19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Aug. 12: I Kings 19:4-8, Ephesians 4:30-5:2, John 6:41-51
By Fr. Tom Hoisington
The past two Sundays’ Gospel passages came from John 6. In both passages “signs” are mentioned. There were the signs that Jesus performed in miraculously healing the sick, and the sign of the multiplication of the loaves. But there was a problem with Jesus’ miraculous signs: no one understood what these signs were meant to signify. It’s true, the crowds literally saw the signs themselves. But they did not see their purpose. They saw the “what,” but not the “why.”
Because they misunderstood why Jesus had multiplied the loaves, “the people…were going to come and carry him off to make him king.” However, Jesus understood that these people wanted to do the right thing for the wrong reason, and so “He withdrew again to the mountain alone.”
However, these people were stubborn. They went “looking for Jesus,” and “when they found him, ” “Jesus answered… ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.’” Jesus wanted to be their king. But Jesus was thinking “Christ the King”, while the crowds were thinking “Burger King.” Jesus was thinking about souls. The crowds were thinking about stomachs.
The crowds did see that this man could make their lives on earth more comfortable. But they did not see that he worked these signs in order to show them who he truly was. The signs weren’t about them. They were about him and His identity.
This Sunday the church proclaims Jesus’ own answer to the question of who he is. His answer will unfold further in the next two Sundays’ Gospel passages.
Within today’s passage, in the span of just four verses, Jesus gives us three answers, each a variation on the other. In each, Jesus describes him self in terms of bread and life. Jesus declares, “I am the Bread of Life.” Then he describes him self as “the bread that comes down from Heaven so that one may eat it and not die.” Then Jesus calls himself “the living bread.” In all three of these answers, Jesus tells us that He is a bread that gives life.
“Life” is what Jesus is as God, in his divine nature. “Bread” is what Jesus is for us, in his human nature. It’s through Jesus’ human nature that he shows us his divine love for us, and allows us to share in His divine nature.
In all this, Jesus has been preparing the crowds for his final words in this passage: “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” With these words Jesus elevates His use of signs. He goes beyond metaphorical talk about bread and life to discuss the historical offering – on Good Friday – and the sacramental offering – at Holy Mass – of his flesh as life-giving bread.
Jesus speaks here today, and the next two Sundays, of a sign that will be a sacrament. A sacrament not only signifies, but also manifests and make truly present what it signifies. Christ is speaking to us about the Holy Eucharist when He proclaims: “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Aug. 5: Exodus 16:2-4,12-15, Ephesians 4:17,20-24, John 6:24-35
By Fr. Tom Hoisington
Any Scripture passage that you pray over will echo many others in Sacred Scripture. Take Jesus’ statement in today’s Gospel passage: “I am the Bread of Life.” Open your mind to the whole of Sacred Scripture.
Every passage in Scripture where “bread” is spoken about, or “life” is spoken about, relates to these words of Jesus. There are hundreds of such examples in the Bible. But start simply within the same book and chapter of the Bible from which this sentence comes, and then move outwards, like the ripples in a pond after a stone falls down into its center.
Saint John the Evangelist refers to “bread” not only in John 6. Like the other three evangelists, he precedes his account of Jesus’ Death with an account of the Last Supper. It’s not a coincidence that at the beginning of John 6 – which we heard last Sunday – the evangelist notes that “The Jewish feast of Passover was near” [John 6:4]. Jesus chose this sacred time of the year to teach His disciples that He is “the Bread of Life.” In a later year of Jesus’ life, He chose this sacred time again in order to institute the Sacrament of the Eucharist. St. John wants those listening to his Gospel account to reflect on how everything Jesus says in chapter six strikes a chord with Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper.
What Jesus prays to the Father in John 17 flows from what Jesus had taught in John 6. Praying to the Father at the Last Supper about you and all His other disciples, Jesus says, “I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me” [John 17:22-23]. This is the end goal.
But then, remember the ripples in the pond. Move outwards. Consider the other three Gospel accounts, the other books in the New Testament, and then the books of the Old Testament. Many Old Testament events relate to Jesus proclaiming, “I am the Bread of Life.” The most powerful come from the Book of Exodus, and relate to Israel’s Passover from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land.
Today’s first reading is from Chapter 16 of Exodus. The Israelites are only one month past their escape from slavery in Egypt. But to them, there seems to be no end to their wandering. They begin to tell themselves that they were better off as slaves in Egypt, complaining to Moses and Aaron: “Would that we had died… in the land of Egypt, as we… ate our fill of bread!”
However, in response to their ingratitude, the Lord not only does not punish them. The Lord mercifully says, “I will now rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion”: that is, their “daily bread.” What the Lord begins that day to give them is a bread to satisfy physical hunger. But he is clearly working something deeper at the same time.
This “daily bread” is meant to give the Israelites hope. Yet though the Lord gives this bread to the Israelites daily for almost forty years, He does not do so perpetually. This “daily bread” continues only until they arrive at the Promised Land. Then it ceases, because the Lord has something greater yet in store for them.
Through this we understand better Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel passage. Jesus says to you today, “Do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” The Son of Man gave you this food – “the Bread of Life”; that is, himself – at the Last Supper. He gave you “the Bread of Life” on the day of your First Holy Communion, and He offers himself up for you at each celebration of Holy Mass, to strengthen you for the long earthly pilgrimage to the end goal of Heaven.

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 29: II Kings 4:42-44, Ephesians 4:1-6, John 6:1-15
By Fr. Tom Hoisington
At the end of today’s Gospel passage, “Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry Him off to make Him king, [and so] He withdrew again to the mountain alone.” This sentence by itself seems strange, but it reveals an important point to keep in mind throughout the five Sundays beginning today. We will hear almost the entirety of the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel account over the course of these five Sundays.
The sixth chapter of John focuses our attention on Jesus’ teaching about the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. But today’s passage—John 6:1-15—makes up the chapter’s prologue. These introductory verses prepare for Jesus’ teaching about the Eucharist by clearing up a few misconceptions.
Your average human being, if he knew that a crowd were wanting to make him a king, would not retreat into solitude. In the culture of the Internet, an individual by means of a blog or YouTube can quickly become a celebrity with an avid group of followers. Jesus did not want to be a celebrity. Jesus did want crowds to follow Him, but only for the right reason, mindful of the goal towards which He wanted to lead them.
Both at the beginning and end of today’s Gospel passage, the crowds are following Jesus for wrong reasons. At the beginning, when “Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee”, “a large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs He was performing on the sick.” This large crowd is mistaking the means for the end. They think that Jesus is in this world to be some miraculous physician. They don’t understand that His miraculous cures are meant to be attention catchers, not the object of Jesus’ life.
At the end of the passage, after the multiplication of the loaves, the people proclaim Jesus to be “‘the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.’” “They were going to… carry Him off to make Him king.” They think Jesus is in this world to rid it of hunger. They don’t understand that the miracle of feeding five thousand is meant to be an attention catcher, not the object of Jesus’ life.
Both miraculous signs—healing the sick and feeding the hungry—beg an important question. What was the object of Jesus’ life on earth? What were all of Jesus’ miracles advertising? In an important sense, the rest of John 6 answers this question.
Take your own bible and put a bookmark at John 6. During the next four weeks, read the entire chapter often. In most versions of the Bible, the chapter is not even three pages long. Allow the Word of God to move your attention away from whatever is distracting your attention from God’s will for your life.
Whatever God may ask of you, rely for strength upon the grace of the Word made Flesh: the Son of God who offers us His Body and Blood as strength for the journey, and a foretaste of the Love that awaits at journey’s end.

Humanae Vitae and our fallen world: Fr. Hoisington writes extended reflection to honor papal encyclical

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 22: Jeremiah 23:1-6, Ephesians 2:13-18, Mark 6:30-34
By Fr. Tom Hoisington
Discord is part and parcel of life in this fallen world. The great British author G. K. Chesterton once said that Original Sin is the simplest of all Christian dogmas to prove: all you have to do is pick up the newspaper (or in our day, click on a news app). By contrast, we Christians are called into unity and to foster unity.
Jesus told us simply to love God, and to love our neighbor. We can consider these two great commands in terms of being called into unity, and being called to foster unity. To love God is to be united with God, and to love one’s neighbor ultimately means that all the members of the human race would foster unity with each other, forming a single family of God’s children.
Yet if today this seems beyond us, we ought to recall that the first generations of Christians struggled with these two commands of love. Today’s second reading offers a case in point. St. Paul is preaching against the division between Jews and Gentiles in the city of Ephesus.
Throughout his entire letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul preaches about unity, and about where this unity must come from. Paul points to Christ, because Christ “is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his Flesh… [so] that he might create in Himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace”.
Lasting peace, and all its fruits, can only come from unity through Christ. This is true in every aspect of life, but perhaps nowhere more so than in the vocation of Holy Matrimony. Christ himself instructs us – when he’s questioned about what’s wrong with divorce – that “He who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and… ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’” [Mt 19:4-5, quoting Gn 1:27; 2:24].
This call to unity can be broken not only by divorce, though. Much more common in our Western culture is a sin that is praised by some – strangely enough – as an act of responsibility and even prudence: that is, the sin of artificial contraception.

Humanae Vitae’s anniversary
Fifty years ago this Wednesday, a watershed event took place amidst a generational deluge of change. On July 25, 1968, Blessed Pope Paul VI promulgated the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae. The pope’s teaching was not new. In fact, his teaching was not his, in the sense that he was not its author.
Humanae Vitae’s teaching is consistent with the prior 1900 years of church teaching upon the encyclical’s chief topics. In other words, the teaching of this encyclical is the teaching of Jesus Christ. In giving this teaching to his bride, the church, Jesus has given of himself, to reveal to his bride how to share in his own self-sacrificial love.
Humanae Vitae focuses upon three chief topics: human nature, the nature of marriage, and specifically the morality of artificial means of contraception. Those three are the chief lenses through which one must read, ponder, and pray over the encyclical. In considering the encyclical’s teaching about any one of these three, the other two have to be kept in mind. It’s much easier to dismiss the prophetic teaching of Humanae Vitae if you claim that it’s “only” about the morality of artificial contraception.
Why has Humanae Vitae seemed so controversial since Blessed Paul VI promulgated it? A first reason is that so many Christian denominations had since 1930 changed their teachings to suggest that using artificial contraception could sometimes be morally acceptable. By the 1960s, then, the Catholic Church seemed behind the times. In the first months of 1968 there was a widespread expectation that with Humanae Vitae, the Catholic church would finally get “with it.”
Blessed Paul VI determined, however, that it’s better for the church to be with Christ than to be “with it”, which in any given generation is nothing but a shifting tide of public opinion. To be with Christ is to share in his self-sacrificial love.
The church’s teachings in this field, enriched so greatly over the past decades by St. John Paul the Great, show that planning a family according to natural means bestows not only moral and spiritual benefits upon wife, husband, and their shared married life. Planning a family according to natural means also has medical benefits, while artificial means of contraception are showing, more and more over time, how much physical harm can come from choosing what is artificial.
More and more people realize that they deserve better. Many are realizing that that “something better” comes from God himself, in the order of nature by which he designed man and woman.
As secular culture continues to fragment, and as more broken homes lead to more broken lives and to more crime, poverty, drug abuse and homelessness, the leaders of the church are calling us back to the basics. The church needs to go back to the heart of things to recover a way of life that has been mocked and abused in our secular culture for too long: a life of modesty, purity, and chastity.
Many in our culture are only waking up now to the hard truth about the consequences of believing that it’s beneficial for a couple to separate the act of marital love from the openness of that act to conception. Many in our culture are only realizing now what happens when, for decades, a culture claims that this act has no intrinsic connection to child-bearing. Many are only realizing now that a culture that claims that marriage doesn’t have to be open to the bearing of children is a culture that believes itself free to redefine marriage.

The faithful must embrace church teaching
The secular culture is never going to be convinced of the truth of what the church teaches unless the church’s members embrace – by living out – the church’s beliefs about marriage and family life. The leaders of our church see that. These same leaders also see the warnings in today’s first reading from the prophetic Book of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah’s warning is to worldly “shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of” the Lord’s pasture.
The prophet cries out in the name of the Lord, saying to those unfaithful shepherds: “You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. …[B]ut I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands… and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply.” We in the modern western world need to admit that this meadow is not the materialism promoted in the mass media. This meadow is the “verdant pastures” and “restful waters” of the spiritual and moral teachings of Jesus Christ, handed down to us by Jesus’ bride, the church.
Yet the prophet Jeremiah also promises that the Lord’s flock will be given faithful shepherds. The prophet cries out in the name of the Lord, declaring: “I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing”.
Too many children are missing in our world today because we’ve accepted the secular culture’s claim that divorcing the act of physical union from an openness to conception bears no consequences. But the consequences mount all around us.
The solution to a culture that canonizes barrenness, self-promotion, and immediate satisfaction of one’s every desire is the Way of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. As a Christian, you must never kid yourself into thinking that this Way is easy, broad and comfortable. After all, your life is not about you: as the Psalmist sings in the 23rd Psalm, “He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake.”
About those “right paths” we need to remember what Jesus explained to us: “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” [Mt 7:14]. Nonetheless, take comfort in the truth that if you follow the Good Shepherd on this narrow way, you “shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”