The Dedication of Saint John Lateran

Today’s readings

I’m often amazed by the flurry of activity that goes on around this place.  I’d only been here a couple of months, and I became convinced that if I strolled over to church at three in the morning, I’d see six or seven cars in the parking lot and a meeting going on somewhere.  In a typical day here, there are a handful of meetings, a full day of classes in the school, several people stopping by the parish office to schedule Masses, or pick up baptismal certificates, or coming for appointments with us priests or other staff people.  We have people come in for financial and other assistance, perhaps to plan a funeral for a loved one, or pick up lesson plans and supplies for a religious education class.  People come in for daily Mass, or to decorate the church, or come for ministry training.  And all these things have to be supported by people cleaning the church or watering plants, staff members repairing broken furniture, cleaning bathrooms, or changing light bulbs.  We have around fifty staff members involved in every kind of ministry and function here, as well as countless volunteers who support the work of the church in so many ways.

Today we celebrate the feast of the dedication of the St. John Lateran basilica in Rome.  That might seem like a strange feast to celebrate, since few of us have probably ever been there.  But St. John Lateran is a very important church for us Catholics.  It is the “mother church” of all Catholics around the world.  It is the Pope’s parish church, the cathedral of Rome. It’s an enormous basilica built over three hundred years ago on the site of a former church built in the fourth century.  Within the building are representations of the popes going all the way back to Peter.  Over time the churches on this site have been subject to fire, earthquakes and war, and have had to be rebuilt several times.  But a church has always been there. It is a visual reminder, inside and out, of our connection to our tradition and the fact that the Church has survived a lot over the centuries–from both within and without. The building attracts many tourists.  They can’t help but admire this grand edifice, much like the Jews of Jesus’ time strolled the Temple precincts and admired its splendor.

While it is a solid structure, and probably needs constant upkeep, it is a reminder of another edifice, the real Temple Jesus laid the foundation for and Paul and subsequent preachers carefully built upon, and that temple is God’s people.  This structure also requires constant upkeep, that’s what we are about in our celebration today, remembering who we are and “tending to the Temple.”

This church that is ourselves, this temple of the Holy Spirit that we are, needs constant upkeep and maintenance – just like this building where we worship, and just like old St. John Lateran.  Because we often fall into the disrepair of sin or the neglect that is spiritual laziness.  And often the repairs can seem daunting.  But they are certainly possible because of the love of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that spirit that brings us back to the Church and helps us with the sacraments.

And that’s the point of today’s celebration.  We remember that we are connected as Catholics throughout the world by our connection to the Pope.  We remember that we ourselves are the temple of God, as St. Paul tells us today, built on the rock-solid foundation of Jesus Christ, built up with the teaching of the apostles, the proclamation of the Holy Scriptures, and the guidance of the Church’s tradition.

The Scriptures today paint the picture of a Church that is not just a building, but is a living thing that goes forth and makes the whole world new.  Just as Ezekiel’s vision painted the picture of water flowing forth from the temple, cleansing and renewing the earth, so the waters of baptism flow forth from the Church of God, taking with it the many ministries of the parishes and the myriad of giftedness possessed by all the baptized believers in all the churches of the world, and flowing out into the world to make a real difference.  This is how the lost come to find salvation.  This is how the poor are fed.  This is how the unborn and the elderly sick are protected.  This is how the world, dark in sin and lost in the disrepair of apathy is bound up and made new and washed clean and healed.  Saint Paul makes it very clear today: we are the temple of God, and we are filled with the Spirit to make a difference in the world.  The Church that is us, we baptized ones, goes forth into a world aching for renewal and brings it all back to the God who made everything, and makes everything new.

And that newness is exactly what Jesus meant when he upturned the moneychangers’ tables and scattered the doves.  Because the doves were needed for the sacrifice, and the money which bore the inscription of pagan deities had to be changed for money that could be brought into the temple treasury – they weren’t doing anything wrong.  But Jesus’ message here is completely different than we might think at first – what he means by all of this is that there is a new temple, the temple that is he himself – that temple which will be torn down by disbelievers but restored in the Resurrection.  There is a new temple, and so that old one with all its dove-sellers and moneychangers isn’t really necessary any more, so take it all and go home, or come to worship rightly, in the temple that is Christ, that temple that will never ever fall into disrepair.

We very much need the church buildings we have among us.  We need St. John Lateran to be a symbol of the Catholic faith that has withstood persecution of every sort and remained standing to give witness to Christ.  We need St. Raphael’s church so that we can come and worship and find our Lord in Word and Sacrament.  But all of that pales in comparison to the importance of the Church that is you and me, and all the baptized ones of every time and place, filled and inspired and breathed forth with the Holy Spirit, gifted beyond imagining, flooding the earth with the torrent of God’s grace, making everything new, and bringing it all back to God who made it all possible.

The task is daunting, but we cannot be afraid to be Church to one another and Church to the world.  As our Psalmist tells us today, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold!”

Saturday of the Thirty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“The love of money is the root of all evil.”  “Money can’t buy happiness.”  We have all sorts of proverbs that aim to keep us at right relationship not just with our financial resources, but really with all the many gifts that we have.  Today’s Liturgy of the Word gives us some humble pointers too on this important issue.

St. Paul, in thanking his friends in Philippi for their generous support of his ministry, tells them: “I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance.  In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.”  His gratitude isn’t so much that their gift to him filled him with plenty, but instead that their gift was a testament to their faith, and their love for the Gospel he preached to them.  He was able to use that gift to further his ministry elsewhere, making Christ known to others who longed to hear of him.

Jesus today speaks to the Pharisees, who, as the Gospel today tells us, “loved money.”  He tells them that their love of money was not going to lead them to God.  Instead, it leads them to dishonest transactions with dishonest people.  Just as a servant cannot serve two masters, so they could not expect to serve both God and mammon, the so-called god of material wealth and greed.

We live in times where the love of money has led us to considerable evil.  Greed and the desire for instant gratification has led people to be overspent and overextended.  Major corporations, greedy for more wealth, playing off the misguided desires of so many people, have defaulted, causing the government to have to step in and save them, for fear their downfall would take the entire world economy with it.  In these days, it may be well for us to hear that we cannot serve both God and mammon.  It may be well for us to come to the conclusion that we can live in both abundance and need.  And it’s never a bad time to hear that we need to make God our only God, yet again.

The Feast of St. John Lateran

Today’s readings

[Celebrating Sunday’s feast today for the school children.]

Have you ever heard the story of the three pigs?  If you have, then you remember that one of them built his house out of straw, and the wolf was able to come along and huff and puff and blow his house down.  The second pig built his house out of sticks, and again, the wolf came along and huffed and puffed and blew the house down.  But the third pig was smarter.  He built his house out of bricks.  So when the wolf came along and huffed and puffed, he wasn’t able to blow the house down and that third pig was able to live safely.

That can be a very scary story when we hear it; the wolf is devious and wants to hurt the little pigs.  But because that third pig was smart and built his house out of the right kind of material, he didn’t have to be afraid.  His house stood up to the wolf and kept the pig safe.  I thought about that story when I read today’s readings.

In our first reading today, Saint Paul talks about us being the temple of God.  We are the temple of God when God dwells in us; when he lives within our hearts.  The foundation of that temple is Jesus.  He gives us a rock solid base for our lives.   We have to be smart and build our temples with the right kinds of things.  What are those things?  Well, they are things like prayer and love and being of service to those in need – feeding the poor, teaching other people about Jesus, going to Church for Mass every week – these are the things that build a good solid temple where God can live and guide us through our lives.

This weekend we celebrate the feast of the dedication of the Cathedral of St. John Lateran in Rome.  This is the Pope’s church, where he serves as bishop.  Because of that, it is called the mother church of all Christianity.  Because it is the Pope’s church, it is like the parish church for all of us Catholics.  The first church was built on that site way back in the fourth century.  Over time, the church and its successors suffered from fire, earthquakes, and war, but there has always been a church there.  The current St. John Lateran was built in the seventeenth century.

The Cathedral of St. John Lateran is more than just a church building.  It’s a symbol of the Catholic faith that has stood the test of time, surviving just like the building survived all those fires and earthquakes and wars.  Just the same way, this building we are worshipping in right now is more than just a building for us.  It’s a symbol of the faith of all of our parishioners, all the people who gave money to have it built because they loved the Lord and loved our parish, and all the people who continue to support the church with their time, talent and treasure.

But even more than that, this church we worship in is a symbol of our relationship with God.  We build a house for worship because we want to be with our God and pray to our God and celebrate our God who gave everything to be with us.

Because Jesus, when he walked on the earth, was a temple too.  In the Gospel he says “destroy this temple and in three days I will build it again!”  He wasn’t talking about the temple in Jerusalem, where the whole thing was taking place.  He was talking about the temple of his body.  What he meant is that he would die – he would be destroyed by those who thought he was dangerous – and in three days he would rise again, destroying death in the process.

So we have to take care of and celebrate all these temples we have.  We have to take care of the church building so that it is always a good place for people to come and pray and find God.  We have to take care of the temple that is the Church in the world, so that it will always be a symbol of our faith and will always lead people to the Lord.  And we have to take care of the temple of our own bodies so that we can be a strong and beautiful place for our Lord to live.

God wants to live with us and in us forever.  We have the strongest foundation we could possibly have – Jesus himself, the son of God.  We just have to build that temple up with the right kinds of things – with prayer, and good works, and holy living.  We have to stay away from things that are bad for us, like drugs, and the wrong kinds of movies and TV, and so-called friends who try to get us to do bad things.   When we do all that, we will have built a strong temple that can lead us through all the good times and especially all the bad times in life.  We all need that kind of faith in our lives.  And when we build our lives up around it, we will never be alone, because God will always be with us.

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I think today’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a good one for us to hear.  How often are we beset by all the frustrations of the world, and all of the sadness that our own lives can sometimes bring?  I’m not saying that every day is horrible, but we all go through times when it seems like it’s too much, like one more phone call and we’ll explode.

And to all of that today, St. Paul advises us to “put on the armor of God.”  Because when things go wrong, we have two choices.  We can go to pieces, wondering where is God when we really need him, getting angry with God, ourselves, and others, and lashing out at anyone and everyone in our lives.  Or, we can realize that what God allows he doesn’t necessarily wish on us.  We can join ourselves to him, and draw our strength and courage from the Lord himself, knowing that he walks with us in good times and in bad.

Because we know which one the devil himself would choose for us, right?  That evil one wants to use the trying times to drive a wedge between God and us.  And we need strength to guard against that “evil day.”  And so, St. Paul tells us, “In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the Evil One.”  And that shield, he says, is prayer: “With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.”  Prayer and faith are the armor we need to get through the trying times of life without falling victim to the evil one.

Sometimes life can feel like a war, but as the Psalmist says today, “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.”  Our stronghold is that whatever life brings us, we are never alone.  Never.

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It has often struck me when hearing the news the last several months that being rich in what matters to God is more important than ever.  With banks failing, Wall Street needing a huge bailout, and a 700 billion dollar economic recovery transfusion coming from the government, who among us hasn’t had the sinking feeling that this world’s riches are nothing at time but straw?

So you’d think that in this time of uncertainty, and on the brink of a pivotal election, people would be coming to Church, reconnecting with their God, and drawing strength from their faith, building up those riches that are from God.  But you’d be wrong.  Right now, we’re taking the annual “October Count” – a yearly mass-by-mass attendance count.  The attendance counts as compared to registered parishioners this year are running 2-3% lower than last year, and 6-7% lower than this time in 2004.

In some ways it strikes me that we are quickly losing our faith, or even worse, that we as a society are becoming indifferent to faith, seeing it as irrelevant or ultimately meaningless.  At a time in our nation’s history when we should be returning to God in droves, people instead are staying away in droves.

And it’s hard to live through uncertain times without faith.  How can we ride the ups and downs of life with anything close to tranquility without the rock that is our faith?  Instead we as a society seem content to place our faith in government bailouts, while we continue to practice unprecedented greed.  And to all of that God tells us today, what will happen if we hear “You fool, this very night your life will be demanded of you?”  The time to store up treasure in what matters to God is clearly here.  How will we people of faith give witness to that?

Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

As we have been reading from Matthew’s Gospel this year, we have seen various levels of faith: “lacking faith” as seen in the Jewish community, most particularly in the Pharisees and Sadducees, “little faith” as seen in the disciples, and particularly in the Twelve, and “great faith” as seen in surprising places, like in the Canaanite woman today. We’re all on different places in our faith life, and I think today’s Scriptures give us time for a quick summer check-up to see where we are in that spectrum.

Throughout our Gospel readings this past year, Jesus has run up against the religious leaders and even some of the Jewish people, those he was sent to save first, and found them seriously lacking in faith. They have heard him preach and seen his mighty deeds just like everyone else, but could not square it with what they believed, so they refused to believe in him. Maybe most disappointing to him was the lack of faith found in his own hometown. The Scriptures tell us that so lacking was their faith, that he could not do much in terms of mighty deeds while he was among them. This should not be taken to mean that their lack of faith restricted Jesus’ power. What it does mean is that whatever mighty deed he did had no effect on their faith. It’s almost as if they wouldn’t recognize a miracle if one came up and bit them in the … behind.

We have also seen Peter’s faith on display. He is kind of the spokesman for the rest of the disciples, often putting into words what they may have been too chicken to express. He was the one who proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ, the one who is to come. And Jesus praised him for his faith. But just a couple of verses later, he takes Jesus aside and rebukes him for talking about his death, at which point Jesus rebukes him for thinking as people do and not as God does. In last weekend’s Gospel, Peter was able to walk on the water when he had his eyes fixed on Jesus, but began to sink when he looked at the storm-tossed waves. Jesus pulled him out of the waves, saying “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” The disciples are those men of little faith, who were with him all the time, but often missing the point. And Jesus often seems to be frustrated with their little faith and slow understanding.

In today’s Gospel, though, we have “great faith” and from a surprising source. The woman is a Canaanite, a member of the race of people who lived in the Promised Land until God gave it over to the Jews. She is an outsider, who risked her life to cross into enemy territory. She knows enough to give her daughter’s situation to Jesus. And she is persistent enough to keep asking even though she is initially rebuffed. The disciples find her so irritating, they want Jesus to send her away. But he recognizes in her what he has been thirsting to find all along: great faith. And with that great faith, she was able to return to her daughter, freed from the demon, healed from the inside out.

So we have been able to see in Matthew’s Gospel, the range of faith. From the lack of faith of the Jews and religious leaders of the time, to the little, almost fledgling faith of the disciples, to the surprisingly great faith of the Canaanite woman. This begs the question in us, I think, of where we are in the journey of faith. Have we yet to begin, or worse, have we refused to begin? Do we hope our mere physical presence at Mass will be good enough? Do we hear the word of God but refuse to let it sink in, to travel from our brain into our hearts? Have we heard the Gospel but been very lax about living it? Do we come to Mass only to leave this holy place and become a very different person in the parking lot, or in our homes, businesses and schools in the week ahead? Do we find ourselves as lacking in faith as the Pharisees and Sadducees?

Or are we tentative in our faith? Are we among those who want to believe, but are afraid to take a leap of faith? Do we walk on water for a while until we notice the storms of our lives and then sink? Are we discouraged by what seems to be a lack of response to our prayers? Are we angry with God because of something that happened – or didn’t happen – in the past? Do we think it’s okay to miss Mass because we can worship just as well by taking a walk outside or spending time with our family? Are we hesitant to pray about something because we think it’s too big for God to handle, or too little to bother him about? Have we been looking for excuses to avoid something we know is God’s call in our life? Have we been of “little faith?”

Maybe we have found ourselves in one or the other of those places in the faith journey at different points in our lives. But maybe too – I hope – we have found ourselves on more solid faithful ground. Maybe we have taken a leap of faith and found ourselves blessed beyond our wildest imaginings. Maybe we have answered God’s call and found grace to do the things we never thought we could. Maybe we have given a problem or situation over to God and found out that in God’s time, healing came in unexpected ways. Maybe we have been surprised by our faith from time to time and heard God say, “Great is your faith!”

Like I said, I think many of us are in all of these places at different times of our lives. And that’s okay, okay as long as we make a little progress all the time, as long as we eventually find our faith taking us places we never thought we would go. The life of faith is full of surprises, most of them good, some of them challenging or possibly even disheartening. But when we approach it all in faith, all of it will work out for good in God’s own time. When we give our lives to God, when we take the leap we know God is calling us to take, when we get out of our boat, we might just find ourselves walking on water, or feeding thousands, blessing others and sometimes saying just the thing someone else needs to hear. All of this is God working through us, of course, all of it is because we have trusted God in some significant way.

Whether we find ourselves lacking or little in faith on some days, we must continue to work at it, giving more of ourselves to God. Because one day, we want to hear the same thing the Canaanite woman heard: “Great is your faith!”

Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s readings speak to all of those of us who have had to deal with stormy times in their lives. Which is to say, I would guess, all of us. And so if we remember what’s going on with Elijah, I think we could identify with him today. Elijah has just come from soundly defeating all of the pagan “prophets” of Baal, which was very embarrassing to King Ahab and especially to Queen Jezebel, who vowed to take Elijah’s life in retaliation. So he has been hiding out in a cave, not for protection from inclement weather, but for protection from those who sought his life. In the midst of this, God asks Elijah why he is here. Elijah explains that the people of Israel have been unfaithful and have turned away from God, not listening to Elijah’s preaching, and they have put all the other legitimate prophets to death. Elijah alone is left. So clearly he would prefer to be left alone in the cave to have some rest from his enemies.

But the Lord doesn’t leave it at that. He tells him to go out to the entrance of the cave where the Lord will be passing by. So when he does that, Elijah experiences a few different things that could well have signified God’s presence: wind, an earthquake, and fire. These represent the many ways we tend to hope God will come to us. When we’re at the end of our rope and we are running for our lives in whatever crisis we can think of, we want God to come on the scene with a mighty act of power and make it all better. But sometimes all we get is a tiny, whispering sound. That’s what Elijah gets, and he knows without a doubt it is the Lord.

Many people ask me how they can know God’s will in the midst of a difficult situation. The answer always is that God will speak to our hearts. Not in some mighty act of power, but in a tiny, whispering sound. We have to be open to that, we have to be listening. And that’s the problem. Because sometimes we’re so caught up in running for our lives, that we miss the tiny whispering sound, we miss the presence of God.

Our Gospel makes that same point. Jesus has just fed the multitudes, as you’ll recall from last week’s Gospel, and now he sends his disciples out in the boat while he goes off to pray. While they are at sea, a terrible storm rages and the wind and waves are tossing the little boat all over the place. The disciples, like Elijah, are afraid for their lives. In the midst of it all, they see Jesus walking on the water. Now they aren’t real sure that’s who it is, but I think for them it was a fairly safe bet. Peter speaks up and says “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” So Jesus gives the command and Peter gets out of the boat.

For a while, he does okay. He’s making progress, walking toward Jesus. But then he stops looking at Jesus and starts looking at the storm: “But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” Do you see that? While he’s looking at Jesus, he is able to walk toward him, but as soon as he takes his eyes off Jesus in favor of looking at the storm, he sinks. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus asks him, pulling Peter out of the water.

But we’re going to give Peter a break today. Let’s try a little prayer experiment. I want you to think about a crisis you’ve been in recently, or even one that’s still going on. It might be little or big, but bring that to mind. That crisis is the waves in the story. Now you get to be Peter. You’re on the boat, that safe refuge that is leading you to the place that Jesus has in mind for you. Only on the voyage, your crisis begins a storm that tosses you around so badly that you can’t even see your destination anymore, and you fear for your life. But you see Jesus on the water.

You call out to him and he bids you to come to him. You think about it for a minute, but you realize you have to give it a shot. So you get out of the boat, that safe refuge that gives you some comfort even in the storm, and you start to walk toward Jesus across the stormy sea. And you do okay for a while, but then you wonder if your prayers will ever be answered, or if there is any hope for your situation at all. You feel the wind pushing at you and notice that the waves of your crisis are a lot uglier than you thought they were. And you begin to sink into them, despairing that there is no hope for your situation. And Jesus reaches out his hand to you, pulling you up out of the stormy sea. The storm is still raging, but with Jesus’ help, you get back into the boat, and the waves calm down, and you continue the journey to the place where Jesus wants you to be.

Now we can beat ourselves up, us and Peter too, for having a lapse in faith that lands us in the waves. But think about the other eleven who never even got out of the boat. Because the worst failure is never even trying to come to Jesus. Preferring the comfort of the boat to making that uncertain leap of faith. Maybe the boat is a job you’re not meant to have, or staying away from school because you fear you might not do well, or not making the phone call to that distant loved one because you might be rejected. It’s a lot more comfortable staying where we are, but when we stay in the boat we never have the opportunity to come to Jesus. Because Jesus isn’t in the boat, he’s out there on the water.

When I was in my mid 30s, I was going through a time where I knew I needed a change in my life, because my spiritual life was pretty stagnant. But I was safe and comfortable in my boat: I had a good job, family and friends who are great, and participated in ministry at my church. But I knew the job I had wasn’t what I was meant to do forever. And then I read a book called If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. It was by an evangelical pastor, and obviously, it went into this Gospel reading in great detail. That’s when I knew that I was cowering in the boat. I had to get out and walk on the water. And that’s how I ended up in seminary, to make a long story short!

Jesus isn’t calling us to be perfect today. Only faithful. We will only be able to walk on the water with Jesus’ help. We may even need him to pull us up out of the waves once in a while. But we were not created for the boat, we were created to walk on water. And we’ll never be able to do that if we don’t get out of the boat.

Saturday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Because of your little faith.” If that was the allegation of Jesus’ disciples, those men and women walking with him in person day after day, how much more does it apply to us today? How many situations absolutely confound us? How many injustices seem chronically irreparable? How many emotional crises seem insurmountable? There are demons of all shapes and sizes and types. How effective are we at casting out those demons of addiction, ignorance, or apathy? Why can’t we drive them out? Because of our little faith.

I always bristled a bit at the instruction at the end of today’s Gospel about moving a great mountain. I was pretty sure I’d never have faith that big, and even if I did, why would I want to move a mountain?! But we get all this wrong. It’s as if it depends on us, and it certainly does not. Are we convinced that God can move mountains, that he can drive out demons, that he can respond to addiction, ignorance and apathy? Certainly. But that kind of believing has to get beyond just being in our heads and come out in our words and actions and living.

Because faith is useless if we never put it into practice. It might be tough to be in the midst of addiction, emotional crisis, or injustice, but that’s when we need to depend on our faith. What good is our faith unless it can lead us through hard times and accomplish great things in the midst of the messiness of life? Habakkuk tells us today that “the just man, because of his faith, shall live.” That might not seem possible when we are in the midst of crisis. But our faith tells us that whatever happens, God will never stop being with us.

Maybe we’ll never move a mountain. Who wants to anyway? But with faith we can certainly move from a dark place to light, from despair to peace, from sadness to joy.

Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

As you may know, I kind of like to cook. I learned to cook back when I was about eleven or twelve, when my mom started a part time job working in the evenings. My Dad, God rest his soul, wasn’t much of a cook. We used to say he used the smoke alarm to time when things were done cooking. So, in defense of myself and my two sisters, I learned to cook. And Dad wasn’t real unhappy about that, as you might guess. Anyway, as I was learning to cook, sometimes I’d come across a recipe for which we didn’t have the exact right ingredients. Sometimes it was a spice we didn’t have, or maybe it called for butter and all we had was margarine. But whatever the case, there were a few times when I just adapted and took a chance. Sometimes it worked out okay, and sometimes not, but I always learned from the experience.

I was reminded about that experience when I was reading today’s Gospel. Jesus has been attracting people to come to him. They have heard his words and seen what he’s done and want to be around him. But the disciples have no idea what to do with these people now that it’s getting late and nobody’s eaten yet. If they could, they might provide a rich feast that the author of our first reading hints at. A buffet flowing with wine and milk and rich fare. But they have nothing like that to give all these people. So they approach Jesus with a different idea: “dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus won’t hear of such a thing: “Give them some food yourselves.”

And to the disciples ear, that’s easier said than done. “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” But for Jesus, that’s good enough. Those might not have been the exact ingredients for a rich banquet for well over five thousand people, but they’d be good enough in the hands of Jesus. The drama unfolds over four very specific verbs: take, bless, break, give. Jesus takes the bread, says the blessing, breaks the bread, and gives it to the disciples to give to the crowds. And everyone has more than enough to eat.

Jesus does that same thing for us today. He takes the meager gifts we bring: bread and wine, our underdeveloped talents, our tentative faith life. They might not be the ingredients one would hope for, but for Jesus they are plenty. Because he doesn’t just stand off at a distance and see what it is we’ll do with our lacking giftedness, instead he gets right in there with us and supplies everything that what we bring lacks.

Then he says the blessing. In that blessing he gives our meager gifts the power to be a scrumptious banquet. And so our bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ himself, a banquet that in itself gives eloquence to our underdeveloped talents and power to our tentative faith.

Then he breaks the bread. Our gifts taken and blessed are now divided up to provide for the need that is the experience of our world. Because it’s not just us who need to be fed, but it is a hungry, waiting world, that numbers far beyond the shocking five thousand men, to include the billions of men, women and children from every time and place. These are people who are perhaps physically hungry, lacking food and money and clothing and shelter. They are also people who are spiritually hungry, needing something they can believe in, something that can deliver them from the limits of their sadness and pain. This broken bread has to feed all of them, and it will.

Finally he gives the bread to the disciples to give to the people. The disciples are the Church, bringing that blessed bread to all the hungry people. The crowds eat and are satisfied, but more important than that, they are nourished and strengthened for the task that lies ahead. That task is bringing all those hungry people of every time and place to the Church so that they too can be fed, so that their broken lives can be bound up and healed, so that their sadness and pain can be transformed in the healing power of the Cross and Resurrection. The Church’s mission to feed the hungry will never end until that great day when Christ gathers us all to himself.

Just like my culinary experimentation most often led to an edible dish, so the disciples had to throw in whatever they had and came out with an amazing meal. We must continue to do that, continue bringing our bread and wine, our gifts and talents, our faith – such as it is, and giving them to our Lord who takes it all, blesses it and breaks it, giving it all for the life of the world. But it all starts with us. We have to take a chance and give whatever we have. Because if we don’t, dinner will never be served.

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

There is a wonderful, comforting message in today’s readings, and it’s a message that speaks to all of us when we’re at the end of the rope in our faith life.  That message is that God hears the cries of all of us who are poor in one way or another.  Whether we’re actually poor, or whether we’re oppressed, or are spiritually poor and struggling, or our relationships are poor, or we’re just feeling impoverished by a life that is one struggle after another: God hears us.  He can’t help but hear us. 

The Psalmist echoes the cry that goes on in all of us when we are in the midst of hard times: “Do not forget the poor, O Lord!”  How often when we are being tested, do we wonder where God is and demand that he do something right now?  It might even feel like we’ve been forgotten.  But today’s readings say that isn’t so.  God is with us, God hears us, and will always be with us in our need.

That’s what Micah is reminding Israel of in today’s first reading.  They can’t be ignoring the poor, because God doesn’t.  They can’t be oppressing the innocent, because God doesn’t.  They can’t be living evil lives, can’t be cheating people out of their inheritance, can’t be taking what is not theirs, because God does notice, and God will not ignore the evil deeds of this sinful people.  There will be justice for the poor, God will reach out to them in their need. 

Jesus, in the Gospel, was almost running for his life.  He knows that the Pharisees are turning up the heat and trying to kill him.  But he will not miss healing the sick and broken along the way.  He warns them not to make him known, but he does heal them.  Because he cannot be deaf to their cries for wholeness and healing.

That message of comfort comes to us this day.  Wherever we find ourselves this morning, whatever need we may have, whatever brokenness in us needs to be bound up and healed, we can know that God is aware of our needs, and will be with us in good times and bad.  No matter what.