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.

Aventuras: Regresando a los Estados Unidos (Returning to the United States)

Es cierto que el tiempo mueve muy rápido! En estos días últimos en México, estoy reflejando en los tres meses pasados. Este es un país maravilloso! Voy a extrañar especialmente la gente y mis muchos amigos nuevos! Pero, necesito regresar a mi hogar, California, para que pueda continuar mi camino durante mi año pastoral. (And continue learning how to use the subjunctive case.)

OurLadyofGuadalupeaspaintedbyGodthe

One of my favorite paintings in Mexico – God the Father painting the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe

I have had so many rewarding experiences here in this wonderful country! I cannot begin to express the gratitude that I feel for my hosts, my new friends, for their hospitality, for their patience… While I am certainly looking forward to returning home, I will also miss everyone here very much!

I have learned three main lessons here in Mexico, besides learning Spanish of course:

Expect the unexpected: From scorpions to thuribles, my time in Mexico has presented many new and unexpected experiences, many of which I have not begun to realize the impact that they will have on my life. But this is how God works, no? Many times we have small moments, unexpected encounters, that at the time may seem insignificant, but down the road we realize that they define who we are. Mexico has become a part of who I am, and I look forward to using what I have learned here in my ministry and life.

Being patient with myself: When I arrived here, I thought that by August 29th I would be speaking near-fluent Spanish. It’s not like we spend years learning our native languages, right? Of course, I’ve found that my journey with Spanish will extend over much more than three months, and I am at peace with that. In any new endeavour, we need to have patience with ourselves. Normally, we do not change or learn something new overnight. We see this in how God works in our lives: for the vast majority of us, there is no St. Paul-like conversion, or Augustinian revelation. No, the Lord slowly works with us, walking with us, molding us to be more humble servants. Our job is to be open to this process, whether the process involves learning a new language or learning how to be with the Lord.

A priest is a priest for all people: This is a lesson I already knew I suppose, but it was brought into a new focus for me here in Mexico. I think that it is very easy for us to take this maxim, whether you are a priest or not, and give lip service to it, but to not realize the true depths of what it means. Many of us who work in ministry know this maxim to be true, but do we know it in our hearts and really put it into practice? Here in the center of Mexico I have encountered many different people: cardinals, bishops, politicians, businessmen, homeless, former prostitutes, the terminally ill, students, teachers, craftsmen, unemployed, ministers, lay people, and everyone in between. For those of us studying to be priests, and for all ministers in the Church, we are called to reach out to all people, even when it makes us uncomfortable. In fact, especially when it makes us uncomfortable, for it is in those moments that we encounter Jesus Christ. When we find ourselves paying only lip service to these words, then we need to take a moment to reflect, wake up, and realize the depth and beauty of all of God’s people. Mexico has helped me to refocus on this as it presented me with many wonderful, challenging, and blessed experiences!

As I find myself saying goodbye to so many people, I also find that they all now hold a special place in my heart. As I mentioned above, Mexico has become part of who I am, a very cherished part. I fully intend on returning one day, and while I do now know when that will be (very likely some time after my, Lord willing, ordination), until then I will continue to keep these people and this country in my heart and prayers. Espero verte pronto!

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!


This will be my final post in the Aventuras series. I hope that you have enjoyed seeing some of the snapshots of my time here in Mexico, during which I learned not only the culture and language, but also experienced things and encountered people that will remain with me for all my days. From here, the blog will return to astronomy, reflections, the Journey series, and sharing a moment here and there from my upcoming pastoral year.

The other posts in this series can be found by viewing this category.

+AMDG+

On the Journey: How have you used your gifts?

Augustine’s Confessions: Book 1, Chapters 17-18

This very day you are ready to rescue from this fearsome abyss any soul that searches for you, any man who says from the depths of his heart, I have eyes only for you; I long Lord, for your presence. -Confessions I.18

We all have gifts. Some of us are writers. Others are singers. Still others are skilled at working with people, while others have an innate ability to solve complex mathematical problems. Some peoples’ gifts reside in the area of interpersonal relations, others are gifted academics, and still others have gifts in their spiritual life and practice. We have all met people with an abundance of gifts, and yet we often overlook our own. We all, however, have our own special unique gifts, given to us by God. How do we use those gifts though?

If I was pressed to give an answer, I would probably consider one of my own gifts being

writing

One of my favorite pastimes – writing. I just wish I had more time to do it (and more opportunities to do it by hand). Own work, copyright 2014.

that of writing. I don’t have any great talent in it, but I enjoy it and it brings contentment, whether I am writing in my own journal, working on an academic paper, or crafting a letter to a close friend. But like most of us who are struggling on this path of holiness, seeking to grow closer to Him, there have certainly been times when I haven’t cherished this gift as I should.

One example comes from my pre-conversion days in high school. I was in the library at lunch with my then-girlfriend and we weren’t doing anything in particular, just hanging out. I then remembered that I had a paper due in English the very next period. I immediately went over to the computer and started typing away. My girlfriend was a bit incredulous I suppose, thinking that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. I then continued on, finishing up the paper just as the bell was ringing. I looked it over once, corrected a couple of things, and prepared to turn it in.

I got an A on the assignment. In fact, it was one of the few I actually turned in – I wasn’t the best student in high school.

My girlfriend was upset and gave me a bad time about the assignment – I basically just popped the paper out right there without really spending time on it.. What’s worse is that I knew I would get an A on it. I don’t even remember what the topic of the paper was, but boy was I arrogant and prideful!

Saint Augustine experiences the same sort of pride in his childhood too: “Let me tell you, my God, how I squandered the brains you gave me on foolish delusions” (I.17). Now granted, the great saint was a much better student than I was, but he still experienced the same issue, an issue that I experienced and that we all experience at one time or another: he was “so much smoke without the fire” (I.17), squandering his gifts, rather than using them to give glory to the Lord.

So what are we to do with these gifts? How do we keep from letting them fall to the wayside, or worse yet, how do we keep from using them for unworthy purposes? After all, too often in our world, we are taught to “get ahead” and “be successful.” This is usually done when we utilize one or another of the gifts God has given us. Why not turn the focus from ourselves and towards God? This doesn’t necessarily mean that every other word out of your mouth has to be religious; it just means that everything we say and do can be oriented toward His glory, whether implicitly or explicitly, so that we do not “waste in dissipation all the wealth” which the Father has given us. This orientation toward the Lord can be as simple as saying a short prayer before undertaking a task,  or as involved as explicitly reflecting on how our actions serve the Lord and serve others. Remember the words of C.S. Lewis: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” So whether your are a singer or a teacher, an administrator or a writer, an astronomer or a florist, a business executive or a stay at home parent, seek out how you can use your gifts to glorify Him.

As Augustine notes in this week’s reading, the Father, the one who gave us these gifts, is there waiting for us, just as the father of the prodigal son waited. All we have to do is turn around and return to Him.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What gifts has God given me whether material, intellectual, relational, or spiritual?
  2. How can I better utilize those gifts to serve Him and those people around me?

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

+JMJ+

On the Journey: Childhood

Augustine’s Confessions I.7-12

“You are the one and only mold in which all things are cast and the perfect form which shapes all things and everything takes its place according to your law.” -Confessions I. 7

One of the most profound experiences that one can have, in my opinion, is holding a newborn child in their arms. The beauty and innocence in the eyes of an infant can reach a person to the very soul, putting him or her in touch with the God who created us all, who at one time formed us in the womb so that we might be held by our own fathers and mothers.

The parent of a toddler running around the house may not be so keen on seeing that innocence, and the parent of a teenager may outright deny it!

We are all born in this wonderful state, but then again, we are also human. We are not born perfect, and we will grow to make mistakes, fall, both proverbially and actually, and by God’s grace, we will get up again.

I remember when I was a young child, probably middle elementary school and I was out playing with some friends. I did not want to come home, only because I wanted to play longer, and ignored the calls of my mother. (And when I say calls, I mean verbally, from the front porch. Well, whistles actually. Cell phones weren’t so common then. Man, I feel old all of a sudden…)

This obviously didn’t end well.

From Wikimedia Commons - Unlimited License

From Wikimedia Commons – Unlimited License

She kept calling, and I kept ignoring, and finally it came time that I had to leave my friend’s house so he could eat dinner. I proceeded out his front door, said goodbye, and waited. And hid behind a rather large bush. And waited some more. I mean, I knew I was in for it, so why not, right? I saw my mom ride by on her bicycle, looking frantically for me. I’m not sure how long it had been; it seemed like hours, but it was probably only 15 or 20 minutes. Eventually, I knew I had to make my presence known, and so I stepped out so she could see me.

That was the first time I experienced what it was like to be grounded.

Lord knows it wouldn’t be the last, and that I have probably given my mother and father a fright or two or ten since then!

But my point is this: even at that young age, we struggle with the right thing to do, what choices we make, and this is where we find Augustine in this week’s reading. He recounts what he must have been like as an infant (whiny) and what he was like during his early school years (a brat who didn’t want to concentrate on school work):

“I was disobedient, not because  I had chosen something better than they [my parents] proposed to me, but simply from the love of games…My eyes shone more and more [with curiosity]…[and I] wanted to see the shows and sport which grown-ups enjoyed.” –Confessions I.10

The Carpenter's Shop, by Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Somehow, I don’t think our Lord ever got in trouble… Painting entitled “The Carpenter’s Shop”, by Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Augustine sought to follow his own desires, seeking what he considered the “wealth of this age” (I.9). But even at this point in life, even though he  had a lot of growing up to do, and many more mistakes to make, he still had an inclination of the presence of God, taught  to him by his mother Monica.  At one point, he even pleads with his mom, appealing to her own devotion, “Give me the baptism of Christ your son, who is my God and my master” (I.11).

I wish I was as eloquent as Augustine at that age!

There is a two fold lesson that we can learn from our own lives and from Augustine in all of this. First, we must grow up. Second, we must remain children. Scripture even supports this: in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ tells his followers, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (18.2-4). In one of the Apostle Paul’s letters, he speaks of “put[ting] away childish things” (1 Cor. 13.11).

Of course there is no contradiction here. In one sense, we must strive to return to the humility of childhood, seeing ourselves how God sees us, trying to better ourselves, get aways from the distractions of the “wealth of this world.” We must seek refuge in Him as the Father that He is, accepting the mercy of His Son, allowing the Spirit to penetrate our hearts. At the same time, this movement of child-like faith and humility will cause us to grow up, to see the world how it truly is, to see the emptiness of worldly wealth and to see how His truth and beauty permeates all things. We discover that we can either allow ourselves to be swept away by that beauty, or turn our backs on it as we would a cold wind.

The Father has cast us in His image; let’s rediscover the mold from which He made us as little children.

For reflection:

How can you become more like a child to grow closer to God?

What things do you need to put away in order to grow closer to God?

Up in two weeks: Confessions I.13-15. Normally I try to post weekly, but I am taking this short hiatus to focus on enjoying vacation and studying for finals. There will be other posts on the blog before then, I am sure, but the next one in this series will be on Dec. 9.

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

Trust, Humility, and Pope Benedict’s Resignation

PopeBenedictXVI

When I woke up this morning, I expected a day of quiet rest. After all, being a school employee, we have almost every holiday known to man off of work, and so we celebrate Lincoln’s birthday with a day of  relaxation, and in my own case, visiting friends as well.

But then I received news of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Granted, my plans for the day aren’t changing, and I don’t envy people like the good Cardinal Dolan who now have the daunting task of electing Papa Ben’s successor (if you don’t see the video below click here):

So while the day itself may not change much for me, all of this certainly has me in a reflective mood. Seven years ago, just a few months after the election of the Holy Father, I was baptized into the Catholic Church. I took Benedict as my baptismal name for two reasons: the famous founder of western monasticism from the early medieval era, and the wonderful priest, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who had just been elected to the See of Peter. Both he and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, had been, and continue to be, a huge influence on my life of faith.

Pope Benedict’s resignation shows great humility and trust in the Lord, just like the rest of his priestly life. The news may be a surprise,  particularly since he is the first pope to resign in over six hundred years, but I believe that it is a good example for the rest of us. Sometimes life can throw unexpected curve-balls (Pope Benedict himself was expecting to have a quiet retirement before being elected to the See of Peter), but so we are called to live in those moments, trusting that the Lord has a plan in it all. All of this is also a lesson in humility: sometimes we must face the Lord, laying down our own will, or the will of others, and look at the greater good, seeking the will of the Lord alone. Sometimes that means difficult and courageous decisions. Through it all, however, grace is always present.

Let us remember to keep Pope Benedict in our prayers over the coming weeks. We must also pray for the cardinals and the unenviable task that now rests before them in electing a successor to this faithful man of God who has served in the Chair of Peter. Finally, let us pray for Pope Benedict’s successor, whoever that may be, that he will approach his new task in prayer, humility, and fidelity to the will of God.

I think that the words from my own Bishop, His Excellency Jaime Soto of Sacramento, say it all so well:

“True to his deep devotion for the church and a humble regard for himself, Pope Benedict, with personal courage and pastoral solicitude, has placed the care of God’s people first. This is a historic transition for the church. As always, we will rely on the wisdom and mercy of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.”

May we all be so humble and faithful to the Lord. Thank you Papa Ben for your witness to Truth! Viva il papa!!

Other resources:

Pax et bonum.