Tuesday, June 30, 2015

7/2/2015 – Thursday of 13th week in Ordinary Time – Genesis 22:1B-19

    Today, we hear the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  As I mentioned in a daily homily last week, some of the readings from the Old Testament in particular are not easy to understand.  We have to wrestle with the meanings and understandings we are to talk away from these stories.  We might ask: How would a God of love and mercy do something like this?  How could Abraham have such total and complete trust in God.  And think of Isaac looking up at his Father.  What could have been going through his mind?
     God is full of love and mercy.  That is one of the truths of God that is at the foundation of what we believe as Christians.  Yet God also sacrificed his son to be our redeemer and savior.  I think of some of the rough experiences I have had in life, how at the end of my missionary term in Ecuador, I was amazed that I survived it and was still in one piece!  Those experiences have given me the compassion and tenacity I have needed to follow my vocation as a priest, that’s for sure.  Jesus, in his passion and journey to the cross, has united his sufferings to the suffering we go through in life.  He can walk with us and show us love, mercy, and compassion for what we are going through.  The cross is not an event that stands in isolation in our faith.  With the cross, there is also resurrection, there is also eternal life.  One cannot exist without the others. Perhaps the story of Abraham and Isaac foreshadows the story of God the Father and his beloved son.
      As I thought about the story of Abraham and Isaac, the suscipe of St Ignatius of Loyola came to mind:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will.
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
Your love and your grace – that is enough for me. 
       As we think of sacrifice today and the sacrifice that was asked of Abraham, may we ask ourselves what sacrifices we are willing to make for our faith, especially in light of Fortnight for Freedom we are commemorating in our Church. 

7/3/2015 – St Thomas, Apostle – John 20:24-29

    We are all probably very familiar with today’s Gospel about Jesus appearing to Thomas and the other disciples, of Thomas wanting to believe, but also needing to have concrete proof in order that he could believe.  How does Jesus respond to Thomas’ demand for concrete proof? Did he castigate or criticize Thomas for doubting? Did he tell him to have blind faith?  Did he demand that Thomas believe on the basis of the evidence he had already seen? 
      No, Jesus gave Thomas what he asked for.  He gave Thomas showed him the nail marks in his hands.  He let him touch his hand and his side.  Jesus did this so that Thomas not be unbelieving, so that he could believe.   Thomas gets a bad rap in the way we remember him, in labeling him “Doubting Thomas.”  Couldn’t he also be remembered as “Believing Thomas,” as one who ultimately did believe and who followed down the road of faith?
      A few years ago, a friend sent me an email written by a co-worker.  It said this: “I just don't understand...the more I search, the less I find. I don't understand how people can believe in whatever they believe in and be confident that what they believe in is the truth. The more research I've done, the more I look, the more I realize that nobody can know with 100% certainty that what they believe is true.” What this young man says is what a lot of people in our modern society embrace today.  With all the modern technology we have, with the hope and trust we place in science and in the material world, we have to see and we have to have proof.  Not just some proof – but 100% proof.  How can we be 100% sure of anything?  I don’t think that is ever possible.   When all is said and done, we cannot forget what Jesus says after he shows Thomas his hand and his side: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

       As we celebrate St Thomas the Apostle today, may we celebrate our belief in the risen Christ. During this Fortnight for Freedom, we have been praying for the freedom to practice our faith here in the United States, an important right that we often take for granted.  May we pray that we grow in our faith and in our belief, even when we do not have 100% proof.  And may we honor and cherish the freedom we have to believe.  

7/1/2015 – Blessed Junipero Serra – Wednesday of the 13th week in Ordinary Time - Psalm 34:7-8, 10-11, 12-13

     In July of 1769, the Spanish missionaries founded what would become the city of San Diego.  This was the first of the missions founded in the state of California.   Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary who was in ill health when he arrived in San Diego, went on to found 8 other missions in a mission system that would grow to 21 different locations.  These missions have played a significant role in the development of the state of California and in the history of missionaries in our Catholic faith.  While many other Spaniards arrived in Americas to search for gold or to claim land or to amass other riches, Father Serra and the other missionaries arrived to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the native people of California.  He was convinced that he was on a mission from God, that this was his mission and destiny. Having grown up as a teenager near Mission San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, California, I heard a lot of stories about Father Serra and the California missions. Pope John Paul II beatified Father Serra in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 1988.  Pope Francis will canonize Father Serra in Washington, DC on September 23 during his first visit to the United States as pope.  That will be the first canonization witness in the United States.  Pope Francis said that this was appropriate since a statue of Father Serra stands in our nation’s capital representing the state of California. 

     The Lord hears the cry of the poor.  We hear this proclaimed in the psalm today.  And I cannot think of any other Gospel message that gets to the heart of our Church’s missionaries.  Father Serra’s motto while working in the missions of California was to “always go forward and never turn back."  Father Serra attempted to bring the poor and the downtrodden into the Kingdom of God, to bring them redemption and salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Pope Francis asserts: “In today’s world, religious freedom is more often affirmed than put into practice.” Defending religious liberty “guarantees the growth and development of the entire community.” As we remember Father Serra and his work in the missions, as we recognize the importance of defending our freedom to practice our faith during the Fortnight for Freedom, let us take personal responsibility in the practice of our faith and being evangelizers in our community.

6/30/2015 – Tuesday of the 13th week in Ordinary Time - The First Martyrs of the Church of Rome – Matthew 8:23-27

      Jesus calls out to his disciples in the midst of a storm on a boat: “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”  Today’s Gospel probably sounds familiar the account of this same story from the perspective of Mark’s Gospel on July 21st in our Sunday mass celebration. In moments of fear, our faith is put to the test.  Today, as we hear this Gospel, we commemorate the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.  In the years immediately after the death and resurrection of Jesus, a large Jewish population grew in Rome. Due to infighting between Jews and Jews who followed the Way of Jesus, the Emperor Claudius expelled all of the Jews from Rome in 50 AD. After Claudius’ death a few years later, the Jews started returning to Rome. After much of the city of Rome burned down under the reign of the Emperor Nero in 64 AD, Nero put much of the blame on the Christians.  Many were put to death.  Peter and Paul were probably among those martyred during these persecutions.  Condemned to death by the Roman senate, Nero himself took his own life a few years later.
      May the example of those First Martyrs of the Church of Rome have us courage on our own journey. Pope Francis proclaimed: “We must not be afraid of being Christian and living as Christians! We must have this courage to go and proclaim the Risen Christ, for he is our peace; he made peace with his love, with his forgiveness, with his blood and with his mercy.” May we grow in our faith and grow in our understanding during this Fortnight for Freedom.  May we proclaim the importance of religious freedom and the right we have to practice our faith. 

6/29/2015 – St Peter and St Paul – A Reflection

     We venerate two great Apostles  - Peter and Paul – on the day of the solemnity in their memory and honor.  This commemoration has its roots in the very foundations of the Church. The faith of Peter and Paul is the solid rock on which the Church is built. These two great apostles are at the origin of the faith that we follow today. Peter and Paul will forever remain the Church’s protectors and guides. The greatness of Rome flows from the witness that they gave. Led by the Spirit, Peter and Paul helped make Rome the capital of Christianity.  Rome was sanctified by their martyrdom and the martyrdom of so many other great witness for the faith.

     The Basilica of St Peter and the Basilica of Paul are two of the four major basilicas in Rome.  They draw countless pilgrims each year.  As we celebrate many great saints and martyrs during the Fortnight for Freedom, Peter and Paul call out to us to continue in their tradition of standing up for our faith in the midst of a secular society and being evangelizers of the Gospel message. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Let us truly be brothers and sisters

It saddens me how our society has become so intolerant.  It has become one side against the other, with anger and frustration, with disrespect and impatience.  We must remember that all disciples of Christ are called to practice God's mercy and love here on earth, even when it is difficult and challenging, even when we have to humble our pride and our egos.  We must go beyond selfishness and self-centeredness.  I adapted the following quote and prayer from Sojourners Magazine - I get a daily email from them.  Jean Vanier - a French Canadian Catholic who founded the L'Arch movement - always brings such a challenging, but healing message to our times.  

I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes. -Jean Vanier

Let us pray:

O Holy Lord, free us from our self-deception and attune our hearts to your Holy Spirit. Grant that we might remember how you humbled yourself when you took on human flesh.  May we, in our daily lives, learn to serve one another, whatever our disagreements and differences. Amen.