Tag Archives: homily

Homily Sunday OT 27 B – It Is Not Good that Man Should Be Alone

Instead of preaching on Marriage this Sunday, I spoke about something else, something tearing away at my heart in my current ministry, something of a rather urgent character in our world and in our Parish community. (For a Homily on Marriage, see below.)

It’s almost 30 minutes, but I encourage you to listen, because it speaks to one of the reasons why renewal in our Parish –– indeed in the whole Church –– is so deeply needed today.

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Homily – Sunday OT 27B – The Bond of Marriage

This is a repeat of my homily from 2015, but I felt it was worth republishing.

Gn 2:7, 15, 28-24
Ps 128       R. May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.
Heb 2:9-11
Mk 10:2-16

Once again, in today’s Gospel, we find the Pharisees placing their trust in their education and intelligence, and trying to trick Jesus. You see, the question they put to Jesus — Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? — was a trick, a double edged sword.

If Jesus said no, then He’d be disagreeing with what Moses taught, and that would make Him a blasphemer. If He said yes, then He’d have to choose His interpretation. That’s because the Pharisees themselves were divided on the matter. Some taught that a man could divorce his wife only for reasons of adultery; others that he could divorce his wife if she angered him (say, if she burned supper or broken something); and still others that he could divorce her simply because he didn’t want her any more. If Jesus answered yes, He’d have to choose one camp and have the other two as enemies. The Pharisees thought they had Jesus in a corner.

But, like in all other attempts to trick Him, Jesus outsmarts them. Instead of answering their question about divorce, Jesus speaks to them about Marriage: But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (Mk 10:6-9).

Instead of debating whether divorce was lawful or not, Jesus teaches about the meaning and reality of Marriage, and though His answer was short, He makes some very important points.

In making reference to the text of Genesis we heard in the first reading today, Jesus roots His answer in the will of God. God created man and woman, and He created them not for divorce but for partnership and union: This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh… Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh (Gn 2:23, 24).

By creating Eve from the rib of Adam, God created her as an equal: a partner not merely because she is of the same nature and being as Adam, but because she is his equal in matter and dignity. She comes from the same piece of clay, and the rib, being close to the heart, places them side by side, and not one above the other. Therefore, Jesus reminds the Pharisees of the dignity God gave women, and that women aren’t property that can be dismissed when no longer wanted.

In creating man and woman as equals and for partnership, their union as husband and wife isn’t a mere human experience: it’s God’s plan. Therefore, He is the one who binds them to one another in the union of Marriage.

The Church has always understood that in the exchange of vows to each other, a bride and groom give themselves to each other as gifts. They offer each other as a mutual exchange of persons: ‘I give myself to you as husband, and I receive you as wife’, and vice versa. And it’s this mutual gift of self to the other that makes Marriage a sacred covenant, because it’s done in totality: total self for life. The Council Fathers of Vatican II put it in this way:

The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other, a relationship arises which by divine will … is a lasting one. ~

Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them (Cf. Pius XI, Casti Connubii) (GS, 48 – emphasis added).

By making appeal to God’s plan in creation, this is what Jesus brings into the discussion. Just like Jesus can’t separate His humanity from His divinity, nor can I separate myself into two people, neither can husband and wife break the union they have established through their mutual gift of self. That’s why Jesus concludes, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (Mk 10:8). And why He insists that anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery (Mk 10:11-12).

Now over the years (and even in our own day!) many have misunderstood this truth about Marriage. Some have used it to keep people in abuse. The Church has never taught that someone has stay in an abusive relationship. In our Gospel passage, Jesus didn’t condemn separation; He condemned remarriage after divorce. Sometimes it may be necessary for someone in an abusive Marriage to live apart from their spouse. This is a sad and painful reality of our sinfulness. But such a separation doesn’t break the marital bond between the two; separated spouses are to continue to understand themselves as married, and to not attempt remarriage. And nor does legal divorce break the bond between husband and wife.

In some cases, though, the consent upon which the mutual exchange was built can be defective; that is, one or both people didn’t truly give themselves to each other. In such cases, the union can be declared null. That’s what we call a ‘declaration of nullity’ (wrongfully called an ‘annulment’); it’s not the Catholic version of divorce, but a declaration that, after careful study of the relationship, the bond of Marriage was never established; it was invalid. If a Marriage is declared ‘null’, then both parties are free to remarry.

This is the reality of Marriage: through the exchange of vows, a man and a woman are joined to each other so as to become one, and this union is for life. This was God’s plan in creating us male and female, that the two should come together for a communion of life and love. And this is a sacred union, one that reflects the Trinity and our union with Jesus (Eph 5:32); and one that’s revealed most beautifully in the Incarnation of Christ and in His Death on the Cross.

Let us pray today, then, for all married couples, especially those experiencing difficulties; for those preparing for Marriage; and for all the Bishops participating in the Synod on the Family, which opens today. Amen.

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Homily Sunday OT 12 C – Altar Crucifix

Zech 12:10-11
Ps 63         R/. My soul thirsts for you, O Lord my God.
Gal 3:26-29
Lk 9:18-24

No. 308 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which provides the rules for Mass, states that,

“…either on the altar or near it, there is to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, a cross clearly visible to the assembled people. It is desirable that such a cross should remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations…”



Sanctuary, Holy Name Church, Christmas 2016

That’s why, whenever you enter a Catholic church, a crucifix is the focus of your field of vision (or at least it should be).


So why an image of this cruel day, of this moment of torture, pain and death? Why not just an empty cross, clean and elegant? Well to put it simply: it’s not the Cross that saves us; it’s Christ! So then, why not an image of the risen Christ? Because it’s by His Death on the Cross that Jesus saves us, a Death He freely accepted. The Cross is His throne of glory! And so a Crucifix is a statement of faith, a proclamation of the divinity of Christ Jesus.

This is made clear in today’s Gospel reading, for as soon as Peter makes the confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One of God, Jesus begin to talk about His upcoming Passion and Death. And not just any kind of death: but specifically the Cross. The man who never sinned, the man who didn’t deserve to die, was to die a most horrible and humiliating death. And Jesus knew this was to happen; He knew this was His mission.

And it’s this very Passion and Death, along with His Resurrection, that we celebrate on the Altar at every Mass. And the Crucifix is there to remind us of that one sacrifice and of our participation in it. That’s why we gather and celebrate Mass facing the Crucifix; ideally I, too, would be facing it with you, when celebrating, offering with Christ His sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving and worship.

But it’s not just for this reason. In today’s Gospel, as He predicts His own Passion, Jesus also tells us that we, His disciples, must also share in His Passion, because, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading today, as many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal 3:27). We’ve been joined to Him by this wonderful Sacrament; therefore we, too, must take up our cross (Lk 9:23).

We must follow in the footsteps of our Lord, offering ourselves to the Father, growing in discipline and virtue through self-denial, bearing patiently with suffering and persecutions, all the while remaining faithful to the Father’s love for us. This is the only way to Heaven: the way of the Cross.

And no one said this would be easy! That’s why elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus refers to it as the narrow gate (Mt 7:13). But that’s why Jesus spent so much time in prayer, to show us how to do it, and that we cannot do it without Him. So we, too, must spend much time in prayer —everyday —, asking the Father to give us the grace to persevere; asking Jesus to forgive us our sins and strengthen us with His grace; asking the Holy Spirit for wisdom; and asking blessed Mary to comfort us along the way.

But it’s also why we journey as a community, because we’re not alone in carrying our cross. Just as Jesus had the help of Simon of Cyrene, so, too, we have each other to help us along the way. So it’s okay to ask each other for prayers and for help; it’s okay to offer someone a shoulder to cry one; it’s okay to speak of our struggles and ask for advice. In fact, it’s necessary for us to do these things!

This isn’t always easy, and it makes us very vulnerable, but this is how we grow closer to Christ and to each other; this is how we become a community in the true sense of the word: a group of people united to each other in truth, in faith, and in love. This is the way of the Cross; this is the way to Christ.

Jesus isn’t some mere prophet, teacher or leader; He is the Son of God, our Lord and our Saviour. He gave His life for us while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8), and He invites us to give Him our lives in return. Through His grace, may we have the courage and the faith to embrace the Cross He shares with us for our salvation. Amen.

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Homily – Christmas 2015: A Light for the Nations


“Nativity”, by Giotto. ca. 1311-1320.

Every year, on this day, churches are full, sometimes overflowing, with so many people. Why? Because our hearts are filled with joy! Children understand this very well. Ask any child about Christmas and they almost leap for joy and excitement, and wait for it with great anticipation. Given the freedom, I think many would give gifts to anyone they could. And this spirit of innocence and joy is contagious. Parents delight in watching the joy, excitement, and awe that their children feel when they open their gifts and play with their toys.

But, as you know, it’s not about the gifts. We don’t rejoice because of the gifts. Rather, the gifts symbolise our joy. We rejoice because of the Gift, the gift that God has given of Himself in His Son, and the love that He’s shown us through Him.

In the darkness of our lives, of sin and suffering, God has come down to us to bring us light and consolation, to bring us hope and salvation. God has come to us to bring us forgiveness and life. This is our joy! This is the cause for our hope! God hasn’t forsaken His people but has lowered Himself to become one of them to lead them from captivity into freedom, from death into life. God loves us too much to leave us in our sin and darkness; He Himself has come to get us. This is His great act of mercy! In the birth of Jesus, the doors of mercy have been opened! This is why we rejoice.

And what joy this Gift brings! We’re no longer under the shadow of evil, but in the light of love, God’s love. And this is what brings us together to celebrate and rejoice in this gift. Now there is hope for the sinner; now there is life for those who are dead in spirit; now there is faith for those who suffer. This is God’s great gift of Himself to us.

This is what we symbolise by giving gifts and lighting lights. We need no longer fear the darkness of sin and death; God has come to set us free. God has revealed Himself to us; He’s shown us His face, and it’s a face of love and mercy; a face that heals and that forgives; a face that brings us light and joy. And not just for a day, or even a season, but for eternity!

By entering into time, by become a man, God has forever changed us; nothing has ever been the same. By taking up flesh, God has married Himself to humanity in a Marriage that can never be undone. And He does this not with power and intimidation, but with gentleness and humility, with weakness and vulnerability. The Almighty has become a little child, weak and poor, completely dependant on His mother and father. He’ll experience fear, temptation, suffering, pain, and even death. And all of this for us! All of this because of His love for us, and for our salvation.

This love, this mercy, that God has shown us in becoming man, this is the light that He brings into our darkness. It’s no accident that Jesus was born in the middle of winter, in the darkest time of the year. When all of creation lies in the death of winter, God has come to bring life.

Jesus gives us this life by the gift of Himself: a gift that began in a manger and found its fulfilment on the Cross; a gift that He continues to share with us today through the Sacraments — most especially in Confession and the Eucharist. And He continues to give us this gift of Himself so that He might be born in us; so that in us, He may once again be made visible. When we receive Jesus in the Sacraments, our hearts are changed, our souls are healed, and His light once again shines in us so that God’s love and mercy may be made visible through us.

Celebrating Christmas, then, isn’t just about an event that took place two thousand years ago that changed the course of history. It’s about celebrating an event that’s still taking place; an event that’s still transforming humanity and all of creation; an event that continues to scatter our darkness so that we might live in the light of God’s love.

And so, as we gather today to rejoice in the gift of the birth of the Child Jesus, may we open wide our hearts to receive this Gift of gifts, this gift of love and mercy, allowing Jesus to shine within the depths of our being so that we might be transformed into a new people, a people who live in the Light of God, a people who live according to the love of God, a people who live as a light for the world, helping others to encounter the love and mercy that God has brought into our lives.

May we always seek — especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy — to be children of the light in the midst of a dark world that so desperately needs to hear and experience the love and the mercy of God. Through Mary and her intercession, may God be with us; may Jesus be birthed in us, so that our lost and suffering world might come to know the joy and hope of His love and mercy. Amen.

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Homily for Sunday OT 26 B – If your hand causes you to stumble…

Num 11:25-29
Ps 19   R/. The precepts of the Lord are right, and give joy to the heart.
Jam 5:1-6
Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

In our Gospel reading for today the Lord Jesus uses very strong imagery: If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off … if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off … if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out (Mk 9:43, 45, 47).

Obviously, He isn’t calling us to mutilate ourselves — I think we’d look like a sorry bunch if He were… But rather, Jesus is using this vivid imagery to help us understand His point: we need to do whatever it takes to avoid sin and reduce temptation. This is at the very heart of the life of virtue to which we’re called as Christians: to reject evil and choose the good (cf. Is 7:15).

The Lord is telling us that, in our struggle against sin and temptation, we need to eliminate from our lives everything that leads us into sin. If the Internet is leading us into sin, then we need to cancel it; if television is leading us into sin, then we need to get rid of it; if a particular friend or group of friends is leading us into sin, then we need to let them go and find new friends…

Jesus uses this strong language to help us understand how serious and committed we need to be in our battle against sin. This is rooted in the reality of how serious and deadly sin is for us. Sin is the road to Hell, and if we allow sin to take hold of us, that’s where it’ll lead us!

That’s why Jesus says, it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell (Mk 9:43). It’s better for us to live without friends, the Internet, or whatever… than to go to Hell. Now those are just random examples; each one of us needs to ask ourselves, what are the things I have, the actions I do, the people I know, and so on… that lead me into sin? What in my life makes it harder for me to refuse temptation? These are the hands, feet, and eyes Jesus is calling us to amputate; these are the things we need to shed in order to grow in virtue and enter into Heaven!

But in order for us to successfully avoid sin and refute temptation, we also need the desire not to sin and the desire to change our lives. That’s because the true causes of sin lie not outside of us, but within our own hearts. As Jesus told us a few weeks ago, [it’s] from the human heart that evil intentions come (Mk. 7:21). The external things we’re called to shed lead us into sin because we’re weak; they awaken in our hearts the desire for sin and weaken our desire to avoid sin. Getting rid of them, then, isn’t a guarantee of not sinning, but is intended to help us grow in our desire to avoid sin and to fight temptation; it strengthens us for the good fight.

That’s why most acts of contrition include a line like, I firmly intend, with the help of your grace, to amend my life and to avoid what ever leads me to sin. Confession isn’t about allowing us to continue sinning and get away with it; Confession is the failsafe, it’s the safety net Jesus has given us in case we fall! As St. John tells us, My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 Jn 2:1). Confession is the gift of God’s mercy because He wants us to be saved. He doesn’t want us to continue sinning, but rather, with His grace, He wants us to grow in virtue and holiness.

That’s why He’s also given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help our conscience discern what is good from what is evil, and to give us the grace, courage, and fortitude to refuse evil and choose the good.

May we, then, who profess the name of Jesus and hope in His mercy, be strengthened by His grace to remove from our lives whatever leads us into sin, so as to cling to what helps us grow in virtue and holiness. Amen.


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Homily for Sunday OT 21 B – John 6, The Bread of Life Discourse (part 5 of 5)

Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Ps 34         R/. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Eph 4:32-5:1-2, 21-32
Jn 6:53, 60-69

This Sunday, we wrap-up chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, the ‘Bread of Life Discourse’, as we continue with the core of Jesus’ explicit teaching on the Eucharist.

You’ll remember that last week we looked at how Jesus was very clear, through repetition and strong language, that He was speaking literally to the crowds: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (Jn 6:53). Today our Gospel takes up right where we left off and continues this very conversation with the crowds.

HolyEucharistOnce again, we see that the crowds have clearly understood that Jesus was being literal in asking them to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. And take note of John’s change in language: no longer is he speaking about the crowds of anonymous followers; now John tells us it’s Jesus’ own disciples who struggle with His words and say, This teaching is difficult; who can accept it? (Jn 6:60).

This question reinforces that Jesus is unmistakably saying that we must truly eat His Flesh and drink His Blood in order to have union with Him and divine life within us. I say this because, were Jesus only speaking figuratively, this question was an opportunity for Him to soften His teaching and change His words. ‘Relax, I’m only speaking symbolically’, He could have said… Jesus did just that for Nicodemus a few chapters earlier, when speaking of having to be born again (Jn 3:1-21, but especially vv. 3-5).

But here, Jesus doesn’t correct His disciples — precisely because they haven’t misunderstood! Rather, Jesus again continues to push the point: Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? (Jn 6:61-62). In other words, ‘you think this is difficult because you don’t realise who I am(!); if you knew that I am God, then you would accept my words and see that this is indeed true and possible…’ This will be part of Peter’s answer at the end of our Gospel (v. 69).

Jesus’ identity is at the heart of what He’s saying. This will come into play again at the Last Supper when Jesus institutes the Eucharist. You see, my brothers and sisters, the Word of God is alive and active (Heb 4:12); it has creative power: what the Word of God says comes into being, as we see in the first Creation account:

God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.
God said, … ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures … And it was so.
God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, … And it was so (Gen 1:1-26).

And again, in the Psalms: By His word the heavens were made, by the breath of his mouth all the stars (Ps 33:6).

My brothers and sisters, God’s Word is alive and active: it brings into being what it says. And so, at the Last Supper, when Jesus said the words of institution — this is my Body… this is my Blood —, through the power of His Divine Word, the bread and wine became His Body and Blood. And it’s this same mystery of the power of God’s Word that continues to act for us today in the Mass. Every time I extend my hands over the bread and wine, I do so to call down the Holy Spirit so that when I give my voice to Jesus to speak once again those very words, the Spirit transforms them, according to the words of Jesus, into the very Flesh and Blood of Jesus, crucified and risen. My brothers and sisters, our faith in the Eucharist as being truly the Body and Blood of Jesus rests solely on the authority and power of Jesus’ words. We believe because He said it would be so. This is why to believe in the Eucharist requires an act of faith: we must have faith that Jesus is who He says He is and that He has the power to do what He says He will do.

This is what Jesus is getting at as He continues His answer to His disciples: It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life (Jn 6:63). Jesus isn’t here undoing His previous statements; this isn’t Jesus telling us that it’s all just a metaphor. Rather, Jesus is precisely pointing us to the power of His word and His authority as being rooted in His divine nature: ‘The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life, because they are the Word of God! You cannot understand them by using the natural senses of the flesh, but only with the spiritual senses of faith’. This is why Jesus says again, For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father (Jn 6:65).

In other words, Jesus acknowledges that indeed it’s a difficult teaching, one that requires faith and trust in God in order to believe and understand. If we rely only on our physical senses, then we’ll see nothing more than bread and wine. But if we allow the Word of God to dwell in our hearts and strengthen our spirit, then we’ll come to recognise that it is indeed Jesus Himself who is present before us, hidden under the appearance of Bread and Wine. Belief in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist requires an act of faith; or rather, it is an act of faith!

For this reason, John tells us, many of [Jesus’] disciples turned back and no longer went about with him (Jn 6:66). This is the only place in the Gospels where we hear that some of Jesus’ disciple abandoned Him because of His teachings. So here again, had Jesus been speaking only symbolically or metaphorically He had an opportunity to correct their way of thinking… but He didn’t; He let them leave for their lack of faith in Him. How this must have saddened Him!

And we get a sense of that sadness as Jesus turns to the Apostles and asks them, Do you also wish to go away? (Jn 6:67). Jesus doesn’t doubt the faith of His Apostles, but rather, like Joshua in our first reading, He’s asking them to make a choice: ‘Will you follow them, or will you follow me?’ And isn’t this the perennial question that Jesus asks His disciples? Isn’t this the very question that Jesus asks us every time we gather for Mass: ‘Do you follow the world, or do you follow me?’

Manuscript Leaf with the Crucifixion from a Missal, Tempera and gold on parchment, Paris, ca. 1270-80.

Page from a Missal, Tempera and gold on parchment, Paris, ca. 1270-80.

In every age, the Christian is confronted with this difficult teaching on the Eucharist (as well as others). If the Cross is the stumbling block for Jews and Gentiles (cf. 1 Cor 1:22-23), then the Eucharist is the stumbling block for Christians. And how many, over the centuries, have left Jesus on this very point! Did you know that only Catholics and Orthodox accept Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist and believe that He is truly and substantially present in the Eucharist, that the bread and wine truly become His Flesh and Blood? This is one of the major reasons why Protestants left the Church; they couldn’t accept this teaching! (Interestingly, it’s also one the truths that frequently brings them back!)

And so it’s not by accident that Peter is the one who responds, both for the Apostles and for Christians of every age: Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life (Jn 6:68). In these words, we get a sense that Peter and the Twelve also struggle with Jesus’ teaching, but since they know He’s the Son of God — We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God (Jn 6:69) — they’re willing to overcome their lack of understanding by placing their faith in Him. In other words, ‘We, too, find this a hard teaching, but who else can we follow? Only you are the Son of God; only you are the Messiah, the Christ. If we stopped following you, we’d be lost and spiritually dead. We don’t understand, but we believe in you, and because we believe in you, we also believe your words’. That’s why Peter’s response is really a double act of faith: faith in Christ and faith in the Eucharist; faith in God and faith in the Word of God.

And so one question remains: What will be our answer? Will we stumble on this teaching and turn away from Jesus, or will we stay close to Him, like the Apostles, and pray: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief! (cf. Mk 9:24)?

I invite now to kneel.

[Kneeling toward the Tabernacle:]

Lord Jesus Christ, we firmly believe that you are truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. Humbly kneeling before you, in union with all the faithful on earth, we adore you and worship you with all our heart. Grant, O Lord, that we, who declare our faith in this fountain of your love and mercy, may drink from it the water of everlasting life. Amen.

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Homily for Sunday OT 19 B – John 6, The Bread of Life Discourse (part 3 of 5)

1 Kings 19:4-8
Ps 34         R/. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Eph 4:30-5.2
Jn 6:41-51

We continue this Sunday with chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, the ‘Bread of Life Discourse’.

Once again, John tells us how the people refuse to believe what Jesus is saying to them; they refuse to see beyond mere appearances to see the truth that underlies them: Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’? (Jn 6:42). Precisely because they only see Jesus as a mere man, they can’t believe His words. They still only believe that He is a Prophet like those before Him; they don’t believe — and therefore can’t understand — His divine origins. This reminds us of Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus in chapter 3 (Jn 3:1-21). The crowds are only hearing and seeing with their human senses, with human logic, and not with spiritual senses or looking to understand God’s logic.

And yet, again, this lifting up of the heart and mind to God is precisely what Jesus is trying to awaken in them. As I mentioned last week, faith is what Jesus is trying to arouse in them; faith is what will allow them to see beyond the mere physical to reach the spiritual realities. So that begs the question, then, what is faith?

Jesus tells us, No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me (Jn 6:44a). This tells us that faith is first and foremost a gift: God is the one who gives us faith as He draws us to Himself; it isn’t something that we give ourselves or even something that we take. But we mustn’t be simplistic with what this means: we can’t go around saying, ‘Well, I don’t believe because I just haven’t yet received the gift of faith’ as if it’s something that’ll fall out of the sky someday.

If we take the time to read the Bible, specifically the ongoing story of our relationship with God, and really listen to it, we’ll come to understand that from the very beginning God has been drawing us to Himself. That’s why He created us, and that’s why He continued to speak to us through His messengers and Prophets. God is constantly inviting us, drawing us to Himself; that’s why He sent His Son Jesus to come and bring us to Himself! Drawing us to the Father is precisely Jesus’ mission; salvation is the consequence of accepting this invitation and being one with the Father.

Faith, then, is a gift in so far as it’s the invitation that God makes to us to be in relationship with Him. And it’s a gift because He initiates it. But that’s only the first part. For any invitation to bear fruit, it needs to be accepted! That’s why Jesus told us last Sunday, This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent (Jn 6:29). In order for us to have faith, we must accept the words of Jesus and believe that He is who He says He is; we must give Him the assent of our will. We need to accept that God wants us, that He has the ability to communicate with us, and that He has sent His Son Jesus to establish a relationship with us. Then, and only then, can faith begin to take root in us and grow. And so, in a sense, faith is also a choice.

We see this most especially in the stories of Abraham and Moses, but also with Elijah as we heard in the first reading today. The Bible tells us that faith is hearing and obeying God’s word. It isn’t a vague idea of simple belief, but a concrete action of obedience. Elijah received the word of the Angel to eat and to journey, and he obeyed; Moses heard the voice of God in the burning bush telling him to return to Egypt and free Israel from slavery, and he obeyed; Abraham heard the voice of God to leave his land, and he obeyed. Obedience to God’s words is the beginning of faith, and is a necessary dimension of the Bible’s understanding of faith. (For more on this, listen to Stephen Ray’s talk Abraham: Revealing the Historical Roots of Our Faith, by Lighthouse Catholic Media.)

This is what Jesus is trying to help the crowds understand. But because they can’t see beyond mere appearances, because they don’t believe that God can do the humanly impossible, their hearts are closed to Jesus’ words. As John tells us at the beginning of his Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. […] He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God (Jn 1:1, 10-12).

Unless we believe that Jesus is who He says He is — the God-made-flesh, the incarnate Son of the Father — then everything He says to us is useless. Jesus’ credibility is rooted in His identity, and, as He tells us Himself, He is the only way to know the Father (cf. Jn 14:6). That’s why Jesus continues, only the Son knows the Father and whoever believes has eternal life (Jn 6:47). Jesus will later clarify this at the last supper, And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (Jn 17:3).

All this is important, because unless we believe in Jesus, unless we give Him the assent of our will and have faith in Him, then we will not find credibility in His words. And unless we find His words credible, we will never come to believe that He means what He says: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (Jn 6:51).

To believe in the Eucharist is to believe Jesus’ words. But in order to believe in His words we must accept them. This is why it’s so important for us to pray. As we’ll hear over the next two weeks, Jesus’ teachings are sometimes difficult to accept and it’s much easier for us to take the easy route and justify to ourselves that He’s merely speaking symbolically, or using hyperbole and exaggeration to make a point. Only in prayer, only by seeking out the one who seeks us, will we be truly drawn into the mystery of God, into the mystery of the Eucharist, into the mystery of faith.

That’s why Jesus paraphrases the words of the Prophets Isaiah (Is 54:13) and Jeremiah (Jer 31:33ff): And they shall all be taught by God (Jn 6:45). There’s a double meaning in this verse: first, God is teaching them in that very moment through Jesus, the Son of God; and second, the Holy Spirit continues to teach us today in prayer. In prayer, God teaches us, heals us, strengthens our faith, and draws us ever deeper into Himself.

I invite you now to kneel.

Pope Francis carries a monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament during the Corpus Christi observance May 30 in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)  (May 30, 2013) See POPE-CORPUSCHRISTI May 30, 2013.

Pope Francis carries a monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament during the Corpus Christi observance May 30 in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (May 30, 2013).

[Kneeling toward the Tabernacle:]

Lord Jesus Christ, we firmly believe that you are truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. Humbly kneeling before you, in union with all the faithful on earth, we adore you and worship you with all our heart. Grant, O Lord, that we, who declare our faith in this fountain of your love and mercy, may drink from it the water of everlasting life. Amen.

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On a side note, an excellent book to learn more about faith and how to grow in it, see The Gift of Faith, by Fr. Tadeusz Dajczer.

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Homily for Sunday OT 18 B – John 6, The Bread of Life Discourse (part 2 of 5)

Ex 16:2-4, 12-15, 31a
Ps 78         R/. The Lord gave them bread from heaven.
Eph 4:17, 20-24
Jn 6:24-35

In our Gospel this week we continue with Jesus’ ‘Bread of Life Discourse’. Last week we introduced the scene with the multiplication of the loaves and fish. This miracle was followed by Jesus staying behind in prayer while His disciples took a boat to Capernaum across the sea. He later joined them by walking on water. The lectionary skips this section to focus on the Jesus’ teaching about the Eucharist.

Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, fresco by Raphael 1509–1510, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City.

Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, fresco by Raphael 1509–1510, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City.

Our Gospel today begins with the crowds, who took other boats back to Capernaum, surprised to see Jesus already there. They knew He had stayed behind while His disciples left, and they knew that He hadn’t taken a boat with them, so they were puzzled as to how Jesus got there, and so quickly. This is part of John’s use of irony: they know that Jesus somehow pulled off the impossible, but the crowds don’t understand. They witnessed the multiplication of the loaves, but don’t see what’s really happening. This’ll come up again in just a bit in verse 30.

Continuing last week’s dialogue, Jesus challenges the crowds that they’re only following Him to fill their bellies (v.26). They’re impressed by His capacity to supply for their needs, but don’t understand what He’s trying to say to them through the multiplication. They want Him for what He can do for them, nor for who He is: Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves (v. 26).

But in that miracle, Jesus was only using the bread as a symbol of something greater. He was using the physical to point toward the spiritual. That’s why He now tells them to look beyond the bread: Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you (v. 27). Bodily food keeps our bodies alive, but does little for the soul. Jesus has come not merely to save the body, but primarily to save our souls. (All the healing miracles of the Bible point to this reality.)

In the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus is pointing us to the fact that He’s the one who gives us spiritual food, food that will heal and strengthen our souls and sustain us on our journey to heaven. This part of the discourse is similar to the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman by the well a couple of chapters earlier (Jn 4:11-15). As one commentary I consulted put it,

On that occasion Jesus was speaking about water springing up to eternal life; here, he speaks of bread coming down from heaven to give life to the world. There, the woman was asking Jesus is he was greater than Jacob; here the people want to know if he can compare with Moses (The Navarre Bible: Gospel & Acts, notes on Jn 6:28-43).

In other words, ‘Moses gave us manna, daily bread from heaven’, they said; ‘what can you do?’ Whether they forgot the miracle that just happened or were challenging Jesus to reveal more power, I can’t say, but again, it’s obvious that they just don’t recognise who Jesus is.

You see, miracles don’t produce faith. They can strengthen faith, and even awaken a weak faith, but they can’t produce faith where it doesn’t exit. That’s because miracles never satisfy those who have no faith: they will always find ways to ‘explain’ them or always ask for more power to be shown. Miracles can never satisfy those who have no faith.

And isn’t faith just what He wanted from them? In verse 28 they asked Jesus, What must we do to perform the works of God? He responded, This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent (v. 29). Notice how Jesus switches from the plural to the singular: the people asked, What must we do to perform the works of God?, and Jesus replies, This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent (vv. 28-29). Faith(!) is the work of God. But the people don’t understand because they don’t have faith. And faith is precisely what Jesus is trying to arouse in them, because faith is what will allow them to see beyond the mere physical to reach the spiritual realities that underlie them.

So Jesus continues: it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven (v. 32). Moses wasn’t the source of the miracle of the manna; he was merely the instrument that helped them to see that God was providing for their daily needs on their journey to the Promised Land. This daily bread was only a prefiguring of what God was going to do in the fullness of time: send His Only Begotten Son, Jesus, to bring life to the world (cf. Jn 10:10). And notice how Jesus switches from the past tense (it was not Moses who gave you) to the present tense (it is my Father who gives you); the heavenly bread is being given to them now. And Jesus continues to give us this heavenly bread today!

That’s why Jesus says, For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world (v. 33). And what is that bread, or rather who is that bread come down from heaven? I am the bread of life, says Jesus, I am the food that endures for eternal life (v. 27). Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (v. 35).

I invite you now to kneel.

[Kneeling toward the Tabernacle:]

Lord Jesus Christ, we firmly believe that you are truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. Humbly kneeling before you, in union with all the faithful on earth, we adore you and worship you with all our heart. Grant, O Lord, that we, who declare our faith in this fountain of your love and mercy, may drink from it the water of everlasting life. Amen.

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Homily for Sunday OT 17 B – John 6, The Bread of Life Discourse (part 1 of 5)

2 Kings 4:42-44
Ps 145       R/. You open your hand to feed us, Lord; you satisfy all our needs.
Eph 4:1-6
Jn 6:1-15

Christ_feedingIf you remember, on Holy Thursday when we read the Gospel of John’s account of the Last Supper, John doesn’t speak much about the Eucharist, at least not explicitly. Instead of the Institution Narrative — which we have in the other three Gospels —, John gives us the washing of the feet. Now, that’s not because John doesn’t value the Eucharist! Rather, it’s because he had already given us a strong and profound eucharistic theology. In fact, he takes a whole chapter to do so — chapter 6, which has come to be called “The Bread of Life Discourse” —, and it’s this account that we begin to read today (and which we’ll continue to read over the next five weeks).

Over these weeks, I want to unpack this event and discourse so that we can come to a deeper understanding of what John teaches us about the Eucharist, because it’s the heart of our Faith and what we do every time we celebrate Mass. This week, we only get a taste of this as we begin the discourse and John sets the scene for what Jesus will teach us.

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Throughout his whole Gospel, John works to show us how Jesus is the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and reveals to us the Father’s glory (cf. Jn 1:29; 8:31-36). In chapter 6, John puts all of this together in a powerful way as he leads us closer to the Last Supper and the Cross, the high point of Jesus’ self-revelation (His ‘glory’) and the moment of fulfilment of His mission.

That’s why John is careful to tell us that this whole speech on the Bread of Life takes place just before the Passover. (If you remember, the Passover was the great festival of the Jews that celebrated their freedom from slavery to Egypt and involved the sacred meal of lamb and unleavened bread. (see Ex 12))

And notice the similarities of this scene with that of our first reading: Elisha also multiplied barley loaves to feed a crowd. But Jesus feeds a much larger crowd (5000) with fewer loaves (5). Here John is telling us that Jesus is also a Prophet like Elisha, but a much greater Prophet (cf. v. 14).

In verse 11, John writes: Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them… The word John uses here to say ‘give thanks’ is ‘eucharist’ — that’s what the word Eucharist means, to ‘give thanks’. This points forward to the Last Supper when Jesus will again say and do the same: after giving thanks he gave it to them (Mt 26:27; Mk 14:23; Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24).

Lastly, notice, how in our final verse today, the people don’t get it: they were about to come and take him by force to make him king (v. 15). They wanted to make Jesus king not because of who He was, but because of what He had done: He fed them; they wanted to make Him king because He filled their bellies (cf. v. 26). They only saw the outward sign, but didn’t understand the inward reality; they saw the power to multiply, but didn’t see the God who stood in front of them, veiled in the appearance of a man. In this, too, John is pointing us toward the Eucharist, which is the true Flesh and Blood of Christ, the true and real presence of God in our midst, veiled under the appearance of bread and wine.

This opens for Jesus the opportunity to explain what He will do in the Last Supper and on the Cross. May it also open for us a journey into the Heart of Jesus to see beyond mere appearances, beyond the veil of appearances, to recognise the true and abiding presence of Jesus, the God who loves us and gives Himself to us so that we might have life in Him and have it in abundance (cf. John 10:10).

I invite you now to kneel.

[Kneeling toward the Tabernacle:]

Lord Jesus Christ, we firmly believe that you are truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. Humbly kneeling before you, in union with all the faithful on earth, we adore you and worship you with all our heart. Grant, O Lord, that we, who declare our faith in this fountain of your love and mercy, may drink from it the water of everlasting life. Amen.

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Homily – Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

Vigil Mass:
Acts 3:1-10
Ps 19        R. Their voice goes out through all the earth.
Gal 1:11-20
Jn 21: 15-19
Mass during the Day:
Acts 12:1-11
Ps 34        R. The Lord has set me free from all my fears.
2 Tim 4:6-8, 17-18
Mt 16:13-19


In our times today, many people want to pit St. Peter and St. Paul against each other. St. Peter, they say, was the Apostle who wanted everyone to obey him; he was authoritarian, that’s why he’s the first Pope: everyone had to listen to him and follow his lead. St. Paul, on the other hand, was independent; he was the firebrand Apostle who was never afraid to speak, didn’t play by the rules, and went wherever he felt the Spirit was leading him. In this way, he was the first Protestant, they say, and a truer disciple of Christ…

Nothing could be further from the truth! In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke clearly sates that the disciples of Jesus were of one heart and soul (4:32). Their union with God translated visibly into a union with each other; this was a hallmark of the early Christian community! Sts. Peter and Paul were no different: both dedicated their lives to preaching Christ and bringing people to repentance and union with God; both laid down their lives for Jesus in the Roman persecutions of Nero (64-68 AD). Both believed with one heart, preached with one heart and died with one heart. It’s for these and other reasons that the Church has held, nearly from the beginning (ca. 258 AD), a solemn feast to celebrate these two Apostles together.

When Jesus first called Peter to become a disciple, it was from the shore, as Peter and his brother Andrew were fishing. Jesus said to them, follow me, and they did (Mt 4:18-20). When Jesus was walking on water, he called out to Peter and said, come (Mt 14:29). Peter himself later even said, Look, we have left everything and followed you (Mt 19:27).

But when Jesus was arrested, and the other Apostles left Jesus, Peter, who had claimed he would follow Jesus unto death (Mt 26:33, 35), followed Him only at a distance (Mt 26:58) and even went on to deny Jesus three times (Mt 26:69-74).

After the Resurrection, Jesus again appeared to Peter from the shore. Three times He asked, Peter do you love me? (Jn 21:15-19). Having said yes, Jesus, once again called him, Follow me (Jn 21:19). And this time Peter did, even unto death. Having experienced the depths of Jesus’ love — Jesus never gave up on Peter, never rejected him, never condemned him —, Peter finally gave himself over to God’s love: Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (Jn 21:17). And because of this abandonment to God’s love, the Holy Spirit was able to transform Peter from a man of fear and denial into one of courage and fidelity. We see this very clearly on that first Pentecost, as Peter preached the first homily and baptised 3000 people.

For his part, St. Paul started out as what he thought was a perfect Jew (Phil 3:4b-6). He was zealous for God and the Law, and strove with all his power to perfectly obey the will of God. That’s why he was able to approve of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1), and dedicate himself to stopping the Christians (Acts 8: 1, 3; 9:1-2).

But then Paul heard God’s voice: I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting (Acts 9:5). The man who once arrested Christians and would have happily killed them for God, was now awakened to God’s true identity. Paul’s zeal for the Law had blinded him to God’s identity, but God, in His loving mercy, reached out to him and turn his zeal for the Law into a zealous love for God and people. Jesus, in His mercy, called Paul to repent and be an instrument of salvation (Acts 9:15). St. Paul spent the rest of his life helping others to love and follow Jesus.

My dear brothers and sisters, our weaknesses and sins only become obstacles to following Jesus when we keep them away from Him. When we accept Jesus’ love and mercy, and give ourselves over to Him, allowing His love to transform us, our sins become shadows of the past and our weaknesses, sources of strength. Jesus was able to turn an impetuous, quick-tempered apostate and a prideful accomplice to murder into two of the greatest Saints of the Church. He turned their stubbornness and zeal into instruments of salvation for the world, and their bodies into sacrificial offerings to God. If He can do that with Peter and Paul, what will He accomplish with us if we follow Him?

As we remember these two giants of faith — upon whose faith we stand today as Roman Catholics —, may we turn to them for their example and invoke their intercessions, as we strive to give our hearts over to Jesus, so that with them, we too, might be of one heart and soul with Christ and with all believers. Amen.


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