Over this past week, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend time in Pacifica, California. Over three and a half days, I was able to spend some time in prayer, rest, and recreation. Following Easter, it was a welcome break and an opportunity to rejuvenate. This time also gave me the opportunity to reflect a bit on where the Good Lord has brought me over the last couple of years, where I am now, and where He may bring me in the future.
Part of that reflection revolved around my online and social media presence. While social media can serve to maintain some relationships, I tend to look at it with a perspective not so much as maintaining or building relationships in its primary purpose, but more so as a way to convey information. I think we’ve discovered this past year how poorly social media and the internet conveys things like charity, good will, and understanding. Granted, I have developed some wonderful relationships with people I have never met in person through social media, but in the end, I think we need to be very careful about how we use it, what we expect from it, and what we share on it.
All of that in mind, as I reflect on my own social media and internet work and ministry, what would you like to see? Primarily, I am a Diocesan priest and I am called to serve my parish and local community, but much of that local community also extends onto the internet. I’ve tried my hand at short videos, and that has been fun, although over the last couple months it’s been a bit difficult to keep up due parish life starting to return back to (semi)normal. Of course, I have my blog, Facebook, and Instagram (which I use quite infrequently, but I’m open to getting more involved there).
In other words, what would be helpful for you? What might help to stimulate your faith or help you grow as a person? There are many priests, bishops, and lay people who do excellent work on the internet and have millions of followers, but that is not who I want to be or what I want to do (well, I want to do excellent work, but I don’t want the millions of followers). I simply want to provide something that might be helpful to our community here. No idea is outside consideration, and everything is always dependent on my schedule in the parish and in-person, non-electronic ministry. All for God’s glory.
We need more beautiful stuff online and I need to post more often, so let’s bring back the Picture of the Week, shall we?
This week’s image, from NASA, is from 2016. Here we have a composite image of the night side of the Earth, depicting, of course, the Western Hemisphere.
Notice how there are no political boundaries, no borders, and no red states or blue states? Let’s keep that in mind as we approach Nov. 3rd: no matter what our political opinions or beliefs, we are all human and we’re all in this together…
The past few weeks have been exhausting. Our parish is catching up on Confirmation and First Communion Masses, which includes many hours of Confessions, rehearsals, and then of course we have the usual day-to-day happenings of parish life. We’re also wrapping up a major renovation, and the big days of All Souls, All Saints, and our parish feast day are right around the corner. Oh, and something about dealing with a worldwide pandemic, too. So, when I woke up Wednesday morning after not quite enough sleep and saw the various notifications and headlines about a recent documentary in which Pope Francis comments on civil unions, this was the thought that went through my mind:
But alas, that’s not how the world works and so I got up, prayed, got dressed and tackled the day, along with the various notifications, texts, and phone calls from people basically all saying, “The Pope said what now?!”
For a bit of context, let’s look at what is said during the documentary Francesco, a series of interviews and clips over, it appears, many years:
Homosexuals have a right to part of a family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it.
And then he says this, which pretty much caused the Catholic internet to implode:
You can view the video clip here (please note I am not familiar with this Twitter user and I link only for the clip, not necessarily for other things he may or may not say):
Media outlets, both far left and far right, both Catholic and secular, took these statements and ran with them. On the one hand, the Holy Father was lauded for his progressive approach and “taking a step in the right direction.” On the other hand, he was accused of spouting heresy.
Who was stuck in the middle? All the regular Catholics just trying to figure out life and what it all means, so I’d like to spend a few moments addressing them and then address an issue which I think many people are missing in all this whole craziness.
First, it has come to light that this video was highly edited and quite possibly is taking the Holy Father’s words out of context. Of course, the only way to address this issue is to see the documentary in full, which we will be able to see in due time. Also, we need to look at these comments in the light of Pope Francis’ earlier statements on same-sex unions and homosexuality. Rather than parse all of these comments here, a brother priest has already done so on his blog, and so I recommend checking out Fr. Matthew P. Schneider’s comments on the situation. You can read his full (long) post on his site.
In short: the Holy Father has consistently stated that marriage is between one man and one woman and that legal civil unions are not to be considered as simply a different “type” of marriage, nor should they be placed on par with the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Second, there is some question as to the translation of Pope Francis’ Spanish usage. Some say that “convivencia” means civil union and others say it means civil coexistence, such as when a family gathers for dinner, as one brother priest related it. To me, it seems that the word likely can mean both, but the only way to discover its meaning in this context is to, again, see the documentary or better yet, see the unedited clips of the interview! The Holy See, unfortunately, has not responded directly to these comments yet.
My own Bishop, the Most Reverend Jaime Soto of the Diocese of Sacramento, has this to say:
Regarding statements of the Holy Father in a recently released documentary, official Church teaching is not changed by a recorded conversation with the Holy Father.
The teachings of the Catholic Church regarding traditional marriage continue because it reflects the reality about the unique character of the union of a man and a woman.
The Catholic Church’s teaching regarding the respect and care for those with same sex attractions also continues because in God’s eyes we are all His children.
I believe Pope Francis is trying to do just this, namely teach and live truth in love. Since this is a documentary and not an official magisterial teaching, there is also room for civil discourse and even disagreement, but certainly no room for disrespecting the Holy Father in ways I have seen done in the last day nor is there room for twisting his words into something they are not.
Many have opined, and I believe this to be the case, that if the Holy Father is giving support to legal civil unions, it is out of a pastoral response and need to eliminate unjust discrimination and hatred directed at homosexual individuals. Let me be clear on this: eliminating discrimination and hatred is not a bad thing. Even then, it is not yet clear that the Holy Father is endorsing civil unions as we might be understanding them and it is very clear that in the past, he has maintained traditional marriage between one man and one woman.
In other words, we all need to calm down and take a breath!
Now before I wrap up, I want to address something that has become all too painfully evident through this whole debacle:
WE NEED TO STOP JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS! Over the past 24 hours, I have seen individuals gleefully proclaim that the Holy Father endorses same-sex marriage. I have seen still others say that he is evil and spouting heresy. Both groups have said that he is changing, or trying to change Church teaching.
In fact, these are things that I heard within just the first few hours of this news breaking. All of these are wrong, and I would strongly encourage anyone who holds either of these extreme views to take some serious time for introspection and to possibly avail yourself of the Sacrament of Confession. A pope cannot change Church teaching with an interview, and no one knows that better than the Pope himself – let’s say we give him the benefit of the doubt, huh?
We have become beholden to the 24-hour never-ending news cycle and we allow media and pundits to dictate our actions and reactions. Even those who say they don’t rely on extremely slanted sources may find that the sources they do follow are, in fact, the slanted motive-driven sources they profess to avoid, simply on the opposite end of the spectrum that they disavow.
We need to slow down, take a deep breath, and wait for things to develop. Is the Holy Father always clear? Perhaps not – he is not the same man as Pope St. John Paul II or Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. His predecessors had different strengths, weaknesses and gifts. When did we become so quick to judge, to ignore our Gospel teaching? Would clarification be welcome? Most certainly, but I believe we do a significant disservice to the Holy Father and to the Faith by jumping to the extreme conclusions that I have seen on some sites, ranging from “Pope Francis will accept gay marriage!” to “Pope Francis is a heretic!” Both of those kinds of thinking are two sides of the same coin – namely, the coin of division, a coin that the devil much prefers to deal in – and we need to overcome that division and have good, level-headed discussion.
The world moves lightning fast. We need to remember that the Church, in all her glory, does not. Let’s slow down a little bit and allow God’s grace and truth to work, rather than jumping to conclusions. Most of all, let us focus on our own salvation, because that’s where the real work needs to be done.
With Kanye West’s recent appearance at Joel Osteen’s megachurch, I think it’s important to recall these words from last Sunday’s readings:
“See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them!” (Luke 21:8)
To see Kanye West of all people speak about Jesus Christ and release a critically-acclaimed album called Jesus is King is truly a sight to behold. I sincerely pray that he may grow closer to Jesus Christ and come to know His grace and mercy like never before in his life. God can and does do great work through people like Kanye, and if people are led to a deeper knowledge of Jesus because of Kanye, then wonderful!
That said, we need to be careful. We need to be careful because Joel Osteen, and now perhaps Kanye, preach a form of the Gospel that is dangerous. Yes, Sacred Scripture, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, shows that those who follow Jesus Christ will be prosperous beyond their wildest dreams. This prosperity, however, should not be expected in Earthly terms. Rather, this will be heavenly prosperity. Our reward will be great in heaven. Life on Earth, however, will be, well, life. Up, down, rich, poor, and everywhere in between is simply a part of this thing we do here on Earth.
But Father! What about those people who DO have Earthly prosperity when they follow Christ! Surely that’s proof, right?!
Wrong – there is nothing bad with Earthly prosperity, but it should be seen as a blessing, not some sort of confirmation of God’s favor. God is not a gumball machine where you stick in a coin and get something in return. Our Lord is a judge: a judge of justice and a judge of mercy. He does not approach us on our terms or because of anything we do – He approaches us because He loves us and wants to lift us up to Him so that we might have eternal life. Let’s take a look at what Bishop Barron has to say about the prosperity Gospel:
“Kanye West and Joel Osteen are a match made in market-driven heaven. Both have baptized their commercial notoriety and their financial gains in Jesus’ name. The communion table has become a merch table.”
Many will come in His name indeed… But there is only one King.
Have you made time for God in your schedule lately? Yes, of course, we all know when we need to be at Sunday Mass, but do you carve time out for Him in your daily schedule? Is your relationship with God a priority in your life?
Ah, the good ‘ol days of seminary…
Recently in a newspaper article entitled, “The Trivial Tasks that Haunt Our To-Do Lists”, author Emma Brockes writes about how all of these little tasks pile up on our to-do lists and can slow us down and even grind us to a halt to the point that we don’t get them done. In Emma’s case, it was a broken vacuum cleaner that sat in her home for a few weeks. Recently, I was pushed to look at my own “to-do” list after making a comment to our seminarian that I had 25 tasks left to do in the week and yet later in the day, I postponed (in other words, procrastinated) on several of them. We all have long to-do lists and packed schedules and sometimes I wonder if we couldn’t thin them out a bit in order to place God on our calendar, in order to make time for Him because, honestly, He is a lot more important than some of the items that we absent-mindedly place on our to-do lists.
The Sunday readings during November have an eternal focus and here I am talking about mundane things like to-do lists and calendars but if we do not carve out time for God now, here in the present moment, how can we hope to have the time to spend with Him in eternity? One day the Lord will come: sooner than we think, “the sun of justice with [His] healing rays” will come to renew the world, even though He will start as a small child in a far off manger. “The Lord comes to rule the Earth with justice” and if we are not ready for Him, if we don’t make time for Him now, how can we hope to recognize Him when He does come?
This daily preparation, this daily striving to build a relationship with God, a relationship that He so desperately wants with us, is the key to recognizing the presence of God in our lives. By placing God first in our lives, we will recognize His presence, the prompting of His Holy Spirit in even the smallest moments. In our world today, there are all kinds of strange teachings that surround us. Many even come in the name of Jesus, saying, “I am he” but they are false prophets. There are people and even organizations that set themselves up as saviors for us all, but we must never be fooled. Politicians, celebrities, gurus, and all sorts of people will set themselves up as “the next best thing.” Instead of following them, we need to follow Jesus Christ and take to heart the exhortation of Saint Paul, working quietly, earning our keep, and building a relationship with God.
How do we build that relationship? Again, we go back to the need to carve out time for God in our daily lives, to build a true and lasting relationship with Jesus Christ. Is it easy? No, certainly not: people will hate us because of the name of Christ, but not a hair on our heads will be harmed if we only stand fast for the truth, justice, and mercy of our Lord. The only way to recognize where we must go, to discover God in our lives, is to build a relationship with Him in the first place, and the only way to do THAT my friends is to make time for Him each and every day.
“The days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down,” when all of this that we have here will be taken away and we will be left with nothing but a face to face encounter with God. When that time comes, what will we say? Will we have to explain how we had more important things to do than to spend time with Him? Or will we take peace and consolation in the fact that in our life’s highs and lows, we turned to Him, we made time for Him, and we sought Him out?
Many of us here are in the midst of midterms or even starting to look toward finals. For my own part, I have an unfinished thesis hanging over me that beckons to be completed. We have so much to worry about and so much to do, but in the big scheme of things, isn’t God more important? Yes, we have many things in our lives that demand our time, talent, and treasure, but God should take pride of place among it all. I am not saying that we should shirk our responsibilities, but imagine if we came face to face with God and said, “Oh Lord, I don’t have time this week – next week I will stop and spend some time with you.” My friends, the time and place is now. Here in this moment, we are about to be face to face with God in the Eucharist. In our daily lives, surely, we all have time, talent, or treasure, myself included, that we can dedicate to Him. Let’s make our Blessed Lord more important than that big exam, that soccer game, or our next purchase at the Amazon and place Him first in our lives. If we put him first, everything else will fall into place.
“But Father!” I can hear you saying, “I have too much to do or too much to worry about!” Our Lord answers that by saying, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” We worry too much about needless things, forgetting that our Lord tells us, “I myself shall give you wisdom in speaking.” Elsewhere in Scripture, He says, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”
Let us set aside our worries and trust in God’s providence. Yes, we all have many important things to worry about in our lives, but now, as we come face to face with God in the Blessed Sacrament, let us worry about the only thing that matters: eternal life with God. Let’s re-examine our to-do lists and calendars and make time for Him, even making Him the first priority in our lives because we will find that, in the end, eternity is a lot more important than that broken vacuum cleaner.
Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity, so Qoheleth! We are called to always “seek what is above” and to keep our focus on things that really matter: namely, God and what comes after our mortal journey here on Earth. Yet, I think that we can have a lot of “clutter” in our lives that can keep our focus from being where it needs to be.
Decluttering definitely seems to be “in vogue” at the moment. There is no shortage of methods, books, and even T.V. shows that purport to reorganize your life and get rid of unnecessary attachments. One such method, created by the popular Marie Kondo from Japan, focuses on keeping only those items that “spark joy” in our lives. To some extent, this is true: we should closely examine those things that we have in our lives and take an honest inventory if they bring joy and happiness, and this rule of thumb can be applied not just to material things but to habits, relationships, and any number of different types of “clutter” we might have in our lives.
Our Lord, as always, challenges us to move deeper than to simply find those things that make us feel good. Our Lord challenges us to stay focused solely on what is above, rather than on Earthly attachments, and so we have the parable of the rich fool who simply could not let go of his earthly wealth.
Perhaps we have all stood in the place of the rich fool at one time or another. I certainly know I have – packing my room from the seminary was evidence enough that I was holding on to too many things! What does the rich fool do when he runs out of space? Somewhat comically, he decides to tear everything down and build a bigger barn, a bigger storehouse for all his things: “This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”
Now at first glance, it might seem that the rich fool does the right thing: after all, he is simply being responsible with his possessions, right? In fact, he even makes a resolution to enjoy his time, to rest, but being who he is, this is an empty promise. He will not rest, eat, drink, and be merry: eventually, his possessions will continue to grow, and he will run out of space again. He will have to rebuild again, and the cycle will continue. How often have we been stuck in similar cycles? Jesus teaches us, however, to separate ourselves from some of these attachments, to not be like the rich fool. If we follow the way of Jesus Christ, “Our detachment from worldly goods should mean we have no anxiety about our basic” needs (Didache Bible commentary). In order to live the life we are called to live as disciples of Christ, we must rid ourselves of these unnecessary things and seek things above.
Let’s go back to the modern “decluttering” method mentioned above. We now see that simply asking ourselves whether or not something gives us joy is inadequate. We must respond to the call of Christ to move deeper into our faith. We must ask ourselves whether or not something keeps us from seeking things that are above. We must ask ourselves if whatever it is we are contemplating ridding from our lives gives glory to God. That is the test we are looking for, the question we must ask ourselves: “Does this give glory to God?” If Jesus called me home right this moment, would I hang my head in shame over this thing or would I be joyful that our Lord could see what I have done with this particular part of my life?
Remember that we’re not talking simply about material things. We are talking about applying this rule of thumb, “Does this give glory to God?” to everything in our lives. Let’s look at a few examples: does spending time with a particular person give glory to God in what we say and do together? Will a desired trip to the coast give glory to God? Does buying a new car give glory to God? If you notice, all of these questions can have a yes or a no answer: does the friendship exist to support and encourage each other, or is it spent in gossip and using the other person for gain? Does the trip to the coast consist of spending quality time with family or enjoying God’s creation, or does it consist solely in gorging our mouths and emptying our pocketbooks? Does the new car represent a true need to support myself and family, or is it something that I am buying just so I can keep up with my next-door neighbor?
Glory to God in the highest…
And what is the most profound way that we can give glory to God? Of course in the Eucharist. There is nothing else on Earth so important than being in the presence of God Himself. When we come together in the Eucharist, we more fully become who we are created to be as sons and daughters of God. Our Lord tells us, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” In the Word of God in Scripture and the Word made present in the Eucharist we hear His voice – what more could we ask for than to give glory to God in what we do in the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist?
In some sense, the rich fool was correct: I believe we are to “eat, drink, and be merry,” – God wants us to be happy, healthy, and holy, but the fool simply did not live out his promise to himself. The key, my friends, is to take what we have, and in the words of Saint Paul, “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Our time on Earth is limited and we cannot take any of our riches with us, yet we are still called to be a joyful people. Perhaps it would be good to remember these words from Hilaire Belloc: “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, / There’s always laughter and good red wine. / At least I’ve always found it so. / Benedicamus Domino!” Live life to the fullest, stay focused on things above, and if today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts!
Note: Below you will find the homily I delivered for this Sunday, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. My hope is to post homilies here regularly, in slightly edited form since they don’t always translate well from spoken word to the screen.
Do miracles happen? Sometimes, I think we’ve lost a sense of the miraculous, so we don’t know how to answer this question. Our society at large has certainly lost a sense of the miraculous. After all, science and reason can explain everything, right? For many people there is no room left for wonder and, I would argue, no room left for grace, because we have such a difficult time believing in true miracles. And yet, we still hunger for miracles every single day of our lives. Our culture denies the possibility of miracles found in scripture, found in our faith, and then people turn to other places and other practices looking for, expecting, miracles.
Case in point, I was in San Diego these past few days for a friend’s ordination to the priesthood and one evening, as I visited a local street market, I noticed all sorts of vendors and artisans. It was a great experience, but I also noticed many of these vendors and some of the shops promoting things like crystals, reiki, tarot, and other New Age practices. Many of these booths and shops were filled with people, looking for miracles. I wondered if I were to walk up to them and offer them the greatest miracle of all, the body and blood of our Lord, if they would accept it? I think most of us know the answer to that question, since, in our society, Christian belief has become somewhat passé, if not outright opposed, in many places.
People look for miracles all around them, but we miss the ones right in front of our faces, or we see them and we say, “Yeah, OK, that’s not really a miracle.” For example, we have today’s Gospel. With five loaves and two fish, Jesus feeds five thousand people. In fact, there are even leftovers: we read that “they all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.” Here we have a true miracle, a working of God’s grace, but from many places, you will hear that it didn’t happen, that Jesus was simply encouraging people to share what they already had. In this miracle of the feeding of the five thousand from just a few loaves and fishes, Christ doesn’t encourage people to share; he literally multiplies what he has many times over, showing the people the power of God’s grace actively working in their lives, foreshadowing the Eucharist that is to come. Yes, sharing, compassion, and generosity are good things, holy things that we need to integrate into our lives, but that is not the lesson of today’s Gospel, nor is it the lesson of today’s feast day, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.
The lesson we find in today’s scripture and in today’s solemnity is one of trust. Trust in the power of God to do amazing things in our lives, especially when we least expect them. The crowds were hungry and despondent; they didn’t know where their next meal was going to come from. No, this account that we read is a lesson of trust: trust in God’s grace that He will provide, and he does provide for the people, just as He provides for us here with His Body and Blood. This is a lesson in trust that yes, miracles do happen.
Miracles do happen my friends, and we will have another one right here at the altar. We have already prayed today that we may, “revere the sacred mysteries of your Body and Blood that we may always experience in ourselves the fruits of your redemption” and in a short time, we will come face to face with Jesus Christ in his body and blood which will become present here on the altar. Some people say that feeding of the 5000 was symbolic, not a real miracle. It was real, and it wasn’t symbolic. Some people also say that the Eucharist is symbolic, not a real miracle. The Eucharist is real, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ and we, you and I, have the blessed opportunity to experience this miracle first hand, just as the first disciples experienced it at the Last Supper. The world offers many so-called miracles for our lives, but here, we have a true miracle, the Eucharist, which we celebrate today on this feast of Corpus Christi. In this miracle, we are reminded that Jesus is “the living bread that came down from heaven… [and] whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Miracles do happen.
Miracles do happen – it happened when the five thousand were fed, it will happen again here when Christ is made present in the Eucharist. One more miracle that will come to us, if we allow it when we come forward as one Body of Christ and are sent out into the world, is the miracle of transformation. On this feast of Corpus Christi, we venerate the Body and Blood of Christ, but we also need to recognize what this means for us personally. When we receive the Eucharist, Christ enters us and renews us so that we can take that renewal back out into the world. The Eucharist and the graces we receive from it is not something we keep here in the church, nice and tidy, ready to be revisited next Sunday. Instead, we receive the miracle of our Lord and we can become miracle workers out in the world, working as the hands and feet of our Lord Jesus Christ, bringing His message of mercy and redemption to the four corners of the Earth. We become walking miracles of sorts because, without the grace of God, without the Eucharist, without Jesus Christ, none of this would happen and yet, He makes it happen in each one of our lives.
As we prepare to receive this Eucharist, a true miracle and that feeds and nourishes us, just as the 5000 were fed and nourished by Christ, let us pray and consider how God might be working in our own lives, how He might want to use us to be miracle workers in the lives of others. Brothers and sisters, miracles do happen, if we trust in the Father and the action of the Holy Spirit, praying with the words of Melchizedek, that we will be “blessed by God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High”, who has given us a gift beyond all miracles we could possibly imagine: the gift of His Son Jesus Christ.
Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. -John Muir
As the summer draws to a close and I prepare for my final year of seminary, I’m drawn to reflect on this year’s summer assignment, what will most likely, and Lord willing, be my last as a seminarian: Camp Chaplain to our diocesan summer camp.
This past summer, I have learned many things: how to make string rosaries, lanyards, and copperplate jewelry. I’ve learned about new animals and plants in the Sierra Nevada mountains of my dear home, California. I’ve learned how to pack so much into a camper’s backpack for an overnight trip that it would make Mary Poppins jealous. I’ve also learned the importance of keeping bug spray on. All. The. Time.
Many other lessons, immensely more valuable and intangible, came to me this summer. While my assignment as Camp Chaplain brought me to camp to serve, listen, and minister to the staff and campers, I found that they taught about and witnessed to the love and truth of Jesus Christ so much more than I could have offered them. From one person I learned what it means to fully dedicate oneself to ministry, giving your all even when you have nothing left to give. From another person, I learned what true patience and grace look like even in the most difficult of situations. One coworker taught me how to appreciate the smallest quiet moments with God’s creation and helped me to rediscover my love of nature, recognizing the love and beauty of our Lord in it all. Someone else showed me how one can live a truly authentic Catholic life as a young person in a world full of adversity, boldly witnessing to Jesus Christ.
My walking stick had a makeover this summer, courtesy of a new and now dear friend of mine. She replaced the leather hand strap which was lost long ago, added the grip, and adorned it with the feathers. Truly a work of art and a blessing to take on the journey! Now this walking stick will carry even more meaning, for it was given to me by my father and connects me with him and family, and now it connects me to new friends and memories.
This summer I have had the privilege to lead the campers and staff in prayer and to help guide them in their spiritual life here at camp. Each time at exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, my one prayer was that all those present would not see me in my words and actions, but rather Jesus Christ. As I led guided astronomy sessions, my hope was that my campers and their counselors would gain a greater appreciation of the beauty of God’s universe. As we went on meditation hikes, I prayed that through the use of their senses and listening to the scripture passages, those participating would see the beauty of our faith through the sights, sounds, smells, and tactile experiences we encounter in our faith. I also prayed that my own foibles and shortcomings did not get in the way too much and that my mistakes did not impede anyone’s encounter with our Lord.
As a deacon, my time at camp was truly my first experience of having a “flock.” True, I was not pastor and I am not a priest yet, but I was in a way responsible for the spiritual care of the campers and most especially the staff. Through the many conversations, encounters, and even passing moments exchanging knowing glances, I was humbled and honored to take on such a wonderful responsibility, and they, in turn, taught me so much more than I could have ever given them. As the staff and I served together this summer, I was constantly edified by their faith, ingenuity, and perseverance: such as when one counselor got up three times in one night to tend to her kids or when other counselors remained engaged and joyful at 4AM in the morning to bring their campers up a tower to see a sunrise during a thirty-mile trip on the Pacific Crest Trail.
As I prepare for this final year in seminary, I give thanks and praise to our good God who has blessed us in ways known and unknown this summer. I give thanks for the people I have lived and worked with this summer and for the campers I have served. Through our shared experiences, my hope and prayer is that we all have come closer to the Father, that we have come to a more intimate relationship with Christ our Savior, and that the Holy Spirit has greater room to move in our hearts.
Next up: our annual seminarian retreat. Then back to school. God is good. All the time.
27 August 2017: Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
One of the primary questions of our lives, whether we are converts or cradle-Catholics, active in our faith or if we haven’t practiced in a while, remains “Who is Jesus Christ?” Or in the words of Jesus Himself, “Who do you say that I am?” Each and every one of us at some point must answer this question! Who do you say Jesus is? What place does He have in your life? Can you answer that question? I imagine that many of us would say something to the effect of, “He is my savior” or “He is the one who redeemed me by taking up the cross.”
Does the question end here with our verbal answer? Sure, we use words to explain our beliefs, to profess our reliance on God and to exclaim the truth and love of Jesus Christ, but at the risk of sounding trite, do you put your money where your mouth is? No amount of words, no matter how eloquent or well-thought, can make up for a lack of action on our part. Yes, we may answer with words, but we must answer with deeds as well. Peter answered this question by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” but he also went out into the world, imperfect as he was, and lived the Gospel message, sometimes failing, but always turning back to Christ. Christ gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven because Peter responded and believed, allowing the Spirit to lead his words and actions to carry the Gospel to the world.
So is Christ a simple teacher or perhaps a just a mystic? Or is He much more that? Is He someone you turn to just when times get tough? Or does He inform your every action? Do you follow the Son of the living God in everything that you say and do? Let us pray that “our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found”, in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, because one day, whether it is now or later, you will hear the question, “Who do you say that I am?”
How will you answer?
Questions for reflection:
Does my verbal answer to the identity of Christ align with my actions?
How can I better reflect Jesus Christ in my words and actions?
Something strange was happening – the sky darkened and took on an eerie character, almost like twilight but something different altogether. A cool breeze picked up, the temperature noticeably dropping. 10:15 in the morning and stars started to twinkly forth along with objects in our own solar system, the planet Venus clearly visible just above us. The sun, that once constant companion in the sky, never-failing and always life-giving, was losing it’s hold, disappearing behind the transient moon. For a moment, one could almost say that a diamond ring hung in the sky, beckoning for someone to come and grasp it.
Then it happened: totality was upon us.
Total Solar Eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. Photo Credit: NASA
Twilight surrounded us on all sides and night seemed to descend right above us. The glowing ring that was the eclipse stared back as if an eye peered down from the heavens. Through my binoculars, shots of hot plasma sprouted from the surface of the sun, reaching out into space for 100,000 kilometers or more, enough to engulf our small place in space in flames if the Earth were right next to it’s normally life-giving star. White wisps of the sun’s corona danced around and seemed to envelop the moon itself, putting on display a sight that unaided eyes rarely get to see, all at once fleeting and fragile yet demonstrating the power and energy contained within the burning-hot heavenly body. The world was silent, focusing on this strange phenomena which hadn’t been seen in this part of the world for 38 years and would not return for another 28 years. Mesmerized by the sight in the sky, I was moved to prayer, thankful for God’s creation, the beautiful intricacy of His universe, and the blessed opportunity to witness this awe-inspiring event, which for many people, may be the only chance they have in their lives to see it.
Time-lapse of total eclipse over Madras, OR. Photo Credit: NASA
No words can adequately capture the moment of totality during the 2017 Great American Eclipse. No pictures or video can do it justice if you didn’t have a chance to see it in person, although I still highly recommend finding those pictures and watching some of those videos (being wary, of course, of some social media photoshop fakes that are floating around). Viewing a total eclipse is a life-changing event, with the potential to alter one’s view of the world.
The total eclipse is a reminder, however, that no matter what beauty we behold here on Earth, it is all a foretaste of that ultimate beauty, love, and truth for which we strive to be with for eternity in Heaven. While the eclipse was wonderful, it is a reminder that just as it was fleeting, our own lives are fleeting as well, and we must remember that we should be preparing ourselves for something so wondrous, so fantastic, that nothing we see here on Earth, not even a total eclipse, can ever approach the magnificence of residing forever in it’s presence: I am of course talking about that beauty and truth which we will experience in the Beatific Vision. With all of the excitement surrounding an event such as the eclipse, we need to remind ourselves that all of it, no matter how wonderful, should be used to glorify God, who gave us His only Son, and leaves His Spirit with us always, to guide us and draw us closer to Him.
The Great American Eclipse inspired millions to learn and grow, but it’s primary purpose in this writer’s opinion? To serve as an example of the beauty of His creation and remind us that He remains with us always, whether in the celestial heavens or here on our Earthly home. May God be praised in all we do.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his love endures for ever;
who alone has wrought marvelous works, for his love endures for ever; whose wisdom it was made the skies, for his love endures for ever; who fixed the earth firmly on the seas, for his love endures for ever.
It was he who made the great lights, for his love endures for ever; the sun to rule in the day, for his love endures for ever; the moon and the stars in the night, for his love endures for ever.
-From Psalm 136
The next total solar eclipse to hit the United States, although on a massively different trajectory will occur on April 8, 2024. Personally, I wouldn’t mind heading to Argentina in 2019. Anyone want to go?