Jesus said to the crowd, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life...." We can hardly blame the crowd for their shock at this statement — eating the Flesh and drinking the Blood of our Lord would cause a bit of a shock. Yet today how easy it is to show up at Mass Sunday after Sunday, receiving the Eucharist as simply part of a weekly routine.
If we really spent time contemplating the gift our Lord is offering us in this sacrament, we would be awestruck at the love and power in this gift. Through it, our Lord is giving us the very best He has to give — Himself. Not even the greatest theological scholar or the holiest of saints can fully understand this mystery.
Thankfully we don't need to be a saint or a scholar to receive this gift. But we should do our best to receive the Eucharist with gratitude. And we can look to today's readings to glean two fundamental principles for becoming better Christian stewards.
The Eucharist is the foundation for a stewardship way of life. Through His gift of the Eucharist, God fills us with His love and strength. This love and strength empower us to live as generous stewards — to be faithful to God as we volunteer and joyfully support our parish church and those worthy charities that support the poor and needy.
The Eucharist is the ultimate inspiration for a stewardship way of life. When we contemplate this gift of God, we will want to make a joyful return to Him. Mass will become anything but routine and we will live each day as His passionate disciples.
Father Raphael's last Sunday Masses at SJW will be Sunday, August 19th.
A reception in our courtyard with Fr. Raphael will follow after all Masses.
"To the holy ones and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ at Saint Joseph the Worker Church: grace to you and peace from God our Father!"
With these words of Saint Paul (Col. 1:2; Rom. 1:7), I introduced myself to you in the fall of 2013. I reiterate the same greeting and wish as I write you this thank-you note at the end of my stay at Saint Joseph the Worker Church (SJW). Before I proceed with my abidingly heartfelt gratitude, I want to acknowledge that calling you "holy ones" does not overlook our shortcomings and sinfulness. It actually reminds us of our dignity as the only beings created in the image and likeness of God, the three times Holy (cf. Is 6:3), and of our ultimate vocation to be like our Creator and behold His loving face (cf. 1 Jn 3:2). From the Hebrew word Qodesh, holiness means being set apart, consecrated. Through our baptism, we have been separated from the realm of sin and evil in order to live as beloved sons and daughters in the presence of God in time and for eternity. By the same token, every baptized has become the abode of the Triune God and a visible sign of God's Kingdom on earth. Holiness is thus our God-given gift and our inestimable vocation.
After having acknowledged this mystery of holiness within us, I want now to express the profuse gratitude that overflows from my heart. My indescribable gratitude goes first to God whose loving providence led me to this great community of faith (SJW). I spare you the details of how I got here, but I can tell you that in His perfect wisdom, God knew that the assets of SJW would fit my personality and spirituality. The awe-inspiring and human-size stained glasses are one manifest example of the treasures of this Church. Like several generations of devout Catholics who prayed in this beautiful Church over the years, I found consolation and inspiration whenever I spent time in prayer while gazing these stained glasses in the dark and silence.
Next, I want to express my profound gratitude to the Shepherd of Oakland Diocese, the Most Reverend Michael Barber, for his blessings and paternal solicitude. I am very grateful to him for granting me the faculties to exercise my priestly functions in his diocese. This grant expressed his trust in my priesthood and my ability to care for souls. I also acknowledge Fr. John Direen's invaluable contribution. Fr. John welcomed and established me here at SJW. I learned a lot from his profound humility and sacrificial love. For example, I was taken aback when he painted my suite. This deed helped me understand more deeply the significance of Jesus' summons when He said, "If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet." (Jn 13:14). Even after he left SJW, Fr. John continued to sponsor my studies. In a similar vein, I also benefited greatly from the priesthood and generosity of Fr. Kenneth Nobrega. He admirably offered me an environment conducive to my doctoral studies and he attended to the needs of both my physical and spiritual health. We spent qualitative moments of brotherhood characterized by sharing of experiences and ideas, reflections as well as laughter. I appreciate his collaborative spirit. Fr. Kenneth gave me the privilege of having an insight into the basic criterion for discernment and decision-making process as a shepherd. He often puts it in terms of "how to better serve God's people." Without a doubt, this perspective implies doing God's will when tending His sheep (cf. Jn 21:15-19). Most importantly, I am very thankful to Fr. Kenneth for his devout Eucharistic spirituality. I perceived this spirituality in the long hours he put in the planning of our Church's great feasts, the preparation of his homilies, and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist itself. This spirituality also explains the way he invests resources in the beautification of the Church because a unique encounter takes place in the sacred liturgy: the encounter between the divine and human realms, an uncommon experience outside the holy mass. This conviction accounts for the emphasis on the sacrament of penance and reconciliation (confessions) as well as the weekly Eucharistic Adoration here at SJW. Both this sacrament and the Eucharistic devotion help us enter into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist in order to receive the fullness of its graces.
I would like also to express my appreciation and gratitude to Fr. Ghebriel Woldai and the Ge'ez (Eritrean) community. I greatly benefited from their warmth and generous support. Their presence here at SJW allowed me to appreciate the rich spiritual heritage of our Catholic Church, which, as Saint John Paul II once put it, "must breathe with her two lungs;" that is, the Latin and Eastern traditions.
Furthermore, I am very grateful to our Permanent Deacon José Manuel Pérez for his deep faith, witness, and dedication to his ministry. I owe a major debt of gratitude to our Parish Secretary, Ms. Gloria Maldonado. Her profound faith permeates all her secretariat work and ministry. Likewise, the expertise from her previous jobs has contributed to the way she handles her work with an admirable professionalism. I also desire to record my indebtedness and thanks to SJW's Events Coordinator, Ms. Elizabeth Oishi Comly. As a former altar boy observed, "She owns the Church because she has all the keys!" In fact, her dedication to SJW is a living testimony to the Psalmist's words: "Zeal for your house has consumed me!" (Ps 69:10). Elizabeth is full of energy and she uses that energy wisely; that is, for the good of her parish (SJW). I also wish to acknowledge the reliable service of the extraordinary Eucharistic ministers, the readers, and the ushers. Their diligent service contributes to the smooth and prayerful character of the Eucharistic celebration. In addition, I am greatly indebted to the altar servers. They have been my immediate and dependable assistants before and during the holy mass. I commend their finesse and reverence. I also applaud the work of the choir. Indeed, the current choir of SJW has brought the quality of worship to a higher degree. An old Latin liturgical proverb says, "Bis orat qui bene cantat; that is, "Who sings well prays twice." Seen from this perspective, the choice of the songs and the angelic voices of the choir members really facilitate the experience of the mystery that we celebrate during the Holy Eucharist. Likewise, I cannot fail to acknowledge the heroic dedication of so many volunteers. I have been inspired and touched by the way these men, women, and children devote their precious time, talents, and resources on behalf of SJW and the celebration of the sacraments.
Last but not least, the benign attitude of each one of you who is a member of God's family at SJW merits my eternal gratitude. Thank you for your earnest faith and the love of the Church. I appreciate your devout reverence and the care you put in the celebration of the sacraments. I am very thankful for your affection, generosity, help, and smile that you afforded me. I am also indebted to you for your understanding. You have been patient with my broken accent of English and Español. Your positive attitude has shown me that what counts most is the same language of love and faith that we share and desire to experience always. This language indeed goes beyond the limits of our articulated words. For this reason, every encounter I had with you was loaded with blessings for me. Such encounters were always uplifting and refreshing. They made me realize that there was an abundant life on the other side of the cage of my strenuous doctoral studies.
I have to confess that it is hard for me to leave this place (SJW) that I have considered my home for five years. However, as I try to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, "To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent." (Luke 4:43). I feel empowered by your prayers and generous support to go and share with others what I have received here (education and growth in faith). I entrust myself to your ardent prayers so that the lack of the conveniences that I have had during my stay including transportation, electricity, clean drinking water, running water, and internet may not hinder my zeal for the salvation of souls wherever the Lord sends me. Please know that each one of you has a special place in my heart. I will keep you in my prayers. Moreover, if you ever feel bored or frustrated with life in America, please consider an adventure in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an alternative.
Let us persevere in faith, hope, and charity so that at the end of our earthly journey, our Lord may welcome us and say to us, "Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your Master's joy." (Matt 25:21). I entrust you and your families to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. May God always bless you +
In Christ, Fr. Raphael Okitafumba Lokola
O Glorious St. Joseph, thou who hast power to render possible even things which are considered impossible, come to our aid in our present trouble and distress.
Take this important and difficult affair under thy particular protection, that it may end happily.
(MENTION YOUR REQUEST)
O dear St. Joseph, all our confidence is in thee. Let it not be said that we would invoke thee in vain; and since thou art so powerful with Jesus and Mary, show that thy goodness equal thy power. Amen.
St. Joseph, friend of the Sacred Heart, pray for us.