Gospel Reading for Sunday, August 2nd

Gospel Reading for August 2nd, 2015: Beginning of the Bread of Life Discourse

John 6: 24-35

When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set the seal.” So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God that you believe in the one he sent.” So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:  ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Reflection:

Last Sunday’s gospel on Jesus’s feeding of the 5,000 began a series of five, successive Sunday gospels from John, Chapter 6. This second installment begins a discourse between Jesus and those witnesses to that miracle, including his twelve apostles, on the meaning of the revelation that He is “the bread of life.” While it is tempting to rush ahead to the many implications of this discourse which shifted the paradigm for God’s people to a new, Christ-centered covenant, in this reflection I wish to focus on an insight about faith that emergences from the opening exchanges of this dialogue.

The scene opens in Capernaum, across the Sea of Galilee from Tiberias where Jesus had performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves on the previous day. Not surprisingly, the witnesses and beneficiaries of that miracle had come back for more, but they did not find Him there. Jesus and his apostles had retreated across the water to Capernaum. The apostles travelled by boat. Jesus, however, revealed another miracle to the chosen twelve by walking across the water. The other followers missed this incredible feat, despite its proximity to their location in Tiberias. Nevertheless, they notice a boat has been left behind, which is a clue Jesus did not use a boat for his crossing. Their question to Jesus when they find him, after having crossed the sea themselves, shows a sense of curiosity about how he made the trip without the boat when they ask, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus, for reasons that are not clear to us, chooses not to explain that He walked, even though their curiosity is obvious and understandable. The miraculous walk on water was not for them to know about. Instead he questions their motives for coming to find him again. Were they looking for more free food, instead of faithfully following the signs that point to the arrival of the Messiah?

They seem to pick up on His use of the word “signs” as leading them to signs from God. So they ask pointedly, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus responds,”… that you believe in the one He sent,” which He has already hinted strongly is Him, “the Son of Man.”

The crowd seems to understand His point, but this is asking a lot. They want more proof. They want more signs than the miracle they have already witnessed; and they want more bread, in other words more security for basic needs, in exchange for their belief in Him. They do not fully trust Him yet, despite witnessing a miracle already, so they negotiate for more security. How often do we do that with God? How often do we too, say Lord if you just get me out this situation, then I will give over the rest of my life to You? If you show me this proof, I will believe. Jesus seems to being saying trust in me with blind faith up front, and you will get all you need, including eternal life. He is performing miracles daily, but like those followers who missed him walk on water; we do not necessarily get that daily proof of the master plan to make sure our faith is a sound investment. All will not be revealed to us in this life. Instead, we are to trust in Him fully and with humility, and He, “the bread of life” will provide for us in this life and the next.  It is not easy to give this trust all the time, but that is the deal. It’s non-negotiable.

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Book Review: Matthew Kelly’s Rediscover Catholicism

Book Review: Rediscover Catholicism

With a 2002 publication date, Matthew Kelly’s Rediscover Catholicism as well as aspects of its message is already familiar to many Catholics. To give an example, I recently read Kentucky Basketball Coach John Calipari’s Players First where I discovered Coach Cal uses the expression “the best version of yourself” in his program with his players as a motivator and guiding principle. This same expression is central to Kelly’s message in the book and is encountered frequently in his speaking[1]. While Calipari does not reference Kelly as the source of this mantra, he reveals he is Catholic and a daily attender of mass. I am willing to make the plausible jump to the conclusion this is not merely a coincidence, but rather a connection between his Catholicism and a familiarity with Kelly’s ideas and thereby a sign of their influence among other Catholics.

In my opinion, this influence is merited. Kelly has a unique ability to take principles of the faith and explain them with contemporary language and analogies to make them relevant to those of us who, affected by a secular worldview, find the vocabulary of the Church at times distant or off-putting.  Kelly’s use of the principle that it is God’s plan for each of us to become “the-best-version-of-yourself” provides a good case in point. It calls to mind the familiar cultural imperative for self-improvement. Yet, his use of this expression is very specific to Catholic doctrine. He makes the case that if we are striving to know God and his mission for us, we will become more virtuous and active in answering His call over time, in other words, to become the-best-version-of-ourselves. By keeping this guiding principle in view, we will commence on a journey to a life focused on serving God and others rather than a self-absorbed and self-serving one. Kelly admits he is simply restating Vatican II’s emphasis on answering the universal call to holiness, that we are all called to be saints. However, it reveals this in a way that keeps in mind our unique gifts for service and the insight we don’t have to be saints now to become holy by the end of our life’s journey.

Kelly explains this central theme in this way:

Once we are aware of our yearning for happiness and the world’s inability to satisfy it, the adventure of salvation begins. Our yearning for happiness is one way God invites us to join this adventure. God has a dream for you and a plan for your life. He wants to deliver you from everything that stands in the way of becoming the-best-version-of-yourself… With this term I am not suggesting a narcissistic, self-seeking approach to life. Rather, I am inviting you to a dynamic collaboration with God. It is in and through this collaboration that we become the-best-version-of-ourselves, in which the loving nature of God is most present. God has a plan of salvation for each of us. Your adventure of salvation is unique and different from mine.

He uses this concept to create a context to discuss the practical usefulness of what he refers to as the “Seven Pillars of Catholic Spirituality:” confession, daily prayer, the mass, bible reading, fasting, spiritual reading, and the rosary. Drawing on the model of the saints, Kelly elucidates how each of these time-honored practices are highly effective methods to help us in our journeys to our personal Christian missions and vocations, ergo the-best-versions-of-ourselves, helping us recognize and live the genius of Catholicism.

For this review, I had re-read Rediscover Catholicism two years after my first reading motivated me to renew my own faith. I found it as insightful, engaging, and compelling as the first time. I think it is an appealing book for anyone interested in Catholicism including the unfamiliar, the fallen-away, and the devout as a source of both inspiration and practical advice.

[1] Although this is a book review, I will insert a plug for Kelly’s CD “Becoming the Best Version of Yourself” and his other CDs and DVDs as well. They are another great way to hear his message. His Australian accent is mesmerizing and, along with his sense of humor, brilliantly enhances his message. Visit dynamiccatholic.com to learn more.

Gospel Reading for Sunday, July 26th

Gospel Reflection for July 26th, 2015: “Multiplication of the Loaves”

John 6: 1-15

After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee [of Tiberias]. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”  He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little [bit].” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.

Reflection:

As is often the case with the gospels, I find that if I can walk in the shoes of one or more of the persons involved in the story, a relevance to my own struggles to live a life of faith emerges more clearly. It’s the old reader’s trick of seeing things from the perspective of a story’s characters. I find this especially true with gospel stories portraying Jesus’s miracles. While I believe God is performing miracles daily in my life and those of others, the ones portrayed in the gospels like the feeding of  the 5000 from five loaves of bread and a couple of fish are on a scale beyond my personal experience. I accept Jesus did this, but how do I use this to grow closer to Christ? Beyond recognizing this sign of Jesus’s divinity, a lesson is difficult to perceive on first reading.

Still, I can relate to the skepticism of Philip and Andrew. From this acknowledgement, understanding proceeds. Jesus poses the problem of feeding the people in terms of a rational, analytic question, already knowing the food will be produced through a divine miracle. He leads them down this line of reasoning to demonstrate its inadequacy without faith. Philip’s answer indicates a logical flaw in Jesus’s question. Even if they could find this much food on short notice, how could they possibly pay for it? Common sense says it is a problem beyond solving.

Andrew shares Philip’s skepticism that the food can be provided; however, he points out what they have, the inadequate supply of bread and fish. This is instructive.  It involves a step that in my own skepticism I often fail to take. He notes the resources that provide a starting point for the Lord to begin working on the problem. Perhaps John provides this detail to remind us it is better to act with our imperfect gifts in the faith that God will provide what is beyond our limited view than to dismiss the problem as unsolvable due to a lack of a rationale solution.

Jesus, as he so often does with our unsolvable problems, takes those imperfect resources and miraculously fills in what is lacking. The loaves and fish are multiplied and the hungry are fed with food left over! It should be noted that despite Philip and Andrew’s skepticism they cooperate with Jesus with complete fidelity and obedience. They instruct the men to recline in the grass with no hint of doubt or objection, even though they cannot possibly imagine what Jesus plans to do next. Their exemplary acceptance of Jesus’s guidance surely led many of those gathered to recline and be fed who were also probably wondering if they were going to eat that day. They did not prematurely leave in search of a better opportunity and go hungry as a result. Their faith was rewarded as God’s will was done.

I pray that as I encounter future “unsolvable” problems, like the apostles,  I may work with what I have and act with faith that God’s solution will provide the rest of what is needed in a way that I probably can not imagine.