Saturday, May 31, 2014

June 1, 2014: Ascension of Our Lord

The Ascension of the Lord As the disciples witnessed the stunning sight of Jesus ascending from their midst corporally (see Acts 1: 9), their question must have been: What now? Without doubt the event moved them to reflect on how much their lives had changed since meeting Jesus Christ and living day after day in his physical presence. With the Ascension, would it all be over? No, for the Lord had commanded them to “wait for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1: 4). And the promise of the Father always takes the form of a new way of being loved.

St. Augustine (d. 430) recognizes the need for the Ascension by simply acknowledging a fact of human experience. As long as Christ continued to dwell among them, the thoughts of the disciples would remain focused on “the Man Jesus … unable to give their minds to God.” But “if the Man should be withdrawn from their eyes and from among them, then they would think of his divinity.” St. Augustine imagines Jesus saying: “Let my mortal body be raised up to heaven that you may learn what you are to hope for.” 

In fact, as St. Leo the Great comments: “[ The Son of God] now began to be indescribably more present in his divinity to those from whom he was further removed in his humanity.”  Pope Benedict XVI develops this further:
 “Ascension” does not mean departure into a remote region of the cosmos but, rather, the continuing closeness that the disciples experience so strongly that it becomes a source of lasting joy…. Now … through his power over space, he is present and accessible to all — throughout history and in every place. 

Even more, Jesus’ ascension into heaven redefines the very notion of “heaven.” Pope Benedict XVI says that heaven is not a place but a person — the person in whom God and human beings are forever, inseparably one. And since Jesus himself is what we call “heaven,” we enter into heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus and live united with him as he participates in the Father’s royal power. “In this sense, ‘ascension into heaven’ can be something that takes place in our everyday lives.”

Lord Jesus, as you are lifted from our sight at the Ascension, you lift up our hearts. You make it possible for us to set our eyes and minds on the higher things of heaven . You love us in a new way. Outwardly you withdraw from us, but inwardly you fill us with yourself . It is in your divinity that you take possession of our souls. Be ever more present to me with your divine life. Dwell within me that I may be inwardly changed and given a share in your heavenly glory. Free me from all undue attachments that keep me from living in the truth . On this day, you teach us what we are to hope for. May the Ascension grace of your continuing closeness be for me a source of lasting joy.

-Fr. Peter Cameron OP, Novena for the Church Year

Friday, May 30, 2014

May 30, 2014 Friday: 6th Week of Easter A

What is this about wailing and weeping? Aren't we supposed to celebrate the joy of Easter today?  When Jesus talks about wailing and weeping, he is actually missing us. He could not wait to be with us again.  But he reassures us that when he comes back, we will experience joy that no one can take away from us. Shouldn't our hearts be full of joy? There is a promise of Jesus coming and so we can joyfully anticipate this reunion.

     In the meantime, while we live in a world marked by conflict and pain, Jesus prepares us to hold fast to our faith in him. Jesus compares our life experience to a woman about to give birth. During the time of delivery she suffers greatly but is so happy once her child is born. The joy of seeing her newborn child face to face is worth any pain. In the same way, when we feel the grief of loneliness, or are overwhelmed by suffering in life, the pain is obvious to us. But even in the midst of this pain, we can remember Jesus' promise that our sorrow will turn to joy.

     Our walk with God will not always be a bed of roses. There will be trials, and sometimes persecution because of what we do for God. However, Jesus reminds us that we can draw joy and consolation in prayers said together. When we gather as a worshipping community, we will experience his presence. Whatever we ask in his name the Father will grant. The darkness in the world may grieve, but our hope will remain strong because of the promise of Jesus love.
     In spite of all the trials and pain, let us continue to follow Jesus, for at the end there will be great rejoicing in store for those who are faithful to him.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

May 29, 2014 Thursday: 5th Week of Easter A

Why did Jesus leave his disciples forty days after his resurrection? Forty is a significant number in the scriptures. Moses went to the mountain to seek the face of God for forty days in prayer and fasting. The people of Israel were in the wilderness for forty years in preparation for their entry into the promised land. Elijah fasted for forty days as he journeyed in the wilderness to the mountain of God. For forty days after his resurrection Jesus appeared numerous times to his disciples to assure them that he had risen indeed and to prepare them for the task of carrying on the work which he began during his earthy ministry.
Jesus' departure and ascension into heaven was both an end and a beginning for his disciples. While it was the end of Jesus' physical presence with his beloved disciples, it marked the beginning of Jesus' presence with them in a new way. Jesus promised that he would be with them always to the end of time. He assured them of his power - a power which overcame sin and death. Now as the glorified and risen Lord and Savior, ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven, Jesus promised to give them the power of his Holy Spirit, which we see fulfilled ten days later on the Feast of Pentecost (Luke 24:49 and Acts 2:1-4). When the Lord Jesus departed physically from the apostles, they were not left alone or powerless. Jesus assured them of his presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus' last words to his apostles point to his saving mission and to their mission to be witnesses of his saving death and his glorious resurrection and to proclaim the good news of salvation to all the world. Their task is to proclaim the gospel - the good news of salvation - not only to the people of Israel, but to all the nations as well. God's love and gift of salvation is not reserved for a few or for one nation alone, but it is for the whole world - for all who will accept it. The gospel is the power of God, the power to release people from their burden of guilt, sin, and oppression, and the power to heal, restore, and make us whole. Do you believe in the power of the gospel?

This is the great commission which the risen Christ gives to the whole church. All believers have been given a share in this task - to be heralds of the good news and ambassadors for Jesus Christ, the only savior of the world. We have not been left alone in this task, for the risen Lord works in and through us by the power of his Holy Spirit. Today we witness a new Pentecost as the Lord pours out his Holy Spirit upon his people to renew and strengthen the body of Christ and to equip it for effective ministry and mission world-wide. Do you witness to others the joy of the gospel and the hope of the resurrection?

Don Schwager,

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May 28, 2014 Wednesday: 5th Week of Easter A

Then Paul stood up at the Areopagus and said:
“You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious.
For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines,
I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’
What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you.

Finding God in all things
This means that God – and people’s relationship with God – isn’t restricted to church, sacred texts or prayer. Every moment, no matter how mundane, is spiritual, and God can be found in every dimension of life.

“It means that nothing is considered outside the purview of the spiritual life. Ignatian spirituality is not confined within the walls of a church. It’s not a spirituality that considers only ‘spiritual’ topics, like prayer and sacred texts, as part of a person’s spiritual life.” -Fr. James Martin SJ

St. Ignatius Loyola included in his Spiritual Exercises a prayer called "the Examen," which derives from the Latin word for examination. The heart of the Examen is the third part: reviewing your day.

"Think of it as a movie playing in your head," writes James Martin, S.J., in The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. "Push the play button and run through your day, from start to finish, from your rising in the morning to preparing to go to bed at night. Notice what made you happy, what made you stressed, what confused you, what helped you be more loving. Recall everything: sights, sounds, feelings, tastes, textures, conversations. Thoughts, words, and deeds, as Ignatius says. Each moment offers a window to where God has been in your day."

And remember that no experience is too trivial for spiritual investigation.

"Nothing in our lives is so insignificant that it doesn't deserve God's attention," notes Jim Manney in A Simple Life-Changing Prayer, a book about the Examen. "In fact, the mundane and the humdrum parts of our lives give depth and texture to our relationships with God. Washing the windows and cooking dinner are as much a part of the relationship as graduation day. If it's part of our human experience, God is in it."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May 27, 2014 Tuesday: Pope Francis mass at the Cenacle in Jerusalem

Dear Brothers,

It is a great gift that the Lord has given us by bringing us together here in the Upper Room for the celebration of the Eucharist. Here, where Jesus shared the Last Supper with the apostles; where, after his resurrection, he appeared in their midst; where the Holy Spirit descended with power upon Mary and the disciples. Here the Church was born, and was born to go forth. From here she set out, with the broken bread in her hands, the wounds of Christ before her eyes, and the Spirit of love in her heart.

In the Upper Room, the risen Jesus, sent by the Father, bestowed upon the apostles his own Spirit and with this power he sent them forth to renew the face of the earth (cf. Ps 104:30).

To go forth, to set out, does not mean to forget. The Church, in her going forth, preserves the memory of what took place here; the Spirit, the Paraclete, reminds her of every word and every action, and reveals their true meaning.

The Upper Room speaks to us of service, of Jesus giving the disciples an example by washing their feet. Washing one another’s feet signifies welcoming, accepting, loving and serving one another. It means serving the poor, the sick and the outcast.

The Upper Room reminds us, through the Eucharist, of sacrifice. In every Eucharistic celebration Jesus offers himself for us to the Father, so that we too can be united with him, offering to God our lives, our work, our joys and our sorrows… offering everything as a spiritual sacrifice.

The Upper Room reminds us of friendship. “No longer do I call you servants – Jesus said to the Twelve – but I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15). The Lord makes us his friends, he reveals God’s will to us and he gives us his very self. This is the most beautiful part of being a Christian and, especially, of being a priest: becoming a friend of the Lord Jesus.

The Upper Room reminds us of the Teacher’s farewell and his promise to return to his friends: “When I go… I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn 14:3). Jesus does not leave us, nor does he ever abandon us; he precedes us to the house of the Father, where he desires to bring us as well.

The Upper Room, however, also reminds us of pettiness, of curiosity – “Who is the traitor?” – and of betrayal. We ourselves, and not just others, can reawaken those attitudes whenever we look at our brother or sister with contempt, whenever we judge them, whenever by our sins we betray Jesus.

The Upper Room reminds us of sharing, fraternity, harmony and peace among ourselves. How much love and goodness has flowed from the Upper Room! How much charity has gone forth from here, like a river from its source, beginning as a stream and then expanding and becoming a great torrent. All the saints drew from this source; and hence the great river of the Church’s holiness continues to flow: from the Heart of Christ, from the Eucharist and from the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, the Upper Room reminds us of the birth of the new family, the Church, established by the risen Jesus; a family that has a Mother, the Virgin Mary. Christian families belong to this great family, and in it they find the light and strength to press on and be renewed, amid the challenges and difficulties of life. All God’s children, of every people and language, are invited and called to be part of this great family, as brothers and sisters and sons and daughters of the one Father in heaven.

These horizons are opened up by the Upper Room, the horizons of the Risen Lord and his Church.

From here the Church goes forth, impelled by the life-giving breath of the Spirit. Gathered in prayer with the Mother of Jesus, the Church lives in constant expectation of a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth (cf. Ps 104:30)!

Pope Francis
Monday, 5/26/14

Saturday, May 24, 2014

May 25, 2014: 6th Sunday of Easter A

How well do you take changes? Are you the type that ‘rolls with the punches,’ meaning when things don’t go your way, you adapt to the changes and keep moving ahead? Several years ago, there was an enormously popular book that was given to people facing changes or transitions in their lives--for example, business folks, college and high school graduates. The book was a parable involving cheese. Four characters in the parable lived in a maze. One day they discovered in the maze a giant cheese. Two of the four characters made the cheese the center of their lives; they even move their house near it. They did not notice that the cheese became smaller and smaller to the point that none was left. The other two quickly accepted the loss of the cheese and went off into the maze in search of other sources. But the two that made the cheese the center of their lives were not able to cope with such an abrupt life-altering change. One of them eventually overcame his fear and followed the other two in search of new cheese. One remained behind, laboring under the delusion that
somehow, someway, his cheese will someday be replaced.

In the Gospel today, we are transported to the Last Supper on the night before Jesus’ death. The disciples are dealt a heavy blow as Jesus tells them that a great change is about to happen--that he was going to leave them. Jesus ensures them that he is not abandoning them, “Father will give you another Advocate to be with you always...he remains with you and will be in you...I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” At the hill of Calvary a couple of days later, it is evident that the change Jesus foreshadowed affected most of the disciples--only Blessed Mother, John, Mary Magdalene and few women were present.

Each of us too, will experience change at some point in our lives, and we will all deal with it in different ways. Some of us will never let ourselves become satisfied with the status quo and instead will constantly be on the lookout for change. Others will allow themselves to become blinded to the world around themselves while they focus on the familiar and comfortable. Then some will reluctantly move on, driven by necessity in search of something new, while others will remain behind in the hopes that their comfort will somehow be restored.

We, the Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, will also experience change within the next couple of years. The current issue of the Catholic Commentator and today’s bulletin contain  articles that outlines the initiative by the Diocese to address the acute priest shortage that we are experiencing, and will worsen in the future. The number of new ordinations will not keep up with the large number of priest retirements expected in immediate years. There are currently 50 active Diocesan priests. In the next five years, 14 Diocesan priests are eligible to retire, and during that time, God willing, we will ordain 9 priests. So the during the next five years, we will have a shortfall by five priests. This shortfall would be further compounded by deaths or choosing to leave active ministry. Which parish will then not have a resident priest? This is a difficult decision that the Diocesan Task Force will need to make. 

The Diocese is trying to think outside the box to address this challenge. In the past, a priest was assigned to serve one physical church. Now, we must think out of the box; we need to consider a priest serving ‘X’ numbers of Catholics. This may result in the redistribution of the clergy, a different way of parish administration, and increased involvement of laity. 

How will you react to this change when it happens? How will our priests react to this change when it happens? For one thing, we are only in the preliminary stage of formulating a solution, so we may be looking at a couple of years before a drastic change happens. Yet we must be prepared.

How do we prepare? First, we must trust what our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is doing through those who are entrusted with formulating a solution. Jesus promised us, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

Second, we must pray. We must pray that young men or single men who are called by Jesus to the priesthood would answer the calling. We need to pray for their parents, for some parents are discouraging their sons from answering the call. We need to pray for our active priests, as we have been doing this past Divine Mercy Novena. As our expectations for our priests increase, these men face greater stress and pressure to do more; some may choose to leave active ministry while others become demoralized. We also need to pray that our hearts will not hold on to old traditions and ways of doing things. Do not be surprised that with the shortage of priests, that events that used to be celebrated in conjunction with mass would be celebrated without mass.

Lastly, we need to remain close to Jesus. He promised us that he will be with us always. Any change that comes our way, will not remove his presence or his closeness in our lives.

While this challenge in our Diocese may sound gloom and doom, let us rejoice in the fact the Church is not the buildings but all of us, who make up the Body of Christ. What is essential to our Church are the Eucharist and the Sacraments and those will always be provided for us.

Please ask Blessed Mother to help our parish to ponder with gratitude her Son’s Real Presence among us.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

May 23, 2014 Friday: 5th Week of Easter

There are four observations worth noting in this commandment of love: First, love we are told here, isn't about feeling. Love entails a relationship which goes beyond the realm of feelings and emotions. Though emotions are involved, at its heart, love is a decision to seek the good of others. Loving as Jesus does means offering what is the most loving thing you can do for a particular person in a particular moment. A true lover gives the best he can offer and is willing to sacrifice everything he has for the beloved. Jesus gave his very life for us so that we have everlasting life with the Father. Sometimes, laying down our lives as Jesus does entails nothing more than to help someone who is handicapped, to take the time to visit the sick, or to offer comfort to someone who is in grief.

Second, Jesus is seeking intimate friendship with us, but He gives condition for his friendship. Friendship with Jesus is not a casual relationship. It demands "abiding," being loyal and obedient. We just can't love another without some surrender of our will.

Third, Jesus is accepting us as his friends, not as his slaves. A slave is expected to do what his master instructs him to do, whether or not he likes it, and whether or not he understands why he is commanded to do it. But as Jesus' friends, we share a mutual trust and affection with him. As we become Jesus' friends, he will disclose his plans and purposes to us. He will share his thinking, his goals, and his motivations for doing things. We will come to know his heart and mind. We will experience a greater degree of insight into the Scriptures. We will hear the voice of God more clearly. Our thoughts will become more like his thoughts. We will carry out his purposes on earth as they are in heaven.

Fourth, Jesus wants us to love one another just as he loves us, whole-heartedly and without reserve. His love fills our hearts and transforms our minds and frees us to give ourselves in loving service to others. If we open our hearts to his love and obey his command to love our neighbor, then we will bear much fruit in our lives, fruit that will last for eternity.

During this Easter season, let us develop our friendship with Jesus, from casual to intimate so that we may become like Jesus willing to be put out for others, desirous to bear fruit that is pleasing to our loving Father.

May 22, 2014 Thursday: St. Rita of Casica

God's love for us is expressed in the graces He showers us. In today's Gospel God says if we want to stay in His graces, He expects, not demands, that we obey Him. There is a big difference: expecting means a package deal while demanding means there are strings attached. While there is no conditionality for staying in God's love, it is our job to be worthy of or to deserve those graces because in the first place we are not and we do not. When we say we love God but disobey His commandments, disharmony sets in. A simple bother is when our troubled conscience kicks in. But more painful is when God starts to take back what was given.
To illustrate how hard yet how rewarding it is to consistently stay in God's grace, here is the story St. Rita of Cascia whose feast we celebrate today. Young Margherita was a beautiful woman who wanted to be a nun. But instead she followed her parents' wishes in an arranged wedding with a man she barely knew. She became a battered wife but events took over when the belatedly remorseful husband was murdered. She had two sons who planned for revenge. Again St. Rita expressed her wish in a prayer that instead of the sons becoming murderers, "may God take them both." Shortly, both sons got sick and eventually died. Widowed and alone in her old age, St. Rita decided to pursue her previous plan to be a nun. Three times she was turned down. One night she returned to the convent after all doors were locked. When she was able to open the doors without keys, the community took this as a sign from God and she was finally admitted. She stayed in the convent for the next 44 years strictly observing her vows. Although she by then had attained her single ambition, her fierce devotion to God further gained her a distinct honor of feeling the pain of Jesus' thorn on her forehead complete with a deep wound that remained open up to her death on May 22, 1457 at the age of 76. Nearing death, she asked for a rose from the monastery garden. It was deep in winter, but a nun found roses blooming amidst the snow. As with all her wishes, she did not demand for results. She knew it would be given. So great was her love of God and her devotion to His will. Indeed God's joy was in her and her joy was complete.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

May 21, 2014 Wednesday: 5th Week of Easter

It’s remarkable (though not really) how easily we can forget the emotionally charged things that happen in a day. The problem is that if we aren’t resolving them we aren’t really forgetting them. Take this example: a few weeks ago, I was having a delightful weekend day in the country. After brunch with a friend and an invigorating hike in the multi-hued autumn woods, followed by a relaxing evening preparing a home-cooked meal and curling up with a fun movie, I prepared to do the examen thinking it would be awfully quick, since it had been such an uneventful and pleasant day. Five minutes later, I found myself immersed in the recollection of a phone call I had gotten but not picked up during brunch, which had set off a torrent of resentment-fueled anxiety-based planning and worrying. Nothing had actually happened — I had taken no actions — but it had been a roller coaster for sure. Hours later, I had completely forgotten the storm that had run through my mind for 15 minutes or so. Thanks to the examen, I was able to see it for what it was and resolve to sort it out. If you’re like I was for most of my life, your reaction to this story will be, “Why not let sleeping dogs lie?” But that old saying contains the answer: That dog may be sleeping, but it’s waiting to wake up and bite you. If the fear had remained buried, it would have percolated under the surface, waiting to flare up again at the next trigger.

The examen

It’s helpful to set aside the same time each day, or the same point in your day — just before bed; between work and home; dinner and anything else — so that you make the examen a routine which isn’t a struggle to fit in every time. It’s also helpful to establish a sacred space of some sort around it. Ritual helps to establish habits.

First, affirm you are in God’s presence while you pray.

Then, recall those moments in the day where you felt God’s grace, or simply felt good, or where good things happened whether you recognize them as being of God or not: those moments in the day where you felt serene, without fear and anxiety, connected. Don’t just remember such moments but re-feel them and relish those feelings. As Fr. Jim Martin puts it in The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, “savoring is the antidote to our increasingly rushed lives.” It’s so easy to forget these precious moments and dwell on the things that give us anxiety. The examen can help us through a “deepening of our gratitude to God, revealing the hidden joys of our days,” says Fr. Jim.

Using 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 in the daily examen

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Where was I patient today? Where was I kind? Was I envious? Boastful? Arrogant? Rude? Did insist on my way in a situation today? Was I irritable with someone? Resentful? Did I delight in anything dishonest or unethical? Where did I rejoice in the truth? Where was I in total acceptance? Faithful? Hopeful? Tolerant?

As you continue in the examen, identify those moments in the day when you strayed from God’s grace — diverged in thought, word or deed. We all have an inner guidance system, which gets uncomfortable when we start down a path of selfishness and fear. Sometimes we don’t hear it, sometimes we drown it out with fear-based messages, and sometimes we openly defy it. But in the examen, you pause and reflect back through the day and recognize those moments. This is the heart of the examen, but it’s essential to do the positive part too.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 20, 2014 Tuesday: 5th Week of Easter

The gospel tells us that Jesus came into the world not only to show us how much God loves us, but also how much he loves his Father. That is why he was willing to suffer the passion and death out of obedience to his Father. How many of us are willing to suffer for others, much less suffer for God? Jesus' sacrifice is not only a model of generous self-giving but also an example of how to love God our Father. Obviously he had an intimate and loving relationship with God. We must also have an intimate relationship with God in order to discover and understand his plan of salvation for us. In order to do God's will in our lives, we must first know what it is. We must also discover His fatherhood before we could love Him above all things and put Him at the first place in our lives.
In the first reading, St. Paul knew what God's will for him was - to proclaim the Good News anywhere and everywhere, accepted or rejected, to anyone and everyone. He was ready to suffer all hardships for the evangelization. Therefore God was with him in his missionary travels and helped him create many Christian communities in Asia Minor. Despite strong oppositions from both Jews and Gentiles, St. Paul pushed on and now we look up to him as the greatest model of all Christian missionaries.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

May 18, 2014: 5th Sunday of Easter A

This past week was the week of graduations. Many high schools, including Ascension Catholic High, held their commencement exercises. The most likely question that a new graduate is asked is: “Where are you going?”

Do you remember way back when you graduated from high school? Did you know then what direction that you wanted your life to take? After graduating high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I originally selected undecided/pharmacy major when I began my freshman year at the  University of Texas at Austin. My dad was a pharmacist when he was in Korea; he made a decent living with that profession, so I thought a secure job was the best criteria for deciding my career. However, a couple of years later, this restless college student decided to change his major to Chemical Engineering, only because I saw on a career magazine that one of the highest paid engineering disciplines was Chemical Engineering. Did I love being a Chemical Engineer? No, but my major criteria for a happy life was satisfied--that I would have a stable, well-paying job to support a beautiful wife and children.

Is there a better criteria to base the direction of our lives than security and comfort? In the Gospel today, Jesus discloses to the disciples gathered at the Last Supper that he is going to a place where the disciples can’t follow at that moment but later. So Thomas asks, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus encourages them not to be troubled for he himself will come to direct and guide them to the Home prepared for them. Then Jesus shows them the roadmap when he says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The destination is to be with the Heavenly Father, and Jesus himself is preparing each of them a place in the Father’s House.

Some of us here are at the beginning of our life; some of us are in the middle of our life; some of us near the end. Do we like where we are right now? Trappist monk Thomas Merton asked the following poignant questions: “Why do we have to spend our lives striving to be something we would never want to be, if we only knew what we wanted? Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?”

Merton, reflecting on his own checkered life, made this observation:
“Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.”
Jesus knows that this is the inner struggle that we all face at different stages of our lives. We try to forge our own way using our own criteria and end up in dead-ends. So Jesus offers himself as the solution--the Way, the Truth, and the Life -- and he does this by coming to us personally, intimately, inviting us to change our lives and follow Him.

This past Friday when I celebrated mass at a nursing home, I clearly witnessed how Jesus personally and intimately enters our lives. Usually after communion as I’m cleaning the vessels before praying the concluding prayer, the residents are quiet -- meaning, mostly sleeping. However, on this past Friday, one of the elderly residents began singing:

O Lord I am not worthy
 that Thou should come to me,
 but speak the word of comfort,
 my spirit healed shall be.

And humbly I’ll receive Thee,
 the Bridegroom of my soul,
 no more by sin to grieve Thee
 or fly Thy sweet control.

In that moment, I felt as though God was talking through this little, elderly soul in her current station in life in the nursing home. It was like an echo from today’s Gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me...I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

The answer to the question, “Where are you going,” depends on knowing what we are made for and who made us. For most of our lives we have struggled to find our own direction because we do not see that our direction in life, our purpose in life is to find God, to know God, to love God. We have failed many times, but do we realize that all this time God is pursuing us and loving us? God is looking into the distance for us, trying to find us, and longing to bring us home.” Can we spend this coming week to allow God to find us, to know us, and to love us?

Friday, May 16, 2014

May 16, 2014 Friday: 4th Week of Easter A

In this month of May, the month dedicated to Blessed Mother, we implore our Heavenly Mother to teach us how to see the beauty where beauty seems absent. In a way, as we thumb through each beads of the Rosary, we are imploring her to teach us to see the beauty in disappointments, to see the beauty in losing a loved one, and to see the beauty in dying.

The mystery of recognizing the beauty in all the events of our lives is hidden in the Blessed Mother’s ‘Yes’ to God’s invitation to be the mother of Jesus. How we are afraid to say ‘yes’ to God to allow Him to take possession of our life. Yet it is when we say ‘yes’ to God like Blessed Mother, we give God the permission to unfold the adventure of grace that awaits us.

For most of our lives we have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. We have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate ourselves. We have failed many times but always tried again, even when we were close to despair.

Now we wonder whether we have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find us, to know us, and to love us. The question is not “How are we to find God?” but “How will we let ourselves be found by him?” The question is not “How are we to know God?” but “How are we to let ourselves be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How are we to love God?” but “How are we to let ourselves be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for us, trying to find us, and longing to bring us home.” When we allow God to find us, we begin to see the beauty that is hidden in our ordinary daily lives.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

May 15, 2014 Thursday: St. Isidore the Farmer

When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, he touched on humility. But he also sought acceptance both as messiah servant which seemed conflicting and was hard to accept. The disciples followed Jesus' thinking He was the anointed one and sent to save mankind: a man of power. The disciples were after a temporal kingdom where Jesus would reign and they would share in such glory. To the disciples, servanthood was farthest from their minds. And so to explain the concept of a servant leader, Jesus used himself as the example.

To complement our reading, let us look at the life of St. Isidore the Farmer whose feast we celebrate today. St. Isidore lived during the 11th century in Spain. He is popularly known to Filipinos as San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers. We often picture farmers as simple folks doing humble chores and living simple lives. San Isidro Labrador was indeed born poor and all his life he was employed by a rich landlord to till the land. San Isidro was a pious man like his wife who later became St. Maria dela Cabeza. He went to mass every day, the reason he was always late in plowing the fields. But strangely San Isidro produced three times the normal output. The curious master and his co-workers were amazed to find out he was being helped by angels who plowed while he was at mass and even side by side with him later. He was also fond of animals and these came to him in great numbers. Again his companions witnessed another miracle that as San Isidro was feeding the animals, the food never ran out. The same thing happened every time San Isidro fed the beggars who trooped to him. In the end, San Isidro became greatly esteemed. When he died at the age of 60 in 1622, he was canonized alongside four high profile saints as St. Phillip Neri, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius of Loyola. What is more, his body remains incorrupt to this day.
To be God's chosen people and to work as lowly servants can go hand in hand. All we need is humility to bridge the two.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May 14, 2014 Wednesday: St. Matthias, Apostle

It is clear in this Gospel that the initiative of the adventure of love of God with us began with the Lord. He took the first step to choose us, and to go out and bear fruit and with fruit that will last. What is this fruit - it is LOVE. Unfortunately, this word is often used and abused by society. Love is a word that is loosely and often shouted, without knowing what love is really about. Christ describes love as the ability to lay down our own life for the other. To lay down our life means to lay down our plans, to lay down our ideas and projections and turn our full attention to the other. And the purpose of this love is to give glory to God who is the ultimate author of love. So that by this love, many people will be drawn to the Father, to believe that the Father exists and chooses us to be co-heirs of His Kingdom. The Father loved us first, by sending His only begotten Son and now we can inherit and share this love with others.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

May 13, 2013 Tuesday: Our Lady of Fatima

We cannot understand the things of God only with our heads, we need to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit too. This was Pope Francis’ message at morning Mass Tuesday at Casa Santa Marta. The Pope also said that faith is a gift of God which we cannot receive if we live our lives “detached” from His people, the Church.

"Two groups of people”, those who are "gentle, sweet people, humble, open to the Holy Spirit", and the others "proud, self-sufficient, detached from the people, intellectual aristocrats, who closed their doors and resist the Holy Spirit". "This is not just stubbornness", he said , "it is much more: it is having a hard heart! And this is more dangerous". "Let us ask the Lord for the grace of docility to the Holy Spirit to move forward in life, to be creative, to be joyful, because the other people were not joyful". When "there is a lot of seriousness - he said - the Spirit of God is lacking". We ask, therefore, "for the grace of obedience and that the Holy Spirit will help us to defend ourselves from this other evil spirit of self-sufficiency, pride, arrogance, closure of the heart to the Holy Spirit".
Pope Francis, May 13, 2014

‘Mary said her “yes” to God: a “yes” which threw her simple life in Nazareth into turmoil, and not only once. Any number of times she had to utter a heartfelt “yes” at moments of joy and sorrow, culminating in the “yes” she spoke at the foot of the Cross. Here today there are many mothers present; think of the full extent of Mary’s faithfulness to God: seeing her only Son hanging on the Cross. The faithful woman, still standing, utterly heartbroken, yet faithful and strong.

And I ask myself: am I a Christian by fits and starts, or am I a Christian full-time? Our culture of the ephemeral, the relative, also takes its toll on the way we live our faith. God asks us to be faithful to him, daily, in our everyday life. He goes on to say that, even if we are sometimes unfaithful to him, he remains faithful. In his mercy, he never tires of stretching out his hand to lift us up, to encourage us to continue our journey, to come back and tell him of our weakness, so that he can grant us his strength. This is the real journey: to walk with the Lord always, even at moments of weakness, even in our sins. Never to prefer a makeshift path of our own. That kills us. Faith is ultimate fidelity, like that of Mary.’
Pope Francis, Oct. 13, 2013

Monday, May 12, 2014

May 12, 2014 Monday: 4th Week of Easter A

Cyril of Alexander, a 5th century church father comments on Jesus as our Good Shepherd:
"He shows in what manner a shepherd may be proved good; and He teaches that he must be prepared to give up his life fighting in defense of his sheep, which was fulfilled in Christ. For man has departed from the love of God, and fallen into sin, and because of this was, I say, excluded from the divine abode of paradise, and when he was weakened by that disaster, he yielded to the devil tempting him to sin, and death following that sin he became the prey of fierce and ravenous wolves. But after Christ was announced as the True Shepherd of all men, He laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16), fighting for us against that pack of inhuman beasts. He bore the Cross for us, that by His own death he might destroy death. He was condemned for us, that He might deliver all of us from the sentence of punishment: the tyranny of sin being overthrown by our faith: fastening to the Cross the decree that stood against us, as it is written (Colossians 2:14). Therefore as the father of sin had as it were shut up the sheep in hell, giving them to death to feed on, as it is written in the psalms (Ps. Xlviii.16), He died for us as truly Good, and truly our Shepherd, so that the dark shadow of death driven away He might join us to the company of the blessed in heaven; and in exchange for abodes that lie far in the depths of the pit, and in the hidden places of the sea, grant us mansions in His Father’s House above. Because of this he says to us in another place: Fear not, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you a kingdom (Luke 12:32)."
Do you listen attentively to the voice of the Good Shepherd and obey his word?

Don Schwager,

Sunday, May 11, 2014

May 11, 2014: 4th Sunday of Easter A - Mother's Day

How many of you have a mother who is stubborn? One Jesuit priest shared the following experience with his fellow Jesuit priests. One summer he volunteered at a hospice located in a slum. He had a chance to talk with the mother superior who ran the hospice. He took the opportunity to suggest to her how to improve the sanitary conditions of her hospice. He told her, “Mother, your sisters should arrange their medicine this way, not that way; they should treat the patients this way, not that way; they should do things this way, not that way.” The mother superior smiled and said, “That’s not our way.” The priest persisted. “It really is better, to do things my way. After all, I have a PhD in public health.” The mother superior replied again calmly, “No, that is not our way.” The priest grew angry at her resoluteness as he said, “Really, it would be much better.” She replied, “No, that is not our way, Father.” The priest slammed his hand on the table in frustration, “Mother, you are so...unreasonable!” The other Jesuit priests listening to the story commented, “You told Mother Teresa that she was unreasonable? That's good for at least a few more days in purgatory for you!"

When we were children, we did not understand why our mothers made us go to church and pray regularly. To us, our insistent mothers seemed too stubborn even when we protested. Most mothers share that same resoluteness of Mother Teresa regarding faith. In a mysterious way, every mother has been gifted by God with the ability not only to nurture her child physically but also nurture her child spiritually. It’s not that fathers do not recognize the spiritual needs of their children, but the mothers are in someway naturally drawn to bring their children to what will nourish them spiritually. Mothers know instinctively that while they play a big part nourishing their children, someone greater than themselves play a much greater role in nourishing their children.

In the movie God’s Not Dead, an exceptionally successful man, who is wealthy and has no need for God, is contacted by his sister who insists that he visit their mother who is in the advanced stage of dementia. Since she doesn’t recognize him, he feels it is useless to visit her. When he finally does visit his mom, he sits behind her and stares at her. She seems removed from reality as she gazes out to nowhere. Her son, not expecting her to respond says, “Mom, you prayed and believed your whole life. Never done anything wrong, and here you are. You're the kindest person I know. I am the meanest. You have dementia. My life is perfect. Explain that to me!” Then all of the sudden, the mother who seems not to be aware of her son’s presence speaks, “Sometimes the devil allows people to live a life free of trouble because he doesn't want people turning to God. Their sin is like a jail cell, except it is all nice and comfy and there doesn't seem to be any reason to leave. The door's wide open. Till one day time runs out and the door slams shut and suddenly it's too late to get out.” Perhaps it was the last attempt by this mother to save her son’s soul.

Pope Francis commenting on today’s Gospel said, "Sometimes we are tempted to be too much our own bosses and not humble children and servants of the Lord. We desire to possess the key to interpreting everything, the key and the power to find our own path, whatever it is, to find our own gate. And this is the temptation to look for other gates or other windows to enter the Kingdom of God. We can only enter by the gate whose name is Jesus. All those who do something else - says the Lord - who try to enter through the window, are 'thieves and robbers'.” Just as Mother Teresa advised the Jesuit priest with the PhD that God’s way is not our way, Pope Francis advised that we should knock on the True Gate even though we feel that gate seems closed. “We are sad, we feel desolation...we have problems with knocking. Do not go looking for other gates that seem easier, more comfortable. The gate we should be knocking on is Jesus. Jesus never disappoints, Jesus does not deceive, Jesus is not a thief, not a robber. He gave his life for me: each of us must say this: 'And you who gave your life for me, please, open, that I may enter.' "

What will it take for you to start knocking at Our Lord’s door? Do you lack confidence or desire to knock? Ask the Heavenly Mother on this Mother’s Day to help you.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

May 10, 2014: First Communion, 4th Sunday of Easter A

If you could ask the Pope one question, what would it be? In 2006, children and their families were invited to Rome for a special gathering of children making their First Communion. A few of the children were given a chance to ask a question directly to Pope Benedict XVI. A little girl named Andrea asked this question. “Dear Pope, what are your memories of your First Communion day?”

Pope Benedict replied, “It was a lovely Sunday in March 1936, 69 years ago. It was a sunny day, the church looked very beautiful. There were so many beautiful things that I remember. There were about 30 of us, boys and girls from my little village. But at the heart of my joyful and beautiful memories is this one… I understood that Jesus had entered my heart, he had actually visited me. And with Jesus, God himself was with me. And I realized that this is a gift of love that is truly worth more than all the other things that life can give.”

Andrea then asked: “In preparing me for my First Communion day, my catechist told me that Jesus is present in the Eucharist. But how? I can't see him!” Pope replied, “No, we cannot see him, but there are many things that we do not see but they exist and are essential [for example electricity]… we do not see the very deepest things, those that really sustain life and the world, but we can see and feel their effects. So it is with Jesus: we do not see him with our eyes but we see that wherever Jesus is, people change, they improve… Therefore, we do not see the Lord himself but we see the effects of the Lord: so we can understand that Jesus is present.

Finally, a little boy named Alessandro asked the Pope: “What good does it do for our everyday life to go to holy Mass and receive  Communion?” The Pope replied, “[Eucharist] centers life. We live amid so many things. And the people who do not go to church, do not know that it is precisely Jesus they lack. But they feel that something is missing in their lives. If God is absent from my life, if Jesus is absent from my life, a guide, an essential friend is missing, even an important joy for life, the strength to grow as a man...

We must always remember that Jesus is our friend who lives within us.  If Jesus is in each of us, then we must remember that Jesus is in the person next to us, He is in the person in front of us, and Jesus is in the person behind us.  Some days in may be hard to remember that Jesus is in your mom -- such as when she is yelling at you to clean your room. Sometimes it may be hard to remember that Jesus lives in your dad -- such as when he is mad that you broke a window in your house.  There may be times when it is hard to see Jesus in your best friend -- such as when he lost you favorite toy. However, we need to see Jesus within our family, friends and neighbors even when they are not acting very loving. We grow in holiness when we choose to see Jesus in those around us and our hearts and their hearts are transformed.

Today when you receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time, I’d like for you to make a special request to Jesus after you return to the pew. Ask Jesus,  “Jesus, you come down from Heaven to visit me today. What a special privilege! Will you be my friend and guide me in every moment of my life?” Parents, family and friends, let us also make that request to Jesus.

Friday, May 9, 2014

May 9, 2014 Friday: 3rd Week of Easter A

Saints are not heroes, but are sinners who follow Jesus along the path of humility and of the Cross and thus allow themselves to be sanctified by Him – because no one is able to sanctify himself. This was the message of Pope Francis in his homily at daily Mass on Friday at the Casa Santa Marta.

Beginning with the first Reading, which tells the story of the conversion of Paul from an enemy of the Church to a saint, Pope Francis explained what is meant when we say “the Church is holy”:
“But how can she be holy if we are all within [her]? We are all sinners here. Yet the Church is holy! We are sinners, but she is holy. She is the spouse of Jesus Christ, and He loves her, He sanctifies her, He sanctifies her every day with His Eucharistic sacrifice, because He loves her so much. And we are sinners, but in a holy Church. And we too are sanctified with this belonging to the Church: we are children of Church, and Mother Church sanctifies us, with her love, with the Sacraments of her Spouse.”

The difference between heroes and saints,” Pope Francis affirmed, “is the witness, the imitation of Jesus Christ, going along the way of Jesus Christ,” [the way] of the Cross. And many saints “end their lives so humbly. The great saints! I think of the last days of Saint John Paul II,” the Pope recalled. “We all saw it:”
“He could not speak, the great athlete of God. This is how the great warrior of God ended his life, destroyed by disease, humiliated like Jesus. This is the path of sanctity of the great. And it is path of our sanctity. If we do not allow our hearts to be converted to this street of Jesus – bearing the cross every day, the ordinary cross, the simple cross – and allowing Jesus to increase; if we do not take this path, we will not be saints. But if we take this path, all of us will bear witness to Jesus Christ, who loves us so much. And we bear witness that, although we are sinners, the Church is holy. She is the spouse of Jesus.”

Pope Francis

Thursday, May 8, 2014

May 8, 2014 Thursday: 3rd Week of Easter

The road to Emmaus in this way becomes the symbol of our journey of faith: the Scriptures and the Eucharist are the indispensable elements for our encounter with the Lord. We too arrive at Sunday Mass with our worries, our problems and delusions... Life sometimes wounds us and we walk along sadly toward our “Emmaus,” turning our backs on God’s plan. We distance ourselves from God. But the Liturgy of the Word welcomes us: Jesus explains the Scriptures and reignites the fire of faith and hope in our hearts and in Communion he gives us strength. Word of God, Eucharist. Read a passage of Scripture every day. Remember it well: read a passage of Scripture every day, and on Sunday go to receive Communion, to receive Jesus. This is how it happened with the disciples of Emmaus: they took in the Word; they shared the piece of bread and from sad and defeated they became joyful. Remember it well! When you are said, take up the Word of God. When you are down, take up the Word of God and go to Sunday Mass to receive Communion, to participate in the mystery of Jesus. Word of God, Eucharist: they fill us with joy.

Pope Francis
Regina Coeli, May 4, 2014

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

May 7, 2014: Wednesday Audience, Pope Francis

Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Gift of Counsel

“We know how important it is, especially in the most delicate moments, to be able to count on the advice of wise people who love us. Now, through the gift of counsel, it is God himself, with his Spirit who enlightens our hearts, so as to help us understand the proper way to speak and behave and the path to follow. But how does this work? From the moment we welcome and host Him in our hearts, the Holy Spirit immediately begins to make us sensitive to His voice and to direct our thoughts, our feelings and our intentions according to God’s heart. At the same time, He increasingly brings us to turn our inward gaze upon Jesus as a model of how to act and relate with God the Father and our brothers and sisters. Counsel, then, is the gift by which the Holy Spirit makes our conscience capable of making a concrete choice in communion with God, according to the logic of Jesus and of his Gospel. In this way, the Spirit helps us grow inwardly, helps us grow positively, helps us grow in communion and helps us to avoid being at the mercy of selfishness and our own way of seeing things. This is how the Spirit helps us grow and also live in communion.”

“We always return to the same point: prayer. Prayer, praying is so important. Praying those prayers that we all know from childhood but also praying with our words, praying to the Lord: ‘Lord, help me, advise me, what should I do now?’. With prayer we make room for the Spirit to come and help us in that moment, he advises us all on what we must do. Prayer, never forget prayer, never. Nobody notices when we pray on the bus, on the streets, we pray in silence, with our hearts, take advantage of these moments to pray. Pray for the Spirit to give us this gift of counsel.”

“In intimacy with God and listening to His Word slowly we put aside our personal logic, dictated most of the time by our closure, our prejudices and our ambitions, and instead learn to ask the Lord, what is your wish? Seek advice from the Lord. And we do so with prayer.”

“In this way a profound harmony matures in us, almost innate in the Spirit and we experience how true the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Matthew are: ‘When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say (Mt 10:19-20)’. It is the Spirit who counsels us but we have to make room for the Spirit to give us counsel and give space to prayer, prayer for Him to come and always help us.”

“Like all the other gifts of the Spirit, counsel is also a treasure for the entire Christian community. The Lord speaks to us not only in the intimacy of our heart, - He speaks to us, yes, but not only there - but also through the voice and the testimony of others. It really is a great gift to meet the men and women of faith who , especially in the most complicated and important moments of our lives, help us to shed light in our hearts and recognize the will of the Lord.”

“I remember once, I was in the confessional, and there was a long queue in front of the Shrine of Lujan, the diocese of that bishop there, and there was a young man in the queue, all modern with tattoos And ... he came to tell me what was happening in his life. He had a big, difficult problem. ' And [he asked me] what would you do? So I told my mother about this and my mother said to me: ‘Go to the Virgin Mary and she will tell you what you must do.’ Here was a woman who had the gift of counsel. She did not know how to solve her son’s problems but she indicated the right way: ‘Go to Our Lady and she’ll tell you.’ This is the gift of counsel. Do not say, ‘Do this ...’. Let the Spirit speak . And that woman, humble, simple, gave her son the truest, most beautiful advice, because this young man said to me: ‘I looked upon Our Lady and I heard that I need to do this, this, this.’ I did not have to say a word. It all came from my mother, the Virgin Mary and the young man. This is the gift of counsel. You mothers who have this gift, ask for this gift for your children: the gift of being able to counsel your children . It is a gift from God.”

Pope Francis

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

April 6, 2014 Tuesday: 3rd Week of Easter

The first reading is about the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the early Church. Stephen boldly admonishes the Pharisees and then has a vision of God. The Pharisees are so angry that they stone him to death. What is remarkable in this reading is that Stephen forgives his killers and then "falls asleep." What a holy death! What courage, tenacity and such big-hearted compassion for one's enemies! This is Christian witnessing at its highest! Do you have the conviction, courage and love of St. Stephen? Even one percent of it should be enough for us. How much faith do we have in Jesus? Are we willing to suffer for him? Or even to die for him? By reading this passage of the New Testament, we should be moved to love Jesus a bit more, much more than usual. We should ask God for faith, the faith that can move mountains, and love for our enemies. These virtues we are called to possess if we want to be authentic Christians. If we pray hard enough for them, God might grant them to us.
We will need to eat the bread of life in the Eucharist to gain more spiritual strength to carry our daily crosses. We will need to read and to reflect on the Scriptures every day. We should exhaust all opportunities to do good to others, especially the poor and the needy. But without a deep and serious relationship with God and his Son Jesus, our faith will falter. Therefore, we must ask for the gift of prayer. Who says a Christian's life is easy? Obviously it is not, but it is surely worth living because it means that we are always in touch with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Monday, May 5, 2014

May 5, 2014 Monday: 3rd Week of Easter A

God's Generosity

God is a god of abundance, not a god of scarcity. Jesus reveals to us God's abundance when he offers so much bread to the people that there are twelve large baskets with leftover scraps (see John 6:5-15), and when he makes his disciples catch so many fish that their boat nearly sinks (Luke 5:1-7). God doesn't give us just enough. God gives us more than enough: more bread and fish than we can eat, more love than we dared to ask for.

God is a generous giver, but we can only see and enjoy God's generosity when we love God with all of our hearts, minds, and strength. As long as we say, "I will love you, God, but first show me your generosity," we will remain distant from God and unable to experience what God truly wants to give us, which is life and life in abundance.

Fr. Henri Nouwen

Saturday, May 3, 2014

May 4, 2014: 3rd Sunday of Easter A

Have you had the experience when traveling by plane that the person sitting next to you shared information about himself or herself? You may have been surprised with the amount of detail and personal information they shared with a complete stranger. Perhaps, this was you. Several years ago following my ordination, I traveled to South Korea to visit relatives. For my return trip home to the States, I decided to travel incognito and was wearing casual shorts and shirt. A lady sitting next to me began to spill her guts--i.e. extremely personal information. She was returning back to the States from a business trip that was cut short by news from her family that her father died. She said that the moment she heard of her father’s death that she was distraught and emotional. In her deepest sorrow, her plea to God was to be able to speak to a priest who could speak English. I then thought to myself, ‘I’m trying to relax incognito after a tiring visit to my relatives, but God has other plans for me.’ I told the lady, “Well, God answered your prayers, I’m a Catholic priest. I don’t look like one right now, but I can show you my card.”

How difficult is it to recognize God in our daily situations? We find it is easy to see Him in the joyful moments of our lives where we thank Him and praise Him -- perhaps on our wedding day or when a baby is born. Are we able to praise God when we experience a sad or unexpected tragedy? In today’s Gospel passage, the two disciples walking the Road to Emmaus could not comprehend the suffering and death of Jesus and the reports of his resurrection. “We had hoped,” were the words the two disciples spoke to the stranger who joined them on their walk. Similarly, all of us have known the sorrow of having high expectations dashed. Like the two disciples, we all have had experiences of being crushed and lost. Yet, what is the way through the dark veil of hopelessness? 

There was a young girl who was dying from cancer and she was in her final hours. She was in a hospital
room and her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and many family friends, surrounded the bed where she lay. They all knew that her death was imminent as they listened to her labored breathing. One person told me that her breathing was unbearable to hear, almost torturous. There was no other sounds in the room -- no talking, no crying, just the sound of her breathing -- until, the little girl’s father began to pray: “Heavenly Father, we thank you for giving us Rebecca 13 years ago today and we return her to you on this, her birthday. You gave us a great blessing and we treasured her each day.” The father began to weep, and then the girl’s mother said: “You gave us the privilege to have her these years and we cared for her as we promised and now we know that You will care for her in all eternity.” The person telling me the story said that all in the room were weeping by then and the young girl died just minutes later.

Certainly those parents had hopes and dreams that were crushed by the ravages of the disease. How did they find the courage to pray with gratitude when the pain of death shredded their hearts? I believe their courage came from their relationship with God that they cultivated over time. We too can cultivate a relationship with God. First, we need patience. If we are patient, sometimes we are afforded a glimpse of a new way of looking at suffering; over time we can find meaning in its midst. Second, we need openness. The two disciples invited Jesus to dinner with them and thus they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. We also have to invite Jesus into our lives. When we take the focus away from ourselves, to turn outward, and invite others into our lives, then we begin to recognize God. Third, we need to pay attention. We must work against spiritual laziness in our relationship with God. If we think about our relationship with God in terms of a close friendship, then when our “Friend” is talking to us, we need to pay attention. We may be tempted to focus on ourselves and on the painful parts of life. However, God invites us to not be stuck to our past, our failures, our self-condemnation, or our inability to forgive, but to be aware of His great hope for us.

The resurrection of Christ opens all our stories to the prospect of not just a good ending, but of a glorious ending. Can we also trust that the first and last words in each of our stories belong to God?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Sacred Hymns Concert with Fr. Paul Yi: Saturday, May 3, 7PM at Ascension Church, Donaldsonville

Sacred Hyns Concert
Saturday, May 3, 7PM
With Fr. Paul Yi & Sandra Mistretta
Tickets sold at the door $30
Please join us on Saturday, May 3, at Ascension of Our Lord Church for a concert of sacred hymns. Fr. Paul Yi, a tenor, accompanied by Ms. Sandra Mistretta, will perform from 7 p.m. until 8:15 pm. The program will feature 12 hymns that draw on the rich and varied tradition of sacred music, all based on hymn tunes, psalm settings, or on spiritual songs. The proceeds will benefit the St. Francis Food Fest. You may purchase a ticket for the concert and Food Fest for $50, or for just the Concert for $30. The combined $50 ticket entitles you to “all you can eat and drink” the day of the Food Fest  (May 4, 10:30AM-2PM).

May 2, 2014 Friday: 2nd Week of Easter

Can anything on this earth truly satisfy the deepest longing and hunger we experience for God? A great multitude had gathered to hear Jesus, no doubt because they were hungry for the word of life. Jesus' disciples wanted to send them away at the end of the day because they did not have the resources to feed them. They even complained how much money it would take to feed such a large crowd - at least six month's wages! Jesus, the Bread of Life, took the little they had - five loaves and two fish - and giving thanks to his heavenly Father, distributed to all until they were satisfied of their hunger.

Jesus makes a claim which only God can make: He is the true bread of heaven that can satisfy the deepest hunger we experience. The sign of the multiplication of the loaves when the Lord says the blessing, breaks, and distributes through his disciples prefigures the superabundance of the unique bread of his Eucharist or Lord's Supper. When we receive from the Lord's table we unite ourselves to Jesus Christ, who makes us sharers in his body and blood. Ignatius of Antioch (35-107 A.D.) calls it the "one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live for ever in Jesus Christ" (Ad Eph. 20,2). This supernatural food is healing for both body and soul and strength for our journey heavenward.

When you approach the Table of the Lord, what do you expect to receive? Healing, pardon, comfort, and rest for your soul? The Lord has much more for us, more than we can ask or imagine. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist is an intimate union with Christ. As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens us in charity and enables us to break with disordered attachments to creatures and to be more firmly rooted in the love of Christ. Do you hunger for the "bread of life"?

The feeding of the five thousand shows the remarkable generosity of God and his great kindness towards us. When God gives, he gives abundantly. He gives more than we need for ourselves so that we may have something to share with others, especially those who lack what they need. God takes the little we have and multiplies it for the good of others. Do you trust in God's provision for you and do you share freely with others, especially those who are in need?

Don Schwager,