Thursday, September 27, 2007
Monday, September 24, 2007
When we are in a survival mode, we can do some incredible planning in a short amount of time. A day before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, I was in Walmart trying to pick up some last minute necessities. You know what it was like in Walmart at that time. Bread shelves were empty, battery shelves were empty, and the canned food section was empty. Outside the Walmart by the gas station, there were no cars because they ran out of gas. Everyone in the neighborhood was hunkering down with all their supplies tucked in their home. Then the hurricane hit. I was already in Baton Rouge, but about 12 seminarians were trapped at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans for a week after the hurricane hit. They lost power and water, and there was chaos all around them. It's times like that we begin to appreciate a 20 minute hot shower, cool 65 degree A/C, and full shelves at Walmart that we take for granted. It's times like that we realize how wasteful we are with our resources.
We find in our Gospel today a person who is thrown into a survival mode. After mishandling and squandering his master's property, a steward is told that he's going to lose his job. In today's world, he would begin to email and fax out his resumes to all of his buddies. His goal was to maintain his lifestyle without doing much work. So he tries to make friends with those that owe his master money so that these people will help him out when he is expelled from his master's house. In seeing this, his master praises him for his fast emergency preparation. The master is impressed with the steward's quick-wittedness, decisiveness, and firm resolve to make the most of a difficult situation. And Jesus is impressed too, for he says, "For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light." He is urging the "children of light" to imitate the ways of "children of this world," especially in the way the steward prepared for his future. He is not telling them imitate dishonest and manipulative ways of the steward, for the steward's goal was to maintain his lifestyle and comfort through mammon--money. But Jesus is urging "children of light" to be equally zealous in preparing for our entry into heaven.
We see people make unbelievable sacrifices in order to improve their life-style or standard of living. We see them invest a great deal of time, money and energy in acquiring skills, career, and education. We Christians also must put the same amount of zeal into the service of God. We serve only one master, Our Lord. Materially, we need to carry out Our Lord's mandate to improve the lives of the poor, to use our resources prudently and not to elevate them as idols. Spiritually, we have to make a heroic effort to be welcomed into heaven. Are we well prepared for spiritual Hurricane Katrina that will hit us--our death? For that did we stockpile acts of kindness, virtues, and fervent love for Our Lord? How will we answer Our Lord when he asks us just as he asked the steward today, "What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward."
Sondra Abrahams knows well what Our Lord asked her when she experienced her life-after-death in the 1970s. She was an ordinary house wife who considered herself a good Catholic. She died all of a sudden at an young age due to medical complications. She met Our Lord after passing through a tunnel of light. As a welcome Our Lord hugged her, and she experienced the most profound happiness and joy she has ever experienced. Then Our Lord showed her life from the very beginning to her death. It was the most vivid movie of her life. At some points of her life, Sondra could see that she was loving to others and her heart was set on Our Lord. But at other moments of her life, Sondra saw how she fell short of responding to Our Lord's love shown to her. Our Lord was saddened at those moments. In comparison to the profound love that she experienced from Our Lord when he hugged her, Sondra wondered out aloud that she wished she could have been more patient, kind, and generous in response. After seeing all of her life, Our Lord asked her two questions. First he asked her, "Sondra, are you sorry for your sins?" Then he asked her, "Sondra do you love me?" It was the same question that Our Lord asked Peter after his triple denial. Then Our Lord asked her to go back to let people know about her experience.
We know we can be swept up preparing for the future. Our Lord reminds us always to put him in the future ahead of everything else. Are we prepared to meet Our Lord at this very moment especially when we receive the Eucharist and answer his questions, "Do you love me? And if you love me, how did you show that you loved me?"
Monday, September 17, 2007
Psalm: Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
Second Reading:1 Timothy 1:12-17
Gospel: Luke 15:1-32
There is something about dirt, mud, and puddles that attract little children. Despite mothers' warning and pleading, children are always getting their hands and feet dirty in mud and puddles. When I was little, my mother took me along on her way to pay the electricity bill. The office was in the middle of a large field, and she left me outside to play and wait for her. She came out less than five minutes later, but she saw that my shoes and pants were covered in mud. While she was inside I was running around the field and fell in a mud pit and got my pants and shoes all dirty. She gave me a brief and light spanking along with litany of what I should not do in the future. Then we rode a bus back home. In the bus people were staring at me and stepping away from me. By the way, I forgot to tell you an important detail in this story. The mud pit I fell into had no ordinary mud. It was filled with manure. Do you now see why people had to step away from me? I stank, but I didn't know it. My mom had to really clean me after we got home.
I wonder how the father of the prodigal son would have reacted if he had heard the news that his son was in the mud pit with pigs. Just as we are disgusted with the thought of someone covered with manure, a Jewish person at that time would have been equally disgusted with the thought of someone living in the same pit as pigs. You can imagine this man stank of mud, manure, and pigs. But if this man has approached you and wanted to shake your hand, would you do it? Would you go one step further and give him a hug? My gut feeling says no. If this man approached me, I would try to avoid him. In fact this has happened to me few times when I went to volunteer at Mother Teresa's soup kitchen. The street guys coming in for the meals would say, 'Hey Father,' and they thrust their hand upon me. And for a split second I would think to myself, 'Oh no, please don't.' Then I would break a nervous smile and shake their hand. And all that time I would think about what kind of germs would be on my hand and think about next opportunity to wash it clean.
Isn't it amazing then as filthy and unrecognizable the prodigal son was, his father was able to recognize his son from a long distance? And instead of running away from him (like I would have), the father ran toward his son. This spoke volumes about how much this father loved his son. He has already forgiven his son for squandering his precious wealth. The father only wanted his son to return home, to live as a rightful heir to his fortunes. But in order for this prodigal son to enjoy plentiful food and wealth of his father, he had to take a hard look at himself. 'Wait, what am I doing here? I stink and I'm hungry. I can do better than this if I return to the father.' The moment he decided to return, he was already well on his way back to enjoying his father's love and wealth.
All of us here at the church are so much like this prodigal son. We are here in the Father's house once again after a week of dealing with challenges at work and at home. And you know, going for a week without a spiritual shower, we begin to smell, spiritually, because of our sins. We might not know that we stink, but we do. Just like when I entered the bus and did not know that I stank of manure; when you live with the smell for a while, your nose gets sensitized. Did you know there are saints, like St. Joseph of Cupertino who had the gift to smell sin? That's why when we entered this house, we made a sign of the cross with the Holy Water which reminded us of our baptism and asked Our Lord to again wash us clean away our sins. After mass began, we took a hard look at where we were, spiritually. And we admitted our sins by reciting, “I confess to Almighty God,” and asked for God's mercy and forgiveness. We remember that last week, we received God's most precious wealth, His Son in the Eucharist. Did we treasure His Son in our hearts all through out the past week, using this grace to love God and neighbor? Or did we squander this grace like the prodigal son, offending our Lord in our hearts? If we have squandered his grace, we should feel empty and hungry. That's why God the Father feeds us with His Word and the Eucharist once again to allow us to journey another week. If you think about it, we are experiencing for ourselves the prodigal son's journey from the mud pit of pigs back to his father's house every week in the mass.
I know if we are not careful, mass can become a routine for us, just an obligation to fulfill. Our Lord has given us a a wonderful parable of the prodigal son to remind us that we are the prodigal son who is in need of return to the Father's house. Surely if my mother was able to accept and love a manure covered son, how
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Today is the Memorial of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In accordance with Jewish custom Our Lady’s parents named her eight days after her birth. The memorial of the Holy Name of Mary therefore follows that of her birthday, as the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus follows Christmas. The feast originated in
The Hebrew name of Mary (‘Domina’ in Latin) means lady or sovereign. This Mary is in virtue of her Son’s sovereign authority as Lord of the World. When we pronounce her name, we affirm her power, implore her aid and place ourselves under her protection. Most of the time because it’s too long to say ‘Blessed Virgin Mary’ or ‘Blessed Mother,’ I simply call out ‘Mama’ or ‘Mom.’ I know Heavenly Mother knows when I’m calling her and when I’m calling my earthly mom. And I call ‘Mom’ quite frequently especially in times of temptation and also right before giving homily (because giving homily is not a pleasant experience of mine). And I know when I utter ‘Mom,’ Heavenly Mother is right here with me with her heavenly angels and her Son. As much as I recommend for us to utter the Holy Name of Jesus, I would also recommend for us to utter the Holy Name of Mary, ‘Mom.’
Statue from the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, St. Augustine, Florida
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Psalm:Psalm 90:3-6, 12-13, 14-17
Second Reading:Philemon 9-10, 12-17
Gospel: Luke 14:25-33
Save more than you spend. One of the wisdom that children need to learn is how to be responsible with money. The first rule of thumb is that if we want to buy something big, we need to save more than we spend. Some parents teach this lesson by giving their children small allowances for taking out trash or helping with the dishes. The child quickly learns that if he wants to buy a $20 Gameboy cartridge by the end of the month, he needs to save up all of his $5 weekly allowances and not spend it on anything else. But the parents will miss a valuable teaching moment if they go ahead and buy it for them without any work or sacrifice. Would you buy a child a $300 Xbox if he only has $10 saved up? The child will surely have a misconception that money grows on trees.
Unfortunately because of the wide use of credit cards, many of us adults also have misconception that money grows on trees. We assume that we can pay it later. This year, our combined credit card debt in US is about $60 billion. That's about $9,000 of credit card debt per household. This does not count our mortgage debt which amounts to $6.8 trillion. And who is lending us all this money? If you did not already know, countries like China and European nations are lending us big portion of this money. All of us in this country needs to relearn how to save more than we spend, because we forgot to first sit down and calculate the cost to see if we have enough.
Do we really need to watch what we spend if there are plenty credit card and mortgage companies who are willing to lend? Yes. There is always a possibility that we cannot pay them later. We can lose our job or fall sick. Then we may face bankruptcy or foreclosure. Because of our irresponsibility with money, everything that we own will be auctioned off to some strangers.
I wonder if we treat God's grace like a credit card. We assume because God is merciful and loving, he will always lend the grace to us. We assume that this grace will never run out, so we keep borrowing from him without concern about paying him later. Soon, we take God's grace for granted. We assume that we can miss mass anytime we want, not go to confession for long stretch of time, and not even touch our rosary beads or not spend anytime on our knees. But scripture reminds us that when God pours out his grace on us He desires to see his grace to bear fruit in how we live. At the end of our life when we face God, will we have anything to show for all the grace that we have received? Did we use God's grace to live a humble and simple life, dedicating our life to serving and loving others? Did we strive for holiness using God's grace, resisting temptations, and coming humbly before God to beg forgiveness of our sins? Will God recognize us as his own child, or will we hear from him, “I do not know where are you are from.”
Jesus reminds us again in the Gospel how to be a responsible disciple. It's a common sense that if we're going to build a tower, we'd better have enough money to finish, or else. And if we are going to wage a war, we'd better have enough soldiers to win, or else. Likewise, in order to be a responsible disciple of Jesus who take God's grace seriously, we have to renounce all of our possessions. He said, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brother and sister, and even his own life, cannot be my disciple.” The 'hate' that Jesus is talking about is a radical reorientation of all of our loves, affections, and relationships. God has given us our family, friends, and possessions as a gift for a single purpose—to strive to transform ourselves in this life as a child of God, to live up to our calling as an image made in the likeness of God. This week, Jesus is exhorting us to take a look at how we are using God's grace in our life.
Can we honestly say that in each of our relationships we are honoring and bringing greater glory to God? Can we say honestly that the way we use each of our possessions brings us closer to God? God's grace is not to be squandered like a credit card but to bear fruit in our life of holiness.