Bread of Life

Bread of Life

By Lisa Fernandes

In our Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us to say “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6.11). At the Last Supper Jesus said “Take and eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26). And the name of Jesus’ birthplace, Bethlehem, literally translates as house of bread. Bread is mentioned many times in the Bible, at least 492 times in the original text. Why bread? Bread has long been an essential part of life. A recent article detailed an archaeological find in northeastern Jordan from 14,400 years ago suggesting humans were making plant-based bread thousands of years before agriculture. I literally break bread every Friday with my family when we get together for dinner. I also recently started baking bread. I find it a mindful experience and fulfilling especially when I do the kneading by hand – and it is special because it is for my family. In the first reading we hear the children of Israel on their Exodus en route to the promised land, complaining that they should have stayed home where they had their fill of bread. The Lord responds by saying to Moses: “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day” (Exodus 16.4). God delivers the bread the next morning as nourishment called manna thus fulfilling his promise. So bread in this way is a renewing of the physical body. The second reading tells us that we have to rejuvenate ourselves with the spirit of the mind: as Jesus says …”to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to cloth yourselves with the New Man, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 23-24). Here Jesus talks about bread not only as physical but spiritual food. In the Gospel reading the theme of the bread of life continues. Bread is transformed from physical to spiritual as Jesus says: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6.35). And of course after the Gospel, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the purely physical bread becomes transubstantiated into the body of Christ.

 

Sunday’s Readings: Jeremiah 23.1-6 Psalm 23 Ephesians 2.13-18 Mark 6.30-34

St. John the Baptist

St. John the Baptist

By Lisa Fernandes

Today is the Solemnity of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, one of the oldest celebrations in the Church. And a popular holiday in Québec (St. Jean-Baptiste Day). John is an important figure in that he is a forerunner of Christ. This is shown in that his birthday is June 24th, six months before the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Ordinarily the death of a Saint is celebrated as a Feast Day but there are two notable exceptions, Mary and St John the Baptist where their birth is celebrated instead. While not officially declared as such, many believe that John was cleansed of original sin when he recognized Jesus and leaped within his mother’s womb. As we read in the first reading: “…pay attention, you peoples from far away! And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant,…” (Isaiah 49.5) Pope Francis recognizes the importance of St. John the Baptist as a model of evangelizing when he says, “In sharing the Gospel with others, Christians must be like St. John the Baptist, preparing the way for the Lord, pointing him out to others, then stepping aside.” Perhaps in that way, we can all be precursors of Christ’s second coming. John baptized Jesus and knew from the start of Jesus’ greatness. He shows his admiration and how unimportant he is in comparison to Jesus in the second reading when he says: ”…one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.” (Acts 13.25) John knew from the beginning he was special, as unworthy as he considered himself in comparison. His mother Elizabeth became pregnant with him even though she was not of childbearing age. He knew in the womb that he was there to herald Christ. Even when it came time to name him, though he would normally receive a relative’s name, like that of his father Zechariah, instead Elizabeth said his name would be John. Zechariah used a writing tablet and wrote: “His name is John.” (Luke 1.63) after which he regained his power of speech. John spent most of his early life in the desert until he appeared publicly — again being a forerunner to Jesus. In those days in the desert he went through dark times doubting his role but then gave light to the world in foretelling Christ. We all may sometimes feel we are going through dark times, but can look forward to the light of Christ.

Sunday’s Readings:

Isaiah 49.1-6

Psalm 139

Acts 13.22-26

Luke 1.57-66, 80

Love

Love

by Lisa Fernandes

Love is the focus of today’s readings. Jesus starting in Mark 12:28 states that love of God and love of one’s neighbour are of utmost importance. In the Bible, there are four types of love identified: storge (empathy), philia (friendship), eros (erotic) and agape (God’s unconditional love). It is this unconditional love from God that is discussed today.

In the first reading, we read about Gentiles being given the gift of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit is God by extension they are being given the gift of love.

In the second reading we are asked to: “…love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4.7-8)
Love is such an important part of the Bible that Pope Benedict’s first encyclical called Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) dealt with love, and Pope Francis referred to it in Feb 2016 on its 10th anniversary when he said: “God does not simply have the desire or capacity to love; God is love: charity is his essence, it is his nature.”

God’s love is unconditional; his love is very different from the love we often experience with one another because it is not based on feelings. He doesn’t love us because we please him. He loves us simply because He is love.

This theme of unconditional love for one another continues in the Gospel where Jesus asks us to love one another as he loves us: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15.12-13)

By asking us to love one another as God loves us, he is setting out a high standard of love. Recent events have made me realize that perhaps that standard is reachable. In the recent tragedy on Yonge St, strangers showed love for the victims of the van rampage as they lay injured in the street; many rushed to the aid of people they did not even know. And as the first reading tells us, the love of God is for all nations. And both the victims and the Good Samaritans in this tragedy represented the diversity of nations that live in Toronto: “…God shows not partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10.34-35)

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus teaches us what love of neighbour is. We have just seen an example of how this can be real.

Sunday’s Readings:
Acts 10.25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Psalm 98
1 John 4.7-10
John 15.9-17

Signs

Signs

by Lisa Fernandes

Today’s readings, on the third Sunday of Lent, are about signs and symbols of God. The first reading is about a physical symbol of God’s word, in this case the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments which were “…written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18) In the Second Commandment we specifically read about the danger of worshipping physical objects meant to signify God: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above…” (Exodus 20.4). This is not a literal prohibition against carving physical images; it is about placing our faith in anything that takes the place of us depending on God. The responsorial Psalm 19 tells us that the precepts law and fear of the Lord are more to be desired than gold: ”More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;…” (Psalm 19.10) The importance of a sign or symbol of God is what it means, not what it’s made of. We encounter in our lives not only religious symbols but also secular ones. The Olympics this year partially took place during Lent. The ultimate quest in the Olympics is for the gold medal, a sign that an athlete is the best in the world and some athletes worship the gold medal almost just like worshipping an idol. Some are happy just to be there and participate. We need to take caution in not relying on the wrong kinds of idols to fulfill us (want to put down your phone?) The second reading continues the theme of the first and reinforces the importance of the cross as a sign and symbol of Christianity. In first Corinthians we read that the Gentiles may see our signs as foolishness however: “The message about the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1.18) When we were marked on Ash Wednesday with the sign of the cross on our foreheads, that was a visible symbol of the Cross that also expressed that we are mortal and fallible: “…For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) Finally in the Gospel we read the important story about Jesus driving out the moneylenders who were more concerned with the signs of material wealth than this being a temple of God. We see a very angry Christ telling us how important this is. The Jews demanded a sign that he had the authority to cleanse the temple: “…What sign can you show us for doing this?” and he anticipates his death and resurrection. (John 2.18) The most important sign is one you cannot see – your faith.

Sunday’s Readings:

Exodus 20.1-17

Psalm 19

1 Corinthians 1.18, 22-25

John 2.13-25

Hope

Hope
by Lisa Fernandes

Today’s readings are about hope. Job is a man who exemplifies suffering. He is subjected to many trials and tribulations and in the first reading we feel his misery when he appeals to us by saying: “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and come to their end without hope. Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good.” (Job 7. 6-7) To him life seems hopeless; but he does not lose faith.

In the second reading we hear of Paul’s mission as an apostle, to teach the Gospel and spread the hope of Christ. We see his passion for his work when he says: “I have become all things to all people so that I might by any means save some. I do it for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessing.” (I Corinthians 9.22-23) The second reading shows us hope in action, not just personal but spreading the good news to others.

I attended a veneration of a relic of St. Francis Xavier recently at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica. He has been called the greatest missionary since St. Paul. He baptized around one hundred thousand people and performed miracles of healing and others. As I did, thousands of people lined up across Canada to venerate the relic, a physical symbol of a man who brought hope and the good news of the Gospel to so many, and continues to do so even now. It was uplifting to see this turnout at a time when there does not seem to be a lot of hope in the world.

The Gospel shows us hope fulfilled by the power of Christ’s deeds. Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law and cures many others from the city who were sick and possessed. We feel hope for ourselves when we see what Jesus can do for the whole city and even more so for humanity when he says: “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do” (Mark 1.29). In this case hope fulfilled becomes reality. Let us pray that we continue to hold to our hope in Christ.

Sunday’s Readings:
Job 7.14, 6-7
Psalm 147
1 Corinthians 9.16-19, 22-23
Mark 1.29-39

Gaudete Sunday

Gaudete Sunday

by Lisa Fernandes

Today we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent also known as Gaudete Sunday or Rejoice Sunday. Advent generally is a time for us to prepare and make way for Christ’s coming. In the Gospel we read about John and his role in this important event when he says: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” (John 1.23) On Gaudete Sunday we are rejoicing because our preparation is almost done. As the first reading says: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God;…” (Isaiah 61.10) Advent is also a time of new beginnings and is the start of each new liturgical year. I recently heard a comparison between Advent and the wait for the birth of a child. Parents are nervous and anxious; they are unprepared even amid their joy when awaiting the birth of a child. In the same way, in Advent we are happy to remember the birth of Christ and await his coming again, but at the same time we are anxious; we are not prepared and have not reconciled our sins with God. In our family we have many different kinds of advent calendars and candles to mark the countdown including secular ones – a hand painted wooden tree with ornaments added each day, one with chocolates (of course) and a candle with 24 days of December marked. Most importantly, though, we have a traditional Advent Wreath with three purple candles and one pink one. The purple ones can be seen as representing sacrifice. Today on Gaudete Sunday, we will be lighting the pink one which reminds us of the joy among our more solemn preparation from the past couple of weeks. Each candle that is lit brings more light into the darkness. During this time of year, let’s reflect on the spiritual preparation of the season as well as the secular preparation for feasts and gift buying and try to be Christian towards others as we deal with holiday crowds! As Catholics we can focus and pray upon some of the themes of Advent like hope and anticipation, peace, joy and love even though at times the world seems to be lacking these. Perhaps we can remember that Christ’s birth is the greatest gift of all.

Sunday’s Readings:

Isaiah 61.1-2a, 10-11

Luke 1

1 Thessalonians 5.16-24

John 1.6-8, 19-28

ABSOLUTES

Absolutes

by Lisa Fernandes

“Nothing is certain except death and taxes” as Benjamin Franklin said, referring humorously to secular absolute truths. In today’s readings, though, we hear about absolute truths according to God.

In the first, we hear the absolute that there is one God: “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no God.” (Isaiah 45.5)

In the second, we are told we have absolutely been chosen by God: “For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that He has chosen you…” (1 Thessalonians 1.4)

When we get to the Gospel, the discussion about absolutes is not as clear; we have to think about the relationship between Christianity, secular government and society. Jesus avoids the trick but answers the question of the Herodians and Pharisees when they ask Him if the Jews should pay taxes to the Romans.

The Pharisees thought that if He said yes, He would be betraying His people and collaborating with the enemy, Rome. The Herodians thought if He said no He would be a traitor to Rome. Instead, He said: “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. (Matthew 22.21) Jesus gave them a truthful answer but one that isn’t a simple absolute yes or no, but requires reflection and acting with the right intentions.

What is Jesus saying? There has been a lot of scholarly discussion about this passage and many interpretations. I see it as acknowledgement that it is often a difficult line to walk between the secular and the spiritual but they are not separate; they complement each other. A good person will both pay taxes and follow God’s law.

It can sometimes be difficult to know what the right thing to do is, though, as there are many trying to persuade us, and many mistruths; we do not want to be tricked into doing wrong nor dissuaded from doing good.

While Shakespeare said: “To thine own self be true”, we are not alone in discerning the right path to take as we have the help of God, our fellow parishioners, and the church community to help give us clarity.

Sunday’s Readings:

  • Isaiah 45.1, 4-6
  • Psalm 96
  • Thessalonians 1.1-5ab
  • Matthew 22.15-21

FORGIVENESS

FORGIVENESS

by Lisa Fernandes

“To err is human, to forgive divine” as Alexander Pope wrote. Today’s readings capture this difficult path we all have to travel. We want to be forgiven our human transgressions, as difficult as it is for us to forgive others. As in the first reading: “Forgive your neighbour the wrong that is done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.” (Sirach 28.2)

Today’s Gospel reading tells us more about forgiveness. The parable is about a slave whose debt is forgiven by his king but who does not “pay it forward” and show forgiveness to a fellow slave who is indebted to him but instead tortures him, and thus warns us: “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18.35)

The difficulty of forgiveness is shown when Peter asks Jesus if seven times is enough to forgive his brother or sister and: “Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18.22)

Seven is a significant number in the Bible usually related to completeness and perfection (God rested on the seventh day after creating the heavens and earth, and seven pairs of clean animals went on the ark etc…) so this is not a literal counting but a lesson about the limitlessness of forgiveness. In the Old Testament, the number seven was more associated with revenge: “Then the LORD said to him, ‘Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’ ”(Genesis 4.15) while the New Testament has a contrasting emphasis on forgiveness.

God forgives us unconditionally; how can we aspire to do the same with others? We can start small. If someone cuts you off on the road, instead of road rage forgive them and give them the benefit of the doubt. Or if someone doesn’t hold the door for you, give them a pass. Every week in Mass when we say the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There are role models both religious and secular, such as Nelson Mandela who forgave and reconciled with those who had kept him captive.

As C.S. Lewis put it, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you”.

Sundays Readings:

Sirach 27.30-28.7

Psalm 103

Romans 14.7-9

Matthew 18.21-35

FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

By Lisa Fernandes

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. This is an ancient feast that was gradually introduced into the Western Church, and made a universal feast by Pope Callistus III in 1457. It celebrates Christ’s glorious transformation before several Apostles.

Just prior to the Transfiguration Jesus takes Peter, James and his brother John up a high mountain where his appearance changes: “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Matthew 17.2).

According to the Catechism: “Christ’s Transfiguration aims at strengthening the apostles’ faith in anticipation of his Passion: the ascent onto the ‘high mountain’ prepares for the ascent to Calvary” (CCC 568). Today it is an important reminder of Christ’s divine nature; we all need reminders to strengthen our faith in this age of chaos.

Peter, James and John were purposely chosen as Jesus only needed a few witnesses and these, specifically, were part of his inner circle. These are the same three disciples that later accompanied Christ to Gethsemane on the eve of his passion. The transfiguration was not meant for the masses even though Peter misunderstood what was happening and wanted to build tents to mark the event and show everyone. But it was meant only for their eyes as Peter and the other disciples realize when suddenly God says: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17.5). It was at this point that the disciples fell down to the ground in awe.

I think it is important for us as current believers to understand their amazement. In our society where there sometimes seems to be a lack of wonder and we are becoming jaded, we seem to have lost our childlike amazement. We overuse the term “awesome.”

I was reminded of this in a recent obituary of Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, a longevity expert who died at the age of 105. He had many rules for living longer: “We all remember how as children, when we were having fun, we often forgot to eat or sleep,” he often said. “I believe we can keep that attitude as adults — it is best not to tire the body with too many rules such as lunchtime and bedtime.”

How can you recapture your amazement at this wonderful life God has given us? Write a gratitude journal. Find awe in everyday things. I recently went to hear one of the world’s greatest choirs, The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge from England and I thought how lucky I was to have this experience. And also don’t take for granted Christ’s sacrifice. Pope Francis encouraged parishioners to look at the Cross often, and to remember how Jesus was “annihilated” to save us.

Relish the rare moments in between our everyday life when we might sense we are on the mountaintop in communion with Jesus.

Sundays Readings:

Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14 2

Peter 1.16-19

Matthew 17.1-9

Ascension of the Lord

ASCENSION AND COMMUNICATION

By Lisa Fernandes

Today is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord and World Communications Day; appropriately enough today’s Psalm speaks of shouting, as well as singing praises to God. The Ascension, also known as the Great Commission, followed Jesus’ parting words from the gospel – the last direct encounter of Jesus with the disciples – when he says the following before he ascends to heaven: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).

We acknowledge this at every mass when we say the Apostles Creed. In his address for today’s 51st World Communications Day, Pope Francis ties the two together. First he talks about communication as he asks “…everyone to offer the people of our time storylines that are at heart ‘good news'”. Then he talks about the Ascension: “Our hope based on the good news which is Jesus himself makes us lift up our eyes to contemplate the Lord in the liturgical celebration of the Ascension.”

I was reminded of the idea of storylines from Pope Francis’ address at a talk by Bishop Paul Tighe (Adjunct Secretary with the Vatican Council for Culture) in the recent Annual Christianity and the Arts Lecture, “The Church and Contemporary Art”. He said we need a culture of encounter or dialogue with others. Art plays a role in taking this dialogue forward; art invites us to be attentive in a distracted world – an idea I appreciate as someone who has studied art history and loves spending time in museums and galleries. As Bishop Tighe said, art is universal, and the church originally needed artists as they made stories accessible to those who could not read. We all want to be in the know which is why we check our mobile devices constantly. In our age of FOMO (fear of missing out) and increased social media we might be losing the essence of dialogue as more and more dialogue is taking place between an individual and their mobile device rather than with people. So on this dual day of celebration, maybe take a minute to put down your mobile device, take in an art show and “be here now” as they used to say in the 70s – and then discuss the art you’ve seen with others.

Sunday’s Readings:

Acts 1.1-11

Ephesians 1.17-23

Matthew 28.16-20