August 1st, 2021: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

It was politely and gently mentioned to me that my homily last weekend was on the longer side, especially for me.  It was a comment made with no malice intended, so I gave it due consideration, and after reflection, my response is: tough.

There’s too much richness in John 6. I would be doing you a grave disservice if I left some of it out.  Now, I’m not saying every single word matters…but that’s not far from the truth.

Consider the question the crowds first put to Jesus today.  “Rabbi, when did you get here?”  Certainly seems innocent enough, if not perhaps a little trivial.  (If they only knew the actual answer, by the way.  There was a small part of the gospel that we skipped; you can go back and read it on your own.). But here’s the thing: while it might seem like a trivial question, it reflects a rather flawed way of looking at the world; a way that we ourselves might also fall into.

If you remember, last week’s Gospel ended with the crowds wanting to carry Jesus off and make him a king; however well intentioned that might have been, it was not in accord with God’s plan.  But now they just call him Rabbi – teacher.  They’ve certainly seemed to move backwards in their understanding.  After all, they have many teachers; are they saying that Jesus is “just” one of them?  After all he did for them?  It’s highly likely that most of this crowd is the same crowd that he just fed with 5 loaves and 2 fishes, and how many of their other rabbis have done that?  Jesus isn’t angry, but he does call them out on it.  (Anytime he starts a phrase with a double amen, that means you better be paying attention, because what follows is going to be important.). He says, you all came looking for me because you thought that meal was tasty; you’re not even impressed by the miracle itself!  You’re worried about food, but you ought to be worried about the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.

He’s letting them know he’s no ordinary rabbi.  He’s done great things in their midst already, but the greatest is still coming; he will give them food that will endure to eternal life, because he, the Son of Man, is the one on whom God has set his seal.

They miss the point.  Perhaps intentionally.  They ask what they must do to be devoting themselves to the work of God.  That’s a fair question coming from the Jewish belief system.  The Law, given through Moses, allows direct access to God.  Following the Law therefore means doing things that please God.  So this is a good question to ask.  But it’s also a question that says “I’m unwilling to change.  I’ve always lived this certain way and I see no need to do something new.  I just want to check the boxes and get on to the next thing.”  Jesus’ reply challenges that.  He refuses to let them skip over the fact that he is the Messiah, the Anointed One, the One on whom God has set his seal.  So he tells them that the only way to do the work of God is to believe in Him, the one who God sent. 

The crowd is starting to get it, at this point.  They understand that Jesus is talking about himself; that they need to believe in him to have eternal life.  That’s troubling for some of them.  Again, Moses gave them the law, and the law gave them access to God; Jesus is now saying that belief in him is the highest expression of the Law.  That’s a real paradigm buster, and so they, following Jewish tradition, ask for a confirmation miracle.  They’re happy to follow the Law that Moses gave, because Moses gave their ancestors food in the desert.  So what is Jesus going to do for them?

Once again, he answers with a double amen, so once again, this is important:  Moses didn’t give the people bread from heaven.  God did.  Past tense.  God gave you manna in the desert, but the giving of that gift stopped, and it stopped a long time ago.  But now, presently, as we speak, God is giving them – and us – something different.  The true bread from heaven, that is and does all that it claims to be and do.  It has the same origin as the manna – God – but unlike the manna, which only gave life to Israel, this bread gives life to the entire world.

The crowd still doesn’t quite get it, but they’re close.  They want that kind of bread, they want the bread that gives life to the entire world.  Reasonably, then, they ask Jesus for it; so he must and does make it explicitly clear: HE is the bread of life, and those that come to Him, those that believe in Him, will find all of their needs, all of their desires – let alone hunger and thirst – satisfied.

So we’re left with the same question as last week: what do we do with all this information?  Last week, your homework was simply to pray in thanksgiving for the gift Jesus gives us in the Eucharist.  Keep doing that.  But this week, also pray for an outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly wisdom, courage, and understanding, because this week we need to ask ourselves some tough questions:

  1.  Who is Jesus to me?  Is he just a rabbi, just an influential teacher, or am I willing to carry him off and make him king?  Do I acknowledge Him as Lord?  And is He lord of my entire life or just parts of it?  Who do I put on equal footing as Jesus, and why?
  2. What do I hunger and thirst for?  What is it I desire out of this life?  What do I desire for the life to come?  And to whom – or what – do I look for fulfillment in that regard?  Am I working for food that perishes, or for food that endures to eternal life?
  3. And finally – have I let my faith life become stale?  Have I become content with just checking boxes?  Have I fallen into the trap of “we’ve always done it this way?”  Or am I letting Jesus challenge me to be open to new challenges and opportunities that will grow my spiritual life and lead me closer to the Kingdom?

These are important questions, with even more important answers, because they get at the heart of who we are.  And we’ll see, as we continue through John 6 in the coming weeks, that that’s not an empty phrase.  So implore Him for the gifts of the Spirit this week as you wrestle with those questions, and as you wrestle with the task that is daily put before us: the task o building up his Kingdom here on earth, so that one day we can be happy with him in the Kingdom of heaven.

Keep right except to pass: 7th Sunday of Easter

I wasn’t initially sure I was going to share this homily…for that matter, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to give this homily. See, I was on vacation last week in a wonderful seaside town that many of you know and love: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was a great getaway, filled with golf, lazy beach afternoons, and lots of laughs with good friends. And it almost never ended.

That’s not just because I didn’t want to come back. (Does anyone ever really want to come back after vacation?). Rather, it’s because of a little incident that happened that you might have heard about: the hack of the Colonial Pipeline. I had heard of the pipeline shutdown before I ever left for vacation, but frankly, I didn’t think it would become a big deal. If it were a long-term shutdown, then yes, there would be massive problems, but this seemed like something that would be resolved quickly. So, paying it no mind, I left.

I arrived safely on Sunday afternoon with no issues. Monday was a quiet, peaceful day on the beach. Tuesday was a golf day, and it was coming back from the course that we started to realize something was amiss. Gas stations were super congested. In fact, lines of cars, some almost a mile long, were waiting to get into said stations. Perhaps there was something to this after all…

…by Wednesday morning, almost a third of all gas stations in the city were dry. By dinner that night, it was almost half. By the next morning, two-thirds were empty, and the number was growing. Let me be clear: there was no reason for this. Sure, some of those cars may legitimately have needed to fill their tanks, but most of this was panic buying. And we all saw sensationalized reports on the news of people filling all kinds of containers with fuel, safety be damned.

I admit, I was a little panicky myself. I was doing most of the driving down there (my vehicle was the only big enough for four guys and golf clubs), and I was marching closer and closer to ‘E’. At a certain point, I resigned myself to fate: I just might have to extend this trip a few more days. And if it got really bleak? Well, the Charleston Diocese might be willing to take on a new priest.

God provided, of course, as He does, and I was able to fill up at the crack of dawn on Saturday. After finishing packing and cleaning up, we celebrated one last Mass and hit the open road for home. It’s a long drive back, especially alone, but it was a beautiful day and I don’t mind long trips. Usually. There was one not-so-small problem: the great state of North Carolina. No offense to any Tarheels who might be reading this, but… those folks don’t know how to drive on the highway very well. I tend to drive “with purpose” (interpret that as you will), and it was rather annoying to find that some folks just like to camp out in the left-hand lane on the highway, If we all follow the rules, things will move much more efficiently, and efficiency was something I was concerned about: I wanted to get as far as I can just in case I encountered further fuel shortages down the line. The trip was more frustrating than it should have been (and yes, I need to grow in the virtue of patience), but I did eventually make it home safely. No accidents, no tickets, and no empty tanks.

Somewhere in West Virginia, when it became clear that I would, in fact, get home, I realized I needed to come up with a homily for the weekend. So, with those frustrations in mind, I came up with this…

The fact that folks were panic-buying and hoarding fuel, and the fact that people drive like the highway belongs to them, is indicative of a larger problem with the culture today. We’re all inherently selfish creatures. That sounds a bit harsh, I know, and perhaps it is. It is also true. We don’t realize how selfish we are, and indeed, I don’t think many of us want or intend to act in selfish ways…but that’s absolutely what we’ve been taught (conditioned?) to do. “Look out for number one.” “If you’re not first, you’re last.” “To the victor go the spoils.” And so on. None of that is explicitly saying to do things that might harm our neighbors, but it’s certainly implied. And since these maxims are somewhat ingrained in our society, we do silly things like hoard gas, making it harder for people to get where they have to go. We stay in the left lane because we’re comfortable there; who cares what traffic looks like behind me? We gossip. We use people. We marginalize others. And we do it all without really thinking about it, because that’s just the way the world works.

Except it was never supposed to work that way, and it’s a way of life that is entirely in opposition to the life of Christ. This weekend’s Scriptures certainly speak to that. The second reading today was, as it has been for the last few weeks, from the first letter of Saint John. Perhaps the most central theme to this letter is John’s insistence – really, Christ’s insistence – that the community of believers loves one another. Jesus has made very clear what that love for the other looks like: turning the other cheek; walking the extra mile; asking for and granting forgiveness; laying down one’s life for one’s friends. These are all selfless acts. They often seem difficult to embrace, but at the same time, we dare to approach the altar to receive our Lord in the Eucharist – is not His giving of His Body and Blood as our food and drink a selfless act? Was not His crucifixion? He has indeed, as Saint Peter writes, given us a model to follow.

Speaking of Saint Peter, we see him and the other Apostles at work in the first reading. Because of Judas’ betrayal, the apostolic band is one member short, and in order to fulfill the mandate given them by the Savior, they know they will need to find a replacement for him. That alone is worthy of some reflection – it would be far safer, and far more convenient for them, to not choose a replacement and to not go out on mission – but they know that this mission is not simply theirs or even about them, It’s about something far greater than themselves. They remain committed to the work, committed to the greater good, committed to the community. Embracing the risks, they decide to forge on, and begin by electing a new apostle. They go about it by gathering the one hundred and twenty or so people that had been with them for the majority of Jesus’ public ministry, and together they pray about the mission, the ministry, and the choice. The lot falls to Matthias, who becomes Judas’ replacement – but it happens because the community of believers worked and prayed together. Matthias didn’t polish and hone his resume; he didn’t write the perfect cover letter; it was the community in prayer that chose him.

Finally, we turn to the Gospel itself, and this lengthy, beautiful, intimate moment of prayer, of Jesus speaking to His Father. His prayer is that his believers – that we – might all be one. We will need to be united, he says, because the world will hate us for following the truth. The truth Jesus preaches – that which He heard from His Father – is something that the world will hate, because it will lead us out of this world and towards the Kingdom of Heaven. Keeping his word will mean that we will be assailed by the Evil One. But in keeping his word we are also protected, because through his Death and Resurrection, he will conquer the world. Our unity, the unity of the church, is the clear and visible sign of our keeping His word. The question we must ask ourselves is how well we are keeping that word. Perhaps a better question is: are we even trying? These are certainly difficult times, in the church and in the world, but we must continue to strive for unity, putting aside particular desires, preferences, and not clinging to things “because we’ve always done it this way.”

Next week we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, what some call the birthday of the Church. (I hate that phrase, but that’s another rant.). Whatever you call it, the reality of the feast is the same: the descent of the Holy Spirit to fire up the Church to go out into the world to proclaim the Good News. The Spirit will give many different gifts to many different people to accomplish that mission – as He still does today. If they work together, the work can be accomplished. So, in this week of anticipation, it would serve us well to examine our own hearts to see if we have allowed them to turn in on themselves. Have we – knowingly or not – allowed ourselves to become selfish? And if we have, we need to invite Jesus in to heal those defects and make our hearts more like His Sacred Heart, so that we can receive the fullness of the Spirit He promises us.

The world needs us, needs the Church, now more than ever. It needs us to be the universal sign of salvation that we are called to be. It needs us to be unified. Let us ask the Lord for our healing, so that we can not only receive the Spirit, but use the gifts he gives us for the work of building up God’s Kingdom here on earth, so that one day all of us – together – can be happy in the Kingdom of Heaven.

2nd Sunday of Easter, 2021

Meant to get this recorded and uploaded yesterday, but just ran out of energy. It may not be exactly what I gave in person, but it’s pretty close, I think. Enjoy. (Incidentally, I’m not on the livestreamed Mass for the rest of the month, so are you’re gonna get for a bit.)