Dear Faith Family,
Happy Palm Sunday! We are inching toward the celebration of our Risen Lord.
Before we go into the miracle of the Resurrection though, it is always helpful to dive into Jesus’ Passion. Holy Week is an incredibly somber moment. It’s hard not to feel sadness when we dive deep into the experience of the suffering of our God. Our human instinct drives us the opposite way, as it should, but I want to express the importance of understanding the difficulties of Christ’s passion.
We’ve heard the story a thousand times. God became man. Sometimes we hear it so often that it doesn’t strike us as much as it should. This is why Holy Week is so important. It’s not the idea of being masochistic or glorifying pain, but rather, when we contemplate the Passion of Christ, we recognize the motives behind it: God has always been willing to die for us.
Personal suffering should not be pursued in our lives (I want to stress the importance of this), but we also know that sadness is inevitable at various times in our lives. We will suffer from loss and struggle in various forms — it’s a part of being human. The reason we dive into Jesus’ Passion so intently is to recognize that He was willing to be one of us, for us.
So although it may feel somber to experience Christ’s Passion, the reality is, that through His suffering, He conquered death. We have such a unique faith that expresses that what we go through, (whether it is the highs of our lives or our lows) that Christ has experienced it and transformed it.
When we exclaim that Christ conquered death, it is not just in the moment of His Resurrection, but through Christ, death is not the end. So throughout this week I invite you to remind yourself in prayer, that death is not the end and that is how God intended it to be.
Youth and Young Adult Minister
Dear friends on the journey,
Recently a Facebook friend posted about an “answered prayer” so I settled in to read the post, thinking it was going to be a heartwarming story. What I found was a tale of road rage in L.A. traffic in which he “prayed” that an impatient, somewhat erratic driver who passed him by would experience a flat tire. And what did he find a few miles up the road... the crazy driver in the shoulder with a flat tire! The acquaintance was quite pleased with his “prayer” and God for listening.
I was really surprised by this post, thinking he really misunderstands the concept of prayer but then today’s gospel of the woman caught in adultery reminded me how dangerous and common a self righteous attitude can be. The scribes, Pharisees and Jesus know full well that, according to Mosaic law, adultery is punishable by stoning. In their righteousness the scribes and Pharisees are hoping to punish a guilty woman and testing Jesus to see if he will follow the law. They are ready to lob stones at her. But Jesus counters and says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” What happens next is hopeful. They all leave. The woman is untouched. Jesus forgives her and tells her to sin no more.
How many times do we pass judgment on someone for something they have done wrong and hope they “get what they deserve?” How often do we hope a guilty person gets the worst possible punishment? Have we ever taken a little bit of delight in someone’s pain or punishment? This self righteous attitude is unproductive, dangerous, and sinful on our part.
How can we possibly know what someone else is going through? Why was that guy driving erratically on the freeway? Why was that woman in such a relationship? Why is that teenager acting out? Why is our neighbor always so prickly? Why is that coworker always so difficult? Why is that kid such a bully? Why is that cashier so grumpy?
If we’re really made in God’s image, then we’re inherently good. We’re all wired for good, but this life is not perfect. We make bad decisions. We choose the wrong actions and words. Sometimes we’re on the receiving end of another’s bad decisions, leaving us to perpetuate the harm and pain. God did not promise an easy life but he promises to be with us through the trials. God promises us forgiveness. When was the last time we asked for forgiveness? What did that feel like?
We have two weeks left of Lent. Perhaps we can take this remaining time before Easter to reflect on our moments of self righteousness and then put ourselves in the place of the adulterous woman. Put ourselves in the places of our own guilt and shame and remember what forgiveness feels like. Instead of delighting in another’s guilt and misfortune, let us put down our stones and delight in another’s experience of Jesus’ care and compassion and God’s mercy.
Faith Life Minister
Dear Faith Family,
I just wanted to take an opportunity to thank all of you for your support in Youth and Young Adult Ministry. A couple weeks ago we had our annual “Fairways to Heaven” fundraiser and again it was a huge success. The numbers will be announced soon, but I can tell you that the support at the event was evident in your willingness to be present.
Thank you all for the support that you’ve given our ministries. Even for those who were unable to make it to the fundraiser, I appreciate all of your support. The dream of getting a new youth center is quickly becoming a reality and it is all thanks to all of you.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much.
Youth and Young Adult Minister
Dear Parish Family,
In the last few days I have heard several people express how happy they were that Lent had begun. They all shared the same desire to make the much needed time to reflect on their life, make the necessary changes for the better and add extra prayer time with our Lord. As I heard this I couldn’t help but rejoice at this treasure of the Catholic Church. As St Paul reminds us in the second reading, our citizenship is in heaven, and Lent gives us opportunity for us to prepare our souls.
In today’s Gospel when Peter, John and James accompanied Jesus to the quiet mountain top to pray they were witnesses to Jesus transfigured in his glory, in dazzling white garments and shining like a light, they then heard a voice from heaven saying “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
As we Journey through our lenten season, I encourage you to make this your focus of the week, find some quiet time and Listen to Him. How will we hear God’s voice? If we open our hearts to God’s inspiration, little by little through the Holy Spirit, he will strengthen our hearts with his divine love. Faith begins with a love for all things of God, and a growing desire for his love that nothing else can satisfy. We know his words in the Scriptures, listen to them with new ears. We will hear Gods voice in the breeze of the wind, the roaring of the sea, or the laughter of a child. Feel his touch in the warmth of the sunlight, or the gentle caress of our loved ones. We will see his face in all those we encounter (yes even in those whom we may find difficult to love). He surrounds us in his loving embrace. He never abandons us, it is us who choose to leave his love. When we choose sin. When we are tempted to give up and give in, let us look to Jesus transfigured in his Glory and see in him the future that is promised to us, not only at Easter but in the fullness of God’s Kingdom.
My Dear Parish Family,
Welcome to Lent! You may have already started your Lenten practices, or perhaps you are still pondering what you should do this year in preparation for the great feast of Easter, the glorious high point of our entire Church Year. Last weekend a flyer entitled Lent, 40 Days to Encounter Jesus, Be Disciples was given out. It is still available in the church lobby and parish office and is an excellent resource which suggests many, many opportunities for a grace-filled Lent. Take one home, look it over with your family or friends, and mark your calendar with some of the events. Rethink your attitude toward Lent regarding Prayer, Almsgiving and Fasting and follow some of the suggestions listed in the flyer or create some positive practices of your own.
Regarding Prayer, consider adding silence to your prayer life. Silence is something our modern culture struggles with but greatly needs. Try to find a place and time to sit silently in the holy presence of God for even a few minutes every day (with cell phone turned off!), perhaps in your car before work or school or in some quiet spot at home. St. Teresa of Calcutta often said, “In the silence of the heart God speaks.” Make a silent space for God to speak to you each day.
Regarding Almsgiving, our English word alms comes from a Greek word for mercy. The Gospels of St. Luke, which we hear proclaimed at Sunday Mass this year, are full of the message of God’s constant and unconditional mercy. Jesus commands us, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6: 36) During Lent, besides giving to the poor, we might challenge ourselves to go deeper and examine our attitudes and behavior towards those who trouble us most. Our “alms” to them could be the offering of compassion and tender care.
Regarding Fasting, we might focus on feasting during Lent as well. We can do this by choosing not to do some things (fasting) and then choosing to replace them with other things (feasting). For example, if we choose to fast from criticizing others, we can feast on giving compliments and praise.
Let this be our best Lent ever!
The weekly collection, every week at each parish, belongs to the parishioners, not the pastor. Every pastor who is doing his job has to be very serious about how that money is spent. It has to be for the parishioners’ welfare. I am happy to say that, while I’m convinced we need to save more for future capital needs (painting, roofs, plumbing, etc.), the parish has always paid its debts in a very timely way, and that is due to your generosity. I thank you!
So many pastors and parishes cannot say the same. In fact, sixty-five parishes rely on outside assistance to pay for their ordinary operations. An additional sixty-three schools also struggle financially. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be choosing between the ministries and activities to support, and which ones to let go, because there just isn’t enough…but there are many pastors who have to make those kinds of decisions every week.
Back when I was teaching full-time in the seminary, I travelled quite a bit, throughout the United States, giving continuing education talks on the Scriptures to many groups of priests. One of the things that I discovered is that many dioceses throughout the nation have big campaigns, like Together in Mission, but almost all of them aren’t for the poor parishes, but for the support of the chancery offices. I applaud the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for having a collection strictly for assisting our poor parishes. Let’s have it clear in our minds, these are our parishes. We belong to each other and share a common mission to bring people to an experience of Jesus and to become His disciples.
The Together in Mission collection enables the parishes and schools it helps to fix or replace roofs, paint walls, and upgrade electrical systems. It buys school textbooks and classroom technology. It keeps the lights on and pays for employee insurance. It helps parishes with their ministry and education programs. It pays essential salaries. It provides security at Catholic schools in tough neighborhoods to keep children safe.
The cause is just and the need is great. There is a careful distribution of the money raised, and prudent monitoring. In essence, it is money well spent. I can’t encourage you enough, please be supportive of this collection. You have done so much to ease my mind of great financial struggle. Can we do the same for others?
Also visit: Together in Mission - Our Story is Hope
This weekend’s mass readings are of course rich with meaning. They also have a pattern of contrasts and juxtapositions, in a sort of mirror image between the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah and the Gospel which is Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount.
Another interesting bridge between Jeremiah and Luke is this: At the end of the “blessed are yous”, Jesus says “for their ancestors treated the [true] prophets in the same way. At the end of the “woe to yous”, Jesus says “for their ancestors treated the [false] prophets in this way.”
Jeremiah was a true prophet of God and he was horribly treated – remember the passage about his being cast into a muddy pit because the king didn’t like the prophecies he was making? Jesus Christ was a true prophet and we know he was horribly treated: scorn, torture and cruel execution.
This can all be a little unsettling for those of us who have comforts in this life: enough to eat, adequate clothing and shelter, gainful employment, the love of families and friends.
But our second reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians has juxtapositions of its own and reaffirms the truth about Jesus to which we cling – that he was not only a true prophet, but the Son of God, risen from the dead:
If for this life only we have hope in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.
Now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Every now and then I relish the opportunity to celebrate the quiet heroes of the parish, the people who, mostly remaining in the background, do so much good and enable the parish to become a place of healing, hope, friendship and faith. It is long past time that I acknowledge some not-so-quiet heroes – the parish musicians and choir members.
Part of the special character of Padre Serra is the way the music is so uplifting. The trouble is it is so consistently good that, if I’m not careful, I can begin to take it for granted.
When that happens, there is nothing like going to Mass anywhere else to refocus my awareness on how good we have it. Celebrating with other communities when I am away schools me in the need to appreciate the efforts of directors, musicians and singers who enliven our worship here in Camarillo so dependably well.
Part of our parish’s special tuneful equation is just how varied the repertoire is, from classic Catholic polyphony, to modern compositions, old standards, spirituals and praise hymns, from ancient to new. I’m sure you’ve noticed that, while our texts are overwhelmingly in English, some are Latin and, occasionally, Tagalog and Spanish. That kind of musical breadth and linguistic depth takes open spirits, the willingness to stretch and a lot of practice and experience.
Now, doing music as well as our choirs do it demands competence, artistry, and hours of practice. Children’s choir rehearses weekly on Mondays after school, the 11 am choir on Tuesdays, and the 9 am on Thursdays, both in the evening. When we get into the special liturgical seasons of the year, before Christmas concerts, to prepare for Holy Week, etc., additional rehearsals are necessary. I am truly grateful that our parish contains so many people with generous hearts, willing to make that double commitment, to be at a given Mass time and its preceding rehearsal.
On a side note, I hope you’ve noticed how often the words of the songs reflect the content of the readings. Time after time, Dominic has managed to find sung texts that reflect what I’ve tried to communicate in my homilies. I can’t say that it’s never an accident of grace, but most often it’s because of Dominic’s deep knowledge of the texts, and his willingness to do long range planning.
Having sung in choirs in the ten years I was in the seminary, I know the particular struggle of keeping my music in order, attending to meter, maintaining melody and pitch, faithfully observing the director’s leads, and…praying. The whole purpose of the music program is to lead us into sung prayer, where sacred texts and musical artistry combine to lift our minds to the holy presence of God. Musicians and singers have to commit deeply to prayer to stave off distractions. I am so thankful to them for this.
When applying for a graduate teaching program after college, one of the interview questions centered on my favorite Gospel story that relates to teaching. Relying on my years in Catholic elementary and high school, I suggested Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. As educators, we plant small seeds and nurture them to grow into marvelous things!
Before staying home with our two sons, my wife was also a Catholic school teacher and principal. In her office was a quote by William Butler Yeats that read, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” We light small sparks that will grow and bring light and warmth to those who surround it.
I share these anecdotes this week as we begin the celebration of National Catholic Schools’ Week – an opportunity to recognize the tremendous achievements of the 6,352 Catholic schools across the United States. Catholic schools are where students are able to learn, serve, lead, and ultimately succeed. Seeds are planted and sparks are lit every single day in our Catholic schools.
I feel so tremendously blessed to be principal at our very own Catholic school at St. Mary Magdalen here in Camarillo. It is a privilege to work with a dedicated and enthusiastic faculty and a tremendous honor to partner with amazing parents in the education of their children. It is with these teachers and parents that seeds are planted and small sparks are nurtured.
I am certainly proud of the academic achievements of our students that see them typically score above the national average on standardized tests and advance to the top high schools in our area. I’m also proud of the wide range of opportunities we are able to offer our students during the school day such as Spanish and music as well as after school activities including a wide variety of clubs and sports.
We help our students to grow and flourish in so many ways, but I truly believe the most important seeds we plant and flames we fan are that of our students’ faith. To be able to start every day in prayer, celebrate Mass together once a week as a school community, and openly talk with students about our shared Catholic faith is something I most enjoy about my job and something that sets our school apart from others. We prepare students to not only be productive citizens of this world, but also develop them to one day be citizens of heaven.
The work that we do is something that cannot be done without your prayers and support and to my fellow Padre Serra parishioners, I offer humble words of deep gratitude. Your generosity over the years allows us to continue to grow and thrive. This is your school community and you are such an important part of the educational journey and faith development of all our children.
You are there with us as we plant seeds and light the fire.
Mike Ronan Mike Ronan
Principal, St. Mary Magdalen School
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines an Epiphany as (1): a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something. (2): an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking. (3): an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.
The Epiphany of the Lord that we celebrated two weeks ago certainly meets these criteria. Foreign Magi, following a very unusual and striking star, encounter the baby Jesus, and understand that he is the savior not only of the Jews, but of the Gentiles as well. Their reverence for the child may have caused an epiphany for the Jews surrounding him at the time, including Mary and Joseph.
Our Eastern Christian brothers and sisters celebrate three such manifestations or epiphanies. The first is the arrival of the Magi with their gifts, the revelation of Jesus as savior for all. We heard about the second in last week’s gospel. The now grown Jesus, about to embark on his public ministry, first seeks out his cousin John and requests baptism. John, knowing who Jesus is, questions this, saying that it is Jesus who should be baptizing him. But he obeys, and when Jesus comes up out of the water, many see a dove descending on him, and hear God’s voice from heaven saying to Jesus “you are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased.” In this way, Jesus’ special relationship to the divine is revealed or manifested to those present (and to those who will hear their testimony later).
In this week’s reading from John’s gospel we hear of the third of these epiphanies. Jesus (with a little prompting from his mother) changes water into wine at a wedding feast at Cana. Much has been written about Jesus’ choice of venues and circumstances for his first miracle. Some say that a wedding feast where he provides the lacking wine is a metaphor for the kingdom of God. Others see Jesus’ generosity filling six stone water jars, each with a 20 to 30 gallon capacity, with wine of a superior quality as a sign of the abundant life that God calls us to. Still others point to the joyous occasion that Jesus obviously intended to enjoy as pointing to his humanity. But I think all can agree that Jesus’ divinity was also manifested here.
There is another aspect to see here as well. As is the case in so many of Jesus’ miracles, the beneficiaries were active participants. The wedding couple and their family provided the stone jars and the water, not to mention the event and the invitation that brought Jesus and his mother there. And Jesus’ mother Mary provided a little encouragement.
How can we manifest Jesus to others? How can we create epiphanies in our lives?
Dear Parish Family,
On this, the last day of the Christmas season, 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 baptized 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.
In Celebration of Jesus baptism and our own, look for your Baptismal keepsakes and share them with your family. Let us celebrate that we are God's Beloved.
Faith Formation Minister
Dear Faith Family,
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas season. With this today being Epiphany Sunday, I also hope that your celebration has continued up to this point.
I had a wonderful Christmas! There is nothing like spending time with family and celebrating the peace that comes with our beautiful faith. My family and I spent a lot of time baking cookies, wrapping presents and just being in each other’s company. It’s a blessing to have this time of year to put your loved ones in perspective.
This year, my wife and I tried something a little different with our daughter Reggie. We decided to watch a Christmas movie on Christmas Eve. Usually, I’m not a big fan of Christmas movies but in the spirit of Christmas, I decided to be a team player. We logged into Netflix and we started a movie named “The Star.”
When the movie started, I almost completely tuned out. The Star is an animated film about animals, so I thought I was a little too old for it. Again, I exercised patience and focused my attention. To my surprise, I really enjoyed the film! In fact, there was a lot that I learned from it.
The animals in the film were helping Mary and Joseph to find a birthplace for baby Jesus. In the film though, there was a very different portrayal of Mary and Joseph that I found appealing; they were real people.
I know it sounds crazy that through a film for children that I found myself drawn to the holy lives of our Holy Mother, her husband and her Son, but there is something about a human portrayal of the Saints that we admire to help us understand that grace is real and available for anybody. I can honestly say that the movie was not a masterpiece, but its attempt to show Christ was effective to me.
Please understand that this letter is not intended to be a promotion of a film. In fact, I would say the film wasn’t even that good. In the film, there wasn’t a giant theological disposition and there wasn’t the most accurate movie when it comes to telling the story of the Nativity, but somehow it spoke to me. A simple, imperfect portrayal of the Greatest Story Ever Told somehow helped me to understand the holiness that Mary and Joseph had.
Sometimes we think that we aren’t smart, charismatic or holy enough to bring people closer to God. But when I watched this film it helped me to understand that we just need to tell our story. It may be imperfect, it may be strange and it may not be the most refined, but our own story can bring people closer to God, no matter how boring you may think it is.
Though this Christmas season is coming to an end, I invite all of you to be the star that leads people to Christ. I invite you to tell your story, as a Church, we need your story to be told. Even if you think it’s a waste of time, I guarantee it isn’t.
Youth and Young Adult Minister
Dear friends on the journey,
Confession time! I’ve been a Catholic nearly my entire life: 12 years of Catholic school, have all my sacraments, go to mass every Sunday, sent my kids to Catholic school, given more time, talent and treasure than I can count. For nearly 30 years, I have worked for the church, been involved in just about every ministry from new parents baptizing their babies to seniors, from fundraising to formation, and attended every talk or workshop to help me in ministry and life. I have been a good Catholic. Until…
Ten years ago, I began what would become a real journey of spiritual growth. An archdiocesan program, spiritual reading, more study and deeper reflection led me to this realization: I was religious but not spiritual. This one statement summed up my faith life to that point. I was behaving the way a good Catholic ought, had faith in the institution and structure of the Church, and had a lot of head knowledge about our Catholic religion. While all this is good, something more important was missing: my own true, authentic, personal relationship with God and Jesus. I did not have strong heart knowledge of our creator and savior. I truly believed but at a more superficial level. Since then my spiritual journey has shifted tremendously to turn my heart towards Jesus so that this relationship influences my thoughts, words and actions. This journey is lifelong and I am a work in progress every single day.
Our second reading today from 1 John tells us that we are children of God. We belong to God, we belong to one another, and as a result, we are commanded to believe in Jesus and love as he does. Interestingly, the USCCB commentary on verses 1-3 says: “The greatest sign of God’s love is the gift of his Son that has made Christians true children of God….true knowledge of God will ultimately be gained, and Christians prepare themselves now by virtuous lives in imitation of the Son.”
So I ask, how can we imitate Jesus does if we do not really know him through a personal, intimate relationship? Where are you on your journey with Jesus? If you truly belong to God, are you letting others know? Do you believe with your head or heart? Are you behaving by going through the motions? What does this life mean? What is our purpose?
I invite you to consider these questions in Alpha, a series of 15 interactive sessions exploring life and our Christian faith, who Jesus is, how to develop or grow a relationship with him, and how to live with authenticity and purpose. Starting January 28, we’ll get together weekly for a meal, a talk, and to discuss questions about life and faith. Alpha is for everyone… those who do not believe, those who are wondering, those new to the Christian faith, and those believers who want to go deeper. So start thinking about someone to invite and consider making Alpha your new year’s resolution!
My mom has two nativity sets.
One is beautiful and crème colored, finely hand-carved from milky alabaster stone, each piece sitting on its brightly polished, black marble base. The female shepherd is just a little larger than Joseph, and so I’ve always wondered if she didn’t belong to a different set, but you only notice if you look closely. Besides, women can be tall, can’t they? The general impression, though, is of elegance. My siblings and I all chipped in and bought this nativity set over several years, back in the early 80s, beginning with the Holy Family, then the barn animals, then the wise men, the shepherds with the sheep, and lastly the camels. It looks terrific on Mom’s refectory table, where she has chosen to keep it up all year long. We all love it for its beauty.
Mom’s other crèche is older than my earliest memories. It’s made of once brightly colored, though long since faded, plaster and has been much chipped over the years. I’m certain that statues from other nativities have made their way into the set, as there are two dogs, two cows and multiple shepherds. There is also an old, beaten up stable, which once had hay in it, long lost now. While the children are not to touch Mom’s beautiful alabaster nativity, they have free rein to do what they want with this older, ragtag collection of figures. My nieces and nephews happily rearrange them. Sometimes they are left in twosomes, everyone having a private conversation, Mary with Joseph, the shepherds with each other, the donkey with the cows, and so on. Other times, various animals will end up on a roof, or the wise men will make their way, along with their camels, to some distant shelf, far from the stable, still on their journey. The children have free reign to do whatever is necessary and good, as they see it.
I love that beaten up old set because of the memories attached, and the scent of living Christmas trees that accompany it in my mind.
Of the two crèches, the one I think gets to the real moment of Jesus, born into this world a helpless babe, is the old and battered set. Somehow it manages to get closer to the stories told in Luke’s Gospel, of there being no room in an inn, of a food trough for animals, of shepherd guests. It’s a stark contrast to our bright lights, gilded bulbs, and lawn ornaments.
Don’t get me wrong – I have gilded bulbs on my tree…the better to celebrate the Lord of Light breaking into the world, but I think it very important not to forget the humble reality of the only nativity staged by the one born. In all of human history, only Jesus chose His own circumstances of birth, and they are telling. No bassinette, no fine linens, no doctors or nurses…no soft blue blankets, no safe warm home, no long prepared baby room…and for a king, no palace, no soldiers, no servants…no courtiers, no power, no glory…and for a child of his own time, no extended family, no fire in the fireplace, no neighbors to come and chortle over the newborn.
While you enjoy your Christmas feast, have a thought for that baby in the manger. From the very first, He embraced the human struggle, for love of you. We have good reason to celebrate, and even better reason to remember.
Merry Christmas from your priest,
During the third week of Advent, a rose-colored candle is added to the advent wreath to remind us of the gift of joy that God gave us in his only son, the infant, Jesus Christ.
Jesus was born at a time when there was significant suffering, hardship and heartbreak. He brought the Holy Spirit, hope, unconditional love, courage and strength. By his words and deeds, he showed us how to care for each other in good times and bad.
It’s important to remember that God’s joy, Jesus, is always with us. While at times it may feel quite small, the hope, joy and resiliency of the Holy Spirit is not extinguished even during times of despair and heartbreak. The resiliency of our faith carries us one step at a time through the rough patches. It helps us come together as a community to support one another and to do as Jesus would do…
I initially struggled to find joy in this Advent season as I reflected upon recent events that impacted our community and parish family. And then it came to me with greater understanding when I read the following quotation from Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaugium, 6. “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress.”
So, while my outward expression of joy this Advent season may be a bit different from previous Advents, my inner peace, belief, hope and trust in our Lord is unwavering. I feel this renewal and promise as I look at the infant, Jesus. I celebrate in all that He represents, all that He has done for us and all the blessings to come.
I thank all of you, my Parish Family, for being a beacon of light for each other and for others in need during times of struggle and sorrow.
Joy is a gift from Jesus himself. The more we help spread Joy to others, the more we live in the way God intended.
Merry Christmas and God bless.
We are a week into our Advent observance. For the church, Advent is a season with two themes. The first is preparing for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, whose kingship we celebrated recently. The second, to which we shift from December 17th on, is celebrating the coming of Jesus in history where he became human – Emmanuel – God with us.
So if we are preparing for Jesus’ Second Coming, how might that look? Today’s Scriptures give us some idea. From the first reading from Baruch and the Responsorial Psalm (126) we encounter the following: There will be no more mourning nor misery. We will be “wrapped in a cloak of God’s justice.” There will be a sense of restoration: children returning “borne aloft in glory” after being taken from us by our enemies. We will be laughing and rejoicing, as in a dream. Where we had gone forth weeping, we will come back rejoicing, led by God, with mercy and justice for company.
In the second reading, Saints Paul and Timothy pray that our love may increase more and more, that we may be pure and blameless.
How will this restoration, this unbelievable joy come to us? It is made clear in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 3. In a very specific time and place (lest we are tempted to relegate all of this to a cozy myth), John the Baptist, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, prompted by the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, quoting the prophet Isaiah the whole time: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
Repentance is key. It’s much more than merely feeling sorry. It is a sincere desire to change course, to turn away from what keeps us from God, and making an effort of will to turn toward God. We can ask God for help changing course. He is delighted by every faltering step we take toward him, no matter how humble. Since, as the second reading tells us, God will bring to completeness in us the good work he has begun in us, in his own good and mysterious time and way, we will experience a healing of all losses, all brokenness, all incompleteness, all grief, all mourning.
To get in touch with the enormity of this, and to bring it from an idea “out there” to a reality within, spend some time with the first reading and responsorial psalm. Realize that the powerful emotions prophesied are not exaggerations, nor are they merely symbolic. They are a foretaste of the joy we will experience at the coming of Jesus Chris in glory at the end of time.
This is a lot to wait and hope for – there is real depth in Advent if we’ll let it in. Let’s pray for one another that we can do so! Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Dear Parish Family,
Happy New year! It is the most wonderful time of the year… Advent; joyfully anticipating the Birth of Jesus.
With the difficult weeks, many of our brothers and sisters have endured it is important to remember to keep our eyes focus on our Lord. I want to share with you one of our many beautiful Catholic traditions and gifts and encourage you this Advent season to pray with our Mother Mary; she too is our Advent wreath leading us to her son, Jesus.
Through our history, we have been sent many messengers; The angels, the prophets and apostles, and the saints. All echo the same Good News, Jesus is the Truth, the Light, and the Way. Our Mother Mary is our most recent messenger sent from heaven. She takes on the likeness of those who she speaks to, making sure we recognize the message is meant for us. Through Mary we reach Jesus, through Jesus, we reach the Father. This month we have two feast days in her honor, December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Mary is conceived without sin), and on December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Her message in all her apparitions throughout the world is never about her, she always points to her Son. When the bishop asked for a sign, St. Juan Diego presented him with his 'tilma'. It was filled with Castilian roses. When St. Juan Diego opens his 'tilma' to expose the roses, they all saw the image of Santa Maria de Guadalupe was miraculously imprinted on it. It was left on a native fiber, meant only to last 30 years at most; however, it has been hundreds of years and the image is still perfectly intact. This is only the first of many miracles. Her image and words have spoken so clearly to all generations, she has aided in the conversion of millions.
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is huge for the Mexican people, not only for having the honor of having Our Mother appear in Mexico but to have been given the privilege to have her image left for us to visit. Her story and her message have earned her the title of Patroness of the Americas (North & South). Her message in all her apparitions throughout the world is never about her, she always points to her Son. The Celebration consists of a novena from December 4 to December 12, every day we retell her story and are reminded of her intentions, to bring us to her son, Jesus:
The Mother of God appeared to St. Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531, requesting a church be built:
“My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask my help in their work and in their sorrows will know my Mother's heart in this place. Here I will see their tears; I will console them and they will be at peace.”
When the bishop Fry Juan de Zumarraga asked for a sign, Juan Diego presented him with his Tilma which was filled with Castilian roses, previously unknown to the region and mysteriously blooming in winter. When St. Juan Diego opens his tilma to expose the roses, they all saw the image of Santa Maria de Guadalupe, was miraculously imprinted on it. Her image speaks loudly and clearly as her words. These are symbols that spoke clearly to the Aztecs and aid the conversion of millions. Some of the symbols are:
All this left on a native fiber, meant only to last 30 years at most; however, it has been hundreds of years and the image is still intact. This is only the first of many miracles. Her image and words have spoken so clearly to all generations, she has aid in the conversion of millions.
“Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son: Let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you.
Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Also, do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.
Am I not here, who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection?
Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?
Is there anything else that you need?”
Our Lady of Guadalupe’s motherly love for us is palpable. What a better advocate for us, than someone who understands all our struggles perfectly. Come to her, pray with her, especially in your times of need. She will help us clear the path and take our petitions to her loving son. Let us confidently journey our advent season in hope, joy, and love.
Faith Formation Minister
I am grateful for
An odd list, I grant it, but I’m sticking with it and adding to it this week. I pray that your list is long, and quirky and filled with things and people to bring you happiness and closeness to God.
Dear friends on the journey,
Today’s readings give us stories of two women who gave when they had nothing to give.
In the first reading, we see Elijah asking for something to eat and drink from a poor, widowed mom who is sure that she and her son will die from hunger. She does not have enough for all of them at that moment, much less for the days to come. Nevertheless, she does. The poor widow in the gospel was probably no different. Two coins was all she could give, a few cents that could have provided her a meal. Nevertheless, she does.
As I reflected and prayed on these stories, the woman in the first reading really resonated with me. I could imagine the desperation and worry she must have been feeling. Have you ever had a day when you felt like you had left nothing to give anyone, wondered where you were going to find the energy, or you just did not feel like “adulting” another day? I have experienced similar moments, days, and seasons when I did not know how I was going to provide for the needs of my little family of five. My jar was low of food, money, energy, compassion, enthusiasm, or wisdom. I was nearing empty. I think this is just life. Not every day is going to be easy and smooth sailing. However, these women can be extraordinary examples for us of how to get through those rough days and when I think of them, the word that comes to mind is trust.
Had the gospel widow already experienced God’s abundant generosity in her life that now, as a widow, she continues to trust in God’s generosity? How much trust did the widowed mother really have in Elijah’s assurance that if she gives, God will truly provide?
I think we can all see ourselves in their situations. They call to mind moments that I took my worries to God and trusted he would provide for my physical, emotional and spiritual needs, and he did. Recently I came across this quote: So far you have survived 100% of your worst days. In hindsight, we can see it is so true. We are here today by God’s grace, hopefully stronger, better and wiser for the challenge and the gifts that came with it.
These women remind us to trust with our whole heart that our good and gracious God will provide us with the strength, energy, wisdom and grace to give generously, to put one foot in front of the other, and to do the next right thing. Perhaps the hardest part about whole-hearted trust is accepting that the outcome may not be what we want or think we need.
This week let us spend some time reflecting on God’s generous care in the past and on any situations now that we might need to just surrender our will and trust in God’s will.
Faith Life Minister
This is the first Mass of Remembrance where I will be honoring my father who passed away the week before Christmas last year. While I have experienced much loss in my life, I have not felt this kind of emptiness and sorrow before. And to watch my mom soldier on without Dad is absolutely heartbreaking. They were the old school type of married couple. The kind that always held hands and did everything together. She is bravely carrying on, but her world will never be the same…
I know that many of you are going through similar or even worse heartbreak. Please know that I am praying for each of you to have strength and faith that your beloved is well cared for in God’s loving embrace. I pray for you to find the joy in having been blessed to have loved and been loved by someone extraordinary.
As we join together in celebration, sorrow and gratitude, let’s remember God’s promise to us (John 11:2526), “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Yes, amen I do believe this, Lord. And while my sorrow is immeasurable, I have faith that someday we will all be reunited in Heaven. And until we meet again, I will continue to cherish all of our wonderful memories and will try to make you proud, Dad.
Parish Business Manager
You may have noticed that there are some older altar servers who wear a gold colored cincture (rope or belt). These servers have the title of liturgical coordinators. Their preparation for this role includes up to ten hours of theology training.
A major focus in this training is the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ and how this mystery is celebrated in our liturgies. What do we mean by the Paschal Mystery? The Paschal Mystery is Christ’s saving life, death and resurrection. In our sacraments and liturgy Christ continues to be present with us today through the Spirit. Our witness to the faith is the life that we live — in our love for one another, as our Lord taught us through word and action. The liturgical coordinators are very much aware of this and serve our parish with an understanding of this basic truth.
We celebrate the mysteries over a period of a year. These servers are taught how the liturgical year is arranged and what the church documents dictate, i.e. which feasts are major and which are minor. They learn how to find the readings in the Lectionary (book containing the readings) and to mark the Sacramentary (book containing the prayers). They study every one of the eucharistic prayers and compare their similarities and differences. This gives these coordinators a sense of ownership as they pray along with the presider in their silent understanding.
Another major focus of this theology training is that “we pray as we believe and we believe as we pray.” To emphasize this fact, several prayers from the celebration of the sacraments are examined. The Gloria and creeds are also studied and their contents are examined. They learn that the Gloria, the creeds and the sacramental prayers all express what we believe.
Prior to the start of the liturgy, the coordinators make sure that each assigned altar server has a unique responsibility. Once everything is in its proper place, they direct the altar servers to line up for the procession. While the servers are in line, the liturgical coordinators check that each server understands his or her responsibilities. During the liturgy they direct and assist the servers.
Padre Serra Parish is very grateful that we have 16 dedicated liturgical coordinators who know how to mentor and care for all the altar servers.
Altar Server Ministry Director
Also visit: Altar Servers
Today’s reading from Mark’s gospel is one of my favorites, but with some caveats. I love what Jesus teaches his apostles after his conversation with James and John (Zebedee’s sons):
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
It reminds me of a story one of our well-loved parishioners tells about when he and his wife first arrived at Padre Serra. She asked him how they would ever get to know people and be part of this new community into which they had moved. His answer was something like this: “That’s easy. Whatever activity or event we go to, we just stay after and help clean up.” They did that, and, sure enough, their experience was exactly as he’d predicted. They got to know more and more people, good people, who came to love and value them and they felt themselves more and more deeply drawn into the life of the parish and its people.
It is taking me a little longer to learn this lesson but I can say that in some cases where I’d rather not, but it seemed the only right thing to do, when I pitched in and helped with post-party or post-meeting cleanup, it has proved to be a way of connecting to other people and I walk away with a sense of peace.
I have a long way to go. This willingness to be of service comes from a radical sense of the value of the person we try to help, indeed, from an awareness of their having been made in God’s image and likeness. Saints see that value readily, even in the most wretched (St. Teresa of Calcutta comes to mind). For me, I have to make an effort of will sometimes, and ask for God’s help to see it in the people I encounter at home, or at work, or in the news.
Returning to the conversation between Jesus, James and John before the passage above. It seems that the two apostles are looking for a shortcut to greatness. “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” When Jesus says to them “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” their glib response “we can” leaves me shaking my head at their apparent cluelessness. Of course James and John did go on to become great saints, so maybe there is hope for me when I am dense and self-absorbed, but not without cost:
The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized
If I read this correctly, there will be suffering for me, even were I to follow Jesus perfectly (which of course I can’t). It’s the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews that gives me (us) hope, in spite of my desire for glory and my reluctance sometimes to roll up my sleeves and serve. The author, referring to Jesus, says:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.
Thanks be to God. Let’s pray for one another.
Dear Parish Family,
While running around doing my errands with my husband, there were two songs that came up in the playlist that really got my attention: The Beatles, Dear Prudence, followed by Baby, You’re a Rich Man. Funny that they both came up, as I was preparing to write this letter. I know those songs have nothing to do with our readings today, however the words that stayed with me echoed our message.
Such as the first words in the song, “Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play” and the first words in our first reading, “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.” Calling on the virtue of prudence to be present. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our “true good” in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; I remember as a child my mother often reminded me to pray for prudence, as I needed to think before I spoke out loud.
When I did, I notice I did not put my foot in my mouth quite as much. In our Gospel, a young, rich man is seeking to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells the man to give up his earthly possessions (his treasure will be in heaven) and follow him. This was something that saddens the man, for he had many possessions he didn’t want to give up, and he walked away. Jesus responds, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” What does this mean? Does God need us to be poor in order to inherit eternal life? Are we not allowed to have good things in life? Doesn’t God want our happiness? He not only wants our happiness but our Salvation too!
If we only look on the surface, it can put us, like the young man, in a bit of an identity crisis. Are we of this world, or are we seeking the Kingdom of God? The world tells us that wealth and possessions equate successes, this is what we all strive for and must make many sacrifices to obtain. When we go beyond our basic needs, pursuing to acquire luxury to excess, and it is never enough.
I may think, I’m not rich! I don’t own my own house or have all the luxuries ... yet I needed the taunting reminder in the Beatles song “Baby you’re a rich man; Baby you’re a rich man; Baby you’re a rich man too.” I know that after I have had my fill of a satisfying meal, rarely do I think of who is hungry around me. However, before my meal I look to see who I can share my meal with ... two very different thoughts and actions. Our comforts can keep us from seeing the need in our brothers and sisters.
Jesus doesn’t want to make it difficult for us to follow him, but he does want us to follow him with our whole heart. Sometimes this requires that we make changes in our lives to be Jesus’ disciple. If we truly believe our Home is in heaven, why would we be surprised that Jesus asks us to leave behind our possessions? Our physical wealth on this earth should not be what holds us back from entering the Kingdom of God. Let us always pray for prudence and wisdom, to keep us focused on our identity, Children of God and heirs of his kingdom, making our treasure in heaven, not on this earth.
Faith Formation Minister
Dear Faith Family,
This Sunday’s Gospel can be perceived as controversial. There are always legitimate concerns about the morality of divorce and it was no different back then. While the Church does have a stance on the morality of divorce (which is not as black and white as it seems in the Gospel), I do invite you all to look at this reading with a different lens. Let’s not be like the Pharisees who try to distract Jesus from preaching the good news. Instead of focusing on the conversation on divorce, it may be best to focus on how Jesus talks about the beauty of marriage.
The way Jesus explains the marital union as “two becoming one” is quite unique and intimate. I am blessed to have been married to my wife Britney for over 2 years and as many of you know, marriage is quite a wonderful journey. The joys of being with someone you adore is hard to express in words and I’m lucky that our commitment to each other has helped us through the inevitable difficulties of life.
I must say though, the thing I cherish most about my marriage, is the willingness to bring each other closer to Christ. And as many of you know, there are so many married couples that exemplify Christ’s love, and they motivate us to be holier people.
In the first reading this Sunday, from the book of Genesis, the bond between Adam and Eve bring so much joy that Adam can’t help but exalt his joy through poetry:
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
The beauty of this union is evident in not only the Gospels, but the book of Genesis. In the beginning of the Old Testament, to the start of the New Testament. It’s quite amazing to think that God has intended for marriage to be so intimate and complementary.
Divorce is rough, but like hell, if we focus on the fear of living as opposed to the joy of salvation/joy, we tend to miss the mark. The Gospels aren’t intended to be fear driven but it’s quite the opposite. It is clear that the Pharisees are trying to prevent Jesus from preaching about the glory of salvation, but Jesus makes sure to not be distracted by their challenge.
This is why the meaning of evangelization is “sharing the good news,” we were created to be creatures that yearn for union. If you are someone going through divorce, please know that you are both welcome and loved at the Church. If you need any discussion, counseling or prayer, we will always be here.
Youth and Young Adult Minister
When you hear the word, Gratitude, what comes to mind? Do you replay the thousands of times your parents reminded you to say please and thank you? Have you noticed how many times we give thanks and praise to our Lord during liturgy every week? Do you only say thank you when you’re reminded to do so?
Last week, the parish staff enjoyed a Staff Pray Day facilitated by fellow parishioner, Ann Pettit. The setting, a beautiful spot on the beach in Ventura. The theme for the day, “Gratitude.”
The staff pray day couldn’t have come at a better time for me and, honestly, I almost didn’t attend. I’m really busy with my husband and teenage kids; piles of dirty laundry that aren’t going to wash themselves; juggling two jobs with a to-do list that is over three pages long and growing … It’s not that I didn’t want to go, I just didn’t have time … I did show up, albeit late, because, well, my life’s just that hectic right now …
I walked in to find my coworkers in a very serene state of mind, quietly reflecting and so peaceful. My first thought was, “Where can I get some of that feeling? I’m too stressed to be like that!”
Ann helped me realize that I’ve been letting the wrong task list take the power position in my life. That I need to retrain myself to stop and give thanks, genuine thanks throughout the day, even for the little things. And that I should give thanks for the good times and the bad, because there’s something special in all that God has planned for us. How is that possible? Why give thanks for bad things? Take for example, a glass of spilled milk. You know the saying, “Don’t cry over spilled milk?” While there’s no sense getting mad about the spill now that it’s happened, we should instead be giving thanks that we had a glass of milk in the first place…
So, as I let myself unwind and live in the moment, I was able to feel a special communion with God taking place. I stopped, looked, listened, breathed, cried, laughed and then cried a lot more as I let the world around me come into better focus. And all because I slowed down enough to truly and deeply say, “Thank you, God.”
As I write this note, I’m on day number three of my personal stop, drop and pray program. I can already feel a greater sense of calm as I reclassify some of my daily challenges into grateful opportunities. It’s hard to believe the power of simply saying thank you.
I’d like to thank all of you, my parish family, for being so wonderful to me and my family. We are truly blessed to be members of this loving parish community. I see God’s grace in all of you; how you truly care for each other and strangers; how you give of yourselves to make Padre Serra a loving and welcoming place to help our community encounter Jesus and be disciples.
Thank you, Ann for helping me find greater focus. I am forever grateful.
Parish Business Manager