Jul 20, 2014

A Sunday Wedding

Wedding of Peter Maxwell to Christina Swanson
Sunday 11am Mass, July 20th, 2014

Today’s wedding event may come as a surprise to many who are here expecting the usual Sunday Morning Mass.  (I am hoping, Peter and Christina, that it is not a surprise to you!)  In fact, I am delighted you have chosen to be married, not only in this church which is your place of worship, but also before your family, friends and the whole worshiping community of this parish.  Marriage is never, and can never be a private affair.  It affects the whole community, and society in general.  

What you are doing today, is also an encouragement to others. To those here present who already enjoy the graces of Holy Matrimony, your young love will, no doubt, rekindle in their hearts the memories of their own wedding day.  There are here, I know, some couples who are engaged and are preparing for this Sacrament.  You give them encouragement and will allow them even to dream a little!  There are as well, no doubt, some who will be inspired by what is about to happen before this altar.  They may be in fact encouraged to, later on, get down on one knee and “pop the question”.   

Peter and Christina, as a couple, you are, whether you realise it or not, providing an example to others, not just here, but everywhere - an example of how to prepare for a committed, exclusive and fruitful relationship.  In a day and age when so many will simply live together, neighbors often simply have no idea if the couple living next door are indeed married or not. In your preparation for this day, you have demonstrated that you consider each other worth waiting for. You have cooperated with God’s grace, with a true understanding of the nature of love that does not evolve from a fear of loneliness or neediness.  For true love of another seeks not convenience for oneself or comfort for the other.  Instead, true love is accounted for, through sacrifice and perseverance.

Therefore, from this day on,  there will be no confusion or second guessing, either by yourselves or those around you, as to the status of your relationship with each other.  There will be no room for confusion, conflict of interests or making it up as you go along.  How you lived yesterday, and how you will live from this day on, will be different.  For you are either single or you are married. In a few minutes you will make that step from one to the other. You will do so, not with fear, but with faith - in the power of God and in the grace of the sacrament of marriage.

You will do so as male and female, as demanded by nature, for the sake of future generations to come.  For your future children will learn, first and foremost from you, what it is to be a man and woman in this world. Your marriage will also teach them, how they, themselves, will prepare for and approach their own wedding day.

Finally, marriage is not only rooted in what is natural.  For the baptised, marriage is also supernatural.  It echoes of God’s relationship with the Chosen People with whom He likened through the ages, to that of a marriage covenant.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God, fleshed this out in His life.  From the cross, through the sacrifice of His Body and Blood, Christ showed Himself as the Bridegroom giving His whole life to His Bride, the Church.  

Peter, through the Sacrament of Matrimony you are to become a living embodiment of Christ the New Adam.  Christina, through the Sacrament of Matrimony you are to become a living embodiment of the New Eve, in all her immaculate beauty.

Understood this way, we see the Mass, in a very intimate manner, the sacred wedding banquet of the Lamb of God.  Although everyone is invited, not everyone sits at the top table. Not everyone receives the sacred wedding gift of Holy Communion. It reserved for the Catholic family members of the Eucharistic celebration and for Catholic couples who are partnered, it is reserved for those whose marriages and lives reflect the sacred language of the Church.  

Peter and Christina, last Sunday you received Holy Communion as a single man and woman. Today, you will do so as a married couple, whose lives will now reflect, from this day forward, the natural and supernatural language of marriage Christ himself has defined through His Holy Spouse, the Church.

If you are ready to give your lives to each other in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony after the manner of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, for the sake of your own and each other’s salvation, then please stand and present yourself before the Altar of the Lamb.

Jul 13, 2014

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables”.

We can’t keep Christ under house arrest.  And sometimes, that’s what we do. We keep him private, away from the crowds. Our Lord went down to the harbor, where the crowds where. He didn’t stand on the shore and look into the vastness of the ocean. Instead he get’s into a boat (which is often used as a symbol of the Church), and from there He looks at the whole crowd of humanity, upon the faces of everyone – yours and mine. Christ wants to look into my face, into my eyes. And what will he see?

Every face in the crowd tells a story, a life.  Christ does not speak to a crowd. He speaks to the individual soul.  For that reason he speaks in parables – coded language because not one of our lives is really the same. His parables can sometimes go over someone’s head.  Sometimes they appear to be just nice stories, like storybook illustrations. But if we ask the Holy Spirit to open our minds and our souls to the Word of God, taking time to listen, to read his parables again and again, slowly, and carefully we will often see our lives somehow reflected in the images Christ creates in his illustrations - there often reaches that sacred moment in our lives, when we know that he is speaking to me, individually, personally in the uniqueness of my life and circumstances. Christ is looking into my eyes, into my life!

Back to that first line – “Jesus went out of the house”.  How did he get in the house to begin with? The final verses of the previous chapter of the Gospel we heard today tell us that Our Blessed Mother came to visit Him while He was preaching in the middle of a great crowd of people.  No doubt, after He had finished, Our Lord took His mother to a private house to spend some time with her.  And then what we heard read in the Gospel today picks up what happened next.   “On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around… And he spoke to them at length in parables”

Having spent some quiet time with His Mother, which parable did He go on to speak to the crowd about? God as the sower and the Word of God as the seed! Could our Lord have been thinking of His Mother when He told the crowd that “But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit”?  For what do we say concerning Our Blessed Mother, “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”.  

If we are to hear God’s Word speaking to us in the secret of our lives, let us do so imitating Mary who not only received and understood that Word but who in turn gave that Word to the world so that we might hear Him speaking into the depths of and circumstances of our lives.

Jul 6, 2014

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

But listen again to what Jesus says in the Gospel portion of the Scriptures today. “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone whom the Son wishes to reveal him”.  Let’s look at the first part of that sentence. “No one knows that Father except the Son”.  Husbands and wives - you should know each other better than you know anyone else.  You should know your children better than their teachers. Children should know their brothers and sisters better than their friends or classmates.  Why? Because the family is a place of intimacy, where we waste time with each other, where we help each other to grow, mature –it is where our personalities have the greatest opportunity to be developed and formed. 

I can look at photographs of you at birthday parties, your graduation or wedding photographs. I can read your CV, or your biography or, follow you on your facebook or twitter, and if you are famous, maybe watch a movie about you. But do I know you, really know you in the way that your family does, your spouse does, your brothers or sisters or your close and intimate friends? Not really, unless I am invited into your whole life, adopted into your family, allowed to live with you every moment of the day. And that would be hard work!

Back to the words of Christ, “No one knows the Father, except the Son”.  Yes, we may know the Father from the outside looking in. But Christ knows the Father from the inside - as his Father, a unique Father-Son relationship, with an intimacy that we cannot even start to imagine.   Yes, we can look at everything from the outside, study the images, read all the books and follow all the programs, but we will never get to know who Jesus really is unless He himself invites us into His hidden life, His life “behind the scenes” into the deep and secret intimacy of His Heart, His relationship with His Father. Not everyone gets to go there.  How do we?

Our Lord opens His Heart and invites into the relationship He enjoys with His father, first and foremost, to those who labor and are burdened. I’m not talking about those who are hard workers or if you feel the weight of the world pressing down on you.  Prayer is itself is a labor. Trying to live a Christian life every hour of the day is a burden – it’s hard work.   “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest”, says the Lord. He does not say, “take it easy and rest, and you’ll float right into my heart!”

So, what do we have to do? It’s a bit like physical exercise. Don’t expect results if you are not committed to making sacrifices. If there is no sacrifice, no labor, no burden in our relationship with Christ and His Holy Church, then God is easily turned into an ornament and the Church treated like a convenience store.

Let us pray for the courage to go beyond superficialities in our relationship with the Lord. Let us never feel put out that we are expected to work hard in our relationships, with Christ, His Church and each other.  For when we learn to swallow our pride, and are humble, authentic and sincere God’s grace carries us, deeper and deeper into the heart of Jesus.

It is for this reason that we should build up a relationship with Mary.  No other person on this earth knew the real Jesus, the secrets of His heart and the sufferings of His Life, than His mother.  Let us ask her who followed her Son to the Cross, to find a place for us also in her heart and also in her joy being our mother too. 

Jul 5, 2014

The Fourth of July - Independance Day

On the Fourth of July, we the people of the United States of America observe the anniversary of the writing and proclamation in 1776 of the Declaration of Independence. 

From the City of Brotherly Love, a new political experiment was born.  From there it slowly made its way westward.  It was only in September of 1850 that California was admitted into the union of these United States of America.

It is well worth reflecting upon what was happening in California in 1776.  On that historic day when the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia announced the birth of the United States, the bells of six of the Californian Missions where already ringing throughout California announcing the beginning of Mass and times for prayer and sustenance for first Californian - from Mission San Diego founded in 1769 to Mission Dolores in San Francisco founded in June of 1776 by Blessed Junipero Serra who was living there during at the time of the 4th of July.

Today's commemoration of that date should allow us to reflect on the fact that we have dual citizenship. I am not talking about US and Californian. We are citizens of heaven and of earth.  And whether our roots are native, from immigrants or from missionaries we are duty bound to pray for our nation, for our government and for all who find themselves within this union of brotherly love.  

And let us not forget those in uniform who often find themselves in harm’s way, either protecting our freedom at home or defending our values against the oppressor. May they find protection under the wings of St. Michael the Archangel and our nation under the mantle of the most Immaculate Mary, Queen of Heaven.

Jul 2, 2014

Saints Peter and Paul

On this, the Church’s special festival, marking the joint witness of St. Peter and St. Paul, the celebrations giving thanks for their lives which imitated and reflected the life of Christ as Light of the World, is no greater felt than in Rome. To this city of Rome St. Paul would arrive, having traveled through various regions of the Roman Empire announcing the Lordship of Christ, establishing various church communities along the way.

Although St. Paul came to know Christ after the Lord’s resurrection and provided for the Church the words and the intellect to articulate the Good News of salvation to the entire world, it would be the role of St. Peter to provide the rock-like stability upon which the Church would be built.

St. Peter was given by Christ the keys of the Kingdom of heaven – the responsibility to open the doors of the Church to invite people of every culture and race. Keys are also used to lock doors to prevent enemies from entering.

St. Peter was also charged by Christ the responsibility of “loosing and binding” that is, of providing to the Church the assurance of what was essential in order to live fully the Good News of salvation. He did this, not only in Jerusalem but also overseeing the new Christian community of Antioch, a city now located in on the southern coast of Turkey near the boarder with Lebanon.

It would be from Antioch that St. Peter would travel to the city of Rome and there preside over the Christian community that had first welcomed St. Paul as a prisoner for Christ. St. Peter, having fully established the Church at the center of the Roman Empire met the wrath of the Emperor Nero who blamed Christians for the great fire of Rome. St. Peter was crucified upside down in a Roman stadium and later buried on the Vatican hill just outside the old city walls. There, the Lord’s fisherman and first pope was buried and Christianity’s greatest church was built.

St. Paul, although Jewish by birth and born in the Roman city of Tarsus (located today off the southern coast of Turkey), he was a Roman citizen. His original name was Saul. As a young Jewish man, he had traveled to Jerusalem to study the Law of Moses. It was in that holy city that Paul discovered a “new movement” of fellow Jews who claimed that a recently crucified man by the name of Jesus, who reportedly resurrected and ascended into heaven, had replaced the Law of Moses with himself as the source of the forgiveness of sins.

For a zealous young Jewish student like Paul, this was scandalous. He sought to root out this perceived blasphemy by seeking to imprison any disciple of Jesus. Intent on following through with irradiating them wherever they were found, it was on the road to Damascus, that Christ himself appeared to Paul and opened his mind to embrace the light of the resurrection. St. Augustine, reflecting on this special day today reminds us that in that light he changed his name from Saul, the proud King who persecuted David. “The name of pride was changed to the name of humility: for Paul means little”. It is for this reason Paul considered himself, the least of the apostles.

From that single defining moment, Paul’s life, his energy, everything he was and had became Christ’s. Paul’s whole life would be spent entirely at the service of Christ and the newly formed Church. Christ was his ultimate, around which he would now organize his life. Paul’s values and insights, be they for personal living or for social relationships were now rooted in the death and resurrection of Christ. This was good news, not just for him, but for the whole world.

As a consequence, Paul was faced with many trials and sufferings, enduring hardship of every description as he now traveled through city after city, presenting Jesus Christ as the ultimate source of salvation for Jew and pagan alike. His travels recorded by St. Luke, his one time travel companion, and also from his many personal letters we read Sunday after Sunday, demonstrate his great perseverance and how God’s grace flowed through him.

After many years preaching, teaching, and establishing the faith around the empire, Paul returned to Jerusalem. There, at the instigation of local Jewish leaders, he was like Christ, taken into custody of Roman soldiers, and, as was the right of a Roman Citizen as he was, he was escorted to Rome and imprisoned there where he waited to make his final appeal to the world on behalf of Christ before the might of the Roman Emperor Nero.

Paul was eventually executed. He was beheaded in the year 67 AD; his body now resting in a tomb over which the present great church Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls has built, commemorating this great imitator of Christ and hero of our Christian faith .

Finally, the words of Pope Leo the Great speaking of today’s celebration of Saints Peter and Paul in the middle of the fifth century, “As to both their merits and virtues which surpasses the power of speech, we ought to observe no difference, no distinction between them, because the Lord has named them equal in their election, alike in their labors and friends to the end. And as we have learnt from our experience, confirmed by those who came before us, we believe and we trust that amid all the labors and trails of this life, we are always helped in obtaining God’s mercy by the prayers of our special patrons.”

Saint Peter and St. Paul, pray for us.

CCC paragraphs for St Peter 153, 424, 440, 442, 552, 553, 586, 849, 881, 1444

2nd Homily:

Saint Peter and St. Paul - both these great saints, could not be any more different in background, education, and work experience or conversion stories.  St. Peter was from a lower class family, a working background, uneducated by our standards, he was a simple fisherman.  He “stumbled across Jesus”. His brother introduced him to the Lord and St. Peter reluctantly brought Him onboard his boat.  Afterwards St. Peter would try every excuse to break up his friendship with Christ.  The Lord would not let him.

St. Paul, on the other hand, was from a middle to upper class family background, had bought himself Roman citizenship, been to the best schools, and was a great debater. St. Paul began his religious life as a Jew, a fundamentalist and, before his conversion, was actively involved in the arrests, torturing and killings of many of the first Christians beginning with the public execution of one of the first Christian deacons, St. Stephen.  In the same way that Christ “intruded” into the life of St. Peter, Christ would do so to St. Paul, appearing to him while St. Paul was on a mission to run up Christians for trial.

Understandably, St. Paul went into shock, was baptized and withdrew to the desert for a while before he embarked on missionary journeys and a great letter writing campaign.  Most of the New Testament portion of the Bible is made up of his letters.  They reveal how God worked through his great mind and intellect.

The Church throughout the world pays tribute today to the joint Christian witness of St. Peter and St. Paul. Although every Catholic church around the globe is marking this event, it is no greater felt than in the city of Rome. To this city of Rome St. Paul would arrive as a prisoner and was placed under house arrest.  He confidently and without fear carefully articulated his faith in Jesus before being executed by the Emperor. 

Soon after, St. Peter would also arrive in Rome, working behind the scenes to encourage the local Christians of the city to persevere in the face of mounting suspicion, discrimination and persecution.  St. Peter was the first bishop of Rome, the first pope.  The present pope, Pope Francis is the 266th successor in a direct and unbroken line from St. Peter.

A story is told that when St. Peter, afraid for his life was on the run from Rome, he had a vision of Christ carrying His cross as if to Calvary, all over again, asking him “Peter, where are you going?”  St. Peter turned around and returned to the city. He was unceremoniously hung upside down and crucified to death on a cross in the middle of a Roman sports arena for the entertainment of the pagan crowds. Afterwards, his body was buried nearby in a cemetery on the side of a Roman hill, locally called Vatican Hill.  And there, for 2000 years it remains to this very day, and a great church built over his grave.

St. Peter and St. Paul were very much different, as individuals go – St. Peter the fisherman, St. Paul the intellectual, St. Peter who was always tripping over himself while he was steadfast and rock-solid in his loyalty to Christ, St. Paul who was careful and exact in what he said and did, although he constantly endured challenges and hardship. St. Peter who often experienced Christ’s mercy and forgiveness, St. Paul intensely experienced God’s grace and His power. St. Peter gave his life to Christ in all its messiness - even his death being crucified upside down gave witness to that.  St. Paul gave his life to Christ in a manner that was precise and exacting – even his stately death by the single blow of the sword exemplified this.

The steadfast faith of St. Peter and the words and missionary zeal of St. Paul have provided a solid foundation for the Church for two thousand years. Let us never forget that God can work through human weakness and even pride, how He freely give the gift of faith and the grace to do His works, that He can calm our fears and help us talk about Christ and the Good News of salvation through His Holy Church to all the world.  They encourage us still from their place in heaven. St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us.

Jun 23, 2014

Corpus Christi - The Body of Christ

The miracle of the Mass, in a very strange way, is not that the Risen and Heavenly Lord is truly, actually and really present to us in the Blessed Sacrament. The miracle is that God prevents the bread and wine from revealing to us exactly what the angels and saints see directly before them in heaven (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Pt. III: 77).

The celebration of Corpus Christi is a reminder of God’s gift of super-natural faith. It tells us that even though our human senses ultimately fail us, Christ stands before us in the Holy Mass as he did so then with his apostles at the Last Supper when he said “this is my body, this is my blood.” The same Christ who risen from the dead presented his body to his disciples saying, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” (KJV Luke 24:39) Through Holy Communion, we do not simply touch the Risen Lord. We will also taste what the angels and saints of heaven enjoy - the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ.” (Saint Ignatius of Antioch)

Even though, he is hidden from our senses, he is not hidden from our deep spiritual hunger.  We long to see him, as the angels and saints see him.  To see him as he is now, in all his most wonderful power and glory, our souls would feed on such a sight.

But what does Christ see? When the bread and wine are changed into his living presence, and he looks out from this altar, hidden behind the appearance of simple bread, what does the living and heavenly Christ see as he looks around at this crowd of people gather to hear his voice?

Maybe this prayer will capture the longing of the hungry crowd gathered to hear the Lord and to get a glimpse of him as he passes by:

You are here, Lord Jesus. You are going to offer Your sacrifice, Your joys, Your sufferings, Your work, Your passion, and Your death. You are here, Lord, with all Your Church and all her offerings. 

Our Lady is here, presenting the burning love of her young mother's heart. 
The holy martyrs are here, the martyrs of all the ages, offering their lives; 
the apostles are here, offering their efforts; 
and all Christians, offering their joys and sufferings. 
The children are here, offering You simply their first love. 
The youthful are here who study and work, offering You their efforts. 
The engaged couples offering their promises, young husbands and wives, offering their love; 
the mother presents her hopes to you, the workers their week’s labor, the seniors their memories, and the sick and infirm offer You their lives.

And all these offerings of Your family gathered, Lord Jesus, have meaning only because they are joined to Your eternal offering of yourself to Your Father.

Therefore I bring to You my efforts, my sacrifices, my joys and my offerings, my entire life since my last Mass, and bring too, those of the souls with which You allowed me to care for and who are not present.

I am going to receive You Lord into a heart which has not been humble, but which You shall make as tender as Your own; into a heart which has been hardly pure and which You shall purify reflecting Your own; into a heart which is cowardly and which You shall make as brave as yours is; into a heart too often attached to sin, which You shall make clean; into a selfish heart, which You shall open wide for love.  Come Lord Jesus.

Jun 15, 2014

The Blessed Trintiy

If tabloid newspapers, the Internet and mainstream media existed on earth 2000 years ago in the same way as they do today, we can imagine this headline:

“Breaking News:  A man claiming to speak on behalf of God, has now revealed that the Almighty and Supreme Being, the Creator of heaven and earth, has been eternally living a secret love life. 

Asked to describe the nature of the relationship, the informant claimed there was nothing to be alarmed about and described it very much as a Father-Son relationship. 

When he was asked when this relationship first began, the informant made a statement that it began actually before time itself was created! Pressed for evidence, he claimed that he, himself, was in fact the person identified as the Father’s eternal Son.  When questioned about his age, the witness made a statement that he had always personally and eternally existed with God the heavenly Father, but only recently took on a flesh and blood bodily existence in order to be born in Bethlehem some time ago in order to learn Hebrew and Aramaic so that he could better communicate what he called as this Good News.    

Adding to the drama, we are also learning that a mysterious third person is involved in what is being described as a “love-triangle”.  This third person has been, even before day one, going by the name of the “Holy Spirit”.

In our human language - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - we call this three in one, the Blessed Trinity.  God who is Lover, God who is Beloved, God who is Love itself. Three distinct and unique persons, yet one eternal and unchanging God (Comp. CCC 48, 49)

But this is not simply intellectual knowledge about who and what God is. With us it begins and ends with love. As God is eternal love - a loving Father, a most loved Son and the divine loveliness of the Holy Spirit, we are invited into the inner love life of God. Every human being craves to be brought into this love.  In short, we will be restless until we are united and rest eternally within the life of the Blessed Trinity.

In the meantime, the Virgin Mary shows us how to engage God at all these levels. To God the Father, she is a daughter. To God the Son, she is a mother. To God the Holy Spirit, she is an intimate friend. With God's grace, may we be drawn more and more into the life of God so that one day we might touch the very heart of God and see His face, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.