Aug 15, 2017

Keeping It All Together on August 15th

We have reached the climax of the summer. After the spring rains, now everything is in full bloom. Our garden has reached its fullness.  In a manner of speaking, creation has reached it's final and most beautiful expression. The sun is radiant, the sky is blue, the cool breeze from the ocean, the vibrant colors of the land. Even the fields, the crops, the produce of the earth stands ready to be taken up in a harvest. This is why, a summer vacation is perfect right now! We are given a glimpse, through the lens of our Christian faith, of heaven on earth - a hint of paradise!  If only we could press the pause button!

Unfortunately, we know, that because of human greed - the sin of our first parents Adam and Eve that has been passed on and affects everything, what is beautiful will eventually take a fall - literally a season of fall, the autumn - a slow decaying of nature before the death of winter. The sun will slowly weaken, nature’s growth will slow down, even stop, the produce of the earth will feel exhausted, it will need to rest, even sleep.

Is this not the story and cycle of our own lives too.  After the enjoyment of summer, vacation time and the holidays, there is a certain dread that soon it will heads down and back to work, back to school, back into the daily grind. And then, we have to plough through the rest of the year, sacrificing our time and efforts, enduring darker mornings and longer nights, so that we can reach summertime again, once more into the future. If only we could press the pause button!

As important as pictures and photos as reminders of the last days of summer are, God has given us a lasting image of his creation that will never fade.  It is a woman, clothed in the sun. She is not called Mother Earth, or Mother Nature. She has a name - Mother Mary. Of all of God's creation, she is the most perfect rose in God’s garden. A rose that is tender, beautiful, exact. Her stem is strong, her roots are deep, her leaves are crisp, her blossom is perfect, her fragrance is wonderful. This mystical rose radiates with the perfect grace of God. Mary is the Golden Rose that will never wilt, collapse, decay or experience the death of winter, for her immaculate body is full of grace.

This is why, on behalf of all humanity, she alone could respond perfectly to the gift of salvation offered by her eternal Son and Savior of the world. Her “yes” to salvation on our behalf resonated perfectly through every fiber of her body – that body perfectly in harmony with her soul is captured in the Gospel we have heard today. In her “Magnificat”, her song, Mary’s soul sings in joy through her body which is full of the breath of God.

We look to her to show us how to "get it together", how to "keep it together", body and soul.  When we give our bodies too much attention, we risk becoming empty castles that look strong and secure on the outside, but without an inner life.  When we give our minds too much to stimulation, we easily become addicted to fantasies, dreams and make-believe.  When we give our emotions and appetites too much attention, we easily become needy, frustrated, never content. When even when we even give our souls too much attention, we can easily become detached from the goodness and the gifts that God gives us in the ordinary events of everyday life.  

Our bodies and our souls were never meant to be separated, kept secret from each other. When our body is embarrassed by our soul, or vice versa - then we will surely die, not once, but many times.

So let us pray that our physical movements, our public expressions, our secret thoughts, our choices and all our actions will become, with God’s grace, more and more in harmony with Mary's example of Christian discipleship so that the final resting place for our bodies will not be the grave, but our eternal homeland of heaven. May this Holy Mass, where we are fed with the Eternal Body and Blood of Christ shape us more and more, body and soul, into the image and likeness of God’s heaven on earth, so to live with Him forever in a garden of paradise which will be real and lasting.  And that is our prayer. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, a world without end. Amen.

Aug 13, 2017

Grasping God

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In 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 naturally 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.

Aug 5, 2017

Protein and Protons

Matthew 17:1-9

We now call the event we have listen to in the Gospel, the transfiguration of the Lord. We were first introduced to this incredible incident on the Second Sunday of Lent. But, the context back then was to help us get ready for Good Friday and the Cross of Christ.

The fact that the event has its own holiday in the Christian calendar, far removed from the season of Lent will remind us that Our Lord told his disciples not to tell of this event until he had been risen from the dead.  So now that we are on the far side of Easter, in the height of the summer, when our gardens are in full bloom, with a cool ocean breeze and blue August skies, we can now reflect on the Transfiguration of the Lord in a different light! Today we can do just that.

It must have been incredibly powerful to see Christ standing on that high mountain and then, all of a sudden, without warning, to witness a glorious and beautiful light shining out from every cell of his body. Even the fibers of his tunic became alive with this light and energy. The disciples were not prepared for this encounter.  In a present day setting we would presume that they would have taken out their phones to take photos of this mysterious event! But no. They were so totally unprepared, they became confused, afraid, mesmerized, by what they saw - they couldn't even get the right words out!  It was breathtakingly beautiful, powerful.

But, the disciples are very typical of us at times. We can be unfortunately driven by an impulse to have answers to everything, sometimes wanting to explain the inexplicable, filling empty space with commentary when there should be silence, seeing ghosts here and there, when there is only harmless shadows.  Rather than literary entering into and experiencing the beauty, the depths, the mystery, or the glory of a sacred moment, our natural impulse is sometimes to stay outside it, so that we can capture it in a photo, delight in it from a distance, explain it with caption, insert our own interpretation upon it, or conquer its summit with a flag.

I am reminded of Moses when he first climbed to the top of Mount Sinai, God spoke to him face to face. When the prophet came back to the camp, he didn't realize that his very own face was a give away that he had seen God. The face of Moses was transfigured in light, so much so that he had to cover his whole head with a veil in order for the people to approach him.  So, why does this not happen to Christ’s disciples? But it does.

The glory of God’s presence before us, is not always through the visible spectrum of light. As there is invisible light abundantly present in the natural world (infrared and ultraviolet, for example), so too God’s invisible light shines in all its glory whether we see it or not, it even emanates from you and me often when we do not know it.

Through our baptism into Christ’s life, the light of God’s grace is wonderfully weaved and crafted into every cell of our body. It is invisible to us, but not to God and his angels and heavenly saints. Our Christian journey affords us the time to bring forth the light of God into every dark corner of our lives and world.

And we get glimpses of this sacred light weaved into the fabric of God's creation itself, when the Holy Spirit moves us, for example, into wonder and awe of the beauty of nature, the miracle of life and giving birth, the joy of innocent heartfelt laughter, or maybe the inner sense of peace from being freed of a burden or weight. We can join our words to those of St. Peter in those sacred moments, and call out to Christ, “It is good for us to be here!”

Yes, these might be simple examples of the inner light of transfiguration that takes place within. But what Christ, the Son of Man, also shows on that mountain top, is how the power of God will also reach out and transform (transubstantiate to be exact) everyone and everything he touches with his Body - not just the fabric of his clothes or the rock of the mountain that will melt like wax, but all of creation longs to be reenergized, infused and transfigured by the glory of God. 

It all begins afresh with this bread and wine we are about to offer here on this marble mountain, where the bright candle light shines through the clouds of incense. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that, maybe just as we once experienced in the innocence and timelessness of our childhood, a day will come for the pure of heart, when summer will truly last forever. Or as St. Peter more eloquently says in our second reading, "until day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart" (2 Pt.1:19)

Jul 30, 2017

Buy 1 Get Everything Free

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

It might surprise many to learn that the Scriptures were not written so that they would be printed, bound and put into the book form that so many of us are now familiar with. The inspired authors first wrote their words down so that they could be read out loud and be listened to - like an audio book!

Of course, the majority of people who first encountered the sacred writings could not themselves read or write. But, for the most of them, there was nothing wrong with their hearing!

They listened and reflected on what they heard, took their time to reflect and sought to understand what they heard. For this reason, the ancients were very used to memorizing large sections of passages, and would often tell and retell a portion of Scripture, a parable, a letter from one for the apostles, again and again.  After all, it didn’t cost anything to repeat from memory a story you had heard and so pass on the details in an oral tradition.

So, in the early Church, the many disciples recalled the Holy Scriptures not as a simple means of replicating them, as if they were human printing presses. Even when the Sacred text was available to them first hand, it was not studied in the modern sense of a Bible Study. Instead, portions of Scripture were used for meditation and prayer and always within the context of developing one’s relationship with Christ. For example, an ancient Christian writer, Origen of Alexandria, who died in 254 AD reflecting on the Gospel for today, likens the search for hidden treasure in a field, to exploring the whole bible in order to findthe hidden Christ within all its pages. And when you find Christ himself, he is not a chapter and a verse. You cannot just simply copy, cut and paste him from one place to another or lift him out from his surroundings. You have to buy the whole field – he comes with everything.

That is why the best word to describe the big picture of our relationship with Christ is “catholic”. The word “catholic” describes “everything, everywhere, things in relationship to other things, nothing in isolation, nothing unrelated – it’s big, universal, touches everything, wonderfully messy but it’s all together”. To claim the pearl of great price hidden in the soil, we do not dig it up and slip it into our pocket and say “mine”. We buy the whole garden. The we invite everyone into it, uncover the treasure with much excitement and declare it, not to be “my treasure”, but “ours” - it is a “commonwealth”. That’s the “catholic” way- that is our Catholic culture.

Even that word “culture” - its various uses are associated with making the land ready to bear fruit. This is “agriculture”. We “cultivate” the earth. As Christ is the vine, and we are the branches, our heavenly Father, cultivates our soul, so that the whole vineyard bears fruit, fruit that will last, an abundance for everyone. Every one of us bears fruit in our Christian life only insofar as each of us remains attached to Christ the true vine. Our value and worth is always associated with Christ, the pearl of great price.

What started off as a small investment in land to secure this Pearl of Great Price, throughout the centuries our Catholic Culture has influenced the big picture of the world, not just in the areas of theology but also in philosophy, law, art and music, health care and education. The spirit of the soul of our soil, has never been “me” or “mine”. It has always been “ours”. The Church is not a denomination. It is a great culture within which everyone is invited to leave behind their own individualistic agendas and join a commonwealth of plentiful grace for the salvation of the whole world.

May we never fail to embrace the big picture of our Catholic faith and culture in such a way that within and throughout the vastness of the Church’s history and the wealth of her experience we may rediscover the true value of this family treasure we hold, the pearl of great price, Jesus Christ, the Word of God who lives and reigns forever!

Jul 22, 2017

Exterminate or Tolerate

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2017

Those who listened to Jesus talk about this image where people of the land and who depended on the land and its produce for survival. Even to this day, much of the political and religious conflicts of the Middle East stems from who controls the land and its produce.

The weed Jesus talked about was “cockle-seed”. In its early stages it looks very much like wheat and even to the farmer, it is practically impossible to tell the two apart. When it matures it produces a delicate purple flower. If, however, any part of the root or stem makes its way into the grain supply in large numbers, because of its toxicity, it can have disastrous effects on any product with wheat.

As with every parable spoken to us by Christ, this one is loaded, packed and layered with so much to reflect on. His illustration of the weeds and wheat having to grow alongside until harvest time doesn't need much explanation. We get the point. But too often, we fail to apply it to our own lives.

This might be because, simply put, we tend to think of ourselves as problem solvers. We don't like to sit on the fence and allow complex and unpredictable situations to unravel freely.  When Our Lord has the landowner question where the weeds came from, maybe it was one of us who jumped up first and yelled, “Aha! An enemy has done this. Let’s fight it down, fast and furious” And so, conspiracy theories are born and we rush out where even angels dare not to tread!
Perhaps, as a relatively young nation - born from a revolution, defined by a civil war, engaged in many armed conflicts abroad and political tugs of war at home, we seem to, at times, see our world, our nation and even our own community, in terms of good and bad. We can be quick to put labels on people - us and them, friends and foes, rich and poor, red states and blue states, the saint and the sinner, native and immigrant. You get the picture! But even within these categories and labels there are subdivisions still, that make their way down to the root.

This attitude can germinate closer to home. I’m not talking simply about a Red Sox/Yankees rivalry, or the wild cries of “soccer mums” and “little league dads”. Who we identify as the weeds and the wheat often trickle down, not only to residents of our various neighborhoods and cities, but even into the sanctuaries of our own Catholic communities.  “I go to this church because I don’t like that church”.  “I attend this Mass because I don’t like the other Mass” “I want my kids educated this way, because I don't want them influenced another way”  “I keep only within my own circle because I’m suspicious of those outside it.” And so it goes, dividing, multiplying and spreading.

In short, we can be quick to identify ourselves as the true wheat and others as the true weeds.  “Do you want us to go and pull out the weeds”, the servants said to the landowner. “No! That type of attitude [and I’m paraphrasing] will cause more damage than good. Allow them to grow together. And anyway”, Our Lord reminds his servants, “you’re not qualified to to make that judgment call. It takes a trained harvester, angels of God, to distinguish one from another ”.  I wouldn't be surprised if some of those zealous servants who thought of themselves as the true wheat were indeed some of the first to be yanked from their own hiding places at harvest time!

So, before we grab the Roundup and start pointing it at others, Our Lord’s words allow us, his servants, to first examine our own inner garden - my own heart and soul, remembering Our Lord’s call, “The one among you who is without sin, cast the first stone”. But on the other side, this does not mean that everyone has to rush to confession every day trying, by their own efforts, to bleach out the stain of a sin that constantly recalls our own wounds and vulnerabilities. We should remember Christ’s tender words to St. Paul “ 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (Corinthians 12:9)

A your pastor, I look out at the flock entrusted to my care. I do so, with the discerning eye of a gardener (and I take comfort that Our Risen Lord was mistaken as one on Easter Sunday). And what do I see? I see weeds and wheat. But you might start thinking, "Who's what?" Wrong question. I see weeds and wheat growing together in the rich soil of many an individual’s life, in each one of us. They grow together within the tensions and challenges of family life, in relationships of marriage and between friends. I see the incredible patience of those who live with sickness or a disease, or with the fear that a defective gene might be triggered or a cancer cell might spread. I have come to admire the patience of parents with screaming babies, or the dedication and sacrifices made by families who look after a child with special needs, or have a loved one struggling with addiction or depression. I am encouraged by those who are not afraid to climb out of their painted flower pot and enter into the ever expanding field or into a formidable forest, befriending those they meet along the way as Christ did, not afraid of saints and sinners.

We all live with weeds and wheat in our own lives, and yes, often there is a tension between the two. But Our Lord’s words should remind us that because we are not the harvesters, we should examine first our own soil, how we can often mistaken even the potential of true wheat as hostile weeds, and to not allow our fears to drive us into conflicts and wars of words that can often create hostile territory.  

Christ himself is the Lord of the Harvest which will come in due time, his own time. He will not allow any of us to force his hand. Instead, as today’s Sunday psalm reminds us we should join our voice to the psalmist and pray “You, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in, kindness and fidelity. Turn toward me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant.” (Psalm 84). And your patience.

Jul 14, 2017

Leaving our front door unlocked

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables”. Matthew 13:1

We can’t keep Christ under house arrest.  And sometimes, that’s what we do. We keep him private, away from the crowds. Our Lord went down to the harbor, where the crowds where. He didn’t stand on the shore and look into the vastness of the ocean. Instead he get’s into a boat (which is often used as a symbol of the Church), and from there He looks at the whole crowd of humanity, upon the faces of everyone – yours and mine. Christ wants to look into my face, into my eyes. And what will he see?

Every face in the crowd tells a story, a life.  Christ does not speak to a crowd. He speaks to the individual soul.  For that reason he speaks in parables – coded language because not one of our lives is really the same. His parables can sometimes go over someone’s head.  Sometimes they appear to be just nice stories, like storybook illustrations. But if we ask the Holy Spirit to open our minds and our souls to the Word of God, taking time to listen, to read his parables again and again, slowly, and carefully we will often see our lives somehow reflected in the images Christ creates in his illustrations - there often reaches that sacred moment in our lives, when we know that he is speaking to me, individually, personally in the uniqueness of my life and circumstances. Christ is looking into my eyes, into my life!

Back to that first line – “Jesus went out of the house”.  How did he get in the house to begin with? The final verses of the previous chapter of the Gospel we heard today tell us that Our Blessed Mother came to visit Him while He was preaching in the middle of a great crowd of people.  No doubt, after He had finished, Our Lord took His mother to a private house to spend some time with her.  And then what we heard read in the Gospel today picks up what happened next.   “On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around… And he spoke to them at length in parables”

Having spent some quiet time with His Mother, which parable did He go on to speak to the crowd about? God as the sower and the Word of God as the seed! Could our Lord have been thinking of His Mother when He told the crowd that “But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit”?  For what do we say concerning Our Blessed Mother, “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”.  

If we are to hear God’s Word speaking to us in the secret of our lives, let us do so imitating Mary who not only received and understood that Word but who in turn gave that Word to the world so that we might hear Him speaking into the depths of and circumstances of our lives.

Jul 8, 2017

Relationships are a burden!

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 11:25-30

But listen again to what Jesus says in the Gospel portion of the Scriptures today. “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone whom the Son wishes to reveal him”.  Let’s look at the first part of that sentence. “No one knows the Father except the Son”.  

Husbands and wives - you should know each other better than you know anyone else.  You should know your children better than their teachers. Children should know their brothers and sisters better than their friends or classmates.  Why? Because the family is a place of intimacy, where we waste time with each other, where we help each other to grow, mature –it is where our personalities have the greatest opportunity to be developed and formed.

I can look at photographs of you through social media, at birthday parties, your graduation or wedding photographs. I can read your biography or, follow you on your facebook or twitter. Or if you are famous, a celebrity or a VIP, maybe I can watch a movie or documentary about you. But do I know you? Do I really know you in the way that your family does, your spouse does, your brothers or sisters or your close and intimate friends? Not really, unless I am invited into your whole life, adopted into your family, allowed to live with you every moment of the day. And that would be hard work!

Back to the words of Christ, “No one knows the Father, except the Son”.  Yes, we may know the Father from the outside looking in. But Christ knows the Father from the inside - as his Father, a unique Father-Son relationship, with an intimacy that we cannot even start to imagine.   

Yes, we can look at everything from the outside, study the images, read all the books and follow all the programs, but we will never get to know who Jesus really is unless He himself invites us into His hidden life, His life “behind the scenes” into the deep and secret intimacy of His Heart, His relationship with His Father. Not everyone gets to go there.  How do we?

Our Lord opens His Heart and invites into the relationship He enjoys with His father, first and foremost, to those who labor and are burdened. I’m not talking about those who are hard workers or if you feel the weight of the world pressing down on you.  (Prayer is itself is a labor. Trying to live a Christian life every hour of the day is a burden – it’s hard work.)   “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest”, says the Lord. He does not say, “take it easy and rest, and you’ll float right into my heart!”

So, what do we have to do? It’s a bit like physical exercise. Don’t expect results if you are not committed to making sacrifices. If there is no sacrifice, no labor, no burden in our relationship with Christ and His Holy Church, then God is easily turned into an ornament, the Church treated like a convenience store, the parish community into a mutual admiration society!

It’s the same with Sunday Mass. Sometimes it’s easier to demand that the preacher do all the work so you can just sit back and listen. Sometimes we demand that the Church accommodate my personal tastes in language, music, architecture, styles so that I myself don’t have to make any efforts, any sacrifices - it’s easier to want everything on my own terms so that I don’t have to make much of an effort. If that’s the logistics of family life, parish life, the spiritual life, at home, school or at work - you’re going to get bored very quickly and God help anyone who disturbs a sleeping bear! Christ tells us, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened”. He did not say, “Come to me all you who go with the flow and who do not want to be burdened”.  

Let us pray for the courage to go beyond superficialities in our relationship with the Lord. Let us never feel put out that we are expected to work hard in our relationships, and learn from Christ how to carry and accept the burdens, even when they are not of our own making. For when we learn to swallow our pride, face our fear, are humble, authentic and sincere, the strength of God’s grace will carry us, deeper and deeper into the strong and enduring Sacred Heart of Jesus.

It is for this reason that we should build up a relationship with Mary.  No other person on this earth knew better the real Jesus, the secret burdens of His heart and the sufferings of His Life, than His mother.  Let us ask her who followed her Son to the Cross, to find a place for us also in her heart and also in her joy being our mother also.

Keeping It All Together on August 15th

We have reached the climax of the summer. After the spring rains, now everything is in full bloom. Our garden has reached its fullness....