"We are Christian Stewards."

March 9, 2014 is Stewardship Sunday here at St. Patrick's. We are also launching the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal 2014 this weekend of March 8th and 9th. In lieu of the homily I decided to have a video presentation of the AAA. In that video Archbishop Cordileone describes some of the programs, ministries and services that impact families within our parish and neighboring parishes. The Appeal is not only about asking for your financial donation but also an eye-opener on how you can practice your stewardship.

 Remember that we are not just stewards but also Christian stewards. As Christian stewards we share in the three-fold ministry of Jesus as priest, prophet and king. The common priesthood that we share by virtue of our baptism requires us to celebrate the sacraments, especially the Sunday Eucharist. St. Patrick’s main ministry is to provide meaningful liturgies not only to the parishioners but also to the many visitors from all over the world who join us in our liturgical celebrations. Volunteering as a liturgical minister is one way of sharing in the priesthood of Jesus. Catechists in the Religious Education Program, RCIA, Baptismal and Marriage Prep are fulfilling their prophetic ministry in teaching and providing formation for those who are preparing to receive the sacraments. Prophetic ministry is not about predicting the future but it is about proclaiming the truth of the word of God. The ministry of Jesus as king is all about service. Jesus said that he came into the world not to be served but to serve. When we participate in the works of justice and mercy on behalf of persons in need we are able to share in the ministry of Jesus as king. Joining the Saint Vincent de Paul Society here at St. Patrick’s is an effective way to reach out to the less fortunate among us. I hope that in the future we will be able to explore more opportunities on how we can become the “Church of the Poor.” Throughout the first year of his papacy, becoming the “Church of the Poor” is Pope Francis’ constant call to all of us, the clergy and the laity.

Our support of the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal is a step in the right direction on how we can truly become the “Church of the Poor.”  Many, if not all of the programs and ministries of the archdiocese that the AAA supports, benefit our brothers and sisters who are most in need of our gifts of time, talent and treasure.

Stewardship

Next Sunday will be “Stewardship Sunday” in our parish. Within the next couple of weeks I will publish something about stewardship in line with the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal 2014. I hope that everybody will take the time to read these articles so that there will be an understanding and appreciation of what stewardship is all about. These articles will be based primarily on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) pastoral letter, “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response” and on

First, it is worth meditating on this paragraph of the bishops’ pastoral letter on stewardship:

          The idea and the practice of stewardship have the power to change our self-understanding and our understanding of the meaning of our lives. Steward-disciples recognize God as the origin of life, the giver of freedom, the source of all they have and all they are. They see themselves as caretakers of God’s gifts. They are grateful for what they have received and are eager to cultivate their gifts out of love for God and one another.

Reflecting on the above paragraph, we realize that stewardship is grounded in faith. This is what our faith in God tells us: without God we can do nothing. But thanks be to God we are chosen as stewards of God’s gifts. These gifts that are entrusted to us define who we and what we are. What we do with these gifts determines what kind of stewards we are.

We were created to be God’s stewards of many gifts and thereby we give glory to the Lord in our worship and in prayer. The cornerstone of our relationship with God is communication expressed through prayer and worship. Prayer is a lifting up of our hearts and our minds to God. An excellent way to pray, of course, is through our celebration of the Eucharist. When we celebrate the mass we gather as a community to give thanks and praise for the many gifts that God has given us.

A good steward is a grateful person who shares his or her blessings with others. This is what a good steward does. The gifts in the form of time, talent and treasure are always meant to be shared with others. Good stewardship is, therefore, faith in action, that is, a faith that is expressed in the love of God by prayer and worship and the love of neighbor by sharing one’s gifts.

We must keep in mind that we are not just stewards of God’s gifts. We are Christian stewards. We are stewards who belong to a parish community here at St. Patrick’s and to the larger church community of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

There are many ways by which we can exercise our stewardship. Our parish offers a lot of opportunities to all who would like to share their time, talent and treasure. We have various ministries and programs that are designed to serve not just our community but the community at large as well. Liturgical ministry, Religious Education Program, St. Vincent de Paul Conference, RCIA are some of our ministries and programs. Of course your financial support of our parish would ensure that we are able to continue offering these services. However, there are ministries and programs that are beyond the capability of any single parish. Our parish is part of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and there are programs provided by the Archdiocese that we cannot do as a parish. To name a few: Marriage Tribunal, Hospital Chaplains, Detention Ministry, Ethnic Ministry, Ongoing Formation of the clergy and support for seminarians and retired priests.

 

In view of this, next Sunday we are launching the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal 2014. The appeal is meant to support the many programs and services that the Archdiocese offers to the community at large. Archbishop Cordileone, in his letter about the appeal, reminds us that we, like King David should sing a psalm of praise and thanksgiving for the many blessings that we received.  He also encourages us to share what we receive.

This year our parish is assessed $57,100. Considering that our parish is relatively small in terms of registered parishioners, I understand that we only have a little more than 400 families registered; we need all the help from our friends and visitors to meet that amount. If we are able to meet our goal with your support and generosity, the money that exceeds our assessment will be returned to our parish and will be used to pay off the balance of the more than $400,000 roof replacement project which was finished last year before Christmas.

For those of you, who have been supporting our parish and the AAA, thank you so much for your generosity. You know where your treasure is, when you support the AAA to further the New Evangelization in our Archdiocese. The Appeal is really all about promoting the gospel values or the values of God’s Kingdom as we continue to give thanks to God for the many gifts given to us.

"Love your enemies!"

(Homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

 

In the diocese in the Philippines where I came from, there was a priest whose full name is Perfecto del Mundo. He was called Father Pekto for short. Many times we would joke about him or tell him that he is the only perfect man in the world, which is what his full name literally means. Unfortunately, Fr. Pekto left the priesthood. One priest quipped after Fr. Pekto left the ministry, “Being the perfect man in the world was too much for him to handle.”

 

In today’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” These words of Jesus echo what the Lord says to Moses in today’s first reading, “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” When we, the disciples of Jesus, are asked to be perfect and holy just as God is perfect and holy, it seems that this is a routine admonition to all of us. Until Jesus spells out what are required to be perfect and holy. And then we say the demands are unrealistic or impossible to do because Jesus is asking us to offer no resistance to one who does us harm, to not only give our extra clothing but the very clothes that we wear, to go over our obligation by doing the extra mile, to give without conditions and to love our enemies.

 

Loving one’s enemies could be the deal breaker in the demand for the disciples of Jesus to be perfect. Most people say that they don’t make or create enemies and yet some people do them harm. In response to those who harm us Jesus tells us, his disciples, “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” When someone punches us, our natural reaction is to strike back or to get even. As they say, “Don’t get mad, get even.” When Jesus tells his disciples not retaliate, is he asking his followers to become like doormats? Doormats are meant to be stepped on and so becoming like a doormat is not only painful but humiliating as well. It appears that this is what Jesus is asking his disciples to be, to be stepped on and be abused by others. I believe that is not so.

 

I know that this is something that is very difficult for me to share. In 1999 my only sister, our second to the youngest, was stabbed. She was at the wrong place and at the wrong time. She was a victim of a teenage gang that was looking out for someone to stab as part of the gang’s initiation rites. My sister bled to death at the hospital. She was already a widow when she died and left four young orphans, two girls and two boys. She was 39 years old. To make the story short, I went home to the Philippines and together with my other siblings met with the police investigators. But before that meeting we had a chance to talk to one of the suspects who was being detained at that point. We asked him what happened and why and that’s how we came to know that it was a part of the gang’s initiation and that according to him it was the leader of the gang who stabbed my sister. The detainee told us that their leader has already fled. We also asked him about his background and we came to know that this gang of teen-agers was mostly composed of street children, with no home or family to call their own. In a way that explained to us why they would do something like that. During our meeting with the investigators, one of the police officers told us that these teens are the scum of the earth and that nobody would care if one of them disappears. Even without saying it he was giving us a hint that a summary execution of the suspect could be staged if we want justice right away. My siblings and I strongly expressed to the authorities that due process should be observed in pursuing justice for our sister. The leader of the gang was never apprehended and the detained suspect was eventually released because we were not able to make a follow up on the case. The case was eventually closed. However, had the case prospered and there was a criminal trial, my family and I would not have considered asking for capital punishment. Death penalty was certainly out of the question. It was a painful and traumatic event and had a terrible impact on my parents especially on my father. His health deteriorated after that. What I remember most was how we coped with the tragedy. We were certainly angry at what happened. I was also blaming the hospital for negligence because my sister had a cardiac arrest due to loss of blood. However, I didn’t recall harboring hatred or exacting revenge on the perpetrators of that senseless crime. On hindsight, my family and I could not have reacted that way without help from above.

 

My family is not perfect even if we have forgiven those who killed my sister. The way to perfection is like being on a pilgrimage and while we are here on earth we are all pilgrims. As we journey in our pilgrimage it would help that we think in terms of how our heavenly Father treats us: God’s blessings are given to all because God gives the sun and rain to the just and the unjust. The measure of how much we love and forgive is how much God loves and forgives us and that is without limit. Jesus, as one like us in flesh and blood, has shown us the way to the Father, to perfection. It’s a very difficult challenge. However, keep in mind that we are blessed and that we are the temple of God’s Spirit. We get all the help that we need in our pursuit of holiness and perfection.

"Thou shall not get caught!"

(Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary time, cycle A)

This is a true story. One evening on the freeway, a group of nuns in a van were on their way back to the convent. One of the sisters was driving. And then from out of the blue, a California Highway Patrol car gave chase and signaled the van to pull over on the side of the road. When the officer saw who was driving, he said, “Oh, Sister, why were you driving over the speed limit? That’s very dangerous!” “I’m sorry, officer. It’s because I did not see your patrol car” was the sister’s reply. Did you know that there is an eleventh commandment? Thou shall not get caught. And I think there is also a twelfth commandment. If you get caught, thou shall deny it. But wait; there is a thirteenth commandment. If you cannot deny it, thou shall blame others.

 

In today’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples that he has come not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. He also tells his disciples that unless their righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, they will not enter the kingdom of heaven. In a way the scribes and the Pharisees are righteous because they strictly follow the commandments. But why is it that their righteousness is not enough? And Jesus demands more from his disciples. What kind of righteousness is Jesus asking from his disciples?

 

The scribes and the Pharisees are known to obey all the commandments. They do this with such rigidity. They don’t want to be caught violating any of the 613 precepts that Moses gave to them. However, on many occasions Jesus has accused them of observing the commandments for appearances only. The scribes and the Pharisees are more interested in the praises that the people would lavish them as they religiously follow the law and the prophets. Sadly, their external observance of the commandments results in a kind of righteousness that is self-serving. Jesus calls this hypocrisy. In many instances we have heard Jesus reserved his harshest words to hypocrites. At one time he compared hypocrites to white washed tombs that are clean on the outside but decaying on the inside.

 

As far as Jesus is concerned the Pharisees and the scribes are just fulfilling the minimum requirements of the law. They may not be committing murder but they might be harboring anger or resentment against another and so they are liable to judgment. They may not covet another man’s wife, but they might be looking at a woman with lust, then they are guilty of the sin against chastity. When Jesus asks his disciples to surpass the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, he tells them to fulfill the law with the real understanding of the spirit of the law. The disciples must go beyond the minimum observance of the law. Keeping the commandments for show or for fear of being caught is not the kind of righteousness that Jesus expects from his disciples. Real righteousness comes from the observance of the law with the spirit of sacrifice or self-giving. The gift of self to God and neighbors should define or characterize one’s observance of the law and the prophets. This is how Jesus fulfilled them. He gave himself fully as a ransom for many.

 

The good news that we hear is that today’s gospel passage is part of the gospel of Mathew’s Sermon on the Mount that begins with the Beatitudes. In the Beatitudes Jesus is telling his disciples that they are blessed. And because they are blessed they are empowered to choose wisdom that enables them to understand the spirit of the law. When the disciples keep the commandments with the spirit of sacrifice and self-giving, they are being true to their identity as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Being the salt of the earth and light of the world is the vocation of every disciple of Jesus, and for that matter, of every Christian. We heard this from last Sunday’s gospel passage that is also part of the Sermon on the Mount.

 

When we always remember that we are blessed and that we are the salt of the earth and light of the world, we observe God’s commandments not for external appearances but because we want to make a difference in this world. We want to make this world a better place to live. Unfortunately, sometimes we forget and that’s when we become like the scribes and the Pharisees. And so there is a need for us to be reminded at all times. Coming to mass every Sunday, celebrating the Eucharist and listening to the word of God helps in making us remember who we are and what we are as disciples of Jesus. When we keep in mind that we are blessed as Christians then we don’t worry about being caught violating the commandments because living the beatitudes has already become a way of life for us.

Thank God for the Senior Citizens!

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(Homily on February 2, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord)

When I look at today’s congregation and I see many senior citizens, I am reminded of Simeon and Anna in our gospel story today about the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple. Simeon and Anna, in their old age, were rewarded with the fulfillment of their hopes and longing to be able to see the Messiah before they die. Their openness to the Holy Spirit gave them the wisdom to recognize the child Jesus as the Messiah. When you think of the many people in the Temple at that time and only these two senior citizens acknowledged Jesus, you wish that many others were also inspired by the Holy Spirit. At the very least these people could have listened to Simeon and Anna and learned from their wisdom.

 

There are those who have expressed alarm when they see that the parish congregation is graying. On the contrary, when I see that the church is filled with our senior citizens, the parish is blessed. Do you agree? We should all agree. There is a ministry called pastoral care of the elderly. But don’t get the idea that this ministry to the elderly is a one-way traffic, believing that our senior citizens are the only ones who benefit or at the receiving end of this ministry. The reality is that there is a mutual benefit between the ministers and the elderly.

 

There is so much wisdom to be gained being with the elderly. Even if the elderly are no longer able to do a lot of things due to illness or some other disabilities, their attitude towards life inspire us to live with dignity and respect for life. They may not be all saints but the lessons they have learned through all these years can inspire us to become holy. I remember my father saying that he learned more from his mistakes and failures. And this kind of learning process is not without pain. It is like purification by fire. The prophet Malachi asks, “Who will endure the day of the Lord’s coming for he is like the refiner’s fire? He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord.”

 

The life’s lessons learned by the elderly are precious like gold and silver. They all endured through all these years to gain wisdom. As they say, “No pain, no gain.” When they say, “Been there, done that,” we should all pay attention. Otherwise, we might miss a lot of good things. In our gospel passage today we heard that the child Jesus grew in wisdom and grace. But don’t get the impression that Jesus gained wisdom the easy way just because he is the only begotten Son of God. The letter to the Hebrew reminds us that Jesus became a human like us. He shared in the flesh and blood and had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way. And so just like most of us, Jesus learned his lessons the hard way, listening to his parents and grandparents and the likes of Simeon and Anna.

 

The wisdom of Simeon and Anna is gained through openness to the Holy Spirit. Simeon and Anna are spirit-filled individuals and their wisdom enables them to recognize Jesus even in the ordinary. They both saw the light of the nations in the ordinary family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. When we are able to see Jesus in our neighbors wherever we are, whatever we do, it can be said that we have learned our lesson from the wisdom of the elderly represented by the likes of Simeon and Anna. Thank God for our senior citizens!

Underdogs

(Homily for 3rd Sunday in Ordinary time, cycle A)

When your hometown sports team is not competing, like for example in the Super Bowl, who do you root for, the llamados or the dejados? The llamados are the favorites and the dejados, the underdogs. If you ask me, I usually go for the underdogs but I am not making a money bet. It is too risky, isn’t it? Besides, I don’t gamble. Conventional wisdom tells you not to make a bet on the dejados, especially when you gamble. Our faith tells us that God loves everyone. But in the Scripture readings today, we get the idea that God is favoring the underdogs. Today’s gospel passage quotes directly from the first reading, Isaiah. “Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those whose dwelling in a land overshadowed by death, light has arisen.”

 

The prophet Isaiah sees more than what his contemporaries can see. He looks at tragedy and knows that God can bring light to a people who walk in darkness. The people from the land of Zebulon and Naphtali were the dejados because they were among the first ones to go into exile. Isaiah saw their misery and reassured them that they were not forgotten and gave them hope with a vision of restoration.

 

And this is the place where Jesus started to preach about the Kingdom of God. So Jesus, the light bearer, brings his message first to the dejados, the lowest, the most defeated, to the Galileans. It was also in Galilee where Jesus chose his first disciples. The Galileans were the first followers of Jesus and these were the people who were politically oppressed because the Pharisees and the Sadducees, religious leaders and authorities, looked down on them and considered their religious status as inferior and impure. They were simply the underdogs, the dejados, not God’s favorites, the llamados.

 

But Jesus changed all that. He gave preference to them and started his ministry there and performed many miracles. Jesus went to those who stood no chance of their own, and there in a place of rejection, where people walked in darkness, cause the darkness to be dispelled and the light to shine. In the social teachings of Church there is what we call the principle of the ‘preferential option for the poor.’ This social and moral principle teaches and urges us to give priority to the poor because this is what Jesus did. This is what Jesus tells us to do.

 

Pope Francis epitomizes this practice of giving priority to the dejados, to the disadvantaged, the less fortunate among us. In his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, he included what according to him he had often said to the priests and the laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I don’t want a Church concerned with being at the center and which then ends being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which gives us a sense of false security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat.” (Mk 6:37)

 

This is what it means by rooting for the underdogs, the dejados. As a parish community we are given opportunities to give priority to the poor by reaching out to them. We are fortunate to have a group of volunteers from the St. Vincent de Paul, St. Patrick Conference that are serving the less fortunate among us. But they need our support as a community. One of our SVdP volunteers will speak to us and tell us what they do and how we can help them help others, especially the dejados.

Disappointment sucks.

(Homily for 2nd Sunday  of Ordinary Time, Cycle A)

I googled the phrase: Disappointment sucks. I got hundreds of articles and blogs about people feeling disappointed and disappointing others. For the most part they say that they are disappointed because of unrealistic or very high expectations and the inability to do something or not being able to please others all the time. One blogger writes: Disappointment is a fact of life. Unless you’re on Facebook where, unless a pet or a relative has died, everything is always sunny, in real world, disappointment happens. Another blogger has this to say: Disappointment dashes your hopes and it can make you question your faith in people, things and higher powers. However, most people say that after a disappointment the next best step to do is to move on. According to them a change in expectations or mindset helps in getting over the disappointments of life.

In waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the Israelites were expecting for a king. When John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” many people were surely disappointed because they were looking for a mighty ruler who would free them from their colonizers and oppressors. The last thing they wanted to see was someone who was like a lamb to be sacrificed. A sacrificial lamb does not represent a king who would defeat the enemies of Israel. And here is John the Baptist, the precursor to the Messiah, proclaiming to the people that Jesus, the Christ, is that sacrificial lamb. At first many followed Jesus. But when he was arrested, was crucified and died on the cross, most of his followers, even his closest friends, abandoned him, expressing their disappointment. Their hopes for the Messiah were crushed.

Our Christian faith tells us that Jesus, the Lamb of God, did not come to disappointment but to show to the world the power of God. This power is not like the political or military power of the world’s rulers but the power of God manifested in the meekness and humility of Jesus. This is the power of love, of mercy, of forgiveness, of healing, of service. We can call it the power of the cross.

The power of the cross gives us the wisdom to change our mindset and expectations. People believe that worldly power which consists of physical or military might, riches and fame would make a difference in this world. Worldly power, however,does not necessarily create a better world to live in. The aim or goal of worldly power is domination. Someone who has this kind of power will never be satisfied and thus will always be disappointed. Worldly power, as opposed to the power of the cross, is power for its own sake. On the other hand the power of the cross is power for the sake of others. The difference between these two kinds of power can be seen in a tale of two seas as told by John Marsabella. There are two seas in Palestine. They are both very different. One is called the Sea of Galilee. It is a large lake with clean fresh water which you can drink. Fish and people swim in it. It is surrounded by green fields and gardens. Many people have built their homes near it. Jesus sailed across it many times. The other big body of water is called the Dead Sea, and it really lives up to its name. Everything about it is dead. The water is so salty that you would get sick from trying to drink it. It has no fish. Nothing grows along its banks. No one wants to live anywhere near its unpleasant smell. The interesting thing about both these bodies of water is that the same river flows into both of them. So what makes the difference? Just this: one receives and gives, the other receives and keeps. The Jordan River flows into the top of the Sea of Galilee and out the bottom. The lake uses the water and passes it on for others to use. The Jordan then flows into the Dead Sea and never gets out again. The Dead Sea selfishly keeps it only for itself. This makes it dead. It gets and never gives. Worldly power is selfish and therefore not life-giving, but the power of the cross, the power of the Lamb of God, is other-oriented and is therefore life-giving.

John the Baptist testified to Jesus pointing to him as the Lamb of God. As baptized Christians we must also testify to Jesus by becoming like the Lamb of God. It means that we must be willing to embrace the power or the wisdom of the cross which translates to our willingness to die to ourselves for the sake of others. These opportunities to die to ourselves come to us everyday even in ordinary and simple things that we do. When our mindset is like that of the Lamb of God, we will never disappoint others and we will not be disappointed. Our use of the wisdom and the power of the cross, i.e. the power of love, makes sure of that.

Epiphany: Man's search for meaning

During the sharing at the Legion of Mary's Patrician meeting last week someone wondered how long did it take the magi from the East to look for the child Jesus, the new born King of the Jews. My guess is nine months.  As soon as the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, the star appeared and that was the start of the long and arduous journey of the magi from the East. The story of the magi searching for the child Jesus reminds me of one’s search for the meaning of life. Those who believe that one’s search for the why of life is very important will do everything in their power to find it. Just like the magi in our gospel story. They travelled from afar to a foreign country to look for what is very important in their lives, the Messiah. We could just imagine the hardships and the danger that they went through while looking for Jesus. But that did not deter them from doing so because finding the Christ is the fulfillment of their heart’s desire.

 

When we search for something that is really important, nothing will prevent us from looking for it. We may be going through life’s hardships due to financial, health and relationship issues. But even under those difficult circumstances, we can still find what we are looking for, the meaning of life. When I was in college seminary in the 70’s, a favorite book of the seminarians was Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” In this book, Victor Frankl chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and is describing his psychotherapeutic method of finding a reason to live. According to Frankl the book intends to answer the question “How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?” Frankl concludes that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living; life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death. In a group therapy session during a mass fasting inflicted on the camp’s inmates trying to protect an anonymous fellow inmate from fatal punishment by the camp’s authorities, Frank offered the thought that for everyone in a dire condition there is someone looking down, a friend, a family member, or even God, who would not expect to be disappointed. Frankl concludes from his experience that a prisoner’s psychological reactions are not solely the result of the conditions of his life, but also from the freedom of choice he always has even in severe suffering. The inner hold a prisoner has on his spiritual self relies on having a faith in the future and that once a prisoner loses that faith, he is doomed.

 

When we struggle to find meaning in life someone is looking down on us with love. That someone who loves us no matter what is God personified in Jesus. If we find life meaningless because of broken relationships, health problems, financial stress, we only need to look up constantly. This is what the magi did. They fixed their eyes on the star above and it led them to what they were looking for. The good news that we hear today on the Feast of Epiphany is that the meaning of life that we are looking for is manifested in the person of Jesus. Life’s meaning is not something that is hidden but is revealed to all those who seek it. And we get all the help that we need. Our suffering is not an excuse nor does it blind us to understand why we are here on earth. As a human being Jesus was not spared from the usual heartaches and headaches that we all have. He accepted pain, suffering and death for the sake of others and by doing so showed us what we should aspire for. St. Augustine reminds us what it is when he said, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.” Ultimately, we find the meaning of life in the word of God that is revealed to us through Jesus. This is what Epiphany means.

 

In his book Victor Fankl describes how in the midst of inhuman condition at the concentration camp he saw the truth for the first time in his life, as expressed in songs by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth is that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. He says that he grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. How a man who have nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right, the honorable way, in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in his life, Frankl was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”

 

When we think that Frankl is referring to his wife in the contemplation of his beloved, and yet he is able to find the ultimate meaning of life, how much more if we put God as our beloved. We discover that we have a reason to live and that life is worth living because we are all God’s beloved. We all share the same dignity as God’s children rich or poor, the powerful or the powerless, young or old, regardless of age, gender and color. This is what we celebrate today. Epiphany reveals to us the meaning of life. And just like the magi we should offer gifts, the gift of ourselves to Jesus, our Lord and Savior

2013: A Year of Blessings

2013 has been a year of blessings for St. Patrick Church. As we start the new year 2014 we should all pause and count the blessings of the past year and then give thanks to God. We are grateful to have Fr. Dan Maguire and Fr. Eamonn Donnelly as our regular supply priests. I am particularly blessed by  their willingness and commitment to serve our parish community since I don't have a full time parochial vicar yet.

The collaboration and cooperation of our Pastoral and Finance Councils resulted in the launching of our new website, completion of the new roof and a successful fund raising project: Raffle Mania 2013. Kudos to them and especially to the co-chairs of our fund raising project, Jun and Emy Pasion. I am grateful to our parish organizations and many individual parishioners for their hard work in selling the tickets. Certainly we are also grateful to those who purchased tickets and gave donations for our roof replacement project. Now, we can pray for the rain.

Last but not least, we thank God for our many parish volunteers for keeping our various ministries and programs running. Early last year we had a beautiful celebration of the Holy Week. Our parishioners and visitors were happy that we continued our Hospitality Sundays and Filipino Breakfast. There are  more or less 90 students in our Religious Education Program and we are off to a good start for the current school year.  Nine catechumens are enrolled in our RCIA program and we commissioned 18 new Altar Servers. We continue to serve the less fortunate among us through our weekly sandwich making by our volunteers of St. Vincent de Paul Society, St. Patrick Conference. Once again we had a successful celebration of the nine-day Misa de Gallo. Most of those who participated finished the novena masses. Because of this preparation we had a joyful and meaningful celebration of Christmas. The beautiful Christmas decorations added color to our celebration of the birth of Jesus. Thanks to our Liturgy and Environment committee.

May the Lord Jesus continue to bless us during this Christmas season and may his blessings enrich our parish community here at St. Patrick's in the New Year.

We have seen the Light

( Homily on Christmas Day, 2013)

My first pilgrimage to the Holy Land was in October 1996. One of the highlights of our pilgrimage was going to Bethlehem, the place of Jesus’ birth. It was particularly memorable for me because we went there on my birthday and I was able to celebrate the Eucharist. There are two churches there. There is the Catholic one where I celebrated the mass and the Orthodox Church which is the most visited because that’s the spot where it is believed that Jesus was born. In the basement of the church there is a grotto where tradition says that the manger was located. In that grotto there is this marker in the shape of a star that indicates where the crib was. Pilgrims would take turn in touching the star. While waiting for my turn I saw two young ladies in a corner sobbing quietly. I knew they were not trying to get attention but I noticed them. And I said to myself, “Why are they crying?” Then it dawned on me that in this place God has visited his people. I was struck with awe and wonder at the thought that God, the Creator of the universe, came to dwell with us in the person of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. I was asking myself, “Who am I or who are we, to receive the honor of being visited by God?” With that realization I could not help but shed some tears too. I understood why those two young ladies were crying.

 When the president of the United States of America comes to the Bay Area, some people are willing to pay thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars just to see him. Certainly they would brag about their meeting with the president afterwards. On this Christmas Day, how do we feel when we are reminded that the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace has come to visit us? How much are we willing to pay? The good news about Christmas is that God’s visit is gratuitous. It is free. And so the birth of our savior should evoke in us that sense of joy and excitement that the bride and the groom feel when they prepare for their wedding. The first reading for the Christmas Vigil mass taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah has this to say about the coming of the Lord: For the Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you. Christmas is not just about God’s visit to us. It is about God making his people his bride. How awesome is that?

 Those who have been to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem know that in order to get inside the church you have to bend down or bow, because the entrance door is narrow and low. Bowing or bending down is a gesture that signifies humility. The entrance to that church is kept like that intentionally to remind those who would enter that they must humble themselves to visit the birthplace of the Prince of Peace. But the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, the God-who-is-with-us, has set the example first. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he writes: Though he was in the form of God, he did not seek equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. This is what Christmas is all about. Jesus was born in a manger. The Son of God was wrapped in swaddling clothes. His first visitors were not the VIP’s but the lowly shepherds. Jesus, our Lord, embraced humanity in order to show us the way to the Father.

 In his Christmas message, Cardinal Tagle of Manila wrote that people are wondering, “How would Christmas be like for the survivors of the Zamboanga crisis, the earthquake in Bohol and the super typhoon Haiyan in the Visayas?” He said that a lady in Palo, Leyte, gave him the answer to the question. That survivor said, “With the ruins around us, this would probably be the first time I would celebrate and understand the true meaning of Christmas.” Cardinal Tagle said that her answer brings us back to the central sign of Christmas: the humble baby in the manger who is truly the Son of God. All other other signs of Christmas: lights, food, revelry, costumes and gifts, must be rooted in and draw their meaning from the core sign: the humble person of the Son of God who emptied himself to become one of us.

 Even though the first Christmas took place without fanfare, we rejoice and we cannot help but celebrate it with all the bright and colorful trimmings that are now associated with Christmas. We rejoice because we have seen the light of the world in Jesus, the word of God made flesh. The prophet Isaiah writes: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. The Christmas lights remind us that we are no longer in the dark. Christmas should not be a once a year event so that we remain mindful of how it is to walk in the light. Walking in the light means being humble as Jesus is humble, loving as Jesus loves unconditionally, forgiving as Jesus forgives without limit, making Jesus number one in our life. The good news that we hear on Christmas is that we are not alone as we walk in the light, because Jesus, who is called Emmanuel, is with us. Keeping that in mind we now understand why everyday is Christmas because the truth is: Christmas is in our hearts. And for as long as we live our light shines in our daily living of the mystery of Christmas. After the liturgical season of Christmas, we put away all the Christmas lights. But we are not packed away. The gift of light is not just given for a season but for all eternity. Christmas is forever.

 Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad! Maligayang Pasko!

Excitement about Christmas

Dear Parishioners and Friends,

          We all get excited about Christmas. When I was in the Philippines last month, many of the houses and business establishments were already decked with Christmas decorations. They say that Christmas start early in the Philippines and Filipinos celebrate Christmas for the longest time. After the devastating earthquake and super typhoon that hit the Philippines, the celebration of Christmas may not be the same again for those who have been affected by these calamities. However, the celebration of Christmas reminds them that they are not alone. Emmanuel, the God-who-is-with-us, comes in the person of the child Jesus who was born on that first Christmas Day. This is the good news that we hear and that is why we get excited about Christmas.

          The excitement about Christmas tends to bring out the best in us. This is the time when we become more generous. Most of the time, our generosity is the result of our sacrifices. We give until it hurts for that is what real giving means. In the Philippines a lot of Filipinos have decided that instead of having lavish Christmas parties, they would donate the money to be spent for the parties to the earthquake and typhoon victims. That’s something exciting not only to the victims but also to the donors because this is what the spirit of Christmas is all about. I am sure that many of us here in America have done our part in reaching out to those devastated by these calamities.

          Finally, what is more exciting about Christmas is that it is not just a once a year event. There is a Christmas carol that says something like this: We wish that everyday is Christmas. Indeed Christmas can be a daily event when we all try to identify our will with that of God's will. When we reach out to others in need, Christmas happens. When we humble ourselves to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others as well, Christmas takes place. It is Christmas when we forget ourselves in many ways to prioritize the well-being of others. When we are able to do all these we can all rejoice and join the heavenly hosts in singing, "Glory to God in the highest!"

          Magandang Pasko po! Merry Christmas!

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