In today’s opening song, “Come, Christians, join to sing!” – we heard the words, “Loud praise to Christ our King.”
Later in the liturgy we will pray the Lord’s prayer together and will begin by saying, “Our Father.”
It’s hard to talk about the divine, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, without becoming a little possessive by using phrases such as OUR God, or MY Savior. . .
And if we use this sort of language only to claim familiarity with God -- while fully embracing the universality of God – the idea that the entire human family comprises God’s daughters and sons ---- then we are on solid ground.
But sadly, that is NOT always the case – not just in today’s modern times – but in ancient times as well – that possessiveness is meant to include some – while excluding others. . .
This is quite evident in the Gospel story from St. Matthew which we just heard proclaimed.
This is one of the stories that at least for me – can be hard to listen to. After all, Jesus says some pretty harsh things.
A Canaanite woman comes to ask Jesus to heal her daughter.
Now remember, when Joshua took over from Moses and led the Israelites into the land of milk and honey – that promised land already belonged to other people ---
the Canaanites – who from that day forward, became bitter enemies --- one group because someone took what was theirs and claimed it as their own, and the other group because someone was standing in the way of what God had led them to and promised them.
So -- at first Jesus ignores this woman . . . Then he says that he only came to save the lost sheep of Israel. And THEN he basically calls her a dog. All tough stuff --- so un-Christ-like.
Yet, what Jesus is doing--- is NOT saying what is in HIS heart. Rather he is saying and doing what his disciples and what all other Jewish people at the time would have thought.
Ignoring, dismissing, insulting – this is the common way Israelites, the Jews, would have treated Canaanites --- and, for full discloser -- certainly how Canaanites would have treated Jews. . . Theirs was a mutual disrespect and disregard. . .
The disciples were probably THRILLED with Jesus’ words and behavior. That is – until he turns the situation upside-down, as he so often does, by saying to this woman: “Oh woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
Wait a minute, the disciples would have thought. This is our God --- the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – not the God of these heathen Canaanites. . . Why should our God care about them—when we certainly don’t. . .
For many people in the ancient world, including those following after Jesus – their God or gods – were NOT the God of ALL --- NOT protective of ALL, NOT the friend of ALL. God is on our side – NOT theirs. . .
But Jesus would have none of this way of thinking: O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish. . .
But don’t we often act the same as the disciples??
Don’t we think at times that we have all the answers, while others don’t?
Don’t we think that God is ONLY on OUR side, and isn’t concerned about others?
Don’t we find it hard to affirm the religious traditions of others, find it hard to find ANY truths in religious language and customs that aren’t expressed EXACTLY in the same way we would express them??
Don’t we think that we kind of “own” God, that God is ours and not theirs????
Today’s Gospel is meant to be a kind of “arrogance check” for us as a people of faith – it’s meant to get us to reflect on how we see the faith traditions and spiritual journeys of others.
Do we dismiss those beliefs and journeys??
Do we demean people who don’t understand God in exactly the same way as we do?
Do we “blame” people who struggle in matters of faith, or people who find it difficult to even believe in the existence of God?
Do we think we have it all figured out and that others cannot really help us encounter the divine??
Tough questions. But let’s not be afraid to ask them honestly.
Perhaps these words of the Vatican II Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions --- can help guide us on our journey of life:
“The Catholic Church does not reject anything that is true and holy in any religion and, in fact, looks upon them with sincere respect.
Even though they differ from us, their ways of life and doctrines often reflect the truth that we all seek.
The Church, of course, continues to proclaim Christ as “the way, the truth, and the life,” but we also exhort all our members to be prudent and loving and open to dialogue with others.
We urge Christians to defend and promote the spiritual and moral benefits found among other world religions, including the values found in their cultures.”
[Paragraph 2] END OF QUOTE
God’s holy mountain, and God’s house of prayer are big enough that we don’t need to try to exclude anyone --- who seeks the Lord with a sincere heart. For there IS a wideness to God’s mercy!
So perhaps we need to listen again to our opening prayer – and sincerely say: Amen: so be it:
Almighty and ever-living God, your care extends beyond the boundaries of race or nation to the hearts of ALL who live.
May walls, which separate people, crumble beneath the shadow of your outstretched arm.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. AMEN!
It was the custom of the Cherokee Indians to have a young boy go through a rite of passage – in order to be considered a man.
The father of the boy would take him deep into the forest – blindfold him – and leave him.
The boy was required to sit on a stump the whole night and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the rising morning sun would shine on his face.
The boy could not cry out for help to anyone. He would most likely be terrified throughout the night – as he could hear all kinds of noises.
One’s imagination would go into overdrive – surely there were wild beasts all around him.
The wind would blow and the trees would sway – surely there were all kinds of dangers lurking in the dark.
But the boy – if he were to complete this rite of passage – could do nothing but sit and wait for the dawn to come.
Lonely, frightened, and afraid – one would have to sit.
But after the night passed and the rays of the sun touched his face – the blindfold could be removed.
It was only then – that the boy would discover his father was sitting on the ground, near the stump.
His father – who had been at watch the entire night – protecting his son from any and all harm.
The youth, who now became a young man – discovered in the ritual that he was never alone. And since he was never alone – he discovered he had nothing to fear.
The Gospel today presents us with a powerful story.
Peter should be praised not only for his courage – but also his faith. Jesus says “come” and Peter leaves the safety and joins Jesus in walking on water.
Peter looks around – it hits him how powerful the waves, how strong the storm, how devastating the winds. . .
Suddenly Peter finds himself sinking – going under in the fearful waters of the stormy sea.
Could it be that Peter’s mistake was that he took his eyes off Jesus??
Could it be that Peter failed to trust in the power of God that did give him the ability to walk on water?
But here is the best question: could it be that Peter is a good reflection of each one of us??
For all of us live in stormy times – more so now than perhaps in times past.
Each of us gets frightened by the harsh winds and the surging seas of problems and predicaments, illness, financial struggles and the uncertainty of the future which surround us.
And when we feel so overwhelmed ---- isn’t it easy to lose faith and just ---- sink????
Don’t we often feel that we can hardly keep our heads above water???
Like Peter, we forget that we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. Like Elijah in the first reading – who is frightened by the strong winds and powerful storms ----- we need to discover that God’s gentle love is what saves us.
Like the young Cherokee – we need to discover that God is right next to us – protecting us from harm – even when we are blind to God’s presence.
To have faith is to trust in God.
To have faith is NOT to deny the storms around us. Rather, to have faith is to affirm that in God we have nothing to fear because it is only God who calms the winds. Only God who subdues the storms. Only God who lifts us up when we think all is lost.
Only in God will our souls be at rest.
My name is NEDI: which is short for: Ned-i-voot – which means generosity in Hebrew. And you will find out why I was named very appropriately by my parents. . .
I lived a happy life down by the Sea of Galilee. Living on a farm with my parents – we grew barley, oats, and wheat for the baking of rolls and bread.
My parents always baked a lot – even more than we needed or could sell – because Dad always said, “What we don’t eat ourselves or sell to the villagers, we can give it away – for the poor will always be with us.”
“But why are some people poor, and some people aren’t”, I asked my Dad. “It isn’t fair that we have what we need – and others have nothing.”
“You’re right, son,” my Dad said. “It isn’t fair. All I know though – is that someday the Messiah will come, and he will be our king. And in his kingdom there will be no slave or free person, no rich and no poor, no hungry or thirsty. Or as the Prophet Isaiah foretells: ‘heed me, that is listen to me – and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare --- and you will have life!” So that’s why we await a Messiah!”
Mom and Dad were always telling me about the coming of the Messiah – one who would bring peace to our often-times war torn country. Especially during our times of oppression – it seemed like the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. . . Oh how we longed to be set free!
One warm summer day, a neighbor stopped by to buy a loaf of bread. “I’m on my way to see the King. He’s right nearby,” he said.
“A king,” I said. “Right nearby? You must be fooling us!”
The neighbor shook his head. “I would not be fooling around about something as important as a king,” he said. “Why some people say that this one is the Messiah – here at last! Why don’t you come with me and see?”
“Is this the one the call Jesus?” asked my dad with a smile. “Because if it is – I certainly want Nedi to have a chance to see him – maybe even hear him talk.”
“The very man!” the neighbor cried. “You have heard of him then??”
Dad said, “I’ve heard he’s kind and loves the Lord. That’s good enough for me.”
“If you are going Nedi, ” my mom said, “you had better take this lunch along – I’ve packed two fish and five small barley loaves.”
“Oh, I won’t need that,” I cried. “Why, the king will feed the poor.”
But dad insisted that I take it – so I did.
So up the road, with lunch in hand – the two of us went. We soon came across a noisy crowd which seemed to stretch out for a mile or so – so we must have been getting near the King.
“That’s Jesus there!” Someone cried out. So I pushed ahead to see --- and there was a man who looked to be as plain and poor as everyone else in the crowd.
I ran up close where I could see better – and possibly hear what he was saying. And I thought to myself – I’m glad I did bring my lunch a long – because this guy doesn’t look much like a king. . .
Then Jesus spoke and his voice was strong: “bring all the sick to me.”
And I saw a bunch of people go to him – and miraculously – the lame who limped up to him – could walk just fine on their way back – in fact, some did so with a skip – and all with a spring in their step. And those who were blind – came back seeing!
As the sick were made whole and well and strong – a shout rose from the crowd: “Our king! Our Messiah! Our Lord!!”
Then Jesus turned and raised his hand and spoke out loud and clear: “The kingdom of heaven which you seek – is already here! This kingdom, God’s kingdom – is full of love and joy ---
why it’s as exciting as someone finding a buried treasure in a field – or after years of searching – finding a peal of great price now safely in their hands!”
The day grew short, and someone said: “I wish we had something to eat.” And so one of the men with Jesus said: “These folks are hungry – but how are they to be fed??”
When I heard that, I ran right up to Jesus and said, “I have some fish and bread – I will gladly share them with the crowd – if that’s what you want.”
That same man with Jesus said with a tone of disgust: “Five loaves – two fish? What good are they for all of these people??”
But Jesus said, “have everyone sit down.” Then he looked up at the sky and prayed: “Thank you, God in heaven, for the generosity of this young boy. May all of us always realize the gifts you constantly shower down upon us – and have hearts generous enough to share what we have been given.”
Then he told those near him: “Feed the crowd” and somehow, and in some way – all the crowd was fed! And there were even leftover -- which filled 12 baskets!
The crowd was impressed by Jesus’ powers. They wanted to make him a king to satisfy all their daily needs.
But Jesus could tell they were misunderstanding the power of God’s kingdom – so he went off by himself to pray.
So, I am Nedi: short for Ned-i-voot – which means generosity in Hebrew. And at least the lesson I learned that day, the point I think Jesus was trying to make – is that God loves each one of us so very much. And God has given each one of us gifts and talents – food and fishes – not to keep to ourselves – but to share. And it is in the sharing – when we can think and act beyond ourselves – that the kingdom of heaven is made present. It’s not something we have to wait for – it is something we can help bring about.
Jesus said it so well in that prayer of his: “May all of us realize the gifts you constantly shower down upon us – and have hearts generous enough to share what we have been given.”
So treasure those who think of you when everyone else is just thinking of themselves.
And may each and every one of you touch people with your gifts. Sometimes may know you have had an effect on them – others times you may not. Either way – you have something to give. And it is in the giving to one another that each of our lives becomes meaningful --- and the kingdom of heaven is made present in our midst. . . [continued]
At the end of Mass, Fr. Matthew had the following to say:
Our 2nd Collection today is for debt reduction. . .
Before Covid hit and the shut down occurred – we were having a great year financially at St. Patrick – our expenses were right at budget along with our income. . . and we even managed to get the parking lot resurfaced – thanks to your generosity through the matching funds earlier this year --- and then of course the bottom fell out of everything – just as it did for you.
With a PPP loan (that is pay roll protection plan loan) and with your continued giving – we were able to finish the fiscal year not as strong as we would have liked – but still, a pretty good year. So thank you for your continued generosity!
A short version of our story is – if you still want us to be around – when you feel safe to return – then please continue to keep current with your giving. I think it is safe to say that a few parishes in our diocese will not weather this storm – but we don’t want to be one of them.
School is set to open on August 19 --- with a larger enrollment than what we ended with last spring – please keep our faculty in students in your prayers over the next few weeks as they prepare to return to school. We are very optimistic about this coming year as a parish and school community.
We continue to miss all of you who cannot join us in person – and look forward to the day when we are all back together agiain.