Letters from a Pastor to His People
"Fr. James, what's your favorite food?"
Ah, one of the questions I am asked quite frequently by children (and sometimes adults).
"Deep dish pizza."
"Which deep dish, Fr. James?" comes the follow-up.
"Lou Malnati's," I respond without hesitation.
Letters from a Pastor to His People- August 12, 2018
Something about the smell of baked bread captures my attention more than other smells. Maybe you as well. I don't know what it is. My hunger for food is aroused, and my desire to fulfill that arousal is increased, when I walk into a Subway or pass a bakery.
Two things have me musing on this reality. First is the line from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians, our second reading this weekend: "So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma" (Eph 2:1-2).
A miracle from the sky. That is what the crowd wants when they ask Jesus, "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?" (John 6:30). The people need a display of fireworks from heaven to confirm their faith.
The crowd is not way out of line in asking this. When God made the covenant with Noah, massive rains for forty days came from the sky. When God made another covenant with Moses, thunder, lightning, and a smoke-show appeared as well. When the prophet Elijah's mission was confirmed, he was taken up into the sky in a fiery chariot. It was not uncommon for God to provide aerial signs in the Old Testament.
Poor Philip. He must have felt like Jesus was picking on him. Why couldn't Jesus have looked to someone, anyone else for this dilemma? Why was Philip singled out?
"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" (Jn 6:5-6).
Jeremiah was a prophet in Ancient Israel when Babylon destroyed Israel. He was a shepherd trying to help his confused flock. Unfortunately, there were fake shepherds competing with him: bad influences who led the people astray. "Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture" (Jer 23:1).
When Jesus Christ came around 600 years later, there were no shepherds, good or bad. "When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things" (Mk 6:34).
Are there shepherds 2000 years later? Yes. They are the Catholic priests.
The Twelve must have felt a mix of fear and exhilaration. Here they are, relatively new to Jesus and his mission, sent out to preach repentance, drive out demons, and anoint those who were sick (cf. Mark 6: 7-13). This is quite a tall order. It would be difficult for someone who knew the faith inside and out and had a great experience of ministry from which to draw. Yet the apostles barely know Christ and are still very uninformed about his message. We can be certain the apostles were nervous, to say the least. Would they be able to answer questions? Would they know what they were doing? Would they make mistakes?
Things weren't always easy for Jesus. We know this. We are familiar with all of our Lord's struggles in the Gospel, culminating in his crucifixion. The Pharisees argued with him, the crowds tried to stone him and throw him off a cliff, his apostles didn't understand him and left and betrayed him, his family thought he was out of his mind, and his hometown rejected him. This last one is from our Gospel this Sunday (cf. Mk 6:1-6). "Jesus said to them, 'A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house'."
Doing good can be a fight. We live in a fallen world. The world resists goodness.
“God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living” (Wis 1:13). Read that line again from our first reading. God did not make death. Death and suffering and evil are not from God.
This is such a crucial understanding. There is death and suffering and evil in the world. We can be tempted to blame God for this and reject him. Why did God give my loved one cancer? Why did God cause these hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, forest fires, etc? Why doesn't God do something about these school shootings?
The problem of reconciling evil with God's existence has been around forever. We are not new in trying to grapple with it. In fact, it's so common to muse on the problem that the issue has a name. It's called theodicy. Theodicy is trying to figure out how evil in the world fits in with God.
We don't typically celebrate a saint's birthday in the church. We usually celebrate the day of his or her death. Most feast days are when we think the particular saint died or was martyred. Birthday celebrations are reserved for Jesus (Christmas) and Mary (September 8th).
And for Saint John the Baptist.
Yes, today, June 24th, the Church celebrates the “Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.” Even though it falls on a Sunday this year, we still celebrate it. As if it were Christmas, the Baptist's Birthday trumps the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which would have been this weekend.
We do indeed celebrate John's death (August 29th), but so important is John the Baptist that we also celebrate his birth. He is one of the few saints who receive multiple feast days: Joseph, Peter, Paul, and Mary.
John the Baptist's birth is six months after the birth of his cousin, Jesus Christ. Christ's birthday is around the winter solstice, when days begin to grow longer. The Baptist's birthday is around the summer solstice, when days begin to grow shorter. “He must increase, I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).
We're back in the thick of Ordinary Time and the start of summer, and we're back to hearing the parables in the Sunday Gospels. This 11th Sunday we have two parables dealing with the growth of the Kingdom of God (cf. Mark 4:26-34).
The first parable indicates the Kingdom of God doesn't come suddenly and all at once. There is a process to it: “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” The Catholic Church didn't get to where it is today, over a billion members worldwide existing in structured dioceses and parishes, immediately after Pentecost. It took time. And there were setbacks and challenges along the way (there still are).
Have you ever been called crazy? The kids in school call me crazy all the time. My family and friends do too. Usually this label is justified, for I act like a goof.
But I have been called crazy once or twice by a stranger or distant acquaintance. The individual is curious why I am a priest. How could I give up so much and devote my life to such a strange calling?
I'll admit, sometimes when I step back, I see it as crazy, being a priest and pastor, that is. I think, Man, God, how did you make all this happen?
But I don't have regrets, for I love being a priest. I love being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Following Christ and being a Catholic is, in many ways, counter-cultural. It raises eyebrows or prompts jokes. But it’s so fulfilling. Jesus was called crazy too. His family said, “He is out of his mind” (Mk 3:21).
More in this category:
- Lamb of God
- Who is your Divine Person?
- Are you ascending?
- Mighty Mother
- He's a Mind Reader
- The Good Shepherd
- Got faith? Have love.
- Ready, set, sprint!
- So Much Duality
- An Other Forty Days
- He Who Can End the Fight
- Chicken McNuggets and Chuck. E Cheese
- A Problem We Want
- Divided We Fall
- Fishers of Men
- Is he calling you?
- Day of Threes
- The Perfect Woman
- Cave-Man Christmas