May 27, 2017

He Ascended into Heaven

Not so long ago, I had the opportunity, a privilege, to offer the graveside prayers at our Catholic cemetery in San Diego. Founded in 1919, and located east of downtown San Diego, it is 40 acres of holy ground. In its 95 year history over 65,000 individuals have been buried in its consecrated soil or interned in or around the chapel.  One day, after I have breathed my last, I hope to have my body also buried in its holy ground in a section reserved for priests.  There, my body will wait for the final day where I will rise again. It is my hope that I will be in good company! But what will I see?

Many of us have a very poor imagination about the "afterlife". We often talk about our souls going to heaven, gladly leaving behind a world of pain and suffering. Death becomes for many the way to escape from all our burdens, from the cruelty and injustices of this world. We sometimes say that someone has "gone to a better place".  We are often tempted to imagine heaven and earth as two different locations - one place is spiritual where everything is eternal, and the other is physical where in time things get older and eventually decay and crumble.

But it may come to you as a surprise, that nowhere in the Bible does it actually say that after our death, our souls go on to another world and there, in that other place, we live on as spiritual beings for all of eternity.

Even though, the Gospel tells us that Jesus, resurrected from the dead in a glorified body and after forty days is lifted up into heaven beyond our sight, the message given to us is not that we are to wait it out on earth and then "jump ship" to follow him to the better place of heaven.  Instead, we are told, wait "here" on "this" earth - wait "here" because He will be returning.  And when He has returned, what will He bring? He will bring heaven.

Just when we think that we have to wait for this to happen sometime in the future, and in the meantime learn and practice the Ten Commandments and be good so that one day we can "graduate" from boot camp and move up to the next level - the Good News of Jesus Christ is that He is already bringing heaven to earth, right now, right before our eyes even though we might not be able (at this time) to always see it.

If we have the Spirit of Jesus breathing through every cell of our body, does not our faith assure us that somehow we are already living life "on earth as it is in heaven"?   When we enter into the Sacraments of the Church and encounter Christ's true and substantial presence in the Eucharist, are not heaven "and" earth  full of His glory"?  When we live Christ's Sermon on the Mount and embrace the Beatitudes in our everyday lives, we do not pray "get me out of here"! We instead say, "Thy Kingdom come".

Yes, of course there is a difference between heaven and earth, and at times they can seem so far apart. But that's not God's doing. That's ours! We push heaven and earth away from each other 
- when we concentrate on spiritual needs and neglect physical needs, or the other way around 
- when we are more interested in doing good things at the expense of being good ourselves 
- when we are all faith and no works, or all busy without allowing God's grace to keep us humble.

Hell is the stomping ground of  "Jackal and Hyde". Heaven is the perfect union of the human and the divine in one person.  That person of course is Christ himself. And where is He to be found? [Hint: "The Lord be with you...  And...] Can I say with St. Paul, "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me". And can I hear Christ say, "as long as you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me?"

So after I die and my mortal remains are laid to rest, and then in the twinkling of an eye, I rise up from my grave in a new and glorified body, what will I hope to see? I look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, recognizable from the tiny glimpses I have already been privileged to see (through little slits in the vale) - of a paradise restored - as it was in the beginning, is now and ever will be, a world without end. Amen.

May 20, 2017

Sixth Week of Easter - Time to upgrade!

John 14:15-23

Our smart phone seems to be that device we hold onto, keeping it close. It has become a necessary conduit to keep our connection open with family, friends and colleagues. When we do not see them, we do not want to loose touch. Even when they are miles away, even overseas, we go to great lengths to secure we are still, in some way connected.

To bring home this point, if you have ever lost your phone containing all your contacts, or forgotten your password or log in details, it can sometimes produce much anxiety and even panic! Even though you might have access to another phone, maybe a landline, it is often difficult to immediately recall someone's exact number. Scurrying around for lost scraps of paper is terrifying and searching for a 2000 page telephone directory is, for the most part, a thing of the past.

In the same way as our deep and intimate relationships with family and friends evolve first through our physical presence and personal encounters, so does our relationship with Christ. However, our connection with Him does not depend on having His private number, an access code or password which can easily be forgotten or lost.

This was, no doubt, a difficult lesson for the first disciples.  With His death, they feared they had lost Him for good. They were stuck. They didn't know how to go forward without Him. Christ had been so much a part of their lives. Up until His arrest and crucifixion, they had shared so much of His life.  For three days, they were without any connection. The whole world for them had crashed. Until on Easter morning, He stood before them and all was made new again. New again, but not the same!

From His wounded but Resurrected body, He shared with them the invitation to accept God’s mercy and forgiveness. They had to accept this personally. Tired, exhausted, hungry and drained, they needed to experience the upload of God's mercy and forgiveness in their own lives.  For the most part, they had abandoned their master to his death on the cross. They experienced the darkness of isolation.  But now the disciples, having restored their friendship with Christ during these forty days after his resurrection, they would have to get ready to proclaim with their very lives, a restoration - an unbreakable connection, the unique and divine power of God's mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation to the whole world.

As wonderful as this was, it was also much to take in. But Christ would now be soon returning to His place in heaven. We will commemorate that event next week.  His disciples, so used to seeing him, listening to His voice, holding on to Him and feeling safe in His presence, would now have to find the strength and confidence to take His place before the world, to be themselves the visible point of reference – to be a living and credible witness of Christ to the whole world.  It was easy to hide behind Him while we walked before them. Now Christ, who would be ascending to His heavenly Father, did not assure His disciples had He would call them every so often, or drop them a note. Instead, He would be presence through, with and in them - He is our soul's SIM card that can never be lost, activated by His promise to send us the Holy Spirit.

Even though Jesus is now beyond our sight and touch, the Holy Spirit, which He has sent to us for our comfort, surrounds us, touches our souls, gives eternal meaning to all our relationships, sends our prayers to heaven and assures us that Christ is always near even when we do not see Him.

In this Holy Mass Christ's Holy Spirit penetrates through every fiber of our offering of bread and wine, changing them at their most deepest reality into the new reality of the Risen Lord of heaven and earth. What we see before us is only the sign, the signal. The reality is that Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth stands before us.

Even though we may sin and fail in our Christian discipleship by losing His number, forgetting your password or deleting His details, all is restored through the sacraments. It's as simple as handing ourselves over to His mercy and reinstalling His love in our hearts. This is how we re-enkindle and hold onto our deep and intimate friendship with the Lord despite getting lost in the crazy world or when we feel cut off from everyone, even at times, from God.

We must always ask the help of the Holy Spirit to reawaken our soul and keep our heart always searching for a deeper friendship with Christ, who will never forget or abandon His friends who call His name.

"For the Only Begotten God Himself, desired no difference to be felt between Himself and the Holy Spirit in the faith of believers and in the efficacy of his Works because there is no diversity in their nature". St. Leo the Great, Letter 16.4

May 13, 2017

Fifth Week of Easter - Hide and Seek

Just when the disciple is so used to having Christ in close proximity, someone to run to, our counselor, our defender, our guide - now He tells them that He must vanish from their sight.  Are they ready for that? Do we think that we are too old and wise for a game of "Hide and Seek"?

Maybe its like the security we can feel when we are inside a church. We are comforted by so many assurances that God is here.  But what when we leave here and return to the the world outside these walls?

Sometimes we might feel the security of Christ's presence when we carry our rosary beads, wear a crucifix or medal, or surround ourselves with religious books and memorabilia, gravitating towards likeminded people who share our religious convictions.

But what about when we are engaging the world in the everyday tasks of life - at work, at school, in the market place, in the restaurant or with coworkers and the atmosphere is completely different - no sacred images on the wall, conversations far from sacred, when we find ourselves surrounded by the cosmetics of a secular world.

Christ tell us in today's Gospel, that it is best that He departs from our visible spectrum, so that through the Holy Spirit, we can find Him again. Of course, Our Lord, is substantially present to us through the Blessed Sacrament, radiating with heavenly intensity, the hidden attributes of His heart and soul that seeks communion us. But why does He seek us in such a hidden way? 

Holy Communion with Christ is not simply the invisible Christ entering into our immediate space. Remember, He was substantially present, body, blood, soul and divinity in the presence of pharisees, tax collectors, crowds and onlookers, and many were unmoved by His presence before them. 

Christ is never content "only" to be substantially present, to simply stand in our midst. Our Lord seeks so much more. He seeks to join His sacred heart to my heart, to influence my own hidden thoughts, my feelings and my attitudes with His own. If my own heart is hardened, if it has not been cleansed by His mercy, softened and moulded by His Spirit, I might as well be in Holy Communion with a statue, an image, a symbol or a holy book!  Remember, after His resurrection from the dead, when Christ literally walked alongside the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, what was the effect of His Real Presence before them - "Did not our hearts burn within us as He talked to us along the way?"

1.  We have before us Jesus hidden yet present in the Holy Eucharist. When we leave this building, know that you will also find Our Lord hidden yet present in the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are sick and suffering. 

2.  We will have before us at this altar and we will worship the resurrected Body of Christ -  
When we return to our neighborhoods and along the way, we will encounter the wounds of His Body in those we will see and meet along the way. 

3.  In this sacred building, we will adore Christ's Body which, although now Risen, still bears upon it the scars of the Cross. 
Where will we find Him when we return back into our secular world? He is present in the hidden wounds, suffering, pain and loneliness of our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors, the stranger and the passerby.

Our Blessed Mother who when she thought she lost Him for three days, found Him in the Temple. We do likewise. But Mary did not keep Him there or lock Him up in His room so as not to venture out from the house again. But when the time was right, without fear, she opened the doors and allowed Him to venture out into a dangerous world.  

May we too, like Our blessed mother Mary, continue to seek Him out again, but not always in the predictable places like the Temple where, of course, she knew He would often be preaching and teaching. 

Our Lady also had to seek Him out, as so must we, in the midst of a crowd of strangers, sometimes having to send word through others that we belong to His family and wish to see Him (Matthew 12:47).  

But ultimately, as Mother Mary did, and we too must follow - to seek and find her Son where no one else would dare to seek the face of God - on Calvary (John 19:26). 

This must be our greatest desire, like hers, to seek and find Him among the abandoned, the outcast and the suffering.  If we say we have devotion to the Virgin Mary, it must be to her Immaculate Heart, which is the heart of a mother whose heart is alway united with the Sacred Heart of her Son.   

Mary, gave God a face. May we always recognize that face. May Mother Mary also see the face of Christ her Son in you and me.   

May 10, 2017

Centenary of the Fatima Message

May 13, 1917

Centenary of the Fatima Message

"Unless you become like little children..."

“Throughout history there have been supernatural apparitions and signs which go to the heart of human events and which, to the surprise of believers and non-believers alike, play their part in the unfolding of history. These manifestations can never contradict the content of faith, and must therefore have their focus in the core of Christ's proclamation: the Father's love which leads men and women to conversion and bestows the grace required to abandon oneself to him with the devotion of a son or daughter. This too is the message of Fatima which, with its urgent call to conversion and penance, draws us to the heart of the Gospel.” (Tarcisio Bertone, SDB. Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith)

The apparitions of Mary at Fatima in 1917 rest, not so much in the many miracles associated with the events. Instead it offers the specific Christian response necessary to save humanity from a downward spin into self-destruction.

In 1916, God sent an angel to prepare the three children to whom Our Lady would soon appear. The children’s names were Lucia and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta. The angel identified itself as the Angel of Peace and spoke to the children about the loving hearts of Jesus and Mary. The angel also told them to pray and make sacrifices to make up for the sins of others and for the conversion of sinners. The angel appeared on one occasion with the image of a chalice and the Holy Communion host, and bowing before these outward signs paid homage to the Heavenly Body and Blood of Jesus Christ presented before the children in these sacramental forms.

When, in the following year, beginning on May 13, 1917 our Blessed Mother appeared to the three children, she did so at a time in history when socialist governments where persecuting and mocking the Church, both locally in the town and villages and through out the world. Our Lady promised that the whole world would be in peace, and that many souls would go to Heaven if her requests were listened to and acted upon. She reminded the children that war is the consequence of sin. Failure to turn to God, to do penance for sins and pray for the conversion of sinners would ultimately lead to wars, hunger, persecution of the Church and persecution of the Holy Father, the Pope.

To convince the world that Our Blessed Mother’s message was from God, she told the children she would affect a miracle that everyone would see and therefore believe. News of this spread like wildfire throughout Portugal, unbelievers sneering at the prediction and those hostile to the Church calling it a hoax in the making. Before 70,000 witnesses who came from all over the country, including secular newspaper reporters and atheistic government officials, on October 13, 1917, believers and non-believers alike witnessed the sun dance, it rotated, got large and small, it spun down towards the 70,000 people, then shot back up into the sky. In the sight of this miracle of the sun, thousands on that day dropped to their knees begging God to forgive their sins.

Of the three children Our Blessed Mother appeared to, little Francisco and Jacinta were both victims of the Great Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918-20. They died at the tender ages of nine and ten years old. Pope Francis has traveled to Portugal, not only to commemorate the centenary of the Fatimas apparitions, but also to declare as saints, the little children Francisco and Jacinta.  Lucia, when she later became of age, entered a convent becoming a nun and later became a close confident of the late Pope, St. John Paul II who attributes Our Lady of Fatima with the saving of his life from the assassin’s bullet on that fateful day in St. Peter’s Square, also on this date May 13th, in 1981.

There are countless reports, stories and books written about the apparitions and events of Fatima in 1917. In the dialogue between Our Lady and the children during the apparitions, the constant theme is the need to foster a life of prayer, to do penance in reparation for the sins against God, to pray in particular for the conversion of sinners and to recite the Rosary very day, drawing from it the great resources of God’s grace as we meditate and contemplate on the mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of our Blessed Lord, Son God and Son of Mary.

The message of our Lady of Fatima is very relevant today as it was 100 years ago.  The apparitions took place when anti-catholic and socialist governments were set on destroying the Church and eroding her influence in public life. Of course, the laws of any country might proclaim freedom of religion, but through an entanglement of lawyers and constitutional amendments and court room challenges, we can see how a hostile legalistic environment that prevents religious faith expressing itself in public, might be used to prevent it influencing the minds and hearts of ordinary men and women who might, in turn, be convinced of the truth of the Gospel message.

In many respects, the hostility of many to the Catholic faith comes from a fear of hearing the call to conversion, repentance and to live a life faithful to the Commandments of God.  Our loving Creator's desire is always to protect our freedom, while securing our human dignity. This, we should never be afraid of.

When our Blessed Mother appeared to the children, and entrusted them with visions and heavenly secrets, she told them not to be afraid. Because Jesus, from the cross, asked us to take Mary as our Mother into our homes, we too, now as her children, must listen to her voice which points us to prayer, penance for our sins and those of the whole world. 

If this message could be entrusted to three little children who braved every obstacle to live in their own lives the call to conversion and who were not afraid to do so, let us hope that we too can be courageous in living our own faith in every circumstance and through every challenge. 

Let us hope that we will do so in such a way that our own example, our thoughtfulness and devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be reflected, not only in our lives, but through our public witness to gently transform the culture we live in, into a place where , regardless if there be a separation of church and state, there can never be a separation between heaven and earth (through Jesus Christ our Lord).

May 6, 2017

Shepherd Good and True

Third Week of Easter

Not to be mistaken as a gathering of nuns on a day out, or a group of young gentlemen wearing tuxedos, I want you to think of penguins! Read penguins - those affable, wobbly  flightless birds, who dive into the arctic waters and jump out of holes in the ice with mouthfuls of fish.

But I’ve often wondered when I’ve seen images of thousands of penguins all huddled together on some Antarctic background, how do you tell them apart? But more particular, after the breeding season and there are equally thousands of young chicks who have not ventured into the waters to feed themselves, how do the parent penguins, returning to a penguin colony of thousands, be able to tell who’s who. Not only that, a returning parent with a mouthful of fish must be able to recognise their own chick and ignore all the thousands of other youngsters who are all indiscriminately crying out for food.

It seems, that, soon after birth, the parents have bonded so intimately with their young, that even when they leave them to search for food and later return to the thousands who are assembled on the edge of the icy water, the parent is able to distinguish, not by sight (that would be impossible), but by careful listening, the unique pitch and tone of their own offspring amid all the thousands of hungry squeals of chicks nervous and afraid that they have been abandoned.  No so.

By way of a similar image, our Lord assures us that, not only has He his eye on up, but that even if we should be lost in the valley of darkness, He can always find us. We will never be lost. He knows us personally, intimately. We are not just a huge mass of a flock. He knows each of us by name, what is hidden in our hearts, our hopes, fears and dreams and anxieties of life.  He is a shepherd, Who not only knows His flock. He knows, cares for, loves and is protective of each and every one of us Whom He knows, not by number, but by name.

Usually we call this Sunday after Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday. Indeed, Christ is the Good Shepherd. And that image of Him as such has inspired the most beautiful images and songs, poems and painting. But we should be careful not to stop there. Just because someone appears good, or brings us comfort and calms our fears, does not necessarily mean that we open our mouths and allow ourselves to be fed. Could one not deceive a vulnerable lamb that they are indeed a good Shepherd, and gently lure them away from the protection of the family by the sweetness of tender words, with promises of comfort and security? Might we not take a liking to a shepherd who showed himself as strong and mighty, chasing off the enemy with a show of strength and we would remark with relief that he was indeed a “good shepherd”?

Even throughout the political history of Israel, many individuals, from kings to politicians, from military commanders to revolutionaries, had at various times proclaimed themselves as good shepherds who were to lead their people to freedom. Christ calls them thieves and robbers! Instead of feeding the flock with true food, they themselves feed off the fears and vulnerabilities of others.  They are quickly unmasked and abandoned when we see their true colors and agenda.

Instead, He puts Himself forward, not simply as the Good Shepherd. He goes further. He presents Himself as the “True Shepherd”. Anyone can present themselves as a “good shepherd”. But Christ is only the Good Shepherd because He alone is the True Shepherd. How can you tell? Listen to His voice. Christ’s voice not only speaks the truth, but His voice, even if we do not fully understand it without minds, His voice reaches into the heart and soul. And we know, in our heart of hearts that we must follow Him, trust Him and love Him, even when we are still hungry and afraid. The True Shepherd will always keep His promises, and will even lay down His life, because He is a man of His Word.

And what is His Promise and His Word to us? “I have come that you may have life, and life abundantly”.  Here in this Eucharist, we call out to God who hears us, hears you and me crying out from the depth of our hearts and souls, “Feed me with everlasting life”. He responds to us most intimately through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, not only as a Good Shepherd who feeds us, but the True Shepherd who dares to nourish us with His own sacrificial Body and Blood. Because the Lord alone is my shepherd, there is nothing else I shall want, no-one else who hears me when I call, knows where I am, what I need, where I belong." Call to Him and you will be saved!  

Inside Water

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