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 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.