Monday, October 16, 2017

The wedding banquet is prepared and you're invited!

Homily: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          Friends, in this reading that we have just heard, Jesus is once again using a parable to demonstrate an important point; and we remember that these parables are really allegories: symbolic stories using familiar images to reveal a hidden reality.  In this particular allegory, Jesus is attempting to teach the Jewish religious elite that they are about to lose the favor they had with God because of their failure to respond to his call.  Let’s take a closer look at this parable.
          The king who prepares the wedding feast is obviously God and his son is obviously Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity: God’s “only begotten Son”.  The wedding feast is obviously the banquet of the Eucharist (although the Jewish religious elite of the time would not have known that as we know it: they would have only thought of a great, continual feast that would be celebrated when the Messiah would come and conquer all of their enemies; still they would have understood the wedding feast/banquet imagery).  The invited guests are God’s chosen people, the descendants of the ancient Israelites: the Jews.  The king’s servants who go to call the invited guests are the prophets; and the “bad and the good” who were then invited in the place of God’s chosen people are the Gentiles: that is, the people of all the nations that weren’t part of the ancient Israelite ancestry.
          The parable, of course, is a warning to the Jewish religious elite that their pride in their religious authority, which led them to ignore, at best, and mistreat, at worst, God’s prophets, would soon be their downfall.  Not only would their enemies come and destroy them and burn their city (which really happened, by the way, in 70 AD when the Romans sacked Jerusalem), but their status as a chosen people would no longer be exclusive; rather, it would be extended to the Gentiles: peoples who would gratefully receive it.
          While it certainly would be easy for us to sit back after hearing this parable again and say “Haha, those guys sure messed up didn’t they?” I think that it would be foolish for us not to take it as a warning for ourselves, here and now.  Yes, we, who are sitting here, are the “Church of the Gentiles”, who are the beneficiaries of the complacency of the ancient Jews, but I wonder if we haven’t become complacent, ourselves.  One of the most disturbing statistics about Catholics in recent years has been that less than 25% of those who declare themselves Catholic attend Mass on a regular basis.  Notice that we’re not talking about all baptized Catholics, because many baptized Catholics no longer declare themselves to be Catholic.  Rather we’re talking about those who still consider themselves to be Catholic and that 75% of these persons are so complacent about what it means to be Catholic that they no longer consider it a necessary part of their Catholicism to attend Mass.  Not to mention the fact that many Catholics who do attend Mass with some regularity feel little remorse for having missed Mass on any given occasion (I sit in that confessional, so I know).  Couple this with the fact that I’ve already discussed—that the wedding feast described in Jesus’ parable is an image of the Eucharist that we, as Catholics—the Gentile Church—celebrate—and all of a sudden this parable looks like it might be aimed squarely at us.
          My friends, the Eucharist—the wedding feast that God, our king, has prepared for his Son, Jesus, and to which we have been invited—is the greatest and most generous gift God has (and will) ever offer to us.  It is both the source of our entire Christian life (that is, the “spring of living water” from which all Christianity flows) and it is its summit of that life (that is, the end to which all Christianity leads).  To deny this is to deny the Christian faith.  And, thus, to disregard the Eucharist as something “disposable” in the Christian faith is to offend God at the level that the king in Jesus’ parable was offended when his invited guests all greatly disrespected his son by finding excuses for not attending his wedding feast.  Please tell me, who among you would not exclude from your friendship a so-called “friend” who offended you in such a great way?
          My brothers and sisters, if we, in any way, hold this attitude (that is, that the Eucharist is a “disposable” part of our faith), then we must purge that idea from our minds and our hearts we must and ask God for the grace to receive this gift of the Eucharist as the most precious gift we have ever received in our lives.  And if we know someone—especially someone who still considers themselves to be Catholic—who has so discarded this gift that he / she doesn’t attend Mass, then we must find ways to express to that person what a great gift the Eucharist is, and, thus, invite them back to this source and summit of their Christian faith.  And why?  So that God does not decide to treat us like he treated those ancient Jews and turn from us in order to invite those who will truly be grateful for the gift he is offering.
          My friends, if we need any evidence that the Eucharist is the greatest gift that God has (and will) ever offer to us, we should look no further than to those who have converted to the faith.  While the desire for the Eucharist may not have been the thing that brought them to the Church, I have found that, once they understand it, it becomes the thing that keeps them in the Church.  They are signs to us that God continues to “send his servants out into the streets” to invite the “Gentiles” and reminders to us that God will not tolerate our complacency when it comes to his generosity.  Therefore, as we welcome our sister Patty to share in this Great Wedding Feast for the first time, let us renew in our own hearts our gratitude for being among the invited so that we might give worthy thanks to God, our Father: both here in this Mass and by our lives of faithful discipleship in the world.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – October 15th, 2017

Monday, October 9, 2017

Gratitud: Una garantía segura de fecundidad

Homilía: 27º Domingo en el Tiempo Ordinario – Ciclo A
          El cultivo de uvas para producir vino es un proceso que requiere meticulosidad y paciencia. Al iniciar un nuevo viñedo, uno tiene que esperar al menos un par de años para que las primeras uvas dulces, buenas para hacer vino, aparezcan. Para las uvas de sabor más rico, uno tiene que esperar cinco años o más; y si algo severo sucede en medio (como una helada dura a finales de primavera) la espera es aún más larga. Es un trabajo que sólo puede ser tomado por uno que está menos preocupado por obtener un beneficio que por producir un buen fruto.
          Tal vez esto es lo que hace que la imagen de la viña y el viñador sea tan popular por las parábolas en las Escrituras. En el Oriente Antiguo había viñedos por todas partes, que hizo esta imagen muy accesible a casi cada uno. Y, porque presenta una imagen de alguien que cuida diligentemente la creación, también es una imagen apropiada para describir la participación de Dios en nuestras vidas. Hoy en día, nuestras escrituras nos ofrecen dos parábolas diferentes usando la misma imagen que nos ayudan a dar luz sobre nuestra relación con Dios y la administración que nos ha dado.
          En ambas parábolas, Dios es retratado como el dueño diligente del viñedo que hace todo lo que está a su alcance para proveer el ambiente perfecto para que las viñas crezcan y produzcan un buen fruto. No sólo cultiva la tierra meticulosamente, sino que también coloca una cerca alrededor de ella para protegerla; y él incluso cava un lagar en ella, en anticipación del buen fruto que él espera que las vides producirán. En resumen, él hace todo lo que cualquier buen viñador haría que quiera asegurar una buena cosecha de fruta.
          En la parábola de Isaías, encontramos que el dueño de la viña, cuando viene en busca de fruto de sus viñas, no encuentra las buenas y dulces uvas listas para el lagar, sino más bien las uvas salvajes y amargas que no sirven para nada excepto para ser tirado. En la parábola, el dueño del viñedo pregunta: "¿Qué más pude hacer?" La respuesta implícita es, por supuesto, "nada". Esto también implica que la falta de producir un buen fruto no es culpa del dueño, pero culpa de las viñas mismas y se pretende que sea una convicción contra el pueblo israelita que no había cumplido los mandamientos de Dios, creando así una sociedad llena de corrupción en la que los pobres sufren más. Para esto, el profeta les advierte, el Señor les quitará su protección y ellos serán víctimas de las naciones militantes que los rodearon.
          No debería ser difícil para nosotros vernos a nosotros mismos en esta parábola. ¿Quién aquí no ha sido el recipiente de la graciosa protección de Dios? ¿Y quién aquí, en algún momento de su vida, no se ha encontrado dando la espalda a los mandamientos de Dios, pero alimentando sus pasiones y, por lo tanto, produciendo "frutos amargos"? Probablemente en mayor y menor grado, todavía nos encontramos "produciendo frutos amargos" en lugar de la rica cosecha para la cual el Señor nos creó. ¿Y es esto porque el Señor no nos ha provisto todo? ¡No! Más bien es nuestra propia debilidad y tendencia humana a usar nuestra voluntad libre para nuestros propios fines egoístas que produce tales frutos amargos. Por lo tanto, esta parábola hoy también debe ser un llamado renovado a cada uno de nosotros para que nos desviemos de nuestros caminos egoístas—diariamente si es necesario—y buscar primero la construcción del reino de Dios.
          En la parábola de Jesús en el Evangelio, encontramos que el dueño de la viña, después de asegurar una buena cosecha de uvas, va en un viaje y deja su viña a otros para tender en su ausencia. Cuando el dueño envía a sus siervos para traerle su cosecha, los viñadores se vuelven contra ellos, esperando tomar la cosecha por ellos mismos. Mostrando una cantidad de paciencia increíble con estos viñadores rebeldes, el dueño envía a otros siervos, y luego a su propio hijo, esperando que los viñadores repiensen su rebelión y entreguen la cosecha. Estos también ellos matan, como su codicia para la cosecha así los supera que se vuelven ciegos a la consecuencia de sus acciones. Los sumos sacerdotes y los ancianos llaman esta consecuencia: los mismos viñadores serán matados y la viña será entregada a otros que serán leales al dueño y le darán el producto que es legítimamente suyo. Irónicamente, Jesús emite esto como una advertencia a la élite religiosa, a los mismos sumos sacerdotes y ancianos, que han tomado por sí mismos la viña del Señor—su pueblo preferido—traicionando así la administración que se les había dado.
          Para nosotros esto también es una advertencia. Como cristianos bautizados, a todos nos ha sido dada una administración en la viña del Señor para cuidar sus viñas y producir una cosecha de frutos cuando el Señor viene a buscarla. Si simplemente venimos aquí semana tras semana a "alimentarnos de las uvas", pero no salimos de aquí para predicar las buenas nuevas de la salvación, traer a otros a Cristo, y trabajar por la justicia, entonces no somos mejores que los malvados viñadores que se negaron a entregar al dueño del viñedo el buen fruto que había trabajado tan duro para producir. Así también nos condenamos al mismo destino desastroso que sufrirían los viñadores malvados: ser expulsados del reino de Dios al infierno de la muerte eterna.
          Bueno, me parece que, en ambos casos, hay una cosa común que falta que lleva a cada uno de estos grupos de personas a su rebelión contra Dios; y creo que si consideramos lo que faltaban a la luz de nuestras propias rebeliones contra Dios, nosotros también encontraremos lo mismo que falta. ¿Qué es esta cosa? Gratitud. ¿Por qué el antiguo Israel se rebeló contra Dios y produjo el fruto amargo? Porque les dieron por gracia la gracia de Dios en lugar de quedar agradecidos por su vigilante cuidado. ¿Por qué los sumos sacerdotes y los ancianos actuaron como lo hicieron con los profetas de Dios y con el Hijo de Dios? Porque se dejaron cegar por la autoridad que tenían en lugar de permanecer agradecidos por la administración que se les había dado. ¿Y por qué nosotros seguimos pecando contra Dios? Bueno, porque es más fácil, ¿verdad? Pecar siempre es más fácil de no pecar, ¿no? ¿Y por qué elegimos la forma más fácil? Porque nos olvidamos de la gracia de Dios para nosotros—y, por lo tanto, nuestra deuda con él—y por eso usamos los dones que nos ha dado para perseguir nuestros propios fines egoístas; produciendo frutos amargos y fallando en la administración con la que nos hemos confiado.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, examinemos nuestras vidas y veamos si esto no es cierto: que cuando no damos gracias por la gracia que se nos ha dado, nos volvemos amargos y absorbidos por nosotros mismos; pero cuando nos damos a la gratitud nos hacemos graciosos y más centrados en los demás. Es por esta razón que nos reunimos cada domingo para celebrar la Eucaristía: para recordarnos nuestra necesidad de dar gracias por todo lo que Dios ha hecho por nosotros—sobre todo el don de la vida y por la redención que se nos ha ganado en Cristo Jesús—y para recibir la gracia de salir de aquí para cumplir con la administración que nos ha sido confiada: para ser discípulos misioneros para la construcción del reino de Dios, su viña, para producir una cosecha de almas abundante.
          Miran, no es casualidad que las Escrituras estén llenas de imágenes de viñas y que ofrezcamos el fruto de la vid como parte de nuestra ofrenda de acción de gracias aquí en este altar. Y así, mis hermanos y hermanas, que nuestra ofrenda hoy—y de cada día—sea el dulce fruto de la gratitud por todo lo que Dios ha hecho por nosotros en Cristo Jesús; y que llevemos esa gratitud hacia delante para traer las bendiciones de Dios al mundo que nos rodea.
Dado en la parroquia Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

8 de octubre, 2017

Gratitude: A sure guarantee of fruitfulness

Homily: 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          Growing grapes for producing wine is a process that requires meticulousness and patience.  When starting up a new vineyard, one has to wait at least a couple of years for the first “sweet” grapes, good for making wine, appear.  For the “richer flavor” grapes, one has to wait five or more years; and if anything harsh happens in between (like a hard frost in late spring) the wait is even longer.  It’s a labor that can only really be taken up by one who is less concerned about making a profit than about producing a good fruit.
          Perhaps this is what makes the image of the vineyard and the vinedresser such a popular one for parables in the Scriptures.  In the ancient near east there were vineyards everywhere, which made this image very accessible to just about everyone.  And, because it presents an image of someone who oversees and diligently cares for creation, it is also an appropriate image for describing God’s involvement in our lives.  Today our scriptures offer us two different parables using the same image that help us to shed light on our relationship with God and the stewardship that he has given to us.
          In both parables, God is portrayed as the dutiful owner of the vineyard who does everything in his power to provide the perfect environment for the vines to grow and produce a good fruit.  Not only does he cultivate the land meticulously, but he also places a hedge around it to protect it; and he even digs a wine press in it, in anticipation of the good fruit that he expects the vines will produce.  In short, he does everything any good vinedresser would do who wants to ensure a good harvest of fruit.
          In Isaiah’s parable, we find that the owner of the vineyard, when he comes in search of fruit from his vines, finds not the good, sweet grapes ready for the press, but rather wild, bitter grapes which are no good for anything except to be thrown out.  In the parable the vineyard owner asks “What more could I have done?”  The implied answer is, of course, “nothing.”  This also implies that the failure to produce a good fruit is not the fault of the owner, but rather the fault of the vines themselves and it is meant to be a conviction against the Israelite people who had failed to keep God’s commandments, thus creating a society full of corruption in which the poor suffer the most.  For this, the prophet warns them, the Lord will take away his protection from them and they will fall victim to the militant nations that surrounded them.
          It should not be hard for us to see ourselves in this parable.  Who here hasn’t been the recipient of God’s gracious protection?  And who here, at some point in your life, hasn’t found yourself turning your back on God’s commands, instead feeding your passions and, thus, producing “bitter fruit”?  In greater and lesser degrees, we probably still find ourselves “producing bitter fruit” instead of the rich harvest for which the Lord created us.  And is this because the Lord hasn’t provided everything for us?  No!  Rather it is our own human weakness and tendency to use our free will for our own selfish ends that produces such bitter fruit.  Thus, this parable today should also be a renewed call to each of us to turn from our selfish ways—daily if necessary—and to seek first the building of God’s kingdom.
          In Jesus’ parable in the Gopsel, we find that the owner of the vineyard, after securing a good harvest of grapes, goes on a journey and leaves his vineyard to others to tend in his absence.  When the owner sends his servants to bring him his harvest, the tenants turn against them: hoping to seize the harvest for themselves.  Showing an incredible amount of patience with these rebellious tenants, the owner sends other servants, and then his own son, hoping that the tenants will rethink their rebellion and turn over the harvest.  These they also kill, as their greed for the harvest so overcomes them that they become blind to the certain consequence of their actions.  The chief priests and elders name this consequence: the tenants themselves will be killed and the vineyard will be given over to others who will be loyal to the owner and give him the produce that is rightfully his.  Ironically, Jesus issues this as a warning to the religious elite, the same chief priests and elders, who have seized the Lord’s vineyard—his chosen people—for themselves; thus betraying the stewardship that they had been given.
          For us this is also a warning.  As baptized Christians we have all been given a stewardship in the Lord’s vineyard to tend his vines and produce a harvest of fruit when the Lord comes to seek it.  If we simply come here week after week to “feed off of the grapes” but fail then to go forth from here to preach the good news of salvation, to bring others to Christ, and to work for justice, then we are no better than the wicked tenants who refused to hand over to the vineyard owner the good fruit that he had worked so hard to produce.  Thus we also condemn ourselves to the same disastrous fate that those wicked tenants would suffer: to be cast out of the kingdom of God into the hell of eternal death.
          Now it seems to me that, in both of these cases, there is one common thing that is missing that leads each of these groups of people into their rebellion against God; and I think that if we consider what they were missing in the light of our own rebellions against God we, too, will find the same thing missing.  What is this thing?  Gratitude.  Why did ancient Israel rebel against God and produce the bitter fruit?  Because they took God’s graciousness to them for granted instead of remaining thankful for His vigilant care.  Why did the chief priests and the elders act as they did to the prophets of God and to God’s Son himself?  Because they allowed themselves to become blinded by the authority they held instead of remaining thankful for the stewardship that had been given them.  And why do we still sin against God?  Well, because it’s easier, right?  And why do we choose the easy way?  Because we forget God’s graciousness to us—and, thus, our debt to him—and so we use the gifts that he has given us to pursue our own selfish ends; producing bitter fruit and failing in the stewardship with which we have been entrusted.
          My brothers and sisters, examine your lives and see if this isn’t true: that whenever we fail to give thanks for the graciousness given to us we become bitter and self-absorbed; but when we give ourselves to gratitude we become gracious and more focused on others.  It is for this very reason that we gather each Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist: to remind us of our need to give thanks for all that God has done for us—most especially the gift of life and for the redemption won for us in Christ Jesus—and to receive the grace to go forth from here to fulfill the stewardship entrusted to us: to be missionary disciples for the building of God’s kingdom, his vineyard, so that a rich harvest of souls might be produced.
          You know, it’s no coincidence that the Scriptures are full of images of vineyards and that we offer the fruit of the vine as part of our thanksgiving offering here on this altar.  And so, my brothers and sisters, may our offering this day—and every day—be the sweet fruit of gratitude for all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus; and may we carry that gratitude forward to bring God’s blessings to the world around us.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – October 8th, 2017

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Prayer of Repentance



Friends,

I, like all of you, have been appalled at the violent and senseless attack that occurred in Las Vegas on Sunday.  I can't imagine the fear and the horror that was experienced by those attending that concert and, for those who will survive, the traumatic memories that will scar their minds and hearts for many years to come.

I suppose that I was surprised, however, that one of my first thoughts after first hearing about this attack was "So what?  People are being shot and killed in the streets of Chicago every day!"  I quickly looked up to see where this tragedy in Las Vegas ranked aside the violence that happened in Chicago that same weekend.  4 persons killed (killed!) and 29 injured by gun violence in Chicago alone last weekend.  Over 470 people have been murdered in Chicago since January 1, 2017.  No national headlines, though, because (sadly) this has become normal in Chicago.

Because our hearts can't handle daily grieving of the sort demanded by the daily losses being suffered in Chicago (and many other cities), it takes violence of grand proportion to get our attention.  This is an emotional defense mechanism that allows us to get on with our lives, which is normal; and so I'm not blaming anyone (myself included) for not reacting to these daily tragedies.  The contrast in our reactions, however, should give us pause to ask ourselves whether we are insulating our hearts from being overwhelmed or intentionally ignoring an uncomfortable truth, one that demands something of us.  If I had to guess, I'd say that we all began in the former, but have found ourselves in the latter.

Friends, what happened in Las Vegas was not an isolated incident.  I have no data to prove a direct connection to any other influences that the shooter may have had, of course, but I know that this violent act was not isolated from the thousands of other violent acts (of lesser proportion) that are perpetrated day-in and day-out in cities and towns throughout our country and our world.  This, because all violence is a result of unrepented sin in our lives.  When we tolerate even small sin in our own lives, we give sin a place to extend its roots and be nourished, which then allows it to spring forth in thousands of violent ways each and every day; and sometimes in incomprehensibly grand ways, like it did in Las Vegas this past Sunday.

So what do we do?  Well, I hope that you can already see the (decidedly uncomfortable) answer: we must each cry out to our Lord Jesus for mercy and then work to purge sin from our own lives and help those closest to us to do the same.  Perhaps we can begin by praying this prayer of repentance today (see below) and making a commitment to seriously examining our lives so as to purge sin completely from them.  Then, I'd suggest getting to know your neighbors (the persons who, literally, live on either side of you), if you don't know them already.  No one goes on a violent rampage because their neighbors were "too kind" to him/her.  We are our brothers' keepers.  Let's make sure that we are fulfilling this important responsibility.

May the Precious Blood of Jesus wash over us and cleanse us, so that we might enter the life that his shed Blood won for us: the life of light, happiness, and peace with him eternally in heaven.


Prayer of Repentance

LORD, WHO ARE WE AS A PEOPLE, having been given blessings in portions as no other nation before us?  What has become of us, Father?  We have spoiled your spacious skies with buildings and cities breathing with sin.  The amber waves of grain are no longer viewed as our blessing but as our due.  The awe and reverence due You when we gaze upon the purple mountains and their majesty is no longer held; rather, how much pleasure they can give us.  Father, we have spurned You.  We’ve blamed our problems on those who promote darkness, but You have revealed yourself to us through Your Son.  Now our eyes have been opened by Him.  Our lack of holiness, our not being light has allowed darkness to prevail.  Indeed, our sins which we wrongly view as small have allowed those in darkness to commit great sins without shame.  We now realize that it is because of our failings as Christians.  Father, Samuel told your people, “It is true you have committed all this evil, still you must not turn from the Lord, but worship Him with your whole heart. For the sake of His own great name, the Lord will not abandon his own people.”  Father, we come before You with our whole hearts and ask You to grant us the pardon won for us by your Son.

Jesus, we do not deserve to even be heard, yet we know Your passion merits that we are.  Lord Jesus, we call You as You have called us.  Please, intercede before God to forgive us, to heal us, to heal our families, and to heal our nation.

Father, grant Your Son’s intentions and hear His pleas for us. We know you are justly irritated with us but we beg and plead for forgiveness through our repentance from our hearts.  We realize our nation is headed toward disaster by so many signs You have given us.  Holy, Holy, Holy God, grant Your Son His requests that we may again be your people, not a nation above God but one nation humbled and under God.  Amen.

Adapted from the “Prayer to Heal America” by A Friend of Medjugorje

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Respect for life is putting the person first

Homily: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          It seems to me that, in today’s culture, ideas and ideals are more important than persons.  What I mean by that is this: that protecting and respecting the dignity of the human person has taken a lower place in our society than protecting and respecting an idea or ideal.  The most explicit case in point, and appropriate to use on this Respect Life Sunday, is the legality of abortion on demand.  Now I am speaking here about the attitude that has led to abortion’s legal protection, not the attitudes of individual mothers who have chosen abortion for whatever reason; and the attitude is that an individual’s right to choose whether or not she will carry the new life within her to term is more important than respecting the inherent dignity of the life of the child within her.  Many ignore this conflict by claiming that the fetus, still in the womb, has not yet gained any dignity that needs to be respected; but yet there are still others—and increasingly so, it seems—who recognize that the fetus does have a certain dignity deserving respect and who yet still claim that this dignity is subordinate to the ideal that the mother of this child has the right to choose either to carry this child to term or to terminate her pregnancy through abortion.
          Hopefully, most of us here identify as “pro-life” and can nod our heads in agreement that, particularly in this case, this notion that the idea or ideal is more important than the person is wrong and destructive.  I want to warn us, however, that there is a danger that we on this side of the issue can allow ourselves to put the idea or ideal ahead of the person, as well.  In other words, we can become so focused on condemning the idea of abortion that we lose sight of the real human persons involved.  Must we speak strongly against these acts that destroy innocent human lives, and must we work tirelessly to limit and eliminate legal protections for these acts?  Yes, absolutely.  But never at the expense of the dignity of the persons involved: persons whose concrete circumstances we almost certainly do not understand fully.  This, I believe, is where our Scriptures today come into play, because I think that they hold this tension between upholding an ideal, while yet acknowledging and respecting the human person.
          In our first reading, we heard God, through the prophet Ezekiel, correcting the people who thought that God’s ways of justice were unfair.  If we looked at the greater context of this reading we’d see that what God is correcting is a fatalist attitude among the people that the sins of one generation became the destiny of the next and that this was God’s doing.  Thus God corrects them by saying, “no, if one man sins and he dies without repenting, then he shall die because of the sins he committed; but if he converts before he dies, he will live because of the virtuous acts that he performed: all of this without regard to the virtues or sins of the generation before him.”  In a sense, God is saying that, “yes, there are sins for which one can be condemned to everlasting death and each one must take care to know what those are and to avoid them or, at least, to repent for having committed them.”  In the context of our reflection, it’s a confirmation that, yes, ideas and ideals are extremely important.
          Then, in the second reading, we heard Saint Paul reminding us, through his letter to the Philippians, that we must empty ourselves for the good of others.  There he says, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”  In other words—and in the context of our reflection—I think that we can see him saying, “Don’t let your ideals get ahead of the person.”  Saint Paul then goes on to express how Jesus emptied himself… and why?—for the good of each and every person—and that it was precisely because of this that he is now exalted on high.  Jesus refused to allow the ideals to become more important than the people he came to save and so he is now honored as Lord over all.
          Finally, in the Gospel, we see the tension that we have been describing come together in a concrete situation.  There Jesus challenges the chief priests and elders of the people to recognize that they have allowed their ideals to get ahead of their respect and concern for the person.  By his parable, Jesus accuses them of placing their ideals above the persons—condemning the tax collectors and prostitutes and excluding them from the community because of it, instead of condemning tax collection and prostitution while reaching out to those committing these evil acts and calling them to conversion.  Notice that Jesus does not ignore the ideal—he doesn’t say “Well, they don’t mean to hurt anybody, so don’t give them a hard time”—but he doesn’t allow the ideal to get ahead of the dignity of the personhood possessed by each of these sinners, either.  And this, for one very simple reason: that the ideal is meant to elevate our dignity, never to replace it.
          My friends, I think that we should be very grateful that this is God’s attitude towards us: to hold up a strong and important ideal that elevates the dignity of our humanity, while walking humbly with us so that, in our freedom, we might choose that ideal for ourselves.  Grateful because it is an important reminder that God isn’t holding up some impossible ideal, hoping that we would fail so that he can watch us suffer, but rather that he is encouraging us towards the ideal of our happiness and is ready to help us to achieve it: not for his own good, but for ours alone; and he demonstrated this when he sent his Son, Jesus, to empty himself and become one with us so that we might see that it is possible to become one with him in eternal happiness in heaven.
          My friends, I am under no illusion that this tension is something easy to balance in real life.  It is an art to hold up the ideal without using it to beat down the person whom it is meant to help; and anyone who has tried it knows that it is an art that we all practice imperfectly, especially when it comes to the concrete circumstances of an individual person’s life.  If we want to respect life truly, however, then this is an art that we must practice daily: like when our son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter, decides to move in with their significant other before marriage, or like when our sister or brother, or maybe our favorite aunt or uncle, has an affair and decides to divorce his or her wife / husband, or like when we discover that our neighbor or co-worker immigrated here illegally, or like when our students choose a homecoming king who, more appropriately, should have been elected homecoming queen.  These, and countless other situations like them remind us that, when we say that we respect life, it means that we put the person first, and the ideal at the service of that person; because God, who always remembers his mercies, has so treated us.
          May God, the author of all life, who gives us the Bread of Life from this altar, strengthen us to empty ourselves for one another; thus raising us all to the fullness of life for which he made us.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN

September 30th & October 1st, 2017

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The end IS nigh!

Homily: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          Well, we’re all still here, so apparently the prediction wasn’t accurate.  Have you guys heard about this?  The story about David Meade, the biblical numerologist, who claimed that the end of the world was to begin yesterday, September 23rd?  His proposition was based on the biblical significance of the number 33 (namely, that Jesus lived for 33 years here on earth), the fact that the total solar eclipse was exactly 33 days from September 23rd, and that, on that same day, a planet, named “Planet X”, was supposed to pass by earth at close proximity and cause numerous natural disasters to occur at the same time: volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc.  I’m not sure how Mr. Meade got around the fact that NASA has repeatedly stated that “Planet X” doesn’t exist and that, regardless, there is no planet whose trajectory would take it anywhere near earth anytime in the foreseeable future, but, thanks be to God, it appears that his prediction isn’t accurate and so it doesn’t really matter.
          Or is it?  I mean, maybe he isn’t right on about the “how” and the “when”, but he might still be on to something.  With Western Society seemingly trying to consume itself into oblivion and with the great slew of natural disasters currently occurring (say nothing of the saber rattling going on between President Trump and Kim Jong-un), Mr. Meade might, actually, be on to something.  In fact, as Catholics, I think that we have to say that he is right: doomsday approaches… the end is nigh!  Why do we need to say this?  Well, because we’ve been saying it for nearly 2000 years.
          You see, the first Christians took seriously Jesus’ words to his disciples before he ascended into heaven when he said, “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”  “These things…” to which Jesus was referring were the signs of the apocalypse, namely that “the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”  And so, the first Christians made haste—and none hastier than Saint Paul—to try to preach the Gospel to the whole world before these “things” would took place.  Saint Paul was always ready to leave this world at a moment’s notice—as is evidenced by his words to the Philippians in the second reading and which demonstrates his conviction that the end was nigh—but, nonetheless, he was content to continue working in this world for the benefit of those to whom he preached until the Lord returned.
          Eventually, of course, that generation began to die off, thus prompting some Christians to begin to question whether or not the “end” was truly “nigh”.  That’s why, in later writings of the New Testament, we see the authors beginning to try to explain how this makes sense.  They found hope in Jesus’ words that, when he returned, those who were in the graves would be raised up: that none of them would be lost.  This didn’t diminish, however, the urgency with which they continued to proclaim the Gospel.  They refused to believe that, what seemed to them as a delay, meant that Jesus had given up all-together.  Thus, they continued to preach that “the end is nigh” so that no one would be caught off-guard.
          Nearly two-thousand years later, we’ve softened the “the end is nigh” rhetoric, a bit, but it nonetheless is a core teaching of our message.  This is, in part, why we still read passages in our liturgies like the passage that we read from the prophet Isaiah in our first reading today.  “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near” the prophet said.  The prophet was implying, of course that there may be a time—in the near future, even—in which the Lord may not be found and in which he may not be near.  We read this again today to wake us up to the same reality: it will not always be possible to find God when we seek him nor will God always be near to us when we call.  The end is nigh.  Thus, we are reminded of the urgency with which we must continually seek the Lord while he may be found and call on him while he is near.
          Even the parable that Jesus gives us in the Gospel reading today tells us something of the urgency that should still motivate us.  There, the landowner shows himself going out repeatedly during the day to seek workers for his vineyard.  We see that, even up to the last hour of the work day, if he finds workers who have not been hired for the day, he will hire them and send them out to his vineyard to earn a day’s wage.  Although it is easy to focus on what seems to be an injustice to the workers who worked all day long, I want to draw your attention to something that might be easy to overlook: that, ultimately, the day ended and, thus, that the landowner no longer went out to look for any more workers.  Seek the Lord while he may be found…
          My brothers and sisters, Planet X may not have passed close to the earth yesterday, thus sparing us from the horrible consequences that might have occurred, but that does not mean that the end is not nigh.  As our Lord has told us, we know “neither the day, nor the hour” of our Lord’s return, meaning that it could still be something that is close at hand.  And so our job is not to “seek to know the day and the hour”, but rather it is to “seek the Lord while he may be found” and to help others to do the same.  We seek him when we seek him in our daily personal prayer, in the sacraments, celebrated in a worshiping community, and in the poor, whom we serve with generous hearts; and we help others to do so when we invite them to seek the Lord with us.
          And so, as we approach this altar on which we encounter the Lord who is still near to us, let us call to him and ask him to strengthen us on our journey: so that, whether the end of the world comes today or another 2000 years’ worth of todays from now, we will be ready to run to him when he comes in glory.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – September 24th, 2017

Monday, September 11, 2017

No estoy bien y no estás bien ... y está bien decirlo.

Homilía: 23º Domingo del Tiempo Ordinario – Ciclo A
          Es un mantra de nuestros tiempos. Es sólo cuatro palabras, pero se las arregla para enviar un mensaje convincente de que millones se encuentran fáciles de seguir. ¿La frase? "Estoy bien, estás bien." Tal vez lo hemos oído. Tal vez lo hemos utilizado. En cualquier caso, es probable que no se nos ocurriera que no había nada malo en ello. Básicamente, lo que esta frase dice es que estoy bien tal y como yo soy y que si se siente cómodo con la manera en que tú eres entonces tú estás bien, también. A primera vista, se pretende promover la armonía entre nosotros: "No voy a criticarte si no me criticas.” Y es la aceptación de lo que esta frase propone que promueve el tipo de pensamiento que nos lleva a decir cosas como: "¿Quién soy yo para criticarlo?" O (en el reverso) "¿Quién es ella para criticarme?"
          Por supuesto, todos sabemos que nuestra compulsión de hacer juicios sobre el comportamiento de las personas o de las cosas que las personas dicen no es algo que podemos apagar. Más bien, es algo que es muy natural para nosotros, porque nuestra razón busca constantemente para dar sentido a las cosas que suceden a nuestro alrededor. Y así, cuando nos convencemos de que no es correcto criticar a la gente abiertamente nos encontramos con que criticamos a la gente encubiertamente; a través del chisme (y nosotros amamos a los chismes, ¿verdad?), y a través del comportamiento pasivo-agresivo y rencores que sostenemos. Esto es lo que la sociedad nos dice que debemos hacer. Mantener nuestros juicios y críticas a nosotros mismos, o al menos no sacarlos a pública. Pero ¿qué dice Dios al respecto? Creo que nuestras Escrituras de hoy nos muestran.
          A lo largo del Antiguo Testamento, vemos que Dios designó a profetas para ser esas personas que nuestra sociedad moderna nos dice que no debemos ser: el que critica abiertamente las acciones de la gente, que declara ciertas acciones como malos y llama a los malhechores al arrepentimiento. En resumen, un profeta de Dios es el que molesta a los que se han convertido en cómodos en su pecado. Como suele ser el caso cuando Dios llamó a sus profetas, la primera reacción de Ezequiel fue muy similar a la reacción que a menudo damos hoy: "¿Quién soy yo para criticar?" Y Dios le respondía como él respondió a todos los otros profetas: "Tú eres el único que he nombrado. Por lo tanto, usted irá y usted hablará con ellos de lo que has oído de mí." A Ezequiel Dios añade una declaración dejando en claro la responsabilidad que le está dando a él: "Va a ir a hablar estas palabras a ellos. Si no lo hace, entonces usted va a ser responsable de su culpabilidad." Y así vemos que, en los tiempos antiguos, Dios llama a algunos a ser responsable de llamar a su pueblo al arrepentimiento.
          Luego, en la lectura del Evangelio, vemos que Jesús revisa este principio. Jesús, que vino para redimirnos del pecado y para proclamar la venida del reino de Dios, nos enseña que, en este reino, cada uno de nosotros es responsable uno del otro. Por lo tanto, dice, "si tu hermano comete un pecado, ve [a sí mismo] y amonéstalo." En otras palabras, no espere a que alguien le corrija, pero usted mismo ir a verlo. Esta es la forma en que debe estar en el reino de Dios. Pero, ¿cómo? Bien, es la verdad que no es frecuente en los Evangelios que Jesús es grabado por haber dado instrucciones específicas sobre la forma de lograr algo; pero, estar reconciliados entre sí es tan importante para la construcción del reino de Dios, que la enseñanza de Jesús sobre este tema está grabada para nosotros aquí.
          Primero él dice "ve y amonéstalo a solas." En otras palabras, no hacer un espectáculo de la misma—y, por amor de Dios, ¡no chismear sobre él!—pero ir a él que ha cometido un pecado y decirle cómo lo que ha hecho te dañó. Tome nota, él no dice ignorarlo; porque a ignorarlo le deja a su hermano en el pecado; y, al igual que Ezequiel, si dejamos a nuestro hermano en pecado y no decimos nada, entonces su culpa se convierte en la nuestra, también.
          Si eso no funciona, Jesús enseña, luego traer a lo largo de uno o dos más para hablar con él. En otras palabras, traer una tercera persona objetiva que puede reforzar su admonición a su hermano y ojalá traerlo al arrepentimiento. De nuevo, no hacer de esto un espectáculo, pero lo hace en privado. Quién sabe, cuando usted hace esto puede encontrar que usted mismo se equivocó, lo que puede ayudarse a lograr la reconciliación más rápido.
          Si eso no funciona, entonces traer a su hermano a la comunidad, Jesús enseña. Mira, esto todavía no es una cosa pública. Jesús no está diciendo que deberíamos venir aquí y anunciarla a la congregación desde aquí. Más bien, él está diciendo a llevarlo a los líderes respetados en la comunidad; porque tal vez su hermano va a escuchar a ellos.
          Por último, si todo lo demás falla, Jesús dice, tratarlo como si fuera un pagano o un publicano. Yo sé que esto puede parecer duro—porque en otros lugares en las Escrituras los paganos y los publicanos son despreciados—pero recuerda cómo Jesús trató a los paganos y publicanos: los trataba como personas cuyo pecado era clara, pero que él no obstante amaba y deseaba ver procedan al arrepentimiento. Por lo tanto, su advertencia sobre la oración. “Si usted le trataría como yo trataría un pagano o un publicano—es decir, con amor—usted rezará por él y por su conversión. Y cuando dos de ustedes se ponen de acuerdo para rezar por su conversión, entonces voy a estar allí con ustedes y lo que piden se concederá a ustedes por nuestro Padre celestial.” Esta es una idea radicalmente diferente de lo que la sociedad nos enseña, ¿verdad?
          Y así vemos que el mantra "Estoy bien, estás bien" es claramente falsa. Sabemos que hay formas "correctas" e "incorrectas" de la vida y que, la mayoría de las veces, no estamos bien. Lo que no necesitamos es estar dejados solos para que nos sintamos cómodos viviendo con nuestros errores. Lo que necesitamos son personas que nos aman suficientemente para que nos digan cuando estamos haciendo mal, a fin de ayudarnos a estar mejor. Y tenemos que ser esas personas para los demás.
          "Sí, padre, pero yo también soy un pecador. Y así, ¿quién soy yo para juzgar?" ¿Quién es usted? ¡Usted es un cristiano! Y ¡usted tiene el Espíritu Santo de Dios que vive dentro de sí! Cuando se bautizó, fue bautizado en Cristo, quien es sacerdote, profeta y rey. Por lo tanto, usted es un profeta; y por lo tanto, al igual que Ezequiel, usted está obligado a decir las palabras que el Espíritu de Dios le da a hablar. A través del bautismo, Dios ha llamado a cada uno de nosotros para ser responsables unos de otros, en la caridad. ¿Y cuál es la forma de caridad? La forma en que Jesús establece para nosotros en nuestra lectura del Evangelio de hoy.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, si realmente queremos lo que Jesús quiere—es decir, a ser una familia de amor que hace presente su reino venidero en la tierra—entonces debemos asumir la tarea de ser responsable de unos a otros como Jesús nos ha enseñado. Y esto es difícil, porque el amor es difícil. Fortalecidos por el amor que Jesús derramó en la cruz, sin embargo—el amor que recibimos de este altar—podemos hacerlo. Así que vamos a tomar coraje para que el trabajo del amor de Dios se cumpla en cada uno de nosotros.
Dado en la parroquia de Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

10 de septiembre, 2017