Feb 26, 2022

Battles Ahead

 


Sunday before Ash Wednesday


In a few days time, the church will embark on a journey, a difficult one. Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent is at the gates. Dare I say we will be entering a war zone - physically (as we have to prepare and discipline our bodies) and spiritually (as we have to strengthen and purify our souls). 


Ever conscious of the conflict we see played out in the Ukraine and in solitarily with all our Christian brothers forced to enter into a war or to flee from violence, we have to prepare ourselves to enter into the battlefield, or protect ourselves from harm.  The next 40 days and 40 nights will, in a way, displace us. We are to be brought to the front lines between Heaven and earth. Our mission is to get to the Holy City of Jerusalem and there find peace of body and soul. 


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.  


Like refugees, 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 song of the resurrection.  


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 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 to your heart's desire - to stand at the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem and rejoice in the victory of Christ.

Feb 23, 2022

An Appealing Shepherd

 


Annual Catholic Appeal 2022


This weekend, in every Catholic parish throughout San Diego and the Imperial Valley, every pastor is preaching about the Annual Catholic Appeal. It’s a yearly opportunity, just before Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent, to ready ourselves, to prime our body and soul, like Christ’s, as he appealed to us in the Gospel we just heard, to “give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.”  


It’s not easy to do that. It wasn’t easy for Christ. But what a gift of his Body and Blood he gives to us in the Eucharist. It has the power to change our own body and blood to be as generous to others as he is to us. So let’s take a look at the state of our own body and blood!

Do you ever notice that the older you get, the more you seem to spend on trying to keep yourself young or younger? As the body does get older, there are more trips to the doctor, the dentist, the dermatologist. Our bodies seem to need more maintenance as the day goes on.  

The Church is also a “body”.  Not a corporate body in the business way, or even a church body in a denominational sense.  But a true body. A body that is as young and tender as a baby of Bethlehem, a body that is as resilient and as resourceful as a young carpenter from Nazareth, a body that is as strong and as energetic as a traveling preacher of Nazareth who walked the hills of Judea (and walked on the waters of Galilee). A body that allowed children to climb upon it, a body that embraced the sick and the dying, a body strong enough to endure hardship, violence and brutality.  A body tough enough to carry on its back the full weight of the cross.  A body that died and rose from the grave, gloried, powerful, miraculous.  And it is this body and can still be effective today as it was two thousand years ago.  


Let me give you an interesting statistic.  How many people did Christ minister to while He walked among us two thousand years ago - what was the population of the Holy Land during his day? Just over three million people.  How many people live in what we might call the present day ‘Holy Land” of San Diego county.  Just over three million - the same number of people live in San Diego County today that lived in the Holy Land where Christ walked the roads and preached on the streets. And we include Imperial Valley County - our own road to Jericho.


Where is the Body of Christ in our day, healing, preaching, reaching out in mercy to sinners, to believers, to those in prison, to those thirsty for truth and justice?  Where do we see Christ forgiving sins, bandaging wounds, offering the sacrifice of His Body and Blood to a local population of 3 million souls from every walk of life? Christ continues to preach, teach and perform miracles, through our 99 Catholic parishes, our Catholic schools, our ministries throughout the county to those in jail, on the streets and in need of modern day good samaritans.  


We are the members, we make up, build up his body.  That is why every year, we make this appeal. First, that we see the big picture - the immense challenges of bringing the gospel message to millions in our own local area.  And we are doing that. After Mass, you will be given a little brochure that gives you, like a photo snapshot, of what is already being done locally by the Church in the name of Christ.  


Second, Christ relied on the generosity and sacrifices of others - his disciples -for us to help him extend his healing and saving reach. My support and your support of this special yearly appeal, helps to keep the Church, Christ’s Body, His life and his message and mission, alive.  


We invest in our own body to get us through the day. Let’s invest in Christ’s body, His Holy Church, to strengthen, not just our own, but the bodies and souls of all the three and a half million people who live in the San Diego and Imperial valley counties.


So do not be afraid to respond. Christ tells us in the Gospel this Sunday, “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” 


How? Christ gave every bit of himself to us on the cross. Because of his generous sacrifice what measure did he receive back his Heavenly Father, but a new body, a resurrected body, a glorified body, forever young that lives forever. We all want to live forever. Be generous like Christ and we too will receive that reward. 


(After each Mass you’ll receive a free copy of The Art of Living. It’s good preparation for Lent. As a bookmark, I’ve place the Annual Catholic Appeal envelope inside each book!)







Feb 15, 2022

Hang in there!




Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time: the Beatitudes

“How are you?”  We often say it as a formality when we meet someone. There are various responses, “I’m fine, thank you”, “I’m doing good” or, the slightly nuanced reply, “Not bad!” (Ask an Irishman, he might respond, “I’m fair to middling!” Ask an Englishman, he might simply reply, “Marvelous!”)

Did you ever wonder that God does not ask us that question? Instead, He doesn’t ask us how we are doing. You know as well as I do that our responses different, depending on when we are asked – It sometimes depends even on the time of day! So instead God does not ask us how we are doing. He tells us in no uncertain language what we are. Because it is “what” we are, as determined by God (not by the world), that will carry us through every event of life. 


God asks, what are you? I might respond, “I am poor. I’m having trouble making ends meet”. God will say, “Yes, I know you are poor. And you may find yourself like this for the rest of your life, but you are blessed!”


God asks, what are you? I might respond, “I feel empty, a void within me. It’s like whatever I do, just doesn’t fulfill me”. God will say, “yes, I know you are hungry. And you may have to carry hunger within you for a long time. But you are blessed!”


God askes, what are you? I might respond, “I am sad. I have just lost someone dear to me. I have lost my job, I’ve lost something very precious to me. I’m filled with sadness that I just cannot get rid of”. God will say, “yes, I know you are sad. And you may have to carry this sadness for a long time. But you are blessed!”


God askes, what are you? I might respond, “I am angry because of the injustice I see around me, the prejudice I experience, the suspicions and hatred from others I constantly face”. God will say, “I know. And I know you might have to secretly fight with demons every day and you are exhausted, and it seems to never end. But you are blessed”. 


“But, hold on a minute,” I say. “Just because I am blessed doesn’t solve my situation”. “You are right”, God might say. If you are poor, then you do not have to be greedy. And woe to them who are.  If you are sad, then you do not have to be proud, and woe to those who are. If you are angry, you don’t have to take it out on others, or yourself. And woe to those who do so. 


The reason God allows us to experience poverty, sadness and even hostility is that we will look, not to the world or simple natural solutions to solve our circumstances. He wants us to look to Him, and to know that He sees through all quick fixes that come and go. Our heavenly Father is jealously protective of me and you. We belong to Him and He to us. But we can not experience that communion, that sacred blessed bond with Him, except, literally, through Christ. 


Christ was not crucified on His own Cross. It was ours. He experienced and accepted poverty, our poverty. His sadness and tears were not His own, but ours. The injustice He faced and fought against, is common to us all. If we stand united with Him, to be counted with Christ and bear His name as Christians, defined by the standard of His Cross and victory of His Resurrection from death and seated at the right hand of the Father, then our own poverty, our tears and the injustices we have to endure, are worth the prize of being blessed, not simply for a time, but now and forever in heaven. 


As our response to the psalm this Sunday was, let it always now be, despite it all, “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord”. Our hope, as is our perseverance, will see our reward. 

Feb 7, 2022

Humble Submission

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lk 5:1-11



Christians we should not be afraid of the water. After all, we swam around in it for the first nine months of our existence! And for most of us, not long after we emerged into the world and we were dried off, into the waters of the baptism font we were plunged! 


It should be second nature to us. In fact, our bodies are nearly 70 percent water!  So what stops us when we are told by Christ to go out into the deep waters? It’s probably because we instinctively want to keep our head above the water. The sea is temperamental. She can be charming and peaceful one minute, and drag you down in the next. She keeps her secrets. But remember, Christ can walk on the water. As long as we keep Him always in view and carefully follow His commands, we should not be afraid to venture out into the unknown - the mission territory beyond our comfort zone. 


St. Peter the fisherman is the case in point.  He was reluctant to change his ways. He had a system of fishing that was, for him, predictable and well rehearsed.  But according to his record in the Scriptures, he was not a very good fisherman. It was Christ Himself who did all the fishing for him! 


Peter the fisherman probably saw himself as an expert, a professional . Maybe, by agreeing to go out into the waters in the middle of the day when the fish of the lake were hiding from the sun - maybe Peter was trying to “rub Christ’s nose in it”, embarrass the Lord. But underneath his rough exterior, whether he realized it or not, Peter allowed the voice of Christ to penetrate his heart and soul, rather than his head. Against his natural instincts Peter, albeit reluctantly, obeyed the voice of the Lord, even though for him, it did not make sense.



Peter learnt the hard way. He made a journey from pride to humility. After the great catch of fish, he was now on the hook! In that crushing moment, he submitted to the power of God. And it was overwhelming. 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, not to be afraid - that Christ, who sees into the depths, who knows what lays beyond the horizon, will never abandon us.


To always heed the Lord’s command, even though we do not understand it completely or it goes against our natural instinct takes courage, trust and humility. 


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 depths of the 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 into the darkest, deepest, 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 Presence waiting for us in the Eucharist.

Stain Removal

How do you keep your whites white? This portion of the Gospel we have listened to begins with the departure of Judas from the Upper Room and...