a Word from the pastor
March 11, 2018
Of the three pillars of Lent — prayer, fasting and almsgiving — almsgiving is surely the most neglected. And yet, in the only place where the Bible brings all three together, the inspired author puts the emphasis firmly on the last: "Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness ... It is better to give alms than to store up gold; for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin. Those who regularly give alms shall enjoy a full life" (Tob. 12:8-9).
Why is almsgiving better than prayer and fasting? Almsgiving is prayer, and it involves fasting. Almsgiving is a form of prayer because it is "giving to God". It is a form of fasting because it demands sacrificial giving — not just giving something, but giving up something, giving till it hurts. Jesus presented almsgiving as a necessary part of Christian life: "when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" (Mt 6:2-3).
He does not say IF you give alms, but WHEN. Like fasting and prayer, almsgiving is non-negotiable. The first Christians knew this. "There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need" (Acts 4: 34-35). That was the living embodiment of a basic principle of Catholic social teaching, what tradition calls "the universal destination of goods." The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it succinctly: "The goods of creation are destined for the entire human race" (n. 2452). But they can't get there unless we put them there — and that requires effort.
As with prayer and fasting, so with almsgiving. If we have a plan, we'll find it easier to do. Throughout history, many Christians have used the Old Testament practice of "tithing" as a guide — that is, they give a tenth of their income "to God." In practice, that means giving it to the poor, to the parish, or to charitable institutions. God will not be outdone in generosity. Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35), but those who tithe often find themselves on the receiving end as well. Indeed, many Catholics extend the concept of almsgiving beyond money to include time and talent as well,
donating a portion of these to worthy causes. Sometimes all we can give is a smile, but sometimes that is the greatest sacrifice, the greatest prayer, and indeed the most generous and most sacrificial alms. Let us all remember to be generous to each other as God has been generous to all of us. God bless.
March 4, 2018
As we continue our Lenten journey I would like to point out a few things about abstaining and fasting during this holy time in the church calendar. Lent is the time before Easter during which the faithful abstain and fast in remembrance of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made on Calvary. It is a 40 day period of preparation before Easter, the memorial of the death and resurrection of Jesus. There are two main ways that Catholics use to focus on growing closer to God during the Lenten season: 1) abstinence and 2) fasting.
What is abstinence? This is the act of “doing without” or avoiding something. For example, someone may abstain from chocolate or alcohol by not consuming them. Particular days of abstinence during Lent are Fridays, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. As canon law states, Catholics over the age of 14 are expected to abstain from the eating of meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays throughout the Lenten Season. This means no red meat or fowl. During the season of Lent, Catholics are also encouraged to undertake some sort of personal penance or abstinence. Examples would include giving up sweets, a favorite TV show or not listening to the radio in the car on the way to work. Giving up these things isn't some sort of endurance test, but these acts are done to draw the faithful closer to Christ. As I have suggested at previous Masses, when one gives something up, one should replace that with something such as devotions, reciting the rosary, or spiritual readings. As always, when considering acts of penance that are stricter than the norm, it is important that one speak with a priest or spiritual director. Any act of penance that would seriously hinder one's health or the health of others would be contrary to the will of God.
As for fasting, this is the act of going with less. In the Latin rite Catholic Church, those aged between 18 - 59 must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On such days, those fasting may eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals sufficient to maintain strength. However, together, the smaller meals should not equal a full meal. Eating between meals is not encouraged, but liquids are allowed. It is important to understand that the Church excuses certain people from these obligations. Examples include those who are frail, pregnant or manual laborers. The Church understands that certain people are not able to commit to the Lenten fast.
The time of Lent, through fasting and abstaining, may be an important reminder of what it means to suffer. This small suffering should not be met with misery but with great joy as we better understand the incredible sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for all of us. As is written in the Gospel: “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” Let us fast together and sacrifice for the betterment of all humanity and to share in Christ’s suffering. God bless
February 25, 2018
In last Sunday’s “Pastor’s Corner”, I wrote about the three demands Jesus makes of us which were: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Each of these words can sound rather daunting, but in fact need not be. Prayer is simple enough, but it does take practice and patience to achieve the desired effect. Prayer is a personal endeavor each of us undertakes and as such that effort may take many years to achieve in a way that is both fulfilling and satisfactory. But sometimes we grow inpatient in our prayer life because the answer we get may not be the answer we hoped to hear. We forget that God is in charge and He only answers in His own and infinite time. God is not answerable to us, but we are to Him.
This sometimes sounds discouraging but as sons and daughters we see God not as an angry, mean, or unfair God, but as a wise, loving, and forgiving God whose desire is to reconcile our friendship with Him. Jesus tempers our emotions and elevates our moral behavior as he invites us to a life of sincerity and integrity. Jesus gives us the outline of how to pray and the understanding of prayer and God; this is spiritual maturity and growth that each of us seeks and will achieve through meditation and prayer.
In terms of prayer, Jesus calls us not to pray as the hypocrites do, “but to pray with sincerity of heart and soul”. He reminds us that when we pray, our focus should be on God and not on material things. To focus on God is to open ourselves up, thus making us aware of who God truly is in our lives. Jesus also welcomes us to go into an “inner room”, behind closed doors… “and pray to your Father in private.” This privacy helps us to retain a purity of intention and keep our focus on God only. In this way prayer can become a place of rest and vulnerability, as well as a time of self-examination of the things we regret and the sorrow we experience. I have often times than not, gone into my small chapel to pray in private and then felt a sense of relief, as though the burden of everyday life had been lifted off my shoulders.
As Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” What a beautiful phrase for our Lord to utter. This one verse, for myself, gives me a sense of trust and calm. Here Jesus is assuring His disciples and followers of his promise to guide and assist us when life becomes too rough or too difficult for us to handle alone. As Thomas Merton writes; “To know the Cross is not merely to know our own sufferings. For the Cross is the sign of salvation, and no man is saved by his own sufferings. To know the Cross is to know that we are saved by the sufferings of Christ; more, it is to know the
love of Christ Who underwent suffering and death in order to save us. It is, then, to know Christ.”
Next week I will discuss Fasting within the context of the Lenten season and how it relates to Christ’s suffering. God Bless
February 18, 2018
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, our forty-day preparation period for Easter. As an aide to this preparation, the liturgy contains the proclamation of Jesus’ teachings on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Taken from the Sermon on the Mount, which is the greatest summary of the Lord’s way of love, these instructions give a clear and challenging call to the spiritual life. For some, the spiritual life is identical to wishful thinking or warm sentiments. For others, spirituality is a moral system or a political agenda. Breaking through all these understandings and going right to the heart of every human being, however, Jesus tempers our emotions and elevates our moral behavior as he invites us to a life of sincerity and integrity.
Jesus gives us the outline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to help us in this effort. Through the course of time, these three practices have come to be recognized as a three-ring standard of spiritual maturity and growth. And so, in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord addresses them and gives very practical counsel on how we can live them. In terms of prayer, Jesus calls us not to pray as the hypocrites do, but to pray with sincerity of heart and soul. The Lord reminds us that when we pray, our focus should be on God and not on what our neighbors are thinking. He tells us that those who indulge in public displays
of prayer merely for themselves have already received their reward. Contrary to this, Jesus welcomes us to go into an “inner room,” behind closed doors, and covered by a modest secrecy. This privacy helps us to retain a purity of Intention and keep our focus on God. In this way, prayer can become a place of rest and vulnerability, as well as a time for examination of our conscience. Prayer becomes life-giving and an opportunity for true adoration of God.
In terms of fasting, Jesus rebukes us. He explains that when we fast, we should not look gloomy! He says not to neglect our appearance so that others might know that we are fasting. Again the Lord calls for discretion. Fasting is to be a private matter made for personal intentions. By keeping it relatively quiet, we spare ourselves from stress and social scrutiny. This provides us with a freedom of heart and by it our sacrificial fasting is enriched both in terms of our own spiritual development and in our worship of God. Jesus, therefore, instructs us to be truly ourselves and not an image others desire of us.
In terms of almsgiving, the Lord gives his strongest command. He instructs us that we should not perform good deeds so that other people can see them. We’re told not to blow trumpets before us when we give to others. While trumpets were literally blown before benefactors in Jesus’ historical context, the counsel still applies to us. While figurative in our contemporary context, the point is still made: we should keep our charitable outreach between God and our own hearts. Jesus bluntly states, “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” And so, our almsgiving is to be done without fanfare or a desire for public recognition. They are to be real, interior acts of love to our neighbor because we love God and want to share his love with others.
In each of these three practices - prayer, fasting, and almsgiving - the Lord calls us to be true to ourselves, to our own hearts, and to our understanding of God. As Assumption parish solemnly begins Lent, I invite our whole community to deepen these three spiritual practices. We’re called to break from pride and to purify our practices and make them more meaningful, allowing them to fulfill what this season is about… our salvation.
February 11, 2018
What happened to winter? Last week was Super Bowl Sunday and the weather in Minneapolis was a balmy 2 degrees! I cannot imagine how cold that is. I get frost bitten when the temperature dips below 68. Here in California we’re already experiencing spring-like weather and with this type of weather my mind begins to think about gardening, vacation, and grilling outside in my patio. But I also think of the coming Lenten and Easter high holy days.
These two great events are observed by both the Latin and Eastern rite churches and other western faith traditions. Lent is a time to prepare ourselves by doing three things our faith asks of us, that is fasting, prayer and almsgiving. But prayer, to some, does not come easily, so consequently they give up and walk away with a negative connotation of what really is prayer. And as I say to those who give up on prayer, DON’T GIVE UP! Prayer, in our own faith journey, requires us to be diligent and to move forward always. Like a doctor, lawyer or engineer, the person who is serious about their faith needs to deepen the meaning of prayer by searching within themselves and reading spiritual books that will assist them in their long journey. The next three Sundays I will write about prayer, why we fast and what is almsgiving. In this way I hope to assist you during your Lenten journey.
Another way to understanding the meaning of Lent is simple: Baptism. Preparation for Baptism and for renewing baptismal commitment lies at the heart of the season. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has re-emphasized the baptismal character of Lent, especially through the restoration of the Catechumenate and its Lenten rituals. Our challenge today is to renew our understanding of this important season of the Church year and to see how we can integrate our personal practices into this renewed perspective.
Why is Baptism so important in our Lenten understanding? Lent as a 40-day season developed in the fourth century from three merging sources. The first was the ancient Paschal fast that began as a two-day observance before Easter but was gradually lengthened to 40 days. The second was the catechumenate as a process of preparation for Baptism, including an intense period of preparation for the Sacraments of Initiation to be celebrated at Easter. The third was the Order of Penitents, which was modeled on the catechumenate and sought a second conversion for those who had fallen back into serious sin
after Baptism. As the catechumens (candidates for Baptism) entered their final period of preparation for Baptism, the penitents and the rest of the community accompanied them on their journey and prepared to renew their baptismal vows at Easter. It is this understanding of the season that I hope to explain and provide food for thought while instilling in you as a community of believers a stronger commitment and a greater appreciation of the meaning of this season.
Easter is more than a chocolate bunny and an Easter egg hunt. Easter is about our Salvation and resurrection to the Kingdom that awaits us all as members of the body of Christ.
February 4, 2018
A few weeks ago I was perusing through my library to find a subject to present at one of our parish lectures when I came across a book I had forgotten I bought some time ago. The book is an autobiography of the Catholic social activist Dorothy Day. A friend recommended the book and thought I would be interested in getting to know this great Catholic woman. So with that, I began to read about this dedicated and accomplished woman. One interesting thing about Dorothy is that she had an ongoing relationship with Thomas Merton, one of the most famous prolific and spiritual writers of the last century and someone whom I admire. For some odd reason, this did not surprise me as I have read other women from that period of American Catholics involved in social issues; this was after all during the time of the Great Depression, World War II, and the tumultuous decades that followed. Another contemporary of Day and Merton was a woman I was not familiar with, Catherine de Hueck Doherty. Together these two women made me proud of our Catholic heritage.
Our Church has given us many people who gave themselves fully to causes that were important, especially to social justice in this country. Often times I find myself defending the Church against those who accuse the Church of not recognizing women and their contributions. If we look closely at our history throughout the centuries, we can see the many contributions women have made and continue to make to this day.
I especially admire one woman for her major contribution to our country and Church, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. Last Sunday at the 9:00 Mass we celebrated Catholic School’s Week. I started thinking about St. Elizabeth Seton, the life she led, the community of sisters she founded and the school system she and her companions established. This was a great fete for women of the eighteenth century to accomplish. The Church gave her the opportunity to exercise her vision and to fill a demand that was sorely needed by the Irish immigrants to our country. Her vision of educating the poor and the needy continues to this day as we see our elementary, secondary and institutes of higher education continue her mission into the future. Our schools, colleges and universities have and continue to produce outstanding men and women who care deeply for our Church and our country. They care for the poor, the needy and the disenfranchised who, unfortunately, still exist in our country of plenty.
These Catholic women who sometimes go without recognition and care less about fame and fortune, continue to do their work behind the scenes. But, that doesn’t mean that we should blind ourselves to their accomplishments. Let us together remember the Dorothy Days, Elizabeth Setons, and Catherine Dohertys of our Church. Let us remember our contemporary sisters today and encourage young women to pursue their dreams in the Church.
January 28, 2018
Father Leonard is away on vacation this week. Here are some thoughts from CYCLING THROUGH THE GOSPELS by Jerome J. Sabatowich.
Ancient people did not know about germs and viruses because they did not have all the benefits of modern medicine. Ancient explanations of how people got sick and why people died may sound rather simplistic or naïve to us. Most people, including the Jews, attributed sickness and death to the power of demons or evil spirits.
Jesus began his preaching by proclaiming the reign of God is at hand. This meant that because God was about to defeat the devil and take control of the world, the signs of the devil’s power (sickness and death) would be only memories of the past.
Today’s Gospel reading is a dramatic example of the struggle between Jesus and the devil. Jesus is in the synagogue preaching when a man with an unclean spirit yells out, calling Jesus by name and identifying him as God’s Holy One.
In Scripture, the power to name someone is symbolic of having control over that person. In the second chapter of Genesis, God brought the animals he created to the man and the man named them, symbolizing his dominion over them.
The second commandment says we must not take the name of God in vain. The Jews understood this to mean they should not use God’s name at all because doing so was like trying to exert power over God. Therefore, God would have to act if his name is used in a curse and he would have to damn that person.
Similarly, the unclean spirit in today’s Gospel tries to exert power over Jesus by calling him first by name and then by referring to him as the Holy One sent by God, a title for the messiah. Fortunately for the man who was possessed, this tactic doesn’t work and Jesus shows he is more powerful than the devil by commanding him to get out of the man. However, the battle does not end there because the demon does not obey without putting up a struggle. First he throws the man into convulsions and only then does he come out with a loud shriek. Finally, the battle is over and Jesus wins.
For Reflection: The battle between Jesus and the devil continues even today. Each day of our lives we have to make decisions. Pray for the grace to always decide to do God’s will so that his reign will grow.
January 21, 2018
This Sunday marks the end of the series on the meaning of “Epiphany”. I hope this three part article has helped you to understand the importance of this special season that follows the birth of our Lord. As part of my obligations and duties as pastor of this parish, it is my sincere desire to deepen your faith; not only to deepen your faith, but to pique your interest into developing a real commitment to embrace your faith in everyday situations. This article, “Twelve Days of Christmas” by Ms. Chaney is a good source for all of us to follow as she writes in a clear and concise way that does not belittle the average person’s level of education.
The royal nuptials: Besides the important ideas outlined last week, there is still another great theme threaded through the Epiphany feast—the theme of the royal nuptials, the wedding of Christ with humanity. It is an idea on a completely different level from the historical events which the Epiphany celebrates, yet inextricably bound up with them. For example, the historical marriage feast of Cana is used by the Church to suggest the setting for Christ's nuptials with the Church; the wise men represent not only the three Persian Magi adoring the Babe over 2000 years ago at Bethlehem, but also the Gentile world hurrying to the wedding feast at the end of time when mankind's nuptials with the divine Bridegroom will be celebrated; the gold, frankincense and myrrh are not only tokens for the little Baby King in the stable, but royal wedding gifts for the mystical marriage feast of heaven.
The Epiphany antiphon for the hour of Lauds brings out strikingly this theme of the divine marriage of Christ with humanity, and at the same time shows the deep mystical significance behind the historical events surrounding the feast. Perhaps nowhere more clearly than in this antiphon do we see that on Epiphany we do not commemorate a set of historical facts as much as we celebrate a great mystery: "This day the Church is joined to her heavenly Spouse, for Christ has cleansed her crimes in the Jordan. With gifts the Magi hasten to the royal nuptials, and the guests are gladdened with wine made from water.”
Again thanks and may God bless you as we continue together in Ordinary time, Ash Wednesday and Lent and in to the Easter season.
Activity Source: The Twelve Days of Christmas
by Elsa Chaney, The Liturgical Press,
Collegeville, MN, 1955
January 7, 2018
Today is the great Feast of the Epiphany. In order to celebrate this feast of Manifestation more fully, we need to know more about the theology and significance of this feast. Some of the references to the liturgy and divine office refer to pre-Vatican II rites, but all the insights are still applicable.
For many years in the English speaking world the feast of Epiphany has been overshadowed by that of Christmas. But unless we realize the significance of this great day, we see only one side of the mystery of the Incarnation. Now after contemplating the staggering fact that God has become a human child, we turn to look at this mystery from the opposite angle and realize that this seemingly helpless Child is, in fact, the omnipotent God, the King and Ruler of the universe. The feast of Christ's divinity completes the feast of His humanity. It fulfills all our Advent longing for the King "who is come with great power and majesty." We see that whereas Christmas is the family feast of Christianity, Epiphany is the great "world feast of the Catholic Church.”
Epiphany is a complex feast. Originating in the Eastern Church and formed by the mentality of a people whose thought processes differ sharply from our own, the Epiphany is like a rich Oriental tapestry in which the various themes are woven and interwoven — now to be seen in their historical setting, again to be viewed from a different vantage point in their deep mystical significance. In this brief introduction four of the main ideas of the Epiphany will be outlined.
The Epiphany takes its name from the Greek epiphania, which denotes the visit of a god to earth. The first idea of the feast is the manifestation of Christ as the Son of God. "Begotten before the daystar and before all ages, the Lord our Savior is this day made manifest to the world." The feast unites three events in the life of Christ when His divinity, as it were, shines through His humanity: the adoration of the Magi; the baptism of Christ in the Jordan; and the first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana. Moreover, at Epiphany the Church looks forward to the majestic coming of Christ on the "youngest day" when His manifestation as God will be complete. The Gospels of the baptism and the marriage at Cana are read on the Octave Day and the Second Sunday after Epiphany, and later Sunday Masses in the Epiphany season continue to show the divine power of our Lord in some of His most striking miracles.
A second important idea in Epiphany is the extension of Christ's kingship to the whole world. The revelation of Christ to the three kings at Bethlehem is a symbol of His revelation to the whole of the Gentile world. Epiphany presents to us the calling of not merely a chosen few, but all nations to Christianity. Next Sunday I will continue this dialog of the meaning of Epiphany and how as a community of faith we should observe this time after Christmas in a more appropriate and reverential fashion.