March 26, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As we enter the final week in Lent before the Holy Week, the Church presents an important and serious theme for our reflection, the theme of life and death. This weekend’s Scriptural readings overwhelmingly proclaim that God is Master of life and death. These final days of Lent are meant to deepen our awareness and conviction of this truth, in preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s Paschal Mystery next week.

Death is one of the fearful things that nobody wants to hear about. It causes panic among people regardless of their status or power. Some people can embrace any kind of suffering but not death. I am often called upon to pray for dying people and to lead prayers for mourners at wake services or funerals. What I find is that many do not want to look at death in the face. They’d rather have me pray for an eventual healing, for comfort, consolation, or peace, without wanting to hear any mention about dying or death. Accepting that at times a sickness cannot be physically healed, and that death is inevitable as one gets older, is a reality that many people do not feel comfortable about, even in prayer. I have gone through this experience with my own dad upon his dying and death two years ago. To this day, to be honest, I still struggle to accept that he is gone. I consciously avoid thinking about the sad circumstances surrounding his final days. If it was not for my faith in life after death, I do not know if I could go on without despair.

In the first reading of this Sunday’s Mass, the people of Israel were in exile in a foreign land. In that circumstance, many of them were reduced to nothing. Some were killed either physically, mentally, socially or religiously. As the suffering became so much, many lost their faith in God. It was during this time that God sent Prophet Ezekiel to give them a consoling prophecy. In this prophecy God promises emphatically that He is going to raise the Israelites up – to restore them back to their land. Those who died will also be raised from their graves, full of God’s spirit. It was a promise of restoration from death to life. In the Gospel reading, this prophecy is fulfilled in Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus who was raised up to life again after he was dead for four days by the Lord. The raising of Lazarus is a true indication that those who make Jesus their friend can never remain in the grave forever. This Gospel story brings consolation and hope. Death will not be something that can make us panic.

Brothers and sisters, we must befriend God always. Just as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He will do it for you and for me. In the face of the last pandemic, some people were so ready to face the reality of death. These people were making a lot of sacrifices for others. They were courageous and unafraid. When I was spending a month caring for my own dying father and severely sick mother at NYU hospital at the height of the pandemic, another priest friend of mine from Houston, Texas volunteered to come to Elmhurst Hospital to care for dying Covid patients for three months, despite not having any family member or relative living in this city.  He told me that he was not afraid of the virus, but of the fact that he was not prepared to die and meet the Lord. His courageous and noble act was a way for him to live out his own faith in Christ, his Savior and best friend.  This unique perspective of that young priest gave me a lot to think about.

Jesus says in the Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn 11:25). This belief is what gets me through my grieving. It gives me reasons to continue living in hope, and motivates me to continue my proclamation of God’s victory over death, especially to those living in distress, anguish, or fear.

As we approach the climax of Lent and head into the celebrations of Holy Week, may you find strength and assurance in the promise of the Lord as I have found. Next Sunday, Palm Sunday, in the reading of the Lord’s Passion, the reality of death and dying may once again shake us to the core, but it should not make us panic in any way, because on the Sunday that follows, Easter Sunday, the resurrection of the Lord from the dead will be the focus of our hope and joy.

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

March 19, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters,

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is known as “Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday,” expressing the Church’s joy in anticipation of the Resurrection of our Lord. This Sunday’s Scripture readings remind us that it is God who both gives us proper vision in body as well as in soul; and warns us that those who assume they see the truth are often blind, while those who acknowledge their blindness are given clear vision. They exhort us to be constantly on our guard against spiritual blindness.

Have you ever played a game with a blindfold? Or, have you ever been on a trust walk, where you are blindfolded and led by another person? Playing games with a blindfold helps us appreciate the gift of sight. Those who have a problem with their eyesight, whether due to an ocular illness or old age, can appreciate the preciousness of the ability to see, even with the aid of corrective lenses. Through the story about Jesus curing a person born blind, St. John’s Gospel presents sight in a spiritual sense. The blind man receives not only the ability to use his eyes but the gift to see the truth. Sometimes a person can look, but not see. The man born blind, the most unlikely person, receives the light of faith in Jesus, while the religion-oriented, law-educated Pharisees remain spiritually blind, unable to see that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. This marvelous story teaches us the necessity of having our eyes opened by faith. Seeing realities as they are, and not as how we assume them to be, enables us to see the ttruth. It liberates us from our prejudiced presumptions, and gives us true joy when our darkness is turned into light.

Physiologically, the “blind-spot” is the part of our eye where vision is not experienced. It is the spot where the optic nerve enters the eyeball. A blind spot in a vehicle is an area around the vehicle that cannot be directly observed by the driver. In real life, we all have blind-spots—in our relationships, our marriages, our parenting, our work habits, our personalities, and even in our spiritualities. It is very possible for the religious people in our day to be like the Pharisees of old: religious in worship, in frequenting the Sacraments, in prayer-life, in donating to the Church, and in knowledge of the Bible—but blind to the poverty, injustice, brokenness and pain around them. Jesus wants to cure all the blindness that cripple us in life.

This past Monday, March 13, as some of you may know, was the 10th Anniversary of Pope Francis’ election to the throne of St. Peter. Ten years ago, I was standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other people in St. Peter’s Square when the white smoke billowed from the chimney on the top of the Sistine Chapel indicating that a new Pope has been elected. Little did I know that the humble man who seemed to have been a recruit from the periphery would turn out to be such a prophetic and influential leader for our times. In the ten years of his pontificate thus far, Pope Francis has repeatedly pointed out the blind-spots in our Church and in our modern culture. His magisterial teachings have challenged, not only the Catholic faithful, but also everyone else, to recognize and address those blindspots. From issues concerning the dignity of human life, peace and happiness, to issues concerning the family, morality, marriage, and love, the Pope consistently focuses our attention on each concrete situation; its vvalues and consequences; and the possible paths to address it based on the wisdom of the Christian faith. Preferring to use simple and direct language, he leads us to a clearer vision about God, about ourselves and about others. His prophetic voice is not always heard, for there are always those who refuse to see, but it always commands respect and attention.

Joining my former Vatican colleagues and the throngs of distinguished guests who gathered to honor Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC this past Monday, I rejoiced knowing that, through the Holy Father, Jesus himself continues the mission of healing in the Church and in the world. Like many religious and government leaders who spoke so highly of the Pope, I was filled with gratitude for the ways in which God has used him to heal our spiritual blindness in so many areas of life, especially through his message of inclusivity, compassion and close accompaniment, so that we can look at others, see them as children of God, and love them as our own brothers and sisters, saved by the death and Resurrection of Christ.

As we enter the fourth week of Lent, I invite you to join me in reflecting on how God has illuminated and cured some of our own spiritual blind-spots in this holy season. Let us give thanks then for the gift of sight, and pray that we may keep moving forward with a clear vision.

Devotedly yours in Christ,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

March 12, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters,

We are beginning the third week of Lent. This weekend’s Gospel presents the detailed dialogue between Jesus and an ostracized Samaritan woman. This story of this nameless Samaritan woman at the well, recorded only in the Gospel of St John, is full of truths and powerful lessons.
It assures us of God’s infinite mercy and closeness to us in our brokenness; teaching us how to reach out to those who are different; and encouraging us to bring the best out of people whose lifestyle seems to be at odds with what we believe to be good and holy.

An outcast in her own community because of her promiscuous lifestyle, the Samaritan woman even despised herself, but Jesus recognized her spiritual thirst and engaged with her. The fact that Jesus, a respected Jew, would even interact with a sinful Samaritan woman, was itself an
extraordinary outreach. This shows us that the grace of God is always there for everyone. Regardless of the entanglements of our lives, He values all of us enough to actively seek us, to draw us to His intimacy. Through his closeness, God brings out the best in us, sometimes in the most surprising way.

Like the Samaritan woman, there are many people today who thirst for healing, but they do not know how to go about encountering Jesus – perhaps they are too afraid, unsure or embarrassed to talk to God; perhaps they feel excluded or intimated by others whose main agenda is to recognize and highlight their faults. In front of this woman who was apparently alienated and a moral wreck, Jesus only saw a person who mattered to God.  She was led to gradually unburden her soul to him, a total stranger, because she finally found someone with kindness in his eyes instead of an air of critical superiority. Her search for water at the well was symbolic of her search for the living water, the gift of faith that would transform her and give her true life.

Many people today, like her, feel isolated, ostracized and rejected in some way — be it in their community, their family, their workplace or in society. Do you know any such persons? In the knowledge that Jesus loves us where we are, but loves us too much to leave us where we are,
how might Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well teach or inspire us recognize and engage with them? Jesus not only talked with the woman, but, in a carefully orchestrate dialogue, he guided her progressively from ignorance to enlightenment, and from misunderstanding to clearer understanding. It can be said that Jesus was making the Samaritan woman the most carefully and intensely catechized person in this entire Gospel. Engaging others personally, therefore, is the way in which we can make conversion and transformation happen. This is essentially what Pope Francis calls “a culture of encounter”, something so needed today in the church and in the world.

We often assume, perhaps from outward appearances, that we know what is going on in the lives of others. We often judge others from what we know of them. This Gospel story shows how Jesus did not treat others based on assumptions and judgments. Even when the woman did not
want Jesus to get personal, he wanted to free her, forgive her, shape her life in a new direction. In their long, heart-to-heart conversation, the woman moved through several stages: first, she called him a Jew, then Sir or Lord, then Prophet, and finally Messiah.  This deeply personal encounter with Jesus enabled and inspired her to undertake a very pivotal role in her community, drawing others to meet him at last.


The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well calls us to allow Jesus to freely enter our personal lives. God desires to enter our personal, “private” lives, especially during this Lenten season.  We all have a “private” personal life which may be contrary to the will of God right
now. Christ wishes to come into that “private” life, not to embarrass us, not to judge or condemn us, not to be unkind or malicious to us, but to free us, to change us, and to transform us.

The Samaritan woman was challenged to get rid of her sinful life. We are also challenged to get rid of our unholy attachments and the evil habits that keep us enslaved and idolatrous.  Lent is the time to learn from our mistakes of over-indulgence in food, drink, drugs, gambling, promiscuity, laziness, procrastination or any other addiction that may keep us from coming to the living water of a right relationship with God.  We all have our short list, don’t we?  And we all know, honest to God, what it is we need to leave behind.  With my sincere prayer,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

March 5, 2023

Dear friends in Christ,

We are only beginning the second week of Lent; there’s a long road ahead of us. Yet, if we’re not careful, we can begin to fall back into the usual spiritual routine. Let’s not forget that Lent is about upsetting the routine and striving for newness that leads to perfection. As we journey through this season, the Church proposes prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as timeless tools that can help us achieve our goal “to become perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). These suggestions came directly from the teaching of Our Lord himself (cf. Mt 6:1-6, 16-18).

While resources and encouragement abound for new and creative ways to engage in prayer and fasting during this season, it seems that almsgiving is still the most under-practiced and under-encouraged Lenten discipline. For many of us, prayer and fasting are easier practices to adopt. Give something up for 40 days? Got it. Take on an extra spiritual practice? No problem. This is not to say that these two are easy, but we have understood their purpose for much longer. Almsgiving, though, is a different story. Many of us rarely felt that we had extra money to give, so we tended more or less to skip over this Lenten practice. Over time, the wonderful rewards of almsgiving may escape us totally. Some of us rarely know the joy of giving that remains at the heart of this season.

So, what is almsgiving and how is it connected to our faith? Almsgiving is, unsurprisingly, making a gift of alms, which are physical gifts, i.e., money, food, or goods intended to help those who are poor. Choosing to give alms makes a difference for those who give. It is an exercise in detachment, a reminder that money is not an ultimate good. Furthermore, giving alms is also a social practice, perhaps the most social of the Lenten trio. It is because giving always occurs in relationship. This social aspect of almsgiving reminds us of the social aspect of our faith; it reminds us that we are not alone on this journey. Above all, giving away money or possessions is an act of love. It is a way of embodying our desire for the good of other people. It echoes the self-giving love of God. It helps us to return that love in a concrete and visible way, for “whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me” (Mt 25:41).

Almsgiving can be a daunting task for a beginner, since there are so many good and worthy causes out there to choose.  None of us can support everything; but this should not paralyze us into doing nothing at all. We could narrow down our options by connecting certain causes to what we care passionately about. For example, I’ve always enjoyed supporting the Annual Catholic Appeal in our diocese as a form of almsgiving, because I know that the money collected from the Appeal sustains our Church’s mission right here in Brooklyn and Queens. As a priest, I know how much our parishes, seminaries, schools, Catholic Charities and outreach programs for the poor depend on the generous donations of the faithful to this Appeal. Once upon a time, I myself was a direct beneficiary of this generosity when my whole family was sponsored to the United States thirty-two years ago as political refugees under the auspice of Catholic Charities. Without the help of the Church, we would not be here, and I certainly would not be able to study to become a priest. Now as a pastor, I am even more aware of the impact that the Annual Catholic Appeal makes in the lives of countless ordinary people like you and me who experience the mercy of God through what our Church provides. That is why I find my constant support for the Annual Catholic Appeal to be most personally meaningful and rewarding. I often make my giving a spiritual practice by praying for those who will benefit from my gift, and finding out how my gift is helping others. Giving from my meager means helps me to be more grateful to God for the resources that I have been given to share.

In the end, all our Lenten practices are meant to draw us closer to Christ, who always showed a special preference for the poor.  Almsgiving is one concrete way we can follow Him more closely. As God the Father Himself said at the event of Jesus’s transfiguration on Mount Tabor, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, listen to Him!” (Mt 3:17), practicing almsgiving, along with prayer and fasting, is a concrete way to listen to Christ. After all, almsgiving is not only “a witness to fraternal charity”, but also “a work of justice pleasing to God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2462).

Wishing you all a Lenten season full of meaning and joy, I am

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

FEBRUARY 26, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We are beginning the first week of Lent, a seven-week season of 40 days which coincides with springtime, the rebirth of nature and new life which we will see all around us. In this sacred time, the Church also desires that each of us grow spiritually and experience a renewal of our relationship with God.  For some of us, it may be an invitation to reawaken that relationship from a state of dormancy or stagnation. No matter where we each find ourselves in the spiritual journey, Lent offers us an opportunity to rekindle our love for God, appreciate more deeply His mercy, and grow in holiness.

Living the discipline of Lent generally involves the strong desire for a fresh start with a clean slate, which marks a new beginning of a life lived in conformity with God’s plan. Like the catechumens who are coming into the Church at Easter, all of us are called to be converts, to be looking at our lives and our sinfulness in the light of God’s grace. In response to this season, many Christians will take on different Lenten practices. Catholics, for examples, are called to fast and abstain. In doing so, we need to examine how a particular practice would help us to become more prayerful, more generous, more holy. Our Lenten practices will only lead to conversion and life in abundance if they are connected to our relationship with Christ. If not, then our fasting from food and drink will be a mere diet and our almsgiving will be merely giving money away.

This holy season, however, is much more than a just a time for penitential fasting and abstaining; it is also a time of joyous feasting as well—a time to fast from certain things and to feast on others. Perhaps you will find these suggestions I came across many years ago helpful. It was written by William Arthur Ward:

Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ within them.

Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of life.

Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.

Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.

Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.

Fast from anger; feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.

Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.

Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.

Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.

Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.

Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.

Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.

Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.

Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that sustains.

Fast from instant gratifications; feast on self-denial.

Fast from worry; feast on divine providence.

And finally, fast from sin; feast on the abundance of God’s mercy.

In his message for Lent, Pope Francis reminds us: “In this season of grace, we once again turn our eyes to God’s mercy. Lent is a path: it leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children.”  Understood in this way, Lent can be a liberating experience for all of us. It can free us from attitudes and behaviors that are not life-giving and help reorient us toward those that will ensure our growth into the person that God calls us to be—the person of the Resurrection.

With the assurance of my prayerful remembrance each day at the Altar, I wish you and your family a holy and transformative Lenten season.

Faithfully yours,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

February 19, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The holy season of Lent will begin with this week’s Ash Wednesday celebration. In Lent, it’s customary for us Catholics to give up something that we do a lot of and that we find pleasure in doing.  This “giving up” is done as a discipline for learning self-control, to free our minds from the chase after material things.  It reminds us of Christ’s sufferings and what our true pleasures are as followers of Christ, and it is above all an act of sorrow over our sin.

A story is told about a father who had urged his children to move beyond giving up candy to giving up some sinful habit that marked their lives. About halfway through Lent, he asked the children how they were doing with their Lenten promise. One of his young sons had promised to give up fighting with his brothers during Lent. When his father asked how it was going, the boy replied, “I’m doing pretty good, Dad—but boy, I can’t wait until Easter!” That response shows that this boy had only partly understood the purpose of the Lenten “giving up.” Lent is about conversion, turning our lives more completely over to Christ and his way of life. That always involves giving up sin in some form. The goal is not just to abstain from sin for the duration of Lent but to root sin out of our lives forever. Conversion means leaving behind an old way of living and acting in order to embrace a new life in Christ.

Sometimes we don’t notice how certain things we do have gained power over us and dictated our actions. In Lent, we discover these things and give them up so that God can be in charge. The term “detachment” is often heard during Lent. It means that when you are less preoccupied by “stuffs”, you will have more room for God. As Catholics, we are required to give up meats on Fridays during the season.  However, we can also give up other things. For some people, Lent is an opportunity to make an effort to give up television, phone chatting, gambling, impulse shopping, dance clubbing, indulging in sexual vices, shouting emotional outbursts—anything that relates closely to a particular sin that is especially sticky for them. Whatever that is, it is where their Lenten discipline need to be centered. For others, Lent is a time for making changes to their habits.  For instance, using money or time more responsibly, eating and drinking in moderation, going to bed earlier and getting up earlier, becoming more organized and tidier, spending less time on the internet, speaking slowly and respectfully, praying and meditating on Scriptures daily, adopting a charitable cause, going to church more frequently, etc. These positive things are not only good for the body; they are also excellent for the soul.

Some people use Lent for taking the complexity out of parts of their lives. They pare down their busy schedules and concentrate on activities that matter most. Others look for a specific area of their life in which they use power over others, and then try to find ways to use less power in doing it. If you happen to be a control person, you can change the way you approach things and people.  You can look at how you verbally treat another person and try to put yourself in their shoes.  There can be so many things to do, but it is best to choose one thing at a time. Then, as that takes hold, give up another thing, as the Lord inspires you.

Lent’s somberness and starkness does not mean that we cannot celebrate or feast. It does not mean we cannot eat a hearty meal, or enjoy a good game or movie, or get a good laugh from a funny moment. Rather, in Lent we put a stop to our fevered pursuit of pleasure, and instead let it seek us. Then, when the moments of joy do come, we would recognize them as a gift from the loving God. Thus, Lent is not all about giving things up. It’s also about adding good things to our lives or to others’ lives—the kind of good things that follow on what Jesus asks of us.

The best thing you can do for yourself in Lent is to return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Check out the Confession hours in our parish and other churches and motivate yourself to go.  Remember, grace is built upon nature, God’s transformation of your life can only take place if you open the door to it.  Wait no longer, dear brothers and sisters, for “now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor 6:2).

                                                                                         Faithfully yours in Christ,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

February 12, 2023

Dear friends in Christ,

In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus teaches us that fulfilling God’s law is not only by obeying the letter of the law, but more importantly, by living the true spirit of the law, which is love. After all, God’s commandments are given, not to burden us, but to help us learn the way of love, and become true images of God Who is Love. In the end, everything boils down to the heart, and God always looks into the heart.

Speaking of the heart, I am reminded by the heart-shaped chocolate boxes that we see everywhere these days that this Tuesday, February 14, is Valentine’s Day. For some people, Valentine’s Day brings up lots of painful memories, just like any other holiday. Some people dislike the pressure that comes with a day like that. For me, Valentine’s Day is not tied to gushy romance or obligation or painful experiences. I cherish it for its core concept. It’s about love — and what’s not to like about love? It is an opportunity to be thankful for the people who love us and a challenge to love others a little more, the way God has commanded us to do. The focus of this holiday, therefore, is on our relationship with one another and with God, the One who loves us unconditionally first.

There are several legends surrounding the origin of this holiday. One of them involves the story of Saint Valentine, a priest living in Rome about 250 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Claudius. Claudius wanted young men to join his large army. However, many men just did not want to be in the army and fight in wars. They did not want to leave their wives or their fiancés and their families. Since not many men signed up to be in the army, Claudius decided not to allow any more marriages. After the Emperor’s decree forbidding marriages throughout his empire, Father Valentine secretly performed marriage ceremonies. He would whisper the blessing to couples while hiding it from the authorities. One evening, the priest was caught performing a wedding and was arrested. He was told that his punishment was death. Many young people came to the jail to visit him. They threw flowers and notes up to his window. They wanted him to know that they, too, believed in married love. One of these young people was the daughter of the prison guard. Her father allowed her to visit him in his cell. She believed he did the right thing by ignoring the emperor and performing marriage ceremonies. On the day he was to die, he left her a note thanking her for her friendship and loyalty. He signed it, “Love from your Valentine.” That note started the custom of exchanging love notes on Valentine’s Day. It was written on the day he died, February 14, 269 A.D. Today, the site of St. Valentine’s martyrdom has been converted into a famous Church, located only a short walk from where I used to live in the heart of Rome. On St. Valentine’s Day, that Church would be filled with red roses from pilgrims who come to venerate the Saint’s relics and celebrate his heroic sacrifice.

No matter the origin of St. Valentine’s Day, it is good to celebrate love. As the Trappist monk Thomas Merton once said, “Love affects more than our thinking and our behavior toward those we love. It transforms our entire life. Genuine love is a personal revolution. Love takes your ideas, your desires, and your actions and welds them together in one experience and one living reality, which is a new you.” Thus, our loving relationships profoundly shape and impact our lives. Knowing that you are loved by God and others changes you in your inner core. Having people to show your love to also changes you in your inner core. There is no doubt that love is what life is all about. It is the greatest source of meaning in life and is by far the deepest yearning of the human heart. The lack of love brings serious dysfunctions, along with a lack of confidence, the inability to have meaningful relationships and a joyful life.

St. Paul, addressing the Church in Corinth that was filled with discord and polarization, exhorted them: “Do everything in love,” (1 Corinthians 16:14). The Apostle continues to remind us that everything passes, including wealth, success, talents. In the end, he said, “only these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). The kind of love St. Paul spoke about is not the sentimental, romantic kind of love based largely on feelings that the world promotes all the time, and often symbolized by the heart-shaped commercial gifts bought and sold in stores, but it is the disinterested, life-giving love inspired by God’s own love, and symbolized by the pierced, flaming Sacred Heart of Jesus. By its nature, this kind of love is sacrificial and is always directed towards the good of the beloved.

And this is the kind of love that we are called to offer to one another. Let this love be our Valentine to everyone, especially to those who hunger for love, and even to those who may not be so lovable in our lives.

Happy Saint Valentine’s Day!

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

February 5, 2023

Dear parishioners,

In the Gospel of this Sunday, Jesus tasks his disciples with the mission to be salt and light to the world.  What does this mean? And how do we become salt and light today in the context of our modern world and society?

I always find these metaphors of salt and light fascinating. In the ancient world, salt was highly valued.  The Greeks called salt divine, and the Romans said, “There is nothing more useful than sun and salt.”  Do you know that our English word “salary” literally means “salt money”?  In the time of Jesus, salt was associated with purity, because it was white and it came from the purest of all things, the sun and the sea.  That’s why salt was the most primitive of all offerings to the gods.  People believed that it was the salt that kept the seas pure.  Thus, when Jesus exhorts his disciples to be “the salt of the earth,” he meant that Christians must be an example of purity, exercising purity in speech, in conduct, and even in thought. Salt is still the commonest of all preservatives wherever people do not have fridges and freezers.  It is used to prevent the meat, fish, fruits, and pickles from going bad.  Thus, as the salt of the earth, Christians must have a certain antiseptic, preserving influence on society, defeating corruption and making it easier for others to be good.  In addition, salt lends flavor to food, seasoning it and giving it a richer taste.  Through Baptism, our natural life is also “seasoned” with the new, richer life which comes from Christ. Christians therefore must reflect that newness and richness in their lives, and cannot become insipid themselves.

In the time of Jesus, when speaking of the light, what comes to mind is the image of an oil lamp. It was like a sauce-boat full of oil with a wick floating in it.  When people went out, for safety’s sake, they took the lamp from its stand and put it under an earthen bushel basket, so that it might burn without risk until they came back. Jesus challenges his disciples to be visible like a lamp on a “lamp stand.” He therefore expects his followers to be seen by the world, radiating and giving light. “Let your light shine before all” (Mt 5:16). By this metaphor, Jesus means that our faith should be visible in the ordinary activities of the world, for example, in the way we treat a cashier across the counter, in the way we order a meal in a restaurant, in the way we treat our employees or serve our employer, in the way we play a game or drive or park a car, in the daily language we use, in the daily literature we read and the websites we visit online, etc.

The teaching of Jesus should make us think today about the quality of our own faith and mission. Is your salt salty and your light shining? If you have any doubt, take this little quiz: 1) Name the five wealthiest people in the world. 2) Name the last five Nobel Prize winners. 3) Name the last five World Series champions. Do you know all these answers? Probably not. Then ask yourself some additional questions: 1) Who fed and clothed you when you were helpless? 2) What was the name of the teacher who patiently taught you? 3) Who is the first person you would call in an emergency? You would know the answers to these questions. Look no further: these people are the salt and light of the world. If you see in yourself right now the positive qualities by which these people have inspired you and made a difference in your life, you can be assured about the quality of your own mission of being salt and light to the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, salt is a hidden but powerful influence.  Light is a visible and revealing influence.  Jesus calls us to be a humble presence that makes a visible, tangible impact on the world around us. Does your faith make a difference in anyone else’s?  In what ways can you make a difference today in the world around you? The answer to these questions depends on how closely we are like Jesus himself, who is the true Salt of the earth and Light of the world.

Devotedly yours in Christ,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

January 29, 2023

Dear parish family,

The Gospel of this Sunday begins with Jesus going up the mountain, where he sits down and began teaching the crowd about the Beatitudes. Have you ever had a mountain top experience? When was that time? What was going on? I think we all feel like we spend most of our lives in the valleys of life, going from one point to another, or in circles as the case may be. However, we all have at least one or two mountain top experiences when God gives us a glimpse of the world around us, where we receive clarity about God’s will for us and direction on where we need to be going in life. In spiritual language we call this a “peak experience”.

The word “beautiful” is related to the word “beatitude” because the Beatitudes are Jesus’ recipe for how to live a beautiful life. However, it is fascinating how the Gospel reading begins with Jesus situating himself on a mountain to give his famous sermon. If you visit the location of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, you will discover that it is only a good-sized hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. However, the evangelist Matthew’s designation of this little hill as a mountain carries a certain significance. Mountains are places where you cannot climb higher. It is the place where the earth touches heaven. It is from such a place that Jesus teaches his followers the spirit and perfection of the law of Moses rather than the letter and details of that law. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as the new Moses. Just as Moses received the law from God on a mountain, Jesus is going to give us the perfection of the law from a mountain. Instead of a long list of “thou shalt not,” Jesus is going to give us a long list of “thou shalt”. He is inviting us to have a mountain top look at what is truly important in life.

It is also fascinating to note that the word for “blessed” in Greek is makarios, which is perhaps better translated as “fortunate” or even “lucky”. It is as if Jesus is saying “lucky are the poor in spirit”, “lucky” are you when you are mourning, and “lucky” are you when you are insulted and persecuted. The incongruity in these statements is meant to catch our attention and intrigue us to a deeper understanding. How could a poor person, a person in mourning, or those in suffering, be considered “lucky”? My recent visit to Vietnam, my homeland, helped me to put these Beatitudes into a meaningful perspective. My mother and I made that trip mainly for the purpose of celebrating a Memorial Mass for my Dad on the second anniversary of his death, so that our extended family, including his siblings, can properly mourn him together. I was initially afraid of reuniting with everyone in such a sad occasion. Yet it turned out to be an extraordinary blessing that brought not only healing and closure to all participants, but also joy and peace as many relationships were renewed and long lost connections were restored. My Dad was remembered in two solemn Masses in North and South Vietnam, each attended by many bishops, priests and numerous people who knew him personally. These prayerful experiences renewed our faith in Christ’s victory over death, and in his promise of eternal life. As a mourner, I felt lucky because I knew that my Dad was loved enough to be mourned by many people. Sometimes I felt caught into the trap of closing my heart to others because I wanted avoid the pain of loss. Yet mourning my Dad has helped me to open my heart again to others. I will never celebrate another funeral in the same way as before. As my mother and I were united with others in faith, we were strengthened by the hope of being reunited with our beloved in heaven. We felt very comforted.

You can perhaps relate to an experience in your own life in which a certain Beatitude touches you just as powerfully. Jesus continually leads you and me again up a mountain to give us a fresh look at where we are at in our lives, where we should be going, what is important and what isn’t. Today he is inviting us to embrace the value of being poor in spirit, to embrace a simpler way of living, where our wealth isn’t measured by the things we accumulate but rather on our fidelity to God. He is inviting us to embrace the value of mourning which reflects our hearts’ willingness to love and be loved with a deeper sincerity. He is inviting us to embrace the value of being persecuted for the Gospel so that we recognize clearly that our lives are not about us and nothing else in this world has the power to save us but God. If we reorient our lives to the Beatitudes, we can then better appreciate his promises: “Theirs is the kingdom of God”, “They will be comforted”, “They will inherit the land”, “They will be satisfied”, “They will be shown mercy”, “They will see God”, “They will be called children of God”, and “Your reward will be great in heaven.”

May meditating on the Gospel today be a mountain top experience for you the way it has been for me. Jesus has laid out a clear path to a beautiful life, the choice to follow it is ours to make.

With prayerful blessings,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham

January 22, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

This Sunday, January 22, 2023, marks the first day of the Lunar New Year, a time of joy, thanksgiving and family reunion for millions of Asians throughout the world, including the Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and other oriental communities in the United States. I am grateful to have had a chance to experience a little bit of pre-New Year’s celebration with my relatives and friends in Vietnam. It has been so long since I was there for this occasion, and while I could have stayed for the festival, I wanted to return and join our Vietnamese community and my immediate family here on this sacred day.

It is my pleasure to offer warm greetings and best wishes for a Happy New Year to all Asian brothers and sisters of our parish as well as those who will join them in celebrating the Year of the Cat. We will have a Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving for our Vietnamese community this Sunday at 3PM. You are all cordially invited to attend this joyful celebration of faith and culture, which will include various generations of Vietnamese from young children to the elders serving in different roles.  Our church sanctuary will be adorned with blooming cherry blossoms and splendid spring flowers reminiscent of Southeast Asia. Come to experience with us some the most beautiful Vietnamese Catholic traditions including the Remembrance of Ancestors, the distribution of New Year Blessing Parchments that contain randomly picked Scriptural quotes to be used as “words to live by” or personal mottos for the year, and the giving of Red Envelopes with a “Lucky Dollar” gift to the children and teens as a way of wishing them abundant blessings.     

Normally, on the Lunar New Year, most Asians would gather at their parents’ home to celebrate. They would participate in traditional ceremonies to pay homage to their ancestors and living elders. Children and grandchildren would present their parents and grandparents with personalized wishes for their happiness, longevity and prosperity, and receive from the latter blessings and gifts in return. Extended family members would travel long distances to visit one another. It is always a time of family and reunion. It is also a time to forgive one another, to let go of the past, and to resolve to living more positively, more lovingly, more generously, and more fully. After all, the ups and downs of life that we have all experienced in the past few years remind us that the greatest blessings in life are not material things. What matters most is not money, food, properties or the latest gadgets, but people and relationships. All too often we forget this while neglecting relationships in the pursuit of money, career, fame and success. Many Asians, for example, tend to think that the best way to love our children is to give them a good education and money to get ahead in life. We also tend to think that the best way to love our parents is to pursue great achievements that will make them proud. Thus, it can become all too easy for us to focus on material things instead of relationships. And sadly, we often only realize our mistake when it’s too late to put things right.

If relationships are what true blessing is about, our faith tells us that the greatest blessing of all is the relationship with God. It is He who created us and blessed us with everything we enjoy. Our health and safety, our family and friends, our opportunities and hopes, and this beautiful world in which we live, are all blessings given by the God who loves us. Too often in pursuing these blessings, however, we fail to pursue the God who gave them. We are like children who receive their parents’ blessings at the beginning of the new year, but fail to love them in return throughout the rest of the year. As the Lunar New Year offers our Asian brothers and sisters the opportunity to renew relationships in their lives, let it also motivate us to seek a fresh start in our relationship with God and with one another.

In the East, cats are often associated with being sensitive, gentle, creative, gifted, independent and affectionate. People who are born in the Year of the Cat are believed to be sociable, highly talented and ambitious people. They are believed to be very good at persuading and convincing with their great rhetoric. May the celebration of the Year of the Cat inspire each of you to cultivate, and celebrate, the personality traits that will lead you to a happier and holier life.  

Wishing you and all Asian members of our parish a Blessed Lunar New Year, I assure you all a special remembrance at the Altar. 

Happy New Year / “Chuc Mung Nam Moi”,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham