Redwood Journal

Writings by Harry Martin, Dcn.

Marriage, Family and Two Gardens

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 3 October 2021. Bible Readings for Mass: I: Genesis 2: 18-24; Responsorial: Psalm 128, II: Hebrews 2: 9-11; Gospel: Mark 10: 2-16

In the Beginning

Marriage and the family are matters of immense blessing and many challenges. Marriage, family, courtship, children are not as they were even a few years ago. In 1949, 78.8% of all households contained married couples. Seventy years later, 48.2% of households had married couples. (From: Divorce has increased but even more so are couples living together outside of marriage. And there has also been a significant increase in people who have uncommitted relations with others while not living together.

It is a sad reality that very, very few individuals can say they come from families where divorce or non-marital relationships have not occurred. Yet today’s readings from Scripture speak to the clear design and blessing of God upon marriage and family. Are these teachings irrelevant or simply outdated? The ideal spoken of in Genesis and affirmed by our Lord would seem to be totally contrary to the world in which we live. Yet as we look to the holy readings we realize all this is not new.

The Pharisees confront Jesus about his beliefs and teachings about marriage. Using the law of Moses they challenge our Lord about marriage and divorce. And even the disciples struggle with questions for when they are alone with Christ they too ask about broken families. These questions, these challenges have continued as Christians face the realities expressed above and yet seek to be faithful to God’s teachings.

A Derelict Home

The image above illustrates how homes and families are being impacted by this world. A home, once beautiful, built with love, skill and care is now abandoned. It shows the attitude of many about the great gifts and graces of family and marriage. The stories this home could share would be beautiful. But what happened? Financial ruin? Divorce? Sickness or death? Sadly the stresses upon marriage and family are painfully real. They would seem to contradict the blessings and designs promised and taught by God.

Yet as we listen closely to God’s Word we realize that Jesus knows, fully, the challenges every marriage and family would face. and we can also realize that He has provided both places and power to flourish regardless of the family life we have known. This of course would apply to the Church, the family of God. It would apply in the holy mercies found in the sacraments. But even the family of God has many wounded, struggling souls. There are another two key places that are essential as we would seek God’s mercy and graces for marriage and family. They are are two gardens… Eden and Gethsemane.

As a disciples of our Lord, as families of faith, we must always be willing to let the Holy Spirit help us, spiritually, visit the Garden of Eden. We can never lose sight of the majestic designs and purposes of God. We must explore and grow in a faith-filled realization that what God has made is…good. Eden would show us the hope and promise where sin, selfishness, greed, simply do not belong. And Eden would challenge us to never settle or compromise for anything less than God’s will. God made all creation, God made man and woman, God makes us each in His image. And it is all good.

Yet like Adam and Eve, we cannot help but recognize our failures, our shame as we live with our scars of sin. It may be very hard to see the good God has made, in the world, through our problems, in each other, and especially in ourselves. Great may be the temptation, with this harsh knowledge, to despair. We may find it simpler to put our faith in feelings, fears, or ways of a fallen world. The beauty and peace of Eden may seem to mock our real lives. But that same beauty and peace, the walk with God will bring us to another Garden, Gethsemane.

It is as our holy angels walk with us they will show us God’s designs, His plans, His hope, and love for each of us. And as we make that journey they will lead us to the Garden where Jesus went before His betrayal, suffering and death. It is where we learn, perhaps daily to surrender self and seek God’s best. It is where we learn to say not my will, but Thy will be done…in our hearts, in our marriages, and in our families. Gethsemane is where we honestly learn who we are and who we are called to become. Gethsemane is where we come to accept the crosses of life and realize the freedom to which they lead. The sorrowful garden is where, in our loneliness and seeming failings we experience the embrace four heavenly Father and His holy angels. As God our Creator made Eden with all its promise and beauty the heavens rejoiced. At the second garden Garden God, our Savior, revealed just how precious His creation was and would be. The hands that took the rib from beloved Adam’s side and created Eve would learn the embrace of the angels in comfort and love as He said yes to the Father. And so it is with each of us. In Eden we learn the majestic, holy beauty of God’s designs. In Gethsemane, we experience the healing embrace of God for our lives and our families, our loved ones.

Whether we are blessed with a textbook classic family filled with many many blessings or whether we have a heart or home where the wounds of the life may be found God longs to bless.

It is no coincidence that our Gospel today closes with the account of people bringing their kids for Jesus to bless. The disciples did not approve (for reasons unknown). Perhaps among the children, there were kids from broken homes or with behavior problems or perhaps some were not deemed good enough for Christ. Jesus rebuked His disciples and called the children to Himself. God embraced them, as they were, He blessed them and placed His hands upon them. He saw each soul created and saw it was good.

It is in Eden we can take the hand of our Creator and learn His designs and ways. It is in Gethesmane we can see the hands that will soon be pierced in love for us. It is in these two gardens we grow in the graces and mercies of God for our marriages, our families ourselves. It is in His gardens we learn God does not make mistakes.

God Questions

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 19 September 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Wisdom 2: 12, 17-20; Responsorial: Psalm 54; II: James 3: 16-4:3; Gospel: Mark 9: 30-37

St. Anthony of Padua with the Infant Jesus

Our Gospel reading for this Sunday concludes with Jesus telling us: “Whoever receives one child such as this, in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” This fascinating statement presents many profound opportunities and questions. The story of St. Anthony of Padua holding the infant Jesus is an illustration of this truth.

The story goes that Anthony was traveling through Limoges in France. Evening was coming so a friend of Anthony’s offered him a room for the night. Late that night the friend while walking by Anthony’s room observed a unique light coming through the cracks in the door. Upon looking in he was astounded to see Anthony holding a profoundly beautiful infant boy. The boy seemed to be smiling and caressing Anthony’s face. Anthony’s host realized it was the infant Jesus. In holding the child Jesus the saint was holding God. The story presents many questions. It also offers us a powerful lesson in the place of questions in our relationship with God. Questions for God..questions from our Lord..or simply, God questions.

For many Christians, there is a belief that we are to have unquestioning faith. The old statement: “God said it! I believe it! That’s good enough for me! This is a mantra of sorts when faced with questions about faith, life, God, or even each other. For some people of faith, it is felt to be possibly even a sin to question God. This thought process is often linked to questions flowing the other way as well. Why would God ask questions of me a lowly sinner? Yet this supposed humility and faith is neither taught nor exemplified in the Scriptures or the lives of the saints. Any healthy, growing relationship involves asking questions. It is how we learn, how we grow in understanding each other and of life itself. While loving reverence and faith in our conversations with God is vital so is freedom from fear and from pretending that questions don’t exist.

Returning to St. Anthony for a moment we have an excellent example. Humility and simple faith were vital elements for the Franciscans. To live the life of the Gospels was the basic rule for Francis and the early members of the order. In fact, St. Francis was very cautious of excessive learning and possible pride of intellect weakening his brothers and himself. Anthony was an exception that helped Francis realize that study, learning could actually enhance their faith. Anthony came from a very well-educated background. He had first been in an order whose focus was academic. Yet Anthony was able to integrate his intellect and his simple faith in a powerful walk with his Savior and that was evidenced in his preaching. The story of the saint holding the baby Jesus expresses the depth of the humble loving hunger to embrace God. And it is often, in the God questions we have our embrace of God can truly grow!

It is a simple, albeit often unwelcome, part of life that we encounter foggy days in our journey. It is part of creation and part of God’s design that we may not always see, clearly, what may lie ahead. This should cause us to slow down. Look carefully for the next step, and even to ask questions.

In our Gospel today the followers of Jesus were facing increasing foggy uncertainty. While Jesus was teaching them, clearly, they were not getting the message. And they were afraid to ask questions. Instead, they were debating among themselves other questions, particularly who was going to be the greatest. So often we waste precious time and energy debating and questioning many matters with each other instead of simply seeking God, God’s wisdom, and God’s answers. We wander around in our fogs of pride and human understanding instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to bring us the clarity we need.

God Questions are two-fold. First, we must allow, we must recognize that our Lord has questions for us. Study the Gospels, study God’s relationship with the Old Testament saints. The infusions of questions, invitations, and challenges permeated the lives of the followers, the seekers of God. Abraham did not know how or where God was leading. And while he followed in true faith he also had many questions for God. Our Blessed Mother welcomed Gabriel’s annunciation that she was to bear the Messiah. But Mary was also unafraid to ask “How can this be?” God has many questions for us. Will you come to me at Mass? Will you pray instead of worrying about the problems you face? Will you forgive, as I forgive you? Will you take up your cross? And most deeply…Will you trust me? Will you love me?

Indeed the challenges are great in the questions God would ask of us. And many are the questions we will have as we follow Christ, just as it was for Abraham, for Mary, for all His followers. Of course we must be loving and reverent before our Lord. But to pretend we don’t have questions for God is neither loving or reverent. To pretend we have no questions is dishonest and hypocritical. We must faithfully seek God, God’s wisdom and answers without fear or doubt. And very often we need to share our questions for God with and through each other. Sometimes we may be reluctant to ask a question of a priest, a teacher, in a class or even after Mass. We may worry we may appear stupid or ignorant. Well for some of us that ship has already sailed. But seriously the only dumb question is the one not asked. Sometimes teachers, leaders may not want questions. There are those leaders who expect their presumed wisdom and authority, their education is simply to be accepted. That is very perilous and foolish for all concerned. It is essential that we humbly confess that none of us has all the answers. It is liberating to experience that together, in the wisdom and Presence of God we can find the answers.

Much has been written and shared for the faithful of the perils of modern relativism. The perils can be very real. If we try to manipulate God, the teachings of our faith into the labyrinths of science or social feelings we can lose sight of the Truth that is the Person of Jesus Christ. If we allow our understandings, feelings or agendas to dictate our relationship with God and our faith we develop false gospels where only what the individual thinks or believes is relevant. This applies in matters of morality and our relationships (personal, social, economic and environmentally). But it also applies in our faith when religious or liturgical preferences are manipulated by personal preferences and misconceptions no matter how pious or traditional they may appear. All this breeds a culture where to truly allow God’s questions for us and our questions for God to be freely shared is quenched. Modern relativism is indeed a real peril. But the danger of not allowing our faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to be shared in ways that are truly RELEVANT is even more dangerous. To disallow the human soul to ask..”how does this apply to me? Why would God allow me to be this way? Or to disallow God to ask a damaged, crippled soul to come to Him is mortally and morally treachorous. Both modern relativism and a rejection of allowing our faith to be fully relevant is to deny the very wisdom of God shared in our second reading from James.

The Wisdom of God is experienced in a growing dynamic and relevant relationship with God. It is discovered when, as James teaches, if we lack wisdom ASK of God for it and He will give it freely. It is in our God questions we grow in His wisdom that is pure, peaceable, gentle, merciful, secure and abounding in good fruits.

God Questions are questions from God that will challenge us, pierce our souls and bring us into His His nail-scarred embrace. God questions… where we, in love and trust, ask of God the queries of our soul, our life, as we seek to navigate our quest for Him who is the Way, the Truth and our Life.

We must never fear allowing God to ask His questions of us. And we must never fear asking our questions of God.

As long as we honestly allow God to answer.

Where will our God Questions lead?

The Call From the Cross

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 12 September 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 50: 5-9a; Responsorial: Psalm 116; II: James 2: 14-18; Gospel: Mark 8: 27-35

“The Lord God opens my ears that I may hear…” So begins the reading from the powerful prophecy of Isaiah that we read today. In a world filled with so much noise and commotion, it is often very hard to hear God’s voice. But the Word of God we share today can truly bring us to a place where our ears, our heart can be better open to God.

Christ would always seek to open our ears and speak to our heart at the Cross. This especially means the place of His Passion. But the cross where we would hear Jesus is also at life’s crossroads, whenever we are at a place of important decisions or choices for our soul and for eternity. These choices may be very simple or they may be far more complex.

Sadly many of the choices we make in life in this 21st century are made in minutes or even seconds. Decisions are made on actual highways or at sleepy little county roads. We also make these crossroad choices in the ever faster-moving world of social media, and APP-directed messaging. Whatever, wherever, whenever we make these significant choices we are at a crossroads and Christ would long to help us with our decisions.

The Psalmist expresses this basic fact of life in the refrain from Psalm 116. “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living”. A crossroads choice is clearly made in the very first words…“I WILL walk before the Lord…” The Psalmist came to a crossroads and made the choice…I will listen, I will go with the Lord. This is a decision that will be made daily, sometimes moment-by-moment, as we seek the pathway of God.

The disciples are at such a place in our Gospel reading. They have left their former ways and have chosen to follow Jesus. Many are their questions. Many are their uncertainties. But they are learning to listen to Jesus, Emmanuel, God with them. And as they listen Christ opens their ears for a question. He brings them to a crossroads. “Who do YOU say that I am? They are at a place where God is seeking to reveal His Presence in an ever-deeper way. Peter responds: “You are the Christ.” Peter has made a decision to draw even closer to God. Now it is vital to note the following context. Peter has made a profound, holy, and powerful confession before Christ! He is on the high road. Jesus goes on to draw him and the other disciples closer. He shares with them His upcoming betrayal, passion, and death. Peter, proudly corrects the Lord from his high road seeking to convince Jesus this cannot happen. The stumbling disciple is quickly brought to another intersection. Jesus rebukes Satan working through Peter and explains he is thinking, not in the ways of God, but as a human. Peter must decide…to continue to follow Christ. Jesus summons them all to Him and shares the most important crossroads for each of us. They had to decide if they would take up their cross and follow Him. They had to decide if they would choose to lose their life for God if they wanted it to be saved. They were at the crossroads of their cross. And they were learning, the closer they would take their cross, the closer they would be to their Lord. And the clearer they would know His call from His Cross.

But what did Jesus mean? How were they, how are we, to pick up our cross and follow our Savior? It is from the Cross, it is through God’s Word we hear and our hearts learn. A vital lesson in carrying the cross is given in the second reading from the Book of James. As we look to the Cross, as we see our Lord’s two arms we can see those two arms, the two sides of the Cross share His call to follow Him with our Faith and our Works. Jesus took His Cross to Calvary in faithful obedience to His Father. But it was not of faith alone. The Cross of Jesus was His holy WORK of salvation. His body was broken and His blood was shed to save us from our sins. And the very ‘social justice” work of God was seen in every step of His incarnation. It was seen to His dying moments where he forgave the penitent thief crucified next to Him. The call of God is eternally clear and simple. If we seek to follow Christ we will walk the steps of FAITH and WORKS, WORKS and FAITH. They cannot be separated. We are saved, through Christ, by this faith and this faith is lived, it is expressed, by our works, our actions.

And we take these holy steps with God every day. We take these holy steps especially when we come to Mass. We look to the Cross, to Jesus. We seek to hear His voice from the Cross, from our crosses. And as we listen we choose to place our trust in God, not in our feelings or what we may think, but in God. As we come to this Crossroads we are drawn to His Body and Blood that become truly Present on the altar. And as we seek to follow Him, however imperfectly, like St. Peter, we then grow in that Holy Communion. We choose to receive His true Body and Blood, even when we may see with our human eyes but bread and wine. Our FAITH and WORKS bring us to Christ. And the journey is renewed!

As we grow in communion with Christ we grow in both our faith and our works. As a part of His Body we come to the crossroads of our life in the presence of the Cross and God will show us the way. The Holy Spirit shows us the way of faith growing stronger both in the blessings of God but also in our trials. And God leads us to share in His work of mercy, help, and service. For as Jesus lived so must we, as we listen and follow His way of the cross.

There are two arms of Jesus, there are two sides of the Cross, Faith, and Works. But we must always remember they are brought together at His most holy and sacred heart. His Body is called to be a place of healing. His Blood is meant to flow in redeeming love and mercy. The Call from the Cross leads us to our places of decision, our crossroads. And it is there we choose to live, following Christ in faith and works and always seeking to draw closer to Him whose holy heart beats in the passion of redeeming love through His Body, the people of God.

Hear the Call of the Cross to Faith-filled Works for God

The Touch of Jesus

23 Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 5 September 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 35: 4-7a; Responsorial: Psalm 146; II: James 2: 1-5; Gospel: Mark 7: 31-37

The Liturgy of the Word for this Sunday brings refreshing promise and example of the healing and restoration of the human soul and creation.

The beautiful prophecy by Isaiah exhorts us to “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, He comes…with vindication, salvation, healing of the blind, the deaf, the cripple. WITH GOD’s touch the mute will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert…burning sands will become pools. Drought will be vanquished.

Cloister in the rain ~ Photo by Sonja Jones

The psalm and the reading from James affirm the desire of God to come to us, regardless of our station or perceived worth, and to touch and heal us of our blindness, our deafness, our afflictions. The Gospel from Mark shares the poignant lesson of a deaf man with impaired speech who would experience the touch of Jesus. A message that can touch us all.

Jesus Healing the Deaf Man ~ James Tissot

This account in the Gospel of Mark gives us many insights into the desires and ways of God to heal and restore a suffering soul. It tells how a group of people bring a man who is deaf and impaired in his speech. By all indication he is willing. But he had never heard of Jesus..or heard Jesus. Perhaps he had watched him but the ability of the man to realize the infinite graces of God Christ could bring were profoundly impaired.

The suffering man is, in many ways, an example of us all. Our ability to hear, to listen to each other, to the songs of creation, shared words of prayer and praise are often…blocked. Our ability to hear the living Word of God can be deafened from the noise of the world or simply our doubts. The impaired ability of the man to speak may well have been a result of his deafness, as is common. Again, our ability to speak clear words of faith, hope, of life, words of love can be hindered by conditions in our soul. As Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” [Luke 6:45]. While we may not desire to speak words of hurtful jest or discouragement our own fears or resentments may block the message we long to live. But as it was for this deaf man so it shall be for all who will allow themselves to be brought closer to Jesus. And then to allow Christ to bring us His healing.

When the deaf man was brought to Jesus he was taken aside to be alone with God. Jesus knew He understood this man’s needs. Christ knows we need time to be with Him. Alone. He knows we may be fearful. He understands we will often not understand what is going on. But God always knows. He understands. And wants to come to us. He wants to touch and heal us in our wounds and needs.

The healing described in the gospel is very distinct. Jesus could not explain, ahead of time what He was going to do. So He very visually got the man’s full attention. He touched his tongue after spitting and after touching the man’s ears. And the man could hear and speak!

We can never afford to confine the graces of our Savior, our God, to our understanding or set formulas with which we are comfortable. How, where, when God will come to a soul in need is simply up to God. None of us has the faculties, faith, or intelligence to plan the graces, the healing interventions of God. However much we may try. And this applies to our own lives or the lives of others. We need only trust and allow Jesus to touch both in and through us. Let us trust and seek the touch of God to quench the thirst for healing, hope, and mercy in and through His Body the church. May the water His Divine Mercy flow upon our land and our souls.

Divine Mercy Fountain at Cross Ministries, Groom Texas

Practicing God’s Presence

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 29 August 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-8; Responsorial: Psalm 15; II: James 1: 17-18, 21b-22, 27; Gospel: Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

Our journey with the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy of the Word these past weeks has been a time to renew our faith and awareness of the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. God has sought to open our hearts and eyes to the holy love of God truly present in the Body and Blood of Christ and hence in each other. As we now journey on, Christ is seeking to make us know that we are called to practice His Presence, not only before Him in the Blessed Sacrament, or in His sacred Word but in each step, each place God would lead us.

It is easy to be aware of the Presence of God when we are in church. Or, if not easy, it is understood we should be seeking and mindful of God’s Presence in our places and times of worship. But with the incarnation of Jesus, with His subsequent teachings and examples, we are now called, as His followers, to be practicing His Presence in every moment of our lives.

A young, disenchanted soldier, Nicholas Herman, entered a Carmelite Monastery in Paris. He lived a life (1614-1691) as a lay brother and took the name: Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. With no profound education, he served faithfully working in the kitchen and repairing the sandals of his brothers. But he also shared a deep and passionate love for God, whose Presence he learned to practice. Some years after his death some letters and sayings of Brother Lawrence were compiled into a little book of immense significance, “The Practice of the Presence of God.” This immense grace, the mindfulness of the Presence of Christ in the days and moments of our lives is a fruit of the readings of the Blessed Sacrament and our Bible readings today.

Our faith is a gift of great strength, beauty, and deep-rooted peace. As we follow, Christ crucified and risen from the dead, we are graced to grow in the beauty of holiness and joy of God’s eternal love. But if we look around our homes, our lives, we realize that sometimes that which we may cherish can become dusty, neglected even buried with the cares of life.

Both in our first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy and the New Testament epistle of James we are clearly reminded that we are to hear and follow, to be doers of the Word of God. We need to be attentive, listening for God’s Word, yes at church or in our times of devotion but in all the times and places of our life. Jesus in the Gospel reading is emphatic. If we are to be His disciples we cannot be ruled by human traditions or understandings. We must needs hear and live the Gospel message. We cannot allow the waste of this world to grow and flow from our hearts and lives. We must walk ever closer with Him who followed the way of the cross that His mercy, love and grace may be manifest, not just in pious words and places but in ministering to the real needs of the world in which we live. The practice of our faith, our love for God is needed in heart, home and in each task life brings.

Papal Delegation with the galero for St. Bonaventure

The story is told that St. Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor of the Franciscan Order, was to be made a cardinal for his faith expressed in profound spiritual insights yet with deep practical relevance. The Papal Delegation from the Vatican came to his monastery to give him his galero, the red hat of the cardinals of his day. They found Bonaventure in the kitchen washing dishes. Aware of their mission Bonaventure asked that they wait for him outside until he had finished his kitchen chores. Upon greeting them outside he took his privileged hat and hung it on a tree while he visited the dignitaries. In reading the words of Bonaventure one can see that position, power, pride of place were of little significance to him. What mattered to St. Bonaventure was to live and practice the Presence of His Lord.

As it has been for all the saints so it is with all God’s people. We are called to be faithfully, humbly, yet dynamically practicing the Presence Of God. Our lives, in the midst of the holiest of places and moments, should be sharing Christ’s Presence, Promise, and Purposes. As the Hebrew people were called to enter and claim the promised land so we must enter and claim, following God’s Presence the promises of mercy, forgiveness and hope God would bring.

And our lives, in the midst of the most difficult of earthly places and moments must needs share God’s Presence that brings His peace, healing, and hope. We live in times and places of great conflict, struggle and need. It would be very easy to become disciples of despair and anxiety, of fear and hate. But our God reigns victorious. We are called to walk in His Presence and be servants of the hope and love found, with Him, at the holy cross. We are called to be a people dedicated and practicing the eternal justice, the social justice found in God’s Kingdom. As the refrain from our responsorial psalm shares: “One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.”

Whether our skies be stormy and our path be difficult we can always know and practice the Presence of God.

Words of Spirit and Life

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ Sunday, 22 August 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Joshua 24: 1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Responsorial: Psalm 34; II: Ephesians 5: 21-32; Gospel: John 6:60 – 69

“It is the Spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The Words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.”

So Jesus spoke to his disciples in the sixth chapter of John. As we have seen over the past few weeks our Lord ministers and speaks to the needs of the people. The chapter began with the miracle of the loaves and fishes as Jesus fed the hungry multitude. Then our Lord comes to the disciples in the boat, walking on the water, another miracle and exercise of their faith. What follows is the beautiful discourse of Jesus wherein he teaches that he is the Bread of Life and that we are to be nourished by his sacred, real Body and Blood.

This chapter in so many ways illustrates the journey of faith that is shared by Christ’s followers. Often Jesus will first minister to our human, physical needs, perhaps with provision, healing, or a special physical grace. Then as we start to trust and obey Christ, as we start to follow His will in our life, we encounter the real storms of life and the holy encounters of faith God brings to encourage us on our way.

And as we grow closer to God we, prayerfully, hopefully, are learning to listen. This was where Jesus had brought His disciples as He shared the living Truth of His Eucharistic Presence. While faith is needed in each of these places it is especially in listening to God we must grow and allow our faith to embrace His life in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit has given the Church the Liturgies, the Sacraments by which we enter into and grow in our relationship with God. But every sacrament and especially the Blessed Sacrament is infused, deeply with the Words of Spirit and Life.

There is, in some circles, a great lament for the Church. Attendance of worship, at Mass, is down. Often bitter debates wrestle with issues liturgies, morality, political morass, and surprisingly even matter of health and safety. . Some would see the often smoke-filled skies as an illustration of the times in which we live. The souls of many are simply parched, much like the lands in the western United States, for the cleansing blessings of which St. Paul wrote in our second reading. The need for the “ the bath of water with the word” of the Church. These realities, these exercises of our faith bring us, again to the words of Jesus and remind us how blessed we are, what exciting times in which we live as we allow our hearts to be cleansed, our souls and our faith communities to grow in God’s Spirit and Life!

In our Collect for today’s Mass we pray:

O God, who cause the minds of the faithful

to unite in single purpose,

grant your people to love what you command

and to desire what you promise,

that, amid the uncertainties of this world,

our hearts may be fixed on that place

where true gladness is found.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

God, forever and ever. Amen.

As followers of Christ, as people of faith, we are called to love what He commands. To be faith-filled listeners of God’s Word. We are called to be growing in our desire for what He promises. As we listen, as we seek God’s promises, we grow as people of His Spirit and Life. The life-bringing fragrance of holiness and merciful love fills our lives.

We have been learning of and celebrating the gift of the Real Presence of Jesus. His sacred Body and Blood are truly the source of eternal graces. But let us never forget how Jesus comes for us in the Mass. His Words of Spirit and Life call…

Us to repentance and contrition in the Penitential Act. We then bless God in the Gloria followed by prayer.

The Liturgy of God’s Word is our holy appointment to LISTEN to HIS WORDS of SPIRIT and LIFE! Many are concerned that some Catholics fail to realize the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Blessed Sacrament is seen and received in faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God [Rom. 10]. It has been said ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. When we fail to receive and nourish God’s Word of Spirit and Life we allow our faith to weaken. But when we listen, with anticipation, to Christ, THE LIVING WORD, and nourish God’s promises in our hearts we see His truth and Presence more clearly.

Following the Liturgy of God’s Word, we affirm our faith in the creed and share our prayers. The Holy Spirit frees us then to bring our gifts, ourselves to Christ. We are brought to the celebration of the Eucharist.

The Eucharistic Prayer is infused with the Spirit of God. When the priest holds his hands over the bread and wine and invokes the Holy Spirit (the epiclesis) we are at a most intense and blessed moment of prayer. As the Holy Spirit transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus we are involved in an embrace from the Holy Trinity. The Gift of the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, gives us the Body and Blood of Christ the Son as we share in His one and perpetual sacrifice of holy love.

Our sharing in Holy Communion brings us to hold in our hands and hearts, Jesus. Nourished anew by His Real Presence we are freed to grow closer to Him who always seeks to grow closer to us.

As Mass ends we are dismissed in the Triune blessing of God. But that is not the end. Not even close. For we are dismissed to go forth to share the Words of Spirit and Life, the Presence of Christ in our lives as we go out into the community. May the Holy Spirit always help us to be mindful of how we live and what messages we give. May we realize our message, our acts, may crush hope, cripple faith and quench love. Or our message, our acts may bring words of Spirit and Life….. That from the most hardened, unexpected place God’s gift of mercy and life may flourish.

Pray for Rain

{This is a cyber-copy of the prayer service we shared at our parish in Cloverdale, California, August 2021}

Welcome.  We begin in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.     Amen.

We are gathered to pray for rain.  The western part of North America, especially California is facing intense and deadly drought.  This has resulted in catastrophic fires, lack of drinking water in places, and agriculture decline from reduced or failed water supplies.  And there is the even broader impact on the environment, on the plants and animals, as all parts of creation suffer. 

It is recognized that technology, that science, that humanity is capable of realizing these problems.  But we do not have the power to bring the rain without the help and mercy of almighty God.  So we gather, humbly, in urgent need of the mercy and grace of God.  We gather to pray for rain.  We also pray for the wisdom to see the sins of humanity that have fueled these droughts, the fires and the deadly wounds to creation, the environment, our common home.  

As we have come to pray let us first listen to the Word of God:

I A reading from the Prophet Hosea:  Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.  [ Hosea 10:12 ]

Psalm:  147:   Response:  It is good to sing praises to our God

[1] Praise the LORD!

For it is good to sing praises to our God;

for he is gracious, and a song of praise is seemly. Response

[8] He covers the heavens with clouds,

he prepares rain for the earth,

he makes grass grow upon the hills.

[9] He gives to the beasts their food,

and to the young ravens which cry. Response

[10] His delight is not in the strength of the horse,

nor his pleasure in the legs of a man.

[11] but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,

in those who hope in his steadfast love. Response

A reading from the Epistle of James:  “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” [James 5:17-18]

A reading from the Gospel of John:

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?

Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! [John 7: 7-11]

Pope Francis in his encyclical, Laudato Si wrote:  “A healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion, which entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults, and failures, and leads to heartfelt repentance and desire to change.” (Paragraph 218);  

He also said:  “God does not come to free us from our ever-present daily problems, but to free us from the real problem, which is the lack of love. This is the main cause of our personal, social, international, and environmental ills. Thinking only of ourselves: this is the father of all evils.”

We are in a deep and deadly drought.  We must humbly pray for the mercy of God to send healing, life-bringing rain.  

But there is,  also, in the world a deadly drought of God’s holy love.  We must humbly pray for God to send merciful rain upon the souls of men and women.  

The selfishness of humanity has resulted in deep wounds to creation, the environment, our common home, and to His Church.  Drought is but one sad example of these wounds.  

So we will pray.  But before we do let us remember that our Blessed Mother would expect her children to care for the beautiful home, creation, God has given us.  Her Son, our Savior spoke of going to Heaven to prepare a place for us.  It is time we show Mary and Jesus our care for the current home, for each other, for His Kingdom here on earth as we ask God to send rain to cleanse and heal the land and to cleanse and heal our souls.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father we come, humbly seeking, through the mercy and grace of your Son, Jesus, that your Holy Spirit would guide us as we pray for the rain we so urgently need.

We ask, Lord, that you would help us to live faithfully in caring for and nourishing your holy love in and for creation and in and for all people.  We pray to the Lord. [Lord hear our prayer]

We pray for all the places on earth suffering from the vast wildfires, Siberia, Greece, France, and the western part of North America, that you would send help, courage, and strength to the first responders and for all the victims facing the loss of home and work.  We pray to the Lord…

We pray for all creation suffering from these fires, for all creatures suffering and dying that as you care for each sparrow you would care for them.  We pray to the Lord…

We pray for other parts of our earthly home suffering from floods, storms, and extreme weather, especially for the land and people of Haiti, may your mercy and grace flow freely.  We pray to the Lord…..

We pray for lands at conflict and war, especially Afghanistan, that the greed, spiritual blindness and hate be overwhelmed by the peace and justice of God.  We pray to the Lord…

Lord, we pray for rain for California.  And as we trust for your rain to come,  we pray you will send cool, calm weather to help quench the many fires burning in our state.  Help us to be faithful stewards in our own homes and communities of the waters of life.   We pray to the Lord.

We especially pray that our lives and actions will better enable and help you to hear and answer these prayers.  We pray…

And we pray for the special intentions and needs brought and shared in the silence of our hearts. We pray to the Lord….

Heavenly Father, hear and answer these prayers we make through Christ our Lord.


And we pray as Jesus taught us:

Our Father….

And we ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for us as we pray:

Hail Mary, full of grace… (x 3)

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.

St. Heribert of Cologne, pray for us.

St. Florian, pray for us.

St. Junipero Serra, pray for us.

St. Peter and our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us. 

Glory be….

This concludes our shared time of prayer.  But let us, faithfully, fervently continue in prayer and in seeking to be faithful, caring children of our Heavenly Father in our shared home.

✠ In the Name of the Father, and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Sunday ~ 15 August 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass (Mass during the day): I: Revelation 11: 19a; 12: 1 – 6a, 10; Responsorial: Psalm 45: II: I Corinthians 15: 20 – 27: Gospel: Luke 1: 39 – 56

By: Juan de Jesus Munera Ochoa

August 15th on the Church calendar is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This year this great celebration comes to us on a Sunday. The origins of this feast are veiled in antiquity. However, there are numerous indications that it was celebrated in the church as early as AD 500. Belief in the Assumption has been a part of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity for centuries. Mention of the event is found in the writings of the early church fathers as early as the second century. In the Catholic faith, Pope Pius XII affirmed this as infallible teaching in 1950.

The actual date of the death and assumption of the Virgin Mother is uncertain. Long-held tradition places her dormition anywhere from three to fifteen years after the resurrection of her Son. The location is uncertain as well but tradition places it either in Jerusalem or Ephesus. That there is the church with Mary’s empty tomb in Jerusalem tends to add merit for many.

The Church of the Tomb of the BVM and her empty tomb

It is, in many ways, fitting that the temporal specifics are less than clear as this profound event is first and foremost a lesson of thresholds. The death and assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a vivid reminder of that eternal threshold of which we are called to cross, the threshold of eternity. It is also a passionate message of the desire of God that when that threshold is crossed it be into Heaven for eternity.

The Assumption of Mary is believed to have occurred after her actual death. Tradition (Catholic and Orthodox) holds that the apostles witnessed her passing. It was, from the beginning, always seen as a powerful and distinct affirmation of the fullness of holy grace that infused this young Jewish woman and enabled her to be a living tabernacle for Emmanuel, God with us. It is, then, a celebration of Mary, the Theotokos, (Mother of God). It is a blessed time to acknowledge Mary, the Queen of Heaven and the Mother of all believers.

But in Mary’s powerful affirmation at her Annunciation when she was told by the angel that she would bear the Messiah she responded: “My soul does magnify the Lord…”. It is therefore not surprising that at her passing and assumption into Heaven Mary continued to magnify Christ. And, as she always did seek to bring us ever closer to her Son.

The Assumption of Mary is a dynamic and resounding affirmation and lesson of the resurrection of Jesus. It is also an undeniable message of the intent of God for the faithful to share in the resurrection victory. As Scripture proclaims: “Death is swallowed up in victory!” The taking into Heaven by the angels of God for the Mother of Jesus illustrates this truth in the boldest of ways. The great painter Caravaggio captures this holy story in his painting of the Assumption.

The Assumption by Caravaggio

In the classic Caravaggio dark setting, the apostles mourn the death of Mary. Mary Magdalene is seen distraught beside her. But already, in the background, some are sensing this is not as usual! The reality of Marys’s death cannot be denied. But already there is an holy wind of hope stirring their souls as they start to look upward. The angels were coming! The Annunciation of Mary clearly proclaims the resurrection hope and promise for the faithful.

But this hope we share with our Blessed Mother is also for our soul. Church teaching is very clear. Mary was assumed, body and soul into Heaven to reign with God. God created our soul for eternity. Through the birth, death and resurrection of Christ all stain of sin is conquered. This brings us to know we are called to be seated with Him, with Mary, in heavenly places as St. Paul expresses in his epistles. Our soul, created, loved, redeemed by God is intended to be present and rejoicing in the heavenly kingdom. Body and soul Mary, the first disciple of Christ leads the way once again in her assumption.

The promise, the plan, our heavenly hope, shared by Mary at her Assumption is that the fullness of who we are, body and soul, in heaven will be freed to experience the fullest freedom found in the Holy Spirit. Mary shows us what St. Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica what it is to be set apart for God, spirit, soul and body.

We will then proclaim, to the eternal glory of God, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”

Reverence, Respect, Renewal

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 8 August 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: I Kings 19: 4-8; Responsorial: Psalm 34; II: Ephesians 4: 30 – 5:2; Gospel: John 6: 41 – 51

Jesus ~ The Bread of Life

The prophet Elijah, in our first Bible reading, is overwhelmed and exhausted. He has been faithful to God in proclaiming the need for repentance for the people of Israel and the great hunger of God to forgive and bless. But they have persisted in their sins and rebellion. And Elijah is worn out. He has run away into the desert. He sits under a broom tree praying to God to die. God, in His mercy, as He at times does with all of us, declines Elijah’s prayer. Instead, God sends an angel and commands the prophet to get up and eat the meal God has provided. Elijah obeys and is led, by God, on a forty-day journey, sustained by the one holy meal, to Mt. Horeb. Elijah, like all believers and servants of God, experienced and grew in the holy graces of reverence, respect, and renewal.

Our Gospel readings these past few weeks have blessed and challenged us with the Biblical truth, Jesus is The Bread of Life. Jesus, in this famous discourse from John chapter 6, teaches without any equivocation that His actual Body and Blood are real and truly present in the Eucharist. As Catholics, we believe in this holy promise. As Catholics, we believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine. We believe they really and really are the Body and Blood of our Savior.

But, as it was when Jesus proclaimed this truth, so it is now. There are many who say it is, at most, only a remembrance that we are called to share. There are many who may believe but are struggling perhaps with basic doubts or simply with the weariness at the way some Catholics (and other Christians) argue over these matters or the ways of worship to which we are called.

The belief, the awareness, of Christ’s Real Presence is often obscured by intense daily cares and worries. It also can be veiled by actual ignorance, irreverence, and even abuse.

However, none of these challenges or problems in any way diminish the holy fact, Jesus is truly Present in the Eucharist. Jesus is the Bread of Life! Our ability to believe and realize, with ever-growing faith, this glorious gift, is what God calls us to, just as He called Elijah. We are on a journey of faith. We are called, together, to experience this personal relationship with Christ, the Living Bread. We are called, as the refrain from our psalm affirms, “to taste and see the Lord is good”.

Why, then, is it so difficult to actually experience this promise and provision of God? The reasons may be many. And many well-written, well-expressed reasons have been shared. But perhaps that is part of the problem. It isn’t about our human reason, alone. It is about our relationship with God. Perhaps we need to allow God to simply bring us to His holy meal and feed us. And all we need really bring is our reverence, our respect, and our willingness to be renewed.

St. Paul, in the epistle to the Ephesians, commands: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…”. I sadly sense that God’s precious Holy Spirit is grieved however by a lack of reverence for the Body of Christ, for the Eucharistic Presence, and for the Body of Christ, the Church, the people of God. There have been allowed, for far too long strife and divisions between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. And within each of these places, there are even more divisions. Within the Catholic Church there is strife over the ways and traditions of worship. Where there should be reverence and respect bringing renewal there is judgment, strife, and the quenching of God’s Spirit. Instead of grieving the Spirit of God we are called, again, to be a people of reverence, respect, and renewal.

REVERENCE ~ There is a frequent lament and complaint of the alleged lack of reverence at Mass. Noisy chatter, children running up and down the aisles, use of cell phones are all sad examples of what too often occurs before and at Mass, saddening the Spirit of God. And for some, there is a frequent focus on the lack of “proper” postures or the lack of correct language, such as Latin. There is often consternation at the style (or lack thereof) of dress some may have when coming to God’s house. The matter of head-coverings for women is another example and a concern for some. All of these reflect some aspect of the externals of reverence. They all contain valid concerns. But none of them are worthy to distract us of our worship of God, our reverence for Jesus in His Word and in the Blessed Sacrament. It is a holy and good custom if women want to cover their heads for worship or for people to wear their “Sunday best”. It wasn’t that long ago that those styles were the norm in all churches and in society in general. They are good but they should be seen as only diverse expressions of our inner worship. Life and styles change some for good, some not, and some that don’t really matter. What matters is the posture of the heart and soul before God. Are we clothed in garments of compassion, kindness and forgiveness instead of judging and pride?

RESPECT ~ This brings us to a word that is actually considered synonymous with reverence…RESPECT. In our worship of God we need have true reverence for the reality and Presence of God in Word and Sacrament. But we also need to share deep respect (reverence) and recognition for the Presence of Christ in each other. This will quench the temptations to judgment and strife, to pride and spiritual cliques that may seek to oppress. As we, properly realize and worship the Real Presence of Jesus in the Chalice and Host, as we kneel before the Tabernacle containing those consecrated Hosts so we should remember and reverence the Presence of Christ in each other, these living tabernacles. We should respect, deeply, the truth that we are Temples of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul, again, admonishes us to be a people and place of compassion, forgiveness and kindness. True reverence for the Real Presence of Christ will lead us to look to Christ in the Eucharist and in each other. It will lead us to faithfully see that what may be improper dress, posture or talking of others, in our eyes, is their best for the place they are today. And it will affirm for all of us our journey to be renewed.

RENEWAL ~ When we come, seeking God in growing reverence for His Presence and respect for His people we will be fed, as Jesus promised. We will truly “taste and see the goodness of the Lord”. We will experience God’s renewal in our hearts and in our faith communities. When we come to Mass with a clear intent to expect to meet God, to receive the Bread of Life, we will be nourished, guided, and strengthened. But we must come in an active, seeking faith. We need always come to Christ expecting to grow…even change. You may realize that you want, you need to quietly wait, kneeling in prayer. You may sense that yes, you do have something better to bring to Christ in what you wear. There may be those women who wonder if God might be please if they wore a mantilla, or for some it isn’t necessary. For all of us we are renewed as we allow the Holy Spirit to renew and refresh both the reverence of our hearts and actions and the respectful realization of Jesus in each other.

As we allow this quiet, holy miracle to be in our lives we will grow in our reverence and respect for God, not just at church but in all the places God will lead. We will grow in the glorious, holy adventure to bring and see God’s Presence in creation, in our families and neighbors, even in our world. And we will see, as we grow in reverence from the heart, and respect from our soul, we will see renewal in our midst. And we will then understand that our reverence for God, our respect for His Presence in each other, cannot be contained to a language, a style, a place, or our understanding. For it is a result of our relationship with God and the joy the Holy Spirit will bring as the life of Christ grows in our midst.

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