True Worship Through Observance of Commandments

Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

The first reading tells us that the wisdom and intelligence of the Israelites would be made manifest only in their observance of the commandments of God. The proclamation by Moses also was the wisdom of God entrusted to His people so that they would live well in the land that God has given them and that the other nations would believe that the God of Israel was the true God. Thus the commandments of God are meant to be universal, unchangeable and eternal.

In the 2nd reading, St. James observes that religion does not consist only of our prayers or our preference to which church we go. Religion is the life that after our prayers and celebrations in Church, in gratitude we can do some practical service to the needy in terms of our time, talent and treasure.

Jesus, in the Gospel today, reprimands the Scribes and the Pharisees for their disregard of God’s commandments in favor of human tradition. Jesus declares that “from within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile” (Mk 7:21-23).

Basically the following vices stain our hearts and our relationships:

  1. a) Pride, which makes a person forget that he is a creature and that God is his creator and his hope. Pride drives a person to seek dominance over another or to seek power for power’s sake;
  2. b) Lust, which is idolatry in itself, as it makes a person worship and desire another selfishly;
  3. c) Envy, which makes a person see the gifts and capacities of another as his lack and the other person’s gain. There is no gratitude for other’s situation and capacity.
  4. d) Greed, which makes a person acquire things that will only gratify himself. He is never satisfied with what he has, and therefore cannot be grateful enough. With ingratitude in his heart he is most likely to deceive others so that he can get what he wants.

In many US highways, we can see billboards that say, “adopt a highway,” but then America aborts babies. In many countries, they made abortion and artificial contraception legal, and also conveniently disregard unpopular promiscuous sexual behavior. Parents are upset when their children lie and cheat on small matters, but they don’t care about lying and cheating to their spouses, to their superiors and to their friends just to get what they want. People may not kill, but they don’t care about character assassination. We talk about big time environmental care, but we, personally, are not concerned about proper trash disposal; and many other inconsistent behaviors.

True and pure religion includes not only worshipping God in Church on Sundays, praying some novenas, following the 10 commandments of God or not doing what is bad. True religion, and being truly religious, also includes true worship from the heart, that is, being active in the Church, staying unstained by the sinful world, striving to grow in holiness for this is our calling, helping the needy and doing good to others. St. Peter tells us: “Become holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, after the likeness of the holy One who called you; remember, Scripture says, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1Pt 1:15-16).

God calls us to be authentic, genuine children. We cannot stay focused; we are mesmerized and caught up by commercials and advertisements, and by a life of consumerism. We are called to be involved in and to partake of the Body of Christ, our life and our food. St. James says, “humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls” (Jas 1:21). We share the meal that Jesus has prepared for us with our sins forgiven and hearts purified, so that we will be strengthened in our journey towards eternal life.

Let us make our life and that of our families the sign of the living wisdom and intelligence of God in this part of the world.

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Making Decisions Only For God

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

To be a human being is to make decisions regarding small and big things in life, and to make them always in relation to events, people, work, family, church and country. Making decisions make people distinct from other creatures. But people can make good or bad, right or wrong decisions, depending on their objectives in life, on who are involved and on their capacity to decide.

We always need to consider making responsible decisions. To make a decision is to leave something behind. If I decide to stay healthy, I have to quit smoking and give up uncontrolled drinking. If a married couple has to remain faithful to one another they have to give up the ways of a single state and unhealthy relationships. If I have to grow up spiritually I have to avoid ways that hinder me from being close to God. Likewise, to make a decision means to prefer something over the other: right over wrong, good over bad. Culture, education, formation and habits are factors that will determine a person’s capacity to make responsible decisions.

Making decisions permeate our readings today. At Shechem Joshua confronted the Israelites whether or not to serve the Lord. In faith, they proclaimed: “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods… For it was the LORD, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He…protected us along our entire journey… Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God” (Jos 24:16-18).

When a man and a woman say “yes” to each other in marriage, they do so “in the Lord,” and in faith and hope in the power of God. They profess their decision to love each other for as long as they live, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. There is also a risk that this decision will be attacked as the years go by, but faith will keep that decision rooted in truth and in goodness, the immovable pillars against all attacks that the devil makes to destroy the family.

St. Paul did not only write this for husband and wife, but in relation to the Church, for each one of us, as we relate with one another. He said: “Brothers and sisters: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5: 21). To be related and to be rooted in Jesus Christ is to be related and rooted in others, to be brothers and sisters. It is a decision that cannot be based on mere feelings, tastes, whims or personal convenience, but on our faith and on our total confidence in the faithfulness and power of God. To be subordinate then to one another is to abandon pride, arrogance, jealousy and domineering attitude, and to maintain a humble spirit, to live in solidarity with others and to be open to the movements of the Holy Spirit.

The Jews were scandalized with Jesus’ words “to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” And many of them found His words intolerable and unacceptable that they returned to their former way of life and left Him. So Jesus confronted the twelve: “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:67-68). The disciples of Jesus had to make their decision in faith, in hope and in love for Him.

To make our decision to follow Jesus, we have to leave behind our life of sin and to be reconciled with Him and with others. We have to leave behind our comfort zones and the complexities of life, so that we can participate and get involved in the activities of the church and understand the plight of the needy and be able to serve them. We also have to keep our minds and hearts focused and formed in truth and in goodness and in the understanding of the life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. His words may be hard but we can also proclaim with Peter: “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:69).

As Jesus renews His commitment to love us in the Eucharist, let us also renew our promise of fidelity to Him, and let our decision to follow Him and to be with Him be a lifetime act of faith and confidence in His providential protection. Jesus does not fail those who are faithful to Him.

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Wisdom and the Bread of Life

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Today, we hear again about the Bread of Life: Jesus come down from heaven; Jesus, the wisdom of God, who invites us to His banquet so that we may acquire knowledge of Him; Jesus, the Son of the Father, who wants us to share his divine life; and the same Jesus, who is the glorious Lord to whom our Christian community sings psalms, hymns and inspired songs in thanksgiving for everything we have received.

In the first reading we learn the following practical things:

  1. God calls and invites all to a share of His wisdom. God’s wisdom is a gift that we have to make use of for the good of all. It is a gift that we have to develop, not to abuse for our personal benefit only. It is the gift for us that we may be able to make the right decisions in life to follow Him.
  1. God wants his people to be simple and to avoid the complexities of life. God’s simplicity emanates from His love for His people. The Israelites abused this love by complaining much and by worshipping the man-made gods of their neighboring nations. We also fall into this kind of idolatry and life of complexity when we give in to the demands of consumerism to satisfy our physical and temporal desires, when we glorify the human body through fleeting and immoral pleasures and when we take advantage of others, especially the weak and unknowledgeable, only to gain power and fame.
  1. God admonishes his people to forsake foolishness. The foolishness of the Israelites came from their presumption that Moses has fooled them and God has forgotten them. They lost focus of the reward awaiting them. We ourselves presume that life is long and that we have all the time for ourselves, so we can do what we want. Our lack of common sense lies in the fact that we are selfish and we think so much of ourselves. So we need to take a little time to contemplate on our origin and God’s plan for us.

St. Paul, in the second reading, shows us a few insights:

  1. Make the most of the opportunities of life given us. We say that opportunity comes only once. It may come another time. But it will not always be there all the time. The time given us by God is an opportunity to be with Him, to proclaim His presence and to do His will. Time wasted is opportunity wasted. So, St. Paul tells us: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity…. do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord” (Eph 5:15-17).
  1. St Paul admonishes us to know and understand the will of the Lord. Eradicate ignorance of the ways of God. Read and study the Bible. It is the Word of God. Listen to the Word of God in the celebration of the Eucharist. Don’t just sit or stand there and let time pass. Participate. Interiorize what you hear and be filled with Jesus Himself so that you can live accordingly.
  1. Always give thanks for everything in Jesus Christ. Be joyful in your hearts, for gratitude makes a person seek the good of others. It brings out joy and peace. It avoids violence and does not have a domineering attitude. Gratitude tries to understand others and seeks the blessing of God for others. St. Paul exhorts us to be filled with the Spirit…. giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (Eph 5:18-20).

So, learn from Jesus in your visits to the Blessed Sacrament in your chosen time of the day, in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in reading and reflecting on the Scriptures, in your service to the needy. In the morning before you do anything and in the spirit of gratitude, reflect on what you will do during the day, and thank the Lord in the evening for what He has done through us.

Without a spirit of gratitude we become proud of our achievements and will seek to manipulate plans and other people. Only with the Lord can we live a grateful and peaceful life.

Let us then commit ourselves again to Jesus, who was laid in a manger to be our Bread of Life, who instituted the Eucharist and the Priesthood to continue filling us with Himself, and who suffered, died and rose from the dead to assure us of the reality of eternal life. Eternal life starts now.

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Fully Alive In Jesus

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

The first reading today tells us of Elijah who ran away to the desert, not to commune with nature or to get away from the crowd, but to avoid the death threat of Queen Jezebel. He was at a loss before the queen. So he asked for death. But God intervened and kept him alive with the bread brought to him by an angel. That bread changed him from a fearful person to an obedient and courageous messenger of God’s commands. He became a person with the new will to live and the enthusiasm to spread and defend the faith in God.

Our Gospel today is a continuation of St. John’s discourse on the bread of life that we heard the past two Sundays. The Jews were so incredulous. They asked: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? …. how can He say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (Jn 6:42). In another passage, Jesus says that He has come into the world that we may have life and have it to the full. St. Irenaeus said: the glory of God is man fully alive.

Biologically, life is short. It starts from conception and ends at death. Many people who get rooted in the pleasures of this life find death a frightening moment. We can understand this if we look at it just like the Israelites who found life burdensome in the desert, picking up manna everyday to survive till they reached the Promised Land. And today many are in the same situation, not only because of emphasis on temporal needs but also of spiritual poverty or aridity in faith.

Jesus is the living Bread, who came down from heaven. He was the power of the early Christians who gathered each week to break bread.  Strengthened by this heavenly food, they spread the Good News of Jesus, led moral lives and suffered persecutions, and even martyrdom. With Jesus in the heart of man he can proclaim with Saint Paul, “it is no longer I that live, it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

Life is not just mere survival. Jesus wants us to be fully alive. So He is offering Himself to us. Even after feeding the crowd, there were baskets leftover. To be a follower of Jesus is to share the Bread of Life now. Just as God invited the Israelites to leave slavery in Egypt, Jesus is inviting us to a basic exodus from the selfishness and indifference growing in our hearts. To love God and to be with Him and with His people is not based on feeling, but on our faith and decision to follow His commands. As St. Paul writes in the 2nd Reading: “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice (Eph 4:31). Yes, life is too short to nurture bitterness, anger and envy. It is too short so we can be “be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ” (cf. Eph 4:32).

Remember, Jesus is not a grocery or a department store. He is not an employment agency. He is not a complain box. He is God who offers us Himself and His Kingdom. “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you….? So do not worry and say, What are we to eat? or…. drink?’ or What are we to wear?…. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:30-33). One problem is we think more of and do more for ourselves than we think of and pray to God. Another problem is that we seek and pray for our needs first. We seldom, if ever we do, pray first for the needs and condition of our neighbor. If selfishness and indifference reign in our hearts, we cannot and will not understand the gift of the Eucharist that leads to eternal life.

In the Eucharist we already share in the eternal life God has prepared for us even in this life: a life of humility and compassion, a life of growing in the knowledge and understanding of His commands and a life in celebration of His suffering, death and resurrection. The Eucharist brings us closer to God as it helps us gain more strength in the face of sin and the devil. But it is not an automatic effect. We have to release ourselves from our slavery to sin, from our lethargy to grow in spiritual life and from our indifference to the plight of the needy.

The Eucharist can transform us because devotion to it is to allow God to work in us and change us from our selfish and fearful selves to grateful and courageous Christians. Let us commit ourselves to grow in holiness, for this is the life that God wants us to live in order to be one with Him in His Kingdom now and through eternity.

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Backsliders

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Suffering and difficulties are part of our lives. They can be physical, financial, spiritual, psychological or social. They can be full of resentments or can be redemptive. The Israelites failed to trust God fully. God had only one condition for them to reach the Promised Land: to trust in Him at all times. But they were so stubborn. They even wanted to return to the land of slavery, only to eat their fill of bread. They complained: “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! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine” (Ex 16:3). The Israelites failed to realize that their suffering was nothing compared to the divine promise of freedom from slavery and God’s gift of peace to them.

The letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians shows the same situation:

  1. St. Paul realized that the Ephesians were backsliding (in the faith). He urged them to no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds as that was not the way they learned Christ (cf. Eph 4:17-20).

We are also backsliders. The world teaches us to worship the body that is why there is so much attachment to pleasure, rather than to Jesus who gives joy. It teaches us to worship property, that is why there is so much attachment to worldly wealth, rather than to Jesus from whom flow riches from the Father. It teaches us to own time, that is why we lose sight of eternity, rather than focus on Jesus who is the Eternal Word of the Father. Jesus teaches us that we are one body in Him, that apart from Him we can do nothing. He teaches us that He is our wealth, so that there will be nothing we shall want. He teaches us that time is to be used only to realize our salvation here and now in our relationships and responsibilities.

  1. St. Paul declared that corruption does not come from the outside but from within the self. He urged the Ephesians to put away the old self of their former way of life corrupted by deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds (cf. Eph 4:22-23). Yes, an evil act is a result of a decision which is personal and internal.

In the 6th chapter of his letter to the Ephesians St. Paul says,

draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God…. to stand firm against the tactics of the devil…. stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace…. hold faith as a shield, to quench all (the) flaming arrows of the evil one…. take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…. With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit…. be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones (10-18).

  1. For St. Paul, growth in life of the community and in spiritual life is transformation of the self; as the word suggests from its etymology: trans – to move beyond, and form – what we see, what we touch. He urges us to “put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Eph 4:24).

Salvation in Jesus is moving beyond our desires and moving beyond the things of this world. Putting on the new self is allowing Jesus to work in us and through us, for we are mere servants and we only do what we are supposed to do. Jesus says, Do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:31-33).

God gave the Israelites manna for their sustenance and for their faith in His protection. Elijah was given bread to eat in the desert to do God’s will. Jesus ate His last supper with His disciples to institute the Sacraments of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, and He proclaimed that He was the bread come down from heaven and left to His disciples the memorial of that Supper as the food of life and the eternal sign of His presence in the Church until the end of time.

In the celebration of the Eucharist, we are fed and strengthened with the living Bread to renew our commitment to our Lord, to do God’s Will and be His disciples. As we hear His words: “This is my Body…. This is my Blood….” let us confirm our “yes” to love Him in truth, to serve Him in one another and to be faithful to Him despite all the uncertainties of this world. With Mary, our Mother, who always leads us to Her Son Jesus, we won’t ever feel inadequate.

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Called to the One Hope

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” We can look at this question in two ways. On the one hand, on the part of Phillip, the Apostle, it was one of exasperation and great worry. Phillip was looking at the question of Jesus on the world’s point of view of supply and demand: “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” On the other hand, Jesus “said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do.” Jesus would give the people food for their spirit and for their bodies to sustain them in their search for the truth, because, “he was teaching them with authority” and “because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.”

On our part, we tend to worry so much and feel exasperated with the increasing needs of our families, with unpleasant relationships and with the poor condition of society. Jesus is leading us to realize that trust in Him is the key to our faith and hope in Him. But we always have the tendency to multiply our temporal needs, and lose sight of the more important things in life:

  • We fill our refrigerators with food, but can’t share with the needy;
  • We build wider roads, but fail to make roads toward peace and total human development;
  • We multiply fast food chains, but poorly feed the hungry of the world;
  • We multiply highways in the sky, and remain in the skies of indifference and selfishness;
  • We produce tremendous amount of disposable appliances, and also make lots of trash;
  • We multiply diplomatic relations, but fail to curb the nations’ greed;
  • We multiply books and magazines, but fail to read the Bible;
  • We multiply pain killers, but fail to alleviate the pain of people’s conditions and reduce indifference to the plight of the poor;
  • We multiply the number of cars to have the ease of movement, but fail to multiply ways to move toward the hearts of people;
  • We produce a good number of fans and air conditioners, but fail to cool down the anger of the abused and oppressed; and many more.

In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul teaches us the following:

  1. “…. to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (cf. 4:1-6). Jesus multiplied the five barley loaves and two fish for the people to eat and to reach their hearts, for they were seeking life.

We are urged to multiply the blessings and virtues that we have: a) humility and gentleness – to remember that God is the Almighty, our Creator and our destiny, and that we are His creatures and should be His faithful people; b) patience – God has forgiven us our sins and brought us back to His friendship, for without Him we can do nothing; c) unity of the spirit – we are a people, a family, invited and commanded to walk in His ways, to live in peace and attain His salvation here and now and in the life to come.

  1. “…. you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all….” (cf. 4:1-6). Five loaves and two fish are certainly not enough. The world is too small for things that we like to have. But Jesus is big enough to fill the emptiness of our hearts. With Him we can live lives in wisdom, courage, hope, faith, and self-giving in the midst of a world infected by selfishness and indifference

There are many things in life that we take for granted: water, electricity, food, members of our family and many others. Until we lose them, we don’t miss them. We come to Church every week, or every day, and we can also take the Mass for granted. We can even take Jesus for granted, for He has always been mentioned to us since we were children, and we have grown up in our religion and our devotions.

By fully participating in and consciously partaking of the Eucharist, we are filled with Jesus, we learn to share Him with others, we manifest His greatness to the world and we become more grateful for the blessings we have and those of others. In the Eucharist, selfishness is eradicated, indifference destroyed and pride torn down, as it is the Body and Blood of Jesus given up for us and for the forgiveness of sins.

Let us be grateful to Him for the Eucharist and all other blessings. Let us be attentive to Him at all times, in prayer, in our responsibilities and in our relationships. When we visit Him in the Blessed Sacrament, allow Him to talk to us. Let us always make it point to make Jesus present in our endeavors, plans, joys, and suffering. God will not forsake us, if only we listen to Him, obey His commands and remain faithful to Him.

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God-Shepherd

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

1. Circumstances may have changed, but our situation today has always been similar to the situation from the beginning. Jeremiah talks of shepherd-kings who satisfied themselves of the weakness of the people. They were remiss of their responsibilities and scattered the people till they were exiled to Babylon. Few centuries later Jesus sees the crowds of Galileans that flocked around Him to hear his Words of truth and salvation as “sheep without a shepherd.” In their society, they were considered sheep, because they knew little or nothing about the law.

There were also frustrated shepherds who failed in the task entrusted to them. They did not proclaim the Word of God. They prophesied only their own words. Equally, among the priests and leaders there were some who led their sheep astray with their bad examples.

A generation without good shepherds lives in a state of confusion. A generation with leaders who are not real shepherds falls prey to lack of confidence in authority, experiences the anguish of disorder, wraps itself up in subjectivism that is dreadful and devoid of unity. Every generation urgently needs shepherds who are witnesses, who with their lives show the right way, temporal as well as spiritual.

God presented himself as the Shepherd of the sheep of Judah. This image of God as Shepherd is reflected in Jesus Christ. “Like sheep without a shepherd” is an accurate description of many in the world today: directionless, helpless, voiceless, and very vulnerable to the seductions and attacks of the evil one. Jesus showed His compassion on the sick, those possessed by the devil, those in danger, the slaves of sin, and the abandoned. He tells us to be compassionate as the Father is compassionate.

2. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who continues to lead His sheep to green pastures and fresh waters. He shows this in the following:

a) His institution of the Church. This is His own Body that continues to be the life and the institution that protects all His teachings for the salvation of all. And we are the people that comprise the Church.

b) His institution of the Sacraments. They are the means that Jesus instituted to sustain us in the Church and to remain in Him. Without the Sacraments the Church will not survive in this world.

c) His institution of the Priesthood. This was instituted by Jesus so that all the graces that He would give to all for their salvation would be dispensed by and through the priests. When we celebrated the Year of Priests we celebrated the Priesthood of Jesus in us and helped in varied ways in the sanctification of priests and the lay faithful. Despite the difficulties and scandals caused by some priests, the Church courageously proclaims the holiness of the Priesthood of Jesus manifested in the life of the many faithful priests, and asks us all to pray for all priests.

3. When children achieve some success or are hurt, they run to their mother (or father), who assures them of support and joy, or kisses away the hurt. So, the apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mk 6:30-31). People followed them and Jesus was moved with pity and taught them. Jesus teaches us that:

a) Life is a cycle of prayer (silence) – activity – prayer. Many people today work only for money. Many spend hours in front of the television at the expense of time for prayer, study or relationship. Only in solitude with God can we learn His compassion, gain wisdom to follow Him in this unruly world and gain strength when we return to our responsibilities and relationships. Pope Benedict XVI says: One who prays is not afraid; one who prays is never alone; one who prays is saved!” (Wednesday audience, 1 July 2009).

b) Time is given to us, not for selfish reasons, but to bring hope to others through teaching, serving and living out our faith. We cannot abuse our time by squandering it in useless activities.

c) People who come into our life are not accidents, but means to bring them close to Jesus. They are not instruments to take advantage of. They are an opportunity to grow in holiness.

The fact the we are gathered here to celebrate the Eucharist shows that we are looking for someone greater than us, One who can save us. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, our pasture and our food.

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