Saturday, August 12, 2006

I am the bread of Life

I can remember, in my younger days, seeing a female friend walking down the hallway of my High School. I ran up behind her, threw my arms around her waste, lifted her up in the air, (as was our custom) only to realize that this wasn’t my friend at all. This was a poor stranger that I was triumphantly holding up in the air…right next to her boyfriend. I apologized, put her down, and walked, red-faced, in the complete opposite direction. I imagine most of you have not had quite that huge of a mistake but we all get names and faces confused. After a year at St. Thomas, I still marvel at the number of people who I should be able to call by name that are still a mystery to me. I’d rather not call people by any name than call them by the wrong name and, being a man, I’ll definitely not ask them their name any more than I’ll ask for directions.

In the gospel today, we heard Jesus say, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” It’s hard to believe that a seemingly simple statement such as this caused as much turmoil as it did and I have to be careful here because, two years ago, my homily got me in trouble. People complained loudly about it for this Sunday and I think part of the reason had to do with leaving out the context. You see, to understand why this statement is so controversial, you have to know what comes before it. You might remember that two weeks ago we heard the story of the multiplication of the loaves. Jesus looked out over the crowds and had pity on them. Last week, we briefly interrupted our regular Sunday schedule to celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration. We should have been hearing the first part of this reading in which, one day after the multiplication of loaves, a group who had been fed seek him out in order to be fed again. Most of us can probably sympathize with both Jesus and the crowd. When someone does something nice for you, you are more likely to turn to them in need, right? And, likewise, it seems like there are some people that constantly turn to you for help if you offer it once. In what was supposed to be last week’s reading, Jesus sought to help them understand that he wasn’t just giving them a hand-out, he was giving them salvation. They ask for a sign similar to the one that Moses had given their ancestors. So Jesus reveals to them that the bread that they were eating was his flesh that would, through his suffering on the cross and his glorious resurrection, redeem the world.

That brings us to our present reading which is, in some way, trying to clarify how Jesus’ flesh is this bread of life. There is an allusion to the Old Testament Exodus event in that, just as the Jews murmured through the desert on their way to the promised land, so this group of Jews are murmuring about Jesus’ identity. In some ways, this story reminds me of the story that we heard a few weeks ago when Jesus was in his home town but he could not perform a miracle for them because of their lack of faith. These Jews have the same objections. They ask, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” You can almost hear the sarcasm seething through each word. As scripture scholar Diane Bergant said, “In a clever turn-of-phrase, (Jesus) explains that only those drawn by God will be drawn by the one sent by God.”[1]

What would only become clear later was that, in this instruction, Jesus was calling them to a new identity. He was calling them to become Christian. Not just to break bread with him, but to believe in him and, through that belief to see in the bread the reality of his flesh, his very self. The action of the Eucharist was to manifest and enliven the faith that was given them by the Father. Now, please don’t get me wrong. If you know me you know that I have a profound love for the Jewish People. I get frustrated by the statements of some liberal Jews and I get frustrated by some of the actions of Israel. But, especially given what has happened surrounding Mel Gibson and the military activity in the Middle East, I think it’s once again important to understand that Jesus was inviting the Jews to a fuller, deeper understanding of their relationship to God, not nullifying their past understanding. Our Jewish brothers and sisters remain in a relationship with God, even if it is incomplete without an understanding of the messiah.

In our present circumstances, unfortunately, the Eucharist not only separates Jew from Christian but, as we are all painfully aware of, it also separates Christian from Christian. In our ecumenically charged world in which we tend to emphasize what unites us as Christians and even find ourselves frustrated by certain Christian denominations that don’t even consider us Christian, we may feel tempted to obliterate the differences and expect that anyone is allowed to take communion. As we look more deeply at this reading, we are confronted by a very divisive Christ that does not tolerate half-hearted unity. Either, we understand that, through the body of Christ that we receive and the faith that we cultivate, we are being led to the Father or we do not have eternal life. This isn’t simple bread that appears from heaven, this is the flesh of Jesus Christ that connects our lives to the cross. In our exuberance to be one, we cannot deny the differences that painfully separate the body of Christ even as we continue to pray and work for those differences to be eliminated. We, as Catholics, must continue to take seriously the gospel call, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

[1] Bergant, Diane Preaching the New Lectionary Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Mn c. 1999

Don't use American Express

This post is one of those "my own opinion" pieces. There is no sin involved with those people who disagree with me and I'm in no way proposing that the church has any agreement with this post.

But, I'm one of those people that sends a request to credit card soliciters that they stop doing it. I use their own "no postage necessary" envelopes when I do so by circiling my name and saying something like, "Please do not contact me as I have no desire to use your credit card." Sometimes they will send a second time and I will write, "Second Time" and repeat the above or a variation with a more direct message (something along the lines of "cease and desist").

I think the all of the credit card companies have figured out that they are annoying me not making any positive impression...all except American Express. I have asked them three times before to cease and desist but they continue to waste paper and IGNORE what I have to say. So, here's my request. There are tons of good credit cards out there that listen to people. They solicit but they don't waste all kinds of money and paper when people make it quite clear that they don't want their product. If you have an American Express, your card does this. So, why do you want to use it? I think it's time to destroy our American Express cards and let them know that we are doing so because of unethical solicitation practices.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

myspace worries

A while back, a friend talked me into making a profile for myspace.com. I believe that if you go to www.myspace.com/fatherdennis that it will send you to the site. So far, I've connected with three guys that I thought had fallen off the face of the earth and it's proving to be one way of finding those college friends that I just kind-of lost.

In the process, I've received several inquiries from attractive young women to become their friends or start conversations with them. I wrote to the first three asking if I knew them and received no response. I don't know think it's healthy to meet friends via the internet. I don't mind reconnecting with people but, just like I don't dial random phone numbers just to meet people, so I don't just look up random people and try to correspond with them.

But, it does make me wonder how many men have done this. Hoe many married men are cheating on their wives, even if it is just in the heart, by corresponding to these women? How many men are writing to desperate housewives, so to speak, in order to do the same thing? I just find this troubling.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

first bat of the season

Usually I post profound theological posts here on my blog. I imagine all of you know that by now. But, I'm on vacation. So, here's what I did today.

I was sitting in my dining room listening to the radio and watching TV when I heard movement above me. I thought a mouse had somehow got into the drop ceiling of my kitchen but, then, it moved really fast from one corner over to the other. I was tempted to move the ceiling and see what was there when I thought to myself, "what are you doing? What would the Archbishop say if you got rabies because you were trying to get a bat out of your apartment. So, I called the building manager and told him that I had a critter in my ceiling.

It was small and, according to the janitor, laying in the corner. But, he's not in my house anymore. And, for the second year in a row, I have the first bat of the season in my apartment.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Homily Panic

I had put the final touches on my homily at around 11:00 Saturday night. It was a very eventful Saturday as some of my extended family came to my apartment for a visit and supper. While it was good to see them and good to travel to the Iowa Cubs baseball game, I was short on homily preparation time. But, I got a decent one prepared and, right when my brain seemed too tired to function, I heard the knocking on the back door. It was a couple of friends, one of whom is beginning doctoral studies at the University of Evil...I mean Iowa. So, after a couple of relaxing beverages, I told them that it was time for me to go to bed and thanked them for their visit. Before one left, however, she asked me if I had looked at the second reading. I said I had...one of Paul's lettters. She said that it was one of Peter's, which made me think she was crazy. I brushed my teeth, prayed my night prayers and entered into night silence. Precious sleep.

Then it hit me.

This Sunday is not the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time. This Sunday is the Feast of Transfiguration! I had prepared the homily for the wrong celebration. I shot out of bed and found my "lost cause" website. Thank goodness I could re-work it slightly and use it instead of having to make no sense with my other homily.

What's truly ironic was that my other homily was going to be based on the predictability of the church...how you can go to church most every sunday and receive the same body and blood, hear the same prayers and readings, etc. This is a source of consolation for us that we don't have to make stuff up. I had to change it up, though.