Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: August 16, 2015

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

 

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Proverbs 9: 1-6
Ephesians 5: 15-20
John 6: 51-58

 

For five Sundays – and this is Sunday number 4 – we read from Saint John’s Gospel, chapter 6, about Jesus, the Bread of Life. Perhaps you are getting tired of passages that sound so much alike each Sunday. So today I thought that I would share some reflections on the Eucharist by a bishop from Viet Nam, Archbishop Francois-Xavier Nguyen van Thuan [1928-2002], that I found very moving. And I hope that you do too. His book is called Five Loaves and Two Fish [and it appears to be currently out of print].

Archbishop van Thuan was the Coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon. When the Communists took over South Viet Nam, he was imprisoned in 1975 for thirteen years – nine of which were in solitary confinement. And he had a lot of time to pray about and reflect on his belief in Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist: Jesus, the Bread of Life. The archbishop writes:

Were you able to celebrate Mass in prison?” is the question that many people asked me. And they are right. The Eucharist is the most beautiful prayer. It is the culmination of the life of Jesus.

When I answer, “Yes, I did celebrate Mass in prison,” I already know their next question: “How were you able to get bread and wine?”

When I was arrested, I had to leave immediately with empty hands. The next day, I was allowed to request in writing the things that I needed most – things like clothes and toothpaste.

I wrote, “And please, could you send me a little bit of wine as medication for my bad stomach?” The faithful understood my request, and they sent me a small bottle of wine for Mass, labeling it “stomach medicine” and some hosts they sealed in a dehumidifying pouch.

And then the police asked me, “Do you have a bad stomach?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, here’s a little medicine for you.”

And I will never be able to express my immense joy. Every day, with three drops of wine and one drop of water in the palm of my hand, I celebrated Mass by memory… and the Catholic prisoners around me received Holy Communion.

We made little containers from the paper of cigarette boxes to reserve the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus in the Eucharist was always with me, in my shirt pocket. At night the prisoners would take turns keeping adoration. Many Christians re-gained the fervor of their faith, and may non-Christians converted.

The strength and love of Jesus is irresistible. The darkness of prison became light. And the seed of faith germinated underground.

I spent nine years in solitary confinement. During this period, I celebrated Mass every day about 3:00 in the afternoon, the hour of Jesus’ agony on the cross. I was alone and could say Mass as I wished – in Latin, French or Vietnamese. I always carried with me that little container with the Blessed Sacrament –remembering His promise: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” These were the most beautiful Masses of my whole life.

In the evening, from 9:00 to 10:00, I had an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, during which I sang Eucharistic songs in Vietnamese, despite the noise of the loudspeaker that blasted Communist propaganda to me every day from 5:00 in the morning until 11:30 at night. I felt a singular peace of spirit and of heart and the joy and serenity of the company of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

The archbishop wrote this prayer while he was in solitary confinement:

Jesus, beloved, this evening in the back of my cell – without light, without window, and stiflingly hot – I think with overwhelming nostalgia of my pastoral life. Eight years ago as a bishop, I was remembering that I used to celebrate Mass with a gold-plated chalice. And now your Blood is in the palm of my hand.

Once I used to travel the world for conferences and meetings, and now I am confined in a narrow cell without a window.

Once I used to go and visit you in the tabernacle in church. And now I carry you with me, night and day, in my shirt pocket.

Once I used to celebrate Mass in front of thousands of faithful people. And now, in the darkness of night, alone in this prison.

Once I used to preach spiritual exercises to priests, religious and lay people. And now a priest, who is also a prisoner, preaches to me through a crack in the wall.

I am happy here in this cell because you are with me. Because you want me to live here with you. I have spoken a lot in my lifetime, and now I speak no more. It is your turn, Jesus, to speak to me, for I am listening to you.

If you were to permit me to choose, I would not change anything because you are here with me. I am not afraid anymore. I have understood. I am following you in your Passion and in your Resurrection.

These and other reflections from Archbishop van Thuan in his book, Five Loaves and Two Fish, really moved me – and I hope they touched your heart too.

You and I have the opportunity to celebrate Mass so often and so freely. We can come to church and pray before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament without fear. We have the freedom and the opportunity, but do we make the most of them?

Jesus said to the crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from heave. Whoever easts this bread will live forever. And the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world…. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

Yes, Jesus, you are our Bread of Life.

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: July 26, 2015

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

 

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2 Kings 4: 42-44
Ephesians 4: 1-6
John 6: 1-15

 

So many of us use the internet to find information. Two students were having an argument over which search engine was the best. One of them said: “I really don’t like your choice because every time I use that one I get stuff that I don’t really need.” The other one replied: “That’s exactly why I use it – because sometimes the stuff I really need is not the stuff that I’m looking for.”

All the information that can come to us through the internet is very plentiful. It simply gives us a small glimpse of how God knows infinitely more, how mighty God is, and how bounteous God is with His blessings.

Bounty. That’s a word that you and I probably say three times a day with grace before meals, don’t we: “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” Bounty means the extravagance of God with His blessings.

In today’s Gospel we see Jesus being bountiful with His blessings. Five thousand men are there at that mountain, and Jesus knows what He is going to do, but He tests His apostles. He asks, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” And Philip answers, “Lord, two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.”

Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, says, “Jesus, there is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what good are these for so many?” Then Jesus says something very important: “Have the people recline.” He wants them to sit down on the grass. Then He takes the bread and the fish, blesses them and tells His apostles to distribute them. There is plenty for everybody – in fact there are twelve baskets of leftovers! We see the bounty of Jesus – how extravagant He is with His blessings!

But Jesus had the people sit down on the grass first. Why? For the very same reason that you and I are here today: to take the time to reflect on God’s blessings and to be grateful for them – and to get prepared for those still to come.

Notice that the people in the Gospel received something they hadn’t asked for. They came looking for more cures for the sick. But Jesus gave them something else – bread and fish multiplied so they could all be filled. All of this was in view of His gift to us of Himself in the Eucharist – His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity – so that we can be nourished and strengthened in Him, with plenty for everyone.

There are some blessings in life that God wants to send us that we never asked for or even thought that we needed. But sometimes the stuff that we really need is not the stuff that we are looking for.

A lady in a small town was going to be evicted from her home. Some of the neighbors put some money together so she could pay the rent. One of them went to her home and knocked and knocked on her door but there was no answer.

Come to find out, she was inside that house all along, but she wouldn’t answer the door because she thought it was the landlord coming to evict her. Here the Lord had sent her someone to pay the rent but she was afraid to answer the door.

Sometimes the stuff that we really need is not the stuff that we are looking for. But the Lord knows what we need. As He has blessed us bountifully in the past, He is going to continue to bless us bountifully in the future as He knows best. In the Gospel, the five thousand received all that they wanted to eat, and there was still plenty left over to take home.

Take some time regularly to sit down and reflect on the Lord’s blessings to you – the ones you asked for and the ones that came to you as a complete surprise. As we sang in today’s Responsorial Psalm: “The hand of the Lord feeds us. He answers all our needs.”

As we pray our grace at our tables, let us not be in a hurry with our thanks: “Bless us, Lord …gifts … bounty … Amen. Pass the gravy please.”

Not like that, but with loving, grateful hearts, and expecting the Lord’s bountiful, often-surprising blessings that are still to come: “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: 12 July 2015

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

 

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Amos 7: 12-15
Ephesians 1: 3-14
Mark 6: 7-13

 

I wonder if you are ever tempted to advise God as to how He might do a better job in this world. Like, for instance, with food – wouldn’t it be great if God had put all the nutrients we need in pizza, fried chicken and ice cream, and put all those unwanted calories and saturated fat in turnips and parsnips?

Are you ever tempted to give God advice?

Sometimes when we look at the people that God has chosen, we might think that God could have done a better job. Like Moses – Moses was the one who led the Chosen People from the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land. But Moses had murdered a man earlier in his life.

And then there is King David – from whose family- line the Messiah, Jesus, would be born. King David gave us the Book of Psalms, through God’s inspiration. King David had also committed adultery and murder.

The Lord chose Amos to be His prophet. We heard about Amos in the first reading today. Amos is brought before Amaziah, the head priest of the royal temple, and Amos is asked: “Amos, what are your credentials? Where did you go to prophet school?

Amos answers, “I don’t have any credentials. I have shepherded sheep, and I learned how to do that from my father and my grandfather. As a side job, I have been tending sycamore trees – I picked that up on my own by watching others. But I was in the market place and I saw people cheating each other. I saw widows being evicted from their homes, and I’ve seen children being sold for the price of a new pair of sandals. God told me to prophesy – God has made me His prophet. Those are my credentials.

And we wonder: couldn’t God have selected some more promising candidates?

In the New Testament, God doesn’t seem to do much better. We look at Jesus’ “cabinet” – Peter, James and John. Simon Peter had denied even knowing Jesus three times. James and John were very ambitious and their mother thought they ought to sit at the Lord’s right and left hand in the heavenly kingdom. It sure looks like God could have made some better choices.

And, in today’s Gospel, Jesus sends out the twelve Apostles – including Judas – to preach repentance and to cure the sick in His name. God chose them.

We hear in the second reading today from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that God has also chosen us: to be His beloved sons and daughters – and to become disciples of His Son, Jesus – and to live as faithful stewards of God’s bountiful blessings.

We have been chosen by God. And still we have questions just like people throughout the centuries have had: “Lord, are you really sure you want me?” The answer from God is: “Yes, I do. I have chosen you!

There was a graduation ceremony in a small Midwestern college, and one of the students was awarded a full scholarship for further studies because of his excellent performance there. As the graduation procession moved out at the end, that student went over to his mother and father. Everybody could see by the way that they were dressed that they were not people of privilege. He put that certificate in his mother’s hands, and she reached over and took her husband’s hand and put it on top of hers and that scholarship. She said to her husband, “It was worth all the sacrifices, wasn’t it honey?

And it was. That graduate was grateful for all that his mother and father went without so that he could go to college. And so, on the way out, he put that scholarship in the hands of those who had made it possible for him. He knew where his gratitude belonged.

Everything that we have and are is a gift from God. God wants us to receive His gifts to us and develop them with a return. As His stewards, we show our gratitude to God – who has chosen us to play a part in His plan for the world – by sharing our gifts generously with others.

Sister Irene Sandfry was the sacristan at Saint Joseph Parish in Avon Lake where I served as the pastor for eighteen years. She died last December at the age of 92. And she was a very holy woman.

She told us how, when her alarm clock rang at 3:15 AM, the first thing she would do – even before turning on the light – was to take hold of the small statue of Jesus on her night stand and say to Him each morning: “Jesus, what can I do for you today?” What a great way to begin each day, yes?

I recommend this practice to you. Don’t be afraid to ask Him: “Jesus, what can I do for you today?” And don’t be afraid to listen for His response. He will let you know.

And if you think you are a particular challenge to God, just look at the lives of people He has chosen in the past, and see what God was able to do through them!

Jesus, what can I do for you today? Help me to know. And help me to remember that, in spite of everything else, you have chosen me.”