Oct 29, 2016

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

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.

Oct 22, 2016

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lk 18:9-14

When our Blessed Lord walked this earth, he confined himself to a small patch of land in the Middle East, 8,000 square miles. That's roughly the same size of our local Diocese of San Diego!

Jesus spent three intense years of his adult life traveling its roads, climbing the hills and valleys of his native land, not only preaching the Word of God and the coming of the Kingdom, he also saw the plight of his people, especially the poor, the forgotten, the abandoned sick, those forced into servitude and poverty by the rich and the powerful, families torn apart by war and violence, the livelihoods of ordinary people exploited by the greed and the corruption of local political and even religious leaders of his day.

He was not like a census worker simply gathering information and statistics or like someone on a fact-finding mission. He responded to what he saw, not like a politician might at a rally nor a local spokesperson reporting live from a community affected by social injustice or discrimination.

Instead, Christ was moved with the compassion of God, at times even provoked to anger but also and always, sharing with them all, taking upon himself, their sufferings, the anguish of their hearts and souls and even their hopes for a better world for their families and their children.  

He did not assure them that he would fight for them. He assured them that he would die for them, for all of them without favoritism or special interest groups - his heart, the heart God ached with anguish for the rich and the poor alike, the natives of the land as well as the foreigners, for the devout religious and also for the corrupt and the selfish. The eyes of God penetrates the souls of every man, woman and child, melting away the protective armor that we often clothe ourselves with, or the scars and bruises we push to the front too often excuse our anger and bitterness.

We call ourselves Christians. We do so, not because we simply follow Christ. It is easy to walk behind him, in his shadow. And many did, even his disciples.  But to be Christian is to see what Christ sees, to experience what he experiences, to be moved with the same heart and soul as his. And to respond in the same measure as Christ himself does, even to the point of offering our very own lives for the salvation of many, and even just for a few!

A case in point is the observation Christ makes as he watched two individuals going to the temple to pray. If we follow Christ and simply look from behind his shoulder we would see a traditional and devout, well meaning religious individual standing before the altar, assuring God he is doing all that he is convinced God would expect of him.

But looking out from behind Christ's shoulder, we would also notice a awkward visitor hanging around the front door of the church not knowing whether to go in or not, who doesn't know how to bless himself or doesn't remember any of the prayers he was taught as a child. That's what we would see from peering out from behind Christ.

But a Christian looks out to the world "with" with the eyes of Christ, "with" the heart of Christ. We must see beyond the appearances. We see and feel what Christ sees and feels - the deep down truth. In this light we now see in the Gospel one person who is blind to the fact that there is something wrong with their soul when he can only see himself in the light of other people’s misfortunes. He is not interested in the gaze of God and what God sees in him. Instead he wants to dictate to God how he himself wants to be seen.

St. Augustine reminds us that, “It would have been more worthwhile to instead inform [Christ, the healer of souls] by confession, the things that were wrong with himself, instead of keeping his wounds secret and have the nerve to make oneself appear righteous at the expense of the scars of others. So it is not surprising that the tax collector went away healed, since he had not been ashamed of showing God where he felt pain”. (St. Augustine, Sermon 351.1)

To love our neighbor as ourselves, we have to see our neighbor and ourselves with the same "insight" of Jesus. Many followed him. But when he disappeared, many of his followers looked for someone or something else to hide behind. Not so for a Christian who shares in the same vision, has a heart like Christ's and sees themselves and all people with the eyes and heart of the Lord.

And not only with eyes and heart. But also with hands and feet, with muscle and mind, with the same motivation and desire of Christ to bring healing and salvation to every soul and body.

During the time our Lord walked this earth, what did he see, how did he respond, what did he do? We are now his eyes, his hands, his voice and his feet.  Our territory today is much greater, even global. How much more are we exposed to the human condition, the suffering of so many, the injustices still festering in the lives and communities on such a vast scale? It is for this reason today is marked out in our Christian calendar as World Mission Sunday.

Don't just see the suffering of the world through the lens of a camera, a commercial or a poster campaign to feed the hungry and bring a message of hope to those who live in the shadows of the world.  See the Mission of the Church through the eyes and heart of Christ and then, moved with sacrificial generosity, give yourself to Christ's vision to bring about a new heaven and a new earth.

Our local saints should also inspire us. St. Junipero Serra who travelled California, not only preaching the Word of God but building sanctuaries and farmlands to inspire the peoples of this land to a vision of how Christ lives and works among us. Our own parish patron, St. Margaret of Scotland, who dressed the wounds of the injured and feed from her kitchen the hungry and desolate while sharing the Scriptures from her own Book of the Gospels. And St. Jerome Emiliani, a military veteran who witnessed the carnage and rubble wars leave behind, especially abandoned children and orphans cut off from the nurturing love of families and friends.

Yes, we might feel overwhelmed by so much a vision of the world as we see it. Even St. Paul in the second reading moaned "At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me." But he would go on to console us that "the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion's mouth." (2 Tim. 4:6-8, 16-18)

Yes, we are rescued from the lion's mouth, when our mission in this world is accomplished with the eyes and heart of Christ.

Oct 16, 2016

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Ex 17:8-13,2 Tm 3:14-4:2, Lk 18:1-8

“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 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 reveled to us and the acknowledgement that the sacrifices we make are worth the effort on our part.

Those who wrote and prayed the psalms never expected instant results. Rather, the prayer was made persistently and continuously, much like the widow in the parable the Lord talks about. It “assures us God will bend his ear to those who offer him their prayers, not carelessly nor negligently but with earnestness and constancy. (Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 119) “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 8, 2016

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lk 17:11-19

A similar incident is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel (Mat.8: 1-4). Jesus cleanses a man from leprosy. In that incident, the Lord reached out and touched the “contagious” individual. It implied that both were not afraid of each other for they talked face to face. No doubt Christ saw the torment in that leper’s eyes and was moved with compassion at his agony of body and soul. Yet, in today’s Gospel, according to St. Luke, ten lepers keep their distance from the Lord. They know their condition, afraid they must be to approach Christ in their ugliness and destitution. They keep their distance and call out to the Lord, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us.”

A few Sunday’s ago, we heard a similar call for pity being called out from a distance – from the rich man who died and went to hell for he ignored his responsibilities to the likes of the poor Lazarus who also died and went to heaven (Lk 16:19-31). Remember what the rich men called out, “Father Abraham, have pity on me…I am suffering torment in these flames”. And Abraham calls back reminding the punished soul that the distance between heaven and hell cannot be bridged. But, regardless of our own circumstances in his life, despite how unjustly we think life has been dealt out to us, this is not hell. Unlike hell, where all is eternal and time does not exist, we have time and time not only is a great healer. Time can also save us. We should be grateful for the gift of time.

The Gospel today can help us reflect, not only on those who are deemed outcasts by society. There are many who truly need our compassionate outreach. But closer to home, for this is where we begin, we should first reflect on how we can easily distance ourselves from Christ and even how we can grow content with that distance to the point that we allow ourselves to be shaped by other influences such as work, school, sports or even retirement. 

It is no exaggeration that sin serves the purpose to widen the gap between us and our Savior, pushing this gap even into eternity when time runs out. It is, in a way, like a spiritual leprosy, which if left untreated can eat away at our very souls. By its nature, whether we freely choose it or allow it to creep into our lives by ignoring its reality, it can create distance between us and the Lord affecting our relationship with the world and our social responsibilities.

If you sense a distance between yourself and God never be content with it and do not allow it to widen. Never assume that this is the way it should be, an excuse that there should be a wide gulf between me and God, after all he is God and I am a mere mortal! 

Because of Christ, that is not the way it should be. As a point of reference, the Church’s liturgy makes the point (and this is further developed in the Eastern liturgies). The prayer of the priest when he adds a few drops of water into the wine reads “may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbles himself to share in our humanity”. Because of Christ, there can be no distance between God and humanity.

For this reason you can be assured that if you call out to God, he will hear and Christ bridges the distance. But you have to call out loud, not in a whisper. Like the ten lepers with whom we are surely numbered, together we have to recognize our sinfulness, we have to encourage and direct our efforts and help each other to respond to the Lord’s directives, despite what can often get in the way.

Sometimes it takes a community of sinners, as we are, to band together with a common purpose to approach the Lord and call out to Him for help. And that we do. But the gospel highlights a common statistic - that it is usually one in ten who will actually recognize that their blessings have come from God and not from their own efforts and to God they return to give thanks. There can be no other reason why we are here every Sunday but to give thanks and praise to God for what he has done for us. 

If the Gospel today serves as our standard, nine out of ten are blessed indeed but will never come close to seeing the face of Christ. Only one in ten “sees” their salvation. “That one is given much more than the rest. Besides being healed, he was told, ‘Stand up and go, your faith has save you’”. (Athanasius, Festal Letter 6). 

If you have not heard his voice in your soul, or felt his breath upon your heart, it is time to return to the Lord. This Holy Eucharist provides us not only the opportunity, but also with the Lord Himself. To recognize our Savior here in the Blessed Sacrament means that we can not take for granted all he has done for you and me personally. That makes this a time of reflection and a time of thanksgiving. (cf. CCC 2637)

Oct 1, 2016

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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.

As as an encouragement to us to discover shaper tools, to help us appreciate what meaning God has given to each of our lives, but also as a help to our young men in particular to discern if priesthood could be God’s plan for them in particular, I am asking that one of our two local visiting seminarians might briefly address us.

Inside Water

Ritual And Reality...   When we talk about the baptism of the Lord, what immediately comes to mind is a church baptism – typically ...