Sunday, April 7, 2013

Divine Mercy Sunday: Letting Jesus Heal our Wounds

"Peace be with you … Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe." – Jn 20:26-27 
Thomas did something we would all like to do. It would be so much easier to believe if we could touch and see the wounds of Christ. Yet, the wounds of Christ are present every day in many different ways. I can still touch them; perhaps I just don’t see them.

We are all wounded. Some of us carry the wounds that are deeper and more intense than others. These wounds can be physical or spiritual, recent our long-standing. An injection or a pill isn’t enough to heal these wounds. Healing is an internal process that puts things right, and to do this we need to face our wounds.

Jesus carries our wounds. In today’s gospel, Jesus invites Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and side. In so doing, Jesus is also inviting Thomas to come face to face with his very own wounds, which Jesus is carrying. It is only by facing his own wounds that Thomas can be healed and then proclaims, “My Lord and my God.”

We, like Thomas, are invited to face our wounds, which Jesus carries for us. Like Thomas we are invited to heal whatever it is that threatens life within us. Moreover, we are called to touch the wounds of Christ in others around us. In doing so, we allow the grace Jesus offers to heal the wounds that prevent us from being whole. And we will find the strength to rejoice, “My Lord and my God.”

Each day this past week, we glimpse into an aspect of the Risen Jesus. He is already present, in a new form, consoling with healing and peace, inviting us to let go, eliciting joy, and sending us to testify to love. May the joy of this Easter Season bring about a greater, deeper renewal in each of us, and in our communities!

adapted from Anthony Chezzi

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Saturday in the Octave of Easter: Impossible not to witness Love

“It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” – Acts 4:20
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” – Mk 16:15

Genuine love cannot be contained. Like the life-force emanating from all created beings, it is resilient, persistent, unstoppable. Like water over-spilling its container, love overflows beyond a person’s heart and hands. Peter and John in Acts 4 risk further imprisonment and persecution by proclaiming that it is impossible not to testify to what they’ve experienced regarding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Through retreat work and sharing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, I am very blessed to know people who are experiencing God’s love in such a way and depth that they cannot keep it to themselves. Their tales of transformation are inspiring: a young woman is quitting her high paying job to spend four months serving the poor and making a month-long retreat not because she’s having a crisis, but because she wants to respond more deeply to God with her life; a single mother who struggled with depression, trying to earn love and seek approval much of her life now shares about the joys of praying early every morning, taking walks with God, experiencing peace consistently, even through her times of loneliness, and empowering her children to honest discovery of their own faith; a reserved Vietnamese man apologizing to his children and family in public with an honesty and humility that elicits similar courage from other men; a young couple grieving the loss of their newborn with raw openness and strength that reverberate through both of their own extended families. These stories are proclaimed by action more than by words.  These people carry out St Francis of Assisi’s advice: “Proclaim the Gospel always; and when necessary, use words.” Our new Pope seems to be one of these people.

There is a clear pattern happening to these people: as they allow themselves to be touched, healed, forgiven, lead, etc… they magnify God’s love and goodness. They cannot keep such life-force to themselves. Moreover, the more they let God effect grace in their lives, the more they become instruments of peace and joy. Step-by-step, in ordinary living, with openness, they join this revolution of love, this conspiracy of grace, this contagion of life. They manifest an ordinary witness of extraordinary love. They inspire people around them. I am one of these people, who is empowered to be likewise.

Who around you are witnesses of grace? Spend time in their presence and joy.

“O Risen One, grace me with your humility and courage to magnify your presence and love in the way I treat people around me.”

Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday in the Octave of Easter: A Presence already Present

“Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way.” – Jn 21:1

One of my favorite TV shows is still Joan of Arcadia. It is about a typical family whose teenage daughter encounters God through regular people, like a boy on the bus, a cafeteria worker, a school secretary, etc… In every episode Joan is given a challenging or surprising mission through which God teaches her life-giving lessons. In the pilot, the God-figure confounds her with: “Joan, I am not appearing to you. You are seeing me.” She begins to learn the difference between “appearing” and “revealing.” When appearing, a person enters a room he or she was previously absent. When revealing, a person becomes unconcealed, seen, known. But he or she has always been present, albeit veiled.

John’s Gospel does not use the term “appear.” Instead, the verb the verb “reveal” is used deliberately to highlight a dimension of the Risen Christ: He is already here, hidden in every moment and circumstance, including ordinary ones. In today’s Gospel, the disciples return to ordinary life as fishermen and catching little. Toward dawn, they discover him already present among them. Later, they realize he has been preparing a BBQ on the beach for them all along. Slowly, they recognize that the Risen Jesus has always been around, gifting them with his presence and feeding them.

It is a challenge in my busy life, especially in the fast-paced world of the West Coast, inundated by phone calls and texts, requests, FB messages, Tweets, to live in the moment. Especially when living the moment involves getting in touch with or accepting a difficult feeling, person, or circumstance. The Little Way of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux helps: “Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.” I don’t know about extraordinary love, but breathing in while praying the mantra “Jesus, flow into me” helps. It’s my little way to make space for the Risen One who is already “here” revealing himself and feeding me. The Easter Season is a time to live out our faith in the mystery of the Resurrection. To adapt a statement by Gerald May, we are called to trust that “grace is always present, always available, always good, always life-giving, always gratuitous.”

“Help me Lord, to live more fully each moment as a response to your love.”

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Thursday in the Octave of Easter: Love in the flesh

Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have … You are witnesses of these things.” – Lk 24:39, 48

Despite arguments to the contrary, two evidences stand out regarding the physical Resurrection of Jesus. In the past two thousand years, believers are consistently transformed by their encounters with the Risen One in two ways. First, as they stand with and serve the poor. Second, as they participate in the Eucharist. How is it that the first disciples were transformed from a fearful group hiding behind locked doors to a missionary band spreading like wildfire throughout the Mediterranean world? What empowered them to let go of being terrified at the possibility of suffering the same fate as their teacher and courageously faced persecution and death as they witnessed their faith? They broke bread together. They cared for the least among them. And this pattern has consistently helped Christians encounter the living God these past two millennium. Perhaps it is not a coincidence in today’s Gospel that the Risen Jesus met the disciples as they huddled in fear. He showed his physical wounds, broke bread with them, and revealed himself as the Suffering Servant. God’s power shining through suffering, through the Eucharist as in those who suffers. The Body of Christ broken.

What if the Eucharist is God’s physical embrace? What if the poor and marginalized is Christ’s crucified presence? Then it is not so farfetched that these two ways steadily reveal Christ’s Real Presence in the world. What’s real involves the body, the flesh, but more than material form. What’s real is what’s consistently life-giving, transforming, growth-empowering. And perhaps what’s more real is what lasts? For example, do we distinguish genuine love by the feelings we get or by its transformative power, the way we forget ourselves and become our best selves? Feelings are fleeting while growth lasts. My parents’ consistent care in the way their children and grandchildren grow physically, psychologically, and in faith throughout the past fifty years testifies to the reality of their love. They mirror Christ’s love in the flesh.

A wise, elderly Jesuit once told me, “Just show up [for prayer], God will be there.” If we want to encounter the Risen Christ, let us “just show up” consistently before the Eucharist and with the poor and marginalized. God is already there. Christ is waiting to console and transform us, in the flesh.

“Help me, Risen One, to love and be loved by you through the Eucharist and in your poor.”

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Theme 1: Journeying with Pope Francis

Pope Francis is a man of prayer, whose actions and words seem to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Let us follow his lead in listening to the promptings of the Spirit in our own hearts.

Suggested ways to use the following prayer-helps:
  1. These helps are like items on a buffet menu. Use what is helpful; no need to “take in” the rest.
  2. Ask for the grace to listen and be guided by the Spirit.
  3. Pause where you are struck, either in a consoling or challenging way, and pay attention to the feelings and inner movements that are being stirred within you.
  4. Speak to God, as with a friend, about what is happening within you.
  5. Listen to what God may express to you (not so much with words, more often through your imagination, intuition, desires, awareness, etc…)
  6. Savor. Relish. Remain where you are drawn. No need to rush through.
Prompts for Reflection

And now let us begin this journey, [together] as bishop and people.These are Pope’s first words in St Peter’s Square following an affectionate buon giorno! greeting. He begins by where Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI left off. Benedict XVI’s last words as Pope were: “I am no longer [Pope], now I am just a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth.” Pope Francis’ first words mark an invitation, continuing where his predecessor left off. He invites all of us to “a journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us.” On the balcony, he meets everyone as a fellow pilgrim, wearing a simple white cassock instead of an ermine-rimmed red-velvet cape. Asking his flock to pray a blessing over him betrays the mindset of a pilgrim. He finishes his first words, entreating everyone to “always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world, that there may be a great spirit of fraternity. It is my hope for you that this journey of the Church, which we start today, will be fruitful for the evangelization of this most beautiful city.” Pope Francis invites us to journey with him as fellow pilgrims, in need of blessings, needing to pray, to depend on God, on the way. Read more about being a pilgrim… 

St. Ignatius of Loyola saw himself as a pilgrim. His life was that way—full of journeys as a wandering pilgrim, full of changes in direction, full of unforeseen developments.  He was courtier and soldier knocked off his career path by a cannon ball; pilgrim to the Holy Land thankfully ushered out of Jerusalem by some very wise Franciscans; wandering lay spiritual friend, derailed by the inquisition; priest intent on returning to the Holy Land with his new friends, blockaded by pirates.  His was not a life planned out for success from kindergarten to retirement. On the way, he gradually learned to trust God bringing about what is best, even though he does not understand or is afraid. Read more about Ignatius the pilgrim or see a creative presentation of his life story

Does anything you read in the above paragraphs strike you in a consoling or challenging way? Use suggestions #4-6 above to help you ponder and listen deeper.

Points for Prayer

Use any familiar way of praying that helps you listen or be present more. Try these two forms of Ignatian prayer using the following passages:

Mt 15:28 – Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

Jn 1:35-39 –The first disciples responded to Jesus' invitation to “Come and see.” And they stayed with him the whole day, enjoying his company. Let Jesus enjoy you.

Is 55:6-13 – “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near …”

Actions to Consider

+Pray the Our Father slowly, letting each phrase or word sink in
+Take a leisurely hike in nature
+ Go on a 20 minute “Following Your Senses” Walk
+ The tourist demands; the pilgrim thanks. Am I walking this day with an attitude of a pilgrim or that of a tourist?


Visit this Vatican site for the latest publication of the Pope’s homilies, addresses, and speeches, usually translated in English a day after the event.

Rocco Palmo’s Whispers in the Loggia Blog is a gem of Catholic chronicle.

Praying with Pope Francis

Easter Season is the time to welcome the “newness that God wants to bring into our lives.” In his Easter Vigil homily, the new Pope prayed that God “open[s] us to the newness that transforms, to the beautiful surprises of God.”

Since Benedict XVI announced his resignation on February 11th, the Holy Spirit has been the “principle agent” at work “in everything that has occurred”. The Spirit “prompted the decision of Benedict XVI for the good of the Church; he guided the Cardinals in prayer and in the election.” The Spirit of the Risen Christ is bringing about “the newness of God”, eliciting renewed hope in many people and ushering a new springtime in the Church.

Let us heed Jesuit Father General Adolfo Nicolás’ counsel to “pray with [the Pope] and for him.” Let us “behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17).

Click here for a prayer for the Pope

Following Father Nicolás intuition that “Pope Francis feels deeply Jesuit,” we can pray using the following seven Ignatian themes that can be gleaned so far from the words and actions of Pope Francis:

More contented will be gradually added to these themes in the coming two weeks:
Theme 2: Befriending & Conversing from the Heart
Theme 3: Imagining
Theme 4: Remembering
Theme 5: Intimacy with Jesus, poor and humble
Theme 6: Serving
Theme 7: Close to Mary  

Wednesday in the Octave of Easter: Joy elicited, fire re-ignited

"Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?" – Lk 24:32

Like the two disciples dragging their crucified dream toward Emmaus, many of us carry our broken dreams into adulthood. The two disciples in today’s Gospel walked with disillusionment and despair for their dream of a Messiah with political power and might died on the Cross. Many of us live lives of quiet desperation, frozen by fears, lost in love, unforgivable, unlovable, rejected, or lonely. We can be betrayed by those we trust, let go from good jobs, let down from those whom we thought believed in us, or disheartened by our family, church, society. God does not come through as we’d liked or lets us or those around us suffer chronic illnesses, crippling addictions, left to our worse selves. Many of us enter young adulthood with glorious dreams and great hope. But inevitably, our bubbles burst, reality bites, loneliness persists, deep childhood fears rise like tsunamis, meaningless jobs replace imagined careers.  Midlife crisis overshadows us; quarter-life crisis in our mid-twenties and mid-thirties.

One of my consistent patterns of crucified dreams lies with my idealism. Naively, I place too much hope in authoritative figures or structures. When their clay feet shows, when their darker sides appear, when agreed visions and plans are betrayed by distrust, fears, or excessive control, my heart breaks. I let disillusionment, anger, hopelessness take over. My spirit dies, I withdraw from relationship, I drop commitments. Like the disciples fleeing Jerusalem, I leave the place where dreams give life and prod through life kidding myself that I am still alive with love and passion, bent only on survival-mode.

Many times in my life, good friends have been my lifejackets. They challenge me to be real – to be open, honest, and vulnerable. They walk with me, support me, help me to be in touch with my broken dreams and false expectations. They let me grieve. Somehow I recognize God’s presence in our midst; I discover the Risen Jesus accompanying us; re-interpreting my suffering story, re-shaping my dream. Often, just sitting silently before Eucharist time after time re-awakens something deep within. Just sitting, trying to listen, look, and love as I struggle to voice and let difficult feelings be. Letting my dear friend in the Eucharist listen, look, and love me.

There is a life-force loved into us that no pain, sin, or injustice can kill; a fire that no crucified dream or hope can extinguish; an undercurrent of joy no unhappiness or failure can drown. It is not easy to access. Yet, like the seasons, it springs anew after dead winters of discontent. This resilient life within resurrects us from our spiritual deaths, from what Ronald Rolheiser calls “a string of empty tombs.” It is resilient, persistent, unstoppable.

Easter Season gives us the opportunity to let this tenacious life resurrect passion, elicit joy, re-ignite fire within us. We are beckoned by the Risen One, the Arsonist of the Heart, to witness this spirit of life!

“O Risen One, thaw my heart and its cold, dead chambers with your consoling presence and love.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tuesday in the Octave of Easter: Who are you looking for?

Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping…
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” John 20: 11, 15

Mary Magdalene believed in Jesus and is mentioned in the Gospels as a witness to Jesus’ crucifixion and death. It is only natural that she would soon go to the tomb where Jesus was laid, what else could she do? When I think of Mary Magdalene weeping outside of the tomb, I am brought to a place inside myself that I have visited all too often in my life, a place full of sadness, a reminder of problems that I could not solve and dreams that did not come to be. Here, there is no hope and no desire to move forward.  In this place, I, along with Mary Magdalene, want nothing more than to mourn a deep loss and convince ourselves that we may never truly live again.

If Grace is to receive gifts beyond our own merit, then God is already at work to help us even before we are ready to look up from our own sadness. He is in the angels who ask Mary Magdalene “Woman, why are you weeping?” He is Jesus, who plays the role of the gardener waiting for Mary to recognize Him. As she describes her plan to recover the corpse of her Lord, God already has a bigger and better truth in store for her.  In the same way, when our source for hope and life is threatened and even when it is taken away, we do not face it alone.  God is at work in our loved ones through a smile or a few kind words. In these times, may we feel support and love to continue along our journey with renewed courage and understanding. We are invited to receive this love and to follow Jesus’ example to be this love for others. He has already taken the first step. He has conquered death, so that we may live.

Lord, be with me in my sufferings. Help me to see the goodness you have prepared for me. Help me to live a life worthy of Your love.

reflected by David Pham

Monday, April 1, 2013

Monday in the Octave of Easter: the Newness of God

"Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me." – Mt 28:10

When my maternal grandmother whom I loved dearly died nineteen years ago, I became angry at God. I was in my mid-twenties, struggling mightily as a first time teacher, trying to coax spoiled adolescent boys to study Chemistry. My family was undergoing hardships and challenges even greater than those we faced immigrating to the US. My grandmother’s painful passing followed my grandfather’s death nine months earlier. It compounded the deepening sense of loss I tried to keep at bay. Somehow, I was led one afternoon to the Sacramento River nearby, a place where I had experienced many moments of consolation, being loved, connected, close to God. I was alone. I wrote on a piece of paper all the things I was mad at God about, wrapped it around a rock, and threw it into the river. For the next few minutes, I cursed at God, using primal screams rather than expletives. Then, sat with many hard feelings; I became quiet and listened. It was cathartic. Yet, I was still afraid. As I walked back home, I began to hum the song “Be Not Afraid.” In the coming days, I also hummed “You Are Mine.” Gradually, I was consoled. Slowly, I experienced peace. I learned later that feeling angry was part of my coming to terms with both of my grandparents’ death. And about anger as one of the stages of grief that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described.

This experience of life, death, new life taught me much about the Paschal mystery incarnated in each of our lives. When we love, meaning is born. When our loved one dies, suffering or loss of meaning dominates. When we grieve genuinely, new meaning is born. The experience by the river was the first time I dared to express anger at God. I risked God’s wrath (so I had feared) by “letting God have it.” The quiet listening afterwards was my “empty tomb” experience. Something new and surprising happened; my relationship with God has not been the same since. It matured. I trusted more in God’s abiding goodness. In his Easter Vigil homily, the Pope spoke movingly about God opens “us to the newness that transforms, to the beautiful surprises of God” even though we resist.

Experiencing the resurrection always involve a newness, after some real sense of death and loss which heightens our fears. It is no accident that the second most frequent expression in the Bible is “Do not be afraid.” (The first is “love”). The Risen Jesus always console. God knows our hearts well. God invites us to revisit the Galilee-like places in our lives (like the Sacramento River for me). On the way, the Risen One greets us and transforms our hearts.

The resurrection is not a happy ending to a sad story. It’s integral to the story, giving us a lens of hope to interpret the events of our lives in new light, with greater meaning. Without it, there would be no story worth telling.

Risen Lord, where do you invite me to revisit with you, to be honest with my feelings and attitudes, and wait for you?