Archive for July, 2015

Integrating the Old and the New

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Thursday of the 17th Week in Ordinary Time

Ex 40: 16-21, 34-38; Mt 13:47-53

Deacon Larry Brockman

What a challenge Jesus gives his disciples today! You see, Jesus asks them if they understand “all these things”.

The parable of the fish, it seems to me, is pretty simple. God will separate the good from the bad at the Last Judgement, just like a fisherman separates fish caught in a net. The Disciples all got it too, they understood Jesus’ parable. And so, the Disciples boldly say “yes”, they understood.  But then came the challenge, the part about bringing forward the “old” and the “new”.

Bible scholars have suggested that Jesus was telling the disciples that if they understood the parables in his preaching, and so, understood his teaching, then they must become like wise householders who learn to store up and use both old and new riches. So, Jesus is challenging the Disciples to learn how to use the “Old” with the “New”- how to integrate Jesus teaching with the classical teachings of the Jewish Faith. Specifically, Jesus was referring to all of the stories and history in the Old Testament. Jesus was challenging the Disciples to open the Jewish Scriptures and interpret them in the light of Jesus’ teaching. Indeed, since Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecy of a Messiah, then God’s word was not written down without purpose for us. There are multiple layers in the Old Testament; and these old riches need to be shared even today by those who understand.

With all that in mind, just what is it that we should take away with us from that first reading today? How can we interpret the story about Moses, the Ark of the Covenant, and the moveable dwelling that Moses constructed in the light of the New Testament and the Gospel?

Well, I couldn’t help but notice the parallel between the Ark of the Covenant and our Tabernacle. Truly, God is present in the Tabernacle that all of us see every time we enter this Church, and indeed, every Catholic Church, just like God came down in the cloud and rested on the Ark of the Covenant, and so was present to the Israelis.

Now it is very clear that the people, and even Moses, were fearful of this manifestation of the Lord. Ironic, isn’t it, when you think about it. In the Old Testament, the Lord manifests himself in clear, unmistakable ways to the people of God during the Exodus. Whether it was in the fire and lightning and smoke at Mount Sanai or in the cloud surrounding the Dwelling housing the Ark of the Covenant, there was something truly extraordinary about these manifestations. And the Israelites were struck with fear and terror at these sights, all of which mandated that they respect and honor God.

But rather than manifest himself in fire and smoke or in a cloud, Our Lord manifests himself in the Eucharist, his own Body and Blood, as a tiny wafer of bread consecrated by the Priest. We keep it in reserve in our Tabernacles. But our response should be the same as the Israelis: a healthy level of fear of God and respect.

Have you thought about that much recently- a show of respect for Jesus in the Tabernacle? Because you see, that is one of the things that is just so significant about being Catholic. When one walks into a Protestant Church, it is just a building, like any other building with four walls. But when one walks into a Catholic Church, God is there, almighty God! So, this Church is Holy Ground- and should be respected, just as the Israelites respected the Ark and its dwelling.

And then the Exodus story continues with all of the words about following the Lord. When the cloud lifted and left; that was the time for the Israelis to leave. Likewise, when we consume the Lord in the Eucharist, we leave and go out into the world after Mass. We are called to follow after Jesus example in the Gospel, just as the Israelites followed the Lord and his Ark of the Covenant.

Do you understand all these things? Because then you, too, have to integrate the Old with the New. You are challenged to respect the God of our ancestors in his ever-present form in our Tabernacle. And you are challenged to live the Gospel when you leave here with the Lord dwelling within you. And that is a real challenge.

What Are You Hungry For?

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

2 Kgs 4: 42-44; Eph 4: 1-6; Jn 6: 1-15

Deacon Larry Brockman

What are you hungry for? Just exactly what are you looking for as nourishment?

Today we hear two stories about people who are hungry for something. The first one is about a group of people who were physically starving. A famine had struck the land, and there was no food anywhere. The people were just desperate for survival. And so, Elisha prays for help. Then, the man arrives from another area with meager provisions- just 20 barley loaves. Elisha trusts that his prayer has been answered, and commands that these 20 loaves be shared with all 100 people. What a leap of faith! And yet, the last line of the first reading tells it all: “And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the Lord had said.” God had been trusted; and he had provided what the people needed when they needed it, with some left over for good measure.

Chances are, those people needed to satisfy more than their physical hunger. They needed to know how to live life in a more meaningful way. But they were so focused on their physical needs that they couldn’t see the way out. The fact is, life is always more complex than our physical needs. Our spiritual needs are the most critical ones- but we can become so set in our physical lives that we don’t recognize it. We can become so wrapped up in our world, that we forget that God is there for us, and so, left to our own devices in this world, we starve.

Fortunately, Elisha had faith; he knew what was really important and where to turn. And through his faith in God, the people were spared; Elisha was showing them the way.

Then picture this: Over a thousand pass, and this scene unfolds in the hills of the Holy Land. Jesus finds thousands of people wandering out into the wilderness to follow him. Why? Because he has shown them that there is more meaning to life than their physical needs. They have wandered off without food and water just to hear Jesus, hoping to see a miracle, hoping his unique message will move them, hoping that things will be different in their lives. And in an ironic twist, Jesus’ first concern is their physical well-being! He feeds them with food before feeding them with the message on the bread of life. That message on the bread of life follows next in the Gospel of John.

Indeed, it was no accident that the crowd that Jesus fed miraculously was fed with Barley Loaves, just as the crowd that Elisha fed had been fed with barley loaves. Jesus is drawing attention to the Old Testament miracle to make a point- that the real salvation of mankind is not the sustenance that the world provides, but rather, the “bread of life”; and that such bread of life comes only through God.

I think that as we get older, our aches and pains and physical comfort can be a real obstacle to us in our spiritual life. We are reminded of these discomforts by our bodies in almost every moment of our consciousness. Some of us are sensitive in our diets or appetites; some can’t sleep regularly; some need special medications to relieve pain or to keep us going; some need help getting around; some need help thinking things through; and so, all of us can become preoccupied with just getting along from moment to moment. This preoccupation dulls our ability to see what is really important in life- a hunger for the Kingdom of God.

All of these physical limitations, and indeed even hunger itself, should remind us that life is very fragile. It is a gift from God; and God controls our destiny. So, we should look to God for our sustenance. We should put our trust in him and ask for what is his will for us. It’s hard to do that; our bodies broadcast louder signals to catch our attention. But ultimately, we will not be free of all of our ills until we enter the Kingdom of God.

So, as you receive the Eucharist in a few minutes today, recognize that you are receiving the bread of life, Jesus Christ, himself, into your very being. Capture that moment, and ask Jesus to satisfy your real hungers in life- the peace of mind that only God can provide in the Kingdom of God.

Opening Our Minds and Hearts to God

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

Thursday of the 16th Week in Ordinary Time

Ex 19: 1-2, 9-11, 16-20b; Mt 13:10-17

Deacon Larry Brockman

Just a few weeks ago, thunder and lightning struck my house. In a split second, my world suddenly stood still. As I busily worked away on my computer, I suddenly heard a shot like a cannon, and saw a flash of blinding light. It was as if time stood still- and yet, it was all over in a fraction of a second! My well controller, my TV, my hi-fi, my computer, and my ham radio station were all decimated in that split second; but miraculously, Jane and I were OK.  It was terrifying.

With that in mind, can you just imagine for a moment what it must have been like to be in that crowd of Israelites standing at the foot of Mount Sinai when the Lord made His presence known on that third day? There was deafening thunder, constant lightning, and fire consuming this vast mountain, right in their midst, virtually surrounding them- with the mountain wreathed in thick smoke, not just for an instant, but for an extended period of time.

You would think that God’s word to Moses after he ascended that mountain and came down with the ten commandments, would be something that everybody that lived through that experience would respect and honor and keep out of sheer respect for the awesome power that was Almighty God. Yet, that was not the case. Rather, the Exodus continued with the Israelis constantly whining and complaining and disobeying the law.

So, what is the lesson learned for us? Well, even if God hits us over the head directly with a loud and unmistakable message, we can easily miss it or forget it. So, then, what works? How best can God communicate with our human nature so that we “get it”, and keep it?

Well, along came Jesus and the New Order a couple of thousand years later that we hear about in our Gospel. Jesus calls a few simple minded folks to join him as Apostles and Disciples. They were nothing special by worldly standards- fisherman, tax collectors, and common folk. And Jesus goes out preaching the New Order to the crowd, not directly, but in parables.

When the Apostles ask him “why parables for the crowd?”, they got this answer: “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted”. So, I ask you, what did Jesus mean by that? Just how was this knowledge granted to the Apostles? By Faith and Grace, that’s how. The Apostles came to believe in Jesus, and by the grace of God, they went away many times after hearing Jesus speak, thought about it; pondered it in their minds. And then came to certain conclusions, to a certain “knowing” about who Jesus was and what it all meant. The peals of thunder and flashes of lightning didn’t work with the Israelis- but Faith and Grace and quiet reflection did work for the Apostles.

You know what, thousands of years have passed since this Gospel scene, and we are the people in the crowd today­- a people who are looking for a miracle; a strong, unmistakable message from God; a vision for the future. Like the crowd in Jesus time, we are looking for the easy way out, but we are not going to get it because our ears are not tuned in and our eyes are blind. Rather, Jesus speaks to us best through the legacy of the Gospel in parables; parables that have multiple layers of meaning; parables that we have to go away and read over and over again. And by Faith and Grace and reflection, we will have our eyes and ears and minds opened to the truth.

So, do yourself a favor. Set aside some time to do just that. Seek God in his Word to us, and study and ponder it. Take advantage of the many opportunities available to you to listen and reflect on God and his Word.  Then your eyes and ears and mind will be opened to the truth.