Into the Desert of Lent

February 18, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Faith, Father Nixon, Lent, Obedience, Reconciliation, Repentance, Self-Reflection

First Sunday of Lent
February 18, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Gn 9:8-15 / Ps 25 / 1 Pt 3:18-22 / Mk 1:12-15
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

On the first Sunday of Lent, the Liturgy invites us into a period of reflection, repentance, and spiritual renewal.   As we embark on the journey through the desert of Lent, the readings and themes for this day serve as guiding lights, illuminating the path toward deeper communion with God.  Lent comes from a Latin word meaning to soften.   Lent is a forty-day period which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends before the celebration of the Pascal Triduum.

Forty is the number often associated with intense spiritual exercises.  God caused it to rain for forty days and forty nights to cleanse the earth.  The Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years.  Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mt. Sinai, and Elijah journeyed forty days and forty nights to Mt. Horeb.

The gospel reading for this Sunday centers around Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, highlighting the struggle between the forces of good and evil.  It prompts us to contemplate our own vulnerabilities and the temptations we face in our daily lives.  Through Jesus’ example, we find encouragement to resist these temptations with the strength of faith and reliance on God’s word.

In the Old Testament we encounter the story of Noah and the flood, symbolizing purification and renewal.  This narrative reminds us of God’s covenant with humanity and His promise of redemption even in the midst of trial and adversity.  It serves as a reminder of faithfulness and obedience in our relationship with God.

St. Jerome, the brilliant doctor of the church, lived for twenty-five years in the cave where the child Jesus was born.  One time he prayed to Jesus thus, “Dear Child, you have suffered so much to save me.  How can I make amends?”  “What can you give me, Jerome?” a voice was heard.  “I will spend my entire life in prayer, and I will offer all my talents into your hands,” Jerome replied.  “You do that to glorify me, but what more can you give to me?” the voice asked again.  “I will give all my money to the poor,” Jerome explained.  The voice said, “Give your money to the poor.  It would be just as if you were giving it to me.  But what else can you give to me?”  St Jerome became distraught and said, “Lord, I have given you everything.  What is there left to give?”  “Jerome, you have not still given to me your sins,” the Lord replied.  “Give them to me, so I can erase them.”  With these words, Jerome burst into tears and spoke, “Dear Jesus, take all that is mine and give me all that is yours.”

Brothers and sisters, the liturgical season of Lent calls us to introspection and self-examination, urging us to identify areas for growth and transformation through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  We are invited to draw closer to God and to our neighbors, embodying the love and compassion of Christ in our actions.

The gospel reading today tells us that Jesus went into the desert and spent forty days there.  It tells us about the first time that our Lord was tempted.  It was the first time that the devil openly confronted Christ and put Him to the test.  But as we know, Jesus did not sin.  He was like us in everything but sin.  The devil tempted Him overtly, but Jesus did not give in to the temptations that the evil one placed before Him.

This is a very important event in Jesus’ life.  This event in Jesus’ life shows us that we should not believe that Satan would never tempt us openly.  We cannot say as some do, that I do not ever commit a sin.  Satan puts everyone to temptation, and many times we give in to him, something that our Lord Jesus did not do.

Lent is a time for us to show our repentance through fasting and abstinence for the sins we have committed.  Mortification, penance, strengthens our souls so that we can resist the devil, who as tradition tells us during the entire year, but especially during these forty days of Lent and during the days that we commemorate the Passion of Christ, will try to tempt us with greater determination and venom.  We should not forget that even though Satan will tempt us, Christ, especially during these forty days, will help us to free ourselves from sin.  He will give us the graces that we need to conquer those temptations.  Of course, He will do this if we prepare ourselves, if we wipe clean our souls of sin, if we ask Him for those graces. When we are sincerely repentant and we say, “Lord, protect me from all sin,” He will do just that.

The season of Lent, the season of mercy is the best time for us to purify ourselves and strengthen ourselves to change our lives, to repent and follow Christ.  We begin to feel this process of conversion when we firmly resolve to better our spiritual lives and to change our lives if they need to be changed.  If we truly believe in the Good News, the Gospel of Christ, we must feel the radical need to abandon our lives of sin.

In those forty days spent in the desert, fasting and praying, our Lord gave us an example of what we need to do to prepare spiritually for Easter.  During these forty days of Lent, Jesus asks us to let go of all those worldly things that tie us to sin.  He asks us to let go of our selfishness, our sinful pride, our belief that we are better than everybody else.  The conversion that the Lord asks us to go through really means maintaining a close relationship with God.  It would be a lamentable error if we did not take advantage of these Lenten days, leaving for later what we know we need to do now in order to change our lives, with an ardent desire to change our lives, remembering that there is still time today, but it may be too late tomorrow.

Let us repent and confess our sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation.  As we reflect on the readings and themes on this first Sunday of Lent, we are reminded of the significance of this season as a time of spiritual renewal and preparation for the celebration of Easter.  It is a time to reorient our hearts and minds towards God, to seek forgiveness for our shortcomings, and to deepen our commitment to living lives of holiness and discipleship.

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Mary in the Annunciation

December 24, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Advent, Christmas, Deacon Mark, Discipleship, Faith, Mary, Trust

Fourth Sunday of Advent 
December 24, 2023 — Year B
Readings: 2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16 / Ps 89 / Rom 16:25-27 / Lk 1:26-38
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

It is still Advent, but in case I don’t see you at Christmas Eve Mass today, Merry Christmas, Maligayang Pasko, Feliz Navidad, Joyeaux Noёl, Buon Natale, and Wesołych świąt.

Holy Name of Mary parish is dedicated to Jesus’ mother, Mary, and on this Fourth Sunday of Advent we enter into the first joyful mystery of her most holy rosary, the Annunciation. As a deacon in a Marian parish, how can I not center the homily on Mary, when Luke centered the beginning of his gospel on her “who was with child (Lk 2:5)?” Interestingly, Matthew starts his gospel centered on Mary as well and, though John waited until chapter two to introduce Mary, chapter one prepared for her grand entrance at Cana, with Mary as the Queen Mother, asking her son, Jesus the King, to help the young married couple.

In a predominantly Protestant area, we can feel uncomfortable speaking of Mary, even to the point of fearing mentioning the name of our parish. Peter Kreeft said that “[non-Catholic Christians] object to our Catholic devotion to Mary because they think it detracts from our adoration of Jesus.” He added, “In fact, it is exactly the opposite: the more we love Mary, the more we love Jesus, and the more we love Jesus, the more we love Mary (Kreeft 82).”  Along those same lines, to try to put non-Catholics at ease with honoring Mary, someone once said, “You cannot love Mary more than Jesus does.”

But Peter Kreeft upped the ante and tied having a relationship with Mary to discipleship, to following Jesus. He wrote, “Jesus gave us Mary, when He said to St. John, the only disciple who stayed with Him at the cross, “Behold your mother” (John 19:27). So if we, like John, want to be Jesus’ disciples, if we want to be as close to Jesus as John was at the cross, then we must be close to Mary, because Jesus gave us Mary (82).”

Dr. Kreeft’s words are worth reflecting on. To be a disciple who will stand and face death and a seeming loss of all hope like John looking upon Jesus dying on the cross, it is most helpful to have Mary, the only perfect disciple, at your side like he did. For John must have realized that no matter how much sorrow he felt at that moment, it was not as deep as Mary’s, looking upon her only child dying in agony. Yet despite the awfulness of it all, neither Jesus’ suffering, a mocking crowd, nor the threat of mighty Roman soldiers could tear her from her Son’s side. When she told the angel Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” she meant it for better or for worse (Lk 1: 38).

From the moment of her freewill consent, she became the Christ Bearer, the Mother of God. How did she prepare to bring Jesus into the world? First, she set out to care for someone in need, her cousin Elizabeth who Gabriel told her had conceived a child in her old age (Lk 1:39-56). Second, she and Joseph patiently suffered in faith and hope, traveling eighty miles or so from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary suffering in discomfort, probably riding a donkey, being so near to giving birth. Joseph, hurting from a longing to take her suffering upon himself, but only able to give her his tender care. Joseph suffering from not being able to find her a comfortable room in which to give birth, and Mary suffering from having to give birth away from the comfort of her home and friends (Lk 2: 1-7).

But as He always does, God brought them great joy and consolation when they thought they could endure no more pain and anxiety. Mary shows us the way to live our lives in faith and trust in God’s plan for us. This side of heaven, our journey will entail suffering and pain at times, but with Mary, we can bear it patiently, with great hope, and even joy. The hope and joy she brings to us is her Son.

In The Lord of the Rings movies based on the books of devout Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien, the battle between despair and hope, darkness and light is vividly displayed in rich symbolism for the cause for Mary’s hope. One depiction takes place at a great battle called Helm’s Deep (The Two Towers). The battle begins in darkness and rain, and the enemy vastly outnumbers the free people. They fight with valiant hope, but eventually wear down and accept that death is their fate, that evil will triumph over good and darkness over light. But then, they look to the east, to the rising sun, and grace descends upon them in the form of friends and an angelic figure, dressed in white, charging down a high hill to their aid.

In a second depiction, an even greater battle is taking place, and the situation is even more hopeless. A great white, stone city (think of it as your soul) is under siege and burning (The Return of the King). The city’s caretaker has fallen into despair from listening to the enemy’s voice more than to the voices of wise friends.  As he walks in a somber procession to “die as he chooses,” the camera blurs out that hopeless scene and focuses on a single white flower that was barely noticeable in the foreground. The white flower was a sign, long awaited, that the city’s true king had returned and would restore the city to its former grandeur.

And so, here we are on the last Sunday of Advent, some of our suffering being voluntary from extra prayer, fasting, and charity, and some from the burdens and sorrows of life that weigh upon the young and old, rich and poor, strong and weak alike. If we bear our suffering and burdens with Mary, we will see what she saw in Bethlehem: hope in the newborn Savior, and hear what she heard from the shepherds about angels’ appearing in light with a message of peace. At every Mass, we, like those in Tolkien’s story at Helm’s Deep, look to the east.  Catholic Churches, whenever possible, are oriented such that the altar is set in that direction.

In our suffering and worries, we look to the altar. We hear Father call to us, not to despair in the cares of this world, but to “lift up our hearts (Roman Missal Preface).” And then a little while later, he encourages us to, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and we look up, to the east and see Father, clothed in white like that angelic figure at Helm’s Deep, holding the rising Son, Jesus come to save us (Roman Missal The Order of Mass). Notice that to look upon the Eucharist is like looking upon the white flower in Tolkien’s white city. It is both reminder and reality that our long-awaited King has returned and will restore our soul to the grandeur God made it for from the beginning. Jesus did this for His mother from the moment of her conception, which is why the angel Gabriel called Mary by the title, “full of grace (Lk 1:28).”

I am going to close this homily with a poem that Peter Kreeft shared, entitled “Jesus and Mary.” It illustrates how knowing Mary helps us know her Son, especially in graces God sends to us and most especially in the Eucharist.  Don’t get lost in all the words but hang on to the ones that touch your heart the most.

Body of Christ from Mary’s body;

Blood of Christ, from Mary’s blood.

Jesus the bread, Mary the yeast;

Mary the kitchen, Jesus the feast.

Mary the mother by whom we are fed;

Mary the oven, Jesus the bread.

Mary the soil, Jesus the vine;

Mary the wine maker, Jesus the wine.

Jesus the Tree of Life, Mary the sod;

Mary our God-bearer, Jesus our God.

Mary the silkworm, Jesus the silk;

Mary the nurse, Jesus the milk.

Mary the stem, Jesus the flower;

Mary the stairway, Jesus the tower.

Mary and Jesus, our castle entire;

Mary the fireplace, Jesus the fire.

Mary God’s ink, Jesus God’s name;

Mary the burning bush, Jesus the flame.

Mary the paper, Jesus the Word;

Mary the nest, Jesus the bird.

Mary the artery, Jesus the blood;

Mary the floodgate, Jesus the flood.

Mary and Jesus, our riches untold;

Mary the gold mine, Jesus the gold.

(Kreeft 82)

Mary, our mother, ask your Son to enable us always and in all circumstances, to remember to look east so that the Star of Joy and Hope may rise in our hearts and minds, every week being an Advent and every Sunday Mass a Christmas for us. Amen.

 

CITATIONS

J.R.R. Tolkien. “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King.” New Line Productions, Inc. 2002-2003.

Kreeft, Peter. “Food for the Soul; Reflections on the Mass Readings, Cycle B.” Word on Fire 2023.

The Catholic Church. “The Roman Missal.” Catholic Book Publishing Corp., N.J. 2011.

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Serve God With Your Gifts

November 19, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Blessings, Eternal Life, Faith, Father Nixon, Life, Mission, Service

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 19, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 / Ps 128 / 1 Thes 5:1-6 / Mt 25:14-30
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

There was a story of a Chinese boy who came from a very poor family in Hong Kong and never dreamed that he would go far. His parents left him behind to do some housekeeping and construction in Australia. Gifted with talents and skills for doing stunts and acrobatics, he developed and cashed in on this until he rose to become a famous movie actor, multimillionaire, and Asian superstar, that is Jackie Chan.

Brothers and sisters, we are given different talents by the Lord. For example, some of us are good at singing, dancing, and talking. Some are good at the arts, mathematics, sciences, and others. And sometimes our talents are very unique. All of us have talent. We cannot say, “I don’t have talent. I don’t know how to sing. I don’t know how to dance,” and so on and so forth.

The Church continues to reflect about the end of the world and the end of our lives. Last Sunday we were asked to reflect on the ten virgins, five wise and five foolish, and we were taught to be ready to meet the Lord. Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, which opens the last week of the liturgical year of the Church. Today’s gospel points out through the parable of the talents the difference between being ready and being unready when the Lord returns to settle accounts with us.

Jesus gives us a parable that the Kingdom of God is like a man traveling to a faraway land and calling his three servants to take care of some of his possessions. One servant has great ability, and so he gives this servant five talents. The second has average ability and he is given two talents, while the third has little ability because he was just given one talent. The first two servants immediately made their talents work and doubled the number of talents the master gave them, but the servant who received only one talent buried it because of the fear that he may lose it.

When the master returned, the first two servants who made their talents work reported what they did with the money, and the master was very happy with them, and he gave what the two servants earned to them. But when the last servant told him that he was afraid to lose the money and buried it, the master became angry. He gave the one talent to the servant who earned ten talents.

Brothers and sisters, most of us think of a talent as some kind of special ability, gift, or skill. In Jesus’ time a talent was a measure of money. We can understand the talents in today’s gospel as symbols of any of the gifts God has given to us, especially our faith, and we use these gifts to build His Kingdom.

Everyone has received something from God. Life itself is a talent. Time is a talent. Treasure is a talent. They are all talents we have to invest. Knowing that Jesus was describing servants being given huge amount of cash to invest helps us to understand just how generous the master was being and the opportunity each servant was given. The greatest gift God has given to us is the gift of Himself. The talents represent more than just the monetary resources God gives us.

Remember, this is a parable and all of Jesus’ parables are about a bit more than they seem. This parable is paired with the parable of the ten virgins who made the mistake of not having enough oil when the bridegroom arrives. It is also preceded by a story about a servant not using his position well while the master is away. All three stories are about being given something which must be used well and the consequences of neglecting or abusing it. In short, the talents represent what God has given us; our monetary resources, our callings to positions within the Church that can be found in Ephesians 4:11-16, our natural gifts. Each of these things and many others are given by God to use in ways that glorify Him and draw others toward Him.

There is a famous saying in the movie Chariots of Fire, where future Olympian Eric Liddell feels a tension between his chance to be an Olympic runner and his calling be a missionary in China. Eventually he tells his sister he will go to the Olympics and then to the mission field because both honor God. “God made me for a purpose, for China,” Liddell says, “but He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure. To give that up would be to hold Him in contempt.” In the end all talents are given by God to glorify Him.

The Bible makes it clear, there is no sacred versus secular world in the way we often think. Yes, there are official positions for certain church tasks; preaching, evangelizing, teaching, etc., and Christians should not be molded by worldly standards. However, all creation was made very good, and we must do all things to God’s glory. So, whatever we are doing, provided it is not a sinful activity, we serve God well by doing it well. As Dorothy Sayers put it in her essay, Why You Work: “If we follow God properly, all the work will be Christian work, whether it is Church embroidery or sewage farming.”

The Bible makes it clear that we don’t really own our gifts. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by God according to plans He laid out before we were born to glorify Him forever. The fact that the master owns the money he gave the servants, and he gets the results of their investments highlights who is in control.

We naturally want to believe we can use our gifts as we please. If we grew up in cultures where the individual is primary, we also tend to think we can live as we please. However, if we all want to be little gods of our own lives, serving ourselves, we miss our true place in life. We find our true joy and place in life when we serve God with our gifts. Jesus uses the parable of the talents to help us understand our calling as Christians and our responsibility to use what God has given us to bring Him glory and honor.

We have the most valuable gift of all, the Word of God and the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. This gift is for us to share with others through our words and actions. It is a great responsibility with great reward, as described in the parable of the talents. The parable of the talents should encourage us and challenge us to take what God has given us and invest in the Kingdom of God. There is a great reward waiting for those who steward well with what the Lord has given them. May Jesus Christ be praised.

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Give to God What is God’s

October 22, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Courage, Deacon Mark, Discipleship, Faith, Grace, Holy Spirit, Trust

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 22, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 45:1, 4-6 / Ps 96 / 1 Thes 1:1-5b / Mt 22:15-21
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

The Church has done her usual wonderful job of choosing a collection of readings that help us enter into the gospel with the right frame of mind. Isaiah tells us God is Lord and “there is no other” (Is 45:5). In Psalm 96, King David, fresh from bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, writes, “Declare His glory among the nations.…The Lord reigns” (Ps 96:3,10).  In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote, “He has chosen you; for our gospel came to you in power and in the Holy Spirit…” (1 Thes 1:4).  So the right frame of mind is that Jesus, who is God, is the King of the Universe and we are His people, made so by the Holy Spirit.

King David points out God’s kingship in today’s Psalm, declaring that He reigns. Where is God’s throne? It is in heaven, yes, but Jesus also reigns in our very bodies.  Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, says God made our bodies into a temple of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Paul can say to the Thessalonians that they received the Gospel in the Holy Spirit. That Jesus made our bodies into temples is a key to today’s gospel.

Let’s use our imaginations and enter into this gospel by composing the scene. Return to this scene whenever your mind starts to wander. Jesus is in the great Temple of Jerusalem, the greatest religious structure in the kingdom of Rome. Its area would cover 35 football fields and it is several stories tall. The stone walls are thick, with some stones weighing several hundred tons. “Its appearance is radiant with polished marble and gold adornments.” (Mitch/Sri, 302) Jews, Gentiles, and priests are bustling about. The air is filled with many voices and other sounds, and the smell of smoke and incense. You are there, taking a seat to listen to the famous rabbi, Jesus, speak.

If you recall, the next thing we need to do before we unpack the gospel, is to ask Jesus for the grace we desire to receive from this encounter with Him. And today, Jesus tells us, through the lips of his enemies, what that grace is. The disciples of the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Tell us, then, what You think” (Mt 22:7).  In other words, we want the grace of interior knowledge of Jesus’ mind and heart; knowledge not written in the book but given to us by grace through the Holy Spirit.

Now, we play out the scene. Jesus is standing at the top of some steps. We are sitting at the front of the crowd at the base of the steps, eager to hear what He has to say. We have heard of His time in the temple, verbally jousting with the priests and elders. He has really started to stir things up. Knowing that, we are not surprised when some disciples of the Pharisees arrive, pushing their way through the crowd, brushing by you, and walking up a few of the stairs, but staying lower than Jesus.

What does surprise us is that they are accompanied by Herodians, traitors who have consorted with the Romans! The Pharisees’ disciples start lavishing praise on Jesus, but you can tell by the look on their faces, it is not sincere.  “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men” (Mt 22:16).  You have to admit, though, that what they said really is how you see Jesus. But then comes their trap, which in your opinion, is so predictable of that group. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”  Oh no. You want to yell out to Jesus, “Do not answer that question. It is a trap.”

You know that if He says do not pay the taxes, the Herodians will have him arrested and tortured for instigating a tax revolt (Mitch/Sri, 285.) If He says pay the tax, He will look like a Roman sympathizer, discrediting Himself in the eyes of the Jews. (Ibid.)  But then you recall how He has handled Himself before today, and you get a knowing grin on your face. This is going to be good.

Jesus asks the Pharisees’ disciples for a coin that pays the tax, and they give him a Roman denarius. Hypocrites, you think to yourself. They carry coins for taxes like everyone else!  Those coins have an image of Caesar with the blasphemous words, “Son of the divine Augustus” on one side and “high priest” on the other. (Mitch/Sri, 286) Sure enough, Jesus says, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites” (Mt 22: 18)?  And then He sets their heads spinning. After they tell Him the image on the coin is Caesar’s, He tells them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22:20-21).

His adversaries leave in stunned silence, brushing by you on their way out.  While triumphantly smirking at them, you suddenly remember the grace you asked for and get up the courage to raise your hand and to ask Jesus a question. “Lord, I get that paying our taxes does not compromise our duty to God, but tell us what it means to repay to God what belongs to God?” (Mitch/Sri, 286)

Jesus begins to explain, and you and the crowd grow silent again, glad that Jesus sent the hypocrites packing. He looks at you with fondness and His gaze fills you with warmth and joy. He says, “The Roman denarius bears Caesar’s image, so it belongs to him and should be returned to him.” But, looking at you, He asks, “What is it that belongs to God? Hmm?”  You kind of freeze up and your mind goes blank. You can feel the crowd staring at you. Jesus does not want you to feel embarrassed, because He sincerely loves you. He loves that you pushed your way to the front row. He loves you for not falling for the lies and games of the hypocrites.

To help you, Jesus asks you another question. “Who did God make in His image?” You smile, look around smugly at the crowd and answer, “Me! And all of us” (Gn 1: 26).  Jesus smiles with a chuckle, and says, “You have answered well.”  Someone behind you gives you a congratulatory pat on the shoulder. But then you notice Jesus staring at you looking for more. And it hits you and you shout, “Since our body bears God’s image, we must return it to Him. He is our King, and we owe Him all that we are and have! (Mitch/Sri, 286) Jesus opens His arms and makes an emphatic, “Yes!”  And then you realize that He has given you the grace we asked for, “Tell us what You think.”

To quote my boss, how do we put blue jeans on this? In other words, how do we simplify putting into practice returning to God our very self? First, we must examine our life and ask ourselves, “Where am I holding back giving myself to God because of my lack of faith?”  If you are not sure, then look for where you have fears or concerns or worries or anxieties or insecurities or, if you have none of these, then pride.

These are often revealed by your self-talk or inner voice saying, “I am too young. I am too old. I am too poor. I am too busy. I am too tired. I am not smart enough. I am not holy enough. I am too sinful. I am good right here.” Notice all these statements have something in common. They all use the words “I am.” A lack of faith can cause us to try to bear our burdens or to perform good works without God who is the great “I Am” (Ex 3:14).

If we flip these words around, we will see how silly our lack of faith is:

Too young for I Am? We have teenage saints. David was around fifteen years old when God anointed him to be a king.

Too old for I Am? Simeon, ready to die of old age, announced Jesus as the Messiah.

Too poor for I Am? Mary and Joseph were poor. Jesus was born in a barn!

Too busy for I Am? He keeps the universe in motion. He is the Lord of time and will help you find more.

Too tired for I Am? He does not sleep.  He spoke to me about this gospel before the sun rose.

Not smart enough for I Am? He makes the simple wise. St. Peter, a fisherman, in his first attempt at preaching brought three thousand to the Lord.

Not holy enough for I Am? He freed Mary Magdalene from seven demons and the sinful behaviors caused by that, and she went on to proclaim His resurrection to the twelve apostles.

Too sinful for I Am? St. Augustine wrote one of the world’s first autobiographies, candidly sharing his sins of fornication and careerism in his book, Confessions. Today, he is quoted throughout the Catechism and studied by Catholics and Protestants alike.

Our King protects us, guides us, and strengthens us. He loves when you return to God what is God’s by rendering your children to I Am in Baptism, your sins to I Am in Confession, your body, heart, and soul to I Am in Holy Communion, bowing your head to I Am in Confirmation for impartation of the Holy Spirit, rendering your tired and sick body to I Am in Holy Anointing of the Sick, rendering your best friend to I Am for His blessing of your Marriage, and rendering your sons and husbands to I Am in Holy Orders!

What more does I Am need to do for us to trust Him enough to render to Him what is His…which is you and me? Give Him yourself, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your husband, your wife, your children, your classes, your job, your retirement, your virtues and your vices. This is how we render to God what is God’s. We give Him our good and our not so good.

Oh Great I Am, you are King of the Universe, and we render to you our very selves and ask that you reign in our bodies, your temple. Amen!

 

Citations

The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition. Ascension Publishing 2018.

Curtis Mitch & Edward Sri. Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, The Gospel of Matthew. Baker Academic 2010.

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Using Our Freedom

October 8, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Faith, Father Nixon, Grace, Self-Reflection, Thanksgiving, Trust

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 8, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 5:1-7 / Ps 80 / Phil 4:6-9 / Mt 21:33-43
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

The gospel this Sunday gives us the parable of the vineyard.  It is actually a disturbing parable because it refers to the rejection of the prophets and the Son of God by the people of Israel, the chosen people of God.  This ultimately led to the death of Jesus on the cross.

As the gospel suggests, the history of Christianity is a history of rejection.  It is a story filled with rejection.  If you look back through our history of salvation, God first sent prophets to be His servants in His vineyard, but they were killed by the so-called tenants of the Lord’s vineyard.  Later, God sent His only son thinking that the tenants might respect His son, but again, Jesus was hunted by the elders and the chief priests and was killed.

In 1978, a man flew to Cincinnati to attend the funeral of a man named Max.  For the past twenty years, Max had been like a father figure to this man.  There was nothing out of the ordinary about this except for the fact that as a fifteen-year-old, this man stole his mother’s car and killed Max’s five-year-old son just a few weeks before Christmas.

A shocked judge heard Max’s request that the charges be dropped soon after the accident. Instead, he wished to employ the death-car driver and assist him with his schooling.  Max accomplished all of this and more by essentially adopting the fifteen-year-old youth into his household.  Max opened his home, time, and compassion to the disturbed adolescent.  How could Max do this?  Why would someone befriend a youngster who had just murdered his five-year-old son?  Max must have been insane to go out of his way to become a father figure in this way.

In today’s gospel story, God is portrayed as a landowner who created a magnificent vineyard for His people to manage.  When harvest time arrived, He dispatched His servants twice, but they were all slaughtered.  The people wanted the entire harvest, not just a portion of it.  Again, the vineyard is Israel.  The planters are the Jews. The messengers, prophets, and leaders were meant to lead God’s people back to Him, but they were sometimes rejected and slaughtered.

Finally, He sent His son because He assumed they would respect Him, but they also killed Him.  He understood what was going on, but regardless, He sent His son.  God’s love for us is without condition, but as a consequence, the Jews lost their vineyard, and it was given to the pagans (us) who have received the faith in Jesus.

This parable is also a warning to all Christians, and to each of us personally.  Is being a Christian just fulfilling minimum obligations like going to Mass on Sunday, receiving Holy Communion?  This parable is also a warning to us Christians because we must accept God’s messengers: prophets, teachers, the hierarchy itself, the pope, and anyone who helps us read the signs of the times and see in them the loving hand of God who urges us to produce good fruits.

Heeding such messengers will immediately pinpoint areas of deep trouble in our weak faith:  immorality in the family, corruption in the government, and the scandalous injustices from top to bottom in our society today.  We cannot afford to become complacent and rest on our traditional forms of piety, hoping that being Christians will give us salvation.  The Jewish people were deeply religious too, and yet lost the kingdom, because their fruits were nowhere to be found.

The parable also teaches us a lot about God and how He relates to us.  First, we see the providence of God: “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.” (Mt 21: 33a) Before God entrusts a responsibility to us, He makes provisions for all that we will need to carry out that responsibility.

The parable continues, “Then He leased it to tenants and went on a journey.” (Mt 21:33b) This shows God’s trust in us.  God does not stand looking over our shoulder, policing us and making sure we do the right thing.  He leaves the job to us and goes on vacation to a far country.  God trusts that we will do the right thing.  Unfortunately, many of us do not.

The story also highlights God’s patience with us.  God sends messenger after messenger to the rebellious managers who would not render to God His due.  With each messenger, God provides another chance for us to put an end to rebellion and to do the right thing.

Finally, there comes a last chance.  God plays His trump card, and He sends His only begotten son.  If we miss this last chance, we miss it for good.  In the end, we see God’s judgement in which rebellious humanity loses their very lives, and their privileges are transferred to others who are more promising.  The picture is that of a providing, trusting, patient, but also just, God.

From this we can learn about ourselves and how we stand in relation to God.  First, we see human privilege.  Like the managers of the vineyard, everything that we have is a privilege and not a merit.  This is what we mean when we say that everything is God’s grace.  Grace is an unmerited favor.  Life itself is a privilege which can be taken away from any of us at any time.  Privilege comes, however, with responsibility.  We are ultimately responsible and accountable to God for the way we use or abuse our God-given privileges.  God has given us all we need to make a judicious use of all our privileges, yet we retain the ability to abuse it.  This is called freedom.

The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, as this parable is sometimes called, is a parable on the misuse of human freedom.  Let us today pray for the wisdom and courage never to abuse our privileges, but rather to make good use of all the privileges and opportunities that God gives us.

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Persevering and Humble Faith

August 20, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Charity, Faith, Father Nixon, Healing, Humility, Trust, Uncategorized

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 20, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 56:1, 6-7 / Ps 67 / Rom 11:13-15, 29-32 / Mt 15:21-28
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

A man was walking close to a steep cliff, lost his footing, and plunged over the side.  As he was falling, he grabbed the branch of a tree that was sticking out about halfway down the cliff.  He managed to hang onto the weak limb with both hands.  He looked up and saw that the cliff was almost perfectly straight and that he was a long way from the top.  He looked down and it was a long, long way down to the rock bottom.  At this point, the man decided that it was time to pray.

He yelled out, “God, if you are there, help me.”  About that time, he heard a deep voice coming from high up above that said, “I’m here, my son, have no fear.”  The man was a little startled at first by God’s voice, but he pleaded, “Can you help me?”  God replied, “Yes, I can, my son, but you have to have faith.  Do you trust me?”  The man answered, “Yes, Lord, I trust you.”  God said, “Do you really trust me?”  The man, who was trying to hold on, replied, “Yes, Lord, I really trust you.”

Then God said, “This is what I want you to do.  Let go of the limb.  Trust me; everything will be all right.”  The man looked down at the rocks below, then he looked up at the steep cliff above him and yelled, “Is there anybody else up there who can help me?”

Brothers and sisters, in last Sunday’s gospel, we heard that Jesus chastised Peter for having so little faith.  In today’s gospel, he honors a pagan woman for having great faith.  The comparison between Peter and the woman gives us a valuable instruction.  We naturally assume that Peter, a Jewish man and close follower of Jesus, must have a great advantage over a Gentile woman who had never even seen the Lord.

Peter was one of the children of Israel; he belonged at the table.  He had never eaten anything profane or unclean in his whole life, and that can be found in Acts 10:14.  The woman was an outsider.  She was looked down on by the Jews as unclean and unworthy, one of the dogs.  She had no business claiming some right to the Lord’s favor.  However, the woman outshines Peter in the one thing that truly matters: faith – a strong, persevering, humble faith.

The Israelites, Abraham and his descendants, were given a unique privilege.  They were the first people to whom the Lord chose to reveal himself.  As Moses told the people when they were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, “You are a people sacred to the Lord God.  He has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people particularly his own” (Dt 7:6).

The idea sometimes arose among the chosen people that, since they were specially chosen by God, other peoples were excluded from His love.  They misunderstood the favor of God as a kind of ethnic superiority.  They thought that being a physical descendant of Abraham was more important than living by Abraham’s faith.  The prophets thought otherwise.

As we see in today’s first reading, Isaiah clearly proclaims that foreigners too, if they joined themselves to the Lord and followed the covenant, would find a place with the Jews in the house of the Lord.  Indeed, the Lord reveals that His plan includes everyone.  “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”

The Canaanite woman in the Gospel shows that this prophecy came to be fulfilled.  If she had gone to the temple in Jerusalem, she would have been strictly forbidden to enter.  However, now that Jesus had come into her neighborhood, there was no need for her to go elsewhere in order to be counted among God’s people.  She found salvation by putting her faith in Jesus.  She honored Him as the Messiah, crying out to Him, “Lord, son of David.”

In order to benefit from the beautiful example of this woman of faith, we must first identify and overcome the sin of prejudice in our hearts.  How easily we fall into an attitude of superiority over others.  Prejudice prevents us from seeing the goodness of other people, simply because they fall outside of our narrow criteria of goodness.  The problem is on display in the scornful attitude of the disciples.  When the Canaanite woman begged Jesus to heal her daughter, their prejudice came spilling out in their words, “Send her away.”  They would not put up with being pestered by a “dog.”

Brothers and sisters, whenever we let this sort of attitude take hold of us, whenever we are saying or thinking about anyone, “Send her away” or “Send him away,” we shut ourselves in a small box, where we breathe only the stale air of our own opinions.  Prejudice is an offense against the dignity of others, but it is also a self-imposed limitation on our love.  Ultimately, it is a rejection of the love of God.

This is not what we have learned from Jesus Christ.  He fills us with His spirit of love, so that we may be free from slavery to sin.  Jesus’ own attitude toward the Canaanite woman is revealed to us only gradually.  He never closes His heart to her, of course, but He does subject her faith to a series of tests.  At first, He is simply silent, then He tells her that His mission is to the Jews.  When she persists, falling before Him and pleading for His help, He tells her that it is not fitting to throw the food of the children to the dogs.

This sort of language is jarring to us.  It sounds like an intolerable insult, like a slap in the face.  In fact, in the context of the times, it would have not sounded nearly so harsh.  Jesus’ point is to distinguish between the Jews and the Gentiles.

The Jews are the first to be fed with the message of salvation.  The word “dogs” here refers not to street dogs, but to little domestic pets.  They live in the household, but they are not children of the family.  However, Jesus’ statement may have struck her in a remarkable way.  The woman gently turns his own words against him.  The insult suddenly becomes an argument in her favor.

With no hint of offense or discouragement and with no attitude of entitlement, she makes a claim based on her strong faith.  The banquet of the Lord is so great that even to receive a few crumbs falling from the table will be enough to heal her daughter.  The Lord finds this declaration irresistible.  He immediately proclaims what He had in mind all along, that this woman is not a dog.  She is an admirable woman of great faith.  His harsh treatment of her has brought out the best in her.

This wonderful episode shows us what great faith really looks like in practice.  It is not a matter of belonging to the right social class. It does not depend on mastering all the properly religious words and rituals. It does not seek to prove to anyone that we are holy or deserving of divine favor.  Great faith is persevering and humble.

Sometimes the Lord is silent and does not say a word in answer to us.  Sometimes He reminds us of our insignificance or our weakness or our unworthiness.  None of these are obstacles to us if we have faith.  They simply purify us of all self-importance and make us more ready to receive the Lord’s favor.  Nothing is impossible for us when we have great faith, because nothing is impossible for the Lord in whom we trust.

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Eyes Fixed on Jesus

August 13, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Courage, Faith, Father Nixon, Strength, Trust

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 13, 2023 — Year A
Readings: 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a / Ps 85 / Rom 9:1-5 / Mt 14:22-33
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Visitors to the Holy Land like to take a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, the sea that Jesus walked.  A certain tourist wanted such a ride, and the boatman told him that the fare was $150.

“One hundred fifty dollars!” exclaimed the tourist.  “That’s why Jesus just walked.”

If we go deeper into the gospel passage for today, this story of Jesus’ walking on the sea teaches us a lot about who Jesus is, about the Church and her journey through the world, and about the life of faith of individual believers.

First is the lesson about Jesus.  The miracle of Jesus’ walking on the sea shows that Jesus is Lord and has authority over all forces, natural and supernatural.  The Jews believed that the sea is the domain of supernatural demonic forces.  A rough and stormy sea is regarded as the work of these hostile spirits.  By walking on the raging waves and calming the storm, Jesus is showing Himself to be One who has power and control over these hostile spiritual powers.

There are Christians who have surrendered their lives to the Lord but still live in constant fear of evil spirits, sorcery, witchcraft, potions, and curses.  There are many of us who go to fortune tellers and ask them, “What is ahead of us?”  Many of us, too, read horoscopes to know what will happen to us during the day.  Today’s gospel readings bring us the good news that these powers of darkness stand no chance at all when Jesus is present and active in our lives and affairs.

The second lesson is about the Church.  The boat on the sea is one of the earliest Christian symbols for the Church in her journey through the world.  Just as the boat is tossed about by the waves, so is the Church pounded from all sides by worldly and spiritual forces hostile to the kingdom of God.  In the midst of crisis, Jesus comes to strengthen the faith of the Church.  He assures us that no matter how strong the storm of life is at the moment, He is always to remain with His Church, and He keeps His promise always.

Some of our priests and bishops in the past have felt the persecution of the Roman emperors, the threat of the Anti-Christ, and heresies.  The sexual conduct of some priests has cracked the Church.  But the Church still exists and will continue to exist in the future, because Christ is with His Church.

The third lesson is about the individual believer.  The first rule I learned regarding driving a motor vehicle is: Keep your eyes on the road always.  And not on the steering wheel, not on the clutch or the accelerator, because if we do that we will certainly crash.  The sight of Jesus walking on the sea, especially the involvement of Peter in the story, is a lesson for us who are tempted to take our eyes off of Jesus and to take more notice of the threatening circumstances around us.

Peter had said to Jesus, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (Mt 14:28). Jesus gives him the command, “Come” (Mt 14:29).  But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and began to sink (Mt 14:30).

The strong wind in our lives could be sickness, death, poverty, family problems, inability to correct unjust conditions, difficulty in finding decent work, apathy, impatience, the urge to give up in despair, and many more.  Why did Peter sink?  When Peter kept his eyes fixed on Jesus, he walked upon water well enough.  But when he took notice of the danger he was in and focused on the waves, he became afraid and began to sink.  So, today’s gospel reading holds the spiritual message for each one of us to focus our eyes on God at all times, and to fulfill His will.

Keeping our eyes focused on Jesus could be difficult.  The gospels suggest three ways to us on how to do it.  First, let us recognize that we cannot save ourselves.  Like Peter, we have to face the fact that he could not save himself as he was slowly sinking.  Some of us may have trouble admitting that we can’t make it through life on our own, but we can’t.  We really can’t.  It is not weakness to admit that we need God.  It is foolish to think we don’t.

Second, reach out to Jesus.  After we admit that we cannot save ourselves, reach out to Jesus like Peter did, and cry out to the Lord when we slip, “Save me!”  But how?

One way could be by going to Confession.  Reach out to Jesus in the Eucharist, and then reach out by seeking the help of Christian friends who will support us in our efforts to keep our eyes on Him.  In other words, the three C’s of reaching out to Jesus are Confession, Communion, and Community.

Third, keep your grip on Jesus strong, like Peter did. He held onto Jesus for dear life.  That is why he eventually made it back to the boat safely.  How do we keep our grip on Jesus strong?  That is through prayer, studying our faith in His words, and by making the daily effort to put our faith into practice.  If we take prayer seriously, and not just make a few formal prayers to satisfy our consciences, if we study our faith diligently, and if we make the effort to live it out there in the world, then our grip on the Lord will not loosen.

If we lose our grip and fall into serious sin and suffering, then let us go back to Step One and start all over again.  As long as we make Christ our vision, our point of arrival, and the center of our lives, we can survive.  We believe that when big storms come our way, God is always there to help, and rescue us.  We have to trust Him.

May the Lord increase our little faith, so that through all the storms of life, we should have our eyes and our trust constantly fixed on Jesus and His power and not on ourselves and our weaknesses.

 

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Do Not Be Afraid

June 25, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Courage, Deacon Mark, Faith, Forgiveness, Obedience, Saints, Strength, Trust

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 25, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Jer 20:10-13 / Ps 69 / Rom 5:12-15 / Mt 10:26-33
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

In case you missed it, on June 16 we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the day after that, the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This past Thursday we celebrated the Memorial of St. Thomas More, and just yesterday, the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist.  I see in that sequence of celebrations the love of Jesus’ Sacred Heart burning in Mary’s, Thomas More’s, and John’s hearts, enabling their great victories. We receive His Sacred Heart at every Mass in the Eucharist! Keep this truth and these spiritual heroes in mind during this homily on trusting in God’s grace when the world persecutes us for witnessing to His truth and love.

The LA Dodgers major league baseball organization recently held a public event in their stadium to give a “Community Hero Award” to a group of men who dress as nuns and mock the Catholic Church, which is to say they mock Christ (CNA). Now pray today’s Psalm 69 again, “For your sake I bear insult…I have become an outcast to my brothers…the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.”

Washington Nationals pitcher and Catholic, Trevor Williams, responded to the Dodgers’ celebration of mockery by becoming the first major league player to denounce the Dodgers’ award ceremony for an organization the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called “blasphemous (CNA).” His Twitter comments denouncing this attack on the Catholic faith have been retweeted thousands of times. He has been criticized, yes, but Williams said he wanted to show his four children that if they are ever tested, it is ok to stand up for their faith. By the way, Trevor’s own faith took off after going to Adoration as a teenager.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah is lamenting how those “who WERE [his] friends” denounce him, watching for “any misstep” so they can trap and “take vengeance on him (Jer 20:10).”  However, Jeremiah doesn’t worry about being “canceled” for his faith in God. He defiantly writes, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion. (Jer 20:11-13)!”

St. Thomas More can relate to Jeremiah’s lamenting about friends turning on him. More was King Henry VIII’s chancellor, and the King wanted More to sanction his illegitimate second marriage in addition to his self-proclaimed position of head of the Catholic Church in England.  More refused to sanction either, and King Henry VIII began to cancel More’s job, his status, money, and reputation. But More’s faith did not break. The King was frustrated and finally ordered More’s beheading.

More’s last words exemplify Jesus’ exhortation in today’s gospel. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna (Mt 10:28).” Likewise, More said, “I die his majesty’s good servant, but God’s first.” This is called holy fear, which Bishop Barron describes as fearing “losing intimacy and friendship with God (Barron 72).”

St. Paul, in the second reading, wrote to the Roman Church, “But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”  Living the hope of these words in prison before his execution, Thomas More wrote, “His grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience.”  In doing so, More also echoed today’s Psalm “See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive!  For the Lord hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not (Ps 69:33).”

Like the baseball player Trevor Williams, More also wanted to teach his child through his actions. In his letter from prison to his daughter, Margaret he wrote, “Do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.”

What of the people who mock the Church and try to teach our children to do the same? Jeremiah called the mockers “evildoers” and spoke of God “putting them to shame.”  These strong words can be difficult for us, because as Christ’s followers, we look at our persecutors like the first deacon, Stephen. As he was being stoned to death for sharing his faith, he said in imitation of Jesus on the Cross, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

When we read the Bible, it is important that we read it in light of the gospels which rightly order our thoughts.  To better understand this difficult challenge, it is illuminating to look at Jeremiah’s words through the lens of today’s gospel reading. Jesus said to the Twelve: “Fear no one…And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Mt 10:28).” What is Jesus doing here? He is, in His perfect love, “casting out all fear (Jn 4:18)!!” What causes the cycle of accusations, mockery, and violence? Fear. However, if my heart is fed by and enfolded in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, then I fear no one, nowhere. Free from fear, I can respond with Christ’s love and break the chains of conflict and discord. I can even pray for God to forgive those men mocking our Lord, “to not hold their sin against them.”

Sound unreasonable or naive? Thomas More, like all the great saints, shows us the way. In his letter to Margaret, he did not mock Henry VIII, nor point out his sin of adultery. He, with an eye on eternity instead of the here and now, wrote this about Henry: “His Majesty has done me such great good with respect to spiritual profit that I trust that among all the great benefits he has heaped so abundantly upon me I count my imprisonment the very greatest.” Like the bold hymn, Faith of our Fathers, More was “chained in prison dark, but was still in heart and conscience free.”

Is there no justice or accountability, then, for those who persecute and mock us? Do we just let them walk all over us? A wise priest once told an angry man, “You cannot do worse to that person than God will.” Jesus said, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father (Mt 10:33).”  That is a polite way of saying not everyone goes to heaven. God commands us to forgive our enemies. Justice is His domain.

Do not be afraid to speak the truth. Remember that there is no love without it. It is a spiritual oxymoron to say I want someone to be happy while suppressing the truth when I am with them. Could speaking the truth cause me pain and suffering? Yes. No doubt some of you have experienced this in your own families and at work and school.  So, I ask myself a question: Do I fear the Lord who can cast body and soul into Gehenna, as much as I fear acknowledging Him when it might cause me discomfort?  We must keep an eternal perspective of our life. Psalm 85 says, “Salvation is near for those who fear Him.” But take heart! God does not abandon us when we testify to His truth, love, and good news.  Remember Jeremiah’s words, “My persecutors will stumble; they will not triumph.”

We see this truth in the rest of the story of the heroes we just heard about. Trevor Williams says many players and stadium employees have secretly thanked him. And on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Trevor Williams was given the honor of leading the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for tens of thousands on the Hallow app. As for the British Catholic Church, seemingly taken over by Henry VIII, it is now the leading religion in Thomas More’s beloved London.  John the Baptist was beheaded, but Jesus called him the greatest born of woman, and the Church honors his birth two thousand years later with its highest-ranking feast, a Solemnity!

And what about our awesome mother, Mary? She stayed at her son’s side, throughout His persecution and Crucifixion, despite extraordinary personal pain, her Immaculate Heart enfolded in His Sacred Heart. For her fidelity was she abandoned by God to poverty and loneliness with no husband and no son? No. Jesus, with one of His last seven utterances on the Cross, gave her a new son who went on to write of her victorious coronation as Queen of Heaven (Rev 12:1).

Let’s close with God’s word, which gives us hope and helps us to be bold in the Spirit despite our failings, inadequacies, and fears. The next time you need to proclaim His truth “from the housetops,” remember these words exchanged between Jesus and St. Paul.  Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul responded, “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:9-10).” Amen.

 

Citations

Bishop Robert Barron. The Word on Fire Bible-The Gospels. Word on Fire Ministries 2020.

Filip Mazurczak. Is a re-Catholicization of Britain underway?  The Catholic World Report, July 14, 2020.

Peter Pinedo. Washington Nationals pitcher Trevor Williams speaks out on Dodgers controversy. Catholic News Agency (CNA), June 14, 2023.

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Fully Present

June 11, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Deacon Barry, Eucharist, Faith, Sacraments

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
June 11, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a / Ps 147 / 1 Cor 10:16-17 / Jn 6:51-58
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist

I believe.  Help my unbelief.

You heard all the talk and all the witnesses about this amazing man from Nazareth. Their healings, teachings with wisdom and authority. I’ve even heard He’s performed miracles. He’s going to be in the area for a big talk. Lots of folks plan to go there and hear Him, to see Him. I’ve got to see this. Could He be the one?

I get there and wow, there are a ton of people, hundreds, maybe thousands. What a great day. His words, so inspiring, so deep and meaningful. It gets late. Everybody is hungry. He’s praying over a small basket of bread, and now they’re beginning to share it down front. That’s not going to last long. It’ll all be gone soon. My belly growls. They’re still passing around and there are baskets now. And the folks, they seem to all be getting plenty. Finally, the basket gets to me and it’s full, completely full of fresh bread and it smells amazing. I can’t believe it.

Where did Jesus go? He disappeared somewhere. Nobody’s sure where He went. I really would like to see Him again. I think we’re going to head into town, into Capernaum. I hear He’s been hanging out a lot there. Maybe He’ll be there, maybe I’ll see Him again.

There He is. I found Him, and He’s talking again. I can’t wait to hear what He’s saying now, and it’d be great if I got some more of that bread.

You’re here for more food, more bread. Not because of My signs. You need food that endures for eternal life. Not manna like Moses, but true bread from Heaven. I am the bread of life. Come to Me, and you will never die.

All I’ve got to do is come to Jesus. All I’ve got to do is follow Him and He’ll feed me bread all that I want. That bread was the best, oh boy. Whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors had manna but died. This bread you eat and do not die. I am the living bread, the bread I give is My flesh for the life of the world.

Wait a minute. What did He just say? That’s weird. Did He say flesh? That’s right, that’s what I just said. Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day. For My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink.

OK, I’m not sure about this. I don’t think I like where this is going. It’s really getting disturbing. I can tell you’re not understanding; you’re not getting it. I’m talking about eating My flesh. Gnawing. Chewing. Really, truly eating My flesh. Then I will remain in you. If you feed on My flesh, you will have life. This is the bread of life. Whoever eats this bread will not die.

All right, guys, it doesn’t look like we’re getting any real food here. Let’s pack it up. Grab your stuff, we’re getting out of here. I think we ought to get into town before the crowd comes. Everyone is leaving.

What would you have done? If you were there, what would you have done? Better question is what will you do now? Will you walk away and put some distance between you and Jesus and this hard teaching, spiritually and physically? Or will you believe and follow?

My friends, my dear friends, when the priest in the person of Christ calls upon the Holy Spirit during the liturgy of the Eucharist, the Epiclesis, when you see him put both his hands over the gifts and the Deacon drop to his knees behind the altar, it’s a spiritual sonic boom. The fabric of space and time is shattered, and Jesus Christ Himself entirely body and blood, soul and divinity, becomes substantially present in the bread. He said it Himself, folks. What God says, becomes.

In this bread of life discourse which is only a part of Chapter 6 of John, Jesus refers to Himself as bread eleven times. He says to eat and then later escalates that to the word for gnaw on his flesh seven times. He says to drink His blood four times. It’s frank, it’s repetitive, it’s urgent, and it is insistent. Jesus is not messing around; He’s not mincing words. He really, truly, really, really means it.

And get this, He doesn’t go chasing after the crowd who’s leaving and say, wait, everybody. I didn’t really mean it. I meant to say eating is like eating my flesh, that eating the bread and drinking the blood is like. He didn’t say it’s a metaphor or it’s another one of My parables.

They went, and there He was, remaining with just the few. And did He say to them, it’s a shame they’re all leaving, guys? Because I was just kidding. No, He did not say that. He says, so are you leaving too? Are you going to leave too, because I’m not changing anything I said.

Where are we to go? For You have the words of everlasting life, was their answer. What is our answer? What is our prayer? Our prayer is, I believe that You, Jesus Christ, our God, omnipotent and all powerful. And for you, nothing is impossible. Jesus, if You can take the waters of that baptismal font on this young baby, or on me as a 41-year old adult and wash away my sins completely, then by God, You can become fully, substantially present in the Eucharist.

For our salvation. For eternal life. I wasn’t there when the thousands were fed. But I’m here now and You’re here now. I believe. Help my unbelief.

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The Mystery of God

June 4, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Faith, Father Nixon, Holy Spirit, Trinity

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
June 4, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9 / Dn 3: 52-56 / 2 Cor 13:11-13 / Jn 3:16-18
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

There was once a story of a pope who wanted a portrait of God, so he called in all of the artisans of Rome.  He told them that whoever could perfectly portray God on canvas would receive a papal award.  So the artisans gathered in the Vatican work room, and each one started to paint a portrait of God.  They worked on their masterpieces for several months, except for one painter named Giuseppe.  Being old, Giuseppe would fall asleep in front of his canvas while thinking about how he would paint God.

Finally, the time came when the pope would judge their paintings.  His Holiness toured the large gallery and looked at each painting beside its artist.  God was represented in many ways:  an old loving man; a shepherd; a king on a throne; a crucified; a dove; and in several other ways.  Yet to the surprise of all, the pope was not satisfied with any of the portraits.

When the pope glanced into the corner, he heard Giuseppe snoring in front of his canvas.  He went to the old painter and saw the empty canvas in front of him.

“This is it!” the pope exclaimed.  “This is the perfect portrayal of God.”  The cardinals, bishops, and all the artisans gathered around His Holiness, holding the canvas with nothing painted on it.

“Your Holiness, the canvas is empty.  It has no portrait of God,” the cardinals told him.

“Exactly,” the pope said.  “That is what God looks like – indescribable.”

A joke, and at the same time, true.

Brothers and sisters, today is Trinity Sunday.  Our Catholic faith teaches us that there is only one God, but three divine persons:  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, or Three in One.

I remember a friend of mine who encountered an atheist who said that we Catholics have so many gods:  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  We express it in the Sign of the Cross.  This atheist continued to say that the Bible teaches us to worship God alone, and no other god.

My friend told the atheist that in our Bible, the mathematics formula that we can find is not addition, but multiplication.   And he said, (and he quoted from Genesis, but he changed some words) “Go out into the world and multiply.”  He did not say, “Go out into the world and minus.  So,” my friend continued, “1 x 1 x 1 = 1.  That is why we have only one God, but three divine persons.”

Anyway, this is not the way to explain the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.  But we can use this way to explain the mystery in a simple and direct way.  The name Trinity means “three in one.”  “Three in one” because there are three divine persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  They are not three gods, but one God.

But none of the readings we heard today talked directly about the Trinity or used the word, Trinity.  Yet the Most Holy Trinity, which is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is the central mystery of the Christian faith and life.  It is the mystery of God.  It is, therefore, the source of all other mysteries of faith.

St. Paul came closest in talking about the Trinity.  What he said sounds familiar to all of us; we just heard it in the Second Reading.  He speaks of the grace of Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  (1 Corinthians 13:13)   This is the greeting of the priest at the beginning of the Mass, after making the Sign of the Cross.

Maybe at this time we are still a little bit confused, and we wonder: Are we worshipping three gods or one God? Let us bear in mind this thought from St. Augustine:  Trinity is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.  I will try to explain this on two levels:  doctrinal and practical.

On the doctrinal level, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph numbers 253 – 255, summarizes this doctrine in three parts.

First:  That the Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three divine persons, the “consubstantial Trinity.”  The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: “The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, by nature, one God.”

Second:  The divine persons are really distinct from one another. “God is one but not solitary.”  “Father,” “Son,” “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: “He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son He who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit He who is the Father or the Son.”  They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.”

Third:  The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another: “In the relational names of the persons, the Father is related to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both. While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance.”   “Because of that unity the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son.”

So now on the practical level, how does the mystery fit into our day-to-day life as Christians?  To ponder this mystery more deeply, what comes out is community.  If there are three persons in one God, then there has to be a community; a unity among the three.

Brothers and sisters, we are made in the image and likeness of God.  That being so, we ought to mirror our various communities; for example, families, religious congregations, offices, workplaces, and others in the image of the Holy Trinity.  These communities should bear the fruit of unity:  understanding, love, peace, and harmony.  It is good that these will be the fruits in us.  We are the icons of the Blessed Trinity, and so let us make the Blessed Trinity concrete in our lives.

All that and more is the meaning of God as Trinity.  It is this God as Trinity whom we need most, especially these days when we are experiencing a crisis, political, economic, sociocultural, religious, moral, and especially our relationships with one another.  But if we can only allow our trinified God to cure the woundedness in our own hearts, we may yet learn to really love one another as He loves us.

May our every home be filled with the trinitarian atmosphere of love, peace, unity, sharing, and let us also overflow this in our homes to our neighbors’ homes, offices, businesses, and work.

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