Sunday, November 15, 2020

Listo para tener la grandeza? ¡Ponte a trabajar!

 Homilía: 33º Domingo del Tiempo Ordinario – Ciclo A

Hermanos y hermanas, esta semana les voy a pedir que recuerden dos semanas atrás de la Solemnidad de Todos los Santos, cuando les recordé que la llamada a ser santa es nada menos que la llamada a la grandeza. Reflexioné sobre cómo, como adultos, hemos cambiado nuestro pensamiento de "¿qué quiero ser?" a "¿qué voy a hacer?" Nos desafié a cambiar nuestra forma de pensar. Nos desafié a hacer estas preguntas de manera diferente: primero preguntando "¿Qué estoy llamado a ser?" y luego preguntar "¿Cómo estoy llamado a serlo?" La respuesta a la primera pregunta es la misma para todos: “Estoy llamado a ser santo”. La respuesta a la segunda pregunta es específica de cada persona: “Estoy llamado a ser santo viviendo la vocación que Dios me ha dado”. Vale la pena repetir las razones de esto.

Esta vida y cómo la vivimos no se trata simplemente de sobrevivir: es decir, de mantenerse con vida y, si es posible, de encontrar una cantidad razonable de felicidad. Más bien, se trata de ser grande: es decir, de ir más allá de lo mínimo a pesar de las dificultades porque Dios nos ha llamado a ello y nos ha dado todas las gracias que necesitamos para lograrlo. Sin embargo, con demasiada frecuencia, miramos el mundo a través de ojos puramente humanos y vemos que para lograr algo bueno tenemos que trabajar duro y sufrir mucho. Para alcanzar la grandeza, debemos trabajar aún más y sufrir aún más. Por lo tanto, elegimos menos, simplemente lo bueno, sacrificando la oportunidad de una gran felicidad para evitar el trabajo duro y el sufrimiento.

Para los cristianos, sin embargo, esto no tiene qué ser así; y por las razones que he mencionado. Hemos llegado a conocer a Dios y sabemos no solo que él nos ha llamado a la grandeza (es decir, a ser santos), sino que nos ha dado todas las gracias para lograrlo. Por tanto, si optamos por mirar al mundo con ojos espirituales, reconocemos los dones que Dios nos ha dado y con confianza los usamos para alcanzar la grandeza a la que hemos sido llamados, a pesar del arduo trabajo y sufrimiento que tendremos que soportar.

Esta es la lección que Jesús nos da en la parábola del Evangelio de hoy y también el testimonio que nos da la "mujer hacendosa" que nos describe en la primera lectura. El dinero que se le da a cada siervo para que “negocie” mientras el hombre estaba fuera es una señal de la gracia que Dios nos da a cada uno de nosotros, la cual debemos usar para hacer crecer su reino hasta que regrese. Estamos llamados a ser trabajadores con esta gracia, aprovechando estos dones para que el reino de Dios crezca. Al hacerlo, crecemos en santidad y nos preparamos para heredar la recompensa por nuestra fidelidad.

La "mujer hacendosa" es alguien que ha hecho lo mismo. Reconoce su vocación—de ser esposa, madre y administradora de un hogar—y se aplica a ella, utilizando toda su industria para apoyar a su esposo, familia e incluso a los pobres de su comunidad. Reconoció su llamado a la grandeza y usó el llamado que recibió de Dios de ser esposa y madre como medio para lograrlo. Ella “teme al Señor” y por eso recibió la gracia que bendijo todos sus esfuerzos y la llevó a alcanzar la grandeza a la que fue llamada.

Hermanos y hermanas, la fe es el “dinero” que el maestro nos ha dado con el que vamos a negociar hasta que regrese. Como nos muestra la parábola del Evangelio, no podemos esconder este don por miedo a perderlo. Más bien, debemos negociar con él, porque su valor casi asegura que habrá una ganancia. Si nos negamos a aplicar nuestra industria para que este don sea fructífero para Dios y para los demás, seremos responsables de nuestra negligencia. Sin embargo, si le aplicamos nuestra industria, el reino de Dios crecerá y obtendremos nuestra recompensa. Esto es tanto un signo de nuestra gratitud por haber recibido el regalo como una prueba de nuestra confianza en la bondad inherente de Dios hacia nosotros.

Permítame enfatizar este último punto. Mientras que la parábola describe a un "hombre" y sus "siervos", la relación entre Dios y nosotros es mucho más parecida a la de un "padre" y su "hijo". A veces, un hombre puede ser frío con sus sirvientes, exigiendo ganancias sin piedad por las fallas del sirviente. Un padre, sin embargo, está más dispuesto a ver no solo los resultados del trabajo (incluso si hay fallas), sino también el esfuerzo que se pone en él. Un padre quiere que su hijo tenga éxito y solo lo castigará para ayudarlo a mejorar hacia el éxito futuro. El hombre exigente puede despedir al siervo. El padre amoroso acercará a su hijo para ayudarlo a lograr el éxito.

Dios, nuestro Padre, quiere vernos convertirnos en santos: es decir, ser exitoso, ser creativos y fecundos con la fe que nos ha confiado. Sólo cuando nos negamos a tratar de ser fructíferos nos veremos castigados. ¡Luchemos, entonces, por la grandeza! Nuestro Señor está con nosotros y desea que lo logremos. Para ello, debemos permanecer “despiertos y sobrios” (como nos recuerda San Pablo en la segunda lectura). Esto significa que debemos ver el mundo a través de ojos espirituales, no puramente humanos. Nuestros ojos espirituales permanecerán fijos en la luz de la victoria de Cristo sobre el pecado y la muerte y, por lo tanto, verán más allá de las tinieblas de este mundo a la brillante gloria del nuevo mundo venidero cuando Cristo regrese.

¡Esto no es fácil! Por lo tanto, debemos orar diariamente por la fe para confiar en Dios incluso cuando la oscuridad nos rodea. Debemos temer al Señor, no al mundo; porque Dios es Señor sobre el mundo y sobre todos los poderes de las tinieblas que lo gobiernan. Debemos estar cerca de los sacramentos de la Eucaristía y la Reconciliación, porque son fuentes de gracia que nos brindan una fuerza continua. Con ellos encontraremos el valor para poner nuestra fe en acción y, así, hacer crecer el reino de Dios entre nosotros.

María, nuestra Santísima Madre, es el ejemplo perfecto de quien vio el mundo con ojos espirituales. Cuando el ángel Gabriel anunció que daría a luz al Hijo de Dios, ella no permitió que las preocupaciones sobre las dificultades mundanas que ocurrirían le impidieran decir “sí” a Dios. Y cuando esas dificultades se manifestaron (especialmente en la pasión de Jesús), ella no se desesperó, sino que confió en la promesa de victoria de Dios. Miremos a ella en busca de inspiración e imploremos su intercesión para que seamos fieles como ella fue fiel y así "tomar parte en la alegría de nuestro Señor".

Dado en la parroquia de San Pablo: Marion, IN – 14 de noviembre, 2020

Ready to be great? Get to work!

Homily: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

          Brothers and sisters, this week I am going to ask you remember back two weeks to the Solemnity of All Saints, when I reminded us that the call to become a saint is nothing less than the call to greatness.  I reflected on how, as adults, we have shifted our thinking from “what do I want to be?” to “what am I going to do?”  I challenged us to change our thinking.  I challenged us to ask these questions differently: first asking “what am I called to be?” and then asking “how am I called to be it?”  The answer to the first question is the same for all of us: “I am called to be a saint”.  The answer to the second question is specific to each person: “I am called to be a saint by living the vocation that God has given to me.”  The reasons for this are worth repeating.

          This life and how we live it is not simply about surviving: that is, about staying alive and, if possible, finding a reasonable amount of happiness.  Rather, it is about being great: that is, about going beyond the minimum in spite of difficulties because God has called us to it and has provided every grace we need to achieve it.  Too often, however, we look at the world through purely human eyes and we see that to achieve anything good we need to work hard and suffer much.  To achieve greatness, we need to work even harder and suffer even more.  Therefore, we choose less—the merely good—sacrificing the chance for great happiness in order to avoid some hard work and suffering.

          For Christians, though, this does not have to be; and for the reasons I’ve mentioned.  We have come to know God and we know not only that he has called us to greatness (that is, to be saints), but that he has given us every grace in order to achieve it.  Therefore, if we choose to look at the world with spiritual eyes, we recognize the gifts which have been given to us by God and with confidence we use those gifts to achieve the greatness to which we have been called, in spite of the hard work and suffering that we will have to endure.

          This is the lesson that Jesus gives us in the parable in today’s Gospel and also the witness given to us by the “worthy wife” described for us in the first reading.  The money given to each servant to “trade with” while the master was away is a sign of the grace that God gives to each of us which we are to use to grow his kingdom until he returns.  We are called to be industrious with this grace, making the most of these gifts so that the reign of God may grow.  As we do, we ourselves grow in holiness and make ourselves ready to inherit the reward for our faithfulness.

          The “worthy wife” is someone who has done the same.  She recognizes her calling—to be a wife, mother, and manager of a household—and she applies herself to it, using all of her industry to provide for her husband, family, and even for the poor of her community.  She recognized her call to greatness and used the calling that she received from God to be a wife and mother as the means to achieve it.  She “fears the Lord” and so received grace which blessed all of her endeavors and led her to achieve the greatness to which she was called.

          Brothers and sisters, faith is the “money” that we have been given by the master to trade with until he returns.  As the parable in the Gospel shows us, we cannot hide this gift, afraid that we might lose it.  Rather, we must trade with it, because its value almost assures that there will be a profit.  If we refuse to apply our industry to make this gift fruitful for God and for others, we will be held accountable for our neglect.  If we apply our industry to it, however, the kingdom of God will grow and we will secure our reward.  This is both a sign of our gratitude for having received the gift and evidence of our trust in God’s inherent goodness towards us.

          Please allow me to emphasize this last point.  While the parable describes a “master” and his “servants”, the relationship between God and us is much more like that of a “father” and his “child”.  A master can sometimes be cold to his servants, exacting a profit without mercy for any failures of the servant.  A father, however, is more ready to see not just the results of the work (including if there are failures), but also the effort put into it.  A father wants to see his child be successful and will only chastise him/her in order to help bring improvement towards future success.  The exacting master may dismiss the servant.  The loving father will draw his child closer to help him/her achieve success.

          God, our Father, wants to see us become saints: that is, to be successful, creative, and fruitful with the faith that he has entrusted to us.  It is only when we refuse to try to be fruitful that we will find ourselves chastised and punished.  Let us strive, then, for greatness!  Our Lord is with us and wishes to see us achieve it.  To do so, we must stay “sober and alert” (as Saint Paul reminds us in the second reading).  This means that we must view the world through spiritual eyes, not purely human ones.  Our spiritual eyes will remain fixed on the light of Christ’s victory over sin and death and, thus, see past the darkness of this world to the bright glory of the new world to come when Christ returns.

          This is not easy!  Therefore, we must pray daily for the faith to trust in God even when darkness surrounds us.  We must fear the Lord, not the world: for God is Lord over the world and over all of the powers of darkness that rule it.  We must stay close to the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, for these are founts of grace to provide us continual strength.  With these we will find the courage to put our faith into action and, thus, grow God’s kingdom among us.

          Mary, our Blessed Mother, is the perfect example of one who viewed the world with spiritual eyes.  When the angel Gabriel announced that she would give birth to the Son of God, she did not allow the concerns about the worldly difficulties that would occur keep her from saying “yes” to God.  And when those difficulties manifested themselves (most especially in Jesus’ passion), she did not despair, but rather trusted in God’s promise of victory.  Let us look to her for inspiration and implore her intercession that we may be faithful as she was faithful and thus “share our master’s joy”.

Given at St. Paul’s Parish: Marion, IN – November 14th, 2020

Given at St. Patrick Parish: Kokomo, IN – November 15th, 2020

(each in Spanish)

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Ready for the triumphant return of Christ

 Homily: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Brothers and sisters, as we approach the end of Ordinary Time and the beginning of Advent, we begin to receive messages about Jesus’ second coming.  We know that Jesus’ second coming will mark the “end of time” when there will be a final judgement of both the living and the dead and every human soul will either be welcomed into heaven or left to languish in hell.  Each year the Church reminds us of this as we approach the end of Ordinary Time in order to remind us to stay vigilant and watchful for Jesus’ coming.  It is as if she is saying, “Just as this liturgical year will come to an end, so will our lives and the world as we know it come to an end. Therefore, be prepared!”  Let’s take a closer look at these readings, therefore, to see how today we are being called to be prepared.

Although it may not be apparent from the reading, there is one important practice of ancient cultures that we will have to understand before we can make sense of these readings for us.  This practice is something called the “Parousia”.  “Parousia” is an ancient Greek word for the triumphant entrance of a king into the city in which he will ascend to his throne and rule over the land.  In ancient cultures, when it was announced that the king was approaching, the people would all rise up and go out to meet him along the way.  Then they would accompany the king as he enters the city, singing songs of honor and praise the whole way.  The city, of course, would be properly adorned to receive the king and all the people would put on their best garments to go out to meet him.

This is the image of Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  His disciples in Jerusalem went out to meet him on the hillside outside of the city walls and then processed into Jerusalem with him, singing songs of honor and praise: “Hosana to the Son of David! Hosana in the highest!”  This was a Parousia: the coming of Jesus Christ the King into Jerusalem to ascend to his throne.

On the surface, it may not seem like it, but the reading from the letter to the Thessalonians describes the final Parousia of Jesus.  Let’s look at the reading again.  It says, “For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”  The sound of the trumpets and the voice of the archangel announce the coming of the King and he will begin his descent into the city.  Then those who are his faithful subjects—both those who have already died and those who are still alive—will go up to him in the clouds to meet him and accompany him in his procession into the city.

Now, what Saint Paul does not say, but rather leaves ambiguous, is what will happen at that point.  In the letter he simply says, “Thus we shall always be with the Lord.”  What many Scripture scholars believe is that this procession will return to earth, but it won’t be the same earth.  Rather it will be the earth renewed by the second coming, the image of which the Apostle John saw and which is recorded for us in the book of Revelation.  There it says:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God].

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”

The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Putting these two readings together, we can see that what Saint Paul is describing is the Parousia of Jesus at the end of time.  He does this, as the reading says, to remind us of the hope that we have in Jesus: that even if we die before Jesus’ coming, we who have remained faithful to him will be raised up so as to enter “the new Jerusalem” with him.

Ah, how good it is that the reading from the book of Revelation points to how “the new Jerusalem” was “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”  This image points us to the parable Jesus uses in our Gospel reading and helps us to make more sense of its lesson.

In the culture of the ancient near east, weddings were celebrated differently than they are today.  Then, weddings were mostly arranged (though this doesn’t mean that they were cold, business affairs; rather, they were highly personal involving both the bride and groom’s whole families).  The bride was usually an adolescent who, once the arrangement was made, didn’t immediately leave to enter her to-be-husband’s house (although, being “betrothed”, she was considered to be wed to her husband already).  After some time and after all of the final preparations were made, the groom would then leave his house to go to the house of his bride to officially take her as his wife and bring her into his home.

On this day, the bride’s family would make special preparations to receive the groom and to celebrate the joyous occasion.  The bride would have attendants who were young, unmarried women (“virgins” in biblical speak).  These would stand outside the gates of the house to await the coming of the groom and then to accompany him (and his attendants) into the house singing songs of joy.  This was a “mini-Parousia”, of sorts: the coming of the groom being like the coming of a most highly-anticipated and honored guest.

Customarily, the groom would arrive in late afternoon or dusk and so the attendants would bring lamps to light the way into the house.  There was no way to know when the groom would arrive, however, so the young attendants would have to be prepared to wait.  The “wise” ones (other translations call them “farsighted”) would bring extra oil for their lamps to keep them burning if the wait was longer than expected.  The “foolish” ones (other translations call them “those who don’t take care”) wouldn’t.  As we see in the parable, when the “Parousia” happens, there’s no time to get more supplies.  One simply has to be ready.

In this parable, Jesus is giving his disciples an image of his second coming and he is warning them to prepare now so that they don’t find themselves on the wrong side of judgment when he comes.  Although this seems like threat, it is actually a loving warning.  Jesus wants all of his followers to enter with him into the eternal wedding feast!  Thus, he warns them and encourages them because he wants them to be eternally happy!  This is not a maleficent God who delights in our suffering, but a loving Father who wants every good thing for his children!  Let me just say this: If all you think of when you think of God is the threat of eternal suffering, then you don’t really know God and I encourage you to spend time considering this passage and all of the goodness that God wants us to receive.

Brothers and sisters, the second coming of Jesus, or our own going to the Lord, may come very unexpectedly.  Thus, we need to remain focused on living our lives as disciples of Jesus each day so that we do not get caught unprepared.  But there are so many things in this world to distract us, right?  The pandemic, the election, and the anxieties of our daily lives all fight to distract us from staying prepared for the day when Jesus comes.  I can only imagine how anxious our young people are about their future.  “Will I be able to finish school?  Will there be a job for me?  Will I be safe?”  I assure you, young people, we adults share these anxieties with you. 

How, then, do we remain prepared?  In other words, what are the keys to remaining focused on living our lives as disciples of Jesus each day?  My suggestion is to look to the time of Lent, in which we focus on the three pillars of the spiritual life: prayer, fasting, and giving alms.

In prayer, we stay connected to God, who is our hope.  This includes our daily prayer time and our communal prayer in the liturgy and the sacraments (DAILY PRAYER: HALLOW).  By fasting we remain detached from the things of this world and, thus, keep our eyes on the world to come.  We fast, first and foremost, from those things that cause us to sin: too much food (or certain types of food), too much drink, too much television or time with technology, gossiping, selfishness, and being judgmental.  We fast also from things that are good to increase our sense of detachment: things like, unnecessary purchases, eating out excessively, etc.

By giving alms, we remind ourselves that we do not wait for the second coming alone, but rather with all of our brothers and sisters around us.  Therefore, we strive to live in communion with them, as if they are close relatives or neighbors to us.  This means that, when we see one of our brothers or sisters in need, we respond to the movement in our hearts to help.  That may be through prayer, pleading to God and his angels to help them, or through providing more direct help with their material and spiritual needs by giving of our time and treasure.  In this way, we overcome selfishness and keep our minds and hearts prepared to go out to Jesus when he comes.  Can we do this?  Of course we can (with God’s help)!

Brothers and sisters, God’s help is readily available to us.  In fact, the first reading from the book of Wisdom shows us the truth of this as it describes how God’s wisdom (which is a metaphor for God’s grace) “is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.”  In other words, we don’t have to go looking for God’s grace, it is always right here, waiting for us to receive it.  It’s like the air we breathe: always around us if we just open our mouths and inhale.  By prayer, fasting, and giving alms we open our hearts to receive the grace of God that is always available to us.

Brothers and sisters, if we are focused on living our lives as disciples of Jesus each day, we will be prepared to enter the eternal wedding feast of heaven when Jesus comes.  Let us not be fearful of this coming, but rather be anxious to be prepared, trusting that our loving Lord will not leave us alone on the day of his coming.  This Eucharist that we celebrate is the assurance of his promise.  And so, let us show him that we trust in his promise by uniting our thanksgiving to his sacrifice that we will soon re-present on this altar, and by committing to live as his disciples, vigilant for his coming.

Given at Saint Joan of Arc Parish: Kokomo, IN – November 8th, 2020

 

Lostos para el regreso triunfal de Cristo

 Homilía: 32º Domingo del Tiempo Ordinario – Ciclo A

Hermanos y hermanas, a medida que nos acercamos al final del Tiempo Ordinario y al comienzo del Adviento, comenzamos a recibir mensajes sobre la segunda venida de Jesús. Sabemos que la segunda venida de Jesús marcará el “fin de los tiempos” cuando habrá un juicio final tanto de los vivos como de los muertos y cada alma humana será bienvenida en el cielo o dejada languidecer en el infierno. Cada año, la Iglesia nos recuerda esto a medida que nos acercamos al final del Tiempo Ordinario para recordarnos que debemos permanecer vigilantes y atentos a la venida de Jesús. Es como si estuviera diciendo: “Así como este año litúrgico llegará a su fin, también nuestras vidas y el mundo tal como lo conocemos llegará a su fin. Por lo tanto, ¡prepárate!" Por lo tanto, echemos un vistazo más de cerca a estas lecturas, para ver cómo hoy estamos llamados a estar preparados.

Aunque puede que no sea evidente a partir de la lectura, hay una práctica importante de las culturas antiguas que tendremos que entender antes de que podamos encontrarles sentido a estas lecturas. Esta práctica es algo que se llama la "Parusía". "Parusía" es una palabra griega antigua para la entrada triunfal de un rey a la ciudad en la que ascenderá a su trono y gobernará la tierra. En las culturas antiguas, cuando se anunciaba que el rey se acercaba, la gente se levantaba y salía a su encuentro por el camino. Luego acompañarían al rey en su entrada a la ciudad, cantando cánticos de honor y alabanzas durante todo el camino. La ciudad, por supuesto, estaría debidamente adornada para recibir al rey y todo el pueblo se pondría sus mejores vestidos para salir a recibirlo.

Esta es la imagen de Jesús entrando en Jerusalén el Domingo de Ramos. Sus discípulos en Jerusalén salieron a su encuentro en la ladera fuera de las murallas de la ciudad y luego se dirigieron a Jerusalén con él, cantando canciones de honor y alabanza: “¡Hosana al Hijo de David! ¡Hosana en el cielo!" Esta fue una parusía: la venida de Jesucristo el Rey a Jerusalén para ascender a su trono.

En la superficie puede que no lo parezca, pero la lectura de la carta a los Tesalonicenses describe la Parusía final de Jesús. Veamos la lectura de nuevo. Dice, “Cuando Dios mande que suenen las trompetas, se oirá la voz de un arcángel y el Señor mismo bajará del cielo. Entonces, los que murieron en Cristo resucitarán primero; después nosotros, los que quedemos vivos, seremos arrebatados, juntamente con ellos entre nubes, por el aire, para ir al encuentro del Señor.” El sonido de las trompetas y la voz del arcángel anuncian la llegada del Rey y comenzará su descenso a la ciudad. Entonces los que son sus fieles súbditos, tanto los que ya han muerto como los que aún están vivos, subirán a él en las nubes para encontrarlo y acompañarlo en su procesión hacia la ciudad.

Ahora bien, lo que San Pablo no dice, sino que deja ambiguo, es lo que sucederá en ese momento. En la carta simplemente dice, "y así estaremos siempre con él". Lo que muchos eruditos de las Escrituras creen es que esta procesión regresará a la tierra, pero no será la misma tierra. Más bien será la tierra renovada por la segunda venida, cuya imagen vio el apóstol Juan y que está registrada para nosotros en el libro de Apocalipsis:

Después vi un cielo nuevo y una tierra nueva, pues el primer cielo y la primera tierra habían desaparecido y el mar no existe ya. Y vi a la Ciudad Santa, la nueva Jerusalén, que bajaba del cielo, de junto a Dios, engalanada como una novia que se adorna para recibir a su esposo. Y oí una voz que clamaba desde el trono:

«Esta es la morada de Dios con los hombres; él habitará en medio de ellos; ellos serán su pueblo y él será Dios-con-ellos; él enjugará las lágrimas de sus ojos. Ya no habrá muerte ni lamento, ni llanto ni pena, pues todo lo anterior ha pasado.»

Y el que estaba sentado en el trono dijo: «Ahora todo lo hago nuevo»...

Juntando estas dos lecturas, podemos ver que lo que describe San Pablo es la Parusía de Jesús al final de los tiempos. Lo hace, como dice la lectura, para recordarnos la esperanza que tenemos en Jesús: que aunque muramos antes de la venida de Jesús, los que le hemos permanecido fieles seremos resucitados para entrar en “la nueva Jerusalén" con él.

          Ah, qué bueno es que la lectura del libro de Apocalipsis señala cómo “la nueva Jerusalén” fue “engalanada como una novia que se adorna para recibir su esposo”. Esta imagen nos señala la parábola que Jesús usa en nuestra lectura del Evangelio y nos ayuda a darle más sentido a su lección.

          En la cultura del antiguo Cercano Oriente, una boda no se celebraba a menudo en un lugar "neutral", como el edificio de una iglesia, sino que se celebraba en la casa de la novia. El novio salía de su casa, junto con sus asistentes e invitados, y se dirigía a la casa de su novia donde se realizaba la boda y comenzaba una celebración. Luego, el novio llevaría a su novia a su casa, donde continuaría la celebración. Obviamente, muchos miembros de la familia del novio tendrían que quedarse atrás para completar los preparativos de la celebración y darles la bienvenida cuando llegaran. Esta fue una especie de "mini-parusía": algunos asistentes debían esperar afuera la llegada del novio con su novia y cuando se acercaban, debían salir a recibirlos y acompañarlos a la casa, cantando canciones de alabanza y celebración en el camino.

          Como bien sabemos, una boda puede ser un asunto de todo el día. Por lo tanto, el regreso del novio y su novia a menudo ocurría después del anochecer. Por lo tanto, los asistentes esperaron con lámparas para iluminar el camino de entrada a la casa para los recién casados. Como no sabían cuánto tiempo tendrían que esperar su llegada, las asistentes previsoras traían aceite extra para sus lámparas para que sus lámparas no se quemaran antes de que regresara el novio.

          En esta parábola, Jesús les está dando a sus discípulos una imagen de su segunda venida. Primero, reconozcamos que este es un evento feliz, ¿verdad? La segunda venida de Jesús es como un novio y su nueva novia que vienen a celebrar su boda: ¡un acontecimiento feliz y gozoso! Esto es algo que debemos esperar y que debemos anhelar. La promesa es segura: Jesús regresará. El día y la hora, sin embargo, no podemos saberlo y por eso nuestro trabajo es permanecer fielmente preparados para esperar, como los asistentes que traían aceite de lámpara extra por si el novio se demoraba en llegar. Aunque tuvieron que esperar (e incluso se adormeció y se quedó dormido), ellas anhelaban su regreso. ¿Esto tiene sentido? ¿Podemos ver y darle sentido a esta parábola?

          Hermanos y hermanas, la segunda venida de Jesús, o la nuestra ir al Señor, puede llegar de manera inesperada. Conocemos muy bien esta última condición, como nos recuerda la todavía sorprendente pérdida del padre Christopher. Por lo tanto, debemos permanecer enfocados en vivir nuestras vidas como discípulos de Jesús todos los días, para que no nos pillen desprevenidos. Pero hay tantas cosas en este mundo que nos distraen, ¿verdad? La pandemia, la elección indecisa y las ansiedades de nuestra vida diaria luchan para distraernos de estar preparados para el día en que venga Jesús. Solo puedo imaginar lo ansiosos que están nuestros jóvenes por su futuro. “¿Podré terminar la escuela? ¿Habrá un trabajo para mí? ¿Estaré a salvo? Les aseguro, jóvenes, que nosotros, los adultos, compartimos estas inquietudes con ustedes.

          Por eso, lo diré de nuevo: La promesa es segura. Jesús regresará. Entonces, ¿cómo nos mantenemos preparados? En otras palabras, ¿cuáles son las claves para permanecer enfocados en vivir nuestras vidas como discípulos de Jesús cada día? Mi sugerencia es mirar al tiempo de Cuaresma, en el que nos enfocamos en los tres pilares de la vida espiritual: oración, ayuno y limosna.

          En oración, permanecemos conectados con Dios, quien es nuestra esperanza. Esto incluye nuestro tiempo de oración diario y nuestra oración comunitaria en la liturgia y los sacramentos. Al ayunar permanecemos desapegados de las cosas de este mundo y, por lo tanto, mantenemos nuestros ojos en el mundo venidero. Ayunamos, ante todo, de aquellas cosas que nos hacen pecar: demasiada comida (o ciertos tipos de comida), demasiada bebida, demasiada televisión o tiempo con la tecnología, chismes, egoísmo y ser crítico. También ayunamos de cosas que son buenas, incluso si no son pecaminosas en sí mismas: cosas como, compras innecesarias, comer afuera en exceso, etc.

          Al dar limosna, nos recordamos que no esperamos la Segunda Venida solos, sino con todos nuestros hermanos y hermanas a nuestro alrededor. Por eso, nos esforzamos por vivir en comunión con ellos, como si fueran parientes o vecinos de nosotros. Esto significa que, cuando vemos a uno de nuestros hermanos o hermanas en necesidad, respondemos al movimiento de nuestro corazón para ayudar. Eso puede ser a través de la oración, suplicando a Dios y sus ángeles que los ayuden, o brindándoles ayuda más directa con sus necesidades materiales y espirituales al dar nuestro tiempo y tesoro. De esta manera, superamos el egoísmo y mantenemos la mente y el corazón preparados para ir a Jesús cuando venga. ¿Podemos hacer esto? ¡Por supuesto que podemos (con la ayuda de Dios)!

          Hermanos y hermanas, la ayuda de Dios está disponible para nosotros. De hecho, la primera lectura del libro de la Sabiduría nos muestra la verdad de esto, ya que describe cómo la sabiduría de Dios (que es una metáfora de la gracia de Dios) “se deja encontrar por quienes la buscan y se anticipa a darse a conocer a los que la desean." En otras palabras, no tenemos que andar buscando la gracia de Dios, siempre está aquí, esperando que la recibamos. Es como el aire que respiramos: siempre a nuestro alrededor si solo abrimos la boca e inhalamos. Con la oración, el ayuno y la limosna, abrimos nuestro corazón para recibir la gracia de Dios que siempre está disponible para nosotros.

          Hermanos y hermanas, si nuestras vidas están enfocadas en seguir los mandamientos de Dios de amar, ser misericordiosos y buscar el perdón cuando hemos pecado, estaremos preparados para entrar en la fiesta de bodas eterna del cielo cuando Jesús venga. No tengamos miedo de esta venida, sino más bien estemos ansiosos por estar preparados, confiando en que nuestro amado Señor no nos dejará solos el día de su venida. Esta Eucaristía que celebramos es la garantía de su promesa. Entonces, demostrémosle que confiamos en su promesa uniendo nuestra acción de gracias a su sacrificio que pronto volveremos a presentar en este altar y comprometiéndonos a vivir como sus discípulos, atentos a su venida.

Dado a la parroquia de San Pablo: Marion, IN – 7 de noviembre, 2020

Sunday, November 1, 2020

La Llamada de la Grandeza

 Homilía: La Solemnidad de Todos los Santos – Ciclo A

¿Qué quieres ser cuando seas grande?" Aunque al principio pueda parecer una pregunta inofensiva, en realidad es una gran pregunta para los niños, ya que a menudo abre la oportunidad de ver dentro de sus corazones. Por alguna razón, hacia el comienzo de la escuela secundaria, dejamos de preguntarles a los niños qué quieren ser y comenzamos a preguntarles qué quieren hacer. Como adultos, a menudo nos quedamos con ese lenguaje: resignarnos a una vida de hacer algo en lugar de ser algo.

Es por eso que hacer esta pregunta a los niños es tan bueno: porque un niño le va a contar los anhelos más profundos de su corazón. “Quiero ser médico” o “bombero”, o “maestra” o “enfermera” o “piloto de carreras” o incluso “mamá” o “papá”. ¿Y qué están diciendo todos estos niños cuando responden con una de estas "carreras"? Están diciendo "Quiero ser estupendo". Cada niño, cuando mira una de estas carreras, piensa para sí mismo: "Esa persona es estupendo y yo quiero ser esa persona". Obviamente, este no es un pensamiento consciente, porque los niños no piensan así; y tal vez sería mejor decir que es un "movimiento del corazón" que cada niño experimenta que habla de un deseo innato de grandeza.

¿Por qué está este deseo innato dentro de nosotros? Bueno, porque en Dios estamos destinados a la gloria. En la segunda lectura de la primera carta de San Juan leemos: “Hermanos míos, ahora somos hijos de Dios, pero aún no se ha manifestado cómo seremos al fin. Y ya sabemos que, cuando él se manifieste, vamos a ser semejantes a él, porque lo veremos tal cual es”. ¿Qué más puede querer decir cuando dice "vamos a ser semejantes a él" excepto "vamos a ser semejantes a él en su gloria"? Como hijos de Dios, estamos destinados a ser como él, que es todo glorioso; así, estamos destinados a la gloria: es decir, a ser grandes más allá de toda imaginación. Esto, amigos míos, es lo que significa ser santo.

Desafortunadamente, sin embargo, parece que hemos perdido la conexión entre alcanzar la santidad y la excelencia humana. En otras palabras, hemos decidido que "grandeza" y "santidad" son ambiciones diferentes; y que si quiere conseguir uno tienes que renunciar a sus esperanzas por el otro. Pero estoy aquí para decirles, amigos míos, ¡que no hay mayor grandeza que puedan alcanzar que sea más grande que convertirse en un santo!

Es cierto que muchos santos fueron despreciados en su propia época y parecían evitar la grandeza en la tierra—San Francisco de Asís, San Antonio del Desierto o cualquiera de los Mártires—pero eso fue porque en su época la idea de grandeza era un distorsionada: estos santos fueron grandes porque rechazaron el señuelo de una "grandeza de este mundo" en favor de la grandeza heroica de perseverar en la virtud a pesar de la resistencia.

Otros santos, por supuesto, lograron grandes cosas en este mundo: San Luis IX de Francia, Santa Isabel de Hungría ... ¡un rey y una reina! … O quizás un ejemplo más moderno, Santa Teresa de Calcuta; sin embargo, su reconocimiento mundano fue solo un reflejo del aprecio que el mundo les dio por perseverar en la virtud heroica a lo largo de sus vidas. Por lo tanto, podemos ver que la verdadera grandeza, la heroica grandeza, llega cuando buscamos la santidad.

Echemos un vistazo, por tanto, a ese último ejemplo que nombré: Santa Teresa de Calcuta (o "Madre Teresa"). Creo que la mayoría de las personas con las que se encuentra estarían de acuerdo en que la Madre Teresa fue un gran ser humano. Esta mujercita de Albania, que se esforzó simplemente por responder al llamado del Señor de cuidar a los más pobres del mundo en las calles de Calcuta, tuvo influencia mundial: no porque fuera una hábil política o inteligente en los negocios, sino porque se esforzó por la santidad en todo lo que hizo; y al lograr esta heroica grandeza, despertó ese latente deseo de grandeza en los corazones de todos los que conoció.

Lo que la Madre Teresa demostró, y lo que prueban todos los santos, en realidad, es que la verdadera grandeza se encuentra cuando vivimos las Bienaventuranzas: porque ella era pobre de espíritu antes de ser pobre, lloraba por los más abandonados en las calles de Calcuta, ella era sufrida en la forma en que se acercaba a los demás y en su propia percepción de su trabajo, tenía hambre y sed de justicia tanto para ella como especialmente para los demás, era misericordiosa con todos los que encontraba, se esforzaba por permanecer limpia de corazón confesando su pecados con frecuencia, se esforzó por hacer la paz porque veía la guerra y el conflicto como causa de tanta injusticia, y fue perseguida por aquellos que veían erróneamente en ella un intento velado de ganar influencia y poder en el mundo. La Madre Teresa alcanzó la grandeza, no a pesar de su santidad, sino precisamente por ella.

Hermanos y hermanas, el Día de Todos los Santos es la celebración de las mujeres y los hombres que nos han precedido habiendo alcanzado la grandeza precisamente en su santidad. Y es un recordatorio para cada uno de nosotros de nuestra necesidad de perseguir la grandeza a la que estamos destinados, de ser glorificados como Dios en el cielo, al perseguir la virtud heroica en este mundo según el modelo para nosotros en los santos. ¿Nuestra inspiración? San Juan nos lo da en nuestra segunda lectura cuando dice: “Miren cuánto amor nos ha tenido el Padre, pues no sólo nos llamamos hijos de Dios” y “Todo el que tenga puesta en Dios esta esperanza, se purifica a sí mismo para ser tan puro como él."

La buena noticia es que Dios ha planeado la forma en que cada uno de nosotros debe convertirse en santo. A esto lo llamamos nuestra "vocación". Dios nos creó a cada uno de nosotros por amor y nos ha llamado a cada uno de nosotros a una forma de vida específica a través de la cual podemos ayudar a construir su reino y convertirnos en santos. Esta llamada puede ser al matrimonio, al sacerdocio, a la vida religiosa consagrada o a la sagrada vida de soltero. Todos los que han alcanzado la santidad (es decir, todos los que ya se han reunido alrededor del trono del Cordero en el cielo) lo han hecho al discernir el llamado de Dios y luego esforzarse por vivir ese llamado lo mejor que pueden.

Debido a que la vocación matrimonial es tan común (común, porque es necesaria para continuar la vida humana), es fácil para un joven pensar automáticamente que puede ser llamado al matrimonio. Sin embargo, esta vocación se discierne mejor cuando un joven también ha considerado si Dios puede estar llamándolo al sacerdocio o a la vida religiosa. Con demasiada frecuencia, un joven decide que se casará sin siquiera considerar si Dios lo está llamando a otra cosa. ¡Esto es una lástima! No porque el sacerdocio o la vida religiosa sea de alguna manera mejor que el matrimonio; son llamamientos igualmente dignos, sino porque si un joven no discierne bien su llamamiento (considerando todas las formas en que Dios podría estar llamándolo), él / ella puede sentirse insatisfecho con su elección de vida, tentándolo a vivir una vida mediocre, en lugar de una vida de grandeza a la que ha sido llamado.

Hoy, por lo tanto, mis hermanos y hermanas, quiero instarlos a hacer todo lo posible para ayudar a los jóvenes en sus vidas a considerar todas las formas en que Dios puede estar llamándolos a la grandeza para discernir la forma particular en que Él está llamando cada uno de ellos. Especialmente les insto a que les ayuden a discernir la llamada al sacerdocio y a la vida religiosa. No muchos jóvenes persiguen estas vocaciones, pero les aseguro que no es porque Dios no los esté llamando. ¡Los está llamando! Más bien es que no se les ha enseñado a escuchar el llamado de Dios ni se les ha animado a responder y apoyar cuando lo hacen.

Creo que esto es especialmente cierto en nuestras comunidades hispanas. ¿Se da cuenta de que, aquí en los Estados Unidos, si alguien es menor de 30 años y profesa ser católico, es más probable que ese joven sea hispano que anglo? Entonces, ¿por qué nuestros seminarios y conventos están llenos de anglos? Parte de la razón, sin duda, es un alcance inadecuado a las familias hispanas por parte de los programas de vocaciones. En nuestra diócesis nos esforzamos por abordar ese problema. La otra parte principal del problema, sin embargo, es que las familias hispanas no están haciendo lo suficiente para animar y apoyar a los hombres y mujeres jóvenes a discernir el llamado de Dios y seguirlo.

Entiendo que existe una presión única para que los jóvenes hispanos aquí en los Estados Unidos trabajen y ganen un salario con el fin de ayudar a mantener a sus familias tanto aquí como en su país de origen. Sin embargo, debemos estar listos para confiar en que Dios nos cuidará cuando decidamos vivir para él. Siguiendo nuestra vocación auténtica, sin importa cual sea la vocación, estamos eligiendo vivir para Dios y él no dejará de cuidarnos.

Mis hermanos y hermanas, este Día de Todos los Santos, eliminemos la falsa separación entre las dos preguntas: "¿Qué quiere ser?" y "¿Qué quiere hacer?", y unámoslos preguntándoles de esta manera: "¿Qué quiere ser?" y "¿Cómo va a estar?" Si lo que queremos ser son "santos", entonces discerniremos la verdadera vocación de Dios para nuestras vidas y nos esforzaremos por vivirla de la mejor manera que podamos. De esta manera veremos que lo que hacemos comenzará a estar teñido cada vez más por las Bienaventuranzas y nos acercará cada vez más a la verdadera grandeza que tanto anhela nuestro corazón y para la que estamos destinados.

El papa emérito Benedicto XVI dijo una vez: “El mundo te ofrece comodidad, pero no fuiste hecho para la comodidad. ¡Fuiste hecho para la grandeza!" Este Día de Todos los Santos, hermanos míos, comprometámonos, fortalecidos por la gracia que tenemos en Jesucristo a través de su sacrificio, que representamos aquí en este altar, a luchar por esa grandeza para la que fuimos hechos. Porque es esforzándonos por lograrlo como realmente alcanzaremos la excelencia humana; y es entonces cuando verdaderamente seremos santos.

Dado en la parroquia de San Patricio: Kokomo, IN – 1 de noviembre, 2020

The Call to Greatness

 Homily: All Saints – Cycle A

          “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  Although it may seem like a harmless question at first, this is actually a great question to ask kids as it often opens up a chance to see into their hearts.  For some reason, somewhere around the beginning of high school, we stop asking kids what they want to be and start asking them what they want to do.  As adults, we often stick with that language: resigning ourselves to a life of doing something instead of being something.

          This is why asking kids this question is so great: because a kid is going to tell you the deepest longings of his or her heart.  “I want to be a doctor” or “a fireman”, or “a teacher” or “a nurse” or “a race car driver” or even “a mom” or “a dad”.  And what are these kids all saying when they reply with one of these “careers”?  They’re saying “I want to be great.”  Each kid, when he or she looks at one of these careers, thinks to him or herself “That person is great, and I want to be that person.”  Obviously, this isn’t a conscious thought, because kids don’t think like that; and so perhaps it would be better to say that it is a “movement of the heart” that each kid experiences that speaks to an innate desire for greatness.

          Why is this innate desire within us?  Well, because in God we are destined for glory.  In the second reading from the first letter of Saint John we read: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  What else can he mean when he says “we shall be like him” except “we shall be like him in his glory”?  As children of God, we are destined to be like him, who is all-glorious; thus, we are destined for glory: that is, to be great beyond all imagination.  This, my friends, is what it means to be a saint.

          Unfortunately, however, we seem to have lost the connection between achieving saintliness and human excellence.  In other words, we’ve decided that “greatness” and “saintliness” are different ambitions; and that if you want to achieve one you have to give up your hopes for the other.  But I’m here to tell you, my friends, that there is no greater greatness that you can achieve that is any greater than becoming a saint!

          It’s true that many saints were despised in their own times and seemed to eschew greatness while on earth—Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Anthony of the Desert, or any of the Martyrs—but that was because in their times the idea of greatness was a distorted one: these saints were great because they refused the lure of a “this-world-only greatness” in favor of the heroic greatness of persevering in virtue in spite of resistance.  Still other saints, of course, achieved great things in this world—Saint Louis IX of France, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary… a king and a queen! …or perhaps a more modern example, Saint Teresa of Calcutta—yet their worldly recognition was only a reflection of the appreciation that the world gave to them for persevering in heroic virtue throughout their lives.  Therefore, we can see that true greatness—heroic greatness—comes when we pursue saintliness.

          Let’s take a look, therefore, at that last example that I named: Saint Teresa of Calcutta (or “Mother Teresa”).  I think that most people you encounter would agree that Mother Teresa was a great human being.  This little woman from Albania, who strove simply to respond to the Lord’s call to care for the world’s poorest in the streets of Calcutta, had world-wide influence: not because she was a skilled politician or was business savvy, but rather because she strove for saintliness in everything that she did; and in achieving this heroic greatness she awakened that dormant desire for greatness in the hearts of everyone that she met.

          What Mother Teresa proved—and what all the saints prove, really—is that true greatness is found when we live the Beatitudes: for she was poor in spirit before she was poor, she mourned for the most neglected in the streets of Calcutta, she was meek in how she approached others and in her own perception of her work, she hungered and thirsted for righteousness both for herself and especially for others, she was merciful to all whom she encountered, she strove to remain clean of heart by frequently confessing her sins, she strove to make peace because she saw war and conflict as cause of so much injustice, and she was persecuted by those who wrongly saw in her a veiled attempt to gain influence and power in the world.  Mother Teresa achieved greatness, not in spite of her saintliness, but precisely because of it.

          My brothers and sisters, All Saints Day is celebration of the women and men who have gone before us having achieved greatness precisely in their saintliness.  And it is a reminder to each of us of our need to pursue the greatness for which we are destined—to be glorified like God in heaven—by pursuing heroic virtue in this world as modeled for us in the saints.  Our inspiration?  Saint John gives this to us in our second reading when he says, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God” and “Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.”

          The good news is that God has planned the way that each of us is to become a saint.  We call this our “vocation”.  God created each of us out of love and he has called each of us to a specific way of living through which we can help build his kingdom and become saints.  This call could be to marriage, to the priesthood, to the consecrated religious life, or to the sacred single life.  Everyone who has achieved sainthood (that is, everyone who has already gathered around the throne of the Lamb in heaven) has done so by discerning God’s call and then by striving to live that calling to the best of his/her ability.

          Because the marriage vocation is so common (common, because it is necessary to continue human life), it is easy for a young person to think automatically that he/she may be called to marriage.  This vocation is best discerned, however, when a young person has also considered whether God may be calling him/her to the priesthood or religious life.  Too often a young person decides that he/she will get married without ever considering if God is calling him/her to something else.  This is a tragedy!  Not because the priesthood or religious life is somehow better than marriage—they are equally worthy callings—but rather because if a young person does not discern his/her calling well (considering all of the ways that God might be calling him/her), he/she may find him/herself dissatisfied with his/her life choice, tempting him/her to live a mediocre life, instead of a life of greatness to which he/she has been called.

          Today, therefore, my brothers and sisters, I want to urge you to do whatever you can to help the young people in your lives to consider all of the ways God may be calling them to greatness so as to discern the particular way he is calling each of them.  I especially urge you to help them discern the call to priesthood and religious life.  Not many young people are pursuing these vocations, but I assure you that it isn’t because God is not calling them!  He is calling them!  It is, rather, that they have not been taught to listen for God’s call nor have they been encouraged to respond and supported when they do.

          I believe that this is especially true in our Hispanic communities.  Do you realize that, here in the United States, if someone is younger than 30 years old and professes to be a Catholic, that young person is more likely to be Hispanic than Anglo?  Why then are our seminaries and convents filled with Anglos?  Part of the reason, for sure, is an inadequate outreach to Hispanic families by vocations programs.  In our diocese we are striving to address that problem.  The other major part of the problem, however, is that Hispanic families are not doing enough to encourage and support young men and women to discern God’s call and to follow it.

          I understand that there is a unique pressure for young Hispanics here in the United States to work and earn a salary in order to help support their families both here and in their home country.  Nevertheless, we must be ready to trust that God will take care of us when we choose to live for him.  By following our authentic vocation, no matter which vocation it may be, we are choosing to live for God, and he will not fail to take care of us.

          My brothers and sisters, this All Saints Day, let’s wipe out the false separation between the two questions—“What do you want to be?” and “What do you want to do?”—and let’s unite them by asking them this way: “What do you want to be?” and “How are you going to be it?”  If what we want to be is “saints” then we will discern God’s true vocation for our lives and we will strive to live it in the best way that we can.  In this way we will see that what we do will begin to be colored more and more by the Beatitudes and will move us ever closer to the true greatness that our hearts so deeply desire and for which we are destined.

          Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI famously once said, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort.  You were made for greatness!”  This All Saints Day, my brothers and sisters, let us commit ourselves, strengthened by the grace that we have in Jesus Christ through his sacrifice which we re-present here at this altar, to strive for that greatness for which we were made.  For it is in striving for it that we will truly achieve human excellence; and it is then that we will truly be saints.

Given at St. Patrick’s Parish: Kokomo, IN – November 1st, 2020

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Anawim and the Love of God

 Homily: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

          Friends, it’s true that we know that someone loves us because of what they do as much as by what they say.  For example, we know that grandma loves us, not just because she says so, but because of her incessant hugs and kisses, because she bakes us cookies, because she takes care of us when mom and dad are away, because she gives us fun and thoughtful gifts for birthdays and for Christmas, and because she celebrates all of the special occasions in life with us.  In other words, we know she loves us because she not only tells us that she loves us, but because she demonstrates her love in actions; and we know that it is in these actions that the love that she professes is, in a sense, authenticated.

          We also know that someone loves us when they, too, come to love the things that we love, right?  For example, perhaps you’re not a baseball fan, but you become a fan of your spouse’s favorite team; or, you learn to love reading books so that you can share the experience of reading a good book with your best friend; or, you open yourself to liking your significant other’s dog or cat (even if you aren’t a “dog” or “cat” person) so that your significant other doesn’t feel divided between the two.  In this case, we demonstrate love for the person by going beyond words and by demonstrating love for the things that our beloved loves.

          In our Gospel reading today, Jesus is challenged to declare his opinion about the “greatest commandment”.  The Pharisees were thinking of the 613 precepts of the Jewish law and were hoping to expose him as a fraud if he tripped up and picked a less important precept as the greatest.  Jesus answers, however, with the obvious: that the greatest commandment is the most important thing that we could possibly do in life: that is, to love God (the Almighty) with your whole being.  (I say that this was obvious, because his answer comes straight from the shema, the fundamental prayer of the Jewish people, which they prayed at morning, noon, and night and which is recorded for us in the sixth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy.  It says, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.”)  Notice, Jesus rightly emphasizes with your whole being.  In other words, he says, don't just say that you love God, but rather put your whole life towards demonstrating it (just like grandma demonstrates her love by the loving actions she performs for you).  This, Jesus replies, is the greatest commandment.

          Then Jesus adds to his response: stating that the second greatest commandment comes in the form of the second sense of demonstrating love (that is, loving the things that our beloved loves).  Here’s what I mean: In the first reading we heard how God declared his love for all people, especially for the poor and destitute: saying that the alien, widow, and orphan who cried out to him would be especially heard by him.  These the Scriptures call the anawim: the “poor and lowly ones” who suffer seemingly through no fault of their own.  These God takes into special account because they have no worldly recourse.  Thus, he accounts it as a great offense to him if those who claim to love him ignore them and leave them to suffer.

Can we just pause for a moment and look at the very specific tenderness that God has for the anawim?  Let’s listen again to the last part of that reading: “If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in?”  God is worried about one of the poor having warm pajamas to sleep in!  The point of the instruction is to say, “the man has given you his cloak (a valuable article of clothing, it seems) as a pledge to pay back what he owes you.  Do not cling to his cloak as if you don’t believe that he will pay you back.  If he needs it while he still owes you, allow him to take it back.”  God’s concern, however, is equally for the lender to be compassionate as it is for the borrower not to be cold at night!  His care and concern for the anawim is a deeply personal one.  And so, when we love our neighbor, especially those most in need among us, by serving their needs in the most personal way that we can, we demonstrate our love for that which God loves; and, in doing so, we demonstrate our love for God, once again.

          From this, we can come to a right understanding of stewardship.  Stewardship, my brothers and sisters, is not a burden of guilt that the Church imposes on us.  Rather, it is a response: it is a response of gratitude from one who acknowledges the undeserved gifts he/she has received from God.  It is a response of love from one who acknowledges that he/she was, indeed, first loved by God.  Stewardship, therefore, is “loving God back”.      By giving of ourselves in worship, prayer, and study, and by serving his Church, we demonstrate our gratitude, and, thus, our love, to God.  By serving those less-fortunate than us, we emphasize our love by loving those whom God loves.

          Our Holy Father, Pope Francis’ latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti (“All Brothers”) emphasizes this point, especially in the chapter when he discusses the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Often, I’ll say that the lesson that the parable gives us is that we must recognize our neighbor as “the one near us who is in need of mercy”.  Pope Francis takes it one step further saying that the Samaritan did more than that: he didn’t just recognize this person in need of mercy and decide to help him as if he was his neighbor; rather, he made him his neighbor—that is, he chose this man to be his neighbor—thus making it natural for him to treat him as he did.

          Dr. Martin Luther King famously explained the parable of the Good Samaritan in this way: he said that the failure of the priest and the Levite was that they encountered the man in need and focused on this question: “what will happen to me if I stop and help him?”  The Samaritan, however, saw the man and instead asked this question: “what will happen to him if I do not help him?”  The priest and Levite were worried about the purity laws and placed them higher than the “greatest law”, as Jesus presented it.  The Samaritan, on the other hand, responded to the greatest law first, knowing that any lesser laws were subject to it.  The priest and Levite failed in love of God, because they thought love of God would be fulfilled by strict adherence to the precepts of the law.  The Samaritan, however, fulfilled love, because he obeyed the law that undergirds all of the law’s precepts when he did for the man exactly what he would have done for himself had he fell victim to the robbers.  Obeying the law of love freed the Samaritan to respond.

          Now, if you’re anything like me, you’ll feel like this is hard to do in real life.  My guess is that each of us much more readily identifies with the priest and the Levite than we do with the Samaritan.  Well, this is why love of God must be first.  When we love God—that is, when we give ourselves over completely to Him, who is love—we come to realize just how compassionate He has been to us; and we realize, too, that compassion is the one thing that we have lacked the most.  Thus we are inspired to have compassion for others; and we begin to realize that this kind of love actually frees us, because it moves us to respond to those good desires in our hearts to offer ourselves for the good of others (however foolish it may seem at the time).  Thus, we no longer say, “I won’t help him, because of what might happen to me”, but rather, “I will help, because it is what God would will for him, and it is what I would will for myself, and this person deserves nothing less.”

          My brothers and sisters: love God, and meditate on His love, that is, His compassion for us, his anawim, and you will find the freedom, that is, the inspiration, to have compassion for everyone around you that you find in need.  And when you do, then harmony will begin to return to our community, our nation, and the world; and the law of love, that is, the law of freedom that we find in Christ Jesus, will make us truly free.

Given at Saint Joan of Arc Parish: Kokomo, IN – October 25th, 2020