Dec 27, 2017

Home for Christmas

Merry Christmas!  I would like to welcome you in particular if you are visitors to the church tonight. Maybe you have come from somewhere local, or you have travelled a bit to get here. One way or another, you have found your way to the local Catholic church. So you are most welcome to St. Margaret’s. You are part of the family!

The word “Catholic”, by which we describe our Christian family – the word Catholic means universal – all embracing – room for everyone, regardless of language, culture, whether you are young or old, married or single, whether you are working or not, at school or in the military – there is always room. It’s a big family. 

That’s why, our experience here on Sundays is very much the messiness of family life!  But as a pastor, it is a delight to stand back and watch what goes on in the piazza after Mass – Out in the piazza I see friendships being made, families connecting with other families, the children running in and out of the trees, swinging on the branches, the seniors sitting down and enjoying their coffee. Parents enjoying a bit of peace and quiet while the kids are at Sunday school. The church piazza is so important to our parish. It reflects the vitality and life of the community, our own little sacred biosphere.  It’s wonderful. 

What’s this got to do with Christmas? Well, strangely, Christmas is that rare time in the year when our church piazza after Mass is quiet. We don’t brew coffee or serve doughnuts at Christmas!  And you know, I think, deep, deep down, you know the reason why. 

Christmas, in a way stops the clock.  It is sacred time, a reminder of the importance of our personal relationships with family, friends, those we work with, even neighbors. But then you might say, that’s what Thanksgiving is for.  But Thanksgiving Day only touches the surface.  

Christmas is a time when we are forced to acknowledge that we are born hungry, not simply for company and good food. Christmas unlocks a glimpse of our soul’s longing, to hold in our hands a gift that will never fade – a gift that is everlasting – that gives hope and purpose to our lives – that allows our relationships to be meaningful, not just in a way that makes sense – but in a way that is eternal.  

This is God’s gift.  He doesn’t send us a theory of life, or an ideal to live towards. Nor does God appear out of nowhere in a dazzling display of glory, power and triumph. Instead, God was quietly, even secretly, born into the helplessness, the vulnerability of a newborn baby, held within the protection of a human family. God allowed himself to be dependent on you and me.

As Christians, we do not take after the baby Jesus.  Jesus is no longer a baby. Do not treat him as one.  He is also not a figure from the past. Allow him instead to speak to you now, allow him to teach you now.  Allow him, with all his strength and comfort, to hold you and save you.   Allow him substance. How? 

Sunday after Sunday we revisit the Christ-event – not only his birth, but also his life, his death and his resurrection.  When we do so, it is a family event, as it is right now.  So, let us keep these family ties strong, not just with our loved ones, but with each other and especially with the One who loved us first – so much, that he was born into the family of mankind, so that we might be one day be together with him in the family of heaven where he lives and reigns forever and ever!

Dec 24, 2017

A Day before Christmas

I’m sure it’s happened before, but I can not remember a time when the Last Sunday of the Season of Advent that we are now observing within our usual Sunday Mass, has been so close to the Day of Christmas which begins (this time tomorrow/when the sun sets tonight). These two separate events are awkwardly close to each other - bumper to bumper. 

It seems impossible to focus on the here and now, when we are looking out the window and Christmas is peering right in at us. What do we do? Close the shades and pretend it’s not there? Press our nose up against the window and watch it coming up the driveway?  With only hours to spare between Sunday and Christmas, unlike the stage of a theatre that has quick hands to change the backdrop within seconds, as simple as they look when hanging, the Christmas lights take hours to put up especially when it's just one office hand and the pastor up a ladder! At least the stage is set for tomorrow’s/this evening”s festive Mass of Christmas. All that remains is for the baby to be placed in the manger located just inside the front doors of the church- and surprisingly, that is the most simplest, and the easiest - even a child can do it. 

But that little job is the most noble, the most sacred and the most essential untold work of Christmas. And maybe that’s why, before the Christmas Eve Mass begins with all its carols and pomp, before the ritual of incense and the solemnity of public worship begins, every year I always discreetly beckon to a unsuspecting little boy or girl and whisper to them that I have a very important job for them. I will place the Christ Child in their little hands and put my finger to my lips. Then I will quietly point over to the manger - and they know what to do. In that little secret moment when they place the Christ Child in its bed of straw, my own prayer is, in that instant, a childhood memory may be formed, a little glimpse of the truth and beauty of Christmas has been created and maybe locked away, even for many years, until it is sometime reawakened.

Because everyone seems to be busy, in a hurry, maybe trying to get the best seat in the church, making sure that we are all looking our best, shaking hands, catching up and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, nobody really notices this quiet ritual of a little boy or girl placing Christ in the manger. I must admit, there has been a few times when I, myself, got distracted just before Mass and didn't notice the manger was still empty. But a child has always come to the rescue, even at the last moment, and still, not everyone noticed!

On this brief Sunday of the Fourth Week of Advent, we are reminded in the First Reading from the Old Testament, after his successful career and great accomplishments, we see King David resting in his palace with his feet up surrounded by his admirers, telling him how great he was, even though the sacred Ark of the Covenant was left outside in a tent. God was the first to notice and did something about it. Did anyone notice an inner purity of the Virgin Mary? God was the first to notice and did something about it. Did anyone notice the fear and anxiety of Joseph and his uncertainty was to how his fiance became pregnant? God was the first to notice and did something about it.  

And so I appeal to you, at this last hour before Christmas, notice what is actually going on around you and ask God for the grace and courage to do something about it. Don’t be distracted by the big lights, the gifts and the compliments. It is easy to charm our way into relationships and positions of influence. But the cost is often the failure to notice what is truly lacking in our lives, in our relationships and the world, what is in true need of real healing with God’s grace.  

As in all things, God is always the first to notice and He wants to do something about it. So in the secret of your heart and soul, without anyone necessarily knowing, the true servant of God will always see what is lacking or missing and will cooperate with God in His mysterious grace to do something about it!

Dec 16, 2017

Unsolved Mystery

"Where in the world is Waldo?"

There is the story of a famous atheist, Bertrand Russell. On his deathbed, he was asked by a colleague, “Dr. Russell, you know that you are going to die soon. And you’ve been an atheist for most of your life. What if you were wrong? What if God does in fact exist? When you die and meet Him, what are you going to say to him?”

Dr. Russell pondered this question and replied, “Well, I would be forced to admit that my thinking was wrong. But I would then ask Him a little question. ‘Why did You not give us more evidence that You do in fact exist?”

It seems a very interesting question. How many times have we all asked God in a moment of doubt, or despair, or when we were afraid or confused, “Where are you? If You do exist, speak to me - send me a sign. Help me to believe that You really do exist”.

But maybe that’s the big difference between me and God. I might want to make a name for myself. I might want others to know everything about me. “I want to have an impact in this world, to be successful, admired, respected, to be taken seriously. What you see is what you get!”

God, on the other hand, does not follow my logic. He keeps Himself hidden and mysterious. He seems not to mind that most of the world doesn't know Him or that His message hasn't really made the world a better place. There are still wars, violence, crimes committed, suffering and despair. Why does He not simply “appear” in all His glory and power and put an end to it all.

Just imagine! God just has to pull back the clouds and the sky and show Himself directly. Then everyone, everyone - believers and atheists, agnostics, scientists, politicians, saints and sinners, even Hollywood actors, (even Bill Maher!) every single person would drop to their knees and believe in Him. And the world would never be the same again! One might ask, “God, don’t hide yourself. Revel yourself!”

If Christ is divine, the embodiment of the Eternal God in flesh and blood who walked among us, would it not have been easier for Him to, in a way like an undercover boss, to take off his disguise, to the astonishment of everyone who would the go down on bended knee before Him and a new era for humanity would immediately begin?

But that’s maybe what I would do if I were God. So, here is the difference. I am not God. Sometimes we tend to think that because I would do something this way, or think that way, then God would do and think the same way I do. God doesn’t.

John the Baptist hits the nail right on the head in the Gospel today, when he replies to those around him who are demanding answers as to where Christ is, when he says, “There is one among you whom you do not recognize”.

God does not impose Himself. He does not stand in front of you and me as say, “OK, I’m here. Get use to it.” He offers Himself, not as a blinding light all at once. But through little lights here and there, like the witness of John the Baptist. And John did not provide black and white answers or proofs. There was, instead, just something about him and what he was doing that intrigued everyone who came across him.

Why didn't John the Baptist provide clear and irrefutable theological answers? Maybe because we would replace “knowledge about God” with “actually doing God’s will”. We would then be content with having all the questions about theology answered because it would now make complete sense, and would be completely logical.

But what would then motivate me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to feed the hungry, to bandage the wounds of the injured, console the sick, to visit the lonely? It is often easier give them a pamphlet, to write about them or to give a talk on the evils of social injustice, than actually “doing” the mysterious will of God, and finding Him there in their midst.

God hides in the crowd, in the poor, among the uneducated, with the outcast and the sick, so that we who think we have all the answers might learn to swallow our own pride, be humble and look for Him were we logically least expect to find Him.

As Mother Mary sings for us the Responsorial Psalm “God fills the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” It was not her mind that rejoiced in God. It was her soul. Because she was humble and poor, Mary rejoiced in doing the will of God without needing to know why.

Let us ask God for the gift of the joy of His presence, even though, as in this Eucharist, He is outside the limits of our knowledge and beyond the horizons of our sight. No question there!

Dec 12, 2017

Little Lupe

Matthew 11:25 sets the theme for the reflection on children who are vulnerable to many forces and tugs of war not of their own making: "Blessed are you Father, Lord of heaven and earth; for you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the kingdom."

A child’s face, no matter what nationality, is naturally, an attention grabber. The photographer knows this.  A child’s life, regardless of the environment, is presumed to be first protected by the gentleness of their parent’s tender love and within the sanctuary of a secure and stable family in an environment they know to be welcoming and nurturing.  But often this is not the case.  

When a child’s trust, hopes and dreams are abused it makes headlines, and it should. We hear of children separated from their families, children made vulnerable to political and moral exploitation. Children caught in the crossfire between rockets and missiles in the Middle East. Children caught in no-man’s-land between Mexico and the U.S, or being forcefully separated from loved ones because, growing up in a country they called home they now find their place at home unwelcoming. 

Some will say, “Why should we be looking after someone else’s kids when we can barely look after our own?”  And maybe that is indeed the reason - that, regardless of the photo op, we are not every good at looking after our own children.  Sometimes, we have to be taught a lesson. And God is, perhaps, giving the class an opportunity for a fieldtrip to learn how it’s done! 

Maybe, when we are forced to care for the stranger, the child and the abandoned, then we might be rudely awakened to the fact that even our own laws at home, particularly regarding marriage, family life and immigration are not as secure and comforting as we thought.  

Christ has told us in no uncertain terms, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  Luke 18:16.  Christ even got angry with his disciples when they were preventing this from happening.

There are times, in our own charity and goodwill towards the children in our care, that Christ is angry with us - when we put our own needs and neediness first and forget too easily, the promise that was made at the baptism of our children. We promising to raise our children according to the commandments of the Lord and the practice of the faith - which includes welcoming the stranger and sheltering the homeless. Our children are watching us. We are teaching them first by our example in what we do and in what we fail to do.

We as Catholics should also take note that when vulnerable families arrive in the United States, (particularly if they are Catholic children), if the first Christians to meet them, who clothe them, feed them and offer them an embrace of love, are a battalion of religious or political fundamentalists, then Christ is justified in His anger against us for neglecting our own brothers and sisters, our own children.

There are also children who get drawn into custody battles, children who battle for attention from parents who are sometimes overworked or constantly distracted, children who battle with mental illness and sickness, children who are exposed to violence, to abuse, neglect and deportation. In a world of Facebook and Instagram, these are the faces of the children we forget or ignore, because its easier to “overlook them” than actually “see them” in front of us, staring at us without us even noticing.

When every Catholic at home or abroad, responds to the Lord’s demand that children be actually protected within their own families, from the evil and from the barrage of impure influences now very much common in our world - when we are proactive and protective, then we are moving towards the salvation of humanity rather than just moving dust around our home.  Let us pray that when children do get lost or abandoned and the wolf chases them through the dark forest, that they will find not just a place to hide, but a safe place to call home.

Prayer from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

"Loving Father, in your infinite compassion, we seek your divine protection for refugee children who are often alone and afraid. Provide solace to those who have been witnesses to violence and destruction,who have lost parents, family, friends, home, and all they cherish due to war or persecution. Comfort them in their sorrow, and bring help in their time
of need. Show mercy to unaccompanied migrant children, too, Lord. Reunite them with their families and loved ones. Guide those children who are strangers in a foreign land to a place of peace and safety. Comfort them in their sorrow, and bring help in their time of need. Show us how we might reach out to these precious and vulnerable children. Open our hearts to migrant and refugee children in need, so that we might see in them your own migrant Son. Give us courage to stand up in their defense against those who would do them harm. For this we pray through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. "

Dec 9, 2017

Smoldering Fires

-Second Week of Advent -

These past few days have seen much of our attention being focused on the local wildfires, not only throughout California, but also the local “Lilac Fire” which raged through North County picking up speed as it headed our way.

Although it consumed just over 4000 acres as it spread towards us destroying over a hundred structures in its path, impacting many of us in the evacuation area (including the parish church), we give thanks to God that none of our local firefighters were injured and no civilian lives were lost.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the local fire departments, the police and sheriff departments, emergency service personnel and the assistance also given by the military from Camp Pendleton.

We should also not take for granted the countless volunteers who assisted at local evacuation shelters and the generosity of local merchants and organizations who donated food, clothing and whatever resources they could to make the lives of so many families and individuals somewhat bearable during these days of anxiety.

You should also know that one of the first responders was Bishop Dolan, who immediately contacted me offering offering his prayers, support and any assistance our Local Church could give. We are grateful indeed to be part of a family of over a million local Catholic brothers and sisters!

Let’s not forget the often untold blessings and thoughtfulness of neighbors, friends and even strangers who instinctively went out of their way to help others in need.  

It is often at times like this our hearts and souls are tested in the challenges and opportunities of each new day.  Whether we see it or not at the time, our Lord reminds us, “whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me” (Matthew 25:40).

Because our church and half of the local parish area was within the evacuation zone (albeit voluntary) on Friday and with many of the roads leading here either closed or bumper-to-bumper traffic heading away from danger, as your pastor I was naturally not willing to place parishioners under the obligation to attend the Holy Day Mass of the Immaculate Conception that evening.  I was, however, surprised to find that nearly 200 of you had navigated your way through the streets and side roads to the church to honor Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Not even a raging fire can hinder that natural instinct to give honor to our mother!

Even though the fire is still smoldering and ash still lingers in the air, permeating our homes, our clothes and even our bodies, never did any ominous clouds of sin and destruction ever touch Our Blessed Mother - not even a hint of its smell could attach itself to her immaculate body and soul. In the midst of the storm, she is always our safe place, our advocate who assures us that her Son will save us.

During this time of Advent, we still are conscious of our vulnerability, our need for salvation. Our own experience and self knowledge reminds us that it only takes one spark to ignite a destructive fire - “One little bite of the apple won’t hurt”, said Adam!  It just takes one word of anger, one hasty action without thought, one little sip, one little buzz, one click of the “send” button.

We all fight fires of every kind. We often find ourselves trying to stamp out smoldering ashes here and there. Many of the prophets of old continually battled against these destructive forces, guiding humanity to safe places, sheltering the poor and the vulnerable, assuring them that God’s help was on the way, that salvation was close at hand.

Enter John the Baptist. He tells us to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”. Is this not what a firefighter does - clearing areas from old, dead or dried up brush that, unattended, will only add fuel to a fire and make it difficult for rescue services to reach those who are in danger? Is this not what we must likewise and continually do - examining our hearts and souls, putting aside anger, bitterness, prejudices and jealousies that can ignite so easily and fester for so long?

John the Baptist comes to us at this time of Advent to remind us never to lose hope. Although God does not push us or force us onto a pathway that takes us to Him, through the witness of great saints like John the Baptist and Our Blessed Mother we are continually pointed along a straight path.  Taking heed of the warnings John the Baptist calls out to us with, and the maternal protection offered by Mary, we are assured there is always a right path out of harm's way, and a straight path that leads us to Christ our Savior. The Eucharist that we now enter points us now in that direction.

Dec 2, 2017

Christ without Caffeine


How did you sleep last night and how was your morning?

I have lived a life of 51 years. Based on the average time we all need for sleep, during my lifetime I have slept, more or less, 163,762 hours. That means, I have been asleep for 19 years! Maybe you have been asleep longer than me, or maybe less. For the most part, I have had my fair share of sweet dreams and nightmares, of tossing and turning and of being as warm and cozy, “as snug as a bug in rug”!

But for most of us who are busy during the day and trying to get as much done as we can, sleep is the ultimate heresy. It tells us to stop doing what we are doing. It reminds us that we cannot be in control 24 hours a day.  Maybe that’s the reason why so many people do not sleep well.

I know of only one man who was able to sleep soundly in a small fishing boat while it was being tossed around by a raging storm. That was, of course Our Blessed Lord on the Sea of Galilee! He was awakened from sleep, not because He fell out of bed, but because of the panic, yelling and shouting of His hysterical disciples who, fearing their boat was about to capsize and sink, they saw their lives flash before their eyes! The words of the First Reading (Isaiah 63;16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7) and the today's Psalm, (Ps.80:2-3, 15-16,18-19) could have very much been theirs.

But then, you might say, this seems to go against everything Christ says in today's Gospel, when He warns the disciples about sleeping on the job, to be always watchful when the Lord of the Household is absent and could return, unannounced, at any hour.

Yes, that is true, but only when the Lord is in fact absent from our house, from our lives. But for the Christian, Christ is not an absent landlord, who is only called in to fix a leak or when there is a problem. Nor do we keep ourselves alert by stimulants (coffee, programs, text or twitter alerts!) for fear we will miss Him!

Even though we may not see Him, even though He may be behind the scenes, as He is in the Eucharist, Christ is present, even in the darkness when we do not see Him. In other words, we do know when to expect Him, where to find Him, where He is to be revealed. That is why, for the Christian, as St. Paul reminds us in the Second Reading, "He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord" ((1 Cor. 1:3-9)

In other words, we know the Hour of the Lord when He will be revealed. This is the hour and this is the place! If your faith is firm and your conscience good, then, you can have a good night's sleep tonight! The Kingdom is in good hands!

But of course, a gentle word of warning, so that we do not become lazy or take for granted the privilege of belonging to the Lord's Household. He has given us so much already.

This evening, before we go to our final sleep, we should want to put to rest the sins and misdeeds that can keep us up all night and make us restless throughout the day and have the power to put us constantly on edge. It’s not just the body and the mind, that needs to rest in preparation for the challenges of a new day. The soul likewise needs peace. 

So, during these few weeks of Advent, as we get ready to open the door once more to the Lord of our Household, avail yourself of the Sacrament of Confession, be it before any of our Sunday Masses or at any of the local parish penance services. That way, not only will you be able to rest in peace, when you are to awaken at any hour to the summons of the Lord who knocks on your door, then without panic or worry, you can rise gently from sleep and welcome Him gladly with the dawn of a new day.

The Lord be with you! And with that, I wish you a very good night, and sleep well!

Gardening Kingdom

  We often hear this phrase, “The Kingdom of God ''.  We even pray, “Thy Kingdom Come”.  This “Kingdom” was the hallmark of Our Lord...