Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Vigil

Last night was the Easter Vigil, where we welcomed 25 new Catholics into our parish and into the Roman Catholic Church. 19 were Baptized and all 25 received the Sacraments of Confirmation and First Eucharist.  There is something wonderful about the Easter Vigil. From the singing, to the entrance into the church in darkness, to the lighting of the candles that give light to the church, to the singing of the Exsultet (which I did this year!), to the readings in darkness, the lights of the church coming on at the Gloria! The incense, the people, the blessed water ready for baptism and the oil for anointing. I also was a sponsor to one of the 6 that came into full communion from another Christian Tradition. Amy was full of joy when she finally partook of the Eucharist, and I was near to tears when I presented the cup to her and pronounced, "The Blood of Christ". Welcome home Amy, and welcome home to all the others who were received last night.

I love the smell of the incense that we use in Mass, I wish we would use it more often. I also love to participate in baptisms, because of the oil of Chrism that is used, the perfumed oil blessed by the Bishop during Holy Week. It is the oil that is also used at the ordination of Deacons, Priests and Bishops, but when it is used at baptisms, it is anointing those being baptized as Prophet, Priest and King into the family of God. It is giving us a position to live up to, but also the promise of God's Spirit to guide us and to help us keep those promises and maintain that position.

I love the Oil of Chrism because it is an odor that stays with the person for quite some time, and when I anoint those at baptism (the infant baptisms that I have done), the sweet smell stays on my hands the whole day, reminding me of my own ordination to the diaconate and also serves as a reminder of my responsibility to my God, and His people. It reminds me that I am called to a life of service, a life of charity, and a life of chastity, which is really what we are all called to, a life of holiness. May all of you have a blessed Easter Season, filled with the love of the Risen Lord and the promise of the resurrected life. We are a resurrection people and Alleluia is our song!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Homily for Good Friday 2014.

Homily for Good Friday 2014
          My wife and I have been privileged to travel to the Holy Land. When we were there, the guide takes you to all of the main sites that one would imagine. We saw the Sea of Galilee, we went to Nazareth, had Mass at the Mount of the Beatitudes, Mass at Cana, Mass at just about at every site. But one of the most Sacred sites where we celebrated Mass was at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Looking back, I remember the comments that Martha had made about the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering, the streets that Jesus had to walk through in order to get to Golgotha.
          She mentioned how narrow the streets were, obviously not built for cars, and in the first century you could maybe drive a chariot through them Martha. commented that she thought the Via Dolorosa would be different, more like the way we see them in the movies I guess. These were streets were lined with shops and homes and were full of people living their lives, going about their business, not paying attention to the number of pilgrims walking the road to get to Calvary. They had seen it every day of their lives, it was commonplace. So it was in Jesus’ day, crucifixions had become commonplace, they happened every day. Crucifixion was the preferred method of execution for those found guilty of a crime against Rome. The two thieves crucified on either side of Jesus may have stolen from a Roman citizen, perhaps from the Roman Armory in order to get weapons for the rebellion that was brewing. Perhaps they were even accomplices of Barabbas, who was released in place of Jesus.


Barabbas…..the revolutionary, the insurrectionist, the one who wanted to be free of Roman rule in his life. The name Barabbas is very telling to us. In Hebrew, the prefix Bar, means “Son of” as in when Jesus said to Peter, Blessed are you Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father. Peter was the “son of” Jonah. James and John were Bar Zebedee, or “son of” Zebedee. So who was Barabbas, this was not his proper name, but his title, or of whom he belonged to. Bar, “son of” Abbas, who was Abbas? We look at the word and we see Abba, or Father, as Jesus would say. We could say that the Jews were asking for the “son of” God to be released in order that Jesus THE SON OF GOD would be crucified in his place. So they asked that Bar Abbas, be released….we are Barabbas, we are the children of God, are we not? And yet, we cannot do what Barabbas tried to do. We cannot throw off the bondage that we find ourselves under the rule of. We are the convicted criminal, the convicted sinner that is released from that sentence of death because Jesus took our place, and thus freed us to live as we were made to live, as true sons and daughters of God.

The cross for us is not a symbol of defeat, not a symbol of death, but it is a symbol of Victory and Life. When we look upon the cross, let us be reminded of the price that was paid for our salvation, our freedom. I am reminded of the old hymn: When I survey the Wondrous Cross:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did ever such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Come let us venerate and reverence the Cross of Christ.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Bob Jones University and the Catholic Church

I have always had a problem with people who are so rigid in their thinking, who are so "I know what's best and right, so don't argue with me" or that have the "my way or the highway" mentality. I have mentioned before in previous blogs about my time at an "Independent" Christian college here on the West Coast and how the flow of ideas sometimes got stymied by "fundamentalist" thought. I even had a couple of guys tell me flat out that if I didn't go to their church and "dress" like them (coat and tie) and believe what they believed, I was damned and going to Hell. My response to that was something along the lines of, "well, here I am in a Christian college as a Missions major, wanting to serve God on the foreign mission fields and you're telling me this?

We sometimes had a joke about how our college should be called Bob Jones University West, because we felt we were under major rules that restricted our "freedoms". (BJU, of course being the ultimate "Fundamentalist" University in the nation).The student handbook even had a section in it that declared the college was "in loco parentis" or in place of the parents. My parents had faith in me to make the right decisions. Sure when I was living with them as a minor, they had a curfew for me, they had house rules I had to follow, but they were not burdensome to me.

Something in the back of my mind kept whispering to me that something was wrong. Something was wrong because of the intimidation and shame the Administration would use to keep the students in line. Something was wrong when the school would apply "Christian Discipline" to a situation, without regard to the concept of restoration to the Body of Christ, for example: there was a couple who started dating and became "too close, too soon", as we liked to say, and a pregnancy ensued. Since it was a small number of students, we all knew what happened. The Administration's actions to the situation was to have the couple confess their sin in front of the whole student body (which was according to Christian Tradition), ask for forgiveness (again, according to Christian Tradition),then the Administration promptly expelled both of them with no hope of returning to the school family (NOT according to Christian Tradition). The purpose of confession and penance is Restoration to the Body, not amputation from the Body (that would only come from someone being UNrepentant).

Which brings me to a troubling situation taking place at the aforementioned Bob Jones University. You can read the story here. Apparently, there has been a pattern of abuse going on behind the scenes at BJU for years. BJU had hired a company to come in an do an investigation of the allegations and apparently when the fire got too hot, BJU pulled the plug and stopped the investigation. What is BJU afraid of? Are they afraid of being found out that they too, are human? That they have made mistakes in their thinking and their theology? Whenever someone has power over people, like BJU has over their students, they will do anything to hold on to that power.

By now you are probably wondering why I entitled the post as Bob Jones University and the Catholic Church. It is no secret to anyone on this planet, that the Catholic Church has been going through it's own scandals for the past couple of decades with the problem of abusive priests. It's also apparent that I am a Catholic Deacon, a member of the ordained clergy of that same Catholic Church, so one might think that my opinions are colored to a certain degree. When it comes to investigations into allegations of abuse (in ANY institution, school, workplace or home) what's good for the goose is good for the gander. The Roman Catholic Church has opened up to its' sins of the past, has sought forgiveness, and has instituted reforms and programs to deal with both the abuser and the victim. (just a side note, not to excuse the abuse,because that is inexcusable, but the percentage of priests ACCUSED of child abuse is below the average percentage of teachers ACCUSED of the same thing. And statistics show that MOST child abuse happens in the home, but news always gets made when it is clergy).

Reconciliation is a wonderful thing, it brings back the grace that was lost from the sin committed.
I would hope that BJU follows the lead of the Catholic Church and reopens the investigation into the allegations of abuse, let the chips fall where they may. Bring G.R.A.C.E. back to BJU and let them finish what they started. Let the healing begin.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Homily for Epiphany 2014

Homily Jan.5, 2014 Feast of the Epiphany.

And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.

The wise men followed a star. From ancient times, the stars were looked upon as a guide to everyday life. Even today, those who are trained can navigate the globe by using the night. But this star, the star that the wise men followed, was a different star altogether. This star moved contrary to the physical laws of our world. This star was a messenger sent by God to lead certain people to Himself in the Christ Child. There are a few things that we need to contemplate with this gospel account of the Birth of Jesus.

1: The Birth of Jesus was announced to people who were NOT Jews:
From the beginning of history, God had made it known that he was the God of all people, but he did choose Abraham to be his peculiar people, his special people from whom the savior of all people would come.

2: The Birth of Jesus was announced to more than just one person:
There was more than one wise man who came looking for the Christ Child. Tradition says three, but this is more because of the number of gifts they brought more than anything else. In those days, people travelled in caravans comprising of anywhere between dozens to hundreds of people. This was done for both support and for safety.
When we read the stories of Jesus, we see that whenever he was proclaiming his message, he did it to more than one person. Sure there are exceptions, like when Nicodemus came to him at night (for fear of the Jews), but when he did s first miracle, it was at a wedding...lots of people. When he was baptized, there were many witnesses. When he spoke the Sermon on the Mount, again he spoke to the multitudes.
Jesus is to be announced to many people, our faith is a community event, our worship needs to be a community worship. Jesus said himself that where two or three are gathered, he is in their midst.
Yes, of course, there are times when we spend time alone in prayer and in contemplation with our Lord, but when we worship, we share the love of Christ with one another and that is impossible to do by ourselves. The good news is to be shared with as many people as possible.

3:  The Birth of Jesus was not announced to the religious community or the nobility of that day.
The wise men were just that, wise. They listened to the signs of the times, they listened to what was being said in the streets, the common sense of the common man. In the other birth narrative, the birth was announced to shepherds tending their flocks. Actually most uncommon men, since shepherds were considered as a sub class in Jewish society! yet God sees the worth of ALL people, regardless of position or class,and actually gives preference to the poor in the world.

4: Finally, gifts were brought to honor the Birth of Jesus:
Gold, frankincense and myrrh were brought as gifts to the Christ Child. Gold, as befitting a King. Frankincense, as befitting a Priest. And Myrrh, as befitting one who would be properly buried as a Priest and King. Some say that it was these gifts,  and their monetary value they contained, that sustained the blessed Mother and her Son after the death of Joseph.

We today, like those wise men, have gifts to bring to the Christ Child. For some, our gift is the same gift that the shepherds brought, the gift of being, of their presence in that glorious event. Sometimes, the best gift we can give to each other is the gift of presence to other. To be there, to listen to their story, to support them in their pain, or joy.

I invite all of us to contemplate this. What is it that we bring to the Christ Child? And how do we live our lives so that others see the light of the Star which points to Jesus, Savior of the World.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent: The time of preparation

In this time of Advent, we are looking toward the Second Coming of our Lord, even as we prepare for the celebration of His First coming at Christmas time. There are many ways that we celebrate, prepare ourselves during Advent. Many of my friends have started an Advent Reflection blog or facebook page, each day reflecting on the daily readings at Mass, or in one case, reflecting on different readings from the Bible, but with the same themes as what we as Catholics read and reflect on. I have a college alumni who is not Catholic, but started doing an Advent Reflection last year. He says it is one of the most refreshing and uplifting exercises he has done in his Christian life.

One of our traditions is to have a Penance Service during Advent and another one during Lent. Usually as soon as possible at the beginning of each season. This years Advent Penance Service was on the first Monday of Advent. We had 16 priests from our vicariate come to hear confessions and give absolution for those confessed sins. The church was packed! Standing room only. Since it was not a Mass, and Father Mark didn't really need my help on anything, I got to sit with my wife in the pews (not a common occurrence in our parish, since I am usually on the altar assisting with the Mass). There was an opening song, a Scripture reading, a short homily and then a community penitential rite, the introduction of the priests and then GENERAL CHAOS ensues.

I say general chaos, because no matter how well the staff prepares the areas where the priests will hear confessions, or how orderly the lines are taped out on the floor, people just crowd to be the first in any line so they don't have to be there too much longer (I would hope it is because they want to get reconciled with God quickly before it's too late, but the cynic comes out in me). We do have certain priests who are very well thought of and considered very good confessors. Their lines fill up even before the service starts, they are usually placed in the choir room and the meditation chapel, so the lines run along the side walls of the church and the line does not impede the actual service proceedings.

As I reflect on how our penance service went, I am struck by a few things.

1: There are so many who coming, wanting to be cleansed and reconciled with God and his people, I wonder where they are during the rest of the year when we have regular reconciliation on Saturday mornings, or by appointment if they can't make it then. I realize that Church Law says that one is supposed to confess at least once a year, but I can tell you from personal experience it is needed more often than that.

2: If we had another priest on staff here at our parish (we only have the one, and he works a lot), I can't help but think that we would be able to better serve our community with those sacraments that only a priest can provide. (we deacons can only do so much you know).

 3: When it was my turn to go to reconciliation, I went to a priest with whom I had never confess to before. He is a convert to Catholicism, coming to us from the Anglican Tradition, so when he was ordained a Catholic priest, he became one of the few MARRIED priests we have here in our diocese. It was a truly different experience to talk to a married priest, one who had, in all likelihood, gone through the same experiences that I have gone through in my married life. Does this mean that I am in favor of getting rid of the celibacy discipline for priests? Absolutely not! An unmarried man can put all of his energies into ministry, not having to worry about pleasing a wife or running a household (these are Paul's words, not mine).

So the lines started to form, and my wife and I helped with directing the penitents to awaiting priests. I felt a sense of joy; joy that so many people were there to find peace and absolution and resolving not to continue in the walk of sin. May your Advent be a blessed season as you look towards the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Of tornadoes, destruction and hope.

After watching the emotional news over the last few days on the destruction of the tornado in Oklahoma, the loss of human life, from infants to the elderly, the utter, total loss of property, I am reminded of the stories my father would tell us about his life on a farm in Tornado Alley. Although he was born on a farm near Paris, Texas, he grew up on a farm near Gould, Oklahoma.

Dad lived a hard life, but a full one in Oklahoma. He was one of 10 children of William and Mardie Moon, one of those children dying as an infant. Eight boys and one girl, the girl being the youngest in the family (along with her twin), so the boys in Gould treated my aunt Nonie like a princess (if they didn't there would be 8 Moon boys to see to it they did!) Grandpa was a sharecropper, never owned the land he farmed, and they lived through drought, tornadoes, and bad crops. Dad would tell us of his time picking cotton, he said that was the worst thing they ever raised, because they couldn't afford the equipment for a cotton gin. The cotton would cut their hands even through the gloves they wore.

Of course, Dad loved to recall how they would WALK into town for the Saturday Night movies and get home around 1 in the morning, only to get up at 5 to start the day again. How they would walk to school 10 miles, uphill both ways! He had to work from the time he could walk, of course, living on a farm, but he also drove a school bus while he was in high school. School revolved around the planting and harvest seasons, they would be out of school during those times and basically in school all the other times.

Dad told us of tornadoes that would tear through the farmlands, destroying farmhouses, chicken coups, any other buildings that were around. Buildings were not as well built as they are today, so one could imagine how fast these buildings were destroyed when we see the speed at which this most recent tornado destroyed Moore, Ok. Of one of those tornadoes, I would like to share with all of you. It was a very bad twister, one that had already taken out many homes and barns. Afterwards, they went out into the town and saw a few dozen chickens lying in the road dead, still warm, but dead nonetheless. Dad said they thought about taking them home and cooking them, but when they went to pick them up he knew it would be impossible since the chickens were also full of wood splinters from the barns and such. This twister also took out an entire side of a house in town, but did not touch the piano that was next to the exterior wall, there also was a rose in a vase on the piano that was not touched.

Times were tough back in the day. There was no warning system, except the dark skies, etc. but no Doppler Radar or cable/satellite T.V. The results of the tornadoes are always the same, destruction. But, like my Dad, who lived through many of them and rebuilt their lives, helped their neighbors do the same, the good people of Oklahoma will rebuild, they are already helping their neighbors, and hope springs eternal.

God Bless Oklahoma.

(To my family: If there is any misinformation in this story, please let me know. My memory isn't what it used to be, but the stories that Dad told are still fresh in my mind.)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Homily for Pentecost 2013

Pentecost Sunday: May 17, 2013

          Paq en tak kawi. Bon bon kawi wah. Who here understood what I had just said? It is a legitimate language, from the South Pacific Islands which one I don’t remember, but it was a phrase we learned in my linguistics class I had in college. If I remember correctly, it is a greeting.  The reason I bring this up is to highlight what today is. 

          Jesus’ disciples were together in one place, when a “mighty rushing wind” came in and then appeared as tongues of fire and rested on each of them, being filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in different tongues, languages, as the Spirit enabled them to do. The crowds were amazed at how these simple people, many of them fishermen, others laborers, still others could have been the wives of those there in the room, could talk in different native languages from the various parts of the Roman Empire.

          The feast of Pentecost was one of the three major pilgrim festivals of Israel. Originally it was an agricultural feast marking the end of the grain harvest, also called feast of Weeks, because it was celebrated seven weeks, or 50 days after the feast of Unleavened Bread. As the other two pilgrim feasts, it took on historical importance, commemorating the giving of the law on Sinai. The fact it was a pilgrim feast explains why devout Jews from every nation where in Jerusalem at the time.

          This is an outpouring of the Spirit of God, an outpouring to show that the Gospel is for all to hear, for all to understand. Look back at the 11th Chapter of Genesis to the Tower of Babel, where men were trying to build a tower to heaven.  Language was confused at that point, so that man could not complete this project. The world was fractured at Babel, and at Pentecost the outpouring of the Spirit and the understanding of all can be seen as the reuniting of the human race and the gathering of all into the reign of God.

So Pentecost is a feast of the Holy Spirit, and his movements, his guidance in our lives. We see in Paul’s letter to the Romans, exactly how the Spirit of
God works in our lives. If we are in the flesh, meaning all of our human nature and its limitations that sometimes moves us away from God, we cannot please God. On the other hand, if we live in the Spirit, we are attuned to God. It is in that dimension of the human experience that can be joined to the very Spirit of God. 

Jesus says that if we love him, we will keep his commandments, and he will ask the Father to send another Advocate to be with us always. We follow his example of obedience to the Father. Obedience isn’t the requirement of love; it is the consequence of it. Such love is not an emotional response, but a state of being, it is how one lives, it permeates one’s life, allowing them to live in intimate relation with the Father and the Son, through the Spirit.

So at last, the plan of Salvation has been brought to a conclusion. The risen Lord has been exalted to his rightful place at the right hand of the Father, and he has sent his Spirit to fill the earth with God’s power. Our world is charged with divine energy, but it needs a spark in order to ignite it with life and excitement. In Acts, this excitement explodes onto the scene in an extraordinary way, tongues are loosed and speech overflows its restraints in understanding; charismatic gifts flood the valley of humanity; barred doors are burst open and frightened hearts are calmed. The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world. Today, we gather for one reason, but we discover that God has another in mind We may come for personal devotion, but we find us wrapped up in communal divine worship. Through the Spirit of God, we are reconciled to one another and we spend ourselves for the common good. Through the Spirit of god the world is renewed, the community is revitalized, and we come to know the mysterious yet all-pervasive peace of Christ.

If all this has really happened, why does our world look the same? Why is there so much religious and ethnic rivalry? Why do we continue to make distinctions between Jew and Gentile, free and slave, man and woman, documented and undocumented, immigrant and citizen, distinctions that favor one at the expense of the other? Why is there so little peace? Why do we refuse to forgive or to be reconciled? Is Pentecost merely a feast we celebrate in red vestments? Has the face of the earth really been renewed?

The answer is YES! A resounding YES! The Spirit has been poured forth and works wonders wherever human hearts are open to his promptings. The earth is renewed each time rivalries are resolved, distinctions are recognized as merely expressions of diversity, peace is restored, comfort and solace are offered, and forgiveness is granted. We are immersed in the vigor of the Spirit of God; all we have to do is to open ourselves up to him and the reign of God will be born in our midst.