Friday, December 31, 2010

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

"No one has ever seen God.
The only-begotten Son, God, who is at the Father’s side,
has revealed him." John 1:18

This is a point that gets so easily lost in our lives. We hear this so often, especially around the Christmas and Easter seasons. God has become man. It is through the life of Jesus Christ that God has become physically manifest to us. We are able to know God because He was one of us. Yet, all of these phrases, which were once rallying points for early Christians have now become part of the humdrum of our daily lives. Yes, Jesus was God. Yes, God became man. Yes, Jesus saved us from our sins. Truly though, if we actually believe what we are saying; if what the Apostles have passed down to us is true; what does that mean for our lives? Does that change the way we live?

I heard once that "if we believe in a truth, than it would be nothing short of a lie to live other than in that truth." (Unfortunately, I don't recall where I heard it) That is to say, do our lives change knowing, and believing, that Jesus Christ was God (and man) among men. Should our hearts not burn to live out that Truth? That God has been revealed to us also implies that His precepts has been shown to us. We are now the ones trusted with bringing that message to the world. Many have died to deliver that news, both emotionally and physically. Where do we stand? What have we given up to live out this joyous message?

This season, we have a great joy set before us: God has become man, and dwelt among us!

"Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult before the LORD." Psalm 96:11-12

reflected by Matthew Keppel

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thursday the Sixth day in the Octave of Christmas: With gratitude and hope

“Anna gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem..." – Lk 2:39

The Gospel readings these past two days are about hope. Hope in a promise to be fulfilled. In today’s readings, the old Simeon “awaiting the consolation of Israel” praised God when he saw the baby Jesus being presented in the temple (Lk 2:25). Today, the eight-four year-old and long time widow gave thanks to God when she saw in the child Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s age-old promise to save her people.

The Christmas Season and end of the year celebration has been full of joy for me. However, as I catch up with family and friends, I also hear much pain, suffering, confusion and hardships. Much of these trails and tribulations I cannot really alleviate. However, as I try to be present and listen without judgment, without fixing, without dismissing, or patronizing, something mysterious begins to happen. When I try my best to care, to listen attentively, to sit with people in their misery and pain, while trusting that God is present-with-us, suffering-with-us, laboring to love us in our struggles, something surprising happens. Albeit painstakingly slow, God happens. When we become the safe place where people can present their vulnerabilities, hurts, and fears to God, hope is born. As we struggle to trust God’s promise, we become the contagious place or threshold of hope. Our gratitude can overflow in hope like Simeon and Anna.

There is much we need to be saved from, especially as we close the old and enter the New Year. To be freed from our own selfishness, debilitating fears, physical infirmities, divided relationships, addictions, and economic strife and worries … Yet, it is possible to hope in gratitude, trusting that the One who will deliver us is already here with us … often in the form of other people - bearers of hope.

How am I entering the New Year? With which attitudes? With whom can I be present in hope and gratitude, even in pain and suffering?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.
Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.
Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is
going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 Jn 2: 9-11

Upon reading today’s first reading, this commandment rings constantly in my head: “love your neighbour as yourself” Mt 22:39. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?

Although we know this, it’s so hard sometimes to live it out everyday; to treat others the way we would like to be treated, to love each other unconditionally. It is so easy for us to hold grudges against others who have wronged us or hurt us. We let the hurt and the pain blind us from seeing the person that right in front of us, from seeing Christ in that person.

Why Lord, is it easier for me to love my “neighbour”, strangers, friends and those around me, than my “brother” or sister or family? Is it the history? The petty arguments growing up? The hurt and resentment I’m clinging to? Why can’t I just see that we are all made in your image and treasure that?

In the spirit of Christmas, let us all embrace the love of Christ and love each other regardless of the past but focus on the present and the future.

Lord, let your love take away our blindness and allow us to see You in all your people.

reflected Ylan Nguyen

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Today is a special day for me, since it’s my birthday, which poses a personally interesting juxtaposition with the scripture reading, in which Herod orders “the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.” Just 3 days after Christ’s birth, it’s a sort of resurrection story in reverse, with so many death suffered by innocents. I think it’s an interesting reflection that in life, nothing is perfectly good, but rather than with any good comes some unintended consequences. We search for the perfect day, the perfect person to marry, and expect perfection from ourselves in so many ways, and berate ourselves when we fail. But we are only human and can’t be Jesus, as the two most important events in his life brought pain to himself and others, even if unintentionally. So let’s remember today, that the important thing is that we try to do the best we can, and understand that we are not masters of the world, but simply people struggling to make this Earth a better place than when we left it.

reflected by Dan Judnick

Monday, December 27, 2010

Feast of Saint John

“… we have seen it and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us”

In today’s gospel, I was curious and wondering about the friendship between Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. Peter and John, despite their difference in age, may be close to one another for obvious reason. But how about Mary Magdalene? How often they see each other? How close is their friendship? Yet, when she discovered the empty tomb, she came to Peter and John right away, trusted them and shared with them the news. One thing is for sure, Mary Magdalene did care a lot about Jesus, and so did Peter and John, who ran to the tomb, right way. In fact, Jesus, more than just a master, was a very good friend of theirs, who had changed Mary, Peter and John’s lives by His genuine care and unconditional love for them. They shared a friendship that leads one another to Christ, to respond more readily and deeply to His love for them.

My journey of Advent this year had its ups and downs… It started very well with a gathering called “Koinonia”, an interesting Greek word that means community with one heart, one soul; or community-friendship-communion. The gift that I received from that weekend is the trust and the space that we allowed ourselves to listen to God and to each other deeply. Unfortunately, my work has been so busy right after that it was a challenge for me to ponder deeper upon the graces of Koinonia. However, I was blessed with the Mary, the Peter and John of today, the friends that helped me to get closer and closer to God. The friends that like Mary, Peter and John, once their lives has been touched and transformed by Jesus, inspired and accompanied others to look for Him, to understand Him more, to enter into communion with Him in all things, even sometimes in empty tomb… During this past December, I have been moved, touched, inspired and surprised by many of my friends, through events such as Koinonia, Java Jazz n Jesus, the final preparation and launching of album “I Choose”,… From the trust, listening heart, hard work and sacrifices of some of them to create space for others to meet Jesus in a personal way, to the surprise and sweetness of some whose presence, prayers and act of kindness touched me and my family deeply.

On Christmas Eve, driving alone to Wichita Falls, TX, my wife’s hometown, all the faces of my friends suddenly overwhelmed me with profound gratitude. These faces of love and life that made me realize the true meaning of the season. With a warm feeling of joy, peace and anticipation, I could see the face of baby Jesus in all of them, the face of a Friend who humbles Himself to be close to us, to care and inspire us into communion with the Father; a Friend who comes and gives life to all the friendships and relationships we share with others, with deeper meaning and purpose.

Isn’t to be Christ’s apostle, to evangelize, like Saint John, is to introduce a friend named Jesus to a friend you know? Who are the Mary, Peter and John in your life? How is your relationship with them?

reflected by Thai-Son Tran

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

“Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.”

Could Mary and Joseph have imagined what was in store for them once they learned that they would be the parents of the promised Messiah? For Mary, having to face her family and neighbors upon returning from her visit to Elizabeth, showing her pregnancy having not been married yet to Joseph. For Joseph, in today’s Gospel, having to immediately flee to Egypt shortly after Jesus’ birth, and then return to Nazareth.

This was the way that the Son of God would come into the world, to save His people? Perhaps they wondered, “How is this going to work?” Yet, if any wondering did exist, it was only expressed in awe of the mystery that lay before them. There was no hesitancy in Joseph’s actions, following the words of dreams that he experienced. In the midst of a deep mystery, he simply listened, trusted, and responded. Not knowing how such following would turn out, much less what would happen next.

How might we be invited to enter into the mystery of our own lives, in the midst of uncertainty, fears, worries, concerns? How might we be invited to grow deeper in faith, trust, and surrender even when we are unsure of the way?

May the profoundly simple faith of the Holy Family inspire each of us to do the same in our own lives, wherever we may be and wherever God may be leading each of us – each in our unique ways to more fully experience God’s dream for each of us.

reflected by Quyen Nhi Ngo

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Reflection: Receiving & Opening Gifts

“And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us … from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace ..." - Jn 1:14, 16

I was given a great gift since last Christmas. I am blessed to experience God’s first love. That is, to experience God in poverty, in God’s poor. It did not occur to me a few days ago that this gift has been unfolding in my life since, throughout 2010. I find the homily I shared last year still rings true in my life:

“Today we celebrate what is most important to our faith. No other religion believes that God, creator of heaven and earth became human like us. Jesus, Word of God, Who is God, became human – one of us. He built his house next to ours, lived among us, ate like us, suffered with us, for us, to save us. He came as a child, a poor child, born in a manger, poor and humble. To a poor family. To serve and give his life because he loved us. God is in love with us. Like people who love, God wants to be one with us whom He loves …

God in Jesus came to all. But only those who are poor in spirit - who are humble, peacemakers, merciful, open - will see him. And live in his radiant light. For others, it will be just another Christmas vacation. When we accept Jesus poor and humble, our lives will change … Our Catholic faith is most special: when we look at a person who is poor, who loves, who forgives, we see God. God who is poor, who loves, who forgives. God chooses to show God’s light most clearly through human beings, through you and me. Through us who are poor, weak, and sinful. This is the glory of God’s humility. The light of God’s love.”

In our family reflection last night before we opened our gifts, my brother-in-law shared that he has been given such great gifts in his life (in his wife, parents-in-law, and our extended family). But in this hectic pace of life, he does not always know how to receive such gifts. Then he prayed for the grace to be able to more fully receive and open these gifts.

What he shared struck me. I am very blessed to live among God’s poor, in a Jesuit Community near Dolores Mission Parish in Boyle Heights where I am unfamiliar with Hispanic culture and inarticulate in Spanish. I am blessed to have an office at Loyola Marymount University, too small for my assistant and co-partner. I am blessed to serve such a diverse population of people stretching from Arizona to Alaska, including Houston and Munich. I am blessed to struggle through several relationships with people I serve. I am being stretched beyond my boundaries; I had to face my own poverty – my limitations and helplessness – for poverty comes in many forms. Through these encounters with poverty, I am experiencing God’s first love in deeper layers. I am invited to open and receive this gift in a greater way, for “from Christ’s fullness, we have all received, grace upon grace …”

Join me, in this season of gifts to spend time to serve and visit God’s poor. Let us embrace our own poverty. Let us open our gifts, however strangely shaped and wrapped. Let them unfold deeper.

May you rediscover the child Jesus who comes to you in small and humble forms and be blessed, through your family, with deeper peace and joy … grace upon grace!

How are you I receiving and opening our gifts this Season, as strangely wrapped and packaged as they may be?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday of the Fourth Week of Advent

"Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
for he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Savior,
born of the house of his servant David."
Luke 1:68-69

Naturally I am a skeptic to what is thrown my way. This line of thinking blesses and curses my faith. I don't generally accept things on faith alone, unless shown to do so. When I came down to the birth of Christ, I have always seen that as a strange event. Why would God come down to humanity as a human; even more so, why a child? Thankfully, I have been greatly blessed by having far more spiritual people in my life than myself. I was talking to my cousin, a seminarian at the time, on the matter. He told me something that has not only resonated with me, but shook me to my very foundations.

When God asks us to be his servants, we humble ourselves to the triumphant slave, hung on the cross for our salvation. That seems so easy. As people, we love to reward those who have worked for what they have earned. Seeing the passionate Christ hanging there bruised, beaten, and bloodied is easy for us to celebrate. Our salvation is won. What is difficult, and humbling is to find ourselves in the place of kings. Imagine yourself as the three magi wandering in the sands for months to find the king that has been foretold in scripture. Find yourself carrying the kingly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. You have travel so far and so long only to find yourself led to the foot of a feeding trough holding a child wrapped in swaddling clothes. He has no earthly power. He is completely vulnerable. Yet, this is the "mighty Savior" that has been spoken of for so long. This is what it means to be a Christian: to stand at the foot of a cradle and give all that you are for one so innocent, so pure, and so beautiful.

We all like to be servants of the powerful God, but with the coming of our "might Savior come to set us free" let us imagine ourselves being humbled at the manger.

How do you find yourself when looking upon the manger?

Where are you in the scene?

On the Eve of this Great Celebration, let us all open ourselves to bringing all that we have for the One who has come to save us all, as well as the One who will bring us Home again.

reflected by Matthew Keppel

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent

In a few short days, we will be celebrating God With Us, a special day that has been an integral part of our lives since birth for many, whether Catholic or Christian or non-believer.

Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, so distinctly encapsulates the anticipation and excitement of the coming of our Lord:

"And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts." - Malachi 3:1

It is clear that God has desired and planned to come to be with us. This Christmas, we celebrate his arrival to share with us in our day-to-day sufferings and joys, as prophesied in readings from the Old Testament. One element of this scripture passage which is so special is the expression that God knows us so well, he knows whom we "seek" and whom we "desire." This is nothing more than the Lord, the person we were designed to be with, as He is with us. Is there any more special verb than to "be?"

This Christmas, where can we find God? In the quiet of our hearts, we may learn that He is very near to us. Evinced simply and profoundly by the love and support of our family and friends, whether here physically in our homes, dwelling far away, or residing peacefully in heaven, we celebrate. In an orphan child who may have taught us a lesson, we celebrate. Or more paradoxically, God may be with us in our challenges and struggles, showing us something about ourselves or our neighbor, becoming a lesson learned.

This Christmas, we pray that we may be open to seeing God in all His forms. May we see all the Christmas “gifts” he has bestowed on us, blessings which give, or teach, or support us in our personal journey of life.

reflected by Annie Dang

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

"I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.” - 1 Samuel 1:27-28

What have you been praying for lately?

The first reading for today gives hope to those who bring their requests to the Lord. We come to the Lord with our prayer requests, but we often come with a vision for how he "should" answer them. Have you found yourself on your knees in desperate prayer, as Hannah did when she prayed to our Lord to grant her request for a child? I found myself in desperate prayer for Hannah's exact request. As we struggled to build the family that WE had always imagined for ourselves, God was creating the family that HE envisioned for us. While my prayers were frequent, they were also narrow. After many, many years our prayers were answered, but not until I fully turned my request over to God and was truly open to God's vision for my life. The way in which God answered my prayers was through the blessing of adoption of a beautiful baby boy named Luke. While this is my personal journey my hope is that you see the similarities in your own life. God answers our prayers when we trust in him. I am reminded of the God's promise, For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope. Jeremiah 29:11

Be open to the way in which God choses to answer our prayers. Through my experience I have learned that God's intention for my life is more beautiful than anything I could have envisioned. My prayer for you this Advent season is that your prayers will be answered more beautifully than you imagined.

What have you been praying for lately? What blessings will be revealed to you if only you are willing to be truly open to God's answer to your prayers?


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday, Fourth Week of Advent - A God Who Visits?

“Hark! my lover – here he comes …” – Sgs 2:8
“And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” – Lk 1:43

Since December 1996, this has been one of my favorite sets of readings. That Christmas, my cousin, a religious sister, gave this painting by a Buddhist artist:

Take time to look at the picture. There are several distinguishing features. A young Mary visiting her relative Elizabeth – both poor peasant women. Notice the mud house with bamboo and straw roof … ceiling hanging down … walls peeling off. Mary arrives unexpectedly, before Elizabeth can tidy up. Notice the light surrounding the young Mary … how she arrives ... barely in the door … handbag barely off her shoulders … her left palm open and lifted up … feet ready to move … eyes brimming with eagerness … with good news ... A posture of total openness … Joy overflowing in both women. We can almost see the child in Elizabeth’s womb, leaping for joy …

This painting helps us appreciate today’s Gospel, Mary coming to visit Elizabeth. But if we look carefully and allow Mystery to “speak,” we see more than a young pregnant woman coming to visit her older pregnant cousin. We can see a very profound picture of who God is – of who we are.

We know that Mary carries Jesus in her womb. And we know that Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist. In Mary's visit, Jesus visits Elizabeth and John. Elizabeth recognizes Mary's visit as God coming to her family. She exults with praise, “How can it be that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Thus, this picture of Mary’s visit, reveals God as the One who comes to visit us, in our home. As we are. The Visitation foreshadows what is to come as Christmas draws near: God is coming to visit, to draw near, to stay, pitching tent among us.

The same Christmas in 1996, I was able to visit some communities of ethnic minorities in Central Vietnam. I celebrated Mass with some underground catechists in training so they can return to witness and pass on the faith among their people. They do so at the cost of imprisonment, for it is illegal under Communist Vietnam to proselytize! When asked why they would take such risks, they replied consistently: “We cannot but proclaim a God who is willing to come and be with us, to love and help us.”

I am still deeply moved by their determination … flowing out of gratitude. Like Mary leaving immediately after receiving the news of her pregnancy, braving the hard journey, bearing good news to Elizabeth. Her face in the painting – like the faces of the catechists – becomes a canvas which radiates God’s coming, like the blue sky which radiates the rising dawn. For me, her visit becomes the backdrop God’s coming near.

Praying over these readings today trigger the same joyful anticipation and hope in me that I remember 14 years ago. Yet, I am surprised by a deeper joy. I am also filled with sustained hope as I look forward to visiting my family, especially my nieces and nephews, as well as the kids at Dorothy Kirby Juvenile Detention Center in Los Angeles.

What if, in real, tangible, palpable ways, God wants to visit you and I during this Christmastime? What if God desires to be with us as we struggle to embrace our current worries, troubled past, uncertain futures, deep fears, pains, brokenness, defenses? Even as we wrestle with guilt, forgiveness, unhealthy attachments, addictions … longing for home, for healing, yearning to become the “Beloved”? What if it is through our own fragile humanity – that mysterious mix of grace and fall, beauty and brokenness, lights and shadows – that God visits us, that God comes near? What if this is how God loves?

What if God hides in the people who visit us this holiday? How can we visit others in a way that helps them experience God’s coming near? What if we visit someone outside our present circle of friends, family, and comfort?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

“nothing will be impossible for God." -- Lk 1:37

Recently I had a chance to be tour-guide to my uncle who came visiting California for the first time. He loves taking pictures, so one day we set out to see Carmel and the scenic 17-Mile Drive. At the last landmark, he was truly in awe with the sight of The Lone Cypress – the famed tree that’s perched on a rock pointing out to Pacific Ocean.

Its inscription noted, “the Lone Cypress is a testament to the hardiness of these trees. It has withstood Pacific storms and winds for roughly 250 years.” Marveling at the scenery, my uncle kept chuckling, “How could that be possible?” At that moment, this very Scripture came to mind, “With God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26, Mk 10:27, Lk 1:37, Lk 18:27). I wish I had the courage to profess it out loud, but I feared that my uncle would poke fun at my post-Caritas fanatical holy conversion! So my timidity took over -- alas, sometimes cowardice could be easily masked with just ambivalent silence!

After taking a bunch of snapshots, my uncle pointed at the base of the tree, with layers and layers of rocks stacked up to fortify the foundation, and he explained that that must be the added protection withholding the tree. Oh wow, I must’ve seen this cypress more than 50 times, but I never noticed this barricade! (Which brings about the words of wisdom from Anthony de Mello, SJ, "Opening one's eyes may take a lifetime. Seeing is done in a flash.”)

This image sticks with me, as I imagine that each one of us is essentially a “lone cypress”. Maybe not with such majestic beauty, but God creates everyone with a likeness of His image and with His love, each with unique dignity and beauty nonetheless. There are all kinds of elements that we humans must “battle” during the storms of our lives -- temptations, frustrations, fears, doubts, confusions, sinful mistakes, etc. However, we don’t have to feel alone and afraid, because our God - God of kindness and compassion and mercy - will always be there with us, to “teach us the way” and strengthen us. I imagine that our Faith, at the deepest core of our being, is what keeps us solidly rooted. Each time we pray, we celebrate the Eucharist, we reflect on God’s Grace, we serve one another, especially when we “listen to God’s word and act on them”, we actually add layers and layers of rocks to our foundation. Thus, even if “the rain fell, the floods came, the winds blew and buffeted”, we would not “collapse and ruined”. (Mt 7:25)

Oh Lord, as Advent season is drawing near the end, may we still exercise our “patient waiting” to do things to strengthen our Faith. How can we learn to be faithful and trusting to say “yes” like Mary, “May it be done to me according to your word”?


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” – Matthew 1:23

Like a child who waits impatiently to open a Christmas present, each Advent we wait with a holy impatience for Christ’s coming in to our world and our lives in a new way. But if “God is with us” already and we know is always present and “in all things”, then it seems we have been waiting for someone who has already arrived! Perhaps it is God who is waiting for us!

…waiting for us to simply notice God at all in the busyness of our day…

…waiting for us to recognize and encounter Jesus, already present, in one another…

…waiting for us to accept that at every moment God is loving us into being. Because if not, we would cease to exist…

…waiting for us to fully embrace our belovedness in God’s eyes, despite our sinfulness, limitations, and shortcomings…

…waiting for us to invite God to shed light and heal any emptiness, fear, shame anddoubt that we may be feeling right now and need to let go of…

…waiting for us to trust that God will be with us no matter what…

In this final week before Christmas, ask yourself…

Is God waiting on me for anything?

Is there anything in my life that I am too embarrassed or ashamed to bring to God? Can I invite Christ to enter that part of my life to begin the process of healing?

How can I be Christ for someone this week? Maybe through a phone call, a handwritten note, a word of encouragement, a hug, or even a challenge?

Lord, help us to move from passive waiting, to actively finding you already present with us in our relationships and with the people we encounter each day.

reflected by Radmar Jao, SJ

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday of the Third Week of Advent

Therefore, the days will come, says the LORD, when they shall no longer say, “As the LORD lives, who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt”; but rather, "As the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of the house of Israel up from the land of the north”– and from all the lands to which I banished them; they shall again live on their own land. – Jer 23: 7-8

The book of Jeremiah details a troubled people. The people at this time had been freed from captivity in Egypt, they had escaped generations of hardship only to find more conflict and grief. Where was the promised land and powerful nation promised to them?

God, sometimes it is so hard to follow you, to listen and act on what we truly believe you are calling us to do. We try to find comfort in the thought that you are watching our movements, guiding our actions, yet there are times when we need you and instead of the comfort we long for, we only find more suffering and hurt. We cling onto past instances of your goodness and we make excuses and try to find the motivation to keep moving on.

The reading today reminds us that although Your past deeds were wonderful, Your work here never ends. The same Spirit that brought Jesus among us 2000 years ago is here with us transforming us as our lives continue to change. We call You our God today and always; You have not abandoned us and intend to keep your promises with all the patience and love we can receive. Let us live the faith which we have inherited; one that has not gone stale. It is thriving and alive like the life you have given for each one of us.

Lord, help us to look beyond our limits, the fears and the worries, and wash away our hopelessness. Open our eyes to see to your dream for us, that we may live our life according to our true purpose, a unique promise you made in our hearts the moment you loved us.

reflected by David Pham

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

"He shall defend the afflicted among the people,save the children of the poor." - Ps 72:4

As a teacher, I've spent so much of Advent awaiting the break. It is truly amazing how a season that lasts little more than four weeks can seem so long! The readings up to this point have been building up. It turns in to a journey up a mountain. Matthew's Gospel accounts the generations which have passed in order for this event to happen. The Jews awaiting the coming Messiah. The Baptist is crying out in the desert, "Prepare the way of the Lord!" We, as Christians, are caught in suspense much like the Hebrews. We have been awaiting the return of Christ, embodied by the celebration of Christmas. The journey is not meant to be easy, no journey ever is. But, your ability to traverse life is a matter of preparation. How are you preparing for the coming of the Anointed One?

The Hebrews had over 300 years of silence from the last of the Old Testament Prophets until John. At this stage in our travels through Advent John is dead, the last of the Prophets is gone, and we are left in disarray. Disillusioned, abandoned, and saddened by the God we thought had lead us through the generations. Can you feel the Evil Spirit moving? But this is merely the calm before the storm that God has planned in our lives. We may be dry now, but the source of Eternal Springs has been promised. Just as the Hebrews were promised so long ago, we await the Christ. We find ourselves crying out "O come o come, Emmanuel!"

What is it that you are looking for from God in this season?

What about in your life?

Does the waiting, the dryness, make the season more difficult, or does it make the end all the more tantalizing?

Let us ask God is this time to send down one who will provide a light while we await in the darkness.

"O come o come, Emmanuel!
And ransom captive Israel that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee Oh Israel!"

reflected by Matthew Keppel

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

Lk 7:24-30
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
he will prepare your way before you.

The reading for today preaches not only about the importance of listening to God’s messenger, John the Baptist, but also the simplicity of his teaching. John (and Jesus) do not “dress luxuriously and live sumptuously” but rather ask that their disciples to provide for the poor and love one another. During the Christmas season, we all strive a little bit extra to meet those expectations, but why is it that we do this?

We, too, are in many ways messengers like John the Baptist. We all have younger siblings, friends, colleagues, or children, who look to us for examples on how to live our lives. Our sacrifices and words have a much larger impact on our community than we realize. During this holiday season, let’s take some extra time to think about one person who we can help prepare his or her way. Perhaps we can visit with a lonely neighbor, or simply be nice to a co-worker that we generally dislike, or even buy a sandwich for a homeless person. Because one person can make a difference, and we can help people embrace Jesus in their hearts just like John the Baptist if only we are willing to try.

reflected by Dan Judnick

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other! Is 45:22

Everyone wants to feel safe, secure and protected from harm. We often do everything we can to protect ourselves from getting hurt by others around us. Our insecurities have us cling to our security blankets and show only to others what is comfortable. It is so hard for us to let down our walls and to be ourselves, to place our trust in God and to know and believe that He will provide and we will be safe.

As a perfectionist, I like to make sure things are meticulously planned. I fear being criticized for being imperfect and inadequate and have gotten into the habit of hiding behind what I do well. I have a plan for my life and most of the time I am comfortable with where it is heading. However, today’s readings remind me to trust in the Lord, for He will take care of me wherever I go and He will keep me safe. He is calling me to be real with myself and with others and to not waste the life He has given me but to live it fully. Things may not happen the way I plan, but I find comfort when I remember that it is all according to His plan. Although I may not know what the future holds, it is in the times when I let go of my insecurities and am open to God’s plan, that I receive many graces and allow God to transform my life.

What insecurities are you clinging to? What prevents you from being your true self?

Lord, help us to let down our guard and know we are forever safe in your arms.

reflected by Ylan Nguyen

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Memorial of Saint John of the Cross

Matthew 21: 31-32

Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

Jesus invites us to look at two types of people in the parable, the righteous and the self-righteous. The righteous ones are the tax collectors and prostitutes, in other words, the sinners and outcasts. They are righteous because they recognize the disorder and chaos in their lives. And, humbled by their faults and imperfections, they see Jesus, hear His words, and fall down in adoration because they thirst for order and peace found in God’s mercy. They are transformed in God’s hope and compassion.

The second group is the self-righteous. Those individuals who feel that they have it figured out, and are blinded by their own sense of importance. They are closed off to recognizing Christ because they feel no need of what he has to offer. The focus on the self removes God from the picture, and leaves no opening for grace to enter. They preach but do not practice.

It may seem attractive to believe that we can live life on our own, but what happens is that we always fall short. We will make standards for ourselves that are unrealistic and unobtainable. If we get too caught up within ourselves, we lose focus on what really matters in life. Pride brings us to a place of isolation that elevates us temporarily, but pushes away those that we care about. Yet, if we listen closely and carefully to our heart, there is an alternative voice, who tells us that we are loved not by what we do, but who we are. In being fully ourselves in the Lord, we recognize a joy that is beyond compare.

How open are we to looking beyond ourselves to see a God who reaches out into our lives day after day?

How do we enter into a humbleness that acknowledges our need for a God who heals and forgives?

How do we come to accept and live the reality that we are sinners, AND unconditionally loved by God?

reflected by Alex Llanera, S.J.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Feast of Saint Lucy

“In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O LORD.
Teach me your ways, O Lord.” -- Ps 25:7

The word “kindness” now stays with me all the time, because of some incidents that happened to me in the past week…

Last Sunday evening, I was driving home after dropping my kid off at church, suddenly the car died, in the middle of the road, at a dangerous winded spot where there was no street light! It was a cold rainy night, and panic set in immediately when I pushed the emergency lights and they didn’t even work, so it’s pitch black all around me! Worse yet, I realized I didn’t have my cellphone with me; as we had rushed out of the house I didn’t even grab my jacket, thinking I’d just go for a quick 5-minute dride! After a few seconds debating what to do, I stepped outside. I must have waived at 10 cars but they kept on driving, splashing water all over me. Finally, one car stopped. (A quick shameful feeling jolted me, when I saw that the woman driver was of a certain “nationality”, and I hate to admit that I used to have some stereotypical prejudice agaisnt them – so this just goes to show a similar “Good Samaritan” lesson, but this topic can be reserved for a different reflection by itself.) She let me borrow her cellphone; I called my daughter at church and asked her to find someone there to rescue me. Truth is, I couldn’t think of anyone or anything else in that situation. After that quick phone call, the woman drove off; I was back on the curbside, alone in the dark, soaking wet, feeling so terrified as if I were in a horror movie myself, and I imagined all kinds of dangers that would happen to me any minute. Heck, I would have had a heart attack if only a black cat jumped out of a bush! I was scared and sad and angry; the rain kept pouring, and somehow the streams of water tasted pretty salty when they touched my lips… In any case, I was very blessed that only 10 minutes later, a youth leader came out to help me jump-start the car and he even escorted me home. Needless to say, that night I prayed extra hard, and gave extra thanks to our God for the kindness shown to me through other people.

The next morning, it’s still cold and rainy. I asked my daughter, repeatedly, to put on the thick hooded jacket. She kept mumbling, “no…no…I don’t want to…”. Anyone who went through a “power struggle” with a teenager could picture how fun this could be! So I blew up and yelled at her – big time! Oh how so little control I had over my temper, and my poor little girl looked rather stunned yet frightened - drops of tears came out from the corners of her eyes. After dropping her off at school, I found myself overwhelmed with shame and guilt ... In the past sometimes I wondered how a certain person could be so “cruel” to me; I lamented at how someone could treat me so bad or use harsh words with me unnecessarily. Now I committed the same offense, even worse. Just the previous night, I went through a tremendous experience, I was feeling pretty grateful when I recognized and received God’s kindness, how come I could not practice kindness toward my loved ones? What about the famous teaching “love is patient, love is kind” (1 Cor 13:4)?

Maybe it’s easier to show “kindness” – in form of “politeness” – to other people (than those in our close circle), since we’re more prudent to watch our language/behavior to guard our reputation? A little hypocritical in human nature?

Reciting my own examples seems trivial and inconsequent, and my warp sense of humor tells me that God must have tested me and I failed miserably! However, nowadays I trust that God’s Grace will guide me through and through. Reflecting more on this Twenty-fifth Psalm, I came to understand that it is God's goodness, God’s kindness, that I must rely upon. And I pray that I can learn to make “Kindness” the modus operandi from now on!

Dear God, please help us look honestly at our own “ways” and our behaviors. We are crying out sincerely, “TEACH US YOUR WAYS, O LORD”… Please teach us to be kind, all the time and to everyone.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Third Sunday of Advent - Patient Waiting

“Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.” – James 5:7

Patient waiting is a difficult discipline. Our contemporary culture places little value on waiting. Anything that does not seem efficient or productive is considered a waste of time for us. We turn to our cell phones, iPods, gamepads, etc… while waiting for a flight, for the rain to stop, for a friend’s arrival, for the end of a workday, for a meeting or class to end. We distract ourselves with activity to pass the time away. Yet, patient waiting is not just passivity until something else happens. It involves living more fully the present moment to make space for God to work, for hidden gifts to unfold, for seeds of grace to grow. It does involve some suffering, for the word “patience comes from the Latin verb patior, which means to “suffer.” Such suffering may take the form of a dying to one’s preferences, wants, agenda, timeline; it may take the form of letting go, of paying attention to what is happening here and now, especially feelings of discomfort and uneasy.

As we learn to wait this way, we grow in trust that God is present and actively working through these moments of seemingly un-productivity and waste of time. We can also develop a deeper attitude and capacity to listen – to ask: “Lord, how are you present and communicating to me at this time, in my present circumstances?”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Second Saturday of Advent: Brick walls challenge resolve

“Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” – Mt 17:11-12

On September 18, 2007, Carnegie Mellon computer science professor named Randy Pausch gave his last lecture before dying pancreatic cancer and would die a year later at the age of 47. His talk was meant to encourage his children follow and achieve their childhood dreams with patience and persistence. Yet, millions of people have viewed his talk on YouTube, to see a man facing death with contagious energy, clear optimism, and a joyful purpose. One of his wise advices was about seeing challenges as opportunities: “Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us show how badly we want things.”

I find an interesting parallel in attitude between Randy and Jesus. After coming down the mountain after his Transfiguration, Jesus faced a brick wall with his disciples, who impatiently asked about the prophesized return of Elijah before the “day of the Lord” (Mal 3:23). They apparently have to come believe that such coming of the Messiah would bring them the rewards they (as the Jewish people) had been long promised for their faithfulness. They did understand that the return of Elijah was fulfilled in the mission of John the Baptist. But they failed to understand that suffering must precede the realization of hope. That in the spiritual life, something has to die for something greater to emerge. Like a caterpillar dying to its worm-like life to be transformed into a butterfly. Like a baby leaving the inner world of his or her mother’s womb to become alive in the outer world. Although I try to be patient, I find myself caught up at times expecting instant results and fruits, in prayer as in people. At times, I focus on certainty rather than confidence, needing to know that something will happen and clinging to fear rather than trusting that God knows best and will bring it about in God’s time and God’s way. I am challenged to trust God’s dream more than follow what I think best.

I’m grateful to be reminded by Randy Pausch’s message that brick walls provide an opportunity to deepen resolve and deepen desire. Come to think of it, Randy’s role is more like John the Baptist than Jesus’. He points to way to the One who can help us beyond brick walls.

How am I clinging to certainty? Or am I trusting with confidence? Help me, O Lord, to trust in your mysterious ways and that you seek what is best for us.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

Matthew 11:16-19
Jesus said to the crowds:
“To what shall I compare this generation?
It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance,
we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said,
‘He is possessed by a demon.’
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said,
‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”

What is our calling in life if not to love God in all that we do? Often times I find myself searching for Christ in my life. It's easy to overlook Him, and good people in general. We are called by Jesus to be drawn into relationship with, are we not? The first step to that is to be aware! It's simple, I know, but how often do we dismiss those around us who are humble as "too good"? Or, especially in this day and age, how often do we judge those who we might see as "unworthy"? Actually, it's even easier to look at someone who does not fulfill our expectations of what a Christian should be and ignore what he or she may stand for. Where do we, as people seeking to live and walk with Christ, fall into place in this crazy world?

As a Catholic, I am always a fan of looking to those who have gone before me for examples of how I should live my life. Here in the Gospel, John the Baptist is considered crazy for being too austere while Jesus is called a partier for hanging out with the less desirable people in society. Many people consider that the life of the monk may be the holiest and best way to live.While other people (my family members included) who see extreme piety and say that the monks cannot truly know the world. The typical understanding of this world is in order to fully understand the problems in society, you must experience them. In contrast, the life a socialite can be just as dismissed even easier by the "holier-than-thou" types. Though, from the outside someone who is continually around partiers may be considered one, it is easy to miss the great ministerial opportunities that are created in that atmosphere. Both lifestyles have their positive and negative points, but which is the right way to live? The simple answer is that we need to love God in the way that is unique to us.

I struggle to find myself in this world where we are called to be "in the world, but not of it." I don't want to seem crazy for following God, or doing what God asks me to do. In the same way, I so deeply desire to bring others nearer to Christ that I need to be understanding and aware of how this world works. It's a fine line that we Christians walk. So, how is it that we are to find the right road to walk to God? Consider this:
How are you called to follow God's call?
What keeps us from answering that call?
Is it you and your own prejudices?
Or, do you sway with your concerns and fears?
If you are concerned with whether you are on the right path, I was given wise advice by a Jesuit Brother once. He told me (and others) that, "shit rolls downhill." Now, that may seem funny at first, but think about it.

Let us offer up ourselves to God in this season that we may renew our understanding of who God is calling us to be, and how He is allowing us to be open for others.

reflected by Matthew Keppel

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

“I am the LORD, your God,who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’ ” - Isaiah 41:13

How do we find God among people around us? In our quests to reach out to others, we may forget that the Lord is there. A peculiar aspect of being human is a deep desire to belong, to fit within a social context, and to play a role in our social environments. I can offer my own workplace as an example. My position as a hospital employee often puts me on the brink of life and death situations. Should anything happen, I often find myself struggling to defend my qualifications and prove my actions were responsible. In convincing others, failure would mean walking away from my position, my job, my colleagues, my team. In other words, I constantly struggle to keep my role among others. It is when our very place in society is threatened that we can find ourselves pleading for recognition. The Lord grants us an escape, to know that we belong to Him. We are God’s beloved whether others care to recognize it or not. While people can cast judgement, criticize, and alienate, God tells us not to fear because He will always be there and help.

Lord, in our struggles to maintain and grow our relationships with those around us, may we always keep in mind that there You are to guide and support us.

What have we done in the past to prove our worthiness to belong in a group? Why did we not feel like we belong as one chosen by God?

reflected by Le Anthony Vinh

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

“Adam and Eve hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden, at the breezy time of the day. The LORD God then called to the man and asked him, "Where are you?” He answered, "I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself." - Gn 3:8-10

“I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself." This is what Adam and Eve responded to God after had eaten the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Shame and fear overcame them. Their self-judgment makes them feel ugly before God. I feel this way before God when I sin or face my own brokenness and sinfulness. Like Adam and Eve, I hide from God because I feel “naked and afraid.” Yet, God does not look at us in this way. God does not shrink away from our fragile humanity and whatever we see as unlovable in ourselves. Before we (Adam, Eve and I) sin we are already naked. Yet, God has no problems accepting and loving us as we are. God does not want to run away. God still wants to take a walk with us in the breezy late afternoon; God does not blame us like Adam blaming his wife and Eve blaming the serpent. Instead, God makes a promise to save, stating that Eve’s future offspring will strike at the head of evil – the serpent. Moreover, before they are sent out of the Garden, God does something so tender and loving. God clothes them with leather garment. It is as if God says, “I don’t think your nakedness is ugly. But if you think so, I will cover your nakedness so you won’t self-judge yourself all the time.”

As a perfectionist, I am prone to self-judgment. I can be hard on myself, especially after making a mistake or sinning. I judge myself as “ugly” and hide from God as well as other people out of shame. Yet, there are people in my life, like God, who do not shrink away from my self-rejection. There are times when I take a walk in the breezy late afternoon by myself or with a friend and catch God looking at me with tenderness, covering my sense of nakedness with loving acceptance. Such love humbles me. I become a little more like Mary in today’s Gospel: “May it be done to me according to your word.” I become more willing to say “yes” to God and not run away.

Do you feel afraid, naked, wanting to hide? Would you consider taking a walk with God or a friend, risk being vulnerable and seeing yourself through their eyes?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

“A voice says, ‘Cry out!’ I answer, ‘What shall I cry out?’” Isaiah 40:6

Today is the middle of a "triduum" that I find personally meaningful. Yesterday the Church celebrated the feast of St. Nicholas, the Wonderworker of Myra, a great Saint and bishop who is among few Saints venerated widely by the Orthodox and Catholic faithful alike for his great love for others. Tomorrow we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and God’s great blessing which prepared her for the courageous and humble “Yes” that she spoke with her entire life. Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Ambrose of Milan.

St. Ambrose and his relationship to St. Augustine have been important touchstones of my faith. In today’s readings, Isaiah speaks of the one who cries out in the desert; words echoed by John the Baptist in last Sunday’s readings. Advent is always a reminder to of St. John, who preaching always points beyond himself to Jesus, but is also a reminder to us of our call to do likewise. St. Ambrose was this person for St. Augustine. Through Ambrose’s eloquence, God called out to Augustine, the professor of rhetoric. Subtly, the proclamation of the Gospel penetrated this “restless heart,” so that he could at last experience the comfort described at the end of the first reading.

In the Gospel, Jesus proclaims His special concern for the lost sheep. Who are the voices that cry out to us and proclaim to us God’s love? How have we proclaimed that love to others?

In the midst of pain, suffering and loss, as described in the first reading, do we also see the God who comes with power to embrace the lost and lead us with care? In this Advent waiting, “What shall I cry out?”

reflected by Jason Coito

Monday, December 6, 2010

Feast of Saint Nicholas

This Thanksgiving, I was asked to think of 3 things this year that I was thankful for. Surprisingly, THE struggle made the list! I thought I was doing well with God… a few other disappointments and I found such peace and joy in Him. But when the economic delays hit my finances and even more so, when I was concretely helpless in others’ struggles, it hit me.

This was/is the year to face my limitations and weaknesses. During the time when the job hunt got rough, I couldn’t understand why I was so discouraged and couldn’t find joy in Christ.

Today’s Gospel reading reminds me of our limitations. How the paralytic, because of his disability, couldn’t reach Jesus amongst the crowd. But thanks to his friends who carried him on a stretcher through the roof, he was able meet Jesus and be healed.

The beauty of community. How God uses the relationships around us to bring us to His fulfillment. My pride got in the way of this awareness at first, but by frustration then grace, I was able to see that people around me gladly extended to help and were willing to embrace all of me… weaknesses and all. Being more open and honest with this area (to myself, others, and to God), was a new thing to me. It was rough, but then again, God’s not boring; and really, I probably wouldn’t have listened any other way.

Who are the “stretcher- carriers” in your life? Who fills your limitations and brings you back home where you feel most safe and loved?

God of Surprises! You remind me of a Vietnamese chef. My mom uses the bone for this dish, the fat for that... thank You for using all of me, even the parts that I feel are unfit, to nurture growth, relate to others, and to draw me close to You. May I "go when You tell me to go and stay where You tell me to stay" even when it hurts. For in this present moment, You are here.

reflected by Chau Nguyen

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Second Sunday of Advent

“I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” – Mt 3:11

Often times, it is easier to say sorry than to change one’s mind. I apologize often; and most of the time, I am genuinely sorry. This is part of what John the Baptist means by repentance. However, the Greek word for repentance, “metanoia,” means more. Literally “metá” means “beyond” and “noos” means “mind.” Hence, metanoia signifies a change of mind, a shift in mindset, a different way of seeing the world, ourselves, and others. This shift of mind triggers a conversion of heart and change in the way one relates to others, God, and self.

To my surprise, there are occasions when a conversion of mind and heart happens in me, beyond just saying sorry. I had an “allergic reaction” to a brother in the house. When I am physically near him, I feel like a bomb goes off inside. I feel agitated, annoyed, anxious, tempted to judge. I also feel bad and guilty for having these feelings. It took me some time, but slowly I learned just to let my feelings be without judging myself. I learned to embrace these negative feelings, be at peace, and actually listen to discover what might be going on within me. Gradually, I became more honest with myself and to even allow God in, to make space for God. I tried to look at my brother Jesuit with the eyes and heart of Jesus, to imagine Jesus being with him, caring for me, and loving him in his needs and struggles. I tried to pray this brother, for his well-being, even to imagine how I could cooperate with Jesus in loving the man. It took some time. But I began to notice a shift in attitude, in the way I see this Jesuit brother, with the way I relate with him. I became a bit more patient with myself, and grew to trust God more. Perhaps this is a glimpse into the baptism with “the Holy Spirit and fire” that John the Baptist announces: a conversion from rejecting my “allergic reactions”; a conversion for greater acceptance of someone quite different from myself. I am grateful for this change.

Lord, what negative feelings do you invite me to embrace and listen without judgment? Who do you invite me to greater acceptance, including accepting myself?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Saturday of the First Week of Advent

"Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” - Matthew 9:35-10:8

In today's Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples not just the authority to perform miracles but a special mission to give of themselves to the "troubled and abandoned" and "lost sheep". When we think of giving ourselves to others, we naturally think of our talents. Our talents are our unique abilities that we can do especially well. However, in thinking that we give only from our talents, we start to forget that what we can do exceptionally well does not completely define the extent from which we can give.

We each may have a few talents, but our gifts are more abundant. Henri Nouwen wrote, "our gifts are the many ways in which we express our humanity...friendship, kindness, patience, joy, peace, forgiveness, gentleness, love, hope, trust..." These gifts are often things we take for granted and do not think as gifts to give others. For most of our lives, we sometimes struggle to give because we remember how hard we had to work to cultivate and maintain our talents. So, the idea of giving it away to those who did not put in the time to earn these talents sometimes seems unfair to us. However, we must remember that God is the source of all good things. He freely gave us the seeds of our talents and our gifts so we may give to others.

"True joy, happiness, and inner peace come from the giving of ourselves to others". Lord, grant us the grace to give freely to others the same joy, happiness, peace, and love that we experience when we acknowledge and show gratitude for your gifts to us.

Are we aware of the gifts we have in our daily lives? How can we be more willing and alert to times when God calls us to give to others?

adapted anonymously from Henri Nouwen

Friday, December 3, 2010

Feast of Saint Francis Xavier

"Wait for the LORD with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD." - Psalm 27:14

Often in my life I find myself desiring perfection. Even in writing this brief reflection I found myself stressed out over what I should write, and how it needs to inspire those who read the words I would transcribe. I have tried for hours to put words down, yet I have found myself toiling aimlessly for my own glory for words that mean nothing to me. I, then, set myself to refocus using on of my favorite saints, Francis Xavier, S.J.

Every time I sit and meditate on the life of Francis, I feel humbled by God. Each and every one of us is called to be saints, holy men and women of God. But what does it take to walk in the path of sainthood? Mother Theresa once asked up to "give until it hurt, then give some more." Our very Savior, as well as the martyrs, gave their last drops of blood. St. Francis Xavier left everything he knew; his friends, family, and his order to follow where called called him. Francis sailed around Africa, through India and Southeast Asia, up to Japan, and ended outside China. Everything he did was for the glory of God. From risking his life on a ship for many years to teaching and converting the many different people he came across. Francis gave absolutely everything he had for his mission.

Now, we have all walked this path before. The "yes" which was so emphatic and inspired on Sunday, now fades, awaiting renewal. As the weeks wear on, and though Christmas seems like a distance away, consider St. Francis and his mission. Though not all of us are called to drop everything and follow, we are always called to make little sacrifices in our days. In Advent, we are reminded of Christ's coming Kingdom, of his triumphant return; but we must remain vigilant. Let us ask for the grace to see the little ways to sacrifice in your day-to-day life.

What can we do in the coming weeks to remind ourselves of our path to dwell with God?

That is, what can we do to strengthen ourselves as we await the coming Kingdom?

reflected by Matthew Keppel

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

“Trust in the LORD forever! For the LORD is an eternal Rock.” Isaiah 26:4

How do we respond to God’s call to live in faith? We may find it so easy to spend our days fending for ourselves instead of appreciating life for the divine gift it is. In my daily life, I’ve found many colorful characters who consistently demonstrate a reckless discourtesy. One particular person occasionally pops into my life and has a pattern of challenging my status or achievements. A few times, I’ve been moved to defend myself, as if my survival depends on clinging and protecting what’s mine. Yet nothing lasts forever. My status will change. My achievements will be forgotten. Everything that is mine, or that I claim to be mine, will be taken away. The true challenge may be to recognize the greater truth, that everything is not mine, but God’s. The truly eternal is God, who has given us the gift of life, who has enabled us to be here and now. Despite the conflicts, despite the obnoxious people in our lives, when we see everything as gifts God has placed in front of us, perhaps we can live in appreciation of every beautiful experience we have. Perhaps then we can unquestionably believe behind everything that comes and goes, we are God’s beloved forever.

How do you live in faith when you find yourself clinging to situations, circumstances, or possessions that are taken away?

reflected by Le Anthony Vinh

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent: God's Endless Abundance

“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat... They all ate and were satisfied.” - Matthew 15:29-37

In the office of a good friend, there is a frame with the quote “Grace upon grace.” The quote reinforces God’s endless abundance and how He has given us the grace to carry out what He has called us to do. He calls us to share our gifts with others, especially to those who are less fortunate than us. We are able to be compassionate because God recognizes our needs and always takes care of them but there are times when we are constantly asking of God for more but He has already given us so much. It’s up to us to actively acknowledge and give gratitude for His gifts and grace upon grace we have already received.

Those who came to see Jesus at the mountain were hopeful they may be cured of their ailments but not only were they cured, Jesus was able to provide a surplus of food to feed everyone there despite being in a remote place. In this season of waiting, we must maintain a spirit of hope to spread to everyone around us and also strengthen our faith in God that He will always provide more than enough.

Lord, may we humbly take every opportunity to be a reflection of your life-giving and endless love for all those who come into our life and to praise you through gratitude for taking care of all our needs.

Are we conscious of and grateful for all that God has provided to us? In what other ways can we be more giving of ourselves?

reflected by Greg Lontok

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Feast of Saint Andrew, Apostle: Dropping Our Nets…

“Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:18-22

In today’s gospel, we visit the calling of the first disciples and among those was Andrew. Today, we celebrate and honor Saint Andrew for his love and dedication to the Lord.

Many times, we may feel inadequate in the things that we feel the Lord is calling us to do. Yet we must remember that when Jesus called those first disciples, He was not looking in anywhere specific. Jesus called His first disciples while walking along the beach. He was looking for those who would hear His voice and listen.

Although Peter and Andrew may not have fully understood the situation, I admire and love their utter spontaneity to follow Him without a moment’s hesitation. To leave everything and everyone they knew behind, Saint Andrew and the other apostles are excellent examples of surrendering the things of this world to follow our Heavenly Father...may we all be blessed with the same type of courage in our own lives.

Are we as eager to drop our “nets” – a deadline at work, checking email, a trip to the gym, daily commute – when someone who needs the “good news” calls upon us today?

reflected by Tam Lontok

A common desire to be real

I am one of those people blessed to visit many places, people, and communities. Among the many blessings I’ve received throughout such travels, two stands out. The first is a heartfelt knowing that God is everywhere, laboring, loving, transforming. People say that God is omnipresent. My encounters with many people in many places confirm this truth. It is breathtaking to know this in a deep deep way. The second grace I am receiving is also a heartfelt knowing. It is the tangible realization of how transformed people can be when they live out their common desire to be real. Let me elaborate.

My Thanksgiving was spent with a group of young adults (24-35 years-old), mostly from the Parish of Queen of Peace in München (Munich), Germany but also from the nearby cities of Stuttgart, Mannheim, Regensburg. We experienced three full days of leadership workshops and prayer. Throughout the weekend we tried to live fully the present moment, create space for one another to be real, and especially to listen to our inner voice – God’s voice. I have had the opportunity to experience this kind of Cura Personalis event many times in the US and Canada with people from varying age groups and different ethnic backgrounds. Yet, I have never been given such firsthand experience with young people in Europe, where it is generally known that faith is passé and irrelevant among the young. Moreover, in the Catholic context, the sexual abuse scandals have left behind reactions of doubts, sadness, anger, and disillusionment.

The group took significant risks and sacrifices. Without knowing much about the gathering, these young adults took time off from work and studies to dive into something truly different. Although many have been on retreats and youth gatherings, few have had the opportunity to slow down, reflect, and listen to their inner workings. Even though many have known each other for five years or more, not many have had the occasion to be open and vulnerable in such real and honest ways. Real in terms of embracing their doubts, weaknesses, pains, confusing questions that often accompany quarterlife crises among young adults. Yet, they courageously created a safe space for one another to take risks, to actualize their common desire to be real, to grow spiritually and with each other. The results are astounding.

Even though the fruits of the gathering remain to be seen in the lives of participants in the coming months, signs of transformation are already evident. The pastor and parish leadership have commented how the young adults have noticeably and positively been changed in their body language, attitude, and spirit. At an outing after the weekend, the young adults themselves shared these observations: “We have never related to one another like this … in such open, honest, real ways … it’s so amazing, beyond what we can imagine … we have been transformed.” I wish I have the language to adequately describe the glow of spirit revealed through their glistening eyes, beaming faces, and grateful looks. It is as if they are stumbling on a “treasure buried in a field,” and are considering to sell all that they have to buy that entire field (Mt 13:44). It is simply indescribable.

I have been blessed to see such joyful discoveries and burgeoning growth in people before. Yet, I see clearly in the past few years the potentially transforming power of people willing to take risks in living out their common desire to be real, to create space so they can be more truly, humbly, and fully themselves. It allows me a greater glimpse into another layer of Jesus’ parable of the sower (Mk 4:1-9; Mt 13:1-31). It is very possible for us to become, together, the rich soil which receives the Word, accepting it, and bearing fruit “thirty and sixty and a hundredfold” (Mk 4:8). When we dare to live out our common desire to be real, miracles can happen. Genuine growth happens. God happens.

Dankeschön! Thank you my friends from Germany … for such a tangible, palpable gift that touches me profoundly and unfolds something deeper within … an unforgettable Thanksgiving … an inspiring Advent gift!

With whom can you be real? With whom are you willing to create space to take risks? Will you bring it up with God and listen?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday of the First Week of Advent: Worthy… or not worthy?

When I attend Mass, the most personal and sacred moment is right before Communion. It’s when the Priest raises the Host and the Chalice and proclaims, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper“, and we respond, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say a word and I shall be healed.”

Recently, as I’ve learned of this prayer’s origin, I found it interesting that it was first spoken by a centurion in Capernaum when he approached and appealed to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” (Mt 8:5-11) He must be a really compassionate person to care so much for the well-being of others – a resemblance of Mother Teresa?

For me, this compelling prayer always strikes strong emotions. Placing my right hand over my heart, often I hear my own voice tremble, while my eyes get teary and my mind flows through a last-moment reflection… For a while there used to be feelings of guilt and despair, seldom positive and exhilarating thoughts…
These days it’s God’s Grace that “break open the word” for me to understand better, and I’m forever grateful. I now believe that this prayer reminds me to be humble and to trust that our Lord is gracious, merciful and forgiving. Our Lord does not judge how “worthy” I am, or keep score of how many times I do foolish things to show that I am not! Through and through, His word alone has the power to heal me and lead me out of darkness. The “Word” is that of Jesus calling me softly and tenderly to come to him; to come home; to stop being weary, afraid, ashamed.

It’s really up to us to listen. Are we letting the Word of Jesus bless us with dignity and honor, give us the strength to be faithful and walk in His way?


Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Sunday of Advent

“Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”- Matthew 24:37-44

Today marks the first day of the season of Advent where we are reminded of the need to be watchful for God’s presence. We do not know of the exact time when God will come again, let alone when our last hour on earth will be yet the busy nature of our lives easily tempts us to be preoccupied with the worries of the future instead of living the present moment to the fullest.

God is reaching out to us in every interaction, whether it be through a heart to heart talk with a close friend or a smile from a passing stranger. I find myself easily dismissing these simple events by not being consciously aware of God’s presence. By receiving God’s love through our friends or strangers, we are able to give back that love to others and acknowledge God is everywhere. It is this receiving and giving of love that will prepare us for God’s coming and give us the confidence we have a big, merciful God when our last hour does arrive.

Lord, we marvel at the awesomeness and mystery of your omnipresence. May you open up all of our senses to allow us to receive and give your love so that we may be prepared for your coming and when we meet you face to face at the gates of heaven.

Where do you see God now in this very moment and in your next interaction with a friend, relative, or stranger?

reflected by Greg Lontok

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A safe place to take risks

A pattern is emerging that shapes my experiences these past few months. It is best described by this statement: "I feel safe taking a risk with you all."

A young woman kept repeating the above phrase during our four hour whitewater rafting adventure just outside Montreal, Canada. Four out of six of us were first timers, including this young woman and myself. She did not know how to swim or float. On our way, she shared that she was nervous; when we arrived at the river, she said that she was scared; at times on the raft, her face looked terrified and her body posture seemed petrified. To reassure herself, she repeated the phrase: "I feel safe taking a risk with you all.” When fear took the better of her, we reminded her that she is safe with us, with statements like "we've got you," and "you jump, we jump, we're with you."

We all made it through safely. And we enjoyed ourselves immensely, especially her. Most importantly, we grew in trust. Trust in one another, trust in ourselves, trust in God. Even though afterwards she denied "all the nice things she said about us" and "how much she trusts us" before getting into the water, we all realized how much we have grown together through this adventure.

This experience has taught me a great deal about taking risks. Three things specifically:

1. Be honest with myself. Be honest my feelings or whatever is going on inside, especially with feelings I label as negative or bad. The young woman was honest about her fears and reservations. She voiced them at times, allowing some among us to acknowledge our own fears and hesitations, helping us to be more honest.

2. Learn to laugh at myself. This does not mean that we should belittle ourselves, minimize, or dismiss our feelings, tensions, or difficulties. Sometimes, we can use humor to deny things. But we can also use humor to lighten the mood, to laugh at ourselves for being too serious, for misreading, misunderstanding, or overreacting. Throughout the rafting adventure, we teased the young woman, out of genuine care, for being so scared and overdramatic, without putting her down, without judgment. We helped her to laugh with us, at the situation, and at herself without denying her real fears. And we laughed a lot.

3. Focus on grace. During times of challenge, facing the unknown, or dealing with tensions, we frequently do not feel safe nor do we feel like trusting. In those moments, we are tempted to focus on our problems, weaknesses, mistakes, or fears. Yet, we can also redirect our attention to what has been good, what has been giving us life, what our blessings are. In Canada, our group had been growing in trust the previous ten days while serving on a young adult retreat and gathering. Our grace was manifested through trusting God and overcoming many difficulties together. By redirecting our attention on this grace, we were able to help the young woman (and one another) take risks. By focusing on grace, we felt safe enough to take risks, to venture into the unknown. Grace is the safe place.

Abraham and Sarah, our ancestors in faith, underwent similar experiences. God asked them to leave their homeland, comforts, almost everything behind, to go forth into unknown lands. All they had was God's promise. They learned to be honest, to laugh (Sarah means "she who laughs" in Hebrew), to focus on God's promise. And God kept God's promises.

This is not easy for me to learn. Yet, I find myself drawn more and more to adopt this attitude before the challenges of living in a new place, working in a new office, meeting new people, facing many unknowns. I am very grateful for this lesson. I am grateful for my experience of rafting, for the people I was blessed to be with. I feel safe to take risks with them.

With whom do you feel safe to take risks?

p.s. - You know who you are, Ms Sunshine. You know who you are ladies. Thank you. You inspire me to ground myself in a safe place to take risks. It is helping very much!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Grace and wild flowers

From left to right: red poppies in Northern Spain; seaside daisies in San Diego; bluebonnets in Houston

Since late-March I have been drawn to wild flowers. In Texas, bluebonnets captured my attention. I spent an afternoon sitting among bluebonnet patches in Hershey Park along Buffalo Bayou in Houston, talking to a friend about life. In San Diego, everyday I sat on the front patio of my parents' home, bedazzled by the carpet of purple seaside daisies. In the Pinnacles National Monument south of San Jose, I noticed how California poppies dotted the landscape along the trails. On the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain, wild flowers were almost omnipresent, blooming everywhere, despite clouds that shrouded much sunlight. The red poppies that blanketed the rolling hills near the town of Santa Domingo de Calzada reminded me of the way golden poppies cover the soft hills of California. In the Alps near Munich a multitude of wild flowers grow. Again, despite rainy weather this week on the Bavarian countryside, wild flowers abound. Thus, I cannot help but run into wild flowers these past three months.

Likewise, I cannot help but run into grace these past three months, in a similar way that I encounter wild flowers. This "coincidence" prompts me to observe the following similarities. Like wild flowers, grace "pops" up everywhere; it blossoms "wildly," so to speak. Like the wind which no one can "tell where it comes from and where it goes," grace blooms wherever the Spirit blows (Jn 3:8). In unexpected places, in surprising ways, with unpredictable logic. And like wild flowers, grace brings about a discovery. We notice life - beauty, meaning, and goodness - that has lain dormant. We discover more beauty, deeper meaning, or greater goodness in places and experiences that previously seemed like ugliness, dead winter, only with suffering, without meaning. Grace ushers "new" life that we may have missed along the way. A dear friend puts it charmingly: "I was so happy to see bluebonnets grow along the side of a ditch, adorning and making a little ugly ditch look so pretty!"

Thus grace, like wild flowers, appears everywhere, in any circumstance, bringing about life or beauty in surprising ways. Just as it's improper to domesticate wild flowers, it's also not proper for us to grow, bring about, or make grace happens. It's better to allow ground for wild flowers to grow and space for grace to flow. It's better to discover them with a spirit of openness rather than a mindset that predicts, expects, or forces.

This year, I am very blessed to travel through three Continents. From adventures in Asia to experiencing Europe (for the first time). Perhaps it has been easier for me to notice because the period of April-June is springtime in the US as well as in Europe. Perhaps my time through Tertainship has brought about a springtime in my spiritual life.

Yet, regardless of the seasons in nature or those of our spiritual lives, wild flowers dot both our physical terrains and inner landscapes. Grace is present. It may be more difficult to spot wild flowers and grace as summer approaches. (Yesterday, June 21st, officially marked the beginning of summer). Yet, they are still present, hidden beneath things or disguised behind tough or painful experiences. Grace abounds.

Let us be surprised by grace. Let us put aside 10' of silence for prayer or reflection each day so we might be surprised by grace. Let us treat one another in ways that make room for wild flowers. Let us be surprised by grace.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Being a tourist or a pilgrim?

Today, I left the Camino (the Way) on foot and shifted to being a pilgrim by bus and train. Because I need to visit a Đồng Hành-CLC in Munich, I am traveling to Burgos by bus and to Santiago by train.

Interesting, I notice my attitude begins to shift. I find myself becoming more of a tourist as I leave the Camino. I find myself more demanding, more anxious, and easily irritable. For example, I catch myself complaining because the new hostel is not as comfortable as the previous one. I am disappointed because the rain makes it more difficult to visit an ancient monastery; yet a similar kind of rain did not phase me on the Camino a few days ago, even though we plodded through mud and puddles. As I visited the magnificent Cathedral of Burgos, I found myself faced with a pull and tug within. On the one hand, I just wanted to be present and soak in the holy site; on the other hand, I find myself wanting to take pictures to capture the experience. My rationale goes like this, "I'll just take as many pictures as I can so I can enjoy them later..." Whereas the previous day, my companion and I witnessed the following scene ...

Captivated by its grandeur, we simply enjoyed and cherished the moment. We did take pictures while verbally stating what was on our minds: "A picture can never capture the scope and depth of reality, or the experience ..."

I wonder about this shift in attitude. Then I remember the following words written on the walls of the abergue in Azorfra: "The tourist demands; the pilgrim thanks."

How true. Although there is nothing wrong with being a tourist, there are marked differences. A tourist has more things in his/her luggage than needed, for bags can be checked in. A pilgrim takes only the essentials, because he/she has to carry everything on back. A tourist is focused on destinations, to cover a list of sites to see, things to do. The pilgrim needs to focus mainly on the path. A tourist is more easily tempted to complain and demand proper service entitled to the greater money spent. A pilgrim is more likely to accept things as they come, simply because he/she did not pay much for them.

The above contrasts highlight a key difference in attitude. That of trust. The pilgrim mindset tends to trust that God knows best and will bring about what is best. The tourist mindset tends toward greater self-reliance. I don't mean a black and white distinct such that the pilgrim is purely passive and the tourist is entirely active. Both have to plan. There is a dance here between taking initiative and relying on grace. The difference lies in where one puts one's trust. In oneself or in God? Yes, I need to plan, but do I put more trust in my own abilities or do I trust that God knows best and will bring about what is best, despite the best of my intentions (or others' intentions).

It's like the difference between expectation and hope. When we expect, we rarely trust. When we expect something, we have particular ideas about how it will turn out: there is a specific set of outcomes we want to see happen. Whether we are aware of them or not, we feel disappointed or even disillusioned when these expectations are not met. When we hope, we are trusting in God’s goodness, to provide what is best for us. It is more open-ended.

Five days on the Camino gives me a taste of a genuine pilgrim, of adopting such an attitude. On the Camino, one really needs to focus on walking each day. Taking in the beautiful scenery, visiting ancient churches, talking to people, enjoying local cuisine are all nice. But first, one needs to focus on walking, on taking step-by-step, and the care of one's back, knees, feet, of having enough water, or making to the next village in time to check into a hostel. The very basics of walking the path. Everything else becomes secondary. What a wonderful corrective to the tourist mindset of needing accomplish everything on the to-do list, things that are really secondary. Hence, it's easier for the pilgrim to give thanks, for all is GIFT. And easier for the tourist to demand, because of expectations, appropriate or unrealistic ones.

Walking the Camino day in and day out deepens this mindset: focusing on the path today, walking each step, trusting God's goodness to care for whatever I need to live today. This is what pilgrims and people since ages past meant by trusting in Divine Providence. I am grateful for these days on pilgrimage. It's easier to learn on foot, but also possible to learn through other means.

It is not realistic for us to expect ourselves to be like a pilgrim on the Camino, given our busy, hectic pace of life. However, we can simply ask for the gift of trust, to let go of things that make us overly worried today, and to acknowledge the need to be saved from over-worrying. I remember that helpful prayer the priest prays out loud after the Our Father during Mass: "Deliver us Lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy, keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen."

Everyday, you and I have this choice: will I walk this day with an attitude of a pilgrim or that of a tourist?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Buen Camino!"

"Buen Camino!" is Spanish for "Bon Voyage" or literally "Good Way". It is especially used to greet pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, Europe´s most ancient and famous pilgrimage. I finished my fourth of seven days on this typically 30-day journey on the Camino Frances, a 480 miles trek from the French border to Santiago de Compostella, where St James the Apostle is believed to be buried.

For over 1,000 years, all sorts of people have embarked on this adventure: the young, the older, the physically fit or otherwise, the spiritual, the religious, the adventurous, the home-bound, prompted by a multitude of reasons. I have met people from all Five Continentes and various walks of life: Anglican priests, Buddhist enthusiasts, devout Catholics, thoughtful atheists. Some have a clear idea why they are on this journey. Most have only a vague notion. Many of us have a strong yet unconscious motivation why we are on this pilgrimage. It´s usually after a few days - perhaps a week - on the journey, when the newness of the adventure wears off, when our bones are bruised, our muscles ache, our feel calloused with blisters, and our knees beg for rest, that deeper questions begin to emerge. The inner search takes a turn.

As for me, I initially wanted to join Paul Malvaux SJ, a brother Jesuit Tertain, as a way to celebrate my 10th Anniversary of priesthood and to listen further to how the Lord is inviting me to serve in the years to come. Yet, the deeper reason(s) remains an elusive mystery to me.

Something interesting is emerging however. I am discovering that many, if not most pilgrims, do not embark on this way primarily because of religious reasons. Some examples: a twenty-three year-old Korean young woman wants to clear her head, perhaps clouded by an early onset of "quarter life crisis". She shared, without knowing that my companion and I are priests, that she is struggling with her Catholic faith. An older man from La Reunion (Africa) unfamiliar with Jesuits asked us if we believed in Jesus Christ. Many pilgrims go to Mass at night a receive a special blessing, whether they are Catholic or not, mixed with curiosity and hesitation of what the blessing may do to them. A middle age woman from Korea was moved to tears when she received such a blessing for the first time in her life. Another group of four Catholic pilgrims from France asked us to celebrate the Eucharist with them, albeit only half of them regularly attends Mass.

Regardless of relgious persuasion, most people seem to be looking for some sort of inner transformation. Many have written testimonies of the remarkable change in them after finishing the Camino. Such witnesses clearly influence the underlying intentions of most pilgrims. (A big reason many Koreans are undertaking the Camino is because a Korean author recently wrote a popular book on his experience on the Way). However, more than a few have written of disappointments after walking the Camino. My companion Paul, who has completed 70 of his 90-day pilgrimage from Belgium, shared this observation: "The key is attitude. I have seen people who are incredulous of faith open up along the way, especially through interactions with other pilgrims. Their openness allows transformation to take place. The difference is how one approaches this question: Am I open to what is to come on the way?"

The Camino symbolizes our pilgrimage in life, for all of us are on a unique path, walking at our own pace and fashion. Walking today in the rain and mud reminds me of a similar experience in the mountain province of Kalinga in the Philippines. What I am discovering now depeens what I have been taught about trusting in Divine Providence last December: am I open to being transformed as I walk my way, toward what is to come?

Yesterday was the Feast of the Sacred Heart. I was struck by the first reading of God´s love that seeks out each of us pilgrims: "As a shepherd keeps all his flock ... I myself will pasture my sheep, I myself will show them where to rest - it is the Lord who speaks. I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong. I shall watch over the fat and healthy. I shall be a true shepherd to them" (Ex 34:15-16). The Gospel further emphasized this commitment of God in Jesus, the Good Shepherd whose care for each person moves him to "leave the ninety-nine [sheep] in the wilderness and go after the missing one till he found it ... And when he found it, he would joyfully take it on his shoulders" and gather his friends and neighbors to rejoice, saying "I have found my sheep that was lost" (Luke 15:3-7).

I am moved by the compassion of God. Regardless of where we are in our pilgrimages of life, God in Jesus in willing to journey more that halfway to meet us and bring us home. The more we are "open toward what is to come," the more we will be transformed on the way. Not an easy attitude for me to embrace with consistency. Yet, I am enlivened by the Good News, that while you and I may be searching, lost, stuck, or hesistant, Someone is searching for us ...

"Buen Camino!"

p.s. - I bought my prayer locket with me and continue to pray for those of you listed in the prayer scroll it carries.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Being at home

I was very blessed to be at home for the entire month of May. Much time to rest, to play with my little nieces and nephews, to swim regularly with my dad, to be pampered by my mother and aunts with great Vietnamese food. In all of my 21 years of religious life, I don't remember ever having fantastic Vietnamese dishes on such a regular basis. I was able to celebrate daily Mass with my parents and 2-3 year old nieces and nephews, attend my niece Cece's First Communion as well as my sister My-Loc's Law School Graduation. My home-stay ended with with the move of my brother and his wife to their new home. It was indeed a blessed time for self-care and allowing my family to care for me. Robert Frost speaks of something true when he said that home is a place of rest, a secure place and harbor which we sail into. It is experienced as a place from which we do not want to, or need to, go anywhere. Just to remain at.

Yet, what Martin Luther King said of “church” is also true of home. “It is not the place you go to. It is the place you go from.” To be honest, there was a part of me that wanted not to go anywhere while being at home. I felt like a little kid, a bit lazy, and just wanted to "erect tents" like the disciples after experiencing Jesus' Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Like them, I wanted to hang on, to enshrine, my wonderful experience and not venture anywhere else. Isn't this our temptation though, wanting to hold on to cliques and "inner circles" because we feel so comfortable, at home with a group of people? While there is a real value in relishing, enjoying, and savoring these experiences of being at home, we are ultimately called forth from our homes. Perhaps to take what we have been given and foster a sense of home, of belonging, of being loved, beyond our present circle of care and concern. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant in the Last Discourse of John's Gospel when he first invited the disciple to "remain in [his ]love" (Jn 15:9) and soon after he sent them into the world as he is sent by God the Father (Jn 17:14-18). Perhaps this is what St. Ignatius meant when he said "world is our home."

Where or with whom might you & I be invited to remain, and perhaps to go forth from?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Going home?

“Going home?” This was the question an agent asked me while I was passing through US Customs in Canada. It triggered a strand of reflection within me and uncovered a grace.

The theme of “home” has occupied much real estate in my mind lately. Throughout the past two weeks, I have been talking with my Provincial and house superior about where I will live in the next three years. This past weekend, I shared about unconditional love as a “coming home,” in preparation for an upcoming retreat. Just before the inquiry posed by the customs agent, I proposed to a friend some concrete ways how we can support one another to grow in faith and ministry. His peace-filled reply caught me by surprise: “I am at home with what you’re thinking.”

I am going home, to the Murray Jesuit Community in Oakland. Yet, I am leaving it in a week to find home in another community in East Los Angeles. However, a number of factors conspire to prevent me from fully settling in my new house for several months. In particular, I am going home to my family in San Diego for a month. It is the last leg of my nine month Tertainship experience. (This is an unexpected gift since I had not previously imagined being with my family for an extended period, after twenty-one years of short visits.)

In all of the above places, I feel a sense of belonging, familiarity, comfort, and safety. I am grateful I can call these places home. However, there is another level of meaning. Home is more than a physical place; rather, it consists of a web of relationships whereby we are loved and accepted as we are, without condition, without having to deserve, gain, or earn love; it allows us to touch the bedrock of who we are, encourages us to be our truest selves; it is where we feel safe enough to take risks of greater vulnerability or be challenged to grow.

As a Catholic, I am called to find home in Christ, in the church community, in serving others. As a Jesuit, I am invited to find home in community, in mission, on the road, and most importantly, in the heart of Christ. The journey of these eight months, thus far, has allowed me to come home, in all of the senses described above. More than ever, I see my life as a pilgrimage of trust, an adventure home.

When I replied, “Yes, I am going home,” to the cheerful customs agent, I also smiled to myself: “Yes, I am a pilgrim going home.” There is an invitation here, which allows me to rest in gratitude … and beckons me forth in trust …

Friends, where are you going? With whom are you at home … and coming home to?