Letters From a Pastor to His People

  • 05 April 2020 | By

    Letters from a Pastor to His People- April 5, 2020

    Dear Parishioners,

    Do you remember what we heard nearly six weeks ago? 

    Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.

    My God Ash Wednesday seems like an eternity ago.  The church was packed, people were coming in and out of the office and parish center, and the school and other groups were humming along.

    And then the Coronavirus hit.

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King and Queen of Hearts

Dear Parishioners,

We celebrate this weekend the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe.  Let me talk a little theology with you all, unpacking, albeit cursorily, what it means that Jesus is King. I won't take offense if you fall asleep while reading.  Hopefully my homily will be more engaging.

When Jesus came upon this earth and then died for our sins, he offered himself to the Father.  This offering to the Father obtained our salvation.  Jesus then also took the fruits of this offering, or merits, theologians might say, and applied them to each of us.  Thus, there is an upward movement of Christ to the Father, as well as a downward (or lateral) movement of Christ to us. 

Mary, by the way, works with Jesus in that lateral movement.  She assists those divine graces coming to us from the fruits of Christ's offering.

So Christ dying was just one part of the equation.  We need to receive, each of us, the fruits of that death.  It is possible for us to not receive the fruits; for us to reject the graces Christ won for us.  To help fight against this, Jesus has established himself as King (and Mary as Queen).

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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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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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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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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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