Monday, February 29, 2016

Discovering completeness

          We are very blessed at All Saints to have eight people who will receive new life in the waters of Baptism this Easter and so we began this week with the first of the three scrutinies.  At the Mass in which these are celebrated, we use the readings from Year A; this week that included the Gospel reading of the "Woman at the Well".  It's such a beautiful exchange between the woman and Jesus which, I pray, touched the hearts of our Elect.

Easter is coming close!  Next weekend... Laetare Sunday!


Homily: 3rd Sunday of Lent – Cycle C (Scrutinies)
          Advertisers have a pretty simple job.  (Now remember that when I say “simple” I don’t necessarily mean “easy”, I just mean “not complicated”).  When creating an ad, they only have to accomplish two things: 1) they have to awaken a sense within the person that there is something missing from his or her life, something that he or she should not be living without, and 2) they have to prove to the person how their product can fill that void.  Pretty simple, right?
          Probably one of the clearest examples of this is the most recent Snickers candy bar ads.  It reads "Hungry?  Grab a Snickers.”  First, its asking “Aren’t you hungry?”, which, if you haven’t eaten in the last 20 minutes, you will subconsciously answer “Yes, I am.”  Then, it presents their product as the thing that you need to satisfy your hunger: either right now, or as the thing that you will think about the next time that you feel hungry.  What they’ve done in two easy steps is that they’ve awakened in you a sense that you are missing something and they’ve presented their product as the way to fill that void.
          Many ads are more clever and complex than this one—often proposing products that you wouldn’t think would have anything to do with fulfilling that need as being able to fulfill it: like how drinking a certain beverage can gain you friends and good times.  You don’t need a beverage to make friends, but they want you to believe that you do.
          This touches on a weakness of our human nature, I think.  You see, we were meant for eternal things: things that don’t just satisfy us in the here and now, but that satisfy us eternally.  Yet our nature, disfigured by sin, constantly strives to fill in the spaces that can only be fulfilled by eternal things with things of this world.  These very often are material things—cars, houses, clothes, gadgets, etc.—but they can also be non-material things—like relationships, power, and prestige among our peers.
          A case in point: there’s that famous scene from the movie “Jerry Maguire” in which Tom Cruise’s character confronts Renee Zellweger’s character to tell her his true feelings for her; and he says, with all dramatic sincerity, “You complete me.”  Now, this is very touching (and I’m as much a romantic as many of you are), but what he says is patently false.  The truth is that nothing in this world “completes” us, because we were meant for eternal things; and as long as we are living in this finite world we will never find completeness.  Simply stated, we were meant for God and nothing less than God can complete us.  Because our relationships can model for us the type of self-giving intimacy that we will experience when we are unified with God, we can feel as if they truly complete us; but the reality is that they can never fully complete us, because only God has in himself everything that we need to eternally complete us.
          And don’t we see this happening all around us.  People who are longing to feel that completeness and falling victim to every advertisement that says “those hungers that you have in your heart and in your body can be satisfied by this product”, when, if they knew the God who created them and who longs to fulfill all of those hungers within them, they would look past those things, using them for the goodness inherent in them, but not making saviors out of them.  These are the people who eat too much, drink too much, work too much, shop too much, hop from one relationship to another (or one marriage to another), or from one church to another…  They are failing to recognize that there is no satisfying our hungers in this finite world, because what we hunger for are things eternal.
          This is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in today’s Gospel reading.  It is the story of a person who has been seeking completeness in relationships so desperately that she has entered into marriage five times.  Not finding the completeness that she was looking for, she has given up on marriage, it seems, and has resigned to living with another man outside of marriage, so she could at least be provided for.  Her encounter with Jesus will awaken within her the realization that she is still longing for something more and how it is that she can find fulfillment.
          Jesus, like a good ad executive, grabs her attention by doing something unexpected: he asks her to give him a drink.  She was shocked because the social mores did not permit Jews and Samaritans to share utensils.  Now that Jesus has her attention, however, he awakens in her a sense of what it is that she’s been missing.  He says, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  At first she was skeptical: “How can this man, who doesn’t even have a bucket, give me flowing water?”  Jesus then promises something even more curious: “whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst”.  Whoa.  This is bigger than just a constant supply of water.  This is eliminating thirst altogether!  And the woman takes the bait: hook, line, and sinker.  “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”  Jesus awakened in her a sense of what she really wanted and offered her something that would satisfy that need, even if she didn’t understand how he could do it.
          Jesus didn’t stop there, however.  Rather, he went right on to awaken her to her deeper need.  He tells her to call her husband and, when she claims not to have a husband, Jesus shocks her again and reveals that he knows her as well as she knows herself.  Recognizing now that Jesus is more than just some random Jewish man, but that he is a prophet, she engages him in religious questions, ultimately prompting her to reveal that she was living in expectation of the coming of the Messiah—something that, whether or not she recognized it, was her deepest longing.  Jesus responds by revealing that he is the Messiah, the one that she (along with all the Jews) had been waiting for.
          Overwhelmed by this sudden taste of completeness, she runs off to tell everyone in town.  Having tasted true completeness, she was no longer concerned about the judgments of the townspeople—their approval or disapproval was no longer an issue; rather, her only concern was to share this good news.  In doing so, she brings others to know him (and, thus, to taste completeness), too.  Many of the townspeople came to Jesus because of the testimony of the woman; and they listened to him and they came to know for themselves the same completeness that the woman had experienced: the completeness that can only be realized by entering into relationship with the eternal.
          Eight of our brothers and sisters have had their sense of incompleteness awakened and have recognized that this incompleteness can only be satisfied by entering into a relationship with the eternal through baptism.  Last weekend, they were “elected”—that is, “chosen”—to receive this grace by our Bishop because they have shown an understanding that it is Jesus alone who can fulfill their incompleteness and they have shown a willingness to follow him.  Today (and in the following two weeks) we will “scrutinize” them: inviting them in concrete ways to leave off sin and to follow Christ.  And this is a call that we all receive as we participate in these scrutinies with them: that is, to renew our commitment to turn away from sin—in whatever form it has crept into our lives—and to follow Christ, who is our eternal completeness, with our whole hearts once again.
          Strengthened by our participation in this Eucharist, may we then go forth to proclaim with conviction to all those who are not with us that we have found everything that we have been longing for here, when we encountered Jesus Christ in his Church, and so invite them here to experience the same.  Then and only then, my brothers and sisters, will we begin to realize the fullness of the completeness that awaits us when we are all united with Christ in the eternal life of heaven.  May God strengthen us in our efforts to complete this good and holy work.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 28th, 2016

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

La fe no es ciega

Homilía: 2º Domingo de Cuaresma – Ciclo C
          Algunos de ustedes pueden estar familiarizados con el programa de juegos que se llama "Trato Hecho". Aquí, en los Estados Unidos, era un programa que define el género de programas de juegos y sigue siendo popular hoy en día. Si no lo ha visto, la premisa del juego era bastante simple: la gente común fueron reunidos en la audiencia en el estudio donde el presentador pasa a través de ellos y eligió aleatoriamente personas para ofrecerles premios y la oportunidad de negociar con estos premios por la posibilidad de ganar premios que eran más valiosos.
          Por ejemplo: el presentador preguntaría si alguien tenía un par de pinzas de pestañas y daría $100 a la primera persona que vio que tenía un par. Luego se procedería a tratar con ellos, ofreciéndoles algo más grande de valor desconocido (algo que, tal vez, estaba detrás de una de las grandes puertas). Las grandes puertas podían ocultar premios tan valiosos como carros o tan poco valor como un paseo en burro por el estacionamiento después del programa. Por lo tanto, el quid del programa: ¿iba la persona, que no tenía nada más que un par de pinzas de pestañas para empezar, renunciar a los $100 para tener la oportunidad de ganar algo mucho más valioso, sabiendo que en realidad podría ser algo sin valor; dejando así a volver a casa después de haber perdido incluso las pinzas de pestañas?
          Por supuesto, nunca hubo ninguna manera de saber con certeza lo que sería más allá de las puertas grandes. De este modo, los participantes tendrían que dar un salto de fe ciega que había algo valioso detrás de la puerta si querían la oportunidad de llevar a casa un premio más valioso. El hecho de que, más a menudo que no, la gente llevaron a casa premios más valiosos significaba que el programa se mantuvo muy popular durante mucho tiempo.
          Los concursantes en el programa tuvieron que utilizar la fe ciega si querían ganar un gran premio. En la superficie, eso no parece demasiado diferente de la oferta que Dios estaba ofreciendo a Abram en la primera lectura de hoy.
          El principio de nuestra lectura nos cae en medio de la conversación, al parecer, en el que Dios invita a Abram fuera de su tienda y le dice: "Mira el cielo y cuenta las estrellas, si puedes. Así será tu descendencia." Tal vez nuestra reacción natural es pensar, "Abram habría visto miles de estrellas... eso sería una promesa bastante impresionante." Cuando seguimos leyendo, sin embargo, nos damos cuenta de que no estaba en la noche que Dios propuso esta promesa, pero era el mediodía, porque más adelante en la lectura que lo describe el día acercando la puesta del sol, lo que indica que la primera parte de la conversación debe haber sido durante el día. Abram, por lo tanto, no podía ver las estrellas que Dios estaba pidiéndole que contar: más bien, eran "ocultados" detrás de la "puerta grande" del cielo.
          Por lo tanto, cuando la lectura dice que "Abram creyó lo que el Señor le decía", ¿fue que la fe ciega? Pienso que no. Miran, en "Trato Hecho" los concursantes no podía saber lo que estaba detrás de la puerta y, por lo tanto, eran "ciegos" a si es o no ocultó un premio valioso. Abram, por el contrario, sabía la inmensa cantidad de estrellas que estaban allí: los había visto. Y así, cuando Dios le prometió que sus descendientes serían tan numerosos como las estrellas, aunque en ese momento no podía comenzar a contarlos (porque no podía verlos), sabía que estaban allí y por eso su fe no era ciego. Es como si Dios le había dicho: "Del mismo modo que tú sabes que hay una gran cantidad de estrellas ahí fuera, a pesar de que ahora ya no te puedes ver, por lo que, también, hay una gran cantidad de descendientes que seguirá a ti, incluso aunque ahora no te puedes ver. Y tan seguro como tu eres que las estrellas van a aparecer después de la puesta del sol, por lo que aparecerán estos numerosos descendientes de los tuyos después de que el sol se ha puesto en tu vida."
          Esto, mis hermanos y hermanas, es la esencia de lo que es la fe. En la Carta a los Hebreos dice que "la fe es garantía de lo que se espera; la prueba de las realidades que no se ven." La fe es la "prueba", dice. Por lo tanto, cuando "Abram creyó lo que el Señor le decía " no era sólo una buena sensación que tenía, sino una convicción que le suministra a la prueba de que sus ojos no podían darle. "No puedo ver a mis descendientes," podría haber pensado para sí: "pero la fe me convence que lo que el Señor dice es verdad; por lo tanto, voy a poner mi confianza en él".
          En otras partes de los Evangelios, los discípulos de Jesús le piden "auméntanos la fe", a lo que Jesús dio su respuesta famosa: "Si tuvieran fe como un grano de mostaza, habrían dicho a este sicómoro: ‘Arráncate y plántate en el mar’, y les habría obedecido", lo que indica que él los quería tener confianza en la fe que ya tenían. Sin embargo, Jesús sí ofrece Pedro, Juan y Santiago la oportunidad de crecer la fe (es decir, “la prueba de las realidades que no se ven") dentro de ellos cuando los toma en la montaña y les permite ver él en su gloria en la transfiguración. Se permite esto porque sabe que van a tener su fe perturbada cuando él es detenido, condenado y crucificado. La fe les dirá que la muerte no es el fin de Jesús, sino más bien la gloria divina es; y para que puedan perseverar, a pesar de que todo parece haberse perdido. Fe, fortalecido por la experiencia de la transfiguración, suministrado la prueba de las realidades que no se ven.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, la fe es un don inmerecido de Dios que nos proporciona la convicción de que lo que Dios nos ha revelado es verdad y que lo que Dios nos ha prometido será nuestra. La fe nos fue dada en el bautismo. Es por esto que, en el rito del bautismo, inmediatamente después de que el ministro le pide el nombre del que ha de ser bautizado, le pide al que ha de ser bautizado, "¿Qué pides a la Iglesia de Dios?" y el que ha de ser bautizado puede responder: "La fe "; porque, de una manera muy real, el bautismo infunde la fe en el que es bautizado.
          Del mismo modo que la experiencia externa de ver a Jesús en su gloria dio a los apóstoles la seguridad interna de la resurrección de Jesús, así también la experiencia externa del bautismo nos debe dar la seguridad interna de la verdad que la fe nos revela: que ahora somos ciudadanos del cielo que esperan la segunda venida de Jesús, nuestro Salvador, el cual transformará nuestro cuerpo mortal ser como su cuerpo glorioso y, por lo tanto, nos da la bienvenida al entrar con él en nuestro hogar verdadero y eterno.
          Por nuestra pecaminosidad y nuestra falta de diligencia en nuestra vida espiritual Fe está atenuado dentro de nosotros. La Cuaresma, por lo tanto, es nuestro tiempo para eliminar todo lo que nos conduce al pecado y restaurar nuestro enfoque en la vida espiritual de modo que la luz de la Fe proseguirá suministrarnos las pruebas que necesitamos para confiar en las promesas de Dios. El Sacramento de la Reconciliación, junto con las disciplinas cuaresmales de la oración, el ayuno y la limosna son las herramientas que utilizamos para lograr este fin.
          Por lo tanto, mis hermanos y hermanas, consagrémonos de nuevo hoy para el uso de estas herramientas a su máximo; de manera que, en domingo de Pascua, podamos celebrar sabiendo que el premio más grande de todos los tiempos ya ha sido ganado para nosotros por medio de Jesucristo nuestro Señor: la plenitud de la vida eterna.
Dado en la parroquia de Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

21º de febrero, 2016

Faith is not blind

Homily: 2nd Sunday of Lent – Cycle C
          Most of you, I’m sure, will remember the game show “Let’s Make a Deal” with Monte Hall.  It was a show that defined the genre, in many ways, and whose popularity extends into its reincarnation today, hosted now by Wayne Brady.  You’ll recall that the premise of the show was pretty simple: regular folk were gathered into the studio audience where Monte Hall passed through and chose persons randomly to offer them prizes and then the chance to trade those prizes for the possibility of winning prizes that were more valuable.
          For example: Monte would ask if anyone had a pair of eyelash tweezers and would give the first person he saw who had a pair $100.  Then he would proceed to deal with them, offering them something bigger of unknown value (something, perhaps, behind one of the big doors).  The big doors could hide prizes as valuable as cars or as worthless as a ride on a donkey around the parking lot after the show.  Thus, the crux of the show: will the person—who had nothing but a pair of eyelash tweezers to start with—give up the $100 for a chance to win something much more valuable, knowing that it could actually be something worthless; thus leaving them to go home having lost even the eyelash tweezers?
          Of course, there was never any way to know for sure what would be beyond those big doors.  Thus, the contestants would have to take a blind leap of faith that there was something valuable behind the door if they wanted the chance to take home a more valuable prize.  The fact that, more often than not, people did end up taking home more valuable prizes meant that the show remained wildly popular for a long time.
          The contestants on the show had to use blind faith if they wanted to win a big prize.  On the surface, that doesn’t seem too different from the deal that God was offering Abram in today’s first reading.
          The beginning of our reading lands us right in the middle of the conversation, it seems, where God invites Abram outside of his tent and says: “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.  Just so … shall your descendents be.”  Perhaps our natural reaction is to think, “Abram would have seen thousands of stars… that would be a pretty impressive promise.”  When we keep reading, however, we realize that it wasn’t at night that God proposed this promise, but it was the middle of the day, because later in the reading it describes the day approaching sunset, indicating that the earlier part of the conversation must have been in the daytime.  Abram, therefore, couldn’t see the stars that God was asking him to count: rather, they were “hidden” behind the “big door” of the sky.
          So, when the reading says that “Abram put his faith in the Lord”, was it blind faith?  I don’t think so.  You see, on “Let’s Make a Deal” the contestants couldn’t know what was behind the door and, thus, were “blind” to whether or not it hid a valuable prize.  Abram, on the other hand, knew the vast quantity of stars that were out there: he had seen them.  And so, when God promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, even though at that moment he couldn’t begin to count them (because he couldn’t see them), he knew that they were there and so his faith was not blind.  It’s as if God had said to him: “Just as you know that there is a vast quantity of stars out there, even though now you cannot see them, so, too, there is a vast quantity of descendants that will follow you, even though now you cannot see them.  And just as sure as you are that the stars will appear after the sun sets, so will these numerous descendants of yours appear after the sun has set on your life.”
          This, my brothers and sisters, is the essence of what faith is.  In the Letter to the Hebrews it says that “faith is the realization of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.”  Faith is “evidence”, it says.  Therefore, when “Abram put his faith in the Lord” it wasn’t just a good feeling that he had, but rather a conviction that supplied to him the evidence that his eyes could not give him.  “I cannot see my descendants,” he might have thought to himself, “but Faith convicts me that what the Lord says is true; thus, I will place my trust in him.”
          Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus’ disciples ask him to “increase their faith”, to which Jesus famously responds: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you”, indicating that he wanted them to have confidence in the faith that they already had.  Nonetheless, Jesus does offer his handpicked leaders—Peter, John, and James—the opportunity to grow the faith (that is, the “evidence of things not seen”) within them when he takes them up on the mountain and allows them to see him in his glory in the transfiguration.  He permits this because he knows that they will have their faith “shaken” when he is arrested, condemned, and crucified.  Faith will tell them that death is not the end for Jesus, but rather divine glory is; and so they can persevere, even though all seems to have been lost.  Faith, strengthened by the experience of the transfiguration, supplied the evidence that their eyes could not see.
          My brothers and sisters, faith is an undeserved gift from God that supplies us with the conviction that what God has revealed to us is true and that what God has promised to us will be ours.  Faith was given to us at baptism.  This is why, in the Rite of Baptism, just after the minister asks the name of the one to be baptized, he asks the one to be baptized, “What do you ask of God’s Church” and the one to be baptized can reply: “Faith”; because, in a very real way, baptism infuses faith into the one who is baptized.
          Just as the outward experience of seeing Jesus in his glory gave the Apostles the inward assurance of Jesus’ resurrection, so too the outward evidence of baptism ought to give us the inward assurance of the truth that Faith reveals to us: that we are now citizens of heaven who await the second coming of Jesus, our savior, who will transform our mortal bodies to be like his glorified body and, thus, welcome us to enter with him into our true and eternal home.
          By our sinfulness and our lack of diligence in our spiritual lives Faith is dimmed within us.  Lent, therefore, is our time to clear away all that leads us into sin and to restore our focus on the spiritual life so that the light of Faith will continue to supply us with the evidence we need to trust in God’s promises.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation along with the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and giving alms are the tools that we use to achieve this end.  Let us, therefore, my brothers and sisters, rededicate ourselves today to using these tools to their fullest; so that, on Easter Sunday, we may celebrate knowing that the greatest prize of all time has already been won for us through Christ Jesus our Lord: the fullness of eternal life.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 21st, 2016

Monday, February 15, 2016

Checking your reality

Homily: 1st Sunday of Lent – Cycle C
          An African Impala is a grazing antelope that stands, on average, about four feet tall at the shoulder.  As suggested by its size, it is quite nimble, but also powerful.  Impalas have been known to jump up to 10 feet in the air (that’s the height of a regulation basketball hoop, by the way) and can long jump up to 30 feet (which is world-record length for human long jumpers).  Because of this, you might think that it would be quite hard to contain an African Impala.  Well, not really.  You see, an African Impala has a bit of an “Achilles’ heel” in that it will not jump unless it can see where it is that it is going to land; and so a solid fence of about five or six feet is generally enough to pen in an Impala.
          That seems silly, right?  Well, for us, sure.  We can look around and say “Hey, that’s a fence; usually there is more of the same on the other side and so, if I am standing on something solid and I jump it, I should have something solid on which to land on the other side.”  An Impala, however, is not intelligent in that way—it can’t reason like we do—and so it can only go on what its instinct tells it; and its instinct says, “Hey, if you’re going to jump 10 feet in the air, you better be sure that there’s something solid on which to land on the other side.  Otherwise it’s ‘game over’ for you.”  It can’t know the reality that it can’t see; and so, in spite of its impressive power, it can get trapped by a simple fence.
          As human beings, we can see beyond the empirical: that is, beyond those things that we can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell.  In other words, we have the ability to reason abstractly about situations and find solutions that other animals would not be able to find.  This is a great gift that God gave to us when he made us “in his image”.  Because of this, how we conform ourselves (or fail to conform ourselves) to reality has moral consequences.  We may blame the African Impala for “being stupid” because it gets trapped by a fence that it can easily jump over, but it could not choose whether or not it would be “stupid” (that is, “unintelligent”) and so applying a value judgment (that is, to say that it was either “good” or “bad”) is inappropriate.  We, however, are intelligent creatures; and so if one of us was penned in by a fence that we could easily hop over, we could rightfully blame that person for “being stupid”, that is, “unintelligent”, because he or she has the ability to know about reality beyond what the senses immediately perceive.  Now, when we apply this logic to the reality of what God has revealed to us, we come to know what it means to sin.
          Sin, using the line of thinking that we’ve just been using, is our deliberate refusal to conform ourselves to reality: both the reality that our natural senses present to us as well as the reality that God has revealed to us.  For example, let’s go back to the first sin.  Adam and Eve were in the Garden and God told them that they could eat of any tree in the Garden, except the one in the center of the Garden; and that if they ate the fruit of the tree in the center of the Garden they would die.  No problem, right?  There’s plenty of fruit in the Garden and so there’s no need to consider the fruit from the tree in the center of the Garden.  That’s when Satan comes and tempts Eve.  He challenges Eve to question the reality that God revealed to her: that if she ate of the fruit of that tree—fruit which looked pretty much like any other fruit in the Garden—she would die.  Eve, relying only on what she perceived by her natural senses, ignored the reality revealed to her by God—that, in spite of its looks, and in spite of what Satan told her about it, eating of that fruit would be deadly—and thus she condemned the human race to death when she took the fruit and ate it.
          This, of course, is the same scene playing out in the Gospel reading today.  Jesus, having just been baptized by John in the Jordan River, is driven by the Holy Spirit into the desert where he would pray and fast for 40 days.  At the end of that time, Satan comes to tempt him to conform himself to three false realities.  First is that power is given to man so that he can satisfy all of his bodily desires.  This is the temptation to change rocks into bread.  Second is that man’s capacity to worship is meant for our own gain.  This is the temptation to worship Satan so as to gain power over the nations of the world.  Third is that man’s status in God’s eyes makes God his servant, at his beck and call.  This is the temptation to put God’s promises to the test (saying, in effect, “Watch, I’ll make God do something for me.”).
          Jesus contradicts the proposed false realities by naming the true realities that God the Father had revealed.  Against the first temptation Jesus replies, “It is written, ‘One does not live on bread alone’”, meaning: “Power is not given to man so that he might satisfy his bodily desires”.  Against the second temptation Jesus replies, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve’”, meaning: “Worship is what we owe to God, because of his mercy to us, not as a way to get something for ourselves.”  Finally, against the third temptation (in which Satan tries to use Jesus’ tactic of quoting Scripture) Jesus replies, “It also says, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test’”, meaning: “The promises of God are not a license to be stupid, but a divine guarantee of protection in trial.”  In responding in this way, Jesus not only conforms himself to the reality that that he perceives through his natural senses, but more importantly he conforms himself to the reality that God the Father has revealed; and, thus, in stark contrast to Eve, he keeps himself from sin.
          My brothers and sisters, this Gospel reading is set before us on this First Sunday of Lent to remind us that Lent is a yearly “reality check” of sorts.  It is a time in which we are called to examine our lives in order to see whether or not we are living according to the reality both that our natural senses perceive and that God has revealed to us, or if we have given ourselves over to a false reality that Satan has presented to us.  Sin is choosing that false reality over the true one.  If we find that we are living according to a false reality, Lent is our time to turn away from that reality and to turn ourselves back to the true reality.
          And this shouldn’t be scary!  Remember, the fence beyond which the African Impala cannot see presents a false reality that there is nothing on the other side; and so it becomes trapped by conforming itself to that reality.  The true reality—that the same solid ground on which it is standing is waiting for it on the other side of the fence—would actually free the Impala; because then it could, with confidence, leap over the fence into freedom.  When we acknowledge the false realities by which we have been living, we then see that they have been confining us and, thus, we can leap beyond them into freedom.
          And so, how do we check our reality?  The same way that Jesus did: by knowing the Word of God as revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church.  If how you are living your life does not conform to the realities that God has revealed to us both in Sacred Scripture and in the Tradition that has been handed down to us through the Apostles and their successors, then you are living (in part, at least) in a false reality: a fence, set up by Satan, to keep you from experiencing the true freedom that God desires you to know.  Lent, my brothers and sisters, is our time to acknowledge those fences for what they are—false realities that trap us into death—so that we can be prepared to be renewed into the truest reality of them all: that we who have been baptized into the death of Jesus have risen with him into new life; the very same life that he now lives and that we encounter under sacramental signs here in this Eucharist.
          Let us, then, take up this good work of Lent; so that on Easter Sunday we may truly glory in the reality of our Lord’s victory over sin and death and enjoy once again the true freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 13th & 14th, 2016

Monday, February 8, 2016

Reciba misericordia. Dé misericordia.

Homilía: 5º Domingo en el Tiempo Ordinario – Ciclo C
          En marzo del 2003, yo era un ingeniero que había establecido a sí mismo en un camino hacia una carrera en la industria del automóvil. Yo estaba en un punto en mi vida cuando yo sabía que había algunas cosas que tendrían que cambiar—no para que yo pudiera tener éxito, sino más bien para que pudiera ser feliz—pero nunca pensé que esos cambios me llevarían demasiado lejos de ingeniería. Sin embargo, después de participar en una misión parroquial, me di cuenta de que mi vida pronto podría ser radicalmente diferente.
          Durante esa misión parroquial que había encontrado a Jesús de una manera muy personal; y cuando lo encontré de repente yo era muy consciente de mi pecado (y de lo defectuosa que era a causa de mi pecado). Allí me confesé por primera vez en más de 12 años y he experimentado de una manera profunda la profundidad de la misericordia de Dios. Salí de esa semana sabiendo que mi vida había cambiado para siempre—que Dios me enviaría en una dirección diferente—a pesar de que yo no sé qué sería esa dirección hasta algún tiempo después.
          Una de las cosas que me daba cuenta de forma rápida, sin embargo, era que mi vida ahora tendría que estar centrado en los demás. En otras palabras, sabía que, debido a que había recibido la misericordia de Dios, Dios quería que fuera un instrumento de su misericordia a los demás. Por lo tanto, mientras estaba orando para discernir la vocación de Dios para mi vida, empecé a involucrarme en los diversos ministerios de alcance en mi parroquia. Por supuesto, todos sabemos que el resto de la historia: que la forma específica que Dios me llamaba a ser un instrumento de su misericordia iba a ser un sacerdote en su Iglesia.
          El profeta Isaías fue ministro en el templo de Jerusalén. Un día, en el desempeño de sus funciones litúrgicas en el templo, Isaías tuvo una visión de la gloria del cielo y de la presencia de Dios. A pesar del esplendor de esta visión, Isaías se aparta de él, ya que, en presencia de Dios, él es muy consciente de su pecado—y, por lo tanto, su indignidad de estar en la presencia de Dios. En ese momento, un ángel lleva un brasa del altar y se purifica, por tocar a los labios, por lo que ya no tiene que temer estar en la presencia de Dios. Isaías fue limpiado misericordiosamente de su pecado. En respuesta, cuando la voz del Señor que llama a alguien para enviar a una misión, Isaías responde con prontitud, "Aquí estoy, Señor; envíame!" A pesar de que ya servía al Señor en el templo, su experiencia de la misericordia de Dios lo inspiró a ofrecerse para ser enviado en una misión de ser la voz de la misericordia de Dios a los demás.
          Pedro era un pescador de Galilea. Debe de haber sido un buen pescador, también, porque el Evangelio nos dice que Jesús subió a la barca de Simón y sólo aquellos que habían tenido éxito podría darse el lujo de poseer su propio barco. Después de que Jesús le había dado instrucciones para llevar la barca a mar adentro y echen sus redes para pescar—en un momento del día en el que nadie cogería nada, y después de haber pasado la noche (es decir, el buen momento para el pesca de peces) echando sus redes cogiendo nada—Pedro fue sorprendido por el pesca que se capturan y supo que estaba en la presencia de alguien poderoso. Esta realización fue seguida inmediatamente por una aguda conciencia de su propia pecaminosidad; y así Pedro se inclina ante Jesús y lo reconoce ante él. Jesús, sin embargo, tuvo misericordia en él y le da una comisión para atraer a otros a experimentar su misericordia, también, cuando dice: “No temas; desde ahora serás pescador de hombres.”
          Y aunque no fue contada por nosotros en nuestra lectura de hoy, la carrera de Pablo como apóstol es un resultado directo del mismo patrón. En el camino de Damasco—cuando aún estaba persiguiendo a los primeros cristianos—Pablo se encontró con Jesús resucitado. Después de ese encuentro, Pablo era muy consciente de su pecado. Dios le mostró su misericordia, sin embargo, y luego lo envió a anunciar la Buena Nueva de su merced a las naciones. Pablo, en su carta a los Corintios, sí reconoce esto por nosotros cuando dice: “Porque yo perseguí a la Iglesia de Dios y por eso soy el último de los apóstoles e indigno de llamarme apóstol. Sin embargo, por la gracia de Dios [es decir, la merced de Dios], soy lo que soy, y su gracia no ha sido estéril en mí.”
          Este patrón, creo, se puede resumir en una frase sencilla: reciba misericordia, dé misericordia. En cada uno de estos ejemplos que he relatado—a pesar de las muy diferentes circunstancias en que se produjo cada uno—la persona se dio cuenta de que estaba en la presencia de Dios y, por lo tanto, se hizo muy consciente de su pecado. Reconociendo sus pecados ante Dios, sin embargo, Dios le mostró su misericordia. Después de haber recibido la misericordia de Dios, se volvió a convertirse en un instrumento de la misericordia de Dios en el mundo. En otras palabras: primero que recibió la misericordia y luego se la dio. Esto no es una experiencia para los "pocos elegidos", sin embargo. Más bien, es algo que todos podemos experimentar.
          Con el fin de recibir misericordia, primero hay que reconocer su pecado ante Dios. Todos somos pecadores y así para reconocerlo abiertamente ante Dios le invita a mostrarnos su misericordia. Entonces, después de haber recibido su misericordia, nuestras vidas son cambiadas y que salgamos, no para volver a nuestra forma de vida pecaminosa, sino más bien de vivir nuestras vidas por él y ser instrumentos de su misericordia en la vocación única que ha dado a cada uno de nosotros. El Papa Francisco, en su mensaje para la Cuaresma de este año, dice que “la misericordia de Dios transforma el corazón del hombre haciéndole experimentar un amor fiel, y lo hace a su vez capaz de misericordia.” En otras palabras, cuando recibimos la misericordia de Dios nosotros somos transformados y, por lo tanto, habilitados para dar misericordia a los demás.
          Hablando de Cuaresma, todo ustedes saben que la Cuaresma comienza esta semana, ¿verdad? El tiempo de Cuaresma es un tiempo privilegiado para vivir este patrón—reciba misericordia, dé misericordia, porque los dos elementos principales ya son partes de ella. Se alienta a todos los católicos a celebrar el sacramento de la Reconciliación durante la Cuaresma, en el que reconocemos nuestra pecaminosidad ante Dios y recibir su misericordia. También nos alienta para llevar a cabo las obras de misericordia—en concreto, dar limosna a los pobres—lo que nos da la oportunidad de dar la misericordia de Dios a los demás. ¿Y qué mejor momento para renovar estos dos poderosos elementos de la vida espiritual que este Año Jubilar de la Misericordia?
          Quizás, entonces, esta semana se va a tomar un momento para hacer un compromiso firme delante de Dios para hacer que estos dos elementos serán parte de su renovación de Cuaresma: para recibir la misericordia de Dios en el Sacramento de la Reconciliación y para dar la misericordia de Dios ocupándose de las obras corporales y espirituales de misericordia. Les prometo que, si hace ese compromiso y sigue adelante con ella, su vida será diferente en la Pascua: diferente de una manera maravillosa y de gran alcance.
          Fortalecido por esta Eucaristía que celebramos hoy, mis hermanos y hermanas, podemos hacer que esto ocurra. Que Nuestra Madre María, que recibió tan grande misericordia cuando accedió a dar a luz al Hijo de Dios y que luego dio (y sigue dando) tan grande misericordia a los demás, interceda por nosotros y nos llevan a los brazos misericordiosos de su Hijo, donde todo lo que hemos esperado será encontrado.

Dado en la parroquia de Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN – 7 de febrero, 2016

Receive mercy. Give mercy.

Homily: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          In March of 2003, I was an engineer who had set himself on a path towards a career in the automotive industry.  I was at a point in my life when I knew that there were some things that would have to change—not so that I could be successful, but rather so that I could be happy—but I never thought that those changes would take me too far from engineering.  Nevertheless, after participating in a parish mission, I realized that my life might soon be radically different.
          You see, during that parish mission I had encountered Jesus in a very personal way; and when I encountered him I was suddenly deeply aware of my sinfulness (and of how broken I was because of my sinfulness).  There I went to confession for the first time in over 12 years and I experienced in a profound way the depths of God’s mercy.  I left from that week knowing that my life had changed forever—that God would be sending me in a different direction—even though I wouldn’t know what that direction would look like until some time later
          One of the things that I did quickly realize, however, was that my life would now have to be focused on others.  In other words, I knew that, because I had received God’s mercy, God wanted me to be an instrument of his mercy to others.  Thus, even while I prayed to discern God’s vocation for my life, I began to involve myself in the various outreach ministries in my parish.  Of course, we all know the rest of the story: that the specific way that God was calling me to be an instrument of his mercy was to be a priest in his Church.
          The prophet Isaiah was a minister in the Temple of Jerusalem.  One day, while performing his liturgical duties in the Temple, Isaiah was given a vision of the glory of heaven and of the presence of God.  In spite of the splendor of this vision, Isaiah turns away from it because, in the presence of God, he is acutely aware of his sinfulness—and, thus, his unworthiness to stand in God’s presence.  Just then an angel carries an ember from the altar and “purifies” him by touching it to his lips so that he no longer has to fear being in the presence of God.  Isaiah was mercifully cleansed from his sinfulness.  In response, when the voice of the Lord calls out for someone to send on a mission, Isaiah promptly replies, “Here I am; send me!”  Although he was already ministering to the Lord in the Temple, his experience of God’s mercy inspired him to volunteer to be sent forth on a mission to be the voice of God’s mercy to others.
          Peter was a fisherman in Galilee.  He must not have been a bad fisherman, either, because the Gospel tells us that Jesus got into the boat “belonging to Simon” and only those who had been successful could afford to own their own boat.  After Jesus had instructed him to put out into deep water and lower his nets for a catch—at a time of day in which no one would catch anything, and after having spent the night (that is, the good time for catching fish) lowering his nets and catching nothing—Peter was astounded at the catch that was made and knew that he was in the presence of someone powerful.  This realization was immediately followed by an acute awareness of his own sinfulness; and so Peter bows down before Jesus and acknowledges as much before him.  Jesus, however, shows him mercy and gives him a commission to draw others to experience his mercy, too, when he says: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
          And although it wasn’t recounted for us in our reading today, Paul’s career as an Apostle is a direct result of the same pattern.  On the road to Damascus—when he was still persecuting the first Christians—Paul encountered the Risen Jesus.  After that appearance, Paul was acutely aware of his sinfulness.  God showed him his mercy, however, and then sent him out to proclaim the Good News of his mercy to the nations.  Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, does acknowledge this for us when he says “For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God [that is, the mercy of God] I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.”
          This pattern, I think, can be summed up in a simple phrase: Receive mercy, give mercy.  In each of these examples that I’ve recounted—in spite of the very different circumstances in which each occurred—the person became aware that he was in the presence of God and, thus, became acutely aware of his sinfulness.  Acknowledging his sinfulness before God, however, God showed him his mercy.  Having received God’s mercy, he then turned to become an instrument of God’s mercy in the world.  In other words, first he received mercy and then he gave it.  This is not an experience for the “chosen few”, however.  Rather, it is something that all of us can experience.
          In order to receive mercy, one must first acknowledge his or her sinfulness before God.  We are all sinners and so to openly acknowledge this before God invites him to show us his mercy.  Then, having received his mercy, our lives our changed and we go forth, not to return to our sinful way of life, but rather to live our lives for him and to be instruments of his mercy in the unique vocation that he has given to each of us.  Pope Francis, in his message for Lent this year, says that “God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn.”  In other words, when we receive God’s mercy we are transformed and, thus, enabled to give mercy to others.
          Speaking of Lent, everybody knows that Lent begins this week, right?  The season of Lent is a privileged time for us to live this pattern—receive mercy, give mercy—because the two main elements are built right in.  All Catholics are encouraged to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent, in which we acknowledge our sinfulness before God and receive his mercy.  We are also encouraged to perform the works of mercy—specifically, giving alms to the poor—thus giving us the chance to give God’s mercy to others.  What better time to renew these two powerful elements of the spiritual life than this Jubilee Year of Mercy?
          Perhaps, then, this week you’ll take a moment to make a firm commitment before God to make these two elements part of your Lenten renewal: to receive God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to give God’s mercy by engaging in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  I promise you that, if you make that commitment and follow through with it, your life will be different at Easter: different in a wonderful and powerful way.
          Strengthened by this Eucharist that we celebrate today, my brothers and sisters, we can make this happen.  May Our Mother Mary, who received such great mercy when she agreed to give birth to God’s Son and who then gave (and continues to give) such great mercy to others, intercede for us and lead us to the merciful arms of her Son, where all that we have hoped for will be found.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 7th, 2016

Monday, February 1, 2016

Making an eternal difference

Homily: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          Back when I was working as an engineer for Delphi Automotive Electronics in Kokomo, one of the main products that I worked on was development of DVD players for rear-seat entertainment systems that are installed into new cars.  The great irony of that assignment was that, at that time, I didn’t even own a DVD player!  These were the first systems being integrated from the factory into new cars; and so you can imagine that there were some problems getting these systems ready for production.  I worked a lot of overtime chasing down software glitches and improving quality and all of that work started to wear on me.
          I remember having many conversations with a good friend of mine (who was also an engineer and a few years older than me) and saying to him “You know, I just don’t feel like I’m really doing anything.  I’m stressing out and working myself to death, and for what?  So that some soccer-mom’s kids can watch a movie in the back of the minivan?  That just doesn’t seem to be worth it; like it’s making a difference in the world.”  My friend would always remind me not to underestimate how important that five minutes of quiet could be for that soccer-mom, but I could never get over the feeling that I wasn’t making a difference that mattered in peoples’ lives.
          I suppose that all of you should be thankful that my friend’s response didn’t satisfy me, because otherwise I wouldn’t be here.  That dissatisfaction led me to pursue a different job—even a different career path—and ultimately (once I experienced a profound awakening of faith) to discern God’s will that I become a priest, which landed me right here at All Saints Parish.  All because I had this urge within me to make a positive difference in the world.
          I think that all of us have a similar urge within us: an urge to make a positive difference in the world—that is, to do something worthwhile.  And, although we love our vacations (and we wish that we had more of them), we all know that our fulfillment and meaning comes from achieving something that will last, rather than sitting around, soaking up the sun and drinking lemonade.  God made us in his image and God creates.  Therefore, we are, by nature, co-creators with him.  We are built to create things and our unique instincts tell us that we should build things that make positive, lasting impacts on the lives of those around us.
          Unfortunately, too many of us think that the way to do this is to be productive: that is, to make something tangible that will create this positive impact and, thus, stand as our legacy long after we’ve died.  While there many who will truly make a positive impact on the people around them (and, perhaps, even beyond them) by what they produce, there are only a few whose impact will be remembered beyond the generation that follows them.  For the rest of us, there is only one thing that we can build that will truly leave a lasting impact well into the future: the kingdom of God.
          Believe it or not, each and every one of us that bears the name of “Christian” is called to be a prophet: one who builds God’s kingdom by proclaiming Christ and by making the world a more just and loving place through the works of mercy.  Listen to what the Catechism has to say, which quotes the Second Vatican Council:
 “Christ... fulfills this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy... but also by the laity. He accordingly both establishes them as witnesses and provides them with the sense of the faith [sensus fidei] and the grace of the word.” … Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, “that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life.” For lay people, “this evangelization... acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world.” (CCC 904, 905)
In other words, Christ himself establishes all of us—the clergy as well as the laity—as prophets in the world, due simply to the fact that we participate as members of his one Body.  The prophetic role of the laity, moreover, is unique: since “it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world”—that is, in the circumstances of your day-to-day lives.  Thus, by proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and by living our lives in accord with what we proclaim, we build God’s kingdom and make a positive impact on the world: an impact that lasts.  When we choose not proclaim this message in both our words and actions, we lose our chance to make that change and the world is negatively impacted.  No, there is no neutral ground.  Either we proclaim this message and build God’s kingdom or we fail to do so and the kingdom suffers.
          In our network of relationships, there are literally hundreds of opportunities to call people to "repent and believe in the Gospel".  And so, the question that we need to ask ourselves daily is: “Who in our network of relationships needs to hear this message?”  A son or a daughter?  A friend, cousin, or co-worker?  Let us make a commitment today to reach out to at least one of them: perhaps with a phone call, a letter, an e-mail, or even message on Facebook.  And what about how we live as followers of Christ?  What areas of my life need reform in order to proclaim this good news by my actions?  Let’s also make a commitment today to start working on that reform.  Although both of these may make us uncomfortable (in fact, they make me uncomfortable just talking about them, since I know that, because of my position, I’ll be held more accountable if I don’t follow through), it is better to be uncomfortable for a while here in this life, than to be uncomfortable forever in the next life.
          Friends, let us not be afraid to engage in this good work that God has given to us: for he has given us the same promise that he gave to Jeremiah, the prophet, when he said “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”  Consecrated by our baptism and strengthened by this Eucharist, we already have every grace that we need to fulfill it.  May the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all of the saints keep us faithful to this work so that we might see the kingdom of God flourish among us.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 30th & 31st, 2016