Calling Forth Holy Wisdom from the Laity
By Father Pete Iorio
Have you ever been told that you are you naughty? Long ago, if you were naughty, you had naught or nothing. It was a synonym for poor. Then it came to mean evil or immoral, and now naughty means that you are just badly behaved. Some words change meaning over time. Others are no longer used.
Wisdom is an important theme in Scripture. One definition for wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment. In the first reading from the Book of Proverbs, we hear: Wisdom has built her house, and spread her table. Wisdom is personified and invites us to eat from a rich banquet that God provides. There is a perennial wisdom that comes from the Gospels themselves and from the teachings and actions of JC. So often as with many things (and the word “naughty” is an example), we’ve focused not on the original foundational wisdom but on the developed concept. That development can sometimes have the effect of not being essential or wise.
The main group of people Jesus used to have conflict with were religious leaders… the scribes and the Pharisees who used their knowledge not as wise guides but as privileged people of power. In Matthew 23:27, Jesus gives a strong condemnation: How terrible it will be for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead people’s bones and every kind of impurity.
Leaders in our Catholic Church today have forgotten or forsaken the wisdom of Jesus to always be on guard against power, possessions and privilege. As it is said, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And look how terrible it has become for us with a church that tried to look beautiful on the outside and has been full of every kind of impurity. Woe to you, priests and bishops. As a member of the clergy, I make this fearless examination of conscience.
You have heard in the news, about the grand jury report, which summarized the findings of an 18-month investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by clergy in Pennsylvania, and revealed terrible acts carried out by priests of the Catholic Church abusing young and trusting children. Pennsylvania’s bishops were criticized because that abuse occurred over many years, and was in many instances facilitated, ignored, or covered up – a gross breach of trust with every innocent victim and with the faithful. It is shameful and painful especially for the victims of the abuse. We support them, including anyone here who needs healing and justice. Since the early days of my priesthood, I’ve assisted victims of abuse who have come to me. I believed the incredible stories they told me and helped them find healing and even justice if they wanted it. Since 2003, I have been on the Diocese of Knoxville review board for sexual misconduct and an advocate for victims and transparency in church matters. So this scandal is personally painful for me.
More wisdom from the letter to the Ephesians when he warns:
Watch carefully how you live,
not as foolish persons but as wise,
making the most of the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
Therefore, do not continue in ignorance,
but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.
In the Church’s 2000 year history, we’ve encountered crises. We also had strong men and women, lay people, like Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena who had the faith and courage and wisdom to bring about reform.
The laity have the responsibility, now more than ever, to serve the Church. This is not a problem we priests and bishops can solve on our own. Though most of us are good and holy men, the actions detailed in the grand jury report have damaged the reputations of all. We need your help and your insistence on accountability and high standards.
This parish is one of two in the nation that have received a Seal for Excellence putting into practice 55 standards for leadership, governance, accountability and transparency. I do not say this to brag, but to thank you the lay people of Saint Mary’s who have worked together offering your gifts that are so needed to be a healthy Body of Christ. I say this also to call forth from you holy wisdom to help our church in its time of need. The laity must step forward with prayer, energy, and resolve. We need the laity’s perspective, expertise, judgment, and prayer—and the pressure that comes from having been burned more than once as a church.
May Jesus the living bread from heaven in the Holy Eucharist give us the graces we all need to forsake foolishness that we may live and advance in the way of understanding God’s ways and of reform for Christ’s Church.
By Father Pete Iorio
I heard on the news about a father whose daughter was killed 6 months ago in the Florida school shooting. It was a difficult day and the family joined together to remember her. For those of us who have loved ones who died, we remember them on those dates each year. And for many of us, we honor their memory in a special way… have a Mass offered for their souls, visiting their graves, looking at picture albums and sharing memories with living family members. Doing these things are ways in which we connect earth where we live and heaven where we believe in hope that they now enjoy. Jesus showed us the way …that human death leads to eternal life.
Today’s feast of the Assumption of the BVM is our celebration and remembering that Mary shares in the gift of the resurrection to eternal life when her earthly life came to an end. It has a fixed date of August 15th however, we do not know the actual day when her earthly life came to an end. The teaching of the Church about the Assumption is a simple statement that does not contain a lot of details.
On November 1, 1950, Venerable Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be a dogma of faith: “We pronounce, declare and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma that the immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.”
On a solemnity of Mary, we do not celebrate Mary so much as we celebrate something God has done. Every feast is about God. The Assumption is about the heavenly Jerusalem and our place in it. It is about the glory that has been offered us. Our vision of Mary’s assumption is a vision of what God will also do for us. Mary placed her trust in God, and in God’s hands she is victorious over life in this world. She, through God’s blessing, is not defeated by pain, suffering or death. This is something this solemnity tells us that God is going to do for us.
Mary is a model for us. Mary is an example of trust in God and of the consequence of trusting God throughout her entire life…which was not easy. She trusted when she was not even married, and the Angel told her she would become pregnant with the Son of God. She trusted when she was about to give birth and there was no room at the inn. She trusted when the Holy family had to flee Israel and go to Egypt as refugees for two years because of a threat of violence against her child. She trusted day by day that she was doing God’s work of raising her son in the faith and that God would provide for their daily bread. Mary trusted when Joseph died, and when Jesus entered public life and people criticized him. Mary’s Heart was broken when she saw her son beaten and scourged and condemned to death on a cross. She trusted when Jesus told her to take the beloved disciple as her son: woman, behold your son.
Her life is a mirror for all of us…life is not easy nor perfect. Mary models perfect faith and trust in God at all times and in all circumstances.
A word about the first reading from the Book of Revelation. It is what we call apocalyptic literature. It projects humankind into the future to comment on current threats and failures and to offer a vision of what we might become.
Revelation presents our promised future to help us comprehend the present. It utilizes all kinds of improbable visions to assist readers in making personal judgements about their lives and the life of the early Christian community. Unfortunately, many grab Revelation and mistakenly use it to predict the future, condemn the Church or the pope, or to frighten gullible believers into unfortunate strains of religious belief.
What Revelation does is tell us one thing and only one thing about the future, and that is the most comforting thing that can be said to us. Revelation says that, ultimately, God’s reign will conquer sin and death. God has and will always be triumphant just as He has been through the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Assumption of his Blessed Mother.
The story of birth in our first reading from Revelation tells us of the new age, that God is in full power and authority, and sin and evil have been defeated forever. Our struggle to enjoy the new age however, like human birth, is a struggle that involves suffering but rewards with joy.
We read of the woman clothed with the sun whom we have traditionally thought of as Mary; but the woman here is not Mary. She is us, the people of God– as Mary is us. The woman in our reading is the heavenly Israel (us) who has struggled against evil, been protected by God, and then given a place in the kingdom. The woman had to go into hiding to protect her son as sometimes we too must do to flee evil. But under God’s protective hand, we will emerge to be with God in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Today’s story is a wonderful, poetic way of encouraging us to stay faithful. This is the message of Revelation: If we place our trust in God to take care of us, we can survive every evil and pain that comes our way.
Mary reigns now in heaven. She is our model and our advocate. The beautiful prayer called the Memorare invites us to seek her strength and faith to continue our lives, especially in difficult times, as she did during her earthly life.
If you know it, I invite you to pray it with me: Remember O most gracious Virgin Mary that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by his confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins my mother. To you I come, before you I stand sinful and sorrowful. O mother of the word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.
By Deacon Don Griffith
Our Lord’s words are difficult for the Jews to hear because it goes against what is known to them–“Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Our Lord continues to challenge those who follow Him, even some who claim to be Catholic when we hear Him say “this is My body” and it still looks like bread. But this is faith. Yet, faith and reason are not opposed, so I’ll try to provide some reasons to help fortify the faith we profess.
In the book Faith of Our Fathers, Cardinal Gibbons wrote that there are three categories of scripture that talk about the Eucharist in the New Testament- they are the promise, the Institution, and the use among the faithful. The Bread of Life discourse that we have been hearing belongs to the category of the promise. When our Savior says to the Jews “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die,” He wishes to affirm the superiority of the food which He would give over the manna with which the children of Israel were nourished. If the Eucharist were merely commemorative bread and wine, then instead of being superior it would really be inferior for manna is supernatural heavenly miraculous food, while bread and wine are a natural earthly food. St. John Chrysostom says that our Lord also mentions specifically in the desert because the manna only lasted for a short while, until the children of Israel reached the land of promise. This bread that the Lord gives us- His body blood soul and Divinity- entrusted to His holy church, and is provided to us each day from her altars stays with us for the entire pilgrim journey of His Church even until the end of the age. We cannot separate the promise from the institution from its usage, just like we cannot read the books of the holy bible isolated and disconnected from the other parts of the holy bible and isolated and disconnected from the Church which has the promise of the Holy Spirit to authentically interpret God’s word.
Suppose we hear just take Jesus’s words for what they are, He said do this in memory of me. The Holy Catholic Church does take Jesus’s words for what they are: she’s the one who guards what has been entrusted to her; she’s the one who believes the bread and wine become truly his body, blood, soul, and divinity; she’s the one who understands that when He said do this in memory of Me, He said it to the apostles whom He had ordained and that by an unbroken chain of Apostolic succession down to Christ’s holy priest in our midst here this day, it is His priests who allow Christ to use their hands to call down the Holy Spirit and to take the bread and break it; and it is His priests who allow Christ to use their voice to speak His words so that these offerings may become for us the body, blood, soul, and divinity that we may have life eternal and a pledge even now of Union with God to which all are drawn.
When we pray, when we read the Bible, a longing wells up in our hearts. Just as a husband and wife who love each other and happen to have some geographical distance between them, they may write, or call, or facetime, or use whatever app they are using in our day, a longing for the other wells up within their heart. This longing cannot be satisfied by a phone call, or an app- it craves a oneness, a union. Venerable Fulton Sheen writes that if human love craves this oneness, should not divine love? If husband and wife seek to be one in the flesh, Should not the Christian and Christ crave for that oneness with one another. The memory of the Christ who lived 20 centuries ago, the recalling of his mercy and miracles through memory, the correspondence with him by reading the scriptures all these are satisfying but they do not satisfy love. Every heart seeks a happiness outside it and since perfect love is God then the heart of man and the heart of Christ must in some way fuse. This aspiration of the Soul is fulfilled in the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is no coincidence that in those Eucharistic miracles in which our Lord has lifted the veil, so to speak, and has allowed us to see reality with our physical eyes, that it is the living tissue of a human heart.
By Deacon John Hackett
From our gospel today, we heard: “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.” Well, lets see what we can make of all that today…
Several years back Brenda Peterson, a nature writer wrote a book of essays entitled, Nature and Other Mothers. Her first entry was wonderfully named, In Praise of Skin. In it, she tells how at one point in her life she was afflicted by painful skin rashes. Like the woman with the hemorrhage in the gospels, she tried every possible doctor but found no cure. Medication after medication proved ineffective, and eventually the doctors ran out of things to do. The rash would always come back.
One day her grandmother assessed her situation and pronounced a more ancient and accurate diagnosis: “Skin needs to be touched!” she said. Her grandmother then began to give her regular skin massages and these did what the more sophisticated medicines just couldn’t do. They cured her.
Now…I’m sidin’ with Peterson’s grandmother: Skin needs to be touched!
Of course God knows that better than anyone. It’s why Jesus gave us the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, skin gets touched. The Eucharist isn’t abstract, a theological instruction, a creed, a moral precept, a philosophy….or even just an intimate word. It’s bodily, an embrace, a kiss, something shockingly physical.
Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, (one of my favorite authors) is a prolific author and his books are popular throughout the English-speaking world One of his most famous books: The Holy Longing won The USA Catholic Press Book award for 2000, for the best hardcover book in spirituality. In reference to this book Sister Helen Prejean, Author of Dead Man Walking (which some of you may have read) makes this statement about his book … At last a dynamic understanding of how the paschal mystery plays in our own lives. Well, at any rate, here is what Fr. Rolheiser has to say about the physical presence in the Eucharist.
For whatever reasons we tend to shy away from admitting how radically physical the Eucharist actually is. St. Paul didn’t share that fear. For him, the physical communion that takes place in the Eucharist, between us and Christ (as well as among ourselves), is as real and radical as sexual union. For instance, Paul (in 1st Corinthians, chapter 6) argues against sex outside of marriage by saying that our union with Christ and each other in the Body of Christ is so intimate and real that, in effect, we would prostitute that Body if we had illicit sex. Pretty strong words wouldn’t you say! But they’re predicated on a very earthy conception of the Eucharist. And you see, the early church followed Paul on this. They understood the Eucharist as so real, so physical, and so intimate, that they surrounded it with the taboos of privacy, reverence, and reticence that we reserve for sexual intimacy.
Of course, we tend to shy away from that kind of talk. Partly that’s understandable. It’s hard to be comfortable religiously with how Christianity understands the physical and the bodily. As you may know, Pope John Paul II took a real look at that in his “Theology of the Body” You see, Christianity is the most earthy of all religions. It doesn’t call you out of the physical, out of the body, or out of the world. Rather Christ enters the physical, becomes one with it, blesses it, redeems it, and tells us that there is no reason to escape from it.
But again, even though it is entirely scriptural, something about that just goes against the grain. Christ’s relationship to the physical scandalized his contemporaries (“This is intolerable language!” is what the crowds said when Jesus spoke of the physical character of the Eucharist in John’s Gospel…remember that thing he said…you have to eat my flesh)….it’s still a bit hard for us to accept today. But it’s also a wonderful part of Christianity. In the Eucharist, our skin gets touched.
And, given all our tensions, we need that touch frequently …even daily. The late American essayist and novelist, Andre Dubus, once wrote a wonderful little piece as to why he went to Eucharist regularly, despite the critical circles he moved in:
He writes: “This morning I received the sacrament I still believe in… at seven-fifteen the priest elevated the host, then the chalice, and spoke the words of the ritual, and the bread became flesh, the wine became blood, and minutes later I placed on my tongue the taste of forgiveness and of love that affirmed, perhaps celebrated, my being alive, my being mortal. This has nothing to do with immortality, with eternity; I love the earth too much to contemplate a life apart from it, although I believe in that life. No, this has to do with mortality and the touch of flesh, and my belief in the sacrament of the Eucharist is simple. Without touch, God is a monologue, an idea, a philosophy; he must touch and be touched, the tongue on flesh, and that touch is the result of the monologues, the idea, the philosophies which led to faith; but in the instant of the touch there is no place for thinking, for talking…the silent touch affirms all that, and goes deeper: it affirms the mysteries of love and mortality.” End of quote.
In ending…skin heals when touched. It’s why Jesus gave us the Eucharist.!
Spirit of Cooperation
By Deacon Mike Jacobs
19th Sunday “B”; Jn 6:41-51; 1Kg 19:4-8; Eph 4:30-5:2
Two verses have been going through my mind all week. “Today listen to the voice of the Lord, harden not your heart” and “speak Lord your servant is listening. “ Today we hear the Lord speak to us through the Gospel, “They shall all be taught by God. Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me”. Did you hear these words and do you believe and understand your Father in heaven. We go to school to get knowledge and when we enter the world to work we come to understanding and when we come here and listen and are feed, we get wisdom, we encounter the living God.
Wisdom is the gift that gives appreciation for spiritual, divine things. It is nourished by the Eucharist. But one part of the Eucharistic celebration proclaims in a special way the value of what is created and human. And surprisingly this, too, is wisdom. To see the ability of the human to be made divine is to appreciate the divine value of what is human.
The basic principle for understanding Jesus is “fully human, fully divine.” And this gives us the basic rule for understanding the Church, our own reality as people who share in the life of God by grace, and for evaluating Christian behavior. In everything we see or say about ourselves or the church and in every judgment we make about the way we should act as Christians, we must be careful to fully accept and fully respect what is human in us and what is divine.
The prayer during the preparation of the gifts of bread and wine (Offertory) during Mass expresses strikingly our belief in the value of all that is created, of everything human; “God of all creation… this bread… which earth has given and human hands have made… this wine, fruit of the vine and work of human hands…” We believe that these created things, produced by human labor, can actually become for us “spiritual drink” and “bread of [divine] life”, and that we can “share in the divinity of Christ” who took flesh to “share in our humanity.”
Jesus’ own people could not believe that someone so human could be divine: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven’? “ The sinfulness of the clergy and hierarchy in the sixteenth century led many Christians to take the protesting (or “protestant”) stance that God could not endow flawed human beings with the divine power we associate with priestly ministry or the teaching authority of the pope and bishops. The protestant rejection of the Church was actually a rejection of human nature’s capacity to be the instrument of divine action by grace. Whatever affirmed the value of human being as real cooperators with God in the work of redemption was looked on with suspicion. The first victim was the Church herself, and then the sacraments (especially Eucharist and Reconciliation) and veneration of human saints, especially Mary, the human mother of God.
All of us get discouraged at times with human nature in general and our own in particular. We feel like Elijah: “It is enough; now. O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” But to give in to this discouragement would be to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” Saint Paul urges us to believe that we can “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us.”
We do not just believe this; we express our belief by an action, a choice, which would not make sense without. Believing the Baptism has made us truly one with Jesus who “handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God,” we offer ourselves to God together with him to be used to give divine life to others. In Christ and with Christ we “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God,” our “flesh for the life of the world.” We commit ourselves to giving flesh to his words in life-giving acts of witness.
This is the Catholic “altar call”. At the Presentation of Gifts we place bread and wine on the altar as symbols of ourselves. During the reading we offered our minds to be transformed by God’s word. Now, as we offer the bread and wine to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, we offer ourselves to be so transformed into the perfect likeness of Christ, whose body we become at Baptism, that everything we say and do will bear witness to the Gospel. To appreciate in faith the value of the offering is to experience the gift of wisdom.
Lord, as many grains of wheat are ground together, mixed with water and baked with fire to become one bread, we ask you to form your Church by the water of Baptism and the fire of the Holy Spirit, that we might give life to the world. Almighty and ever-living God, your Spirit made us your children, confident to call you Father. Increase your Spirit within us and bring us to our promised inheritance. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. One goes, forever and ever. AMEN
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Father Pete Iorio
For those of you who are visiting or new to the parish or maybe those who just have been away for the summer or folks who just aren’t paying attention why is there a huge tent in front of the school? No, it’s not a set of extra classrooms. It was the site last night of the reception for the celebration of my 25th anniversary of ordination as a priest. I’m so grateful to God for this gift because in serving you all as priest, I give myself in love and the amazing divine alchemy is receiving your abundant love in return.
You can just imagine how many people were necessary to bring about such an event. Many of you were part of the giving teams and ministries. I am forever grateful. And can you believe that 600 to 700 people at a huge mass and a big dinner reception put all of that on without any problems grumbling or complaining or conflict? If you believe that, I have a piece of property I want to sell you in the North Pole. Of course, there was lots of grumbling and complaining and problems along the way. We are human beings.
In the first reading today, the Israelites are on a journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. Moses is their leader and did not take them on the most direct route. It was long and it was hard. They were free from the Egyptians; however, one of the things that they faced was hunger in the desert. They complained that they had it better in Egypt even in slavery because there, they had bread to eat. Scripture says that God hears their grumbling and provides for them quail and bread from heaven to eat. This is bread from heaven is called manna. In receiving this gift, the Israelites are satisfied and transformed in attitude. They keep going on their journey to the Promised Land. It took them 40 years of “wandering in the desert” and God sustained them along the way.
In our lives as Christians, we use the image of a journey. We are people on the move towards the Promised Land of Heaven. One of the symbolic ways in which we recall that is through ritual procession. We have a procession at the beginning of Mass as the cross leads the ministers and God’s holy people to the holy of holies/the sanctuary. We are together as a people of faith singing songs of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. There is a procession with the Book of the Gospels. During communion you walk in procession to receive the bread from heaven, the holy Eucharist. At the end of mass, there is a procession out into the world as we have been fed with the bread from heaven and the holy word of God and are strengthened to live the challenges of our daily lives.
I want to reflect with you my spiritual experience that I had in preparation for my Jubilee. You know I’ve been gone for three weeks on vacation. I went to my roots. The first week I spent in New Jersey with my family for a reunion. This was where I was born and grew up and my family made many special memories. My family keeps me real and grounded. Then I went to Ireland where I feel that God solidified my yes to his call to be a priest. I hiked up a few mountains while I was on the Emerald Isle. One time I was on my own and especially reflecting on 25 years of priesthood.
On my own up a mountain- praying. Reflecting brought me not what I expected which was happy highlights from the last 25 years: Special Masses, sacramental celebrations, pastoral “successes” NO!
God brought to my mind the challenges and difficulties including conflicts other priests, bishops, my own family, diocesan and parish staffs.
I recalled the very painful experiences of ministering to victims of emotional, physical spiritual and sexual abuse…even from priests.
I thought about the time I left active ministry and did a lot of soul searching.
I remembered the times I had to surrender my will to the will and the desire of three different bishops who gave me assignments I either did not want or did not feel qualified for.
I thought about painful experiences of having to fire parish staff members as a pastor.
Security and peanut allergies. Threats of lawsuits.
I recalled the unexpected death of my mother 13 months ago.
I was falsely accused and denounced.
God said to me as he said throughout my life: “Be not afraid. By your trust in me through all of these trials, you have not been disfigured but transfigured.” And then I said a prayer of thanksgiving that Bishop O’Connell ordained me a priest of the Diocese of Knoxville on Friday. August 6, 1993, the feast of the Transfiguration. The place was my home parish at the time on Signal Mountain.
My life as a priest and the celebration of my 25th anniversary of ordination is not just about me. It is about me and you in some kind of relationship…even if you’ve never met me before. We are connected by blood, by family, by friendship, by parish connections, by the Eucharist, by ministry, and in so many ways.
Human relationships are so important…so vital to thriving human life. God so loved the world that he sent his son Jesus….to be in relationship with humanity, to show us how to thrive in our humanity…
He showed us that to live and relate in this world means that we make mistakes. When we do make mistakes and when others make mistakes and hurt us, and when we hurt others, thriving human relationships require something called forgiveness. Forgiveness is essential to learning growth and change. And sometimes the invitation is to forgive ourselves for what we have done wrong.
As a priest of Jesus Christ for 25 years now, God has given me a particular way of relating in human relationships. One of my principal responsibilities is to celebrate the sacraments-to make Jesus Christ present to others. In the Gospel, John chapter 6, Jesus calls himself “The bread of life.” Bread, in order to fulfill its purpose, must be eaten to nourish the person who consumes it. This eaten bread gives and sustains life. A priest is in the person of Christ/in persona Christi. He confects the Eucharist. He not only gives the faithful (who sometimes grumble) the bread from heaven, he becomes the bread from heaven. A priest must allow himself to be eaten by others like Christ is eaten. During the mountain hike, God was showing me how I was eaten by my life’s trials.
Jesus says: whoever comes to me will never be hungry; whoever believes in me will never thirst. I wonder why he doesn’t say whoever eats this bread and is satisfied will never grumble? Probably, because it will never be true.
Spiritual maturity really demands that we move beyond the grumbling to a deeper reflection on the presence of God with us and among us as a community. As I reflected on my journey and realize God’s presence, God’s power working through the challenges of life, so I invite you to do the same. Our growth in the Lord is to become more like him who is love, compassion, mercy, patience and is able to love even our enemies.
May Jesus the bread of life be our sustenance for life’s journey and our companion. A life’s journey is never a solo trip as a Christian but one in which we break bread together and pour out our lives in love as Christ has done for us on the cross and as he does now in us.
Eucharist come from the Greek word for Thanksgiving. The first person singular is Eucharisteo which means: I give thanks… To God to all of you who are God’s holy people. I want you to make the connection that we are a Eucharistic people. For most of us Catholics that means a connection to holy communion/the body and blood/soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we are a Eucharistic people who always give thanks to God, hopefully without grumbling, even for the challenges that are part of our life’s journey. The transfigure us to be more like Christ.
by Father Pete Iorio
Wasn’t the rescue mission from a cave in Thailand of the 12 young soccer player boys and their coach absolutely amazing? The world was riveted on this situation praying for good news. For those who did not hear the news, the story follows: Little did those thirteen people know that what was supposed to be a short one-hour hike into the cave turned out to be three weeks. They did not know that rain was falling, and water rushed into the cave and threatened their lives. The international community led by the Thai navy seals did an amazing job using great modern equipment and highly trained men and women to find them, feed them, tend to their first aid needs and eventually free all of them. One rescue worker did lose his life in the process; however, we can say that this rescue mission was a huge success.
The Scripture readings today, the first and the Gospel reading are about mission. God calls ordinary people to do extraordinary work which is to be the voice of God bringing his message and to do his corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
On the ladder of prestigious jobs, being a dresser of sycamore trees in the time of Amos was about as close to the bottom rung as a person could get. The sycamore was the poor person’s fig tree. To make the fruit ripen the dresser of sycamores had to pierce the fruit encased in husks with a sharp stick and even after such labor intensive work, the yield was of small value and a little taste. Amos mentions that this is his occupation; however, the Lord God called him to a mission of calling people to repentance. He was a reluctant migrant farm worker turned prophet. We are reminded that God’s criterion for choosing is often worlds apart from our own. As the saying goes: God does not call the qualified; He qualifies the called. This same theme continues in the Gospel today. We know that Jesus had called twelve men to do his work. Their jobs that we know about were fishermen, a tax collector, a thief, and a zealous politician. The others are not told in Scripture. They hardly had any training for the mission which he sends them on today.
I might say that Jesus sends out the 12 on a different kind of “rescue” mission. Unlike the Thai navy SEALS who had lots of training and excellent equipment, these 12 are ill-equipped in a human way of thinking for the mission. They are to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, preach repentance, and cast out unclean spirits with only power given to them by Jesus. Their equipment however, was very minimal. They were to take a walking stick, sandals and only one tunic. No food, no sack, no money in their belts.
Scripture scholars tell us that these were the same exact instructions that the Israelites were given for the exodus/the first Passover when they left Egypt. The 12 were the Christian missionaries. They would be the new Israel who would be true liberators. They freed/rescued people from evil spirits and demons.
There is symbolism in the items they took with them and did not take with them. The tunic represented their identity. It was one identity united in Jesus Christ. Without the necessities of food, money or a sack filled with things, they were focused on their mission and work to receive hospitality and to trust totally in God.
Now that we have the background, what about us? The good news for each of us today is that God has already chosen us to be missionaries. What? Me? No way. That is the work of priests and sisters and laypeople who go to foreign lands. If you are baptized, and if you eat the bread of life, and if you are confirmed in the Holy Spirit, then you are sent on mission.
It is important to remember three things.
First, we are not alone. Looking around us today, there are people here who are our brothers and sisters in Christ – we are not alone in this mission! Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, and we, too, are encouraged to find others who can walk with us as we strive to follow Jesus.
Second, it’s not all up to us. Jesus didn’t send the disciples out saying, “Do your best!” Jesus sent them out and gave them authority. As we strive to act as disciples of Jesus and to carry out the mission which he has entrusted to us, we must recognize that he’s not standing at a distance watching us, grading us or critiquing us. Jesus is here in the midst of our struggles giving us strength – in the midst of our victories rejoicing with us. He does not ask us to go out with only our natural abilities, but gives us his strength, power, authority and grace. All that is necessary is for us to receive it.
Third, Jesus will continue to choose us and work through us, even if we fail over and over again. There is a detail which invites a closer look in the Gospel passage. The Scripture simply says, The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. This means that Judas, who eventually betrayed Jesus, would have been included in that number. Judas – through the power and authority of Jesus – healed the sick, preached repentance and drove out demons.
In our lives, there will be times when we and others choose against Jesus – when we betray him, when we deny him – but Jesus never gives up on us. In those moments, we are called to repentance, and then to begin to walk with Jesus again. That is what the sacrament of reconciliation is all about. I love it and rejoice when people who have been away for a long time come back and want to receive the fullness of God’s love and power and grace and to continue on the mission of being a disciple. If Judas was able to do such mighty works before his eventual turning away from God, and if God worked in wonderful ways through Saint Paul who did horrible things to Christians before his conversion, what might Jesus do in and through us if we allow him to? Let us pray that God makes known his mission to us in a particular way and also pray that we receive the grace and power to complete it.
There are many opportunities to serve right here in our parish and in our community. Whether you are new or have been here a long time, Jesus and his church, all of us, need disciples with the missionary heart of Jesus to teach in our formation program to young people, to serve in leadership roles, to serve in liturgical ministries, and to care for and serve the least of our brothers and sisters. Remember: God does not call the qualified. God qualifies the called, and that is you and me, friends.