Oct 28, 2017

Don't say another word!

Matthew 22:34-40 

When our Blessed Lord faced various religious and political groups of His day, many challenged His words or tried to trip Him up using their own. How did our Blessed Lord respond? He reminded them, as He does us that it was not about taking sides, winning arguments or successes with changing the opinions of those you disagree with.  

Instead it is about God’s commandment to love Him and our neighbor with everything we got – with every bit of our mind, with our whole heart and with every fiber of our being. In other words, with total commitment and with complete fidelity.

Christ tells us that we are on duty to love God and our neighbor 24 hours a day and seven days a week! Is this a standard for heaven or earth? After all, we are to do the will of God "on earth as it is in heaven"!

However, our relationships are often “messy”.  We are forever conscious that we are incapable of loving perfectly.  Only God can. We can’t.  We experience, not only the sins of the world, but we are always conscious of our own sinfulness, our own weakness and vulnerability.  This is not our excuse to “dumb down” how we find ourselves, or as an excuse to choose the path of least resistance as we walk through an incredibly complex world in which we are faced with many challenges.  

To be like Christ, to be Christ-like, we will find ourselves tempted in the desert, pushed around by the crowd, moved at times with compassion, cornered by opponents, forced to respond to situations not of our making, asked to give help, having to teach, and looked to for advice.  So how do we love God with everything we have and love our neighbor when we find ourselves in the midst of the unrelenting storms of this world?  

Well, what did Christ do to the storms of his day, whether He found himself on a boat with his disciples or in the city encircled by his opponents? He silenced them.  

It is this silence, a sacred silence, which we too must seek.  When you love someone, it is often enough to simply gaze upon their face without a word said or a response made – to hold them simply in your heart, to think of them with fondness, to lift them up gently in prayer.  

God often speaks to us in whispers.  When we find ourselves in the midst of the storm of words, text messages, being provoked, annoyed, angered, frustrated, allow Christ to place His finger gently over your lips – "hush!"  Only then can we better hear the gentle voice of the Good Shepherd and the inner still voice of our conscience, and not be afraid to allow it, with the help of the Church’s wisdom, to temper our hearts, purify our souls and form our minds to do the will of God on earth as it is in heaven.

Oct 21, 2017

Missionary Tax!

Today's Gospel highlights an often contentious subject that has been around for thousands of years. Wars have been waged because of it, revolutions have been ignited in protest against it, ordinary Americans and political parties constantly debate it - "should we pay taxes? If so, how much? And who should benefit?" It seems nobody can escape the obligation one way or another. Paying tax, whether it is from the income you generate, the food we buy or the fuel we pump at the gas station, it is weaved into the the very fabric of our lives.

When Our Lord responded to the question "should someone pay taxes to the State even when they disagree with it", His answer "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God", has itself been debated and picked apart for hundreds and hundreds of years.  I think we all agree with the basic principle: we "repay Caesar" to ensure, at least, for example, the basic movement of goods and services on our roads, streets and highways for the common good of all. But we are also bound to "repay God" to ensure the free movement of His missionary disciples, on those same roads, streets and highways in service to the Gospel so that God's message may reach out from here to the ends of the earth. (Toll charges may apply!)

This Sunday is called World Mission Sunday.  It’s when we first give thanks for the enthusiasm of a family of traveling saints who came before us.  By their heroic lives they learnt much about about suffering and sacrifice in order to bring us, even at the cost of their own lives, the message and the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  

As an example, we look back with thanksgiving to the efforts of the Saint Junipero Serra and the Franciscan family who built the Californian Missions up and down the coast, baptizing tens of thousands as they did so along the El Camino Real highway (maintained by a tax to the Spanish King). And the countless priests and nuns who journeyed across the seas and stepped off boats onto the soil of foreign lands and distant islands, building up churches, schools and hospitals.

And to the first Catholic families who settled in lands far from home and bringing up their children in the faith, ensured that Christianity would be passed on from one generation to another. All of us here are indebted to missionary families of some sort, their enthusiasm and their sacrifices.

However, this is not simply a history or civics lesson. The missionary work of the family still continues.  “Today as in the past, He (Christ) sends us through the highways of the world to proclaim His gospel to all peoples of the earth” (Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, n. 7).  Faith in Christ does not end with us. It is alive when we can share it with others, talk about it, and exercise it freely without fear or hindrance. We have nothing to fear when we pay back to God in gratitude for the countless blessings He has given us.

This is why supporting the missionary activity of the Catholic family is part of everything we do. It’s fruits are seen at home and beyond when we desire to imitate Christ by
- looking after our neighbor as well as the stranger,

- when we seek justice for the poorest of the poor, for the forgotten souls often ignored by society,
-when missionaries offer resources to bring the possibility of basic education to the most remote villages or town lands,
- or medical help in isolated places,
- or to be a voice for the voiceless so as to help lift up families and children from poverty, not just economic,
- responding to the poverty of the soul when it thinks that there is no love or tenderness in the world.  This is the mission of the Church, when through her missionaries the response is  “Here comes Christ!”

Pray that the Mission of the Church will never be afraid to bringing the Savior and the grace of the sacraments into the homes of those who long to be embraced by God’s love.

Pray for the missionaries, especially for Christians who are still persecuted and must endure personal sufferings for the sake of the Gospel.

Pray for those who live in countries where the Good News of Salvation is forbidden to be preached and where conversion to Christ is punishable, even at times by the sword.  

We pray for and be inspired by those who have risked everything, given everything, to follow Christ, knowing that He alone offerings lasting peace and true fulfillment of our soul's desire.

We turn to Our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph who worked hard to put food on the table and prepared Christ to venture outside of the family home of Nazareth, to inspire us also to be witnesses of the Gospel to every land and nation for the sake of the salvation of the whole world.

Oct 14, 2017

Not So Fast!

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time:  

Reflecting on this portion of the Gospel we have just heard, concerning the invitation to all to come to the sacred banquet that God has prepared, St. Augustine reminds us, that although everyone is invited to attend, everyone of us who are able to receive Holy Communion, (clergy included), should examine how we approach the table of the Lord. (St. Augustine Sermon 90.1). 

One of the practical difficulties we sometimes run into during the time of Holy Communion, is our own tendency to be very well organised! We like to have things in order. We pride ourselves in being efficient. And when we gather in a large church like this, to facilitate the movement of those who will be receiving Holy Communion, almost by a natural default, those who are sitting in the first row almost always come up first and then, others follow - row by row.  But there is a danger when we are too well ordered. And I will give you an example from my own personal experience. 

Before I was ordained a priest, in my early twenties, out of curiosity, I attended a non-Catholic communion service.  I quickly darted passed the “greeters” at the door, just in case they asked me who I was and the reason I was there!  I then discreetly slipped into the back pew, (but I nearly blew my cover when I caught myself just about to genuflect!)  

Towards the end of the service, the greeters I had avoided at the front doors, now took up their place at the top of the center aisle and began to walk backwards ushering the people, row by row, out of their seats and directing them towards a minister who was administering the denomination's equivalent of communion.  Row by row the people spilled out and walked towards the minister. As the ushers came near I became somewhat nervous. What should I do? Do I fall in line so as not to appear impolite, out of place or embarrassed? Do I simply go with the flow and walk up?    

With so many natural instincts tugging me in every direction I reflected on why Holy Communion in the context of the Mass is such a sacred event for Catholics. For us, if we are able to, receiving Holy Communion at Mass, strengthens my union, not only with Christ Himself, but also with the Catholic Church community. It tells the world that you can look upon me as an example, not only of what our Church teaches about herself and Holy Communion, but I also put myself in public view to be a credible witness as to how a Catholic is to live in the world in the light of Christ's Gospel.  

So what happened in that non-Catholic church when the usher came to where I was sitting and motioned me to get up and join the line? I looked up at him and politely said, “No thank you! I will use this time for private prayer and reflection.” He looked puzzled. I felt awkward, a little embarrassed, self conscious!  But then I felt “good” - a sense of peace that I had the freedom of conscience to say no - that I didn't just follow the crowd or try to pretend that I fit in, when my personal and public life plainly said otherwise.  

So back to here. We will, no doubt, come to what should truly be for each of us, the awkward moment of Holy Communion at Mass. Because the reception of this sacrament presumes that our private and public lives reflect the life and teachings of Christ and our Catholic Faith, Holy Communion is not a simple “given”.  For all of us, this sacrament should always be approached with a sense of awkwardness, a sense of apprehension, even, what we call in our traditional language, “holy fear” - a profound reverence. Unfortunately, it often times isn't, especially when we approach this unique Sacrament mechanically, or out of habit, without prayer or preparation, or without, when needed, the Sacrament of God's Mercy in Reconciliation .

Maybe what we need is a few more speed bumps on the aisle that leads to the altar!  It’s good to slow down a little, so that we might examine our hearts, lives and lifestyles, not in our own light (I always look good in my my own light and in my own estimation!) We need to find better opportunities of time to see ourselves in the purifying light of God's mercy, and how we respond to the Gospel, the Commandments and our Church’s teaching.  To that end, I would suggest, even if your neighbors in your pew get up to go to Holy Communion, if you need some extra time to prepare yourself, to pray and meditate, take as much time as you honestly need. God has a lot of time. He's not going anywhere.

So as not to lose our place forever at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb of God, the garment we should always be conscious of wearing in this holy place “should always reflect a pure heart, a good conscience and a faith true and strong” (St. Augustine). 

May the Blessed Mother of the Christ Child who at times trusts us to carry her Son in our own arms, prepare us to do so with conscientious gentleness.

Oct 7, 2017

Jumping over the hedge!

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time:

Christ in this Gospel parable tells us that our heavenly Father planted a vineyard, set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. When you think of it, it sounds like a beautiful resort (or like one of those many wineries we have nearby in Temecula!)

We arrive at this carefully designed vineyard, and there is really not much hard work for us to do.  The scene is set – everything is in place (c.f. St. John Chrysostom Homily 68.1).  We are entrusted with its upkeep but most importantly, to ensure that it is productive and that the produce is not simply stored in warehouses, but is sent out from here as nourishment for the world.  

There is, in Christ’s parable, a message for us too.   Our parish church not a Sunday resort, a weekend spiritual health spa or a one-stop sacramental snack bar! There is no product sampling here. The local parish church is not a storage facility!  God does not ask us to operate our parish like a theme park or watch over it like museum caretakers. Our Sunday Mass is not a spectator sports event.

Instead, God's grace continually flows out from the Sacraments we celebrate here. The explosion of new life at every baptism should always spill over into the everyday lives and responsibilities of parents, godparents and all of family life. When every confession is heard and God's forgiveness assured, mercy and peace should influence all our future choices and relationships. When a man and woman vow their lives to each other before the altar in marriage it can not be simply captured and confined to a photograph in church - the sacred vows bears fruit when children are born and nurtured in homes and neighborhoods building up our communities. And our celebration of Sunday Mass - this banquet feast between heaven and earth is not a quick fix a hungry soul. Christ's heavenly Body and Blood is strength and food for our journey throughout the week, bringing our Lord's life and ministry into our streets and neighborhoods where countless people still wait for Him. So how can we not keep what happens here a best kept secret when God wants us to collaborate in His urgent work to extend the fruits of His grace from here and into every aspect of our daily lives - into the whole world.  

Our parish campus has to provide at best an initial glimpse of heaven, an encouragement of the plan God has for our homes, our workplaces, our gardens and city - "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". In other words, everything that happens here, must happen out there too, or we shortchange God, and ourselves too.

Our Blessed Mother Mary didn't simply give birth to Christ and then send Him out to save the world, while she stayed at home.  When Christ traveled the streets and roads, she was not far behind.  When He was out of sight, she went looking for Him. When He went to the Cross, she pushed through the crowds.

May we, like her, never be afraid of following the Lord of the harvest into the world, finding Him in the midst of the crowds and passersby and making Him know when He is forgotten, ignored or even when He left out to wither on the vine and die. May every day of our working week produce an abundant harvest for the Lord so that when we return here next Sunday, we will have much to celebrate and offer to God in thanksgiving for the good things He has done.

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