Thursday, June 28, 2012

You have rescued me...

Even trivial experiences of exclusion can shatter our sense of self.  So imagine what effects full-blown ostracism might have on the individual who is systematically isolated from her community, cut off from love and human affection.

In the Gospel this week, Jesus heals a woman who has bled for twelve years.  In the minds of her community, her condition has left her unclean, and she has therefore been shunned, excluded from full participation in that community.  Likewise, Jairus’ daughter, whom Jesus raises from the dead, would have been ritually impure, but that does not stop Jesus from taking the child by the hand and raising her to life.  In both cases, Jesus restores the afflicted to relationship, thereby calling all those around him to be generous in their love and inclusive in their embrace of Other.  All creatures of the world are wholesome, the Book of Wisdom tells us.   Jesus’ interventions in the lives of the woman with a hemorrhage and Jairus’ daughter teach us to value the human contact that is central to our humanity, and to reach out to others with a strong sense of justice, working for that which is life-giving, supplying the needs of all, inclusive of the poor, the wounded, the rejected, for they, too, are the image of God’s nature, and reflect God’s love for the world.

This reflection is based on notes from Fr. Pat's Thursday night Scripture class.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Canticle of Zechariah

Most of us are familiar with the Canticle of Mary, the Magnificat, Mary's song of praise and joy at the forthcoming fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant with the birth of Jesus.  Upon regaining his speech after the birth of John the Baptist, Zechariah, too, offers his own song of praise, the Benedictus, which begins, Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel.  

The video above offers one sung version of this hymn of praise; a translation can be found below:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.
He has raised up a horn for our salvation
within the house of David his servant,
even as he promised through the mouth
of his holy prophets from of old:
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us,
to show mercy to our fathers
and to be mindful of his holy covenant
and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father,
and to grant  us that,
rescued from the hand of enemies,
without fear we might worship him
in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God
by which the daybreak on high will visit us
to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

He will be called John...

(Note: there are two sets of readings for this Feast, 
one for the Vigil and one for Sunday.)

What’s so special about John the Baptist?  Well, for one thing, he is the only saint whose birthday (nativity) we celebrate in the Church.  He is, in a sense, the first after Mary to recognize Jesus:  he leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth when Mary, herself pregnant, comes to visit Elizabeth during her pregnancy – John’s is a spontaneous response to grace, the experience of God’s presence.  Indeed, John’s name in Hebrew, Jehohanan, means, “God is gracious.”

The angel who appears to Zechariah tells him that his son will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.  From the moment John is born, people are amazed and wonder What, then, will this child be?  The answer is simple:  he will be the prophet, the first in 400 years, who announces the coming of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit fills him so that John might fulfill his mission:  to turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, making them fit for the Lord.  He will go before the Lord, uplifted by his own prenatal experience of God’s Incarnation, and the hand of the Lord will be with him

Strong in spirit, John calls us all to return to the source of all of our blessings, to proclaim God’s glorious deeds, and to leap for joy at Christ dwelling among us, every day.

(The above reflection is partially based on notes from Fr. Pat's Thursday night Scripture class.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pathways to Gratefulness

 How can we cultivate gratitude?
And why should we?

This Saturday, at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and author of Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer (with Henri Nouwen) and A Listening Heart, speaks at the Pathways to Gratefulness conference along with a group of teachers, writers and scientists who are all fascinated by the power of gratitude in our lives.  In case you missed it, there is an article about the conference in Monday's San Francisco Chronicle.  Those who are unable to attend the conference will be able to watch the proceedings online.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Complete Trust

What does complete trust look like?
Can you imagine yourself entirely peaceful in God's hands?
(Video above.)

Friday, June 15, 2012

June 17th 2012: Sunday Gospel Reflection

Mark 4:26-34

As Christians we believe that we are like travelers here on earth and that our final destination is to dwell with God in heaven. Like being a traveler we will never be quite at home here on earth. Our hearts are full of longings and desires that we can never fully satisfy while we are on the road, away from home. As St. Augustine said you have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. We only find peace and rest when we dwell in God.

In Jesus coming to earth, God reveals to us that God’s presence is not just in heaven; He is present here on earth! The Kingdom of God that Jesus talks about is not some far away land but is present here and now on earth. God asks us to make present God’s Kingdom here on earth and to transform the world to make it more perfect, more God-like so that thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Quite the opposite of trying to escape this life to get to the next we are meant to cultivate eternity here on earth to bring forth the new creation that God has planted within us and within all of creation! While we are travelers here on earth we find our final destiny does not lie far away but within us and around us if we look with eyes of faith to see the face of God in the poor, wealthy, vulnerable, popular, annoying, joyful, frustrating people God has placed into our lives.

To Do This Week
Check out from the Library the book The Treasure which retells an ancient story suitable for all ages about where our treasure lies (same story that is the root of more comprehensive books, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and The Way of Man by Martin Buber)

Traveling for the Summer?
Visit to find a Catholic Church in your area ANYWHERE in the world!

Save the Summer Dates!-Creekside Fridays’ Kid Area sponsored by Mount Carmel RE, June 15th and August 10th
-Parish Picnic after the 10:15am Mass, July 20th
-Mount Carmel hosts “Your Block Party”, August 24th

Thursday, June 14, 2012

It shall put forth branches and bear fruit...

Parables are weird.  Generally speaking, their meaning is not obvious because they have strange and unusual twists that should cause us to stop in our tracks and ponder… but ponder what?  Well, when Jesus throws a strange twist into a story, he’s usually trying to show us how God’s ways are not our ways – they’re different, divine, mysterious… and effective.

In the parable of the seed that grows of itself (Mark 4:26-29), what is strange about the story?  Jesus says, This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land, and would sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.   Wait!  If you were a farmer, wouldn’t you do more than that? Wouldn’t you water your seedlings, pull the weeds that grow up around them, tend to them, to make sure they bear fruit?  Most farmers work constantly in their field.  So what's up with this farmer in the parable?

One way to look at it is that, by stressing that seed "grows of itself," Mark is putting the emphasis on God’s action, rather than man’s:  God is in control.  Humans have a tendency to overact; Mark’s lesson here is one of faith and trust.  In all things, we must trust in God's action before our own.  If we place our trust in God, we shall indeed put forth branches and bear fruit, flourishing like the palm tree and bearing fruit even in old age.

(Note:  this Scripture reflection is based on Fr. Felix Just, S.J.’s Retreat with the Gospel of Mark; CDs and a study guide are available in the Religious Ed office if you are interested.)

Monday, June 11, 2012

So what were they singing?

So what were they singing?

Yesterday's Gospel (from Mark) tells us that at the end of the Lord's Supper, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.  But what were they singing?

Well, no one really can say for sure, but since Jesus was celebrating Passover with the disciples, there's a good chance he was following the traditional Passover ritual.  Four cups of wine are poured during the Passover meal, and each has certain prayers and responses associated with it.  Toward the end of the meal, the leader pronounces a final blessing in the form of a prayer of thanksgiving, perhaps something along the lines of, "Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine," after which the fourth cup of wine is consumed.  The final sung prayer would likely have been the great Hallel, Psalms 115-118.

If you can't recall these psalms off the top of your head, think back to Mass yesterday: we sang Psalm 116 between the first and second readings -- how cool is that!  You can also listen to David Haas's version of this psalm, a hymn called "The Name of God," by clicking on the video above (and available on his "Blest Are They" CD).

Video credit
Source,, articles "Hymn" and "Passover"

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Eucharist = Thanksgiving

What does Eucharist mean, anyway?
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

Eucharist Look up Eucharist at
"sacrament of the Lord's Supper, the Communion," mid-14c., from O.Fr. eucariste, from L.L. eucharistia, from Gk. eukharistia "thanksgiving, gratitude," later "the Lord's Supper," from eukharistos "grateful," from eu "well" + stem of kharizesthai "show favor," from kharis "favor, grace," from PIE root *gher- "to like, want" (see hortatory). Eukharisteo is the usual verb for "to thank, to be thankful" in the Septuagint and N.T. 

So it's all about thanksgiving and grace!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

June 10th 2012: Sunday Gospel Reflection

Sunday Gospel Reflection Mk 14:12-16, 22-26

What is Passover? 
Passover celebrates when Moses freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God told Moses that the Jewish people were to mark the outside doorposts with the blood of a young lamb and to eat the lamb with unleavened bread. They didn’t have time to add yeast and let the bread rise because the next morning they were to flee from Egypt. During the night the Angel of Death passed through the town and literally passed-over (Passover) the houses where people had eaten the lamb and put blood on the doorposts but killed the firstborn son of the houses which did not celebrate the meal. God saved His people from slavery and this event is remembered as a perpetual institution with Jews even till today.

Why did Jesus choose to celebrate the Last Supper on the Feast of Passover? 
Jesus gives a new and deeper meaning to Passover by freeing us, not from the land of Egypt as Moses did, but freeing all of His followers from sin and death; Jesus promises us eternal life! Jesus continues the tradition of Moses by sharing unleavened bread with His Apostles at Passover, yet curiously, Jesus did not have a lamb on the table to eat. Instead of sacrificing a lamb to God Jesus allows Himself to be sacrificed for us.

How do we share in the sacrifice of Jesus so that we can enter into eternal life?
We share in the sacrifice of Jesus by eating of the Passover meal of Jesus at the Last Supper. Jesus told us what to do at the Last Supper: “Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’” At the Last Supper, the night before Jesus was put to death, Jesus instituted a ritual action using bread and wine to make Himself present with us even after His death and resurrection, He is made present through our ritual action of doing what Jesus did. From the earliest Christian writings we have accounts of the followers of Jesus gathering on Sundays to break bread; they celebrated Eucharist so that they may be strengthened by the Body and Blood of Jesus.

How can I make sense of the Eucharist? 
We receive the Eucharist every Sunday to become what we already are, both individually and as a community: the Body of Christ. Sometimes it is difficult to see God’s presence within ourselves or in others; we need to see God’s presence in the deepest part of ourselves and others with eyes of faith. Sometimes too it is not easy to see Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, but we are invited to take Jesus at His word that this is my body which was given up for us on the cross and continues to be given for us each Sunday. We can never fully understand how bread and wine are transformed, which is why we call the Eucharist the mystery of faith, it is a mystery like love is a mystery. The challenge is not that we can’t know anything about it, but that we can never fully explain it even when it defies logic. Jesus loves and cares intimately about you, wants to be near to you and has given us a way to nourish our bodies and souls.

Traveling for the Summer?
-Visit to find a Catholic Church in your area ANYWHERE in the world!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Traditional Sisters, Trendy Teans

Traditional Sisters, Trendy Teens

You may have seen them around the neighborhood:  Sister Thomas Aquinas Betlewski, Sister Miriam Holzman, and Sister Maria José Acosta live across the street from Our Lady of Mount Carmel and just completed their first year of teaching at Marin Catholic.  Read all about them in this week's Catholic San Francisco by clicking here!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

To you will I offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving...

What do we do when we come together to celebrate Eucharist?  
We say, “YES!”

This Sunday’s readings highlight what it means to say yes to relationship with God, to accept the covenant God offers God’s people.  When, in Exodus, Moses brings the Ten Commandments down to the people, they say yes, twice:  We will do everything that the LORD has told us, and, All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.  Moses joins ritual action to the words spoken, sprinking the people with the blood of a young bull; blood thus seals the covenant between God and man.

If the blood of animals constituted effective sacrifice in the Old Testament, how much more so the blood of Christ?  This week’s Gospel presents the Words of Institution we hear every week at Mass:  Jesus takes bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to the disciples, then shares a cup of wine, the blood of the covenant, with them as well.  In this foundational act of our faith, Jesus broadens the meaning of covenant, drawing the disciples – then and now – into a new covenant, a permanent covenant with God that promises salvation to those who are called.  Hebrews tells us that it is Jesus’ blood, shed for us, that obtains our eternal redemption.  It is a new covenant that offers a sufficiency the disciples never knew was possible.

Sunday’s celebration, the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, celebrates our faith in Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist:  God is present in the flesh, Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, in Eucharist.  This is why it is so, so important that we do our part, that we respond to the call with a resounding YES!  Our Amen, our affirming prayers, our participation in singing a hymn (just like the disciples in the Gospel) – our YES, in other words, tells everyone around us that we are participants in the sharing, that we are fully invested in the action that is Eucharist, a sacrifice of thanksgiving… in the presence of all God’s people (Psalm 116).

(The above reflection is based on notes from Fr. Pat's Thursday night Scripture class.)

A Prayer for Frustrated Catholics

Dear God, sometimes I get so frustrated with your church.
I know that I’m not alone.  So many people who love your church feel frustrated with the Body of Christ on earth.  I know that priests, sisters and brothers can feel frustrated.  And I’ll bet that even bishops and popes feel frustrated, too.  We grow worried and concerned and bothered and angry and sometimes scandalized because your divine institution, our home, is filled with human beings who are sinful.  Just like me.
But I get frustrated most of all when I feel that there are things that need to be changed and I don’t have the power to change them.
So I need your help, God.
Help me remember that Jesus promised that he would be with us until the end of time, and that your church is always guided by the Holy Spirit, even if it’s hard for me to see.  Sometimes change happens suddenly, and the Spirit can astonish us, but often in the church, it happens slowly.  In your time, not mine.  Help me know that the seeds that I plant with love in the ground of your church will one day bloom.  So give me patience.
Help me understand that there was never a time when there were not arguments or disputes within your church.  Arguments go back to Peter and Paul debating one another.  And there was never a time when there wasn’t sin among the members of your church.  That sin goes back to Peter denying Jesus during the Passion. Why would today’s church be any different than it was for people who knew Jesus on earth?  Give me a sense of history.
Help me trust in the Resurrection.  The Risen Christ reminds us that there is always the hope of something new.  Death is never the last word for us.  Neither is despair.  And help me remember that when the Risen Christ appeared to his disciples, he bore the wounds of his Crucifixion.  Like Christ, the church is always wounded, but always a carrier of grace. Give me hope.
Help me to believe that your Spirit can do anything: raise up saints when we need them most, soften hearts when they seem hardened, open minds when they seem closed, inspire confidence when things seem lost, help us do what had seemed impossible until it was done.  This is the same Spirit that converted Paul, inspired Augustine, called Francis of Assisi, emboldened Catherine of Siena, consoled Ignatius of Loyola, comforted Thérèse of Lisieux, enlivened John XXIII, accompanied Teresa of Calcutta, strengthened Dorothy Day and encouraged John Paul II.  It is the same Spirit that it with us today, and your Spirit has lost none of its power.  Give me faith.
Help me to remember all your saints.  Most of them had it a lot worse than I do.  They were frustrated with your church at times, struggled with it, and were occasionally persecuted by it.  St. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake by church authorities.  St. Ignatius Loyola was thrown into jail by the Inquisition.  St. Mary MacKillop was excommunicated.  If they can trust in your church in the midst of those difficulties, so can I.  Give me courage.
Help me be peaceful when people tell me that I don’t belong in the church, that I’m a heretic for trying to make things better, or that I’m not a good Catholic.  I know that I was baptized.  You called me by name to be in your church, God.  As long as I draw breath, help me remember how the holy waters of baptism welcomed me into your holy family of sinners and saints.  Let the voice that called me into your church be what I hear when other voices tell me that I’m not welcome in the church.  Give me peace.
Most of all, help me to place all of my hope in your Son.  My faith is in Jesus Christ.  Give me only his love and his grace.  That’s enough for me.
Help me God, and help your church.

James Martin, S.J. via America Magazine

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Retreat with the Gospel of Matthew

Do you spend a lot of time in your car, or walking while listening to music or books on tape?  Are you interested in deepening your faith life through focused prayer with Scripture?  If so, A Retreat with the Gospel of Matthew, a four-CD set by Fr. Felix Just, S.J., the Director of Biblical Education at the Loyola Institute for Spirituality in Orange, California, might be of interest to you.

In these twelve "conferences," Fr. Just helps listeners to work through the first Gospel with Biblical commentary combined with suggestions for prayerful reflection.  Centered on what makes Matthew's Gospel different from those of Mark, Luke, and John, this retreat looks most specifically at the themes of christology (the study of the person, nature, and role of Jesus) and discipleship (what is expected of us as followers of Jesus).  Fr. Just describes different modes of prayer that can be used to pray with Scripture, detailing the use of reflective meditation, imaginative contemplation, and centering prayer as ways of entering more deeply into Matthew's stories of Jesus, as well as offering thoughtful questions for further reflection.  In the accompanying study guide, Fr. Just adds suggestions for art and music related to the Gospel, along with a summary of the main points of the conference.  

This retreat was a wonderful addition to my prayer life, particularly during my long commute. While listening in my car was perhaps not the most effective use of the retreat (since I was not exactly able to give attention to the kinds of prayer recommended while driving), I nonetheless learned a great deal from this collection, and highly recommend it as well as Fr. Just's Retreats with the Gospels of Mark and John.  I plan to listen to them all again, pen and paper in hand!  

If you'd like to try them out, a set of Fr. Just's retreats with Matthew, Mark and John are being housed in the Religious Ed office; call Jonathan for access.

(Full disclosure:  Fr. Felix and I were in graduate school together in the late 80's; he was assigned to my parish, and I had the good fortune to take New Testament classes with him during that time. I am eagerly looking forward to his Retreat with the Gospel of Luke.)

Monday, June 4, 2012



“The Creed… is not an index of dogmas, although it has often been presented as that.  It is, more, a catalog of choices, an inventory of possibilities, a roster of visitations.  It is a guide to the kind of life that weathers millenia and stays fresh whatever decays, whatever changes around us.  It is a call to a great ‘Amen,’ the great ‘Yes’ to life…  It is the Creed that takes us back to the questions, the values, the signposts that give direction to our lives… [I]t is the Creed that sends us back looking for the things that make sense out of life, that gives us lights to steer by, and brings us home to the best in ourselves.” 

Practice:  If we say “Amen” to the Creed, then we are committing ourselves to a life of engagement, of actively living life conscious of God at its center.  Spend some time this week reflecting on what you believe about God, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit – and then make note of what difference that faith makes in a practical way in your daily experiences.  Is your life transformed by the Creed?  Is God’s presence central to your life?  If so, Amen!

Quotations from Benedictine sister Joan Chittister’s book In Search of Belief, which explores the Apostles’ Creed phrase by phrase, demonstrating how the Creed is not a static set of rules or statements, but a living document that speaks to the deepest meaning of our existence and serves as a life guide, calling all of us to engage more deeply in relationship with God and with each other.  Sr. Chittister’s thoughts challenge us to live the Creed more fully as Christians; her writing is thought-provoking and inspirational.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

June 3rd 2012: Sunday Gospel Reflection

Happy Trinity Sunday!

This Sunday is another big day (feast day) for the Catholic Church throughout the world. Today we celebrate The Most Holy Trinity, God who has revealed Himself as Father, Son and Spirit!

We believe that the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life (CCC 234); this is the most core belief for Christians. For thousands of years Christians have struggled to understand how we can only believe in one God if we talk about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There is no easy or complete answer to this question but here are a few quick thoughts to better understand the Trinity:

1. God is transcendent. He is infinite and He created us. He is a mystery that we can always dive deeper into, a person we can always learn more about. It is impossible to try to fully ‘make sense’ of or ‘get’ God (this is a problem that science cannot explain…knowing God requires faith and trust). As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

2. We can only know God through His effects, the ways that He has revealed Himself to us. From the Traditions in the Old Testament, New Testament, and continued through our Church today God has chosen to reveal Himself to us as a Father, as Jesus the Son, and as the Spirit.

3. God is active and dynamic love (self-gift). St. Augustine, writing in the 5th century, said helping to explain the Trinity that “wherever there is love, there is trinity: a lover, a beloved, and a fountain of love”. Love is not a static process but is constantly active and at work. Love also is procreative, it can’t help but be shared and overflow. The love of the Father for the Son is manifest as the Spirit. The inner dynamic relationship of the three persons of the Trinity is so active and powerful that it overflows into the world—this is the act of creation. God’s love continues to be poured forth. Our mission as Christians is to be open to allow God’s life overflowing, to allow His Love to fill us, and to share that cup with those around us. When we do this we enter into the same dynamic rhythm, movement or dance that is God’s life.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection
-How open am I to allow God’s presence to fill me?
-What do I need to get rid of in my heart to allow more space for God?