To Be Flesh and Blood
Remember all the bread imagery in the readings of the past few weeks? This Sunday we hear the word “eat” six times in the Gospel. Our first thoughts of when this happens probably turn to the action of eating and drinking at the time of Communion at Mass. Has that action—the standing up, walking in procession and the eating and drinking—become routine? Is it something that we just fall in line to do?
When I reflect on the image above, I am reminded of what it means to be in relationship, to be in communion, not just with Jesus but with all of humanity. To remain in communion with Jesus, we are invited to participate in the life of Jesus, to live as Jesus lived.
Who of us would not want to be in this picture? Who wouldn’t want to be at the table with Jesus? What incredible intimacy! What generous companionship! What immense love and acceptance!
To remain in the closeness of this relationship with Jesus, we too are invited to be body broken and blood poured out for others. To remain in Jesus and Jesus in us, we are called to live as Jesus lived. Are we able to love all without exception, to heal the brokenness of others, to be compassionate, to include others at our table, to forgive, to denounce wrong-doing?
The readings, the lyrics of the hymns we sing, the intercessory prayers and the words of our Eucharistic prayers provide clues to how it is that each of us is called to be “flesh and blood” not only to those who celebrate Eucharist with us, but also all our sisters and brothers.
Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit of God
This weekend’s readings ask us to search our hearts to discover what it is that might keep us from being the bread of life for others. What is it that disrupts the intense unity that Jesus desires for us? After all, the Eucharist, the bread of life—of everlasting life—is the gift of community and unity that we celebrate at each Mass.
Sometimes we need reminders of how we fall short in achieving that unity in ourselves, families, workplaces, communities, country, and the world. In the reading from Ephesians, the author spells out the activities that would “grieve” the Holy Spirit. Those behaviors or attitudes are bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, and malice.
We all learned the gifts or the fruits of the Holy Spirit when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation. We have a choice to collaborate with or to grieve the Spirit alive in the community. This weekend provides a time for us to do some self-examination, name the attitude or behavior to change, admit it, and finally to determine to get rid of it in our lives. We don’t want to frustrate the Spirit’s living influence in our lives. We don’t want to grieve the Spirit!
Wednesday is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation. Remember those? Here is a prayer from Jean Grant that addresses some of Mary’s wishes and dreams for us:
O Mary, you have told us in your many apparitions to pray for peace, through the use of the rosary. Calm the anger within many nations and world leaders. Guide us in extending the olive branch for peace to others. We come to you, today, with a sincere heart, and know that you, Mary, will not abandon us. Even when Jesus was not yet ready to begin his ministry at the wedding feast at Cana, you had faith and told the waiters to do as Jesus wished. Mary, help us to pray often. Bring back respect for others in our daily life. Guard the words that come from our mouths, and do not let us stand by when others are abused. So many people in the history of the world have put themselves above God and treated our world neighbors with disrespect. Protect the innocent children and faith-filled adults who continue to love your Son unconditionally. Amen.
And They Were Hungry
Jesus works miracles and feeds the multitudes. But like all meals, the filling food was great while it lasted, and then they were hungry again. So they go in search of Jesus to give them yet more signs, more miracles. Jesus tells them that he will give them lasting bread, living bread. He tells them, “I am the bread of life.”
Last week when we sang, “I Am the Bread of Life” by Steve Angrisano and Tom Booth, I reflected on the meaning of “I Am Who Am” as God’s gift of Jesus, present to all of us at that liturgy. Ordinary bread fills us for a short time. Jesus as the bread of life is continuous presence, continuous gift, continuous love of all.
The lyrics of the song are beautiful.
I am the Bread of Life, I am the hope in night, I am the door wide open, I am the shepherd’s might. I am the truth and light, I am the way and life, I Am Who Am and I am for you: Come and follow me.
I am bread for the world, hope for the hopeless. Come to me, and know that I’ll always be there with my arms open wide. I Am Who Am and I am for you: Come and follow me.
I give my heart to those in sorrow, I come to those who are in need; hope for today and for tomorrow, light for all who want to see.
These lyrics remind me of the action that love requires if we are being the Body of Christ to all we meet and encounter. We don’t just pray for the needs of our world and the needs of our neighbors. We also act. The Bread of Life in John’s gospel isn’t just Eucharist; it is also footwashing.
Footwashing reorients us. It places emphasis not only on ritual action, but also on acts of love, compassion, cooperation. connection, and community.
May our “hungers” be for the Bread that is living and lasting, overcoming hatred and division. And may our being fed include the feeding of others. Love changes everything!
To Be Enough
Have you ever had a shortage of anything? Food, time, energy, creativity, generosity? Do you ever feel like what you have to give just isn’t enough? And when you feel that it isn’t enough, that it won’t make a difference in the hugeness of the need, do you withhold what you have?
As you prepare for this Sunday’s Eucharist, imagine yourself as the boy in the Gospel story. Was it a difficult choice for the boy to offer his food when he didn’t know where or when he would have more? He could have hidden the food. But he didn’t. Something made him offer what he had and Jesus used a little to feed a lot. The lesson that the boy learned is that what he had is more than enough. God can multiply any offering!
Sometimes we depend on God to work miracles without us doing our part. For example, with all the starvation throughout the world, we might think that we can’t even begin to solve that problem. The miracle story this Sunday reminds us that when we help our neighbors and inspire others to do the same, there is the possibility of more than enough.
When we are tempted to hold back, when we are feeling a bit stingy or possessive of our time, our energy, or our material things, can we offer to God what we have and let God multiply our offering? Can we imagine how God might use what little we offer and put it to good use for the good of others?
Jesus asked the disciples to ensure that nothing was wasted, nothing thrown out. The crowds were fed and there were leftovers. There was more than enough. When what appeared to be too little was shared fairly and in solidarity with others, no one was deprived. Can we believe that? Can we live that?
Let’s remember that this Sunday when we are sent forth from Mass to live the Gospel. Can we share whatever we have—our food, our voices, our abilities, our talents for the good of the many? Can we be enough?
Although my family never had sheep, the idea of pastures applies to cows and horses too. Pastures are the rich feeding grounds for the sheep. Sometimes the sheep, like us, believe that the grass is greener on the other side. Sometimes we are lured, led astray. We aren’t satisfied with what we have and venture beyond the boundaries of commitments we have made. We stray from relationships, from family, from faith. Like sheep, we need verdant pastures and shepherds to stay grounded and connected.
Who can be a shepherd? What qualities does it take to be a shepherd? And what does a shepherd do? How can we avoid being “sheep without a shepherd?”
When we are lost, are we comfortable asking for directions? When we ask for advice, are we willing to listen and to follow?
Jeremiah tells us that there are shepherds among us who mislead and scatter the flock. And he also says the Lord, the God of Israel will bring them back to their meadow. Likewise, the psalmist reminds us that the Lord is our shepherd who leads us to verdant pastures and restful waters, to right paths.
Where is your pasture? Where does the Lord lead you? Where do you go to find repose and refreshment? And who are the shepherds who provide right direction in your life?
Jesus teaches all of us how to be a shepherd, a leader, a mediator. He invited his apostles to go away and rest with him for a while. A retreat, a time of quiet—anything that refreshes the mind, body, and spirit—is what the apostles needed. Only then were they able to be pastoral—to have their hearts moved with compassion for those who needed a shepherd.
We are the sheep of His flock! When we gather this weekend to spend time with Jesus, we learn of the depth of God’s love for each of us, a love that is merciful and compassionate. The Eucharist provides us with nourishment, instruction and the capacity to do what Jesus did—be compassionate shepherds to all the “strays” around us!
Imagine yourself in this scenario. You’ve been with Jesus for quite some time now. You’ve paid attention to all that has been going on. And now, Jesus is asking you to go out on mission. Could you do it? Could you go without any visible means of support, having only the companionship of one other person? Could you live depending on the total generosity of others for food, shelter, and any other support you might need?
This call to leave it all is a radical call. Not all of us are called to leave home and family to be itinerant missionaries. All we have to do is pack for one journey, whether it is a vacation, or a pilgrimage, or even work travel. We often realize that we pack too much! It is difficult to travel lightly; our decisions often depend on a feeling that we might need things, just in case! We are attached to things!
The invitation then is to begin practices of trust and detachment. Some would call it living simply.
What material comforts might Jesus be inviting us to leave behind in order to be a freer and more faithful disciple? What do you really need to go out into the world? Are we able to trust the companion on our journey and do we have the faith that God will provide? Can we begin to travel lightly? And what will we learn about ourselves and our dependence on God in the process?
Prophets in Native Places
When Jesus “goes home” to his native place, the people take offense at him and he is not able to perform any mighty deeds among them. Was Jesus too familiar to them? Did they misjudge and underestimate him? Why were they so resistant to Jesus’ message?
The Scriptures contain the words of prophets who strongly admonish the people who have been lured by the culture to attend to “worldly things.” The greatest challenges to our faith come from turning our eyes away from God. Misplaced priorities require conversion, the process that invites us to turn our minds and hearts back to God’s word, to God’s wisdom, to God’s universal truth.
Often the conversion that is needed calls us to pay attention to God’s presence and action in our lives. It isn’t easy to be counter-cultural. We might be rejected, like Jesus, by our friends and even by our own family members. Nevertheless, we act with open eyes and brave hearts, listening to the cries of those in need and seeking God’s wisdom, God’s truth.
From our own homes, our own native places, let’s seek to break through the asphalt, the protective walls around our hearts and bring forth new life according to God’s vision for our lives.
Reach Out and Touch
In both healings described in the Gospel for this weekend, Jesus breaks taboos of his society in order to give a young girl and a bleeding woman new life. He acknowledges the power of touch. His touch brings a young girl back to life in the presence of her parents. He gives a new life, freedom from intense suffering, to a woman who dared to reach out and boldly touch his garment.
Who are the parents among us who are experiencing the “death” of their children? Yes, some are physical deaths. So many others are what feels like death in that parents feel that they have lost their children to so many realities that threaten the fullness of life—drug use, self-mutilation, mental illness, loss of faith, abusive relationships, and other afflictions that literally seem to take the “life” out of their children. Like Jairus, they cry out for restoration to life, to at least some semblance of the kind of life they want for their children. They pray for God’s love and compassion to make their loved ones feel alive again.
And who are the women who bleed, who hemorrhage today? What are their long-time afflictions, the things that keep them from being the “whole” women they aspire to be? For some, it is sexual abuse often at the hands of a relative at a very young age, human trafficking of very young women, on-going wage and compensation inequalities (equal pay for equal work), double standards regarding physical appearance, the impenetrability of the “glass ceiling,” body shaming, eating disorders, and other kinds of long-term suffering. These women, too, are longing for healing, for a feeling of being whole again, for becoming a new creation through God’s love and compassion.
How will we respond to the readings for this weekend? Jesus is with us, in us, and works through us in this Body of Christ—our families, our communities, our Church. How will we ask for healing? What garments exist that we can reach out and touch? What can we bring to life?
Jesus has given us through baptism an even greater power than his. We can be healers. We can be instruments or garments of healing. May it be so! Lord, hear our cry and move us to action!
Advocating with Our Voices
Many of us use Lectio Divina when praying with Scripture. When we do that, we read the Scripture multiple times and identify words that stay with us, words that “find us,” words that catch our attention perhaps in ways they never have before. Upon further reflection or meditation, we often find that those words or phrases speak to our minds, hearts, and lives. They call us to change our minds, hearts and lives in some way. This is how we describe conversion. This is how we become followers of Jesus.
This Wednesday morning, the story of the Birth of John the Baptist spoke to me in several specific ways. The image above helps! “They rejoiced with her.” It is incredible, miraculous that a woman of Elizabeth’s age, an advanced age, gives birth to a child. The message: All things are possible with God, if it is God’s will, God’s intention. God dwells in possibilities; hope lives.
The second awareness I gained is that Elizabeth used her voice to name the child. The angel announcing her pregnancy told her that the child’s name would be John. Over the protests of those representing the custom of carrying on the family legacy, the culture of naming the child after the father, Elizabeth won’t have it and gives the name John. Suddenly Zechariah is cured of his inability to speak and repeats what Elizabeth had already said. (Sound familiar to anyone?) Definitively, his name was to be John.
What’s in a name and who does the naming? It matters, doesn’t it? Zechariah Jr.’s name would mean “God remembers.” John’s name means “God is gracious.” Birthing in advanced age for women is a bold action. Having a woman determine the name is a bold action. Both were God’s action in Elizabeth’s life.
From this rather revolutionary (turning things around, sometimes upside down) birth, we have John the Baptist. John was born to lead Jesus into a new future. He lived his life to prepare the way, a way of life that turns remembering into graciousness.
For me, there are connections to what we are experiencing in Texas right now. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus. Jesus always stood with the most vulnerable. What would Jesus say? What would Jesus do? Do we see Jesus in the children? Do we see Jesus in the mothers?
What conversion of mind, heart and life is Jesus asking of me? How do I name what is happening? How do I use my voice to advocate for those vulnerable ones, the ones Jesus called “the least among us?”
With tears in my eyes and a heart breaking with empathy, I have to believe that with God all things are possible. And I also know that like Elizabeth, others joined her in belief and joy. Others confirmed her naming and made radical change possible. May it be so for us!
Can we follow Jesus in his action for love above law?
Going Beyond Planting Seeds
In the creation story, we learn that God created abundant plants and trees. And God said that it was good. Today we have an opportunity to continue God’s creative work in caring for the earth and its abundance. Pope Francis has written an encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care of the Earth. Father James Martin summarizes that document with these top ten takeaways:
- The spiritual perspective is now part of the discussion on the environment.
- The poor are disproportionately affected by climate change.
- Less is more.
- Catholic social teaching now includes teaching on the environment.
- Discussions about ecology can be grounded in the Bible and Church tradition.
- Everything is connected—including the economy.
- Scientific research on the environment is to be praised and used.
- Widespread indifference and selfishness worsen environmental problems.
- Global dialogue and solidarity are needed.
- A change of heart is required.
(America Magazine, June 18, 2015)
In the ecological crisis that we face, Pope Francis reminds us that we can awaken our hearts and move towards action. We can be the voice that cries out for the earth. And if we want to act, Catholic Climate Covenant has resources galore to put our faith into action. With St. Francis as our patron, we can also pray the Canticle of the Sun often.
As you listen to the readings this weekend, notice the many references to nature. Praise and thank God for these gifts of beauty and goodness and pray for an awakening of our hearts to greater care for the earth, for ourselves, and for future generations.