January 20, 2019

During this week a very important gathering of young people will happen in Panama City, Panama, when the International World Youth Day Conference will take place there from January 22-27. These gatherings of youth from all over the world have become both an inspiration and a motivation for young people to live their faith and to find ways of spreading their faith in new and magnificent fashion. When Pope John Paul II first envisioned such a gathering, some adults thought it would never be a success, but what happened was not young people giving in to all kinds of angst and malice, but rather beaming with smiles and joy, singing and dancing, proudly holding their flags high (or wearing them), greeting one another in peace, trading their tokens, humbly realizing how small they are in a world of people, and strengthened to witness to so many who share their convictions.

 

In 1984 at the close of the Holy Year of Redemption, over 300,000 young people from around the world responded to the invitation of the Pope for an International Jubilee of youth on Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s Square. Looking out at the crowds who answered his invitation, he said, “What a fantastic spectacle is presented on this stage by your gathering here today! Who claimed that today’s youth has lost their sense of values? Is it really true that they cannot be counted on?” It was at this gathering that the Holy Father entrusted to the youth what is now known as the World Youth Day Cross, to be carried throughout the world as a symbol of the love of Christ for humanity.

 

The following Palm Sunday, coinciding with the United Nation’s International Year of the Youth, Pope John Paul took the opportunity to welcome the youth of the world to Rome again. Later, announcing the institution of World Youth Day on December 20, 1985, he presided at the first official World Youth Day in 1986. When he was at his final World Youth Day celebration in Toronto in 2008, he said, “When, back in 1985, I wanted to start the World Youth Days, I imagined a powerful moment in which the young people of the world could meet Christ, who is eternally young and could learn from him how to be bearers of the Gospel to other young people. This evening, together with you, I praise God and give thanks to him for the gift bestowed on the Church through the World Youth Days. Missions of young people have taken part, and as a result have become better and more committed Christian witnesses.” Popes Benedict XVI and Francis have continued these encounters with wondrous results.

 

Pope Francis has written the following message to the youth (and us) preparing for the World Youth Day in Panama: “We seek, together with Mary, to listen to the voice of God who inspires courage and bestows the grace needed to respond to his call: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God’ (Lk 1:30). These are the words addressed by God’s messenger, the Archangel Gabriel, to Mary, an ordinary girl from a small village in Galilee. As is understandable, the sudden appearance of the angel and his mysterious greeting: ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you’ (Lk 1:28), strongly disturbed Mary, who was surprised by this first revelation of her identity and her vocation, as yet unknown to her. Mary, like others in the Sacred Scriptures, trembles before the mystery of God’s call, who in a moment places before her the immensity of his own plan and makes her feel all her smallness as a humble creature. The angel, seeing the depths of her heart, says, ‘Do not be afraid!’ God also reads our inmost heart. He knows well the challenges we must confront in life, especially when we are faced with the fundamental choices on which depend who we will be and what we will do in this world. It is the ‘shudder’ that we feel when faced with decisions about our future, our state of life, our vocation. In these moments we are troubled and seized by so many fears.

 

“And you young people, what are your fears? What worries you most deeply? An ‘underlying’ fear that many of you have is that of not being loved, well-liked or accepted for who you are. Today there are many young people who feel the need to be different from who they really are, in an attempt to adapt to an often artificial and unattainable standard. They continuously ‘photo-shop’ their images, hiding behind masks and false identities, almost becoming fake selves. Many are obsessed by receiving as many ‘likes’ as possible. Multiple fears and uncertainties emerge from this sense of inadequacy. Others fear that they will not be able to find an emotional security and that they will remain alone. Many, faced with the uncertainty of work, fear not being able to find a satisfactory professional position, or to fulfill their dreams.

 

“Today a large number of young people are full of fear, both believers and non-believers. Indeed, those who have accepted the gift of faith and seek their vocation seriously are not exempt from fears. Some think: perhaps God is asking or will ask too much of me; perhaps, by following the road he has marked out for me, I will not be truly happy, or I will not be able to do what he asks of me. Others think: if I follow the path that God shows me, who can guarantee that I will be able to follow it through? Will I become discouraged? Will I lose my enthusiasm? Will I be able to persevere for the whole of my life?

 

“In moments when doubts and fears flood our hearts, discernment becomes necessary. It allows us to bring order to the confusions of our thoughts and feelings, to act in a just and prudent way. In this process, the first step in overcoming fears is to identify them clearly, so as not to find yourself wasting time and energy by being gripped by empty and faceless ghosts. And so, I invite all of you to look within yourselves and to ‘name’ your fears. Ask yourselves: what upsets me, what do I fear most in this specific moment of my life today? What blocks me and prevents me from moving forward? Why do I lack the courage to make the important choices I need to make? Do not be afraid to face your fears honestly, to recognize them for what they are and to come to terms with them. The Bible does not ignore the human experience of fear nor its many causes. Abraham was afraid (Gen 12:10ff), Jacob was afraid (Gen 31:31; 32:7), and so were Moses (Ex 2:14; 17:4), Peter (Mt 26:69ff) and the Apostles (Mk 4:38-40; Mt 26:56). Jesus himself, albeit in an incomparable way, experienced fear and anguish (Mt 26:37; Lk 22:44)….

 

“For us Christians in particular, fear must never have the last word but rather should be an occasion to make an act of faith in God—and in life! This means believing in the fundamental goodness of the existence that God has given us and trusting that he will lead us to a good end, even through circumstances and vicissitudes which often bewilder us. Yet if we harbor fears, we will become inward-looking and closed off to defend ourselves from everything and everyone, and we will remain paralyzed. We have to act! Never close yourself in! In the Sacred Scriptures the expression ‘do not be afraid’ is repeated 365 times with different variations, as if to tell us that the Lord wants us to be free from fear, every day of the year.”

 

During this week in particular, let’s pray for all the young people gathered in Panama City that they will come to know God’s will for them. Let us show by our way of life that we, too, must continue to confront our fears and to be open to wherever God is leading us. And let us not forget the multitude of young people here among us who are searching to discover their vocation in life and what road their witness in faith will take them. Our prayerful solidarity this week will be rewarded in countless ways that only God can determine.

 

SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 

During Ordinary Time, we are called to reflect on the life of Jesus and try to conform our lives to his. Ordinary Time also has a forward motion, inviting us to eagerly await the salvation and redemption of God’s holy people.

 

This theme of eager awaiting is vividly presented in the First Reading, when the prophet says that he is compelled to proclaim a message of hope to God’s chosen as they return from the Babylonian exile and struggle to renew the holy city. Personified Jerusalem, we are told, will be given a new name as her salvation is made known to the world.

 

The Second Reading reminds us that we cannot earn our salvation. Rather, it comes to us by our cooperation in effecting the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the benefit of the community. No matter the gifts an individual possesses, Paul says, everything comes from God and is the work of God for the common good.

 

In today’s Gospel, we learn how Jesus saves the day by miraculously providing choice wine for a poorly planned wedding feast, but the deeper message of this story is signaled by Jesus’ cryptic response to his mother’s request for help. The time of Jesus’ death had not yet come, but the abundance of water into wine is a sign of the great wedding banquet that was expected to accompany the restoration of God’s holy people at the end time.

 

The reading from Isaiah points out that God delights in his people as much as he is wedded to them. We can trust that we find our home in God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that there are many ways of seeking home in this transitory world, but in the end we go home to God (##675-677).

 

For Your Reflection: In what ways do you proclaim God’s “marvelous deeds” as sung in the Responsorial Psalm? How does our parish help each member contribute their gifts to the community? Where do you see God’s glory and are led to believe in him?

 

FEAST OF THE CONVERSION OF SAINT PAUL

Friday, January 25, 2019

 

All this week we will continue the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This week of prayer ends on this feast of the Conversion of St. Paul and rightly so, since he becomes the great preacher of the Good News throughout Asia Minor, suffering all kinds of trials, tribulations and pain for the sake of the Gospel.

 

St. Paul’s entire life can be explained in terms of one experience—his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In an instant, he saw that all the zeal of his dynamic personality was being wasted, like the strength of a boxer swinging wildly. Perhaps he had never seen Jesus, who was only a few years older. But he had acquired a zealot’s hatred of all Jesus stood for, as he began to harass the Church, “entering house after house and, dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment” (Acts 9:5). Now he himself was “entered,” possessed, all his energy harnessed to one goal—being a slave of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, an instrument to help others experience the one Savior.

 

One sentence determined his theology: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Jesus was mysteriously identified with people—the loving group of people Saul had been running down like criminals. Jesus, he saw, was the mysterious fulfillment of all he had been blindly pursuing.

 

From then on, his only work was to “present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me” (Col 1:28-29). “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction” (1Thes 1:5).

 

Paul’s life became a tireless proclaiming and living out of the message of the cross: Christians die baptismally to sin and are buried with Christ; they are dead to all that is sinful and unredeemed in the world. They are made into a new creation, already sharing Christ’s victory and someday to rise from the dead like him. Through this risen Christ the Father pours out the Spirit on them, making them completely new.

 

So Paul’s great message to the world was: You are saved entirely by God, not by anything you can do. Saving faith is the gift of total, free, personal and loving commitment to Christ, a commitment that then bears fruit in more “works” than the Law could ever contemplate.

 

Paul is undoubtedly hard to understand. His style often reflects the rabbinical style of argument of his day, and often his thought skips on mountaintops while we plod below. But perhaps our problems are accentuated by the fact that so many beautiful jewels have become part of the everyday coin in our Christian language.

 

SECOND COLLECTION THIS WEEKEND

 

As we announced last weekend in the bulletin, here in the Archdiocese this Saturday and Sunday we will take up a Collection for the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean. People throughout the United States by their generosity have helped form young people from all over this region through catechetical programs and the training of lay catechists. You have also made possible several Missionary Congresses of the Americas. At the Fifth Congress held in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, in 2018, delegates from more than 20 countries gathered to pray, learn, and build community. The young people who attended learned more about their faith and grew in relationship with Jesus Christ. They then brought these lessons back to their communities. These young people will be the next generation of missionary disciples leading our Church with hope.

 

Please come prepared this weekend to make a generous donation to this Second Collection for the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean.

 

BLEST ART

 

The olive wood and mother-of-pearl handcraft products Blest Art sells are carefully handcrafted. These items hold special value, and they are not only unique, but purchasing them helps support the presence of Christianity in the Holy Land. Blest Art is not a team of merchants, but rather ambassadors for the 600 plus families back home working to stimulate the economy in a land once thriving that is now troubled. This art is an invaluable way to sustain the Christian community in the Holy Land.

 

Blest art’s mission since their development 15 years ago has been to provide for Christian families in the Holy Land and to support the clinics, schools and churches. The members of this community take olive wood limbs from ancient trees and transform them into inspirational religious artworks, thus stimulating the economy in a declining population and reducing the emigration rate. The handiwork has been passed down for many generations. Blest Art strives to keep this tradition alive.

 

Blest Art will be here at St. Peter’s in the auditorium after all the weekend Masses next weekend. We hope you will be able to time some time to go down to the auditorium after Mass to view these artifacts and even to purchase something in order to help these Palestinian families abroad.

 

A CHUCKLE FOR YOUR PLEASURE

 

Our teacher asked us what our favorite animal was, and I said, “Fried chicken.”

 

She said I wasn’t funny, but she couldn’t have been right, because everyone else in the class laughed. My parents told me to always be truthful and honest, and I am. Fried chicken is my favorite animal.

 

I told my dad what happened, and he said my teacher was probably a member of PETA. He said they love animals very much. I do, too, especially chicken, pork and beef. Anyway, my teacher sent me to the principal’s office. I told him what happened, and he laughed too. Then he told me not to do it again.

 

The next day in class my teacher asked me what my favorite live animal was. I told her it was chicken. She asked me why, just like she’d asked the other children. So I told her it was because you could make them into fried chicken. She sent me back to the principal’s office again. He laughed and told me not to do it again.

 

I don’t understand. My parents taught me to be honest, but my teacher doesn’t like it when I am.

 

Today my teacher asked us to tell her what famous person we admire most. I told her, “Colonel Sanders.” Guess where I am now!