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.

Oct 7, 2017

Jumping over the hedge!

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time:

Christ in this Gospel parable tells us that our heavenly Father planted a vineyard, set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. When you think of it, it sounds like a beautiful resort (or like one of those many wineries we have nearby in Temecula!)

We arrive at this carefully designed vineyard, and there is really not much hard work for us to do.  The scene is set – everything is in place (c.f. St. John Chrysostom Homily 68.1).  We are entrusted with its upkeep but most importantly, to ensure that it is productive and that the produce is not simply stored in warehouses, but is sent out from here as nourishment for the world.  

There is, in Christ’s parable, a message for us too.   Our parish church not a Sunday resort, a weekend spiritual health spa or a one-stop sacramental snack bar! There is no product sampling here. The local parish church is not a storage facility!  God does not ask us to operate our parish like a theme park or watch over it like museum caretakers. Our Sunday Mass is not a spectator sports event.

Instead, God's grace continually flows out from the Sacraments we celebrate here. The explosion of new life at every baptism should always spill over into the everyday lives and responsibilities of parents, godparents and all of family life. When every confession is heard and God's forgiveness assured, mercy and peace should influence all our future choices and relationships. When a man and woman vow their lives to each other before the altar in marriage it can not be simply captured and confined to a photograph in church - the sacred vows bears fruit when children are born and nurtured in homes and neighborhoods building up our communities. And our celebration of Sunday Mass - this banquet feast between heaven and earth is not a quick fix a hungry soul. Christ's heavenly Body and Blood is strength and food for our journey throughout the week, bringing our Lord's life and ministry into our streets and neighborhoods where countless people still wait for Him. So how can we not keep what happens here a best kept secret when God wants us to collaborate in His urgent work to extend the fruits of His grace from here and into every aspect of our daily lives - into the whole world.  

Our parish campus has to provide at best an initial glimpse of heaven, an encouragement of the plan God has for our homes, our workplaces, our gardens and city - "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". In other words, everything that happens here, must happen out there too, or we shortchange God, and ourselves too.

Our Blessed Mother Mary didn't simply give birth to Christ and then send Him out to save the world, while she stayed at home.  When Christ traveled the streets and roads, she was not far behind.  When He was out of sight, she went looking for Him. When He went to the Cross, she pushed through the crowds.

May we, like her, never be afraid of following the Lord of the harvest into the world, finding Him in the midst of the crowds and passersby and making Him know when He is forgotten, ignored or even when He left out to wither on the vine and die. May every day of our working week produce an abundant harvest for the Lord so that when we return here next Sunday, we will have much to celebrate and offer to God in thanksgiving for the good things He has done.

Sep 30, 2017

Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty!

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 21: 28-32):  

One of the great joys of a pastor is the celebration of a baptism. There is really no such thing as a private baptism.  All baptisms are family affairs.  And when we bring families together from different backgrounds, cultures, languages and traditions - when we all gather in the narthex of the church in preparation for this sacrament, it is indeed a messy affair!

But "messy" in the good sense of the word. Picture the scene: babies screaming, young children running around, parents making sure everyone has arrived or calling their relatives who are running late to make sure they have the correct directions. Then there are the proud and honored godparents, excited by their new role, taking countless photographs from every angle, while the exhausted grandparents just want to sit down, rest their feet and simply watch - watch everyone and wonder how everyone has grown up so fast and with so much energy.  

This is our family life - it's messy, unpredictable, with so many individual personalities and characters.  And yet there is room for everyone. That's why the best adjective to describe the Church is the word "catholic", meaning "according to the whole", "universal", the place where everyone and everything finds meaning! 

But there is more. While we can be joyous knowing that God does in fact promise us His gifts, we have to, not only hear His voice, but "do" what He tells us to do in order to bring in this great harvest of grace we anticipate in every baptism.  

Yes, when we remember family baptisms and confirmations, what comes first to mind is the celebration, the festivity. And rightly so.  The photographs remind us of the day.  But what sometimes happens, is we can easily "fast forward" over the most solemn promise and commitment we as parents or godparent also made during the celebration of baptism  - to bring up our children in the knowledge and in the practice of the faith. That's the hard work of going into the vineyard and securing the harvest for the future.

God tells us to go into the vineyard and work.  Sometimes, when it comes to living our Christian faith, identity and lifestyle, we can be tempted to think that working in the vineyard of the Lord is only a one-day affair - Sunday.  But I doubt God would want us "working" on Sunday! So, maybe, working in His vineyard is instead reserved for all the working days of the week. That makes sense! 

The Father sends His sons into the vineyard.  It's a family business - it is not run remotely, nor is the work of the vineyard outsourced to professionals or interns.  Instead, the children work alongside everyone else.  In the vineyard, everyone pulls their weight together, cooperates and helps to bring in the harvest - which is ultimately the salvation of souls. And this is a great challenge. 

The vineyard of the Lord is the world He created! The grapes will not detach themselves from the vine and float over to us and land gently in our hands like prized trophies.  We have to immerse ourselves, throw ourselves into the very heart of the world to work, with God's grace, for its salvation.  And this is messy work.  Think of what the color of our hands will be like after pulling the grapes off the vine.  What will our feet be like, after trampling the grapes? It is hard work - it is messy work. But it is rewarding work. 

But do not be discouraged. Not only does God give us every day the opportunity to work for the salvation of souls, He also gives us the necessary grace and strength to do so. Therefore do not let the messiness of life discourage you.  Like a church baptism in real time, God's grace works in the midst of screaming babies, coughs and sniffles, and even when the odd cell phones go off in the middle of prayer.  God's grace is to be found in the everyday circumstances of your daily life, and not just yours - even without them knowing, also your neighbor’s.  But they need to know, and we need to tell them, so that the whole family might rejoice in the rich and abundant harvest of God's grace.

Let us ask Our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, who found themselves in places and circumstances they never planned nor expected, that they will inspire and help us to be always faithful and committed to what God asks of us every working day.

Sep 23, 2017

Making a name for yourself?

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 20:1-16

When we are so often result and goal orientated, and want to see the actual fruits and results of our work and efforts, today's Gospel puts us in our place. In other words, Christ reminds us that we only make little contributions to the building up of His Kingdom. But it does add up, over time.

But ultimately, we have to get used to the fact that we only lay foundations, even just a little brick here and there and maybe nothing more. Is that the only reason I exist, I might ask? That's either embarrassing or it's humbling!

We may never see the effect or how our little or, indeed, grand sacrifices will shape the future. All we can do, here and now, is be faithful to the task at hand and allow God to write the ultimate history of His Kingdom.

Will I get a mention in it, credit or even be known as a maker and shaper of the world? Can I live with the fact that the world that knew nothing of me before I was born, might likewise know nothing of me after I die? Why does that question even matter to me? Why is it so difficult simply to do my little bit, and move on - even without anyone noticing?

But God does. And He never forgets. From His perspective, from the dawn of creation to the final Day of Judgment, whether anyone noticed me or not, I was born at the right moment, lived a necessary life for a particular reason and whether I see it or not, my life, my little life has a God-given purpose and meaning within the entire history of the cosmos from the beginning of time!

Put it all in the plain language of the parable we listen to. We are told that in the course of one day, a landowner (God) went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard, then again at 9 in the morning, once more at midday, the same at 3 o'clock and finally at 5 in the early evening.

Whereas we tend to approach this scenario as if all happened within twenty-four hours, if we looked at this parable with a much wider lens, we might ask, "what is 'one' day in the sight of the eternal God?"  In the early dawn God sent Adam and Eve into his vineyard. At midday God put Abraham to work. At 3 o'clock Moses began his mission and at 5 in the afternoon, in the coolness of the early evening, the Lord calls us.

We arrive late into the scene and are given the privilege to work in his vineyard though most of the hard work has been done!

That's the big picture. Where do you and me fit into this timeline?  Many of us were baptized as babies, brought up in the practice of the faith and God's grace accompanied us throughout life. We received grace in equal measure.

There are some, who find the gift of faith only later in life, maybe when they get married and, having children, look to the Church to help them in their spiritual formation.  They too received grace in equal measure.

Maybe, some, have spent a generation away from the practice of the faith, but maybe something happened - a sickness, a death in the family, an event to allow them to pause and think of the direction their lives were going. And then, maybe only then, they approached the doors of the Church seeking direction.  They too received grace in equal measure.

And then, there are those who respond to God's call to seek him at the last hour of the day - like the good thief on the cross who, just before he died, had enough breath to ask Christ to let him into heaven. And we was!  And received the same grace in equal measure.

Whether we have responded to God early in the day, or in the heat of a moment, or at the last moment or final hour - all received grace in equal measure.  Whether we went to Catholic school, home schooled, private school or public school, if we simply say yes to God's plan for our lives, all receive grace in equal measure.  Whether you are a priest, a nun, a mother or father, single or married, young or old - if today you hear his voice, simply respond and likewise receive grace in equal measure.  

But just in case we grumble and complain that we worked more than someone else, or that we are more Catholic than someone else, let's, in a moment of truth compare our own efforts to Christ's.

He made the greatest sacrifice in the vineyard of the Lord, for us, for everyone, past, present and future.  He carried the greatest burden, He carried you and me, His Body broken, His blood shed in a labor of love for every single man, woman and child - for those whom we read about in history books or those who have never made a name for themselves.

But Christ considered every single person, past, present and future, equally worth dying for - He made His ultimate sacrifice for those nobody even noticed - the homeless, the wanderer, the passerby, the little baby who only lived a day, the addict fighting demons, the young man or woman confused about who and what they are, the elderly with no friends or family, those living alone and forgotten. Each and every human life God sees as wonderfully made, takes delight and rejoices in because they too are building blocks - all adding up, one by one, to the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. So, don't try to make a name for yourself. God already has!

Our response should always be humility before God's labor of love and a respect and honor for each and every person regardless of their gifts or burdens, big or small. But most of all, Christ's parable of the vineyard should evoke in us a deep sense of gratitude for the undeserved gift of salvation.  

"May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest and peace at the last." Blessed John Henry Newman

Sep 16, 2017

When it doesn't add up

You might remember the 1993 movie Schindler's List, based on in the life of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman. He was credited with saving the lives of more than one thousand, mostly Jewish refugees, from execution by the Nazis towards the end of World War Two. There are many haunting scenes of human brutality difficult to understand, or even stomach. One scene, in particular, I think is pertinent to the Gospel today.

On the balcony overlooking a concentration camp, Schindler is depicted in conversation with a drunken SS officer by the name of Amon Göth.  Historical records detail that Göth personally murdered prisoners on a daily basis, many for little or no reason. He shot people from his balcony if they even appeared to him to be working too slow under forced labor.  There is even a report that he shot and killed a Jewish cook, there and then, because she served him soup that was too hot.

Oskar Schindler, in an attempt to reach the the Nazi officer’s conscience says to him, “Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don't.” The officer replies, surprised, “You think that's power?  Schindler continues, describing a scenario, very much like that of Christ’s in today's Gospel. He tells him, “A man steals something, he's brought in before the Emperor, he throws himself down on the ground. He begs for his life, he knows he's going to die. And the Emperor... pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go.” The Nazi officer responds, “I think you are drunk.” But, Schindler responds, “That's power, That is power.” According to the rules, you deserve punishment. But the judge, even with all his power to inflict punishment says, “I forgive you”. Was Schindler able to reach the Nazi’s conscience?

Soon afterwards, we are shown the officer reprimanding a young Jewish boy for not cleaning his bath tub perfectly. Fearing immediate punishment, the young boy looks down at the floor preparing for the worst. But then the Nazi officer, with a rehearsed wave of his hand, imitating a king, says, “I pardon you”. The boy is dismissed and, taking his leave, briskly walks out of the building with a hidden relief.

Inside, the officer looks at himself in the mirror and repeats to himself his rehearsed gesture of pardon. But he senses that he is not really being himself - it was only a performance. So he immediately goes out to his balcony, looks down at the young boy walking briskly and unsuspectingly across the courtyard. He takes up his rifle, and after a couple of warning shots, which freezes the young boy in his tracks, the Nazi officer takes aim and shots the lad dead, in the back of the head.

I know it’s a graphic picture, and it, not doubt, provokes much emotions. But this would have been the same kind of reaction Christ himself would have stirred up after telling the story we hear in the Gospel of the unforgiving servant. Those who listened to Him knew very well, even first hand, the abuse of power and position of those who were over them - not only from their Roman masters, but also from local politicians, government officials, the rich and influential under whom many of them might have worked for and at times abused by their employers. But what is Christ trying to tell us, show us in this parable?

Of course, we are assured that God always takes the side of the innocent. God is intolerant of any unjust aggressor, anyone who abuses their power or influence. After the war, the Nazi officer depicted above was later captured, made to stand trial for crimes of torture and countless murders. He was executed, his body cremated and his ashes dumped into a river. He will also stand trial before God who alone has the power to make the final and eternal judgement as to a criminal's immortal soul.

But just when we start licking our lips in satisfaction when we perceive that justice has been done, Christ looks at me and you and solemnly declares, “so will by heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you [that means everyone, no exception] forgives your brother from your heart”.  Christ goes on to tell us, and in fact asks us to make our own the words of what we call the Lord’s Prayer - “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

Saying I “forgive you”, “I pardon you” are only words in themselves. We can say them, utter them ceremoniously. But often, it is not really forgiveness.  When we want others to know they are forgiven, we often risk doing so, so that they will not forget they have been forgiven. We are tempted to remind them, again and again that they are forgiven - “I forgive you, and don't you forget that!”  That is not forgiveness - that is control. It is an abuse of power.  Forgiveness has to come from the heart!

I know, and you know, this is extremely difficult. It is difficult, extremely so, especially when remembering a hurt, an offense or great personal injustice. It is so difficult to forgive from the heart because it risks opening up wounds we hoped may have been healed, and we are afraid reliving the pain, again and again and again.

When Peter asked Christ how many times must I forgive and Christ replies “not seventy times, but seventy-seven times”, Our Lord was in fact saying forgiveness has no expiration date. You can not wait it out. If you think you can, then what do you want to do next? Get even? That is God’s responsibility, not ours. As Christ's parable points out, it is He who settles accounts and balances the books, not us. So what are we to do if we can’t forgive from our heart?

Two things I can only suggest but we cannot attempt these without first asking God for his help.

First, (and there’s a bit of a twist here) follow Christ’s example from the cross.  After being brutally tortured beyond recognition and nailed up on the cross to slowly die a most painful and lingering death, Christ did not look at His abusers and say, “I forgive you”. He had neither the strength, physically or emotionally to do so - His heart would “naturally” not be in it. Instead, He said, “Father, forgive them!”  When we are too traumatised to even make sense, if that is possible, of our own suffering and pain, we must hand it over to our Father, and trust Him who is true justice and true mercy.

Second, and again this is naturally difficult and again we must ask God for His grace to do so - like Christ risen from the death and still bearing on this body the past wounds of His abuse and suffering, He does not want us to be defined by past sins - be they our own or others. He asks us come to Him and to let Him help us break free from allowing our past hurts and wounds to define us. Instead, He wants to remind us, not of our past - but our future with Him forever, where there will finally be no more suffering, no more pain, where every tear will be wiped away.  He offers us, hope. Hope, even in the darkest hour, keeps us alive. Persevere in hope!

May Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, whose tender heart was pierced through by the atrocities of humanity, and who never despaired, may she guide our fragile hearts and minds in the direction of true healing that flows from the justice and mercy of God, who alone balances the books, through Christ our Lord.

Sep 9, 2017

Away with the Birds!

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time:

It used to be that when we said, “A little bird told me…”, we were being discreet in how we opened up a conversation about a disappointment or some news you needed clarification about. For the most part, the “little bird” of the past has now grown teeth, dipped itself in blue war paint, and tweets! And if the little bird is angry, its tweeting can often sound like the squeals of flying reptiles from Jurassic Park!

The template for dialogue and reconciliation provided by Our Lord in the Gospel today comes, not from a tweet, but from the very mouth of God spoken clearly, patiently and carefully. He understands the emotions and dynamics of the human heart, our passions and our temptations. As such, especially for all Christians, Christ has provided a model to follow. Failure to follow it step by step, often results in needless conflict, angry exchanges, hardening of hearts, broken marriages, family fluids and even divisions within the very Church community and nation itself.

Christ reminds us that we can not hide from our social obligations to keep each other accountable to the patient love and mercy of God. Compassion and forgiveness does not mean that we tolerate or paper over the social and personal consequences of sin. We can not avoid taking up the cross if we are to follow Christ.

However, the weight of the cross that we must bear and often encounter, is not an ideological one. It’s real. It’s personal. We encounter its roughness, its splinters and its weight, not only in our own weaknesses, but we also visit it daily in people we meet.

Our Lord intimately understands the passion of the human heart, how differences of opinion can sometimes grow into resentment, how our minds work to further particular causes and ideals which are near and dear to us, and how we will often naturally react amidst disagreements and perceived threats.  It is sometimes easier to provide a plan of action to engage an incoming hurricane or even a battle with sickness, than it is to approach a loved one or even a stranger who are themselves creating havoc in their own lives or even in yours!

The Gospel message of Christ gives us a clear outline to approach this often difficult situation. It would do us well to revisit these Scriptural rules of engagement again and again and apply them constantly in our lives. We should remember, this is Christ’s approach to us and we must receive him should he himself knock at our door disguised as a friend or a stranger.

1. “Go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” It takes courage and humility to look encounter another person. Courage, because it's easier to hid behind a tweet, an email or a text message. Humility, because, face to face, I might have to hear something I don’t want to hear or afraid of getting myself involved. Face to face, I might have to admit my own guilt. Maybe I got the wrong end of the stick or that the perceived bark from a dog was instead a lick in the face from a puppy who meant no harm!

2. If there is a need to follow through, our Lord reminds us to “take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established”. In other words, do you have good and trusted friends who will help you with a reality check. And that is the value of sacred friendships. Not someone who is a “yes man” and will agree with you to “keep the peace”. We all need true friends to help us see objectively, to prevent us going down the rabbit hole or seeing ghosts in every shadow.

3. Only after we have exhausted a one to one dialogue and only after we allowed ourselves good and honest counsel, Christ then goes on to say “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.” That doesn't mean that we can wash our hands of responsibility to remedy an injustice simply because we wrote a letter to the pastor, the bishop or the pope. It does mean that we all must share the weight of each other’s cross addressing together a threat that, if not addressed by the larger community of the Church, risks tearing apart our families, our communities and even our nation.

Sometimes, we find ourselves powerless against evil. Sometimes we know that there is literally nothing we can do with our own strength and resources. Even though it is easier to see the consequences of sin, division and disaster, it is often difficult to see the fruits of our own actions and good works inspired by God’s grace.

There will be plenty of camera crews capturing the drama and trauma of the hurricane season. There will, no doubt, be much pain and passion expressed after the storm. But I suspect, not too many from the national media will be reporting months from now about the countless individuals who are slowly and patiently building up their lives again in the aftermath and who are making great sacrifices to help others do likewise. Instead, when there are true glimpses of peace and justice in the world, be assured it will not first be announced on social media. How then will you know? God will tell you in the same way that he told Noah after the flood. A little bird will tell you - and it won’t be twitter! It will be the Holy Spirit.

May our Blessed Mother who stood in the midst of an angry crowd, who perceived so much injustice and who weathered the storm of the cross, comfort us with the faith she had in the victory of Christ and the Kingdom of God.

Missionary Tax!

Today's Gospel highlights an often contentious subject that has been around for thousands of years. Wars have been waged because...