SING PRAISE TO THE LORD

This page, titled “Shelter in God: Reflections of Hope in a Time of Crisis,” is finally added to the Diocese of San Jose website. It’s an idea conceived shortly before the closing of our schools and our churches due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its purpose is simple: to collect reflections by our local writers on how the pandemic has affected our individual lives and the world around us in so many ways and what we can learn from this crisis as a people of faith and hope, love and communion. We are forced to take Shelter in Place, but we are not helpless as we find our Shelter in God.

Decades from now, these reflections will be valuable; they will reveal to future generations some of what we have been thinking and doing in this crisis.

No matter what happens today or tomorrow, let us “rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12), for God is our Shelter, our Hope. The title of these introductory words are taken from the responsorial psalm 105 for today: “Sing to the Lord, sing his praise, proclaim all his wondrous deeds”

April 15, 2020, Wednesday within the Octave of Easter

Why Are You There Looking at the Sky?

By a priest of San Jose

Every religion in the history of humanity has wondered where God was to be found – on a mountain, in the image of an animal, in a temple, a church, or in heaven. The question posed by the angels (“two men dressed in white”) at the Lord’s Ascension contributes substantially to our understanding of the Lord’s abiding presence in the world and in the Church.

The disciples looked to the heavens as Jesus ascended to the Father. It was natural; we would do the same. One does not view at an eclipse of the sun or the moon by looking at the ground, so His followers watched the skies as they hoped for His return.

But the encounter with the angels sets them – and us – on a better path. Do not look up to the sky; Jesus will return, will be with us, just as He had promised.

The mystery of the Incarnation – God becoming human – has ramifications long past the earthly life of Jesus. The gospel of John (1:14) narrates that “the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us” to indicate the permanence of the relationship established when Jesus became human.

Because of the Incarnation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us, our search for God, wherever that search takes us, will lead us to that place we can come to know better than any other: ourselves. And if we truly believe that we are made in the image and likeness of God, then we must allow that along our journey toward this discovery we will also encounter the living presence of God in others. This can be difficult, especially with the people we do not like or do not respect. Yet God’s love, like the rain, falls upon all.

But perhaps the most difficult challenge for each of us is to look into the mirror in our pursuit of God. Until we can come to believe that God really lives in each of us, we will not be able to call ourselves to the very best that we can be in terms of love, compassion, sacrifice and care for others. When we see the image of Jesus in our own lives, not as a Person outside of ourselves, but as the One Who, by virtue of our Baptism and the nourishment we receive in the Eucharist, then we begin to capture the meaning of the words to Jesus’ followers at the Ascension: He is with you, just as was promised.

In this time of pandemic, of sheltering and isolation for many, the Lord’s Ascension is an assurance that God does not live “on the clouds” or in some alternate dimension, but here, in our homes, among our families, and in each and every person, the ones we find easy to love and, yes, the ones we struggle to like, if only a little bit. We get on one another’s nerves without trying to do so; we face our own inadequacies, without wanting to do so. But through it all, as we have heard so many times, we are not alone. Yes, we have one another and all of those who are actively giving of themselves for the health, welfare and service of our society and our world. But beyond that, faith assures us that even when we cannot visit our parish churches and share the Eucharist, our God, Who is Father, Son and Spirit, is with us and lives in us. And we are bound still in communion with one another, beyond the walls and the aloneness of our isolation.

T.S. Eliot, in his poem, Quartet, writes of the human endeavor as an ongoing process of exploration and (self)discovery, fitting for us on Ascension Day 2020:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate

When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

Finally, attributed to Saint Augustine, more words for our reflection today: “Seek until you have found; and when you have found, keep seeking.”

God be with you on your journey.

Even Now, We Are Not Alone

By a priest of San Jose

Have you ever been in a waiting room for so long a time that you began to think that “they” had forgotten that you were there? With all of your patience evaporated, you have to decide whether to stay or to go. Leaving isn’t a good idea, because then you will never be seen by the doctor, the repair technician, or whomever you had been waiting for. This feeling – so common to many who are living under the restrictions imposed because of the global pandemic – can lead to reckless behavior, behavior that is triggered by the feeling of isolation or abandonment, feelings so many are experiencing these days.

Sheltering in place is for the common good, but it becomes more difficult as the months pass. There are temptations, as evidenced in the news every day, to resume our normal activities, to be about our business and our play, as if the pandemic has passed and the dangers are no more. We are warned that this behavior is reckless, yet some people act as though they have been forgotten, abandoned, and so they take risks that they should not. For those risks endanger not just those individuals, but especially the most vulnerable in their homes, neighborhoods and society.

The promise that Jesus makes in this Sunday’s gospel passage (John 14:15-21) can offer us consolation and hope. In it, Jesus promised the disciples that he would not leave them as orphans, that He would not abandon them, even though He would soon suffer and die.

Jesus’ promise was not just to those who ate with Him at the Last Supper; it was an assurance, a pledge that the Lord gives to us in the year 2020.

Jesus’ promise may seem “other-worldly,” and that is exactly what it is, for from that other world would come the Spirit through Whom the Lord would continue to be present. The Spirit (of the Father and the Son) would teach and remind Jesus’ followers about all that the Lord had taught and commanded them (John 14:26). It is through the Holy Spirit that God continues to live in our world and within each one of us. It is the way that Jesus continues to fulfill His promise that He would never leave us alone, never leave us as orphans, never abandon us.

The power of the Spirit fulfills Jesus’ promise to be in the midst “wherever two or more of you gather in my name” (Matthew 18:20). At Mass, we pray that the same Spirit will come upon our gifts of bread and wine so that they might become the Body and Blood of the Lord; and we pray that the power of the Spirit will make of us, “one body, one spirit in Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer III). Through the working of the Spirit, the Eucharist is the way Jesus is really and truly present even in what seems to be His absence. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is called upon in the celebration of all of the sacraments, as the abiding Presence of God in our lives.

The hope that we all desperately need today also comes from another world. Hope comes from believing in the God Whom we cannot see and in reaching out in compassion, love and care to the people we can see. Hope encourages us to put the common good above our individual desires. Too often, people who profess their faith in God and their deep love of God find it difficult to love one another. This is a flaw in Christian life, one we must strive to correct each and every day of our lives. And the Spirit of God will teach us, guide us and assure us that we are not alone.

Almost 50 years ago, James Taylor sang a song that was written by his good friend, Carole King.
Its lyrics are encouraging and consoling. I doubt that this song is known by younger generations today. It is probably too slow, too quiet for some, yet it can help us to reflect upon our feelings of loss and abandonment as we continue to cope with life during a pandemic.

I offer a few lines from the 1971 song, “You’ve God a Friend,” and include a link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEkIou3WFnM) if you would also like to hear it.

When you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand
And nothing, whoa, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me and soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest nights

You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am
I’ll come running, oh yeah baby, to see you again
Winter, spring, summer, or fall
All you got to do is call and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah
You’ve got a friend

If the sky… above you should turn dark and full of clouds
And that old north wind should begin to blow
Keep your head together and call my name out loud now
Soon I’ll be knocking upon your dooring at your door

No, we are never alone and each of us has in ourselves the power to be such a friend to others, loving them as God loves us, even in the “darkest nights.”

I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life

By a priest of San Jose
May 8, 2020

I take great comfort in walking with the Apostles, the Twelve whom Jesus selected to be His closest followers and friends.  Jesus knew what He was doing, who He was choosing, and that they were far from perfect.  Why do I find consolation in this?  For a simple reason:  the Twelve were a lot like me. I can see myself in their shortcomings, their confusion and lack of understanding and their doubts.  Had Jesus chosen perfect people to follow him, I doubt many would have followed them in following Him.  But, as it is, since they were beset by weakness and imperfections, many others have had the courage, also, to follow Jesus. And in this I find hope at a time when more than anything else, hope is needed.

The gospel reading for this Fifth Sunday of Easter is from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John and is part of what is called “Jesus’ Farewell Discourse.” It takes place at the Last Supper on Thursday, the night before Jesus died.  During that meal, Jesus spoke to the disciples of what would soon happen to Him; He prayed for them and he consecrated them for the mission to come; and He gave them His “new commandment,” that they love one another as He loved them, even to the point of laying down one’s life for a friend.  And they did not understand.

We can see this lack of understanding in Thomas and Philip. Thomas’ statement (“Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”) could easily be ours, when we feel lost and even abandoned.  We try to walk by faith, but faith does not always point to a clear and precise path. Jesus’ response (“I am the way, and the truth and the life”), while consoling, lacks a certain clarity.  Jesus seems frustrated with Philip (“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?”).

On that night, at that meal, Jesus reassured them – and us – of the good that would come, yet he did not sugar-coat the path that they would have to follow.  Jesus, soon to be the Crucified One, would be their way; His way would be theirs, would be ours, and to embrace it is to accept the suffering of the Cross.  An old Latin expression comes to mind: “Per crucem ad lucem.”  Through the cross to light:  Jesus’ way and our way.  Through suffering to light, through hardship to glory.

It was noted in a recent reflection posted to this website, the early Christian community was called “The Way,” as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.  The first believers chose to follow Jesus, choosing Him as the way that they would live.  And this way leads to truth and fulness of life.

We Christians have had nearly 2000 years to reflect upon the teachings and life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Yet we are no better and no worse followers than were the Twelve.  But just as the Lord chose them, so He chooses us and remains with us no matter what we do or do not do, no matter how imperfect we are.

As Pope Francis has taught since the beginning of his pontificate, the Church is not a group of holy people or perfect people, but people in need of healing.  The sacraments, especially the Eucharist, “are not a prize for the perfect, but powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”  This does not mean that we should not strive toward holiness, but that we should not despair that we have not yet achieved it.

Our weeks of isolation and quarantine have found many families spending much more time together than they have been accustomed to.  This can be both a blessing and a curse.  Kids really want to go back to school and parents cannot wait to go to work again.  At the same time, families have adapted to this new way of being together, to sharing meals together, to spending almost every waking moment under the same roof.  Life has slowed down.  And who can say that this is not good?  When we are able to go to whatever the “new normal” will be, might we not retain some of what we have learned these months – about priorities, about being pulled in too many directions, about taking our families, our friends, our parishioners for granted? 

Dutch Holy Ghost Father Adrian Van Kaam (1920-2007) wrote that “Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. . .For we are like sailors on a ship of unknown destination on an uncharted sea. Very gradually we learn the crucial lesson of existence that we do not ask what life has to give us, but rather respond to what life asks from us. Then the question is no longer what can I get out of life, but rather what can life get out of me.” (Religion and Personality, Image Books, 1964, 24-6)

This time of pandemic has charted an unknown course for our entire world.  It is easy to feel as though we are alone and afraid, tossed about by strong winds and rough waters, as did the disciples when they saw Jesus on the Cross.  Yet He who would always be their Way is also ours.  He did not abandon them on account of their doubts, and he will never leave us.  As we hear so often during this time, we are all in this together.  And we will come through this together.  But for Christians, how much more consolation and encouragement can we find in knowing that Jesus – the way, the truth and the life – is together with us also?

 

Letting Go, and Letting God In

By Deacon Andrzej Sobczyk
April 23, 2020

When I worked in palliative care, every day I met patients who were diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness. Many of them knew that their life expectancy was very limited. It was always a shock for them to hear that news for the first time, and not surprisingly they often reacted with denial. The hardest part, it seemed, was for people to admit that they no longer had much control over their lives. And yet, paradoxically, those few who made that admission, after a period of intense grief, seemed to flourish in unexpected ways. They emanated peace, and even a sense of quiet joy. They experienced gratitude for each moment and each living being. They stopped pursuing a cure, yet they found a deep sense of healing. They were closer to death than ever, but free of resentment and anger. They were filled with pure unconditional love.

Often, these patients did not share their deepest feelings with others, since the people around them were still focused on action, strategy, and maintaining their sense of being in control. Giving up the desire for control meant failure to them, while the patients were actually experiencing freedom, liberation, and enlightenment. Their old expectations, desires, and attachments had died, and they were already living a new life of resurrection, free of their previous limitations.

Today, because of the coronavirus, a much larger percentage of us realizes how illusory our sense of control has been. Just weeks ago, the economy was strong, the stock market was booming, and many felt very confident about their future. Now, some of those same people are jobless, on the brink of bankruptcy, and afraid for their lives. Proud leaders of powerful nations have been stricken with illness as well.

We need to do everything possible to protect and save lives. Every single life is precious and worth fighting for. At the same time, even if the current grim predictions of 100,000 to 240,000 US casualties materialize, 99.9% of us are going to survive. That is, we are not going to die physically due to this virus, but something will in fact die in all of us. We will all experience some kind of a loss; not the least among them is the loss of the illusion of being fully in control over our lives. And as painful as it is to experience that loss, it can also be a blessing, for we might become more open to new life.

I wish this virus never happened and I do not believe that God sent it upon us. But I do believe that God wants us to experience the fullness of life, which comes when we are willing to hand the controls over to God. With a new sense of freedom and a willingness to go where we are sent will come a greater sense of peace, joy and contentment, a recognition that all life is sacred and everything belongs. We may also experience a sense of awe and appreciation of the little things, an attitude of gratefulness, and an abundance of new creativity. God’s mercy and unconditional love are stronger than death.

Thy Will Be Done

By a priest of San Jose
May 7, 2020

I recently heard about a clinical study to see whether prayer “works.”  A Kansas City doctor’s idea is to get people to pray for 500 ICU patients suffering from COVID-19 and, after a while, to see whether those sick people got better in comparison to 500 other patients (the “control” group) who had no one praying for them.  The four-month study, which began on May 1, is open to Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and Christians and will determine “the role of remote intercessory multi-denominational prayer on clinical outcomes in COVID-19 patients.”

It will be very interesting when the results are published.

Our notion of prayer often resembles our relationship with either a vending machine or a slot machine.  People of deep faith can lean on the God who gives what they want if they just ask in the right way, like a machine that dispenses soft drinks or candy.  Others might consider prayer more like putting money into a slot machine.  Eventually, something may come out of it.  It is just a chance one takes.

But what underlies both ideas is that the purpose of prayer is to change God’s mind, for God to do as we ask in prayer.  It is the reverse of the prayer that Jesus taught, as we pray not for God’s will to be done, but for God to do what we want, to give us what we pray for.

This is not to deny that God has and does intervene in human history and that God cares for and loves the universe, our world and every person on it.  However, the ideas of God as either a divine magician or a genie granting wishes are not truly Catholic or Christian.

The purpose of prayer is to align our hearts, minds and will to God’s, so that whatever comes, we will be accepting of it.  True peace is found not in getting everything we have hoped and prayed for, but growing in acceptance of whatever it is that we receive.  Take, for example, a terminally ill person, praying constantly to God for a cure.  Perhaps the cure of the illness does not happen.  But when the suffering person comes to accept whatever will happen, there is a healing that is far deeper than a physical cure.  Yes, we should pray – and work – for healing, but we should also direct our prayer at aligning ourselves with whatever the future brings. 

Our model in this is the Lord Jesus who prayed to the Father (on the night before He died) that He might not have to suffer, but in the end his prayer was not that, but that He accept the Father’s will.  And if Jesus suffered, how can any of us really believe that we can live without pain or suffering?

Prayer, in the end, changes the person who is praying.  It does not aim at changing God.  And faith leads us to accept that God indeed cares for and loves each of us.

This time of pandemic has reintroduced many people to prayer, and that is good.  We entrust ourselves to a loving God and we pray for the ill, the dead and their families, for all who risk illness in their many ways of serving others, and we pray for a speedy end to the pandemic and to the disruption of societies all across our world.  How and when COVID-19 will be resolved is yet unknown to us.  That it will be resolved, we firmly believe. And that we will get through these days, we also believe.  May our prayer allow us to be strong, to offer one another encouragement and to continue to find reason to rejoice in the Lord Whose love is truly everlasting.

We Hear the Voice of the Good Shepherd. . .Wherever He Calls to Us

By a priest of San Jose
May 1, 2020

This happens to me all the time. . .or at least it did before the Great Lockdown!  When out to Costco or the mall, I hear someone call my name as they walk over to greet me.  There is a welcome familiarity there, but I just cannot place the person:  How do I know him?  Where have I seen her?  Inevitably, these individuals are parishioners from a parish I once served, but when we meet outside the familiar context of the parish, I am at a loss as I struggle to identify them before I embarrass myself.

Perhaps it is the way we are “wired,” but as it is often said, what is most important is “location, location, location.”   How true! We recognize “church people” at church; but here we are now, unable to go to church.  Our liturgical “encounters” are reduced to virtual gatherings, connected not by proximity, but by the thin, ethereal strands of photons that we call livestreaming.  It is a one-way experience.  The priest who celebrates Mass looks at a camera and the “unassembled liturgical assembly” has no real sense of who else is part of the virtual celebration, save for comments that scroll along the right side of the screen, comments that seem to be a new form of whispering during Mass, a virtual greeting, wave or hug. The location of our Sunday liturgy has moved from our parish churches to the sofas and easy chairs in our living rooms.  A new location, indeed.

French Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac taught that “Eucharist makes the Church” and the Second Vatican Council set as a goal for liturgy the “full, active, conscious participation” of the faithful. But now, in the throes of a global pandemic, unable to gather in our churches, we have resorted, by necessity to “virtual” Sunday and daily Mass.  What does it mean to be “virtual”?  According to Webopedia.com, “The opposite of virtual is real, absolute, or physical.” By logical extension, that which is virtual may be characterized as unreal, short-term, or ethereal.  So does virtual Eucharist make a virtual Church, a Church that is unreal, short-term or only ethereal?  Is Eucharist now no more than a “spectator sport”?  I do not think so.

The gospel this Fourth Sunday of Easter (John 10:1-10) offers us hope, even in – or particularly in – these times.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls His sheep by name.  They know His voice and they follow.  Jesus gathers them, guards them and protects them.  Because the sheep know the Shepherd, they will follow him.  Even in unexpected places, His voice is familiar.

From the moment of our Baptism, we are “wired” to hear and to recognize Him. 

For in the Lord, there is nothing virtual, but only that which is truly real, absolute and substantive. His love is for all of us, but even more importantly, that love is for each and every one of us.  And so we hear the Lord’s voice by new means and in different locations.  We hear the word of God proclaimed through our televisions and computer displays.  The spiritual bond of Baptism unites us, even though we are scattered.  The bond of Spiritual Communion, what we used to call “Communion of Desire,” connects – brings us into communion – with the Lord and, through Him, with one another.

Our sheltering in place and physical distancing continues.  It is painful for many of us, but it is for the good of all, for the health of our society and of our world.  As Saint Paul asks in the Letter to the Romans, “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?”  The Apostle answers these questions: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (cf. Romans 8:35, ff). 

Sheltered and distanced, you and I can never be separated from the love of God.  And the Good Shepherd who serves also as the gate, will protect our comings and our goings. 

Listen for His voice, for He is the Word of God’s own love, living in our midst.

 

He Met Them on the Road to Emmaus. . .and Meets Us Now Wherever We Are

By Msgr. Fran Cilia
April 23, 2020

The two disciples were tired, disappointed, and they were going home.
The journey was about seven miles, no more than two or three hours.
Jesus was on their mind, in their thoughts, and likely in their words.
“We had hoped,” they said, “that he was the one we had been waiting for.”

And Jesus, the topic of their thoughts and words, appeared to them.

They did not go to a holy site, to the temple, the synagogue, or even down to the river. Jesus met them on that road, somewhere between Jerusalem and Emmaus.

He opened their minds, their hearts, and their very selves to understand and even to recognize Him, in their home, around their table, in the breaking of the bread. The Lord spoke to their hearts as He broke open for them the words of the Scriptures.

Nearly twenty centuries and 7,500 miles removed from Emmaus, as we also wait in hope for an end to our pandemic, our sheltering and distancing, many who read these words are distressed that once again this weekend we will not be allowed to go to church, to gather as a community of faith, and to celebrate the Eucharist. While this is true and it is distressing, our reading of the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Saint Luke should fill us with courage, with faith and with hope.

For as Jesus met Cleopas and his companion where they were, so the same Lord does not put upon us expectations that we cannot meet. The Lord Jesus comes to us whenever and wherever we call upon him: sheltered in our homes, afraid in our isolation, or anxious in our quarantine. Whenever and wherever we call upon Him, He is present to us; and the Lord shares the same word, the good news, that the tragedies of our lives are not to mark us for eternity.

During the weeks that will soon become the months of our isolation, we can take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is present in so many ways. As Catholics, we focus on the Real Presence of the Eucharist: Christ Himself, “body and blood, soul and divinity,” is really and truly with us in the Eucharist. We also believe that the Lord is truly present in God’s word, the Scriptures. We need not be in church to open the Bible or even just the readings assigned for Mass on Sunday or weekdays [see http://usccb.org/bible/readings for the readings of the day, or http://usccb.org/bible/readings-audio.cfm to hear the readings].

We do not always remember – or live by – the Lord’s teaching, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). But if we do, we can form the domestic church, which Saint John Paul II described during Mass at New York’s Aqueduct Race Track on October 6, 1995: “The Domestic church is a church in the home as it were, where God is honored, his law is respected, prayer is a normal event, virtue is transmitted by word and example, and everyone shares the hopes, the problems and sufferings of everyone else.” The family, sheltered and even separated from other families are not simply “viewers” of an online Mass, but in their very home they create the Church of Christ who is known, celebrated and worshipped as they open the word of God and strive to live it to their best.

Christ Himself comes to meet us where we are and he shows Himself to us, here in San Jose or Gilroy or Palo Alto, and in all of the cities and towns in between, as He did that night on the way to Emmaus.

 

 

Who Can Say That There Was No Holy Week This Year?

Reflection by a city priest
April 20, 2020

St. Peter’s Square was empty, the media reported.
Even before the holiest week, on a dark Friday evening,
leading the “Urbi and Orbi” blessing and prayer for Rome and the World,
“Pope Francesco was standing alone,
under the rain, praying for it to end,”
delivering “an iconic image that stirred a country’s soul.” (1)

Churches in many parts of the globe were shut down,
public Masses and gatherings were suspended,
worship spaces became hauntingly empty and eerily silent.
Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday came and passed silently.
There were no prayers and incense, no hymns and processions with big crowds,
no Passion Narrative, no foot washing, no adoration of the Cross in packed churches.

There was even no noticeable sign of the mother of all liturgies:
The Easter Vigil – the most glorious celebration of the Sacred Triduum.
The rising sun shed light on a surreally quiet Resurrection Sunday.
Church bells in Montréal rang loudly this day to spread hope and comfort.
Was it God’s answer to the “thick darkness…over our squares, our streets and our cities;
it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void”?(2)

Nevertheless human hearts were throbbing, minds were searching,
prayers were rising like incense, liturgies were celebrated – only in novel ways:
TV Mass. Live-streamed Eucharist. Zoom liturgies.
They were virtual and from a distance,
but the presence of the Lord and the bond with the community were felt.
The locked doors in Jerusalem (3) or shelter-in-place in San Jose could not stop the Risen One.

Palm Sunday was real in the heart’s longing for the One who came,
in the hands folding in prayer instead of holding a palm frond.
Holy Thursday was real in the care and compassion for the sick – not just their feet,
in the “breaking of bread” through groceries for neighbors and food distribution to strangers.
Good Friday was real in our own suffering and abandonment,
and in hope as we lifted up our eyes from the hypnotizing Coronavirus to the Cross, the Crucified.

Easter Vigil came just in time as we have held a month-long vigil in darkness and fear.
We were not near the Paschal Candle, but the Light of Christ began shining in darkness.
We were not close to the Baptismal Water, but have been refreshed by Christ, the Living Water.
We were not near the Book of the Gospels, but our hearts have been set aflame by the Living Word.
We could not approach the Eucharistic Table, but the Bread of Life is within us.
Our “Hallelujah” was and is continually sung within our hearts.

Who can say that the Holy Week was not celebrated this year?

———

(1) John L. Allen Jr, “Francis on Friday delivered an iconic image that stirred a country’s soul,” Cruxnow.com,  
      May 29, 2020.
(2) Pope Francis’ reflection at the Urbi et Orbi blessing and prayer, March 27, 2020.
(3) John 20:19-31, Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday).

This Easter Finds Us More Like the Apostles

By a priest of San Jose
April 18, 2020

This Easter finds us more like the Apostles than we might imagine.
They were afraid; so are we.
Their lives were turned upside down, as are ours.
They were locked in the Upper Room; you and I are sheltered in place.
The Apostles were unsure of their future. . .need I continue?

And we are like them in so many other ways.

Just like us, the Apostles came in all shapes and sizes.
There was no standard model.

Matthew, the tax collector.
Judas, the Betrayer.
John, the Disciple Jesus loved.
Peter, the Denier. Peter the Rock.
Peter the Fisherman
with Andrew, James and John
Simon, the Zealot
and Thomas, the Doubter.

But there were commonalities.
They slept through Jesus’ agony in the garden.
None of them knew what was going to happen, what it meant,
or what Jesus did with and for them at the supper
the night before He died.
They did not understand.

They were all afraid. They ran.
Except for a few of the women, including his mother, and John. 
And Jesus loved them still. . . all of them.
They were all locked together that night,
the third day after Jesus was crucified.
All but Thomas.

The disciples. . .friends of Jesus. . .were not perfect,
all of them were doing what they could.
As we do today, each trying the best he or she can.
And the Lord came through the closed doors. . .
the doors of that room. . .the doors of their hearts. . .

Why was Thomas not there that Easter night??  We don’t know.
Why wasn’t he sheltered in that place with his brothers?
Why didn’t he believe when the others reported
that they had seen the Lord. Would you?? 
After all, the ten who claimed to have seen Jesus
were still in hiding, still locked up, still afraid, still uncertain.
What kind of witnesses were they to the Risen One?
What kind of witnesses are we?

And how did Jesus respond to Thomas and the others?
Peace, mercy, forgiveness and love.
Forgiven and Forgiving. . .not holding grudges,
not demanding some impossible payment.

Peace, mercy, forgiveness and love. . .
We call this ‘grace,’ for it is God’s life flowing in us.
It is the life of our Baptism.
It is the life of the Eucharist, which we celebrate and receive,
which we so desire, during this long Eucharist fast during COVID-19.

If we believe that we, too, are forgiven,
that the Lord can penetrate the barriers of closed hearts and minds,
that, unworthy as we are, God heals our souls,
then how can we not offer the very same to one another?
Peace, mercy, forgiveness and love.

And if the Lord could enter through locked doors and windows
even before there was an Internet,
so He can enter into all of the places we find ourselves
this Easter Season 2020.

When Jesus appeared, He showed them his wounds.
And in them they saw wounds that were their own, their fears and doubts,
their sorrows, their sins.

 And Jesus healed them that evening.

Just as Jesus will heal us and our world today.

 

 

 

 

The Challenge of Singing Hallelujah with Mary, a Woman of Faith

By Sr. Ellen Hess, VDMF, STD
Bishop’s Delegate to Religious
April 15, 2020

In these times of complete uncertainty, of fear of death and destruction gripping our entire world and nation it is not easy to sing Halleluiah without appearing to be either ignorant or naïve, and nevertheless our faith renewed by the Easter celebration guides us into recognizing the gift of GOD’s life in the midst of our suffering world.

Being able to sing Hallelujah is a healthy challenge for all of us, because it requires a living faith which is capable of waiting, like our Mother Mary, for the new dawn, the breaking light at the end of so many tunnels. A faith, which actively hopes and remains strong despite the signs of death and destruction, a faith, which does not get stuck in anger when verifying how the “poor and vulnerable” are always the ones paying the highest price. Mary’s faith translated the experience of death into Hallelujah, like the wheat grain which died so that many could have life. Her life became the living translation of Hallelujah because she continued to let the Magnificat bloom and overflow in her heart. She became the woman of faith of the first community, teaching the disciples and all of us how to overcome personal and systemic darkness, how to love in the pain of seeing loved ones die, of experiencing the breaking of so many things we took for granted.

Mary’s Magnificat acquires a stronger dimension in Easter, it shows her mature love, her depths in faith and prayer, the depth of one who remained standing at the cross and whose life is a proclamation that Love is stronger than death and that God’s light has sprung forth, in the specific darkness and sin of our world and our hearts, and has created a new horizon and a new possibility of Life. Mary’s proclamation comes to us from the margins of the Roman Empire of Jesus’ time. She had no voice and no vote in that Empire, rattled by wars and diseases. However, her transmission of hope to the disciples has been better preserved than the transmission of power of important officials in the Roman Empire. Easter does not only teach us a profound possibility of life, but also to perceive that “life” in areas and ways that we generally overlook; that are at the margin of any situation, State or Empire  and sometimes (most often) it seems insignificant and small but will yield fruit in ages yet to come.

Easter is also the celebration in which creation joins God’s Halleluiah and to which we are invited to join creation’s Hallelujah. I still remember how we celebrated Easter when I was a child: my parents would walk with us to a monastery deep in the woods for Mass. We would walk early in the morning for nearly an hour and at the same time look out for the first flowers which would announce that winter is over and that finally new life was about to become visible in the smallest hidden buds. The earth, this spring time with all those flowers exploding and blooming and surrounding us, is helping our small faith; they are clothed in redemption, clothed in beauty, showing us the miracle of waiting, of hoping and they speak of the certainty of the beauty to come; they also speak of the seeds of a future full of promise. 

We, as God’s disciples, need these moments with Mary, moments of strengthening our faith so that we can continue our work of sustaining and reaching out to those entrusted to us by our Lord, so that we can sing with them the challenge of Hallelujah as a proclamation of faith and love, in the midst of this difficult situation and in the midst of our daily struggles and challenges.

Suffering, Memory, and Hope

By Fr. Mark Neary
The Valley Catholic – April 14, 2020

During this time of the new Coronavirus—a global illness to which you and I may lose family and friends,  I have found comfort in a saying of St. John Chrysostom:

They whom we love and lose
are no longer where they were before.
They are now wherever we are.

Along the journey of these past twenty-one years I have lost family and friends.  I have lost a good deal. I do not have the life of priestly ministry and I do not have the public life that brought many good friendships my way, so I reframed my life and I live like a monk. The ability to adapt and reframe my day, as well as my understanding of myself living the day I have, has gone a long way in the self-help work that makes me feel life as I know it is worth it.

How did it begin?

I fell! All I did was fall down. I was presiding at a wedding, something that as a priest I did on many Saturdays in church, and I fell.   

Twenty-one years ago, I suffered a spinal cord brain injury, and everything about my life changed forever. From the moment I hit the floor of the sanctuary, I was immediately in pain, and even now I remain in a condition of ongoing debilitating physical pain. After surgery and hospital stay, I was moved to a nursing home. I have been in and out of many hospitals and nursing homes since.

After the fall, I was not able to celebrate the Eucharist; I could not pray the prayer that had become an everyday part of my life.  So what did I do when I could not celebrate the Eucharist? I discovered my memory, which gave me not only the prayer of the Eucharist, but also my body’s memory of aligned motion encouraged by muscle memory.  Gradually, with the coaching of professional physical therapist, that memory gave me the movements of rolling over, crawling, standing and walking.  I can do it most days and, yes, there have been setbacks and some of the losses, but the overall experience is one of progress and the slow return of physical abilities.

Now, during this time of social distancing, you and I cannot go to Church to pray, to celebrate the Mass.

The Eucharist, following the command of Jesus, is a prayer of memory: “Do this in memory of me!” I am almost 70 years old, so I remember when I was in grammar school that the Mass was prayed in Latin. The opening lines of the Mass were, “Introibo ad altare Dei.  Ad Deum qui laetifcat iuventutem meam.”  The English translation is, “I will go unto the altar of God, to God who gives joy to my youth.”  Now that I am older and I find life in an injured body, I look back on the person that I was – who existed before the injury, and I try to bring what was then to the present now, so that I can have it back, knowing that my life will not ever be as it was, but that with the Lord I can make it better than it is. The Eucharist brings the good and the grace of the past to the present and becomes a prayer of hope – hope that right now and then every moment after, we might have the same experience of Jesus that his disciples had, the possibility of making the present moment and the future better.

My work of physical recovery and my work to have a felt sense of the experience of the presence of God in my life has been enabled by my imagination. I do not mean make-believe, rather, the creative act of having in my mind’s eye an image of what I hope the next moment will be and then, with God’s grace, working myself to make it happen. If I can imagine a physical movement, I can work myself to the ability of performing it. If I can see my right leg and foot making the forward motion that will give me my next step in my mind’s eye, then I can get my right leg and foot to make the motion. I have done it. It works well. I trust that God is love and, in praying, I find myself moving toward God and God moving toward me, even if I cannot feel it happening.  It does happen – in a sense we are all in the same boat on a sea larger than the Sea of Galilee.

The physical process of healing my body and the role that memory played in the work of recovery is similar to the experience of being at prayer. Both require the cultivation of an intention. Although today, I cannot go to Church to celebrate the Eucharist, I can pray.

Long before I was injured, I introduced gatherings with the following personal phrase, which became my prayer. When I suffered my life-changing fall and injuries, I often prayed it:

Remember! Whenever you are remembering you are praying
And whenever you are praying
You are not alone!

So, perhaps like me, when you are remembering, you are praying. And when you are praying, you are not alone. I am not alone, for everyone I have lost is always with me, and in the moment of prayer, God is with me.  We can’t go to Mass together these days, we may not have anyone to be right next to us as we are praying at home, and yet we are not alone.

———

Fr. Mark Neary was pastor of St. Cyprian Parish, Sunnyvale (1996-2000) before his retirement.

Bishop Cantú's Easter Message

By Bishop Oscar Cantú 
The Valley Catholic – April 9, 2020

Today, we are seeing extensive suffering. And in these stories of suffering, we are witnessing faith and hope and love that sustain sacrifices. From those who were confined to their sleeping quarters aboard ships to those who have lost loved ones to the deadly Coronavirus, to the courageous and heroic medical professionals who risk their lives to care for others – people are suffering. Each of us is making sacrifices. Some make great sacrifices, like our medical personnel, who because of their exposure in caring for the ill, don’t get to go home to be with family. Others, like most of us, make the daily sacrifice of staying at and working from home. And an unprecedented number of people are losing jobs, income, a sense of security, and more.

As we begin our Easter celebration, I invite us to reflect on the mosaic of the “Tree of Life” at the Basilica of St. Clement in Rome. It presents a profound understanding of the meaning of redemptive suffering, stemming from the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.

The mosaic depicts Jesus on the Cross, with Mary and St. John at the foot of the Cross. From the base of the Cross springs a large vine with extensive branches which fill the rest of the mosaic, reminiscent of Jesus’ description of himself as the Vine (cf. Jn 15:5). Just below the root of the vine is a spring of water flowing outward (cf. Jn 4:7-15; 7:37-39 Jesus gives “living water”). Deer are depicted drinking from the stream. Sheep and other animals are refreshed by the flowing waters, as well (cf. Ps. 23:2)

Thus the Cross is presented as the new “Tree of Life,” as it brings life to all who are connected to it through the branches of the vine. The various figures depicted along the branches are people from various walks of life: clerks, scholars, farmers, and shepherds. In spite of their different states in life, their wealth or poverty, education or skill, they are all connected to life through the vine. They derive their life and meaning from the Cross of Jesus.

As we now celebrate the Paschal Mystery (the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus), we contemplate the key turning point in human history, when Jesus transformed the meaning of suffering. He made it redemptive. With Jesus, suffering became sacrificial (literally, “to make sacred”). Sacrifice can be deeply meaningful, when offered with faith, hope, and love.

In spite of the sacrifices, great and small, we are witnessing in these days, and perhaps because of these sacrifices, there seems to be in the air a sense of solidarity. As Pope Francis recently noted, “we’re all in the same boat.” At Eastertime, and in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, Christians are reminded of the one, Jesus Christ, who made suffering not only meaningful, but redemptive, contributing to the good and eternal salvation of our souls.

In the Tree of Life mosaic at St. Clement, while life flourishes and swirls around the branches of the vine, they all are connected to the source of their life and meaning – Jesus victorious on the Cross.

Now more than ever in these trying times, we are invited to quench our spiritual thirst from the living waters, Jesus himself. Perhaps the psalmist best described the yearning of our hearts, “As the deer longs for running streams, so my soul longs for you, my God” (Ps. 42:1).

It is in this context of faith and hope that I wish you all a Blessed Easter.

Bishop Oscar Cantú

Now, more than ever, your Parish needs your support!
Please give your online Sunday Offertory here

https://www.dsj.org/ways-to-give/mysundayoffertory/

Easter and Fullness of Time

A pastor’s message during the sheltering mandate
The Valley Catholic – April 9, 2020

There’s an interesting contrast between the gifts exchanged at Christmas and those for children at Easter.

Christmas gifts are conspicuously displayed under a tree. At Easter, the eggs are hidden, and it takes effort for children to find them. The Easter egg is seen as a symbol of the tomb and new life that breaks out of it.

After hearing from Mary Magdala the shocking news of the missing body of their crucified Master, Peter and the “other disciple whom Jesus loved” ran to His tomb (John 20:1-10).  They thought they lost His dead body, and, except for the beloved disciple, it took them time to finally discover that the Lord had risen from the dead.

We are not much different from the disciples in their confusion.  We can understand suffering and death; resurrection is beyond our human experience.  Yet, even in suffering and death, life is not absent. 

During the darkness of this dreadful pandemic, like a resilient heart, life still throbs in the “Valley of Heart’s Delight,” as our beloved Santa Clara Valley was once known.  Life still exudes energy around the clock in hospitals, in the community-organized distribution of food to the hungry and in care for the homeless, in impromptu neighborhood grocery deliveries, in the virtual, but comforting connection to relatives and friends and communities of faith.

The disciples of Jesus were confused, although he had given them lessons about dying and rising in nature.  He taught them, “I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit (John 12:24).”  His death and His tomb were merely the threshold leading to new life.  His disciples were looking for a “dead grain,” but He was already blossoming into a “fruit-bearing plant.”

Death can lead to new life, just as Good Friday led to Easter.  Unlike his friend Lazarus, who came out of his tomb, but then would reenter the tomb years later, Jesus was raised from the dead and entered into the fullness of new life.  Lazarus’ rising from the dead was more like a resuscitation; Jesus’ was resurrection, from the Latin verb, “resurgere,” which means “rise up,” or the “anastasis,” a Greek word, which means “up-rising.”

The image of Jesus’ resurrection, found in the First Letter to the Corinthians, is even more lively.  The letter referred to the resurrected Lord as a “First Fruit”: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20).”  This view is significant, as the letter was written in the early 50s A.D., decades before the gospel accounts. 

We know suffering and pain, although we do not like them. On the other hand, we delight in Easter joy and glory, even as we do not comprehend them.  However, despite being puzzled by the mystery of the Resurrection, we still long for our resurrection to fulfill our deepest dreams and hopes.  

The solemn feast of the Resurrection is a call to fullness of life from God. Our life-giving God does not want to offer us an easy life with cheap gratification. God desires to lead us to a true life, true fulfilment with an everlasting future. 

The way to this life requires us to make the leap of faith, despite our doubts, to place our hope in God, despite fears, to love without counting the cost. This way of living makes our lives strong, hopeful, and meaningful, no matter what happens around us; and we are “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body (2 Corinthians 2:10).”

Jesus, the center of this great season of Anastasis/Resurrection, was Himself the outcast, the crucified One. But He totally trusted His Father, completely believed in His mission, and loved his disciples to the end. His resurrection is an affirmation of that way of life, a vindication of a love that is truly stronger than death.

As Christians, we are called to be part of the company of witnesses who believed in the Risen Lord, even though they had not seen him.  Easter is more than a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. It is also an invitation to each of us to take our place in the long line of those witnesses, to the Christian way of living. That is why the first community of believers were known as people “who belonged to the Way” (Acts 9:2).

Christ’s Resurrection is the beginning of a new era, a new life.  Is that not why we only start a new Paschal Candle at the Easter Vigil with the numeral of the current year?  Nature seems to agree, as Easter more or less coincides with springtime (in the northern hemisphere), when creation enters into a new cycle of bursting life, with blossoming flowers and roaring waterfalls.

However, despite the significance of Easter, we will quickly return to the daily demands or routine of our lives. What should continue every day is gratitude for a share in the new life, new energy from the Risen Lord that we have received in Baptism, and a willingness to bring that life to others by our kindness and care for them. When this characterizes our daily living (366 days this year), then our whole life is a living Alleluia, and act of praise of God.

This year, we will all miss celebrating Easter in our parish churches.  But Easter is too great an occasion to celebrate in one day; indeed, it is like a festival celebrated for eight days (octave), and the incredible joy of Easter is extended throughout a season of 50 days.  And every Sunday is a little Easter, the “Lord’s Day,” yes, the day He rose! 

These few weeks (so far) away from the communal joy we experience in the presence of the Risen Lord and one another is like an eternity.  We miss you and we hope to see you soon, very soon.

Have a Blessed “Anastasis” (Up-rising) Season!

Holy Week and Tapestry of Life

A pastor’s message during the sheltering mandate
The Valley Catholic – April 7, 2020

“Teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart”
 – Psalm 90:12

Recently someone sent me a poem associated with #PrayforyourPastor:

Your Pastor has never pastored a church through a pandemic before.
When he opens (his church), people are going to say he should have closed.
When he closes, people are going to say he should have opened.
When he does not shake hands, people are going to say he needs faith.
When he shakes hands, people are going to say he’s foolish.
He’s going to make some difficult decisions to protect the flock
considering everything from your spiritual growth to legal liabilities
that you aren’t even thinking about…  – Author unknown.

Pastors are not the only ones facing the incredible challenges during this Coronavirus pandemic.  Virtually every person, family, community, city, nation, and the entire world, is affected on different levels. Doctors, nurses, first responders continue their mission while even they themselves are especially vulnerable to the viral infection.

A post on Instagram on March 23 is touching: “The sad thing for suspected COVID-19 patients is they have to die alone, catching their last breath alone.” This is because their families are not allowed to be near their deathbed. Priests likewise are kept at a distance and can only pray for them outside their isolation.

This stealth virus can even affect babies who are not yet born. Many pregnant women now have to give birth alone, as hospitals restrict visitors during the pandemic. Others chose to give birth at their own homes, as they are anxious about the impact of the virus.

Christ Jesus Himself endured excruciating pain, abject humiliation, and violent death. In the Gospels according to Mark and Matthew, Jesus suffered alone. The crowd turned against Him. His close friends betrayed or abandoned Him. Everything was out of control. The world turned upside down. On the Cross, in the eerie darkness of nature, He even cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

His cry on the Cross shows us that Jesus, the Son of God, is also the Son of Man, truly human.  “God had one Son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering (St. Augustine).” It reflects the anguished cry of many people whose faith is tested in their suffering.  It reflects the collective cry of humanity in crises, disasters, wars, violence, pandemics.

It was a culmination of His entire life spent in solidarity with other suffering human beings.  He Himself took risks in entering this uncertain world, dared to welcome the marginalized, reached out to the untouchable.

Among the untouchable were lepers; according to the Law of Moses, healthy persons were rendered ritually unclean and excluded from the community for touching a leper.  The purpose of this law was to quarantine the unclean person.  When they had to go out from their isolated place, lepers were required to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn others to keep a distance (similar to today’s “social – or physical – distancing”).

Yet Jesus healed a leper by touching him, although His touch was unnecessary (Matthew 8:2-4).  He healed the leper, and more importantly, showed him that he was not alone, even in isolation and marginalization. His physical outreach, even without the physical healing, already healed the leper on the emotional and deeper level.

What Jesus painfully uttered on the Cross was the beginning of Psalm 22.  It’s one of more than 50 psalms under the lamentation category in the Book of Psalms, a Jewish national repertoire of 150 hymns.  Psalm 22 first cries out to God, then laments for the suffering, speaks of enemies who mocked the psalmist for his fidelity to God, but concludes in praising God, who heard and responded to the cry of the afflicted. This psalm is a hymn expressing both helplessness and trust in God and in his plan.

In the dark valley of life, it helps to see the big picture and to take the long view. Maria von Trapp (1905-1987), the real-life person whose story inspired the popular musical, “The Sound of Music,” wrote: “It will be very interesting one day to follow the pattern of our life as it is spread out like a beautiful tapestry… In looking back we can discover how a red thread goes through the pattern of our life: the Will of God.”

The tapestry of Jesus’ life was not finished on the Cross or the Tomb on Good Friday. It culminated in his Resurrection, when he passed over to the fullness of life on Easter morning. In the Gospel according to Saint John, Jesus does not pray to be spared of suffering and death, but sees it as the very purpose for His coming into the world: “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?”

The Gospel of John views both the Death and Resurrection of Jesus as His Hour of Glorification. That is why at every Mass we celebrate both the Lord’s Death and His Resurrection: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again.”

In this Week of Our Salvation (the Eastern Church’s term for Holy Week), let us reflect on Jesus’ tapestry of life, the tapestry of our own individual lives, and the tapestry of the history of humanity.  May we see the red thread that goes through the tapestry of life and history: God’s loving care for us, God’s closeness to us, most especially when we feel alone.

Illustrated image: Jesus is alone in the Last Supper sculpture at the Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, TX

Bringing Holy Week Home in a Time of Pandemic

By Msgr. Francis V. Cilia
The Valley Catholic – April 7, 2020

We are preparing to celebrate Holy Week under extraordinary circumstances, in a time of pandemic, a week in which our celebrations will preclude personal participation in the mysteries of salvation and reception of the Eucharist. 

It is in this context that we will soon enter Holy Week, remembering those long-ago events of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Day.  Although sheltered and isolated from one another, we are invited to participate virtually in each day’s liturgies.  Through technology, we are given the choice to follow the liturgies of our own parishes, our bishop, the pope or countless celebrations throughout the world, all through the mystery of the Internet.

However we choose to observe this holiest of weeks in 2020, there is a way we can “bring home” the lessons and the spirit of these days, even when – or especially – when most are confined to those very same homes.

Palm Sunday is a proclamation of the faithfulness of God in the face of the extremes, the fickleness of humanity.  We make ourselves present to Jesus’ joyful and victorious entry to Jerusalem.  Crowds greet him, palm and olive branches carpet his path and shouts of “Hosanna” fill the air.  Our liturgy invites us to join those crowds, to hail the Lord as our King.  Yet in just a few minutes, we listen to the prophet Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant who proclaims: “I give my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard. . .I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 50:6a, 7b).

Psalm 22 places on our lips the response, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  In the Passion accounts of Saint Matthew and Saint Mark, these are the final words Jesus utters from the Cross.  While they may leave us confused as to why Jesus quoted that psalm, every Jew knew that Psalm 22 does not end on a note of hopelessness, but one of faith:  “But you, O Lord, be not far from me; O my help, hasten to aid me. . .I will proclaim your name. . .in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.”  In those last moments of Jesus’ life, even as He faced His death, the Lord affirms his trust, his faith in God.

This paradox is reaffirmed in the ancient hymn that is quoted in the Letter to the Philippians:  “Christ Jesus. . .emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. . .obedient to the point of death. . . Because of this, God greatly exalted him.”

As we listen to, or even take our own part in the proclamation of the Passion according to Saint Matthew, we recount how the crowds who had sung their Hosannas began calling for Jesus to be crucified.  His disciples abandoned and betrayed Him, others condemned Him.  We know the names that are recounted in the gospel: Peter and Judas, Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, Barabbas.

Palm Sunday offers an overture of what we will be celebrating for the next seven days, introducing the major themes that will be highlighted throughout the rest of the week. This would be a good day for us to take a few extra minutes to reflect on our relationship with the Lord, whose love for us never loses its intensity, its focus.  We do so not in some pietistic guilt, but rather in the hope of following His example of fidelity, even in the midst of pain, suffering and abandonment. 

On Holy Thursday morning, Bishop Cantú will celebrate the Chrism Mass.  In normal times, the Diocese of San José celebrates this annual Mass on the Tuesday evening before Holy Week.  At that time, all of the priests and deacons who serve in the Diocese would gather with religious and lay representatives from every parish, mission and chapel for the blessing and consecration of the Holy Oils (Oil of Catechumens and Oil of the Sick) and the Sacred Chrism that will be used in celebrations of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, and Anointing of the Sick throughout the Diocese for the coming year.  Although in emergencies, a priest can bless the Holy Oils, only the Bishop can consecrate Sacred Chrism that is used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Ordination of Bishops and Priests.

The significance of this Mass is the connection it shows between the Bishop’s ministry and the sacramental life of every parish, mission, school, and apostolate in the Diocese.  We are all co-workers in this “vineyard of the Lord,” where priests and deacons share the ministry of the Bishop and carry it out in every corner of the Diocese.

This year, because of COVID-19, Bishop Cantú will be joined by only a few priests: the Vicar General, Vicar for Clergy and the six Deans.  While the Renewal of Priestly Promises usually precedes the blessing and consecration of the oils, this significant annual rite will be delayed to a time when all priests will be able again to gather with the bishop.

The Chrism Mass invites all of us to reflect upon how connected we are to one another in what we call our “local Church,” this Diocese of San José, and to understand how, through the bishop’s ministry, we are called to be one in the Lord.

Later on Holy Thursday, the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper commemorates the Last Supper, what we might call the “First Eucharist,” as Jesus handed Himself over to his disciples.  In bread and wine, they received from Him his very Body and Blood.  Although not observed this year because of Coronavirus concerns, the Washing of the Feet, or “Mandatum,” is usually part of this Mass, recalling how the Lord rose from the table (of the Last Supper) and washed the feet of his apostles.  The lesson of the Mandatum (“commandment”) is simple to state, though not always easy to live: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. . . I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:15,34).

How do or can we wash one another’s feet?  How many ways can we find to “love one another” in the same way that Jesus loves us?  How can we, sheltered at home as we are, show our reverence for one another, a reverence rooted in love and service?

On Good Friday, we celebrate the most somber of all days. There is no Mass, but instead a liturgy of three separate movements. The priest enters in silence, lies prostrate before the altar and, without the usual Sign of the Cross and greeting, recites an opening prayer.  Then begins the Liturgy of the Word, which culminates with the proclamation of the Passion according to Saint John, the Crucifixion of the King. 

After a brief homily, we pray the Solemn Intercessions. These are ten prescribed intercessions or prayers, one for each of the following:  for the Church, for the Pope, for all the members of the Church, for Catechumens, for the Christian Unity, for the Jewish People, for Those who do not believe in Christ, for Those who do believe in God, for Those in Public Office, and for Those in Tribulation.  Each year, the Bishop may add a prayer related to a particular concern.  This year, the Holy Father has sent us such a prayer, to be observed throughout the world, “For the Afflicted in Time of Pandemic.”  It is worth including that prayer here, in the hope that it will become our own in this time of special need:

Almighty ever-living God,
only support of our human weakness,
look with compassion upon the sorrowful condition of your children
who suffer because of this pandemic;
relieve the pain of the sick,
give strength to those who care for them,
welcome into your peace those who have died
and, throughout this time of tribulation,
grant that we may all find comfort in your merciful love.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

The second part of the liturgy is The Adoration of the Holy Cross.  As the Cross is shown to all, we hear sung three times the following: “Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world” and our response, “Come let us adore.”  In other years, all present are invited to come forward and to show a sign of reverence to the Cross.  However, this year, even if we were present to this liturgy and not by livestream, we would have been asked not to touch the Cross, but to make a simple sign of reverence, perhaps with a bow.

At the conclusion of the Adoration of the Cross, Eucharist consecrated at the Evening Mass on Holy Thursday is placed upon the altar.  After the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer,

Holy Communion is distributed, the liturgy concludes with the Prayer after Communion and the Prayer over the People.  In silence, the ministers leave, after genuflecting to the Cross.

Even in good times, Good Friday is a day of desolation, of quiet, the only day of the year in which there is no celebration of the Mass.  In this period of isolation and sheltering in place, when we feel disconnected from one another and from what passes for our normal lives, we just might have a greater appreciation for the Cross, not only in the life of Jesus, but in our own lives.  Usually, our hurried lives do not allow us to pause and to reflect upon the Lord’s Passion and Death.  Perhaps, in addition to spending extra time with the account of the Lord’s Passion, found in chapters 18 and 19 of the Gospel of John, we might also reflect upon these lines from today’s first reading, celebrating the mystery of our Redemption:

Yet it was our pain that he bore,
our sufferings he endured.
We thought of him as stricken,
struck down by God and afflicted,

But he was pierced for our sins,
crushed for our iniquity.
He bore the punishment that makes us whole,
by his wounds we were healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep,
all following our own way;
But the LORD laid upon him
the guilt of us all.  (Isaiah 53:4-6)

As the hymn of the same name asks the profound question, what “Wondrous Love” is this?

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this,
That caused the Lord of bliss,
To bear the dreadful curse,
For my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul. (Lyrics by Fernando Ortega)

During the day of Holy Saturday, the sacraments are not celebrated, except for the benefit of those who are at the point of death.  The liturgy cannot begin until nightfall. In the darkness, a new fire is kindled and from that fire the Easter Candle, symbol of the Light of Christ, is lighted.  In normal times, there would be a procession leading into the church, during which the deacon or priest three times chants “The Light of Christ,” to which all respond, “Thanks be to God.”  The Easter Proclamation, in Latin, Exsultet, is chanted, calling all creation to rejoice, as it recalls the saving work of God throughout history and the significance of this night:

This is the night,
when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children,from slavery in Egypt
and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.
This is the night
that with a pillar of fire
banished the darkness of sin.

This is the night,
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.

Our birth would have been no gain,
had we not been redeemed.

O truly blessed night,
worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!

Underscoring how all of the history of salvation led to the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, the Liturgy of the Word (in as many as seven Old Testament Readings) traces the same themes from Creation through the Prophets, culminating in a reading from the sixth chapter of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans (“Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?. . .You must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”).  The Alleluia, not heard for six weeks, is sung to acclaim the Gospel account of the finding of the Empty Tomb on Easter morning (Matthew 28:1-10).

After a homily, there would usually follow the Baptismal Liturgy, Easter being the day most suited to our Catechumens’ completion of their initiation into Christ and the Church, their sharing in Christ’s dying to sin and rising to eternal life.  Given the extraordinary circumstances of 2020, these rites are postponed to a later date.  There will be no Blessing of Water this year, but simply the Renewal of Baptismal Promises.  General Intercessions are offered and the Liturgy of the Eucharist proceeds as at a normal Sunday Mass, concluding with double alleluias at the end of the dismissal:  “Go in the peace of Christ, Alleluia! Alleluia!

Many years ago, I heard a story, told by one of our priests, about when he was a boy, participating in the liturgies of Good Friday, at a time in our past when there was much more emphasis on the Crucifixion of the Lord than the Resurrection.  Though in his mind, that of a child, he wondered whether Easter would follow that Good Friday, he could not help but catch the scent of the Easter Lilies, waiting to burst from imprisonment in the sacristy, so as to adorn the sanctuary for Easter.  And that scent reminded him, even on that grim Friday, that Resurrection was just around the corner! 

In our dark moments, the scent of the lilies is also our assurance that, just as night gives way to day, so Christ now lives forever in the glory of the Resurrection, a glory to which we are all called to share.  Please take the time to smell the blossoms this spring, and know that Easter glory and hope are always near.

As we sit in our homes, separated from one another, we are never truly alone, so long as we reach out in our thoughts, our prayers, our emails, FaceTime, Zoom, and telephone calls.  The true miracle of the Internet allows us to be part of a common prayer.  Liturgy is “the work of the people.”  We are doing this work in new and different ways, because it is all that we have.  My prayer for you and all is that when we have the privilege of returning to our parish churches for the celebration of Mass, we may more than ever cherish and make our own the sacred work of this people.  Happy Easter to all.

Choosing the Hope of Faith

By Fr. Mark Arnzen
Pastor St. Lucy Parish
The Valley Catholic – April 7, 2020

The new reality of ministry has hit us all like an avalanche. I was on the last day of my annual spiritual retreat when the news filtered in – we would no longer be celebrating public Mass in the parishes of our Diocese. At our Monday staff meeting, we worked, planned, and discussed how this new reality would work in our lives. As we walked out at the end of the meeting, the news came through that we were to begin to “shelter-in-place,” and all public ministry was curtailed.

The past few weeks have been a strange time as almost all contact with the parish has been done through online streaming, telephone calls, and talking from six feet apart. It was not something I was trained to do nor wanted to do as a priest. Building relationships, listening and comforting, sharing good news and celebrating is where we had been, but now we are somewhere else.

This became a stark reality in two ways these past weeks. First is the death of a parishioner. We have had four long time parishioners die these past few weeks, and these moments have been some of the most difficult in my priesthood. Seeking to listen, comfort, and pray with someone over the telephone. Sharing the heartbreaking news of their beloved mother, father, husband or wife’s death, and then having to give them the news: we cannot celebrate a funeral Mass at this time. The silence was deafening, both over the telephone and in my heart. Hearing the soft cries of a daughter or husband and not being able to reach out to care for and comfort them is impossible to put into words.

The second reality is the isolation we are all experiencing, both as priests and the many members of our parish communities. In reaching out to all our parishioners over the past few weeks, we have heard both stories of sorrow and joy, but we have mostly heard stories of hope. The day after receiving a phone call from our outreach team, a widower wrote me a beautiful note that he was doing well but also that he appreciated just hearing a voice from the parish and the prayer they shared together over the phone. We also helped to point people who were in midst of feeling the stress of buying food and other necessary items towards the partnership of Catholic Charities and Second Harvest at St. Martin of Tours Parish. All these moments, both joyful and sorrowful, remind us of how Jesus calls us, even in telephone calls, to be sisters and brothers to one another.

As Easter morning comes into our lives, we know that our self-isolation echoes that of the first disciples after the death of our Lord Jesus. While our time of isolation is much longer than the three days experienced by the apostles and the other disciples, we are experiencing the same fears and doubts about our future as they experienced. This is where, I as a priest, and every follower of Jesus Christ, must look to the light of the Cross in choosing the hope of faith. There is hope at the end of the tunnel, where darkness becomes the light of Easter morning. Our journey has not come to an end, nor have the problems of life disappeared.  Instead, we are giving a perspective that allows us to know that death and darkness are not the last words but rather love and life of Jesus Christ sing out in our hearts.

Bishop Cantú's Holy Week Prayer during Coronavirus Pandemic

By Bishop Oscar Cantú 
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, April 5, 2020
The Valley Catholic – April 11, 2020

We gather this evening in prayer. Our gathering is virtual – each of you in your homes, and Fr. Hao and I here at this Cathedral.

We gather virtually because of the crisis we are experiencing of the Coronavirus. But I tell you that what is not virtual is the power of our prayer. I tell you that what is not virtual is the presence of Jesus in this Altar, the presence of Jesus in your homes, in your hearts, in your minds, and with your families.

This evening we have begun Holy Week. This most holy of times in the year we recall Jesus entering Jerusalem, and we too come to the New Jerusalem with our prayers – our prayers for a relief from suffering, our prayers for our families, for our communities, for our healthcare workers, for so many throughout the world who are suffering because of this crisis. And we raise a voice of prayer—prayer to God. A God who always hears the cry of the poor, the cry of those who suffer, and we raise our voice tonight.

We raise our voice, especially with three specific voices. Three powerful voices that Jesus listens too most intently: with the voice of St. Joseph, of San José—our Patron Saint in this Diocese. The voice of St. Clare, Patron of also this Diocese, as our County is named for her. And the voice of Mary, Mary of Nazareth, and in a special way, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

St. Joseph: because he cared for and protected the Holy Family. He is the Patron of the Universal Church and watches over us. Tonight, we ask him for his powerful intercession for us and for the church throughout the World, for those who suffer. We ask him to protect us, to protect his family.

St. Clare: because she was able to ward off invaders by displaying Jesus in the monstrance. Thus, she is often displayed with the monstrance in her hands, just as we also displayed Jesus this evening in the monstrance. May we have the faith and the strength of prayer of St. Clare to ward off this invasion of a crisis, of the tiniest of invaders, a virus, which has disrupted our lives terribly and brought so much suffering throughout the world. We ask St. Clare to pray with us tonight and to intercede for us – to intercede for the world.

Our Lady of Guadalupe: because when she rhetorically asked St. Juan Diego why he was concerned, and if he was worried for his sick uncle, she answered, “Am I not here who am your mother? I will take care of you.” And so, we ask the Blessed Mother to care for us, to care for those who are sick, and to care for those who care for the sick. For our heroic and tireless medical professionals, we raise a voice of prayer tonight.

The reading from the scriptures this evening from the book of Lamentations presents to us two realities. First is the reality of suffering – the suffering in the world that tempts us to think that God has abandoned us. Suffering is very real. Millions of people throughout the world are experiencing suffering now – those who have lost loved ones, those who are ill, those who care for them, those who have lost jobs, those who lost a sense of security. But, the second reality that the book of Lamentation presents to us tonight is the reality of God’s faithfulness. God promises that he will be faithful to his people, and that he will never abandon us. That promise inspires hope.

“Mercy is never exhausted,” says Jeremiah. Mercy, and compassion, from our God is never spent, never exhausted. What do we ask for tonight? We ask for His presence, His healing mercy, and His compassion to console those who suffer.

“It is good to hope in silence for the Lord’s deliverance,” says Jeremiah. We hope for the Lord’s deliverance of our world, and of our communities. We do so with a cry of prayer, with our hearts laid bare before him. Tonight, we hope in silence and prayer.

Today, on Passion Sunday, we recall Jesus entering Jerusalem. He rode humbly on a donkey. The King, who came into the world, came in humility, and was confident of his power.

Tonight, you and I, those of us who gather virtually on this night… we ride into the New Jerusalem. We ride into the New Jerusalem in the presence of our God with our prayers, and with our cries for deliverance, and with our cries for compassion and mercy. And we do so humbly riding on the backs, and with the assistance, of St. Joseph, St. Clare, and of Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Some have described this virus as an invisible invader, so small that we cannot see it. But it has disrupted our lives and brought society to its knees. And since we are on our knees, we raise our hearts and glance upward to our God.

There was someone else who was very small and yet, tremendously powerful. When Mary appeared 500 years ago to St. Juan Diego in what is now México City, she appeared in the image as pregnant and awaiting the birth of the Savior the Son of God. Remember that Jesus also started out small within the womb, yet even when he was tiny, he had tremendous power. Early in Mary’s pregnancy, she traveled a long distance to greet her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant with John the Baptist. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, “the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” So powerful was the tiny presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb, that John the Baptist in the womb recognized his hidden presence. So too was the tiny presence of Jesus in the womb of Mary who appeared to St. Juan Diego that it moved the hearts of millions of people throughout the land of México 500 years ago to bring them to the Christian faith.

We turn to Jesus in this small and humble presence, in the appearance of bread. And we ask him to exert his power to bring healing to our world. To bring relief to those who suffer. That his power may extend throughout the world – from Italy to China, from Vietnam to the Philippines, from Korea to Japan, from France to Africa, from the Middle East to South America, from India to California and into our homes, and into our hearts.

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Video of the Evening Prayer is available at https://tvc.dsj.org/2020/04/11/bishop-cantus-holy-week-prayer-during-the-coronavirus/

Hope in God Who Is with Us

Monsignor Francis V. Cilia 
The Valley Catholic – March 30, 2020

In the First Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul writes that in the end “these three remain: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” 

We know that love is of God and that God is love; Jesus taught His followers to be a community of love, modeled after the self-sacrificing gift of His life.  Some have said that the Christian life can be summed up as “Love and do what you want.”   

Love is the core of Christian living, but what humanity desperately needs during this time of pandemic is hope, without denying the necessity of faith and love.    

There is a problem with hope, in the ways that most people live it.  For us, to be a person of hope is to believe that things will turn out well, that they will end right, and that that end will be according to our hopes, our dreams and our prayers. It is easy for us to fall into a false hope, which attributes to God the same desires that we have for ourselves, our loved ones, our world, and even our Church.  I say that this is a false kind of hope, because it is not really founded upon our belief in God and divine Providence, but on what we think we know is best for all concerned.  

I read an article recently, entitled “Who Made Us God?”.  The basic premise of the short piece was when we begin to believe that we have all the answers, then we have walked down a path that is not open to God’s grace, but only to ourselves.   

During this time of pandemic, we desperately need to rekindle our faith, our belief that God who has known each of us from the first moment of our lives in our mothers’ womb will never leave us alone, but eventually will lead each of us to unending life.  These days, weeks and months, call us to remember that even in time of isolation, we are never really so distant from one another, that we are walking the path that has been set before us with each other, with our families and friends, our communities of faith and, indeed, with the entire human race.   

As such, it is our personal responsibility to be there for one another, in word, action and prayer.  And it is incumbent upon us to rekindle the gift of real hope in our lives.  Czech poet and president, Václav Havel, wrote that “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” True Christian hope can never be “doom and gloom,” even in the darkest hours – and none of us knows how dark the darkness may yet become.  Christian hope guides us to believe that whatever happens, however things turn out, Good Friday will always be followed by Easter morning.   

Like Jesus, in the garden the night before He died, we can and should pray that this suffering might pass, that all might be restored to health, that the world may soon begin to heal, families’ finances be made whole again.  And we should do our very best to stay healthy.  But, in the end, no matter what does happen, as a people of hope, we trust that God has always been, is and will ever be with us.  Let us comfort one another with this message. 

The Modern Christs

By Deacon Andrzej Sobczyk 
The Valley Catholic – March 30, 2020

We are living in unprecedented times. Most of us do not remember a year when life was affected in such profound ways. We are forced to stay home, grocery store shelves are half empty, streets and highways seem deserted, and we cannot even pray next to each other. Many of us live in fear: fear of someone close to us dying from the virus, fear of the healthcare system collapsing and not being there for us when we really need it, fear of losing our job and income, and worry about our retirement security. We cannot meet with friends, go on planned vacations, or perhaps even visit elderly parents and grandparents. Baptisms and weddings are postponed, funerals are brief, our grief is raw and unprocessed; we cannot even hug the people who long for consolation. We are isolated and deprived of so much that we came to take for granted. To say that this Lent is unusual would be a great understatement. 

In the middle of this tragedy and destruction, among the fallen ashes of lost dreams and hopes, I can see, though, some diamonds forming, and sparkling with the rays of goodness and hope. Healthcare workers are bravely fighting the darkness, risking their own lives while the stock of their protective gear is dwindling. Grocery store workers, pharmacists, delivery drivers, police, paramedics, firefighters, and many others working in essential services are supporting and protecting us with the shield of their own bodies and courage, even as they experience their own fear and uncertainty. Neighbors volunteer to shop for the elderly and the most vulnerable; they donate part of their own supplies to those in greater need. A sense of duty, responsibility, and connection propels all those people forward, and towards others, as they offer acts of kindness, care, and compassion. They might not have time to reflect on it, but they are saving us, offering their unconditional love and suffering for all; they are, as it were, Christ Himself, the One who came to serve and not be served. 

Scientists are working around the clock, racing to find a cure and develop a vaccine. People work from their homes to quietly support the economy and our existence. Spiritual leaders are praying for their communities and all of creation. Artists inspire and entertain lonely people in new and creative ways, people reach out to each other to show that they care and share their jokes to bring a touch of joy. Despite the increased risk, volunteers and non-profit organizations continue to care for the homeless, the poor, the immigrants, seniors, the most vulnerable. We all have a role to play, even if it is just staying home and not spreading the virus to others; in fact, it is an important role, and doctors are pleading with us to do just that, and save their lives in the process. 

The virus knows no borders, and that is scary, but it also makes us realize, more than ever before, that we are in this all together. And I don’t mean just the pandemic; I mean life, humanity, creation, universe and cosmos, I mean Love. We have stopped chasing away the homeless, we have halted evictions and foreclosures. Countries, businesses, and individuals with an extra supply of masks are donating them to others.  

This great suffering has made us more caring and more sensitive to the needs of our sisters and brothers. It has made us all a little more Christ-like. Christ sees all creation as one, and this crisis has allowed us to see the world through the eyes of Christ, even if just for a moment, a day, a month, or a year.  

It is a great blessing to experience this alignment, this intimate connection with God. I have no illusion that it will last forever, although I do imagine it every day and pray for the Kingdom to come. But I do sincerely hope that this experience of suffering and solidarity will help us move at least incrementally forward and closer together in spirit. 

Perhaps it will manifest itself in a creation of a more inclusive and universal healthcare system, which would mean a lot to all the uninsured and underinsured. Perhaps it will be a greater availability of more affordable housing. Perhaps it will be our willingness to pay everyone a living wage and provide paid sick leave. Perhaps it will be a recognition that immigrants are not a threat or an evil. Perhaps it will be a little more kindness, healing, and unconditional love. And that is already a lot. 

The Gift of Time

By Msgr. Francisco Rios
The Valley Catholic – March 30, 2020

Isn’t it interesting how something so small as a virus can turn our lives upside down? Not just our lives, but lives across the globe! We all had plans this Spring, whether they were spiritual, professional, personal, sports, travel, or other kinds of plans that we have had to cancel or adjust.

In Argentina, we have an expression “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” (There is no bad from which (God) will not bring good.”

In the Bay Area, and in many other places in the world, we never have time to stop. When I tell people that I take a nap every day, some say that napping is a waste of time, and some say that napping is a luxury. How many times in the past year have you said, “I would do that, but I just don’t have time?”

Now, we find ourselves with the gift of time on our hands! Within a few weeks, a small organism that had only been discovered a few months ago on the other side of the globe makes it to our area, and now we are told to stop and stay home. Now, we find ourselves doing what we have wanted to do – slow down, spend time with our family, do things that we have wanted to do, but have never “had the time to do.”

At St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Morgan Hill, we have been following the “shelter in place” orders, but we haven’t been isolated – physically yes, but emotionally and spiritually no! We’ve been trying to keep in touch with our community by calling our parishioners to wish them well and assure them of our prayers. We have also been live streaming the Mass and the Stations of the Cross, so parishioners can still see us. But, sometimes you don’t know how much you enjoy the ordinary things in life until you suddenly don’t have them anymore.

One of these is the interaction that we have outside of church with our parishioners. To try to keep this informal interaction, we asked parishioners to send questions to Fr. Sergio, and then we posted videos of us answering the questions seated in our living room. The questions started with why we became priests and what we’d do if we weren’t priests, how we as priests pray, and the questions keep coming in.

It is amazing how we can be distant physically from each other for our own wellbeing, but that technology is bringing us together emotionally also for our own wellbeing. But, it isn’t the technology by itself that brings our community together, it is our faith, our prayers, and our love for each other that brings us together through the technology.

I hope that when this pandemic ends, we will go back to the good parts of our daily routines, but that we will also keep the good parts that we have learned and done by staying at home: being there for each other, being grateful for our families, our health, to be able to stop, make time to think and pray.

Peace in the Storm

By Joel de Loera
Director of Family Life & Spirituality Office 
The Valley Catholic – March 27, 2020

We are living in a surreal situation. Schools have closed. Masses have been suspended. Millions of people have been ordered to stay home for at least the next few weeks. Parents have flocked to grocery stores to ensure they have what they need during the shutdown. Some children are excited about staying home, while others are anxious; and many families are wondering how they will get through during this difficult time.

As parents of six children, four of them school-aged, my wife and I totally get it.  We, too, are trying to figure things out. In this time of uncertainty and anxiety, I’d like to share some reminders that help us find peace in the storm:

It’s okay to feel stressed. Believe me, we get stressed out all the time! One kid starts yelling, another one is whining, the baby takes off her diaper and starts running around the house, then another one falls and begins to cry. The bottom line is this: give yourself permission to feel stressed.

Let your trials lead to virtue. You are not a bad parent for losing patience with your children from time to time.  When we do this, we obviously feel bad. It’s normal. A small dose of “healthy guilt” helps us to work on those areas in our character that need to improve. There’s always room for improvement, right? Scripture invites us to purify our character and genuineness of faith through the different trials we experience, just as gold is refined by fire

(Peter 1:7). Let us ask God to mold us into the person He wants us to be. After all, “we are the clay, and He is our potter; we are all the work of His hand” (Isaiah 64:8). 

Holiness is our goal, not perfection. We can’t stress this enough: be patient with yourself, your spouse and your children. God is patient with us; we should do the same. We all mess up. It’s normal. Perfection is the thought that we can somehow learn to do and say the right thing every time. But, because of our broken nature, eventually we will make mistakes. Holiness, on the other hand, can be achieved with God’s grace. If we ask for it, we shall receive it. Holiness is initiated in Baptism and grows in us as we become more rooted in Christ through prayer, the sacraments, and good works. The foundation of holiness is love, and love is found at home with our families.

Practice forgiveness: When we spend so much time inside with one other, we are likely to get frustrated or upset. Our home should be a school of mercy, love, and forgiveness (see Mt. 18:21-22). To experience true love, we must accept the gift of God’s salvation in the person of His Beloved Son Jesus, who died for us on the cross. As Jesus forgave and died for us, we must also forgive each other and die to our selfish ways. We can practice this every single day, and as a rule, we must never go to bed before reconciling with one another (see Eph. 4:26). 

We will make it through, for Jesus is always with us (Mt. 28:20)!

For more information on the Ministry of Family Life and Spirituality, go here.

Being Church in a Time of Pandemic

Monsignor Francis V. Cilia  
The Valley Catholic – March 25, 2020

What is the Catholic response to our present experience of “sheltering in place?”    

Perhaps the better question is this: “How can we preserve communion when most are denied the celebration of the Mass and the reception of Holy Communion?” 

These are indeed days like most of us never thought we would live to see.  For all of our lives, the one indispensable mark of being Catholic has been weekly, or even daily, celebrations of Mass, culminating with reception of the Eucharist, so often referred to as “the source and summit of Christian life.”  We have been taught that “Eucharist makes the Church.”  And now, 11,000,000 Catholics in California, the entire country of Italy, and so many more of the faithful throughout our nation and world do not have access to the celebration of Mass, except virtually, through the Internet, where we can benefit from “spiritual communion.”    

Our Lent has become a time of a new kind of “Eucharistic fast.”  And for many, this is extremely painful.  How, then, can we remain “in communion” without Communion?    

To answer this question, it is good to remember that in the Eucharist, we share communion, and we are united with the Lord in Holy Communion. We also are called to be “in communion” with one another, that is, not only with those who are present in the Eucharistic assembly with us at any given Mass, but with all believers – wherever they are – who celebrate the Eucharist.  We pray in the third Eucharistic Prayer “that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.”  

The bonds of communion are seen and strengthened in Christian living, which is marked by the life of each person, family, and community, who attempt to follow the Lord Jesus’ command to love one another in the same way that He loves us.  They also are shown by care for the poor, the underprivileged, and indeed, all who are in need.  Our communion is demonstrated by works of mercy, forgiveness, and peace.    

Coming as they do during the season of Lent, we can make these days a real time of prayer, penance, and almsgiving.  We can focus not on some external reality, but on the lived experience of those who suffer, who live in fear, and even those who succumb to COVID -19.  We can and should pray for them and for all who are laboring to help them.    

When we fast from food, or drink, or anything else, we are usually eager to return to them, once Easter has come.  This year, our fasting may necessarily last longer than the 40 days of Lent.  If “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” how much more will we long for a return to the Eucharist, the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation?  It is my suspicion that even some who do not often join us in our weekly celebrations may find new consolation in the Mass, when we are again allowed to celebrate publicly.  At least that is my prayer.  

Finally, I suggest that the readings these Sundays of Lent, particularly the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays, might offer us newfound hope.  To the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus gave Living Water; the man who was blind from birth is given sight by the One who is the Light of Life; in the raising of Lazarus, Jesus shows Himself to be “the Resurrection and Life.”    

We desperately need the hope that is rooted in the Lord who is Living Water, Light of Life and Resurrection and Life, for this alone can renew us in our faith, our hope and our love.  As we hear so often on newscasts these days, we are here for each other, we are in this all together, and we are: religious, lay, clergy, old and young. May the Lord strengthen us, keep us in communion with one another and with all people of good will, and may He heal and raise up all who are bowed down.  

Social Distancing and Spiritual Closeness

Reflection by a city priest 
The Valley Catholic – March 25, 2020

Roger de Bussy-Rabutin, a French memoirist in the 17th century, wrote, “Distance is to love like wind is to fire…it extinguishes the small and kindles the great!”  The disruption and distancing due to a stealth virus that we are experiencing is unprecedented.  How does it affect our relationship to one another and to God?  

In his morning traffic report on KQED Radio one morning, Joe McConnell noticed that traffic in the Bay Area was extremely light.  Without knowing what was going on, one might think that it was a holiday.  Then, the traffic reporter with a friendly voice, usually bearing bad traffic news, gave listeners a hint, saying that on this day BART ran more cars to accommodate “social distancing.”  It was March 17, 2020, the first day of the Shelter in Place mandate in seven Bay Area counties. It was an extraordinary order in response to the threatening Coronavirus outbreak in the region. 

“Social distancing” quickly became a household term during the viral spread.  Now some psychologists are encouraging people to avoid the term, which implies isolation or loneliness, and to replace it with “physical distancing” with the hope that people maintain social contact through other forms of communication and connection.   

Life in the Bay Area since March 17 has become anything but normal. Even from the March 14-15 weekend, all churches and chapels in the Diocese of San Jose stopped offering public Masses and cancelled various activities, even small gatherings.  The faithful were given a dispensation from attending Sunday Mass.  Catholic schools and catechetical classes in parishes were also suspended, and students began distance learning.   

These mitigation measures are implemented as a necessity.  But they go against who we are and what we need in a crisis: being together to support one another.  While sheltering at home, we are together with our family or loved ones. We also belong to the family of believers, even to the global village, yet we have to stay home.  The consolation is, in sheltering at home, we help slow down the viral spread of cornavirus, lessen the workload in hospitals, and save lives. 

In our liturgical and sacramental life, gathering as a community of faith is in itself rich with meaning: you are in communion with the Lord and his mystical Body, the Church.  The Second Vatican Council teaches that our Lord Jesus is present in the liturgy, especially at Mass, in four unique ways: in the Eucharist broken and shared, in the Word of God, in the person of the priest, and in the assembled people of God (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 7). 

A people gathering for worship is even what it means to be Church, an assembly of the called-out ones.  In ancient Greek, when a city called its people together, it was known as an “ekklesia,” which was Latinized (ecclesia) and adopted to designate the Christian community of believers.  Sadly, during these days of sheltering at home or physical distancing, in the words of a minister, “pastors have to tell congregations not to congregate.”  

 
How can we respond to the need of the faithful being deprived of the Eucharist?  TV Mass. Livestream Mass. Zoom Mass.  The Zoom video conference tool allows a community to participate in an “interactive” Mass, where viewers can respond in real time to the presider and to others, “And with your spirit,” “It is right and just.” However, it’s not the same as a Mass with a community in a church, but that’s the next best thing we can have.  

Even for priests who are still able to celebrate a “private Mass” during this time, it’s not the same.  The Masses they celebrate follow the same ritual, but without a congregation they are different. At Mass, we are in the presence of the Lord and also are present to each other. In the Eucharistic celebration, we are supposed to be in communion with the Lord and also with one another.  Mass without a congregation is like sports without fans. For saintly Pope John XXIII though, a Mass properly celebrated, even without a crowd, is not a private Mass, but a public worship. 

During this viral invasion, other than a virtual participation in a distant liturgy, the faithful can be nourished by the Lord through scriptural readings and spiritual resources online or offline. They can pray in their own way anytime, reciting traditional prayers, or using their own words.  In Italy, there’s a hashtag campaign #iorestoacasa, meaning “I’m staying at home.” Immediately the Italian Church launched its own version, #iopregoacasa, “I’m praying at home.”  They rhyme beautifully in either language. 

There are several beautiful prayers during this time of epidemic, some of which mention specifically “Coronavirus,” the powerful enemy that has disrupted every aspect of life, society, finance, economy, and religion around the globe.  A few prayers are innocently called “Coronavirus prayer”!   

 
A stealth, invisible virus could separate us physically, but it should not be able to separate us from one another or from “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).  During these days, doctors and nurses continue their mission despite a greater risk to themselves. Volunteers for Catholic Charities and Second Harvest intensify their food distribution to assist those who are suddenly out of work because of the pandemic.  Neither the virus nor the extra burden can separate them from those who are in need. 

Being forced to shelter at home may not be entirely bad, as people have more time for each other.  Pope Francis did think about this reality and prayed that family relationships thrive while they are stuck at home. But it’s another story if they have to spend more time with someone they can’t bear, or even with their loved ones for weeks without outings or work outside the home. “This is the time to find out how strong your relationship to whomever you live with is, now that you’re going to be trapped in a small space together,” wrote Helena Fitzgerald in The Atlantic. 

For now, we may find comfort in viewing a virtual Mass, but if sheltering at home lasts longer than a few weeks, even through April, are we going to remain patient in adversity and strong in faith?  Are we able to “keep the faith, lose the germs”? That’s the title of Maria Godoy’s March 7 article on npr.org about clergy rethinking religious customs and traditions in the age of coronavirus. 

Another good side effect of physical or social distancing is that there is less traffic, less gas consumption, and less pollution. If the shelter at home order extends longer, a possibility that we don’t want to consider, we may be able to see some mountaintops in Yosemite from our local Mount Hamilton, as in past times, before pollution in the Central Valley and Silicon Valley became a daily fact of life.  And our traffic reporters may continue the refrain, “traffic today is still extremely light, from Gilroy to San Jose and beyond.”  Perhaps some of these reporters will lose their jobs, as they have nothing else to report. 

As Katty Macane said in 1840, “There’s a silver lining to every cloud that sails about the heavens if we could only see it,” and, yes, something good might arise from the current terrifying coronavirus pandemic with its physical distancing.   

Living with Uncertainty

Reflection by a city priest 
The Valley Catholic – March 13, 2020

Do you worry that you may get infected with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) by going to the grocery store, to work, or to church?  Are you nervous when the person standing next to you suddenly sneezes?  Do you wonder when this new virus with corona/crown-like spikes will go away so that you don’t have to live with uncertainty?

Believe it or not, since the turn of this century we have lived with uncertainty at different levels almost continuously, due to terrorism and security threats (2001), church scandal and crisis of trust (2002), economic recession and financial crisis (2007), several disease outbreaks from 2002 to today: SARS (2002), bird flu (2006), swine flu (2009), MERS (2012), Ebola (2013 and ongoing), etc.

The current Coronavirus outbreak seems to be the most severe as it has reached virtually all continents, locked down 60 million people in Hubei Province, China, and the entire Italian population of a similar size, turned cruise ships into outcast vessels that are being shunned by several countries, and put our own Santa Clara County on the map for the high number of cases.  The fear of getting sick, in particular, has spread more quickly than the virus itself, covered the entire globe, and made the financial markets stumble. The psychological and financial impacts seem more evident than the pathological effects.

We want to be in control, but life is full of uncertainty in any area: health, work, finances, relationship, marriage, parenting.  No matter how much or how well you prepare, things can still go wrong.  You don’t know for sure what your future will hold.  You “do not even know what tomorrow will bring” (James 4:14).  There’s always some level of uncertainty, some unexpected outcome.

Your relationship with God is even like an exploration into an unknown, unchartered territory.  There are times when you feel God is right there, other times God seems absent, and most of the time you are not sure either way and just pray routinely.  So don’t be surprised if you have to struggle with confusion or doubts as you walk with God in your journey of faith. 

Just ask Abraham, who is called our father in faith, and he will have a lot to tell you.  Abraham was called by God to leave his father’s house, and to go to a land that God would show him (and his wife Sarah).  But he did not know where God would lead, and how long it would take.  Likewise, God’s promise to give Abraham a multitude of offspring had no timeline or details.  It took about 25 years before he had his son Isaac and four centuries before the promise of land came true.  

God did keep his promises, didn’t he?  Can you picture yourself being in Abraham’s shoes, or sandals?  It should not be a surprise if he was puzzled and confused in his journey of faith. 

Abraham embodied what St. Paul said centuries later: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  When he was still known as Saul of Tarsus, Paul was so confident in what he knew and zealous in what he believed that he persecuted those who followed Jesus of Nazareth. Then one day he was struck blind by a great light from heaven.  Three days later, his vision was restored, and he became a new person walking in the light of faith in the Risen Lord, whom (or whose disciples) he persecuted.  He now became confident that nothing in this uncertain world could separate him from Jesus.

The first disciples of Jesus did not go through that experience, but they had few clues when they began to follow him. They did not fully know who Jesus was, or where he would lead them.  At different places and on various occasions, they gradually realized that the Master whom they were following was more than a preacher or a miracle worker.  Jesus was “transfigured” in different ways before them through what he did and said. They slowly began to comprehend he was the embodiment of what they read in the Scripture.

Still, right before his ascending into heaven, some of them remained doubting (Matthew 28:16-17).  They never graduated from the school of Jesus!  They remained his disciples and needed to grow more in their faith, to walk by faith, not by sight in an uncertain world.

If these days you feel worried by the unknown, fearful by illness, constricted by social distancing or even quarantine, you are only human.  When her Coronavirus-contaminated cruise ship docked in Oakland on March 9, 2020, a passenger said, “It’s kind of unnerving, unsettling that you now would have to step into the unknown.”

Whatever happens these days and the next months or years, remember that Jesus is with you and really understands you.  He took a lot of risks in coming into this uncertain world, to be one of us, to share our human condition, even suffering and death.  In his agony in the garden of Gethsemane before his Passion, Jesus was sweating with blood.  He’s not out of touch with this human world, though it’s a lot different from the world and culture he lived in twenty centuries ago.

Maybe you’re called to listen to the Lord, as a voice from the cloud said to his disciples at his Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  When his disciples fell on their faces as they heard this voice, Jesus said, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”

No matter what life throws your way, he asks you to trust in him, to leave your comfort zone to follow him.  In this time of uncertainty, the only certainty that we have is Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of God’s promise, the reason for our hope. Jesus our Companion said, “Tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). To St. Theresa of Avila in her darkness, he assured her, “Nada te turbe” (Let nothing trouble you).

He can help us walk by faith, not by sight,  in an uncertain world.