Jul 30, 2017

Buy 1 Get Everything Free

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

It might surprise many to learn that the Scriptures were not written so that they would be printed, bound and put into the book form that so many of us are now familiar with. The inspired authors first wrote their words down so that they could be read out loud and be listened to - like an audio book!

Of course, the majority of people who first encountered the sacred writings could not themselves read or write. But, for the most of them, there was nothing wrong with their hearing!

They listened and reflected on what they heard, took their time to reflect and sought to understand what they heard. For this reason, the ancients were very used to memorizing large sections of passages, and would often tell and retell a portion of Scripture, a parable, a letter from one for the apostles, again and again.  After all, it didn’t cost anything to repeat from memory a story you had heard and so pass on the details in an oral tradition.

So, in the early Church, the many disciples recalled the Holy Scriptures not as a simple means of replicating them, as if they were human printing presses. Even when the Sacred text was available to them first hand, it was not studied in the modern sense of a Bible Study. Instead, portions of Scripture were used for meditation and prayer and always within the context of developing one’s relationship with Christ. For example, an ancient Christian writer, Origen of Alexandria, who died in 254 AD reflecting on the Gospel for today, likens the search for hidden treasure in a field, to exploring the whole bible in order to findthe hidden Christ within all its pages. And when you find Christ himself, he is not a chapter and a verse. You cannot just simply copy, cut and paste him from one place to another or lift him out from his surroundings. You have to buy the whole field – he comes with everything.

That is why the best word to describe the big picture of our relationship with Christ is “catholic”. The word “catholic” describes “everything, everywhere, things in relationship to other things, nothing in isolation, nothing unrelated – it’s big, universal, touches everything, wonderfully messy but it’s all together”. To claim the pearl of great price hidden in the soil, we do not dig it up and slip it into our pocket and say “mine”. We buy the whole garden. The we invite everyone into it, uncover the treasure with much excitement and declare it, not to be “my treasure”, but “ours” - it is a “commonwealth”. That’s the “catholic” way- that is our Catholic culture.

Even that word “culture” - its various uses are associated with making the land ready to bear fruit. This is “agriculture”. We “cultivate” the earth. As Christ is the vine, and we are the branches, our heavenly Father, cultivates our soul, so that the whole vineyard bears fruit, fruit that will last, an abundance for everyone. Every one of us bears fruit in our Christian life only insofar as each of us remains attached to Christ the true vine. Our value and worth is always associated with Christ, the pearl of great price.

What started off as a small investment in land to secure this Pearl of Great Price, throughout the centuries our Catholic Culture has influenced the big picture of the world, not just in the areas of theology but also in philosophy, law, art and music, health care and education. The spirit of the soul of our soil, has never been “me” or “mine”. It has always been “ours”. The Church is not a denomination. It is a great culture within which everyone is invited to leave behind their own individualistic agendas and join a commonwealth of plentiful grace for the salvation of the whole world.

May we never fail to embrace the big picture of our Catholic faith and culture in such a way that within and throughout the vastness of the Church’s history and the wealth of her experience we may rediscover the true value of this family treasure we hold, the pearl of great price, Jesus Christ, the Word of God who lives and reigns forever!

Jul 22, 2017

Exterminate or Tolerate

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2017

Those who listened to Jesus talk about this image where people of the land and who depended on the land and its produce for survival. Even to this day, much of the political and religious conflicts of the Middle East stems from who controls the land and its produce.

The weed Jesus talked about was “cockle-seed”. In its early stages it looks very much like wheat and even to the farmer, it is practically impossible to tell the two apart. When it matures it produces a delicate purple flower. If, however, any part of the root or stem makes its way into the grain supply in large numbers, because of its toxicity, it can have disastrous effects on any product with wheat.

As with every parable spoken to us by Christ, this one is loaded, packed and layered with so much to reflect on. His illustration of the weeds and wheat having to grow alongside until harvest time doesn't need much explanation. We get the point. But too often, we fail to apply it to our own lives.

This might be because, simply put, we tend to think of ourselves as problem solvers. We don't like to sit on the fence and allow complex and unpredictable situations to unravel freely.  When Our Lord has the landowner question where the weeds came from, maybe it was one of us who jumped up first and yelled, “Aha! An enemy has done this. Let’s fight it down, fast and furious” And so, conspiracy theories are born and we rush out where even angels dare not to tread!
Perhaps, as a relatively young nation - born from a revolution, defined by a civil war, engaged in many armed conflicts abroad and political tugs of war at home, we seem to, at times, see our world, our nation and even our own community, in terms of good and bad. We can be quick to put labels on people - us and them, friends and foes, rich and poor, red states and blue states, the saint and the sinner, native and immigrant. You get the picture! But even within these categories and labels there are subdivisions still, that make their way down to the root.

This attitude can germinate closer to home. I’m not talking simply about a Red Sox/Yankees rivalry, or the wild cries of “soccer mums” and “little league dads”. Who we identify as the weeds and the wheat often trickle down, not only to residents of our various neighborhoods and cities, but even into the sanctuaries of our own Catholic communities.  “I go to this church because I don’t like that church”.  “I attend this Mass because I don’t like the other Mass” “I want my kids educated this way, because I don't want them influenced another way”  “I keep only within my own circle because I’m suspicious of those outside it.” And so it goes, dividing, multiplying and spreading.

In short, we can be quick to identify ourselves as the true wheat and others as the true weeds.  “Do you want us to go and pull out the weeds”, the servants said to the landowner. “No! That type of attitude [and I’m paraphrasing] will cause more damage than good. Allow them to grow together. And anyway”, Our Lord reminds his servants, “you’re not qualified to to make that judgment call. It takes a trained harvester, angels of God, to distinguish one from another ”.  I wouldn't be surprised if some of those zealous servants who thought of themselves as the true wheat were indeed some of the first to be yanked from their own hiding places at harvest time!

So, before we grab the Roundup and start pointing it at others, Our Lord’s words allow us, his servants, to first examine our own inner garden - my own heart and soul, remembering Our Lord’s call, “The one among you who is without sin, cast the first stone”. But on the other side, this does not mean that everyone has to rush to confession every day trying, by their own efforts, to bleach out the stain of a sin that constantly recalls our own wounds and vulnerabilities. We should remember Christ’s tender words to St. Paul “ 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (Corinthians 12:9)

A your pastor, I look out at the flock entrusted to my care. I do so, with the discerning eye of a gardener (and I take comfort that Our Risen Lord was mistaken as one on Easter Sunday). And what do I see? I see weeds and wheat. But you might start thinking, "Who's what?" Wrong question. I see weeds and wheat growing together in the rich soil of many an individual’s life, in each one of us. They grow together within the tensions and challenges of family life, in relationships of marriage and between friends. I see the incredible patience of those who live with sickness or a disease, or with the fear that a defective gene might be triggered or a cancer cell might spread. I have come to admire the patience of parents with screaming babies, or the dedication and sacrifices made by families who look after a child with special needs, or have a loved one struggling with addiction or depression. I am encouraged by those who are not afraid to climb out of their painted flower pot and enter into the ever expanding field or into a formidable forest, befriending those they meet along the way as Christ did, not afraid of saints and sinners.

We all live with weeds and wheat in our own lives, and yes, often there is a tension between the two. But Our Lord’s words should remind us that because we are not the harvesters, we should examine first our own soil, how we can often mistaken even the potential of true wheat as hostile weeds, and to not allow our fears to drive us into conflicts and wars of words that can often create hostile territory.  

Christ himself is the Lord of the Harvest which will come in due time, his own time. He will not allow any of us to force his hand. Instead, as today’s Sunday psalm reminds us we should join our voice to the psalmist and pray “You, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in, kindness and fidelity. Turn toward me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant.” (Psalm 84). And your patience.

Jul 14, 2017

Leaving our front door unlocked

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables”. Matthew 13:1

We can’t keep Christ under house arrest.  And sometimes, that’s what we do. We keep him private, away from the crowds. Our Lord went down to the harbor, where the crowds where. He didn’t stand on the shore and look into the vastness of the ocean. Instead he get’s into a boat (which is often used as a symbol of the Church), and from there He looks at the whole crowd of humanity, upon the faces of everyone – yours and mine. Christ wants to look into my face, into my eyes. And what will he see?

Every face in the crowd tells a story, a life.  Christ does not speak to a crowd. He speaks to the individual soul.  For that reason he speaks in parables – coded language because not one of our lives is really the same. His parables can sometimes go over someone’s head.  Sometimes they appear to be just nice stories, like storybook illustrations. But if we ask the Holy Spirit to open our minds and our souls to the Word of God, taking time to listen, to read his parables again and again, slowly, and carefully we will often see our lives somehow reflected in the images Christ creates in his illustrations - there often reaches that sacred moment in our lives, when we know that he is speaking to me, individually, personally in the uniqueness of my life and circumstances. Christ is looking into my eyes, into my life!

Back to that first line – “Jesus went out of the house”.  How did he get in the house to begin with? The final verses of the previous chapter of the Gospel we heard today tell us that Our Blessed Mother came to visit Him while He was preaching in the middle of a great crowd of people.  No doubt, after He had finished, Our Lord took His mother to a private house to spend some time with her.  And then what we heard read in the Gospel today picks up what happened next.   “On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around… And he spoke to them at length in parables”

Having spent some quiet time with His Mother, which parable did He go on to speak to the crowd about? God as the sower and the Word of God as the seed! Could our Lord have been thinking of His Mother when He told the crowd that “But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit”?  For what do we say concerning Our Blessed Mother, “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”.  

If we are to hear God’s Word speaking to us in the secret of our lives, let us do so imitating Mary who not only received and understood that Word but who in turn gave that Word to the world so that we might hear Him speaking into the depths of and circumstances of our lives.

Jul 8, 2017

Relationships are a burden!

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 11:25-30

But listen again to what Jesus says in the Gospel portion of the Scriptures today. “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone whom the Son wishes to reveal him”.  Let’s look at the first part of that sentence. “No one knows the Father except the Son”.  

Husbands and wives - you should know each other better than you know anyone else.  You should know your children better than their teachers. Children should know their brothers and sisters better than their friends or classmates.  Why? Because the family is a place of intimacy, where we waste time with each other, where we help each other to grow, mature –it is where our personalities have the greatest opportunity to be developed and formed.

I can look at photographs of you through social media, at birthday parties, your graduation or wedding photographs. I can read your biography or, follow you on your facebook or twitter. Or if you are famous, a celebrity or a VIP, maybe I can watch a movie or documentary about you. But do I know you? Do I really know you in the way that your family does, your spouse does, your brothers or sisters or your close and intimate friends? Not really, unless I am invited into your whole life, adopted into your family, allowed to live with you every moment of the day. And that would be hard work!

Back to the words of Christ, “No one knows the Father, except the Son”.  Yes, we may know the Father from the outside looking in. But Christ knows the Father from the inside - as his Father, a unique Father-Son relationship, with an intimacy that we cannot even start to imagine.   

Yes, we can look at everything from the outside, study the images, read all the books and follow all the programs, but we will never get to know who Jesus really is unless He himself invites us into His hidden life, His life “behind the scenes” into the deep and secret intimacy of His Heart, His relationship with His Father. Not everyone gets to go there.  How do we?

Our Lord opens His Heart and invites into the relationship He enjoys with His father, first and foremost, to those who labor and are burdened. I’m not talking about those who are hard workers or if you feel the weight of the world pressing down on you.  (Prayer is itself is a labor. Trying to live a Christian life every hour of the day is a burden – it’s hard work.)   “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest”, says the Lord. He does not say, “take it easy and rest, and you’ll float right into my heart!”

So, what do we have to do? It’s a bit like physical exercise. Don’t expect results if you are not committed to making sacrifices. If there is no sacrifice, no labor, no burden in our relationship with Christ and His Holy Church, then God is easily turned into an ornament, the Church treated like a convenience store, the parish community into a mutual admiration society!

It’s the same with Sunday Mass. Sometimes it’s easier to demand that the preacher do all the work so you can just sit back and listen. Sometimes we demand that the Church accommodate my personal tastes in language, music, architecture, styles so that I myself don’t have to make any efforts, any sacrifices - it’s easier to want everything on my own terms so that I don’t have to make much of an effort. If that’s the logistics of family life, parish life, the spiritual life, at home, school or at work - you’re going to get bored very quickly and God help anyone who disturbs a sleeping bear! Christ tells us, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened”. He did not say, “Come to me all you who go with the flow and who do not want to be burdened”.  

Let us pray for the courage to go beyond superficialities in our relationship with the Lord. Let us never feel put out that we are expected to work hard in our relationships, and learn from Christ how to carry and accept the burdens, even when they are not of our own making. For when we learn to swallow our pride, face our fear, are humble, authentic and sincere, the strength of God’s grace will carry us, deeper and deeper into the strong and enduring Sacred Heart of Jesus.

It is for this reason that we should build up a relationship with Mary.  No other person on this earth knew better the real Jesus, the secret burdens of His heart and the sufferings of His Life, than His mother.  Let us ask her who followed her Son to the Cross, to find a place for us also in her heart and also in her joy being our mother also.

Jul 3, 2017

The Echo of Two Bells

On the Fourth of July, we observe the anniversary of the writing and proclamation in 1776 of the Declaration of Independence.

From the City of Brotherly Love, a new political experiment was born.  From there it slowly made its way westward.  It would not be until 1850 that California would finally admitted into the union of these United States of America.

It is well worth reflecting upon what was happening in California in 1776.  On that historic day when the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia announced the birth of the United States, the bells of six of the Californian Missions were already ringing throughout California.  These bells were announcing the beginning of Mass, the times for prayer and when food was served for anyone who was hungry.

Even today, these bells have been immortalized along the 600 miles of the El Camino Real that begins in San Diego, passes through the middle of our parish and stretches north to Sonoma, just north of San Francisco where Saint Junipero Serra who was living and witnessing to the Gospel on the first 4th of July in 1776.

Today's commemoration of that date should allow us to reflect on the fact that we have dual citizenship. I am not talking about US and Californian. Every single person, all of us are first and foremost citizens of heaven and of earth with the rights, duties and obligations to treat and love our neighbor as we would ourselves. Of course, Christ has given us a template in the parable of the Good Samaritan and also to model His own example as the Good Shepherd to who care for all His flock and seeks out the lost and the abandoned.

And whether we are local, native, a visitor or immigrant, we all owe our faith to the missionaries and exiles who came before us. We are therefore duty bound to be always grateful that we have found a home and a land where we have, at least, the freedom to worship. Today, in particular, even we are far from perfect and we wrestle to understand divine providence, we pray for our land, for the nation, for our government and for all who find themselves within this sacred union of brotherly love and Christian discipleship.  

And let us also not forget all our men and women in uniform, both past and present. They often find themselves in the heat of the battle to save lives, to protect the innocent and to uphold our common values.  May they find protection under the wings of St. Michael the Archangel and inspiration from the many, many Martyrs and Saints of heaven who lived their heroic lives throughout these lands.

And may our nation under the patronage of the most Immaculate Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth become a credible witness, after the manner of Christ Himself, of a sacrificial love that will ring out loud and clear for the whole world to notice and give praise to God.

Jul 1, 2017

Being a a Good Loser

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 10:37ff

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up their cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” 

These words of the Lord spoken through the Gospel might seem harsh. But simply said, from the perspective of someone who dares give their life, their whole life to Christ it makes perfect but painful sense. 

How? The ultimate reality each of us will face is that we can not sustain or hold onto earthly relationships forever. Our relationships with family, friends and even with this world will come to pass. 

When we look to, or expect from, family, friends or even ourselves, a perfect love that will last forever, then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and much unnecessary pain and suffering. Only God can offer perfect love perfectly, a relationship that spills over from this world and into eternity. 

Because we live in this imperfect world, because we are a fallen humanity our love for each other, our relationships are far from perfect.  Dependent on God’s grace, we must be purified by by a love, the source of which is not temporal, but eternal. 

Those who dare enter into an intimate friendship with Christ, serve as examples for us to follow. The Church still identifies from her own family countless witnesses, individuals we today call saints whose love for Christ took precedence over every other type of relationship. As an example, this Sunday sees the Church canonizing Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a saint. Her life is shown to us today, as a worthy example of a life lived in continual intimacy with Christ. 

We will often remember her as a tireless advocate for the poor, a woman who bandaged the wounds of the sick, who held in her arms the dying, the diseased, the neglected, the abused and the forgotten. 

However, her own ministry and work among the poor is no more, it’s over, it’s finished! But, the secret intimate relationship she fostered with Christ during her time on earth, now continues and is perfected with him in eternity. That is the life of a saint - to be in love with Christ forever. 

A story once told about her will illustrate this point.  Every morning Mother Teresa would spend at least an hour kneeling before the Tabernacle, the Eucharistic Presence of Christ, simply gazing with the eyes of her soul upon the heavenly face of our Blessed Lord.  

In the community of her nuns, they too would follow her example.  One afternoon, one of her young energetic sisters, who was involved in so many good works, told Mother Teresa that because of the daily demands of looking after the hospital, bandaging the wounds of the sick and feeding the orphans, on top of going to Mass and praying her daily rosary, this young nun did not have enough time to spend an hour before Blessed Sacrament. Mother Teresa responded to her: “I agree sister, you are doing all this good work and so many depend on you. Indeed, you are so very much busy. I agree, you can not spend one hour before the Blessed Sacrament every day. And so, form now on, you will spend two hours before the Blessed Sacrament every day!

From our perspective, with our eyes we saw Mother Teresa caring for the poor, washing tenderly the bed sores of the elderly and neglected, cradling in her arms the dying. Why did she do it? But what did she see in it?  She would say? I see Christ himself in each one of them, I see Christ, wounded and sick. “I see Christ alone and neglected. I see Christ dying in my arms, and because I love him I cannot but still be moved to see him and love him in each of my suffering brothers and sisters.”

Mother Teresa could not and did not cure, save or heal everyone who entered into her care. That was not the point. Countless who were forgotten and unloved, or loved badly by this world, even abandoned by their own family and friends literally died in her arms. She would say, that she wanted the neglected of this world to at least in their final moments, to look into her eyes and know in their heart of hearts that there was indeed someone who did in fact love them, that they were worthy of being loved, and in fact were loved.  

Because Mother Teresa had first looked into the eyes of Christ and knew herself loved by God, she was able to look into the eyes of others, whoever they were and whatever condition they were in and love them with that same love of Christ that she now enjoys beautifully and perfectly in heaven. That’s all it takes - that is the firm foundation our faith is built upon, to “become a sign of the absolute supremacy of Christ’s love” in a fallen world (Comp. CCC 342).

Regardless of what you think of yourself, do not be afraid of the gaze of Christ and being a saint on earth as we are destined to be in heaven, to look upon the Lamb of God who, by his tender and sacrificial love, takes away the sins of the world.

Holy Mary, mother of God, Pray for us.

Saint Mother Teresa, Pray for us.

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