Through The Desert

Peace and grace to you all!

As you know, the themes that run through Lent are prayer, fasting, almsgiving, mutual forgiveness, conversion from hardness of heart to love of enemies and openness to God’s Word.  As we see in the readings this weekend, it is the openness to God’s Word and the struggle to follow it that drove Jesus into the desert.  We too are either dragged or driven by the Spirit each year to face temptation and struggle against the great idol of selfishness.  Why?  Because of our identity.  We are God’s special people!

Jesus had to wrestle against the temptations that all people experience through human nature so that human nature could be restored to harmony, peace and love with God’s will.  The desert experience of Jesus began immediately after his baptism, in which the heavens opened and the Father’s voice declared that his is a beloved Son of God.  In the face of temptation, Jesus affirms his divine Son-ship as servant of God by obeying God’s will rather than following inclinations that are basically selfish.  Jesus did not do this just for his own sake but for all of us.

In like manner, we are led by the Spirit to wrestle against our faults.  When we are tempted, we are asked to affirm our divine Son-ship as children of God.  Our hearts become afflicted and punctured when we realize that following Jesus perfectly is quite beyond our power, no matter how hard we try.  These failures serve to help us depend more upon God and it is precisely through them that we experience God’s greatest attribute: loving mercy!  As we descend in the failure of our own pride, we rise to new and more abundant trust and love in Jesus who is our Healer, Life Giver and Merciful Savior.  The Paschal Mystery of Jesus is the pattern of our own life and each year we grow in freedom and prepare in deeper ways for the joy of the resurrection!  May God be intimately with you in this holy season! +++ Fr. Peter

Jesus Doesn’t Turn Away!

Peace and grace to all!

Both the first and second readings this weekend refer to how those suffering with the effects of sin should be treated.  In the first reading, the individual with a sore is to present himself to the priest for inspection, and the priest is supposed to determine whether or not the individual is unclean.  In those days, there was a lot of fear and concern for contagious diseases and due to that, there were many declared unclean and ostracized from the community even if they didn’t have leprosy.  The people avoided them and shunned them–mostly out of fear and ignorance.   This came at a time when the person afflicted needed support and assistance the most!  Imagine if you got sick and as a result, everyone rejected you.  Of course one of the allegorical meanings of leprosy is sin and in this case, it is a serious sin that separates someone from the life-giving presence of the community.  The leper in the story has enough courage to approach Jesus and make a request in faith.  When everyone else turned away, Jesus remained unafraid and compassionate.  That is because Jesus did not come to condemn, but to save!  Jesus came to be the bridge, the transcendence that crosses over the chasm that fear, ignorance and sin have brought into our lives.  Fear, ignorance, bigotry, hardheartedness, isolation and marginalization are realities in the lives of people today.  It includes the poor, the sick, the migrant, the addict, the prostitute, the post abortive, the abused, those of different cultures and faith traditions than our own, and those who do not yet understand the Gospel of Life.  For many, there is an inclination to be hard of heart, reject and ostracize others who have a different perspective than our own; just look at Big Tech and the mainstream media.  The challenge against such an attitude, is to not let the darkness take over our hearts and prevent us from reaching out to others.  If we separate ourselves from the Church, we separate ourselves from Jesus and we cannot bring the healing that Jesus wants to work through us.  It also requires us to be mature in our personal dispositions and faith so that we too may experience healing and grow in holiness.  God bless you all! +++  Fr. Peter

Hear God’s Call!

Peace to you!

We have been reflecting the last few weeks on a kind of process through which God calls people to active discipleship.  A few weeks ago we heard that Samuel had to learn how to listen and discern God’s call in the night.  The Gospel story that day depicted Andrew and another disciple hearing John the Baptist identify Jesus as the Lamb of God.  They listened to what John said and they went after Jesus to find out about him.  The weekend after that, we heard the story of Jesus calling Peter and Andrew, James and John to leave their boats and nets to follow him and become fishers of men.

The call stories are always interesting and powerful for us because they help us focus on listening and following God in new and deeper ways.  They also remind us of the past when God has called us to move beyond our comfort zones to change our lives: to do something new.

This weekend we get a glimpse of the disciples as neophytes or beginners in active ministry with Jesus.  In the story, they are at the home of Andrew and Peter—a familiar, comfortable place for them.  Jesus heals their mother, and she moves from inaction to activity.  The whole town coming to the house for help from Jesus seems convenient for him to dispense grace from God.  In the morning when they find him away from the house at prayer, they want him to come back to the house—to what is familiar and easy, their own comfort zone.  But Jesus takes them with him to new villages and towns—a journey to discover new horizons and to have new experiences.

I like adventure and going new places.  I used to hike in the Wyoming Wind River mountain wilderness area for 20 years with my horse and dog.  Of course, it was my love for fishing that carried me beyond the familiar to new places and adventure.  Ever since I responded to the Call of the Lord my life has been at the service of the Gospel and the Lord has taken me to many new places with new experiences and horizons to serve his purpose.

Questions we might ask ourselves are: As a good steward, how am I serving God?  What response have I made to the fact that Jesus has saved me and raised me up?  When I look around, are there others who need my help?  Am I open to the call to serve others?  Do I have the courage to adventure with the Lord as my leader and teacher?

May God bless you and guide you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Teaching The Faith

Peace and grace to all!

The reading from the book of Deuteronomy reminds us of God’s promise to provide prophets or people who will act as God’s spokespersons to guide the whole community.  They live in right relationship with God and each other.  As Catholic Christians, we believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of all prophecy and surpasses all prophets because he is God and the fullness of revelation.  Furthermore, we believe that through our baptism we are set apart by God and established as a royal, priestly and prophetic nation.

This weekend Jesus is teaching in the Synagogue.  It is remarkable to note how often the Gospels present Jesus as a teacher either by the things he says or by the things he is doing—today he is healing and dispelling demons by the power of his word.  Although some are astonished at his teaching, others are slow to put their faith in him and still others would criticize him for doing such things in violation of restrictive religious law.  There are still people like that today but no matter what, the Church continues the mission of Jesus in teaching the human race the truth about God and the human person as revealed by Jesus.

This week, it would be beneficial to reflect upon the value of Catholic schools and institutions that transmit Gospel values and promote the message of Jesus in concrete ways.  In any school we learn to read, write, play sports and do arithmetic but in a Catholic environment we are also rooted in faith: it forms the whole person, which is an inestimable value.  Looking back, the greatest gift I have ever received is my Catholic education.  I was taught by Dominican Sisters from grade 1 to 12. Then later, my undergraduate and graduate studies were completed at Mount Angel Seminary with the Benedictines.  My formal education has been specifically Catholic and I am both grateful and proud of that but I am also aware that such an opportunity does/has not been available to everyone.  I grieve that.  I wish Catholic schools were available and accessible for everyone.  A big part of a Catholic school are the men and women vocations serving as teachers.  Without religious vocations, the school numbers are diminishing.  Because a Catholic School is not available to everyone, religious education programs in parishes are all the more important.  Adults and children need to continue growing in knowledge and understanding of their faith so that they can more fully be prophets who proclaim the light of Christ.  Participating in community activities like retreats, bible studies and missions are fun and easy ways to grow in faith.  May God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Pray For Vocations!

May the voice of Christ lead you to peace!

This weekend we travel with Jonah, the reluctant prophet, who announces that God is about to allow the people to experience the consequences of their sins!  But before he passes through the city of Nineveh, the people turn their hearts to God in faith (repentance).  In this story, God’s call to repentance is met by the people who call back to God for mercy.  If the prophet had not announced the warning message, the people would not have turned their hearts and come to know that God is loving and merciful.

St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians calls the community to rise above earthly desires and concerns.  This short reading packs a lot of punch and opens the door to understand what happens in the Gospel.

Jesus announces the Good News that God is not vengeful but merciful.  All that one needs to do is turn to God and away from sin.  In this repentance, God’s love and mercy is encountered as a value far beyond anything the world has to offer.  When Jesus invited Andrew, Peter, James and John, they followed him because they found in Jesus the fulfillment of their deepest hopes and desires.  For them, the proclamation of the Gospel became the focus of their lives because it was more important to them than anything else.  Jesus’ invitation reaches men and women of every time and place and way of life.  Some receive it when they are very young and some receive it when they are older—like the fishermen in the story.  Please continue to pray for vocations and let us continue to make known our knowledge of the Gospel by the way we live our lives.

Not everyone is called to a religious vocation.  Sometimes the Lord calls people to different ministries and forms of service to the community of faith.  These invitations from God are not just nice things that happen along the way; they are vital to the Church’s mission in the world and ministry leads to holiness.  Is the Lord inviting you to a ministry?  Remember, if God calls you, he will also equip you for whatever it may be.  God bless you! +++  Fr. Peter

Listen For God’s Call!

May you grow in knowledge of God’s love and will for you!

Most of us are aware that God’s call to discipleship and holiness are universal no matter what our particular vocation may be: married, single, religious or ordained.  The readings this weekend focus on the fact that God calls people in a personal way to serve as his emissaries in the world.  Whether our service is in vocation or in ministry, we experience the power of a close relationship with Jesus when we follow him like the disciples did.

From Samuel’s story, we learn that the individual needs the help of others with experience to learn how to listen to God’s call, intimations and inspirations.  Once Samuel learned from Eli how to listen to God, he discovered his vocation and became a great prophet.

In the Gospel story, Andrew’s personal quest for God led him to approach Jesus, spend time with him and then bring others to Jesus.  It can easily be said that this pattern depicts what he devoted himself to for the rest of his life.  Without Andrew, Peter and the other Apostles, we wouldn’t have the faith we have today!

As a people of faith we understand that God has a specific vocation for each and every person.  We also understand that each person’s joy in life arises from living out God’s particular plan at the personal level.  Living a vocation in communion with God is true personal fulfillment.  Living a religious vocation is a fulfilling adventure and discovery of an incredible treasure!

God is calling men and women to serve in religious vocations today!  The faith tradition of the Church depends on their readiness to listen and follow God’s call.

Those who are being called need the help of frequent prayers and encouragements.  Our families cultivate religious vocations by teaching their children to esteem God’s will first in all things.  It is in the home that children first learn to pray and listen to God.  Those who sense a call should not ignore it or make excuses but should explore it more deeply because it leads to the personal fulfillment that God wishes for that person.  Following Jesus in a religious vocation today is not easy, it never was.  Many people are called to a vocation of married life and being parents.  For some, it is the ordained or consecrated life in ministry.  Whatever call we receive, we should respond not with doubt but explore it more fully to be sure.  Once we have some level of certainty, we can follow with more confidence in vocation and in ministry.  Remember, whatever vocation a person receives, it is from God and it is the greatest joy for the person to live the vocation that God has for them!

May God bless you with peace and joy! +++ Fr. Peter

Renewal And Mission

Peace and grace to you!

This weekend we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord in which God reveals Jesus as The Beloved Son.  This event always calls us to reflect first upon John’s baptism of repentance (turning-to-God) and why Jesus was baptized by John.  Even John questioned it.  Jesus expressed his desire to fulfill righteousness, which means to fulfill God’s plan – to do God’s will.  Jesus entered creation and was born a man so that human beings could share divine life with God.

Today upon his baptism, we see something new: Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit!  In this event, Jesus makes the waters of baptism holy so that those who experience Christian baptism are reborn, cleansed from sin and re-created as children of God, united to God as members of Christ’s own body and sharing in the life of the Holy Spirit.  As Christians we are enabled to live and love as God’s beloved sons and daughters and we are empowered to carry on the saving mission of Jesus in the world.  We are called and sent to work for justice and peace and share the Gospel message so that other people may be free from error, darkness and sin.  For many of us who were baptized as infants, we have never fully understood or embraced the radical character of our baptism.  That is why Feasts like today’s and the renewal of our baptismal promises are so important.  They help us to understand more fully what baptism really means.  Such occasions also help us recommit ourselves to living more deeply the covenant of love as Jesus Christ taught us.  The baptism of Jesus was the starting point of his public ministry when he taught the people about God and the moral life.  He worked many miracles of healing to show that God’s power comes as love and mercy for the person who desires salvation.  This was Jesus’ mission and ours too.  Jesus still works miracles through those who do good works in his name.  I hope that many of us have a sense of renewal and a spring in our step knowing that we share in such a beautiful and important work.  May God bless all your efforts! +++ Fr. Peter

Epiphany!

May the light of faith guide you to eternal life!

We celebrate the Epiphany this weekend, which means “manifestation.”  It refers to the events around Christ’s birth that show how God is revealing his plan of salvation for the whole human race; not just the Jewish people.  The first reading prophecies that a ruler shall arise from the assembly of faith who will truly be like a great light in the heavens.  This ruler will establish true justice, peace, and he will govern with heavenly wisdom and be recognized by all nations and peoples as a gift from God.  St. Paul speaks of a stewardship of God’s grace that was given him by God in order that he may continue guiding all nations in the light of the Gospel: God’s love and mercy shown toward the human race in Jesus.

The Gospel story depicts Wise Men from the East.  They saw a light in the heavens that they had never seen before and they believed that this star signaled a very important and great king had been born.  The journey of the Magi speaks of the yearning in every human heart through history to find higher wisdom.  They represent all those who seek the truth in hope of healing, peace and salvation.  Herod, on the other hand, represents those who feel threatened by an authority and wisdom other than their own.  They only want to follow their own desires and plans.  This also pertains to the fallen part of human nature and the selfish inclination to advance only our own fulfillment in the world with little or no regard for God or others.  We are given an example of the forces at work within ourselves through the characters of the story.  We may seek the truth and be guided by God’s heavenly wisdom that leads to peace, justice and love or we can turn away, like Herod.  The conclusion of the story is that the Wise Men experienced Jesus in humble simplicity and were enriched by him in a profound, mystical way.  They went away in a new direction because they had been changed by experiencing his love.  Herod remained hardened and dark.  Let us pray that we too will seek God’s wisdom so that we will shine more brightly with the joy and peace found only in Jesus.  Let us ask Jesus to touch others with his light through us.  God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

The Holy Family

May the light and joy of Christmas and the New Year fill your hearts and minds!

This weekend we honor the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and recognize the monumental role of the family in salvation history.  It is only through the context of family that God entered our nature and it is through the same context of family that we know Mary as Mother of God.  Jesus and Mary could not have survived without Joseph to protect them and provide for them.

God chose the family as the place where salvation begins!  The family is the first building block of society.  God’s plan through nature shows that no child is conceived outside of a relationship between a man and a woman.  This is the first fundamental relationship that images the love between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  This natural cell of social life is where the husband and wife are called to give themselves to each other in love and to give themselves in love to the mystery of the gift life, the family.  It is in the family home that we all first learn about God, about authority, stability, freedom, responsibility, respect, justice and honor.  In the family we learn moral values and how to interact with each other in ways that do not cause hurt or harm.  It is in the family that boys learn how to become men and girls learn how to become women and that they are different than each other—they are not the same.  The family teaches that men and women each have a special role to play and all need to give and receive the dignity and respect that God intended they have in their special roles.  Family life is where we learn how to participate in society, which is the family of man stretching across the globe.

Today, our family of faith, the Church, needs holy families.  As depicted in the scripture stories today, holy families regularly practice the faith with the community.  Without them the Church won’t be holy; it will be weak and there will be a lack of vocations.  Without holy families and vocations, society will drift away from God.  Staying close to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph will always give you joy and peace! +++ Fr. Peter

God Dwells In Us!

The Lord is near, let us look toward him and be radiant!

When David proposes to build a house for the Ark of God, God’s response is to establish the house and throne of David forever—God cannot be out-done in generosity!  All nations, even the non-Jewish people, receive this news with great joy as St. Paul tells us.  But what kind of house and kingdom is it that God establishes?  We get a glimpse from a billionaire, Ross Perot.  In an interview about his early years, Ross related that when he was growing up in North East Texas during the great depression a lot of hobos would come to their home asking for something to eat.  His parents, although poor themselves, never tuned them away but always gave them something to eat.  One day his mother asked a hobo why so many came to their house and not their neighbor’s.  Because, the Hobo replied, the sign scratched on the curb in front of your house makes it known that you always give.  Ross asked his mother if he should remove the sign.  She said no, we must always share with those who have less.  Ross related that the example of his parents’ generosity even in hard times was a powerful influence in his life.

A great story!  But what is in a house that makes it a home?  The people!  And God’s house, his true dwelling, is in the hearts and minds of his people!  Jesus came among us in poverty and simplicity.  He still does, but he generously gives a greater wealth and treasure than the world can know.  He told us that his kingdom is within us—and it is!  He nourishes us with his own life in the Eucharist and as we grow in his life, we do his works in the world.  Mary’s joy could hardly be contained and prompted her to visit Elizabeth.  The little everyday things she did for Elizabeth and Zechariah in the name of God manifested the love and joy she had within.  We too are sent by God and led by the Spirit to do God’s will so that all might come to God’s house and find salvation!  May God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter