Oct 19, 2014

Parish Message for World Mission Sunday

I take great encouragement on this World Mission Sunday from the inspirational words of Pope Francis. I do this, not because the media has captured his charming and extrovert personality, or because he is from the mission territory of South America or that he is a member of the great missionary religious order, the Jesuits.  I do so because he is the Bishop of Rome, the ancient city that gave us the joint witness of the two great missionaries - St. Peter and St. Paul. 

Both these saints arrived in Rome after extensive missionary work. St. Paul had preached the Gospel throughout the lands of modern Turkey, Greece and even looked to bring Christ to the shores of Spain.   St. Peter would travel north from Jerusalem, up through modern day Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey and from there arrived in Rome.  Both these saints would witness to Christ by the deaths they suffered for the faith they preached. In Rome, St. Paul was beheaded and St. Peter, crucified.

If either of these apostles remained at home, the landscape of the Christian faith and its contribution to the world would be another story.  It would be very probable that those of us who do not have family roots in the Middle East, (and that would be many) would probably not be Christians today. God only knows what religion, if any, we would be, or how history would have unfolded and what language we would today be speaking, (probably Arabic).  I say that, because it was, for example, Pope St. Leo the Great in the fifth century who established peace with the barbarian tribes who conquered the Roman Empire.  And it was Pope St. Pius V, a thousand years later, who coordinated the defence of Europe against the rapidly growing Muslim Ottoman Empire.  

It is therefore, the pope, as the Bishop of Rome, the city of Saints Peter and Paul, who is our visible reminder of Christ’s command to His Church to go and make disciples of all the nations.  It is for that reason that the popes throughout history were proactive in the missionary activities of the Church.  A good example of this was during the 16th century, the popes sending missionaries west to the Americas and Eastward around India to the China, India and the Philippines.

Despite the incredible missionary work of the Church throughout the world, in his address to the Church for World Mission Sunday, Pope Francis reminds us that “today vast numbers of people still do not know Jesus Christ.”

This is why our focus of World Mission Sunday this year is the example of the Church in Mongolia. Mongolia borders Russia and China. For comparison it is the combined size of all the States of the Northwest and the whole Southwest put together.  After the fall of communism, Rome sent three missionaries to Mongolia in 1991.  There are now 600 Catholics in that vast territory. 

St. Margaret’s has always been generous in our support of the Missionaries and mission territory. Every year we invite a missionary home to tell us what its like and how we can help.  World Mission Sunday, sees every missionary in the world and every parish church support each other globally, pray for each other across the great distances and recommit ourselves to make Christ better known at home, and known throughout the world. That is why there is the special offering envelope today in the pew, a reminder that we owe our faith to the sacrifices of other and, in gratitude, we respond with likewise sacrifices and requests for generosity on our part.

Pope Francis also asks us to “pray through the intercession of Mary, the model of humble and joyful evangelization, that the Church may become a welcoming home, a mother for all peoples and the source of rebirth for our world.”

Oct 18, 2014

Papal Message for World Mission Sunday

Message of Pope Francis for the World Mission Day 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today vast numbers of people still do not know Jesus Christ. For this reason, the mission ad gentes continues to be most urgent. All the members of the Church are called to participate in this mission, for the Church is missionary by her very nature: she was born "to go forth". World Mission Day is a privileged moment when the faithful of various continents engage in prayer and concrete gestures of solidarity in support of the young Churches in mission lands. It is a celebration of grace and joy. A celebration of grace, because the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, offers wisdom and strength to those who are obedient to his action. A celebration of joy, because Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, sent to evangelize the world, supports and accompanies our missionary efforts. This joy of Jesus and missionary disciples leads me to propose a biblical icon, which we find in the Gospel of Luke (cf. 10:21-23) .

1. The Evangelist tells us that the Lord sent the seventy-two disciples two by two into cities and villages to proclaim that the Kingdom of God was near, and to prepare people to meet Jesus. After carrying out this mission of preaching, the disciples returned full of joy: joy is a dominant theme of this first and unforgettable missionary experience. Yet the divine Master told them: "Do not rejoice because the demons are subject to you; but rejoice because your names are written in heaven. At that very moment Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said: ‘I give you praise, Father...’ And, turning to the disciples in private he said, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see’" (Lk 10:20-21, 23).

Luke presents three scenes. Jesus speaks first to his disciples, then to the Father, and then again to the disciples. Jesus wanted to let the disciples share his joy, different and greater than anything they had previously experienced.

2. The disciples were filled with joy, excited about their power to set people free from demons. But Jesus cautioned them to rejoice not so much for the power they had received, but for the love they had received, "because your names are written in heaven" (Lk 10:20). The disciples were given an experience of God’s love, but also the possibility of sharing that love. And this experience is a cause for gratitude and joy in the heart of Jesus. Luke saw this jubilation in a perspective of the trinitarian communion: "Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit", turning to the Father and praising him. This moment of deep joy springs from Jesus’ immense filial love for his Father, Lord of heaven and earth, who hid these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to the childlike (cf. Lk 10:21). God has both hidden and revealed, and in this prayer of praise it is his revealing which stands out. What is it that God has revealed and hidden? The mysteries of his Kingdom, the manifestation of divine lordship in Jesus and the victory over Satan.

God has hidden this from those who are all too full of themselves and who claim to know everything already. They are blinded by their presumptuousness and they leave no room for God. One can easily think of some of Jesus’ contemporaries whom he repeatedly admonished, but the danger is one that always exists and concerns us too. The "little ones", for their part, are the humble, the simple, the poor, the marginalized, those without voice, those weary and burdened, whom Jesus pronounced "blessed". We readily think of Mary, Joseph, the fishermen of Galilee and the disciples whom Jesus called as he went preaching.

3. "Yes, Father, for such has been your gracious will" (Lk 10:21). These words of Jesus must be understood as referring to his inner exultation. The word "gracious" describes the Father’s saving and benevolent plan for humanity. It was this divine graciousness that made Jesus rejoice, for the Father willed to love people with the same love that he has for his Son. Luke also alludes to the similar exultation of Mary: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit exults in God my Savior" (Lk 1:47). This is the Good News that leads to salvation. Mary, bearing in her womb Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence, met Elizabeth and rejoiced in the Holy Spirit as she sang her Magnificat. Jesus, seeing the success of his disciples’ mission and their resulting joy, rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and addressed his Father in prayer. In both cases, it is joy for the working of salvation, for the love with which the Father loves his Son comes down to us, and through the Holy Spirit fills us and grants us a share in the trinitarian life.

The Father is the source of joy. The Son is its manifestation, and the Holy Spirit its giver. Immediately after praising the Father, so the evangelist Matthew tells us, Jesus says: "Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light" (Mt 11:28-30). "The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew" (Evangelii Gaudium, 1).

The Virgin Mary had a unique experience of this encounter with Jesus, and thus became "causa nostrae laetitiae". The disciples, for their part, received the call to follow Jesus and to be sent by him to preach the Gospel (cf. Mk 3:14), and so they were filled with joy. Why shouldn’t we too enter this flood of joy?

4. "The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience" (Evangelii Gaudium, 2). Humanity greatly needs to lay hold of the salvation brought by Christ. His disciples are those who allow themselves to be seized ever more by the love of Jesus and marked by the fire of passion for the Kingdom of God and the proclamation of the joy of the Gospel. All the Lord’s disciples are called to nurture the joy of evangelization. The Bishops, as those primarily responsible for this proclamation, have the task of promoting the unity of the local Church in her missionary commitment. They are called to acknowledge that the joy of communicating Jesus Christ is expressed in a concern to proclaim him in the most distant places, as well as in a constant outreach to the peripheries of their own territory, where great numbers of the poor are waiting for this message.

Many parts of the world are experiencing a dearth of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. Often this is due to the absence of contagious apostolic fervour in communities which lack enthusiasm and thus fail to attract. The joy of the Gospel is born of the encounter with Christ and from sharing with the poor. For this reason I encourage parish communities, associations and groups to live an intense fraternal life, grounded in love for Jesus and concern for the needs of the most disadvantaged. Wherever there is joy, enthusiasm and a desire to bring Christ to others, genuine vocations arise. Among these vocations, we should not overlook lay vocations to mission. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the lay faithful in the Church, as well as a recognition that they are called to take an increasingly important role in the spread of the Gospel. Consequently they need to be given a suitable training for the sake of an effective apostolic activity.

5. "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9:7). World Mission Day is also an occasion to rekindle the desire and the moral obligation to take joyful part in the mission ad gentes. A monetary contribution on the part of individuals is the sign of a self-offering, first to the Lord and then to others; in this way a material offering can become a means for the evangelization of humanity built on love.

Dear brothers and sisters, on this World Mission Day my thoughts turn to all the local Churches. Let us not be robbed of the joy of evangelization! I invite you to immerse yourself in the joy of the Gospel and nurture a love that can light up your vocation and your mission. I urge each of you to recall, as if you were making an interior pilgrimage, that "first love" with which the Lord Jesus Christ warmed your heart, not for the sake of nostalgia but in order to persevere in joy. The Lord’s disciples persevere in joy when they sense his presence, do his will and share with others their faith, hope and evangelical charity.

Let us pray through the intercession of Mary, the model of humble and joyful evangelization, that the Church may become a welcoming home, a mother for all peoples and the source of rebirth for our world.


Oct 17, 2014

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The People of Israel were exiled far from home. Persecuted, discriminated against they were forced to lay low. The huge mechanism of the imperial state and government they found themselves living under, did not crush their souls. They prayed quietly for deliverance. It came as a surprise. The first reading, Isaiah 45:1,4-6 demonstrates that God can use whom ever he pleases to be his instrument of salvation – even the pagan King Cyrus. God heard the prayers of his people. Maybe the question we must ask is, does he hear our prayers? Do we pray for our legislators that God will guide them?

In the Gospel for Sunday (Matthew 22:15-21), our blessed Lord was careful to give respect to the civil authority office of his day. But, at the same time, our Lord reminds us that the state does not enjoy absolute power and dominion. As ordinary citizens of this land, even as Christians and as Catholics, we recognize that we have a contribution to make to the political system for the common good of everyone.

The bases of this is not the dogmas and doctrines of our religion. We share with every single person a relationship with a natural law that governs our instincts and intuitions, natural rights and responsibilities of each of us to protect the weak and the vulnerable. This, of course, includes the protection of the right to life from the first moment of conception, which every person who has breath is a natural advocate of, even if it is only just (unfortunately) for themselves!

Every right that we hold dear in civil law is stands upon the foundation of the fundamental right to life, to be alive. Take away the natural right to life of every conceived human being, then every other natural right we presume we have, easily crumbles like a house of cards. For this reason, you cannot support or even turn a blind eye to abortion while advocating your own right to live. To do so is pure selfishness.

The right to life is not a religious issue, and it’s not a political issue. The right to life, the right of a conceived child to live, is ingrained in the very law of nature, written into the very core of our biology.

When our blessed Lord in the Gospel said “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” he was not telling us, his followers and disciples, that our Christian faith is somehow a private affair - that is to be kept within the confines of a church building or a private home. We are to be model citizens, examples, honest and true, able to distinguish the difference between right and wrong, what is true and what is false, what is natural for human flourishing and what is contrary to Natural Law, and willing to make sacrifices for the common good of society.

In our defense of the most vulnerable human lives, from a child conceived in the secret of the womb, to our responsibilities to care for sick and the elderly, defending the natural role of male and female who come together to complement each other as a husband and wife to be a mother and a father, the natural right of children to expect stability in their family, to trust their parents natural instinct to see to their education by sharing with them their own values and insights.

In the human family we do have an influence on each other -for good and for bad. But in our conscience, formed well by reason not emotion, we have a common duty to seek that, which is truly good and worth making sacrifices for.

As Christians we are obliged to pray for those in government. In the same way as the pagan king Cyrus, unwittingly and even unknowingly collaborated with God’s plan to return the chosen people home from exile, then we too should pray and seek God’s gentle grace to open the hearts and the consciences of those whose role is to protect and to serve to common good of humanity.

Oct 13, 2014

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

God's Wedding Feast

Reflecting on this portion of the Gospel we have just heard, concerning the invitation to all to come to the sacred banquet that God has prepared, St. Augustine reminds us, that although everyone is invited to attend, everyone of us who are able to receive Holy Communion, (priest included), should examine how we approach the table of the Lord. (St. Augustine Sermon 90.1). 

One of the difficulties we sometimes run into during the time of Holy Communion, is our own tendency to be too well organised! We like to have things in order. We pride ourselves in being efficient. And when we gather in a large church like this, to facilitate the movement of those who will be receiving Holy Communion, almost by a natural default, those who are sitting in the first row almost always come up first and then, others follow - row by row.  But here is a danger. And I will give you an example from my own personal experience.  

Before I was ordained a priest, in my early twenties, out of curiosity, I attended a non-Catholic communion service.  I quickly darted passed the “greeters” at the door, just in case they asked me who I was and the reason I was there!  I discreetly slipped into the back pew, but I nearly blew my cover when I caught myself just about to genuflect!  

Towards the end of the service, the greeters I had avoided at the front doors, now took up their place at the top of the center aisle and began to walk backwards ushering the people, row by row, out of their seats and directing them towards a minister to receive their church’s version of communion.  Row by row the people spilled out and walked towards the minister. I was getting very nervous as the ushers were reaching the back pews where I was sitting. 

What should I do? Do I fall in line so as not to appear impolite, out of place or embarrassed? Do I simply go with the flow? I knew, underneath my fear, that I should not join the moving line of people  - not simply because of my personal beliefs.  Receiving Communion is not simply a private or personal affair. It is, in itself, a public profession of faith, not only in Christ but also in the life and teachings of the Church community in which you belong and identify yourself as a member.  That’s why, a Catholic can not receive what counts for Holy Communion in a non-Catholic church and why non-Catholics, out of respect for the Reformation teachings of their own denomination, should not receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass. 

Therefore, when we Catholics receive Holy Communion at this Mass, we are publicly identifying ourselves as “credible witnesses”of what we profess every Sunday - belonging to Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, in union with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Receiving Holy Communion, strengthens by union with this unique Church, and tells the world that you can look upon me as an example of what we as Catholics teach, how we as Catholic live and how we pray as Catholics.  

So what happened in that non-Catholic church when the usher came to where I was sitting and motioned me to get up and join the line? I looked up at him and politely said, “No thank you!” He looked puzzled. I felt awkward, a little embarrassed, self conscious - for around twenty seconds!  But then I felt “good”, a sense of peace that I was was free to say no, that I didn't just follow the crowd or try to pretend that I fit in, when my personal and public life and lifestyle plainly said otherwise.  

So back to here. We will, no doubt, come to what should be for each of us, the awkward moment of Holy Communion at Mass. Because the reception of this sacrament presumes that our private and public lives reflect the life and teachings of our Catholic Faith, Holy Communion is not a simple “given”.  This sacrament should always be approached with a sense of awkwardness, a sense of apprehension, even, what we call in our traditional language, “holy fear” - a profound reverence. Unfortunately, it often times isn't, when we approach this unique Sacrament out of habit, without prayer or preparation, or without, when needed, the Sacrament of Confession. 

Maybe what we need is a few more speed bumps on the aisle that leads to the altar!  It’s good to slow us down a little, so that we might examine our hearts, lives and lifestyles, not in our own light (I always look good in my my own light and in my own estimation!) We need time to see ourselves in the purifying light of God, His Commandments and the Church’s teaching.  To that end, I would suggest, even if your neighbors in your pew get up to go to Holy Communion, if you need some extra time to prepare yourself, to pray and meditate, take your time. Come up when you know you are ready.

So as not to lose our place forever at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb of God, the garment we should always be conscious of wearing in this holy place “should always reflect a pure heart, a good conscience and a faith true and strong” (St. Augustine).  

May our Blessed Mother who gave us Christ, prepare us to receive Him well when He comes.

Oct 11, 2014

Address to the Los Angeles Senatus of the Legion of Mary

Legion of Mary Los Angeles Senatus Synod
Friday, October 10th, 2014

Father Cávana Wallace
Spiritual Director, San Diego North County Curia

Continuity between the Old and New Evangelization in the Southwest

For the most part, if someone stopped us in the middle of the street and asked us to open our Bibles to Matthew 21: 33-43 we might understandably be caught off guard. We don't usually carry the Sacred Scriptures around with us. Or do we?  

For the most part, our rosary beads are often with arm's reach. So, maybe, we do indeed carry the Holy Scriptures with us.  When we engage the prayer of the Rosary, we are meditating upon the Word of God, as Our Blessed Mother did, constantly pondering in her heart the mysteries of Christ’s Life, His words, His Death and Resurrection - the Gospel of the Lord!

Back to the chapter and verse!  In this portion of the Gospel, Christ gave us a parable, telling us that our heavenly Father planted a vineyard, set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased out the land to tenants. After they became violent, even against the landowners son, the vineyard would be given to a new generation, to produce its fruits.  These images which Our Lord gives us, we can easily meditate upon within the Third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary - the Proclamation of the Kingdom.

When I reflect upon this image of the vineyard, particularly in the context of living here on West Coast of the United States, I often think of the Californian Missions. I proudly identify myself as a priest of San Diego because it was here in 1769 that Blessed Junipero Serra, the first Padre, began the evangelization of California and beyond.

He founded California’s first Mission, Mission San Diego, with a strong devotion to Our Blessed Mother. When the local tribes once physically threatened violence against him, he wrote: 

“I held a picture of our Blessed and Spotless Queen in one hand and her Divine Crucified Son in the other, when arrows were raining everywhere. My thoughts were, that with such defense, either I would not have to die, or that I would die well, great sinner that I am."  

However, Blessed Junipero Serra did not die a martyr’s death.  On the grounds of Mission San Diego, his co-worker in the vineyard, Father Luis Jayme, would become the California’s First Martyr.  When 600 native warriors attacked the Mission they first ransacked the chapel and set fire to the surrounding buildings. Father Jayme walked calmly towards them, calling out "Amar á Dios, hijos!"—"Love God, my children!"  Instead, they seized him, stripped him off his garments, shot arrows into his body and beat him to death with clubs and stones.  Recall again Christ’s parable about the vineyard, “When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.  But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned.”

The Catholic roots of all the regions the Los Angeles Senatus governs, bears testimony to the rich and productive history of this portion of the Lord’s Vineyard.  Consider that over a hundred years before California gave us Blessed Junipero Serra and the Franciscan Missions, northern Mexico gave us the sacred adventures of Padre Marcos de Niza who planted the first cross in the soil of Arizona in 1539 claiming it for Christ.

1697 saw the heroic Jesuit priest Juan Maria de Salvatierra, establish the first Mission in Loreto, Baja California, and the beginnings of the El Camino Real, the Royal Highway, that would eventually take Blessed Junipero Serra and the Franciscans north in the direction of San Diego.  

Further inland from the coast in 1775, near present day Laughlin, the Franciscan priest and explorer Padre Gárces from Sonora, Mexico, offered the first Mass on the banks of the Colorado, in the territory that was to become Nevada.  

And, of course, never to forget Hawaii, and the heroic witness of mercy and consolation given to us by the life of Saint Damien of Molokaʻi who died in 1889, aged 49 years old.

Indeed the “old” evangelization was very much initiated by the clergy and the religious, who toiled in the vineyard, through their blood, sweat and tears. However, today, the “new” evangelization of these lands is very much in the hands of the lay faithful.

It is therefore most timely, in the providence of God’s compassion for the world, that numerous lay movements and apostolates have blessed the Church, particularly in her recent history.  No other lay apostolate has stood the test of time and has spread so rapidly throughout the world in such a relatively short period of time, than that of the Legion of Mary.    

Although the Legion of Mary is a global organization, our experience of the Church and her mission, does not come from the media, pictures, books, blogs or web pages.  We experience the Church, the universal call to holiness and the grace to be credible witnesses of our faith, first and foremost in our local parish, under the gentle, guiding eye of our local pastor. This is the Legion way.

Unlike the heroic and saintly priests and religious of the past, who planted the deep Catholic roots of the regions represented this weekend at our Senatus, Legionaries are called to be present-day saints and missionaries, first and foremost within the territory of their parish.

Blessed Mother Teresa was asked, early on in her apostolic work, when she had only a few other sisters working with her and she faced the challenge of the needs of hundreds of thousands of the poor on her doorstep - she was asked by an incredulous news reporter, “How do you, yourself, expect to feed all these people?”  Her reply, “One by one.”

And that is how we too must evangelize - one by one. That is why a member of the Legion of Mary is always on duty, always at prayer, always giving witness, inviting the lost, those who have strayed and those who are suffering, into the gentle embrace of our Mother.

In this manner, when the Legion Handbook talks about the local parish presidium being the extended hands of the priest, consider that you are extending the reach, not simply of your local pastor. You are also extending the reach of the efforts and the sacrifices of the saintly and heroic priests and religious of centuries ago, who dug deep the trenches and planted the seeds of faith in our own native soil. As laymen and women, you are helping to bring in the harvest.  

On his deathbed at Mission Carmel, Blessed Junipero Serra promised that if God granted him "eternal happiness" he would pray for "all dwellers in the missions, and for the conversion of so many whom I leave unconverted." This prayer and promise on the dying lips of Padre Serra, is for us the continuity between the old evangelization and the new evangelization of these lands.  

Once again, back to the Holy Scriptures.  Our Blessed Mother pondered the words of the angel, again and again, over and over in her heart - establishing the first pattern and rhythm of the rosary. In doing so, she did not simply give birth to the Word made Flesh, and send Our Lord out to save the world, while she stayed at home! She followed His life, listened to His words, followed Him to Calvary and rejoiced to stand with Him risen from the dead and seated at God the Father’s right hand.

May we, like her, never be afraid of following the Lord of the harvest into the world, finding Him in the midst of the crowds and passersby, and making Him know when He is forgotten, ignored or even when left to wither on the vine and die.  Even though these lands might experience drought and the well of faith  seems sometimes abandoned, our faith reminds us that we believe in the resurrection of the dead!

May every day of our working week produce an abundant fruit for the Lord of the harvest, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen!

Oct 5, 2014

27th Sunday

Christ in this Gospel parable tells us that our heavenly Father planted a vineyard, set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. When you think of it, it sounds like a beautiful resort (or like one of those many wineries we have nearby in Temecula!)

We arrive at this carefully designed vineyard, and there is really not much hard work for us to do.  The scene is set – everything is in place (c.f. St. John Chrysostom Homily 68.1).  We are entrusted with its upkeep and to also ensure that it is productive.  

Now, of course, those who initially listened to Christ’s description of this vineyard would have instinctively recognized that He was describing the land of Israel - that He was talking about the particular witness (or lack of witness) of the Chosen People for the sake of the world’s salvation.

The Jewish scholars and teachers were very much familiar with this coded imagery. But also were the common folk. They knew the psalms by heart, repeating them like poems, singing them as songs passed down from one generation to another.  They knew their own history - how God brought them out of Egypt, gave them the land - a land flowing rich with milk and honey, how they enjoyed the gifts but soon forgot the giver of the gifts, silencing anyone God sent to remind them of His covenant.  In short, they sold themselves and their produce to the highest bidder. They would also eventually facilitate a hostile takeover of the Lord's vineyard.  

There is, in Christ’s parable, a message for us too.  Christ has given us as a gift for our salvation, the Church.  He secures His Church, not with a hedge, but by the sacraments. Flowing from the very heart of the Church, which is His Body, comes forth grace - the gift of life, salvation for the whole world.  

We are not a Sunday resort, a weekend spiritual health spa or a one-stop sacramental snack bar! There is no product sampling here.  Grace upon grace flows from the Sacraments we encounter here in this Church. The explosion of new life at every baptism. The showers of God’s mercy when every confession is heard and His forgiveness is assured. The radiance of sacred love when a man and woman vow their lives to each other before the Altar. The banquet feast of heaven and earth -  the sight upon which the angels feed - a superabundance that satisfies our hungry souls. Do we keep what happens here a best kept secret?  Does its sweetness, its flavor, it potency diminish and sour over time or when we drive away?

God does not ask us to operate a theme park or watch over a museum as caretakers. God invites us to collaborate in His work of extending the fruits of His grace to the whole world.  We are to be a beacon of hope for all creation, an example that trusting in God’s plan, in His mercy and His Love, that our lives, not simply in here, but out there, to be always pointing in the direction of heaven, and our everyday example, pointing others also in that direction.

Our Blessed Mother didn't simply give birth to Christ and then send Him out to save the world, while she stayed at home.  Where was she when He was dying on the cross? And where are we? May we, like her, never be afraid of following the Lord of the harvest into the world, finding Him in the midst of the crowds and passersby and making Him know when He is forgotten, ignored or even when He left out to wither on the vine and die. May every day of our working week produce an abundant harvest for the Lord!

Sep 28, 2014

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Go, work in the vineyard! 
(Get your hands dirty!)

Matthew 21: 28-32 

One of the great joys of a pastor is the celebration of a baptism. There is really no such thing as a private baptism.  All baptisms are family affairs.  And when we bring families together from different backgrounds, cultures, languages and traditions - when we all gather in the narthex of the church in preparation for this sacrament, it is indeed a messy affair!

But "messy" in the good sense of the word. Picture the scene: babies screaming, young children running around, parents making sure everyone has arrived or calling their relatives who are running late to make sure they have the correct directions. Then there are the proud and honored godparents, excited by their new role, taking countless photographs from every angle, while the exhausted grandparents just want to sit down, rest their feet and simply watch - watch everyone and wonder how everyone has grown up so fast and with so much energy.  

This is our family life - it's messy, unpredictable, with so many individual personalities and characters.  And yet there is room for everyone. That's why the best adjective to describe the Church is the word "catholic", meaning "according to the whole", "universal", the place where everyone and everything finds meaning! 

But there is more. While we can be joyous knowing that God does in fact promise us His gifts, we have to, not only hear His voice, but "do" what He tells us to do in order to bring in this great harvest of grace we anticipate in every baptism.  

Yes, when we remember family baptisms and confirmations, what comes first to mind is the celebration, the festivity. And rightly so.  The photographs remind us of the day.  But what sometimes happens, is we can easily "fast forward" over the most solemn promise and commitment we as parents or godparent also made during the celebration of baptism  - to bring up our children in the knowledge and in the practice of the faith. That's the hard work of going into the vineyard and securing the harvest for the future.

God tells us to go into the vineyard and work.  Sometimes, when it comes to living our Christian faith, identity and lifestyle, we can be tempted to think that working in the vineyard of the Lord is only a one-day affair - Sunday.  But I doubt God would want us "working" on Sunday! So, maybe, working in His vineyard is instead reserved for all the working days of the week. That makes sense! 

The Father sends His sons into the vineyard.  It's a family business - it is not run remotely, nor is the work of the vineyard outsourced to professionals or interns.  Instead, the children work alongside everyone else.  In the vineyard, everyone pulls their weight together, cooperates and helps to bring in the harvest - which is ultimately the salvation of souls. And this is a great challenge. 

The vineyard of the Lord is the world He created! The grapes will not detach themselves from the vine and float over to us and land gently in our hands like prized trophies.  We have to immerse ourselves, throw ourselves into the very heart of the world to work, with God's grace, for its salvation.  And this is messy work.  Think of what the color of our hands will be like after pulling the grapes off the vine.  What will our feet be like, after trampling the grapes? It is hard work - it is messy work. But it is rewarding work. 

But do not be discouraged. Not only does God give us every day the opportunity to work for the salvation of souls, He also gives us the necessary grace and strength to do so. Therefore do not let the messiness of life discourage you.  Like a church baptism in real time, God's grace works in the midst of screaming babies, coughs and sniffles, and even when the odd cell phones go off in the middle of prayer.  God's grace is to be found in the everyday circumstances of your daily life, and not just yours - even without them knowing, also your neighbor’s.  But they need to know, and we need to tell them, so that the whole family might rejoice in the rich and abundant harvest of God's grace.

Let us ask Our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, who found themselves in places and circumstances they never planned nor expected, that they will inspire and help us to be always faithful and committed to what God asks of us every working day.