Be Free!: 14th S. 2020

4thToday’s reflection is for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 5, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

I hope some of you remember the movie Gladiator, in 2000, starring Russel Crowe. The opening scene shows Roman general, Maximus, defeating Rome’s enemies, finally bringing peace to Rome, and to the heart of it’s great emperor Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius is exhausted, having been at war for over two decades. He wants only peace and needed rest from violence and bloodshed.

The truthfulness of that scene made an incredible impact on me when I saw it not long after getting out of the Marines. War is exhausting, violence is exhausting, and peace is a beautiful and delicate flower. As we celebrate Independence Day this year we honor those brave men and women who sacrificed so much, and those who continue to stand guard so that our hard-won freedoms remain secure.

July 4th is not about barbeques and fireworks, but about celebrating the long-awaited peace of independence and liberty from tyranny, oppression, and violence. St. Augustine said, “Peace is the tranquility of order.” We gather today as a family, to be recreated, rejuvenated, and to put things in proper order—God, Family, country, and friends. The Hebrew word for this peace, tranquility, and order is shalom.

The 1st reading from the Prophet Zechariah gives the people of Judah new hope as they return from Exile in Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem and their temple. They look forward to a king. A king that will bring sedekah and shalom—justice and peace. Zechariah says that this great king would banish the instruments of war, the chariot, the horse, and the warrior’s bow, and proclaim shalom to the nations.

The Jews believed that a good king would ensure justice (sedekah) to the most vulnerable in society, namely, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant, and bring peace (shalom) within the nation and between one nation and the other. And shalom/peace does not simply mean the absence of conflict, but rather the fullness of life—within the nation and among nations.

Peace was the only thing that Marcus Aurelius wanted and it’s what we should want too, in our heart, in our family, in our streets, nation, and world. It’s also our only prayer for those who have died, that they Rest In Peace (R.I.P.), and it’s what Jesus promises in the Gospel today. Sadly, too few people find in this life.

Jesus tells a weary, conflicted, exhausted people, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest…my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Exhausted war-torn people need peace, and justice, and Jesus…and the resultant joy.

As we celebrate our Independence Day, let us be mindful that although we are free from the tyranny of British Colonization, we are yet still far from free as a people and as a country, and I believe it’s why we still lack peace in our hearts and in our streets.

I hope you love this country as much as I do, and are honest enough to admit that though free in principal, we have much room for growth in practice. While we still live in sin, we are not free. While children starve we are not free. While domestic violence exists, we are not free. While racism, sexism, and elitism exist we are not free. While addictions and poverty and homelessness, intolerance, violence, and ignorance exist we are not free.

I believe with all my heart that we can be free and we will be free, but we’re not quite there yet. We need Jesus. We need to know our dignity and the dignity of others. We need to recommit ourselves daily to prayer and lives of holiness, that serve others, stand in solidarity with others, and speak up for others. This country is amazing, but renewal and recommitment is absolutely essential.

True independence is not about freedom from, but rather freedom for. We do not measure independence based upon what we do not have to do, but rather what we can do. I can be generous during times of scarcity. I can be courageous in the face of danger. I can be loving toward those who do not deserve my love. Why? Because I can…because I’m free. Free to love, free to give, free to serve, free to worship, free to live for God, family, and country.

St. Paul tells the Romans today, “We are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live.” So, join me on this Independence Day to cook some BBQ and to let off some fireworks, to spend time and be recreated with family and friends, and to celebrate our Nation’s independence.

But even more than that, join me in putting an end to conflict, to struggle, injustice, intolerance, and violence. And above all, to putting an end to slavery to sin which leads to death. Join me in clinging to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, saying yes to God, yes to life, and yes to love. Because only then will we truly be free, find joy, and know shalom. Happy 4th of July.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Lose the Anchor: 13th S. 2020

the riverToday’s reflection is for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 28, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

I remember hearing about a fiery preacher who gave a sermon on all those things that pollute our life and cause us to sin. He said to the congregation, “If beer is causing you to sin, take that beer and dump it right into the river!” He continued, “And if it’s whiskey or wine, take it down to the river and dump it!” “If you’re addicted to drugs or pornography,” he went on, “then take it down and dump it right in the river!” After finishing up his sermon, the music minister said, “For our closing hymn, open up to page 138, and join me in singing Shall We Gather at the River?”

Funny joke, I think, but that preacher was right on track. In college, when I first really started following Jesus, I had an incredible transformation and chose to follow Him with my whole heart. I had a lot of baggage that I needed to be rid of, some unhealthy addictions, some friends that were not helpful to live a life of holiness, and some really bad habits that did not give glory and honor to God. With the pastor of our Church group we went through all my possessions and started clearing it out. We didn’t dump it in the river, of course, but we did get rid of it, and that’s an important first step in our growth in holiness.

I think every person who wants to become a Christian must seriously look at his life and ask the question, “Does this thing, action, relationship, or habit, help me grow in holiness, give glory to God, and advance His kingdom?” If it does not, we must be rid of it. It is an anchor that is pulling us down to hell. I believe this is what Jesus is telling his apostles in today’s Gospel when he gives them the quite shocking news that they must love him more than their own family.

I think it’s interesting that he’s not actually talking to those who are on the fence about following Him. He’s talking to those that are already his apostles, who, like us, have already made a commitment to follow him. Even still he says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” I don’t think there’s anything closer to one’s heart than immediate family; father, mother, and children, which is probably why Jesus chose them as an example for his apostles. If we want to follow him, he comes first, period. Before everything else, even those closest to us and whom we love.

The Catechism teaches, “the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus,” and that, “becoming a disciple of Jesus means accepting the invitation to belong to God’s family, to live in conformity with His way of life.” (2232-33) We choose to make him our closest family, and we choose to live in a way that glorifies God in all we say and do.

I believe that choosing to follow Christ is not a “one and done” sort of thing. Like eating healthfully, exercising, and prayer, we must recommit ourselves often (very often) to following him. We must time and time again dump our sin and vice “in the river.” As St. Paul tells the Romans, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” So, to the degree that we are still not dead to sin, we, to that same degree, are not able to live in the newness of life that has been won for us in Christ.

My wife and I have made a commitment to minimalism. We work very hard to not have more than we need. It’s crazy how fast things accumulate, isn’t it? We always have a box dedicated to Goodwill that we fill and then give away. I think each of us needs a “vice” box. A box that we continue to fill up, again and again, as we clear out the garbage from our life. Maybe it’s profanity, or alcohol, or other unhealthy habits. Maybe it’s too much time on social media and not enough time in prayer. Whatever our anchor, throw it in the River, put it in the box—just be rid of it, time and time again, if necessary.

After all, we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; and we are called to announce the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. Follow him. You will surely not lose your reward…but we’ve got to get rid of the anchor of sin. Deacon St. Ephraem the Syrian asked, “What leper, when he has been healed, turns again and desires to have his leprosy back? You have put off your transgressions in baptism—forsake them!” Let’s start today.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Don’t Forget: Corpus Christi 2020

Feed On JesusToday’s reflection is for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Sunday, June 14, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

All of today’s readings are written to and for a forgetful people…and so we are. Moses tells the people to “remember” what God has done on their behalf; how God has provided for them. Even more forcefully, he says, “Do not forget the Lord your God.” We have a tendency, especially when going through difficulties, to forget all that God has done for us and all the ways that God has blessed us. Today’s feast is an important reminder, that not only has God not abandoned us, his Church, but that he has given us the gift of his Body and Blood to sustain us throughout our desert journey here on earth.

I am often asked why it is so important to attend Mass. And while my answer differs from time to time and from person to person, the bottom line is that it’s only important if encountering Jesus is important, receiving God in the Eucharist is important, and if being forgiven of sins is important. I think those things are important, and I think that every Catholic Christian should think so as well–especially because we are so darn forgetful!

When we encounter Jesus at the Mass, it helps us remember who we are as God’s people. We dress and act our best, we meet with other people of love and good will, hear the Words of Scripture, and the deacon’s or priest’s homily that helps us hear and unpack how God wants to speak to us each day. Sometimes we forget to pray God’s word, and to listen to God. At Mass we participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice and receive the body and blood of our savior, Jesus Christ. In doing so, our venial sins are forgiven, and we are once again made perfect in Him before being sent back out into a world of darkness to be light and life. That’s a big deal because sometimes we forget that Jesus is the source of who we are and the goal of our Christian life. We forget that we are constantly in need of healing, and we forget that we are now His hands and feet in the world. At Mass we encounter Christ and are transformed, and then go out to transform the world.

Catholic belief, as taught at the Second Vatican Council, is that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist in four ways: (1) in the person of the minister of the Eucharist, the presiding priest, through whom Jesus offers himself (2) in the word of God, the Scriptures being proclaimed and preached (3) in the people gathered to celebrate by praying and singing (4) and especially in the Eucharistic species, the bread and wine that are consecrated as Jesus’ body and blood. (Sacrosanctum Concilium #7) So, in all these ways we encounter our Savior, andz we should prepare ourselves to do so. However, the pinnacle of the encounter with Christ occurs when receiving the Eucharist.

The Catechism says it this way, “The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.” (C.C.C. 1374)

The early Church believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and boldly shared this amazing gift of God with others. As early as 110 A.D., Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ . . . and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible” (Letter to the Romans 7:3) I think that the Eucharist, that changing of ordinary bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, is an amazing gift of God, second only to the Incarnation. Christians should be pounding down the Church door to receive this gift freely given each day, and at least each week…but we forget.

We’re not the only ones, however. St. Thomas Aquinas proposed the Feast of Corpus Christi to Pope Urban IV to create a feast focused solely on the Holy Eucharist. He wanted to emphasize the joy of the Eucharist being the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, lest people forget. The Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena, and the suggestion of Aquinas, inspired the pope to establish the feast of Corpus Christi for the whole Roman Catholic Church, in the year 1264. To read more about Eucharistic Miracles, click here…or here.

The truth is we forget. Moses reminded the Israelites in the desert, Jesus reminds his disciples, and the Church reminds us still today. It’s quite true that we encounter Jesus in various ways both through Sacramentals and through the seven ordinary Sacraments as well, but lest we forget, at each Mass, in multiple parishes around the world everyday, Jesus makes good on his promise never to abandon us and to be with us until the end of the age. We can both encounter, consume, and become what we eat through this amazing gift of God…because sometimes we forget. Mass is important–get there just as soon and as often as you can.

Read today’s Gospel slowly and carefully, and be as those who heard and stayed, and not as those who could not believe and walked away (John 6:66). “Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world….Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.'” John 6:51-58

Justin Martyr

“For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).

Irenaeus

“If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?” (Against Heresies 4:33–32 [A.D. 189]).

For more quotes from the saints on the Real Presence, click here.

To watch other reflections on YouTube, click  here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

You Won’t Even Believe It!: Trinity Sunday 2020

Thor and Loke

Today’s reflection is for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity June 7, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. It was offered as a reflection after the 6pm vigil Mass at O.L.A., in Turlock.

Just last week we celebrated Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, and the truth of the Spirit’s coming to make his home in the hearts of all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus, and enter into the waters of Baptism. Now I just said the Spirit enters into the hearts of ALL who call on Jesus. Shortly after the descent of the Spirit, in a thoroughly Jewish-Christian community, the question arises, how great is God’s love? How open are God’s arms? How many does God love? The Christian answer is “You won’t even believe it!”

Today we celebrate The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, or sometimes referred to simply as, Trinity Sunday. The revelation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost revealed the fullness of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Jews knew God as just one, the Father. Jesus’ disciples who already knew God as the Father, realized God also as the Son, and at Pentecost (head explosion here), God as Spirit.

The early Christians were amazingly courageous, and entirely open to what God was trying to teach them. In just three years they went from worshiping Yahweh, to Yahweh and Jesus, to Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit—the Trinity. And no sooner had God expanded their mind with how diverse was the inner life of God, did God challenge them also with how diverse would His People also be. No longer only Jew, but also Gentile. As St. Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (GAL 3:28)

Pope Francis puts it this way in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), “The salvation which God has wrought, and the Church joyfully proclaims, is for everyone. God has found a way to unite himself to every human being in every age.” (no. 118)

You heard it from St. Paul, you heard it from Pope Francis, and now you heard it from me, we do not as Christians, made in the likeness and image of our all-inclusive God, enjoy the right to be ex-clusive! Our God said about his own self, “but wait, there’s more!” And again about the Church and who could belong, “but wait, there’s more!” And he demands of us, his Church to say, about who has dignity, about who has worth, who has value, whose life matters, “but wait, there’s more!” Even George Floyd. Even those officers. Even those protestors. Even those politicians.

The media is covered with it, the bishops are talking about it, our bishop issued a statement, and even the Turlock Unified School District sent out a memo about it, all to say, “We do not stand for racism here!” And let me be very clear, racism is only the tip of the iceberg! In the heart of a Catholic Christian there is no room for racism, sexism, or classism. We do not care what color your skin, your country of origin, your height, your gender, your sex, or even whether or not you are a criminal! That’s right, the love of God and His Church reaches even into the prisons all across this country and others. We love. Period. That’s it. We do not judge. We do not slander. We do not discriminate. We do not hate. Here, in this Church, we love.

Moses said of the Israelites, “This is indeed a stiff-necked people.” How true that remains even today. My sons and I, like many of you maybe, are fond of watching the Marvel movies. Thor Ragnarok is one of our favorites. There’s a scene where Thor returns home unannounced, and his mischievous brother Loki, is upset by the guard failing to inform him of Thor’s return. He admonished the guard saying, “You had only one job. Just the one!” Of course, he failed miserably at the only job he was given. And often-times, sadly, so do we. Jesus says to us, “You had only one commandment! Just the one!” St. Paul encourages the Corinthians to, “mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” What timely advice…written 2,000 years ago, and our regular Sunday readings today. Thank you, God. This advice could not be more timely.

My brothers and sisters, listen to this, as though your first time hearing it, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but may have eternal life.” Our God loves everyone to death…death on a cross. We who are created in his image, born again through his Spirit, and believe in Him cannot settle for anything less inclusive than everyone. He gave us just one commandment, just the one. Love, that’s it. Father, have mercy on us.

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Be Amazing: Pentecost 2020

Barbara-Wolff-You-Renew-the-Face-of-the-Earth-from-You-Renew-the-Face-of-the-Earth-Psalm-104-The

Today’s reflection is for Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Years ago, I remember watching a commercial for Red Stripe Lager, from Jamaica. With Reggae music playing in the background, a very happy Jamaican man said, “Red Stripe, helping our white friends dance for over seventy years!” Now, I don’t know how true that is (Deacon Valgos has some pretty good moves without Red Stripe), but what I do know is this, the Holy Spirit has been helping our Christian friends be amazing for over 2,000 years! That’s what the Spirit does—It makes me, It makes us, It makes the world amazing.

Today we celebrate Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given to us to make us and the world amazing again! Out of love, God gave us his Spirit to change us into Christ’s body, and then gave us the gifts we need to transform everyone and everything we encounter.

After Jesus’ resurrection he promised his disciples that he would send the Advocate, the Spirit of God, and then fifty days later Jesus made good on that promise! The Holy Spirit came rushing in and Jews from every nation under God gathered together to be confused, astounded, and utterly amazed! The Spirit gave ordinary men from Galilee the gifts they needed to share the truth of Salvation in Jesus Christ. And about three thousand people were baptized and saved that very day.

My friends, the Holy Spirit has not gone anywhere! The Spirit is still alive in God’s Church. As Christians we still receive the Spirit at Baptism, It is still strengthened at Confirmation, and It’s gifts can still, through us, make the Glory of God visible to the world. By caring about and working for environmental justice, with schools and hospitals, with food shelters, and ministry to the poorest, with concern and support for immigrants in every land, the Church continues, to make the world a more amazing place! We need to be on board with the ministry and mission of the Church and Jesus, and the Spirit gives us gifts to do just that!

You know that the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Pope St. Gregory the Great said, “The Holy Spirit gives wisdom against foolishness, understanding against dullness, counsel against rashness, fortitude against fear, knowledge against ignorance, piety against hardness of heart, and fear of the Lord against pride.” That’s amazing.

Friends, we cannot do anything without the Holy Spirit! In fact, that’s what St. Paul told the Corinthians in today’s second reading. He said, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is incredible! He is the Lord the giver of life, is adored and glorified, and has spoken through the prophets! (Sound familiar?) The Spirit made Christ present in Mary’s womb, makes Christ present in the Eucharist, in the Scriptures proclaimed, and in the Priest through whom God grants forgiveness of sins, making us amazing again and again, and fit for salvation.

The Spirit makes water holy, oil holy, and moly holy! I’m not even sure what moly is, but I hear people talk about Holy moly all the time! Holy Moly, holy cows, holy smoke, and holy mackerel are just a hint about how God is transforming the world. Okay, that’s a bit of a joke, but the truth is that Pentecost is a reminder that each of us too has received God’s Spirit and It’s gifts and have been made holy to make the world holy; consecrated to God. We are called to join God each day in His work of renewing the earth, making all things holy. Red Stripe may or may not help men dance, but the Spirit of God does indeed make his Church amazing.

Each day we wake, we pray the words of the Psalmist, “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth,” with us, in me. Holy Spirit, make the world amazing through us…through me today.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

A City On A Hill: Virtual Retreat

The City On A HillGood Morning Everyone! I held a virtual retreat yesterday at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, in Turlock, where our family attends Mass (under normal conditions). I want to give a big thank you to Fr. Manuel, the pastor at OLA for celebrating Mass with us, and for letting us use their beautiful parish for the virtual retreat. I want to also thank Helder DeSousa of Luso Media for handling all the technology and being with us from the beginning to the end!

The retreat focuses on the Precepts of the Church, as taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, what it means to be a Christian, and a member of the community of faith. It starts at 8:30am with Mass, has three talks, and ends at 12:00pm. It contains questions for reflection or discussion and would be great to share with family, friends, and/or other parishes. I have included the slideshow pdf below as well, as you might find it helpful.

The retreat is entirely without cost, but if you would like to make a small donation you may Venmo Stephen Valgos, or follow the instructions during the retreat itself. May God bless you abundantly and keep you safe.

Click here for the pdf of the presentation.

Click here for the Vimeo Livestream from Our Lady of the Assumption.

Click here for the total YouTube feed from LUSOMedia Live.

Click here for the Intro Talk, here for Talk 1, here for Talk 2, and here for Talk 3.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Stay In Your Lane: Ascension 2020

stay in your laneToday’s reflection is for The Ascension Of The Lord, May 24, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. It was offered as a reflection after the 6pm vigil Mass at O.L.A., in Turlock.

Last week I spoke of the Great Commandment to love, which we heard from John’s Gospel, and then we were told to take that love out into the world, and that’s what we heard from Jesus today, the Great Commission. Jesus tells his disciples that all power in heaven and on earth has been given to him, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” he says, “baptize them in the name of the father, and the son, and the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Simple, right? Love, teach, baptize, obey. Obedience isn’t always easy, but Jesus needs us to stay in our lane.

“Stay in your lane,” is a popular saying circulating in the world today. For example, as a Marine, I was a Field Radio Operator. It was my job to maintain positive communication with command. When someone tried to tell me how to do my job, I may or may not have said, “Thank you for the advice, but my job is to communicate, and yours is to fire that machine gun…so maybe you should just stay in your lane.” “You do your job, I’ll do mine.” The example is harsh, I know, but the truth is that for us to complete our mission, each person had a job to do, from snipers, to radios, to logistics, and weapons. Things really do run more smoothly, and we are more able to accomplish our goal when each person “stays in their lane.”

Funny that Jesus, too, has to tell his disciples to stay in their lane! What’s the job of the disciple? We heard both last week and then this week, love God and neighbor (the Great Commandment), and then, get out there and do it! (the Great Commission).

It seems like we aren’t ever quite satisfied with just doing what we’re told, however. We want to know a little more than the next guy, and the next thing you know, we start thinking maybe we should be the one in charge! When it comes to the Kingdom of God that is what we call Original Sin. That’s how it started for Adam and Eve. “Don’t eat the fruit!” They wanted to know more and they believed the lie that God was somehow trying to rob them of their true happiness—rob them of their glory.

My Old Testament professor, Father Michael Guinan, told us that the problem with the human condition is very easy to understand—we simply don’t like being 2nd in command. Instead of humbling submitting to the will of God in our life, we seek to supplant God. We know he’s got rules, but we’ve got better ideas in mind! We believe that our happiness is bound up in rejecting God’s will and following our own will instead. And the wise man knows, that really never works out.

St. John of the Cross said, “What does it profit you to give God one thing if He asks of you another? Consider what it is God wants, and then do it.” The saints became saints when they surrendered their will to God’s will. What is God asking you to do? Do it.

Jesus tells his disciples all authority has been given to him, that they are going to be baptized in the Holy Spirit! “Whoa! That’s awesome, Jesus, we can’t wait! Woo-hoo!” would have been an appropriate response, but it’s almost like everything Jesus said went in one ear and out the other. Have you ever said something, only to have someone else TOTALLY change the subject on you? Almost like they weren’t listening to you at all? Jesus says you will receive the Spirit! And they ask, “When are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” “Wait, what? Were you listening to anything I just said?”

We know what God wants. We know his commands, and that we are to be his witnesses of love, and truth, and sacrifice, to the ends of the earth. That’s it. I know we have big plans and think we’ve got things all figured out, but I promise you this, there is no lasting joy outside of God’s will. Discipleship is not hard to understand, but it can be very hard to live, if we are not willing to surrender to the will of God for our life.

When we lived in Salinas, Mark was only about four years old. I was mowing the lawn and Mark wanted to help. I said great, I need you to pick up these sticks off the grass. He stood there upset and said he wanted to mow the lawn. He wasn’t even able to reach the handle! I said, “Son, if you really want to help, you can pick up these sticks. That’s what I need you to do.” Obstinate and angry, he refused, and, to my sadness and his, he never did share in my work.

God has work that he needs us to do. With our particular gifts, talents, and treasure, God calls us to do something beautiful with Him. He doesn’t force us though. He invites us to participate in His work of advancing his kingdom of love, justice, and peace. We just need to be willing to let go of the wheel. Trust in God and where God wants to take you. The Spirit will guide you there, if you’re willing to let God be God, and just stay in your lane.

As we journey toward Pentecost, let our prayer always be, “Not my will but yours be done.” May our heart’s desire be always to humbly do the father’s will. May we find the strength of the Holy Spirit to give God our “yes,” to stay in our lane, and do his will to the ends of the earth, if that’s where he calls us. Amen.

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Proclaim Christ: 6th S. of Easter

love. period.

Today’s reflection is for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. It was offered as a reflection after the 6pm vigil Mass at O.L.A., in Turlock.

Last week we saw that God called seven reputable men, filled with wisdom and the Spirit, to serve him and his people. Today we see one of those Deacons, Philip, proclaiming Christ to the people of Samaria. And the result of his love is baptism, Confirmation, and great joy; all because Philip obeyed both The Great Commission and the Great Commandment. And they are intimately connected.

I’d like to see a show of hands for this next question: Do you love Jesus? If you love Jesus, just raise your hand right up. It’s safe, I can’t see you. We’re live-streaming, you know. Go on, raise your hand if you love Jesus. In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” We love him…do we keep his commandments? Do we even know what his commandments are?

The Great Commandment is found in all four Gospels. In MT, MK and LK Jesus says to love God and love your neighbor. In John 13:34, which came just before today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells 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.” That’s it. Easy peasy. Jesus makes it super simple for us—love. Period. That is it. (song) They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love. 

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say our Rosary is how all will know that we are his. Nor does he say that our Holy Family prayer card will do it. Not our Catechism, our books, our bumper stickers, our medallions, Bibles, bracelets, necklaces, or even our “I love Jesus” tattoo. The defining characteristic of a disciple of Jesus Christ is whether or not we love others—especially those most in need. That’s it. I once heard asked, “If you were put on trial today for being a Christian, would they find enough evidence to convict you.”

What does love look like in our world? Is it puppies and pancakes, butterflies, unicorns, and rainbows? Well…maybe… “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) If you want a beautiful meditation on this verse insert your name wherever the word, “Love,” appears. “Stephen is patient. Stephen is kind. Stephen is not quick-tempered…” Stephen has a lot of work to do. I’m not loving Jesus, am I? I’m not obeying his commandments. “If you love me,” the Lord said, “you will keep my commandments.”

You know, Philip loved greatly, didn’t he? St. Pope John Paul II said, “Love wills the good of another.” Love desires what is good, not for oneself, but for others. This is very un-American these days, I’m afraid. Nowadays we hear, “You deserve it!” “Look out for #1.” “You gotta do you!” But that’s not at all what Jesus did or taught. He did exactly the opposite! He took on human suffering. He took on human sin. He fed, healed, cared for, and gave up his own life so others might live! We cannot both claim to love and follow him, and at the same time not sacrifice our comfort, our pleasure, and our security, for others. When we love others enough to sacrifice our life—only then are we are completely his.

That, my brothers and sisters, is what it means to fulfill the Great Commission that Philip was all about in today’s first reading. The last thing Jesus told his disciples was, “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” (MT 28) That is proclaiming Christ. And that is exactly what Philip was doing in Samaria. By what he said and by what he did, Philip proclaimed Christ. “The crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip and saw the signs he was doing.” St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” By word and deed, we love.

Following The Great Commission and the Great Commandment is not only the work of Nuns, Priests, and Deacons, it is the work of everyone who calls Jesus Lord. It is your job. It is mine. From the youngest to the oldest, the democrat, the republican, the immigrant, the richest and the poorest; all of us are not only called, but also capable of love, and nothing less is required.

And that, finally, is the value of rosaries, and prayer cards, and statues, and bibles, and catechisms, and tattoos—they are instructors and reminders. They teach us how to love in this situation or that, and they remind us to love when we desire to love the least. But I promise you this, if we learn to love, are reminded to love, and by doing so proclaim Christ, we will shine like the sun. Others will draw near to his light in us, be baptized in His name, receive the Holy Spirit, and there will be joy in their heart, in that city, and in our world. Love. Period. I’ll be praying for you, please do the same for me.

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Called To Serve: 5th S. of Easter

7 Deacons

Diaconal Candidates with Bishop Cotta Baltazar Aguirre, Armando Moreno, Juan Espinoza, Stephen Valgos, Dan Paulus, Juan Carlos Palomar, Richard Braun

Today’s reflection is for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Last week we learned that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls us each by name, to serve him and the world in a particular way as a single person, a married person, as a Consecrated Religious, or to Holy Orders. This calling is our vocation, from the Latin vocare. Today we are introduced to my patron saint, Saint Stephen, and six others known collectively in Greek as “the diaconoi,” or as we call them today in English, Deacons.

On the second Sunday of Easter, just a few weeks ago, we saw a beautiful image of the Church. We heard, “All who believed would sell their possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s needs.” (Acts 2:44-45). Here we are just three weeks later and there are already issues in the Church! The Church is growing by the thousands and there seems to be some complaining about how the Church’s resources are being distributed. The “Hellenists” or the Greek-speaking Jews, were upset because the Hebrew widows were getting more food than they were! From the very beginning, there were struggles in the Church—and it has always been so, right through to today.

The Church in every generation is called to grow in holiness, as individuals and as a body. There is always room for improvement as we journey through this desert. The Church’s struggles today are different from its struggles then, but the answer is still the same—God calls his faithful to serve and to meet the needs of its people. The fact that we are live streaming this Mass is one example of how the faithful’s needs are being met. I just saw in the Modesto Bee, that in response to social distancing many parishes in the diocese are doing drive up confession and even adoration! I love it! The Church meeting the needs of its people. It always has and it always will. Of this I am confident.

In 1965 at the Second Vatican Council, to meet its peoples’ needs, the Catholic Church re-instituted the Sacred Order that we heard about today, the Permanent Diaconate. The Apostles in today’s readings respond to a need in the church and call forth the Order of Deacons. They called for “seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom” from among the disciples and “laid hands on them” to ordain them to ministry. For a short history of the Diaconate, click here.

Many saints of the Church were deacons, my Patron Saint, Stephen, the first Martyr of the Church, also St. Francis of Assisi, St. Philip, who if you recall in Acts chapter 8 baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch and then preached the good news all the way to Caesarea. Permanent deacons faded away in the church for centuries before Vatican II brought them back. Of course, all priests are deacons, though not permanent. They are ordained transitional deacons as they journey toward priestly ordination.

My brothers and sisters, God is still calling reputable men filled with the Spirit and wisdom to serve his people. The permanent diaconate is a beautify ministry, where men of God, who are called first to the vocation of Holy Matrimony to serve their wife and the world, are duly called to Holy Orders to serve the Bishop and the people of God. The United States is seeing an explosion of men called by God to serve his people. Upwards of 15,000 are already serving in the U.S., and God willing, the Diocese of Stockton will have seven more come September, myself among them.

The word “diakonoi” literally means, “those who serve.” The Church needs holy men today more than ever. She needs young prayerful, holy men willing to serve as altar servers, and readers, and ministers of communion. She needs men of character, strength and prayer to serve as priests. And she needs reputable men filled with the Spirit and wisdom; men of substance, and strength, with a heart for God and for their family; for their bishop, and for their church community. The church needs moral men, good men, holy men, who are courageous enough to stand up and serve.

From the Diocesan of Stockton website, “The Deacon stands in the midst of the Church as Christ, the servant of all. By this unique expression of holy orders, Christ calls some men, and the Church ordains deacons to be consecrated expressions of service and, in a particular way, to assist bishops and priests to carry out their own unique ministerial priesthood. While deacons are not called to priesthood, they are ordained to a ministry of service that enriches the Church.”

The Marines aren’t the only ones looking for a few good men, our Diocese is too. If you are a man of God, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit, I want to encourage you to look into the permanent diaconate by contacting your diocesan office. If you are in the Diocese of Stockton,  click here to learn more. Ask for Sister Wanda, and tell her Stephen sent you! God bless you.

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

What’s In A Moo?: 4th S. of Easter

Cow

Today’s reflection is for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2020, and the readings for today can be found by clicking here.

Last week we learned that through the Scriptures our heart burns within us, and in the Eucharist our hunger is satisfied—in both we encounter Jesus Christ, who today, is revealed as the Good Shepherd, who calls us by name. We hear his voice and are called to follow him.

I grew up on a dairy with my avo, on S. Mitchell road, but on Linwood, my avo had 40 acres with first-calf heifers. Each day my avo would drive the big, rusty silage truck up Mitchell to Linwood to feed his cows silage. He would roll the window down and make a “cow call” sound by pursing his lips together and then mooing like a cow. I remember with great joy and astonishment, how the cows would hear his voice, look up, and come running across the 40 acres! It was crazy. They would leap and kick and run to the manger to be fed. He gave them everything they needed.

I think that’s what Jesus was talking about in today’s Gospel when he says that he is the Good Shepherd, his sheep hear his voice, they recognize his voice and they follow him. I think it’s really cool how Jesus just calls our name, provides for us–just like a good shepherd—and he walks out ahead of us, and we follow him…don’t we? Do we though?

The Catechism teaches that, “The seed and beginning of the Kingdom are the ‘little flock’ of those whom Jesus came to gather around him, the flock whose shepherd he is.” It says that we, “form Jesus’ true family,” and, “To those whom he gathered around him, he taught a new ‘way of acting.’” (764) What do you think that “new way of acting” looks like, and are we doing it?

Every time I listen to 102 FM, John Tesh is giving me all kinds of reasons to do certain things and to live a certain way for my health and well-being. He calls it “Intelligence for your life.” And I think that’s good. Sometimes he has some good advice. But John Tesh is not my shepherd, and neither is my next-door neighbor, or my coworker. Jesus is, and I’m afraid that many Catholics are quicker to listen to John Tesh, or Oprah, or Delilah, or this expert or that expert, and any other host of people encouraging a particular way of acting, instead of Jesus, our pastors, and bishops. It is Jesus, through his ministers, who teaches us this new way of acting. We need to be very careful, because the world’s agenda is not always that of the Good Shepherd, and it is he and he alone that we must follow.

It reminds me of a time I drove my avo’s truck over to Linwood. I was irrigating, and as I approached the field, I pulled over to the side of the road, rolled the window down, pursed my lips, and as best I could, I mooed exactly like my avo had done. The cows looked up, stared for a moment, and went back to what they were doing. I tried again and again, but they never budged. The truth is, I wasn’t their shepherd. They didn’t recognize my voice, the voice of a stranger. They heard and responded to but one voice, the voice of the shepherd, and so should we.

I never forgot that day, and every time I hear this reading I think with fondness of my Avo who loved his cows so much, and who cared for them—and they followed only him. Jesus is our Shepherd, and nothing and no one should ever take his place. Jesus tells us that his sheep will not listen to the voice of strangers, but I’m afraid too often I do. Jesus tells me to love others and I find lots of excuses not to. He tells me to love God, and I busy myself with things of the world. Jesus alone gives us instruction in his word, he feeds us in the Eucharist, and gives us life in abundance. I know I’ve got work to do. I need to hear his voice and follow him.

As the Psalmist says, he gives me rest, he refreshes my soul, he guides me in the right path, he’s always by my side. He anoints my head with oil; my cup overflows. Goodness and kindness follow me; there is nothing I shall want. Amen?

Eternal rest, grant unto Avo Ezekiel Ventura Pereira, and let your perpetual light shine upon him, may he rest in peace, Amen. May his soul, and all the souls of the faithfully departed in the mercy of God rest in peace, Amen.

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos