24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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We can almost feel the tension in the Gospels sometimes when Our Lord asks questions, testing and stretching the faith of His disciples and other listeners.  Others had already called Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, and Our Lord hushed them and told them not to tell this to anyone.  But at this point in His ministry, gathered with those Twelve closest to Him, Our Lord is ready to spell it out clearly, revealing the real meaning of Messiah.

“You are the Christ,” Saint Peter declares.  ‘Christ’ is the Greek word for ‘Messiah’, which is a Hebrew word.  It means ‘anointed one’.  Jewish priests were anointed, as were prophets and kings.  And that was part of the problem.  Most people in Our Lord’s time had their own ideas of who the Messiah, the Christ, would be when he came.  Most thought he would be an anointed warrior king who would rally the people and kick out the Romans and their quislings and set things straight.  And all of them misunderstood Jesus completely.

Saint Peter was the first to fully understand.  And Our Lord still told Peter and the other disciples not to tell anyone, because the people wouldn’t understand.  To be anointed is a sign of being chosen, of being singled out and exalted.  And we have become so used to calling Jesus the Christ that we do it automatically, without thinking about it.  But Our Lord wanted to challenge His disciples, and He wants to challenge us to see who He really is.

Immediately after Our Lord told the disciples that He was the Messiah, He began to teach them what that really means.  Jesus said that as Messiah, He would undergo the things Isaiah had prophesied and which we heard in the first reading: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”  Our Lord told His disciples that He, “the Son of Man must suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.”

So, the question Our Lord asks of us today is, “Who do YOU say I am?”  Like Saint Peter, we know the answer, but we may not like, or fully understand, the consequences.  Yet, as Saint James teaches in the second reading, our faith must lead to action.  Our Lord wants much more from His disciples, he doesn’t want us to simply hear that He is the Messiah, the Son of Man and Son of God who suffers and dies to redeem the world.  He wants us to truly know WHO He is, and we have to follow Him.  And the only way to realize who Jesus is, is by following Him, and that involves denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Him faithfully each day.

We’ve heard in the readings at daily Mass this past week that the person who is timid and afraid and wants to save his life, will in fact lose it, because they look at things in a merely human, common sense way, not as God looks at things.  But how can we know how God looks at things?  Well, by laying down our life with Christ and for His sake, as He laid down His life for our sake.  Only then will we see things as He does, only then will we save our lives and rise with Him, only then will we really know who He is – and who we are.

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23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s gospel is unusual and somewhat puzzling.  Here was someone born deaf and dumb who was suddenly and miraculously cured by Our Lord, but he and those around are asked not to talk about it.  Wasn’t that asking the impossible?  Can you imagine being that deaf man and not talking about your miraculous cure?  Why would Our Lord make such a strange request?

Our Lord’s request wasn’t made out of false humility.  Our Lord wanted people to thank God for His gifts to them and to witness to God’s saving acts revealed in our humanity.  If Jesus stood for anything at all, it was to reveal God’s saving love and actions in our midst.

We human beings have a tendency to seek out, be moved, and be awed by things that are spectacular.  People who normally don’t watch sports on TV almost always watch the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games, which are pretty much jaw-dropping extravaganzas.  People are thrilled by attending a rock concert or a competitive football match.  And it seems that things need to be totally awesome for us to accept them as reality.  Bogus faith healers and visionaries, along with people who claim to have direct revelations from God are not usually modest in presenting their agendas to us.  How many times have we heard that the Second Coming of Christ is going to happen on such-and-such a day?  How many times have we been told that the end of the world is near?  The media doesn’t tell us what happens to all those people when the healings don’t last and the visions and revelations prove to be false.

I think Our Lord’s request for silence was grounded on the fact that He wanted people to pay attention to who He is and what He has to say, rather than His spectacular miracles.  And sure enough, didn’t all of those involved in that healing of the deaf man run out, broadcast it everywhere, and shout all over the place about what Jesus had done?  But the real question is this: Did they change their lives, did they accept Our Lord’s teachings and follow Him?

Our Lord doesn’t want us to be overawed by the spectacular, but rather to be open to God’s word for us.  It’s all about having eyes to see and ears to hear what God wants us to be doing.

So what do you hear when people are talking with you?  What do you hear from the hearts of your fellow Sisters, or from your spouse, from your parents and friends, or from the hearts of your children?  Now I’m not talking about listening to them, but about hearing them.  Do we hear what God has to say to us when He speaks to us in Sacred Scripture?  God speaks to us in a special way in His Church.  The Mass is the privileged place where His word is proclaimed every day.

The Pope is one of the most photographed men in the world.  Whenever he appears in public it’s a media event.  Crowds love the spectacle.  But after the show is over, have they heard what he has to say and do they accept his teachings?

When I was a student in Rome I used to go to the annual Mass in St. Peter’s which began the new academic year.  The basilica was always packed full for the start of the Mass, but as soon as the Holy Father (that was Pope, now Saint John Paul II) had walked up the central aisle and reached the altar, many of the people in the congregation left.  They had witnessed the spectacle of the grand entrance procession and of seeing the pope pass by and that was enough for them.  They didn’t stay for the Mass or to hear what the pope had to say.

Until relatively recently the people of our own nation had ears to hear and they acted on the belief that human life is to be centred on God.  But what do we hear today?  Perhaps the man who was deaf two thousand years ago wasn’t the only one who needed a cure.  For whom was that miracle intended?  Was it just for that deaf man?  Or for the people who witnessed the miracle?  Or for us today?  It’s all about having eyes to see and ears to hear what God wants us to be doing.

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22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

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If you would be a superstar athlete, an accomplished musician, or a poet, or a writer, or if you would be a renowned scientist, or at the top of your profession, or a business tycoon, you would have to live a pretty disciplined life.  You would have to observe a rigorous set of rules and not allow yourself to wallow in your own lazy and easy self-indulgences.  Being the best of the best in any field requires that you sacrifice many things, set aside many pleasures, and focus on what you value over and above a whole lot of other things.

Those of us who fail to follow the rules and who give ourselves license to do whatever makes us feel good, end up being held as slaves to our own feelings.  Our urges, feelings and drives can hold us in unyielding bondage and slavery: a slavery to our own selfish selves.  In biblical language, that slavery is called hell.  We end up living in hellish self-condemnation, damning ourselves for what we could have done but didn’t, what we could have had, but now have not.

Above all else the ancient Israelites cherished and revered the law of God, the Torah.  They realised that those who with humility and perseverance hold themselves to the laws and regulations handed down to them from the Torah, will be given the strength and power to pass through life free of this world’s seductions, distractions, and diversions and so find their way to God.

The tyrannical Pharaoh of Egypt who held the Hebrews in bondage is but an image of an even more merciless tyrant, namely our own Imperial Self.  Following Moses, the Hebrews were eventually able to find the freedom to belong to God and to belong to Him totally and without any external restrictions imposed upon them by the principalities and powers of this world.  What was true for them way back then is true for us today.  Each one of us must come out of Egypt every day.

Over the years, religious Jews rejoiced in the Law of God and by their observance of God’s Law witnessed to the saving God who cares for them and loves them so much that He gave them the Law.  The problem is that, as with so many things, we easily slip into a mere external observance of the laws, rules and regulations that can guide us, liberate us, and that can free us to accomplish good and great things.

What happens to an athlete who fails to keep his or her training discipline?  Or a musician or actor who fails to rehearse?  What happens to an artist or author who throws off the discipline of his or her craft?   Greatness eludes them.

Laws are too often seen from the wrong perspective.  They are seen as restricting us rather than liberating us.  To be sure they restrict and control our urges, drives and feelings.  They keep us from doing what we feel like doing when we feel like doing it.  But that’s not their chief purpose.  The chief purpose of law is to free us to be focused, to keep us centred on what we can do in order to live wholesome and healthy lives, not just for ourselves but for the sake of caring for and building up others.  To quote Lord Acton, the famous politician and writer: “Freedom is not the power of doing what we like, but the power of being able to do what we ought.”

Good laws enshrine values.  Good laws, rules and regulations keep us in the game.  That should be obvious when you watch a football match or any other sporting event.  Laws keep us disciplined, they enable us to work together as a team, they free us from the worst in ourselves and they allow us to bring out the best in ourselves – they allow us to be winners.

Most importantly, laws and rules should shape our inner selves, they should shape our hearts.  Mere external observance of them leads to terrible consequences.  Simple compliance with laws, rules and regulations quickly leads to defiant compliance, and once defiance enters into us then we are only a step away from breaking away from our discipline and becoming slaves to our own selves.

One of the chief problems Our Lord faced was that many of the people around him, and particularly the religious leaders, were not truly religious.  They were merely externally complying with their religious rules and laws; they were hypocrites, frauds and phoneys.  They saw only the external letter of the law and lost the vision of its inner spirit.  And not only that, they were imposing their phoniness into the people whom God sent them to serve.

So it is we find Our Lord admonishing the religious leaders around him: Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.  You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.

After dealing harshly with the religious leaders, Our Lord turned to the ordinary people who were following him.  The words he spoke to them are words he speaks to us here and now.  They are words we need to hear, living as we do in a culture that has become horribly self-indulgent, self-gratifying, and self-justifying, a culture that blames everyone else for what’s wrong.

Our Lord summoned the crowd and said to them:  Hear me, all of you, and understand.   Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.  From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.   All these evils come from within and they defile a person.

Many people these days are fond of saying that Jesus accepted everyone and tolerated everything they did.  Well, as we’ve just heard, that is simply not true.  ‘Anything Goes’ may be the catchphrase of our decadent society, but it is not so with the God who made us.  We’re not free to do what we like.  God’s laws are His gifts to us.  They protect us from our selfish selves, they give us freedom, and they lead us to what we dream we want to be, and what Jesus Christ died for us to have.  God’s laws enshrine values, they shape our hearts, they overrule our tyrannical urges, and they lead us into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

May God’s love, peace, and freedom be yours in order that you may find happiness both in this life and in the next.

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Law and Grace (Hans Holbein)

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Over the past four Sundays the gospel accounts we have heard have centred on the presence of God in our midst.  As Catholics we have a particular awareness of God’s Presence.  In our churches and chapels, we experience flickering candles, the smell of candle wax and occasionally aromatic incense.  In some churches we see stained glass windows, statues, icons and all manner of rich symbols that almost transport us to another world.  When we enter our chapels and churches we enter space that is in this world but yet not of this world.

Above all we are confronted with the crucifix – the symbol of our salvation and redemption.  At the same time, we are also aware of the living Presence of the Risen Christ.  Our eyes are led to the tabernacle, that sacred space in which the Risen Christ is present to us in the Blessed Sacrament, in the Living Bread come down from heaven.

All of this enfolds us in Mystery, the mysterious, spiritual presence of God who comes to us in His Son, a presence made tangible to us in all that we experience in a Catholic church in which the Blessed Sacrament is present.  For when we encounter God, we are entering into His mysteries to be lived, not problems to be solved.

Every priest will tell you of people they have met who have expressed their awareness of this unique presence of God.  Candidates in the Rite of Christian Initiation classes talk about it.  Catholics who have left the Church and then returned talk about it.  Lapsed Catholics will tell you about the haunting tug they feel within them, that unfulfilled awareness that they no longer experience God’s closeness as they once did when they received Him in Holy Communion in days gone by.

There are those who defiantly declare that they don’t need Holy Communion because, they say, God is everywhere.  Catholics who don’t go to Mass any more say they don’t get anything out of Mass, it doesn’t do anything for them, and they say they can experience God in nature or in other special places.

It’s true that God is everywhere, but it isn’t the whole truth.  God is uniquely and particularly present in the Blessed Sacrament.  For while God is present to us and near us in other places in this world, God lives in us in Christ’s flesh and blood, in the Blessed Sacrament, in that small white host we receive in Holy Communion.

It’s true that God is everywhere in general.  It’s a deeper truth to accept the reality that God is particularly present in the Eucharist and is uniquely living within us when we receive Holy Communion.  To say that God is everywhere is to say that God surrounds us, and is near to us.  But God wants more.  He wants not only to be near us but also to live within us.  Our Lord declared that unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you do not have God’s life within you.

After hearing these words, many of Our Lord’s followers said: “This is intolerable language.  How could anyone accept it?”  And so they left him.  And many, down to this very day, have done and are doing the same.

Those people who don’t understand Catholicism complain that the Catholic Church is against freedom of choice.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The truth is that the Catholic Church is very much in favour of freedom of choice.  After all, if there is no choice to love, then there is no love at all.  The very essence of love is found in choices, in decisions, not just in emotional urges and feelings.  Affection is a feeling, but love is a choice; and the harder the choices the deeper the love that is given.

The question then, is not whether we can freely choose. The question rather is about what we freely choose to do.  It’s what we choose, not the fact that we choose, that is the question: for what we choose to do can have enormous consequences for both ourselves and for others.

Today’s first reading recounts one of the greatest moments in Jewish history, that moment in which Joshua assembled all of the Israelites and put the big question to them: Decide whom you wish to serve.  Do you want to serve other gods, or do you want to serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

The history of the Bible is a history of human choices, the chosen responses of people to the God who offers Himself to us.  Those biblical choices have been momentous, and their consequences stupendous.

God presents each and every one of us with the opportunity to make momentous decisions.  Each of us, no matter how great or small, no matter how famous or unknown, is presented with the choice we find in today’s gospel.  Will we accept the living God into our own bodies and into our daily lives?

What God is giving us in the Blessed Sacrament is more awesome than all of our other choices we could ever possibly make.  What God is offering us in Holy Communion is not only His love, but also His very life.

Let us all join Saint Peter in his response to Our Lord’s challenge. “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and we know that you are the Holy One of God.”

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20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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We can, and we very often do make the mistake of thinking that the only important part of a meal is the food that sustains our flesh and bones.  If you’ve ever watched a cat eat his dinner, he wolfs it down, licks his lips, and then goes off on his own to some comfortable place to have a snooze, happy and content until his need for more food brings him back purring to his human companion.  But for humans there is a much deeper significance to eating and sharing a meal than the actual consumption of food and drink.  What really binds people together is the conversation and the enjoyment we have while eating the meal.  This community, this fellowship, refreshes the heart and also creates and strengthens the bonds of friendship and family.  It was no different with Our Lord.  At the Last Supper his love and his friendship overflowed as he showed his Apostles how to be brothers to one another.  Every time we come together to celebrate the Mass we re-live that saving event.  We meet Jesus as our Lord and our Saviour, and in Holy Communion we receive the shared life of God himself.   Today’s gospel tells us clearly that Our Lord offers us his Body as necessary spiritual food for our journey through life; and he also warns us of the consequences of not accepting this gift: “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man you will not have life in you.”

We are reminded this morning of the closeness of the union to which Christ calls us in each and every celebration of the Mass.  And it’s a union, which reaches its fulfilment in eternity.  Our Lord is offering us a life that won’t grow old but will go on forever.  In the Mass we are offered the life that Our Lord shares with his heavenly Father.

Christ is not present on our altars simply for our adoration and admiration.  He is present so that we can be united with him perfectly.  Our celebration of the Mass and our reception of the Eucharist can easily become an empty pageant if it’s confined to an hour in the church on a Sunday morning.  If the mystery of the Mass doesn’t flow into our lives then we are wasting our time coming to Mass.  The Mass is meant to be the source and the summit and the centre of our lives as Catholics, and unless we are very much part of what we are doing here, and have our hearts set on drawing closer to God and becoming more like Christ, then we can easily end up leading a secular and pagan life tinged with a few Christian practices.  Receiving the Eucharist is meaningless and profitless if we fail to live what we celebrate.  And while the Mass is the source and the summit of our lives, something that must be celebrated with solemnity and reverence; at the end of Mass we must take our religion out of the church with us and bring it into the world in which we live.  The Mass is the starting point and the foundation of everything we do in the community this week, and what we do out there in the world must be a reflection of what we do in here in the church.  There’s not really much point in speaking about love and charity without making an effort to spread it.  And if we don’t practice what we preach, we can hardly expect the people out there to do so.

At the end of Mass, we are sent out – go forth.  We are commissioned to serve the Lord where we live and to work as Christ-bearers living his life, making him present in a world that would otherwise conceal him.  It’s up to us to reveal him to our world, or at least to the people we come across in the New Forest this week.  And if we are unable or unwilling to reveal him to each other, to our own brothers and sisters in the faith, and to respect his presence in each other, then how can we possibly witness to him in the world at large?  We each need to go beyond our own little selfish selves, to go beyond our selfish desires and to do what God wants us to do, not what we want to do.

And so today, we thank God for the great gift of his Son who is with us every step of the way, leading us to God our Father.  Every act, every thought, every intention placed on the altar of Christ benefits our world.  This is why the Mass is so important; without a frequent return to the Bread of Life we are unable to keep the Spirit of Christ alive in our hearts.  It’s only through our frequent reception of the Sacraments that we can keep the flame of faith alive in our own hearts and then be able to share that faith with others.  As the old saying goes, you can’t give what you don’t have; and if we let our spiritual battery run low we won’t be of any use to anyone.  This is why we need to plug ourselves into the mains once a week.  This is why we have to fan the flickering flame of faith within us into a roaring fire.  Isn’t that what this coming week’s activities here are all about?  This is why the Mass is the source and the summit of our Christian lives; it’s the power source into which we recharge our spiritual life.  And without a firm foundation of frequent confession and frequent communion we will never build a structure that will last.  We can perform good works until they come out of our ears, but without a frequent return to the source in which we are nourished, all these good works are empty, because they are not filled with God, but with our own selfish desire to do good.

May we always love the Mass and strive to make it the source and the summit of our Christian lives; that we may go out through those doors at the end of Mass and be effective witnesses to Christ in the world.

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19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Saint John Vianney, the patron of parish priests, whose feast we celebrated a week ago, would often tell the story of how he noticed an elderly man sitting at the back of his church every day.  He didn’t seem to be doing anything, just sitting there in the same place every day at the same time.  Eventually the priest asked him what he was doing.  “I’m praying Father,” he answered.  He pointed at the tabernacle and said: “I just look at him, and he looks at me.”  Saint John realised that this was truly praying.  This man was looking with love to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, for he knew that there in the tabernacle, hidden from our view, was the source of life and love.

The presence of the Blessed Sacrament in our churches and chapels is a reminder of how the Holy Eucharist is, and always has been, the centre of our life and worship as Catholics.  This is because the Blessed Sacrament is a perpetual sign of Christ’s presence among us: “Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”

Saint John Vianney’s story illustrates a truth that we don’t often consider.  Like the Jews who were complaining to each other about Our Lord and questioning him about what he was saying, we are often puzzled and even disturbed as to how Our Lord is present in the Eucharist.  We recognise it as a mystery of faith difficult to understand.  And over two thousand years the Church’s best theologians and philosophers have attempted to reveal this great truth by means of human words.  But, in the end, the most effective way of deepening our faith is simply by being with him where he is really present, right here in our churches, before the tabernacle.

Right from the very beginning of the Church Our Lord’s followers have tried to put into words what it is we believe about Our Lord’s presence in the Holy Eucharist.  As part of this process, the phrase ‘Real Presence’ has become a sort of description of what we believe.

Now we don’t say ‘real’ presence as opposed to ‘false’ presence or ‘artificial’ presence.  We say Real Presence to emphasise that we believe that the actual person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the God made Man, is present on the altar under the forms of bread and wine.

Now we know, of course, that Our Lord is present to his people in other ways.  He is present when we gather as a community for prayer, for he promised that when “two or three are gathered in my name I will be there in their midst.”  Our Lord is also present to us when we hear him speak to us in the Scriptures; we stand to hear the Gospel because it is Christ himself who teaches us.  Our Lord is also present in the person of the priest who takes the place of Christ at Mass.

But in the elements of the Eucharist Our Lord is present in a different way; in a more real way.  It’s not just a spiritual presence, or a symbolic presence; it’s not just that the Eucharist reminds us of Our Lord and makes us think of him and all he does for us.  The Eucharist is much more than this: Our Lord, in the Eucharist, is as present as one person to another in the same room.  And even when we go away, and the church is empty and silent, he remains here and, for most of the time Our Lord remains here alone.

The bread, which has become his Body, really is his Body for as long as that host exists.  And so we use the phrase ‘Real Presence’ and – for those of us who can – we genuflect and we acknowledge his presence among us in the tabernacle.

When life gets too much for us, as it did for Elijah in the first reading, the bread of life is given us to strengthen us in our troubles.  The soldiers of Queen Jezebel were hunting down the prophet with orders to kill him on sight.  Elijah, exhausted and fed up, cries out to God: “I’ve had enough; take my life!”  But God says: “Get up and eat.”  The Eucharist is given for us to eat when we feel hunted or harried by the pressures of life.

And it’s not only at Mass that we can take strength and encouragement from the presence and power of Christ.  His continual presence in the Blessed Sacrament enables us to come to him at any time during the day and seek his help and to renew our communion with him.

It’s not always possible nowadays, for security and safety reasons, to keep some churches open at all times.  But there are still places, like this one, where people can call in during the day and pay a visit to Our Lord present in the tabernacle.

Just consider that the average Catholic spends about an hour in the church each week, less if they come to Mass late or leave early as some still do; and yet Our Lord is here all the time just waiting for his children to come and visit him.  And I’m sure if God feels any sadness it is at the number of his sons and daughters who pass him by each day without so much as a thought.  We live in an increasingly secular and materialistic world and yet it’s amazing to see people passing by Catholic churches – not so much around here but you see it in the north –  people passing the church and making the sign of the cross, or elderly men taking off their cloth caps as they pass the church in recognition of Our Lord within.

It’s great to see so many people coming into church early to visit with Our Lord before Mass begins.  Unfortunately, in many of our parish churches this isn’t always possible as there is so much noise from people talking to one another and not to the Lord whom they ignore present in the tabernacle.  The church building is, first and foremost, a house of prayer and every encouragement must be given to people who want to pray for a few minutes before and after Mass.  Now, I’m not saying that we should ignore one another, but we can say our good mornings quietly and with a smile.  We should all, no matter where we go to Mass, promote a spirit of prayer and reverence so that those who wish to pray may do so in peace.  There is a constant cacophony of noise in our world and in our everyday life.  May our churches be sanctuaries of peace and quiet so that when we enter we can leave the cares of the world outside, if only for an hour and focus our attention on the worship of God.  And let’s never forget whose presence we enter when we walk through the church doors.  To spend time, on our knees, if we can manage it, before the tabernacle, is good practice for an eternity of worshipping God in the glory of heaven.

When all is said and done it’s only by spending time with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament that we will learn how to pray properly.  And the purest form of prayer, what we call contemplative prayer, doesn’t even need words.  You may notice how a husband and wife after many years of marriage can quite happily spend time together and not use many words, because they know each other so well.  This is exactly the kind of relationship Our Lord wants with us.  By spending time with Our Lord, peacefully and quietly, he himself will teach us how to pray, just as he taught the man sitting at the back of Saint John Vianney’s church.

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18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the day following the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Our Lord had an unusually eager audience.  The people, obviously impressed with what had happened the previous day, flock back in droves to see him.  No doubt they think he will perform another miracle and supply them with more food and fulfil their material hopes and ambitions, at least for another day.  The deeper meaning of the event, its spiritual meaning, escapes them completely.  They don’t understand what Our Lord is talking about and they fail to realise that Our Lord himself is a sign of God’s presence among them.  And so Our Lord reprimands them saying: “You are not looking for me because you have seen the signs, but because you have had all the bread you wanted to eat.”  This hunger for food was the starting point for Our Lord to begin his teaching about the deep hunger we all have for something more than physical sustenance.

We live in a world desperately wondering what has gone wrong with its dreams.  Even during the credit crunch the media more than ever before tried to convince us that the longings of the human heart can be satisfied by the artificial securities and delights of the consumer society.  Along with glossy and glamorous advertising on television, radio, newspapers and magazines – and now on the internet – there is not only the invitation to apply for credit in order to pay for all these things, but also help in consolidating bills when our spending gets out of control, when we discover we can’t afford to pay for what we have bought.

Satisfaction for the latest car or home improvement or exotic holiday is short lived.  New needs are created as soon as old ones are realised, emptiness sets in and the search for happiness begins all over again in an ever repeating cycle.

As we listen to the life giving words of Our Lord in the gospel today we come to realise that food, even Tesco’s Finest, is but basic fodder and that if we are to really live, something more is required.  There is another kind of nourishment needed by the human heart, because there are other hungers that we need to satisfy.  Deep down within each of us there is a hunger to love and to be loved; there is a hunger to be listened to and to be appreciated, and above all there is a hunger to know that there is a meaning and an eternal value to our lives.  These are the hungers of the heart and the yearnings of the spirit of which Our Lord wants us to be conscious and which he alone can satisfy.

You and I are part of this story inasmuch as it touches our personal lives.  Swayed as we are by material needs, we are in constant danger of losing our taste for the food that will strengthen our souls.  You can see the result of this in the empty pews in many of our parish churches where Our Lord’s presence on the altar and in the tabernacle is regarded with indifference.  And yet it is here that Our Lord speaks to us and touches our hearts.  Do we truly hunger and thirst for what he has to offer?  Where do our interests and our true desires really lie?

Our Lord calls us to work just as hard to receive the Bread which he gives, as we do for the bread which doesn’t last.   Otherwise, we will never know what we are striving for, and we will die without realising our spiritual greatness.

Saint Augustine said: ‘Our hearts are made for you, O God, and they cannot rest until they rest in you.’  The world is full of people who spend their lives aimlessly seeking joy and happiness in the wrong ways.  May we, by our faith and by the simplicity of our lives, be a guide and a beacon for those caught up in the ways of the world.  After all, we can’t take our wealth with us when we die.

dfrr