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Reflections from Deacon Steven

Deacon Steven guides us through the readings we hear at Mass and relevant topics on our faith. He provides reflective essays to help inspire us as we navigate our personal spiritual journey.

Reflection for April 4 – The Joy of the Resurrection

Confused and afraid at the crucifixion of Jesus, his disciples went into hiding, left to wonder what just happened. What went wrong? After three years with him, whom they came to know as the Son of God, what would they do next? What could they do?

Jesus had spoken about dying and rising from the dead, about rebuilding the temple, his body, in three days, about an eternal life with the Father and about preparing rooms for them. But what could that mean? Jesus was dead. He died on the cross and was buried in a tomb. It was finished. “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead,” John’s Gospel says. (20:9)

On the first Easter morning, with the disciples cloistered away in fear, it was one of the women, Mary of Magdala, who had the courage to venture out to the tomb where his body had been placed. When she arrived, she was amazed to discover the stone at the entrance had been rolled away. Jesus was gone.

“They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him,” she told Peter and John after she ran to them.

They raced to the tomb to find Mary was correct: It was empty. They saw and they believed. Jesus was not dead at all. This is impossible.

At that moment, everything changed – for the disciples and for the rest of time. What they would do day-to-day from then on changed, of course, as apostles called to proclaim this Good News, this Gospel. But not only their lives, also their understanding of life itself, its purpose and meaning, how to live with and for others, expectations, forgiveness and Truth itself – in the person of Jesus Christ. How can they run when they know? The cryptic and mystifying words Jesus spoke about the Son of God being handed over, killed and rising again are revealed and fulfilled.

And still for us, 2,000-plus years later, we relive that moment as we celebrate the joy and triumph of the impossible this Easter morning – Jesus is risen, he is alive, life overcomes death. We share the pain and sorrow of Good Friday when Jesus is arrested, tortured and killed; the emptiness on Holy Saturday when God is gone; the amazement and glory to discover Jesus is not dead, but very much alive.

We, too, are changed, given new life, forgiven and called as apostles to do something about it; to proclaim and to spread the joy and hope of the Resurrection. How can we run when we know? As we experience in baptism, it is in dying with Christ that we have new and abundant life. To save our lives, he tells us, all we have to do is to give our lives. We are Resurrection people, continually renewed in Christ. And we celebrate and relive that Easter moment at every Sunday Mass as we gather to share the body and blood of Christ. This is what it means to be a Catholic Christian.

And so, we move on from the Passion of Jesus Christ to the joy of new life, as St. Paul later wrote in his First Letter to the  Corinthians (5: 7-8): “For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

This new understanding of life that we embrace at Easter is especially powerful to the adults who come to us and into full communion with our Roman Catholic Church each year at the Easter Vigil Mass – at Espiritu Santo Parish and throughout the world. Many of them raised with little or no religious experience will be baptized, confirmed and receive Holy Communion for the first time. Others, already baptized as Catholics or Protestants, will complete their Catholic sacraments through Confirmation. They come of their own free will, in the midst of their busy lives when they do not have to be here. Yet, they choose it, desire it and sacrifice for it.

Let them be inspiration to each of us who by repetition and familiarity may have lost some of our desire and appreciation of the great gift we have in our Catholic Church and our call to feed it and spread it. Let us celebrate and welcome them in our community of love and faith.

Easter then reminds us and encourages us to expect the impossible through God, to revel in his surprises for us, and to   live what our great Jesuit Pope Francis calls, “The Joy of the Gospel.” Even in these most difficult times, let us have the   optimism, hope and faith to know that God is with us and wherever we go leads to life.

– Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for March 28 – Entering the Passion of the Lord

Jesus already had done enough to infuriate the Jewish religious authorities during his three-year ministry. So it didn’t help matters when he entered Jerusalem for Passover as the prophetic king, seated on a donkey, and hailed by an adoring, palm-waving crowd with shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:7-10)

What sort of blasphemy is this? Who is this peasant posing as a king, the messiah?  Tensions only grow as Jesus proceeds to turn over the tables and drive out the moneychangers and vendors from the Temple area. “Is it not written: My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’? But you have made it a den of thieves.” (Mark 11: 17).

This Jesus is dangerous. So they begin to plot his death, a plan that pressures the Roman Governor Pilate to seal Jesus’ fate by turning him over to be crucified, then infamously washes his hands of responsibility.

This is the beginning of the Passion of the Lord as we go with Jesus into Jerusalem at our Palm Sunday Mass this weekend. We go with him to his final confrontation with the religious and Roman authorities and then his final victory over sin and death – the Resurrection at Easter.

We start Holy Week with Mark’s Gospel reading of the Passion (14:1-15:47) and of Jesus’ final week of Earthly ministry. As Catholics, we celebrate the Triduum this week, following Jesus as he reveals himself completely through the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, his crucifixion and death on Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion, and the ultimate joy of Easter beginning with the Great Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday evening.

On the night of the Last Supper, we gather as Jesus’ first disciples did to share communion with him as we discover that  the bread we eat is his body, and the blood that we drink is his blood. This is the center, the pinnacle, the essence of our Catholic faith – the Eucharist. For some, it is as difficult to believe now as it must have been for those first disciples. Many, we know, reject it. But for us who believe, this is, as Jesus said, the “Bread of Life.” It feeds our lives, our faith and our love in Christ as we come into communion with him and each other.

But at this supper, Jesus teaches us the nature of love and discipleship, as well. With a towel at his waist and a pitcher of water, he washes and dries the feet of his disciples in a humble act of kindness and service, asking us to do for others what he had done for us:

“If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13:14-15).

So our priests will remind us of this as they do the same at our Holy Thursday Mass.

On Good Friday, the most solemn and sorrowful day of our Church year, we come to share in what seems at the moment to be failure as Christ is arrested, beaten, nailed to a cross, dies and is buried. That’s where we will leave him that night. It is a moment of grief and confusion, as the despondent disciples on the road to Emmaus three days later will tell the stranger who came to them, “… we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:31). All seems lost.

Of course, they soon discover the stranger they encountered is Jesus, risen from the dead. He is alive. He came to walk with them and to comfort them. They recognize him in the breaking of the bread, just as he promised at the Last Supper. “Remember me,” he had said.

On Easter morning, the sorrow, fear and heartache of Friday is wiped away by the joy of Jesus rising and overcoming death – the impossible has happened and is true. Death has no power. Jesus is resurrected. This our faith; the reason for the Catholic Church.

Our Easter celebration begins at sundown Saturday with the Great Easter Vigil Mass that leads from darkness to light in Jesus Christ. At this Mass, we and the Church around the world welcome with great joy new Catholics into communion with the rites of baptism, confirmation and Holy Communion for adults. In these rites, they will have new life in Jesus Christ and bring new life to his Church – so together we share the ongoing resurrection that is the great promise of Easter.

– Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for March 21 – What does rising from the dead mean?

Lazarus was dead. Of this, all in his house and in the village of Bethany were certain. His body was wrapped and already four days in the tomb when Martha ran to greet Jesus and to tell him her brother and his close friend had died. Jesus was too late.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she said (John 11:21).

Of course, we know in John’s Gospel story Jesus was not too late. “Your brother will rise,” he said (John 11:23). Jesus then enters the tomb and comes out with Lazarus, risen from the dead.

The raising of Lazarus is the final and greatest of Jesus’ miracles in John’s Gospel (11:1-45), a stunning and life-giving revelation of God. This event causes many people to believe in Jesus, and it takes its place as the Gospel reading for the mass of the Third Scrutiny for those preparing to becoming Catholic through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

This weekend, we will celebrate that final Scrutiny at the 4 p.m. Saturday Mass in St. Anthony of Padua Hall as we move toward their initiation at the Great Easter Vigil Mass. This loving act of Jesus giving new life to Lazarus is appropriate for those seeking to come closer to Christ through the Catholic faith.

In the Gospel readings for the three Scrutinies we see a progression of Christ’s revelation as we examine our faith. In the first (John 4:5-42), we see Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness in his encounter with the woman at the well – a sinful outcast who has had five husbands and currently is with a man who is not her husband. Jesus does not judge, but invites her into a relationship with him, offering her “living water” of eternal life – of baptism.

In the second Scrutiny (John 9:1-41), Jesus gives sight to a man born blind to see the world around him, but even more he is face-to-face with Christ, the living God who dwells among us.  Jesus reveals himself as the light of the world, calling this man, and all who believe, out of the despair and loneliness of darkness into the joy and hope of light. He reveals himself not only to the blind man and to all who witness this miracle, but the Pharisees themselves before whom this blind man born in sin testifies about the one who healed him, who he calls “the Lord.”

And now we have the story of Lazarus, in which Jesus reveals more about the eternal life he has proclaimed and promised. It is the realization that he is the Son of God with the power of life over death, foreshadowing his Resurrection on Easter. And so in baptism we come to understand what it means to die with Christ so as to be raised with him, just as Lazarus was.

That personal and communal relationship with Christ is what we celebrate at every Mass as we recall the Resurrection. We hear the invitation in the prayer the deacon or priest recites while preparing the chalice of wine that becomes the blood of Jesus: “Through the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

We are reminded in this story, too, to remain patient and faithful, to trust in Jesus, as Martha did as she waited for him to arrive at Bethany, thinking he was too late. But in Jesus we are working on God’s time. And Martha keeps her faith: “[But] even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you,” she says to him (11:22).

Martha then, in this exchange with Jesus, makes her great proclamation of faith:

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”(11:25-27)

This is our faith and our belief, and the faith and belief into which our newly baptized and confirmed Catholics are preparing to enter with us. So let us continue to pray for them, and for ourselves, as we draw ever closer to the joy and triumph of Easter.

– Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for March 14 – From Darkness to Light

In the Gospel stories, Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah little by little to his disciples, first, and then to all of the people he encounters during his three-year ministry. This    realization does not come in a sudden flash of light, but in a gradually breaking dawn. He calls us gently from the darkness of life without him into the loving light that he is – our Savior, the Christ of the living God.

Yet, even then, this must be an ongoing journey as we grow in faith and in understanding of our relationship with Jesus, no matter where or when we begin.

This is particularly relevant at this time of the Liturgical Year for the men and women   preparing to come into full communion with the Catholic Church at the great Easter Vigil Mass through our Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults formation group.

This weekend, they will celebrate the second of three Scrutinies at our 4 p.m. Saturday Mass. There, we will hear from John’s Gospel (9:1-41) about the blind man who through his faith is healed by Jesus and welcomed into the light – a story of baptism and conversion. The Scrutiny Gospel readings in John, different than those at the other Masses this weekend, help our baptized Candidates and unbaptized Catechumens to examine their own faith and spirituality, along with their understanding and relationship with Jesus.

In the blind man, we are called to consider what it means “to see” as Jesus calls him out of his darkness and into the light. His affliction at the time was believed to be from his sinfulness, so in that way Jesus demonstrates forgiveness and reconciliation. And Jesus reveals himself – “I am the light of the world” (9:5) – meaning this is more than a physical healing, but a spiritual one and a call to conversion, as well.

We see that conversion take place through the blind man.  His sight is restored in the pool of Siloam – which means “sent.” And so he will be sent – to the Pharisees to show them his healing, and to the Jewish and Gentile community at large. In this water, we are reminded of the Sacrament of Baptism and the forgiveness that comes with it as we become one with Christ in his death and resurrection. We put on Christ, as we say, in new life. It is living water reminiscent of last week’s Gospel story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well – the water of eternal life.

His life renewed, the blind man’s understanding of Jesus gradually deepens as he listens to him more closely. He at first tells the crowd he was healed by “The man called Jesus.” (9:11). Then he says to the Pharisees, “He is a prophet.” (9:17) And finally, to Jesus who reveals he is Son of Man, he says, “I do believe, Lord.” (9:38) And he worshipped him. This is his conversion.

As it turns out, it is the Pharisees who cannot see – or refuse to see. They are blind. “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath,” (9:16) they say. Jesus does not fit into their vision of a prophet, and certainly not a messiah. Their righteousness and arrogance prevent from even possibly seeing something new, something greater than they might imagine – as Jesus reveals to them:

“I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind,” (9:39)  he says to them. It is they, not the blind man, who are crippled by sin.

For our new Catholics, and for each one of us, this season of Lent can be one of self-examination, discovery and a renewed vision the blind man experiences in his life-changing encounter with Jesus. Our Lenten reflection can draw us deeper into our thoughts and spirit, maybe to the darker places we would rather avoid – our sins, our failures, our regrets. But rather than dwelling there, keeping our eyes on Jesus, we are healed and led out of those places into his great light. Like the blind man, we are renewed and refreshed with a sense of hope and joy.

That is what Jesus has in store for us as we travel with him toward the great revelation of Easter and the Resurrection. He is the light that guides us and sustains us. As Paul tells us in the Second Letter to the Corinthians (5:7): “for we walk by faith, not by sight.”

– Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for March 7 – An invitation to Christ

Among the ways Jesus confounded his own disciples, to say nothing of the religious authorities, was his desire to spend time with people who in the Beatitudes he would call “the least of these.” They aren’t the usual folks with whom one might expect to find the Son of God, the Messiah – not until we might reimagine who God is and what he desires for us. That is what the Gospel stories help us to see.

This weekend at the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass we will celebrate the first of three so-called Scrutinies for the woman and men in our Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) formation group. The gospel readings from John for these three Scrutiny masses are different than at the other masses – speaking specifically to these adults as they continue their spiritual formation and understanding in seeking full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

The gospel readings begin with Jesus’ life-changing encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well this weekend (4:5-42), followed by the healing of the blind man (2:13-25) and the raising of Lazarus from the dead (9:1-41) in the coming two weeks.

John’s Gospel is devoted largely toward affirming the divinity of Christ: he is the Word, the Word is God, the Word was made flesh, and made his dwelling among us.  But in these Scrutiny readings, John teaches us how Christ’s divinity is revealed and made manifest by his acts of humanity, kindness and compassion.

The Samaritan woman Jesus meets at the well is troubled, scorned and rejected by her own people. She has been married five times, and the man she is with is not her husband. Shunned, she comes alone to the well about noon, the hottest part of the day and hours after the others have come and gone.

Jesus is resting alone there when she arrives. He begins to talk to her and to ask her questions. It is a playful dialogue, but a scandalous act as Samaritans are considered heretics and despised by the Jews in Jerusalem. The woman is puzzled, asking why Jesus, a Jew, would speak to a Samaritan, never mind a sinful woman, and ask her to share water.

Jesus knows her past, but he neither judges nor condemns her.  Jesus looks beyond the strict religious laws, and shows her mercy and compassion. He tells her of God’s gift of the “living water” of eternal life, inviting her to it.  “Sir, give me this   living water,” she says, excited about this promise.

And then Jesus reveals to her what he has kept secret from others, even those deemed more holy or righteous:

“I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ,” she says to him. “Jesus said to her,

“I am he, the one speaking with you.”

Astonished by this and all that Jesus has told her, she rushes to town to tell everyone: “Could he possibly be the Christ?” she asks.

For the adults coming into our Catholic faith, this story of acceptance and conversion is affirmation of Christ’s love and   invitation. It should be affirmation for all of us, too, no matter how long we’ve been practicing Catholics. This is our Church – founded by Christ and built by the apostles.

Jesus never stops reaching out to people, never stops loving us. He rejects no one – not even the priests and Pharisees  who provoke and condemn him. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” he says as he died on the cross (Luke 23:24).

In this Lenten season of penance, we are reminded that Jesus, in his humanity and his divinity, is forgiveness. That forgiveness gives us hope and draws us into a deeper relationship with Christ and each other. We would like to believe that we would do likewise – to embrace and to show mercy to the sinners and the undesirables whom we encounter, just as Jesus did with the woman at the well.

This is a Church that welcomes all who come with whatever baggage they may carry – just as it welcomes us. We are reminded that as disciples and apostles, it is our kindness, mercy and compassion that draw and convert people to Christ, not doctrine, laws and judgment. For as we see in John’s Gospel story, it is upon hearing of the woman’s loving encounter with Jesus that the townspeople go to him and are converted:

“Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

– Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for February 28 – Finding Ourselves in the Mystery

Lent is a perfect time to explore and to discover new things about ourselves, our faith and our spirituality.  The Church sets aside this season to invite us to retreat with Jesus on his 40 days in the desert, free from the trappings of our busy normal lives – at least for a few moments at a time.

In this time and space, we can open ourselves to new possibilities in our relationship with Jesus. It allows us to see things differently, to pray more deeply, to notice others around us, and to be aware of the surprises God may have for us.

On this second Sunday of Lent, we read and consider in Mark’s Gospel (9:2-10) the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ at the top of Mount Tabor in Galilee. He takes with him Peter, James and John, the disciples to whom he seems closest as he continually reveals himself as the Messiah.

Though the disciples were familiar with this mountain and had followed Jesus to many places, it’s safe to assume they weren’t quite prepared for what was going to happen. It’s a stunning moment, to say the least, even for these disciples who were beginning to expect the unexpected from Jesus.

But what a moment of discovery – a bit of wonder wrapped in a bit of fear and surrounded by mystery. To see Jesus transfigured, dazzling and glowing before their eyes, with Moses and Elijah at his side, shocked them for sure. It will take a little while before they process the theological significance of this – Jesus is the fulfillment of Moses and the law and of Elijah and prophets – the Elijah who was swept into heaven and was destined to return to save the Hebrew people.

The voice of God coming from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son,” might have helped them to understand. But again, the voice of God coming from a cloud also must have caught them by surprise. It caused them to wonder about the very things happening before their eyes, wonderful as they were.

Clearly overwhelmed, Peter, James and John react in a most human way: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!” Peter says. “Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

They don’t fall to the ground trembling, worshipping or even praying. Faced with the inexplicable, they resort to doing what they know how to do, building tents – a welcoming gesture, but a very practical and familiar act.

At this point we might insert ourselves into this story. Confronted with the same revelation, something greater than we can imagine or surely could expect, what would we do? It’s an appropriate question as we seek to deepen our relationship and understanding of Jesus as the Son of God. Are we open to God’s possibilities we never imagined?

After the Transfiguration, the three disciples in the Gospel find themselves alone with Jesus – back to a familiar place. They resume their public ministry with Him, but they are changed. And while Jesus tells them to mention nothing of this to anyone as they go forward, he adds this perplexing qualifier: “except when the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”

“So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant,” Mark tells us. As we might imagine they did. The three are left to contemplate a greater mystery as they continue to learn and to wonder about this Jesus whom they are following.

This is our spiritual journey, our ministry with Jesus, too. It is the challenge we have to recognize and to embrace the mystery of the divine Jesus as the Christ and continue as disciples in our everyday lives in his shared humanity with us.

In our Lenten experience, we can be changed and enlightened by the transfigured Christ as his current day disciples. God desires great things for us. We continue to look for Christ in new ways, open to whatever surprises we might find as he continues to reveal himself. We might consider what it means in the Nicene Creed when we say, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,” revealed in the Transfiguration.

As we move toward the Passion of Christ and his crucifixion, the Transfiguration reminds us of the glory of Jesus risen from dead after the cross – the Resurrection of Easter that is the foundation of our Christian faith. Life conquers death, which encourages us in even our most despairing moments.

So as believers, we trust that the transfigured Christ calls and awaits each of us, fulfilling the promise of our baptism when, joined together, we die with Christ and are raised with him.

– Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

 

Reflection for February 21 – Our journey to relationship

Today is the first Sunday of Lent, so what have you learned so far?

That’s not a serious question, of course. We have barely wiped the ashes from our foreheads since Wednesday, so perhaps there isn’t much different for us just now.

But today we know that we are in fact on our way in this time of reflection and    examination – a journey we take individually, but also share with the entire Catholic Church community. In this 40-day season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving we hope to emerge with a renewed sense of spirit, if not of ourselves.

We become more aware of our prayer life, and we devote more time and thought to it. We try to listen to God quietly, which challenges us to stop talking for a while. We look for him in our daily lives.

By fasting, we limit our food on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and we abstain from meat on each Friday. Fasting also is about the things we may choose to give up or to limit during this season, whether it be chocolate, alcohol, ice cream or some troublesome behavior or habit. We don’t do these things to punish ourselves, but in humility as reminders that we are in a different time and disposition.

Offering even small sacrifices to God, then, is part of our almsgiving – giving something of ourselves with the desire to  deepen our relationship with him. We are mindful, too, of those people around us who are in need and to whom we might provide some comfort: food for the poor, support for our parish or a charity, visiting someone sick or lonely, offering our talents to those who need our help –  as Jesus teaches us in the Corporal Acts of Mercy (Matt 25:31-40). Our kindness and compassion can make a difference in someone’s day or their life, and move us closer to God.

As we have come to expect, our Sunday scripture readings as we begin Lent show us in God’s terms the things we might do and why we might do them – namely, for the sake of others and for the greater glory of God, as our Jesuit friends say. And we hear about two other 40-day journeys: Noah and the ark, and Jesus in the desert.

In Genesis (9:8-15), we see God’s love and desire for us in the story of Noah as he re-establishes his covenant with us – he is our God, we are his people.  As Noah ends his 40 days on the ark, a time of renewal and purification, God renews his   relationship with him and all of creation. They are joined through God’s saving grace that prefigures our own baptism, as the First Letter of Peter tells us, freeing us from sin.I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all  living beings,” God promises. (Gen. 9:15) 

In Mark’s Gospel (1:12-15), Jesus, too, is emerging from a 40-day spiritual retreat in the desert, where he prepares for his own baptism and public ministry. Like us, he faces difficult temptations, uncertainty and enticements – false promises.  He is alone in the barren wilderness, relying on God’s grace ministered to him through angels. In this space, in humble conversation with God through prayer, Jesus is discerning more profoundly God’s desires for him, things that are important and those to leave behind. Sounds like Lent, doesn’t it?

After his baptism by John, the beginning of new life, Jesus proclaims what is about to happen; that something is going to be different:  “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” They are the words we heard on Ash Wednesday. They are a challenge for us, and a call to relationship and discipleship. We declare that we believe and so are required to discern and to do something.

This first weekend of Lent is especially meaningful for the adults who have been called to communion with our Roman Catholic faith and have been on a discernment of their own for nearly five months through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults faith group in our parish.

At our 8 a.m. Mass, we will celebrate the Rite of Election for our unbaptized Catechumen, and the Rite of Continuing Conversion for two Candidates who already are baptized. These rites celebrate the Church’s desire, or election, for them to join us in our Catholic faith at the great Easter Vigil Mass on April 3 – joining adults from our diocese and the world who will make the same profession.

So as you embark on your own Lenten journey to deepen your faith, remember to pray for them and perhaps recognize the gift of faith we have already.

– Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

 

Reflection for February 14 – “You take away the sins of the world”

The lepers, the lame and the sick in the time of Jesus routinely were shunned and cast aside. Rejected not only because of their illness, which people feared in a world where medicine was crude at best, but because they were thought to be unworthy.  These so-called “unclean” were judged as sinners being punished for whatever misdeeds they may have committed, or even those of their fathers before them. They were sick through their own sins, doomed by their own acts.

So we can imagine the uproar Jesus created when he deliberately went out in his ministry to be among these societal and religious pariahs. This scandal shook the Jewish communities and religious leaders, astonished that this Jesus touches lepers, eats with sinners and claims he can do what only God can do – forgive sins. He requires no temple sacrifices, no animal offerings, no money. Only faith.

Jesus reveals to the world a loving God of mercy, kindness, healing and forgiveness. This is the God we have come to know through our Catholic faith.

So we remember that this week as we come to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. This is a season for self-reflection and examination of our lives. We do so with the faith and knowledge that Jesus is waiting for us, ready to heal us and to forgive us.

We go on this 40-day journey hoping to come out better than we went in, a little lighter, able to leave behind the things that bog us down and burden our spirit. We’re reminded of Jesus’ own 40 days in the desert before beginning his public ministry and the strength and resolve he gained in that time.

Through Jesus, we no longer see sickness as a sign of or punishment for sinfulness, as it is explained in this weekend’s Old Testament reading from Leviticus (13:1-2, 44-46). These verses illustrate the fear of leprosy, a dreaded skin disease thought to be highly contagious.

God tells Moses and Aaron that those with skin diseases and blemishes are to be cast out and shunned. They are to be segregated in their own communities and must announce themselves as “unclean” should they ever draw near other people.

Jesus transitions from this kind of thinking. Instead, the outcasts and sinners are welcomed and healed. He goes to them and receives them when they come to him, as the afflicted man does in Mark’s Gospel (1:40-45). Kneeling and begging, he approaches Jesus will full faith:  “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

Amazed and praising God, the leper runs off to tell everyone about this Jesus, who through the power of God heals all    people. An early believer and apostle, he cannot hold it in. He leaves better than when he arrived. “Blessed is he whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered,” says this weekend’s Psalm (32:1-2, 5-11)

It is noteworthy that Mark’s Gospel begins with the healing presence and power of Jesus among the poor, the sick and he rejected. We see his love and his mercy, and many come to him. “I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation,” the Psalm (32:1-2) says. Spiritually, this is a good place to be.

In our own examination of conscience, we are challenged to consider those we see as the lepers in our lives – those who are outsiders, maybe not as good as us, who are different in ways we don’t like;  people we find unattractive, people who have done us wrong. More challenging is whether we can respond as Jesus did in his ministry and continues to do today – with kindness and mercy. Can we meet Jesus there?

Because for us, too, it is about forgiveness – what we seek and what we give. That is central to our faith. It is where we are heading on the Lenten journey toward Easter and the great Paschal mystery. Rather than seeking vengeance or offering animal sacrifices to God for forgiveness as the Jewish people of his time did, Jesus sacrifices his own body and life. He is crucified for our sake and for our sins. He takes our sins upon himself, nails them to a cross and offers them God in the ultimate sacrifice.

Believing this, we affirm and pronounce our faith in Christ’s forgiveness during the communion prayer at every Mass, before we share His body and blood, as the priest raises the body of Christ, and together we proclaim our hope and our faith:

“Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us.”

– Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for February 7 -For the sake of the gospel – and for others

 

During marriage preparation, one thing we discuss with couples is being able to put the needs of the other person ahead of your own. Doing so, you assure that the needs each person are being met as you draw closer to each other. This is basic    Catholic Christian teaching and makes a lot of sense in the abstract. In a marriage, it becomes a real and fundamental part of the relationship. But no matter how easily we might agree with this self-giving virtue in concept, it is a challenge in reality – and not only for married couples.

It seems our basic, and sometimes first, instinct is to take care of ourselves. So God asks us to make a conscious effort to do what Jesus showed us and taught us to do. In the scripture readings this weekend, as we draw closer to Lent, are rich with examples of self-sacrifice for the good of    others and reliance on God to be with us and to strengthen for us.

We visit first with our friend Job – a good and faithful man who, through no apparent fault of his own, is beset with a series of tragedies and woes that test his faith (Job 7:1-4,6-7).  Poor Job loses his property, his livelihood, his family and all this is important to him. He is reduced to sadness and misery as he wonders why he has been so plagued and troubled. He is    losing hope and wonders aloud if this is his fate. “I shall not see happiness again,” he sighs.

Yet, as he descends to lowest moments, Job manages to remain in an ongoing relationship with God. He surrenders his life and his future to God, putting it in his hands. His faith during his great despair ultimately saves him – he finds strength in his surrender to God, who rewards and restores him. To the Hebrew people of that time, and to us today, the story of Job is a testament to faith. It is not that we suffer happily, but that we allow God to come with us, to find comfort and hope in him.

In the second reading, Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (9:6-19, 22-23), again we see the virtue of humble service to God’s people, submitting to his will with confidence that something greater lies ahead of the disappointments and  struggles of the day. In establishing a Christian community in the rough and tumble city of Corinth, Paul preaches that faith in Christ is not about achieving status, domination or self-serving gratification. Rather, it is something new and compassionate. An obligation is entrusted to those who know Jesus to live and to preach the gospel with humility and for its own sake. It means putting your own comfort aside and offering yourself to others in solidarity with their needs.

“To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some,” Paul writes to them. “All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.”

Again, in the gospel, we see in Jesus his desire to heal others, sympathetic to their needs, and also his reliance and relationship with God through prayer. What he does for others, begins and ends with prayer – his conversation and solidarity with the Father.

In Mark’s gospel story (1:29-2-39), Jesus is leaving the synagogue and goes to the house of Simon and Andrew to learn that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever. He touches her hand and heals her – asking nothing for it. By evening, the word is out. “The whole town was gathered at the door,” Mark writes. They are sick with various diseases or possessed by demons. It is exhausting, but Jesus stays with them and, offering himself, heals them all.

He rises early the next morning, before the others are awake, and goes off. He finds a deserted place, a quiet place, and he prays. In union with his Father, Jesus offers himself to the neediest among them all.

“Everyone is looking for you,” his disciples say once they find him there alone. Then, refreshed by his prayer, Jesus leads them and teaches them – and us – what it means to be a disciple, what it means to live the gospel.

“Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come,” he says. Let us pray that, with God, our purpose will be the same.

 

– Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

 

Reflection for January 31 -“If today you hear his voice…”

In the course of this pandemic in which we live, we’ve been called upon to envision and experience our “church” in a different way.  Our main worship space is unavailable for us to gather safely, so we celebrate weekend and daily Masses in St. Anthony of Padua Hall or the Parish Center. Admittedly, they offer less comfort and ambiance than the main church and sanctuary we love.

We might complain, and some of us do from time to time. Or, in our better moments, we might thank God that we have these spaces available to gather and to pray safely together. Because Jesus, as we are reminded again in this weekend’s Gospel (Mark 1:21-28), had no church building at all.

Jesus was a devoted Jew, religious in his time, but was rejected by the synagogue officials and townspeople in his boyhood home of Nazareth.

Instead, the public ministry of Jesus begins in the streets and the fishing village of Capernaum, where we see in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel he gathers disciples and meets the people who hear his voice. This is where he builds his church.

They are people who are hurting, suffering, oppressed and needy. Many are rejected from Jewish society, for sure, and even sometimes among their own people. They are the lepers and the sick, the ragged and the poor, the fishermen and the village women.

Jesus comes to heal them. He doesn’t wait for them to seek him, though many will come to do just that. He goes to them and they respond when he speaks. They hear his voice, as Mark tells.

Among them is a man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit who is first to call him out. “I know who you are. The Holy One of God!” The spirit, by naming and identifying Jesus, believes he will have power over him. Yet Jesus rebukes the spirit, which recognized him by his voice, and responds by casting it out and healing the man.

It fulfills what we hear this weekend from the Book of Deuteronomy (18:15-20) when God promises to Moses and the Israelites: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth.” It is up to us to listen.

In Jesus we see the healing power and love of God, what those who are looking on call “a new teaching with authority.” He had not come to destroy them, as the spirit charged, but to heal.

This new authority is revealed to us by listening for and hearing his voice calling us into a relationship with him. God loves us and wants us to be happy. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” is how it is put in Psalm 95.

Jesus shows us, in his compassion, teaching and healing, how we are to do that. As Catholics, we are called to have a special obligation, what our social teaching calls a “preferential option,” for the poor, as Jesus does. They are the people who heard and responded to Jesus with faith. It was in their surrender that they found strength and God’s desire to love and to heal us.

There, we, too, relying on God might hear his voice in our situation and predicament and have the same courage, faith and joy to respond.

– Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

 

Reflection for January 17 – “What are you looking for?”

The first disciples Jesus summoned to what would become a new life, a new call, were busy people. As fishermen, Andrew, Peter, John and James worked long days and into the night. Casting and hauling nets repeatedly into the sea was grueling, exhausting work. Some days it was lucrative, others not so much. It is fair to assume they had little idle time to consider other activities or thoughts. Then two things intruded into their busyness that changed their lives: John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.

They weren’t planning on either of them, and didn’t have much room for anything like this. Or so they thought. But John captured their attention with his preaching and baptisms, changing their ideas about what is possible with God. And then Jesus captured their hearts and their souls when he called them to follow him.

Jesus continues to do that today. We are busy and distracted people, too, and maybe exhausted. But Jesus knows there is more space in us for God. And in John’s Gospel (1:35-42) this weekend, we see how Jesus comes into our lives at those times we are busy with something else.

John the Baptist reveals Jesus to those first disciples in a puzzling way, “Behold the lamb of God.” Curious, perhaps, they follow him. Who is this person John calls the Lamb? There is great anticipation at the time that a messiah would come to save Israel, but someone as docile as a lamb, a sacrificial animal?

Jesus turns to two of the disciples and asks maybe the most important question to begin: “What are you looking for?”  Indeed, what were they looking for? We might ask ourselves the same question:  What are we looking for?

It requires us to make a self-examination of conscience and mind and heart. And our answer, if we are sincerely and humbly seeking God, frees us to respond to what Jesus says next: “Come and you will see.” It is the most important and intimate invitation of our lives, as it was for the disciples, to follow Jesus. And once they do, Jesus is revealed so that Andrew goes to find his brother, Simon Peter, to announce: “We have found the messiah.”

Their lives were changed. Jesus, upon meeting Simon Peter, gives him a new name: “You will be called Cephas,” Peter, the Rock. He changes not only Peter’s name, but his purpose as we know he is the rock upon which Jesus will build his church.

Those first disciples dropped everything to follow him, with little to no idea of where they were going, or even who he was. Much like the Blessed Mother Mary, they surrender to faith and embrace the mystery of what is to come. It requires courage and conversion.

Often that is God’s way of calling us. In the Old Testament reading (1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19), the prophet Samuel is called in the night and, finally recognizing God’s voice, responds “Speak, your servant is listening.”

This was Samuel’s decisive and willing acceptance to an invitation he did not know was coming. He heard it because he was listening, and through all the other noise and commotion of his life he hears God’s quiet voice. And like the disciples, he is changed by it.

These are particularly noisy and stressful times in our lives, with a spreading pandemic and political unrest and divisions. Many times, hearing God’s voice and finding him in the midst of our days is difficult. And yet, as we see in the scripture readings this weekend, God is with us through it all and continues to call to us. “What are you looking for?” he asks, and promises us: “Come and you will see.”

Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for January 10 – United With Christ

As Catholic Christians we try to be aware of the many ways Christ reveals himself to us, from the Nativity when God comes among us to his Passion and Resurrection when, in the final sacrifice, he takes our sins and promises us new and eternal life.

But perhaps our most personal and intimate encounter with Jesus comes through our baptism, when we become one with Christ, we take on Christ. It is the first Sacrament, and the one we celebrate on this final weekend of the Christmas Season with The Baptism of the Lord.

John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River reveals Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, to a growing crowd of followers who were anticipating something great was coming. It comes with John’s announcement and a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Thus, Mark introduces Jesus in the beginning of his Gospel (1:7-11) that we hear this weekend.

Jesus, though sinless, desires to join us in baptism in an intimate bond as we become one with him and he with us. He washes away what we have to come to understand as original sin: the vanity of Adam and Eve to believe they could be equal with God in the story in the Book of Genesis.

But baptism is not merely about sin. It is important for us to acknowledge sin and that we are not God, but we also are  reminded in baptism that we have original grace, original blessing: God loves us, created us, wants to be with us. We are lovingly made in his image. In the same way the dove descends upon Jesus at his baptism, we too are filled with the Holy Spirit.

So we are called into that same relationship with Christ in the waters of baptism. It does not mean we will never sin again or never fail or never have difficulties. We will. Life is challenging. There are many temptations and possibilities to wander off the path. God understands the world he has created for us and gives us free will to make choices – most of the good, some not. But baptized into Christ, we know we are never alone. He is with us, he is part of us and he waits to take us back always. That is part of our baptism promise. We have forgiveness.

This is our faith and our hope. It keeps up going. It’s part of the original covenant with God – he is our God and we are his people. As God is well pleased with his Son, he also is pleased with us, even in the times we fail.

So we end the Christmas Season by celebrating the Baptism of the Lord. Strengthened and encouraged by our own baptism, let us take Christ with us as we venture into the world and the year ahead. Peace be with us.

Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for January 3 – Journey to a Great Discovery

Moving from the birth of Jesus in the Christmas Day stories, we continue to experience the revelation of Christ, the Son of God and Messiah, through the Christmas Season.

We stop first, on this weekend, with the Epiphany of the Lord. In this moment of discovery, Jesus is revealed through the magi, who travel to Bethlehem bearing gifts for this child they hail as a newborn king, according to the Gospel of Matthew (2:1-12).

A week later, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord with the John the Baptist in the Gospel of Mark (1:7-11). Jesus’ identity is revealed emphatically in the voice from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

These stories call us with great hope and optimism to recognize Jesus in our lives. It often requires some effort. As with the magi, sometimes we have to be aware of the signs of Christ in our life and make the first move.

The magi’s epiphany and journey toward the messiah begins with their response to a star. Bright or stunning stars were thought to be heralds of great events of religious significance. The magi, probably Persian or Arabian astrologers, follow the light with the excitement and expectation of finding a king.

“They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh,” Mark tells us.

These treasures help to reveal the identity of this child: Gold for a king; frankincense for a high priest and prayers rising to heaven in the smoke; and myrrh, a precious, richly-fragrant embalming oil signifying the pain and suffering this king would endure.

What they were not prepared for in that unassuming place – their great Epiphany and enlightenment – was this child is not a mere king, but God himself incarnate. No one had expected that, even in the Messiah.

This revelation changes the magi profoundly. They do not return to King Herod in Jerusalem, who had dispatched them to find the child. Instead, they return by a new way and spread the news of this Messiah to other lands and other peoples.

As we continue to contemplate the mystery of God among us – what does that mean, and how is that possible? – perhaps we might recapture the moment of our own Epiphany, the point we first believed and were changed. Let us realize that Jesus continues to reveal himself to us, in more or less dramatic ways, if only we are aware, alert and seeking with the same expectations we shared during the Advent Season. God was then, and still is, with us.

-Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

Reflection for December 27 – A Holy Family and Domestic Church

As good and observant parents, Mary and Joseph headed to the temple in Jerusalem to present their young son to the Lord, according to Jewish customs. Like all Jewish families, they went to offer praise and thanks to God for the miracle of Jesus and to consecrate, or devote, his life to the Lord.

It shows us more clearly the central importance of family that God’s only son, the savior of the world, would be taught, raised, nurtured and protected as any other child of the day – the image of what we have come to know as the Domestic Church, a Holy Family that we observe Dec. 26 and 27. We learn God does not intend for us to be alone, not even God himself in the incarnation of Christ.

In Luke’s Gospel this weekend (2:22-40), Jesus reveals himself within the very fabric of Jewish family life and worship when at the Temple Simeon, who would recognize the coming of the Messiah, and Anna the prophetess who prayed there night and day in anticipation, would announce that the time had arrived with the presentation of Jesus. Then Mary and Joseph “returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” They are a family.

In the Christmas Nativity stories, with Mary and Joseph protectively at the side of their baby boy, we are called to consider the intimacy and special bonds of a family. Huddled in a stable and reliant wholly on God to provide for them, they gather around their new baby who will be called the Son of God. Mary and Joseph, poor and largely alone in the world, put their trust in God as they started this family. It is what St. Paul calls the perfect bond.

The Nativity story speaks of the intimate familial relationship between Jesus the Son and God the Father. They are two and yet one. Intertwined with the Holy Spirt to make one god in three persons. This is an image of family, of the Holy Family into which Jesus is born. God comes into the world to become one with us through one of us, in Mary. They grow together as a family and home centered on God.

In his missionary years, Jesus would another kind of family as he called together his 12 disciples. They were diverse – fishermen, a tax collector, a revolutionary zealot, a Jewish scholar, a pessimist, a close friend who would become a traitor. They had their differences and their quarrels, as do most families. But they stayed together, supported each other. They are an example of what Jesus envisions of the family of God, the children of God, coming together for the things that matter most – an example for all of us and reminder that we, too, are called to be a Holy Family.

-Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

Reflection for December 20 – The Light of the World

On this fourth and final  Sunday of Advent we are but days away from coming of Christmas, the Nativity of the Lord, the reason for our Catholic Christian faith. It is what the opening of John’s Gospel for Christmas Day tells is the Word made flesh to dwell among us.

The birth of Christ is the culmination of this time for miracles and joy, of inner peace and world peace, to embrace something so great that we cannot define it, but merely embrace it.

God has chosen to come among us, to dwell with us, to be one of us. And we’re reminded it is his choice to come to us, Emmanuel. It is his great desire and love for us that causes him to come, and he does so humbly, in a manger, through a simple woman from a simple place, the Virgin Mary.

We did nothing to deserve this or to make us worthy of God’s intimate presence with us. It is pure grace – God pouring himself on us to gather us to himself. As the great Trappist monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton said, the things we do with the hope to please God may or may not please him, “but I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you.” We pray that we may have that desire.

That is the nature of God’s graciousness and gift to us, the gift of himself. He comes at the end of Advent as the days grow longer, and as our Advent wreaths grow brighter, signifying renewal and hope. This child, this Jesus, is the Light of the World to rescue us, to mourn with us, to laugh with us, to share with us, to journey with us and to love us.

In Luke’s Gospel story of the Annunciation, which we read this weekend, the angel Gabriel announces both glorious and troubling news to the teenage Mary; that filled with grace, she is chosen to be the mother of God – something unbelievable. Though fearful, in her innocence she listens and finds the faith to surrender to the call and protection of God. Her surrender is not weakness, but the courage to put her life in God’s hands, not knowing what was coming next, and to find comfort there.

She is the model our Church and our lives: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” she says.

May each of us pray for the gift this Christmas to have the courage and faith of Mary.

Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo   Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for December 13 – The Joy of the World

I wonder sometimes if one of the obstacles for those who don’t have faith, who can’t    believe in God, is that it requires great optimism. The enormity of God, and the depth of God’s love for us, might be more than some might believe to be possible.

It is, in fact, difficult to comprehend because it is beyond our understanding. No eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard, as Jesus says. And so, to enter this relationship with God we are asked to embrace a great mystery, contemplate something greater than we can imagine and more than we can explain.

It requires a total surrender of heart and mind, and to trust in something you can neither see nor touch nor control. It puts us in a vulnerable place. What if we’re wrong? How silly will we seem?

Yet as we move into the third week of this Advent Season, 13 days from Christmas Day, God continues to call us to think bigger. We don’t have to be able to explain it for it to be true. Our God is not a small God, but one of abundance in power and presence and love.

This is Gaudete Sunday, a day set aside to rejoice and to celebrate our growing anticipation of the coming of Jesus, the hope of the world. Our liturgical colors change from the purple of reflection to the rose color of joy as Christ draws nearer to us. We are dared to enter into this communion with Christ, Emmanuel – God with us. We are challenged to surrender ourselves, to do as Mary did and to say, “Yes,” to God amid her own fear and confusion and uncertainty. “Let it be done according to thy will.” It was no easier for her then it is for us.

In John’s Gospel this weekend (1:6-8, 19-28), John the Baptist reveals Jesus as the messiah, the savior of the world, the Christ. John came to testify to the light that is Jesus Christ, the one for whom they hoped for generations. Many would come to believe and to be changed. But many would reject him – the priests, the scribes, the Pharisees unable to imagine God as one of us or of anything so great. Rather, they retreated in fear, threatened and unable or unwilling to expand their view of what is possible.

St. Augustine says unless we can believe in the possibility of God, we cannot believe in the reality of God. We don’t have to be able to explain it to make it true. It is too great for that.

And so in this Advent Season of joy and hope, let us cherish these things too big for us to imagine. Let us put aside ourselves and our narrow understanding of what is possible so we may accept without reservation the great gift of God himself. Let us come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.

 

Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for December 6 – Proclaim the Good News

John the Baptist, clothed in camel hair and living off the desert, was an unusual sight and a religious eccentric to the people of his time. So it was that he drew a lot of attention, as someone might today. His baptism rituals, adaptions of traditional  Jewish cleansing rites, attracted an increasing number of followers and also suspicion from the Jewish establishment.

John’s desert community of Essenes overtly rejected what they saw as the strident and corrupt Jewish Temple leaders in favor a simpler and purer understanding and practice of the Jewish faith. Further, his baptisms of repentance for the forgiveness of sins was heresy, infuriating Jewish leaders all the more.

You can see how John and his community would have much influence on the religious education of his cousin, Jesus. Indeed it was John who was chosen to “prepare the way of the Lord” and to herald Jesus as the messiah as he came to be baptized: “Behold the lamb of God.”

“One mightier than I is coming after me,” he tells his followers. “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1-8)

The introduction to John the Baptist comes in what Mark calls, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.”

John’s proclamations earned scorn from the Temple leaders, just as it fueled great anticipation and desire among his followers for the coming of the messiah. Consider this an early version of Advent, the joyful season when we now await, with anticipation and excitement of our own, the birth, and return, of our Savior Jesus Christ.

That hope and joy will be apparent in a special way in our parish this Sunday when we welcome the women and men in    our Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults formation at the 8 a.m. Mass in St. Padua Hall. At this Rite of Acceptance and Welcoming they will be received by Father Len and our entire community to express their desire to pursue full communion with the Church and, more personally, a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

This welcoming is part of a season when each of us can be a messenger like John the Baptist, a voice in our worlds preparing the way of the Lord. We may have to look past some things, the negatives and the disappointments and frustrations of this particular time of stress and a pandemic virus that disrupts everything. But John had challenges, too, yet had the faith to be hopeful and joyful as he proclaimed the good news of the coming of Jesus Christ.

We begin each Mass singing “Oh Come, Emmanuel” and it is a reminder that God is with us, as is his immense love for us.   If we carry that in our hearts it will be evident in our disposition and lighten our spirits in this special time of the year.

As such, we can heed the words this weekend of the Prophet Isaiah, who speaks of the coming of a great messiah that Israel had anticipated for centuries:

“Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald the good news!” (Isaiah 40:9)

During this season, let each of us do likewise with our lives.

Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for November 29 – Come, Emanuel

Patience is a virtue in short supply, and seemingly getting shorter all of the time. Our lives are increasingly taxed with challenges and difficulties, from the Covid-19 pandemic to new and changing demands on how we do the simplest things.

Yet, on this weekend when we enter the liturgical season of Advent, the beginning of a new year in the Roman Catholic Church, and head toward Christmas Day, we are called upon to do just that – to remain patient. And we know it is not among the things we do best.

Advent is a season of great anticipation and excitement. Should you forget what that looks like, find the nearest child who is consumed by joy and hope and splendor of Christmas morning. You might even remember that feeling.

If you do, hold onto it. Let us try to recapture that unquenchable childlike wonder as we anticipate something truly wonderful that is coming to us: Emanuel, God with us, the savior of the world, Jesus Christ.

These next few weeks are filled with commotion and bustle and noise that have become the American Christmas holiday. It is easy to get caught up in the rush and lose our focus and patience. But through the glitz, the shopping lines, the inflatable reindeers and polar bears, the elves and other things that don’t seem to have anything at all to do with Jesus, he is still there. We just might have to look a little more closely.

We are ever conscious to “Keep Christ in Christmas,” and we have the car stickers to prove it. But just as well, let us try to “Find Christ in Christmas;” to see him through the holiday cacophony of lights and sounds and traffic. To “Be watchful! Be alert!” as Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Mark this weekend (13:33-34).

Because the fact is, you can’t take Christ out of Christmas. Through the commercialism and secular celebrations, let us   remember that Jesus is still the reason. Something wonderful, something different is happening.  Even non-believers or those who are indifferent, recognize something different, something special about this season. There is a general feeling of goodwill and charity.  It is not beneath God to reach people in any way necessary – even if it takes bright shiny objects.

Let us use this time to sharpen our focus on Christ and to embrace the anticipation and the excitement of what is to come.  Each week at Mass, we will count the time until Christmas. In our homes, we will post our Advent calendars and light the candles of our Advent wreaths, lighting another candle each week and creating ever greater light that signals the coming of the Messiah, God among us. So let us not become discouraged, but find the joy of this season.

Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for November 22 – What is a King?

Jesus and the Jewish Temple leaders who denounce him and orchestrate his crucifixion and death agree on at least one thing: Jesus is not a king.

Rather, it is Pontius Pilate, the fearful and brutal Roman governor over occupied Israel, who sentences Jesus and proclaims him to be the King of the Jews, in mockery and  derision of the Jewish people. The Jewish leaders, awaiting a new King David to restore the nation of Israel, say this Jesus is no king of theirs and are infuriated. Jesus himself rejects any such title, and tells Pilate if I have a kingdom it is not here.

And yet, as we come to the end of our Church’s liturgical year this weekend, we celebrate the “Solemnity of Christ, the King of the Universe.” But what kind of king is this?

Certainly, Jesus meets none of the expectations of a king. He is neither a military nor a political leader. He has no interest in the trappings of national or government power. He has no desire to recreate David’s kingdom.

More perplexing to the Jewish leaders, and Pilate as well, is he speaks about another power- a power from above, a kingdom of God, not of Israel. He is a peasant king, if any at all, but a servant king above all. Jesus is not an earthly king, but King of the Universe and of heaven. It is beyond the comprehension of people of his day. It remains beyond the comprehension of us today. Such is the nature of God.

This king comes not to assemble land and wealth and power, but to gather hearts and souls. He has no army, but love and mercy with a preferential option for the poor. He gathers the weak, the sick, the poor, the outcasts – society’s rejects. The governments and religious leaders will do as they will, but we are to care for the people of God’s kingdom by loving each other.

So Jesus calls together his disciples from the margins and outskirts of society, in the places where he will minister. He seeks those in need, or they seek him, who are unencumbered enough to allow him into their lives and hearts, and he heals and changes them. They have the courage to put faith in something good, something greater than themselves, in the love and protection of Jesus – God with us.

Jesus tells them – now us – that all we must do is to follow the same example. We find that in the Gospel of Matthew (25:31-46) that is read this weekend, known as the Corporal Works of Mercy.

There is a king in this story, but, again, not what you might expect in a king. He is a king who identifies with those in need and who rely upon the kindness and compassion of others.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

Jesus says this is how we are to behave. This is the kingdom of “Christ the King.”

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me,” he says.

Do this and the king will say to us: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

 

-Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for November 15 – The Gifts We Have

God gifts us in so many ways. We have seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, as Catholics, we have seven gifts in the Sacraments – Holy Communion at the top of the list. We have individual and personal gifts; different gifts special to each person, but the same spirit, as St. Paul tells us in the First Letter to the Corinthians (12:1-28), a letter worth reading.

And we learn through St. Paul’s New Testament letters to the early Christian communities and, more directly, through Jesus’ own teaching in the Gospels, including this weekend’s (MT 25:14-30) , that these gifts require two things of us:

  1. That we acknowledge and accept them – say “Yes” to God.
  2. That we use them – not primarily for ourselves, but to help others as a community and family of God. Each of us called to contribute in our own way.

In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of these gifts as “talents.” We understand talents as personal gifts and skills we have. In Israel at the time of Jesus, a talent was a significant amount of money. Both have value, but only according to how they are used, as Jesus illustrates in this parable.

As the master prepares for a journey, he entrusts three servants with talents. The talents, we notice, are not distributed equally – one received five, one received two and another only one. They go to each according to his abilities with the expectation – and trust – that they will do something with the gifts they have received without cost.

Two put their talents to work. Rather than hoarding them and enriching themselves, they share and multiply their gifts to the great joy of the master who, upon his return, remarks to each: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” And because they could be trusted with these gifts, they will be endowed with more.

But the third, who buried and squandered his talent, failing to appreciate or share what he had received, earned the master’s scorn for his selfishness and apathy. The master takes the single talent to give it to someone who will put it to use.

Jesus uses parables such as this to teach and, not so subtly, to reveal and correct the legalism and practices of his critics. And here, he reminds them – and his disciples who are listening closely and learning – that we each have gifts we  did nothing to deserve, and they all come through grace and mercy of God. They are not for us to keep to ourselves, but    to share with others – those in need, those who have different and complementary gifts, so together we may build a community and kingdom of God.

Each of us is called to contribute according to what we have received. Those who have much are expected to contribute more – not to complain that others are giving less, but to be grateful for the abundance God has entrusted to us. Giving more of ourselves is what it means to live the Gospel.

Everything comes from God, for our own good and for us to use, to multiply like the two servants in the Gospel story. We act for the benefit of others, just as we pray largely for the good of others. It speaks about our relationship with God and each other – loving God, loving our neighbors, growing more intimidate with Jesus. This is nothing new.

Jesus challenges us to be trustworthy with the blessings we have been given – no matter how many or how few. For if we can be trusted with these things even while our master is away – or when we think no one is looking or no one will know – we will be rewarded when at last the master and giver of these gifts returns for us.

It is a particularly appropriate message this time of the year.  As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving on Nov. 26, we might take an inventory of the gifts we have received and, with gratitude and humility, ask God how we might use them. On the weekend that follows, we celebrate Advent and a new Church year in anticipation of the birth and return of our “master” and Lord, Jesus Christ. Let us work and pray that, like the two servants in the Gospel story, we may be good and faithful, mindful of the God-given gifts we have and joyful to share them.

-Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

 

Reflection for November 8 – The Spirit and Life of the Church

On this weekend as we commemorate the consecration and dedication of our church building in 1987 it is an opportune time to consider exactly what is a “Church.”

For reasons of the CoVid19 pandemic and 33-year-old failing roof that have combined to shrink our available worship space, our church building has been closed mostly since the spring for safety and health precautions. We have been limited to smaller celebrations there – daily prayer, funerals, weddings, baptisms, confirmations and limited-attendance school masses.

Fortunately, we have been able to create new worship space in St. Anthony of Padua Hall in our Catholic school for weekend masses, and in the Parish Center, our original church building, for daily masses as we reimagine our church building. As much as we cherish the ambiance and holiness of our main Church, we are reminding ourselves through this ordeal that the real Church isn’t a building at all, but the community of faith that comes together to praise God and to love each other.

The Scripture readings we will hear this weekend, chosen specifically for the dedication of churches, speak to what – and where – the essence of our Church really lies.

We will hear from the Prophet Ezekiel about the Jewish Temple and the waters streaming from it, and “Wherever it flows, the river teems with every kind of living creature; fish will abound. Where these waters flow they refresh; everything lives where the river goes.” This water also nourishes the fruit trees that produce food and leaves for healing. (Ez 47: 9-10)

This imagery of water flowing over the land is indicative of the life we get from our Church – we are that living water that can bring life and healing to our own world.

And in Jesus, we see an even more intimate connection between us and Church in John’s Gospel story about the cleansing of the Temple. This is Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem for Passover, on the way to his final Passion, when he chases out the money-changers, overturns their tables, drives out the merchants with their sacrificial animals put up for sale. “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace,” he says. (John 2:26)

When the Temple leaders challenge his actions and question his authority, Jesus reveals the true nature of God’s Temple, one not made of stones but alive. He reveals to them a new understanding of Temple – one outside their attachment to the building and one they cannot accept.

Jesus said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?”

But he was speaking about the temple of his body. (John 2:19-22) And the disciples remembered what he said.

Jesus and the very first Christians, we know, had no Church at all except for the streets and villages and houses where they stopped to gather along the way. They were the “Church.”

In the same way, in the same Holy Spirit from which we derive our name, Espiritu Santo Catholic Church is not a building, but us – individually and as a community. It is alive with whatever life we give to it and take from it, like the water flowing from the Temple to enrich the world.

”Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” we hear from St. Paul in the First Letter to Corinthians (3:16-17) this weekend. “… for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”

-Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for November 1 – The Life of a Saint

Who could disagree that St. Mother Teresa, after a strenuous life of charity amid some of the world’s poorest and neediest people, is worthy of being called a saint? Clearly, hers was the work and sacrifice of a woman devoted to Christ in a magnanimous way; pouring out herself for others; what we call a saint.

Perhaps the only objection to Mother Teresa’s canonization in 2016 by Pope Francis would come from Mother Teresa herself. Because Mother Teresa did not aspire to sainthood. She did not do the things she did to become a saint; she became a saint  because of the things she did. She served for the greater glory of God.

So, as we honor and contemplate the great saints in the Church’s history on All Saints Day this weekend, we are reminded that, as different as they were from each other,  saints share that one great virtue – they do all things in the name of God and of Jesus Christ.

So when Mother Teresa ministered through the drudgery, the times of darkness and doubt, when her call seemed more a curse than a blessing, walking among the sick, the poor and the dying with little evidence that it would get better, she chose to stay.

“Love cannot remain by itself – it has no meaning,” she would say. “Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.”

She also reportedly said to a man who approached her in airport praising her for her charity to the poor, “Thank you. But what are you doing for them?”

It is a blunt reminder that each of us is called to sainthood in our own way. God keeps calling us to contribute – with all of our weakness and imperfection. Because the saints of our Church were no more perfect that we are. Each was flawed. Some deeply. There were mystics and eccentrics, scholars and illiterates, children and elderly. Some of their stories are more legend than fact, but the meaning and purpose of their lives no less true.

But as with many things theological, it’s not about the details of their lives – their weakness and failures – but the sum of their lives. The things they devoted themselves to do for God.

Saints such Augustine, an incorrigible free-living pagan whose mother prayed him into conversion and, once done, he went on to become one of the greatest doctors and voices of the Catholic Church. It was a prayer so powerful it helped earn sainthood for his mother, St. Monica.

Or St. John XXII, an intended fill-in pope who nonetheless convened the Second Vatican Council that moved the Church into the modern world. A man of humility and humor, in reply to a reporter who asked, “How many people work in the Vatican?”, he said: “About half of them.” And who once told a wealthy man in Venice: “You and I have one thing in common: money. You have a lot and I have nothing at all. The difference is I don’t care about it.”

And most recently, Carlo Acutis beatified by Pope Francis on Oct. 10 and a candidate for sainthood, who died in 2006 of leukemia at age 15, in Italy. An active boy, computer gamer and programmer, Carlo is a millennial often pictured in jeans, a track jacket and Nike shoes.  He spent much of his time caring for the homeless and the poor, and he urged young people, and others, to “be an original” as God created us to be and to celebrate our individual gifts and talents. He had the faith and courage to trust in God in his most difficult times. “I offer all the suffering I will have to suffer for the Lord, for the Pope, and the Church.”

The difference in the lives of the saints is not their perfection, but how they respond to God, in great and dramatic ways, accepting their faults and failures but not deterred by them. Often, their weakness revealed their dependence on Christ, as St. Paul discovered: “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

So, like the saints, we are reminded that even in our unworthiness each of us is worthy by our very lives – by the fact that God created us, gave us life, and by that act alone has judged us worthy to be loved and to be his children. We are  reminded that each of us is called to sainthood in our own ways and our own lives, however we can. As St. Mother Teresa said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Deacon Steven, the clergy and staff at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for September 13 – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

As many as seven times..?

Despite ourselves and our faults and our behaviors, God has great optimism for us. What is evident throughout salvation history, from the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament to the Christian Scriptures of the New Testament, God always believes we are better than we think we are.

Guiding the Israelites and through the ministry of Jesus, God is continually coaxing us and calling us to a level of love and forgiveness that we find difficult, if not impossible – except to God, who believes all things are possible, even for us.

And so, despite evidence to the contrary, God continues to speak to us about our potential for love, compassion and forgiveness.

This weekend, we hear from the Prophet Sirach (27:30-28:7), one of the seven so-called wisdom books of the Old Testament, written about 175 B.C. A book largely of moral teaching, it continues the traditions of the prophets some 500 years earlier to expound on our relationship with God that is lived by how we treat each other. These lessons are familiar, and ones we hear from Christ himself.

“Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven,” Sirach writes. We’ve heard that before.

“Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.” Again, nothing new to us as Catholic Christians, as followers of Christ.

In Matthew’s Gospel (18:21-35), Peter, who in so many ways mirrors our own conscience, quizzes Jesus about the depth of forgiveness that is required.

“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Peter wonders. Seven was a symbol of completeness.

And yet, Jesus ups the ante: “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

This level of forgiveness is among the great challenges of Christianity, right along with loving our enemies.

Our loving Jesuit Pope Francis reminds us of this responsibility to ourselves and others often. But it is not to feel our call as Catholic Christians as a burden, rather an opportunity to walk peacefully with Jesus. It is what Francis calls “The Joy of the Gospel,” in his great apostolic exhortation published in 2013. Forgiveness, as love, is a blessing to those who give and to those who receive. It is Godly.

We have faith that no matter how often we fail, or how far we fall, God is waiting for us, to catch us. He is our biggest fan. He keeps speaking to us, if we take a moment to listen, and imploring us to do the same. God has a higher purpose for us and he remains confident we can achieve it.

And so, even in our worst moments, we see and feel God’s unconditional love and his desire to call us back. In Catholic sacramental terms, we call it Reconciliation – our renewed and deepened relationship with God that comes each time we come to him in confession. We might wonder if sometimes he doesn’t look on with amusement, knowing our silly and repeated failures as he sees where we are headed and waits for us to find our way back. But he is always there.

The Name of God is Mercy,” Pope Francis reminds us in his 2016 publication. The pope’s message is clear and simple, as is his way. We need not complicate God, but only to embrace him and to allow him to embrace us.

– Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

Reflection for August 23 – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Upon This Rock…”

Jesus, as the Son of God, sees and understands all things. We, of course, do not. In many gospel stories we find the early disciples confused and challenged by the things Jesus said. So it was when Jesus, as we read in this weekend’s Gospel (Mt 16:13-20), calls Peter the Rock, of all things, and further says he will build his Church upon him.

Did Jesus do this out of a rich sense of irony, or maybe just for amusement? Because Peter seemed the least likely person to put in charge of anything. This fisherman was, by many accounts, impulsive, zealous and combative – a bit rough around the edges.

He usually was the first to believe, to go “all in”- and the first to fail. Remember, in faith he walks to Jesus on the water, then suddenly loses his way and sinks. “Lord save me,” he says, and Jesus does.

After Jesus is arrested, Peter, who said he will never leave Jesus, denies him three times. “I do not know him!” And three times Jesus, after his resurrection, asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter says, “Lord, you know that I love you.”

Hardly a rock at all. More like a weathervane turning in the wind. What, his fellow disciples must have wondered, was   Jesus doing or thinking?

But we don’t see as God sees. Jesus never abandons Peter. Rather, he seems to have soft spot for Peter’s compassion and humanity. Jesus sees into Peter’s heart, and upon that lays the foundation of the Church.

Jesus, fully divine, also is fully human. He understands our humanity – our temptations, weaknesses, strengths and potential. So in Peter we get the head of a new Church who is fully human, with all the commensurate faults and foibles, passion and possibilities.

As such, Peter is hope and encouragement for all of us when we stray, fail, lose our focus and need forgiveness. He is us. Each time Peter fails, he returns to Jesus and commits himself more deeply. Each time, Jesus is waiting and embraces him – perhaps with a knowing smile at his weakness, innocence and excitement.

If Jesus is willing and desires to keep waiting for and forgiving Peter, he desires the same for us. This is the great promise of Jesus’ love; the fulfillment of his promise to be with us always.

When Peter proclaims without hesitation that Jesus is the Messiah, it is not from his own brilliance or intellect or theological study. Peter speaks innocently from his heart, which is open to the wonder and surprises of God. As Jesus tells him: “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”

It is Peter who reflexively responds with pure faith and understanding when Jesus asks the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?”

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter replies. This is a radical and divine revelation.

So that is a question we might well continue to ask ourselves – often. Who do we say he is? Who is Jesus to us? Are we open to believe what he says, to the doubts and the fears, and to the wonder and surprises, and continue to go to him?

And, importantly, what do we do about it? Because Jesus did not call Peter simply to faith and belief. He called him to go and to build a Church – not in a grand basilica or a consecrated building, but a gathering of people – all people. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” Jesus says (Mt 18:20). That is the rock upon which Peter will build this Church – it is upon us. It is not a building. We are the Church – the one Jesus promises to protect so that nothing shall prevail against it. This Church is as strong as we are. So, like Peter, do we have the faith and the courage to say to him: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and live like we mean it?

– Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for August 16 – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our Solidarity with the Poor

Among the culture-rattling messages of Jesus’s ministry was his insistence of God’s universal love for all people. The sick, the poor, the outcasts, women and children, Gentiles and pagans, sinners and lepers all have dignity. Jesus not only included them, he went to them. He sought them out and stopped when they called to him. He touched them, he ate with them, he prayed for them and he healed them.

Such is the radical nature of what would be called “Christianity.’’ The elite are not to be served, but to be held accountable for their generosity toward and treatment of others. Leaders are servants. The first shall be last. The lowly shall be lifted. The meek shall inherit the Earth. The hungry will be fed, the rich will be sent away.

The great comfort and compassion of Jesus Christ is alive and explicit in these teachings. The great challenge of Christianity also is evident in his words and actions. Try as we may, believe as we do, our societies continue to place great value on wealth and status, and ignore, sometimes disdain, the poor, the needy, those who can’t care for themselves or “carry their own weight,” as we say.

The tendency to isolate ourselves among like-minded people in the name of righteousness is seductive and  gradual. It also is pervasive and destructive – to others and to ourselves.

In this weekend’s Masses, the Prophet Isaiah (56:1, 6-7) reminds us that we must remain open and welcoming to others, those he calls “the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord.”

As Catholics, we are called to do the same as disciples of Jesus and for the common good of the Church in the world. In our own Catholic social teaching, we proclaim our solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed. “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,” the prophet preaches.

In Matthew’s gospel (15:21-28), Jesus shows us the depth of acceptance that extends to the lowliest and most desperate among us. Jesus’s encounter with the Canaanite women, an outcast and a despised “sinner,” shakes up his disciple’s understanding of society and who among us counts.

Jesus first indulges their Jewish assumption that neither a poor Gentile woman nor her suffering daughter are worthy of God or their time. They are not his concern: “I was sent only to lost sheep of Israel.” And when he says to her, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs,” the disciples and those around him might have nodded in agreement

Then Jesus reverses the story, exposing the sinfulness of the crowd’s attitudes. Instead, he reveals God’s forgiveness and compassion for all, including those who are rejected. Jesus is moved by the woman’s persistence and faith, and her willingness to risk shame and humiliation for his love and attention. She believes Jesus can heal her daughter in all her brokenness, that he is different. She is correct.

“Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.”

Jesus acts outside the restrictive rituals and rules of the Temple worship that became barriers to our shared   humanity, no matter how well intended they were. In his compassion, Jesus responds the only way God, by his very definition, can respond – with love, because that’s what God is.

Jesus would come to expect the same from his disciples then, just as he continues to expect from us now.

 

– Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for August 9 – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Whoever has ears …”

We live in a loud world. We are inundated with noise. Music, voices, traffic, sirens, televisions, radios. Even our phones whistle, beep and talk at us. Not to mention those who are convinced that the more loudly they speak the more persuasive they are.

There is so much noise, but is anyone listening?

It seems to be there are fewer places, and fewer ways, simply to find quiet; a time and place to listen and to hear. Yet, it is often in the silence of our days, of our hearts, of our minds, that we can hear God more clearly.

Such is the case with our friend Elijah, the prophet we meet this weekend in the First Book of Kings (19:9a, 11-13a). In his quest to discover God on Mount Horeb, the great mountain of God, Elijah looks in what seems to be sensible places – big events worthy of a mighty God: the strong wind that crushes rocks, the earthquake that rattles the ground, the fire that followed and consumed the space. But the Lord was not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire.

“After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.” (19: 11-13)

There was the voice of God. Not in the great events, but gentle, compassionate and embracing as he invited Elijah into  relationship with him. Had Elijah not listened for that small voice, he might have missed him. It makes us wonder how often we, too, might miss God in the routine, mundane, quiet times in our lives – waiting for the big moments when God floods us his presence, be they joyful or sorrowful. Indeed, sometimes we have to sift through the sound and fury, particularly in these times of anger, polarization and anxiety, to hear God amid the noise. In our faith, as his disciples, can we trust that God is in the small, calming voices of our day waiting to welcome us?

The very first disciples wrestled with the same dilemma, by the way. Perhaps it’s a necessary step toward a deeper faith.

In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew (14:22-33), Jesus’ friends are in peril. A few miles offshore, their fishing boat is tossed by wind-driven waves in a storm that sprang upon them suddenly. Jesus, who was praying alone on a mountain, saw their distress and reached out to them. But not in an expected way. No, Jesus came to them walking upon the sea, an impossible fear that terrified them even further.

Standing amid the great storm, Jesus encourages them in his quiet, calm voice. “Do not be afraid.” And they hear him. He calls Peter by name: “Come.” Hearing that voice through the storm, and with instinctive faith, Peter steps out of the boat and onto the turbulent sea toward Jesus. It is not until he is distracted by the sound and commotion around him that he loses his trust and his contact with Jesus, and he sinks.

“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus asks Peter as he reaches down to save him. Safely in the boat, and when the wind died down and when the noise abated, the disciples could hear and recognize clearly what was always there: “Truly, you are the son of God.”

What we learn through the first disciples is that Jesus continues to call for us, to reach for us even in the chaos and confusion – especially in the chaos and confusion. Just as Elijah finally discovers God in the small quiet voice, so too we can be reassured – can have faith and trust – that Jesus is speaking to us, if we only take time to find that quiet place to listen. Our peace in that voice.

And as Jesus so often tells his disciples as they travel with him: “Whoever has ears, ought to hear.”

 

– Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

Reflection for August 2 – 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Longing and Desire

A friend used to say that he often prayed for patience, but he stopped because God kept giving him more things to test his patience.

He may be onto something. In a society and culture that has come to expect immediate gratification, patience is a rare virtue. We don’t like to wait, and we don’t do it so well anymore.

So it is with added respect and admiration that we welcome the children, young people and adults who in the weeks ahead will celebrate the initiation Sacraments of Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation in our parish.

These sacraments were scheduled for the spring, but the coronavirus pandemic and shutdowns forced them to wait – the second-graders for First Communion, young people and adults for Confirmation, and our RCIA people who have prepared for Baptism, Confirmation and Communion at the Easter Vigil Mass.

Our first communicants will be received at weekend Masses in Padua Hall, two families at each, beginning Aug. 8, confirmations are scheduled for Saturdays beginning Aug. 8, and our RCIA Mass is scheduled for the 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept 13 Mass in Padua Hall.

As difficult as this delay has been, it’s good to remind ourselves that in our anxiety God always waits with us and for us. We can encourage each other to use these times not to despair, but to grow closer to God, more reliant on his love for us, and maybe even patient.

Sometimes it is in our need and our brokenness that we find Christ. Free from attachments and distractions, we might see and feel Him more clearly, more intimately. It is as St. Paul admits in his beautiful surrender to Christ in his Second Letter to the Corinthians:

“Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (Chapter 12:10)

It was a journey of angst and patience, too, for the first disciples who wondered and waited what this Jesus was saying, what he was going to do and where they were heading.

Consider their situation in this weekend’s gospel story (Matthew 14:13-21). Saddened and shaken by the death of John the Baptist, they follow Jesus to the mountain where he asks them to do the impossible: Feed the 5,000 people who followed them with fives loaves of bread and two fish.

Doubtful, they do as he asks, resigned to trust that he will be provide. They have traveled with him, learned from him, prayed with him. They see in this moment, “his heart was moved with pity for them.” In solidarity with their suffering and weariness, he chooses not to send the people away, but to feed them – physically and spiritually.

In these times, particularly, we remind ourselves that we are those 5,000, longing and dependent on Christ. We wait in solidarity with our children and adults seeking the sacraments that draw all of us closer to Christ. Though delayed, with their increased desire, they may be among the best prepared to embrace their communion with Christ and the Catholic Church. In these coming weeks, please be sure to welcome them and to thank them for their time, commitment and devotion.

– Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for July 26 – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Holding on to our Treasure

Catholic immigrants poured into the United States in significant numbers more than a century ago and soon began to build churches in their neighborhoods. The Church was the center of these ethnic communities of new Americans. Many of them poor, they came together to celebrate mass and sacraments, to socialize and to support and to care for each other. They depended on the Church, they depended on each other, and both flourished.

A generation or two later, these immigrants and their children began to gain status and economic security – even wealth. With affluence came independence. They no longer needed each other as much. And maybe not the Church, either. Gradually, many drifted away.

In these day, as our Church has been taken away from us just a little bit, maybe we are rediscovering what a treasure it is. In the scripture readings this weekend, particularly in the Gospel (Matthew 13:44-52), Jesus invites us to take a closer look at things that have true and lasting value, how we cherish them, and if maybe our priorities have become disordered.

He presents us with allegories of the hidden treasure in the field and the fine pearl. Once we find them, he shows us, we should rejoice and cling to them, ready to discard whatever else we don’t need. Like the Church, and Christ himself, true treasures sustain us.

He reminds us, even warns us, that maintaining that focus and desire can be a challenge. There are so many distractions and temptations calling our attention. So we tend to worry or complain that people just don’t come to Church anymore. It’s not like the “old days.”

But, in reality, it is like the “old days.” Indeed, it is the ongoing history of salvation from the stories of Adam and Eve, King Solomon, the great prophets and up to the temple officials in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus: God answers and rescues his people in their poverty and distress, they respond with great joy and thanksgiving, they achieve wealth and success, they are corrupted and they forget their need for God and each other.

This might be a time to ask ourselves how many times we have wandered away from God to pursue our own interests, to be our own person, not to need anyone. It leads to a lonely place.

Yet we know God always waits for us patiently the way the father celebrates the return of the prodigal son. Many of us have drifted and were thankful to be welcomed back to rediscover the true treasure that is our faith, our Church and our God. Let us remember to extend that same kindness and patience for those we know, or even don’t know, as they find their way back.

Paul, in his Letter to Romans (8:28-30), expresses this hope and optimism as he exhorts the new Christian community there to keep things in proper order, particularly their hearts:

“Brothers and sisters: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

– Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

Reflection for July 19th – At Home with our Church

At Home with our Church

An intrinsic part of Catholic faith formation, whether it’s First Holy Communion, teenagers preparing for Confirmation or adults seeking to become Catholic, is something we call the “Domestic Church.”

What that means is that the foundation of our faith and religion is in our homes. This is where our faith begins, where we first learn about Jesus and Church – and the place where they must be nurtured and sustained if they are to grow.

To take root, our faith cannot be just another one-hour-a-week appointment that we keep and then move onto something else. Though we gather each weekend to celebrate the Mass together, to share our love for Christ and His love for us, to sustain and to encourage each other, to worship with each other, that alone is not enough to penetrate our hearts, our minds and our lives. It is fleeting, really.

So in these most difficult times, separated as we are living through the Corona pandemic, our “Domestic Church” is even more important. Without the ritual of the Mass and the words and encouragement of the priests, without the Holy Eucharist, we must practice our faith in new and innovative ways we never expected would be necessary. We have relied on the Church to take care of this for us, so in many instances we might not be ready to go it alone.

Yet, we are ready. More importantly, God is ready and always has been. We are not alone. Our Church, more than ever, lives in our homes. It is in our daily lives. It is wherever we choose for it to be. As such, we might ask ourselves, what is God trying to show me and to tell me in this time? What can we learn about the eternal presence of God in our lives now that we are forced to take the first step toward Him?

Our Jesuit friends have an expression, “real world, real God.” It reminds us that God is not tucked away in a Church or a tabernacle, but is experienced in the moments of each day. God is in all things. Now, we need to take the time to find Him and to recognize Him.

So we learn to feed one another. To become Church to one another. To let God reveal himself in new and surprising ways. To get to the roots of our faith as the first disciples did, without the benefit of rituals and a church. To deepen our spirituality and relationship with an ever-present God.

This requires some effort. Or at the least some thought, time and attention. But as Jesus said, though the yoke we share with him and each other may seem heavy, His burden is light. It doesn’t not weigh us down, but uplifts us to new discoveries.

In our Catholic tradition, there is an abundance of resources to help us grow spiritually and in knowledge of our faith. A good place to begin is with the letters and apostolic exhortations of Pope Francis, particularly his loving and compassionate explanation of what it means to be Catholic in “The Joy of the Gospel.”

Add to that, some of his other writings: “The Name of God is Mercy,” “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) on the family, “Gaudete et Exaultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), “Laudato Si” (“Blessed be”) on the environment and the Earth, and most recently, “Querida Amazonia” (“Beloved Amazon”) on life and the Church in the Amazon region.

America media/magazine is an excellent source of Jesuit writing on contemporary issues, Catholicism, and living as a Catholic, the U.S. Catholic website, and the National Catholic Reporter. Or search for your own resources and discover authors such as Franciscan Father Richard Rohr, Father Henry Nouwan, Jesuit Fathers James Martin or William Barry. You might like to follow each day’s mass, with prayers and reflections, in Magnificat or Give Us This Day magazines, in addition to livestream Masses.

Through these resources and in our daily lives we discover, relatively easily, that if we are open to God in all places, our view of the world, not just religion, changes. God is alive.

So, then, the world is our Church and each day is our prayer, if we only allow ourselves to be aware of what’s around us. Isn’t that what Jesus did and taught? Isn’t that where Jesus had his Church – in the streets and villages and the people he encountered each day?

This is where we live what Pope Francis calls, “The Joy of the Gospel.” Individually and collectively, Jesus calls us by name as he did with His first apostles, and sends us to reveal His love for all people – with preferential love for the poor and outcasts, celebrating God’s great diversity, defending the oppressed and speaking against hatred, racism and bigotry. Loving Christ is our shared vocation.

We long for the time we can gather again in the comfort and beauty of our church – our sanctuary and temporary retreat from our worldly trials and burdens. It is a special and blessed place like no other. But until then, let us recognize and appreciate God’s presence in all the places around us, in the beauty of nature and in the grittiness of our backstreets and alleys. Because each of these places is a part of our “Domestic Church.”

– Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

Reflection for July 12 – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

How Deep is our Faith?

Times arise in our lives when we have to confront our faith. Times when we must examine what we believe and how strongly we believe it. Times when we are challenged by events and circumstances and struggle to hold onto this abstract thing that is faith.

They are times, as Jesus puts it in this weekend’s Gospel from Matthew (13:1-23), that test how deep our roots extend and how firmly they are planted – with a healthy dose of real time applicability.

In good times, when we have a sense of peace and joy, it’s easy to find the goodness of God. We see and feel his presence in nature and the world around us; in the faces of others – our families, friends and even strangers. Our spirit is satiated with the wonders and gifts in our lives. Our faith, our belief, in God and in Jesus Christ is certain and unchallenged. It is a good place to be.

At other times, our faith isn’t so certain. Sometimes it smacks into reality and gets shaken. Things go awry. Our best plans and hopes are dashed or delayed. There is sadness and     disappointment. Perhaps we lost a job or didn’t get one we wanted. Something called “Corona virus” and “Covid19” has disrupted our schedules, ruined our vacation plans, thrown our children’s’ school schedules into disarray, kept us away from the people and places we like to visit. Or maybe someone we know, someone we love, has become sick or even died. At these times, we need roots deeper than the sand to hold up our faith.

Maybe in these times we struggle to find God in the midst of chaos and sadness. We have to pause; to ask ourselves, what do I believe? This, by the way, isn’t a bad question and perhaps one we don’t ask enough. We may come to realize that our faith in Christ is the one thing that is more real than anything.

Then still other times, we may be inclined to set aside our Catholic faith and our trust in God for some reason or situation. Not forever – but for a time. Maybe we set it on a parallel track with our worldly lives – traveling together, but not intersecting. Perhaps the Gospel of love for one another, our obligation to help the poor and suffering, the rejected and persecuted, the outcasts and marginalized gets clouded by self-interest.

Our Catholic beliefs may collide with our personal goals, our world views or our politics. What if our Catholic social teaching doesn’t mesh with what we want, how we think things should be, how we think others should be? Do we rationalize or justify hateful conduct and speech? Overlook prejudice and divisiveness because we get something else that benefits us or supports our views?

Can our faith stand when the things we profess are unpopular, or through the barrage of criticism and labeling and vilifying?

These are the tough and timely questions – the thorns of what Jesus calls “worldly anxieties” that can grow and choke our faith. But Jesus, as he always does, points out the risks and leaves us with a sense of hope and assurance that he will sustain us.

“But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” (Matthew 12:23)

Jesus is that rich soil.

– Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for July 5 – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Free From our Burdens

As the first disciples and apostles were building what would become the Catholic Church they began to write down certain things – how they would worship, where they would worship, how to share the Eucharist, who could come, what prayers they would say.

Over the centuries to come, more and more things were written down. The Church was becoming more unified, but also more codified. Eventually we would develop hierarchies, doctrines, rites, canon law, a catechism and more.

All of these were good and necessary as we strived to understand our relationship with Christ and God, with each other and with the world, and what it means to be a Catholic Christian.

Yet, as necessary and inspired as the may be, we must be ever-vigilant that we do not become buried and numbed by the very magnitude of our documents. At the moment they become our reason for being an institutional Church, they also may become a burden to us being a communal Church.

And so, in this weekend’s gospel from Matthew (11:25-30), Jesus takes special care to urge his disciples not to become bogged down by the weight of their religious law, but to live it with love and gladness.

Jesus invites them – as he invites us – to detach from mere ritual obedience that can make us weary and extinguish our sense of joy in our religion and our relationships. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,” he says, “and I will give you rest.”

In Jesus, we have a place to put our fears, anxieties, worries and problems. In exchange, he offers us Himself and calls us to live and travel with Him, to free us. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light,” He says.

Our Jesuit Pope Francis calls this “The Joy of the Gospel,” in his Apostolic Exhortation. Our doctrines, dogma, rites and sacraments are intended to lift our hearts and our minds and souls to God. They are meant to help us to love one another, to invite others to Christ. We need to be careful that they not become barriers and hurdles to be climbed and conquered so as to join some exclusive society. Pope Francis, as Christ did, reminds us that when we exclude others, we exclude God. When we judge others, we invite judgment upon ourselves.

Francis stresses that Christ triumphed and speaks to us in his humility, meekness and peace – not by domination and intimidation. “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart,” Jesus says. In this gospel, Jesus says that’s where God finds us:

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.”

Surrendering to God in that way rids us of our burdens and frees us to live and share the joy of the good news of Jesus Christ.

– Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for June 28 – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Cost of Discipleship

The first disciples of Jesus learned early and often that following Him could become a little complicated and confusing.

The things He said and the things He did challenged them: challenged their hearts and their understanding; what matters most, and who matters most. He challenged their minds as they tried to discern who is this messiah, what is he doing, what are these things he is teaching us: love your enemies, blessed are the poor and the meek, the childlike will enter the kingdom of God, the last shall be first …

Now, 2,000 years later, as current day disciples, following Jesus still can be complicated. We love Him in our hearts, accept Him in our lives, have communion with Him through his body and blood. Yet, we don’t have to venture far from church and mass to discover much of our world doesn’t look a lot like Jesus. Kindness, compassion, forgiveness and acceptance can be in short supply.

Jesus, of course, understands, just as he did when he lived and taught with his first disciples. These are difficult things He asks, but not without the promise that He is with us and of greater things than we can imagine.

In this weekend’s gospel reading from Matthew (10:37-42), Jesus reveals the cost of discipleship and the rewards, which we learn are neither material nor transactional. They are not for sale, but offered freely to those who will accept the terms – those who will take up His cross, as He says.

In part, Jesus is asking us to set our priorities, to put our hearts, minds and lives in proper order. Can we surrender to Jesus and, in doing so, uncomplicate what it means to be a disciple?

It is not a rejection of our families when Jesus says: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Indeed, honoring our mothers and fathers is fifth among the 10 Commandments.

Jesus is calling us to remember the First Commandment – to love God above all things, and from that all else in our lives flows. Beginning there, we are better poised and situated to live as children of God, loving and forgiving one another. Losing our lives for His sake, as Jesus asks, is not death. Rather it is dying to ourselves and our selfishness so as to love other people and to be one with Christ, as in baptism when we are anointed priests and prophets of the Gospel.

“Whoever receives me receives the one who sent me,” Jesus says. So we are called to that intimate relationship and mission with Christ our Savior and God our Father. Nothing can separate us, nothing can harm us.

Jesus reminds us that the way to the Lord is through kindness and compassion for each other – not how strictly we adhere to directives and ceremonies, but as pure and uncomplicated as this:

“And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple — amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

The challenge to us in our complicated days and lives is: Can we remember to do that?

– Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for June 21 – 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

St Joseph-An Example For Us All

St. Joseph is often seen as the quiet man, in scripture and in words, working mostly behind the scenes. But the little that we do hear from and about Joseph in the gospels reveals in many ways the nature and the call of fatherhood.

Joseph is a man of deep humility who puts aside his own interests and reputation to care for two vulnerable people – as the devoted husband and partner of Mary, and as provider, teacher and step-father of Jesus. He mysteriously disappears from scripture, but not before leaving us a clear understanding of what it means to be a father.

And so on this Father’s Day that is set aside to acknowledge and honor fatherhood, we pause to reflect upon what sort of call this might be – for biological fathers, step-fathers, men who fill the role of fathers, and for our priests who serve as fathers to entire communities of faith.

In Joseph’s time, and for many centuries to follow, a father was a stoic, steady, unemotional provider and protector. To be fair, for many centuries in more austere times and societies, that may have been necessary.

But through Joseph, and in Jesus’ relationship with His Father, God, we understand that a father always has been, and is, more than that. Joseph is a father and a husband of great compassion, kindness and patience.

Joseph is receptive and cooperates when the angel in a dream tells him to take the pregnant Mary into his home and to care for, regardless of the inevitable scandal. He teaches Jesus life and work skills, Jewish religion and customs. He is forgiving when the young Jesus stays behind in the temple and is missing for three days, causing great stress and worry for his parents – choosing to embrace him and to teach him rather than to punish him.

In Matthew’s gospel (10:26-30) this weekend, Jesus teaches his disciples about the care and attentiveness of God the Father for even the least of all:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

This is a model of fatherhood.

Jesus, of course, was in continual prayer and conversation with his Father. He prayed for his own solace, affirmation or direction, but most often on behalf of us. And he speaks of the things he has learned from his heavenly father, things he passes on to his disciples. “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” (John 15:9).

These are the qualities of a father – to love, to care, to provide for others. This is the model of fatherhood evident in St. Joseph and in what Jesus, in this weekend’s gospel reading, asks us to proclaim with our own words and lives as disciples:

“What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” (Matthew 10:27)

– Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

Reflection for June 14 – Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Corpus Christi

The liturgy of the Roman Catholic Mass reaches its climax with the Holy Eucharist, when as a community we share the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, our savior who offered his life to save ours. It is not only a powerful moment, it is the essence of the Mass and our faith – the source of our very Church, which itself is the body of Christ.

We know this. It is what we do day after day, week after week. So why, we might ask, does the Church dedicate one Sunday a year to the Body and Blood of Christ – the feast of Corpus Christi that we celebrate this weekend?

The feast was originated in France in the 13th Century by Pope Urban IV to emphasize our belief in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and in the Church. It was to dedicate time to pause and to reflect on presence of Christ that through repetition might lose its impact, might become mundane, might become another routine.

This feast calls our attention to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, when in prayer we recall the Last Supper, the moment at which Jesus shares with His disciples His greatest gift – His body, blood, soul and divinity. In that bread and wine, we become one with Christ: We become what we eat.

“Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said at that final meal, calling his disciples into eternal life and relation with Him. (Corinthians 11:25)

With Christ in the Eucharist, we receive forgiveness, love, hope and companionship. We are changed. “No longer I, but Christ lives in me,” St. Paul says. (Galatians 2:20).

As such, we are living tabernacles, taking Christ with us into the world as we are sent forth from the Mass. With awe and humility, we become His modern day apostles. And He reminds us we do not go alone.

“Being simple and essential, bread broken and shared, the Eucharist we receive allows us to see things as God does,” Pope Francis said in his Corpus Christi homily last year. “It inspires us to give ourselves to others.”

Francis said it shakes us from our lethargy, our apathy, calling it “the antidote to the mindset that says: ‘Sorry, that is not my problem,’ or ‘I have no time, I can’t help you, it’s none of my business.’”

So, this is what Christ calls us to do, calls us to be. For some, it was too much and they walked away. But for those who stayed, for us, it is a life-changing and life-giving experience. Fed by our Lord and our God, we become one with Him and one with each other. We come to a greater understanding of what life means and of our purpose.

And with it, in this most Holy Communion, we enter into this eternal promise from Christ, who tells us in John’s gospel this weekend:

“This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6: 57-58)

– Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for June 7 – The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Encountering the Mystery of God

Next to someone actually rising from the dead, the Holy Trinity of one God in three persons, which we celebrate this weekend, may well be the most difficult Christian belief to explain.

We believe the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one, even though the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is not the Father. One might easily become tied up in intellectual knots trying to reconcile this great mystery; and some of the most brilliant theologians in history have attempted to do so.

Others, St. Augustine among them, finally chose to let it go and to take it on faith. In a popular story, the great Bishop of Hippo and doctor the Church, comes upon a boy at the beach with a seashell trying to put all the water of the ocean into a small hole. When Augustine points out that it is impossible for the hole to contain the entire ocean, the boy replies: “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intellect.”

What Augustine is telling us is that to have to explain the Trinity is to miss the point. The Trinity, God, is not an intellectual pursuit, as interesting as that may be. By definition, God is beyond our comprehension. Rather, God is more easily understood as an experience that we live – deeply personal and yet beautifully communal.

We encounter God in our surrender to Him and to the great mystery we confess can’t be explained. That does not make Him any less real, but more profoundly real, dwelling in our hearts, our souls and our very being. God is something we can’t touch but can feel. Beyond our understanding, but not beyond our grasp.

And so in the Holy Trinity we experience the fullness of God in that most intimate relationship that Jesus expresses in Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel, which we read during the final week of the Easter Season. These so-called priestly prayers, which come as Jesus appears to his disciples cloistered in the upper room, express the depth of the love and relationship among Jesus, the Father and the disciples – in itself a Trinitarian relationship.

“I pray for them,” Jesus says. “I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.” (17:9-10)

Religions up to this time had not imagined such an entanglement between God and his people.  This is not an angry, wrathful God who demands sacrifices and continual appeasement.  Rather, Jesus in his prayer calls us into the Trinity and to be one with Him.

“Father, they are your gift to me,” he says in the closing verses of John 17. “I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous  Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” (17:24-26)

 – Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection for May 31 – Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost

The first disciples of Jesus locked themselves in a secret room, gripped by fear, after the one they believed was the Messiah had been crucified and buried. He was gone. They did not know what had become of Jesus, never mind what would become of them.

It was in that room, we read this week in the Gospel of John (20:19-23), that Jesus found them huddled on the evening of the first day of the week, and calmed them with this greeting: “Peace be with you.”

Then he did one more thing. Jesus breathed on them, just as God breathed life into the world and into Adam, saying to them: “Receive the holy Spirit.” In doing so, He signaled to them what would be the beginning of a new Church.

Jesus gave them the hope and courage they would need when, by the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, He delivered that new Church on Pentecost.

We celebrate the great solemnity of Pentecost this weekend as, appropriately enough, we return to public celebrations of the Mass and what will be a somewhat different Church than we have come to know, in a parish consecrated to the Holy Spirit – Espiritu Santo.

So we will gather with the same faith, joy and openness with which those first disciples and converts embraced their call to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, with the power and the grace of the Holy Spirit. In Pentecost we receive the fullness of the Holy Trinity – one God in three persons: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus invites us into this intimate relationship, but at the same time reminds us it is bigger than each of us individually.  At the coming of the Spirit, in the Acts of Apostles we read on this day (2:1-11), “they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded…”

They were astounded because they discover this Spirit, this Jesus, this God is for everyone. This is not an   exclusive God for the privileged few and the elite, or many Gods of the pagans, or Roman worship of Caesar. But it is a universal God and Church – what we call Catholic; a healing Church that welcomes the poor, the sinners, the humble, the outcasts and all who come.

And it brings with it our mission and our purpose, with the companionship of the Holy Spirit.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” Jesus tells his apostles in John’s Gospel, and breathing upon them gives them new life and purpose.

So, as with those Apostles, Jesus likewise sends us into our worlds – to defend and care for the poor and the sick, to expose and correct injustice and prejudice, whether it is by race, sex, nationality, economic or immigration status, religion and anywhere we find it.  It’s not always easy work, or popular, and we never actually finish.

But we don’t go alone. We remember Jesus told us that through Holy Spirit he will be with us always as together we glorify Him with our lives build what we have come to call one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

 – Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

Reflection – Love Letters from an Apostle

Love Letters from an Apostle

As St. Paul the Apostle traveled along the Mediterranean Sea establishing the earliest church communities, he never left them far behind. Largely disorganized and uncertain, these so-called followers of “The Way” struggled to build a new religion and to understand this Jesus Christ who rose from the dead, which is impossible, and is the Son of God, which is confusing.

Forced to meet in secret house churches, they lived in fear of persecution and death. They settled in cities and regions such as Corinth, Colossae, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Galatia, Philippi and Rome.  They were separated and isolated – a condition we have come to know ourselves, even if to a lesser degree.

To get a sense of those early communities and how St. Paul sustained them, there is very little scripture more beautiful and intimate than the openings of St. Paul’s letters, which we read in this Liturgical season, and those of St. James and St. Peter, as well.

The greetings, thanksgivings and blessings from St. Paul, a self-described “slave of Christ,” are heartfelt reminders to them – and now to us – of who we are and, importantly, why we are.

These are by-and-large St. Paul’s love letters to encourage, affirm and exhort early Christians, and to comfort them. Sometimes with admonishment, always with compassion, they are reminders of God’s love for them and of how Jesus, now the Risen Christ, defines them and sustains them. The odds against that Church surviving were daunting, but St. Paul refused to let go, refused to give up.

Those letters serve the same purpose today, as we confront questions and the challenges of finding God amid the chaos.  In only a few opening verses, St. Paul manages to bring us back to a proper sense of self and relationship; to  the foundation of our faith, our God and our life, in simple, powerful prose. If you haven’t opened these letters in some time – or even if you have – you may want to return to them. Rather than feeling isolated in uncertainty, we may discover a deeper sense of solidarity with the reality of those first Christians, and find comfort in the encouragement St. Paul gives to them. This is the faith we share.

We see with St. Paul’s encouragement, and St. Peter and St. James, too, comes a call to ministry – to accept Christ and to do something about it.  “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead,” St. James writes (2:26). Feed the hungry, care for the “orphans and widows” – the most needy and vulnerable who can neither pay nor repay for the mercy extended to them.

This is what it means to be Christian, to love one another. It is what gave the early followers, and gives us, hope and courage in the midst of the unknown that we pass on to each other. It is a most appropriate message in this time, just as St. Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians (1:3-5):

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow.”

– Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

Reflection – Prayer for These Times

Prayer for These Times

The Catholic Church is blessed with a rich abundance of prayers, perhaps the benefit of 2,000 years of worshipping and deepening our relationship with God and through Jesus Christ.

We have somber devotionals, such as the Rosary, chaplets, novenas, and communal prayers – the Confiteor, the Gloria, Eucharistic prayers, exposition and benedictions are a few.

Bishops, priests and deacons pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily for the Church and the world; Catholics everywhere pray daily intentions for loved ones, friends and others close to them and around the world. Of course, we all share the Lord’s Prayer itself, both private and together.

We might say short prayers before meals; longer prayers before bed or to begin the day; prayers to saints and prayers by saints. Finally, there is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass itself and the Eucharist – our highest form of prayer.

The point is, as we tell adults in our faith formation who want to become Catholic, these prayers come together to help us form a life of prayer. As we pray more – whether 20 minutes in our homes or 20 seconds at a stop light – our entire day itself becomes a prayer, a continual dialogue with God.

Variety helps to keep prayer life fresh. And in unprecedented times like these, sometimes we look to special prayers for the moment. Just as there are different personalities, there also are different ways of praying.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, has written a litany of five intercessions to be prayed during the day to address the COVID19 pandemic.  Cardinal Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis, is a leading modern voice in the Catholic Church on justice, the environment and contemporary life issues. He offers this litany, published in the recent Catholic    Extension magazine, for all of us to pray in solidarity with those most directly impacted by this virus that continues to claims lives in the United States and the world.

9 a.m. –  Prayer for those infected with the virus and all who are ill

Lord, place your healing hand on those who suffer illness. Bring them to full health and ease their anxious hearts. May our prayer and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary encourage them that they are not alone. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Noon  – Prayer for health care workers and those attending to the sick

Lord, we are ennobled by those who put their lives at risk in caring for the sick. Keep them safe and embolden them when they are weary. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

3 p.m.  – Prayer for first responders and essential workers

Lord, we pray for those who run to danger to keep us safe and those who serve the common good. Embrace them with your mantle of protection and comfort the fears of their families.  We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

6 p.m. – Prayer for people of every nation and their leaders

Lord, the pandemic opens our eyes to see each other as brothers and sisters in one human family. We pray for people of every nation and their leaders, asking that they be inspired to seek the good of all and quell the voices of division. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

9 p.m. – Prayer for those who have died today

Lord, we grieve the passing of our sisters and brothers who have died this day. We commend them to your tender mercy, confident that nothing, not even death, will separate us from your love. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

–  Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection – A Time to Explore ( Book Clubs)

A Time to Explore ( Book Clubs)

No matter how many movie channels, cable channels, news channels, cooking channels, home improvement channels, live streaming, sitcom and drama marathons are available on television, it still seems like there is nothing on.  And you realize you are watching someone make an omelet or paint a house and you wonder, “Why am I watching this?”

We are in unusual times, filled with more isolation time than we know what do with.  So when the television becomes a video desert, it’s the perfect invitation to turn it off and find a book.

A lot of us have books we’ve never found time to read or that someone has recommended. But it is also a great time to find something that can enrich and deepen your Catholic faith and understanding. A good place to start is with an online Catholic book club, two of which are mentioned below.

America media/magazine and the U.S. Catholic websites each provide excellent book clubs that explore a variety of titles, from contemporary to historic, with guided reading, commentary and responses.

Father Kevin Spinale, S.J., a Jesuit priest and doctoral candidate in English Education at Columbia University, is the moderator of America magazine’s book club. Led by Father Spinale, the group recently read and discussed “The Magdalene in the Reformation” by Margaret Arnold, which analyzes Catholic and Protestant conceptions of her close relationship with Jesus and her mixed and complicated reputations.

A little more off-beat, the group currently is reading “A Confederacy of Dunces,” the 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by John Kennedy Toole. Join them as they reexamine this literary classic in the context of our time and its comical main character, Ignatius J. Reilly, whom Loyola University New Orleans author and Professor Walker Percy described as “a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one.”

The club chooses four titles a year, and provides discussion groups, questions, conversation prompts and supporting materials. You can find America’s Catholic Book Club at americamagazine.org/cbc

At the same time, you can subscribe to an online or printed version of America magazine, the Jesuit’s leading publication on the Catholic Church, with timely articles, commentaries and reflections on faith and life in the world today.

Also, U.S. Catholic magazine, published by the Claretian Missionaries in Chicago, has a monthly book club that highlights and reviews a selected title, as well as offering several other books to consider. Each one includes the book club guidelines and discussion questions.

The May title is, “Conscious Contact with God: The Psalms for Addiction and Recovery,” by Father Kenneth W. Schmidt, who is a licensed counselor. Schmidt calls the Book of Psalms an ideal “school for prayer” for recovery, with writings from despair to gratitude.

Other titles include, “Enough as You Are: Overcoming Self-Doubt and Appreciating the Gift of You,” by Peggy Weber, and “Virgin, Mother, Queen: Encountering Mary in Time and Tradition,” by Robert L. Fastiggi and Michael O’Neill.

Like the Jesuit site, the U.S. Catholic site, includes articles, commentaries and reflections on the Church, faith, politics and news. The book club site is at uscatholic.org/bookclub

Those are only two places. You are encouraged to find other Catholic sources and publications on your own, many available online.

And not to be forgotten on your reading list are Pope Francis’ publications that so beautifully explain and apply our Catholic faith to our lives and the world, beginning with his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of The Gospel”)

Others include: “The Name of God is Mercy,”  “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) on the family, “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), “Laudato Si” (“Blessed be”) on the environment and the Earth, and most recently, “Querida Amazonia” (“Beloved Amazon”) on life and the Church in the Amazon region.

Separately and collectively, these writings by our Jesuit Pope Francis encourage us and remind us what it means to live and to serve as a Catholic in the current time, finding God in all things. Even in a pandemic.

– Deacon Steven, the clergy, staff and your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School

 

Reflection – Resurrection of Hope

Resurrection of Hope

On Easter Sunday, when Jesus rises from death to life, here is what changed: Everything.

The meanings of life and death. Our relationships with each other and with God. The purpose of our lives and our expectations. Our understanding of God himself, of possibilities, of hope.

What we discover that day, and continue to rediscover, in the Resurrection of Jesus is that God is not dead, but very much alive. The empty tomb is not about death, but about life. In fact, it is not empty at all, but filled with the promise and hope of life more abundant that we ever could have imagined.

God has not abandoned us, but embraces us and calls to us. As Jesus said to the women at the tomb: “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:10) That invitation is made to each of us.

So, even in times such as these as we enter the seven-week Easter season – perhaps especially in times such as these – when we are threatened and separated by a pandemic virus we don’t understand, we continue to rise above our sorrows and frustrations.

Our Jesuit Pope Francis in Holy Week encouraged us “to respond to our confinement with all our creativity.” He spoke of “the contagion of hope.” In our Easter solitude and hardships, he said, God reminds us, “I have risen and I am with you still.”

We live in what Jesuits call the “eternal now.” Through the risen Christ, God reveals to us eternal life that is renewed every day and, indeed, every moment. Christ was, is and is to come.

As Catholic Christians we are Resurrection people. We are Easter people. Every morning, we rise with Christ, physically and spiritually, with new hope and joy.

Our ongoing resurrections give us hope to encounter the issues of the day, to see past them even as we struggle through them. In the moments when we have felt God’s presence deeply in own lives, and through Christ’s Resurrection, we know that all things are possible for God. And so we have faith in our times of fear and sorrow to surrender control and to let God direct us – with our participation.

The suffering and crucifixion of Christ, the cross itself and the  empty tomb transform death and nothingness into life and hope. So in this holy Easter season of joy, let us be encouraged not only by resurrection and hope, but by the resurrection of hope itself.

 – Deacon Steven, the clergy and all your friends at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church and School