Friday, June 18, 2010

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Zech 12:10-11, 13:1; Gal 3:26-29; Lk 9:18-24

Philosophers and theologians speak about two kinds of knowledge. The first one is “conceptual knowledge” which also is known as “head knowledge”. An example would be the knowledge that 2 plus 2 is equal to four or that the moon is smaller than the sun. The other kind is “evaluative knowledge” which also is called “heart knowledge”. My mother’s love for me is something that I know not only from the head but from the heart. It is something that I know experientially. This conviction is an example of an evaluative knowledge.

The distinction is important because sometimes we know things intellectually but we do not value them in our hearts. For example, one may know that loving the neighbor is a way of loving God, but that knowledge does not make him act on it. Another person may know that justice is a Christian virtue and he acts on this by working fairly with others in his office and in his community. The latter is an example of evaluative knowledge because the person not only understands but also makes his own the value that he knows. He manifests his love of the value by putting it into practice.

The two kinds of knowledge also qualify the kind of relationship we have with God. Can you imagine a person who has great knowledge about God, about Jesus and the mysteries of the faith but lacking of a meaningful relationship with a personal God? The person knows about Jesus but he doesn’t really know him personally.

Jesus’ question “What do people say about me?” was really quite different to his other question “Who do you say I am?” Actually, he was not really concerned about what people say about him. To be praised or to be appreciated was least of his concerns. What mattered to him at that moment was his disciples’ knowledge of him. Do they really know me already? Are we really friends? Have we opened up to each other enough? At one point in John’s gospel, Jesus told his disciples: “From now on I call you friends because I have already made known to you everything I learnt from my Father.” Intimacy or friendship involves self-disclosure and this was something that mattered a lot to the Lord. He wanted his disciples to be his friends, to possess an evaluative knowledge of him.

What about us? Who do we say Jesus is? Do we know Jesus personally? What kind of relationship do we have with him?

Intimacy or deep friendship is only possible when the people involved are willing to give their quality time. Many parents come to me every now and then with all their complaints about their children. “I don’t understand my son”, “I’m not sure if I still know my daughter”. The complaints speak a lot of truth. How much quality time do children have with their parents? How much time do parents have with their children? Years ago, a reliable survey informed us that children have more time in front of television than with their parents. I guess today, children have more time listening to their Ipod than to their parents. How then can meaningful relationships be established in the family if people have no time for each other? If we don’t change our ways, I’m afraid many families will suffer and we will end up not knowing each other well.

And it’s the same thing with our relationship with God. If we are not willing to give God our time, we will never know him well. By our human capacity, we cannot understand or know God; it is God who makes himself known to us. All we need to do is to open our hearts to him. Pope Benedict XVI encourages people to establish a personal relationship with Jesus. He says that the only way to know God’s will is to have a personal experience with Jesus. The pope made the point that God always wants to relate intimately with us through Jesus.

I would like to end my homily with a short story with the hope that we too will come to know God from our hearts.

A famous actor was invited to a function where he was asked to recite for the pleasure of the guests. Having recited a few common verses, he asked if there was anything in particular they wanted to hear. After a moment or two, an old pastor asked to hear Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd”. The actor paused for a moment and then said, “I will, but on one condition – that you will recite it also, after I have finished.”

The pastor was taken by surprise. “I’m hardly a public speaker, but if you wish, I shall recite too.”

The actor began quite impressively. His voice was trained and his intonation was perfect. The audience was spellbound and when he finished, there was great applause from the guests. Now it was the old pastor’s turn to recite the same psalm. His voice was not remarkable, his tone was not faultless, but when he finished, there was not a dry eye in the room.

The actor rose and his voice quivered as he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I reached your eyes and your ears; he has reached your hearts. The difference is this: I know the Psalm but he knows the Shepherd.”

(The story is from the book Throw Fire by John Fuellenbach, S.V.D)

Friday, June 11, 2010

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

2 Sam 12:7-10, 13; Gal 2:16, 19-21; Lk 7:36-8:3

When we hear the word “sinner”, we immediately think of an arrogant neighbor, an unfaithful spouse, a corrupt government official, a prostitute, or a shrewd businessman. Yet, when Jesus says “I have come to call sinners”, he is referring not only to the persons we mentioned but to us. We are the people who have fallen short of God’s expectations. Each one of us is a sinner, a violator, or an offender. And so, every time we hear the word “sinner”, we might as well remember ourselves and our failures. If we hear the word “sinner” and start to think only of other people, we are guilty of the sin of self-righteousness.

Simon the Pharisee is a perfect example of a self-righteous person. In his heart, he condemns the woman who is expressing to Jesus a significant amount of care. “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner” (Lk 7:39). Simon considers the woman immoral and shameful, but he fails to see his own shortcomings. He invited Jesus to his house but he has not provided him the usual hospitality for a guest. Jesus has to remind him this: “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment” (Lk 7:44-46). For Jesus, the intruding woman, not Simon, merits praise. She deserves not condemnation but commendation for her warm expression of gratitude.

Jesus offers a simple story to explain the woman’s extraordinary behavior. “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more? Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt’” (Lk 7:41-43). The point of the parable is clear: The woman, who knows very well the gravity of her sins, throws herself on Jesus’ mercy and receives forgiveness.

The first reading gives us an example of a great sinner who responded well to God’s compassion and forgiveness. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and plotted the murder of her husband, Uriah. When the prophet Nathan confronts David of his great sin, he confesses to it without any argument, rationalization or excuses. His humble recognition of the gravity of his offense opens for David the way to conversion and absolution.

David’s confession goes like this: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam 12:13). David knows that his sins of adultery and murder were ultimately acts of rebellion against God. Of course, David has caused great harm to Bathsheba and Uriah, but the one he offended most in sinning was God. Remarkably, however, the prophet Nathan easily extends God’s forgiveness to David, implying the unconditional nature of the divine absolution. The Bible testifies that forgiveness allowed David to become not only a great king but also a true servant of Yahweh.

Today’s liturgy should move us to recognize humbly our sins and confess them to God through the sacrament of reconciliation. After receiving absolution for our sins, let us be grateful and begin to share the joy of forgiveness with others. May we not turn back to our old, sinful ways and begin to serve the Lord with gladness!

One rainy afternoon a mother was driving along one of the main streets of town. Suddenly, her son Matthew spoke up from his relaxed position in the rear seat. “Mom, I’m thinking of something.” This announcement usually meant he had been pondering some fact for a while and was now ready to expound all that his seven-year-old mind had discovered. His mother was eager to hear. “What are you thinking?” she asked. “The rain is like sin and the windscreen wipers are like God, wiping our sins away.” “That’s really good, Matthew”, she replied. Then my curiosity broke in. How far would this little boy take this revelation? So she asked, “Do you notice how the rain keeps on coming? What does that tell you?” Matthew didn’t hesitate one moment with his answer: “We keep on sinning, and God just keeps on forgiving us.”

(The story is told by Tommy Lane)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Solemnity of the Most Precious Body and Blood of Christ (C)

Gen 14:18-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Lk 9:11-17

In 1263, a German priest, Peter of Prague, stopped at Bolsena while on a pilgrimage to Rome. He is described as being a pious priest, but one who found it difficult to believe in Transubstantiation. While celebrating Mass at the tomb of St. Christina, located in Bolsena, Italy, he had barely spoken the words of consecration when blood started to seep from the consecrated Host and trickle over his hands onto the altar and the corporal.

The priest was immediately confused. At first he attempted to hide the blood, but then he interrupted the Mass and asked to be taken to the neighboring city of Orvieto, the city where Pope Urban IV was then residing.

The Pope listened to the priest’s story and gave him absolution for his lack of faith. He then sent emissaries for an immediate investigation. When all the facts were ascertained, he ordered the Bishop of the diocese to bring to Orvieto the Host and the linen cloth bearing the stains of blood. With archbishops, cardinals and other Church dignitaries in attendance, the Pope met the procession and, amid great solemnity, had the relics placed in the cathedral. The linen corporal bearing the spots of blood is still reverently enshrined and exhibited in the Cathedral of Orvieto, Italy.

Pope Urban IV was prompted by this miracle to commission St. Thomas Aquinas to compose the liturgical prayers in honor of the Eucharist. One year after the miracle, in August of 1264, Pope Urban IV introduced the saint’s compositions, and by means of a papal bull instituted the feast of Corpus Christi.

(The story is told by Fr. James Farfaglia)

The Church’s feast of Corpus Christi is an expression of our strong belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In the second reading, Saint Paul recalls how the Lord Jesus had instituted the Eucharist on the night before he died: “The Lord Jesus took some bread, and after he had given thanks, he broke it, and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ And in the same way, with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me’ (1 Cor 11:23-25). The phrase “Do this in remembrance of me” is taken by the Church as a direct command by the Lord for his followers to perpetuate the memorial and the fruits of his redeeming sacrifice. And so, we believe that every time we gather and celebrate the Eucharist, we continue to benefit from the salvific action of Christ.

Other Christians do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. For them, the bread and wine are mere symbols of the Body of Christ, not his presence. However, we, Catholics, point out that when Jesus held the piece of bread and the cup of wine in his hands, he did not say “These are symbols of my body and blood”. Instead, he said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (See Matthew 26:26-28), meaning, he was giving himself under the form of bread and wine. This interpretation is quite consistent with Jesus’ statement in the gospel of John: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (6:51). His listeners reacted strongly to this, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (6:52). But the Lord did not waver and continued to say, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (6:53-54). It is reasonable to believe that in saying this, Jesus was referring to the Eucharist that he was about to institute at the Last Supper.

To believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a matter of great faith. The bread and wine do not manifest any difference in size, color, or taste after their consecration. Our senses, in fact, would not confirm that the consecrated bread and wine are now the Body and Blood of Christ. But when it comes to the mysteries of God, we are challenged to surrender our senses, even our intellect, to faith.

There is a fascinating story told of scientists from NASA interested in experimenting with the energy of the human body and how the aura might be affected by prolonged travel in space. They devised a camera that could perceive the aura. They asked permission of a dying man in a hospital if they could observe his aura as death approached. The man consented to the experiment.

While observing the man through a monitor set up in an adjacent room one day, they were stunned by a white light that suddenly appeared on the screen. Without knowing exactly what was taking place in the hospital room, they observed that the white light entered the dying man and then filled him with a radiant light.

When the scientists entered the sick man’s room, they found a priest praying by his bedside. The priest had brought the dying man Holy Communion. The scientists were so moved by this miracle that they converted to Catholicism.

(The story is told by Fr. James Farfaglia)

Through the feast of Corpus Christi, the Church wishes to inspire in us great reverence and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. May we always do our best to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Mass with proper disposition and constant longing!