Some of us have had our coronavirus birthdays and wedding anniversaries. Too many young people had covid-graduations – that was not what we wanted for them! Celebrations on Zoom are fine, and very worth doing. Drive-by revelries are SO much more festive, but both of these leave something unfulfilled. Today, we have our own great parish event to remember and celebrate, most certainly in a way less than it deserves. So, my dear Padre Serra parishioners, happy 25th Anniversary of our church building to you!
Twenty-five years ago, on July 1st, 1995, the founding families of the parish dedicated the beautiful church in which we worship. Those of us who came later owe them a debt of gratitude for their generosity, courage and faith. They worked long and hard to raise the money to buy the land and build our campus. They were daring and spirited, designing a beautiful, innovative church in the round, with Chumash and Mission touches, celebrating both our predecessors and our patron saint. Their actions flowed from their deep trust in God, and their admirable willingness to build up the Kingdom, not primarily by building a building, but foremost, by gathering a community. If we can hold onto that sense of kinship in these coronavirus-ridden days, it will be because we stand on their shoulders.
The church that we are celebrating on this anniversary is a beautiful house of prayer, for the praise of God’s name. One of my great pleasures these last ten years is watching people take their first look at the church’s interior. Their reaction is invariably one of pleasure and intrigue. It’s different, and yet its many components work so harmoniously. It both shelters us when we are at prayer, and invites us into contemplation and a rich spiritual experience. Its forms, colors, architectural elements of walls, windows, ceilings and pillars all work together, in an experience of beauty and grandeur, to make an interior experience of God possible.
The great irony of this year, of course, is that the quarantine prevents most parishioners from even coming to our parish home. Even when Masses are possible, most can’t and many shouldn’t come quite yet.
They do say, though, that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I’m hoping that’s true for you, that the separation leaves you hungry for the beauty of the church, and even more for the warmth of the community. It really needs to be a combination of both. The shape and configuration of the church invites us into an awareness of, and an appreciation of, one another.
We had all kinds of plans for how we were going to remember. You may remember we asked our founders to share their memories, their participation and their important family events. Our intent, which we’ve had to scrap, was to have some of our pioneers share those moments and light one of the consecration candles in the church for us at all the Masses this weekend. We were also going to have a BBQ, and maybe dance a little in the backyard of the parish…Sigh. The pastor proposes; the coronavirus disposes.
While I usually prefer the scripture readings of the day as the subject when it’s my turn to write this letter I find this time that it’s Father’s Day, and specifically some of what my dad taught me that are on my mind. Perhaps some of what is in the day’s readings will connect.
I’m not a perfect dad by any means, nor, in spite of my best efforts, a perfect grandfather. It turns out I wasn’t a perfect son either. For that matter – spoiler alert – my dad is also imperfect. But I remember as a young boy when my dad was with me in a challenging situation, I always felt protected. The middle part of today’s first reading has the prophet Jeremiah (after complaining about how he is mistreated as a result of his obedience to God by all who surround him) expressing complete confidence in the Lord:
But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.
This is how I hope those of us who are dads and grandfathers are experienced by those we try to love and nurture and protect, at least in our best moments. For those whose fathers did not give you that gift, know that Jesus, the perfect son of the perfect father grieves with you. And he asks his Father to be with you, to be your mighty champion.
One lesson my dad taught me early on was to always be the first to apologize, the first to ask forgiveness, because restoring the relationship is more important than being right. Dad didn’t just preach this, he lived it, and modeled it, time and time again.
I have tried to treat my kids and grandkids the same way (in fact, I hope I treat everyone that way). God knows I’ve had lots of opportunities to apologize and try to repair relationships. I’m grateful for my dad’s humble example as a way forward, over and over again.
But what about when I am in the right, when I am truly the one who “has the right” to be offended? I’ve found that to be hollow comfort or none at all, compared to reconciling with the other person. Often when I make the first conciliatory move, then we can talk honestly about whatever the conflict was in an atmosphere where the tension and anger have been discharged. But not always. Sometimes I, or the other person, just can’t or won’t have that conversation. In that case, I’ve been taught to pray for the other person and not that God “change” them to suit me. Then the resentment which poisons only me when I carry it can recede and I can be free. Do I do this perfectly, every time? Not at all. But it’s a path my dad (and other mentors) have taught me that I’ve found useful, so I share it with you.
Dear Faith Family,
It has been more than 80 days since we have had to shut down the world. I don’t know about you, but whenever I look at the number, it is quite surreal. 2020 has been a difficult year with a lot of changes we have had to make in multiple facets. The world looks different right now, some for the better and some for the worse, and it has brought plenty of challenges to us as individuals, our families and to our nation.
Sometimes it is hard for me to grasp the idea of God (like everyone else, I’m sure). But in moments of clarity I realize that our God is not a shape-shifter, but is an eternal God of mercy and justice that never ceases to change. In times of weakness, I find comfort in the fact that our God never changes. He will always love and always yearn for us.
We need our God not to change, but we need to allow Him to change our world right now.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus expresses that he is the Bread of Life. When those who heard started to become appalled, Jesus did not change his stance, but he doubled down. Christ never wavered when it came to the importance of the Eucharist, he never changed the plan to dwell with us physically, and he never will.
A lot of us have been unable to receive Communion for a while. There is a strong sense of yearning for the Sacrament within our community and Catholics everywhere. Since we haven’t received Christ in the Eucharist in a while, does that mean we are lacking in grace? The answer is no. There is so much power in the Eucharist that you received before this pandemic and it would be a shame to not recognize that Christ dwells with you because of that Eucharist and that he won’t cease to do so.
Yearning for the Eucharist is good. Yearning for the eternal God is very much imprinted on our souls. Let us remember that the yearning will help us have a more vibrant experience in this intimate Sacrament.
Dear friends on the journey,
Have you ever been amazed, or even baffled, by the deep love someone has for you? Or received a gift so unexpected that you are mystified by the thoughtfulness and love behind it? Got it in your mind? How did you respond? Did you see that person in a new way? Did their love cause you to act differently, and not by way of reciprocation but because their love just changed you?
Now multiply that love by a gazillion. That is God’s love for you and his gift to you is Jesus, the way of salvation. Today’s gospel is John 3:16, probably the most quoted and known scripture passage of all time. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” God’s love is manifested in gifts to us. At the beginning of salvation history, God gave us the earth and all her creatures and plants to enjoy. Through the chosen people, the Israelites, God called us into a covenantal relationship. Then God’s ultimate gift of Jesus fulfilled the covenant and brings us believers back to God’s self to live a glorious eternal life.
As Christians, our salvation comes through belief that Jesus is our way to eternal life. I have known this intellectually but to be quite honest, it wasn’t until my Fundamental Theology class at the seminary five years ago when I had a profound moment that my heart just suddenly knew it. I truly felt God’s love for ME and knew that Jesus died for ME. When our hearts know it, our natural and only response is to live it by being the best Christian we can be and sharing that reality with other.
Our response is to see the world as God sees it, to see all of God’s creation as good, to love others just like God loves us and be in relationship with one another. It sounds simple but to our human eyes and hearts it can be much more complex. Focusing on the cultures and peoples that please us is much easier but dangerously comforts us. Relating to and loving the others becomes more difficult or impossible.
We are not seeing much love these days. News and social feeds are filled with images of death, hate, destruction, and division. From Covid-19 to acts of racism to looting to earthquakes to our own personal traumas, we are suffering and hurting. We are frustrated and angry. What do we do with all of us this?
I think we take it step by step. First, we care for ourselves. Sit with our thoughts and feelings, taking it to God in prayer then listening. Embody scripture especially today’s gospel and second reading: “mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” We remember that we are called to act with love, patience, kindness, humility, compassion, and empathy. We remind ourselves that the God made every human being beautiful and good, in a wide array of color, voices, and smiles among many cultures, foods, dances, and traditions. All life is sacred, and no one should be left behind to be sick, hungry, homeless, devalued, dehumanized, discarded.