I will give you rest.

I will give you rest.

As we celebrate our nation’s independence, we could use a respite from the turmoil in the world. People want a break from the stress. They want a holiday of rest. The gospel proposes more than a weekend respite. Jesus invites us to experience a lifestyle of rest. He tells us, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” (Mt. 11:28-29)

Jesus’ life should have been stressful. Wherever he went people flocked to him in droves, especially the sick. He was constantly on the go and responding to the needy. In addition, he faced constant criticism.  People ridiculed him. Because he befriended sinners and ate with them, they called him “a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Mt. 11:18-19) At one point, the Jewish leaders even said that he was possessed by a demon (Jn. 8:48). Jesus had plenty of reasons to be frazzled, yet you never see him stressed out.

Instead, we picture him as a tranquil man emanating peace. Shortly before his passion and death, he comforted the disciples by saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (Jn. 14:27) How could Jesus extend peace to others as he went to the cross? How could he sleep in the boat while a storm was raging on the sea?

Today he tells us the secret of his peace, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” For Jesus, being “meek and humble of heart” is the way to find rest.  First of all, he was meek and humble before God. Humility before the Father was the deepest source of his peace.  In the end, peaceful rest flows from being humble before God.

In the Old Testament, the meek and humble person is typically poor and afflicted. The Hebrew word is anawim; it means to be poor, afflicted, humble or meek before God.  In their poverty, the anawim are noted for profound trust in God. They depend wholeheartedly on the Lord. They trust that the God has their back.

You can hear this humble trust in Psalm 149 which declares, “The Lord takes delight in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.” (Ps. 149:4) That is, he adorns the anawim (עֲ֜נָוִ֗ים) with victory. Likewise, Psalm 34 states, “The poor man עָנִ֣י) ) cried out and the Lord heard him and delivered him from all his afflictions.” (Ps. 34:6) This is what Jesus has in mind as he says, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” 

Humility before God is based on a keen awareness that without God I am nothing. The poor especially are in touch with their nothingness. They know that everything is gift – health, food and shelter, the beauty of nature, the blessings of family. Not only is everything a gift, but also they know God as the great gift giver.

That is how Jesus described the Father. In this gospel, he declares that the Father graciously gives him everything. He said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father.” (Mt. 11:27) When he was teaching his disciples how to pray, he urged them to see God in this way, to pray to the Father as a generous gift-giver. He said, “If you then . . . know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  (Lk. 11:13)

Jesus stood before God the Father as humble and meek, totally dependent. He was aware that the Father generously pours out all his gifts. He said, “The Father gives me everything, and he sent me to bring his gifts to you. He wants you to enter into his rest.  Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you [his] rest.”

Once a person realizes that everything is a gift, then they humbly help others. We observe this kind of humility in Jesus, especially in the foot-washing. He even called himself a servant or slave.  He said, “Anyone who wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.  For the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:44-45)

This is the second way to find rest. Have you ever noticed how serving others brings you peace?  When we focus on humbly serving others, it relieves us of our troubles. One of the best antidotes to anxiety about my troubles is to reach out to the needy, to be other-centered.  To focus outward, instead of inward. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) He knew the blessing of peace from serving others. God fills our hearts with peace when we humbly serve others.

In our nation, we have a cherished tradition of helping the downtrodden. Countless soldiers sacrificed for the afflicted in other lands. In the pandemic, first responders and healthcare workers are generously tending to the sick. Over the years, many church or civic leaders alike have stood up for the dignity of every human person. They have modeled humble service to all: whether citizens or foreigners, rich or poor, believers or non-believers, irrespective of their sex, level of education or the color of their skin. Like Jesus, they brought others to a place of rest. This is our mission.

Nonetheless, we must admit that our church and nation have been wounded by leaders who used their authority to abuse, injure or even kill. Some clergy wounded others through sexual abuse, and for years, the bishops failed to deal with those horrific crimes. Now we are seeing a similar reality among the police.  While most are honorable and dedicated public servants, some have used their authority to mistreat or even murder civilians, especially racial minorities. At times, their leaders failed to address these detestable crimes.

We cannot live under the illusion that we live in a perfect society, but one that is in a constant battle with good and evil. If we want the broken to experience the rest of God, then we must acknowledge these crimes and not pretend that everything is fine. The Church made that mistake for decades with sexual abuse. Our nation should not do the same with police brutality.

Be wary of proud leaders who defend the status quo. Their pride blinds them, and we should not follow them. They are blind guides. Instead support leaders who humbly acknowledge their poverty before God, who are big enough to admit their mistakes or our sins as a nation.  The way to peaceful rest for our nation is through meek and humble leadership.

Do our nation’s troubles make you weary? Are you worn down by covid-19? Then humbly and confidently pray to God. The Lord will provide. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and your Father in heaven will open the door to his treasury of all good gifts. (Lk. 11:9) Next, humbly serve others and watch how your heart is filled with peace.

Jesus invites us to a lifestyle of rest, but that does not mean that we will have a life without crime, sin, evil, violence, corruption and turmoil. Rather, while living in a world wounded by sin, we can enjoy a lifestyle of rest by being humble and meek before God. Left to ourselves we feel our nothingness, but with the Lord we are strengthened to bring others into the rest of God.

This is the way to peace for us as individuals, and it is the way to peace for our country experiencing so much turmoil. As the psalmist says, “The poor man cried out and the Lord heard him and delivered him from all his afflictions.” (Ps. 34:6)  We are called to do the same.

Living what we Profess

Living what we Profess

Today we profess our faith in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In some ways, it is easy to profess that we believe in the Holy Trinity. God the Father is the Creator of the universe. The only begotten Son of God became man to redeem us. The Holy Spirit communicates their love and sanctifies us. They live in perfect unity as one God.

Professing the Trinity is one thing, but living that truth is a whole different matter.       It means to revere the Trinity not only in itself, but also to revere the Trinity in me, in you, and in every single human being. The Trinity is the source of human dignity. Each person is made in the image and likeness of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Every person is the living image of God. We are different than any creature.

Do you live with gratitude and wonder of being made in God’s likeness? How well do you and I revere this mystery in the people around us?

Sometimes we are blind to our human dignity. It might help to begin by realizing that we can be blind to the beauty of all creation. In his book The Golden String, the Benedictine monk Bede Griffiths describes a time when he suddenly became more aware of God’s presence in creation.  As a young boy, Bede was walking outside one summer evening at sunset.  He became aware of the beauty of the birds singing and wondered why he had not heard them singing like that before. A littler farther along, he came to some hawthorn trees blooming with the sweetest fragrance.  Again, he realized that he had never noticed their sweetness before.  As dusk approached, he came to some playing fields with no one there, and everything was so quiet as the sun faded in the west.  As a boy, he dropped to his knees in wonder of God’s presence.  In the book he describes this as “one of the decisive events of my life.” (pp. 9-10, The Golden String as quoted by Gregory Cleveland in Awakening Love, p. 260)

There are times when we wake up to the presence of God in creation. The recent events in our nation have been a wake-up call to God’s presence in the human person. God is dwelling in all things, but especially in human beings. God’s indwelling gives every person an inviolable dignity. No one can take it away; even a wicked man cannot relinquish it.

Even if a criminal says to God, “I have committed such horrendous crimes. I have ruined my dignity. I have wasted the precious gifts which you have given to me, Father.  I no longer deserve to be called your son.” Yet, his dignity of being God’s son remains. God affirms that dignity and restores it by saying, “Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.  Then let us celebrate with a feast because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” (Lk. 15:22-24)

To believe in the Holy Trinity is to accept this mercy. It is to believe that we are not the sum of our weakness and sin.  Rather we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and of our real capacity to become like his Son.  Those are words from St. John Paul II.

Mr. George Floyd had served five stints in prison; yet, he was still a beloved son of the Father. Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes; yet, he is still a beloved son of the Father. Human dignity is inviolable; you cannot destroy the image of God.  In all of creation, the incarnation is the peak of God’s indwelling. When the Son of God was incarnated, he assumed our own human nature. As beautiful as nature is this time of year, the unique beauty of humanity far surpasses it.

Do you see in each person the living image of the Holy Trinity? Do you see that beauty in saints and sinners alike, or are you blind to it? Sometimes we get a wake-up call to this beauty because it has been violated so horribly. In part, the horrific death of George Floyd has been a wake-up call.

St. Paul said to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16) In the Greek language there is a word for ‘you’ singular and a word for ‘you’ plural. In this statement, all of them are plural. This sentence could be translated like this: “Do yawl all not know that yawl are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in yawl?” (1 Cor. 3:16)  Paul did not say that you singular are the temple of God. Nor did he say that you plural are temples of God. Rather, he said, “you (plural) are the temple (singular) of God.” Together the Spirit makes us into God’s temple.  One temple. This is another way of saying that we are all brothers and sisters of one family, God’s family.

The temple of God is violated if any person is mistreated. The People of God cries out for justice when people are killed in the womb, or separated from their families as immigrant children, or violently treated while being arrested, or are subject to racism because of their skin color, or if their businesses are burned during violent protests, or even if they are executed with capital punishment. This is official Church teaching; it is based on our human dignity.

We must cry out for justice whenever a person is not treated in accord with his or her God-given dignity. We must cry out in our Churches and in our streets for any person – born or unborn. In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (#105), it states:  “The Church invites all people to recognize in everyone – near and far, known and unknown, and above all in the poor and suffering – a brother or sister for whom Christ died.” This is Catholic doctrine.  It flows from the doctrine of the Trinity.  As we look out at our broken world, obviously we have so far to go to live that truth.

How well do I live with gratitude and wonder of being made in God’s likeness? Do I revere this same dignity in saints and sinners alike? If not, then I don’t fully believe in the Holy Trinity. Then I am not truly living as a Christian.

Don’t give up.  God never does. When the Lord looks upon our violent world, he sees our deepest identity as sons and daughters of a merciful Father. God sees our dignity and all that we are capable of becoming – our real capacity to become the image of his Son. And he gives us the Holy Spirit to work tirelessly at forming one family of God.  By the grace of the Holy Trinity we can live as sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters for whom Christ died.

Prayer to Overcome Racism

Prayer to Overcome Racism

The following prayer is from Open Wide Our Hearts, the USCCB letter against racism.

Mary, friend and mother to all, through your Son, God has found a way to unite himself to every human being, called to be one people, sisters and brothers to each other.

We ask for your help in calling on your Son, seeking forgiveness for the times when we have failed to love and respect one another.

We ask for your help in obtaining from your Son the grace we need to overcome the evil of racism and to build a just society.

We ask for your help in following your Son, so that prejudice and animosity will no longer infect our minds or hearts but will be replaced with a love that respects the dignity of each person.

Mother of the Church, the Spirit of your Son Jesus warms our hearts: pray for us. Amen.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

In response to the death of Mr. George Floyd and the violent protests, Pope Francis offered a message today, Wednesday, June 3, 2020 during his Wednesday Audience. He stated:

Dear brothers and sisters in the United States, I have witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest in your nation in these past days, following the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd.

My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life. At the same time, we have to recognize that “the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost.”

Today I join the Church in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and in the entire United States, in praying for the repose of the soul of George Floyd and of all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism. Let us pray for the consolation of their grieving families and friends and let us implore the national reconciliation and peace for which we yearn.

May Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America, intercede for all those who work for peace and justice in your land and throughout the world. May God bless all of you and your families.

Statement by Archbishop Gomez

Statement by Archbishop Gomez

Please continue to pray for our nation in these difficult days.  May the Holy Spirit inspire all of us to live as brothers and sisters.

Today, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued the following statement on George Floyd and the protests in American cities that have taken place over the last several days:

The killing of George Floyd was senseless and brutal, a sin that cries out to heaven for justice. How is it possible that in America, a black man’s life can be taken from him while calls for help are not answered, and his killing is recorded as it happens?

I am praying for George Floyd and his loved ones, and on behalf of my brother bishops, I share the outrage of the black community and those who stand with them in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and across the country. The cruelty and violence he suffered does not reflect on the majority of good men and women in law enforcement, who carry out their duties with honor. We know that. And we trust that civil authorities will investigate his killing carefully and make sure those responsible are held accountable.

We should all understand that the protests we are seeing in our cities reflect the justified frustration and anger of millions of our brothers and sisters who even today experience humiliation, indignity, and unequal opportunity only because of their race or the color of their skin. It should not be this way in America. Racism has been tolerated for far too long in our way of life.

It is true what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, that riots are the language of the unheard. We should be doing a lot of listening right now. This time, we should not fail to hear what people are saying through their pain. We need to finally root out the racial injustice that still infects too many areas of American society.

But the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost. Let us keep our eyes on the prize of true and lasting change.

Legitimate protests should not be exploited by persons who have different values and agendas. Burning and looting communities, ruining the livelihoods of our neighbors, does not advance the cause of racial equality and human dignity.

We should not let it be said that George Floyd died for no reason. We should honor the sacrifice of his life by removing racism and hate from our hearts and renewing our commitment to fulfill our nation’s sacred promise — to be a beloved community of life, liberty, and equality for all.

Pentecost Prayer for Healing

Pentecost Prayer for Healing

On May 29, 2020, seven U.S. bishop chairmen of committees within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the following statement in the wake of the death of Mr. George Floyd and the protests which have broken out in Minneapolis and in other cities in the United States:

We are broken-hearted, sickened, and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes. What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences. This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.

Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue to be bandied about when convenient. It is a real and present danger that must be met head on. As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference. We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life. We serve a God of love, mercy, and justice.

While it is expected that we will plead for peaceful non-violent protests, and we certainly do, we also stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged. Too many communities around this country feel their voices are not being heard, their complaints about racist treatment are unheeded, and we are not doing enough to point out that this deadly treatment is antithetical to the Gospel of Life.

As we said eighteen months ago in our most recent pastoral letter against racism, Open Wide Our Hearts, for people of color some interactions with police can be fraught with fear and even danger. People of good conscience must never turn a blind eye when citizens are being deprived of their human dignity and even their lives. Indifference is not an option. “As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue.”

We join Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis in praying for the repose of the soul of Mr. George Floyd and all others who have lost their lives in a similar manner. We plead for an end to the violence in the wake of this tragedy and for the victims of the rioting. We pray for comfort for grieving families and friends. We pray for peace across the United States, particularly in Minnesota, while the legal process moves forward. We also anticipate a full investigation that results in rightful accountability and actual justice.

We join our brother bishops to challenge everyone to come together, particularly with those who are from different cultural backgrounds. In this encounter, let us all seek greater understanding amongst God’s people. So many people who historically have been disenfranchised continue to experience sadness and pain, yet they endeavor to persevere and remain people of great faith. We encourage our pastors to encounter and more authentically accompany them, listen to their stories, and learn from them, finding substantive ways to enact systemic change. Such encounters will start to bring about the needed transformation of our understanding of true life, charity, and justice in the United States. Hopefully, then there will be many voices speaking out and seeking healing against the evil of racism in our land.

As we anticipate the Solemnity of Pentecost this weekend, we call upon all Catholics to pray and work toward a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray for a supernatural desire to rid ourselves of the harm that bias and prejudice cause. We call upon Catholics to pray to the Holy Spirit for the Spirit of Truth to touch the hearts of all in the United States and to come down upon our criminal justice and law enforcement systems. Finally, let each and every Catholic, regardless of their ethnicity, beg God to heal our deeply broken view of each other, as well as our deeply broken society.

This statement was issued by:  Bishop Shelton J. Fabre, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism; Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez, chairman of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, chairman of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Bishop David G. O’Connell, chairman of the Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; and Bishop Joseph N. Perry, chairman of the Subcommittee on African American Affairs.

Living Stones

Living Stones

“Come to Jesus, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.”  (1 Pet. 2:4)

In 1992, I spent six weeks in the Holy Land and visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  I was amazed by the size of the stones at the base of the temple. The largest stone in the foundation is 12’ high, 14’ wide and 45’ long. When the Romans breached the wall in 70 A.D., they tried to break that stone, but were unable to move it.  That huge stone is what Peter had in mind when he said, “Come to Jesus, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.” 

His love for us is rock solid. If we are built on Jesus, the Living Stone, then no tragedy, no pandemic can shake us. He is the cornerstone of the Father’s house. If you are anxious or fearful, then remember that Christ is beneath your feet.

Think of a little child sitting between his or her mom and dad. The child is totally secure with them. Having parents who love you is like having two stones at your side. Their strong love makes us feel safe and precious. They will always be there, no matter what. With Christ beneath our feet, we are ten thousand times more secure.

As the living stone, Jesus said, “You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places.” (Jn. 14:1-2) He promised us that we have a room in the Father’s house, not only after we die, but right now. Having a room in the Father’s house is another way for Jesus to describe God’s faithful unconditional love.

We can never earn a room in the Father’s house.  Rather, it is always a gift. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the older son thought that he could earn his room by working hard every day. Jesus shocked the Pharisees who had this mindset, by describing the merciful Father who runs with open arms to welcome his lost son. His house is a house of mercy and forgiveness.

Pope Francis said, “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open . . . Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community . . . Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 47)

The Church is called to be the house of the Father.  Saint Peter said it this way, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” (1 Pet. 2:5)  By the grace of Baptism, we became living stones, built upon Christ the Living Stone of God. We are ‘living’ stones because we received the Life of the Risen Lord. The Holy Spirit dwells in us.  We are empowered with his faithful love. God is our strength.

Yet, we are not merely ‘independent’ stones. As Catholics, we emphasize the communion of saints.  No single person can be built into a spiritual house.  We can only do that all together. Saint Peter addressed all the people when he wrote, “Like living stones, let yourselves built into a spiritual house.”

Sometimes personal independence manifests itself in an unhealthy way in our Church. This week the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre spoke about the infighting in the American Catholic Church. He said, “A Church divided against itself will crumble.”  A Church with bickering and infighting attracts no one. People are attracted by joy, and by unity in charity.

We can only be a vibrant Church if we are united through humble patient love. To be living stones means to be united to Christ the cornerstone and united to the other stones in our spiritual house. It means to realize that I am one small stone of the house of the Father. The early Christians were often described as being united in mind and heart (Acts 4:32).

Unity makes our house stronger. I am thinking especially of the wisdom and strength of the elderly. They have endured hardships in faith.  Just by their presence, they strengthen our spiritual house.

I recently heard the story of a man raised on a farm in western Nebraska. In the 1940’s he had worked hard to plant wheat that had flourished and was close to harvest. But a hailstorm destroyed the crop. He was lamenting the huge loss together with his mother who came to the field with him to view the aftermath. After some time in silence she said, “Gather some of these hailstones, and we’ll make ice cream for the neighbors.”  The son always remembered her resilience and capacity to look beyond the storm.

These days sometimes people express almost an indifferent resignation that COVID-19 will take the elderly, and we just need to accept it. Behind that resignation seems to be a lack of appreciation for their wisdom and strength. What would our spiritual house be like without their wisdom and perseverance? Someone said, if COVID-19 were killing the youth at the rate that it kills the elderly, then the elderly would be fighting tooth and nail for them.

Our strength as a Church depends on the weakest members. They enrich us with spiritual depth and inspire us in trials. That is why solidarity is essential.  A church built of living stones is selfless like Christ. It offers spiritual sacrifices to God and for the good of others.

In the pandemic, we are stressed and tired. We are being asked to adapt and do things that are uncomfortable, like wearing masks for the good of all when we are in close proximity to others.  I am more aware of people with immunity issues, even young people. Often they are reluctant to talk about their medical issues, so you may not realize what they are feeling. However, COVID-19 has caused them to be anxious and constantly on the alert, so they greatly appreciate our willingness to take extra precautions.

Personally I don’t feel like I need a mask, but medical doctors are saying it will protect the most vulnerable. That protection may happen in an extended way. For example, the priests minister to the elderly and sick, so if everyone at Mass uses extra precautions, then the priest will be less likely to transmit the virus to others outside of Mass. Or a young priest may have a spiritual director who is an older priest. Or a retired priest might substitute for weekend Masses, so we need to anticipate their needs. Likewise, Catholic healthcare workers need to be careful to stay COVID-free. So taking precautions while they are at Mass is a way to help them serve the sick.

I struggle with the extra precautions too, but I need to set aside my personal preferences. I have been getting better about wearing a mask when I go to the store. It is a simple and selfless act of love for the common good of all. When public Masses begin, I will wear a Mass during the entrance procession, while distributing Communion and as I leave Mass. We are asking all the priests to do the same. However, while the priest is in the sanctuary, because there is sufficient distance from the people, he will not wear a mask.

Today, recall the gift of Jesus the Living Stone, the rock beneath your feet. He is the cornerstone of the Father’s house where there is a place for everyone. As the Latinos say, my house is your house. Give thanks to the Lord for the Father’s gracious hospitality.

Next think of how our spiritual house is enriched by the weak, the elderly and every single believer. Ask for the grace to be a living stone selflessly united to others in faith. How well are you being a living stone in the Father’s house? What more can you do to strengthen the unity of our spiritual house?

Pray for solidarity with all who belong to the One Body of Christ. “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”

Suffering filled with his presence

Suffering filled with his presence

Have you ever wondered why the disciples walking to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus?  The gospel says that “their eyes prevented from recognizing him.” (Lk. 24:16) How could they not recognize Jesus?

Years ago, a wise priest told me that, at the time of a tragic death, people often ask, ‘Why did this happen?’  But the most important question is not Why, but What. He said that it was essential to help people to move from asking, ‘Why did God let this happen?’ to ‘What is God doing?’ The disciples were wounded by the crucifixion, and it darkened their souls. It was all they could think about. They were completely focused on Jesus’ suffering, and were probably asking, ‘Why did God let this to happen?’  But they were not asking, ‘What is God doing?’ They were stuck in the darkness.  Their eyes and hearts were clouded over.

Right now, it is so easy for our eyes to be prevented from recognizing the Risen Lord. It feels like we’re living under a dark cloud. In our nation, 54,000 people have died from COVID-19. This week three members of one family died on the Wind River Indian Reservation.  Thousands of families are mourning, but without the normal funeral rites.

The elderly and people with compromised immunity are anxious about how they will interact with others for a long time to come. Workers who were furloughed are living in uncertainty of how to provide for their families. As the economy deteriorates, business owners are making agonizing decisions. Healthcare workers are fatigued, yet they anticipate that they could be fighting this battle for the next year. Finally, we cannot fathom what it is like for the sick.

If we only focus on the sickness and death, on economic troubles and unemployment, or on how long we will be battling COVID-19, then we are stuck under a dark cloud.  Then we are like the disciples who could only think about Jesus’ crucifixion.  Their perspective was clouded because they were totally absorbed in his suffering and death.

Jesus refocused his disciples by saying, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk. 24:25-26)  What did they fail to believe from the prophets?  The prophets always remind us that God journeys with his people. The Israelites’ journey in the desert was painful and frightening; yet, the Lord guided them the whole time.  Moses kept urging the people to trust in the Lord. They were not wandering aimlessly; rather, the Lord was leading them to the Promised Land. The Exodus was a journey from suffering to abundant life.

The life of a disciple is a paschal pilgrimage; we are going through suffering to glory. For the believer, the journey never ends in suffering, but in glory. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  This was something Jesus had told his disciples several times, but they never got it.

Later, they saw how his obedient suffering revealed his total trust in the Father and perfect love for us.  His terrible death revealed that God’s fidelity endures beyond death and that God’s power to bestow life is immeasurable. Life always wins. God uses suffering in a mysterious way to reveal his glory. Moses and all of the prophets speak about this.

Every disciple is on this paschal pilgrimage. If we trust completely in the Father, then we will be given the grace of Christ to endure all suffering and to rise beyond death. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus urged the disciples to look at the longer journey; it is pilgrimage under God’s watchful eyes and inside of his caring hands.

Never let yourself be totally preoccupied by a tragic event. Otherwise, you will keep asking, ‘Why did God let this happen?’ Instead, say to yourself, ‘Surely the Lord is here, so what is God doing in this moment?’  What does God want us to learn as we journey during the pandemic? How are we to care for one another?  What is God asking of you and me? How is the Lord using this suffering as a way for us to enter into his glory?

This is a painful and stressful time filled with uncertainty; yet it is a special time of grace. It is a desert experience with God. It is a paschal pilgrimage, and the Lord is filling up our suffering with his presence. As Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.”

Here is a story of someone who lived with faith that God was with him in suffering.  He sensed that God filled his suffering with His presence. Cardinal Nguyễn Văn Thuận was imprisoned for 12 years when he was a bishop in Vietnam. The night he was captured and was being taken away, he felt sadness, abandonment and exhaustion, but he remembered the words of John Walsh, a missionary bishop in China, who had also been imprisoned.  He said, “I am not going to wait. I will live each present moment, filling it to the brim with love.”

Cardinal Nguyễn Văn Thuận remembered this saying and wrote letters to his people. Those letters were later published as a book in eight different languages – Vietnamese, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Korean and Chinese.  The book is titled The Road of Hope.

If we try to wait out COVID-19, then we will not live these days well. To be honest, I keep stumbling in these days, which are filled with stress, new problems, and complaints. I often fail to be humble, gentle and patient with others. Yet, I sense the Lord’s presence and constant help. I am certain that the Lord is using this time to help us mature in faith, hope and charity. It is a paschal pilgrimage, a journey of suffering that is necessary to enter into his glory. It is a special time of growing in grace, perseverance and patient love.  It is an integral moment in our pilgrimage to glory.

I encourage you not to wait for COVID-19 to be over, but to live each present moment, filling it to the brim with love. However, we can do that only if we ask the Lord to fill us to the brim with his daily forgiveness and patient love. Jesus came to fill up our sufferings with his presence, so that we could live each moment, filling it to the brim with love.

Mercy in Solidarity

Mercy in Solidarity

What went through Peter’s mind when Christ appeared in the upper room? (Jn. 20:19-31) After Jesus was arrested, he swore up and down that he never knew the man. So when the Risen Lord appeared in their midst, he must have shrunk into the back corner hiding behind the others with shame.

But Jesus said nothing about Peter’s denial or the others abandoning him. Instead he expressed mercy. Twice he said, “Peace be with you.” He reassured them that their relationship is rock solid. Peter must have been flooded with feelings of forgiveness and friendship – gratuitous unconditional forgiveness and steadfast undying friendship.

Thomas also was stunned by Jesus’ gentle and patient friendship. I imagine Jesus being firm yet patient, as he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” (Jn. 20:27) The disciples were not only convinced that Jesus was risen; they were convinced that he would always be with them. Nothing could separate them from Christ, neither denial nor doubt nor anything else. Their relationship was eternal.

The disciples had an unbreakable bond with Christ, and this transformed their relationship as disciples.  His faithful love bonded them together. They became a band of brothers and sisters because Jesus was such a faithful Brother to them. That dual bond of fellowship is described in the First Letter of John who wrote, “What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3) A more literal translation is this: “. . . so that you too may have communion with us; for our communion is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”

Through the grace of Baptism, we were granted communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  St. Paul says that we live “in Christ.”  St. John tells us that our communion as Christians is like our communion with God.

This is exactly what we hear in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles today. “[The disciples] devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)  This is one of the first descriptions of the early Christian community. An essential aspect of it was the communal life. (This is the same Greek word translated as ‘fellowship’ in the passage above.)

The early Christians expressed their unity in a practical way, “They would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” (Acts 2:44)  They generously cared for the needy; their communion reflected God’s merciful communion with them. Like Peter and Thomas, the first Christians were inspired to imitate Jesus’ mercy.

As we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, we are refreshed with the Lord’s mercy, and we are sent to bring his mercy to others. As we deal with the pandemic, the Lord’s mercy must be lived in communion. As a Church we have made decisions based on this communion, that is, based on solidarity.  Our communion with one another ought to reflect our communion with God and his mercy toward us.

One way of being merciful is by doing everything we can to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 to any person. That is why we are not gathering for Mass or other events. Some people continue to contact me and request that we change our directives; they feel that people are unjustly deprived of the sacraments. So I want to describe all of the people we are thinking about with solidarity.

First, the elderly and those with compromised health conditions are especially vulnerable.  Second, we are thinking of healthcare workers. If we act irresponsibly and cause more people to be infected, doctors and nurses will be at greater risk. Third, almost half of our priests are either over 60 or have health conditions putting them at high risk. But we’re not just thinking of the priests.  It takes up to eight years to train a new priest, so if a few priests die of COVID-19, then some parishes may not have Mass or other sacraments for many years. Thus, we are thinking of how our decisions will affect Catholics for the next ten years, or longer. We are being in solidarity with those not yet born.

Furthermore, we must act for the good of all people, not just Catholics. Canon law states that a bishop is sent to serve all people within the geographical area of the diocese, not only Catholics. Why?  Because God has concern for all people. Our mission is to be God’s hands and feet in this world. Our solidarity must encompass all our neighbors. Thus, solidarity calls us to be united with civic leaders as they seek to serve the common good. Together, we are working for the good of all people.

One person wrote to me arguing that salvation of souls no longer seems to be a priority. Actually, salvation of souls is not merely spiritual. We do not merely believe that our souls will go to heaven, but that we will be raised body and soul.  Jesus came to redeem the whole person.  Thus, the final parable in Matthew is about feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, welcoming strangers, and visiting prisoners because salvation includes caring for the entire person – physical, spiritual, psychological, etc. So my outlook keeps in mind the salvation of souls, here and hereafter.

In our policies, our team seeks to balance the salvation of souls, the grace of the sacraments, solidarity, mercy and more.  For a short time, the sacraments are being offered primarily to the critically ill and the dying. Our priests are going into the nursing homes and hospitals to bring them Holy Communion, Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick. We all know how important it is that they would not bring COVID-19 into those institutions. This is another good reason for extra precautions regarding the interaction of priests with the public.

Finally, when the Governor makes decisions he has a purview of the entire state.  He is aware of many areas of concern unknown to an individual citizen.  The same is true for pastors and bishops; our purview is comprehensive.  We keep in mind everyone’s needs and the greater good of the Church.  On the COVID-19 Response Team, we have four pastors who have dedicated their lives to ministry, and they are grappling with the breadth of issues at stake – pastoral, medical, theological, psychological, and more. The outlook of our team is enriched by two medical doctors and five lay leaders. In contrast, most (or all?) of the people who are complaining about the current directives have a much smaller purview.

As your brother and bishop, I am seeking to do what is best for all concerned, even when it is unpopular. My actions will be far from perfect.  Nevertheless, I pray daily about all of this. In other words, I keep nurturing my communion with God so that I might serve the communion of the common good.

As we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, remember two things.  First recall God’s faithful mercy. The Risen Lord is with you; he has breathed his Spirit into you. No matter what, he will always be with you. God is in communion with you.

Second, strive for communion with one another, like God is in communion with us.  Imitate the Lord’s mercy. How can you show mercy and solidarity to others? Jesus sends us to bring his mercy to others. He says to us, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” (Jn. 20:21)

Singing Together via mp3

Singing Together via mp3

Here is a story from CNS that will lift your spirits. (To hear the final product, go to this link: Psalm 22 ). It is beautiful.

Music teacher keeps students tuned in via weekly community psalm sing

By Mark Pattison 
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Heidi Vass, music director at La Reina High School and Middle School in Thousand Oaks, California, was searching for a way to keep her students singing even though distance learning kept them from singing together.

Lo and behold, the La Reina Community Psalm Sing.

Each week, Vass sends her students the music, as well as a “scratch track” — a rough recording of her accompanying herself on the piano while she takes on the role of cantor — to the responsorial psalm for the upcoming Sunday as found in OCP Publications’ annual “Respond & Acclaim” psalm collection.

Students record their voices on an mp3 file and send it back to Vass. Some of the students sing the melody, while others take a different voice part as the arrangements have lines for alto, tenor and bass.

It’s then Vass’ job to take 15 to 30 mp3s and synchronize them. The finished product is then posted on YouTube. (For a sample, go to this link: Psalm 22 ).

Musically, Vass felt that hole in her soul almost as soon as it was announced that Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles would not have on-site classes effective March 16. The same held true for archdiocesan parishes; Vass is a cantor at St. Paschal Baylon Parish, also in Thousand Oaks.

“I knew immediately I was going to miss singing with my congregation and with my students,” she told Catholic News Service, adding she started thinking, “How do I bring my community together, especially with the situation we have?”

Vass said, “I’m a very observing Catholic, and the idea of not marking Holy Week or having anything for Easter or Lent, and not having my community gather, was something that didn’t seem bearable.”

The idea for the Psalm Sing came about fairly quickly, but executing the idea was not as immediate. “It took about a week to figure out how I was going to edit” the mp3 files returned to her, she said.

The Psalm Sing is optional for Vass’ students. And, since her parish uses Respond & Acclaim, she’s invited the parish choir to participate.

“It gives them something to do, first of all, but pulls from the beauty of our own liturgy,” Vass told CNS. “And it changes every week. It was a given programmatic thing that we have in a beautiful liturgy every week.”

While an optional project for students, “some of them will send me tracks with three or four different harmonies. I’m glad of that, I’m grateful for that,” Vass said.

“The beauty of it is you get the chant in the verses. I’m chanting the verses. I miss cantoring and singing with the congregation. It gives me an opportunity to do the chants in the verses and then bring everybody in for the chorus.”

The effect so far has been “completely random. It’s never been the same students every week,” Vass said. “Every once in a while I’ll get an administrator, and their kid will send me a track. … Or some kid will send me a track — and his mother (contributes).”

The results are varied. Vass has had to, er, refrain from editing out every imperfection she hears — including the squeak from a pedal on her piano.

“Liturgical singing is about community and coming tougher. When you have those flaws in tempos and someone’s a little ‘pitchy’” — Vass’ way of saying slightly off-key — “it sounds more like a congregation. … We’re not mixing it hard. We’re literally mixing it together. We’re not trying to make it something that it isn’t.”

There’s no telling when the COVID-19 lockdowns will ease, but given the liturgical cycle, “I have plenty of material,” Vass said. “If we’re in for coronavirus for the next three years, I’m in good shape.”

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