Friday, June 29, 2018

Ann Jillian, a three-time Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning actress and singer, is an American actress born to Roman Catholic Lithuanian immigrant parents. Since 1985, she has added motivational speaking to her impressive list of credits, addressing business, medical, professional and women's groups with her own unique blend of humor and inspiration. Her prowess extends from the world’s concert halls, to feature film and the Broadway stage.  She has starred in over 25 TV movies and made hundreds of other TV appearances. Her TV movie, The Ann Jillian Story, which recounts her victory over breast cancer, was the #1 film of that TV season, but, more important, it delivered Ann's message about the hopeful side of breast cancer to its millions of viewers.  It was in 1985 that the then 35-year-old actress made headlines when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  On her way to the hospital to check the nature of the growth which she had noticed, she stopped at St. Francis de Sales Church and read the inscription on the door. “The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.” She went into the Church and prayed for the strength to accept her ordeal.  The radiant trust in God and peace of mind she maintained before and after the surgery (double mastectomy), was big news in the media and a great inspiration for all cancer patients. She trusted in Jesus’ words given in today’s Gospel, “Do not be afraid; just have Faith.” 

Today’s Gospel describes two of our Lord's miracles and these healings teach us that Jesus wills life, full life, for all God’s children.  These miracles were worked by Jesus as reward for the trusting Faith of a synagogue ruler and of a woman with a hemorrhage. Although the Faith of the ruler may have been defective, and the woman’s Faith may have been a bit superstitious, Jesus amply rewarded the Faith they had by granting them health and life. 
The stories have several common features.  One woman is 12 years old, and the other has suffered for 12 years.  Both are called “daughter,” and both are in need of physical healing.  The girl’s father is encouraged to have Faith, and the older woman is praised for her Faith.  The two stories illustrate Jesus’ power over both chronic illness and death.  In each healing, Jesus shows his marvelous generosity by giving the recipients life and salvation in addition to physical healing.
As the ruler of the synagogue, Jairus was a well-respected man in the local Jewish community.  He was the administrative head of the synagogue, the president of the board of elders and the one responsible for the conduct of the services.  He probably shared in the Pharisees’ prejudice that Jesus was a heretic and a wandering preacher to be avoided.  If so, the urgency of his need and the helplessness of the situation prompted him to forget his position, to swallow his pride and prejudice and to seek help from Jesus the wandering wonder-worker.

The other account tells of a woman who came to Jesus with expectant Faith as a last resort, after trying every other cure known in her day.  The woman’s boldness in touching Jesus' garment -- which, according to the Law, made Jesus unclean -- could have angered him. Further, because her “chronic bleeding disease” rendered her ritually unclean, any contact she had with others in the crowd, made them also ritually unclean as well. That may be why she decided to try to touch the tassels of Jesus' garment secretly.   But her Faith in the healing power of Jesus was so strong that she risked breaking all the social rules to seek what she believed He could do for her.  In addition to healing, she gained a personal relationship with Jesus as a member of his family (3:35). He called her daughter. 
God always rewards faith. Sometimes he tests our faith. Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace.

One Jesuit theologian Fr. Peter Arokiadoss was dying of cancer. On the eve of his death, when asked by a relative why God gave him a priest, such sickness, Arokiadoss replied: “No, God didn’t give me this sickness. All of us have cancer cells which are under control. Most likely because of my lifestyle or food or sleeping habits, I might have given cause for these cells to grow and destroy the good cells. God does not cause sickness, we cause it ourselves.” The opening words of today’s reading declare: “Death was not God’s doing.” We often feel that God is the cause of all births/deaths, but Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it in abundance.” Indeed, God is a God of Life and “death is not God’s doing.” It is, rather, we who cause death in myriad forms – through our sin, selfishness, pride, power-plays, greed and godlessness.

We may be committed and praying Christians, but do we think large enough thoughts about God? Do we really believe that God can do anything? A book has been written with the startling title, Your God Is Too Small. That title is a wake-up challenge to all of us. If we believe in an all-powerful God, it should be reflected in the confidence with which we turn to God in prayer. "Ask and you shall receive," Jesus urged. Yet we often wonder whether or not God can really help us. Wake up to the power which God possesses, power he has promised to use on our behalf.

Every day we should say a fervent prayer of thanksgiving to God for the gift of active Faith.  Let us keep in mind this wise piece of advice given by St. Ignatius of Loyola: “We must work as if everything depends on us, but we must pray as if everything depends on God.” 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist: Is 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66, 80)

Mother Teresa relates an incident from her life. Once a man came to the home for the dying and just walked straight into the ward. Mother Teresa was sitting there. A while later the man came to Mother and said to her, “I came here with so much hate in my heart; hate for God and hate for man. I came here empty and embittered, and I saw a Sister giving her wholehearted attention to that patient there and realized that God still lives. Now I go out a different man. I believe there is a God and he loves us still.”

That sister paved the way for God in that embittered man’s life. John the Baptist, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah was the voice that was making the way straight for the Lord. He facilitated the coming of Jesus. He paved the way for Christ’s coming by his austere life, preaching and death.
We celebrate the feast of the Birth of John the Baptist this Sunday instead of the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time because of John’s prominent role in the history of salvation as the forerunner of the Messiah.

John the Baptist is like a first draft for Jesus.  They were alike in some ways: they were cousins, almost the same age; both emerged from the desert, urging people to a different way of life; both announced that events were coming to a head.  Jesus had called John the greatest man that ever lived (Lk 7:28), and he queued up with the crowds to be baptized by him. Yet they were different.  Despite all his fire, John’s message in the end was rather conventional.  “Tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’  He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’   Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’” (Lk 3:12-14).  He was, you might say, a moralist.  Jesus is more than a moralist. His claims exceeded those of any moralist.  He claimed that he and the Father were one.  He alone was able to say, “The Kingdom (the Presence) of God is among you.”   This is much more powerful than all the moralism in the world. 

The birth of St John the Baptist is like a huge billboard that sums up the whole history of salvation and says: "God hasn't forgotten about us, and he never will forget about us!" He is so interested in our lives and so active in the world, that he cares about sinners and wants to save them.

St John the Baptist's whole life, from his birth to his martyr's death, was a billboard for this all-important truth, that God is active in the world. John's awareness of this truth spurred him on to show and remind people of God's interest in their lives, through his example, words, and actions. He was faithful to his life's mission, because he knew that God wanted to work through him to pave the way for Christ, to change people's lives for the better. His was a life of self-denial and mortification and he led a very difficult life and ministry. 

Every Christian is called to be a saint, another John the Baptist, to be a herald of God's wonderful action in the world. But we are not all called to do so in the same way. St John the Baptist gave his entire life for the cause of Christ's Kingdom -- to be a prophet and martyr, a full-time billboard for Christ. God asked him to leave aside the normal path of life in order to fulfill this special vocation. God is still calling young men and women to do the same thing -- to give him their lives as priests, missionaries, and consecrated religious. In fact, if today's world seems in greater need than ever of Christ's message, we can be sure that God is also calling more messengers than ever.
All of us can help that call be heard, and help those being called give a generous answer. We can do so with our prayers, praying every day for vocations.  We can also do so with our words, encouraging young men and women to give Christ the first shot at their hearts. And if you happen to be one of those people Christ is calling in a special way, do not be afraid!

Today the Church is renewing our awareness of the same truth. And so today, we can also renew our commitments to our life-missions.
It was God who gave St John the Baptist his mission, and it was God's grace that enabled him to fulfill it.  Today Jesus will come to us in Holy Communion, giving us that same grace, that very same strength that has worked wonders throughout salvation history. Let's receive it joyfully, and let's promise Jesus that we will put it to work, becoming living billboards that show God is still at work in the world.
St. John the Baptist, pray for us to stay faithful to Jesus Christ whatever persecutions it may bring us.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

OT XI (B): Ez 17:22-24; II Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34   

You probably don't recognize the name, Rita Antoinette Rizzo. Rita was born on April 20, 1923. She had a rough childhood which she spent mostly in poverty. When she was a young woman Rita decided to become a nun. At 21 she entered the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, a Franciscan religious order for women. She believed that God was calling her into television ministry. At the time she didn't know anything about television except how to turn one on. But she prayed about it and decided to go ahead with the project, believing that everything would fall into place. With only two hundred dollars and a handful of other Sisters, she became the only woman in religious broadcasting to own a network. She went on to found a new house for the order in 1962 in Irondale, Alabama, where the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), is headquartered. In 1996 she initiated the building of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of the Angels monastery in Hanceville, Alabama. This sister, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, suffered a stroke in 2003 and was semi-paralyzed and unable to communicate from then until her death on March 27, 2016. But she is seen still by millions of people on her prerecorded twice-weekly program, "Mother Angelica Live." Her network, EWTN, is available 24 hours a day everywhere in the world. Visitors to the EWTN complex in Birmingham, Alabama cannot help but be impressed with what God has accomplished using this little nun - a monastery, network facilities complete with satellite dish, a print shop and a chapel.

Jesus’ “Kingdom parables” in today’s Gospel point to the Kingdom as a Divine act rather than a human accomplishment.
The example of the grain shows us that this requires cultivation, waiting for the right time to reap the spiritual harvest of our labors, but also that God does the heavy lifting. The growth that is quiet, slow, and unseen, at times even when we’re not doing anything, comes from him and his grace working in our souls and the souls of others. 
This seed grows by using the power of the Holy Spirit, given to us through the word of God, the Mass, the Sacraments and prayer.

We can all plant tiny seeds in the form of words of love, acts of encouragement, deeds of charity, mercy and forgiveness. Parents and teachers can plant a lot of seeds in the minds of their children and students. The Holy Spirit will touch the hearts of the recipients of these seeds sown by us and will effect growth of the Kingdom in their souls and lives. As the apostle Paul once said of his ministry, "Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth" (1 Corinthians 3:7).

Last Month the nation celebrated Mothers’ day. And this weekend we honor the Fathers. A Christian father should become a role model for our children’s concept of God. When a four-year-old hears "Father;" the only father he knows anything about is the one that lives with him and says, "Pass the biscuits, please;" so he asks..."Is God like Daddy?" It is a heavy load! But a good load to consider on Fathers' Day.

In an article entitled "Fathering Fatherless America" Dr. Scott J. Larson reports: One in two children now grow up without a father in the United States, and in our inner cities only one in five children live with their father. A whole new mission field has developed in America: Fathering fatherless kids.
"Rising divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births, according to a survey given in times magazine, shows that more than 40% of all children born between 1970 and 1984 are likely to spend much of their childhood living in single parent homes." And the impact of these fatherless homes on the children is significant, if not devastating.
Time goes on to say, "Studies of young criminals have found that more than 70% of all juveniles in state reform institutions come from fatherless homes.

A study of church attendance sometime back showed that if both Mom and Dad attended church regularly 72 percent of their children remain faithful to the church. If only Mom attended regularly, only 15 percent remained faithful. So the church is thankful for Christian fathers. And so are Christian mothers, needless to say.

The best way to love our children is to love and respect their mother.
The best gift we can give our children is a sense of safety and security as they grow up.
It’s more important to give them your time, not your money, it’s more important to be respected by them than to be liked by them, it’s more important to encourage them in their interests than to require them to share your interests.

The following is a quote from Robert Keeshan, better known to America as Captain Kangaroo.
A small child waits with impatience the arrival home of a parent. She wishes to relate some sandbox experience. She is excited to share the thrill that she has known that day. The time comes; the parent arrives. Beaten down by the stresses of the workplace the parent often replies: "Not know, honey, I'm busy, go watch television." The most often spoken words in the American household today are the words: go watch television. If not now, when? Later. But later never comes for many and the parent fails to communicate at the very earliest of ages. We give her designer clothes and computer toys, but we do not give her what she wants the most, which is our time. Now, she is fifteen and has a glassy look in her eyes. Honey, do we need to sit down and talk? Too late. Love has passed by.”

Therefore you and your time is more important for your children than your money. Of course money is needed to run the home. But, not at the expense of your availability for your children and spouse.

Fathers, your vocation is a huge call. But learn to balance duties in life. We honor your sacrifice for your family. Without you, your children would not have a balanced upbringing.

And because you are there, life goes smoothly. The car always runs, the bills get paid, and the lawn stayed mowed. Because you are there, the laughter is fresh and the future is secure. Because you are there the kids never get worried about things like income tax, savings accounts, monthly bills, or mortgages. You are not in the family picture, because we know you were behind the camera. Today you are honored. Ask God to help you to help your children know God the Father, by your life and sacrifices for them. Happy Fathers’ day.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

OT X (B)  Gen 3. 9:15; II Cor 4:13--5:1; Mk 3:20-35

Both the first reading and the gospel speak of devil and his works. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, Satan had been the “ruler of this world.” Jesus said: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out” (Jn. 12:31). After creating the world God handed it to Man to take care of it and rule it. But Satan by trickery got that power from man.
With the arrival of Christ, we are faced with someone who repeatedly outmatches Satan. He casts out demons effortlessly, with a mere word or touch, and, above all, he forgives sin, freeing souls from the most dire of Satan’s entrapments.  

And they were so extraordinary, that the leaders in Jerusalem sent some representatives to investigate. And when they discovered the Lord’s amazing works, they had to offer some kind of explanation.  They could not, however, explain Jesus’ special powers as coming from God, since that would require them to accept his teaching as well.  But his teaching contradicted much of their own, and so to accept it would be to relinquish their status and influence.  
So they attributed his works to a pact made with the devil – one of whose names was “Beelzebub.”  Jesus calmly but clearly points out the absurdity of their claim.  His consistent reversal of the devil’s conquests shows that he is not only at odds with the ancient enemy, but also more powerful than him.  
 With Christ on our side, the devil can’t really harm us. But he still tries to – he tries to separate us from God and the protection of Christ, so that he can then lead us back into the slavery of his lies and deceptions. This is what St. Peter meant when he wrote in his First Letter to all Christians: “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
And it will make all of us a little bit wiser if we understand the five different ways that the devil tries to upset the work of God in our souls and in the world.

The rarest and most dramatic way that the devil tries to disturb our relationship with God is through demonic possession. Possession is when a devil concentrates its activity within a person's body. The devil can never take over a person’s soul, or make a person sin - God protects our freedom from that kind of attack. This is why, during times of crisis, a possessed person can show extraordinary physical strength, or speak and understand languages that the person never learned, or exhibit other strange phenomena.
Almost always, cases of possession originate when a person gets involved with the occult, spiritism, or witchcraft. When someone does that, they open the door to the influence of evil spirits that are in rebellion against Jesus Christ.
The Church has a special ritual that is used to free someone from possession - it is called exorcism. Exorcism consists of a series of prayers and sacramentals, performed by a priest officially designated by the bishop. Fr.Bob Rottgers (at St.Philip’s) is the one in this diocese.

There are also some other extra-ordinary ways that the devil tries to interfere with our lives. Sometimes, the devil and his fallen angels cause frightening physical disturbances in certain places, or even to our own bodies. These can take the forms of loud or strange noises, slamming doors or windows, or even more alarming effects.
St. John Vianney, a holy parish priest who lived in 19th-century France, for example, was dragged around his room by the devil. One time the devil even set his bed on fire. Luckily, the saintly priest was hearing confessions at the time. Later, when he was told what happened, his only response was to say that since the devil couldn't catch the bird, he set the cage on fire! When these physical disturbances are concentrated in certain places, they are called infestations.

When they directly affect someone's body (not from within, as in possession, but from the outside) they are called demonic oppression.
When they bother someone's mind, they are called demonic obsession - this happens even to saints.
Many saints, towards the end of their lives, were assailed by blasphemous thoughts, for example. These thoughts appeared suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere. But they battered the saints' minds intensely and repeatedly. That's what happens in demonic obsession. Therefore it is always advisable to help the dying with prayers. Even though they are not responsive they could be fighting temptation. The best prayer that could help at this time is Hail Mary, in which we ask Mary’s help to pray for us sinners NOW and at the hour of death. Pray this, surrounding the dying person.

Blessings, holy water, and other prayers and sacramentals are sturdy defenses against this kind of devilish attacks.
Possession, infestation, oppression, and obsession can frighten us, but they usually lead us to exercise our faith in order to get rid of them. Temptation, the devil’s favorite tactics, on the other hand, tries to lead us into sin - and only sin can really damage our souls and interfere with our friendship with God.
We have ingrained tendencies towards selfishness, greed, lust, depression, anger... (the theological word for these tendencies is “concupiscence”). These tendencies, when they are not curbed and formed by virtue, can get us into trouble. They can blind us to God's will, to what is right.
To counter this, the Church is constantly reminding us of: daily, heartfelt prayer, the sacraments, especially Communion and Confession, and a daily effort to follow Christ's teaching and example in our words, actions, and relationships.

But there's one other thing that is truly essential, and that we too often overlook. Temptation always begins in our minds, with a thought, an invitation to choose our will over God's will. And so, we need to form the habit of reflection, of interior silence, of discerning the origin of our different thoughts. None of us are impervious to temptation. Even Jesus had been tempted by Satan. But his 40 days of prayer and reflection in the wilderness helped him overcome the temptation successfully. Let’s also form a habit of prayer and deep reflection everyday so that we can be successful in our fight against the arch enemy, the Satan.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

(EX. 24:3-8, HEB. 9:11-15, MK: 14:12-16, 22-26)

Dominic Tang, the courageous Chinese archbishop, was imprisoned for twenty-one years for nothing more than his loyalty to Christ and Christ’s one true Church. After five years of solitary confinement in a windowless, damp cell, the Archbishop was told by his jailers that he could leave it for a few hours to do whatever he wanted. Five years of solitary confinement and he had a couple of hours to do what he wanted! What would it be? A hot shower? A change of clothes? Certainly, a long walk outside? A chance to call or write to family? What would it be, the jailer asked him.  “I would like to say Mass,” replied Archbishop Tang. [Msgr. Timothy M. Dolan, Priests of the Third Millennium (2000), p. 216].

The former archbishop of San Francisco, John Quinn, loves to tell the story of the arrival of Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity to open their house in the city. Poor Archbishop Quinn had gone to great efforts to make sure that their convent was, while hardly opulent, quite comfortable. He recalls how Mother Teresa arrived and immediately ordered the carpets removed, the telephones, except for one, pulled out of the wall, the beds, except for the mattresses taken away, and on and on. Explained Mother Teresa to the baffled archbishop, “All we really need in our convent is the tabernacle” [Msgr. Timothy M. Dolan in Priests of the Third Millennium (2000), p. 218.]

On this annual feast of Corpus Christi, we focus on the Eucharist in the context of his Resurrection.
After the Holy Thursday liturgy, there is a Eucharistic procession (in this parish we do it to the School Library) that reminds us of the procession Jesus and his Apostles made to Gethsemane. After the Corpus Christi Mass, there is often a procession in which we bring the Eucharist out into the streets, reminding us of the Church's mission to bring the Good News to the whole world. Holy Thursday is the sorrowful celebration of the Eucharist, and Corpus Christi is the joyful celebration of the Eucharist.

The Corpus Christi is three feasts in one: the feast of the Eucharistic sacrifice, feast of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the feast of the Real Presence of Jesus. The sacrificial aspect of this feast emphasizes the theme of Covenant blood because the ancient peoples sealed covenants with the blood of ritually sacrificed animals, and Jesus sealed this New Covenant with his own Blood, shed on Calvary. The first reading describes how Moses, by sprinkling the blood of a sacrificed animal on the altar and on the people ratified the covenant. Since the altar symbolizes Yahweh’s presence, all the Covenant-makers now have blood splattered on them.  The Letter to the Hebrews explains the rituals of the Old Testament as foreshadowing and pointing to their fulfillment in Christ, in God-with-us.

Today’s Gospel details how Jesus converted this ancient ritual into a Sacrament and sacrifice.  Instead of the lamb’s blood, Jesus offered his own Divine/human Body and Blood and, instead of sprinkling us with blood, Jesus put it into our hands as food. Since it was his own, this Blood needed no further identification with God by splashing against an altar.  Mark recounts the institution of the Eucharist -- how Jesus said to his disciples, gathered for the Seder:  "Take, … eat … this is my Body" -- not "represents,” or "memorializes", but "IS"! 
Finally, the Blood was "to be poured out for you and for many (a Semitism for 'all')."  Thus, the new and perfect Paschal Lamb accomplished for people of every nation what Mosaic sacrifices only imperfectly achieved for the Jews.

Vatican II states that as a sacrifice "the Holy Eucharist is the center and culmination of Christian life" (L.G.11).  

The Eucharist is the symbol of God's presence.  St Maximilian Kolbe wrote, “God dwells in our midst, in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar." It is the symbol of God's concern and God’s immeasurable love. St. Peter Julian Eymard expressed it as,”The Eucharist is the supreme proof of the love of Jesus. After this, there is nothing more but Heaven itself."  

When we receive the Holy Communion we become the tabernacle where Jesus is present. So Maximilian Kolbe says, ' If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion." Hence, it is binding on us that we should keep the tabernacle, ourselves, holy. 

St Francis de Sales preached to the people, "When you have received Him, stir up your heart to do Him homage, welcome Him as warmly as possible, and behave outwardly in such a way that your actions may give proof to all of His Presence." Blessed Damian dedicated his life for the service of the lepers. It was a hard choice. He said, "Blessed Sacrament is, indeed, the stimulus for me to forsake all worldly ambitions."

 As we celebrate this great feast of Faith, let us worship what St. Thomas Aquinas did not hesitate to call, "the greatest miracle that Christ ever worked on earth .”..... My Body ........ My Blood". Let us also repeat St. Thomas Aquinas' prayer of devotion in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament:  "O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament Divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!"