Sunday, December 29, 2013

Your family will make you a saint

          I have no doubts... if you can learn to live like a saint in your own family, then you will be a saint!  Let's strive to make 2014 the year in which we learn to love each other; starting at home with our families!


Homily: Holy Family – Cycle A
          A crucible is a device developed in ancient times that is used to heat metals to a very high temperature.  Usually made of ceramic or porcelain (or another material similarly resistant to extremely high temperatures), a crucible is used either to purify metals (by burning off any impurities from them) or to create alloys (which are mixtures of metals created by heating them together and, thus, allowing them to mix).  In the crucible, metals are both tested for purity (when heated to its extreme limit) and forced to change (when mixed in with other materials).  Because of these characteristics of the uses of a crucible, the term “crucible” has come also to be applied to any situation in which one is tested severely or is forced either to change or to make a difficult decision.  For example, we might say of many of our war veterans that “his or her character was formed in the crucible of war.”
          Perhaps we might not immediately think of it this way, but the family is a type of crucible.  This has become increasingly apparent to me after the last year and a half that I have spent listening to confessions here at this parish.  Week after week I hear the same or similar things from people: “I’ve been impatient with my children”, or “I was angry with my spouse and yelled at him or her”, or “I’ve been mean to my brothers and sisters”, or “I’ve not respected my mother and father.”  What you all are confessing and asking forgiveness for are the limitations to love and charity that you are finding within yourselves and which are brought forth to the surface within the crucible that is your family.  In other words, we all have an ideal of how we should live and interact with each other as a family, but when the heat and pressure begin to build through our daily interactions with each other, our character is tested and impurities begin to show.  We are challenged to change and many of you come to the confessional looking for forgiveness for your failures and for the grace to make the necessary changes.
          The Holy Family, whom we celebrate today, is an example for us of how to survive and to thrive in the crucible of the family.  For Joseph and Mary, there was testing from the very beginning of their relationship.  Not sooner than Joseph was betrothed to Mary did he find out that his new wife—whom he had yet to receive into his house—was already with child.  If it wasn’t for the angel’s intervention in a dream, Joseph may have divorced her straight away and the Holy Family would have been a broken one from the start.
          Then, as the day for Mary to give birth came near, the command came from Caesar that all must be enrolled in their ancestral hometown.  Thus, Joseph and Mary (with Jesus still in the womb) had to travel to Bethlehem—the little town that, obviously, became overcrowded with visitors—in which Mary was left to give birth to their son in a rudimentary barn carved into the side of a rock.  If that wasn’t enough, a week or so later word came to Joseph and Mary that the child was in danger of being murdered by the king and that they needed to flee from there without delay.  And so the family picked up the very little that they had and went off to Egypt, where they lived as foreigners, outcast and despised, for the next seven years.
          Remember that Joseph was probably twice as old as Mary when they were married and that Mary was barely 15 years-old.  These were challenges that even the most veteran families would have difficulty dealing with, but they had to deal with them in the first year of their relationship.  We honor them today as holy, not because they lived lives of perfect peace and harmony, but because within the crucible that is the family, they persevered in charity and in following the way of the Lord: the way of righteousness.
          Saint Paul seems to understand this.  In his letter to the Colossians he offers us a list of virtues for how to live as “God’s chosen ones”, that is, as God’s family.  He describes the virtues like they are a set of clothing that you wear.  “Put on … heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another … and over all these,” he says, as if it was some sort of ‘spiritual overcoat’, “put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”  While most of us could look at this list and say, “yes, that’s how it should be,” I would guess that many of us (myself included) have a very difficult time putting this into practice.  Well, Paul understands that, too.  And so he continues in his letter: “let the peace of Christ control your hearts … and be thankful.”  How can we achieve this lofty level of virtue?  By letting the peace of Christ control our hearts and by being thankful.  In other words, there’s no magic here, just hard work of grace within us.
          Paul, then, describes a way that we might begin.  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  With the word of Christ with you in the crucible, Paul seems to say, the hard work of putting on the virtues will lightened; and when you give yourself over to praising God in “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”, you focus less on whatever difficulty or conflict you are having and instead remember that Christ has saved us from our limitations so that we can “bear with one another” in peace.
          We are rapidly approaching the New Year.  Perhaps some of you have been thinking about resolutions that you’d like to make for yourselves to make 2014 a happier and more fulfilling year for you.  Perhaps some of you have given up on that idea many years ago.  To all of you I am suggesting that you take this passage from Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians and meditate on it: asking God to show you how you can incorporate its teachings in 2014.  Begin by asking God which of these virtues you are lacking and then for the grace to begin to practice them.  Then, look for ways that, as a family, you can make 2014 a year in which you will “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” by reading the Bible together as a family and then using that time to acknowledge and give thanks for the blessings that you’ve received.  (Grandparents, this is a great way to bond with your grandchildren as well!)
          If you and your family can begin to do these things, I guarantee you that you will be happier in 2014, in spite of whatever trials may come.  With the Holy Family as our guide, and with the strength of the grace that we receive in this Holy Eucharist, we can emerge in 2014 from the crucibles of our families happier and holier; if only we would entrust ourselves to God to do it.  Joseph and Mary did and their family is now called holy.  May 2014 be the year in which your family earns the same name.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 28th & 29th, 2013

The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Thursday, December 26, 2013

El Dios que puede sentir

          ¿Es la Navidad todavía? SÍ! Celebramos con gran alegría de ayer, pero la Navidad se prolonga durante toda una octava (8 días) por lo que no abandonamos las celebraciones todavía! Continuar para proclamar la alegría de que Dios ha venido a nosotros en Jesucristo.


Homilía: La Navidad (Misa del Día) – Ciclo A
          Una de las cosas que muchos de ustedes pueden haber notado acerca de los católicos en los Estados Unidos (a pesar de que no pueden haber sabidos describirlo de esta manera) es que la forma en que oramos ha sido influenciada en gran medida por Protestantismo británico, en particular el puritanos ingleses que primero llegaron y se establecieron aquí en esta tierra. En muchos sentidos, el protestantismo fue una reacción a las prácticas fuertemente orientados a la acción del catolicismo medieval.
          Martin Luther observó que parecía que mucha gente creía que a través de sus acciones serían salvos (y, por lo tanto, mayor es la acción, el mejor). Por ejemplo, si una pequeña vela sería bueno, no sería una vela de dos pies de alta mucho mejor? Y por eso, mucho de lo que los protestantes comienzan a concentrarse en era mucho más pasiva: la lectura de las Escrituras y meditar sobre ellos, y la escucha de la Palabra de Dios proclamada y explicada en congregación. Habían desaparecido todas las expresiones externas tan característicos del catolicismo en esta época.
          Y así vemos esta influencia hoy aquí. Celebraciones anglosajonas de la Misa son a menudo mucho más tenues. Las personas que se sientan en silencio, responden reservadamente, y por lo demás tratan de no hacer mucho ruido. Desde mi punto de vista, muchas veces me siento como si tuviera un público que está viendo mi rendimiento, en lugar de una congregación que está participando activamente en ella.
          No suelo sentirme así cuando estoy celebrando una misa con los latinos. Con todo ustedes, hay todavía un sentido muy profundo que lo espiritual está inseparablemente entrelazados con lo físico. Para ustedes, no es suficiente para que cierren los ojos, doblar las manos y ora: "Señor, por favor guardar mi llegada y mi partida, mi frente y mi espalda", sino que también deben bendecir a sí mismos con agua bendita, tanto en el frente y en la espalda de su cuerpo. (Por cierto, me tomó meses para averiguar lo que todo estaba haciendo cuando vi por primera vez que lo hacen.) No, no es suficiente para todos ustedes que se reúnen para cantar canciones de María a las ocho de a la mañana, sino con el fin de mostrar su devoción a la Virgen, que se levanta mucho antes de la salida del sol. Aquí, en la Misa, todos ustedes son mucho más animados que los anglos. Le aplauden y su canto es mucho más entusiasta, en general. La música es más fuerte y las respuestas a las oraciones tienen un poco más de energía.
          Por supuesto, toda esta energía y el espíritu de devoción, al igual que Martin Luther observa en la Edad Media, puede llegar a ser extrema. Mientras estuve en Guatemala, observé, en particular en los lugares de peregrinación, la gente causando a sí mismos un gran dolor físico cuando entraron para hacer su ofrenda en el santuario de peregrinación (por ejemplo, caminar sobre sus rodillas de la puerta del patio del santuario, en el edificio, y hasta llegar al sitio del santuario). Estas son personas de gran fe, sin duda, pero recuerde que Jesús dijo que sólo necesitamos la fe del tamaño de un grano de mostaza, a fin de ser capaz de mover montañas, y así una sentida oración en el lugar del santuario probablemente sería suficiente. Sin embargo, no puedo dejar de apreciar cómo la cultura latina ha mantenido su sentido de que la física está inseparablemente ligada a lo espiritual.
          De muchas maneras, hoy celebramos esta conexión. Hoy celebramos el hecho de que Dios, que es totalmente otro, espíritu puro, como fuera y por encima de nuestros sentidos, se hizo hombre y habitó entre nosotros. Al hacerlo, también celebramos la razón por la que vino a nosotros: a sufrir y morir y resucitar para salvarnos de nuestros pecados, porque cada momento de la vida de Jesús aquí en la tierra fue una preparación para la pasión que ganó por nosotros nuestra salvación.
          Sin embargo, al celebrar hoy su venida entre nosotros, hacemos hincapié en una importante verdad: que al tomar un cuerpo humano, con todas sus limitaciones físicas, Dios quería que nosotros sabemos que nosotros le podemos experimentar a él a través de nuestros sentidos. De hecho, lo que Dios nos ha revelado a través de la encarnación de su Hijo, y por medio de su pasión, muerte y resurrección, es que es precisamente a través de nuestros cuerpos humanos que él desea para salvarnos.
          En los primeros siglos de la Iglesia, un obispo llamado Atanasio propuso esta verdad simple, pero profunda: que Dios se hizo hombre para que el hombre puede convertirse en Dios. Antes de que Jesús, que era posible hacer un argumento de que el cuerpo no era necesario para encontrar la salvación. Esto es porque Dios no había revelado plenamente su plan para la redención de la humanidad. Por lo tanto, todavía era posible creer que Dios simplemente redimiría a su pueblo por el poder de su Palabra Omnipotente. Después de la venida de Jesús, sin embargo, ya no es posible hacer este tipo de argumento. Más bien, ahora que Jesús ha ganado la salvación para nosotros, precisamente a través de su obediencia humana en la carne, la voluntad de Dios que la humanidad se salve por nuestros cuerpos humanos es clara. Y esto es una buena noticia! Una buena noticia de que estamos obligados a compartir.
          Ya saben ustedes, hay algunas personas que viven alrededor de nosotros que no han escuchado esta buena noticia: que el Dios Todopoderoso ha tomado carne humana y venida a salvarnos. Ver nada más, ninguno de ellos está aquí con nosotros hoy. Entonces, seamos los que traen el mensaje de la gran alegría para ellos, por lo que nuestros pies sean "hermosos sobre los montes", para que "todos los confines de la tierra verán a la salvación de nuestro Dios", la salvación que ha sido nacido para nosotros hoy en día.
Dado en la parroquia Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN – 25º de diciembre, 2013

La Solemnidad de la Navidad del Señor

A light in the darkness

          Is it Christmas yet?  YES!!!!  We celebrated with great joy yesterday, but Christmas continues for a whole octave (8 days) so don't abandon the celebrations yet!  Continue to proclaim the joy that God has come to us in Jesus Christ.


Homily: Christmas (Mass at Midnight) – Cycle A
          Our pastor, Fr. Mike, and I are pretty practical people.  We try to live simple lives that respect the fact that we are here as part of your parish, knowing that one day we will both move on from here and that other priests will take our places.  Because of this we are both pretty frugal, especially when it comes to expenses that we know cost the parish money.  As a result, among other things, we eat a lot of leftovers from funeral dinners and other parish events and we don’t often turn lights on when were just walking through the house.
          Like most of us, I’m sure, we kind of know where everything is in the house and so to walk around the house without any lights on is not really all that dangerous.  Besides, it really isn’t all that dark anyway.  Lights from street lamps or the neighbor’s house make their way into our windows and create enough of an outline of objects to act as reminders of where things are at so as to make it safe to move around in the dark, and so we do.
          Some years back, I took a tour of Marengo Caves in southern Indiana.  If you’ve ever been on a tour of this cave complex or others like it in the Ohio Valley (such as Mammoth Cave in Kentucky), you’ll know how neat it is to walk around and see this “world under our world” that most of us don’t even know exists under our feet.  One of the more interesting aspects of the tour that I went on, however, was when they took us into the “total darkness” chamber.
          The caves on the tour are lit by electric light the whole way, but in this chamber they offer an experience of “total darkness” by briefly turning off all of the lights.  At first I was kind of skeptical because I was like “I’ve been in darkness before, this can’t be that different” and because the tour guide was a little over dramatic about selling the experience (“You’ve never experienced darkness like this before!”), but when the lights went out I was actually surprised by how I felt.
          To be in the absolute absence of light, I found, was somewhat disorienting.  In fact, I remember feeling like I almost lost my balance for a second when the lights went out and I tried to look around to see if I could see anything.  A bit of anxiety actually began to arise in my gut because I was feeling a bit helpless and vulnerable; not knowing where I was or how I could escape if the lights failed to come back on.  The darkness, I would say, was in control of me at that moment and so I felt surprisingly relieved when the lights were turned back on.
          While many of us here may never have had an experience of physical darkness like I experienced in the cave that day, many of us have probably experienced emotional or spiritual darkness that felt something like what I described.  Perhaps it was the sudden loss of a loved one due to accident or an unexpected illness.  Or maybe it was the betrayal or rejection of a close friend or a spouse.  Whatever it might have been, the often unexpected emotional and spiritual trauma that comes with these experiences can plunge our hearts into a disorienting darkness in which we feel completely overcome by it: that is, vulnerable and helpless to escape or even move.
          The shepherds in our Gospel reading were used to darkness.  There was no electricity back then and so, unless the moon was somewhat full, they had to keep watch over the sheep in darkness.  Thus, they had to learn how to move within the darkness.  Imagine what a shock it must have been for them, then, when the angel of the Lord came upon them and the glory of the Lord broke through the darkness of midnight.  (Now when the Scriptures say “the glory of the Lord” they mean a brightness like you’ve never seen.  Imagine Clark Griswald’s house when he finally gets it lit up… brighter than that.)  And so you can imagine what fear must have struck them when such brightness suddenly broke forth into the darkness.  It was, ironically, a disorienting experience that they were unprepared for.
          You know, one of the things that I love about the Church is that she pretty much has us figured out.  She really does know what makes us tick.  (Really, Father?  Because it seems like she’s often behind the times.)  Believe it or not, the Church really is an expert on the human person.  She knows that it is through the senses that we first experience God and that through our senses we will deepen our experience of him.  And so for the last four weeks, as we’ve been anticipating the celebration of the coming of our Savior, what is it have we been doing?  (Yeah, I know, shopping for presents.)  No, I mean what is it that we have been doing in the Liturgy?  We’ve been lighting candles.  But what’s been happening in the world for the last four weeks?  The daylight has been getting increasingly shorter up until this week, when we experience the least daylight of any time in the year.
          Then we do something crazy and we show up for Mass in the middle of the night.  “Father, it’s always been the tradition in my family to come to midnight Mass.” Sure, I get that, and it’s a great tradition, but you wouldn’t do that any other time of the year, so why tonight?  Well, I think that there’s something deeper here.  You see, I think that the reason that the Church even has a Mass at midnight is because she knows that there is something deep inside of us that has to believe that light can break through even the deepest darkness.  And so she set up this Mass, during the darkest days of the year and in the darkest hour of the night, so that we could speak these words from the deepest darkest part of our souls and find hope: “We, a people who have walked in darkness, have seen a great light! … For a child has been born to us, a son given to us!”
          And so, unlike those shepherds who were caught off-guard by the in-breaking of the glory of the Lord, we walk directly into the darkest darkness in order to celebrate the coming of the light that conquered all darkness: Jesus Christ, our Lord.  For his birth signaled the end to the darkness caused by sin and, thus, to all of the darkness that results as an effect of sin: our broken world in which death and loss, betrayal and failure, seem, at times, to overcome us still.
          My brothers and sisters, for those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he came to save us from our sin, no experience of darkness can ever be absolute; for even in our darkest darkness, Jesus, the glory of God, stands ready to break through our darkness with his light: the light of a multitude of angels; the light of a little child lying in a manger.  Thus, no matter where you find yourself tonight, the message is clear: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  For today in the city of David a savior [that is, a light] has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”  May the light of Christ that broke through this world’s darkness nearly two-thousand years ago, and that still comes to us here, in this Eucharist, fill your hearts with light and with peace.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 25th, 2013

The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What DO you want for Christmas?

          King Ahaz was too afraid of what God would ask of him, so he chickened out when given the chance to ask for anything in the world.  This Christmas are we too afraid to ask for a miracle sign from God?

(Watch the referred to video here.)


Homily: 4th Sunday of Advent – Cycle A
          A few weeks back, I watched a video that had been generating a lot of buzz on social media websites.  It was a holiday video produced by WestJet Airlines that documented an incredible event that the company organized and executed.  In two separate airports in Canada, the company set up a large box with a TV screen on one of its sides.  It also had a place where you could scan the boarding pass for your flight.  When someone did, Santa Claus appeared live on the TV screen and interacted with them.  Behind the scenes, airline workers pulled up information on the person standing there so Santa could seem like he knew who was there.  Then he did what Santa always does and he asked the person or family (especially the kids) what they wanted for Christmas.
          A hidden camera recorded the reactions of the people who interacted with Santa.  Most were surprised when Santa knew their names and, when asked what they wanted for Christmas, most of them asked for something that they thought they would never get.  Well, little did they know that the WestJet team was recording their answers and what they did next was simply amazing.  While these passengers were on their flights (each to the opposite airport), a team of the airline’s employees went out and purchased all of the things that the passengers asked for, wrapped them up and prepared to deliver them when those passengers arrived at their destination.  When the passengers disembarked and went to claim their luggage, they found that presents were delivered to them instead: all of the things that they had asked for from Santa.  It’s really a beautiful moment as you see people completely caught off-guard by the joy of receiving such an unexpected and seemingly miraculous gift.
          In our first reading today, Ahaz, the King of Judah, is being invited to ask for a sign from God through which God would assure him of his protection against a foreign army that is threatening to conquer Judah.  The prophet Isaiah has told Ahaz that the Lord has promised to preserve him as king as long as he surrenders to this invading force.  Ahaz, however, would rather make an alliance with the powerful Egyptian army to the south in the hopes of protecting his kingdom.  Knowing that God would produce whatever sign he asked for, thus forcing him to surrender to the invading army, Ahaz refuses to ask for one, claiming that he would rather not test the Lord.  In reality, he was afraid of what he would have to do if he placed all his trust in the Lord and so he refused to do it.  Instead of opening himself up to being surprised by a miracle from the Lord, Ahaz closed himself off to it.
          We can sometimes be the same way.  Three full weeks now into Advent and we’ve probably spent more time trying to remove any chance for a surprise from our holiday schedule than we have opened ourselves up to one.  Christmas wish lists, party invitation rosters, and carefully tabulated shopping protocols leave very little room to be surprised by joy.  For three weeks now the Liturgy has been inviting us to make space in our lives where God can surprise us with joy (and then to ask for it!), but we would rather stick to our own plans—our worldly securities—than to open ourselves to what God might ask of us if we place our trust in him.  Like Ahaz, we’d rather not “test the Lord.”
          In spite of Ahaz’s reluctance to trust in God and to ask for a sign, God decides to give one to him anyway.  And, in spite of how we have re-interpreted the sign to apply it to the virginal conception of Jesus by Mary, the sign that Isaiah called for was meant to be a sign for Ahaz in his time.  The miraculous birth from a virgin would be that sign and he would be named Emmanuel so as to be a reminder to Ahaz and the whole house of David that God was truly with them.
          This Christmas and every Christmas God is making the same offer to us.  Regardless of whether or not we are open to asking for it, the Liturgy draws us once again to a remembrance of the sign that God has offered us: a child, born of a virgin, who is God, and who has saved us from our sins.  This child truly is Emmanuel, the enduring presence of God with us, who is the constant reminder that God has not and will not abandon us to our enemies.
          King Ahaz, because he refused to place his trust in God and open himself to be surprised by God’s generosity, died before he could ever see God’s promised sign become a reality.  He aligned himself with the Egyptian forces and was overrun by the Assyrian army anyway.  Our fate will be much the same unless we can open ourselves to be surprised by God’s generosity this Christmas.  If we keep allowing ourselves to get caught up in our own plans and our own priorities instead of looking for God’s sign among us, then we, too, may die before we ever experience the joy of being surprised by God—a joy like those airline passengers experienced on that special day—the joy of seeing life itself born right here in our midst.
          And so, my brothers and sisters, the question to us today is, “What do you want for Christmas?”  Go ahead.  “Let it be deep as the netherworld or high as the sky.”  You might just be surprised by what you get.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 22nd, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Is it Advent yet? Yes, but no.

          Gaudete!  Rejoice!  Hopefully you all have enjoyed the joy of this 3rd Sunday of Advent and hopefully your priest celebrated Mass with a rose-colored vestment today as a mark of celebrating the joy of the day.  Hopefully, too, you all are living Advent and have awakened in you a longing for the second coming of Jesus.  Our lives must be a striving for this!  If not, there's still time.  Make some space in your heart to feel that longing and your celebration of Christmas will be that much better!


Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent – Cycle A
          Is it Christmas yet?  No.  There, I’ve just given you every small detail of the website whose sole purpose seems to be to answer that question.  The website’s address is and when you go to the site all that you see is a big fat NO in your face.  I have a friend on Facebook who, apparently, is checking this every day as he posts the response that he discovers on his wall.  He’s a priest, so I would guess that he already knows the answer, but perhaps it makes him feel better that he gets the authoritative assurance from this website.
          I’m not sure what’s going to happen on Christmas, but my guess is that I’m going to be a sucker and check the website, from which a virus will probably invade my computer and put it into meltdown mode; not, of course, before it robs my identity.  You’ll know if this happened if you show up on the Sunday after Christmas and hear that I’ve been extradited to Uzbekistan on charges that I tried to rob the treasury of the Turkish embassy.  (But at least I’ll know what happened on that website!)
          You know that we’re a little bit crazy about Christmas when there are websites whose sole purpose is to remind us that it isn’t Christmas yet.  Yeah, I know.  Advent is just soooo long!  It’s four weeks, at most!  We have four Sundays in Advent and Christmas falls in that last week, so we only stomach a full four weeks of Advent when Christmas falls on Sunday.  Nevertheless, two weeks into it, most of us are asking that question over and over again; right kids?  How many of you have asked your parents or your teachers this week: “Is it Christmas yet?”  Of course some of us are so far behind in our preparations for Christmas that we’re not asking the question, but rather crying out in fear: “Oh please, tell me that it’s not Christmas yet!”  But I wonder if any of us have we ever stopped to ask the question, “Is it Advent yet?”
          The prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist, the apostle James—all of whom we heard from in today’s readings—none of them were concerned with Christmas.  Rather, each of them was much more concerned with Advent.  Last week, we heard John the Baptist crying out to the people, “Repent for the kingdom is at hand!”  In other words, he’s saying “Get ready, Advent is here!”  This week, we find John in prison.  Herod the tetrarch put him there because he didn’t like how John was talking about Herod’s illicit relationship with his brother’s ex-wife.  Now, prison is never a nice place to be, and so you can probably imagine just how horrible a prison cell in ancient Palestine would be.  Thus, I think we can all sympathize with John, that although he had been boldly proclaiming the “one greater than he” who was coming he now was struggling to believe that Jesus was the one who was to come.
          And so, John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask “Are you the one who is to come?”  Really, if we think about it, what he’s asking here is “Is it Advent yet?”  John was hearing about the incredible works that Jesus was performing, but he had some doubts.  Isaiah prophesied that when the Messiah came “captives would be set free”, yet here he finds himself stuck in prison and so he wants to hear Jesus’ words directly: “Are you the one who is to come?”  In other words, “Is it the Advent?”
          Jesus, knowing that John knows the prophecies of Isaiah well, doesn’t answer his question directly.  Rather, what does he say?  “Tell him to go to, there he’ll see the answer.”  No, Jesus tells the disciples of John what?  “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, etc…”  Perhaps John would have taken Jesus’ word for it, but Jesus knew that the witness of what was happening—that is, the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah—would be much more convincing to John.  And in doing so, he not only proclaims the fulfillment of the prophecies, but he also fulfills one himself: for Isaiah said “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak; say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!”  In other words, in sending this message, Jesus seems to say, “Take heart, John, it is the Advent.”
          Saint James, the apostle, is on the other side of these events.  He has seen firsthand the Advent of Christ.  Now, he is writing to a group of believers exhorting them to be patient as they await the return of Jesus.  “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming [that is, the Advent] of the Lord.”  These believers, it seems, were anxious about Jesus’ return and so, perhaps, were asking: “Is it Advent yet?”  James’ answer was, well, “yes, but no.”  “Make your hearts firm,” James says, “because the coming of the Lord is at hand…” but be patient, because it isn’t quite here yet.
          Nearly two-thousand years later, we find that the same answer applies to us.  Yes, the Lord has come, and for this we rejoice.  And yes, the Lord’s coming again is at hand, and so be patient and wait expectantly for it.  If we’ve been doing Advent (that is, the season) well, then we get this and we can hold at bay celebrating Christmas before it is time.  If we haven’t, then we are reminded that there is still time to do it well.  The rose of the third Sunday of Advent is our reminder that the celebration of our remembrance of the birth of Jesus is rapidly approaching, but yet that there is still time.  Time to pray, time to seek silence, time to open a space in your heart in which you can feel a longing for Jesus’ return; because when you do, you’ll know why the Church calls this Sunday gaudete, and you’ll rejoice that the coming of the Lord is at hand.
          Is it Christmas yet?  No.  Is it Advent yet?  Yes, definitely yes.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 15th, 2013

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Patroness of the Americas

          What a great experience it was for me to preside and preach at my first Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe!  Here is my homily (in both Spanish and English) for the feast.  Viva la Virgen!!!


Homilía: Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe - Bilingüe
          Hoy celebramos la aparición de María entre nosotros en las Américas. Ella es nuestra "madre cósmica", el elegido para ser parte de esta increíble batalla cósmica entre el bien y el mal que hemos oído describir a nosotros en la lectura del libro de Apocalipsis. Celebramos que a pesar de ser parte de esta épica batalla universal, más allá del tiempo y el espacio, ella vino a nosotros con el fin de recordarnos que siempre está cerca de sus hijos y que ella vino a evangelizar a nuestro continente.
          María es la principal misionera de la Iglesia. Como sabemos por el Evangelio de Lucas, María, casi inmediatamente después de haber concebido el niño Jesús en su seno, se apresuró a visitar a su prima Isabel para compartir sus buenas noticias. Isabel ya llena de alegría que ella debería encontrarse embarazada en su vejez, estalla de alegría por el encuentro con María, que trae con ella un encuentro con Jesús. "¿Quién soy yo, para que la madre de mi Señor venga a verme?" Isabel exclama, reconociendo la presencia de Aquel tan esperado. María, por su parte, se da vuelta y proclama las alabanzas del Señor cuando dice: "Mi alma glorifica al Señor y mi espíritu se llena de júbilo en Dios, mi salvador." Y por lo que vemos en ella las marcas de un misionero: 1) un misionero se apresura, 2) un misionero trae un encuentro con el Señor, y 3) un misionero se vuelve toda alabanza y gloria a Dios.
          María, por supuesto, vino a nosotros, también. En un momento de gran tristeza y tinieblas, María se apresuró a la colina de Tepeyac para traer un encuentro con Jesús a nuestra tierra. Juan Diego reacciona de la misma manera como Isabel, diciendo, en efecto, "¿Quién soy yo para que la madre de mi Señor venga a mí?" pero María, con gran ternura, anuncia la buena noticia de que Dios sea glorificado en la colina en la que ella apareció, marcando el comienzo de un encuentro con el Señor por los pueblos de las Américas. Así vemos que, a pesar del hecho de que ahora ella vive más allá de todo espacio y tiempo, María permanece cerca de sus hijos mientras se lleva a cabo su misión de llevar a todos sus hijos a un encuentro con su Hijo y para envolver a todos en la protección de su manto.
          Ayer, el Papa Francisco envió un mensaje a los pueblos de las Américas en anticipación de la celebración de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. En lo que él llamó la aparición de María “un signo profético de un abrazo."  El dice: “La aparición de la imagen de la Virgen en la tilma de Juan Diego fue un signo profético de un abrazo, el abrazo de María a todos los habitantes de las vastas tierras americanas, a los que ya estaban allí y a los que llegarían después. Este abrazo de María señaló el camino que siempre ha caracterizado a América: ser una tierra donde pueden convivir pueblos diferentes, una tierra capaz de respetar la vida humana en todas sus fases, desde el seno materno hasta la vejez, capaz de acoger a los emigrantes, así como a los pueblos y a los pobres y marginados de todas las épocas. América es una tierra generosa.” Termina su mensaje por pidiendo todos nosotros ser como María; para abrir amplia nuestros brazos para abrazar unos a otros con amor y ternura.
          Por lo tanto, si vamos a ser hijos e hijas verdaderos de la Virgen, nosotros, también, debemos ser misioneros, dispuesto a abrazar a los demás. En primer lugar, debemos abrazar unos a otros como hermanos y hermanas de una misma madre. Entonces, tenemos que buscar a nuestros hermanos y hermanas perdidos, y los que nunca se han encontrado con el Señor, y abrazarlos, también. Debemos traerlos este mensaje de gran alegría: que Cristo nuestro Salvador ha llegado y que nuestra madre es su madre, también.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, la misión de la Virgen aún no se ha completado. Depende de cada uno de nosotros para llevar adelante su misión, de modo que, por medio de María, todas las personas de las Américas lleguen a conocer la alegría de encontrarse con su Salvador, y el Reino de Dios—el Reino de la armonía y la paz—se reinará sobre nuestra tierra. Viva la Virgen!

          Today we celebrate the appearance of Mary here among us in the Americas.  She is our “cosmic mother”, the one chosen to be a part of this incredible cosmic battle between Good and Evil that we heard described to us in the reading from the book of Revelation.  We celebrate that in spite of being a part of this epic, universal battle beyond all time and space, she came to us so as to remind us that she is always close to her children and that she came to evangelize our continent.
          Mary is the Church’s foremost missionary.  As we know from the Gospel of Luke, Mary, almost immediately upon having conceived the child Jesus in her womb, rushed to visit her cousin Elizabeth in order to share her good news.  Elizabeth, already filled with joy that she should be found pregnant in her old age, bursts forth with joy at the encounter with Mary, who brings with her an encounter with Jesus.  “How can this be that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth exclaims, acknowledging the presence of the Long-Awaited One.  Mary, for her part, turns and proclaims the Lord’s praises when she says, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”  And so we see in her the marks of a missionary: 1) a missionary makes haste, 2) a missionary brings an encounter with the Lord, and 3) a missionary turns all praise and glory back to God.
          Mary, of course, came to us, too.  In a time of great sorrow and darkness, Mary made haste to the hill of Tepeyac to bring an encounter with Jesus to our land.  Juan Diego reacts in much the same way as Elizabeth did saying, in effect, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  But Mary, with great tenderness, announces the good news that God will be glorified on the very hill on which she appeared, ushering in an encounter with the Lord for the people of the Americas.  Thus we see that, in spite of the fact that now she lives beyond all space and time, Mary still remains close to her children as she carries out her mission to bring all of her children to an encounter with her Son and to enfold them all in the protection of her mantle.
          Yesterday, Pope Francis sent a message to the people of the Americas in anticipation of our celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  In it he called Mary’s appearance a “prophecy of an embrace.”  He writes: “When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America – the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come. Mary’s embrace showed what America – North and South – is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity.”  He closes his statement by asking us all to be like Mary, to open wide our arms to embrace one another with love and tenderness.
          Therefore, if we are to be true sons and daughters of the Virgin, we, too, must be missionaries, ready to embrace others.  First and foremost, we must embrace one another as brothers and sisters of one Mother. Then, we must seek out our lost brothers and sisters, and those who have never encountered our Lord, and embrace them, too.  We must bring them this message of great joy: that Christ our Savior has come and that our Mother is their Mother, too.
          My brothers and sisters, the Virgin’s mission is not yet complete.  It is up to each one of us to carry her mission forward; so that, through Mary, all people of the Americas will come to know the joy of encountering their Savior; and the Kingdom of God—the Kingdom of harmony and peace—will reign over our land.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 12th, 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Vivir Adviento

Homilía: 2ª Domingo de Adviento – Ciclo A
          Volviendo a tiempos inmemoriales (es decir, a mis primeros recuerdos de la infancia), me acuerdo muy poco de la temporada de Adviento. Dependiendo de qué tan tarde cayó el día de Acción de Gracias en noviembre, las decoraciones en el hogar de mi cambiarían desde el motivo de la cosecha de otoño en las luces brillantes, imágenes y sonidos de la Navidad en una o dos semanas; lo cual era genial, ya que durante muchos años, mi mamá, ya era de propiedad o trabajó en una tienda de Hallmark y eso significaba que a menudo disfrutamos de las últimas adornos iluminados y animados para el árbol de Navidad que la tienda tenía en su colección. Uno era con Papá Noel que va adelante y atrás de un lado a otro de una habitación con el fin de encender y reencender la luces de un árbol de Navidad.  Siempre me acuerdo de los ruidos que hacían: wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr ... y el popper de las palomitas de Navidad que siempre parecía estallar en ritmo con Papá Noel: wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr ... pop, pop, pop ... wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr ... pop, pop, pop.
          Si, tuvimos una corona de Adviento, aunque nunca me acuerdo de nosotros hacer mucho con ella. Recuerdo encender velas una vez o dos veces, pero por lo demás, sólo sentaba en la mesita, mirando torpe entre todos los adornos navideños. A medida que crecía, la magia de todo comenzó a desvanecerse como la decoración y los preparativos (incluso la entrega de regalos) comenzó a sentirse más como una obligación de una invitación a entrar más profundamente en una celebración. No fue hasta que estuve en mis veintitantos años que llegué a comprender que el Adviento tenía más que enseñarme sobre el significado de la Navidad de la "Navidad" que había celebrado durante todos esos años.
          San Pablo, por supuesto, nunca celebró la Navidad (al menos, no de cualquier manera que podamos reconocer). Pero creo que él celebró Adviento. Ustedes vean, San Pablo (y casi todo el mundo en la iglesia primitiva) estaba convencido de que Jesús iba a volver pronto. Después de su encuentro con Jesús resucitado en el camino de Damasco, estaba convencido de que el tiempo de cumplimiento—el tiempo que Isaías y los otros profetas hablaron acerca—ya estaba aquí y por lo que fue fuera urgentemente para llevar la Buena Nueva a todos los que podía alcanzar y que escucharía. Y cuando escribió cartas a estas comunidades que crecieron fuera de su evangelización, a menudo recordaba a la gente que el tiempo de cumplimiento estaba a la mano y él les dio instrucciones de cómo vivir en este "estado liminal": es decir, este estado en el medio de la primera venida de Cristo y la segunda.
          Esto es lo que él está hablando hoy. A la iglesia de Roma que está diciendo "mira hacia atrás con las Escrituras, porque nos dice acerca de Cristo, y encontrar allí el estímulo porque el tiempo de gran paz y armonía que Isaías habló de está a la mano, sólo tenemos que soportar en proclamarlo a realizarlo. De hecho," parece decir, "su comunidad debe ser un lugar de encuentro con este cumplimiento.” Por lo tanto, él ora para que Dios les dé la gracia de "pensar en armonía unos con otros" para que "de común acuerdo [ellos] pueden con una sola voz glorifiquen al Dios y Padre de nuestro Señor Jesucristo." En otras palabras, si son realmente de ser un pueblo de este cumplimiento, entonces deben vivir como si están en el tiempo del cumplimiento por vivir en armonía unos con otros y dar la bienvenida a los otros. Entonces van a ser la "señal para las naciones" que "los gentiles buscar" que Isaías habló de la profecía de este tiempo de cumplimiento, y la salvación de Dios se extenderá a todas las personas.
          Este fue el enfoque singular de San Pablo: preparar el camino para la segunda venida de Jesús por la evangelización de todos los pueblos. En otras palabras, el Adviento era su enfoque singular. Para nosotros, casi dos mil años más tarde, el Adviento es relegado a cuatro semanas del año y la mayoría de los que se oscurecen con nuestro enfoque en la Navidad. Pero el Adviento, al igual que lo fue para san Pablo, debe ser nuestro enfoque durante todo el año, porque tenemos que estar siempre mirando hacia su segunda venida. Ya saben ustedes, sólo celebramos los cumpleaños de las personas que siguen viviendo, ¿no? Esto se debe, en parte, por que creemos que, siempre y cuando ellos están viviendo, tienen la esperanza de alegrías aún por venir, y queremos desearles éstos para ellos. Y así, en el Adviento, mientras nos preparamos para celebrar el cumpleaños de Jesús, recordamos que él todavía está vivo y anticipamos la alegría que vendrá cuando regrese.
          "Vivir el Adviento", por lo tanto, significa vivir en este tiempo de cumplimiento. Significa vivir en armonía con los demás, como San Pablo instruyó a los romanos, que a menudo significa que primero debemos arrepentirnos, como San Juan Bautista nos llama a hacer hoy, y de reconciliarse tanto con los otros y con Dios. San Pablo deja claro que si vamos a ser un pueblo del cumplimiento, entonces tenemos que vivir como si por vivir en paz y armonía unos con otros.
          Vivir el Adviento significa también que debemos compartir la ciencia de Dios con los demás. En la imagen de la paz final de los últimos días de Isaías, él dice que "no hará daño ni estrago sobre todo el monte santo de Dios a causa del hecho de que la tierra será llena de la ciencia del Señor." Esto, sospecho, es lo que dio San Pablo tal urgencia en la difusión de la Buena Nueva de Jesús, a fin de dar paso a este tiempo de paz. Por lo tanto, como san Pablo, debemos proclamar a Jesús en todo lo que hacemos, sobre todo en nuestros actos de misericordia, porque cuando hacemos Adviento nuestro enfoque, nuestra celebración de la Navidad (adornos extravagantes y todo), junto con todo lo demás, servirá para hacer este cumplimiento profetizado por venir.
          Que el encuentro con el Señor que experimentamos aquí en esta Santa Eucaristía nos llene con la alegría del Evangelio y así nos obligan a salir de aquí y hacer que el cumplimiento sea una realidad.
Dado en la parroquia de Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN
8ª de dicembre, 2013

Living Advent

          I hope that you all are entering into the season of Advent and heightening your awareness of Christ's coming (his second coming, that is).  Be a witness to Christ's advent this season so that we all will celebrate Christmas' true joy: the Incarnation of Christ the Lord!


Homily: 2nd Sunday of Advent – Cycle A
          Going back to time immemorial (i.e. to my earliest memories from childhood), I find very little to remember of the season of Advent.  Depending on how late Thanksgiving fell in November, the decorations in the Petan household would switch from the fall harvest motif of Thanksgiving into the bright lights, sights and sounds of Christmas within one to two weeks, which was great, because for many years, my mom either owned or worked in a Hallmark store and that meant that we often enjoyed the latest light-up or animated-motion ornaments that the store had in its collection.  Santa going back and forth from one side of a room to another to light and relight a Christmas tree: wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr… and the Christmas popcorn popper that always seemed to pop in rhythm with Santa:  wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr… pop, pop, pop… wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr-wrrr… pop, pop, pop…
          Oh, we had an Advent wreath, though I never remember us doing much with it.  I remember lighting candles once or twice, but otherwise, it just sat on the end table, looking awkward among all of the Christmas decorations.  As I grew older, the magic of it all began to fade as the decorating and preparations (even the gift-giving) started to feel more like an obligation—a duty to be performed—than an invitation to enter more deeply into a celebration.  It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I came to understand that Advent had more to teach me about the meaning of Christmas than the “Christmas” I had celebrated for all those years.
          Saint Paul, of course, never celebrated Christmas (at least, not in any way that we might recognize).  But he did, I think, celebrate Advent.  You see, Saint Paul (and just about everyone in the Early Church, for that matter) was convinced that Jesus was going to return soon.  After his encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was convinced that the time of fulfillment—the time that Isaiah and the other prophets spoke about—was already here and so he urgently went off to bring this good news to everyone whom he could reach and who would listen.  And when he wrote letters to these communities that grew up out of his evangelization he often reminded the people that the time of fulfillment was at hand and he instructed them how to live in this “liminal state”: that is, this state in between Christ’s first and second coming.
          This is what he’s speaking about today.  To the Church in Rome he’s saying “look back to the Scriptures, because it tells us about Christ, and find there encouragement because the time of great peace and harmony that Isaiah spoke of is at hand, we only have to endure in proclaiming it to realize it.  In fact,” he seems to say, “your community ought to be a place of encounter with this fulfillment.”  Thus, he prays that God will give them the grace to “think in harmony with one another” so that “with one accord [they] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  In other words, if they are truly to be a people of this fulfillment, then they must live as if they are in the time of fulfillment by living in harmony with one another and welcoming one another.  Then they will be the “signal for the nations” that “the Gentiles shall seek out”, which Isaiah spoke of in the prophesy about this time of fulfillment, and God’s salvation will be extended to all people.
          This was Saint Paul’s singular focus: prepare the way for Jesus’ second coming by evangelizing all peoples.  In other words, Advent was his singular focus.  For us, nearly two-thousand years later, Advent is relegated to four weeks of the year and most of those are obscured by our focus on Christmas.  But Advent, like it was for Saint Paul, ought to be our focus throughout the year; because we ought to always be looking towards his second coming.  You know, we only celebrate the birthdays of people who are still living, right?  That’s because in part we believe that, as long as they are living, they have hope of joys yet to come and we want to wish that for them.  And so, in Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the birthday of Jesus, we remember that he is still living and we anticipate the joy that will come when he returns.
          “Living Advent”, therefore, means living in this time of fulfillment.  It means living in harmony with others, as Saint Paul instructed the Romans, which often means that we must first repent, as Saint John the Baptist calls us to do today, and to be reconciled both with one another and with God.  Saint Paul makes it clear that if we are to be a people of the fulfillment, then we must live like it by living in peace and harmony with one another.
          Living Advent also means that we must share the knowledge of God with others.  In Isaiah’s image of the final peace of the end days, he states that “no harm or ruin shall be on all of God’s holy mountain on account of the fact that the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.”  This, I suspect, is what gave Saint Paul such urgency in spreading the Good News of Jesus, so as to usher in this time of peace.  Therefore, like Saint Paul, we must proclaim Jesus in all that we do—most especially in our acts of mercy; for when we make Advent our focus, then our celebration of Christmas (quirky ornaments and all), along with everything else, will serve to make this prophesied fulfillment come.
          May the encounter with the Lord that we experience here in this Holy Eucharist fill us with the joy of the Gospel and so compel us to go forth from here and make that fulfillment a reality.

Given at All Saints Catholic Church: Logansport, IN – December 7th & 8th, 2013

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

          A little late in posting!!!  Please, don't skip Advent.  We are a Resurrection people (Easter), but we are also a people awaiting the final coming of our Lord (Advent).  Come, Lord Jesus!


Homily: 1st Sunday of Advent – Cycle A
          Does anybody here remember Thanksgiving?  “Oh, Father.  Thanksgiving is so, like, 15 minutes ago!”  Yeah, I know.  You know, I don’t have a TV over at the rectory so I hardly ever watch TV.  But my parents and my sister have TVs in just about every room in their houses and so when I’m home visiting, like I was these last few days, I can’t help but watch some of it.  And by the looks of what I saw on TV, Thanksgiving was over before it even began.  Everything leading up to and throughout the day was about getting you to think about Christmas.
          And the Christmas that they want you to think about isn’t the Christmas of Jesus, but rather the Christmas of immediate satisfaction, right?: every ad on TV, on the radio, and in the newspapers is desperate to convince you that 1) if you’ve waited until now, you’re already too late and 2) that if you get or give the latest thing that you and your loved ones will never be sad again.  (Which, by the way, is a total lie, because if it were true then you wouldn’t have a need to go back to the stores after Christmas, which would mean that they would all shut down… and that isn’t gonna happen.)  But then we show up here, for Mass, on this first Sunday of Advent and what do we see?  Not Christmas, but what?  Purple?  Yes, the color purple.  The color of penance, conversion, and preparation.  Yes, it seems like the Church is telling us a different message, a contrasting message.  Hopefully, this is a contrast that makes us stop and think.
          But you know, there wasn’t much difference in Jesus’ time.  The coming of the Messiah had been long-delayed, it seemed, and the people of Jesus’ time had become complacent with their daily lives.  Their religion became more of a culture—an expression of who they were as a people—instead of way to remain focused on the coming of the Messiah and their daily concerns were causing them to lose focus on the bigger picture: their ultimate salvation and redemption through the coming of God’s anointed one.
          And so Jesus, speaking to his disciples, gives a lesson to help wake them up.  He recalls the history of Noah and the flood in order to remind his disciples of how the vast majority of people were not ready for the coming of the flood, because instead of responding to Noah’s prophesy through building the arc, they continued “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.”  And when the flood came, it was too late and they were all carried away.  They were focused on the “right now”, Jesus seems to say, and so they were unprepared for what was to come.
          This is his lesson to his disciples (and so to us): stay awake and be ready for the coming of the Son of Man.  For his coming will be even more sudden than the coming of the flood; more sudden than a thief who comes in the middle of the night; so sudden and unexpected will it be that even those who are ready for it won’t know that it has come until it is upon them: like it would be if two men were working in the field and one would suddenly disappear or if two women were working at the mill and one would suddenly disappear.  And so, he tells them (and us), “stay awake!”
          Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, repeats this message.  He says to them, “Brothers and sisters: you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.  For our salvation in nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.”  In both Jesus’ and Saint Paul’s message there is urgency: a sense that there is no time to lose; that, in fact, we are perhaps already too late… Wait, doesn’t that sound a bit like a message we receive in nearly every commercial or advertisement?  And so you see just how countercultural the Gospel is in our modern day.  While the culture of the world is telling us “Go now! Shop! Spend! Indulge! because you’re going to be too late!”, the Gospel tells us “Turn away from all of those things, because the day of salvation—the day when all of those things will be left behind—is already at hand.”
          On November 30th, the Church celebrates the feast day of Saint Andrew, the apostle.  Although by one Gospel account, Andrew was the first to respond to Jesus’ call, we have almost no words of his recorded: either in the Gospels themselves or in letters that he may have written before his martyrdom.  The few words that we have recorded appear in the gospel of John, when, after encountering Jesus and engaging in dialogue with him, he was so convinced of who Jesus was that he rushed to his brother Peter and said to him, “We have found the Messiah.” (John 1:41)  Saint John Chrysostom, reflecting on Andrew’s reaction to his encounter with Jesus and on these few words of Andrew’s, states “Andrew’s words reveal a soul waiting with the utmost longing for the coming of the Messiah, looking forward to his appearing from heaven, rejoicing when he does appear, and hastening to announce so great an event to others.”
          Saint Andrew revealed himself as one who was awake and ready to encounter the Messiah.  I wonder about how many of us are awake and ready to encounter the Messiah, the Son of Man, when he comes again?  Yet, that is exactly the question that is being posed to us today: “Are you ready to encounter Jesus should he come today?”  Or, better yet, “Are you daily ready to encounter Jesus, when he comes?”  If the answer is “no” or even “I’m not sure”, then the season of Advent is for you.
          My brothers and sisters, the encounter with the Risen Lord, announced to us in the Gospels, calls us to a different mode of living: that of the “already, but not yet.”  The day of our salvation has come, for Jesus, the Word of God, has become flesh, has suffered and died for our sins, and has arisen, conquering death forever.  Yet the day of our salvation is still coming when Jesus, who sits now at God’s right hand, will come again to judge the world and gather all of God’s faithful ones into his kingdom.  Advent, therefore, is the season that reminds us to live in this tension of “already, but not yet.”
          And so, instead of diving into the deep end of the Christmas flood that is already upon us, believers enter into it prayerfully and slowly: focusing not just on what I can get and what others want from me, but rather on giving and getting that strengthens the bonds of relationships between us and keeps us focused and moving forward towards our true happiness: the eternal day in which we shall all walk in the light of the Lord; the foretaste of which we enjoy here in the Eucharist.  My brothers and sisters, this Advent calls us to focus once again on the coming of our Lord even as we prepare to celebrate our remembrance of his first coming; for it is in the light of this first coming that we can walk in the hope of his second coming.  Therefore, my brothers and sisters, “come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 1st, 2013

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Saying "yes" to our King

          Happy end of the Year of Faith!!!  I pray that it has been a fruitful year for you in which you came to a deeper knowledge of the faith and, thus, a more profound encounter with Jesus Christ, our Lord.  If it hasn't been all you had hoped it would be, don't worry!  This has been just the beginning.  In the months and years to come we'll be celebrating the anniversaries of the promulgation (or release) of various documents from the Second Vatican Council, which will give you a chance to read them as a means of deepening your faith.  Besides, our Good God is never far from us and so he is always ready to meet us and lead us into a deeper encounter with him in faith.  With Christ as our King, what have we to worry about?!?!

P.S. Next Sunday is "Liturgical New Year's Day" (the First Sunday of Advent).  Are you planning any celebrations for the New Year?


Homily: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – Cycle C
          Michigan mega-church pastor Rob Bell has produced a series of videos that take a simple, straight-forward approach to demonstrating how the Gospel applies to everyday life.  In one of the videos that I’ve seen, Mr. Bell speaks about the importance of saying “yes” to something.  In doing so, he emphasizes, we can then come to know what it is that we need to say “no” to in our lives.  He uses Jesus as an example to illustrate his point, stating that because Jesus said “yes” to do the Father’s will, announcing the Good News and redeeming God’s people, he could say “no” to many other things (like when Jesus turned away when he knew the crowd was going to carry him away to make him their ruler).
          This is a video (a short film, really) and so of course there is a visual component to his speaking.  In the film, the whole time that he is talking he’s walking, seemingly from one side of a city to another.  At first his surroundings just seem like normal busy streets, but if you’re paying attention you begin to notice that the surroundings are part of the point.  The visual noises are distractions that surround him as he walks.  At a couple of points, a person actually walks in between Mr. Bell and the camera as he’s walking, but he never loses his stride until he arrives at his destination (which happens to be a school where he meets a young girl that we are to assume is his daughter).  The well-made point of both his words and the visual presentation is to emphasize how knowing what it is that we have said “yes” to keeps us focused (i.e. able to say “no”) in the midst of the world’s distractions.
          In the Gospel today, we jump right into the middle of Luke’s account of the crucifixion.  In it Jesus is being taunted by bystanders while he is in the midst of his greatest suffering.  The Jewish authorities, the Roman soldiers, and even one of the criminals crucified with him all pressure him to prove he’s the Messiah—the divinely appointed King of the Jews—by using divine power to save himself from the crucifixion.  I can only imagine what Jesus felt.  He knew that he was the king, but reviling him these men were calling him a phony, a poseur, because the real king would save himself from this disgrace.
          Jesus also knew that he had the power to save himself.  Recall what happened when, in the synagogue at Nazareth, the townspeople tried to throw Jesus over the brow of the hill on which the town was built for what he had said, but that Jesus “passed through the midst of them” and escaped.  But Jesus didn’t do that this time, did he?  And why?  Well, because he knew that he had already said “yes” to do the Father’s will, which was to be sacrificed for the redemption of all mankind.  And because of this, he could say “no” to the distractions surrounding him: the temptations to use his divine power to save himself from this incredible suffering.
          Yet, there was one voice that refused to revile Jesus: the voice of the other criminal crucified with him. He, it seems could see something… let’s say… incongruent about Jesus’ crucifixion.  This criminal could see that Jesus was innocent of any capital crime and hadn’t really been any threat to the power of the Roman occupiers, and so perhaps he thought Jesus really was who he said he was: a king who has yet to come into his kingdom.  And so, in his own suffering and nearness to death, this criminal makes an incredible act of faith in Jesus—he decides to say “yes” to Jesus by acknowledging him as King—and for that “yes” he received his eternal reward.
          And so the question, of course, comes back to us.  Have we said “yes” to Jesus?  In many ways, this is what the Year of Faith, which ends today, has been all about.  It’s been about re-discovering and renewing our faith—our yes—in Jesus.  And whether or not we spent this year well, today we are called to acknowledge the kingship of Jesus—that he truly does rule over us—and to renew (or, perhaps, to speak for the first time) our “yes” to follow Jesus, so that a new flourishing of faith can blossom as we begin a new liturgical year.
          You know, as Catholics, we don’t do the whole “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior” thing, but the idea of it is what we are constantly being called to.  In baptism, we receive the grace of salvation: the grace won for us by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Yet, at some point in our lives, we all have to say “yes” to Jesus and to acknowledge him as Lord and ruler of our lives.  In other words, we have to let Jesus be our king.
          But this is dangerous, is it not?  I mean, if we say “yes” to Jesus, then we’ll have to say “no” to so many other things, won’t we?  So how, then, can we say “yes” to him?  I mean, where can we find the courage to allow him to be Lord and ruler of our lives?  This courage, my brothers and sisters, comes only through an encounter with him.  And where do we encounter him?  In prayer (especially before the Blessed Sacrament here in the Church) and in communal worship (especially here in the Eucharist), in the Scriptures (especially when we meditate on them and allow them to speak to us and to our lives), and in our suffering (i.e. when we are able, in our suffering, to turn, like the “good thief” in today’s Gospel, and see Jesus, crucified there with us).
          My brothers and sisters, when we encounter Jesus we can see the hopelessness of our striving in contrast with the hope contained in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and in this light we can find the courage to say “yes” to him (and, thus, “no” to so much else).  In this Eucharistic encounter with Jesus, let us not fear to say “yes” to him and acknowledge him as our King; and let us not fear all that we’ll have to say “no” to because of this: because paradise—that is, eternal happiness—awaits us.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 23rd & 24th, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Jesus announces our insurance policy

          As I was preparing this homily (especially given the weather today), I kept thinking about the episode of the Simpsons when the hurricane comes through Springfield and destroys only the Flanders' home.  Ned (the super-conservative Christian) had nothing to rebuild it with.  His wife explains, "No, we didn't have insurance.  Ned thought it was a form of gambling."

          Jesus, of course, is our ultimate insurance policy.  And so we can give without fearing loss.  Hopefully we can learn to trust him more and more!


Homily Two: 33rd Sunday, Ordinary Time, Cycle C
          Just days before his installation, the newly appointed bishop was taking a quiet moment to observe and enjoy the beauty of what would soon be his cathedral church.  It had been renovated recently and so it seemed that every corner was gleaming with light and beauty.  As he walked slowly through the nave, a man, somewhat short in stature and advanced in age, well appointed except for his thin white hair, which was whisped somewhat messily over to one side, stood near the bishop and said, “You know, the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”  Hearing this, the bishop paused for a moment and glanced over his shoulder to see who had made the comment.  The man, smiling with a foolish grin, was standing some space behind him but didn’t say a word when they made eye contact.  The bishop assumed that the man was talking to himself, and so he smiled, nodded his head and then returned to his slow saunter through the church.
          A few moments later, the man spoke up again and said, “You know, the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”  Again the bishop paused and glanced over his shoulder at the man with the foolish grin standing some space behind him.  The bishop, quite familiar with the Scripture this man was quoting, was struck by what seemed to be a rather irrational thought: “might this man be some sort of prophet sent to give me a message?”  The thought made him quite uneasy.  Although he knew better than to ask “when will this happen?” and “what sign will there be?” he still felt compelled to find out more about this stranger’s purpose.  And so he turned around, approached the man, and asked him gently, “Do I know you?”  “I don’t think so,” replied the man.  “Do you know who I am?” the bishop asked.  “Of course,” the man said, “you’re our new bishop.”  Then, somewhat embarrassedly the bishop leaned in towards the man and asked quietly, “Are you some sort of prophet?”  Amused, the man replied “Oh, no.  I’m no prophet.  But I do have something important that I’d like to talk to you about…”  Well, as it turns out, the man was an insurance salesman who wanted to pitch the new bishop on a policy for the cathedral.  I think we can all agree that he had a great hook!
          The bishop may have breathed a sigh of relief at the man’s response that day, but Jesus’ followers in the Gospel didn’t get off quite so easy.  “Wars and insurrections, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom; earthquakes, famines, and plagues… all of these will happen first!” Jesus says.  “But you won’t have to worry about all of that, because before that happens you will be seized and persecuted, handed over to synagogues and prisons, and led before kings and governors to give testimony.  Even your parents, brothers, relatives and friends will turn you in.  And some of you (probably the lucky ones) will even be put to death.  Oh, and I almost forgot, just to make it a little more complicated, there will be a lot of folks who are going to try to convince you that they are from me in order to lead you into apostasy.  And, I hate to tell you, but there’s really no easy way to tell who’s legit and who’s not, so good luck with that…”  Having heard all of that, I don’t think that any of us would blame these folks for thinking that the prospect of being Jesus’ follower was pretty scary.
          Certainly, we can see many of these prophecies being fulfilled even in our own day.  There is no shortage of “doomsday” prophets in our midst.  Every few years, it seems, a new crop of prophets arise, claiming to have unlocked the secret to identifying when the days of destruction will come, and every few years many are convinced and are led away from the Church.  Without much effort, I’m sure that each of us could name a handful of places at least where “wars and insurrections” and “nations rising against nations” are occurring right now.  Tribal conflicts continue to arise in Africa and daily, it seems, the news tells us of religious sectarian violence that plagues the streets of towns and cities throughout the Middle East.  Speaking of the Middle East, persecution is a daily reality for Christians there, where their own countrymen, sometimes even their own relatives, attack them without respect even for their sacred spaces.  We saw this vividly a couple of months ago when violence erupted in Egypt once again and protesters took to attacking Christian churches, injuring worshipers and significantly damaging their ancient worship spaces.  I imagine that most of us would find it pretty easy to sympathize with those in the Gospel today and would ourselves conclude that the prospect of being Jesus’ follower is pretty scary.  Yet Jesus, in spite of his dark prophecy, helps us to see that the prospect of not being his follower is scarier still.
          The world’s justice, as we know, is merciless.  Subject to the world’s justice, we are left by ourselves and by ourselves, what power do we have against it?  God’s justice, however, is infinitely more powerful than the world’s justice, because it is mercy itself.  Subject to God’s justice, we find that we have an infinitely powerful advocate, Jesus Christ, who won for us redemption from all of our transgressions.
          With this strong assurance, we no longer have any need to fear the calamities of our world, because we know that “it will not immediately be the end.”  With Christ as our advocate, we no longer have any need to rely on our own power to overcome our adversaries, because Christ himself “will give us a wisdom in speaking” and our adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute it.  Subject to God’s justice, we no longer have any need to fear the hatred of others, even those closest to us, because we know that mortal death cannot destroy even one hair on our heads and that in persevering our lives will be secured.
          Liberated from our fears, we are then freed to live lives of abandonment.  When we subject ourselves to God’s justice, God’s justice, which is mercy, then permeates our entire lives.  And so, in big things and in small things, we can abandon our worldly selves to the mission God has entrusted to us: namely to live lives of holiness, to preach the Gospel in season and out of season, and the apostolate of charity.  Free and fearless should we be, because in abandoning ourselves to God’s justice we will, as Christ tells us, secure our lives.
          Now, does this mean that we can throw out our insurance policies altogether?  Of course not.  Our world is broken and accidents happen.  Insurance is a tool that equips us to deal with accidents better.  What it does mean, however, is that we do not need to fear the loss of the things of this world, and this leaves us free to focus on giving ourselves to the specific way that God has called each of us to fulfill his mission in the world.  Nourished by this Eucharist, may we go forward confidently to live the mission God has given to each of us in Christ, freely and without fear.

Given at All Saints Catholic Church: Logansport, IN – November 17th, 2013