Fr. Jacek Pawłowski MS
Fr. .Jojohn CHETTIYAKUNNEL ms
Fr. Manuel dos Reis Bonfin ms
Fr. Venancio Nunda MS
Food for the Journey
(19th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 1 Kings 12:4-8; Eph. 4:30—5:2; John 6:41-51)
The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick used to be called Extreme Unction. Today, Catholics understand that the sacrament is in view of healing, not death. There are, however, certain rites to be observed when death is imminent.
Among these is Viaticum. The Latin word originally meant provisions (money, food, etc.) for a journey. In the Church, it refers to Holy Communion brought to a dying person. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it in these terms: “Communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of ‘passing over’ to the Father, has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection, according to the words of the Lord: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’”
When Elijah was discouraged and wanted to die, God provided food for his journey, to strengthen him and help him continue his prophetic mission.
The message of Our Lady of La Salette was addressed to “her people” who, among other things, paid little importance to the Eucharist. Not only had the Church in general suffered from the persecutions of the French Revolution, but even before that, anticlericalism had entered deeply into French culture as a result of the Age of Enlightenment.
In that context, “Taste and see how good the Lord is” would find little resonance. “Only a few elderly women” took it seriously, it seems.
And yet, there is something about the Beautiful Lady and her message that has touched even the most hardened hearts. Maximin’s father, originally hostile to the Apparition, came to understand God’s love, and afterward went to Mass every day. His conversion was due to an episode in his life which involved bread, and of which Mary had reminded Maximin.
St. Paul writes: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Yes, the practice of faith has always faced challenges, but it is especially difficult in secular cultures.
So, we all need Christ’s food for the journey. It’s not just for the dying; it strengthens all of us to go on.
Futility of Mind
(18th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Exodus 16:2-15; Ephesians. 4:17-24; John 6:24-35)
St. Paul writes that the Gentiles live “in the futility of their minds.” His audience, the Christians of Ephesus, used to live this way but ought not to do so any more. He does not explain the term in detail but associates it with the “corruption of evil desires.”
Evil desires are expressed in the first reading: “Would that we had died at the Lord's hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!” There’s nothing wrong with hungry people wanting food, but in this case the evil resides in their lack of trust, in their accusing Moses of making the whole community die of famine, in their ingratitude.
God had rescued them, with strong hand and outstretched arm, from their oppressors, and yet they failed to place their trust in him. Nonetheless, he saved them once again. But in the very next chapter of Exodus, the people fell back into the futility of their minds, complaining that Moses brought them out of Egypt only to have them die of thirst.
As one listens to the discourse of Our Lady of La Salette, one senses that she is addressing a similar situation. Her people have fallen into a kind of futility of mind, blaming God for their troubles. As St. Paul says in another place (Romans 1:21), “Although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.”
In the Gospel, Jesus sees the vain thinking of those who had witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes. It was not out of faith that they were looking for him, but because they desired to be fed again. He tells them to work for food that endures for eternal life. The ‘work’ in this case is faith: believing in the one sent by God. He then goes on to proclaim himself the bread of life.
In the coming weeks we will have occasion to reflect on this more deeply. For the moment, let us rest with the importance of the ‘work’ of faith.
At La Salette, Mary speaks much of religious practice, not because it constitutes faith, but because its absence shows a lack of faith. Without this vital relationship with the Lord, even religion can be little more than futility of mind.
Moved with Pity
(16th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jer. 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34)
The word “shepherd” in Church usage refers to priests, and Jeremiah’s “Woe to the shepherds” text may well make us think of the scandals continuing to rock the Church. But in the Old Testament, it was the rulers who were called shepherds, and it is they whom Jeremiah condemns.
God promises his sheep that he will “appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them,” and give them a king “who will reign and govern wisely.” We can easily see this prophecy fulfilled in Jesus, whose “heart was moved with pity for the crowd.”
Many centuries later, a Beautiful Lady’s heart was moved with pity for her people. And, like Jesus, she “taught them many things.”
St. Paul writes, “In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.” Our Lady of La Salette sorrowfully reverses this saying in her message. Her people, who once had become near, were now far off from her Son.
Simply by speaking of her Son, who “is our peace,” she “preached peace” as he did. Just as St. Paul cannot seem to find enough ways to say how Jesus brought reconciliation to Jewish and Gentile Christians alike, so Mary finds abundant ways to describe how her people need that reconciliation. She also shows how they might encounter it, namely by honoring the Lord’s Name, respecting the Lord’s Day, turning to him in prayer, participating in the Eucharist.
All of these, and more, are expressions of the trust expressed in today’s Psalm. The God who spreads a table before us is the same God who saw Maximin’s anxious father give him a piece of bread. This is the compassionate God whose goodness and kindness follow us all the days of our life.
Instead of suffering famine, those who respond to Mary’s message shall not want. Instead of being like sheep without a shepherd, they will walk in right paths, their souls will be refreshed, they will fear no evil. This is not a dream. It is a prophetic vision.
Pity is not just a feeling. It leads to action. Jesus taught the people looking to him for hope. Mary came to renew that hope. Look around you. Whom do you pity? How will you act?