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.
Dear Parish Family,
This Sunday's readings speak on the gift and vocation of marriage. As a married woman, I can't help but think this week’s readings are meant for me. But the more I read and reflect on them it is clear this message is for us all.
In our first reading we are reminded that at creation, the Lord recognized we would need a companion. “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” In God’s ultimate wisdom, a rib was taken from Adam’s side and from it he created Eve. I have always found this so interesting; God could have begun new, just like he did with Adam and his other creations. However for Eve, God created her from Adam, as to say you are both of the same substance, truly one body. In the same way that God made us in his image, we (his church) become One Body through Jesus.
In our second reading we are reminded of God’s love for us and his desire of our salvation is so great, he willingly takes on suffering and death. “He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin.” And once again reminds us that we are one in Jesus.
Finally in our Gospel, Jesus is questioned about divorce. Even though as a married person I can and should take this literally; this speaks to us all, single, consecrated life, all ages. Many times in the Bible, the union of husband and wife has been compared to that of Christ and the church. Jesus is the bridegroom and the Church (us) is his bride. Just like a man and woman leave their parents and are joined and become one. When we truly follow Jesus, we too make a commitment to leave everything that is not of God behind, pick up our Cross and Follow Him. A marriage between a husband and wife, requires love, commitment, sacrifice, being present, giving of ourselves, and taking care of the needs of your beloved. Our relationship with God requires all the same things. The connection so close that you are no longer two but one being. When we are truly one, the wins of our beloved are also our own.
Dear Faith Family,
I don’t know about you, in my worst moments, I tend to think that I don’t have an issue with humility. During this frustrating pandemic, it has been so easy to see the faults in others. There is something about being cooped in in our homes for so long, that a lot of us have built a habit of being more critical of others. When I see others messing up, I compare myself to them, knowing that I haven’t been caught in some crazy scandal. This is not very healthy and most definitely not an exercise of humility.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ declaration of “the first shall be the last” is something that has been tattooed into our brains. Like many good things that we hear, sometimes we take it for granted. We obviously are great people, but Jesus gives us clear instruction on how to strengthen the kingdom — through humility.
How can we truly believe Jesus’ declaration and truly live it out? Servant leadership and the willingness to sacrifice themselves for their neighbors. I think this is what true humility looks like.
Although we may not have arguments spoken out loud about why we are the holiest or the greatest examples, we can seldom fall into that trap of thinking it without saying it aloud. When we judge others improperly, it is roundabout way of “peacocking” our holy feathers.
So does this mean we infringe on others to implore them to live their lives more fully? No. But the only way we can help others onto a righteous path is through humility.
Must we deny our own talents for the sake of humility? No. Years ago, Father Patrick told me that true humility is actually knowing your talents and using them for the betterment of others.
So don’t let Jesus’ message in the gospel make you feel that you are to never speak up. It is not a cautionary gospel to let us know to stay out of each other’s business, but rather, within this same gospel he gives us an example of how to love; the willingness to die for others.
Through Christ’s death and Resurrection, comes true humility. The willingness to die for the sake of others is so centrally Christian, that it is necessary for us to do so. If we want to bring others closer to God, we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves for them.
Dear friends on the journey,
Throughout my younger years, I spent a lot of time living out my faith. I had wonderful examples in my grandparents, parents, teachers, and mentors so it was natural for me to become an altar server, a weekly mass goer, teen peer leader, summer camp leader, Eucharistic minister, fundraiser, catechist for preschoolers, teens, adults including parents baptizing children, a parish secretary and later a business manager. I was doing a lot of disciple’s work in God’s vineyard.
But about seven years ago, I realized I was “doing” but without really “being” … being in relationship with God, at least not in the way that I thought possible. So I embarked on a journey to change this. I learned about different spiritualities, forms of prayers, engaged in spiritual direction, went on retreats, had thoughtful conversations about faith, and through these I began and continue to deepen my relationship with God. I encountered Jesus for the first time. Don’t get me wrong, I had strong faith. I was a believer. But my eyes, mind and heart were opened to what it means to be in relationship with God the father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit.
I don’t say all that to toot my own horn but to echo the message in today’s second reading from James.
Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.
We need both faith and works. When we are rooted in relationship with God, when we love God and rest in God’s love for us, the automatic response then is to give that love to others. In loving others, it is necessary to return inward to be nourished and guided by God. Faith is rhythmic, that ebbs and flows, inhaling and exhaling, receiving and living.
Today begins our three-week ministry fair where we showcase the ministries that support that rhythm. Not only those ministries where you live out your discipleship and “do” for God and others like James affirms, but also those ministries that feed and support you spiritually, pastorally and to just “be” with God. You know the analogy of the airplane oxygen mask: put yours on first then help others.
Perhaps you need to care for yourself first, or maybe you’re ready to give.
Wherever you are in your faith rhythm, I invite you to come and see after all morning Masses.Are you in a place of needing to breathe in,wanting to give, or desiring both?
Faith Life Minister
The Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center is one of my favorite places. I so look forward to returning annually to revitalize that space within where my true self and God’s love dwells. I have found over the years and not unexpectedly, that I become most aware of His presence when I enter the weekends with no expectations for a specific outcome but rather an openness and a listening heart. I remember one such moment in 2018 before the morning bell.
I got up early that day and made my way to the gazebo nestled against the hills where cars can be seen but not heard. I sat down by myself to ponder the beauty of God’s creation around me. I listened and watched with a smile as a single quail graced a corner beam repeating a most beautiful sound. Soon, two hummingbirds approached the quail in what seemed to be a choreographed dance only they can do while the melody continued. I sat in awe watching for some time until the birds (all three of them) flew away in the same direction and together. I spent the rest of the weekend pondering what I had just witnessed. What was God saying to me? Had He just invited me to be opened, to truly listen?
In our Gospel this weekend, we read of a deaf man who is cured of his affliction at the hands of Jesus and his spoken word, “Ephphatha” meaning “Be opened.” By doing so, Jesus tore down the barriers that kept the man from living life to the fullest. I suspect this is at least one of the lessons for me as I continue to reflect on what I witnessed that morning.
Each of us is provided opportunities throughout our lifetime to be opened to God’s message of love and life. The fact that we all have a chance to witness His message differently shows the perfection in this great plan. For you, perhaps you will become more open when looking through the eyes of a loved one, in serving the poor and oppressed, or while participating in many of Padre Serra’s Ministries. Great news is that you do not have to limit yourself to just one such event.
What we hear from the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading seems especially pertinent as we enter the eighteenth month of very strange times for our world, our nation, and our church (both local and global). The pandemic and the polarizing effect it has had, worries about environment and climate, economic uncertainty and inequality, racial justice concerns, natural disasters, instability in places like Afghanistan, increasing stridency in politics, and even divisiveness in our church – all of these have, for many, induced a weariness and debilitating fear, and understandably so.
During Isaiah’s time Israel was in dire straits too. They were attacked by the Assyrians in the north, and even Jerusalem was surrounded by Sennacherib’s army. What Isaiah wrote in chapter 35 (the beginning of today’s reading) was this:
Thus says the LORD:
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
What we know that those of Isaiah’s time did not is that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. Most of those with Jesus when he walked the earth also did not recognize him as Messiah, as Savior. Happy are we who do! But from what is Jesus delivering us? Is it just assurance of escaping punishment for our sins? Of seeing our departed loved ones in the afterlife? Or is it the gospel of prosperity – if we just have enough faith then Jesus will deliver us from poverty and illness? I think it’s more than that. I think it’s the gift of knowing that Jesus – human like us in everything (including temptations) but sinless – walks with us, embraces us in all our frailties, and promises to be with us always.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
We hear of Jesus in the Gospels doing all of these things that Isaiah foretold. In today’s gospel he heals a man suffering deafness and muteness. In Advent, we refer to Jesus as Emmanuel which means “God with us”. It is Jesus, today, by our embrace of the mission he gives us at baptism to go out and preach the gospel to all, who fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy.
Dear Parish Family,
As I meditated over our readings this Sunday I noticed a common theme throughout. We are given the opportunity to make a choice. In the first reading Joshua asks the tribes of Israel, whom they will serve. The choice was before the people to serve the gods of their fathers or would they serve the Lord who had taken them out of slavery in Egypt, protected on the journey and blessed them in a new land. The Israelites recognized all that God had done for them, a covenant of love. They saw the miracles with their own eyes! They chose to follow Our Lord, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
In the second reading St. Paul reminds us of the relationship of a husband and wife. To be subordinate, love and serve one another. Just like Christ loves the church. We are reminded of the choice a man and woman make to leave their parents to begin a new family, become one with their spouse. once again a covenant of love. Those of us that are married are well aware that marriage requires love, submission/compromise. The choices made for our family are always with the desire of the greater good for all its members. Christ himself is the perfect example of this love for his church.
Lastly in the Gospel, Jesus reveals he is food for our souls. His words are spirit and life. Many of his followers can not understand or accept the concept that we are to eat his flesh. This is too much for many, and they chose to abandon him. Peter on the other hand has an epiphany, He recognizes Jesus as God. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
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.