Oct 30, 2020

Begging Your Indulgence

I’ve asked God for Pardon. Now I beg your Indulgence

(The Pathway up Mount Purgatory to the Manor House)

You are on your way to an important and once-in-a lifetime meeting with someone you have adored for years. They know everything about you and you’ve lived your whole life only imagining what this person will be like up close and personal. As you make your way up the long and winding road on foot to their manor house, you are encouraged by the signs pointing you in the right direction. 

In fact, there is only one road to your destination although there are countless little dirt tracks here and there going to God knows where. As tempting as these distractions are, you are determined to keep going straight. 

As you begin to get tired, there are little towns and villages along the way to eat and drink to regain your strength. There's also water fountains to drink from and even wash up a bit. From everyone you meet on the way, you are told and encouraged to keep to the main road and you’ll get there. 

But inevitably there is often that long stretch of the road between places where we often become conscious of our sore feet, our heavy backpack, our fading energy and a longing for something substantial in our stomachs. During those times, it’s helpful to have a little indulgence, such as a protein bar or little snack that we delightfully find in a pocket. It’s a little boost of energy and encouragement to keep on going. And that you do. 

But what about your shoes? Did I invest in the right type for the road I’m walking? But these are the only shoes I have and the soles are becoming weak and wearing out. Do I arrive at the gates of the manor house with soggy socks, blistering feet and holes in my soles? My heart may be in the right place but my mind is in anguish. I am conscious of my overall shabbiness. How can I restore my graceful appearance as I present myself to him that I long to meet?

Finally I arrive at the end of the road. I am met by the gardener (who doubles as the gatekeeper). He lives in a little house just outside the gates of the mansion. His name is Peter. He compliments me on my health and strength to make it up the long hill on foot and he congratulates me on my discipline and commitment. 

But looking at me from head to toe he says, “Have you seen yourself in a mirror? You don’t really want to go up to the manor house in wrinkled travel clothes and worn out scruffy shoes? Do you?” “Of course, I want to be presentable,” I replied, “But this is all I have”. And then it occurs to me that I have family and friends who could send me fresh clothes and new shoes. And because I was so close to opening the gates and walking up to the front door of the manor house, I could beg their indulgence to send fresh clothes and new shoes to me at this address.  Maybe, they could make a little bit of a sacrifice and get overnight shipping! It’s just a thought, a secret prayer and hope. 

I mention this to Peter. The plan seems reasonable enough. “And in the meantime, while you wait,” he says, “why don’t you stay with me in my guest room and rest up a bit. I’ll light a little fire in the guestroom so you can dry out a little?  And I’ll call the manor house and inform them that you’re here and to expect you soon.”  

The little guest room was small and drafty. The mattress was as hard as nails, and the fireplace gave out more smoke than heat. It was more a penance than a blessing but I was grateful. 

Inside my little room I was comforted by the fact that from one window I could see the manor house up ahead where I knew they were expecting me and from another window, a view of the road from where I was waiting for my delivery of fresh clothes and new shoes.  This brought me a sense of great hope which allowed me, in my little travelers’ lodge, at least a chance to rest in peace until the morning of when a new day began and I could then finally open the gate and walk up the pathway to the manor house. 

Oct 23, 2020

Mental Fatigue

The Sunday Gospel (30th Week in Ordinary Time) once again reminds us of Christ’s instruction to Love the Lord our God with everything we have - mind, body and soul. And to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:33-40) It seems simple enough. But it’s often not. 

To love God with body and soul can often be easier than loving Him with our mind. We can strengthen and discipline the body, for example, through penance and fasting. We can fortify the soul through the sacraments, by prayer and with devotions. But it is often our mind that is the weakest component of our being that is either often quickly distracted or it can become locked into a maddening loop. And of course, the devil knows this weakness. But so too does much of the media and advertising industry! 

For example, it only takes an off the cuff suggestion, someone thinking out loud or a private thought being captured and drawn out into the public to be the captured, lifted out of context and then weaved into a completely different narrative to be used to back you into a corner, to send shockwaves through the public arena, or even to be used in evidence against you. It happened to Christ by His accusers. It happens also to clergy and it also happens often to parents by their children. Of course, prudence always suggests that what we think inside the complexity of our minds should oftentimes remain there or be patiently tested by the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. 

But in the world of the power of the 30 second soundbite, the one line headline, the instant text message, or the carefully edited dialogue, it’s not surprising that the devil likes to hide in the details knowing that the majority of rational thinking people lose patience and attention rather quickly and seldom read the fine print. (To prove my point, I suspect many who had begun reading this email have already wandered off the page without getting to this sentence. If you have, well done!)

Loving God with all your mind, demands that we discipline and train our thoughts and thinking in the same way we might discipline and exercise the body, our impulses and our life of prayer. Love and sacrifice go together, and to love God with all our mind demands sacrificing the temptation to make quick judgements one way or another out of fear or pride. G. K. Chesterton viewed madness as a mental fixation with one thing in the mind that, without rest or escape, like a circle, it goes round and round and round and round and...

Only the eternal Mind of God who so loved the world and wants all people to be saved through the Body and Soul of Christ, understands His own unchangeable plan of salvation and how it will play out in time. None of us can understand the mind of God. But what we do know is, without changing His mind, God patiently takes into account our own weak minds, our loose tongues and our failures to think of the long term consequences of our words and actions at every level. 

It is well worth reflecting on how many times St. Peter opened his mouth and with conviction, if not impulsively, said what he was thinking when he should have just kept his mouth closed and his thoughts to himself. But maybe that why Christ was so fond of him, chose him as our first pope and built the Church, not on Peter’s words or thoughts, but on his Simple but solid faith - faith in the forgiveness of God and God’s unfathomable plan of salvation in time for the whole world. 

Keep this a little bit in mind. 

Oct 17, 2020

High Priest Lobbyist

Payment of Prayer

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the context of the First Reading (Isaiah 45:1,4-6) the People of Israel were exiled - far from home. They were persecuted, discriminated against and they were forced to lay low. However, the huge mechanism of the imperial state and government they found themselves living under, did not crush their souls. They prayed quietly for deliverance. And then it came as a surprise. 

The first reading from the Old Testament demonstrates that God can use whomever he pleases to be his instrument of salvation – even the pagan King Cyrus. God heard the prayers of His people. That is why it’s so important to pray for our legislators and those running for office that the unseen God will influence them in their conscience, and even surprise us even in office as the pagan King Cyrus did to the exiled Jewish People. 

But even when they returned home, the Jewish people would once again find  themselves once again exiled. This time in their own land that was controlled by the Roman Empire and its powerful military and propaganda machines. They was plenty of taxation, but with no representation, except by puppet kings and compromised religious leaders. 

Into this arena steps Jesus. He does not entertain the question of paying civil taxes. Instead asking for the Roman coin used by Jews to pay taxes, He looks at the image fashioned on the coin with the inscription around it. The Image would be that of the Roman Emperor and the inscription would be the name of Caesar followed by his imperial office - of High Priest. In other words, the emperor and his money are portrayed as the chief lobbyists of an untouchable pagan high priest. 

Christ simply says, not so. You can lobby and buy the emperor’s influence with money, but don’t dare to even think you can do the same with God. God has only one High Priest who lobbies for us, not with gold or silver, but with His Body and Blood, interceding for us before the throne of heaven. This is why the Eucharist is so crucial for us as Catholic Christians. 

Through the Holy Mass, what Christ our High Priest began in Calvary 2000 years ago, interceding for us from His Sacrificial offering on the Cross, Our High Priest, Risen from the dead, continues to do so on our behalf before the throne of our Heavenly Father. His wounds still speak of the sins of human injustice and cruelty, of humanity’s disregard for the most vulnerable, especially an innocent child waiting to be born. 

Christ’s words of intercession for us from the Cross when He lobbied His Heavenly Father on our behalf were “Forgive them, they know not what they do”. But today, we do know what we do, what we have done, what we have failed to do. Our hands are so often guilty of trading in the gold coins of bargaining and compromising.

As a people and as a nation, do we deserve to be forgiven of our sins, be they public or private, behind closed doors or pushed through the corridors of power?  How many times, did Christ warn us to repent and in doing so, to prepare ourselves for the Kingdom of God. 

That is why, it is so important that, before we approach Holy Communion with Christ our High Priest, we always examine our own conscience with humility and, like the thief who was caught with Caesar's money that did not belong to him, he hung on a cross beside Christ on Calvary and begged Our Lord to remember him, to intercede for Him.

Let us do the same, for ourselves, for our family and loved ones, and for our nation. 

Oct 10, 2020

Picking Wounds

Many people are not comfortable with this parable Jesus tells as recorded by Matthew 22.15-22. Especially if they actually listened to it and reflected upon it. Our own memories are not as good as those who first heard Jesus telling the parable (I would even challenge you to remember last week’s parable Jesus told us through the Gospel)!

Previously the Lord told us a parable about a landowner of a vineyard leasing his land out to tenants who end up killing his son who arrived on the scene to collect the harvest. It doesn’t take a scholar to figure out that Jesus was talking about himself and our own selfishness by robbing God of his rightful place after all he does for us. 

Now, Jesus tells us a parable about a king throwing a great wedding reception for his son, inviting us to it, but we’re not interested. He then invites public and notorious sinners, drop outs and anyone we have a tendency to marginalize or forget about. 

We can often be tempted to think of Jesus simply opening up the great hall for everyone to simply come and go - that God loves us just the way we are. The truth is he doesn’t. The only ones God loves just the way they are, are those who are with him in heaven. This is not heaven. Even though he still loves us, he doesn't love us as we are right now. 

When the sick came to him, Jesus did not say “You are fine, just the way you are”. He healed them.  When sinners and extortionists came to him, he did not say “You’re okay as you are”. His love met them where they were, but his love refused to leave them “as” they were. It’s a bit like being a parent. You love your children but you don’t want them to remain children or adolescents. Instead God wants us to learn that every action and moral choice we make, has consequences… consequences that and even ripple out affecting other people’s lives. 

Yes, we arrive at God’s open invitation banquet as sinners. And we are given an opportunity to wear a new type of garment. Think of it as bandages God can place carefully and tenderly around us, that promotes healing of mind, body and soul. The healing power of God’s mercy and forgiveness is that he wants to heal and restore us. And if we, likewise want that healing, you have to stop picking at your wounds. Unfortunately, some of us do exactly that, picking at our own wounds and not allowing them to heal. The worst is when such a person, in their own pain and anger, starts trying to pull the bandages off others. 

There is no place for recklessness at God’s wedding banquet, let alone, even secretly, or anywhere in our own lives. That is why some of us, even though we may go through all the motions, do not experience healing in our own lives - our pride gets in the way of having to wear a bandage over our wounds, even though the fabric has been woven out of God’s love and mercy!

Christ is the doctor of our bodies and souls. And as such, his love of you and me is clearly written out in the prescription of what we believe as proclaimed now in the Creed - the forgiveness of sins, our eventual resurrection from the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2020

Oct 3, 2020

Hedge Funds and Finds


27th Sunday in Ordinary Time:

Christ in this Gospel parable tells us that our heavenly Father planted a vineyard, set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. When you think of it, it sounds like a beautiful resort (or like one of those many wineries we have nearby in Temecula!)

We arrive at this carefully designed vineyard, and there is really not much hard work for us to do.  The scene is set – everything is in place (c.f. St. John Chrysostom Homily 68.1).  We are entrusted with its upkeep but most importantly, to ensure that it is productive and that the produce is not simply stored in warehouses, but is sent out from here as nourishment for the world.  

There is, in Christ’s parable, a message for us too, even though we remain outside celebrating Mass in the piazza. We are all grateful to the many who contributed funds for our new worship environment. Thanks to a “hedge fund” are now outside under a beautiful shaded area, surrounded by olive trees and the natural backdrop of Californian coyote brush and chaparral. But the parish church is not a resort, a spiritual health spa or a one-stop sacramental snack bar! There is no product sampling here. God does not ask us to operate our parish like a theme park or watch over it like museum caretakers. Our Sunday Mass is not a spectator sports event.

Instead, God's grace continually flows out from the Sacraments we celebrate here. The explosion of new life at every baptism should always spill over into the everyday lives and responsibilities of parents, godparents and all of family life. When every confession is heard and God's forgiveness assured, mercy and peace should influence all our future choices and relationships. When a man and woman vow their lives to each other before the altar in marriage it can not be simply captured and confined to a photograph in church - the sacred vows bear fruit when children are born and nurtured in homes and neighborhoods building up our communities. 

And our celebration of Sunday Mass - this banquet feast between heaven and earth is not a quick fix for a hungry soul. Christ's heavenly Body and Blood is strength and food for our journey throughout the week, bringing our Lord's life and ministry into our streets and neighborhoods where countless people still wait for Him. So how can we not keep what happens here a best kept secret when God wants us to collaborate in His urgent work to extend the fruits of His grace from here and into every aspect of our daily lives - into the whole world.  

Our parish campus has to provide at best an initial glimpse of heaven, an encouragement of the plan God has for our homes, our workplaces, our gardens and city - "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". In other words, everything that happens here, must happen out there too, or we shortchange God, and ourselves too.

This month of October, dedicated to the Rosary, invites us to enter into the memories of Our Blessed Mother Mary. She didn't simply give birth to Christ and then send Him out to save the world, while she stayed at home.  When Christ traveled the streets and roads, she was not far behind.  When He was out of sight, she went looking for Him. When He went to the Cross, she pushed through the crowds.

Even though we may have to maintain physical distance from each other, we can never be socially distant. That is not our nature. Nor was it or is it Christ’s. He may wear a mask, disguising Himself as often did while touring His harvest. May every day of our working week produce an abundant harvest for the Lord so that when we return here next Sunday, we will have much to celebrate and offer to God in thanksgiving for the good things He has done.

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...