Sunday, January 30, 2011

Christ's Asset-Management Advice

Pastor’s Column
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 30, 2011

          Thirty years ago, I can remember my mother complaining that the bank CD rate she was getting was too low – and it was 18% at that time!  Now you are lucky to get 1%.  A decade ago it seemed like there was no way for real estate prices to decline.  The stock market has suffered dramatic rises and crashes.  Gold and silver seem to be doing the best at the moment and most ordinary folks don’t have much ability to invest in these kinds of things anyway!

          Besides, we all know that, whether one succeeds or fails as an investor, all of this is quite useless in the world to come.  Why do we spend so much time worrying about this world (which is so temporary) and so little about the world to come (which is eternal)?  Why indeed?  Because we can’t see that world yet, that’s why.  It seems far away, yet only your next heartbeat keeps you here.  That’s how close it is.
          What we really want to know is what will be valuable in heaven?  What asset classes should we be developing now?  Jesus sees far into the future and knows where we should be investing; we on the other hand tend to go for short term gains.  But the world of the future (heaven) will in many ways be a mirror image of this one – in other words – everything will be turned around—what is valuable now will later prove to be worthless, while what seems cheap and unattractive now will be priceless.  Many of us are like treasure seekers who miss all the real gold laying around in plain sight, because we do not recognize these things for their true value; instead, we go after fool’s gold!

          According to today’s gospel (Matthew 5:1-12), those who will be “wealthiest” (most blessed) in the world of the future will want to be cultivating investments in these areas as opportunities for the greatest possible gain: being poor in spirit (practicing detachment from possessions); accepting mourning when it arrives without complaint; practicing meekness; being hungry and thirsty for righteousness; becoming a merciful person in my daily choices; aiming for cleanliness of heart, especially in what I look at, listen to and in my speech; being a peacemaker instead of a person who stirs things up; and (what may be least attractive of all), being insulted, persecuted and calumniated for Christ’s sake!  That’s really winning the lottery!

          Some of these are more attractive than others, but on the last day of your life, you will want to have an ample supply of all these assets in your personal portfolio.   Why is that?  Because, when you take all eight of these “beatitudes” together, they are a description of the Son of God, and the more like him we become, the “wealthier” we will be in the life to come. Love is what we have been through with someone, and to have suffered (and all these beatitudes involve some degree of suffering) will connect us with Jesus in a way no other asset class can match.  No, it doesn’t look valuable now, but just wait.

                                                                                                    Father Gary

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Some Opportunities Never Come Again

Some Opportunities Never Come Again
Pastor’s Column
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 23, 2011

          We are haunted by these first gospels of the new liturgical year.  Jesus has emerged from the obscurity of his home in Nazareth to proclaim Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand! (Matthew 4:12-23).  How in the world could Jesus state that the Kingdom was immanent –at hand ­­-- when in fact we have been waiting now for 2000 years!?

          The people who lived at the time of Christ were receiving an opportunity that no human being before or since has ever quite experienced …. God Almighty in the person of Jesus Christ literally walked among them.  He was only to live three more years, so if Jesus called, they had better not miss their chance!  Each day of our lives contains hidden opportunities to grow in character and faith.  Peter, James, John and Andrew had to say yes when Jesus passed by.  They recognized in that critical moment an opportunity that would never come again.

          The Kingdom of God is at hand for us as well.  The Kingdom of God, at present, is within us but none of us knows how long we have to prepare!  When we die we are immediately confronted with the absolute truth about ourselves and God’s constant love for us.  Now is the time to prepare to enter the Kingdom, to be ready!  Each day is a dress rehearsal for eternity and God makes use of every event, whether pleasant, unpleasant or even tragic, to prepare us.

          The Lord serves up a daily banquet to us, a table literally filled with all kinds of rich foods, a feast which is called the Will of God.  At times we are required to suffer intensely.  Other moments are filled with great joy; still others, opportunities to serve.  We are challenged to step out in faith.  We are caught in traffic and must practice patience.  We have relatives, co-workers, classmates or friends that bug us.   These are all precious opportunities to allow the Holy Spirit to prepare us for eternity.

          Can you imagine Simon and Andrew not listening to the call of Jesus as he passed by?  There they were, fishing, and Jesus spoke a word that changed their life—Come, follow me.  So we too must be ready to hear the Lord when he calls.  This is why we pray every day, attend Mass on Sunday, and pay attention to how we treat the people around us,       because God is likely to call at a time we are not expecting, and we must be ready, or we will miss the opportunity that God has given us.  Such a prospect is haunting indeed.

                                                                                          Father Gary

Monday, January 17, 2011

Behold the Lamb of God!

Behold the Lamb of God!
Pastor’s Column
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 16, 2011

Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. 
Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb!

          Behold!  These words above are part of the new translation of the Mass that we will begin using this Advent 2011, and part of the text is taken from this Sunday’s gospel (John 1:29-34).  Let’s remember the current wording for a moment so that we can compare the two:

This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Happy are those who are called to his supper.

          The first thing to notice is that most of the coming changes will highlight the biblical nature of each part of the Mass with more accurate quotes from the scriptures.  This new translation offers us a rich and deep spiritual encounter with the mystery of the sacrificed and risen Christ.  Our translation at the Lamb of God is moving from the rather pedestrian “This is…” to “Behold.”  Behold – we hear it twice.  Yes, the Eucharist being held by the priest really is the Lamb of God, but the word behold invites us further into the mystery we celebrate and are about to receive at communion.

          What does it mean to behold the Lamb of God?  These are not just the church’s words – John the Baptist used them as he watched Jesus approaching him to be baptized.  To behold is to be invited to contemplate a deep mystery.  To behold is to ponder a truth so great we can never reach the end of it.  When we behold the Lamb of God at Mass, we are in fact beholding the very same Jesus that John saw two thousand years ago!

          Using this word in the Mass at the Lamb of God, after an absence from the liturgy of 40 years, invites all of us to learn to behold.  Life is full of unnoticed mysteries! We find Our Lord in so many places, much as John the Baptist did, but sometimes Jesus prefers to be not so obvious.  Why is this? He wishes to be searched for, recognized, pointed out, discovered, and when we spot Him we say, “Behold!  Here He is!  He has been with me all this time and I did not recognize Him.” 

          Where do we “behold” Him?  We will find Jesus hidden in the circumstances of our lives, in the Eucharist, in the Scriptures, in our sufferings, in coincidences, in life and even in death.  In every deep mysterious encounter of our lives with Christ, we are invited to become people who have learned to behold, to ponder the mystery and make it our own.

                                                                                                  Father Gary

The Sign of the Cross

The Sign of the Cross
Pastor’s Column
The Baptism of the Lord
January 9, 2011

          Saint Bernadette, the famous seer of Lourdes, was once asked what her favorite prayer was.  She answered, perhaps surprisingly, that it was The Sign of the Cross. She noted that the Virgin Mary herself taught her how to cross herself correctly – slowly and deliberately – making this action the prayer that it ought to be. She learned all this simply by watching how Mary herself made the Sign of the Cross during the apparitions.  I’ll bet most of us would not put the Sign of the Cross in first place among our favorite prayers! 
          The Sign of the Cross is a prayer without words.  Catholicism is full of prayers like this.  For example, when we genuflect before a tabernacle, we are actually praying with our bodily posture.  When we bow our heads before receiving communion, this action too is a prayer.  Walking in procession to receive communion can be a prayer.  There are many other examples of this.
          One of my favorite classes that I like to teach is “Why do Catholics do that?”  We Catholics have so many ritual actions (actions that we perform again and again), that we can forget why we do them or where they came from!  The Sign of the Cross is one such ritual, and it has an interesting history.
          The Sign of the Cross is a remembrance of our baptism, and most of us need the reminder because we were too young to remember the real thing.  Likewise, we recite the creed at each Sunday Mass as a way of re-affirming our baptismal promises each week and the beliefs that we hold in common.  Baptism begins the journey toward eternal life that continues after death.
          The next time you witness a baptism, notice that the very first action the priest or deacon performs is to trace a cross on the baby’s forehead while saying “I now claim you for Christ our Savior by tracing the Sign of the Cross on your forehead” … and then the parents and godparents are invited to do the same thing for the child.  It is precisely this cross and the baptism that immediately follows that we are reminding ourselves of when we make the Sign of the Cross!  This is especially in evidence when we enter the church and dip our hand in the holy water before crossing ourselves.
          In the early church, the Sign of the Cross was made just as we do in a baptismal ritual.  It was a small cross made originally just on the forehead that over time gradually grew bigger to encompass both shoulders and the whole upper body.  This ancient way of signing ourselves is preserved in the three small crosses we make before hearing the gospel:  one on the head, the lips and the heart as we pray Lord, open my mind, my lips and my heart that I may worthily hear your gospel.  The Sign of the Cross is one our most powerful prayers…. Each time we pray it well, we are ritually reminding ourselves that we have been claimed for Christ – we belong to Him forever!
                                                                                          Father Gary 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas and the Meaning of Life

Pastor’s Column
Christmas Day 2010
          We can’t really find the meaning of Christmas -- or even the meaning of life for that matter, at Target or Nordstrom or Wal-Mart. God knows we try, though, don’t we?  But, you see, this is all the world has to offer.  It can’t give us real meaning to our lives!  The visible world gives us what it can – entertainment, comfort, pleasure; it anesthetizes us for a while – with lots of suffering mixed in -- and that’s about it.
          The world can’t offer us eternal life!  It can’t offer us answers to the deepest questions of our hearts.  Christmas is really such a great holiday.  I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t celebrate it, because, like Thanksgiving, it really does point to what matters in our lives: the people we love and those who love us.  Most importantly, it points to our faith, the gift of eternal life.  That’s what presents and cards and the like represent.  Most of us want to be with people we love today; if they are far away, we miss them; if they have passed away, we grieve for them.  And of course, sometimes even the ones that irritate us are with us today, but that’s part of life too!  Without these people, how on earth would we learn to love?
          We have another family that we belong to!  Jesus wants to invite you into his own family and to a place at his table.  Christmas is all about Jesus inviting you into his family and, maybe even, to be a bigger part of our church family right here.  Who knows?
          There is an old saying that I think applies to Christmas: it is both an invitation and a warning:  be careful what you wish for, because you might get it!  If your Christmas is only about presents and parties, you may get what you want, but it won’t be enough, because that’s not what Christmas is all about.  But if you want a deeper relationship with Jesus, now is the time to begin again.  Now is the time to begin to pray every day again.  Now is the time to think about returning to Church if you have been away.  Now is the time to ask yourself, “What is my life about and where am I going? Who or what is the goal of my life?” 
          Jesus is like a present under the tree that often goes unopened.  It is a small package, but opening it can bring you to the real meaning of life when all the presents are long forgotten and the tree is in the dumpster.  And do be careful what you wish for in life; take care to watch where you are headed because you just may get it.
                                                                                Father Gary

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Saint Joseph Gets a Surprise

Saint Joseph Gets a Surprise
Pastor’s Column
4th Sunday of Advent
December 19, 2010

Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.
Matthew 1:19

          How did it come to pass that Mary and Joseph were to be married?  We don’t know, but most likely it was an arranged marriage.  In any event, St Joseph certainly had no idea what he was getting into when he and Mary were married.  Joseph was placed in a situation that was, to say the least, delicate.  His wife was found to be pregnant, and the only thing Joseph knew was that he was not the father!  Certainly Mary knew the truth from the Angel Gabriel, but how to tell Joseph?  Perhaps she hoped God would fill him in; and he did, but not before Joseph decided to head for the divorce court.

          After the Angel Gabriel appeared to Joseph in a dream, Joseph comprehended what had happened and took Mary into his home, but look at what he was asked to do and believe!  He was told that God was the father of Mary’s child, and he believed this.  Would you?  After all, this had never happened before in the entire history of Judaism!  I’m not sure if a dream would be enough to convince me, but Joseph believed.  Already, he is amazing in his trust in God and in his spouse.  Why? He grew into his new and challenging situation, without running away! 

          Joseph was to be the foster-father of the Son of God.  He did not ask for this role.  Mysteriously, according to God’s plan, he was chosen very carefully.  What did Joseph do?  He was suddenly confronted with the will of God, being asked to raise the Son of God and the Messiah.  Scripture doesn’t say if Joseph felt inadequate; but as a carpenter, Joseph must have had a limited education, though, no doubt, skilled in his craft.  He and Mary were also very poor.

          Joseph confronted one challenge after another.  His wife had to travel a long distance while 9 months pregnant.  He had to take his family to Egypt and find work there, leaving his home and relatives behind.  He was told that his foster-son would be rejected when he grew up.  He did not know where to look for Jesus when he was lost in Jerusalem.   

          You and I face many challenges, just like St Joseph.  God’s will is that we grow into our challenges and learn from them.  No matter how extraordinary or difficult God’s will for us may be, we can be like Joseph: allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us, to allow us to grow in grace without ever running away from the crosses we are sent.
                                                                                          Father Gary

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Miraculous Image of Guadalupe

The Miraculous Image of Guadalupe
Pastor’s Column
3rd Sunday of Advent
December 12, 2010

          The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most extraordinary of all signs God has ever given the world.  It is literally infused with the miraculous.  It is almost as if God opened the heavens and extended his hand so we could literally see him.  This image is truly a gift from eternity, the world of the future that we are all preparing to enter.  Here are a few interesting facts:

]The image was imprinted on the tilma of Juan Diego…a cloth made of fibers from a cactus plant called an Agave.  Fabric of this time normally deteriorates after 20-40 years.  There is no explanation as to how this cloth has endured 500 years.  No other garment like it exists from that period and no one in our own era has been able to make a similar cloth that does not rapidly deteriorate.

]The image is not painted.  No one knows how the image was created.  The cloth itself has the characteristic of burlap – rough overlapping fibers.  Each individual fiber has its own color.  From a distance, this gives the image a three-dimensional quality.

]When one sees the image in person, it appears to grow larger as one moves away from it.  It generates a kind of optical illusion that has no explanation.  I have seen this myself.

]When the tilma was examined microscopically, it was discovered that the eyes have a unique quality (see picture) shared by no other image or painting prior to the advent of photography.  When a photograph is taken of the human eye, one can see an upside-down distorted reflection on the curve of the cornea of whatever the eye is focused on.  This same phenomenon is very clearly present in the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupe and is entirely inexplicable.  One can discern several images, including the Bishop and his Indian translator reflected in Our Lady’s eye.

]The cloth is actually composed of two separate pieces, held together down the middle by one thread.  You will notice that Our Lady bows her head in the image.   In this way, her face avoids the thread that would otherwise mar the beauty of it.  The cloth itself hung for centuries unprotected, while candles burned underneath, yet there is no sign of smoke damage and that one thread held this fragile cloth together!

MIn the 1920s, a bomb was planted underneath the image in some flowers by the radically anti-Catholic government which at that time was in power in Mexico.  Their aim, of course, was to destroy this miraculous image.  When the bomb went off, it shattered the windows of the cathedral and bent a large brass crucifix on the altar under the image backwards by the force of the blast (see picture).  The glass covering the image (which was hung right over the bomb) did not even break and the tilma was completely undamaged!  Here is a picture of the crucifix which remains at the shrine as a testimony of this incident.

]Our Lady of Guadalupe speaks to us on many levels.  Each detail has meaning.  The black sash she is wearing around her waist indicates that she is with child – she is 9 months pregnant and about to give birth.  In other words, Mary is bringing Christ to us.  This is why she is the image of the pro-life position personified. 

]When the Spaniards conquered Mexico, they found converts few and far between, and yet, after this image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared, 7 million Indians were converted within the span of 10 years.  Saint Juan Diego spent the remainder of his life recounting his story and tending the shrine.  So in the image, Mary was speaking without words to these conquered peoples – in pictures. What was she saying?

]Mary is wearing the color of royalty – blue – so she is a queen.  Around her neck is the cross of the conquistadors, so she comes representing the God of the conquerors.  Behind her are the rays of the sun, which she overshadows; below her is the false god Quetzalcoatl, whom she is standing on.  The message here is that the Lord whom she represents has conquered these false gods.  At the same time, she indicates clearly that she is not a god because she bows her head to another in humility.  While this may seem subtle to us, it would have been very clear to the Indians 500 years ago!

]Her garment is covered with Aztec symbols that remain mysterious to us today.  The stars on her garment are arranged in the pattern of the night sky on the night of the apparition.  The night sky was very significant to the Aztecs.

]Mary has many Indian features, yet all indications are that she is appearing not as an Aztec, but as a girl of middle-eastern origin.  Many features are the same among these separate peoples, but one can see in the hands and other areas that she is not Indian.  Therefore, we may be looking at a picture of the face of Mary as she looked 2000 years ago!

          There are so many lessons we can learn from Our Lady of Guadalupe.  God has done everything but literally open the door to indicate that he is real and eternity awaits us.  She still speaks powerfully to our often skeptical world – even today.

                                                                                                    Father Gary