Saturday, May 27, 2017


We all believe in the resurrection, don't we? But that's only half the story. Jesus rose from the dead and then he returned to the Father...he ascended to heaven.

What is this ascension we celebrate today? Let's see.

In the Creed, we say, I believe in Jesus Christ...he died, and was buried...rose again, ascended into heaven...I believe in the Holy Spirit. These elements all make up one single event.

Jesus died a full, complete and total human death. His human existence as the Jesus people knew terminated...forever. (Just as, when he grew up, his boyhood stage permanently ended.)

Jesus was buried. He was placed in a tomb, by Joseph of Arimathea. Then Jesus went through death and rose again to a new and different kind of human life.

Jesus did not simply cross over to life on the other side, and then return to assure us that he was successful. He was raised to a different, higher form of human existence.

The rising of Jesus meant 'going somewhere', not temporarily, but permanently. The rising of Jesus was not simply a matter of going where no one else had gone - like going to the Moon and back - then making appearances here and there, like a hero.

If we had just a 'resurrection' without an 'ascension' we would miss the fact that Jesus' rising involved 'going somewhere', and that 'somewhere' was the place of his destiny...and now our destiny too...with him. He came to manifest God's love and presence; he ascended to prepare an eternal place for us with him.

After his death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus sent his spirit upon us. He is able to be with us in a new way trough his spirit. We need to look more closely at the 'sending of the spirit' by Jesus. It is critical to our understanding of the ascension.

At the Last Supper in John's gospel, Jesus talks about 'going away' and the disciples are understandably upset. Jesus says, But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go.

Really? How is it better for us that he is gone? Wouldn't we rather have him with he was with Martha, Mary and Lazarus in their home, or with the disciples in the boat, or right here at the supper table?

Jesus answers that question. Immediately after saying it is better that he goes, his next words are: For if I do not go the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. He had said that he would not leave them, nor us, orphans, and he is true to his promise.

By dying, rising, and ascending into a transformed human existence, Jesus can send his spirit upon us and be with us in a new and better way. This is so often overlooked. Jesus died, rose and ascended so that he could be closer to us. And he is closer to us than ever before.

Prior to his death/resurrection/ascension, Jesus was limited by time and space. If he was in Capernaum, that's where he was, not in Cana. If he was in Jerusalem, he was not in Nazareth.

Let's say, for example, that instead of passing through death to the other side and to a new and different kind of life, Jesus died, came back to life on this side of death, and miraculously continued to live among us without aging until the end of time. Wonderful. He would be present in his earthly form for every generation.

In our modern age, he could travel around the world by jet, be on television or the internet. But that presence - his sporadic visits to different areas of the globe, appearances 'from a distance' on TV - could not compare to his intimate and constant presence with each of us through his spirit.

In his spirit Jesus is able to be with us in a fuller, closer presence than that before his death. The ascension is not about absence; it's about presence.

And lest we forget, the ascension of Jesus and the sending of the Spirit is about our mandate to make disciples of all nations. It's not just about gathering to worship him. We have to go out. And make disciples. 

Now, we are not alone. The spirit of Jesus is with us to help us in our mission...his mission. In fact that is the mission - to remember that we are not alone. God is with us. God is with all whom we encounter. Pass it on. With your words. With your actions. That's our mission.

The Ascension is also a sign of things to come for all of us. It is a great sign of hope, for it reveals the destiny God intends for each of us. Our homeland as human beings is heaven.

Through his ascension, Christ initiated the beginning of what is to come, a cause for hope in a world that all too often is gloomy about its own future. 

This is what we celebrate today: Christ's ascension, his presence, not absence...and a future of hope.

Saturday, May 20, 2017


A person encounters an angel with a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other. Puzzled, they ask, Why do you have a torch and a bucket of water? The angel responds, With the torch I am going to burn down the mansions in heaven, and with the water I will put out the fires of hell. If there is no reward or punishment, then we'll see who loves God more.

Do we seek to keep God's commandments in the hope of a heavenly reward or to avoid eternal damnation, or do we do it out of love?

We've just heard Jesus say to us, If you love me, you will keep my commandments...On that day you will realize that you are in me and I in you.

God is in us...and we are in God. This is the truth, whether or not we realize it. We become more aware of this truth as we open our heart to one another.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote eloquently and passionately about this in his encyclical letter, Charity and Truth. Charity [love] is at the heart of God and the Church's social doctrine...It is at the heart of who we are....Only in truth can charity be authentically lived.  [And] the truth is that God is in us...and we are in Him. Let us then love one another.

Two weeks ago we spoke of hearing Jesus' voice and living a fulfilling life by focusing on our personal authenticity. Today we take a look at the other essential aspect of a fulfilling life - social responsibility...our love for one another, taking care of the poor, which is at the heart of Jesus' commandments.

The Bible is replete with references to social responsibility - 523 times in the Old Testament; 164 times in the New. Indeed one out of every 10 lines in the gospels is on the call to respond to the needs of the poor and vulnerable; one out of six in Luke's.

And every Pope in the last 125 years has exhorted the Church to be conscious of and responsive to those in need, confirming that we are all children of God and that we are responsible for one another. This is what it mean to receive the Holy Spirit as we did at Baptism and as we heard in our first reading from Acts of the Apostles.

Let us remember that the reason we were baptized is to be part of Jesus’ team. He chose us to complete his work. The reason why he came was to announce and build the Kingdom of God. That’s our mission too. And we continue his mission by being socially responsible ...individually and as a community, such as through our many parish ministries and in the Neighborhood Groups we are forming.

To be socially responsible means more than serving a hot meal, offering a bag of food or providing gas money. It is to have compassion for the lot of the poor and suffering, and to throw our lot with them whatever the cost.

Cost is not an issue because as Pope Francis has said, It is the person of Jesus we see in the suffering. Further adding, The opposite of compassion is indifference...a cold heart.

Social responsibility involves understanding social structures that oppress the poor, asking questions about how people came to be poor; what makes them poor and keeps them poor. 

Our response to Christ’s call begins with the awakening of compassion within us, which leads to a change of heart, a personal transformation, a movement from perhaps numb, unfeeling, self-centered perspectives to a deepened capacity for solidarity with those who hurt.

Thus, our call to be socially responsible is about opening our heart to those who hurt. 

Last Sunday Jesus said, My house is your house; today he says, Make my heart your heart. Thus, the question for us is, To whom do I give my heart?

As we reach out to one in need, our heart becomes his...we become one with him.

At first blush, the problems of the world may seem insurmountable. Though as Mother Teresa would say, we attend to them one person at a time...doing what we can to give life. But first we have to be attentive...and then open our heart...and be generous and courageous with our check book. 

Recently I heard this story. A 10-year old boy told his parents before Christmas, I don't want any presents this year. Instead I want to use the money to buy malaria nets for children in Africa who might be stung by mosquitoes in their sleep...and die. 

With that money he bought 12 such nets and saved the lives of twelve people whom he would never meet, who would never say to him, Thank you. But he knew he had done the right thing. While his classmates would brag about the gifts they had gotten, he would have nothing to show them. He might be humiliated and laughed at, but could one be more courageous and generous. Could you be any prouder if he were your son or grandson?

Here's another story. A friend called to tell me of a little girl of about six on her knees, with her hands in prayer, outside her church in front of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The little girl was so pious and fervent, that my friend couldn’t take her eyes off her. 

My friend became so moved that she approached and noticed the little girl crying. She asked, Why are you crying?  What are you praying for?  She said, They have taken mi Mami and Papi to prison. I’m praying to la Virgencita to bring them home. Can you help me? What would you say? What would you do?

There's much to be done to build a more just and loving world. Social responsibility, love of neighbor, oneness with Christ - personal fulfillment - demand that we be attentive to the suffering in our world...and that we be one with them in spirit and heart.

Let's see what story opens our heart this week, so that Jesus knows that our love and our heart are his...and that we are one with him.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


My house is your house.

Perhaps, nothing explains God’s incarnation in Jesus and his ministry as much as these words: My house is your house. He came to tell us, Mi casa es su casa!

I shared this with a dear friend, who said, Does that mean that heaven is in Italy? [Although the expression is in Spanish...she might be right about Italy.]

Jesus' entire ministry was about accompaniment, welcoming, serving and feeding all whom he make them feel at home...loved! 

And as he returned to the Father, he wanted us to remember that this remains his mission, saying to us, Do not let your hearts be troubled...I go to prepare a place for you.

This is what we all seek to do for our loved ones; we do our best to provide a home for our shelter them from fear. Two thoughts which come to mind are:

1.    Is our definition of family the same as God’s?

2.    It’s noteworthy that the one who came to provide a shelter for us, was born in a borrowed stable, began his life as a refugee, and lived, at least during his three years of ministry, homeless.

I am reminded of two college students who wanted to see what it was like to be homeless and so took six months away from their studies to experience homelessness. In Under the Overpass, they shared their story of eating left-overs from the garbage dumps of fast-food places, and sleeping wherever they could find “shelter.

What struck them most was how so many “good Christians” turned them away from church services because they were dirty and stank, but even worse how many simply turned from them and would not even acknowledge their existence.

Jesus came to not only provide us a house…a shelter from all that threatens us…but to create a loving home, where all are welcomed, embraced, fed, served, and loved. 

On this Mother's Day and as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima, I am keenly aware that that's exactly what our Blessed Mother did and every mother does. Indeed, it is said, Home is where Mom is. 

And this is the love...the way...that Jesus came to teach us so that we would know the wayto the Father. 

Here we are in God’s house. But it’s worth asking, Is it God’s home?

My sisters and brothers, we are still in the midst of the 50 days of Easter. Easter is more than just about our individual salvation…our new life. In the Easter stories, we see the resurrected Christ impress upon his disciples to continue his mission…to build a community…a family of love. 

Jesus said then and says now, Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. And, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. St. Peter adds in our second reading that discipleship is about letting [ourselves] be built into a spiritual house.

In other words, he has chosen us to continue his mission.

How are we doing? How are we doing (individually and collectively) in our attentiveness, welcoming and feeding of those in need…the homeless, aliens, refugees? Are we becoming a spiritual house? When others see us, do they see God?

That can seem too profound for us. But there may be a simpler test for us to see whether or not we're making God's house into God's home. 

We take pride, and rightly so, in being a most welcoming parish. Many who visit our church compliment us on our hospitality. Still we may have a ways to go. Take a look around you. How many do you know? Do you know each other’s name? When we are invited during Mass to respond to prayers, do we do so? Do we sing, or simply enjoy the beautiful sounds and voices from the choir? 

The choir is an essential part of our liturgy, but it’s principal focus is not to entertain us, nor even to uplift us, but to animate us to full, conscious and active participation in the celebration. That's how we have the fullest experience of God with us.

Sometimes traffic or other obstacles may prevent us from getting to Mass on time or may force us to leave early, but let us remember that we come to this celebration at his invitation…to be welcomed and fed (with his Word and his Body and Blood), so that we can become bread for others. That’s the goal and ultimate test.

Let us also remember that we are not only coming to God’s house, we are coming to celebrate as a community…a family. That’s how we remain in him and he in us. That’s how we make this God’s home…and create God’s kingdom, a heaven on earth. 

I leave you with this question: What is one thing you can do today, this week, so that you can say to him as he enters your body, Mi casa es su casa?

Saturday, May 6, 2017


It is said that Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, brilliant and at times absent-minded, was riding on a train, when he saw the conductor approaching. Furiously he started to look for his ticket, which he had apparently misplaced. When the conductor spotted him with a troubled look on his face, he said, Don’t worry about the ticket, Mr. Justice. I know you and trust you. Justice Holmes responded, You don’t understand. I need to find my ticket. Without it, I don’t know where I’m going.

Where are we going? How will we get there? Most of us would say, Heaven is where we want to go...and we'll do so by following Jesus.

And indeed our Good Shepherd says to us today, My sheep hear my voice…I lead them.

Have we heard his voice? What did he say? Well, did you catch the ending of today's gospel? I came so that [you] might have life and have it more abundantly. In other words, I want the very best for you.  I want nothing less than your fulfillment. Could that be another way of saying, Heaven is being fulfilled?

Perhaps that's why Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life. Thus, we find fullness of life by following his being truthful.

But there's more, for he also says to us, Love each othertake care of each other.

In essence, our Shepherd guides us to fullness of life by calling us to both personal authenticity and social responsibility.

Let’s take a closer look at personal authenticity.  We'll save social responsibility for another day.

More than what we do, our Good Shepherd is concerned with who we become the person God has created us to be. 

It is said, Our deepest longing is to grow into our authentic self-hood. As Thomas Merton wrote, For me to be a saint is to be myself…to discover that which truly defines me, that which makes me feel most deeply and intensely active and alive. 

The call to authenticity is about knowing ourselves and being ourselves. It is about discovering and living the truth. 

Mahatma Gandhi said, I vow to seek the truth, to live by the truth, and to confront untruth wherever I find it. Truth goes hand in hand with nonviolence. Truthfulness is even more important than peacefulness.  Indeed, lying is the mother of violence.

Being true to ourselves by considering whether something is the loving or authentic thing to do must become the most important criterion in our choices. 

We cannot answer the authenticity question, Who am I? without also answering the passion question, What do I really want? We discover who we are only by becoming conscious of the most authentic desires, loves, and longings of our hearts.

My brothers and sisters, what God wants for us and from us has something central to do with what we most deeply and truly want for ourselves. There is a mysterious connection, it seems, between the will of God and our own heart’s desire. Following the inclinations of our heart is our calling. It is the true path to salvation.  

Unlike a career that pursues success, a calling leads to significance. A career centers on being important, a calling focuses on service. A career drives us to make money, a calling seeks to make a difference...inviting us to remember what is worth living for, striving for, sacrificing for ~ perhaps even dying for.  It is a dedication to a cause greater than ourselves…a surrender to a person other than oneself. 

Just a few days before Martin Luther King’s assassination, he gave a speech where he shared his thoughts about how he wanted to be remembered.  He said,

I’d like for somebody to say that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody…that I did try to feed the hungry…to clothe the naked…that I tried to be right on the war question. And all the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things in life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.

What is our life committed to?  What gives our life meaning? What makes us true to ourselves?  

This is where Christ is calling hear his voice…and to follow that he can lead us to fullness of life.