When huge crowds gather to hear Jesus’ words, they come with hunger for his words and soon experience physical hunger. A seemingly impossible feeding of the hungry presents itself. An unlikely, unnamed little boy gifts his bread and fish and miraculously all are fed. And there are leftovers collected.
The boy with no name was recognized by one of the apostles as having a gift to offer, a gift that would solve the problem. Among so many, one boy, one gift! And the effort was miraculously multiplied!
Yesterday I had a conversation with a woman, a mother in our parish who is actively discerning what God is calling her to do next. During the conversation, she named several other older women who had invited her to consider using a specific gift they recognize in her. The older women, like the apostles, recognize that she can offer what she has, let God multiply it, and all will be gifted, will be fed with spiritual gifts.
As I listen to many of you describe your lives—the way you felt, the people you reached out to, the actions you took—I recognize that many of you have discovered during this pandemic that simple things can bring so much joy and love to you and to your families. When you encountered the absence of things you thought you needed to survive, you discovered new thoughts, new ways of being together, and new relationships. You had more time to pray. You volunteered to help others. You planted gardens. You stopped doing some things and that has been good!
Miracles occur in our daily lives. Like the boy in the gospel, we too have something to offer, to be part of and to contribute to the effort. Where in your life do you see a scarcity that God might be planning to turn into abundance?
The Shepherd’s Voice
Jesus has compassion for the crowds that bombard him. He claims them all with a commitment to teach them many things because they appear to be sheep without a shepherd. I think that many of us can identify with this scenario in Mark’s gospel. Sheep learn to recognize the voice of their shepherd, the one most responsible for their care. Ron Rolheiser presents us with ways to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd. After reading the quote below reflect on these questions: Which voice of God is prominent in your life, is most easily recognizable? Which voice is most challenging? Which voice will I listen to more intentionally?
Among all the voices that surround and beckon us, how do we discern the unique cadence of God’s voice? Which one is the voice of the Good Shepherd?
There’s no easy answer and sometimes the best we can do is to trust our gut-feeling about right and wrong.
But we have a number of principles that come to us from Jesus, from scripture, and from the deep wells of our Christian tradition that can help us.
What follows is a series of principles to help us discern God’s voice among the multitude of voices that beckon us. What is the unique cadence of the voice of the Good Shepherd?
- The voice of God is recognized both in whispers and in soft tones, even as it is recognized in thunder and in storm.
- The voice of God is recognized wherever one sees life, joy, health, color, and humor, even as it is recognized wherever one sees dying, suffering, conscriptive poverty, and a beaten-down spirit.
- The voice of God is recognized in what calls us to what’s higher, sets us apart, and invites us to holiness, even as it is recognized in what calls us to humility, submergence into humanity, and in that which refuses to denigrate our humanity.
- The voice of God is recognized in what appears in our lives as “foreign,” as other, as “stranger,” even as it is recognized in the voice that beckons us home.
- The voice of God is the one that most challenges and stretches us, even as it the only voice that ultimately soothes and comforts us.
- The voice of God enters our lives as the greatest of all powers, even as it forever lies in vulnerability, like a helpless baby in the straw.
- The voice of God is always heard in privileged way in the poor, even as it beckons us through the voice of the artist and the intellectual.
- The voice of God always invites us to live beyond all fear, even as it inspires holy fear.
- The voice of God is heard inside the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even as it invites us never to deny the complexities of our world and our own lives.
- The voice of God is always heard wherever there is genuine enjoyment and gratitude, even as it asks us to deny ourselves, die to ourselves, and freely relativize all the things of this world.
The voice of God, it would seem, is forever found in paradox.
The entire reflection can be found here:
Walking Sticks in Our Lives
Jesus instructed the Twelve to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick. For now, let’s just stay with that image of a walking stick. That “assistive device” is never on my list of travel items to pack. Yet it is the only thing that Jesus instructed his followers to take with them. What did Jesus mean by that? No food, clothing, credit card, reservations for a place to stay, transportation?
Every time we participate at Mass, the last words of the liturgy are a message of sending forth. “Go and preach the Gospel.” “Go forth and serve the Lord and each other.” “Go and BE the Good News to others.” We pick up that stick and begin walking where Jesus walked. All that we need is Jesus—the Jesus we just encountered in the Mass and in each other. Yes, Jesus is our walking stick, and we are walking sticks for each other.
As I reflected on the image I chose for “the walking stick,” I began to wonder. I see walking sticks in both person’s hands. Who is leading and who is following? Is the child merely imitating the adult? As the child looks at the adult, is the child urging the adult on? Is the adult taking the child along for the journey?
Walking sticks are important in hiking, especially for maintaining balance on rocky or uneven terrain. Where is the balance that we need in our faith journeys? What terrain that we are encountering requires assistive devices? In addition to Jesus, who are the persons in our lives who serve as “walking sticks” for us? Walking sticks, companions on the journey, and sensible shoes! See the reflection from Diana Macalintal here.
See and Hear with Open Hearts
A carpenter’s son? A neighbor’s child? Sometimes the familiar gets in the way of our seeing God’s work in our lives. We have preconceived ideas about what we can expect from the people we think we know so well. Our expectations can limit the possibilities for them to reveal God at work in them. I often hear parents say that their kids behave so much better, are much more willing to help or lend a hand, are more courteous and respectful to other parents or other adults than they are to them. Actually, they said that about me too when I was growing up. I think all of us have blind spots about so many people in our lives. We don’t seem to be able to see and to hear God’s deeds, God’s creation in our family, our friends, our bosses and co-workers, the people we sit next to in the pews, the workers in stores. Today we have come to use the words “I see you” to indicate that someone is not invisible to us. We say “I hear you” to indicate that we have listened deeply, have listened for understanding rather than argument or attempts to get them to agree with the way we think.
Our scripture readings are all about being sent to places and to people who are “hard of face and obstinate of heart.” Jesus was not able to do much in his hometown. What they believed about his upbringing kept them from believing in his wisdom and power, especially to heal.
Where in our own lives do we recognize our tendency to be “hard of face and obstinate of heart? How to we work to “listen” for what God might be saying and to “see” how God might be trying to get our attention? When we reflect on our experience of the pandemic, do we see and hear people that we think we know or knew, differently? Who do I choose to hear and see differently as a result of my reflection and prayer? In response to the Gospels we read? In response to the pleadings of prophets today?
We pray for the gift of faith that continues to recognize the goodness in all of God’s creation—even those we seek to avoid, to not see, and not hear or even talk to. Pope Francis reminds us to encounter others with love, compassion, and empathy that leads to MERCY.
Jesse Manibusan writes and sings that with open eyes and ears and hearts, “we’ll speak in new ways and we’ll see God’s face in places we’ve never known.” Listen here:
To Be Made Well
The need for healings, the need for so much of God’s creation to be made well, is huge. Think of all the persons in your life who are in need of healing from illnesses, from abuse, addictions, shunning, fractured relationships, and exclusion. If I (or anyone) were being shunned today, if I were in need of healing, what is the closest thing to Jesus that I could touch and be healed? What is it about Jesus that made him notice, become aware, and do something about it when people of all kinds asked, in words and in actions, for life, for restoration to wholeness, for acceptance in the community?
Many of us remember June as being the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Our Scripture readings give us evidence of what stirs Jesus’ heart and how he responds with compassion and grants fullness of life to all who have faith and boldly ask to be made well. How will we, the community professing faith during our worship this weekend, participate in the healing work of Jesus, bringing all of God’s creation to wholeness and fullness of life?
Do You Not Care?
The apostles were terrified and woke up the “sleeping Jesus” with their cry, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Quiet! Be still! Three simple commands from Jesus and the storm is calmed! The squalls, the waves, the boat beginning to take on water were all reasons to be terrified. These images also remind us of the times that we experience the “storms of life.” Fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus, the loss of so many lives (friends and family), the loss of the “normal” ways of doing things—shopping, schooling, churching, exercising, parenting, political differences, hate crimes, shootings, the murder of George Floyd, cyber-attacks, the February freeze and loss of power, our longing to touch and hug—all the squalls and waves that left us out of control. Was Jesus sleeping? Did we cry out with our fears? Did we think of ourselves as all being in the same boat? Jesus calms the physical storm on the water. Can those same words heal us today? Can we heal each other? Before the healing, we must admit that things are not right. We must name the sources of our fear. Cries of anguish, of loss, of feelings of defeat—like those found in half of the Psalms—all ask “Do you not care that we are…………..(fill in the blank)? In these storms of life, we are re-discovering the Catholic practice of lament!
We can move from fear to faith, even if it flounders! We can intentionally and consistently WORK to make things right. We have been fearful and uncomfortable. We are the ones who were asleep! Our new awakenings impel us to ACT with each other. Pope Francis keeps reminding us of just that!
Because of the coronavirus, Pope Francis gave his extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) in an empty St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 27, 2020. He said:
Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat … are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “we are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.
Of Mustard Seeds, Plants and Relationships
Our readings this weekend are filled with images of nature, of God’s creation, of our relationship to nature and the meanings and actions that provide invitations to us. After the February extended freeze, many of us wondered what would happen to our plants. How surprised we have been to discover the resilience of many of them. I wasn’t surprised then when I discovered this quote: “In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.” Plants take care of us? Yes! Think about it! How has your faith been restored, nurtured, or even discovered anew through the flourishing of the natural world during the pandemic? Do you remember the revelation of colorful fish in now clear waters of the Venetian canals? The playfulness of undisturbed animal habitats? The clearing of once polluted skies?
When we hear the gospel about the mustard seed, we are invited to reflect on what great things come from the smallest of seeds, seeds that are one of the frequent images used in parables and other teaching stories. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, the source of the previous quote, is described by reviewers as instructive poetry. One review says:
As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take us on “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise” (Elizabeth Gilbert).
Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In a rich braid of reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.
Awakening to a wider ecological consciousness requires a reciprocal relationship with all of the living world. Hearing the languages of other beings—all kinds of beings—is what St. Francis of Assisi was so attuned to, so aligned with! We have new invitations! Our work in restoring the relationships between humans and nature is urgent! Will the seeds planted in our hearts, desirous of right relationships, be like mustard seeds?
To Give Blood
Have you given blood lately? For what purpose? For diagnosis of medical conditions? As life-giving or life-saving donations to those in need? Blood, sweat, and tears—the ultimate giving to something we are passionate about?
On this Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ Sunday, we read all about blood. The recognition of blood as sacred, as a symbol of life, is as old as humanity. Moses sealed the covenant with a blood ritual at the altar and in the sprinkling of the people with blood. This was an interplay between word and action. When we participate in the Eucharist, we hear “This is my blood of the covenant, which we will be shed for many.”
Jesus gave the cup to his disciples at the establishment of the Eucharist. As we continue that action in our liturgy, we are asking for the gift of life—life connected to Jesus, genuine closeness, a covenant of love, of presence, and of commitment. This is a bond of solidarity sealed with love. We become the body (and blood) of Christ! See what you are, become what you eat! We become Christ’s presence to God’s people!
The writings of St. Thomas Aquinas inspired this song by Curtis Stephan, a composer who juxtaposes new lyrics with the Latin lyrics many of us grew up with in Catholicism.
“Bread of Angels” by Curtis Stephan
Bread of angels, we receive you; with us now abide. Precious Jesus, manna of ages, with us now reside.
Panis angélicus fit panis hóminum, Dat panis cáelicus figúris términum.
Cup of Mercy overflowing, fill us with your grace; wine of passion, O Son begotten, we flee to your embrace.
O res mirábilis mandúcat Dóminum, Pauper, Pauper, servus, et húmilis.
Word incarnate, dwell within us; pierce our hardened hearts. Tender Jesus, Love so gentle, never let us part.
Te, trina Déitas únaque, póscimus, Sic nos tu vísita, sicut te cólimus.
Though unworthy, we receive you, sacrament divine. Bread of angels, accept our praises, let your glory shine! Per tuas sémitas duc nos quo téndimus, lucem, Ad lucem quam inhábitas.
Undivided Unity—The Trinity
When are we most aware of the Trinity in our lives? Think about it. When do we invoke Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? What images remind us of the Trinity? At a meeting that I attended this week, the leader began the prayer with the sign of the cross: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” That was the prayer and he proceeded to explain why. Whatever we do next—at the meeting, in the morning when we wake up, at work, before our meals, at Mass, at prayer times—is done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We acknowledge that we are partners with God in continuing creation, in continuing relatedness. We acknowledge that the Father sent his Son who sent the Holy Spirit. They are so related, so connected, so in sync! No wonder then that so many images of the Trinity somehow display an “undivided unity.”
The life of the Trinity is ongoing. It is not self-contained or self-absorbed, but ever flowing outward, touching and embracing all of creation, all of life in unity and communion. Listen this weekend to all the ways God delights in creation. As we continue to be active in God’s continuing acts of creation, do we take delight in God?
Ron Rolheiser describes the Trinity this way: “God is community, family, parish, friendship, hospitality and whoever abides in these abides in God and God abides in him or her.” God is a trinity, a flow of relationships among persons. If this is true, and scripture assures us that it is, then the realities of dealing with each other in community, at the dinner table, over a bottle of wine or an argument, not to mention the simple giving and receiving of hospitality are not pure, secular experiences but the stuff of church, the place where the life of God flows through us.” https://liturgy.slu.edu/TrinityB053021/reflections_rolheiser.html
We look forward to experiencing the life of God flowing through us this weekend as we share the Eucharist!
“Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” As we sing this refrain from Psalm 104 this weekend, are we ready for the wind and the fire, the presence of the Holy Spirit among us? Most of the time, we hold firm or lean into the wind to resist being blown over. We run from fire or do everything we can to put it out. But in the Acts of the Apostles, the wind—the breath of God—and the fire—the tongues of fire that led to common understanding, lead us to overcome our fear and to work to renew the face of the earth.
Like the disciples, we receive the gifts of wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence and awe in God’s presence. We receive them in a special way at the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation. Pentecost reminds us that we have those gifts; perhaps it is time to open them! Perhaps it is time to use them for the benefit of ourselves and others!
The coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples changed their fear into power, the power to speak with great courage and freedom. That same Spirit is dynamic and constant in all of life. Are we confident enough to invite the Spirit to work through us and in us to change things that need changing—to renew the face of the earth? Climate crisis? Hunger? Living wages? Immigration? Racial bias? Trafficking?
When the Holy Spirit came, all began to speak different languages. And they all understood! In our community, we also speak different languages. We do that when we don’t see things the same way. We speak different languages in expressing love and affection. Do we understand? Do we seek to understand? Or do we hide, barricaded with only those who speak the same language? Do we believe in the promise of unity among God’s people, brought together by the power of the Spirit?
At home, in our families, at work, at school, in our neighborhoods, in our city, and in our parish, where and when and how is God’s Spirit offering us wisdom to change our perceptions of “the other”? Understanding to curb our denial of racism, sexism, and ageism? Right judgment in the face of bad choices? Courage to do and say what I fear doing and saying? Knowledge to open our minds and hearts to truth? Reverence to help us to love what is pure and beautiful? Awe in God’s presence?
The gifts are in our presence. They are all here. Gifts are intended to be opened! Gifts are meant to keep giving! Let us rejoice in the gifts of the Holy Spirit!
“You don’t fear people whose stories you know. Real listening always brings people closer together. Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world. Rely on human goodness. Stay together.” -Meg Wheatley in Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future