Our first reading has such a pithy ending, and is so pertinent for those of us who live in California. The double threat of wildfire and insufficient water constantly confront us. If only our careful husbanding of water in our homes, even if it’s only a small portion of the overall water use in the state, could preserve us from wild fires into the future. But that’s off message.
The real point here is the effect of water on burning flames, blotting out access to oxygen and extinguishing the fire, while dissipating its lingering heat. It’s a lovely metaphor for the parallel effects of the generous support of the poor blotting out, literally wiping away our offenses. What a gift it is to have God’s pardon. What could we possibly do to earn it?
In Sirach’s time, sacrifices were possible if sins were committed unwittingly (Lev 4), but there was no
confession or reconciliation, no rituals for the forgiveness of deliberate sin, except to stone the sinner. Even Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Lev 16), seems directed at ritual impurity, rather than moral offenses. So what is a poor sinner to do? – Well, give alms.
So, as we now have the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the forgiveness of sins, should we still give alms? Absolutely!
Many passages in the New Testament actively encourage almsgiving. When speaking on the value of doing good acts and praying in secret, Jesus simply presumes we are giving alms for the poor
(Matt 6:2-4). When addressing the evils and bad inclinations that can pour forth from the heart, He directs us, “Give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you” (Luke 11:41). When encouraging us to rely with greater trust on God, He instructs us to sell our belongings “and give alms” (Luke 12:33). In Acts 10:2, Luke recounts for us a story about a good man, Cornelius, a Gentile who is judged devout and God-fearing, in part because of his generous distribution of alms (Acts 10:2). Later in Acts (24:17), Paul defends himself to the governor, Felix, detailing his motive for returning to Jerusalem, which was to bring alms.
There are so many ways to give alms. The parish’s special collections all aim at the care of different poor populations. Giving to the United Way also counts, as does supporting health care
exploration – I’m thinking breast cancer research, in particular, but there are
many other worthy efforts.
Tuesday, September 13
Padre Serra Parish
Pierce Brothers, Westlake
Dear Parish Family,
Many years ago, I was asked what seemed to be a very simple question with a logically simple answer: Do you consider exercise to be important and valuable to maintain good health? My imitate response was, yes, it’s very important. Then came the follow-up question, which I still to this day continue to discern. If I consider exercise important, as I say, then is exercise part of my daily life, a Value (I make time for it, regardless of what I have going on in my life), or is it an Ideal (As long as I do it once a week/month/year, it is good enough; if I’m in the mood; in a few years when I really have the time)? This subject of this question can be substituted by any other topic which we can consider important to us. However, the underlying question is the same.
I think our Gospel reading this week is asking us a similar question. Do we wish to enter into God’s kingdom? Do we want God’s Salvation? The invitation is there for all of us; however, the response to this invitation, only each one of us can answer for ourselves. Is it a value or an ideal? How important is our relationship with our God, and how much time do we dedicate to him? Do we know about him, or do we Know him? We do not want to reach the gates of heaven and have our God say he doesn’t know us. We must strive to always be recognizable to our Lord.
How do we do this? In love, prayer, and action, as we go out into the world and all our daily activities. As we truly “Put On Christ” (Romans 13:14), all will recognize us as followers of Christ (Christian) and to whom we belong. No matter where we think we may be in this faith journey, there is always room to grow. Here are a few suggestions to consider:
1971 - 2022
Saturday, September 3
Padre Serra Parish
Santa Clara Cemetery
Dear Faith Family,
Today’s Gospel is one of my favorites. When a pregnant Mary encounters Elizabeth, the latter is overjoyed and her son (the unborn John the Baptist) leaps with joy because of the encounter.
At surface level, this is a cute story about family reuniting and celebrating the upcoming birth of the Savior of the World. While it is indeed true (it’s pretty darn cute), it also is a strong callback to the Old Testament. What John the Baptist does, closely resembles how King David would act in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant.
In the book of Exodus, when David would “dance before the LORD with all his might,” the Ark of the Covenant was believed to have contained the living God. Jesus, present in Mary, the New Ark, received a similar reception from John the Baptist. We are also blessed to have Arks scattered around in parishes across the world that hold the living God.
What does this mean for us? While I may not be advocating for a dance session in front of the tabernacle, I do believe that it is vital for us to look at God with a joyous heart. If we truly believe that God opened the gates of heaven for us, how can we not be joyous? If we truly believe that God wants to encounter you, simply because He loves you, how can we not be moved?
Sometimes when we think of the disciples of the New Testament and various saints, we think of solemn people who kept their emotions in check. People that were beyond human inclination and had a hyper fixation on God. The reality is, these holy men and women were joyous, first and foremost, even in the face of fear and persecution. The joy that God brings truly can overcome all things.
Our faith is quite unique. We have a God who was willing to become man, just to be with us. I truly believe a proper response to this love, is joy. This obviously may look different for each person, but I know it’s a common denominator for all those who pursue the living God.
If you struggle with understanding the joy that God brings, I invite you to spend more time with Him. Add more intentional time to pray and listen to God.
Our home, our parish, flourishes as much as it does because of the many people who very quietly do all manner of activities, with big hearts and an attitude of genuine service. I am hard pressed to think of any couple who have done more, for as a long a time (at least within my assignment as pastor) as have Pam and Neil Kingsley.
When I arrive to vest for my weekday Masses at 7:30 am, Pam is already on our beautiful campus and has unlocked the church doors, greeted the weekday sacristans, made the day’s fresh coffee for the staff’s many caffeine devotees, and begun her work in the office. She works patiently and quietly for a very long day, carefully managing donations, accounts and bills. In this interval without a parish business manager I have shared some of those responsibilities with her, and been blessed by her willingness. People who enjoy her good company, her kindness and her very good will frequently stop by and spend time with her. She ends up staying long beyond eight hours because, she says, that she enjoys the interruptions, and wants them to continue, while also working a full day. She does at least that much.
Her husband, Neil, one of our parish deacons, works for the parish overseeing all the maintenance and grounds, managing almost twelve acres, with its gardens, parking lots and some $30 million dollars’ worth of buildings. I have learned that there is no such thing as “normal upkeep” for our parish plant. Predicting when plumbing is going to head south, or sound systems fail, is not a precise science. When a sprinkler fails in a spectacular way (always in the middle of the night, it seems) the local water company contacts Neil. When the security alarm sounds (because the absent-minded pastor forgets to turn it off before going into his office), Neil fields the call from the security company whether it’s a workday or not. At any given point, there is the work that Neil intended to do, along with the crises that spring up organically because there are gremlins in the air ducts. Neil’s job encompasses so many tasks that it causes me to wonder how he can hold it all together.
After everything else that Pam and Neil do, their truly special gift for us comes to the fore in their volunteer work with the environment. Has there ever been any parish more blessed with talent than Padre Serra? The freshness of their ideas, responding to guidance from the parish liturgy committee amazes me at the changing of each liturgical season. They go the extra mile taking the environment into each corner of the church, so that everyone can feel a part of it all. Their creativity ensures that each season will have both continuity with the past and something new and uplifting. They work flexibly with new circumstances as they arise. For example, the live-streamed Mass needed a clear view across the church, which means they couldn’t use the tall banner poles for the Easter season – and yet it was still spectacular. They combine this with a lovely ability to gather volunteers to work alongside them on the big projects, and to maintain the plant throughout the season. Everything attest to their goodness and generosity.