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Feb. 17, 2018 6th Sunday Ordinary C

Feb. 17, 2018 6th Sunday Ordinary C

It was an ordinary day for a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton, running errands for his cloistered monastery in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. He was in the center of the shopping district, surrounded by hubbub of people going about shopping and work. For years living in a cloistered life behind the walls of his monastery, this monk felt separated from the rest of humanity. Then in the middle of this busy downtown, he had his “revelation” at the corner of Fourth and Walnut Street. He suddenly saw the strangers around him in a completely new light. He wrote, “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs…It was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts, where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time.” Thomas Merton realized that God wasn’t found away from the world, but in it; God was reflected in every human being. 

Based on Merton’s epiphany, do you think we can make the following corollary statement, that is: Happiness in God isn’t found away from the world, but in it; happiness in God is reflected in every human being. This may seem like a contradictory statement, for all of us here can attest that there are shadows of life and unhappiness that come from rubbing shoulders with people and facing trials. 

Perhaps what Jesus taught in today’s Gospel is also disconcerting: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.” Many folks told me how nice it would be if they became a religious monk or a nun, with no children, property, or spouse to worry or get aggravated by. But as Merton realized, happiness in God is right in the middle of our experience of aggravation, frustration, loss, and sadness. How can we train our eyes to see the essential beauty and glory of God in our family, neighbor, and tragedies?

Jesus on the Cross is a reminder of our happiness in God. There in Calvary hanging on the Cross was a man who loved and gave much but was despised and misunderstood. While surrounded by cacophony of the jeering crowd, remaining with him by his side to comfort him were his mother, two loyal friends, and relatives. Steadfast was his belief that all of Heavenly Father’s creation would be redeemed by his sacrificial love. Jesus saw the true worth of each person gathered on that hill of Calvary; whether they were for him or against him, he saw His Father’s beauty in them nevertheless. 

In our day to day lives there are times when the ones we love the most can hurt us deeply; yet, we beg God to lend us His Heart to love them despite the pain and suffering. It’s in God’s love that we worship together in this Church even as we have unforgiveness and tensions. By bringing our hurts and misgivings before the altar of Calvary, we hope that our lives will be made new by Our Lord who brought dead to life. One day, happiness in God will be realized when we all meet each other, both friend and foe, together in Heaven, praising and glorifying God for bringing us together. 

Feb. 10, 2019: 5th Sunday Ordinary C

Feb. 10, 2019: 5th Sunday Ordinary C

It was the year 1219 more than 800 years ago. Two Italian men wearing rags were found traversing a city in Egypt where the Sultan of Egypt defeated 5,000 Christian crusaders. The soldiers quickly captured and beat these poor Italian men and brought them before the Sultan of Egypt, Malek al-Kamil who was the nephew of the famous Sultan Saladin. The Sultan asked them by whom and why they had been sent, and one of the two, Francis of Assisi, replied that they had been sent by God, not by men, to show the Sultan and his subjects the way of salvation and proclaim the truth of the Gospel message. The Sultan asked Francis to stay with him for several days for he was impressed by Francis’ enthusiasm, courage, and love that flowed from him. Fast forward 800 years in 2019, another Italian man bearing the name of Francis arrived in United Arab Emirates (UAE) several days ago. He rode in a South Korean car costing $18,000 trailed by luxury cars costing several times more. Later, he celebrated a historic Holy Mass in a sports stadium in Abu Dhabi for a crowd of 130,000 Catholics from 100 different nations. Inside a country known for opulent wealth and excess, Pope Francis preached about happiness or blessedness being poor in spirit by witnessing the lifestyle of Jesus. He said,

“Let us look at how Jesus lived: poor in respect to things, but wealthy in love; he healed so many lives, but did not spare his own...He came to serve and not to be served; he taught us that greatness is not found in having but in giving. Just and meek, he did not offer resistance, but allowed himself to be condemned unjustly. In this way Jesus brought God’s love into the world. Only in this way did he defeat death, sin, fear and even worldliness: only by the power of divine love.”

When we reflect on the lives of Francis of Assisi, Jorge Bergoglio (aka Pope Francis), Prophet Isaiah and Peter, we see a reflection of our own selves. Our Lord calls ordinary men and women to be “fishers of men” to spread God’s peace, love, and mercy. At the time of God’s calling, we may feel unworthy and feel the pang of guilt of our sins; because of our unworthiness, we decline the invitation from God. We may also decline the call because we are too busy, too preoccupied with the demands of our jobs, or we are angry at God. Just as Jesus entered into the fishing boat of Peter fully knowing his faults and weakness,  Jesus accepts each of us where we are and as we are.  While our human efforts alone may not produce much fruit, together with Jesus, we may witness amazing fruits through our humble efforts. Just as He instructed Peter,  "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch," if we but humble ourselves and listen obediently for His direction in prayer, unexpected fruits for God’s Kingdom will result through our love in action. As Pope Francis said, we imitate Jesus by serving others, doing little things with great love for Jesus. Greatness before God’s eyes is not about having but giving.

The lyrics from an old hymn, “How Can I Keep From Singing,” reminds us that this life is not about building for ourselves the most comfortable environment where we expect no suffering. Rather Christ invites his disciples on earth to reflect on how He gave His life for others out of love, enduring suffering patiently that came His way, and trusting His Father during storms of life. The words of the song are:

What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth

No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

God’s purpose for us does not depend on our virtue or worthiness. Jesus does not wait for us to be perfect before calling us to work with him in serving others. Rather, our humble acknowledgement of our littleness and weakness opens the doors of our hearts for Christ to work through us. Like Peter, we make mistakes while we try to serve Jesus and our neighbor. But as the saying goes, “God doesn’t call the qualified; rather, God qualifies those He calls.”

Feb. 3, 2019: 4th Sunday C

Feb. 3, 2019: 4th Sunday C

Love never fails. This bold statement from St. Paul sounds strange to us because when we look around, we see signs of failure to love. We open up the newspaper or even look around our community and see people who are not patient with others, people who at times seek only their own interests, and people who give in to anger and unforgiveness. While there are those who are more inclined to hear about the wrongdoings or failures of others, there are also those who rejoice in another’s goodness, those who bear the wrongs of others because they believe and hope in the redeeming love of Christ.

Our Lord knows our capacity to rise above darkness as well as our tendency to give in to evil. God told Prophet Jeremiah that before we were formed in our mother’s womb, God knew us intimately. Our Lord also knew how fickle his hometown folks in Nazareth could be. Last week, we heard how Jesus impressed his hometown folks who came to the synagogue and heard his preaching. This week we are told that people in that same synagogue felt insulted and became incensed by part two of Jesus’ sermon. They were so angry that they took Jesus out to a cliff to throw him off. His hometown’s violent rejection foreshadowed Jesus’ mission as well as his destiny--to set free those under the power of evil and to pay for the price of our freedom with the sacrifice of his own life.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could love God and our neighbor with the same great passion that Jesus has shown us? Is it impossible to boldly claim that our love never fails? Truthfully, we humbly acknowledge that our love falls pitifully short of how God loves us. Despite our best efforts, what we give to God and neighbor is always finite and perhaps tinged with selfishness; we always hold back something, fearing that we will run out if we give out recklessly. Yet there is a way to love generously as God does.  St. Paul provided a hint for us. He wrote to the Corinthians, “Brothers and sisters: Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.”

What is the greatest spiritual gift for which we should strive? It’s God’s Love--His patience, His kindness, His perseverance, His Trust, and His Hope. God wants us to “borrow” His Love in order for us to love Him and our neighbor perfectly. How do we borrow His Love? Do we check it out from some library? In fact, we are going to borrow His Love in a few moments when the Holy Spirit transforms our meager offerings represented by the earthly bread and wine into the real flesh and blood of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, through your prayers and the prayers of the priest. Then representing all of us present in this church, the priest lifts the two gifts--Jesus’ flesh and blood--and says to God the Father, “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours forever and ever. Amen.” At that moment, we offer to God the Father, Jesus’ infinite sacrifice of love to the Father; at that moment, Jesus’ sacrifice becomes our sacrifice, and we love God perfectly with his own divine love. Even after Holy Mass, we are the living and walking Tabernacles, taking within us the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit who empowers us to be able to love God and others in ordinary situations of life.

It doesn’t mean that just because we have the presence of Jesus in us we automatically choose loving actions. The moment we depart from the church after Mass we will struggle with being patient, kind, and compassionate. The recent revelation of sinful priests on the news is a sober reminder that even the ones closest to Jesus must make a choice to love in Christ every moment of their lives. Remember that Judas and Peter who were close to Jesus also betrayed him. We should take St. Peter’s words seriously, “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Choose Christ every moment of your day, for His love is ready and available whenever we ask. “Ask and it will be given to you...For everyone who asks, receives..” (Matthew 7:7)

Jan. 27, 2019: 3rd Sunday C

Jan. 27, 2019: 3rd Sunday C

Have you ever found yourself so distracted that it was difficult to focus on what matters the most? We know God is calling us to walk His path, yet distractions of life pull us away from ever starting on His path or persevering on His path. Sometimes we lack the focus of our soul and the resolve of our will. When I searched online for “How to focus,” I came across a meditation titled “Focused” by a Christian woman named Lilias Trotter (d. 1928). In the meditation, she recalled her experience of a morning walk through the woods when the bright sun shined its radiance on a small, pitiful dandelion. She wrote, “It was just a dandelion, and half withered - but it was full face to the sun, and had caught into its heart all the glory it could hold, and was shining so radiantly that the dew that lay on it still made a perfect aureole round its head. And it seemed to talk, standing there - to talk about the possibility of making the very best of these lives of ours. For if the Sun of Righteousness has risen upon our hearts, there is an ocean of grace and love and power lying all around us, an ocean to which all earthly light is but a drop, and it is ready to transfigure us, as the sunshine transfigured the dandelion, and on the same condition - that we stand full face to God.”

St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians that each of us is an essential part of the Body of Christ, however small or insignificant we appear to others or to ourselves. To each of us, the radiance of the Holy Spirit has shone upon us. He wrote, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body… the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary… But God has so constructed the that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it…” This one Body has one focus, to proclaim and live the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Think about the times in your life when you were focused on this mission. What fruits came forth from your life? And now think about the times in your life when you were distracted from this mission. What was the result of your loss of focus? 

Jesus enters into our lives just as he entered the synagogue in Nazareth in today’s Gospel. We are told that all the eyes in the synagogue were intently focused on Jesus as he read passages from the Prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord… Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus has entered into our lives through baptism and continues to do so through His Sacred Scriptures and the Sacraments. He wants us to focus upon him and receive the radiance of His love, mercy, and strength. The remedy for the distractions in our lives is to focus upon Jesus, to rediscover His love for us, and to walk His path to holiness. 

So now back to Lilias Trotter and the small pamphlet, “Focused”, she wrote. Her powerful words are now etched in my mind 1— “Gathered up, focussed lives, intent on one aim - Christ - these are the lives on which God can concentrate blessedness.” How easy it is for the disciples of Christ to get caught up in the things of earth so that our heavenly vision and values become blurred and dull. The blurring of our focus also happens when we are so busy doing things instead of spending time deepening our relationship with Christ. Just as I was touched by the words of Ms. Trotter’s pamphlet, a woman named Helen Lemmel was also touched by Ms. Trotter’s pamphlet. Ms. Lemmel could not dismiss the words of the pamphlet from her mind. She wrote, “Suddenly, as if commanded to stop and listen, I stood still, and singing in my soul and spirit was the chorus, with not one conscious moment of putting word to word to make rhyme, or note to note to make melody…” So she wrote the following hymn that is still beloved today. May the words of this hymn remind us to refocus our eyes of our hearts on Jesus, to love Him, and to live for Him.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

1. O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

2. Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conqu’rors we are!

3. His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

Fr Paul sings Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

January 25, 2019: The Conversion of St. Paul

January 25, 2019: The Conversion of St. Paul 

By Fr. Peter John Cameron OP

Blessed John Henry Newman (d. 1890) looked upon conversion as nothing more than a deeper discovery of what we already truly desire. Conversion happens at the level of desire. It is the restoration of what makes us truly human. Saul of Tarsus, the “Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (Acts 23: 6), had often prayed in the Psalms, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’ … Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down! … Flash forth the lightning…. Stretch forth your hand from on high, rescue me and deliver me” (Ps 27: 8-9; 144: 5, 6, 7). And that is exactly what happened when Saul encountered Christ on the road to Damascus: 

Suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him…. [He] heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? … I am Jesus….” … They led [Saul] by the hand. (Acts 9: 3, 4, 5)

Pope Benedict XVI speaks of conversion as an act of obedience toward a reality that does not originate from us, that precedes us: the concrete God. Similarly, for St. Pope John Paul II, conversion means returning to God “through evaluating earthly realities in the unfailing light of his truth.” The proof of Paul’s conversion is his profession, “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil 1: 21). Conversion is a conversion to the will and design of God: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2: 20). “Conversion to Christ,” says Pope Benedict, “ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need —the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship.” 

Various daily acts cause our conversion to grow: examining our conscience and admitting our faults; undertaking works of penance and reconciliation; receiving the correction others give us; reaching out to the poor; standing up for what is right and just; accepting the suffering and persecution that come our way; desiring to better our life (see CCC 1435). The key to conversion? Keeping our focus on the cross of Jesus Christ, for “the human heart is converted by looking upon [the Crucified] whom our sins have pierced” (CCC 1432, cf. Jn 19: 37; Zech 12: 10). 

Novena Prayer 

Glorious St. Paul, your conversion is a powerful witness to the world that God loves us and does not give up on us, no matter how far we stray. Help me to live a life of ongoing conversion. True conversion means converting my life to the design of God —the plan he has for me right now. Pray that I will love God’s will and providence for me. May every circumstance of my life be an occasion to change my way of thinking, to renounce self-will, and to surrender myself to the wisdom and tenderness of Jesus Christ, who is acting to make me his saint. May faith move me to believe that God can and will change the things in me that seem impossible. May the witness of my life inspire other sinners to conversion. In this confidence, I entrust to you these, my intentions: (mention your request here). 

A Memory of Fr. Pat Mascarella

A Memory of Fr. Pat Mascarella

At our recent clergy formation days, I had the privilege to spend some time with Fr. Pat and his guide dog, Pace. Fr. Pat shared with me his vocation story about how he had the inkling to become a priest when he was in second grade. During those few formation days, I came to realize how Fr. Pat loved his dog Pace, not only as a guide dog but as a friend. Another memory comes to mind from almost 10 years ago at a priest retreat in Manresa.

At Manresa after evening prayer, I sat down to spend a little more time in the silence to pray. I had my eyes closed, but I began to hear a clicking and clacking noise. I opened my eyes and saw Fr. Pat Mascarella making his way through the chapel with his white cane. His sight had failed him gradually during the past two decades, and he could only distinguish light and darkness. He knew that the chapel had been remodeled since his last visit to Manresa, and he wanted to 'see' how the remodeling came out. He had made his way to the sanctuary and used his hands to feel the new altar and the ambo. He approached the tabernacle with his white cane and slowly began to feel the relief that is etched on to the tabernacle door. It is a relief of Jesus’ baptism by St. John the Baptist.

After he traced the figures on the door with his fingers, he placed his palm on the door of the tabernacle and stayed there in prayer. I don't know if he was aware at that time, but a large crucifix with a life-size Jesus is above the tabernacle. From where I was seated, it appeared that Jesus was looking down from the cross upon him with gentle love. I was thinking to myself, 'Here is a priest who has dedicated more than 40 years of his life in the priesthood.' Perhaps when he lost his sight he was angry and even bitter. Yet, as he rested his palm on the image of Jesus being baptized and who heard from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I'm well pleased," I knew Fr. Pat in someway was receiving that same affirmation from God the Father as well--a beloved son of the Father. I believe in those very few minutes, Fr. Pat was filled with courage and resolve to continue saying, "not what I will, but what you will."

Jan. 20, 2019: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Jan. 20, 2019: 2nd Sunday Ordinary C

Have you ever prayed for a miracle? We pray for plenty of miracles when we watch LSU or Saints Football game, don’t we? This past week, the priests of our diocese gathered in New Orleans to better understand and minister to individuals and families with disabilities. At one session, a mother told us how she desperately clung to prayer when her husband abandoned her and the children, leaving her to make a living and take care of her children including her severely autistic child. She prayed for a long time for a miracle of healing for her autistic child. Although the miraculous healing never happened, other miracles abounded. In moments of loneliness and desperation, God sent her faith-filled strangers who came to her aid and filled her with hope. As she looked back the past 13 years since her husband left the family, she could only be grateful to God for allowing her to witness numerous miracles He performed for her and her family. 

Have you noticed that whenever Jesus performs miracles in Scriptures, he involves His disciples as part of his miracles? For example, Jesus could have produced out of thin-air enough bread and fish to feed the crowd of five thousand, but he challenged his disciples to be part of the solution in feeding the crowd. The baffled disciples managed to find a child with a few loves and fish and brought them before Jesus. But the disciples doubted what good those few meager items would do to satisfy the impossibly large crowd. Let’s contrast the response of the disciples with what Blessed Mother does in another miracle of Jesus, the ordinary water transformed into wine at the Wedding at Cana. It seems as though this miracle demonstrates for us what a perfect disciple would do in an impossible situation. 

Blessed Mother was present at a wedding in Cana and noticed an impending crisis. Before the couple and the wine steward noticed, she recognized that there was no wine left for the guests. Her love and compassion made her notice the details that others did not notice. Her merciful gaze at the desperate situation prompted her to bring the problem to the only one who could provide a  remedy. She approached her Son and interceded on behalf of the household, “Son, they have no wine,” confident that her Son would, out of mercy, miraculously intervene. Again, instead of simply producing wine out of thin air, Jesus asked the servants to fill the nearby jars with plain water. Then he miraculously transformed ordinary water into the best of the wines that the guests had ever tasted.  

Even today, Jesus involves all of us here in order to perform one of the greatest miracles: transforming ordinary bread into His very own flesh, and ordinary wine into His precious blood. During the offertory prayer, the priest recalls our cooperation in God’s miracle as he prays, “Blessed are you, Lord God of all Creation, for through your goodness we have this bread to offer, fruit of the earth and the work of human hands” and later, “through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and the work of human hands.” Our contribution and God’s goodness together will become for us the Bread of life and our spiritual drink. It’s so important for us to remember that God wants to include us in his saving work; He wants to save us and others with our cooperation. 

As followers and disciples of Christ, we need to have our eyes and hearts open to see other’s needs as Blessed Mother saw the problem at the Wedding at Cana. Just as she was merciful toward the needs of others, we need to emulate her merciful heart. We can learn from her how she solved impossible problems by bringing them to her Divine Son. St. Paul reminds us that God gives each of us gifts of the Holy Spirit to serve one another. If we use these spiritual gifts to live out our daily duties with love for God and neighbor, then God will work miracles in our lives, like the miracle of Cana. 

Jan. 13, 2019: Baptism of the Lord

Jan. 13, 2019: Baptism of the Lord C

It is estimated that 3 billion gallons of water flow every year from the Sea of Galilee, through River Jordan, and into the Dead Sea. Whereas the Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake teeming with marine life and vegetation, the Dead Sea is extremely salty brine in which no creature survives and no vegetation grows. Connecting the two bodies of water is the River Jordan in which Jesus was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist. Even today hundreds of thousands pilgrims visit the River Jordan each year to pray and to renew their baptismal vows. 

Baptism site on Israeli side of Jordan River
(not the probably site of Jesus' baptism)
Several years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Jordan River. The site that pilgrims visit on the Israeli side, is not the official site of the baptism of Jesus, but is far easier to visit that the official site on Jordanian side. Across a short distance from the site, I saw horses relieving themselves. I imagined that when it rains, the runoff would enter into the river. On that day, there were hundreds of people plunging into the water to be baptized by their minister. I had to turn off my camera and turn away when people’s robes floated up, thus revealing their birthday suits. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand the desire to rent a white robe from the facility, plunge into the water in my birthday suit, and stand in the water teaming with catfish and what appeared to be nutria rats. 

What’s the attraction of the Jordan River for Christians? It’s the place where Jesus stood in line with the rest of the sinners and accepted John’s baptism as a prophetic sign of his own passion, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Throughout the centuries, millions have come to the Jordan River to seek purification, to renew their faith, and draw closer to Our Lord. The River reminds the pilgrims how they have been washed in the waters of baptism and have become members of the divine family of Jesus. 

Site of Baptism on Jordanian side
(more likely site of Jesus' baptism)
From time to time, I encounter people puzzled by the need for baptism at all. From their perspective, even though they’re not baptized, they believe that they’re leading a good, decent life. They try to be conscientious and respect others. In their candor, they even say that they live a much more ethical life than some of the Christians they know. Some well meaning parents are even saying that they don’t want to impose upon their children baptism and instead give their children the freedom to choose their faith when they mature. How would you explain to such persons the necessity of baptism? 

We need to go back to the River Jordan where Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized. John the Baptist had been attracting great crowds of people into the desert area where the River Jordan flowed. There he called upon people to change their hearts, repent of their sins, and come back to God through baptism in the Jordan River. John called his baptism a baptism of repentance, but he knew that the Messiah who was to come was going to baptize not only with water but with Holy Spirit and fire--a radical transformation only possible by God. The moment of Jesus’ baptism by John revealed that Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father in whom all God’s grace and favor rest. Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations...A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.”     

By being baptized by John, Jesus who is sinless chose to be with us where we are, to enter into solidarity with all sinners. He opened the door to a new life, a life that goes beyond our death and into the life of heaven after our death. St. Paul explained to the Romans, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3, 8, 11) Thus baptism is the sacrament of salvation, an encounter with God that cleanses us from sin and makes us true children of God, sharing in his own divine life. It’s a free and great gift from God. Baptism washes away the Original Sin that we all inherited from Adam and Eve. Baptism gives us the grace--spiritual strength--to follow Jesus through this world. 

Do we take the gift of baptism we received for granted? Pope Francis reminded us that the Sacrament of Baptism is the foundation of Christian life. “It is the door that permits Christ the Lord to make his dwelling in us and allows us to immerse ourselves in his mystery.” While some believe that there is no need to “baptize a child that does not understand” the meaning of the sacrament, Pope Francis said by not baptizing would deny the chance for “Christian virtues to grow within that child and blossom.” He said, "Always give this opportunity to all children: to have within themselves the Holy Spirit that will guide them in life. Do not forget to baptize your children.” 

With our own baptism, our vocation on earth is clear--to walk as sons and daughters of Heavenly Father, always aware of the living presence of Christ within us, relying on the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Can you be an ethical person without baptism? Can you be a good Hindu, Muslim, or even a person of no faith? Yes. But what’s missing? A relationship and life with Heavenly Father that would not be possible without baptism. For many of us, our parents and godparents made the profession of faith for us when we were baptized, to proclaim life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We reaffirm this faith for ourselves by our daily witness, obedience to the Father’s will, and sacrifice. It is our conviction that through baptism, the final resurrection from our physical death is a reality that awaits us.

Jan. 9, 2019: Wednesday after Epiphany

Jan. 9, 2019: Wednesday after Epiphany

Does the Lord Jesus ever seem distant when trials or difficulties come your way? 

Right after Jesus performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, he left his disciples by themselves so he could go to a remote place to pray alone.It was at Jesus' initiative that the disciples sailed across the lake of Galilee, only to find themselves in a life-threatening storm. Although they were experienced fishermen, they feared for their lives. The Lake of Galilee was known for its sudden storms whipped up by strong winds which swept down from the nearby mountains. The disciples must have cried out for help when they recognized that their boat was about to be capsized by the threatening waves.

Jesus always intercedes for us 

Although Jesus was not physically with them in the boat, he nonetheless had been keeping vigilant watch for them in earnest prayer. When Jesus perceived their trouble he came to them walking on the sea and startled them with his sudden appearance. The disciples were terrified rather than joyful when they saw Jesus' presence on the water. They thought a ghost had appeared to seal their doom. They couldn't believe it was really him until he spoke words of assurance: "Don't give in to fear or panic, but take courage and be calm, because I am here for you and ready to help you in your need." Jesus not only calmed their fears, but the threatening waves and storm as well.

Do you recognize the Lord's abiding presence with you? 

Does the Lord Jesus seem distant when trials and difficulties come your way? The Lord never leaves us alone, but keeps constant watch over us at all times, especially when we are tempted and feel weak or helpless. Do you look to the Lord Jesus to give you his strength and help when you are in need? Jesus assures us that we do not have to give into fear or discouragement if we put our trust in Him and remember his great love for us. He will see us through any trial that comes our way. When calamities and trials threaten to overwhelm you, do you respond with faith and hope in God's love and presence with you?

"Lord Jesus, may I never doubt your saving help and your ever watchful presence, especially in times of adversity. Fortify my faith with courage and my hope with steady perseverance that I may never waver in placing all my trust in you who are my all."

By Don Schwager © 2019.

Jan. 6, 2019: Epiphany

Jan. 6, 2019: Epiphany

Have you looked up at the night sky lately to gaze at stars? Now days, It is difficult to catch a glimpse of the stars in the night sky because of all the lights left on at our homes and businesses. The other day, I was driving through a subdivision, and the bright light shining from each home seemed to be the large screen TV’s. That’s the kind of light that captivates us these days--light from the TV’s, our phones, and tablets. During his Epiphany homily last year, Pope Francis reflected on why the Magi alone saw the star. He said, “Perhaps because few people raise their eyes to see heaven. We often make do looking at the ground: it’s enough to have our health, a little money, and a bit of entertainment. I wonder if we still know how to look up at the sky. Do we know how to dream, to long for God, to expect the newness he brings, or do we let ourselves be swept along by life, like dry leaves before the wind? The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat. They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up.”

It was by looking above their heads toward the light of the Star of Bethlehem that the Magi came to Jerusalem seeking the Messiah. Herod, a Jewish king,  and his allies never saw this star because they were preoccupied with holding on to earthly power and fearful of losing the grip. The epiphany story is a foreshadowing of the rejection of Jesus by the powerful political and religious leaders, and the acceptance of Jesus by the poor, the lowly, and the Gentiles. The Magi who represent the pagan Gentiles allowed the light of the Bethlehem Star to guide them, and once they saw the Christ Child, they joyfully adored and surrendered their lives.

The Star of Bethlehem was then as is now visible through faith; instead of dazzling our eyes like a meteorite which brightly burns up quickly, Jesus’ star invites us gently. While success, money, career, honors, and pleasures entice us then lead us quickly to darkness, the call from Jesus to humility, prayer, sacrifice, and love fill us with gentle joy and peace. Those who turn their lives around and decide to be guided by the light of Christ may not make a name for themselves, but they are truly blessed because they serve as another star of Bethlehem for others. Our Lord came to us to give his very own life; the Magi journeyed a long distance to bring the Christ Child costly gifts.  We are called to make our lives a gift for Christ, to give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return. What a bright sign we become for Christ when we build our family upon Christian values, give to the needy, the hungry, the stranger, or spend time with a difficult person. Let us ponder this week: Is my life like a ‘star’ which guides others to Jesus?