These reflections are a result of more than 40 years of ministry as a Roman Catholic priest. Most of these years I spent in the Diocese of Charlotte which covers Western North Carolina. Now I am retired, and live in Medellín, Colombia where I continue to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Medellín.
Thus says the LORD: See! I will restore the tents of Jacob, his dwellings I will pity; City shall be rebuilt upon hill, and palace restored as it was. From them will resound songs of praise, the laughter of happy men. . . . . You shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Jer 30:18-22)
Not war, woe and pestilence but a promise of restoration . . . “You shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Today is the feast of Saint John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests. He always referred to our Lord as “our good God.” In the middle of this pandemic we need a word of hope, we need to hear the laughter of children and the elderly, we need to sing songs of praise once again. Perhaps we could use Saint John Vianney's prayers today!
Some time after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke from off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Go tell Hananiah this: Thus says the LORD: By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke! (Jer 28:12-13)
Dueling prophets in the house of the Lord . . . folks must have been a little bit confused. But seeing Jeremiah wearing a wooden yoke around his neck must have must have provoked howls of laughter, especially when the prophet Hananiah removed it from Jeremiah’s neck and broke it. But a wooden yoke will soon be replaced by an iron yoke, says the Lord, and no one is laughing anymore.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied. (Mt 14:19-20)
What a feast we have today in the readings for the Mass: Isaiah’s invitation to come to the water, Paul’s declaration that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, and Matthew’s Feeding of the 5,000. The Feeding of the 5,000 is one of the many feeding stories that form the background for the Table Ministry of Jesus and which culminates in the Last Supper in the Gospel According to Matthew and is a sign of its fulfillment in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in the Book of Revelation (Rev 19:9). The connection with the Eucharist is deliberate. The gospel writer uses the same verbal actions to describe both the Feeding of the 5,000 and the Last Supper: take, bless, break and give:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (Mt 26:26)
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me. “See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive! For the LORD hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.” R. Lord, in your great love, answer me. (Psalm 69)
The Lord hears the cry of the poor . . . how important the psalms are for the church. The Book of Psalms was the original hymn book for the temple which means they were written to be sung . . . not recited. Although the music hasn’t survived, we still have the lyrics. Every age and culture of the church have made the psalms their own. Musicians, composers and singers have combined to produce beautiful music with these ancient hymns. The message of the psalms still sings!
Today is the feast of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorists. Like most religious founders, Saint Alphonsus wrote a meditation on the fourteen stations of The Way of the Cross. I still remember how each meditation ended:
I love you, Jesus, my love, with my whole heart. I repent of ever having offended you. Never permit me to offend you again. Grant that I may love you always, and then do with me what you will.
Jesus came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.” And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith. (Mt 13:54-58)
The brothers and sisters of Jesus—a point of consternation for some folks but not for the gospel. Besides it’s a common put-down: “Who does he think he is?” And then they go after his family by name. Saint Ignatius also faced opposition and ridicule. He used to sit in the Basilica of Santa María del Mar in Barcelona begging alms. The step where he sat in the church is now a shrine to his memory!
This word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Rise up, be off to the potter’s house; there I will give you my message. I went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased. Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done? says the LORD. Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel. (Jer 18:1-6)
A striking image from the Prophet Jeremiah—the potter’s wheel. We are like clay in God’s hands—and God may not be finished with us just yet.
Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother [Lazarus, who had died]. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” (Jn 11:19-27)
The two sisters of Lazarus, Martha & Mary, are very important friends of the Lord. Martha is the first to believe that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. She answers for all of us: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”