In Jesus’ day, and still to this day – our Jewish brothers and sisters consider the Torah – the first 5 books of our Old Testament as the foundation of their faith.
From these five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy --- they developed 613 very specific laws to serve as a day to day practical guide to living their faith.
The Jewish ritual practices, especially those concerned with the issue of purity or purification ---which were a large part of that practical guide, those 613 laws --- helped them to maintain their identity. They were things they did day after day – and at certain times of the day – to help keep them focused.
Jesus did not criticize the Pharisees and Scribes for having these laws and traditions. After all as he grew up in a Jewish family in Nazareth – he would have kept those traditions himself.
NO -- Jesus criticizes them – because they have lost sight of the real purpose of the law which is set forth for them – and us --- in our first reading from Deuteronomy:
Moses stressed that the purpose of the law as a gift given to them by God was to guide them toward greater holiness.
The laws only set safe boundaries, to keep them from straying too far -- Boundaries within which they were to strive for holiness: to be in right relationship with God and with one another.
The goal of laws and regulations is not just to avoid sin – but to become the holy person that God wants you to be.
Once the Jews lose sight of that central purpose – which leads them to criticize Jesus and his disciples in the Gospel ---- their laws and traditions become so complicated that they need another group of professionals – the Scribes – just to interpret it for them. The laws became more important --- than what the law was meant to lead them to.
And the criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees may have been rooted in this one simple thing: as urban dwellers, those who lived in cities and towns –
they could more easily follow their laws and traditions. For instance – they had better access to water needed for all those purification rites – the cleansing of cups and jugs and kettles and beds.
The disciples of Jesus were country people – and spent a lot of time on the road – and travelers do not have the same access to water. And most of the disciples were also fishermen who were used to handling dead fish all the time and could not always perform the purifications needed to make them ritually clean.
But just because they could not keep all the dictates of the law – down to the last letter of the law ------ doesn’t mean they were not striving----- for holiness. . .
In his criticism aimed at the scribes and Pharisees – Jesus cuts to the chase – the evils that can defile us – that make us less holy --- do not come from outside of us – they come from within us.
Drinking from a dirty cup won’t keep us from being holy --- but holding on to a grudge and refusing to forgive someone who wronged us --- can.
So there is a need for everyone in Jesus’ eyes – city people and country folk alike – to not get caught up in simply keeping the laws and regulations --- but to repent –
to get rid of those things on the inside of us that keep us from a right relationship with God and others -- REPENT -- and accept the values of the Kingdom of God --- all to become not just rule-followers & keepers– but to become holy people.
Unlike the Pharisees we have accepted Jesus Christ to repent and so grow in holiness. As the Letter to Saint James explains – it’s not just good enough to say that – we must also live it -- we must be doers of the word and not just hearers.
The living tradition that we have – the rules and regulations of our faith – are there to direct us in our call to holiness – not to be an end in themselves.
Just as it is possible to follow all the laws of the road regarding driving a car --- AND STILL BE A BAD DRIVER --- it is possible to follow all the laws of our faith – AND STILL BE A BAD PERSON – because we are focusing on the externals of observance – instead of letting the observance to transform us and lead us to a more holy life.
So we have all kept a rule this morning – we have come to Mass on Sunday. That rule is there to keep is from straying too far from God. So what about the rest of the day –
what are we going to do to give glory to God? What are we going to do to make sure we grow in holiness – to be in right relationship with God and with one another? Just something we should ponder. . .
So when all is said and done, I think today we are just reminded of the importance of God’s Law and the role of the living, teaching authority of the Church to interpret and guide us in living it – of setting the boundaries.
But we are also reminded that the purpose of laws and teachings --- is to help us grow in holiness.
And as Pope Francis would remind us – holiness always involves doing something -- like caring for orphans and widows –
and others who live on the fringes of society. He would say if we want to know how to be holy --- then serve the poor. Be people of justice-- and that will bring you into harmony with God, with your neighbor, and with all of creation.
Guided by the teachings of Christ and the Church – we need to recognize those evils that lurk in our hearts – turn them over to Christ – so that through him, with him and in him --- we can be transformed – and become more like him – we can indeed become HOLY.
Every week, not only are we given different Scripture readings – but we also have different prayers from Sunday to Sunday – prayers that help set the tone for the celebration of the liturgy.
The opening prayer, called the collect – is meant to gather or collect all the intentions we are bringing to the celebration of the Mass and offering them to God. It’s the offering of our very selves at the beginning of Mass – the offering of our faults and failings, and of our hopes and desires.
The prayer over the gifts connects this particular Eucharistic celebration to the sacrifice of Christ, made on the cross.
And the prayer after Communion and before the final blessing always directs us to go out into the world to live what we have just celebrated.
Another important prayer of the Mass is the Preface – which comes after the prayer over the gifts and before the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer – on special occasions it is often sung – as it will be today.
This is what we will pray:
Today the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven // as the beginning and image of your Church’s coming to perfection --- and a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people (that is all of us).
Rightly you would not allow her to see the corruption of the tomb since from her own body, she marvelously brought forth your incarnate son, the author of all life.
So there’s a lot going on in that prayer, but it tells us three things in particular which we celebrate today:
First: Mary was assumed into heaven.
Second: Mary’s assumption brings comfort and hope to us.
And Third: Mary’s perfection is a promise of our perfection to come.
These three things celebrated today-- point to the past, the present, and the future.
Mary’s assumption, an event over 2,000 years ago in the past, gives us and the Church for all ages comfort and hope in the present, and shows us what we hope to become in the future.
So let’s look at each of these. What do we mean when we say Mary was assumed into heaven? It means that at the end of her earthly life – Mary’s body, as well as her soul ---- were taken directly into heaven.
Earthly remains are normally buried: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Yet Mary, because she was totally faithful to the will of God in her life, was taken incorrupt body and soul – into the heavenly realm by God.
There is even historical proof for this – although it is proof by absence – in that the early Church had a profound respect and devotion to the earthly remains of the saints.
And it was the practice of the Church to gather at the places where the remains of the saints were buried. Yet no community ever claimed to have the remains of the Mother of our Lord – because -- she had been taken directly to heaven.
That’s the past. As for the present: why should Mary’s Assumption give us hope and comfort?
The Assumption is like the light at the end of a dark tunnel – or a lighthouse guiding us safely into a harbor. Where Mary has gone, we hope to follow.
Remember: eternal life is what all of this is about. . . We are right here, right now – week after week, year after year – because we believe it is here that our fallen, sinful selves are redeemed and made holy and made worthy of heaven.
So the Assumption is comforting because we can have real hope amidst all of the difficulties and darkness and temptations of life – that we can receive the gift of eternal life.
That’s why the passage from the Book of Revelation is used today. It presents a vision of the struggle between a woman and a dragon – between Mary and the power of Satan.
Living the Christian faith, being faithful to God and the teachings of Christ in the present -- involves struggles. We are struggling against the forces of evil – and trying to keep faithful to God.
Mary knew this struggle – as her life involved terrible suffering and great challenges. At the cross she saw her Son suffer the cruel death of crucifixion.
Mary knew loss: she knew the hardship of journeying to Bethlehem during her pregnancy and fleeing to Egypt because of King Herod’s threat to her newborn child.
Yet, through the hardships and struggles --- Mary remained faithful – and she obeyed God – and today we celebrate the result of that faithfulness – because she was untouched by sin, at the end of her earthly life – Mary was taken incorrupt body and soul, directly to heaven.
As for the future: Mary’s perfection and her heavenly destination is a sign of our perfection to come one day to heaven. We sometimes think of heaven as only the realm of spirits – of souls. But Mary’s Assumption reminds us that heaven also involves a bodily reality.
Our eternal destiny is not to be merely a spirit in God’s presence – but to be made perfect body and soul in God’s presence –
as we profess every week in the Creed when we say we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Where at Easter we celebrate Christ’s bodily resurrection and victory over death ---- today’s feast of the Assumption celebrates that victory applied to God’s most obedient creature, Mary, who shows us what is in store for all the faithful followers of Christ.
Today, as we renew our faith in Christ’s power to do amazing things – by contemplating the great miracle of the Assumption – let’s ask the blessed Mother to obtain for us all the grace we need to be faithful and obedient to all the Lord asks of us, so that like Mary – we may radiate God’s goodness and greatness – now and for all eternity.
Every three years, when we are consistently reading the short Gospel of St. Mark, during these hot days of late summer, we read the entire 6th Chapter of St. John’s Gospel – Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse – over 5 consecutive weeks.
Without this interlude, we would simply run out of readings from Mark’s Gospel before we got to the end of the liturgical year.
So this is the third week of Jesus’ five-week course on the mystery of his Body and Blood we receive in the Eucharist.
It all started with a young boy who offered his gifts of two fish and five loaves which Jesus took, blessed, and distributed – feeding five thousand people.
The crowds could not feed themselves. The disciples could not feed the crowd. Only the power of God was sufficient to meet the needs of the people.
That was true then – and it is true now – as we heard Jesus last week proclaim himself as the bread of life. He said whoever comes to Him will never hunger, whoever believes in Him will never thirst. Only the power of God is sufficient to meet the needs of the people.
At our deepest core is a spiritual hunger for God – a yearning that cannot be satisfied by perishable food, by entertainment, by things that we buy – or anything else that might enslave us. As St. Augustine once said: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”
We will always be unsatisfied, we will always lack peace – when we continue to seek our fulfillment in earthly things and worldly pursuits. We must go to God to be fed, and out of God’s goodness we are fed by the Body and Blood of Christ: only the power of God is sufficient to meet the needs of the people.
Let’s focus on three things that came to me as I read today’s Gospel. . .
First, Jesus teaches us that no one can come to him “unless the Father who sent me draw them.” WE Catholics, week after week, year after year – come to the altar to be fed by Jesus --- not just because we think it is a great idea – but because we have been drawn here by God.
We are right here, right now – because God is working in our lives to make us holy.
God has drawn us here. We love God because God has first loved us – we have been drawn to God because God has drawn near to us.
We have come to be fed because God has placed in us the desire for heaven.
Second, Jesus teaches that the Eucharist leads us to eternal life. “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”
Eternal life – that’s what this is all about. The Church is not a social club, we don’t come to impress our neighbors or improve our social network or to make business connections. We aren’t here because of the promise of financial success.
No we are right here, right now – week after week – year after year – because we believe it is here that our fallen, sinful selves are redeemed and sanctified and made worthy of heaven.
It is here, in this place that we are drawn into a deep and abiding relationship with God, in communion with God ---- that will last for all eternity.
Eternal life cannot be purchased at Ikea, obtained at the ballpark, or discovered on a hike. It can only be obtained by eating the Body of Christ – as Jesus clearly tells us.
The third thing which came to me as I read this Gospel – is that Jesus teaches that he, himself, is the bread of eternal life. He is its source and its sustenance.
Eleven times in this one chapter of John’s Gospel Jesus calls himself the bread of life – repetition is the mother of education – so he repeats this teaching to drill this message into us.
When we receive Communion – it is really Christ. This is why we bow or genuflect toward the tabernacle when we enter this place. Because our God is really here – dwelling among us. For Christ IS the bread of life.
That’s what makes a Catholic Church different from any other building on the face of the earth – Christ’s real presence cannot be found in a library, we do not genuflect when we enter a theater, we don’t bow at the food in the grocery store.
But Christ is really here – if you don’t recognize him, then pray that your eyes may be opened in faith – for he is really here.
St. Theresa of Avila once said that “if we really recognized the presence of Jesus as we came forward for Holy Communion – we would fall flat on our faces, and prostrate on the ground in awe of the presence of God before us. God whose face we long to see in heaven is here – though the face is veiled behind what looks like bread and wine.”
The Eucharist is not ordinary food, not a cookie or a cracker, or merely a symbol --- it is the living body and blood of Jesus Christ – his real presence.
And so we should be reverent as we come forward to receive Communion – giving a profound bow of our heads before extending our hands or opening our mouths to receive the bread of life.
Today may our faith in the Eucharist be renewed.
May our reverence be deepened.
May our wonder and awe that God is here present among us be magnified and fill our hearts with joy.
And may the Eucharist strengthen us for the ministry that God calls us to do when we leave this place as God’s daughters and sons.
When the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt – they weren’t treated very well --- which is of course -- kind of the nature of being a slave. . .
And as a result of their hardships and mistreatment, they learned to distrust any authority figure: especially Pharaoh.
As Moses led them from their bonds of slavery – they slowly learned to trust him – and to trust God who sent the ten plagues as signs that God did want them to be free.
They continued to witness the power of God working through Moses as God made a way when there was no way –
allowing them to cross the Red Sea on dry land as the chariots and charioteers of Pharaoh were drowned in their pursuit. And their trust both in God and Moses continued to build.
BUT, and there always seems to be a but when it comes to God’s contentious people --- BUT when the Israelites ran out of food in the hostile environment of the desert – they slipped back into their old, familiar patterns --- losing their trust in Moses, questioning God’s concern for them, grumbling against them both --- and very much wanted to return to being slaves again in Egypt for at least – that was something familiar.
So God, through Moses, used signs in the desert to regain their trust. In the evening quail flew into the camp. And in the morning a dew lay on the ground, and when it evaporated there were fine flakes which the Israelites collected and used to make bread.
The meat and the manna – the bread from heaven – were additional signs that they could trust God as God continued to try to teach them how to live as God’s sons and daughters.
Jesus, too, used signs to teach the crowds which followed him how to behave as God’s sons and daughters.
Last week as we heard, Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish as a sign that they could trust in his power to free them from whatever enslaved them.
But, and there’s that word again -- but just as their ancestors could not look beyond the quails and manna to see a sign that they could trust God --- the crowds could not look beyond the loaves and fish to believe and trust that Jesus is the one sent by God to free them from sin and death.
All they wanted was a free lunch. Like their ancestors , they see God as just another Pharaoh who punishes them when they are bad – and as a super-santa: who rewards them when they are good.
We gather at this Mass today because we do believe that Jesus is the Bread come down from heaven: Jesus feeds us with bread transformed into his Body.
And as receivers of the Mystery of the Eucharist, we are invited to take yet another step in trusting God as we journey through life. But we cannot take that step, cannot make that pledge of trust – if we continue to live in any kind of slavery.
We can become slaves to almost anything or anyone these days: from alcohol to drugs, to food or gambling, or to whomever we consider the new Moses leading our country to the promised land.
We can become slaves to consumerism – believing that buying stuff will make us happy. Become slaves to popular opinion and push ourselves to become what others think we should become – rather than who God wants is to be.
Jesus invites us to take a closer look at our daily lives to admit the ways in which we might be slaves. He invites us to trust him in our journey through the desert of recovery to learn how to behave as God’s sons and daughters.
Anyone who has gone through a 12 step program knows how difficult this journey can be. The first step is to admit that we are not truly free – because we are enslaved to something.
With that honest admission, we take the first step of learning that we can let go of whatever has kept us from a deeper trust in God.
One way of growing in this deeper faith is to open our eyes to see the signs of God’s love already around us.
To perhaps notice the sun coming up and to know that God has gifted us with another day of life.
Or open our eyes to see a sign of God’s love as we are embraced by a loved one or enjoy the smile of a friend.
Kindness from someone else can be a sign of God’s love – as well as special celebrations such as births, Baptisms, birthdays, or weddings.
It might be a visiting priest who lets us know of the work his community does in missions throughout the world.
By the way, Fr. Cliff Hassler left a very complimentary note about how he enjoyed the wonderful music and the participation at Mass a few weeks ago – and about the beautiful Church building we have.
This coming from a man who spends every weekend in a different parish --- so he goes places where the music isn’t so great, and where people don’t participate --- so I do take it as a true compliment about our parish community – and so should you.
When we become attentive to the signs of God’s love --- we can approach the ultimate sign of God’s love in the Eucharist with a depth of faith that allows us to trust God – no matter what’s going on inside us or around us.