Reflection: Can you answer the question?

27 August 2017: Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

questionOne 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?”[1] 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”[2], 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?

References:

  • [1] Matthew 16.15
  • [2] Collect Prayer, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Purpose of Beauty and the Great American Eclipse

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.

eclipse 1

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.

eclipse 2.jpg

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?

Lent 2017: The Winding Staircase of Lent

Winged_vic_mxc

Angel of Independence, by Carlosr chill via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In Mexico City, there is a monument known as the Ángel de Independencia, or the Angel of Independence, which sits aloft a tall spire, arm outreached to the square below, bearing a shining crown of victory, golden wings pointing toward the sky, all commemorating the independence of Mexico. Inside the monument, there is a winding staircase and to get to the top, you must utilize this staircase, which is small, dark, and seems almost endless. When you get to the top, however, you are greeted by a magnificent view of one of the centers of commerce and tourism in Mexico City, the Plaza Reforma and you realize that despite the work, sweat, and apprehension, the trip up the stairs was well worth the effort. This, my friends, is Lent.

Lent is hard work, but it is worth the effort. During these 40 days, we journey with Jesus Christ through the desert, and learn that “one does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Among our daily concerns and activities, we remember through the journey of Lent that everything we do and say must be focused on God, for from God we receive all our blessings and our very lives. In Lent, we seek to pray, fast, and give in order to reorient ourselves towards God and His Word.

Our Lenten sacrifices and journey would carry no meaning if we did not remember the reason for it all: the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. “The gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ” renews us and justifies us, and it is this sacrifice and gift of Jesus that gives Lent its fullest meaning. By journeying with Him in the desert for these forty days, we are led with Him to the Cross on Good Friday. From the Cross, we are led to His tomb, and from His tomb, we are led to the moment where our faith is ratified. Through the long dark staircase of Lent, which we climb together with Jesus Christ, we will come out into the glorious light of Easter morning. Let’s make the trip worth our effort, remembering that He is at the center of it all.

For Reflection:

In what way, perhaps outside the “usual” Lenten sacrifices, can I pray, fast, or give, to make this Lent meaningful for myself and others?

A version of the preceding originally appeared in our parish bulletin.

Finding Joy in the Heavens

In a recent post, Br. Guy Consolmagno pondered two different questions,”Why does science need God?” and “Why do we need science?”

1280px-castel_gandolfo_specola_vaticana_1_by_stefano_bolognini

One of the telescopes owned by the Vatican Observatory, this one located at Castel Gondolfo – another main telescope is also located in Arizona. By Stefano Bolognini (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

We have to ask ourselves, what’s the point? Why do I spend late nights gazing at the heavens, studying stars, planets, and nebulae? Over the years, my love of astronomy has developed out of a search for understanding and discovery, the desire to know the universe on a deeper level. As I’ve explored topics such as cosmology and theoretical physics on an amateur level, while preparing on a professional (or rather, in a more appropriate term, vocational) level, for the priesthood.

Ultimately, both pursuits are the result of a deeper need to know, to learn, and to come closer to truth, albeit from different perspectives. When I do come closer, at the same time discovering just how much further I really have to go, I also discover something more, something unexpected, and something that Br. Guy discovers in his search as well: joy. The search for truth, both from a scientific and spiritual standpoint both lead to joy: we need science to better understand our physical world, and religion helps us to move ever deeper, discovering the foundation of the beauty of our universe.

As Br. Guy states it, “This is not a sort of pantheism. God is not the same thing as the laws of nature. But everything that makes science worth doing, desirable to do, everything that gets us out of bed in the morning to do it, is a pointer toward God.”

In my own journey, the scientific has led to the religious, and the religious has led me to a greater desire to study the natural world: the more I study science, the greater the awe increases in my heart, and I realize how God the Father has created a universe beyond words and understanding, drawing me into an ever deeper desire to study said universe. Indeed, my continued study of science is what led me to religion, and Catholicism, in the first place, helping me to realize not only the necessity of a Creator behind our magnificent universe, but also the necessity of a Savior, and the faithful presence the Spirit in our lives.

You can read the rest of his article over at the Vatican Observatory Foundation blog.

Friday night fun: a comet, an eclipse, and a full moon

Tonight, Friday February 10th, promises to give us quite a show in terms of astronomical phenomena. While it may mean a late night for observers, hopefully you’ll be able to sleep in a bit on Saturday morning. A rundown of tonight’s show in the night sky:

Full moon: Tonight you will see the full “snow” moon, which is a fairly accurate name, considering the time of year.

c4ualkrwqayqnhs

An example of what you will see – from EarthSky Twitter Feed

Penumbral lunar eclipse: If you’re in the right spot at the right time, you may see that something seems a bit “off” about the moon tonight, and you’d be right: for a period of about four hours, the full moon will be just slightly passing through Earth’s shadow. The greatest eclipse will occur at 7:44 EST or 4:44 PST. That means for those of us on the West Coast, such as yours truly, it may be difficult to notice any change at all, both due to the amount of light in the sky and the fact that we are near the edge of the eclipse itself.

045p_20110929_mj

Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková

Comet 45P: In the early hours of morning, just prior to  dawn, you will see Comet 45P/ Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova (say that three times fast) streaking through the constellation Hercules. Better take a pair of binoculars for this one – at magnitude +6.5, it will be difficult to see with the naked eye unless you are in an extremely rural area. Start with the handle of the Big Dipper and continue over to the constellation Bootes and green hue of the comet should be visible. Recent evidence suggests, however, that it no longer has a tail, due to a likely close approach to the sun, burning off much of the comet’s ice.

So make some hot chocolate, bundle up, and enjoy a night of looking up at the heavens! Then sleep in tomorrow morning.

Pax.

H/T to Smithsonian Mag, EarthSky, and Sky and Telescope

Let’s go searching for Geminids!

Tonight, December 13, we are in for a special treat from one of the best meteor showers throughout the year: the Geminids!

Well, sort of.

First, the good news:

The Geminids will be visible all throughout the night sky, seeming to originate from the constellation Gemini. This shower is also one of the most spectacular, both due to the number and the fact that it occurs during the cold months, when skies tend to be clearer and more favorable (with the exception noted under “bad news” below) to viewing.

geminidmeteorshower2012_jeffdai950-1

The Geminids in 2012 – via NASA

Now the bad news:

This is where the exception, or rather exceptions, I mentioned above come in. First, we have a full moon tonight. This one is also a so-called “supermoon”, when the Moon is not only full, but at it’s closest approach to Earth, which means it will be a bit brighter than normal. That means it will be a bit more difficult to see meteors tonight.

Also, if you are in the United States, you’ll be dealing with this:

screenshot-2016-12-13-16-55-59

Current cloud cover in the US – via Intellicast

Yes, much of the U.S is experiencing at least some cloud cover at the moment, which will not make viewing any easier. Trip to Mexico City, anyone?

A few quick viewing tips:

  • The best viewing time is around 2AM, when their apparent point of origin will be highest in the ski. That said, the show should be good all night long.
  • Dress warmly and bring some coffee, tea, or other hot drink of your choice.
  • Allow your eyes to adjust for a full 20 minutes
  • If you can’t catch them tonight, you should still see a few over the next few nights, as we will be in the Geminid’s path for a few more days.

So get out there, brave the elements, have a good look at that beautiful supermoon, and hope to catch a shooting star or two!

Happy hunting!

Pax.

H/T to NASA, always an excellent source of information.

Reflection: Christmas is here! Oh wait…

 

First Sunday of Advent – 27 November 2016

tired-of-christmas2

Are you ready? Or maybe you’re already done… Why not take a step back and breathe… And pray. Image Credit: Agape COC

We have officially entered the “Christmas Season”, full of gift buying, food preparation, and celebration. These next four weeks can be some of the busiest of the year, filled with family visits, last minute details, and all manner of hustle and bustle. This can be a time of great happiness, but at the same time, it can also be a time of great stress. The remedy? Remembering that we aren’t really in the “Christmas Season” at all; rather, we are in the “Advent Season”, a time of quiet prayer and reflection as we await the coming of the Lord.

Each Sunday of Advent has a specific “theme” that is reflected in that day’s readings and Mass prayers: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Reflecting on each of these themes, especially through our participation in the Sunday liturgies, we are called to “climb the Lord’s mountain…that He may instruct us in His ways, and we may walk in His paths” (Is. 2:3). The lessons of Advent teach us that even amidst our busy lives, we must keep our focus always on the Lord, so that we may “go up to the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122) with hearts open to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Friends, this Advent let us cultivate an attitude of prayer and reflection, even amidst our hectic schedules and long to-do lists. “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is. 2:5) and use this time not only for preparing for the coming holidays, but preparing our hearts and souls to be more fervent followers of the humble child who will be born in the manager in just a few weeks time, for “so too, you must also be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt. 24:44).

For reflection:

  • How can I include just 15 more minutes of prayer in my life each day?
  • How can I better witness to the truth and love of the Gospel through my busy schedule of the holiday season?

Reflection: Beacons of Hope

gondor-beacons2

Through the month of November, we remember those who have gone before us: those whom we commemorate as saints in heaven, as well as all those who have passed in our own lives, praying for them and remembering that they pray for us as well. The month of November can, at times, be a bit somber or bittersweet, but this is also a time of hope. While we remember those who have gone before us, we are reminded that this life is not the end. “With the hope that God gives”, we know that this life is meaningful and yet fleeting all at once. Moving our “hearts to the love of God” we experience “the endurance of Christ.” In the memory of those of have gone before, us we have the reminder of God’s love and presence in our lives today, yet also a reminder of the reality of the life that is to come.

As we move closer to the end of the liturgical year, approaching Advent, we see that God indeed “is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” As our Savior and King, He gives us eternal hope and peace, if we but trust in the mercy and love of Christ. Yes, November can be bittersweet, but it serves as a reminder to always keep our focus on the things that really matter, and not on the distractions and pitfalls of the world. Let us then pray for our loved ones as we embrace this hope in eternal life, and become beacons of hope for all those around us as visible signs that “the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.”

For reflection: How can I be a sign of hope to others? Do I live my faith in an intentional but humble way, such as praying grace in public, or telling people that I will pray for them and following through?

Reflection: Be the Tax Collector

Reflection for October 23, 2016 – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

pharisee and tax collector.jpgIf last week’s readings showed us the importance of prayer, then this week’s readings demonstrate how we should pray: in humility, trusting God. In our society, how often do we see famous personalities exalting some good work they have done? While not everyone is like this of course, we often see celebrities and others praising their own virtues, showing off their good deeds to the world. The same attitude is seen with the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, who shouts aloud his apparent virtues, going so far as to say to the Lord, “I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity!” The Pharisee, like some famous individuals we see in modern times, was saying and doing all the “right things,” but did he have the right intent or disposition? After all, while our external actions carry great weight and consequence, in the end, it is the final disposition of our hearts that God examines.

Should we look to the Pharisee or the Tax Collector as an example of how we should pray? Is the Pharisee an example of the humble attitude we should take before God, when we enter into prayer? No, of course not! Instead, we need to be more like the Tax Collector, who recognized his unworthiness before the Lord, and yet still approached Him, saying, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” This attitude of humility is important to remember as we approach the end of the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis: not only must we spread the message of God’s love and mercy to others, but we must embrace it ourselves. Trusting in divine mercy, turning to God and saying, “Let my soul glory in the Lord,” we can find true peace in our lives.

Question for reflection: What are some ways I can cultivate humility in my prayer life and my interactions with others? An example might be to do a good deed, make a sacrifice, or dedicate a Rosary or Mass to someone or some situation without telling anyone about it.


As part of my pastoral internship, I have been given the responsibility for writing our weekly bulletin reflections. Due to the nature of the medium, they are short, but try to take into account the current Sunday’s readings, most especially the Gospel. I will post these reflections here each weekend; your feedback, whatever it may be, is most welcome as I seek to refine my writing skills and ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words! You can read these and other types of reflections based on the readings at Mass by going here. Pax.

Reflection: Pray without ceasing

As part of my pastoral internship, I have been given the responsibility for writing our weekly bulletin reflections. Due to the nature of the medium, they are short, but try to take into account the current Sunday’s readings, most especially the Gospel. I will post these reflections here each weekend; your feedback, whatever it may be, is most welcome as I seek to refine my writing skills and ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words! More on the pastoral internship itself in a later post. Pax.


hpbox_personalprayerWhat does it mean to “pray without becoming weary” or perhaps in a more familiar formulation, to “pray without ceasing?” I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a pretty tall order! We are bombarded constantly by outside distractions, some of which are even good and necessary. Even so, we are called to make our lives ones of prayer and reliance on God. The psalm reminds us today that “Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” and so we need to constantly turn to Him, being persistent in our faith, whether it is “convenient or inconvenient.” All we have is from God, and so all that we do needs to be directed towards Him.

How do we cultivate this life of unceasing prayer? One early Christian writer suggested this: a person “prays without ceasing who prays with good works and works with a prayerful spirit.” In other words, prayer does not simply consist of going to Mass, saying grace before meals, and other times of structured prayer. While these are good and essential for the Christian life, it also means turning everything we say and do into a prayer itself. We must not only set aside time each day for personal prayer, but make the entire day itself a living prayer. This is possible no matter what one’s vocation, job, or state in life, in good times and bad, in triumphs and challenges, and even in everyday mundane tasks. By offering our words and actions to the Lord, no matter how insignificant, we remain focused on Him, which will inevitably lead to a more balanced, fulfilling life here on Earth as we seek to be with Christ forever in Heaven.

Question for reflection: What are some concrete steps I can take to make my life more prayerful and centered on God?