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Dear Parishioners

Fr. Romanus' Letter of October 15th

Dear Parishioners,

When was the last time you were invited to a really good banquet? Two of the readings this Sunday introduce us to special banquets. In the first reading, Isaiah speaks of a holy mountain on which the Lord would provide rich food and choice wines for all peoples. The images are enticing; “juicy, rich food and pure choice wines.” For the poor who cannot afford such sumptuous feasts, the images are heavenly. But for the rich, these images are part of daily life and make heaven less appealing.

    With this banquet comes the good news that the Lord will destroy death for ever and wipe away tears from every face. God would also remove the reproach of his people from the whole earth. This would be good news especially to the poor who not only missed out on earthly banquets but also see sin and death as main barriers to participating in the eternal banquet. However, it is important to keep in mind that heaven might not be just about eating and drinking. If that were the case, it may have no special appeal to the rich, people on diet, and non-drinkers.

    The gospel parable is quite interesting. Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a king who threw a wedding feast for his son and sent out messengers to those invited that the feast was ready. The invited made various excuses; one went off to his farm, another to his business, and the rest seized the messengers, maltreated and killed them, thereby inviting the wrath of the king. One could understand the invited guests making flimsy excuses, but killing the messengers? It is reminiscent of last week’s gospel where the tenants killed the messengers and the landowner’s son. These vicious and murderous reactions were intended to shock in order to drive home the message.

    Since those first invited proved themselves unworthy, the invitation was extended to strangers, good and bad alike, from the main roads and alleys of the kingdom. In a strange twist, the king spots a man without the proper wedding garment and was beyond himself. He bound him hands and feet and threw him out of the banquet hall, “into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” You may wonder why the king was so upset over this man's clothes. In the first place, these were people who did not wake up that day thinking they would be treated to a mouth-watering feast in the king’s palace. The man was possibly a traveler or a vagrant. Why would he be carrying around a wedding garment, waiting for an invitation?

    This kind of thinking misses the point of the parable. It is not about wearing clothes, but wearing Christ. The man without the proper garment is representative of one who is a Christian in name only. Wearing Christ is a prerequisite for entering the kingdom and partaking in the heavenly banquet. To enter God’s kingdom, one needs to put on the virtues that lead to the kingdom.

    The liturgy of the Eucharist we celebrate is representative of the heavenly banquet. However, there are those who make excuses for not coming to Mass, especially on Sundays and Holy Days. They are like those who excused themselves in this parable. They claim to have better things to do than going to Mass. They have to work, go to baseball or football games, clean the house, work on the yard, attend or plan a party, et cetera. There are also those who come to Mass but do not receive communion because they are not wearing Christ as garment or their garment has been soiled and needs cleaning. The sacrament of reconciliation is our laundromat.

 

Have a great week!

Fr. Romanus' Letter of September 24th

Dear Parishioners,

Sunday Reflection:

In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a landowner who hired laborers at various times to work in his vineyard. Each group of laborers agreed to the normal daily wage. Those hired first had great expectations as the late group who worked just an hour received a full day’s wage. They expected an equivalent generous bonus. Imagine their shock when they received the same pay as those who worked just an hour. They expressed their displeasure with this perceived injustice, only to be reprimanded by the landowner. He also asked whether he was not free to use his money as he desired and to be generous if he wished.

     To begin with, all those hired by this landowner ought to feel fortunate to have a day’s job. It would be much better if they were offered a more permanent job as to not keep coming to the marketplace every day. Though the rate of unemployment in our nation has come down from the record highs, still the unemployed and underemployed could relate to this parable. Few years ago, high unemployment sidelined many people with good education and skills. Some even gave up looking for jobs. Like the unemployed in today’s gospel, some hung around the house all day, bored stiff, with little else to do.

      In some parts of the country, employers are dependent on migrant workers who like those in our gospel passage hang around street corners waiting to be hired for the day’s work. Most depend on their day-to-day employment to put food on the table. Their chance of getting hired diminishes as the day winds down. Anything less than a full day’s pay might mean starvation for their families. It was on account of this that the landowner decided to be generous with the late comers.

    The parable illustrates God’s compassion towards the less fortunate. At first glance, it might seem that those who worked a full day under the scorching sun have a legitimate complaint. After all, they ‘bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ Justice demands that they be paid a lot more than those who worked only an hour. We wonder why this generous landowner could not extend that generosity evenly to all the workers. However, before one starts disparaging this landowner, let us not forget that there was an agreement that most likely factored in every hour they put in. They received what was in their contract.

     One of the principles of Catholic social teaching is ‘preferential option for the poor.’ That principle provides an interpretive key for understanding this passage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church echoes this principle where it states, “Hence, those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere” (CCC # 2448). The principle of ‘preferential option for the poor’ often trumps justice. Justice as fairness demands that every worker receive the same percentage of bonus. Preferential option is more concerned with those most in need.

    The parable also applies to all who are literally working in God’s vineyard here on earth. Some of us started working much earlier, even as “child laborers.” Others started working at a much later time either on account of their radical conversion or delayed response. Irrespective of when one started working the wage is the same, that is, eternal life in heaven. Hence, one ought not begrudge others because they received the same reward or else prove oneself unworthy of the pay.

Have a great week!

Fr. Romanus' Letter of September 10th

Dear Parishioners,

9/11 Anniversary:

This Monday, September 11, is the 16th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on our nation that left thousands of people dead and many more injured. The events of 9/11 were engraved in our collective consciousness, unlike any other event in recent memory. The atrocious nature of 9/11 and the horrendous destruction of lives that accompanied it revealed the abysmal darkness of the human heart. One wonders how human beings can get to the point where it does not matter who lives or who dies. Our collective national response and the response of the entire world also underscored our innate goodness as people created in God’s image and likeness.

     Certainly, 9/11 is a yearly reminder of what happens when evil takes possession of the human heart. Such demonic excesses could only be neutralized by the power of prayer and love. The fact that we are still hurting despite the two reprisal wars shows the futility of fighting violence with violence. Obviously, there were little viable options left.

     As we celebrate the 16th anniversary of the events of 9/11, we commit the world into God’s hands. We pray for the families affected by the tragedies of 9/11 and for the victims of the War on Terror. Moreover, we pray for an end to terrorism in the world and for healthy respect for the inestimable value of human life.

 

Have a great week!

 

 

Fr. Romanus' Letter of September 3rd

Dear Parishioners,

Happy Labor Day:

Our nation celebrates Labor Day this Monday in accord with an annual tradition that dates back over a century. The idea was first conceived by Peter J. McGuire, the radical founder of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of New York. It was first celebrated in New York City on September 5, 1882, sponsored by the Knights of Labor. Two years later, in 1884, the Labor Unions of New York held a parade on the first Monday of September and called it annual Labor Day celebration. The agitation in New York soon spread to Labor Unions in other states who staged vigorous campaigns to establish Labor Day as a legitimate holiday honoring workers.

    Faced with increased unrest from Labor Unions in an election year, Congress passed a bill declaring the first Monday in September a national holiday honoring workers. President Grover Cleveland reluctantly signed the bill in 1894 as an election-year compromise. By the time Labor Day was established as a national holiday, thirty states had already recognized and legitimized Labor Day as a civic holiday.

    One of the events that directly impacted the recognition of Labor Day as a national holiday was the Pullman crisis of 1893, which took place in Pullman, Illinois. Caught in the economic depression of 1893, George Pullman, founder and president of the Pullman Company (a railroad sleeping car company) was forced to drastically cut wages and benefits, and lay off many workers. Unable to endure the hardship, the remaining employees went on strike, demanding higher wages and better benefits.

    The American Railway Union joined the cause of the striking workers in Pullman. President Grover Cleveland declared the strike a federal crime and deployed 12,000 troops to break it up. On August 3, 1894, the strike was declared over, but not before two men lost their lives when deputy marshals fired on protesters in Kensington, Illinois. A week after the crackdown, President Cleveland signed the bill establishing Labor Day as a national holiday.

    The Church strongly supports the rights of workers and stresses the spirituality of work. Catholic social teaching on the rights of workers dates back to an encyclical published in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII entitled Rerum Novarum. It advocates just wages for workers and the need for better conditions of work. Arguably this encyclical emboldened workers to fight for their rights and may have contributed to the establishment of Labor Day. Other papal encyclicals have continued to advocate the rights and responsibilities of workers.

 

Wishing everyone happy Labor Day!

Fr. Romanus' Letter of August 27th

Dear Parishioners,

In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus poses a question to his disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” We should note that “Son of Man” is understood as a reference to the Messiah. Jesus clearly understood his identity as the Messiah and often referred to himself as “the Son of Man,” but it was doubtful that people knew his true identity. According to the disciples, some thought that Jesus was the re-incarnation John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the famous prophets.

     Certainly, the prophets named manifested special qualities that led some to mistake them for the Messiah. The tendency to be mistaken for the Messiah prompted John the Baptist to declare in no uncertain terms that he was not the Messiah. He went as far as saying he was unworthy to untie his sandals. As well-intentioned as the people’s responses were, they still missed the mark. Hence, Jesus turned to his disciples and asked, “But who do you say that I am?”

     Speaking on behalf of the twelve, Simon Peter responded without hesitation, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus acknowledges the special nature of Peter’s response and concluded that it could only have come by divine revelation. It appears the months of training for his apprentices were paying off. We can only imagine how profoundly proud Jesus was for this special insight from Peter. It was Peter’s greatest moment and Jesus did nothing to conceal his delight. He states, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” He went on to say, “I will give you keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” These were awesome responsibilities given to Peter.

     There is similarity between the keys to the kingdom of heaven given to Peter in this gospel and the key of the House of David given to Eliakim in the first reading. Shebna, master of the palace, chose to encourage reliance on military force and foreign alliances to safeguard Jerusalem rather than relying on God. Hence, Isaiah’s oracle foresaw a transfer of power from Shebna to his secretary, Eliakim. The key to the House of David given to Eliakim entails that “when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.” This is similar to the binding and loosing forces of Peter’s keys.

    It is interesting to note that what seemed like a casual question and answer session between the Master and his students turned out to be a special moment of revelation and subsequent establishment of papal authority. The efficacy of the sacrament of reconciliation is based to a great extent on the power to bind and to loosen that was given to Peter. It is a power the Pope shares with bishops and priests over sin. As one commentator noted, the keys given to Peter were not buried with him. It is another way of saying that they belong to the church and are essential for her ministry. Unfortunately, there are even Catholics who question the efficacy of the sacrament of reconciliation. They do not believe priests have special powers to forgive sin and see no need to go to a priest for confession.

    What if Jesus poses to you the same question posed to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” What will your response be, and how insightful? Of course, we know that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One. However, the best response is reflected in the way we live our lives as Christians. We affirm Jesus’ identity when we feed the poor, clothe the naked, volunteer for ministries in the parish, attend Mass, and our commitment to the stewardship of time, talent and treasure.

Have a great week!

Fr. Romanus' Letter of August 20th

Dear Parishioners,

Sunday Reflection:

This Sunday’s gospel is about a Canaanite woman from the district of Tyre and Sidon who was persistent in asking for a miracle for her daughter possessed by a demon. The Canaanites were pagans who practiced idolatry. You may recall that when God called Abraham, he promised to him and his descendants the land of Canaan. Not only was this woman from Canaan, she was also from the district of Tyre and Sidon, the worst part of Canaan. There were instances where Jesus stated that it would be worst for sinners who refused to repent than it was for Tyre and Sidon (Matt 11:21; Mk 7:27; Lk 10:13).

    This background is important for the sake of those who might be troubled by the way this woman was treated. It also helps us understand why Jesus compared the granting of her request to throwing food meant for children to the dogs. You may be shocked that Jesus would say something so mean to this poor woman desperately asking for help. Note that the woman did not take offense at Jesus’ remark. She understood why she was being ignored and why she was getting an unfavorable treatment. Nonetheless, meanness to other people is incompatible with Jesus’ message of love and tolerance.

    This gospel underscores the understanding that Matthew’s gospel was aimed primarily at a Jewish audience. In his interaction with this woman, Jesus makes clear that his mission was “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In all likelihood the audience had a good understanding of the hostile relationship between Jews and Gentiles. There was a long history of hostility based on the brutal defeats of Jews by powerful Gentile armies like the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Being a Jew, Jesus tries in this gospel to identify with his people’s history and advance his own credibility among them.

    It is possible that Jesus was tough on this woman in order to draw out her faith. As we know, faith was a necessary condition for most of Jesus’ miracles. By acting as if disinterested in her request, he may have solicited her manifestation of faith. Her faith was evident in her response, “even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their master.” Jesus acknowledged her faith by stating, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” At that instant her possessed daughter was healed. This Canaanite woman teaches us the need for persistence in prayer.

    The story is a lesson for those who are inclined to call on God only in times of need. There are those who do not care about God and some who proudly proclaim their faithlessness. They say they are too intellectually sophisticated to believe in God and claim that religion is only for the feeble-minded. When faced with major life crisis, these same people may call out to God for help after all other options are exhausted. We hope that they would not get the same response as this woman. Like her, they would have to swallow their pride and proclaim faith in God.

    As we live in a different society today, one could argue that Jesus’ reference to giving children’s food to dogs may have lost some of its punch. Some people love their pets so much that they would have no problem giving them food meant for children. While many children are starving all over the world, some pets live like kings. We remember the case of the New York millionaire who left several million dollars to her pet dog. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with taking care of our pets, but we can only imagine how many children that kind of money would have saved from starvation.

 

Have a great week!