Feb 24, 2019

Love your enemies

There is a telling story told of Saint Mother Teresa. She had just rescued from the streets of Calcutta, a neglected and starving young Hindu girl. Holding her hand, she led her into a local shop. Going up to the counter Mother Teresa politely asked if she could have some bread. The angry shopkeeper, who was not Christian, scoffed at her, and then spat in her face.  Mother Teresa looked up and simply said, "Thank you sir for that gift. Now, what about something also for the child?" After some time of tense silence, the shopkeeper gave Mother Teresa a large basket of bread for her to take to the orphanage to feed the hungry.

"Love your enemies", Christ command us.  Even though we often take advantage of His mercy and generosity, and even abuse His gifts to us, God's patience with us is never worn thin to the point that He looks upon us with hostility. He never will reach the point of frustration with you and me that He labels any of us as His enemies, regardless of our offense.
"Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect", Christ tells us. This is what should distinguish us as Christians from anyone else - our ability to love our enemies, to pray for them, to help them gently on the road to salvation and to do so, creating the right environment where, in time, enemies can become friends, and in particular, friends of God.
Is this not the attitude of Christ to us, giving us opportunity upon opportunity to be more open and receptive to the influence of His friendship? So, if we count ourselves friends of Christ, and should also find ourselves suffering because of the wounds inflicted by someone else, rather than fighting back in anger, we instead should be more troubled that our enemy would be damned to hell without the opportunity for healing. For this reason, in the Christian standard of faith and living, there is never room for revenge or getting even, even under a false premise of trying to teach someone a lesson.
Knowing what we are made of and the environment we often find ourselves living in, naturally it is very difficult for us to always respond with love and patience in a world so marked by sin and division. But Christ did not simply ask us to love our enemies. it is a command.  Sometimes, we can feel we do not have the emotional and spiritual strength to do so. That's probably why He also asked us to pray for them - even to pray to God on their behalf. Doing so, without them even aware, we give them more than they think they deserve from us.
Consider how Christ Himself was spat upon, struck and punched in the face, not just once, but many times by His enemies, who even whipped Him to pieces.  He could have responded with His divine power and obliterated them in an instant. No. Instead He literally took it on the chin, he took it as a man.  When they threw weight of the cross on His back and forced him to carry it, He did so without complaint. So much so, His enemies took it off His shoulders and forced it on a passerby instead! When Christ was being nailed to the cross and slowly crucified to death, He could have cursed His enemies with the vengeance of God. But instead, He prayed for them and asked that his Father forgive them their sins. And as He died, one of the executioners, was compelled to make an act of faith in God.
Loving our enemies is not easy. But, if we preserve in friendship with God, and are never afraid to return to Him again and again, even in our own sinfulness asking for forgiveness of our sins, we can be assured of the grace of God's patience.  "Learn from me" Christ assures us - the perseverance needed to carry our daily crosses and the courage to love and pray for those who might oppose or threaten harm upon us in any way. This is the road to perfection we boldly and courageously take - with Christ who leads the way and says to us, "Follow me".

Feb 16, 2019

H2O, H2O, H20

Lk 5:1-11

The language of fishing in the gospel is not a simple observation of particular events. In the light of our faith, it is a metaphor for the work of Jesus and a picture of what God is doing through His Church. 

There is a long history of the Church being described as a large boat. We are not a museum ship, nor do we board this mighty tied up old vessel that has seen better days. Christ Himself is still giving orders to set sail. 

Whether he stands on the shoreline and calls out to us, at rest in one of the cabins, or at the helm, there is work to be done, places to go, battles to fight, new worlds to be discovered. Reflecting on the Gospel this Sunday, what course does Christ plot for us. We are to be "fishers of men". 

"Catching men alive". How? Christ gives us the grace to attract.  That grace of attraction is manifested in so many beautiful ways: through the preaching of the Gospel, through the beauty of the liturgy, through the gentle power of the sacraments, but especially, through the witness of men and women, of families whose lives are lived with a sense of hope, that Christ is with us every part of the journey.  Admittedly, we can find ourselves naturally afraid of what lies beyond the horizon. Sometimes, be might be afraid of storms, getting lost, even encountering pirate ships (!) Maybe we would prefer staying closer to land.  But the first prayer we made in public during the Mass was: "Keep your family safe, O Lord, with unfailing care, that relying on the hope of heavenly grace, we may be defended always by your protection" (Collect)

Christians we should not be afraid of the water. After all, for our first nine months, we swam around it. And just when we were dried off, into the baptism font we went! Water should be our second nature. In fact, it should be our first! We are nearly 70 percent of water, so it should come naturally to us!  So what's stopping us when we are told by Christ to go out into the deep waters. Remember, Christ can walk on the water, and so can we, as long as we keep Christ always in view, and never despair.

And this brings us to the example of St. Peter the fisherman.  Peter was reluctant to change his ways. He had a system of fishing that was, for him, predictable and well rehearsed.  But, we also discover through the reading of the New Testament Scriptures, that he was not a very good fisherman in the traditional sense. It was Christ Himself who did all the fishing for Him! 

 If Peter allowed his pride to get the better of him, he would have blatantly disobeyed Our Lord when He instructed him to sail out into the deep water and prepare for a catch of fish. Underneath his rough exterior, Peter allowed the voice of Christ to penetrate his heart. And although Christ was telling him to goes against his natural instincts and what the textbook said, Peter obeyed the voice of the Lord, even though he did not, for him, make sense.

Did Peter and the fishermen apostles know what would be their future work and responsibilities? Could they have even dreamt of their lives beyond their little village? We get a hint when Saint Peter, overwhelmed at the thought of what would be expected of him, presumed wrongly that he must carry the burden all by himself and fears he does not have the strength. Standing in the light of God, even in His shadow, our own unworthiness, helplessness becomes so obvious. St. Peter needs, like you and me, to be assured that Christ will never abandon us.

To be a Christian, to be on board with the Church and to heed to the direction Our Lord steers us, we have to be courageous, daring, trusting. What does this mean?  Maybe it is to leave behind at times, our little well rehearsed lives and, at the Lord's command to venture out into the unknown - whatever that might be.  

Maybe to go out into the deep waters is a call to a more deeper attitude of prayer, leaving superficiality behind. Maybe, it is the call to not be lazy or complacent in our family duties and responsibilities to our brothers and sisters. To go out, at the Lord's command, into the depths of the ocean, might be to finally open up in confession to a sinful past that we want to leave behind. God's mercy is bigger than the vastness of the oceans. His love reaches even the darkest, murky waters of our lives. And for this reason, Christ tells us not to be afraid - to have faith in the grace He gives us and in the strength of His Church, a sacred vessel that can hold the entire world and still never be overwhelmed. 

Let us pray for courage, strength, and endurance, with the assurance that God's mercy and grace will always endure.

Feb 9, 2019

Go Fund Them

The Annual Appeal to Catholics 

Why? Before the beginning of the season of Lent, we initiate the Annual Catholic Appeal.  It's our opportunity to assess the needs of our Local Church, remind each other what we are doing and why. It is also an appeal for help to ensure we can continue the mission and ministries that we, too often, can take for granted and are in need of continual help and support.

A Big Family of Parishes.  Of course, although our experience of the Catholic Church is first and foremost through our local parish, each faith community is not a Church unto itself. We are a living cell, united to other parishes throughout the San Diego and Imperial Counties- one of 99 parishes.

Shepherds.  United with them in our common Catholic faith we form what is called a diocese, a Local Church. Our bishop, Bishop McElroy is the chief shepherd of our diocese, responsible for the souls of over one million local Catholics, including yours and mine! There are 2167 dioceses in the world held together in unity and charity through the mission and ministry of Pope Francis.  1 billion, 254 million members of the Catholic Church through the world!

Sheepfolds.  Each year locally, every parish in our diocese, like muscles of a body working together, demonstrates the ability to coordinate with other parishes in a unique feat of strength. No one part of the body of the diocese is able to take on the entire burden. In fact, all parts of the body need to coordinate in order to contribute to the mission and ministry of Christ and his Church.

Our desert flock. To make this happen, we first give attention to the part of our Local Church which finds itself continually feeling the strain. We have twelve parishes in the Imperial Valley. This area has the highest concentration of Catholics, the lowest per capita income and the greatest unemployment figure in our local Church. (I know this area well having been a priest there, first in Calexico within stone's throw of the border with Mexico, and as a pastor of a farmers parish in Brawley not far from the Salton Sea.  Our brothers and sisters there need our support to help build churches and provide resources for their pastors to be effective in their ministry.)

Pastors and Apprentices. All our priests are in need of your support and encouragement so that our ministry can be effective and enduring throughout our diocese. That support begins at the local level. Our own parish has been the starting post of a number of fine men who have responded to discerning Christ's call to them to be priests. In these past years we have seen four men from St. Margaret's, ordained to the priesthood - two presently serving in our diocese and two further afield. Our parish also hails three seminarians, one presently studying for our diocese and two studying for with religious orders. Our support for them in prayer and practical help continue to afford them the proper environment to test out their vocation to the priesthood, be it in the seminary, the college or the parish church.

Hungry Lambs and Newborns. Another area of our Local Church body which needs continual support is the organization we call Catholic Charities. Every year almost 300,000 of our brothers and sisters, from every part of our diocese, are given practical assistance for food, clothing, and shelter- what we call in our Catholic tradition, the “Corporal Works of Mercy”. This work is ongoing as God’s mercy is everlasting.

Protecting the Family. However, a body is only as strong as its defenses are. In a world where we too often experience the effects of sin and find ourselves vulnerable to many attacks from every side, our mind must always be kept sharp, our heart should find comfort and our soul must always be nourished.  This goes hand in hand with helping young couples in particular with their preparation for marriage. The diocese provides workshops, presentations, and retreats to help men and women marry well and to create the environment necessary for stable and wholesome family life to begin.

Teaching the Faith. Of course, like anybody, we are always growing and learning how to adapt to ever-changing surroundings. We are often challenged to explain and defend our way of life and our faith. Our investment in Catholic education is essential in providing support for Catholic schools, training the catechists and teachers to ensure our Catholic identity is strong and credible.

Doing Our Part.  Each parish in the diocese, small or large, rich or poor, is asked to contribute their energy to furthering these goals. Naturally each parish, like that muscle in the body, has a particular function. Each parish gives of itself accordingly to an assessment of its own strength and ability towards our Annual Catholic Appeal.

Support the Annual Catholic Appeal. One person makes a difference, one parish cooperating with others, one Church continuing the mission and ministry of Christ.

Father Cávana Wallace

Pastor of Saint Margaret's, Oceanside

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Thank you! 

Responding to God's Grace: A Video Message from the Diocese of San Diego.

Feb 5, 2019

Silence of the Lamb


Luke 4:21-30  

Today’s gospel continues where we left off last week. Here's what's happening.

Our Blessed Lord has entered into this hometown and has announced the beginning of a new era in the relationship between God and humanity, a new initiative. Jesus announces the Kingdom of God and that the very words he had spoken were being fulfilled right in front of their eyes.

However, his townsfolk are impressed with the eloquence of his delivery. They are proud he has returned home for they had heard stories of his ministry and miracles in the surrounding towns. They joined in the excitement of how crowds were following him with great hope and expectation. But then something happens. They started to have second thoughts. Jesus had just read from the Old Testament prophecy about what the Messiah would do. Now he adds, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.

His own townspeople could not fathom that the Scriptures, which spoke of the coming of the Messiah and the initiation of a new type of Kingdom, was actually present in the here and now. It seemed that the townspeople, although very religious and devote, somehow only could see the power of God in the world tied up to past events in times remote and distant. Nostalgia seems to be more powerful the present.

We must be careful not to fall into this trap also, of securing God to events in the past, failing to believe that our Lord can and does work in the here and now.  Often, images and memories of what we can selectively remember as the "good old days", events in frozen storage, can seem more persuasive when we are fearful of the future. The temptation to despair will often extinguish any sense of hope.  When one is so used to living in a cave anyone who forces us to look outside of it and into a new day with fresh eyes can seem like a threat.

The people of Nazareth seemed unable or unwilling to reflecting and contemplate the bigger picture. Almost like a knee jerk reaction, they quickly changed the subject and then became "offended", personally offended. And then few reactions turn into a crowd of discontent. The discontent goes viral and it generates into a mob. And all this, before the days of Twitter!

Notice how Christ, after being swept up into this raging wave, saves himself. He doesn’t plead with them, nor does he try to rationalize. His friends do not save him and nor does the law of the land protect him. Our Blessed Lord saves himself through his divine power as God and walks away from the hostility. It doesn't seem fair that he should use his divine influence to get himself out of a battle! Why put up a forcefield? Simply put, the Lord will not be forced into giving his life away. His life is his own, and he will wait for the right time so that he can offer it freely, without coercion.

At the end of his public ministry, when our Blessed Lord was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, he could have also walked away. When he was to be brutally abused and tortured by the Roman soldiers, he had it within his power to switch off any feeling of pain or agony. When he was slowly crucified, he could have easily come down from the cross and brushed off from his body all the injuries and scars. No one mob can force Christ into loving them. He freely gives his life and does so out of the most intensive love unimaginable while considering me and you worth the suffering, the pain, the sacrifice and even the silence he offered.

Yes, there are battles which we must surely fight. But we must never rush into any of them and never compulsively or do so just to make a point.  Sometimes, we also have to ride out the wave of hostility and, yes, with God's grace, slip through an angry mob to save our skin. There is no shame in that. Our shame will be revealed if we mistake the hill outside Nazareth with another hill outside Jerusalem. In the meantime, we pray that our faith will give us the strength to carry our cross willingly and lovingly even though it is heavy and it hurts. If we can do so freely, then the good news is that the Kingdom of God is in fact very near.

May our Blessed Mother, who pondered all these things in her heart, help us to appreciate the Good News of our salvation and the sacrifice our Blessed Lord freely offered so that we might experience lives of true freedom and authentic love.

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...