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A Journey with Blessed Mother

A Journey with Blessed Mother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec. 8, 2018: Immaculate Conception

Dec. 8, 2018: Immaculate Conception

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec. 1, 2018 First Sunday Advent C

Dec. 1, 2018 First Sunday Advent C

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

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

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

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

Nov. 18, 2018: 33rd Sunday B

Nov. 18, 2018: 33rd Sunday B

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

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

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

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