May 21, 2016

The Holy Trinity

I remember someone telling me, quite smugly, "I don't believe that God exists". I replied, "Describe this 'god' you don't believe exists". They said, "That there's this invisible being up there on a cloud, watching everything you're doing and doesn't care about the pain and suffering in this world."

My reply, "You are absolutely right. I don't believe that the god you described exists either!"  

Do we have to know that something exists for it to be a reality? Do we have to understand something or someone for them to be real? Of course not. We are truly wise when we are humble - when we stand back and admit that there will always be the unknown, mystery, in the depth of our being, throughout all of creation, and beyond.  

But this does not mean that we are simply passive observers of the world that passes by or around us.  Deep within our humanity, almost like a downloaded program, a command routine, we ask can not help but to ask questions - we seek knowledge and meaning, even to that question as to the existence of God.  

Even to think about the question of God’s existence, is to have, at least, some idea of God.  St. Anselm defines God as "that which no greater can ever be conceived" or imagined. Not the greatest thing that I can think or imagine - but that which no greater can possibly be thought of! Ah! But I can imagine an all-powerful God. I can even conceive in my mind the idea of God as Trinity! But God must be greater than my own imagining regardless how good or incredible my thoughts might be! Is it possible to conceive in one's mind, something that is beyond imagination, a possibility beyond the limitations of science and physics?  (If I’ve lost you - don’t worry! I’ve been lost too!)

The Good News is that because our minds can only go so far, little by little, God gently reveals himself to us, slowly unfolding for us the pattern of his unimaginable thoughts (First Reading - Proverbs 8:22-33). We don’t have to be theologians or philosophers. Through the language of harmony and beauty that we sense in the universe, we gain some insight that God is also harmony and beauty himself, but so much more than our perceptions. (Responsorial Psalm 8:4-9).

But proving his existence or trying to understanding what God is, is not our goal.  Experiencing God, is. But not waiting until the end of our earthly life to do so. God has instead opened up the possibility that we can experience him totally and completely through Jesus Christ. God does this, because he wants to have a relationship with you and me.

Christ is God's very own self-portrait! But more than that. A portrait can be looked at from a distance. God, through Christ's humanity, from that first instant of his conception in the womb of Mary, brings us into direct union with him. God, allowed himself to me mothered (for our sake). God allowed himself to live in the limitations of flesh and blood, God with us, reaching out to us, wanting to draw us closer and closer into his divine life, talking to us directly with words we can understand, lives with us intimately in a love that we can experience, sharing in our joys, in our sorrows, in our pain and also our suffering. To know Christ is to know the love and compassion of God.

Christ is God personal, inviting us even into his own experience of being God. What is Christ's experience in our language? But that of the love between Father and Son.  Of course, our experience of this type of relationship is limited to our own experience or only as great as our best imagination. But Christ invites you and me into his very own perfect relationship that he enjoys with the divine - a relationship of the most perfect love between two persons that can ever exist, not contained or constrained by time itself. Christ invites all of us, all humanity, through him, into the very "life" of the eternal God he dares to call “Father”, “Abba”.

Don't try to get your head around this concept of God. Instead, get your heart around Christ and you will find and experience the greatest intimacy, the closeness that God desires with us. Every one of us craves to be brought into this divine love.  In short, we will be restless until we are united and rest eternally within the eternal movement of personal divine love between God as Father, Son and Spirit - the Holy Trinity.

This is all relational, not conceptual or imaginative.  For example, the Virgin Mary shows us how to engage God at all these levels. To God the Father, she is his daughter. To God the Son, she is a mother. To God the Holy Spirit, she experiences the intimacy of God permeating every cell of her body, making her sing with joy!

Always drawn by God's ever closer presence, let us pray we will allow ourselves to enter deeper and deeper into the life of God, so that one day we might touch the very heart of God and see His face perfectly, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

May 16, 2016

Pentecost - Come Holy Spirit

"El día de Pentecostés (al término de las siete semanas pascuales), la Pascua de Cristo se consuma con la efusión del Espíritu Santo que se manifiesta, da y comunica como Persona divina: desde su plenitud, Cristo, el Señor (cf. Hch 2, 36), derrama profusamente el Espíritu.... La vida moral de los cristianos está sostenida por los dones del Espíritu Santo. Estos son disposiciones permanentes que hacen al hombre dócil para seguir los impulsos del Espíritu Santo... Los siete dones del Espíritu Santo concedidos a los cristianos son: sabiduría, entendimiento, consejo, fortaleza, ciencia, piedad y temor de Dios.”

For forty days after his resurrection from the dead, Our Blessed Lord showed himself, at various times and at various locations, that, not only was he alive, but that his work was not over - his mission would continue

And even though he would enter into heaven to take his place there at the right hand of his heavenly Father, he promised that he would be with us always, accompany us on our journey, until the end of time. How? Having prayed for his disciples, he promised to send them the Holy Spirit who would teach and guide them and keep them united in the truth about God.   

The Holy Spirit we talk about is not a spiritual force. In the same way as we speak of God the Father and God the Son, we likewise acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is God, distinct from the Father and the Son, but of the same God-substance. We address the Holy Spirit as Lord. The Holy Spirit is personal. And as God, we worship the Holy Spirit as we do our heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Let’s put the Holy Spirit in Context.

When the earth was formed, He was the breath of God the Father that swept over the first waters of the earth pollinating the great seas with life. The Holy Spirit filled the lungs of Adam and so breathed the first man. And in the gospel we read that Jesus, the New Adam breathed the Holy Spirit into the apostles, so that they might be his presence in the world. 

It is that same Holy Spirit who has been given to us when we were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. What we now call Confirmation, seals us with the Holy Spirit we have received in baptism so that, in this sacrament, we become a new creation. 

And as such the Holy Spirit gives us strength and power to become authentic witnesses to our Catholic and Christian faith. As such, we can identify at least seven supernatural gifts in particular that the Holy Spirit gives us, supernatural gifts that are sealed securely and planted firmly in our Christian character. We identify them from the words of Scripture. The prophet Isaiah spoke of them as the identifying characteristics of the future Christ/Messiah (Isaiah 11) . As these characteristics will be given to you, you will be identified with the spirit of Christ - you will be His witnesses, his representatives to the world.  And what are those 

1. Understanding 2. Knowledge 3. Wisdom 4. Right Judgment 5. Reverence 6. Courage 7. Fear of the Lord.

1. Let me start first with Fear of the Lord. Not every fear is good. But when the Holy Spirit prompts us to turn away from sins because we can see and are afraid of the consequences of sin – that type of fear is holy and good. When we fear losing God, the Holy Spirit is at work in us.

2. The Holy Spirit’s gift of courage.  We need this divine gift of fortitude, of strength and courage to help us battle with sin, with evil and when our faith is tested or attacked. We would be fools to think that we can defeat the enemy of our souls and our faith by our own natural abilities. We need the divine armor of courage so that we might not cave in under intimidation. St. Paul reminds us of this when he boldly states, ‘I can do all things in him who strengthen me”.

3. The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of reverence, sometimes called Piety. Reverence is not simply formal respect for what is holy. Anyone can be respectful of sacred buildings and beliefs. Piety can also often be mistaken for attention to detail in religious devotion. This, of course can be self-motivated. Instead this gift of the Holy Spirit allows us to appreciate closeness to God as a son or daughter of our heavenly Father. It is in places such as a Church building we become aware of our sacred relationships with God and others through what we see and sense around us – that God is not distant. This gift allows us to sense the mysterious presence of God. So we give him his place and trust him more and more, even though he is shrouded in mystery.

4. And from this mystery the Holy Spirit can also give us the gift of understanding how God is truly involved in our lives and world. To Understand God, our souls must first be purified from sin so that our view of the world is not distorted. The Holy Spirit allows us to understand why God loved the world so much, why God loves me despite my sinfulness and resistance.

5. With this gift comes also the gift of Knowledge. The Holy Spirit can allow us to truly discern what there is in this world that brings us closer to God and to know also what gets in the way. By this gift, the Holy Spirit as an appraiser of the things we hold on to and teaches us not to be afraid of letting go, to be humble and to accept the true values of the things around us.

6. The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of Wisdom. Wisdom does not come from books. It is when God enlightens our mind and we can see the world from his perspective. To be truly wise is to be truly at peace trusting that God’s plan ultimately makes sense.

7. And finally we will also pray that the Holy Spirit will renew in us the gift of right judgment, so that we can make decisions that are right and true, even when doing so demands sacrifice. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us come to the knowledge of the truth through the formation of our conscience so that with the Holy Spirit’s help, our minds will always see clearly in order to make the right decisions about the direction my life must take.

The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit – let us pray that these gifts will be kept strong in your lives, confirmed and sealed with the Holy Spirit!  

May 6, 2016

Ascension into heaven

Recently I had the opportunity, a privilege, to preside over a funeral of one of our parishioners, at Holy Cross Cemetery in San Diego. Founded in 1919, and located east of downtown San Diego, it is 40 acres of holy ground. In its 95 year history over 65,000 individuals have been buried in its consecrated soil or interned in or around the chapel.  One day, after I have breathed my last, I hope to have my body also buried in its holy ground in a section reserved for priests.  There, my body will wait for the final day where I will rise again. It is my hope that I will be in good company! But what will I see?

Many of us have a very poor imagination about the "afterlife". We often talk about our souls going to heaven, gladly leaving behind a world of pain and suffering. Death becomes for many the way to escape from all our burdens, from the cruelty and injustices of this world. We sometimes say that someone has "gone to a better place".  We are often tempted to imagine heaven and earth as two different locations - one place is spiritual where everything is eternal, and the other is physical where in time things get older and eventually decay and crumble.

But it may come to you as a surprise, that nowhere in the Bible does it actually say that after our death, our souls go on to another world and there, in that other place, we live on as spiritual beings for all of eternity.

Even though, the Gospel tells us that Jesus, resurrected from the dead in a glorified body and after forty days is lifted up into heaven beyond our sight, the message given to us is not that we are to wait it out on earth and then "jump ship" to follow him to the better place of heaven.  Instead, we are told, wait "here" on "this" earth - wait "here" because He will be returning.  And when He has returned, what will He bring? He will bring heaven.

Just when we think that we have to wait for this to happen sometime in the future, and in the meantime learn and practice the Ten Commandments and be good so that one day we can "graduate" from boot camp and move up to the next level - the Good News of Jesus Christ is that He is already bringing heaven to earth, right now, right before our eyes even though we might not be able (at this time) to always see it.

If we have the Spirit of Jesus breathing through every cell of our body, does not our faith assure us that somehow we are already living life "on earth as it is in heaven"?   When we enter into the Sacraments of the Church and encounter Christ's true and substantial presence in the Eucharist, are not heaven "and" earth  full of His glory"?  When we live Christ's Sermon on the Mount and embrace the Beatitudes in our everyday lives, we do not pray "get me out of here"! We instead say, "Thy Kingdom come".

Yes, of course there is a difference between heaven and earth, and at times they can seem so far apart. But that's not God's doing. That's ours! When we concentrate on spiritual needs and neglect physical needs, or the other way around. When we are more interested in doing good things at the expense of being good ourselves. When we are all faith and no works, or all busy without allowing God's grace to keep us humble. Hell is the stomping ground of  "Jackal and Hyde". Heaven is the perfect union of the human and the divine in one person.  That person of course is Christ himself. And where is He to be found? [Hint: "The Lord be with you...  And...] Can I say with St. Paul, "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me". And can I hear Christ say, "as long as you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me?"

So after I die and my mortal remains are laid to rest, and then in the twinkling of an eye, I rise up from my grave in a new and glorified body, what will I hope to see? I look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, recognizable from the tiny glimpses I have already been privileged to see (through little slits in the vale) - of a paradise restored - as it was in the beginning, is now and ever will be, a world without end. Amen.

Apr 30, 2016

Sixth Sunday of Easter

If there was one line in the gospel we have just heard and is worth remembering again and again, it is this. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27)

Our Lord have left us a gift. But this gift is not placed on a shelf to be discovered, looked at with admiration or curiosity. Nor is it placed somewhere remote or hidden and then we are asked to search for it -  like a game of hide and seek.  Nor is it something like an online gift registry where Our Lord highlights certain essential items he has chosen for us to make our lives more meaningful and all we have to do is scroll down the list and check off what we are in need of!

Instead, he tells us that he "leaves" us this gift, and then immediately tells us he “gives” it to us. In other words, Christ personally gives us this gift, right into our hands. He leaves it in our safekeeping. He trusts us with its ownership. It has been given!

Of course, his gift is the gift of peace. But let’s be careful. When we think of peace we are often tempted to think of it only in terms of what happens “after” a period of violence, anger or hostility - like the calm “after” the storm. That type of peace is more often a “relief”, a cherished opportunity to catch one’s breath again, an opportunity to begin to restore what was broken or destroyed. Of course, these opportunities must be continually welcomed.  

But Christ clarifies - the origin of his gift of peace does not come from defeating the enemy, or negotiations, compromise or settlements, important as these elements may be in particular circumstances. “Not as the world gives, do I give it to you,” Christ reminds us. In other words, the peace Christ gives belongs to him - it is his, it is a gift  of himself to you and me. This gift comes directly from the heart and soul of God himself!

Particularly during this special jubilee year, we have become very familiar and exposed to the gift of Divine Mercy - the cleansing purity of God’s love channeled through the heart of Christ to each one of us - the joyful experience of freedom through God’s forgiveness of our sins.  With Divine Mercy, let us also be familiar and embrace “Divine Peace”, who is also Christ himself.  

He “leaves” this gift of divine peace to the Church for her to be a constant witness to the world of his Gospel message. He continually “gives” us this divine gift of peace, every time we reject the ugliness of anger, revenge, violence and war, “while” turning to him as the source of true peace and justice on “earth as it is in heaven”.

As Our Lord sought to assure his disciples, he assures us now, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. Yes, we can easily let ourselves be troubled by the direction we sometimes see the world going. But by allowing “our hearts” to be troubled, (for the heart is where Christ speaks to us), we can easily be caught up in the same wave of self-destruction we seek to avoid, and we no longer become credible witnesses of the Gospel of Christ.

As a pastor of souls, I would therefore suggest, seek out places where you can hear Christ gently speaking to you. Find time to be quiet, away from the noise and pollution of the world (and do not be afraid to switch off the computer and put away the smartphone!) Christ walked along the roads and pathways of this world, he didn’t run around putting out fires or responding to everyone who wanted attention! How can our hearts be troubled if we allow Christ to guide us through the valley of darkness at “his own pace”, allowing us to be attentive to his gentle, unhurried voice?

Finally, Christ assures us through today’s Gospel that the Holy Spirit will remind us of everything he has said. This is accomplished at every Mass, through the words that follow the Lord’s Prayer when we ready ourselves for Holy Communion: We hear again Christ’s words, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you”.  We will then be asked to extend to others, to be instruments, not of our own understanding of peace, but the gift of divine peace that comes from the heart of Christ.

So, do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. Reclaim and accept the gift of peace that is of God’s own making, always finding the time to rejoice and give thanks that our heavenly Father so very much loved the world (even in its sinfulness) that he sent his Son to live among us, walk with us and guide us along the right path.

Apr 23, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35

Stain begone! Keeping your whites white!

This portion of the Gospel we have listened to begins with the departure of Judas from the Upper Room and his descent into the darkness of the street. His mind made up to betray the Lord. Christ remarks “now is the Son of Man glorified”. Is not Christ glorified while he performed the miracles, in his cross, or by his resurrection? Why “now”, with the simple departure of Judas from the Upper Room?

Keep in mind the second reading, from the Book of Revelation (John 21: 1-5) when we hear that John “saw a new heaven and a new earth.” Now that the traitor Judas had left the sacred company of the other apostles and had departed that sacred space where the Church would gather to celebrate the sacrament of Christ’s priesthood, now it is finally possible to “taste” the glory that awaits the whole world on the great day of Judgment. On that day when all enemies of God will be cast away, the glory of the Lord will shine without distraction.

Even liturgically we spell this out. When we gather together in this sacred place where heaven and earth are renewed, do we not first confess our sins – sending “Judas” out into the darkness, so we can celebrate this sacrament of love in all its glory and without distraction?

Notice what we do before baptism.  We first reject sin, then embrace our faith, and then one is baptized. Keeping our baptismal garment clean is a lifetime event!

How do we do this? Christ gives us a “new commandment” to love one another. Is that new? Is that not an old commandment?  It is a new commandment because Christ tells us to “love one another as I have loved you”. It is new because Christ tells us to imitate his love, which is not a natural love. It is supernatural. It is sacrificial. It is a love that endures through good times and bad. It is a love that gives life, sometimes painfully – but always beautifully. That’s the Cross and resurrection.

Let us ask our blessed Mother Mary, to encourage us to love as Christ did. But not only this. To bear the name of Christian is to be mistaken for Christ, by the way we choose to live, by the decisions we make.  May the cleansing power of the Sacrament of Confession and the strength of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ keep the flame of our Christian charity burning brightly through the grace of compassion we have for the world and the salvations of souls.

(Note - Here it will be helpful to study and reflect on the virtue of charity, modeled perfectly in Christ. Para 1822 - 1829 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is particulary helpful.)

Apr 16, 2016

Good Shepherd Sunday

John 10: 27-30

The image of Christ the Good Shepherd is truly endearing. In a certain sense it provides a level of comfort, protection and belonging. These are noble sentiments and this enduring picture of Christ can evoke on the surface much of these associations.

Yet, on a deeper level, when we listen to, reflect and meditate on Our Lord’s words in this portion of Scripture, there is a deeper level of understanding His identification of Himself, not as any shepherd, but as “the” Good Shepherd. When you hire someone to do the job of looking after a flock they are paid to do good. Yet with Jesus, “His goodness is His own nature and not some added extra gift.” (St. Gregory the Great).

Whereas an ordinary overseer of a flock would get to know the sheep by careful observation, the Good Shepherd knows His flock – Our Lord knows us inside out, He knows what we are made of, what our fears are, our hopes and deepest desires, our dreams. It is this intimate unity, the oneness with Jesus, which helps us understand the term “communion”.

It is this “communion” which the Church enjoys with the Good Shepherd. But many wolfs ceaselessly try to tear apart the flock or scare the unsuspecting sheep into a certain direction where a hidden trap is waiting, even dividing the family, and often, in our own society, trying, as wolves would do in the wild, to force mothers from their lambs, be they born or even in the womb. Wolves too, go after the sick and and elderly. Wolves in sheep's clothing can easily sing Catholic songs, sell Catholic merchandise and appear as angels of light!

A good shepherd knows this. This is why the shepherd's staff is not only to pull back one of the sheep, but like the young David, the shepherd might have a slingshot in his back pocket. He would use this, of course against the wolf, but also to clip the heel of wayward lamb!

If we are to be role models to others, whether we are pastors, teachers, parents or even grandparents, it is not enough to do the good. We have to be goodness itself. Goodness, by its own nature unmasks the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and secures the family through every hardship and danger.

Jesus tells us that He will lay down his life for His sheep. Our Lord does not compare himself to a hero, battling a wolf to the death. What would happen to the remaining flock, their defender having been slain?

In this season of Easter, we are asked to contemplate the Shepherd who alone can lay down his life in death in order to take it up again. In short, this is death and resurrection. A shepherd may get killed for defending the vulnerable. But the Good Shepherd willingly sacrifices His life in order to destroy the greatest predator of humanity – death itself. The Resurrection of Jesus from death gives us the assurance of the ultimate victory of humanity, but that is if we should, of course, wish to share in it.

The upcoming month of May is traditionally dedicated to our Blessed Mother Mary. One of Mary’s titles is “Our Lady of Trust” by which she shows us our proper attitude towards her Son, the Good Shepherd. We remember how the angel greeted her when he announced that she would become pregnant and give birth, “Do not be afraid”.

Mary points us to her Son the Good Shepherd, who in turn tells us “Do not be afraid”. Let us pray that, even in the midst of a world of conflict and division, we can still hear the voice of the Good Shepherd guiding us closer to His heart, which is goodness itself, protecting us under his loving and careful gaze.

Apr 9, 2016

Third Sunday of Easter

John 21:1-14 

On the last week of May in 1940, nine months into the beginning of World War Two, and a year and a half before the United States joined the Allied Forces against Hitler’s invading armies, one of the greatest rescues in military history took place on the shores of France at the beachhead of Dunkirk.  400,000 British and French troops were trapped and pinned down by the advancing German armies. The coast of England was only 50 miles across the sea.

But because of the shallow waters, the large British warships could not reach the men safely to rescue them. The hundreds of thousands stranded on the breaches came under continual fire and bombardment from the enemy forces all around them.  Only some who were brave and strong enough to battle the raging sea made it out to the distant Allied ships. Likewise, many who attempted, drowned or gave in to hypothermia and perished.

A desperate call went out to every shipbuilder and boat owner around the English coast. Messages were sent to secret contacts up the coast in Belgium and Holland to get every vessel they could find and sail to Dunkirk to help rescue the nearly half a million men who were fighting for their lives. 

During the course of ten days, under constant fire, over 700 small vessels - made up of fishing boats, private yachts, coastal lifeboats - came to the rescue and helped evacuate 338,000 stranded men, bringing them out to the Allied Command ships waiting in the deeper waters to receive them.

Consider how this event, historical and epic as it is, applies to us here and now and our experience of being members of the Church.  When we look at the big picture, we can easily compare the Church to a large and mighty ship, navigating her course through time and history amid the raging sea around her, often under fire by hostile forces. Within her, she carries men, women and children of every culture, from every land and every race - the young and the old, clergy and parishioners, the married couples, the single, the young and the children. There is room on board for everyone, for the future of humanity depends on their safety.

Maybe, it is no accident that much attention has been given, during these past days, to the pope’s recent exhortation on the challenges of marriage and family life. It underscores that we are not simply one, huge family, only united in our common faith and understanding of the life of grace. We are also a flotilla of little boats, an armada of ships of different sizes and circumstances, taking on the challenges and casualties of the world.  In the Gospel, it took Peter with all his strength to haul in all the fish himself and secure it at the feet of Our Lord. And maybe, this is what Peter has done again - through Pope Francis - to spread out before the feet of Christ the many different circumstances and challenges of every married couple and their family life.

As he also did in the Gospel, Christ stands again on the shoreline, directing us, asking us to recuse and to help secure the salvation of every member of our common family. Our little unarmed boats in the great ocean, often feeling the stresses and anxieties of life on every side, need the Church’s protection. For within these little boats, the tired and the wounded, the brave and the weak, the stranger and our brothers and sisters are to be brought home

Let us pray for the openness to hear the voice of Christ, and the courage to come to the rescue to help bring on board and welcome with gladness those who fear they have been abandoned and forgotten. There is room for everyone who needs safe passage home, there is also a medic on board and a quiet place for healing, so that when you have regained your strength, there's a place at the table waiting for you in the company of the family of saints.

Responsorial Psalm 30

“I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.”

I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear
and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the netherworld;
you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.