“If you are yourself at peace, then there is at least some peace in the world.” – Fr. Thomas Merton

As Jesus drew near Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace– but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Lk 19:42).
What Jesus foretold in these words would arrive some thirty years after his death. Jewish and Roman conflicts increased until it spilled over in 66 AD. A Jewish rebellion amassed such force that the Roman occupying military was pushed out of Jerusalem. This triggered an overpowering response from Rome which would result in the horrific deaths of over a million Jewish people, Jerusalem fell in August of 70 AD, and the Temple was destroyed. The only remnant was some of the retaining walls, the western retaining wall, is still present today and often called the Wailing Wall.
Jesus knew that peace would not come from violence. We can glean from his teachings that peace is not just the absence of war, but a change of mind and heart. A metanoia or conversion, a change of mind must take place, for there must be peace within before than can be peace without. 
The words of Jesus from today’s Gospel ring just as true today: ”If this day you only knew what makes for peace– but now it is hidden from your eyes.” If Jesus walked across the northeast border of Israel into Syria, he would witness the horrific violence and devastation as far as the eye could see. Yet, is there anywhere he could walk and not experience violations of human dignity? I am sure he would weep as he approached the US border from the south and entered the detention centers or walked among the dead who lost their lives from our rampant epidemic of gun violence.
How about even a little bit closer to home? If Jesus were approaching the border of our mind and heart, how would he react? Would he smile or would he weep?
There are those who also wept and took the teachings of Jesus to heart and applied them in our present age. Mohandas K. Gandhi marshaled a non-violent movement that defeated the oppressive English Empire. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. applied both the teachings of Jesus and Gandhi shining a light that exposed the dark night of segregation and our military presence in Vietnam. Through the bold witness and preaching of the Gospel through his words, writings, and presence, Pope St. John Paul II played his part in inspiring the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union.
There are so many other people throughout our world history known and unknown that have worked for peace in our violent and weary world. As we near the end of the liturgical calendar and as we celebrate the memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us dedicate ourselves today to welcoming the love of Jesus to transform our hearts and minds such that each of our thoughts, words, and actions will promote that peace that Jesus gives, that peace that surpasses all understanding (cf Philippians 4:6-7).
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Fr. Thomas Merton with the Dalai Lama, 1968 – photo credit – CNS/Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University
Link for the Mass readings for Thursday, November 21, 2019

We will be good stewards of what God has given us when we pray, trust in him, and then act on his direction.

In today’s Gospel, we have available to us the parallel to The Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30, though the Parable of the Ten Gold Coins from Luke 19:11-28. There are some differences. A key opening point is that in Matthew’s account, we do not know why or where the master goes after entrusting three of his servants with talents; five, two, and one respectively. In Luke’s account the man is a noble and he “went off to a distant country to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return” (Lk 19:12). He called ten servants to invest a gold coin he gave each of them. The theme that is similar in both accounts is that when the man returns, two of the servants invested well and brought about a greater return on their investment, and one hid what he was given out of fear of his lord.
Another added feature in Luke’s account was the fellow citizens of the nobleman that did not want him to be king and openly opposed him. The nobleman after attaining his kingship and returning successfully, dealt harshly, to say the least, with those who opposed him, having them slain. Those listening to Jesus tell the parable would understand this outcome, as it was not uncommon in the ancient Near East for a ruler to slay those who would oppose his rise.
The readings over this week continue in this vein of eschatological talk, references to the second coming of Jesus, and final judgement, because we are in the final two weeks of the liturgical year. The readings present us with the reality that there will be a judgment by God, but what Jesus makes clear is that we are not the judge and jury, though many appropriate this role for themselves. We are only accountable to the talent or gold coin we have been entrusted with.
There is a unique gift that God has given each of us, and we are called by him to put this gift into action so as to be a part of building up the kingdom of God. We need to resist burying this gift or wrapping it in a handkerchief and hiding it away. Doubts, fears, and anxieties will arise in our hearts and minds. We may say to ourselves, “I don’t even know where to begin.” One place to begin is to pray with the one who calls us to this work of encounter, solidarity, and accompaniment.
How we respond will be different for each one of us. Our starting point though will be the same. We are to trust in God for his guidance regarding how best we can serve him and open ourselves to the love of the Holy Spirit such that in the words of Pope Francis we may: “Have the courage to go against the tide of this culture of efficiency, this culture of waste. Encountering and welcoming everyone, [building] solidarity – a word that is being hidden by this culture, as if it were a bad word – solidarity and fraternity: these are what make our society truly human” (Pope Francis 2014, 61).
We are to share the love that God gives us with one another, but we are not mere social workers. We are to be contemplatives in action. We begin each day in prayer, receiving the Eucharist whenever and as often as possible, and ask God for his guidance regarding how he would have us put into action the gift of his love that he has given us. In this way, Jesus is the source of our strength. He will sustain, guide and give us the strength to accomplish the task before us.
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Photo: An icon of prayer for discernment in solidarity and fraternity
Francis, Pope. The Church of Mercy: A Vision For the Church. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2014.
Link for the Mass readings for Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Say no to our fear and grumbling and yes to opening our arms wide to allow Jesus to love others through us.

Yet again, as in the Gospel from yesterday, the crowd gets in the way of someone seeking access to Jesus. The wall of people does not appear to be overtly keeping Zacchaeus from seeing Jesus, as they may be so focused on seeing him themselves that they are not aware. There is also the possibility that the people were aware of him. They knew Zacchaeus, and many judged him to be the sinner of sinners. He was the chief tax collector of the area, and that meant he was most likely reviled by most in his community. Each time Zacchaeus nudged by to get through a gap to get a better look, the individuals may have time and again closed each gap such that he could not get through.
Zacchaeus was not thwarted. He climbed a sycamore tree. From his perch he was not only able to see Jesus, Jesus saw him and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house” (Lk 19:5). Jesus did not see a tax collector or a sinner, he saw a seeker. One who was also willing to humble himself by climbing a tree, much like a child.
Jesus does not see the 99% nor the 1%. Jesus sees people who are in need of compassion and mercy. Jesus did not meet Zacchaeus with judgment, but with love and acceptance, and that made all the difference for conversion. 
Jesus acknowledged the one who so many despised, and by inviting himself to dine with Zacchaeus in his own home, Zacchaeus must have felt overwhelmed with emotion. Maybe for the first time in his life he felt like a person with dignity, and he repented on the spot as a response to the love he had received, with the words: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over” (LK 19:8).
The encounter of Jesus and Zacchaeus offers us an inspiring model to start seeing each other as human beings. One way to do so is to resist the temptation to “grumble”, to gossip, to pre-judge, and/or to dehumanize one another. Jesus invites us instead to see beyond the exterior and to be willing to go deeper to the heart and character of the person. To do that, we need to be willing to encounter one another, to walk with one another, to accompany, and spend time with one another.
When we do so, we will move from being people who seek to define and limit ourselves by our identity, and instead open ourselves up to be people of integrity. This means resisting the temptation of building walls that protect ourselves from others and instead build bridges of dialogue so as to embrace the wonderful gift of our God-given diversity. 
Integrity means that we will be more present and aware, we will stand with and stand up for someone who is ignored, belittled, dehumanized, harassed, discriminated against, ridiculed, abused, objectified, persecuted, segregated, and prevented access no matter their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, income level, class, political party, religion or none.
Life is hard enough, so let’s stop grumbling and start healing, let’s stop preventing access and start opening up opportunities, and let’s stop closing ourselves off and begin to open our arms wide to embrace and accompany one another as we allow Jesus to love others through us. Not only will they be loved and healed, but so will we in the process.
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Photo by Belle Co from Pexels.com
Link for the Mass readings for Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Jesus, please give us the eyes to see and a heart moved by compassion to draw close to those in need.

He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” The people walking in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent, but he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me” (Lk 18:38-39)!
The difference between the blind man who shouted to Jesus and the people walking in front of Jesus was that the man knew he was blind. Those preventing access to Jesus were not aware of their spiritual blindness. Luke does not say why the people were preventing access to Jesus, just as Jesus in his parable of the Good Samaritan did not say why the priest or the Levite did not help the man dying on the road to Jericho.
Why would the people prevent the man from having access to Jesus, especially since he was asking for pity or mercy? One practical reason could be time. They were on the way to Jericho, their mind was set to get there, and stay on the schedule they would. Another could be that the man was a beggar. He was not seen to have dignity and worth, so they attempted to quiet him so he could go back to being invisible. The Jericho road was a dangerous road, maybe this was just a setup, a way to lure Jesus into an ambush.
Ultimately, we do not know why the people in today’s Gospel account prevented the man access to Jesus. The more important question is why do we prevent others from accessing Jesus? Is it that: we do not have the time, we consider them other, not worthy, we may not see their dignity and worth as human beings, and/or we are afraid because we buy into the myriad of mind noises that paralyze us from reaching out? And so we keep others at arm’s length. Could it simply be that we are just indifferent to the suffering of others?
Jesus would not be turned away. He stopped and had the blind man brought to him. He made the time, saw him as a fellow brother with dignity and worth, and healed him. Pope Francis said that “[Jesus] understands human sufferings, he has shown the face of God’s mercy, and he has bent down to heal body and soul. This is Jesus. This is his heart” (Francis 2014, opening page).
We are to have the same heart and response as well. We are to resist the temptations of indifference, fear, and pride that may well up inside of us and instead be willing to come close. Even if we do not understand the suffering of another, Jesus does. We just need to stop, to be present, to enter the chaos of another, and trust that Jesus will be present through us to provide his grace and mercy. 
Jesus, please heal our blindness so that we may see more clearly the dignity and worth of each person that we encounter and when they look back at us may they see the face of God’s mercy.
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Painting: Healing the Blind Man by Yongsu Kim
Pope Francis. The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2014.
Link for the Mass readings for Monday, November 18, 2019

“The Church of the Amazon carries in its heart the martyrdom of today.” 

“Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over…” (Lk 21:12).
The followers of Jesus have faced and continue to face persecution. There are estimates that there have been more Christian martyrs in the last century than in the whole history of the Church. Persecution was also true for the prophets before the time of Jesus. By entering Jerusalem, Jesus knew that his own persecution and death was imminent.
Why this animosity to those who spoke for God, Jesus, and his followers? The answer to that question is multifaceted, though one reason is that to live by the will of God is a challenge. When someone does commit their life to do so, they become a mirror to challenge others and that means dying to the false self of the ego.
The more entrenched our ego and the self-centered view is the greater the threat the Gospel is. The more we want to determine our own path and appropriate and rationalize for ourselves our own truth, to define our own morality, and determine who is with us or against us, the more we determine our life apart from the guidance of God, the more of a clash will ensue.
Living the Gospel in our daily lives often comforts the afflicted and afflicts the powerful. Many who promoted the recent Amazon synod of bishops, and those who work for the rights of indigenous peoples and environmental degradation in this region, know that in giving voice to the voiceless and standing up to large and powerful self-interests they are putting their life on the line each day. 
There have been over a thousand clergy, religious, leaders, and indigenous peoples killed over the last fifty years. Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said that “The Church of the Amazon carries in its heart the martyrdom of today.” 
Those who have given and those willing to give their lives in the Amazon are just one example of many who are and have lived out the Gospel each and every day at great cost. Another is St. Oscar Romero from El Salvador, the picture of his statue that I posted yesterday, who was shot while celebrating Mass. Yesterday was also the 30th anniversary of the assassination of six Jesuits, Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Juan Ramón Moreno, Amando López, Segundo Montes, Joaquín López y Lópezalong with their housekeeper Elba Julia Ramos her daughter Celina Ramos.
How is God is calling us to speak out and stand up for the dignity of those people in our communities and his creation? May the martyrs give us the courage to hear the voice of Jesus, bear witness to the Gospel, and act on his lead, for:  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5:10).
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Photo: Sr. Dorothy Stang, living in Para, Brazil, who was murdered on February 12, 2005, most likely for speaking out against illegal logging. Sr. Dorothy, pray for us!
Link for the Mass readings for Sunday, November 17, 2019

Prayer is not a waste of time but a gift revealed to those who persistently pray.

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary (Lk 18:1).
Persistence in prayer is not changing God. We are not wearing him down like the woman did with the judge. God does not need us. God is completely and totally self-sufficient. We are the ones who need him. Our persistence, our daily habit of prayer, changes us, helps us to develop our relationship by interacting with him more consistently. Things happening in our lives help us to see that we are fragile and vulnerable and in need of help. Our persistence in prayer, especially when we are in need, helps us to become more patient and to become more aware that, sometimes, what we believe is a crisis is not that much of one when some time passes. Also, when we are dealing with a crisis or very real trauma, our persistence and faithfulness in prayer will help us to experience the closeness of Jesus in our midst as he accompanies us through our suffering.
In fact, the practice of stopping everything and praying for five minutes when a crisis arises, often helps us to resist slipping into a fight or flight mode, helps us to resist reacting, and consciously breathing while praying helps us to act more prudently than impulsively. We may also come to see that what we thought was a crisis, was more of a problem to be solved rather than something catastrophic. Our instant reactions to perceived crises can often escalate an issue rather than de-escalate one.
In the greater scheme of things, God does answer all prayers of petition or intercession by saying yes, no, or not yet! Most seem to fall in the not yet or not the way we originally intended category. Remaining patient and faithful can help us to move away from seeking to conform God to our will and instead allowing him to expand our hearts and minds to his will. By being expanded, we can come to see the situation from a broader perspective. Our persistence in prayer also helps us to move away from seeking instant gratification to trusting more in God’s will and timing. Sometimes we become grateful for what appears to be unanswered prayers because with time, hindsight, and some distance, we find our original request was more an apparent than actual good.
Persistence in prayer is also a discipline that deepens the roots of our relationship with God. Ready access through our modern technology, higher internet speeds, one-click access, and overnight shipping, can offer plusses, but we have to be careful that this mindset does not shape our mental, psychological, and spiritual growth. Physical fitness, wisdom, or spiritual maturity does not happen in an instant. More importantly, development as human beings and our relationships take time, experience, discipline, prayer, and trust in God’s plan.
Patience, persistence in prayer, freeing ourselves from attachment, developing an authentic relationship with God and one another are all worth the effort. We need to take some time to breathe deeply, slow down our pace, discipline ourselves to resist even small acts of instant gratification each day. No matter how busy we are, we need to slow down, and the busier we are the more we need to slow down. Even if we stop to pray and feel like nothing has happened and it was a waste of time, something has happened. But to see the effects we must be persistent. God has our back, we can trust in that.
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Photo: I stopped to pray yesterday at the Monsignor Oscar Romero Memorial Plaza, Los Angeles, on my walk coming from meditating at the Zen Center of Los Angeles and before continuing on to the noon Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
Link for the Mass readings for Saturday, November 16, 2019

The kingdom of God is to be our daily practice and final destination.

In today’s Gospel account, Jesus continues to answer the Pharisees’ question about “when the kingdom of God would come” (Lk 17:20). Jesus reminds them about how during the time of Noah and during the time of Lot many were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, buying, selling, planting, building (cf. Lk 17:26-29). In effect, other than Noah and Lot, and those few listening to them, no one else had any clue about the impending calamity or wanted to know. They were so absorbed in their own pursuits and desires they did not heed the warnings of Noah and Lot.
Another focal point was on those who were attached to material and finite things. When the final hour came, people on the rooftop or in the field were directed not to go back and get their possessions. Jesus pointed out succinctly, “Remember the wife of Lot” (Lk 17:32). Lot left Sodom with his wife, she did so physically, though she could not resist looking back, she was too tied to what she was leaving behind, and so she lost herself to her attachments.
Spending time speculating when the end will come is a pointless pursuit. What is important is to be aware of the kingdom of God in our midst, developing a relationship with God now. Matthew shared in his gospel account that Jesus stated only the Father knows the time or the hour as to when the end will come (cf. Mt 24:36). If we are only going to prepare at the final hour, we may be too late.
Asking, “When will the kingdom of God come?” also misses the point of what Jesus is teaching us. There is an intrinsic value in developing a relationship with God and one another, now, growing and maturing as a disciple, now, instead of fulfilling our own self-centered-interests. Jesus shared this truth in the first words of his public ministry, that the kingdom of God is at hand (cf. Mk 1:15). All we need to do is reach right out and grasp his extended hand of invitation and walk with him.
For the Pharisees, this meant letting go of their own power and prestige and participating instead in the living reality of God in their midst. So many of us are caught up in the day to day affairs of existing that we are barely living. We can be so distracted by false lures and attractions of security and gratification, wealth, power, pleasure, and honor, that we miss what is for our highest hope and good. Jesus is inviting us to wake up, to breathe deep, to slow down, and to be aware that he walks among us. Jesus calls us, as Lot called his wife, to keep our focus on God and the things of heaven.
Lord Jesus, help us to recognize when we are caught up in distractions and diversions, when we are choosing to put our self first, and where we are attached and bound up to empty pursuits. Guide us, such that we, in the words of Pope Francis, “understand what faith means when we open ourselves to the immense love of God that changes us inwardly and enables us to see our lives with new eyes” (Costello 2013, 12). Eyes that see the kingdom of God in our midst and the promise of which is our eternal home.
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Photo: JoAnn, Jack, and Christy hiking ahead of me during our California visit in December 2015. Little did any of us know then that we would be back in 2019 for JoAnn’s walk with Jesus going ahead of us into the Kingdom of God.
Costello, Gwen. Walking With Pope Francis: Thirty Days with the Encyclical The Light of Faith. New London, CT: Twenty Third Publications, 2013.
Link for the Mass readings for Friday, November 15, 2019