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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!’ “

April 2, 2019: Week 5 - Divine Mercy - Gratefulness

April 2, 2019: Week 5 - Divine Mercy - Gratefulness
There are some days when we feel like Eeyore the Donkey from Winnie the Pooh. The poor donkey has a “penchant for gloomy ruminations,” said Tigger. For example, even a small setback takes a sad downturn in the mind of Eeyore, “End of the road… nothing to do… and no hope of things getting better.” It sounds like the paralytic man lying next to the pool for 38 years.

When Jesus asked the paralyzed man, “Do you want to be well,” the man complained how he had been waiting for 38 years for someone to help him get to the water of the pool so as to be healed. It was as if he was saying, ‘I’ve got no one to help me, and I can’t help myself.’ The man was not only afflicted with physical illness; he no longer desired to be healed and had given up up. There was a hint of resentment in his reply as well as if to say, ‘Some people always gets what they want, but I’m always left out.’ So Jesus was dealing with a sad person who felt defeated by life. He felt like there was no one to help him. Do we feel like this at times, feeling defeated by life? Do we feel paralyzed by an inner sadness from sin we have not let go of for a long time?

Our Lord said to the paralytic man, "Rise, take up your mat, and walk." Later he told him, “Do not sin anymore so that nothing worse may happen to you.” It’s as if Our Lord is saying to him, ‘You say that you have no one, but you’ve got me. With me, you are healed. Now strive to live a holy life.’ Just as the paralytic man was physically healed, we are healed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation in which our inner soul is healed of its wounds. We have to turn and rely on God to lift us out of our spiritual paralysis.

A 14th century mystic, Julian of Norwich, wrote a revelation received from Our Lord, “What is impossible to you is not impossible for me. I shall preserve my word in everything, and I shall make everything well.” There are days when we feel sick or sad in spirit--perhaps disappointed in ourselves for our past mistakes. But through the stirring of the Holy Spirit we hear from Jesus in our soul, “Do you want to be made whole again?” While at present we feel there are challenges beyond our strength, the grace of Our Lord thrusts us to stand up and walk along Christ’s Way.  Each day we rely on the mercy of God to heal us physically, mentally, and spiritually.