Thursday, August 18, 2016

8/21/2016 – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C – Luke 13:22-30

      What do we have to do to truly be a disciple of Jesus?   Who will be chosen to enter into God’s eternal kingdom?   In essence, that is what Jesus is asked when someone questions him as he's teaching in the towns & villages on his way to Jerusalem: “Jesus, will only a few people be saved?  Will I be among them?”  In Jesus’s response to this question posed to him by the crowds, perhaps he is telling us that it is entirely another question that we need to be asking instead. 
       Back in the early years of the 20th century, there was a little boy named Raymund Kolbe living in a poor village in Poland.   Raymund was a very mischievous young boy, always getting into trouble and never obeying his parents.  His mother, losing patience with him one day, cried out:  Lord, what is going to become of my son Raymond?  Reflecting upon what his mother said, Raymond prayed to our Blessed Mother: Mother Mary, what is to become of me?  Mary responded to him in a vision. Out Lady came to him holding two crowns: one white, the other red. She asked him if he was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that he should persevere in purity, the red that he would become a martyr. He said that he would accept both of these crowns.”  The next year, at the young age of 12, young Raymond entered the order of the Conventual Franciscans, where he took the religious name Maximilian.  He was ordained a priest at the age of 24.  He undertook missions to China, Japan, and India, where he founded Franciscan monasteries.  He promoted a deep love and devotion to the Blessed Mother wherever he went.  Finally, he returned to Poland, where as a young priest he had founded a monastery just outside of Warsaw.  The publishing house and radio station that ran out of the monastery were very influential in Poland.  We think of how today we use apps, blogs, cell phones, and websites as the latest technology to evangelize to the world in our own era.  This young Polish priest had the same idea back in the early decades of the 20th century, using the newest technology available to him at the time to reach out to others.  After the German invasion of Poland, the radio station and publishing house started speaking out against the Nazi regime.   The monastery was shut down and Father Maximilian Kolbe was arrested.  He was eventually sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, becoming prisoner #16670.   His cell became a chapel where he invited all of the other prisoners to pray the rosary, to sing hymns to the Blessed Mother, and to celebrate the Eucharist. Because he was a priest, he was subject to harassment by the camp guards, who singled him out for beatings and lashings.  Just two months after his arrival at Auschwitz, a prisoner from Kolbe’s barracks escaped.  As punishment to the other prisoners, 10 of them from that barracks were chosen to be sent to a special bunker where they would be starved to death. Kolbe was not one of those who were initially chosen.  However, when he learned that one of the men had a large family with a wife and children, in order to spare him, Father Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take his place.  During their time in the bunker, Kolbe led the other prisoners in prayer and tried to reassure them of God’s fidelity to those who live as disciples of Christ. He was the last of those 10 prisoners to remain alive after 2 weeks of confinement, so in order to end his life, the guards injected him with carbolic acid. He died on August 14, 1941, 75 years ago last Sunday. The prison guards cremated his body on the next day of the feast of the Assumption of Mary, our Blessed Mother to whom he was so devoted.  During Maximilian Kolbe’s canonization in 1982, Pope John Paul II called him the patron saint of the 20th century, a century that saw so much war, violence, and crimes against humanity.   We commemorate St Maximilian Kolbe’s feast day last Sunday, August 14.
       I don’t think that Father Maximilian Kolbe worried about the question that was asked in the Gospel by someone in the crowds:  Will I be saved?  Who else will be saved?  How many will be saved?  As Jesus says in the Gospel, some of the people in Jesus day who followed him were thinking: Jesus, we listened to you as you taught in our streets and in our synagogues.  We ate and drank with you.  We shared meals with you.  We were part of your group of disciples.  We were part of your “in-group”, your followers.   Certainly we will be saved.  Certainly we did enough to be able to enter into God’s kingdom.             Jesus calls us to a life of discipleship.  He calls us to go beyond the surface, to let his teachings penetrate our hearts, to be open to conversion, change, and transformation.  So, instead of asking questions about whose going to be saved and worrying about that, perhaps we need to concentrate on deepening our relationship with Christ, to grow closer to him and the values of his Gospel.  We were saved in the past in our lives, at the moment of our baptism, at the moment of our initiation into the faith, into our lives of discipleship.  We are saved in the present moment, as Christ calls us to on-going conversion, to renewal and new life.  And we will be saved in the future, in the grace that God’s offers us each day.  We are invited to enter the door of faith each and every day of our journey as pilgrim people here on earth.  Some days, that door may seem very difficult to enter, very narrow.  I love the image that Pope Francis gave us when the Jubilee Year of Mercy started last December.  The Pope kicked off the Jubilee Year by opening the special door in St Peter’s in Rome that is only opened during special Jubilee Years.  And he did so not just by swinging open those large, heavy doors.  He took a hammer and tore down the brick that was closing off that door, opening it for the pilgrims to enter as they visit St Peter’s.   Some days, there will be a lot of bricks for us to tear down as well.  With God’s mercy and grace, we will have the strength to do so.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

8/19/2016 – Friday of the 20th week of Ordinary Time – Psalm 107

       The psalmist sings praises to the Lord today – Give thanks to the Lord, for his love is everlasting.  The Lord delivers the faithful – he rescues them from the hands of their foes, he hears their distressful cries and he delivers them from their distress.  Sometimes we cannot imagine the struggles and the challenges that others experience on their journey of faith.  Sometimes in the midst of our struggles and sufferings, we can still give praise to the Lord, having faith and hope that he will deliver us. St Helena’s feast day is celebrated this week.  She is best remembered as the mother of the Emperor Constantine; he attributed a decisive victory he experienced in battle at the Milvian bridge to a vision of the cross that he had.  Helena, a woman who was born in humble origins, and who was divorced from Constantine’s father, embraced the Catholic faith after her son declared Christianity to be an officially recognized religion in his empire.  In her old age, Constantine commissioned Helena to travel to the Holy Land.  Legend has it that she discovered the cross on which Christ was crucified – slivers of that cross were distributed throughout the Roman empire.  Helena died in the year 330 after spending her final years in a convent in the Holy Land.  St Helena, in your humble faith, we unite our prayers to yours. 

8/15/2016 - Una reflexión sobre la Asunción de la Virgin María

       El papa Pío XII proclamó el dogma de la Asunción de María en el año 1950.   El Papa Pío XII declaró que la madre de Jesús fue llevado cuerpo y alma a la vida eterna sin tener ninguna corrupción corporal en la muerte.
         Hoy en nuestro mundo moderno, en mucho sentidos, no valoramos el cuerpo humano. En verdad, nos gastamos millones de dólares en cosméticos, dietas y ejercicios para hacer el cuerpo más atractivo, pero en una manera superficial.   Ahora en nuestra sociedad, el cuerpo no está honrado como la vasija terrestre del nuestro alma inmortal. Para mucha gente, el cuerpo sirve para dar la satisfacción en cualquiera manera disponible.
         El Catecismo explica que “La Asunción de la Santísima Virgen constituye una participación singular en la Resurrección de su Hijo y una anticipación de la resurrección de los demás cristianos” (#966).  La importancia de la Asunción para nosotros como seres humanos es en la relación que hay entre la Resurrección de Cristo y nuestra resurrección. La presencia de María, un ser humano como nosotros, quien en cuerpo y alma ya está glorificada en los cielos es una anticipación de nuestra propia resurrección.

         El misterio de la Asunción de la Bendita Virgen María al cielo nos invita a reflexionar sobre el sentido de nuestra vida aquí en la tierra y sobre la vida eterna que tenemos junto con la Santísima Trinidad, con nuestra Madre la Virgen María, con los ángeles y con la comunidad de los santos.  Sabemos que María ya está en el cielo glorioso en cuerpo y alma. Con este conocimiento, con sus oraciones y sus intercesiones,  nos renovamos la esperanza en nuestra futura vida en Cristo.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

8/17/2016 - Our Lady of Knock - Wednesday of the 20th week of Ordinary Time - Psalm 23

     I think every Christian knows very well the verses of the 23rd psalm, of Jesus as our Good Shepherd who leads us and guides us and cares for us, leading us finally to the life giving waters of eternal life.  Jesus is not only the Good Shepherd, but he is alway the Lamb of God who is sacrificed to take away the sins of the world.  This ties into the story of Our Lady of Knock, a Marian apparition that occurred in Ireland on August 21, 1879.  The feast day of Our Lady of Knock is celebrated today- August 17.  
      On the evening, two women from the small village of Knock were walking near the local church when they noticed several luminous figures. They recognized one of the figures as the Blessed Virgin and the other two as St Joseph and St John the Evangelist.  The family members and other villagers gathered to see the apparition.  In addition to the three figures, they saw an altar with a lamb on it, a cross and angels hovering over the altar.  There was no sound and no verbal message. 
      At the time of the apparition of Our Lady of Knock, the Archbishop made an investigation, but no definitive statement for or against the apparition was made.  Over time, the apparition was officially acknowledged by the Church, culminating in a visit from Pope John Paul II in 1979.  The symbolism of the lamb, the cross, and the altar were seen as pointing to the sacrificial death of Christ and the Mass.  With Mary’s figure in front of the altar, she is seen as the Blessed Mother who always intercedes for us. 
      The apparition of Mary at Knock took place in County Mayo in Ireland in an area that suffered greatly from famines, forced evictions, and desperate immigrations to other lands in the 1870s.  Mary always has a great love and compassion for the poor and for those who are going through trials and tribulations.  Like her Son, the Good Shepherd, Mary is always there for us with her loving care.  Her apparitions such as Our Lady of Knock remind us of that.  

8/18/2016 – Thursday of the 20th week in Ordinary Time – Psalm 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19

      Our psalmist declares today: “I will pour clean water on you and wash away all your sins.”  We can all feel burdened by different things in our lives: past hurts, struggles with addictions, anger and frustration that we harbor in our hearts, the inability to forgive, and the sins we cannot leave behind.  Yet, we were washed away from our sins in the waters of baptism, but we can fall back into our sins and into temptation, in need of conversion and renewal.  Christ comes to us again and again in the sacraments of the Church to heal us – the Eucharist, the anointing of the sick, and the sacrament of reconciliation. In his Easter homily in his first year as pope, in the light of Christ’s resurrection that we celebrate on Easter morning, Pope Francis had this to say: “Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives.  Are we often weary, disheartened, and sad?  Do we feel weighed down by our sins?  Do we think that we won’t be able to cope?  Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if we open ourselves to him.  God will indeed pour clean water on us and wash away our sins if we repent and continue to try to follow Christ’s Gospel in our lives. 

8/15/2016 - Celebrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Monday, August 15, we celebrate the Assumption of Mary at St James Catholic Church in Tupelo, Mississippi. Join us for mass - 12:10 pm in English and 6:00 pm bilingual mass.
“Today the liturgy invites us to contemplate Mary, taken up body and soul into heaven. By a special privilege, she was enriched by divine grace from the moment of her conception, and Christ, who ascended to the right hand of the Father, opened the doors of his kingdom to her, first among human creatures." (Pope John Paul II). 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

8/13/2016 – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C – Luke 12:48-53

      For the last several weeks, we have been hearing from the 12th chapter of Luke’s Gospel.  In that chapter, Jesus is attracting huge crowds who are very interested in what he has to say.  Some in the crowds are his followers and disciples.  They take his teachings into their hearts, reflecting upon and meditating upon his words.  They want to learn and grow from what he is teaching them.  However, there are others such as the scribes, temple officials, and the Pharisees who are interested in what he says, but they’re also concerned about criticizing Jesus and making life difficult for him.  Today’s Gospel is just 5 short verses, but it certainly gives us a lot to think about.  And it is certainly not an easy Gospel to understand.   As disciples of Christ ourselves, we know Jesus as the Prince of Peace, the Son of God who proclaims God’s kingdom of justice and mercy.  But, in our Gospel today, Jesus says that he has come to set the earth on fire. Why would he say such a thing?   He says that he has come to divide, rather than unite and reconcile.   Isn’t there enough division and turmoil and discord in our world already? How could this be a part of Christ’s Good News?
     I thought back to the spring before I left for my missionary work, back in 1992.  I stayed with my dad in the Los Angeles area for a year just after my mom passed away, helping him get readjusted while I worked there for that year.  He was suffering from the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease at the time. On an April morning, I had a work meeting right in downtown Los Angeles.  As I was driving back that afternoon to Orange County, I was hearing news that an acquittal verdict had been reached for the police officers involved in the Rodney King case.   There was a lot of tension brewing in the city.  When I arrived home, I walked in as my two sisters where glued to the TV set, seeing scenes of violence and looting as riots erupted all over Los Angeles, including the very area where I had just been several hours earlier.  It took many weeks for the anger and violence and tension to start settling down.  The division that Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel seemed to be playing out in the streets of southern California where I grew up as a teenager.   Just this week, as I was writing this homily, the front page of our Tupelo newspaper featured an interview with Mayor Jason Shelton, talking about the need for rebuilding community trust and community engagement in our city of Tupelo.  It seems like our world has become more and more divided and polarized.  But is that what Jesus really wants?
        Sometimes we have to confront the reality around us head on in order to eventually solve any problems or crises or tensions that exist.  That is what Jesus is talking about when he says that he has come to create division, creating situations where even households are divided.  We can take the easy way out in life and in our journey of faith, avoiding those things that are divisive and maintaining a faith that is insular, safe, and secure.  We can want a faith that makes us feel good about ourselves and that comforts us and entertains us.   But I don’t think that is the option Jesus wants us to take in our lives of faith.  Jesus wants us to be bold about living out our faith, courageous about proclaiming our faith even when some may find that truth offensive or politically incorrect.   Sure, I could get up here each weekend and preach a homily that makes you warm and fuzzy inside, a homily that does not touch upon any controversial or complicated subjects.  But truly, is Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior wanting us to ignore those harsh realities that confront us as individuals and as a society?  Is he wanting us to put our heads in the sand and not challenge the status quo or  dialogue with the world around us?  Think of those people in our Church and in our society who caused division while drawing attention in their society to truths that needed to be confronted.  I think of St Teresa of Avila and St Francis of Assisi in the reform of the Church; Martin Luther King Jr in the Civil rights movement; Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa in the way we look at the poor and the oppressed; Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in speaking out against the discrimination and racism that existed in the world around them.  All of these remarkable people of faith brought about division and controversy and strong feelings by being prophets and righting wrongs.  If we are going to follow Jesus in proclaiming his Good News and living out our faith, perhaps some of our friends or even family members will think we have gone off the deep and have gone to far.  They may become angry at us or deny that they know us.  They may criticize us and bad-mouth us.  Sometimes we will cause division when we proclaim the truths of our faith, when we proclaim the unconditional and unbounded love that God has for all. 
        As disciples of Christ, we have God’s Kingdom proclaimed to us both as a gift and as a challenge.  We are to perceive the world differently because of who we are as Christ’s disciples.  When Christ’s peace is proclaimed to us, it is a peace that rests in our relationship with God, a peace that encourages us to stand up for justice and the truth.  When I arrived in Jackson in my first assignment as a priest, several parishioners approached me about going with them to the abortion clinic on State Street just down the street from St Richard.  We ended up going almost every week to pray the rosary in front of the clinic to be witnesses of the Gospel of Life that is a fundamental belief of our Catholic faith.  It shocked me to see the anger and hatred that was directed to us as we prayed each week.  I knew that not everyone would agree with our position, but I thought they would at least respect our freedom of speech.  One Saturday morning, when I represented our diocese at an ecumenical prayer service in front of the clinic, we were harassed and shouted at by the police, as they threatened to tow away our cars or to arrest us if we violated any minor details of the permit we had to hold this public prayer service. Such treatment shocked me and spoke deeply to me.  But Jesus’ proclamation in today’s Gospel is not to inspire fear in us. Boldly living out of faith is not to frighten us off.  Rather, it is to inspire us to truly reflect upon what it means to be a disciple of Christ.