3rd S. 2021: Repent and Believe

Today’s homily is for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 24, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here.

In the first reading we heard about Jonah the prophet. As you probably remember, Jonah was the reluctant prophet of God that was thrown into the sea and swallowed by a whale before being spit up on the shores of Nineveh to announce God’s warning to repent. It reminds me of a small boy named Michael. He was in second grade and just as cute as could be. His teacher had all the children sit at her feet for story time and began to teach them a lesson about whales. Just as soon as he heard it, Michael’s hand shot up in the air, waving wildly. The teacher called on him and with spirit and great confidence he blurted out, “Jonah was eaten by a whale!” The teacher calmly said, “No, Michael, although whales are very big, their throats are actually very small and act more like a filter for smaller fish. It is impossible for a person to go through.” Undeterred, Michael proclaimed, “Well, Jonah did! It’s in the Bible and it’s true!” The teacher became very stern and said, “Michael, I don’t care if it’s in the Bible or not, Jonah did not get eaten by a whale because it’s physically impossible! Now that’s enough!”  With tears building up in his eyes, Michael said, “Well, when I get to heaven I’m going to ask him.” The teacher smugly replied, “Well, Michael, maybe he’s not in heaven. Maybe he’s in hell.” To which he said, “Well, then you can ask him.” 

Of course, the story of Jonah and the whale, a children’s favorite, is not about the scientific anatomy of whales at all. The biblical author was not writing a scientific treatise on whales, they were teaching us about our reluctance to follow God, the good that can be done in a whole nation when we do follow God, and the truth that God is pleased when we acknowledge our sins, repent and return to Him. Do it now, St. Paul tells us, time is running out. The world in its present form is passing away. 

Jesus begins his public ministry taking up the words of John the Baptist who was imprisoned for his witness to truth. Jesus proclaimed the gospel of God, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Jesus says, “Now is the time.” In our Lord was fulfilled all of the promises of God throughout salvation history. The birth of God in the fullness of time sent shock waves around the whole of creation! In the Incarnation event The kingdom of God was realized on earth as it is heaven. What is the Kingdom of God? Jesus uses a lot of stories to tell us what’s it’s like: like a net that catches fish of all kinds, like a king that holds a banquet and invites all people, like a mustard seed planted in the ground that grows and provides shade and rest, like a boy who spurned his father’s love but recognized how far he’d wandered, but came to his senses and returned to his father’s love through repentance and confession.

When I asked my students to tell me what the Kingdom of God is, one boy raised his hand and said, “Well, Mr. Valgos, the Kingdom of God is everywhere that God is king.” Isn’t that beautiful? I’ll never forget that student. The kingdom of God, is everywhere, every place, that life and love, and goodness and truth touch our human experience and reign supreme. Do you believe it? Jesus said that the Kingdom was right here, in our midst; at hand. Believe it!

The kingdom of God is a good morning hug and kiss. It’s a longer than usual hug that warms our heart. It’s kindness and joy. It’s welcoming others and making them to feel like the most important person in the room. The kingdom is my Tia rushing around her simple house to get biscuits and cha when she had visitors. The Kingdom of God isn’t some impersonal thing out there somewhere. Jesus said it’s right here. If only we would believe it and make it so.

Jesus sends out his disciples and says go out into the towns and villages, cure the sick, heal the lame and when you do, tell them, “The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.” (Lk 10:9) That’s very personal, isn’t it? Jesus wanted his disciples to know that they have the power to transform the whole world, one act of kindness at a time. Make the kingdom of God really present today. Believe in that Good news. Share that good news…but first, repent. That’s the proper order. The kingdom is at hand. Repent and believe in the good news. 

Repentance is first. Without repentance there is no transformation–there is no change. Repentance is what saved the Ninevites! That’s the message of Jonah and the whale! It’s about changing one’s ways! It’s about seeing how far we have grown apart from God–from life and love. It’s about coming to the sad awareness that we have failed to be truthful, we have been hurtful, selfish, self-centered, angry, bitter, divisive. It’s about waking up and looking in the mirror and finally admitting how far we’ve fallen, how ungodly our life has become, and making a commitment to change our ways. It’s about confessing and returning to the Father’s love. 

Jonah gave the Ninevites 40 days. They heard the call. They repented in sackcloth and ashes and were saved. Their country was saved. Will we hear Jesus’ call? Will we repent? Will we and our country return to making God the King of our life, our family, our workplaces, our streets? The kingdom starts when we believe it. It starts with us when we believe and repent. Only then can we share it with others. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in this good news!

Walk for Life 2021: Known By Name

Today’s homily is for the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children, January 22, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be watched by clicking here.

Thank you all for being here today to show your support for children, and mothers, and fathers, and families. Tragically, on January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued a 7–2 decision in favor of Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe”) that held that women in the U.S. have a fundamental right to choose whether or not to have abortions without excessive government restriction.

In one of its final acts before the swearing in of our newest president, the Trump White House issued a proclamation Monday declaring Friday as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. And though the date has varied from Jan. 22 to the Sunday closest to the Roe v. Wade anniversary, the declaration of a National Sanctity of Human Life Day has been a tradition of Republican presidents since Ronald Reagan.

Today’s Gospel shows Jesus ascending the mountain and calling those whom he had chosen, by name. Every one of the Gospels lists “The Twelve” by name. The early church community knew these men and the Sacred authors etched their name in the Stone of God’s word so that they might never be forgotten, and we heard their names read aloud today. They are remembered on earth and rejoice in heaven.

Tragically, there are times in this life when people go to their death unnamed, unremembered. In situations of slavery, human trafficking, in war, and in the murder of unborn children. When I taught 8th grade at St. Stanislaus Catholic school, in Modesto, we took a trip to Washington D.C., as many 8th grade classes do. While I was impressed with many of the monuments and historical places, I was most impressed with the tomb of the unknown soldier. Twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year, in rain or shine, a soldier stands guard and walks his post in Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb holds the remains of unidentified soldiers since the war of 1812, and every war since. During the Civil War nearly half of the 620 thousand dead, union and confederate, were never identified. Never known. Never named. They just never came home, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier honors them all those since them who remain nameless and never came home.

But I want to tell you that the soldier is only unknown to us. God knows each by name. God calls each soul by name, in just the way Jesus called his disciples to follow him, Jesus also called each of these soldiers to follow him that they might have life eternal. And so it is with the unborn. We do not know their name, but God does. As we know, from the very moment of conception, a unique soul is created by God, a soul that knows, loves, and serves Him. That soul is known to God by name. We mourn the loss of these souls for our sake on earth, and the tragic loss of their contribution to our country and our world, and the tragic violence with which they met their earthly end…and so we are here today stand vigil in remembrance of them, like soldiers at the Unknown Tomb. 

While we mourn, however, me are mindful of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 that reminds us “about those who have fallen asleep,” so that we  “may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” We know that “if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep,” soldiers, Christian soldiers, and even souls who never even had a chance to join the ranks of the Church militant. Our Lord bids them come home. Today we pray for souls, we pray for our country, and we pray that God’s light shines through this present darkness. We pray for an end to war, to violence, and to an end to the murder of innocents.

2nd S. 2021: Your Eli – Be Eli

Today’s reflection is for Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 17, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. Sadly, there was no recording of this homily. Happily, you can still read it below.

When we lived in Salinas, my sons, Luke and Mark were about two and four years old at the time. I always wanted my boys to see and recognize the Lord Jesus at the time of the elevation of the host. I would lift Mark up so that he could clearly see Father Jim Nizbet hold up the Eucharist and proclaim what we heard John the Baptist proclaim today, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Then and still, I want nothing more than for my sons, like John the Baptist’s disciples, to leave me and become Jesus’ followers for the whole of their life.

It isn’t easy though, to recognize Jesus. Sometimes there’s confusion! After whispering into Mark’s ear a number of times, “Look, there’s Jesus!” One time toward the end of Mass, the altar server grabbed the Missal and held it for Fr. Jim for the closing prayer. Mark leaned over and said, “Dad, why doesn’t Jesus just hold the book himself?” I said, “What?” He said, “You know, the Lord, why doesn’t he hold the book?” And then I got it. The whole time I was pointing to the Eucharist at the ellevation, Mark thought I was talking about Fr. Jim! Which is a whole other lesson!

Our first reading introduced us to young Samuel, who scholars say was about eleven years old when he was dedicated to service at the temple under Eli–the high priest. With Eli’s guidance, Samuel not only became the first great prophet, and last judge of Israel, he also inaugurated the monarchy and blessed first King Saul and then King David. Samuel is counted among the greatest of Israel’s judges, a prophet, and was a hero who rallied the spirit of his people in the midst of oppression, keeping alive their hope and faith. And it all started because Eli knew God, and helped young Samuel hear, know, and respond to God’s voice too. 

From Eli to Samuel, Elizabeth and Zechariah to John the Baptist, from John the Baptist himself to his own disciples, and from you and me, Fr. Manuel and Fr. Jim, there is no greater honor and contribution to the kingdom of God than to help another hear the voice of God, and choose to follow him.

Who was your Eli? Who was your John the Baptist? For me it was first my mom, and then Fr. Manuel, and now my Spiritual Director. Who was it for you? Maybe your Avo, your aunt or uncle, or confirmation sponsor. How did you come to know the name of Jesus, to hear the voice of God, and choose to follow him? Whoever it was, alive on earth or alive in heaven, say a prayer of thanks to him or her. If they are alive, write a note, or an email, or a text to just say thank you. After Mass, tell your spouse or your children or grandchildren how you came to know our Lord. 

Here’s the most important thing, if you know the Lord, and can give credit to another for knowing the name of Jesus and becoming his disciple, who are you lifting up in the pew, pointing to Jesus and saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God?” Can you say with the fullness of heart that you have made a single disciple for the Lord Jesus? If you’re a parent it must be your children. If you are a grandparent, it is your children and grandchildren. If a sponsor, your candidate. A priest, your congregation. 

St. John Vianney said, “When it’s God who is speaking…the proper way to behave is to imitate someone who has an irresistible curiosity and who listens at the keyholes. You must listen to everything God says at the keyhole of your heart.” It is you and I, Fr. Manuel and Sister Wanda, who teach others to listen attentively and to recognize when God speaks to our heart. Thank you mom and Fr. Manuel for helping me to hear God’s voice and to follow him to discipleship, ordination, and salvation. Thank you.