Sep 24, 2016

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lk 16:19-31

Although the Lord identifies the poor man who goes to heaven by the name of Lazarus, the rich man will forever be nameless and forgotten. During his life, the rich man did nothing great or worthy of heaven's praise. The rich man is really a “nobody” in hell, while the poor man is identified as “Lazarus”, a name honored in heaven among the saints of God.

Your name, my name, is not simple letters sown together and registered on our birth certificate and then paired with a social security number and then, later on in life, matched with a photograph on a driving license or passport for identification purposes.

Unfortunately, identity theft exists too often in our world. And we easily associate a thief as someone who goes to great length to keep their real identity secret. At the other extreme, someone who has an inflated ego might want to make a name for themselves, so that the world will take notice of them and their name will be remembered in history, or at least significant enough to be mentioned in wikipedia!

But before the universe came into existence, God had already given each one of us a unique name, known to him, a name that he has carefully sequenced into the unique pattern of our DNA and threaded through the fabric of our soul. God calls us out of the crowd by that name.

By careful reflection and discernment, through testing and through trial, cooperating with the grace of God, our whole life's journey is marked responding to that eternal calling out to God.  This way, we can know who we truly are and how our individual lives might reflect our God-given identity.

This is what we do when we respond to our unique God-given vocation in life. Many will find their God-given identity through the vocation of marriage and family life. Yet there are some, even among us here today, to whom God is calling who are destined to find their true identity through the vocation of priesthood.

To help young men to discern if God has called them by name to be his future priests in the family of the Church, and to remind us all to pray for an increase of vocations to the priesthood, next Sunday will see two visiting seminarians from our local St. Francis Center who will speak to us of how they are trying to listen to the voice of God  - to discover if he is calling young men of our parish by name to be the Church's future priests, to the praise and glory of God.

In the meantime, us ask the Holy Spirit to awaken within ourselves a sense of our own God-given vocation - that each one of us has been brought into this world by God for a particular reason, a divine purpose.  And if we forget, God will himself lay himself down on our doorstep, not to trip us up, nor to be an obstacle as to how our life must enfold each day. God disguises himself in the poor, the unloved, the sick and the forgotten of our throwaway culture. He does so, not to make us feel guilty or force us to push aside an irritant.  Rather, there are many around us God calls Lazarus. God send them to save us,  and as a forceful reminder we all share a common home, common dignity and destiny. Refreshed by the Bread of Life, may Christ's words and presence reignite our common vocation to help each other to taste a bit of heaven here on earth, so that one day we might all enjoy it eternally in with Abraham and all the saints forever.

Sep 17, 2016

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lk 16:1-13

How do we interpret this unusual parable? Rather than focusing on the particular parts or the peculiarities of the players within the story, the larger picture might be easier to appreciate.

Consider what the word economy means. From the Greek, oikonomia - it points to the good management of a household or a family, to be able to look after everyone's needs, to be responsible making wise investments which will ultimately benefit and build up the community.

But if one's ultimate aim is to make money, and one's life is driven by the end goal of making financial profit, consider the effects. Employers, employees, workers, customers and clients are not valued on their worth as human beings, but only on their usefulness, their productivity. When we reduce a person to nothing more than a means of profit, a free man becomes a slave; it leads to idolizing money, and contributes to the spread of atheistic thinking. (CCC 2424)

In this line of thought, is it any wonder that future babies are put on hold or aborted because of the fear of financial burden of God's beautiful gift of parenthood. How many of the sick and elderly are quickly wheeled away when no longer seen as an asset? For this reason the Lord warns us in the Gospel, "You cannot serve both God and mammon" that is, both God and money. Choose one or the other, but not both. There is only one God.

The Gospel parable should be an encouragement to every one of us to take our Catholic faith as seriously as the work we undertake Monday to Friday. Consider the amount of energy each person invests in their regular job, the planning, preparation, accountability, mileage, long hours, the investment opportunities, the paperwork, the financial planning - all for the future! But what if we would harness and ride on the wave of that energy and instinct to "succeed" and use it to the same measure but for our catholic Faith, then, maybe, instead of the fear, anxiety, anger and panic, we would instead witness a faith made stronger in times of trial, hope when tomorrow seems uncertain and charity in our love when instinct tells us to hold back. Out of our ingenuity can come forth compassion for our neighbors needs above our own. Greed gives way to generosity by the same measure.

This is why the practice of almsgiving is so important in the discipline of the Catholic and Christian character (Comp. CCC 301). Any economic favor given those in need, and prompted by charity, is almsgiving. It is not prompted by judging the person worthy or even trusting they will put it to good use. Nor does almsgiving come from giving something so that you can feel good about it, or because the recipient is judged worthy. No! If you can justify why you should not be generous or charitable, then that it more the reason why you should. St. Augustine recommends "give alms to all different types of people, then you will reach a few who will deserve it... let in the unworthy, in case the worthy are excluded." (Sermon 359A)

We came into this life vulnerable and with nothing, dependent on the strength and generosity of others. In the evening of our lives we will also be vulnerable with nothing to take with us. But in the economy of salvation we have undeservedly benefited from Christ's generous sacrifice. We have no excuse not to make the effort to repay even in small measure the blessings we have received in great abundance.

Sep 10, 2016

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 15: 11-24

In the distant past commentators on this parable tried to speculate about who the younger son and the older son where. Different scenarios are often proposed. The older son could have represented the chosen people -the younger son, the Gentiles. Others might see in the parable some resemblance of old family feuds, such as between Cain and Abel, or Isaac and Ishmael. Even in today's heated political climate, some might be tempted to interpret this parable about two opposing political and sociological ideologies! However, the more we reflect on this parable we will come to recognize that Jesus is speaking to us directly, to you and to me.

The younger son we can identify with. It is when we think that the grass is always greener on the other side -- that in order to experience life we have to get away from it all, to enjoy the world. The younger son represents times in our lives when we have been reckless, impulsive with our sights set on unrealistic expectations and without reflection or appreciation for the blessings, gifts and even the securities that we already have, we have often taken for granted.

We can also identify with the older son. He is the one who is loyal, dependable and who carries out his duty. At first glance these seem to be commendable qualities. But then we discover that there is no love or affection in him for his younger brother. He shows himself to be resentful and angry. Even his relationship with his father seems lacking in warmth or affection.

As reckless as the younger son is by leaving the security of his home and family, he still remembers the love of his father. In getting ready to return he makes an examination of conscience which is born, not from a feeling of guilt, but by “coming to his senses”. Finally he can see his life and his relationships as they truly are. In this light he truly knows what he is lacking and in his moment of isolation and darkness, he is resolved to return home and work on his relationship with his father which he has in the past taken so much for granted.

Of course, this is a parable about you and me and our relationship with God, our heavenly Father. It tells our story of all the times we have been foolish and turned our back on the God who loves us. It demonstrates that we have so often sought the things of this world as a type of food to nourish our soul instead of the things of heaven. And even from the perspective of the older brother, we must reflect on how often we have hid behind the walls of duty and self-righteousness as a way to excuse arrogance, anger and pride.

Whether we identify with the younger son or the older son or both, what unites us is our common Father. Remarkably he welcomes back to one who wasted the gifts he was given. He also pleads for reconciliation between the siblings. But most importantly this loving father gives both his children the opportunity to join in a feast, a banquet in which the fattened calf, which represents Christ himself, has been sacrificed as the true food which alone can provide the people of God the true source of reconciliation and family unity.

We are not told if the two brothers ever reconciled, embraced and celebrated together the banquet meal prepared for them by their father. How the story will ultimately conclude could depend on each one of us.

This holy banquet is now prepared. Before approaching this sacrificial meal, our blessed Lord reminds us that we must be first reconciled with God from our sins and with each other of our offenses.

Even though we are leaving summer behind, there are countless opportunities to confess our sins, and be reconciled with our heavenly Father and through Him to each other, if we respond to our father's plea to share our table with all our family of saints and sinners. This way we know that we have a place at the wedding banquet of the Son of God who continues to search out for and find the lost, the neglected, the reckless and the angry, and bring them home to safety.

Sep 3, 2016

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lk 14:25-33

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” These words of the Lord spoken through the Gospel might seem harsh. But simply said, from the perspective of someone who dares give their life, their whole life to Christ it makes perfect but painful sense. 

How? The ultimate reality each of us will face is that we can not sustain or hold onto earthly relationships forever. Our relationships with family, friends and even with this world will come to pass. 

When we look to, or expect from, family, friends or even ourselves, a perfect love that will last forever, then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and much unnecessary pain and suffering. Only God can offer perfect love perfectly, a relationship that spills over from this world and into eternity. 

Because we live in this imperfect world, because we are a fallen humanity our love for each other, our relationships are far from perfect.  Dependent on God’s grace, we must be purified by by a love, the source of which is not temporal, but eternal. 

Those who dare enter into an intimate friendship with Christ, serve as examples for us to follow. The Church still identifies from her own family countless witnesses, individuals we today call saints whose love for Christ took precedence over every other type of relationship. As an example, this Sunday sees the Church canonizing Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a saint. Her life is shown to us today, as a worthy example of a life lived in continual intimacy with Christ. 

We will often remember her as a tireless advocate for the poor, a woman who bandaged the wounds of the sick, who held in her arms the dying, the diseased, the neglected, the abused and the forgotten. 

However, her own ministry and work among the poor is no more, it’s over, it’s finished! But, the secret intimate relationship she fostered with Christ during her time on earth, now continues and is perfected with him in eternity. That is the life of a saint - to be in love with Christ forever. 

A story once told about her will illustrate this point.  Every morning Mother Teresa would spend at least an hour kneeling before the Tabernacle, the Eucharistic Presence of Christ, simply gazing with the eyes of her soul upon the heavenly face of our Blessed Lord.  

In the community of her nuns, they too would follow her example.  One afternoon, one of her young energetic sisters, who was involved in so many good works, told Mother Teresa that because of the daily demands of looking after the hospital, bandaging the wounds of the sick and feeding the orphans, on top of going to Mass and praying her daily rosary, this young nun did not have enough time to spend an hour before Blessed Sacrament. Mother Teresa responded to her: “I agree sister, you are doing all this good work and so many depend on you. Indeed, you are so very much busy. I agree, you can not spend one hour before the Blessed Sacrament every day. And so, form now on, you will spend two hours before the Blessed Sacrament every day!

From our perspective, with our eyes we saw Mother Teresa caring for the poor, washing tenderly the bed sores of the elderly and neglected, cradling in her arms the dying. Why did she do it? But what did she see in it?  She would say? I see Christ himself in each one of them, I see Christ, wounded and sick. “I see Christ alone and neglected. I see Christ dying in my arms, and because I love him I cannot but still be moved to see him and love him in each of my suffering brothers and sisters.”

Mother Teresa could not and did not cure, save or heal everyone who entered into her care. That was not the point. Countless who were forgotten and unloved, or loved badly by this world, even abandoned by their own family and friends literally died in her arms. She would say, that she wanted the neglected of this world to at least in their final moments, to look into her eyes and know in their heart of hearts that there was indeed someone who did in fact love them, that they were worthy of being loved, and in fact were loved.  

Because Mother Teresa had first looked into the eyes of Christ and knew herself loved by God, she was able to look into the eyes of others, whoever they were and whatever condition they were in and love them with that same love of Christ that she now enjoys beautifully and perfectly in heaven. That’s all it takes - that is the firm foundation our faith is built upon, to “become a sign of the absolute supremacy of Christ’s love” in a fallen world (Comp. CCC 342).

Regardless of what you think of yourself, do not be afraid of the gaze of Christ and being a saint on earth as we are destined to be in heaven, to look upon the Lamb of God who, by his tender and sacrificial love, takes away the sins of the world.

Holy Mary, mother of God, Pray for us.

Saint Mother Teresa, Pray for us.

Aug 27, 2016

22nd Sunday

Christ’s parable in the Gospel, told to a people who were very sensitive about their position in social circles, allows us likewise to reflect on the virtue of humility. Yet, humility is paradoxically, a virtue that you can not be deliberate in trying to attain. You can not try to be humble; you can not work on humility for it can easily become false humility.

All human virtues, those attributes which bring out the beauty of our humanity, begin with a reflective, never impulsive mind which chooses carefully how to respond appropriately in often challenging situations. Human virtues become part of our character, often without us knowing, when we persevere in repeatedly seeking the truth about ourselves, our actions, the world we live in and especially about God. (cf. CCC, No. 1810).

In this search for truth and personal authenticity we might hear the expression “to thine own self be true”. These words come from Shakespeare, not Scripture. Too often this phrase has been used to justify personal neediness, selfishness or even irrational behavior. One may also regard being "true to one's self" as a way to personally take ownership of the one's own course through life. However there is always that persistent danger of putting oneself first, even in the place of God. Arrogance is the opposite of humility.

We should never be afraid to acknowledge our own poverty (of mind, body or soul). We are all poor, We do not have within us all the resources to reach to the highest place our soul hungers for. We are not self made. We have a creator.

Christ speaks about a banquet to which all the poor are invited. We must count ourselves among the poor if we are to taste even a tiny bit of heaven. This Holy Eucharist we now celebrate is not given to us because we worked for it or because we are entitled to it or even that we deserve this great sacrament.

This is the table prepared by God who feeds only the poor and those who know, deep down, that they are hungry - hungry for love, hungry for friendship, hungry for healing, hungry for inclusion in the family of God. True justice for ourselves and our community begins by acknowledging our hunger first for God's grace to lift us up to our proper place at the table, and hearing his voice, amid the rabble of the crowd, to move up higher.

“This is the true Sabbath of the just, in which they will have no earthly work to do, but will a have table prepared for them by God. “ (Irenaeus, Adv. Heres.5.33.2)

A Christian does not try to copy or impersonate Christ. A Christian, seeks to imitate him in every way. Rather, it is to become one with him who said “learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart and your souls will find rest” (Matthew 11:29). True rest comes from knowing that we cannot repay or outdo God’s generosity, even at this table. This is the reason we celebrate Mass every Sunday - to lift up our hearts to the Lord in thanks and praise for he has heard the cry of the poor.

This Holy Eucharist reflects best our response - gratitude for then gentle power of his grace and thanksgiving that he counts every one of us worthy to sit by his side in the Kingdom of God.

Aug 21, 2016

21st Sunday In Ordinary Time

Luke 13:22-30

“How many will be saved?” the Lord is asked. What is more important is not how many, but how. Listening carefully to the voice of the Lord in today’s Gospel, we can note that there is a sense of sadness in his voice that many who presume their own salvation is assured, will unfortunately be denied the very salvation they believe they will receive. (cf. St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily 9) Although the Holy Scriptures do promise salvation to those who have faith in Christ, nowhere does the Bible promise that we will be protected from self-deception. There is a great difference between making a commitment to Christ and fulfilling that commitment faithfully.

Luke’s Gospel for today makes this point very clear and summarizes Matthew’s Gospel which tells us that "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven. “(Mat. 7: 21.) The Lords also warns us about deceivers who will presume to speak with Christ’s authority. We are reminded that how we respond to the needs of others will also affect our salvation. (cf. Mat. 25 and 26).

To help us, unlike the angels and saints in heaven who have constant, unwavering and unchangeable faith in Christ, we can easily change our mind, decide otherwise, rebel against God or ignore his help. Because we can commit ourselves to Christ one day and ignore him the next, God has given us the gift of time. We do not wait to the last moment or waste time in the present. The gift of time provides us the opportunity to test the strength and durability of our faith against the circumstances of our lives (c.f. Second Reading. Heb 12:5-7, 11-13). This way, we are able to discern what we are truly made of, if we are in fact cooperating with God’s grace and have what it takes to enter into heaven (through the narrow gate) when our lives are spent. (cf. CCC 1344)

Writing towards the end of his life which he knew was near, St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6-7). But St. Paul could not have said this earlier, even in those early days after the dramatic event of his accepting the Lord as his savior. Writing to the Church in Corinth in his early days, looking at the state of his soul he would say, “For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore [friends] judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes," (1 Cor. 4:4ff).

Can a Christian who makes a commitment of faith in Christ as their savior, one day be assured of their salvation and the next day loose that assurance? Yes. Even St. Paul tells us so in the Bible saying that, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Even though we may have the will to be saved, remember the words of the prayer that the Lord taught us, “Thy will be done be done”, not “my will”.

In a day and in an age when so many individuals will claim that they are saved and have the personal assurance of heaven, how do we as Catholic Christians respond?

“Am I saved?” It is my hope that I am, and it is that hope that keeps me pressing on towards the goal (Phil. 3:13) with Christ’s Church pointing me in the right direction and strengthening me, as she and no other can, with the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood. (Luke 22:19, John 6:52ff, Acts 2:42, 2 Peter 3:13-18). It is my prayer, that now and on that eternal day, it will be not me who lives, but Christ who lives in me. (Gal:2:20)

Aug 13, 2016

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fire can be as dangerous as it is beautiful and useful as it is mysterious. From the burning bush to the tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost, throughout the Scriptures, its language is rich and often used to reflect the nature of God (CCC 696). (c.f the Seraphim) Our own experience of the summer California wildfires touches us in a particular way. Many of us still have vivid memories of the fires of 2008 that surrounded us on three sides, provoking mass evacuations, destroying many homes and livelihoods.

It, therefore, does not seem to come as much of a consolation, when we hear Our Blessed Lord saying in the gospel today, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing” and the cause of households divided against themselves, family members betraying each other's trust.  

it is easier to blame, for example, the unintended tensions unleashed within a family to events such as funerals, weddings and even who gets invited and who doesn't to a family thanksgiving dinner. But the fuse of this particular stick of dynamite has been lit by the Lord himself. How do we understand this apparent “violence” with the image we must also have of Christ as the Good Shepherd and the Prince of Peace?

We must first consider when St. Luke wrote his Gospel message. It was probably written not long after the great fire of Rome in 64 A.D. The rumor was that the Emperor Nero had himself lit the match that destroyed much of the city so that he could begin a new massive building project. This is how a pagan historian, who survived the fire, described the aftermath.

"Consequently, to get rid of the report [that he started the fire], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most creative tortures on a class of people hated for their abominations, called Christians by the common people. … Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths...they were torn to death by dogs, or they were crucified on crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as human torches when nighttime illumination was needed." Tacitus, Annals XV.44

The early Christians, in the light of those “current events” would have, no doubt, listened to today’s Gospel and found in it an assurance that Our Lord himself experienced the fire of hell and transformed it into the fire of heaven. Abandoned by his own disciples, betrayed by the very ones he considered family, Christ shared in the anguish of persecuted Christians as non-believers betrayed friends and family when Roman soldiers came knocking on the door.

As case in point, St. Peter. He provides us with the example of a reluctant follower who was scared of being burnt, but finally gave himself completely to the Lord. On the night of the Last Supper when Christ was arrested, he was first content to anonymously warm his hands from the fire in the courtyard while the Lord was being beaten up by the temple guards inside. But a day would eventually arrive when he would allow himself to be consumed completely and forever by the fire of Christ’s love.

During Nero’s attack on the Christians after the fire of Rome, St. Peter, as the city’s first bishop, was arrested, tortured and crucified to death on a cross, upside down. He was body was buried near in a cemetery on a Roman hillside called “Vatican Hill”.

Yes, often times we will get burnt, and we will scream and call out in anger and in anguish. But as painful as if often times is, abandoning ourselves to the grace that comes from the cross of Christ, let us pray that we may we never mistake the purifying fire of heaven with the destructive fires of hell. There lies the virtue of Christian hope in the face of every dark and menacing cloud of smoke.