Family Tree

Feast of the Holy Family – Cycle B

Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 Psalm Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 Col 3:12-21 or 3:12-17 Lk 2:22-40

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, and I wanted to share with you this idea that the family is a tree that starts out as a seed, and when watered by the love of God grows into the a beautiful and peaceful community of love.

I married my Sister..?
This past summer I went to California and married my Sister


Ok, that sounds very wrong. Let me be a little more precise. This past summer I had the great joy of officiating the wedding vows when my brother-in-law John married my Sister in California.

Marriage – the Seed of Love
Weddings are a time of incredible joy – because it is the birth of a new family. Part of the reason why we celebrate Marriage with weddings is because married love calls us to commitment, to faithfulness to one another for the rest of our lives. This is the principle difference between marriage and co-habitation, in marriage we go before God, the Church, and the whole world to publicly and freely declare are total commitment to love one another for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. The consequence is that family is born out of that commitment to love. There is intensity in that love, it is like a flare, that burns hot, bright and nothing can quench – not even the sea. Another way of describing this love is that it is like a seed – it is packed with all of the blessings, and struggles that lie ahead for that couple, all that is necessary for a good and holy life. Marriage is a seed that is packed into an intense little bundle, just waiting to get out.

Riding a Bike
Entering into the sacrament of marriage is like learning to ride a bike. We can watch movies about it, we can read books about it, we can watch other people live it out, but until we say I do, we have no clue what marriage is really like. I remember the day when I married my wife Tina, I remember standing at the altar, and watching her come up the aisle towards me. I had no clue what I was getting into, but it did not matter, because I knew that this was a vocation that God had called us to, and that He would be the one to back us up.

Relationship is the focus of the readings
The focus of our readings today is on relationship. The birth of Christ reveals to us that God is all about relationship. It is the relationship of love between the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit that we are invited by Christ to share in. In the first reading from Sirach, we learn of how husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters are to relate to one another. God is helping us to understand a right relationship with our families in order to prepare us to be in relationship with Him for all eternity.

Ribs Sunday
One of my brother Deacons refers to this Sunday as “Ribs Sunday” – because when we get to the part of St. Paul’s letter where he says “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” Some husbands will often nudge their wives in the ribs and give a “knowing” look. This is followed a few moments later by a responding dig in when the next verse is read – “Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them.” How do these attitudes towards relationship help us to grow in love for one another?

Wives be subordinate to your husbands
Let’s start with the wives part, When St. Paul says “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” He is expressing an idea of mutual love that is more clearly stated in his letter to Ephesians, where he says that “husbands and wives are to submit to one another as unto the Lord”. This is a difficult scripture for us to hear today, so I think that we need to struggle with it in an honest way. All too often this scripture has been used to justify some truly destructive behavior and situations. St. Paul is not trying to relegate women to a second-class status, or to justify remaining in abusive situations, but rather it is an expression of trust in our relationship of love that is backed up by Christ. When we freely submit ourselves to Christ’s love we can be confident that He will care for us because He has our best interests at heart.

Husband’s love your wives…
Now let’s move on to the husband’s role. St. Paul says to us “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ Loved the Church” – How did Christ show his love for the Church?


He died for her!


Brothers – let us love our wives!
Brothers – let us remember our commitment to be good husbands to our wives – to give up our lives for our families. This is not an easy challenge because it calls us to conversion, to change our ways. Take a moment to think about the actions or habits that we have that are sucking the love out of our marriages. What habits of sin do we allow to rob our marriages and families of life?


We have been entrusted with the sacred duty to guarding our families from the evil that kills them. We are called to sacrifice, as Christ sacrificed, to bring about abundant life for our families.

Husband and Wife Homework
I want to invite all of the husbands and wives here today to reflect on these passages from Colossians as an examination of conscience for our marriages. Honestly share with one another where our relationships are filled with “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body.” Let us give thanks to God for the areas where we do these things, and work towards changing those areas of our marriages where we fail.

The Love of Christ is Water and Light…
The Sacrament of Marriage puts into right-relationship the love of husband and wife. When we enter into the Sacrament of Marriage, we root ourselves in the love of Christ, we ask Him to be the guarantor of our vows. In marriage, we invite Christ into our relationship of love, so that we can learn from Him who is the creator of all love. When Christ walks with us He strengthens and purifies our love for one another. The love of Christ is like water and light to the seed, it causes the seed to germinate and grow.

Children are a Blessing from God
Another one of those “riding your bike” moments found in family life is the blessing of children. The Jews always considered children to be a blessing from God. We see this in Sirach when he says “Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children”. Again, in the Gospel a few weeks back we heard of how God blessed St. Elizabeth in her old age when she conceived John the Baptist, and again, God blessed Abraham and Sarah with children when they conceived Isaac. If we go all the way back to Adam and Eve, we see the original intention of marriage, that “the two should become one flesh”, and that God “blessed them and said – be fertile and multiply”.

From Seed to Sapling - Children
Children bless our marriage, because they transform our lives from being this focused seed of intense love into a sapling. Watered and fed by the light of Christ marriage blossoms and grows. In this way married love reflects the creative love of God. Our love overflows and must be shared with children. Children bless us because they call us to a new level of love, to sacrificial love. Think back to those first moments that you shared with your children, as your mind wrestled with the idea that God has entrusted this soul into your care.

Contraception destroys the love of marriage
As a culture, we find it more and more difficult to identify with this idea that children are a blessing from God. One of the reasons why is the prevalence of contraception in our society. Our culture teaches that if we don’t practice contraception then we are irresponsible and foolish. Our Church teaches that when we do practice contraception we are sinning against the 6th commandment because we are rejecting God’s blessing by intentionally destroying His gift of fertility.


Children become a burden
When we loose sight of the fact that children are a blessing from God they become a burden, an inconvenience, a trophy of accomplishment, or a commodity that we can buy and sell at the fertility clinic when we want.


From Sapling to Tree to a Forest
As our family tree grows up, it matures from a sapling into a tree. That creative love that began as a little seed of love between husband and wife grows to be open to children and to life. When our children become adults they fall in love and our family grows yet again, as we welcome into our marriage in-laws and then best of all grandchildren. Eventually, if we allow God to work in our lives the tiny seed of love that we began with all those many years ago will grow into an entire forest of trees, each with its own special gifts and hidden treasures. The question is – are we willing to let God order our family relationships so that our families can become Holy Families?


Christ’s Herald


Is 52:7-10 Psalm Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6 Heb 1:1-6 Jn 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9-14

Story Telling
Whenever our family gathers together to celebrate birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, baptisms, weddings and funerals we always arrive at a point where we begin to share the stories of our lives together. All families have stories that are told in which we remember our history, in which we recall what has happened to make us the kind of family that we are. At the same time, when we recall these stories we remember that God has been good to us, has blessed us, and has been with us. Today is no different because today as a Church we gather together and remember the stories about the birth of Jesus.

Now that’s a Birthday Party!
The Church celebrates with a lot of color, grandeur and festivity. At Christmas, we gather as a family – the sons and daughters of God to remember the birthday of our brother Jesus. We retell the stories about Jesus’ birth and try to come to a deeper understanding of the meaning of this event for the members of our family. For this reason the Church celebrates the birth of Christ through four different masses, one at sundown on Christmas Eve, keeping with the Jewish roots of our family where the new day begins at sundown. Then, at midnight we celebrate the coming of Christ in vigil, waiting up through the night for the advent of this great day. We gathered again at dawn to announce the coming of Christ to the world at first light, and then finally, now in the light of day.

Genealogy – Christ came to heal what was broken
At each mass we retell the story of Christ’s birth, and we are invited to reflect on the events of this miraculous day. The first mass of Christmas is the mass on Christmas Eve, right after sundown. The readings of this mass celebrate the birth of Christ from Matthew’s Gospel – Reading the genealogy of Christ that emphasizes the point that Christ really became man – He really chose to enter into the flesh of our human existence. We read also of St. Joseph’s response to the angel to take Mary as his wife. In this we see that Christ entered into this genealogy to heal what was broken, to set right what had been corrupted, to make our family whole again.

Angels announce, Shepherds respond
Then we celebrated the mass at midnight where we entered into the most beautiful part of the Christmas mystery. In our celebration we heard from the Gospel of Luke, where the angels came to the shepherds who were watching their flocks at night announcing the birth of Christ – the Messiah. We followed this early in the morning when we celebrated the mass at dawn, hearing how the shepherds responded to the angels tidings; how they went to Bethlehem (which means the house of bread) and found Christ lying in a manger where they bowed down and did him homage. Their reaction to this first encounter with Christ was to make “known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds…Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

John’s Testimony
The fourth part of our celebration this day is to hear from the beginning of John’s Gospel, where we see how John responded to this event as he wrote down the story at the end of his life. John talks about giving testimony, of announcing that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.


Christ is inviting us to be His heralds
The readings for our liturgy invite us to become heralds to the truth. We are invited today to announce to those we live with that Jesus has come to heal and bring us to the peace of God the Father.

What is a herald?
A herald is one who tells the story. As Christians, we tell the story by living the story, and so we enter more deeply into our own relationship with God, and through our own personal relationship we proclaim the good news that is announced to us this day. Isaiah the prophet describes heralds when he says “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, “Your God is King!” Hark! Your sentinels raise a cry, together they shout for joy, for they see directly, before their eyes, the LORD restoring Zion.


Are we living so that we can really be heralds? Do we see what God is doing in our lives and in our world? Do we allow God to establish His Kingdom in our lives by living according to His laws so that he is able to swiftly and silently come to visit our souls?


Today is a new day
In a way it does not matter how we answer these questions. That is the joy of our celebration today, because today is a new day. Today we are invited to a new encounter with God. It does not matter what I did yesterday, it does not matter what has occurred in my life up until this point, because today we have heard – perhaps for the first time that God has a profound interest in our lives. Jesus came to earth this Christmas to get to know you and I. He comes to heal what is hurt in our hearts and souls. He took on human flesh so that we could enter into eternal life with God the Father. Today we celebrate that Christ is God with Us – He is Emmanuel.

Share the Story that God is with us – Be Christ’s Herald!
This is why today is a new day. Today we receive the invitation to come to know Christ more fully so that we can enter into a true relationship with God. It is in our relationship with God that all of our desires can be satisfied. This is what today is about – that God became man to bring us into right relationship with Him. When we find ourselves in right relationship with God then we are able to experience the love that He has for us in the depths of our hearts.
  • Today is a new day for us because today, Christ invites us to enter into the story, just as he invited the shepherds on the day of his birth 2000 years ago.
  • Today, we encounter Christ in the Word, as we share the scriptures, the stories of our family.
  • Today we encounter Christ in the flesh as we share in his Body that was broken for us to unite us with God the Father.
  • Today, we are invited to become Heralds of the Good News – that Christ is born to us; that He is the Way to the Father, so that we can be embraced by His loving arms and be filled with His peace.


To Russia, with Love!

Gaudate Sunday – Cycle B

Is 61:1-2a, 10-11 Psalm Lk 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54. 1 Thes 5:16-24 Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

A week of rejoicing
I often marvel at the brilliance of God’s plans for us. This past week has been one huge Marian celebration for our parish. On Friday we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our fiesta began on Thursday night with Mass at 11PM that lasted until at least 1AM in the morning. Then, Friday night we again had a Mass with the Knights of Columbus, the Adoracion Nocturna, Matachinas and Mariachis, what a joyful celebration. I think that it is fitting that we end such a joy-filled week with Gaudate Sunday. Why? Gaudate is the Latin word for “Rejoice!” – And to show our joy we wear pink (excuse me Rose) vestments because we are overjoyed at the fact that our celebration of Christmas is only a week away!

Immaculate Conception – Father Walter Ciszek
Not only did we celebrate the Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe this past week, but on Monday we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Which is the day when we honor the conception of Our Blessed Mother Mary in the womb of her mom, St. Anne. Monday is also the 24th Anniversary of the death of Servant of God Father Walter Cizsek.

Gangbanger to Priest
Walter Ciszek was born the son of Polish parents in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. He grew up a bully, and stubborn like his father. He was known to be “a tough” – if we met him today on the streets we would call him a gang-banger.

When Walter was in 8th grade he decided to become a priest. His father was shocked. Priests were meant to be holy men, and Walter was as far from being holy as he could imagine. However, Walters mom prevailed over his father and soon Walter went away to a Junior Seminary in Michigan.

To Russia – the heart of Christian Suffering
While he was in the seminary, he read the biography of St. Stanislaus Kostka who walked from Warsaw to Rome. St. Stanislaus inspired Walter to join the Jesuits and prepare to go to Russia, where the Communists had recently taken over and killed over 150,000 priests.

Walter studied in Rome, and when he was ordained he was sent to Poland, when in September of 1939 Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded and destroyed the school he was running. Father Walter snuck into Soviet Russia under the assumed the name of Wladimir Lypinski and went to work as a lumberjack in the forests of the Ural Mountains. This was the last that the world knew about him, as he disappeared into the forests of Russia to work as a lumberjack during the day and to hear confession, celebrate the Mass and talk with people about God at night.

To the Gulag
In 1940 he was arrested by the secret police and spent 5 years in solitary confinement, being tortured by the secret police before being sentenced to 15 years in the Gulag – at a slave labor camp in Siberia north of the Arctic Circle, where he loaded coal onto freighters.

Proclaim Liberty to the Captives
Why did Father Walter go to Russia, to such a dangerous place at such a dangerous time? Father Walter was convinced that God had called him to all of the suffering that was going on there at the time. In his own way, he recognized that God was calling him “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.

Father Walter lived out the life that God had called him to by bringing the presence of Christ into the most desperate situations that existed on earth at the time. He lived and worked with the poorest of the poor, and in doing so, he was able to imitate the love of Christ by his solidarity with those who. Father Ciszek responded to the scriptures that we heard today because he chose to live out his life responding to the Gospel message.

We too have an obligation to live out the Gospel, to bring glad tidings to the poor by reminding them that God loves them. We do this when we share what little we have with those around us without expecting return. The readings that we use for this Gaudate Sunday lead us to joy through a life of selfless love.

Rejoice Always!
The second reading thought by Scripture Scholars to be one of the earliest writings of the New Testament. St. Paul writes to us with great enthusiasm. He says “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” So that no matter where our life has led us, we are always to rejoice, giving thanks for the many great blessings that God has given us.

Discovering joy in the will of God
In his biography, Father Walter came to discover through the sufferings inflicted upon him by the Soviet prison system, “that across the threshold I had been afraid to cross, things suddenly seemed so very simple. There was but a single vision, God, who was all in all; there was but one will that directed all things, God's will. I had only to see it, to discern it in every circumstance in which I found myself, and let myself be ruled by it. God is in all things, sustains all things, directs all things. To discern this in every situation and circumstance, to see His will in all things, was to accept each circumstance and situation and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust. Nothing could separate me from Him, because He was in all things. No danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me, except the fear of losing sight of Him. The future, hidden as it was, was hidden in His will and therefore acceptable to me no matter what it might bring. The past, with all its failures, was not forgotten; it remained to remind me of the weakness of human nature and the folly of putting any faith in self. But it no longer depressed me. I looked no longer to self to guide me, relied on it no longer in any way, so it could not again fail me. By renouncing, finally and completely, all control of my life and future destiny, I was relieved as a consequence of all responsibility. I was freed thereby from anxiety and worry, from every tension, and could float serenely upon the tide of God's sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul

This is the reason why we should “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”


The voice crying out in the Desert
John the Baptist was sent to be a “the voice of one crying out in the desert” – In one way the desert that John was sent to cry out in was the desert of sin, where our souls are thirsting to know the love of God.

What is your Testimony this week?
Father Walter was like John the Baptist, he responded to God’s call to go into the desert and witness to the love of God by the testimony of his life. The witness of St. John the Baptist, and the witness of Servant of God Walter Ciszek is to testify to the truth of Jesus Christ at work in their lives. The question that the scriptures call us to answer this week is “What is my testimony?” “What is your testimony?” When people encounter us this week will they see our testimony? Will they know that it is our experience of the love of Christ that leads us?

If they do not, does it mean that we too need to hear the words of the Gospel and “make straight the way of the Lord” by repenting and changing our ways so that Christ can come directly into our hearts and through our hearts into the world?



Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Rv 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab

(I was asked to bless one of the local supermarkets in our parish as they celebrated the Fieste de Nuestra Senora Guadalupe)

Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, because on this day in 1531 Juan Diego listened to her and picked roses from the top of the hill of Tepeyac. Out of obedience to Our Lady he wrapped the roses in his tilma and carried them to the Bishop of Mexico. When he opened his tilma in the presence of the Bishop, the roses spilled out revealing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on his tilma.

There are two key elements to the image of Our Lady that I would like to reflect on today; the sovereignty of God and the need to live a life of prayer.

Our Lady appears in front of the Sun and standing on the Moon, which were symbols for prominent Aztec Gods. In this way she demonstrates that we are to worship only the true God in heaven and not false Gods, be they ancient Aztec Gods, or modern Gods such as money or things.

The second element of the image on the tilma is that Our Lady appears as a pregnant Aztec princess with her head bowed in prayer. The reason for this is because Mary is teaching us that the way to salvation is through coming to know her Son, Jesus. The Lady of Guadalupe teaches us that the way to know her Son is by listening to Him in prayer, and imitating him with our own love for the poor, the weak and the oppressed.

Why did Jesus send his Mother to appear to Blessed Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac all those years ago? I think the reason why is because of God’s love for us. He wants us to share the same faith that Juan Diego has, so Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in order to bring us into the Church – to know and love and serve God.


The Invisible Men

Feast of Christ the King – Cycle A

Ez 34:11-12, 15-17 Psalm Ps 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28 Mt 25:31-46

I want to focus our reflections today on four different perspectives of the Gospel; Reflection, Examination, Penance and Action.

The Gospel today helps us to anticipate the great celebration of the coming of Christ as king. In the movie the “Return of the King” there is a great scene towards the end of the movie when one of the Heroes, Aragorn is crowned king of Gondor before all of the peoples of Middle Earth. It is a scene filled with majesty, grandeur, and joy, because it celebrates mans triumph over omnipresent evil in the world, and the restoration of the world to a right order.

This is a useful image for us to keep in mind as we reflect on the Gospel today because today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, where we celebrate the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven and rejoice in the fulfillment of all the good that God has done throughout time.

Christ and the Angels
In the Gospel today, Jesus describes this time when he says that he will come “in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.

What comes next in the Gospel today is almost a counterpoint to the grandeur, pomp and circumstance that almost always seems to accompany such great events. Jesus turns to all of the nations gathered before him, and begins to separate them onto his right and his left.

His Right
He turns to those gathered on his right, and says to them; “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.

His Left
Then he turns to those who are on his left and says to them; “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.

The Invisible Men
The elect, those on Christ’s right ask “when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?

Likewise, those on the left also asked Jesus “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?

Corporal Works of Mercy as an Examination of Conscience
(How the Gospel Challenges our hearts)
What is startling about the dialog between Christ and the people is that both of them seem to be blind. Both of them fail to recognize the invisible men in their lives.

Caught up in all of this grandeur and magnificence of Christ coming in glory are the invisible women and men who are the key to our salvation. If we are able to recognize these men and women in our lives, then they can help us into the kingdom of heaven.

The Kingdom of God is about sharing our hearts with our neighbors, our brothers and sisters here on earth, with those who are in need. When Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, he does so based on the actions of their hearts.

The challenge of the Gospel today is for us to open up our hearts to those who are hungry for God, thirsty for his love, strangers, naked, sick or in prison.

The Hungry need the Bread of Life
Who are those invisible people in our world who are hungry for the Bread of Life, the Word made Flesh? What about those who are starving for God and we don’t speak to them about the love of God that lives in our own hearts? Is it because our hearts have grown cold, or hardened, or we are ashamed to proclaim Christ as king?


One of the beautiful things about taking a spiritual retreat, a day for refreshing our souls is that it allows us to open up and realize that we are spiritually hungry, starving for the love of God to become active in our lives.


The Thirsty need life-giving water
Who are those in our midst who are thirsty to know that they are loved by God through us? It was an awareness of God’s thirst to love souls that motivated Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta to start literally feeding the hungry, stay with the dying, just to be in relationship with those people who had been abandoned on the streets of Calcutta. Christ is thirsting for souls, that his love be made known to those invisible people who are around us every day, and he is asking you and I to be the vessels of that love.


Welcome those who are strangers to the Kingdom of God
Why is welcoming the stranger in this list? Doesn’t it seem a little out of place in the context of all of the rest? Jesus came to welcome us (who had become strangers to God, because of our sin) back into relationship with His Father. Similarly, He invites his disciples (us) to welcome strangers into relationship so that they too can experience the love of God through us; through our lives. Who is the invisible stranger in our lives? Are they here at the Church, standing beside me, or behind me, or before me? Are they at my work or at my school? God is calling us to share our hearts with our brothers and sisters, because love is always expanding, and it is through us that He has the opportunity to show His love in this world.


Clothe the Naked – Return dignity to the people.
Who are the invisible naked people in our lives? Who are those whom we dehumanize? Who are those who live as objects rather than people in our lives? What do I mean? When we dehumanize someone, when we treat them as a thing and not a person, when we fail to recognize the beauty that God has created in them then we fail to clothe the naked. Sometimes the naked people are those who are at work, either customers or employees that we treat callously, and without love. Sometimes it is when we are trapped in pornography, that we learn to look at everyone as being naked. Is the naked that we are called to clothe ourselves? Have we destroyed the dignity of our bodies through the abuse of drugs or alcohol? Stop and think; who are the naked in your life that need clothing?


Care for the Sick and Imprisoned
Who is imprisoned by sin, trapped by some way of acting or behaving that God is inviting us to go and visit them, so that they can know his love. When Christ came he went and stayed with those who were sick (with sin) and in prison (because of their life style). He stayed with them to heal and to liberate. When the Gospel is lived it always heals (it cures the sickness of our souls), and it frees (It frees us from the shackles of Sin so that we can live as God created us to live. Who are the sick and those in prison that Christ is calling us to visit this week?


Penance – The Corporal Works of Mercy in Action
The Catechism refers to this passage from the Gospel of Matthew as the Corporal Works of Mercy – Meaning that these are ways that we can show God that we love him with our actions, in what we do.

Penance is spiritual medicine for our soul. Practicing penance means that we take concrete actions to correct the habits of sin that we have established in our lives. We can look at the corporal works of mercy as an examination of our conscience, and allow ourselves to be convicted by our sin. After acknowledging our sin, we are called to penance, to show that we can work at reforming our lives. We can use the corporal works of mercy as an opportunity to show our repentance by doing something concrete about our sins.

Faith in Action – Live the works of mercy
Take some time this week and practice the Corporal works of Mercy
• Bring some food to those who are hungry for the food bank.
• Bring some non-perishable drink, or drink mix (dried milk and the like).
• Step out of ourselves and greet those who are strangers in our midst, be they the immigrant, or someone here at mass who we have worshipped with for years and yet do not know.
• Go through our dressers and closets and bring some of our excess clothing here to clothe the naked.
• Consider volunteering some time to visit the sick, those parishioners who are lonely, imprisoned in their homes or at a nursing home. There are parishioners who are going to visit the sick tomorrow and in two weeks to visit the sick after the 8:30 mass on Sunday.

At his coronation the King will point out his servants
At the end of the movie “The Return of the King” in the midst of the victory celebration in which the King is crowned, and honored the King turns and draws attention to those who did his work throughout the story. They were the invisible agents of the King, doing his work, and making his kingdom known.

My dear brothers and sisters, the Gospel calls us to spend our life this week being the invisible agents of the King, feeding the hungry, giving drink to those who thirst, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, and visiting those who are sick and in prison so that they can come to know the fullness of God’s love.


Sister Death

All Souls Day – Cycle A

Wis 3:1-9 Psalm Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6 Rom 5:5-11 Jn 6:37-40

Grandpa Frank Died
My grandfather died while I was in college studying to be an engineer. He died during finals when the weather was cold and windy, and I was taking evening classes. It was an early afternoon when I got the call from my mom who told me that Grandpa Frank had died. He had been sitting at the kitchen table talking with Grandma, and when he stood up to go and get the laundry for her, he fell over dead.


For the rest of that day I was in a fog. I still had finals to take and the rest of the week I just went through the motions, finishing up tests, turning in projects, and then we drove out to Nebraska for his funeral.

Seeing Death Face to Face
At the vigil we prayed the rosary for Grandpa, and it was there that I came face to face with his body, lying cold in his coffin, holding on to his rosary. It was really the first time I had come face to face with the death of someone I knew and loved very much.

When we buried Grandpa, all of us gathered around his grave, and had a really good cry. We were saying goodbye, and grieving together as a family. Our tears were of sadness mixed with joy. It hurt to miss Grandpa, but at the same time, I was so happy to have known a man who was so full of life and full of love.


Comfort the sorrowing – Death is not the end
One of the greatest joys of my diaconal ministry is to pray with the families of those who have died. In those special moments, I have an opportunity to reach out to the families who have lost loved ones. They are sad, they are grieving, they have a sense of shell shock. At the same time it is an opportunity to share the hope that is at the heart of the Gospel – death is not the end.

We are created for Relationship with God
We are created for relationship with God and with one another. Death is not an end to our relationships, but a transformation in their nature. Grandpa Frank is with God now, and our relationship has not ended, because Christ will not end. God created us for a relationship of Love – selfless love. Love where we pour out our lives for one another.

How my fathers witnessed their sacrificial love
Years after Grandpa Frank died my Dad was sharing with me an example of his love. When my Dad wanted to go to a particular college, Grandpa went to work at a second job so that he could. It was Grandpa’s way of saying to my Dad – I love you. Likewise, when I needed to finish a basement in my house, my Dad gave up his weekends to come over and help me remodel, framing, wiring, sheetrocking, painting, and finishing. It was his witness of selfless love to me.

Grain of Sand vs Pike Peak
When Jesus came to live among us He told us that the way we live our lives here on earth determines how we will spend eternity when we die. Now, we might think that 80 or 90 or 100 years is a long time, but that is NOTHING compared to eternity. It is like comparing an itty-bitty grain of sand to Pike’s Peak.

Selfless Love
Christ calls us to love one another as He has loved us. To pour out our lives for one another. This is the witness of selfless love. When a father gives of himself to his children. When a husband serves his wife, when we take care of one another here in the Church, or on the highway, or at work or school then we are preparing our souls to spend eternity with God in heaven.

Selfish Love – You Deserve It!
Original Sin and our culture corrupts this natural tendency for selfless love and twists it into selfish love. The majority of advertisements that we see encourage us to love ourselves. Slogans like “You deserve it!” “Pamper yourself!” “You earned it!” take our naturally created need to give ourselves in selfless love and twist it inwards on itself so that we love ourselves. To God, Selfish love sounds like our sound system when we misconnect it so that it feeds back on itself. It sounds horrendous.

Sister Death
In his Canticle of the Sun, St. Francis praises Sister Death when he says “Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Death, from whose embrace man can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
The reason for his warning of woe is tied to the Scriptures, to the judgment of our souls. The Catechism teaches that when we die, we face two judgments, the Particular Judgment and the Final Judgment. This is another way of reminding ourselves that what we do, how we relate to one another does matter. That is why when our relationships with God and one another are in good order, we are happy to meet Sister Death.

Particular Judgment – Lazarus and the Rich Man
When we die our soul faces the particular judgment. We know this from Luke’s Gospel where Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus and the Rich Man both receive an immediate reward for how they lived their lives. Lazarus ends up with the Saints, and the Rich Man in an abyss. Both reaped the fruits of their labors, but the Rich Man was not really prepared to meet Sister Death.

Final Judgment – The Sheepish Question
Jesus goes on in scripture to speak about the final judgment that happens at the end of time. When this topic came up while I was in the Seminary one nameless Deacon Candidate sheepishly raised his hand and said – “Excuse me professor, does that mean that God can give us a reward, and then at the end of time change his mind?” The professor answered the question this way. At the particular judgment we experience immediately what we have done, but at the final judgment we see the effects of our actions, both the good and the bad rippling through the lives of all that we have met, like a stone entering a still lake. What a profound witness to the power of sacrificial love that moment will be.

Meditation on Death – Reflect on your life with urgency!
In some monastic orders, when one of the nuns or monks dies, all of the brothers or sisters gather around the body to hold a wake. The body of their dead brother or sister helps them to think about the grain of sand and Pikes Peak. As a Deacon, when I have the opportunity to pray with a family who has lost a loved one, I always come away thinking about this image as it relates to my own life; and my own death. God allows this to happen because he is asking us the question – “how am I maturing in my ability to love selflessly”?


I am the Vine, you are the Branches
The source of selfless love is found here in the Mass, where we become rooted in Christ – who said in John’s Gospel – “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned… As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” In this Mass we are invited to the Table of the Lord, to unite our sacrifices to His as he pours out His life for us and feeds us with his Body and Blood. Here we have the foundation of selfless-ness, the foundation of self-giving. It is here in this great mystery that we find the antidote to selfishness, the source of holiness, and the strength to grow in relationship with one another.

Divine grace washing into your soul
Some of the most precious time that I get is when I sneak in here late at night, or early in the morning to just sit and soak in the presence of the Lord. Sometimes I can feel the Lord is gently filling up my soul with His love, like a tub that is filled to the brim and gently overflowing. I become profoundly aware of the peace, joy and love that Christ is showing me here in this sacrament of the Altar.

Watch and Pray
I want to invite you to join me in taking just one hour out of your week, or month and coming to the Church to spend time in silent prayer before the Lord. At our parish we are blessed with opportunities for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
· Every Tuesday night from 6PM until 7:30 PM (Shirley)
· Every Thursday day from 8:30 AM until 9:00 PM, (Fr Dan)
· Every first weekend of the Month we have Adoration from Friday evening until Sunday morning. (Jorge Reyes / Luis Ponce)

Come and spend an hour with the Lord and I promise you that his blessings will fill up your life. I have seen the fruits of adoration in families have given some time to God in prayer. He blesses those families with an abundance of His grace. Not all at once, but slowly and gradually they are transformed into blazing beacons of Gods love.


What a beautiful wedding – Well done Good and Faithful..
After we buried Grandpa Frank, we returned to the Church where we had a meal that the parishioners had kindly prepared for us. I turned to my Grandma and meant to say to her, “Grandma, that was the most beautiful funeral I have ever attended”. But instead I said “Grandma, that was the most beautiful marriage I have ever attended”. She responded with a smile – “Your right Paul, because Grandpa is with God now at the heavenly marriage feast.”

And so, my sisters and brothers I long for the day when we can join my Grandpa at that great wedding feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.


Hebrew Country Music

27th Sunday Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Is 5:1-7 Psalm Ps 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20 Phil 4:6-9 Mt 21:33-43

Isaiah the Hebrew Country Singer
When I heard the first reading proclaimed today, I had this image of the Prophet Isaiah appearing in ancient Jerusalem. Just imagine yourself walking down the street in 700BC and coming face to face with this ancient Jewish prophet, standing on a street corner decked out in his prophet robes and great big long beard playing this tune as a one-man band. If we had to put Isaiah’s song to music, what sort of music would it be?

To help us figure that out, let’s listen again to the first reading…
I am singing a song about my vineyard
on a fertile hillside;
with the choicest vines;
a fine watchtower and wine press.
Just Like Country Music – Good and then Disaster
This part of the song would be like a country song, where the singer starts by singing about his wife, his dog and his Chevy truck.
Then he looked for the crop of grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
So now we wonder – Why this disaster?
But, then his wife leaves him, his dog gets shot and his truck gets wrecked. The translation we have here speaks of “wild grapes”, but perhaps a more accurate translation might be “stinky grapes”. So, like any good Hebrew country ballad, the singer reflects, “What more could I have done?”
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I had not done?
Why, when I looked for beautiful, luscious, tasty grapes did I find only stinky, putrid grapes instead?
From Hebrew Country to Fundamentalist Fire and Brimstone
It is at this point in his song that Isaiah turns away from his Hebrew country-western genre and wanders into some “Fire and Brimstone” imagery –

I will let you know what I will do to my vineyard: I will tear down its hedge, break through its wall, and let it be trampled!

Images clash in scripture for a reason
And, now, we are left standing on the corner in Jerusalem before Isaiah the prophet thinking “Huh” – His one-man band show began with a beautiful country ballad, but ended up sounding like some really obnoxious thrash-metal. It’s like combining two foods that should never be put together – say pickles and peanut butter, or wearing a striped shirt with some really obnoxious plaid pants from the 70’s.

We only do this when we want to get peoples attention, and this is Isaiah’s purpose as well.

In the Gospel today, Christ uses this same parable when speaking to the chief priests and the elders of the people, so it is an important parable that the Church has given for us to reflect on today. What is the message?

Call to Conversion – Look at what God has done for us!
The message of this parable is conversion, it begins by reminding us about how blessed we are; that God has so profoundly blessed us in this life. As Isaiah says, He built the vineyard, He planted the FINEST vines, He dug the wine press, He built the watch-tower, He planted the hedge. He did all of this, and then turned it over to us, the tenants.

Think of this vineyard as our souls. God planted in our souls, the FINEST vines, we are after all created in the image and likeness of God. He gave us a fine winepress (Baptism), gave us Guardian Angels to watch over our souls, and gave us a hedge to protect us from sin.

How are we responding to God’s blessings?
How have we responded to God’s blessings? Are our lives producing stinky grapes? What is the fruit of our spiritual lives? Think back over this past week and reflect, seriously reflect; When did I fall into Sin?


Did I, did we live lives that Christ would be proud of this past week? Did we conduct ourselves in a manner that was worthy of the description – “Christian” – were we Like Christ?


Parables help us to think objectively about our lives
Jesus and Isaiah used this parable to help people see the difficult things about their own lives. Elsewhere in Scripture Christ reminds us that it is easier for us to see the speck in our brothers eye than to see the beam in our own. That is why he set’s this story in the third person and then asks the people, asks us – “What do you think the master should do after they murdered his Son?”

It’s easy to see the evil and faults of others, It is more challenging to see our own faults. That is the challenge of the Gospel today.

Are we Spiritual Brats?
Another way of asking the question of the Gospel, perhaps a bit more forcefully is – “Are we spiritual brats?”

Do we realize the great gifts that God has given us, or are we behaving like spiritual brats, picking up the precious gifts of grace that God has poured out into our lives and thanklessly throwing them into the corner, while we pursue a life of self-indulgence and sin?


Spiritual Maturity – the Anti-dote to stinky grapes
Well, the anti-dote to stinky grapes is spiritual maturity. The readings today are inviting us to “grow up” and begin to act as women and men who are followers of Jesus Christ. To combat the sickness of sin that is rampant in our church we can follow the example of St. Clare of Assisi.

Clare of Assisi
St. Clare was the 3rd of 5 children in Assisi in Italy at the end of the 12th century. At a young age she left home and pursued a life of austere poverty in order to focus on her relationship with God. She recognized that certain things in her life (comfort and luxury in her case in particular) were distracting her from caring for her vineyard

I am not encouraging all of us here today to head for the convent or the monastery, but rather to grasp the essence of Clare’s spiritual life and become aware of the factors in our life that distract us from Christ.

Avoid distraction – just tend to the vineyard
Clare was filled with a profound awareness of the greatness of God’s blessing in her life. It wasn’t in what she had, her family, friends, wealth, fine linens. It wasn’t in stuff, but rather it was in relationships – First with God, and her close friends. Clare found that the more she listened to the words of St. Paul in the second reading, the more that she sought after what was “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, or excellent” the more profoundly she came to know Jesus Christ and be filled with “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding”.

Awareness of Gods blessings leads to thanksgiving
Clare’s life was filled with thanksgiving to God for the ways that He had shown her his blessings. She found that in her life, pursuing poverty in the convent was the way that she could best recognize the blessings of God, and so return to Him the finest grapes of her love.

The lesson for us is the same, to seek after the ways in which we become most aware of God’s graces in our lives, so that we too can begin to relate to God with thanksgiving. Here are three practical ways to become more thankful this week.

1. Spend time in prayer (Relationship with God)
2. Spend time with someone who needs company, relationship over “communication” – Don’t text when you can call, don’t call when you can visit. Etc.
3. Examine your day before you go to sleep (Recognize God’s blessings in your life). Become aware of the state of your vineyard.

When we stumble, we pay attention to where we are going
St. Paul described Jesus as a “stumbling stone”. In this way he describes an encounter with Christ as an encounter that means to stop us and give us the opportunity to think, and then act on the gifts that God has given to us.

We can reflect back on our sins of this past week, shrug our shoulders and say, well I tried, ho hum. Or, we can begin this by setting our sights on something that is better than a life of sin, to seek out as St. Paul encourages us to seek out “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Because when we do, we will encounter Christ, and He will become the Corner Stone of our lives, and fill us with “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


The way of the cross - the way of life

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Nm 21:4b-9 Psalm Ps 78:1bc-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38 Phil 2:6-11 Jn 3:13-17

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Today the Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This feast celebrates both the discovery of the Cross by St. Helena in 320 and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem over the site of where Jesus was crucified in 335.

This feast occurs every year on the 14th of September, and when it falls on a Sunday we celebrate it instead of Ordinary time. This is the day when we as the Church reflect on the transforming power of the Cross.

The Cross Defines our Lives as Christians
If you think about it the cross defines our lives as Christians. Action without understanding leads to superstition. So the Church gives us this feast to call us to reflect on the way of prayer that is defined by the sign of the Cross. It is not simply the opening motions of prayer, but rather a physical reminder to our own life and destination.

In Baptism
Last weekend I had the opportunity to baptize a baby boy and girl into the Church. The Rite of Baptism begins with claiming a soul for Christ by tracing the sign of the cross on our foreheads. We are reminded of this every time we enter or leave a church when we dip our fingers in holy water and sign ourselves with the Sign of the Cross. It is this action that reminds us of our birth into the Church – the community of faith.

As Christians we imitate Christ by allowing the Cross to transform us
It is suitable that the Cross defines our lives as Christians, just in the same way that the Cross defined the life of Christ himself. To be a Christian means that we are to follow and imitate the example of Christ. In the Gospel today we see that Christ was speaking to Nicodemus in the early part of John’s Gospel about the end of John’s Gospel. So very early in His own ministry Christ was looking to the Cross as the means of showing God’s love to us.

Christianity does not mean an end to suffering, but a transformation in suffering
So if you became a Christian because you thought it would end suffering in your life you came to the wrong place. Christ did not climb up on the cross to end suffering, but rather to transform it into a sign of God’s love for us. When we begin our prayer, our day, or our meal with the sign of the Cross, we are inviting Christ to transform our lives so that we can be united with God.

The Cross allows our suffering to be transformed into love
Suffering is hard, unpleasant and difficult. Christ took the experience of suffering and transformed it to an experience of love. Love for one another and love for God. The witness of Christ on the cross compels all Christians to look at the way in which he approached suffering. He allowed us to abuse him, ridicule him, torture him and kill him. Why? Because he was guilty? No Because he enjoyed it? No? Because he was showing us how to love the father. He was showing us the desire of the Father to have authentic relationship with us.

How did Christ transform suffering?
The figure of Christ on the Cross transforms our understanding of suffering, from one of fear to one of Love. Christ stands on the cross looking out at the world, and inviting the world into relationship with God.

The Cross formed Christ’s humanity into the image of love that pours out itself for the other.

In this way the cross undid the sin of Adam, where the image and likeness of God was disfigured by sin.

The way of the Cross leads us to imitate the Love of God. To be open, in a radical way, in a loving way to our brothers and sisters in community.

Our lives are called to be transformed by imitating Christ, by allowing our lives to be configured to that of Christ Crucified.

Blood and Water
As Catholics we have a special opportunity to share in the life of Christ on the Cross, because Blood and Water flowed from the side of Christ as he hung upon the Cross – Water symbolizing our baptism into his death and resurrection. Blood symbolizing the Holy Eucharist that we share today. Baptism that brings us into the community of the Church, and the Eucharist that brings us into communion with Christ and through Christ with one another.

My prayer for all of us today is that on this feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross that we allow our lives to be transformed. The next time that we have the opportunity to make the sign of the Cross, we ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the area of our lives that needs to be transformed to more closely imitate the Love of Christ on the Cross.

In the Name of the Father…


Standing Watch

23rd Sunday Ordinary Time – Cycle A
Standing Watch

Ez 33:7-9 Psalm Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 Rom 13:8-10 Mt 18:15-20

A pirate with a peg-leg, hook and eye patch decides to give up his life of piracy so he goes to confession. After making a good confession, the priest asks him - "How did you end up with a peg leg?" The pirate replies, "I was swept overboard and my leg was eaten by a shark.” "That is terrible," says the priest. "What about your hook?" "Well," answers the pirate, "I lost my hand to a Spaniard whose treasure ship we had boarded to steal his gold.” “Incredible. How’d you get the eye patch?" "Eating grapefruit - I was eating my grapefruit when the juice squirted into my eye”. “That’s doesn’t sound like that would destroy your eye.” said the priest. "Yer right Father,” says the pirate, "but it was my first day with the new hook."

Ships are symbols of the Church
From the time of Noah and the Ark until now the image of the ship has always been a symbol of the Church – a place of safety on the storm-tossed waters of the world. The readings today speak about two different senses of the Church, the Family, and the Church gathered here today.

The Family is the Domestic Church
When John Paul II described the family as the Domestic Church he wanted us to understand the mission of the family as the first place where the Gospel is lived out. As parents we have the primary responsibility to witness the love of Christ in the way that we give ourselves to each another as husbands and wives. We show the love of Christ to our children in the way that we sacrifice for them and each other in our washing the laundry, keeping the house clean, going to work, doing the dishes – the list goes on and on. All of us have experienced self-less love to varying degrees. Some of our parents were evangelists “par excellence” of this Christ-like love, others not so much.

Children in the family have a responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to one another, and into the world. All of us are called to imitate the love of Christ as Brothers and Sisters. We do this in how we learn to love each other and forgive one another as Christ forgave us. Christ chose the family relationship to help us grow in our relationship with God. It is not always easy, but it is ultimately rewarding.

On Duty
The readings today give us some advice on how to grow these relationships. Among sailors, there is a responsibility that the entire crew shares called “keeping watch”. Keeping watch means that some of the crew is responsible for the safe operation of the ship for the entire time that the ship is at sea. These sailors have a responsibility to do their “duty” – The lives of their ship-mates depend on it. That duty might be keeping an eye on the weather, tending to the engines, or being alert for navigation hazards such as reefs or sand-bars where the ship might get stranded.

Keep Watch!
In the first reading today the prophet Ezekiel exhorts us to be attentive to our duty – to watch out for shoals where we might get stranded, or reefs that might tear out the belly of the ship. But he is not speaking in the nautical sense, but rather in the human sense – Ezekiel begins today with the exhortation – “Thus says the LORD: You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel;” he calls us to keep watch over the souls of our fellow ship-mates here in the Church. This statement of God leads us to ask three questions – How do I keep watch, what am I on watch for, and how do I sound the alarm.

What to keep watch for?
In keeping our watch, we are like those sailors aboard ship who are looking out for the safety of all the souls aboard their vessel. God has given us the job of speaking to those who are leading lives of peril, whose souls are in danger of floundering on shoals, or running aground on the sand bars of sin. The reading from Ezekiel reminds us that we will be held accountable for how we keep the watch that God has given us – it is a serious responsibility. When we recognize that souls are in peril, we have a responsibility to sound the alarm, so that the danger can be averted.

Listen to God in your heart
Our own relationship with God is an essential part of us keeping watch. If we do not have a relationship with God, then how will we hear his voice? Prayer – speaking and (more importantly) listening to God is the first part to doing our duty well. We listen to God by hearing him in our hearts – the place where we make decisions about how we are going to act. This is a slightly different understanding of heart than the modern American usage of the word – which typically means the place where we experience our emotions.

Authentic prayer disposes us to hear His voice.
Authentic prayer, speaking and listening to God can take many different forms, from a spontaneous sharing of your day with God in the evening, reflecting on scripture, or praying the rosary. All of us are called to foster a deeper relationship with God through prayer. All of these ways of listening to God invite us to perceive the world a little more each day through the perspective of God’s heart by allowing ourselves to be challenged by His word and the teaching of His church. To listen to God means that we hear him in our hearts and our hearts are converted. That is why the refrain from the psalm today is “If today you hear his voice – harden not your hearts!”

God speaks to us through relationships
Daily prayer disposes our hearts to be open and aware of Gods presence in the world, but God does not normally speak to us directly. It is rare in the spiritual life for God to speak to us like the Captain of an old sailing ship bellowing out – “Avast there Deacon– Stand by to come about!” The normal way that God speaks to us is through one another, in our relationships, and actions. Prayer sensitizes us so that we can see the work of God in our lives more clearly. It teaches us how to look for the footprints of God in the history of our lives. Sometimes the messages are “atta boys”, and other times they are a smack upside the head with the spiritual 2x4 when God calls us to face the painful truths about how we are carrying out our duty – and those messages are also important for our ongoing conversion.

Standing Orders
When sailors are trained to stand watch at sea, they are given “Standing Orders” which tell them what to do in case of an emergency. For the Jews, and for us the “Standing Orders” is the Law, the writings of Moses and the prophets that discussed what to watch out for and what to do. Living the Law trains us in how to love. Jesus often criticized the Pharisees and the Sadducees because they lived the law without love. St. Paul teaches us that the goal of the Law is to lead us to love. In his letter to the Romans St. Paul begins with “Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” What he means is that when we carry out our duty in our families, the law of love must always guide us so that our proclamation of the Gospel is living and effective.

Sounding the Alarm
So, shipmates, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.”

Sin is personal, it destroys relationships – either our relationship with God or our relationship with one another. Sin injures us, and it injures the one we sin against. Sin destroys the community – whether that community is the family (the Domestic Church) or this larger church community. When we witness sin we have an obligation to point it out – with charity. This means discerning the right place and way to communicate the fault so that healing can take place. This is why we need to be steeped in prayer and in love.

Seek the Truth with Love
Christ goes on to say that if this does not work, then take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ – bring in additional people – to see the truth of the situation – not to take sides in a war of he-said / she said, but to see the truth.

In order for this to work, we need to be rooted in love and humility, so that we can truly listen to one another and accept correction from one another. This is not how the world works. In business we have contracts and penalties and judges – we have the law. The law is based on a fundamental distrust of individuals. In the Church we have the law of love that calls husbands and wives to be humble with one another, to correct out of love and to accept correction with humility – in their hearts. Likewise, Fathers and Mothers evangelize their children by how they show their love to them – providing for them, guiding them as they are raised. As children we are called to imitate the love that our parents show us in how they love one another and how they love us.

What is our witness to the Gospel?
God desires a relationship of love with us, and so he has given us two families in which to learn how to enter into relationship with him – our families of blood; the domestic church, and our family of faith in the Catholic Church. In both families we have a duty to do, to watch out for one another’s safety. In the Gospel today Christ shows us the way to do this. Christ has placed a two-fold challenge before us this week – To recognize God’s hand when we are called to account this week and not harden our hearts; and to respond to Him with courage when he wants us to use us to sound the alarm. The question is - do we have the courage?


Time for work!

20th Wednesday Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Ez 34:1-11 Psalm Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6 Mt 20:1-16

What does guilt feel like?
When was the last time that you got caught doing something that filled you with a sense of guilt? Perhaps it was speeding on the highway, or as a kid getting caught in some very wrong behavior. I want you to take some time to think back to that sense of guilt that you felt.


Shepherds are being called to task
I wanted you to have that experience in mind today, so you could have solidarity with me – this is how I felt when I listened to the first reading this morning because whenever scripture speaks about shepherds our (we bishops, priests and deacons) ears ought to perk up – because God is speaking to us. I don’t know if you caught it, but the prophet Ezekiel did not have very flattering things to say to us, the clergy this morning. It might leave us feeling guilty about the poor ways that we have gone about living out our ministry as shepherds that God has entrusted to us.

All of us have flocks to care for
But we clerics are not the only people here today with a flock to shepherd, because as parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, we too have those to whom God has entrusted us to shepherd. This means that all of us here ought to experience a certain amount of guilt when we listen to the reading from Ezekiel today.

In truth we cannot dismiss guilt
It is important for us to recognize our own sense of guilt. Modern Psychology has sought to remove the effects of guilt from our lives, because in its wisdom, psychology sees guilt as evil. One of the tools that is often used in this treatment of guilt is that of moral relativism which is the idea is that the truth can be what-ever I make it, so we make justify our behaviors in terms of what we do, and don’t worry about the guilt.

Responding to guilt leads to conversion
The problem with this is that all humans have an innate love of the Truth, and eventually these lies will unravel. Catholics have always viewed guilt as a good thing – because guilt leads us to examine our behavior in the light of the Truth – Jesus Christ. If we have an experience of guilt, then we have an opportunity for conversion, to change our ways.

Taking care of the flock means working in the vineyard
In the Gospel today, Jesus is describing the Kingdom of Heaven in the terms of a Master who is always going out of his vineyard to find new workers to help him in the harvest. It does not matter what the time of day is in our life, God is always coming to us and inviting us to work with Him in His vineyard. The challenge for us workers loafing on the side of the street today is how will we answer his invitation? What work is the Lord calling you and I to do today in His vineyard? How are we called to pasture His sheep?


Use your life to choose life!

19th Saturday Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Ez 18:1-10, 13b, 30-32 Psalm Ps 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19 Mt 19:13-15

God’s gift to man is Freedom

Today’s readings speak about the gift of freedom that we have been given. We have been given freedom to choose what kind of actions we can have in this life. The readings from Ezekiel today speak about the consequences of freedom in our lives. If we use our freedom to choose life in the way that we live then we will live. If on the other hand we use our freedom to choose death, then we will die.

What is true Freedom?

Freedom is not the ability to do anything that I want, but rather it is the ability to see the good, and then the responsibility to choose the good for my life and the life of my children. Ezekiel preaches this morning about the blinding effects of sin, pointing out that sin blinds us from being truly free and encouraging us to free ourselves from sin so that we can live.

Freedom is evidence that God wants us to make a choice (GWUTMAC)
  • GWUTMAC - This is why we have human freedom. We have an ability to freely choose our own actions.
  • GWUTMAC - Out of love, because only out of free choice can we choose to show God our love.
  • GWUTMAC - When we choose to be selfish, when we choose to be sinful, we choose to reject God, an action that separates us from the source of life itself. The consequence of this choice is death.
  • GWUTMAC - He wants us to choose life! To examine the choices that we have made, to act in a way that demonstrates self-less love – in that way we follow Christ.

In what way is the heart of a child ready for the Kingdom of Heaven?
Christ says in today’s Gospel that “The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these…” a child, who is raised in love, whose heart is open to correction, is one who seeks the good of God always. When we choose to have open hearts, then we choose life with our actions. When we choose life in our actions then our lives are filled with joy, happiness and peace. God wants us to make a choice, in our sinfulness we often choose death instead of life. How is Christ calling us to choose life today?


Got Love?

18th Sunday Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Got Love?

Is 55:1-3 Psalm Ps 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18 Rom 8:35, 37-39 Mt 14:13-21

This past week, my wife went and saw the new X-Files movie, and came back and commented to me that it had a very negative portrayal of the Church.

Hollywood gives the Church a bad rap
This movie (the X-Files) gives a typical Hollywood portrayal of the Catholic Church. Without giving away the plot it features two men, one is a former Catholic priest and convicted pedophile who has super-natural visions, the other is a Catholic Priest who opposes a boy from receiving a non-descript stem-cell treatment that the Church considers abhorrent. The movie embroils these characters into conflict with the Church and concludes that the teachings of the church are wrong, and ought to be ignored.

Does this really reflect our family?
In a certain way, I think that this movie is an attempt by the producers and distributors to portray the Church and her teachings as irrelevant to modern day issues, backwards, messed up and mean. It leads us to ask the question - is this an accurate portrayal of the Catholic Church? Is this how our community, our family really is?

Do we answer by making our own movie?
How are we as Christians to answer these serious accusations in the world today? We could on one hand, collect up all of our monies, and go and hire an great director and pay them to make a movie about the Catholic Church that portrayed her in a positive light – but would that be an effective use of our resources? All in favor of a second collection to raise money to make a movie to counter this accusation please raise your hands.


If not then how?
Don’t panic! I think that Jesus wouldn’t raise his hand either. Christ doesn’t want us sitting on our backsides in the pews, He calls us to answer these accusations by being witnesses to the Gospel. But where does the rubber meet the road? How do we do this?

The readings today give us some hints on how we as Christians, disciples of Jesus are to respond to this movie, and all other accusations against the Church. Let’s go through them one at a time.

All who are thirsty come to the water
Isaiah the Prophet invites all who are thirsty to come to the water. Are we thirsty? What are we thirsty for? We are thirsty for the same thing that everyone else in the world is thirsty for – we are thirsty for love;

  • not the kind of love we might have for ice cream or pizza;
  • not the kind of love that we experience from our brothers and sisters;
  • not the kind of love that we experience for our parents or our children;
  • not the kind of love that we have for our husbands or wives.

We thirst for a love that is greater than all of these loves – we are thirst for the Love of God. We thirst to know how special we are in His eyes.

All who have no money…

Isaiah goes on to invite those “who have no money to come receive grain and eat. Come without paying, and without cost”. If we were to literally engage with this passage of scripture we might dismiss it by saying that we have food in the pantry at home, or some money in the bank. What then is the money that Isaiah is referring to? The money that Isaiah is speaking of is the money of love – our ability to show love. He describes us as having no money, because we learn to love in response to our experience of being loved. Isaiah is describing our ability to love when compared to God’s ability of love. God has an infinite ability to love, we are very limited, and so we are poor in comparison to God. It is God who invites us into a relationship of love, to receive His love – to receive from Him freely.

Love illumines our heart – it reveals in us selfishness
Every encounter with the love of God illuminates our hearts. It is in the brightness of God’s love that we are confronted with the question – “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” Where is my love directed? Where do I spend my time? My treasures? My talents? How does my expenditure of time relate to the love that I seek?


Sneaking out of town - imagine Jesus’ day in the Gospel

Have you ever wondered why it took Jesus all day to cure the sick. When I read this Gospel, I imagined that he got up early in the morning, grabbed the disciples and snuck out of town, only to find that when they landed the boat the crowds had followed him. On landing with his disciples, he had pity on the crowds and so he spent his day healing them. This gives us a glimpse of what God’s Love is like. Jesus could have healed them all instantly, but rather he spent the day healing them, by entering into relationship with them, showing them what the Love of God is like – it is relational. God’s love is relational, and when we experience it we are healed!

We are the disciples

Whenever we read scripture about the disciples, we need to pay special attention to them, because we too are disciples of Jesus, and we are called to imitate their actions in our own lives. The disciples come to Jesus and ask him to take care of a problem – feeding the crowd. They even have a suggestion on how God ought to solve this problem that they have (send them away). How many times have we taken our problems to God with a suggested solution?

Christ calls us to action by placing our gifts at His service

Jesus answers them in much the same way that He answers us – He challenges them to action. He says “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” To which they respond that they don’t have enough – five loaves and two fishes. This is where the Gospel and the reading from Isaiah fit together beautifully. We come to God because we are poor in our ability to Love, but if we allow Him, he will take our meager gifts and multiply them a thousand fold. What would the world be like if we placed all our relationships before Christ like the disciples did in today’s Gospel? How much love would we witness to our wives and husbands, our children and parents, our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and friends and enemies?

Christianity is Fire – Christians are Arsonists
A 19th century philosopher once described Christianity as fire, and true Christians as arsonists.

The Fire of Christianity is Love. Love is the key to being united with God. When we allow the love of Christ to dwell in our hearts then our temptation to sin falls away, we live as St. Paul says – without anything separating us from the Love of Christ.

We are called to be like the disciples in the Gospel and place our meager gifts before God, so that He can take them and magnify their effect.

Love is our capacity to hold heat? How hot or cold are our hearts?
John Chrysostum describes our love as the capacity of our hearts to hold heat. Do we allow the love that we experience here with the Eucharist to remain in our hearts throughout this week? Are we hot or cold? Does our heart retain the heat of Christ’s love in a way that is living and effective, that changes how we live our lives? Are we being arsonists?


How does our family answer the accusations of Hollywood? - By sharing the fire of Christ’s love!

When we allow this fire of Christ’s love to penetrate our hearts we become a witness of the Gospel to our families, friends, neighbors and coworkers what true Christianity is about. When we do this in simple, practical ways by offering to mow the neighbors lawn, visiting the sick, those who are homebound or in prison, by holding the door for another, by taking care of the poor, the weak and the suffering. When we do one of these actions we spread the fire of God’s love into the world. This arson of Love is the anti-dote to the accusations made in the movie theater about the nature of Christianity and the Church. What fire is Christ calling you to spread this week?


Christ - The Inconvenient Truth

15th Sunday Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Is 55:10-11 Psalm Ps 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14 Rom 8:18-23 Mt 13:1-23

Al Gore wins the Nobel Peace Prize
Last year the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to our Al Gore for his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” that chronicles the environmental impact of humanity on the planet. This movie is a call to all of humanity to clean up our act in how we are treating the planet – to become better stewards of the resources that we have so that our planet is around and livable for generations to come.

Impact of Environmental Sensitivity
The goal of his movie was to increase awareness of the damage that our modern, industrialized society may be causing to the planet, through pollution. Since “An Inconvenient Truth” was released countless websites have opened up to increase peoples awareness to their impact on the environment. On the Internet we can “measure our carbon footprint”. I have even heard in the news that the Democratic Convention here in Denver is gearing up an army of volunteers to have a “Green” convention – they want to have a “Carbon Neutral” impact on the planet.

Can we see the effects of our Sin?
In the Gospel today Jesus observes that people close their eyes and ears so they cannot see the love of God. Often we ignore how God is calling us in our hearts because of our addiction to sin.

The power of Al Gore’s movie is that it helped people to see the changes that are going on in the world today. A picture is worth a thousand words, when we see the snows retreating, pollution increasing and the world decaying, we become motivated to do something about it.

The readings today speak to us about the pollution that brings about corruption in our soul. The readings lead us to answer the question – What pollution is corroding away at my soul today?

  • Is it in what I choose over loving my spouse?
  • How I treat my family?
  • My friends?
  • What I watch, what I say what I do?

The American writer Upton Sinclair once wrote that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it”. What is the paycheck that we get from our sin? Why do we, why do I choose again and again to immerse my soul in this corruption?


How the Duomo in Florence might help us to see sin

In a certain way, I think that our culture suffers from an inability – a set of closed eyes and ears to the truth of who Christ is, and the truth about the state of our souls. If St. Paul were able to make a movie about the spiritual pollution that our souls are in he might choose the painting on the ceiling of the dome of the Cathedral in Florence, Italy. This dome is painted with this magnificent scene of the Last Judgment. At the bottom we see devils taking delight in torturing poor souls that are addicted to sin. This is one way for us to visualize the affect of our sin on our soul.

Christ is the Inconvenient Truth! – Why Inconvenient?

If St. Paul were to make a movie today, he might title it “Christ – The Inconvenient Truth!” When we live lives that are immersed in sin, we encounter Christ as “The Inconvenient Truth”. Christ is inconvenient because the light of his love exposes the ugliness of our sin. He makes it difficult for us to persevere in the corruption that we surround our souls with. In the Gospel today Christ invites us to become open to His word, that He might dwell in us and bear fruit. This leads us to ask the question – What kind of soil is the life I am living for the Word of God?

  • How do I accept the Word of God into my heart?
  • How fertile is my life for the Kingdom of Heaven?
  • Am I living a life that is liberated by the redemptive love of Jesus, or am I still mired and trapped by my sin?

Christ is the Inconvenient Truth – Why the Truth?

Isaiah reminds us in the first reading that the Word of God is effective, it has a purpose, and God sends it to accomplish that purpose. The purpose of God’s word is to cleanse us from the corruption and pollution of Sin that leads us to death. Our challenge is to open our hearts to be able to receive the Word of God. In his letter to the Romans St. Paul speaks of how all creation is groaning for the coming of God at the end of time. I think that often times the words of St Paul’s readings today strike us as empty words because we have lost sight of the power of the great gift of Baptism. So let us go back in our lives to the very beginning when we encountered God in our Baptism. In Baptism the Holy Trinity comes and makes His dwelling in us in our souls. This is a profound moment in our lives. If this is the gift that Christ has already given us – an opportunity to spend our lives with God, how much greater will it be when we come to see him face to face.

Baptism - Our First Fruit of Creation

Another way to reflect on this truth - All of us here today who are baptized have experienced the first fruits of salvation – our baptism; however we have such an impoverished sense of salvation. We are called to drink deeply of the grace that God has given to us so that we are truly groan for the coming of salvation. If we have a superficial understanding of the gifts that God has already given us (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) then we don’t groan with St. Paul and the rest of creation because the fail to recognize the treasures that we have already been given.

Decay = Sin / Growth = Life

When we encounter decay in our world, we are reminded of decay in our soul, likewise when we encounter growth in the world, we are reminded of our need to grow in our relationship with God in our Soul. We do this by living lives that are more and more closely in touch with our creator. The more in contact to the Word made Flesh that we become the more sanctified we are, and through us the world becomes. This is what our encounter with the Inconvenient Truth does – it transforms the world through sanctification.

Reduce your Sin Footprint so that God can increase His Grace Footprint

The readings today are chocked full of the imagery of nature, of rains, growth, seeds and life. Jesus speaks of the seed – the Word of God that is planted in our hearts is watered, takes root, grows and in its own time bears fruit 30 or 60 or 90 fold. We are called to live lives that reflect “The Inconvenient Truth” to the world. As humans, paying attention to our “Carbon Footprint” is part of our stewardship of the planet. As Christians, we have the serious responsibility of taking care of our “Sin Footprint” because we are not just called to be “Sin Neutral” but we are called to be “Grace Positive” – to change the world so that it is sanctified through our living out of the Gospel; This is why St. Paul says that “All creation groans for the salvation of the Sons and Daughters of God” – because when we allow Christ to redeem our lives, our world is redeemed, purified, sanctified with us.