Are our hearts

The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.

This is the day – the set of readings and gospel – we dread to hear. God is laying out His plan for our lives, how we are to act, what we must believe, and the fact that we just cannot make our own rules. These things are difficult for us to hear. As with Israel, we want things our own way.

God is great when He blesses us, but when He tells us the way we must go, the narrow road we must tread, then we balk. We fear the hard questions because the answers are not easy to hear and are even harder to carry out. We often ask – well why can’t..? Why can’t those two people marry? Why can’t we just live together? Why are you getting in the way of my good time?

These and other questions are certainly with us. To get to the answers we must start with a more basic question: Who am I?

As humans we are both honorable and shameful. We are God’s glorious creation, made in His image. We are also fallen from innocence and marred by the sin that pushes us further and further away from the image of God in us. Great evil occurs most readily where the answer to ‘Who am I?’ gives way to hard-hearted, egotistical, and self-centered answers. These offer the wrong answers to the question of who we are.

At an even more fundamental level, we must ask the most important question anyone could ever ask. This is, of course, the question of who God is. Who is this god – the God revealed to us by our Lord and Savior or another deity? Is God pure truth, without lie or deceit, or just a great bunch of suggestions?

In order to understand the image of God within us, we must first decide Who He is. To find the answer to all questions we must fix our eyes on life according to God who does not lie. Otherwise we end up with nothing more than a take-it-or-leave-it menu god, a set of options that offer no real path to life. We end up with ourselves, life according to us. Then we remain with hard hearts because there is nothing else. I am all I have.

Jesus understands our struggle in answering hard questions – finding Him and ourselves. To cure our hard-heartedness He told us to have the faith of a child: “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” That kind of trust, unquestioning and unrestrained, will melt our hearts and give us every answer.

Great gifts and

“Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”

Today we celebrate a very special day in the life of our parish and the Holy Church. Two young people will receive from the Table of the Lord for the first time. Our readings and Gospel discuss the importance of receiving from the Lord.

God is so gracious to us and in His infinite graciousness He has set forth gifts and promises we can take hold of.

God saw that Moses needed help in leading the people. He asked Moses to assemble seventy worthy elders. God took some of the spirit that He had given to Moses and bestowed it on those elders. This was an incredible gift. God’s spirit of prophesy, leadership, and authority that He had given to Moses would now be shared with more people. These elders, including the ones who had not gone to the meeting tent, received God’s spirit. They immediately acted on it. They began prophesying in the camp. God shares His gifts with those He has chosen so they can do His work.

In our Gospel the apostles hear of people doing wondrous things in Jesus’ name. They got concerned and John came to Jesus saying: “we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.”

Jesus knew that His gifts were for all who believed in Him. As such, we too are empowered with His gifts to do marvelous things.

Paul shows us that the opposite is true of those who place their trust and belief in the world – in power, money, and things… Those things will rot away and they will devour those who have put their trust in them. If we are misled we will have no real power. We will miss out on God’s gifts and promises. Imagine the greatest treasure we could possibly obtain and we walk by it to get a plastic replica.

Eden and Erickaa receive from the Table of the Lord for the first time. In doing so they accept the greatest gift a person could ever hold – a treasure not made of gold – a treasure made just for us. Jesus!

We have Jesus. The greatest gift ever. In receiving Him we hold within ourselves the fullness of His graciousness and promises. We are joined all together in His greatest gift.

His gift is His promise. We have true life, real life, great power, and a gift that will never fade or rot away – all in Him. We have life forever and His power. Let us live always as faithful and thankful receivers of His gifts and promises.

Where is

Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training… With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience.

Today’s readings and gospel offer an interesting juxtaposition pointing to victory.

In Wisdom we hear the words of the wicked. How can we test God’s Holy One? What tortures and trials can we put Him through to test Him? We want proof – proof is most important. We can almost hear God saying – when giving His commandments in Deuteronomy 6:16“You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”

Wisdom points to the truth of Jesus. The wicked would test Him and finally would put Him to death. We could stop there thinking that this applies to Jesus alone, but that would make us separate from Jesus. Remember that Jesus underwent every trial, temptation, suffering that we face. He confronted death just as we will have to face death. The words of Wisdom apply to us too. The wicked of the world will fight us and will test us over and over. Our victory will come from the Jesus kind of proof we offer.

In the Gospel Jesus is walking along with His disciples. He’s explaining the things to come – the way He will be tortured and killed. He is certainly ready, willing, and able to give witness by carrying out His Father’s will. What witness do the disciples give? They don’t even hear Him. They refused to understand and did not even attempt to figure it out. Instead, they fought amongst themselves about who was the greatest. Imagine a son or daughter sitting through an hour long parental talk then looking up to say: ‘What did you say, and by the way, am I your favorite?’ Our victory comes from listening to, hearing and modeling Jesus.

Paul gives us a pathway forward. He shows us the way to victory. Live the wisdom that is from above – the wisdom of God made known to us in Jesus. Live lives that are pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, and full of mercy and good fruits. Be constant and sincere. Cultivate peace.

To have victory we have to make ourselves one in Jesus, to become real parts of His body. We must come to real regeneration in Him so that we can become more and more like Him. Unlike the disciples on the journey through Galilee we have to make ourselves “last of all and the servant of all.” From this new life in Him comes the witness we offer in the face of the world and whatever trials, temptations, and sufferings it attempts to foist upon us. From life in Him comes victory!

Getting to

And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.

Tomorrow we celebrate Labor Day. Our Holy Church has a long history of support for the Labor movement. Our founders were in tune with the struggles faced by working men and women. They experienced the reality of exploitation by the powerful moneyed interests of our nation. Bishop Hodur spoke out for the respect that was due workers, for fair treatment, payment of proper wages, and a fair share of the profits they produced. He advocated for the same kind of democracy in industry that was part of our Church. All worked against selfish interest and for the collective good of the community.

It would be one thing to advocate for workers from self-interest as an ends, but we well know that advocacy for the rights of workers and for the community comes from and is centered in our love for Jesus’ way of life.

As we see in today’s gospel, Jesus’ healing takes physical form. He works to make the deaf hear and the mute speak. In John 9:5-7 we see Jesus again healing physically: “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam ” (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing.

St. Paul reminds us that we cannot forego justice toward the weak, the downtrodden, the worker. We are not to make distinction, but look to the collective good of all – because Jesus showed no partiality: show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please,” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?

Our faith in Jesus requires that we work faithfully for the collective good. We must be unafraid of working to renew the world – to help those deaf to faith to hear; to help those who fear proclamation to cry out; to open streams of the life giving waters to the entire world; and to show no partiality, treating all as equal before God.

The in and out
of life.

He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’ You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

A few weeks ago, Jesus upset His listeners when He offered them His body and blood. To them, He was violating one of the most basic precepts of Kosher law.

Today, the Pharisees and some scribes confront Jesus. This was at a more basic level; Jesus disciples were violating traditional rules about hand washing. They confronted Jesus about this.

These Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem: They were an official delegation coming to evaluate the ministry of Jesus. A prior delegation had already condemned Jesus so this one already made up their minds. They just had to see it to confirm their opinion. Their minds and hearts were not open to God.

As to the washings we do not mean getting rid of the yuck factor. The Pharisees rather meant elaborate ceremonial washings. The Pharisees had raised a small ‘t’ tradition to the level of God’s direct commands. In fact, by the time of Jesus, this oral law was being honored as at least equal to, if not more important than, God’s Law. Jesus was trying to refocus Israel. Open your hearts and your whole selves to my Father. See in Me the goodness and generosity of your Heavenly Father.

It is easy for us to enter into the same kinds of error; to find salvation in outward practice, and in doing so to lose our way. We need refocusing too.

We can easily lose our focus and place trivial traditions in the way of our relationship with God. These can even become roadblocks that discourage others from coming to God. We can think that we are close to the Lord by what we say and practice – having the image of being religious or spiritual, but actually be far from God. We should regularly ask ourselves some serious questions: I attend church, read the Bible, pray, pitch in, minister, sing, even talk to others about Jesus but is my heart close to God? Is my entire being about being in Jesus?

If our entire being is one in God then all we do is about being part of His life. We worship in church, not to be exceptional or even to follow God’s law, but because we need to be with Him and offer Him the worship He deserves. We read the Bible, pray, pitch in, minister, sing, and talk to others about Jesus because our hearts are His. We are truly and fully in love with God. Lord, refocus us so that all coming from us is Yours!

We are almost

He said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Two hands reaching for each other. A couple in love. Children in the back seat of the car, wondering ‘are we there yet.’ An action movie where the hero rescues others at the very last second. These are all examples of reaching for achievement.

As we have seen over these weeks, Jesus has been approaching this dramatic last moment. He is completing His teaching on the great gift He gives us, His very body and blood, His soul to live within us forever. Jesus is the mountain climber approaching the summit. He is about to cross the goal line. What happened?

It is often said that life is full of disappointments. It is hard to find fulfillment, acceptance, and victory, to reach our goals and end up a winner. We bet on the horse that doesn’t win. We put our eggs in the wrong basket. We weren’t at the dock when our ship came in.

All of the people hearing Jesus were at the dock (literally since they were in the seaside town of Capernaum). They were in the right place at the right time. The summit was in reach. Their team was about to win. Their hands were about to touch hand of God. And they walked away from Him.

They… were… almost… there… and they walked away both in body and soul. While a few stayed, even among those one had lost faith, Judas. This giver of God’s body and blood, of God’s soul, wasn’t what he wanted. He continued to live in his disappointments and that disappointment would later turn to anger and betrayal. Judas… was… almost… there… and lost his faith.

We are faced with the same challenge the crowd in Capernaum faced. Jesus offers us words that are Spirit and life. We continually have Him within our reach and can come to Him to receive His body and blood, His soul to live within us forever. We are almost there. Like Joshua before the people of Israel, we must declare whom we will serve – the gods of the times or the Lord.

We… are… almost… there… If we chose the Lord we have real life, true regeneration, purpose, fulfillment, acceptance, and victory. Let us grasp His hand and find in Him real life.

Let us seek
His wisdom.

Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven columns; she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table. She has sent out her maidens; she calls from the heights out over the city: “Let whoever is simple turn in here; To the one who lacks understanding, she says, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.”

Jesus was really putting it all out there: “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The people listening to Him went from confusion to serious concern: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

How indeed! To keep properly Kosher, that is to observe Kashrut, the body of Jewish law dealing with what foods can and cannot be eaten and how those foods must be prepared and eaten, these people could not possibly consume human flesh nor drink blood. Not consuming blood is strictly prohibited in the Torah (see Leviticus 7:26-27 and 17:10-14). The Torah states that one must not eat blood because the life of the animal (literally, the soul) is contained in the blood.

Therein is the wisdom of what Jesus is saying to us, the key to His love for us. His earthly mission and His everlasting desire are to give Himself for and to us. He gives us His soul – His lifeblood.

Some of us may have donated blood at work, church, or in our community. What a wonderful gift to give. We can draw a comparison between our gifts of life giving blood to what Jesus has done for us in His flesh and blood. We can perceive the great wisdom of His gift.

While our gift can only help a few people and as a rule only those who have compatible blood types, Jesus gave His blood for each of us. Jesus’ blood reaches people of every blood type – of every race, rank, class, tribe, and tongue. Our giving of blood is a donation while Jesus’ gift was a complete sacrificial self-giving. When we give blood we do so in sterile conditions under medical supervision. Jesus’ gift was drawn-out, tortuous, and painful. Our donated blood is very expensive for those who may receive it. Jesus’ blood is free to all who claim Him by faith. If our blood is not used, it expires in a little over a month. Jesus’ blood is as effective today as it was when it was given at the cross. One pint of our blood can save up to three lives. One drop of the Jesus’ blood has saved the world (John 3:16).

By giving us the gift of His flesh and blood He fully gives Himself to us. The wisdom therein is that through His gift we have His soul in us and inherit eternal life. Ever seek His wisdom.


I’m not going to
let go of you!

Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death saying: “This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree, but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat. Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and ordered, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.

Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal – a real high point in which he, acting a God’s prophet, had seen God’s total victory. Now he had run off, afraid of Jezebel’s revenge. It is odd, isn’t it – Elijah sees the strength of God’s hand and then looses trust that God could possibly protect him.

If we have ever been part of some great victory, be it personal or part of a team, it is unlikely that our next act would be to run off in fear and pray for death. Well that’s exactly what Elijah did. Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death.

The power of God comes to the fore again. He steps in and sends a message to Elijah – get up and eat. He sent Elijah bread and water. Even though Elijah gave up again, God sent more bread and His messenger: the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and ordered, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”

God had plans for Elijah despite Elijah’s lack of faith and his fear. God was not going to let go of him.

The same message is apparent in Jesus’ discourse with the Jews. They murmured about Jesus. They thought they had Him defined: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother?” Yet He would not give up. Having fed them, having taught them about the value of the Bread that came down from Heaven, He was still trying to lead them to the ultimate truth: “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever…”

That is what the Bread of Life is all about. It is Jesus’ everlasting expression of His abiding presence, the fact that He remains with us, feeds us, and cares for us. Despite our weaknesses and failing, He will never give up on us or leave us. Our journey is fed by the Bread that came down from Heaven; Bread that brings us eternal life.


The slow, long

I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.

We have reached the mid-point of summer vacation – at least for our youth. As they and their brave parent rush down rollercoasters and waterslides, we have to wonder if they wish it might slow down – slow down so it might last longer.

Two opposing forces become more and more evident in our gospel messages. This gets to the message St. Paul is trying to convey in his letter telling the people to put away the futility of your minds; remember how you learned Christ. Put away the old self, your former way of life, and put on the new self, created in God’s way.

The people came searching for Jesus because they were fed and had seen a great miracle. They had wanted to proclaim Him King of Israel right there in the wilderness. Now they wanted more bread and circuses – show us another miracle. They were thinking in purely human terms and from worldly desires. They were caught up in the futility of their minds.

Jesus does not change His message – but now makes it much more evident. The Kingdom of God is not a kingdom focused on fulfilling whatever the world may wish – but rather a kingdom where God and His faithful live in joyful union – focused on fulfilling the entirety of His potential that is already in us. We are renewed in Him, made new, to live in righteousness and holiness of truth.

Over the next few weeks we see the slow, long slide toward the cross. The people caught up in the futile desires of their minds – power, success, and greed become more and more aware that Jesus has come to call them to a completely new and greatly different life. It is a life that eschews the former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires. It is a life that offers the ultimate in rewards – eternal life with God in perpetual bliss and joy.

The people trapped in the futile desires of their minds wished that their “summer” would last forever. Jesus would feed, entertain, heal – give them all that the moment desired. Jesus offers the better alternative, the more perfect gift when He says: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Lord, I choose this bread! It lasts forever and will not slide away!


not just supplies.

Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.

Dictionaries tell us that provision means items of goods or supplies, especially food, obtained for future use. It can also mean money set aside for a future event.

I grew up in Buffalo. Along William Street were the former meat packing plants that supplied food for much of the nation. I remember riding along in the car as we passed the various “provision” companies that remained: Elk Provisions, Camellia (Cichocki) Provisions – I get hungry just thinking about these places. Locally we may have passed Pede Brothers Italian Food or Orlev Provision Company.

Now we are ready to run out and get some great Polish or Italian food. If we visit these provision houses we are well aware of the requirement going in – we have to pay for the things we need.

Today’s gospel message reminds us that God’s provision is quite different.

The Church calls God’s provision grace. In First Communion and Confirmation class we discuss God’s grace in detail. Our children and youth learn that grace is God’s help given to us through the merits of Jesus Christ for our salvation. Grace is free to us – it is both a request and an offering of God’s love held out for us to freely accept and use. We can accept or reject this gift. If we chose to accept it, we fulfill God’s request and He gives us more and more grace to help us toward perfection.

That is all kind of theological. In its essence grace is God’s provision, His providing for us as our true Heavenly Father and Brother. God loves us so much that He wants to be in every part of our lives. He wants to be with us and in us so that He may provide for us in all areas of life. Scripture draws beautiful pictures of this provision. God caring for the lilies of the field and birds of the air – yet how much more important we are than they.

Our Father is there with grace at hand – all for us whether we are in a really good place or in a bad stage of life where we just don’t know where to turn. He is there with provision in hand if we are well off or in over our heads financially or emotionally or spiritually. He is there providing in the midst of noise, quiet, or loneliness.

We are called to acknowledge and recognize God’s provision even though we might not know exactly how that provision may come. His grace, His provision is more than temporary supplies that come and go and can even spoil. His love will never spoil or destroy – only save.