July 29, 2018
For the next few weeks we have Gospel readings form the Gospel of John. As always we need to keep in mind the context of these Gospel passages and what each inspired writer wished to communicate to his community. We begin on July 29 with John’s Gospel passage in chapter 6 on the multiplication of the bread and fish. John has Jesus very much in charge. Jesus is teaching. A large crowd is there. Jesus takes the initiative and asks his disciples what to do (“he himself knew what he was going to do” John 6:3). It is Jesus who distributes the loaves and the fish. Just think of the scene in John: Jesus takes the five loaves and fish and distributes them. John has Jesus personally going around to bring food to people (in John it was five thousand (!) sitting on the grass)! Jesus is personally coming to us to greet and feed us! At the end people wanted to make him king but Jesus slips away by himself. The crowd chases after him and they find him on the other side of the lake in Capernaum (John 6: 24-35, the Gospel of August 5). John does not call this a miracle but rather a “sign” and for John a sign has not just an external meaning but also an internal meaning. At the beginning of today’s Gospel he says that “a large crowd kept following Jesus because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick (John 6:1). People had seen the external sign of healing but did they really “see” the internal meaning, did they “see” what the sign revealed about Jesus? In John Jesus will try to get people to understand; he will draw them into a conversation (scribes, Pharisees, here the crowd). Why? Because it will allow Jesus to make us think and reflect on the deeper meaning of what is happening. Are we “seeing” what Jesus is doing and saying to us? WE are drawn into a conversation with Jesus: we are invited to listen and to speak to Jesus so that we may grow in our understanding of who Jesus really is and who we are called to become. We believe in Jesus Christ not because of the outward sign (no matter how spectacular), the observable facts of his miracles, but because Jesus has come to us and invited us to have a direct relationship with Jesus our Saviour. We “see signs” and believe what they reveal to us of Jesus and of God, and ultimately of ourselves, of what we are invited to become. There a million and one things in our daily life (persons, events, objects) which invite me, us to “see beyond”, to discover what they mean to me, what they are telling me and what they are calling me to. In the Gospel the people are fed physical food (again the how is not as important as what it pointed to) and no doubt it satisfied them physically. But notice, the people in chap. 6 continue to follow Jesus because they were hungry, searching for something else. Jesus dialogues with them bringing them to see how God is at work. When people in Jesus’ culture ate together, past enmities were put aside. Those who broke bread together were no longer enemies. In the Gospel 5000 people from very diverse backgrounds sat together and ate the same meal served by Jesus. WE are invited to “see” that God in Jesus was reconciling the world, the whole of creation, reconnecting us to God, overcoming the enmity, the violence which is sin and evil. That is the inner meaning of the “sign” of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. Isn’t that precisely what we are doing at each Eucharistic celebration? We are people of diverse backgrounds, of very different viewpoints, and yet we come together, we sit together and eat the same meal. Despite our diversity Christ in gathering us together creates a unity, “that they may be one.” I am sure that the people following Jesus were doing so for all kinds of motives, not always the most noble or spiritual. Jesus took them where they were at. Well, the same with us. Christ takes us where we are at, with all our warts and blemishes, even if our motives coming here are not the most noble or spiritual, and helps us to see that in him, God is offering us more than a physical bread. In conversation with us Jesus in John is signaling to us: “I have something important to say to you, be still and listen!” (In the Gospel: “Very truly I tell you—the old amen, amen!) Christ is inviting us to “see” that all the physical “food” that we nourish ourselves with, that we surround ourselves with, the objects and wealth, the power and the glory, will not fulfill us; they all perish. We need a “food” that fulfills and lasts for ever: Jesus identifies himself as that “food”: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent (John 6: 29).” Our strongest huger is for intimacy with God and for the God in each other, for God’s life within us. The food we receive at the Eucharist invites us to trust in God for our “daily bread.” Jesus says: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35).”
July 8, 2018
As we celebrate our births as independent nations here in North America in this month of July we are reminded of how blessed we are in so many ways especially when close by we see confusion, turmoil, violence and a seeming disregard for the plight of millions. This past World Refugee Day we were reminded that 68.5 million people in the world are forcibly displaced at the moment, that 44,400 people must flee their home every day! I firmly believe that one of the main reasons is the continued growing disparity between the rich and the poor both internally in our own countries as well as in the world as a whole. That’s not the world which God is creating but man’s inhumanity disregarding a fundamental aspect of our humanity, that of our common solidarity with one another. There will always be rich and poor people but we must work, and work hard in many different ways, to change our attitudes and our political, social and economic structures so that for the common good we narrow the existing gap. It just happens that on Canada Day one of the Scripture Readings reminded us of what we as Christians are asked to do and live. It is Paul who in 2 Corinthians 8: 7-15 writes to an economically comfortable community and makes a pitch for them to share with other less fortunate Christians. He does so by appealing to their faith. He says, “you people have received abundant gifts through your faith in Christ (elsewhere he names those gifts of healings, of knowledge, of wisdom, of solidarity), well now it is your turn to use your energy and persistence to help others. He bases his appeal on who God is for us (one who shares God self with the whole of creation) and on the gift of Jesus’ self-offering: Jesus “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor so that by his poverty you might become rich….in what lasts, the divine gift of grace!” So, Paul encourages the Corinthians and, of course, all of us to follow Jesus’ example and share from their and our abundance. To be called Christians, that is Christ-like, we must not just believe in Jesus but we must also act and live like Jesus in all our relationships. In fact Paul reminds us that our faith community here in Saanich Peninsula Parish is not an independent, isolated community that practices our faith among our own, in a kind of ghetto environment. The blood of Christ unites us all and we cannot ignore the needs of our sisters and brothers, the common good, even in a world which is so often centered on self, personal and communal self. We cannot ignore the common good! That’s the reason we are a church united with the whole Church; that’s the reason we are united with the rest of the Diocese, with the people living and dying on our city streets, with the people struggling in Eritrea & South Sudan, with the people in Pasobolong, Zamboanga City, with the people in Timor Leste. But Paul also reminds us that giving and sharing isn’t a one-way street; the poor & oppressed, the disenfranchised have an abundance to share with us: hospitality, family values, hard work and self-sacrifice, joy and happiness and satisfaction with few possessions, and especially with faith in God. As Paul says: “it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” Let us remember the reports we receive from time to time from our many ministries in the Parish: from a person who found new hope at Anawim, from the joy and peace shared accompanying the sick and the dying, from serving soup or welcoming strangers with a smile, from the outreach to the poor by sharing with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, etc. In the Gospel of Mark 5:21-43 Jesus restores a socially and religiously outcast woman to the family of God’s people by touching and healing her; Jesus out of compassion gives life to a dead child and makes the family whole again. Each Sunday we come together to touch and be touched by Christ who reaches out a hand to raise us up. Despite our failings we know that we are healed by a merciful God and truly blessed with forgiveness and peace. And as Easter people of hope we in turn are asked to reach out and touch those who are wounded, outcasts and outsiders and to be touched by them in return. In that way God makes us all whole again as persons and as a community. Thanks be to God. Have a great summer!
June 17, 2018
Soon school is out, graduation celebrations are or have taken place, and summer time is with us, a time in which we are hopefully more relaxed, enjoying the good weather, the beauty of God’s creation around us, visits from family and friends, outdoor picnics and games, and especially each other’s company. It is a special time in which we celebrate and strengthen the fact of living in community, a community of faith. Your Parish Council has tried over the years to put a face to that community life here in Saanich Peninsula Parish, always in collaboration with other entities. Groups such as the Catholic Women’s League, Knights of Columbus, Samahan Fellowship, Friendly Hours, Religious Education, St. Vincent de Paul, Development and Peace, El Shaddai, Hanti Sedra, Pasobolong, Taiji Qigong, the music groups, the visiting the sick groups, various liturgy and worship, prayer groups, etc., they all organize events so as to bring the community together in celebrations, to strengthen the bonds of faith and love between us. That is why we see all these as ministries rooted in Jesus, in which we try to live concretely the message of the Gospel, to share our faith, care and compassion and thereby become the living, visible presence of God’s love and care, of God’s justice and compassion. Sometimes these groups do this on their own. More and more the need is to do so in collaboration with others, to include others in whatever is being organized so that other members of the community can also contribute to the success of an event. People do not necessarily want to belong to a specific group but they do wish and are only too happy to contribute to the life of the community. We need to give people that opportunity, that grace, by including them. I again call upon all the various ministries in our Parish to see how they can reach out to others. We all know that the best way is to personally ask someone to become involved, to personally approach a person to welcome them to the parish as a visitor or as a new member, to invite them to stay for coffee, tea and cookies!! Journeying in life is like the pilgrimages of old (just think of journeys to the Holy Land, to Canterbury, Lourdes Compostella, etc.): we do so with others, praying as we go, supporting one another as we face the challenges on the way. Our caring and reaching out need to go beyond our inner circle of family, friends or organized group and include all people, and especially those who are on the fringes or those who think they have nothing to offer but need an opportunity to do so. All too often we, and I include myself as pastor, we do not do enough to reach out, to be that discreet presence which may bring a person to find the joy and peace of ministering to others. The summer is a good time for us for some reflection and self-examination, for discernment, for a new start, for new beginnings. Maybe enjoy a book from our Parish library; there is something for everyone there. Or take a favorite Bible story or the Scripture readings of the week or of the Sunday and meditate on them to discern in what way we are called to respond. Let us not be like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (remember the prodigal son who despite his failings, sins, betrayals, is welcomed back with open arms by his parents and most of his family in Luke 15:11-32), watching from the outside the circle of warmth and community open to him. Or take the story of the Emmaus disciples (Luke 24: 13-35) who little by little rediscover the richness of their tradition and the promises fulfilled in Jesus and the Gospel handed over to them to proclaim. Luke 10: 38-42 tells us not to be distracted by our many tasks but to take the time to be at the Lord’s feet, to be open to his presence, listening. Jesus himself knew the importance of silence and prayer. Luke 11: 1-13 shows Jesus connecting with God in prayer in order to find guidance and strength for his mission. A true disciple must nurture that personal relationship with God which is like that of a parent with a son or daughter, like that of two spouses with each other, like that of a daughter or son with a parent, like that of an individual member with his/her faith community. Let us also help our children, as well as ourselves, during this summer time to abandon from time to time whatever gadget or plaything that captivates them/us and to reconnect to silence and listening, to awe and wonder, to gratitude and sharing. Have a great nurturing and replenishing summer. Shalom. Fr. Rolf, OP