Jul 31, 2021

Tasting Heaven




“You should put away the old self of your former way of life…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” (Cf. Sunday’s second reading: Ephesians 4:17, 20–24). 

That’s what God's Word is demanding of us today. It’s difficult to put away our old selves. Our minds hold so many memories of the past - past loves, past hurts, past joys and past sufferings. When we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, or when we feel threatened or afraid, or cannot see a clear path ahead, consider the first lines from the First Reading we heard: 


“The whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our [BBQs] and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!”


It often takes a rude awakening for us to realise, if we are truthful, that we have often misplaced our hunger for God, with a false god or a false memory (cf. again the Hebrews thinking of the food of Egypt and forgetting that they were slaves!). 


Last week I reflected on the virtue of hope. But it also takes another virtue, that of humility, to approach Christ with trust, admitting in truth that we have often hungered not for Him, but for passing things. But this, admittedly, is easier said than done.


So, in a world so much saturated with the dripping fat of the most flavorful delights to our appetites and cravings, with billions of dollars pumped into thirty second advertising designed to unlock the basement of our natural cravings, how do we cultivate an appetite for Christ the Bread of Eternal Life?


And when you think of it. How does bread, in all its simplicity, compete with, for example, cake with all its trimming, additives and artificial coloring that tantalizes our senses?  We profess that we believe in things visible and invisible, but yet it is the visible things that attract us more so than what we cannot see or feel. 


When Christ calls himself the Bread of Life, it seems quite philosophical and academic - not as exciting as a choir singing Eagles Wings or You Raise me Up, and you get an instant emotional response. 


So how do we, with God’s grace, develop and cultivate an appetite, a hunger that seeks union with God, Communion with Christ. 


A few things come to mind. 


First, it is important to instill in our children at an early age, a good habit of prayer.  Every child should be able to recite, at least the Our Father and the Hail Mary. Why? Equipped with at least the memory of these heavenly words, when they get older and are tempted to despair or give up, these words, given to us by Christ Himself to pray, and the words spoken to Mary by an angel, can often direct our attention heavenward. That simple redirection of our focus in times of difficulty is oftentimes the “wetting of our appetites” for the enduring food of heaven.


Second. Pleasure is not a bad word. In its purest form, it evokes joy. It is important that we foster innocent and pure delights. For example, God has filled his world with so many natural wonders, miracles of nature that can not be captured in a youtube video or instagram. When was the last time you gazed with wonderment above you at the stars of heaven in the night sky, the miracle of a newborn life, the beautiful complexity of colors captured in a setting sun or the carefully blended flavours of true neapolitan ice cream?


Therefore foster innocent and pure delights like these. If you do not, then later, impure delights and immoral pleasures easily rush in to play with the mind - like cheese to a mouse who can not see the mousetrap because he is distracted by his own neediness. 


When, with the help of God and with all our strength, we are able to push aside all the false pleasures, fast food solutions and distractions, then our soul’s desire will be free to seek the invisible Christ, and the joy of simple and pure satisfaction of tasting the Bread of Eternal Life.  That is not simply the fulfillment of hope. That’s pure satisfaction. In this Eucharist, we get a little taste of that heaven, which is Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jul 25, 2021

Expectations and Hope


This weekend, having listened to God’s Word I want us to now reflect on expectations, and on the virtue of hope. 


Consider the miracles performed by the Prophet Elisha in the Old Testament reading and by Christ in the New Testament. They were not magical events or quick solutions to bring the people to a standing ovation, to get an applause, or to gain popularity, or even to distract them from the hard realities of life.


A miracle is a sign that, in a particular place, at a particular time, heaven and earth become fused together - in other words, the Kingdom of God is visibly recognized through a particular event. For example, in this Holy Mass, a miracle will take place. That is what I expect. My hope brings me to this altar every day with this expectation. 


So what were the hopes and expectations of those who encountered the holy prophets and even Christ himself?


Whereas in the Old Testament the prophet Elisha was expected to be a man of God and to speak on behalf of God, in the New Testament, Our Heavenly Father hopes that Jesus will to be recognized as his Son, and that His words and actions will demonstrate the He is the actual embodiment of God with us. 


But unfortunately, the people we meet in the scriptures treat Jesus as just another prophet, a holy man like the prophets of old who could also feed multitudes with a few loaves of bread. Yes, they get fed by Christ, but they don't really know who He is. They hope He will simply feed them when they get hungry. In fact, the people want to make Christ King hoping that He will be their bread dispenser at the press of a button!


There is a big difference between the virtue of hope, and neediness.  Hope encourages us, despite our weaknesses, disappointments, hardships and battles, hope, infused with God’s grace, encourages us to keep on going even when we are hungry. It’s not a quick fix. 


But can hope go wrong? Of course it can. How?

1.  When we hope for immediate results. Christian hope has as its goal, to arrive at a point when someday we will possess God completely.  Our weaknesses and our sinfulness will often have us lower that goal. Instead of pointing us toward God we convince ourselves that it’s best to settle for immediate goals such as what I want right now. 


2. Then there is misguided hope. When our hope becomes less than God, we can open ourselves up to unnecessary hurt and disappointments. We quickly find out, that despite appearances, that those around us are not perfect, and those around us, can not give us lasting happiness.  Someone might have a misguided hope of what a relationship might produce.  Or when we place all our hope in the wrong thing, or the wrong person, easily we can become bored, angry, disappointed. 


3.  Then there is false hope. We may have high expectations of others. But when we start placing all our hopes in each other, it’s easy to feed off each other to make ourselves feel good. We might do the same with other things. No, God alone wants to feed us, loves us, not because we are good or do great things.  He loves and feeds us because HE is good. He is and always is a good God : ) The gods of this world do not keep their promises. God does, because He alone is complete and satisfying goodness.  


So how do we rediscover that deep, deep hunger, our soul’s thirst for God that no earthly bread can satisfy? 


First, ponder this - if God’s love for me knows no limit, then my hope in God can never be only to a certain point. He will always exceed our greatest hope.  

That’s the sadness of the Gospel today - that the people could only see Jesus as a breadwinner and not much more. 


We must be determined to go deeper and never let the thick paint of pride gloss over even our faults, our vulnerabilities or our weakness or even the memories of our sins.  Instead of allowing them to disturb us, they can allow us to show God, not only how much we need him, but that we instead have confidence in His great love and mercy that goes beyond even our greatest hopes and expectations. “The hand of the Lord feeds us. He answers all our needs”. 

Jul 17, 2021

Desert Detour


After the apostles returned to him after their first missionary journey, we might think that Jesus was happy for their successes and accomplishments. Notice that first line. "The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all that they had done and taught".


Think about it. Even though they were excited to have had the chance to engage in their ministries and apostolic works, the disciples' “missionary work” took place without Jesus.


At that time, they did not fully understand the true nature of Jesus, that He was truly God present with them. They first engaged in their work of ministry without Our Lord accompanying them. They came back to Him, no doubt all excited about what they had achieved. You would expect that Our Lord would have welcomed them back and celebrated their successes with at least a meal, a pat on the back, given them badges or special titles. But no. Instead, of all places, He takes them into the desert, into a wilderness to be alone with Him and Him only. 


We have to do the same. Christ wants to take us into a desert to be alone with Him. Just when we want to begin all our ministries and parish events, into the desert we go with Christ the Good Shepherd - into a place of quietness, without noise, distraction, chattering, where there is no signal on your cell phone and all is still.


We are not used to being taken by Christ into a desert, especially when we are eager to get back to things we used to do. But why does He bring us into the desert, after we have been doing so many good things? 


Simply, so that we can first build up a close, and personal, face to face relationship with Him, with our Lord, in His Presence, away from the music of the world, away from the noise of the city, away from the pestering demands of daily life. 


In short, before we engage in any sort of mission, ministry or apostolic work, Our Lord calls us to retreat - to first enter into His presence only. Without this, we will just be blowing bubbles and the wind will take them in whatever direction it blows.


It is therefore timely that during the week I received a direction from the bishop in the form of a three page letter. In fact every pastor of every parish in San Diego received it. The bishop laments the findings that many Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Our Lord. 


This is seen particularly in how we regard the Blessed Sacrament, when we ignore Our Lord’s Real and True Presence before the tabernacle, within the Mass and especially, that, regretfully, many Catholics approach Holy Communion, without prayerful reflection that they are actually, spiritually and physically entering into Holy Communion with the Body, Blood, the soul and the divinity of Christ Himself - not in any symbolic or figurative way, but an encounter with the Resurrected and Glorified Christ, on earth as He is in Heaven. 


The Bishop is asking all the pastors to set the groundwork for a major renewal of our Faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. 


Not only will this involve a better and clearer understanding of Christ’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, but it has everything to do with how we approach our surroundings when we enter this space, a place that is made sacred first and foremost by the real presence of Christ who 


first waits for us at the doors of the tabernacle, 

and after we hear the echo of His words through the Gospel, 

He literally draws us into His presence through the His eternal Sacrifice at the Altar 

and then invites His chosen ones into Holy Communion with His very self. 


To set the groundwork for this renewal of our focus on Christ’s Real Presence, I once again follow the example of Our Lord in the Gospel. 


The Good Shepherd takes His disciples away from their present engagements and brings them first, back into His Real Presence in a setting that is conducive to them focusing first all their attention, devotion, and prayer centered on Him - not on each other, not the world outside. 


To that end, we are entering into the sacred place of a desert with Christ. That’s why, you will notice a certain and necessary quietness now during the Mass, a different rhythm and pace. This will help us, as the bishop’s letter to the pastors allows us, to look out for any tell-tale signs that we might have lost sight or are easily distracted away from the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, especially here in this place made sacred by Our Lord waiting to engage with you or me. 


For that reason I sat down with the senior cantor and we had a very fruitful two hour discussion about how even the selection of hymns and music can help us rediscover and appreciate the gentle and real presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Mass. 


During the week, I’ll be meeting with some of the altar servers. We will reflect on how the actions and movements within the very sanctuary itself can also help better communicate the sacred Presence of Christ as He draws us into own prayer to His Heavenly Father through the Mass. 


And I’ll be meeting sometime soon with the lectors to offer some practical suggestions as to how to communicate without distraction, and even in the midst of distractions, God’s Word that we must carefully listen to and reflect upon. 


I know too that our parish has had an Adoration chapel for a long time. But we all must first learn how to adore the Blessed Sacrament first and foremost here in this place, if Our Lord is to extend His presence out from His sanctuary. There can be no Eucharistic ministry to the sick and homebound without first adoration of the Blessed Sacrament before the Tabernacle itself, where Holy Communion is reserved first and foremost for the sick.


All of this is not on our own terms. Listen to the Gospel again. Christ took His disciples into the desert after all their activity in their various ministries. Do you think they wanted to go into a quiet place, into a wilderness? Probably not. 


But Christ did, so that their focus would be, not on their own wants or activities, but on His Real Presence first and foremost. That is where we are now. That is we're going, whether we like it or not. We are going into a retreat formation, where the Good Shepherd will lead us, showing us His presence more intensely, and allowing us to know and love Him more deeply, up close and personal. 


“The bread of life is most valued not by the idle, or those who live in crowded cities surrounding themselves with the honors of the world. It is rather most cherished by those who seek Christ in the stillness of the desert.” (Jerome: Homily on the Song of Songs)


16th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

Jul 11, 2021

One Step and Carry a Stick



Step One


I've now been at St. Therese Parish for around 10 days as pastor, and I’m still getting to know the lay of the land. 


Last week, I had mentioned that first and foremost, I’m beginning my ministry at the place I am most familiar with and for what I was ordained to do. As a priest, my familiar territory is the altar, the Holy Mass and especially the sacraments of confession and anointing of the sick.


As I explained to the parish staff, and as some are getting to know, I admit that I am not a multitasker. I take one step at a time. 


For me, it’s like crossing a river using stepping stones. One little step at a time, but being careful where I am putting my foot, gently testing each stone to find out if it is secure, can it take my weight, do I need to replace one of the stones, or maybe, if I can’t, do I dare jump over one to land on another? And if I do so, will it be strong and secure enough or will I lose my balance and fall in. Slow and steady wins the race. One step at a time.


And that is why I take great encouragement from the Gospel we have listened to. When the Lord summoned the Twelve Apostles, the first priests and pastors of the Church, the first thing He gave them was authority over unclean spirits who want us to lose our balance.


An unclean spirit has its origin from the devil, who seldom likes to get his own hands dirty but who often prefers to create an unhealthy environment in which the germs and virus of sin and division can slowly build up over time. 


We can continually wash ourselves of our sins through the sacrament of confession, but don’t let it be like a hand sanitizer. But there is always a need for a deep cleansing of our souls and the environment around us, so that the unclean spirits can not find a home or a breeding ground in a dark place. That is why, the first thing the apostles were instructed to do, was to drive out the demons into the light and bring healing to wounded souls. 


Our Lord instructed the Apostles to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick— no food, no luggage, no money. Go back to that image of the stepping stones. If I try to cross to the other side on my first attempt carrying all my provisions, not knowing what I’m stepping on I risk losing my balance and everything in my pockets and backpack is ruined. 


But a walking stick will be helpful. It will help me keep my balance and I can use it to test the next stepping stone to see if it is secure enough for me to put my foot on it firmly and securely. But again, I have to be careful. Some of the stones across the river might be sharp or jagged.  I don’t want to step on them with my bare feet. So I’m grateful the Lord instructed His Apostles to wear sandals!


It’s a reminder to us all, that when we presume there is stability and when everything looks fine, be it regarding our spiritual or physical health, our families, community, parish and Church, even our nation, all it takes is one simple slip or a flash-flood, and everything goes downstream with disastrous consequences.


And we have been through, even literally, one hell of a storm this past year. Not only have many of our well tested stepping stones from one side to another been dislodged, bridges that had once allowed a movement of people, ministries and communities to interact with each other, have also been affected by “unclean spirits” that has plagued us in many ways, messed with us, particularly our minds.


That’s why, I am very conscious of my role as a “bridge builder”. During my first week here, I have made myself available to you after Mass. I have met individually with the parish staff, I have met the parishioners who had served on the parish council, those who had served on the parish finance council, I have sat down with the parish school principal, and met with the parish Knights of Columbus. I have talked with many of you who have been engaged in so many parish ministries in the past. I have also toured the local parks and neighborhoods and interacted with the locals. So as the bridge builder, figuring out how to join all the dots together like stepping stones, or a flow chart, will demand time and patience if I’m to guide the parish in the right direction. 


Notice from the Gospel, Our Lord didn’t send everyone at one time out on their mission. He sent out His Apostles first, to explore the way forward, almost like a reconnaissance mission, maybe in the same way, while preparing to enter into the Promised Land, Moses sent out scouts to find the best way to get there, survey the land, and prepare the people to eventually take ownership of this new land when they arrived. 


We are not yet there. So, back to those stepping stones. Allow me to test them out, step by step. Maybe some of them will have to be replaced, or repositioned, or maybe the river has changed its course and we have to seek a new way to cross from one side to another. 


But with Christ as the sure and steady foundation stone, His blessed mother to hold our hand, and St. Therese to show us her “little and simple way”, I have faith and confidence. But I pray for courage. One step at a time, or as the old song goes, “one day at a time, sweet Jesus”. 


15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jul 5, 2021

New Mission Territory for St. Therese

 


Maybe by my accent, you can tell that I have come to you from a far away place! That faraway place is Oceanside!!!


After serving 20 years as the pastor there, at St. Margaret’s Parish, near Mission San Luis Rey, I travelled down El Camino Real, swung by Mission San Diego and arrived here on July 1st, the feast day of St. Junipero Serra, the great missionary of these parts. 


His ancient footprints are everywhere around here. Except, Lake Murray. That was named after an Irishman!


I’m not going to tell you about myself too much. There is an “interesting” write up about me in the Sunday bulletin, color photographs included. After reading it, I don’t know if you’d be impressed, or terrified!


But it’s not about me. Even though the title of the article introduces me as the “new pastor and servant” (and of course I am), the most important description has to be also written in, and with blood. 


It is the word “priest”. Fundamentally, that’s not just what I am, it’s who I am for you. Pastors come and go, but there will always be a priest. 


Yes, I am grateful that you pray for your priests. But more importantly, as your pastor, but especially as your priest, I give you my assurance that as your Shepherd I will lay down my life for you, and take your prayers, your joys and sorrows, your hopes and your fears and offer them to our Heavenly Father on your behalf, at this altar of sacrifice. 


That’s why, every priest must make the words of the Mass, Christ’s words, and make them his own: “This is my body given for you. This is my blood poured out for you.” 


Whether you realize it or not, or regardless if you consider yourself worthy or not, you are worth the sacrifice, not only Christ’s, but also my own. And I pray that God will give me the strength and the courage to do so. 


To that end, I am very grateful to my brother priests here in the parish who have joined me for Mass. To Father Bill, the elder statesman, who wears his beard well, so full of wisdom and insight. I am not there yet. 


And to Father Lenin for his kindness and hospitality. I have taken comfort in his gentle and happy spirit (Smoother than any Jameson!)


And what is a Shepherd without a faithful sheepdog (man’s best friend), to round up the flock and to “go, get this or go do that”? Deacon Jeff. Thank you. Know that you’re going to be put to work, and for that I am grateful. 


And of course, the Sisters have been an institution here for so long, giving witness through their consecration as spiritual mothers with tender hearts to all in need - the picture of a work of love. 


Yes, I know that there is much work to be done. Particularly, healing. We have all been through an incredibly difficult year and I know that many are anxious to get back to the way parish life was before. But a word of caution. 


Something I will never forget. 20 years ago, in 2001 when I first arrived at my previous parish in Oceanside, I arrived with all the zeal of a new pastor ready to do this and do that. 


But after a few months, something happened that changed everything, everyone, relationships, even ministries. That was 911. And as a pastor of a church that served many US Marines, veterans and their families, the whole parish and all our ways of doing things had to change, and it did, overnight. Why? 


Because we had changed, our whole way of life, our relationships, even our parish as we knew it changed in a heartbeat and we had to redraw the map. 


Now, what we have all been through this past year, I liken it to a 911 in slow motion. 


There is always that muscle memory, wanting to go back to the way we did things in the past (almost like complaining to Moses, that we want to go back to Egypt). There can not be any going back. 


Whether we know it or not, we have changed, and our way of doing things, whether we like it or not, will change. This is missionary territory once again. We are entering into a new world, new relationships, a new way of being a parish, a church and a community. 


That’s why my duty as your pastor is, first and foremost, to lead you to heaven, even if I have to pull you through the narrow gate kicking and screaming. 


That means, I am under a solemn obligation to protect you, even at the cost of my own life, which I pledge to you today. Yes, we all will have to get used to a changed world and sacrifices, myself included. It will not be easy, and it’s not meant to be. But that’s married life. And what are the three rings - the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the suffering!


We have been through it all, this past year. And I am very conscious that, although there is much excitement being back inside the church, there is also the need to keep this simple and slowly build ourselves up again from ground zero. That will allow me to particularly reach out tenderly to the sick, the elderly who are homebound, the neglected or those afraid. A good shepherd cannot ignore the most vulnerable members of his flock, wherever they are. 


So finally, how do I intend to do this as your pastor, your parish priest? 


In preparation for my being here, I started a novena to St. Therese. And I think she has provided me with the answer - it’s her little way and the little crosses and roses here and there, that we will all have to pick up and learn to love, with simplicity and gentleness. 


But we can’t do that, without prayer. We all desperately need, myself included, a quiet place, a sacred place, far removed from all the storms and craziness of this turbulent world we live in. 


And that starts here, at this altar and from no other place. It doesn’t start with programs or ministries, or from the parish office, the social center or the school. It begins here at the altar of sacrifice. For there is only one thing in this parish that will not and cannot change. And that is Christ himself. He alone is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow.  He alone is the one and only cornerstone we must depend on. 


Pray that I, as his priest, will imitate him as a good Shepherd and willing, never reluctantly, lay down my life for the flock entrusted to me, this day and for as long as it takes. So I have said it, and I will remind you again and again and again, “The Lord be with you.”


Father Cávana Wallace

Pastor

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Diocesan Homily and Resources on the Eucharist Sunday Eucharistic Themes to keep in mind to apply to one’s life: He took (choose), blessed, ...