Jun 17, 2018

The Family on Earth as it is in Heaven

 Pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Shrine of Knock, Ireland

The image we have before us, witnessed by many first hand, depicts a glimpse into heaven. And what do we see? We see a family. We notice first the mother, Mary. Her son, Jesus, is depicted as a lamb. By her side we see her husband, Joseph. And then a young priest, John the Beloved, adopted into the family by the words of Christ from the Cross to His mother, “Woman, behold your son”. Our Lord’s last will and testament was focused on keeping the family, on earth as it is in heaven. 

Christ was born into a family – a family with true and real felt relationships. Christ experienced the relationship between Joseph and Mary as a husband and wife. As a child He grew up experiencing the sacred and natural bond one would expect between a mother and a child. And let’s not forget St. Joseph His legal father, His foster father. St. Joseph’s influence on the child helped Jesus to grow into an appreciation of the duties of manhood, the responsibilities needed to protect, provide and serve the family.

And let’s not forget the extended family of Joseph and Mary. Too often we only picture them as a threesome. This is hardly the experience of family life in the Middle East. Much like life family life in Hispanic or Mediterranean cultures, and indeed many cultures throughout the world, it is worth meditating that Christ had aunts and uncles, and cousins, first, second and third cousins who were all like brothers and sisters to him growing up. Let’s not forget his grandparents – Joachim and Anne, Mary’s parents. And from Joseph’s genealogy as recorded in St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus also had a grandfather called Jacob.

A Christian “writes” the account of the family life of Jesus by the environment of their very own family life and home.  You can have Christ himself a part of all your family joys, sorrows, tensions and celebrations. That is what family that prays together accomplishes, Christ as part of our family life.

But I understand too the great challenges the modern family faces every day. The fragmentation of time and the greater efforts demanded of parents because of long work hours, the intrusion of social media, the inability or reluctance to incorporate family prayer into daily life, the challenges of war, families separated by national borders or frontiers, children who have abandoned the faith, marriages and relationships that are challenged by fighting and frustrations  – this all takes it toll and looking for encouragement through difficult times often seems fought with one's reluctance to appear weak and vulnerable.

God could have simply appeared among us in the form of a strong and independent Jesus Christ. But He didn’t. Out of His love and concern for us, He was born weak and vulnerable into a human family challenged by circumstances beyond their control; He grew up within true and genuine relationships with all their joys and tensions.  

It was from Mary and Joseph, that God first experienced in His humanity, the tenderness of human love and the necessity of family life – so much so that even from the cross, He has asked us to take His mother into our safekeeping – Mary becomes our spiritual mother!

As children of God and brothers and sisters to each other, let us pray for the strengthening of our family bonds, for the healing of relationships and the renewal of our identity as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. May St. Joseph be always watchful over us and the angels and saints, the family of heaven, encourage and guide us. And may St. John always remind us that there is always room in our homes to welcome another mouth to feed and an extra guest at the table, on earth as it is in heaven.

A King's Green Thumb

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 9, 2018

Shore Leave

For many priests and deacons, it’s often a relief to find ourselves in what we call the season of Ordinary Time. Especially after this past church year, when no sooner had we prepared and celebrated Advent and Christmas, then, without much time to catch even a breath, it was the long season of Lent, followed immediately by Easter, then Confirmations, First Holy Communions and capped off with the Corpus Christi festivities last week. Behind the scenes, we’ve also been working on the renovations to the parish hall, responding to parish ministries and making sure the parish is financially stable even though we carry an enduring and bothersome debt.

From a regular parishioner’s view from the pew, you have only to arrive on time for Mass and make sure that afterwards there’s either enough coffee and doughnuts or you can get out of the parking lot in one piece! 

From the deacon and the priest’s point of view, we are, no doubt, a little exhausted at this point, working behind the scenes navigating this big ship through every weather pattern and much uncharted territory. From ploughing through storms at sea to welcoming new parishioners on board, putting out fires here and there and lighting a few, rejoicing when the sails are full and it’s full speed ahead, and frustrated when we’ve got stuck on the rocks, through the grace of God, alive to tell the story. From Advent to Easter with everything in between and all that comes with it, now that we are in “Ordinary Time”, finally that little voice from your personal GPS says, “You have reached your destination”.

Looking for some shore time, I said to Deacon, ‘Since, as the pastor I’ve had to preach during the holy seasons and big feast days, now that we are back to Ordinary Time, Deacon, you’re up”. But then when both of us looked and reflected on the selection of readings for this Sunday which highlight the complexities of human relationships, the drama and trauma of family life, the entanglement of sin and evil which threatens to divide our marriages, families and friendships, both of us groaned, “No, you preach”. (The fact that I’m standing here at the pulpit shows you who won the arm wrestle!).

But now, instead, I’m going to throw it back to you the good people of this parish. It’s time for you to preach and minister. It’s time for you to also help to build up the community of faith, taking a greater active role in the mission and ministry of the parish - to bring the message of salvation and the healing power of Christ to each other. But you can only do so, if you have only experienced it in your own life, reflected upon it, learned from it and given thanks to God.  

This church we are in right now has brought us all, through thick and thin, to a good place in our lives.  Here we have met Christ through the sacraments and listened to His voice.  But after the parish hall has been renovated and upgraded, we will have another new ship to sail especially for the sake of Marriage and Family Life Ministries.

So, in the meantime, as the captain of the ship, shore leave is extended! But you, my dear shipmates, you have the bridge! 

Jun 2, 2018

Why I am always hungry

Today’s great feast day of Corpus Christi, reminds us that the bread that He gives us, is not the stuff that fills our stomach. Christ feeds us through His eternal priesthood – by the sacrifice of His body and blood which He offered as a promise at the Last Supper, which He offered in flesh and blood on the Cross, and Resurrected from the dead and now in heaven, He continues to offer to His Father on our behalf. This is what priesthood is ordered towards and does – offering sacrifice.    

The bread and wine that we place on this altar, counts for little – it is little.  But in the hands of Christ the eternal priest, it becomes his own life-giving body and blood – Christ becomes our food in the wilderness of the world. 

This is by no means allegorical, or a metaphor. Time and space as we now experience it, prevents us seeing what angels and the saints of heaven can see. From our perspective, we have only a temporal reference point to look towards - our bread and wine. But when we do what the Lord commanded us to do at his Last Supper, God reaches out through eternity and touches our offerings of bread and wine, bringing them into complete and perfected union with the resurrected and eternal Body of Christ. 

With such a unique encounter between heaven and earth, between time and eternity, our bread and wine have no choice but to submit to become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ who continually intercedes for us before the throne of our heavenly Father. 

Even though from here, we can not see, nor taste this heaven on earth, when we eat and drink of the Eucharistic elements, our frail and broken bodies are guided, locked into communion with Christ's. This can be as painful as it is beautiful. 

Painful, because Holy Communion alerts us to our unworthiness, our sinfulness - we are imperfect, we are unfinished. It is beautiful because the gift of Holy Communion gives us hope that we, and all of creation, will be brought to our finality in Christ himself. What is broken within us can be mended, what is lacking can be fulfilled, what is wanting within us can be perfected. That is the hope our Eucharistic Lord offers.

In the meantime, as a people of faith and hope, we journey through this world with the expectation that it will, on earth as it is in heaven, blossom with new life. As we do so, let us be ever more cautious as well as conscious of our deepest deepest hunger and what or who we look to to make up what we feel or sense we are lacking: our souls for the Bread that feeds and satisfies angels and heavenly saints, but so does our bodies, our mind and our heart - our own flesh and blood.

Do not look for symbols or allegories of bread, in whatever form they way be presented to you, as a quick fix to satisfy a natural craving. Instead, look beyond your senses, your own natural hunger for the nourishment Christ gives through His own Body and Blood. If we gaze towards Him and be open allowing ourselves to be fed by the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, then bit by bit our own body and blood will not only recover, but become perfected onto eternity.

May our mother Mary, who provided her divine child with the flesh and blood of humanity, help us in our hunger to partake of the Body and Blood of eternity - our Eucharistic Lord Jesus Christ.

May 26, 2018

Very, Very, Very Personable

The Most Blessed Trinity

Three Homilies in One

1. As soon as one hears or speaks the words, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, there is the overwhelming temptation to either bless oneself or respond “Amen”. In many ways, it’s muscle memory, defined as “the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetition”!

Of course, in our theological language, we automatically identify God as a Trinity. "What" is the Almighty? One God. "Who" is the one God? The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  We can draw diagrams, use symbols and offer allegories to help explain the three distinct divine persons united as one God. But that's as far as we can go. Human language and imagination will never understand or fathom this divine reality and mystery.  Such an intellectual response is hardly personal. But, how God responds to you and me, is always personal.

Here is a case in point. When, for example, a deacon, priest or bishop is ordained, much attention is given to the ritual of the liturgy, the choice of Scripture, the music and hymn selection, the power of the prayers, the laying on of hands, and the vesting with the sacred robes of office. However, one sacred action, very personal to each one of them, before being ordained, not only brought them to their knees - it ensured that each one of them would would literally collapse before the almighty power of God. 

But not in fear and humiliation. Instead, to abandon oneself with utmost trust into the very gentle hands and the most loving embrace of the one God, who is Father, who is Son, who is the Holy Spirit. The God who is Fatherly, the God who has a human heart, the God who is a secret intimate friend. One God, and very, very, very personable.

2. Although our human language and imagination will never understand or fathom how the one eternal God is united in Three distinct Persons, the Good News is that because our minds can only go so far, little by little, God gently reveals Himself to us slowly, unfolding for us the pattern of His unimaginable thoughts (Proverbs 8:22-33). We don’t have to be theologians or philosophers. By simple observation we can gain some insight that God is Father of all, creator of all that is visible or hidden from our eyes. (Psalm 8:4-9).

But proving His existence or trying to understanding what God is, is not our goal. Instead it is God’s goal that we should enter into a relationship with Him. God revealed Himself to Abraham and Moses, not only as the creator of everything that is, He revealed Himself as a loving and caring heavenly Father - “I will be your God and you will be my people”.

But the eternal God, wished to draw even closer to us and revel more of Who He is. We can say that Jesus Christ is God's very own self-portrait! But more than that. A portrait can be looked at from a distance. Instead, through Christ's flesh and blood, God allows Himself to reach out and actually touch us, to personally experience the joys and sorrows, the happiness and sufferings of every one of us, wanting to draw us closer and closer into His divine life, talking to us directly with words we can understand, living with us intimately in a love that we can experience, sharing in our joys, in our sorrows, in our pain and also our suffering.

3. Jesus Christ is God being personal with you and me, inviting us even into His own experience of being God - the divine love between Father and Son.  

Of course, our experience of this type of relationship is limited to our own experience or only as great as our best imagination. But Christ continually invites you and me into His very own perfect relationship that He enjoys with the Father - a relationship of the most perfect love between two persons that can ever exist, not contained or constrained, not even by time itself.

Christ invites all of us, all humanity, through His Body and Blood, into the very "divine life" of the One He dares to call “Father”, “Abba”. And that Divine Love - is not a force or a feeling - it has It's own unique personality - in a manner of speaking, the Divine Love between Father and Son can “stand on its own two feet”, bring down mountains and build them up again, create life and evoke fear and wonder; yes - the divine person is the Holy Spirit. Therefore a Christian, filled with God the Holy Spirit, with the same breath of Christ can dare to call God, Father - "Abba".

But here is some practical advice. Don't try to get your head around this! Instead, get your heart around Christ and you will find and experience the greatest intimacy, His very life that God desires to share and draw us into.

What does this mean? The Trinity, that is one God perfectly united as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not conceptual nor imaginative.  God is relational within His own being and with all creation, ourselves particularly and personally.

It is insufficient to simply bless ourselves to pay tribute to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Instead, let it mark simply the beginning and the end of our prayer. Taking a visual cue from a deacon, priest or bishop who must lower themselves to the ground beneath their feet, everyone of us and every day, must have the courageous faith to simply abandon ourselves into the very life of God, trusting in His power, His Heart and His life-giving Love, on earth as it is in heaven!

May 19, 2018

Rebuilding Blocks

Vigil of Pentecost

Genesis 11:1-9 & John 7:37-39

Tonight sees us making the necessary preparations in anticipation of tomorrow's great feast day of Pentecost - the celebration of the Holy Spirit's arrival to visibly shape upon this earth, from the building blocks of the disciples, God's Church, for the salvation of the world.

To first demonstrate that we can not do this by ourselves, taken from the selection of readings from Scriptures, Genesis provides us great insight to what happens when we try to design and build, shape and form our own destiny without the Spirit of God.

We commonly call this story the one about the Tower of Babel. In fact, the tower is only one component of a much bigger picture. It has to do with the building of a city, within which there would be designed a tower. Its height would attempt to scrape the sky - a "skyscraper", to grab at heaven. What can we learn from this "Jack and the Beanstalk" story?

When we attempt to take into our own hands the power to build ourselves up - to, in a way, steal the power of the heavens, we will never be able to complete the project, no matter how hard we try.  Adam and Eve made this foolish attempt. So did their offspring, the citizens of Babel. It's when we try to capture God, put Him in a bottle and manipulate His will, for the sake of our own glory, not His.

God ultimately intervenes and topples our fortress. That's what happens to our little sandcastle when the predictable tide comes in. God allows our house of cards to topple. Why? To injure and frustrate us? No. He does so for our own protection. We can not fulfill our God-given destiny from within lives shaped and molded by the world around us, like castles molded from a bucket and spade from a day at the beach.

The event of Babel reminds us that even with the progress of science, technology, our understanding of psychology, the pursuit of prosperity and economic security, there will always be boundaries. Why? Too often, our soul's thirst to reach the heavens is confused with our own sense of insignificance, small, before the immensity of an incredible complex world and enormous mystifying universe. Often, out of fear, there is the temptation to insulate ourselves.

Since the fall of humanity, this has been our disease. But so that we might not become crushed under the weight of our own armor, God comes to our rescue in Christ. He does so to get us back on our feet as workers to build His Church, according to His own design, not ours.

Whereas if we might want to undertake our own project, and need to find all our own strength, and endurance, we might fall back, as we sometimes do, to some sort of energy drink, from strong coffee to red bull! Christ instead calls out and says, "Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink." The only way we can fulfill our God-given destiny and reach our heavenly Father is through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit".

Let us pray for the strength that comes from the strong breath of God the Holy Spirit, the strength of Christ who alone can rebuild our toppled egos, strengthen our fragile bodies, and fortify our wounded hearts and desperate souls. This is our prayer on the eve of Pentecost so that we can be a Church made in the image and likeness of Christ's Body, which rose from the dead gloriously and reached the heavens. May the Holy Spirit find now in you and me, not someone exhausted trying to reach the sky, but a humble dwelling ready to receive heaven as its guest here on earth with a willing heart to work for the salvation of the world.

May 12, 2018

The Mystery of the Unseen Guest

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 return again.  

However, although He is no longer before our eyes, and heaven, which we often presume is beyond us, the question might be asked, "How can Christ still walk with us, share in our celebrations, joys, our struggles, or does he, from heaven?' How does He, in a manner of speaking, just tune into what we are doing here on earth? Or is this all simply poetical talk, in the same way as we might say we would wish to keep someone close to our hearts?

Never think that Christ's presence is simply sentimental, or He is in fact far away - in another universe or in some distant unreachable place above the clouds. Take comfort that He is now close to us. In fact, the reality of His presence is now greater than it was with any of His disciples two thousand years ago when He walked among them. 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.

The reality of the Christ who entered into heaven still being with us is here can be illustrated by how we listen and respond 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 consumed by the presence and voice of Christ still announcing the Good News of the Kingdom of God. And how do we respond after hearing the Gospel? We do not reply,  "praise to you deacon or praise to you pastor!” We instead respond "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ”. It is Christ 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.” And that is indeed our prayer of our soul.  

Therefore Mass is not a ladder that reaches through the clouds. Instead, it is more like a bridge, a pathway to heaven that is opened, a veil or curtain pushed aside and with the eyes of faith we can gaze upon Christ face to face, as did the shepherds and kings in Bethlehem - as did Mary, in the quiet moments of adoration and thanksgiving, as did the disciples in the Upper Room at the Last Supper and after His resurrection from the dead. 

And let's not forget that Christ was with St. Paul all along the road to Damascus. When the Lord allowed him to see Him, it was too much for Paul's eyes to behold and they "exploded" blinding him for three days until his sight was restored back to normal when he was baptized.

Today, even though we, who are baptized into the life, death, resurrection and glorious ascension of Christ into heaven, can not see Him as He truly is in all His glory, let us never ourselves be blind to the reality of Christ accompanying us on our journey - that heaven itself is always before us in some form or another. Maybe all it takes is to close our eyes and make just one leap of faith in the right direction and we will see before our eyes, the substantial reality of heaven itself - Christ true God and True Man. May our Blessed Mother Mary share with us the privileged of her insight along the way.

“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.)

The Family on Earth as it is in Heaven

  Pilgrimage  to Our Lady’s Shrine of Knock, Ireland The image we have before us, witnessed by many first hand, depicts a glimpse i...