Consider the first reading today, from Acts of the Apostles 1:111. It takes place after the disciples have spent years with Jesus in his public ministry, after the Passion of the Lord, after the Resurrection, and after the 40 days of appearances to Mary Magdalene, Peter and then all the other disciples. We read of the disciples’ last encounter of Jesus before the Ascension.
By this time, the disciples have witnessed Jesus’ ministry for years, along with his teachings, examples, and his daytoday actions. They still confuse Jesus’ task of building the Kingdom of God for the reconstruction of Israel. We see this in their question to him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” This longing for freedom was ancient, after almost five centuries of subjugation under Babylonians, Persians, Egypt and the Greek Seleucids in Syria.
Mind you, Jesus never promised the kind of political and military intervention that would overturn the Romans. But that was what the disciples wanted. So, even up to that last moment, they happily misinterpreted what Jesus meant in his many references to the Kingdom of God, a reign where everyone becomes a citizen, not by conquest, but by the free surrender of the will to God’s commands of love and care for one’s neighbor. They replace Jesus’ vision with their own: a world where Jerusalem is the head of a powerful kingdom, where Jews are no longer subject to outsiders, and move from one political and military triumph to the next. The attraction to their vision is clear ... it’s just not shared by God.
We also have our own expectations of God, and we can’t help but want what we want. But what if God doesn’t want the same things we want? What happens when God actually opposes our desires? Like the disciples, most of us have spent our lifetimes living with the stories of Jesus. We, too, have the opportunity for growing and deepening our understanding of Jesus’ teaching and hopes. Yet we may still want what we want and have hopes that are independent of Jesus’ will for us.
Notice that Jesus redirects the disciples from what they want, to what God has planned: “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” He promises support, the power of the Spirit, enabling them to do God’s work, rather than pursue their own wants. This embodies the truth of the phrase from Thomas a Kempis Imitation of Christ, “Man proposes, but God disposes.”
There is often a bridge between the first reading and the gospel at our liturgy. This weekend is no exception. In the reading from 1st Samuel we have the delightful story of the young and obedient Samuel and his wise and patient mentor, the priest Eli, whose mother gave him into Eli’s care at a young age, dedicating him to the Lord in thanksgiving for her prayer for a son being heard and granted.
The Lord calls Samuel three times, but he thinks it is Eli calling him. After the third time, Eli tells him to respond to the call by saying “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” The text goes on to say, “Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.”
Some of the gospel readings we heard during Advent precede the passage from John’s gospel in today’s liturgy. He calls himself a “voice crying out in the wilderness to make ready the way for the Lord.” He says he baptizes with water for repentance, but one we do not recognize is among us who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He denies being the Messiah, or Elijah, or the prophet. Today’s gospel takes place right around the same time. John tells two of his disciples upon seeing Jesus approaching “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” They (the two) heard and followed Jesus.
Jesus asks them “What are you looking for?” They answer with a question of their own “where are you staying?” Jesus says to them “Come, and you will see.” Andrew, one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus first went and found his brother Simon telling him “We have found the Messiah.” When Andrew brings Simon to Jesus, the Lord says, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
So there is a lot of calling happening in both these readings. God calls Samuel (who thinks it’s Eli calling him). John calls his disciples to recognize who Jesus is. Those two call on Jesus to tell them where he is staying, and Jesus calls them to come and see. Finally, Jesus calls Simon by the name Cephas which in Aramaic means the Rock.
Samuel was sleeping in the temple, in the presence of the ark of God when he was called. Can this be analogous to resting in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, or just in silent listening prayer. Might we hear God’s call then and there too? How will we respond?
Dear Parish Family,
On this day, we experience once again a Great Epiphany. Today we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. There are many levels to this Great Epiphany.
In our first epiphany, God gives us salvation, by sending his only son, who humbled himself and became human. He becomes the bridge for humanity to reach God. His Salvation is for all nations, especially those on the margins, the forgotten.
In this our second epiphany, the Holy Trinity is revealed to us, the Holy Spirit descending in the bodily form of a dove and God’s voice speaking, revealing Jesus as his son, both human and divine. The one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, shows Himself in Christ, through Him, with Him and in Him.
At his Baptism, Jesus being divine and free of any sin, humbled himself and had John baptize him. Just as the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus then, every time someone is baptized, the Holy Spirit continues to descend over us, filling us with his Grace and making us new creations, free of sin. At Baptism we too are declared children of God, therefore making us all brothers and sisters.
In the Rite of Baptism, we are anointed with the Chrism oil, as priest, prophet and king. This should be a reminder of our mission, just like Jesus, after he was baptized he began his ministry; we too are given the power through the Holy Spirit to go out into the world and begin our ministry. With every sacrament, we continue to receive his Grace and strength to follow in Jesus’ path.
Dear friends on the journey,
Recently my mom shared with me that every night at dinner my dad recites his pandemic mantra: EGBOK, an acronym for Everything’s Gonna Be OK. My brother even gifted him a T-shirt with the mantra. I was intrigued so I did what any 21st century resident does...I googled it. EGBOK was the trademark phrase of the KABCAM morning radio show, The Ken and Bob Company. For nearly 20 years, day after day, hosts Ken Minyard and Bob Arthur encouraged their Southern California listeners with their motto: Don't worry, EGBOK. This became so popular that thousands of fans wore buttons as a reminder and a hostage of the 1985 TWA hijacking in Beirut credited his faith in God and EGBOK for his survival and release.
All during this Advent and Christmas, the theme of light and darkness kept coming up for me. Not just in scripture and homilies but in unexpected places. On December 21 we witnessed the “Christmas Star” better known as the Great Conjunction, the aligning of Jupiter and Saturn in the southwestern sky. This alignment of planets to form a single brighter “star” in the sky could very well be what the Magi followed in today’s gospel. They trusted this star to guide their long journey. They relied on its light in the night’s darkness. In fact, it was only in the darkness that the Magi could see the vibrant star better. They trusted this light would lead them to the newborn king of the Jews. And they arrived and found what was promised.
Even in our first reading from Isaiah we hear the great prophet talk about the light that symbolizes the promise of blessings for Jerusalem. He assures the people that no matter the darkness and thick clouds covering the earth the Lord will shine upon them. This radiant light will cause their hearts to throb and overflow, and so much goodness will come. And they experienced what was promised.
Today’s scripture, and really our faith, is all about light, God’s radiant light that is promised and given to us today, most especially in our earthly darkness. I dare say 2020 has been a year of darkness. The pandemic hovers over us like San Fernando Valley smog. It is ever-present, affecting our daily routines, mental health, employment, relationships, milestone celebrations, and holidays. It exacerbates the grief of a cancer diagnosis, a failed relationship, the death of a loved one, and so on. It fatigues us and blurs our vision of the good.
As it was for the Magi, the darkness is when we see Christ’s light best. In this pandemic darkness, Christ’s light assures us that this darkness of isolation and worry won’t last forever. It will be conquered. His light guides us, warms us, gives us hope that good will come, that everything’s going to be OK. Isn’t EGBOK basically our Christian faith? God’s promise is revealed in the Paschal Mystery. The darkness of Good Friday is conquered by the morning light of Easter and the hope of resurrection when we will enjoy the glorious light of heaven.
Dear Faith Family,
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!
Do you know what is great about our Church? Although it may seem like Christmas ended on Friday night, our Church loves to celebrate Christmas for weeks, even after we’ve opened our presents and spent time with family. I know I probably write about this frequently, but it’s a good reminder for myself as well.
If we believe in the life changing fact that God became man for our eternal lives, we should extend the party even further! With such a huge event in our lives, it is worth taking time so reflect on the joy of the birth of our savior.
According to the liturgical calendar, Advent actually ends on Christmas Eve. But once that ends, we officially begin celebrating the Christmas season which ends with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, which is usually the second Sunday of January.
If the lays out this plan, how should we celebrate? That’s where the beauty of this time really shines, because it is absolutely up to you!
Daily devotions? Sure! Giving yourself an extra deadline to deliver gifts to loved ones? Of course! Baking Cookies in the shape of John the Baptist? Why not?! In whatever way you want to celebrate, feel free to do so. The goal is to hold onto the glory of the Incarnation beyond the scene of the Nativity. Joy should not be confined only within Christmas day. The birth of our Lord should encompass our lives every day of the year.
To be honest, this might be the year to really dive into the joy of our Savior. It’s not a well kept secret, but this year has been difficult. Why not give ourselves a reason to pursue joy even further?
It makes me happy to get Christmas Cards, to see the family pictures, and even to receive the generic year-in-review letters that come in many of them. I know these letters usually give a curated, Facebook kind of glance at people’s lives, but I enjoy them anyway.
This year, though, many of my Christmas letters have started with something along the line of “What a year this has been!” or “We’re all so glad in the Smith family that 2020 is coming to an end!” It’s clear that people haven’t been travelling, or celebrating with big family get-togethers and meals out. It has even noted that the included group photo was actually from last year. People say right up front just how much they miss everyone. Life and death finding a way regardless, baptisms, weddings, graduations and funerals have gone on, as I know firsthand. Often, though, with travel restrictions, if these important events happened at a great distance, they happened without us. Sigh.
There is an authenticity to this. The first Christmas, as portrayed in the Gospels, stripped of our romantic notions, was a story of hardship. Pregnant, completely worn out by travel, in a strange town, and displaced by the crowd, giving birth in a place where animals dwelt – this is no one’s dream of the birth of a baby. We only darken the picture further by pointing out that the Romans were as dark a plague on the face of the earth as the Coronavirus, and were displacing people so that they could know how much to tax their conquered neighbors.
Angels still found reason to sing about it. I hope that you are able to find reasons to sing about it, too.
No matter how dark the world can seem, how painful our bodies get, how much we have to struggle, we are loved by Emmanuel, God with us. Regardless of how politics unfolded, or international relations decayed, or raging wildfires consumed, we are loved by Emmanuel, God with us. In spite of rancorous debate on how to address the pandemic, or the struggle to educate children, and the terrible loss for business owners and employees, we are loved by Emmanuel, God with us.
The Advent season gives us some wonderful scripture readings and this weekend’s seem particularly suited to the time in which we live.
Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service is at an end,
her guilt is expiated;
indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD
double for all her sins.
Isaiah’s prophecy in the first reading may ring true or false depending on what our experience of 2020 has been, but when we hear it as part of the promise that the Lord would redeem Israel and in light of the reality of Jesus Christ’s presence and action in the world, the truth of it rings clear.
Do you ever succumb to the temptation (as I do) to put off necessary work and growth because of a complacent reliance on God’s mercy and patience? Today’s second reading can help us properly realign. The first part is an encouragement to trust God and to be patient as he is patient: “Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard ‘delay,’ but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
The next sentence deals decisively with the complacency I mentioned: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.” So, my friends, what we do and what we say matter: “Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be?” “…eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.”
The mighty Advent figure John the Baptist we encounter in the gospel (this, year, Mark’s) proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John has a healthy understanding of his own place in the scheme of things and so should we. He is content to be a creature, not the Creator; a messenger, not the Message; a humble servant, not the Master.
Dear friends on the journey,
Waiting and watching. This seems to sum up 2020. For months now, we have been hunkered down, watching the worldwide devastation of Covid, government and medical leaders’ response, and the reaction of our community. We’ve been waiting for the all-clear to go out again only to be tugged back in, for a cure and vaccine, and for life to return to normal. I can just imagine a world of mask-less huggers partying for days! With patience and hope, this day will arrive. Of this, I’m confident.
How might we be better for this long season of pandemic waiting and watching? It’s something to ponder as we enter into a real season of waiting and watching ... Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Advent literally means “coming,” the coming of Jesus at Christmas. We know full well these four weeks are not about the gift buying, decorating, parties, stressing, cleaning, and hustling. Don’t get me wrong, these can be joy-filled and fun, but I think we can get trapped by it all. I found that I can enjoy it more when the perceived necessity of getting it all done goes away and simply revel in the light of the truth of the Incarnation, the coming of God to us on earth in the person of Jesus as well as celebrate Jesus’ presence now and his coming again.
A casualty of Covid may very well be the distracting hustle and bustle of Christmas preparation. I hope. Perhaps this Advent can truly be a season of waiting and watching with hope, love, joy, and peace. Just maybe this Advent can truly be the fourweek journey of preparing or freshening up the home in our heart for Jesus. How can we prepare our hearts? How can we really embrace the gift that is Advent? I believe we’ll find it in the intentional slowing down and looking inward to take stock of our readiness for the “Lord of the house” (Mk 13:25) to come.
I hope you consider using one or some of the following Advent resources to aid you on your spiritual journey of waiting and watching: www.padreserra.org/advent:
Of the 102 colonists who came across the Atlantic to the North America, only 53, just over half, survived that first year to bring in a harvest. More than anything else, this one fact tells us that the first Thanksgiving participants celebrated in spite of terrible suffering, hunger, losses and heartache. Yet, they still found room in the hearts for gratitude. It really is extraordinary.
We’ve had our own horrible year. I don’t need to remind you of everything, between pandemic and politics that we have been through. We’ve all lived through this together. Can we be as exceptional as the Mayflower passengers, finding our own reasons for celebrating what God has done for us? I know that we can!
For myself, I am endlessly grateful for everyone in the medical field. I have been cheering on and praying for researchers seeking vaccines and cures from the beginning. The brave souls who work with the sick have a most tender place of gratitude in my heart.
I have no end of appreciation for the staff of the parish who have worked so heartily, whether in their offices or from their homes, to continue our mission of encountering Jesus and serving as His disciples. Under extraordinarily tough circumstances, they do so very much to keep us together, to provide liturgies, both in person and online, to serve the needs of our children, to offer us support in our ministries and to provide us adult faith formation opportunities.
Our volunteers, sacristans, lectors, ushers, cantors, musicians, tech crew, and Eucharistic ministers have taken a hard situation and made it an amazingly beautiful experience. Who could have known that we could enjoy Mass outside as much as we have?
I am reminded by the many parishioners who serve in the military just how blessed we are that there are so many good people willing to sacrifice and serve to protect us, our country, and the values that make America a great nation.
I am grateful, in a most profound way, for the parishioners who have continued, in this stressful time, to support the parish financially. We have been weathering this storm with your amazing and much appreciated support. From my heart, I thank you!
And then there are the many small things. I am grateful for the pleasure of autumn chill in the air, the first rain, the sound of children playing on the east side of the parish campus during their recess, the hard work of teachers and parents helping children grow in knowledge and faith.
I am grateful for cooking adventures in the kitchen, the smell of onions and garlic sautéing in a frying pan, the heat of a tasty chili pepper, the taste and texture of cheese – oh how I am grateful for cheese.
I am grateful for a good book, a warm cup of chai tea, whitened with milk, for a lit fireplace when it is chilly outside, and for my favorite playlists of gentle, uplifting music.
I am grateful for my comfortable beach chair, for time on cliffs looking down on the Pacific, for pelicans and porpoises, for sea gulls and sunshine on water.
I am grateful for socially distanced dinners in backyards of friends, for any picnic, for tuna salad sandwiches with tomatoes, for a glass of wine with good conversation.
I am grateful for breath, and touch, and taste and sight, and sound and scent – how can I ever be grateful enough for any of these?
We can learn a great deal by watching young children. They are born with unconditional love and an unburdened innocence that allows them to dream without boundaries. They continue to shape their own individuality as they mature into teens and young adults. Parents observe with love as aptitudes such as artist, writer, listener, or advocate form their lives’ mission. Our children ultimately find within themselves talents that can yield big results in their chosen occupations, relationships, or ministerial roles. Some are learned but I believe most are attributed to what God has given each of us as gifts waiting to be shared.
In today’s Gospel we hear the parable of the talents. Three are provided an opportunity to grow what has been given them. Two achieve this while the third decides to accept openly what has been entrusted to him but chooses to bury it. His choice has deep personal ramifications while also limiting the growth otherwise available to others. Not unlike this parable, our own decisions and actions with small matters can indeed impact us personally as well as others we encounter.
Each of us should return to what has allowed young children to dream and develop their talents openly. We must pay close attention to small matters that can mean so much in how we support our loved ones and neighbors in need, but we cannot do it alone. Everyone has a responsibility to share his or her God given gifts. Doing so can ensure that topics we personally find most difficult to achieve or face also get the attention they deserve.
I like to think of the sum of our lives’ possibilities as a yardstick. We likely will only have enough time, talent, or treasure in our own lifetime to address just one inch of the overall thirty-six. The good news is that each of us can make a difference with our portion. Equally important is that though we are all created in the image and likeness of God, we are given individual abilities and talents. Our contribution of God’s love to the world is therefore an opportunity to grow in wisdom and holiness as inch after inch continues to build.
Hello Parish Family,
We’ve all heard it, patience is a virtue. When we have this virtue, we are able to see things with clarity. We are not bound but what is happening in the present, but rather, through patience we gain in wisdom.
It’s not a coincidence that wisdom is one of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is through wisdom that we have the ability to see things beyond our mortal lens. Through wisdom, we are able to see with the same sight of our loving God.
When we go into this Sunday’s gospel, we see the difference between the wise and the foolish. The foolish brought no oil for their lamps, only focusing on the present (gas cans are heavy, I understand). The wise were well prepared, knowing that their path to the bridegroom would be more clear with a little more effort and understanding on who the bridegroom is.
Now, I’m not an advocate for the anxiety about the future. When we trust in our Creator, our Bridegroom, we know that His time is different than ours. If we live our lives knowing the possibility that our God may present Himself, it should actually bring peace, not anxiety.
In the same way that we should fill up our gas tank when the light goes off (I have been known to play the gas game and have failed multiple times), it simply is better to fill up your gas tank and have some reserved for a long drive. No one should ever try to calculate the exact amount of gas to put in your car for a destination, it is reckless. You don’t know when the next gas station will pop up on a long trip.
So friends, though the future may be scary, we can always find excuses to be anxious. Our God asks us the opposite. Find peace in Him. Don’t be constantly be worried about where you will encounter God, but rather, wait in joyous anticipation for the times that He will be there. We can add to that peace when we live lives in anticipation for our bridegroom.
Dear Parish Family,
Happy All Saints day! Every year on November 1st, the Church takes a pause to recall the example, witness, and prayer of the holy women and men who have been identified by the Church as Saints. On this feast day it is so perfect that the Gospel proclaimed is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in particular, the Beatitudes. We hear the words “Blessed” in some translations the words “Happy”, “Fortunate” or “Favored”. These words help us understand what Jesus is saying, that there is divine favor for the poor in spirit, the meek the persecuted.
As was expressed in the second reading, to be a Christian means that at times we live contrary to the ways of this world. The world says success is based on wealth, but Jesus says we are to be “poor in spirit.” Money itself is not bad, but “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Jesus calls us to be detached from wealth. Furthermore, the world tells us to seek pleasure. Just think of the popular phrase, “Do what you want, whatever makes you happy” Rather, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” The world tells us to seek power, but Jesus says be “meek.” Moreover, the world says honor and the approval of others is important, but Jesus says, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.”
The Beatitudes can be understood as a framework for Christian living. Simply put, they are the “how to’s” of sainthood. There is a reason why in the process to declare someone a saint they are “Beatified”. Saints are “meek;” they are “pure of heart;” saints are “merciful” and “peacemakers;” they “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” God’s children are even willing to be persecuted and insulted for the sake of Christ. Therefore, if we want to be a saint, we must seek these things. On this day, we too are challenged to model our lives on the spirit and promises of the Beatitudes. If you find it difficult, just remember, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” In other words, it’s all worth it in the end.
In last week’s gospel, the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus by asking if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. In this week’s gospel the Pharisees, having heard how Jesus had “silenced” the Sadducees (remember the episode about the coin?) decided to test him by asking which commandment of the law is the greatest. By the way, not all Pharisees nor all Sadducees were “villains,” though that’s how they’re often portrayed in the gospel. Many were devout and faithful though some did try to trip up this Galilean rabbi, Jesus, whose answer was, of course, beyond reproach: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
In any case, the question begs reflection. It’s one thing to know the answer to what the greatest commandment is and quite another to examine our own lives to see if we are obedient to it.
In the second reading, Paul writes to the Thessalonians about their “receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers ...”
One could say that we are in a time of “great affliction” having had to adjust to the pandemic since last March. Judging by the atmosphere at “mass on the grass” these last months, I think we have received the word “with joy from the Holy Spirit.” The gospel and first reading give us the signposts to become “a model for all the believers.”
In the first reading, the chosen people are commanded: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.” The reading continues with a warning against usury and that the Lord will hear the cry of those wronged, and “my wrath will flare up.” I like to imagine what may happen to certain credit card companies...but I digress.
In Jesus’s time, there were men and women who were Jewish, living under the Roman government as residents of Galilee, Judea, and surrounding regions. Also living among the Jews were Romans, Samaritans, and Gentiles. Like us they were spouses, parents, children, and siblings who had jobs and responsibilities in the empire.
In today’s gospel, the Pharisees are determined to undermine Jesus by asking if the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. While they are opposed to paying the tax, the Pharisees quickly produced a coin upon Jesus’ request which seems to imply their use and acceptance of its benefits. Sidestepping a direct answer about lawfulness issue, Jesus instead directs them to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” He’s saying if you’re going to use Caesar’s coin, then repay him, but more importantly give to God what belongs to God.
Sometimes this gospel story has been used to argue for the separation of religion and politics. But Jesus is saying it’s not that simple. There’s a danger in compartmentalizing our lives, religion from politics and the spiritual from the worldly, because, like Caesar’s imprinted image on the coin, God’s image is imprinted on our hearts. At the core of our being is our creator God. We belong to God and his imprint should inform and influence every part of us, everything that makes us who we are. Before our secondary identities, we are children of God. Before we are spouses, parents, friends, co-workers, citizens, residents, liberal or conservative, we are children of God and as such, we are whole persons called to give back to God by living the gospel values, values that influence how we live, work, play, vote, make decisions, and interact with others and the world around us.
In both the first reading, from Isaiah, and in the Gospel, the topic is feasting. God is holding a big bash, the very biggest – no exaggeration here – and we’ve all received an invitation!
Isaiah writes for people in the king’s court. Food would have been abundant there under almost all circumstances except, perhaps, in time of war and siege. Matthew’s Gospel, written five to seven centuries later, was addressed to ordinary people, most of whom would have lived very close to hunger. Most people seldom had meat, except on special feast days, and survived on a diet of bread with the fruits and vegetables of the season. The food would either require hours of preparation, or purchase from a tavern or restaurant with high prices. Bad weather like drought or flooding, field pests and warfare made famine an ever-present possibility.
If you recall when, out of his compassion for the hungry crowds, Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, and everyone ate their fill and there were baskets of food left over, people continued to follow Jesus for days, hoping for a repeat of the feasting. Jesus tried to redirect their attention to the eternal questions and the bread of heaven – see John, chapter 6 – but his followers’ bellies got the best of them. They had lived so long with hunger it was hard for them to shift from that focus.
Even today, access to food depends on where you live. Although the statistics I’m giving vary from one version to the next, the following seems to be in the middle of the scholarly offerings. In the United States, average Americans spends roughly 6.4% of their income for food. In 1900 AD, only 120 years ago, providing food for a family consumed as much as 43% of wages, whereas housing was only 23%. Things certainly have flipped.
In Nigeria today, on the other hand, each household spends only half of what we would on food in a year. There, however, that lesser amount consumes 56.4% percent of most household’s earnings. Food is a much greater concern for the average person in Nigeria than it is for us in the United States.
I share these stats just to give us an idea of how different the whole question of feeding one’s family can be from time to time, and place to place.
In both Isaiah and Matthew, there is a banquet prepared of rich food and pure choice wines, of slaughtered calves and fattened cattle. For their audiences, these images are very suitable metaphors for heaven where, finally, there would be enough for everyone. The wonderful thing is that we’re all invited.
We live in such abundance that we may have to reach a little to understand how these feasts would have affected the original audiences. In Jesus’ parable, in particular, it would have been disturbing that people bypassed the opportunity repeatedly offered them. The incomprehensible behavior of the invited, but unwilling, guests deeply offends the king.
The parable is actually speaking of the history of God’s chosen people, always invited into an eternal relationship with God, but often distracted by the world’s affairs. Can we honestly say that it is any different with us? The invitation still stands; the feast is still ready; the king has dispatched his servants to bring us together. The experience is going to be rich; the king offers the best of what is possible; the reward is eternal. Is it possible that we, too, are too busy to respond?
Dear Faith Family,
I hope that you are all doing well.
The Faith Formation year has started! And while it looks vastly different from our previous years, I just wanted to take time to assure you that the parish staff and volunteers are still committed to sharing the glory of our faith to the children and teens of the parish.
Regarding the Confirmation process, we are beginning our Year 1 classes this Sunday via Zoom. We have had some experience with Zoom during the tailend of Year 2 Confirmation when the pandemic first hit, so the leaders and I have confidence that digital learning won’t deter us from effectively sharing our testimonies with the teens. We have also restarted peer leader meetings on Tuesdays so we can brainstorm to create ideas to evangelize via Zoom.
We have also continued 4:12 throughout this quarantine and it has been a huge success. There is something about the teens using their free time to rejuvenate their faith by spending time with their peers. I know it affects me tremendously. We meet most Wednesdays at 7:15.
Although things look different and we are praying that things start to look the same, I just wanted to share with you that the mission stays intact. Just because the world shut down, it doesn’t mean that we should cease “Encountering Jesus and Being Disciples.” This, in fact, is the cornerstone of our parish and it would be a failure to divert from this cornerstone.
If you have a teen who is interested in 4:12 or leadership, please add us on Instagram (@pspyouth), that is where we post the Zoom information for each meeting (we post the meeting code in the stories). If you or your teen don’t have access to Instagram, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Parish Family,
Happy Catechetical Sunday to you all. On this day we celebrate the importance of passing on the faith and being witnesses to the Gospel. The root of the word Catechesis comes from a Greek word meaning “to echo, or resound.” Catechism is the act of resounding or bringing the Church’s teachings to the world. A catechist is one who teaches in the name of the Church. This ministry of teaching in the name of the Church has a profound dignity, which is why catechists are formally commissioned by the Church.
“The 2020 Catechetical Sunday theme is taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “I Received from the Lord what I also Handed on to You.” This theme focuses on the essential work of catechesis, which is an invitation to a whole new life given by Christ Himself. It emphasizes that living faith necessitates movement, inspiring all those who hear the Word to share it as witnesses of the true and living God.” Bishop Robert Barron; USCCB
On this day we not only highlight the work of catechists in parishes and schools, but we also commend parents and guardians and encourage them to take seriously their role of making their Catholic households a place where faith is passed on to the next generation. Parents are truly the primary catechists of their children. This has become even more evident this year, with the pandemic, so many of you became not only academic teachers, but with the closures of the church buildings, you became the main source of faith to the children in your life. Building the domestic church; recognizing that it’s not the building, but the gathering of believers that makes the Church.
This is why the rite of blessing of catechists used on Catechetical Sunday includes a blessing of parents and guardians. You too will be commissioned and blessed, in your vocation and mission. To all catechists in our lives, parents and grandparents, priests and deacons, religious sisters, church family, all who have been encounters of Jesus in our lives, we thank you!
Dear friends on the journey,
On September 6, 2018 Botham Jean was killed by Amber Guyger. Thirteen months later Amber was convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison. The circumstances of this case are important, but not the whole story. You may recall that Amber was a white female police officer who entered what she thought was her apartment to find Botham, a young black man, sitting on her couch. Thinking he was an intruder, she fatally wounded him. Later it was revealed that it was in fact not her apartment. She entered Botham’s home where he was unarmed, sitting on the couch eating ice cream.
I believe the lesson here is forgiveness. At the sentencing hearing, Botham’s brother Brandt, in his victim impact statement, told Amber that he loved her as a person, wanted only the best for her, and offered his forgiveness for her actions that had ultimately taken his brother’s life. Brandt then asked permission to hug the defendant Amber. Gasps, tears and sniffles filled the courtroom during their oneminute embrace.
What struck me most deeply in this tragic story was young Brandt. How could someone forgive the murderer of a loved one? How could an 18yearold have such wisdom? He said it repeatedly in his statement…God. It was clear that his Christian faith has so strongly shaped this young man and his values. He understood that God would forgive her, and that he should too. I wonder if I could do the same thing. Could I offer forgiveness to someone who hurt me so deeply?
To this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is revealing the secrets of the kingdom of God. We’ve had the Beatitudes back in chapter six followed by his teachings on the dangers of wealth, the importance of denying oneself, and thinking as God does. In today’s parable, Jesus offers another insight: God’s mercy and the necessity of forgiveness. Grace, mercy, compassion and forgiveness not only describe the kingdom of God in heaven, they are also the keys to God’s kingdom on earth and how to live a happy life now.
Today’s gospel holds us to a higher standard in God’s kingdom and teaches us about the freedom that comes with forgiveness. Nelson Mandela said it well: “Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” The resentment, anger, pain, and grudges we harbor only bind us. Only when we ask God’s forgiveness and we forgive others can we make space for God’s grace and mercy in our lives, thus in turn our transgressor’s life.
The rub is in the place of forgiving and not forgetting. Forgiveness is not forgetting nor condoning but an opportunity to learn a lesson and more about ourselves and another. This is the place of growth and transformation and to encounter Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice for our forgiveness.
It’s a curious line, in today’s Gospel: “… treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” Brothers and sisters sin against each other with some frequency. What are we to do when sinned against, offended, hurt, or emotionally bleeding? Sometimes people regret their own offenses, often as soon as the transgression takes place. Some do not. What do we do then? Should we just let our hurt lie there, unresolved? Should we make an issue of it? Should we rage against those who cut us? Should we sulk or withdraw in hurt?
The stages Jesus sets before us make profound sense. First, and sensibly, try to resolve things quietly, just between the two of you. Not every good intentioned individual is also sensitive. Some, when they discover their words or actions are hurtful, will be truly repentant. It may take some explanation for them to understand the consequences of what they’ve done. If there is any good will at all, and there often is, calm explanations will work better here than angry finger pointing, irony or guilt making. This approach of the Lord has the advantage of not shaming the other publicly.
Second, when a quiet conversation fails to work, bring in witnesses, where possible. This can be a necessary stage since some, even those of general good will, fail to listen to people close to them, family or friends. Familiarity can breed deafness as well as contempt. The practice of drawing in two or three witnesses draws upon the requirement of Deut 19:15 and Num 35:30 that, for any serious offense, the testimony of multiple witnesses was required. Having a few others, somewhat more distant, may lead your offending siblings to hear the weight of their actions in a new way.
Third, consult with the church. I’m often drawn into some of the most painful family situations, to listen and provide counsel. Sometimes the distance I have from the situation, and the freedom I have from the deep emotions poisoning people’s relationships, provide me with the clarity needed to intercede without heated passions, but with sympathy. I haven’t saved every marriage, or resolved every parent/child dispute, but I have been helpful for many.
Then, and only then, when even the intervention of the church fails, comes the curious encouragement to treat the offender as we might “a Gentile or tax collector.” In Matthew’s world, they were the outsider born in sin, the irredeemable foot soldier of Rome’s financial oppression.
Do you have a way of treating Gentiles and tax collectors? I know I don’t … and that may be the very point. I have no expectations of tax collectors. Perhaps the invitation is to address, not the offender, but myself. If I can’t change my “brother” then, perhaps, I’m going to have to change myself, my own expectations. If my brother or sister can’t or won’t turn from what hurts me, do I continue to give them enduring control over my emotions, denying me peace of mind and happiness? As I have no expectations of “Gentiles or tax collectors,” perhaps I need to have no expectations of my unrepentant, offending siblings.
Dear Faith Family,
I hope you are all doing well.
We have had small glimpses of normal life recently. At least for me, normal life showed a small glimpse of itself when live sports began. Not only is it comforting for me to see these events because of my addiction to live sports, but it is also comforting because it reminds me of what life was like before this unfortunate pandemic.
I, like most of you, have found myself to feel a wide range of emotions these past months. I have felt the anxiety that has come with the “new normal,” I have found myself overthinking my relationships with loved ones and I also have felt plenty of doubt when thinking about when this will end.
In this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus explains to His disciples that he will suffer, be put to death and raised on the last day. If I were Peter, I would have also been hyper focused on the whole “suffering and dying” part, just like he did. That’s why I don’t blame him for his response of wanting to save Jesus from this suffering.
Obviously, Jesus set him straight.
While Jesus’ response seems harsh, it is definitely just. How many times in our lives have we focused on just suffering without the positives that God can bring through them? While Jesus did mention his suffering and death, he also explicitly mentions that he will be raised from the dead. How many times in our lives have we focused on the suffering in our lives and have ignored the miracles that are right in front of us?
I know that this time has been difficult. And for all those who have lost loved ones, or have loved ones that are currently sick, you are absolutely in my prayers.
Somehow though, in the face of real tragedy, we have to try our hardest to embrace eternal life and understand that where sin is present, grace is present even more. How do we do this? Somehow, through the virtue of faith, we have to stop “thinking not as God thinks, but as humans do.”
Here we are in late August, nearing the end of a summer unlike any other we have experienced. Many of us pine for the experiences of the previous summer during which graduations, Confirmations, weddings, vacations and other communal gatherings and celebrations were taken for granted, but now seem like a dream. While we have adapted and adjusted to live within the COVID19 pandemic, we have also had to come to terms with our limitations.
Trying to make sense of our present reality, we hear from lots of voices who, exercising some authority, are asking us to make sacrifices and conduct ourselves for the greater good. Unfortunately, not all these voices agree with each other and many offer contradictory views. For many, these conflicting voices and views are not exclusive to elected officials and public health authorities. Sometimes differing views manifest themselves within the smaller circle of family and friends and even within ourselves.
Our gospel today provides us guidance on how to discern the voices we should be attentive to. Jesus asks his disciples (and us) “who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16:15) Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Son of the living God comes not from human authority but from God directly. For Peter to “hear” God, he had to create a space in his heart to be receptive to God’s message. This required him to block out other distracting voices including his own internal voices of doubt. You may recall the gospel from two Sundays ago when Peter tried to walk on the water toward Jesus but started sinking when he doubted Jesus’ message and authority (Matt 14:2233). Jesus commissions Peter to be the rock of his Church not because Peter came up with the correct answer, but because Peter was willing to see past the limitations of human authority and seek the greater wisdom that only God can provide.
Listening for God’s voice amidst our distractions and doubts is not easy. The demands of juggling work, school and family often within the physical confines of isolation within our homes does not seem to allow for any time for us to hear God’s voice. Also, we have become so accustomed to the constant barrage of news and social media that it is difficult for us to spiritually “sit still.” Like Peter, we are invited to listen for the authentic voice of God for the answers that will guide us through the current storm we are experiencing.
Doing this requires setting aside some part of the day for prayer and reflection. This will seem like an impossible task especially for those of you with children at home just starting up the fall term having to start the school year via online and virtual instruction. Bishop Robert Barron, in a homily he shared during a recent Confirmation liturgy, suggested a simple but powerful prayer. Whether you are experiencing a moment of happiness or a time of great challenge, praying “Come Holy Spirit” is an effective way of inviting God into your life.
Over the main doors at the entrance to our Cathedral (Our Lady of the Angels), there is an inscription that reads “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because it comes from this weekend’s first reading. Here the LORD is telling the Chosen People that foreigners who act justly will be welcomed to his holy mountain and their sacrifices will be acceptable to him. This is just one of many instances in the Hebrew scriptures where the LORD is teaching his people that the door is wider open than they thought; that there are more seats at the table than they knew.
At our mass of dedication in 1995 the song “All Are Welcome” by Marty Haugen was sung, and we’ve sung it occasionally since. It’s a beautiful tune with great lyrics. The 5th verse (which often enough we don’t get to sing because of the length of the entrance procession) says this (emphases mine):
Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
And loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter: all are welcome in this place.1
I’m sure we aspire to be the kind of community and church where all truly are welcome, but are we? Do we still have work to do? I think we do. But if our understanding of what it means to be a welcoming inclusive community is still unfolding, we must just keep trying to be better. When this pandemic is resolved and we are able to gather once again, what will it look like? What will it be like?
This brings us to this weekend’s Gospel reading where Jesus is a bit harsh with a Canaanite woman begging for help for her daughter who is in torment. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Eventually Jesus relents and heals her daughter because of the woman’s great persistence and great faith. “But sir, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ tables.”
Some whose wisdom and knowledge I respect have said that this story is evidence of Jesus “growing in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). In other words, his understanding of his ministry, and for whom he was sent grew from just being savior to Israel to having been sent to all people – and it was the Canaanite woman’s “badgering” that helped him to come to that realization. Of course, no one wants to be on the wrong side of a Mama Bear advocating for her child!
That’s not to say that great faith and persistence in prayer are not great values – of course they are. But if Jesus’ understanding of his mission evolved, then we need not be discouraged if ours must also. Then we can sing “All are welcome” and it can be far more than just self-congratulatory. So, let’s “build a house”!
Dear friend on the journey,
During this global pandemic of Covid-19, I heard repeatedly, “At least we’re all in the same boat.” A more accurate rebuttal is, “We are in the same storm, not the same boat.” Everyone’s experience of the lockdown is varied, not necessarily better or worse, just different. My fears of the virus are not the same as my dear friend, a cancer survivor living with type 1 diabetes. An ICU nurse’s experience of the pandemic is not the same as the corporate executive working at home. Same storm, different boats.
In today’s gospel, a storm is overwhelming the boat carrying the disciples across the Sea of Galilee. In the darkest of night, the wind and rain are churning the waves, violently tossing the boat and its passengers. Seeing this from afar, Jesus knows very well how the apostles are feeling. Fear and despair are consuming them. They desperately want safety and comfort. Jesus walks out on the water to meet them in the middle of the stormy sea to encourage them not to be afraid; he is there for them. This gospel offers two messages. In our personal storms, Jesus knows our fears and anxiety and comes to us, offering courage and a refuge of love and grace. The other message is how to act like Jesus by becoming more aware of another’s fears and needs. His actions in this gospel are an example and invitation to us to be his hands, feet and a refuge for family, friends and neighbors in their stormy times.
In the midst of this pandemic storm, there still exists the storms of illness, hunger, poverty, homelessness, addictions, abuse, grief, and right now the storm of racism has intensified. Each storm churns up fear, worry, concern, pain and suffering. If the storm affects one, it affects all because we are all children of God, equally made in God’s image, equally loved by God. Jesus gave us two commands: love God and love each other. They are not mutually exclusive; they are one in the same.
In the storm of racism, as Christian disciples we can no longer be idle and say “it’s not my problem.” Racism in all its forms is a life issue and we are called to respond, not react, no matter the discomfort. This is a big issue so how do we start? A place to begin is by simply learning. Educating ourselves about the issue involves prayer, reading, researching, and listening. Only then can we act with confidence. Remember the boats are different so listening to another’s story is key. Stories can soften hearts, provide deeper insight and generate compassion.
I invite you Tuesday via Zoom to listen to personal stories, really listen with open hearts and minds to the stories of three parishioners, three mothers who parent their children of color with unique challenges, concerns, fears. Page two of today’s bulletin has details or visit our website www.padreserra.org/news/our-truths. Upon registration you will receive an email with the Zoom login.
If you’ve been by the parish at all in the last months, you have noticed that all the construction going on next door has spilled into our parking lot. I thought I’d take a moment to update you on the history of the process and how things are progressing.
To increase the seminary’s endowment, the archbishop, the seminary board and the seminary administration decided to develop St. John’s lemon and avocado groves. They hired Shea Homes to manage the project. This decision affects the parish, as the development borders our campus on two sides.
In the early planning stages architects determined that the best road entrance to the new homes lay immediately west of our property. The city planners foresaw traffic problems if our old exit entered Upland Road right next to Arboleda, the new road. Either the plans for the development had to change, or our entrance needed to move. The archdiocese requested that we cooperate with Shea’s plans and reroute our western exit onto the new road, assisting the development, for the seminary’s sake.
Shea Homes agreed to reconfigure our front parking lot and replant our borders. In compensation for the inconvenience and the extended period of disorder, they also agreed to provide the curbing and paving for an extension to our parking lot in the back of our campus. You will remember our gravel overflow that we only used on holidays! It is currently being developed into an additional parking lot for us. The parish is financially responsible only for lighting and planting the back lot.
These developments will lead to some changes. Our eastern exit will remain the same. However, when we use our rerouted western exit, from our parking lot, we will make a left onto Arboleda using two lanes. We will then come to the new signal they have put in, giving us the opportunity to turn either right or left onto Upland. If you recall, the island in the middle of Upland formerly prevented anything but right hand turns from our old western exit. So this is a positive. This new configuration will also allow car access, for those travelling east on Upland. We will be able to use a left hand turn lane at Arboleda, off of Upland, with a left turn arrow. This should be a marked improvement for us. On the down side, we will lose 4 spaces in the front, but will gain around 70 spaces in the back.
I hope that in the fall, we can resurface the entire church parking with funds coming from the archdiocesan Called to Renew funds. This might be complicated by the pandemic and the stay-at-home orders affecting churches. The archdiocese has made a blanket request of all parishes that we delay all major capital expenses due to the decrease in parish incomes. We will have to see if those funds are still available to us in the months ahead.
Whenever the resurfacing happens, we will be able to add more handicapped spaces in close to the church, the parish offices and the Serra Center. We have needed to do this for some time. We already have the number of handicapped spaces required by the city, but the number is insufficient for the actual number of handicapped parishioners, who arrive early for Mass, only to find every handicapped space already occupied. Since handicapped spaces absorb three regular spaces to make two handicapped spaces, and since city codes require us to maintain a certain number of regular spaces, we had to wait until the construction of additional parking in the back of our property, behind the church.
At this time, both projects are in progress. I am uncertain when they will be completed. It should only be a matter of another month, maybe two. In a certain graced way, the vastly reduced numbers present for Mass, due to the pandemic, has made this less catastrophic a change than I first thought…though the pandemic is calamitous enough.
Dear Faith Family,
I want to thank you for all the support during these difficult times. As you may know, along with our Vigil and Sunday night liturgies, we have been celebrating both First Communion and Confirmation liturgies outside in the courtyard throughout the week. Although the process of planning these brought a lot of anxiety, we have learned that the reward outweighs the difficulties we had to endure.
Obviously, when it comes to Confirmation, we are used to one large liturgy with a bishop celebrating. These outdoor liturgies, although different, have been beautiful in their own special way. While celebrating with all the candidates and their families during the outdoor Mass, this Mass somehow has had a sense of intimacy that is so different than the traditional way we have done it in the past.
I had no idea how bright the glimpse of heaven would be when we started envisioning the outdoor Masses. It is indeed vibrant.
I just wanted to take an opportunity in this letter to thank all those involved in the Confirmation process. Our leaders have been so patient and adaptable during this confusing time. Zoom meetings are difficult, but our leaders pulled through! I am constantly amazed by the servant leadership that our leaders adopt and practice.
I want to thank all of the families for their patience during this process. It would’ve been so easy to lose faith in church programs while everything is up in the air, but it is because of your domestic church that we are able to celebrate these beautiful Sacraments. As you know, church programs are the secondary source of catechesis, the domestic church is the primary source. I am so grateful that you take your faith so seriously within your homes.
Lastly, I want to thank all of the Confirmation Candidates and the recently confirmed. Your patience has absolutely brought our program hope in these scary times. Not just hope that our program can withstand any disaster, but it gives us hope in the parish that our Church is in good hands. I know it’s cliché and you may have heard it many times, but you are not the future of the Church, but you are the Church. Without you, our Church wouldn’t be so vibrant and full of hope. I can honestly say that you are wonderful examples of the faith and that I look up to you all.