6th S. of Easter: Proclaim Christ

love. period.Today’s reflection is for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. It was offered as a reflection after the 6pm vigil Mass at O.L.A., in Turlock.

Last week we saw that God called seven reputable men, filled with wisdom and the Spirit, to serve him and his people. Today we see one of those Deacons, Philip, proclaiming Christ to the people of Samaria. And the result of his love is baptism, Confirmation, and great joy; all because Philip obeyed both The Great Commission and the Great Commandment. And they are intimately connected.

I’d like to see a show of hands for this next question: Do you love Jesus? If you love Jesus, just raise your hand right up. It’s safe, I can’t see you. We’re live-streaming, you know. Go on, raise your hand if you love Jesus. In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” We love him…do we keep his commandments? Do we even know what his commandments are?

The Great Commandment is found in all four Gospels. In MT, MK and LK Jesus says to love God and love your neighbor. In John 13:34, which came just before today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” That’s it. Easy peasy. Jesus makes it super simple for us—love. Period. That is it. (song) They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love. 

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say our Rosary is how all will know that we are his. Nor does he say that our Holy Family prayer card will do it. Not our Catechism, our books, our bumper stickers, our medallions, Bibles, bracelets, necklaces, or even our “I love Jesus” tattoo. The defining characteristic of a disciple of Jesus Christ is whether or not we love others—especially those most in need. That’s it. I once heard asked, “If you were put on trial today for being a Christian, would they find enough evidence to convict you.”

What does love look like in our world? Is it puppies and pancakes, butterflies, unicorns, and rainbows? Well…maybe… “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1COR13) If you want a beautiful meditation on this verse insert your name wherever the word, “Love,” appears. “Stephen is patient. Stephen is kind. Stephen is not quick-tempered…” Stephen has a lot of work to do. I’m not loving Jesus, am I? I’m not obeying his commandments. “If you love me,” the Lord said, “you will keep my commandments.”

You know, Philip loved greatly, didn’t he? St. Pope John Paul II said, “Love wills the good of another.” Love desires what is good, not for oneself, but for others. This is very un-American these days, I’m afraid. Nowadays we hear, “You deserve it!” “Look out for #1.” “You gotta do you!” But that’s not at all what Jesus did or taught. He did exactly the opposite! He took on human suffering. He took on human sin. He fed, healed, cared for, and gave up his own life so others might live! We cannot both claim to love and follow him, and at the same time not sacrifice our comfort, our pleasure, and our security, for others. When we love others enough to sacrifice our life—only then are we are completely his.

That, my brothers and sisters, is what it means to fulfill the Great Commission that Philip was all about in today’s first reading. The last thing Jesus told his disciples was, “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” (MT 28) That is proclaiming Christ. And that is exactly what Philip was doing in Samaria. By what he said and by what he did, Philip proclaimed Christ. “The crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip and saw the signs he was doing.” St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” By word and deed, we love.

Following The Great Commission and the Great Commandment is not only the work of Nuns, Priests, and Deacons, it is the work of everyone who calls Jesus Lord. It is your job. It is mine. From the youngest to the oldest, the democrat, the republican, the immigrant, the richest and the poorest; all of us are not only called, but also capable of love, and nothing less is required.

And that, finally, is the value of rosaries, and prayer cards, and statues, and bibles, and catechisms, and tattoos—they are instructors and reminders. They teach us how to love in this situation or that, and they remind us to love when we desire to love the least. But I promise you this, if we learn to love, are reminded to love, and by doing so proclaim Christ, we will shine like the sun. Others will draw near to his light in us, be baptized in His name, receive the Holy Spirit, and there will be joy in their heart, in that city, and in our world. Love. Period. I’ll be praying for you, please do the same for me.

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

5th S. of Easter: Called to Serve

7 DeaconsToday’s reflection is for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Last week we learned that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls us each by name, to serve him and the world in a particular way as a single person, a married person, as a Consecrated Religious, or to Holy Orders. This calling is our vocation, from the Latin vocare. Today we are introduced to my patron saint, Saint Stephen, and six others known collectively in Greek as “the diaconoi,” or as we call them today in English, Deacons.

On the second Sunday of Easter, just a few weeks ago, we saw a beautiful image of the Church. We heard, “All who believed would sell their possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s needs.” (Acts 2:44-45). Here we are just three weeks later and there are already issues in the Church! The Church is growing by the thousands and there seems to be some complaining about how the Church’s resources are being distributed. The “Hellenists” or the Greek-speaking Jews, were upset because the Hebrew widows were getting more food than they were! From the very beginning, there were struggles in the Church—and it has always been so, right through to today.

The Church in every generation is called to grow in holiness, as individuals and as a body. There is always room for improvement as we journey through this desert. The Church’s struggles today are different from its struggles then, but the answer is still the same—God calls his faithful to serve and to meet the needs of its people. The fact that we are live streaming this Mass is one example of how the faithful’s needs are being met. I just saw in the Modesto Bee, that in response to social distancing many parishes in the diocese are doing drive up confession and even adoration! I love it! The Church meeting the needs of its people. It always has and it always will. Of this I am confident.

In 1965 at the Second Vatican Council, to meet its peoples’ needs, the Catholic Church re-instituted the Sacred Order that we heard about today, the Permanent Diaconate. The Apostles in today’s readings respond to a need in the church and call forth the Order of Deacons. They called for “seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom” from among the disciples and “laid hands on them” to ordain them to ministry. For a short history of the Diaconate, click here.

Many saints of the Church were deacons, my Patron Saint, Stephen, the first Martyr of the Church, also St. Francis of Assisi, St. Philip, who if you recall in Acts chapter 8 baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch and then preached the good news all the way to Caesarea. Permanent deacons faded away in the church for centuries before Vatican II brought them back. Of course, all priests are deacons, though not permanent. They are ordained transitional deacons as they journey toward priestly ordination.

My brothers and sisters, God is still calling reputable men filled with the Spirit and wisdom to serve his people. The permanent diaconate is a beautify ministry, where men of God, who are called first to the vocation of Holy Matrimony to serve their wife and the world, are duly called to Holy Orders to serve the Bishop and the people of God. The United States is seeing an explosion of men called by God to serve his people. Upwards of 15,000 are already serving in the U.S., and God willing, the Diocese of Stockton will have seven more come September, myself among them.

The word “diakonoi” literally means, “those who serve.” The Church needs holy men today more than ever. She needs young prayerful, holy men willing to serve as altar servers, and readers, and ministers of communion. She needs men of character, strength and prayer to serve as priests. And she needs reputable men filled with the Spirit and wisdom; men of substance, and strength, with a heart for God and for their family; for their bishop, and for their church community. The church needs moral men, good men, holy men, who are courageous enough to stand up and serve.

From the Diocesan of Stockton website, “The Deacon stands in the midst of the Church as Christ, the servant of all. By this unique expression of holy orders, Christ calls some men, and the Church ordains deacons to be consecrated expressions of service and, in a particular way, to assist bishops and priests to carry out their own unique ministerial priesthood. While deacons are not called to priesthood, they are ordained to a ministry of service that enriches the Church.”

The Marines aren’t the only ones looking for a few good men, our Diocese is too. If you are a man of God, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit, I want to encourage you to look into the permanent diaconate by contacting your diocesan office. If you are in the Diocese of Stockton,  click here to learn more. Ask for Sister Wanda, and tell her Stephen sent you! God bless you.

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

4th S. of Easter: What’s In A Moo?


Today’s reflection is for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2020, and the readings for today can be found by clicking here.

Last week we learned that through the Scriptures our heart burns within us, and in the Eucharist our hunger is satisfied—in both we encounter Jesus Christ, who today, is revealed as the Good Shepherd, who calls us by name. We hear his voice and are called to follow him.

I grew up on a dairy with my avo, on S. Mitchell road, but on Linwood, my avo had 40 acres with first-calf heifers. Each day my avo would drive the big, rusty silage truck up Mitchell to Linwood to feed his cows silage. He would roll the window down and make a “cow call” sound by pursing his lips together and then mooing like a cow. I remember with great joy and astonishment, how the cows would hear his voice, look up, and come running across the 40 acres! It was crazy. They would leap and kick and run to the manger to be fed. He gave them everything they needed.

I think that’s what Jesus was talking about in today’s Gospel when he says that he is the Good Shepherd, his sheep hear his voice, they recognize his voice and they follow him. I think it’s really cool how Jesus just calls our name, provides for us–just like a good shepherd—and he walks out ahead of us, and we follow him…don’t we? Do we though?

The Catechism teaches that, “The seed and beginning of the Kingdom are the ‘little flock’ of those whom Jesus came to gather around him, the flock whose shepherd he is.” It says that we, “form Jesus’ true family,” and, “To those whom he gathered around him, he taught a new ‘way of acting.’” (764) What do you think that “new way of acting” looks like, and are we doing it?

Every time I listen to 102 FM, John Tesh is giving me all kinds of reasons to do certain things and to live a certain way for my health and well-being. He calls it “Intelligence for your life.” And I think that’s good. Sometimes he has some good advice. But John Tesh is not my shepherd, and neither is my next-door neighbor, or my coworker. Jesus is, and I’m afraid that many Catholics are quicker to listen to John Tesh, or Oprah, or Delilah, or this expert or that expert, and any other host of people encouraging a particular way of acting, instead of Jesus, our pastors, and bishops. It is Jesus, through his ministers, who teaches us this new way of acting. We need to be very careful, because the world’s agenda is not always that of the Good Shepherd, and it is he and he alone that we must follow.

It reminds me of a time I drove my avo’s truck over to Linwood. I was irrigating, and as I approached the field, I pulled over to the side of the road, rolled the window down, pursed my lips, and as best I could, I mooed exactly like my avo had done. The cows looked up, stared for a moment, and went back to what they were doing. I tried again and again, but they never budged. The truth is, I wasn’t their shepherd. They didn’t recognize my voice, the voice of a stranger. They heard and responded to but one voice, the voice of the shepherd, and so should we.

I never forgot that day, and every time I hear this reading I think with fondness of my Avo who loved his cows so much, and who cared for them—and they followed only him. Jesus is our Shepherd, and nothing and no one should ever take his place. Jesus tells us that his sheep will not listen to the voice of strangers, but I’m afraid too often I do. Jesus tells me to love others and I find lots of excuses not to. He tells me to love God, and I busy myself with things of the world. Jesus alone gives us instruction in his word, he feeds us in the Eucharist, and gives us life in abundance. I know I’ve got work to do. I need to hear his voice and follow him.

As the Psalmist says, he gives me rest, he refreshes my soul, he guides me in the right path, he’s always by my side. He anoints my head with oil; my cup overflows. Goodness and kindness follow me; there is nothing I shall want. Amen?

Eternal rest, grant unto Avo Ezekiel Ventura Pereira, and let your perpetual light shine upon him, may he rest in peace, Amen. May his soul, and all the souls of the faithfully departed in the mercy of God rest in peace, Amen.

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.