Your Lenten Journey

2019

When I am a planning a trip to a specific destination, I prepare. If it’s a long trip I start packing a few weeks in advance, and  I keep a list. I want to be certain that I have all the necessities. As a missionary, the priority of the trip is to have all of my prayer requests in order.

Jim, and me protected by the Israeli army (the Cross)

Along the journey are many unexpected obstacles. I have traveled with a lay ministry for 20 years to Israel. We are the group that carries the Cross down the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem. Last year, as we do every year, for the pageant, we brought a wooden Cross with us which we use for crucifying Jesus. The Cross is over 7′ long and, though we have done this for years, Turkish Air would not accommodate our request to check in the Cross as extra luggage. Weeks before our trip, our team leader, Joanne, and I and a pastor friend met with one of the executives from Turkish Air. A meeting was arranged with him because Joanne was scheduled to meet with Pakistani church leaders for a crusade. She needed special travel arrangements in order to facilitate her scheduled plans. The meeting with the executive went well and we were assured that Turkish Air would handle the situation for Joanne’s transfer.

The Cross

If our flight is scheduled to leave Los Angeles at 6 p.m., we have to arrive by 1 p.m. to allow us time for any unexpected incidents. We all followed the rules with the exception of one member. He was responsible for bringing the Cross, but for some reason unbeknownst to us, he arrived two hours before departure. This set the tone for the rest of us because we all check in together, and now we were rushed. At the counter the young lady refused to allow us to check in the Cross, stating it was too long and that it exceeded the airline’s regulations. Joanne could not wait because she is in a wheelchair and is among of the first to board the plane. I stayed to try to explain the situation to the young lady, but to no avail.  In a panic I remembered the executive from Turkish Air saying to call him if we ever needed anything. I looked through my wallet and found the card that his secretary handed me. At this point many of the passengers had already boarded. I had little time to explain the gravity of the situation regarding the Cross. A few last-second phone calls were made, and we received clearance for the Cross to be loaded with the luggage, but by this time someone had moved the Cross, and it could not be found. We had no other choice but to board the plane without the Cross.

7 Arches Hotel

During all our years of traveling  to the Holy Land, we always stayed at the 7 Arches Hotel. We have many good acquaintances at this hotel, and know many of the long-time employees of the 7 Arches. I do not want to take the credit , but either Jane or I remembered that the prior year, some hotel employees told us that they would store the Cross that was used for the Via Dolorosa for us, so we would never have to bring the Cross back to the U.S. They did just that, and this spared some of our men from having to make another Cross.

Last year’s trip was a duration of seven days. These days were set aside solely for prayer and to carry the Cross  down the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday. I am taking a sabbatical from traveling to the Holy Land during Holy Week this year. Though I am a little forlorn, I know soon I will be back to walking in the steps of Jesus. Next  year in Jerusalem! I am praying  for all team members who are taking the journey, that God will grant them favor and traveling mercies.

Lent

This Wednesday is the first day of Lent. Each year I make the mistake of announcing to the world what I gave up for Lent. This year my journey will be personal,  a private matter between God and me. In the past I have fallen short and broken the vows of sacrifice; this just set my mind in a spirit of guilt. Guilt is one of Satan’s favorite tactics, something he consistently uses against us, especially when we are pursuing spiritual growth.

I pray that we all draw closer to the Lord during this time. Decide not only what you want to abstain from but spend more time in your prayer closet. May your Lenten journey prepare you for all that God has in store for you. Through all our trials we learn to trust in Him during these 40 days if we are obedient in our almsgiving, fasting, and praying. We sacrifice for the needs of others, to make ourselves available spiritually. We take the journey, and, just as Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert, we, too, are on pilgrimages until we find our way.  Satan’s failed attempt to tempt Jesus occurred right after Jesus’ Baptism. Baptism purifies our souls and yields our spirit to the road to holiness. Satan can offer us the world on the condition that you worship him.

Matthew 4:8-9 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”

40 Days

We are going to be tempted during our Lenten journey, but know that Jesus will see us through this. He is well aware of what Satan is capable of doing. If we remain in the spirit of total surrender, the Lord will give us special graces to endure. As I sit in Adoration, I am surrounded by warriors, some praying for family members, some praying for our country and our president, others praying for worldwide crisis. I can share that my prayers are for those who are suffering, and fighting for their lives and well-being: Doug, Arthur, Andrea, Father Freddie, Freddie and Mario.  My family is always included in my daily prayers, both immediate and extended. We have to stay in our battle fatigues for our loved ones.

When Moses was getting instructions from God on Mt. Sinai, he was there for 40 days. All of the Israelites at the bottom of the mountain could see that something supernatural was taking place. This was a cataclysmic event with  earthquakes, thunder, and lightning; instead of getting on their knees and praying, they did the unthinkable: they built a Golden Calf. In today’s society the same would happen to those who do not have a prayer life. We were all created to worship One God, but many choose horoscopes, crystals, fortune tellers, card readers, etc.. We need to rid ourselves of the golden calves we have created.

My prayer: Dear Lord, I pray that during this Lenten Journey many souls would be touched. I pray that those who are truly seeking You will be transformed and understand their calling. Lord, to each of us you have instilled special gifts. Pour Your blessings upon us and teach us to do Your holy will. Lord, keep us from the distractions of the world and shine a new light over those who seek and wait for Your direction. Amen.

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California: the State of Saints

My grandsons surrounding St. Francis

Genesis 12:7 New International Version (NIV)

The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

Lucas’ 4th grade Mission San Fernando 2020
Sonja’s 4th grade Mission Santa Barbara 1986 (Lucas’ mom)

Have you ever wondered why so many cities in the state of California have saints’ names? We can thank the Spaniards for this blessing. Though I live in the city of Orange, Santa Ana is just a stone’s throw away. I lived in the city of Colton for four years, but the neighboring city of San Bernardino is to the north. My Children were both born in Santa Barbara, so I have always felt a connection with this saint as well. These names were assigned by God’s providence. Los Angeles’ name translates as “‘the angels” but its original, God-given name is “Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles.” This city was named after our Blessed Mother Mary.

Saint Juan Junipero Serra

When Juan Junipero Serra arrived in Alta California his purpose was to convert the Native Indians to Catholicism. He brought with him a small specimen of a grape vine; he needed this to grow grapes for the wine used in the consecration of the Mass. Juan Junipero Serra, more than anything, was true to his Catholic beliefs. He was in his 50s when he first began his apostolic missionary work in California . He had one goal in mind: to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to teach the Indians about farming and cattle ranching. Father Serra was born in Mallorca, an island off of Spain. He was a university professor before he made his way to Mexico, his first mission. His calling was to convert the indigenous people of Mexico to the Catholic faith, but he was also called to plant churches. The world of the Aztecs was so much more ostentatious than that of  the Indians in Alta California. The churches in Mexico were more elaborate and ornately decorated because of the gold and silver resources available to them. The missions in California were simple, beautiful, and functional, built with adobe brick to sustain earthquakes and fires.  I thank God for Blessed Juan Junipero Serra for making our state hollowed ground. He consecrated nine of the 21 missions, but all are still operating parishes to this day. So many other contributions came because Father Serra answered his call to serve. Though he was only able to see the completion of nine missions, his work continued through the hands of other missionary priests.  The mission San Antonio de Padua was the first to manufacture red tile roofs, which are still very much a part of California’s architecture. Many historians will tell you how harshly the Indians were treated by the Spaniards, but the missionaries protected the wellbeing of the Indians. The Native Americans suffered from the cruelty of the Spanish soldiers, who did not have God in mind when taking advantage of the natives.

San Bernardino

On May 20, 1810, Father Francisco Dumetz erected an altar and consecrated the land in the name of the patron San Bernardino of Siena. San Bernardino was a gifted preacher. He was called the “Apostle of Italy” because he reformed a great part of Italy and experienced miraculous conversions. San Bernardino is still a beautiful city at the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. San Bernardino, the saint, is interceding on behalf of his beloved namesake. I have roots in this city; I attended San Bernardino Valley College, and I love that from any location you could look up and see the majestic mountains. I don’t feel unsafe when visiting some parts of  San Bernardino, but it has changed dramatically and some areas of the city look neglected.

Santa Ana

Santa Ana is named for St. Anne, Jesus’  grandmother; she comes from the lineage of David. She is the mother of Mary, who is the Mother of God. St. Anne and her husband Joachim could not conceive a child. While St. Anne and Joachim were  praying, an angel appeared to them and told them that they would have a child. They were both so overcome with joy at the news that St. Anne vowed to dedicate the child to God. At a very young age Mary was taken to the Temple and was raised by the Temple priest. Through this spiritual preparation she was set aside for holiness and became the Mother of God.

The Santa Ana River runs from the San Bernardino Mountains, makes its way through Riverside County, and cuts through the Northern Santa Ana Mountains via Santa Ana Canyon. The river continues through Orange County to its final destination, the Pacific Ocean.

Our tumultuous winds are also named after Santa Ana, and one of the main arteries running through California is called the Santa Ana Freeway  (Interstate 5).

 

This is the replica of the San Damiano Crucifix

San Francisco

St. Francis of Assisi was one of the most prolific saints; he loved nature and personified peace. St. Francis was born to a noble family and for the first part of his life he lived in sin. He was a “party animal.” Everyone who knew him loved him because he was gifted with a beautiful personality. He was known to always be happy; he was a charming leader. Francis was hand picked by God, Who spoke to him in a dream to redirect his life. One day he was praying at the San Damiano Church in Assisi. He heard Christ speak to him from the Crucifix saying, “Francis, repair my church.” At first Francis thought that Jesus was speaking of the San Damiano Church, but it was the “Catholic Church” Jesus was speaking of. Francis renounced all of his wayward ways and his wealth to serve the Lord. He is one of my favorite saints, not only because he is the patron saint of animals, but because of him the Holy Land’s Catholic churches are under the custody of the Franciscans.

San Francisco was one of my favorite cities to visit. We would make annual trips to celebrate my birthday and to go shopping for school clothes. Now, this city has decayed and is filthy and unsafe. I am no stranger to the problems of the homeless, but the pervasive atmosphere of the Satanic counter culture exacerbates the problems of the city. There is little evidence of spirituality. I know that not all of San Francisco is like this but Blessed Francis of Assisi, cries over his beloved city.

Sacamento

Our state capital bears the name of the Blessed Sacrament. This represents the body of Christ! A few years ago, I took a tour of our state capital . I walked into the rooms where life-changing decisions take place, where our elected officials take the role of orchestrating  the laws of this great state. I remember praying and thinking what a great opportunity to serve this  state. Directly to the left of the capital building, conveniently located to the east is the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, where some legislators pray before making decisions.

What happened since the first mission in San Diego was built over 250 years ago? Our beautiful state has slowly shifted away from God. It’s almost as if an earthquake hit us in slow motion; we never saw it coming, so we never prepared for it. So here we are, still standing on hollowed ground. It took a while to recognize the damage caused by removing God and replacing Him with all these feel-good demigods. We need to reclaim our state and reestablish what God intended when He sent the first missionaries.

My Prayer:

Dear Lord, right before our eyes our state has slipped into the hands of the Enemy. We, as your children, gather at the foot of Your Cross to pray for California. We ask Your mighty intercession to change our state and restore it to its original purpose. We call out to all the saints named in the cities, rivers, highways and byways to come alongside us to fix what is broken in our state. Each of these saints has a purpose for the cities that carry their name. Lord, please set a new fire of Your Holy Spirit to revive our state. Change the hearts of those who do not know You, and caused them to convert and to serve You. Just as Juan Junipero Serra was sent to California, send Your army of angels to fight for our state. Amen!

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Covering the Homeless

Mrs. Donaldson 6th grade class and their blanket production for the homeless
Jacob and Lucas modeling the blankets


Isaiah 58:7-8 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

7
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry,
bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own flesh?
8
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Sonia Donaldson is a 6th grade teacher at Nohl Canyon Elementary School in Orange, California. While my kitchen was being remodeled I needed a new venue to make sandwiches for Skid Row. Sonia came to my rescue and offered her classroom for the preparation of the meals. For over 11 years we have worked together to serve the homeless community.  Along with her 6th grade students, we have made over 300,000 sandwiches for the poor. Since I can no longer go to Skid Row due to a medical condition and Sonia wanted the children to continue with an outreach to the homeless community, she came up with the idea of making blankets. Her students have made over 30 blankets for the displaced. She is teaching them the value of giving and a lesson on servanthood.

Later this week I will meet with the Garden Grove Police Department to hand out these beautiful, custom made blankets created by the loving hands of Mrs. Donaldson’s sixth-grade class. God smiles down on the little faces of these servants. Great is their reward!

Eye Contact

Serving the homeless has taught me to always be aware of my surroundings. If I have eye contact with a stranger, I smile; if the smile is not reciprocated, I say a short prayer for that person. I do not read minds, but through their eyes  the Lord reveals a small window of what that person is going through. To the homeless community this is a constant; their world is always a foretaste of what lies ahead in their day. Their hope is distorted because they are surrounded by so many challenges. Things that are normal occurrences to us bring great trials to them. A change in weather contributes to their distress.  If it rains; they must look for  shelter, if it is too hot they have no place to seek refuge. They are the modern-day Israelites, wandering in the desert of life.

The Journal

I was cleaning out my nightstand and found an old journal with this story:

Both of our children have picked up my mantle of staring at people. This is not a good habit, but, nonetheless we suffer from it. I once missed a flight home because I was so intrigued by staring at a large family. I watched as their mother tried to bring order to the family, but it was the dad who they listened to. I thought for sure that they would miss their flight because with all the commotion they had not lined up; instead I missed my flight because of all the staring. I was sitting in the wrong section and, by the time I made it to the right gate, I saw my plane taking off into the clear blue skies.

My son Mikos would occasionally go with me to feed the homeless on Skid Row in Los Angeles. It is an enigma not to be alarmed  when  all of your senses are aroused; your eyes, nose, and ears are on high alert when you are surrounded by the  displaced. Mikos, like me, stares. The homeless population, for the most part, are hyper-sensitive, and anything could set them off. They need everything but sometimes pride gets in the way of their thinking. Our ministry has developed special skills of sharing the love of Christ with them. We would always arrive mid-morning to hand out the meals. This is strategically planned because the citizens of this God-forsaken community are just waking up, so there is a calmness in the air.

Within a radius of 5 blocks, there can be as many as 5,000 displaced persons. When we turned the corner onto Towne Avenue, two women were about to get into an altercation. The women were either inebriated or high on drugs. The fight was over a tank top, one woman accusing the other of stealing it. While the thief was attempting to take off the shirt, her arms got all tangled up. The owner of the shirt took advantage of the situation in what seemed to be a slow-motion fight. She threw blows that softly landed on the other woman. Mikos could not help but stare; the other woman was still all tangled up in the shirt, and when she tried to defend herself, like a T-Rex, her arms were too short. I have learned from experience how to intermittently stare and quickly turn away. Honestly, developing this skill to serve the homeless is most useful. I had to tell Mikos to look the other way. We never knew the outcome of the tank top brawl; sadly these are everyday occurrences on Skid Row.

The displaced are broken souls, and somewhere in their lives trauma made its way deep in their spirits. We are all wired differently, but the way we handle our pain is what makes us or breaks us. Harsh words spoken to someone who is already wounded can develop into an internal scar. Through the mercy of God this can be healed; the love of Christ can bring them out of this mindset. Just like the rest of us, the people on Skid Row all have a special calling. God did not intend for them to end up on the streets, but until they understand that they are loved, the transformation cannot occur. Our Father in heaven is waiting for them to turn to Him for direction. In the Lord we find the loving example of a father. The Lord will neither leave you nor forsake you. We must be near Him in order to hear Him.

Proverbs 15:1 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)
Chapter 15
1
A mild answer turns back wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Mental Illness

If  20-25% of the homeless population suffers from mental illness, this is a clear indication that the rest of them are broken souls. I see more and more substance abuse as the main problem. Families are ill-equipped to deal with this, so they disassociate from the abuser. Another growing concern with the homeless is the transgender individuals; they are mistreated on the streets because the homeless have no empathy or tolerance for them whatsoever.

Please continue to pray for the special needs of the displaced, and that we find solutions to stop this growing crisis.

 

 

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