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Dec. 12, 2018: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Dec. 12, 2018: Our Lady of Guadalupe

A Light in Advent: Our Lady of Guadalupe
by Erin Cain

In December 1531, two men in a small village in Mexico each felt the presence of an overwhelming darkness. One, Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, was a Spanish missionary who had reached the point of despair in trying to evangelize the native people. He sought to preach the truth of Christ in the face of a native religion that promoted human sacrifice, but his fellow Spaniards had treated the natives so poorly, committing terrible abuses against them, that few Aztecs were willing to listen to the message of Christianity. Zumárraga feared an uprising would be imminent, that barring some kind of miracle, a bloody conflict would result and the people of this land would be lost. He prayed to Our Lady to intervene and braced himself for turmoil.

Meanwhile, an Aztec man in Bishop Zumárraga’s parish, named Juan Diego, faced his own personal difficulty. He and his wife had converted to Christianity together, facing the scorn of their peers; now, Juan Diego’s wife had passed away, and he lived with his uncle Juan Bernardino, also a Christian convert. Juan Diego embraced the Christian religion and faithfully attended Mass despite the tense relations between Spaniards and natives; he lived out his days in quiet sacrifice amid the brewing storm around him.

One day as Juan Diego was walking to Mass, he saw a brilliant light atop Tepeyac hill. He heard angelic music and a voice asking him to ascend. When he reached the top of the hill, he saw a beautiful woman, glowing with light, dressed in traditional Aztec garments. The details of her appearance carried great meaning in Aztec culture: she wore the color of Aztec royalty, her hair was arranged in the style reserved for virgins, and the ribbon around her waist indicated that she was with child. The sight of her filled Juan Diego with joy, and she spoke to him in his native tongue:

She told him she was the perfect and eternal Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God, and made known to him her desire that a shrine be built there where she could demonstrate her love, her compassion and her protection. “For I am your merciful Mother,” she said, “to you and to all mankind who love me and trust in me and invoke my help. Therefore, go to the dwelling of the bishop in Mexico City and say that the Virgin Mary sent you to make known to him her great desire.”

Juan Diego went to speak with the bishop, but Bishop Zumárraga was hesitant to trust Juan Diego and asked for proof. So Juan Diego, undeterred, returned to Tepeyac hill and met Our Lady once again, asking for a sign that he could show the bishop. She told him to come back the following day, that she would grant his petition the next morning. He was confident that she would deliver an answer to his prayers and told her he would return.

But Juan Diego returned home that night to find that his uncle, Juan Bernardino, was deathly ill. Instead of going out the next day to meet the Virgin, Juan Diego stayed home to tend to his dying uncle. When he finally left the house two days later, on December 12, it was not to meet the Virgin but to find a priest to perform the Anointing of the Sick. He took a different path to the church so as to avoid meeting Our Lady along the way:

As he approached Tepeyac hill, Juan Diego remembered his promised appointment with the Virgin. However, aware of his uncle’s condition, he did not want to delay his journey, and so he avoided his usual path in the hope of evading the Virgin. Yet as he rounded the hill he saw the Virgin descend from the top of the hill to greet him. Concerned, she inquired: “My youngest son, what’s going on? Where are you going? Where are you headed?”

Juan Diego, at once surprised, confused, fearful, and embarrassed, told the Virgin of his uncle’s illness and of his new errand, and expressed something of the hopelessness he was then experiencing, saying, “Because in reality for this [death] we were born, we who came to await the task of our death.”
The Virgin listened to Juan Diego’s plea, and when he had finished she spoke to him:

Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest son, that what frightened you, what afflicted you, is nothing; do not let it disturb your face, your heart; do not fear this sickness nor any other sickness, nor any sharp and hurtful thing. Am I not here, I who have the honor to be your Mother? Are you not in my shadow and under my protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more?

The Virgin revealed to Juan Diego a garden filled with Castilian roses, growing amid an arid, dusty environment, and in the winter, no less. She instructed him to gather the flowers in his tilma (a traditional Aztec cloak) and show them to the bishop as the promised sign. He obeyed, and when he met Bishop Zumárraga and let the roses spill out of his tilma, the bishop fell to his knees in awe—not at the flowers, but at the image that had been revealed behind them. On Juan Diego’s tilma was an image of the Virgin as she had appeared to him, dressed in Aztec garments and filled with radiant beauty.


When Juan Diego returned home to greet his uncle and relay the story of Our Lady’s miraculous visit, he was surprised to find his uncle restored to full health and with a story of his own to tell—Mary had visited him, too, and healed him. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was placed on display, and all the native Aztecs in the community came to revere it. To them, it was not only a beautiful image; it contained intricately detailed symbolism that had great significance within their culture. They could read the elements of the image to understand what it was really telling them—that this was the Mother of God and their Mother, who loved them and wanted their protection; that she was coming as one of them, redeeming their culture and calling them toward a new dawn. The image blended elements of the New World and the Old, bridging between two peoples that had experienced bitter division. Our Lady appeared with the medium-toned skin of a mestiza, a mixture of Aztec and Spanish blood.

Within seven years, eight million natives were converted to Christianity, and the practice of human sacrifice came to an end. Eight million—and in a land that had previously been so resistant to Christianity, after experiencing great suffering at the hands of Spanish conquerors. Only Our Lady could mend such bitter wounds, and she came personally to comfort her people, to give them a new hope. She showed that she understood the beauty of their culture, and she showed that her Son was the fulfillment of their deepest longings—that because of the Cross, His sacrifice was the only human sacrifice necessary, one perfect sacrifice that was enough to cover all our sins.

Mary bends to meet us right where we are. She pulls our good intentions out from the mess we’ve created—our longings for goodness, truth, and beauty, for justice and righteousness—and leads us to their true fulfillment in her Son. She heals the distortions of our hearts and claims us as her children. She comes as one of us, telling us not to be afraid.


Bishop Zumárraga had prayed for a miracle to come, but when it did, it was from a place he didn’t expect, and he didn’t recognize it at first. His prayer for the conversion of the people was answered in a powerful way, but it did not follow the pattern of how other nations had converted to Christianity. In Europe, what had always happened before was that the king would convert and his people would follow. But here in the New World, something even more radical took place: the conversion began at the ground level, with an ordinary man, a humble layperson. Because this conversion happened from the ground up, the faith of the Mexican people became a firm and unshakeable foundation—even through persecutions to come, when the government would oppose Catholicism due to the strong influence it had on the people.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has endured through nearly five centuries and incredible circumstances. On November 14, 1924, a bomb was placed within flowers at the base of the image; when it detonated, the altar fell apart, the bronze crucifix atop it was bent and twisted, and windows of neighboring homes were shattered. But the image, at the center of the wreckage, remained perfectly intact. In the eighteenth century, during a cleaning of the frame, nitric acid was accidentally spilled onto the image. This should have destroyed it instantly—nitric acid is highly corrosive—but the only effect was a black spot that can now be seen in the upper right corner of the image. Just the conditions of the arid Mexican climate alone should have been enough to cause the tilma to fray and disintegrate over time. Scientific experiments were performed to see how replicas of the image would hold up in the same conditions, and they all disintegrated within ten years, while the original image is still vibrant as ever. The strength of Our Lady’s image is formidable, and both her image and her message have not faded through the centuries. Through every trial, she has not abandoned her children.


Virgin_of_Guadalupe_-_Google_Art_ProjectJuan Diego was likely filled with confusion and sadness as he set out on the morning of December 12. Days earlier, he had met the beautiful Virgin and felt such happiness, but now everything was turned upside down. He was losing the only family member he had left; he felt alone and abandoned. How could he talk to Mary again, in this moment? He couldn’t possibly summon the joyful obedience he’d shown her days before. So he took a different path, intending to avoid her—he wasn’t ready to see her yet.

Juan Diego expected that when he met Mary again, he would be prepared, ready to focus fully on her message without distraction or confusion. Dealing with his uncle’s sickness, he didn’t think he could face Our Lady on a day when he was so overwhelmed with a growing melancholy and other pressing duties. But he didn’t realize that Mary was coming to meet him in his weakest moment, in his greatest despair—to heal him and bring him the comfort that only a mother can give, to carry her Son to him and instill true hope.

We think that we’re not ready to meet God, that we ought to wait until we really have our act together to reach out to Him, so that we can properly greet Him—but it is precisely in those moments that we need Him most. He is the only one who can draw us out of the pit of suffering and sin. Juan Diego went out of his way to avoid Mary, thinking he could not face the Mother of God when he barely understood what the point of living was, when we are all destined to die. He couldn’t bring himself to meet her, so she came to meet him where he was.

We want God to come on our own terms, but instead He comes on His terms: in the womb of a woman, in the midst of a world that is broken and suffering. He is the light amid the darkness, leading us toward a new day in the Kingdom of God if we stay with Him through the dawn. He met Juan Diego on Tepeyac, hidden in the womb of His Mother. Even though Juan Diego couldn’t see Him in the midst of his suffering, He was there. He is carried within each of us when we receive the Eucharist, and He grows quietly in our hearts as we await the birth of His presence into the world.

Life is Advent. Jesus does not arrive in the world by force; He knocks on the doors of our hearts and asks to be let in, asks for us to nurture a light that will eventually overcome the darkness. We spend our lives in wait for that moment, the coming of the day. Its real fulfillment will come after the dark night of death, as we are not made for this world. But we can see a glow if we tend to the flame within us. We see it shining from the hearts of others, too. Zumárraga prayed for a light in the darkness, but when it came, he didn’t see it at first because he was looking in the wrong direction. His prayers were answered, but not in a way he expected; God took him by surprise. Juan Diego, unable to see God in the world, felt a deep hopelessness—but God was present, hidden, and He reached out to meet him, to help him see the promise of the new dawn on its way.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, be our comfort in the midst of the dark night. Help us to welcome your Son into our lives, in whatever surprising way He comes to us. When we stray from the path, come out to meet us where we are; when we can’t see through the darkness, turn our faces to see the light dawning.

A Journey with Blessed Mother

A Journey with Blessed Mother

Before the close of her solemn feast day of Immaculate Conception, I pondered about how Blessed Mother led me from my childhood to priesthood. Her relationship with each of us is unique, and I’m sure you have your own wonderful journey to tell.

My encounter with her began at the age of six in South Korea, learning to pray the Rosary before a small statue of Our Lady of Fatima at a neighbor's home. As I participated in junior Legion of Mary as a third grader, I learned about prayer and acts of charity. My encounter with her would abruptly end for few years as our family immigrated to Texas from South Korea. But I would meet her again in a Korean Catholic Church in downtown Dallas. Although I pushed out from recesses of my conscious mind Our Lord and Blessed Mother during high school and early college days, she came back into my life under the title of Our Lady of Fatima, reminding me of her reality and intercession.

Throughout the years, I would encounter Blessed Mother under various titles:
Our Lady of Medjugorje helped me discover why I was placed here on earth--to serve as a priest of Jesus Christ. Our Lady of Guadalupe comforted me as she reassured me during times of fear and inadequacies. Our Lady of Sorrows taught me to accept with joy difficulties and sufferings that came my way. Our Lady of Lourdes showed me that there is power and healing in the intercessory prayer. Our Lady of La Salette revealed to me that she weeps for her children who do not pray or do not yet know the love of her Son.

What a privilege and blessing it is to be aware that this Heavenly Mother loves me far beyond my imagination! With grateful heart, I cry out to her, "Hail Holy Queen! Mother of Mercy. Our life, our sweetness, and our hope!"

Dec. 9, 2018: 2nd Sunday of Advent C

Dec. 9, 2018: 2nd Sunday of Advent C

Which of the following is more difficult for you—giving constructive criticism with love or taking constructive criticism graciously? Perhaps both are difficult because they involve sensitivity, patience, and courage. A priest tells a story of a visit by his bishop to his parish one Sunday. Looking out to the pews, bishop leaned over to the pastor and said, “There are not many people in the church today. Did you tell them I was coming?” The pastor replied, “No bishop. Someone else must have.”

For most of us, we do not like receiving negative feedback. It’s not pleasant hearing why we are wrong or what we need to improve. The moment we are criticized, our heartbeats quicken and our minds begin to race to come up with a justification. But if we calm our anger and listen with our hearts, we have an opportunity to better ourselves.

During the season of Advent, all of us are challenged to change our lives. It’s not an easy message to heed. We may get defensive and question the call to change because we may think that our lives are perfect. Isn’t it enough that we put up Christmas trees, shop for gifts, mail checks to charities, and attend Christmas mass? What more is God asking of us?
On this Second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist, the herald of Our Lord, calls us to prepare ourselves for the arrival of the Messiah. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Do we recognize that there are obstacles in our lives to holiness? For example, is there trust in God and fervent prayer in our lives? Or do we struggle with hopelessness, restlessness, or inappropriate desires outside of our marriages? Maybe we are too preoccupied with earthly things--status, name, possessions. Do we have winding roads of desires that need to be straightened with fasting and prayer? Do we have molehills of small vices that have grown into mountains of sin that need to be leveled by bringing them to Confession?

The moment we decide for God and ask Him in prayer to change our stony hearts, God will fill the void in our hearts with peace. St. Paul had firsthand experience of God’s transformation of his own life. That is why he was able to write, “Brothers and sisters...I am confident that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus...And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”

In the remaining weeks of Advent, let us heed God’s call to change our lives. Let us be cleansed of our sins through confession and put our love for God and neighbor into action. Can we swallow our pride and be more gentle and kind to our family members? Can we put aside our arrogance and admit that we need more prayer in our lives? The way of humility and meekness will prepare our hearts to receive Christ Child who humbles himself out of great love for us.

Dec. 8, 2018: Immaculate Conception

Dec. 8, 2018: Immaculate Conception

Mirjana, one of the seers of the apparitions of Blessed Mother in Medjugorje, recounts the following experience:

“About forty local people joined us at Gumno. Crickets chirped loudly and mosquitos flitted around our faces as we kneeled in the red clay. We prayed and waited, and suddenly Our Lady appeared in front of us.

Some of the people had asked us if they could touch Our Lady, and when we presented their request, she said that whoever wanted to could approach her. One by one, we took their hands and guided them to touch Our Lady’s dress. The experience was strange for us visionaries—it was difficult to comprehend that only we could see Our Lady.

From our perspective, guiding people to touch her was like leading the blind. Their reactions were lovely, especially the children. It seemed that most felt something. A few reported a sensation like “electricity” and others were overcome with emotion. But as more people touched Our Lady, I noticed black spots forming on her dress, and the spots congealed into a large, coal-colored stain. I cried at the sight of it.

“Her dress!” yelled Marija, also crying. The stains, said Our Lady, represented sins that had never been confessed. She suddenly vanished.

After praying for a while, we stood in the darkness and told the people what we saw. They were nearly as upset as we were. Someone suggested that everyone there should go to confession, and the next day repentant villagers inundated the priests.

My cousin, Vlado, just a little boy, was among those who touched Our Lady’s dress. When I told him about the stains, he exclaimed, “But I washed my hands, Mirjana! They were clean! I promise!” Anytime I saw him after that, I smiled and said, “Have you washed your hands lately, Vlado?”

During these daily encounters, Our Lady emphasized things like prayer, fasting, confession, reading the Bible and going to Mass. Later, people identified these as Our Lady’s “main messages”—or, as Fr. Jozo called them, her “five stones,” an allusion to the story of David and Goliath.

She was not asking us to pray or fast just for the sake of it. The fruit of living our faith, she said, was love. As she said in one of her messages, “I come to you as a mother, who, above all, loves her children. My children, I want to teach you to love.”

Our Lady’s ethereal beauty captivated us from the very beginning. One day during an apparition, we asked a childish question. “How is it possible that you are so beautiful?” Our Lady gently smiled. “I am beautiful because I love,” she said. “If you want to be beautiful, then love.”

Dec. 1, 2018 First Sunday Advent C

Dec. 1, 2018 First Sunday Advent C

Do you ever find yourself saying that if people would be a little more giving, patient, and understanding, a lot of unnecessary conflicts would be avoided? A few days ago, I was boarding an airplane to return back to New Orleans. During pre-boarding announcements, we were told that it was a full flight and they were certain that the overhead bins would be full before everyone could finish boarding. They asked for six volunteers to check-in their luggage. I went ahead and volunteered, knowing that the extra wait at baggage claim was not going to bother me. Apparently, I was the only one who volunteered. Once I was seated, there were five passengers still looking for available overhead bins. They were frustrated and angry at the passengers already seated, blaming them for their plight of not finding luggage space. Those who were seated were frustrated and angry at the five fellow passengers for delaying the departure of the plane by not checking in their luggage. The stalemate lasted for 10 minutes until several relented and finally checked-in their luggage. Who was at fault for the delay of the plane’s departure? Was it those who did not selflessly volunteered ahead of time to check-in their luggage or those who were already seated who had bags that could have been placed under the seat to allow extra free overhead bin space? Or was it the fault of everyone on the plane who packed too many unnecessary things in their own bags? The scene playing out in front of me made me wonder if, spiritually speaking, we are packing too many worldly goods, along with pettiness, grievances against others, unforgiveness, unproductive use of electronics and media that fills the bulk of our days, and the burdens we place on ourselves in order to “keep up with the Jones”, into our lives. Weighed down by so much baggage and unable to surrender them to God, do we realize we are hindering our journey to our final destination?  In those ten minutes, I could see how timely this event related to the season of Advent.

The season of Advent is a time of waiting and giving. In this season, we ponder about how God is giving himself to us so selflessly and generously that we may love Him above everything and imitate His self-giving love. St. Paul wrote, “Brothers and sisters: May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.” (1 THES 3:12—4:2)  Advent is a time of grace because God desires to change our selfish and stony hearts if only we open our hearts and allow Him. To open ourselves to receive this grace, we need to pray, fast, and sacrifice in order to counter the prevailing culture which encourages us to entertain ourselves, consume food and drink in excess, and accumulate material things. We Christians are to live simply, humbly, and charitably. When we preoccupy ourselves with pursuing earthly goods, desires of the flesh, and comfort, our love for God diminishes, and we lose the focus of our real purpose in life.

In order to wake us up from our spiritual drowsiness, Our Lord asks us to ponder about the immediate end of our earthly life as well as the apocalyptic day of his Second Coming. In today’s Gospel he said, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.” As his Second Coming approaches, the world will become increasingly strange, difficult, and dysfunctional. The climate change will be erratic, international affairs will be in chaos, natural disasters will strike, and old certainties will be challenged. God will intervene dramatically, with the coming of the Son of Man. God is ultimately in control, and we are called during these times to be vigilant, to watch, and pray, not to be distracted by pursuits of earthly pleasure, comfort, or worldly concerns. Our Lord tells us that we are to prepare ourselves by being alert and ready in response to God’s leading. Thus we will be ready to face the day of judgment and redemption.

Advent looks forward to God bringing about change in our lives and in our world. Are we going to welcome this change in our lives or will we resist? During this season, we need to ponder whether we are striving to travel light during our short earthly life. Will we be like those passengers stuck holding their earthly baggage, unable to check-in our anxieties and earthly securities? Or will we have the confidence in God to let go of our selfish desires by opening ourselves to God in prayer, fasting from our insatiable appetite to accumulate, and giving generously to the poor? What are some of the excess things in our home that we can bring to our thrift store? Can we shave a few minutes of sitting in front of TV or our phones and spend instead in front of the Blessed Sacrament in our adoration chapel? Instead of brooding over grievances against our family or friends, can we surrender those burdens to a priest at penance service or confession? Just as the pilot of our airplane waited patiently, Our Lord waits for us to surrender to his will to take us to our next destination.

Nov. 18, 2018: 33rd Sunday B

Nov. 18, 2018: 33rd Sunday B

This week in a small city there was a long line of volunteers serving turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mash potatoes and gravy. It was estimated that they fed more than 1,000 meals that day just in one location. With all other locations combined in the nearby area, about 10,000 meals were served that day by 45 volunteer chefs and helpers. It was a little too soon for Thanksgiving meals, but for folks camped out in their tents and cars in the parking lots it brought comfort and sense of normalcy.  A week has passed for thousands of evacuees who have been displaced by California’s brutal fires, and it’s starting to sink in that it could be months before homes and entire towns are rebuilt. For most evacuees, their hopes hang low like the prevalent smoke hanging thick in the air. Makeshift shelters in parking lots of Walmarts and department stores are filled with traumatized people who have nowhere else to go. For most them this will be one of the most unusual Thanksgiving holidays they’ll face. There is no other word than ‘apocalyptic’ to describe the devastation by the massive fires. Many wanna-be prophets are already pointing to these fires as signs of the times--that the end of the world is near. There is even a website called ‘Doomsday Clock’ claiming that we are now only 2 minutes from midnight, the time of our annihilation. Our Lord in the gospel also gave us ominous words of warning about the future, but in a different light and tone. Whereas non-believers are concerned about the grim signs of the times that point to the imminent destruction of mankind, Our Lord emphasizes the triumphant and joyful day when he returns to earth in all his glory and splendor.  

He said to his disciples, "In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” For Christians, the “end of the world” is not the day to be feared but a day filled with hope because it is the final completion of history and the beginning of the full reign of God. At Holy Mass, we recite in the Creed, “On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” When that glorious day of the Second Coming arrives, Jesus will be acknowledged universally as Lord with the dead rising and and all human beings judged in the presence of Christ our King. When will this happen? Our Lord said, the day will not be known to us. He urged us to prepare and stay vigilant like a faithful servant who expects his master to return at any moment.

With our lives being so busy and preoccupied with things of this world, we need to be reminded of the scripture verses, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mk 12:29-31) A good question to ask ourselves is, ‘Have we shown gratitude to the Heavenly Father for all that we have received’? The Eucharist is also known as ‘thanksgiving.’  Have we in the past found time to go hunting, shopping, or recreation but complained that we don’t have time to give thanks to God in the Holy Eucharist? We may choose other priorities over Holy Mass, so we use the excuse that the priest is boring, the music is unexciting, and time is inconvenient to not attend. But the sacrifice of the Mass is not about our convenience, entertainment, or what’s in it for us; it’s all about giving God our heartfelt thanksgiving.

The time in which we are living is a serious time. There are threats of war, famine, political upheavals, earthquakes, and fires. These are the days when we need to decide for God, for dignity of life, for peace, and for the good. We need to decide to banish every hatred and jealousy from our life and our thoughts. We need to devote ourselves instead to God and care for our neighbors. We are given this special time of grace to get to know Our Lord more and love Him more. Develop a habit of prayer, of meditation on scriptures, and of generous giving to our neighbors. We cannot do without God’s blessing in these times. His Grace will shine through us to keep the darkness from enveloping our world. Call on Our Lord and Blessed Mother every moment of your day to come to guide you.

Nov. 11, 2018: 32nd Sunday B

Nov. 11, 2018: 32nd Sunday B

When you think of Lucky Charms cereal, glazed donuts, and sugar cookies, what do they have in common? These are some of the sugar-laden treats our children love. Can you imagine a child who would give them up if they were asked to do so? One day a four-year-old boy showed up with his mom at the entrance of Mother Teresa’s convent with a cup of sugar. For those of us living in sugar cane country, that doesn’t sound like much at all. These days we can walk into any grocery store and buy a pound of sugar for only a dollar. At the time when the little boy showed up, there was a sugar shortage in the city of Calcutta. The little boy said to Mother Teresa, “I did not eat sugar for three days. Give my sugar to your children.” Mother Teresa commented, “That little boy loved to the point of sacrificing.” We often think that giving is based on quantity or quality, but today’s gospel reveals the true measure of giving.

When Jesus directs the eyes of his disciples to a lowly widow in the temple treasury, he wanted his disciples to understand the meaning of true giving. There were many generous patrons of Herod’s temple who donated great sums of money to build and support an ornate temple. Yet, the disciples were asked to pay attention to a widow who was dropping a couple of pennies in the collection. What can two insignificant pennies do for the upkeep and building of the temple? Practically and financially, those two coins had no impact on the bottom line. However, for that destitute widow, the two coins represented her whole livelihood. For me, her gift meant that she relied on God for everything, including how she would provide for her next meal. The poor widow represented the true spiritual pillar of the temple by her spirit of total dependence on God. The generosity of her tiny coins mirrored the self-emptying generosity of God himself who did not hold back from us even his beloved Son. The widow was truly living out Jesus’ teaching of the Beatitude--Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Her whole treasure was not in earthly possessions, but in God.

How can we give our all to God and our neighbor joyfully? We need to remind ourselves that we are mere stewards of Our Lord Jesus during this earthly life rather than the owners of earthly goods. God has given us everything we own and possess, preeminently our life. How we use that life and return it to the Lord is our purpose. God points us to His Son, Blessed Mother, and the Saints as examples of how a gift of love can bring blessings to the multitude. Mother Teresa often said, “Give until it hurts, because real love hurts... You must love with your time, your hands, and your hearts.” Sometimes we avoid giving our resources, our efforts, or our time because of our fear of not having enough for ourselves. We are afraid of getting involved in other people’s lives because we fear that we won’t have enough time for ourselves. Certainly, it is a sacrifice to forego something of our own comfort, convenience, and enjoyment to help someone in need. Yet the time or the resources we give to others--out of love and gratitude--will become a blessing for the person and for ourselves.

The season of Fall and the changing of the colors of the tree leaves before they fall to the ground remind us of the shortness of our lives here on earth and how we depart this earth empty handed. The poor widow tossed into the collection basket the sign of her independence; her trust and dependence were on God. Her example of faith is grounded in the love of God. She teaches us that dependence on God can lead us to a life of simplicity, joy, and gratitude.

Nov. 9, 2018: Dedication of St. John Lateran

Nov. 9, 2018: Dedication of
St. John Lateran

By Deacon Greg Kandra

This is one of the more unusual feasts on the church calendar. It doesn’t commemorate a saint, or a biblical event. It celebrates a building. Specifically, the Lateran Basilica, in Rome. It’s the oldest of the four major basilicas in Rome, and as such serves as the official “home” of the pope – the seat of the bishop of Rome. St. Peter’s gets all the attention, but it’s the Lateran that is really the “pope’s church.”

A few years ago, my wife and I got to visit Rome and see the Lateran. You’ll find some remarkable objects – above the altar there are relics of St. Peter and St. Paul. There is also wood that is said to come from the table of the Last Supper.

But one of the most striking spots is actually outside the church. If you go to the square across the street, you’ll see a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, with his arms outstretched. It commemorates an important moment in church history: the Lateran is where Francis went to ask the pope for permission to start a religious order. And if you remember the story, his inspiration was a voice that he heard in prayer, a voice that told Francis “Rebuild my church.”

Well, if you step back from the statue of Francis and stand behind it, and look at it from a particular angle, between St. Francis’s outstretched arms you see the Lateran Basilica. He appears to be holding it up with his hands.

It’s a great image – and a great lesson.

A church building is brick and mortar, wood and glass. But – ultimately – it is supported by the arms and the labor of those who love it.

Ultimately, it is people.

It is you. It is me.

“You are God’s building,” Paul writes to the Corinthians. “You are the temple of God and the Spirit dwells in you.”

And it is up to us to keep the spirit – and to spread it – and to help it to dwell in others.
This Sunday, we’re marking “Stewardship Sunday” or “Commitment Sunday.” You’ll be seeing a short movie about that at the end of mass. I think it shows in a beautiful way how our arms support this church – how we all, together, lift it up to God. And how we then become God’s building, His dwelling place. Indeed, when we receive the Eucharist, as we will in a few moments, we become living tabernacles.

And it all begins here, in this tabernacle, this temple of God.

Many of you may remember Gene Flood, a longtime parishioner here. Gene was an important part of this parish’s history: he was the first baby baptized in this church. And nearly eight decades later, at his funeral here, his casket was sprinkled with holy water from the same font in which he was baptized. It was a beautiful reminder of how we mark so much of our sacramental lives within these walls. From baptisms to funerals and a thousand moments in between.
We are church. But this church, in ways large and small, is us. It is where we measure and mark our lives. And it becomes a part of us.

But there is one part that cannot be emphasized enough.

In his autobiography, Thomas Merton wrote, “I thought churches were simply places where people got together and sang a few hymns…and yet now I tell you, it is the Sacrament…Christ living in our midst…it is He alone who holds our world together.”

That is what this is really all about. That’s why we are here. That’s why we have the youth programs and the choir and RCIA and pastoral care and all the things that stewardship supports. It is to ensure that this sacrament, Christ living in our midst, continues to hold our world together through all that the parish does, all our ministers do, all that we do, together.
We do it because of this: the One who draws us to this sacred place. The One who nourishes our hopes, and who calms our fears, and who makes of each of us – with all our flaws and imperfections – his tabernacle.

It is all because of Christ in the Eucharist.

Remember that. Cherish that. And celebrate it.

Because when all is said and done, that is really what we are supporting. And it is, by the grace of God, where and how we will find our salvation.

Our prayer should be that we do that with joy, and with zeal and — like that statue of St. Francis shows — with open arms and open hearts.

Nov. 4, 2018: 31st Sunday B

Nov. 4, 2018: 31st Sunday B

How much do the following words ring true in your own life, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose." That statement was made by Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who survived at Auschwitz Concentration Camp during WWII. While in the concentration camp, Frankl observed that some people were able to survive through trying times by connecting to a sense of meaning and purpose. For example, Frankl remembers men who walked through the huts comforting others and giving away their last piece of bread. While they were few in number, these men demonstrated that love is the ultimate giver of meaning. Frankl observed, "I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

What is the greatest commandment or divine rule of life that we should abide by that reveals the meaning and purpose in our lives? The scribe in today’s gospel asked Jesus that question. In response Our Lord quoted the great "Shema" prayer from the Book of Deuteronomy, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord, our God, is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,  with all your mind, and with all your strength." Love God, Our Lord said, with all of ourselves. Then he went one step further, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these." At the Last Supper, the night before he died, Jesus repeated that the greatest commandment is to love -- "I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for another" (John 13:34-35). Jesus united in his person and actions the commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbor. What happens when we do not have a love for God or neighbor? We lose the true meaning and purpose of what our lives are about; we sway with the whims of misjudgment, hate, and violence. 

This past Monday evening, in Beth Shalom Synagogue in Baton Rouge there was standing room only as people of all faith gathered to mourn and pray for the victims of Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg who were gunned down by a man who neither had a love for God nor neighbor. A Baptist minister reflected that the violence committed against the parishioners of the synagogue was not born in a moment but cultivated over time through callous disrespect and contempt for humanity. He said that we are one body, a seamless fabric of humanity. The good that we do for one another uplifts all of humanity while the evil we inflict on one another degrades the whole of humanity. A rabbi said to those gathered, “In the face of this tragedy many are asking, ‘Where was God?’ But we really should be asking, ‘Where was man?’” Where was the basic human decency: human dignity, the sacredness of human life, striving for common good, and solidarity? We heard the answer when the prayer service began with the recitation of Psalm 121: “I lift my eyes to the mountains; from where does my help come from? My help comes from God, maker of heaven and earth.” The rabbi then led us on a beautiful prayer of solidarity.

“We are here to comfort one another and find Your presence among us. Let us be the spiritual scaffolding for those around us, enabling them to thrive. When I am shattered, assure me that I can heal. When I’m weary, renew my spirit.  When I am lost, show me that You are near. When I panic, God, teach me patience. When I fear, teach me faith. When I lose perspective, show me the way--Back to love, back to life, back to You.”

We make our lives hopeful and meaningful by loving God and neighbor. Our true reason for being, our true purpose for being placed on this earth is to love. Out of love, we all can strive to put the needs of others ahead of ours. Victor Frankl said, “The more one forgets himself - by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love - the more human he is.” God loved us first, and our love for God is our response out of gratitude. God has given us the gifts of the Holy Spirit to assist us when our love for God and neighbor is lacking. What is keeping us from loving God and experiencing the joy of serving others with a generous heart? When stuck driving behind the sugar cane truck on a one-lane highway, are we loving when our impatience brings out not so Christian thoughts and words? Are we being loving when we share or post negative or disparaging remarks about others on social media in the name of truth? We should all reflect on incidents from our daily life that are less than loving to our fellow human beings and bring them before Jesus to shepherd our hearts. 

Nov. 2, 2018: All Souls Day

Nov. 2, 2018: All Souls Day

“All Saints: Part II”

What we celebrate today is not that different from what we celebrated yesterday. Whereas the feast of All Saints commemorates those whom the Church has raised up as models of Christian living to be emulated by all the faithful the world over, what we celebrate on the feast of All Souls is, in effect, everybody else who has died. For a long time, I resisted the apparent segregation, the distinction between the canonized (who already get their own memorials and feasts) and the rest of the baptized. It seemed to me unchristian to make such a separation among the deceased, whose fate alone only God knows at this point.

And so, over the years, I’ve found myself rethinking today’s feast and informally renaming it “All Saints: Part II.” I’m not suggesting that all our departed family and friends necessarily merit formal canonization. Instead, I’m siding with St. Paul who famously called all the baptized “saints.” I’m siding with the Apostles’ Creed that boldly proclaims our belief in a single communion of saints, which includes all those who have lived, are living, and will come after us. I’m siding with the God who “wills the salvation of all” (1 Tim 2:4). I celebrate the love that binds us to our deceased brothers and sisters, both the relatives and friends we knew personally as well as the great Christian models of centuries past.

The good news of resurrection and eternal life that Christ proclaims in today’s Gospel is too extraordinary to celebrate in just one day. So let us take two days!

Fr. Daniel P. Horan, OFM

A Reflection from Give Us This Day