Sunday, September 28, 2014

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, what's the road to heaven paved with?

          My brothers and sisters, the core of our faith as Catholic Christians - the Eucharist - ends with a sending: Ite missa est.  Literally this translates from Latin to Go, it is the sending.  If we think that our religious observance is all that makes our lives different, we're wrong.  We're called to be instruments of God's mercy.  And, as we saw last week, there's always a need for workers.  So let's go do something (sorry Home Depot for stealing your tag line) and bring in a harvest of mercy for God.


Homily: 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  I can’t remember the first time I heard that phrase, but I reckon I heard it in elementary school while I was standing before a nun and pleading my case for having failed to complete an item of my homework.  I imagine that I was probably trying to explain how I had known that I was supposed to do it, but that I had forgotten it because of some other work that distracted me from it (which might have been a TV show…).  And I imagine this nun (which was probably Sr. Maria Goretti) looking back at me with those steely eyes formed by a hard, yet grace-filled religious life, but which only thinly veiled her warm heart, hiding in the background, and I imagine she probably said these words to me, convinced as she surely was that the harsh truth was always better than relenting to protect a youngster’s fragile feelings.  And I imagine that I probably walked back to my seat thinking “It’s not fair.  I’m a good kid and I don’t cause trouble.  And besides, I meant to do it! So why wouldn’t Sister give me a break?”
          The harsh lesson proposed by this cliché phrase is at the heart of Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel reading.  In it two sons are given a command to go out into their father’s vineyard to work.  One flat-out refuses, while the other agrees.  Both, then, have a conversion.  The son who refused his father, regrets his refusal and turns to go out to the vineyard to work.  The son who agreed to go out and work, then ignores that commitment and remains at home.  “Which son did the father’s will?”, Jesus asks.  “The one who actually went out to the vineyard to work” the chief priests and the elders correctly respond.  It’s obvious to them, and probably to us, that when the father returns he’s looking for results, not good intentions; and so when he sees that the son who had refused him (and thus who had certainly upset him) actually went out to work, he was probably pleased (perhaps even more so, considering that he had been so upset with him) and when he found the son that had agreed to go out still sitting at home, I imagine that he was rather displeased (perhaps, even outright angry) because he had refused to do what he had promised his father he would do.  Thus, the point of Jesus’ parable is clear: good intentions that do not result in actions are meaningless, while even a complete lack of good intentions can be redeemed if the good work is taken up, nonetheless.
          To drive his point home, Jesus then turns to the chief priests and the elders and, with the same steely coldness only a battle-hardened religious sister could match, he tells them that tax-collectors and prostitutes—the most despised sinners of the day!—are entering the kingdom of God before them.  In other words, he’s saying to them, “God is more pleased with them, than he is with you.”  And why?  Well, because when the tax-collectors and prostitutes heard the preaching of John, calling for a turn from sin and towards righteousness, they responded; but the chief priests and the elders did not.  And even when they saw these heinous sinners turning away from their sin and taking up virtue (something, presumably, that the chief priests and the elders were unable to effect), these religious elite still refused to listen to John’s call.  Thus, Jesus implies, they have condemned themselves.
          “Whoa, Jesus, that’s kind of harsh.  #chillout  We pray, we fast, we follow the commandments, we keep the Sabbath and pay our tithes.  #whatsyourdamage?”  Jesus’ criticism is not that they weren’t religious enough, but that they had allowed their religiosity—“look at all the ways we’ve said ‘yes, sir’ to God”—to substitute for going out to work in the vineyard: to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien among them.  Tax-collectors and prostitutes, on the other hand, although they had refused God’s will in their sins, had turned from their sins and had taken up the work in God’s vineyard.  Thus they are the ones doing the will of God, Jesus seems to say, because they are doing more than just agreeing to the idea of it, they are also doing it.
          Now, were they doing it perfectly?  Probably not.  But they were doing it, instead of just talking about it.  And that was enough for them.  This is the message from Ezekiel that we heard in our first reading: “When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.  But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life.”  And so we see that there is a flipside to the cliché: for if the road to hell is paved with good intentions (that is, with good intentions that do not lead into actions), then the road to heaven is paved with good efforts (even if those efforts end in failure).  The tax-collectors and prostitutes that Jesus spoke of had lived so long in their vice that they probably only stumbled through their attempts to live virtuously.  Nonetheless, they were trying; and that had them on the path towards heaven.  The chief priests and the elders, however, had only their good intentions and so were sliding down the path away from heaven.
          My brothers and sisters, as Catholic Christians, do we believe that it is enough to say “I believe”?  No.  Rather we know that to say “I believe” makes demands on our lives that go beyond mere religious observance; that, in fact, our religious observance is just the first step towards mission—missio—the “sending forth” to enact the Father’s will to bring mercy to all people: comfort to the sick, food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, hope to the sinner, peace to the sorrowful.  Does God expect us to be perfect in fulfilling this mission?  No.  Does he expect us to strive for perfection?  Yes.  But does he expect that we will fulfill it perfectly?  No.  Rather, he calls us to labor in his vineyard and he expects us to go.  Woe to us if we stand here and say “yes, Lord, I will go” and then fail to do it.  Ours will be the path away from heaven.  If we give ourselves to labor in his vineyard, however—that is, to fulfill the mission to bring mercy to the world—then our path will be the narrow path that leads towards heaven: a path paved with the good efforts (the successes and the failures) of those who have gone before us.
          Perhaps Sr. Maria Goretti’s attitude would have been different had I put an effort into my homework instead of ignoring it altogether.  Perhaps having tried and failed would have given proof to my intention to complete it and, thus, won for me her mercy.  Perhaps…
          My brothers and sisters, Jesus, our Savior, came to bring us mercy, the same mercy we receive from this altar.  May God find in us gracious recipients of his mercy: sons and daughters eager to labor for his harvest.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – September 28th, 2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Misericordiosamente elegido

          Todos hemos sido misericordiosamente elegido por Dios para obrar en su viña. No despreciemos los que han venido a trabajar "al final del día"! Si usted no ha presentado a sí mismo en el mercado como alguien que es capaz de ser elegido, es decir, elegido por Dios para la gracia de la vida eterna, entonces vaya hoy! Incluso si está "al final del día", Dios no deje de encontrarte y elegirte para ir a su viña y recibir un "salario de un día completo"!


Homilía: 25ª Domingo en el Tiempo Ordinario – Ciclo A
          Papa Francisco, después de ser elegido Papa, eligió para su lema papal el mismo lema que había elegido cuando fue ordenado obispo: "Miserando atque eligendo", que significa "por tener misericordia y eligiendo". En la elección de este lema, lo que el Papa Francisco espera a reconocer era que él no vio a su elección como Papa (o como obispo, para el caso) como algo que se ganó a través de cualquier mérito de su parte; sino que se debía a que había sido "considerado misericordiosamente" por Dios, que él fue elegido de todos modos. Menciono esto aquí porque creo que esto, en cierto modo, es el tema oculto detrás de la lección de la lectura del Evangelio de hoy.
          En primer lugar, por supuesto, hay que destacar que Jesús, al darnos esta parábola, habla sobre el final de todos los tiempos, pues afirma: "El reino de los cielos es semejante a..." Por lo tanto, esto no es una lección de cómo ser un gerente de negocios generoso, más como Cristo; sino que es una lección sobre el significado de la vida y por qué estamos aquí. Con esto en mente, echemos un vistazo a la parábola.
          Jesús nos da la imagen de un propietario (que, en este caso, representa a Dios) que sale a contratar trabajadores para su viña (que, por supuesto, nos representan). Ahora, antes de correr más allá de este detalle, primero vamos a tomar nota de algo. Esos trabajadores salieron a la plaza con la esperanza de que alguien vendría y contratarlos para el día para que puedan ganar dinero presumiblemente para mantenerse a sí mismos y a sus familias. En otras palabras, reconocieron que eran, en cierto sentido, incapaces de adquirir lo que necesitan por su cuenta y así que estaban buscando un generoso propietario que le proporcione para ellos a cambio de algún compromiso de trabajo. Ellos, por lo tanto, fueron a la plaza con la esperanza de ser contratados. Y así, la primera lección que aprendemos de esta parábola es que debemos hacernos disponibles a la misericordia de Dios dando la espalda a nuestra autosuficiencia y buscando su generosa elección.
          Esto, de hecho, es el mensaje que hemos escuchado del profeta Isaías en la primera lectura: "Busquen al Señor mientras lo pueden encontrar," escuchamos Isaías proclama, "invóquenlo mientras esta cerca ... que [el malvado] regrese al Señor, y el tendrá piedad; a nuestro Dios, que es rico en perdón." Por lo tanto, es cierto que el Señor vendrá a nosotros para elegirnos para su viña, pero sólo si nos hemos alejado de la ilusión de la autosuficiencia y hemos salido a la plaza para dar a nosotros mismos a su generosidad. Entonces, después de haber sido misericordiosamente considerado y elegido por Dios, saldremos a trabajar en su viña.
          Luego, en la parábola, escuchamos que el propietario se remonta a la plaza cuatro veces más y encuentra otros trabajadores capaces que "estaban ociosos", indicando que no habían sido contratados para el trabajo. Esto, por supuesto, indica que Dios no cesa de buscar a aquellos que están perdidos o abandonados; pero también muestra cuán abundante la mano de obra en su viña es: "La cosecha es abundante, pero los trabajadores son pocos", Jesús dice en otro lugar. Aquí vemos que no hay límite para el número que Dios escoja para salir a su viña. Dios, por tanto, está en constante búsqueda de los que se vuelven a buscarlo. Por lo tanto, nosotros (es decir, aquellos que ya han sido misericordiosamente elegido por Dios) deben participar en la misión de Dios para elegir más trabajadores para su viña por llamar a las personas "que estaban ociosos en la plaza" para ir, como Isaías nos exhorta, y "busquen al Señor mientras lo pueden encontrar".
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, no puedo enfatizar suficientemente este punto. Tenemos que salir, como el propietario, y buscar aquellos que no tienen sentido, que están “ociosos en la plaza”, e invitarlos a entrar en la viña del Señor. La parábola de Jesús afirma que al caer de la tarde—la ultima hora del día de trabajo—el propietario se sale y se encuentra todavía más trabajadores en la plaza y les pregunta: "¿Por qué han estado aquí todo el día sin trabajar?" Y ellos le respondan, "Porque nadie nos ha contratado." Es una verdad de nuestro tiempo, que cuando se le preguntó por qué un individuo no se ha unido a una iglesia, una mayoría de los que son no creyentes dirán que es porque nunca han sido invitados. Por lo tanto, debemos ser el representante de Dios que, encontrándolos habiendo estaban ociosos la mayor parte de sus vidas, los invita a salir a buscar un profundo significado y propósito en su vida mediante el trabajo en la viña del Señor.
          Finalmente, mis hermanos y hermanas, después de haber sido considerado misericordiosamente por Dios quien nos ha elegido para su viña, no debemos caer en la tentación de despreciar a nuestros hermanos y hermanas que han venido "al final del día", por así decirlo, en la viña a trabajar. Este es el pecado de los trabajadores que fueron contratados por primera vez en la parábola de Jesús: se olvidaron que habían sido beneficiarios de la misericordia del propietario y pensaron que se merecían más de lo que se había dado a los que llegó tarde en el día para trabajar. En vez de estar agradecido por la gracia de ser capaz de mantenerse a sí mismos y a sus familias para otro día, se convirtieron en celosos de los otros que ganaron la misma cantidad con menos mano de obra. Por lo tanto, mis hermanos y hermanas, no debemos permitir que nos olvidemos de lo que la misericordia de Dios nos ha elegido y la gracia que él nos ha dado y por lo tanto convertirnos en celosos de nuestros hermanos y hermanas que, tal vez, han llegado recientemente a conocer y experimentar el elección misericordioso de Dios y la gracia que viene con él; ya que, por la misericordia de Dios, son coherederos del reino de los cielos con nosotros.
          Y así, mis hermanos y hermanas, a medida que respondemos a diario a la misericordia de Dios y su generosa llamada para salir a su viña a trabajar por su Reino, no olvidemos nuestra responsabilidad de invitar a los que nos rodean a unirse a nosotros en este trabajo llena de alegría; por la promesa de un "salario de un día completo" está disponible para ellos, incluso si han salido por el viña al final del día. Y vamos a resistir la tentación de ser celoso de la generosidad de Dios a todos sus trabajadores, por este sólo engendra amargura en nuestros corazones y el desprecio por los demás y para Dios. Más bien, celebremos la generosa misericordia de Dios en la elección de cada uno de nosotros—la misericordia que ha alcanzado para nosotros con el sacrificio de su Hijo, Jesús—la misericordia que nos ocupamos ahora ofrecer de nuevo a él aquí en este altar.
Dado en la parroquia de Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

21º de septiembre, 2014

Mercifully chosen

          We have all been mercifully chosen by God to labor in his vineyard.  Let us not look down on those who have come to labor "late in the day"!  If you have not presented yourself in the marketplace as someone who is able to be chosen, that is, elected by God for the grace of eternal life, then go today!  Even if it is "late in the day", God will not fail to find you and choose you to go out into his vineyard and receive a "full day's wage"!


Homily: 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          Pope Francis, after being elected the pope, chose for his papal motto the same motto he had chosen when he was ordained a bishop: “Miserando atque eligendo”, meaning “by having mercy and by choosing”.  In choosing this motto, what Pope Francis hoped to acknowledge was  that he did not see his election as pope (or as bishop, for that matter) as being something that he earned through any merit of his own; but rather that it was because he had been “looked upon mercifully” by God, that he was chosen anyway.  I mention this here because I think that this, in a way, is the hidden theme behind the lesson of today’s Gospel reading.
          First, of course, we must emphasize that Jesus, in giving us this parable, is speaking about the end of all time, for he states: “The kingdom of heaven is like…”  Therefore, this is not a lesson in how to be a generous, more “Christ-like” business manager; but rather it is a lesson about the meaning of life and what it is that we are all doing here.  With that in mind, let’s look at the parable.
          Jesus gives us the image of a landowner (who, in this case, represents God) who goes out to hire laborers for his vineyard (who, of course, represent us).  Now, before we run past this detail, let’s first take note of something.  Those laborers went out to the marketplace hoping someone would come and hire them for the day so that they could earn money; presumably to provide for themselves and their families.  In other words, they acknowledged that they were, in a sense, powerless to acquire what they needed on their own and so were looking for a generous landowner who could provide it for them in exchange for some commitment of labor.  They, therefore, went to the marketplace in the hope of being hired.  And so the first lesson we learn from this parable is that if we want to be receivers of God’s generous mercy we must make ourselves available to God’s mercy by turning away from our self-reliance and seeking his generous election.
          This, in fact, is the message that we heard from the prophet Isaiah in the first reading: “Seek the Lord while he may be found,” we hear Isaiah proclaim, “call him while he is near … let [the wicked] turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.”  Therefore, while it is true that the Lord will come to us to choose us for his vineyard, it is also true that he will only do so when we have turned away from the illusion of self-reliance and have “gone out to the marketplace” to give ourselves over to his generosity.  Then, having been mercifully looked upon and chosen for God’s kingdom, we will go out to labor in his vineyard.
          Then, in the parable, we hear that the landowner goes back to the marketplace four more times and finds other able laborers who were “standing idle”, indicating that they had not been hired for work.  This, of course, indicates that God never ceases to seek out those who are lost or abandoned; but it also shows just how abundant the labor in his vineyard is: “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few”, Jesus says in another place.  Here we see that there is no limit to the number that God will choose to go out into his vineyard.  God, therefore, is constantly seeking those who turn to seek him.  Therefore, we (that is, those who already have been mercifully chosen by God) must share in God’s mission to choose more laborers for his vineyard by calling those “standing idle in the marketplace” to go, as Isaiah exhorts us, and “seek the Lord while he may be found.”
          My brothers and sisters, I cannot emphasize this point enough.  We must go out, like the landowner, and seek those who have no direction, who are “standing idle in the marketplace”, and invite them to come into the Lord’s vineyard.  Jesus’ parable states that at 5:00—the last hour of the workday—the landowner goes out and finds still more laborers standing in the market and he asks them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” and they reply, “Because no one has hired us.”  It is a truth of our time that when asked why an individual hasn’t joined a church, a majority of those who are un-churched will say that it’s because they have never been invited.  We must, therefore, be that representative of God who, finding them having “stood idle” most of their lives, invites them to go out and find deep meaning and purpose in their life by working in the vineyard of the Lord.
          Finally, my brothers and sisters, having been looked on mercifully by God who chose us for his vineyard, we must not fall victim to the temptation to look down on our brothers and sisters who have come “late in the day”, so to speak, into the vineyard to labor.  This is the sin of the laborers who were hired first in Jesus’ parable: they forgot that they had been recipients of the mercy of the landowner and thought that they deserved more than what had been given to those who came late in the day to work.  Instead of being thankful for the grace of being able to provide for themselves and their family for another day, they became jealous of the others who earned the same amount with less labor.  Therefore, my brothers and sisters, we must not allow ourselves to forget with what mercy God has chosen us and the grace that he has bestowed upon us and so become jealous of our brothers and sisters who, perhaps, have come only recently to know and experience God’s merciful election and the grace that comes with it; because, by God’s mercy, they are co-heirs to the kingdom of heaven with us.
          And so, my brothers and sisters, as we daily respond to God’s mercy and his generous call to go out into his vineyard to labor for his kingdom, let us not forget our responsibility to invite those around us to join us in this joy-filled work; for the promise of “a full day’s wage” is available to them, even if they’ve gone out into the vineyard late in the day.  And let us resist the temptation to be jealous of God’s generosity to all his laborers, for this only breeds bitterness in our hearts and contempt for one another and for God.  Rather, let us celebrate God’s generous mercy in choosing each one of us—the mercy won for us by the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus—the mercy that we turn now to offer back to him here on this altar.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – September 20th & 21st, 2014

Sunday, September 14, 2014

You have to see it to believe it

          As Christians, we exalt the Holy Cross of Jesus because on it our sins - all that drags us down in this world - were destroyed; but we can't realize the dream of a life of true freedom (i.e. of freedom from sin) unless we are willing to look at the consequence of our sin.  When we see Christ crucified, we should see the consequence of our sin, for the consequence of our sin is always death.  Furthermore, we must look at it if we are to be truly moved to repentance.  Having been so moved, we can then receive the grace that flows from it.

P.S. My homily is kind of short this week because we showed the Fruitful Harvest video during Mass.


Homily: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross – Cycle A
          It’s no secret that, for Christians, the cross is very important.  I mean, just look around you.  If you looked intently at your surroundings for about thirty seconds, you’d notice that the cross, in many different forms, appears throughout our church.  It’s even on the linens that we use at the altar.  Most prominent, of course, is this large cross, the crucifix (a cross with an image of Jesus’ body attached to it).  My guess is that if someone who didn’t know a thing about Christianity walked into this church, wondering about what was important to Christians, he or she might quickly discern that the cross is one of those things.
          Today, the cross is a pretty innocuous thing for us.  None of us would have first-hand knowledge of what a crucifixion looked like and so looking at a cross isn’t for us a thing of horror.  But for people living in the first century, for whom Roman crucifixions were a common thing, the cross was sign of horror.  If you’ve been following the news about the video tape of the football player striking his fiancée and knocking her unconscious you’ll understand what I mean: without having seen it, it was hard to imagine just how violent it was; but having seen it, the horror of it sparked a much greater emotional response.  Multiply that by a hundred and you’ll know what seeing a cross meant for someone living in the first century.
          Yet today, we come here and we celebrate the exaltation of the Holy Cross.  In other words, we, as Christians, gather today to exalt an instrument of torture and death: and none of us bats an eye.  Why?  Well, because we’re lunatics, of course, who think that horrific instruments of torture are good things.  No?  You don’t agree?  (I see that some of you are paying attention).  And so, why?  Why do we exalt the cross?  Well, in part, because we know the rest of the story: that Jesus’ death wasn’t the end and so his horrific murder was actually a triumphant act of salvation for the world.  And, at the least, this is why the cross is such a core symbol of our faith.  But why do we exalt the Cross with a special feast?  That’s a question that leads us to reflect on our readings today.
          In our first reading, we hear the story of how the Israelites, wandering in the desert on their way to the Promised Land, become tired and frustrated with the journey.  As a result, they sin by complaining against God and Moses.  Because of this sin, poisonous snakes were sent among them and many people were bitten and some were even dying from these bites.  The suffering people then repented of their sin and God relented of his punishment, instructing Moses to make an image of the serpent and place it on a pole so that all could look upon it and, thus, be cured.
          What we see in this story is a clear reminder that the consequence of sin is death and that when one repents of his or her sins, and begs God for mercy, God relents and saves him or her from death.  What is important for us to note today, however, is how God turned the death-dealing consequence of their sin (the snakes) into the instrument of their healing and salvation.
          And so, in the Gospel reading, we hear Jesus say “and just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”  Jesus, therefore, is connecting his impending crucifixion with the healing brought forth through the bronze serpent on the pole: so that the image of ultimate consequence of sin—the death of man in all of its gruesome reality—would become the instrument by which many would come to repent of their own sins and thus receive God’s healing and mercy.  It was no longer enough for man to see the serpent; rather he needed to see the full extent of the punishment due to his sin: the horrific death of an innocent man on the Cross.
          And so we exalt the cross: for through it the price of our redemption was paid; thus promising us that anyone who looks upon it and, seeing the price of his or her sins, repents from them, would be healed of the poison that sin had injected into him or her and so would live.
          My brothers and sisters, let us pray today for the grace to look upon the cross anew and to let the image of Christ’s death on it pierce our hearts once again so that we may feel true sorrow for our sins and thus receive God’s healing mercy. For when we do, we will once again know the joy of God’s promise: the eternal life that his Son Jesus has won for us.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – September 13th & 14th, 2014

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Yo no estoy bien y, porque te amo, tú tampoco.

          Magníficos lecturas de este fin de semana pasado. Es difícil de decir más de lo que ya está ahí. Le di un tiro, sin embargo. Espero que te toca el corazón y mueve a tomar una forma más amorosa a vivir en comunidad y para ser el profeta que Dios te hizo ser.


Homilía: 23º Domingo del Tiempo Ordinario – Ciclo A
          Es un mantra de nuestros tiempos. Es sólo cuatro palabras, pero se las arregla para enviar un mensaje convincente de que millones se encuentran fáciles de seguir. ¿La frase? "Estoy bien, estás bien." Tal vez lo hemos oído. Tal vez lo hemos utilizado. En cualquier caso, es probable que no se nos ocurriera que no había nada malo en ello. Básicamente, lo que esta frase dice es que estoy bien tal y como yo soy y que si se siente cómodo con la manera en que tú eres entonces tú estás bien, también. A primera vista, se pretende promover la armonía entre nosotros: "No voy a criticarte si no me criticas. Porque todos sabemos que no es bueno criticar a alguien, ¿verdad?” Y es la aceptación de lo que esta frase propone que promueve el tipo de pensamiento que nos lleva a decir cosas como: "¿Quién soy yo para criticarlo?" O (en el reverso) "¿Quién es ella para criticarme?"
          Por supuesto, todos sabemos que nuestra compulsión de hacer juicios sobre el comportamiento de las personas o de las cosas que las personas dicen no es algo que podemos apagar. Más bien, es algo que es muy natural para nosotros, porque nuestra razón busca constantemente para dar sentido a las cosas que suceden a nuestro alrededor. Y así, cuando nos convencemos de que no es correcto criticar a la gente abiertamente nos encontramos con que criticamos a la gente encubiertamente; a través del chisme (y nosotros amamos a los chismes, ¿verdad?), y a través del comportamiento pasivo-agresivo y rencores que sostienen. Esto es lo que la sociedad nos dice que debemos hacer. Mantener nuestros juicios y críticas a nosotros mismos, o al menos no sacarlos a pública. Pero ¿qué dice Dios al respecto? Creo que nuestras Escrituras de hoy nos muestran.
          A lo largo del Antiguo Testamento, vemos que Dios designó a profetas para ser esas personas que nuestra sociedad moderna nos dice que no debemos ser: el que critica abiertamente las acciones de la gente, que declara ciertas acciones como malvados y llama a los malhechores al arrepentimiento. En resumen, un profeta de Dios es el que molesta a los que se han convertido en cómodos en su fechoría. Como suele ser el caso cuando Dios llamó a sus profetas, la primera reacción de Ezequiel fue muy similar a la reacción que a menudo damos hoy: "¿Quién soy yo para criticar?" Y Dios le respondía como él respondió a todos los otros profetas: "Tú eres el único que he nombrado. Por lo tanto, usted irá y usted hablará con ellos de lo que has oído de mí." A Ezequiel Dios añade una declaración dejando en claro la responsabilidad que le está dando a él: "Va a ir a hablar estas palabras a ellos. Si no lo hace, entonces usted va a ser responsable de su culpabilidad." Y así vemos que, en los tiempos antiguos, Dios llama a algunos a ser responsable de llamar a su pueblo al arrepentimiento.
          Luego, en la lectura del Evangelio, vemos que Jesús revisa este principio. Recuerde que Jesús es Dios, la Segunda Persona de la Santísima Trinidad, y por lo que tiene la autoridad para hacer esto. "Jesús, que vino para redimirnos del pecado y para proclamar la venida del reino de Dios, nos enseña que, en este reino, cada uno de nosotros es responsable de sí. Por lo tanto, dice, "si tu hermano comete un pecado, ve [a sí mismo] y amonéstalo." En otras palabras, no espere a que alguien le corrija, pero usted mismo ir a verlo. Esta es la forma en que debe estar en el reino de Dios. Pero, ¿cómo? Bien, es la verdad que no es frecuente en los Evangelios que Jesús es recordado por haber dado instrucciones específicas sobre la forma de lograr algo; pero estando reconciliados entre sí es tan importante para la construcción del reino de Dios, que la enseñanza de Jesús sobre este tema está grabada para nosotros aquí.
          Primero él dice "ve y amonéstalo a solas." En otras palabras, no hacer un espectáculo de la misma—y, por amor de Dios, no chismear sobre él!—pero ir a el que ha cometido un pecado y decirle cómo lo que ha hecho te dañó. Tome nota, él no dice ignorarlo; porque a ignorarlo le deja a su hermano en el pecado; y, al igual que Ezequiel, si dejamos a nuestro hermano en pecado y no decimos nada, entonces su culpa se convierte en la nuestra, también.
          Si eso no funciona, Jesús enseña, luego traer a lo largo de uno o dos más para hablar con él. En otras palabras, traer en una tercera parte objetiva que puede reforzar su admonición a su hermano y ojalá traerlo al arrepentimiento. De nuevo, no hacer de esto un espectáculo, pero lo hacen en privado. Quién sabe, cuando usted hace esto usted puede encontrar que usted mismo se equivocaron, lo que puede ayudarse a lograr la reconciliación más rápido.
          Si eso no funciona, entonces traer a su hermano a la comunidad, Jesús enseña. Mira, esto todavía no es una cosa pública. Jesús no está diciendo que deberíamos venir aquí y anunciarla a la congregación desde el púlpito. Más bien, él está diciendo a llevarlo al pastor y los líderes respetados en la comunidad; porque tal vez su hermano va a escuchar a ellos.
          Por último, si todo lo demás falla, Jesús dice, tratarlo como si fuera un pagano o un publicano. Yo sé que esto puede parecer duro—porque en otros lugares en las Escrituras los paganos y los publicanos son despreciados—pero recuerda cómo Jesús trató a los paganos y publicanos: los trataba como personas cuyo pecado era clara, pero que él no obstante amaba y deseaba ver procedan al arrepentimiento. Por lo tanto, su advertencia sobre la oración. “Si usted le trataría como yo trataría un pagano o un publicano—es decir, con amor—usted rezará por él y por su conversión. Y cuando dos de ustedes se ponen de acuerdo para rezar por su conversión, entonces voy a estar allí con ustedes y lo que piden se concederá a ustedes por nuestro Padre en celestial.” Esta es una idea radicalmente diferente de lo que la sociedad nos enseña, ¿verdad?
          Y así vemos que el mantra "Yo estoy bien, tú estás bien" es claramente falsa. Sabemos que hay formas "correctas" e "incorrectas" de la vida y que, la mayoría de las veces, no estamos bien. Lo que no necesitamos es que lo dejen solo para que nos sintamos cómodos viviendo con nuestros errores. Lo que necesitamos son personas que nos aman suficientemente para que nos digan cuando estamos haciendo mal, a fin de ayudarnos a estar verdaderamente bien. Y tenemos que ser esas personas para los demás.
          "Sí, padre, pero yo también soy un pecador. Y así, ¿quién soy yo para juzgar? "¿Quién es usted? Usted es un cristiano! Y usted tiene el Espíritu Santo de Dios que vive dentro de si! Cuando se bautizo, que fue bautizado en Cristo, que es sacerdote, profeta y rey. Por lo tanto, usted es un profeta; y por lo tanto, al igual que Ezequiel, usted está obligado a decir las palabras que el Espíritu de Dios le da a hablar. A través del bautismo, Dios ha llamado a cada uno de nosotros para ser responsables unos de otros, en la caridad. ¿Y cuál es la forma de caridad? La forma en que Jesús establece para nosotros en nuestra lectura del Evangelio de hoy.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, si realmente queremos lo que Jesús quiere—es decir, a ser una familia de amor que hace presente su reino venidero en la tierra—entonces debemos asumir la tarea de ser responsable de unos a otros como Jesús nos ha enseñado. Y esto es difícil, porque el amor es difícil. Fortalecidos por el amor que Jesús derramó en la cruz, sin embargo—el amor que recibimos de este altar—podemos hacerlo. Así que vamos a tomar coraje para que el trabajo del amor de Dios se cumpla en cada uno de nosotros.
Dado en la parroquia de San José: Rochester, IN
6ª de septiembre, 2014

Dado en la parroquia de Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

7ª de septiembre, 2014

I'm not OK and, because I love you, neither are you.

          Great readings this past weekend.  Tough to say more than is already there.  I gave it a shot, though.  I hope that it touches your heart and moves you to take a more loving way to live in community and to be the prophet that God made you to be.


Homily: 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          It is a mantra of our times.  It’s only four words, but it manages to send a compelling message that millions find easy to follow.  The phrase?  “I’m OK, you’re OK.”  Perhaps we’ve heard it.  Perhaps we’ve even used it.  In either case, we probably didn’t think that there was anything wrong with it.  Basically, what this phrase says is that I’m fine just the way I am and that if you’re comfortable with the way that you are then you’re fine, too.  On the surface, it is intended to promote harmony between us: “I won’t criticize you if you don’t criticize me, OK?”  Because we all know that it’s not nice to criticize someone, right?  And it is the acceptance of what this phrase proposes that promotes the kind of thinking that leads us to say things like, “Who am I to criticize him?” or (on the flipside) “Who is she to criticize me?”
          Of course we all know that our compulsion to make judgments about the way people act or the things people say is not something that we can turn off, like a switch.  Rather, it is something that is very natural to us, because our reason constantly seeks to make sense of the things that happen around us.  And so, when we convince ourselves that it is wrong to criticize people openly we find that we end up criticizing people covertly; through gossip (and we do love to gossip, don’t we?), passive-aggressive behavior, and holding grudges.  This is what society tells us we should do.  Keep our judgments and criticisms to ourselves, or at least don’t bring them out into public.  But what does God have to say about it?  I think our Scriptures today show us.
          Throughout the Old Testament, we see that God appointed prophets to be those people that our modern society tells us we shouldn’t be: the one who openly criticizes the actions of people, who declares certain actions as wicked and calls the evildoers to repentance.  In short, a prophet of God is one who troubles those who have become comfortable in their wrongdoing.  As often is the case when God called his prophets, Ezekiel’s first reaction was very similar to the reaction we often give today: “Who am I to criticize?”  And God responded to him just like he responded to all of the other prophets: “You are the one whom I have appointed.  Therefore, you will go and you will speak to them what you have heard from me.”  To Ezekiel God adds a statement making clear the consequences of the responsibility he is giving to him: “You will go and speak these words to them.  If you don’t, then you will be responsible for their guilt.”  And so we see that, in ancient times, God called some to be responsible for calling his people to repentance.
          Then, in the Gospel reading, we see Jesus revising this principle.  Now remember, Jesus is God—the Second Person of the Trinity—so he has the authority to do this, OK?”  Jesus, who came to redeem us from sin and to proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom, teaches us that, in this kingdom, each of us is responsible for one another.  Therefore, he says, “if your brother sins against you, go yourself and tell him his fault.”  In other words, don’t wait for someone else to correct him, but go to him yourself.  This is how it must be in God’s kingdom.  But how?  You know, it’s not often in the Gospels that Jesus is recorded as having given specific instructions for how to accomplish something; but being reconciled to each other is so important for the building of God’s kingdom that Jesus’ teaching on this topic is recorded for us here.
          First he says “go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”  In other words, don’t make a spectacle of it—and, for heaven’s sake, don’t gossip about it!—but go to the one who has sinned against you and tell him how what he has done hurt you.  Notice, he doesn’t say to ignore it either; because to ignore it leaves your brother in sin; and, like Ezekiel, if we leave our brother in sin and don’t say anything, then their guilt becomes ours, too.
          If that doesn’t work, Jesus teaches, then bring along one or two others to speak to him.  In other words, bring in an “objective third party” who can reinforce your admonition to your brother and hopefully bring him to repentance.  Again, do not make this a spectacle, but rather do it privately.  Who knows, when you do this you may find that you yourself were wrong, which can help bring about the reconciliation faster.
          If that doesn’t work, then bring your brother to the church, Jesus teaches.  Now this still isn’t a public thing.  Jesus isn’t saying that we should come here and proclaim it to the congregation from the pulpit.  Rather, he is saying to bring it to the pastor and the respected leaders in the community; because perhaps your brother will listen to them.
          Finally, if all else fails, Jesus says, “treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”  Now I know that this can seem harsh—for elsewhere in the Scriptures Gentiles and tax collectors are despised—but remember how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors: he treated them like persons whose sin was clear, but who he nonetheless loved and desired to see come to repentance.  Thus, his admonition about praying.  If you would treat him as I would treat a Gentile or a tax collector, that is, with love, you will pray for him and for his conversion.  And when two of you agree to pray for his conversion, then I will be there with you and what you pray for shall be granted to you by our Father in heaven.  This is a radically different notion than what society teaches us, right?
          And so now we see that the mantra “I’m OK, you’re OK” is patently false.  We know that there are “right” and “wrong” ways of living and that, most of the time, we’re not OK.  What we don’t need is to be left alone so that we become comfortable living in our errors.  What we do need are people who love us enough to tell us when we are doing wrong so as to help us become OK.  And we need to be those people for others.
          “Yes, father, but I, too, am a sinner.  And so, who am I to judge?”  Who are you?  You’re a Christian!  And you have God’s Holy Spirit living within you!  When you were baptized, you were baptized into Christ, who is priest, prophet, and king.  Thus, you are a prophet; and therefore, like Ezekiel, you are obliged to speak the words that God’s Spirit gives you to speak.  Through baptism God has called each of us to be responsible for one another, in charity.  And what is the charitable way?  The way that Jesus lays out for us in our Gospel reading today.
          My brothers and sisters, if we really want what Jesus wants—that is, to be a family of love that makes present his coming kingdom on earth—then we must take up the task of being responsible for one another as Jesus has taught us.  And this is difficult, because love is difficult.  Strengthened by the love that Jesus poured out on the cross, however—the love that we receive from this altar—we can do it.  So let us take courage so that God’s work of love may be fulfilled in each one of us.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – September 7th, 2014

Monday, September 1, 2014

Find your deepest meaning in the cross

          Happy Labor Day to all!  Although there are nearly no schools that wait to start their year until after Labor Day, it still marks the end of the summer "vacation season" for most everybody.  For me, Labor Day is a clear marker for the end of summer.  Last Saturday I witnessed my seventh (and last) marriage of the summer "wedding season".  I'm looking forward to some Saturday afternoons off!  God's blessings are truly abundant, however.  And in a culture that tells us that marriage is "optional", to have seven weddings this summer is almost a miracle.  Please pray for more happy and holy marriages!

OK.  Vacation's over.  Get back to work!


Homily: 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
         It was spring in the year 2000 and I was on the cusp of completing my Senior Thesis project after which I would be eligible to graduate with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.  I was excited about the prospect of graduating and finally being able to pursue a career working for one of the “Big Three” automakers, eventually working my way into their design studios.  In anticipation of my graduation, I participated in a job fair in Detroit in which I submitted my resume to each of the Big Three companies as well as to many of their major suppliers.  “If I could just get my foot in the door in Detroit, I’d be well on my way”, I thought.
         In June of that year I received my degree.  A couple of months afterward, I received a call from Delphi Corporation, a supplier of various components and systems for cars that used to be a part of General Motors itself.  Delphi had a position that they wanted to interview me for and, having not heard from any of the other companies I submitted resumes to, I quickly jumped on the opportunity.  “We’ll make all of the arrangements and send you the itinerary”, they said.  When I received it, I distinctly remember the surprise and confusion I felt when my flight wouldn’t take me to Detroit, but rather to Indianapolis.  “Perhaps they have a human resource center in Indiana where they conduct their interviews”, I reasoned, and left it at that.
         After arriving in Indianapolis my surprise and confusion only grew when, after driving north out of Carmel, I started to realize that even what I had reasoned to be true about the purpose for sending me to Indiana and not to Detroit probably wasn’t true.  When I arrived in Kokomo, my excitement about this potential opportunity had all but disappeared.
         The next day, after the interview—and after I realized that it had been for a job in Kokomo and not in the Detroit area—I felt like I had been duped.  Delphi did soon offer me the job and, having no other offers on the table (and it was a good offer), I hesitatingly took it and prepared to move myself to Indiana, hoping optimistically that I could eventually transfer to a job in Detroit.
         In our first reading, we heard the prophet Jeremiah lamenting the fact that he had allowed himself to be duped by God.  Very young when God first called him, Jeremiah tried to convince God to pick somebody else.  God, however, insisted on promises that he would be with him to deliver him from whoever would oppose him.  Jeremiah, however, wasn’t feeling the love.  Every time that he prophesied in the Lord’s name he was compelled to speak of God’s outrage at his chosen people for having disobeyed him for so long and of the violence that would come upon them if they didn’t change their ways.  Because of the seeming absurdity of his message—and, perhaps, because of his young age—Jeremiah was roundly mocked, derided, and at times assaulted for speaking such things.  Thus, he felt like God had tricked him into doing this with false promises of security and we hear him today “kicking himself” for allowing himself to be tricked.
         In our Gospel reading, Peter seems to be feeling like he had been duped also.  After having responded to divine inspiration to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ of God, and after having received such a glowing approval from Jesus (which we heard last week: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah…), Peter is now confronted by Jesus’ proclamation that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed by the elders and to be raised on the third day.  Perhaps we could understand Peter’s strong reaction: “What?  No way will we ever let that happen to you!”  Peter was confident that he had found the Christ and the Christ that he was waiting for would be an all-conquering king.  Thus, he felt like he had been duped when Christ revealed that his grim fate would be to suffer and to be killed at the hands of the elders.
         Jesus, however, took this opportunity to teach his disciples an important lesson.  Discipleship would not lead one into honor and prestige in this world; rather it would lead to shame: the greatest shame known to man at the time, that of being crucified.  The shame would only be an earthly shame, however, for having lost their lives for his sake in this world, they would in turn find the eternal life that salvation would bring them.  And, as we would see years on from this event, Peter would eventually find the deepest meaning of his life in the cross that he had been “duped” to carry.
         Jeremiah, too, would find the deepest meaning in his life by carrying the cross that he felt he had been “duped” to carry.  For when he says that he tried to keep himself from speaking the Lord’s words, those words would become like a fire burning within his heart that he could not contain, that he could not endure; as if trying to contain them was something unnatural to him, while their spilling forth from him brought relief, even as it brought forth the cross of ridicule and derision.
         Not long after moving here to Indiana, I was certain that I had been duped and I started looking for a job so that I could move back.  I strove with no success, however, but found that when I accepted what I felt I had been duped to accept and decided to settle here in Indiana that God revealed the deepest meaning of my life to me—that is, that he had called me to be a priest in this very same place—and so here I am today.
         My brothers and sisters, our lives are full of times when we feel like we’ve been duped by someone into accepting something that turned out to be a much more difficult or unsatisfying experience than what that person promised it would be.  Perhaps, like the prophet Jeremiah, we even feel like God has been that other person.  Nevertheless, if we take some time to look deeper at the situation, perhaps we will see how God is revealing to us the deepest meaning of our lives; that is, how through the cross he has “duped” us to carry he is preparing us to live in the Father’s glory when Christ returns.
         This truth is never more evident than here in the Eucharist.  For through the cross that Jesus was compelled to bear came the fount of everlasting life: the sacrifice of his Body and Blood that we re-present here on this altar and the grace of redemption that we receive when we consume it.  And so, my brothers and sisters, let us boldly take up whatever cross we may have been “duped” to carry because we are disciples of Christ: for there we will find Jesus, carrying the cross with us and leading us to our everlasting reward.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN - August 31st, 2014