Sunday, January 29, 2017

Consider your own calling...

Homily: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          There once was a famous preacher who, taking his cue from a famous journalist, would teach his students of the importance of including real names of persons in their sermons.  (It's ironic that I would begin my preaching with this, because I cannot remember the names of either the preacher or the journalist!)  The journalist famously once quipped: “If I printed names out of the phone book, people would read it just to see if they, or if someone they knew, was included.”  Using personal names in a sermon, this preacher taught, will catch people’s attention as they listen for whether or not they’ll either hear their own name, or the name of someone whom they know.
          Jesus begins his famous teaching, the Sermon on the Mount, utilizing this same principle.  Although he doesn’t use personal names, he nonetheless names many of those who were following him as he names many of the situations in which they were living.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are the meek…”  I can see many a poor tradesman and many a homemaker in the crowd look up and say “Hey, that’s me!”  “Blessed are they who mourn…”  I can see a woman, newly widowed, perhaps, look up and say “Hey, that’s me!”  “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”  I can see a zealot who wants nothing more than to see the Roman occupiers expelled from Jerusalem look up and say “Hey, that’s me!”  And so on… Jesus knows to whom he is reaching out and he wants them to know that the kingdom of God is for them.  And so, he calls them out “by name” and shares how they, too, will be included in God’s plan.
          Saint Paul didn’t have the Beatitudes written down for him when he was on his missionary journeys.  Nonetheless, when he wrote to the Church in Corinth, he cited this Gospel principle.  The Corinthians, it seems, were beginning to think a bit much of themselves and so Paul deems it necessary to remind them from where they came.  “Consider your own calling,” he wrote.  “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”  “Remember”, in other words, “that God did not call you because you were a ‘mover and a shaker’.  He called you because you were humble and lowly.”  Catching their attention in this way, he can then remind them: “Blessed will you be if you remain meek and humble, boasting only in the Lord, for the kingdom promised to you will be yours.”
          This, of course, has been God’s “M.O.” for the longest time.  The prophet Zephaniah is calling out the ancient Israelites for the same thing.  In the passage that we read today, the prophet is announcing a pending tribulation for the people because of their disobedience to God.  He’s calling the “humble of the earth, who have observed [God’s] law” to “seek the Lord”, in the hope that the Lord, when the tribulation comes, will shield them from the suffering that will befall this people.  “Don’t be arrogant”, he seems to be saying, “but rather seek justice, seek humility, and perhaps the Lord, looking on your lowliness, will shelter you on the day of his anger.”  Alerting the people in this way, he then reveals God’s promise: that God will not wipe out his people completely, but rather that he will leave a remnant from them: “a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord…”
          This warning—"Seek the Lord"—comes to us today and should be received as a warning for our time.  I know that we have set ourselves on the course to "make America great again", but we should remember that prosperity is not to be pursued over righteousness before God.  "Seek the Lord", as we read it in today’s reading, is equated with "seek justice" and "seek humility".  These, therefore, are the things that we ought to be seeking; because these will make America truly great again.
          My brothers and sisters, we must not allow ourselves to be lured into presumption: that by our merits we are "okay" with God.  Rather, we must continue to humble ourselves before Him: recognizing that all that we have that is good has come from Him.  In doing so, we will keep from boasting in our own achievements and always give credit where credit is due: to God, from whom all good things come.  Providentially, this is a great point of evangelization; because when we demonstrate what God has accomplished in us—not boasting in ourselves, but in what God has done in spite of ourselves—we show to others that they don’t have to have their lives completely together in order to be chosen by God.  Rather, they simply need to humble themselves before Him, so that He can make them, too, into something great.  Just like it was for Jesus when he began to teach the crowds in the Sermon on the Mount, and just like it was for Paul when he was first proclaimed the Gospel to the people in Corinth, this teaching can be very attractive for people who are struggling in life, thinking that they have to earn God’s love before they can come to him.
          My brothers and sisters, the Beatitudes are commentaries on the reality of the human condition.  If we cannot see that, it is because we are blinded by the pride that says that we have to be successful, powerful, and influential in life.  Jesus’ teaching is meant to contradict this pride: teaching us that by accepting this reality (and the sufferings that inevitably come with it) we will be living the human condition well, in humility and lowliness, and, therefore, that we will have a reward of great joy in the life that is to come.
          Thus, our task this week is to step back and to ask ourselves: “Do I identify with any of these beatitudes?”  In other words, at any point in the readings did I look up and say “Hey, that’s me!”  If yes, then great!  Continue to seek the Lord by seeking justice and humility and giving all credit to the Lord for any good that you have done and will do.  If no, then perhaps it’s time to heed Saint Paul’s admonition to “consider your own calling” and to remember that, if you have been called by God, it is because he saw you in your lowliness and desired to raise you up so as to show the world that he doesn’t need the powerful to accomplish his will.  Thus, you can recommit yourself to humble obedience, boasting that God has accomplished great things through you.
          My brothers and sisters, Jesus, himself, became poor in spirit so that we might receive the kingdom of God.  As we offer this sacrifice of thanksgiving for so great a gift, let us open our hearts to that same poverty of spirit so that we might experience the fullness of that kingdom: both here, under sacramental signs, and in the life to come.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 28th & 29th, 2017

Sunday, January 22, 2017

El jardín que florece

          Amigos, por favor oren conmigo mañana por un mayor respeto por la vida: sobre todo que nuestra nación se convierta en un lugar donde cada vida, desde la concepción hasta la muerte natural, sea protegida y respetada.


Homilía: 3º Domingo del Tiempo Ordinario – Ciclo A
          Si hay algo que las elecciones del año pasado y la inauguración presidencial del viernes pasado han demostrado para nosotros, es que nuestro país sigue siendo lamentablemente dividido. Esto es triste, porque en última instancia debemos celebrar nuestra democracia y mirar hacia el futuro; pero estamos peleando como niños en vez de resolver nuestras diferencias como adultos.
          Y aunque desearía poder decir que se trata de un problema secular que no afecta a la Iglesia, una observación demostrará que es un problema humano; y puesto que la Iglesia es tanto una institución humana como una divina, nuestra capacidad humana de pelear como niños encuentra su propio lugar entre nosotros. La historia de la Iglesia, de hecho, es una historia de una crisis tras otra. Esto se debe, como ya he mencionado, a nuestra naturaleza humana caída, sino también porque, desde el momento de la Ascensión de Cristo al cielo hasta el día de su Segunda Venida, la Iglesia ha estado y continuará comprometida en una guerra espiritual, en la que Satanás ataca a nuestra humanidad caída y constantemente busca dividirnos.
          Este mismo hecho está en exhibición incluso en la primera generación de cristianos. Si leen las cartas de San Pablo, verán que muchos de ellos eran, de hecho, ejercicios de gestión de crisis, escritos en respuesta a crisis de fe, moral o disciplina eclesiástica. El pasaje que hoy escuchamos de la Primera Carta de San Pablo a los Corintios es un buen ejemplo de esto.
          Pablo había fundado la comunidad cristiana en Corinto durante su segundo viaje misionero. Como de costumbre, pasó meses reuniendo e instruyendo a los creyentes después de lo cual se designó líderes locales—los primeros sacerdotes y obispos—para seguir con su trabajo, mientras que él se trasladó a otro lugar para repetir el mismo trabajo. Ahora, sin embargo, ha recibido noticias de que la comunidad que estableció en Corinto se está dividiendo. La lucha ha estallado entre diferentes camarillas de creyentes, que habían declarado lealtades a diferentes líderes de la Iglesia primitiva, rompiendo así la familia de los cristianos. Y así San Pablo les escribió para recordarles que no es la persona que predica lo que importa, sino la persona que es predicada, es decir, Jesucristo, y que todos los cristianos están llamados a unirse en Cristo, el único Señor, No dividida en campos de "estoy con ella" o "estoy con él". Él los exhorta firmemente a estar "unidos en un mismo sentir y en un mismo pensar", porque Cristo es de un sentir y de un pensar.
          Este mismo problema ha surgido muchas veces en la historia de la Iglesia. Por ejemplo, en el siglo XIII, cuando los franciscanos y los dominicos fueron fundados, muchos católicos comenzaron a dividirse: elogiar a un grupo mientras criticaban al otro. Ésta, por supuesto, era una división que ni Francisco ni Dominic querían y que, como San Pablo, trabajaban diligentemente para eliminar.
          Hoy, por supuesto, nos enfrentamos a la misma tentación. En los últimos años, Dios ha levantado una variedad de nuevos movimientos, órdenes religiosas, apostolados y asociaciones laicales. Lo ha hecho para abrir nuevos canales de gracia, armando y apoyando a la Iglesia en un nuevo época de la historia. Desafortunadamente, esta floración de nuevas espiritualidades también ha causado rivalidades y divisiones. "Desafortunadamente", porque todos sabemos que un jardín es más hermoso y más floreciente cuando hay una gran variedad de flores dentro de él. Y entonces, ¿por qué alguno de nosotros en el jardín criticaba las rosas porque no parecían como narcisos o criticaban a los narcisos porque no olían como los lirios? Mis hermanos y hermanas, como nos exhorta San Pablo, debemos poner fin a todas las rivalidades no cristianas, debemos silenciar todas nuestras críticas destructivas, y debemos ser de un sentir y de un pensar si esperamos cumplir el propósito único de Dios para nosotros: es decir, que todos los pueblos estarían unidos a él en la Iglesia Católica.
          Entonces, ¿por qué no hemos hecho esto todavía? Porque, como he mencionado antes, somos seres humanos caídos y estamos llenos de tendencias egoístas. Gracias a Dios, por lo tanto, que Cristo está siempre trabajando en nosotros para contrarrestar nuestra naturaleza caída. A través de la oración y de los sacramentos, su gracia penetra en nuestras mentes y corazones, transformándonos en cristianos maduros, sabios y fructíferos. Pero la gracia de Dios no hace todo el trabajo para nosotros; Más bien, él lo da libremente y luego nos deja a nosotros para ponerlo a buen uso. Y aunque hay muchas cosas prácticas que podemos hacer para activar la gracia de Dios y convertirnos en agentes de unidad, en vez de división, hoy resaltaré sólo dos (esta es tu tarea; hazte notas).
          Primero, debemos desarrollar la autodisciplina en lo que decimos. Las palabras, como todos sabemos, pueden ser armas poderosas tanto para el bien como para el mal. En la cultura de hoy, la falta de respeto por las palabras es desenfrenada (sólo pasar cinco minutos en las redes sociales y lo verás). Lamentablemente, se ha vuelto normal y aceptable usar palabras como cuchillos, cortando a la gente. Un cristiano, sin embargo, debe usar palabras como llaves: abriendo corazones y mentes, animando a otros, construyendo la comunión, hablando bien de los vecinos, o no hablando en absoluto. Si esperamos ser agentes de unidad, en lugar de división, mis hermanos y hermanas, entonces esta es una habilidad que todos debemos practicar constantemente.
          Segundo, debemos desarrollar el autocontrol de nuestras emociones. ¿Cuántas veces nos hemos arrepentido de las palabras pronunciadas en cólera, mensajes de correo electrónico o textos escritos en frustración, y las decisiones tomadas en medio de la pasión? Cuando las olas de emociones fuertes se rompen sobre nosotros como una tormenta, pueden hacer que perdamos nuestra autodisciplina en lo que decimos y rápidamente nos llevan a usar palabras de manera destructiva. Por lo tanto, incluso si nuestras emociones parecen justas, debemos practicar la disciplina de alejarnos de cualquier decisión importante, conversación o correspondencia hasta que nuestras emociones hayan desaparecido y podamos pensar claramente otra vez. Entonces estaremos listos para usar nuestras palabras de manera constructiva y así contribuir a edificar la Iglesia y nuestra comunidad, en vez de destrozarla.
          Por supuesto, toda esta desunión y división no desaparecerán de la noche a la mañana; Pero desaparecerá si comenzamos a trabajar diligentemente para construir la unidad por estar "perfectamente unidos en un mismo sentir y en un mismo pensar", que es Cristo. Y así, hoy, a medida que Cristo renueva su compromiso con nosotros en esta Misa, vamos a pedirle la gracia que necesitamos para sanar las divisiones que nos azotan, y prometamos hacer nuestra parte para estar siempre "unidos en sentir y pensar" con él y con su Iglesia.

Dado en la parroquia Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN – 22 de enero, 2017

The garden that flourishes

          Friends, please pray with me tomorrow for a greater respect for life: especially that our nation will become a place where every life, from conception to natural death, is protected and respected.
Homily: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          If there is anything that last year’s election and this past Friday’s presidential inauguration has demonstrated for us, it is that our country remains woefully divided.  This is sad, because ultimately we should be celebrating our democracy and looking forward to the future; but instead we are bickering like overly-emotional twelve year olds trying to make mom or dad pick a side and declare a winner.
          And while I wish that I could say that this is a secular problem that doesn’t affect the Church, simple observation will show that it is a human problem; and since the Church is as much a human institution as it is a divine one, our human capacity to bicker like twelve year olds finds its own place among us.  The history of the Church, in fact, is a history of one crisis after another.  This is because, as I’ve already mentioned, of our fallen human nature, but also because, from the time of Christ's Ascension into heaven until the day of his Second Coming, the Church has been and will continue to be engaged in a spiritual war, in which Satan attacks our fallen humanity and constantly seeks to divide us. 
          This very fact is on display even in the first generation of Christians.  If you read through Saint Paul's letters, you’ll find that many of them were, in fact, exercises in crisis management, written in response to crises of faith, morals, or church discipline.  The passage we heard today from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is a good example of this.
          Paul had founded the Christian community in Corinth during his second missionary journey.  As he usually did, he spent months gathering and instructing believers after which he appointed local leaders—the first priests and bishops—to continue his work, while he moved on to another place to repeat the same work.  Now, however, he has received news that the community he established in Corinth is becoming divided.  Strife has broken out among different cliques of believers, who had declared allegiances to different early Church leaders, thus breaking up the family of Christians.  And so Saint Paul wrote to them to remind them that it's not the person who preaches that matters, but rather the person who is preached: that is, Jesus Christ, and that all Christians are called to be united in Christ, the one Lord, not divided into camps of “I’m with her” or “I’m with him”.  He strongly exhorts them to "be united in the same mind and in the same purpose", because Christ is of one mind and of one purpose. 
          This same problem has come up many times in the history of the Church.  For example, in the thirteenth century, when the Franciscans and the Dominicans were founded, many Catholics began to be divided: praising one group while criticizing the other.  This, of course, was a division that neither Francis nor Dominic intended and which, like Saint Paul, they worked diligently to eliminate.
          Today, of course, we face the same temptation.  In recent years, God has raised up a variety of new movements, religious orders, apostolates, and lay associations.  He has done this in order to open up new channels of grace, arming and supporting the Church in a new period of history.  Unfortunately, this flowering of new spiritualties has also caused rivalries and divisions.  “Unfortunately”, because we all know that a garden is often most beautiful and most flourishing when there are a wide variety of blossoms within it.  And so why would any of us in the garden criticize the roses because they don’t look like daffodils, or criticize the daffodils because they don’t smell like lilies?  My brothers and sisters, as Saint Paul urges us, we must put to rest all un-Christian rivalries, we must silence all of our destructive criticism, and we must be of one mind and of one purpose if we hope to fulfill God’s one purpose for us: that is, that all peoples would be united to him in the Catholic Church.
          So why haven’t we done this yet?  Because, as I’ve mentioned earlier, we are fallen human beings and we are full of selfish tendencies.  Thanks be to God, therefore, that Christ is always at work in us to counteract our fallen nature.  Through prayer and the sacraments, his grace penetrates our minds and hearts, transforming us into mature, wise, and fruitful Christians.  But God's grace doesn't do all the work for us; rather, he gives it freely and then leaves it up to us to put it to good use.  And while there are many practical things that we can do to activate God's grace and become agents of unity, instead of division, today I’ll highlight just two (this is your homework).
          First, we must develop self-discipline in what we say.  Words, as we all know, can be powerful weapons for both good and evil.  In today's culture, lack of respect for words has become rampant (just spend five minutes on social media and you’ll see).  Sadly, it has become normal and acceptable to use words like knives, cutting people up.  A Christian, however, should use words like keys: opening hearts and minds, encouraging others, building communion, speaking well of one's neighbors, or not speaking at all.  If we hope to be agents of unity, instead of division, my brothers and sisters, then this is a skill that we all must practice constantly.
          Second, we must develop self-control in the area of our emotions.  How many times have we regretted words spoken in anger, emails or texts written in frustration, and decisions made in the midst of passion?  When waves of strong emotions break over us like a storm, they can cause us to lose our self-discipline in what we say and quickly lead us to use words destructively.  Therefore, even if our emotions seem righteous, we should practice the discipline of walking away from any important decisions, conversations, or correspondence until our emotions have subsided and we can think clearly again.  Then we will be ready to use our words constructively and thus contribute to building up the Church and our community, instead of tearing it down.
          Of course all this disunity and division will not disappear overnight; but it will disappear if we begin to work diligently towards building up unity by being “united in the same mind and in the same purpose”, which is Christ.  And so, today, as Christ renews his commitment to us in this Mass, let's ask him for the grace that we will need to heal the divisions that plague us, and let us promise to do our part to always be "united in mind and purpose" with him and with his Church.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 22nd, 2017

Monday, January 16, 2017

Re-centering on the Essential

Homily: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          This week the Church transitioned back into Ordinary Time.  Perhaps for most of you the switch was rather unremarkable.  Generally these transitions are pretty smooth for me, too, but because of my vocation, I can never just “roll through” them with little notice.  In the breviary, which is the book of prayers from which all priests must pray every day, there’s always a little note at the end of a season.  For example, this past Monday was the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which officially ended the Christmas season in the Church.  At the end of Evening Prayer there’s a simple note that says: “After the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Ordinary Time begins.”  Even though I know that this is coming, I almost always pause when I read that and think to myself: “[sigh] Suddenly, everything just feels so… ordinary.”
          This can be how we feel, right?  How many of you were lamenting to put away Christmas and get back to the “rest of your life?  We know that we can’t live our lives in constant celebration, and that we have to get back to work and school, and so we go back to “ordinary” things and we leave Christmas, and all the excitement of celebrating Christ’s birth, packed away in boxes until next year.  Can you see that there’s a problem with this, especially when we apply it to our lives of faith?
          “Ordinary Time” never means “just go back to doing what you were doing before”.  Rather, Ordinary Time is the time to take all of the blessings that you received during the celebratory season (like those new things that you received at Christmas) and apply them to your everyday life so as to help renew your everyday life and thus grow as a Christian disciple.  Ordinary Time is the time in which we engage the hard work of growing in holiness.  It is not “throwaway” time in between the great seasons of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter, rather it’s valuable time given to us so that we might produce fruit in the world for God’s kingdom.
          And so, let me remind all of you of something: holiness is a great privilege to which we have been called.  This is what Saint Paul says to us in the second reading: that we are “called to be holy”.  He says these words as if it is an exclusive gift that not everyone is chosen to receive.  In reality holiness is unobtainable by ourselves; and so to be chosen to receive it is a great privilege.  Yet, how often do we see it as a burden!  “Well, I guess I ought to be holy today… ugh!”  To be holy is difficult and if we weren’t called to be holy we wouldn’t be able to obtain it ourselves, but we are called and so we can obtain it.  The problem, it seems, is that we’ve lost touch with the understanding of the amazing gift that holiness—that is, Godliness—is; and so we’ve lost the ambition to become holy, even though we’ve been called to it.
          If we have, indeed, lost touch with the understanding of what a gift holiness is, then how do we turn back to see it?  We have to embrace what is essential, once again.  We have to embrace those essential works of the spiritual life: Mass, prayer, confession, mortification, reading, devotion to Mary and the saints, etc.  In order to for this to be fruitful, however, we first need to re-center our hearts and our lives on what is essential: that is, on Christ, himself.  John the Baptist, in today’s Gospel reading has to point out Jesus to his followers—men and women who were flocking to him to receive his baptism of repentance.  They were so caught up in the work of repenting, that they were missing the reason for their repentance—Christ, himself, walking among them.  Today, if I can be so bold, in order to inspire us as we enter into Ordinary Time, I’d like to do the same for all of you.
          Our recently adopted parish purpose statement reads: “The sacred purpose of All Saints Catholic Parish is to be a Christ-centered people whose active faith and love of the Eucharist inspire all in Cass County to be united to Jesus in the Catholic Church.”  We, the people of All Saints Parish, therefore, have as our purpose to be a Christ-centered people.  This purpose is realized when both our faith is active and when our love for Christ in the Eucharist is fervent.  The first priority towards realizing our purpose that we identified is “Integration – Uniting in the Heart of Jesus”.  The Eucharist, of course, in which Jesus is truly present to us, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, is where we have the opportunity to unite most perfectly in the Heart of Jesus.  Love of the Eucharist, therefore, is the most perfect way to become and remain a Christ-centered people.
          Now, if we say that our purpose is to be a Christ-centered people, and that Christ is truly present to us, in the fullness of his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist, and in the Blessed Sacrament that we reserve in the tabernacle, then we have to ask ourselves a question: is that demonstrably obvious to anyone who walks into our Church?
          Back in the seminary, I took an independent study on church art and architecture and I read a little book that I found to be very helpful.  It was called “how to read churches” and it was designed to help someone walk into a church and discern what the art and architecture says about what the people who worship there believe.  In other words, it says that the way that our church is designed and arranged sends a clear message about what we believe; and it captures a very Catholic truth about us humans: that what we do physically affects us spiritually.
          And so the question comes back to us: If Jesus is truly the center of lives as Christians, and if we believe that Jesus is truly present to us in an abiding way in the Blessed Sacrament, reserved in the tabernacle, then why is his enduring presence placed off to the side in our place of worship?  It should be obvious to anyone who walks into this church that what happens at the altar is the most important thing for us; and it is.  But what happens at the altar seemingly has been artificially separated from what is reserved in the tabernacle, which has been relegated to the side where “those who give it greater importance” can exercise their devotion, but where it otherwise doesn’t gather much attention.  I’m afraid, my brothers and sisters, that this has had the unintended consequence of hurting our love of the Eucharist instead of helping it, which, I’m sure, was not the intention when it was moved here.
          One of the first goals that we identified under the priority of Integration, therefore, is to realize all-day Eucharistic Adoration, because we believe that having parishioners praying before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every day, throughout the day, will be the fuel that motivates and powers everything else that we will do as a parish.  Our goal is to convert the chapel in the parish hall into this place of enduring devotion to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  First, however, I think that we need to make a move to remind ourselves of the central importance of Jesus’ presence among us by moving the tabernacle back to the center of our worship space and to surround it with beauty worthy of one whom we honor as Lord and Savior.  Then, both believer and unbeliever alike would know, without even one word being spoken, that we are a Christ-centered people, whose love of the Eucharist inspires and drives everything that we do.
          My brothers and sisters, Ordinary Time in the Church is never ordinary.  Nevertheless, this year, as we enter into Ordinary Time, our parish has a special opportunity to truly embrace this time for what it is: a time to heed the call to be holy by re-centering ourselves on Christ through our love of the Eucharist.  I pray that the power of Christ that we receive in this Eucharist will inspire you to join us in this bold work of allowing our Lord to renew this parish into a place that proclaims from every side once again the proclamation of John the Baptist: Behold the Lamb of God!—so that we, along with all those around us, might encounter him anew and say once again (or, perhaps, for the first time) those words that bring us salvation: “Now I have seen and testified that He is the Son of God.”

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 14th & 15th, 2017

Sunday, January 8, 2017

La distribución de la gracia de Dios que hemos heredado

Homilía: La Epifanía del Señor – Ciclo A
          A menudo se dice que los conversos son los mejores católicos, lo que significa en general que los conversos parecen ser más conocedores y más comprometidos con su fe que los que crecieron en la Iglesia. Y hay buenas razones para esto. Cuando alguien se convierte, muchas veces, esa persona había tenida una "experiencia de conversión", un fuerte movimiento espiritual que hace que la persona tome posesión y responsabilidad personal de sus creencias y cómo se expresan. Muchos "católicos de la cuna" nunca han tenido esa experiencia y así, mientras reclaman la fe católica, muchos no la "poseen" al mismo nivel que los conversos: lo que significa que a veces se ven como "peores" católicos que los que habían convertido.
          La gran ironía que ocurre a menudo es que un converso ayudará a una católica de la cuna a descubrir nuevas cosas acerca de la fe, enriqueciendo así la vida de fe del católico de toda la vida. Desafortunadamente, sin embargo, los conversos a veces encuentran católicos de la cuna que decidieron dejar de aprender sobre la fe después de su niñez y, por lo tanto, se niegan a escuchar a cualquiera que trate de enseñarles algo nuevo; Reforzando así el estereotipo de que los conversos hacen mejores católicos.
          Vemos que esto no es nada nuevo, sin embargo. La complacencia en la práctica de la fe ha hecho a la gente ciega a sus riquezas desde que Moisés llevó al pueblo israelita fuera de Egipto. Hoy, en particular, recordamos un claro ejemplo de esto en la interacción entre los Reyes Magos y el rey Herodes y la élite religiosa de Jerusalén.
          Los magos, que eran "gentiles", es decir, "extranjeros" al pueblo y la religión judío, han visto una estrella en su ascenso y responden: viajando un largo camino desde el este hasta Jerusalén sólo para encontrar que Herodes, el “rey” de los judíos, y los sumos sacerdotes y los escribas, es decir, la "élite religiosa" de los judíos, parecían no haber notado a la estrella, ni tampoco tenían una comprensión clara de dónde habría nacido este recién nacido rey de los judíos. La venida del Mesías había sido retrasada y así parece que Herodes y la élite religiosa se habían vuelto complacientes en la práctica de su fe, por lo que parecía como si estos extranjeros supieran más sobre la fe judía que ellos, los iniciados.
          Entonces vemos también que la reacción de Herodes (y la reacción de la élite religiosa) no era de alegría que el Rey de los judíos, divinamente designado, había nacido (a pesar de haber perdido el signo), sino que se sobresaltó. Herodes estaba preocupado por perder su posición de poder y así la noticia de un rey recién nacido le llena de ansiedad. El niño que nació fue el Mesías para quien los judíos habían estado esperando y sin embargo la noticia crea nerviosismo en lugar de felicidad. La complacencia, al parecer, conduce a algo más que "distracción" en la práctica de la fe; más bien, también puede conducir a uno a perder la fe en todo.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, como ya he dicho, esto puede suceder a cualquiera de nosotros, por lo que la Iglesia nos da esta celebración de Navidad a principios de año. Al celebrar las diversas "epifanías" o "manifestaciones" de nuestro Señor, la Iglesia nos está recordando que "Epifanía" consiste en reconocer la manifestación de la salvación de Dios para el mundo entero. Busca despertarnos al hecho de que la Gloria de Dios ha roto las tinieblas de este mundo y la ha aplastado, estableciéndolo en su Iglesia como un faro para proveer luz a cada persona en el mundo.
          Así, la Iglesia nos da la hermosa profecía del profeta Isaías en la primera lectura de hoy. "Levántate y resplandece", dice el Señor a su pueblo. En otras palabras, "Levántate y sé visto". Esta audaz declaración se ha hecho a una nación que ha sido resplandeciente en su gloria y por lo tanto será un lugar y un pueblo de envidia para otras naciones, cuya riqueza y generosidad atraerá personas de todos los rincones del mundo. Ellos son una luz gloriosa que brilla intensamente en medio de un mundo envuelto en tinieblas y así el profeta los llama a levantarse y así ser un faro de luz proclamando que la salvación de Dios ha venido al mundo. Al recordar la epifanía a los Reyes Magos, la Iglesia nos está recordando que esta profecía ha llegado a su plenitud en el nacimiento de Jesús.
          Esta celebración no es sólo un recordatorio para nosotros de la razón de nuestra alegría, sino que es también un recordatorio de la distribución que viene con haber recibido la Gloria de Dios en nuestras vidas. San Pablo dijo en su carta a los Efesios que se le había dado una "distribución de la gracia de Dios"; y por "distribución" que quería decir "una responsabilidad de la administración". Y ¿qué era que estaba llamado para administrar? ¡Nada menos de la gracia de Dios (una enorme tarea, de hecho)! Mis hermanos y hermanas, nosotros, la Iglesia, todavía poseemos esta distribución de la gracia de Dios; y, como cuerpo, somos llamados a "levantarnos resplandece" como la Nueva Jerusalén: a ser la ciudad brillando sobre el monte cuya gloria—que no es otra cosa que la gloria de Dios—es tan resplandeciente que todos los pueblos—pueblos envueltos en la oscuridad—se sienten atraídos por su riqueza y generosidad.
          Por riqueza, me refiero al Depósito de Fe y a la Vida Sacramental, que sólo será atractivo para los demás cuando los miembros de la Iglesia conocen la fe en un nivel personal e íntimo—el nivel que tiene un converso después de haber tenido una "experiencia de conversión"—y cuando celebran esa fe en los sacramentos, involucrando la rica belleza que casi dos mil años de celebración trae a esa experiencia. Y por generosidad, me refiero a las Obras de Misericordia, que son atractivas para los demás precisamente porque abordan el temor más básico del corazón humano: que el sufrimiento humano no tiene respuesta y por lo tanto que estamos solos en este mundo. La Fe proclama la verdad de que no estamos solos y que el sufrimiento humano tiene una respuesta; y las obras de misericordia demuestran la veracidad de esta verdad en acciones concretas.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, sean católicos de toda la vida o recién convertidos, es mi oración hoy para ustedes, mientras nos preparamos para cerrar esta Navidad y volver a entrar en el Tiempo Ordinario, que la alegría de celebrar la venida de Dios entre nosotros se derramará en sus vidas diarias para que la presencia continua de Dios con nosotros—que nos encontramos aquí en esta Eucaristía—se manifieste por su gloria que brilla a través de ustedes—en sus palabras y en sus acciones—y así atraiga todos alrededor de ustedes, que están envueltos en tinieblas, a la luz de la salvación y la vida eterna ganada por Jesucristo nuestro Señor.
Dado en la parroquia de Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

8 de enero, 2017

The stewardship of God's grace that we have inherited

Homily: The Epiphany of the Lord – Cycle A
          It’s often said that converts make the best Catholics, which is usually intended to mean that converts seem to be more knowledgeable and more engaged in their faith than folks who grew up in the Church.  There are good reasons for this.  When someone converts, that person has usually had the “conversion experience”, a strong spiritual movement that causes the person to take ownership and personal responsibility for his or her beliefs and how they are expressed.  Many “Cradle Catholics” have never had that experience and so while they claim the Catholic faith, many don’t “own” it on the same level as converts do: meaning that they sometimes look like “worse” Catholics than those who had converted.
          The great irony that often occurs is that a convert will help a cradle Catholic discover new things about the faith, thus enriching the faith life of the life-long Catholic.  Unfortunately, however, the converts will sometimes find cradle Catholics who decided to stop learning about the faith after their Confirmation in 8th grade and, thus, refuse to listen to anyone who tries to teach them anything new; thus reinforcing the stereotype that converts make better Catholics.
          We see that this is nothing new, however.  Complacency in the practice of the faith has made people blind to its riches ever since Moses led the Israelite people out of Egypt.  Today, in particular, we recall a sharp example of this in the interaction between the Magi and King Herod and the religious elite in Jerusalem.
          The magi, who were “Gentiles”, that is, “outsiders” to the Jewish people and religion, have seen a star at its rising and respond: traveling a long way from the east to Jerusalem only to find that Herod, the “king” of the Jews, and the chief priests and the scribes, that is, the “religious elite” of the Jews, seemed not to have noticed the star nor did they have a ready understanding of where this newborn king of the Jews ought to have been born.  The coming of the Messiah had been long-delayed and so it seems like Herod and the religious elite had become complacent in the practice of their faith thereby making it seem as if these outsiders knew more about the Jewish faith than they, the insiders, did.
          Then we see, also, that Herod’s reaction (and the religious elite’s reaction) was not one of joy that the divinely appointed King of the Jews had been born (in spite of having missed the sign), but rather that he was “greatly troubled”.  Herod was worried about losing his position of power and so this news of a newborn King fills him with anxiety.  The child who was born was the Messiah for whom the Jews had been waiting and yet the news creates nervousness instead of happiness.  Complacency, it seems, leads to more than just “absentmindedness” in the practice of the faith; rather, it can also lead one to lose the faith all together.
          My brothers and sisters, as I’ve already said, this can happen to any of us, which is why the Church gives us this celebration of Christmastide right at the beginning of the year.  In celebrating the various “epiphanies” or “manifestations” of our Lord, the Church is reminding us that “Epiphany” is about acknowledging the manifestation of God’s salvation for the whole world.  It seeks to wake us up to the fact that the Glory of God has broken into the darkness of this world and has crushed it, establishing it in his Church as a beacon to provide light to every person in the world.
          Thus, the Church gives us the beautiful prophesy from the prophet Isaiah in the first reading today.  “Rise up in splendor”, the Lord says to his people.  In other words, “Stand up and be seen!”  This bold statement has been made to a nation who has been made resplendent in his glory and thus will be a place and a people of envy for other nations, whose richness and generosity will attract people from every corner of the world.  Theirs is a glorious light shining brightly in the midst of a world enveloped in darkness and so the prophet calls them to rise up and so to be a beacon of light proclaiming that God’s salvation has come into the world.  By remembering the epiphany to the Magi, the Church is reminding us that this prophesy has come to its fullest completion in the birth of Jesus.
          This celebration is not only a reminder to us of the reason for our joy, but it is also a reminder of the stewardship that comes with having received the Glory of God into our lives.  Saint Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians that a “stewardship of God’s grace” had been given to him; and by “stewardship” he meant “a responsibility of management”.  And what was he called to manage?  God’s grace (an enormous task, indeed!).  My brothers and sisters, we the Church still possess this stewardship of God’s grace; and, as a body, we are called to “rise up in splendor” as the New Jerusalem: to be the city shining brightly on the hill whose glory—which is nothing less than the full glory of God—is so resplendent that all peoples—peoples who are enveloped in darkness—are attracted to it by her richness and generosity.
          By richness, of course, I mean the Deposit of Faith and the Sacramental Life, which will only be attractive to others when the Church’s members know the faith on a personal, intimate level—the level that a convert has after he or she has had the “conversion experience”—and when they celebrate that faith in the sacraments, engaging the rich beauty that nearly two-thousand years of celebration brings to that experience.  And by generosity, I mean, of course, the Works of Mercy, which are attractive to others precisely because they address the most basic fear of the human heart: that human suffering has no answer and therefore that we are alone in this world.  The Faith proclaims the truth that we are not alone and that human suffering does have an answer; and the works of mercy demonstrate the veracity of this truth in concrete actions.
          My brothers and sisters, whether you are a life-long Catholic or a recent convert, it is my prayer for you today, as we prepare to close out this Christmas season and enter back into Ordinary Time, that the joy of celebrating the coming of God among us will spill forth into your daily lives so that God’s continuing presence with us—which we encounter here in this Eucharist—will be made manifest by his glory shining forth through you: in your words and in your actions—and thus draw all around us who are enveloped in darkness into the light of salvation and to the eternal life won for us by Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 8th, 2017

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Mary's mysterious motherhood draws us back to Christmas reality

Happy New Year!
I pray that our Good God will bless all of you richly in 2017.
May Mary, Mother of God, keep you and protect you throughout the year.

Homily: Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God – Cycle A
          It’s no secret that I am not the world’s biggest fan of all of the secular, year-end holiday stuff that has attached itself to our celebration of the Lord’s birth on Christmas.  I’m talking about all of the sentimental holiday things—like brightly decorated trees with gaily wrapped presents underneath, snow falling in the moonlight, and egg nog by the fireplace while listening to songs that speak about all of these things without ever making reference to the reason why there is a holiday in the first place: the Child born in Bethlehem who is God and the Savior of the human race.  Those of you who heard my homily for Christmas know that I spoke about how all of these things have become signs that we have “objectified” Christmas: that is, we’ve turned what was a subjective reality (a reality in which real people had real experiences) into an object to be manipulated for our own pleasure and amusement.
          You’ll also remember that I proposed a way for us to break free from this objectification of Christmas: a return to an understanding of the original event and what it meant to those involved and to the world.  I invited us to imagine a people suffering under a great oppression—a people of strong faith in their God who had promised to send them a leader who would free them from their suffering—who then hear that the one who had been promised had, indeed, been born; and that through this imagining we would begin to understand the great prophecies that Isaiah had made about the Messiah and how the infancy narratives in the Gospels point to their fulfillment in the birth of Jesus.  I invited us to imagine the smelly, dirty, and yet gloriously real reality of the original event so as to put our modern-day celebration in its proper perspective; thus ensuring that would not objectify it, but rather celebrate it for what it truly is: the day that our salvation came to us.
          I recount all of this today because this day, the octave day of Christmas, the day in which we honor Mary under the title “the Holy Mother of God”, gives us another opportunity to shake off our “objectifications” of Christ’s birth and get back to the real subjects who had experienced this world-changing event.  Today we make a bold statement: that Mary, in every way a human being, is the Mother of God, that is, the Mother of the Infinite Being through whom all things in the universe exist and without whom no things exist.  That’s crazy, right?  How can a human being, who would not exist if it wasn’t for the pre-existence of God, never the less be the Mother of God?  If you’ve never thought of this before, then you’re not engaging your faith enough and therefore your New Year’s resolution is to open your catechism in 2017 and read it through, asking the hard questions and then letting it explain them through the richness of nearly 2000 years of thinking on God’s revelation (Got it?).  If you have thought about this before, then you are in good company.  This very belief was challenged for these very reasons nearly 1600 years ago.
          In 431, in the city of Ephesus, an ecumenical council was held to resolve this issue.  Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople at the time, contended that it was heretical to call Mary the “Mother of God” for the very reasons to which I’ve already alluded.  Since God is eternal, Nestorius argued, to say that God has a mother is contradictory: because for someone to have a mother indicates that there was some sort of birth, or beginning, to that person’s life, which with God simply cannot be.  He contended that she could be called “Mother of Jesus”, but not “Mother of God”.
          St. Cyril, who was the bishop of Alexandria, knew that this couldn’t be true, because he knew that for Jesus to be able to accomplish his saving work for us he had to be both fully human and fully divine and that there could be no separation or “compartmentalization” of the two.  He also knew that in the hearts of the faithful (i.e. the whole Church for the previous four centuries) Mary had been honored as Mother of God, and so he knew that he couldn’t give way to Nestorius’ erroneous thinking and thus contradict what had already been held as true (though not concretely defined as such) for nearly four centuries.
          Legend has it that crowds of people waited outside the basilica during the last days of the council waiting to hear what the bishops had decided the truth was about Mary.  When the bishops emerged and definitively declared that Mary was, indeed, the Mother of God, the crowd erupted with joy that the bishops had confirmed what they already knew in their hearts was true.  They purportedly carried the bishops through the streets along with images of Our Lady, singing songs and praising God that Mary is, indeed, the Mother of God.
          This is important to us today for two reasons: One is that, in preserving for us the mysterious declaration that Mary is truly the Mother of God (because she is the Mother of Jesus, who is the Son of God), who Jesus is for us is also preserved (that is, God incarnate: the fullness of whose humanity made it possible that his death and resurrection from the dead—both in the flesh!—would redeem our sins and make eternal life possible for us once again).  And so we see that, if Mary cannot be called the Mother of God, then there is no reason for us to celebrate Christmas: because without the fullness of Jesus’ divinity (and, therefore, the fullness of Mary’s Divine Maternity), the day of our salvation has not come for us and we must lament that eternal life still is not possible for us.
          Second, in preserving for us the mysterious declaration that Mary is truly the Mother of God, we also preserve the reality that God, in spite of all that he has revealed to us, is still clouded in mystery for us.  In other words, by not having a “how” to explain the “what” of Mary’s Divine Motherhood, we preserve our right relationship with God: the relationship that acknowledges that he is the all-powerful, pre-existent Being and that we are his creatures who will never fully understand his wisdom or his power.  This humility before the mystery that is God helps to prevent us from “objectifying” events like Christ’s birth (and, thus, appropriating it into something that fits into our lives and makes us feel good instead of moving us more deeply into the mystery of who God is in himself), which can only deepen our love for him as we contemplate the great love that he must have for us to act in our lives in these ways.
          My brothers and sisters, this is the example that Mary herself gives us.  When the shepherds came to see the baby Jesus, they revealed to Mary and Joseph all that they had seen and heard in the field: Angels in the air revealing the birth of the child and singing songs glorifying God.  Mary didn’t press the shepherds to explain how all of that could have possibly happened, but rather, as the Gospels relate to us, she and all there “were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds … and Mary kept all of these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  Mary allowed herself to dwell within the mystery of what had been revealed and there she encountered deeply the One who had revealed it: God in her son.
          As we enter into this new year, the challenge for each of us is to allow ourselves to dwell within the mystery of how God has revealed himself to us so as to open ourselves to encountering there God’s presence in the unexpected: like in a little child, born into poverty in a little town in ancient Palestine, or under the appearance of bread and wine right here on this altar.  If we can do this, my brothers and sisters, the Lord will “bless us and keep us” in 2017.
          May the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his son, our Lord Jesus Christ so that you, too, may enjoy this blessing in the New Year.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN

December 31st, 2016 & January 1st, 2017