The Church is (virtually) Full and the Tomb is Empty

The Lord is risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!!!  Even though the situation with the pandemic, we are joyful because the Lord is risen. At the same time, we are sad because we were not able to be physically together celebrating the most important feast of the year for us Catholics/Christians: Easter. Mixed emotions are very human.  We can be glad and be sad at the same time. Like the disciples on their way to Emmaus, they were sad at the beginning but when the Lord appeared to them and after Jesus disappears during the braking of the bread they were rejoicing: “Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24, 32).  By the way, the Gospel of today: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/041520.cfm We are certainly united more than ever, spiritually, in prayer.  We are united with technology in the domestic church: our own houses. We do not know exactly when are we going back to normal but the real thing is that the Lord is resurrected and the Church is virtually full and the tomb is empty.

This Holy Week was special to me, not having the congregation physically present.  I did something different this year. I was able to connect with the universal Church by watching online all liturgies from Rome.   Like never before, I was listening attentively to the message of hope that Pope Francis delivered during the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday.  https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-04/pope-francis-homily-easter-vigil-full-text.html How inspirational is this homily to me, not to mention the homily dedicated to priests on Holy Thursday that made me cry. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-04/pope-palm-sunday-homily-full-text.html I have meditated with those homilies several times.  Pope Francis quotes the words used by Jesus ‘courage’ and ‘do not be afraid’ (Mk 10:49).  Also, you can count how many times Francis uses the word HOPE in his Saturday homily. That is your homework.

Yes, we can see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. For example, Holy Week was rainy but now we have sunny days. Even though it has been very difficult for the People of God and for us priests not to celebrate as we did year after year, we can rely on our resilience that includes a positive attitude. https://positivepsychology.com/resilience-skills/ It is interesting how our lives have changed since the pandemic hit our country and the global impact that this virus is causing.  I always look at the positive aspect of our faith.  This is time to pray more as a family.  I am reading more, I am meditating more, I am praying more, and I am contemplating more. (meaning practicing Lectio Divina). I invite you to the same if you have not started.

Look to Him and be Radiant: Lectio Divina Graphic Organizer 

During Lent and Holy Week, we walk the way of the cross with Jesus; we went up to Mount Calvary; we have seen the crucifixion of the Lord who with open arms is embracing us with his love. I have been reflecting all these days about how many of our parishioners are missing to come to Church. Also, I have noticed that now parishioners are “sitting” for the first time in the first rows.

I have good news in the midst of all the bad news associated with COVID-19.  Some people who forgot about God are thinking about coming back to our Catholic faith. A few weeks ago, I saw people praying in the garden of the Church, people I have never seen. The youth is asking me questions through e-mail and I am taking care of the spiritually afflicted with the use of technology.

Yes, the Church is full of gladness and the tomb is emptyWe can read more about the empty tomb in the Catechism of our Catholic Church (640) and, of course, more about the Lord’s resurrection:

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Lk 24:5-6  The first element we encounter in the framework of the Easter events is the empty tomb. (…) Nonetheless, the empty tomb was still an essential sign for all. Its discovery by the disciples was the first step toward recognizing the very fact of the Resurrection (…) The disciple “whom Jesus loved” affirmed that when he entered the empty tomb and discovered “the linen cloths lying there”, “he saw and believed”. (Jn 20:2, 6, 8)

In the same way, I want to share from our Catechism (643) how before the disciples were aware of the Resurrection of our Lord, they were in shock, demoralized and looking sad.  Right now, several people are experiencing feelings of anxiety and maybe depression because of unemployment, seclusion and social distance rules.

The shock provoked by the Passion was so great that at least some of the disciples did not at once believe in the news of the Resurrection. Far from showing us a community seized by a mystical exaltation, the Gospels present us with disciples demoralized (“looking sad”) and frightened. For they had not believed the holy women returning from the tomb and had regarded their words as an “idle tale”. Lk 24:11; cf. Mk 16:11,13.

When the disciples started believing in Christ’s resurrection they were able to get over their feelings. We are people of faith. If we are really disciples of Christ, we will be able to get over negative feelings.  There is hope by imagining the empty tomb and feeling the presence of the Lord even from the distance.  There is hope when we have Spiritual Communion. Again, the Catechism is clear about the empty tomb but is also clear about how we look forward to our own resurrection.  Then, we share in the Lord’s resurrection.

657 The empty tomb and the linen cloths lying there signify in themselves that by God’s power Christ’s body had escaped the bonds of death and corruption. They prepared the disciples to encounter the Risen Lord. 658 Christ, “the first-born from the dead” (Col 1:18), is the principle of our own resurrection, even now by the justification of our souls (cf. Rom 6:4), and one day by the new life he will impart to our bodies (cf.: Rom 8:11).

Therefore, I highly recommend you reading the whole section about the resurrection in the Cathechism that is all about proclaiming our faith; (including all Catechism quotes cited in this article) https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p122a5p2.htm something we do every Sunday Mass is proclaiming in what we believe. Remember that we just renewed our baptismal promises on Easter Sunday.  What those promises mean for you?

Finally, I just want to share also some pictures of our parish representing the Lord’s resurrection. Throughout this moment of suffering and isolation, there is hope.  Just look at the sun shining behind the cross. 

Coronavirus and the Crown of Thorns

During this season of Lent, the novel Coronavirus is taking a toll on our society in general and in every single aspect of our lives.   Particularly, in our local Church, a week has passed without the public celebration of the Holy Mass.  Practically, all sacraments are not going to be performed until further notice, except in extreme danger of death. It has been very painful for all shepherds around the world who cannot be with their sheep.  Our first instinct, as shepherds, is to run into the fire to rescue them; but here in our diocese, we are obedient to our bishop and health officials who are advising us and ordering us to stay home.  

What we do not want to do is to continue spreading this deadly virus. For me, it has been a time of reflection and more prayer.  I was neglecting my prayer life and this pandemic has given me the opportunity to increase my time of prayer in solitude.

My reflection for today will be focused on our own journey as Catholic Christians and especially in the Passion of the Lord; to be more specific, the third sorrowful mystery: The Crowning With Thorns. During this difficult time of the coronavirus pandemic, I want to reflect also about this pandemic and the etymology of the term: Coronam or corona https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=corona is latin for crown;  virus (venomhttps://www.etymonline.com/word/virus ‘a substance produced in the body as the result of disease, especially one capable of infecting others’. A virus is an invisible tiny microorganism that is smaller than a bacterium that cannot grow or reproduce apart from a living cell. As you may know, this virus resembles a crown with many spikes. The crown of thorns has many spikes too.  In the picture that I drew, I am portraying how the power of Christ can destroy the power of evil. This is not one of the plagues of Egypt but certainly is a threat against humanity.  I always recommend meditation with Psalm 91 during times of natural disasters or emergencies: “nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.” Psalm 91, 6.

crown of thorns

Anyways, this is a reflection between the Crowning of Thorns suffered by our Lord and our own suffering with the coronavirus pandemic.  It is not only the coronavirus our own crown of thorns.  Our own crown of thorns (someone can call the cross that we are carrying) could be mental health issues, addiction, laziness, anger, etc… but what kind of crown of thorns is placed in your head? isolation? social distance? loneliness?  Whatever is your answer to this question, I just want to see the positive aspects of how this pandemic is uniting us as a family and as a Church. As we are forced to spend more time together as a family be are distant only physically from the temple, but we are not distant spiritually speaking; we are closer than ever. When I see the family portraits and the pictures sent to our parish and now are placed in the pews, I feel that you are really present.

I know that for many Christians, being deprived of the Body and Blood of Christ is a huge crown of thorns.  This time what we live only once a year on Good Friday (no having Communion) is extended indefinitely. Our suffering with the Lord will be turned into a time of rejoicing in which we will celebrate Mass as normal. Hopefully, our Churches will be full as our confessionals. With regards to the Eucharist, a few days ago, we were half the way during this season Lent.  I want to quote Benedict XVI prior to his election as Pope:

“Since apostolic times, no doubt, the fast from the Eucharist on Good Friday was a part of the Church’s spirituality of communion. This renunciation of communion on one of the most sacred days of the Church’s year was a particularly profound way of sharing in the Lord’s Passion; it was the Bride’s mourning for the lost Bridegroom (cf. Mk 2:20). Today too, I think, fasting from the Eucharist, really taken seriously and entered into … could lead to a deepening of a personal relationship with the Lord in the sacrament.”https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2020/03/19/joseph-ratzinger-on-fasting-from-the-eucharist/

From my point of view, we are living not only the season of Lent but a process of purification.  We have seen how the lack of faith, abortion, gender ideology, attacks against the traditional family and relativism have taken over our Christian values.  Nowadays, talking and preaching about God has become for the majority something outcast and cause of rejection. But there are reasons to have hope in the future.  I have received several emails and requests through social media for the need for counseling, confession, the Holy Mass and the sacraments in general.  Among those requests, I am just offering virtual counseling through skype or zoom.  We keep encouraging our faithful to keep watching the Holy Mass through our webpage at www.stpeterstpaul.com 

The Corona-virus and the Crown of thorns altogether will not stop us from going all the way from the Garden of Gethsemane to Calvary: the way of the cross.  Through Calvary, we are going to the crucifixion, and from the tomb to the resurrection.  The resurrection of our faith is awaiting and we will see a new awakening in which the Lord will be the center of our lives again in the Eucharist.  That is our hope meanwhile we can do spiritual communion and keep our faith while watching and participating in the Mass from home.  I am suffering with you, but I will rejoice with you… The time will come…

God’s Will, Next Time I will Run with a Cassock

When I decided to run XXXV LA Marathon last year, I wanted to give a big push in our parish to help pay our debt for our JP II building. It was a way of penance, an offering to God.

I mentioned in one of the Masses, a week before the marathon, that I will offer about 50.000 steps, about 10 steps per family. I did this marathon for the greater glory of the Lord. I did this marathon to pray for the five thousand families registered in our parish and I was glad to do that raise funds through this action. 

My expectations for this race: to raise at least 5 grand.  Today, I was told that about half that amount was collected.  Even though I felt a little disappointed because my expectations were not met, I had great revelations during this race.  One of my friends accompany me all the way through.  I felt really blessed.  It was the first time that I run alongside a friend all the way.

We were probably the last to come at the starting line. Oooops, we were a little late. The system connected to the ship of my bib number was already disconnected but one of the workers for LA Marathon input my number manually and we were running the first 3 miles with the cleaning crew around.  We started praying the glorious mysteries of the rosary after mile three; I offered the third mile for the blessed Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  After that, we started praying the sorrowful mysteries.  We finished reciting our second rosary by mile 10 or 11.  In mile 12 I told my friend: let us pray the stations of the cross at mile 15.  Guess what?  Right after passing mile 15 there was an abortion clinic.  We started praying the stations of the cross for the unborn and the mothers affected by abortion.  It was very uplifting, I felt that I had wings.  I did not feel pain.  I started thinking and praying.  Why you inspired me, Lord, to start praying the stations of the cross at mile 15 without knowing that there it was an abortion clinic? Obviously, the answer to this question is because the Lord wants me to pray for the unborn.  It makes sense.  When I mentioned my friend to pray the station of the cross 3 miles before, I was thinking on praying the regular stations of the cross; when the Lord gave me this message, I started praying the stations of the cross for the unborn. For me, this was the highlight of the marathon http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/stations-of-the-cross/stations-of-the-cross-for-life.cfm

By mile 20, we were about to start praying the joyful mysteries; there we found an interesting character that it is in one of the pictures I am sharing with you today.  It was a person who was wearing a bear mascot costume. I started asking myself many questions: What a sacrifice..! It was not enough to run 26.2 miles? What could be the reason a person can do such a thing?  I never asked this big running huge teddy bear any question. Then I started asking myself: what other sacrifices can I make during Lent to get closer to God and lead more people, more vocations to serve the Lord?  What if I run next time with a cassock…  Well, that idea I will be cooking for the next few months.  My shirt was dedicated to vocations, our parish, and little kid (Isaac) who died of cancer last year. Only one person cheer for me for vocations…  I thought maybe a white cassock will make a bigger impact to encourage vocations next time.

Anyways, passing mile 21 my body was still going without any problem but mild pain.  We finished our last rosary by mile 24 before, almost reaching the last curve that will get us to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica. A few more steps and we were close to finish 26.2 miles. What a blessing, what a wonderful experience.  Now I know that when my legs cannot run, I can run with my heart.

Thank you, Lord… I also appreciate those parishioners who are supporting our parish through me with your prayers and with your donations.  I will keep running around the parish appealing for more help after-marathon to reach the 5 grand…  you can still submit your donation by the parish front desk until the end of this month… and then I will run at the gym trying to keep my weight down.  With the help of the Lord, everything is possible and I will see you soon at Church.  The coronavirus won’t stop us. We will keep running.  FR JUAN MANUEL_SANDOVAL

 

Getting Fit while Praying

I am in the last stretch of my training to run 26.2 miles. On March 8, I will be running the Los Angeles Marathon from Dodger Stadium all the way to Santa Monica.  I know pretty much the route and I am just waiting for the moment to cross the finish line. Every step I’ll take and every prayer I’ll recite will be my offering to the Lord. That Sunday I won’t celebrate any Mass but the vigil on Saturday when I will do the blessing of shoes.  By the way, Runners World magazine published an article about a fellow priest who inspire me to bless all runner’s shoes of our parish and run for Jesus: https://www.runnersworld.com/news/a20859707/running-priest-to-offer-special-mass-before-louisiana-marathon/ All the stamina accumulated during the last few months of my training is my physical fuel; my spiritual fuel is prayer and penance. 

Physically speaking, so far, I have lost 25 pounds and counting.  The great challenge losing weight was having some control over what I eat. I had my mom cooking for me delicious food and baking tasty cookies.  I gave in into food for many months but the key to keeping losing weight is been eating small portions. and deinking lemon juice

Spiritually speaking, for years, I have struggled to finish praying the Holy Rosary.  For some reason when I am riding my bike, walking or running, I concentrate better when I pray.  I can finish several Divine Mercy Chaplets and even whole Rosaries while doing exercise.  When I am standing still or kneeling while praying, it is difficult for me to concentrate.  Most people think that priests do not have any problem praying.  It is not like that.  Many priests struggle to set time for prayer. That is why we priests ask for prayers from the People of God.

Conclusion: I have to be on the move in order to pray devotions.  When I am static, praying devotions is very challenging. I can pray spontaneously while I don’t move, but when I am ready to work out is when I pray easily. It is like my muscles are connected to my soul and my heart is pumping blood and prayers at the same time.

I was wondering why this sort of thing happens to me? My own discernment and research had shown me that I am not alone experiencing this.  https://www.uscatholic.org/articles/201509/faithful-runner-30377

For most of the people, losing weight is not fun.  I have mixed reactions when I training it is very painful;  watching at the results of my training is very pleasant.  I am getting in shape, more endorphins and only a few hours to sleep but the satisfaction felt about serving the Lord is priceless.  Please keep praying for me.

The following are old pictures that were taken when I ran my first marathon in 2008.

 

Fr. Juan’s Training Update

Crossing the finish line of a marathon is indescribable.  Running and walking for hours to reach mile 26.2 is the goal, but endorphins, stamina and above all physical, psychological and spiritual endurance is what has helped me in the past to be a marathon finisher. Crossing the finish line happens really fast; once you cross that line, your body is on the brink of collapse. The first thing that comes to your mind is that you won’t run never again a marathon.

Training for a marathon is challenging.  Checking what you eat, setting time apart for training and overcome your own limitations are things that I always struggle with.  I try to pray the rosary while running and it has helped me to endure the pain.  I have flat feet and that is something that produces pain in my calves.  I always offer this pain for someone who is struggling with addiction or those who ask of my prayers.

Training wise some people always wonder what it feels to run a marathon.  For some people, it sounds impossible to finish a marathon. For me, prayer, diet, and exercise have been key in my training process.  Also, the help of the people of God is instrumental, especially those who cheer for me before, during and after the marathon.

Now, let me tell you what has happened so far in my training experience. A few days ago, I received some healthy food by the door of the rectory.  The person who send me this gift is worried about my health because I have lost about 15 pounds so far. Since I started my training I have lost weight every month averaging 5 pounds a month.  I set my goal in 180 pounds.  Now I am 193 pounds.  When I started my training I was about 210 pounds.  This is work in progress. At the parish, people usually ask me about my training and how many miles I run every day.   I was not able to answer this question because I was in the early stage of my training.  Knowing my body, I knew that I have to focus more on losing weight, now I am still focusing on watching my weight but also I am gaining endurance for the race.  I increase the time of my training from 2 hours three times a week to almost 3 hours. I have to force myself into training high impact because, as I said in the past, I don’t like to run but I have to recognize that this kind of goal helps me to be more disciplined. I really enjoy is to ride my bike, lately, I have ridden my bike occasionally.

Cold days are really a challenge when it comes to getting the motivation to keep training intensively.  I can number the following reasons: I am running to help pay the parish debt, I am running for in memory of Isaac Diaz, a kid who is special to me. He died of cancer last year a day after Thanksgiving; I am wearing a T-shirt during LA MArathon 2020 in his memory.  I am running also for vocations.

I am not the only priest running marathons, https://aleteia.org/2018/06/16/the-marathon-running-priests/

http://www.kofc.org/en/columbia/detail/2011_07_marathon_priests.html

Please keep me in your prayers as I continue training my body and my soul.road

“Every step hitting the road is my prayer, every beat of my heart is my offering to God”

Fr. Juan

 

 

 

Please remember that online giving is always a convenient option: https://www.osvonlinegiving.com/1801

Focusing on Family

Preaching about the importance of the nuclear family as the domestic Church is something that I have been doing in my preaching very often. The Second Vatican Council brought forward from the writings of the Church Fathers the description of the family as “the domestic Church.” In Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II speaks of the family “as a ‘Church in miniature’ (ecclesia domestica) in such a way that in its own way is a living image and historical representation of the mystery of the Church” (Familiaris Consortio, #49). In contrast, the post-modern family is totally different.  In the last few decades, family dynamics have changed drastically for the bad.  Millennials and Generation Z (people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s) seem to be so wired to technology, gender ideology, science and agnosticism that they cannot connect with the traditional concept of the family. The Western culture and the Church at large is facing and ongoing crisis because the christian family is under attack.  Beyond conspiracy theories, it is not a secret that freemasons and evildoers have infiltrated the hierarchy of the Church. Their agenda includes the reduction of population through means of manipulation and politics aligning towards the support of contraceptives, euthanasia, abortion, same sex unions and the “climate change” discourse. The fight to defend life is against those who attempt against life.  The Catholic family for excellency is pro-life. But what is our calling from the Lord facing all this challenges? We have two options: complain and be part of the problem or offering some help being part of the solution. The Holy Family Sunday readings http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122919.cfm are giving us some lessons. On one hand, the book of Sirach is telling us on how to be good children of God by taking care of our elderly.  In the same way, Paul is encouraging the community of the Colossians to be heartfelt compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and to have patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.  Finally, the Gospel is giving us an example of obedience in Joseph and the entire Holy Family.  Joseph listened to the words of an angel and act promptly by doing God’s will.

Part of my Story

I grew up in a dysfunctional family and I am still struggling with some issues dating back my upbringing. Coming from a family in which emotional abuse and alcoholism was part of my live, it was not easy for me and for my three sisters to take on the pain and the consequences of living with this kind of burden.

Likewise, It was not easy to my parents.  At that moment we did not know that alcoholism was a disease.  For us, it was a decision that someones take but we did not know about the implications of having an alcoholic in the family. Nobody teaches how to form a family and we bring our personal baggage into the family dynamics; all our traumas and our complexes we bring for the bad.  It was a burden for my family growing up with an alcoholic father and a controlling mother. Alcoholics tend to be enabled by the rest of the family who see him/her as a victim and family become co-dependent that is part of my story.  I want to bring this up because today because we celebrated Holy Family Sunday.  We do not choose in what family we are born, but we choose to overcome those difficulties by seen and contemplating the image of the Holy Family.

holy family2

As we continue celebrating this Christmas season, I want to encourage you to keep praying for our families.  We need vocations not only for the priesthood but also to have holy families in our Church, that will resonate and bring about change in a culture that is going to nowhere because God is less and less present in people’s lives.

Here is the prayer for the Holy Family, so you can pray for your own family and all the families of our Church.

Holy Family Prayer
Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, bless our family. Graciously
inspire in us the unity, peace, and mutual love that you found in
your own family in the little town of Nazareth.
Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, nourish our family with
your faith and your love. Keep us close to your Son, Jesus, in all
our sorrows and joys.
Joseph, foster-father to Jesus, guardian and spouse of Mary, keep
our family safe from harm. Help us in all times of discouragement
or anxiety.
Holy Family of Nazareth, make our family one with you. Help us
to be instruments of peace. Grant that love, strengthened by grace,
may prove mightier than all the weaknesses and trials through
which our families sometimes pass. May we always have God at the
center of our hearts and homes until we are all one family, happy
and at peace in our true home with you. Amen.

Also, I recommended a book in my homilies this week.  Here it is the link if you want to take a look at it:

I hope you had a Merry Christmas and my best wishes for the New Year.  May the Lord be with you always…

Eating Less, Praying More

In the last few weeks, parishioners asked me what am I doing to lose weight? (probably, not knowing that I am training for a marathon).  I have received comments like, “Father you look thinner”.  My secret is not only being disciplined at my training but the title of this reflection: I am eating smaller portions and I am doing more exercise, both physical and spiritual.

Something that is helping me to get fit is the combination of spiritual exercises with physical exercise. For the spiritual fitness, I celebrate the Mass focusing on importance to live every single second of the Eucharist; I want to be 100% concentrated during the Mass because I get distracted very easily. In the same way, when I go for adoration; I pray the liturgy of the hours and the holy rosary. Also, I finished yesterday the program: http://www.exodus90.com, but I am still on the move with the practices of prayer, asceticism, and fraternity.  For physical fitness, I am going to the gym more often (doing the step climber most of the time, see picture below); I do hiking and jogging and I play soccer and basketball. In addition, I plan to ride my bike more often (even though I don’t have the big belly shown in the cartoon picture created by a parishioner as a  happy birthday card, I plan to ride my bike anyways).

For me, there is no way to be completely fit without combining these two aspects: the physical and the spiritual. The last couple of years, I have been trying to discipline myself to lose weight unsuccessfully. This time, my long term goal is to maintain my weight after the marathon. Please do not offer me too many sweats.  I know that I have the support of my people.  The people of God are witnesses of what I am doing for his glory. I will keep running with perseverance, even knowing that I do not like to run… Then I would be able to say the same very words of St Paul: “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”.  Hb 12, 1

Certainly, I will eat less, I will pray more.  By the way, I feel that every step in my training is a prayer… Let us keep praying for each other…