Got Bread??? ~ The Rt. Rev. Michael Beckett, OPI

Carbs.  Ugh!  Carbs!  YUM!  Carbs!  Not so very many years ago, I lost a heap of weight by cutting out most carbs.  THAT didn’t last.  Pasta!  How can anyone live without pasta?  And yes, I know all about spaghetti squash and zoodles and wheat pasta (major yuk) and anything else that can be substituted for the honest to goodness yumminess that is pasta.  And then there’s bread!  BREAD!  We have three bread machines and Scott has become a true Bread Guru.  Egg bread, white bread, rye bread, oat bread, honey bread, and the list goes on and on and on.  And very rarely does any of said bread go to waste.  We like bread. 

Sadly, though, no matter how much or how often we eat bread, or pasta, or bread, or cake, or bread, we get hungry again.  Our bodies crave that fuel that keeps us going.  We’ve all seen the Snickers Bar commercials.  Not feeling like yourself?  Eat.  Have something to celebrate?  Eat.  And hey, in SO many restaurants, what do they bring to the table as soon as you’re seated?  Yup.  Bread. 

So, what is bread? Basically, it’s a paste of flour and water, cooked over or surrounded by heat.

According to history, the earliest bread was made in or around 8000 BC in the Middle East, specifically Egypt. The quern was the first known grinding tool. Grain was crushed and the bakers produced what we now commonly recognize in its closest form as chapatis (India) or tortillas (Mexico). 

And we all of us know about manna, the bread from heaven the slaves from bondage in Egypt ate whilst they meandered in the desert looking for the Promised Land.  In fact, bread is mentioned at least 492 times in the Bible beginning in Genesis and continuing right through Revelation with a variety of meanings and symbolism.

So.  Bread.  We know our bread.  Jesus even talked about bread.  Several times.  In the single most important sacrament we have, that of the Eucharist, bread becomes the body of Christ. 

In today’s Gospel, John 6:41-51, Jesus says, “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; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

So what’s up with this?  What does Jesus mean?  At that point in history, especially in Jesus’ culture, bread would have been understood as a nutritional necessity.  Bread was one of the most accessible foods for people of all wealth and social status, even the poor had bread. 

Now, for Jesus to say He IS bread?  What’s up with that?  Jesus is explaining to the crowds gathered around Him, and to us, just who He is.  And a lot of folks weren’t exactly impressed.  The Bible tells us of  the people complaining, and even some of His disciples leaving, unable to understand the metaphor, or unwilling to accept Jesus’s explanation of who He is.  So what DOES Jesus mean?  Simply put, if we put our faith in Him, then we will have eternal life.  When Jesus says He is the bread of life, He is saying that He is essential to our salvation.  Salvation is essential to human existence and necessary for eternity. When Jesus says He is the bread of life, He is saying He is essential, that HE is the means to our Salvation and eternal life. 

Jesus identified Himself as the bread of life, the way. He did not present Himself A source of salvation but as THE only way to salvation. Without Him, without the bread of life, there is no hope for salvation. By identifying Himself as the source of forgiveness, Jesus makes the path to repentance and a relationship with God, plain, simple, and available for everyone. 

So what do we do?  You say to me, “But I’m a good person.  I try to do the right thing.”  Well, yeah, you are and that’s awesome, but as Paul’s letter to the Romans teaches us, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

John also says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16

We have to believe it.  We have to live it.  The Bread of Life will sustain the us, we who believe.  In our daily lives, in order to continue to be fed by Him, we must pray regularly.  We must study the Word. 

We must do our best to live according to what Jesus has taught us.  And reckon wonder, how do we do that?  Love as Jesus loved.  As I have said over and over and over again, ad infinitum, you are the only Bible some folks will ever read, the only Jesus some folks will ever see.  And I’m gonna add a new one:

For some folks, you are the only server who brings the Bread of Life to the table. 

As Jesus said to Peter in John 21:15-17:     So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”  He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.””

Can we be, or do, less?  Again, for those in the back, for some folks, you are the only server who brings the Bread of Life to the table. 

That kinda puts a new spin on the closing sentence of the prayer, “Let us serve Him with gladness and singleness of heart.”

So let us do that.  Let us “serve” Him, the Bread of Life, with gladness and singleness of heart.   Amen.

The Transfiguration of the Lord

by Milan Komadina

Dear sisters and brothers, today our Holy Church commemorates The Transfiguration of the Lord. At the beginning of this sermon let us pray and read from the Bible about Transfiguration.

Mark 9:2-10 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters-one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6(He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) 7Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” 8Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

Many times when I meditate on this chapter from the Bible I found impressive a few things. When I think about Jesus I am impressed by the fact that he was displaying himself to people around him in a very modest and humble way. He rather liked to be seen as a servant than as a Son of God. The transfiguration has shown the real nature of Our Lord. His heavenly father confirmed from above that Jesus is His beloved Son. Yet Jesus seems to be a bit shy. He did not have the proud as we do. We, who are sinners tend to show our pride for the small things we do or achieve in our lives. But Jesus did not show pride. He didn`t say like “I am the Son of God, look how glorious I am“. What he did is saying his friends and disciples not to talk about what they saw. I always try to learn something from Jesus and I always try to understand certain paragraphs from the Bible in order to use them in my daily life. What I think is a good approach is to stick to the rule – whatever we do, whatever we achieve who ever we are – give praise to the Lord. Do not be so proud and self-confident because everything could be changed and we can lose all very easily. Even our own selves.

The second interesting part which I love regarding The Transfiguration is the fact that Elijah and Moses were there with Jesus. I grew up in a traditional orthodox Christian environment and when I was younger I was regularly attending protestant churches. But what I always found personally very beautiful, spiritually useful and relaxing is a prayer to the Holy Mother of God and the saints. In Transfiguration story I can see how Jesus actually like sharing his glory with his saints. He was not there alone. There were Elijah and Moses. Sometimes I also pray to St. Elijah, sometimes to St. Moses and most often to Holy Mother of God. Some people believe that saints cannot hear our prayers. Some people believe that a prayer to saints is worshiping them. However through Bible we just know that this kind of prayer is the same like asking our friends to pray for us. We do not worship them, but we ask their prayers. Also, they can hear us and Transfiguration shows that saint who died are still alive.

The last part of the Transfiguration story is talking about the resurrection. And this is something what I also like to meditate about. How this is amazing. We are all afraid of death. We are suffering when our family members or friends die. But still we do have hope and we do have promise. And this promise is that the same as Elijah and Moses who died and were displayed alive we will also live after we die. We will see and be together with all of those who we loved and who passed away. Our family members, friends, neighbors,…

Hungry??? ~ The Rev. Frank Bellino, Novice

As a seminarian, and even now as priest, one of the questions, people would ask me at first meeting is why I decided to become a priest.

Early in my formation I would immediately say: ‘Because I wanted to serve God and God’s people.’

But then I thought, I don’t have to be a priest to serve God and his people. So now I would say: ‘I don’t know, or I am not really sure why I wanted to become a priest.’ Only God knows, I’m sure.

But there are a couple of things that really drew me to the priesthood.

First, I just loved to be able to celebrate Holy Mass, and second, I just wanted to hold the most precious body and blood of our Lord at Consecration.

However, now that I am a priest and have celebrated the Holy Eucharist many times, I realized that what drew me to the priesthood is more than just celebrating Holy Mass. I still love celebrating the mass. It’s always special for me.

But I realized now, why I wanted to be a priest is because of my hunger to get closer to Jesus and because Jesus wants to get closer to us.

And we all have this hunger. St Augustine is one testimony on this in his famous acclamation: ‘My heart is restless until it rests in thee my God’.

In our lives, we experience this hunger in our longings for things we think can give us satisfaction, but then once we’ve obtained them, or experience them, we feel something still is lacking, we feel a deeper longing that nothing in this world can satisfy. This is spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst.

Friends, brothers and sisters, spiritual hunger and thirst can never be satisfied and quenched with material things.

First, to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst, we need to get closer to Jesus and let him get closer to us.

Why? Because as he told us in the gospel ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.’

It is always a challenge when we get closer to Jesus because the closer we are to him, or the closer he is to us, the more real the cross in our life, the heavier the cross becomes.

When we get closer to Jesus, we realized that he does not only comfort the afflicted, he also afflicts the comfortable.

Say for example in that scene in the Gospel today when he bluntly said to the crowd: “You are not looking for me because you have seen the signs, but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.” That’s a bit harsh of Jesus, isn’t it? It’s just like saying: ‘You only think with your stomach.’

But in saying that, Jesus is challenging them to go beyond the food/bread that he provided them and look up to the one who gave them the food in the first place. He is challenging them to focus not so much on the bread that is given, but on the giver of the bread (i.e., personal relationship with Jesus, with God).

Second: to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst, we need to regularly examine our lives if we live according to what God wills for us. Our deeper longing oftentimes is an expression of what St Paul in the second reading calls as the ‘spiritual revolution’ in us, that is our conscious effort, willingness and regular resolve to fight against our ‘old way of life [in sin] our old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires.’

At times though, we may feel frustrated in our efforts because we tend to go back to our old ways (in sin). But let us never despair and never lose hope, because even if at times we tend to abandon God, God never abandons us.

The story of the Israelites in our first reading today is a great example.

The Israelites were freed from the slavery of Egypt by God.  They were taken to the desert. But unfortunately, when they felt hungry and thirsty, they wished they were still slaves in Egypt when they ‘can sit down to pans of meat and could eat bread to [their] heart’s content.’

But God never gives up on us. He gave the Israelites manna from heaven. He gave them meat from quails. In doing this, God now served them, tended their wounds, and caring for their immediate and most basic need.

Third, to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst, let us live as one Eucharistic community—Eucharistic people means we act as gifts to one another, a blessing to each other, broken and shared. The Eucharist is our community- our common unity. So let us take our every celebration as a family celebration, people who care for one another.

Let us begin it now by talking to the person you may not know. You might be sitting on the same spot every time you come to mass, and the new person here is also sitting in the pews but you might not have introduced yourselves, introduce yourself. Try to remember the name. Ask: ‘Can we be friends?’ And keep in touch.

Friends, brothers and sisters, this gesture might be uncomfortable or not our “cuppa tea’’ so to speak, but as Christians, we are called to be Eucharistic community, that is, we get out of our comfort zones, being the gift to one another, a blessing to one another, to be broken and vulnerable even if need be and be shared.

Christ is the answer to our spiritual hunger and thirst. As Christians, let us be instruments of Christ to help satisfy the spiritual thirst and hunger of others. Amen.

Cats, Loaves, and Fishes ~ The Rt. Rev. Michael Beckett, OPI

Our poor cats.   I starve them.  Or, according to THEM, I starve them.  Only one inch of food in their bowl?  Heaven forbid!!!  There must be at least two inches or Binx will howl, meow, and otherwise fuss until said bowl is at the proper cat food level.  And canned food?  It’s not like they get canned food every morning of their lives.  All four of them will peer at me shamelessly every morning until they each have their allotted portion of Ocean Whitefish, which seem to be the favorite of the moment.  So…Nope.  Scott and I are terrible providers for our critters.  Bless their furry little hearts.  Ha!  Funny, isn’t it, that no matter how much they have, even when they have enough, they want more.  

So….  What about us?  How much is enough?  The answer to that question is usually, “Just a little bit more.”  Or just, “More.”  And once we get that “More” we still want “just a little bit more.”  And when THAT happens, whilst we are well provided for, what do we frequently do?  We want more and look down on those who have not reached that “more” status.

This kinda presents a problem for those of us who profess to love Jesus.  In the Gospel appointed for today, we hear of Jesus feeing the 5000.  We know now that there were many more than 5000, coz the Bible tells us there were about 5000 MEN.  There had to be women and children there as well.   That’s a heap of folks to feed with 5 loaves and two fish.  The story of Jesus feeding the 5000 is one that’s puzzled sceptics and believers too. Sceptics dismiss the miracle story or explain it away. Perhaps what ‘really’ happened, they say, is that many people had brought food with them to the event and realized that others hadn’t – so the ‘real’ miracle was the miracle of sharing.  Personally, what do I think?  I really think I’m not smart enough to explain the ”hows” of Jesus’s miracles, and I’m smart enough to believe that Jesus accomplished what He set out to do. 

However….. (Isn’t there always a “however” when I write stuff like this???)  However, what we CAN take away from this is Jesus fed folks.   It has been said and written over and over and over again, that Jesus will give us what we need.  And I believe this with all my heart.  And again, in this day and age Jesus will accomplish what He sets out to do.  Now, the trick is, just how does Jesus accomplish this taking care of needs and things when He isn’t right on hand to pass out the goods?  Uh oh. 

Jesus also said, “So send I you.”  In Matthew 25 we read: 

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

So……  Jesus isn’t here walking on this earth in da flesh any more….  And it would seem that with the “So send I you” thing He has goin’ on….  Well, looks like it’s up to us to be feeding the hungry, and clothing those who are in need.  It’s up to us to continue the Lord’s work here.  Once again, I will say, sometimes you are the only Jesus some folks will ever see.  You are the only Bible some folks will ever read. 

So many times we hear folks talking about the homeless.  Sure, I’ll grant you that many of them are homeless due to addiction to one thing or another, or could do something about their situation, or could reach out for help, or….  or…..  or……..   But I don’t know these people as individuals, I don’t know their stories, and who am I to judge?   My Daddy….oh how I miss him…  Daddy was always giving out a five here or a buck there to those who were “less fortunate” than he and Momma.  Many years ago, someone once said to him, “Bill, you know they are just gonna buy alcohol or drugs with that money.”  Daddy’s reply???  He said, “Well, ya know, that says more about them than it does me.  Jesus told me to give,  not to tell folks what to do with what I give them.”  That stuck with me.

No, we can’t provide for everyone we meet.  But we can donate to a homeless charity or a program that feeds the less fortunate.  We can volunteer at one of those organizations.  We can do a lot of things to alleviate the problems these folks face. 

The question isn’t “should we?”  it’s will we?   

So y’all, there ya have it.  My thoughts on one of Jesus’s great miracles.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have cats to feed.

Lessons for Life: The Feast of St. Mary Magadlene~ The Very Rev.Lady Sherwood, OPI

Reading I: Sgs 3:1-4b OR: 2 Cor 5:14-17

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

Gospel: Jn 20:1-2, 11-18

Liturgical colour: White.

My dearest brothers and sisters -in-Christ,

There are a many Marys within the Holy Scriptures —the New Testament mentions six altogether! The Mary we know as Mary Magdalene, whose memorial we celebrate today, draws her title from Magdala,  the city of her origin. Luke tells us that Jesus cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2). Afterward, she became His disciple.

John’s Gospel tells us that she was one of the Marys present at the crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus:”Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25, NIV).

And Mary Magdalene was also the very first witness to the Lord’s resurrection:  Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.  They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’  ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.  He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’  Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’  Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’  She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (John 20:11–16, NIV).

Mary’s devotion to the Lord Jesus put her in the spotlight of several writings told to us within the Holy Gospels. The life and the faith of Mary Magdalene, both have such a lot to teach us about following Jesus. Here are three lessons we can learn from Mary Magdalene.

1. We don’t have to be defined by our past:   There’s a lot of speculation about Mary’s background. Many People have tied Mary to the sinful woman in Luke 7:36–50. Many also assume that Mary was a prostitute or a woman of ill repute. But there truly isn’t any biblical evidence whatsoever for portraying Mary in that light.

As Luke tells us, Mary had seven demons cast out of her. Whatever her background had been before she met Jesus, as is also true for the rest of us even today, Mary isn’t defined by who she was before meeting the Lord. All that is important is who Mary became after discovering Him.

Like Mary, we don’t have to let our pasts dictate how we see ourselves, nor should dictate how others may see us. Paul explains it this way, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)!

2. Jesus should be the center of our lives:  After Mary’s first encounter with Our Lord Jesus, Luke tells us:

“After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, And also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out;  Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means” (Luke 8:1–3, NIV).

Not only did Mary follow the Lord Jesus and His disciples from town to town, but she and some other women also helped to support Christ and the disciples financially. This role continued throughout His earthly ministry.

Matthew tells us that they were present at the crucifixion, and followed Jesus all the way to Galilee to take care of Him:  “Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (Matthew 27:55–56, NIV).

It’s no surprise then, that Mary Magdalene would find herself in a prominent position at the Lord’s resurrection, also.

We should live our lives by  following Mary’s example. When we encounter Jesus, we shouldn’t  return to the life we previously lived.  Our Lord and Saviour changes everything!  Our whole life ought to become about following and serving Him until—like Mary—our story becomes intertwined and indistinguishable from His own.

3. Jesus uses the weak things of the world to shame the strong:  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about the gospel as being foolishness. The world doesn’t understand it, so they discount and dismiss it.

According to Paul, God did that on purpose:  “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27–29).

We see a perfect example of this principle in Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene. In a time when women were seen as second class citizens with no real authority, Jesus demonstrated a special tenderness and care for women. We see this in His choice to reveal Himself to Mary first after the resurrection. 

This is the most critical event in history, and Jesus made a woman the first witness. He even encourages her to tell the disciples (John 20:17). The irony is that they didn’t believe Mary and the other women (Luke 24:11).

We need to be extremely careful in our lives, to ensure that we never dismiss things that don’t follow our human expectations, because Jesus doesn’t always do things in the way in which we may expect. Our Lord delights in working out His plan in the most wonderful, yet unlikeliest of ways. He did that through Mary, and if we let Him, He’ll do such through us, too!

Shepherds, Sheep, and Scary Stuff ~ The Rt. Rev. Michael Beckett, OPI

Momma had “that look” when we did something we probably shouldn’t have done.  We sorta kinda knew we were in trouble.  Oops!  Now, Daddy had “THAT look,” which was different from Momma’s.  Y’all know the one?  The one that said, “You have done messed up, prepare to die.”  I hated that look.   It was scary!  Speaking of ‘scary,’ in one of the Scriptures appointed for today, we find, to me, the scariest, most terrifying words in the Bible.   Here ya go:

In Jeremiah 23:1-6m we have, to me, probably the most terrifying scripture in the whole of Holy Writ.  “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD.   Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people:

You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.  You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.   I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply.  I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the LORD.” 

Why is this so dreadfully frightening?  Imma tell ya in a minute, but first we need to back up a bit and talk about shepherds.  In our lives today, we don’t really understand how common and important shepherds and sheep were in ancient times.  At that period in history, shepherds and sheep were as common as Wal-Mart, telephones, and convenience stores.  So, what IS a shepherd?   

Simply put, a shepherd is the man or woman who takes care of the sheep and goats.  Easy enough.  But what does this mean?  What did it mean in Biblical times for a shepherd to care for his sheep?  The duties of a shepherd in an unenclosed country like Palestine were very onerous. In early morning he led the flock from the fold, marching at its head to the spot where they were to be pastured. Here he watched them all day, taking care that none of the sheep strayed, and if any for a time did stray from his watch and wandered away from the rest, he would have to seek diligently till he found and brought it back. In those lands sheep require to be supplied regularly with water, and the shepherd for this purpose had to guide them either to some running stream or to wells dug in the wilderness or furnish them with troughs. At night he brought the flock home to the fold, counting them as they passed under the rod at the door to assure himself that none were missing. Nor did his labors always end with sunset. Often, he had to guard the fold through the dark hours from the attack of wild beasts, or the wily attempts of the prowling thief.

Shepherds in ancient Israel likely worked with, among others, the broadtail Syrian variety of sheep, which have large fatty tails and a thick fleece. The rams of this breed are horned, and the ewes are not. These docile animals are easily led and completely at the mercy of their environment and predators.

 Shepherds also cared for goats. The goats were uniformly black or brown. Their long, flapping ears easily got torn on thorns and briar bushes as they clambered on rocky hillsides and grazed on shrubbery.

The shepherd faced the ongoing challenge of teaching the sheep and goats to obey his commands. Even so, good shepherds took tender care of the animals in their charge, even giving them names to which they would respond. —(John 10:14, 16.)

It was a tough job. 

Great men such as Abraham, Moses, and King David were shepherds.  The image of the shepherd as one who cares for flocks and people is one that is pretty easy to understand and runs deep in the imagery of ancient times.  In Mesopotamia, the region along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the model for kings was the shepherd. The king-as-shepherd was to “rule kindly, counsel and protect the people,” and “guide them through every difficulty.” Babylon’s Hammurabi, credited with the world’s first written law code, was described as a shepherd of his people. In ancient Egypt, the shepherd’s crook was used “as an insignia of kings, princes, and chieftains.” In the Iliad and the Odyssey from ancient Greece, ship captains are called “shepherds of ships.” Plato uses the shepherd analogy to define justice in the Republic, and in the “Statesman” uses the shepherd to symbolize the work of a good ruler. 

And of course, today, the shepherd’s crook is a symbol of our bishops, representing them as the shepherds of Christ’s flocks….

As a bishop, it’s my responsibility to take care of my flock.  And ‘my flock’ consists of many of you who actually read my stuff and try to get some good out of it.  Your soul, your spirituality, your eternity, becomes my responsibility.  It’s my job to see that you have everything you need to live as Christ wants you to live.  Heavy stuff, that!  Sometimes we have to make really hard decisions, and sometimes we have to be more stern than we’d like to be.   My daddy said, when I was little and having to be punished, “It hurts me more than it does you.”  I was always skeptical of that, until I had to be more stern than I wanted to be with clergy.  Sigh….Anyway, I digress…0

But, this not only applies to Bishops, but to any church leader, pastor, priest, deacon, or Christian.  And I’m here to tell you that those Christian leaders who have turned people away from Christ will suffer for all of eternity.  My heart breaks almost daily when I read or hear of so many of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who have turned their backs on God because of the teachings of “the church.”  And it’s not just LGBTQ folks.  There are SO many who have been either led astray or sent away by church leaders who have twisted and cherry-picked scripture to meet their own agenda.  Woe to them. Woe to those who have so muddled the message of Christ that people have decided that the church equals hate!

So, what about you?  Now that we’ve had Sheep 101 and Bishop 101, what does this mean for each of you?  I would bet that you never thought of yourself as a shepherd.  But you are.  You ARE!  Think for a minute.  Who is your flock?  Who are those folks who look to you for advice, for guidance?  Who is that that you influence?  Your children?  Your families?  Co-workers?  Neighbors?  The kids you eat lunch with and have classes with?  The folks on your sports team?  Your golf buddies?  What about those people who see you but don’t know you?  Those folks in the line with you at the grocery store? 

I have said it time and time and time again:  YOU are the only Bible some folks will ever read.  YOU are the only Jesus some folks will ever see.  While it is true that it is the job of the clergy to lead the church, what about you?  Saint Peter teaches us that “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ … But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:5-9).

Is this who you are?  Who is your flock?  Who are your sheep?  What kind of shepherd are you?  Do you, by your words and actions, reflect the Gospel?  Where are you leading your sheep?

Let us pray:  Gracious God, we welcome the presence of Jesus, our Good Shepherd and pray that you help us to accept the mission of Jesus, that we be good shepherds and bring the good news to the world.  By our baptismal vows we have committed to living the Gospel.  Inspire us to live our lives leading our own flocks to you.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Swimming Upstream ~ The Rev. Dcn. Igor Kalinski, OPI

From the Dominican Hermitage & Oratory of St’s Peregrine and Sebastian in Gevgelija, region Bojmia, Republic of Macedonia, Europe and Translated from the Bulgarian 14th Week in Ordinary Time

And today we are called with Jesus to go to our Nazareth, our home and homeland, among our relatives. And it is here that we are called to be heralds of the gospel. In us and through us – us as a community of believers called the Church and us as individuals in the Church – God wants to act among those who are “ours”, and in this sense “ours” are those who are close to us, they above all, but they are “ours” and the whole of humanity, as well as all created reality. And we are called by these “ours” to be witnesses of the gospel of God’s love revealed to us in Jesus of Nazareth. It is important, however, that in fulfilling this mission of ours, we do not allow our time and our Nazareth to captivate us with their mentality in their mediocrity, but we need to be, even at the cost of non-acceptance and rejection, different. In this being different we must pay particular attention to two dangers that we can easily run into. The first danger is the fear of failure, of being different and of not being accepted because we are different. This is a problem faced by many, especially young Christians. Being a Christian in an authentic way – not in the way of that soothing Nazarene habit in which Jesus could do nothing and comparable to unbelief – is something that is not worth much today, something that many would rather be ashamed of their being Christians than something they are proud of. It is this fear that hinders and disables being what we are called to be. To resist this danger of fear, which we might call the fear of regard for those to whom we are sent, today’s liturgy with Ezekiel confronts us with what awaits us, but at the same time makes us aware that we have not chosen ourselves for the mission we have. The prophet never sends himself. The prophet is always sent by God: “Son of man, I send you to the rebellious people who have turned away from me. … I send you to your sons with stubborn looks and hardened hearts. And thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Whether they will hear, or whether they will hear, whether they be rebellious or not, let them know that the prophet is among them. The second danger is arrogance because we are different, because we have not allowed ourselves to be overtaken by the current and carried where it carries all others, but like Jesus we swim upstream, the opposite of most. Pride prevents us from seeing Jesus as he truly is and from creating our own image of Jesus. And then it happens that, thinking we know him, we don’t actually recognize him at all. And instead of witnessing it to others, we become an obstacle to others meeting it. That is why Jesus is not and cannot be in pride. Jesus is present in humility. And only the humble can witness it. In order to protect us from pride, God helped us with St. Paul gave “a thorn in the flesh.” I do not know what that thorn was in the case of St. Paul. Perhaps it was this same thorn that exists in our case, and it is today the mentality of the society and time in which we live and which it does not consider to be Christ’s and with Christ desirable, but backward. But let’s not be afraid of that thorn. With him always comes from the Lord his “grace because strength is perfected in weakness.” Thanks to this we can discover experientially that true strength is not in strength, but that true strength is in weakness, that is, that the words are truly true: “For when I’m weak, then I’m strong. ” If we manage to resist these two temptations, the temptations of fear, and the temptations of pride, we will be able to continue our Christian witness despite all adversities. And to show everyone that God continues today to speak and act in what people least seek and see in him, in ordinary people, events, phenomena, but also in us if we live our daily lives simply and Christian consistently. And Jesus Christ will not then come and go unnoticed and with regret need to reaffirm: “He is not a prophet without honor except in his homeland, among his relatives and in his home.” We will then not be just his homeland, relatives and home. We will then be Himself, Jesus Christ, His living presence for all those with whom we live and to whom He sends us.

With Liberty and Justice for… Who? ~ The Rt. Rev. Michael Beckett, OPI

On Independence Day, USA

independence day united states-9

I love this country.  There have been times when I’ve actually gotten teary looking at the flag and listening to the “The Star Spangled Banner.”  Said ‘Star Spangled Banner’ has proudly waved on our house for years.  Like many, dare I say ‘most’ of us, I know every word of “God Bless America” and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA.”  For most of my adult life I taught the Pledge of Allegiance, even though it was not required.  Yes, it was said every morning before school started and the kids knew the words, but they really didn’t know what they were saying, and so, being the Language Teacher I was, we had vocabulary lessons on the Pledge…..and that’s where the trouble began……

…..with liberty and justice for all.  LIBERTY???  Umm….  According to the dictionary, the word “liberty is defined thusly:

lib·er·ty  /ˈlibərtē/  1. the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.

…..with liberty and justice for all.  JUSTICE????  Umm……  According to the dictionary, the word “justice” is defined thusly: 

just/jəst/  adjective  based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.  Derivitive:  jus·tice /ˈjəstəs/ noun  1. just behavior or treatment.  “a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people”

…..with liberty and justice for all.  ALL????  Umm……  According to the dictionary, the word “all” is defined thusly: 

All  /ôl/   predeterminer · determiner · pronoun:  used to refer to the whole quantity or extent of a particular group or thing.

Those three little words become problematic when we think of our history and our beloved country today.  If “All” means ‘the whole quantity,’ then doesn’t it stand to reason that “with liberty and justice for all’ means just that?  Everyone, all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious belief, socio economic status, or sexual orientation?  

Would I fight to defend this country?  Of course.  I actually tried when I was a much younger man.  But….. (Those of you who know me well know that there is always a ‘but’)…but I wasn’t allowed to do so…but for the history of this country, up until very recently, 10 December 2010 and the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” I would not have been allowed to do so.  

That pesky word, “liberty?”  That “free from oppressive restrictions” part? Scott and I were not allowed to get married until June of 2015.  Mixed race marriages were illegal in parts of the United States until 1967 when the Supreme Court ruled in the Loving v. Virginia case.  Where’s the “all” in that? 

Now, justice.  There’s a word for you.  We teach our kids to be ‘just’ when we teach them to be fair.  Pretty simple, right?  Until someone starts asking, “fair for who?”  Fair for the Native Americans to have to fight the government to keep the lands they have been promised? (The Department of the Interior surprised the Mashpee Wampanoag when it announced in March 2020 it was taking more than 300 acres of land.)  Where is the justice when our Black brothers and sisters are persecuted for just being Black? 

That little phrase, “liberty and justice for all.”  Huh.  Do we mean it? Really?  If you love this country as much as I do, shouldn’t we then, all of us, continue to fight for what this country stands for?  We cannot be content with the status quo. We cannot be content until there is truly liberty and justice for ALL people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious belief, socio economic status, or sexual orientation.  Native American.  Black.  Gay.  Asian.  Jew.  Muslim, Christian. 

Oh.  Freedom for those groups?  Umm….  Religion?  Religion you say?  “But this country was founded on the Christian religion!” you declare.  Umm….not so much.  In fact, no, it most certainly was not.

The U.S. Constitution is a wholly secular document. It contains no mention of Christianity or Jesus Christ. In fact, the Constitution refers to religion only twice in the First Amendment, which bars laws “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and in Article VI, which prohibits “religious tests” for public office. Both of these provisions are evidence that the country was not founded as officially Christian. 

The Constitution that we hold so dear and pledge to defend says this: 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;  — First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

And then there is the Treaty of Tripoli.  The Treaty is often cited, in discussions regarding the role of religion in United States government, for a clause in Article 11 of the English language American version which states that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion. 

So there is that. 

Now, speaking of religion….I dare say the biggest most of you reading this are Christians, coz, you know, the “friend” thing and the “Bishop thing” that I’ve got goin’ on here…..Let’s think a sec about what is said in the Bible about this “liberty and justice for all” thing….

“Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof…” These words are from Leviticus 25:10  and then:  Verse 17: “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God.”

Let’s skip over to Matthew 5:  Look at the fourth beatitude in verse 6:  [6] Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

The word “righteousness” often refers to uprightness, doing the right thing, obeying God’s rules. But the same word is also used for what in English we call “justice” and I believe that here that is exactly what Jesus has in mind.

And then there’s this little troublesome story: 

Luke 4:14-30.  14 And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district.  15 And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.  16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and, as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, 19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”  20 And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down;

If we, as Christians, are to follow Christ, are we not also called to preach the gospel, to proclaim release to the captives and to set free those who are oppressed? As followers of Jesus Christ, you and I need to be advocates for those who have no voice, advocates for those whose race or religion or country of origin causes them to be treated like people who do not matter. We need to be advocates for those who are perceived to be different, other, who don’t fit the mold.  For too long, these silent voices have suffered the pain of repressed indifference and that’s why they have broken out in protests of violence.  Are they right to raise their voice in violence? Of course not, but when we who are privileged fail to ensure liberty and justice for all, the silent voices don’t know what else to do than to get some attention through violence.  That’s why we need to be the voice of the silent. That’s why we need to advocate for those who are treated unjustly. When we advocate for those who are treated unjustly we don’t simply do something that’s politically correct.  When we advocate for those who are treated unjustly, we reveal ourselves to be followers of Jesus Christ Kinda sounds like liberty and justice for all to me.

LIBERTY and JUSTICE for ALL.  Think about it.  Do we try to maintain the status quo?  Or do we mean what we say and truly represent what this country stands for?  Think about it.

I wish each of you a most blessed 4th of July. 

The Feast of St. Thomas ~ The Rev. Dcn. Igor Kalinski, OPI

The Rev. Deacon Igor Kalinski OPI

Dominican Hermitage & Oratory of St’s Sebastian and Peregrine in Gevgelija, Macedonia

The Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle reminds us that the faith of Christians is born and nourished only in the encounter with Jesus

Dear brothers and sisters!

Today’s feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, which we celebrate with this solemn Eucharistic celebration, is the feast of the heavenly patron of the Diocese of Pula and the city of Pula. He was chosen as his heavenly protector by the faithful of this diocese in ancient times with the desire that the example of this holy witness of Christ inspires, guides, encourages and encourages them on the path of Jesus’ followers and witnesses. In this imitation of Jesus, St. Thomas inspires the faithful of this diocese, but also all Christians, in a special way in moments of human and religious insecurity and in the hours when they seek sure answers to open questions, which are imposed on them at a given moment. Therefore, the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, apart from the remembrance of the great figure of one of the first direct disciples of Jesus, is for all of us primarily a feast of faith. Faith, which is born only in the encounter with Jesus. Who lives only in a way of a permanent state of encounter with Christ. Which only that encounter feeds and maintains. For us believers, this takes on a special meaning in this Eucharistic celebration, which is always a reunion with Jesus. With our God and Lord, who in the Body and Blood, under the Eucharistic occasions of bread and wine, comes among his faithful.

The initial faith of the apostles was born in an encounter with Jesus while he was still living in this world. She grew in them in fellowship with Jesus, that is, in their living with Him, which was nothing but a daily and all-day encounter. On the contrary, that faith in them waned at the moment when, after Jesus’ death, His parting with them occurred. True, this was due to the fact that, after Jesus’ condemnation and crucifixion, the apostles were overwhelmed with disappointment and fear of persecution. But much more than fear, their faith was threatened by parting with Jesus. That is, the cessation of the encounter with Jesus was the main reason for their discouragement. This is best proved by the fact that the faith of the apostles was strengthened again after Jesus appeared to them. Their sure faith appeared and came to life again in the encounter with Jesus. That is, they believed after “seeing.” After the risen Jesus came among them. In an encounter with Jesus. But Tom was not present at the event. Thomas did not “see” Jesus with the other apostles. He did not experience that encounter with Jesus. He will experience it a week later, and faith will be revived in that encounter as well. In other words, there is no significant difference between Thomas’ reaction and the reaction of the other apostles, because everyone actually believed only after they “saw”. The only difference is that they “saw” at different times. Therefore, it is more a matter of a different time, in which their faith is born, than of a difference of content and manner.

It is precisely this birth and strengthening of the apostle’s faith, that Jesus was indeed resurrected, that is reported in the passage from the Gospel of John, which we have just heard. And this is the passage for which St. Thomas is generally known. He was even called “unfaithful” after that event. But it is very often forgotten that this passage, though the most famous, is only one of three incidents from the same Gospel of John, in which St. Thomas speaks. In their own way, they complete our knowledge of him, complement the image of this apostle of Jesus and emphasize the uniqueness of Thomas’ character.

The first incident, in which St. Thomas speaks, is the event of the death of Lazarus, Jesus ‘friend from Judea, and the miracle of his return to earthly life by Jesus’ action. And it was in that Judea that they wanted to stone Jesus shortly before. Namely, after Jesus learned that Lazarus had died, he said to the apostles: “Let us go to Judea again! […] Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to wake him up ”(Jn 11: 7-11). And in order to turn Jesus away from his intention, his disciples said to him, “Teacher, have the Jews now sought to stone you, that you may go there again?” (Jn 11: 8). And as Jesus did not give up, the apostles continued to convince him that it was not prudent to return to Judea, and told him, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will be healed” (Jn 11:12). And John the Evangelist continues: “Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. I’m glad I wasn’t there, and for your sake – to believe. Let’s go to him! ‘ Then Thomas, called Gemini, said to his disciples, “Let us also die with him” (Jn 11: 14-16).

These words of Thomas should be read, listened to and understood in the light of the real danger that threatened Jesus in the event of his return to Judea, as an expression of Thomas’ great personal courage and willingness to die with Jesus if necessary while He carries out His mission, but at the same time as Thomas’ call to all the other disciples of Jesus to show solidarity with the Lord. He is not afraid to return to the region and among the people, who are a real danger to life for all of them, and he invites others to behave in the same way. He is willing to risk his earthly life for Jesus. He chooses freely to always be with Jesus. Not only when Jesus is praised, but even in mortal danger. He is also He chose not only to live with Jesus but also to die for him and with him, as he himself says. To be with Jesus in life and death, in Judea and eternity. Forever!

The second incident, in which Thomas speaks, took place at the Last Supper. Then, on the eve of his death and departure from this world, Jesus comforted the very worried and troubled disciples. He said to them, “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God and believe in me! […] There are many dwellings in my Father’s house. I’m going to prepare a place for you. When I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that you may be where I am. And where I go, you know the way ”(Jn 14: 1-4). These words of Jesus surprised the apostle Thomas. They were not clear enough to him and he is not ashamed to admit it publicly. Therefore, as a very curious person, who is always ready to seek clarification, and above all as a disciple who wants to always be with his Master, even where Jesus announced his departure, he says to everyone in front of Jesus: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How then can we know the way? ”(Jn 14: 5).

Thanks to this question, all the disciples heard Jesus say of himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn 14: 6). That is, thanks to the Apostle Thomas, we gathered here today as worshipers of this apostle, know about this fundamental teaching of Jesus, which is a great challenge for every follower and every believer, and for us gathered here, especially to the extent that he wants to achieve his eternal salvation. That is, thanks to Thomas ‘question, we know that only Jesus’ way and path leads people to Heavenly Father.

In the Gospel of John, the apostle Thomas speaks for the third time in the description of the two apparitions of Jesus, with Thomas absent at the first apparition and present at the second. From this account of John we learn that Jesus appeared to his disciples for the first time on the very day of his resurrection. We also learn that they were very frightened because we read, “And in the evening of the same day, the first day of the week, when the disciples were shut in fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said unto them, Peace be unto you.” (Jn 20:19). So they were all behind well-closed doors. In fear. Except Tom! That is, although there was great fear among Jesus’ disciples and they hid and closed the door, Thomas was different and was somewhere outside the door. Curious, as he was, he probably went to look for answers to new questions, which arose, and doubts, which he wanted to solve. At that moment, apparently more brave than the others, it can be assumed that he went out to reconnoiter Jerusalem. Because it is clear that he did not run away or forget the other apostles. In fact, he knows where they are and, after reconnaissance, returns to them with the information gathered. But they shock him by telling him what happened while he was gone. That is, that they saw the Lord. And he, obviously very surprised and taken aback, and probably suspicious of his colleagues because of their cowardice, replied, “If I don’t see the nail mark on his hands and put my finger in the place of the nail, if I don’t put my hand on his side, I won’t to believe ”(cf. Jn 20:25). Because he knew that “big eyes are in fear”, and in such a state it often seems to see what is not there. But when, just a week later, Jesus reappeared to the apostles, Thomas was among them. And when he was convinced, that is, when he personally saw the risen Jesus, he confessed his faith in the divinity of Christ with the words: “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28). It is a confession of faith, which Christians to this day often repeat, especially at the moment when they partake of the Eucharistic Jesus, their Lord and God.

At the end of the description of this event, we read that Jesus Tommy, after he confessed his faith in Him, God and Lord, said: “Because you saw me, you believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed ”(Jn 20:29). This is the third great lesson of Jesus, which he uttered thanks to the reactions and questions of the apostle Thomas. The lesson, which directly refers to the Church, the community of faith, to our present condition, because we are not given to “see” the Risen One. In fact, the whole Church has believed from the beginning the testimony of the apostles, who “saw” and then believed and gave their lives for it.

Commenting on this last incident with the Apostle Thomas, St. Gregory the Great, the Pope writes: “What, brethren, to observe in all this? To attribute to the pure case that this disciple, chosen by the Lord, was absent, and that when he came then heard of the event, and hearing doubted, and doubting touched, and touching believed? No, this did not happen by accident, but by Divine disposition. The mercy of the Lord worked in a glorious way, for that disciple, while, with his doubts, touching the wounds on the body of his Master, healed in us the wounds of unbelief. The unbelief of Thomas benefited us more, in terms of faith, much more than the faith of the other apostles. While he has been brought to faith by touch, our mind is fixed in faith by overcoming every doubt. […]

One, however, was what he touched, and the other was what he believed.  The deity cannot actually be seen by mortal man. So he saw a man, and he acknowledged God, saying, ‘My Lord and my God.’ So he believed when he saw it. He saw the right man and said it was the God he could not see. (Hom. 26, 7-9)

Other great saints and minds of the Church wrote similarly. Thus St. Augustine says: Thomas “saw and touched man, and confessed his faith in God, whom he neither saw nor touched. But what he saw and touched led him to believe in what he had doubted until then. ” (In Johann. 121, 5)

Dear brothers and sisters, The case of Thomas the Apostle, apart from the saintly example, is an important lesson for all Christian believers for at least three reasons. First, because it comforts us in the uncertainties of the faith we profess, and encourages us in our quests. Secondly, it is important to us, because it shows, that any doubt can enter enlightenment, where there is no uncertainty. And third, the words, which Jesus addressed to Thomas, remind us of the true meaning of mature faith and encourage us to, in spite of difficulties, continue on our path of adhering to Jesus.

Therefore, through the intercession of St. Thomas, God grant that all of us, who have not seen, but believe and confess that Jesus is “my Lord and my God”, confirm this faith every day with our deeds. And so that, according to our testimony, others could “see” and “touch” God’s goodness and believe. Through the risen Christ, our God and Lord. Amen!