The Advocate

The AdvocateToday’s reflection is for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 26, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

I cannot possibly count the number of times I have told my mother that I love her—It’s quite a lot, really, but I can also not possibly count the number of times I have disobeyed her either! In today’s Gospel, Jesus wants to teach us that the opposite of love for God is not hatred of God, but rather disobedience to God’s will. Jesus tells us, If you love me, then act like it!

To love God seems kind of abstract. God is invisible so we can’t exactly hug and kiss, and help and hold God, can we? Maybe we can. I think that’s the brilliance of the New Command that we heard last week that came from John 13:34. Jesus said to love one another. As he has loved us, so should we love one another. I think that if we want to love God whom we cannot see then we should love our neighbor who we can see.

Remember the quote I gave you last week from Saint John Paul II and St. Thomas Aquinas, “Love wills the good of another.” So, it is impossible for us to say right here on Sunday, “I love God,” and then at the same time walk out this door and wish evil upon others, cause violence toward others, refuse to reconcile with others, be impatient, selfish, rude, hurtful, hateful, and unkind to others. If we do we are made liars be our very own actions and attitude.

In the first epistle of John, we hear as much. He teaches, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. If God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.” (1JN 4:7-11)

We say on Sunday that we love God, but by Sunday afternoon…maybe even after breakfast, we choose not to love our neighbor. I’m not talking about temptation or forgetfulness, or catching ourselves and stopping. I’m talking about catching ourselves failing to love and then doing it anyway. That’s the difference between temptation to sin and indulging in sin.

When we catch ourselves being led into wrongdoing, that’s temptation. And if we catch ourselves and stop, or catch ourselves not doing what we should be doing and make the correction—we’re good. Maybe you’ve been there, where right when you were about to do wrong, you heard a small voice inside you, “Steve, that’s not a good idea! I know you know better than that! That’s not going to turn out well…” Have you heard that voice? We’re going to talk about that voice in a second because that voice is God’s great gift to us! But if we hear that voice, shut it down, drown it out, and think, “Y.O.L.O.!” and do it anyway, then now we’ve given in to that temptation, we’ve ignored the voice of God, knew better, could have done something different, and still chose to do wrong—that’s sin.

Ephesians 6 says, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil. The thief must no longer steal, but rather labor, so that he may have something to share with one in need. No foul language should come out of your mouths. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” (24-32)

My brothers, the love for God comes with a promise, a promise never to leave us, never to abandon us, always to be in us, and to always speak to us in the depths of our being, directing us to what is good and holy. This gift of God was revealed at the day of Pentecost that we celebrate on June 9. What sadness the disciples must have felt when Jesus told them that he must return to the Father, but what joy upon hearing Jesus’ promise to send his very own Spirit to dwell within them, to guide them, and teach them in every moment how to love God and their neighbor.

In today’s Gospel Jesus said, “I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” God was out there, far away, approachable to only a select few who mediated God’s message to others. And then in an amazing act of love, God sent his only begotten Son to earth, to live with disciples and teach them about God, and how to love pray. But at Pentecost God sent his own Spirit to make his home in us. In our heart, in our head, in our bodies. We can now hear the very voice of god guiding us to do what is right, standing beside us to encourage us to do the good, regardless of the cost.

The Advocate stands with us, speaks through us, says to Satan—back off this one’s mine, and says to God, I’m making up the difference for what he owes. I’m good for it. He’s with us. The Advocate has attorney-client privileges. He is in your heart—speak to him, and hear his voice. He has a lot to say if we have ears to hear and hearts open to hear it. Amen.


By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Love; That’s How They Know

img_4031Today’s reflection is for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 19, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

We have today gathered, disciples of Jesus Christ. Do our coworkers, friends, complete strangers know we are Christian? Do the guards know you are Christian? I wonder, what makes us Christian? I mean, what is the defining characteristic of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ—honestly. I know we love our rosaries, prayer cards, crucifixes, and holy oil, statues, and medallions (a.k.a. Catholic Bling), but not a single one of those things make us Christian. Jesus tells us today that the world will know we are his disciples if we have love for one another. That’s it. It is by our love that people will know we are Christian.

That alone is how they will know that we are born again, resurrected, Easter people; that we are His and He is ours. The world will know that we bear the Holy Name: Christian. By our love. So simple. So difficult.

St. Paul has to help out the Church in Corinth, when he tells them that “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1COR13:4-8) For a simple exercise, replace your name with the word love in the verses above. Steve is patient, Steve is kind. He is not jealous, he is not pompous, he is not inflated, he is not rude…I’ve got some serious work to do. The truth is that too often I’m neither patient, nor kind. I often seek my own interests, and it is often at the expense of those closest to me. I could work on these for the rest of my life and still have work to do.

Saint John Paul II, used the words of St. Thomas Aquinas when he said, “Love wills the good of another.” That’s very beautiful. The loving person desires what is good for others. That’s true love and it is often exemplified in the sacrificial love of parents for their children. Because I love you, I set boundaries, establish rules and disciplinary consequences for violating them. Discipline is not contrary to love, but is at its service. As Hebrews teaches, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” (HEB 12:11) Because I will the good of my children, I do not withhold corrective discipline—nor should you, or our schools, or the state. It must never be done out of anger, revenge, but out of love.

To pray for others is also a beautiful act of love. We pray even for, and especially for our enemies. We can all pray for one another—there is nothing to impede it. What greater thing can I do for one who resists me that to pray for their peace, their understanding, their generosity, mercy, and love. Jesus tells his disciples in The Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” (MT 5:43-45) The single greatest moments in my difficult relationships have come with prayer for the other. It’s free, and changes everything.

All that I have been talking about from First Corinthians and from St. John Paul II, and finally for praying for those who harm us, have everything to do with love, and sacrifice, and death. Yes, death. For us to love like Christ, we must also be willing to die with Him. During this Easter season we are mindful that the greatest act of love is to lay down one’s life for another. (JN 15:14) If we are to follow his commandment to love, we must die to ourselves, die to our ego, our hatred, our pain, and our suffering. If are going to call ourselves Christians we must be a humble people, a servant people, and even an enslaved people. We are set free by love so that we can freely choose to surrender to love. St. Paul says, “Thanks be to God that, although you were once slaves of sin, you have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were entrusted. Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness.” (ROM 6:17) And so we are. With our freedom we serve unto death the one who set us free, and Jesus Christ, our liberator asks only one thing of his disciples—that they love. That’s it. That’s how they’ll know that we are his; not by our prayer cards, rosaries, and crucifixes, but by our willingness to love someone to death.

So, of what use, or for what purpose are rosaries, prayer cards, crosses, the Commandments, Catholic Social teachings, crucifixes, holy water, holy oil, medallions, theology, paintings, stained glass windows, statues, or even Scripture? They teach us to love. They remind us to love. In every generation they help us to love. They have no value in and of themselves—but they help us to encounter love, be healed by love, be transformed by love, so that we can love.

Jesus told his disciples, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (JN 13:34) Let us love, in word and deed, and the world will know, and we will rise with him. Amen.


By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Moms: God’s Herald

Madonna and ChildToday’s reflection is for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

Happy Mother’s Day! Today’s reflection is a call to give thanks, pray, and reflect. In today’s Gospel, Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (JN 10:27)

In my own life I had a wonderful conversion experience where I actually heard God speak to me in the depths of my being. Just as loud and as clear as can be, I heard the voice of God. He is my shepherd, I heard his voice, chose to follow him, and have been given eternal life—and not just me, but all those who hear the voice of the shepherd and follow him.

But the important point for us today, is not whether or not I heard God’s voice, but how I knew it was the voice of the Lord when I heard it—and that’s why I live in thanksgiving today. Because my mom was faithful, and for her I give thanks. My mom got us out of bed on Sundays and holy days of obligation and drove us into town to go to Church whether we wanted to or not. She made us say prayers before meals and before bed whether we wanted to or not. I remember very vividly her lying to us at bed time. “We’re only going to say one decade of the rosary,” she promised, but we all knew we were doing five! She signed us up and made sure we attended CCD. She taught CCD, was a lector, ensured I was an altar boy, and eventually a lector and commentator—and now, God willing, a deacon.

It was she, during this time of great distress, difficulty, and hardship, that my mom put a roof over our head, put food on the table, ensured that we were clothed, had something to drink when we were thirsty, and put our sunscreen on when it was hot outside. When we were successful in school and in life she was there to celebrate with us, and when we were unsuccessful and failed, she was there for a warm embrace and to dry our tears. My mom took care of us (and continues to care for us) while on this earth, but more importantly, she taught us to hear, recognize, and respond to the call of God in our life to be his disciples. She is God’s great herald to me. She invited me into a relationship with the one who could give me eternal life that never perishes. No greater gift could be given by any mother to her children. Thanks, mom.

John tells us today in his vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem that, “The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” That’s what my mom has been doing my whole life! It’s as though God gave me my mom as a foretaste of a relationship with him so that I would more strongly desire what was to come. My mom both created the want within me to experience the love of God and taught me to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd that I might follow and lie down in green pastures forever.

The “elder” tells John, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple.” The goal of our life is to stand before God’s throne and worship him for all eternity. My mom started me on the road to salvation and rejoices in the robe that I wear. Thank you, mom. Thanks be to God that our churches today are filled with moms who take up the mantle, who get their children ready for church, who sign them up for catechism, and who encourage them to say their prayers at night. So often I see church’s filled with women and children. I give thanks to those women today.

I also want to pray today for those mothers who have struggled and who continue to struggle with temptation, with unhealthy desires, and with addictions of various types. I believe very strongly that Satan’s strategy after breaking down the family, is to break down women. It is within the family that God’s warriors are formed, and when families are broken it is overwhelming moms who raise Christian soldiers. We need strong women now more than ever! We need strong families now more than ever. And so, we pray. On this Mother’s Day pray for strong marriages and pray for strong women who continue to do the great work of raising disciples of Jesus Christ who hear the shepherd’s voice, courageously say, “Here I am, Lord, send me!” Yes, today we give thanks and pray.

Finally, we reflect on the foot of the cross where Jesus gave the Church his own mother as an example for women, and comfort for all children. Jesus told his mother, “Woman, behold your son, John, behold your mother.” (John 19:25) We have our mothers here on earth, but Jesus made sure we always had his mother as well. Every generation is invited to accept Jesus’ mother, to take her into our home, and allow us to share the love that she had for her son. She gives all mothers an opportunity to reflect on how she might have handled one situation or another, and to go to her in prayer to ask for guidance, support, and advice. She is the perfect model of motherhood as her son fulfilled God’s will for him on this earth and remains an inspiration for mothers supporting God’s calling for their own children as they fulfill their own vocation. Mary should be on the mind of every mother as their children bring them the joys and struggles of motherhood. Therefore, we reflect time and time again on how Mary is an example of motherhood as she leads ever deeper into a relationship with her son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Moms are amazing, give thanks. Moms are humans who are tempted and fail, pray. Mary is every mother’s model, reflect. Amen. Happy Mother’s Day!

For Reflection

Have I given sufficient honor and thanks to my mother who brought me into a relationship with my savior, Jesus Christ?

Do I pray for my mom, wife, sister, or coworkers struggling to steer clear of temptation and raise their children to know the Lord?

Do I often reflect on Mary’s life, and to what degree have I brought her into my home as the Lord commanded?

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

No Going Back

New Life old lifeToday’s reflection is for the Third Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

We are told in the first reading that Peter and the apostles were given strict orders by the Sanhedrin, “to stop teaching in [Jesus’] name.” Their simple response was only this: “We must obey God rather than men.” That was their only answer and it must be ours as well. At every time, in every circumstance, we obey God. Period. They’re not our boss, He is.

I remember, being in junior high and my mom being so tired, upset, and fed up with my sister. I don’t remember exactly what the order was, but it was definitely an order she yelled out at the top of her lungs, “And you better do it!” My sister, cool as a cucumber said, “You’re not the boss of me, only God’s the boss of me.” Okay, so my sister probably didn’t get the circumstance right, but her answer was definitely right! God is indeed the boss of me. He’s my boss, he’s my advisor, he’s my director, he’s my guide, he’s my savior. I am his and he is mine.

Today’s Gospel teaches us that once we are His, there is no going back to the way things used to be. Peter, Andrew, the sons of Zebedee, James and John—they were fishermen when Jesus found them. The Scripture tells us that he called them and immediately they dropped their nets or left their father to follow this amazing Jesus. He promised that from that point forward that these fishermen would be fishers of men. How exciting! What a ride those three years with Jesus must have been for them! To encounter God and find, hope, joy, and peace in Him.

The song, Amazing Grace, expresses the joy that one discovers when being called by God. Maybe some of you are here today because you have heard the voice of God and responded. I remember when I first heard God’s voice. I was going to school up in Humboldt County. Although I was raised in a Catholic family I didn’t live like a Catholic Christian and I left the Church. One day my roommate was gone, the T.V. was off, the stereo was off, and I got this sick empty feeling in my stomach. I’ve never been lonely like that. And I had this thought that I had never thought before; I thought, “I need God back in my life.” Immediately I thought, “Where did that thought come from!”

I went to Church growing up, altar server, and lector and stuff, but I never thought of God as a relational God who could satisfy the emptiness inside of me. That thought could never have come from me. And I’m here to tell you, that was it for me. God is real. God spoke to me. I heard God’s voice. And nothing will ever be the same again. I can’t unthink that thought. I can’t unhear the call. I’m now a fisher of men. I’m like the Psalmist today, I praise the Lord because he rescued me.

Sometimes I forget though. Sometimes I ignore my relationship with God. Sometimes, like the Apostles in today’s Gospel, when things don’t turn out right, when we get confused, when our faith has been shaken by tragedy, or pain, and suffering, too often we go back to the way we were before we met Jesus. We make a commitment to follow him, but then we go back to the same old friends, the same old corners, the same old houses. It was the “Green House” for me up in Humboldt. That’s where my rugby buddies hung out, where there was always beer and pot and girls. You know that place. Every disciple knows that place for him. We make commitments to Jesus and to the Father and say, “I’m done with that old life! When I get out, things will be different!” But too often they are not.

The Scriptures tell us today that this was the THIRD time the risen lord appeared to his apostles! The third time! He told them to drop their nets because they would be fishers of men! He had a different plan for them…but they just kept going back to what they knew. Proverbs 26:2 says that just, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his mistakes,” and 2Peter 2:23 says that, “A pig that is washed goes back to wallowing in the mud.” And so it was with them, and so it can easily be with us.

And that’s why this is called “the good news!” because we know that John recognized Jesus and Peter jumped out of the boat, and they spent time with their Lord. And we know too, that they never went back to fishing again. Peter led the Church and died for the Lord Jesus in Rome, John wrote the Book of Revelation, Andrew and James, and all the rest of Jesus’ disciples courageously followed him no matter what anybody said or what anybody thought. And if they did it, then so can we! That’s good news!

Peter had to make a conscious decision to follow Jesus and to never get back in the boat, and he did and he was our first Pope. I had to make the decision not to go back to the Green House, and I did and now God has called me to be a deacon. And you too will have to decide at some point not to go back to the block. And I can’t wait to see what God has planned for you!

Like my sister, we must affirm to old friends and neighbors, to those who lead us into temptation and evil, and sin, we must say loud and clear—you’re not the boss of me, only God’s the boss of me. And like those courageous disciples we too must say loud and clear, “We must obey God, rather than men.” Amen?

For Reflection:

How often do I sit in the silence to hear God’s voice?

Are you responding to, or running from God’s call to you in this life?

What will it take to “stop returning to the mud?”

By Deacon Stephen Valgos