September 3, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As we begin the twenty-second week of Ordinary Time, I wish to share with you an uplifting narrative of a devoted mother. Over thirty years, she tenderly nurtured her mentally challenged son. Initially, she viewed him as a challenging chapter in her life—a cross to bear. Yet, with the wisdom of time, she recognized him as an unmeasured blessing. She once reflected, “If given another life, I would cherish another child just like my son.” This poignant tale resonates deeply with this Sunday’s Gospel, emphasizing the transformative power of our crosses.

In the Gospel, as Jesus predicts His suffering and death, Peter instinctively resists, exclaiming, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you!” (Mt 16:21-27), Peter’s reaction, although rooted in love, showcases our human tendency to shun hardship. Jesus’ stern response, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do,” underscores that in the divine perspective, the cross isn’t a burden but a pathway to salvation, and embracing the cross is intrinsic to discipleship. Peter’s response became a teachable moment; it reflected humanity’s tendency to prioritize earthly understanding over divine purpose. Jesus’ rebuke shows that this tendency obstructs God’s grand plan.

St. Paul’s message in the second reading, “Do not conform yourselves to this age” (Rom 12:2), accentuates this. The apostle’s words ring true, especially today, when the values we cherish as followers of Christ often stand in stark contrast to the prevailing culture. Professing our faith and morals may render us susceptible to criticism or ridicule. The intrinsic values our faith teaches — the sanctity of life, the sacredness of marriage, and the profound call to love — seem often at odds with current societal narratives, urging many into silent acquiescence. But as believers, we must champion God’s values, even if it may mean enduring the cross.

Serving as your pastor, I’ve navigated my share of trials. My good and sincere intentions—whether fostering unity, advocating for the marginalized, upholding the Church’s doctrines, or trying to make changes for the betterment of the parish—haven’t always been universally understood or embraced. Yet, I’ve learned that spiritual service isn’t about universal agreement but embodying Christ’s truth. Just as the devoted mother above found strength and blessing in her cross, I derive fortitude and serenity from Christ’s query, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mt 16:26).

To each of you, and especially to our spirited children, youth and young adults who are returning to school this week to begin a fresh academic semester, remember that holding onto your faith and morals amid negative peer pressures may seem daunting. Yet, in the vast ocean of worldly pursuits, the anchor of our faith promises stability and fulfillment. The road less traveled, though narrow and challenging, often bears the most rewarding fruits. The more popular road, though wider and easier, often leads to spiritual emptiness.

As I raise the Chalice at the Altar this weekend, my ardent prayer is for each of you to perceive life’s challenges not merely as burdens, but as pathways to transformative blessings. Remember, in embracing our crosses, we find ourselves intimately aligned with the heart of Christ.

With warm blessings,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham