The Feast of the Ascension

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

Mankind’s first space flight lasted minutes on April 12, 1961. The first man in outer space who took that history-making trip 60 years ago was Russia’s Yuri Gagarin. He believed firmly in the Almighty and was a devout Christian, even though he kept silent about that to his country’s government. What that atheistic government did was promulgate the lie that Yuri had said, “I looked around the cosmos and did not see God.” This lie was matched by a number of others regarding certain aspects of the flight, one of which was that Gagarin landed more than 200 miles away from where they were expecting.

Because the gospels of Mark that we read today, and that of Luke, tell us that Jesus was “taken up into heaven,” we obviously tend to take their description as that of a literal location, a geographical one that heaven is “up” somewhere, as opposed to “down.” Emeric Lawrence, OSB writes that “the very language of this feast obscures its deep and true meaning for us.” That allowed the God-hating Soviet government at the time to make its silly observation, a “cheap shot” if you will, at Christian belief in general.

Yes, we do hear the gospel language and think: He ascended, He went up into a cloud—the biblical symbol of God’s dwelling place—so He is gone from us. But can this be true? Yes it is, if we consider only His original bodily presence. But we believe that already in His resurrection He entered upon a new, completely unprecedented manner of existence. Time and space no longer placed any restrictions upon Him. He simply appeared to His disciples through locked doors; He ate, drank, and conversed with them.

His ascension may well have been an advancement or a perfection of that new existence of His. Now He no longer appears in bodily form. But He has by no means departed from them in His real being as God the Father’s Son. Otherwise how do we explain His words when He said; “And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world”? He is with us, with the Church. It is a real presence, and not just figurative language. It is truth. The ascension is not an end, but a beginning, the beginning of a new manner of Christ’s activity among the apostles and the Church.
Jesus has laid the groundwork by His preaching, His death, and His resurrection. Now the work goes on, and we are a part of it. In spreading the Gospel we are not all called to be missionaries, but each of us can carry on that work by our prayers, by our sufferings offered for the missions and missionaries, and by whatever contributions we can make. Missionaries depend on their fellow Christians to help them carry on their and Christ’s work.

Returning to all the talk about heaven being “up” applied to the Ascension of the Lord, and our real work for Christ here on earth brings up this story. Before leaving for the Holy Land, a church member told his pastor Phillips Brooks, the noted 19th century Episcopal bishop, that he was going to climb to the top of Mount Sinai and read aloud the Ten Commandments. Thinking this would please Dr. Brooks, the church member was surprised to hear his pastor say, “You know, I can think of something even better that that.” “You can?” the man responded. “And what might that be?” Brooks replied, “Just this. Instead of traveling thousands of miles to read the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, why not stay right here at home and obey them?”

God love you and give you His peace!

Why the Sacrament of Confession?

A question was asked recently in conversation by several people in the parish: Why do we need to go to Confession?
First, this is a Sacrament that was given to us directly by Jesus as a means to grow in grace and holiness and as a sign of God’s love for us.  In John’s gospel chapter 20 verses 21-23, Jesus said, “… Peace be with you.  And when He had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  We all are called to holiness by Jesus, and this is a powerful tool to do so.
For by the power Jesus has given to a priest, our sins are forgiven here on earth by God, and our slate is wiped clean.  This act of going to Confession is pleasing to God, for he desires us to be holy as He is holy.

Some have said they were told that they only had to go to Confession if they had committed a mortal sin.  That is wrong.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that we must also confess venial sins, for these can lead to more serious sins and even mortal sins.   For mortal sin can lead us down the path to Hell and away from Heaven and everlasting life with Christ.  Church law requires us to go at least once a year, but encourages monthly confession for all its members.

Frequent confession is good, for it allows the Holy Spirit to help us remember our sins and to bring things to mind that others may have done to us or we to them. This is a grace that God wants to give us that will help us on the path of holiness.  He wants to soften our hearts so we can forgive others as He forgives us.   The seal of confession is such, that the priest cannot disclose to anyone what he has heard, for what is said in the confessional stays in the confessional.  The priest, after he has given guidance and absolution, sees you in a state of grace, for having confessed all your sins.   For your soul is clean again in the sight of God, and the burdens of sin have been lifted off your shoulders.  The early Church Fathers saw Confession as a second Baptism that wiped sin away from one’s soul.*   Don’t be afraid of confessing your sins,  for the priest who is representing Christ in the confessional only wants to reunite you to Christ and his Church through this sacrament.  We all have a fallen nature due to original sin, and that was why Christ came to redeem us and to reunite us with God, for He wants us to enter into heaven where every tear will be wiped away, and we will experience the love of God in a way that is unfathomable.

And yes, humility is required to do this.  Nothing that we have done is so bad that God will not forgive us.  He is calling us to come to him to be cleansed and renewed.  It is known that Saint John Paul II went to confession weekly, and J.R.R. Tolkien would not receive communion until he had first gone to confession.  Why? Because they had experienced the grace of the sacrament, and they did not want to receive the Body of Christ in a state of sin.  Along with that, they needed it to grow in holiness and in the love of God and of neighbor.

Finally, Christ wants to heal our brokenness and restore us as his loved ones.  He is the good Shepherd.  The kind of heart he has for us is found in Isaiah 42:1-4.  “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one, in whom my soul delights.  I have put my spirit upon him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.  He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street: a bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice.”   This passage from Isaiah speaks of the gentleness of Jesus toward those who are hurting and suffering, and through the Sacrament of Confession, He wants to heal us.  He desires our repentance so He can wipe our sins away and restore us to the life of grace with Him.

Feast of the Epiphany

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

From boyhood I have always loved the Epiphany story, perhaps because the magi manage to bring a touch of the exotic and color to the nearly monochrome stable scene of the first Christmas.  More than that, their very arrival after a presumably long dangerous journey has always underscored the attractive power and authentic divinity of the baby Jesus.

Also, the stark contrast the gift bearers make with the humble homespun couple and their newborn has always struck me with how God acts in ways that challenge our expectations.

Of course, we should not be surprised how often God does this, thoroughly upsetting our ideas about “how things ought to be.” When our notions clash with His, urging us to ask for Him to change His decision, He simply refers to His prior admission that “My ways are not yours” and the added codicil “Learn from Me.”

We could ask “Shouldn’t the wise men have pooled their resources to set up this young couple and their child in the best room at the inn?” Not a proper question albeit a natural one. We have to accept God the Father’s “No” to that.

To that we add the vexing question for the Jews at that time: “Why does Yahweh allow these gentiles to re- ceive a warm welcome from God when we are His chosen people?” A hard pill for them to swallow as they heard this story.

Inevitably we come to think about our personal failure in at least one aspect of our lives. One would think that after all this time, all these centuries since the Bethlehem event, and the clear teaching of the grown up Naza- rene, we would still be guilty of racial prejudice. And what about this awful habit of practically naming ourselves “God’s selected ones” all the time forgetting the petty betrayal of Him involved in our every sin? One could analyze that each sin of ours is like a spike of rough straw chafing an infant’s skin. Or more heinous, like a thorn crowning a condemned God-Man’s sacred head.

We have our work cut out for us, as in our imaginations we rise up from our knees behind the wise men when they stand up. We know they won’t be going back to Herod with any report. Nor will they take the same route home. Nobody who has seen Christ goes away the same. They will have learned without any words from the Holy Infant what it takes to be truly wise. All of this is what makes the Epiphany celebration wonderful.

Our Eastern rite brothers and sisters celebrate this day more than Christmas. It is the day our God revealed Himself as Someone available to everybody and not to just one race.

When I find myself tempted to join the growing number of cynics in the world beyond my front door, who seem more aggressive these days than we are in spreading their convictions, I can recall this scene for comfort. It has adorned many a Christmas card; been added to literary fiction in Henry Van Dyke’s story of “The Other Wise Man,” and immortalized in music as the subject of Menotti’s opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”

In my mind I see the weary camels shaking the tiny bells in their livery. I hear rustling silk in the apparel of the extraordinary travelers from the East. I smell the aroma of incense competing with the stink of the stable. And I see the look of delight on that tiny Face which I believe with all my heart to be my God’s countenance.

May that same God love you throughout this New Year and give you His peace.

Reading I: Isaiah 60: 1-6
God radiates light inside the city, so darkness surrenders, so to speak, in Jerusalem. All the nations come together to rebuild the city, including people associated with Abraham from the Arabian peninsula.

Reading II: Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6
Paul’s great insight into the mystery of Christ is that He wills the Gentile nations to be full participants in the Church. Its very foundation is based on Christ and the prophets and especially the Apostles.

The Gospel: Matthew 2: 1-2
The magi were a group who did things like interpret dreams, or work in astrology and magic. Later tradition made them kings. Above all they represent the Gentile world coming to Christ. Their gifts have meaning, so gold repre- sents kingship; incense divinity and myrrh suffering. Or they can be interpreted Virtue, Prayer, and Suffering.

The Feast of the Holy Family

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

To be cute about it, I quote here an American humorist by the name of Evan Esar (d. 1995): “Family: A social unit where the father is concerned with parking space, the children with outer space, and the mother with closet space.”

Whether Mr. Esar was fully correct or not, there is a grain of truth in what he wrote, and there is always some truth in wholesome humor.
However, for my purpose I prefer this statement of Sir Winston Churchill about the nature of family. “There is no doubt that it is around family and the home that all the greatest virtues …are created, strengthened, and maintained.”

Over this holiday time of year we are most likely to be with family, either literally or virtually because of the virus. We can verify Sir Winston’s observation. Family also gives us the answers to most of life’s important questions.

Do you think the young Jesus had questions? Certainly He must have, because remember He took on a human nature “like ours in everything but sin.” What is one of the principal ways we learn? Through answers to questions. Through that triple-spoke process of lessons taught, example given, and experience lived, Our Lord and Savior indeed grew in wisdom and grace.

I think it is an important detail that all this happened in the little village of Nazareth. It was located on the edge of the empire, far from the high society and corruption of Rome. So insignificant was it that it is nowhere even men- tioned in the whole Old Testament. Great things can happen in humble places, as our family homes most often at- test.
Could Our Lord have had better teachers in how to handle life than Mary and Joseph? Hardly. Without any ad- vanced degrees after their names, we can say with conviction that both Christ’s parents had “PhD’s” in holiness. Mary who was declared “full of grace” by an archangel, and Joseph remembered as a “just man” in the Scriptural sense cannot be excelled at their task. The Holy Spirit has decided not to tell us if any peers taught Jesus things, but we can imagine they too played a part, for better or worse, in His human upbringing. So we stand back for a time from all our concerns to admire and celebrate this Holy Family. We can see the necessity of these thirty or so years to prepare Our Lord for His incomparable mission.

That brings up the subject of our mission. Obviously it begins in our family circle, but it has to expand from there if we are to take our Baptismal and Confirmation promises seriously. That means doing our part to tell the waiting world all about Jesus and His Good News, even if the world neither acknowledges nor cares that it is waiting. Wait- ing for something, or more accurately, Someone, beyond its own calculations to give it purpose. Taking up the ad- monitions of Sirach and Colossians, which we read this weekend, is a good place to begin. After all, that’s our way to heaven. Here is George Bernard Shaw’s take on family: “A happy family is but an earlier heaven.” Think about that!

God love you and give you His peace in 2021.

Reading I: Sirach 3: 2-6, 12-14
Fidelity to the Lord implies many virtues. Chief among them is our duties toward our parents. The traditional blessings are then listed.

Reading II: Colossians 3: 12-21
This section is an early baptismal instruction. It describes the Christian community which a new member embraces through his/her baptism.

The Gospel: Luke 2: 22, 39-40
This section points out the necessity of the Nazareth years in Jesus’ life. It was there that He grew strong in the full experience of a human nature. In that way, He could bring the Spirit of God into contact with every area of our lives.

Love Thy Neighbor

In reply to a question put forth by a scholar regarding what’s the greatest of the commandments, Jesus rein- forced the commandment of love of God.

The commandment to love God was not anything novel in Jesus’ time.
Faithful and devout Jews prayed the Shema, the prayer based on Deuteronomy 6, which Jesus often quoted and which the Jewish people recited in their morning and evening prayers to remind themselves that they are called on to love the Lord God with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their strength.

Those testing Jesus would’ve been very familiar with the command to love God since they would’ve prayed the Shema twice a day.

But in responding to the scholar’s question, Jesus goes further and also reminded those present of the second of the greatest commandments, that you should love your neighbor as yourself, which
Our Lord quoted from the book of Leviticus. Again those listening to Jesus should have been familiar with this commandment also. The law of love is two-fold and hierarchical.

Together, the love of God and the love of neighbors form the basis of the whole Mosaic Law and the core and heart of Christ’s life and teaching. Both commandments must be put into practice and lived out in their proper order.

Man must love God first, and then he must love his neighbors.
A person can’t love either God or neighbor, he cannot love one while excluding others.

No! A person is required to love both God and neighbor; love is not an either/or proposition. The person who truly and genuinely loves God must also love others, as all people are the summit of God’s creation, made in God’s image and likeness, and this is where our human dignity lies: to be created in the image and likeness of God.

It is such a profound thought that we’re created in the image of God! As followers of Christ, Our Lord and King, who is the perfect image of the Eternal Father, our love for Christ Jesus fulfill the twofold command of love as He is true God and true man.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is our God as well as our brother, and with this in mind and heart, make Christ the love of your life, and He will be the life of your love.

God bless you,

Father Perez

Two Sons Working in Vineyard

In the Gospel passage for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 21:28-32), Our Lord presents an opinion question regarding two sons ordered to work in their father’s vineyard. The problem is, do we see disobedience in word or in action, although one son eventually does what his father ordered him to do.
Unfortunately, we who strive to live by the law of Christ and under the authority of his Bride, the Church, can get caught up in this attitude of disobedience in some way, shape, or form.
Whether they are large or small matters, disobedience is rooted in sin, particularly the sin of pride, which has its source in the devil, the Evil One, the father of lies, the master of deceit, the adversary, Lucifer, Satan.
Whatever we call him, we know that we must be watchful and alert so that we will not succumb to his temptations. Especially since Satan was an angel who possesses an intellect much greater than ours; he is much smarter than we could ever be, and this is why we must always be watchful and alert.
It is important to keep in mind that we have help from heaven to not succumb to temptation and sin.
Of course, the good Lord sends us his grace to strengthen us to be humble and docile servants. But we rely on allies from God’s kingdom, and our allies are the Most Blessed Mother, the saints, and the angels. The Blessed Mother intercedes on our behalf- she prays “for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” lovingly and maternally.
We must use the saints to pray for us, and we must rely on our guardian angels that the Lord has sent to watch over us. And for added firepower from heaven, we rely on the archangels Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael, whose feast is coming up later this week on the 29th.
And finally, the one person we always rely on is Our Lord Jesus Christ, with
His perfect and supreme example and His divine teachings, Our Lord shows us the way we must conduct ourselves to be his obedient and faithful followers.
Our Lord teaches us how to follow the will of the Father, certainly by his words, but above all, his example of obedience.
Christ obeys his heavenly Father because he is meek and humble of heart.
Where man was lost by Adam and Eve’s disobedience, we were saved through the obedience of Christ.
Now we must cooperate with the graces that come from Our Lord and humbly and lovingly obey the Lord with Christ’s attitude and in imitation of Christ
God bless you,

Father Perez

Sunday’s Gospel -Matthew 20: 1-16a

Dear Parishioners:
Our initial reaction to the parable in this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 20: 1-16a) is shock that the one who worked in the vineyard for one hour received the same payment as the one who worked and toiled all day. But the laborer deserves his payment, and more importantly, all were paid the sum that they agreed to, beginning with the last and ending with the first.

We know that would never happen in this day and age with hourly wages, fair labor laws, unions, etc. All employers expect a full day’s work from us.

But in this parable, our Lord isn’t teaching us about labor relations, but rather, he teaches us about the kingdom of heaven and the generosity of God. Jesus illustrates for us that the Lord is generous in giving free and undeserved gifts. With all the work that needs to be done for the sake of the kingdom, the Lord continually calls laborers to work in his  vineyard-,laborers who’ll work for an eternal and heavenly reward. We are all called to labor in the Lord’s vineyard because there’s much work that needs to be done. Some of us are called at an early age
to work for the kingdom’s sake, and some of us are called much later in life.

But eventually, all are called to labor for the Gospel in accord with our particular vocation in life. The vocation Jesus called us to that will help us get to heaven. Therefore, we all are to labor for the same heavenly reward. Our heavenly reward is borne from God’s generosity, and the Lord will never be outdone or outmatched in generosity because His ways are above man’s ways and His thoughts are above man’s thoughts. The Lord’s generosity is unlimited and infinite. It knows no bounds, and what we receive from the Lord God comes from Him with abundance and without measure.

We often find the mind of God incomprehensible, and we, as mere mortals, tend to measure out our generosity in relationship to what we receive. Even subconsciously, we hold back in being generous, and we tend to put up limits and conditions,  rather than being selfless and giving. But we must always keep in mind that our ways aren’t God’s ways and that we must strive to have
the sense of God and follow Christ’s command to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

With a generous heart,
Fr. Perez

On Being a Fool for Christ


Saint Peter writes:
Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in
God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”So then, no more boasting about men! (1 Cor 3:18-21).

Ah, to be a fool for Christ! Now that is a wise thing indeed. But it is so daring and frightening that few even among priests and religious get there. To be a fool for Christ is to be mocked, scorned and hated by this world, to be the butt of jokes, to be held in derision. How many of any of us are willing to accept this? We have such a powerful instinct to fit in, be liked, be approved by men.

The martyrs of the early Church accepted death for proclaiming and living Christ but we can barely endure a raised eyebrow! Maybe it is ambition that keeps us from the goal. Maybe it is an overly developed wish to live in peace with the world. Maybe it is fear or maybe it is just plain laziness. But few of us Christians can bear the notion of really being thought a fool by this world and so we desperately strive to fit in.

If you evangelize or really seek to live the gospel, expect to get it with both barrels. Expect to be scorned, rebuffed and ignored. Expect your children and grandchildren to roll their eyes and say, “There you go again.!” Expect a fallen away member of the family to ridicule you and recite your own past sins. Evangelizing and living in countercultural ways is hard. Sometimes the fruits seem lacking despite repeated attempts. And it is often our own family members that grieve us the most. But all of this is just fine. We have to remember that in spite of negative reactions we haven’t done anything wrong. We often think, probably from childhood, that when someone is angry at us we have done something wrong.

Not necessarily. Sometimes it means we have done something right. A doctor often causes pain and discomfort in order to bring healing and so it is that the Word of God is sharper that any two edged sword. Sometimes people are angry and “hurt” because we have done something precisely right. The protest of pain often precedes the healing that follows.

But in the end, the biggest obstacle to evangelization is our fragile ego. We are often so afraid to incite a negative reaction, to incur another’s wrath or even worse, ridicule. Perhaps we will be asked a question we cannot answer or the other person will “out maneuver” us with Bible quotes and “win” the argument. Perhaps a fallen away family member will succeed in embarrassing us about our past sins. Perhaps it is just too painful to be told “no” again by a spouse or child who refuses to go to Church. Perhaps we will end up feeling like a fool.

And there it is, that word again: fool! Are you and I willing to be made a fool for Christ’s sake? Are we willing to  risk ridicule and failure in order to announce Jesus Christ? The world has gone mad and the Gospel is “out of season.”

More than ever the Lord needs a few fools to risk ridicule and hatred to proclaim his gospel to a hostile world that often thinks it is a foolish doctrine that is hopelessly out of touch.
It is said that among some of the Monks of the Orthodox Church it is common to place upon their tombstone the phrase: “Fool for Christ” Not bad. I pray that I will increasingly live a life worthy of the title. And if I do, kindly grant me the favor of inscribing on MY tombstone: “Fool for Christ.”

Labor Day

Dear Friends in Christ,

This coming Monday is Labor Day, a holiday known to most Americans as the end of summer and the reason for a long weekend. But that wasn’t always the case. It was originally established to honor American workers and, by extension, the dignity of labor itself. The meaning of human work has been at the center of debates in the public square since the industrial revolution.

The two opposing views (broadly speaking) hold that human labor is for the state, on one hand, or for the corporation, on the other. What these extremes have in common is that they view work in a materialistic manner. They both confine its purpose to this world only — to institutions, products, profit, etc. The Church has a different, loftier view of work. Scripture tells us that man was created and placed in the garden “to till it and to keep it” (Gen 2:15).

This task was a participation in and continuation of the work that God Himself had been doing (see Gen 2:2-3). Labor was, therefore, not a punishment but an original blessing. One of the effects of original sin was the distortion of human labor from blessing into affliction: “cursed is the ground because of you; in toil, you shall eat of it…thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you…” (Gen 3:17-18). We all find frustration, difficulty, boredom, and drudgery at work to some degree. Thus, the original blessing of work needed to be redeemed.

Our Lord Himself was known as “the carpenter’s son” (Mt 13:55). He spent most of his adult life learning and practicing the same trade as his earthly father, Joseph. He thus redeems human labor and imbues it with a great dignity. We were created to participate in God’s work; in Jesus Christ, God Himself participates in our work. Thus, human labor is not solely for goods, profit, the state, or the corporation. It is for the development of the person as the image of God.

Work is for man; not man for work. “By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work” (CCC 2427). These are the truths that should inform how we shape our society’s view of work and workers. They should also shape our government’s treatment of the worker. It is significant that Poland’s Solidarity movement — for the dignity of work and workers’ rights — in a little over a decade brought the Soviet Union’s tyranny to an end.

That is the societal impact of thinking correctly on this issue. May these truths also inform and shape how we view our own work. May we always see it as both an opportunity to cooperate in God’s creative work and, as we bear the cross of difficulties and challenges, an occasion to participate in Christ’s redemptive work.

By Father Paul Scalia ( A friend of Father Perez’s)

St. Peter and the Universal Church

Two profound things happened in the Gospel passage for this Sunday: the first is that Peter made a confession of faith in Jesus as Son of the living God. The second is that Our Lord promised to confer upon Peter the primacy of the Universal Church.

As Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he presented them with the question: Who do people say that the Son of Man is? And they responded with the various opinions that people had concerning who the Son of Man is.

And after hearing what the disciples had relayed back to him, Jesus presented them with another question: But who do you say that I am? No mere man could’ve influenced Peter to testify to the truth about the divinity of Jesus Christ; only the heavenly Father could’ve inspired Peter to make this confession of faith in God’s only Son. And in return, Our Lord entrusted the primacy of the Universal Church to Peter. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.

How easy it is for us to overlook that Christ founded the Universal Church, the very Church that we’re a part of. If Peter and the Apostles are the foundation for the Universal Church, then Christ is the cornerstone, and we, who by our initiation into the Church, are the living stones which make up a part of the Church. Our Lord continues to build His Church upon the firm foundation of Peter and the Apostles in such a way that no power could overthrow it- And the gates of nether world shall not prevail against it.

The Church will withstand any attack upon it; no enemy of the Church- whether they’re persecutors, heretics, or public dissenters- will ever prevail against the Church, which Christ himself founded even to the end of time. From its beginning 2000 years ago, the Church has undergone some kind of attack against her members throughout her history. Enemies have come and gone, but the Church still stands and will continue to remain.

And my dear friends in Christ, this gives us much hope because Our Lord established His Church and entrusted it to Peter for our salvation- so that we could get into heaven.
In heaven, the Triumphant Church will be in Christ the King’s eternal presence, and now we must pray and work to get there.
Fr. Perez