Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I returned late last night from Chicago where I was able to attend a powerful retreat (with some inspirational Lenten insights) followed by some outstanding classes.

I am flying down to Anaheim today for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. This event draws people from all over the country and even some other parts of the world. The attendance is usually over 40,000. My mom is coming with me this year as well as our pastoral associate.

My friend Matt from Alaska, who will also be attending the RE Congress, has arranged for us to go on a tour tomorrow of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. It was started by Fr. Gregory Boyle who has had a special ministry to gangs and prisoners. 

Here is a brief description of what they do from their website:
Homeboy Industries provides hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community. Each year over 10,000 former gang members from across Los Angeles come through Homeboy Industries’ doors in an effort to make a positive change. They are welcomed into a community of mutual kinship, love, and a wide variety of services ranging from tattoo removal to anger management and parenting classes. Full-time employment is offered for more than 200 men and women at a time through an 18-month program that helps them re-identify who they are in the world, offers job training so they can move on from Homeboy Industries and become contributing members of the community - knowing they count!
I will helping with Confessions on Friday and have signed up for workshops with Bishop Robert Barron, Mark Hart, Fr. Jonathon Morris, and Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J. 

I will have the opportunity to visit with a good friend from the seminary and usually bump into people I went to school with at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo. (Yes, I'm bracing myself for comments about how gray I have become and am ready with my comeback of Proverbs 16:31 which says, "Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by a life that is just".)

It should be a great trip and hopefully I'll come back with all kinds of new ideas and insights to share with St. Brendan parish.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Great Reflection From The Word Among Us

How God Measures Us

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish. (Isaiah 58:6)

In the film Mary Poppins, there is a scene in which Mary uses a measuring tape on herself. But rather than feet or inches, the tape reads, “Practically perfect in every way.” It’s a cute little scene, but it tells us a lot about her personality.

In today’s first reading, we see God’s measuring tape for fasting. The passage names eight specific things that God wants Israel to do. If the people measure up, their glory will “break forth like the dawn,” and their relationship with God will deepen dramatically (Isaiah 58:8, 9). Israel never did manage to live up to these standards, however. But how did God respond?

Like many of the prophetic writings, this passage can be understood in a number of ways. It is both an exhortation for Israel to change and a guideline to help them encounter God on a deeper level. It can also be read in the context of history, as a revelation of God’s grace. God could have turned away when Israel did not meet his standards. Instead, he broke into their world and sent Jesus, who met all of these standards and then some. He broke the yoke of sin, brought freedom from oppression, fed the hungry, freed spiritual prisoners, and clothed people with his love and righteousness.

You might feel that God sets high standards, and you’re right! We are called to live up to every commandment, pursuing and growing in holiness day by day. But that’s only one side of the story. The other side is that we serve a God of tremendous mercy, patience, and forgiveness. Even when we fall short, he doesn’t give up. He reaches out his hand to us, no matter how far we have fallen, invading our world with his mercy, grace, and encouragement.

Is there an area where you have felt the Lord nudging you to grow, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened? Take heart! God knows your shortcomings, and he is already reaching out his hand to help you go to the next level.

Think of one thing that you can do by next Friday to take that step. Then, tell someone about your plan. Studies show that if we tell someone about our goals, we are much more likely to accomplish them.

“Lord, help me to seek after your standards in every area of my life.”

Friday, February 5, 2016

Unlock The Power Event

Tonight I will join Fr. Cal Christansen as WWCCR sponsors a Mass and evening of intercessory prayer for for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit to fall upon the entire Church so that we can rise up to the challenges that surround us with joy and boldness. 

Here is a link to the flyer for the event. 

Great things happen when we join in prayer as a community of faith and ask the Father of Mercies to pour out the Holy Spirit. Come Holy Spirit!

I am greatly looking forward to the evening!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What Is A Priest's Calendar Like?

For people who wonder how a parish priest spends his time, here is my calendar from July through February of this year. 

Some parishioners are more connected than others, but I often find a lot of parishioners form very strange ideas about how I spend my time and what I do within the parish. The more connected a parishioner is the more understanding they usually are. Sadly, the vast majority of parishioners are not that involved in the parish and lack a lot of information, not just on how I spend my time, but also the time that other staff dedicate to serving the parish. We have many staff who are incredibly dedicated and make a ton of sacrifices for the parish. 

Time management is always a challenge for me. There are a lot of things about the parish I like, and some things I don't like. In general, I wish people would step back and be a little more understanding about how many demands and expectations are placed on their parish priests. We are in short supply and I don't have people knocking my door down asking how they can be supportive or more encouraging of promoting vocations to the priesthood. One priest in our Archdiocese is in charge of 5 parishes and 1 mission. Click here to see more information about this challenging job. 

On a positive note, we should be having 4 men ordained to the priesthood this summer. However, a number of priests are planning on retiring and we lose a few each year who complete their earthly pilgrimage.

Good Leaders/Good Shepherds has been an excellent opportunity for me to grow in knowledge in how to manage a parish. This has been a two year program sponsored by the Catholic Leadership Institute that allows parish priests to take some time away from the parish to focus on being a better parish priest. I am grateful for the skills I am learning through this program. It would be great to have access to this program during seminary formation. 

My prayer time, homily prep-time, some sick calls, and drop-in appointments aren't listed on the calendar but are part of the plan. A parishioner once told me, "a priest who doesn't pray isn't even a moving target." True!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Put Your Faith In Jesus Christ and Not In Church Structures Or Programs

Here are some challenging but inspiring words from Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Lisbon, Portugal on May 11, 2010 during his Apostolic visit to acknowledge the 10th anniversary of the Beatification of Jacinta and Francisco, Young Shepherds of F├ítima. 

In light of the session of Good Leaders/Good Shepherds I am currently attending, I have highlighted in red the section that caused the most conviction in me. I think he hit the nail on the head. I remember Archbishop Sartain telling us at Priest Days one year, "Don't go wide, go deep!" Sometimes we focus on numbers and not on evidence of a changed and transformed life which is the inevitable fruit of an authentic encounter with the Risen Lord. 

I hope you find encouragement in these words. I sure did!

Lisbon—friend, port and shelter for the great hopes that were placed in you by those who set off from here, hopes that were cherished by those who visited you—today I wish to make use of these keys that you have given me so that you may be able to base your human hopes upon divine Hope. In the reading that has just been proclaimed, taken from the First Letter of Saint Peter, we heard: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame”. And the Apostle explains: Draw near to the Lord, “that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious” (1 Pet 2:6, 4). Brothers and sisters, those who believe in Jesus will not be put to shame: he is the Word of God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived, and this Word is attested by a “great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues,” a multitude pictured by the author of the Apocalypse “clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev 7:9). This countless multitude includes not only Saints Verissimus, Maxima and Julia, martyred here during the persecution of Diocletian, Saint Vincent, deacon and martyr, the principal patron of the Patriarchate, Saint Anthony and Saint John of Brito who set off from here to sow God’s good seed in other lands and among other peoples, and Saint Nuno of Santa Maria, whom I added to the ranks of the Saints just over a year ago. It is formed of the “servants of our God” from all times and places, on whose forehead the sign of the cross has been inscribed with “the seal of the living God” (Rev 7:2), that is to say, with the Holy Spirit. I am referring to the initial rite administered to each one of us in the sacrament of Baptism, through which the Church gives birth to the “saints”.
We know that she also has quarrelsome and even rebellious sons and daughters, but it is in the saints that the Church recognizes her most characteristic features, it is in them that she tastes her deepest joy. They all share the desire to incarnate the Gospel in their own lives, under the inspiration of the eternal animator of God’s People—the Holy Spirit. Focussing her attention upon her own saints, this local Church has rightly concluded that today’s pastoral priority is to make each Christian man and woman a radiant presence of the Gospel perspective in the midst of the world, in the family, in culture, in the economy, in politics. Often we are anxiously preoccupied with the social, cultural and political consequences of the faith, taking for granted that faith is present, which unfortunately is less and less realistic. Perhaps we have placed an excessive trust in ecclesial structures and programs, in the distribution of powers and functions; but what will happen if salt loses its flavor?
In order for this not to happen, it is necessary to proclaim anew with vigour and joy the event of the death and resurrection of Christ, the heart of Christianity, the fulcrum and mainstay of our faith, the firm lever of our certainties, the strong wind that sweeps away all fear and indecision, all doubt and human calculation. The resurrection of Christ assures us that no adverse power will ever be able to destroy the Church. Therefore our faith is well-founded, but this faith needs to come alive in each one of us. A vast effort at every level is required if every Christian is to be transformed into a witness capable of rendering account to all and at all times of the hope that inspires him (cf. 1 Pet 3:15): only Christ can fully satisfy the profound longings of every human heart and give answers to its most pressing questions concerning suffering, injustice and evil, concerning death and the life hereafter.
Dear brothers and sisters, dear young friends, Christ is always with us and always walks with his Church, accompanies her and guards her, as he has told us: “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). Never doubt his presence! Always seek the Lord Jesus, grow in friendship with him, receive him in communion. Learn to listen to his word and also to recognize him in the poor. Live your lives with joy and enthusiasm, sure of his presence and of his unconditional, generous friendship, faithful even to death on the cross. Bear witness to all of the joy that his strong yet gentle presence evokes, starting with your contemporaries. Tell them that it is beautiful to be a friend of Jesus and that it is well worth following him. With your enthusiasm, demonstrate that, among all the different ways of life that the world today seems to offer us—apparently all on the same level—the only way in which we find the true meaning of life and hence true and lasting joy, is by following Jesus.
Benedict XVI. (2013). Homilies of His Holiness Benedict XVI (English). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Reflection on Candlemas

The Encounter between Chaos and Light

In everyday modern life we are hardly aware that on February 2nd we celebrate an ancient feast, common to the Church of both East and West, one which used to have a great significance in the rural calendar: Candlemas. Tributaries from many historical sources have flowed together into this feast, with the result that it sparkles with many colors. Its immediate reference is to the event when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth to perform the prescribed sacrifice of purification.

The liturgy focuses mainly on one detail of Luke’s portrayal: the meeting between the Child Jesus and the aged Simeon. Thus in the Greek-speaking world the feast was called Hypapanti (the encounter). In this juxtaposition of the Child and the old man, the Church sees the encounter between the passing heathen world and the new beginning in Christ, between the fading age of the Old Covenant and the new era of the Church of all nations.

What this expresses is more than the eternal recurrence of death and becoming; it is more than the consoling thought that the passing of one generation is always succeeded by a new one with new ideas and hopes. If that were all, this Child would not represent a hope for Simeon but only for himself. But it is more: it is hope for everyone, because it is a hope transcending death.

This brings us to a second aspect of this day, which the liturgy illuminates. It takes up the words of Simeon when he calls this Child “a light to enlighten the Gentiles”. Accordingly this day was made into a feast of candles. The warm candlelight is meant to be a tangible reminder of that greater light that, for and beyond all time, radiates from the figure of Jesus. In Rome this candlelit procession supplanted a rowdy, dissolute carnival, the so-called Amburbale, which had survived from paganism right into Christian times. The pagan procession had magical features: it was supposed to effect the purification of the city and the repelling of evil powers. To remind people of this, the Christian procession was originally celebrated in black vestments and then in purple—until the Council’s liturgical reform. Thus the element of encounter, again, was evident in this procession: the pagan world’s wild cry for purification, liberation, deliverance from dark powers, meets the “light to enlighten the Gentiles”, the mild and humble light of Jesus Christ. The failing (and yet still active) aeon of a foul, chaotic, enslaved and enslaving world encounters the purifying power of the Christian message.

It reminds me of something the playwright Eugene Ionesco wrote. As the inventor of the Theatre of the Absurd, he articulated the cry of an absurd world and was increasingly aware that it was a cry for God. “History”, he said recently, “is a process of corruption, it is chaotic, unless it is oriented to the supernatural.” The candle-lit procession in black garments, the symbolic encounter between chaos and light that it represents, should remind us of this truth and give us courage to see the supernatural, not as a waste of time, distracting us from the business of ameliorating the world, but as the only way in which meaning can be brought to bear on the chaotic side of life.

 Benedict XVI. (2007). Seek that which Is above: Meditations through the Year. (G. Harrison, Trans.) (Second Edition, pp. 35–38). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Great Reflection from The Word Among Us

The Importance of Obedience

I did indeed obey the Lord. (1 Samuel 15:20)

Poor King Saul! Until Samuel confronted him, he had no idea he had disobeyed God. As far as he was concerned, he had just wiped out a formidable enemy, as God had instructed. He just hadn’t gotten around to dealing with their king yet. Surely that was a minor omission. He had even improved on God’s commandment: instead of destroying all the livestock, he had set aside the choicest animals to offer as a sacrifice. Was that really such a bad thing?

Sometimes what God asks of us is very clear. We gladly carry out most of it, except for one minor detail. We work through our painful memories until we can forgive everyone who hurt us—except one person. We’re willing to extend the kiss of peace to anyone at Mass—except that man whom you saw at the mall walking arm in arm with another man.

It’s also tempting to add to God’s simple commands and then impose our additions on other people. For instance, in situations where we’re tempted to swear, we may decide to refrain from speaking at all, even when our strong reaction might provide a holy perspective.

Today begins the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Are there ways in which we are tempted to add to or take away from what God requires for the sake of unity? Maybe we go beyond what God commands, insisting that everyone adopt every detail of Catholic worship or Church governance. We forget that multiple perspectives can provide a fuller picture and that God is honored in many ways. Or do we seek unity at the expense of the fundamental truths of the gospel, minimizing the importance of any belief or practice that seems to divide us?

St. Augustine shows us a path to unity that is both simple and challenging: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Knowing that Jesus, the Bridegroom, is dwelling with all of his people, let’s ask him to show us the way forward. Let’s seek out those “fresh wineskins” that can bear his potent love to a world longing for hope and meaning (Mark 2:22).

“Jesus, you urgently desire for all of your people to be one. Show us how we can cooperate with this great work of yours.”

Daily Reflection from The Word Among Us (