Mass & Reflection for Palm Sunday

Click HERE to watch Palm Sunday Mass celebrated at OLA, and then following Mass I offer my reflection on “Remember” that posted yesterday. Please feel free to share whatever is posted here. May God bless you in all you do for others this week.

By catholicevangelist

Remember…

My God my GodToday’s reflection is for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, April 5, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

As COVID-19 news continues to pour in, and as the death toll continues to rise, as essential personnel go without essential protective gear, as shelves continue to go bare, and as politicians point fingers instead of supporting the people they are sworn to serve, the words on Jesus’ lips today seem more relevant than ever, namely, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” quoting Psalm 22. Jesus knows the love his father has for him, knows that all his actions bring glory to his father’s name He prays often and teaches others how to pray, and knows for sure his father would never forsake him. Then why the question at all?

Our second reading from St. Paul to the Philippians is helpful here, namely, Jesus wasn’t just fully God, he was also fully man. And as a man, he felt abandoned. As the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes, clearly teaches, “The Son of God…worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved.” (qtd. in the C.C.C. 470). Jesus was human, and was suffering, and found himself alone on the cross—and he cries out for his Father and God. Philippians reads, “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God…emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death.” (2:6-8)

As we journey through this extraordinary Lenten Season, amidst world-wide suffering and death, uncertainty, scarcity, and fear, we are more mindful than ever that some of those who received ashes almost 40 days ago will never receive them again. And, sadly, there are many here today who will not be here for ashes next year either. We received ashes and were told to remember, but I think many have already forgotten. We were told, “Remember, from dust you have come and to dust you shall return.” So what should we remember? And why remember it?

Of course, the answer seems obvious: Remember that we are mortal and that we are not going to live forever. Roger. Solid copy. Got it. But that’s not all. We should also remember what Jesus remembered while he was in such agony in the garden, as he made his way to the cross, and while he was lifted up.

First off, yes, he was human and his life on this earth would come to an end. We should never forget that. But more than that, being found human, he humbled himself and became obedient even to the point of death. If we don’t remember anything else but that we are human, and being human demands humility and obedience to God, we would be doing well!

But there’s more to remember. What if we could always remember what Jesus absolutely knew? What would our life, and even our death, look like if we could remember God’s love for us? What if we could remember that everything we do or fail to do brings glory to the Father’s name. What if we could remember to pray often, and both teach and encourage others to pray during difficult times? What if we could remember that despite all of life’s pain, and suffering, and sadness, and loss, that God will NEVER forsake us? That would be amazing, and it would change the way we experience everything that happens to us in this life.

As COVID-19 continues to claim lives, and maybe those whom we love, and as the world reels into madness, let us always remember these basic truths of our faith: 1. We will physically die. 2. Remain humble and obedient. 3. God loves us. 4. Give glory to God always. 5. Pray and teach others. 6. God will NEVER forsake nor abandon us no matter how we feel. 7. God will raise us up.

We are an Easter people. That’s the “why” of remembering. He rose, and we will rise. As Teresa of Avila said, “Remember that everything soon comes to an end…and take courage. Think of how our gain is eternal.”

By catholicevangelist

Mass & Reflection 5th Sunday of Lent

Click HERE to watch Mass celebrated at OLA, and then following Mass I offer my reflection on “Jesus Loved Him” that also posted today. Please feel free to share whatever is posted here. May God bless you in all you do for others this week.

By catholicevangelist

Jesus Loved Him

Jesus WeptToday’s reflection is for the 5th Sunday in Lent, March 29, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Jesus was with his disciples when he received a message about a man that he knew, Lazarus, from Bethany. If I didn’t know anything else about Jesus, this one message that Jesus received would tell me all I needed to know. I have lots of friends, and if a friend of mine were ill, I would hope that someone might let me know. But I wonder, would the person who let me know say, “Stephen, the one you love is ill.” Sadly, probably not. But that’s exactly what Mary and Martha said, “Master, the one you love is ill.” To be honest, I don’t know if anyone has ever referred to people around me, even my family, as those “whom I love.” Certainly I do, but do they and others know it?

Again and again throughout today’s Gospel we hear on the lips of others that Jesus loved. From Mary and Martha we hear that Jesus loved Lazarus, from the Gospel writer himself when St. John writes, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,” and from the Jews, after Jesus wept, they said, “See how he loved him.” Jesus has a whole lot of love, and is clearly recognized as a person who loves by all around him. That’s the kind of guy I want to be too.

One might be inclined to think that “Jesus loved” Lazarus because he healed him and raised him from the dead, but that is not at all how it went in the Gospel. ALL claims that Jesus loved Lazarus came well before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. In other words, whether or not Jesus ever heals Lazarus and raises him from the dead does not change what we know about Jesus’ love for him, nor did it change what they knew, namely, that Lazarus was loved by God–not forsaken, but loved, from his first breath to his last. I bet that changed the way that Lazarus lived his life.

I think it’s very important to know we are loved. We who believe, should be entirely convinced of God’s great love for us, but we should also be well aware that others love us too, and we should make it clear that others are loved by us. I know I have work to do in this regard. I want my sons to know that come hell or high water, they are loved by their dad. When they get A’s I love ’em. When they succeed I love ’em. And when they fail I love them still. I hope they know that. I need to do a better job.

There seems always someone around, however, that wants to put into doubt the love that we have for others, or the love that Jesus has for us. Even as Jesus approached Bethany, the scoffers said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” But the truth is that regardless of God’s great power, or maybe because of it, God willed that all living things should die. Death is not a question of God’s power or a lack of love, but rather an expression of both. St. Ephraem the Syrian wrote, “Our Lord was trampled on by death, and in His turn trod out a way over death…Death slew and was slain. Death slew the natural life; and the supernatural Life slew him.” We will indeed all die, but not all who die will taste death. (1COR 15:51)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Our lives are measured by time, in the course of which we change grow old and, as with all living beings on earth, death seems like the normal end of life. That aspect of death lends urgency to our lives: remembering our mortality helps us realize that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfillment.” (C.C.C. 1007) For more from the Catechism on death and resurrection, click here.

This COVID-19 outbreak, and the now thousands who have died have me thinking a lot about my death and the uncertainty of life. The truth is that we do not know the hour that we will be called home by God. Whether by a virus, a car accident, or a natural disaster, we know neither the day nor the hour. As Anselm of Canterbury wrote, “Nothing is more certain than death, nothing more uncertain than its hour.” And for Lazarus, he was called out of the grave and resuscitated–he was brought back to life by a miracle of God, but eventually he would die, as all things do.

As I watch the news, and still go to work, I am not irresponsible with my actions. I wear gloves and a mask as I feed children and their families, I use hand sanitizer and wash my hands, but I do not live in fear. I look both ways before crossing the street, and I mostly drive the speed limit, but I am not anxious nor afraid, because I know that “Jesus is the resurrection and the life,” and I am beloved to him. I know that he loves me, am convinced that when the Saints in heaven talk to Jesus about me they never refer to me as Stephen, they say to Jesus, “Master, the one you love is…”

I’m loved by God and some day, in some way, God will call me home to him. He will say, “Stephen, come out!” I can’t wait to hear his command, but until then, I’ve got work to do. I’ve got elementary school kids that need food, a wife that needs help around the house, children that need to be guided and loved, school work to do, blogs to write, and sermons to preach. My prayer is that I’m allowed just one more day to get it right. I’ll do better today than yesterday. I promise. I’m loved.

By catholicevangelist

Mass & Reflection; 4th Sunday of Lent

Click here to watch Mass celebrated at OLA, and then following Mass I offer my reflection on “COVID 19 Opportunity” that also posted today. Please feel free to share whatever is posted here. May God bless you in all you do for others this week.

By catholicevangelist

COVID-19 Opportunity

Today’s reflection is for the 4th Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Really? I can’t even get a roll of toilet paper?! As media updates stream to all our devices at every moment of the day, and as fears of the COVID-19 continue to swell, today’s Gospel has a much needed reminder, namely, don’t blame –start helping.

Jesus disciples were curious about where to place blame for the man’s being born blind in today’s Gospel. They wanted their desire for knowledge to be satisfied. “His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?‘” Jesus wisely knows that it makes no difference at all. The only thing that matters is that he is blind and that fact presents an opportunity for the love and power of God to be revealed through this particularly sad situation. “Jesus answered,
‘Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.‘”

Therein lies the difference between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day, and Jesus wants his followers to know that our desire cannot be more information so as to place judgement and blame, or to have answers merely for the sake of knowledge. Instead, Jesus’ desire is only that God be glorified in every moment, everyday, through every person, regardless of the circumstances. And that means it’s time to get to work! Time is running out. Jesus said, “We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.

In the first days of the COVID-19 outbreak, my wife and I had but two rolls of paper toilet paper left. One roll in our boys’ bathroom and one in ours. Quite naively, I guess, I went to the store to get another roll only to find empty shelves–everywhere! Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and even on Amazon!

How in the world can there be a shortage of toilet paper, and wipes, and paper towels, and napkins, and water, spam, tuna, and every other storable item? Naturally, there are a number of answers to this: fear, greed, and selfishness mostly, though in some cases an exaggerated desire to prepare for worst-case scenarios at the expense of others. I call it the “I got mine,” mentality.

While many have chosen, like Jesus’ disciples to gain a lot of knowledge about this virus, sometimes for themselves and often to share with others, a lot of people have stockpiled essentials for themselves, or just to jack up the price and take economic advantage, there are those who continue to do the work of God–and that’s exciting.

Information for its own sake is of little value, and greed or selfishness is a sin against ones neighbor, but to serve others in this time of need is a powerful expression of the love and generosity of God. I’m thankful that there are still so many kind-hearted people doing the work of God while it is still day.

The TUSD school district, in which I am an administrator, and many other districts too, sent kids home with school supplies, books, backpacks, and homework packets. We provide online resources so that while kids might not be at the school, their schooling can still continue throughout this ordeal. So many teachers put in a lot of extra hours to make all of this happen. That’s good work! We continue to provide meals for our families struggling families.

Jesus answered,
“Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.
We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.

By catholicevangelist

A Little Time…

Today’s reflection is for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

I went to adoration with my son this past Monday, and I hate to admit, but it had been a while since I’d gone. The first song was a bit loud, but afterward the music was quite soft and really pulled me into the experience of spending time with Jesus in the Eucharist. I have few words to express why the experience of Adoration moves me so, but invariably, it does. Spending time with Jesus matters and it changes me.

This is exactly what the woman of Sychar discovers as she encounters the Lord at Jacob’s well. Jesus’ disciples are gone, she is alone with Jesus and to her great surprise, Jesus speaks to her. At first she recognizes him only as a Jewish man speaking to a Samaritan woman, but in short order she knows him as a prophet, and then finally as the Messiah and Savior of Israel. And it just took a willingness on her part to spend some time with and open her heart to Jesus.

We too can come to know Jesus in a more powerful and meaningful way, if we would just spend time with him. When we spend time reading Scripture, spend time in prayer, attend the sacrament of reconciliation, pray, attend Adoration, or go to Mass, we spend time with the Lord and we grow closer to Him. We grow in relationship with the Lord and like the woman of Sychar, we come to know Jesus in a deeper, more powerful, and transformative way.

The great thing about this deepening of faith, is that invariably, our faith will then pour forth into other people’s lives. First to our children and then to those in our community and places of influence. The woman at the well discovered who Jesus was to herself and then ran back to the village with great joy to tell others. That’s exactly what evangelization is! We share our joy with others—with whomever will listen!

The people of Sychar invite Jesus into their home and believed first purely because of the strength of her testimony, but ultimately they came to know Jesus as Savior by their own time spent with Him. They cared enough to let them into their homes, they opened their hearts, and they too were transformed.

We heard, “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.” And so the Good News is shared.

As we continue to journey to this 3rd week of Lent, I want to encourage you not only to do the hard work of “climbing the mountain” through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, but also to spend time with the Lord in prayer, Scripture, adoration, and the Sacraments.

The fruit of your time spent with the Lord will not only be a deepening love of Jesus as your own Savior, but also of those in your family. Ultimately, your joy will well up on you and create a desire to share that love with others so that Jesus might be realized as your savior, your children’s savior, and as the savior of the world. All you have to do is spend a little time. Amen.

By catholicevangelist

A High Mountain

Today’s reflection is for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Today Jesus takes Peter, James, and John—his closest disciples—up, what Matthew calls a “very high maintain.” Scripture is not clear on how high or how steep this mountain is. It does not speak of what kind of terrain, or even how long it took to climb, but I would think that what distinguishes a very high mountain from a little hill is the amount of effort it takes to get to the top!

Have you ever climbed a very high mountain? I certainly have. Both in the Marines and since then, whether on day hikes or backpacking trips, climbing high mountains is WORK! Listen, I don’t care which path you take, to get from the bottoms of the mountain to the top, it requires a great deal of determination and grit, and quitters need not apply! You might have to take breaks, you may need some snacks, you might get some blisters and sore muscles, but hear me very clearly, you WILL NOT reach the top if you do not make a conscience decision to do so, and work hard to reach the top.

So, why in the world do people climb high mountains? Why would sane people endure such suffering, blisters, pain, and trial? The answer is obvious to people who do it, because there’s nothing like it in the world—clean air, clear sight for as far as you can see; beauty and peace that can’t be found anywhere else—and it makes all the effort worth it.

As we journey into the second week of Lent, we too climb the mountain—not a physical mountain but a spiritual one. Through abstinence, penance, prayers, and much suffering our hope is that like Peter, James, and John, in the end, we witness the face of God—we see His glory.

I’m not sure how much complaining went on as Jesus and His disciples trudged up the mountain. Peter’s feet hurt, James needed sunscreen, John begged to rest a little while longer, but when they got to the top, they saw the glory of God. And Peter wanted to pitch a tent and stay a while. To be honest, I can’t blame him.

Every time I start climbing a mountain, within the first couple miles, I always think, “What am I thinking?! This is hard!” But with family and friends to encourage me, I take one step at a time, and eventually we get there.

The same is true for Lent, you know. Some of us here have made great sacrifices for Lent—sacrifices of time, talent, or treasure. Some have committed themselves to rising early or going to bed late for prayer or Scripture reading. Some are attending retreats or Stations of the Cross, serving at fish fries, or just eating at them. Others have committed to serving those in need. Still some have given up solid food, or maybe even chocolate or coffee or beer!

Whatever your sacrifice, today is a day of encouragement. [Insert CCC quote here]. Do not give up your climb. If you have stumbled or fallen, have taken a rest or have given up all together, I want to encourage you to get back on the trail. St. [quote here about discipline or sacrifice].

Continue to do the hard work of ascending the mountain of God. Pray, fast, give alms, sacrifice greatly, and continue your journey! It will not be easy—Jesus never promises that, but if you are faithful and you commit yourself to growing in holiness, you will see the glory of God, and you will hear the voice of God. You will be told to obey, and obedience will bring you joy and light and eternal life. Keep calm and climb on. I’ll be praying for you.

By catholicevangelist

Know Your Dignity

Today’s reflection is for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 23, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”

I’m always saddened to hear about parents who abuse their children; verbally, physically, emotionally, or otherwise. It is such a contradiction in the order of things. It is quite clear to me that those who do not know their own worth will act as though they have none at all, and will often treat others the same.

All of our readings today point to the dignity and value of a person, not for what they have done or have failed to do, but simply because they are. What a beautiful thought. In a world that measures a person’s worth by accomplishments and/or wealth, the gospel teaches us that we are valuable because we are a child of the most high God. We have been created a masterpiece, filled with dignity and grace. Period. End of the story. Amazing.

It’s our inner amazingness that demands an outward expression. To fail in this regard is to fail to image God, in whose image we have been created, and whose temple we have become. Said in another way, we are great not because of what we do, we do what we do because we are great! St. Paul heard that the church in Corinth was not living up to their full Christian dignity—rivals, divisions, factions, arrogance, selfishness, idolatry, and revelry. He just assumes this can only be because they have forgotten who they are. He asks, “Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

Similarly, Moses is commanded by God, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” God is not saying to “be tall because I am,” or be fast, or be funny. God is saying to be holy—something all of us can be, because we are created like Him and by Him, and that’s what He is, and that’s what all of us can be if we choose to be so. We must make the decision each day to be like Him.

And this is the primary role of parents, of course—to be examples of who we are as Holy Children of God, who live and treat others with the dignity and respect that each of them deserves as God’s child as well—whether they know it or not, we do.

That starts in our home and is also lived out in the world. Children look first and foremost at their parents to understand who other people are in relation to themselves. If parents berate each other, insult others, dismiss, or ignore others then children quickly learn and do the same. They are taught that others are of less worth or less dignity than ourselves—and if that is true, then the scriptures and our faith is not. Far from worthless, we are worth-full!

EVERY person is created in the image and likeness of God and has worth beyond imagining. The homeless, the incarcerated, the theologian, the millionaire, the teacher, democrats, republicans, and the list goes on. Any given person (our children and ourselves included), at any given moment may not be living in a dignified and holy way, but they possess dignity and value nonetheless—because it is a gift freely given by our generous God. It is not something earned, but something received.

This is why the cycle of violence must end with we who know. As the Gospel teaches, we don’t take an eye when someone takes an eye, that would make not one but two people acting unholy and in undignified ways. When someone who does not know your worth, who does not know that you’re an amazing child of God strikes you on your cheek or takes your tunic, we cannot reduce ourselves that level of ignorance! We know better! We cannot act in an unloving way toward God’s children! We know who they are. We know their great worth—even if they don’t! We don’t act in kind when mistreated, we seek to educate through patience, long suffering and perseverance.

Thank God for great teachers who help children each day to know their own worth. So many of our students come to school dirty, in dirty clothes, without socks, with uncombed hair filled with lice—such a sad condition. If only someone had recognized the Christ in the infant Jesus the holy family would never have been thrust into the manger. Our teachers, holy people and holy parents, help people—and especially their children—to know their greatness, who help them see Christ present, and to respond to the greatness that is in them.

This is why Jesus commands us to, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The violence that is within us, and the cycle of violence within the world will not end by those who do not know, it can only end by people who recognize the dignity in the whole of humanity. And the violence toward the earth, whose stewards we are, will only end when we realize and take responsibility for the fact that the earth does not belong to me, but to the children of God in every generation. Let me never squander it.

May holy families always pray first. At bedtime each night think to include those that day who acted harshly toward us or others. Pray that God can use us to help them to see. In that way, we grow in holiness, recognize the holiness in others, and like Jesus, help to open the eyes of the blind that they too might see, and that we can see more clearly too. Amen.

By catholicevangelist

The Presentation

Today’s reflection is for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, February 2, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”
Let me first be clear, Jesus was NOT Christian! Jesus was Jewish. His family was Jewish, and his religious community was Jewish too. We who follow him, recognize him as the Christ, the anointed one of God, and through the mystery of Baptism, we come to share in his anointing, and that makes us Christian–not him.
Today’s Gospel reads, “When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord.”

Jesus had great parents who took their Jewish religion seriously. They were both open to the prompting of God, which brought the Savior into the world. They listened to their conscience and did what was right by God–and so should we who strive to be holy families. The Holy Family brought their child to be circumcised according to the law of Moses so that he might be presented to the community. When the community has a new member, it is cause to celebrate!

Circumcision is not just a custom that Jews do when their children are eight days old, however. It is a way of making public what had been to that point a more private affair, the birth of a child into a family. Circumcision publicly commits a child into the family of God–into a Holy Nation. And the nation rightly celebrates the growth of the nation by new membership!
As Christians, we do not circumcise, but we do Baptize! Baptism has, for Christians, replaced circumcision as a sign of entry into the people of God. It takes on all the same significance that circumcision does for Jews, and more!
Baptism ushers us into the family of God, presents us to the community (which is why baptisms should take place within liturgical celebrations), cleanses us of sin, and makes us sharers in God’s work of salvation. We don’t know of any other way to be united with the Savior, with the community of faith, and to experience salvation through him (C.C.C. 1213). “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life... Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.”

Holy Parents do wait to bring their child to the Church, the community of faith. They bring their child forward as early as possible to be cleansed of the stain of original sin and be born again of water and Spirit. To be presented to the community, to God, and to receive His grace, friendship, and love.

It’s not only about heaven and hell, it’s about life and love, and community, and welcoming the newest member of the Church. Baptism is amazing. No wonder the church teaches parents not to wait…why would you?!

I often hear that baptism is for individuals to choose, not have the choice made for them, or so goes the argument for adult baptism, but the truth is that my children were born into my family without choice. They were named without choice. They were fed without choice. And they brush their teeth without choice.

As a loving parent, it’s my job to do what’s good for my children. And I believe in the real grace and salvation of baptism. Why would a loving parent who believes in God, and the power of sacraments, and who belongs to a community of faith, not publicly celebrate that child’s entry into the community at any age?

Baptism is not about what an individual chooses or does, but is rather first and foremost what God is doing. God is naming, God is blessings, God is saving. We respond as best as we can. Throughout our whole life we respond as best as we can. And some days are better, and some worse, but I know that I forever belong to a community of faith and am a child of the most holy God. And holy families want that for their children too. Like Rafiki in The Lion King, present the child. Amen.

By catholicevangelist