Sep 14, 2014

The Exaltation of the Cross

The origins of this commemoration are rooted in the historical excavations around Christ's tomb in the year 326 and the discovery within it of the dismantled wood of His Cross. Historical archives tell us that one portion of the wood was sent to ancient Constantinople. Another portion was enshrined in Jerusalem. And a third portion of the wood was sent to Rome.  (From the Roman portion, a very small fragment was detached and sealed in a gold pendant and given to this church. It is secured on our Crucifix and visible just beneath the feet of Christ.)   

It is fitting then, that in the heat of the summer, when the trees have reached their height and are fully green with life, we should now meditate on the life-giving wood of the Cross of Christ.

It began with a tree in a garden, Eden. There humanity, represented by Adam and Eve came face to face with the Tree of Life. God asked them to respect it, not to eat of its fruit; they were to be dependent on Him directly as their sustenance. 

In this seemingly bizarre incident in the Old Testament, it seems strange that the serpent, which featured prominently in the Garden of Eden as the deceiver, should now be presented to us as the instrument of healing! But remember, the serpent is only able to deceive us if it crawls on the ground unseen. The devil, like a serpent, slips through every crack, hides in every shadow. If you were to lift it up on a pole, up into the air - the serpent is deprived of its hiding place - it is exposed to the light and in that light it is deprived of its power to cause injury and harm. Our greatest fear is exposed. The sins of humanity, lurking in the darkness of every shadow are now lifted out of the murky waters. Only when fear is replaced by faith in the triumph of good over evil, can true healing and harmony be restored to the fragile disposition of human life.

But Adam and Eve in that moment of satanic deception became distracted. They listened to the whisperings of the serpent. They forgot they were created in God’s image and likeness - that they had life, life to the full. And by reaching out and pulling off that fruit of the tree they were told by God not to touch, they interfered, upset and destroyed the perfect harmony of all of creation. Now they lusted over the fruit of every tree. No earthly concoction or remedy could take away the bitter taste of this original sin of humanity.

In the Old Testament, when God sent the still hungry Hebrew people the miraculous Manna in the desert, they were at first overjoyed. But later we hear the people crying out to Moses, “We are disgusted with this wretched food!" So God let loose fiery serpents that bit those who complained. Some of the people died from their wounds, but the repentant asked Moses to intercede with God for them. We are then told that God instructed Moses to fashion out of bronze, the image of a serpent, place it on a pole, lift it up and whoever gazed upon it would be healed. (In fact, this image of the serpent coiled around a pole is preserved today as the symbol of the healing professions.)

In the beginning of the Old Testament, God warned us to stay away from the first Tree of Life, which was attractive to the eye.  At suggestion of the devil we rushed at it, to devour its fruit. And we have paid the price. But the fruit of this new tree, the Tree of the Cross, the devil has reversed his strategy. He would want us now to stay away from it. Why? Because its new fruit is the forgiveness of our sins - reconciliation with God.

This is why the Sacrament of Confession and the Sacrament of the Altar are so closely aligned. Do not let the devil intimidate you from approaching the Sacrament of Confession. It is here where we dare to first stand beneath the Cross of Christ and hear his gentle and healing words of forgiveness, before partaking of its fruit.

To be gathered around this altar, grace flows out in every direction. Those who strive to live the life of Christ through His Body, the Church, who continually seek mercy, forgiveness and healing, are invited to taste and to be strengthened by the very substance of Christ's Body and Blood in Holy Communion. When we are not ready to approach the Sacrament of the Altar, we can still, nevertheless, experience His love and mercy simply and effectively through a deep longing for Him - we call it a "Spiritual Communion" - the Holy Spirit stirring up in our souls a Holy restlessness and a profound sense of the sacred that beckons us to step back for a while.

In the Garden of Eden, Old Eve gave the Old Adam a taste of the old fruit, which quickly went bad. And so began the downward journey! Now, in a reversal, ascending the hill of Calvary, Mary the New Eve gives us a new fruit, the fruit of her womb, Jesus our Savior. May we never be afraid to climb the mountain of the Lord, to stand with her beneath the Cross of Christ and to partake, with appetites refreshed through mercy, the Life-Giving Fruit of the Tree of Life.

Sep 6, 2014

The Death of our Bishop

Most Rev. Cirilo Flores D.D.
 June 20, 1948 - September 6, 2014

Bishop Cirilo Flores had been diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer. The disease, which was in his bones, was reported to be very widespread and aggressive. There was, unfortunately, no treatment. 

During his brief time as our bishop, Bishop Flores visited St. Margaret's on four separate occasions. The first was a private visit to tour the "new" church. He later returned when the parish hosted a graduation ceremony for a local university. The bishop choose St. Margaret's for an ordination to priesthood for the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. And, of course, we will remember him very fondly for his pastoral visit, preaching at all the Sunday Masses and then enjoying the family fiesta atmosphere at our parish picnic.

It is our well founded hope that Cirilo Flores will see God face to face and enjoy His presence forever.  On this side of heaven, what can we do? We pray that God will give his soul all the necessary graces to bring him safely through the gates of death to his eternal home of heaven. We can also offer up our own sufferings and do penance on his behalf so that he can be detached from all the cares and worries of this world.

Bishop Flores was always a family man, enjoying the company and good cheer of people around him. He was particularly close to our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. We can be assured that Our Lady will take him now by the hand and lead him to her Son, Our Lord, into the company of the great family of heaven.

Eternal rest grant into him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faith departed, rest in peace. 

Aug 30, 2014

22nd Sunday Ordinary Time

Choose whose side you are on!

In today’s Gospel, Christ reminds His disciples of the cost of following Him - the Cross.  To follow Christ is to march with Him to Jerusalem - not to conquer the city, but to offer our lives in sacrificial love.  This means, we are being tested in the battlefield. If we do not follow in behind Christ and support His strategy, not only will we fail, but we will die miserably in a spiritual darkness of our own making.

Let’s look at two battles going on right now which have captured our attention.  First, the deadly Ebola disease outbreak in western Africa.  When those infected by this disease dismiss it as a simple sickness that will pass with time, or when family members and local communities refuse to seek professional medical attention, then death and destruction will inevitably follow.

Second, consider the ISIS terrorists who call themselves the Islamic State. The violence, brutality and destruction follows like a wildfire when more and more become drunk with evil and lust over the thrill of inflicting pain and destruction on the vulnerable.  The hatred and barbarity spreads further and further when those of influence ignore the cries for help or when good people simply say nothing.

When Christ told his disciples that they there were to follow Him to Jerusalem, they probably got excited and presumed that He would call down fire from heaven and destroy the enemy. But no!  When Christ revealed to His disciples that God’s strategy for ultimate victory was the crucifixion, St. Peter reacted naturally with panic, distress and opposition.    

We have a natural fear of pain and suffering. That instinct runs deep within us - the instinct of self-preservation.  Think of what a child has to do in order to learn something as basic as riding a bicycle - to reach that stage of lifting both feet from the ground and going forward unaided. If you want to learn to swim, at some stage you must lose the flotation devices and go into deeper water, lifting your feet from the security of the bottom and conquering your fear.  It’s not easy. But with the right mindset and the correct strategy what was seemingly impossible can now be accomplished.   

If we are to be counted as followers of Christ, we are not given an option by Him to follow Him on our own terms. Christ tells us emphatically what the Christian strategy is - we must deny ourselves, we must go against our natural instincts for self-preservation and comfort and carry the Cross.

In the spiritual battlefield, the devil uses the tactics of fear - the fear of pain, fear of being uncomfortable, fear of burden, fear of death. Our weapon against him is the Cross of Christ. Carrying our cross is not an endurance test to make us stronger or more resilient. That would be selfishness camouflaged by the appearance of heroism. The Cross we must carry into life’s battlefield instead assures us that the devil has ultimately lost, despite how many are held captive by him.  The Cross always points to the resurrection of Christ and God’s victory over the devil and even death itself.

We can experience this in many ways, both simple and profound.  A husband and wife are strengthened in their love and commitment to each other because they have persevered through trials and difficulties. Friendships endure and are made stronger when burdens are shared. A young girl overcomes her fear that her unborn baby will be a burden, not a joy. Souls are saved when we do penance and offer our time and efforts to causes greater than our own comforts.  A doctor, nurse or priest who out of love for what is good, is inflected by a deadly disease because they put someone else’s life ahead of their own. Or a reporter in the battlefield, who knows the risk of his capture by the enemy, but out of love for justice and truth, will allow his own death to to be a catalyst to move into action a public and political opinion that prefers to play it safe.

In 1864, at the publication of Darwin’s theory of human evolution, an English politician Benjamin Disraeli responded, “ ‘The question is this: Is man an ape or an angel?’ I, for one, am on the side of the angels”.

You cannot be a follower of Christ by sitting on the fence.  Ultimately you must choose which side you are on. There are only winners or losers, because the truth is that there is ultimately only heaven or hell.  Let us pray that our faith will move us towards the heavenly Jerusalem and that, keeping our eyes on Christ the Good Shepherd who goes before us, we will follow His lead and take up the Cross every day while we still have breath.

Aug 23, 2014

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Whether we gather for Sunday mass in whatever numbers, as Catholics we do so in union with our extended family in union with Francis our Pope, and Cirilo bishop. This is the hallmark of our Catholic faith, our Catholic culture and our particular way of life - the great emphasis on family and community.

Our faith, although personal, is never a private affair. It spills over into the life of our family, touches the hearts of our friends and it can even be seen and even recognized from the streets! What holds it all together, and has done so throughout two thousand years, is a gift from God. It is our family loyalty - from the truth of our Catholic faith that has been handed down to us from the apostles. And it is from the special role and grace God has given to St. Peter and his successors to look after the Household of the Lord, the family of God, the flock of Christ, the Bride of the Lamb – the Church.

To understand and appreciate the position of authority given to Peter by Christ, the First Reading from the Old Testament provides an introduction. It sets in context the circumstances by which God hands over the keys of his house to a new occupant.

From the First Reading we hear that Shebna was the master of the palace in Jerusalem. And as such, in those days of old, he was in a position not unlike a Secretary of State. But in the face of war and political rivalries, instead of falling back on the strength that God promised the Chosen People, Shebna sought political alliances and compromises with the pagan enemies. He fell back on his own strength, his own intuitions and resources. Instead of trusting God to defend his people, he was arrogant, presumptuous, easily influenced by the opinions and religious and military strategists of his day. He was “master of the palace”, he was distinguished in the eyes of the world, he knew that when he spoke, it carried weight and respect from those who either feared him, or from those who sucked up to him for titles and prestige. “No”, says God. This is not one who can be like a “father” to my people. This is not one who can be faithful to my word, but this is instead someone who corrupts my revelation to the People of Israel with his own words, not mine. Shebna was sacked!

A mere servant, Eliakim, replaced the master of the palace and was given by God authority to speak on behalf of the Almighty, to guarantee faithfulness to God’s revelation of himself in the covenant established between the heavens and earth. Let no worldly power or ambition, speculation or novelty speak on behalf of God, but only the one to whom God has given the keys of his household!

Because the apostle Simon Peter knew his weakness and vulnerability, his frailty in the presence of God, heaven was able to speak through him. At the baptism of Christ, God the Father spoke loud and clear that “This was my beloved Son”. Here, in Caesarea Philippi, in an area heavenly influenced by pagan culture, again God the Father spoke, and this time through the voice of Peter declaring that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Peter had spoken with infallibly.

The keys of God’s household, given to St. Peter (our first pope) by Christ, have been handed down without interruption for two thousand years from the hand of one pope to the next, each given the responsibility to look after the family and the needs of the children. But where there not sinful popes who gave scandal. Indeed. And, in those times when “papa” was distracted, preoccupied or even sometimes absent from the table, it was those noble and older sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters the saints, who often came to the rescue to help feed and shelter the younger children. That what family does! And was, no doubt, hard at work behind the scenes!

In these days when our Catholic faith, identity and family way of life is often challenged, let us pray for our Holy Father Pope Francis who, as a kind and loving father, has gathered the family around him to tell them of the wonderful stories of our salvation passed down from one generation to the next, unlocking, in his kind, gentle and loving way, the secrets of the Kingdom of God.

Aug 17, 2014

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The themes of offering are dominant in the Scriptures today. The Old Testament reading speaks of the Prophet Isaiah bringing to the holy mountain of God burnt offerings and sacrifices to be placed on the altar on behalf of all God’s people. The conversation recorded in the gospel between Christ and the Canaanite woman talks about the bread which was to be typically placed on the table of the Lord as an offering for the salvation of the Chosen People and how even the crumbs left over can bring God’s grace to all who know themselves to be hungry for salvation.

In the very early Church, there were various ways in which the bread and wine were prepared at the altar. Parishioners would have sometimes brought the bread and wine themselves, and sometimes other food to be distributed to the poor or for family assistance. As time went on and numbers increased, the present practice of passing around the basket became more practical. The bread and wine, rather than brought from home, the priest himself would purchase it so that it would have the correct ingredients. Only unleavened bread is used, as well as wine made only from grapes with no additives.

In sacred language, what we see as the bread, we call a “host”. Think of a host as someone who offers what they have for the benefit of others. In the prayers of preparation, the bread and wine become the host - in a way they offer themselves, place themselves at the disposal of God’s power.

Is this not what Christ became, our host, offering himself to his heavenly Father as the sacrificial victim on our behalf on the cross. To remind us of this, when incense is used, the priest makes a sign of the cross with the smoke, three times – a reminder of the three hours Our Lord suffered on the cross. When incense is used and its sweet smoke rises upward from over the bread and wine, we prepare ourselves visibly for the direction the host will give itself. You might notice that the priest would also use the incense to “draw” three circles above the hosts on the altar.

We are reminded that the bread and wine are the first elements in all of creation that will be changed, not only into the substance of the Risen and heavenly Jesus Christ, but also through him, with him and in him, brought into the very life of the Holy Trinity itself.

Because we are invited into a sacred and heavenly banquet, we can no longer see every crumb that falls from the master’s table as insignificant or something to simply clean up and dispose of with the swipe of a brush. The Sacred Host in Holy Communion carries the actual substance of salvation and eternal life.

For this reason, every crumb and visible particle is worthy of adoration and reverence, yes, even worship. Notice the attention the Church directs her priests to account for every crumb as the sacred vessels are purified after Holy Communion. By the same token and example, for those who put out their hands for Holy Communion, must likewise ensure they are spotless and they are extremely cautious about even the smallest crumb (cf Matthew 14:36) for even priests imprisoned in Nazi Concentration Camps or jailed by the communist governments, heroically offered Mass in their prison cell using as a host, only a crumb of bread and a drop wine smuggled in inside a thimble.

Christ praised the faith of an outsider who understood the language of salvation. May he too find praise for you and me who can often presume we are entitled to this gift and that our salvation is easily given.

The Assumption of Mary, Body and Soul, into heaven

Our Christian faith looks upon the human physical body not only with respect but also with reverence. The body is a sacred form, substance through which God communicates his love to the world. We first encounter this in the Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve. Humanity is formed first in a physical form. Only when it is infused, animated with the breath of God does Adam becomes a “living being” (Gen. 2:7). In God’s original design, the body and the soul are not two opposites held together in an awkward relationship. God revealed his power and beauty through the human form of Adam and Eve, from their head to their feet. But sadly, the entry of sin into the world threw everything off balance, out of sync – the damaging shock waves permeating throughout all creation even effecting time itself which made new things old and old things to decay and die. (CCC 1008) Only God himself could push back this cosmic tsunami. And God does so through his Son Christ, the New Adam. This is the theme St. Paul talks of in the second reading.

Reflecting on this theme, St. Irenaeus (135-202) (in his Refutation of the False Gnosis ) describes how Christ enters into this wounded world and by obedience to the Father to the point of dying on the tree of the cross reverses the disobedience of the first Adam which had come through the tree of the garden. If Christ is the New Adam, then we see Mary also in a new light and involved intimately in the plan of salvation. As Eve was seduced by a fallen angel and disobeyed God, Mary as the new Eve received with joy the good news from a holy angel and obeyed God in total faithfulness, communicating the salvation of all creation in a very physical way – her pregnancy of the Son of God. (CCC 148, CCC 411) The Virgin Mary most perfectly “embodies” the obedience of faith.

On behalf of all humanity, she alone could respond perfectly to the gift of salvation offered by her Son and Savior of the world. Her “yes” to salvation resonated perfectly through every fiber of her body – that body perfectly in harmony with her soul is captured in the Gospel today. In her “Magnificat” Mary’s soul sings in joy through her body which has been touched intimately by the Holy Spirit.

St. John’s vision, our first reading today, provides us with a glimpse into heaven. Richly described in symbolic language, the woman clothed with the sun, standing on the moon giving birth to the child is, of course Mary. The sixth century Oecumenius, comments on this passage, “The vision appropriately depicts her as in heaven and not on the earth, for she is pure in soul and body, equal to an angel and a citizen of heaven…. Yet she is flesh although she has nothing in common with the earth, nor is there any sin in her.” Because her body and soul were so perfectly attuned to each other, after the completion of her earthly life, both her body and soul united and inseparable experienced salvation, heaven. This is what we celebrate today with gratitude.

We pray that our physical movements, expressions, choices and actions will become, with God’s grace, more in harmony with the Spirit of Christ so that the final resting place for our bodies will not be the grave, but our eternal homeland of heaven. May this Holy Eucharist, where we are feed with the Glorious and Risen Body of and Blood of Christ shape us more and more, body and soul, into the image and likeness of God so to live with him forever and experience from God the embrace of love face to face.

Aug 10, 2014

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Language of God

n the first reading from the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah was challenged with identifying which language from nature could be best used to describe something of the nature of God - the language of a tornado, an earthquake, a raging fire or a calm breeze? A “tiny whispering sound “announced” his mysterious presence. In the earliest days of the faith, the disciples used their common and limited language to describe what they perceived and knew of Christ.

The New Testament authors borrowed the Old Testament language describing God to describe Jesus. Only God could manipulate the properties of nature and in the language of the Gospel, Jesus of his own power, walks on water. Only God can halt a storm in an instant. And Jesus is described here as doing so at his own command. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is described with personal divine privileges, adjectives that were only used in the Old Testament to describe God.

And this is the problem we often encounter when we talk about God. Our human language - no words can describe with true satisfaction the nature of God. We give people names, parents name their children, we name countries and towns and streets and even pets! In doing so, we exercise a certain ownership over what or who we have named. But who is in a position to give a name to God? It is for this reason when Moses asked him what name he might call him, God did not allow himself to identified with a name in the same way as pagan gods were identified such as Zeus or Apollo. God simply said when asked who he was by name, replied “I AM who I AM”. Jesus also identifies himself as the “I Am” who existed before time began.

But because we do not speak the language of heaven, our earthly human language always seeks describe it. And when we face the limitations of words, we naturally use other means of communication which is so characteristic of our Catholic culture. One of the many ways we communicate the sacred is through, for example, body language – reaching our hand into the Holy Water, making the sign of the cross, going down on one knee before the Presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle, joining our hands together like a arrow and pointing our prayer and attention upwards. The way one receives Holy Communion can also visibly communicate if one truly believes one receives the actual heavenly Body of Christ. How we dress, how we present ourselves to others communicates something.

When we look at Christ we see carefully reflected in his body the very the language of God, the Word of God made flesh. Stretched upon the cross God communicates through His Body sacrificial love - His hands that feed the multitudes and cured the sick are nailed to the cross, the feet that walked on water are bolted down on the wood. This is my Body, this is my Blood.

After the resurrection of Christ from the dead, Thomas would eventually stand back and declare, not his astonishment, but his faith in the body of Christ. Thomas recognised in that Risen Body both his Lord and his God. Thomas was moved to silence in the presence of God – a profound sense of respect and reverence for God, for between two people who are in love, the language of silence is never feared.

And, of course, the model of communicating reverence and respect for the sacredness of God is our Blessed Mother, Mary. The Month of August is dedicated to her Immaculate Heart. Her heart is communicated through her body. Her soul is communicated through her physical presence, her actions, her good works. Her ultimate Body language is the fruit of her womb, Jesus, the Word made Flesh. Let us pray that we will allow our soul's desire for union with God will be communicated authentically through our actions and do so, praying to the Holy Spirit to rekindle in our lives a renewed sense of reverence and respect for all that is sacred and holy.