25 December 2013

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel, has come to thee oh Israel!

First of all, Merry Christmas!  Ok, now that that's out of the way, let's get down to business.  Today, there are feasts and gifts galore, and for some, there is time to reflect and recall the roots of this celebration.  (this moment of reflection is a gift in itself for those of us who are introverts)  Anyway, as I spent yesterday into today with family, I was struck by the diverse group of people gathered at my mom's house.  All of us gathered as family, some of us closer than others, but all somehow connected to each other, even if only by the chance that we were under one roof at this precise moment.  The same can be said of the millions gathered to celebrate and worship God's gift on this day.  Rich and poor alike, faithful and not so much, who gather to commemorate Love's taking on flesh.  This morning, as I sat in prayer and reflected on the readings, I was particularly struck by the Gospel of Matthew which is read at the Vigil of Christmas.  In the passage, there is a beautiful recitation of the genealogy of Jesus.  (beautiful but sometimes awful to hear, depending on who's doing the reading)  Either way, to sit and reflect on this list, one can all too easily glaze over the names and fast forward to the good stuff, especially when the Gospel writer begins to tell of the birth of Jesus, and the fulfillment of the prophecy.  In the entire passage, which spans a whopping 25 verses, there is one part that struck me in particular.  This is perhaps the most striking message this entire season, it is when Joseph receives the call to take Mary as his wife.  The passage goes on to speak of her as the bearer of the Savior, the one who "will save his people from their sins."  This is a powerful message in itself, and as we know, it is enough to convince Joseph, but there is more to this passage.  As I sat in church today and prayed before Mass, I was particularly struck by what this message means for us today.  Sure it's nice to celebrate Christmas, it's nice to give presents and to spend some time with family.   It's nice to live out the traditions of yore and to share in creating new ones, but there is something far more profound that takes place in the celebration we observe today.  As I thought about what this simple phrase states "He will save us from our sins,"  I kept reflecting about how this is made real in our world today.  Theologically, one can say that it is effected into reality through the changing of bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, but that is too easy.  In a more human way, this phrase is made real (or should be made real) in our every day lives.  Beyond Christmas and New Years, and beyond the holidays that everyone recognizes as moments to pause and reflect, we are called to be people whose sins are forgiven.  But what does this mean, and to whom does this apply?  This past week, as I waited in an eternal and infernal line, I overheard two people making political commentary as the TV rambled on in the background,  These two folks had no problem in taking their cues from the different topics the talking heads on TV were referring to.  Inevitably,  the topic of Duck Dynasty and Phil Robertson came up.  When this happened, my ears perked up a bit more to see what these two commentators would contribute, to my joy, they took the bait and quickly proceeded to make their observations.  If nothing else, this back and forth between the TV and these two people would have been a bit of entertainment as the line progressed, but for some reason, their comments became a reminder of what we still need in our Christian lives.  Almost without fail, one of the two started with "I'm a Christian, but..."  The words that followed were evidence to me of the ignorance that permeates so much of who we are as people of faith.  In the end, lets just say that Christ was used as a justification for ignorance and intolerance.  Their words were enough to make me tune out, and slowly their number was called up and the lined moved on.  What struck me, however, was the fact that we are a people of faith, and as Christian, we are called upon to be a people whose lives have been inextricably changed by the crazy power of LOVE!  At its root, this is what we celebrate on Christmas, not the opportunity to show each other up with the fanciest gifts or the best feasts, but with the most love.  After all, it is Love that has taken on flesh and it is Love that has come to save us of our sins.  And while there are many of us who are still trying to become people of love, there are many more who take on the name of Love to justify and rationalize ignorance, hate and violence.  Whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or anything else, at a very primitive level, we are called to love.  It is love that has sparked creation and love which compels us in our faiths, but the moment when love is used as an excuse for hurting another human being, we are reverting back to becoming people of sin, people of death.  And so this is Christmas, a day in which we gather and sometimes have to put up with our weird family members, but more than that, I hope (perhaps naively) that this is a day of love, in which I recognize that I have been offered a new way of living, a new way of being Christian, one in which I, the leper, am approached and loved, one in which I, the leper, in turn love others because I have known love, one in which I, the leper, live out love as much as I can and become a witness to the redemptive power of love.   I pray and hope that this and every day is a day in which I, the leper, am not seen as someone to be cast out and pushed back, but received and loved, because it was upon me, the leper, the shepherd, and the world, that the star shone upon as it announced glad tidings, that unto me, the leper, a child was born in the town of Bethlehem.  A child who is my Savior, a child who is my love.  I pray, and I keep working at it myself, and who knows, maybe one day more and more of us will share love because we have been saved from our sins, by Love, Emmanuel, Christ! Either way, I pray that in my own journey, as clumsy as it may be, I may be a witness of love, even if it has to be with one person at a time,  I want to be a Christian who loves, not one who uses Christ to condemn.   As always, know that you are loved.  Merry Christmas.  RL

19 December 2013

O Brother! (Silly take on the O Antiphons)

From the 17th of December until Christmas Eve, the Church has what is called the O Antiphons.  Each day, there is a new facet of the name of God.  A very common rendition of these is the hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.  Personally, it is a time of anticipation as Advent draws to a close and we prepare for Christmas.  This season, however, the O Antiphons have taken on a new significance.  For whatever reason, they have struck chords in my heart that hadn't been touched in quite a while.  The resounding of these Antiphons in my heart has been particularly interesting because since leaving ministry, I have come to know God in a very different manner.  In entering this process, I have also come to know how much I need God in my life, and on a very basic, and perhaps simplistic level, I have come to realize how much this longing for God is satiated by love.  Now, since October 7th, and even before, a popular question that I have been asked is "have you found anyone?"  After laughing, I quickly say  no, but in actuality, I am finding someone, and that is God.  As such, this Advent has been a time of getting back to the basics, literally.  It has called me to focus on God and the love that is freely out poured on every single one of us, believer or not.  It is a love that calls us into being and a love that can unite every single one of us, if only we allow it to do so.  And so, as I partake of pleading in the hymn: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, I am comforted by the little acts of love that manifest themselves daily, I am challenged to love, especially when that one lady rolls her eyes at me at the check out line, and I am tempted to sit in awe on Love himself, who takes flesh for me, for you, for us all, no exceptions.  As always, know that I love you.  RL

12 December 2013

Madre of us all.

Unbeknownst to many, and very much known to others, today is the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  For generations now, since 1531, the celebration has been one that has become a staple of the Mexican culture, and has spread far and wide in honor of the simple girl from so long ago.  Even Hong Kong boasts an Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church.  Either way, I find this day to be one of mixed emotion for me.  Mixed emotion because every time this day rolls around, I am profoundly touched by the devotion and love that so many have for Our Lady.  On a personal note, I am reminded of my Nana who so long ago shared with us her faith and her own devotion to "la morenita."  Whether one celebrates this day or not,  or whether one is Catholic, Christian, or of any other persuasion, the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is more than just a Catholic event, in some ways, it is a reminder of our dignity as human beings.  It is a day in which I cannot help but recall the power with which Guadalupe helped raise so many people out of a slavery that had been imposed on them by forces beyond their understanding.  After ten years of bloodshed and death by the conquering forces, Guadalupe came to a poor peasant in the middle of nowhere on a cold December day, as he trudged along faithfully going to church, he was startled by the pleasant voice of a young maiden, and by the singing of birds.  Being a man of the earth, he quickly realized the significance of this event.  It wasn't normal for this time of year nor was it ordinary to hear a woman's voice out in the middle of nowhere.  He went to her and she spoke to him in his own language, she charged him with a mission to go the bishop and ask him to build a church.  Several times, he attempted to gain entrance into the palace of his grace, and several times he was denied entry.  Finally, discouraged and disappointed, he tried to avoid the young woman.  His attempt was foiled because to his surprise, she met him on his different route.  This time, she encouraged him to go again, but instead of sending him alone, she entrusted him with roses, beautiful scented roses (like you get at the flower shop, not the grocery store.)  This type of rose, however, was the type that grew in the region of Spain that the Bishop was from.  Upon arriving at the Bishop's palace, he was accepted and when asked for proof, Juan Diego, the peasant, unraveled his mantel from which fell the many roses.  Aside from the beautiful array of flora, the miraculous image of Our Lady appeared.  This event, aside from being miraculous, was significant because shortly after the apparition, millions of people converted to the faith that this young maiden had presented.  In only a year after the miracle at Tepeyac, more people converted to the faith than in all the ten years before.  While this was of great importance, what was even more miraculous, was the manner in which so many people have seen in the simple exchange between Guadalupe and Juan Diego, a momentous occasion in which the poor and unimportant people of that time were raised to a new level of dignity.  Not only were they brought to God who was love, but their difference was overlooked, and embraced by this beautiful maiden who spoke their language.  As such, I believe that this celebration is not only one meant for the churches, but one meant for every Christian and person of faith, because in Guadalupe, we are reminded of Christ Himself who took on the vulnerability of flesh, and even more so, placed himself on the margins of society by going to the marginalized.  Today, and every day, we as a people of faith and as members of the human race,  must turn to those cast aside or forgotten, we must overlook the differences and embrace each other in love, not accepting those things that rob us of our human dignity, but helping each other to grow into the best person God intends us to be.  Guadalupe in the light of Christ, is a reminder of this calling to serve, and serve we must, especially in a world that so easily uses the name of God to make people into the very outcasts Christ would tend to.  May you be blessed today and always, and as always, know that you are loved.  RL  Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, ensenanos a amar.

07 December 2013

I'm back?

It has now been two months since my faculties as a Roman Catholic priest were officially revoked.  Since then, I have been working at my family's company which my dad started almost 30 years ago.  The time has flown by rather quickly, but in the two months that I have been living this new life, there have been many things that I did not expect.  I think the one that stands out the most is the fact that I have time.  I have time to myself, time to read, time to laugh, time to enjoy with family, and most importantly, time to be with God.  Of all the changes that have come in these short couple of months, my time with God has been the most significant.  Since very early on, I have known God to be my lover, and from the very beginning, I looked toward God as I imagined a couple in love does for one another.  This relationship was beautiful and life giving.  In my relationship with God, I felt great peace and joy, I knew a life that was calm and good even during stressful times.  This relationship, however, as so many can so easily do, started to become weak and corroded.  In time, I started to put God aside as I tried to go about doing His work.  Ironically enough, I had become an agent of God, but in doing so began to drift away from the essence of my call, primarily, my relationship with God.  I knew my lover and tried to do His work, but slowly, I drifted away from Him and as St. Paul warns, became an empty cymbal.  All this became more pronounced as I began to face pressure from my religious congregation.  After stating to them that I needed and wanted to join the diocese, they rejected my petition and called me to obedience, but obedience to what?  As I discerned and prayed about my call, I had to be honest with myself.  In all that I was doing, there was a vital part missing.  I was spending myself and doing so much "good," but for what?  God was no longer a part of any of that.  I had to make a decision.  Around March, I started seeing Fr. John, and Episcopalian priest that had been recommended as a spiritual director.  Although I was uncertain about having him as my director, I figured there could be no harm.  Our journey began and through our time together, this gentle man who had lived so much and known God's great love in so many different ways, began to show me a path of service that was very different from what I had figured was the only way.  In his walking with me, I was amazed hear from his own life how so many paths had diverged and brought him to where he is today.  He helped me understand that responding to God's love in service is so much more than a collar and a set of vestments, it is loving in a radical and profound way, a manner in which lives are touched and changed, including my own.  This is not to say that I hadn't ever been touched as a priest, but for some reason, I had started to become cold and indifferent.  A call to the hospital was just that, a call.  Mourning was a mask that would be put on and taken off as soon as the service was over, only on a few occasions did I truly feel compassion for the people I served, but these occasions were becoming far and few between.  In our conversations, Fr. John challenged me to reevaluate my vocation and to be honest, really honest with myself.  At this point, another great man helped in my discernment as I opened up to him as well.  My pastor was not happy to hear of where I was being lead, but he was supportive and provided a guidance that was confident and professional.  In the months between my first deciding to be honest about my vocation and finally resigning from my post as Parochial Vicar of St. Ann's Catholic Church, I lived a fear that permeated my being.  This fear, however, was not something that paralyzed me or stunted my discernment.  It was something that allowed my honesty to be more prevalent.  I had nothing to hide behind, and no excuse would suffice, I was being called to something different, and I had to go.  When the decision was finally reached to resign on the 7th of October, I once again started to feel the great peace that had once been the key in my relationship with God.  With this peace, came also hope.  Hope brought life, and this life has brought me back to God, in whom I have found more life.  And so, two months later, here I am, sitting in the office which I have known so well since my dad started the company, outside, the temperature is 16 degrees and the world is still, but I am alive, doing well and ready to go out and proclaim to all how good is God's love.  A few weeks ago someone told me that they were praying as I struggled with my vocation, I told them that I appreciated their prayer, but that I was no longer struggling, I have started reconnecting with my love, God and this is all good.  Two months and the love which I once felt so strongly, a love that brought me to give everything up, has started to be rekindled, and I too am living a life that is me.  As God wants me.  Collar or not, I will serve, because I have known great love.  As always, know that I love you.  R.L.