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May 9, 2019: Ascension Catholic School Baccalaureate Mass

May 9, 2019 Ascension Catholic High Baccalaureate Mass

Dear Graduates, parents, school faculty, and guests, 
This day has been much anticipated by the graduates and the parents alike. For the students, the past twelve plus years have been an adventure of growing, maturing, and discovering their place in the world. I thank you parents, godparents, and grandparents for being faithful to the promises that you made when these graduates were baptized as babies 16-17 years ago, to protect the flame of faith in their hearts!

Dear graduates, the Book of Proverbs reminds us not to forget the teaching we have received and to take to heart the commands of God. Over the course of your lives spent in this school and this church, Jesus enlightened the eyes of your hearts through His Divine Word and the Holy Eucharist for you to see yourselves as disciples of Christ. Just as he did with his apostles, he invites each of you to follow Him, to go where He leads you, to offer yourselves in service of God. Just a few days ago, a high school senior showed us what a disciple of Christ looks like. 

A high school senior, Kendrick, was looking forward to his graduation ceremony. He loved fixing things and tinkering with his jeep. He hoped that, like his father, he would major in mechanical or electrical engineering in college. A childhood friend described him this way, “He cared about his faith and his family and friends more than himself. He was always the first to help when anyone needed it; if it was a friend to talk to, someone to hold the door, or carry something, he would always help no matter what.” Another close friend said that Kendrick looked forward to joining the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization for men, once he was in college, “He told me he wanted to be a Knights of Columbus because he wanted to help not only people, but his community.” The day before yesterday, Kendrick’s English class was disrupted by a classmate who walked in the classroom and pulled out a gun. The young man told out loud to everyone not to move. In that split second, Kendrick lunged for the gunman. And while the gunman was disoriented after shooting Kendrick, a cluster of boys then tackled the gunman, allowing the rest of the class to dive under their desks and flee the classroom. Kendrick died from that gunshot. 

What Kendrick did was brave, and many are calling him a hero. For those who do not yet know the love of Christ, the explanation for what Kendrick did, stops there. He was being altruistic for the benefit of many, they would explain. But for those of us who know Jesus, who know the love of Christ, and who serve Christ, we know why Kendrick did what he did. He was following the footsteps of Jesus who called Kendrick and all of us to follow Him. Jesus himself explains in John’s Gospel, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” 

We Christians serve God who created this infinite Universe and yet calls us friends, who became man and laid his own life for us on the Cross so that we may be saved and redeemed. The world serves a fallen angel Lucifer, a mere creature whose motto is, “I will not serve,” a conniving creature whose goal is to separate us from trusting and loving God. A definitive choice is given to us at baptism when the Church asks us, “Do you reject Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises.” God gives everyone on earth a choice, to freely love and trust God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and to make our lives a life of charity and service. Often we use words and phrases that betray our baptismal promises, and we don’t realize that they are contrary to Christian vision for life. We use phrases such as, "It's my life"; "I want what feels right for me"; "Follow your heart"; "Just do it"; "I want to be fulfilled"; "It's my choice." We have all used these phrases, but they fly in the face of Christian faith because we are created solely to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord and by this means to enter eternal life. The phrases we should use are, “I want what God wants for me,” “I love what God has in plan for me,” or “I trust that God will carry me through this.”

Mother Teresa said, “Jesus said, ‘I have chosen you. I have called you by name.’ Everyday you have to say, ‘Yes.’ Total surrender. To be where Jesus wants you to be… To accept whatever He gives. And to give whatever it takes, with a big smile. This is the surrender to God. You are free then.” 

Dear graduates, I pray that you do not forget that each of you have been purchased at a great price by Jesus. Your life is not your own. God has created each of you with a unique mission that goes beyond your time on earth and into eternity. However long God has asked you to stay here on earth, always ask in prayer, “Lord, what can I do for you today? Whom can I love around me and who needs my help today?” With these simple questions, you are going to do great things for God.

May 5, 2019: 3rd Sunday Easter C

May 5, 2019: 3rd Sunday Easter C

This past week, I had the privilege of eating breakfast as a guest with the Benedictine monks at the St. Joseph Abbey in Covington. Normally at home, breakfast for me is a short 5-minute routine of throwing vegetables and fruit into a blender and then hurriedly drinking the soothie before heading to the office. At the refectory of the Benedictine monks, however, I was mesmerized by the mural paintings of famous Dom Gregory de Wit on every available interior surface. I could not but slow down with each bite of food to appreciate the scripture story being depicted on the walls. One panel of mural depicted the Old Testament story of Esau begging his twin brother Jacob for the bowl of lentil soup he had cooked. Esau just came back from a hunting trip famished and found his brother Jacob cooking lentil soup. in desperate hunger, Esau exchanged his birthright and family inheritance for a mere bowl of Jacob’s lentil soup. In that mural, I could not help but see the parallel to Jesus’ question to Peter as they were eating the miraculous catch of the fish, “Peter, do you love me more than these things,” perhaps referring to the fishing profession, the equipment, his life, and his pursuit of worldly goals. Are we also in some way trading our love for Christ with our love for the world?

For Peter, that early morning experience of encountering Risen Jesus at the charcoal fire was a deja vu experience. On the night of the arrest of Jesus by the charcoal fire in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter denied his Lord and friend three times in order to save his own skin. On that ominous night by the light of the moon, Peter betrayed his own bold promise to Jesus that he would follow Jesus and even die for him. However, on the dawning of a new day when the sun was about to rise, Jesus’ triple question at a different charcoal fire by the Sea of Galilee, “Peter, do you love me,” was an opportunity for Peter to restore his love, loyalty, and commitment to Jesus. Peter not only received restoration of relationship with Jesus that morning; he received a triple command from Jesus to feed, tend, and love others.

Several years ago as I stood on the shores of Galilee, I pondered my own ‘Peter moment.’ It was when I denied Jesus numerous times through my own atheism, and my total disregard for someone’s dignity as a person, and when my own pride prevented others from knowing or loving Jesus. Yet I also recalled the moments when Jesus restored me of guilt of betraying him. The amazing truth is that the same Jesus who restored Peter’s loyalty and love restores ours. Follow me, Our Lord said to the disciples. These were the words he said when he first called them to be disciples, and the words to restore them to discipleship. These same words, follow me, are our call as well. Do not be afraid to give your all in following the Father’s will. Love and forgive even in the most difficult of human situations. In that simple question to us, “Do you love me,” the fire of His love purifies our lukewarm hearts and strengthens our resolve to tend, to feed, and encourage our family, friends, and strangers.

The only question that Jesus will ask us when we arrive at the gates of Heaven is, “Did you love?” What will our answer be?

Chaplet of Divine Mercy: April 28, 2019

Chaplet of Divine Mercy
Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church, Donaldsonville LA, April 28, 2019
with Grace Notes

April 28, 2019: Divine Mercy Sunday C

April 28, 2019: Divine Mercy Sunday C

Which of the following statements do you agree with more? ”I will believe it when I see it,” or “I will see it if I believe it.” At the heart of these two contrasting statements is the matter of trust. The first statement implies, “Prove it. I won’t trust until I see the proof.” The second statement implies, “I trust.” Depending on which statement we embrace, determines the way we perceive the world. For example, if we think the world is a grim place, full of evil and selfish people, then that’s what we will often notice around us. But if we believe that God planted goodness in the world with good people then we will see the world filled with opportunities for the goodness of God to flourish. It is natural for our faith journey to begin by demanding signs and proofs then progress to simply trusting. With each encounter with Risen Jesus, we move from seeking signs from Jesus to simply trusting Jesus. We notice this progression of faith in Apostle Thomas.

Thomas was not present when Risen Christ appeared to the apostles on Easter Sunday evening. He refused to believe the apostles’ story of their encounter with Risen Jesus stating, “Unless I put my finger in the nail marks in his hands and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Poor Thomas has been stuck with the nickname, “Doubting Thomas” ever since. But just because he demanded a sign didn’t make him a second-rate apostle. He was grieving terribly the death of Jesus whom he followed as a devoted disciple. His encounter with Risen Jesus changed him. Jesus in his mercy gave Thomas the sign he desperately needed--an opportunity to put his finger in Jesus’ hands and side. Thomas was now unconditionally committed to Jesus as he cried out aloud, “My Lord and my God!”

I was a doubting Thomas in my younger years. Plenty of folks quoted scripture to me, but I needed proof of a Good God. St. Faustina wrote in her diary, “Distrust hurts [Jesus’] most sweet Heart, which is full of goodness and incomprehensible love for us.” (Diary, 595) Distrust of Jesus means that we are choosing not to commit ourselves into His care. Distrust and doubt are understandable in a world which promises self-sufficiency by way of material goods and comforts so readily available. As we rely more and more on worldly things, we trust more in the world than trust in God. A person who doubts Jesus or even questions the existence of God may ask, ‘Why is there a need to trust God when this world provides me with everything I need?’ Yet a rosy world view cannot mask the reality of contradictions, conflicts, evil, and injustice found in our own daily experience.

Divine Mercy is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the Risen Christ and offers to humanity. Our Lord told St. Faustina, "Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy" (Diary, 300). The simple words written on the bottom of the image of the Divine Mercy, “Jesus, I trust in You,” reminds us that only in Jesus will we find peace amid our brokenness, despair, and injustice. God has given us this special feast of Divine Mercy Sunday so that we will receive the grace of childlike trust in God and love of neighbor. Our sister in faith, St. Faustina is praying for us today in order for us to unconditionally commit ourselves into the care of Jesus. Let her words from her diary sink in our hearts today, "O doubting souls, I will draw aside for you the veils of heaven to convince you of God's goodness" (Diary, 281). Each time we pray and sing the Chaplet, let us be grateful to God for the gift of mercy which comes from the Risen Christ.

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.”