Hear, O Israel!

The Wailing Wall

Shema Israel Adonai elohenu Adonai echad!

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

While we may not be very familiar with this passage, the Jewish people of Jesus’s time knew this particular passage of scripture intimately. The Jewish people—to this very day—recite it multiple times a day. This is the scripture passage that they put in their phylacteries. (What is a phylactery? It’s a little boxes Jewish people strap—again, to this day—to their forehead and left arm when they pray.) The Jewish people would know that the passage continues, “Take to heart these words I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.”

Jesus tells us that this is first and greatest commandment, it is the most important instruction Jesus gave us. And what is this instruction? Love God alone. Don’t just love God partially, though, love God with your whole heart and soul and mind and strength. Don’t just love him totally but let these words—the words of God’s love—be written on your heart, and let these words write the love of God on the hearts of your children. Don’t be content to teach just your family to love God but teach people in your home town and abroad to love God. Don’t just limit this teaching to special teaching moments but teach people about God’s love, and how they can love him back, every moment of your lives. God loves us more than we could possibly imagine, and today Jesus teaches us that we must love God in return. God has given us so many gifts! The only way we can respond to God’s love is to give him everything we have.

After I completed my engineering degree and had been working for a few years, a nagging question formed in my mind. It was this question of how I could thank God for all he had given me. I had a great job that paid well. I had great friends. I was not in need of anything. I gave my time and money to the church, but it wasn’t enough. Something was missing, and I couldn’t quite figure out what that was. The question of how I can give back to God kept coming back. It finally dawned on me that the only way I could respond adequately to all the gifts God gives me is to give him everything. God had a plan that he was asking me to follow. I was loving him in many ways, but not fully.

I was not following the command to love God with my whole heart, whole soul, whole mind, and all my strength. How do I love God with my whole heart? Every decision I make should be rooted in my love for God. For example, if by some miracle the Bears went to the Super Bowl, but I had somehow not been to Mass yet that Sunday, how would I decide? Would I watch the amazing new Doritos commercial, or worship my God who gave me everything… including Doritos? How do I love God with my whole soul? The soul is what makes us who we are. It is the core of our being. When Jesus asks us for this, he is asking for us to be willing to give up everything for him. By asking for our soul, Jesus is asking us to live our lives for him, not for money, power, or any passing thing. How do I love God with my mind? Our thinking must be imbued with love for God. We love God with our minds by learning about him, by reading the Bible and good books. We love God with our minds when we marvel at and explore this amazing universe and remember that God built it for us. How do I love God with all my strength? I love God with my strength when I’m willing to do the hard things. When we endure persecution for living our faith, for proclaiming the Good News to the world when they don’t want to hear it, this is loving God with all our strength. Sometimes, it literally means with all your strength. The March for Life, for example, is exhausting. I’m entirely drained when it is over, but I go on it, because God and human lives are important, and this is a way I can show my love for God and neighbor.

How do we begin to love God more? Start small. Ask yourself, how am I giving back to God now? If I volunteer at a homeless shelter, maybe I can spend a little more time there. If God has blessed me with a well-paying job, perhaps I can give a little more to my parish or to a charity like Food for the Poor. If I attend Mass most Sundays but occasionally miss, maybe I can love God by simply making sure I’m at Mass every Sunday. I recognize that there are limits to our time and resources, and I recognize that we all have different talents, but I truly believe that if we really think about it there is something each one of us can do to love God a little more. For me, I think this might take the form of me only watching 13 episodes of Parks and Rec tonight, so that I can get to bed at a decent time. (Kidding!)

In Deuteronomy, this passage ends with, “Take to heart these words I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.” God calls us to allow these words to be written on our hearts: the words of God’s love for us and our love for him. These are the words of the New Covenant which was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper. This is the New Covenant we celebrate at every Mass, when ordinary bread and wine become the Real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Through the Eucharist, we renew the New Covenant relationship with God that our Baptisms established. The Eucharist strengthens our love for God, because when we receive the Eucharist God Himself is entering into our bodies and transforming us. He transforms us into better people, people who are more fully alive and loving. In the Eucharist, we share in God’s life and love for us.

God loves us. He gives us everything we have. Every time we receive the Eucharist, he gives himself to us in a life-changing way. Let us commit ourselves to loving God every moment of our lives and never allowing anything to come between us and God. Let us live out the words Jesus said in Gethsemane, “Father […], not as I will, but as you will.”

Today’s Readings
November 4, 2018
31st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalms 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28b-34

There are no ordinary people…

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory himself, truly is hidden.

From The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses by C.S. Lewis

Made for relationship

God said that it is not good for הָֽאָדָ֖ם (hā-’ā-ḏām) to be alone. That word, האדם, is often translated as “the man,” but the Hebrew meaning is really more like “the human.” God did not create humanity to be alone. He did not want us to be alone. He created us to be in relationship with him. He also recognized that we would need help in learning how to do this. God recognized that other humans, people like us, people made of the same flesh and bones that we are teach us relationship. How we relate with each other affects our relationship with God, and it directly impacts our happiness. The first relationships we encounter are within our families, and they form our understanding of relationships. The foundation of our families is the relationship between the husband and wife. “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” The love between a husband and wife is also an image, an example, of God’s faithful love for us.

Unfortunately, sin got into the mix. Men did not understand the dignity of women and treated them as property. Moses saw this hardness in the hearts of his people, so Moses tolerated divorce. Sin further corrupted men and hardened hearts. By Jesus’s time, the major debate was no longer, “How can we overcome sin?” but, “What is the minimum bar for divorce?” Many Jewish rabbis taught, essentially, that no-fault divorce was permissible. When the husband was tired of his wife, he could get rid of her. After Rome took over, the wife was permitted to do the same. Sin has a way of multiplying that.

This is the situation in which we find Jesus today. He gets right to the point. Hardness of hearts—sin—is why Moses tolerated divorce, but God did not create us this way. God created us to love and to be loved by him. Marriage is an image of the always faithful love of God. God loves us so much, he is so faithful to us, that he became one of us and entered into our fallen condition, into the muck of sin, and accepted the punishment that we deserve for our sins in order to repair the relationship between God and us. Jesus came to destroy sin. Divorce existed because of sin. Since Jesus came to destroy sin, he had to destroy divorce also.

Jesus teaches us that two people joined together by God in marriage can never be separated. The question cannot be, “What is the minimum standard for divorce?” but must instead be, “How can we help Jesus destroy sin?” To destroy sin, we must recognize that marriage must always be true and faithful, and that it lasts until death. When a man and a woman say “yes” to each other at marriage, they must mean it. They must remember that “yes” every day of their lives. To deny that “yes” through divorce and remarriage allows sin to win. There are certain situations in which separation and civil divorce is still tolerated, such as abuse, but even in those situations the marriage still exists. Unless we can prove that the marriage didn’t actually happen through what we call the annulment process, Catholics are not allowed to marry again. This prohibition against remarriage can cause deep pain and suffering. We all know someone who has been through a divorce, and we know the pain and suffering involved in the wake of such a tragedy. We might wonder why the Church insists that remarriage is not possible after divorce, why can’t we let someone “move on” with their life? Jesus made it very clear in today’s Gospel reading. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” This is a hard teaching, but God is the one teaching us, so we must follow this teaching.

This teaching is hard to accept in our society. It seems unfair. How can we tell someone that they aren’t allowed to get married again? How can we prevent someone from loving someone new? Unfortunately, our society has a mistaken understanding of happiness. We no longer place Heaven and eternal life as our highest goal. Our society has placed “me” and “right now” as our highest goals. What makes me happy right now? What makes me feel good right now? We have forgotten that we are all in this together. We have forgotten how important relationships are to our happiness here and now, and how important relationships are at bringing us to eternal happiness. We have forgotten that sometimes God does allow us to go through pain and suffering, but I can also tell you that God knows our pain. God became one of us. God, who made us, became incarnate of the Virgin Mary: God became a human being who was named Jesus. For our sake, he suffered. He was crucified by Pontius Pilate. He died and was buried. Then, something amazing happened. He rose from the dead. Jesus showed us that suffering, pain, and, ultimately, death are passing things. Suffering, pain, and death lost. In the end, we can unite all of our pain and suffering with Jesus’s pain and suffering, and he will transform it into new life. The pain which we suffer because of the breakdown of marriages must be united with the pain Jesus felt when his disciples turned away from him and left him. We can take all of that pain and give it to Jesus, and he will transform us. Yes, Jesus asks us to do hard things, and he demands that marriage be faithful for life, but he does not leave us without hope.

At the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that we must become like children to enter Heaven. When a child is hurt, who is the first person they run to? They run to someone who loves them unconditionally. Let us be like children. Let us run to the person who loves us more than anyone in the entire universe. Let us run to Jesus. When our relationships are struggling, run to Jesus and ask him to help. When someone hurts us, run to Jesus and ask him to help. When absolutely everything goes wrong, and the world crumbles around us, let us run into the arms of Jesus, who will always say to us, “I love you. I am glad that you are here.”

Lucas Cranach the Younger, Christ blessing the Children, Erfurt Angermuseum
Lucas Cranach the Younger, Christ blessing the Children
Today’s Readings:
October 7, 2018
27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

Faith and works

The second reading ends with the line: Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. But I think this is one sentence too early. The next line reads, “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.” We must have faith to be saved, but what does it mean to have faith?

Having faith is so much more than the simple ability to say, “Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior.” It’s so much more than saying, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” The words are important, don’t get me wrong, but to truly mean those words we say: that is faith. To truly mean those words we say, not only must believe those words in our minds, but we must show that believe those words in our actions.

If I have faith and believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, that should show in how I live my life. Jesus Christ cared about the poor and the lonely, and he helped them when they allowed him to do so. Jesus Christ taught those around him the truth, even when his life was threatened because of it. Jesus Christ showed compassion to the sick and the lame. Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers, and He admonished those who were persistent in sinning. Jesus Christ looked at people, and He loved them. Jesus Christ lived the Gospel. If I believe that he is my God, then shouldn’t my life resemble his? If I believe that he is my God, do I have any right to decide that one of these aspects is more important than the others? Perhaps my natural abilities lead me to teaching others and showing God’s love to people, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore the sick or allow sin to go unchallenged. Jesus did all these things. We aren’t God, so we can’t do everything, but we should at least try!

But this is all if I have faith. This is all if I believe in Jesus Christ. It all depends on how I answer one question. It depends on how I answer the question Jesus asks the disciples today: Who do you say that I am? If Jesus was standing in front of you, and he asked you this question, how would you answer? Think about it. How would you answer the question? Say it to Jesus in your mind and be honest. Jesus doesn’t want to hear what your spouse or religion teacher says about him. He doesn’t want to hear the preconceived notions you have of him. Jesus wants to hear who you say that he is. Is he your friend? Is he the one who will always love you? Jesus can handle whatever you say to him. Let’s take a few seconds, right now, and answer Jesus.

Did you tell him? Were you honest to him?

No matter what you just told him, I think Jesus would say to each one of us, “my child, I love you. I love you so much more than you can imagine. I did not come into this world to condemn you, but so that you may have eternal life, and I have so much more I wish to teach you about myself. You have to take the initiative though.” Then Jesus says to as, as he did to his disciples in the Gospel, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

Pope Saint John Paul II said that, “These words denote the radicality of a choice that does not allow for hesitation or second thoughts. It is a demanding requirement that unsettled even the disciples and that, throughout the ages, has held back many men and women from following Christ. […] Even today these words are regarded as a stumbling block and folly (cf. 1 Cor 1: 22-25). Yet they must be faced, because the path outlined by God for his Son is the path to be undertaken by the disciple who has decided to follow Jesus. There are not two paths, but only one: the one trodden by the Master. The disciple cannot invent a different way.” 1

We must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus, because only this path leads us on the road to eternal life. Only Jesus can offer us Heaven and eternal happiness. Following money, prestige, power, worldly pleasures, or anything that is not Jesus else will result in precisely the opposite: eternal misery and separation from God. Self-denial is hard. Any cross given us is hard. Following Jesus is hard. All those things that Jesus does in the Gospel, and then asks us to do: they’re hard. They are exhausting. They tax us. Flannery O’Connor wrote that “people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it if the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.”

Following Jesus is hard. It is taxing. It depends that we do God’s will instead of our own. But we are not alone when we follow Jesus. God is on our side. He will never let us lose our way, as long as we follow his Son as well as we can. Pope Emeritus Benedict says that we have been “created for greatness—for God himself; [we were] created to be filled by God. But [our] heart[s] [are] too small for the greatness to which [they are] destined. [Our hearts] must be stretched.” 2 Because our hearts must be stretched, “the ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.” 3

Friends, let us do the hard things, let us do the great things. We have God on our side, the same God who calls us to be lights to the world. Let us follow Christ, so that he can lead us into eternal life. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)

Today’s Readings:
September 16, 2018
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Isaiah 50:4c-9a; Psalm 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

Be prepared

“OK, Jesus. Got the message loud and clear. Be prepared. How should I do that?”

Paul tells us that Christ crucified is a stumbling block. Instead of trying not to stumble on the Passion, why not move forward and stumble on it? When we stumble upon Christ’s Passion, we are forced to ask ourselves the question, “How much must our sin offend God that he had to die for us?”1

In the Office of Readings today, St. Jerome writes, “I bid you not to tend tear your garments but rather to tend your hearts which are laden with sin. Like wineskins, unless they have been cut open, they will burst of their own accord.” We rend our hearts when we experience grievance and disgust over our sins and the offense against God that has been committed.

The consequences of sin should grieve us, but they should also show us God’s love. As we continue to stumble upon Christ’s Passion, after being grieved by the consequences our sins have wrought, another question wells up inside of us: “How much must God love us that he was willing to suffer this Passion for us?”2 God’s love is what put our heart and soul back together, allowing us to grow.

In our act of grief, we give God an avenue through which he can love and heal us. Like physical exercise breaks down our muscles, this spiritual exercise breaks down the sinews of our heart and soul.3 Through our recognition of God’s love for us and our subsequent contrition, confession, and repentance we allow God to rebuild our souls. As God love heals us, we become stronger, faster, and more capable in our own love of God and neighbor.

Today’s Readings:
August 31, 2018
21st Friday of Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 1:17-25; Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 10-11; Matthew 25:1-13

The Way, With You

We are already nearing the end of summer. In just a week and a half, I’ll be driving back to school. Going back to school is not exactly my favorite thing to do. I leave my family and friends behind, which is always hard. I leave Wichita and Kansas behind, which, in my opinion, is the best place to be. While I do, actually, kind of like Chicago and my school is pretty decent too, it’s not home. The worst part of it all, though, is that 12-hour drive back. That’s a long drive. I usually make 3 or 4 stops, depending on road condition, how tired I am, how many coffees and/or pops I drank to deal with how tired I was, and how hungry I am… I am always hungry on road trips. Something about driving always makes me hungry. I used to always need a big ‘ole bag of sunflower seeds with me on road trips. Even then, every time I would stop, I had to fight “The battle of the Candy Bars.” Do I buy one? Or do I buy 3?

I might be wrong, but I suspect I’m not the only person who has to fight the battle of the candy bars on road trips. Long trips seem to make us hungry. Perhaps this hearkens back to the days when a journey was something much more treacherous and difficult, when it was harder than jumping into the car or hopping on a plane, when people had to walk the whole way, or, if you were lucky, when you had to ride in ox-pulled wagons down a muddy trail. You would need to eat every chance you got on that sort of trip. If you didn’t bring enough food or couldn’t find more, not only would you never complete your journey, but you could very likely die on the way.

We find Elijah in this situation today. He was frustrated, tired, alone, and ready to quit. He told the Lord, “I’m ready to go, take me now!” What was God’s answer? “It’s good that you’re ready to go, because you’re going on a journey.” God sent an angel with bread and water. The angel wakes Elijah up twice and tells him he must eat to have strength for the journey. This wasn’t just any journey, it was a journey of 40 days. Sidebar: Any time we run into 40 in the Bible, something big is about to happen. It rained for 40 days while Noah was on the ark. Israel wandered for 40 years in the desert after leaving Egypt. Jesus fasted 40 days before beginning his ministry. Big things happen when we se a “40.” What was the big event Elijah was preparing for? Elijah had been sent to Mount Horeb. On that mountain, in a cave on that high place, he encountered God in the faintest whisper.

God calls each of us to make our own journey to listen to him speak to us in the faintest whisper. Our lives on this earth are the first part of this journey. In this life, we learn to hear God’s voice and to follow it, we learn to love God and our neighbor, and we learn to live a life full of the virtues—virtues which reflect God to those around us. In a very real way, we are on a journey to living the Christian life. Also in a very real way, God gives us food for this journey. This food sustains our souls and makes the journey possible. This food is the Eucharist, the Bread of Life. God himself is our food for this journey: God personally sustains each of us on our journey to him. Jesus sustains us on our journey to the Father, because only through Jesus can we reach the Father.

Jesus says that “whoever believes has eternal life.” Whoever believes in Jesus, whoever believes that we must live a life following Jesus’s example, whoever believes that Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist, whoever believes Jesus when he says, “I am the Bread of Life,” and then receives Him, will have eternal life. If we do not believe Jesus, and we do not receive the Bread of Life, we cannot live. If we do believe him and do receive him, we receive eternal life. Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the way to eternal life.

Jesus, though, is so much more than simple food for the journey. Jesus is also the way, the path, we must follow to eternity. Jesus desires to be our Viaticum. Viaticum, which is what we traditionally call the Eucharist when someone receives it for the last time in preparation for death, literally translates from Latin to mean: the way, with you. Jesus wants to be our way, and he wants to go on that journey with us. Jesus wants to be our guide and companion every day of our lives on this earth. He wants to be our guide and companion as we die and pass on into the next life. He wants to be our guide and companion after this life, so that he can lead us to his Father. Jesus wants to be our Viaticum, the way, with us, every day of our lives. He wants to fill our hearts with his love and with faith in him. He wants show us the road to eternal life: Jesus wants to be our way, and he wants to travel it with us.

Today’s Readings:
August 12, 2018
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalms 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Ephesians 4:3-5:2; John 6:41-51

Nothing but You, O Lord

Fr. H Setter and Deacon Matt Siegman elevate the Eucharist.

It is so easy to forget.

We all forget things all the time, often just by not thinking about them for a while.

In the first reading today, we find that the Israelites have forgotten quite a lot. They forgot how awful slavery was in Egypt. They longed for their fleshpots and for bread. Fleshpots, by the way, were big ‘ole pots in which water is boiled and meat is cooked.1 Since the Israelites were slave in Egypt, they probably cooked fish, not meat in them: meat is expensive. The Israelites had forgotten how awful slavery was. They forgot that God saved them from Egyptian slavery for the specific purpose of glorifying him through right and proper worship. They forgot that God cared about them. They thought he’d let them starve. That is, of course, ridiculous. He gave them manna and quail to eat: their bread and fleshpots were even better than before. God provided, but it was so easy for the Israelites to forget that he did!

What is even more providential is that the desert in which the Israelites forgot God was named the Desert of Sin. This is exactly what sin is! When we sin, we are turning away from God. It works the other way too: when we turn away from God, we sin. The whole Exodus story reminds us of how sin functions, too. The Israelites long for something they think is good, but if they had simply turned to God all their needs and desires would have been fulfilled. I find it amazing that in something as simple as the name of a desert, we can find such profound things!

The Ephesians, too, were quite forgetful of God. They weren’t even creative enough to come up with a new way to forget him. The Ephesians longed for their own version of bread and fleshpots. They looked back and longed for the lives of depravity they lived before they “learned Christ.” Paul forcefully rebukes them in a small section we don’t read, saying they “must no longer live as the Gentiles do […] alienated from the life of God because of ignorance” and “hardness of heart.” He says “they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.” (Ephesians 4:17-19) That’s sounds harsh, but it’s the next line that really stings. Paul says that all these things are “not how you learned Christ.” (Ephesians 4:20) They forgot Christ. They forgot God.

Jesus himself had to contend with this problem too. In today’s Gospel, we hear that the people went searching for Jesus. When they eventually found him, he told them they were looking for him because they filled their bellies. He called them to instead look for food the endures for eternal life. To do that, they must do the works of God. These works, Jesus explains, are to believe in the one sent by God, that is: to believe in Jesus. The Jews ask, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?” Seriously? The day before—not even 24 hours ago—Jesus multiplied food on an immense scale, for thousands! God again gave the Jews bread and fish, flesh-baskets if you will: the exact things they had been craving ever since leaving slavery in Egypt. Somehow the Jews already forgot that Jesus performed a sign greater than anything Moses ever did. Moses prayed; God provided. Jesus took what was offered, and he provided himself. The Jews should’ve picked up on the clue.

It is so easy to forget.

What was it that the Israelites in the desert, the Ephesians, and the Jews following Jesus all forgot? They forgot God. The Israelites wandering in the desert forgot that God loves them. The Ephesians forgot that God has expectations and standards for our lives. The Jews forgot that Jesus had already shown them signs, that he had already demonstrated his authority, that he was already worthy of faith. Not one of them remembered who God is. Not one of them remembered that God saved them. Not one of them remembered that God had provided for them. Not one of them remembered that God promised them eternal life.

It is so easy to forget, but it is so important to remember.

The Jews could not remember who God was, so they could not recognize Jesus as God, and they could not respond to Jesus with faith. Without faith, we do not have the openness and flexibility we need to be formed and instructed by our Lord. Sure, the Jews sought Jesus out, but they did so for the wrong reasons. St. Augustine writes of them: “You seek me for the flesh, not for the spirit. How many seek Jesus for no other purpose than that he may do them good in this present life! […] Scarcely ever is Jesus sought for Jesus’ sake.”2 They sought Jesus because he gave them bread and fish, but they could not accept the gift he wanted to give them. They could not remember, so they could not have faith, so they could not see their God who was standing in front of them, and who was offering them life everlasting.

The Jews could never have imagined what was coming. At the Last Supper, Jesus would take bread and wine and turn it into his very own body and blood, instituting the Most Holy Eucharist. Jesus Christ, our God and King, would not only nourish our minds through his teachings and examples, but he would become the most excellent nourishment for our bodies too. Through this Eucharistic food, God enters into us, transforming our bodies and our souls. The Eucharist, by transforming us, helps us to remember. It helps us to remember the gifts God has given us. It helps us to remember who God is. It helps us to remember God.

Everything about the Eucharist helps us remember God. Just like God, the Eucharist is a mystery—the mystery of faith, in fact. The Eucharist gives us a taste of Heaven, where we will see God face-to-face. The Eucharist transforms us so that we may better follow God. God is present in the Eucharist, and while it’s a little different, God is present in each one of our lives. By persisting through the ages, the Eucharist reminds us of Jesus’s Resurrection, and that death cannot conquer us. More than anything, the Eucharist reminds us and helps us remember that God became a human being to save us. He sent his Son, who was willing to not just die for each person here today, but to become true food and true drink for each of us.

In the Eucharist, we remember God’s love for us and his sacrifice, made for us. We remember our unworthiness of these gifts. We remember that despite our sins, God reaches out to us. We remember that God calls us to repent—to stop forgetting about him during our daily lives! In the Eucharist, we remember that God invites us to join Him in eternal life, to be with him in perfect happiness forever, in Heaven.

Yesterday was the day in which the church remembers St. John Vianney, the great French priest. He once wrote the following: “How often we come to church with no idea of what to do or what to ask for. And yet, whenever we go to any human being, we know well enough why we go. And still worse, there are some who seem to speak to the good God like this: ‘I will only say a couple of things to you, and then I will be rid of you.’ I often think that when we come to adore the Lord, we would receive everything we ask for, if we would ask with living faith and with a pure heart.”3 The Jews went to Jesus and asked for bread. What should we ask God when we come to Church to attend Mass?

The Vision of St. Thomas by Santi di Tito
The Vision of St. Thomas by Santi di Tito

St. Thomas Aquinas, called the Angelic Doctor, answered this question perfectly. St. Thomas just completed his writing his summary of Eucharistic theology, and he offered it to God in front of an icon of Christ. Christ said to him, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labor?” St. Thomas replied, “Nothing but you, Lord. Nothing but you.” How fitting is that response? For, it is in the Eucharist that God gives us his own self.

Today, as we gaze upon the crucifix and approach the altar to receive our God in the Eucharist, let us join our voices with St. Thomas’s to ask God for, “Nothing but you, Lord. Nothing but you.”

Today’s Readings:
August 5, 2018
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-25; Psalms 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35

St. Alphonsus Liguori on Mary

In danger of sinning, when assailed by temptations, when doubtful as to how you should act, remember that Mary can help you, and if you call upon her, she will instantly help you.

— St. Alphonsus Liguori

Jesus is God!

In the Gospel today, we hear a story that is familiar to many of us. We call it “The Feeding of the 5,000.” If we let it remain a story only about feeding a multitude of people, remember it was 5,000 men, but there were also women and children there, then we might miss many, many important things. By performing this amazing miracle, Jesus is teaching us something about himself that is vitally important: he is revealing who he is.

Jesus and his disciples have retired to a mountain to rest, but a large crowd has followed him and are hungry. Jesus sees them, he is moved with pity for them, and he desires to feed them. Jesus sends his close disciples out to find out if anyone in the crowd has food. In that vast multitude, the only food they find is five loaves of bread and two fish. The disciples don’t think that’s enough, but Jesus proceeds. He says a prayer of thanks—notice that even Jesus prays before meals, in full view of those around him—and then distributes the food to the people. The people eat as much as they want, and there are still 12 wicker baskets full when they’re done!

This miracle might remind us of another time God saw a vast multitude of hungry people and decided to feed them: while the Jews were wandering in the desert after escaping Egypt, God fed them manna and sent quail for them to eat while they were in the desert. The people could eat all the wanted, and they couldn’t take the leftovers with them. There are a lot of parallels. If the Jews had seen it this way, they might have recognized Jesus as God. Instead, they recognized the miracle of Elisha that we heard in the first reading. They thought Jesus was an amazing prophet, like Elijah and Moses. They wanted to make him king, but only a worldly king, so Jesus withdrew again to the mountain to pray. In the meantime, the 12 disciples who would later be called the apostles got in a boat and started heading back to Capernaum. They were, I imagine, exhausted, and looking to take a break from all the work they had been doing.

We don’t read the next few verses in John’s Gospel, but I think that they are critical to understanding the whole point of this all. In the verses we don’t read, Jesus performs another miracle. Well, actually, he performs three miracles. We join the disciples in their boat, they had already rowed several miles. It is night-time; the Gospel says it was dark. The sea is “stirred up” because of a heavy wind: when it gets windy out, the Sea of Galilee can get quite angry. Jesus had not left with them. Then, suddenly, they see Jesus walking on the water, near the boat. They were afraid. Jesus says to them “It is I” or “I AM,” and tells them not to be afraid. The storm calms, and they then immediately arrive at the shore of Capernaum. Three miracles: walking on water, calming the storm, and the sudden arrival of the boat.

This whole episode tells us one critical thing about Jesus: one critical thing which changes everything about what has happened and will continue to happen in John’s Gospel. By walking on the water, Jesus does something totally unique. Nobody else in the history of the Jewish people had walked on water. Moses and Elijah, the great law-giver and the great prophet, had walked on dry land after God parts the water for them. Jesus walks on the water. Something greater than Moses and Elijah is here. By calming the storm, Jesus shows that he has direct power over nature. Again, Elijah was able to pray for droughts and rain, but it was always God who acted: never Elijah. Jesus simply calmed the storm. Something greater than Moses and Elijah was here. Walking on water and calming the storm are two miracles that show Jesus could directly control the forces of nature. Throughout all Jewish history, the Jewish people knew that only God can control nature in such a way. If Jesus was doing this, the soon-to-be apostles could come to only one conclusion: Jesus is God. So, they were afraid. All through the Bible, whenever someone comes face-to-face with God, it says they are afraid. Jesus responds as God always does when people are afraid: he says, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” He says to them that it is me, Jesus, you friend. Yes, now you known my true identity, but do not be afraid. I am here with you always. I will always be here for you. Then he demonstrates his loving care for them, his knowledge of their desires, because the boat miraculously arrives at their destination.

The feeding of the 5,000 and the episode of walking on water are here in John’s Gospel for a very important reason. They show us who Jesus is. He is God. He has God’s authority. We need to know that Jesus has this authority, because what comes next in the Gospel according to John is hard to accept and understand. The next day, Jesus gives to his followers a teaching which leads to many of them to abandon him. If the apostles didn’t know, absolutely, that Jesus had Divine authority, that Jesus was God, they might have left too.

For the next four Sundays, we will be working our way through this hard teaching of Jesus. Today, though, we take a moment to ponder something that we may not think about as much as we should: Jesus is God. Jesus is the Son of God, the Divine Word, who took on human flesh and became one of us. Not only does this mean that we humans received a gift of which the angels could only dream, God has never become an angel, but it means that Jesus has all the authority of God over creation. How did Jesus use his authority? He used it to give us himself in the Eucharist. He used it to give his apostles the authority to forgive our sins. He used it to die on the Cross and open for us the gate of Heaven, so that all who choose to follow him will be saved.

Today’s Readings:
July 29, 2018
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalms 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15

Life-giving Love and Humanae vitae

Ancient Israel had a problem: there were too many prophets. With so many competing voices, the Jewish people couldn’t tell a true prophet from a false prophet. They eventually found a solution, and they wrote that solution down in Deuteronomy 18:21-22. It’s very simple: wait a little while and see if the prophecies come true. If they don’t, the prophet does not speak words from God. If the prophecies do come true, then the prophet is from God, and we had better listen up and do what was said! This rule is intuitive and simple: everyone could follow it. Whether the people actually changed their lives and followed the prophet was a different issue, but at least they knew that the prophet was from God.

The spiritual gift of prophecy did not end in the Old Testament. Fifty years ago, on July 25, 1968, a document was released which closely followed the prophetic model: it reminded us that we must always follow God’s law. Then, it predicted what would happen if we didn’t:

  1. The way would “open wide” to marital infidelity.
  2. Because of human weakness, failing to follow this teaching in one way would make us accustomed to evil, and society’s moral standards would decrease.
  3. Men would forget the reverence due to women, and they would treat them as objects, not as humans with equal dignity in God’s eyes.
  4. Public authorities would use the evil practices which were condemned in the document to achieve their own goals.

That document was Humanae vitae, or in English: Of Human Life. The author was Blessed Pope Paul VI. He reminded us of the beauty of marriage, of how marriage is an image of God’s own love, of how marital love is a fully human kind of love, and of how, through the marital act, a man and a woman become, in cooperation with God, the creators a new human life. Because of the immense goodness of marriage and of the marital act, Blessed Paul VI also reminded us of God’s teaching that the use of artificial contraception is morally wrong, and that if we were to use it, those serious consequences I mentioned would be the result. People didn’t want to hear this, and so they didn’t listen. Sadly, every single one of Paul VI’s predictions came true:

  1. Marital infidelity is rampant in western society. We see alarming rates of adultery, divorce and remarriage without having the first marriage annulled, and epidemic-level misuse of the internet to find obscene images and videos. You get the idea.
  2. Moral standards haven’t just declined—they’ve nearly disappeared. Look at the recent scandals involving so-called leaders in sports, politics, and the media. Look at what passes for quality television and movies these days. Compare a movie from just 20 years ago and to a similarly rated movie now. We’ve changed, and not for the better.
  3. Our society has lost any sense of reverence due to women. Things weren’t perfect before, don’t get me wrong, but we at least tried to respect women.
  4. Public authorities have used society’s acceptance of contraception for their own ends. In China, it manifested in the brutal One Child policy. In our very own USA we’ve dealt with the HHS Mandate and public funding of organizations like Planned Parenthood.

Blessed Paul VI predicted that these things would happen. No one, not even Catholics, sadly, expected him to be right, but he was. Now, that we’ve seen his predictions, his prophecies, come true, we must look again at what Blessed Paul VI called us to do, and we must do it. Every time the Jewish people failed to follow God’s prophets, the results were terrible: they were conquered, enslaved, or worse. We may not be physically conquered or enslaved for not following God’s teaching on contraception, but we will certainly be conquered by evil and enslaved to sin. This is not where we want our society to go.

Brothers and sisters, today, 50 years after the release of Humanae vitae, we stand at a crossroads. Our culture is suffering. Our families are suffering. Something is wrong. But we are not helpless. We have the power to change this. We do not have to accept the status quo. We must not accept it. Change will take sacrifice. It will take all the courage and virtue we can muster. It will take prayer. It will take faith in God. I will be blunt here: it will take each of us here accepting Catholic teaching on contraception. That teaching is clear: “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after [marital relations], is specifically intended to prevent procreation” is wrong. (HV 14) Furthermore, the Church has repeatedly condemned “direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.” (HV 14) This issue touches the very meaning of human life, and it is therefore incredibly important. It is sometimes difficult to tell people the truth, especially when it is about an issue that is so personal, but Jeremiah warns against misleading the flock in the first reading today, so I have a moral obligation to be absolutely clear. It is not simply a moral obligation, though. I am motivated out of love for all of you here and out of a desire to see every person here today go to Heaven, and so I must be absolutely clear about the truth on this issue. The use of any birth control pill, implant, mechanical device, or medical procedure that is designed to prevent conception or pregnancy is against Catholic teaching, against God’s teaching, and against what it means to be human. If I had any reservations at all, I would not be so adamant that we must rid ourselves of the evils of artificial contraception. We cannot do these things. Our eternal lives are at stake if we do.

We shouldn’t get the wrong idea from this teaching, though. The Church is not demanding that we have as many children as biologically possible, nor is she saying that we don’t care about women’s health. God calls us to use reason to govern our lives, including family size. This is possible without violating Catholic teaching! The Church doesn’t just leave us hanging! Many ways exist that don’t violate Catholic teaching which can help postpone or achieve pregnancy. Together, we call them Natural Family Planning.

You may have heard people—especially doctors, sadly, even Catholic doctors—claim that NFP does not work or joke about it. They are, at best, wrong; at worst, they are being dishonest. The old rhythm methods were ineffective, but medicine and science have developed. Modern NFP, used correctly, has been scientifically proven to be more effective than artificial contraception at postponing pregnancy. Artificial contraceptives, as they are commonly used, are between 82% and 98% effective. NFP, as commonly used is 89.4% to 99.5% effective.1 One of the NFP studies was done here in Wichita at St. Francis hospital! If that’s not enough of a reason to stop using artificial contraceptives, consider this: NFP—unlike “the pill”—has not been declared a Group I carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Some other Group I carcinogens are asbestos, arsenic, mustard gas, plutonium, and engine exhaust. NFP has never been linked to severe health conditions, such as those which can arise from implants. NFP can strengthen marriages, because it requires both spouses to work together. NFP can even save lives, because the regular observations involved can give an early warning for certain cancers that would not be seen otherwise. NFP is not just for postponing pregnancy though, it can also be used to achieve pregnancy! NFP, together with new medicals treatments consistent with Catholic teaching (NaPro), is more effective than IVF.2 NFP requires sacrifice. It’s not always easy, but it is a good thing. It works better; it’s more flexible; and, it’s better able to help women with health issues than artificial methods. Finally, NFP is more respectful of women and their inherent dignity. Most artificial birth control methods work by harming the normal functioning of a woman’s body, this increases the chances of health problems for women, such as depression, blood clots, stroke, several types of cancer, and many others.3 Additionally, NFP is a shared responsibility, and yes, challenge, between a husband and wife, while using artificial contraception is a one-sided burden that largely falls on women. If you want to learn more about NFP, there are classes across Wichita all the time!

Our bodies are gift from God. They are meant to be used in a certain way if we want to be happy. We can’t continue to separate marriage, sex, and babies. Whether we want to admit it or not, at the deepest levels of our humanity we know they belong together. We must do better, because we deserve better than artificial contraception. We deserve to be loved, not used. In Humanae vitae, our holy Church stood up to society and, again, said “no more” to people who desire to use others for their own pleasure. The Church will never stop trying to help us understand ourselves, and today she reminds us that we are not made for pleasure, but for true, life-giving love. Thankfully, when we do make mistakes, the Church is always there to help us pick ourselves up and to set us on the right path again by providing the Sacraments for us. In the Sacrament of Confession, God forgives our sins. He wants to forgive our sins, especially those that touch us so deeply and personally as the use of artificial contraception does. After we have received forgiveness of our sins and have become clean in that most intimate encounter of God’s mercy, God then invites us to share in the most excellent of all the Sacraments, that heaven-on-earth encounter with God’s love: the Eucharist. The Eucharist reminds us of God’s love for us and teaches us that God made us for greatness: he made us to receive his life-giving love, and to share that life-giving love with others. For those who already are following this Church teaching, thank you for being witness to God’s love and for being witnesses to God’s amazing plan for us. For those who are not following Church teaching, I invite you to simply try it out, and I want you to know that the Church will be here for here each and every step of the way.

Today’s Readings:
16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
50th Anniversary of Humanae vitae on Wednesday, July 25.
July 22, 2018
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalms 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34