Feb 25, 2017

Sunday Before Lent (8th Sunday)

We live in a young nation saturated with history and events that have shaped the story and defined the lives and destiny of countless people through every generation. As an example, we can retrace the epic adventures of the Franciscan fathers who marked out the El Camino Real which begins in San Diego and passes through Oceanside as it links the Missions throughout California.

Take a walking tour through Philadelphia and Boston and you enter the drama of the Revolutionary Wars, the birth of a nation and its first steps in into defining its journey ahead.

Visit the battlefield of Gettysburg and in your mind you can still smell the incense of gunpowder and hear the echoes of Lincoln's short but still lingering address pointing the nation towards a noble future.

Scroll through the Ellis Island passenger records and enter into the dreams of immigrants who embarked on a journey of faith and hope to a land they would come to love and sacrifice their lives for.

Stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and look out into history and see where hundreds of thousands journeyed to Washington in pursuit of civil rights or arrive every winter to march in support of innocent unborn human life.

There are many untold stories of epic journeys that also need to be told. It is written in each face of a refugee family, or etched in the body of an immigrant baked in the desert heat reminding us of undocumented real life stories of fellow travellers, who have joined the historical narrative of our land - of those who leave home and family seeking to reach a promised land, the longing within the human soul for a new birth, a new beginning and a new world.

This is our quest, our story too, and our journey as we approach the gates of the Season of Lent. It marks our forty day journey with Christ who left his hometown and family to lead us on an adventurous and dangerous journey to the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Along the way, we too will venture into a desert and battle with the elements of evil. We will also experience hunger and thirst along the way. But Christ will be our guide and feed us with His sacraments.

We will cross borders and enter into foreign territories where we will be tempted to sin and at times feel a stranger, far from home. But Christ will comfort us with stories and parables of God's mercy and forgiveness.  

We will climb mountains, become exhausted, and be tempted to despair or give up. But Christ transfigured before us like a beacon, will spur us onward assuring us with the power of His divinity.

We will revisit the places and retell the final events of Our Lord’s life, climbing up to the stairwell to the Upper Room or through the brush and stoney pathway into the a hidden garden. We will stand by Him as He is arrested, facing trumped up charges of treason and conspiracy. We will accompany Him along the road of sorrows to His place of crucifixion and death. We will encounter our own weaknesses and the limits of our strength and resolve. But if we persevere and hold on to Christ, even in His deathly silence, the Good Shepherd will lead us through the dark valley of death to the new promise and new life assured by His victory in resurrection.  

Our life, every life, is a life and journey in the company of Christ. The approaching Season of Lent simply reminds us that this is not a private journey - we share the road with others. Their stories are also our stories. It is also Christ the traveller’s story who leads the way.

As we tie our laces and prepare our body for the journey ahead into the Season of Lent, we will want to pack only what we truly need. Ash Wednesday and Confessions will remind us that we are made of and the encouragement of God’s kindness as we admit to our weaknesses and ask for forgiveness of sins. Our Friday Stations of the Cross will test our resolve to carry the responsibility of saving grace. Our fasting will remind us of our hunger for God’s strength.  Our preparation for the Easter Sacraments will retell, relive and weave our own pathway into the epic journey of the People of God from slavery to freedom.

What should be our attitude as we get ready for our journey through the weeks of Lent? In today’s Gospel Christ sets stage - “Do not worry”. Simply seek to reach the Kingdom of God. Trust in the guidance, the protection and the good nature of God to see us safely to our journey's end. Trust in Him to see you through just one day so that tonight when you rest your tired feet, you can also rest in peace knowing you are a little bit closer your heart's desire - to stand at the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem and rejoice.

Feb 18, 2017

Seventh Sunday on Ordinary Time

There is a telling story told of Saint Mother Teresa. She had just rescued from the streets of Calcutta, a neglected and starving young Hindu girl. Holding her hand, she led her into a local shop. Going up to the counter Mother Teresa politely asked if she could have some bread. The angry shopkeeper, who was not Christian, scoffed at her, and then spat in her face.  Mother Teresa looked up and simply said, "Thank you sir for that gift. Now, what about something also for the child?" After some time of tense silence, the shopkeeper gave Mother Teresa a large basket of bread for her to take to the orphanage to feed the hungry.

"Love your enemies", Christ command us.  Even though we often take advantage of His mercy and generosity, and even abuse His gifts to us, God's patience with us is never worn thin to the point that He looks upon us with hostility. He never will reach the point of frustration with you and me that He labels any of us as His enemies, regardless of our offense.
"Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect", Christ tells us. This is what should distinguish us as Christians from anyone else - our ability to love our enemies, to pray for them, to help them gently on the road to salvation and to do so, creating the right environment where, in time, enemies can become friends, and in particular, friends of God.
Is this not the attitude of Christ to us, giving us opportunity upon opportunity to be more open and receptive to the influence of His friendship? So, if we count ourselves friends of Christ, and should also find ourselves suffering because of the wounds inflicted by someone else, rather than fighting back in anger, we instead should be more troubled that our enemy would be damned to hell without the opportunity for repentance. For this reason, in the Christian standard of faith and living, there is never room for revenge or getting even, even under a false premise of trying to teach someone a lesson.
Knowing what we are made of and the environment we often find ourselves living in, naturally it is very difficult for us to always respond with love and patience in a world so marked by sin and division. But Christ did not simply ask us to love our enemies.  Sometimes, we can feel we do not have the emotional and spiritual strength to do so. That's probably why He also asked us to pray for them - even to pray to God on their behalf. Doing so, without them even aware, we give them more than they think they deserve from us.
Consider how Christ himself was spat upon, struck and punched in the face, not just once, but many times by His enemies, who even whipped Him to pieces.  He could have responded with His divine power and obliterated them in an instant. No. Instead He literally took it as a man.  When they threw weight of the cross on His back and forced him to carry it, He did so without complaint. So much so, His enemies, no doubt amazed, took it off His shoulders and forced it on a passerby to carry for Him. When Christ was being nailed to the cross and slowly crucified to death, He could have cursed His enemies with the vengeance of God. But instead, He prayed for them and asked that his Father forgive them their sins. And as He died, one of the executioners, was compelled to make an act of faith in God.
Loving our enemies is not easy. But, if we preserve in friendship with God, and are never afraid to return to Him again and again, even in our own sinfulness asking for forgiveness of our sins, we can be assured of the grace of God's patience.  "Learn from me" Christ assures us - the perseverance needed to carry our daily crosses and the courage to love and pray for those who might oppose or threaten harm upon us in any way. This is the road to perfection we boldly and courageously take - following Christ who leads the way and says to us, "Follow me".

Feb 12, 2017

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A child attempts to walk for the first time. In doing so, they must learn to cooperate with the laws of gravity and physics! A young person prepares for their driving test. They must know the laws of the road, but also the laws of courtesy and never to insist on the right of way.  Our respect for the just laws of our nation, are aimed towards helping us respect the dignity of each person, the expectation of hospitality and equality.

There are also laws written into the very fabric of nature that guard the essential foundation of human life itself, the nature of the human family, the role of the sexes, the responsibilities and expectation of married life and the duties of being a father or a motherhood.  

Within these relationships, we are also given the hidden law of conscience; an inner voice that longs to be guided in the direction that God’s eternal truth so that our choices will come to reflect the design of our Creator in all my relationships.

Through His Word, spoken to us through Christ and echoed through His Church, God also reveals a moral law to guide our basic relationships with each other - it is God's law of love, given to us to protect us from selfishness and the disorders of pride, lust, rage and jealousy.

God has given us particular laws of behavior, not to curtail our freedom, nor to punish us but instead to help build up and re-establish the right and balanced relationship we should have with him and one another.

Whereas the laws of the land, the laws of nature, even the laws of gravity can be harsh, uncompromising, even unforgiving, we can be tempted to always think that God's Law and His commandments are too high, to lofty. But let us never forget, God's Law of Mercy and Forgiveness. He makes allowances for our weaknesses and vulnerability. He never misses an opportunity to encourage us to preserve through the many battles we must often endure, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  

But Christ would not expect of us anything He would not do himself. That’s why His words about the sacred bond of matrimony, for example, are not simply written words or laws. Christ defines the divine law of married love with every drop of His blood, His very life. Even though we have been unfaithful to him, He will never go back on His word to be faithful to us, even until death.  In short, He will never divorce Himself from us - He loves us in good times, and in back, in sickness and health, He loves us to death - the Law of Sacrificial Love after the manner of Christ himself.

May all our relationships and the sacrifices we too must make, point to and reflect the harmony God intends for all creation. And may His gentle law of love and mercy find a home in our lives reflecting the balance of all good things God has willed for us - for the salvation of our souls and the refreshment of all our relationships through Christ, our Lord.

Feb 4, 2017

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Too much salt poisons the flavor. Too much light blinds the eyes. A city too high on a hill becomes unreachable. But the opposite is also true. Too little salt and the food is bland. Too little light and there is darkness. A city placed in a hidden valley is never noticed when you pass by.

We see here the corrosive effects and the regrettable consequences of the extremes of both sides of the spectrum.

This can, off course, be applied to our social interactions with each other when our conversations are never measured, but instead become far too heated, violent and unrealistically idealistic. On the other side, it's when we presume we have nothing meaningful to say to each other, when we are afraid to stand out from the crowd or have lost interest in building upon the strong foundations others have sacrificed for us with their lives.

Of course, the extremes of too little and too much, affect us not only in our lives, in our family life, but also in society and in our nation. It applies to how each individual applies the gifts God has given them, how parents exercise their responsibility to oversee their children, where those in positions of leadership concentrate their efforts and interests. Too much of a good thing is bad for you, the old saying reminds us.

Christ reminds us to be salt of the earth - not too much salt or we become angry fundamentalists. But not too little that no-one would suspect we are Christians. Christ reminds us that we are to be a light to the world. Not too much light or we risk becoming self-righteous and conceited. But not too little light and we easily fall into boredom and mediocrity. Christ reminds us that we are to be a city on a hill. Too high and we risk shouting down at people and living in a fortress. But if we live in a hole we risk being walked over without anyone noticing.

How to we strike the right balance? Maybe it is to take full responsibility for our own souls and the the salvation of others in a way that avoids too much as well as too little. In a world and society that is often so polarized by the tribalism of the right and the left, the conservative and the liberal, the rich and the poor, the native and the newcomer, our natural instincts are always influenced by our sins which either provoke us to anger or to apathy.

What is therefore the right measure of salt, light and Christian witness to the world? The Prophet Isaiah who lived in a time when his own land was strife in wars, political turmoil and uncertainty, provided a recipe with the necessary instructions on the right measures to be applied: In the First Reading today he says "share your bread with the poor" - in other words, do not be selfish, we must always be generous in sharing our plentiful blessings with others regardless who they are. He continues, "Bring the homeless poor into your house" - in other words, provide a safe place and a welcome to the stranger, the lonely, and yes, even the refugee forced into exile. He continues still, "when you see the naked, cover him" - in other words, see and protect the dignity of your fellow man, also, like you and me created in the image and likeness of God.

In short, the right measure of salt, light and Christian witness is what we traditionally call, the corporate works of mercy. Because we are a creative, heroic and a welcoming nation, with values and principles built upon a strong and enduring Judeo-Christian foundation we have nothing to fear. For this reason, Christ also speaking to his disciples in the political, cultural and religious crisis of his own land, reminds us also in the Gospel today, "Let your light so shine before all, that they may see your good works and [most importantly - for this is what it's all about] give glory to your Father who is in heaven". In other words, there is work to be done, for the salvation of souls.

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