Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Feast of the Ascension

This Sunday's Gospel is the Ascension of the Lord. Mark does not describe the Ascension, but artists have painted symbolic depictions of the event for centuries. This is a 1497 painting of the Ascension by the Italian Renaissance artist Pietro Perugino. The painting is rich in symbolism.

Perugino divides the painting into two parts, upper and lower, depicting heaven and earth. In heaven, the figure of Jesus is the centerpiece. His left hand points upward toward heaven. His right hand is raised in a gesture of blessing. On both sides of him are angels and cherubim representing heaven. The angels play musical instruments, which is a way of rejoicing in this glorious event.

On earth, the apostles stand gazing upward in awe, which is a reference to Acts 1:10, "They were looking intently up into the sky." Mary is directly underneath Christ. She can be identified by her blue cloak, as blue is the color symbolic of heaven and it is a reminder of Mary's role as the Queen of Heaven. Mary also represents the mother figure of the Christian church, which Jesus is leaving behind on earth.

To the left of Mary is Peter who holds a key. This is a symbol in reference to Matthew 16:19, "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven." To the right of Mary is Paul who holds a sword. This is a symbol of the manner in which he was executed by decapitation. Paul also holds a book which is a symbol of him as the author of the Epistles.

Paul was not actually present at the Ascension. Mattias is also seen in the painting, although he was not chosen Apostle at the time of the Ascension. The painting is not meant to be a historic portrayal of the event. Instead, it shows the Apostles witnessing this incredible act of faith.

Jennifer Wood
St. Monica Young Ministering Adults
Santa Monica

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 15:1-8

“Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.” This verse pierces my heart. It leads me to reflect on my life, my past experiences, and my conversion. I was baptized into God’s family as an infant, but I didn’t know the person of Jesus, and I was unfamiliar with His Church. I did not understand the magnitude of the beautiful gift I had been given. I was wasteful and unappreciative. I thought I knew it all. I thought that I could find happiness in the world. I thought I was in control. I was wrong.

God started pruning me a long time ago. Some of that pruning was very painful. I experienced great suffering and loss. I was unhappy, maybe even miserable. I thought that no one in this world could possibly understand what I was going through. I felt profoundly alone, abandoned. Looking back on my past life, I now see all the missed opportunities where God was reaching out to me, but I kept missing the signals. I was ignoring His calls. It wasn’t until I was absolutely broken that I realized that something had to change. I was that branch that had begun to wither. I was trying to live my life without God. I wanted to be in charge, in control, but the more I tried to control, the more I lost control. My life was not fruitful, quite the contrary, I was on a path of darkness and destruction. I had lost all hope, until one day through the grace of God, I found myself with two true friends who prayed with me and introduced me to Christ. I will never forget that day. It was December 15, 2006. The following Sunday I went to Mass, and less than a year later I received my First Communion and Confirmation. Our God is a God of second chances, and third chances, and fourth chances… It does not matter that I tried to live without Him. It only matters that now I am trying to live with Him, and I pray that you all will do the same.

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” Always remember that it is never too late to start heading in the right direction. May God bless you and keep you.

Tyra Trujillo
Long Beach Alive
St. Cornelius, Long Beach

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Second Sunday of Easter--another reflection

John 20:19-31

This is actually one of my favorite Gospels. For one, it challenges the amount of faith we have in our Lord. Whenever, I reflect on a Bible passage I try to become more than just an observer and actually place myself in the midst of the story and become one of the characters. I can see and feel how terrified these apostles were after the crucifixion of the Lord and also how much they were mourning. I mean, He was a very close friend to them...probably more like family than anything. So they were mourning the loss of their friend, brother, and teacher and also scared that maybe they would be next to be killed. So when Jesus entered through the locked door (Jn 20:19), you can imagine their reaction and just mixed emotions to have someone they truly loved to come back from the dead! Jesus knew how they were feeling and that they had been hiding, so He greets them with “Peace be with you”. At mass we say this to each other after the “Our Father,” but after doing some reflecting on this passage, my meaning behind that has added more depth to it. Jesus was not just greeting them with a simple “hello” or “good morning” but actually spreading peace into their minds, hearts, and souls. How comforting that must’ve been for them. Jesus must have felt a need to say that to his disciples since he repeats it three times throughout this gospel. Now, when I say to someone at mass “peace be with you," I will say it with more conviction to serve as a reminder that no matter what you may be going through, God’s peace is with you to comfort and strengthen you.

The other important part of this reading is the commissioning of the disciples. One of my favorite songs sung at mass is “You Are Mine”. I don’t know why, but everytime I hear it I always get emotional when it comes to the part that says, “I have called you each by name, come and follow me...I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine." It’s a reminder to me of Whose I am and that I have a purpose to serve in this world. In John 20:21, Jesus tells His disciples that the time has come for them to come out of hiding and spread the Good News. All of His time with them, teaching them, witnessing to them, has been to prepare them for this moment. He breathes on them the Holy Spirit and tells them “As the Father has sent me, so I send you." A moment of empowerment. I wouldn’t blame them for being nervous about what is to come, but thanks be to God for their astounding courage and commitment to going out, evangelizing, and giving up their lives and being the start to our Catholic Church.

I know Thomas gets a lot of flack for doubting a little bit about Jesus returning. But I bring it here to today and think about how many doubters we still have! We have a common saying that expresses our insistence on tangible proof of every faith claim: "I'll believe it when I see it." I think that’s kind of sad! Jesus himself says to us in this gospel “blessed are those who have not seen and have believed”(Jn 20:29). I’ve thought to myself many times how lucky it was for the disciples to witness Jesus’ teachings and miracles in the flesh and if I were there, my faith would be through the roof! I know that’s easy to say now, but then I ask myself why it isn’t that way now? We have the stories written all over the Bible to help us believe, as well as everyday miracles if we just look for them. From the majestic mountains and all of his creation to a family member being cured of a serious illness to the miracles of birth. And if we go to mass regularly, we witness a miracle there each time when the bread and wine are turned into Jesus’ body & blood! I know that sometimes we have questions and maybe even doubts about certain aspects of our Catholic faith, but Jesus asks us to believe even though we may not have all of the evidence we may need to confirm this. There are things that our mind just can’t comprehend, even though our hearts want to. This is where FAITH comes in. And Jesus says that we are blessed for it. We have many examples, testimonies, and witnesses of Jesus’ life and legacy written in the Bible to help us believe. I don’t think it is ever wrong to question or doubt, as long as we seek answers that will bring us closer to God. But where we don’t have the necessary answers we may need, let’s offer those up to God and ask Him give us the courage and strength we may need to be a firm believer.

Through the gospels, we have learned a lot of the weaknesses of Jesus’ first disciples and loyal friends: Peter denied Him, Judas betrayed Him, Thomas doubting,etc. I don’t think it takes away from their credibility, but reminds us of their humanity and that they too, like us, are flawed. I invite you to reflect today on a few things. First, think about which one of Jesus’ first disciples are you more like? Are you more like Peter, Judas, or Thomas when they deny, betray, or doubt? Or are you perhaps more like Peter, Judas, Thomas and all of the other apostles when they said “YES” to Jesus, left their families and lives and followed Him?! Secondly, how might Jesus be calling you? How is He sending you out today and everyday? Each of us has a different calling and different strengths that we can provide for our communities and our world. How might Jesus be wanting to use your strengths that He Himself has equipped you with? Let’s pray to Him for strength and courage to be a better follower..."Lord Jesus Christ, through your victory over sin and death you have overcome all the powers of darkness. Help me to draw near to you and to trust in your life-giving word. Fill me with you Holy Spirit and strengthen my faith in your promises and my hope in the power of your resurrection.” Amen

Jazmin Lugo
St. Euphrasia, Granada Hills

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Second Sunday of Easter

John 20:19-31

This Sunday's Gospel reading contains two words that stick out for me: "fear" and "peace." As Catholics, we are living in a society that seems to be more and more secularized, even intolerant, by the minute. Some might say that it is increasingly more difficult to openly practice our religious beliefs. In a sense, many of us are closing those doors to our faith; living and practicing in fear of what others might think, say or do if we are suspected of being ...tan, tan, tan...(scary, dramatic horror music)...PRACTICING CATHOLICS! :) "Is anyone watching me as I pray before eating at a restaurant? I am posting every move I make on my Facebook, except when it comes to hinting I go to Mass on Sunday (or more than once a week)."

I have heard two sides of the argument, both of which can be defended within Scripture... 1) Practice your faith between you and God, so as to avoid boasting, impressing others, etc. 2) Don't hide a light under a basket. (Don't keep Jesus to yourself). Although finding our path in reference to this issue is a personal journey, I find this to be my guiding question: Whether I make my faith a personal matter or a public one...What is at the root of my decision? If my answer to this question is "fear"... I might need to reflect on my current path and head in a different direction. We do have the Body of Christ (the Church) to which we belong to, so we are not solitary beings on this path of faith. Fear of persecution should not limit the public expression of my beliefs.

However, if I practice my faith in order to gain the approval of this or that group of is no longer genuine. For me, this is where "peace" is actualized. We tend to think peace is a state in which nothing sad or difficult is happening. True peace in Jesus Christ can be experienced in the midst of any situation. A person in a quiet, serene garden may be experiencing turmoil and chaos within. Just as a person in the middle of a hurricane can experience peace while chaos is happening around them. We have to believe enough to open the doors to our hearts so that Jesus may enter and settle both our fears and our doubts. I pray we are capable of experiencing that peace whether we are sitting quietly at Eucharistic Adoration or chanting at a religious freedom rally.

Alicia Hernandez
Our Lady of the Assumption, Claremont

Monday, April 2, 2012

Easter Sunday

Mark 16:1-7

When reading this Gospel according to it reminds me of a couple of things.

(1) We as Catholics have heard this biblical account of Easter dozens of times, so much so that when we hear the story now, it seems to have lost a lot of its greatness. But let’s recall how we felt the first time we heard, "You were looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the man who was crucified. He is raised and is not here." I believe that as young adults we are numbed by the today's society to the Greatness of the God. I challenge you to heed to Matthew 18:3, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” and read this passage as a child would and embrace the greatness of God. We need to be overwhelmed with the wonder of His love and power, and need to trust in Jesus, believe Him with the simple faith of a child, knowing He is so far above us that we will never understand Him – but we can trust Him.

(2) It also reminds me of the Apostles' Creed, especially “was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell,” I always thought to myself, why would he descend to hell? While doing some research I came across a book which states, “Thus the descent into hell may suggest that the Son of God carried the sins of the world to hell; or the Son of God carried Good News of deliverance to the godly dead such as Lazarus the beggar and the repentant thief” (D. Bruce Lockerbie, The Apostle's Creed: Do You Really Believe It). A third-century Syrian Creed speaks of Jesus, "who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and departed in peace, in order to preach to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the saints concerning the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead.” I think we can all recall a time and place in our lives when we felt alone and far from God's reach, but as our faith teaches us God's saving power has no limits.

My brothers and sisters I ask you that this Easter be a throwback to the Easters we had as children. This Easter tell your parents you love them like you did when you were a child; spend time with your brothers and sisters, don’t be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve. Love God with a pure and simple heart, and trust that in the darkness his light will prevail.

In Christ,

Vidal Gutierrez Jr.
Fr. Kolbe Missionaries of the Immaculata
West Covina

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

Mark 14:1-15:47

In searching for truth, sometimes it takes a simple but pointed sign to find a deep meaning to a reading. When standing up for what I believe in as a Catholic Christian (as a child of the Universal Church) and after 35 years of viewing the world though several different eye glasses (free willed lenses, political lenses, theological lenses, sociological lenses, and economical lenses), I’ve grown to not be afraid to ask questions about what I’ve seen. My final (and by final I mean current and more stable) corrected lenses have me seeing the world and humankind with utmost compassion, respect, love, and non-judgment.

Many non-believers or misinformed believers cannot wrap their heads around the value of many churches or cathedrals, built with thousands or even millions of dollars invested. You will always have a passionate debate when there is money involved, whether in regard to how it’s spent, collected, or distributed in society.

Prior to Jesus’ final days on Earth, while preparing to celebrate the Passover supper with his twelve disciples, he encounters a woman and a leper named Simon in the town of Bethany. Jesus receives a final anointing from the woman of quite expensive perfumed oil; she pours the whole amount over his head. Other indignant people in the room snarl at this act, calling it a waste. But Jesus quickly rebuts and defends her for her action.

The woman's motive, which focused initially on the Lord who was present before her, is to give freely with no care for the costly value of the container of perfumed oil which, if sold, could have fed herself, her peers, or a good number of the poor. Our Church remains universally committed to the same freely given offering of charity, prayer, communion, and outreach to the world to aid in removing the darkness of sin and poverty, and to successfully transform fear into solid belief though the ongoing preaching of Good News, given every single day. Because of our Church, people are given the opportunity to hear the Good News 365 days a year through daily mass, which aids in bringing them closer to God. Jesus states that there will always be suffering and poverty to attend to. If it wasn’t for thus continuous epidemic and struggle, we as a people of free will would not be converted towards good. A perfect world will not create a perfect person. For God to make everything correct would not teach us life lessons.

In our Church, to this day, perfumed oil continues to be given to everyone open and willing to receive God’s love. Perfumed oil is physically poured upon us in Baptism and in Confirmation, and in the Sacrament of the Sick.

Humankind created cathedrals and churches (our rock or cornerstone) in hope that, for each generation, they will stand untarnished by sin. Jesus says, “I won’t be here much longer” shortly before fulfilling his prophecy and being freed through death. But we believe that the tabernacle (his inner shrine) where Jesus’ body is kept in every single Catholic Church is considered his room, his furnished house of worship, which will never be a “waste” because of its price tag. Our cash value on our Earthly life is unimportant; we know money, possessions, or other treasures do not carry over with us in Heaven. What matters and what is taught by our Church is our willingness to love God first and, through that love and faith, how we put our hearts into the hands of the less fortunate in order to bring everyone into the same afterlife promised by Him.

Chris Galvan
St. Mary's YAM
St. Mary of the Assumption, Whittier

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fifth Sunday of Lent

John 12:20-33

In our Gospel reading today we hear the words: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” I can’t speak for everyone, but I have (had) no idea how this works. I couldn’t see how if something dies, it would bear fruit. Dead things do not do good – the suburbanite in me was perplexed. So, I did what any self-respecting young adult would do – I googled “how wheat grows.” And my response was typical of my net surfing, “oh, cool.” Cool indeed.

One grain, buried under the earth, unseen by all, gives way to the fragile life within it. The exterior falls away and one single stalk bursts from within and makes its ascent toward heaven. Nourished by the soil, sun, and water this single stalk comes to one single head – full of seeds. When these seeds are pollinated and fertile, ready to bear new life, the wheat stalk begins to die. Once all dried out, the seeds can be harvested…. And the process goes on.

The wonder of Jesus is that once we get His imagery, it takes almost no imagination to see where we might fit into this picture. Times of feeling buried, unseen, and fragile find meaning when set in the context of growth and maturing. Reaching for the heavens we seek our final end, our nourishment, and our hope. Trusting in the providence of God, our single gift of self can bear much fruit if we are willing to give ourselves to our mission – the bearing of Christian life wherever we go. And, suddenly, my own feelings of fragility and limitedness fall away and the life of Christ in me finds expression in the light of the Gospel.

Blessings to you this Lent. May the simple wonders of God’s creation bring you a renewed appreciation for His care and conviction of our profound and simple mission within this same creation!

Jillian Cooke
Fr. Kolbe Missionaries of the Immaculata
West Covina