Nov 21, 2015

Christ the King

Historians call it the "Pax Romana", a period of political peace and stability in the vast Roman Empire which lasted around two hundred years. It was generally thought to have begun thirty years before Christ was born and lasted around one hundred and fifty years after his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. And here at its heart we can not fail to see the contradiction.  

This peace and stability was crafted and engineered by one of the most successful military powers. How? By conquest, intimidation, bloodshed and the domination of a host of nations, races, peoples and communities. Yes, there was political stability, there was the relative free movement of trade and commerce and the borders of the great Roman Empire were, for the most part, secure. This looks impressive from the global perspective, but what if we were to zoom into the "street view"? What would we find? Who would we find?

We would see an innocent baby born in Bethlehem, perceived as a threat to the local king, that he murders every baby boy within his reach.  We see a family, typical of many, forced to leave their home, to become refugees because of death threats. We see religious fundamentalists trying to control the minds of their followers, political opportunists exploiting the fears of the community and the rich and the greedy exploiting the poor.  And in the midst of this, we see the Son of God, betrayed by his own people, cashed in by one of his followers, thrown to the dogs and demanded that he renounce his identity, for the sake of peace and stability!

The Gospel we have just entered into, highlights the long and often painful journey of humanity to establish real peace.  For Christ, as it must be for all Christians, peace is not simply the absence of war, or the non need to arm oneself. There can be no true and lasting peace without walking in harmony with God, the Father of Jesus Christ. And that harmony is not founded on treaties, political alliances, or the acceptance of ideologies for the simple sake of economic or cultural stability. It is the harmony of the body and the soul. For if it could be imagined that there would be no more the threat of gunfire or the sound of war, if there still remained, however, in one's heart hatred, resentment and fear, then there is really no peace, only a rehearsed simulation.

Standing before the imperial Roman Governor, Christ asserts that he alone is the King of Peace, but His Kingdom is not of this world. Maybe better said – that his Kingdom is not of this world making – it’s not built according to human laws and manmade constitutions.  For that reason, when we look to the laws of the land to provide for us what only God’s law can, there will always be dissatisfaction and discontent; there will always be injustice and inequality.

Does this mean that we disregard and ignore the established order of things? No.  We are dual citizens - Citizens of heaven and of earth. But our citizenships of both these realms are not equal.  It is for us as citizens of this world to work towards, not simply a change in laws where it is necessary,  but a change of heart as necessary, particularly an open heart to protect and shelter vulnerable human life – human lives vulnerable to abortion, vulnerable to experimentation, vulnerable to euthanasia.  It is for us as citizens of this world to lend our voice and our hearts to the reforming of political structures so that from the depths of our souls, we might better serve the needs of poor, the frightened, the exploited and the abused.

Do we have a model government of a divinely inspired administration?  I would suggest we do.  As Christians, Christ has taught us to ask his Father, our Father, not simply“Thy Kingdom come”. But also "Thy will be done on earth AS it is done in heaven”.  

The model for us on earth, is the model of the angels and saints of heaven around the throne of the lamb of God, where there are no elections, but only the elect.  Where there are no politicians or lawyers - only saints and martyrs. Where there are no committees, programs or political parties, only powers, dominions and hosts of angels.  There are no legalities in heaven, only harmony - a harmony that comes, not from the security of structures or the imposition of laws, but from the unity and peace emanating from the merciful heart of Christ the King. "Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth, AS it is in heaven”.  

Nov 14, 2015

33rd Sunday In Ordinary Time

The recent killings in Paris have naturally focused our attention on how vulnerable we actually are in the world - a world that God has given us as His gift, a world He created and looked down and said, “It is good”. It is good because it belongs to Him. 

Of course, when a tragic event is unleashed that shakes us, that disturbs our sense of peace, we often ask, “Why?” Why does God allow evil? Why does He seem to sit back and allow these events to unfold? Why does He not intervene?  We might find ourselves wondering about this, not only when we survey a world wracked in violence and conflict, but we might also ponder on this natural question we might ask God when faced with a personal loss, the death of a loved one, at the news of a sickness, at the breaking up of a relationship or even when one feels alone and abandoned. It seems to come back to that sense of fear of being vulnerable. It’s usually then that we are most susceptible to hurt, pain and suffering.  

The pain, the tragedy, the suffering, is like the blows of the sculptor's chisel against hard rock, chipping it away slowly, painfully.  But why this way?  It might be because God needs us, like His Son, to have tender hearts, hearts that can bleed, hearts that can experience pain, hearts that can love, hearts that can willing make the sacrifice for others.  

For this reason, God takes upon Himself the tenderness of a human heart, a heart that knows, shares in, and experiences the joys and the suffering we are all susceptible to.  Through Christ, our God dines with us in our company, he cries with us in our pain, he suffers with us in sickness and in our fears, he shares in our anguish, even our anger and frustration - not from a distance or the security of the heavens, but though every fiber of his body which is a part of ours.

But here is the “secret”.  If we persevere in this battlefield between light and darkness, hope and despair, we can share in his victory - the victory of the heart of God - the victory of love over those who are hardened by violence, hatred or anger.  We shall not become like them. We shall become like Christ risen from the dead, who even in his darkest hour on the cross still was able to love with a pure and tender heart.

Yes, we can live and exist without evil, and I wish and pray we did. But evil can never exist by itself - there will always be good, and it is that goodness that God has seeded in His creation and in our heart.  Goodness will always triumph on the last day.  

Nov 7, 2015

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the first reading from the Old Testament a poor widow is generous to a prophet beyond her means, with what little she has. She is rewarded. During the famine she receives a miraculous supply of nourishment until the rains come to bring forth a harvest. 

In the New Testament, from St. Mark’s Gospel, Christ tells us also of a poor widow who is also generous beyond her means, giving so much to God from what little she has. She is likewise rewarded- by the words of God himself, commending her for offering the sacrifice of her whole life. 

This we should never forget. It is a reminder to us of the untold sacrifices of those who are elderly, the seniors, grandparents, those who have lived lives of untold, unsung sacrifices. I think, for example, of those who struggled through the Great Depression hardened by the determination to make the world a better one for the sake of their children and grandchildren. We should call to mind the elderly who live alone, sometimes even our neighbors, often cut off from the world and meaningful relationships. Those too who feel isolated, who even feel themselves a burden to their families. We should never allow anyone to think that their lives are meaningless, that their sacrifices have little value.  We owe so much to those who gave so much and often, in the sunset of their lives, are easily forgotten. But not by our Lord, who in the episode we hear about today, amid all the noise and excitement, the ritual and the commotion, he noticed one whom the world often ignored.  And his look, was not one of pity, but of praise and admiration. 

Making a sacrifice for another, and more so when it is done in secret, even in the simple ordinary tasks of life and daily living, are within everyone’s grasp, from the youngest to the oldest.  But, how we are generous with our time and what we give of ourselves to others, if it is to have eternal value, must, first and foremost, come from a love of God. The poor but generous widow demonstrates this and because it was from her love of God, she got God’s attention and praise.

Our lesson here is that in our spiritual pursuits, as is often the case in many ways of life, it is best to start off small but with the simple intention to always and continually offer to God personal sacrifices. When, by our good deeds and our generosity we are merely inconvenienced, when it doesn’t really cost something or even hurt a bit, then it is time to go out a bit further. That is sacrifice.  

Slowly, slowly, throughout our live, more and more we must build up our resolve to make bigger sacrifices, so that when it comes to our final hour, we will have all the strength to give God everything we have, even our last breath, to offer him our whole lives without holding back anything. Until then, let us gently, carefully and quietly move towards heaven, step by step. 

Nov 2, 2015

All Souls - The Faithful Departed

When we pray for the dead, for the holy souls, we acknowledge that our love is never wasted, that friendship and love can reach out over the dark expanse of death.  Out of this close bond of affection and love we pray in the direction of heaven, that as those who have gone before us approach the judgment seat of God, that they will not be afraid but trust all the more that God is a merciful God. And if they are judged worthy for heaven, we pray that before entering the purity of God’s presence, they may have the courage to let go of all attachments to their former lives.

When we depart this world, even the memory of sin in our minds must be purged and our focus must be completely and freely directed towards God and God alone. This purging of theses earthly attachments to this world, to all things that are passing, we call “purgatory”. It is the final stage of the pilgrimage of the soul into heaven, through the gentle dawn of heaven’s light, where the soul is cleansed and purged of imperfections. For in heaven there is no place for any lingering shadows.

Purification in preparation for heaven can be as painful as it is beautiful, like the blows of a sculptor’s chisel against the hard rough surfaced rock as the beauty is slowly reveled and defined. And we can take some of the hard knocks for them, the holy souls. In the economy of salvation, we can focus our own extra efforts to pray and make extra sacrifices for the holy souls instead of ourselves, to ease their pathway to heaven, to provide encouragement for them as they journey towards God. 
For this is the reason we live, in order to arrive in heaven – to look upon the face of God in Jesus Christ our Savior. 

Let us pray for our beloved dead that they will see God and rejoice in His presence forever. Let us pray for ourselves that as we approach the hidden Lord through the veil of the Sacrament of the Mass, that one day we will see Him face to face and with all our loved ones, whom we pray for in particular during this month of November. We do so because we know our love can reach beyond death to the shores of heaven itself.

Oct 31, 2015

All Saints

As Catholics, we have a very unique understanding of what the Church is. Or, maybe better said, “who” the Church is.  If you would, for a moment, picture the beginning of a wedding as the bridegroom stands on the first step of the sanctuary, looking down the aisle towards the entrance of the church.  Standing within the doorframe, the bride stands, outlined in the contrast between light and darkness. He waits for her. In the distance, he captures her in faint image, bathed in light. With that glimpse, all time stands still. It becomes wonderment! Light and beauty take form, captured in an unforgettable moment that the bridegroom will never forget. The longing of his heart and his soul is purified as he gazes at her from the sanctuary.

Christ is that bridegroom. The Bride is His Church. From the heavenly sanctuary, within the framework of this building and beyond, He gazes with love and longing seeing us as we must be in His sight, beautiful, wonderfully made in God’s image and likeness, holy and pure in His presence.

Even though we sin and gather in this assembly of sinners He never takes His eyes off us. He will never walk away or abandon his Bride. Be beckons us to come to Him, join Him - to be in communion with Him. He gives His life, opens it up for us to enter into His presence. It is by the reaching out of His grace, that the calls us to be uniquely His own.  As we move towards Him, closer and closer, we begin to see ourselves in a new light, perhaps with nervousness, maybe fear, knowing our own individual failings and sins, but grateful that in His mercy He offers healing and purification for our souls, reconciling us through the sacraments.

But maybe we can be, like any common bride or bridegroom, conscious of those moments of doubt, even unreadiness to walk the path to communion with all the saints gathered. These are grace-given opportunities to examine our lives, our pattern of life and living, looking at ourselves in the mirror of God's light rather than our own. To be ready to walk this pathway to holiness and to communion with Christ, He beckons us to first repent and confess our sins, to accept forgiveness and mercy, and to accept the necessary guidance to reach our goal of heaven.

But we do not make this journey alone. Christ continually pours out His life into our souls, so that we, in turn can support each other, encourage each other, coach each other in the path of holiness. Is this not what saint’s do? This not the feast day of “I’m a saint - hope you are too!” No. It is the feast day of “All Saints”, a reminder of the universal call to holiness, not just on Sunday, but every day and along every step we take.

Because God calls all humanity to be all saints, we have to care about the world and it's direction, not because we are driven by our want to be right. We are driven by our love for humanity, Christ's love for humanity, of all our brothers and sisters. And if our love is pure and holy, then like Christ, knowing that all things in this world are passing, we will make whatever sacrifice is needed to attain the everlasting goal of heaven. All saints is our goal.

An so, at this wedding banquet of the Lamb, where heaven and earth are joined, we are reminded that the Mother of the Lord is also an invited guest, as she was at the wedding feast of Cana. She is our wedding planner, working behind the scenes making sure all is ready. She points us in the direction of her Son and tells us, "Do whatever He asks of you". That we may enjoy the banquet, numbered among all the saints of heaven and earth, we listen to Him and with him, we raise our glass to holiness, sanctity and to a new life worthy of the saints. "To the Bridegroom and His Bride forever!"

Oct 25, 2015

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

During his earthy ministry, Our Blessed Lord had reached out and healed many through his miracles. Not many of those who were healed are named. In today’s Gospel we are not only told of the name of the blind man who received his sight from Jesus, we are also told of who his father was. This provides us with a clue that, in the words of St. Augustine, “Bartimaeus, the son Timaeus, had fallen from some position of great prosperity, and was regarded as an object of the most notorious and the most remarkable wretchedness, because, in addition to being blind, he had also to sit begging” (Harmony of the Gospels 2.62)

But regardless of the social background, Bartimaeus provides us with an example of how to respond to God during particular incidents, special moments or unpredictable events. Often sickness, a heart ache, a set back or misfortune provide us with a unique opportunity to speak to God in a certain way that we might not be at times accustomed to.

Rather than complaining, for looking for pity or getting angry at God for what happened him, first Bartimaeus was humble before God, calling out “Lord have mercy”. And even though he did not receive an immediate response from God, and added to this a certain group in the crowd kept telling him to be quiet, Bartimaeus persisted – he never gave up hope that God would answer his cry for help. 

How often might we call out only once and them presuming there is no reply from God, we allow certain groups in the crowd, in the world to provide the answer! Fortunately, Bartimaeus instinctively knew that the world could not answer his deepest questions nor heal him.

Silence from God does not mean he does not hear you. Often, God will answer our prayers by telling us to speak louder, to ignore those who try to tame us or silence us. In our prayers, we need also to hear ourselves. This is important.  Bartimaeus knew exactly what he wanted to ask Jesus. He was focused; he knew what he was lacking and what he truly needed. In fact, God began answering his prayer even before he called out. How?

Probably without realizing it, even though he was blind and was obviously in the darkness about who Jesus really was, Bartimaeus was inspired to reflect on his situation. Without realizing it, he was stirred to his feet and motivated to call out by God himself.

Authentic prayer does not come from our own efforts; it is first and foremost a gift from God, even though God may at first remain hidden. He stirs us to reach out towards him, transcending all the forces of this world that would keep us grounded even though we may find ourselves in darkness or in the midst of incomprehensible suffering (cf. CCC 2027).

 Jesus may have been renowned, during his lifetime as miracle worker – healing the broken bodies of those disabled, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and restoring speech to those unable to talk but, at what cost?

To repair our bodies, his own will have to be crushed.  To bring light into the world, the light must be taken from his eyes.  So that we might hear and have a true voice, Our Lord must enter into deathly silence. Christ heals Bartimaeus by taking his place.

Upon the cross, our Blessed Lord pays the ransom, endures the suffering and willingly gives us his life so that whatever hardship we are to endure, it will have meaning and value and if we allow our prayer to reach the heavens.  Then, from the cross, we will be assured of victory over the greatest enemy, death – all other enemies pale in comparison.

Our Blessed Mother Mary was not spared darkness and loss in her life. She stood at the cross and shared in the anguish of her Son. As we stand around this sacred altar and with her enter into the sacrifice of Calvary, may she help us to pray authentically with faith and hope, so that, even though at times we may walk in the valley of darkness, to evil will we fear!

Oct 17, 2015

29th Sunday of the Year - Mission Sunday

The Gospel has highlighted to us that we can be enthusiastic in following Christ, but for the wrong reasons.  James and John, like many of the first disciples, were caught up with this new movement Christ was beginning he traveled about from town to town. They listened to his words and saw the fire in his eyes as he talked about the coming of the Kingdom of God.

James and John thought (and they were only thinking in worldly terms) if there was going to be a new kingdom (and because they were closely associated with Jesus) now might be a good time to get their foot in the door and secure cabinet position! 

They would soon learn that the Kingdom of God was not founded on the same terms as man-made kingdoms, governments or global corporations. In those types of kingdoms, you work your way to the top driven by ambition. Rather, the Kingdom of God is instead characterized by humility and service after the manner of Christ himself.  In other words - to imitate Christ in every way! This means ultimately to offer your whole life as a sacrifice, not for the comfort, security or prosperity of the world, but to offer your life for the “salvation” of the world. 

This sounds relatively simple. It’s not. When he asked them if they were ready to make the sacrifice, James and John, without much reflection, thought or prayer, impulsively said they could do it.  However, on the night before he was to be crucified, after the Last Supper when Christ invited the two of them to stay close to him, to sit at his right and his left as they wanted, and to drink the chalice of suffering, where were they? Incredibly, they slept through it – no doubt still dreaming of glory, while their Lord and master was sweating blood in his agony in that garden.  

However John would later stand at the foot of the cross holding his gaze upon the crucified Lord with Mary, the mother of Christ at his side.  And after the resurrection, his brother James would be the first apostle to be martyred for his faith, his head cut off to the delight of a frenzied mob in on streets of Jerusalem.

This Sunday is called World Mission Sunday.  It’s when we first give thanks for the enthusiasm of a family of saints who came before us and the lessons they learnt and taught about suffering and sacrifice in order to bring us, even at the cost of their own lives, the message and the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  

As an example, we look back with thanksgiving to the efforts of the Saint Juniper Serra and the Franciscan family who built the Californian Missions up and down the coast, baptizing tens of thousands as they did so. And the countless priests and nuns who journeyed across the seas and stepped off boats onto the soil of foreign lands and distant islands, building up churches, schools and hospitals. And to the first Catholic families who settled in lands far from home and bringing up their children in the faith, ensured that Christianity would be passed on from one generation to another. All of us here are indebted to missionary families of some sort, their enthusiasm and their sacrifices.

However, this is not simply a history lesson. The missionary work of the family still continues.  “Today as in the past, He (Christ) sends us through the highways of the world to proclaim His gospel to all peoples of the earth” (Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, n. 7).  Faith in Christ does not end with us. It is alive when we can share it with others, talk about it, and exercise it freely without fear or hindrance.  

The missionary activity of the Catholic family is not a hobby. It’s a two thousand year old project begun by God himself. It’s fruits are seen at home and beyond when we desire to imitate Christ by looking after our neighbor as well as the stranger, when we seek justice for the poorest of the poor, for the forgotten souls often ignored by society, when a family of missionaries offer resources to bring the possibility of basic education to the most remote villages or town lands, or medical help in isolated places, or to be a voice for the voiceless so as to help lift up families and children from poverty, not just economic, but the poverty of the soul when it thinks that there is no love or tenderness in the world.  This is the mission of the Church, when through her missionaries, “Here comes Christ!”

Pray that the Mission of the Church, extending the family of God with Christ as head of our household, will never be afraid to bringing the Savior and the grace of the sacraments into the homes of those who long to be embraced by God’s love. Pray for the missionaries, especially for Christians who are still persecuted and must endure personal sufferings for the sake of the Gospel. Pray for those who live in countries where the Good News of Salvation is forbidden to be preached and where conversion to Christ is punishable, even by death.  We pray for and be inspired by those who have risked everything to follow Christ, knowing that He alone offerings lasting peace and true fulfillment of our soul's desire.

We turn to Our Blessed Mother who prepared her Son to venture outside of the family home of Nazareth to witness to the world the Kingdom of God for the salvation of the world.