Fortified for Mission

Trailer of the film, Francesco, which premiered on 21 October 2020 and is about the life and teaching of Pope Francis. This documentary highlights the challenges of our time, the urgencies that need answering and the mission of the Church in looking to those who suffer injustices. The film received much attention due to one scene in which the pope said in an interview regarding same-sex civil unions.

Based on Lectionary # 482
Reading 1: EPH 6:10-20
Psalm: 144:1B, 2, 9-10
Gospel: LK 13:31-35

Reflection on the Readings of the Day

Shortly after its premier in the USA, I watched the new documentary film about Pope Francis, simply titled, Francesco.  It’s not your typical biography. It’s a movie that shows us the reality of the world that we may not see or to which we have limited exposure. The movie touches about many issues including, climate change, war and peace, the refugee crises, clergy sexual abuse, religious intolerance, and social inequality. Through the example of the pastoral leadership Pope Francis, which is rooted in the example of Jesus Christ, we have a pathway to imagining what a brighter future can be. If there has ever been a moment when the world needed missionaries of God’s hope, compassion, unity, and redemption… it’s now. And it’s not going to be an easy journey. 

Just reading the headlines, listening to the daily newscast, and scrolling through posts on social media are enough to make me anxious and almost afraid to face the state that the world is in. In the Gospel, we hear the Pharisees try to make Jesus scared, too, telling him that Herod is coming to kill him. You should get out of here, they say. But, Jesus is not afraid and doesn’t back down. He says to them, thanks, but no thanks — I’m going to continue doing what I am doing as long as I stay true to God. The same goes for us who are discerning our lives of service. Rather than letting the reality of fear and suffering to force us to retreat, the gospel is inviting us to refocus and persevere in healing the earth, bridging gaps, repairing relationships, and restoring dignity. He won’t, of course, send us empty-handed and unprepared. 

Our first reading gives us the tools for the mission in which we are being formed. The letter written in Paul’s name illustrates six things steeped in symbolism which we will need. First, be grounded in the truth. Second, be in proper relationship with God. Third, be ready to work for peace. Fourth, rely on your faith to protect you. Fifth, renew your minds and keep an eternal perspective. And sixth, carry the Word of God as our tool for softening and changing hearts. 

As the first reading comes to the end, it reminds us that the redemption of the world and our own readiness for mission are fortified through prayer in the Spirit, so that when the moment comes we will know what is the right thing to say, we will be bold in proclaiming the Good News, and we will have the courage to use our voice for good even when we want to hold back. 

As I watched Francesco, the soundtrack playing in the background caught my attention. It was a sampling of a familiar church song, but I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. It was a variation of The Servant Song, in a minor key. As we continue to prepare ourselves to serve as God’s missionaries of hope, compassion, unity, and redemption, I think the lyrics of the background music underscore what we hoping to achieve with the help of the Spirit:

I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the nighttime of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear

I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through
 

Eliza Hamilton & Women in the Gospels

“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” is the finale song of Act 2 of the musical Hamilton, based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, which premiered on Broadway in 2015. A live film recording of the stage version was released on July 6, 2020. The song is performed by the character Eliza Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton.

Based on the Lectionary # 447
Reading 1: 1 COR 15:12-20
Psalm: PS 17:1BCD, 6-7, 8B AND 15
Gospel: LK 8:1-3

Gospel Reflection

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story” is a repeated line from the musical, Hamilton, which was released to a streaming platform in July 2020.  The story detailed the life and career of Alexander Hamilton, an orphaned immigrant from the Caribbean who became General Washington’s aid during the American Revolution and who served this country in its infancy as Secretary of the Treasury.  Who gets to tell the story?  So many figures in history don’t get remembered due to their lack of prominence and privilege. 

When we think about the founding of the United States of America it wouldn’t be too difficult to recall names like Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, and even Burr, who shot Hamilton.  Similarly, in the Gospels the twelve apostles are (easily) recognizable: Peter, Andrew, John, Philip, Jude, Bartholomew, Thomas, James son of Zebedee, Matthew, Simon, Judas who was replaced by Matthias, and Paul. 

However, when I think about the women in the early years of our country, I can only think of a few names: Betsy Ross, Abigail Adams, and Martha Washington. That’s pretty much it for me.  So when I watched the musical, Hamilton, I was like Eliza Hamilton?  Who’s she?  Why haven’t I heard of her before?  She may not have been the central character of the story, but her role is crucial to firming up Alexander Hamilton’s legacy. 

Similarly when I think of the women in the Gospels, I can only think of a handful, too: the Virgin Mary, Martha and Mary, Mary Magdalene, the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, the widow and her last two coins, the Samaritan woman.  I also take note that not many were named.  Women weren’t typically written into the story back then.  I’ve already mentioned Mary Magdalene, but who are Joanna and Susanna?  What about the many other unnamed women?  What are their stories?  We may not know much about these women, but their presence and ministry play an important part in Jesus’ story. 

Luke, more than the other evangelists, didin’t shy away from illustrating how women accompanied Jesus and the apostles.  They weren’t groupies, either… in response to Jesus healing them, they supported Jesus’ mission.  These three short Gospel verses are monumental because their mention, albeit brief, underscores that even those who have very little evident legacy, those quiet disciples or unnamed supporters, would courageously risk their reputation in society in order to care for Jesus and join him in his ministry.  They not only helped to build the kingdom, they also provided for it “from their own means” so that it could carry out its mission.  Who gets to tell their story? 

Back in his day Jesus was countercultural and challenged customs.  Even after his death and resurrection, the ministry of women has never stropped.  Women and men are still being comforted and healed by Jesus, and like the women of the Gospel, some will respond by giving of themselves.  In our lives and throughout our own ministry as seminarians and future clergy, too, will be cared for, supported by, and joined by people who have been affected by Jesus Christ.  According to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, 64% of paid ecclesial ministers are women, and many more ministers and volunteers who remain unnamed.  Although it was not common practice in Luke’s time to do so, he took the risk to recognize and write the women into the Good News of Jesus Christ.  What risks will we take? 

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/091820.cfm

Paulists at Lake George Commemorate Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

At sunset on Sunday, August 9, Paulist Fathers novices, seminarians, and priests gathered lakeside at the dock of St. Mary’s of the Lake to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II by the United States.

I was honored to lead the prayer, which included elements of the Japanese culture. Origami paper cranes, which have become a symbol of support for a nuclear-weapon-free world, were also used as part of the service. Making each fold of a paper crane allowed me to be intentional about my prayer, remembering those who have died and those who still live with the effects of nuclear disasters.

The custom of toro nagashi or floating lanterns to commemorate those who have died culminated the service. With a blue and orange sunset as its backdrop, multi-colored lanterns light up the darkening sky. Each containing a prayer for understanding, forgiveness, and peace.

We responded to the invitation by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ statement on July 13 to gather in solidarity to pray for peace. Gathering for prayer for memorial occasions like this helps us not to forget the atrocities of war and to remember our responsibility to journey together with others to #WagePeace. I believe all of us, regardless if ordained ministers or a lay people, have a particular call to be instruments of understanding and forgiveness.

20/20 Vision for (the rest of) 2020

Scripture reflection based on the Mass readings of July 28, 2020

Reading 1: Jeremiah 14:17–22
Psalm: 79:8, 9, 11 and 13
Gospel: Matthew 13:36–43

The year 2020 was deemed to be the year of vision. Let’s take a look: we started the year with the worst wildfire in decades in Australia, tension between the US and Iran, then the drama of the Impeachment and trial of the US President and Brexit — that was just January. Since then we’ve seen giant murder hornets, election glitches, riots in the streets, and of course the one we know all too well, the trauma of COVID-19… I can’t believe we stayed up to cheer the stroke of midnight to welcome 2020 for all of this!

Today’s first reading from the prophet Jeremiah sounds like it could have been written for today’s reality. The prophet is brought to tears by the sight of devastation. He walks into the field and sees violence. One need not to go very far from here to see unrest and some violence in streets and seeing people be unfairly treated. Jeremiah sees hunger, even those who live comfortable lives are in want. In our day there isn’t anyone who has not been impacted, in some way, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. People, real people whom you may know, have lost their work and it’s affecting their daily lives. The highest unemployment rates since the pandemic started hovered close to 20%, and even though the national average has dropped to around 11%, Hawaii, Nevada, and Michigan are still above 20% unemployed. Just as Jeremiah noted, even people of respectable and secure positions are affected.

People respond differently to the realities of trauma in various ways. Out of frustration and anxiety, some blame themselves or society. Some fall into despair and lose trust. Jeremiah asks, “We’ve waited for you, Lord. Have you abandoned us, Lord? Are you punishing us?” Out of desperation he asks God to remember his covenant with us. But, here, I wonder if he might have just realized that it’s not God who needs reminding… we do!

To get through all of this, to make it through one month at a time, might it be helpful to remind ourselves that as God has not, and will not, abandon us. So, too, shall we not abandon God. But what about all that’s going on in the world? Science tirelessly pushes on for a cure and vaccine, politicians will trudge along governing, markets will continue to balance itself out, but don’t let that distract you. Stay focused, for our trust is with God.

We want to, and need to, have clear vision to chart this directionless year. There is a lot of good going on, but the weeds of frustrations, overwhelmingness, confusion will be there, too. This year is not yet over. 2020 is still the year of vision and vision is all about clarity. Don’t lose hope, Jesus tells us. Stay focused and don’t worry about the weeds, let God take care of that. Our vision is 20/20 when we stay focused on God.

Lenten Reflections – Doors & Divides

Reflection based on the Gospel of Luke 16:19-31
You’re invited to read the Scripture before the reflection

3rd Week of Lent

Are you the rich man? Or are you the poor man, Lazarus? The fact is that we have all been both the rich man and Lazarus at some point in our lives. We do not live in a world where we are only one or the other. I can remember moments in my life when things were falling nicely into place, things were good, and I was full of life. Likewise, I can also name times when I was sad, broken, and suffering. Today’s gospel is not a judgment about the rich man versus the poor man, nor about good versus bad. Today’s gospel asks us to consider the space that separates the rich man from Lazarus.

As the rich man was enjoying his extravagant life day after day, just on the other side of his door was poor Lazarus who was “covered with sores” and would have eaten any of the scraps that fell on the floor. When they died, the gospel tells us that Lazarus was carried to the bosom of Abraham – in other words, to a place of honor; and the rich man was sent to suffer the torment of flames. The door that existed between the two of them in life carried over to the afterlife. The door is important because it is what separated them, and it is what separates us today. We are invited to examine our hearts to find the doors that exists in our lives that separate us from ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbors, our enemies, and ultimately, God.

What are some of the doors we live with? Pride, busyness, loneliness, hurt, envy, fear, and that’s just me. We all have them. But, every time we take a step toward healing a wound, make an attempt to love our neighbors as ourselves, to treat a rival or enemy with compassion, we also open that door to bridge the gap among us. There is no right way to this, there isn’t a manual on how to do these things, difficult things.  Opening that door of separation is something we must experience in our own way.  It is not easy work, but it is possible.  Jesus modeled that for us in his life, ministry, death, and resurrection.

So, what doors are you going to open today?

Lenten Reflection – Signs

Reflection based on the Gospel of Luke 11:29-32
with reference to the Book of the Prophet Jonah 3:1-10

2nd Week of Lent

“Oh, God, just send me a sign!” At some point in our lives, we all have been on the lookout for signs.  Perhaps it’s at a major crossroads in life or when we have to make major decisions.  I’m so in love, should I propose marriage?  A new career opportunity just presented itself, is it time to change jobs?  Should I put off a medical procedure or do it now?  My house is getting too big for me to handle, is it time for me to downsize?  My work in ministry is exciting, I wonder if being a sister, brother, or priest is a possible vocation for me?  Oh, but if God could only send me a sign!

Signs seem to give us greater certainty in what we believe, and can ease any insecurities we might have.  At the same time a negative interpretation of a sign can leave us more confused or reinforce our low self-esteem, rather than lift it up.  But, perhaps what we are really hoping, deep down inside, for is some kind of validation.  When we actively look for them, everything is and can be a potential sign, if we want it badly enough.  We end up trying to pry the meaning out of anything, random things, and before we know it, we’re driving yourselves crazy… and after all of that, we still have no idea what we should do.

Signs of all kinds can be emotional connections to our faith, but signs should not be the foundation of our faith.  Our rock of faith is Jesus and he is the only sign we need to chart our lives well.  In the Gospel, as more people are gathering around Jesus, he senses that while people are curious to see wonders they aren’t really committed to follow him.  He calls them “a wicked generation.”  Why? Because he was appalled that they are looking for a sign even after all the miracles he had already done.  Jesus tells them, “no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah.”

Jonah would have been well remembered by the people, he was the prophet who was swallowed up by a big fish and after three days he emerged on dry land.  In a similar way, Jesus will die, and after three days, be raised to life again.  This reluctant prophet, Jonah, responded to God’s call to go to the far-off country of Nineveh who did not know his God and they responded.  If they had the wisdom to recognize the authority of Jonah and repent, then surely Jesus’ generation should have had been able to do the same.  Jesus tells them that “there is something greater than Jonah here,” referring to himself, the Son of Man.

We must realize that if we are waiting for extraordinary signs, we are missing the point, because Jesus is the sign we have been searching for.  Jesus calls us to be sensitive to how God works in and through us, and others.  All his works and energy reinforce that his word is the Word of God, and it leads us to a conversion of minds and hearts.  He gives us the Holy Spirit to recognize where God is mysteriously working in our hearts.  We may be looking, but do we see?  We may be hearing, but do we listen?  As we focus on the discipline of prayer this Lent, may we have eyes and ears of the heart to read this divine sign well.

Lenten Reflection – Fasting

Reflection based on the Book of Isaiah 58:1-9A

1st Week of Lent

In the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday and the early days of the season, we hear a lot of this question being asked: “What are you giving up for Lent?”  These forty days provide a dedicated opportunity for us to refresh our relationship with God.  Through the disciplines of prayer, alms-giving, and fasting, we give up the distractions and vices in our lives that prevent us from serving God.

Some people use Lent as a self-improvement program, thinking they may shed a spare tire or drop some pounds while giving up a favorite treat during this short period of forty days.  I myself have traveled down this road many times.  As high schoolers my classmates and I gave up chocolate.  In addition to giving up sugary drinks like soda, while at university my friends and I would set a weight-loss goal, something like losing 10 pounds by Easter.  In our youthful “we can conquer the world” outlook of life, we wanted to keep our eye on the prize and lose as much as we could as fast as we could; we weren’t really concerned about making healthy choices as long as we met our Lenten objectives.  Even though we might have achieved or come close to our goal, it was probably not our most prayerful moments.

In the first reading the Prophet Isaiah challenges us to look at how we fast.  He challenges us to consider our actions and asks, “Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?”  We cannot simply go through the motions and suddenly expect to become closer to God.  How is it that in my pursuit to abstain from meat, eat healthier meals, consume less soda, live an active lifestyle, and yet the focus is still on me?

Isaiah tells us: “See, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers.  See, you fast only to quarrel and fight and to strike with a wicked fist!  Do not fast as you do today to make your voice heard on high!”

My efforts in fasting have never been perfect and often find myself falling back into old habits.  Instead of feeling shame about my failure to follow through, I find comfort in how Isaiah defines fasting in a new way: by “releasing those bound unjustly” and by “sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;  clothing the naked when you see them.”

I am not saying that we should completely abandon our long-time fasting practices.  I, for example, will likely still give up soda and chocolates.  In realizing that we are only in the third day of Lent and while our intentions of praying, fasting, and alms-giving are still fresh and strong… in addition to fasting for our own personal care, perhaps we can take up Isaiah’s invitation to fast in a way that inspires us to take action for the cause of justice, and to be hungry for charity.

Offering gentle care for God’s children helps us to reorder our lives to God.  Isaiah’s challenge can be a bit overwhelming and it might not be clear as to where to start.  But, remember, God is not asking us to do it all, nor is God asking us to fast perfectly.  God is asking us, however, to step out of our comfort zone, leave behind the self-imposed or culturally-imposed restrictions, and turn toward all of God’s children.

Any service done in love is very acceptable to God and gives substance to anything else we may do for Lent.

The Unattractive Nativity Set

Pope Francis said that nativity scenes are an invitation to make room in our life and society for God – hidden in the gaze of those who are living in poverty or suffering, especially those forced to flee their homelands like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had to do.  These are symbols of God’s love and hope, reminding us to contemplate the beauty of creation and welcome the marginalized.

On Christmas Day last year, 2018, an eight-year old boy from Guatemala died in the custody of the United States Customs and Border Protection.  He was the second migrant child to die in less than three weeks.  As he turned gravely ill, the boy was brought from a detention center in New Mexico to the nearby Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center in Alamogordo, where a friend of mine works as a director of one of the hospital’s services.  They provided care as best they could, but the boy eventually lost his life.

Children are detained in cold overcrowded facilities known by detainees as hieleras (Spanish for ice boxes).  Separated from their families, these children are kept in facilities that were built in the 1980s and 1990s to temporarily house migrant adults, not families or children. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that children sleep side-by-side on mats placed on the ground and they use Mylar blankets to cover themselves.  The visiting medical staff and volunteers at respite centers along the different paths who interact with detainees are the voice for children who are unable to advocate for themselves.

There have been nativity scenes that encage the Holy Family as a statement on the various national responses to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers that span different administrations, including the current national zero-tolerance policy.  The composition of this nativity scene, however, is less about making a political statement as it is about a meditation on various groups of people who are involved.  Their actions are paradoxical.

IMG_20191204_002658

The way the creche is presented brings the manger scene into our present world reality to remind us that God continues to step into our world.  Whether they are aware of it or not, the actions taken by so many – medical professionals, volunteers along the route, kind strangers, and even the government agents who grapple with dutifully carrying out orders and exercising their conscience – are responses to questions about what we are called to do in the corporal acts of mercy: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; visit the imprisoned; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; bury the dead.

St. Francis of Assisi was the first to create a public nativity scene in Greccio, Italy.  The scene he created took place on the side of a mountain and this one shows the foothills of the Sacramento Mountains where Alamogordo, NM is located.  Back then, like today, the obstacles can be worries, stress, anger, busyness, war, anger, or dissatisfaction.

Despite the mountaintop of obstacles, God does not abandon us.  He brings light to where there is darkness, he brings good from where is evil, he brings hope out of despair, he brings forth life from death.  He shows there is a way to safety, security, peace, comfort, healing, and rest to the children and families who are braving the harshness of the desert.

Many manger sets are beautifully sculpted or intricately painted.  While this one appears to be haphazardly pieced together, prayerful thought went into it.  The reality is the first creche was not an attractive sight either.  The world is not always as it should be.  Yet, we come to the manger to experience over and over again the power and wonder of the incarnation, God becoming one of us, experiencing the emotions and feelings of life as we do, and ultimately offering his life as a sacrifice for us.

First Two Weeks as a Paulist Novice

I’m one day shy of 2 weeks since signing in as a #novice of the Paulist Fathers and the whirlwind of events has been overwhelming. In addition to meeting all of the seminarians and a number of eminent Paulists with distinguished careers (and colourful stories), we were able to visit the major projects of the Congregation and learn about the widespread impact it has made, an outstanding portfolio! In these two weeks a prominent Paulist, Tom Stransky, a participant in the Seconfd Vatican Council and a major contributor to the Church at-large in the fields of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue passed away.  While it is a lot to take in, it is even more to digest and make meaning for me and my time as a novice, discerning the possibility of joining this family.

The penultimate day before having rounded off a full two weeks, today, was no less impressive and awe inspiring! Today was the Profession Mass where the previous cohort of novices make their First Promise, the seminarians renew their promises for the next year, those who will be ordained deacon (on the following day) make their Final Promise, and what’s more is that all Paulists already fully initiated into the community renew their lifetime promise. The Mass was nearly two hours long, but it felt like time had passed quickly. While it was a very important mass, held in a chapel made from hard and cold polished stone, I make particular note of the prayerful environment that was created despite of it – one of welcome, warmth, and familiarity. I mentioned family earlier – rather than society, congregation, order, etc. – doing so intentionally, because the people gathered in that space made it felt like just that.

If today was just the promises, tomorrow, with the deaconate ordination mass and followed by a reception, will be filled with even more joy! Stay tuned for the mass which will be live-streamed here on Facebook on September 7, 2019 at 10 am (EDT), 7 am (PDT), and 4 am (HST).

Congratulations to Dan Macalinao & Chris Lawton who made their #FirstPromise (#FirstProfession); to Mike Cruickshank, Richard Whitney, Philip J Catalanotto, and Eric Hernandez for renewing their promise as they continue their formation; and to Paolo Puccini for making his #FinalPromise(#FinalProfession), receiving his #MissionCross, and committing to a lifetime of service as one of the Paulist Fathers… building the Kingdom receiving only a penny for his lifetime of service, and will be ordained a #transitionaldeacon on September 7.

** If you’re unable to watch the entire mass (but you really should – it’s good!), here are suggested timestamps for highlights:

  • 24:10 – Liturgy of the Word
  • 37:35 – Homily by Paulist President, Fr. Eric Andrews
  • 1:01:00 – First Promises
  • 1:06:40 – Renewal of Promises
  • 1:10:00 – Final Promise
  • 1:20:20 – Liturgy of the Eucharist

Aloha ‘Oe, Newman Center Hawai’i


Well, it was my original hope to simply finish my employment here at the Newman Center, pack up and quietly say goodbye. Separations are not easy for me. But it quickly became evident that leaving without a dedicated moment with all of you to mark this change would not only be difficult, but selfish.

With the convenience of social media, it’s too easy to say, “I won’t be too far away,” virtually speaking. However, we know that watching a highlight reel isn’t the same as being with someone in person.

Yes, I am sad to leave Hawaii. My work here has been more than just employment – it was my ministry. To be part of a community of encounter, one that not only prays for justice, but also finds the courage to take faith-filled actions, and a parish that intentionally supports the development of future and current leaders though campus ministry has motivated me to do the work that I am so passionate about.

I was reflecting. There are still so many ideas not yet explored, plans not yet fulfilled, and project waiting to be undertaken. I look at them with excitement because you are all part of it. To think of not being part of what’s to come makes me feel a little bit empty. And there is a strong temptation to live a relatively stable life, to stay and continue to do what I know how to do. But over the past fifteen years, and more so, in the past two years I know that in order to be truly happy and to live a fulfilling life is to be faithful to God’s call, not my own ego.

For all my shortcomings, I am sorry. And I give thanks for your patience and your abundance of forgiveness.

This is my last weekend here at Newman. Mid-week I will be turning in my keys to Fr. Alfred. And next week you won’t see me. I won’t be able to answer any questions or solve any problems. But on the bright side, in addition to the wonderful team that Fr. Alfred has assembled, we have advisory bodies once again – thanks be to God – Pastoral and Finance Councils in place to help guide this community. Remember you also have the exact same resources that I had and needed to succeed in my work – you have each other. And, God is with you… and with me.

When the students come back they will feel the same range of emotions and feelings. Please help them and comfort them, too, through this new beginning.

The wisdom I take with me from Newman as I enter the Paulist Formation program is that we learn from and support each other, we grow and we find our way forward, and we don’t have to do it alone.

So from the bottom of my heart, mahalo nui loa for all your aloha, support, and above all, your prayers. A hui ho.

Photo credit: Dann Ebina & Maricar Apuya