Lent: A Season to Get Close to the Lord

On Ash Wednesday when we receive the ashes on our foreheads, we commit ourselves to follow Christ in His 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert. For many Catholics, Lent involves giving up coffee, chocolate or other guilty vices. Others forgo television or commit to attending daily Mass. The 40 days of Lent are set aside each year as a way for the faithful to draw closer to God through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and acts of penance. 

St. John Paul II, in his apostolic exhortation “Reconciliation and Penance,” emphasized the importance of self-mortification (dying to self). Penance, the Pope said, is “an effort to put off the old man and put on the new… to overcome in oneself what is of the flesh in order that what is spiritual may prevail.” These acts of sacrifice, he said, help to re-establish the harmony with God that was broken by sin. Each year during Lent, the US  Catholic Bishops, call on all Catholics to abstain from meat and offer penitential acts on all Fridays of the year — not just during Lent — for the protection of human life, marriage, and religious liberties. Lent in particular offers Catholics an opportunity to experience a conversion of heart through the three disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. 

Penance is an act aimed at conversion of heart. That means turning away from the darkness of this world (sin) and turning toward the light of God (grace) turning away from what is wrong and turning toward what is right. A true conversion helps us become more focused on Christ and on goodness and beauty and truth. 

A big part of penance is that it frees us to be with Christ, to allow our passions and our appetites to be subdued by Christ so we can really be with Him and learn from Him and be like Him. In order to free ourselves and find happiness this Lent,  Jesus challenges us to let go of our many attachments: anger, grudge against someone, refusal to forgive someone, personal vices, personal idols. Letting go such things and confessing them in the Sacrament of Penance frees us to find happiness in our life. Other forms of penance include fasting and almsgiving.

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

The Origins of Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, each year occurs 6 1/2 weeks before Easter (between February 4 and March 11, depending on the date of Easter). In the early church, the length of the Lenten celebration varied, but eventually, it began 6 weeks (42 days) before Easter. This provided only 36 days of fasting (excluding Sundays). In the 7th century, 4 days were added before the first Sunday of Lent in order to establish 40 fasting days, in imitation of Jesus Christ’s fast in the desert. That is how we got Ash Wednesday, but there is more from church tradition.

It was the practice in Rome for penitents to begin their period of public penance on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. They were sprinkled with ashes, dressed in sackcloth, and obliged to remain apart until they were reconciled with the Christian community on Holy Thursday. When these practices fell into disuse (8th–10th century), the beginning of the penitential season of Lent was symbolized by placing ashes on the heads of the entire congregation.

Ash Wednesday marks the onset of Lent, the 40-day period of prayer, fasting, and abstinence. It is also known as the 'Day of Ashes'. So-called because on that day at church the faithful has their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross, as a sign of commitment to identify with the passion and death of Christ on the Cross. The exact origin of Ash Wednesday is not clear, but the custom of marking the head with ashes on this Day is said to have originated during the papacy of Gregory the Great (590-604).

Originally the use of ashes to symbolize penance was a matter of private devotion. Later it became part of the official rite for reconciling public penitents. In this context, ashes on the penitent served as a motive for fellow Christians to pray for the returning sinner and to feel sympathy for him. Still later, the use of ashes passed into its present rite of beginning the penitential season of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Putting a 'cross' mark on the forehead was in imitation of the spiritual mark or seal that is put on a Christian in baptism. This is when the newly born Christian is delivered from slavery to sin and the devil and made a slave of righteousness and Christ (Rom. 6:3-18)

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

Lenten Prayer Challenge 2019

Lent is only 8 days from this Sunday. It is a season of transformation. As always, it arrives suddenly and without a plan we can easily end up without being transformed by God’s grace. This year I would like to help you with a challenge which is actually a commitment to prayer.

What is prayer?  Prayer is the lifting up of our hearts and minds to God. Prayer is how we get to know God. It is how we talk to and listen to God. Prayer is about the relationship. It is unique for each one of us, yet it is up to each of us to make sure the relationship exists. Prayer is a gift of time to God. After we begin to pray on a regular basis, we can see how God has entered our lives in tangible ways, meeting our needs when we least expect it.

How do I begin?  Start each day with prayer. Acknowledge that you are open to God’s plan for your life for this one day and in so doing, turn your entire day into one long prayer. Every thought, every worry,   every smile of thanksgiving becomes communion with the One who loves you. Every thought, every great idea, every brainstorm, is the voice of God speaking through your life, if only we take the time to listen.

Some Ideas:  This season of Lent, open yourself to God’s love for you. Take the time to speak and listen to God each day. Here are some  ideas for praying these 40 days of Lent:

Attend a weekday Mass

Ready scripture daily

Read the Magnificat Lenten Companion Daily

Spend time in prayer in our Adoration Chapel

Pray the Rosary

Attend Stations of the Cross on Fridays at 7 pm

Attend our Lenten Mission Retreat: Monday & Tuesday April 1& 2, 7pm

Attend St. John’s Penance Service, Wednesday, April 3, 7pm

Use St. John’s Parish App for prayers

Listen to and reflect on Catholic Audio Books or CDs

Watch a Catholic DVD as a family

On Ash Wednesday each of you will receive a one-page suggestion on what you can do during this season of Lent to allow God to transform you.

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

Gratefulness for Parish Ministries

In follow up of last Sunday report highlighting the results of the 2018 stewardship annual commitment, this Sunday I wanted to thank all parishioners already engaged in various ministries. This is the commitment of your time in which you serve the parish in its many ministries. It is so wonderful to see the number of parishioners engaged in ministry and we keep growing. Because of this growth, we face the challenge of ongoing formation of ministers so they can deepen their faith and so server in a more meaningful way.

Well-formed lay ministers is always a sign of growing stewardship parish, where ministry becomes a way of life. Ministry does not work, but a service in the parish so that the parish may continue to serve all parishioners. Let me say how thankful I am as your pastor to be surrounded by all of you lay ministers. The pastoral ministry becomes lighter for us the clergy and staff in the parish because of what you do in your ministry, and the parish is able to serve from day to day because of you. Above all, I am thrilled to see some of you taking the daily Mass, the rosary and personal prayer moments in the chapel seriously. This for me is very encouraging because it is an indication of personal growth in your faith. Prayer is a way of life and the key to being a more effective minister.

Formation of our parish ministers is still a challenge because I want you to feel comfortable in understanding the deeper meaning of the ministry in which you serve. As we go forward, we will need to have in our faith formation ministry more opportunities for the formation of parish ministers in their respective ministries or by having sessions in which for example all liturgical ministers have a formation series during the year. One thing we might have a retreat together, say a Saturday morning once a year. During the coming season of Lent (three weeks away), I will be placing a challenge for all parishioners to increase their time of prayer this year. Prayer the first pillar of stewardship deepens our commitment to Jesus Christ as it helps us focus. Thank you, I thank all the parish staff who serve here in the parish daily and often times offer their stewardship of time and talent to keep the parish going.

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

Growing in Stewardship Commitment

Last Sunday, the homily gave an overview of our ministries in the context of stewardship as a way of life here at St. John. It also gave the highlights of our stewardship renewal results.

Stewardship is a life-long commitment in which we choose God as a first priority in everything: family, finances, career, use of time. That is why Jesus exhorts us saying: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Mt. 6:33) This is about setting priorities. Such setting of our priorities on God helps us to keep focused on the vision, mission, and purpose of Jesus Christ. It helps us grow in our faith commitment.

We were all thrilled to see the results of the 2018 stewardship renewal commitment results. The amazing thing is that 295 out of 1,100 registered households returned their commitment cards. Those returned cards are only 26.8%, but the commitments in terms of stewardship of giving time to God in prayer was 1,767. Those 295 commitment cards also generated 803 stewardship of talent in terms of ministries. But the amazing miracle was that 237 commitments to give an average of $2,009, generating a total offertory of $476, 193. In 2017, the actual offertory was $351,812. The difference between 2017 and 2018 is $124,381 (35.5%).

If 26.8% of registered parishioners can generate 1,767 commitments for prayer, another 200 commitments would nearly double the number. In 2019, our vision needs to be “getting to the next level of stewardship” in terms of more prayer commitments. The more time we spend with God in prayer, at daily or Sunday Mass, the more we will be energized to serve in ministry. It is a personal and communal prayer that nourishes growth in our stewardship commitment.

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

The Ordinary Time of the Year

Welcome to our visitors, new parishioners and all of you regular parishioners! We have just started the Ordinary time of Year C. What exactly does “ordinary time” mean? First of all, it is the longest liturgical season in the Catholic Church. It consists of 34 weeks each year. It is divided into two periods. The first period runs from the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord until the Tuesday evening before Ash Wednesday. The Second period of Ordinary Time runs from the Monday after Pentecost until the night before Advent begins. This includes Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The vestments are green, the color of hope and growth. During this season, the Church counts the thirty-four Sundays of Ordinary Time, inviting all of us to meditate upon the whole mystery of Christ – his life, miracles, and teachings – in the light of the Incarnation and the Resurrection. During Ordinary Time, we descend, as it were, the peaks of Easter and Christmas in order to mature in the spiritual life and increase in faith.

The term “Ordinary” is derived from the Latin “ordinalis,” meaning “showing order, denoting an order of succession.” Hence, Ordinary Time is the standard, orderly, counted time outside of the other liturgical seasons. Ordinary Time is not “ordinary” but a season during which we reflect on the mystery of Christ encountering us in so many different ways by his life, teaching, and miracles, leading us deeper into his life of grace. May the life of Christ in us be instrumental in proclaiming his Kingdom by our life and example.

God bless you and all your families.

 Monsignor John S. Mbinda

One Community Construction Update

Dear Parishioners,

As you may have noticed, once we received our construction permits, Design Build of Hawaii (DBH), our General Contractor, swung into action immediately. First, we removed and disposed of all hazardous materials. That cleared the way for the trenching phase. You may not know that there is a deep trench right on the lanai fronting the preschool classroom (see picture). In order to dig this trench, the concrete first had to be cut with a saw, broken up by a jackhammer and then excavated, leaving a deep trench for the storm drainage system and utilities.

Those on campus heard the noise caused by the trenching work. Quoting Ms. Julie Quiroz-Zamora whose office is just above the construction area, “I am glad the preschool children were not subjected to such loud noise for such a long time!” We now understand why we had to move the preschool to the Presbyterian campus during the construction. For safety, we had to ask the contractor to put a barricade between the lanai of the classrooms and the construction site to ensure no one wanders and falls into that trench. The trenching phase will be completed this week. Next week, the final grading will begin which will prepare the site for the next phase.

The construction is proceeding according to plan and we can expect to have the OCC dedication on time before Christmas 2019.

Thank you all for putting up with the temporary inconveniences of the noise and parking space shortage. Once again we need to be cautious on our ONE-WAY campus drive as we look for parking spaces and as we exit the lot. Similarly, as you exit to Kuahelani Avenue, be extra cautious as there is a blind spot.

Finally, our General Contractor DBH is working with our office to accommodate us for weddings and funerals. When the OCC is complete, we will have the SAME number of parking stalls as we did prior to the start of construction.

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

The Baptism of the Lord

The Baptism of the Lord

This Sunday, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord. This brings to an end the season of Christmas. The Church recalls Our Lord's second manifestation or epiphany which occurred on the occasion of His baptism in the River Jordan. Jesus descended into the River to sanctify its waters and to give them the power to beget sons of God. The event takes on the importance of a second creation in which the entire Trinity intervenes.

In the Eastern Church, this feast is called Theophany (manifestation) because at the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan God appeared in three persons. The baptism of John was a sort of sacramental preparatory for the Baptism of Christ. It moved men to sentiments of repentance and induced them to confess their sins. Christ did not need the baptism of John. Although Jesus appeared in the "substance of our flesh" and was recognized "outwardly like unto ourselves", He was absolutely sinless and impeccable. He conferred upon the water the power of the true Baptism which would remove all the sins of the world: "Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who takes away the sin of the world."

Many of the incidents which accompanied Christ's baptism are symbolic of what happens at our Baptism. At Christ's baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon Him; at our Baptism the Trinity takes its abode in our soul. At His baptism Christ was proclaimed the "Beloved Son" of the Father; at our Baptism, we become adopted sons and daughters of God. At Christ's baptism the heavens were opened; at our Baptism heaven is opened to us. At His baptism Jesus prayed; after our Baptism, we must be people of prayer. May the Baptism of Christ inspire us and renew our own Baptism.

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

The Epiphany of the Lord

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. The word ‘epiphany’ comes from the Greek language "epiphaneia" which means ‘appearance’, ‘showing forth’ or ‘manifestation’. So, we could say that we celebrate the manifestation of the Lord. The feast of the Epiphany originated in the third century to commemorate the first appearance of Christ (the infant King) to the entire world as Savior, symbolized by the visit of the three wise kings (Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar).

It is interesting to note that in the early Church, Christians, particularly those in the East, celebrated the coming of Christ on Jan. 6 by commemorating the Nativity, the Visitation of the Magi, the Baptism of Christ and the Wedding of Cana all in one feast of the Epiphany. By the fourth century, both Christmas and Epiphany had been set as separate feasts in some dioceses. At the Council of Tours in 567 A.D., the Church set both Christmas day and Epiphany as separate feast days on the December 25 and January 6, respectively, and named the twelve days between the feasts as the Christmas season. The solemnity of the Epiphany marked the twelfth day of Christmas and the end of the Christmas season. Over the centuries, the various celebrations were further separated in the West, and now the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the Sunday after January 6, and the wedding at Cana is commemorated (by having the Gospel account on the Wedding of Cana) on the Sunday after the Baptism of the Lord. Both these commemorations are omitted this year.

May God shower abundant blessings upon you throughout the entire year 2019.

Monsignor John S. Mbinda

The Joy of 50 Year of Priesthood

December 27 this year, as we celebrate the feast of St. John Apostle and Evangelist, the patronal saint of our parish, I celebrated with you the joy of my 50 years as a priest. As I look back over these 50 years, I feel that God has been so generous to me. The journey that I started on December 14, 1968, has been extraordinary. I vividly remember that Ordination day at the Basilica of the Holy Family in Nairobi as I lay prostrate to give myself totally to God as the congregation prayed the Litanies of the Saints asking for their intercession for me. I remember being called forward for the prayer of Ordination by Archbishop John J. McCarthy followed by the imposition of hands by the archbishop and all the priests present. I recall the archbishop consecrating my hands with Holy Chrism and binding them with a purificatory. With my hands still bound, I was called to kneel before the archbishop to declare my obedience to him and all his successors. This whole day was deeply moving. My soul glorifies the Lord for that day of my ordination; that day that God set me apart to serve his people.

The highlights of my 50 years of priestly ministry may be divided into three: 1) Faith formation of adults (priests, religious men and women, and lay Catholic) from 1976 to 1982; 2) Official of the Vatican Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity from 1986 to 2006 and 3) Pastor of St. John Apostle & Evangelist from 2011 to present. These three moments for me have been the most enriching in my vocation. I saw growth in the people I served and the people also helped to deepen my priestly vocation. Let me just highlight my experience here at St. John Apostle & Evangelist. Being pastor here at St. John's given me a challenge to first get to know where the parish was and what the needs were and how to realize these needs. Our Parish 5-Year Planning was an important process for the whole parish to identify the priorities and plan together on a strategy of implementing these priorities. This also gave me the opportunity to reform the parish in view of these priorities in order to be the parish that God intends for us to be in the 21st century. These seven years as your pastor have been my best productive years, thanks to your challenge that drove me to be more creative in responding to the emerging needs. St. John’s is a wonderful parish to lead, only if one is humble enough to tap the many resources you all bring into our parish family. The joy of my priesthood is due to you for making me a better priest in these seven years here at St. John’s.

May God bless all who have touched my life in my priestly ministry these 50 years. A blessed Christmas season and Happy New Year 2019.

Monsignor John S. Mbinda