Redwoods, Oceans, and Big Skies: Homily for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Redwood Forest

Jedediah Smith State Park

If you drive to northern California through central Oregon,
you cross the state line on US 199,
also known as the Redwood Highway.
As you continue into California,
you reach a certain point where it feels like you’ve entered a fairytale.
It feels like your car has shrunk,
and now you’re driving a Hot Wheel,
because there are these massive, massive trees
stretching above you, over your head,
these ancient redwoods.
And if you get out of your car and walk around the groves of redwoods
you feel like you’re in God’s forest,
with these ancient, ancient trees towering above you
bigger than any trees you’ve ever seen.

It really does feel like God is there,
like God has somehow imprinted himself on the majesty of these trees.
The trees reveal just how great God is.

And if you get back in your and keep going on US 199
like Brenda and I did this summer with the girls
you eventually meet up with Highway 101.

And just a few miles down the road is the small town of Crescent City.

Crescent City, California

Crescent City, California

And if you get out of the car in Crescent City,
then you’re confronted with crashing of the Pacific Ocean
as it batters against the California coast.
You see the water as it stretches west seemingly forever.
And like the redwoods, the ocean bears the imprint of God:
in its majesty, in its power, it is an image of God.

We also drove to South Dakota this summer
to meet with my family at Mount Rushmore
and celebrate my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.
And just as when you drive through the redwood forest
and just as when you see the Pacific Ocean in Crescent City,
when you drive over the Rocky Mountains
no matter how many times you do it,
you’re struck by the majesty of the mountains
and that beautiful big Montana sky.
Some people call Montana “God’s country”
with its big skies and the Rocky Mountains.
You have this impression that God has imprinted his image
in that sky and on those mountains.

In the gospel today, Jesus talks about an image,
an image on a Roman coin,
because the Pharisees and the Herodians
have come to trap him.

The Pharisees and the Herodians are rivals,
but they have come together this time
because they’re united in their desire to see Jesus fail.

So they ask Jesus if it is lawful to pay the taxes.
And that’s when Jesus asks to see the coin.

He says, “Look, who’s face is this? Who’s writing, who’s inscription?”
It’s Caesar’s, so obviously the coin belongs to him,
it’s ok to give it back to him, it’s not a big deal.

What is a big deal is the last phrase:
“Give to God what belongs to God.”

And just as we can know what belongs to Caesar
by the image on the coin,
we can know what belongs God by seeing God’s image imprinted on them.

And so we can see that the ocean belongs to God
because God’s power is imprinted on it.
We know that the sky belongs to God because of its size and its depth,
and its grandeur.

“The world is charged with grandeur of God,”
as the Jesuit poet Gerard Manely Hopkins puts it.

The ocean, the sky are images of God.

But the author Victor Hugo has this wonderful line
in his novel Les Miserables,
“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, and that is the sky.
There is one spectacle grander than the sky,
and that is the interior of the soul.”

If we can see the imprint of God on the ocean,
if we can see the imprint of God on the big sky of Montana,
or on the redwoods of northern California,
then how much more should we recognize the imprint of God
on our own souls?

Because our souls have a greater depth than the ocean,
than the redwoods,
than the stars in the sky above us.

And if, therefore, the image of God is upon our soul,
and if you can recognize who something belongs to
by the image that’s on it,
then we can say that we belong to God.
If the image of God is on our soul
if the Word of God is inscribe on our hearts,
then we belong to God.

Like that Roman coin that bore the emperor’s image,
we bear the image of the great emperor,
the Almighty Lord.
“In God’s image he created them.”

We are created in God’s image.

And because we are created in God’s image,
then we belong to God.

But we don’t belong to God as a possession,
as if God is the owner and we are slaves.

Rather, this is belonging in the sense of “being a part of,”
“being intimately connected to.”
The way a husband and wife belong to each other.
The way children belong with their parents.
The way we belong to this community of believers,
and this community of believers belongs to God.

And if we belong to God,
then we are to give to God what belongs to God.
This is a reminder to Pharisees, to the Herodians, and to us.

We are to give ourselves to God.

If we belong to God, how do we give ourselves?

And besides, God already has everything.

How do you give God something, when God already has it all?

We cannot give him our homes our possessions.
God already is Lord of the universe.
We cannot give him anything that he does not already possess.

But there is one thing that God does not have
unless we give it.
There is one gift that God has given us
that he will never take back from us forcefully.

And that is our free will to love him.

God never compels our love.
If God possessed our love, controlled our love, forced our love,
then it wouldn’t be love.

And so, what we give back to God is our entire being,
out of love.

To love someone means to want their well being,
to want them to be fulfilled and complete.

But God is already fulfilled and complete.
What more does God want?

What God wants is deep joy and salvation for everyone.
If we want to give ourselves to God
then we need to become part of this great desire of God’s
for everyone to live a full life.

It is to recognize the image of God in our brothers and sisters
here and especially in our brothers and sister who are in most need
who are most ignored
who are most overlooked.

When we begin to see the image of God in our neighbors,
in our enemies
and in the poor
then we begin to offer back to God
we begin to repay God,
we, who belong to God.

St. Lawrence the Deacon understood this well.
He knew where the image of God was to be found.
You see, it was during a time of great persecution.
In fact the persecutions were so bad, Pope Sixtus was martyred.
The Romans killed the Pope.

The prefect in Rome at the time
believed that the Church had all this money hidden away,
so he brought St. Lawrence before him and gave him an ultimatum:
“Bring me the treasure of the Church or be executed.”
He gave Lawrence three days to collect it,
and if he didn’t bring it, St. Lawrence would be tortured and killed.

And so the three days went by,
and on the third day St. Lawrence appeared before the prefect
with all the poor and sick of the city, and he said,
“This is the Church’s treasure!”

We, who have the image of God imprinted on our souls,
we belong to God.
just like the redwood forest, the Pacific Ocean, and the big sky of Montana.

And not just we who are gathered here,
but especially the poor and the sick.
They belong to God, too.

We celebrate that today at this altar,
and we ask for the will and strength
to give all we are back to God.

The Church Is a Torch Not a Lighthouse: Metaphors from the Synod

torch

Some powerful images for the Church are emerging from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family this week, according to Catholic News Service:

…one bishop Oct. 7 told the assembly that the light the church brings to its members is not fixed like a lighthouse on the shore but is a torch that accompanies the pilgrimage of those seeking to live the truth

Speaking about the challenge of transmitting church teaching on sexuality and married life to modern men and women, the bishop reportedly said the torch of faith and truth lights the path of believers; the proclamation of truth cannot be like using a beacon to blind people.

And the bishops are also finding a metaphor from Pope Francis to be particularly helpful:

Pope Francis’ description of the church as a “field hospital” adopting emergency life-saving measures — not simply offering tests to determine the faithful’s cholesterol levels — has been echoed numerous times in the synod hall, the briefers said.

According to a synod briefing paper released by the Vatican press office, one synod member warned that if the church does not dedicate its energy to being a “field hospital,” it easily could become a “mortuary performing autopsies” on failed marriages.

Read the entire article at Catholic News Service’s special section on the Synod.

Another Married Couple Gives Testimony to the Synod of Bishops

George and Cynthia Campos of the Philippines spoke before the bishops gathered for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Here is their full testimony:

Your Holiness,
Your Eminences,
Your Excellencies,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Our Call to Vocation:

Cynthia and I were married in 1987, blessed with four children. In 1990, we became members of Couples for Christ, a Private Lay Association of the Faithful of Pontifical Right. We have committed ourselves to be a living catechesis of our vision to live as “Families in the Holy Spirit Renewing the Face of the Earth” and our mission: “Building the Church of the Home and of the Poor” in the 107 countries that we are present in.

Vocation Discernment: “I applied to be a nun with the Rosas Hermanas (Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit), a contemplative congregation. I was accepted, however, I was asked to undergo a one-on-one directed retreat with a priest. At the end of the retreat the priest said;“You are not meant for the religious life. God will give you a husband who will help you rear the children who will serve Him in the future. Your work is outside”. After this seeming rejection from the Lord, I went back to school to finish my course. By the way, George was an altar server in the same convent I was applying to.

I attained a high stature in a company I was working with for 25 years. At age46, I opted to resign. I told the owner that “I have spent the 1st half of the prime of my life serving this company and now I want to spend the 2nd half serving the Lord.” Cynthia at 47, resigned too, so we can serve together as a couple.

We have grown deeper in faith and love for the Lord through our teaching formations and weekly household prayer meetings with other couples. This blessed encounter with Jesus led us to become fulltime missionary disciples. Our children are following suit. They have joined the CFC Family Ministries beginning with Kids, Youth and Singles for Christ. We have been in missions together in Vietnam, Thailand and Australia.

Cynthia’s dangerous pregnancy: On my 4th pregnancy, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. We were told that my life would beat risk if I continued the pregnancy and my child had a high probability of being born abnormal. We were advised to choose between terminating the pregnancy or taking the risk. It was truly a test of faith and surrender. We decided to have the baby and to abide by the will of God. By God’s grace, we both survived and my daughter Christen is now very healthy and full of life.

Breast Cancer Diagnosis In 1998, I was diagnosed with breast cancer with 3 to 6 months to live. Instead of letting go of our service, we continued, supported by the prayers of my family and our CFC community. My prayer was “Lord with just a flick of your finger you could change my illness. You just have to will it”. God heard our prayers for now I am standing before you cured with a simple medical intervention and a dose of antibiotics.

The pastoral formation and support CFC gives strengthens and sustains us and our family in the daily challenges we face. But how about those who do not have the privilege of having a support group? And so our mission continues with greater passion.

CFC has ministries for matured men (Servants of the Lord) and women (Handmaids of the Lord) who are single, with spouses working abroad, who lost their spouses either through death, legal separation/divorce or a diverging view of associative Church groupings.

For couples in irregular situations, the JACOB’s WELL ministry was established. This was inspired from the conversation of Jesus with the Samaritan woman in the Gospel of John (4:1-42). It didn’t fare well due to mutually felt uneasiness and lack of interactive preparedness with regularly married couples and a Church advisory that our organization is meant only for couples married in Church.

An enlightened pastoral charity inaugurating innovative forms of “accompaniment”, of conjugal spirituality formation and of inclusionary participation in church life leading to full communion needs promotion and enactment by our ordained ministers.

Caritas Christi urget nos.

Grazie!

 

Feeling Out of Sorts? This Might Help

When life starts to weigh me down and feels off-center, I find that what helps me most is returning to contemplating the life of Jesus. But sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about all the different events in his life, and I get paralyzed deciding where to begin reading the gospels. When that happens, I often simply pick up a rosary and begin praying the mysteries of Jesus’ life.

RosaryThe rosary is simple.
The rosary is peaceful.
The rosary is soothing.
The rosary puts me in touch with Jesus.

Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Maybe today you’re feeling out of sorts.
Maybe today you’re feeling paralyzed about how to begin bringing Jesus back into your life.
Maybe today the rosary can help you like it helps me and countless others.

The feel of the beads through your fingers, the gentle rhythm of the Hail Marys as you murmur them under your breath over and over, the images and sensations of the events of Jesus’ life running through your mind–praying the rosary brings us back to Jesus, especially when life seems chaotic or confusing.

Maybe the rosary is just what we need today.

Click here to reacquaint yourself with how to pray the rosary.