Saturday, July 28, 2018

Do YOU believe in miracles?


It can be hard to pick the greatest moment in sports history. Some people might name Michael Phelps record number of gold medals making him the greatest athlete in Olympic history. Definitely, the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory ending an 86 year curse is way towards the top of the list. But, I think, for me, the greatest moment would have to be the 1980 winter Olympics when the U.S. hockey team defeated the dominant Soviet hockey team for the gold medal. This rag-tag group of American amateurs handed a major upset to the seasoned Soviet team who were expected to easily win gold. As I recall that moment you can probably still hear the voice of broadcaster Al Michaels as he shouted out, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The U.S. hockey team in that moment accomplished what seemed to be the impossible and we still refer to this moment as the “Miracle on Ice.” I still get choked up watching the last 30 seconds of that game.

Of all of the great moments in sports history, this is probably the only one that ever asked a theological question – do you believe in miracles? – and gave the right answer – YES! Now, of course, in the proper theological sense this was not a miracle, even though it was spectacular, but the question uttered at the end of that game speaks to us today – Do YOU believe in miracles?

We know that our secular world often makes no room for miracles or spiritual realities and is instead limited only to what can be observed and verified. We are taught to be skeptical when things seem too good to be true. Today's Gospel is a good example. Some look at today’s story of the feeding of the 5,000 with skepticism. Skeptical Bible scholars pose questions about whether or not Jesus actually fed that many people. Maybe the miracle is that everyone shared, they say. But our eyes of faith open us to the possibility that God does indeed accomplish miracles in our midst. Faith tells us that 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 official’s daughter and His friend Lazarus from the dead, Jesus did Himself rise from the dead, and He perhaps closer to our own experience – Jesus does offer us His real Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the forgiveness of our sins, and so much more. These things are all spectacular, and beyond the ordinary, but we believe because our faith convinces us that 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 these two types of faith. Philip is the skeptic, not ready to accept a miracle. To the problem of all these hungry people Philip responds, “Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little,” he says.

Andrew’s faith, on the other hand, makes room for miracles and so he becomes a partner in one with Jesus. Andrew says, “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. His faith helped him to see that possibility, to know that miracles build on nature. Perhaps Andrew remembered the marriage feast at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. Jesus didn’t make wine out of nothing at Cana; He made it from something – the water presented to Him. Andrew understood that it’s the disciple’s job to provide the basic something which Jesus in His love would then transform, like water into wine; or that He could multiply, like bread and fish to feed a hungry crowd. Expectant faith does not make us fold our hands, do nothing, and simply look to heaven. Rather it encourages us to make our best contribution – our five loaves and two fish – knowing that without it there would be no miracle. You see, a miracle is not God working for us; it is God working with us and through us, and in turn us working with God.

A skeptic looks at the feeding of 5,000 and says, “That probably didn’t really happen.” But the person of faith looks and says, “5,000 people is that all? Jesus has been miraculously feeding millions, even billions of people through his Body and Blood at Mass for over 2,000 years.” Have you ever stopped to realize that you and I are part of the greatest miracle of multiplication each and every time we worship? Jesus spoke those words once, 2,000 years ago, “This is my body. This is my blood,” and the Eucharist continues to be multiplied in our presence since then.

Jesus continues to multiply that meager offering every time we gather for the Eucharist. At every Mass we simply offer Him 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 and abiding presence in our midst. So, we should believe in miracles, 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 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!

God needs us to do our part and whatever we do, He will multiply, He will transform – often with miraculous results. Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or not, you are right." The same is true of 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. Let us today and always bring our meager offering to the Lord with the certainty that He can change it, multiply it, transform it into a miracle. Through our faith, truly miraculous things will happen.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Seeking the sea of our own tranquility


See if you can finish this sentence for me, “One small step for man…” Right, “one giant leap for mankind.” I have been enjoying the different programs and stories commemorating the 49th anniversary of the moon landing this week, which happened on July 20, 1969. I don’t really have a personal memory of the event, as I was 10 months old at the time, but we’ve all seen that famous footage of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder of his lander onto the surface of the moon.

The image of the moon landing is a helpful one as we reflected on our Gospel today. Jesus invited His apostles to “come away…to a deserted place and rest awhile.” Now, you certainly cannot find a more deserted place than the surface of the moon, in a quiet and airless place known as the Sea of Tranquility. And of course, the middle of July is a time of year when many seek out our own “Sea of Tranquility,” our own deserted place where we try to unwind. It’s summertime which means vacation time. Now, for some, vacation isn’t to such a deserted place. Some might go to Disney World, or visit a big city. I returned a few weeks ago from Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. Surely some of you here today are visiting as vacationers coming from places both far or not so far, visiting Cape Cod for your holiday.

Now Cape Cod traffic surely feels very far away from the Sea of Tranquility, but whatever you do this summer, whether vacation or staycation, Jesus invites you to “come away…and rest awhile.” Summertime and vacation time is an important time to renew our bodies, to rest from our work, to engage in different, relaxing pursuits. But, we also need to make the time to renew our souls, renew our spirits, renew our faith. When I am on vacation, my favorite times of day are sunrise and sunset at the beach. There is something so beautiful and spiritual about those moments; something that connects me deeply to God in creation. It renews me and renews my soul.

Thinking of the moon landing, one of the more surprising stories is one that is not so widely known, but it is one that speaks deeply of faith. Neil Armstrong, of course, gets all the focus of the moon landing as the first man to walk on the surface of the moon, and speak his famous first words, but the other astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, also did something that was spectacular, and perhaps even more profound, as a man of faith.

He and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement to the listening world, “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then ended radio communication and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home prayed. Here are his words, “In the radio blackout, I opened little plastic packages which contained bread and wine. I poured the wine into a chalice my church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture where Jesus says, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever lives in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.’ Then, I ate the tiny host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the elements of holy communion.”

It is amazing to think that among the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the Earth and the moon — and Who, in the words of Dante, is Himself the “Love that moves the Sun and other stars.” It was nonetheless a humble and holy act of remembrance. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. Well, Buzz Aldrin remembered. In the peacefulness of the Sea of Tranquility, he traveled to the moon and remembered The One who made it possible.

How about us? Now, none of us are headed to the moon, but what will we remember in the quiet moments of this summertime? Will we find the quiet spaces in the midst of our busy lives to remember the One who makes it all possible? Let us take our faith with us on every journey we make, whether near or far. Because God is there. Seen or unseen, God is always present. Let us acknowledge that presence, and celebrate it, and allow God’s abiding presence to renew our souls.

Every Mass, every moment of prayer, is a chance to “go away with Jesus and rest awhile.” Let us offer the God who has given us so much – our lives, our livelihoods, our families, our faith – let us offer Him our love, our time, our praise. Let us find the moments to say, quite simply, “Thank you for this.” Nothing offers us more refreshment and renewal than the time we spend with God deeply immersed in prayer.

One of the lessons of today’s Gospel is that after the apostles had done their amazing work – we heard last week about the miracles they performed – they returned to Christ, who reminded them that the job of being a faithful Christian isn’t all work. It’s also rest. It’s also prayer. It’s also renewal and refreshment. It is seeking out a deserted place to find peace we so desperately need in our lives. In the chaos of daily life, each of us needs to return to Christ, and to find a deserted place to rest, a sea of our own tranquility for prayer with our God.

As we recall what transpired on the moon nearly 50 years ago, let us remember that the deepest and most tranquil sea is one we often take for granted. It is God’s love available to us every time we pray. Let us meet God in that tranquil place, one small step at a time.

May the Lord give you peace.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

We hold these truths to be self evident...

Happy Independence Day! Sort of. You may know that the Second Continental Congress actually voted to separate from Great Britain on July 2, 1776, but it took a few days to do the paperwork. John Adams was certain that July 2nd would be commemorated as our nation's Day of Independence (since it was the actual day). So certain, he wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more." But, the Declaration itself had that "July 4th" date so prominently displayed at the top, that ended up winning the day. Some had also suggested August 2 as our national celebration since that was the day that most of the colonial representatives actually signed the document. Interesting history, but I think we can agree 242 years later, the issue is settled - HAPPY 4th!! Personally, a tradition I follow each year is to read the Declaration of Independence out loud. It is a wonderful experience. The words are powerful and often inspiring. I hope you try it: It also seems more important now than ever to remember who we are as a nation, who we strive to be. 

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

— John Hancock
New Hampshire:Josiah BartlettWilliam WhippleMatthew Thornton
Massachusetts:John HancockSamuel AdamsJohn AdamsRobert Treat PaineElbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:Stephen HopkinsWilliam Ellery
Connecticut:Roger ShermanSamuel HuntingtonWilliam WilliamsOliver Wolcott
New York:William FloydPhilip LivingstonFrancis LewisLewis Morris
New Jersey:Richard StocktonJohn WitherspoonFrancis HopkinsonJohn HartAbraham ClarkPennsylvania:Robert MorrisBenjamin RushBenjamin FranklinJohn MortonGeorge ClymerJames SmithGeorge TaylorJames WilsonGeorge Ross
Delaware:Caesar RodneyGeorge ReadThomas McKean
Maryland:Samuel ChaseWilliam PacaThomas StoneCharles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:George WytheRichard Henry LeeThomas JeffersonBenjamin HarrisonThomas Nelson, Jr.Francis Lightfoot LeeCarter Braxton
North Carolina:William HooperJoseph HewesJohn Penn
South Carolina:Edward RutledgeThomas Heyward, Jr.Thomas Lynch, Jr.Arthur Middleton
Georgia:Button GwinnettLyman HallGeorge Walton

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...