Sep 30, 2018

Outside the Circle


Moses was by all estimation, one of the greatest, if not the most memorable prophets of the Old Testament. His legacy and his writings, his epic encounters:  God who spoke to him through the burning bush, his negotiating with the pharaoh of Egypt for the release of the Hebrew slaves, leading them across the Red Sea and through the wilderness, to receive the Ten Commandments from God and to arrive in the Promised Land.  

Sometimes we can imagine that Moses did it all by himself. He just led the way and the people simply followed him. However, the first reading this morning show us a heavily burdened Moses, a man who knows that he cannot do everything the Lord asked of him by himself. So, he shares with others that same Spirit of the Lord that he had first received.  He shares his responsibility, to lead, to point the way to freedom.  

But this Spirit of God cannot be “contained”, “captured” like a Genie in a bottle. The Spirit of God is a free spirit. Moses is alerted to the fact that the Spirit of God has been given to some people who never filled out the application and went to the training classes! Moses, on hearing this, doesn’t try to jump in and control the Holy Spirit. He only wishes that the same Spirit would spill over into the whole People of Israel and stir them up also to give God glory.

In the Gospel we have just heard, our Blessed Lord who is the New Moses of the New Testament encounters a similar event. He receives reports from his apostles that there are individuals outside their circle, using his name to cast out demons.  The Lord does not send his “heavies” out to rein them in for questioning over the copyright of his divine name. Our Lord rejoices that the Kingdom of God is, in some manner, being extended and manifested.

What does this say about us? There is always the temptation to wait for the pope, the bishops or the pastors and priests of Christ’s Church to take the initiative and lead the way.  It is, however, the right and the duty of every Christian to, not only seek holiness in their own life but to be an instrument of holiness in the lives of others.  This is not only your right and duty – but it also your responsibility. Sometimes, because the lack of leadership or lack of credibility and trust in those who should be leading the way, oftentimes, the faithful should never be afraid to be themselves examples of holiness, pillars of wisdom and heroic examples of perseverance.    

Before we engage in any new exercise, we are often advised to consult our doctor. The doctor of our souls is found through the Sacrament of Confession - to detox our souls from the poison of sin and anger, and the Sacrament of the Holy Altar which allows grace to move us in the direction of heaven. 

So, do not be afraid of the battlefield, even if you find yourself alone.  Do not despair. You belong to Christ and so does the Church. May our Blessed Mother, the Queen of the Apostles and of angels, always see in you and me, not only able-bodied disciples who take after her son but also the very image of him in a world he was not hesitant to die for love of.

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Sep 22, 2018

Take Up Arms



On Saturday, September 22nd at precisely 7:54pm, the season of summer comes to a close - the fall officially begins.  Without any blast of a trumpet, cosmological fireworks or fanfare, summer is finally over. It's run its course.

Even with the arrival of cooler and slightly darker mornings and with shadows slowly creeping in further into the evenings, I still get the sense that, especially in Southern California, summer does not really want to be put into storage until it resurrects from the dead in the morning of June 21st next year. 

Maybe, like a child who has been playing all day and now told to go to bed, summer, especially in these parts,  usually doesn't want to leave without a "heated" protest.  That's why,  I'm sure that in the coming months of the Fall, and even during the Winter, with what we call the Santa Ana winds, the "Child of Summer" we thought was sleeping quietly, wakes up every so often and blows hot air at us. We can expect some heated exchanges in the coming weeks.

So, why do I bring this up?  It is because the church calendar is very much in tune with the seasons.  Because the natural only makes sense when we see it in its relationship with the supernatural, our soul also senses changing patterns in our environment and surroundings. 

So, as we anticipate the Last Rites and death of summer, the Church gives us today's selection of Scriptures for the Mass, so that we can meditate on how prepared we are to face the cold darkness - in all its forms, both visible and invisible. 

As if to assess our "war-readiness", today's Entrance Antiphon spoke of crying out to the Lord in distress, in tribulation - "Should they cry to me in any distress, I will hear them, and I will be their Lord forever."

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom has us meditate on the enemy's dark strategy as it rebels against the very notion of being accountable to truth and justice. Psalm 54 comes from the anguish of an innocent heart that fears betrayal. The Second Reading from St. James explores the "behind the scenes" origin of wars and conflicts.  And the Gospel has Christ predicting his death and his resurrection.  

But rather than a call to battle, to throw on armor and march to the front lines with a rallying call against the enemy, Our Lord presents to us a child - an innocent and simple child that he places before an argumentative gathering of disciples. Rather than taking sides among the completing adults all trying to pull rank,  Christ takes us his own arms. With them, he simply embraces the little child.  What does this tell us?


If the Almighty God who created the immense universe out of nothing and filled it with so much, in all its splendor and all its terrifying and most beautiful complexity - If God, to whom the whole cosmos is but a speck of dust, became, himself, smaller still and allowed himself to be vulnerable, not afraid even to be mothered by a young girl, God asks us too, do not be afraid of becoming little. 

We try to make ourselves appear big and protect ourselves by policies, protocols, politics, projects and even theology and Scripture verses. But Christ, instead, places his arms around the little child. Allow Christ's arms to protect you. His arms are gentle enough to heal a tender heart and strong enough to be hammered to a cross. If God who is unimaginably bigger than the whole universe can humble himself to become a man, can we not humble ourselves to be like a little child - his little child? 


The humility of God is his greatest strength. Our humility before the gentle strength of God is his greatest gift to us. 


Back to the language of nature.  To paraphrase St. Augustine:  “Consider a tree: how as it grows, it must reach down deep into the earth so that it might shoot forth upwards. It anchors its roots deep in the ground so that it may reach the heavens.  Is it not from its humility (hidden from public view) that the tree can rise to great heights?  Without humility, there is no growth. Without deep and secure roots, yes, you might rise tall, but you easily collapse in the winter storm.”

The Fall will now teach the Summer that, if it is to see the springtime, it must step aside, be humble and even die to itself. That's the seasonal lesson for you and me and for the Church. But it starts, with you and me, a vulnerable child of God allowing ourselves to be held securely within the strong arms of the Lord.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sep 15, 2018

Inseparable


Today’s Gospel (according to Mark) was written at a time when early Roman Christians were being arrested and tortured. Many of them suffered horrifying deaths, many of them were brutally crucified or thrown into cages to be ripped apart by lions and wild beasts.  

Let’s not forget, if you could, the cruelties inflicted upon our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, and those sadistic videos of hostages in orange jumpsuits being publicly executed for the whole world to see. With something like this going on in the background, the early Christians would listen to the same words of Christ we hear today,

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. "

Think about it. At the time of Christ, the cross was a reminder of what happened when you antagonized the authorities.  You were publicly crucified to death. The image of a cross was the reminder of a death sentence. Who goes into the battlefield handing the enemy the means to crucify them? Does it not seem logical to instead go to the front lines waving swords and plowing down anyone who stood in our way?
But how does the Enemy, in fact, defeat us? The enemy wants us to separate Christ from his Cross. It's the old trick of divide and conquer. It's when the devil pits one against the other. For example -   

1.  We place value on freedom, respect, on being tolerant, looking after the stranger, looking out for the poor. And this is commendable.
2.  We also place value on hard work, on making sacrifices, on long hours, on physical endurance, fighting against the odds, investing in our future, and often times at a great personal cost. These are noble qualities indeed.

We are at our best when these two values meet each other, cooperate together, value each other, rather than being pitted against each other. A household divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25).

How does this translate into our Christian discipleship within the Church? We cannot be part of the Church, a disciple of Christ without carrying the cross. Christ will never allow himself to be separated or detached from it. Because the Church is Christ’s Body, as a Church we have to embrace the cross, the sins of the world, our own sins, the sins of the members of the Church.

But when the Enemy gets into our mind, we are often tempted to purify Christ and his Church from the very cross he is attached to.

When we are tempted to embrace Christ without his Cross, we can keep him all nice and beautiful, not a hair out of place - no pain, no suffering, no discipline, no sacrifice. He becomes a gentle teacher. The substitute teacher! A Christ without his cross, a Christian without embracing their own Cross, is weak, soft and nonessential. The Church without a cross becomes a simple social science project.  

When we are tempted to embrace the Cross without Christ, our pride will tell us we have all the strength we need to carry it ourselves. Why do we need Christ or God's grace, when we can be self-made superheroes who can lift the cross up high and threaten to drop it on the heads of our enemies. A cross without Christ is a logo, a brand mark to be designed, marketed and mass produced.

In the words of a third-century North African saint, St. Cyprian of Carthage, before he was beheaded on the shores of the Mediterranean by a politically driven lynch mob, some of them former disciples, he asked “how can anyone think themselves a Christian when they are afraid or ashamed to live as a Christian? How can a Christian hope to be with Christ in heaven someday, when they are embarrassed or afraid to belong to Christ and his Church on earth this very day?”

Let us ask our Blessed Mother for a share in her Good Friday strength. It allowed her not only to courageously stand beside the cross of her Son. At the same time, she fully opened her immaculate heart to the grace of God's sacrificial love for all of humanity. May we, with God's grace, do likewise.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sep 8, 2018

A Word In Your Ear


Words are very important to God. His word is creative - “Let there be Light”. In a way, the darkness heard God’s Word. And there was Light!
Throughout the Old Testament accounts of the interaction of God and his people, God speaks. The People listen. They respond to his words. “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts”.  
Hearing God’s word is very important.  But, too often our own words get in the way. Text messages, emails, tweets, blogs, social media, comments, responses, reactions, quotes, and even sermons. The printed and typed word or text we are so used to today doesn't come so much from the breath. They come more from the tapping or the thumping of a keyboard. Our words are easily copied, pasted, edited, translated, printed, posted, rehashed and even deleted.
Our own words can also come back to haunt us. Nearly 100 years ago, a Boston politician (Martin Lomasney) warned his young interns, “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink”!  
But then, how do we interpret silence, innuendo, or an off the cuff remark? Case in point: Having a bad day, after feeling betrayed by his one-time close advisor, returning to his private quarters King Henry II of England lamented to himself out loud, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” Some royal bodyguards overheard the remark, sought out the archbishop and brutally murdered him at the altar of his own cathedral! Learning what happened, the King was horrified and later begged God for forgiveness.
So, how do you interpret the words you hear? How do you use your words and the power of speech? Maybe this would have been an important question to ask the deaf man who had a speech impediment before he was brought to Christ who opened his ears to hear and loosened his tongue to speak? Maybe, years later his mouth might have got him into trouble! Maybe, when he would later hear Christ preaching, he could he have misinterpreted the Lord’s words he heard or thought he heard?


Often we will hear it say, “That’s my word against your word”.  But Christ himself will not enter into a family, partisan or tribal spat. He does not take my side nor yours. Instead, he offers himself as the ultimate Word, the final Word, the everlasting Word.


Unlike the way we use and hear words, God communicates to us in a new language that goes beyond the written or spoken words that come from his mouth. He offers to those on his side, a new way of speaking and hearing.


As if to illustrate this point, there are two dimensions going on in what we have read or listened to in the gospel text.  In the three dimensional world, the Lord physically sticks his finger into the deaf man’s ears, and then the Lord wipes the deaf man’s mouth with his own spittle. Our Lord then releases and big roar and, in his native language of Aramaic shouts out “Be opened!”


Now, it’s all very dramatic. Do you not think that Christ could have healed the man without going through all this drama? Yes, of course.  But sometimes we need God to be dramatic. We need poetry. We need art. We need a song. We need ritual.


God communicates to us through our senses, through touch, through smell, through color, through stuff.  Is this not what we call in church language, liturgy - liturgical language? In the most sacred context of the Mass, we use outward signs, a language that speaks to our senses in order to communicate the reality of invisible grace. The words we hear and speak within this sacred space, speaks to our soul. And from our soul, the Word of God is translated through every fiber of our body into good works of love and mercy.


Unfortunately, I could be the most polished speaker and the greatest listener, but after reflecting on the actions of Christ in the gospel, if I do not ask God to touch my ears - the ears of my soul… if I do not ask God to wipe my mouth with his own spit so that his words will come out from the depth of my soul, and not simply mine  - if I do not learn how to hear and speak this new sacred language, then indeed I am but superficial. I remain deaf to him and my words are simply secular.


There are not many words recorded by Our Blessed Mother in the Scriptures. The most words that have come down to us from her are not from a speech but from a song (Luke 1:46-55). If we were present when she sang her song in her own native language, at first, we probably would not have understood the words from her mouth. But at a deeper level, if we were listening from the depths of our soul, we would hear her soul singing of the glory of God and her spirit rejoicing with words of praise.  


May we learn again how to hear God’s Word resonating from deep within our soul and respond in ways that speak louder than any word, by good deeds that give God glory.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time


Sep 1, 2018

Under Armour S.O.S.




The Gospel that is proclaimed today (Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23) has us reflect on the purity of our hearts and how we allow, what has been embedded deep within us, to come to the surface. And when it does, we are to notice how it can influence our thought patterns, the choice of words we speak, and the behavior each one of us often feels compelled to engage in.


In this portion of the Gospel, the Evangelist St. Mark, gives a racial stereotype for his Gentile listeners of how his own fellow Jews were often perceived by others at that time. In fact, how he describes them and their customs, comes across as “more Jewish than the Jews themselves.”


Born and bred in Ireland and immigrating to the U.S. when I was in my 20's, how the average American perceived the Irish surprised me. I don’t wear green, nor do I have red hair or freckles. I was not brought up on a diet of corn beef and cabbage, drink alcohol in excess or go around greeting people with “The top of the morning to you!”  


You may laugh, but maybe underneath, in my heart of hearts, I may be deeply resentful by the racial profiling. I may be secretly angry at being stereotyped. But then, you would never know. After all, I’m an Irishman! We don’t show or emotions readily. Instead, we instead use poetry, stories, and witt to express ourselves - that is, until you cross me on a bad day, and I might give you a smack on the back of the head!!! “Yipe, you’re Irish alright. You’re definitely not Italian!”


But this, in a way, demonstrates how difficult it often is to trace the origin of external actions and behaviors that we often get ourselves caught up in. It takes honesty and courage to track our thoughts and actions back to their source, to the secret chambers of the heart and soul.  


It is often easier to make judgments about externals - about spoken words, messages or public statements - about how someone dresses or appears in public, about how someone prays or offers Mass or the type of car they drive or work they do.  


Don’t get me wrong - words and actions are incredibly important - they carry force and influence the world around us for good or for bad.  But so does the secrets of our hearts also carry equal weight and significance. Our words and actions can be out of place, wrong, inappropriate, displeasing to God. Our heart and soul can be at times in a dark place, especially when it has been affected by pride, resentment, lust or anger.  


We can dress up or paper over the cracks that sometimes appear on the surface of a building such as our house or church. We can do likewise with our relationships or even our bodies.  But what if by constantly covering up, we are then distracted from a personal weakness or vulnerability, an unresolved hurt or a painful memory, something that has not been completely healed and then, given an excuse, it is easily triggered and up it comes? Then the waters of that deep well out of which flows all our motivations quickly become impure.


That is what Christ speaks of in the Gospel we have just heard. They are his words of caution to me and to you. And he speaks to us, not as Americans, Irish, Europeans, Asians, African or Latinos. But as a brother and as a savior. We are his family and his Church. It belongs to him and so do we.  As St. James, from our Lord’s own family circle reminded us in Second Reading, “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you, and is able to save your soul”. S.O.S.


Be careful. The evil we see out there and might want to subdue, might, in fact, be hiding also within our heart. And that’s a tender place, easily bruised. So during these days, we should find the courage, space and the time to make a “thorough examination of conscience” - no window dressing, no hiding behind a shield, and that includes laptops, smartphone and plates and dishes that can be easily broken to pieces. The Good News is that Christ, who rose from the dead, and can put all the broken pieces together, but never back in the same way we want them. Suffering and death to the old self must come first.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Inside Water

Ritual And Reality...   When we talk about the baptism of the Lord, what immediately comes to mind is a church baptism – typically ...