Friday, 26 October 2018

St. John 6:30-34


                                                               ST. JOHN 6:30-34

Once Jesus has challenged the people about just coming to Him for bread, and revealed to them He is the one upon whom the Father has set His seal, the people respond by asking Jesus what they must do to answer His to call to have faith in Him: v.29.

The people reply:  So they said to Him, “What sign can You do, that we may see and believe in You? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”  Vs. 30-31

Very typically human.

Haven’t we all likewise challenged God at some time or other?

Faith originates as a gift of the Holy Spirit, offered to every human being.

We are free to accept this gift or not.

The Holy Spirit does give us, for want of a better expression ‘clues’ to help us open our beings to His gift of faith: we have the gift of intellect, that is our capacity for inquisitive thought, such as St. Paul points out, rather bluntly to the Romans, applicable to this generation so stuck in relativism: For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what He has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord Him glory as God or give Him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. [Rms. 1:19-23]

By appealing to the Exodus event, thus the intercessory power of Moses, and not just to the manna from God, the crowd is saying: “Okay You claim the Father has set His seal on You so prove it, do something like that!”

There is within the crowd and, at least on occasion something of the proverbial ‘doubting Thomas’, within us too.

Elsewhere Jesus assures us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” [Jn.20.29]

Jesus responds by teaching again on faith and trust: So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Vs.32-33

The crowd is back to their bellies again, missing the point entirely: So they said to Him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”  Vs.34.                                     

The verses, 30-34, are critical to trust the truth of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus, in the remaining verses of this chapter will make explicit, at no small cost to Himself in the immediate, and as we shall see, Jesus will pay the ultimate cost of this gift of Himself in the Eucharist through His Passion and Death.

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. [Heb.11:1]

Realization is a critical word here for it points to experience.

The parallel to faith in our lives is love.

People assert they are in love, a multifaceted combination of physical attraction, emotional response, but above all a free will choice to make a commitment of gift of self to other.

Much the same dynamic occurs when accepting the gift of our vocation in life such as Holy Marriage and parenthood. In his vocation a priest also says yes to love of God, love of souls. It is the mutual self-gift of love between God and the Priest which enables his vocation to be fulfilled. Here too faith is constitutive, as in marriage.

Love, like faith, is fundamentally something hoped for and the realization unfolds not in the vagaries of emotions but it the persistence of commitment.

May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to His call, what are the riches of glory in His inheritance among the holy ones….[Ep.1:18]

When we struggle with faith/love, doubt and pain are an inseparable part of being true disciples of Christ because we may think we have reached the fullness of faith, that we know everything about God and the things of God, and what believing is all about and about the one we love and what loving is all about, when in truth, until the end of our lives, we are always mere beginners, should always ask the Holy Spirit for more, more, more faith and love, remembering as St. Paul teaches: At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love. [1 Cor. 13:12,13]

A very simple, yet powerful way to pray, not just to prepare our hearts for the next verses and Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist, but whenever we struggle to believe, to love, or have doubts, perhaps a tinge of despair, hence needing to trust: Jesus, I believe in You. Jesus, I hope in You. Jesus, I love You.

© 2018 ~ Fr. Arthur Joseph






























Thursday, 18 October 2018

ST. JOHN 6:22-29


                                                                  

The following verses contain both teaching, about the real bread we should work for, and a prelude to the great teaching about Jesus Himself as the real bread of life.

Vs.23,24= The next day, the crowd that remained across the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not gone along with His disciples in the boat, but only His disciples had left. Other boats came from Tiberias near the place where they had eaten the bread when the Lord gave thanks. When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor His disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

Sometimes a sign is just that, something that points to something, such as a stop sign, but it is inert, that is the sign indicates stop but stopping can only be accomplished by something or someone in motion.

None of Jesus’ signs is inert, they are indicators of His authority over everything that is, over every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the Name that is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father. [Phil. 2:5-11]

The multiplication of the loaves and fish is the fifth of what St. John refers to as signs, beginning with Cana: Jesus did this as the beginning of His signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed His glory, and His disciples began to believe in Him. [2.11]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that: Jesus accompanies His words with many "mighty works and wonders and signs", which manifest that the kingdom is present in Him and attest that He was the promised Messiah. [#547]

Common parlance uses the word ‘miracle’ whereas St. John’s use of the word ‘signs’ is actually more efficacious than alternates such as miracle, mighty works, wonders, because often, such as at Cana and the feeding of the multitude, they point as well to aspects of sacramental life for the sacraments are: "efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us" (CCC 1131).

V.25=And when they found Him across the sea they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”

Important to keep this verse before the eyes of our heart when we considered Jesus’s answer: Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for Me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” V.26

In some respects, this is a non-direct answer because Jesus does not say how He got there, yet fundamentally it is a most direct answer because Jesus goes to the heart of the matter.


There is a lot in this answer from Jesus: Do not work for food that perishes: It is not only the food which perishes, we who consume food will ultimately perish, die and find ourselves before the awesome judgment seat of God, to render account of our choices in life, of how we have lived.

As Jesus also teaches, in St. Luke 12: 13-34, we are to reject the ‘food’ of greed and anxiety, and trust we have a Father who in His love for us knows all that we need, not merely to sustain earthly life, more importantly what we need to enter eternal life, embracing therefore all the expectations and costs of discipleship, verses 35-59.

Let us not be too harsh in any reflections on the crowd seeking Jesus and more bread.

They were living under the jacket boot of the Roman Empire, under a puppet king, and the immense burden of taxation by the Romans, by Herod, by their own religious leaders. All four Gospel accounts reveal to what extent the people suffered from not just taxation, but the burden of innumerable religious laws, besides the draconian laws of the state and from hunger, poverty, disease.

 Truly as Christ Himself saw them and sees us today: When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. [Mt.9:36]

Thus against this background it is from His compassionate Heart that flows, for those who had just questioned Him, and for us that we should work: for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.

In the above versus Jesus tells us why He will give us this food for eternal life: For on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.

Though no longer is the familiar red-wax circle imprinted with a signet ring, commonly used to seal letters, ‘to seal’, as Jesus uses the word, needs a point of reference:  Canada and other countries have, and use, what is commonly called “the great seal of….”;  in Canada it is rather large, heavy, and is held in trust by the Governor General of Canada and is used, by being stamped upon state documents. Minus the imprint of the Great Seal state documents are just pieces of paper. It is the imprint of the seal which authenticates the purpose of the document.

In a sense we can say that minus ‘the seal of the Father’, Jesus is just another human being.

An example of the power conferred on Jesus by the Father setting His seal upon Jesus is found in Revelation 5:1-5= I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who sat on the throne. It had writing on both sides and was sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a mighty angel who proclaimed in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to examine it. I shed many tears because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to examine it. One of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.”

The ‘sealing’ of Jesus by the Father is a consecration, affirming Jesus as His Son, giving Him as the Incarnate One all the power He needs to fulfill His redemptive mission.

V.28=So they said to Him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”

These people, who had just been told, by Jesus, the only reason they came to Him was for free food, then were told to only seek food for eternal life, are the same people who had tried to seize Jesus to make Him their earthly king, now, suddenly, appear to have experienced some spiritual metamorphosis!

Perhaps as with the Emmaus disciples [Lk.24:13-35] just being in the presence of Jesus, just the power of His anointed words enabled an obvious conversion and: Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one He sent.” [v.29]



© 2018 Fr. Arthur Joseph


Monday, 8 October 2018

St. John 6: 15-21


                                                                      

When we meditate upon: Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry Him off to make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain alone. [v.15], it helps to be aware of the nature of crowds and how, much like avalanches which begin gently at the top of a mountain with a slight movement of snow, and then cascade down with uncontrollable speed, to understand one reason why Jesus would get away from the crowd.

There are several aspects of this verse which merit closer meditation: a] the crowd moving towards Jesus to carry Him off; b] the attempt to make Him a king; c] Jesus withdrawing and d] alone to the mountain.

A] When Her Majesty the Queen, other members of the royal family, or the Governor General, or the Holy Father on his pastoral visits, come into view of the waiting crowd it is not unusual for people to press forward, gently, peacefully, so no one gets trampled.

Yet there are other circumstances when crowds of people can stampede, either from fear or unbridled enthusiasm, such as we all saw in New York when the towers came down, that was a flight of fear, whereas when the home team wins a major sporting event crowds can stampede onto the field to lift their heroes on their shoulders.

Sadly, be it stampeding from fear or enthusiasm people can get trampled, and seriously injured.

In the Gospel accounts presented each year in the Liturgies of Holy Week, the very crowds pressing forward crying “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday, will become the Good Friday mob rushing forward crying “Crucify Him!”

B] Unwittingly, no doubt, the crowd in its enthusiasm is seeking to accomplish what satan failed to tempt Jesus to do, namely abandon His divine mission and become a mere human potentate.

When Jesus urges us to learn from Him for “I am meek and humble of heart.” [Mt. 11:29], part of that learning is to embrace, with joy and fidelity, the Holy Will of the Father.

For Jesus the will of the Father encompasses fulfilling His divine mission as Redeemer which means, as King of the Universe embracing the humility and meekness of no gilded throne; the Cross becomes His throne; no bejeweled crown but one of thorns; no ornate palaces but rather a cave at birth and a tomb hewn from rock in death. No mere ersatz human majesty, but the glorious majesty of Resurrection.

C] St. John’s use of the word ‘withdrew’ is reminiscent of: They rose up, drove Him out of the town, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl Him down headlong. But He passed through the midst of them and went away. [Lk. 4:29,30].

In both St. John and St. Luke, we observe the uncontrolled nature of crowds. In both cases, in one to avoid being made a secular king, in the other to avoid death before ‘His hour’, Jesus leaves. These examples of Jesus withdrawing, avoiding if you will, anything that is not of the Holy Will of the Father is consistent with: …. I came down from heaven not to do My own will but the will of the One who sent Me. V.38.

This too is the example of the humble heart we are called to imitate.

D] But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you…..[Mt.6:6] We see Jesus throughout His earthly life practicing this aloneness with the Father He teaches us to imitate.

Solitary places for prayer, for encounters with God are found throughout Sacred Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

Moses experienced this: Meanwhile Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law…..beyond the wilderness, he came to the mountain of God, Horeb. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush. When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed. …………….God called out to him from the bush: Moses! Moses! He answered, “Here I am.” God said: Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. [Ex. 3:1-5]

Satan attempts to misuse solitude when tempting Jesus: Then the devil took Him up to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to Him, “All these I shall give to You, if You will prostrate Yourself and worship me.” [4:8,9], Jesus will have none of it: At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve.’” [v.10]

Greater than the paltry magnificence satan offered Jesus is the reality of true magnificence which Jesus reveals to us on a mountain: After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; His face shone like the sun and His clothes became white as light. [Mt. 17:1,2]

Let us not forget the template of Christian life given us by Jesus on the Mount of the Beatitudes: St. Matthew chapters 5, 6, 7.

From the earliest days of the Church men and women have sought out places, spaces, to be alone with God, to, like Jesus, do battle with satan, thus keeping him, as one tradition says, away from the places where people dwell, the cities, to labour in prayer and manual labour as needed, as intercessors for the human family.

Those of the early centuries are known as Fathers/Mothers of the desert, from whose wisdom we get these teachings from two of them: Abba Agathon stresses that “prayer is warfare to the last breath” and Abba Lucius stressed that before seeking the solitary life, we must first have lived rightly among our brothers and sisters, otherwise we “will not be able to live rightly in solitude.”

In Medieval times Irish monks and hermits sought what they called ‘the thin place’, that is, for want of a better descriptive, the place where they would find the membrane between the cosmos and heaven, at its thinnest, for there, they figured, they would be closest to God.

Factually the true ‘thin place’ is in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

The key is to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us into communion of love with the Father, Jesus and Himself, in silence/solitude/the secret place within us.

Vs.16,17=When it was evening, His disciples went down to the sea, embarked in a boat, and went across the sea to Capernaum. It had already grown dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.

There is a beautiful ordinariness in these two verses.

After a hectic day, and needing to travel to their destination, how very ordinary for fishermen, to go down to the sea and travel by boat.

St. John does not indicate why they left without waiting for Jesus. Perhaps they assumed, since He had gone away, He was traveling by some other route and would meet them in Capernaum.

St. John takes note “It had already grown dark.”, and at the Last Supper once the traitor Judas has left, notes:  And it was night. [13:30]

Twilight is often beautiful but never lingering, pre-dawn likewise. The latter giving way to the brilliance of sunlight, the former to the weight of darkness. Satan is all darkness, and darkness has weight, light has nothing heavy about it, hence the expression that something is light, rather than heavy.

We associate darkness with depression, light with joy, as the psalmist says: At dusk weeping comes for the night; but at dawn there is rejoicing. [Ps.30:6]

All sources of light illuminate, many like the sun, produce warmth. Indeed, we combine both when we speak of the light of a fire.

Christ is “light from light, true light from true light”, the light which darkness cannot overcome.

With Jesus absent, while the disciples were still on the sea St. John notes: The sea was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. [v.18]

Only St. Luke, of all the Evangelists, makes no mention of an event where Jesus walks on the water. St. Mark: 6:45-53 and St. Matthew: 14:22-24, both recount such an event and in each the disciples are traveling across the water without Jesus, a severe storm comes up and each account does include Jesus coming towards the disciples.

V.19=When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they began to be afraid.

To be afraid when on the water and the wind churns the water, is a normal reaction, for huge waves can swamp even the largest of ships.

History is filled with famous stories of shipwrecks and other hazards for sailors, as for example in this verse from the Canadian singer/song writer Gordon Lightfoot in his song: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald: Does any one know where the love of God goes ~ When the waves turn the minutes to hours?

In fact, as St. John, St. Mark, St. Matthew show the love of God, Love Himself ‘goes’ towards us when we are in peril on the sea of life: But He said to them, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” [v. 20]

St. John concludes, without comment: They wanted to take Him into the boat, but the boat immediately arrived at the shore to which they were heading. [v.21]

© 2018 Fr. Arthur Joseph