“You’re just like your father!!” so my mother would say when I was growing up – especially when I showed my stubborn German side. . .
I miss my parents. And one reason is the older I get – the more I realize I AM just like my father. . . as well as my mother.
I have my mother’s love of faith, of family and of growing things . . . And my father’s love of figuring things out – fixing and building things ----and food --- to say nothing about my love of cars with high mileage!
As I said way back at the beginning of the summer – right before Father’s Day: “Perhaps THE strongest example children receive in their lives – is from their parents.”
And Jesus said to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Oh how Jesus wished Peter were a bit more like their Father. . .
Because that’s what Jesus asks of all his followers: to become (as best we can) HOLY just like God is HOLY– Jesus wants us to think like God does, see what God sees, want what God wants, love as God has – and does – love us.
Just like our earthly parents have shaped us, so should our heavenly one do the same – help mold us into the wonderful person we were created to be.
There is one big difference though --- in many ways our moms and dads shaped us without our full consent – shaped us simply because of the home they created for us and the values they taught us – teaching us mostly by example of what they said to us and how they treated us as we were growing up.
How many of us ever heard our parents say: “as long as you live in my house – this is the way it is!!”
But in a very real sense – God rarely (if ever) works in us WITHOUT our consent . . . And NOT because God can’t. That’s not it at all.
But it is because God chooses to act this way because God completely respects our freedom – respects our ability to choose or NOT to choose being open to God’s grace ----- God respects our ability to choose or NOT to choose to say YES to being a disciple. And that means to a large extent – that WE have the ability---- as well as the responsibility--- to choose the kind of person we become.
“You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
It’s true that trying to understand what God might be “thinking”, or trying to figure out how God sees us, or what God wants for us, might seem an impossible task. >>
After all – God is God and we are not!
And so, it takes self-revelation on God’s part, a deep desire on God’s part to be known. In faith, we believe that’s precisely what has happened throughout all of human history – and continues to this day – God wants us to know all we can about God -- so as to freely and fully love God!
And so we have had countless men and women who have pondered the great mysteries of life and who, with God’s help, have helped shed light on who God is.
We have had the prophets, like Isaiah who tell us “the Lord is our help, who will prove us wrong?
And those who knew Jesus like James who tell us “What good is it if someone says they have faith but does not have works?”
Or those like Saint Peter Claver, who feastday we celebrated this past week, who teaches us about the importance of reaching out to the poor and needy – for in them is found the very face of God.
And then we have something in history that was a real game-changer. We have something that makes known the mind of God in ways it was never shown before. Of course, it’s NOT a something – but a someone --- Jesus Christ, who Pope Francis says is the very face of God’s mercy.
So if we want to understand God – we have to understand Jesus – we must get inside the mind and heart of Christ.
If we want to know what God expects of us – we simply need to understand what Jesus asked of his followers.
If we want to see as God sees – we simply need to try to look at the world through the eyes of Jesus.
And if we want to know how God wants us to act, we only need to look to Jesus – to see what he did, and to listen to what he said, observe what was important to him, and even what disappointed him.
All in all, perhaps it was not bad advice Jesus gave to Peter – “get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Get behind me – that is follow me a little longer – and learn from me.
It is only after we commit to following after Jesus – commit to getting behind him --- that we can begin to think as God does – not as human beings do.
And then my mother and your mother – and anyone else who hears our words and sees our actions can say – even with a little pride: you’re just like your Father!
“And people brought to Jesus a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay hands on him.”
And Jesus showed great compassion to this man. This poor guy who heard no sound, no voice, and probably had little hope. There was always something missing in his life. He could never enter into a conversation.
As a child, other kids probably made fun of him.
As an adult, those who knew him were probably embarrassed for him or because of him.
The man was probably much like a stroke victim today – in his right mind – but unable to express any of his thoughts.
And Jesus showed great compassion to this
man. . .
St. Mark does not record this miracle in his Gospel so that we can marvel at a first century Helen Keller – as wonderful as coming to hear and speak may be.
No, St. Mark records this miracle for a spiritual reason. Remember last Sunday, Jesus confronted the Scribes and Pharisees to go beyond the mere external observances of the law – and challenged them to allow the law to do what it was intended to do --- to lead a person to holiness.
And in reading the rest of St. Mark’s Gospel – we find the Scribes and Pharisees, as well as the Saducees – all the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus day --- had no intention of LISTENING to Jesus. No matter how hard Jesus tried to get through to them, they turned a deaf ear to him.
Today, Jesus goes to the Decapolis – 10 cities in pagan territory. By what he says and does in this place he indicates that the Kingdom of God is meant for everyone who is willing to LISTEN. That is why he heals a man who cannot hear. A pagan man – a non-Jew.
Jesus takes the man off by himself, away from the clamor of the crowd. He becomes very physical with the man – puts his finger in the man’s ear /
spits / touches his tongue / groans / looks up to heaven / and says to the man: be opened.
Then he orders the crowd not to tell anyone – he wants the actions of this miracle to speak louder than any words.
--But the more Jesus ordered them not to – they more they proclaimed it --- because these pagans, unlike the Jewish officials of Jesus day believed what Jesus said, they LISTENED to him – and were astonished by what he did.
What are we to learn from this encounter between Jesus and a deaf, mute man?
That the Word of God has great power. God’s word brought creation into being.
God spoke his word to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to form a chosen people.
God continued to speak through the prophets like Isaiah –who assured those who would listen to him – that God would never abandon them, even when they refused to listen to God.
God speaks – God’s word is powerful – but are we willing to listen?
No doubt we live in a world filled with many competing voices – vying for our attention. The confusing crowd of voices which tell us that we can be happy if we only have certain things --- or if we exclude certain groups of people.
Jesus take us away from the crowd every week when we come to this place – to hear God’s word and to be nourished by his Body.
In this place God speaks to us. God’s word is powerful. But are we willing to listen?
Do we listen to the voice of the crowd that always tells us we’re not good enough?
Or do we listen to the voice of God which tells us we belong to God. We are created in the image and likeness of God. And we are precious in God’s sight?
Do we listen to the voice of the crowd that constantly reminds us of our failures?
Or do we listen to the voice of God which tells us our present and future need not be determined by our past? That we can be forgiven, and our sins can be forgotten, and God will give us the grace to do better.
Do we listen to the voice of the crowd that tries to fill us with fear and anxiety about our present and future circumstances?
Or do we listen to the voice of God which tells us: be strong, fear not! Here is your God who comes to save you!
In this place, God speaks to us. God’s word is powerful. We should LISTEN to God tell us that today is a blessing and our future is full of hope. We should listen with purpose and intention until we can’t hear the other voices any more.
God speaks to us. God’s word is powerful – but will we listen?
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.
My name is Elias – and I grew up in the busy port city of Ephesus – on the coast of Ionia – for you, present day Turkey. And I recently became a follower of the one they call Christ: Jesus of Nazareth – perhaps you have heard of him??
I want to tell you about an experience I had in the year 67 --- shortly after I became a follower of Jesus.
I heard Jesus’ mother, Mary, and his beloved disciple, John, recently moved to Ephesus – and, recent convert that I was – I thought it important for me to actually speak to someone who knew Jesus – and who better – than his very own mother?
When I arrived at their home, I told Mary how I had recently been Baptized and received the gift of the Holy Spirit. And that I believed it was the Holy Spirit who sent me to ask her a few questions about her memories of Jesus.
I told them to be with Jesus’ own mother and his beloved disciple, for even a brief time – would be such a special grace to me.
“You must know that we love to talk about Jesus,” Mary said. “And please trust and believe what he taught us: wherever two or three gather in his name – he is with us. So Jesus is with us right here, right now.”
“What do you wish to ask us about Jesus,” John said.
“Well,” I said, “ I have been thinking about my own call to discipleship and the mission Jesus gives us all – to go and preach repentance – the turning around of one’s life so it is directed totally to Jesus.
“So, I just have some questions about what qualities Jesus’s first disciples had to do that important kingdom-work ----- so I can figure out if I should even attempt it.
“I know you were both there the day he named the twelve. So how did he come upon those specific twelve? Why them – and not others?”
John began to laugh and said, “stop smiling like that, Mary.”
Mary said, “I smile and John laughs, dear Elias – because that’s just the way my son was. He was always surprising us by the way he broke all the rules or set expectations.
“Yes, there were other followers of his who were more educated in the tradition of our Jewish ancestors or who showed more potential for leadership or who had earned a level of respect within our group. But Jesus had his own ways.”
John picked up the story. . . “I remember the day. Everyone who was there was feeling this powerful attraction to him. I somehow knew that he would fill up everything that was lacking in me by his love.
“Still, when he called out MY name – my heart started beating faster and I was both shocked and thrilled. And when he told us to share the good news that ‘the kingdom of God is at hand,’ you just felt the excitement grow among us.”
“But did you have any sense at all why he called you, specifically – and then sent you out with authority to speak in his name?” I asked. . .
And was surprised when John said, “NO. I had no sense at all – other than feeling very humbled.”
Mary said: “you see, Jesus had such a sense of the human heart. I think he picked those specific twelve because he knew their hearts were open – even though he knew there was a weakness in each one of them.
“They all had their thorns in the flesh, as our new brother Paul speaks of faults. But Jesus could take care of those weaknesses – his grace would be sufficient --- but he could not force anyone to have an open heart – that is completely voluntary – the choice to follow after him . .
“Yes,” Mary continued --- “Jesus knew they each had fears in their hearts and sins in their past. But again, Jesus can take care of the fears & sins. He knew they had limitations and vulnerabilities --- but he knew they were freely choosing to follow after him – and freely choosing to open their hearts to his teaching. That’s why I think Jesus chose them.
“And I watched those twelve very closely during the coming years,” Mary continued, “and how they formed a close knit community as they traveled together with Jesus.
“They all grew – through the GRACE of God.
“Yes, Peter was impulsive – but all of us could tell even impulsiveness can be used for the good of God’s kingdom.
“Nathaniel was innocent and naïve. Thomas was precious in his demand to be sure before he believed. And of course Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus – was so complex and resistant to surrendering to Jesus way.”
“And so Jesus picked them BECAUSE they were weak???” I blurted out. . .
“Let me take this one, Mary,” John said.
“It is probably better to say that Jesus knew then and knows now – that we are all sinners. Whoever he chose would have been weak. He picked us – and I might add, he picked you, Elias,
-desiring to help us all know we need a Savior. After touching our hearts with his loving mercy – Jesus is able to better send us to do the one thing he calls us to do: love others – including other sinners – the same way he loves us.
“I think the important thing to remember,” John continued –“ is that if YOU hear Jesus’ words and keep them close to your heart and live them --- you will be as close to Jesus as we were when Jesus lived.
“Let Jesus love you and forgive you. And remember, it was the gift of the Holy Spirit – not our own gifts or talents or personal qualities --- it was the Holy Spirit--- that set our hearts on fire and allowed us to do great things.
“The mistake Judas made, and so many others do even to the present time – is Judas wanted Jesus to come around to HIS way of seeing and doing things --- instead of Judas coming around to JESUS’ way of seeing and doing things. And that’s possible only with an open heart. Surrendering one’s heart is necessary.
“So open your heart – and let the Holy Spirit help you come around to Jesus’ way of seeing and doing things, and you will be a faithful disciple.”
After thanking Mary and John for their time – I could not wait to go off and preach repentance for the kingdom of God. Who cared what I took – or left behind? It would all be a small sacrifice to be counted among Jesus’ chosen ones.
So I am Elias. And I hope you have learned something from my visit with Mary and John in Ephesus. Just remember – in Jesus – you are called and sent forth to be his disciple. And regardless of your weaknesses, worries, shortcomings or sins – Jesus can use you – for his grace will be sufficient.
When we read the stories of the lives of the saints, we find their lives filled with very ordinary events – but also some very extraordinary ones.
Like St. Faustina, the little Polish nun who had visions of the Lord Himself, who asked her to make known the message of God’s Divine mercy.
The three children of Fatima, St. Bernadette and St. Juan Diego were all visited by the Blessed Mother.
St. Theresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Alphonse Ligouri are said to have often levitated/floated in their time of prayer.
The New Testament describes several ordinary events in the life of St. Paul – like his tent making in Thessalonika – and then some extraordinary events also – the most well-known of these is the life-changing encounter he had with Christ on his way to Damascus.
And as we recently heard in a reading at daily Mass – St. Paul wrote about mystically being taken up in his body to the third heaven – whatever that is supposed to mean. . .
In our second reading today -- Paul writes about an “abundance of revelations” he received from the Lord.
And then – Paul writes of a very strange phenomenon --- “a thorn in the flesh was given to me” he writes – “an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.”
Some think this thorn may have been some skin affliction Paul suffered from.
Others think it may have referred to a reoccurring sensual temptation – or an unwanted attraction to something Paul knew was bad for his soul --- which he had to remain vigilant against.
Or Paul may have been speaking figuratively – referring to an especially difficult challenge in his ministry, or a certain group of people that continually gave him a hard time.
What Paul’s thorn in the flesh was – we do not know – except that he clearly was not talking about some little passing problem.
We DO know that Paul prayed to be delivered of it. We heard him say : “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me.” But it did not.
I think we can all relate to Paul in some way or another. Who among us hasn’t had some challenge, some obstacle, some temptation, some suffering --- that no matter how much we prayed – we could not be rid of it???
Certainly, anyone who struggles with any type of addiction knows what Paul was feeling and experiencing. . . many of whom refer to their addiction as a demon they cannot be free of.
But no doubt – every one of us, has some thorn, some physical – psychological – emotional – or spiritual problem that won’t go away, even when we pray for deliverance or help.
So why WON’T the Lord deliver us – why WON’T God answer our prayers and free us from our thorns??
Most likely to teach us the same lesson God taught Paul: “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but the Lord said to me: “My grace is sufficient for you.”
God wants to teach us that grace is all we need. .
So what do we mean by grace? The unmerited and unearned love of God – the free gift of strength and help and power which God’s gives us ----- is enough.
No matter what our suffering consist of – an illness, a loss, a temptation, a fear, a persecution, a hardship --- God’s grace is sufficient for us – to what? To have life and to have it abundantly and joyfully! All to become the people God made us and wants us to be.
When we connect to God’s grace – we become instruments of God’s will – no matter how much we suffer!
In other words, we can endure anything when we live by God’s grace. In fact, every illness, every loss, every temptation, every hardship – can become an opportunity to grow in grace – rather than starting a pity party.
For those who follow Christ – behind every curse is a blessing. Behind every suffering there is joy. Behind every hardship there is an opportunity for growth – all because God’s grace sustains us and accomplishes what might seem impossible through us.
Our thorns are proof that God wants something great from all of us: God wants us to trust in grace so as not to be mediocre in our faith but great in our holiness. God wants us to deflate our egos so as to fill ourselves with God’s grace, spirit, and being: allowing ourselves to be conformed into the image and likeness of Christ
Our thorns are reminders that none of us are finished products – we never reach a point in holiness that we become independent of God. In fact the only way we become holy is to know that we are dependent on God – for all that we are and all that we have.
In the Gospel today, Jesus himself is rejected by his neighbors, his townsfolk. What a thorn that must have been!! – to be rejected by the people you grew up with.
It could happen to us also – if we are living our faith, and being dependent on God --- we might face similar rejection. We might be mocked for belonging to the Church these days – made fun of for prioritizing our weekend so as to attend Mass, your children or grandchildren may totally turn their back on what you believed and followed all your life.
But in those times we need to trust that our task IS NOT to be liked by everybody – but to stand firm in the faith and be a witness to Christ.
Likewise, remaining faithful to the Church or its moral teaching, or its leaders – might feel like a painful thorn in the flesh. . . or a pain somewhere else -- but we don’t just practice Christianity when it is easy or convenient.
No, we discover, like St. Paul, that our weaknesses are made strong by God’s grace, and what we endure for the sake of Christ, brings about a powerful change and transformation in our hearts and in our world.
So we pray for each other and pray with each other – to remain faithful when we suffer the thorns of the world – knowing that God’s grace is sufficient.
Do you ever worry that the world is a little out of control???
Weren’t we all feeling this way a little over a year ago as we were confronted with some pretty unsettling things – especially the onset of a deadly virus about which we knew nothing --- and the outbreak and widespread unrest and violence in our nation’s streets??
Either one of these events by themselves would have caused many of us to be worried – but both at the same time was especially troubling.
Add to that the economic turmoil that set in, and many, many people worried the world was just a bit out of control. . .
We began to wonder if the way things were then – were going to be the way things were going to be for a very long time. We were worried that things were NEVER going to get better. And wonder if all of this was the “NEW NORMAL.”
“They woke Jesus and said to him: ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’”
So asked the disciples as they were faced with a very unsettling situation.
It’s interesting, I think, that St. Mark does not say the disciples were waking Jesus and asking him for help. Just that they woke him and wondered why he seemed to NOT care about what was happening to them.
It’s important to remember that were reading from chapter four in Mark’s Gospel --- so it’s early in Jesus ministry. So the disciples had seen a few healings and had heard a few parables --- but their understanding of who Jesus was --- was still very limited at this point. The disciples really had not yet experienced the full force of Jesus’ divine nature. . . they just wondered how he could remain so calm while there was danger all around them. . .
And Jesus question to them reveals his answer: Do you not yet have faith??
As we sang last week: No storm can shake my inmost calm – while to that rock I’m clinging. . .
The disciples thought they were in a pretty bad situation – their world was a little out of control --- and they were not quite sure things would get better. They weren’t yet that trusting in God looking out for them – weren’t hopeful in a better outcome – and therefore could not begin to understand how Jesus wasn’t just as scared as they were.
And that makes perfect sense. We would probably be thinking the same thing. It’s NOT that the disciples completely lacked hope, or trust, or faith. It’s just that when things got really tough – they allowed the storm around them to take control – allowed the present moment to take over and dominate and overshadow their minds, hearts, and thoughts.
Their world was out of control – and they could not do a thing about it!
But we know how the story turns out. Jesus stepped in and made things better – calmed the storm – took what was chaotic and frightening and transformed it into something much different – something filled with calm, and peace, and safety.
Since Christ is lord of heaven and earth – how can I keep from singing??
So do we fall into the same trap as the disciples did? Do we get overwhelmed by the difficulties of life (either those outside of us or those inside of us)?
And then do we presume things will never get better, that things CAN never be better – that God is somehow asleep at the switch – oblivious to our concerns – no longer really in charge of and watching over the universe or us?? Do these continual challenges and sorrows and obstacles and heartaches become our ‘NEW NORMAL’?
OR do we hope and trust and have faith that every single thing in this world can be made better, and that no hurt or wrong or injustice or danger need remain? Today is simply today – tomorrow can be whatever God wants it to be – and what we are willing to do our part to help bring about.
Injustices can be righted.
Our wounded planet can be healed.
Relationships can be strengthened.
Hungry people can be fed.
Despair can become hope.
Pride can become humility.
Sin can be acknowledged and overcome by the grace of God.
There are no limits to the good God can bring about from any challenge or struggle we are having – whether that be something happening around us or within us.
Because that is the power of the resurrection –
the power that renders power-less whatever death we are currently suffering through. For when our faith is truly alive within us – when we are growing the seeds of God’s kingdom --- we will never consider anything as the “new normal”. Rather, each day will be seen as an opportunity to work with God to calm the storms around us and within us – helping bring about a peace that only God can give.
After the celebration and joy of the Easter season, followed by the feasts of the Holy Trinity and the Body and Blood of Christ – we finally settle back into the green of Ordinary Time – and the methodical reading – Sunday after Sunday of Mark’s Gospel.
We begin counting on this 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time all the way up to the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – followed by the Feast of Christ the King and then the beginning of Advent. So time marches on. . .
And as we march through time – I think the Gospel today gives us a very simple question to answer along the way: are we growing the seeds of God’s kingdom ---
and the love, joy, peace, forgiveness, and grace of that kingdom --- as we mark this sacred time week after week – are we growing into the best person we can be ---------- OR----------- just stumbling along, being the same old people we have always been???
Since the day we were Baptized – the seeds of God’s kingdom were sown in us: the seeds that help us grow more and more into the image and likeness of Christ.
But along with these seeds of the kingdom of God sown in us – are also weeds of sin, sown by the evil one. These weeds will try to choke the seeds of love, so that there is not only no growth, but also will cause the seeds of love to wither and die.
So every choice we make and every decision – is one small step toward growing the kingdom within us and around us – or choking off its growth. . .
With this in mind, two related stories:
World War II produced many heroes. One such hero was Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific.
One day his entire squadron was sent off on a mission. And after he was airborne, O’Hare looked at his fuel gage and noticed the crew had failed to top off his fuel tank.
He would not have enough fuel to complete the mission AND return to the ship – so he reluctantly signed off on the mission and headed back to the fleet.
As he was returning he noticed something that made his blood run cold. Off in the distance, he saw a squadron of Japanese bombers speeding toward the American fleet.
All the other fighters were off on mission – so the fleet was defenseless. Somehow, in order to save the fleet, he would have to divert the incoming bombers.
And so setting aside thoughts of his personal safety – he divided directly into the Japanese squadron. He charged in with guns blazing, weaved in and out of the formation and fired on as many planes as he could.
Completely surprised, the exasperated Japanese took off in another direction.
This took place on February 20, 1942 – and for his action Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare became the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. And today, O’Hare airport in Chicago is named in tribute to this courageous man.
The second story also takes place many years ago – when the crime boss, Al Capone, virtually ran the streets of Chicago.
Capone had a lawyer nicknamed “Easy Eddie” whose skill at legal maneuvering kept Capone out of jail for a long time. Which is how Eddie received his nickname – because life became pretty easy for him as he was greatly rewarded for his legal efforts.
In his comfortable life – Eddie saw to it that his only son had everything – including a good education.
And despite the way he earned his living – Eddie also
tried to teach his son right from wrong – wanting his son to be a better man than he was.
Yet with all his wealth and influence -- there were two things Easy Eddie could not give his son in his present line of work: he could not pass on a good name, or a good example.
And so Eddie decided to change. He decided to renounce his ways in order to clean up his tarnished name – and show his son the meaning of integrity.
But to do this, he would have to turn against Al Capone, and he knew that cost would be great. And it was. Within a year Easy Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street.
So what do these two stories have to do with each other?
Well, Butch O’Hare, the heroic fighter pilot – was Easy Eddie’s son.
And so a point for us -- every choice we make and every decision – is one small step toward growing the kingdom within us – or choking off its growth.
And another point: perhaps THE strongest example children receive in their lives – is from their parents.
As we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day next weekend – I just ask parents of young children and grandparents to reflect this week on what kind of values you are – or are not – passing on to your children and grandchildren through your example.
And for the rest of us not blessed with children – what type of role model are we being for others? By our words and actions – are we taking the small steps we need – to grow the kingdom within us and around us – or not? Are we letting the weeds of sin to choke the seeds of love, so there is not only no growth ---- but also causing the seeds of the kingdom to wither and die? Because whether or not we know it – people, especially the young – are watching us – and learning from our example.
“The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown and springs up – becomes the largest of plants.”
Let’s go plant some seeds this week.