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?

 

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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.

Thought of A Youth Group

Dear parents and grandparents,
On November 12, St. Augustine’s will launch a youth ministry program called “Young Disciples”. I am writing you today to ask for your help. It cannot be done without you. I am counting on you to please encourage any youth between 14-19 to become part of this. While you (parents) are the first and best teachers of the faith to your children, I know you can use extra help.
Why should your children be part of this? Youth, as you know, is not just a certain numbers of years; it is a time given by Providence to grow in responsibility. During this time, every youth searches– like the young man in the gospel (Mark 10, 17-31)– for answers to basic questions—why am I here? What to do to become a well-rounded individual? What is the key to a happy, successful life? How do I overcome my fears, doubts, and concerns etc? Youth is when they want to experience God’s existence. It is when they not only search for the meaning of life, but also for concrete ways to go about living it. They want to know why there is evil, or why people do bad things, or why food, video games, time with friends, TV shows don’t satisfy their deepest longings. This group will empower them to answer these questions.
images-1Asking these questions means they are looking for something deeper. It means they don’t want to settle for superficiality. They want challenges and adventures, ways to reach greatness, a better option, empowerment, guidance and mentoring etc. They want something that can prepare them for the future. They want truth, the real thing. As Pope Francis puts it, “they don’t want to be young people who nod off, who are drowsy and dull; they don’t want to be young “couch potatoes”, but young people with shoes, or better, boots laced. They want to leave a mark their territory.” So, it is a crucial time in their lives. Let us together give them the best tool for the future- Jesus.

So my dear lovely parents and grandparents, encourage them to get to know the real Jesus. I know they want to be on the side of Jesus– the Lord of the eternal “more”. I know they want the Jesus who fills them with a good dose of courage to walk in new and uncharted paths, who opens up new horizons capable of spreading joy, love, faith, mercy, peace, friendship, and hope.Unknown

This is the Jesus that this group will try to offer. If you think your children or grandchildren can benefit from that, please do everything you could to get them to become part of this.
Thank you so much for taking interest in this.

In Christ,
yours truly!

Homily at the Portsmouth Abbey School

Twenty-sixth Sunday in OT C
AMos 6:1A, 4-7; Psalm. 146; 1 TiMothy 6:11-16; LuKe 16:19-31

Even if I just met you, even though I know nothing about you yet, even though I don’t know your history, your fears, doubts, and concerns, I know an undeniable fact about you—you want to be loved, you want trusting friendship, kindness, and happiness. You’re looking for gentle guidance, meaning and purpose to your life. you want to know why you are here, where you are going, what to do to be happy, what the meaning of all this is. You want real answers and honesty.

I know one person who can give you these. His name is Jesus Christ. He cared about you more than anyone else in your life. he has what you’re looking for, and is the answer to all your questions. And he is here tonight.

Here are 3 things he wants you to do to make sure that these deep yearnings are satisfied.
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The first one is found in the first reading. Don’t be complacent! “Woe to the complacent in Zion!”
Complacent refers to those who live in their little world and care about themselves and no one else— my video game, my phone, my friends, me me me. Nothing bothers them. Dishes? Not my problem. Mow the lawn? I don’t care. New students? I don’t care. Bullying? It’s not me. Need help with homework? I did mine. The complacent think everyone is here for them and they are here for no one. It’s always their way. Selfish! Don’t be like that.
Complacent people are rated very low in God’s radar. It’s about them the Lord says: they will be miserable. Ouch!!!

Find something you would die for and be committed to it. Each day is filled with unimaginable potential. Start looking now! In the meantime, love people. Don’t be weird. Be joyful. Go to confession often. Come to Mass even when you don’t have to. Read good books. Talk to grownups –. Look people in the eyes and respond clearly when they speak to you. Ask good questions and answer thoughtfully.
True meaning and lasting happiness are found only when you completely give yourselves to others as gift. We find ourselves truly only when we give ourselves completely. That’s the great paradox of the Christian life.

The second is found in the gospel. Don’t be indifferent! The rich man in the gospel is in Hell. He is there not because he was rich, dressed in purple garments, ate sumptuous food, owned a fine house, car, held powerful position, popular and good looking.
He was there because he did not care. He only lived for himself. As you walk thru campus/in class/ at home/ at recreation, there will be plenty of opportunities to care for someone in need. Help someone. Don’t ever go to bed without helping someone every single day. That’s what it means to be cool.

As pope Francis has reminded us at the WYD, “The times we live in do not call for young people to be ‘couch potatoes’, or to choose a sofa-happiness spending hours playing video games or in front of a computer screen”.
“Don’t opt for ‘early retirement’. Don’t ‘throw in the towel or act defeated’ before the game begins.
Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history, because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark”.

Do you want to leave a mark?

Then don’t be indifferent. Indifferent makes you blind, numb, and complacent.
Do what St. Paul suggests in the second reading. And that’s my last point. “Pursue justice, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness”.
Let me tell you— everybody loves a patient, gentle, respectful, hardworking, disciplined, prayerful, joyful, humble, friendly, and devoted person.
Everyone wants to befriend a charming, welcoming, grateful, appreciative, thoughtful, helpful person who is generous with their time, manner, words and smile.
Nobody wants to be around a grumpy, grumbling, moody, angry, dirty, impure, and difficult person.

Just look around you— who has the most friends? Is it not the most kind, gentle, helpful, prayerful, faithful, loving person? Yes or yes? Is it not the student who is hardworking, disciplined, smiles often, rarely gets angry who is most admired by both teacher and students? Yes or yes?
So if you want the best for yourself, love. Love deeply. Be charitable toward all. This is the road to sainthood.

You guys know St. Therese of Lisieux, right? When she was your age, she asked the same fundamental questions that you guys are asking: what to do to be happy, loved, friendly, faithful, accepted?
It dawned on her that it is not by being selfish, grumpy, careless, unfriendly, and difficult.

She realized it’s by loving others that she becomes loved, it’s by sitting with those are sad that’s she becomes happy; it’s by accepting others that she’s accepted; it’s by helping those in need that she finds true joy; it’s by asking thoughtful questions that she finds real answers. She did these and she became a saint.
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I know you guys want these; I can see it in your eyes; I can hear it in your voice. I can feel it in your behavior. Don’t be afraid to take the risk growing closer to Christ. By doing so, you might just become a saint. Amen

Letter to those Returning to School

As September looms around, I have to keep reminding myself that there is no going back to school for me this year; it is the very first time ever that I will not have to attend classes. I wish I could say I don’t miss it. I hope teaching two days a week at St. Augustine school in Providence brings as much joy as being a student did.

lllBe committed and disciplined. A new day is dawned in the life of a student when he recognizes that even if he doesn’t have the highest IQ, a photographic memory or special talented, he can still be seated among the best. With discipline and commitment, studying can be truly enjoyable. In fact, they are the master key that opens all doors. Mastering them makes one a virtuous learner. All right thinking individual urges the cultivation of virtue — “good habit of the mind, by which we live rightly, of which no one can make bad use, which God works in us….” (ST I-II, Q. 55, art 4). Aristotle urged striving for excellence. St. Paul exhorts us to think only about ”whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and praiseworthy” (Phil. 4:8). All the saints, all successful historical figures and all meaningful accomplishments have taken discipline and commitment. Choose a specific time to do your studies. Commit to it wholeheartedly. Practice makes perfect. Practice allows us to master a skill until it becomes second nature to us.

jjjLearn to fall in love with learning. Let me make this point through an example. Take Itzhak Perlman, a Jewish composer who won 15 Grammy and four Emmy awards. He is said to be a genius performer and a “god” of music. It is reported that he has practiced daily for nine hours. One day, he put on an extraordinary performance at a concert in Vienna; afterward people came to greet and congratulate him. One member of the audience who was wowed by his performance said to him: “I would give my entire life to be as great as you are.” Perlman responded: “I have.” He has given up everything to follow this one dream. Today, he is on top of the world. How did he get to be so great? He hungered to be good at it.

Do you think the Olympic champions we admire watching on TV get to be so great without being hungry for greatness? Do you think they practiced only when they felt like it? Do you think they ever take the minimalist attitude i.e. “what is the least I can do to be an Olympic champion?” Was it easy for them to wake up every morning, eat the right food, and go to bed at a certain time regularly? When they go out there, did their body always cooperate? Absolutely not! Yet, they keep the faith; they fight the good fight; they push themselves to the maximum of the ability; they invest their heart, mind, and soul to achieve what they believe in. A few years later, they amaze us with their skills and their arts. They are now famous. They won the prize. The prize of a successful school year is not prepared in the spring; it is prepared at the beginning of the school year.

It’s never too late to become hungry for knowledge. Get lost in your studies and you will find joy in them. Be passionate and you can be the next great composer of our future, the next great light of hope for the whole world to see. You are made for greatness so don’t aim low; be hungry for learning and continue to learn until you are satisfied.

Mary and the Priest

IMG_0941It is often said that behind every great man, there always is a great woman. This certainly has come true in Jesus and our Blessed Lady. Just like a mother is always crucial for the kind of person a child becomes, Mary is vital for the kind of priest a man becomes. As we continue to reflect on a “Year with Mary, our Mother” as a Diocese that Bishop Tobin, it is fitting to ask: what can she teach priests?

She teaches the newly ordained priest that trusting in God’s plan is rational. Mary clearly did not know the ins and outs of what she gave her fiat to, yet in hindsight, who would say she had made a mistake? She put her hands in God’s hands and simply let Him lead her. As a result of that choice, she is referred to today as the “highest honor of our race, the Mediatrix, and Co-Redemptoris of our salvation.” No small feats! In just the same way, if the newly ordained priest embraces his ministry with deep devotion, intense love, and unwavering trust, he has nothing to fear; God may accomplish unutterable feats through him. Deep down, everyone has a natural desire to accomplish something magnificent, and extraordinary with his life. Our Blessed Lady shows us that this is possible when we accept God’s plan and follow it intensely.

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Mary teaches the priest how to be a father to her children. We learn from her how to accompany, serve, know and love the children she already knows and loves. Just as biological fathers learn how best to treat their children from their wives, Mary teaches the priest how to minister to people as their spiritual father. It is beautiful to observe how Mary dealt with Jesus when she found Jesus in the temple; she did not scold him; rather she said: “Son, why have you treated us this way” (Luke 2:48)? Her gentleness, motherly kindness, patience, and tolerance toward Jesus must have been a teaching moment for Joseph. We men don’t handle things that way. So, in dealing with the foibles and scruples of daily ministry, her abiding presence, “feminine touch”, inner sweetness are necessary if we are to be as fatherly, caring, gentle, and uplifting as possible in every situation. She teaches us that unassuming authority, asking questions, attentive listening go a long way. It is no surprise that the best and most effective priests around have a deep devotion to her.

 

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She is the avatar of the beatitudes and a model for all priests striving to become “pastors of the Beatitudes”. As “the handmaid of the Lord”, she accepted to live only as God saw fit. The priest needs that in order to jettison every part of his ministry to God’s will. She stood beside Jesus not only in his hours of successes, but also in the hour of seeming defeat. The priest needs that grace to stand with all in festive moments as well as in trying times. As the immaculate virgin mother who kept her purity before, during, and after giving birth, the priest needs her burning charity in order not to waver in chastity. She embraced her vocation with clarity of purpose; the priest needs this model when the path of priestly ministry becomes steep. In Mary’s exemplary life, the priest finds everything he needs to be all for all. Oh! How I want her beside me in every person I meet, every soul I touch, every Mass I celebrate, and every homily I give!