Sunday, May 28, 2017

Our bodies matter

The Conversion of Saint Augustine by Fra Angelico
Homily: Solemnity of the Ascension – Cycle A
          For those of you who know a thing or two about Saint Augustine, you’ll know that he wasn’t always a saint.  He grew up in the late 4th century in Thagaste, which was on the northern coast of the African continent and was, at that time, part of the Roman Empire.  He was a smart kid: a smart alec, in fact, and very precocious.  His mother, Saint Monica, had converted to Christianity and is now a saint because of her long-suffering in a family that was hostile to her faith.  She suffered much, also, because her son, Augustine, had dreams of moving to a big city to become a great orator.  Although at first his parents couldn’t afford to send him far away, Augustine’s precociousness led him to procure a benefactor who would help him fulfill his ambitious dreams.
          Carthage in North Africa was where Augustine would find his feet and begin to flourish.  As a young man without parental influence, however, Augustine began to live a dissolute life: the life of the stereotypical “frat boy”, without much concern for the moral consequences.  There he fell in love with one of his servants.  Because of the difference in their social stati, Augustine would not marry her, but she did live with him and together they had a child.
          There in Carthage, Augustine would also come into contact with the Manicheans.  The Manichees (no, not the manatees, the strange “sea cows”, the Manichees) were a group of pagan intellectuals who proposed what they believed was the great synthesis of world religions.  They were a gnostic group: meaning that they believed in the idea that “enlightenment” or “obtaining special knowledge” would help one to transcend the worldly condition and to realize a more perfect existence.  Because of this they had a very clear notion of good and evil (which they labeled as “light” and “darkness”), which was something that, at that time, along with the highly intellectual nature of their beliefs, appealed to Augustine.
          Following this path, Augustine began to turn from his dissolute life and began following the strict Manichee moral code.  He soon began to see the flaws with the Manichee’s gnostic understanding of the world, however, in which everything that had to do with the body was bad, while everything that had to do with the spirit was good.  He could definitely see how the spiritual was greater than the physical, but he couldn’t escape the feeling that the physical could not be wholly abandoned.
          Although Augustine, after his famous conversion to Christianity, would spend the rest of his life striving to follow Saint Paul’s admonition to the Romans to “leave off the works of the flesh and put on Christ”, he would never wholly swear off the body.  He would come to know that what we do in the body matters and that it is through our bodies that we achieve our salvation.  This, in fact, he had come to discover and to teach, was everything that Jesus came to confirm for us and the feast that we celebrate today—the Ascension of Jesus, body and soul, into heaven—is the crowing jewel of this work.
          Friends, in the Incarnation (when Mary said “yes” to the Angel Gabriel and the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and fertilized one of her eggs so that she might conceive a child) the Son of God—the Second Person of the Holy Trinity—took on a human body.  The Son of God in human flesh was born just like everyone else, grew and matured just like everyone else, and lived and moved and breathed just like everyone else; and when the time came for him to fulfill his purpose on earth, the Son of God suffered, died, and rose again in that same human body.  Now we can say with certainty that, because of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, which the Scriptures record for us, the Son of God dwells in eternity in his human body!
          And so, while it is true that today we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant return to heaven after accomplishing his saving work here on earth, it is also true that what we celebrate is the full restoration of communion—that is, the perfect union of natures—between God and man that Jesus accomplished when he took his human nature with him as he ascended into heaven.  My friends, this latter part is something very important for us to remember today.
          This is because today we seem to be treating our bodies as if they are disposable; as if it is a tool for us to use for the time that we are here, but, once our spirit leaves, what we do with it doesn’t really matter.  Saint Augustine treated his body this way before his conversion: first in the hedonism that he practiced, but then also in his Manicheism in which he continually swore off his body as something evil and to be discarded.  One doesn’t have to look hard to see that the dominant practical religion in our country today is hedonism (that is, the constant pursuit of pleasure as the source of happiness).  Nevertheless, I also think that the Manichean influence is alive and well.  I see this in the increasing rate in which people are choosing cremation after death.
          My brothers and sisters, we cannot detach our spiritual selves from our physical selves!  Jesus did not leave his human body to return to the Father.  Rather, he ascended in his human body to show us just how important and precious his human body is!  He redeemed us in his human body so that through our human bodies we could find salvation.  My brothers and sisters, when the Son of God took on a human body, it was for ever!  Therefore, to think of a “spiritual only” second person of the Trinity is to think in error.  To speak to Jesus, in other words, as if he exists in the spiritual realm only is to speak to a false Jesus.  Taken to its fullest extent: if Jesus does not still dwell in a real human body (in its fully glorified form, of course), then what we receive from this altar is just a symbol.  But if we believe that we truly do receive the Body and Blood of Jesus from this altar (and, yes, we truly believe that), then it must be true that Jesus still dwells in a fully human body.  If Jesus dwells in heaven in a fully human body, then what we do with our human bodies matters.
          Friends, if this is news to you, I don’t blame you.  This hedonistic/Manicheistic understanding of the human body is so pervasive in our culture that it’s in the water that we’re drinking.  And so what do we do?  Well, first and foremost, we need to stop treating our bodies as tools for our own pleasure and start treating them like God wants us to treat them: like the beautiful means that God has given us to realize our salvation in this world and, therefore, our communion with him.  Treated in this way, we will only indulge our bodies in order to satisfy its daily needs (e.g. eating well and getting the right amount of sleep) or to engage in authentic recreation (e.g. exercise, shared meals, vacations, etc.).  To do more than this is to use our bodies selfishly.  Still further, treated in this way, we will only use cremation of the body after death when it is truly necessary (e.g. when financial needs or the needs to transport the body demand it) and, when necessary, we will still give the remains of our loved ones a proper burial, so that they might have a place of rest.  To treat our bodies otherwise is to disrespect Jesus, whose body became so integrally united to who he is that he ascended in his body into heaven.
          Friends, the Ascension of our Lord is not just a place holder along the way to Pentecost: rather, it expresses important truths about God and about us.  Let us live in our bodies, then, in such a way so as to truly glorify God: that is, until the day that our bodies are fully united to his in the eternal glory of heaven; a communion that we experience, even now, here in this Eucharist.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – May 27th & 28th, 2017

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Que nada te turbe...

Nada te turbe,
nada te espante
todo se pasa, 
Dios no se muda,
la paciencia todo lo alcanza, 
quien a Dios tiene nada le falta
sólo Dios basta.

~ Santa Teresa de Avila


Homilía: 6º Domingo de la Pascua – Ciclo A
          No sé si alguno de ustedes lo ha notado, pero la temporada de Pascua se está poniendo real. Estamos en el sexto domingo de Pascua, lo que significa que ya hemos completado cinco semanas completas de la temporada de Pascua y sólo tenemos dos semanas completas antes de la fiesta de Pentecostés. Esto significa que nuestras lecturas han comenzado a cambiar su enfoque lejos del evento de la Resurrección y hacia la venida del Espíritu Santo. Todavía no hemos celebrado la fiesta de la Ascensión, sin embargo las tres lecturas de la misa de hoy hablan del Espíritu Santo.
          En la lectura del Evangelio, Jesús está hablando de realidades místicas significativas. Él está hablando de enviar el Espíritu Santo sobre sus discípulos, el Espíritu que permanecerá en ellos y estará en ellos. Él está hablando de su muerte, resurrección y ascensión al cielo, pero que, sin embargo, volverá a ellos y permanecerá en ellos, aunque esté en el Padre y el Padre esté en él. Al escuchar estas cosas y considerarlas, necesitamos pararnos y hacernos esta pregunta: "¿Cómo reacciona mi sentido religioso a esto?"
          Si eres como yo, su primera reacción al escuchar todo esto podría ser una de confusión. "No estoy muy seguro de lo que Jesús está hablando", podría pensar a sí mismo. Si es así, está bien. El reto aquí es involucrar a la confusión y tratar de resolverlo, en lugar de hacerlo pasar y pasar a la siguiente cosa. Con el fin de involucrar nuestra confusión necesitamos reconocer lo que ya he mencionado, que estos son realidades místicas significativas, y luego hacernos esta pregunta: "¿Alguna vez paso tiempo pensando en lo que está más allá de este mundo?"
          Amigos míos, es muy importante que nos hagamos esta pregunta porque el gran peligro en el cristianismo es que lo veríamos sólo como una herramienta (tal vez una excelente herramienta) para sacar la mayor felicidad de este mundo. En otras palabras, es peligroso creer que mantener los mandamientos de Jesús no es más que un amuleto complejo que nos mantendrá fuera de peligro para evitar el sufrimiento. En primer lugar, es peligroso porque simplemente ¡no es cierto! Los cristianos siguen siendo las personas más perseguidas en todo el mundo; así que seguir los mandamientos de Jesús obviamente no es una manera infalible de mantenerse fuera de problemas en el mundo. En segundo lugar, sin embargo, es peligroso porque ignora la gran realidad mística que está destinada a abrirnos: una realidad que no parece ser posible: es decir, que podemos disfrutar de la comunión con Dios en un plano de existencia completamente diferente, que es la fuente de nuestra esperanza en un mundo de agitación. Así, ignorar esta realidad es arriesgarse a perder la esperanza.
          Cristianos que no ignoran esta gran realidad mística que el amor de Jesús nos abre viven la vida de otra manera, ¿verdad? Estos cristianos viven la vida como personas que tienen una esperanza incomprensible: un don sobrenatural que les permite permanecer firmes incluso cuando la agitación del mundo se dirige directamente a ellos. Los primeros apóstoles vivieron así y, por lo tanto, atrajeron a muchas personas a conocer y amar a Jesús. En nuestra primera lectura, oímos cómo Felipe, que había sido expulsado de Jerusalén por la primera persecución, había ido a Samaria y había proclamado a Cristo. Muchos se sintieron atraídos por él y él hizo muchos milagros en el nombre de Jesús. Cuando la agitación del mundo se dirigió a él, Felipe permaneció consciente de la realidad mística de que Jesús estaba en él y él estaba en Jesús y así podía continuar proclamando a Cristo, y así llenar a otros con esa misma esperanza sobrenatural, a pesar del peligro.
          Este es un regalo que nuestro seminarista Guillermo tiene. Después de pasar casi tres meses con él, me sorprendí de que nada parecía molestarle. Tiene una firme comprensión de esta esperanza sobrenatural que surge de la realidad mística que él es en Jesús y que Jesús está en él y que simplemente se niega a ser afectado negativamente por la agitación del mundo. Su conducta era tan auténtica, pero tan atractiva, que consideré escribir en la tarjeta que le hice para desearle bendiciones para el futuro, esa línea que escribimos en los anuarios cuando no sabemos qué escribir, pero quiero escribir algo amable: "Nunca cambie." ¡Excepto que tengo este sentido! No quiero que él cambie, porque él es un testigo a nosotros de cómo debemos estar en el mundo: comprometidos, pero firmes en la esperanza y seguros en Cristo.
          Amigos, cuando hacemos esto, la gente se atraerá a nosotros porque querrán saber: "¿Cuál es la razón de tu esperanza?" Y cuando se acercan a nosotros será una oportunidad para proclamar a Cristo; Y el mundo necesita desesperadamente hombres y mujeres que proclaman a Cristo, es decir, hombres y mujeres que dan testimonio de la realidad mística de la comunión con Dios que Jesús ha puesto a nuestra disposición, la realidad mística que somos en Jesús y que Jesús está en nosotros, una realidad que hace posible vivir inquebrantablemente en la esperanza de una vida de paz y armonía frente a un mundo lleno de agitación y conflictos.
          Amigos míos, la fiesta de Pentecostés vendrá pronto: la fiesta en la que celebramos la venida del Espíritu Santo, a quien Jesús prometió enviar. En preparación para esta fiesta, debemos prepararnos para renovar nuestro compromiso de vivir nuestras vidas "en el Espíritu". Hacemos esto manteniéndonos conscientes de las cosas más allá de este mundo: las realidades místicas en las que participamos porque nos hemos unido al Padre, a través de Jesús, en el bautismo. Al hacerlo, seremos testigos de la esperanza de que nuestro mundo y nuestra comunidad lo necesiten desesperadamente y encontraremos la gracia para permanecer en paz en medio de la agitación del mundo.
          Tomemos, pues, esta buena obra para preparar en oración estas dos semanas siguientes para celebrar esta gran fiesta; para que, con los corazones llenos del poder del Espíritu Santo, podamos atraer a todos los que nos rodean a esta gran realidad mística: la comunión con Dios que recibimos aquí en esta Eucaristía.
Dado en la parroquia de Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

21 de mayo, 2017

Let nothing disturb you...

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

~ St. Teresa of Avila


Homily: 6th Sunday in Easter – Cycle A
          I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but Easter season is getting real.  We are at the sixth Sunday of Easter, which means we’ve completed five full weeks of Easter already and we have only two full weeks before the feast of Pentecost.  This means that our readings have begun to shift their focus away from the event of the Resurrection and towards the coming of the Holy Spirit.  We have not yet celebrated the feast of the Ascension, nevertheless all three readings from today’s Mass speak of the Holy Spirit.
          In the Gospel reading, Jesus is talking about significant mystical realities.  He is talking about sending the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, the Spirit who will remain in them and be in them.  He is talking about his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, but that he will, nonetheless, come back to them and remain in them, even though he is in the Father and the Father is in him.  As we hear these things and consider them, we need to stop and ask ourselves this question: “How does my religious sense react to this?”
          Now, if you’re anything like me, your first reaction to hearing all of this might be one of confusion.  “I’m not really sure what Jesus is talking about here”, you might think to yourself.  If so, that’s okay, the challenge here is to engage the confusion and to try to resolve it, rather than passing it off and moving on to the next thing.  In order to engage our confusion we need to acknowledge the thing that I’ve already mentioned—that these are significant mystical realities—and then ask ourselves this question: “Do I ever spend time thinking about what is beyond this world?”
          My friends, it’s really important that we ask ourselves this question because the great danger in Christianity is that we would see it only as a tool (an excellent tool, even) to get the most happiness out of this world.  In other words, it’s dangerous to believe that keeping Jesus’ commandments is nothing more than a complex good-luck charm that will keep us out of harm’s way so that we might avoid suffering.  First and foremost, it’s dangerous because it’s simply not true!  Christians continue to be the most persecuted persons throughout the world, so following Jesus’ commandments is obviously not a fool-proof way to stay out of trouble in the world.  Second, however, it’s dangerous because it ignores the great mystical reality that it is meant to open for us—a reality that doesn’t seem possible: that is, that we can enjoy communion with God on a completely different plane of existence, which is the source of our hope in a world of turmoil.  Thus, to ignore this reality is to risk losing hope.
          Christians who do not ignore this great mystical reality that loving Jesus opens up for us live life differently, right?  These Christians live life as persons who have an incomprehensible hope: a supernatural gift that allows them to stand firm even when the turmoil of the world is directed squarely at them.  The first apostles lived like this and, thus, drew many people to know and love Jesus.  In our first reading, we heard how Philip, who had been driven out of Jerusalem by the first persecution, had gone to Samaria and proclaimed Christ.  Many were drawn to him and he worked many miracles in Jesus’ name.  When the turmoil of the world was directed at him, Philip remained aware of the mystical reality that Jesus was in him and he was in Jesus and so could continue to proclaim Christ—and, thus, fill others with that same supernatural hope—in spite of the danger.
          This is a gift that our recently departed seminarian Will has.  After spending nearly three months with him, I was amazed that nothing really seemed to faze him.  He has a firm grasp on this supernatural hope that stems from the mystical reality that he is in Jesus and that Jesus is in him and he simply refuses to be affected negatively by the turmoil of the world.  His demeanor was so authentic, yet so appealing, that I considered writing in the card that I got him to wish him blessings for the future that line that we write in yearbooks when we don’t know what to write, but want to write something nice: “Don’t ever change.”  Except I would have meant it!  I don’t want him to change, because he is a witness to us of how we should be in the world: engaged, steadfast in hope, and secure in Christ.
          Friends, when we do this, people will be drawn to us because they will want to know: “What is the reason for your hope?” and when they approach us it will be an opportunity to proclaim Christ; and the world is desperately in need of men and women who proclaim Christ: that is, men and women who give witness to the mystical reality of communion with God that Jesus has made available to us—the mystical reality that we are in Jesus and that Jesus is in us—a reality that makes it possible to live steadfast in hope of a life of peace and harmony in the face of a world full of turmoil and strife.
          My friends, the feast of Pentecost is coming soon: the feast in which we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised to send.  In preparation for this feast, we should prepare to renew our commitment to living our lives “in the Spirit”.  We do this by staying aware of the things beyond this world: the mystical realities in which we participate because we have been united to the Father, through Jesus, in baptism.  In doing so we will become the witnesses to hope that our world and community so desperately need and we will find the grace to remain peaceful in the midst of the world’s turmoil.
          Let us, then, take up this good work to prepare prayerfully over these next couple of weeks to celebrate this great feast; so that, with hearts full of the power of the Holy Spirit, we might draw all of those around us into this great mystical reality: the communion with God that we receive here in this Eucharist.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – May 21st, 2017

Sunday, May 14, 2017

100 years after Fatima: We still have work to do

          Happy Mother's Day to all of the Mothers out there!  How beautiful that we celebrate mothers on the same weekend that we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the appearances of our Blessed Mother, Mary, to the shepherd children - Lucia, Saint Francisco, and Saint Jacinta - at Fatima in Portugal.  May our Blessed Mother continue to bless all Mothers with her prayers and intercession so they might be holy Mothers after her pattern.

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!
P.S. Lucia lived until 2005 and her cause for canonization has begun, but it isn't far enough along yet for her to be beatified or canonized.  Hopefully we will all see the day when she, too, will be listed in the canon of the saints!


Homily: 5th Sunday in Easter – Cycle A
          My brothers and sisters, as we continue to celebrate this great season of Easter—this season in which we proclaim with joyful voices that Jesus Christ, the Divine Word of God, who became one with us in human flesh and suffered death to redeem us from the punishment due to our sins, has risen from the dead and now lives so that we may have eternal life with God, our Creator and Father—as we continue to commemorate and celebrate this great event, we also have the happy opportunity to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady to the shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal: the first of which occurred on May 13th, 1917.  This is important, I think, because there are urgent connections between our celebration of Easter and the messages that Our Lady gave to those children 100 years ago.
          If you know anything about the apparitions, then you’ll know that for six months straight, on the 13th day of every month, Mary appeared to the three shepherd children—Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta—and spoke to them.  You’ll also know that in these appearances, Mary gave them three “secrets”.  The first two were revealed in 1941, but the third secret was sealed until the year 2000.  I’ll leave you to explore booklets and things to learn more about the secrets, but I want to speak about the first secret, in particular.
          In this first secret the children were given a vision of hell, shown to them in the traditional form of a great lake of fire filled with suffering souls and cruel devils.  This was given to them to impress upon them the terrible consequences of sin and the urgency of praying for the repentance of sinners and of making sacrifices in reparation for their sins so that more souls would not suffer this cruel fate.  This vision reminds us of the two basic things that we know about hell: namely that it exists and that people go there.
          I bring this up today because there has been a movement both within and outside of the Church to deny either one or both of these facts.  In other words, there are many people today who are trying to convince themselves and others either that hell doesn’t exist at all or that no body actually goes there.  Their intentions, on the surface, seem noble: they see the existence of a place of eternal torture and separation from God, and the idea that our God, who is Love and rich in mercy, would allow persons to suffer such a fate, as diminishing the love and mercy of God.  Therefore, they must deny hell’s existence, or, at least, the fact that people go there, so that their idea of a loving and merciful God will not be tarnished.  Unfortunately, this is the great error of all the heretics: that is, it shaves off the corners of a square peg to make it fit into a circle hole.
          My brothers and sisters, let’s be clear: to deny the existence of hell and/or to deny that God would permit anyone to suffer such a fate is a mistake.  Jesus came precisely to save us from this fate; and so, what value would his coming have had for us if there was nothing from which to save us?  Even if we admit that hell did exist before Jesus (and perhaps still exists) and that people went there before Jesus, we cannot claim that people no longer go there.  To do so would deny the truth that one must be in right relationship with God, following his commandments, if one wants to enjoy the fruits of that relationship, which are the joys of eternal life with Him.  In other words, even though Jesus has made it possible to receive forgiveness for our sins (and, thus, to restore our right relationship with God), there is still a necessity for us to cooperate with this grace through repentance and conversion (swearing off our sinful ways and turning towards the way that God’s commandments show us).
          Therefore, the vision of the first secret—the vision of hell as a great lake of fire filled with suffering souls and cruel devils—is a reminder that we need today of these truths.  Still more, the purpose of the vision—to be a reminder of the terrible consequences of sin and the urgency of praying for the repentance of sinners and of making sacrifices in reparation for sins—is still relevant today, perhaps even more so today.  This is not something new, however; rather, it is something that has been part and parcel of the Christian life from its very beginning.
          In our second reading today, Saint Peter calls the first Christians to let themselves “be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.  A priest is someone who offers sacrifice on behalf of the people.  Peter, knowing that not all of the Christians were priests who offered physical sacrifices (like that of bulls and goats), nonetheless reminds them that Christians are priests who can offer spiritual sacrifices (like prayer and mortifications: such as fasting and giving alms).  And, as we heard in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the first Christians saw this work as so important that, when other works of charity threatened to disrupt the Apostles from it, they appointed other persons to minister the works of charity so that the Apostles could focus on the critical work of spreading this Word of salvation and of making spiritual sacrifices for sinners.  Thus, as we hear these words today, we, too, are reminded that the priesthood of all Christians is to offer these spiritual sacrifices.
          My brothers and sisters, the messages of Our Lady at Fatima simply reinforce this truth: that we, who share in this priesthood of all believers, must take up this work of offering spiritual sacrifices of prayer and mortifications for repentance and reparation.  We must do this because many people are still being lost to the cruel fate of suffering and torture in the fires of hell.  The good news of this, however, is that it isn’t all up to us.  What I mean to say is: the task doesn’t lie on our shoulders alone.  Rather, by taking up this good work, we make ourselves conduits for Jesus’ saving grace to pour out more profusely in the world.  It is Jesus who will bring about the repentance of sinners; and it is Jesus’ blood, shed on the cross, that will make reparation for sins; but it is our cooperation that will open up doors for Jesus’ work of salvation to reach more hearts and, thus, to save more souls from hell.
          The even better news is that this promise is for everyone.  While Jesus’ saving act didn’t save everyone automatically, it is available for anyone and everyone to receive.  This is what he meant when he told his disciples, “In my Father's house there are many dwelling places” and “I am going to prepare a place for you”.  Thus, our work is even more urgent since, literally, every living soul on earth is hanging in the balance between heaven and hell.  Let us, therefore, take up this good work of repentance from sin in our own lives, prayer for the repentance of others, and making sacrifices for the reparation of sins so that none of the dwelling places that Jesus has prepared would ever remain empty.
          Finally, on this Mother’s Day, I don’t think that I can fail to note that God sent Mary with this message.  I believe that He sent her because she is our mother and because he knows that we more readily listen to our mothers when they address us tenderly.  No mother loves us more tenderly than Mary, our Blessed Mother, and so let us honor her this Mother’s Day by taking up this good work so that she might delight that more and more of her spiritual children are saved.  Mary, Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – May 13th & 14th, 2017

Monday, May 8, 2017

Buscando la voz auténtica de Jesús

Homilía: 4º Domingo en Tiempo de la Pascua – Ciclo A
          Amigos, en este pasaje del evangelio, Jesús usa imágenes que habrían sido muy familiares para las personas del Oriente Anciano: imágenes de ovejas y pastores. Ahora, la mayoría de nosotros probablemente nunca hemos criado un rebaño de ovejas (e incluso si lo hubiéramos hecho, tal vez no lo hicimos de la misma manera que lo hicieron en ese tiempo). Por lo tanto, podría ser útil desempacar estas imágenes que Jesús usa para que podamos entender el mensaje que Jesús está tratando de comunicar.
          Primero, Jesús se refiere a un redil de ovejas. En su tiempo, los pueblos eran mucho más pequeños y compactos y la gente no tenía propiedades grandes y separadas para criar sus rebaños. Por lo tanto, por lo general, un poco fuera de la aldea, habría un corral grande, o redil, en la cual se retuvieron varias ovejas. Este redil tendría una gran puerta bloqueable para asegurarla y un guardián contratado para vigilarla. El guardián conocería a los pastores que habían traído sus rebaños y no permitiría que nadie más que ellos entrara. Por lo tanto, aquellos que buscan dañar a las ovejas o robarlas para sus propios fines tendrían que subir por encima de la pared del redil para entrar.
          Jesús contrasta esta imagen del "ladrón de ovejas" con el pastor que entra libremente por la puerta para recuperar sus ovejas. No sólo es conocido por el guardián, sino que también es conocido por sus ovejas. Aunque los rebaños se entremezclen, un pastor simplemente se quedará a un lado después de entrar en el redil y llamar a los suyos. Los suyos, que se habrían acostumbrado a su voz, responderían, acercándose a él. Sin embargo, no reconocerían la voz de un extraño, así que, si un extraño les llamara, lo evitarían.
          Algo análogo a esto a nuestras propias situaciones podría ser un equipo de Vigilancia de Vecindarios. El Vigilancia de Vecindarios es un equipo de residentes en un vecindario particular que se organiza para vigilar el vecindario para mantenerlo seguro. El primer objetivo del equipo es asegurar que todos en el vecindario conozcan a todos los demás para que reconozcan a los extraños cuando lleguen. El próximo objetivo del equipo es estar vigilantes unos a otros: es decir, tener cuidado con la seguridad de los demás. Los extraños que entran en el vecindario, pero luego entrar en la casa de alguien por la puerta de entrada, probablemente son conocidos por esa persona; por lo tanto, no es necesaria ninguna alarma. Los extraños que entran en el vecindario y tratan de entrar en una casa a través de una ventana o al subir por una valla, sin embargo, probablemente son ladrones y bandidos; y, por lo tanto, necesitan ser detenidos.
          Básicamente, es una comprensión de que el vecindario es como un redil y los residentes son como guardianes. Los que tienen buenas intenciones entran por la puerta. Aquellos con intenciones dañinas tratan de esconderse a través de otras maneras. Jesús, al describir todas estas cosas, está contrastando a sí mismo, como el pastor, con los Mesías falsos que habían venido antes de él, a quienes él representa como ladrones y bandidos.
          El pueblo elegido de Dios estaba en el redil de las ovejas y el Mesías era el pastor que los llamaba y los conducía a los pastos. De hecho, el Mesías, el pastor, conoce a las ovejas tan íntimamente que las llama por su nombre. Los Mesías falsos, Jesús implica, entró en el redil como ladrones y bandidos y han tratado de conducir a las ovejas por mal camino. Mediante el uso de esta imagen, Jesús está tratando de llevar a los fariseos a darse cuenta de que él es el Mesías verdadero, y, por lo tanto, para aceptarlo; y para enseñar a sus discípulos acerca de cómo reconocer la autoridad auténtica: la autoridad que los conducirá en el camino de Dios, hacia la vida eterna. Por lo tanto, este es el mensaje que Jesús también está tratando de transmitir a nosotros: porque él está tratando de enseñarnos acerca de reconocer y seguir la autoridad auténtica.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, hay muchas voces tratando de conducirnos en diferentes direcciones en este mundo. El que maneja la autoridad auténtica es a quien debemos prestar atención. Sabemos que Jesús es el que maneja la autoridad auténtica; pero la pregunta sigue siendo: ¿cómo oímos su voz? En las Sagradas Escrituras, por supuesto; Sino también a través de sus obispos, sacerdotes y diáconos.
          Y así, si esto es cierto, entonces ¿por qué tanta gente es atraída a lugares de revelaciones alegadas? Creo que es porque tienen hambre de autoridad auténtica y no lo ven en sus iglesias. Por lo tanto, si Jesús nos habla a través de la autoridad auténtica de sus obispos, sacerdotes y diáconos, y si la gente está hambrienta de autoridad auténtica, entonces debe ser que no haya suficientes obispos, sacerdotes y diáconos para satisfacer las necesidades del pueblo; y por lo tanto se están reuniendo a lugares de revelaciones alegadas buscando satisfacer su necesidad de alguien que ejerza autoridad auténtica en sus vidas: es decir, alguien que los pastoree en el nombre de Jesús.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, por eso oramos este domingo por las vocaciones, para que haya un aumento en el número de sacerdotes y religiosos en la Iglesia que puedan interpretar para nosotros la auténtica voz de Jesús en nuestras vidas. Y aunque la oración es siempre muy necesaria, también lo es la acción en el mundo. Por lo tanto, tengo tarea para ustedes: si conoce a un joven en su vida que crea que podría ser un buen sacerdote algún día (o incluso si no sabe cuál podría ser su vocación), invítalo a considerar el sacerdocio. La mayoría de los sacerdotes le dirán que comenzaron a considerar el llamado al sacerdocio porque alguien los invitó a considerarlo. Su invitación podría abrir el corazón de un joven a este llamado de Dios. Por lo tanto, por favor, haga una resolución hoy para que sea un hábito en su vida invitar a los jóvenes a considerar el sacerdocio.
          Entonces, oren por ellos todos los días. Esto no tiene que ser complicado. Usted podría simplemente rezar un Ave María durante sus oraciones de la mañana o de la tarde, o en cualquier otra hora que usted piense en ella durante todo el día. También podría venir y ofrecer oraciones a Jesús aquí en la Iglesia ante el Santísimo Sacramento. Todos y cada uno de estos pequeños sacrificios de oración ganan gracia para el joven para que pueda discernir bien la voz de Dios en medio de las miles de voces que le llaman cada día.
          San Juan Vianney, patrono de los párrocos, dijo una vez que "El sacerdocio es el amor del corazón de Jesús". A medida que ofrecemos a Dios esta Eucaristía hoy, que sólo es posible por el sacerdocio, oremos de manera especial para los jóvenes de nuestra parroquia a los que Dios esta llamando para ser sacerdotes: que estén a salvo de todas tentaciones que los alejaría de esta noble vocación y que responderían generosamente a su llamado. Y oremos también por la gracia de confiar en la auténtica autoridad que ya ha puesto en medio de nosotros y confiar en la plenitud de la revelación espiritual que ya nos ha dado por Su presencia tanto en las Escrituras como en su real presencia aquí en el Santísimo Sacramento, para que siempre podamos anticipar la plenitud de su presencia entre nosotros cuando Él, el Buen Pastor, vuelve a llamar a cada uno de nosotros, por su nombre, de vuelta a sí mismo.
Dado en la parroquia Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

7 de mayo, 2017

Seeking the authentic voice of Jesus

Homily: 4th Sunday in Easter – Cycle A
          Friends, in this Gospel passage, Jesus uses imagery that would have been very familiar to the people to whom he was speaking in the Ancient Near East: images of sheep and shepherds.  Now, most of us probably have never raised a flock of sheep (and even if we had, we might not have done it the same way as they did back then).  Thus, it might be helpful to unpack these images that Jesus uses so that we can understand the message that Jesus is trying to convey.
          First, Jesus refers to a sheepfold.  In his time, villages were much smaller and compact and people didn't have large, separate properties in which to raise their flocks.  Therefore, usually, just outside the village, there would be a large pen—or sheepfold—in which several flocks of sheep were kept.  This sheepfold would have a large, lockable gate to secure it and a hired guard to watch over it.  The gatekeeper would know the shepherds who had brought in their flocks and so would not allow anyone other than them to enter.  Thus, those who are seeking either to harm the sheep or to steal them for their own purposes would have to climb over the wall of the sheepfold in order to get in.  Jesus contrasts this image of the “sheep stealer” with the shepherd who freely walks in through the gate to retrieve his sheep.  Not only is he known to the gatekeeper, but he is known also to his sheep.  Even though the flocks are intermixed, a shepherd would simply stand to one side after entering the sheepfold and call out to his own.  His own, who would have grown accustomed to his voice, would then respond, drawing near to him.  They would not recognize the voice of a stranger, however, so, should a stranger call out to them, they would avoid him.
          Something analogous of this to our own situations might be a Neighborhood Watch team.  The Neighborhood Watch is a team of residents in a particular neighborhood that organizes itself in order to keep watch over the neighborhood so as to keep it safe.  The first goal of the team is to ensure that everyone in the neighborhood knows everyone else so that they will recognize strangers when they come.  The next goal of the team is to be vigilant for one another: that is, to watch out for one another’s safety and security.  Strangers that enter the neighborhood, but then enter someone's house by the front door are probably known to that person; and so, no alarm is necessary.  Strangers that enter the neighborhood and try to enter a home through a window or by climbing over a fence, however, are probably thieves and robbers and, thus, need to be stopped.  Basically, it's an understanding that the neighborhood is like a sheepfold and the residents are like gatekeepers.  Those with good intentions enter through the gate.  Those with harmful intentions try to sneak in through other ways.  Jesus, in describing all of these things, is contrasting himself, as the shepherd, with the false messiahs who had come before him, whom he is portraying as thieves and robbers.
          The chosen people of God were in the sheepfold and the Messiah was the shepherd who would call them out and lead them into pasture.  In fact, the Messiah—the shepherd—knows the sheep so intimately that he calls them each by name.  The false messiahs, Jesus implies, entered the sheepfold like thieves and robbers and have tried to lead the sheep astray.  By using this image, Jesus is trying to lead the Pharisees to realize that he is the true Messiah, and, thus, to accept him; and to teach his disciples about how to recognize authentic authority: authority that will lead them in God’s way, towards eternal life.  Thus, this is the message that Jesus is also trying to convey to us: for he is trying to teach us about recognizing and following authentic authority.
          My brothers and sisters, there are many voices trying to lead us in different directions in this world.  The one who wields authentic authority is the one to whom we should pay attention.  We know that Jesus is the one who wields authentic authority; but the question remains: how do we hear his voice?  In the Holy Scriptures, of course; but also through his bishops, priests, and deacons.
          And so, if this is true, then why are so many people being drawn to places of purported revelation?  I think that it is because they’re hungry for authentic authority and they don't see it in their churches.  Therefore, if Jesus speaks to us through the authentic authority of his bishops, priests, and deacons—and if people are hungry for authentic authority—then it must be that there is not enough bishops, priests, and deacons to satisfy the needs of the people; and so they are flocking to places of purported revelations seeking to satisfy their need for someone to wield authentic authority in their lives: that is, for someone to shepherd them in the name of Jesus.
          My brothers and sisters, this is why we pray for vocations on this Sunday, which is commonly known as Good Shepherd Sunday, so that there might be an increase in the number of priests and religious in the Church who can interpret for us Jesus’ authentic voice in our lives.  And while prayer is always very necessary, so is action in the world.  Thus, I have homework for you: If you know a young man in your life who you think might make a good priest someday (or even if you don't know what his vocation might be), invite him to consider the priesthood.  Most priests will tell you that they began considering the call to the priesthood because someone invited them to consider it.  Your invitation could open a young man's heart to this call from God.  And so, please make a resolution today to make it a habit in your life to invite young men to consider the priesthood.
          Then, pray for them every day.  This doesn’t have to be complicated.  You could simply pray a Hail Mary during your morning or evening prayers, or at any other time that you think about it throughout the day.  You could also come and offer prayers to Jesus here in the Church before the Blessed Sacrament.  Any and all of these little sacrifices of prayer win grace for the young person so that he might discern well God’s voice in the midst of the thousands of voices that call out to him each and every day.
          St. John Vianney, the patron of parish priests, once said that "The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus."  As we offer to God this Eucharist today, which is made possible for us only because of the priesthood, let's pray in a special way for the young men in our parish that God is calling to be priests: that they would be kept safe from all temptation that would lead them away from this noble calling and that they would respond generously to his call.  And let us pray also for the grace to rely on the authentic authority that he has already placed in our midst—and to trust in the fullness of spiritual revelation that he has already given us by His presence, both in the Scriptures and in His real presence here in the Blessed Sacrament—so that we might always be anticipating the fullness of his presence among us when he, the Good Shepherd, returns to call us each of us, by name, back unto himself.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – May 7th, 2017