Dear friends on the journey,
Well, it is officially 2022! Another crazy year is in the books. I hope you experienced more celebrations of life and love than turmoil. Though I know for many among us, 2021 brought heartbreaking loss and grief. Please be assured of my prayers and the support of our parish family as you navigate a new reality in this coming year. I pray this New Year brings us more joy than sadness, more peace than conflict, more wonderment than weariness, more God centeredness than worldliness.
Today’s readings for the Feast of the Epiphany are rich with so many messages. We could focus on the theme of gifts. As the Magi brought gifts to the baby Jesus, we can discern the gifts we offer to Jesus using our God given talents, abilities, and gifts for the betterment of our families, neighborhoods, parish, and the world.
We could reflect on the theme of light as the prophet Isaiah describes the Lord’s light that will break through the darkness to shine upon and guide all peoples. The Magi followed the brightest star in the sky, trusting the light would lead them to something wonderful. We could ponder what or whom lights our path. Is it Jesus in his Eucharistic and sacramental presence? Is it God’s Word? If it’s not, should it be?
The theme of unity could be a topic of conversation. Epiphany means manifestation and so the first and second readings and the gospel speak of Jesus’ manifestation in his birth as a gift not just for the Hebrews but also the Gentiles, including the Magi who traveled to pay homage to Jesus. People from all nations and generations are now “coheirs, members of the same body” (Eph 3:6). How can we be more inclusive?
In preparation for this litter, I used the practice of Lectio Divina in order for the Holy Spirit to guide me. What was God calling me to hear in that space and time? The phrase that stood out to me, or the echo, was “having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.” God spoke to them and they listened. Such wisdom and trust to follow God’s prompting!
How do we listen for God? First, we must acknowledge God’s ever presence, desire for us, and constant communication with us. Once we grasp this, the next step is attunement, slowing down to become aware of God’s voice and nudges. God speaks in many ways: prayer, dreams, nudges other people and situations. I am becoming particularly aware of God’s nudges and shoulder taps, those promptings to take action, to do for others. It might be something as simple as paying for the order of the person behind you in a drive-thru; calling a loved one just to say hello; making eye contact with the homeless person; bringing up the neighbor’s garbage cans. How do we listen to God? Well, simply put it is responding to God’s shoulder taps by stepping out and just doing it. You cannot go wrong with kindness and generosity.
Today, with all the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of Christmas fresh in our minds, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, and well we should. Never has there been such a family where dad is a saint (but he did consider divorce), mom is the (unwed) mother of God, and Jesus – well, he is divine (and an illegitimate child by the human standards of the time). The scriptures tell us that Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor. Today’s Gospel tells us of the wrenching experience for Mary and Joseph of discovering that their precious boy has somehow gone missing on the trip back from Passover in Jerusalem. They find him in the temple back in Jerusalem after searching for an entire day among their relatives and acquaintances and three more days in Jerusalem. Can you imagine their anxiety? And Jesus response to them seems markedly unapologetic (though the Gospel also says that he went with them back to Nazareth and was obedient).
I think most of us have heard something like “God writes straight with crooked lines.” That idea is often (rightly, I think) invoked as reassurance that our weakness, lack of courage, and sinfulness will not ultimately frustrate God’s loving plan. But I also think it can help us get a more balanced view of the Holy Family when we think about Jesus’ human ancestry. See the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus’ human forbears included wonderful people, but also included ordinary people, and some bad people: thieves, adulterers, murderers, and the like. Fr. Ron Rolheiser, writing about Jesus and the Holy Family as an example of God writing straight with crooked lines, quotes theologian Raymond Brown:
“The God who wrote the beginnings with crooked lines also writes the sequence with crooked lines, and some of those lines are our own lives and witness. A God who did not hesitate to use the scheming as well as the noble, the impure as well as the pure, men to whom the world harkened and women upon whom the world frowned – this God continues to work through the same mélange. If it is a challenge to recognize in the last part of Matthew’s genealogy that totally unknown people were part of the story of Jesus Christ, it may be a greater challenge to recognize that the unknown characters of today are an essential part of the sequence.”
So I’d like to suggest that on this Feast, we find encouragement and the inspiration, perhaps, to recommit ourselves to our baptismal promises, conscious that not only can God save humanity in spite of all our imperfections, but that God can – and will – create something new and beautiful. Even with us. Even in our families with all of their beauty and all of their ... everything else. For a long time, it has been Catholic church teaching that we are all called to holiness, nothing less. The call is universal and the call is irrevocable. No one is exempt, no matter how humble or exalted they may be. It’s rooted in our baptism and in the Paschal Mystery that we celebrate at every Mass.
1931 - 2021
Saturday, January 22, 2022
Padre Serra Parish
Sometimes hearing how difficult things are for others can help us put our own life and difficulties into perspective. I thought it might be good to do a short, somewhat deeper dive into the first Christmas, so that we can look at our own with a little more grace.
Please consider the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It’s about 70 miles if you can fly from one to the other. If you have to walk on ancient roads that meander according to a very hilly topography, avoiding unfriendly Samaritans, the journey was probably between 80 and 90 difficult miles. As for the donkey who shows up in all the art, it’s not impossible that a carpenter would have owned a donkey, but maybe not likely. The Roman military paid for pack animals, but also were known to confiscate them from defenseless peasants ... and yes, both Mary and Joseph were peasants. Do you bother to invest in a pack animal in those circumstances? There is no beast of burden included in the birth accounts of Matthew or Luke. Mary, who was very pregnant and about to give birth, very likely walked the four to six days this journey would have taken. That is tough prenatal care.
As for Joseph, he was likely carrying any possessions or food they brought with them each day. The peasant salary was often paid on the day of work, and all spent that day for food. Saving was difficult when living hand to mouth, so how he came up with the resources for making the trip, in both directions, remains a question. It had to weigh on him, especially as the journey was required so that an oppressive foreign power could tax him more efficiently. I have wondered how that sat with Joseph.
As for archaeological evidence of what kind of town they encountered, we don’t have much. Even the word “inn” is questionably translated, as it wasn’t the usual word for a traveler’s dwelling. Rather, it implied the upper room where local residents might welcome guests in their own living quarters. The implication is that this place was full of people, and Mary and Joseph retired to the ground level room, below, where the local family guarded their animals. There is no mention of a cave or barn. It still seems quite unpleasant, but I can’t imagine that giving birth in a room crowded with strangers would have been any better.
In all of human history, only the God become human chose the timing, the place and the characters who occupy his birth. And he chose a messy, difficult time to drag Joseph and Mary into a pregnancy that would fulfill an ancient prophecy:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, least among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient times (Micah 5:1).
For the great things of Jesus’ birth to happen, Mary and Joseph had to struggle and endure great difficulties. Jesus, who prompted it all, to become Emanuele, “God with us,” obviously thought our
difficult human condition was worth it.
These last years have had their own share of struggles for all of us. But we are pulling through it all.
Dear parish family,
The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one I look forward to every year. As a MexicanAmerican this feast holds a very special place in my heart. As a child my parents instilled in us a deep love and devotion for Our Lady of Guadalupe. As children, we participated in a beautiful tradition of dressing up in Native Tarasco outfits to make our pilgrimage to the parish and present ourselves to her and give her our gift of love and gratitude through a bouquet of roses. This was no easy task for a young child to get up at 3 in the morning, if we wanted to make it inside the packed church, but we all did it with such love and joy. We participated in the “Mañanitas” and sunrise Mass, where the parish choirs and members of the community would serenade with traditional songs and the Matachines and Aztec dancers offer their dance as an expression of prayer. It made such an impact to see her surrounded in what seemed like an ocean of fragrant flowers, all gifts of hope, love and gratitude for the miracles that through the intercession of Our Lady have been granted. A fitting tribute to offer our gifts of time and talent to celebrate Our Holy Mother.
As I have grown up I have been able to see past the deserved fanfare celebration. I recognize now how Our Lady has been our Advent countdown to prepare to welcome Jesus in our hearts and homes. Just like every week of Advent is dedicated to a virtue, through Our Lady we get to experience this as well. We come to her filled with HOPE, knowing that she will take our petitions to our God. We experience God’s PEACE as we are held in her comforting and loving embrace, knowing she has heard us and will be our advocate. We are filled with JOY, in the answer to our prayers. Even in those moments that the answer may not be what we wanted, but recognize God’s response to our prayers is perfect and better than what we could have imagined. We become enveloped in LOVE, in knowing we are valuable, seen and heard by our loving God and his mother. Knowing this only makes my love for Our Blessed Mother grow stronger.
This Advent season let us follow Mary’s example and prepare our hearts to receive Jesus in our midst. She is the best example on how to love him. She left her image for us to be reminded she is
with us, we are not alone as we face life’s challenges. She will be there to pick
us up when we stumble and lead us back on our path.
1945 - 2021
Saturday, December 18, 2021
Padre Serra Parish
1957 - 2021
Saturday, December 11, 2021
Padre Serra Parish
Dear Faith Family,
I always need reminders of what Christmas is about. Apparently, I am a walking version of a “Charlie Brown Christmas”.
In the second week of Advent, the Gospel of Luke has no problem setting me straight. The author of the Gospel quotes the Old Testament Book of Isaiah and asks us to “prepare the way of the Lord”.
I feel like I write this often, but I feel like it’s a good reminder. When we experience all the good things during Christmas (family, gifts, Starbucks holiday line, etc.) it is to help us to truly prepare for our God coming again in glory. Joy might be the most appropriate response when we experience our loving God. We should prepare our souls to react in this way.
Subconsciously, the idea of the new heaven and the new earth from can cause some apprehension. We’ve seen so many movies and heard many songs with themes of the end of the world. These things are meant to make us uneasy. The unknown can be terrifying. But to experience change with joy is truly how we are preparing during Advent.
While we may not know details, or when it will happen, we do know for certain that Christ will come again to make all things new, because He loves us.
During Christmas, we not only celebrate the Incarnation of our God (which bears extreme celebration), but we also prepare for our future celebration of the second coming of Christ. Sometimes I forget that this beautiful season is not just meant to celebrate the past, or to revel in the present joys in our lives, but this season also urges us to prepare ourselves for the joys of the future.
So yeah, Advent and Christmas is a big deal. There is a reason why millions of us travel just to spend time with family for Christmas. And I would say that when we immerse ourselves in the joys of family and friends, that it is actual preparation for our Lord coming again. If we really focus on why we celebrate, it will equip us to celebrate His second coming. Jesus coming home to us, again.
I know this week we aren’t wearing pink (I’m sorry, rose), but the joy of the season should be pursued throughout this time. Because of this, we are also responsible to help others that are struggling to experience this joy.