Sunday, October 29, 2017

Vincentians: Living the Great Commandment

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Oct. 29, 2017. Exodus 20_22-26 and Matthew 22:34-40.  Serving God in our Neighbor. In the Book of Exodus, which was our first reading today, we have the solid assurance of Sacred Scripture that God hears the cry of the poor.  The sufferings and struggles of those who seek basic justice and the satisfying of their human needs does not go unnoticed by God. But the question begs to be asked: how does our God meet these needs? The Pierced Risen Heart of Jesus has such compassion on their plight, but how can he do anything about it from the glory of Heaven? Well, I am sure we all know the answer…the privilege and the duty of relieving the suffering of the poor and needy falls to us, his disciples, we who form the Mystical Body of Christ continuing his mission on planet Earth. As one of the saints put it:

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he relieves suffering.
Yours is the smile through which he brings joy and hope.
You are his body.

The Catholic Church has taken this responsibility and privilege of being Christ to the poor so seriously over the past 2,000 years that we are, and have been for most of our history, the largest charitable organization on the planet. Even in Mid-eastern and Asian countries where we Catholics make up only 1-5% of the population, we carry out 98% of the charitable works.  We can’t help it…that’s just who we are!

Serving Jesus in the poor does not require special talents or education. Neither does it require wealth or social influence. All you need to have is a personal response to the Great Commandment that we heard in today’s Gospel: to show your love for the God whom you CANNOT see, through loving service to your neighbor, whom you CAN see. 

One awesome and beautiful way to put the Great Commandment into practice is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul whose members are known as Vincentians. You are probably familiar with the downtown San Rafael dining room that bears the same name, but you might not know that the dining room is just one visible sign of a much larger presence of Vincentians serving the poor here in Marin. The vast majority of the works of mercy done by Vincentians are done quietly, without fanfare or attention, by ordinary everyday parishioners. 

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international Catholic association that is over 180 years old. It was started in Parish in 1833 by Blessed Frederic Ozanam, and came to San Francisco in 1860.   St. Sebastian’s is very blessed to have had a parish Conference of Vincentians who have been continuously serving Jesus-in-the-poor for over 40 years.  There are presently about 10 of your fellow parishioners who are Vincentians, who meet together every month and take turns going out every week in pairs to give direct personal service to the poor.  But they need of more members because sadly, the number of those in true need is expanding, not lessening, especially with the new social category of the under-employed.  Without new members, the poor who live within our parish boundaries run the risk of not having their material and spiritual needs met! 

Our parish has always been extremely generous in supporting the good works of the Society through financial contributions and food donations. Thanks to all of you, we have a well-stocked pantry down in the back of the hall. And I confident that this generosity will continue as the number of the poor continues to grow.  But if some of you have a desire for something more, to make the gift of YOURSELF along with the gift of your prayers, donations and food, then think about joining the Society.  You can be an instrument of charity right here in your own parish and make a difference in someone’s life. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Mother of Perpetual Help

From the Mass and Consecration Ceremony on Oct. 13, 2017, 100th Anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima. About 40 of us have spent the past 6 weeks reading and watching Fr. Gaitley’s DVD series on consecration to Jesus through Mary, and we’ve been so blest to be able to do so, to live in this era of technology that allows us to learn from among the best of teachers, no matter how far away they may be. Most of our ancestors in the faith were not so fortunate. Most, until recent modern times, could not read and faith formation was not so easily or readily available to them. Thus, passing on the Gospel to mostly illiterate people became the special work of two groups: the clergy in preaching their homilies and artists in their creation of beautiful works. And so, we developed the tradition of statues and stained glass windows in the Roman or Western part of the Church, and of icons in the East, in Greece, the Slavic lands and Russia. 

One of these icons, coming from Greece about 1,000 years ago, has become so popular and loved by the whole Church that it is found in homes, and churches of both the East and the West: the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. We are going to use this icon as our final book on entrustment to Mary, because that is exactly why it was made in the first place. You see, icons follow very strict rules about color, design, posture. This is because they pass on some precious truths about God and our relationship with Him. And those who create icons are not called painters, they are called writers, because the icon takes the place of a book in teaching us about the faith. Every icon has a specific message, it is not meant to be just a pretty decoration. When we examine the rules followed in an icon we can arrive at the spiritual message it conveys. We will look first at the icon in general and then examine each of its detailed parts.

The central largest figure is Mary. The second largest figure is Jesus. So, this tells us the icon is a lesson about Mary in our relationship with Jesus. There are 2 angels carrying instruments of the Passion and this tells us that what we are going to learn has to do with our salvation. Now, to learn more about the arrangement of these figures and their interaction, we have to know that icons, like the Gospel, can be about real events or be parables, that is, fictitious stories that are meant to convey a particular lesson to us. This icon is a parable told in art-form. And the parable is this: One day Jesus and Mary were outside when suddenly two angels appeared to the Child carrying the instruments of his future Passion. This so frightened him that he ran with great haste to his Mother and jumped up into her arms. He sought in her compassion, comfort and protection. He went to her for help.
Mary’s large tender eyes look at you from wherever you are. This tells us she sees all our needs no matter where we are or what kind of situation we are in. they seem to invite us to her, to come to her.
Mary wears a a red dress and a dark blue mantle or veil. The dress is deep red trimmed with gold. This may seem unremarkable to us but in those times clothing wasn’t just for covering the body or enhancing one’s figure. The color and style gave a social message as to a person’s situation and status. Virgins wore red dresses. Married women and mothers had to appear in pubic with dark veils. And only the queen or empress was permitted to wear deep red edged with gold. So, this icon proclaims an awesome mystery: this woman is both Virgin and Mother, as well as a Queen.
There is an 8-pointed star on Mary’s head, which is the form of the Star of Bethlehem. It is there to remind us that Mary leads us to Jesus, just as the star led the Magi to the nativity. It also proclaims two of Mary’s most ancient titles: Star of the Sea that leads us to our destination of Heaven, and Morning Star that announces the rising of the sun, the coming of Jesus.
Notice that while Mary is the main figure of this icon, her right hands is intentionally in the actual center of the image, at the level of the heart. And what is that hand doing? It is holding Jesus’ hands. Furthermore, look how the hand is cupped and pointing to Jesus. This is a traditional icon posture called “pointing out the way” and it is directing our attention to something more important than the central figure. Mary is directing us to Jesus.
He is leaning in towards her, seeking protection and comfort. Remember the parable story. He is teaching us to go to her in our struggles, fears and sufferings.
Jesus’ right hand is clasping Mary’s thumb. He is teaching us to trust confidently in her. Jesus’ left hand is pressed into Mary’s palm. He is teaching us to entrust ourselves to her.
Notice how one of the sandals is falling off his foot. Jesus has run to Mary and jumped up into her arms with such speed and anxiousness, displaying for us confidence in her motherly love, protection and help. This is where the icon gets its name: perpetual help.

So, there we have it. The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. An icon of total consecration. An icon of entrustment and of our covenant relationship with Mary. The ancient Christian message of the icon is very clear: Mary is the Virgin Mother and Queen who points us to the Way, who watches over us wherever we are, and whose help is never ending: it is perpetual. So now the icon asks us to not just admire it but to make a decision: will we entrust ourselves to Mary, just the Child Jesus did, and allow her to mother us? If the answer is yes, then making the Act of Total Consecration to Jesus thorough Mary is an excellent way to express, carry out and live this response in our faith relationship with Jesus.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Rosary: Mary's Scrapbook

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, October 8, 2017.  Phil 4:6-9. Theme: The Rosary: Mary’s Scrapbook.

·       Hurricanes Harvey in Texas, Nate in Florida, and Maria in Puerto Rico.
·       Fatal earthquakes in Mexico, Italy and China.
·       Massacres in Las Vegas. Terrorist attacks in Paris and London.
·       Persecution, murder and exile of Christians from their homes in the Middle East.
·       Violence in schools, in churches, in workplaces and homes.
·       Governments and judges seeking to exile God from the laws of the land.
·       Universities and Schools turning their backs on truth and justice for the sake of political correctness.

Sadly, this list is incomplete and tragically this list goes on and on…and unfortunately our daily media turns these things into hours long entertainment making it difficult to avoid the barrage of sin and suffering in the world.

In today’s second reading from his Epistle to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul tells us to have no anxiety but bring everything to God in prayer and petition, to make our requests known to God and then we will have peace of heart and mind.  He tells us that instead of being focused on the negatives, we should think about things that are good, wholesome, noble, lovely and honorable.  This is excellent advice and we Catholics have had a great way combining good and holy thoughts with intercessory prayer and petition for over 1,000 years: The Rosary of Our Lady.

Yesterday was the feast of Mary under her title of Our Lady of the Rosary and today is celebrated in many places as Rosary Sunday. So, I think that today is an excellent time for us to take a quick look at this prayer which has become such a powerful devotion and symbol of Catholicism.

There are many ways to explain and think about the Rosary, but one of my favorite is to call it “Mary’s Scrapbook”.  We are the family of God and every family has its treasured memories, often put together in a hardcopy or digital scrapbook.  It allows us to never forget and always remember the highlights of our family history. That’s what the rosary is for us Christians. And Mary our Mother opens it for us to see. Our church-family scrapbook is all about the life, death and glory of our eldest brother, Jesus, seen from the eyes and experiences of our Mother Mary.

Just as people sit down and chat, sharing stories as they look at the photos in a scrapbook, we too combine words and images in the devotion of the rosary. The words we use in our prayers are powerful because they come directly from the Word of God.  Each decade (group of 10 beads) begins with the prayer that Jesus himself taught us, the Our Father. Then we move on to recite the Hail Marys, a prayer that is basically made up of two verses from the Gospel of St. Luke. Finally we end each decade with the Glory Be, a prayer of praise and worship to the Blessed Trinity, such as St. Paul used in closing almost all his Epistles.

But the vocal prayers, important as they are, are just the skeleton of the rosary. The real heart and soul of it is in the thinking, the remembering.  To help us do this our rosary scrapbook is divided into four sections which we call Mysteries: The Joyful Mysteries that remember the birth and childhood of Jesus; the Luminous Mysteries that recall His public ministry; the Sorrowful Mysteries in which we mourn with Mary over his arrest, torture and death; and finally, the Glorious Mysteries which proclaim his victory and the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

The spiritual power of the rosary lies in this combination of pondering the mysteries while presenting our petitions to God in prayer. It places before us the life of Jesus, over and over again. It teaches us how to become like Jesus. It shows us how to love like Jesus. It strengthens us in the living presence of the Risen Jesus among us.  Little by little it transforms those who recite it faithfully into people of prayer, people who do as St. Paul says and bring all their needs and anxieties to the Lord.

In addition to the personal blessings of praying the rosary, there are social benefits as well. There have been many astounding and unexplainable documented changes in historical and political events in the past 1,000 years after large groups of people united to pray the rosary as a powerful spiritual weapon in our war with sin, suffering and evil.  And don’t we need this so badly today?  I pray it daily and I hope many of you do, or plan to do, the same. We need it. Our world needs it.