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Offer Your Barley Loaves

A reflection for the 17th Sunday, Ordinary Time, year B. The readings are 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145; Ephesians 4:1-6 and John 6:1-15.

Jesus Gives Thanks. From FreeBibleimages: Feeding of the Multitudes, Good News Productions and College Press Publishing Co. Artist: Paula Nash Giltner. http://www.theglobalgospel.org http://www.freebibleimages.org

“Jesus then took the loaves and gave thanks…”

That’s what I’d like us to focus on today: Jesus gives thanks, the way Jewish people always gave thanks before eating: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz. “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” That small action is what I think makes the whole difference in this beautiful story we hear today – that we’ve heard so often because it is one of the few stories that is found in all four Gospels.  In fact in Mark and Matthew it happens twice: Jesus feeds the multitudes twice in Mark and Matthew. That’s how significant this story is.

This year we’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark – and if you continue reading, following what we read last week in Mark, this is what comes next, the feeding of the multitudes. But today we read the story from the Gospel of John. And I want to point that out because over the next four weeks, we’re taking a little break from reading Mark and focusing on the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John, which is when Jesus declares that He is the Bread of Life. John, chapter 6 is called the “Bread of Life Discourse” and over the next four weeks we’re going to be reading it – it’s like a little summer retreat. And that’s significant because Jesus begins to tell us that He is the Bread of Life by actually feeding us: by, in the words of the Psalm, opening his hand to feed us and satisfying all our needs. And I think that it is in the act of giving thanks that makes that miracle happen. So that’s what we’re going to focus on today.

But before that, there are a few things you have to remember about this story.

Jesus can very well feed the crowds all by himself. He can perform the miracle by himself. He is God. But he doesn’t. He wants our help. He invites us to participate in his saving work. “How do you think we should feed these people?” We could respond like Philip with despair and drama: “We can’t feed all these people! We’d need like $30,000 to feed all these people. It’s impossible!” How often do we respond like that? With despair and drama? And so we don’t help; we shut the door to the Spirit.

Or we can respond like Andrew. I think that Andrew doesn’t know what’s going to happen either, but still, “here’s this little boy that has 5 loaves and 2 fishes.” Not sure what that can do. It’s not enough. Sometimes we are like that. We think that what we have to offer is not enough; not significant – and so we don’t offer it. Now John makes the point to mention that these were barley loaves. That’s also significant. Rich people could afford wheat and made bread out of wheat and they fed barley to the animals. But poor people had to make bread with barley. So here’s this food; it’s not enough and it’s the food of the poor, not the food you offer guests that come over for dinner; It’s embarrassing.’ it’s maybe not food that any one wants. Again, how often are we like that, not offering what we have because we don’t think anyone wants it; because we think it’s useless. “I don’t have anything except my grief, my pain, my anger, my ignorance…” but we need to offer it anyway.

That’s what Jesus wants. He turns to us and says, “I love barley bread!” And then he offers thanks.    

Jesus takes the bread – this bread of the poor that is not enough and maybe people don’t even want  – and he gives thanks: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz. “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”  That’s the prayer that Jewish people always say before eating. Jews have a very beautiful practice which is to offer a prayer of blessing and thanksgiving for everything! They do it when they wake up, when they wash their hands, when they drink wine, when they eat fruits, when they go to the bathroom, when they see beautiful things, when they go to bed at night, even for when they hear thunder… “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe…” fill in the blank. What a beautiful practice: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, for you made wonderful things for us. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, for you have brought us to this day. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, for you give sleep to my eyes.

Today we are being invited to have an attitude of gratitude always.

How different would our world be if we always gave thanks – for everything. Not just for what is good – it’s easy when it’s good: “Thank you Lord cause I got that promotion; thank you Lord cause I got that job interview; thank you Lord cause I won the lottery!” That’s easy. It’s not easy when it’s not good. It’s so easy to complain. But, if you get bad news from the doctor: “Thank you, Lord because I have a doctor and we have health care and it’s free.” You’re stuck in traffic and you’re going to be late for work: “Thank you, Lord that I have a car and that I have air conditioning in the car.” We can always find small blessings. And, I’d say the next step is to give thanks for the things we take for granted. “Blessed are you Lord our God, for we have clean water.” Blessed are you,  Lord our God, ‘cause I woke up this morning…. Today we are being reminded to always give thanks – to have an attitude of gratitude for everything: For what we have, for what we don’t have; for the little that we have; for the barley loaves in our lives.  Thank you, gracias, obrigado, salamat, do jeh, danke sehr, merci, grazie, dziękuję, gamsahabnida, toda, naṉṟi, shukran… we know how to see it in so many languages. Efcharistó – that’s thank you in Greek. Efcharistó. That’s where our word for Eucharist comes from. This is what Jesus does, he says, efcharistó: eucharist.

Eucharist means thanksgiving.

This is what we do here at every Mass; we practice thanksgiving. Which is why at Mass as we begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist, you hear the presider say very similar words (sometimes we don’t hear them because he says them quietly while we’re singing the offertory hymn), ”Blessed are you, Lord of all creation for through your goodness we have received this bread….” And then ”Blessed are you, Lord of all creation for through your goodness we have received this wine….” . That’s the thanksgiving prayer that Jesus prayed.  But we shouldn’t only do it at Mass. We should do it all the time, for every occasion. And in that act of thanksgiving, our hearts will be transformed.

How about we start that practice today?

If I can end with a small example of how this can look in your life. Even though many of us have been familiar for many years with the history of the Residential School system, in Canada  I’m sure  all of us are now really becoming aware of that history and about the Sixties Scoop, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the history of Canada-Indigenous relations, and the role that the Catholic Church – and I use that term broadly – Catholics, Catholic institutions, dioceses, orders, the role that we played in that evil and misguided system. And we have all kinds of reactions: Anger, grief, sadness, despair, indifference. And we go to Christ because we want him to heal us; we want him to feed us. We want him to make it right. And we should take it to Jesus.

And Jesus looks at us – he looks at the multitude and he has compassion over them for they are like sheep without a shepherd – and he turns to us and says, “How are you going to feed all these people?” And we can respond like Philip and say, “it’s impossible! I can’t do it! It’s not my responsibility. I wasn’t there when it happened. I’m not a bishop. It’s up to the government. Why do I have to do something?!” Or, like Andrew, we say, I don’t have anything much to offer you, Lord, only these barley loaves. All I have is my grief, my anger, my feelings of disgust, my lack of understanding, my disbelief, my indifference, my ignorance… And Jesus takes all that, and says, “Meegwetch! Thank you. I love barley bread!” Then he offers thanksgiving, Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz. Efcharistó.  And he multiplies it and he transforms it, so that the whole world can be fed.

And in that moment of thanksgiving, a miracle takes place in your heart and you begin to be transformed, and you will know how to respond to this particular crisis or situation.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, for you give us barley loaves. You open wide your hand to feed us, you satisfy all our needs. And you invite us to participate in your saving work, so that the whole world can be fed. 

Efcharistó.

God Never Stops Working

A reflection for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year B. The readings are Ezekiel 17:22-24, Psalm 92, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 and Mark 4:26-34.

I don’t know the first thing about gardening. If the plant needs more than watering once a day, forget it. Last year we had two tomato plants and that was amazing. Once we found the perfect sunny spot for them, all we had to do was water them once a day and before you know it, we had like 200 hundred tomatoes! It was a fruitful harvest! Plants are amazing, really. Even grass. Have you ever planted grass? Last year (and this year) we are fixing these dead patches in our lawn and it’s amazing: you throw some dirt; scatter some seed and then water it once a day. Seven days later there are these baby grasses growing – so cute! And keep watering for another week and the grass is already all grown up and that’s it. It will continue to grow and spread. There’s nothing you need to do. It’s a miracle.

This year I have become fascinated with dandelions. Those things are amazing! You know you have to dig them out from the root – so this year (because we’re fixing our lawn), we started digging dandelions. We spent all afternoon one Saturday and pulled maybe 100 or so. The next day I look at the lawn and there are like 100 little stems that have all of a sudden shot up. I’m like, “I can’t spend another two hours digging all these out before they flower” (because there aren’t 100 dandelions in our lawn, but like 100,000!). So I decided that if I just cut the stems off, at least they won’t go to seed (cause each flower has like 1000 seeds!). So I went and ripped off a whole ton of stems. The next day I look out and there are like 100 more stems and flowers! So I ripped them all again (even though the flowers look so pretty). The next day; 100 more stems and now they’re turning white! Those things are amazing. You can’t kill them. They’re really hard to uproot. You don’t have to plant them. You don’t have to water them. They grow anywhere; they’ll grow through the sidewalk; through the cracks in your driveway! So I did some research. Turns out that dandelions are also like a super food. You can eat the roots; you can eat the stems, the leaves, the petals… the whole thing! They have all these nutrients and they’re supposed to be good for your blood pressure, your cholesterol, they help fight inflammation, they lower your blood sugar; they’re good for your liver function…. They’re miracle plants. I swear they’re also probably the cure for COVID! They’re amazing. All plants are amazing. All animals are amazing.

And look at how amazing our human bodies are: there are four elements, oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen and depending on how these molecules are assembled together, they form amino acids. Depending on how the amino acids are assembled together, that makes proteins. Proteins are then the engines that tell a cell what their function is. And our whole body is comprised of cells. We have skin cells, brain cells, blood cells – every organ is made up of cells that are told how to behave by these proteins. It’s amazing. And we, through science, can learn how they work and influence how all that works – mostly for the good – but in the end, who knows? Why do some people respond to chemotherapy or radiation and others don’t? Why does a virus like COVID make some people so sick and kills others – 4 million worldwide – and others get it and don’t even know they have it?

We don’t know.

I think that should give us some humility.

A farmer can do all the right things, but in the end, what makes one seed germinate and the other one not germinate? What makes that one tomato plant give lots of fruit and others none? The first reading tells us that God can make a high tree low and a low tree high; God can make a green tree dry and a dry tree green. God is in control. The Psalm says that even in old age they shall bear fruit. God is in control. Jesus says in the Gospel that the farmer sows the seed and then he waits.

God does the growing.

That is the Good News for today. That’s why the opening prayer today says that without God we can do nothing. That’s why St. Paul tells the Corinthians that we have to walk by faith, not by sight. We have to walk by sight because we live in this physical world, but we also have to walk by faith, knowing and trusting that God is in control.

And God is always at work.

 There’s a great Gospel song called “Way Maker”. It says that God is a “way-maker, miracle-worker, promise-keeper, light in the darkness…” That’s who God is. God is always making a way ; always working miracles; always keeping promises; always lighting the darkness. Later on in the song it says, “Even when I don’t see it, you’re working; even when I don’t feel it you’re working. You never stop, you never stop working.” We have to believe that. God never stops working. Even if you don’t see it, he’s working. He’s working right here, right now. He’s moving every heart. He’s moving in our midst. He’s healing every heart; He’s turning lives around. Even if you don’t see it, he’s working. You come to Mass and don’t feel anything. It doesn’t matter, God is working right here. God is working in our children, even if we don’t see it, even if we don’t feel it. God is working in our schools and our school boards, even if we don’t see it. God is working in our government, even if we don’t feel it. God is working in the United Nations, even if we don’t see it. God is working in our hospitals and in the pharmaceutical companies, even if we don’t see it, even if we don’t feel it. God is working; He never stops working.

This past year has been hard. Maybe some of you want to just pretend this past year never happened. Maybe you haven’t worked in a year. But God has been at work. You may not see it; you may not feel it. But God has been at work. We come back to Church and see how much smaller it is and see that some people have dropped off. It feels like that Church has shrunk over the last year – it hasn’t. The Church is growing. Quietly. God is at work. You may not see it, but he is.

 And that’s the hard part. Because when we know that God is always at work and we trust that He always it at work, we have to trust that. We may never see the fruitful harvest, but the harvest will come. We have to do the planting and God will see to the harvest. We have to trust that God is a work and that means we have to also do our work. He never stops working and we can’t stop working either. And we can’t stop praying. You may never see the results but you can’t stop working or praying. Think of all the people in Scripture who never saw the fruit of their labours: Abraham, Moses, Joseph… We may never see the fruit of our labours – not until we get to Heaven.

We work as if everything depended on us, but we pray as if everything depended on God.

You may never see the results, but God is always working. You may not see it; you may not feel it, but he is. So you keep working too. And keep praying. And God will bring everything to a fruitful harvest!

Look Up to the Sky

Grandpa Bunny (Disney Classic) (Little Golden Book) by RH Disney (Author, Illustrator).

A reflection for the Solemnity of the Ascension, year B. The readings are Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23 and     Mark 16:15-20.

 When I was 4 years old my grandfather died. The whole experience was kept fairly hidden from me – except I was told that he was going to Heaven. I remember that even though I was not taken to the funeral Mass, (for some reason) I was outside the Church, in the parking lot, just after the funeral was over and I kept looking up at the sky. I wanted to see if I could see the coffin flying off to heaven – with wings! I must’ve been listening to the song, “Spirit in the Sky“: “♪♪ going on up to the Spirit in the sky…” Hey, it was the 70’s!

I guess someone asked what I was doing and then explained that this is not how people get to Heaven. It’s funny the way kids think about things. I was looking up to the sky because I wanted to see someone awesome; something amazing.

And I think that’s a bit of what’s happening to the disciples in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

The disciples have just experienced something amazing; something tremendous; something wonderful: Jesus rose from the dead and just spent 40 days with them. Everything he had promised now made sense. Can you imagine that? It was amazing. And then they see him ascend to Heaven just as he said he would. They must’ve been in such awe. How amazing to have been there to witness it! And then these angels show up and spoil it all: “Why are you guys staring up at the sky? Move along.”

-What do you mean? Of course we’re looking at the sky! We just experienced something amazing!

I think those angels were wrong.

Let me briefly explain, that it depends on which translation of Acts you have. The one I like makes it clear that the disciples are staring at the sky, not at heaven; so there’s a clear distinction between the sky and heaven. That distinction is important, because, it’s true that, even though we have to keep our eyes on Heaven, we can’t live our whole lives staring up at the sky; we have to have our feet planted right here on earth so we can do the work that we have to do. But I think that sometimes, it’s OK to spend a little more time than usual looking to the skies: when we’re going through sorrow and despair; when we’re suffering; when we go through loss; when we experience pain; when things are difficult… When you don’t know how to pray, look up at the sky; when we go through a pandemic…

Today, it’s ok to look at the sky.

Because looking at the sky reminds us of Heaven – and we have to keep our eyes on Heaven.

That’s why St. Paul in the second reading from his letter to the Ephesians says that he “prays the eyes of our hearts be enlightened that we may know the hope to which we are called.” (Ephesians 1:18)  I love that! What is the hope to which we are called? Heaven!  That’s where we’re all supposed to go: to be one with God.

That’s what’s difficult about our lives. We are stuck between two realities; between two worlds. We have this existence here on earth, attached to this physical reality that, despite the struggles, brings us so much beauty, joy and pleasure, but deep down inside we have a restlessness because we know we don’t’ belong here. We belong in Heaven. We are created for Heaven. Heaven is the promise. That’s where we’re headed and it’s hard to get to where you’re going if you don’t keep your eyes on the prize.

But in the meantime, we have to live stuck between the two.

Around the same time that my grandfather died, I had a children’s book – a Disney Classic – about a Grandpa Bunny who was a painter. He painted things. He was a great painter and he taught his bunny grandchildren all about painting: they would paint all the flowers red, blue, yellow, pink, purple and orange in the Spring and the leaves red and orange in the Fall and they would spend moonlit nights in the winter painting those beautiful long shadows in the snow. And of course, at Easter they would paint Easter eggs….  Then one day, Grandpa bunny told his bunny grandchildren that he had to go on a long journey. The bunnies didn’t know where he went or whether he was coming back. Until a few days later they saw a beautiful sky – the most beautiful sunset with reds, oranges, yellows and deep purples: an amazing, wonderful sunset. That’s when we realize where Grandpa Bunny had gone.

And just how Grandpa Bunny had to leave so that he could share his painting with the whole world and not just his grandchildren, Jesus had to leave – so that he would not just be physically present to a few, but spiritually present to all. And that’s the promise. Because of the Holy Spirit, after the Ascension, Jesus is not farther away from us; Because he ascends to the Father, because of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is closer to us than ever!

And because he ascended, we know that we too will ascend; we too will get to Heaven, for, as our opening prayer today says, “where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.” Jesus is the Head and we are the Body and so where Jesus, the Head goes in glory, we the Body of Christ, are called to follow in hope.

Keep your eyes on Heaven; that’s where we’re headed. But especially today it’s ok to spend a little more time than usual looking up at the sky.

Who knows? You may see something amazing.

You may catch a glimpse of Heaven.

♪ Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky
That’s where I’m gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
I’m gonna go to the place that’s the best ♪

Jesus Wants You To Know Him

A reflection for the 3rd Sunday, Easter, year B. The readings are Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 2:1-5a; and Luke 24:35-48.

Jesus appears to the disciples, by Paula Gitner Nash. Free Bible Images, http://www.freebibleimages.org, in partnership with Good News Productions, International and College Press Publishing Co. http://www.theglobalgospel.org

Jesus is alive!

That’s all I want to say today, but It’s hard to read or listen to today’s readings and not realize that there is one word that is found in all of them: “sins”. Peter exhorts the crowds to “repent and be converted that your sins will be wiped away.” John writes in his letter that Jesus “is the expiation for our sins and the sins of the whole world” and in the Gospel Jesus tells the apostles that “repentance and the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all the nations.” I don’t like to talk about sin; I don’t like to think of myself a sinner or bout my sinfulness. But if you’re like me, and you avoid thinking about your sins and sinfulness you’re missing out on something greater. And that’s what I think is one of the messages for us today.

Six years ago, on the third Sunday of Easter I told you this story:  

There was once an explorer who, after many years in the Amazon, returned home to England, where he proceeded to share with everyone he met about his wonderful adventures. But he really struggled with really sharing the reality of the Amazon. He could draw pictures and maps, he could write stories and descriptions but, how could he describe the smells of the tropical flowers and fruits that he had discovered. How could he describe the sounds of the birds and the animals at sun down? So he did what was natural: he shared as much and encouraged people to go to the Amazon themselves. He gave them clear descriptions as to how to get there and how to prepare for such a trip. He told them how to avoid dangers and gave them all the information they need. His adventures were well received. In fact, an organization was founded and a museum was opened so people could read his writings and look at his pictures and maps. Everyone was very excited to learn about the Amazon, but no one went. Years later, the museum still stands and many have studied the writings and descriptions of his journey. There are many experts on his journey – many people who now know about the Amazon because of him – but no one really knows the Amazon, because no one ever went after he did. [It’s funny because when I’ve told this story to kids they don’t even know what they Amazon is – they just think about the Amazon that’s delivering their package next Wednesday!] So, it’s possible to know about the Amazon, but if you want to really know the Amazon, you have to go there.

Read more…