Nov 16, 2019

Mind the Gap


33rd. Sunday. Luke 21:5-19. -

Unlike summer, when we begin our cruise towards the winter, our physical activities typically begin to slow down but not our minds. As the nights become longer many of us try to take comfort during the extended evening hours by browsing the internet, following sports or watching movies or late night shopping as if there is no tomorrow. And you never know, maybe there won’t be! When our lives are lived in darkness, it’s often difficult to look forward with hope. When we look out at the world and see nothing but bad news, conflicts, fighting and angry words, it’s difficult to see beyond it all to look forward to Good News. 

Consider the Gospel we have just heard. For the Jewish people during the time of Jesus, the temple of Jerusalem, was to them what might be to us here this beautiful church, or what the whole church has seen throughout the centuries in the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. We have also in our national popular imagination the iconic Capitol buildings, the White House, the Washington monument. The British have Big Ben, the French, the Eiffel Tower. End of the world scenarios depicted in futuristic books and movies can have us imagine them being blown up, destroyed, crumbling into masses of rubble. We often react with morbid fascination of such a storyline from the comfort of our armchair. 

But what if it did happen? Would our world crumble around us and all hope for the future vanish? When something or someone around whom our lives have revolved disappears from our view or is obscured by fighting, destruction or even death, darkness seems to triumph.  “Give us this day our daily bread” we are taught to pray. But our survival instincts can often turn us into scavengers competing with each other, picking apart the leftovers. Our need for God becomes as great as the feeling of God’s absence. 

We are very well practiced preaching about the God of the oppressed. We do not seem to be well versed in preaching about the God of the depressed. It’s that dark valley that all of us, at some point in our lives find ourselves forced to travel into, especially when trying to cope with the pain of something or someone we love and live for being taken away or no longer recognizable. 

Our Lord tells us that we will inevitably experience this dark moment in our own lives, our family lives, even in the life of the church. What does he say to us?  His answer is simple, difficult because it often goes against our natural instincts, but is it nevertheless simple, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives”. 

Is that it, just hang in there? Yes, but as Christians we do so with a “secret” knowledge. As dark and as painful as the destruction and toppling of the shaffolds that often keep our lives manageable, there will be, at the right time, a resurrection and restoration. This is not just our Christian faith. It is the hallmark of Christian hope, not founded on the belief that things can only get better. It is founded on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the new Samson who stands ready to topple all our man made temples, shelters and securities. So, make sure the world comes crashing down around you, and not upon you. Christ needs us to help him build a new world and from it, as the first reading reminded us, “there will arise the sun of justice and its healing rays”.



Nov 10, 2019

Looking Forward, not back

Today’s Sunday Homily was based on the final line from the Creed: 
“I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”

Essentially I blended together the two homilies below, for All Saints and All Souls with a bit of a twist - that instead of leaving this world and going to heaven, heaven comes to us allowing us to rise from the dead on that final unending day and renew the face of the earth with the coming of the Kingdom of God. 
Christ has risen from the dead, and following him all the saints (in the right order). We’ll want to depend on them for help to walk towards the Lord, learning to walk again in a new light. Only those who prefer darkness, sleep during the day refusing to draw open the curtains they keep firmly closed tight. That’s the difference between eternal light and eternal darkness - night and day. 


All Saints

What does the future hold for us?

When we think of our personal future, what we often naturally reflect upon is our job opportunities, our family life or even our investments and retirement some day. 

What does the future hold for our world. We might be optimistic thinking about new technologies, better medicines, treatments, even an eventual cure for cancer. Maybe we don’t see much of a future because of concerns  we might have about the way our society is evolving, our awareness of greater violence, increasing harm being inflicted against human dignity and God’s creation. 

One way or another, we often say that the future belongs to us and our children. But, realistically it doesn’t! Only the present belong to us, the here and now. Now is always the time to do good and avoid evil, to love God and our neighbor and to be grateful and give thanks to God for all the gifts he gives us through all of his creation. 

So what is our future destiny? That depends on how we are united to God’s will on here and now on earth as it is in heaven. 

This is where family and friends help and connect us. 

Christian disciples always hope for the best. Not simply for ourselves, but for each other. And not simply for the living, but also those who have died. Dead or alive, a Christian is called to be a saint, to reach our future destiny to be completely one with God through Jesus Christ, in mind, in body and soul - to be lacking in nothing. 

Have those saints who have gone before us achieved that destiny, those saints whom he church prayer to, particular saints that we might have a particular devotion to such as St. Margaret, St. Francis, St. Therese, etc.? We look to them as part of our extended family and within our circle of friends. Have they crossed the finish line as we hope we will one day?

In fact no, not yet? Our favorite saints are lacking something. They are lacking their physical bodies! Their bodies and their relics are still here on earth. Is that what our future destiny holds for us?

For example, entombed in this altar are the relics of St. Benno and St. Cyril. Upon this altar I have placed bone fragments from the body of St. Anne, St. Bonaventure, St. John Macias, St. Anthony Claret and St Maria Goretti. Not so long ago, the preserved heart of St. John Vianney came to this church for a few hours. Is this the final destiny for all the saints, both living and dead - to be entombed in marble, encased in glass or to be buried in the depths of the earth? No! Heaven forbid!

We believe in the resurrection of the dead, the physical and glorious resurrection of the dead body to a new life and a new kind of existence through the power of God. Our common future destiny is to, one day (and what a day that will be), after all our work work is done, to rise from the dead with all the saints of heaven and earth, and together as family and friends to be counted among them. 

“Oh when the saints come marching in. Oh when the saints come marching in. I want to be in that number, when the saints come marching in.” (And remember they march in, they do not float or fly in!)

In this Holy Eucharist, may our partaking of the glorious resurrected body and blood of Christ, who is for us the medicine of eternal life and the anecdote to immortality, not only raise our spirits high, but also our minds, bodies and soul towards that day of his coming when we too will rise from the dead together and step into a new world as saints in a new creation. 

All Souls

We remember those who have died. Even now, we make them present in our minds. If we have loved them in life, they are to us not ghosts or spirits. We remember them in the context of a relationship. This occurs when we perhaps look at photographs, when we go down memory lane, when we relive in our mind events, celebrations, a conversation, even having an argument or something we can never forget. 

This is what eulogies attempt to do. Remember when…..? Sometimes we share with others a memory. Sometimes two or three may share particular experiences from different perspectives. We see our loved one with the fresh eyes of another. And there are memories that are, for us a deeply unique, secret in a way that only you can appreciate.  Sometimes our best memories are awakened when we are alone and reminiscing of days past. 

But where are they now? Are they in heaven? Do they live in our hearts? Are they simply no longer here? 

Suffice to say, those who have died, they now rest in peace. And resting in peace is something that we all do after a long day’s work. We all deserve our rest at sometime in our lives. 

Each one of us, after the sun has set and our own work is over, we too will rest from all our labors, rest from all our anxieties, our worries – rest from the work of daily life and living.

And for those who have now taken their final rest, what we call death, they are at peace, until that great day at some unknown time, when the Son of the eternal day will dawn upon us all. And when that day comes, all who have died in Christ and lived for him will not be afraid when we awaken and with sleepy eyes behold our creator and our judge.

So what is our prayer for our faithful departed, our loved ones who have died? Even though we may remember our sins, our Christian hope gives us confidence that we should never be afraid of God our Savior, not to be afraid of the judge of heaven and earth. He is the good shepherd who comes to lead his flock through the valley of darkness to the green pastures of everlasting life. Together let us follow him. 

So until that final day comes, may we and our departed family, friends and loved ones always rest in peace and hold on to that hope we have in Christ of eternal life. 


Nov 2, 2019

Tree Hugging


Luke 19:1-9

Zacchaeus was a businessman, a very rich and lucrative businessman. In fact, he was the CEO of a consortium of debt collectors, money launderers and profiteers, despised by the general population, entertained by the rich and famous.  In practice, popular opinion polls would have overwhelmingly suggested that Zacchaeus worshiped a false god and should be shunned by hard-working, simple and honest folk! Add to this, Our Blessed Lord reminds us that it is difficult for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Difficult, yes, but not impossible!  So, how was this man, rich in the eyes of the world, to become rich in the eyes of heaven? Before we start pointing fingers and drawing conclusions as to who such an individual might be, let us be clear. Zacchaeus is you and me!

The first thing we will notice is that Zacchaeus - if he was to encounter Christ, even by chance - he knows he has to get away from the crowd.  

How easy it is for all of us to hide in the crowd at times, to hide behind layers of walls, hide behind or positions, even lost in an online anonymous crowd of statistics and made-up usernames.  Christ himself would never let anything outside of Himself, the crowd or popular opinion to dictate to Him who He was. He would never allow the crowd to force Him into giving His life.  Often, He would retreat to mountaintops, and quiet places to pray. And He would encourage His followers to do likewise - to get away from the crowds, our laptops and smartphones! How long do you think you could survive without wifi???

You see, it really doesn’t matter if you see yourself as big or small, standing out for attention or just going with the flow. The crowd, the herd mentality, has a habit of obscuring our view of the immensity of God's love for each and every unique face in all humanity.  Here in the Gospel, a well intentioned crowd was blocking Zacchaeus from seeking Christ.  

Our Blessed Lord does not want to be treated like a celebrity. He is not in the crowds signing autographs and posing for selfies. He is searching out for sinners - sinners who want to hear His voice, His words of mercy and who want to experience forgiveness and healing.  Caught in the tsunami of a crowd going in every direction, how does God draw out the sinner?

In many cases, it happens in the most unexpected way. Sometimes it just does not make sense. It can even appear foolish, twisted and bizarre.  Does Zacchaeus need a dramatic experience of grace to propel him up a tree so he can glimpse heaven, if only from a distance? Of course not. But underneath his visible effort, God’s invisible grace is at work lifting him up and out from the clutches of the fast moving world – God’s grace is working with him in his gradual detachment from the clutches of the world.

To all appearances, this little rich man, in order to experience mercy, up in a tree - it seems comical, even foolish.  But is it really?  It equally seems foolish on the part of God, that He would send His Son and put Him also on a tree. And from that tree divine mercy would be communicated to the world, even if the crowd responded by laughter or mockery.  And if we have to climb a tree to see our Blessed Lord, let us climb the tree of the cross and not be afraid to look foolish doing so.  For it is upon the wood of the cross that Christ offers His body and blood in sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. 

Also like Zacchaeus, we are not stuck up the tree forever, lost in the darkness of its branches! When we hear the voice of Him who will eventually tell us to come down, we know that we will have passed through our own Good Friday and into the day of the Resurrection. Salvation has come to our house!

Now this is not simply symbolic language. It’s a template for our own conversion. Conversion is not a simple one-minute exercise or an hour long ritual. It is continual, drawing us deeper and deeper into the love and mercy of God.  And it is often a continuous battle. There are times when we are glad to get away from the crowd.  There are times when we are caught up in it again.  There are times when we try to detach ourselves from the things of this world. There are times when we find it hard to let go.  There are times when we have found great comfort and strength in the cross of Christ. There are times when, because of fear and embarrassment, we have abandoned Christ on the cross.  There are times when we have joyfully trusted that He will catch us when we fall. There are times when we have kept our eyes closed and allowed our fear and sins to paralyze us.

How does the story end? Christ invites Himself into our homes, into the messy circumstances of our lives. But on our part, we have to always make sure that the door is open and there is a place and space for Him in our home, a home that may be messy inside but it keeps the crazy crowds outside.

And if we find ourselves like we do now, gathered around this altar surrounded by sinners and with the world outside thumping at our door trying to get in our mind, know that each one of us has already caught the attention of Christ's mercy. From here, whether He's invited or not, He wants to go home with you today, regardless if you have your home tidy or in disarray. Remember, the first home Christ had was a manger, a stable!

The Sunday Mass we celebrate today, opens the door.  Allow Christ to pass through the crowd and enter into the sanctuary of your home. And as our guest, let our response also be mercy - mercy especially to those, who because of our rash opinions, we have often deprived, one way or another, of their God-given dignity that no one can rob. This way we lift up everyone to that opportunity for human virtue that God's grace promises to every sinner.

All Saints All Souls



All Saints

What does the future hold for us?

When we think of our personal future, what we often naturally reflect upon is our job opportunities, our family life or even our investments and retirement some day. 

What does the future hold for our world. We might be optimistic thinking about new technologies, better medicines, treatments, even an eventual cure for cancer. Maybe we don’t see much of a future because of concerns  we might have about the way our society is evolving, our awareness of greater violence, increasing harm being inflicted against human dignity and God’s creation. 

One way or another, we often say that the future belongs to us and our children. But, realistically it doesn’t! Only the present belong to us, the here and now. Now is always the time to do good and avoid evil, to love God and our neighbor and to be grateful and give thanks to God for all the gifts he gives us through all of his creation. 

So what is our future destiny? That depends on how we are united to God’s will on here and now on earth as it is in heaven. 

This is where family and friends help and connect us. 

Christian disciples always hope for the best. Not simply for ourselves, but for each other. And not simply for the living, but also those who have died. Dead or alive, a Christian is called to be a saint, to reach our future destiny to be completely one with God through Jesus Christ, in mind, in body and soul - to be lacking in nothing. 

Have those saints who have gone before us achieved that destiny, those saints whom he church prayer to, particular saints that we might have a particular devotion to such as St. Margaret, St. Francis, St. Therese, etc.? We look to them as part of our extended family and within our circle of friends. Have they crossed the finish line as we hope we will one day?

In fact no, not yet? Our favorite saints are lacking something. They are lacking their physical bodies! Their bodies and their relics are still here on earth. Is that what our future destiny holds for us?

For example, entombed in this altar are the relics of St. Benno and St. Cyril. Upon this altar I have placed bone fragments from the body of St. Anne, St. Bonaventure, St. John Macias, St. Anthony Claret and St Maria Goretti. Not so long ago, the preserved heart of St. John Vianney came to this church for a few hours. Is this the final destiny for all the saints, both living and dead - to be entombed in marble, encased in glass or to be buried in the depths of the earth? No! Heaven forbid!

We believe in the resurrection of the dead, the physical and glorious resurrection of the dead body to a new life and a new kind of existence through the power of God. Our common future destiny is to, one day (and what a day that will be), after all our work work is done, to rise from the dead with all the saints of heaven and earth, and together as family and friends to be counted among them. 

“Oh when the saints come marching in. Oh when the saints come marching in. I want to be in that number, when the saints come marching in.” (And remember they march in, they do not float or fly in!)

In this Holy Eucharist, may our partaking of the glorious resurrected body and blood of Christ, who is for us the medicine of eternal life and the anecdote to immortality, not only raise our spirits high, but also our minds, bodies and soul towards that day of his coming when we too will rise from the dead together and step into a new world as saints in a new creation. 

All Souls

We remember those who have died. Even now, we make them present in our minds. If we have loved them in life, they are to us not ghosts or spirits. We remember them in the context of a relationship. This occurs when we perhaps look at photographs, when we go down memory lane, when we relive in our mind events, celebrations, a conversation, even having an argument or something we can never forget. 

This is what eulogies attempt to do. Remember when…..? Sometimes we share with others a memory. Sometimes two or three may share particular experiences from different perspectives. We see our loved one with the fresh eyes of another. And there are memories that are, for us a deeply unique, secret in a way that only you can appreciate.  Sometimes our best memories are awakened when we are alone and reminiscing of days past. 

But where are they now? Are they in heaven? Do they live in our hearts? Are they simply no longer here? 

Suffice to say, those who have died, they now rest in peace. And resting in peace is something that we all do after a long day’s work. We all deserve our rest at sometime in our lives. 

Each one of us, after the sun has set and our own work is over, we too will rest from all our labors, rest from all our anxieties, our worries – rest from the work of daily life and living.

And for those who have now taken their final rest, what we call death, they are at peace, until that great day at some unknown time, when the Son of the eternal day will dawn upon us all. And when that day comes, all who have died in Christ and lived for him will not be afraid when we awaken and with sleepy eyes behold our creator and our judge.

So what is our prayer for our faithful departed, our loved ones who have died? Even though we may remember our sins, our Christian hope gives us confidence that we should never be afraid of God our Savior, not to be afraid of the judge of heaven and earth. He is the good shepherd who comes to lead his flock through the valley of darkness to the green pastures of everlasting life. Together let us follow him. 

So until that final day comes, may we and our departed family, friends and loved ones always rest in peace and hold on to that hope we have in Christ of eternal life. 

Oct 26, 2019

Idols


When our Blessed Lord prayed in public, people watched him.  Whether he prayed in the temple, synagogue or outside in the open air, there was, no doubt someone watching him closely. 

We know of a time when, as he was praying alone, his own disciples were watching him closely. And when he had finished, they said to him, “Lord, teach us how to pray”. And he did so, giving us the words of what we call the “Our Father”. “When you pray, say this.'' he instructed us. 

Of course, we say these words in prayer, but we also reflect on the meaning of the words and the relationship we have with our heavenly Father, being instrumental in bringing his kingdom forward, conforming our lives on earth to the standard of heaven, our need to be strengthened and purified by grace so that we can be conduits of his gift of peace, even in the battlefields of this world. 

Indeed, the disciple watches Christ at prayer, asked him to teach us to pray and he instructs us by way of his own Lord's Prayer. 

But Christ also watches us at prayer and pays careful attention to the words we choose and whether our minds and hearts are one with our own body and soul. For that reason he shares with us through the Gospel (Luke 18:9-14), the image of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying together in the temple. 

The Pharisee starts off well.  Yes, you should be grateful if you are not like fallen humanity, greedy, dishonest and adulterous. But the Pharisee then begins to compare himself, not with the love and mercy of God who is superior to him, but with someone he believes is actually inferior to him. The Pharisee puts himself in the place of God and demands that others admire him in how he prayers and does his religious duties. In short, he tells God that he, himself, is a god who should be worshiped and adored. It’s all about me, how I look, how many admirers or followers I have because I am the expert, the professional, the best looking, the center of attention - worship me!! 

What is the first commandment the Lord told us? “I am the Lord your God, you shall not have any other gods except me”. When we place ourselves, let alone anything or anyone else, at the center of our own universe, we are guilty of idolatry. We become like pagan statues, we have eyes but we can not see, ears but we can not hear. And as easily as we make ourselves works of art to be admired, liked or copied, God will cast the mighty from their thrones and rise up the lowly. 

But not only can we turn ourselves into idols to command the obedience of others, we can foolishly do the same to the visible church, our liturgies, our theologies, our culture and even turn our politics into idols. Pride in our own achievements, our own knowledge and the insistence on our own superiority is a short and slippery road to idolatry. 

So what is the way back? After himself, Our Lord points us to the tax collector to show and teach us how to pray. The tax collector did not dare raise his eyes to heaven. He did not compare himself to the liturgically correct and socially aware Pharisee. Instead, he turned his gaze away from all the idols before him and around him, even away from himself, and worshipped the one true God in whose shadow he recognized himself as a sinner and begged for mercy. 

In this holy Eucharist, we must do the same. For it is not what or who we see before us that we adore and hold on to for our defense as St Paul reminded us in the second reading (2 Timothy 4:16-18), but the Invisible One, Jesus Christ who stands before us, leading us forward to welcome the arrival of his heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Oct 24, 2019

Pray


“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God, or the petition of good things from him in accord with his will.” (Comp. CCC 534) The Holy Scriptures for this Sunday demonstrate that prayer can be something that comes naturally to us as well as demanding effort and endurance. For example, in the midst of a battle the people desperately look to Moses to quickly pray on their behalf. The parable Jesus tells us in the Gospel shows how, in order to prayer, we have to go out of our way, make an effort, and even have a plan in order to pray not only consistently but successfully.

Sometimes prayer comes naturally and other times it’s work. When someone is sick, when we are afraid or uncertain and especially when we find ourselves desperate, we would turn to God and pray. But there is also that element of difficulty in prayer - finding the time when our lives are too busy, calming the mind when our senses are targeted by the outside world in so many ways, focusing our attention when distractions abound and directing our thoughts when discipline of mind and body is often times lacking.

Our individual, personal and private prayer before God, whether at home or in quiet moments, is extremely important and should never be underestimated or taken for granted. In fact, time should be set aside every day to enter into prayer, regardless of what our daily circumstances are, or even whether we feel like it or not. The Psalms and are essentially model prayers which come from the heart and even the anguish of the human soul. For this reason the Psalms are often called the Church’s Prayer Book. If you don’t know where to start in praying to God, make these words your own – search through all the different psalms and allow them to put words into your mouth and to resonate in our heart. When St. Paul was writing to St. Timothy about the divine inspiration of the Old Testament Scriptures, the Book of Psalms is included.

But if you are looking to get something instantly out of prayer, don’t! You have to put something into it first. When we worship God in prayer, is not so that we can receive a warm feeling inside or so that we can get something out of it. Prayer is first and foremost the lifting up of our minds and hearts to the God who created the universe out of nothing and holds everything in existence, who sees our lives from an immensely greater perspective than we could ever imagine. Prayer demands much effort from us, not because we should be afraid of God. Through Christ we have seen his face and know of His love. Our response comes from a sense of humility before such love revealed to us and the acknowledgement that the sacrifices we make are worth the effort on our part.

“Even if he makes us wait, he will nevertheless answer us …We should eagerly cry out to him day and night, begging him with a broken heart and a humble spirit. ‘A humble contrite heart, he will not spurn’.” Martyrius, Book of Perfection 75

Oct 10, 2019

Know your place


Knowing our place - Appreciating our vocation


The Gospel we have listened to today asks us if we have faith in God? Do you have faith in Jesus? Well, “Yes!” you might say. “That’s the reason I am here at Mass”.


For many of us, we are here because it is our custom, we have a sacred sense of religious obligation to be here every Sunday - it is weaved into our spiritual sense to keep the Lord’s Day holy and the obligation to give thanks for the blessings of God, manifested through the life, death and resurrection of Christ.


But maybe, that’s not a full answer to the question, “Do you have faith?” Sometimes, we mistake faith for our good works, even though they may be inspired by God’s grace. So, what then is faith, in itself?


Does faith come from my heart, giving me a feeling of the closeness of God? But what when I experience pain, loss, disillusionment - when I feel that God is distant?  Does it come from my mind, giving me a sense that my life can only have meaning from within a particular belief system? What, when I encounter hypocrites beside me and even in front of me and it doesn't make sense?  Maybe, faith is not ultimately about where your heart is, or how you understand it.  


To illustrate this point, yesterday I baptised a number of babies.  Their understanding of the world around them is for now upside down, just shapes and colors.  Their emotions are for the most part, instinctual - reactions based on the stimuli of feet being tickled, funny noises being made, particular flavors of food being tested for the first time.


But these babies are now baptised, fully Christian, members of the Church of God. From the first moment of conception, God had given them, as he give each of us, the gift of faith - the size of a mustard seed.  And inside that seed is all the unique spiritual DNA needed, a road map, if unfolded carefully during life, will lead the way to God, through all the challenges and distractions along the way.  


So what is faith? In this light, faith is the discovery that you are a unique part of God’s divine plan - that my life is not an accident, and by the same token, my life is not mine to determine on my own terms how it should unfold. Like the servant in the parable, I am doing only what I am obliged to do.


So, rather than trying to blaze my own path that will eventually in time be trampled down to dust to become nothing, the gift of faith compels me, throughout my life, to discover that only God understands and rejoices in the road he as already mapped out for me, even though it is not always clear from my own perspective, or even in tune with my own particular expectations. 

Remember how Mary responded to the angel, "Be it done to me according to your will", without knowing what lay ahead. During this month of the Holy Rosary, may we allow the events of Christ's life, death and resurrection to be refreshed in our minds and slept out surprizingly and unexpected in our lives.

Mind the Gap

33rd. Sunday. Luke 21:5-19. - Unlike summer, when we begin our cruise towards the winter, our physical activities typically begin ...