Jun 27, 2015

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time



You will remember last week's gospel - the apostles in the midst of the storm, afraid they would not make it to the other side, even though Christ was with them?  The Lord in fact brought peace to the raging waters. Now he would be the instrument for harmony in the midst of a social battlefield for the future dignity of humanity. 

Whereas in today's Gospel passage (Mark 5:21- 43) everything takes place at once, in our own experience -be it as a community, as a nation, in our families or within our own lives - the tensions we experience in our lives and the forces at play in our world can seem to be often drawn out over time, decades, even centuries.  It is therefore worth reflecting on the following.
In the Gospel, Our Lord faces a battle on three fronts – 


1.  he must destroy two ancient curses - sickness and death. 
2.  he must bring peace and justice equally to both the rich and the poor. 
3.  he must restore the broken family relationships, between men and women, mothers and fathers, between children and between friends.   


This one Sunday Gospel spells out all these relationships. 

There is a father, a man of considerable influence in his community who faces the death of his daughter.  There is a mother, who is practically penniless and has been cut off from her family because her sickness. In both these scenarios the gift of faith is aroused, not from an outside force, but from within them. Both the man and the woman have now the opportunity to make a move in the direction of God as the ultimate source for the healing of body and soul.  


This is important to note - a literal moving in the direction of God brings healing and harmony. It's not staying at home and wishing it. God's grace propels us to action - to seek him out.

Too often we think that we have to run away to a quiet place in order to "find myself".  Sometimes we try to shut out the world or create our own little world in our pursuit for peace. Yes, there are times, when we have to withdraw in order to catch our breath.  But we should also be careful to note that in the portion of the Gospel we have listened to, the healing brought to both families takes place right in the midst of a crazy, stormy world.

The woman is caught up in the frenzy of a crowd of spectators who are all trying to get a glimpse of Jesus. The man whose daughter died brings the Lord into his house where a crowd is screaming, shouting and wailing. 

Much like when Christ had to quiet the storm at sea, now he has to quiet down the crowd. But the difference is, whereas when he was with them in the boat, his own disciples lacked faith while they were caught up in the midst of the storm, the man and the woman in today's Gospel in the midst of a storm of the crowd pushing and shoving them in so many different directions, demonstrated great courage and faith.

How do we search for the Lord?  Like the man in the Gospel, heart broken over his dying child, bring to the Lord that tender and at times wounded heart, acknowledging that what we love is often so fragile and the more we try to hold on it, the more painful it is for us when forced to let go. And like the woman in the Gospel desperately seeking a cure, healing, and strength - we also bring to the Lord our own weaknesses and fears, our hunger and thirst for true relationships with a loving family restored and true friends secured for life.

Don't be afraid of the storm of people, the craziness of a society gone wild - still Our Lord is the midst of the storm and so are we.  Our faith in Christ, the Prince of Peace, will slowly bring back to its proper design, the world as God intended it. It may not happen according to our timeline or within our lifetime. But, regardless, like the man and the woman in the Gospel - we have to slowly but confidently swim against the tides of public opinion that are quick to ridicule any soul that seeks healing from God alone.  

This gospel passage also shows us that, “alongside the healing of wounds of body and mind, Jesus also forgives the sins which affect the spirit – he removes the weakness of the flesh and thus is able to heal the whole person [body and soul]” (c.f. St. Ambrose Expos. Gospel of Luke 5.12-13)

On this, the Lord's Day, we bring to him the bread and wine of the old creation, which left simply to the elements of this broken world, will corrupt and decay - much like us. But through the power of the Holy Spirit the bread and wine change - using the language of the Gospel today, dare I say they are "healed", given new life to become for us the Risen Lord himself.  In the storm of the frenzied crowds, may our participation in this holy sacrament allow us to recognize our own sickness of mind, body and soul.

May we rediscover the gentle and courageous gift of faith, demonstrated in the Gospel, which allows us to always courageously approach the Lord without fear of the crowds.

Jun 22, 2015

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time


So many times Christ would gather his chosen disciples around him on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and looking out beyond its waves would say, "Let us go to the other side." How many times did they all jump into a boat, make that trip across and after a few hours, arrive at other side of the lake and carried on, not looking back? Many times!

And so, when I often think about this particular "passage", I'm often tempted to wonder why... how Christ could sleep at the back of a fishing boat in the midst of a ferocious storm at sea. I imagine the scene - the four apostles who were professional fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James and John - shouting orders, pulling on the ropes, trying to prevent the sail from tearing, or the boat capsizing, swinging themselves from one side of the boat to the other, following instinctively the drill they had so often times repeated.

Then, I think of the other apostles who were more "city slickers" - their hand clutching into the wood of the boat, fearing for their lives, panicking, screaming. Matthew, I can see him, sea sick, his face green, throwing up and maybe moaning to himself, "I knew I shouldn't have had that fish taco".  I can imagine educated Philip, who could speak Greek. I'm sure he had some colorful words for St. Peter! Or Thomas, who dreamed of following Our Lord into Jerusalem and dying heroically with him there, now looking at watery grave, thinking to himself that this was not the way he imagined himself dying.

I imagine pandemonium at the front of the boat, as if they were in a battle with Moby Dick, but at the back, - there's Christ, sleeping. Sleeping? And even though we see the apostles fighting for their lives to control the boat in an episode like the battle for the South Pacific, and with huge waves crashing over a vessel quickly taking on water, the writer of the Gospel also notes, to highlight that our Lord is in another world, that the Lord is sleeping soundly, with a pillow under his head! Incredible!!!

As they headed down to the harbor earlier that day, Christ told them as he no doubt often did, "Let us go to the other side." Sometimes when we reach our goal, our destination safely, it's easy to forget that he was the one responsible for initiating it.  But often times, when we get caught up in a storm, when we are only half way there and get stuck, how easy it is in our fear and anxiety, to forget that he said those words, "Let us go to the other side". That means we "will" arrive safely at our destination. After all, he is a man of his word and he does not abandon his ship. Our faith in his word, in the strength of his sacred vessel, the Church, must be stronger than our fear is of this world.

So, how do we sail our ship? I take comfort from St Augustine. At a time when the city of Rome was sacked, the Roman Empire was beginning to crumble and his city was besieged, the saint does not lose his cool. Instead, reflecting on the Gospel he reminds us that when you have to listen to abuse because of our Christian faith and sometimes having to taking it on the chin, that means you are being buffeted by strong winds. But he also warns us. When anger is aroused, yes, it is like being tossed around by the waves… but be careful. The temptation to retaliate and to get even, brings with it another kind of misfortune of being caught in a storm at sea – shipwreck. (cf. Sermon 63.1-3).

So, what is our lesson? Every morning, Our Lord tells us, "Let us go to the other side".  He knows the destination of every path and the challenges we will face on every side.  Heard his direction.  Learn from him, even when you find yourself being tossed about, in a panic or up to your neck in it! Even in the greatest storm, in him there is no panic, nor is there fear - only peace.  They could have rode out the storm because Christ was with them in the midst of it - they were always safe. In fact, the sleeping Christ had more faith in him his sailors than they had in him as their savior!

Let us pray that
1.  We will never take for granted the Lord's advice regardless of how many times we've heard it,
2.  That we will never panic in the midst of the storm, assured that God trusts himself in our hands as much as we do in his and
3.  That we will never let pride or forgetfulness ever get in the way of us asking him to come to our rescue.

Our Lady of Safe Refuge, Pray for us!

Jun 14, 2015

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time


We often hear this phrase, “The Kingdom of God”.  We even pray , “Thy Kingdom Come”.  This “Kingdom” was the hallmark of the Our Lord’s teaching and preaching.  He kept referring to a Kingdom - not a Kingdom in the sense of a government with laws that would regulate the lives of it’s citizens.  Instead, this “Kingdom of God” looked forward to a time, an event, to circumstances when God’s influence would somehow shape people’s lives and their relationships with each other. And they would see God.


The people of Israel who heard Christ knew about kingdoms. Throughout its long and troubled history, the Holy Land was invaded by the Persian Kingdom, the Assyrian Kingdom, the Egyptian Kingdom, the Greek Kingdom and the Roman Kingdom. When they heard Christ talk about ushering in the Kingdom of God, many who heard him would naturally think about Christ rallying in some sort of revolution, a takeover.  Was Christ talking about planting seeds of an eventual uprising, telling his followers to be patient - that their time would come when they would mark on behalf of God to the capital and throw out the godless and destroy their enemies?


Christ’s model of a Kingdom was different. Ever so gently, without fear or panic, planting seeds, little seeds here and there, deep in the soil of our hearts and souls, Christ provides us with his own example of patience, gentleness, never losing an opportunity to teach us by his words, by his own example of healing and through his own standard of justice and mercy. Christ himself is the embodiment of the Kingdom of God. But remember how he was treated when he did not meet our expectations or our standards of what a kingdom should be - crucified to death with a mocked title above his head - "King of the Jews".


If Christ's Kingdom is not of this world's making, how do we participate in that Kingdom?  We do so, by embodying Christ himself.  Last week we celebrated the great solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ.  Through our participation in this great sacrament, we can allow Christ to embody us.  And by doing so, we must allow him to influence our lives and our relationships, how we relate to those around us, especially the weak and the vulnerable.  The Kingdom of God, is the faithful imitation of the merciful and compassionate Christ.  


The Church is also the embodiment of Christ in the world, pointing to the Kingdom of God. The small mustard seeds of faith planted and tested in the lives of the first Christians two thousand years ago, have over time, grown into a large tree that spreads her branches far and while.  In our long history, we have experienced at times great growth, at other times famine. This great tree has at times been attacked and wounded. Other times, it has been dormant and looked dead and neglected.  But it’s roots, formed by the seed planted by Christ himself, the sacrifice of his body buried in the earth, continue to be fed by his life giving Body and Blood

So,  when we look around at the world, or even when we don’t see the flowers blooming from the Tree of Life, be assured, in every generation seeds have fallen to the ground.  And when the time is right, and only God knows when, the good seeds we have planted will grow and flourish into a great and bountiful harvest for future generations.  So, in the meantime, be patient, be Christ-like, and look to the future with hope. God’s Kingdom of justice and Mercy will in time embrace the whole world.  

Jun 8, 2015

Corpus Christi

What you see depends on your perspective!


The miracle of the Mass, in a very strange way, is not that the Risen and Heavenly Lord is truly, actually and really present to us in the Blessed Sacrament. The miracle is that God prevents the bread and wine from revealing to us exactly what the angels and saints see directly before them in heaven (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Pt. III: 77).

God with us, in the midst of us.

The celebration of Corpus Christi is a reminder to us that even though our human senses ultimately fail us, Christ stands before us in the Holy Mass as he did so then with his apostles at the Last Supper when he said “this is my body, this is my blood.” The same Christ who, risen from the dead, presented his body to his disciples saying, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” (KJV Luke 24:39)

What do we see?

Taking the bread Christ said, “This is my body. Take and eat”.  Taking the wine, he said, “Take and drink, this is my Blood”.  It is remarkably simple. What you see is not what you get!  We can not say that we approach Christ though a symbol of bread or that the bread and wine represents his body and blood. That’s how the ancients viewed their pagan statues.They worshiped the statues because they thought the actual material embodied their god.

But no. When you hear that bell rung and what you see lifted up - that is not bread or wine. Behold Christ himself - His Body and Blood, infused with resurrected glory, existing beyond time and space but yet here and now with us - we worship Christ and adore him. What we see is not what we get.

Through Holy Communion, we literally walk into the Body and Blood of Christ! He joins his body to ours, his blood to ours, his soul to our soul. Our souls will experience what the angels and saints of heaven and enjoy - "the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ.” (Saint Ignatius of Antioch)  

But what does Christ see?

When the bread and wine are changed to allow him to be present, and he looks out from this altar, hidden behind what we only perceive as the appearance of simple bread, what does Christ see?  Christ sees us alongside angels and saints, heaven and earth are joined in one place. This place becomes the epicenter for the whole of heaven to gather.  And those angels and saints are urging us, pointing us to look towards and worship Christ the Lamb of God. (c.f. the Book of Revelation)

How do I stand before the Presence of Christ?

“Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed”.  

We should never be content to keep Christ at a distance, to keep him outside. But, at the same time, we don't grab him and push him in! The first thing we do, is recognise our sinfulness and wait for his word. What might that word be? Maybe, we need to hear him say the word of forgiveness of a particular grave sin. Christ does this ordinarily through his priest in the Sacrament of Confession. Maybe, we need to hear him say, "Do not be afraid - you don't have to be perfect for me to come to you." Maybe we need to hear his words of healing, especially in our relationships. Perhaps he has words of instruction, for he wants us to learn from him. And we also need to hear his words of assurance that he will always be with us on our journey, that he will never leave us orphans.

What might our words be to him as he stands at the door and knocks? How might we receive him? "I am going to receive you Lord into a heart which has not been humble, but which you shall make as tender as your own; into a heart which has been hardly pure and which you shall purify reflecting your own; into a heart which is cowardly and which you shall make as brave as yours is; into a heart too often attached to sin, which you shall make clean; into a selfish heart, which you shall open wide for love.

"Come Lord Jesus, stand at the door of my heart. Let me hear your words so that I might invite you in for I know you have much you want to share with me - your very self."

May 30, 2015

The Holy Trintity


In our human language - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - we call this Three in One, the Blessed Trinity.  God who is Lover, God who is Beloved, God who is Love itself. Three distinct and unique persons, yet one eternal and unchanging God (Comp. CCC 48, 49)

Now a word of caution. If you think you understand the nature of God, then it's not in fact God you think you understand! We cannot explain or understand God fully from this side of heaven.  We have as much chance of accomplishing this task as a goldfish from within it's goldfish bowl has of describing the origins of a distant galaxy 100 light years away.

Any language that we use, philosophical or theological, as useful as it is as far as exercising and expanding our intellect will go, any such language is, from God's perspective, baby talk!  Even St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the great theologians of the Church who wrote so well about God, when, we are told, was given a glimpse of God, he wrote "All I have written now appears to be made of so much straw!"

I remember someone coming up to me and telling me, quite smugly, "I don't believe in God". I replied, "Describe this 'god' you don't believe in". He said, "That there's this invisible being up there who's watching everything you're doing and doesn't care about doing anything about the pain and suffering in this world." My reply, "You are absolutely right. I don't believe in that god either!" Sometimes, we tend to begin with our own concept of god and then try to fit Jesus into it.  It doesn't work that way.  We have to start with Jesus himself and allow him to tell us who God is, what God is, where God is.

Understanding who and what God is, is not our goal.  Experiencing God, here and forever, is. 

How?

Only a heart to heart relationship with Jesus Christ, by meditating on his words and being nourished constantly by his Body and Blood, can we hope in any way to come to be adopted, drawn into, the relationship between the Father and the Son.  

Don't try to get your head around God. Instead, get your heart around Christ and you will find and experience the greatest intimacy, the closeness of God 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 life of the Blessed Trinity.

In the meantime, the Virgin Mary shows us how to engage God at all these levels. To God the Father, she experienced her adoption as his daughter. To God the Son, she experienced motherhood. To God the Holy Spirit, she experienced the intimacy of God that permeated every cell of her body and made her sing with joy! 

With God's grace, may we be drawn more and more into the life of God so that one day we might touch the very heart of God and see His face, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

May 25, 2015

Pentecost Sunday


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 your lives, confirmed and sealed with the Holy Spirit!  

May 16, 2015

The Ascension of the Lord

We call the event we have heard announced in the Gospel, the Ascension of Christ into heaven. When he died on Calvary, he descended into the hell of death. On the third day he rose from the dead. And forty days later, he entered into heaven. From heaven, he will come again.  In the meantime, now that he is no longer before our eyes, and heaven, we often presume is beyond us, can Christ still walk with us, share in our celebrations, joys, our struggles, or does he, from heaven, kind of just tune into what we are doing here on earth?


Never think that Jesus is far away - in another universe or in a distant unreachable place far away. Take comfort that he is now closer to us, more intimate with us in a way that he could never have been with any of his disciples two thousand years ago. We are reminded of this truth in various ways.


For starters, he told us that when two or three have gathered in his name, he would be in our midst. Every time we pray together calling upon him, not just at church, but at home, in fact anywhere, he is there in our company. Think of it - even when you say the grace before meals, he is the unseen guest at every table.


So if he is present once again when two or three gather in his name, this is also a reminder to us that it is never simply enough to pray “for” others when we have the opportunity to with “with” others. Prayer is not an intellectual pursuit of solitaire. How said it is when we become private practitioners of prayer. Prayer always leads us to praying “with” others so that “through him” our relationships are “dignified” by heaven itself.


The reality of the Christ who ascended into heaven still being with us is, when we listen to the Gospel being proclaimed out loud for the whole world to listen, especially when an ordained minister does so, it’s not a public reading of a portion of the world’s best selling book. Anyone can do that.  Instead, a priest or a deacon allows his hands and his feet, his tongue and his mouth to be the presence and voice of Christ still announcing the Good News of the Kingdom of God. And we respond,  “praise to you, Lord jesus Christ”, (not praise to you deacon or praise to you reverend father, pastor!”) - Christ is the one who teaches and who preaches.  And if I should get in the way, then he will put his foot in my mouth!!


And, of course, the Christ of heaven, enters into our company most intimately by way of the Holy Eucharist - in what we call his Real Presence - in other words - a presence that is substantial, localized, where, if we could see with the eyes of angels, we would point and say “Look, behold the Lamb of God, heaven has opened up before us and we see the risen and glorified Christ before us.”  The Mass is not a ladder that reaches through the clouds. Instead, it is more of a bridge, a pathway to heaven that is opened, a veil pushed aside and with the eyes of faith we can gaze upon Christ, as did the shepherds and kings in Bethlehem - as did Mary, in the quiet moments of adoration and thanksgiving.  

Today, even though he is beyond our sight, let us never forget that Christ name is forever “Emmanuel” - which, of course means, “God with us.”

As one of the great saints of past days said, “Today we are not only established as the rightful owners of paradise, but in Christ, we have entered into the heights of heaven itself.” ( St. Leo the Great, Sermon 73.)