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.
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).
"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.
"As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him" (Jn 6:66).
We have finally finished the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. On July 29th we began this Johannine excursus. Up until that point we were reading from the Gospel of Mark. For four weeks we reflected on John's pivotal chapter on the Eucharist (the multiplication of the loaves and fish, followed by the Bread of Life discourse). Next week we will return to Mark's Gospel.
Kind of a depressing end, eh? Jesus performs this incredible miracle, gives this incredible teaching, and we're left with the fact that people have left him.
The Law of Moses from the Old Testament, as I've mentioned before, consisted of over 600 laws. Those who practiced every law down to the last detail were few. They were the urban elite. Some of the laws dealt with ritual washing. Farmers in the countryside simply could not do this. Water was too scarce and precious. Some of the laws dealt with coming in contact with dead objects. Again, this was unavoidable for the working class. Fishermen, for example, often pulled out dead fish from their nets. And there are many other cases of the futility of the law.
Lest the majority of people be in constant legal violation, the Hebrews created what they called "the Little Tradition." This was an adaptation of the laws of Moses. The essence of the important laws were observed.
But not for the Pharisees. They followed everything, and judged those who did not. And Jesus calls them out for it. "Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites..."(Mk 7:6).
"[Jesus] put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, 'Ephphatha!'— that is, 'Be opened!' — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly" (Mk 7:33-35).
There is a little ritual during the sacrament of Baptism called the "Ephphatha Rite." After the child has been baptized, the priest blesses the child's ears and mouths. The hope is that the child will one day be able to hear God's word and then proclaim it to others. Maybe parents hope as well that the child will be able to listen to the parents when the child is told to go to bed or stop fighting with their siblings. Either way, the priest is asking the ears and mouth to be opened, as that is what the word Ephphatha means.
To be opened. Pope Benedict XVI, in an Angelus Address several years ago, said that one word, Ephphatha, captures Christ's entire mission. Jesus came to open us, to free us from anything that would enslave us. Jesus came to set us free.
The cross is the theme this week. Last Friday the Church celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This Sunday, the 24th in Ordinary Time, Jesus says, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mk 8:34). The first reading from Isaiah 50 we also read on Palm Sunday and later this week on Thursday we will celebrate the feast day of the martyrs Andrew Kim Tae-gon and Paul Chong Ha-sang. A word or two on these Korean saints, as their stories are inspiring and exemplify the Gospel.
Catholicism did not enter Korea until 1592. Like Japan, the nation was isolated and sealed off from foreign contact. Somehow Catholic literature from China, brought there by Jesuit missionaries, found its way into the peninsula. The native Koreans who read the material were so impressed they converted. When a Chinese priest at last visited Korea in the late 1700s, he found nearly 4,000 Catholics. Remember, these Catholics had never seen a priest.
Letters from a Pastor to His People- September 30, 2018
Nothing is worth more than our souls. Money, our health, the 70-inch flat-screen TV, that Scotch collection in our basement...nothing. We should be willing to do whatever it takes to protect our souls and strengthen them. We should be willing to sacrifice and forgo anything that would endanger our souls.
This is what my namesake, St. James, is getting at in the second reading this weekend. "Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days" (James 5:2-3).
This is also what Jesus is getting at when he says, rather extremely, "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off" (Mark 9:43).
What's the best thing we can do for our souls? Pray and worship God. Those aren't the only things we need to do, but they are the most important (in my opinion).
We are a spiritual people. We are built for God. We are hard-wired to be in touch with Jesus. When we are not in touch with God, mainly through prayer and worship, we become a hollowed-out version of ourselves.
There are things that pull us away from the spiritual life. They don't necessarily have to, but they can, depending on our personalities. If food or video games or our career become ends in themselves and do not lead us to Jesus, then we need to cut them out, like that hand that causes us to sin in our Lord's example.