The Strangeness of God

God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God (1 Cor 1:27-29).

If you take the time to make sense of God’s way, you will notice whenever he wants to achieve something, he usually goes about it in some unique, strange and odd way. he usually chooses the oddest means possible, most unexpected and interesting people possible, and most unsavory of places.

Just a few examples to clarify this point!

UnknownTo enter our world, he not chose a teenage girl, he chose to be born in the unsanitary, dirtiest, most dangerous, and unexpected places you could have imagined. Even if you were drunk, you probably would not choose such a place for the mighty God to be born.

Unknown-1The place he was crucified was at some point the garbage dump of the city. Yet, it became one of the most important places in the history of the human race. Even you put a whole team of drug addicts together, they probably wouldn’t have chosen such a place.

To save the city of Nineveh, he chose Jonah. A Jewish man who not only hated foreigners, but a staunched enemy of the Ninevites. Yet, he chose to save them thru him. After much rebellious opposition, he went to Nineveh and spoke one line: “In forty days, Nineveh shall be destroy, unless you repent! The moment they heard his words, they all repent in sackcloth and fasting.  Even you put the smartest people together,  they wouldn’t have chosen Jonah as means to save nineveh.Jonah

To commence the evangelization of Samaria, Jesus used “the Samaritan woman”– rejected, outcast, prostitute that no one wants to talk to. Yet, meeting her and transforming her life, she became the means by which he reached Samaria. Even if you team up the craziest feminists in the world, they would not have chosen her.shutterstock_268972022_1

What do we see here? In all these cases, God uses odd, interesting, unexpected, unsavory people and place to carry out his plan. In fact odd and unsavory don’t really capture what really happened in these caes. Whether you look at it from conservatives or liberals’ viewpoint, it just makes people cringe.

Again, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise,…. (1 Cor 1:27-29).

Here’s the point– if you look at the Catholic church in America right now, you should think that it’s the last thing that God can use to save people. The church right now looks unsavory, dirty, hellish, and embarrassing.5034053e36034.image

But just like God transformed the manger into a place of adoration, just like he changed the idolatrous Ninevites into godly people, just like he altered the garbage dump of Jerusalem into the holiest place on earth, just like he uses the embarrassing Samaritan woman into evangelizer, so will he do with this scandalous church. His ways are odds and strange. We don’t always get his ways. That’s precisely why he is God. he knows what’s he’s doing. But in the midst of our confusion,  we don’t give up. We trust.

On an individual level, if you feel like your life in its own way has been like a garbage dump the last place God would want to dwell due to sin, addiction, unfaithfulness, then don’t get discouraged. The more strange one’s life is the easier it seems for God to transform it.

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One Full First Year!

When did it happen? How did it happen? What have I accomplished? So much to say! So many beautiful experiences! So many graces! What is the perfect way to encapsulate it all? It is a time to count my blessings and be thankful.

First, my greatest and loudest thanks go to Almighty God! He has chosen me to be a priest for the sanctification of his people. Then He has brought me here to serve, love, learn, grow, and mature. That’s what I think this first year was about. I am privileged to serve at a parish where there are ample opportunities to experience it all—the beautiful, the best, the awesome, and the joy. In my first year at parish ministry, it is clear that there are no dull moments for a priest, especially if he makes himself available for people. It’s either he is doing something, or getting ready to do something for the people. I don’t think anyone is ordained for himself. So, that’s how it is supposed to be

Secondly, I am thankful to each of the parishioners for putting up with me for almost a year. They’ve been overly supportive, prayerfully uplifting, consistently kind and generous. I’ve the privilege of being a servant, a priest, a father, a man, a brother, and a friend journeying home with them. That’s what I have tried to be.

I’m thankful to my pastor. Every “baby” priest needs someone to feed him with soft food and drink, hold his hands, and lead him as he tries to make his first step in ministry. the pastor has been that someone. He has been there throughout this first year patiently helping me, answering my questions, and teaching me how to apply what I’ve learned at the seminary. Thank you. So many others have helped me to get to this point. My parents and close friends, strangers and fan who never cease praying for me. your prayers do more than you can think or imagine. I need them! Keep them coming. Only in heaven will you know fully the effects of what you have done.

Although I spent 8 years in seminary formation, how could have I known what ministry would be like? During this first year, I’ve seen a lot– people growing, heart transforming, spiritual wounds healed among the young and the aged. I’ve experienced many discovering what it means to be loved, forgiven, accepted, and free for the first time. I’ve seen people being convinced of the power of the gospel, feeling empowered by the sacraments, and sent forth to be and live their best. God can achieve all these without me; yet, he has chosen to do them through me. What a privileged!

Among the many blessings of this year, preaching has been among my favorites. There is something powerful about preaching the word of God. Of course, hearing confessions, teaching at the school, and enjoy a fun game with the students in the parking lot, or going bowling with friends have been some of the greatest blessings of this new year.

God has been good to me, and I am so very thankful that He has called me to this life. Know of my prayers for you, and thanks for praying for me.

Easter 2018

As we celebrate the feast of feasts, the feast of victory, the defeat of death, the hinge on which Christianity is hooked. Allow me to point out one vital lesson the resurrection of Jesus is teaching us: this life is not all there is.

Think about it. Many of us spend a lot of energy trying to make it in this world. college. Pursue career. Buy house. Cars. Make a name for ourselves. Retirement plans. We exercise. Go to the doctor, eat healthy so that we can live the best life in this life. all this is awesome for there’s nothing wrong with these per se. I myself go to the gym at least twice a week.

easterBut here’s the problem— while we do everything we can to have a good life here, how much time do we spend preparing for the life to come? Here’s what Jesus risen from the dead is saying—if you only live for the here and now, you’re living life backward. If you spend all your energy for this world, you’re missing out; He is saying—look this life is short; you live 80, 90, 100 years if lucky. The other one is not a million or 10 billions; it’s forever. Jesus came for one purpose and one purpose only: to teach us how to get to the next life. That’s where all the fun is. So, would you honestly say you’re being trained well for the next life?

Now here’s what it means for a young adult person—15-35 to train well for the next life: you do what the second reading suggests– seek what is above. You do what the women in the gospel did—they looked for Jesus even if all their friends were not. But Look what they’ve found out—they became the first apostles of the resurrection. What do you want to be remembered for? What do you want to be an apostle of? Here’s a suggestion: how about holiness?

Here’s what it means for a parent to prepare for the next life—they strive to raise future who are true witnesses of Christ. St. Maria Goretti, pier Giorgio Frassati, Thérèse the little flower, etc. your children are made for so much more than this world can offer. Teach them how to strive for higher things.

Here’s what it means for a Christian man or woman to prepare for the next life—he or she approaches life with certainly, confidence, joy, purpose and meaning because he knows he can’t be defeated because the one he follows is alive. In his decision-making, he consults the Lord. He remains true to the sacraments because he knows without the risen Lord, he/ she will be defeated. How is your preparation going?

Good Friday 2018

I meant to give this homily on good friday, but the Holy Spirit thought otherwise. so here it is. Something surprising and interesting happened at the beginning of Jesus’ passion narrative of Good Friday. As they came to arrest Jesus, he asked the soldiers: “who are you looking for?” they said Jesus of Nazareth. He identified himself as I AM. They all fell to their faces. Imagine that—someone came to hurt you and you know it, and that person fell at your feet. What would you do? someone is bullying you at work. Someone attacks your family. well, you would probably react the way Peter had in the garden. Once the soldiers laid him on Jesus, Peter cut off the ear of one of the soldiers– fight. Or you would react the way the other apostles did– overwhelmed and helpless, they fled in fear. So basically when people are met with violence—the two typical ways they react are—fight/ defend themselves, or flight/ run away.

As we commemorate the great day of our salvation, the day we call “Good Friday” despite, I want you to notice that Jesus did neither. In so doing, he shows us a third/ nonviolent/ more effective way to deal with violence.

We see this third way throughout his ministry, he tells us that if someone strikes you on the right cheek, don’t fight or flight, turn the other cheek as well. you have heard that it was said, an eye for a eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you do not resist an evil. As Gandhi said, “an eye for an eye would make the whole world go blind”. Rather Pray for those who persecute you. If someone presses you for one mile, don’t fight or flight, go two miles. If someone asks you for your coat, don’t fight or flight, give him the undercoat as well. In this, he was preaching nonviolence.

UnknownToday as he was being led to the cross, he responds nonviolently. Father forgive them… like a lamb led to the slaughter he opened not his mouth. Though all-powerful, he became weak like us. He is thus nonviolent thru and thru.

So what’s the effect of nonviolence? Nonviolence mirrors back the violence to the other person. i.e. it is like putting a mirror in front of the violent person and compels him/her to look at his violence; Not running away mean “I refuse to justify your violent behavior”. Not fighting back means “I will not be like my oppressor.” when I do something bad to you and you do something bad to me we are even. But when you do something bad and I don’t follow thru, I compel you to see your violence.

What do we learn here? Nonviolence is more powerful than violence. Let me give you a few examples to illustrate how effective nonviolence is.

mother-teresa---mini-biographyMother Teresa and little hungry girl in the street of Calcutta. She found a hungry little girl in the street; she brought her to a bajery and asks the baker to give some bread to her; in response, the baker spat on mother’s face. She took her handkerchief out, wiped the saliva, and said “Thank you for that gift for me, but now give some bread to the child.”

during a period of racial unrest in South Africa, Bishop Desmond Tutu came face to face with a white racist man. The man said, “clear the way because I don’t make way for gorilla”. Tutu got off the sidewalk and says: I do.

john_paul_ii_visits_1979when the communists were in power in Poland in 1979. The government stifled all freedom of speech in public or private. On a pilgrimage as pope, JPII spoke of God, human rights, and religious freedom. as he was speaking, the crowd started to sing “we want god 2x. the chant went on for 14 minutes. a few months later, communism in Poland was no more. that’s the power of nonviolence.

Notice the common thread in all in all these examples– they neither fight nor flight; rather, they hold their ground. They mirrored back to the violent person their violence and refuse to approve it. That’s what it means to turn the other cheek. That’s what Christ did thru his passion. That’s what we are called to do. May this be your model as you face bad people.

May this inspire you to stand for truth, righteousness, and the vulnerable.

 

Outlier or Misunderstanding?

In the last few years, anyone who has been paying attention to the religious trends has heard one unending hymn: the church has no grandchildren. Countless surveys show that more than 40% of young Americans identify themselves as “nones”. Surveys show that more than 70% of confirmation students stop going to church within five years of their confirmation, most don’t get married in the church, they believe that faith and religion don’t coalesce, and the Bible is a fictional book. However, my work, exposure, experience, and observance of young people teach me what is reported in surveys doesn’t reflect their reception of a well-articulated faith.yyy

I come to understand that they don’t reject God and religion; they reject people who make a poor job preaching God and religion. For example, they react strongly against anyone bashing people with homosexual tendencies, but when they are explained who the human person and how he is to act as a result, they understand why acting on such tendencies are incompatible with their humanity. They hate being told how to dress, but they are at the edge of their seats when explained the power of interior beauty. They are very protective of the idea of freedom as license, but they are open to freedom for excellence. They bark at anyone denigrating the human person, but they understand that sin corrodes the soul.

The lesson for us here is this: if we concentrate our efforts in explaining our humanism– made in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by Christ, call to greatness, made to enjoy the beatific vision—if we take the time to explain how the dignity of the human person as both an endowment and an achievement that can be diminished if we don’t seek the truth, obey our conscience, resist sin, practice virtue, and repent when we fall, these young people will not reject this. Every time someone ventures to explain it well to them, they respond so positively.

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Secularism, the biggest challenge of our time, cannot withstand the beauty of Catholicism. If we are not listened, if many bark at us, it is probably due to our own lack of determination to present this in a clear, convincing, powerful, and attractive light.

Furthermore, we are told that young people are leaving the church because of our moral laws. What I see is that when young people are taught the beauty of who Christ is and who they are—being made to become christlike, none objects to the church’s moral laws. This works in the domain of game playing. If a coach wants to teach a child how to play soccer, he/she instinctively knows that it is unwise and imprudent to start with the rules. Rather, he gets on the field and starts a soccer game. Through gestures, kicking, shooting, running, dribbling, tackling, he gets a feel for the beauty of the game. As he is falling in love with it, the coach starts teaching him about offside, throw-ins, direct and indirect free kicks etc. When the rules are presented after experiencing the beauty of the game, the child doesn’t bark at them. Why? Because he comes to understand that they are all part of the beauty of playing soccer.

ffffSimilarly, only poor strategies on our part can result in young people leaving the church. Otherwise, they want what we have. They want truth; we have it. They have questions; we have the answers, not easy, cheap, false, and empty answers. They want to welcome the strangers, serve the poor, stand up for the marginalized. That’s what we do. They want a true foundation whose roots transcend human power. They want a place where they feel understood, listened to, accepted, loved, cherished, and valued. That’s what the church is about. When they understand this, how can they ever leave?

 

Reflections on the Feast of St. Stephen

We are told from the first reading  (Acts 6: 8-10; 7: 54-59)) recounting the martyrdom of St. Stephen— the first martyr of the church, a zealous man for the gospel, a man of service, a deacon, a dedicated Christian– that he was filled with the Holy Spirit.

UnknownBeing filled with the Holy Spirit is actually a very common theme in scripture. Peter also was filled with the Holy Spirit. The apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Those who are baptized and confirmed had been filled with the Holy Spirit at their baptism and confirmation. The moment the minister of baptism says, “I baptize you in the name of the father and of the Holy Spirit”, and the moment the bishop laid his hands over the confirmed and anointed him/her with the Chrism oil, the person becomes filled with the Holy Spirit.

Here’s something we all need to realize: no one is filled with the Holy Spirit for his benefit alone. The first time Stephen was filled, he served and preached the gospel with deep eloquence and clarity. The second time we are told he was filled, no one could resist his logic or argumentation. He bore witness to the faith in the most privileged way, martyrdom. Peter was filled, he converted 3 thousands at once. Mary was filled/ overshadowed, she became pregnant while remaining a virgin. Elizabeth was filled, she recognized the “mother of her Lord” and gives us a good part of the Hail Mary we recite to this day “blessed are you among women….” Clearly, being filled with the Holy Spirit always leads to something extraordinary and bore expedient fruit for many.

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So, why do you think you were filled at your baptism and confirmation? Answer: to bear witness to the faith, to glorify God. As St. Iranaeus says: the glory of God is a human being fully alive in Christ. Jesus says: “I’ve come to give you life and give it to you abundantly”.

You received the Holy Spirit so that you may be another Stephen. Probably not by being stoned to death (we are not that blessed yet), but so that you may live your faith authentically despite peer pressure, forgive when you’re insulted, pray for those who hate or persecute you, hold back a reply, prioritize God’s ways over your ways, maintain faith despite doubts, hope against hope, love even you see no reason to.

Doing these consistently is dying for your faith. Doing these will get you to the final goal and how sweet will it be when you hear “well done good and faithful servant.” I know you want that. So make good use of the gift of the Holy Spirit ingrained in your soul.

Have a merry and Blessed Christmas!

Where Tech Falls Short!

Anyone who takes some times to look can see the evidential crises facing our world today. On a broad perspective, it is clear that the search for meaning is becoming more and more difficult; many are locked within the confines of their own ego with no reference to the transcendent; relevance is preferred to truth; the most recent opinions is valued over critical evaluation; many don’t take the time to answer the deepest questions of life anymore. In the meantime, scientism—the reduction of all forms of knowledge to only the scientific form of knowledge– is attempting to relegate religious, theological, ethical truths, and aesthetic knowledge to the corner of fantasy; it claims that technological progress has the answer to every aspects of the human life; scientism asserts that it is just a matter of time before it provides the answer to everything.

Teens-and-TechnologyConsequently, many, even those sincerely following Christ, doubt the relevance of God in their day-to-day activities. At the same time, what St. John Paul II described as “a veritable structure of sin” is becoming the “new normal”.

In this period of history, three young priests– burned with the fire of love, joyful, eager, hungry to share the faith, zealous for God– make themselves available to answer any questions people might have about Jesus, the Bible, the Church, life, love, human interests, etc. Yet almost no one seems to have questions. This is puzzling to me!

That means no one really has questions about the best spiritual books to read, discernment, the best way to pray, how to grow in holiness in the midst of a cacophonous and tempting world, and the sacraments. No young adults have questions about the hot topics such as sexual ethics, religious freedom, the devil, parish evangelization, environment, doctrine, and scandal in the church. Can it be true that all the readers of the RI Catholic are so well formed in the faith that they have no need to deepen their faith? Rather is everyone just indifferent about religious questions?17-1-735x400

While I am no fan of social research, there is much food for thought in Jean Twenge’s book, iGen: The 10 Trends Shaping Today’s Young People and the Nation. She found that the generation born between 1995 and 2012 is disconnected from everything that constituted the lodestar of previous generations. The main reason for this is their acute preoccupation with individual choice and themselves; they have been taught from the cradle by practically every songs, videos, and movies, talk shows etc. to believe in themselves and follow their own dreams. They are offered a dizzying array of choices in everything from food and clothes to gadgets and lifestyles. Consequently, she concludes, they cannot see why God, religious, and faith are relevant. yet, only God can answer life’s most deepest questions.

shutterstock_98100608Now, the Church seems to be suffering the consequences. If her research is wrong, our readers need to prove that. Ask us questions! It doesn’t take that long to ask a good question. I don’t claim we have all the answers, but we can discuss, clarify, and pray and grow together in this journey of faith.

When we agreed to do this, I seriously thought we would be so bombarded with questions that we would not have had time to answer all the questions. Au contraire! As my guide and mentor friend Therese of Lisieux would say, “O happy failure!”

The Christian life is so deep, there’s no way we can exhaust and clarify all there’s to say about it. After years of explaining the faith to communities he established, the great St. Paul exclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Rom. 11:33). So, it cannot be true that we have nothing to say about this depthless ocean.