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.

Nov 4, 2017

Protect me from myself

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

I am often weary about unscrupulous funeral homes. I always recommend that when a family visits one when planning the funeral of someone they love dearly and miss terribly, that they take with them a neighbor, friend or colleague, or even someone they know from the church.  Why?

Often when we are weak, overwhelmed with despair, grief, uncertainty or even fear, our own judgment can be impaired.

When our thoughts are not focused, it is very easy to agree to every option someone might put before us even when we can’t truly afford it. And when we can hardly see our own signature through the tears in our eyes, or when our blood sugars are low or our emotions are high, it all adds up and the burden afterwards can sometimes be overwhelming.  

The same cautionary note might also apply to preparing for a wedding, shopping online, buying a car, downloading apps or even standing in line at an all-you-can-eat buffet. It is easy to bite off more that we can chew!

Of course, we can often be reluctant to admit that we need help when making important choices in life or deciding which path to follow. Sometimes, this might come from trying to see the world in black and white or entrenching ourselves in our own sense of self importance. This can be pride.

Other times, we might be reluctant to seek help because we might find ourselves too weak, too afraid of the unknown, preferring instead the protection of something or someone stronger shielding us on the day of turmoil. This can be fear.

Our Blessed Lord, as a shepherd of His flock was, and indeed is, especially protective of the weak and vulnerable, particularly when they are at risk being exploited by people or forces greater than they had the power to stand up to, question or ignore.

Our Lord has an all-seeing eye. His gaze can reach into the hearts of the strong and the weak, the powerful and the vulnerable - He knows what we are all made of and he is not afraid to strip us all down, not to reveal us in our shame, but so that we may know our true dignity, our original dignity, made in the image and likeness of God, worthy of all respect and reverence.

Christians, in whatever walk or circumstances of life, have been given a particular gift of sight. It is to have the eye of a shepherd, a good shepherd- through the lense of God’s grace to see beyond every barricade or monument that blocks our vision of heaven. To see through the deception of false security and comfort. To see into the heart and soul of every man, woman, child and, yes, even the unborn baby, and recognise that we are all made out of the same “stuff” of God, who alone is the Father of us all.

With this gift of divine insight, we now ready ourselves to look in the direction of the Holy Eucharist. Not to see bread and a cup, nor to be distracted by polished silver or gold. Instead, through the lense of faith we seek to see and to hear the Good Shepherd who will stand before us and invite us to leave everything behind to follow Him, and Him alone.

November Remembers

A Month of Prayer for our Deceased Brothers and Sisters.  

When we pray for the dead, for the holy souls, we acknowledge that our love is never wasted, that friendship and love can reach out over the dark expanse of death.  Out of this close bond of affection and love we pray in the direction of heaven, for those who have gone before us as they approach the judgment seat of God, that they will not be afraid but trust all the more that God is a merciful God. 

The reason we pray for the dead is grounded in our Christian hope, the trajectory of their lives, motivated by God's grace, will point them to union with God.  Because we know ourselves so well, it is the hope that those who have died before finally entering into the purity of God’s presence, that they will have the courage to let go of every distracting attachment of their earthly lives.

We ourselves know what we are made of. We know that in the freedom of our lives, we are often distracted from our journey towards union with God. We know that, even though we may have received the sacraments of forgiveness for our sins, still, even the memory of past sins, although forgiven, must be purged. Ghosts from our past can still annoy us, even though we know them to have no substance. So our focus must be completely and freely directed towards God and God alone. This purging, the purifications of our memories, of learning to see God without distraction of attachments to this world, to all things that are passing, we call “purgatory”. 

Purifying our minds, body and soul is necessary as we journey literally "through" life. On our journey into the heart of God, each one of us, must allow ourselves to be open to the gentle dawn of heaven’s purifying light.  The light of heaven, can be as beautiful as it is terrifying!  For in heaven there is no place for any lingering shadows, only perfection to which we can finally assert that "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

Because of our common humanity, our common God-given dignity, which does not end in death, we can and must make prayers, supplications and petitions out of the love we have for all our brothers and sisters, especially those who, through the gateway of death, are entering into the presence of God. Our hope is that our Father will see and recognize the life of Christ His Son in each of them too.

Let us pray for our beloved departed that they will perfectly see God face to face, and not be afraid. Let us pray also for ourselves - that as we approach the hidden Lord through the veil of the Sacrament of the Mass, that one day we will also see Him face to face and in the company of all our loved ones, whom we pray for in particular during this month of November. We do so because we know our love and God's grace can reach beyond death, even to the shores of heaven itself.

Nov 1, 2017

Friends in high places

Today’s solemn feast day of All Hallows or All Saints is celebrated every year with serious attention so that we do not forget what our life as Christians is about. It is all about salvation. We exist for one reason – to be ultimately joined to God in heaven.

The Christian believes in heaven. All who are in heaven already we call saints.  What makes a human being compatible with heaven is “holiness”. Holiness allows, not only able to approach God and see him face to face, holiness also allows us to notice how the things of heaven are also very much alive and active in the world, but especially in the sacraments of the Church. In this building, we encounter the very person Jesus Christ to gathers all his disciples around him still, whether they be in heaven or on earth.  If we are to be numbered among them, we are called to be saints too – for where Christ is present, so too are the saints.

Saints are those who have reached home before us. They are our heavenly brothers and sisters, our extended family in heaven. When we look upon a picture of them and ask them to pray for us, we long to see what they now see – we ask them to show us whom their gaze is fixed upon.

While they walked this earth as members of the Church, they sought to be faithful to God and loyal to the Church, not simply in the big events of their lives. More importantly, they were as much authentic Christians when nobody was watching them, when they were alone and away of the public eye.

And that’s the difference between sainthood and knighthood!  The Church bestows recognition of a certain person with the honor of being called a saint, not because they were champions and heroes and did great things.  The Church recognizes a Christian as a saint because, even in the secret of their lives, beyond the glimpse of spectators, these men and women led lives of authentic prayer, sacrifice and devotion to God. For this reason, there are more saints in heaven whose names we do not know and whose life’s stories have and never will be told.  To be included, one day, in their company, is all we need to pray for.

To inspire us to be authentic Christian disciples, of course, we look to Mary (CCC 2679). To be united with her in prayer, as were the first disciples of her Son, we pray that with God’s grace, one day she will take us by the hand and lead us through the gates and into the very heart of heaven, and in the company of all the saints, to look upon the face of Jesus Christ, her Son and our Lord and God.

Oct 28, 2017

Don't say another word!

Matthew 22:34-40 

When our Blessed Lord faced various religious and political groups of His day, many challenged His words or tried to trip Him up using their own. How did our Blessed Lord respond? He reminded them, as He does us that it was not about taking sides, winning arguments or successes with changing the opinions of those you disagree with.  

Instead it is about God’s commandment to love Him and our neighbor with everything we got – with every bit of our mind, with our whole heart and with every fiber of our being. In other words, with total commitment and with complete fidelity.

Christ tells us that we are on duty to love God and our neighbor 24 hours a day and seven days a week! Is this a standard for heaven or earth? After all, we are to do the will of God "on earth as it is in heaven"!

However, our relationships are often “messy”.  We are forever conscious that we are incapable of loving perfectly.  Only God can. We can’t.  We experience, not only the sins of the world, but we are always conscious of our own sinfulness, our own weakness and vulnerability.  This is not our excuse to “dumb down” how we find ourselves, or as an excuse to choose the path of least resistance as we walk through an incredibly complex world in which we are faced with many challenges.  

To be like Christ, to be Christ-like, we will find ourselves tempted in the desert, pushed around by the crowd, moved at times with compassion, cornered by opponents, forced to respond to situations not of our making, asked to give help, having to teach, and looked to for advice.  So how do we love God with everything we have and love our neighbor when we find ourselves in the midst of the unrelenting storms of this world?  

Well, what did Christ do to the storms of his day, whether He found himself on a boat with his disciples or in the city encircled by his opponents? He silenced them.  

It is this silence, a sacred silence, which we too must seek.  When you love someone, it is often enough to simply gaze upon their face without a word said or a response made – to hold them simply in your heart, to think of them with fondness, to lift them up gently in prayer.  

God often speaks to us in whispers.  When we find ourselves in the midst of the storm of words, text messages, being provoked, annoyed, angered, frustrated, allow Christ to place His finger gently over your lips – "hush!"  Only then can we better hear the gentle voice of the Good Shepherd and the inner still voice of our conscience, and not be afraid to allow it, with the help of the Church’s wisdom, to temper our hearts, purify our souls and form our minds to do the will of God on earth as it is in heaven.

Oct 21, 2017

Missionary Tax!

Today's Gospel highlights an often contentious subject that has been around for thousands of years. Wars have been waged because of it, revolutions have been ignited in protest against it, ordinary Americans and political parties constantly debate it - "should we pay taxes? If so, how much? And who should benefit?" It seems nobody can escape the obligation one way or another. Paying tax, whether it is from the income you generate, the food we buy or the fuel we pump at the gas station, it is weaved into the the very fabric of our lives.

When Our Lord responded to the question "should someone pay taxes to the State even when they disagree with it", His answer "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God", has itself been debated and picked apart for hundreds and hundreds of years.  I think we all agree with the basic principle: we "repay Caesar" to ensure, at least, for example, the basic movement of goods and services on our roads, streets and highways for the common good of all. But we are also bound to "repay God" to ensure the free movement of His missionary disciples, on those same roads, streets and highways in service to the Gospel so that God's message may reach out from here to the ends of the earth. (Toll charges may apply!)

This Sunday is called World Mission Sunday.  It’s when we first give thanks for the enthusiasm of a family of traveling saints who came before us.  By their heroic lives they learnt much about about suffering and sacrifice in order to bring us, even at the cost of their own lives, the message and the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  

As an example, we look back with thanksgiving to the efforts of the Saint Junipero Serra and the Franciscan family who built the Californian Missions up and down the coast, baptizing tens of thousands as they did so along the El Camino Real highway (maintained by a tax to the Spanish King). And the countless priests and nuns who journeyed across the seas and stepped off boats onto the soil of foreign lands and distant islands, building up churches, schools and hospitals.

And to the first Catholic families who settled in lands far from home and bringing up their children in the faith, ensured that Christianity would be passed on from one generation to another. All of us here are indebted to missionary families of some sort, their enthusiasm and their sacrifices.

However, this is not simply a history or civics lesson. The missionary work of the family still continues.  “Today as in the past, He (Christ) sends us through the highways of the world to proclaim His gospel to all peoples of the earth” (Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, n. 7).  Faith in Christ does not end with us. It is alive when we can share it with others, talk about it, and exercise it freely without fear or hindrance. We have nothing to fear when we pay back to God in gratitude for the countless blessings He has given us.

This is why supporting the missionary activity of the Catholic family is part of everything we do. It’s fruits are seen at home and beyond when we desire to imitate Christ by
- looking after our neighbor as well as the stranger,

- when we seek justice for the poorest of the poor, for the forgotten souls often ignored by society,
-when missionaries offer resources to bring the possibility of basic education to the most remote villages or town lands,
- or medical help in isolated places,
- or to be a voice for the voiceless so as to help lift up families and children from poverty, not just economic,
- responding to the poverty of the soul when it thinks that there is no love or tenderness in the world.  This is the mission of the Church, when through her missionaries the response is  “Here comes Christ!”

Pray that the Mission of the Church will never be afraid to bringing the Savior and the grace of the sacraments into the homes of those who long to be embraced by God’s love.

Pray for the missionaries, especially for Christians who are still persecuted and must endure personal sufferings for the sake of the Gospel.

Pray for those who live in countries where the Good News of Salvation is forbidden to be preached and where conversion to Christ is punishable, even at times by the sword.  

We pray for and be inspired by those who have risked everything, given everything, to follow Christ, knowing that He alone offerings lasting peace and true fulfillment of our soul's desire.

We turn to Our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph who worked hard to put food on the table and prepared Christ to venture outside of the family home of Nazareth, to inspire us also to be witnesses of the Gospel to every land and nation for the sake of the salvation of the whole world.

Oct 14, 2017

Not So Fast!

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time:  

Reflecting on this portion of the Gospel we have just heard, concerning the invitation to all to come to the sacred banquet that God has prepared, St. Augustine reminds us, that although everyone is invited to attend, everyone of us who are able to receive Holy Communion, (clergy included), should examine how we approach the table of the Lord. (St. Augustine Sermon 90.1). 

One of the practical difficulties we sometimes run into during the time of Holy Communion, is our own tendency to be very well organised! We like to have things in order. We pride ourselves in being efficient. And when we gather in a large church like this, to facilitate the movement of those who will be receiving Holy Communion, almost by a natural default, those who are sitting in the first row almost always come up first and then, others follow - row by row.  But there is a danger when we are too well ordered. And I will give you an example from my own personal experience. 

Before I was ordained a priest, in my early twenties, out of curiosity, I attended a non-Catholic communion service.  I quickly darted passed the “greeters” at the door, just in case they asked me who I was and the reason I was there!  I then discreetly slipped into the back pew, (but I nearly blew my cover when I caught myself just about to genuflect!)  

Towards the end of the service, the greeters I had avoided at the front doors, now took up their place at the top of the center aisle and began to walk backwards ushering the people, row by row, out of their seats and directing them towards a minister who was administering the denomination's equivalent of communion.  Row by row the people spilled out and walked towards the minister. As the ushers came near I became somewhat nervous. What should I do? Do I fall in line so as not to appear impolite, out of place or embarrassed? Do I simply go with the flow and walk up?    

With so many natural instincts tugging me in every direction I reflected on why Holy Communion in the context of the Mass is such a sacred event for Catholics. For us, if we are able to, receiving Holy Communion at Mass, strengthens my union, not only with Christ Himself, but also with the Catholic Church community. It tells the world that you can look upon me as an example, not only of what our Church teaches about herself and Holy Communion, but I also put myself in public view to be a credible witness as to how a Catholic is to live in the world in the light of Christ's Gospel.  

So what happened in that non-Catholic church when the usher came to where I was sitting and motioned me to get up and join the line? I looked up at him and politely said, “No thank you! I will use this time for private prayer and reflection.” He looked puzzled. I felt awkward, a little embarrassed, self conscious!  But then I felt “good” - a sense of peace that I had the freedom of conscience to say no - that I didn't just follow the crowd or try to pretend that I fit in, when my personal and public life plainly said otherwise.  

So back to here. We will, no doubt, come to what should truly be for each of us, the awkward moment of Holy Communion at Mass. Because the reception of this sacrament presumes that our private and public lives reflect the life and teachings of Christ and our Catholic Faith, Holy Communion is not a simple “given”.  For all of us, this sacrament should always be approached with a sense of awkwardness, a sense of apprehension, even, what we call in our traditional language, “holy fear” - a profound reverence. Unfortunately, it often times isn't, especially when we approach this unique Sacrament mechanically, or out of habit, without prayer or preparation, or without, when needed, the Sacrament of God's Mercy in Reconciliation .

Maybe what we need is a few more speed bumps on the aisle that leads to the altar!  It’s good to slow down a little, so that we might examine our hearts, lives and lifestyles, not in our own light (I always look good in my my own light and in my own estimation!) We need to find better opportunities of time to see ourselves in the purifying light of God's mercy, and how we respond to the Gospel, the Commandments and our Church’s teaching.  To that end, I would suggest, even if your neighbors in your pew get up to go to Holy Communion, if you need some extra time to prepare yourself, to pray and meditate, take as much time as you honestly need. God has a lot of time. He's not going anywhere.

So as not to lose our place forever at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb of God, the garment we should always be conscious of wearing in this holy place “should always reflect a pure heart, a good conscience and a faith true and strong” (St. Augustine). 

May the Blessed Mother of the Christ Child who at times trusts us to carry her Son in our own arms, prepare us to do so with conscientious gentleness.

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 Eur...