Aug 27, 2016

22nd Sunday

Christ’s parable in the Gospel, told to a people who were very sensitive about their position in social circles, allows us likewise to reflect on the virtue of humility. Yet, humility is paradoxically, a virtue that you can not be deliberate in trying to attain. You can not try to be humble; you can not work on humility for it can easily become false humility.

All human virtues, those attributes which bring out the beauty of our humanity, begin with a reflective, never impulsive mind which chooses carefully how to respond appropriately in often challenging situations. Human virtues become part of our character, often without us knowing, when we persevere in repeatedly seeking the truth about ourselves, our actions, the world we live in and especially about God. (cf. CCC, No. 1810).

In this search for truth and personal authenticity we might hear the expression “to thine own self be true”. These words come from Shakespeare, not Scripture. Too often this phrase has been used to justify personal neediness, selfishness or even irrational behavior. One may also regard being "true to one's self" as a way to personally take ownership of the one's own course through life. However there is always that persistent danger of putting oneself first, even in the place of God. Arrogance is the opposite of humility.

We should never be afraid to acknowledge our own poverty (of mind, body or soul). We are all poor, We do not have within us all the resources to reach to the highest place our soul hungers for. We are not self made. We have a creator.

Christ speaks about a banquet to which all the poor are invited. We must count ourselves among the poor if we are to taste even a tiny bit of heaven. This Holy Eucharist we now celebrate is not given to us because we worked for it or because we are entitled to it or even that we deserve this great sacrament.

This is the table prepared by God who feeds only the poor and those who know, deep down, that they are hungry - hungry for love, hungry for friendship, hungry for healing, hungry for inclusion in the family of God. True justice for ourselves and our community begins by acknowledging our hunger first for God's grace to lift us up to our proper place at the table, and hearing his voice, amid the rabble of the crowd, to move up higher.

“This is the true Sabbath of the just, in which they will have no earthly work to do, but will a have table prepared for them by God. “ (Irenaeus, Adv. Heres.5.33.2)

A Christian does not try to copy or impersonate Christ. A Christian, seeks to imitate him in every way. Rather, it is to become one with him who said “learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart and your souls will find rest” (Matthew 11:29). True rest comes from knowing that we cannot repay or outdo God’s generosity, even at this table. This is the reason we celebrate Mass every Sunday - to lift up our hearts to the Lord in thanks and praise for he has heard the cry of the poor.

This Holy Eucharist reflects best our response - gratitude for then gentle power of his grace and thanksgiving that he counts every one of us worthy to sit by his side in the Kingdom of God.

Aug 21, 2016

21st Sunday In Ordinary Time

Luke 13:22-30

“How many will be saved?” the Lord is asked. What is more important is not how many, but how. Listening carefully to the voice of the Lord in today’s Gospel, we can note that there is a sense of sadness in his voice that many who presume their own salvation is assured, will unfortunately be denied the very salvation they believe they will receive. (cf. St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily 9) Although the Holy Scriptures do promise salvation to those who have faith in Christ, nowhere does the Bible promise that we will be protected from self-deception. There is a great difference between making a commitment to Christ and fulfilling that commitment faithfully.

Luke’s Gospel for today makes this point very clear and summarizes Matthew’s Gospel which tells us that "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven. “(Mat. 7: 21.) The Lords also warns us about deceivers who will presume to speak with Christ’s authority. We are reminded that how we respond to the needs of others will also affect our salvation. (cf. Mat. 25 and 26).

To help us, unlike the angels and saints in heaven who have constant, unwavering and unchangeable faith in Christ, we can easily change our mind, decide otherwise, rebel against God or ignore his help. Because we can commit ourselves to Christ one day and ignore him the next, God has given us the gift of time. We do not wait to the last moment or waste time in the present. The gift of time provides us the opportunity to test the strength and durability of our faith against the circumstances of our lives (c.f. Second Reading. Heb 12:5-7, 11-13). This way, we are able to discern what we are truly made of, if we are in fact cooperating with God’s grace and have what it takes to enter into heaven (through the narrow gate) when our lives are spent. (cf. CCC 1344)

Writing towards the end of his life which he knew was near, St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6-7). But St. Paul could not have said this earlier, even in those early days after the dramatic event of his accepting the Lord as his savior. Writing to the Church in Corinth in his early days, looking at the state of his soul he would say, “For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore [friends] judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes," (1 Cor. 4:4ff).

Can a Christian who makes a commitment of faith in Christ as their savior, one day be assured of their salvation and the next day loose that assurance? Yes. Even St. Paul tells us so in the Bible saying that, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Even though we may have the will to be saved, remember the words of the prayer that the Lord taught us, “Thy will be done be done”, not “my will”.

In a day and in an age when so many individuals will claim that they are saved and have the personal assurance of heaven, how do we as Catholic Christians respond?

“Am I saved?” It is my hope that I am, and it is that hope that keeps me pressing on towards the goal (Phil. 3:13) with Christ’s Church pointing me in the right direction and strengthening me, as she and no other can, with the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood. (Luke 22:19, John 6:52ff, Acts 2:42, 2 Peter 3:13-18). It is my prayer, that now and on that eternal day, it will be not me who lives, but Christ who lives in me. (Gal:2:20)

Aug 13, 2016

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fire can be as dangerous as it is beautiful and useful as it is mysterious. From the burning bush to the tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost, throughout the Scriptures, its language is rich and often used to reflect the nature of God (CCC 696). (c.f the Seraphim) Our own experience of the summer California wildfires touches us in a particular way. Many of us still have vivid memories of the fires of 2008 that surrounded us on three sides, provoking mass evacuations, destroying many homes and livelihoods.

It, therefore, does not seem to come as much of a consolation, when we hear Our Blessed Lord saying in the gospel today, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing” and the cause of households divided against themselves, family members betraying each other's trust.  

it is easier to blame, for example, the unintended tensions unleashed within a family to events such as funerals, weddings and even who gets invited and who doesn't to a family thanksgiving dinner. But the fuse of this particular stick of dynamite has been lit by the Lord himself. How do we understand this apparent “violence” with the image we must also have of Christ as the Good Shepherd and the Prince of Peace?

We must first consider when St. Luke wrote his Gospel message. It was probably written not long after the great fire of Rome in 64 A.D. The rumor was that the Emperor Nero had himself lit the match that destroyed much of the city so that he could begin a new massive building project. This is how a pagan historian, who survived the fire, described the aftermath.

"Consequently, to get rid of the report [that he started the fire], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most creative tortures on a class of people hated for their abominations, called Christians by the common people. … Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths...they were torn to death by dogs, or they were crucified on crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as human torches when nighttime illumination was needed." Tacitus, Annals XV.44

The early Christians, in the light of those “current events” would have, no doubt, listened to today’s Gospel and found in it an assurance that Our Lord himself experienced the fire of hell and transformed it into the fire of heaven. Abandoned by his own disciples, betrayed by the very ones he considered family, Christ shared in the anguish of persecuted Christians as non-believers betrayed friends and family when Roman soldiers came knocking on the door.

As case in point, St. Peter. He provides us with the example of a reluctant follower who was scared of being burnt, but finally gave himself completely to the Lord. On the night of the Last Supper when Christ was arrested, he was first content to anonymously warm his hands from the fire in the courtyard while the Lord was being beaten up by the temple guards inside. But a day would eventually arrive when he would allow himself to be consumed completely and forever by the fire of Christ’s love.

During Nero’s attack on the Christians after the fire of Rome, St. Peter, as the city’s first bishop, was arrested, tortured and crucified to death on a cross, upside down. He was body was buried near in a cemetery on a Roman hillside called “Vatican Hill”.

Yes, often times we will get burnt, and we will scream and call out in anger and in anguish. But as painful as if often times is, abandoning ourselves to the grace that comes from the cross of Christ, let us pray that we may we never mistake the purifying fire of heaven with the destructive fires of hell. There lies the virtue of Christian hope in the face of every dark and menacing cloud of smoke.

Aug 6, 2016

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Do not be afraid any longer, little flock…” Christ's words help to remind us of the tenderness of the Good Shepherd. He is one who shields, protects and ultimately lays down his life for his flock. At the same time, the Good Shepherd ushers this little flock into a big world. Even though we may feel vulnerable, uneasy or nervous to sometimes stand alone in our faith amidst a demanding and often time cruel world, not only is the Good Shepherd protective of us, we are assured that our heavenly Father is preparing to give us the Kingdom, not the kingdoms of this world, but the Kingdom of God. (cf. CCC 764)

But almost like a child learning to walk for the first time, we must not be afraid of entering into uncharted territories, unpredictable circumstances. If Abraham had played it safe, trusting in his own resourcefulness and securities, he might never have put his trust in the Lord. God provides for us with a sure investment should we choose to embrace it, the gift of faith - “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

So, how do we look forward to what can not be seen? If we define ourselves by our assets on earth, then like treasure hidden in the dark and locked up in a vault, we too will become. But if we define ourselves by the treasure that waits for us in heaven, then we should have no reluctance of letting go of all that belongs to this world.

A Christian is counter-cultural. The Church is also counter-cultural. A Christian does not live their life according to the standards of the world any more that the Church should order its household based on the model of a business corporation. The test of what we are made of is provided by Christ when he tells us in no uncertain terms to “sell your belongings and give alms”. St. Augustine remarks that a strong and true Christian “should neither be overjoyed at acquiring [wealth] nor saddened when it is gone.”

Christ talks of the servants waiting on their master's return. Of course, we are the servants of the Lord. As his servants, we are privileged to know his mind, what he expects of us, how we are to run the Lord’s household. St. Augustine, reflecting on the relationship between grace and free will, noticing that the servant in the gospel parable is beaten when the master returns to a house in disarray, makes this observation. “We must not on this account take refuge in the darkness of ignorance so as to find there an excuse for our conduct. Not to know is one thing; unwillingness to know is another”.

The early Church, when it was younger and somewhat tender was often drastically attacked, beaten and bruised. The Roman Emperor Valerian began his reign in the third century somewhat tolerant of Christianity. But with military defeats abroad and political disorder at home, he quickly turned against the Church. The Emperor needed finances and political scapegoats. He ordered that the Roman Church hand over all its treasures. When the deacon St. Lawrence asked for a couple of days to reply to this demand, he later returned and presented to the imperial court all the treasures of the Church – the poor, the outcasts, the widows and the orphans. Not at all amused with his reporting of the Church’s assets, St. Lawrence was tortured to death, slowly roasted alive over a charcoal fire. A sudden wave of vicious attacks upon the clergy followed. Even the pope, St. Sixtus II, like many others, was arrested and beheaded, simply because he dared say “no” to a pagan culture. Unfortunately, many disciples fearing persecution and the demands of Christian witness gave in to the pagan culture. This was a source of great disappointment and discouragement to many who had tried to keep the faith despite the odds.

When Christians undergo persecution, we might look at the assault upon the household of the Lord as an attack waged upon us by the forces of darkness and evil itself. I am sure there is some truth to this. Soon after the deacon Lawrence and Pope Sixtus were martyred for their faith, St. Cyprian, Bishop of the Roman colony of Carthage reflected on today’s gospel shortly before he too was publically executed. Mediating on the sufferings of Christians, regardless of its cause, he instead saw it as an opportunity to be purified. These are his words: “We must see and admit that this very disturbing devastation of the affliction that has destroyed and is destroying our flock in great part has come about because of our sins. Eager for our inheritance and advantage… neglecting simplicity and faith, renouncing the world only in words and not in deeds… we are beaten up as we deserve.” (Letter 11.1)

The whole history of the Church belongs to us and so does her future. May today’s Gospel awaken in us a greater appreciation for what Christ has given, and the courage to imitate him in doing the will of our heavenly Father. Only by joining our own sacrifices to his can we truly appreciate the gift of faith which we now celebrate in this Holy Eucharist - the source of the Church’s unity and the strength of every believer in the Body of Christ, wounded on the cross but now gloriously resurrected and in our midst. The Good Shepherd will never abandon his “little flock”.

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