Nov 25, 2017

King in Disguise

We are in the middle of that slow transition from what we remember as the summer, to what we anticipate as winter. Some find this time of the year beautiful because of the sharp freshness of the morning chill, the changing colors of the leaves, the streaks of shadows across the ground, the orange flickering of the setting sun. Others hate this time of the year! It’s cold in the morning. It’s dark in the afternoon and, outside of passing by hot Santa Anna winds, it’s usually overcast and gloomy!   We either enjoy or endure it while it lasts.  One way or another, we know that as the curtain rises, the curtain will also fall. 

In the meantime, in our collective prayer at the beginning of Mass we asked God to set all of creation free from slavery.  This was so that it might be able to serve Him as He intended it to.  God did not bring about the whole of creation for the purpose of taking photographs of it. It is, instead, given to us as a kind of stage.  We are not destined to sit as spectators in an audience. We are the main actors, the participants in a divine drama that is being told and retold through constantly changing scenarios.

In this ongoing drama, Christ Himself has a principal role. However, He doesn't necessarily take the leading role, where we would all easily recognize that it is He.  Instead, Christ will play the part of the beggar, or one who is hungry, maybe the sick person and even he might take the role of a the criminal.  He knows His part very well, not because He has studied human nature and learnt His lines well.  Instead, when He comes to us as the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned man, Christ has allowed Himself to be cast, not into the role, but to be cast into the real cruelty and injustice of this world to the point where He truly is hungry, He thirsts, He is crucified by this world.

Christ does this, not as the CEO of humanity, or like some undercover boss looking for ways to improve the effectiveness and quality of His enterprise.  Instead, Christ walks gently among us, connecting us with each other, showing us how to live together, work together, pray together, showing us how to take responsibility for each other, as a family should.  And before He will even attempt to lead us in the right direction, the first thing He does is offer healing for the injured and the sick. To get the flock through the winter, the shepherd has to make sure we are strong enough.  For this reason Christ the Good Shepherd offers healing of our souls through the Sacrament of Confession and strengthens us in our resolve by the Sacrament of own His Body and Blood in the Mass – the medicine of immortality.     

This is how we allow Him to reign over us, not afraid of His influence over us. For Christ to reign in our minds, it is important that we think with the Church, that we know the teachings Christ has given to her.  For Him to reign in our hearts, our desires must always be purified by His grace, that our disordered cravings and wants are disciplined and held in check. For Christ to reign in our bodies, that we allow His grace to literally move us – using our strength, our efforts and abilities to secure shelter for the homeless, comfort for the sick and hope for those imprisoned by the cruelties of this world. 

Yes, all things are passing - a time when all things will come to a conclusion and Christ will step out of the shadows and reveal himself in glory.  Until that time, let the prayer of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, the great nineteenth century convert and priest, guide us gently through the changing scenes and season:

“O Lord support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then Lord, in your mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last.”

Nov 22, 2017


This day has come to be held sacred in the fabric of our nation’s identity since the day it was established as a national holiday in 1777. However, the ritual of a thanksgiving meal goes deeper. It is especially ingrained into the very heart and soul of every Christian after the manner of Christ, “for on the night he was betrayed, he himself took bread, and giving thanks, he said the blessing”.

For two thousand years, we have done likewise within the context of the Mass, which we also call “Eucharist” which literally means “Thanksgiving”. It is founded, not simply on giving thanks “for” our blessings, but giving thanks “to” our heavenly Father “through Christ our Lord, through whom [he has] bestow on the world all that is good”.

Always mindful of this sacred duty, the first wave of Europeans who came to these shores, they being the Spanish pilgrims, did likewise. When they arrived in Florida on September 8th, 1565, at what is now the city of St. Augustine, the first thing they did was to fast from the night before and, once they set foot on the land celebrated the Eucharist in the open air. Immediately afterwards, the priest, Father Francisco Lopez arranged for the Spanish settlers and the local native American Timucua tribe to sit around a common table for a first thanksgiving meal to be offered in our nation’s history. Not turkey and stuffing, but more likely tortillas and pulled pork!

But is that not the nature, the flavor of the word that describes our Christian character - the word Catholic? It simply means, all inclusive, universal, everyone’s included - it’s what distinguishes us from denominational groups - for around our table, whether they eat our food or bring their own, for two thousand years there’s always been room for every culture, language, tribe and nation.

Even the Pilgrim Fathers would be taught this lesson when they arrived at Plymouth Rock.  The first Thanksgiving meal enjoyed by the Puritans was incredibly and surprisingly, arranged in fact by a Catholic!  He had went out of his way to ensure the pilgrims were fed, properly sheltered for the fast coming winter and stayed to teach them how to farm the inhospitable land. He was not an Italian nor an Irishman!  He was, in fact, a native American. His name, as historians tell us, was Squanto, also also known as Tisquantum, from one of the New England Wampanoag tribes.

Six years before the Pilgrims arrived, Squanto, probably in his late 20’s, had been kidnapped by an English explorer who had every intention of selling him to the Spanish as a slave. However, Catholic clergymen who opposed slavery and human trafficking, intervened and rescued him. He later received instruction in the Christian Faith, was baptised, and became Catholic and was sent home.

It was on Squanto's ancestral tribal lands that the Pilgrims arrived to establish their colony. Unlike any other native American, Squanto took it upon himself to help them, not only to settle in their new surroundings. He negotiated a peace between the pilgrim settlers and the local natives. It was celebrated by a joint meal of gratitude. Overlooked in many of our history books, the nation owes a debt of gratitude to this one, solitary Native American Catholic, who set the stage for, and also set the menu for the first Thanksgiving Day dinner in 1622.

So as we gather for our Sacred Eucharist, and maybe like our Native American Catholic brother, Squanto, we, in this parish family setting, can also be forever grateful to God for putting deep into our hearts and souls a sacred hunger for the food that comes from the Table of the Lord. The menu for this meal, the Resurrected and Heavenly Body and Blood of Christ, can secure us on our own pilgrim journey into eternity. Let us therefore give thanks for this sacred gift and praise for the Giver of every good gift, through Christ our Lord. Amen

Nov 18, 2017

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 test tube and sending it back to a laboratory, a computer analysis would sequence my DNA.  After a month of tests, I would be able to find out, not only something of my ancestral history. The results would also indicate if I had inherited any genetic traits that put me at risk of developing future medical conditions such as alzheimer's or parkinson's disease.

In a way, I can understand a little more the excitement or the fear of the servants in the parable Our Lord speaks about in today’s Gospel. Each one of them was endowed by the King with particular gifts, talents, traits, threaded carefully, into the very fabric of their lives.  Later, the King would return, not only to view the results of what each servant learned about themselves but how each of them responded to the gifts they had been given.  

I wondered to myself, what I would do when my DNA results came back.  Would I, like the servants in the parable, be grateful for this incredible opportunity to learn something of my unique and personal makeup? And even if I discovered particular predispositions to a possible disease, would I welcome this as a moment of grace to thank God for the gift of time, to now make healthy choices, so as not to put myself at greater risk now knowing of the possible dangers ahead? Or would I be like the fearful servant, dreading what the truth might be, putting the sealed envelope in a box, hiding it away, not wanting to open it just in case it might reveal some bad news or something I felt I may not be prepared to face?

So as not to allow the flock to be unnecessarily worried about the health of their pastor, I can tell you that I did read through all the findings in my DNA report. Based on the results, it tells me that I have not inherited any defective genes that might put me at any increased risk of developing certain health issues. It did, however, alert me to fact that, based on my genes, I would likely experience hair loss before the age of 40! Maybe I should have taken this DNA test 15 years ago! But still, I’d be likely be the same today!!

In all of this, it is important to reflect and never loose sight that as unique as each one of us are, as revealed by our DNA, the Holy Scriptures reveal to us, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:27).

The gift of God’s creativity is also sequenced into the very fabric of the DNA of our soul. From the very first instant of our biological conception, we have also inherited attributes of God Himself. Even if our bodies might be predisposed to weakness or disease, the Spirit of God that permeates through every cell of our body, is a gift to help us move beyond our natural biological instincts of fear, anger or suspicion. Too often, when we allow our base instincts to guide us, we can easily become territorial, guarding our God-given gifts like a threatened animal - (“My precious”, as Smeagol would say!)

So finally, what did my DNA test reveal about my family history and ancestors? This is where our eyes can be opened to the bigger picture of our shared humanity and our interconnectedness to each other. As no surprise, my family genes are for the most part of Irish/Scottish extraction, but only at 92%. What of the other 8%? Interestingly, I have Scandinavian ancestry (maybe a viking sailor!), and also at one time, an ancestor from somewhere in the Middle East or North Africa (maybe an Arab merchant sailor!). But one little segment in my DNA - it’s only .1% - and is the most intriguing to me than all the rest. It’s a little, small gift that has been hiding in the DNA of my family history for centuries and I now carry it in my own my genes - that of an Native American! Wow!

But when we reflect upon it, from the perspective of God, the Father of us all, is it really a surprise that we are all connected to each other, that in our family history we share common stories, journeys, ancestors and adventures. Does not God give each of us particular gifts and abilities, not to compete with one another, but to complement each other, to help build each other up so that we can help our brother and sister along the road to our true homeland we long for, that of heaven?

Is this not why the Church is best described by the adjective “catholic”, which simply means universal, embracing everyone of every time, place, history, tribe and nation? We are a world Church. It is written in our DNA, it is written in the fabric of our soul by our common Father. His divine imprint is in each of us. He trusts us as His children, and literally places all His hopes in us that we will discover and re-discover His face in Jesus Christ and see, without fear, the divine face reflected in everyone we meet along the way - everyone!

Nov 11, 2017

Anything changed in a 1000 years?

St. Margaret of Scotland

A saint for marriage, family life, exiles and refugees

Margaret was born nearly 1000 years ago in Eastern Europe, a child of political refugees. After a long exile, she traveled with her family across dangerous borders and terrains to return to England. But soon there, they found themselves in the midst of power struggles and wars. Within weeks, her father (a claimant to the English throne) died mysteriously.  When William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066, Margaret's prince brother lead the fight against him.

The family tried to flee to back to mainland Europe. But caught up in a storm at sea, they were forced to sail north and find refuge in Scotland. Margaret's arrival and welcome from a love-struck Scottish king whom she would later married,  set a sequence of events which saw a Christian renewal, that would change the course of history for countless generations. This parish, which bears her name, is a testimony, not only to her story and influence, but also to her holiness, worthy of imitation.

One thousand years ago, fashions were different, communications were slow, health care was herbal, politics were bloody and wars commonplace. Human nature hasn't really changed!  The institution of the Church was often caught up in power struggles, scandals, intrigue and tugs of war between opposing ideologies and different spiritualities. Nothing seems to have changed here either!

Though Margaret became the wife of a medieval king who was a skilled warrior and military leader, she herself, as a queen, could have easily entered into the politics of her day, secured for herself a comfortable life, used her position to win favors and influence and be the envy of every onlooker.  

But, instead, she was the example of the kind of disciple Christ spoke of when having been given five talents, gave back five more.  How? Was it because of her royal position and stately office? No.  Christ explains in the Gospel “Well done my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.”

In a world where might and power and ideological influence over the minds and lives of others is often sought or even cherished, Christ is clear that we share in the “joy of God” by being faithful, first and foremost, in small matters.

St. Margaret could have initiated great spiritual liturgies and workshops to which thousands could have participated. And maybe she did.  But what counted were those many hours she quietly and slowly read from the pages of the Bible, meditating on God’s Word and the Gospel Message.  

St. Margaret could have feasted on pheasant, she could have wined and dined with the lord and ladies of the Royal Court. And maybe she did from time to time.  But her personal affection for orphans, the poor and the destitute would see her open up the doors of her own kitchen to bring in the hungry, the starving and the homeless to her own table.

St. Margaret could have used her husband's position and resources to fund her own charitable causes or pet projects.  In fact, she did so. She had some beautiful churches built, monasteries and orphanages.  But it was her faithfulness to the sacraments and sacred vows of matrimony and her deep love for her husband that brought him closer to God and saved his soul.  

In her joy of motherhood she welcomed new life.  Her eight children would not only number among future kings and queens. Some of them would also be saints, a credit to the influence of her gentle spirit of Christian holiness and virtue.

St. Margaret, not only familiar with the Christ's parable of the talents, would have also been familiar with the writings of St. Gregory the Great, pope at the beginning of the medieval period and whose influence eventually extended to the distant shores of England and beyond. He says, “Whoever has love, receives other gifts as well. Whoever does not have love, loses even the gifts they appeared to have received. Hence it is necessary, my friends, that in everything you do, you be vigilant about guarding love.  True love is to love your friend in God and your enemy for the sake of God.  Whoever does not have this loses every good that they process.” (Forty Gospel Homilies)

May we, inspired by the Christian discipleship of St. Margaret, hold fast and protect that love we have received from God, to do little things well, sowing seeds of faith in the rich soil of our parish and family life.  And when the Lord returns, may we present to Him in due time and without fear, a rich harvest of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, dedicated husbands and wives, prayer-filled families, strong men, gentle women, a people holy and righteous in the Lord.

Nov 4, 2017

Protect me from myself

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

I am often weary about unscrupulous funeral homes. I always recommend that when a family visits one when planning the funeral of someone they love dearly and miss terribly, that they take with them a neighbor, friend or colleague, or even someone they know from the church.  Why?

Often when we are weak, overwhelmed with despair, grief, uncertainty or even fear, our own judgment can be impaired.

When our thoughts are not focused, it is very easy to agree to every option someone might put before us even when we can’t truly afford it. And when we can hardly see our own signature through the tears in our eyes, or when our blood sugars are low or our emotions are high, it all adds up and the burden afterwards can sometimes be overwhelming.  

The same cautionary note might also apply to preparing for a wedding, shopping online, buying a car, downloading apps or even standing in line at an all-you-can-eat buffet. It is easy to bite off more that we can chew!

Of course, we can often be reluctant to admit that we need help when making important choices in life or deciding which path to follow. Sometimes, this might come from trying to see the world in black and white or entrenching ourselves in our own sense of self importance. This can be pride.

Other times, we might be reluctant to seek help because we might find ourselves too weak, too afraid of the unknown, preferring instead the protection of something or someone stronger shielding us on the day of turmoil. This can be fear.

Our Blessed Lord, as a shepherd of His flock was, and indeed is, especially protective of the weak and vulnerable, particularly when they are at risk being exploited by people or forces greater than they had the power to stand up to, question or ignore.

Our Lord has an all-seeing eye. His gaze can reach into the hearts of the strong and the weak, the powerful and the vulnerable - He knows what we are all made of and he is not afraid to strip us all down, not to reveal us in our shame, but so that we may know our true dignity, our original dignity, made in the image and likeness of God, worthy of all respect and reverence.

Christians, in whatever walk or circumstances of life, have been given a particular gift of sight. It is to have the eye of a shepherd, a good shepherd- through the lense of God’s grace to see beyond every barricade or monument that blocks our vision of heaven. To see through the deception of false security and comfort. To see into the heart and soul of every man, woman, child and, yes, even the unborn baby, and recognise that we are all made out of the same “stuff” of God, who alone is the Father of us all.

With this gift of divine insight, we now ready ourselves to look in the direction of the Holy Eucharist. Not to see bread and a cup, nor to be distracted by polished silver or gold. Instead, through the lense of faith we seek to see and to hear the Good Shepherd who will stand before us and invite us to leave everything behind to follow Him, and Him alone.

November Remembers

A Month of Prayer for our Deceased Brothers and Sisters.  

When we pray for the dead, for the holy souls, we acknowledge that our love is never wasted, that friendship and love can reach out over the dark expanse of death.  Out of this close bond of affection and love we pray in the direction of heaven, for those who have gone before us as they approach the judgment seat of God, that they will not be afraid but trust all the more that God is a merciful God. 

The reason we pray for the dead is grounded in our Christian hope, the trajectory of their lives, motivated by God's grace, will point them to union with God.  Because we know ourselves so well, it is the hope that those who have died before finally entering into the purity of God’s presence, that they will have the courage to let go of every distracting attachment of their earthly lives.

We ourselves know what we are made of. We know that in the freedom of our lives, we are often distracted from our journey towards union with God. We know that, even though we may have received the sacraments of forgiveness for our sins, still, even the memory of past sins, although forgiven, must be purged. Ghosts from our past can still annoy us, even though we know them to have no substance. So our focus must be completely and freely directed towards God and God alone. This purging, the purifications of our memories, of learning to see God without distraction of attachments to this world, to all things that are passing, we call “purgatory”. 

Purifying our minds, body and soul is necessary as we journey literally "through" life. On our journey into the heart of God, each one of us, must allow ourselves to be open to the gentle dawn of heaven’s purifying light.  The light of heaven, can be as beautiful as it is terrifying!  For in heaven there is no place for any lingering shadows, only perfection to which we can finally assert that "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

Because of our common humanity, our common God-given dignity, which does not end in death, we can and must make prayers, supplications and petitions out of the love we have for all our brothers and sisters, especially those who, through the gateway of death, are entering into the presence of God. Our hope is that our Father will see and recognize the life of Christ His Son in each of them too.

Let us pray for our beloved departed that they will perfectly see God face to face, and not be afraid. Let us pray also for ourselves - that as we approach the hidden Lord through the veil of the Sacrament of the Mass, that one day we will also see Him face to face and in the company of all our loved ones, whom we pray for in particular during this month of November. We do so because we know our love and God's grace can reach beyond death, even to the shores of heaven itself.

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