Letters from a Pastor to His People

Thank Him!

Dear Parishioners,

As I have mentioned before, I teach 7th grade religion once a week in school, and I give time each class for the students to ask me questions.  The questions are always fascinating and entertaining.  In fact, I usually will mention their questions in some of my daily Mass homilies, so perceptive and thought-provoking are they.  One student asked me this on her quiz the other week: "What do you do when God answers your prayers?"

I highlighted her question (I do that when the question is very good). I had never been asked that before.  The answer I wrote on her quiz: "Thank him!"

It's a profound question.  That's because we don't think too much about our prayers being answered.  I usually hear more from people angry that God didn't answer their prayers.  I usually don't hear the "success stories", though I know they are out there.

We don't hesitate to be religious beforehand.  That is, we quickly pray and ask God for help.  Afterwards, we become secular.  That is, when something goes our way, we just move on to the next thing, or we chalk up the good outcome to our effort, the normal occurrence of events, or even luck.  God doesn't enter our radar.

The 7th grade student's question was so striking because she demonstrated consistency and deep faith.  She went to God beforehand and wants to go to God afterwards.  She has faith. She believes 'things went her way' because of God.  He prayers were answered. So, what should she do? My response: thank him!

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The Best Story in the World

Dear Parishioners,

We have two more weeks left of the Gospel of Mark.  November 25th is the Feast of Christ the King, the end of the liturgical season, and we will read from the Gospel of John that day.  It's been a fascinating journey the last several months.  Labor Day weekend we were in the 7th chapter of Mark.  Jesus was ministering and preaching around the Sea of Galilee.  Around the middle of October, Jesus left Galilee and set out for a journey to Jerusalem.  On this journey the rich young man approaches the Lord with the question about what he must do to inherit eternal life (October 14th).  James and John make the request to sit on the Lord's right and left when he enters into power in Jerusalem (October 21st).  Jesus heals the blind beggar, Bartimaeus (October 28th), and at last makes it to Jerusalem. 

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I Love You Lord, My Strength!

Dear Parishioners,

I was struck two weekends ago at the 11am Family Mass by the post-communion reflection, read by one of the children.  I did not compose this reflection (Patty Collins, a teacher in the school and CCD head, along with the Family Liturgy team composed it), and I must confess I did not read it ahead of time either.  That Mass after communion was the first I heard it.  It was beautiful, and hearing it from a child made it ever more moving.  Here it is:

Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to me. Thank you, for giving yourself to me. Make me strong to show your love wherever I may be. Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay close by me forever and love me, I pray. I’m ready now, Lord Jesus, to show how much I care. I’m ready now to give your love at home and everywhere. Amen.

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The Greatness Of Sunday In and Sunday Out

Dear Parishioners,

We have two more weeks left of the Gospel of Mark.  November 25th is the Feast of Christ the King, the end of the liturgical season, and we will read from the Gospel of John.  It's been a fascinating journey the last several months.  Labor Day weekend we were in the 7th chapter of Mark.  Jesus was ministering and preaching around the Sea of Galilee.  Around the middle of October, Jesus left Galilee and set out for a journey to Jerusalem.  On this journey the rich young man approaches the Lord with the question about what he must do to inherit eternal life (October 14th).  James and John make the request to sit on the Lord's right and left when he enters into power in Jerusalem (October 21st).  Jesus heals the blind beggar, Bartimaeus (October 28th), and at last makes it to Jerusalem. 

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Don't Quit Too Soon

Dear Parishioners,

If you have found yourself waiting recently at the DMV or the doctor's office, or waiting on hold for the cable, you can probably imagine well this scene from today's Gospel.  Bartimaeus, a blind man, has been sitting, begging for a long time.  He waits for something to change.  Nothing does. 

Until that monumental day when Jesus of Nazareth walks by.

Listen to what happens when Bartimaeus' name is at last called, and not just called by anyone, but by the Savior of the world: "He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus (Mk 10:50)."

It's kind of like what I do when my name is called. I bolt from my chair and run to the counter.  Or a child trick-or-treating who rings the bell and there is no immediate answer.  He waits a minute and rings again.  He looks around the side to peer through the windows.  The house is dark.  Is anyone home? Should the kid wait or move on to the next house? At last the door opens! Someone is home.  And they've given out a king-sized Butterfinger! Smart move by the kid waiting! It was worth it.

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We Are Gifts to the Church and the World

Dear Parishioners,

"The LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity" (Is 53:10).

Scripture scholars believe the prophet Isaiah is referring to Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.  Yes, Lord, please crush Rodgers.

Just kidding.

But seriously, who is being crushed in our first reading? And is God really pleased to see someone crushed?

From the Christian vantage point, it is Jesus Christ being crushed.  Jesus is the 'offering for sin.'It can also be us. We are called to be crushed.  We are called to be offerings.  It's our suffering that will justify many.  It is us who will be able to see the 'light in fullness' in our affliction.

It's a difficult, though certainly fulfilling, point to pray with: you are an offering.  I am an offering.  An offering entails sacrifice.  In ancient religions an offering was burned.  Today, when you make an offering, you are letting something out of your possession and it usually entails a financial cost.

On the other hand, an offering entails purposefulness.  We don't make an offering unknowingly.  If money falls out of your pocket into the collection basket, you've lost your dollar bill; you haven't offered it.  When you offer the money, you intend it and have a purpose behind it.

God uses us as offerings.  Our lives and every good thing we do go to some good purpose, like building up the church and the Body of Christ. This is what pleases the Lord.  This is why he 'crushes' us.

Our lives are not only about us.  Our joys and sufferings are not strictly our own.  We are offerings.  We are a gift to the church and to the world.

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Follow Christ and Experience Fulfillment

Letters from a Pastor to His People- October 14, 2018

Dear Parishioners,

We can learn so much from this rich young man!  Little did he know that his 2-minute encounter with the Lord would impact millions of people for millennia.  For instance, many other "rich young men" would likewise run up to the Lord and ask the same question.  St. Anthony, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Charles de Foucald, among others, would not make the same mistake this man from the Gospel did.  These saints would be able to give up everything.  They would not walk away sad, but, on the contrary, would follow Christ and experience fulfillment.

Yes, a path of discipleship entails sacrifices.  If we are to be committed Catholics, intentional in our faith and not lukewarm, there are many deaths, some little, that we will undergo.  We should always keep the rich young man in mind.  He was afraid to give up his wealth.  He could not make that sacrifice.  He thought holding onto the money was a wiser decision.  Was it?  No!   He went away sad. 

Those things we think we "need" in our life—those things we cannot live without—often don't bring us true happiness.  If we keep them, and instead let Christ go, we will be sad, like the rich young man.  That's the pitfall we all have to avoid.  That's the temptation to shun.  Possessions and attachments do not give us the safety or happiness we think they do.  Only Christ does.

Jesus calls us to poverty. "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Mk 10:25).

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Family Trees

Letters from a Pastor to His People- October 7, 2018

Dear Parishioners,

A boy once asked his mom where human beings came from.  "From God," she said. "God created us, starting with Adam and Eve." The boy then went off and asked his dad the same question. "We descended from apes," came the father's response.  When the boy went back to his mother and told her the contradicting answer, the mother said.  "That's okay, honey. Dad is just telling you his family tree. I'm telling you mine."

Ah, marriage, the topic of our readings this week. What shall I say about it?

Sticking with the joke theme, my grandpa likes to kid, when asked how he and my grandma, married for nearly 60 years, have persevered, "we go out to dinner twice a week...she goes Mondays, I go Wednesdays."

I wonder if there's some wisdom in that.  Temporary separation is healthy in any situation and in any relationship.  We need time off.  We need vacations.  We need "alone time." Time away not only refreshes us, it also gives us an appreciation for what/who we have. 

Let's be clear, though.  We're never completely separated from our spouse or work or whatever.  It's not like a husband who takes a golfing trip with his friends is "unmarried" and single for those five days.  Or the fireman ceases in his heart to be a fireman during furlough. 

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Nothing is Worth More Than Our Souls

Letters from a Pastor to His People- September 30, 2018

Dear Parishioners,

Nothing is worth more than our souls.  Money, our health, the 70-inch flat-screen TV, that Scotch collection in our basement...nothing.  We should be willing to do whatever it takes to protect our souls and strengthen them.  We should be willing to sacrifice and forgo anything that would endanger our souls.

This is what my namesake, St. James, is getting at in the second reading this weekend. "Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days" (James 5:2-3).

This is also what Jesus is getting at when he says, rather extremely, "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off" (Mark 9:43).

What's the best thing we can do for our souls? Pray and worship God.  Those aren't the only things we need to do, but they are the most important (in my opinion). 

We are a spiritual people.  We are built for God.  We are hard-wired to be in touch with Jesus.  When we are not in touch with God, mainly through prayer and worship, we become a hollowed-out version of ourselves. 

There are things that pull us away from the spiritual life.  They don't necessarily have to, but they can, depending on our personalities.  If food or video games or our career become ends in themselves and do not lead us to Jesus, then we need to cut them out, like that hand that causes us to sin in our Lord's example.

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Come To Me

Letters from a Pastor to His People- September 23, 2018

Dear Parishioners,

In the Gospel of Mark there is a motif known as the "Messianic Secret." Jesus desires his identity as the Messiah to remain hidden.  We saw it in last weekend's Gospel, when Peter calls Jesus 'the Christ."  The Gospel reads immediately afterwards, "Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him" (Mk 8:30).

Jesus keeps quiet in the Gospel this week as well.  "Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it" (Mk 9:30).

Why did Jesus not want people to know who he truly was?  It seems odd, doesn't it?  I mean, we wouldn't today tell people not to talk about Christ. In fact, just the opposite.  We want people to tell the world about the Lord.

I won't go into all the reasons for the Messianic Secret.  The best explanation I recall reading is that Jesus wanted the people to fall in love with him.  Jesus did not want people to be swept up in the grandeur of the 'Messiah.' If people knew who Jesus was, from a title and functional standpoint, before they came to know him as a person, they may not have authentically been attracted to him.

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Christ in Korea

Dear Parishioners,

The cross is the theme this week.  Last Friday the Church celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  This Sunday, the 24th in Ordinary Time, Jesus says, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mk 8:34).  The first reading from Isaiah 50 we also read on Palm Sunday and later this week on Thursday we will celebrate the feast day of the martyrs Andrew Kim Tae-gon and Paul Chong Ha-sang.  A word or two on these Korean saints, as their stories are inspiring and exemplify the Gospel.

Catholicism did not enter Korea until 1592.  Like Japan, the nation was isolated and sealed off from foreign contact.  Somehow Catholic literature from China, brought there by Jesuit missionaries, found its way into the peninsula.  The native Koreans who read the material were so impressed they converted.  When a Chinese priest at last visited Korea in the late 1700s, he found nearly 4,000 Catholics. Remember, these Catholics had never seen a priest. 

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Be Open to Jesus

Dear Parishioners,

"[Jesus] put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, 'Ephphatha!'— that is, 'Be opened!' — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly" (Mk 7:33-35). 

There is a little ritual during the sacrament of Baptism called the "Ephphatha Rite." After the child has been baptized, the priest blesses the child's ears and mouths.  The hope is that the child will one day be able to hear God's word and then proclaim it to others.  Maybe parents hope as well that the child will be able to listen to the parents when the child is told to go to bed or stop fighting with their siblings.  Either way, the priest is asking the ears and mouth to be opened, as that is what the word Ephphatha means.

To be opened.  Pope Benedict XVI, in an Angelus Address several years ago, said that one word, Ephphatha, captures Christ's entire mission.  Jesus came to open us, to free us from anything that would enslave us.  Jesus came to set us free.

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