Sunday, August 12, 2018

Best Friends Forever

DaVinci's Last Supper in Milan, Italy
It’s “back-to-school time.” I’m going to give you a 2-part quiz. Part 1:
Who were the last two teams to win the Super Bowl?
Name the two wealthiest people in the world (according to Forbes Magazine).
I didn’t get 100%. Now part 2:
Think of two teachers who made a difference for the better in your life.
Name two friends who helped you through a difficult time.
I bet you named people there.

The point is simple: we quickly forget "super bowl" headlines. However, we don't forget those “heroes and heroines” who mentored or coached us through challenges, and who helped us answer the question: what on earth am I here for.  That, my friends, is precisely what Jesus does: our way, our truth and our life.

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus says he is the bread of life who can transform us into new creatures. Elsewhere Jesus works a sign/a wonder: he multiplies the loaves and fish, sharing with the hungry crowd.

As a community of disciples, Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger at the table of the Lord with the bread of life, the Eucharist.

Jesus is our rabbi/teacher who shows us purpose in life, to live in relationship with Gode and one another forever.  He is our trustworthy friend who is always with us especially as we face challenges. And he's our mentor who graces us so that we can become the best version of ourselves.

This living Christ invites us, so says John 15:15, to be “friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”

Now, what is a friend? I recently came across a survey of 800 so-called young millennials. The results gave a snapshot of a lonely generation. Many had a large number of “Facebook friends” but still felt a sense of loneliness. Social media, of course, is no substitute for real, face-to-face friendships.

The Bible is very realistic about friendships. We see examples of relationships at their best, and also at their worst.

For me, friendships include at least three ingredients. First, partnerships. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two. From the beginning of Christianity, we see friends working together. Paul and Barnabas, for example, “dedicated their lives ... to Jesus Christ.” We read they had a disagreement, parted company. But in the providence of God, Barnabas found a new partner in Mark, Paul partnered with Silas, and they went “through Syria and Cilicia, bringing strength to the churches.” (Acts 15:41). Yes, value partnerships, in marriage, in work, in the community.

Second, nurture friendships. Martin Luther King Jr. gave some good advice about how to do this, reminding us: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.” Absolutely true in nurturing friendships.

Finally, make loyalty a priority.  If we sow loyalty, we will reap loyalty. We will even become trustworthy among those who aren't our friends.

Above all, think of Jesus as our best friend, soulmate and confidant, our kindly light forever.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Signs of God's Care

Dali's Sacrament of the Last Supper
The word of God takes us back to the exodus or escape of the Hebrews from their oppressors in ancient Egypt. The Hebrews are now in the wilderness, hungry and thirsty. But God, always keeping his promises, miraculously provides food: quails (probably some kind of low-flying migratory bird) and manna (probably a substance from a desert shrub).

The author may be asking whether we recognize signs of God’s care in our everyday lives.

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus says: “I am the bread of life.” Elsewhere, Jesus says: I am the light of the world; I am the good shepherd; the vine; the resurrection; the way, the truth, the life; the door to heaven. These “I am” sayings allude to the 3rd chapter in the Book of Exodus, where Moses asks God who He is. And God responds: “I am the One who causes to be everything that is.”

Jesus’s “I am” sayings allude to his divinity. Yes, the God-man Jesus became one of us to satisfy our deepest hungers.

Today's word of God alludes to three moments in our salvation history:
the Hebrew Exodus;
the 1st century passage of Jesus into glory;
and this Eucharistic celebration.

Each of these is an exodus, a departure, a going outward:
the escape of the Hebrews from Egypt;
Jesus’s passage from earthly life into eternal life;
and our own going out from the Eucharistic celebration to serve.

The escape of the Hebrews is a prototype of our liberation. Jews in the Seder raise their cups to proclaim: “It is our duty to thank, praise … and adore the God who did all of these miracles for our forebears and for ourselves. He has brought us forth … from darkness to a great light, and from subjection to redemption.”

A second critical historical moment is when Jesus at the Last Supper began his passage from earthly life through the darkness of death into a new indescribable heavenly reality. Every Eucharist rekindles the expectation of our liberation: we pray: “until He comes again.” In the Our Father we ask “Thy kingdom come.”

A third critical moment in salvation history is today's Eucharistic celebration. Jesus at the last supper washed the feet of the disciples--an example of service. As I have done, Jesus says, so must you do. The bread we eat/the cup we drink is meant to create a more vibrant faith community. St. Paul wrote: “Because the bread is one, we, though many, are one Body; for we all partake of the one bread.”

Just as Jesus Christ was a transformation agent, God calls us to be agents of change for the better, His co-workers, building up the kingdom of God until Christ comes again in glory at the end-time. We must do our best to transform prejudice into fairness, hate into peace, indifference into compassion, sorrow into joy, despair into hope, loneliness into community.

Let us go forth from this Eucharist today to do all the good we can, for all the people we can, as long as ever we can.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

How to Care

Lanfranco's Image of Miracle of Bread and Fish
The theme of hunger weaves in and out of the Old and New Testament. The most concrete teaching of Jesus about how to treat people can be found in his depiction of the Last Judgment in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25. Jesus proclaims that we will be judged by our positive response to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the prisoner. Yes, we love God to the extent that we care for our fellow humans.

There’s a blueprint about care in the corporal works of mercy:

Feed the hungry. In this, we feed Jesus himself. According to the latest United Nations report, 815 million people go hungry each day. We might contribute to Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul. The war in Syria has uprooted more than 11 million people, with hundreds killed just last week. The need for humanitarian aid is overwhelming. Closer to home, we may feed intellectually and spiritually hungry children by mentoring them in reading or writing, or volunteer in religious education.

Give drink to the thirsty. Energy and water conservation, re-cycling can demonstrate that we care about God’s creation. Pope Francis in his “Laudato Si” urges us to care for our common home, this earth.

Clothe the naked. What about a closet-cleaning? Do we really need all those clothes? Why not donate to St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store?

Shelter the homeless. Human beings deserve the dignity which come from having a place to come home to. Yes, government should provide systemic solutions, e. g., meaningful work. We also can support, e. g., Habitat for Humanity and Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul.

Visit the sick. The ill, especially terminally ill, need our presence, allowing them to talk about their lives, and to transcend feelings of loneliness.

Ransom the captive. Connected is the fight for human rights, political and religious freedom, the right of the unborn to life, the right of the elderly to dignity. Another dimension is concern for people in prisons, separated from and sometimes alienated from their families. We can visit to show someone cares, to share faith.

Finally, there is the work of mercy to bury the dead. We might reach out to mourners, not just at the funeral, but through their grieving process.

With lively imagination, we can think of a hundred and one ways to practice the so-called corporal works of mercy in our daily lives as Jesus calls us to do. On judgment day, our prayer is to hear God say to us: Come, inherit the kingdom. For I was hungry and you gave me food….

Yes, how we live today has profound-indeed eternal-consequences for us.  Don't live a life of regrets. To the extent that our lives are in our hands, do good today, not tomorrow.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

What Makes a Leader?

Jesus as our shepherd, our guide, our leader
The word of God today takes us back to a so-called prophet of doom and gloom named Jeremiah. The many kings of ancient Israel, he said, were bad shepherds. They lacked moral character. Jeremiah then looks to a future shepherd-king or leader who will do the right thing for his people.

The Gospel according to Mark portrays Jesus as the compassionate good shepherd or leader who guides us toward our true purpose: eternal life beyond this earthly life. But unfortunately many people, Jesus laments, are wandering about aimlessly with little sense of purpose. Jesus says they are like sheep without a shepherd.

The theme of leadership—or the lack thereof—weaves in and out of these two passages. In our political arena today, we may be wondering where are the Washingtons, Lincolns and Roosevelts of yesteryear.

Yes, what is leadership? An interesting book titled “Learning to Lead” describes “what makes a leader.”  Leaders possess at least five ingredients. They communicate purpose in a way that galvanizes people. They generate trust because they are truth tellers. They have a clear vision of the future and get results. Yes, leaders have a “can do” attitude. Think, for example, of the 12 children and their soccer coach in the Thailand cave. The scuba divers who rescued them exercised leadership. Above all, leadership involves moral character, an ethical sense of what's right and what's wrong.  In the final analysis, leadership is all about integrity.  And that's what many kings of ancient Israel lacked.

We too are leaders, in our families, in our workplaces, in our community.  And so, how do we cope with the challenges of life?  Here's some advice.

First, talk to God about the challenges or problems we face as we would with a friend. Bring them to God in prayer.

Second, trust that God is ultimately in control. Faith means trusting in God's unconditional love for us. Yes, it's hard to trust in God when things seem to be going wrong. But think, for example, about St. Paul. It must have been very difficult for him to see what good might come as he faced a trial on false charges. Read all about it in Acts 24-26.

Yet, as Paul wrote, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Romans 8:28) Paul's imprisonment resulted in him being sent to Rome where he preached the gospel, precisely what he wanted to do in the first place. Vast numbers of people have been inspired by Paul's story.

We may never know, in this life, how God uses us to achieve his purposes. Perhaps our prayer should be: Lord, thank you that you are with us. Through all the challenges of life, you work for the good of those who love you.

Keep praying, keep trusting in God, keep looking for opportunities to serve God and never, ever give up. Pray that God will give us the grace to persevere and carry on doing the right thing.

We have the potential to do great things for God. And with Jesus as our guide, our shepherd and our leader, we will indeed be leaders with purpose and vision, who generate trust and achieve results, men and women of moral character like Jesus, our good shepherd, in today's Gospel.