Jan 29, 2017

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

You might remember, in the four weeks leading up to Christmas I asked if you would help collect food packages and place them in St. Joseph's Chapel so that they may be distributed to those in need.  A few days ago, I received a letter from Catholic Charities, our local branch in North County. It wasn't just a "thank you" letter.  It was an eye opener - for it puts into context the impact of simple reaching out to the vulnerable of our community, regardless if our efforts came second nature or were made with much effort or sacrifice. 

(reading of the letter follows that highlights how many families were helped, individuals helped etc.)

I relate these facts and figures of how many families and individuals we have helped, not so that we might make a name for ourselves, or receive recognition or even to get a pat on the back, which in itself is very nice. St. Paul reminds us that we are not to boast of our efforts before God. So how should we respond to this letter?

By cooperating with God's grace, even unknowingly, we can bring to fulfillment what was spoken in today's Psalm. It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind; "the Lord raises up those who were bowed down. The Lord loves the just; the Lord protects strangers." (Psalm 146). It is our privilege and responsibility as Christians to play, even a small part, in God's own work.

We then become deeply aware that every single person, regardless of the circumstances or manner of living their life, has been created in the image and likeness of God. We are able to see every human being, from the unseen embryo to the hardened criminal, as worthy of our love and generosity. Why? God has chosen them to shame us to salvation!

As St. Paul reminds us in our first reading, and to anyone who champions their own rights over innocent and vulnerable human lives when he says, "God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God." (1 Cor. 1:26ff)

Therefore, none of us can boast before God, for everything that we have and receive is given out of His charity. We, in turn, give of ourselves, not to prove we are strong, not to make a name for ourselves, our parish, or our professions or organizations we belong to. No! We do not tell God how good we are. He instead tells us "how good we are" - we are "blessed" - but not because we have done anything deserving of His praise. More times than not, God will not allow us to see nor experience the fruits of our works, our charity or even our prayers be it for others or for ourselves.

For example, the poor in spirit might continue to be poor in spirit for the rest of their lives. They are blessed. After the death of a loved one, sorrow and sadness may continue until it takes us to our own grave. They are blessed. One might live a whole life and never be praised or thanked for anything. They are blessed. Many will continue to experience prejudice, suspicion and injustice every day without end. They are blessed. Every day you might have to secretly fight with personal demons and never give up even though you are exhausted. They are blessed. So many unknown men and women are laid to rest without anyone knowing how many lives they saved. They are blessed.

So do we just motor on and wait for our reward in heaven? That's the wrong attitude and the wrong question. We do not claim heaven after death, as if it were a prize because we persevered. Heaven is God's space, where God's Kingdom is perceived in all its fullness and beauty. Because of the courageous witnesses of Christians, for example, the hundreds of thousands who march on Washington every year calling for the protection of unborn innocent human lives and who may never see the fruits of their efforts, or the countless men and women who continually feed the hungry and help bring healing to those in need without end, or the many who fight for the justice and dignity of their brothers and sisters, or those who put themselves in harm's way to extend the gift of freedom - there are indeed little glimpses here and there of heaven on earth, making inroads through this world of ours. The Kingdom of heaven is still being built up brick by brick - even in the midst of our sins, sufferings, fake news or the alternative facts. So, despite it all, always remain a people of hope and have faith in God’s promises that His Kingdom will come.

In short, continue to be a credible witness before others, not just outside in the world, but also within the family of the Church. Continue to actively contribute to the Church’s mission and ministry. Encourage each other by your example, in works of charity and personal compassion, but also in little ways such as when the offering basket comes round, leaving some food at St. Joseph's Chapel - show acts of kindness and welcome to strangers, newcomers and to those around you. Do not sit in your pew like members of the jury when you are meant to be witnesses! Even little acts of generosity and heroic virtue are noticed and they all add up in ways we might never fully understand here and now. But doing so allows God's Kingdom to slowly, gently and firmly take root on His good earth again.

Jan 21, 2017

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Please consider the words of St. Paul we heard in the Liturgy of the Word: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”

Ideally, we will agree with St. Paul’s apostolic exhortation, but unfortunately, at the same time, too often we want everyone else to be united with my own way of thinking, my own purpose. "If you don’t think the way I think, or have the same vision I have, if you cannot agree to see life from my perspective - then there is nothing we have in common - we have no relationship, we are on two different sides!"   (As graphic as the example might be, I’m reminded of what my dog does as I walk it around the neighborhood - it lifts its leg to mark its territory, even when it’s not “his” own territory!  In effect what’s it’s saying is, “I claim this land, whether you like it or not, as my own turf - I’m in charge around here. Only my particular distinctive smell should dominate this land”)

The apostle experienced this corrosive virus eating away in the community of the Church in Corinth. Individuals were locked into their own allegiances, each with their own particular partisan or ideological rallying cry - "I only follow this bishop (Paul)," "I only follow this priest (Apollos),"  "I only follow this pope (Cephas)," or "I only follow Christ (my own Christ)”. St. Paul is encountering a power play. It was as if everyone was living together, hating each other all for the love of God!!!!!

In Southern California we are used to, even incredibly comfortable with the idea of living in an area susceptible to earthquakes.  Even though we all stand on a common ground, we tend to think that the fault line will never appear right under our own feet, or that we will see it coming and jump to one side, or be able to watch it unfound from a safe distance, like a Hollywood movie.  But our common ground is not always as secure as we think.

What if I live my life cut off from the dignity of justice and freedom that God has planted in the core of my being? What happens when husbands and wives become estranged, living two separate lives? What happens when our children are left to slip into into their own virtual worlds? What happens when families isolate themselves from others or when the dining room table becomes merely a display feature? What happens when particular communities in our society turn inward or when nations only see other nations as threats to their own particular way of life? Tension slowly builds up, stress lines begin to appear, cracks within the foundations of relationships, institutions and traditions we presumed would endure forever, now begin to appear, threatening our unity and companionship even at the most fundamental level.  

Two solutions might seem obvious to bring together opposing sides. One is glue. The other is jumping into a lifeboat.  Glue can come in many shapes and forms. It can present itself as a sacred book in the hand of a fundamentalist, a notion of nationalism in the mind of a dictator, or a call for freedom inspired by a champion for change. However, such impulses often paper over divisions that are already there - there is no healing, no growth, cracks often resurface with time from scars painted over.  

Alternatively, the temptation to jump from slow sinking vessel into a lifeboat is oftentimes understandable. But it betrays the responsibility that each of us have to repair and help fix, to mend and refresh the fabric of our relationships with each other, within our family, in our workplace and even the gift of God’s creation we too often take for granted until the earth shakes, mountains fall or our homes flooded.

To this end, the Gospel we have listened to today, Christ's very own words, should waken us up. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand." This is not a simple warning. It's a fact. Repentance is not only to acknowledge our individual wrongdoings, our sins. It's also an invitation to see our lives and our relationships with God and the world from a new and bigger perspective. If the kingdom of heaven is close at hand, that does not mean that we are near the end of the world. Instead, Christ tells us to look and see through the darkness - that God's Kingdom of heaven is, instead, coming to us.  Is that not what we pray every day in the Lord's prayer - "Thy Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven".  

Therefore -

What is your vision of yourself here and now? I want to be on earth now, as I would be in heaven. What is your vision of marriage? I want my marriage to be on earth now as it would be in heaven. What is your vision of family? I want my family to be on earth now as it would in heaven. What is the purpose of your work? It has the same purpose now on earth as it would be in heaven. What is your vision of the parish, of the Church? I want this church to be as on earth as it would be in heaven. What vision do we want for our nation? We want our nation to be on this earth as it would be heaven!

On earth as it is in heaven begins now at this altar, in this Eucharist, our bread and wine of this earth becomes for us here and now what it is in the kingdom of heaven - our living Savior standing before us, leading the way, who belongs, not to any one person or group, but to everyone, every tribe, every tongue, every nation under God. In the meantime, as Christ preached with his life on earth, bringing healing of every disease and illness which divides and separates us from each other and God, we now must do likewise. "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  

Jan 14, 2017

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

When Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan, the ripples of that event gently moved out in every direction, slowly gathering up speed, becoming larger and larger until they would become an immense outpouring of God's grace for all humanity, impacting the whole world. Who could have predicted that the pouring of water over someone in particular would generate a wave of cosmic magnitude? In the Gospel, John the Baptist now becomes intensely aware of the unpredictability of God's grace manifested and unleashed in Jesus of Nazareth. The natural is raised to the heights of the supernatural.

John now sees his cousin Jesus from a new perspective, in a new spirit, which takes him by surprise. This is why John says, “I did not know him”. John had known Jesus from a family perspective, a familiarly which was natural. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, John now recognizes the true identity of his cousin. He can no longer look at him simply as an ordinary man. He sees Jesus as the Son of God and in doing so John would see the long-awaited messiah in a new way.

Far from being, what many expected, a warrior messiah who would defeat the Romans, John sees Jesus not as a lion, but rather as a Lamb - the Passover lamb who would become vulnerable to the point of being slaughtered and in being so, would take away the sins of the world.

It is unlikely John the Baptist knew how Jesus would accomplish this. All John can possibly know, is that his own role in all of this is not to figure out the details but rather to point others to Jesus, that’s all. And that is enough.

In a certain sense, we too must always be open to living life with a sense of mystery – that in truth, we do not know it all, nor should we presume that we have all the answers. Living our lives with a sense of the mystery of God allows us to trust in His way and to be humble before Him. The reason, we gather here every Sunday, is not to read the Bible as if it were an answer book to all our questions.  We can read it and study the scriptures anytime.

More so, we are here to encounter the mystery of God’s Word, not paper and ink, but in the glorified flesh and blood of Christ. If we allow ourselves to be lifted high by God's grace and do so with faith in Christ, then in this Holy Eucharist, like John the Baptist, we will no longer see what is familiar, we will behold no longer natural bread or wine, but the very supernatural presence of the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus, el Cordero de Dios, que quita el pecado del mundo. Por Cristo y con El somos capaces, y es nuestro deber, de vencer el pecado cada dia y construir el Reino de Dios y su justicia en la tierra de los humanos.

Jan 7, 2017

The Epiphany of the Lord

The event described in the Gospel underscores the far reaching effects of God's grace rippling out out in every direction from that one central event that began in Bethlehem with the birth of Jesus Christ.

The following ten points (or some of them) are worth some reflection. Each one of them could be expanded into various homilies. However, the final point might serve as the one simple premise I believe everything must first be built upon. To that end, I hope there's something for everyone!

1.  With the direct intervention of God in human history, nature herself can not remain silent. The star announced the birth of Christ. An eclipse of the sun and an earthquake proclaimed his death. A garden welcomes his resurrection. God speaks to us through nature and its elements. This could be a homily on our respect for God's creation.

2. As nature likewise groans for salvation, so does all humanity. As a people who live in darkness longs for daylight, the Epiphany of the Lord fills us with hope and optimism that a new day dawns for humanity. This could be a homily on the aspirations for justice and freedom and the Herods of our day who oppose it.

3. We are very familiar of the picture postcard of the three wise men and the iconic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  This could be a homily on the nature of Christ as King, as God, as the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the of the world.

4.  The mysterious magi, who they actually were, what lands did they really come from? Their arrival on the scene of the birth of Jesus reveals the countless multitudes of peoples, nations and cultures searching for God. This could be a homily on multiculturalism and universal salvation.

5.  The events of the Epiphany demonstrate that the chief priests and scribes knew the Hebrew Scriptures inside out, even concerning the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. But they are unmoved, and the birth of Christ seemed uninteresting to them. Unlike the Magi, they missed the clues and obvious hints God had prepared them for. This could be a homily discerning the signs of the times.

6.  We are likewise presented with the theatrics of Herod who pretends to want to find Christ so he can pay tribute to the new-born messiah. This could be a homily on the dangers of false devotion and trying to appear to be holy but instead wanting to keep everything the status quo.

7.  What the Magi found at the end of their journey following the star was no doubt a surprise they did not anticipate nor could they have predicted. This could be a homily on the need to journey outside our comfort zones and to be open to the God of surprises.

8.  When the Wise Men encountered the Christ-child and were later warned that Herod was out to destroy the newborn, they could have offered to take the holy family back with them to their own kingdoms, giving them protection and offering the child a place in their best schools of the orient. This could be a homily on how God's ways are not necessarily our ways, despite our best intentions and objectives.

9.  The Gospel story of the Epiphany is full of biblical codes and prophecies, astronomical readings and calculations.  As interesting as it all is, the goal of our Christian Faith is not to provide quick answers and remedies, or scientific proofs or explanations. This could be a homily on the relationship between faith and reason.

10.  Finally, when the Magi arrived in God's little house, what did they see and experience there and then? They saw a helpless but adorable newborn baby lifted up out of the rags by an exhausted virgin mother and a young nervous husband. The Wise Men could only but gaze in wonderment, even joyful astonishment. They instinctively bowed to the ground in profound and humble adoration - no questions asked.  

Every Sunday we are allowed to come face to face with the Son of God lifted up for adoration from the bedrock of an altar through the veil of the Eucharist. His divine personality is hidden from us behind the simple and unassuming "garments" of bread and wine, and after Mass, secured in our midst within the protective embrace of a loving tabernacle, a golden manger. Likewise, we too bow to the ground, in profound and humble adoration - no questions asked - only prayers and whispers of thanksgiving and petition.
Before we extrapolate and theorize the theological, social and global consequences of the manifestation of Christ to the world, maybe it is worth reflecting that the kings of the orient and shepherds of Bethlehem, that is what - the intellectual and the uneducated, the rich and the poor, the employer and the employee, the native and the foreigner, have in common - amazement that God's plan of salvation very simple - it's right before our eyes. Let's not complicate it too much.

Instead, in quiet amazement of how easily it is for the humble and the unassuming, and how difficult it is for the proud and arrogant, let's start off together - on bended knee before God's presence in response to the invitation, "Oh Come let us adore Him!"

Your Catholic DNA

Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30) Earlier in the year, I was given a gift of a DNA kit. By putting some saliva in a small ...