21st Sunday of the Year B

We don’t think about it often when going on holidays at an airport or ferry terminal but, on passing passport control, one cannot go back on the same leg of the journey. One has crossed a border. If you have ever been stuck on an airplane – as I was going to the Holy Land – we were told only after boarding that we had a 4 hour wait on the plane on the tarmac on Cork airport and could not get back off. There was an air traffic control strike in France and we could not cross French air space – nor could we go back to the terminal.  Either the strike was lifted or we had to fly around French air-space, I cannot remember, but we then proceeded on our 5 hour flight. Were we glad to get off that plane?!  It is in a situation such as that one that you realise you have made a decision and there is no going back.

The place of the border – there is no going back, a place of decision, irreversible, a commitment, like that of a marriage, a solemn and sacred decision but also a free choice – not compelled – is an opportunity to declare one’s personal  loving commitment, like a vocation. It is deeply personal and unique to each individual. One weighs up the possibilities, the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ and makes an irrevocable and personally free but also, binding, commitment – that one is giving and being taken at one’s word. It is a Yes to one thing and No to others. If a couple named John and Mary are getting married, John is saying to Mary ‘Yes’ and excluding all other women on the earth, likewise Mary is saying ‘Yes’ to John, and saying ‘No’ to all other men in earth. It is a serious undertaking for both of them but one taken after some deliberation. But in that free, loving, solemn, sacred, exclusive and indissoluble vow, there is the security of mutual fidelity. John is bound to Mary and Mary is bound to John – as long as they both shall live. We see St Paul appealing to the Ephesians that ‘a man must leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two become one body. This mystery has many implications... for Christ and the Church.’

Certain life decisions, like marriage, or change of job, or moving house – the three most stressful situations in life, and events like a bereavement (more stress),  are like that. You might later hanker back at times for the way things were but you also have to remind and reassure yourself why you are where you are now, and the decision or set of decisions (a process) that led you to where you are now. It is like saying ‘yes’ again, as couples  do, who for example, make their renewal of marriage commitment.

So at the border, there is a decision for, and a decision against.

Today’s readings provide us with two of the most important decisions made in the Bible –one in the Old Testament and the other in the New Testament.

The first one takes place on the border of the Promised Land, and the risk and danger of compromise with paganism. The decision of Joshua and the Israelites -  for a Hebrew mind – was one of remembrance and by implication, gratitude. For a Hebrew ‘forgetfulness’ was not an option – forgetfulness for a Jew is tantamount to denial.

The Gospel decision is also on the borderline – but also points to ‘life and death’ – spiritually. One has to choose for, or to believe in, the Eucharistic Christ, or against. It is the climax of all that we have read in the last 5 Sunday Gospel passages, all taken from John chapter 6. While others turn away we, like the disciples, are left standing.

This faith choice – to believe, is given even added dramatic urgency because of its location in each Reading today. The kind of ‘speak now or forever hold your peace’ decision is now put to each person, each believer, now and forever. Whatever your name is, God in the person of Joshua and in the Person of His Son Jesus (the same name actually) is asking you and me to choose.

Capernaum means ‘town of the border’. There was a border tax, and it was also crucially the way to Jerusalem – the place where the drama of the Passion, death and resurrection would be played out. It symbolises so much more, because it is the closing of one chapter and the beginning of the final chapter in Jesus’ life, but the place where we must follow, each in our own way. We cannot have any part with Him unless and until we come to realise that we must ‘pass over’ too.

There is a sad parting of ways. Many of the Jews, despite having seen the bread miracle, now follow no longer and fall away. This is a drama that has been played out in the lives of believers, even within families, through the Christian centuries. To lose a family member, because of a conversion or continued commitment to the Faith, or a friend because you no longer agree on something very fundamental, is extremely painful and one of life’s awful tragedies. Most of the time we agree to disagree with people who do not share our values or faith, but the consequences to unbelief can be so great that one cannot compromise one’s principles and we ‘leave them to God’ especially if they mock or are at best indifferent to our dearly held faith and Christian teachings when they decide to ‘walk no longer with us’.

‘To whom shall we go’ – this beautiful, humble prayer is also a statement that contains a flash of the characteristic stark realism of Peter when the chips are down. One can detect his shrug of the shoulders perhaps at the less palatable alternatives, and there is an element of discomfort, of living with uncertainty, but there is absolute trust in the risk being taken. Peter, like Joshua, has not forgotten all that the Lord has done. For Peter who has witnessed the Lord at work in his native Galilee, must now leave the security of his birthplace and the familiar to follow Jesus to Jerusalem with this new fledgling, one might even call it, ‘neo-Eucharistic’ faith.

What does this mean for us? Beside our life decisions of career, family, marriage, religious vocation, single life and so on, there is something going  on much deeper here than any consumer choice or even life choice. It is the choice of faith, and today it is Eucharistic. One might even go so far as to say it is in modern Irish society that this applies to the conscious decision to continue one’s Sunday Mass commitment when so many turn away, through misunderstanding, the result of poor catechesis, a lack of lived out faith in the home, or the bad example of clergy and laity whose lives fail to reflect their faith or engender enthusiasm for it.

Like Joshua at Shechem and the Israelites following his example in their new-found freedom, one also has to frequently make decisions ‘for or against’ in speech, actions, thought and judgments, even something as simple as in TV-watching, what we download, discerning the books we read, as to whether we are caving in to the growing easy paganism around us or refusing to have any part in it. We have to daily decide between what is ultimately uplifting or degrading.

I often think when I see individuals and families return (or revert) to the practice of the faith that they have turned to the world and its values and found it wanting. The statement of Peter ‘To whom shall we go’ is lived out again and again by people who realise that material things and an abundance of them fail to satisfy.  Emily O Reilly, the Ombudsman publicly described it as ‘Why many Irish people are tip-toeing back to Church’ in 2007 in a talk entitled ‘Are we forgetting something’. The Eucharist is food for the soul, for the spirit, literally ‘vital’ and the pledge of eternal life, the Promised Land of heaven.

Jesus now poses this question to you and to me today: ‘what about you, do you want to go away too?’

20th Sunday of the Year B

FIRST READING Proverbs 9:1-6

Wisdom has built herself a house,
she has erected her seven pillars,
she has slaughtered her beasts, prepared her wine,
she has laid her table.
She has despatched her maidservants
and proclaimed from the city's heights:
'Who is ignorant? Let him step this way.'
To the fool she says,
'Come and eat my bread, .
drink the wine I have prepared!
Leave your folly and you will live,
walk in the ways of perception.'

Response Taste and see that the Lord is good.

1. I will bless the Lord at all times,
his praise always on my lips;
in the Lord my soul shall make its boast.
The humble shall hear and be glad.

2. Revere the Lord, you his saints.
They lack nothing, those who revere him.
Strong lions suffer want and go hungry
but those who seek the Lord lack no blessing.

3. Come, children, and hear me
that I may teach you the fear ofthe Lord.
Who is he who longs for life
and many days, to enjoy his prosperity?

4. Then keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Turn aside from evil and do good;
seek and strive after peace.

SECOND READING Ephesians 5:15-2O

Be very careful about the sort of lives you lead, like intelligent and not like senseless people. This may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it. And do not be thoughtless but recognise what is the will of the Lord. Do not drug yourselves with wine, this is simply dissipation; be filled with the Spirit. Sing the words and tunes of the psalms and hymns when you are together, and go on singing and chanting to the Lord in your hearts, so that always and everywhere you are giving thanks to God who is our Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel Acclamation Jn 1: 12. 14

Alleluia, alleluia!
The Word was made flesh, he lived among us
to all who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God.

or Jn 6: 56

Alleluia, alleluia!
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me and I live in him.

GOSPEL John 6:51-58

Jesus said to the crowd:

'I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give
is my flesh, for the life of the world.'

Then the Jews started arguing with one another: 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' they said. Jesus replied:

'I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood
has eternal life,

and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and 1 live in him
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.'

 Jesus wants us to live forever, now

It is amazing to think that people spend such so much time and money on beautifying themselves in order to make themselves look younger that they are.

It is funny that young girls want to look older by dressing and putting on make-up to look like adults. Older people do the same to look younger! It seems a sense of denial sets in at a certain age as people suddenly realise that they cannot stay younger, feel younger and look younger, and seek to do so ‘with a dab of cream, a tonic, a shampoo, a visit to a health spa. The craving to maintain one’s looks, to appear younger, is ultimately one that will end in defeat. This is not to say we owe it to ourselves to look after our bodies with the right amount of food, a balanced diet and regular exercise. After all, even if it is to ensure living a few extra years of life for others’ sake and serving them, that is good enough reason to stay healthy in my book.

But it is vanity that is so appealing, to be like the air-brushed models, is the ideal that is set before us, that causes so many to spend hundreds of euro each year on skincare products and the like. The fashion and cosmetics industries are cashing in big-time.

It is instructive to note that one description of a hair colouring -shampoo or a cosmetic is a ‘formula’.In myths and legends a magic potion could prolong length of days. In history people have looked in vain for the elixir of life, the ‘holy grail’, even in Irish mytholgy, Tír na n-Ōg , , the land of endless youth. In the age of discovery, Spanish adventurers toiled in vain for the golden city of immortality known as ‘el Dorado’.

Stories and films still are made that transcend the inevitability of death, or communicating with the dead, or going back in time; even cryo-preservation are vain attempts to elude the inevitable and hard truth, that in the words of Shakespeare’s Gertrude in Hamlet – ‘all that lives must die’ and ‘death comes to us all’.

This illusory and elusive search for endless youth appeals to some part of us especially at the height of our joys – we want to live forever. Even notoriety, fame and celebrity - I believe - are searches for the infinite and immortality. The hope that our names and our achievements will be noted, commemorated and celebrated. We want to be known, revered, and honoured, and above all remembered. In that way, we ‘live on’ in those that follow us.

Why is this? And what are we to make of those times, in contrast - when we wish our lives would end? That there will be, we hope, an end to current misery, loneliness, depression and pain? Both are realities in all our lives. We all have good days and bad days. On the bad days we want the good times back - and to endure. We want to live ‘happily ever after’.

[This is not to say that we cannot look or desire to look beautiful or at least be presentable out of courtesy. But we must avoid excessive care and pampering I feel or we become caught up in ourselves and it serves no good to others and can be wasteful of time and resources.]

God has planted in all of us this quest for immortality. All human desires are ultimately desires for God. This restlessness we feel with our current state is actually worth pondering. Many of the pleasures and happiness we seek are in fact quite licit – such as satisfaction in food and drink, in the pay packet, in leisure, in rest, in friendships, in celebrating rites of passage, in occasions and feasts, in marital love and childbirth – are gifts to us from the Creator. They make life worth living and tolerable at least. But lasting happiness can only be found in God – all other things are passing fancies. They are meant to serve to point towards, rather than distract us from, the ultimate goal – the very meaning of our existence (raison d’être) – eternal life with God for whom we were made.

In the Gospel passage this Sunday – Jesus repeats Himself a lot. ‘Repetition for emphasis’, was a phrase an English teacher I once knew used to say. If you want to stress a point, especially a central point, you must repeat it for your hearers. By the third hearing it will register with them.

This is the first point to be drawn from the passage this Sunday. Jesus wants us to live forever (so do we!) and in the Eucharist He gives us the means to do so.

Jesus says:

Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;

Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life,

 ...but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.'

The second point is that this ‘everlasting life’ begins now!

It is a continuum. We have begun eternal life already by means of the Eucharist we receive. Blessed John Paul II was quite taken by the fact that Jesus said: Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and noted that Jesus does not say ‘will have’. He uses the present tense. In other words, Jesus says ‘you have it’.

Sometimes we may have heard that term –it’s American slang –‘get a life, will you?’ We might have heard it used by someone. Usually ‘get a life’ is used to connote that we are unimpressed by someone’s annoying habits, someone’s annoying pre-occupations, or the fact that they are obsessed with something trivial or boring, and we want them need to change their ways and become more realistic or stimulating .

Jesus wants us to live forever, but are we living it now, as referred to in a line used in an excellent movie called ‘The Way’ I saw recently. A wayward son, about to go on a great adventure, is having a disagreement with his ‘boring’ father who is an eye-doctor. They are driving to the airport for the son’s flight and the father is pleading with him to settle down and make a career and home for himself. The son is undaunted, and challenges his father about his lifestyle. The father describes his work and concludes, saying: ‘it’s a living’. ‘But’, the son counters, ‘are you living it?’ It gives the father pause.

Jesus wants us to live a fully human and supernatural life now. This is a Eucharistic life. He wants to live in us and we in Him.

Jesus said to the crowd:

...and the bread that I shall give
is my flesh, for the life of the world.'

'I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.

He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and 1 live in him

As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.

So if we are not receiving Jesus in the Eucharist we are dead spiritually. We are ineffective, lifeless, and certainly not living the kind of life Jesus wants. It’s as simple as that. The Eucharist is not only a pledge or guarantee that we will live forever but a sign that we are living - and living eternity - now.

That does not mean that we can now sit back and bask in the glow of the Eucharist. But rather that we live the same kind of life that Jesus lived. Jesus’ relationship with the Father – (for example ‘my food is to the will of my Father’), and all the intimate moments He shared with His Father, becomes the template of the kind of life we are to live –nourished by the Eucharist– in other words –disciples – imitators of Christ, doing the Father’s will, ministering to others. The Eucharist – the Mass and adoration - must be at the heart of our lives and vocations. Not only we do fully live – because we live Eucharistic-ally - but others we come in contact with too are meant to also - Jesus’ flesh and blood truly present in the Eucharist -  is meant to be – ‘for the life of the world.'

 We are called to become what we receive, broken and shared, and life for others. Let us now pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten us in how to be Eucharistic ambassadors!

The LITMUS test

What to do when all seems pointless and meaningless?

It can be helpful to put a name or label to the exact nature of the suffering of the moment. If we can name it, as the saying goes, we can claim it and indeed tame it and aim it.

Darkness and dryness in prayer – also known as desolation – can be attributable to many external and internal causes. Whatever the source it is idle and time wasted in speculating what brought you or me to this point of suffering. What is important is how we use it. Once we have decided or recognised how we are feeling or what sums up what we are experiencing, we must accept it as God’s will and then apply the LITMUS test. See below.

Step One: Which of these adequately or best describes what I feel at the present moment?

(take your time over this part)

A – anger

B – boredom

C – confusion

D  - Devastation

E  - Energy depletion

F – frustration

G – gloom

H – Hassled

I – Inner turmoil

J – Joyless

K – a Killjoy

L – Lonely, listless

M –monotony of life

N – Negativity

O – overwhelmed

P –Puzzled

Q – Questioning God and everything

R – rudderless

S – sadness

T – tortured, tearful

U – uncertain

V – visionless

W – weary

X – unknown

Y –yearning for God and meaning to return

Z – zero –don’t feel anything

Step Two

We are full of questions at this point.

Why are these thoughts and moods going through my mind?

What now?

 Why are these feelings so persistent?

Is it something I did or neglected to do that has me suffering so?

 What can I do now?

What I ought to be doing?

Does this time serve any purpose?

 Is there something to wave them away?

 Is there an end in sight?

Am I a fraud smiling on the outside and in agony inside?

What does the Lord want of me at these moments?

 I lack purpose, direction, am at a standstill. Nothing I do seems to change anything. I can’t distract my way out. There is no bottle, food or compulsive behaviour or appetite that can fill the void I feel.

Step Three

This is where you are...how you got here is not as important as how you get out.

A man drowning doesn’t care at the moment if he was pushed in, slipped, fell in or deliberately jumped in to the water or got tired swimming! Help and rescue are the only things on his mind. God is on His way or is sending someone. You have to hang on tight and be patient in the darkness you feel.

In a word, surrender. LITMUS means – Living In the Moment Utterly Surrendering. At times of prayer when there is such panic and prolonged and even agonising uncertainty, you are undergoing the LITMUS test of prayer.
This is traditionally called THE SACRAMENT OF THE PRESENT MOMENT

Surrender to God, He is purifying you, pruning you. This is His work in you, to make you stronger, to endure whatever comes.  You are being tested. This is Love’s purifying flame.

‘Be still before the Lord, waiting patiently for Him’.

August 13th - Monday of Ordinary Time week 19

FIRST READING: Ezekiel 1:2-5. 24-28

On the fifth of the month - it was the fifth year of exile for King Jehoiachin - the word of the Lord was addressed to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldaeans, on the bank of the river Chebar.
There the hand of the Lord came on me. I looked; a stormy wind blew from the north, a great cloud with light around it, a fire from which flashes of lightning darted, and in the centre a sheen like bronze at the heart of the fire. In the centre I saw what seemed four animals. I heard the noise of their wings as they moved; it sounded like rushing water, like the voice of Shaddai, a noise like a storm, like the noise of a camp; when they halted, they folded their wings, and there was a noise.

Above the vault over their heads was something that looked like a sapphire; it was shaped like a throne and high up on this throne was a being that looked like a man. I saw him shine like bronze, and close to and all around him from what seemed his loins upwards was what looked like fire; and from what seemed his loins downwards I saw what looked like fire, and a light all round like a bow in the clouds on rainy days; that is how the surrounding light appeared. It was something that looked like the glory of the Lord. I looked, and prostrated myself.

GOSPEL: Matthew 17:22-27

One day when they were together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, 'The Son of Man is going to be handed over into the power of men; they will put him to death, and on the third day he will be raised to life again'. And a great sadness came over them.
When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the half shekel came to Peter and said, 'Does your master not pay the half-shekel?' 'Oh yes' he replied, and went into the house. But before he could speak, Jesus said, 'Simon, what is your opinion? From whom do the kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their sons or from foreigners?' And when he replied, 'From foreigners', Jesus said, 'Well then, the sons are exempt. However, so as not to offend these people, go to the lake and cast a hook; take the first fish that bites, open its mouth and there you will find a shekel; take it and give it to them for me and for you.'
We have all heard the expression that: ‘Nothing is certain but death and taxes’

Several famous authors have uttered lines to this effect. The first was Daniel Defoe, in The Political History of the Devil, 1726: "Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed." Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) used the form we are currently more familiar with, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789, which was re-printed in The Works of Benjamin Franklin, 1817: "'In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Another thought on the theme of death and taxes is Margaret Mitchell's line from her book Gone With the Wind, 1936:  "Death, taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them."

Death and taxes are juxtaposed in the Gospel today. Jesus breaks the bad news of His imminent Passion and death. Perhaps it is a matter of weeks. We can relate to the sadness of the disciples if we can recall an instance when a loved one was told  - and told us in turn -that they had an incurable illness or terminal cancer, and that it was soon.  The perspective on EVERYTHING changes. Mourning – and preparation - begins in earnest.

It is strange that this profound and crucial teaching episode is immediately followed by a question –now trivial and unseemly - in the face of the enormity of the death of Jesus about to take place.

Why the tax at all? Capernaum is a name meaning border. Therefore all non-residents were subject to the toll of passage. Such a toll would be too ‘taxing’ for the sons’ as they would frequent the border frequently. It was a travel tax. Sons were exempt. Foreigners were subject to it.

The question put to Peter is rhetorical in a sense – it is meant to put Peter in a bind but it is really from Jesus – it is a statement of identity.  Jesus is in fact the Son of God. To confirm that what He is about to undergo for the people should exempt Jesus from every human demand. But in order to show His humility he is prepared to pay the silly tax, but in probably the most curious incident of the Gospel – the required shekel is found in the simple and familiar act of fishing.

In fact the first Reading and the glory of God gives us some inkling of Jesus’ descent from His hidden glory. It provides a stark contrast of the glorious state of the divine as depicted in Ezekiel. The humility of Christ ‘though his state was divine, Jesus did not consider equality with God , but emptied Himself and having emptied himself he became as all men are and assumed the condition of a slave.’ (Phil 2:6) He was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.’ This is known as Jesus’ kenosis. The remainder of the passage from Philippians puts us right back ‘in the picture’ as it were of heaven –‘all beings in the heavens in the earth and the underworld should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:10-11)

Where, in turn, is my humility? Am I vain, self-centred, and arrogant? Where is my sense of dutiful service (my payment of taxes - my duty), my sense of self-giving to others, my ‘self-emptying’ like Christ, and surrender of my will to God’s? Do I take up my cross or run from it?

And is Jesus Christ truly Lord of my life?

19th Sunday of the Year B


One of my hobbies is baking and cooking. Parishioners are pleasantly surprised when I tell them this. They are even more surprised to eat what I make. It is a very satisfying experience to have someone eat – and enjoy -what you make them. In the course of conversing with people about it, inevitably the subject turns to comparing recipes. People’s tastes and preferences differ, e.g. using butter as opposed to margarine or oil, for example. Still, baking in particular requires the same basic ingredients or recipe. At first a recipe appears difficult and challenging. But with practice and witht a few personal touches and adjustments, satisfaction is the result.

Is there a recipe for salvation?

A usual for those who know me I like to summariser things by acronyms or abbreviations. So the latest one in fact, is ‘ RECIPE’.

All of the following 6 ingredients make for the authentically lived Christian life.

R is for Repentance

This is first and foremost. It is the first word uttered by the Lord Jesus in the Gospel according to Mark. It means a change of direction, attitude and way of life, a renunciation form sinful habits and tendencies, a recognition that we have gone astray and, like the Prodigal Son, ‘come to our senses’ and change. This is hard and slow, especially with ingrained, resistant compulsive habits, but it is possible, and above all, necessary for our salvation.

 In his letter to the Ephesians in this Sunday’s reading, for example, there are 5 types of behaviour that are completely incompatible with the Christian life. They have to do with the area of anger – ‘no more bitterness; shouting (raised voices); no more name-calling or insults; bad temper, or anger – every kind of malice must be removed from you.’ (Eph 5:31). Instead our lives must be marked by generosity, sympathy, and ready forgiveness. (5:32)

E is for Eucharist

To receive the Eucharist worthily we must ‘leave our sacrifice at the altar, and go and be reconciled with [our] brother first. That is why reconciliation must precede the second ingredient. Then we can offer a sacrifice pleasing to God. That is why we have the sign of peace at Mass before receiving the Lord in Holy Communion.’

The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’, the Church tells us.

It has been the theme of these Sundays at Mass in John chapter 6. We read this Sunday: ‘I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.’ (John 6:51)

C is for Charity

As the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin reminded us – ‘communion with Christ, communion with one another.’ The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity. It pre-supposes unity of mind and heart. We must build up unity. It is the sacrament of Christ’s love. A priest I knew once said  that he dismissed the congregation at the Mass with the words ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord and to love and serve each  other.’ The Mass must be lived out in the same sacrificial and self-abnegating love of Christ for us on the cross. We are called to be charitable in thought, word and deed, beginning at home and the workplace, and then, extending to others in the community, through charitable donations as well as participation in works of service.

I is for Intercession

This is also an apt reminder that we belong – inextricably - to others, and they to us, in the Body of Christ, in the communion we call the Church. In prayer we are linked by a bond of love and this acts as a consolation as well as a strength – a mutual bond that strengthens our resolve and confidence that we pray for and are prayed (and therefore cared) for. Intercession pushes me beyond my own cares and worries to a selfless commitment to persevere even when - maybe especially when - prayer becomes dry and difficult. There are others less well off materially and spiritually - lacking these resources and strength in times of trial and temptation. My prayers can help them.

P is for Penance

This is to be done in moderation and yet it is God’s will. Think of the children of Fatima asked by Our Lady – ‘are you willing to offer up all the sacrifices God may send you’? When they replied in the affirmative, Our Lady instructed them: ‘You will have much to suffer but the grace of God will be your comfort.’ St Paul reminds us not to give up when trials come. Penance begins with the proper lived out commitment and not shirking from the sacrifices my daily duty requires. Frank Duff, in ‘Can we be saints’ went so far as to say that these daily tasks must be met even when religious devotions beckon. He said it in these or similar words: ‘Stay at home and do the dishes rather than be running off to Benediction.’ Penance comes in many forms in outing up with others, forgiving them, being silent when we would rather have the last word, and so on. It can even be the weather and the traffic going against us. ‘Make everything you can a sacrifice’, the angel at Fatima advised the children regarding its efficacy.

E is for Evangelisation

This begins with the example we set in speech and behaviour. We must never underestimate the power of good example. People are always watching us believers for the level of consistency in what we profess in belief and how we act out that belief – in conversation – i.e. our verbal treatment of others as well as our physical treatment of them.

Then we are called to evangelise – and I recommend the Legion of Mary as the chief ready means by which we can enter into the Lord’s mission to ‘spread the Good news of salvation to every creature’.

We received a call to mission at baptism. The Church is by its very nature, missionary (Vatican II). That means that every member must have a universal global understanding of the Church’s mission, and continue to ‘think globally, act locally’,

This is my proposed recipe!

While there are basic ingredients for bread – and without any one of them the bread made for example, is not satisfying tasty or nutritious, there is more to a successful outcome. There are certain external factors the like shape and depth of container, the type of oven you prefer and the length of time for baking etc. but without the proper ingredients there will be no chance of a successful outcome.

 Each of us, likewise, has the recipe but each of us is a different vessel within which to live out the Christian recipe. The fire of the Holy Spirit comes down upon us and gives us life and causes our spiritual lives to grow. ‘The Holy Spirit comes to us in our weakness when we do not know how to pray as we ought’. And the fire that is the love of Christ, urges us on.

The Olympics

St Paul – the first Christian Olympian

As we look at all the athletes at the Olympics and admire their lean musculature, their drive and determination to succeed and win, the world looks on in awe. Some sports we see only every four years. We have only an inkling of the hard graft and daily diet and exercise these athletes live up to and practice. There is disappointment in losing even if there is some consolation in participating in such a monumental world event and representing your country.

Runners know all about daily effort, not flagging in discipline, training in all weathers and moods, leading healthy lives, abstaining from certain foods, living a balanced diet, undergoing training and toning of certain muscles required of their discipline. It is why the majority of us are spectators!

 Such commitment, so many sacrifices! Families of athletes know the tunnel vision required of a son or daughter, brother sister or spouse. Athletes are in it for the long haul, and despite the fact that newer names and younger men and women are going to follow and succeed them in matter of a few short years, and that there are age limits to peak fitness and performance, at least for a time there is a sense of achievement and personal satisfaction, as well as the secondary benefits of celebrity, corporate sponsorship and fame. Problems such as injury and imposed rest from the sport as well as losing by a narrow margin can be the heart-breaking unforeseeable drawbacks and frustrations in such a focussed life.

What has this to do with us?

St Paul who lived in the Greek world where every city worth the name had a stadium, used the analogy of sport with the life of the committed disciple of Christ. He spoke of ‘fighting the good fight’ (1 Tim 1 :18, 6:12), the struggle (Phil 1:30), the effort required (Gal 2:2, 2 Tim 3:10). At the end of his days Paul would use this analogy of the race: I have run the race to the finish (2 Tim 4:7)

The Christian life is also a race of endurance and long-term commitment. On the spiritual plane there are many sacrifices required of us. We must live a completely focussed new way of life – one that involves commitment to duty, daily prayer, fasting, almsgiving, virtues such as courage, patience, perseverance (fortitude), forgiveness, chastity, humility, temperance, diligence.  Catholicism, truly lived, is not for the faint-hearted!

These virtues are often lived out by athletes on a purely human and non-spiritual level, although that is not to say that some athletes are devout Christians and can often be motivated by their faith in God and the parable of the talents. We think, for example, of that famous scene in the Olympic movie ‘Chariots of Fire’, the Scottish athlete, Sandy McGregor, a preacher, refused to run on the Sabbath. He switched athletic events to avoid the Sabbath. An admiring American athlete hands him a note before he limbers up for the final race – it contains a quotation from scripture –‘the man that honoureth me, I shall honour’ (1 Sam 2:30). McGregor wins the gold. What a great movie moment! In our day,  I  greatly  admire Katie Taylor’s example for her faith, and as one hand was raised in victory at her first win in London on August 6th, the other hand was pointed a finger to heaven.

Sportsmen and women are continuously motivated by the drive to excel and to win. They do not lie back in idleness. The rewards are the accolades, trophies, recognition, as well as fame in their sport and native country. We all take just pride in their success and are caught up in the emotion and buzz in the build-up to their performance.

For St Paul, despite the many ‘hardships, weaknesses, insults and persecutions’   (2 Cor 12:10),he and his disciples endured, it would all be worth it in the end: ‘Do you not realise though all the runners in the stadium take part in the race, only one of them gets the prize? Run like that –to win. Every athlete concentrates completely on training, and this is to win a wreath that will wither, whereas ours will never wither.’ (1 Cor 9 :24-26)

 We should not be at all surprised – though perhaps we continuously are – at the sacrifices a truly committed Christian life requires. Paul teaches us and admonishes us – expect trial and hardships...but God comes to our aid: ‘God will not out you to the test beyond your strength, but with any trial will also provide a way out by enabling you to put up with it’ (1 Cor 10:13) . Let us persevere, especially despite our frequent falls and the discouragement we experience at our own weakness. The worst fate of all is disqualification – from eternal life. Paul in his humility was well aware that he had to practise what he preached ‘so that is how I run, not without a clear goal, and how I box, not wasting blows on air. I punish my body and bring it under control, to avoid any risk that, having acted as herald for others, I myself may be disqualified’ (1 Cor 9:26).
 If we have fallen as runners in the Christian race, let us get up again. What energised Paul? His relationship with the Lord Jesus:  ‘when I am weak, then I am strong, for I can feel Christ’s protection over me’ (2 Cor 12:9), and my personal favourite: ‘The love of Christ urges us on’ (2 Cor 4:14).

18th Sunday of the Year

The journey across the lake

The theme and concept of journey is significant throughout the Scriptures. It is worth noting that of every single person of significance in the Bible, a journey is required.

There are three specific journeys in the Readings today – all across bodies of water.

In the Old Testament today, Moses and the people have journeyed from Egypt to the wilderness and are not far from the margins of the Promised Land. The whole People of God – the Church – is on a pilgrim journey mirroring that of the People of Israel described in the Book of Exodus today.

Jesus himself makes many journeys within the confines of Israel and along its borders. It is also worth noting and the Evangelists make clear that Jesus is depicted in His ministry on His way somewhere or has arrived from somewhere else. Today Jesus is in Capernaum – a name meaning ‘border’. The border is the place of decision – whether to stay or to cross over. It is the place of decision for Jesus as the Bread of Life in this chapter of John 6 which is the Gospel this and every third summer.

This is also very true of the followers of Jesus in today’s episode. They make a journey across the Sea of Galilee in boats. But what and whom are they looking for? That is the big question. And that is a question we have to pose to ourselves – who is Jesus Christ for you and me at this point?

A response in faith is in this way offered to us who are bystanders – it is a unique opportunity, and a life-changing one - a response to join our journey to His, at whatever stage we are in life’s journey. The journey towards JESUS in the Gospel today becomes not only a personal journey of education and self-discovery but one of inner transformation for the follower of Jesus..

It is often challenging, and like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus purifies and clarifies our vision. Often we must return to this sense of journey – and indeed mission –as there is a temptation to stay ‘where we are’ – static, comfortable, passive, unchallenged – and therefore we might turn back –back to complacency and even the ‘former life’ we lived, life without Christ.

This is the temptation that Paul warns His followers among the people of Ephesus in the Second Reading today – the old self which gets corrupted by following ‘illusory desires’. There is the temptation among those who have crossed the waters of baptism to hearken back to the predictable ‘safety’ of enslavement to sin, to journey back to paganism. The illusory desires are the fake promises of lasting happiness – of pleasures and worldly attachments that promise everything but are worthless and even harmful to salvation.

This is a life lesson to all of us who have had perhaps false or unduly high expectations and disappointments. We know that the joys of life are not forever – that they do not last. The joys of life prepare us, strengthen us and sustain us as a counter-balance to withstand and endure the bitterness, inevitable disappointments and anti-climaxes of life.

The disciples today change from a spirit of excitement and enthusiasm and the certainty that Jesus is their king – in earthly terms. They feel that Jesus having miraculously fed them will continue to do so and moreover, without any effort on their part.

They misinterpret the significance of the bread miracle that has just taken place as recounted in the Gospel last Sunday.

Crossing the lake – what happens? Their hopes are dashed –they might even feel disappointment, frustration, even a sense of anti-climax. This kind of bread miracle is a ‘one-off’.

Now instead of being changed utterly after this miracle – they want more, they even demand more of Jesus. As if Jesus hadn’t done enough for them they ask: “what sign will you give us?” Never could it be more truly said of a people that ‘eaten bread is soon forgotten’!

All of us have desires and needs. But when Mother Teresa was alive she spoke of the greatest hunger in the world today – not that of poverty but that of love. She fed and clothed many street children and orphans. Often they would have a glazed far-away look on their eyes having been abandoned by their parents and left alone. The sense of rejection could be read in their eyes. The sisters would kiss, cuddle, hug and speak lovingly to these children until the light in their eyes would return. When journeying through the Western world she saw the same look of hunger for love among the well-off and comfortable.

Our problem very often is that we look for answers in the wrong places. Christ alone can satisfy the longings of the human heart. While we physically hunger and thirst and be filled today, we will be empty again tomorrow. Jesus alone satisfies in a continuous way the longings and hunger pangs of the heart.

Jesus will now set out to teach that He is the bread of life. We will return to that theme next Sunday.
The true bread that gives life to the world: The Eucharist. In prayer in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, in receiving Jesus in the Eucharist we will slowly be transformed by the sacrament of love, and we will learn to say, like the disciples were later taught: ‘give us this day our daily bread’, but also like the disciples in the Gospel today as we grow in Eucharistic love:  we will make their plea our own: – "Lord, give us that bread always".