The Harder Way

This reflection is for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 2/11/2018.

Expelling the leper from our midst is certainly easier, but Christians have never been promised an easy row to hoe, now have we?

Today’s reading really challenge us to creatively and lovingly find a way to deal with those we’d rather just not have to see, those we’d rather just push to the margins, or maybe even lock up and throw away the key!

In the first reading, from the Book of Leviticus, we see a very sensible and easy solution to the problem with Leprosy in the community; 1. confirm the person is indeed unclean, 2. label them/publicly identify them as unclean, 3. keep them far away so as not to infect the rest of the community. Sounds a lot like our penal system doesn’t it? Or is it a correctional facility? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. No wonder Jesus taught his disciples to visit “him” there! (MT 25:31) If we don’t do anything, nothing is going to change!

The “Get ’em outta here!” approach makes PERFECT sense! It is indeed very difficult to argue with this approach, and I have argued for it many times in my own classroom. When someone in the community has the potential to infect the rest of us get rid of them! We even have some sayings to help reinforce this truth. Things like, “One bad apple spoils the bunch,” or in my case with Cuties from Costco, “One bad cutie ruins the bag.” It’s true! That’s why its so popular. If it’s cancerous, cut it out!

We love these idioms because they are so true. However, we have to be very careful when applying truthfulness about fruit (or infections, or cancer) to truthfulness about people. Said in another way, what we do with fruit might not be so effective when dealing with people. After all, rotten fruit has no possibility for transformation, renewal, and redemption–but people do.

As Christians, we have to look to Jesus–not stock phrases, or rely simply on Levitical Law to address our communities. Jesus himself shows us a better way in today’s Gospel. Far from expelling the leper, Jesus shows us that with His power, people can and do change. Really! They do! It’s true of me, many of my students, and maybe even of you. The Church even challenges us to use recourse to the death penalty ONLY in the rarest cases where there is no way to protect innocent life from the unjust aggressor that the sinner may in fact be converted, seek forgiveness and mercy, and be saved! (C.C.C. 2267)

As Christians we hold out every hope, and believe in the power of God to transform lives. We see quite clearly in the Gospels and in the witness over the centuries from the lives’ of the Saints, that God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace are possible at every moment of ours and others’ life, and often comes pouring in when we least expect it!

I wonder though, do we even expect it at all anymore? Do we still, like a child, pray for amazing miracles? Do we hope beyond hope and pray without ceasing for juveniles in our youth prisons? Are we working toward real change in the way we, as a society, deal with the homeless, the unemployed, the addicted, and/or the incarcerated? Or have we lost hope? Have we become no better or different that the haters and nay sayers that surround us at work and in the market place? Shame on us (I’m included in this).

Jesus told his disciples when they were looking for a limit, that his mercy and forgiveness (and theirs too, and ours too) must be limitless. “Not seven times, but seven times seventy,” he tells them. (MT 18:22)

I think if we’re going to call ourselves Followers of Jesus Christ, we must remove from our thought, language, and actions any trace of the throw away society in which we live. We must instead, with everyone and every situation, be open to the power of God to change hearts and minds, to make enemies friends, to make new roads through what appears to be a dead end. We must be always thinking about how God is going to make a miracle out of the mess. We must pray that God will open a way even we don’t see a way. We must be open and seeking for God’s grace. In other words, we must be faithful. Yep. There it is. We must be people of faith in the midst of a perverse and twisted generation. We must be like Jesus–lights in a world of darkness.

It’s a good thing Lent is near! We still have time for God to make an amazing transformation in us, in our families, in our communities, and especially in the least among us.

God Bless, Stephen

By catholicevangelist

Life Is Suffering, Highness

This reflection is for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 2/4/2018.

To quote one of my favorite lines, from one of my favorite movies is always a reason for joy! In The Princess Bride, Wesley (as the Man in Black) tells Princess Buttercup, as she complains about her sadness and suffering, “Life is pain, Highness! And anyone who says otherwise is selling something.” That’s just the truth.

Today’s first reading speaks of Job’s own sadness and suffering. Job (pronounced Jobe) laments that man’s life on earth is a drudgery. He sees himself as nothing more than a slave, with months of misery, troubled nights, and no hope for the dawn (Job 7:1-7). Sounds like Job and I might have the same job!

Once living high on the hog, poor Job begins to really feel the pain, the sadness, and the suffering of the human condition. All was good, Job was good, and then it was not, and he was not. I am often asked by “good people,” as they experience the trials of life, why good people suffer. My answer is clear–everyone suffers. Another one of my favorites is like it, “Why do good people suffer while bad people get away with everything?” Newsflash: Everyone suffers–the good and the bad alike. And every dog has his day. Jesus told the crowds, “The Heavenly Father makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (MT 5:45) And that’s just the way it is. The sooner we can come to terms with reality the better.

I teach my students (and my own boys) the Law of Reality, “The Cadet recognizes that life is difficult and often unfair. The Cadet refuses to play the role of the victim but chooses to honor the Cadet Pledge even in difficult situations.” The Cadet Pledge is, “I Pledge to respect myself by growing in wisdom and by living by core values, respect others by being kind and unselfish, and respect authority by obeying SMA rules and staff.”

As Christians, Jesus’ own life is a helpful guide here. The Romans nailed Jesus, an innocent man, to a cross while at the same time allowing Barabas, an admitted criminal, go free–life is difficult and often unfair.

Far from playing the victim, Jesus, without grumbling or complaint, endures his suffering and even forgives his persecutors. Crazy. Even the unjust are blessed by Jesus.

As we experience the difficulty of life (and we will) we have a choice to make. We can complain, become bitter, curse others, God, the situation, and make ourselves and everyone around us miserable, or we can choose to not play the victim. We can choose to honor ourselves, and others, we can remain faithful to God, and we can continue to love, forgive, and bless even as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of the dawn!

Psalm 147 promises that God heals the broken-hearted! And says that we should praise in the midst of our broken-heartedness. Easy to do? No. Every bit of suffering sucks, and I’m not trying to minimize or trivialize it here, but suffering is universal to the human condition–and we’re not so special that we should be exempted.

Praise God for the blessings, praise God for the trials, and praise God when they’re over. Peace WILL come to all–sadly, for some, only in the end. So, love, period. Because everyone you know is going through something you know nothing about. Love…that’s it, rain or shine.

Blessings,

Stephen

By catholicevangelist

Teaching With Authority

This reflection is for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 1/28/2018.

My son, Mark, and I spent a beautiful and meaningful day in San Francisco today. Today was the annual Walk For Life, and we joined thousands of others to proclaim boldly and with authority that every life matters–from womb to tomb. Black lives matter, white lives matter, and brown lives matter.

We live in an era that (by God’s grace) wants to speak up on behalf of the dignity of women, of minorities, of the disenfranchised, and those with no voice in the public square. And we should! And that’s amazing! And that is no doubt God’s work, but if outright slaughter of completely innocent children continues, then everything said on behalf of the weak, innocent, and voiceless is pure hypocrisy.

We must be consistent in our ethic of life. We must follow Jesus’ example of boldness toward the evil that we see, and courageously speak out against it! Every voice is welcome in the public forum and too many good people are not making their voices heard. In the name of politeness, or of minding one’s own business we have too often failed to exercise our constitutional right to gather and make our RELIGIOUS voices heard in the most important debates facing our nation. (Yes, it’s okay to be religious in this country. It’s also constitutionally guaranteed!)

I’m afraid that we’re not even beginning to tap into the power of God’s Spirit within us to make changes in our communities and world. This is such an amazing country that allows us to make our voice heard, and the Spirit of God empowers us to do so!

Good people don’t mind their own business when harm is being done. Good people stand up for others experiencing discrimination, isolation, and extermination. Good people Walk For Life. All life. Black life, white life, Christian life, Muslim life, women’s life, men’s life, incarcerated life, elderly life, disabled life, and unborn life. From whom to tomb, without exception be like God, be PRO LIFE.

Blessings,

Stephen

By catholicevangelist

Nineveh for Today

This reflection is for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 1/21/2018.

whaleI once heard of a young girl, 4th grade I believe, who sat in front of her teacher with the rest of her class on the floor, criss -cross apple sauce. The teacher was beginning a unit on whales, a topic dear to the little girl’s heart. No sooner did the teacher mention whales did the little girl’s hand shoot up to say, “Jonah was eaten by a whale!” The teacher promptly responded that that was impossible, that this was a science class not a Sunday school class. The young girl, undeterred raised her hand again and protested, “Jonah WAS eaten by a whale! He was thrown off a boat, eaten by a whale, and then spat up on the shores of the great city of Nineveh!” The teacher bent down low to make her point clear. She said, “Listen, young lady, Jonah was NOT eaten by a whale! Although whales are very big, their throats are very small and there is no way a grown man could be swallowed by a whale, live there for three days, and be spit back up healthy and whole!” The little girl, now with tears in her eyes, looked up with a shaky voice and said, “Well, when I get to heaven I’m going to ask him.” To which the teacher snidely remarked, “Well, maybe he’s not in heaven, maybe he’s in hell.” The little girls said, “Okay, then you can ask him.”

I really do love that joke, because of both the young girl’s faith in Scripture, and her wit. However, if we begin to read the story to discover the truth’s about whales, then we’ve entirely missed the Biblical author’s point, namely, we are Jonah.

Jonah is called by God, refuses and believes he can find happiness elsewhere. Running away from God only brings difficulty, struggle, hardship, and pain–both for himself and for everyone around him! However, even in Jonah’s rebellion, the Lord continues to pursue him, bless him, and show mercy toward him (the whale). It is only in offering himself to God that Jonah finds purpose, fulfillment, and peace in his life. Yes, finally, “Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the LORD’S bidding.”

Each of us is Jonah and each of us has a Nineveh. God beckons us to do His will, but too often the task seems overwhelming and we are afraid–locked in a downward spiral of sadness and a less-than meaningful, joyful, God-led life. There is no room in this Christian life for “doing our own thing.” We too often equate our will with ease and happiness, and God’s will with struggle, sacrifice, and sadness. The opposite is actually what is true. Our will ends with ease but not happiness, and God’s will is indeed a struggle, will indeed require sacrifice, but the end is NOT sadness, but instead joy, meaning, purpose, fulfillment, and peace.

The people  heard Jonah’s message, their hearts were turned, and they received blessings, mercy, and grace because Jonah was faithful to God. Your own Nineveh needs you. Where is God calling you to go? What is God calling you to do? Who remains yet in darkness because of your fear of pursuing the light? Who does God want you to bless? It might not be in a far away land, but instead in your own family, in your workplace, or in your community.

The Gospel today, gives us OUR message from the Lord Jesus himself. He said, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:14-20) The Kingdom of God is indeed at hand and the message is clear. REPENT and BELIEVE. Our world is doing it’s own thing and is far from God and God’s will. The Kingdom is at hand but too many are from from it. God’s desire is that we change our ways, get right with Him, and advance His Kingdom!

This blog post might in fact be your whale. And Nineveh needs you. Go, do not be afraid.

By catholicevangelist

Who’s Your Eli?

This reflection is for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 1/14/2018.

Today’s readings cause us to recognize not only that God has been calling faithful people to himself from the beginning, and that God continues that call today, but most importantly that we often need some help to hear The Call, and that we should seek help to hear and discern God’s call.

In the Old Testament God calls to Samuel, but Samuel, who has never heard God’s voice, mistakenly thinks he is being called by his master and teacher, Eli. Our persistent God continues to call Samuel. Over and over again, Samuel wrongly understands God’s call. We are much like Samuel, I’m afraid.

I think sometimes in our life we believe that our happiness lies “over there” or “over there” or “just around the corner.” We pursue wealth, fame, fortune, or other worldly pleasures. We think our happiness will lie in that person, or that job, or this opportunity, or that food, drink, or drug. Yet even in the midst of pursuing false hope and temporary happiness, God calls us to true lasting joy, but we so often miss it. We need an Eli!

My Eli has been a good priest friend of mine who courageously calls me to see what’s true and to hear God’s call. He offers seemingly endless resources and prayer and inexhaustible encouragement. Even as I write this I know that God has called me to His service in a particular way, but it took my Eli to hear it.

Who’s your Eli? Who boldly, and courageously points you in the direction of the Lord? In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist, served as his disciples’ Eli. He points out, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” that they might recognize Jesus and follow Him. He helps them to see that in Jesus there is more than meets the eye. Do not be fooled by His humble appearance, he tells them, but rather he helps them to see beyond the ordinary to discover the extraordinary presence of God in their midst. Naturally, they leave John to follow the Christ.

The priest after the Consecration at Mass, lifts up the Body and blood of Christ, and calls also us to see more that what meets the eye. He calls us to behold the Real Presence of God in our midst under the appearance of ordinary bread and wine, and uses the words of John the Baptist to do it! The appropriate response at Mass is to give the great Amen! We say it three times to make quite clear that we believe! We believe! We believe!

God is calling us to see and hear Him in the ordinary trials and triumphs of our everyday lives. God is calling us to see him in the Eucharist, in the poor and marginalized, in the immigrant, in our coworkers, in our friends, students, employees, spouse, and children. He is calling us to hear his voice in all of the good times and in the sad times throughout our day. How important that we have an Eli, a John the Baptist.

I want to encourage you this week to return to Church, go on a retreat, go to Mass, speak to a priest, a pastor, or a spiritual director. Pick up a good book about God, about the call to Christian discipleship, spend time alone with God, and say but one thing, say the ONLY thing that needs to be said, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

–God Bless

By catholicevangelist

Holy Rosary and Our Lady of Miracles Retreat

AMAZING RETREAT!!! Thank you so much to Holy Rosary and Our Lady of Miracles parishes for an outstanding retreat! There were so many young people and their sponsors; attentive, participatory, and engaged. I’m excited that these young people are nearing the Sacrament of Confirmation excited and on fire for their faith. Kudos to both parishes for the great work of preparing these sponsors and young men and women to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, thereby rooting them more deeply into Christ and the Church through the grace received in the Sacrament! Woo-hoo! We should all celebrate these believers’ completion of their formal training in faith and completion of the grace begun in baptism. They prepare to join the ranks of the faithful, more fully formed and prepared to defend Jesus Christ and His Church in both word and deed!

Keep them in prayer as they continue their journey toward holiness and the fullness of salvation won for us in Christ Jesus!

By catholicevangelist

Advent Retreat, Sacred Heart Parish, Salinas CA

Thank you to Sacred Heart Parish, in Salinas, for the opportunity to serve their community. I had a great experience yesterday sharing about the meaning of Advent. December 3rd marks the 1st Sunday of Advent, it begins the 4-week journey to Christmas. The Christmas season, then, lasts 12 days! (You remember the song, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” Advent begins on the 3rd, is over on the 24th, and Christmas begins on the 25th and isn’t over until Jan.6th, when we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Savior is revealed to the world and is given gifts from the three wise men/kings. Only then should the tree come down, should the final gifts be given, and the decorations removed!

Yesterday was an amazing opportunity to share about the importance of getting our heart right with God, focusing on the real reason for the season, and to not only prepare for our celebration of the Savior’s birth, but to also make our souls a fitting abode to receive the savior at His 2nd Coming!

Jesus told His disciples that He would return as judge! I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Jesus will return! Look busy!” We often lose focus, stop growing in holiness, get distracted by worldly pleasures and desires, and in various ways, stop loving God and neighbor. Advent is that time when we take a serious look at our life, make necessary changes, get right with God and neighbor, and re-prioritize how we spend our time, talent, and treasure. Speaking of how we spend our time…

As Thanksgiving approaches, remember to give thanks. Give thanks for health, family, good times, and event for the hard times that bring us closer to God and family. Thanksgiving is about the only holiday where only the gift of self is given. No candy, no costumes, no rampant consumerism–just family and friends spending meaningful time together. Sadly, holiday shopping has severely encroached on this most important day of thanks. Too many are leaving the family and heading out to the stores to get the best deals. The real “best deal” is being home with family and friends.

Well, I pray that God blesses you this Thanksgiving! I’m heading out to Hilmar this morning to give a Confirmation parent/sponsor/candidate retreat at Holy Rosary Parish. Keep us in prayer!

Click the link below to download a pdf version of my powerpoint slide. The slideshow contains a brief explanation of Advent and some helpful hints about keeping Christ front and center during these holy-days.

Sacred Heart Advent Talk

Blessings to you and yours,

Stephen

By catholicevangelist

The Eucharist

Thank you Sacred Heart Parish, in Turlock, for the opportunity to share WHY we believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Their young adult group, called Summit, is providing a much needed ministry to young adults 18-30+. I’m excited for them and for their courage to provide adult education and evangelization!

I’m looking forward to more opportunities to share my love for the Church and it’s teachings there. Attached please find my PowerPoint in PDF form. Again, thank you to all who attended and to Sacred Heart for the opportunity to serve.

Blessings,

Stephen

Click Here for PDF of Eucharist PowerPoint

By catholicevangelist

The Pope on TED

Hi Catholic family! Just saw this and I thought I’d forward it to you. Super cool. Click HERE to see the Pope on TED. 
Blessings,

Stephen Valgos, Catholic Evangelist 

By catholicevangelist

Sacred Heart Lenten Mission

My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus! Please consider attending my 3-Day Lenten Mission at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, in Turlock. It begins Monday, February 29 and goes through Wednesday March 2. It begins at 7pm in the main Church, and lasts for about an hour. The three nights are as follows:

Night 1: The Season of Lent: Ashes, 40 days, and the Goal
Night 2: The Season of Lent: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving
Night 3: The Season of Lent: A Year of Mercy, Reconciliation, and Healing
I hope you can make it!

Lenten Blessings,

Stephen Valgos

By catholicevangelist