Monday, August 4, 2008

Reflection on 18th Sunday on Ordinary Time --- Year A


Isaiah 55:1-3
Romans 8:35,27-39
Matthew 14:13-21

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in the Faith:
A few years before his death, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen underwent heart surgery. There was a great concern about his ability to endure the operation because of his advanced age. After the recovery, a reporter asked him if he had been afraid of dying. “If I should leave the world”, he said, "I will be in heaven with Christ and if I remain Christ will be here with me.” Bishop Sheen had faith that there was no way he would be separated from his Lord. He trusted that Jesus would always take care of him.
Brothers and sisters: There is so much good news for us in today’s readings! This is a “good news” Sunday, even if our life may be full of troubles and difficulties. A quick reading of the Scriptures for this Sunday can give us an impression of being on a high. The readings today teach us that our God is a God who cares. Our God is not a God who is very far away from us sitting in his comfortable heaven being not really interested of what is happening in our lives. Sure, sometimes it feels just like that. Sometimes we may feel like we are alone and God does not really care. But he does care about us --- sometimes in a way that we do not expect or desire --- that’s for sure.
Our God cares when we suffer and are in need. He cares when our marriage does not function as it should. He cares when we cannot find common language with our teenage children or our old parents. He cares when lose our job. He cares when we experience sadness and anxiety. God knows our biggest problems and concerns and cares about them even more that we do. He does care because he is a God of love and compassion. He cares whether we believe it or not.
Let us look in greater detail at the readings.
The first reading from Isaiah is an invitation to each and every one of us. All you who are thirsty come to the water! Come and drink! Listen that you may have life! The prophet is not speaking of physical drink but rather of spiritual thirst that only God can quench. This message of encouragement was composed during the Babylonian exile --- when the Jewish had to live in a foreign land --- a time of distress and discouragement for the people of God. Many of them said… God does not care… he has abandoned us… we are on our own. The prophet says to them --- God still loves you and cares for you even more now than before. Isaiah calls them to the perseverance in the faith that God is with them. It is easy to believe in God and trust in him when everything works as we planned, when there are no major problems and difficulties. But to trust in God when we suffer? Much more difficult.
Similarly, Saint Paul in today’s second reading states that there is nothing which will separate him from Christ; not persecution, hunger, danger or even death. He feels very secure about the eternal stability of this divine relationship. What amazes me about Paul is that even in the midst of all his suffering, persecution and hostility he knew that God was close to him.
Finally, these beautiful words about Jesus who when he saw the crowds, he had pity for them. I think Jesus feels the same way about us gathered here --- he has pity for us and wants to feed us not only with the material bread but more importantly with his love – and this is his greatest gift.
So God really takes care of his people and we are called to trust him. I mentioned that at times of suffering or tragedies – when we feel like “God is not here” it is extremely difficult to trust in God and experience his love. I do not say that it is easy. Many times we think that only good things that happen to us are the “blessings” from the Lord. But God may not think as we do. God always sees the bigger picture.
For instance, many, maybe most people consider terminal sickness as one of the most difficult and unwanted things in life. They ask questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can't someone else get sick? But even in sickness God is close to us. Consider the example of late Tony Snow, a former speaker of the house. He courageously fought his disease (colon cancer) to the end, trusting that God was close to him. In one of his last speeches he said that he considers his cancer an unexpected blessing, because it taught him to love more and taught him how to be truly human.
This is what he said, “What is man that Thou art mindful of him? We don't know much, but we know this: No matter where we are, no matter what we do, no matter how bleak or frightening our prospects, each and every one of us, each and every day, lies in the same safe and impregnable place—in the hollow of God's hand.” This is exactly the same message that Saint Paul has for us but in the words of Tony Snow.
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Saint Paul and Tony Snow are examples for us. They trusted that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that grace and love of God can be found even in the most difficult and horrifying experiences of life. The love and grace can be found everywhere but we must keep our eyes of faith open.
But – do I really believe that?
Do you really believe that?

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