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

"With One Voice" (Ricky Manalo) - Catholic Community at Stanford - September 15, 2020
Love of God, Love of Neighbor, Aliens in a Foreign Land

Love of God, Love of Neighbor, Aliens in a Foreign Land
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 25, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

Xenophobia is likely as old as humanity. It is the tendency to be suspicious of or even to have hatred for foreigners because they are “not our own” or “not our kind of people.” This attitude was condemned in Exodus 22: “Thus says the Lord: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” But the history of Israel and of most nations and peoples, and of the United States, is stained with the sin of xenophobia, in the forms of racism, nationalism and white supremacy, and other kinds of intolerance that is based upon a person’s race, religion or place of origin.

This century has witnessed the rise of many forms of intolerance that betray what has long been seen as the moral and ethical foundation of the United States, as embodied in the teachings of Jesus: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

A question arises: How can we attest to love God, whom we cannot see, while resisting or even refusing to love the person who is standing right in front of us? Jesus unites love of God to love of neighbor, and so must we all.

This time of pandemic finds us needing one another more than ever, depending upon the good will of all and regard for the common good. In this time and this place – Fall of 2020 in Santa Clara County, the Bay Area, California – we have the opportunity to focus on what we share, what unites us, what makes us partners in our efforts to ensure the health and welfare of all. It is a time of sacrifice, of freely – even if somewhat begrudgingly – renouncing for at least a while some of basic liberties which we take for granted in “normal” times. Restrictions have been imposed upon us and we have surrendered our freedoms to gather and to worship for the sake of “the many.” We need each other in this. We need to see as our neighbor – using the definition found in the story of the Good Samaritan – as anyone in need, anyone whom we are able to assist. Because that person may be different from us only serves to confirm in us a greater understanding of just how diverse is the goodness of God’s creation and of how necessary is the command to love others even as we love ourselves.

As we continue to shelter in the Lord, we remember that we, too, were “aliens,” who wandered in a foreign land. Let us reach out to all who join us on today’s journey, confident that the Lord walks beside us, especially in these challenging times.

Faithful Christian, Faithful Citizen

Faithful Christian, Faithful Citizen
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 18, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

There are a little more than two weeks before the general election. I long for TV commercials that try to sell me something, rather than the raft of those wanting to buy my vote.

We Californians will decide a number of state propositions, local races, including members of the House of Representatives and, of course, there is the choice before all Americans as to who will serve as president and vice president for the next four years.

I realize that some will object to the mere fact that a reflection that is found on a diocesan website would in any way mention electoral politics, citing the “separation of church and state,” but they are misinformed. In fact, we have a moral obligation to speak out and even to advocate on behalf of or to oppose certain issues before the electorate. This is not about partisan politics, but about how the teachings of Christ and the Church guide us. In this election, for example, the Bishops of California are opposing Propositions 14 and 20, having to do with stem cell research and criminal sentencing, respectively. More information can be found here: https://cacatholic.org/2020_propositions /

What the Church cannot and should not do, however, is to give public support to any political party or candidate for election to any office.

It should be noted that neither the Democratic nor the Republican parties can be called the “Catholic party.”

Earlier this year at the University of San Diego, in a presentation, “Conscience, Candidates and Discipleship in Voting,” San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy began this way:

      In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis points powerfully to the vocation of faith-filled citizenship:

       “An authentic faith…always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it. We love this magnificent planet         on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all of its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The       earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed ‘the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,’ the Church ‘cannot         and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.’”

       It is primarily through the votes of Catholic women and men, rooted in conscience and in faith that the Church enters into the just ordering of society and the state.

       And it is primarily in voting for specific candidates for office that believers as citizens have the greatest opportunity to leave the earth better than we found it.

The full text of the bishop’s presentation can be found here: https://www.sdcatholic.org/bishops/bishop-mcelroy/conscience-candidates-and-discipleship-in-voting/

In this Sunday’s gospel reading (Matthew 22:15-21), Jesus responds to the question of paying taxes to Caesar. To favor the payment of taxes to the Roman empire would enrage his Jewish audience; to oppose it would likely anger the Roman authorities. Jesus’s answer is this: “Whose likeness and inscription are on the [Roman] coin?. . .Then repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what belongs to God.”

What Jesus presumes, and His hearers – and we – know, is that “what belongs to God” are those who bear God’s image. We remember the words of the Book of Genesis: “God created humanity in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). As such, it is we, ourselves, that we render to God, while being faithful citizens of our cities and towns, our state, our nation and the world.

The traditional interpretation of Jesus’ teaching here is the necessity for Christians to be responsible as citizens of their nation/state. In a democracy, this entails participation in the electoral process by studying the candidates and issues and voting according to one’s conscience. It also means recognizing that there are many issues that must be considered in casting one’s vote, that no one issue, important as it is, can override reflection upon other vital concerns that contribute to the common good.

There can be no distinction between being a faithful Catholic and a faithful citizen of any nation. The Christian in the public square remains a Christian. The American (or the citizen/resident of any country) worshipping in Church is still a citizen/resident of a person’s nation.

In this time of multiple crises as we near the end of 2020, more than ever do we need to renew our commitment to the Lord who is always with us and to our nation, which depends upon us also to vote our conscience, motivated always by the common good. Please take seriously your responsibility to cast a well-informed ballot, and do so early enough to be sure that your vote is counted.

 

 

 

 

What Is Really Essential?

What Is Really Essential?
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 11, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

In the first reading for this Sunday (Isaiah 25:6–10a), the prophet announces God’s invitation, made to all people to come to the feast that the Lord has prepared.

The gospel account (Matthew 22:1-14), continues Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of heaven, likened to a wedding feast given by a king for his son. After the invited guests refuse, the invitation is extended to “the highways and byways” so that all may fill the banquet hall. But a man who was not properly dressed was called out by the king, who had him removed from the celebration. At face value, this seems inexplicably cruel, for how could the man have had the proper garment due to the impromptu nature of the invitation.

What is going on here?

Quite honestly, scripture scholars are unsure, but an explanation that makes sense is this: for the community of Matthew in the early Church, it was understood that those who filled the banquet hall were the believers who had been baptized. The “wedding garment” is each person’s baptismal robe, which is to be kept unstained by Christian living. However, mere admittance to the feast is not enough. Each person is responsible for living in a way that is in keeping with one’s baptismal promises. Failing that, he or she will be cast out.

I wonder if some members of our Church consider themselves as having “made it” by virtue of Baptism, heaven having been guaranteed to them, as if they had bought a life-time pass to Great America or Disneyland. In this scenario, the manner of their lives is of no real importance. Membership is all that they need and that is what they rely on.

Today’s parable is as strong a rebuke to that kind of thinking as there can be.

It is true, as Pope Francis has taught, that the Church is like a large tent, to which all are welcome. More specifically, he describes it as a field hospital, treating the wounded, first of their most life-threatening wounds and dealing only later with lesser symptoms. However, even in this kind of church, it is necessary that there be some level of personal responsibility on the part of each of its members. All are called; all are invited; all are welcome, and God’s grace is offered abundantly. Yet there needs to be in each of us a willingness, a receptivity to the gift that is given. While we can never merit what God offers us – the life of God’s kingdom – and it will not be forced upon us against our will.

During this extended time of pandemic, many have had an opportunity to re-assess the direction of their lives. So much that had been taken for granted has vanished like the fog beneath the warm rays of the sun. It can be a time to reexamine our priorities. Faced now with choices as to what is truly of importance for us, we are able to focus on our response to the invitation to share the banquet God prepares for us. We can then develop in our lives and in the lives of our families a greater eagerness to live according to rediscovered values and binding ties.

In this, we can strengthen the bonds of Baptism, not simply because of the fact of that Baptism, but because of the way that each of us attempts to live it out in our daily lives.

Sometimes, we just need to “re-boot” ourselves. Perhaps now is a better time than most to get to the heart of what is really essential in our lives and to begin living according to our newfound discovery. And when the Lord invites us to the feast that He has prepared, we will find welcome and joy that never ends.

 

Joy and Hope in a Time of Distress

Joy and Hope in a Time of Distress
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 4, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

The Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, “Gaudium et Spes,” begins with these words: “The joys and hopes, the grief and anxieties of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anxieties of the followers of Christ as well.”

While the Council Fathers were right to put joy and hope before grief and anxiety in their text, our experience these days seems to reverse that order; our times are characterized more by anxiety and fear than joy and hope. We need not enumerate the many reasons that we are so anxious, but we are. It seems that the longer we are in 2020, our circumstances become even more distressing. As I write this, we have not seen the sun for three days, the sky alternating between orange and gray, due to the smoke from the dozens of wildfires that dot California and other western states.

Because of our experiences these many months now, the words of Saint Paul in this Sunday’s second reading (Philippians 4:6-9) are difficult to hear, not because they place great burdens upon us, but because they exhort us to live in a way that we may find impossible: “Have no anxiety at all. . .”.

Is this possible? Can we live without being overwrought and anxious? Or, perhaps, we need to answer this question instead: Does being anxious solve any of our problems? Can it cure even one of our ailments? In the end, the answer is a definite “no,” but there is a place in our lives for the caution that is born of fear. Otherwise, we might continue to repeat the same mistakes and live with the same consequences, over and over again.

Caution demands of us that we follow safe practices in terms of protecting our health and the health of others; in the same way, we share responsibility for the health and welfare of our planet. Neither can be handed on to the next generation; our individual and common futures are in our hands.

So we must do what we know is right and which is within our power, but then we must also hear the words of Saint Paul: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” It is not that prayer should replace our prudent actions, but that after we have done what we can that we “turn over” our concerns to the Lord “in prayer and petition.”

It was poet and Czech president, Václav Havel, who taught that “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

For Christians, this “making sense” no matter what emanates from a trust in God that is greater than our anxieties and is, indeed, the root of the joy and hope (gaudium et spes) that we can possess even in the bleakest of times. We can continue to “shelter in God” because we trust that God’s love for us has no limit. In this way, then, we can make as our own prayer these words from the passage of Saint Paul’s letter that we hear at Mass today: “Then the peace of God that is beyond all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Let us quote the words of Pharaoh in the movie, The Ten Commandments: “Let it be written, let it be done!”

 

Where Would We Be without Second Chances?

Where Would We Be without Second Chances?
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 27, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

It is said that “Practice makes perfect.” This would never be possible if we did not have second chances, which give us the opportunity to learn from our past, from our mistakes. The simple fact is that we learn by doing, falling off the proverbial bike until we advance to the level of expert.

Jesus was always ready to give the benefit of a doubt, to allow his hearers to learn from their mistakes, telling the story of the man who had two sons (Matthew 21:28-32). One refused his father’s request that he work in the vineyard, but eventually did go; his brother, on the other hand, agreed to go, but then did not. Each exercised his free will. Yes, it would have been even better if the first son had said that he would go to the vineyard and done it, but as many parents know, that might be too much to hope for. Jesus taps into this all-too-common reaction to illustrate the response John the Baptist received from the chief priests and elders and from tax collectors and prostitutes. This latter group, who had first stubbornly refused God’s call to them, were eventually converted to the Lord. Yet those who seemed to be the faithful ones did not live that out by the manner of their lives.

The responsorial for this Sunday (Psalm 25) offers further reflection on Jesus’ theme: “Remember your mercies, O Lord.” As we heard so often during the Year of Mercy, mercy is the name and face of God. On his first Easter as Pope, the Holy Father Francis explained that “God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones” (Urbi et Orbi Message, 2013).

It is no coincidence that the word “mercy” and the word for thanks in French, “merci,” are so similar. In fact, both words come from the French, meaning “kindness,” “grace” or “pity.” The Latin word for mercy, “misericordia,” means “pity from the heart.” The Scriptures make it clear that this is an apt description of God’s love for humanity. It is out of this abundant love that we are given second and third chances, and more. The only limit on this merciful love is in our willingness to seek it as we try to mend our ways, to do better, even to be better.

With a hand extended, God continues to give us new opportunities, mercy after mercy. The Lord continues to call us to conversion, to change our ways, which can only happen after we experience a change of heart.

Even in these unprecedented times, as we live under the pall of pandemic, of racial injustice and wildfires, God gives humanity the opportunity to learn and to grow, to get to the root causes of climate change and of systemic injustice and even to re-imagine our family and professional lives in whatever ‘normal’ will be in the years ahead.

Just as our nation and world are given these opportunities, so are each one of us. Let us not squander them.

 

 

 

So High Are God's Ways

So High Are God’s Ways
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 20, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of heaven often confound logic, as in the parable of the Kingdom that Jesus tells in today’s gospel reading. “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out. . .to hire laborers for his vineyard.” So far, so good. The landowner went out to find more workers, again and again, even as late as an hour before the end of the workday. Still, there is no problem there. There was work to be done and workers were still available and willing.

But the difficult part of the story comes when it is time to pay the workers. Those who worked the shortest time were paid the same amount as the workers who had been in the vineyard all day expected to receive, and those all-day workers were not at all pleased, and so they complained. Even though they had agreed upon the “usual daily wage,” there was at least the hope that there would be equity in what they received. The landowner responds with these questions: “What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”

What did those workers miss? What is there that we do not understand?

It is this: The kingdom of heaven is not something that we earn. It is God’s gift, given to us freely, given out of love. We cannot merit it or deserve it.

The early Church faced the real-life situation of long-time Christians, likely with Jewish origins, who looked down upon others who came to Christ late in life, many of them Gentiles, from pagan religions. The Jewish Christians, who had followed the Law of Moses and then the New Law of Jesus, resented the latecomers. What did they miss?

From the first reading this Sunday, the Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, says this:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.

We think in terms of human constructs, because we are human. We live within the limitations of that humanity, but God is not bound by any of that – except when we attempt to place God within our human framework, which inevitably fails. We need to allow God to be God: all love, all mercy and compassion, the One who calls the last first and the first last.

In time of pandemic and raging wildfires, sometimes we wonder where God is in all of this. As Bishop Cantú assured us in a recent letter about the fires that plague California and the West, God is with us. God never abandons us. Many of our parishes and families have been threatened – or worse – by the fires’ destruction of homes and entire neighborhoods, even as vast areas of our state burned. Hopefully, by time these words are read, nearly four weeks from this writing, the lightning “complex” fires will be long extinguished. In all this, we can never lose sight of God’s care for all, often as seen in the compassionate acts of others toward people they often do not know. Even as some lost their own homes, they continued to fight fires so that others would not suffer the same fate. The words that come to mind are that “no greater love has a person than to lay down one’s life” for another.

It is true that we cannot fathom the mind of the Lord, but in the self-sacrifice of “front line” workers who battle fires or floods or pandemics, I believe we have glimpsed the actions of God in our midst. And we give thanks to the Lord for them all.

Immeasurable Reservoir of Forgiveness

Immeasurable Reservoir of Forgiveness
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 13, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

“When that servant [who had been forgiven a huge debt] had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe’” (Matthew 18:28).

How quickly the servant who had been forgiven so much disregarded the mercy he had experienced from his master, the king, and turned on a fellow servant, showing him neither mercy nor patience. While the king completely wrote off everything the wicked servant owed, actually more than could be calculated, the forgiveness the servant experienced did not affect his treatment of another person.

We should not lose sight of the reason Jesus told this parable: Peter had questioned the Lord on the limits of forgiveness: “How often must I forgive?” And Jesus’ response (“not seven times, but seventy-seven times) and the parable that followed illustrated God’s immeasurable reservoir of forgiveness and the necessity to forgive, even as we are forgiven.

We can easily be offended by the state of our world, our economy, and so much more due to the global pandemic; in the same way, we can likely find more than enough reasons to take issue with others for what they say or do to us. But then we have a choice: How shall we live? Do we hold on to every large and small thing to build a case against, and move to convict, others for what they have done to us? Do we choose to live vengefully, to hold grudges, to remember and to dwell upon all the reasons why we are angry with others?

The teaching from the Book of Sirach states that “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. . .Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. . . Does anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Can anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins?” (Sirach 27:30, 28:3-4)

There are two kinds of ‘common wisdom’ that many of us have received since childhood. One – “Don’t get mad, get even” is offensive in every way and totally out of step with the teachings of Jesus. The other – “Forgive and forget” – while rooted in Jewish and Christian teachings, is not easily, if ever, put into practice. Even when we are committed to the path of forgiveness, forgetting is another matter.

The point of the parable of the Wicked Servant is not to forgive and forget. Rather, its message is this: “Remember and forgive: Remember how much God has forgiven you; remember all of your sins and failings – large and small – that only you and the Lord know about, all of which God has forgiven, and then go and do the same.”

Recall the words we pray so often: “Forgive us our trespasses [sins] as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It seems that the only condition placed upon God’s forgiveness is our ability to forgive one another. And if we truly seek the Lord’s forgiveness, we had better try our best to extend the same mercy to others.

Locked down and socially/physically distanced from one another, it is even easier than normal for us to get agitated, to focus or even obsess on all the ways that others may bother us. It is especially in these times that we need to remember this parable, to remember God’s mercy and, although we are not able to forget, to forgive one another from the heart. Doing so, we will be able to find a way ahead. If we cannot, then we will condemn ourselves to living in the past, weighed down by all of the grievances we have encountered throughout our lives.

For myself, I choose to move ahead. I hope you are able to make the same choice.

 

No Shortcuts

No Shortcuts
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 6, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

“Whether you’re beginning with the foundation or you’re finishing off the second story…the purposeful way you continue to lay the bricks matters. There are no short cuts…” (John Waire)

As the global pandemic stretches into its sixth and seventh months, there is a greater sense of urgency to find a shortcut, a quicker way, so everything can get back to normal. As I am writing this, there has been some news that the Russians have found a cure for COVID-19, but many are cautious, fearing that the vaccine has not yet been tested rigorously enough. The same fears have been raised regarding any new therapeutic treatment, should its rushed development bypass the usual protocols to ensure both efficacy and safety for the public of new vaccines.

It is true that we prefer shortcuts of many kinds: abbreviations for words, we use apps (short for ‘applications’!) to tell us how to avoid traffic, to take new routes. . .often to find that everyone else with the same app has beaten us there and so gridlock is everywhere.

We would like to think that in life there is a shorter way from where we are to where we want to go. . .but often we are just deluding ourselves. You cannot make a cake without all of the ingredients and the time it takes to cook it. Microwaving is not the cure to everything in the kitchen.

Sometimes, actually most of the time, we have to do it the old-fashioned way. . .we have to work. And this is true for us in our relationships, be they formal and public or personal, private and familial.

The television show, “The People’s Court,” seemed blind to this, as it substituted problem-solving with litigation. But it made for good ratings. “Do you have an issue with or been wronged by your neighbor, don’t worry, go to ‘The People’s Court,’ where Judge Joseph Wapner will make all of your problems go away!”

The teaching of Jesus follows a different path, one that brings opposing parties together, working first to bring a peaceful outcome. Only when that fails should the matter be escalated to include others.

Reconciliation, dialogue, accompaniment are always the goals.
Open doors, building bridges, hands extended. . .

The ways early Christians dealt with issues are instructive for the challenges we face today.

How do we navigate and negotiate with those who wrong us?
In the gospel context, it is a matter of our relationship with one who sins against you.
Yet this can be broadened to a person or people who is/are different, who believe differently, who are at odds with us, who hold values that are not like our own.

“Owe no debt to one another except the debt of love” are the words by which Saint Paul encourages us in our interpersonal relationships. It is truly amazing how much can be overcome when the presumption of love and trust is the starting-point, as opposed to a contentious and argumentative disregard for others’ viewpoint.

We need to take the time to speak to one another, to get to know each other.
We need to take the time to learn what we have in common.
We need to take the time to appreciate the differences, the good in others.

There is no shortcut to this – in our world – in our Church – in our homes. To think otherwise will lead us down a path that will prove to be unsatisfying and, in the end, unchristian.

Many of us are spending a lot more time with the members of our families than we are accustomed to doing. This can cause us anxiety as we try to juggle work, school, home-schooling and all of the other aspects of family life. Today, the encouragement to us is to take the extra time necessary to speak to one another about the conflicts we encounter and to remember that the Lord is indeed in our midst.

 

Clash of Visions

Clash of Visions
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 30, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

Just last week, we heard Jesus declare that Peter was the “rock,” on which Jesus would build His Church. Then almost immediately, He calls him “Satan,” the great Adversary, telling Peter: “Get behind me!”

What is going on here?

Nothing less than a clash of visions or paradigms.

Peter’s notion of “the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” is far from Jesus’ understanding of his mission and the life He was living.

For Peter, the Messiah would be the new ruler of Israel. . .God’s kingdom on earth.
All enemies –temporal and spiritual – would be conquered.

Jesus would come in His glory. . .and the Twelve would be right there with Him.

For Jesus, however, it was far from that:  He foresaw suffering and death before He would rise.

Peter wanted power and glory, but all Jesus offered him torture and death.

Peter wanted the restoration of Israel, but Jesus promises a new order, like nothing that has ever come before.

Peter wanted a comfortable, consoling and empowering religion,
while Jesus predicted suffering and death,
His Body broken and His Blood poured out.

This is why Jesus labels Peter as “Satan,” for Peter was taking on the role of the Tempter, the great Adversary, who urged the easier route, the comfortable one, the one that didn’t involve pain.

Jesus tells Peter to fall behind. . .not to lead and become an obstacle, a stumbling block, but to allow Jesus to lead. . .and be His follower.

Don’t we sometimes experience similar confusion when there is a clash of world-views. . .even in our own time?  We see this  playing out in the Summer of 2020, as the pandemic continues to be a plague on society, especially on vulnerable populations.

We continue to work out our own answers to these questions: What are the roles of authority, power, privilege and riches?

Do they allow the elite of our world to do what they want, to deplete the earth’s resources, to ignore the needs of other people, just because they can?

Can they stand by idly as they witness the most defenseless in our society and our world succumb to the worst effects of COVID-19?

Or are those who wield power given significant responsibilities toward humanity, toward our world, because of their privileged status?

Jesus makes it very clear that the Son of Man came to serve and not be served. . .so it must be with us.  We cannot be an obstacle in the path of those who suffer and those who serve them.

Neither Jeremiah nor Peter were prepared for where the Lord would take them.  But once bound to Him, eventually, they chose the Lord’s way that included suffering and service, and the Cross that still awaits all who follow where He leads.

And our lives, like theirs, will never be the same.

An Honest and Straightforward Person

An Honest and Straightforward Person
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 23, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

Saint Peter was an honest and straightforward person

At the same time, he exhibited inconsistencies that plague all people, that make us the complex beings that we are.

Two weeks ago, our gospel reading narrated Peter’s brief experiment with walking on water, which he actually did, until he was distracted by the wind and the waves.

In today’s gospel (Matthew 16:13–20), Peter speaks for himself and his companions in response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”  His answer is bold and, as Jesus notes, it was revealed to him by God.  Yet Peter should get some credit, inasmuch as he was in tune with what God was saying to him.  It seems that Peter was usually in touch with his thoughts and feelings, both good and bad.  In the end, he wanted to do the right thing.  He is a prime example of “the spirit is willing, but flesh is weak.”

In God’s mysterious Providence, Peter was not only one of the Twelve, but the one Jesus selected as “first among equals.”  He was the “rock” (petrus) to whom the keys of the kingdom were entrusted. Sometimes, though, this rock was more like sand, cast about by the slightest breeze.

Jesus’ choice of Peter for his role is an assurance to us that to be a follower, to be a Christian, we need not be perfect.  God chooses and calls us, completely aware (maybe even more than we are ourselves) of our frailties and our faults.  God’s call is not in spite of our weaknesses, but even because of them and our need to be healed of them.

If the Church were made up solely of the perfect, we would not be a church, because it would be a gathering of so few people, that we could not function.  This brings to mind Pope Francis’ words that the Eucharist and the sacraments are “not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (Evangelii Gaudium, 47).

Nourished, strengthened and healed by these gifts from the Lord, we are sent to our world, which is also in need of healing, both in body and in spirit.  We can and will get through the dual challenges of the pandemic and the unrest that characterize this summer.  I am certain that the Lord will heal what ails us and our society, but He looks to us to do our part.  And so we must, whether in combatting the spread of COVID-19 or eradicating racist ideology, speech and actions. 

The Lord works through us, just as He did through Saint Peter.  Let us give thanks that He is always near.

Let All the Nations Praise You, O God

Let All the Nations Praise You, O God
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 16, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

When I first looked at the Gospel passage for this weekends’ liturgy, I must confess that my first thought was, ‘oh, there he goes again. . . Jesus never gets tired of healing and expelling demons. .. good for him, good for the woman and her daughter. And good for us.

Jesus heals. Jesus will heal you. Just have faith. Amen.

But as I continued to think about the reading, and the passage from Isaiah, as well as Saint Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome, echoes of what has happened around our nation reverberated in my mind. Neo-Nazis, white nationalists and the whole lot. . .

Oddly enough, these people would have found a kind of home in Judaism in the time of Jesus, with their first century belief that God only cares for, loves and saves his Chosen People, the people of Israel. All others are of no concern to God, and the Lord will not help them, and neither should we.

We see some of this in the disciples’ hope that Jesus would get rid of the Canaanite woman, one of the groups that Jews most hated and feared. And the hatred was mutual.

It meant no difference to them how Jesus got her to go away – just get her out of here.

And Jesus begins with the ‘party line’ – “I have come for the lost sheep of Israel.” Charity begins at home. I don’t do Gentiles, only Jews. The food on the table is for the kids, not for pet dogs. .

And the woman counters . . .but even the puppies get to eat the scraps that fall from the table. . .

Jesus was pushing her, to allow her faith to show.

And he healed her daughter, happily

Through Isaiah, the Lord declared that “my house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.”

The Psalmist chimes in: “Let all the nations praise you, O God.”

And Paul, traveling around the Mediterranean – to the Gentiles, the unclean ones, those completely separate from the Jewish people and their faith. His hope was that in bringing non-Jews to the Lord, some Jews might learn to follow.

We call the Church “universal,” catholic (small c). It is not for just one kind of people. All ARE welcome. . .just look around. Our strength is found in our diversity. The mosaic, if you will, is incomplete without every single piece. It is the complete opposite of prejudice, bigotry, racism.

On the other hand, the “world view” of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, KKK and the “alt-right” is one of hatred, rooted in bigotry, racism and hatred. They would like the world to look like themselves. Everyone a white Christian. . . pure. They must read their own version of the Bible, that they could justify their horrible beliefs and acts as being faithful to God. Their God, not ours!!

Wikipedia: The movement has been described as a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism … criticizes “multiculturalism” and more rights for non-whites, women, Jews, Muslims, gays, immigrants and other minorities. Its members reject the American democratic ideal that all should have equality under the law regardless of creed, gender, ethnic origin or race.

We must condemn and never remain silent to such threats to our civilization, to our nation. We cannot be even subtly racist. . .We, too, as the scripture tells us, were newcomers, aliens and strangers once. . . in a foreign land.

And may we walk together to God’s holy mountain, arm and arm with all people of good will.

Seeking the Lord in the Quiet Places of our Lives

Seeking the Lord in the Quiet Places of our Lives
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 9, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

Where do you look for the Lord? Where do you find Him? My guess is that it is not always in that place in your lives that you would expect.

We can learn something about this today from the experience of the prophet Elijah.

Elijah sought the Lord as he stood outside a cave, but he did not find the Lord in the ‘rock-crushing’ wind, nor in the earthquake or the fire. Where was God revealed to the prophet? In the “tiniest whispering sound,” or, in another translation, “the daughter of a whisper” or even “the sound of sheer silence.” This is an amazing insight that the First Book of Kings shares with us this Sunday.

Like Elijah, we tend to look for the Lord in momentous events, even naming such incidents as “acts of God” – earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, and the like. Where else, after all, is God to be found!!?? Yet God is not there, but in the still center, amidst all of the surrounding crashing and clanging. There is a need to find that place of silence and stillness; this is not easy in our lives, particularly in a time of pandemic, for we are understandably concerned about the health and welfare of our families, our neighborhoods and our world, as well everything else that troubles us in a “normal” time.

The gospel account of the Apostles on the storm-tossed boat narrates Peter’s bold request, followed by his usually timid action: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” displays his desire to put his trust and faith in the Lord. And he did begin his crossing toward Jesus. Sometimes, we fail to notice that Peter actually walked on the water; however, when his attention waned and he realized how the storm encircled him, he faltered and began to sink.

It is helpful for us to note that while Peter’s focus was on Jesus, he succeeded in walking toward Him, but when he became distracted by the wind and waves, he failed. If he had kept his eyes on Jesus, he would have succeeded in his trek across the water.

The same can happen to us. We begin well in our walk toward the Lord, or in following him. When, however, we are distracted by other people and other concerns, we lose focus and, metaphorically, we begin to sink.

How do we keep our eyes fixed on the Lord at a time when our families are stressed, many are in crisis, and society seems to be in a holding pattern? It is not easy. But, especially at this time, we can avail ourselves of the basic ways our Catholic tradition reaches out to us. We can rediscover or meet the Lord in the Scriptures, opening the Bible to any of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) or the other New Testament books – the Acts of the Apostles, the many letters of Saints Paul, Peter James, John and Jude, the Letter to the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation. There we can sense that the God who knows us is reaching out to each of us, calling us by our names, and holding our hands so that we might see in Him the one who can get us over and through these perilous waters.

It is true that we often look for the Lord in the loud, joyful or tragic moments of our lives, and perhaps we are even able to find Him there. But our readings today implore us to look for and see Him in those less momentous, quieter times. We need to calm our minds, still ourselves and listen for the Lord. And, as Elijah’s experience shows, we will find Him there, in that place where He has remains, in that “still place,” so much like the eye in the storm of our lives. And, yes, in the place where we least expect to encounter Him.

As we prepare this week to remember the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, let us be of one mind in the Lord that never should such an attack be carried out again. And let us remember the words of Pope Francis during his visit to Nagasaki in November 2019 as he prayed for “the triumph of a culture of life, reconciliation and friendship for the triumph of a culture of life, reconciliation and friendship.”

With the Lord, All Things Are Possible. . .Even Here and Now

With the Lord, All Things Are Possible. . . Even Here and Now
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 2, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

Sometimes, we defeat ourselves even before we begin the task at hand. We say, “It can’t be done” or “I cannot do it,” or even “Give up now, before you fail.” And so it is not done and we do not accomplish it. We set ourselves up for failure and prove ourselves to be prophets!

The disciples of Jesus were no different, as we can see in today’s gospel story (Matthew 14:13-21): “Five loaves and two fish ae all we have here,” was their way of telling the Lord that they could not feed the crowd of 5000 men, not counting all of the women and children. Jesus could have reacted in a number of ways. First, he could have agreed with his friends and sent the huge crowd home to find food for themselves. Or he could have bypassed the disciples, chiding them for their “little faith” and lack of understanding, and fed the crowds by himself. But Jesus chose another way. After blessing the loaves and the fish and breaking the bread, “he gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.”

Jesus broke the cycle of “can’t be done” and enlisted the aid of those very disciples who had said it was an impossible task to feed so many. This is the key to the story: without the Lord, the task before the disciples was truly impossible. With Him, all things are possible. Alone, they were powerless, with Him. . . well, you can see the results. “Alone, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

The gratuitousness of God, God’s love beyond all telling, is described also in today’s first reading from Isaiah 55:

    Thus says the Lord:
    All you who are thirsty,
    come to the water!
    You who have no money,
    come, receive grain and eat;
    come, without paying and without cost,
    drink wine and milk!

We do not need to dissect the miracle of how the Lord fed the crowds that day any more than we can try to understand how He continues to feed us 2000 years later. But He does, and the Lord continues to enlist His followers – us – to further His work.

Living in Silicon Valley in the summer of 2020, it is not always easy to balance faith and reason. We can put forward a thousand explanations for why the impossible cannot and will not happen, and from a rational, scientific perspective, “can’t” will likely win the day. But faith can carry the day when reason admits defeat. That is why we use the term, “leap of faith,” for it is a jump into the unknown or, even more, to the Unknown, to God.

Faced with pandemic fears and calls for racial justice, we can choose the path of self-defeat (“How can I or we make a real difference?), or we can ally ourselves with the Lord, who makes “all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). It is this very same Letter to the Romans, in today’s passage (Romans 8:35, 37-39), that Saint Paul wrote those often-quoted words:

    What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?. . .      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.

If we are convinced in the way that Saint Paul was, then we have allied ourselves with the Lord, in spite of our doubts, our fears and all of the reasons we might choose to walk another path.

Today, in the feeding of thousands by the Lord and the promise made to the thirsty, the hungry and the poor, we are invited to renew our faith and our trust in the Lord, not as some far-off God, but as the One who walks with us and invites each of us to join in His work, for nothing will be impossible for God!

In this way, we are encouraged in our efforts to practice safety by washing our hands, wearing masks and continuing to distance ourselves physically. This cannot be the work of some, but of all as we battle an unseen virus.

We need also to join together to cure the sickness – the sin – of racial injustice, hatred, on the part of society and individuals. Conditions that would allow a George Floyd to be murdered by police and then accepted as “the way things are done” must not simply be challenged, but dismantled. This begins with each of us, but it will entail all of us. With the Lord, let us be about these good works.

 

 

Pandemic as a Pilgrimage? Lessons from St James the Apostle

Pandemic as a Pilgrimage?  Lessons from St James the Apostle
By Sister Ellen Hess, VDMF, S.T.D.
July 24, 2020

On the 25th of July we celebrate the feast day of St James, apostle and martyr, who is also the patron of all pilgrims as well as of Spain, where he went to evangelize and where his followers took his remains after he was beheaded by King Herod in Jerusalem. His grave, found inside the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, is the goal of the “Way of St James” – “El Camino de Santiago,” one of the oldest and most famous pilgrimage routes in the Christian world.

The word “pilgrim” comes from the Latin “pelegrinus,” meaning “from abroad or stranger” and references the spiritual attitude of the Christian as someone on a lifelong pilgrimage of faith as described in Hebrews 11:13: All these died according to faith, not having received the promises, but beholding them afar off, and saluting them, and confessing that they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth.

What can St James, the patron of all pilgrims, teach us today, in the middle of this difficult pandemic where we are stuck in self isolation, where travel is limited to essential travel, where many outside ventures are closed and unavailable. What does it mean to be a pilgrim and how can we apply some of the essential traits and lessons of pilgrimage to our lives?

We are all pilgrims and the pandemic has essential traits which are also found during a pilgrimage, the first one being that our ordinary lives have been interrupted, nothing is as it was before, our routines have drastically changed, without having changed our physical location.

The second similarity is the experience of hardship, when the old certainties crumble, when the customs are changed, when we no longer feel secure, when our lives are threatened by an invisible virus, the challenge of trust and abandonment acquires a new seriousness and horizon. That is a good moment to deepen in our spiritual journey. This moment of pandemic can become a liminal place, just like a pilgrimage, where we can encounter God and ourselves as never before. As on a pilgrimage, grappling with difficult situation can become a catalyst for change and for a life journey with more awareness and encounter of God and with others.

Difficult situations force us to question our immediate goals and test our purpose in life. A pilgrimage, or a conscientious journey helps us to reformulate what St Ignatius of Loyola, whose feast day is on July 31st, calls the Principal and Foundation of life, which is to orient our life towards loving, serving and praising God in all we do. These questions of purpose and meaning in the middle of a pandemic can either haunt us or they can open the way to a profound transformation, which is one of the effects of a pilgrimage. Because the journey and circumstances are challenging – physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually – they can become opportunities for change and transformation.

When I completed my first pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela many years ago, I was working as a Campus Minister at a university in Alcala de Henares, in Spain, and went with a group of students along the primitive way from Oviedo to Santiago, it was a transforming experience where I gained many spiritual insights that have stayed with me during the rest of my life.

The first was that you can only take with you as much as you can carry while walking. Invitations like a pilgrimage really narrow down our essentials in life, just as the pandemic. The second important lesson was to experience the power of love and caring as a means to go beyond yourself. Walking and suffering together creates bonds that go beyond words and allow yourself to become vulnerable as well as strong. Humiliating moments like having the blisters of your feet being healed by others become a communitarian celebration of life and friendship. I wouldn’t have made it to Santiago without my students, they were my motivation and challenge beyond any personal goal. I knew that many of them needed to encounter God in new and fresh ways that only a journey away from their old environment could provide. Supporting and helping them I learned that the motivation of love is so much stronger than even my personal accomplishment of walking 350 miles while developing a real painful tendinitis. When I finished this pilgrimage, I chose the motto for my perpetual vows: “For them I consecrate myself.” I am sure most of you either engaged in ministry or having to care for family have had that similar experience.

The third lesson was the importance of community. We all entered Santiago together, as a group, some limping, some carrying double backpacks for others, some with signs of exhaustion, bleeding knees….but we entered together, caring for one another, making sure no one got left behind. Our goal had changed from getting there no matter what, to reaching the tomb of the apostle together, as a group, as a pilgrim church where differences, gender, strength or health did not matter but where the spiritual bond of Christ among us carried us through and made us a living and joyful expression of church, despite the obvious signs of hardship.

Our journey through the pandemic is similar to a pilgrimage, the physical hardship of isolation, of limited access to the outdoors, of limited space is as challenging as setting out into the wilderness. We all feel the psychological hardship of fear, uncertainty of future, and depression and we all suffer the financial crises in some way or other. Nevertheless, this situation invites all of us to a different introspection and reformulation of our goals and purposes, the immediate as well as the existential ones. We are invited to keep deeply connected, never before have I experienced the need for community as strongly as in these times where we are physically cut off from our groups and people, our family and friends.

This pandemic has become a spiritual challenge, a challenge to reconsider what is essential, and it has reinforced our need and dependence of one another. We can only reach our Goal, which is Christ, together, as one Church united in its diversity and expression of faith, and I invite you to continue this pilgrimage asking as did the Prophet Jeremiah in 6:16: This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

 

Buried Treasure and Pearl of Great Price

Buried Treasure and Pearl of Great Price
17th Sunday in Ordinary time – July 26, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

The assurance given by Saint Paul, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28), inevitably leads us to the question of how it is that we love God.  It is easy to declare this love, but it is the manner of our lives that makes the difference.  Jesus declared that there was “no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend” (John 15:13).  But does this mean that to be truly loving we need to die?  Is it not more about the way we live that shows our love, our care, our sacrifice, and our willingness to lay down all that we are and all that we have for others?

We have often heard Jesus’ teaching that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be” (Matthew 6:21).  As we consider the ways we express our love for others in light of Jesus’ example of love, His dying on the Cross, it is good that each of us would follow one’s heart, and so discover what we treasure more than anything else.

In the first reading today (1 Kings 3:5, 7-12), God promises Solomon that he will give him anything he asks for.  Rather than seeking wealth, long life or victory in battle, Solomon’s request is for an understanding heart, which the Lord is pleased to bestow upon him. 

In today’s gospel passage (Matthew 13:44-46), Jesus uses two additional images to describe the Reign of God:  like a buried treasure that was found in a field and like a “pearl of great price.”   The finders of each go and “out of joy” sell all that they have to purchase what they have found. 

What is there that gives us such great joy that we are willing to part with everything else on account of it?  Is it the happiness and welfare of family and loved ones?  Is it the birthing of God’s Kingdom in our world and in our lives?  Knowing what we treasure will help us to find our heart.

Pope Francis commented upon this gospel reading at a Sunday Angelus in Rome:

Faced with the unexpected discovery, both the farmer and the merchant realize that they are facing a unique opportunity which should not be missed; hence, they sell all that they own. Assessing the inestimable value of the treasure leads to a decision that also implies sacrifice, detachment and renunciation. When the treasure and the pearl are discovered, that is, when we have found the Lord, we must not let this discovery become barren, but rather sacrifice everything else in order to acquire it. It is not a question of disdaining the rest but of subordinating them to Jesus, putting him in first place; grace in first place. The disciple of Christ is not one who has deprived himself of something essential; he is one who has found much more: he has found the complete joy that only the Lord can give. It is the evangelical joy of the sick who have been healed; of the pardoned sinners, of the thief for whom the doors of heaven open (July 30, 2017).

In time of global pandemic and a growing awareness of the stain of racism upon our nation and upon our own lives, the readings today can help us to turn our focus to what is truly important, what is essential in our lives and how we bring the values of the Lord Jesus to bear upon the troubles and challenges we face.  Is there anything of such great value to each of us that we would gladly forego all else to obtain it?  In considering the common good, what freedoms are we willing to let go?  What preconceived notions, prejudices, ways of thinking and acting do we confront in our lives in favor of virtue – justice, peace, and love?

We have endured “sheltering,” “distancing,” and wearing face masks – as much for the sake of others as for ourselves.

Likewise, cities, states, organizations and businesses have examined their consciences in a renewed attempt to root out structures and practices – many of them unconscious – that deny the inherent dignity of persons because of the color of their skin.  And each of us needs to do the same.  Treating others with a lack of respect tells more about us than about the person who is the object of our bad behavior.

Some people say that it is easier to love the God we cannot see, than to love the people all around us.  The question to ask ourselves today is this: “How can we claim to love God if we cannot find in ourselves love for others?”  Indeed, our love of God is seen in the love we have for others – not just the ones we like who are like us, but for all, even and most especially the ones with whom we vehemently disagree.

Yes, God makes all things work for the good for those who love Him.  And this love of God is as real as the love we live toward others.  Each is our sister, our brother.  We are responsible before God to show genuine care, true respect and heartfelt love for them.  The buried treasure and pearl of great price are within our reach, if only we let the seeds of God’s Reign take root in each of us, and if we nourish those seeds until they become seedlings, young plants and produce abundantly.

Be the Change You Wish to See

Be the Change You Wish to See
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 19, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

Continuing the theme introduced in last Sunday’s reflection on the readings for Mass, the Scriptures for this Sixteenth Sunday (July 19, 2020) center upon another parable of the Reign of God, which Jesus again likened to sowing seed in a field. As the crop grew and weeds appeared, bystanders questioned whether the farmer had planted good seed or bad. Assuring them that the seed was good, he chooses to let all grow up until the wheat is ready for harvest, at which time the weeds will be gathered and burned.

What does this story teach us here in Silicon Valley? It is not about tending our backyard and balcony or lanai gardens; rather, it continues to offer us an image of God’s reign, which is characterized as growing gradually and administered patiently. While the seed in last weekend’s parable represented the word of God, today’s good seed are “the children of the kingdom.”

The weeds, having been sown by “an enemy,” the devil, are children of the evil one. Knowing this, one might want to root them out as soon as they are identified; however, God does not act this way, as noted in our reading from the Book of Wisdom (12:19), God “gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”

The notions of free will, conversion and repentance are key in Christian thought and teaching. God shows patience, waiting always for us to “see the light” and turn away from the ways that have confused us, misled us, given us bad direction. While virtuous lives are our goal, even a last-minute conversion is better than none at all.

God’s work among us is gradual, organic, taking much time; and God is patient. The question is whether we are patient with others and with ourselves. We see the story of Saint Paul, who persecuted the Church and then became its most outspoken preacher. It is not as if he fell to the ground as the great persecutor and as soon as he stood up he had become a Christian. His path was slow; he needed the help of others before he could regain his sight and eventually request to be baptized.

Just so, we must be patient with what we perceive as weeds in our lives. But patience does not require that we be powerless in the face of evil.

As of this writing, our society is experiencing massive social unrest, sparked by the killing of George Floyd and all those who went before him. The need for change is real and it must come. However, we will never be able to uproot and destroy the structures of racism until the hearts of all are changed. Only after that will we be able to change society in any just and lasting way. As the expression (attributed to Mahatma Gandhi) goes, we must “be the change you wish to see.”

And there are concrete ways we can accomplish this. Father Bryan N. Massingale, theology professor at Fordham University, wrote this in an article in the June 12-25 edition of National Catholic Reporter, entitled, “What do Do about White Privilege.”

Have the courage to confront your family and friends. I tell my white students that they will see and hear more naked racial bigotry than I do. Because when I am in the

room, everyone knows how to act. Sociologist Joe Feagin documents how white people behave one way when on the “front stage,” that is, in public. But “backstage,” in the company of fellow whites, a different code of behavior prevails. Here racist acts and words are excused: “That’s just the way your father was raised.” “Your grandmother is of a different generation.” “It’s just a joke.” “But deep down, he’s really a good person.” “But if you ignore all that, he’s a really fun person to be with.” “You can’t choose your family, but you gotta love them anyway.” “It’s only once a year.” “I wish he wouldn’t talk that way. But you can’t change how people feel.”

I understand the desire to have peaceful or at least conflict-free relationships with family and friends. But as the Rev. Martin Luther King said so well, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Silence means consent. Or at least, complicity.

Until white people call out white people, there will always be safe places for racial ugliness to brew and fester. And people like Amy Cooper will continue to assume that white people will always have their backs, no matter what. And they won’t be wrong. And black people will continue to die.

Change will not happen overnight, but it has to begin now, today, in our lives, our homes, our parishes, our work and in all of the other places we live. Then the Reign of God will again find new growth in us and in our world.

If You Want Peace, Work for Justice!

“If you want peace, work for Justice!”
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 12, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

Sometimes, people of faith can fall into the trap of expecting God to hear their prayers and quickly intervene in their lives or in the unfolding history of the world, to right every wrong. We pray in words such as this: “O, God, put an end to violence, hatred, oppression, war. . .give health to your people. . .please fix today all that may harm me.” And then, when God does not seem to intervene according to our bidding, there can be a sense of great disappointment. Others might just mock the believer, asking them “Where is your God?” And sometimes people of faith can fall into that trap and wonder the same thing.

The readings for this Fifteenth Sunday of the Church year (July 12, 2020) shed an interesting light on some of the ways that God is present in our world and in our lives.

From the fifty-fifth chapter of the prophet Isaiah, we hear this beautiful passage:

Thus says the Lord:
“Just as from the heavens
  the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
  till they have watered the earth,
  making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
  and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
  that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
  but shall do my will,
  achieving the end for which I sent it.”

Echoing these words, Jesus tells the parable of the Sower and the Seed (Matthew 13:1-23). The seed, God’s word, falls upon the earth, landing on the path, on rocky ground, among thorns and, finally, on rich soil. While those seeds that landed on inhospitable places soon withered and died, that which fell upon rich soil produced abundantly. Yet even the latter seed did not sprout and grow to a mature plant overnight. It takes time; it takes cultivation; and most likely, it takes the care of the farmer.

In the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul writes that “all creation is groaning in labor pains. . .we also groan within ourselves, waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:22-23). The image of labor cannot be lost on us. It can be a lengthy process and a most painful one. Just so, the work that God is doing in us and in creation is not accomplished in the blink of an eye, but over time and with much effort. Yes, God’s word does “achieve the end for which I sent it,” but slowly, gradually, like the rest of life. Consider for a moment the mystery of the Incarnation, the taking on of humanity by God in Jesus. He did not spring up full grown, but grew for the usual nine months in His mother, being born as a helpless child. Then, over the course of childhood and adolescence, eventually Jesus matured into an adult, just as each of us.

This gradual nature of God’s workings should not be lost on us as we face grave challenges, first of a pandemic and the shockwaves it has thrust upon every aspect of our lives; at the same time, we are confronted with the evil of hatred rooted in racism, which in its own way is more insidious than COVID-19. A virus has no will, no conscience. It follows its nature in replicating itself and infecting human hosts. Racism, on the other hand, whether personal or structural, is committed by people who should know better than to act upon their most base instincts. The killing of people of color, primarily because of their color, and the many ways in which centuries of their ancestors have known discrimination are intolerable. Perhaps in a matter of months or years, there will be a vaccine for the Coronavirus; but the only immunization against personal and systemic racism will come from within the human heart and the virtuous actions that follow.

We recall again the words of Saint Paul VI, “If you want peace, work for justice!” Even when he wrote them as part of his message for the World Day of Prayer for Peace, January 1, 1972, the linkage between justice and peace should not have been a novel idea. Yet nearly 50 years later, the concept seems revolutionary.

Yes, it takes time. As Saint Thomas Aquinas taught, “Grace builds upon nature.” God works in and through nature and even human nature. And so, it is slow and painful. But each of us can help it along. We can commit to changing oppressive structures; even more, we can commit to changing the ways we think and act. The Church is called to be “an instrument of God’s peace” in the world. This entails each of us to be peacemakers. It does begin with us. Our prayer is not that God will intervene and change all things, but that God will change our hearts and the hearts of all people to begin making changes according to God’s will. After all, each person is created in the image and likeness of God; each is a child of God; each must be accorded the same dignity that we regard as our own.

All of this puts a grave burden upon us, but that is the only way that real change, change for the good will happen. It will be gradual. Even as we celebrate this year the 155th anniversary of the end of slavery in the United States, there is so much work to be done.

Let us hear the call of the Lord and be about the work that He has entrusted to us.

This Pandemic Has Been a Time of Grace

This Pandemic Has Been a Time of Grace
By Msgr. Terrence Sullivan
July 5, 2020

The pandemic of the coronavirus has caused many changes in our lives. Sometimes we focus only on how it has badly affected us, e.g., not being able to do the things we want, not being able to be with the people that are normally part of our lives. However, I have found God’s grace working in me during this pandemic. A couple of examples:

I have become more aware of how dependent we are on each other to do our part.  Because of the pandemic we have learned that to prevent it from spreading, we need to accept it as a real problem even though it may not be affecting us personally at this time. It is not someone else’s problem – it is a problem for each one of us. Each of us needs to wash our hands, practice social distancing and wear a mask when in public. I may unknowingly be a carrier of the virus and unwittingly spread it to others if I do not do my part and take the necessary precautions. – and others could do the same to me. Each of us depends on each other to do what is needed to stop the spread of the virus.

I was thinking about this in relation to other “sicknesses” that have become more apparent at this time: the sicknesses of how people of different races or cultures are treated, of homelessness, of lack of affordable healthcare, etc. While we know it affects other people, we may not accept them as a real problem because they may not be affecting us personally. We can think of them as someone else’s problem. Yet, my attitudes, my thoughts, my words, my actions can affect others. I can unwittingly allow these sicknesses to continue to fester by ignoring them or downplaying them and going about my normal business and in this way allow others to think the same way. Thus, little will be done and the sicknesses will continue. As with the coronavirus, each of us depends on each other accept these as real problems, to see what in our thoughts our words or our actions may be allowing these sicknesses to continue, and then do what we can to change so we can stop the spread of these illnesses in our society.

I have grown in my appreciation of the Eucharist.  I have always had an appreciation of the Eucharist. As a priest, I have not had to ‘fast’ from the Eucharist during this time when all public Masses have been suspended as I can celebrate the Eucharist privately. However, I have felt something missing when I do this. What was missing was the presence of the community of faith. What a difference it is not to be able to gather with other members of the Church to listen to God’s word, to pray together for the needs of others, to join in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, and to be united with the Lord and each other in Communion. I realize more how my faith is strengthened and supported by the presence of fellow believers when we celebrate the Eucharist each week together. I hunger and thirst for the time we will be reunited physically in the celebration of the Eucharist.

I thank God for the grace that I have received during this time of the pandemic to understand more fully our need for each other – be it to address the illnesses in our society or to be supported in our journey of faith. This pandemic has been a time of grace.

Humility Aids Us to Conquer Racism in our Lives and our World

Humility Aids Us to Conquer Racism in our Lives and our World
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 5, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

Humility is the common theme of this Sunday’s first reading (Zechariah 9:9-10) and the gospel reading (Matthew 11:25-30). While the Old Testament passage announces the coming of a king who is called “just savior. . .meek, and riding on an ass,” Jesus extends the invitation, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. . .I am meek and humble of heart.”

Too often, we characterize humility as being false, as though a humble person is phony, insincere, untrue. And this is a shame. True humility, being humble, is as far from being a fraud as is possible. Indeed, the word comes from the Latin, humus (earth), and describes one who is “grounded” or honest. The humble person knows oneself, is true to oneself and does not put on pretenses in order to seem to be something or someone else.

Jesus’ humility is grounded in being, as we say, “true God and true man.” Saint Paul writes to the Philippians of Christ, “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (2:6-8).

In His humility, the Lord becomes the example for all who would follow Him. Our humility embraces the common bond between and among all people. No matter our accomplishments, our failures and successes, all are children of God. However, too often we ascribe worth because of the circumstances of one’s birth or family and place of origin, one’s education, social status, wealth or poverty, or even the color of one’s skin. To do so is contrary to all that is Christian.

This time of COVID-19 pandemic has also become a time of reckoning in terms of the virus of racism that has been experienced by many every day of their lives. The killing of George Floyd has brought this virus into sharp focus as world-wide protests have decried his death and the deaths of so many more, since the days of slavery and extending to this very moment. Like COVID-19, some may be unknowing carriers of racism; without testing our premises, our presuppositions, our complacency, we may be unwilling enablers of hatred in the world around us.

The bishops of the United States, in their 2018 Pastoral Letter Against Racism, Open Wide Our Hearts, made the following observation:

Racism arises when—either consciously or unconsciously—a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard. When this conviction or attitude leads individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat, or unjustly discriminate against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity, it is sinful. Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice. They reveal a failure to acknowledge the

human dignity of the persons offended, to recognize them as the neighbors Christ calls us to love (Mt 22:39).

Racism occurs because a person ignores the fundamental truth that, because all humans share a common origin, they are all brothers and sisters, all equally made in the image of God. When this truth is ignored, the consequence is prejudice and fear of the other, and—all too often—hatred.

The humility to examine our own presuppositions – either conscious or unconscious – about one another, about our world and about ourselves may be the font of wisdom for each of us. Jesus, who was judged by those who asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46), helps us move from seeing all others as anything less than the children of God that they are. As if they were reflecting upon the present state of our nation, the bishops were clear that law enforcement cannot be vilified because of the evil acts of some:

At the same time, we reject harsh rhetoric that belittles and dehumanizes law enforcement personnel who labor to keep our communities safe. We also condemn violent attacks against police.

There is much good in the bishops’ pastoral statement, and I encourage you to read it, as it is available to all at this link: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/upload/open-wide-our-hearts.pdf.

Welcome and Care in Time of Pandemic and Unrest

Welcome and Care in Time of Pandemic and Unrest
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 28, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple— amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:40-42).

With these words, Jesus instructs his followers on the virtue of hospitality. It is a welcome and a care for others, not because they are relatives, neighbors, friends, co-workers, but because they are hungry, thirsty or in any need. It is a reaching out to others that is explained in the twenty-fifth chapter of this same gospel: “When you cared for these least ones, you cared for me.”

It seems that in this time of COVID-19 pandemic and in the aftermath of the slaying of George Floyd and so, so many who have come before him, we are motivated by caring for ourselves and those who are our own and observing proper physical distancing. Even as restaurants in Santa Clara County have opened for outdoors dining, regulations limit guests at a table to members of the same household. It is as though our fear of this particular virus has rendered us anti-social.

For the sake of the health of all – ourselves and others – it is important that we keep apart, but we must, at the same time, find new ways to come together and to be together, even in isolation. Perhaps, we need to remember that the very acts of quarantine and self-isolation are rooted in our care for others, in charity and in the moral imperative, “what you do for the least, you do for me.”

Since the killing of George Floyd, there have been protests in major cities across our nation and around the world. As of this writing in the first week of June, these protests have slowly become more peaceful and less destructive. I can only pray that by this Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the last Sunday of June 2020, local and national leadership can come together in the name of peace and justice to forge a better future, a future in which the color of one’s skin or one’s zip code is not a death sentence.

As we remain isolated in one form or another, we cannot allow ourselves to be distant from the cries of those who suffer injustice, the youth of color who fear to walk in their own neighborhoods, and generations of black men and boys who take their lives into their own hands each time they leave the comfort of their homes.

In the same way, we can and must distance ourselves from politicians who seize upon these national tragedies of racism, health and economic malaise to breed fear and suspicion. They are not worthy of the positions of leadership with which they have been entrusted. We are called to welcome strangers, not to fear, revile and demonize them.

In our gospel today, Jesus teaches the value of service over and above self-preservation and self-care. He Himself is the model: “Whoever does not take up one’s cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds one’s life will lose it, and whoever loses one’s life for my sake will find it” (v. 39). How and in which ways do we take up our crosses, in losing our lives for the sake of Jesus?

Although we are uncertain what the future holds for us, our families and our world, it is pointless to live in fear. Rather, the Lord calls us to act – to welcome and care for all in need. The love of Christ demands no less. If each of us, according to the gifts we have been given and our means, contributes to this care for others, how different – and how better – our world will be!

Do Not Be Afraid

Do Not Be Afraid
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 21, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

It is claimed that this or similar phrases are found in the Bible at least 365 times, one for each day of the year.   

Jesus’s words in today’s gospel reading (Matthew 10:26-33), “Fear no one,” follow his sending of the Twelve on their mission and warnings of the betrayal and persecution they will experience.  When read with the advantage of hindsight, we know these warnings are more than precautionary; by the time the gospel was written, persecutions were widespread.  Also a reality were the following: “Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name” (verses 21-22).

The reasons for fear are real, yet Jesus offers assurances of life and salvation, no matter the difficulties and tragedies endured by those who are faithful to the mission on which they have been sent. At the same time, He encourages His followers to fear “the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (verse 28).

All people experience fear sometime in their lives, and fear can even positively affect the outcome of events.  But it is possible to be afraid in ways that do not help, but only hinder, or even paralyze us.  What is called “free floating anxiety” or a general sense of dread does not serve us well at all.  Simply living in fear of the future does not alter that future; however, fear can give us an “edge,” an advantage.  Fear of something specific, though not totally in our control, can have very positive results, if we harness our energies to make that future different.  For example, fear of failure may inspire a student to study for a test and thus produce a better outcome than if the student had not studied.

People, especially the young, who are active in the “climate change” movement fear for the state of earth’s environment if nothing changes; they are committed to bringing the message to all who will listen, so as to transform that future.  We should all share their fear and their resolve to make a difference in the ways we live and in our relationship with Earth. 

Five years ago, Pope Francis committed the Church on this path in his encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, On care for our Common Home.  It is a noble cause that demands the attention of each of us.

Our current experience with COVID-19, while a cause of stress, anxiety and world-wide fear, has been mitigated by the most stringent of precautions: physical distancing, wearing of masks, increased hand-washing, sanitizing of surfaces, and sheltering in place.  As Bishop Cantú has stated, compliance with these restrictions is not just an act of charity, but a “moral imperative, as the health and lives of others are at stake.”  Fear of the pandemic has fueled an unprecedented global response; because of it, a great many lives have been saved.

We are a people who live in hope, with assurances that God will always be with us, even – actually most especially – in the darkest times.  The prophet Jeremiah, in today’s first reading, offers these words of hope: “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph” (Jeremiah 20:11).

We are a people who always look to the east, to the rising sun and to the rising Son, who conquered death and sin and darkness.  Christ, the Risen One, calls us to rise with Him, to shelter in God, now and always.

On Father’s Day, we give thanks to God for those men who have loved and cared for us as fathers, grandfathers, guardians or even godfathers.  May those who live know our gratitude, and those who have gone before us be one with the Lord, where there is no more weeping, pain or sorrow, no reason to fear in the light of the Lord’s love.

 

 

 

 

 

See What You Are; Become What You Receive - Corpus Christi Sunday

See what you are; become what you receive
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) – June 14, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

When I speak with kids on the occasion of their First Communion, I often ask them the question that arises from the portion of Gospel of Saint John that we hear today: “Is the Eucharist/Communion really the Body and Blood of the Lord?”

And invariably, the answer is nearly unanimous: “No it is not!!”

But if it is not, why do we do what we do and say what we say?

If the Eucharist is not the Real Presence of the Lord, why do we celebrate, receive and revere the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood? 

If the Eucharist is not the Lord Himself, why do we feel so deprived of it when there are no public Masses, when “Spiritual Communion” replaces the Real Thing?

The Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, known as Corpus Christi, gives us a wonderful opportunity to spend time with this mystery that underpins our Catholic faith and practice.

Eucharist is not a thing, but an action.  From the Greek, the word itself means “thanksgiving.”  It is our thanksgiving offered to God, the Father, for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer includes this invitation: “Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God.”  And so we proclaim that “it is right and just” . . . or “yes, it is good that we give thanks to God.”

The Body and Blood of Christ, also, are not things, but a Person.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit and the prayer of the Church, bread and wine become the living and true presence of the Lord Jesus whose instructions, “Take and eat for this is my Body. . .Take and drink, for this is my Blood,” have guided the Church for nearly 2000 years.

But there is more. . .Today’s second reading, from the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (10:16-17) is a statement of what has been taught and believed since the beginning of Christianity:  “Brothers and sisters: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”

Jesuit Karl Rahner offers this reflection: “According to Saint Paul, we are all one body, we who eat of the one bread. Sign of unity and bond of love is what Saint Augustine calls the body which the pilgrims of history in loving faith carry into the marketplaces of their lives” (The Eternal Year, p. 119).

Just as we call the Holy Spirit upon bread and wine to change them, so we ask the Spirit to change us: “Grant 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.” 

We who eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lord are challenged to be like Him, to see the world through his eyes, to become the Body of Christ, to bear Him into our world, to be His living presence in all of the dark places that so need the Lord: more than a billion who suffer from war, famine and poverty, millions of migrants and refugees, victims of pandemic and disease, and all who mourn.

Although we are separated by physical distancing at this time, we are no less the Body of Christ than if we were all packed into our parish churches.  Our connection – communion – with the Lord unites us to one another. 

Because we are separated, we need even more to be conscious of the bonds of Baptism, faith and charity that hold us together.

Our separation from one another is both challenge and opportunity to rediscover on a deeper level what it is to be members of the Body of Christ, how it is that we care for others, many of whom we do not know.  By wearing masks and distancing ourselves, we demonstrate not just obedience to the law, but a loving care that springs from the depths of our being.  And so we who are truly together in this time of pandemic turn to our faith to offer us encouragement and hope.

In this time, even the ways in which we receive Holy Communion, when we are allowed to be together again at Mass, will require some changes.  For our own sake and the sake of others, those who prefer to receive Communion on the tongue will need to sacrifice this practice in favor of Communion in the hand.  At the same time, the Eucharistic Cup, so long shared with all, will not be able to be shared, likely well into the future.  This, too, requires sacrifice on the part of many, but these sacrifices should unite us, rather than becoming sources of contention and unrest among us.  After all, it is the Body and Blood of the Lord that we are privileged to receive, reverence and become.

In closing, let us recall the words of Saint Augustine, from the fourth century:

“So now, if you want to understand the Body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking. . . ‘You are the body of Christ, member for member.’. . .You are saying ‘Amen’ to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. . .Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your ‘Amen’ may ring true!

“See what you are. Become what you see. The Body of Christ. Beloved of God.”

“God So Loved the World: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity in Time of Pandemic

God So Loved the World
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – June 7, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

When I was a young priest, driving north, near the end of Capitol Expressway in east San Jose, I would often notice on the right a small church, Templo Juan 3:16.  As accustomed as we are to naming our parish churches after one of the saints or mysteries of our faith (for example, Most Holy Trinity, Holy Cross, Five Wounds, Transfiguration), I have always been intrigued with a community of believers whose identity springs from a verse of the Gospel of John (3:16):  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

In many ways, this forms the basis of our faith, our identity as Christians and our mission in the world.  “God so loved the world. . .”  So great is God’s love, that nothing was held back, nothing taken “off the table.”  God so loved the world, that God gave His very Self to us, to our world and to all of creation.

Jesus is the gift sent by the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  This cuts to the heart of the mystery of the Holy Trinity, Whom we celebrate this Sunday following Pentecost.  There are many prisms through which we can approach this mystery, each giving us but a glimpse, yet all of them, taken together, will always fall short of capturing the mystery, which to us mere mortals remains confusing, remains a mystery.

The Holy Trinity, described by theology as the reality of one God, three divine Persons who are separate, yet equal.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes the Athanasian Creed, thought to originate from the late fifth or early sixth century: “Now this is the Catholic faith: We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son’s is another, the Holy Spirit’s another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.”

But back to John 3:16.  The motivation for God, if it can be put in that way, is simple:  love.  In love, God created; in love, Jesus saved humanity; in love, God sustains us and our world.  Of early Christians, it was remarked, “See how they love one another.” At the Last Supper, Jesus taught the Apostles: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

The old translation of one the texts used during a Nuptial (wedding) Mass included this line:  “Love is our origin, love is our constant calling, love is our fulfillment in heaven.”

Like Jesus, we came from God and, in the end, we return to God.  And so we share in the mystery of God’s life, the mystery that we call Trinity. 

Trinity Sunday is a perfect time to ask ourselves how we reflect God’s love in our everyday lives, in our comings and goings (few as they may be as we shelter in place), in how we treat others – especially in this time of pandemic, when we may feel “too close for comfort” to those we might actually love more than anyone else.  Is the image and likeness of God traced in the lines of our professional and personal lives? How much do we love, and how much are we willing to give on account of that love? 

Imperfect as we are, most of us struggle to do our very best.  And we are never alone in our efforts.  The familiar greeting, with which Saint Paul concludes his second letter to the Corinthians, offers us the assurances of encouragement: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:13).

In the end, we are left without words to express Who God is as God.  It might be best, then, to recall the simple prayer of praise:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever.  Amen.  Alleluia!

 

Pentecost: The New Normal

The New Normal
Solemnity of the Pentecost – May 31, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

This Pentecost finds us wondering when our lives will be allowed to go back to “normal,” when we will return to “business as usual.”  But, in fact, whenever that happens, we should expect that, for the sake of the common good, we will never go back to the way things were.  Rather, we will begin living what will become the “new normal,” with extra precautions, physical distancing, streamlined transactions and other changes that we cannot yet imagine.  It will indeed be for all a “brave new world.”

Fifty days after the Lord’s Resurrection, on that Pentecost nearly 2000 years ago, the disciples of Jesus and His mother were still in Jerusalem, secure – sheltered – in an upper room.  It is likely that they were afraid, unsure and wondering how they could ever fulfill the mission (“Go into the whole world and preach the good news.”) that Jesus had entrusted to them.

The Acts of the Apostles narrates that on that day a “strong driving wind” filled the house where the disciples were and “tongues as of fire” came upon each of them, and in an instant they were changed, able to make bold proclamation, understood in all the languages of their listeners.  This event marked the beginning of the Church, and the rest is the centuries-long history of Christianity.

The promised coming of the Holy Spirit ushered in a new era in the history of the world and, in particular, in the lives of those first Christian believers.  They exchanged reticence, uncertainty and fear for preaching, healing and even martyrdom.  This was the “new normal” that Pentecost ushered in.  It is the Church that has been handed on to us.

We will soon be heirs to whatever will pass for “normal” in a COVID-19 world.  Just as the Apostles and others went beyond what was comfortable for them, so shall each of us.  And the same indwelling Spirit animates us in the way that the Spirit gave new life to the Church.  Jesus’ promise, which we heard in the gospel two Sundays ago, that He would not leave us orphaned, is still in full force; we are heirs to the New Covenant, which the Lord established on the Cross.  We know that even when we fail, God is always faithful. 

As we look to our uncertain future, God’s fidelity gives us hope.  Although we are being tossed about on a stormy sea, we are not alone. Just as Jesus was present with the Apostles on their storm-tossed boat, and as the Spirit propelled the believers of the early Church through the challenges that they faced, this same Spirit is with us and in us, guiding each day of our lives. 

At Mass on Pentecost, just before the singing of the Alleluia, comes the Sequence, Veni Sancte Spiritus, (Come Holy Spirit), written in the eleventh century.  As we remain sheltered in our homes, let us make this prayer of faith and hope our own.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end. Amen.

Alleluia. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YDdSdxTdLE

Why Are You There Looking at the Sky?

Why Are You There Looking at the Sky?
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord – May 24, 2020
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

Even Now, We Are Not Alone
6th Sunday of Easter – May 17
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

I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life
5th Sunday of Easter – May 10, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

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

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.

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

We Hear the Voice of the Good Shepherd
4th Sunday of Easter – May 3, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

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.

 

Thy Will Be Done

Thy Will Be Done
By a priest of San Jose
May 2, 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.

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

He Met Them on the Road to Emmaus
3rd Sunday of Easter – April 26, 2020
By Msgr. Fran Cilia

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?

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

This Easter Finds Us More Like the Apostles
2nd Sunday of Easter – April 19, 2020
By a priest of San Jose

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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

The Challenge of Singing Hallelujah with Mary, a Woman of Faith
By Sr. Ellen Hess, VDMF, STD, Bishop’s Delegate to Religious
April 12, 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.

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

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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

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

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

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

The Modern Christ
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

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

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

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

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

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.