17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

In our first reading today, Elisha, the man of God, feeds 100 people with twenty  barley loaves.  At the time of 2nd Kings, around 600 BC, this was a BIG deal.  Even today, it would be a big deal if someone were able to feed 100 people with such a small amount of bread.  Of course we don’t know how big the loaves were.  They could have been very big.  Even so, it was quite an accomplishment.

 

But we know of an even bigger deal.  Jesus fed 5,000 people with just FIVE barley loaves and a couple of fish.  Now, normally, you’d expect me to tell you what a great miracle this was, and about how it’s a precursor to the Eucharist, where Jesus feeds millions of people every day with His own Body and Blood.  But, I’m not going to talk about that.

 

The real heroes in these two stories were the man from Baal-shalishah and the young boy in the Gospel.  We don’t know either of their names, but without them neither miracle would have been possible.  It was their generosity, multiplied by God many times over, that made it possible for Elisha, and for Jesus, to feed so many.

 

I think there’s a reason why neither person is named in scripture and it’s because both of them represent you and me.  Each of us is called to be generous with our time, talent, and treasure which God uses to accomplish so much more than we could do by ourselves.

 

In just a few minutes, Father will change ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  Make no mistake—it IS a miracle.  The same miracle is happening in Catholic churches all over the world.  It’s something that only priests and bishops can do.  But where do the bread and wine come from?  They will be brought to the altar by members of the congregation.  You begin the process, just like the two anonymous men in the readings today began those miracles.

 

Where does the congregation get the bread and wine?  We buy it with the money you contribute each week.  Without you, there could be no miracle.  The Eucharist, (the word means thanksgiving in Greek) is a public celebration made possible by the sacrament of Holy Orders received by the priest and by your participation in providing the bread and wine.

 

Our two stories today have another thing in common.  In the reading from 2nd Kings a servant objects “How can I set this before a hundred people?”  In the Gospel story, Peter, speaking of the loaves and fish asks “what good are these for so many?”  Don’t we all have these same doubts when we’re asked to contribute our own gifts?

 

Here’s the thing.  A communion wafer costs about 2 cents.  Sitting there in the box, that’s about what they’re worth.  If we buy them for 2 cents, what do they cost to make?  Less than a penny?  But when Father says the Eucharistic Prayer, a few cents worth of wheat becomes the Body of Christ.  Not a symbol.  Not a representation.  The actual Body of Christ.  How do we know?  Because He said so.  When we leave this church today, those of us who receive the Eucharist will have His actual Body and Blood running through our veins.  Like the Master Card commercial says:

“Wheat and wine—a few cents.  Father’s time and talent—a few dollars.  Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ—PRICELESS.”  And it all begins with your contributions to the church and your presentation  of the gifts to Father at the altar.

 

Next weekend there will be a second collection for our mission in Bolivia.  Saint Louis was actually the first diocese in the United States to send missionaries to Latin America.  The missions were started 56 years ago by Cardinal Joseph Ritter.  Today a four priests and one bishop from Saint Louis serve nearly 100,000 parishioners.  The Catholics in the area are able to attend mass just a few times a year.  But they do get to attend mass, something that would be impossible without your generous support.  Imagine what it must be like to receive the sacraments so infrequently before you ask “what good is my small contribution to help so many?”  If the ½ million Catholics in Saint Louis would send just ten dollars, that would be $5 million, more than enough to operate the missions for a year.

 

I know it seems like we’re always asking you for something, some of your time, talent, and treasure.  But, here are two things to think about.

  1. Everything we have is a gift from God.  Anything we give Him is just returning a small part of what He’s given us.  And
  2. If God could feed hundreds of people in the first reading and thousands in the Gospel, both from small contributions from ordinary people, what can He do with what WE give Him?
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15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

BE NOT AFRAID! We sang those words just a few minutes ago. At least some of us did. Some of us just listened. Some of us are afraid to sing. It’s kind of ironic that we might be afraid to sing “be not afraid”. I guess it’s just part of being human.

In spite of the song, sometimes fear is a good thing. If you’re afraid of heights, you might avoid a dangerous situation. If you never stand on the edge of a cliff, you’re never going to fall off. If you’re afraid of snakes, you might avoid getting bitten. They say that most people are more afraid of doing what I’m doing now—speaking to a crowd, than they are of dying. I can relate. You notice that I never let go of this ambo. I never separate myself from my notes. If you start to throw things, I can duck down behind this thing. Yes, you are an intimidating bunch. It’s a little scary to be up here.

In today’s Gospel, Mark tells us the story of Jesus sending the Apostles to spread the Good News. Basically He sends them out empty handed. All they can take is a walking stick and sandals. They couldn’t take food or money. They would have to depend on strangers for their meals and their shelter.

At least they didn’t have to go out alone. He sent them in pairs. Still, it must have been scary for them. Put yourself in their place. Ever since they met Jesus they’ve been like rock stars; or at least like roadies. They’ve traveled with the Master. They’ve basked in the reflected glory of the Son of God. Now, all of a sudden, they’re on they’re own. They’re going to preach what Jesus has taught them. He did give them power over unclean spirits and to heal the sick. But still, it had to be easier to be with Jesus than to go out and claim they had Jesus’ authority. They did drive out demons and they did cure the sick. But it had to be very hard to approach that first town.

“Hi, I’m James. This is my brother, John. Jesus sent us here. You know Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. He sent us to preach the Good News and to drive out demons. Do you have any demons in there? we can help you out. Is anybody here sick. We can heal them. Oh, by the way, could you feed us and put us up for the night?”

Obviously, Jesus knew that they wouldn’t necessarily be welcomed with open arms. Remember, He told them that if a place didn’t welcome them and listen to them, they should leave and shake the dust off their sandals in testimony against them. The only easy thing Jesus told them was when they entered a house they should “stay there until you leave”. I think we could all handle that.

See, the Apostles knew the scriptures, which at that time meant the Old Testament. They were familiar with our first reading today from the prophet Amos. Amos was prophesying in Bethel. Amaziah, a local priest told him to get lost. “Go preach in Judah!” he said. “Leave here and don’t come back!” Amos answered that he had been sent by the Lord to prophesy to His people, Israel. But he did have to leave Bethel. Amos had been a shepherd but the Lord sent him to Bethel, just like Jesus sent the Apostles. That story had to be in the Apostles’ minds as they headed out on their mission. This was scary stuff.

But the Apostles had something that Amos didn’t have. They had each other; they had strength in numbers. Even today, some of our protestant brothers and sisters, particularly the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who are known for their door-to-door ministry, travel in pairs. We Catholics aren’t so good at that type of evangelization, but when we do it, we do it in teams. It’s much safer that way.

This Christian faith of ours is all about relationships; our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. If you read the Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve, God saw that everything He’d created was good; except Adam. He realized right away that Adam needed a companion and so He created Eve. Some very holy people are comfortable living as hermits but most of us need companionship.

The noblest thing we can do as human beings is to help one another get to heaven. That’s why we meet once a week in this church, to listen to the Word of God and to share a meal-a very special meal-the Body and Blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ. At one time hundreds of Catholics gathered in this house of God to do just that. But times change. Demographics change. People move away. Today we can measure our attendance in dozens rather than hundreds.

Our call is to help one another to gain eternal life. We’re called to bring new people to Christ; either people who don’t know Him, or people who have forgotten about Him. Like the Apostles in today’s Gospel, we’re Jesus’ mission team. Because of our location, our ethnicity, and our historic church, we get a lot of visitors. Are there any visitors here today? If any of you regulars see an unfamiliar face, please take a minute and say “hello”. Make them feel welcome. Make them want to come back. The last thing we want is for them to leave, knock the dust off their sandals, and never return.

Archbishop Carlson has asked us to be “welcoming, hospitable, and committed to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others.” That’s what Amos the prophet did. That’s what the Apostles did. That’s what Jesus did. Should we do any less?

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel we read about Jairus, the synagogue official.  His twelve-year-old daughter is dying.  He falls at Jesus’ feet and begs Him to save his little girl.  Before Jesus has time to go to the girl’s bedside word comes that she’s already died.  What does Jesus do?  He says to Jairus, “Do not be afraid, just have faith.”

 

Let’s stop here just a minute.  First of all, Jairus is a synagogue official.  That’s not a minor point.  It’s not something that Mark just threw into the story.  Jesus wasn’t exactly a favorite of the synagogue officials.  A lot of what He was teaching was new, even radical.  Much of what He taught went against traditional Jewish teaching.  We know that eventually the leaders of the Jewish faith would put Jesus to death.  But here’s this guy whose daughter is dying.  Like any parent, he’ll do anything to save his child, so he approaches the Lord.  “Please save my daughter” he says.

 

But then word comes that the girl has died and Jesus tells Jairus not to be afraid, but to have faith.  How would you and I react if we were in Jairus’ place?  I don’t know about you, but I got word that one of my kids was dead I’d go nuts.  I’ve come to this man who claims to be the Son of God asking Him for help and now my child is dead!  Would you and I have faith that this long-haired wandering preacher could somehow resurrect our little girl?  Mark doesn’t tell us how Jarius reacted.  Maybe he believed Jesus.  Maybe he didn’t.  We don’t know.

 

Jesus goes to Jarius’ home along with Peter, James, and John.  No one else was allowed to go with Him.  When they got to the synagogue official’s house there was a crowd “weeping and wailing.”  Jesus tells the crowd that the child isn’t dead.  She’s just sleeping.  And the crowd ridicules Him.  Who wouldn’t?  She was dead.  They knew it.  They’d seen it for themselves.  Jesus must have been making a cruel joke.  How dare He?  He must be crazy!

 

Then Jesus puts them all out.  He goes into the girl’s room with Peter, James, John, Darius, and his wife.  He takes the girl by the hand, tells her to rise, AND SHE DOES!

 

People, this is a miracle!  He’s come to the home of someone who shouldn’t have believed in Him and raised his daughter from the dead.  Then He says that no one should be told about it.  But imagine the reaction of the crowd outside when Darius and his wife walked out of the house with their little girl.  Surely this man must be who He said He was.  Weeping and wailing turned to cheers.  There must have been a party to end all parties.

 

Remember, Jesus didn’t perform this miracle for one of His friends, or one of His followers.  He did it for an official of the synagogue, one of the Jewish leaders.  If he wasn’t Jesus’ enemy, he definitely wasn’t one of His friends.  By raising this man’s daughter from the dead Jesus certainly made a statement.

 

If we read on in Mark’s Gospel we see that Jesus left that place and went home to Nazareth where you would think He’d get a hero’s welcome.  That’s not what happened.  The home towners took exception to Jesus’ preaching.  “We know this guy.  He’s Mary and Joseph’s son; a carpenter.  Where’s He getting this stuff?  Why isn’t He working any of His miracles for US?”  Then they tried to throw Him off a cliff.  “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town.”  Even before they crucified Him, it wasn’t easy being the Messiah.  Sometimes it isn’t easy to be one of His followers either.

 

This week we celebrate our nation’s birthday, Independence Day.  As Catholics, its the end of the Fortnight of Freedom, a time set aside by our bishops to pray for religious freedom, not just for Catholics, but for all people of faith.  As you know, the Supreme Court this week upheld the constitutionality of the government’s health care program.  If the so-called Obamacare initiative had been held to be unconstitutional, the HHS mandate would have been struck down and the threat to our freedom would have been over, at least for now.  But it wasn’t so we still have work to do.  I’d like to share with you a prayer by Bishop John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States and cousin of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He wrote this it on November 10, 1791 and asked that it be read in all the parishes of his diocese.   Please consider rereading it this Wednesday, preferably with family and friends.

 

As you reflect on the Bishop’s words, remember the faith of Jarius.  He came to Jesus in his time of need and his faith saved his little girl.  Sadly we live in a time where some of the things that Bishop Carroll asks for seem as unlikely as a little girl rising from the dead.  But, as Jarius learned, with faith, with God, anything is possible.

 

We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

 

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope N., the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

 

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

 

We pray for his Excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

 

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance. To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.

 

Bishop John Carroll, Bishop of Baltimore, November 10, 1791