Mar 31, 2022

Two Brothers

Fourth Sunday of Lent: Luke 15: 11-24



In the distant past commentators on this parable tried to speculate about who the younger son and the older son were. Different scenarios were proposed. The older son could have represented the chosen people -the younger son, the Gentiles. However, the more we reflect on this parable we will come to recognize that Jesus is speaking to us directly, to you and to me.


The younger son we can identify with. It is when we think that the grass is always greener on the other side -- that in order to experience life we have to get away from it all, to enjoy the world. The younger son represents times in our lives when we have been reckless, impulsive with our sights set on unrealistic expectations and without reflection or appreciation for the blessings, gifts and even the securities that we already have, we have often taken for granted.


We can also identify with the older son. He is the one who is loyal, dependable and who carries out his duty. At first glance these seem to be commendable qualities. But then we discover that there is no love or affection in him for his younger brother. He shows himself to be resentful and angry. Even his relationship with his father seems lacking in warmth or affection.


As reckless as the younger son is by leaving the security of his home and family, he still remembers the love of his father. In getting ready to return he makes an examination of conscience which is born, not from a feeling of guilt, but by “coming to his senses”. Finally he can see his life and his relationships as they truly are. In this light he truly knows what he is lacking and in his moment of isolation and darkness, he is resolved to return home and work on his relationship with his father which he has in the past taken so much for granted.


Of course, this is a parable about you and me and our relationship with God, our heavenly Father. It tells our story of all the times we have been foolish and turned our back on the God who loves us. It demonstrates that we have so often sought the things of this world as a type of food to nourish our soul instead of the things of heaven. And even from the perspective of the older brother, we must reflect on how often we have hid behind the walls of duty and self-righteousness as a way to excuse arrogance, anger and pride.


Whether we identify with the younger son or the older son or both, what unites us is our common Father. Remarkably he welcomes back the one who wasted the gifts he was given. He also pleads for reconciliation between the siblings. But most importantly this loving father gives both his children the opportunity to join in a feast, a banquet in which the fattened calf, which represents Christ himself, has been sacrificed as the true food which alone can provide the people of God the true source of reconciliation and family unity.


We are not told if the two brothers ever reconciled, embraced and celebrated together the banquet meal prepared for them by their father. How the story will ultimately conclude could depend on each one of us.


Halfway through this holy season of Lent, there is still enough time to reflect on the direction of our lives, how we can easily drift away from God and the eternal securities he offers us. This season of Lent still provides us opportunities, even now, to conquer our pride allowing us to confess our sins, and be reconciled with our heavenly Father so that we can truly partake of this Holy Banquet in thanksgiving and rejoicing.





Mar 19, 2022

Painful Patience

 

Luke 13:1-9

Don’t get too used to Lent. Avoid the cruise control. That’s why the Church gives us this graphic gospel to jolt us into paying attention, to waken up, even to provoke us a bit, to sit up and take notice. 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.


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 always at our side. And regardless of the evil that exists in the world, we are asked to place our faith in Him, even though we do not understand His ways. Be patient with God. 


Yet at the same time, consider the patience of God with us. We can easily stray from His commandments. We can create a hostile environment for sin and error to take root. That did not prevent our Heavenly Father from sending us his Son. He has far more reasons not to come to our rescue than He has to do so.


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 God 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, its direction from, not just a big picture, but 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, the prophet found himself quickly out of his depth. This is not the 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 we will see face to face and on that day, all will be revealed, though Jesus Christ our Lord.


Third Sunday of Lent

Joseph of Nazareth

To the man whose words were never recorded in the Scriptures, the Church honors this year in particular the man Joseph, husband of Mary, foster father of Jesus and protector of the family of God.

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 pregnancy, her livelihood. 

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 for Mary and The young Jesus so that the young boy 
would grow to full physical maturity and strength to travel long distances and 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. One can magine the young boy Jesus running into the open arms of St. Joseph, calling him “father”. Is it any wonder the feast day of St. Joseph is the anniversary of many priest’s ordinations, for when the priest receives Holy Communion, like St. Joseph with the vocation of being a Father, Jesus will also rushes into the grasp of the hands of priests to embrace and then to share. 

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 he accepted the exile of Egypt not knowing for how long - he is a man of patience and perseverance. 

This was a man who could count twenty three kings of Israel as his ancestors, a man of noble blood but who was now content to be a commoner, mending broken tables, chairs and ploughs for a living – a humble man without ambition nor an agenda but to simply be faithful to God’s commands and 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 when the young Lord wandered off by Himself for , we never hear of St. Joseph again. 

But from his hiding place of heaven, peeking through the great cloud of witnesses, beside angels and saints, Joseph 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 12, 2022

New Lenses for Lent

Second Week of Lent

Just think of it, we spend so much time sanitizing our hands against a virus we cannot see, what could we be able to see if we could sanitize our eyes - sanitizing them from flat screens, smart phones, painted, dyed or digital colors?

There is one line from today’s opening prayer of the Mass for the Second Sunday of Lent, the Collect as we call it, that captures everything that we have just listened to in the Gospel. It reads, “With spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold your glory”.

What would we be able to see if our spiritual sight was pure? In the first reading, God even teases Abraham to look into the sky to see the stars and count every single one of them. Something impossible with natural sight. 

What would we be able to see with our actual eyes made pure by God. We would see the divine nature, unfiltered!

I reflect first on our Blessed Mother, Mary - Mary Most Pure. What did she see when she held her child Jesus for the first time and looked upon His little face? She could see in her plain sight, as clear as day, the glory of God shining through every fiber of His body. No one else could. But because her spiritual sight was pure, Mary always saw the glory of God in Christ. She always rejoiced. 

And even when Mary lost Him from her sight for three days, when she arrived at the temple she only had to scan the crowd of thousands and she could instantly see where the tiny figure of her Son was hiding. “There He is,” Mary would have said to Joseph pointing into the mass of people. “I see Him. There He is. There, in the middle of that crowd”. “I’m looking! But don’t see Him,” Joseph replies. “All I see is people. They all look the same!”. But Mary most Pure, was able to see and behold the one person alone who shone brightly with the glory of God. That’s probably why she, herself, went into the crowd of people and took the young Jesus by the hand, and brought Him home, not without a few words of her own!  

But, to everyone else, Christ appeared to them as just another man. When they looked at Him, some saw Him as a teacher, or a performer of miracles. Others, when they saw Him, only could see a Jewish rabbi with long hair and a beard, a good inspirational speaker, a great teller of stories, a wandering holy man. When Pontius Pilate looked at Him, all he could see was a criminal. Only with spiritual sight made pure, can anyone of us see the glory of God.

Interestingly, when the devils looked at Christ, because demons have also pure spiritual sight, they screamed in pain and agony!

But what about Peter, James and John we hear about in the Gospel, how were they able to see the glory of God shining through Christ’s body?

By themselves, they couldn’t. They had to be led up to that mountaintop by Jesus Himself. He gave them, and only for a little while, the gift of the spiritual purity of sight. In that moment, they were allowed to see what angels and heavenly beings could only see. Their reaction? They were dumbfounded, tongue tied, mesmerized. But, sadly, their eyesight would quickly return to its familiar way of seeing Jesus as they saw Him before - a Jewish rabbi, albeit one worthy of a monument with His name upon it.

The season of Lent that we have entered into offers us an opportunity to renew the purity of our sight, to help us see clearly where the glory of God is, and where He is not. 

The disciplines of Lent, especially Confession and almsgiving, if entered into with faith, can allow us, not only a new insight to ourselves and a new way of seeing those around us, but will help us to see God, with our very own eyes.

For many of us, we are blind to the glory of God, often because we are too busy looking at ourselves, more concerned about how we are seen by others, how we appear in public, wanting to be admired.  You can spend a lot of time, energy and money maintaining and polishing your own image, exaggerating your own importance and achievements, insisting on the best of everything to look good and be admired. But, what does this do? Instead of drawing others attention to the glory of God, I am drawing their attention, for whatever reason, to the glory of “me!”.  Then we are guilty of breaking the first commandment - “You shall not put other gods before Me, says the Lord.” 

And what is the first casualty of self-fixation? Relationships - blindness to the feelings and needs of those around you, a total lack of compassion.  

It happens to the clergy, when we want to be the center of attention, or praised for good works or insist on titles and privileges.

It happens between spouses and friends, when one makes no effort to share in the suffering or hardships of the other.

It happens in family life, when no one really talks to each other because everyone’s too busy working, studying, watching movies or updating their profiles.


It happens to even single people, when they try to get noticed by others or try to become invisible or not noticed.

This is why the practice of almsgiving is so important for the Christian. We do it, not to feel good about ourselves, or we are back to looking at ourselves in the mirror. No, we do it because we seek to see the glory of God, shining in our neighbor, the poor, the lonely, the forgotten, even the one who is suffering because they think that God is nowhere to be found in their life.

When St. Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, by Christ appearing to him transfigured in glory, he fell to the ground and became blind. On the third day, he was baptized and instantly regained his sight, but now with a clearer vision of what God was asking of him. 

Is that not where our journey to Easter also leads us? To the waters of baptism, renewed and cleansed every time we go to Confession. 

So that, as the opening prayer reminded us, “With spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold [God’s] glory”.

Mar 8, 2022

Holy & UnHoly Spirit

 

First Sunday of Lent

It is often said by people who do not want to go to Church, that they avoid it because it is full of hypocrites. There is some truth to this. The closer a Christian gets to the sacred, the more Satan will tempt them to sin and fall. And if they do so in daylight, it becomes a public scandal. The devil wins on two fronts. He has poisoned someone’s soul and shows them off like a scarecrow, to frighten away others from seeking God. Maybe this is you and me at times, even without knowing.

As Christians we must always expect to be tempted by the devil. And if we can see it coming, then we have a better chance to avoid the danger.


But notice what the Gospel says today. It was the Holy Spirit that led Jesus into the desert where Satan tempted him. If the Holy Spirit allows us to face temptation, God will be fighting along with us, in the battle. But if you run into the battlefield on your own initiative, thinking that you can fight an enemy who is hell-bent on destroying you, do not expect much help from God. Our Lord will not want to encourage any of us to be reckless.  Nor does He reward foolishness. No Christian should want to expose themselves to temptations. If the Holy Spirit leads us into the battlefield, then He will help us give the devil a bloody nose! 

And even if we manage to send the devil running, we must never let down our guard. It is often during times of peace that the enemy plots. For this reason as Christians we must guard our senses – what we look at, how our mind can wander, how we talk to our co-workers and react to the suggestions of others. That’s why it is so important to be accustomed to see ourselves in the light of God and not in our own light. Yes, everyday we should count our blessings. But we should also test the purity of our motives behind our everyday actions.

And finally prayer! If vigilance keeps us close to ourselves, prayer keeps us close to God. Memorize the words of prayers and learn the discipline of praying throughout the day. Pray before Mass asking the Holy Spirit to guide you through it. Pray the words of the Mass that you can read from the books in front of you. Pray afterwards in thanksgiving for the blessings received.


The discipline of continuous prayer and careful vigilance are the sharpened worktools we can use in our continuous spiritual battle with evil. The more we are strengthened in virtue, the more we will allow God to be given glory rather than the devil receiving it. 


With strong faith in Christ’s victory over the forces of darkness that have long plagued the world, let us pray that our own Christian witness, like our Blessed Mother Mary, will be authentic and credible. May this holy season of Lent provide each one of us the necessary training to accomplish this goal, through Christ our Lord.

Mar 5, 2022

I Confess


I having been hearing Confessions for 30 years. I have been regularly receiving this Sacrament myself since the age of 7. In the broad spectrum of Catholics, the sense I have is that many of us fall into two camps - 

1. Those who are too afraid, embarrassed, don’t know where to begin or dismissive of the need to go to Confession. 

2 Those who find themselves confessing the same sins again and again.

Wherever you find yourself on this spectrum let me be up front by first saying that the actual confessing of sins is the easiest part of this Sacrament. Any Catholic of the age of reason can confess, whether they are prepared or not, sincere or not, or even sorry or not. Whether the Sacrament will be effective, wasted or fruitful in one’s life depends on the active collaboration with God’s grace. That takes both faith and work.

And maybe that’s often where the difficulty usually is - not in the actual confessing of sins, but on our ability to use our God-given minds to reflect on our lives and to see our relationships objectively. And then doing something. 

Often we spend so much time reacting to, recovering from, or distracting ourselves from the demands or the responsibilities of the world we actually live in.  I suspect many people who have begun reading this, will not get to the broken line below.

Why? We increasingly rely on programs, apps, shows, websites, experts, commentators etc. (saints and sinners) to do all our thinking for us. It’s very easy to simply react or hide behind them. If we habitually do so, over time we stop doing our own thinking, or we get lost in an avalanche of thoughts coming from every direction at once. 

I have to be careful here by what I am now sharing. I do not want to force anyone to go to Confession or into making an Examination of their life. Nor do I want anyone to presume they need not to. Instead, all I can offer is an opportunity to stand back and, with fresh eyes, personally seek out the truth about yourself and the relationships you are engaged in and, without fear, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide one to gratitude and/or repentance and a necessary change in attitude and behavior afterwards.

As a pastor of souls, I suggest this examination exercise. Before you do so, you are going to have to do something courageous. Copy, paste and print out the following text and switch off all your electronic devices. If you are stuck using a smart phone, switch it to airplane mode and set your alarm or timer for 30 mins. If you can not do any of these, I suggest you stop reading now and make a commitment or reminder to do so when you are in fact ready. If you continue reading unprepared, or just out of curiosity, you will probably give up after the first short reflection or read it through and forget it afterwards!


———————————————————


Examination

Using God’s Ten Commandments as a guide, simply draw out their implications in your life and lifestyle. Think, reflect, ponder and see yourself in your relationships


1:  I am the LORD your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve. Do you give yourself a lot of attention, concerned about how you appear, what others think about you, wanting to be beyond criticism or praised? Do you live your life through your phone, your work, your children, finances, politics, your job, your personal interests, sports or cravings?


2.  You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. How do you use the name Jesus or Christ in conversations or your thoughts? When you say or hear His Name, does it lift your mind up to God, or does it simply pass without attention?


3.  Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day. What is your attitude to Sunday? Is it primarily a lazy day, only a free day to catch up on errands or family business? Do you make excuses not to attend church, or only attend church simply to be seen or meet with friends. Do you have anything in place that actively keeps Sunday holy unlike other days?


4. Honor your father and your mother. Do you give them at least respect and allow them to offer advice? Do you give them time, opportunities for visiting or pray for them by name? If they are in true need, do you try to help them as best you can? Do you see their value only in terms of their assets or their weaknesses?


5. You shall not kill. Have you deprived the defenseless, innocent and vulnerable of their life or potential livelihood - an unborn life, child, adult, the sick or elderly? Have you ignored the injustice of abortion or facilitated acceptance of this evil?


6.  You shall not commit adultery.  Have you remained faithful to your spouse in body and spirit, through your words and who or what you look at? Have you sinned against the Covenant of Holy Matrimony by sexual relationships outside of Marriage or are willingly accepting of non-biblical definitions of marriage? Have you entertained sexual feelings alone, anonymously, by seduction or manipulation?


7.  You shall not steal. Have you willfully taken something not belonging to you against the presumed wishes of someone else? Have you purposefully not given your employer the expected value of your work and time? Have you wasted time through laziness or invested your time in idle pursuits? 


8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Have you purposely lied, damaged the reputation or presumed the guilt of someone else? Have you hidden behind an online profile, a position or manipulated circumstances to serve your own needs? Are you quick to make rash judgements?


9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse. Have you allowed your thoughts, actions or habits to look at another person, real or imaginary with lust or obsession? Have you acted out of jealousy or envy to damage someone else’s relationships? Have you ignored or taken for granted your own responsibilities to a spouse, family or friends?


10.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.  Do you actively appreciate and care for the things you own? Do you spend a lot of time shopping, browsing, imagining having items you can truly live without? Do you harbor resentment for the apparent success of others? Are you selfish with your time, resources and blessings?


Now what? 


A. Repent and Believe in God’s Forgiveness and seek to be assured of this personally through the Sacrament of Confession.

B. Stay as you are and accept the consequences that God has promised.

Mar 2, 2022

Ashes to Ashes - Dust to Dust

Ashes stand for the dust of the earth into which, because of the sin of Adam, we must all return. Regardless of our looks, securities or what we might hold onto for life, this dusty ash reminds us that everything, because of the virus of sin in our own lives and its effect on creation, all things ultimately turn to dust. Even the universe, in her own time, returns to cosmic dust. With this thought we are kept humble.


We are marked with the sign of the cross. Made of ashes, it is not a beautiful cross. It’s ugly. It reminds us that Jesus Christ who had no stain of any sin, took upon himself, the ugliness of all sins and its sting – death. It is no pretty thing.


The cross is traced on our forehead, the most exposed part of our body. Christ was not crucified behind closed doors, in private or in a secluded place. His death was public. The cross on which he hung was for the whole world to see. For the proud, the cross is an embarrassment. For the repentant sinner, the cross inspires gratitude to Christ for paying the price he paid for my sins when it should have been me punished and not Him.


Finally, the ashes will soon wash off. The cross is never the last word. The resurrection from the dead is. May this holy season of Lent lead us through the cross of Christ, and not around it, but instead allowing the cross, like a compass, to point us in the direction of the Sunday celebration of the Lord’s resurrection. 


Let us pray that on the day of final judgment, we too will share in His victory so that when the dust is blown away, we will find ourselves transformed into a new creation and live forever with Him in the new and heavenly Jerusalem with all the angels and saints. Until that day comes, let us pray for ourselves and each other, that the disciplines and devotions of this holy season will lead us together in this direction.

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...