Feb 24, 2018

Take off your shades!


There is one line from today’s opening prayer of the Mass, the Collect as we call it, that captures everything that we have just listened to in the Gospel. It reads, “With spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold your glory”.

Just think of it, what would we be able to see if our spirit sight was pure? We would be able to see, with our actual eyes, the divine nature, unfiltered!

I reflect first on our Blessed Mother, Mary - Mary Most Pure. What did she see when she held her child Jesus for the first time and looked upon His little face? She could see in her plain sight, as clear as day, the glory of God shining through every fiber of His body. No one else could. But because her spiritual sight was pure, Mary always saw the glory of God in Christ. She always rejoiced. 

And even when Mary lost Him from her sight for three days, when she arrived at the temple she only had to scan the crowd of thousands and she could instantly see where the tiny figure of her Son was hiding. “There He is,” Mary would have said to Joseph pointing into the mass of people. “I see Him. There He is. There, in the middle of that crowd”. “I’m looking! But don’t see Him,” Joseph replies. “All I see is people. They all look the same!”. But Mary most Pure, was able to see and behold the one person alone who shone brightly with the glory of God. That’s probably why she, herself, went into the crowd of people and took the young Jesus by the hand, and brought Him home, not without a few words of her own!  

But, to everyone else, Christ appeared to them as just another man. When they looked at Him, some saw Him as a teacher, or a performer of miracles. Others, when they saw Him, only could see a Jewish rabbi with long hair and a beard, a good inspirational speaker, a great teller of stories, a wandering holy man. When Pontius Pilate looked at Him, all he could see was a criminal. Only with spiritual sight made pure, can anyone of us see the glory of God.

Interestingly, when the devils looked at Christ, because demons have also pure spiritual sight, they screamed in pain and agony!

But what about Peter, James and John we hear about in the Gospel, how were they able to see the glory of God shining through Christ’s body?

By themselves, they couldn’t. They had to be led up to that mountaintop by Jesus Himself. He gave them, but just for a little while, the gift of the spiritual purity of sight. In that moment, they were allowed to see what angels and heavenly beings could only see. Their reaction? They were dumbfounded, tongue tied, mesmerized. But, sadly, their eyesight would quickly return to its familiar way of seeing Jesus as they saw Him before - a Jewish rabbi, albeit one worthy of a monument with His name upon it.

The season of Lent that we have entered into offers us an opportunity to renew the purity of our sight, to help us see clearly where the glory of God is, and where He is not. 

The disciplines of Lent, especially Confession and almsgiving, if entered into with faith, can allow us, not only a new insight to ourselves and a new way of seeing those around us, but will help us to see God, with our very own eyes.

For many of us, we are blind to the glory of God, often because we are too busy looking at ourselves, more concerned about how we are seen by others, how we appear in public, wanting to be admired.  You can spend a lot of time, energy and money maintaining and polishing your own image, exaggerating your own importance and achievements, insisting on the best of everything to look good and be admired. But, what does this do? Instead of drawing others attention to the glory of God, I am drawing their attention, for whatever reason, to the glory of “me!”.  You are guilty of breaking the first commandment - “You shall not put other gods before Me, says the Lord.” 

And what is the first casualty of self-fixation? Relationships - blindness to the feelings and needs of those around you, a total lack of compassion.  

It happens to the clergy, when we want to be the center of attention, or praised for good works or insist on titles and privileges.

It happens between spouses and friends, when one makes no effort to share in the suffering or hardships of the other.

It happens in family life, when no one really talks to each other because everyone’s too busy working, studying, watching movies or updating their profiles.


It happens to even single people, when they try to get noticed by others or try to become invisible or not noticed.

This is why the practice of almsgiving is so important for the Christian. We do it, not to feel good about ourselves, or we are back to looking at ourselves in the mirror. No, we do it because we seek to see the glory of God, shining in our neighbor, the poor, the lonely, the forgotten, even the one who is suffering because they think that God is nowhere to be found in their life.

When St. Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, by Christ appearing to him transfigured in glory, he fell to the ground and became blind. On the third day, he was baptized and instantly regained his sight, but now with a clearer vision of what God was asking of him. 

Is that not where our journey to Easter also leads us? To the waters of baptism, renewed and cleansed every time we go to Confession. 

So that, as the opening prayer reminded us, “With spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold [God’s] glory”.

Feb 18, 2018

Keep Moving!


First Sunday of Lent  

When we open the Book of the Gospel and hear it read from this place, in a certain sense we do not simply hear words spoken out loud. We do not simply follow along in our own books, or just listen. Instead, the source of these words come from God himself. Go beneath the surface of the page, God invites us into the actual event.

On this First Sunday of Lent, God invites us to put ourselves into the very heart of a battle between good and evil.  We are not detached observers watching a fight break out at a hockey game or watching from the comfort of our home a youtube clip of a huge tsunami wrecking damage and destruction. Instead, incredibly, when the Scriptures open up a window into the Christ's one-on-one with Satan, we have been thrown into the very arena itself!

Because it is a familiar image to us, especially living on the Pacific coast, consider the similarities between, for example, that much covered tsunami, some years ago, that destroyed so many lives and livelihoods; compare that tsunami with the devil and the forces of evil that likewise destroys lives and livelihoods.  When Satan appears on the horizon, he can often be ignored.  If we ignore the signs and signals of danger, looking out to the edge of the world, Satan appears distant, non-threatening. It’s easy to dismiss him, even to conclude that he’s not real nor dangerous.

But as he gets closer, there is a certain curiosity, even a fascination with his potential power. Let’s wait and see what happens.  It’s so easy to be drawn to its power, it’s form, and you want to watch it, study it, in a way – to entertain it. Evil seduces, it excites - evil always begs our curiosity, demands our attention, entices us into its own adventure.  But notice how it does so.

It captures our attention, it literary “captures” our attention, and we become frozen. Our rational thinking becomes twisted, illogical.  You stand in front of a giant monster and you want to take a photo of it, you want open up a dialogue – you think you can outrun it, or tell it to go back where it came from.  But then, as if with one click on a keyboard, like the mighty wave that crashes on the land, evil revels itself.

When we allow sin, in all its disguises, to entertain us, in a way, we are surrounded by the force of darkness and we loose our freedom.  We surrender our mind to its madness, our body to its rage and our soul to its poison.

When we ignore the signals, when we allow ourselves to be curious, when you want to get closer for a better view, when we sense the shimmering of excitement like a wild animal tasting blood for the first time, what message do we send Satan? Consent, consent to overpower us, and upon us to heap all the junk and debris which comes with the wave of destruction. 

And if we come out of it alive, with a dumb look on our faces, we say, it just happened.  Amazing. We see it coming our way, we know the signs and signals that alert us to danger, and we say to the power of the devil, “bring it on”.  The arrogance we have, thinking that we can, with our own strength, defeat and outrun Satan.

But we can defeat him and be free from our curious attachment to evil. Only by running to Christ, standing with him on higher ground can we hope to be delivered and win back our freedom. 

To do so, first we have to be honest with ourselves and with God. We have to acknowledge our stupidity, our arrogance and our weakness, and do so before God. God always shows mercy to the sinner who wakens up, who wakes up, the sinner who comes to their senses, the sinner who has the humility to confess their own sins and trust in His divine mercy.

For this reason, after He conquered the devil's power over death itself, the resurrected and victorious Christ breathed his Holy Spirit into his apostles and told them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven" (John 20:23).  The power of this sacrament Christ has given to His Church, unleashes the powerful but gentle breath of God that pushes back waves of sin and darkness that too often engulfed us. 

During the On Saturday's at 5:15pm and Sunday mornings, as usual, we are offering a continuous opportunity to go to Confession. If it has been a while and you know in your heart you should go, don't let the battle between good and evil, subtle as it sometimes is in your life, become a spectator sport. Know that God invites you (and me) to His side and take encouragement that Christ our savior has won the good fight to leads us, as a good shepherd does, to a place of safety and freedom from fear and all that could harm us.



Feb 14, 2018

How do you plead?





St. Valentine's Ash Wednesday - Lent begins.  

I am very aware that tonight is, for many couples, date night. But I want to assure you, that even St. Valentine himself went to church on Ash Wednesday. And instead of receiving a kiss on the forehead leaving the smudge marks of lipstick, he was smeared with ashes that left a really dirty mark. That’s better than a slap on the face by someone saying, “Who do you take me for? A fool?”

Tonight I am going to go out on a limb. Some of you might react to this reflection by thinking to yourself, “that priest is talking blarney”. Some of you might react with by getting upset. Some of you may switch off or get up and leave. How you react is your own business and I’ll get to that the end if you give to speak and the hold my peace. 

But what I’m about to say is really not any of your business. It is God’s business. And He has made our lives His business because He gave you and me 10 Commandments to obey. We are either guilty or not guilty of disobeying His laws. The fact that any of us have shown up tonight is an indication, that somewhere in our God-given lives, we know ourselves, in good conscience, to be guilty of disobeying Our heavenly Father’s law, laws given to us for our own protection - from others and even ourselves. 

To each of God’s Commandments I will now ask that you, not loud, but only in your heart and mind, to respond to yourself, “guilty”, or “not guilty”. That’s all. 

God’s First Commandment: “You shall not put any god before Me”. 
You are accused of spending more time and giving priority to your friends, your family, your job, or your pastimes than to God. You are accused of revolving your life around the internet, sports, financial security and what you own. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Second Commandment: “You shall not take the name of God in vain”. 
You are accused of using the divine given name “Jesus”, a sacred name that even the demons tremble when uttered in prayer - of using the sacred name out of habit to channel your frustrations or your fears. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Third Commandment: “You shall keep the Lord’s Day holy.”  
You are accused of not going to church every single Sunday, regardless if you do not receive Holy Communion. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Fourth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother”. 
You are accused of disrespecting your parents, by showing anger at them, ignoring them, not looking after their welfare, not praying for them, using your own position as a father or a mother to control. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Fifth Commandment: “You shall not kill”. 
Regardless of circumstances, be it at the gallows, in battle or at a clinic, hospital, hospice or highway, you are accused of taking a human life, encouraging a life to be taken, not intervening to save a human life, putting your own life or other’s lives in any sort of danger. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Sixth Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery”.
You are accused of entertaining lust in your heart, you are accused of directing it towards another person, you are accused of lustful self pleasure, you are accused of looking at pornagraphic images, you are accused of unnatural sexual acts with your own kind or kindred. You are accused living like a married couple when you are not. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Seventh Commandment: “You shall not steal”. 
You are accused of taking what you know does not belong to you and that you should not have. You are accused of using other people for your own gain. You are accused of hoarding your possessions and not giving or making sacrifices for anyone. You are accused of not helping to support the Church to the best of your ability.  In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Eighth Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness”. 
You are accused of speaking ill about some else. You are accused of lying, embellishing the facts or ridiculing another person. You are accused of using flattery or charm to deceive or distract someone from the truth, bragging or belittling someone regardless of the circumstances. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Ninth and Tenth Commandments: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or your neighbor’s goods.”
You are accused of being envious, jealous, living in a fantasy world. You are accused of thinking yourself superior to others. You are accused of being reckless with your money, flaunting your riches or your personal gifts or talents. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

These are God’s Commandments- plain and simple. If we are guilty of sin, we are guilty as charged. If you are guilty and knowing so makes you react with anger or frustration, don’t blame me, the Church, your upbringing, your environment. Just look at the actual sins you committed and laws of God you broke. If the speedometer says you were driving 80 miles and hour, you likely were doing that speed, regardless of why you were. If you’re not guilty, then you’re not. You are guilty or not guilty. That’s the truth.

But if any of us are guilty of breaking any of  God’s Commandments and refuse to answer directly, the our guilt will come out one way or another. Even though we are very good at trying to cover up our guilt, God’s law catches up with all of us.

My dear friends, the reason we are here tonight, whether we realise it or not, is that, underneath all the masks we wear and excuses we make, we know that we are guilty and need to do something about it. 

Today is a step in the right direction to owning up to our sins. Receiving Ashes on our forehead is a sign we are pleading guilty to breaking God’s Commandments. And I will be the first to accuse myself and make my own head with ashes. If you do not follow through with what we are going to do tonight, and leave here without truly acknowledging your guilt and being resolved to keep God’s Commandments from this hour on, then you’ll either be on the run for the rest of our life with a mark on your head or you will be constantly angry at God for loving you the right way!

Guilty or not guilty. We have 40 days to present any new evidence. In the meantime, in lieu of bail, we must fast, pray and give alms.


(P.S. If you are guilty, show up for sentencing on any Saturday at 5:15pm or on Sunday morning at 8am or 10:30am, and take a number!)

Feb 11, 2018

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Our Lord did not go out looking for the leper so that He could to heal him. The leper came to him.  What would have been his motivation to seek out Christ’s healing touch?

I would like you to consider how the leper must have seen himself to begin with. This might be a good place to start for each one of us, as Ash Wednesday is in three days, beginning the annual season of Lent when we are called to make an examination of conscience, to look at ourselves truthfully. We do this, not by looking at ourselves in the mirror. There are three reasons I think this is often unhelpful.

First, the mirror is by its nature an instrument of “self”- reflection. What if you looked at it and you didn't see what liked? What if you looked at it and saw only what you liked? What if you avoided a mirror completely?

Let’s test this out with the leper.

1.  He could have looked at himself in the mirror and seeing his face he was horrified. He saw his disfigurement. He smashes the mirror and depressed, climbs into a dark hole and begins licking his wounds.
2.  He could have looked at himself in the mirror and seeing himself, remarked how he had the power to evoke fear and mayhem. People would see me, drop everything, and just move in and take their valuables. Easy picking. 
3. He could have avoided the mirror completely but then he’d get angry that this family and friends were avoiding him, or running away from him. He’d start seeing them as threats, and as problems, never really understanding why he is being isolated, left alone to wander from one deserted place to another.

So what motivated the leper to seek out the Lord? Was it a final desperate act of someone depressed because he was being eaten up from the inside? Was it a calculating move of someone who knew he would get something from a healer without having to spend a dime in return. Or was he attracted to the Lord’s power so that, having been restored to full health and strength, the leper could now be in a position to repay all those who had mocked him, avoided and punished him unnecessarily?

We all have leprosy. It affects us in various ways. And in our fear, our pride or our frustration, we are often masters at covering it up, or exploiting the goodwill of others or taking it out on our family or friends. Even though you may not be able to detect it in your own life, the devil, like a shark, has a nose for the even the slightest smell of blood or an open wound, even from miles away.

So, back to the question: in this incident in the Gospel, what motivated the leper to seek out the Lord? Desperation, advantage, opportunity? None of them.  No one can truly seek to go face to face with the Lord, unless God had first given them the grace to do so. The grace of a truthful examination of conscience.  And from the opening words of the Gospel it is apparent that that grace was given to him, and he courageously, even though he was hurting, or angry or being ashamed, he saw himself in the purifying light of God. How do we know?

The first sign is body language!

The leper knelt down before Christ. When one kneels before anyone, it's a sign of surrender and vulnerability. That’s why the devil has no knees.The proud can not kneel, only those who are humble before God. The virtue of humility is not natural. It is instead, a grace from God. In preparation for a true examination of conscience, ask God for the gift of humility.

The second sign is attitude!

The leper begged. He didn't ask nor did he presume he was entitled to anything. He begged. But more so, he was not ashamed. He knew he was diseased, empty, hurting, filled with anger, pain and wounds that he never asked for, that it wasn't even his fault. He could have felt he was entitled to be cured, that the world owed him, that it was now his time to take his rightful place before the world. But no. The leper begged. When he begged in the past from other people, he was no doubt many times rejected, scoffed at, belittled. That’s probably why, when said, submissively to the Lord, “If you wish, you can make me clean”. He knew that he had nothing, nothing at all to offer God. In preparation for a true examination of conscience, ask God for the gift of poverty!

Finally, how did the Lord respond when the beggar hoped he might be cured?

We are told “he was moved with pity”.  It’s not a great translation into English. How can we find any words to describe the inner emotions of Christ as he saw this shell of a man, humble, broken, alone and vulnerable, kneeling before him covered in rags of rotten flesh? Christ was moved. He experienced within himself great affection and love, compassion and tenderness. And reaching out His hand to grasp his, he responds, “yes I want to”, “Yes, with all my heart I want to. Be made clean, be healed, be touched again, but now with gentleness and love. You can go home now, to your wife, to your children. But before you do so, go to the priest and in a quiet word whisper thanks to God.”

As we prepare ourselves to truly examine our conscience, once again, do not look at the mirror. Instead, I would suggest, look at a crucifix. And on that cross, look at the body language of the man who is nailed upon it, he was abused, tortured and spate upon. Christ became the leper so that you and I could be healed from our own wounds. Listen to the words that come from his mouth - He is a begging His Father for your life and mine.


As the season of Lent is now at hand, seek out the Lord. You will find Him on the cross. Kneel before him, submit to His power. And beg for your life. The rest, He will look after.

Feb 3, 2018

24 Hours



The Gospel passage we have just listened captures a day in the Life of Our Lord. If we follow him, through it and keep up, we can learn a lot about how to be more active in our Christian ministry and apostolates, how not to become complacent, nor overwhelmed by the demands of discipleship.

It begins with a visit to Simon Peter and Andrew’s home. They first tell him about Peter's mother-in-law who is sick and with a fever. Jesus took her by the hand and raised her up and she was healed. The fever left her and she immediately set about serving them.

Within this one episode we can see the whole mission and ministry of Jesus portrayed. Jesus enters into our lives, visits our homes and finds us sick, consumed with fevers of various illnesses. Our fever comes in many different forms, for we can be found consumed with pride, envy, anger, lust, laziness, gluttony and greed, Through the sacraments of confession and the Holy Eucharist, the Lord gives us his hand, lifts us up and heals us.

When we are strengthened by the grace of God, we are better able to serve him. In the Gospel passage we heard today, we note that, after she was raised up out of her bed, Simon Peter’s mother-in-law immediately began to serve Christ and to be available to all who are now, whether she planned for it or not, a part of her home and life.

Jesus stayed overnight at Peter's house, but the Gospel also tells us that Our Lord “rose before dawn while it was still dark and went out in find a deserted place to pray”. Although by nature he is divine, Jesus also has a human soul. What does that mean? It means, like us all, Jesus thirsted for communion with his heavenly Father. In his prayer, Jesus united his human soul with all of humanity’s hunger to be one with our father in heaven.

Jesus had learnt to pray as a child from his mother Mary, from the prayers of his own people in the synagogue at Nazareth and the Temple of Jerusalem. Yet the uniqueness of Jesus’ prayer was found in his self-awareness that he was the one and only, true Son of God. When he prays to his Father in heaven, he does so in the unique and intimate relationship he enjoys with his heavenly Father. Everything that Jesus is, his miracles, his preaching, his life and his love, his obedience to the will of God, flow out from his own continuous communion with his heavenly Father. It is into this Father/Son relationship we are invited. “No one comes to the Father except through me”, the Lord will remind us.

In this way the passage of the Gospel teaches us as Christians, that Christ must be at the center of our homes and our lives. If he is not, the fever of a life without God will consume us.

Therefore, let us ask the Lord to grasp our hand. ‘And at once the fever left her’. Immediately as her hand is grasped by the Lord, the fever flees. May we never be afraid or too proud to reach out to Christ who stands before us and to grasp his hand, knowing that he alone can bring us back to true strength, enabling us to respond to the Gospel message so that we can get through just one day. One day - that’s all we have and it’s just begun.

Joseph

March 19th.  To the man whose words were never recorded in the Scriptures, the Church honors today with great solemnity, so important h...