Sunday, September 24, 2017

The end IS nigh!

Homily: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          Well, we’re all still here, so apparently the prediction wasn’t accurate.  Have you guys heard about this?  The story about David Meade, the biblical numerologist, who claimed that the end of the world was to begin yesterday, September 23rd?  His proposition was based on the biblical significance of the number 33 (namely, that Jesus lived for 33 years here on earth), the fact that the total solar eclipse was exactly 33 days from September 23rd, and that, on that same day, a planet, named “Planet X”, was supposed to pass by earth at close proximity and cause numerous natural disasters to occur at the same time: volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc.  I’m not sure how Mr. Meade got around the fact that NASA has repeatedly stated that “Planet X” doesn’t exist and that, regardless, there is no planet whose trajectory would take it anywhere near earth anytime in the foreseeable future, but, thanks be to God, it appears that his prediction isn’t accurate and so it doesn’t really matter.
          Or is it?  I mean, maybe he isn’t right on about the “how” and the “when”, but he might still be on to something.  With Western Society seemingly trying to consume itself into oblivion and with the great slew of natural disasters currently occurring (say nothing of the saber rattling going on between President Trump and Kim Jong-un), Mr. Meade might, actually, be on to something.  In fact, as Catholics, I think that we have to say that he is right: doomsday approaches… the end is nigh!  Why do we need to say this?  Well, because we’ve been saying it for nearly 2000 years.
          You see, the first Christians took seriously Jesus’ words to his disciples before he ascended into heaven when he said, “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”  “These things…” to which Jesus was referring were the signs of the apocalypse, namely that “the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”  And so, the first Christians made haste—and none hastier than Saint Paul—to try to preach the Gospel to the whole world before these “things” would took place.  Saint Paul was always ready to leave this world at a moment’s notice—as is evidenced by his words to the Philippians in the second reading and which demonstrates his conviction that the end was nigh—but, nonetheless, he was content to continue working in this world for the benefit of those to whom he preached until the Lord returned.
          Eventually, of course, that generation began to die off, thus prompting some Christians to begin to question whether or not the “end” was truly “nigh”.  That’s why, in later writings of the New Testament, we see the authors beginning to try to explain how this makes sense.  They found hope in Jesus’ words that, when he returned, those who were in the graves would be raised up: that none of them would be lost.  This didn’t diminish, however, the urgency with which they continued to proclaim the Gospel.  They refused to believe that, what seemed to them as a delay, meant that Jesus had given up all-together.  Thus, they continued to preach that “the end is nigh” so that no one would be caught off-guard.
          Nearly two-thousand years later, we’ve softened the “the end is nigh” rhetoric, a bit, but it nonetheless is a core teaching of our message.  This is, in part, why we still read passages in our liturgies like the passage that we read from the prophet Isaiah in our first reading today.  “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near” the prophet said.  The prophet was implying, of course that there may be a time—in the near future, even—in which the Lord may not be found and in which he may not be near.  We read this again today to wake us up to the same reality: it will not always be possible to find God when we seek him nor will God always be near to us when we call.  The end is nigh.  Thus, we are reminded of the urgency with which we must continually seek the Lord while he may be found and call on him while he is near.
          Even the parable that Jesus gives us in the Gospel reading today tells us something of the urgency that should still motivate us.  There, the landowner shows himself going out repeatedly during the day to seek workers for his vineyard.  We see that, even up to the last hour of the work day, if he finds workers who have not been hired for the day, he will hire them and send them out to his vineyard to earn a day’s wage.  Although it is easy to focus on what seems to be an injustice to the workers who worked all day long, I want to draw your attention to something that might be easy to overlook: that, ultimately, the day ended and, thus, that the landowner no longer went out to look for any more workers.  Seek the Lord while he may be found…
          My brothers and sisters, Planet X may not have passed close to the earth yesterday, thus sparing us from the horrible consequences that might have occurred, but that does not mean that the end is not nigh.  As our Lord has told us, we know “neither the day, nor the hour” of our Lord’s return, meaning that it could still be something that is close at hand.  And so our job is not to “seek to know the day and the hour”, but rather it is to “seek the Lord while he may be found” and to help others to do the same.  We seek him when we seek him in our daily personal prayer, in the sacraments, celebrated in a worshiping community, and in the poor, whom we serve with generous hearts; and we help others to do so when we invite them to seek the Lord with us.
          And so, as we approach this altar on which we encounter the Lord who is still near to us, let us call to him and ask him to strengthen us on our journey: so that, whether the end of the world comes today or another 2000 years’ worth of todays from now, we will be ready to run to him when he comes in glory.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – September 24th, 2017

Monday, September 11, 2017

No estoy bien y no estás bien ... y está bien decirlo.

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

10 de septiembre, 2017

I'm not okay and you're not okay... and it's okay to say it.

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

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – September 10th, 2017

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Pagans, Saints, and the Cross of Christ

Homily: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          As we know, Saint Paul lived in the first century AD, when the dominant religions were all pagan.  Pagan religions were based on a belief that gods were fickle beings who, while wielding great power, could, nonetheless, be swayed to use that power for a person’s benefit if they made a pleasing offering to them.  Thus, these pagan religions emphasized and relied on the power of external rituals.  These rituals sometimes consisted of sacrifices in which animals were slaughtered, grain was burned, or wine was poured out.  They also sometimes consisted of ritual dances, prayers, songs, or similar actions.  In every case, however, the power of the worship, and its (supposed) ability to convince the false god to send blessings on the worshipper, depended on the exact performance of the ritual.  It was kind of like a gymnastics routine in the Olympics: if the ritual wasn't performed with perfect precision, the worshipper would get a bad score, and the gods would either ignore the prayer or, worse, get angry.
          This pagan focus on external rituals had also seeped into Jewish practices at the time.  Throughout his writings, therefore, Saint Paul is constantly warning the early Christians against falling into an excessive focus on the externals, or, what we might call, ritualism.  Paul sought to train the early Church to have a close personal relationship with God: not a cold, distant one, made up entirely with empty formalities.  This is why he writes to the Romans, as we just heard, "offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship."  In other words, he was teaching them that the Christian's relationship with God isn't reducible to a few rituals and prayers; rather, everything he/she does is meant to be worship.  One’s actions, words, and decisions—the way one lives his/her daily life—all these things are ways for one to show that he/she loves Christ and wants to follow him.  This was a radical new concept of religion—a religion built on a personal friendship with the one true God who became man in Jesus Christ—and it required, as Saint Paul wrote, that Christians "be transformed by the renewal of their mind."
          This “new-at-the-time” concept of religion helps us to understand so much of our religious tradition.  In particular, it helps explain one of our Catholic traditions that a lot of non-Catholic Christians have trouble understanding: namely, our devotion to the saints.  You see, some non-Catholics think that the statues of saints in our churches are there because we worship them, as pagans used to do, who would worship a sacred statue (like that of an animal) or an image of an ancestor as if they (the animal or the ancestor) were divine.  Devotion to the saints, however, is different.  We use images of saints for the same reason that we use family photographs: to remind us of some of the great members of our Christian family who have gone before us.  The example of their faith, courage, and holiness, of which the image reminds us, is meant to inspire us to strive for holiness, too.  So, no, we don't worship statues; and, no, we don't worship the saints either.
          We know the saints; and we know that they were normal, everyday people just like us, and that they aren’t gods.  They had personality flaws, family problems, and plenty of headaches, but they allowed God's grace to touch those things, and to sanctify them.  They recognized that God's offer of friendship in Christ was able to make them not only better church-goers and pray-ers, but also better husbands and wives, generals and lawyers, carpenters and nurses, scholars and artists.  These men and women followed Saint Paul's advice, trying to make every activity of their day—whether folding laundry or writing theological treatises—into a "living sacrifice" of "spiritual worship."  That's why we have named patron saints for almost everything and everyone, like Saint Barbara, the patron saint of mathematicians, and Saint Brigid, the patron saint of midwives, and Saint Wolfgang, the patron saint of those suffering from paralysis, and Saint Martin de Porres, the patron saint of public schools.  For those connected to any one of those situations, these saints provide an example of how to make their lives into a “living sacrifice” of “spiritual worship”.
          Friends, we aren't superstitious, nor do we believe in good luck charms, but we do recognize that, when God comes into a life, he has the power to fill every little nook and cranny of it with everlasting meaning, if we let him; and our devotion to the saints helps to remind us of this by reminding us of how he has already done this in the lives of countless men and women before us.
          No, my brothers and sisters, we do not worship our ancestors or pray to multiple gods for multiple many things—and our relationship with the one God who we worship is not based on external rituals alone—rather, it's based on an internal identity, often expressed externally.  I believe that this truth can help us to understand one of life's great mysteries: that is, the mystery of suffering and the cross.
          In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus said to his disciples (and, so, he says to us): "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."  Jesus doesn’t promise that following him will lead to a problem-free life, even though that's what all the pagan religions claimed to offer.  We know that such a promise is empty, because we know that, in this fallen world, no one can avoid suffering and loss.  What Jesus does promise is that, at the end of history, he will "wipe away every tear" and put an end to evil, suffering, and death for those who have endured such things patiently on account of him.  He demands this of his disciples not because he is some fickle god, looking for external proofs of their commitment to him, but rather because he knows of suffering’s redemptive power: power that he activated when he, himself, took up the cross.
          Just before telling his apostles “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”, we hear that Jesus showed his disciples that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly … and be killed and on the third day be raised”.  Jesus did not make himself immune to what his disciples would suffer; but rather embraced it, in obedience to the Father’s will, as the means of salvation for humanity.  And so, when we unite our inevitable sufferings to his through faith and prayer, we tap into this means of salvation.  This gives our crosses internal meaning, even though externally they remain painful.  Our crosses then become part of the "living sacrifice" and "spiritual worship" that please God, reverse sin, and spread God's grace.
          My brothers and sisters, Jesus has redeemed the world and has turned our sorrows into paths of salvation, just as in a few minutes he will turn our offerings of bread and wine into his own grace-filled body and blood.  If we are at all feeling down and defeated because of the crosses that being a Christian demands that we bear, let’s look to our friends, the saints, for inspiration to persevere in carrying them, and to this Eucharist—which re-presents to us the saving sacrifice of Jesus on the cross—to find the strength we need to bear their weight until our Lord returns in glory.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – September 2nd & 3rd, 2017