket; concern. 5th basket; grace. 6th basket; power. 7th basket; assistance. 8th basket; peace. 9th basket; faith. 10th basket; goodness. 11th basket; rescue. 12th basket; life. None of which we can give to ourselves or to others on our own. All of which we can offer and experience with Christ alongside.

Homily 15th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B July 15, 2018

With the Gospel this week being the story of the Disciples being sent out by Jesus in pairs, heading out to towns and villages with a case of oil in their tunic, their anointing with oil many who were sick and curing them, the end of Mass today presents the timely opportunity in union with this spree of healing to invite forward anyone who would like to be anointed with the sacred oil, receiving the Sacrament of healing, accompanied with God’s grace and peace.

                As I was reflecting on this Gospel earlier this past week, I couldn’t help but think, “What an opportunity to bring alive the actions of the Disciples at the command of Jesus for any of us who are struggling in body, mind, or spirit.” If it was the Gospel of two weeks ago with Jesus raising the 12-year old girl back to life as she slept the sleep of death, that would be a much harder Gospel story to copy here. if that somehow happened though, these pews would be filled every week, even during the summer months when the beach is calling our names.

                But this Gospel of oil and healing we can imitate in holiness and faith, as Christ has given to his Church the power and grace of the Sacrament of Anointing.

                Jesus tells them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.” Stay there with those who welcome you, and stay with those open to hearing some pretty good news. The good news that Christ has arrived in our world, and that struggles and sufferings and difficulties are going to have a response provided to them. The good news that Christ who sent us has the power and authority to heal the broken-hearted, to clean up the cuts and bruises, to lift up the downtrodden, and to offer hope to the hopeless.

                Christ welcomes us into his home. Not just the one in Nazareth where they took offense at him. That home alone is way too small. He welcomes us into the home of his Spirit, which covers the universe into eternal life where no boundaries or borders exist. Where no walls are built to keep people out. Don’t you think it would be pretty good news if we lived in a national home with no walls and where peace reigned?

                When the Disciples enter a house and stay there for a few days, by the time they leave after driving out demons and curing the sick who come to them, that house they stayed in now becomes a beam of light that welcomes the presence and power of Christ within its walls. Each pair of Disciples transform that house into a house of God where healing and peace are set up to remain. This is what we want for our Christian homes. That they not be places of confusion, turmoil, violence, or anger. But the type of house where two Disciples of Christ can reside. Where the peace of Christ is invited in. Where healing of body and soul is possible. Where caring for sick family members through love is accomplished. A place where Christ can rest his head.

                The image connected to this Gospel that I hold of my own home when growing up on the other side of the tracks is my mother placing a holy water font outside the front door. A small, tiny plastic thing that would cost 10 cents at a yard sale, filled with blessed water, and filled also with a message. The message that little plastic device told was, “This is a Church you are about to enter. Bless yourself.” (And you wonder why I’m a priest?) “The message that this house is to be a house of the Lord, a house of respect, peace, and welcome.” With 16 children, that little plastic device was the only chance my parents had of bringing peace into the home. It was a place where those who entered were called to be disciples of Christ.

                In today’s 1st reading from the Book of Amos, we see the opposite of the virtue of welcome. We see unwelcome. Amos, the Prophet of God, is commanded by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, to flee to the land of Judah. “Off with you, visionary,” he says to Amos. Amaziah not only tosses Amos off his local property in Bethel for speaking the truth of God, but he tells Amos to leave the country. This is what we don’t want our houses to look like. Amos shakes the dust off his feet and leaves all of them to God’s vengeance.

                Which returns me to the beginning. We desire this Church house to be a house of peace and healing, where the Lord accompanies those who battle the unclean spirits and bodily torments of this passing world. Our Savior has blessed us and graced us with a Sacrament where we seek to be touched by his generosity.

                Pope Francis wants our Church to rightfully be a field hospital, which it has been for 20 centuries. Where those who suffer in mind and body can become one of the patients in this Gospel. The Kingdom of God hasn’t gone south to Argentina or north to Iceland. It’s still here, and it’s just as powerful.         

Homily 14th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B July 8, 2018

It certainly seems like Jesus is having all sorts of family issues in this Gospel scene at home in Nazareth. In their minds, Jesus comes out of nowhere with this incredible force of wisdom and heavenly talent. As a result, we get all these questions murmured among the crowd; “Where did he get all this?; What mighty deeds he performs; Isn’t he a simple carpenter?; Isn’t he Mary’s son, that simple-looking, most-loving peasant woman who lives on the other side of the village?; Are not his brothers and sisters here with us?” meaning, not his siblings in this case, but his nephews, nieces, cousins, half-brothers, half-sisters. When we look at his family, there’s nothing extraordinary that stands out about them. No wonder why the Apostle Philip would later ask, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Look at these people! They look like they’re from Worcester!

                So, they took offense at him. They took offense at him for doing good. For calling out demons, for curing the sick with a touch, making people whole and healthy. They took offense at him for being so ordinary-looking, yet performing works that didn’t match his looks.

                Remember, these are people who are more familiar with Jesus than anyone else in the world. They know him. He just grew up with all these doubters for 30-odd years. They are his family. There’s his immediate family, his cousins and nieces; no direct siblings because of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Jesus had no full brothers and sisters because Mary gave birth to just one child, the Son of God. The translation from the Hebrew to the Greek for brothers and sisters in this case, placed alongside the infallible truth of Blessed Mary’s perpetual virginity, translates to cousins and any possible half-siblings.

                Yet, everyone in this tiny town of Nazareth was family to each other. Jesus had so many relatives, so much family in Nazareth, a town of no more than 200 people at the time, that it makes me wonder if he still has distant relatives around today. Every Jewish person I meet, I think to myself, “This person could be a relative of my Lord and Savior.”

                Nazareth was small and close-knit, just like our families. They knew Jesus. So when he started his ministry, performing great works and speaking authoritative words that did not match the low-key, low expectations of Nazareth, they took offense. They became envious. He went beyond their expectations in life. His goodness far surpassed their ordinary, unassuming lives. In a certain respect, Jesus became their enemy, the poster boy for doing too much good. And because they couldn’t reign him in, they took offense at his heavenly beauty.

                Therefore, as Christians who follow the teachings and ways of Jesus Christ, I humbly dedicate this Gospel to deeper love of family. That would be right up the alley of Pope Francis. That’s what he stresses for our families. He’s not naïve; he knows the family challenges are many. But he wants families to grow deeper in love. Taking offense at someone’s good work is not acceptable to God. Taking this Gospel as our cue, we are to do exactly the opposite of what the “family” of Jesus does, meaning the entire village of Nazareth.

                As families, may we grow deeper in love alongside all the issues we face. The time is short. It makes me wonder how many people from Nazareth who knew Jesus so well regretted their reaction toward him that day when they later found out he was crucified. Was there some regret and sorrow for not supporting him in his mighty deeds?

                This Gospel on the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time is anything but ordinary. It’s a challenge and a call to grow deeper in love with our families, our relatives, the villages of our lives. And when we do so, such love will extend into the communities where we live and work, maybe taking the Christian ministry of a few of us to the national and international level like Christ. He’s not the Savior of Nazareth.

He’s the Savior of the world. He desires our support for one another. He wants us to have what he didn’t have in this Gospel; to love our families. And the key to doing so is found in the words of St. Paul; “My grace is sufficient for you.”