Saturday, August 27, 2016

Aug. 28, 2016: 22nd Sunday Ordinary C

Aug. 28, 2016: 22nd Sunday Ordinary C

Click to hear Audio Homily
Are you familiar with the TV show, “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe”? It’s a show where the host is invited to work alongside ordinary folks whose job may be a bit more messy than a desk job.  I think they should film a special episode on many of the families around our flooded area who are performing the very difficult work of gutting out homes handling stinky, funky, water soaked carpet, drywall, and furniture. Better yet, they should also film ordinary folks who cook and distribute free food and who off-load and package relief goods for neighbors in need. During this time of great distress for so many, no job is too low for anyone to assume. Pride has no place when each person has something unique to contribute to alleviate the suffering of others.

What the aftermath of this flooding has taught us is that each one of us is merely a small instrument. Mother Teresa liked to use the image of each person being an electrical wire. Until the current passes through the wire there will be no light. The current is God. Each person has the power to let the current pass through her to produce the light of the world, or each person can refuse to be used and allow darkness to spread.

Jesus describes the Kingdom of God as a wedding banquet where the place of honor is not according to the earthly logic. On our side of the earth, ones who are talented and accomplish great things are invited to sit at the head table. Yet on God’s side of Heaven, things work much differently. The guest list at the banquet in heaven may include people who may not look religious, who may not have all the right table manners, who may not wear the best clothes or live in the best parts of the city. When we, like the Pharisees, think that we have a special place in God’s family because of something we’ve done, because in our own minds we belong to the “right” church, or because the length of time we’ve been followers of Jesus, Our Lord says, “Guess what? These other guests of mine are just as important as you are”. All of the guests will be equal. Rich and poor will sit side by side because they are the same. Look at our cemeteries, for example. Rich and poor are buried side by side in the cemetery. Even the flooding did not discriminate between rich and poor.

Mother Teresa said, “Even if you’re just a dishwasher in the kitchen, do not think that sitting, standing, coming, and going, that everything you do, is not important to God. God will not ask how many books you have read; how high of a salary you received; or what position you were in the society. He will ask you if you have done your best, for the love of Him. Can you in all sincerity say, ‘I have done my best’? Even if the best is failure, it must be our best, our utmost. If you are really in love with Christ, no matter how small your work, it will be done better; it will be wholehearted. Your work will prove your love. You may be exhausted with work, but unless your work is interwoven with love, it is useless. To work without love is slavery.”

God calls us to kingdom values and blesses us when we seek to please God instead of pleasing other people. We please God when we act humbly and unselfishly and in particular when we help those who are vulnerable. Anything that we do for someone else, especially when we do it for Jesus’ sake and without selfish motives, will be blessed by God. This might require us to move out of our comfort zones. It’s been heartwarming to see folks from Lake Charles, students from Biloxi, Mormons from all across the U.S., seminarians from New Orleans, volunteers from Habitat for Humanity and countless other volunteers leaving their comfort zone to be with us, gutting homes, distributing goods, and praying with people. It’s heart breaking to see hundreds and hundreds of elderly who after two weeks since the flooding still have no one to help them clear their home of muck, mud, and their belongings. We must all be humble servants able to seek out those most vulnerable in need of help and be the hands, feet, and heart of Christ.

Refusing to linger long in any comfort zone, no matter how well appointed, but looking for the low seat and making room for the unseemly guest, moving always past safety to encounter unexpected challenge––this is what it means to follow the crucified and risen One. This is what it means to live the life of faith. May we be the one to seek the low place rather than the high place.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Aug. 22, 2016: Queenship of Mary

Aug. 22, 2016: Queenship of Mary

On this feast day of Queenship of Mary, we lift our anxieties, sorrows, and hardships up to our Heavenly Mother who knows our needs and our sufferings. St. Faustina knew well how compassionate our Blessed Mother is:

 “During the night, the Mother of God visited me, holding the Infant Jesus in Her arms.  My soul was filled with joy, and I said, ‘Mary, my Mother, do you know how terribly I suffer?’  And the Mother of God answered me, I know how much you suffer, but do not be afraid.  I share with you your suffering, and I shall always do so.” (Diary, #25)

Like any good mother, Blessed Mother stands by us in times of trial.  She stood by the cross as Jesus slowly, agonizingly died.  We, too, are her children (cf. John 19:25-27), and she will not abandon us when our crosses are weighing heavy

Come to the Cross by Annie Karto

Come to the Cross,
come stand by me.
I who am your Mother
love you tenderly.
I see your tears;
I know your pain.
In my pierced heart
I felt the same.

Sorrowful Mother, will you take away my fears
my concern for my family
heartaches of these years
sometimes I want to turn away
then I hear you call me saying,

Sorrowful Mother, will you take me by the hand
give me courage and wisdom
to know and understand
this journey of love requires one thing
I surrender my life and so I sing

Come to the Cross,
I'll stand by you
I who am your child tenderly love you too,
I'll dry your tears,
I'll share your pain
In my own heart I feel the same
Come to the Cross

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Aug. 21, 2016: 21st Sunday Ordinary C

Aug. 21, 2016: 21st Sunday Ordinary C

Click to hear audio homily
Ten minutes. It’s about the length of a typical Sunday mass homily. It’s also the length of time that many folks had to evacuate their homes amid rising flood waters around them. What would you have grabbed out of your home if you only had ten minutes to escape? Most folks whom I encountered at the emergency shelters had only a small backpack or a plastic bag of clothes. “Everything was lost; we will have to begin anew,” countless number of evacuees said.

The emergency shelters were filled with people of all ethnicity, languages, and economic backgrounds. The storm did not discriminate. It’s been incredible to see thousands of people who lost everything ushered to the shelters, and to watch all those who could help come to the aid of strangers. To watch this gathering of humanity, those who were displaced and those who came to their aid, was as if everyone received a call from God to assemble. In the First Reading we hear God’s desire to gather all his people, “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.” Jesus echoes this call, “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.”  The cause of the flooding may never be adequately explained. We may never understand why this tragedy of sorrows entered our lives. In the aftermath of this flooding, could this now be a call from God for his people to come together?

Each time we look at the crucifix, we are reminded of the cost to Jesus to call forth people of all nations to recline at His table of sacrifice--his very body, blood, and life. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus outlines what his disciples must do to gather at his table, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” The entry through the narrow gate will involve pain and trials, St. Paul points out. “Endure your trials as ‘discipline’; God treats you as sons. At the time all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”

The cost of entry for an evacuee into the door of an emergency shelter was a great personal loss and suffering. Even though the evacuees were suffering, they were grateful to be alive and compassionate to one another. As I passed by a row of cots against the wall at a shelter, three ladies who appeared to be sisters motioned me to come over.  One lady was knitting, the lady next to her was putting together a jigsaw puzzle, and the other was reading a bible. It turned out that before arriving at the shelter they were complete strangers to each other. The lady who was knitting was the first to arrive at the shelter. Despite losing her house and car, she was so grateful to be alive and to have a place to sleep. Noticing the suffering of evacuees, she began to help welcoming the new arriving evacuees. That’s how she met the lady who was putting together the jigsaw puzzle. That lady was so touched by the kindness and compassion that she decided to help at the shelter as well and met the lady who was reading the bible. She invited the newcomer to join the two of them. The lady knitting also welcomed the newcomer by giving her the sweater that she has been knitting during the three days she had been at the shelter. The three became friends and have been extending welcome and compassion to strangers. As the saying goes, “Strangers are friends that we haven’t met yet.”

Just as there was a tremendous cost to the evacuees, there was also a cost for the strangers coming to their aid. We have all watched people make personal sacrifices to help those who were affected by the flood --“Cajun Navy” plucking people from the waters, Red Cross volunteers from all across the country opening and manning shelters, and countless folks donating time, money, and relief goods. 

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate…” What did Jesus mean by this expression?  The gate  which Jesus had in mind was himself. I am the gate; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.  Through the cross Jesus opens the way for us to enter into his kingdom. But we must follow Jesus in the way of the cross. The word strive can also be translated agony. To enter the kingdom of God one must struggle against the forces of temptation and whatever would hinder us from doing the will of God (even apathy, indifference, and compromise). The good news is that we do not struggle alone. As we have seen the past several days through the tragedy, God uses each one of us to accomplish his work in our lives today. He directs our paths, tailoring our circumstances and the graces he offers us to our individual souls, which he knows so intimately. Any soul who yields to God’s grace can be a vessel of his love.

“May today there be peace within you. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.” (St. Teresa of Avila)
-Fr. Paul Yi

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Baton Rouge Flooding Chronicle:Aug. 18, 2016 - Every single grace comes through prayer

Baton Rouge Flooding Chronicle:Aug. 18, 2016
Every single grace comes through prayer

When it appears to us that we lack direction and answers, we turn our hearts and minds to Him who put us on this earth, who knows our needs, and who promises that He will never leave us.
We cannot trust our own strength for it is very limited. We experience this when we feel as though we are at our wits' end. And on such moments it is easy for us to criticize and be negative.

St. Faustina Kowalska wrote in her diary, "I am not counting on my own strength, but on His omnipotence for, as He gave me the grace of knowing His holy will, He will also grant me the grace of fulfilling it." (Diary, 615)

St. Teresa of Avila recommends that we often enter throughout the day our 'Interior Castle' where the Holy Spirit dwells. The entry into the 'mansion' of our soul is possible through prayer. It is in that sacred place where we encounter God and receive His grace. St. Faustina again wrote, "There is no soul which is not bound to pray, for every single grace comes to the soul through prayer (Diary, 146)."

Today when we find ourselves frustrated that we can't accomplish something on our own strength, let us take a quiet moment to enter into prayer to receive the grace that God has in store for us for the moment.
- Fr. Paul Yi

Monday, August 15, 2016

August 15, 2016: Feast of Assumption of Blessed Mother

August 15, 2016: Feast of Assumption of Blessed Mother

For centuries, Christians all over the world have cried out to the Blessed Virgin Mary with these following words, placing themselves under her tender care as “Mother of Mercy.”  
"Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Our life, our sweetness, and our hope,
To Thee do we cry poor banished children of Eve, To Thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears."

Once when St. Faustina Kowalska prayed these words, she saw Blessed Mother with the Infant Jesus in her arms, and heard these words from Blessed Mother, 
"I am not only the Queen of Heaven, but also the Mother of Mercy, and your Mother" (Diary of St. Faustina, 330).

Blessed Mother’s words also remind us of what she said to St. Juan Diego in Guadalupe:
“Am I not here, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?”

During this extraordinary time of suffering, we entrust to Jesus through the hands of Blessed Mother all the difficulties affecting our world as it seeks serenity and peace, especially the problems of the many families who look anxiously to the future as they try to rebuild after this devastating flood.  We place in her hands, our sorrows and tears, disappointments and frustrations. May our Heavenly Mother who said “yes” to many uncertainties of life, teach us to overcome our indifference to those who are suffering and be compassionate to them.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Aug. 14, 2016: 20th Sunday Ordinary C

Aug. 14, 2016: 20th Sunday Ordinary C

Click to hear audio 
As I watched videos of the flooding on TV and social media this weekend, I could not help but wonder the exasperation of the  people whose lives are changed by the continuous rain, resulting in rising creeks and rivers and flooding. We pray that our Compassionate God who is the source of all comfort, bring comfort to those whose lives are affected by the flooding, strengthen their hope to rebuild, and give them the grace to face the future without fear.

Sometimes a change in our lives comes upon us without us ever asking for it. The change arrives unannounced at a time when life seems hopeful and purposeful. All of a sudden circumstances conspire to break up the peace and calm in life via an illness, a break up of a relationship, a significant disruption in plans, or even a flood. Such change teaches us that we are not in complete control. We may call it suffering, purification, or growth, but a more apt image would be a dark night when our previous experiences and our intellect offer no sense of direction or comfort.

My parents faced such a night 17 years ago when I told them that I wanted to enter seminary to study to be a priest. For my mom and dad who counted on their only son to take care of them in their old age, it was devastating news. The ideal picture they had of their old age--babysitting and going on trips with their grandchildren--was shattered. Out of exasperation, my dad said, “I will disown you if you enter seminary,” and the only thing that came out from mom were her tears of hopelessness. The call from Jesus for me to change was also a call for my parents to change, but the call to change was about to bring division and discord.

We don’t picture Jesus as someone who would sow division in families, yet this is a real mystery of our faith. Jesus of Nazareth loves, heals, and calls people to change because God is offering them wholeness of life. To answer His call, however, requires a change that will threaten to shatter relationships and status quo. We may sense in our lives a call to reach out for God--an attraction to freedom, to wholeness, an aspiration to be more than what we are now. Yet also working within us is something that resists this call. There may be unvoiced fear that invokes anger and hatred toward change. So Jesus’ call for us to change feels like fire.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus touches lepers, hears the cry of blind Bartimaeus, dines with tax collectors, and talks with women of ill-repute. He goes to the edge, bumps against the margin, and reaches out to those who are in trouble, who are despised, weak, or ignored. Jesus is the living image of God who wants everyone reached, saved, and touched by His presence. He is an example of what it means to put new wine in old wine skin, causing it to stretch and burst. When he gets into our ‘boat’, into our very soul, His fire of the Spirit purifies our soul of self-centeredness and pride, which is the root of our hostility toward transformation. We just do not like to relinquish control.

We have to admit that we do not understand the way of God. Our mind is too limited and is not able to see God’s horizon. Jesus is asking for substantial change-–to be called upon, to renounce what we have made our own, to renounce our anchor. We are afraid to let go of our control because it makes us uneasy and we find it threatening. When we work on changing ourselves, we provide an example to others that they can follow and also change. By changing ourselves, we influence our family, our neighbors, our friends, and the world. St. John of Cross said it beautifully, “Travelers cannot reach new territory if they do not take new and unknown roads and abandon the familiar ones.” Our life is a pilgrimage involving numerous call to change, and our main virtue that will sustain us is our trust in God. What we have to rely on is that the God who has invited us to change, will stay with us on this pilgrimage and pull us up when we fall.

For all those experiencing change, especially those impacted by the flood, Lord reminds us that He is our refuge and our strength in times of trouble. He reminds us not to be afraid and to have hope. St. Paul’s words are encouraging here: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses...let us persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”
-Fr. Paul Yi

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Aug. 7, 2016: 19th Sunday Ordinary Time C

Aug. 7, 2016: 19th Sunday Ordinary Time C 

Those of you who work in hospitals know what to do when you hear, “Code Blue, Code Blue,” over the intercom. ‘Code Blue’ is an emergency situation announced in a hospital or an institution in which a patient is in cardiopulmonary arrest, requiring a team of staff to rush to the patient and begin immediate resuscitative efforts. A nurse shared a ‘Code Blue’ experience that she has never forgotten. When she arrived in the room, the 62-yr. old economic professor at a local university was unconscious as the team of medical professionals were working to revive him. The nurse consoled his wife as she looked on pensively. She told the nurse that her husband was only a short time away from retirement, and they were looking forward to planning life after his retirement.

Have you pondered about whether you are prepared for such a moment? Am I ready? How do I prepare for such a moment? Jesus addressed his disciples about this very difficult yet eventual event that will happen to all of us--death and judgment. Jesus first assures his disciples that the Heavenly Father is going to gift his Kingdom to them. To receive or to prepare to live in God’s Kingdom requires the disciples to divest of earthly riches and accumulate treasure in heaven instead. Care and concern for the poor, Jesus says, is the way to build up heavenly treasure. A faithful and wise disciple, Jesus says, is the one who expects his master to return at any hour and therefore carries out his duties as a good steward of his master’s provisions to other servants.

Jesus explains that there are negative consequences for disciples who are not faithful servants. The ones who pretend as though they are the master and misappropriate his master’s provisions for self-indulgence or mistreatment of other servants will be punished severely. The servants who knew what their master desired of them but did not carry them out will be severely punished. The servants who did not know the will of their master and acted imprudently will be beaten lightly. Jesus closes his parable with this admonition, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

We are being personally addressed by this parable of the steward who is entrusted with much. We are the servants in that parable and we have been entrusted to care for all that God created - the earth, the land the sea, the birds, the animals and all human beings.  With the many gifts we have been given come great responsibilities. As Americans we enjoy comforts, leisure, and material abundance that the vast majority in the world do not enjoy. We can never say we did not know what was expected of us.  As we see in our state and in our community economic divide, disparity between the have and have-nots, disparity in education opportunity among the children, hunger in families even in this materially rich environment, something stings us inside that this shouldn't be. We sense a yearning that we need to do something to put things in right order. Are we hearing a call from Our Lord to be the agent of change?

Back to the story of the 62 yr. old economic professor, death was not in the plans for him and his wife. Fortunately for both, he was revived and did not suffer adverse after effects from his massive heart attack. During his recovery in the hospital the professor shared with the nurse a near-death-experience that he underwent as the medical team assembled around him after ‘Code Blue’ was announced. He said he saw himself come out of his body and observed what the team was doing to his body. He saw himself next in an indescribable beauty of heaven standing before Jesus. Jesus showed him a magnificent mansion made of crystal. The professor was stunned to find out that it was his own mansion. “But as I stood in front of it and looked into this immense structure, it was revealed to me that my life was the architect and the source of its construction and design. Everything that I had done during my life that was good, kind, and directed toward the good of another human being, it was all there. Every bowl of soup, every piece of bread, every blanket or an encouraging word, every tender gesture done for the love of God built and engineered it all. He rewarded to the Nth degree every single thing I had done here on earth that pleased Him. I didn’t deserve any of it, to be brutally honest, but His generosity magnified my feeble efforts on earth to such a degree that I was awestruck standing before such incredible magnificence. Prayers of praise, thanksgiving, and petition were there, and all of them in combination formed the mortar that held it all together, adorning it with such beauty that there is no way that I could begin to describe it. Oh, if only I had the words to tell you what it all looked like.”

To prepare for our death and judgment is to be a faithful steward of God’s love by being agents of change to others, especially our families and our community. The great mystery of our faith is that Our Lord made a great act of love and sacrifice by giving his life up for us. By this self-gift, he restored us to the riches of relationship and eternal life with our Heavenly Father.  In return, Jesus calls us daily to make an act of love and sacrifice for others. What is our response? We must begin with prayer in order to know how to respond. In our prayer, let us ask Our Lord to help change our hearts, to open our eyes and ears and to show us how to respond to his great sacrifice of love. Then we must decide what is the one great act of love and sacrifice that we are going to make today?
-Fr. Paul Yi