Monday, March 30, 2009
Who in here watches Law and Order on TV? Or maybe I should say Law and Orders, since there are several of them on now days. I really enjoy them. For those who don’t watch it, usually the first half of the show is spent with the police catching the bad guys, thus the Law part of the title. Then the second half is with the DA’s office prosecuting them, thus the Order part of the title. These shows can be interesting, in that sometimes at the beginning of the show you are certain who the bad guys are, but often times after ALL the facts are gathered someone who appears guilty is found to be innocent.
Well, this show is what I thought about when I read this reading from Daniel. We see Suzanna, a beautiful and godly woman, who is totally innocent, but these corrupt elders accuse her of adultery. And even her own servants, family, and friends didn’t believe her.
Only Daniel, with the grace of God, saw her virtue and worked to prove her accusers wrong. How affirming Daniel’s belief in her must have been! ---How good it must have felt to have someone believe in her!
So consider this: If Daniel was this passionate in his belief in Susanna’s character, how much more will Jesus stand with us when Satan, the “accuser of our brothers,” tries to wear us down. Jesus sees the good in us, not just the bad. He doesn’t fall for the malicious whispers of the devil. He can see though Satan because he already defeated him on the cross.
We all have days when it seems we are under attack, ether from outside or inside. Maybe something we said was misunderstood, causing people to question our motives. Maybe we made a big mistake and we can’t stop replaying it in our minds. Or maybe we are just feeling downcast and having trouble looking beyond our shortcomings. When you are down remember who you are---a child of God, who always looks at you with love, pride, and affirmation. He will always stand with you. He will always speak words of encouragement to you. He will always turn aside the accusations of the devil----always!
Remember 2 things from this reading, 1st we don’t want to falsely judge anyone. Judgment is the Lord’s, not ours. 2nd if we have been judged falsely, or even when we do sin, our Lord loves us unconditionally.
Remember that in Christ, we are free from all condemnation. Remember that we are the apple of our Father’s eye. With God’s word behind us and his presence within us, we can be completely assured that we are worth far more than what the devil or our circumstances may want us to believe!
Saturday, March 28, 2009
How many of you know someone or have been through cancer? The word itself feels like an emotional bomb, bringing with it shock, anger, fear, grief, guilt, and anxiety. Typical initial responses of those of us who find out that they have cancer are: "I feel so helpless, so powerless against the disease." "I'm afraid of how this will affect my children." "I grieve for what we've lost and what we're going to lose." "I'm furious at the cancer for entering our lives." "Why now? We just retired!" Then something worse happens. Our family and friends begin to shy away from us. A different kind of fear takes over those around us. "I'm afraid because I'm not ready to talk about cancer." "I'm afraid of saying the wrong things." "I'm afraid we won't have anything to say to each other. We've never talked about cancer before."
My own mother went through cancer, twice. Early in her marriage after having my sister, my mother had an ovarian cancer. After an ovary was removed, the doctor told her her chance of conceiving another child was very slim. Well, here I am, born of a very slim chance. When I was a teenager, she had thyroid cancer. A group of parishioners from Korean Catholic Church came over to our house for a prayer vigil. As they prayed, my mom began to weep and cried out, "I can't bear to leave my babies by themselves." I remember being numb for a while. I didn't know what to say to her. Our house was silent. No one talked. We were too afraid to talk about it. But, my mother was a fighter. She could not bear leaving her babies, so she fought. The surgery to remove her thyroid was successful. So now she's a survivor. This experience had a profound change on her. Her outlook and priorities changed drastically in her life. Everyday, she believed, was a gift from God. She grabbed her rosary and prayer book 5 O'clock every morning. She gave thanks to God for allowing her to live another day, to be with her babies.
Our Lord tells us in our Gospel today, "...unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me."
Could something as terrible as cancer ever be a blessing from God? It was for my mother. She worked hard all her life, working to provide for her babies, my sister and I. She worked hard so that we'll maintain certain life style. The cancer was a reminder for my mom, everything that was provided for the family, even our lives, came from God. This was an attitude shift for my mom. The cancer brought death to her own priorities and her wants. After cancer, she realized that her life was not her own. It belonged to the Lord. To this day ever since I entered the seminary, my mom prays daily that Lord would give her son a gift of preaching. So I can't boast of any of my preaching as my own. It was a gift from the Lord through my mom's intercession.
In our Second Reading St Paul says, "In the days when Christ Jesus was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him."Have we realized what is possible when we decide to "die to ourselves"? Have we realized that when we put aside our ambitions for life, our pressing needs, and instead offer prayers and supplications on behalf of someone else, God gives something we never expected? "A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me...Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me."
Do you remember the man I mentioned at the beginning of this homily, the man who had to go through three days of lagniappe chemo at Our Lady of the Lake? He has received a great gift from God through his cancer and it was written all over his face—a clean heart, steadfast spirit, and the joy of knowing that everything was a gift from God.
Monday, March 23, 2009
But what did it really look like way back when?
"You have already been baptized into Christ and now you will receive the power of His Spirit and the sign of the cross on your forehead. You must be witnesses before all the world to His suffering, death, and resurrection; your way of life should at all times reflect the goodness of Christ. Christ gives varied gifts to His Church, and the Spirit he distributes them among the member of Christ’s body to build up the holy people of God in unity and love. Be active members of the Church, alive in Jesus Christ. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit give your lives completely in the service of all, as did Christ, who came not to be served but to serve."
Blessed Mother did not foresee what her 'Yes' entailed. Before answering Gabriel did she foresee how much both joy and suffering she would experience through raising her child? No. Did I foresee what kind of blessings and challenges I would experience through priesthood down the road? No. Likewise, we don't pick and choose things we want from God. We let God decide what He desires for us to experience--both joys and sufferings. In its essence, our 'Yes,' to God is simple in words as Blessed Mother's response, "May it be done to me according to your word." What this simple phrase requires, however, is a radical gift--a total gift of self to God.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
When I [Deacon Roger Navarra] was a youngster, believe it or not, I was very shy and bashful. I remember hiding under the bed when company who I didn’t know came over. I think part of the reason for this was that I had a minor speech impediment. I had trouble saying my “S’s and L’s”. I went though a couple of years of speech therapy, and since that time I haven’t shut up and I haven’t met a stranger.---So I don’t really know if the therapy was a success or not!!! It’s not that unusual for someone, especially a child to have trouble saying a particular letter, or sound, but with therapy and practice this can usually be overcome. However; there is one phrase that most of us have trouble with, adults as well as children. That phrase is: “bless me father, because I have sinned…” This is, of course, how we begin the sacrament of confession or reconciliation. It seems like many of US Catholics have a problem admitting sins…..We want to be forgiven, but lack the courage to ask for it. Why is this? It seems like we almost make an effort to avoid this sacrament of forgiveness. I ran across an article this week with ten common excuses for avoiding confession----along with a response to each.
1. I have nothing to confess. It’s very easy for us to believe---contrary to reality (and to the opinions of those who know us best!)---that we’re innocent and have “nothing to confess.” However, except for Jesus and His Mother Mary, no one-—not even the saints can truly make this claim. Surely all of us have something to confess: irritability, anger, a lack of charity, distractions while praying, and complacency regarding our religion, duties, and the list can go on. Make a sincere and honest examination of conscience and I promise you will find something to confess.
2. My sins aren’t that big or important. I doubt any of us in here are going to rob a bank or kill anyone, but we all sin. It is even a sin to have a “lukewarm” faith. We must never let our faith falter, because if we do we will see our love of God diminish and this can lead to an eventual loss of faith. ----It is so easy to convince ourselves that our little sins don’t really matter. If we’re to reach heaven God expects us to make an honest effort to continue growing in His grace, and the sacrament of confession is an important step in that direction.
3. I’m too uncomfortable or ashamed. Whether you’re embarrassed because it’s been so long since your last confession or because of the particular sins you have to confess, you can be sure Father has heard it all before----he won’t be shocked or scandalized by anything you tell him.
4. I’ve forgotten the procedures and prayers. When it comes to confession, getting the procedure and prayers right isn’t all that important. God doesn’t look at the precision of our words, but at the sincerity of our hearts. Instead of worrying about words, ask for the Holy Spirit’s help and enter the confessional in a spirit of humble trust.
5. I’d just be confessing the same sins over and over again. Our souls, just like our bodies, need regular cleansing and care. Sin can be addictive, but with God’s help, we can and will eventually overcome our faults. The sacraments, especially confession and the Eucharist, give us the grace to continue fighting our faults---and none of us are so strong that we don’t need this divine assistance.
6. I’m afraid Father will recognize my voice. We must never let our spiritual welfare be held hostage by other people’s opinion. Even if a priest does recognize your voice, he’s bound by the seal of confession never to reveal what he’s heard. And guess what, right now Father Paul doesn’t recognize ANYONE’S voice, so come on down and line up!!!
7. I once had a bad experience in the confessional, and I don’t want it repeated. This unfortunately can happen, it shouldn’t, but it can. Even if you caught a priest on a “bad day” or one with a gruff personality, don’t let that keep you from this sacrament. Jesus was always kind and merciful toward repentant sinners, and He expects His priests to follow this example.
8. I dislike standing in long lines. If only this was a problem! Unlike waiting at most doctors’ offices, waiting a long time for our time in the confessional will rarely be a problem. Remember none of us can claim to be free of all sin, and each of us needs God’s mercy. If we had the chance to spend a few minutes with a miracle-worker who’d heal us of all of our physical problems we’d jump at the chance---no matter how long the wait in line.
9. The times scheduled for confession are inconvenient. If the scheduled confession times are impossible for you to make call the office and arrange a different time, or take advantage of all of the Penance services that are available at the area churches.
10. My life is difficult right now, so this isn’t a good time. One of Satan’s favorite tricks is to make us fearful or uncomfortable about the very thing we need most to be at spiritual peace. If our lives aren’t on track, it could very well be that our sinfulness is alienating us from God, from other people, and even from ourselves. If so, this is precisely the RIGHT time to admit and confess our sins, allowing us to receive Gods mercy and peace.
A few years ago I was in confession with a priest while on retreat. This priest had earlier spoken to our group and talked about how the Eucharist forgives sins. He, of course, was correct that the Eucharist does forgive sins. We talked further about personally asking God for forgiveness and how loving and forgiving Our Father is.---Then this priest said something, which to me, just made a light bulb light up in my feeble mind. He said that God wants to forgive our sins, and does forgive them, ---But to receive the full graces from God, we need to confess our sins to a priest. We need to remember Our Lord’s love for us. We need to remember that God loves us so much that He sacrificed His flesh and blood for us---And yes, we need ALL the graces from God that we can get, and to receive them we need to remember that the priest is representing God---We need to remember that God wants us to talk to Him, through the priest. So please make note of the upcoming Penance services and include the wonderful sacrament of confession in your Lenten plans.
Just like I needed the speech therapy when I was younger, we all need the sacrament of reconciliation as we are all troubled and sick with sin. The practice of making a good confession relieves the bondage which sin can have on us. The bondage that prevents us from living the life of freedom the Lord calls us to.
I’m going to close with a quote from a Bishop, who was speaking to a group of Seminarians who he was about to hear confessions from. The Bishop said: “When you enter the confessional, it’s just two sinners, sitting around, talking about what God has already forgiven!” God Bless!!!
Friday, March 13, 2009
Clutter. It's not something we like to see in our living room or in our garage. Of course, the more things we have, more likely we'll have clutter. When I went to a friend's house, I saw an amusing book on the coffee table. The title was, "Lose 200 LBs. This Weekend: It's Time to Declutter Your Life!" On the first few pages, the author listed signs of a person who loves clutter. One read, "My grandmother saved all the foam meat trays." A newly wed couple commented, "We are just married and recently we moved 6,000 pounds of stuff to our new home, and we have no furniture yet. It was 3 times what the mover had estimated."
The author of the book asked a banker at a dinner party, "What's wrong with our economy?" He replied, "It's because we have everything!" The banker then asked those listening on to the conversation the following: "How many of you have a TV, microwave, radios, pairs of shoes, recliners, watches..." He went down a litany of things that we could possibly own, and everyone had not only one but several of each. You would think that the more things that we own that give us comfort should raise our personal satisfaction and happiness. But the author points out that it's the opposite. There are three different areas where we struggle. First, there is clutter around us. It's caused by all the things we own. Second, there is clutter on us. We eat more than what's necessary and so it's stored on our midrif. Third, there is clutter in us. We have so much mental and emotional concerns and worries. The author's point was that we had too much on our minds, on our waist, too much in our garages, basements, drawers, closets, and storage spaces.
So how does this connect with our gospel this week? We know that St. Paul tells us, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own..." (1 Corinthian 6:19-20) So what happens when this temple of the Holy Spirit becomes cluttered with things around us, on us, and in us? It's due for a house cleaning. In our gospel, Jesus enters the temple and finds all sort of clutter--those selling animals for sacrifice, money changers, and all sorts of merchants. With a whip, Jesus drives them all out saying, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." Holy Spirit often gives us inspiration time and time again to declutter our inside and outside, to let things go and to sweep them in order. And how difficult it is to let things go!
Three weeks ago, I had to pack my stuff to move from St. Aloysius to Mater Dolorosa. I counted--16 plastic tubs of stuff, pictures, and clothes. It took three cars to move. The easy part was transporting it. The hard part was deciding which one to keep and which one to give away as I packed. Many of you probably had this experience. It was 16 plastic tubs too many! And like most of us, I have multiple number of same things--2 laptops, 2 printers, 2 iPods, 2 radios, and on and on... I also gained about 10 lbs. after ordination. This past week I was reading a memoir by a priest named Fr. Jean Bernard, and reading this really stung my conscience regarding all the stuff I own and the clutter I have inside and outside.
Fr. Jean Bernard was a priest of the country Luxembourg. During Nazi oppcupation, like many of the Catholic priests and protestant clergy who denounced Nazis, he was sent off to German concentration camp Dachau. There he was placed in "Priest Block," a barracks that housed more than 3,000 clergymen mostly Catholic priests. By a sheer miracle, he was released in 1942, nearly dying from starvation and cruelty he received. On release, this tall man weighed at merely 100 lbs. He recalled in the memoir the following experience from Dachau: a German priest from a different barrack secretly sent a half-inch long consecrated host from a mass. This Eucharist was divided among several priests. It was kept by each priest, knowing that in a short while they'll be sent off to gas chambers. Fr. Bernard recalled, "How much consolation that brought to the hearts of the tormented priests, how much courage and readiness to sacrifice, cannot be expressed in words."
When we are stripped of all our clutter, of everything we own, even our human dignity, there is one thing we are still to keep: "I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.You shall not have other gods besides me.You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them." We are approaching the half-way mark of Lent. How are we doing in decluttering our lives to give Heavenly Father a place to sit and reign in our heart?
Monday, March 9, 2009
In the early morning of March 7th friends and family were gathered at Gilbert and Lisa's house. There was much deafening silence occasionally broken by sobbs. No words could describe this loss. Even short prayers of an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be could not console the tragedy which had no adequate answer to the question: why? Why did it have to happen to her? Why do the parents have to bury their own child? Why did God take away our beloved daughter, sister, niece, cousin, and friend? Why did God stand by on the sidewalk and let this tragedy just happen. No one in the room was able to answer these questions, therefore there was only silence.
Then a glimmer of light came in to the room, a little girl by the name of Maia. She was Beth's niece and Lisa and Gilber's granddaugther. First, Maia's granddad walked toward her with a box of Kix cereal. The silence was broken by laughs and wonder at the beauty of the child. Then someone asked Maia if she wanted to watch TV. Then granddad grabbed the TV remote and turned it on, just for her. Everyone's eyes were fixed upon Maia; they wondered if she was having fun. Maia glanced back at everyone, probably puzzled at why there were sad faces on everyone. She turned her attention back to the television to watch a kid program. This was as if it was a gift from Beth, letting us know that there is joy and blessedness where she is. Momentarily, the sadness and suffering lifted from our midst.
Could there be joy and blessedness in Heaven while at the same time sorrow, confusion, and even anger here on earth? Jesus mentions the blessedness or happiness of those who experience the Kingdom of God. "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God." The family and friends mentioned how Beth had radiated purity and innocense. Could it be possible that Beth is experiencing the greatest joy of her life--seeing God face to face? For those of us here who are mourning for the loss of Beth, could we experience that same blessedness that she experiences? Yes, Our Lord said, "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted." If Jesus told those of us here mourning that we are blessed and comforted, why does it still hurt so much? Could there be joy in this hurt? As someone said, Christians rejoice even while we truly sorrow...because our rejoicing is in the hope of heaven...while joy overcomes sorrow, it does not put an end to it.
We turn to Our Lord and Our Savior Jesus who is both the Lord of the dead and the living. We ask him to comfort us in knowing that whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
And we turn to the Mother of Jesus who lost her only Son through a tragedy. We turn to her because she understands what it is like to experience a profound loss here on earth. We turn to her because even though such tragedy should have made her bitter, angry, and sad, she believed in the promise of her son. So we turn to her in our prayer of Salve Regina, "O Mother of Mercy, our Life , our Sweetness and our Hope. To thee we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning, weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then most gracious Advocate. Thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after our exile show us the Blessed Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ."
Friday, March 6, 2009
After Ash Wednesday school mass, a 4 year-old Mater Dolorosa Pre-K student went home to her grand parents. Her paw-paw asked her, "So what's that on your forehead?" She replied, "It's Ash Wednesday, and it's ashes." Her paw-paw then asked, "What did the priest say as he gave you the ashes?" She replied, "God bless America!"
At this lonely, dilapidated shack we cry aloud. "If you were All-Good, All-Powerful, and All-Loving God why did you let me suffer! Why did you let this awful experience happen to me? Why did you take my loved one? Why did you just stand in the sideline and watch as if you didn't even care? Why! Why! Why!" With such perplexing questions in our heart and with God so mute and deaf to our cry, we sometimes drift into isolation. We leave the Church, or we grow apart from our family. In this shack, we become forgetful and experience a serious senior moment. We forget all the moments that God broke powerfully into our life to remind us that He was there. He never left us. He was present all along. "Where," we ask. If you are here at this mass, Jesus has one very powerful reminder for you. "Take this all of you and eat it. This is My Body, which will be given up for YOU."