Be Transformed: 22nd S. 2020

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary time, August 30, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Last week we learned that the Spirit of God speaks to us in the depths of our heart, and Peter was praised for his willingness to allow God to overwhelm his human body and mind so that he might think and speak the words of God, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That was beautiful and Jesus recognized Peter for it. 

This week I’m sad to say that Peter is being admonished by Jesus as he says, “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me.” And so it goes with the human condition. I think it’s true in my own life as well. I’ve got some great moments when I am entirely convinced that God is so proud of what I do and what I say…and then there is the rest of the time…okay, most of the time, when, with the Spirit of God within me, I still act in a merely natural way, a merely human way. And that’s sad. We are made for so much more. 

This commitment to growth in holiness, in spite of human weakness is called sanctification. Each day we grow more holy so that our words and actions are pleasing to God and reflect the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. I think the important lesson today is that Peter is not so different from all of us. Some days he’s hot and some days he’s cold, and so are we. In spite of his weaknesses, however, he still accepted the responsibilities given to him by Jesus Christ and both rose to the occasion and advanced the Kingdom of God. Peter wasn’t perfect, and neither are we. Peter failed time and time again, and so do we. But Peter continued to follow Jesus, proclaimed the Kingdom, and saved souls for God, and so should we. 

The hard part is this whole humanity thing. We often live down to our base self instead of rising to our redeemed self. This is St. Paul’s admonition to the Romans. He urged them to offer their whole body as a living sacrifice to God. That makes sense, actually. If our soul belongs to God, but our body has a tendency to turn away from God, then we should offer our sinful self to God as a beautiful gift. We give God our sinful hands, mouth, eyes, head and heart, and He transforms them into weapons for righteousness and holiness. 

This is exactly what happens at the Eucharist. We bring God imperfect bread, imperfect wine, and imperfect wealth. We place those on the altar of sacrifice, and by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist prayer, the imperfect is transformed into the perfect body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. God has been transforming the natural and imperfect to supernatural and perfectly holy from the beginning of time. St. Paul tells the Romans “not to conform but to be transformed” so that they and we may know God’s pleasing and perfect will. 

We are not perfect–Peter wasn’t either. But if we are willing to sacrifice our life on the altar of God, God will transform us. God will change and purify our thinking and feeling so that we, day by day, become more like him. And the Eucharist is the key to that transformation. We give imperfect gifts that are transformed into Jesus, we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, and are transformed into Him. We become what we consume day by day. We carry our cross and we follow him. Like Peter and Paul and the great saints of the Church, our life is in Christ and more and more we think not as humans do, but as God does. Amen. 

I’m excited to announce that my ordination to the Permanent Diaconate is just three weeks away. The ordination will be live-streamed and will be put up on the Diocesan YouTube page and Facebook page. Below are the links for both. Please continue to keep me and my family in prayer. 

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC06T0lUeTI-MBotrlWKIXJA

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StocktonDiocese

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Peter Not Shebna; 21st S. 2020

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary time, August 23, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” St. Paul tells the Romans. Have you ever had a thought that you just knew wasn’t yours? Ever had an idea pop into your head almost from outside yourself? I have. It was nineteen years ago, I had left the Church and Christianity with it. As I sat on my couch in complete silence, I was sick to my stomach with loneliness–and I’m NEVER lonely! I called Chris, who was not home. I called Shawn, also not home, and I collapsed back on the couch and heard a voice inside of me, just as clear as can be, “I need God back in my life.” 

Just as soon as I thought that thought, I knew it wasn’t mine. I had never known God in that way, and yet I knew without a doubt it was the voice of God. As Jesus told Peter today, “Flesh and blood” had not revealed it to me, but my heavenly Father. Flesh and blood are the things of earth; things carnal, things natural and instinctual. And we are flesh, and we are of the earth, and we are natural–but we are more. We are of the Spirit, and of the kingdom of God, and we are super-natural.

I think in our life and throughout our day, we are quite divided. We focus on the flesh in our dealings at work and at the grocery store, when we vote, and pay our bills. And we also focus on the Spiritual life too, when we go to Mass, pray at night or over meals, tithe, and read Scripture. But this divided self is not healthy and undermines the body-soul unity that we proclaim in the Creed. Every earthly action should be guided by heavenly knowledge, wisdom, and strength.

I often see this division creep into the Church when ministries of the Church run their meetings in purely secular ways. These meetings do not begin and end with prayer, lack Christian courtesy and love, tend to follow “Roberts Rules of Order” instead of the prompting of the Holy Spirit and brotherly love. They forget that we use earthly things, money, land, bodies and buildings for the purpose of advancing the kingdom of God. Every decision made in the Church, and even our family and its resources, should answer the question, “To what degree does this action build up the kingdom of God?” 

This was Shebna’s problem in the first reading. He was put in a place of earthly authority but he did not rule as God rules. He did not seek and hear the voice of God as he worked in this life–and that’s a great danger for us too. Every part of our life is a gift from God, and we are therefore stewards of those gifts. Our work, our home, our family, our paycheck, our talents, and our authority are all to be used to give honor to God and advance his kingdom. And if they are given, then they also can be taken away. Just like Shebna, God will “thrust us from our office and pull us down from our station.” 

Of course, the opposite of Shebna, is Peter, in today’s Gospel. Jesus granted Peter great authority to govern Christ’s church on earth because Peter was open to hearing and being guided by Jesus’ heavenly father. Peter was not perfect, nor are we, but if we say, “yes” to God, receive his gifts gratefully, live and love joyfully, listen to his voice intently, and speak God’s truth boldly, we too will be given much authority. Firstly over our own life, then our family, our workplaces, community and world. That’s why we pray for both our spiritual and government leaders, that they, like Peter be guided by the Spirit of God. 

As we govern our lives and family, remember Shebna, remember Peter, and listen intently for God’s voice. Knowledge, wisdom, and wealth await us, if we would but just listen and obey.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Rejoice In God: The Assumption 2020

Guido's AssumptionToday’s reflection is for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, in Turlock, where I presently serve as an Instituted Acolyte, and soon as Deacon, celebrates with joy the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary today. The word, “assumption” simply means “a taking,” or “a taking up into heaven.” In 1950 Pope Pius XII in his Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, invoked papal infallibility and officially defined the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus and mother of the Church.

The dogma is only this, “We proclaim and define it to be a dogma revealed by God that the immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.” In this dogma the church reveals not only the truth of Mary receiving eternal reward and perfect unity with God for herself, body and soul, but also that by her assumption she received what is promised to all Christians, final bodily resurrection.

Every Sunday at Mass we profess our faith by reciting the Creed, wherein we profess our belief in among other things, “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed came out of two great councils, Nicea in 325AD and Constantinople in 381AD. In these councils, the church not only codified its own beliefs, but also lay to rest all other claims to the contrary. And so it was for Pope Pius XII in 1950 in his day.

Many non-Catholic Christians do not believe in the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, while Eastern Catholics and Roman Catholics do, Orthodox Christians do, as well as Anglican’s and some other protestant Christians. While the assumption of Mary is not explicitly taught in the Bible, there are plenty of Biblical passages that would make the argument for belief very reasonable indeed. It’s probably import to note that while the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception is not “Biblical,” meaning that it’s not found explicitly in the Bible, neither is it “anti-Biblical,” meaning that it is against the teaching of the Bible. The assumption is in fact “extra Biblical,” meaning that it is not found in Scripture, but does not contradict it.

While Mary’s assumption is not in the Bible, there are assumptions in the bible. Elijah, at the end of his earthly life was taken up “assumed” in a fiery chariot at the end of his earthly life (2Kings 2:8-12). Also, Enoch in Genesis 5:25, walked with God and God took him. Whereas others died, or were laid to rest, Elijah, Enoch, and Mary, give us reasonable hope that our eternal destiny is not the grave but the resurrection of soul and earthly body at the end of time.

Today’s first reading gives witness that Mary, the woman “clothed with the sun” was taken to a place prepared for her by God. The second reading teaches that in Christ all shall be brought to life–Jesus was the first fruits and then all those who belong to Him, in proper order, and the Gospel teaches us that Mary’s, “soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” and her “Spirit exults in God [her] savior.” And if our goal is that of Elijah’s and Enoch’s and Mary’s, then like Mary, our soul too must proclaim the Lord’s greatness and our spirit must exult not in the things of the world, not in earthly treasure or pleasure, but in God our savior. Mary is a beautiful example celebrated each year on August 15, that we must ask ourselves always, what brings our Spirit joy? In what do we rejoice? Let us rejoice always in God our savior, and every good thing will be given to us besides–to include the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen?

For a well-documented and written argument for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, click here or here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Out of the Cave: 19th S. 2020

ElijahToday’s reflection is for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 9, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome speaks loudly to many of us at this time of crisis in our country and in our world. St. Paul says, “I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart.” Us too, St. Paul. Us too.

Every day I speak to people who are angry, sad, suffering, and confused. There is violence and protests in the streets, there are officers accused of wrong-doing, politicians pointing fingers, lawsuits against governments and persons, grocery store shelves that are bare, COVID-19 cases and deaths on the rise, and parents asking, when will our kids get to go back to school?

I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; with you I also have great sorrow and anguish in my heart. I suffer with you, our community, our country, and our world. I don’t have answers to all these questions, actually, I don’t have answers to any of them. What I do know, and offer to you, is that we are not the only ones who have suffered in this life, we won’t be the last, and the Scripture today offers not answers, but help and hope.

Elijah had done just what the Lord had asked him to do: to tell God’s people that they have not lived up to the covenant and they must change their ways! Of course, they did not want to hear it and sought to take his life. All the prophets have been slain and now the Israelites want to kill him too. That’s why Elijah is hiding in a cave on Mount Horeb today. LIke many of us, he’s filled with sorrow and has anguish in his heart. God tells him, get out of the cave, Elijah, I’ll be passing by.

Elijah was confused, though, because he did not find God where he expected to find him. God was not in the heavy wind, the powerful earthquake, nor the raging fire…God was in the tiny whispering sound. And I think that is very important for us at this time in our history. Elijah did some very important things in this reading: First, he told God why he was in the cave in the first place–he named his anger, fear, and suffering. Secondly, he got out of the cave, and finally he listened for the tiny whispering sound and knew it to be God.

When we are angry or afraid we often go into panic mode–fight or flight. We start to complain, we find others who are confused and angry, and we join in the anger, complaining, and dissatisfaction. We post hurtful things on social media and we look to school officials, doctors, and government officials to solve this problem that we have–but that’s not what Elijah did. Elijah spoke his hurt to God, and so should we. These difficult times should cause us to pray more, not less. To receive the sacraments more, not less. To read our Bible and the lives of the saints more, not less. We need to talk to God. We need to cry out to him.

Secondly, we cannot stay in our cave. A cave is a dark, damp, sick place. It is a place of simply waiting to die. Elijah got out of there, and so should we. Go for a walk, talk to a friend, attend an outdoor event, Mass, or other celebration. We gotta get out of the cave–even if it’s only in your back yard–we gotta get out of there!

Finally, Elijah sought earnestly for God. He looked all around him, in all the obvious places. In the wind, the fire, and the earthquake, but if you don’t find God where you at first looked, look again. Our world is so full of noise. We never just have quiet time to reflect. We say, “God, if you’ve got something to say, you better say it now and very loud!” How often God’s children think that God is not near, because they can hear for all the noise that surrounds them.

In this crazy time of uncertainty and fear, I want to assure you that God has a special gift of grace for you. God wants you to see him passing by. He wants to encourage you and give you hope. But we have to take the time to pray and name our fears and anxiety and not be afraid to name our hopes and desires, like Peter did in the Gospel. Surrounded by waves and water, he yelled out, “Lord, save me!” And so should we.

Like Elijah, get out of your cave of suffering. There’s nothing but sickness and dis-ease there. Get out. Like Peter, get out of the boat! Step out in faith even as the waves crash all around us.

Look for God in the obvious, church, priest, Scripture, and Catechism, but be quiet and look for God in the poor, the children, the suffering, and the sick. God is there in the tiny whispering sounds of our ordinary life. Be open to that. I am often blown away when God speaks to me through the smallest moments. And for all that we go through in this life, be of great faith, and never doubt. Jesus will always reach out to us, God is always seeking to find ways to pick us up when we’re feeling down. I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie, have faith, this present wind will die down. Amen?

By Deacon Stephen Valgos