21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Gospel we see the culmination and the aftermath of Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse. Jesus has presented his teaching on the Eucharist, and the disciples are struggling with believing in it because they don’t understand it. It is the moment of decision.

Today’s First Reading, taken from the Book of Joshua, recalls a decisive moment for the people of God. The Exodus and forty years in the desert are over. They’ve not only entered the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership and with the Lord’s help; they’ve conquered it. With a long journey behind them where the Lord not only accompanied and guided them, but also worked great signs and wonders, they now had to decide whether they would still serve him or turn back to the gods they’d left behind.

Joshua tells them they can do whatever they want, but he’s already made his decision: he and his household will serve the Lord. Everything the Lord has offered is freely given, just as it is freely accepted. They’re free to simply decide to go back to their old way of life, even though they’d be foolish to do so. The Israelites in the face of all the Lord has done for them acknowledge they’d be crazy to turn away from him now. However, as the Book of Judges reminds us, they soon did turn away from the Lord after Joshua passed away.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that service implies being subordinate to another, and subordination is not always a bad thing. That last statement may rankle us, who pride ourselves on our independence and self-reliance, but Our Lord teaches this by example. When Paul used the example of the husband being the head of the household, he points to the relationship between Our Lord and the Church to show how this should be lived. To use a more contemporary expression, there’s no daylight between Christ and His Church, just as there should not be between husband and wife. Everyone should see them as one thing, no longer two, inseparable. Being subordinate to someone bears a greater responsibility on the part of the person to whom you’re being subordinate. Our Lord laid down his life for our wellbeing. He may call the shots, but he cherishes us, just as a husband should cherish his wife.

In today’s Gospel we see the culmination and the aftermath of Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse. His teaching about the Eucharist presents the moment of decision for those who follow him, because it requires faith, not just understanding. As a result, “many” disciples of Jesus return to their former way of life. Our Lord even poses the question to the Twelve, and Peter’s response holds a lesson we should all consider in our own life of faith: belief is supported by grace, and it is through belief that we understand some of the deepest mysteries of God.

If we try to start with reasons, as we’ve seen over the last few Sundays, some truths of God will remain out of reach for us and we’ll fall back on the certainties we know, as many of the disciples did in today’s Gospel. We shouldn’t be shy about asking Our Lord to help us in our unbelief. As Peter describes it in his response to Our Lord, believing leads to conviction. We can live a life of faith without understanding it completely and, somehow, it all fits together. The Twelve, except Judas, are building on an experience of God and his mystery that they’ve had ever since they started following Jesus, which, in turn, was built on their understanding of God before Jesus’ coming that had been lived and passed along throughout salvation history.

Today’s readings provide a great way to take spiritual inventory of how we our living our lives when faced with adversity and difficulty in matters of faith. The teaching on the Eucharist was too much, and many disciples abandoned the life Jesus had taught them. Their faith when challenged was anemic, and Our Lord already knew who had welcomed grace into their hearts and who hadn’t. Those who did persevere in faith and in living as Christ taught were blessed in abundance. Today’s individualism often tempts us to try and work out spiritual matters on our own, a la carte, on our terms, and without anyone else’s “interference,” but the Church has been established and sanctified by Our Lord so that believers can help believers. Let’s examine our life today and see whether we’ve drifted from what Our Lord has taught, or doubted that his teaching now continues through his Church. Often this results from a teaching difficult to accept. Like Peter in today’s Gospel, let’s believe first, in order to then be convinced through grace that Jesus is the Holy One of God.

Readings: Joshua 24:1–2a, 15–17, 18b; Psalm 34:2–3, 16–21; Ephesians 5:21–32; John 6:60–69. See also 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today the table is ready and Wisdom, symbolized in today’s First Reading as a woman, but also experienced in our lives as the Word made flesh, invites us to a more profound banquet. Our Lord invites the Jews in today’s Gospel, and each one of us, to go beyond the limits of our reason, our human knowledge and earthly understanding, so that we approach the Lord’s table and eat and drink him, true food and true drink.

Wisdom invites us in today’s First Reading to come to her banquet and experience wisdom through the path of understanding. Experience is what helps us not only experience something, but Someone. Experience influences out decisions, actions, and attitudes. It either leads us down the path of kindness or the path of wickedness. If we take the wrong path we’ll understand nothing and, little by little, our intelligence and will start to wane, like the drunk to which St. Paul alludes in today’s Second Reading. Life soon gets out of hand. Wisdom, the path of understanding, helps us stay on course, always moving toward the true banquet to which we are invited: the Lord’s banquet.

Today’s Second Reading aptly summarizes the discourse we’ve been considering over the last few Sundays regarding the Eucharist. Instead of seeking the fleeting pleasure of wine and remaining in ignorance, Our Lord is inviting his listeners to be filled with the Spirit and to partake of the banquet of his Body and his Blood and to grow in knowledge through faith in him. The path of wisdom and understanding is not just taken through experience, but also under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in faith. Wisdom ultimately is not just something, but Someone: Our Lord.

In today’s Gospel the Lord reminds the Jews of the long path tread by their forefathers. The Lord has guided us on this path toward the true banquet for a long time, step by step, through a series of individual and collective experiences, always with the goal of eternal life. The path from here to eternity is very long. Our Lord reminds the Jews how their forefathers were sustained by manna in the desert before entering the Promised Land, as recalled by the Old Testament. However, those forty years in the desert, and the centuries that followed in the history of Israel and humanity, were just steps toward the definitive goal: eternal life.

Like Wisdom personified as a woman in the First Reading the Lord prepared everything for the banquet, everything to give those dear to him an understanding and experience of his life in the Eucharist. That understanding and experience go beyond our human reasonings, knowledge, and earthly understanding, without denying their validity. The Jews in today’s Gospel are arguing and trying to understand the Eucharist just with human reasonings, and they’re unable. They’re not capable of seeing the spiritual order of things with faith, and it is faith that would enable them to take the next step forward: a step into the spiritual order of things through faith in Our Lord as sent by God. Through faith in Our Lord they’ll be led, step by step, to the eternal banquet, the Eucharist, which in this life appears under the signs of bread and wine, but in the future, in eternity, will be with the Lord, face to face.

Our Lord not only teaches; he reveals. Accepting revelation is about trusting and believing the revealer. In today’s Gospel the Lord reveals something, but they want to understand it before they believe it. A believer starts with believing, and then works it out. The Eucharist is a perfect example of something you have to believe before you can try to start understanding it. Has the Lord revealed something in your life that you’re trying to understand before believing? A Church teaching? A lifestyle? Take the step of faith and you’ll understand.

Readings: Proverbs 9:1–6; Psalm 34:2–7; Ephesians 5:15–20; John 6:51–58. See also 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (3)

The world’s take on Mary is pretty lightweight, and the solemnity we celebrate today sheds a different light on Mary’s role in the history of salvation. We can let the world’s take on her influence our thinking and think she was a little protected Palestinian flower who God treated like a Jewish princess, but that does not cut it: Mary was the most perfect creature. So perfect she’s living the Apocalypse now.

Today we celebrate a path that we’re all called to walk: from here to Heaven. We celebrate Mary’s assumption, body and soul, into Heaven after her time upon this world. Mary received the grace to be body and soul in Heaven along with her son. The other just souls that have preceded us are in Heaven, but they’re separated from their bodies until the Last Day when Our Lord raises everyone from the dead in the Last Judgment. Our Lord ascended into Heaven in glory; Our Blessed Mother was assumed into Heaven.

The First Reading today reminds us that Apocalypse and Revelation are synonymous. The apostle John had years to reflect on Mary’s Assumption, and in the First Reading he tries to express her role in the Church yesterday, today, and forever.

She is clad in the sun: in Revelation the justified are simply clad in white, but Mary’s brilliant clothing shows the graces she’d received from God are even more dazzling. The moon is under her feet: as the most perfect creature the heavenly bodies are subjected to her, not the other way around. Crowned with twelve stars: the queen of the apostles and the mother of the Church in the order of grace. Totally beyond the dragon’s power: it can sweep the stars from heaven, but it cannot defeat the mother of God or her mission to be the mother of the Redeemer and our mother.

When the Jew’s Kingdom in this world, under Saul, then David, then Solomon fell flat, they looked forward to a Kingdom of the future, but the future Kingdom they had in mind wasn’t much different from the Kingdom they dreamed for in the here and now. Christ showed them the “Kingdom at hand,” and it wasn’t what they expected. It was a Kingdom only seen by faith, starting here and now in this world, and only achieving its full glory in the world to come.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that Christ was the first fruits of the definitive victory over death that was to come. At the end, “[Our Lord] hands over the Kingdom to his God and Father, … For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet … the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” The Assumption is God’s reminder of that victory to come. Whether Mary died at the end of her time on earth is not clear, but the decay of death did not spoil her. Taken up body and soul into Heaven, her Son’s final victory was shown in her.

Through Mary’s fiat her desires for the Kingdom, that she sings for in the Magnificat, coincide perfectly with that reality to come, and she accepts it and strives for it with total faith. Mary was no spared little flower. When the Kingdom took flesh in her womb she had Joseph to contend with, a flight to Egypt, thirty years of silence in Nazareth, three years seeing how many people did not accept her Son’s message, then Calvary and her greatest commission: to be mother of the apostles and of the whole Church.  She’s continuing that mission, body and soul, from Heaven, showing us what is to come as long as we keep working and hoping.

In today’s Gospel Elizabeth rejoices that her cousin had come to visit, not just because she was glad to see her kin, but because Mary is aglow with accepting the invitation to become the Mother of God. John leaps in the womb at the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb. Their missions are closely linked. Elizabeth blesses Mary because she “believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary was extraordinarily blessed because she believed in the Lord, and in the Assumption we see that she believed in the Lord throughout her earthly life and beyond. Mary doesn’t take credit. She glorifies the Lord with her canticle, and now she does so in eternity.

Contemplating the Assumption of Mary into Heaven reminds us that suffering and trials are also gifts from God. It was not easy for Mary, but she made it. Mary’s Assumption reminds us of what awaits us if we accept suffering and trials with patience and faith, desiring to help Our Lord accomplish the work of redemption. Let’s pray today that Mary help us make the journey to Heaven and one day shine there alongside her and her Son.

Readings: Revelation 11:19a, 12:1–6a, 10ab; Psalm 45:10–12, 16; 1 Corinthians 15:20–27; Luke 1:39–56. See also Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (2)Visitation of Mary4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle CAdvent, December 22ndAdvent, December 21st, and Assumption, Cycle B.

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Gospel God himself, the Son, has come to encourage the faithful, and today he tries to teach them that he is the Bread of Life who will sustain them in their pilgrimage toward eternal life. It’s difficult for the crowds to understand this teaching: they know Jesus, where he is from, who he parents are, so it’s hard for them to believe he has come down from Heaven. Their earthly knowledge and reasoning are not enough: it’s time for faith.

In today’s First Reading Elijah is dejected and ready to give up when it seems his mission has failed and his life is in danger. Forty days and nights before reaching Horeb Elijah had worked a powerful sign showing the Lord was God, had overthrown a veritable army of false prophets, and witnessed the end of a long punitive drought that was imposed on the unfaithful Israelites. Despite this, his life was in danger and it seemed the evil and infidelity in Israel was as strong and powerful as ever, spearheaded by Jezebel, who pledged to kill him after he’d humiliated her prophets and pagan religion.

The Lord takes the initiative and encourages him, sending him food and drink, persisting when Elijah was not ready to get up and continue on to Mount Horeb to consult the Lord. That nourishment and encouragement sustained him for a long journey, just as Our Lord, through the Eucharist, nourishes us and encourages us in the journey of life. Elijah needed encouragement to keep believing, and sometimes we need it too.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that faith in Our Lord and all the benefits that come from it is not a question of a moment, but, rather, a process. In today’s Gospel Our Lord tells the incredulous crowd that the Father called and prepared them even before he was sent so that they would believe that he truly is the Bread of Life. It’s that faith that begins a process in the believer of leaving aside bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, and malice so that he or she can live a life of kindness as a child of God, imitating Our Lord in his service toward others, even when it is costly.  This process of faith, conversion, and purification is then “sealed” by the Holy Spirit to help us never consider turning back to our fallen past and way of life.

In today’s Gospel God himself, the Son, has come to encourage the faithful, and today he tries to teach them that he is the Bread of Life who will sustain them in their pilgrimage toward eternal life, just as Elijah needed help in today’s First Reading. It’s difficult for the crowds to understand this teaching: they know Jesus, where he is from, who his parents are, so it’s hard for them to believe he has come down from Heaven.

Their earthly knowledge and reasoning are not enough: it’s time for faith. It’s not just a faith born in a vacuum: they’re receiving grace to help them believe and be open to the Heavenly Father’s messenger. If they open their hearts to the Father, the Father leads them to take the next step. They must believe in his Son, not just as a sure guide in their pilgrimage to eternal life, but as their nourishment to be able to undertake the journey and as their “sponsor:” his self-offering makes the journey possible at all.

A lot of people stick with the minimum necessary: Mass every Sunday. If the Bread of Life is so helpful on life’s journey, why not “stock up” once in a while? Consider going to Mass on a weekday or two or participating in Eucharistic adoration at your parish.

Readings: 1 Kings 19:4–8; Psalm 34:2–9; Ephesians 4:30–5:2; John 6:41–51. See also 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B and 3rd Week of Easter, Thursday.

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that when we become believers in Christ we can no longer live in the same way. In today’s Gospel we see Jesus extending that invitation to the crowds for whom he had just multiplied the loaves and fishes, yet they were still seeking a sign like the one recalled in today’s First Reading. It was time to leave the First Reading attitude behind and believe in him.

In today’s First Reading the Israelites wanted their bellies filled, and complained, and were even willing to return to slavery just to have a full stomach.  They’re still far from today’s Gospel, a people who need signs just to keep going at all.  The Israelites today had a weak faith that could only be nurtured by signs, but signs don’t last forever, nor are they meant to. The Lord always planned to go beyond simply providing subsistence to a desperate, sometimes disgruntled people.

The people who sought Jesus in today’s Gospel still want nothing more than a full stomach, but Our Lord is trying to help them see that what they really crave is what that full stomach normally gives them: life, not just for a few decades, but for eternity.  As Jesus reminds them, full stomachs didn’t enable those Israelites under Moses to live forever, even though the Lord provided them with manna to eat.

Our Lord wasn’t just speaking metaphorically when he said he was the bread of life: every time we receive the Eucharist we know that he is the Bread of Life, and we know that one day that we’ll never need to fear dying of hunger or anything else ever again. Like the Israelites in the First Reading the people were still seeking signs, but now the moment had come for faith, a faith that lead to no longer living as the Gentiles did, just focused on immediate needs and concerns of this life and not seeing the bigger picture where this life is a pilgrimage toward eternal life.

The Israelites who grumbled in the desert in the First Reading didn’t live to see the Promised Land due to their lack of trust in God; the people in today’s Gospel are being extended an opportunity to one day enter into the true Promised Land, but they have to trust the new Moses–Jesus–to lead them.

Whenever we receive Communion we hear “the Body of Christ” and respond “Amen” without thinking much about how incredible it is that we are receiving God into our hearts under the appearance of bread. Whenever we genuflect in front of a tabernacle and that little red lamp is glowing nearby we acknowledge our faith that Our Lord is sacramentally present in the Eucharist.

Imagine the crowds hearing the teaching of the Eucharist for the first time and trying to understand it before believing in it. In today’s Gospel Jesus is trying to move them from thinking of ordinary bread in their stomachs to thinking of the bread of life. Our Lord today is asking them to go from what they understand of bread and the thought of endless bread to what they are really looking for: eternal life, not just as living forever, but as living contentedly forever.

When we consider our needs and our expectations for God to help fulfill them we can never lose sight of our ultimate need, God, and the means God has given us to fulfill it: believing in his son and receiving him as the Bread of Life. Let’s try believing today even when understanding something God teaches us is challenging, knowing he is always trying to provide for our eternal needs, not just our short term ones.

Readings: Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15; Psalm 78:3–4, 23–25, 54; Ephesians 4:17, 20–24; John 6:24–35.See also 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time,Cycle B3rd Week of Easter, Monday and 3rd Week of Easter, Tuesday.