Dec 12, 2017

Little Lupe




Matthew 11:25 sets the theme for the reflection on children who are vulnerable to many forces and tugs of war not of their own making: "Blessed are you Father, Lord of heaven and earth; for you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the kingdom."

A child’s face, no matter what nationality, is naturally, an attention grabber. The photographer knows this.  A child’s life, regardless of the environment, is presumed to be first protected by the gentleness of their parent’s tender love and within the sanctuary of a secure and stable family in an environment they know to be welcoming and nurturing.  But often this is not the case.  

When a child’s trust, hopes and dreams are abused it makes headlines, and it should. We hear of children separated from their families, children made vulnerable to political and moral exploitation. Children caught in the crossfire between rockets and missiles in the Middle East. Children caught in no-man’s-land between Mexico and the U.S, or being forcefully separated from loved ones because, growing up in a country they called home they now find their place at home unwelcoming. 

Some will say, “Why should we be looking after someone else’s kids when we can barely look after our own?”  And maybe that is indeed the reason - that, regardless of the photo op, we are not every good at looking after our own children.  Sometimes, we have to be taught a lesson. And God is, perhaps, giving the class an opportunity for a fieldtrip to learn how it’s done! 

Maybe, when we are forced to care for the stranger, the child and the abandoned, then we might be rudely awakened to the fact that even our own laws at home, particularly regarding marriage, family life and immigration are not as secure and comforting as we thought.  

Christ has told us in no uncertain terms, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  Luke 18:16.  Christ even got angry with his disciples when they were preventing this from happening.

There are times, in our own charity and goodwill towards the children in our care, that Christ is angry with us - when we put our own needs and neediness first and forget too easily, the promise that was made at the baptism of our children. We promising to raise our children according to the commandments of the Lord and the practice of the faith - which includes welcoming the stranger and sheltering the homeless. Our children are watching us. We are teaching them first by our example in what we do and in what we fail to do.

We as Catholics should also take note that when vulnerable families arrive in the United States, (particularly if they are Catholic children), if the first Christians to meet them, who clothe them, feed them and offer them an embrace of love, are a battalion of religious or political fundamentalists, then Christ is justified in His anger against us for neglecting our own brothers and sisters, our own children.

There are also children who get drawn into custody battles, children who battle for attention from parents who are sometimes overworked or constantly distracted, children who battle with mental illness and sickness, children who are exposed to violence, to abuse, neglect and deportation. In a world of Facebook and Instagram, these are the faces of the children we forget or ignore, because its easier to “overlook them” than actually “see them” in front of us, staring at us without us even noticing.

When every Catholic at home or abroad, responds to the Lord’s demand that children be actually protected within their own families, from the evil and from the barrage of impure influences now very much common in our world - when we are proactive and protective, then we are moving towards the salvation of humanity rather than just moving dust around our home.  Let us pray that when children do get lost or abandoned and the wolf chases them through the dark forest, that they will find not just a place to hide, but a safe place to call home.

Prayer from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

"Loving Father, in your infinite compassion, we seek your divine protection for refugee children who are often alone and afraid. Provide solace to those who have been witnesses to violence and destruction,who have lost parents, family, friends, home, and all they cherish due to war or persecution. Comfort them in their sorrow, and bring help in their time
of need. Show mercy to unaccompanied migrant children, too, Lord. Reunite them with their families and loved ones. Guide those children who are strangers in a foreign land to a place of peace and safety. Comfort them in their sorrow, and bring help in their time of need. Show us how we might reach out to these precious and vulnerable children. Open our hearts to migrant and refugee children in need, so that we might see in them your own migrant Son. Give us courage to stand up in their defense against those who would do them harm. For this we pray through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. "

Dec 9, 2017

Smoldering Fires



-Second Week of Advent -

These past few days have seen much of our attention being focused on the local wildfires, not only throughout California, but also the local “Lilac Fire” which raged through North County picking up speed as it headed our way.


Although it consumed just over 4000 acres as it spread towards us destroying over a hundred structures in its path, impacting many of us in the evacuation area (including the parish church), we give thanks to God that none of our local firefighters were injured and no civilian lives were lost.


We owe a debt of gratitude to the local fire departments, the police and sheriff departments, emergency service personnel and the assistance also given by the military from Camp Pendleton.


We should also not take for granted the countless volunteers who assisted at local evacuation shelters and the generosity of local merchants and organizations who donated food, clothing and whatever resources they could to make the lives of so many families and individuals somewhat bearable during these days of anxiety.

You should also know that one of the first responders was Bishop Dolan, who immediately contacted me offering offering his prayers, support and any assistance our Local Church could give. We are grateful indeed to be part of a family of over a million local Catholic brothers and sisters!


Let’s not forget the often untold blessings and thoughtfulness of neighbors, friends and even strangers who instinctively went out of their way to help others in need.  


It is often at times like this our hearts and souls are tested in the challenges and opportunities of each new day.  Whether we see it or not at the time, our Lord reminds us, “whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me” (Matthew 25:40).


Because our church and half of the local parish area was within the evacuation zone (albeit voluntary) on Friday and with many of the roads leading here either closed or bumper-to-bumper traffic heading away from danger, as your pastor I was naturally not willing to place parishioners under the obligation to attend the Holy Day Mass of the Immaculate Conception that evening.  I was, however, surprised to find that nearly 200 of you had navigated your way through the streets and side roads to the church to honor Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Not even a raging fire can hinder that natural instinct to give honor to our mother!


Even though the fire is still smoldering and ash still lingers in the air, permeating our homes, our clothes and even our bodies, never did any ominous clouds of sin and destruction ever touch Our Blessed Mother - not even a hint of its smell could attach itself to her immaculate body and soul. In the midst of the storm, she is always our safe place, our advocate who assures us that her Son will save us.


During this time of Advent, we still are conscious of our vulnerability, our need for salvation. Our own experience and self knowledge reminds us that it only takes one spark to ignite a destructive fire - “One little bite of the apple won’t hurt”, said Adam!  It just takes one word of anger, one hasty action without thought, one little sip, one little buzz, one click of the “send” button.


We all fight fires of every kind. We often find ourselves trying to stamp out smoldering ashes here and there. Many of the prophets of old continually battled against these destructive forces, guiding humanity to safe places, sheltering the poor and the vulnerable, assuring them that God’s help was on the way, that salvation was close at hand.


Enter John the Baptist. He tells us to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”. Is this not what a firefighter does - clearing areas from old, dead or dried up brush that, unattended, will only add fuel to a fire and make it difficult for rescue services to reach those who are in danger? Is this not what we must likewise and continually do - examining our hearts and souls, putting aside anger, bitterness, prejudices and jealousies that can ignite so easily and fester for so long?

John the Baptist comes to us at this time of Advent to remind us never to lose hope. Although God does not push us or force us onto a pathway that takes us to Him, through the witness of great saints like John the Baptist and Our Blessed Mother we are continually pointed along a straight path.  Taking heed of the warnings John the Baptist calls out to us with, and the maternal protection offered by Mary, we are assured there is always a right path out of harm's way, and a straight path that leads us to Christ our Savior. The Eucharist that we now enter points us now in that direction.

Dec 2, 2017

Christ without Caffeine


FIRST WEEK OF ADVENT

How did you sleep last night and how was your morning?


I have lived a life of 51 years. Based on the average time we all need for sleep, during my lifetime I have slept, more or less, 163,762 hours. That means, I have been asleep for 19 years! Maybe you have been asleep longer than me, or maybe less. For the most part, I have had my fair share of sweet dreams and nightmares, of tossing and turning and of being as warm and cozy, “as snug as a bug in rug”!


But for most of us who are busy during the day and trying to get as much done as we can, sleep is the ultimate heresy. It tells us to stop doing what we are doing. It reminds us that we cannot be in control 24 hours a day.  Maybe that’s the reason why so many people do not sleep well.


I know of only one man who was able to sleep soundly in a small fishing boat while it was being tossed around by a raging storm. That was, of course Our Blessed Lord on the Sea of Galilee! He was awakened from sleep, not because He fell out of bed, but because of the panic, yelling and shouting of His hysterical disciples who, fearing their boat was about to capsize and sink, they saw their lives flash before their eyes! The words of the First Reading (Isaiah 63;16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7) and the today's Psalm, (Ps.80:2-3, 15-16,18-19) could have very much been theirs.


But then, you might say, this seems to go against everything Christ says in today's Gospel, when He warns the disciples about sleeping on the job, to be always watchful when the Lord of the Household is absent and could return, unannounced, at any hour.


Yes, that is true, but only when the Lord is in fact absent from our house, from our lives. But for the Christian, Christ is not an absent landlord, who is only called in to fix a leak or when there is a problem. Nor do we keep ourselves alert by stimulants (coffee, programs, text or twitter alerts!) for fear we will miss Him!


Even though we may not see Him, even though He may be behind the scenes, as He is in the Eucharist, Christ is present, even in the darkness when we do not see Him. In other words, we do know when to expect Him, where to find Him, where He is to be revealed. That is why, for the Christian, as St. Paul reminds us in the Second Reading, "He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord" ((1 Cor. 1:3-9)


In other words, we know the Hour of the Lord when He will be revealed. This is the hour and this is the place! If your faith is firm and your conscience good, then, you can have a good night's sleep tonight! The Kingdom is in good hands!


But of course, a gentle word of warning, so that we do not become lazy or take for granted the privilege of belonging to the Lord's Household. He has given us so much already.


This evening, before we go to our final sleep, we should want to put to rest the sins and misdeeds that can keep us up all night and make us restless throughout the day and have the power to put us constantly on edge. It’s not just the body and the mind, that needs to rest in preparation for the challenges of a new day. The soul likewise needs peace. 

So, during these few weeks of Advent, as we get ready to open the door once more to the Lord of our Household, avail yourself of the Sacrament of Confession, be it before any of our Sunday Masses or at any of the local parish penance services. That way, not only will you be able to rest in peace, when you are to awaken at any hour to the summons of the Lord who knocks on your door, then without panic or worry, you can rise gently from sleep and welcome Him gladly with the dawn of a new day.

The Lord be with you! And with that, I wish you a very good night, and sleep well!

Nov 25, 2017

King in Disguise


We are in the middle of that slow transition from what we remember as the summer, to what we anticipate as winter. Some find this time of the year beautiful because of the sharp freshness of the morning chill, the changing colors of the leaves, the streaks of shadows across the ground, the orange flickering of the setting sun. Others hate this time of the year! It’s cold in the morning. It’s dark in the afternoon and, outside of passing by hot Santa Anna winds, it’s usually overcast and gloomy!   We either enjoy or endure it while it lasts.  One way or another, we know that as the curtain rises, the curtain will also fall. 

In the meantime, in our collective prayer at the beginning of Mass we asked God to set all of creation free from slavery.  This was so that it might be able to serve Him as He intended it to.  God did not bring about the whole of creation for the purpose of taking photographs of it. It is, instead, given to us as a kind of stage.  We are not destined to sit as spectators in an audience. We are the main actors, the participants in a divine drama that is being told and retold through constantly changing scenarios.

In this ongoing drama, Christ Himself has a principal role. However, He doesn't necessarily take the leading role, where we would all easily recognize that it is He.  Instead, Christ will play the part of the beggar, or one who is hungry, maybe the sick person and even he might take the role of a the criminal.  He knows His part very well, not because He has studied human nature and learnt His lines well.  Instead, when He comes to us as the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned man, Christ has allowed Himself to be cast, not into the role, but to be cast into the real cruelty and injustice of this world to the point where He truly is hungry, He thirsts, He is crucified by this world.

Christ does this, not as the CEO of humanity, or like some undercover boss looking for ways to improve the effectiveness and quality of His enterprise.  Instead, Christ walks gently among us, connecting us with each other, showing us how to live together, work together, pray together, showing us how to take responsibility for each other, as a family should.  And before He will even attempt to lead us in the right direction, the first thing He does is offer healing for the injured and the sick. To get the flock through the winter, the shepherd has to make sure we are strong enough.  For this reason Christ the Good Shepherd offers healing of our souls through the Sacrament of Confession and strengthens us in our resolve by the Sacrament of own His Body and Blood in the Mass – the medicine of immortality.     

This is how we allow Him to reign over us, not afraid of His influence over us. For Christ to reign in our minds, it is important that we think with the Church, that we know the teachings Christ has given to her.  For Him to reign in our hearts, our desires must always be purified by His grace, that our disordered cravings and wants are disciplined and held in check. For Christ to reign in our bodies, that we allow His grace to literally move us – using our strength, our efforts and abilities to secure shelter for the homeless, comfort for the sick and hope for those imprisoned by the cruelties of this world. 

Yes, all things are passing - a time when all things will come to a conclusion and Christ will step out of the shadows and reveal himself in glory.  Until that time, let the prayer of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, the great nineteenth century convert and priest, guide us gently through the changing scenes and season:

“O Lord support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then Lord, in your mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last.”

Nov 22, 2017

Thanksgiving




This day has come to be held sacred in the fabric of our nation’s identity since the day it was established as a national holiday in 1777. However, the ritual of a thanksgiving meal goes deeper. It is especially ingrained into the very heart and soul of every Christian after the manner of Christ, “for on the night he was betrayed, he himself took bread, and giving thanks, he said the blessing”.

For two thousand years, we have done likewise within the context of the Mass, which we also call “Eucharist” which literally means “Thanksgiving”. It is founded, not simply on giving thanks “for” our blessings, but giving thanks “to” our heavenly Father “through Christ our Lord, through whom [he has] bestow on the world all that is good”.

Always mindful of this sacred duty, the first wave of Europeans who came to these shores, they being the Spanish pilgrims, did likewise. When they arrived in Florida on September 8th, 1565, at what is now the city of St. Augustine, the first thing they did was to fast from the night before and, once they set foot on the land celebrated the Eucharist in the open air. Immediately afterwards, the priest, Father Francisco Lopez arranged for the Spanish settlers and the local native American Timucua tribe to sit around a common table for a first thanksgiving meal to be offered in our nation’s history. Not turkey and stuffing, but more likely tortillas and pulled pork!

But is that not the nature, the flavor of the word that describes our Christian character - the word Catholic? It simply means, all inclusive, universal, everyone’s included - it’s what distinguishes us from denominational groups - for around our table, whether they eat our food or bring their own, for two thousand years there’s always been room for every culture, language, tribe and nation.

Even the Pilgrim Fathers would be taught this lesson when they arrived at Plymouth Rock.  The first Thanksgiving meal enjoyed by the Puritans was incredibly and surprisingly, arranged in fact by a Catholic!  He had went out of his way to ensure the pilgrims were fed, properly sheltered for the fast coming winter and stayed to teach them how to farm the inhospitable land. He was not an Italian nor an Irishman!  He was, in fact, a native American. His name, as historians tell us, was Squanto, also also known as Tisquantum, from one of the New England Wampanoag tribes.

Six years before the Pilgrims arrived, Squanto, probably in his late 20’s, had been kidnapped by an English explorer who had every intention of selling him to the Spanish as a slave. However, Catholic clergymen who opposed slavery and human trafficking, intervened and rescued him. He later received instruction in the Christian Faith, was baptised, and became Catholic and was sent home.

It was on Squanto's ancestral tribal lands that the Pilgrims arrived to establish their colony. Unlike any other native American, Squanto took it upon himself to help them, not only to settle in their new surroundings. He negotiated a peace between the pilgrim settlers and the local natives. It was celebrated by a joint meal of gratitude. Overlooked in many of our history books, the nation owes a debt of gratitude to this one, solitary Native American Catholic, who set the stage for, and also set the menu for the first Thanksgiving Day dinner in 1622.

So as we gather for our Sacred Eucharist, and maybe like our Native American Catholic brother, Squanto, we, in this parish family setting, can also be forever grateful to God for putting deep into our hearts and souls a sacred hunger for the food that comes from the Table of the Lord. The menu for this meal, the Resurrected and Heavenly Body and Blood of Christ, can secure us on our own pilgrim journey into eternity. Let us therefore give thanks for this sacred gift and praise for the Giver of every good gift, through Christ our Lord. Amen

Nov 18, 2017

Your Catholic DNA


Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30)


Earlier in the year, I was given a gift of a DNA kit. By putting some saliva in a small test tube and sending it back to a laboratory, a computer analysis would sequence my DNA.  After a month of tests, I would be able to find out, not only something of my ancestral history. The results would also indicate if I had inherited any genetic traits that put me at risk of developing future medical conditions such as alzheimer's or parkinson's disease.

In a way, I can understand a little more the excitement or the fear of the servants in the parable Our Lord speaks about in today’s Gospel. Each one of them was endowed by the King with particular gifts, talents, traits, threaded carefully, into the very fabric of their lives.  Later, the King would return, not only to view the results of what each servant learned about themselves but how each of them responded to the gifts they had been given.  

I wondered to myself, what I would do when my DNA results came back.  Would I, like the servants in the parable, be grateful for this incredible opportunity to learn something of my unique and personal makeup? And even if I discovered particular predispositions to a possible disease, would I welcome this as a moment of grace to thank God for the gift of time, to now make healthy choices, so as not to put myself at greater risk now knowing of the possible dangers ahead? Or would I be like the fearful servant, dreading what the truth might be, putting the sealed envelope in a box, hiding it away, not wanting to open it just in case it might reveal some bad news or something I felt I may not be prepared to face?

So as not to allow the flock to be unnecessarily worried about the health of their pastor, I can tell you that I did read through all the findings in my DNA report. Based on the results, it tells me that I have not inherited any defective genes that might put me at any increased risk of developing certain health issues. It did, however, alert me to fact that, based on my genes, I would likely experience hair loss before the age of 40! Maybe I should have taken this DNA test 15 years ago! But still, I’d be likely be the same today!!

In all of this, it is important to reflect and never loose sight that as unique as each one of us are, as revealed by our DNA, the Holy Scriptures reveal to us, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:27).

The gift of God’s creativity is also sequenced into the very fabric of the DNA of our soul. From the very first instant of our biological conception, we have also inherited attributes of God Himself. Even if our bodies might be predisposed to weakness or disease, the Spirit of God that permeates through every cell of our body, is a gift to help us move beyond our natural biological instincts of fear, anger or suspicion. Too often, when we allow our base instincts to guide us, we can easily become territorial, guarding our God-given gifts like a threatened animal - (“My precious”, as Smeagol would say!)

So finally, what did my DNA test reveal about my family history and ancestors? This is where our eyes can be opened to the bigger picture of our shared humanity and our interconnectedness to each other. As no surprise, my family genes are for the most part of Irish/Scottish extraction, but only at 92%. What of the other 8%? Interestingly, I have Scandinavian ancestry (maybe a viking sailor!), and also at one time, an ancestor from somewhere in the Middle East or North Africa (maybe an Arab merchant sailor!). But one little segment in my DNA - it’s only .1% - and is the most intriguing to me than all the rest. It’s a little, small gift that has been hiding in the DNA of my family history for centuries and I now carry it in my own my genes - that of an Native American! Wow!

But when we reflect upon it, from the perspective of God, the Father of us all, is it really a surprise that we are all connected to each other, that in our family history we share common stories, journeys, ancestors and adventures. Does not God give each of us particular gifts and abilities, not to compete with one another, but to complement each other, to help build each other up so that we can help our brother and sister along the road to our true homeland we long for, that of heaven?

Is this not why the Church is best described by the adjective “catholic”, which simply means universal, embracing everyone of every time, place, history, tribe and nation? We are a world Church. It is written in our DNA, it is written in the fabric of our soul by our common Father. His divine imprint is in each of us. He trusts us as His children, and literally places all His hopes in us that we will discover and re-discover His face in Jesus Christ and see, without fear, the divine face reflected in everyone we meet along the way - everyone!

Nov 11, 2017

Anything changed in a 1000 years?

St. Margaret of Scotland

A saint for marriage, family life, exiles and refugees

Margaret was born nearly 1000 years ago in Eastern Europe, a child of political refugees. After a long exile, she traveled with her family across dangerous borders and terrains to return to England. But soon there, they found themselves in the midst of power struggles and wars. Within weeks, her father (a claimant to the English throne) died mysteriously.  When William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066, Margaret's prince brother lead the fight against him.

The family tried to flee to back to mainland Europe. But caught up in a storm at sea, they were forced to sail north and find refuge in Scotland. Margaret's arrival and welcome from a love-struck Scottish king whom she would later married,  set a sequence of events which saw a Christian renewal, that would change the course of history for countless generations. This parish, which bears her name, is a testimony, not only to her story and influence, but also to her holiness, worthy of imitation.

One thousand years ago, fashions were different, communications were slow, health care was herbal, politics were bloody and wars commonplace. Human nature hasn't really changed!  The institution of the Church was often caught up in power struggles, scandals, intrigue and tugs of war between opposing ideologies and different spiritualities. Nothing seems to have changed here either!


Though Margaret became the wife of a medieval king who was a skilled warrior and military leader, she herself, as a queen, could have easily entered into the politics of her day, secured for herself a comfortable life, used her position to win favors and influence and be the envy of every onlooker.  

But, instead, she was the example of the kind of disciple Christ spoke of when having been given five talents, gave back five more.  How? Was it because of her royal position and stately office? No.  Christ explains in the Gospel “Well done my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.”

In a world where might and power and ideological influence over the minds and lives of others is often sought or even cherished, Christ is clear that we share in the “joy of God” by being faithful, first and foremost, in small matters.

St. Margaret could have initiated great spiritual liturgies and workshops to which thousands could have participated. And maybe she did.  But what counted were those many hours she quietly and slowly read from the pages of the Bible, meditating on God’s Word and the Gospel Message.  

St. Margaret could have feasted on pheasant, she could have wined and dined with the lord and ladies of the Royal Court. And maybe she did from time to time.  But her personal affection for orphans, the poor and the destitute would see her open up the doors of her own kitchen to bring in the hungry, the starving and the homeless to her own table.

St. Margaret could have used her husband's position and resources to fund her own charitable causes or pet projects.  In fact, she did so. She had some beautiful churches built, monasteries and orphanages.  But it was her faithfulness to the sacraments and sacred vows of matrimony and her deep love for her husband that brought him closer to God and saved his soul.  

In her joy of motherhood she welcomed new life.  Her eight children would not only number among future kings and queens. Some of them would also be saints, a credit to the influence of her gentle spirit of Christian holiness and virtue.

St. Margaret, not only familiar with the Christ's parable of the talents, would have also been familiar with the writings of St. Gregory the Great, pope at the beginning of the medieval period and whose influence eventually extended to the distant shores of England and beyond. He says, “Whoever has love, receives other gifts as well. Whoever does not have love, loses even the gifts they appeared to have received. Hence it is necessary, my friends, that in everything you do, you be vigilant about guarding love.  True love is to love your friend in God and your enemy for the sake of God.  Whoever does not have this loses every good that they process.” (Forty Gospel Homilies)

May we, inspired by the Christian discipleship of St. Margaret, hold fast and protect that love we have received from God, to do little things well, sowing seeds of faith in the rich soil of our parish and family life.  And when the Lord returns, may we present to Him in due time and without fear, a rich harvest of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, dedicated husbands and wives, prayer-filled families, strong men, gentle women, a people holy and righteous in the Lord.

Little Lupe

Matthew 11:25 sets the theme for the reflection on children who are vulnerable to many forces and tugs of war not of their own making: &...