Sunday, July 26, 2015

Do you believe in miracles?


Johnny came home from Sunday school and couldn’t wait to tell his mother about class. “Boy that story of Moses and all those people crossing the Red Sea was something!” “Tell me all about it,” his mother said. Johnny began, “Well, the Israelites got out of Egypt, but Pharaoh and his army chased after them. So the Jews ran as fast as they could until they got to the Red Sea. The Egyptian Army was getting closer and closer. So…Moses got on his iPhone and called in a drone strike on the Egyptians. Then the Navy built a pontoon bridge so the people could cross over. And, they made it!” The mother was shocked, and asked, “Is that how they told you the story at Sunday school?” “Well, not exactly,” admitted Johnny, “but if I told you the way they told it to us, you'd never believe it, Mom.” How often do we find it difficult to believe in miracles because they seem a little too great? Our secular world makes no room for miracles and spiritual realities and is instead limited only to what we can observe and verify. We are taught to be skeptical when things seem too good to be true.

Today's Gospel is a good example. A secular view looks at the feeding of the 5,000 with skepticism. Skeptical Bible scholars will even pose questions about whether or not Jesus actually fed that many people. Maybe the miracle is that everyone shared, they say. But with the eyes of faith we look at this story in a different way. Faith opens us to the experience that says “Yes, God can and did do that great wonder! I believe it!” Jesus did feed a multitude, Jesus did heal countless people who were ill, Jesus did cast demons out of the possessed, He did raise the officials daughter and His friend Lazarus from the dead, Jesus did offer us His real Body and Blood in the Eucharist, and did Himself rise from the dead – all spectacular, and beyond the normal realm, but we believe because with God anything, in fact, everything is possible.

In our passage today, John mentions two disciples by name: Philip and Andrew. In this passage, they represent two types of faith. Philip is the skeptic, not ready to accept a miracle while Andrew’s faith makes room for miracles and so becomes a partner in one with Jesus.

To the problem of all these hungry people Philip responds skeptically. “Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little,” he says. But Andrew, with a more expectant faith speaks up. “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” Now, Andrew was realistic enough to know that five loaves and two fish were nothing before a crowd of more than 5,000, yet he had enough faith to see that it was enough for a start; to see that grace, that miracles build on nature. Perhaps Andrew was remembering the marriage feast at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. He remembered that Jesus did not make wine out of nothing; He made it out of something. And it is the disciples' duty first to provide that basic something which Jesus in His love would then transform, like water into wine; or multiply, like bread to feed the hungry crowd. Expectant faith, therefore, does not make us fold our hands doing nothing looking into heaven. Rather it spurs us on to make our best contribution, our five loaves and two fish, knowing that without it there would be no miracle. A miracle is not God working for us; it is God working with us and us with God.

A skeptic looks at the feeding of 5,000 and says, “That probably didn’t really happen.” The person of faith looks and says, “5,000 people is that all? Jesus has been miraculously feeding millions or even billions of people through his Body and Blood at Mass for over 2,000 years.” You and I are each and every time we worship part of the greatest miracle of feeding the multitude. He continues to multiply that meager offering every time we gather for the Eucharist. All we offer Him is some bread and wine to work with, and for more than 2,000 years He continually transforms that into His very Body and Blood; His real presence in our midst. So, we should believe, not only because we have faith, but also because we have eyes that see it at every Mass, hands that touch and hold and receive and bodies that consume that same miraculous bread become Body over and over again. The Eucharist is the most incredible miraculous feeding of the multitude in history – and it is still going on!

This is how God wants us to work in the world as well. He doesn’t do these things as tricks or just for show. Instead, He tells us, “I have given you an example. As I have done, so you must do.” There is a wonderful quote of Pope Francis from this past March that gets right at this. He said, “Yes, you pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.” God needs us to do our part and whatever we do, He will multiply – sometimes to miraculous results.

Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or not, you are right." The same can be said about our ability to be a force of change in the world. Believers, by believing, open their lives to miracles. Skeptics block their chances of experiencing a miracle. If we truly believe that Jesus did heal, did cast out demons, did raise people from the dead, did offer the Eucharist, did rise from the dead Himself – if we believe that, just imagine what He will do in our lives and through our lives if we’re open to Him. Jesus is just waiting to let a miracle happen through our own faith in Him. Jesus often said, “According to your faith will it be done to you.” Let us pray today and everyday to have the expectant faith of Andrew, to be open to what God wants to do in our lives. Through our faith, truly miraculous things will happen.

May God give you peace.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pope Francis is Making Christianity Radical Again | faithStreet

By Gehring
During his recent whirlwind trip to three of the poorest countries in South America, Pope Francis was a man on fire. He played the role of thunderous Old Testament prophet, community organizer, and even a revolutionary rallying the downtrodden to stand up to injustice. In a speech in Bolivia widely viewed as one of the most important and far-reaching of his papacy, the pope brought an urgent message that should make global elites nervous.
The first pope from Latin America will visit the United States in three months and become the first pontiff to address Congress. If his South American tour is any indication, the powers that be here in the world’s financial, media, and military epicenter should buckle up.
“Let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change,” Francis told representatives from indigenous communities, workers, and activists fighting for social reforms. The pope highlighted what he called “the three Ls” (labor, lodging, and land) as central to human dignity. He warned time was “running out” to address ecological destruction and climate change. He railed against a “new colonialism” that includes fiscal austerity measures and “certain free trade agreements.” The profit-first mentality of global capitalism, Francis argues, is morally indefensible.
“Let us say ‘no’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules rather than serves,” the pope said in what has now become a defining theme of his papacy. “That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.”

A pope who is radical, not liberal

It’s tempting to squeeze this maverick pope into secular political categories. Some media coverage has reflected this instinct by describing the pope as a leftist. In many ways, this is understandable. The pope’s searing critique of the socioeconomic status quo — what he calls “an idolatrous system which excludes, debases, and kills” — is left of the Democratic party. Hillary Clinton might agonize over how far to go in challenging the titans on Wall Street, but the pope has, well let’s just say, fewer political calculations to consider.
The pope also uses language that would be familiar to Occupy Wall Street activists, who in 2011 made Zuccotti Park a magnet for those challenging the presumptions of unbridled market fundamentalism, or leaders who mobilized massive protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization in 1999.
In fact, while some in the liberal establishment turned up a collective nose at Occupy, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who leads the Vatican’s justice and peace council and wrote the first draft of the pope’s recent encyclical, said at the time that the “basic sentiment” behind Occupy Wall Street aligned with traditional principles of Catholic social teaching on the economy.
While Pope Francis’ populist rhetoric warms the hearts of many liberals — including those who wish the church would pipe down on issues of sexuality and marriage — it’s a mistake to pigeonhole him with conventional secular terms. His source of inspiration is the radical message at the heart of the Gospels. In the shadow of the Roman Empire, Jesus put the poor and those on the peripheries at the center of his ministry.
He rattled the righteous defenders of the religious law, scandalized many, and fulfilled the message of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free . . . ”
In Bolivia, Pope Francis specifically anchored his denunciation of a corporate globalization that has lifted some boats but has done little for those languishing in the villas miseries of Buenos Aires and the favelas of Rio in this context. “This system runs counter to the plan of Jesus,” the pope said bluntly. “Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment.”
In Ecuador, the pope made it plain: “Our faith is always revolutionary.” 

A pope who upholds Catholic social teaching

If you have a problem with what Pope Francis is saying, your real problem is with the Hebrew prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, and a century of Catholic social teaching about the common good.
Some conservatives determined to paint Pope Francis as na├»ve and marginalize him as a Marxist have clear political motivations. “This pope grew up in a third world country that, frankly, is an example of what happens when you don’t have capitalism and democracy,” scoffed former ambassador Otto Reich, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs in the George W. Bush administration.
Rep. Paul Ryan, a Catholic who has mistakenly argued his budget proposals are consonant with his faith’s teachings, also strikes a condescending tone. “The guy is from Argentina,” Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in 2013. “They have crony capitalism in Argentina. They don’t have a true free enterprise system.” Leaving aside the stunning arrogance and myopia in those statements — Wall Street greed and criminal behavior get a free pass — these critiques are part of a larger effort to delegitimize the pope when it comes to economic justice.
Ryan and Co. conveniently ignore the fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to “sinful inequalities” that are “in open contradiction to the Gospel.” The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published by the Vatican under Pope John Paul II, states that “wealth exists to be shared” and that “evil is seen in the immoderate attachment to riches and the desire to hoard.”
This doesn’t make Pope Francis or the Catholic Church anti-market or anti-capitalist. Catholic teaching is clear that the economy should exist to serve human beings, not the other way around. Ever since Pope Leo XIII issued the church’s first social encyclical in 1891, at a time when the savage inequalities of the Industrial Revolution left workers with little protection against the whims of rapacious owners, the church has advocated for living wages, the need for unions, and prudent oversight of markets to ensure human dignity is not sacrificed on what Pope Francis has called “the altar of money.”
Pope John Paul II spoke about the “priority of labor over capital.” Pope Benedict XVI challenged the “scandal of glaring inequalities.” Francis is building on themes addressed by his predecessors, while clearly putting more institutional muscle behind inequality and social exclusion.
It’s true that Pope Francis is shaped by his experiences in Argentina, and his unique vision as the first non-European pontiff in over a millennium. This is an asset. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio earned a reputation for being the “Bishop of the Slums” for the considerable time he spent in the toughest sectors of town. During the 2002 Argentine debt crisis, along with other Catholic bishops, Bergoglio spoke out against fiscal austerity measures and pointed to “social exclusion, a growing gap between rich and poor, and . . . the negative consequences of globalization and the tyranny of markets.”
A pope who brings a perspective from the peripheries and aligns with the powerless knows his harshest critics are waiting for him in the United States. Expect the backlash to Pope Francis’ urgent pleas for action on climate change and inequality to heat up in the lead up to his visit. The most influential moral leader in the world today is calling out a status quo that political and financial elites benefit from at the expense of the poor. Those who prefer religion safe and sanitized — or relegated to issues of sexual morality — are on the defensive for good reason.
“Artists are here to disturb the peace,” the American writer James Baldwin once wrote. The same might apply to a pope bringing radical Christianity back to center stage.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Of Star Trek, Pope Francis & Encyclicals


Let me start with a classic line from TV history. Raise your hand if you know it. “Space, the final frontier…” Good, good. Now, keep your hand raised if you can finish the sentence: “…these are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its’ continuing mission to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Okay, you have all just outed yourselves, like me, as a scifi geek.

Now, yes, for the truly geeky among us, I like Star Wars too, but the thing I always preferred about Star Trek was the vision that Gene Roddenberry, its creator, had for a humanity that eventually got beyond all of the things that divide it; a humanity that became united for the common good. In this future Earth, there are no more wars, there is no more poverty or hunger, there is no more prejudice or racism, and we humanity lives in balance with the created world around it.

I have been thinking about my love for Star Trek this week as I’ve seen the spectacular photos NASA has released from the New Horizons probe on a survey mission to Pluto – the farthest mission for a human space craft yet. It has travelled more than three billion miles to get there. How’s that for a “strange new world”?

A priest-friend of mine earlier this week shared one of the Pluto photos on Instagram along with a beautiful quote from Psalm 8 that reads, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;/what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?"

Believe it or not, all of this was leading me to think deeply about the encyclical of Pope Francis which came out just about a month ago called Laudato Si or Praised be You. I read an article a few weeks ago that was asking if many Catholics had heard a homily preached on this first great encyclical of the Holy Father, and many, sadly, had not. And I began to wonder why? I think that the answer lies in the way that a lot of coverage has focused on the document. It has been treated largely like something that was issued by the Environmental Protection Agency or GreenPeace, rather than a spiritual document by the reigning Pontiff of the Holy Catholic Church.

You see the media keeps calling the document the “Pope’s encyclical on the environment”. It is as if Pope Francis decided to use one of the highest levels of teaching authority in the Church to essentially say, “Don’t forget to recycle your bottles and cans. Please try to reduce the amount of water you use. And, oh yeah, big oil is bad.” Now, these things are in there and they are good, but that would be like reducing Star Trek to space ships, Klingons and transporters – all of those are in there (and they’re pretty cool), but if that’s all you see, you are missing the bigger vision. The Pope, too, has a bigger vision here for us.

For example, in Laudato Si (which takes its name, by the way, from a prayer of St. Francis praising God in all of creation), Pope Francis writes, “As Christians, we are called to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.” In this simple and yet profound statement, the Pope reminds us that we care for our common home, the Earth, not because it makes good environmental sense (although it does), but because the Earth is, in effect, a Church – it is the place where we meet God. The world is a sacrament of communion with God.

The Pope says, “Creatures tend towards God…Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.” The Holy Father continually returns to this two-fold theme that everything is created by God and therefore is a reflection of Him; and that because of this divine origin, we are all connected. This not only effects the environment, which we should treasure as a gift from God that has been entrusted to us, but it also effects the way that we relate to one another.

We can understand water, for example as a gift. We need it to live. We can appreciate it for its beauty. We enjoy it for our recreation. We understand its relation to the land and crops and growth. But, we don’t always understand one another as the same kind of gift from God that should likewise be treated as precious to us as it is to God. The Pope writes, “When human beings fail to find their true place in this world, they misunderstand themselves and end up acting against themselves.”

And so, my friends, just think of the many pressing, confusing or troubling issues that our world faces right now. If you are trying to understand how to respond to the legalization of gay marriage in our country, or to the transformation of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner or anyone who is transgender. If you have been shocked or rocked by the shooting in Charleston a few weeks ago, the more recent one in Chattanooga this week. If you are dejected by the issues of racism that have reared their ugly heads so poignantly, so disappointedly once again especially over this past year. If you are struggling with what to make of our fractured, wounded and divided world – the Pope reminds us that this answer is our connectedness.

No matter the issue, we are being reminded once again that we are connected; that we are one; that we are sacrament; that we are communion. We are being reminded that everything in this world created by our God – the land and see, the earth and sky, the plants and animals – and so especially the people, all of the people – need to be treated with love and kindness, with compassion and mercy, with hope and joy. We are people of connection, communion and love, not judgment and condemnation. This is how we make the prayer of St. Francis our own – to be channels of peace who bring love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, faith where there is doubt.

So, my brothers and sisters, “Qapla”, success, and don’t forget to recycle your bottles and cans. And more importantly, don’t forget that every day and every moment; that every person and every encounter; that every breath, and tree and sunrise and sunset – are all experiences of God where the “divine and human meet” in the smallest occurrences of life.

May the Lord give you peace.

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...