Mar 31, 2019

Homeward

The theme of Christ's story of the prodigal son is very familiar to us. it speaks powerfully of the gift of God's forgiveness to anyone at the first sign of returning to Him - what we call repentance. But repentance is not where it begins.  It begins where we are now and, before we find God, how we find ourselves.

We have all been far away from home. Some of us are, even now. It doesn't have to be a physical relocation. Maybe some of you might have been born in another country. Some may be here for the first time or not quite comfortable in these surroundings or with some of the people here.  

But there is also an individual, spiritual sense of being far from home.  When you find yourself imprisoned in your own thoughts, addicted to a certain behavior, depressed at the separation or loss of a loved one, brooding over an injury, even suspicious of the people and world around you.  The gnawing sense that you are not at home, even in your own skin!

When Jesus told the story of the parable son, of the young man returning home to the embrace of his father, those who heard him tell this story were probably shocked, enraged or laughed it off. But some could not help but be moved.

Being moved can sometimes take us by surprise. Allowing ourselves to be moved can allow us an opportunity to think again, to see something in a new light.  Maybe, we have to reflect on what it means to be at home with God. And being at home with God may not be what we presume it is.

What if was the prodigal son? What if I had abused or taken advantage of all the free gifts that God had freely allowed me to have, but only looked upon Him simply as the all-powerful master and creator of the universe? If I wanted to come home and peeked over the hill towards home and saw the Divine Mighty One, not only standing outside waiting for me but running in my direction, I would be so afraid, I'd run as well - I would be moved, and I would move fast - in the opposite direction, even further away from home.

And that's what we sometimes do. We long for home, but we do not really know God, and the closer He gets to us, the further we distance ourselves from Him because we are afraid of Him.

The Good News that Christ tells us is that God is not like a trigger-happy god of thunder, or an angry old man looking down from a castle in the sky. Christ is at pains to show us that God's eternal nature, is of a patient, gentle and forgiving Father and who longs for you and me to be and feel at home in His company, regardless if we have wasted our lives to nothing, or put them on display to make others highly of us.

Before the patient Father-God, yes, there will always be the grumbler, the complainers, the protester - those who so easily take offense (like the older brother in the parable) - that our Father shouldn't be so accommodating at reaching out to the lost soul, regardless if it was their fault or not.  If you are not used to God as generous to every one of His children without exception, to God being patient beyond endurance, to God being ready to forgive and welcome anyone back regardless of any wrong, then you are very far from home yourself. But with the kind of Father that Jesus reveals to us, nobody has a real excuse to stay away or to not to help others get home safely.

The journey the Church has now begun that will bring us to Easter, points all of us, saints and sinners, lost and found in the direction of the heavenly city, our home. But we are not yet there.  So we not only listen to the words of Christ, we follow both His example and His lead. He is like His Father in so many ways, welcoming want-a-be saints and worn out sinners. And if we can swallow our pride, examine our conscience and trust in Him, we will not find the confession of our sins something to be dreaded, but the doorway open to finally be at home with God.

On this Sunday, pray in particular for fathers and the relationship they have with their children, especially their sons.  This Sunday, we pray for our sons that they will become good, patient and strong fathers. This Sunday, pray in particular that some of the young men among us will respond to the call of fatherhood through a vocation of priesthood - to be a spiritual father someday to a parish family entrusted to their care, welcoming the newcomer into the family through baptism and words of encouragement, healing the wounded through confession and anointing, and feeding the hungry through the sacrament of the Altar.  

May our mother Mary always keep the candle burning at the window and ready to welcome us into the home our Father has waiting for us, through Christ our Lord. Amen

Mar 27, 2019

Reduce Speed Now

Lk 13:1-9

Into this Third Week of Lent, by presenting us this Gospel, the Church reminds, lest we find ourselves drifting back into our routines, that we cannot take for granted our own personal need to get closer to God. The graphic nature of the Gospel might serve to waken us up a little, provoke us a bit, to sit up and take notice that God cannot be ignored and nor can the events around us be taken for granted.

Jesus shows us in the Gospel today that when we see disaster, misfortune or unnecessary trials placed before us, it is so easy for us to assign blame, provide excuses or in some way to figure it all out. We can sometimes find ourselves asking why good people sometimes are the ones to suffer most and because, from our own perspective of justice, this might cause concern, even anger at God.

In the portion of Scripture we have heard, Jesus is quick to assure us that God is not the author of human misery and suffering. And even though events unfold around us and often we wonder why, God is indeed ultimately and always on our side. And regardless of the evil that exists in the world, we are asked to place our faith in God, even though we do not understand his ways.

Yet at the same time, consider the patience of God with us. Even though we can easily stray from his commandments, providing in our lives and even in our world a hostile environment of sin and error, this does not prevent our Heavenly Father from sending us his Son (when God has more reasons not to come to our rescue than he has to.) This not only shows God as patient and slow to anger but also a God of mercy and gentleness, even in the mists of catastrophes and suffering. It is this God that Jesus teaches us to call Father. The patience of our heavenly Father always wins whereas our impatience can often lead us to do what we might often regret.

The Good News of our salvation is that our heavenly Father guides history and is always faithful to his promises. Yet, our frustration at times is that we cannot see the world from the perspective of God. But that is not our place. Nor should we ever want it. Like Moses before the burning bush, finding himself in God’s mysterious presence, he found himself quickly out of his depth. This is not a reason to fear. Before God we must likewise be humble, believing that our mysterious God is, at the same time, trustworthy. And we are grateful too that he is patient. 

Let us pray that, through this Holy Mass, the God we encounter through sacramental signs, one day, if we are patient and have the humility to allow Him to unravel His plan in His own time - one day, we will see face to face. And on that day, all will be revealed, through Jesus Christ our Lord. And may our response simply be, "Amen"

Mar 19, 2019

Joseph



March 19th.  To the man whose words were never recorded in the Scriptures, the Church honors today with great solemnity, so important his life and example are for us all.

St. Joseph’s privilege was to be the husband of the Virgin Mary – truly a match made in heaven. As her husband, he became the head of the family. Indeed, as a wife, Mary was subject to him. But her natural submission to him as her husband protected her – he protected her honor, her life when her pregnancy.

Although he was foster-father to Jesus, let us never underestimate his fatherhood. St. Joseph had the same rights as a father over a son as any father of his day enjoyed and exercised. Not by the will of nature, but by grace Joseph was the father of Jesus, fatherhood delegated to him by God. And as Jesus considers us his brothers and sisters, St. Joseph also becomes a father figure for us - our guardian and our protector.

He was responsible to provide food and safety from the sweat of his own brow to the young boy who would grow up to provide miraculous food to all freely. St. Joseph guided the boy Jesus in his relationships with the world, protected him at home and gave him the hands-on experience of the job site. To imagine the young boy Jesus running into the open arms of St. Joseph, calling him “father”. Is it any wonder today is the anniversary of many priest’s ordinations (my own included), for when the priest receives Holy Communion, like St. Joseph with the vocation of being a Father, Jesus will also rush into my hands for me to embrace.

St. Joseph provides for us all a true example of faith in the midst of conflicts, doubts, and contradictions.  To accept the truth of Mary’s child, to accept that the God of the universe should be born in destitute circumstances, that accepted the exile of Egypt not knowing for how long. This was a man who could count twenty three kings of Israel as his ancestors, a man of noble blood who was now content to be a commoner, mending broken tables and ploughs for a living – a humble man without ambition or an agenda but to simply be faithful to God’s commands often against the odds.

His humility was his power. He knew when to bow out and take a back seat for when the young Jesus who grew up calling him father, looked to the heavens and called out to God as Father on that unforgettable day in the temple, we never hear of him again. But from his hiding place of heaven, peeking through the great cloud of witnesses, beside angels and saints, he looks towards the Blessed Lady he took as his wife, and with her, looks upon the face of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world.

Mar 17, 2019

Don't Forget



I am sure that all of us, at one stage in our lives have experienced an emotional high! I’m talking about the happiness or the thrill when you, for example, you got good news or you were able to achieve something extraordinary - you crossed a finish line, you accomplished something that took hard work and endurance. Or maybe it was an experience that you knew was once in a lifetime and you were thrilled at having a very unique the opportunity that you promised yourself you would never forget.


That’s what has happened in the Gospel we have just listened to. A few disciples climbed a mountain with Jesus. And on top of it, something happened that no one on earth had ever seen - an actual open doorway into the realm of heaven and Jesus standing there within its porch and two prophets of the Old Testament coming out to meet and talk with Him. As He stands at the portal of heaven, Jesus own body radiates with light, even though the very clothes He wore. And the prophets Moses and Elijah, who had died hundreds of years earlier, now have bodies of heavenly glory as they approach Jesus in this radiating heavenly mist and cloud opened up on the mountain top. And to hear with your very own ears, the voice of God speaking! Who could forget it?.


No wonder Peter, James and John were tongue tied and, in their excitement and euphoria, started blummering nonsense. They were on an ultimate spiritual and physical high! How could they ever forget that experience.


But when it was over and they came down the mountain with Christ, they quickly returned back to everything that was familiar again. And a certain kind of muscle memory for the ordinariness of life comes back.  When Christ was later arrested, tried and crucified - they forgot that event that took place on the mountain top. They forgot about the glory of heaven, the thrill they experience, the celestial light, the voice of God that ringed in their ears.  They forgot what it felt like.


So what can we learn from this.  Don’t forget. Don’t forget those moments of glory that you have experienced in your life. Return to them, again and again, even the the dark moments of life. Forget the, for example, the waiting for your turn to go into confession and the fear or nervousness that is ordinary to us all.  Remember, what it was like, even if it lasted only a short time after, the relief of having confessed your sins and the joy of having a burden lifted, the thrill of being free as you opened the door to return to the world again. Remember that. 

That freedom and joy, that high, must never be forgotten, so that when we do experience darkness and tempted to despair, ask God to evoke, once again, that experience of joy and relief we had experienced when God’s spirit lifted you up and and you were in high spirits.  Never forget those glimpses of glory. Don't forget.

Mar 9, 2019

On Picking Fights


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 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, its 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 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 reveals itself.

When we allow sin, in all its disguises, to entertain us, in a way, we are surrounded by the forces of darkness and we lose 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 wakes 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 Sunday mornings of Lent, here at St. Margaret's, we are offering a continuous opportunity to go to Confession (even while Mass is being offered!) 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.

Mar 3, 2019

Marching Battle Hymn


First I would like to welcome our visitors, some teachers, parents, and students from Maple Mountain High School, Spanish Fork, Utah. They are a school choir and on a tour. I have invited them to sing "It is Well With My Soul" after our Holy Communion. It's an appropriate selection as it reflects in some way, the 700-year-old prayer we have written on the wall (Anima Christi). And after the final blessing, they will sing the "Salve Regina".

Now, I suspect that for many of you, this may be your first time in California. I am sure that there has been much excitement, apprehension, and probably a little bit of drama mixed in. I also suspect that this may be the first time that most of you have attended a Sunday service in a Catholic church. Don't be nervous! The word "catholic" simply means "universal, all-embracing". So, regardless of culture, language, nationality or background, this Church of Jesus Christ is two thousand years old and there is room for everyone. So whether you are a saint or a sinner, you are welcome to be included in our Catholic Christian family of saints and sinners this morning. Welcome!
In a few days time, the church will embark on a journey. We are used to traveling. We have been doing so for two thousand years.  From Jerusalem, Our Lord sent his apostles out in every direction. Of the twelve, St. Peter the apostle got to Rome where be established the enduring bedrock of the Church for all ages. Saint Thomas the apostle got as far to India. So when Catholic Portuguese sailors arrived in the 1600s, they were surprised to find a thriving flock already there in that distant continent.

Throughout time and history, we have been a Christian people on the move.  Even locally, the Catholic priest and missionary Saint Junipero Serra, in the 1700s began his journey from San Diego, establishing Missions all the way through California.  About the same time, two Catholic missionaries, two Spanish priests, Father Dominguez, and Father Escalante began their missionary journey from New Mexico. They wanted to link up with their brother missionaries in California. So, they traveled inland and westward, to where no one had ventured before.

400 hundred miles into their journey from Santa Fe, these two Catholic missionaries arrived at a canyon and wondered, if this place could mark a crossroads between the Missions of New Mexico and the Missions of California. The two Catholic missionaries, because they got there first, got to name the place. They named it Spanish Fork. (Is there anyone here from Spanish Fork?)  Then know that, when you arrive home from here, you are halfway to Santa Fe! Which of course means, halfway there to the Holy Faith! So, complete your journey and I pray that you will safely reach home.)

For the Church, this is also our duty - we must ready ourselves to go on tour. Borrowing military language, we have to ready ourselves to enter into the battlefield for 40 days and 40 nights that will take us on an adventurous and even a dangerous campaign that will bring us to the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Along the way, we will venture into a desert and battle with the elements of evil. The season of Lent will be a time of food rationing, physical and spiritual  We will also experience hunger and thirst. But Christ will lead the way and feed us with His sacraments.

During Lent, we will cross borders and enter foreign territories where we will be tempted to sin and at times feel a stranger, far from home. But Christ will comfort us with stories and parables of God's mercy and forgiveness.  

We will climb mountains, become exhausted, and be tempted to despair or give up. But Christ transfigured before us like a beacon, will spur us onward and upward.

We will revisit the places and retell the final events of Our Lord’s life, climbing up to the stairwell to the Upper Room or through the brush and stone pathways into a hidden garden. We will stand by Him as He is arrested - when he faces charges of treason and conspiracy. Our loyalty will be tested and we will see deserters among our ranks. But we will accompany Him along the road of sorrows to His place of crucifixion and death. We will encounter our own weaknesses and the limits of our own strength and resolve. But if we persevere and hold on to Christ, even in His silence from the cross, the Good Shepherd will lead us through the dark valley of death to the victory sung of the resurrection.  

Our life, every life, is a life and journey in the company of Christ. The approaching Season of Lent simply reminds us that this is not a private journey - we share the road with others. Their stories are also our stories. It is also Christ the traveler’s story who leads the way.

As we tie our laces and prepare our body for the journey ahead into the Season of Lent, we will want to pack only what we truly need. Ash Wednesday and Confessions will remind us what we are made of and of God’s kindness as we admit to our weaknesses and ask for forgiveness. Our Friday Stations of the Cross will test our resolve to carry the responsibility of saving grace. Our fasting will remind us of our hunger for God’s strength.  Our preparation for the Easter Sacraments will retell, relive and weave our own pathway into the epic journey of the People of God from slavery to freedom.

So what should be our attitude as we get ready for our journey through the weeks of Lent? In today’s Gospel, Christ sets the stage - before we journey forward to attempt to lead by example, we should first watch our own step. The blind can’t lead the lead. We need to see the way before us clearly and without distraction.  Trust in the guidance, the protection and the good nature of God to see us safely to our journey's end. Trust in Him to see you through just one day so that tonight when you rest your tired feet, you can also rest in peace knowing you are a little bit closer your heart's desire - to stand at the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem and rejoice in the victory of Christ.

Set the world on fire

Fire can be as dangerous as it is beautiful and useful as it is mysterious. From the burning bush to the tongues of fire on the day of ...