Saturday, July 30, 2011

Not Much, But Enough

The Gospel for this Sunday tells the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. While we often focus on the fact that Jesus was able to feed thousands, there is another important detail that bears reflections. Matthew's Gospel tells us that the disciples had merely five loaves and two fish. Matthew does not say where they came from, but one thing is clear: they were a crucial part of the miracle. You see, Jesus worked with what He had, and those who brought Him the few loaves and fish, even though not very much, cooperated in the miracle.
Notice that Jesus did not magically create food out of nothing. Creating out of nothing was accomplished by the Father in the beginning. From that point on, creation always was building on what already was. So the Lord took what already was (5 loaves, 2 fish) and multiplied them so that there was enough for everyone. And this miracle was not simply about food.
Jesus, by showing us how bread and fish could be multiplied, assured us that our own generosity, good works, etc. can also be multiplied. All that is necessary is that we present it to Jesus and cooperate with Him. By turning over what is "mine" and allowing God to work in our lives, the smallest thing can have a big impact. Whether a kind word, a helpful gesture, or even some of our own treasure, when given to God all of this can be multiplied and touch many people. Witness what happens when there is a natural disaster. People feel moved to donate, even though no one has enough to make an impact alone. But when enough people get involved (encouraged by the example of others), the impact is huge.
Just so a small act of kindness, freely given, can be multiplied by God. That is why we should never think that what we do is unimportant, that we cannot make a difference. After all, whoever brought the five loaves and two fish never imagined that thousands would be able to eat because of it. In the end, by cooperating with God, it was not much, but definitely enough.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Momma's Boys?

I always find it fascinating to think of James and John. They were two of the Apostles who were frequently called to accompany Jesus (along with Peter) when He wanted to pray. Whether on the mountain of the Transfiguration or in the Garden of Gethsemane, they were privileged to be present at several key moments. But even though they were usually referred to as the "sons of Zebedee" and "sons of thunder", they are probably remembered better for their mother than their father. Today's Gospel (Matthew 20: 20-28) tells the story of her approaching Jesus and asking “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.” I can only imagine how embarrassed they must have been! And the other Apostles did not let them off easily, either.They certainly could have gone down in history as the ultimate momma's boys.
This encounter, however, was a very serious turning point. They were put on notice that, if they wanted to follow Jesus, they had to be prepared for hardship. And they expressed themselves ready to take the challenge. Despite some initial missteps (falling asleep in the Garden, running away from the crucifixion), James, whose feast we celebrate today, would ultimately be the very first of the Apostles to give his life for the faith. His martyrdom stands as a final proof that he was indeed ready to "drink from the chalice" like the Lord.
What depth of faith that shows!
It is left to each of us to ponder whether or not we are ready and willing to do the same. While we may not be called to make the ultimate sacrifice of dying for the Lord, we are called to die to our baser instincts and temptations each day. How willing are we to embrace these denials? When the time comes to make a decision, are we more concerned about doing God's will or pleasing others? The mother of James and John may have made the first move in asking Jesus, but they each had to agree to accept what was coming. And they did. The Lord is now inviting each of us to follow Him in doing the will of the Father. What will your answer be today?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Part of the Process

In today's Gospel (Matthew 13: 10-17) Jesus gives the formula or process for coming to a new life. In quoting the prophet Isaiah, he shows that if we see with our eyes, hear with our ears and understand with our hearts, we will be converted and healed. Sounds pretty simple. He also notes that one is blessed if they have eyes that see and ears that hear, because many people do not.
If you accept this process (and I would recommend you do, since it is the Lord himself who is proposing it), then there are two parts to it. The first is to make sure that you keep your eyes and ears open, so that you can see and hear the Lord. Every day, in countless situations, the Lord seeks to interact with us. Through other people, the Lord want us to see Him and hear Him. But if we are not looking for these encounters, we will likely miss them.
The second part is that we have to always look for opportunities to speak God's word to others and show them the example of Christ. You see, we may never know when someone is open to "seeing and hearing". But we just may be the one who speaks the right word to them and shows them the face of Christ. It is really not of our own choosing, but God's when that will occur. What God counts on is our cooperation, which means we have to always try and be the voice and hands of Christ.
Even if someone has had their eyes and ears closed hundreds of times in the past, it just may be the next time we speak with the love of Christ that they are listening, or act as Christ would that they are looking. And for them, we become the means by which they are blessed. But it cannot happen unless we are part of the process.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Keep on Sowing

The parable about the sower (Matthew 13: 1-9) in today's Gospel has many different aspects for meditation. Today I decided to reflect on the idea that, even if the "seed" of faith, God's Word, does not take root in good soil when we first sow it, the process does not end there. The sower in the parable does not decide that he will never sow seed again, even though some of the seed did not take root, was eaten by birds, was choked by thorns, sprouted and then quickly died, etc. No, the sower returns each year and sows more seed. It may be that some of the rocks were removed, the thorns cut down, the birds are frightened off, or other things changed that will allow the seed to take root.
It is the same for us, as we try to bring God's Word to others and show them how to live God's will each day. Even if they are not receptive to thinking about God, faith, scripture, etc., that does not end our obligation to continue to expose them to the beauty of this wonderful Presence in their lives. Perhaps it is the 3rd, 4th or 100th time that we expose them to the power of God's Word working in our lives that makes them realize that they want it too. So we should never get discouraged in trying to show others the results of living God's will in our own lives daily, which is really the point of all Scripture.
It is certainly easier said than done, since we can get tired of loving those who do not love us back. It can be disheartening when those "least of the brothers and sisters" do not seem to be impacted at all by our living the Gospel. And it is frustrating when our smiles and positive attitude are returned with hostility or indifference. But is we keep it up, even though it does not seem to make a difference time after time, there may eventually be the moment that our words and actions strike a cord. Or, because of our efforts, the words or actions of another may strike that chord in the person. And that, my friends, is when the seed will be planted in rich soil. Then that brother or sister will experience the "thirty, sixty or one hundred fold" promised in the Gospel.
And we will have fulfilled our destiny as one created in the image and likeness of God, who is THE Sower!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

We Are Family

This past weekend I was able to gather with members of my family as we attended the wedding of one of my nephews. We met his new wife's family for the first time and had a great time just relaxing and being with one another. Families are usually messy, loud, diverse and great! In today's Gospel (Matthew 12: 46-50), Jesus speaks of His own family. Rather than speaking about Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachary, John or any of the others who were "related" to Him, He tells the crowds that "whoever does the will of my heavenly Father" is family. How cool is that?!
As often as we may brag about a child, sibling, grandchild, parent, etc. who has accomplished something amazing, we tend to forget that our Brother is the Savior of the world! The key here is that, in order to make this claim, we have to be doing the will of the Father. And this is where it gets a little tricky. Because Jesus does not say that we simply have to "accept" the will of the Father passively. No, He tells us that we have to DO the will of the Father. This is an active, thoughtful, deliberate thing on our part. It also implies that we have to be in communication with God in order to understand what His will is for us in the various circumstances and situations in our life. It is especially important when it comes to how we deal with people, since the way  we treat them reflect our relationship with God.
Doing the will of the Father is a huge challenge, since we tend to rely on instinct sometimes which can lean more toward selfishness rather than putting the other first. No, the will of the Father is to be the first to love, to love our enemies and, perhaps even more difficult, love those who are indifferent to us. The question, therefore, is not "what is your will for me today, God?". No, the real question, asked frequently throughout the day, is "What is your will for me now, God?". And the more I ask that question and try to follow where it leads, the more I will live the reality that, after all, Jesus you and I are family.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Share the Load

In the famous Gospel passage from today's Mass (Matthew 11: 28-30), Jesus speaks of His yoke being easy. The image of a yoke is a very good one for me to use in meditation. There are two uses of yokes, both of which are important to understand. A single yoke is used on an animal so that the weight of a heavy load is spread out over several points, not just where a rope or strap would be wrapped around the animal. In this way it would be much easier to carry. It is similar to the difference between carrying a heavy bag that has very small string or twine to hold or one that weighs the same but has a wider belt to use in carrying it.I think of this sometimes when I have to reevaluate how I am doing a particularly difficult task and try to find a way that is easier.
The second type of yoke is used on two animals. When they are yoked together, the total weight is distributed over them both, and so they are capable of carrying a much greater load than they could separately. You may have seen this sort of yoke used on a team of oxen plowing a field, for example. This is the sort of yoke I like to imagine when I meditate in this passage. I can just picture Jesus walking alongside of me, the two of us connected and working together to carry what are sometimes very heavy burdens. My problems always seem more manageable when I use this image.
The great consolation I receive is that I am not alone. The Lord told us to "learn from me". And there is no better thing to learn that the way He shared the load with His Father. So often we hear of Jesus going to the Father in prayer, and the wonderful consolation He received from this. Most powerfully in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Lord received the strength to literally carry the cross by making relying on the Father's strength. I need to do the same when I find the crosses of life heavy. Each day I hope we can keep as a "mantra" of sorts the popular phrase "Lord, help me to remember that there is nothing that will happen today that you and I together can't handle!"

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Good Soil

The beautiful parable in today's Gospel (Matthew 13: 1-23) speaks about different types of soil The sower scatters the seed on the path, rocky ground, shallow soil, among thorns and also in rich soil. It seems rather crazy to waste the seed, but farming methods are quite different today. Farmers now realize that it is best to first prepare the soil, then plant the seeds. In the time of Jesus they would scatter seed then till the soil and turn it so that the seed would grow. Preparation is now just as important as the planting or "sowing" of the seed.
If the emphasis has changed in farming, so too we have to look at a different emphasis in the parable. My meditation has led me to consider our role in preparing the "soil" of hearts to receive the Word of God . I see our role as believers in helping to make sure that others are prepared to receive God's Word in their lives. Many of us were prepared for this by our parents, who spoke to us of God and showed us how to follow the example of Christ. By words and actions, we were prepared to receive the Word in a mature way, and allow it to yield the "thirty, sixty and one hundred fold" that the Lord mentioned.
Now it is our turn, not only for children but also for other adults who may not realize that God loves them and is with them. Very small but important steps we take can help them become more open to considering God in their lives. Every time we offer to pray for them when they have a difficult situation, we are preparing the soil. When we tell them of the blessings we have received from God, we are preparing the soil. When we point out how God has blessed them and offer to say a prayer in thanksgiving for something good that happened to them, we are preparing the soil. Each of these small things can help gradually open others up to seeing God's impact in their lives. They also help keep us aware of that Presence as well.
No farmer today simply scatters seed on ground that is not prepared. No one who want to help spread the Good News can simply begin preaching without preparing hearts to receive the Word. I hope that we can take some time and consider how our words and actions just might be the way that God want to prepare friends, co-workers, neighbors, classmates or even strangers, so that they will be open to receiving His Word into their hearts at the right moment.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sparrows and Hair

In the Gospel today, Jesus tries to provide assurances to the apostles (and to us) that God knows everything that happens to us, and that He lovingly cares about what goes on in our lives. There is, however, a difference between knowing, caring and manipulating. just because the all-powerful God knows what happens to us and is concerned does not mean that He interferes or causes things to happen, like some grand puppeteer. No, God has created all things and keeps them in existence, but does not interfere with our decisions and the consequences of those decisions. For example, the conspicuous consumption by a minority of the world's population causes an imbalance in the distribution of the necessities of life. This means that there are people who starve to death every day. Now God certainly knows this and is concerned about each and every one of those people. But He does not make food magically appear in order to save their lives. Instead, He counts on the rest of us to act in ways that will correct this terrible injustice. He naturally is unhappy that these people die, and would much rather everyone share in the goods of the earth, but He does not force this on us.
It is part of the challenge we all are given. God has provided more than enough for all to live in peace and harmony, with each person having the necessities of life. But there are consequences when some refuse to share and accumulate more than is needed. The question is - what do we do about it? What actions can I take that acknowledge that I am aware of those who "fall to the ground"? If the hairs on my head are counted (and we know that is a constantly changing number), God also must know how much "stuff" I have accumulated as well. I need to take a closer look and see if I am doing enough to make sure that my extra "stuff" (money, food etc.) is not really supposed to be someone else's necessary stuff.
A tall order, but an important point is I want to live the Gospel.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Together Again

I'm baaack! Sorry for the lapse in posting, folks. Life has a way of overwhelming you sometimes, and some family issues have kept me a little too busy. My mom completed her radiation treatment and finished her time in the rehab center. She is now back in her own home and doing pretty well, so you and I are able to be together again and take up our task of celebrating God's blessings in our lives.
For the past several weeks we have been reading from Genesis for the first reading at daily Masses. Today we reached the part that tells of the reunion of Jacob and his son Joseph. Genesis and Exodus are really fascinating to read, and they were definitely part of the consciousness of Jesus and His followers. It can help us examine our own lives and see how God can take even difficult or tragic situations (usually caused by the refusal of people to do God's will) and give us new ways to experience the holy. Just as Joseph, for example, experienced the jealousy of his brothers, was sold into slavery, imprisoned and thought to be dead by his father, we also have various hurtful, harmful and disastrous things happen on our lives. The way that Joseph came to be in a position of power, where he had the ability to save the lives of his father, brothers and the rest of the family was also a great test. He could have chosen to exact revenge on those who harmed him, refusing to help and condemning them to death by starvation. Instead, he chose to accept the opportunity God had presented him and took steps to reunite with his family, forgiving his brothers. Joseph realized that God had used the horrendous situation his brother caused and made it the means by which he could save their lives. Rather than hold a grudge and look for revenge, Joseph took the path that would bring him and his family together again.
It is a wonderful meditation for us when faced with people who harm us. Our reaction can either reflect love and forgiveness, which come from God, or anger and the desire for retribution, which come from the devil. It is certainly not easy, but we have to realize that the more we work to forgive others who have caused us pain, the more we are united with the Lord, who forgave those who crucified Him.