Jan 21, 2017

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Please consider the words of St. Paul we heard in the Liturgy of the Word: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”

Ideally, we will agree with St. Paul’s apostolic exhortation, but unfortunately, at the same time, too often we want everyone else to be united with my own way of thinking, my own purpose. "If you don’t think the way I think, or have the same vision I have, if you cannot agree to see life from my perspective - then there is nothing we have in common - we have no relationship, we are on two different sides!"   (As graphic as the example might be, I’m reminded of what my dog does as I walk it around the neighborhood - it lifts its leg to mark its territory, even when it’s not “his” own territory!  In effect what’s it’s saying is, “I claim this land, whether you like it or not, as my own turf - I’m in charge around here. Only my particular distinctive smell should dominate this land”)

The apostle experienced this corrosive virus eating away in the community of the Church in Corinth. Individuals were locked into their own allegiances, each with their own particular partisan or ideological rallying cry - "I only follow this bishop (Paul)," "I only follow this priest (Apollos),"  "I only follow this pope (Cephas)," or "I only follow Christ (my own Christ)”. St. Paul is encountering a power play. It was as if everyone was living together, hating each other all for the love of God!!!!!

In Southern California we are used to, even incredibly comfortable with the idea of living in an area susceptible to earthquakes.  Even though we all stand on a common ground, we tend to think that the fault line will never appear right under our own feet, or that we will see it coming and jump to one side, or be able to watch it unfound from a safe distance, like a Hollywood movie.  But our common ground is not always as secure as we think.

What if I live my life cut off from the dignity of justice and freedom that God has planted in the core of my being? What happens when husbands and wives become estranged, living two separate lives? What happens when our children are left to slip into into their own virtual worlds? What happens when families isolate themselves from others or when the dining room table becomes merely a display feature? What happens when particular communities in our society turn inward or when nations only see other nations as threats to their own particular way of life? Tension slowly builds up, stress lines begin to appear, cracks within the foundations of relationships, institutions and traditions we presumed would endure forever, now begin to appear, threatening our unity and companionship even at the most fundamental level.  

Two solutions might seem obvious to bring together opposing sides. One is glue. The other is jumping into a lifeboat.  Glue can come in many shapes and forms. It can present itself as a sacred book in the hand of a fundamentalist, a notion of nationalism in the mind of a dictator, or a call for freedom inspired by a champion for change. However, such impulses often paper over divisions that are already there - there is no healing, no growth, cracks often resurface with time from scars painted over.  

Alternatively, the temptation to jump from slow sinking vessel into a lifeboat is oftentimes understandable. But it betrays the responsibility that each of us have to repair and help fix, to mend and refresh the fabric of our relationships with each other, within our family, in our workplace and even the gift of God’s creation we too often take for granted until the earth shakes, mountains fall or our homes flooded.

To this end, the Gospel we have listened to today, Christ's very own words, should waken us up. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand." This is not a simple warning. It's a fact. Repentance is not only to acknowledge our individual wrongdoings, our sins. It's also an invitation to see our lives and our relationships with God and the world from a new and bigger perspective. If the kingdom of heaven is close at hand, that does not mean that we are near the end of the world. Instead, Christ tells us to look and see through the darkness - that God's Kingdom of heaven is, instead, coming to us.  Is that not what we pray every day in the Lord's prayer - "Thy Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven".  

Therefore -

What is your vision of yourself here and now? I want to be on earth now, as I would be in heaven. What is your vision of marriage? I want my marriage to be on earth now as it would be in heaven. What is your vision of family? I want my family to be on earth now as it would in heaven. What is the purpose of your work? It has the same purpose now on earth as it would be in heaven. What is your vision of the parish, of the Church? I want this church to be as on earth as it would be in heaven. What vision do we want for our nation? We want our nation to be on this earth as it would be heaven!

On earth as it is in heaven begins now at this altar, in this Eucharist, our bread and wine of this earth becomes for us here and now what it is in the kingdom of heaven - our living Savior standing before us, leading the way, who belongs, not to any one person or group, but to everyone, every tribe, every tongue, every nation under God. In the meantime, as Christ preached with his life on earth, bringing healing of every disease and illness which divides and separates us from each other and God, we now must do likewise. "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  

Jan 14, 2017

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time



When Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan, the ripples of that event gently moved out in every direction, slowly gathering up speed, becoming larger and larger until they would become an immense outpouring of God's grace for all humanity, impacting the whole world. Who could have predicted that the pouring of water over someone in particular would generate a wave of cosmic magnitude? In the Gospel, John the Baptist now becomes intensely aware of the unpredictability of God's grace manifested and unleashed in Jesus of Nazareth. The natural is raised to the heights of the supernatural.

John now sees his cousin Jesus from a new perspective, in a new spirit, which takes him by surprise. This is why John says, “I did not know him”. John had known Jesus from a family perspective, a familiarly which was natural. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, John now recognizes the true identity of his cousin. He can no longer look at him simply as an ordinary man. He sees Jesus as the Son of God and in doing so John would see the long-awaited messiah in a new way.

Far from being, what many expected, a warrior messiah who would defeat the Romans, John sees Jesus not as a lion, but rather as a Lamb - the Passover lamb who would become vulnerable to the point of being slaughtered and in being so, would take away the sins of the world.

It is unlikely John the Baptist knew how Jesus would accomplish this. All John can possibly know, is that his own role in all of this is not to figure out the details but rather to point others to Jesus, that’s all. And that is enough.

In a certain sense, we too must always be open to living life with a sense of mystery – that in truth, we do not know it all, nor should we presume that we have all the answers. Living our lives with a sense of the mystery of God allows us to trust in His way and to be humble before Him. The reason, we gather here every Sunday, is not to read the Bible as if it were an answer book to all our questions.  We can read it and study the scriptures anytime.

More so, we are here to encounter the mystery of God’s Word, not paper and ink, but in the glorified flesh and blood of Christ. If we allow ourselves to be lifted high by God's grace and do so with faith in Christ, then in this Holy Eucharist, like John the Baptist, we will no longer see what is familiar, we will behold no longer natural bread or wine, but the very supernatural presence of the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus, el Cordero de Dios, que quita el pecado del mundo. Por Cristo y con El somos capaces, y es nuestro deber, de vencer el pecado cada dia y construir el Reino de Dios y su justicia en la tierra de los humanos.

Jan 7, 2017

The Epiphany of the Lord




The event described in the Gospel underscores the far reaching effects of God's grace rippling out out in every direction from that one central event that began in Bethlehem with the birth of Jesus Christ.


The following ten points (or some of them) are worth some reflection. Each one of them could be expanded into various homilies. However, the final point might serve as the one simple premise I believe everything must first be built upon. To that end, I hope there's something for everyone!


1.  With the direct intervention of God in human history, nature herself can not remain silent. The star announced the birth of Christ. An eclipse of the sun and an earthquake proclaimed his death. A garden welcomes his resurrection. God speaks to us through nature and its elements. This could be a homily on our respect for God's creation.


2. As nature likewise groans for salvation, so does all humanity. As a people who live in darkness longs for daylight, the Epiphany of the Lord fills us with hope and optimism that a new day dawns for humanity. This could be a homily on the aspirations for justice and freedom and the Herods of our day who oppose it.


3. We are very familiar of the picture postcard of the three wise men and the iconic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  This could be a homily on the nature of Christ as King, as God, as the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the of the world.


4.  The mysterious magi, who they actually were, what lands did they really come from? Their arrival on the scene of the birth of Jesus reveals the countless multitudes of peoples, nations and cultures searching for God. This could be a homily on multiculturalism and universal salvation.


5.  The events of the Epiphany demonstrate that the chief priests and scribes knew the Hebrew Scriptures inside out, even concerning the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. But they are unmoved, and the birth of Christ seemed uninteresting to them. Unlike the Magi, they missed the clues and obvious hints God had prepared them for. This could be a homily discerning the signs of the times.


6.  We are likewise presented with the theatrics of Herod who pretends to want to find Christ so he can pay tribute to the new-born messiah. This could be a homily on the dangers of false devotion and trying to appear to be holy but instead wanting to keep everything the status quo.


7.  What the Magi found at the end of their journey following the star was no doubt a surprise they did not anticipate nor could they have predicted. This could be a homily on the need to journey outside our comfort zones and to be open to the God of surprises.


8.  When the Wise Men encountered the Christ-child and were later warned that Herod was out to destroy the newborn, they could have offered to take the holy family back with them to their own kingdoms, giving them protection and offering the child a place in their best schools of the orient. This could be a homily on how God's ways are not necessarily our ways, despite our best intentions and objectives.


9.  The Gospel story of the Epiphany is full of biblical codes and prophecies, astronomical readings and calculations.  As interesting as it all is, the goal of our Christian Faith is not to provide quick answers and remedies, or scientific proofs or explanations. This could be a homily on the relationship between faith and reason.


10.  Finally, when the Magi arrived in God's little house, what did they see and experience there and then? They saw a helpless but adorable newborn baby lifted up out of the rags by an exhausted virgin mother and a young nervous husband. The Wise Men could only but gaze in wonderment, even joyful astonishment. They instinctively bowed to the ground in profound and humble adoration - no questions asked.  


Every Sunday we are allowed to come face to face with the Son of God lifted up for adoration from the bedrock of an altar through the veil of the Eucharist. His divine personality is hidden from us behind the simple and unassuming "garments" of bread and wine, and after Mass, secured in our midst within the protective embrace of a loving tabernacle, a golden manger. Likewise, we too bow to the ground, in profound and humble adoration - no questions asked - only prayers and whispers of thanksgiving and petition.
 
Before we extrapolate and theorize the theological, social and global consequences of the manifestation of Christ to the world, maybe it is worth reflecting that the kings of the orient and shepherds of Bethlehem, that is what - the intellectual and the uneducated, the rich and the poor, the employer and the employee, the native and the foreigner, have in common - amazement that God's plan of salvation very simple - it's right before our eyes. Let's not complicate it too much.

Instead, in quiet amazement of how easily it is for the humble and the unassuming, and how difficult it is for the proud and arrogant, let's start off together - on bended knee before God's presence in response to the invitation, "Oh Come let us adore Him!"

Dec 31, 2016

Mary, Mother of God


Mary, Mother of God

Still within the Season of Christmas, the enduring image of the baby Jesus remains very much with us. It is "captured" in the manger scene before us. Indeed, for a whole week, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the ox and the donkey haven't moved one inch! They seem to have frozen in time as they gaze into the crib where the child has been perfectly positioned, as if someone has pressed the pause button. Rather than listening to the conversations, real or imagined, that take place inside the Bethlehem stable, or listening to the music of angels in the background, we are allowed instead to meditate on the relationships between each of those present.

Today, at the beginning of a New Year, we reflect on the most natural relationship a baby can have with anyone. We see this again and again in the enduring image of Mary holding the Christ child, close to her. Mary's femininity can never be divorced from her motherhood - bringing this child into the world is what every cell in her body has prepared for.

Even though her arms cradle the little child, God's Word that has now become Flesh in Jesus, does not speak in sentences, sermons or soundbites. At least, not for now. This baby must first be nurtured, fed, loved, allowed to grow strong in earthly wisdom and strength to become the world's savior. This does not happen overnight, nor within a vacuum. It begins within the natural embrace of this holy mother and child and the trust that deepens and evolves between them.

But this is not just the natural trust between a mother and her child. It is a divine trust as this child is the physical embodiment of "God with us". God does not simply use Mary as a means to enter into our world. That would make Mary simply a surrogate. Instead, God entrusts himself, his physical well being to her. He trusts her with Himself. He allows Himself, as a small and vulnerable child, to be subject to her, to be influenced by her, to be taught by her.

Under her supervision, the Son of God, will learn to pray in the Jewish tradition and how to read the Sacred Scriptures. Under her watchful eye, the Son of God will learn the social skills to engage with other children, families, elders, friends and strangers. God allows Himself to be mothered by Mary. In doing so, God trusts Himself and His whole plan of salvation for humanity completely to Mary's motherhood and in doing so allows her to cooperate in our salvation.

For each of us who are baptized, our baptism is not a simple membership status in the Church.  Through baptism, we take upon ourselves the image of Christ himself. We become Christ to others, to the world. We are not self made Christians. With so many influences around us, before us, in front of us, each providing so many lessons of how to live the Christian life, let us not forget that Christ is not an orphan child. He is the Son of God the Father and the Son of Mary His Mother.  

And if we are likewise to grow and mature into the image and likeness of Christ by God’s grace, will not Mary's motherhood also extend to us because she sees and loves her son in us. If God can trust her motherhood, what stops us allowing her to be also our own mother, to reach out to us, to hold us and teach us as she taught her Son, how to pray, how to listen, how to walk, and how to speak and proclaim the message of salvation to the waiting world.


Dec 30, 2016

The Holy Family

From Baby to Boy to Man




Of course, with the celebration of Christmas is still permeating the air and the image of the baby Jesus still glowing in our minds, today's celebration of the feast of the Holy Family fast-forwards 12 years. Much can happen in a few days!

Having lost sight of him for a few days, all of a sudden Joseph and Mary are shocked to find Jesus standing up and talking to and questioning the elders in the temple - not as a child, but as their equal, and he does so with authority. Mother is confused, hurt and even naturally upset, having probably worried for those three long days with heartache about what could've happened her "baby". But baby, he is no more.

Notice what mother says to him "son, why have you done this to us?" What brought about the anxiety in the hearts of Joseph and Mary?  I suspect because they knew that one day, he would reveal himself to the world as the Messiah. And Mary knew in her heart her son would have to suffer and make the ultimate sacrifice for the salvation of the world.  But to do so at only 12 years old? Her mother's heart and instinct would not allow this - not yet.  However, Jesus now speaks to her, not with baby talk, but as an adult to his mother and so, without any hint of rebellion, but with clear headedness he says, "why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father's house?”

Jesus, aware of his identity, is now able to articulate clearly who his true father is - not Joseph (although his role was as a father figure, and a very good one). The young Jesus becomes acutely aware of his heavenly Father. We are told that Joseph and Mary do not understand this answer. Remarkably, Jesus did not try to wrestle himself away from the natural instinct for Joseph and Mary to protect him. In fact, we are told, "he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them." And this is often the greatest challenge children must always make – obedience. Not blind obedience, but out of respect and honor for our parents – for God did use them as instruments to bring us into this world and to keep us safe.

Obedient still, the young man Jesus could now be confident, for he was now holding tightly to the grip of his heavenly Father's hand. Mary must have understood this. She does not interfere, but simply ponders these entire things in her heart. Jesus is no longer her little boy.

But what about Joseph? Interestingly, once Jesus clearly is able to articulate his relationship with his ultimate Father, we never hear from Joseph again. He has fulfilled his responsibility to his own manhood and as a father figure -- a guardian and a protector. The boy has become a man -- he knows who he is and in doing so we are told "Jesus advanced in wisdom and age in favor before God and man”.

To follow Jesus is to allow him to show us his Father whom he presents to you and me as our Father. Through this Holy Mass, we are invited right into the midst of it. Through our baptism, our heavenly Father sees his Son in you and in me. In the Spirit of Jesus, we call out at last without fear, "Abba-Father", and gathered around the Altar, our family life is restored through the sacrifice of Christ our Lord. And where the family of the Lord is, be it in the stable of Bethlehem, the house of Nazareth, at the cross on Calvary, or the upper room on the day of Pentecost, our mother Mary is there.

Dec 25, 2016

Christmas


Throughout the years, there has been a lot of imaginative and creative thinking about what it would be like if our planet were to be visited by a life beyond the stars.


We often think that such an encounter would surely be on a terrifying, gigantic scale. One can easily imagine hug mothership breaking through the heavens and appearing right before us like a mighty fortified battleship, shining in power, fully operational.  


What are its intentions? How can we communicate with it? Could it, that any moment unleashing its destructive power? It speaks the language of strength and domination. Our response would naturally be overwhelming fear, panic, dread.


But this will not be how the battle between good and evil, light and darkness, begins. This is not how the God of the universe arrives. Instead, we can imagine that God comes like a little message in a bottle, slowly, carefully pushed by a gentle tide up onto a sandy beach, and found by a curious young girl who was dancing casually in the shallow pools collecting sea shells. God arrives into our world, quietly, discreetly, small.


To put this into perspective, yesterday when I went to find a last minute Christmas gift for a family friend, when a shopkeeper who saw me in my priest collar verbally attacked me from every angle, through insults about the Pope, the Catholic Church, priests.  Then came a barrage of memorized Scripture verses thrown at me in rapid fire -it was holy mud slinging!


It could have got very messy. Some might say that the shopkeeper would have been no match for this Irishman! But actually, for me it had already a very long day, visiting parish homebound for Christmas, and, because of the ferocious winds we had yesterday with dust and dirt everywhere, my sinuses were playing up big time - I was actually too tired and too weak to fight back or defend myself.  All I could do was put my finger over my lips and say “Shhhhh.  Please… Peace”.  


I later thought to myself, on my way home, that maybe the poor shopkeeper was not really trying to pick a fight - but instead, he was crying out from the depth of a deep wound. Maybe, he could only manage his pain with fear, anger, control, paranoia, seeing conspiracies where there were none.


This is far from the picture of God painted for us in Bethlehem. Like the innocent up and down wonderings of a ladybug on our fingers and then a quick nudge into the air to see it catch the breeze - God comes to us. God is embodied in a baby, the smallest, most vulnerable, most defenseless member of our human family.  Why? So that no one would be afraid to approach him. “Come closer”, Mary says, “He doesn't bite! Shhhhh. Hush. Gently gently”.

Peace is Christ’s gift to this crazy and loud world.  May God’s gentle peace be yours this Christmas time, and may nothing or nobody ever disturb you or distract you from what God has already promised to the peacemakers of this world. Blessed are the peacemakers.

Dec 17, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent


Joseph and the formation of conscience.

Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion states that a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it.  This law of physics also applies to making decisions. It's like coming to a stop sign at an intersection. Do you go right, or left? The longer you delay, the more cars line up behind you - you feel the pressure. What do you do?  But doing nothing also has consequences.

To help put this into context, the "baby boomers" might recall It's a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart being shown how the present world would be if one wast not born. The Generation X might recall Groundhog Day, waking up repeating the same day where every action has repercussions. Generation Y might remember the iconic words, "You take the blue pill, the story ends. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland". Maybe it's too early for the millennial generation to realize the impact of every choice, action and decision! Time will certainly tell, whether we are around to tell of it or not.

This is not a hypothetical exercise. We wrestle with consequential decisions throughout life and even every day. Where do I send my kids to school? Which university do I attend? What career should I follow? Do I follow orders? Should I get done on one knee and propose? Do I hit the send button on this text message or email?

Take our leading character in today's Gospel - Saint Joseph.  How will he respond when he receives news that his intended bride, Mary, is pregnant, and he knows he is not the father? He is free to wash his hands of her and leave Mary to her public shame and embarrassment. He is free to reluctantly marry her, since the invitations have been sent out and the reception paid for.  He is free to have access to the religious laws and have the village elders decide the case.

However, Joseph is described by the Scriptures as a “righteous man”. To be righteous is essentially to be in right relationship with God, in right relationship with God’s world, to be in right relationship with those God has placed around us. Whatever the circumstances, his choices and decisions, like the patient fine tuning of a stringed instrument, Joseph profoundly respects the necessary tension of grace.

Even before an angel of God appeared to him in a dream, Joseph had divorced himself of anger, jealousy or any indignation. He kept his passions in check. He didn't “fly off the handle”. He was determined to conduct himself with restraint, patience, and discretion - not for his own sake, but for Mary’s. Not wishing her to be exposed to harm, Joseph had reached a certainty in his conscience that he must break off the engagement. But he would do so quietly. Maybe, he concluded, this would give Mary the necessary time to find a safe place to have her child in secret without drawing any attention.

In the ordinary, everyday circumstances of life, what Joseph decided to do was commendable, to his credit. But what he did not know, was that Mary’s pregnancy was anything but ordinary. Joseph was not in a position to understand the uniqueness of Mary’s pregnancy. It was impossible for him to do so.

Although he was not quick to judge and never asked God for a sign, Joseph was given one. The very same angel who had secretly spoken with Mary, informed Joseph in the secret of his conscience, of the “big picture”. He now could put Mary’s virginity into its correct context and see the whole chain of events from the unique perspective of even God himself!  Joseph had wrestled not with his emotions or with the village elders. Unconsciously, he wrestled with God. Yet, as difficult as it was, God did not harm him. Instead, God taught Joseph how to cooperate with grace - how to dance with grace.

As we draw nearer to the Christmas festivities, our focus always leads us to Jesus and Mary and God’s message of salvation for the whole world. We might often times feel overwhelmed by the mystery of God, even confused as to where we find ourselves within His plan. Maybe there are times we feel we have to go it alone. But St. Joseph is there to accompany us in our trials and uncertainties and to teach us how to patiently turn our wrestling into dance! All in good time, St. Joseph will come to eventually hold Christ in his hands and embrace the divine child in tender and holy union. May our preparation for the Sacraments of encounter with God lead us likewise along this same path to Bethlehem.