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April 23, 2019: Week 9 - Divine Mercy - Gratefulness

April 23, 2019: Week 9 - Divine Mercy - Gratefulness

They say that some of the worst things to say to a grieving person are:
- Cheer up. Your loved one wouldn't want you to be sad.
- He is in a better place.
- Pull yourself together because you need to be there for your kids.

Fr. Henri Nouwen said that to be a friend to someone in a moment of despair or confusion is to stay with the grieving person, not trying to give solution, to cure, or to fix. Rather, to be a caring person is to be present in silence, to offer warm and tender hand. Risen Jesus is the friend who stays with us in our moment of despair or confusion, showing us the way to the Father.

Mary Magdalene was inconsolable the morning she found the tomb empty. Her beloved teacher’s body was gone, perhaps stolen by someone. When she saw a man standing there, Mary didn’t recognize Him because she was still holding onto Jesus who died and not Jesus who had risen. When Jesus appeared to her, he said, “Stop holding onto me.” When Jesus called her by name, Mary’s eyes and heart opened.

On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus told the disciples, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy… So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (John 16:20-22)

Unexpected sorrows of life can momentarily confuse and disorient us. In those moments, we don’t recognize Jesus who is present with us in silence as a friend who lends his warm and tender hand. If we persevere in prayer, we will hear Risen Jesus, who knows us completely and deeply, calling us by name and encouraging us to share with others how trials of life are but stepping stones to glory yet to be revealed. As Mother Teresa said, “Remember that the Passion of Christ ends in the joy of the Resurrection of Christ! When you feel in your own heart the suffering of Christ, remember the resurrection has to come, the joy of Easter has to dawn.”

April 21, 2019: Easter Sunday C

April 21, 2019: Easter Sunday C
“The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.” (Matthew 4:16) These words of Prophet Isaiah as quoted by Matthew’s Gospel contrast the darkness and light between the world we live in and the Kingdom of God ushered in by Risen Christ. We all are familiar with shadows or darkness in our lives. When we experience unsettling, tragic, and evil events we fail to comprehend the meaning or its purpose. Sometimes we stumble in the dark, are unable to make sense of it all, and become fearful of the unknowns of the future.
During this Holy Week, we journeyed with Jesus and his disciples from a triumphant entry into Jerusalem to his humiliating and devastating crucifixion on the cross. The hope of many who believed in Jesus as the Messiah was dashed when he died and was laid in a tomb. Many of his chosen disciples were too afraid to be with Jesus in his hour of need on Calvary, and the burden of guilt weighed heavy on them. In their mind, life would now go on as before. On Sunday morning, women devoted to Jesus went to the tomb to anoint his body only to find an empty tomb and angelic men telling them that Jesus had risen. Initially the rest of the disciples greeted the women’s news with incredulity, but Peter went to the tomb to witness for himself and was amazed.
The resurrection of Jesus was -- as is now and forever will be -- a life-changing and an amazing event. Not only for the disciples but for each of us, once we understand the resurrection of Christ, nothing remains the same as it was before. I remember the Easter Vigil mass at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Gonzales just months before I entered the seminary. As throngs of people received the Body of Christ from Fr. Phil Spano, I was moved to witness the faith of the people who desired to touch and to be with the Risen Christ. When I received Jesus in the Holy Communion, he was dwelling in me as the Lord of my life and not just a concept in a bible. What I thought was important in my life up until that time--my career, hobbies, and possessions-- was suddenly not a priority to me.
The Risen Christ lives in us. Jesus is alive; he no longer belongs to the past but lives in the present. As St. Paul reminds us that through our baptism, our old self has been crucified with Christ and now we live for Him. No longer do we ask ourselves, “What do I want to do in my life.” Our lives have been purchased at a great price, therefore, we need to ask ourselves, “What does Jesus want with my life.”
While our daily failures, problems, and worries can momentarily plunge us into darkness, the Risen Christ is within us, to raise us up in His joy, hope, and new beginning. St. John Paul II eloquently explained:
“There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us. And on the far side of every cross we find the newness of life in the Holy Spirit, that new life which will reach its fulfillment in the resurrection. This is our faith. This is our witness before the world.”
Let us invite Risen Jesus into our lives. He is here with us, right now! Let us trust him as a friend and the Lord of our lives.  Deacon Tim and I wish all of you a joyful and happy Easter.

These Alone Are Enough For Me sung by Fr Paul Yi

These Alone Are Enough For Me
(Good Friday Service at St. Francis of Assisi, Donaldsonville, 2019)

(Click to hear/download audio only)

Take my heart, O Lord, take my hopes and dreams.
Take my mind with all its plans and schemes.
Give me nothing more than your love and grace.
These alone, O God, are enough for me.

Take my thoughts, Oh Lord, and my memory.
Take my tears, my joys, my liberty.
Give me nothing more than your love and grace.
These alone, O God, are enough for me.

I surrender, Lord, all I have and Hold.
I return to you your gifts untold.
Give me nothing more than your love and grace.
These alone, O God, are enough for me.

When the darkness falls on my final days,
take the very breath that sang your praise.
Give me nothing more than your love and grace.
These alone, O God, are enough for me.

(Written by Dan Schutte)
based on St. Ignatius of Loyola's prayer Suscipe

April 19, 2019: Good Friday C

April 19, 2019: Good Friday C

On this evening of Good Friday, an evening veiled in silence and solemnity, we commemorate the anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion and death. As I processed into this church in silence and prostrated in front of the altar, and you all knelt in an act of worship of the crucified Christ who gave his life for our salvation. We heard a moving prophecy about Jesus from the Prophet Isaiah: “Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured...he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole…We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.” Humanity’s guilt in crucifying Our Lord brings all of us to shame, yet we also marvel at God’s unfathomable mercy for all his children. 

As we behold the suffering of Jesus on the Cross, we recall how Blessed Mother followed Jesus closely in sorrow and prayer along the Way of the Cross. She was at the place of crucifixion ahead of everyone else, consoling Jesus. She looked for the disciples of Jesus, those he called to follow him. Only John arrived at Calvary to witness the completion of Jesus’ mission. John had first run away like the others, but he overcame his weakness and made his way back to Blessed Mother through the Via Dolorosa. Standing with Blessed Mother, John found love, strength, and peace that sustained his own faith. From the Cross, Jesus entrusted John to his mother and then his own mother to John. They heard Jesus say from the Cross, “I thirst.” That cry was the cry of God who thirsted to love us and to receive our love.

When we look around our world,  there are many who reject Jesus. There have been times we have strayed like sheep in our own weakness. We have a savior, yet many do not trust Him. Perfect love casts out fear.  Through Jesus’ Passion and Crucifixion--an act of perfect love--the fears and doubts we feel about God’s love for us are cast out. When our hearts get weary from sufferings of this world, we need to imitate Blessed Mother and John and look to the Cross and see the love poured out by Our Lord. “Behold, behold, the wood of the Cross. On which in hung our salvation. O come, let us adore.”

April 18, 2019: Holy Thursday C

April 18, 2019: Holy Thursday C

This evening we commemorate Jesus’ intimate last supper with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. We imagine being one of the privileged disciples to participate in the Passover meal which has been celebrated by Jewish people since the time of Moses. When the disciples arrived at the Upper Room they received an unexpected request by their Teacher to take their sandals off so that he could wash their feet. Each of them must have wondered to themselves, “Washing feet is the job of a slave. I can’t let Jesus wash my feet!” Yet Jesus told them, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” As their feet were washed, they were likely unsettled to hear Jesus say that not all of them were clean. “Am I not clean,” each of them likely asked themselves. Jesus also changed the prescribed rite of the Passover meal when he took the bread and wine and said, “This is my body; this is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.”

With these words and gestures at the Last Supper, Our Lord imparted sacred gifts of himself down the generations in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass--His Real Presence in the Eucharist and His Priesthood. It is truly miraculous that in the hands of ordinary men ordained as priests ordinary bread and wine are transformed into the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. These sacred gifts from God--Eucharist and Priesthood--also reveal the three gifts that God desires  to impart on humanity, the gifts of purity, humility, and faithful love. Mother Teresa called these three, “important interior attitudes of the soul that delight the heart of God and enable him to unite himself to us.”

As we make our daily pilgrimage on earth, our hearts get divided and at times impure. We need to approach Jesus through the Eucharist and reconciliation to cleanse our minds and hearts so that we may renew our desire to be close to our Heavenly Father.  Our conscious efforts to serve our neighbor humbles us and diminishes self-importance and self-centeredness. Just as Jesus humbly assumed the role of a servant in washing the disciples’ feet, we also need to humbly avail ourselves to the needs of our neighbor. The Body and Blood of Jesus we receive at every Mass is Jesus’ faithful love for each of us. Jesus gave us a commandment on the night of the Last Supper as he washed his disciples’ feet, "Do you realize what I have done for you?... If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do."

April 16, 2019 Week 8 - Divine Mercy - Gratefulness

April 16, 2019 Week 8 - Divine Mercy - Gratefulness
What would we do without our friends? You may may be familiar with the lyric of a song which says, “What would you think if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me? Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song, and I'll try not to sing out of key. Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends.” As someone said, “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.” While we value friendship, we may also have been hurt by friends. Betrayal by a friend is perhaps one of the most difficult experiences one can go through. Someone said, “The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from enemies.”

Imagine how Jesus must have felt when he foresaw that Judas would betray him and that Peter would deny him on the night of the Last Supper. When Jesus offered Judas a morsel of bread--a Jewish gesture of showing how intimate of a friend he was--Judas had already initiated his plans to betray his friend and master. Jesus also knew the strength of Peter’s loyalty and the weakness of his resolution. While Peter was quick to say, “Master… I will lay down my life for you,” Jesus knew that he would deny him that night three times.

We too must admit that we have betrayed Jesus and our loved ones many times through our weaknesses. We come to Mass to receive morsels of Living Bread from Jesus—the sign of his great love for us, and at times we turn our backs on him by the way we treat others. Yet we return to Jesus time and time again in the Sacrament of Reconciliation trusting that his mercy is unconditional.

It is true that trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair. But with God even what cannot be mended can be healed. As Pope Francis beautifully said, “We ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace.”

April 14, 2019: Palm Sunday C

4-14-19 Palm Sunday C
Near Old City of Jerusalem on the southeastern slope of Mt. Zion is where the house of Caiaphas once stood. Caiaphas was the high priest who presided over the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus. There now stands a Catholic Church called St. Peter in Gallicantu. Right below the church is the ancient dungeon where Jesus most likely spent the night after his arrest. Outside the church stands a sculpture of four persons around a column with a rooster at the top of the column. At the base of the column reads, “Non novi illum” which means “I do not know him.” (Luke 22:57) Prominent figure in the sculpture is Peter throwing his hands up in the air as if to say to the servant girl next to him, “I don’t know the guy! Quit asking me!” This is a powerful image for us to ponder during Holy Week. 

Forty days ago at the beginning of Lent, we signed ourselves with ashes and committed ourselves to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in hopes that we may better emulate Our Lord. Throughout Lent we restrained our desires through fasting and devoted time to prayer, and we noticed the subtle ways in which we are attached to worldly allurements, selfish tendencies, and unforgiveness. Through the scriptures throughout Lent, we have traveled with Jesus, encountering temptations, sickness, healing, and opposition. Many of us have taken the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, deepening our awareness of our sins and experienced God’s merciful love for us. Now as we enter Holy Week, an important question arises, “How can we enter into Holy Week with more attention and deeper appreciation for the suffering Jesus endured for our sake?” 

At the Last Supper, Peter boldly declared to Jesus, “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and die with you.” Yet when his life was threatened, Peter was quick to say, “I don’t know him.” He later denies Jesus two more times. We bring to mind our own failure to acknowledge Jesus and to follow his commands. We may not use those words, “I don’t know him,” yet our pettiness, unforgiveness, and judgments are our ways of denying Jesus. Our Lord told Peter, “I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers." Just as he did for Peter, Our Lord prays for us so that our failure will humble us and serve to strengthen our resolve to love him even more fervently. 

What are we to do at the beginning of this Holy Week. What is our role? We begin by recalling the image of Peter denying Jesus three times. One way to enter into the Holy Week is to walk the journey of the Way of the Cross through the eyes of Blessed Mother. Imagine that you are with her as spectators jeer at her Son. We imagine how she felt consoled as Simon of Cyrene helps her Son carry the cross and Veronica wipes the blood and sweat of his face.  We prayerfully imagine ourselves standing next to Blessed Mother as she hears her Son say from the cross, “I thirst.” The thirst that Jesus longs for is our love. He has chosen each of us to quench his thirst for love. While we may be tempted to watch Jesus’ carrying of the cross as spectators, Blessed Mother draws us to ponder the love with which Jesus bore the weight of our sins as he carried the cross. As we gaze upon the crucified Jesus, we should be filled with gratefulness and awe:

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this,
That caused the Lord of bliss,
To bear the dreadful curse,
For my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

April 9, 2019: Week 7 - Divine Mercy - Gratefulness

April 9, 2019: Week 7 - Divine Mercy - Gratefulness

We’ve all been on a journey where things were not going the way we imagined; we were tired, and hungry, accommodations were subpar, and the service seemed non-existent. For one pilgrim who was on a bus for more than 8 hours in a single day, he was exasperated. Near the end of the ride, he lashed out at the pilgrimage leader, grumbling about the horrible experience he was having on the pilgrimage. The leader who was in the same bus as the grumbling pilgrim thought, “This is a pilgrimage and not a vacation. We’re all patiently enduring this long ride to get to our next destination. There is just no way around this; doesn’t he understand?”

The pilgrim must have felt the same way as the Israelites who were grumbling to Moses and God as their patience was worn out from the long, arduous journey. The incident of the seraph serpents attacking the grumbling Israelites occurred near the end of their journey to the Promised Land. They would have rather turned back to the familiar slavery in Egypt than put up with uncertain path, hardships, and the future.

In many ways, we are like the Israelites. Each of us is called and chosen by God to be on a pilgrimage on this earth. At times we have to forego the familiar comforts and routine so that God may speak to our hearts in a new and surprising way. The goal of our pilgrimage is to encounter Jesus and and to follow his divine plan. Inevitably, temptations along our pilgrimage spoil God’s plan for us. We believe that by embracing the temptations we are enhancing or improving upon God’s plan rather than trying to appreciate the mystery of His plan. Unhappiness enters into our lives because we place obstacles between ourselves and God. We want to control or possess the plan rather than letting the mystery unfold in His time. While trying to control the outcome, anxiety is born and happiness disappears.

Jesus offers us a more excellent way by embracing the way of the cross. He said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own… The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him." Jesus totally aligned his thoughts and actions with that of his Father’s, thus there was peace and harmony between Jesus and the Father. Jesus shows us that true love of God consists in carrying out God’s will. If we want to align our daily lives closely to God’s will, we need to ask ourselves these questions, “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?” If we want to show God our love in what we do, all our actions, even the smallest, must spring from our love of God.

April 7, 2019: 5th Sunday Lent C

April 7, 2019: 5th Sunday Lent C
(Audio Homily)

Do you ever wonder whatever happened to a person you met in the past? I often think of an 8 year old boy who came to confession to me about 10 years ago. Before he sat down to go to confession, he explained his life situation--his mom died a year prior and he had just learned that his dad was incarcerated out of state. I remember being speechless when he told me his circumstances. That little boy should be a young man, perhaps in college or working. Sometimes when I’m visiting our local jail, that little boy comes to my mind. I hope and pray that his father has been released.

This week’s Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery prompted me to wonder what happened to that woman after Jesus told her that he did not condemn her and to go and sin no more. Did she continue that life style? Or, did she change her life, perhaps even become Jesus’ faithful disciple? Both in the case of the 8 year old boy and the woman caught in adultery, we have to wonder how a person’s trajectory in life changes when someone believes in their goodness despite their background or sinfulness. In the case of the woman caught in adultery, her life — full of potential and dreams — would have ended far too early had she been stoned to death as a result of the judgment of the Scribes and Pharisees.

Our Lord’s words, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” along with whatever he wrote on the ground resulted in defusing the thirst for blood by the mob.  It happens that other people show us a reflection of our own faults. And unfortunately, we project our frustration onto others. When the men gathered around the woman caught in adultery, they were secretly harboring their own inability to follow the law of God--to be chaste and pure of heart. When Jesus challenged them with his words and actions, their secret was unveiled; the woman’s adultery was their own potential adultery and infidelity to God. Does this not also happen with us? We judge others for things we fail to see in ourselves.

The danger of judging is that we often cross the line of fraternal correction into the territory of shaming a person. To shame a person is to seek to make someone feel disgraced, humiliated, or regretful. The person being shamed experiences intense painful feelings and begins to believe that they are flawed and unworthy of acceptance or belonging. Shaming aims to denigrate or belittle a person’s identity. Only God is to judge, for He created each of us, fully knowing our gifts and weaknesses. And Jesus revealed how God deals with our weaknesses and failures--not with condemnation but with merciful love.

As we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week, let us ponder how we can be more Christ-like in our attitude toward our family and neighbor. The woman who was defended and forgiven by Jesus represents each of us. Through his patience and mercy, Jesus offers an opportunity for conversion and a new beginning for each of us. Likewise, we should be an instrument of his patience and understanding with others.

April 4, 2019: 4th Week in Lent C

April 4, 2019: 4th Week in Lent C

In the fictional novel, The Clowns of God, by Morris West, Jesus comes back to earth, and some people think it’s Him while some don’t. At one point, “Jesus” is at a school for children with Down syndrome, and He is holding a little girl while the people watch. “Jesus” says:

‘I know what you are thinking. You need a sign. What better one could I give but to make this little one whole and new? I could do it, but I will not. I am the Lord and not a conjurer. I gave this mite a gift I denied to all of you — eternal innocence. To you she looks imperfect — but to me she is flawless, like the bud that dies unopened or the fledgling that falls from the nest to be devoured by ants. She will never offend me, as all of you have done. She will never pervert or destroy the work of my Father’s hands. She is necessary to you. She will evoke the kindness that will keep you human. Her infirmity will prompt you to gratitude for your own good fortune … More! She will remind you every day that I am who I am, that my ways are not yours, and that the smallest dust mite whirled in the darkest spaces does not fall out of my hand … I have chosen you. You have not chosen me. This little one is my sign to you. Treasure her!’ “