How we reject Jesus the Prophet

Mark 6:1-6 (14th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

Gideon, one of the lesser-known of the ancient Jewish prophets, once prophesied that the king’s favourite horse would soon die. The horse died a short time later. The king was outraged at Gideon the prophet, certain that his prophecy had brought about the horse's death. The king summoned Gideon and commanded him, “Prophet, tell me when you will die!” Gideon realized that the king was planning to kill him immediately no matter what answer he gave, so he had to answer carefully. “I do not know when I will die,” he answered finally. “I only know that whenever I die, the king will die three days later.”

Sometimes we have the wrong idea of what a prophet is. We can think that a prophet is someone who predicts the future, a kind of fortune teller. Prophets in the Bible are not like. There we find that prophets are not like clairvoyants gazing into crystal balls, but are rather more like the voice in the GPS device for your car. Prophets help direct us to heaven, our ultimate destination. They keep us on the right track as we try growing closer to God. When we make a wrong turn and find ourselves on a path that leads us away from Him, they help us to get back on the right road.

Jesus, the Son of God and our Saviour, is the greatest of all prophets. With His words and life, He shows us the definitive way to God our Father. Today in the Gospel we find Jesus preaching in the synagogue of His hometown. He is there speaking to people He has known since he was a child in order to challenge them to live better lives. Shockingly, Jesus Christ, the greatest of prophets, is rejected. Before we are tempted to look down on these people for casting Jesus and His message aside, let us consider two possible reasons why they might have acted in this way. When we think about it, we often do not behave much better. If we are not careful, we can easily ignore the message that Jesus wants us to hear for the same reasons as the people in His hometown.

Reason #1 for rejecting Jesus: Projection
One cartoon from my favorite comic strips Herman, gives a great example of what projection is. The single-panelled cartoon shows a middle-aged man standing in front of a desk speaking with his doctor. The man is perhaps slightly overweight but otherwise quite normal looking. At the bottom of the panel, we find the doctor’s question to his patient: “are you eating properly and getting plenty of exercise?” This question doesn’t seem out of place until we look across the table at the doctor. He is an enormous man sitting with a hand on his over-sized stomach! He is so fat he barely fits behind the desk! Psychologists tell us that we use projection as a defense mechanism against unpleasant feelings and impulses. Accepting a personal weakness hurts. In projection, we deny the existence of unsavoury characteristics in ourselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is constantly being rude may regularly accuse other people of being rude. In order to avoid the uncomfortable truth that his eating and exercise habits are horrendous, the doctor in the cartoon tells all his patients that they need to eat healthier and get more exercise.

When Jesus spoke in His hometown, His words must have made people uncomfortable. He revealed to them their shortcomings. Being made aware of the ways in which they are walking away from God must have made them feel very uneasy. Instead of accepting the pain that comes from recognizing their weaknesses and choosing to do something about it, the people defend themselves by employing some classic projection. They are not the ones who have a problem, Jesus is the problem! Who is this guy anyway? He’s just a carpenter! We know His mother and father! Who is He to tell us what to do?

We can all be pretty good at projection. Through readings at Mass, homilies, advice in confession and feedback from people we live with, God reveals to us ways in which we need to change. Instead of accepting our weak areas and trying to improve them, we can defend ourselves like the people in the Gospel. How can I be expected to be patient? Look at the people I have to live with! How can I pray more? My boss and family keep giving me more to do! Who do these people think they are, telling me I need to change? They are the ones with the problem! When we act like this, we reject Jesus as He continues His prophetic mission in our lives.

Reason #2 for rejecting Jesus: Blindness to the very ordinary ways God speaks to us
The people in the Gospel seem to reject Jesus because He is so ordinary in their eyes. This is someone they have known their whole life. They grew up with him. He doesn’t seem like anyone special. Like these people, we can think that if God really wanted us to change He would find some extraordinary way to communicate His message to us. A vision. A prophet from an important family in a more famous town. A telephone call from the Almighty Himself. God, however, rarely communicates through extraordinary means. The people miss God’s message for them because they do not want to listen to the ordinary seeming Jesus.

Jesus speaks His personal message to us in very ordinary ways. We read a passage from the Gospel and some phrase strikes us. We hear something in a talk that challenges us. The beauty of nature inspires us and makes us think about the creator. Someone we work with gives us some advice for how we can improve. Jesus the prophet speaks to us in very ordinary ways. We need to be sure not to miss Him.

This is my final Sunday at St. Paul Parish before I leave for further studies. For the past year I have been privileged to walk with this wonderful community as we all journey closer to God. In addition to expressing my gratitude, I want you to know that you have been a powerful way in which Jesus the prophet has spoken to me.  At this parish I have met many people who are generous in following Christ. Families who sacrifice for one another. Individuals who serve selflessly. People devoted to prayer, interceding for others. Through you I have heard the call of Jesus to better live my own vocation. At this parish, I have experienced a warm welcome and great kindness. You accepted me. You have kept me well fed - perhaps too well fed! I have created friendships I will cherish. Through you I have heard Jesus telling me how much He loves and cares for me.Thank you!

Let us continue to pray for one another that we may not reject Jesus’ prophetic message that He communicates to us in ordinary ways. Let us respond wholeheartedly to Him.

How we should touch Jesus in the Eucharist

Mark 5:21-43 (13th Sunday of Ordinary Time, year B)

A young girl was becoming impatient and antsy during Mass. The homily was long and boring. The Church was very hot. All the prayers seemed to drag on. After the girl could take it no longer she turned to her mother and said, “mommy, when can we get out of here?!” Her mother told her she needed to sit still for just a few minutes longer. Frustrated, the girl slumped into her pew and began looking around the Church to kill time. As she gazed at the backs of the different interesting people at Mass, her eyes caught hold of the red, sanctuary lamp. At that moment, something clicked inside the girl’s head. She pulled on her mother’s sleeve and said to her, “mommy, when the light turns green can we go?”

We can sometimes approach our time in Church like that little girl. The only thing on our mind is when we can get out of here! It's easy to be so focused on when we can get out of the Church that we risk getting nothing out of Mass. The story we just heard about the hemorrhaging woman teaches us how we can prevent this from happening.

A central theme in the story of Jesus healing the woman is the different ways that people touch Jesus and the corresponding effect this has on their lives. Jesus is walking through a large crowd. As a result, many people are touching Him as He makes His way past them. These people, however, touch Jesus without considering who He is or what He could do for them. To them He is just an ordinary person. The people who touch Jesus in this way experience no change in their lives. As He walks along, Jesus suddenly stops and exclaims to His disciples, “who touched me?” They don’t know who to respond to this. They are in a crowd. People are bumping into Jesus at every moment. Jesus realizes that someone touched Him in a way that was radically different from the rest of the people. He wants to know who touched Him with faith. Turning around, He came face to face with the hemorrhaging woman.

This poor individual had been bleeding for twelve years. She had spent all her money visiting doctors in a vain search for a cure. In addition to her physical ailment, the woman suffers emotionally. Because of her bleeding, the Mosaic law dictates that she is ritually unclean. As a result, no one is permitted to touch her or else they too will become unclean. Eventually this desperate woman hears about Jesus and travels a long distance to visit Him. She knows that He is no ordinary man and trusts in His power. She thinks, “if only I can touch His clothes, I can be cured”.  Reaching out, she touches Jesus in a way different than everyone else in the crowd. She touches Him with faith. Because of this, she alone among the crowd is changed by touching Jesus. Power flows out of Jesus and she is healed.

In every Sacrament, and especially in the Eucharist, we have the opportunity to touch Jesus just like the hemorrhaging woman. In the catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter in Rome, there is a 4th century fresco that depicts the scene of Jesus healing the bleeding woman. The image catches the woman at the moment she has touched the cloak of Jesus with great trust and faith. Ancient Christians created this fresco in order for two reasons: 1) to depict this biblical story as well, and 2) to encourage all who look at the image to remember that each time they receive a Sacrament they take the role of the hemorrhaging woman in the story.  Like her, when we approach any Sacrament we come with some woundedness. Hopelessness. A hurt from a relationship. Captivity to sin. In each Sacrament, we touch Jesus. When we touch Him with faith and trust, power, which we call grace, flows from Jesus into us. As a result we receive some healing. We grow closer to Jesus and are strengthened as we follow after Him. The Sacrament in which we have the opportunity to touch Jesus in the most profound way is the Eucharist. When we receive Holy Communion at Mass, we touch Jesus who is truly present in the consecrated Host.

Whenever we receive the Eucharist, it is critical that we touch Jesus in the same way that the hemorrhaging woman did. Unfortunately, we often touch Jesus in the way that the rest of the crowd did. As He walked among them, they touched Him with a lack of faith and trust. As a result, they were not changed by their encounter. Receiving Communion can be like this for us. When we touch the Host, we do it without thinking Who we are touching or what we desire Him to do for us. This is a problem. When we swallow a pill, the medicine works on us regardless of what sentiments we carry in our heart. Receiving Communion does not work like this. Our disposition matters greatly. Unless we approach Jesus in the Eucharist with the faith and trust of the sick woman we do not receive all the graces Jesus wants to give us.

Once I witnessed someone who touched Jesus in the Eucharist in the same way that the hemorrhaging woman touched Jesus in the crowd. At the time I was living in Tijuana. As part of my apostolate I would attend Mass in a poor chapel in a rural area of the city called Ranchito. In this town there lived a young girl whose name was Xóchitl. Xóchitl was born with spina bifida and suffered much from the complications of her illness. As a result, she was often in pain when I saw her at Mass. Xóchitl’s mom once gave an amazing account of what her daughter does at Mass. On days when Xóchitl feels particularly bad, after she has received communion she simply says to Jesus in her heart, “please make me feel better”. When Xóchitl touches Jesus with this kind of profound faith and trust, Jesus certainly floods her with grace and enters into a deeper relationship with her at this moment.

Whenever we are at Mass we should try to imitate Xóchitl rather than the girl who caught sight of the red sanctuary Mass. When you receive Holy Communion today, touch Jesus with the faith of the hemorrhaging woman, trusting that He will heal you and draw you closer to Himself.

How Pope Francis' "Laudato Si" has challenged me

Mark 4:35-41 (12th Sunday Ordinary time, year b)

Recently, I have been reading and reflecting on Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ new encyclical on the environment. His message has challenged me. Before, I did not think that caring for the environment was a central part of being Catholic. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t think that environment issues were unimportant, I just thought that they were secondary. Pope Francis has made me reconsider my mentality. His model for how we should relate to the environment is St. Francis of Assisi. In fact, the name of the document, Laudato Si (“Praised be to you”), are the first words of a canticle composed by the saint. For St. Francis, conversion is not just about growing closer to God and other people. A necessary part of following Jesus is developing a better relationship with the environment.

The first step in this conversion is reexamining how we view our relationship to the rest of creation. Sometimes we think in the following way. The earth belongs to us. We are its masters. Humans are separate from the rest of creation. The rest of nature is good only in so far as it is useful to us. The reason we should take care of the environment is so that we can continue using it in the future. Today’s gospel upsets this way of thinking. The disciples are in a boat crossing the sea and Jesus is in the back of the boat sleeping. Suddenly they are caught in a violent storm. The wind howls around them and the waves batter the boat. The disciples fear for their lives. They are helpless in the face of these forces of nature. They recognize clearly that they do not control creation. They ask Jesus for help and with a word He calms the wind and the sea. Nature obeys Him. The disciples then exclaim, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” In their hearts they already know the answer: Jesus must be God, the creator of the wind, sea and all that is. Only the creator is master of creation.

We are not God. We are part of creation, not its master. “The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1) and belongs to Him. It was here before us and was given to us to care for. St. Francis understood that the earth, our common home, “is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us” (Laudato Si, 1). All other living beings have their own dignity and purpose in the eyes of God. They do not exist solely for our use. God wants us to be stewards and not masters of the environment. We are to care for the earth, not control it.

We have failed to be good stewards of creation. The earth, our sister, “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her” (2). In writing Laudato Si, Pope Francis has done his homework. He has entered into dialogue with the scientific community in order to understand the various ways our actions have harmed the environment. Climate change, which adversely affects all forms of life, is caused in large part by human activity. Deforestation has scarred our landscape. We have polluted the earth, dumping chemicals, waste and garbage upon it. As a result, “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” (12). Because of poor stewardship, the planet’s biodiversity has decreased. Many plants and animals no longer exist. “Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right” (33).

Although our failure to care for the earth, our common home, affects us all, the poor suffer most. The goods of the earth are intended for all. However, we who live in wealthier countries take far more than our share, leaving little for the poor or future generations. If everyone in the world were as wasteful as we are in Canada, the earth would soon be destroyed entirely. Environmental damage disproportionately affects the poorest. Their lands are the most scarred as a result of our poor stewardship. They have less access to natural resources. Many do not even have a reliable source of water. This is a violation of a basic human right.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis presents what he calls an integral ecology. “Everything”, he writes, “is interconnected.” (70). In our life, the following are all linked: our relationship with God, our relationship with the environment and our relationship with others, particularly the poor. When one relationship is weak, the other two suffer. For example, when we are not close to God our hearts become empty and we try to fill them by consuming more and more. This leads us to carelessly pillage the earth. The resulting environmental damage harms others, especially the poor. On the other hand, when one relationship is healthy, the other two improve. For example, when we see the beauty of creation it draws us closer to God, the creator. When we view the earth as a gift, good in itself, we freely share it with others, especially those most in need.

Pope Francis calls us all - individuals and governments - to ecological conversion. It is unacceptable to ignore problems any longer; action is required. We must choose to “hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (49).  On the national and international level, binding processes must be established that safeguards the environment and holds violators accountable. For there to be lasting change, ecological conversion must occur on a personal level. “Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change” (202). Ecological conversion means living a simpler life. It is choosing to stop buying more stuff, and rejecting the “throw-away culture” in favor of the conviction that “less is more” (222). Ecological conversion means living a life more focused on nature. It is choosing to bring our family to the park rather than a mall for recreation. Ecological conversion means living a life more focused on relationships, learning to “to think deeply and to love generously” (47). It is choosing to look up from our phones and have real interactions with people, face to face. Ecological conversion means considering how our actions affects the environment and others, especially the poor. It is choosing to do things “such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, and turning off unnecessary lights” (211).

Laudato Si has challenged me to consider how my relationship with God, the environment and the poor are all interrelated. It has pushed me to make concrete changes in my actions. Pope Francis wrote the document to provoke us. Throughout, he asks us to consider an important question: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (160)  Do we want to leave an environment that reflects the beauty of God or one that is scarred from neglect? Do we want to leave behind the values of greed, disconnectedness and wastefulness or of concern for all, especially the poor? What kind of world do you want to leave behind? All of us are called to reflect and to take action.