Sunday, November 29, 2015

The race to Jesus' coming

Homily: 1st Sunday of Advent – Cycle C
          Racing, in any form, requires not only speed and stamina, but also intelligence and good timing.  Every competitive race has a defined distance or time which the racers use to plan how they are going to run the race so as to finish in front of everyone else.  While each individual racer’s strategy might differ (some will go strong out of the gate to build a lead, others will hold back to save energy for the final push), the goal, of course, is the same: to win the race by being up front at the end.
          Some of the most exciting races happen when the race seems to be dominated by one racer who is then overcome by a racer who didn’t seem to have the right stuff to win until the end.  Horse racing is famous for this, am I right?  Arguably the most famous horse race in America is the Kentucky Derby; and the most famous horse to race the Kentucky Derby is Secretariat.  Why is Secretariat the most famous?  Because in 1973 he made an incredible come-from-behind victory in the Kentucky Derby and set the record for the fastest time ever in the Derby, a record which still stands today.
          Imagine, however, if, as the racers approached the finish line, the organizers said “Keep going, we decided to extend the race” or if, only halfway through the race, they said “Surprise!  The race ends here!”  In other words, imagine if there was a race in which the distance or time was not defined.  That would change everyone’s strategy, wouldn’t it?  Basically, you would have to do everything in your power to get to the front and stay up front, so that when the arbitrary end of the race was announced, you’d have a shot at being the winner.  And it doesn’t sound like a very fun or exciting race either, does it?
          Yet, in our Gospel reading today, as we open the new liturgical year this first Sunday of Advent, Jesus is basically telling us that this is what we are doing: running a race in which we do not know when or where the end will occur.  First he describes what the end will look like: signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars… roaring of the seas and its waves.  Then he exhorts his disciples: “People and nations will be in dismay, thinking it the end of the world (because that’s what it will be).  But it should not be so with you!  Be ready!  You won’t know when that day will come, so don’t get caught taking a rest or, worse yet, running a different, worldly race altogether!”  The implication he is making is this: It doesn’t matter how well you had been running the race; if you aren’t ready when the end of the race comes, you’ll lose.  And so he warns them: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy…”
          Yet, if we take a look at our lives, perhaps we’ll see that our hearts, indeed, have become drowsy “from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.”  Just take a look at the madness that happens in the “black Friday” sales.  Anyone who tackles another person to get a discounted TV has lost every sense that life is a journey towards something beyond this world.  These are the ones who will be caught off-guard on the day that the Lord comes, because their love is for this world, and not for the Lord of the world.  These will be the ones who will be filled with dismay on the day that the Lord comes.
          This, of course, is nothing new.  Saint Cyprian, a 3rd century bishop in North Africa, warned his people about this same thing.  In one of his sermons, he said:
“How unreasonable it is to pray that God’s will be done, and then not promptly to obey it when he calls us from this world!  Instead we struggle and resist like self-willed slaves and are brought into the Lord’s presence with sorrow and lamentation, not freely consenting to our departure, but constrained by necessity.  And yet we expect to be rewarded with heavenly honors by him to who we come against our will!  Why then do we pray for the kingdom of heaven to come if this earthly bondage pleases us?  What is the point of praying so often for its early arrival if we would rather serve the devil here than reign with Christ?”
What he is speaking about is how we allow our affection for the Lord to be extinguished by giving our affection to the things of this world; so much so that when the Lord calls us to him, we go only kicking and screaming, not realizing that this (going to the Lord) was what we should have been longing for all along.  Then, facing the Lord, we will sheepishly plead for the winner’s prize, even though we gave up on the race.
          It is because of this that the Church gives us this season of Advent.  It is a season meant to help “wake-up” our hearts and remind us of the goal of our running in the race: to be ready for the coming of Jesus—both the celebration of his first coming, but also his imminent second coming.  Although not specifically prescribed by the Church, we should consider Advent to be a time of sacrifices, in which we detach ourselves from the things of this world so that we are not dismayed when the signs appear in the sun, the moon, and the stars; but rather stand erect with our heads raised because our redemption will be at hand.
          It’s touching, isn’t it, when we see those images of service men and women returning home and seeing their families for the first time in a long time.  Whether it is in an airport, a bus station, or in front of their home, the sense of anticipation is tangible as you watch the family members looking eagerly ahead, waiting to see their loved one.  And when they do, the run towards them and embrace them with abandon; for the one that they longed for has returned to them.  They remained steady in the race until the day, perhaps unknown to them, that the race ended and so they received the hoped-for reward.  The question that Advent puts before each of us is, “Am I ready to do the same when Jesus comes again?”
          My brothers and sisters, Advent is our time to get ready for that day, so that we are not drawn, kicking and screaming, before the Lord: sad because of what we must leave behind in order to receive the infinite joys that God wants to give us.  To do this we must pray; for in prayer we come to know and, thus, to love the Lord more deeply (and it is love that will send us running toward him on the day of his coming).  We must also fast; for in fasting we detach ourselves from the things of this world, so that there will be nothing holding us back when he comes.  And we must give alms; for nothing demonstrates our detachment from the things of this world then when we freely give of them to those in need.  (Sound a lot like Lent, doesn’t it?...)
          Friends, the saddest come-from-behind stories are the ones that never happen.  If you have become drowsy on this race towards the day of Jesus’ coming, then please take this opportunity to wake-up and start running again.  The Eucharist—Jesus’ ongoing presence with us—is the life-giving bread that gives us strength to keep us running.  May our communion with him propel us forward to the day of redemption, when he will come again to bring us home.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 28th & 29th, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

El reinado de la Verdad

Homilía: 34º Domingo del Tiempo Ordinario – Ciclo B
La Solemnidad de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo, Rey del Universo
          El día de Navidad, en el año mil, San Esteban de Hungría, también conocido como el rey San Esteban, fue coronado como el primer rey de Hungría. Un cristiano ferviente devoto, Esteban fue instrumental en la formación de Hungría como un estado cristiano. Durante su reinado como rey, se esforzó para promulgar leyes justas, para servir a los pobres, y para mantener la paz. A menudo se quitaba sus vestiduras reales, se puso las ropas de un campesino, y caminaba por las calles, dando limosnas a los pobres. Él amaba a su pueblo y la Iglesia y nunca perdió de vista el hecho de que su reinado llevaba consigo la responsabilidad de servir a ambos. Como resultado, su pueblo lo amaba mucho y la Iglesia floreció en Hungría. Ferviente devoción a San Esteban sigue en Hungría aún hoy en día, y su fiesta se celebra cada año como día de fiesta nacional, con procesiones y otras celebraciones. Él fue y es un signo permanente de la unidad nacional y la identidad para el pueblo húngaro.
          En 1776, nosotros en esta tierra decidimos que ya no quería ser gobernado por un rey, y declaramos nuestra independencia de Inglaterra. Esta decisión histórica es la que la mayoría de nosotros, me atrevo a decir, todavía están contentos. Este hecho, sin embargo, ha hecho que sea difícil para nosotros encontrar el significado del reinado en nuestras vidas. Mientras que los húngaros encuentran su unidad e identidad nacional en un solo hombre, el rey, nosotros de este país encontramos nuestra unidad e identidad nacional en la diversidad de nuestro espíritu colectivo. Y así no tenemos un marco de referencia para ayudarnos a entender lo que significa el reinado para nosotros.
          Como católicos, sin embargo, creemos que tenemos un rey, Jesucristo. Y al igual que los húngaros que celebran y honran anualmente su rey Esteban, los católicos también celebran anualmente nuestro rey en esto, el último domingo del año litúrgico. Es por ello que, como católicos en este país, la vida de San Esteban es una historia tan rica para nosotros; porque con su ejemplo podemos llegar a entender el reino de nuestro Señor, Jesucristo.
          Como escuchamos en la primera lectura y en el salmo de hoy, el reino de Cristo es un reino eterno, donde está vestido de majestad y esplendor. Sin embargo, también sabemos que condescendió a vestirse con la ropa de la carne humana. Caminó entre nosotros, sanando a los enfermos y los que sufren y llevar consuelo a los pobres. A pesar de ser un rey, su preocupación nunca ha estado con su propia gloria; más bien, siempre lo ha sido por su pueblo: que íbamos a ser libres del pecado y se convierte en “un reino de sacerdotes para su Dios y Padre.”
          Como rey, San Esteban puso toda su vida bajo el dominio de Jesucristo. Reconoció claramente en su propio reinado lo que nuestra segunda lectura nos dice hoy, que "Jesucristo es … el soberano de los reyes de la tierra." En la colocación de su vida bajo el dominio de Cristo sirvió a su pueblo fielmente, en verdad y amor, y por lo tanto que se siente honrado aún hoy como el modelo del reinado terrenal.
          Sin embargo, en nuestro Evangelio de hoy vemos un contraste de este modelo en la persona de Poncio Pilato. Jesús es acusado de tratar de usurpar el poder terrenal y está siendo interrogado por Pilato. Pilato, sin embargo, sólo entiende el reinado desde el punto de vista mundano—en la que un rey es alguien que domina su autoridad sobre su pueblo y así les obliga a cumplir con su voluntad—y así las respuestas de Jesús le confundieron. "Tu pueblo y los sumos sacerdotes te han entregado a mí", dice Pilato. Pero Jesús le corrige y le dice: "No, no. No se trata de mi pueblo. Ellos no entienden lo que es el reinado auténtico. Mi pueblo son los que pertenecen a la verdad, y los que pertenecen a la verdad entienden quién soy yo y por qué he venido". Aunque no leemos hoy, la siguiente línea de Pilato es preguntar a Jesús: "¿Qué es la verdad?" ¿Puedes creerlo? La verdad en si misma estaba de pie justo en frente de él y él no tenía ninguna pista. Pilato había sometido a sí mismo a un reinado terrenal y por lo que fue cegado a ver la verdad del reinado de Jesús.
          Mis hermanas y hermanos, ¡ya tenemos un rey en Jesucristo! Él no es un rey que se enseñorea de nosotros, al igual que los reyes de la tierra. Más bien, él es un "testigo fiel ... que nos amó y nos purificó de nuestros pecados con su sangre y ha hecho de nosotros un reino de sacerdotes para su Dios y Padre.” Él es un rey que gobierna en la justicia y en la verdad. Por lo tanto, con el fin de disfrutar de ese reinado, estamos llamados a someternos a la verdad, al igual que hizo el rey San Esteban.
          Esto no es sólo para los reyes, sin embargo. Sí que usted sea el rey de una nación o el jefe de familia, todos estamos llamados a reconocer el reinado de Cristo y de someter a todos los aspectos de nuestras vidas a su dominio. Y esto no es de miedo; porque, como hemos escuchado, Jesús es un "testigo fiel ... que nos ama." Y así que no importa la forma en que hemos sido heridos en el pasado por los que nos aman (y todos nosotros, me atrevo a decir, hemos experimentados esto), podemos confiar en el amor de Jesús porque él es verdaderamente fiel.
          Por lo tanto mis hermanas y hermanos, vamos a preguntarnos, "¿Qué áreas de mi vida contengo yo del dominio de Jesús?" Y lo que realmente estamos pidiendo aquí es ¿Ya gobierna realmente la veracidad en todos los aspectos de mi vida?" En el trabajo, ¿soy completamente honesto con mi jefe, mis compañeros de trabajo y mis clientes? ¿Realmente doy un día honesto del trabajo, o me tomo tanto tiempo para mí como yo siento que puedo salir con? En mis relaciones con mi esposo, mi familia y mis amigos, ¿soy completamente honesto? ¿O tengo una vida secreta que me escondo de los más cercanos a mí? ¿La veracidad gobierna cómo me preparo mis impuestos y mis contribuciones a la Iglesia y organizaciones de caridad?
          Algunos de ustedes preguntarían si la veracidad gobierna mi predicación... Bueno, eso es justo, y esa es una pregunta que tengo que preguntarme a mí mismo todos los días. ¿La veracidad gobierna mi oración? En otras palabras, ¿me permito estar abierto y honesto con Dios, ya sea en la oración privada, en el confesionario, o aquí en la misa? Y cuando me presento para recibir al Santísimo Sacramento, ¿me abre por completo para recibir al Señor, o contengo algo, con vergüenza de permitir que el Señor lo ve?
          Mis hermanas y hermanos, Jesucristo quiere ser el Señor de todos los aspectos de nuestras vidas. Él quiere ser Señor tanto de lo bueno y lo bello—como la forma en que amamos a nuestros hijos o servimos a los pobres—y él quiere ser Señor de lo malo y lo feo—como cuando usamos nuestros cónyuges, amigos u otras personas para satisfacer nuestras necesidades egoístas. Permitimos que él sea el Señor cuando nos sometemos cada aspecto de nuestras vidas a la veracidad.
          Bueno, no tenemos que hacerlo todo a la vez. Podemos empezar con algo básico: como dar un día de trabajo honesto o alejamiento de los chismes cuando estamos con nuestros amigos. Si uno a la vez nos sometemos cada aspecto de nuestras vidas a la veracidad, pronto nos daremos cuenta de que la veracidad reina sobre todos los aspectos de nuestras vidas. Y cuando la veracidad reina sobre todos los aspectos de nuestras vidas entonces vamos a llegar a conocer la alegría de haber permitido que Jesús, quien es la verdad, sea nuestro rey.
          Y así, vamos a empezar ahora mismo, aquí en esta Eucaristía, por someter a nosotros mismos verdaderamente a Jesús, con defectos y todo, como presentamos nuestros dones del pan y vino que se ofrecerán en este altar. Luego, con los coros de los ángeles, podemos gritar verazmente en la alegría y decir: "¡Santo, Santo, Santo! ¡Bendito el que viene en nombre del Señor! ¡Hosanna en el cielo a Cristo nuestro Rey! "
Dado en la parroquia de Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

22 de noviembre, 2015

The kingship of Truth

Homily: 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

          On Christmas day, in the year 1000, St. Stephen of Hungary, also known as King St. Stephen, was crowned as the first king of Hungary.  A fervently devoted Christian, Stephen was instrumental in forming Hungary as a Christian state.  During his reign as king, he strove to enact just laws, to serve the poor, and to maintain peace.  Often he would take off his royal garments, put on the clothes of a peasant, and walk the streets, giving alms to the poor.  He loved his people and the Church and he never lost sight of the fact that his kingship carried with it a responsibility to serve them both.  As a result, his people loved him greatly and the Church flourished in Hungary.  Fervent devotion to Saint Stephen continues in Hungary even today, and his feast day is yearly celebrated as a national holiday with processions and other celebrations.  He was and is an enduring sign of national unity and identity for the Hungarian people.
          In 1776, we Americans decided that we no longer wanted to be ruled by a king, and we declared our independence from England.  This historical decision is one that most of us, I dare say, are still happy with.  This fact, however, has made it difficult for us to find the meaning of kingship in our lives.  While the Hungarians find their national unity and identity in one man, the king, we Americans find our national unity and identity in the diversity of our collective spirit.  And so we have no frame of reference to help us understand what kingship means for us.
          As Catholics, however, we believe that we have a king, Jesus Christ.  And like the Hungarians who yearly celebrate and honor their king Stephen, we Catholics also yearly celebrate our king on this, the last Sunday of the liturgical year.  This is why, as American Catholics, the life of St. Stephen is such a rich story for us; because by his example we can come to understand the kingship of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
          As we hear in the first reading and in the Psalm today, Christ’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, where he is robed in majesty and splendor.  Yet we also know that he condescended to clothe himself in the garments of human flesh.  He walked among us, healing the sick and suffering and bringing comfort to the poor.  In spite of being a king, his concern has never been with his own glory; rather, it has always been for his people: that we would be free from sin and made “into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.”
          As king, St. Stephen placed his entire life under the lordship of Jesus Christ.  He recognized clearly in his own kingship what our second reading tells us today, that “Jesus Christ is the … ruler of the kings of the earth.”  In placing his life under Christ’s dominion he served his people faithfully, in truthfulness and love, and thus he is honored still today as the model of earthly kingship.
          Yet, in our Gospel today we see a contrast of this model in the person of Pontius Pilate.  Jesus stands accused of trying to usurp earthly power and is being questioned by Pilate.  Pilate, however, only understands kingship from a worldly standpoint—in which a king is someone who lords his authority over his people and so forces them to conform to his will—and so Jesus’ answers confound him.  “It is your own people who have handed you over,” Pilate says.  But Jesus corrects him and tells him “No, no.  These are not my people.  They do not understand what real kingship is.  My people are those who belong to the truth, and those who belong to the truth understand who I am and why I came.”  Although we don’t read it today, Pilate’s next line is to ask Jesus, “What is truth?”  Can you believe it?  Truth himself was standing right in front of him and he had no clue.  Pilate had subjected himself to a worldly kingship and so he was blinded to seeing the truth of the kingship of Jesus.
          My sisters and brothers, we have a king in Jesus Christ!  He is not a king who lords it over us, as do the kings of the earth.  Rather, he is a “faithful witness … who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood [and] who has made us a kingdom of priests” for God our Father.  He is a king who rules in justice and in truth.  Therefore, in order to enjoy that kingship, we are called to subject ourselves to truth, like King St. Stephen did.
          This isn’t just for kings, though.  Whether you happen to be the king of a nation or the head of a household, we are all called to acknowledge the kingship of Christ and to subject every aspect of our lives to his dominion.  And this is not scary; because, as we’ve heard, Jesus is a “faithful witness … who loves us.”  And so no matter how we’ve been hurt in the past by those who love us—and all of us, I dare say, have experienced this—we can trust in Jesus’ love because he is truly faithful.
          Therefore my sisters and brothers, let us ask ourselves, “which areas of my life do I keep from the lordship of Jesus?”  And what we are really asking here is “Does truthfulness truly rule in every aspect of my life?”  At work, am I completely truthful with my boss, co-workers, and clients?  Do I truly give an honest day’s work, or do I take as much time for myself as I feel like I can get away with?  In my relationships with my spouse, my family, and my friends, am I completely truthful?  Or do I have a secret life that I hide from those closest to me?  Does truthfulness rule how I prepare my taxes and my contributions to the Church and charitable organizations?  Some of you might even be asking whether or not truthfulness rules my preaching…  Well, fair enough, and that is a question that I must ask myself daily.  Does truth rule my prayer?  In other words, do I allow myself to be open and honest with God, whether it is in private prayer, in the confessional, or here at mass?  And when I come forward to receive the Blessed Sacrament, do I truly open myself up completely to receive the Lord, or do I hold something back, ashamed to let the Lord see it?
          My sisters and brothers, Jesus Christ wants to be the Lord of every aspect of our lives.  He wants to be Lord of both the good and the beautiful—like the way we love our children or serve the poor—and he wants to be Lord of the bad and the ugly—like when we use our spouses, friends, or others to satisfy our selfish needs.  We allow him to be Lord when we submit each aspect of our lives to truthfulness.
          Now, we don’t have to do it all at once.  We can start with something basic: like giving an honest day’s work at our jobs or turning away from gossip when we are with our friends.  If one at a time we submit each aspect of our lives over to truthfulness, soon we will find that truthfulness reigns over every aspect of our lives.  And when truthfulness reigns over every aspect of our lives then we will come to know the joy of having allowed Jesus, who is truth, to be our king.
          And so, let us begin even now, here in this Eucharist, by submitting ourselves truthfully, flaws and all, to Jesus as we present our gifts of bread and wine to be offered on this altar.  Then, with the choirs of angels we can truthfully cry out in joy and say “Holy, Holy, Holy!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest to Christ our King!”

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 22nd, 2015

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Less hastags and more martyrs

Homily: 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
          In the early 1600’s, French Jesuit Jean de Brebeuf left France for the un-tamed wilderness of North America in order to proclaim the Gospel to the people of the Huron tribe in what is now the south-east part of Ontario, Canada.  He left a rather comfortable life in which he had everything he could ask for: a secure and clean home, food to spare, an excellent education, and the opportunity to work among his people proclaiming the Good News to them, and he travelled to a place where he had none of that.  He slept on a crude mat on the ground in a rough-shod shelter that was constantly filled with smoke from the heating fire because there was no ventilation.  He barely had food enough to sustain him and his education was all but useless as he struggled to communicate with a people whose language was completely different from his own.  All of this and the constant threat that a roving band of Iroquois—who were intent on killing any Huron or French person that they encountered—would attack them.
          Yet, John de Brebeuf was undisturbed.  He had a zeal for the souls of the Huron people and he longed for them to know Christ.  In one of his journals he wrote: “How I grieve, my God, that you are not known, that this savage country is not yet wholly converted to faith in you, that sin is not yet blotted out!”  He strove to learn their language.  In fact, it is because of him that we have any written record of the Huron language!  He loved them and he wouldn’t be turned away from this mission on which, he believed, God had sent him.  When he wrote to Isaac Jogues, his fellow Jesuit back in France, to prepare him to join him in his mission, he said: “You must love these Huron, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers.”
          In 1649 the Huron village in which Jean de Brebeuf was living was attacked by Iroquois.  The Huron insisted that Jean and his companion Gabriel flee the village and survive. They refused to leave their beloved Huron and instead endured horrific tortures at the hands of the Iroquois (Jean for 4 hours, Gabriel for 16 hours) before they died.  Over the nearly 25 years that he served the Huron nation, Jean de Brebeuf made over 7000 converts to the faith.  He never lost his zeal for their souls and his burning desire that all Native Americans would know Christ.
          As we approach the end of the Liturgical Year, the readings for Mass begin to focus on the “end times”: that is, Jesus’ second coming, the final judgment, and what it will be like leading up to that day.  They are all very graphic in describing the great tribulation that will precede the final judgment, but they all stop short of giving us a clear indication of when we can expect this all to happen.  It wouldn’t be hard to look at things that are happening here and now—most notably the horrible terrorist attacks in Paris last/Friday night—and to think to ourselves “What’s the hold up, Jesus?”  This is certainly a time of great trial and tribulation and so we can, perhaps, wonder “What is he waiting for?”
          Now, although I’ve never read anything to support my opinion, I’ve never read anything that refutes it, either, so I’m going to share with you my thoughts on when we can expect Jesus’ second coming.  In the second reading, from the letter to the Hebrews, the author says that the “eternal high priest” (he’s speaking of Jesus) has offered “one sacrifice for sins, and [has taken] his seat forever at the right hand of God”; and that “now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool” (other translations word it “he waits until his enemies are placed beneath his feet”).  Whenever I read this passage, I am struck by the fact that there seems to be a condition placed on Jesus’ waiting: “until his enemies are made his footstool”.  Now, we know that Jesus didn’t want worldly power, but rather the salvation of souls and the conquering of all sin; and so what else can he mean by “his enemies are made his footstool” than “everyone is converted to Christ and is free from sin”?  (Probably a lot of things, I’m sure, but this is the one that I just can’t escape.)
          Thus, my opinion, perhaps, isn’t so much an opinion about when Jesus will come as much as it is an opinion about how to hasten his coming.  Sin and those who cause men to sin are Jesus’ enemies.  Thus, to be converted and to leave off sin in the name of Jesus is to put Jesus’ enemies “beneath his feet”.  The sooner, therefore, that all of Jesus’ enemies are placed beneath his feet, the sooner Jesus will return to make his final judgment and, thus, usher in his kingdom of light, happiness, and peace.  Thus, to state it simply, if we want to be done with this world in which suffering, trial, and tribulation afflicts us—if we want to be done with senseless attacks like the ones that just happened in Paris—then we ought to be intensely focused on defeating sin, both within ourselves and in others, and on leading to conversion anyone not yet converted to Christ.
          In the Gospel reading, Jesus exhorts his disciples not to ignore the meaning of the tribulations that were coming.  Just as they would know that summer was near when leaves started sprouting on fig trees, so too, after these tribulations, they should know that his second coming will be upon them.  The attacks in Paris demonstrate that the Evil One is working to destroy God’s children, perhaps before they could become his friends, and so we must see this as the sign that now is our time to act.  If we have, in any way, neglected our mission to purify our lives from sin and to help others to do the same, then we must act now.  Our world is in desperate need of martyrs like Saints Jean de Brebeuf, Gabriel Lalement, and the other North American Martyrs: men and women whose love of Christ and zeal for souls was so great that even the real possibility of horrific torture and death wouldn’t stop them from proclaiming this Good News and, thus, bringing the day of Christ closer by placing more of Jesus’ enemies beneath his feet.
          My brothers and sisters, the enemies of Christ still abound.  If we wish to hasten his coming and thus end this time of suffering and tribulation, then we need less hashtags and more martyrs.  Mary, Our Mother, has spent her eternity as a missionary: appearing wherever there has been great trial and tribulation, or when there has been a great need/opportunity for conversions, in order to call all of God’s children to repentance.  May her prayers guide and protect us as we strive to continue that mission in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.  And may Jesus, who comes to us in this Eucharist, strengthen us to fulfill it.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 14th & 15th, 2015

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sentirse incómodo

Homilía: 32º Domingo en el Tiempo Ordinario – Ciclo B
          Una de las experiencias más conmovedoras que he tenido durante mi tiempo estudiando español en Guatemala ocurrió cuando yo fui en un viaje con otros dos estudiantes y un intérprete para visitar un par de pequeños pueblos al norte de la ciudad Guatemalteca de Cobán. Estos pueblos no tenían una fuente de agua potable y uno de los estudiantes con los que he viajado, Christopher, era un ingeniero que trabajó para diseñar sistemas simples para llevar agua potable de una fuente más alto de la montaña hasta el pueblo para su uso. Viajamos allí para que Christopher podría inspeccionar las fuentes potenciales de agua y hablar con los líderes de las aldeas sobre cómo cooperar en traer agua potable a su aldea.
          Después de comprobar de una fuente potencial de agua por la mañana temprano, hicimos nuestro camino hasta el pueblo para reunirse con la gente y hablar con sus líderes. Llegamos a la hora del almuerzo y ellos habían preparado una comida para nosotros. Todo el mundo se reunió en la sala de la comunidad y nos sentamos en la mesa principal. Luego nos sirvieron una sopa sencilla con la carne. Mientras tanto, todo el mundo miraba a comer. Era bastante incómodo para mí y yo no tenía ganas de comer, pero nuestro intérprete se inclinó y me hizo saber que la carne era algo que la gente de la aldea rara vez comían porque era muy caro y que no podían han brindado suficiente para alimentar a todo el mundo. Así que, me comí cortésmente mientras los demás miraban.
          Yo estaba muy conmovido por el gesto de hospitalidad y cuando pienso en la pobre viuda de Sarepta no puedo evitar recordar la hospitalidad que recibí de esas personas pobres en Guatemala. Y yo ni siquiera era el importante! Estas personas, sin embargo, me honraron como su invitado como la viuda de Sarepta honró a Elías, a pesar de lo que eso significaría para ella y para su hijo. La viuda consideraba su deber de hospitalidad primeramente y así lo hizo esta gente en Guatemala.
          Lo que me conmovió más, creo, era lo incómodo que me hizo. Claro, nunca he gustado ser el centro de atención, pero esto era diferente. Mi malestar estaba en el hecho de que me había convertido muy consciente de lo mucho que tenía y lo poco que tenían. Me había conducido a su pueblo en un camión alquilado. Estas personas probablemente no tienen un camión para compartir entre ellos y probablemente no tenía los medios para poner combustible en el mismo para que siga funcionando, incluso si lo hicieran. Yo tenía una ducha de agua caliente en la mañana, pero se bañan en el agua de lluvia que recogen de sus techos. Sin embargo, que me sirvió sopa con carne y luego me miraban comerlo porque no podían darse el lujo de hacer lo suficiente para todo el mundo! Y yo ni siquiera podía ofrecerles la promesa de lluvia para mantener su suministro de agua! Recuerdo que me sentí como los escribas que Jesús acusa de hacerse importante y de "echarse sobre los bienes de las viudas".
          Y no era sólo ese día, tampoco. De hecho, este pasaje del Evangelio siempre me hace sentir incómodo. Esto es porque yo sé que lo que doy para apoyar nuestra parroquia, la Iglesia en general, y de los pobres proviene de lo que sobra. Me esfuerzo por ser generoso, por supuesto, pero aun así es lo que sobra. Por lo tanto, mi conciencia me reta cuando reflexiono sobre pasajes del Evangelio como éste que leemos hoy. "No se está dando hasta el punto de sacrificar" mi conciencia me dice. "Pero puede ser un montón de dinero", razono con mi conciencia: "¿Qué Dios realmente quiere que yo lo doy todo?" Y no puedo dejar de pensar que esta parte, al menos—parte de decidir cuánto que debería estar dando—sería mucho más fácil si yo no tenía tanto.
          Algunos de nosotros, yo sé, están dando como la viuda. Usted está haciendo sacrificios para seguir dando a la Iglesia ya los pobres y usted debe sentirse elogiado por hacerlo. Sólo puedo imaginar lo difícil que debe ser para tratar de mantener un nivel constante de dar si usted está en un ingreso fijo, si usted está subempleada, o si usted está pagando las facturas de educación. Si este sacrificio intencional proviene de su sentido del deber hacia Dios y la Iglesia, entonces usted está ciertamente almacenando tesoros en el cielo.
          La mayoría de nosotros, sin embargo, dar de lo que sobra. Algunos de nosotros son minimalistas: tememos nuestra seguridad financiera o le damos en egoísta avaricia (o un poco de ambos) y así le damos tan poco como sea necesario con el fin de sentir como que hemos hecho nuestro deber. Este tipo de sentido minimalista de "deber" es piedad falsa, sin embargo, porque revela una falta de confianza en Dios. Muchos de nosotros, sin embargo, dar generosamente. Y debemos ser elogiado si esa entrega generosa realmente proviene de un sentido del deber hacia Dios y la Iglesia. Sin embargo, no estamos, quizás, en el punto de tener que sacrificar algo para que podamos dar.
          Mira, no estoy diciendo que debemos dar hasta el punto del sacrificio sólo para que podamos decir que lo hagamos y así sentirse justificado ante Dios. Lo que estoy diciendo, más bien, es que, al dar al punto de sacrificio, nos acercamos a una más confianza absoluta en Dios. En otras palabras, dando hasta el punto de sacrificio no es sólo un deber, pero tiene beneficios espirituales. Y este tipo de donaciones basado en la confianza es mucho más agradable a los ojos de Dios. La viuda de Sarepta de la viuda en el templo son dos grandes ejemplos de esto. Ambos abandonaron su última porción de la seguridad a Dios—y, por lo tanto, se dieron completamente dependiente de él para satisfacer sus necesidades—y ambos fueron recompensados por su fe.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, si todavía no hemos dado al punto de sacrificio, entonces tal vez el Evangelio de hoy hará que nos sintamos un poco incómodo. Debido a resolver este malestar, tendremos que dejarnos ser desafiado: que hacernos preguntas difíciles como "¿Cuánto confío en Dios?" y "¿Estoy dispuesto a darle todo si le pide por ello?" Desafortunadamente, no hay respuestas simples a estas preguntas, solamente un ejemplo a seguir: Jesús en la cruz. La fe total de Jesús en el Padre fue lo que hizo posible que él de soportar el sufrimiento de la cruz. Por lo tanto, cuando nos acercamos a este altar hoy para recibir el fruto de este sacrificio, oremos para que Dios nos dé esa misma fe, para que nosotros, también, podría darnos por completo a él y así compartimos la recompensa ganada para nosotros por Jesús : la vida eterna.
Dado en la parroquia Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

8 de noviembre, 2015

Feeling uncomfortable

Homily: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
          One of the most moving experiences that I had during my time studying Spanish in Guatemala happened when I tagged along on a trip with two other students and an interpreter to visit a couple of small villages north of the Guatemalan city of Coban.  These villages didn’t have a source of fresh water and one of the students with whom I travelled, Christopher, was an engineer who worked to design simple systems to bring fresh water from a source higher in the mountain down to the village for them to use.  We travelled there so that Christopher could inspect potential sources of water and talk to the leaders in the villages about how to cooperate in bringing fresh water to their village.
          After checking out a potential water source early in the morning, we made our way down to the village to meet with the people and talk with their leaders.  We arrived around lunch time and they had prepared a meal for us.  Everyone gathered in the community hall and we were seated at the head table.  We were then served a simple soup with meat.  Meanwhile, everyone else watched us eat.  It was rather awkward for me and I didn’t really want to eat, but our interpreter leaned over and let me know that meat was something that the people of the village rarely ate because it was so expensive and that they couldn’t have afforded enough to feed everybody.  So, I politely ate while the others watched.
          I was really moved by that gesture of hospitality and when I think of the poor widow of Zarephath I can’t help but be reminded of the hospitality that I received from those poor folks in Guatemala.  And I wasn’t even the important one!  I had just tagged along!  These folks, nonetheless, honored me as their guest like the widow of Zarephath honored Elijah, in spite of what that would mean for herself and for her son.  The widow considered her duty to hospitality first and so did these folks in Guatemala.
          What moved me most, I think, was just how uncomfortable it made me.  Sure, I’ve never liked being the center of attention, but this was different.  My discomfort was in the fact that I had become acutely aware of just how much I had and just how little they had.  I had driven to their village in a rented truck.  These people probably didn’t have a truck to share between them and probably didn’t have the means to put fuel in it to keep it running, even if they did.  I had a hot shower in the morning, but they bathe in rainwater that they collect off of their roofs.  Yet they served me soup with meat in it and then watched me eat it because they couldn’t afford to make enough for everybody!  And I couldn’t even offer them the promise of rain to maintain their water supply!  I remember feeling like the scribes whom Jesus accuses of making themselves important and of “devouring the houses of widows”.
          And it wasn’t just that day, either.  In fact, this Gospel passage always makes me feel uncomfortable.  This is because I know that what I give to support our parish, the greater Church, and the poor comes from my surplus.  I strive to be generous, of course, but it’s still my surplus.  Thus, my conscience challenges me whenever I reflect on passages in the Gospel like this one that we read today.  “You’re not giving to the point of sacrifice” my conscience tells me.  “But it can be a lot of money”, I reason with my conscience: “Does God really want me to give it all?”  And I can’t help but think that this part, at least—the part of deciding how much I should be giving—would be a lot easier if I didn’t have so much.
          Some of us, I know, are giving like the widow.  You are making sacrifices to continue giving to the Church and the poor and you should feel commended for doing so.  I can only imagine how difficult it must be to try and maintain a steady level of giving if you are on a fixed income, if you’re underemployed, or if you’re paying education bills.  If this willful sacrifice comes from your sense of duty to God and to the Church, then you are certainly storing up treasure in heaven.
          Most of us, however, give from our surplus.  Some of us are minimalists: we fear our financial security or we give into self-serving greed (or a little of both) and so we give as little as is necessary so as to feel like we’ve done our duty.  This kind of minimalist sense of “duty” is false piety, however, because it betrays a lack of trust in God.  Many of us, however, give very generously!  And we should be commended if that generous giving truly comes from a sense of duty to God and to the Church.  Yet we’re not, perhaps, at the point of having to sacrifice something so that we can give.
          Now, I’m not saying that we should give to the point of sacrifice just so that we can say that we do and thus feel justified before God.  What I am saying, rather, is that, in giving to the point of sacrifice, we approach a more absolute trust in God.  This kind of trust-based giving is much more pleasing in the eyes of God.  The widow from Zarephath and the widow in the Temple are both great examples of this.  Both gave up their last bit of security to God—and, thus, made themselves completely reliant on him to provide for their needs—and both were rewarded for their faith.
          My brothers and sisters, if we have not yet given to the point of sacrifice, then perhaps today’s Gospel will cause us to feel a little unsettled.  Because to resolve this discomfort, we will have to allow ourselves to be challenged: to ask ourselves hard questions like “How much do I trust in God” and “Am I ready to give him everything if he asks for it?”  Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to these questions, only an example to follow: Jesus on the cross.  Jesus’ total faith in the Father was what made it possible for him to bear the suffering of the cross.  Therefore, as we approach this altar today to receive the fruit of this sacrifice, let us pray that God would give us that same faith so that we, too, might give ourselves completely to him and thus share in the reward won for us by Jesus: eternal life.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 8th, 2015

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Greater than the greatest greatness

Homily: All Saints – Cycle B
          “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  Although it may seem like an innocuous question at first, this is actually a great question to ask kids as it often opens up a chance to see into their hearts.  For some reason, somewhere around the beginning of high school, we stop asking kids what they want to be and start asking them what they want to do.  As adults, we often stick with that language: resigning ourselves to a life of doing something instead of being something.
          This is why asking kids this question is so great: because a kid is going to tell you the deepest longings of his or her heart.  “I want to be a doctor” or “a fireman”, or “a teacher” or “a nurse” or “a race car driver” or even “a mom” or “a dad”.  And what are these kids all saying when they reply with one of these “careers”?  They’re saying “I want to be great.”  Each kid, when he or she looks at one of these careers, thinks to him or herself “That person is great, and I want to be that person.”  Obviously, this isn’t a conscious thought, because kids don’t think like that; and so perhaps it would be better to say that it is a “movement of the heart” that each kid experiences that speaks to an innate desire for greatness.
          Why is this innate desire within us?  Well, because in God we are destined for glory.  In the second reading from the first letter of Saint John we read: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  What else can he mean when he says “we shall be like him” except “we shall be like him in his glory”?  As children of God, we are destined to be like him, who is all-glorious; thus, we are destined for glory: that is, to be great beyond all imagination.  This, my friends, is what it means to be a saint.
          Unfortunately, however, we seem to have lost the connection between achieving saintliness and human excellence.  In other words, we’ve decided, it seems, that “greatness” and “saintliness” are different ambitions; and that if you want to achieve one you have to give up your hopes for the other.  But I’m here to tell you, my friends, that there is no greater greatness that you can achieve that is any greater than becoming a saint!
          It’s true that many saints were despised in their own times and seemed to eschew greatness while on earth—Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Anthony of the Desert, or any of the Martyrs—but that was because in their times the idea of greatness was a distorted one: these saints were great because they refused the lure of a distorted notion of greatness—a “this-world-only greatness”—in favor of the heroic greatness of preserving in virtue in spite of resistance.  Still other saints, of course, achieved great things in this world—Saint Louis IX of France, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary… a king and a queen! …or perhaps a more modern example, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—yet their worldly recognition was only a reflection of the appreciation that the world gave to them for persevering in heroic virtue throughout their lives.  Therefore, we can see that true greatness—heroic greatness—comes when we pursue saintliness.
          Let’s take a look, therefore, at that last example that I named: Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (or “Mother Teresa”).  I think that most people you encounter would agree that Mother Teresa was a great human being.  This little woman from Albania, who strove simply to respond to the Lord’s call to care for the world’s poorest in the streets of Calcutta, had world-wide influence: not because she was a skilled politician or was business savvy, but rather because she strove for saintliness in everything that she did; and in achieving this heroic greatness she awakened that dormant desire for greatness in the hearts of everyone that she met.
          What Mother Teresa proved—and what all the saints prove, really—is that true greatness is found when we live the Beatitudes: for she was poor in spirit before she was poor, she mourned for the most neglected in the streets of Calcutta, she was meek in how she approached others and in her own perception of her work, she hungered and thirsted for righteousness both for herself and especially for others, she was merciful to all whom she encountered, she strove to remain clean of heart by frequently confessing her sins, she strove to make peace because she saw war and conflict as cause of so much injustice, and she was persecuted by those who wrongly saw in her a veiled attempt to gain influence and power in the world.  Mother Teresa achieved greatness, not in spite of her saintliness, but precisely because of it.
          My brothers and sisters, All Saints Day is celebration of the women and men who have gone before us having achieved greatness precisely in their saintliness.  And it is a reminder to each of us of our need to pursue the greatness that we are destined for—to be glorified like God in heaven—by pursuing heroic virtue in this world as modeled for us in the saints.  Our inspiration?  Saint John gives this to us in our second reading when he says, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God” and “Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.”
          It’s true, isn’t it, that when we know that we are someone’s beloved, and when we desire to be loved by that person, we strive to make ourselves better for that person, don’t we?  Raise your hand if you’ve ever had that sappy romantic moment when you wanted to say to your best friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife, “You make me want to be a better person”.  Saint John is naming that for us in our relationship with God.  If we know that we are beloved by God, and if we desire to be God’s beloved, then we will make ourselves “pure” so as to be found even more favorable by God.  It’s not vanity, and it’s not trying to make God love us; rather, it is a response to being loved.
          My brothers and sisters, this All Saints Day, let’s wipe out the false separation between the two questions—“What do you want to be?” and “What do you want to do?”—and let’s unite them by asking them this way: “What do you want to be?” and “How are you going to be it?”  In this way we will see that all that we do must be ordered to what we want to be.  And if what we want to be are “saints”, then what we do will begin to be colored more and more by the Beatitudes and will move us ever closer to the true greatness that our hearts so deeply desire and for which we are destined.
          Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI famously once said, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort.  You were made for greatness!”  This All Saints Day, my brothers and sisters, let us commit ourselves, strengthened by the grace that we have in Jesus Christ through his sacrifice which we re-present here at this altar, to strive for that greatness for which we were made.  For it is in striving for it that we will truly achieve human excellence; and it is then that we will truly be All Saints.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN

October 31st and November 1st, 2015