Advent!

Peace and grace to you!

In the first reading we are given an encouragement to be watchful or vigilant because God is soon going to fulfill a promise.  In the Gospel, Jesus says that there will be changes in weather and signs in the heavens and events that seem like the end of the world which include the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  To many, these events will be terrifying and overwhelming.  But to those who are disciples, Jesus says stand erect and raise your heads!  Then he warns us to beware not to become drowsy in our faith or grow slack in discipline or let things overwhelm us to the point that we forget or miss what is truly important.

As you know, Advent is a special time of waiting and expectation for the coming of Christ into the world and into our lives in a new personal way.  We know that God always comes through when he makes promises but we are not always sure how they will be fulfilled!  That’s why we’re not supposed to get drowsy or distracted, we are supposed to watch with eyes of faith!

Consider what you find encouraging and exciting in these three weeks before Christmas.  Is it bringing out the old, beautiful Christmas decorations for your house?  Is it the memories that they bring with them as you set them up and place them in just the right spot?  Is it the fresh scent of the Christmas tree?  It could be children or grand children thinking about Santa or re-telling stories of Christmas in the past.  Getting together with friends and family always brings a certain excitement and energy with it.  There are also the cards and letters that bring us close to those who are far away reminding us that the love of the Heart of Jesus encompasses all people everywhere.  There are movies, music and special dishes that are part of the season that coincide with expectation, anticipation and surprise.

We know instinctively that this is indeed a very special time of year and it comes with a sense of hope in God’s goodness and we know that he is a promise keeper.  We also know that we can get lost and distracted with busyness and pressures.  The light of generosity and goodness can momentarily be extinguished by the impatience we feel with crowds and pushy people we encounter while we are negotiating parking lots or waiting in line at stores.  There are also the relationships that can feel draining or acute sadness from separation or loss of loved ones.  Sometimes we have to struggle for equilibrium and inner peace so that we can encounter goodness and peace in the people around us.

It would be good to make the effort to pray more and try to focus on watching for God’s presence.  God loves and cares for each and every one of us, personally.  Lift up the eye of your mind and open the arms of your heart to embrace God!  Receive the promised gift and surprise that he has for you in Jesus!  Advent Blessings to you! +++ Fr. Peter

Christ The King!

Peace and Grace to all!

This Sunday the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King.  It is an appropriate finale to the end of the liturgical year and it reminds us of the principality of Christ and his universal power and authority over all that is: both visible and invisible.  This celebration should have some personal significance for each of us in our relationship with Jesus, who is King of Mercy.

As we celebrate this feast, I recall my visit to the monument known as “Cristo Rey” in Guanajuato, Mexico.  I travelled with some companions to the shrine to pray for special needs and to offer praise and thanks for the many blessings that I had received from God.  I wasn’t expecting anything but the chance to see the 70 foot statue of Jesus, which resembles that of the famous statue overlooking Rio de Janiero, Brazil.  The statue in Guanajuato was erected as part of the reconstruction of this site following the communist persecution and destruction in the 1930’s.  Many Christians were martyred defending the faith as well as this shrine during this period in Mexico.  The movie For Greater Glory presents many of the atrocities committed against the Church’s priests, religious and faithful while focusing on a few key historical figures.

The confrontation between Jesus and Pilate in the Gospel depicts worldly power and how it is usually corrupted by selfish interests is paralleled by the characters in the movie.  The heavenly kingdom reaches far beyond the here and now of the worldly view.  It is stronger and more beautiful for it values mercy, truth, justice and peace more than temporal wealth and power.  Like the characters in the Gospel and the movie, we must contend with the same forces in our own lives.  We can sink into selfishness, greed, lust, envy, or any other worldly allurement.  Many try to compromise only to find themselves succumbing to corruption—like Pilate.  For Jesus and the faithful in the movie, there was no compromising.  Like them, we are called to rise above worldly forces and stand for something far greater and far more glorious.  We are called to take a stand for the heavenly kingdom with its eternal values and rewards with what we say, think and do which is still heroic.  What a great choice to make!

When my companions and I rounded a bend and stood before the statue at the summit of the hill, I was compelled within to kneel, while my eyes began to swell with tears—I can’t explain why.  Before my companions and I stood the large figure of Jesus standing upon the globe with his arms outstretched as if he were calming the sea.  I had the sensation that Jesus wanted me to feel his power and peace calming my soul.  As I glanced at my companions, I realized from the tears in their eyes that Jesus was giving them the same gift of this experience.  After some moments passed, we smiled at each other through tears in acknowledgement of the experience we each had.  At such times, there are no words so we remained silent, kneeling in awe and gratitude before Jesus, our true King!  As Christians, we can be so glad and proud that we know God as a loving, merciful and tender ruler!  Although we journey in a world torn with sin and chaos, Jesus preserves our hearts in peace.  May God bless you all! +++ Fr Peter

Have Faith!

Peace and Grace to you!

As we near the end of the Liturgical year, the Scripture readings always reflect a cosmic chaos.  As we listen to them and think about the imagery, we can feel powerless and helpless as the world seems to be spinning out of control.  Watching headlines in the news and world events can bring a similar experience because it seems like everything Jesus is referring to is happening!  Think of it: there have been record numbers of shootings in the US this year, every 24 hrs one military veteran takes their own life.

The US/Mexico border is a disaster zone with hundreds of bodies along the trails used by traffickers and coyotes.  The Darien Gap estimates a 15% mortality rate and if you’re a woman, no matter what age, you’re guaranteed to be raped.  The refugee camps and war-torn areas and places of natural disaster where struggles for clean water, food, medical supplies abound.  Earthquakes and storms result in need of rebuilding sewer, water, gas and electric supply lines and restoring stable communications.  There are more refugees in the world today than ever before and many countries in Europe are struggling with floods of people fleeing from the ravages of industrialized hatred and extremism. None of us have ever seen anything like this before and it’s at a higher level almost daily.  To us who live in the Western World, it doesn’t seem that there will ever be a just and stable government established in the Middle East and the chaos is spilling over into relatively peaceful countries. Even the US political sphere is filled with agenda laden bickering and lies while just accountability doesn’t seem to exist and issues go on unresolved.  The whole world seems out of control and is careening toward unprecedented destruction.

There are those who would like to have us all believe that these are definite signs that Jesus is about to return but no one knows the day or the hour.  It would be easy to get caught up in that kind of fear if you didn’t have faith and a prayer life.  Fear can distort our outlook on the world, it can become like a prison that disables us from freedom to act with love.  Fear can prevent us from focusing on what’s really important: a daily life filled with light, love and meaning.  As Christian believers, our focus and efforts are always the same: God is actively protecting us from destruction!  For our part, we strive to bring the Good News into the world.  We remember the words from Psalm 23: “even though I walk through the dark valley, I fear no evil, for you are at my side.”  When we lead lives steeped in the Gospel, we are reminded of the original chaos and how God’s Word always brings things to order and harmony.  As we embrace it and put it into practice, we experience God’s presence and protection and we look forward to his second coming with hope and peace.  One helpful reminder of God’s presence and action in the world is to Google “Medical Miracles” and be amazed at all the miracles going on around us!  The blind see, the deaf hear, the dead rise to new life, the lame walk.  God is always present and working in our midst!  We just have to look!    If we focus on Jesus and trust him, we can avoid sinking into fear filled living.  In living each day in faith, we can be confident that we will be ready whenever he comes, because he is already here!

May God bless you with peace and good health! +++ Fr Peter

Giving For God’s Sake

Peace and grace to you all!+++

This weekend we are reminded that all that we have comes from God and when we are asked to give for God’s sake, God will see to it that our faith offering is blessed!

The first reading and Gospel’s main characters are widows—that is significant.  Typically, women in the ancient near east were among the most vulnerable in society who depended greatly upon the men for protection, sustenance and wealth.  If a woman was a widow, then she had to go it alone and be the home maker and the bread winner for the household—even build the dwelling.  Life was a challenge indeed and having extremely limited resources didn’t help.  One gets a sense of the level of poverty that they had in the first reading when the widow tells Elijah how little they have and after it is consumed, they will die; presumably of hunger.  Again the level of poverty appears in the Gospel when we hear that the few cents given by the widow was a greater sacrificial gift than all the others.

On the one hand, we are reminded of social justice issues and the fact that 26% of American households have a single parent.  Of those, 23% are single moms. We need to be aware of how difficult it is for a single parent to raise their children and watch for ways to support them.  I remember how hard it was for my mother to raise 7 children after my parent’s divorce.  I was keenly aware and appreciative of those who helped my mom in special ways.  One thoughtful gentleman owned a car dealership and gave her a station wagon car.  When the car needed repairs, there was a service station where the owner gave mom a break on the price of repairs because he knew she had lots of kids and limited resources.  Other anonymous helpers contributed toward our tuition to remain in a Catholic school.  Periodically, friends of the family would stop by with a surprise gift of food or clothes or something useful.  It was humbling to have little and at times to need but it also opened our eyes to see people’s goodness and generosity.  It also helped us realize how important it is to give. My mother gave too when it was her turn and when she knew someone could use it.  She gave in a quiet respectful way because she knew what it was like to need.

Real poverty is when people who are able to give don’t or they give very little.  Real wealth is when people who have little, are rich enough in faith and generosity of heart to give something of what they have.  May God bless you and help you prosper in every way but most of all in love and grace! +++ Fr. Peter

All Saints Day

May the grace of Christ fill your hearts and minds!

This week the Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints.  I have held this feast in special regard for as long as I can remember.  I suppose that it is because this occasion brings with it a special sense of the spiritual world to which we know we are connected.  Maybe it’s just me but it seems like most of the time, our conversations and spiritual awareness reflect a two dimensional plane of the relationship between God and ourselves who are still striving to live Christian lives in the world.  But on the Solemnity of All Saints and then the Feast of All Souls we are drawn more deeply into the reality of the Church in fuller dimension which includes the Church Triumphant, the Church Suffering, and the Church Militant.

The Church Triumphant refers to those souls who have gained heaven’s glory, whether canonized Saints or not.  They are the faithful members of our family of faith that have died and gone before us.  They may be members of our own families and relatives or friends who are worthy of honor and respect as examples of Christian living to be emulated. They are also Saints who pray for us and help us on our pilgrimage from time to eternity.  There are innumerable examples and stories of the aid given through the intercession of Saints.  I am certain that you are able to share a story or two yourself!

The Church Suffering refers to those souls in purgatory who have died in the state of grace but have not yet reached perfection.  These souls make expiation for their un-forgiven venial sins or for the temporal punishment due to venial and mortal sins that have already been forgiven.  They are assisted by the prayers and sacrifices we offer on their behalf.  This is very important.  In fact, the Church includes a petition for them in every Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass.  St. Pius of Pietrelcina is an example of someone deeply devoted to offering prayers and sacrifices so that souls in purgatory would be freed from suffering purification to enter heaven.

The Church Militant refers to ourselves who are still on pilgrimage and today is a special opportunity for us to reflect on God’s plan of salvation for all.  We each have a part to play in it for ourselves and others.  God rejoices in giving us aid through the Saints we turn to for help.  Think of those who have helped you and say “thank you” to those who have been and will be there to help you on the way.  May God bless you all! +++ Fr Peter

Eyes Of Faith

Peace to you!

I remember receiving an e-mail entitled “Christ the Redeemer” which was comprised of several photos of the statue of Jesus on top of Mount Corcovado at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  The pictures accented the magnificent landscape of the Brazilian coastline by using the dramatic natural shades of light from sunrise, sunset, night and full moon.  Many of the vistas were breathtaking but one seemed special for me.  It was taken at night from an angle that looked down upon the city from over the statue’s shoulder—a view from God’s perspective as it were.  The main streets were easily discernible from the strong glow of light, traffic and color.  The harbor, beaches and resorts also reflected the city lights up toward the statue that is constantly present and watchful of all the activity taking place in the vast city below.

I tried to imagine the sound of many prayers rising to God in heaven from the hearts of all the people there.  At the same time, I realized that there exists in that small area a great difference in life situations, needs, desires, and intentions.  In the city of Rio, some of the differences are extreme.  There are those who live in opulence and luxury and those who live in abject poverty with many more that live somewhere in between the extremes but they all live in one city and relatively close to each other.

I also remember meeting a priest from Brazil, Fr. Aito, while I was in the seminary.  Fr. Aito left a comfortable life as a parish priest in Rio to live and work among the “Rubbish People.”  This was very hard for Fr. Aito at first.  He was ridiculed by former parishioners and other priests and threatened by his bishop but God placed a burning passion in him to be in solidarity with His beloved poor.  Fr. Aito must have been an answer to many prayers and no doubt, he prayed more fervently and depended upon God more deeply than ever before as he served them.

When I think of Bartimaeus the blind man, I am reminded of my own blindness.  Sometimes I can’t see how many blessings I have been given in my life until I am in contact with others.   At times, I am blind to other people’s needs and the needs of the world beyond my sphere.  I am reminded that we all have needs but our greatest need is to give and to serve in Jesus’ name.

Bartimaeus was inspired to call out loudly and persistently because he knew he had only one chance when Jesus passed by.  Jesus asked him “what do you want me to do for you?”  Like Bartimaeus, we are encouraged to rise from our place by the side of the road and sincerely ask for something we need.  As our eyes of faith open ever wider and spiritual blindness leaves us, we can see the good that God does for us.  We gain a new perspective on life and how we can follow Jesus by serving the needs of others.  This is a new kind of freedom and fulfillment.  God bless you always! +++ Fr Peter

Finding Meaning In Suffering

Peace to you!

How do we find meaning in one of life’s most challenging experiences: suffering?

The first reading taken from Isaiah’s Song of the Suffering Servant sets the tone for the second reading and the Gospel.  Lumped together they point to the common theme of suffering and hence arise several thoughts in regard to suffering.

Whenever we encounter the impact of suffering, which is always around us, we are faced with finding a reason for it or a way to explain it.  For many, suffering seems to go against a basic image of a loving and caring God.  The question arises: how could a loving God let this happen?  I have heard many different explanations.  For some, suffering is simply a result of sin caused by ourselves or someone else.  Others explain it as a kind of trial or test by which we are challenged to be heroic and virtuous in our fidelity to God.  Some understand it as a time of grace in which God is strengthening our inner selves.  Some are content to view it as a great mystery that cannot be fully understood.

Through the lens of scripture we discover a valuable key to the meaning of suffering.  The Suffering Servant does not suffer in vain but will justify many.  He suffers injustice but chooses not to retaliate with hate or anger; he trusts in God and lives with love for God.   That sounds great but how does it help us?  There is not much solace at first glance.  If we look closer, we begin to realize that something amazingly good can happen.  The justification referred to is more than legal acquittal because we can confidently approach the very throne of God.  This suffering purchases more than pardon and more than friendship, it effects a bond of love with God in a covenant that the servant and others share in!  God acts for them in amazing ways!

This same theme resonates in the Gospel when we see the disciples idealizing themselves in a privileged status because they are chosen followers of Jesus.  They envision special honors for themselves above everyone else—as if they are immune from suffering which, is common for everyone.  Jesus radically reverses their worldly view of power.  Jesus shows that the suffering servant’s path is a sharing in his cup of suffering, a kind of baptism.  Leadership and authority are not about glory or special status but service and self-giving—sacrifice.  These are the hall marks of Christian discipleship.

If leadership and discipleship are given new and deeper meaning, so also does our personal share in suffering gain a new value and meaning.  We are united with Christ, and we share in his redemptive suffering for the salvation of the world.  We are invited to be with Mary, who consciously stood at the foot of the cross and united herself to Jesus’ offering to God.  Thousands of Martyrs and Saints walked this same path.  Let us use what we are given wisely because we are sharers in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.  God bless you all! +++ Fr. Peter

Trust In God’s Blessings!

Peace be with you!

In all of our vocations, whether we are single, married, religious or ordained, we are called and challenged in various ways to grow in trust and confidence in God.

In the first reading from the Wisdom of Solomon, the writer knows that the gift of God’s wisdom far surpasses any other gifts and is to be preferred above all worldly riches because true happiness, fulfillment and freedom will accompany divine wisdom.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, we are reminded of some of the characteristics of God’s Word (Jesus).  It (he) is “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” . . . nothing is concealed from him, but everything lies open before his eyes.

In the Gospel story, wisdom has led the man to follow God’s commandments.  For living in a right relationship with God entails keeping the commandments.  The wisdom that comes from God is our power and safety for doing good.  Although this is not always easy, there is an abiding joy and peace because of that.  Today Jesus reminds us that divine wisdom can require something more of us.  Sometimes God’s wisdom leads us to doing something extra or perhaps something we have never done before.  God can lead us to do something that will be very difficult and even counter intuitive to our usual way of thinking.  God’s wisdom can lead us to give up good things in view of a much greater good that is revealed to us.  Wisdom can lead us to give up our own sense of security and personal comfort in order to discover how wonderful and amazing God’s providence and care is.  God is trustworthy!

For the rich man in the story, the extra step of surrendering wealth and possessions in exchange for trust in God was something he was simply afraid to do.

Today Jesus looks upon us with the same love as he did the young man and says “you are lacking one thing.”  We know this is divine wisdom calling us to follow Jesus more closely—no matter what vocation we have.  Perhaps we are lacking forgiveness, speaking out for what is right, or building bridges to peace and healing.  Some of these may seem impossible but we are reminded that all things are possible with God.

Following Jesus requires putting our trust and confidence in God who can do all things.  God is calling some to surrender their lives completely so that they may be enriched with a religious vocation and serve the Church.  God’s gift of grace for a religious vocation is beyond compare.  God’s dreams and desires for those who trust him far surpass our own dreams.  Is there one thing lacking for you? Trust God to lead you into greater blessings!  God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Matters Of The Heart

Peace and grace to you all!

Between the first reading and the Gospel, the principal theme we are invited to ponder is matters of the heart.

In the first reading, God says that “it is not good for man to be alone.”  So God makes a partner for the man knowing that in his heart, the man longs for someone to share everything in life with—thoughts and dreams, hopes and fears, labors, triumphs, joys, good things and bad.  The only suitable partner for him is the woman and his heart will cling to her.  Their union of love will be both physical and spiritual.  It will be so strong and deep that the two of them will become one flesh—and so it is.

In the Gospel we get a sense that somehow things have gone awry.  We know that when the Pharisees come to ask Jesus questions, they usually have a hidden agenda.  This is one of those times.  “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”  Jesus defers to the Mosaic Law and in reply the Pharisees reply: “Moses permitted the husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.”  Jesus acknowledges his awareness of the law but with a telling comment: “because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.”  Then, Jesus goes on to say that this was not God’s intention from the beginning of creation.

Hardness of heart, what does that mean?  If a heart is hard, it cannot change, flex or expand.  It cannot grow; it cannot swell with love, it cannot sink with sadness, it cannot be a spontaneous spring of joy, it cannot pour out its sorrow or confess its guilt.  It is paralyzed.  If a heart gets hard, it blocks things out that are good and life-giving.  A hard heart results in hard treatment of oneself and others.  A hard heart can block the path of hope for mercy and returning to God.

Relationships need hearts that can change, expand, grow, and forgive.  We need hearts that can be renewed.  Our hearts need God’s help to overcome hardness.  We need to always turn our hearts to God.

Jesus uses the example of the children to show that a simple, carefree heart can bring the experience of God’s kingdom to our lives.  The struggles and difficulties in life do not have to result in a heavy heart.  We don’t have to become weighed down or become a weight to others.  To his open heart the Savior invites all mankind to drink from the wellspring of salvation.  Our way to this open hearted fountain of love is through prayer, humble faith, fasting, the sacraments of the Church and service to our neighbor—especially to those who are in pain.  We must become flexible like the children in order to be renewed.  Today is Respect Life Sunday, we pray that God’s love will shatter hard hearts and make them new with his love.  May the Savior nourish your heart from the wellspring of his love! +++ Fr. Peter

Live The Faith!

Peace and grace to you all!

Through the readings this weekend we have an opportunity to reflect on how well we understand and live out Catholic social teaching.

In the first reading, God sent a gift of the spirit upon seventy chosen leaders so that Moses would have help in leadership of the people.  When Joshua approached Moses to prevent the two who were absent from the assembled group and yet prophesying, Moses’ response recognized that God had not excluded the two from a gift of the spirit, so how could he?  When John makes a similar observation to Jesus, the response is similar.  Both Moses and Jesus responded with an open and tolerant heart.  They were not threatened or jealous of God’s gifts to other people.

We know that Joshua and John were very good men with the very best intentions at heart but judging from Moses’ and Jesus’ responses, Joshua and John needed to be more open-minded and open-hearted.

If you think about it, it’s easy to become critical or territorial or too controlling when it comes to our jobs and the roles we play at work or in ministry.  It is also easy to look down on other Christians who are not Catholic, but the Church declares that they are our brothers and sisters in Christ by baptism.  We mean well but we can forget that God calls many into action and we should be more amiable and helpful when we encounter them.  But this doesn’t mean that if God calls someone, they automatically become a successor to Moses or Jesus!  There is always a path of development and conversion that comes with service!  Good leaders are first of all good followers, servants and teachers!

The most important dimension of today’s theme is that God calls everyone to be active in their faith and they are to be encouraged so that they don’t become like the rich referred to in James’ letter.  Faith in action is what it means for us to be a prophetic people.  There are many opportunities for us to be involved in our faith communities.  As you reflect on your own life and activity, listen for God’s call to you!  Consider how enriched your life can be by sharing it with others and how enriched their lives will be by having you in theirs!  May God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter