Sunday, February 18, 2018

Un invierno espiritual


Homilía: 1º Domingo de la Cuaresma – Ciclo B

          Aquí en Indiana, somos testigos de la renovación anual de invierno de las plantas. Los árboles, en particular, demuestran esta renovación más dramáticamente. A medida que se acerca el invierno, celebran una especie de "carnaval", ya que sus hojas cambian en colores llamativos inmediatamente antes de ponerse marrones y caerse. Luego, los árboles permanecen inactivos hasta que llega la primavera, cuando florecen en flores de colores brillantes antes de brotar nuevas hojas para absorber los rayos nutritivos del sol. Sin embargo, esto no es meramente una "recuperación de lo viejo". Más bien, la floración de primavera de los árboles es verdaderamente una renovación. Bueno, no he hecho ninguna investigación para saber si esto es cierto, pero creo que esta renovación anual en realidad los hace a los arboles más fuertes y capaces de dar más fruto.

          Como criaturas corporales que viven en el tiempo, también necesitamos un tiempo de renovación anual. A medida que el tiempo avanza día tras día y mes tras mes, nuestros cuerpos y espíritus se sienten abrumados por la vida cotidiana de nuestras vidas. Tal vez hay hábitos pecaminosos que hemos desarrollado durante el año pasado o tal vez nuestras vidas de oración se han estancado e infructuoso. Y entonces la Iglesia nos da este tiempo de Cuaresma como un "invierno espiritual" para ayudarnos a desprendernos de las cosas que nos agobian—como los árboles se desprenden de sus hojas secas—y renovarnos en nuestras promesas bautismales de vivir la vida cristiana.

          En este primer domingo de Cuaresma, las lecturas nos ayudan a entender cómo podemos abordar este momento de renovación. Hoy nos dieron una idea de dónde nos llevará este viaje de la Cuaresma y también de cómo llegaremos allí. En la primera lectura, Noé salió después de cuarenta días en el arca. Él representó a la humanidad purificada del pecado y vemos que Dios hizo una alianza con esta humanidad renovada para nunca más destruirla. En esto vemos el objetivo de nuestra renovación Cuaresmal. Nuestra meta es emerger de este ayuno de cuarenta días limpiado del pecado para recibir nuevamente la promesa de Dios que recibimos en nuestro bautismo.

          Luego, en la lectura del Evangelio, escuchamos cómo Jesús pasó cuarenta días en el desierto, tentado por Satanás, antes de comenzar su ministerio para llamar a las personas al arrepentimiento. En esto vemos el camino que debemos seguir para alcanzar nuestra meta. Como Jesús pasó cuarenta días en el desierto, en el que se apartó de las comodidades de su vida diaria para estar preparado para comenzar a cumplir la misión por la cual vino, así también nosotros estamos llamados a pasar cuarenta días en los cuales nos alejamos de algunas de las comodidades de nuestra vida cotidiana (por ejemplo, nuestra comida o bebida favorita o refrescos en general, o TV o Facebook o YouTube o Netflix o la red en general) para que también podamos alejarnos de aquellos cosas que nos separan de Dios y de los demás (por ejemplo, de los celos, la ira, el resentimiento, los chismes, etc.).

          Bueno, cuando nos alejamos de algo, necesariamente nos volvemos hacia otra cosa y, por lo tanto, es importante que, mientras nos alejamos de algunas de las comodidades de nuestra vida cotidiana, prestemos cuidadosa atención a aquello a lo que nos hemos dirigido. La renovación de la alianza de Dios con la humanidad que sucedió después de que Noé salió del arca nos invita a mirar hacia el final de estos cuarenta días y preguntarnos: "¿Quién quiero ser al final de este tiempo?" En otras palabras, "¿Cómo deseo ser renovado esta Cuaresma?" O, mejor aún, "¿Cómo quiere Dios renovarme esta Cuaresma?" Esta es una pregunta muy importante. Porque podemos tomar todo tipo de prácticas penitenciales durante esta Cuaresma (¡algunas de ellas heroicas, incluso!)—y, si las hacemos bien con un espíritu de humildad, de alguna manera, seremos renovadas—pero si no tenemos un objetivo en mente (un objetivo hacia el cual la renovación apunta a lograr), entonces las posibilidades de que nuestra renovación dé fruto para Dios y su reino son escasas.

          Por lo tanto, San Pedro nos recuerda en nuestra segunda lectura que nuestro bautismo no fue solo un lavado que quita la inmundicia de nuestros cuerpos, sino que fue un "compromiso de vivir con una buena conciencia ante Dios..." Con estas palabras podemos entonces expandir nuestro "pregunta importante" cuando comenzamos la Cuaresma y vemos que no solo tenemos que preguntarnos "¿Cómo quiere Dios renovarme esta Cuaresma?", sino también "¿y para qué me renuevan?" Si puede encontrar una respuesta a estas preguntas, y póngase en camino para realizarlas, entonces estará en camino de tener una Cuaresma mejor que nunca.

          En este punto, es importante recordar que, siempre cuando intentemos hacer algo bueno, inevitablemente encontraremos dificultades. Así como Jesús fue tentado en el desierto, también nosotros podemos esperar encontrar tentaciones que nos tentarán a darnos por vencidos antes de alcanzar nuestra meta. Aquí es donde entran en juego las herramientas de la oración, el ayuno y la limosna. Estas herramientas nos ayudan a vencer estas tentaciones y a estar abiertos a la gracia de Dios, para que podamos lograr nuestra meta. Y entonces vemos que la oración, el ayuno y la limosna no son fines en sí mismos—es decir, algo que hacemos simplemente porque es la Cuaresma (en otras palabras, para usar el ejemplo de San Pedro, el bautismo, solo para quitar la inmundicia de nuestros cuerpos)—sino más bien, que son útiles para lograr nuestro objetivo Cuaresmal, la renovación de nuestros espíritus. Por lo tanto, debemos elegir bien cómo vamos a orar, ayunar y dar limosnas: siempre con la mirada puesta en la renovación que Dios quiere para nosotros.

          Sin embargo, aunque hay muchas formas en que podemos acercarnos a nuestro tiempo en la Cuaresma, una cosa que no es una opción es no pasar por ello. Las lecturas de hoy nos muestran tanto. Noé tuvo que pasar los cuarenta días en el arca para recibir la promesa de Dios. Jesús tuvo que pasar cuarenta días en el desierto antes de poder comenzar su ministerio de anunciar la venida del Reino de Dios. Y entonces nosotros también debemos pasar estos cuarenta días de Cuaresma si realmente deseamos la renovación en las promesas de Dios que él mismo desea darnos.

          Mis hermanos y hermanas, Dios realmente desea que seamos renovados esta Cuaresma. Comprometámonos a este objetivo y recemos para que Dios nos muestre cómo lograrlo. Vamos a escucharlo en oración, a disciplinar a nuestros cuerpos y a nuestros espíritus por ayunar, y responder más rápidamente a nuestros vecinos necesitados por dar limosnas, para hacer realidad la renovación interior del espíritu que todos necesitamos. Cuando lo hagamos, verdaderamente estaremos listos para "florecer como los árboles" esta primavera y para celebrar con gran alegría la resurrección de nuestro Señor.

Dado en la parroquia Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

18 de febrero, 2018

A Spiritual Winter


Homily: 1st Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

          Here in Indiana, we witness the yearly winter renewal of plants.  Trees, in particular, demonstrate this renewal most dramatically.  As winter approaches, they celebrate a “carnival” of sorts as their leaves change into flashy colors just before turning brown and falling off.  Then, the trees seemingly lay dormant until spring arrives when they will bloom in bright colored flowers before sprouting new leaves in order to absorb the nutritious rays of the sun.  This is no mere “putting back on of the old”, however.  Rather the spring blooming of the trees is truly a renewal.  Now, I’ve not done any research to know whether or not this is true, but I believe that this yearly renewal actually makes them stronger and able to bear more fruit.

          As bodily creatures living in time, we too need a yearly time of renewal.  As time progresses day after day and month after month, our bodies and spirits get weighed down by the daily living of our lives.  Perhaps there are sinful habits we’ve developed over the past year or maybe our prayer lives have become stagnant and fruitless.  And so the Church gives us this season of Lent as a “spiritual winter” to help us slough off those things that are weighing us down—like the trees slough off their “seasoned” leaves—and to be renewed in our baptismal promises to live the Christian life.

          In this first Sunday of Lent, the readings help us to understand how we can approach this time of renewal.  Today we were given a glimpse both of where this journey of Lent will take us and also of how we will get there.  In the first reading, Noah emerged after forty days in the ark.  He represented humanity cleansed from sin and we see that God made a covenant with this renewed humanity never to destroy it again.  In this we see the goal of our Lenten renewal.  Our goal is to emerge from this forty day fast cleansed from sin so as to receive again the promise of God that we received in our baptism.  (Notice the “passive” tense of the verb—the cleansing being something to which we submit ourselves.)

          Then, in the Gospel reading, we heard how Jesus spent forty days in the desert, tempted by Satan, before he begins his ministry to call people to repentance.  In this we see the way we are to take to reach our goal.  As Jesus spent forty days in the desert, in which he turned away from the comforts of his daily life so as to be prepared to begin to fulfill the mission for which he came, so we, too, are called to spend forty days in which we turn away from some of the comforts of our daily lives (for example, our favorite food or drink or snacks in general, or TV or Facebook or YouTube or Netflix or the internet in general) in order that we also might turn away from those things that separate us from God and from each other (for example, from jealousy, anger, resentment, gossip, etc.).

          Now, when we turn away from something, we necessarily turn towards something else and so it is important that, as we turn away from some of the comforts of our daily lives, we pay careful attention to that to which we have turned.  The renewal of God’s covenant with humanity that happened after Noah emerged from the ark invites us to look towards the end of this forty days and to ask ourselves, “Who do I want to be at the end of this time?”  In other words, “How do I want to be renewed this Lent?”  Or, better yet, “How does God want to renew me this Lent?”  This is a really important question to answer.  Because we can take up all sorts of penitential practices this Lent (some of them heroic, even!)—and, if we do them well in a spirit of humility, we will, in some way, be renewed—but if we don’t have a goal in mind (an end toward which the renewal is aimed at achieving) then the chances that our renewal will bear fruit for God and his kingdom is slim.

          Thus, Saint Peter reminds us in our second reading that our baptism was not just a washing that removed dirt from our bodies, but rather that it was “an appeal to God for a clear conscience…”  With these words we can then expand our “important question” as we begin Lent and see that we not only have to ask ourselves “How does God want to renew me this Lent?” but also, “and for what am I being renewed?”  If you can come up with an answer to these questions, and set yourself towards realizing them, then you will be well on your way to having your best Lent ever.

          At this point, it’s important to remember that, whenever we attempt to do something good, we will inevitably encounter difficulty.  Just as Jesus was tempted in the desert, so we too can expect to encounter temptations that will tempt us to give up before we reach our goal.  This is where the tools of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving come into play.  These tools help us to overcome these temptations and to be open to God’s grace, so that we can achieve our goal.  And so we see that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not just ends in themselves—that is, something that we do just because it’s Lent (in other words, to use Saint Peter’s example, baptism, solely for the sake of washing away dirt)—but rather, that they are helps towards achieving our Lenten goal, the renewal of our spirits.  Thus we must select well how we will pray, fast, and give alms always with an eye towards the renewal that God wants for us.

          Nevertheless, although there are many ways that we can approach our time in Lent, one thing that is not an option is not to go through it.  The readings today show us this much.  Noah had to spend the forty days in the ark in order to receive God’s promise.  Jesus had to spend forty days in the desert before he could begin his ministry of announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God.  And so we too must go through these forty days of Lent if we truly desire the renewal in God’s promises that he himself desires to give us.

          My brothers and sisters, God truly desires that we be renewed this Lent.  Let us then commit ourselves to this goal and let us pray for God to show us how to achieve it.  Let us listen to him in prayer, discipline our bodies and our spirits by fasting, and respond more readily to our neighbors in need by giving alms, so as to make real the interior renewal of spirit that we each need.  When we do so, we will truly be ready to “bloom like the trees” this spring and to celebrate with great joy the resurrection of our Lord.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 18th, 2018

Monday, February 12, 2018

A complete reversal


Homily: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

          Friends, in these (what I’m calling) “intervening weeks” between the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Lent this coming week, we have been presented with an image of Christ who is doing something new.  In the third Sunday in Ordinary Time, we heard Jesus proclaim that the “time of fulfillment” was at hand, meaning that the third Christian age, in which the promise that God made to our first parents after their first sin would finally be realized, had now begun.  Then, in the fourth Sunday, we heard Jesus teaching in the synagogue with his own authority and how he demonstrated his authority when he drove the unclean spirit out of the man in the synagogue.  The people were amazed at this “new teaching with authority” and perhaps began to see in Jesus the one of whom Moses spoke: “A prophet like me will God raise up for you…”  Then last week, the fifth Sunday, we heard how Jesus entered the home of Simon Peter and healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (and, subsequently, hundreds of others from that town).  Although the next morning all came looking for him, Jesus refused to become a spectacle (like many “wonder-workers” of the day) and chose, instead, to leave that place to preach in other towns.  He was truly a “new prophet” and could not be contained to any one place.

          This week, we read a story of reversal.  In our first reading, we listened to the words of the Book of Leviticus, detailing what someone with an ailment of the skin must do.  Here we see a microcosm, if you will, of the Fall.  In the Garden of Eden, our first parents sin and so are marked with death.  God, however, is life and death cannot dwell in the presence of God.  Therefore, Adam and Eve are driven from the Garden and cannot reenter until they have been cleansed from this “stain” of death.  Leprosy (which, in the Old Testament, was a “blanket” term for those with various skin ailments that included, but was not limited to, what we now call “Hansen’s disease”), to the people of ancient times, was an outward sign that death was touching a person.  Anyone marked in such a way could not enter the temple—the place of encounter with God—to offer worship.  Thus, the person also became a threat to anyone who wasn’t so marked and wanted to enter the temple to worship.  Thus, the leper had to stay separated and declare himself “unclean”, lest others be "infected" with death, too.  And, just like with Adam and Eve, who couldn’t cleanse themselves of the sin that caused death to touch them, so too the leper didn’t have any way to cleanse the skin ailment on his own.  He simply had to pray that it would clear up so that he could be restored to the worshiping community.  For a first century Jew, this was just the way the world worked.

          In the Gospel, we then hear the story of reversal.  First, the man approaches Jesus (a bold move for one who was supposed to keep himself at a distance!).  He pleads with Jesus and Jesus does the unthinkable: he touches him!  But, instead of the uncleanness coming out of the leper and going into Jesus, what happens?  Cleanness goes out from Jesus and into the leper: a complete reversal!  And how do we know?  Because, as the scripture says, “the leprosy left the man immediately, and he was made clean”.  After, Jesus tells the man not to make a big deal out of it—in other words, that he no longer has to “shout out” about himself—but what does the man do?  He immediately goes and tells everyone he meets.  No one went around shouting “I am clean”, because it wasn’t necessary.  But this man does so voluntarily, reversing his obligation to declare himself unclean.  Finally, while the man can now reenter the town and join the worshiping community, we see that Jesus cannot!  But is he really excluded?  No!  Because, instead of everyone staying away from the ones outside of town, they all come out to him!  The presence of Jesus causes each of them to recognize that they are "unclean", in some way, and that they have been unable to become "clean" through their own efforts.  Thus, they "separate" themselves from the town (and, thus, the worshiping community) so as to meet Jesus and to be made clean.  And so we see that Jesus takes our helpless story and he reverses it: proving once again that the “time of fulfillment” has, indeed, come.

          If we stop and pay attention for just a moment, we see that this is us!  So much hullabaloo is being made about "identity politics" and ending oppression of "marginalized groups" (based, for example, on race, gender (actual or otherwise), sexual attraction, socioeconomic status, etc.).  The fact of the matter is that we're all oppressed in some way: that is, we all have some kind of leprosy that alienates us in some way.  Take a hard look!  We're all messed up in a lot of ways!  And none of us is capable on our own making ourselves clean.  Thus, the good news that we hear today.  Look at what Jesus did to the leper!  He completely reversed everything that pushed him away.  And how?  By his own divine power, of course.  But what actuated that power?  The man embracing his leprosy and taking a bold step to overcome it.  This man saw his “oppressed” state, but refused to remain a victim and approached Jesus.  And through Jesus, his “oppression” was overcome.

          This, therefore, is the message for our day: stop acting like a victim and try to do something to make it better.  (This isn't a good bumper sticker slogan, I know, but it's darn practical!)  Recognize that you're a mess, yes.  Recognize that you're a mess because life is hard and full of suffering, yes; but also because you've given in to the victim mentality and haven't made good choices.  Then recognize that there is something that you can do about it and start to do it.  Come to Jesus and submit yourself to his will, like the leper from the Gospel reading: "If you will, you can make me clean".  Then ACT!  If there is anything disordered in your life (of which you are the cause), start to put it in order.  Most of us have a God-ordered path for our lives (marriage, parenthood, etc.).  If you don't, you're probably not here.  If you don't and you are here, then your first job is to get yourself on a God-ordered path.  But if you are on your God-ordered path, then look at what disrupts your journey on that path and start to get it out of your life.  For example: almost anything produced by Hollywood, social media (the source of gossip and narcissism!), 24-hour news programming, etc.  You won't fix everything—there's still suffering that just happens in the world—but at least you'll have mitigated a lot of the self-inflicted suffering, right?

          And why all of this?  Because there are real victims out there—that is, those whose suffering is severe and not self-inflicted—and they need real help.  But we help no one when we sit around wallowing in our own victimhood, saying "well, I can't because of x, y, and z."  Well, yes, maybe "x, y, and z", but you can do something.  Whatever that is, you need to do it.  Even if that's just to shout out about it.

          Friends, in Jesus, our long exile has been reversed.  Everything that kept us separate from God is flipped on its head and redeemed.  But if we don't act, we'll never fully realize it.  The first act is to believe: to believe in the power of Christ to flip it over.  And so today, as you approach the Eucharist (whether or not you are able to receive it), pray, before you receive it (or before you present yourself before it); "Jesus, if you will, you can make me clean"; because, I assure you, he does will it.  Receive, then, his healing; and go forth telling everyone how Jesus made you clean and put your life back in order so as to make life's sufferings a little more bearable for you and, thus, for those around you.  Then we will begin to see more clearly the truth that Jesus proclaimed: that this truly is the time of fulfillment.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 10th & 11th, 2018

Monday, February 5, 2018

Sanado para servir

Santa Josefina Bakhita: Dia Festivo 8 de Febrero

Homilía: 5º Domingo en el Tiempo Ordinario – Ciclo B
          Santa Josefina Bakhita nació en la región de Darfur en Sudán del Sur en 1869. Cuando tenía siete años, fue secuestrada y vendida como esclava. En los años siguientes, fue vendida y revendida a diferentes dueños de esclavos, sufriendo abuso físico y psicológico donde quiera que fuera. Bakhita fue el nombre que le dio su primer dueño de esclavos. El abuso que recibió a lo largo de los años la traumatizó tanto que olvidó el nombre que le habían dado sus padres. Finalmente, ella se encontró en manos de un embajador italiano, Callisto Legnani. Con esta familia no hubo abuso y el largo viaje de sanación de Bakhita pudo comenzar.
          Debido a las tensiones políticas en Sudán, el embajador Legnani tuvo que abandonar África para regresar a Italia y, a petición de Bakhita, la trajo junto con su familia. Al regresar a Italia, la familia Michieli, que eran amigos de los Legnanis, solicitaron que Bakhita se quedara con ellos. El Sr. Legnani estuvo de acuerdo y cuando los Michielis dieron a luz a una hija, Bakhita se convirtió en su niñera y amiga. Cuando los Michielis se vieron obligados a regresar a África por negocios, Bakhita y su hija fueron confiados a las Hermanas Canosianas del Instituto de Catecúmenos en Venecia. Fue allí donde Bakhita llegaría a conocer a Dios.
          Después de varios meses de oración y estudio en el catecumenado, Bakhita recibió los Sacramentos de Iniciación, tomando el nombre de Josefina. No mucho después, los Michielis regresaron, habiendo establecido sus negocios en África, para llevar a su hija y a Josefina para que estuvieran con ellos. Sin embargo, Josefina se negó a regresar a África, y solicitó quedarse con las Hermanas Canosianas. Debido a que la ley italiana había abolido la esclavitud, las Michielis no podía obligarla a ir y por lo tanto se le concedieron su deseo.
          Josefina se quedó con las hermanas; eventualmente siguiendo el llamado a entrar a la vida religiosa ella misma. Seis años después de su bautismo, hizo su profesión solemne como hermana Canosiana. Durante los siguientes cincuenta años, sirvió humildemente y diligentemente a sus hermanas y a las personas con quienes se puso en contacto a través del apostolado de las hermanas. Todos los que la conocían, sabían la alegría que irradiaba de ella en cada encuentro. Ella era conocida por decir "Sé bueno, ama al Señor y ora por aquellos que no lo conocen. ¡Qué gran gracia es conocer a Dios!" En ella, hoy encontramos la historia inspiradora de una mujer liberada de la opresión y la esclavitud a través de la acción cristiana que luego se volvió para ofrecerse completamente en el servicio a Dios.
          En nuestra lectura del Evangelio de hoy, escuchamos una historia con un resultado similar. Habiendo enseñado en la sinagoga de Cafarnaúm (donde liberó a un hombre de un "espíritu inmundo"), Jesús regresó a la casa de Simón y Andrés. La suegra de Simón estaba gravemente enferma con fiebre. Cuando le contaron a Jesús acerca de ella, él fue a ella y la sanó. Entonces el Evangelio dice que "se puso a servirles". Visto a la luz de la historia de Santa Josefina, podemos hacer estas correlaciones: la suegra de Simón fue "esclavizada" por una enfermedad; los discípulos de Jesús, habiéndolo visto expulsar al espíritu inmundo horas antes, "inmediatamente" le avisaron de ella; Jesús se acercó a ella y la liberó; y ella, en su libertad, luego elige servir. En otras palabras, liberados por Jesús a quien encontraron a través de las acciones de sus discípulos, estas mujeres eligen libremente someterse al servicio de los demás.
          A pesar de que la esclavitud está casi universalmente abolida, millones de hombres y mujeres en todo el mundo aún la padecen. Todos los días, los hombres y las mujeres se ven obligados a trabajar opresivamente o, lo que es peor, se los compra y vende como esclavos sexuales para alimentar la lujuria que crece exponencialmente en la humanidad. En nuestro propio estado, e incluso en nuestro propio condado, la adicción al alcohol, la heroína y los analgésicos recetados ha esclavizado a muchos de nuestros familiares y amigos. Para muchas de estas personas, la vida se parece mucho a lo que describe Job en nuestra primera lectura de hoy: un trabajo pesado, con días como el de trabajos forzados sin alivio a la vista, y en el que la esperanza de volver a experimentar la felicidad ha desaparecido.
          Por lo tanto, más que nunca, estos hombres y mujeres necesitan ayuda para ser liberados. Como cristianos, nuestro primer recurso es siempre la oración, en la que rogamos al Señor Jesús que venga a ellos, los ayude y los libere. Nuestro trabajo nunca termina allí, sin embargo; porque entonces debemos actuar en el mundo y acercarnos a ellos, como lo hizo San Pablo, haciéndose "esclavo de todos"—es decir, convirtiéndose en "todas a todos"—para que, a través de nuestra acción cristiana, estos hermanos y hermanas nuestras podrían ser liberadas verdaderamente.
          Liberados, por lo tanto, por nuestra oración y nuestra acción, estos hombres y mujeres pueden elegir servir, como hizo la suegra de Simón y como lo hizo Santa Josefina: por haber sido amada, la mayoría de las personas elegirá entonces devolver el amor a través de servicio a los demás, porque Jesús nos asegura que "no hay mayor amor que este, dar la vida por nuestros amigos".
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, como un pueblo liberado por el amor de Cristo, que se acercó a nosotros cuando se convirtió en uno de nosotros, y que permanece cerca de nosotros, especialmente aquí en esta Eucaristía, debemos actuar para ser sus manos y sus pies que se acercan, en oración y en acción, a los que aún están esclavizados, para que ellos también puedan ser liberados y así "conocer la libertad de los hijos [e hijas] de Dios". Incluso cuando San Pablo se entregó a sí mismo libremente (y sin costo) por el bien del Evangelio, para que él pueda compartir las bendiciones que provienen de él, así también debemos llevar estas buenas nuevas a aquellos que están esclavizados en nuestros días; porque solo compartiremos sus bendiciones en proporción a la medida en que la hayamos compartido con otros.
          Por lo tanto, mis hermanos y hermanas, actuemos para ver manifestar el poder del Señor Jesús: en todo el mundo y aquí en el condado de Cass. Porque cuando lo hagamos, comenzaremos a compartir las bendiciones de las buenas nuevas y, así, cuando regresemos a este lugar, nos inspirará a cantar, como el salmista en el salmo responsorial de hoy, "Alabemos al Señor, quien sana los corazones quebrantados".
Dado en la parroquia Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

4 de febrero, 2018

Healed so as to serve

Saint Josephine Bakhita: Feast Day February 8

Homily: 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
          Saint Josephine Bakhita was born in the Darfur region of South Sudan in 1869.  When she was seven years old, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery.  In the ensuing years, she was sold and resold to different slave owners, suffering physical and psychological abuse everywhere she went.  Bakhita was the name given to her by her first slave owner.  The abuse she received over the years traumatized her so much that she actually forgot the name that her parents had given her.  Finally, she ended up in the hands of an Italian ambassador, Callisto Legnani.  With this family, however, there was no abuse and Bakhita’s long journey of healing could begin.
          Because of political tensions in Sudan, ambassador Legnani had to leave Africa to return to Italy and, per Bakhita’s request, he brought her along with his family.  Upon returning to Italy, the Michieli family, who were friends of the Legnanis, requested that Bakhita stay with them.  Mr. Legnani agreed and when the Michielis gave birth to a daughter, Bakhita became her babysitter and friend.  When the Michielis were forced to move back to Africa for business, Bakhita and their daughter were entrusted to the Canossian Sisters of the Institute of Catechumens in Venice.  It was there that Bakhita would come to know God.
          After several months of prayer and study in the catechumenate, Bakhita received the Sacraments of Initiation, taking the name Josephine.  Not long after, the Michielis returned, having established their business back in Africa, to take their daughter and Josephine to be with them.  Josephine refused to go back to Africa, however, requesting to stay with the Canossian Sisters, instead.  Because Italian law had abolished slavery, the Michielis could not force her to go and thus she was granted her wish.
          Josephine stayed with the sisters; eventually following the call to enter religious life herself.  Six years after she was baptized she made her solemn profession as a Canossian Sister.  For the next fifty years, she humbly and dutifully served her fellow sisters and those with whom she came in contact through the sisters’ apostolate.  All who knew her knew the joy that radiated from her in every encounter.  She was known to say “Be good, love the Lord, and pray for those who do not know him. What a great grace it is to know God!”  In her, we today find the inspiring story of a woman set free from oppression and slavery through Christian action who then turned to offer herself completely in service to God.
          In our Gospel reading today, we hear a story with a similar outcome.  Having taught in the synagogue in Capernaum (where he freed a man from an “unclean spirit”), Jesus returned to the house of Simon and Andrew.  Simon’s mother-in-law lay seriously ill with a fever.  When they told Jesus about her, he went to her and healed her.  Then the Gospel says that “she waited on them.”  Viewed in the light of St. Josephine’s story, we can make these correlations: Simon’s mother-in-law was “enslaved” by an illness; Jesus’ disciples, having seen him cast out the unclean spirit just hours before, “immediately” tell him about her; Jesus approaches her and sets her free; and she, in her freedom, then chooses to serve.  In other words, set free by Jesus whom they encountered through the actions of his disciples, these women then freely chose to subject themselves in service to others.
          Although slavery is almost universally abolished, millions of men and women throughout the world still suffer from it.  Every day men and women are forced into oppressive work or, worse yet, are bought and sold as sex slaves to feed humankind’s exponentially growing lust.  In our own state, and even in our own county, addiction to alcohol, heroin, and prescription pain killers has enslaved many of our own family members and friends.  For many of these persons, life looks a lot like Job describes in our First Reading today: a drudgery, with days like those of hard labor with no relief in sight, and in which hope of ever experiencing happiness again has disappeared.
          Therefore, more than ever, these men and women need help to be set free.  As Christians, our first recourse is always to prayer, in which we beg the Lord Jesus to come to them, to help them up, and set them free.  Our work never ends there, however; for then we must act in the world and draw close to them, like Saint Paul did, making himself a “slave to all”—that is, becoming “all things to all”—so that, through our Christian action, these brothers and sisters of ours might actually be set free.
          Set free, therefore, by our prayer and our action, these men and women can then choose to serve, like Simon’s mother-in-law did and like Saint Josephine did: for having been loved, most people will choose then to return love through service to others, because Jesus assures us that “there is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
          My brothers and sisters, as a people set free by the love of Christ, who came close to us when he became one of us, and who remains close to us, especially here in this Eucharist, we must act to be his hands and his feet that draw close, in prayer and in action, to those still enslaved, so that they, too, might be set free and thus “know the freedom of the sons [and daughters] of God.”  Even as Saint Paul gave himself over freely (and free of charge) for the sake of the gospel, so that he might have a share in the blessings that come from it, so too we must bring this good news to those who are enslaved in our day; for we will only share in its blessings in proportion to the measure in which we have shared it with others.
          Therefore, my brothers and sisters, let us act so as to see the power of the Lord Jesus manifest: both throughout the world and right here in Cass County.  For when we do, we will begin to share in the blessings of the good news and, thus, when we return to this place, we will be inspired to sing, like the Psalmist in today’s Responsorial Psalm, “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.”

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 4th, 2018

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The authority of Jesus

Homily: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
          Last week we heard Jesus’ first words in the Gospel, according to Mark: “This is the time of fulfillment…”   In my homily, I reflected how Jesus was announcing that, with his coming onto the scene, the third age in human history had begun.  The first was the time of creation: lasting from the first word that God spoke to form light until the first sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, and their fall from grace.  The second age was the time of promise: lasting from that moment when God promised to raise up a descendant of Eve who would crush the head of the evil one and save us from sin and death until Jesus himself is born and begins his public ministry.  We are still living in this time of fulfillment, the third age, in which God has entered time and space in order to rescue it from destruction; and we await the coming of the fourth and final age: the age of glory, when Christ will return and evil, death, and sorrow will be banished from the universe forever.
          Very interesting, then, that we hear today the next “scene” from Mark’s Gospel and, right on the heels of Jesus’ proclamation that the “time of fulfillment” had begun, we see him do something new: “he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”  Here, Jesus is indicating exactly what he proclaimed.  By teaching as one with his own authority—not as one who referenced the authority of rabbis who had gone before him, like the scribes all did—Jesus steps out of the box to indicate that something new, indeed, has begun.  The scriptures say that the people were astonished at his teaching: not necessarily because of what he taught (Mark does not record for us what he taught that day), but because he spoke as one having an authority all his own.
          The more keen hearers in the synagogue that day would have hearkened back to the words of Moses, recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, which we read in our first reading today: that “a prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from your own kin; to him you shall listen.”  Moses, to the Jewish people, is THE prophet, whose authority no one’s, except God’s, is greater.  Thus, for him to declare that a prophet like him will come—that is, one who teaches with authority, like he did—is something extraordinary indeed.  And if we fast-forward to the end of the book of Deuteronomy, we read there that “since then [the death of Moses] no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”  Thus, the response of the people in the synagogue with Jesus that day, “What is this? A new teaching with authority”, highlights that some of them knew that Jesus might be the one of whom Moses spoke.
          To solidify this authority, Jesus then drives out the demon (who, astonishingly, presents himself to him).  Jesus is teaching with his own authority, which would have been a scandal to many in the synagogue that day, because, like I said, the scribes always backed up their teaching with the teaching of the great master rabbis who went before them.  Jesus proves that he has the authority in himself to teach when, by his word, he drives the unclean spirit out from the man.
          Even the words of the spirit are telling of Jesus’ authority; and that he is not some “new rabbi”, but truly the prophet of whom Moses spoke.  “What have you to do with us?  Have you come to destroy us?”  Notice how the unclean spirit recognizes the power and authority within Jesus to destroy them.  “I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”  “The Holy One of God” is an Old Testament title given to the great prophets.  Therefore, the spirit is not only acknowledging Jesus’ power and authority, but he is acknowledging him as the prophet of whom Moses spoke.  In quieting the spirt and driving it out of the man, Jesus confirmed the spirit’s words.  Thus, all in the synagogue were “astonished” and “amazed”.
          My friends, if this is the time of fulfillment and Jesus is the prophet of whom Moses spoke, then we must listen to him if we want to experience the fruits that this time will produce.  Moses relates the consequences that God himself laid out for those who would not listen to this prophet: “Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I will make him answer for it.”  When God says “listen” he doesn’t just mean “hear and consider it”.  Rather, he means “obey”, in the sense of “listening so as to respond”.  Thus, the statement might as well read: “Whoever will not obey my words which he speaks in my name, I will make him answer for it.”  My friends, this is the time of fulfillment and Jesus is the prophet of whom Moses spoke (and more than a prophet, right?), and so we must obey the words that he has spoken, which are God the Father’s words, else we face him on the day of judgment and have to answer for it.
          “Okay, Father, I trust you.  But the problem is that God doesn’t speak to me.”  Bzzzt.  False.  Let me assure you that God’s words are readily available to you, in three different ways.  Number 1: the Bible.  The Bible is God’s Word, inspired and protected by the Holy Spirit, and it is living and effective for us today.  If we are going to answer for having obeyed God’s words, these are the first ones to which God is going to point.  Number 2: the teachings of the Church.  It is the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, who has preserved and proclaimed the Word of God throughout the generations and thus who has authentically presented it to and interpreted it for each passing generation.  My friends, the Bible and the Catechism are the two primary ways that you will hear God’s words spoken to you.  Obeying (that is, listening with a readiness to respond to) these words is the first step towards realizing the fruit of this time of fulfillment.
          The third way that God’s words come to us, however, is in the silence of our hearts.  Here, God speaks to us directly and personally.  To hear God’s words in this way is more challenging, because we have to tune the ears of our heart to hear his voice.  Nonetheless, it is a work that we must do; and the only way that we will do it is if we listen for his voice in silence.  When we do, we will begin to hear it.  It will be the voice that speaks with authority.  It will be the voice that echoes the revelation of the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church.  It will be the voice that urges you to give yourself for others.  You will know the voice of the enemy: he is the one who sows confusion, discord, and discouragement.  God’s voice brings clarity, unity, and encouragement.  And it is available to us, right now: we need only ask to hear it.
          Then, of course, we must obey it.  What do we get when we obey Jesus’ voice?  Well, nothing short than his power working in our lives.  This means, the power of this “time of fulfillment” in which the negative forces (that is, the unclean spirits) that affect us can be driven away; and when they aren’t: we receive the strength either to overcome them or persevere through them.  Friends, Jesus is the Son of God, the one of whom Moses spoke, and he has ushered in the “time of fulfillment” in which has come this “new teaching with authority”.  In a world full of talking heads full of hot air claiming their own authority but having no power to fulfill anything, let us listen to the Word of God, Jesus our Lord, so that his kingdom—the kingdom that will be fully realized in the age of glory—would be made present to us here today.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 27th & 28th, 2018

Monday, January 22, 2018

Toward the age of glory


Homily: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

          Today in our Gospel reading, we hear the first words that Jesus utters, according to the Gospel writer Mark; and they are rather mysterious ones.  “Repent and believe in the Gospel” is often touted as being his first words, but they aren’t.  Rather, his first words are: "This is the time of fulfillment."  “Huh?  What does this mean?”  It means that, when Jesus Christ came onto the scene, it was a turning point in the history of the world.  From this we have come to understand that, with Jesus, the third age of human history has been inaugurated.

          The first age was the era of creation.  During this period, mankind lived in the fullness of communion with God.  It was when Adam and Eve lived in paradise: in unspoiled friendship with God.  This, of course, ended when our first parents committed the first sin and, subsequently, fell from grace, allowing evil to enter into the world.

          From this, the second age began: the age of the Promise.  As we read in the book of Genesis, soon after the first sin, God promised Adam and Eve that he would send a Savior to free the human family from domination by the devil.  In this second age God gradually prepared the world, through the education of his chosen people, Israel, for the arrival of Jesus Christ.  This is the age of history encapsulated by the Old Testament in the Bible.

          With the coming of Jesus, the third age began: the "time of fulfillment," by which we mean, “the fulfillment of the promise of salvation.”  In this age, the Christian age, God actually entered into time and space in order to rescue it from sin and destruction.  He did so, at first, through the Incarnation, and he continues to do so through the activity of the Church, which is gradually expanding into every corner of the globe.  At the end of this third age, Christ will come again, ushering in the fourth and final age: the age of glory, when evil, death, and sorrow will be banished from his Kingdom forever.

          This is weird, of course, because we’re used to thinking of history in terms of secular “ages”: the “stone” age, the “bronze” age, the “iron” age, etc., none of which hinge on the life of Christ.  But if we see things from the perspective of these four “Christian” stages of history, things begin to make more sense: history seems to have a purpose and an end to which it is moving, which has the effect of filling us with wisdom, interior peace, and a sense of purpose.  Even still, I think that we have to ask ourselves: “Do we actually look at things this way?”

          You know, the advances of modern science and technology tend to make us forget about this.  Pleasures and power are so easy to find in our modern world that we can subconsciously start thinking that maybe we can create heaven on earth by ourselves, skipping over God's plan for history.  We forget what St. Paul always remembered—and what he explained in today's Second Reading—that "the world in its present form is passing away."  In forgetting this, we fail realize that our attempts to bypass God's plan for human history and to create heaven on earth was at the root of the most hideous crimes of the twentieth century.

          When Nazi fascism rejected Christ as the Lord of history and tried to put nationalism in his place, it led to a World War, the Holocaust, and the atomic bomb.  When Marxist Communism rejected Christ as the Lord of history and tried to put human work in his place, it led to a multi-national Soviet empire of state oppression, the mass starvation of 20 million peasants under Stalinist Russia, and the death of another 20 million under Mao Zedung's "Great Leap Forward" in China.  And, in our current age, secular humanism has rejected Christ as the Lord of history and is trying to put radical individualism in his place.  This has led to a moral recession that has fed the world's economic recession.  And it has already led to a global resurgence of child slavery and human trafficking, not to mention the death of more than 60 million unborn babies through legalized abortion.  You know, when we consider all these horrors—especially how wide-spread they are in today’s world—it’s not surprising that even the most fervent Christians can feel discouraged.

          But discouragement is a lie, because, as Saint Paul has already assured us, "the world in its present form is passing away."  Friends, Christ is building his Kingdom even in the midst of the world's evils.  He is giving meaning and hope to the drama of human history.  And when we put our trust in him and follow him, we become part of the everlasting solution, not the passing problem.

          You know, the most exciting aspect of the Christian view of history is that Christ is constantly inviting us to take part in it.  What happened in today's Gospel passage happens to each one of us throughout our lives.  Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all living their normal lives, working to keep food on the table.  By all external signs, they were indistinguishable from any of their contemporaries.

          But then one day Jesus Christ walked into their lives and called them each by name.  Jesus didn't see them as average people: that is, generic fishermen.  Jesus saw each one in the revealing light of God's love.  He knew that he had created them for an active role in his plan to redeem the human race and to conquer the forces of sin and evil.  And just as he invited each one of them to join him and to share his mission, so Jesus does with each of us.

          Some of us he calls to leave behind our nets, boats, and even our families, so that we can serve the Church full-time as “special agents”, if you will: that is, as priests, religious, and missionaries.  Others—the majority of us—he calls to be his ambassadors in the middle of our normal family and work life: bringing his redeeming power to the world from within, like leaven in a batch of dough.  Regardless of the end to which he calls us, he, nonetheless, calls each one of us.  And today he will renew his call when he offers himself to us, once again, here in the Eucharist.

          My brothers and sisters, by reminding us today of the true course of human history, Jesus has motivated us to renew our response to his call in our hearts: to let our friendship with him become the most important thing for us once again—more important than our plans, our pleasures, our hopes, and our comfort—because all those things are just part of the "world in its present form," which is "passing away."  Let us, then, renew our response to him today so as to conquer this age in which secular humanism tries to destroy all that is human (especially the most vulnerable among us) and, thus, usher in the age of glory in which we are restored to that perfect communion with God that we enjoyed in the age of creation, and in which Christ, our Savior, rules over all.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 21, 2018