Mar 2, 2015

Second Sunday of Lent

I hope that the novelty of the Season of Lent has not worn thin after just over a week!  We often try to start new beginnings with much enthusiasm. We often attach ourselves to particular points of reference as starting points. The New Year, Ash Wednesday, when I’m 21, at the age of 40. When I get out of school. When I retire.  How long did your New Year resolution last? It’s ten days since Ash Wednesday.  Has anything changed? Has it been hard work? Or did we even begin?

Sometimes when we try to push ourselves we often become easily disappointed when we either fail or when we do not meet our goals. And we seem to be always playing “catch up”, running a little late and arriving a little out of breath.

Here is the good news. It’s not about being pushed. It is about following and seeing.  Christ does not push us up this big mountain. He is not the drill sergeant. No. He leads the way and we follow.  But where does he want to take us?

It’s not so much that he wants to take us to a place. Christ wants to show us something, something that we can not see right now, something over the horizon.

Now, I think all of us have this experience in some way. Do you remember the first time in school you looked through the lens of a microscope, or looked through a telescope, or you arrived to somewhere like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park? And all of a sudden, what was always there before you in everyday ordinariness, it  now exploded with new life.

(I remember as a young boy, my teacher leading us over to his desk and having us, one by one, to look down a microscope at a blade of grass. It was incredible. I was staring at a wall made up of green bricks and glass cement!  And then at university, at an outside astronomy class, the first time I looked through a telescope at what I thought was the bright star in the night sky.  But what I saw was a luminous and yellowish round orb, with a ring around it and nearby what looked like a tiny golf ball! It was the planet Saturn and one of its moons. I was transported to a world seven and a half million miles away. I would never look at the ground beneath my feet or the stars above my head ever in the same way again.)

Now, of course, our life can be full of experiences like this on a much grander scale or at times, we get little glimpses of things wonderful.  But we have to be careful, because sometimes our imaginations, our dreams or even our nightmares can color our perceptions.

We live in a world of sleek advertising, simulations and special effects. When we see something and our reaction is “wow” or “cool” - that’s not what I’m talking about.  It’s not about walking into a world of Alice in Wonderland.  Rather, it’s when you do not see a different world. But it’s when, all of a sudden,  you see the world differently. You can no longer take it for granted or at face value. You see the world, or you glimpse something of it and it brings you to its original purity, or its beauty, its innocence, to its raw strength or in its magnificent majesty or to its most noble simplicity - you see, and dare I say this, you see with the eyes of God!  

Jesus asked his disciples to follow him up this mountain - to see something that would change their way of seeing everything.  But at first, his disciples, like ourselves at times, we tire easily and we get bored with the ordinary routine things. We take for granted what’s around us. “You’ve been to one mountain, you’ve been to them all!” So while they curled up and snoozed, Christ, wide awake, stood on the top of that mountain and bathed himself in the glory of God - he immersed himself the power and purity of divinity - which resonated through him, his body, his clothing - every cell and fiber of his body - it sang with the harmony of God himself. It was beautiful, powerful.

When the disciples rubbed the sleep from their eyes, and somehow got a glimpse of this, a visual hint of Christ’s unique relationship this Father, they didn't say, “wow” or “that’s cool” or “how does he do that”.  The disciples where - and here’s an expression used by the Irish - they were “gobsmacked!” - so astonished, taken aback, blown away with amazement - they were speechless - and even when St. Peter opens his mouth to say something - he starts blabbering nonsense!  But it was something joyous, wonderful - beautiful, powerful.

Christ did not want his disciples to go up another mountain in the same way ever again.  And, of course Mount Calvary, where he would be stretched out between heaven and earth and crucified to death - he wanted to prepare his disciples to see his sacrifice on the cross, not distracted by man’s inhumanity to man, or by the barbarity of being tortured to death. Could they see his sacrifice of his body and blood on the cross as the greatest manifestation of love, human and divine that could ever be made in all the universe?

As a child, when I looked down that microscope for the first time, or when I saw right before me, the rings of Saturn, did I fully understand, really appreciate what I was looking at. When we are allowed to glimpse the power and beauty of God, we often do not understand what we are experiencing at that very moment. But with time, it can change, not the world, it can change our lives.

I would encourage you, when you get a glimpse of the glory of God, don’t try to put it in a bottle, or take a photograph of it. When you go to confession and then within twenty-four hours sin again, do not despair.  Instead, enkindle in your mind what you saw with the eyes of God and ponder on its wonderfulness.  Remember that sense of relief, joy and freedom you experienced when you left the confession box with a lighter step than when you arrived. In those moments when it is dark, try to see once again with the eyes of God.

"I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words. All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,

His cross is every tree.”  
Joseph Mary Plunkett (1887-1916)

Feb 24, 2015

The Journey to Easter - Part One

As guide through this Holy Season which points us towards Easter, I am offering these reflections based on discussions I have begun with some of those who are on the journey into the heart of the Catholic Faith.

The season of Lent is very important especially to those adults who are seeking entry into the Church through the Sacraments of Initiation. We must support them in our prayers and encourage them by our example. It is my hope, all might find these reflections helpful in our own journey of faith.

Step by Step

A “leap of faith” is generally not one big jump from one side of the river to the other. The journey is sometimes as important as the destination.  To that end, I’m offering some “stepping stones”.  

If you use them, take your time. There is no hurry. We will often want to test and secure our footing first before attempting to take the next step. Sometimes we might find ourselves stuck on one stone and a little fearful to move. Be assured, when Jesus invited his disciples into the boat he said to them "Let us go to the other side". The context of that event might be helpful.

Read the Gospel of Luke 8:22-25

Even though a storm developed and the disciples panicked, remarkably Jesus was sleeping. It would seem that he would have good reason to be annoyed with them for disturbing him! Why? He had told them they were going to the other side of the lake. The implication of God telling us this, is that, if we stay on the ship where Christ is (that's the barque of Peter) we "will indeed" get to the other side, regardless of any storm, upset, being thrown off course or distracted by pirates!
The reason is simple. Christ travels with us. It matters not if he is above or below deck, awake or resting, the ship is secure.

Every week, I’ll add a few more steps.  
With perseverance we will get to the other side!

First Reflection:  

What are my own experiences of sickness, suffering, weakness, violence and evil in my own life and in the world around me?

Read Book of Job, Chapter 7 Verse 1 to 6

Meditation on Psalm 68 (in generic Bibles it is usually numbered as 69)
It begins with these or similar words - “Save me Lord for the waters have come up to my neck…”

Second Reflection:

Can someone really be an atheist? “I don’t believe that God exists.” Reply, “Do you care if God exists?” Why do you care? Why do you not care?

Read Book of Job, Chapter 7 Verses 16 to 21

Meditation on Psalm 13  (in generic Bibles it is usually numbered as 14)
It begins with these or similar words - “The fool says in their heart, there is no God…”

Third Reflection:

The difference between knowledge and faith.  “I know” and “I believe”.  Can I say I “know” God?  Can I “believe” that there “is” a God without really having knowledge that God exists? Why is there anything instead of nothing? Can I reasonably assume there is a God? Does knowledge by itself necessarily tell me that God is personal, relational, intimate or even good?

Read Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 17, verses 21 to 32

Meditation on Psalm 8
It begins with these or similar words - “When I see the work of your hands…”

Fourth Reflection:

Think of how big this universe is and the size of this planet in relation to the Sun, the solar system, our galaxy and the millions of galaxies that make up this universe.

Consider that the God who created (from nothing) the universe (which for Him is like what a particle of dust is to us!) - consider that this all-powerful God takes an interest in a small unsophisticated desert tribe of people.  

Read Genesis Chapter 12, verses 1 - 7

Read Leviticus Chapter 26, verses 11- 13

Feb 22, 2015

First Sunday of Lent

In the Desert with Wild Beasts

The Gospel we have just listened to recalls that Christ found himself in the desert in the midst of wild beasts.  We too find ourselves in the midst of a world where there are wild beasts and dangerous creatures of every kind.  I’m not talking about those that we know look menacing and we can easily avoid.

Did you know that one of the most poisonous creatures in the animal world is the box jellyfish. It floats around the warm waters off Asia and Australia. This creature is so transparent that it is practically invisible. It has tentacles that can stretch to nearly ten feet. It’s venom is so poisonous it can cause a heart attack and death within 5 minutes.

Unless someone is fully protected, why would anyone in their right mind go swimming in an environment known to be infested by these type of near-invisible creatures? Because, there are many times when we are not in our right mind.  

Now, when I talked about the box jellyfish, I was careful to note that it was one of the most poisonous creatures in the “animal” world. The all-time most poisonous creature, not nearly invisible, but in fact, truly invisible, that exists in any world, is in fact the devil, and his legion of angels, we call demons.

These creatures, extremely intelligent, will never engage with their prey in open face to face combat.  Think of it like a malicious and devious computer hacker who will try to get into a secure network and once in, attempt to cause damage by disrupting all the protocols and commands. Once inside, the system can easily be manipulated to do things it was not designed to do by its creator.

To illustrate how the devil does this (Bishop Fulton Sheen provides good insight into the whole psychology of temptation) let’s look at the human brain.  From the outside, it looks unremarkable - there is no color to it.  In fact, think of the mind as (and I’m using coded language here) - think of the mind as “fifty shades of grey”. Even though from the outside, it looks nothing remarkable, very plain, even boring, deep within, there is embedded particular impulses - we’ll call them “flammable material”.

The first is “sex” in all its natural purity. It’s the reason we have families - the reason we all have mothers and fathers. In itself, as intended by our Creator, it’s natural. The second natural impulse is that desire to go beyond our limitations, to learn new things, to reach out beyond the stars, to be curious how things work so we can improve our world. A third natural impulse of the mind is to have things, ownership - an external guarantee of security, protection. It’s why we build homes, why we protect our space, what we own.

Each one of these desires are good in themselves. But what happens if an outside agent is able to get into your mind, or expose your mind to evil influence, even remotely?  If you do not have a strong defense, a shield or the assurance of a firewall of some sort, then we open the door and allow, for example, these natural desires, to become corrupted. It begins with the corruption of our thought processes. We start justifying corrupt behavior. We say things like, “everyone does it”, or “this is a free society - we should be free to do anything we want”, or “I am entitled to get what I want, because I’ve earned it”.

This is how the devil can slowly break down our defenses and get inside our minds.  If he stays there and we give him free room and board, what he will want to do is to reprogram our minds, not only to justify bad behavior, but also he will want to get us to repeat the bad behavior again and again and again, creating a unending habit.  Think of how a spider uses his web. One thread is weak and easily broken. But if you are in the habit allowing the spider to circle you, if you do not try to break that habit, your freedom is compromised.

If we do not guard our natural instincts from external manipulation (what we watch, look at and compare ourselves with) and we if do not break bad habits that we will instinctively justify (by saying things like, I’m not breaking the law, or it’s nobody’s business what I do) then not only do we play into the devil’s hand, we will head down the road to suffocating loneliness, desperate anxiety and destructive violence.  And that is to find yourself in a desert with wild animals.

But there is a way out.  Christ has gone into that desert where wild beasts and creatures roam.  He has gone there looking for me and for you - to rescue us from loneliness, the boredom and the emptiness of the desert - to bring us home, to the refreshing waters of Galilee.  How? The Sacrament of Confession gives us the assurance of God’s protective love against the evil one.  It gives us the resolve to break bad habits that we become so accustomed to.  It free us to seek love in all its purity, holiness in all its power and strength and freedom to have, to hold and to give our lives joyfully in the service of our brothers and sisters.

In the Season of Lent, we will continue to have confessions before the Sunday Masses, on Wednesday night at 7pm and throughout north county at various other parishes during the coming weeks. Check the bulletin for local listings!

Feb 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday - Las cenizas

Las cenizas representan el polvo de la tierra en la que, a causa del pecado de Adán, debemos todos volver. A pesar de nuestras miradas, de valores o lo que podría aferrarse a la vida, este polvo de ceniza nos recuerda que todo lo que, a causa de la infestación del pecado en nuestras vidas y su efecto en la creación, todas las cosas ultimamente se convierten en polvo. Incluso el universo, en su propio tiempo, vuelve al polvo cósmico. Con este pensamiento nos mantiene humilde.
Nos marcaan con el signo de la cruz. Hecho de cenizas, no es una hermosa cruz. Es feo. Esto nos recuerda que Jesucristo, que no tenía ninguna mancha de pecado, tomó sobre sí mismo, el la fealdad de todos los pecados y su aguijón - la muerte. No es una cosa bonita.
La cruz se traza en la frente, la parte más expuesta de nuestro cuerpo. Cristo no fue crucificado a puertas cerradas, en privado o en un lugar apartado. Su muerte fue pública. La cruz en la que colgó era para todo el mundo lo viera. Para los soberbios, la cruz es una vergüenza. Para el pecador arrepentido, la cruz inspira la humildad y la gratitud a Cristo para pagar el precio que pagó por mis pecados, cuando debería haber sido yo el castigado y no él.
Finalmente, las cenizas pronto se lavaran. La cruz no es nunca la última palabra. La resurrección de entre los muertos es. Que este tiempo santo de Cuaresma nos lleve a través de la cruz de Cristo, y no alrededor de ella, sino que permita la cruz, como una brújula, que nos apunta en la dirección de la celebración del domingo de la resurrección del Señor. Oremos para que el día de el último juicio, nosotros también participemos en su triunfo de manera que cuando el polvo se soplado lejos, nos encontramos transformados en una nueva creación y vivir para siempre con él, el nuevo y Jerusalén celestial, con todos los ángeles y santos. Hasta que llegue ese día, oremos por a nosotros mismos ya los demás, que las disciplinas y devociones de este tiempo santo se llevan juntos en esta dirección.

Ashes stand for the dust of the earth into which, because of the sin of Adam, we must all return. Regardless of our looks, securities or what we might hold onto for life, this dusty ash reminds us that everything, because of the infestation of sin in our own lives and its effect on creation, all things ultimately turn to dust. Even the universe, in her own time, returns to cosmic dust. With this thought we are kept humble.

We are marked with the sign of the cross. Made of ashes, it is not a beautiful cross. It’s ugly. It reminds us that Jesus Christ who had no stain of any sin, took upon himself, the ugliness of all sins and its sting – death. It is no pretty thing.

The cross is traced on our forehead, the most exposed part of our body. Christ was not crucified behind closed doors, in private or in a secluded place. His death was public. The cross on which he hung was for the whole world to see. For the proud, the cross is an embarrassment. For the repentant sinner, the cross inspires humility and gratitude to Christ for paying the price he paid for my sins when it should have been me punished and not Him.

Finally, the ashes will soon wash off. The cross is never the last word. The resurrection from the dead is. May this holy season of Lent lead us through the cross of Christ, and not around it, but instead allowing the cross, like a compass, to point us in the direction of the Sunday celebration of the Lord’s resurrection. Let us pray that on the day of final judgment, we too will share in his victory so that when the dust is blown away, we will find ourselves transformed into a new creation and live forever with him the new and heavenly Jerusalem with all the angels and saints. Until that day comes, let us pray for ourselves and each other, that the disciplines and devotions of this holy season will lead us together in this direction.

Feb 15, 2015

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

"He, (that's Christ), remained outside in deserted places and people kept coming to him from everywhere." There is a sense of irony here in this last line from the Gospel passage we have just listened to. Christ, who so often would be preaching in the towns and villages would now forced to stay outside, while the leper, once exiled to these places, was now back in the midst of the towns and villages.

What is Christ's attitude to sickness and disease? Our modern English translations say that Christ was "moved with pity". The older more literal translations say that Christ was "provoked with anger' this is at the core of what we mean by the word "compassion". "Com" means "with" - compassion - with passion - that same passion which moved Christ to throw out the moneychangers in the temple. It is along these lines that we identify crimes of passions with anger.

With a person contaminated with leprosy, Christ is moved with anger for he sees before him an example of how the beauty and nobility of man has been distorted and ruptured by sickness and disease (which were never intended by God for humanity). Christ is moved with anger at how this son of Adam has been cast into the wilderness by his brothers and sisters when God had declared, when he formed Adam, that it was not right that man should be alone.

Today’s Gospel was first read to the early Christians of Rome who were being persecuted by their fellow citizens, who treated them harshly like lepers, outcasts. Might we be reminded, maybe as the early Christians were, that to be a Christian is to often go against the trends and attitudes found or taken for granted in our society, that in many ways we do not fit in, any more than Christ himself who was cast out of the city and abandoned on a cross. It was there on that cross that Christ took upon himself that sickness and disfigurement of all humanity – that of sin and death.

Like a leper Christ was stripped down and hung on the cross, and most of his disciples kept their distance from him. As he did so in the gospel this Sunday to the man who asked for cleansing, through the sacrifice of the Mass, and as he does so in the healing of the soul offered in Confession, Christ stretches out his hands from Calvary, touches us all, and from the cross says to us, "Be cleansed". But we have to have the courage to go to him.

“Let us consider here, dear friends, if there be anyone here that has the taint of leprosy in their soul, or the contamination of guilt in their heart. If anyone has, let them adoring God, say, “Lord if you wish, you can make me clean”. (Origen) May each one of us be able to hear Christ's reply, "I do will it. Be made clean".

Feb 8, 2015

Diocesan Annual Catholic Appeal

If you wanted something to cheer you up, the selection of Scriptures chosen for this Sunday may not actually help!  The first lines and last lines from the Prophet Job in our first reading are not exactly, what I would say, a refreshing cup of tea.  What a way to begin your day, with Job, as he nudges you in the ribs with his elbow and tells you, in his sweet melancholic, monotonous and depressing groan, he says, “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” And “I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me”.  “I shall not see happiness again.”   It’s like that big message board you might see when you’re driving past a place of worship - “Don't let your worries kill you. Let the Church help!”

Yet in a strange way, the Church is here to help. How? As I have become older, this body is not as strong as it used to be. My eyesight is weaker. My hearing is definitely not good. My joints are starting to ache a little more and more. I suppose the only thing that doesn't get ruffled is my hair! I look out at the young men and women, with all their vitality, energy, strength and enthusiasm for life.  Sometimes, I will sulk like Job and wonder where all my energy has gone.  

Do you ever notice, that the older you get, the more you seem to spend on trying to keep yourself young or younger? The supplements, the gym membership, the moisturizers, the exercise machine, the new gadgets, fads and fashions to help us be effective and efficient so that we can do things quicker, easier? As the body does get older, there are more trips to the doctor, the dentist, the dermatologist. Our bodies do need, not only more maintenance as the day goes on.  

One of the most beautiful ways to describe the Church, is also by way of a “body”.  Not a corporate body in the business way, or even a church body in a denominational sense.  But a true body. A body that is as young and tender as a baby of Bethlehem, a body that is as resilient and as resourceful as a young carpenter from Nazareth, a body that is as strong and as energetic as a traveling preacher of Nazareth who walked the hills of Judea (and walked on the waters of Galilee). A body that allowed children to climb upon it, a body that embraced the sick and the dying, a body strong enough to endure hardship, violence and brutality.  A body tough enough to carry on its back the full weight of the cross.  A body that died and rose from the grave, gloried, powerful, miraculous.  

The Church is the Body of Christ - Christ’s body. And it is this body that we, as members, have to look after, support, maintain and strengthen, so that the vitality of Christ’s Body is still effective today as it was two thousand years ago.  Let me give you an interesting statistic.  How many people did Christ minister to while He walked among us two thousand years ago - what was the population of the Holy Land during his day? Just over three million people.  How many people live in what we might call the present day ‘Holy Land” of San Diego county.  Just over three million - the same number of people live in San Diego County today that liked in the Holy Land where Christ walked the roads and preached on the streets. And we include the Imperial Valley County - our own road to Jericho.

Where is the Body of Christ in our day, healing, preaching, reaching out in mercy to sinners, to believers, to those in prison, to those thirsty for truth and justice?  Where do we see Christ forgiving sins, bandaging wounds, offering the sacrifice of His Body and Blood to a local population of 3 million souls from every walk of life? We are to see Christ’s Body, Christ at work, through our Local Church - what we commonly call the Diocese of San Diego.  Christ continues to preach, teach and perform miracles, through our 99 Catholic parishes, our Catholic schools, our ministries throughout the county to those in jail, on the streets and in need of modern day good samaritans.  

We are members, we make up, build up his body.  That is why every year, we make this appeal. First, that we see the big picture - the immense challenges of bringing the gospel message to millions in our own local area.  And we are doing that. After Mass, you will be given a little brochure that gives you, like a photo snapshot, of what is already being done locally by the Church in the name of Christ.  

Second, Christ relied on the generosity and sacrifices of others - his disciples -for us to help him extend his healing and saving reach. My support and your support of this special yearly appeal, helps to keep the Church, Christ’s Body, His life and his message and mission, alive.  

We invest in our own body to get us through the day. Let’s invest in Christ’s body, His Holy Church, to get, not just us, but all of the three and a half million people who live in the San Diego and Imperial valley counties.  It is going to take effort, strength and a sacrifice.

But we are not going to jump into this great challenge and divine adventure impulsively.  As we have just read in the gospel for this Sunday, having been presented with the big picture and needs of so many people hungry and thirsty for God, Christ did not jump into his campaign bus and drive around the holy land trying to fix everything. Instead, be began his day, not with a strategy meeting or problem solving committee.  He began by taking himself away to a secret and hidden place to pray.  It didn't last long, for they came looking for him. But Christ shows us, first and foremost, before we enter into the battlefield of life - let us not begin our day with Job and his complains about his life and the state of the world.  Start your day giving God some real time, thank him for the day and the opportunities he will give you to continue and further the mission and ministry of Christ, in this new Holy Land we call home.

The overall goal for the ACA is $ 3.5 million. That’s also the same number of the people within the territory of our diocese. How many individuals do you want to help?  Contribute here CLICK

Feb 1, 2015

Fourth Sunday of the Year

Although, the people who encountered Jesus did not know him as yet as “God with them”, the demons knew. They even shouted out in horror and fear, for they knew that through the eyes of Jesus of Nazareth, God was looking right at them!

You see, the devil and his demons are theologians with true knowledge about God. They are not atheists!  They know that God exists.  In fact the devil is very spiritual. He knows about the complexities of the soul - his demons know the hidden fears of the human heart, the thirst and hunger each person has for God.  They are theological and spiritual experts. But they are without faith, forever obstinate, forever stubborn in his refusal of God. This fallen angel is a perpetually burning furnace of pride and arrogance.

When Christ came upon those possessed by evil spirits and demons, what did he actually see? What did God see through the eyes of Christ? Did he see demons before him like frenzied hyenas with blood-red eyes and razor sharp fangs and claws, dark creatures with flattering bat-wings?

I would say no.  The gaze of God saw, first and foremost, children with diseases, men and women suffering from sickness and epidemics, those enslaved by addictions and disorders.  In short, God saw first and foremost our injuries and our ailments. God looked at us through the eyes of Jesus and his gaze was one of compassion, not revulsion - his gaze was one of mercy, not disgust. The loving and tender gaze of Christ, like a powerful sword, cut through the devil suffocating cloud, it evaporated the demonic hold.  

God saw right through them and saw you and me, in all our weaknesses, vulnerabilities and brokenness. God gives us the attention, not the demons. He doesn't even allow them to speak theology.  Christ will instead patiently wait for his disciples to acknowledge him as Lord and savior, and to do so, not out of fear, but from faith and love.

What does this tell us? We can not pride ourselves in simply having the true knowledge about God.  The devil, in fact, knows more than we do!  Instead, we should not be afraid to look at Christ, and to look at him eye to eye.  But to do so takes great courage on our part, for we must, in a way, “capture” his gaze - allow it to purify us of any pride, selfishness and recklessness. Christ gaze is disarming - and that is true liberation.  

So that we may see the face of God and live, may our preparation for Holy Communion with our Lord always begin with a careful examination of our souls, not simply in the light of our knowledge of the faith, but also and in particular under the gaze of Christ’s mercy and healing, so generously made available in the Sacrament of Confession.