Feb 18, 2017

Seventh Sunday on Ordinary Time

There is a telling story told of Saint Mother Teresa. She had just rescued from the streets of Calcutta, a neglected and starving young Hindu girl. Holding her hand, she led her into a local shop. Going up to the counter Mother Teresa politely asked if she could have some bread. The angry shopkeeper, who was not Christian, scoffed at her, and then spat in her face.  Mother Teresa looked up and simply said, "Thank you sir for that gift. Now, what about something also for the child?" After some time of tense silence, the shopkeeper gave Mother Teresa a large basket of bread for her to take to the orphanage to feed the hungry.

"Love your enemies", Christ command us.  Even though we often take advantage of His mercy and generosity, and even abuse His gifts to us, God's patience with us is never worn thin to the point that He looks upon us with hostility. He never will reach the point of frustration with you and me that He labels any of us as His enemies, regardless of our offense.
"Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect", Christ tells us. This is what should distinguish us as Christians from anyone else - our ability to love our enemies, to pray for them, to help them gently on the road to salvation and to do so, creating the right environment where, in time, enemies can become friends, and in particular, friends of God.
Is this not the attitude of Christ to us, giving us opportunity upon opportunity to be more open and receptive to the influence of His friendship? So, if we count ourselves friends of Christ, and should also find ourselves suffering because of the wounds inflicted by someone else, rather than fighting back in anger, we instead should be more troubled that our enemy would be damned to hell without the opportunity for repentance. For this reason, in the Christian standard of faith and living, there is never room for revenge or getting even, even under a false premise of trying to teach someone a lesson.
Knowing what we are made of and the environment we often find ourselves living in, naturally it is very difficult for us to always respond with love and patience in a world so marked by sin and division. But Christ did not simply ask us to love our enemies.  Sometimes, we can feel we do not have the emotional and spiritual strength to do so. That's probably why He also asked us to pray for them - even to pray to God on their behalf. Doing so, without them even aware, we give them more than they think they deserve from us.
Consider how Christ himself was spat upon, struck and punched in the face, not just once, but many times by His enemies, who even whipped Him to pieces.  He could have responded with His divine power and obliterated them in an instant. No. Instead He literally took it as a man.  When they threw weight of the cross on His back and forced him to carry it, He did so without complaint. So much so, His enemies, no doubt amazed, took it off His shoulders and forced it on a passerby to carry for Him. When Christ was being nailed to the cross and slowly crucified to death, He could have cursed His enemies with the vengeance of God. But instead, He prayed for them and asked that his Father forgive them their sins. And as He died, one of the executioners, was compelled to make an act of faith in God.
Loving our enemies is not easy. But, if we preserve in friendship with God, and are never afraid to return to Him again and again, even in our own sinfulness asking for forgiveness of our sins, we can be assured of the grace of God's patience.  "Learn from me" Christ assures us - the perseverance needed to carry our daily crosses and the courage to love and pray for those who might oppose or threaten harm upon us in any way. This is the road to perfection we boldly and courageously take - following Christ who leads the way and says to us, "Follow me".

Feb 12, 2017

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A child attempts to walk for the first time. In doing so, they must learn to cooperate with the laws of gravity and physics! A young person prepares for their driving test. They must know the laws of the road, but also the laws of courtesy and never to insist on the right of way.  Our respect for the just laws of our nation, are aimed towards helping us respect the dignity of each person, the expectation of hospitality and equality.

There are also laws written into the very fabric of nature that guard the essential foundation of human life itself, the nature of the human family, the role of the sexes, the responsibilities and expectation of married life and the duties of being a father or a motherhood.  

Within these relationships, we are also given the hidden law of conscience; an inner voice that longs to be guided in the direction that God’s eternal truth so that our choices will come to reflect the design of our Creator in all my relationships.

Through His Word, spoken to us through Christ and echoed through His Church, God also reveals a moral law to guide our basic relationships with each other - it is God's law of love, given to us to protect us from selfishness and the disorders of pride, lust, rage and jealousy.

God has given us particular laws of behavior, not to curtail our freedom, nor to punish us but instead to help build up and re-establish the right and balanced relationship we should have with him and one another.

Whereas the laws of the land, the laws of nature, even the laws of gravity can be harsh, uncompromising, even unforgiving, we can be tempted to always think that God's Law and His commandments are too high, to lofty. But let us never forget, God's Law of Mercy and Forgiveness. He makes allowances for our weaknesses and vulnerability. He never misses an opportunity to encourage us to preserve through the many battles we must often endure, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  

But Christ would not expect of us anything He would not do himself. That’s why His words about the sacred bond of matrimony, for example, are not simply written words or laws. Christ defines the divine law of married love with every drop of His blood, His very life. Even though we have been unfaithful to him, He will never go back on His word to be faithful to us, even until death.  In short, He will never divorce Himself from us - He loves us in good times, and in back, in sickness and health, He loves us to death - the Law of Sacrificial Love after the manner of Christ himself.

May all our relationships and the sacrifices we too must make, point to and reflect the harmony God intends for all creation. And may His gentle law of love and mercy find a home in our lives reflecting the balance of all good things God has willed for us - for the salvation of our souls and the refreshment of all our relationships through Christ, our Lord.

Feb 4, 2017

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Too much salt poisons the flavor. Too much light blinds the eyes. A city too high on a hill becomes unreachable. But the opposite is also true. Too little salt and the food is bland. Too little light and there is darkness. A city placed in a hidden valley is never noticed when you pass by.

We see here the corrosive effects and the regrettable consequences of the extremes of both sides of the spectrum.

This can, off course, be applied to our social interactions with each other when our conversations are never measured, but instead become far too heated, violent and unrealistically idealistic. On the other side, it's when we presume we have nothing meaningful to say to each other, when we are afraid to stand out from the crowd or have lost interest in building upon the strong foundations others have sacrificed for us with their lives.

Of course, the extremes of too little and too much, affect us not only in our lives, in our family life, but also in society and in our nation. It applies to how each individual applies the gifts God has given them, how parents exercise their responsibility to oversee their children, where those in positions of leadership concentrate their efforts and interests. Too much of a good thing is bad for you, the old saying reminds us.

Christ reminds us to be salt of the earth - not too much salt or we become angry fundamentalists. But not too little that no-one would suspect we are Christians. Christ reminds us that we are to be a light to the world. Not too much light or we risk becoming self-righteous and conceited. But not too little light and we easily fall into boredom and mediocrity. Christ reminds us that we are to be a city on a hill. Too high and we risk shouting down at people and living in a fortress. But if we live in a hole we risk being walked over without anyone noticing.

How to we strike the right balance? Maybe it is to take full responsibility for our own souls and the the salvation of others in a way that avoids too much as well as too little. In a world and society that is often so polarized by the tribalism of the right and the left, the conservative and the liberal, the rich and the poor, the native and the newcomer, our natural instincts are always influenced by our sins which either provoke us to anger or to apathy.

What is therefore the right measure of salt, light and Christian witness to the world? The Prophet Isaiah who lived in a time when his own land was strife in wars, political turmoil and uncertainty, provided a recipe with the necessary instructions on the right measures to be applied: In the First Reading today he says "share your bread with the poor" - in other words, do not be selfish, we must always be generous in sharing our plentiful blessings with others regardless who they are. He continues, "Bring the homeless poor into your house" - in other words, provide a safe place and a welcome to the stranger, the lonely, and yes, even the refugee forced into exile. He continues still, "when you see the naked, cover him" - in other words, see and protect the dignity of your fellow man, also, like you and me created in the image and likeness of God.

In short, the right measure of salt, light and Christian witness is what we traditionally call, the corporate works of mercy. Because we are a creative, heroic and a welcoming nation, with values and principles built upon a strong and enduring Judeo-Christian foundation we have nothing to fear. For this reason, Christ also speaking to his disciples in the political, cultural and religious crisis of his own land, reminds us also in the Gospel today, "Let your light so shine before all, that they may see your good works and [most importantly - for this is what it's all about] give glory to your Father who is in heaven". In other words, there is work to be done, for the salvation of souls.

Jan 29, 2017

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

You might remember, in the four weeks leading up to Christmas I asked if you would help collect food packages and place them in St. Joseph's Chapel so that they may be distributed to those in need.  A few days ago, I received a letter from Catholic Charities, our local branch in North County. It wasn't just a "thank you" letter.  It was an eye opener - for it puts into context the impact of simple reaching out to the vulnerable of our community, regardless if our efforts came second nature or were made with much effort or sacrifice. 

(reading of the letter follows that highlights how many families were helped, individuals helped etc.)

I relate these facts and figures of how many families and individuals we have helped, not so that we might make a name for ourselves, or receive recognition or even to get a pat on the back, which in itself is very nice. St. Paul reminds us that we are not to boast of our efforts before God. So how should we respond to this letter?

By cooperating with God's grace, even unknowingly, we can bring to fulfillment what was spoken in today's Psalm. It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind; "the Lord raises up those who were bowed down. The Lord loves the just; the Lord protects strangers." (Psalm 146). It is our privilege and responsibility as Christians to play, even a small part, in God's own work.

We then become deeply aware that every single person, regardless of the circumstances or manner of living their life, has been created in the image and likeness of God. We are able to see every human being, from the unseen embryo to the hardened criminal, as worthy of our love and generosity. Why? God has chosen them to shame us to salvation!

As St. Paul reminds us in our first reading, and to anyone who champions their own rights over innocent and vulnerable human lives when he says, "God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God." (1 Cor. 1:26ff)

Therefore, none of us can boast before God, for everything that we have and receive is given out of His charity. We, in turn, give of ourselves, not to prove we are strong, not to make a name for ourselves, our parish, or our professions or organizations we belong to. No! We do not tell God how good we are. He instead tells us "how good we are" - we are "blessed" - but not because we have done anything deserving of His praise. More times than not, God will not allow us to see nor experience the fruits of our works, our charity or even our prayers be it for others or for ourselves.

For example, the poor in spirit might continue to be poor in spirit for the rest of their lives. They are blessed. After the death of a loved one, sorrow and sadness may continue until it takes us to our own grave. They are blessed. One might live a whole life and never be praised or thanked for anything. They are blessed. Many will continue to experience prejudice, suspicion and injustice every day without end. They are blessed. Every day you might have to secretly fight with personal demons and never give up even though you are exhausted. They are blessed. So many unknown men and women are laid to rest without anyone knowing how many lives they saved. They are blessed.

So do we just motor on and wait for our reward in heaven? That's the wrong attitude and the wrong question. We do not claim heaven after death, as if it were a prize because we persevered. Heaven is God's space, where God's Kingdom is perceived in all its fullness and beauty. Because of the courageous witnesses of Christians, for example, the hundreds of thousands who march on Washington every year calling for the protection of unborn innocent human lives and who may never see the fruits of their efforts, or the countless men and women who continually feed the hungry and help bring healing to those in need without end, or the many who fight for the justice and dignity of their brothers and sisters, or those who put themselves in harm's way to extend the gift of freedom - there are indeed little glimpses here and there of heaven on earth, making inroads through this world of ours. The Kingdom of heaven is still being built up brick by brick - even in the midst of our sins, sufferings, fake news or the alternative facts. So, despite it all, always remain a people of hope and have faith in God’s promises that His Kingdom will come.

In short, continue to be a credible witness before others, not just outside in the world, but also within the family of the Church. Continue to actively contribute to the Church’s mission and ministry. Encourage each other by your example, in works of charity and personal compassion, but also in little ways such as when the offering basket comes round, leaving some food at St. Joseph's Chapel - show acts of kindness and welcome to strangers, newcomers and to those around you. Do not sit in your pew like members of the jury when you are meant to be witnesses! Even little acts of generosity and heroic virtue are noticed and they all add up in ways we might never fully understand here and now. But doing so allows God's Kingdom to slowly, gently and firmly take root on His good earth again.

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!"