Monday, February 26, 2018

Saying "yes" to God's voice

Homily: 2nd Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

          Michigan mega-church pastor Rob Bell has produced a series of videos that take a simple, straight-forward approach to demonstrating how the Gospel applies to everyday life.  In one of the videos that I’ve seen, Mr. Bell speaks about the importance of saying “yes” to something.  In doing so, he emphasizes, we can then come to know what it is that we need to say “no” to in our lives.  He uses Jesus as an example to illustrate his point, stating that because Jesus said “yes” to do the Father’s will, announcing the Good News and redeeming God’s people, he could say “no” to many other things (like when Jesus turned away when he knew the crowd was going to make him their king).

          This is a video (a short film, really) and so of course there is a visual component to his speaking.  In the film, the whole time that he is talking he’s walking, seemingly from one side of a city to another.  At first his surroundings just seem like normal busy streets, but if you’re paying attention you begin to notice that the surroundings are part of the point.  The visual noises are distractions that surround him as he walks.  At a couple of points, a person actually walks in between Mr. Bell and the camera as he’s walking, but he never loses his stride until he arrives at his destination (which happens to be a school where he meets a young boy that we are to assume is his son).  The well-made point of both his words and the visual presentation is to emphasize how knowing to what it is that we have said “yes” keeps us focused (i.e. able to say “no”) in the midst of the world’s distractions.

          Our scriptures today lead us to think about how God’s voice gets into the middle of people’s lives.  In our first reading, Abraham hears God’s voice, who commands him to do something horrific: to take his son Isaac (that is, the son that God had promised to him as the first of the innumerable descendants that Abraham would have) and how Abraham followed what God had asked him to do.  This, of course, was not the first time that Abraham had said “yes” to God.  In fact, it was many years before, when Abraham was still “Abram”, that God first called Abraham and directed him to leave the land of his fathers to travel to a land which he would show him.  That was when Abraham first said his “yes” to God.  In the many years that followed, Abraham maintained that “yes” to God; and so, when God asked Abraham to give his son Isaac back to him, Abraham could say “yes” once again. /// Because he was clear about to what he had said “yes”, Abraham could say “no” to everything else.

          In the Gospel, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John on a hike up to a high place.  Knowing that Jesus often did this to have a quiet place where he could teach or pray, I’m guessing that the three were anticipating a quiet afternoon.  But then, the Transfiguration…  Moses and Elijah…  And, to top it all off, the voice of God booms out from the thick cloud that had descended upon them.  They had already said “yes” to Jesus when they responded to his call to leave their nets and follow him.  Now their “yes” had to go deeper (like Abraham’s had to go deeper).  In commanding these three to “listen to him”, the Father was, in essence, saying, “Obey him completely”.  And how soon would this be tested?  As soon as they started down from the high place: The Gospel says that “…[Jesus] charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” /// Because they had seen the full glory of that to which they had said “yes”, Peter, James, and John could then say “no” to everything else.

          And so, the question comes to us: “To whom (or to what) have I said ‘yes’?”  To answer this question, we need to take a look at to whose voice we listen and to whose we don’t.  This is an examination of conscience.  Is it God’s voice to which you listen?  Or is it to one (or more) of the many other voices that fill your day?  The ones, perhaps, who are closest to you and whose opinions and good graces you value highly?  If the voice to which you listen—that is, the voice to which you have said “yes”—isn’t God’s, then Lent is the time to “re-orient your hearing”, so to speak.

          In our second reading, Saint Paul reminds us powerfully that we should be listening—that is, giving our “yes”—to God.  In it, Paul is asking: "Who has done more for us besides God?"  God, who has given up his only son for us (and, in this context, we can add even when he didn't make Abraham do so).  If he has given us that much, Paul continues, how will he not give us everything else we need in this world, which is clearly much less valuable?  Then he asks, "If God has done this for us, then who should we fear in this world?"  For no one has more power than God and He has proven that he is "for" us (that is, “on our side”).  Thus, who (or what) have we to fear?  If it is God who ultimately decides our fate, then we must fear (that is, listen to) him alone.

          Okay, so how do I hear God’s voice and, thus, demonstrate my "yes" to God?  Well, first and foremost, follow his commandments.  Maybe you’re not hearing the voice of God speaking into your ear like Abraham did, but Abraham didn’t have the commandments: we do.  The commandments (and the moral teachings of Holy Mother Church which stem from them) are the voice of God for each of us.  If we are not following those, then we are certainly not giving our full “yes” to God.  Examine your conscience, then, and see if you are following his commandments.  If not, repent.  Seek forgiveness through the sacrament of Reconciliation and resolve to follow them from this point forward.

          Second, fulfill your vocation.  Whatever calling God has given to you (marriage, parenthood, the single life…), learn what it looks like to live this virtuously and then live it.  The Church Fathers tell us that every creature gives great glory to God by simply being fully what it is that God made it to be.  The same goes for us.  If you are a husband or wife, be the best husband or wife you can be.  If you are a parent, be the best parent you can be.  If you are single, be the best servant of others that you can be.  (Each of which are measured by the Christian law of charity, of course.)  If we’re falling short, then, again, we need to repent and resolve to become the best, according to our abilities.  And why these?  Because then you'll be on the same wavelength as God and you will be able to hear other, specific ways in which he wants you to act.

          My friends, Lent is about restoring our "yes" to God and to his voice.  Our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving ought to have as their goal helping us to restore it.  And this, so that, through obedience, we would receive the blessings promised to Abraham, because of his obedience.  And, still further, so that God's kingdom—which is nothing short than seeing the Glorious Face of Jesus—would be made known among us.  May our Blessed Mother Mary, whose “yes” brought Christ our Savior to us, be for us a model; and may her prayers lead us to this glory that each of our hearts seeks.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 24th & 25th, 2018

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Un invierno espiritual

Homilía: 1º Domingo de la Cuaresma – Ciclo B

          Aquí en Indiana, somos testigos de la renovación anual de invierno de las plantas. Los árboles, en particular, demuestran esta renovación más dramáticamente. A medida que se acerca el invierno, celebran una especie de "carnaval", ya que sus hojas cambian en colores llamativos inmediatamente antes de ponerse marrones y caerse. Luego, los árboles permanecen inactivos hasta que llega la primavera, cuando florecen en flores de colores brillantes antes de brotar nuevas hojas para absorber los rayos nutritivos del sol. Sin embargo, esto no es meramente una "recuperación de lo viejo". Más bien, la floración de primavera de los árboles es verdaderamente una renovación. Bueno, no he hecho ninguna investigación para saber si esto es cierto, pero creo que esta renovación anual en realidad los hace a los arboles más fuertes y capaces de dar más fruto.

          Como criaturas corporales que viven en el tiempo, también necesitamos un tiempo de renovación anual. A medida que el tiempo avanza día tras día y mes tras mes, nuestros cuerpos y espíritus se sienten abrumados por la vida cotidiana de nuestras vidas. Tal vez hay hábitos pecaminosos que hemos desarrollado durante el año pasado o tal vez nuestras vidas de oración se han estancado e infructuoso. Y entonces la Iglesia nos da este tiempo de Cuaresma como un "invierno espiritual" para ayudarnos a desprendernos de las cosas que nos agobian—como los árboles se desprenden de sus hojas secas—y renovarnos en nuestras promesas bautismales de vivir la vida cristiana.

          En este primer domingo de Cuaresma, las lecturas nos ayudan a entender cómo podemos abordar este momento de renovación. Hoy nos dieron una idea de dónde nos llevará este viaje de la Cuaresma y también de cómo llegaremos allí. En la primera lectura, Noé salió después de cuarenta días en el arca. Él representó a la humanidad purificada del pecado y vemos que Dios hizo una alianza con esta humanidad renovada para nunca más destruirla. En esto vemos el objetivo de nuestra renovación Cuaresmal. Nuestra meta es emerger de este ayuno de cuarenta días limpiado del pecado para recibir nuevamente la promesa de Dios que recibimos en nuestro bautismo.

          Luego, en la lectura del Evangelio, escuchamos cómo Jesús pasó cuarenta días en el desierto, tentado por Satanás, antes de comenzar su ministerio para llamar a las personas al arrepentimiento. En esto vemos el camino que debemos seguir para alcanzar nuestra meta. Como Jesús pasó cuarenta días en el desierto, en el que se apartó de las comodidades de su vida diaria para estar preparado para comenzar a cumplir la misión por la cual vino, así también nosotros estamos llamados a pasar cuarenta días en los cuales nos alejamos de algunas de las comodidades de nuestra vida cotidiana (por ejemplo, nuestra comida o bebida favorita o refrescos en general, o TV o Facebook o YouTube o Netflix o la red en general) para que también podamos alejarnos de aquellos cosas que nos separan de Dios y de los demás (por ejemplo, de los celos, la ira, el resentimiento, los chismes, etc.).

          Bueno, cuando nos alejamos de algo, necesariamente nos volvemos hacia otra cosa y, por lo tanto, es importante que, mientras nos alejamos de algunas de las comodidades de nuestra vida cotidiana, prestemos cuidadosa atención a aquello a lo que nos hemos dirigido. La renovación de la alianza de Dios con la humanidad que sucedió después de que Noé salió del arca nos invita a mirar hacia el final de estos cuarenta días y preguntarnos: "¿Quién quiero ser al final de este tiempo?" En otras palabras, "¿Cómo deseo ser renovado esta Cuaresma?" O, mejor aún, "¿Cómo quiere Dios renovarme esta Cuaresma?" Esta es una pregunta muy importante. Porque podemos tomar todo tipo de prácticas penitenciales durante esta Cuaresma (¡algunas de ellas heroicas, incluso!)—y, si las hacemos bien con un espíritu de humildad, de alguna manera, seremos renovadas—pero si no tenemos un objetivo en mente (un objetivo hacia el cual la renovación apunta a lograr), entonces las posibilidades de que nuestra renovación dé fruto para Dios y su reino son escasas.

          Por lo tanto, San Pedro nos recuerda en nuestra segunda lectura que nuestro bautismo no fue solo un lavado que quita la inmundicia de nuestros cuerpos, sino que fue un "compromiso de vivir con una buena conciencia ante Dios..." Con estas palabras podemos entonces expandir nuestro "pregunta importante" cuando comenzamos la Cuaresma y vemos que no solo tenemos que preguntarnos "¿Cómo quiere Dios renovarme esta Cuaresma?", sino también "¿y para qué me renuevan?" Si puede encontrar una respuesta a estas preguntas, y póngase en camino para realizarlas, entonces estará en camino de tener una Cuaresma mejor que nunca.

          En este punto, es importante recordar que, siempre cuando intentemos hacer algo bueno, inevitablemente encontraremos dificultades. Así como Jesús fue tentado en el desierto, también nosotros podemos esperar encontrar tentaciones que nos tentarán a darnos por vencidos antes de alcanzar nuestra meta. Aquí es donde entran en juego las herramientas de la oración, el ayuno y la limosna. Estas herramientas nos ayudan a vencer estas tentaciones y a estar abiertos a la gracia de Dios, para que podamos lograr nuestra meta. Y entonces vemos que la oración, el ayuno y la limosna no son fines en sí mismos—es decir, algo que hacemos simplemente porque es la Cuaresma (en otras palabras, para usar el ejemplo de San Pedro, el bautismo, solo para quitar la inmundicia de nuestros cuerpos)—sino más bien, que son útiles para lograr nuestro objetivo Cuaresmal, la renovación de nuestros espíritus. Por lo tanto, debemos elegir bien cómo vamos a orar, ayunar y dar limosnas: siempre con la mirada puesta en la renovación que Dios quiere para nosotros.

          Sin embargo, aunque hay muchas formas en que podemos acercarnos a nuestro tiempo en la Cuaresma, una cosa que no es una opción es no pasar por ello. Las lecturas de hoy nos muestran tanto. Noé tuvo que pasar los cuarenta días en el arca para recibir la promesa de Dios. Jesús tuvo que pasar cuarenta días en el desierto antes de poder comenzar su ministerio de anunciar la venida del Reino de Dios. Y entonces nosotros también debemos pasar estos cuarenta días de Cuaresma si realmente deseamos la renovación en las promesas de Dios que él mismo desea darnos.

          Mis hermanos y hermanas, Dios realmente desea que seamos renovados esta Cuaresma. Comprometámonos a este objetivo y recemos para que Dios nos muestre cómo lograrlo. Vamos a escucharlo en oración, a disciplinar a nuestros cuerpos y a nuestros espíritus por ayunar, y responder más rápidamente a nuestros vecinos necesitados por dar limosnas, para hacer realidad la renovación interior del espíritu que todos necesitamos. Cuando lo hagamos, verdaderamente estaremos listos para "florecer como los árboles" esta primavera y para celebrar con gran alegría la resurrección de nuestro Señor.

Dado en la parroquia Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

18 de febrero, 2018

A Spiritual Winter

Homily: 1st Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

          Here in Indiana, we witness the yearly winter renewal of plants.  Trees, in particular, demonstrate this renewal most dramatically.  As winter approaches, they celebrate a “carnival” of sorts as their leaves change into flashy colors just before turning brown and falling off.  Then, the trees seemingly lay dormant until spring arrives when they will bloom in bright colored flowers before sprouting new leaves in order to absorb the nutritious rays of the sun.  This is no mere “putting back on of the old”, however.  Rather the spring blooming of the trees is truly a renewal.  Now, I’ve not done any research to know whether or not this is true, but I believe that this yearly renewal actually makes them stronger and able to bear more fruit.

          As bodily creatures living in time, we too need a yearly time of renewal.  As time progresses day after day and month after month, our bodies and spirits get weighed down by the daily living of our lives.  Perhaps there are sinful habits we’ve developed over the past year or maybe our prayer lives have become stagnant and fruitless.  And so the Church gives us this season of Lent as a “spiritual winter” to help us slough off those things that are weighing us down—like the trees slough off their “seasoned” leaves—and to be renewed in our baptismal promises to live the Christian life.

          In this first Sunday of Lent, the readings help us to understand how we can approach this time of renewal.  Today we were given a glimpse both of where this journey of Lent will take us and also of how we will get there.  In the first reading, Noah emerged after forty days in the ark.  He represented humanity cleansed from sin and we see that God made a covenant with this renewed humanity never to destroy it again.  In this we see the goal of our Lenten renewal.  Our goal is to emerge from this forty day fast cleansed from sin so as to receive again the promise of God that we received in our baptism.  (Notice the “passive” tense of the verb—the cleansing being something to which we submit ourselves.)

          Then, in the Gospel reading, we heard how Jesus spent forty days in the desert, tempted by Satan, before he begins his ministry to call people to repentance.  In this we see the way we are to take to reach our goal.  As Jesus spent forty days in the desert, in which he turned away from the comforts of his daily life so as to be prepared to begin to fulfill the mission for which he came, so we, too, are called to spend forty days in which we turn away from some of the comforts of our daily lives (for example, our favorite food or drink or snacks in general, or TV or Facebook or YouTube or Netflix or the internet in general) in order that we also might turn away from those things that separate us from God and from each other (for example, from jealousy, anger, resentment, gossip, etc.).

          Now, when we turn away from something, we necessarily turn towards something else and so it is important that, as we turn away from some of the comforts of our daily lives, we pay careful attention to that to which we have turned.  The renewal of God’s covenant with humanity that happened after Noah emerged from the ark invites us to look towards the end of this forty days and to ask ourselves, “Who do I want to be at the end of this time?”  In other words, “How do I want to be renewed this Lent?”  Or, better yet, “How does God want to renew me this Lent?”  This is a really important question to answer.  Because we can take up all sorts of penitential practices this Lent (some of them heroic, even!)—and, if we do them well in a spirit of humility, we will, in some way, be renewed—but if we don’t have a goal in mind (an end toward which the renewal is aimed at achieving) then the chances that our renewal will bear fruit for God and his kingdom is slim.

          Thus, Saint Peter reminds us in our second reading that our baptism was not just a washing that removed dirt from our bodies, but rather that it was “an appeal to God for a clear conscience…”  With these words we can then expand our “important question” as we begin Lent and see that we not only have to ask ourselves “How does God want to renew me this Lent?” but also, “and for what am I being renewed?”  If you can come up with an answer to these questions, and set yourself towards realizing them, then you will be well on your way to having your best Lent ever.

          At this point, it’s important to remember that, whenever we attempt to do something good, we will inevitably encounter difficulty.  Just as Jesus was tempted in the desert, so we too can expect to encounter temptations that will tempt us to give up before we reach our goal.  This is where the tools of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving come into play.  These tools help us to overcome these temptations and to be open to God’s grace, so that we can achieve our goal.  And so we see that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not just ends in themselves—that is, something that we do just because it’s Lent (in other words, to use Saint Peter’s example, baptism, solely for the sake of washing away dirt)—but rather, that they are helps towards achieving our Lenten goal, the renewal of our spirits.  Thus we must select well how we will pray, fast, and give alms always with an eye towards the renewal that God wants for us.

          Nevertheless, although there are many ways that we can approach our time in Lent, one thing that is not an option is not to go through it.  The readings today show us this much.  Noah had to spend the forty days in the ark in order to receive God’s promise.  Jesus had to spend forty days in the desert before he could begin his ministry of announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God.  And so we too must go through these forty days of Lent if we truly desire the renewal in God’s promises that he himself desires to give us.

          My brothers and sisters, God truly desires that we be renewed this Lent.  Let us then commit ourselves to this goal and let us pray for God to show us how to achieve it.  Let us listen to him in prayer, discipline our bodies and our spirits by fasting, and respond more readily to our neighbors in need by giving alms, so as to make real the interior renewal of spirit that we each need.  When we do so, we will truly be ready to “bloom like the trees” this spring and to celebrate with great joy the resurrection of our Lord.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 18th, 2018

Monday, February 12, 2018

A complete reversal

Homily: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

          Friends, in these (what I’m calling) “intervening weeks” between the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Lent this coming week, we have been presented with an image of Christ who is doing something new.  In the third Sunday in Ordinary Time, we heard Jesus proclaim that the “time of fulfillment” was at hand, meaning that the third Christian age, in which the promise that God made to our first parents after their first sin would finally be realized, had now begun.  Then, in the fourth Sunday, we heard Jesus teaching in the synagogue with his own authority and how he demonstrated his authority when he drove the unclean spirit out of the man in the synagogue.  The people were amazed at this “new teaching with authority” and perhaps began to see in Jesus the one of whom Moses spoke: “A prophet like me will God raise up for you…”  Then last week, the fifth Sunday, we heard how Jesus entered the home of Simon Peter and healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (and, subsequently, hundreds of others from that town).  Although the next morning all came looking for him, Jesus refused to become a spectacle (like many “wonder-workers” of the day) and chose, instead, to leave that place to preach in other towns.  He was truly a “new prophet” and could not be contained to any one place.

          This week, we read a story of reversal.  In our first reading, we listened to the words of the Book of Leviticus, detailing what someone with an ailment of the skin must do.  Here we see a microcosm, if you will, of the Fall.  In the Garden of Eden, our first parents sin and so are marked with death.  God, however, is life and death cannot dwell in the presence of God.  Therefore, Adam and Eve are driven from the Garden and cannot reenter until they have been cleansed from this “stain” of death.  Leprosy (which, in the Old Testament, was a “blanket” term for those with various skin ailments that included, but was not limited to, what we now call “Hansen’s disease”), to the people of ancient times, was an outward sign that death was touching a person.  Anyone marked in such a way could not enter the temple—the place of encounter with God—to offer worship.  Thus, the person also became a threat to anyone who wasn’t so marked and wanted to enter the temple to worship.  Thus, the leper had to stay separated and declare himself “unclean”, lest others be "infected" with death, too.  And, just like with Adam and Eve, who couldn’t cleanse themselves of the sin that caused death to touch them, so too the leper didn’t have any way to cleanse the skin ailment on his own.  He simply had to pray that it would clear up so that he could be restored to the worshiping community.  For a first century Jew, this was just the way the world worked.

          In the Gospel, we then hear the story of reversal.  First, the man approaches Jesus (a bold move for one who was supposed to keep himself at a distance!).  He pleads with Jesus and Jesus does the unthinkable: he touches him!  But, instead of the uncleanness coming out of the leper and going into Jesus, what happens?  Cleanness goes out from Jesus and into the leper: a complete reversal!  And how do we know?  Because, as the scripture says, “the leprosy left the man immediately, and he was made clean”.  After, Jesus tells the man not to make a big deal out of it—in other words, that he no longer has to “shout out” about himself—but what does the man do?  He immediately goes and tells everyone he meets.  No one went around shouting “I am clean”, because it wasn’t necessary.  But this man does so voluntarily, reversing his obligation to declare himself unclean.  Finally, while the man can now reenter the town and join the worshiping community, we see that Jesus cannot!  But is he really excluded?  No!  Because, instead of everyone staying away from the ones outside of town, they all come out to him!  The presence of Jesus causes each of them to recognize that they are "unclean", in some way, and that they have been unable to become "clean" through their own efforts.  Thus, they "separate" themselves from the town (and, thus, the worshiping community) so as to meet Jesus and to be made clean.  And so we see that Jesus takes our helpless story and he reverses it: proving once again that the “time of fulfillment” has, indeed, come.

          If we stop and pay attention for just a moment, we see that this is us!  So much hullabaloo is being made about "identity politics" and ending oppression of "marginalized groups" (based, for example, on race, gender (actual or otherwise), sexual attraction, socioeconomic status, etc.).  The fact of the matter is that we're all oppressed in some way: that is, we all have some kind of leprosy that alienates us in some way.  Take a hard look!  We're all messed up in a lot of ways!  And none of us is capable on our own making ourselves clean.  Thus, the good news that we hear today.  Look at what Jesus did to the leper!  He completely reversed everything that pushed him away.  And how?  By his own divine power, of course.  But what actuated that power?  The man embracing his leprosy and taking a bold step to overcome it.  This man saw his “oppressed” state, but refused to remain a victim and approached Jesus.  And through Jesus, his “oppression” was overcome.

          This, therefore, is the message for our day: stop acting like a victim and try to do something to make it better.  (This isn't a good bumper sticker slogan, I know, but it's darn practical!)  Recognize that you're a mess, yes.  Recognize that you're a mess because life is hard and full of suffering, yes; but also because you've given in to the victim mentality and haven't made good choices.  Then recognize that there is something that you can do about it and start to do it.  Come to Jesus and submit yourself to his will, like the leper from the Gospel reading: "If you will, you can make me clean".  Then ACT!  If there is anything disordered in your life (of which you are the cause), start to put it in order.  Most of us have a God-ordered path for our lives (marriage, parenthood, etc.).  If you don't, you're probably not here.  If you don't and you are here, then your first job is to get yourself on a God-ordered path.  But if you are on your God-ordered path, then look at what disrupts your journey on that path and start to get it out of your life.  For example: almost anything produced by Hollywood, social media (the source of gossip and narcissism!), 24-hour news programming, etc.  You won't fix everything—there's still suffering that just happens in the world—but at least you'll have mitigated a lot of the self-inflicted suffering, right?

          And why all of this?  Because there are real victims out there—that is, those whose suffering is severe and not self-inflicted—and they need real help.  But we help no one when we sit around wallowing in our own victimhood, saying "well, I can't because of x, y, and z."  Well, yes, maybe "x, y, and z", but you can do something.  Whatever that is, you need to do it.  Even if that's just to shout out about it.

          Friends, in Jesus, our long exile has been reversed.  Everything that kept us separate from God is flipped on its head and redeemed.  But if we don't act, we'll never fully realize it.  The first act is to believe: to believe in the power of Christ to flip it over.  And so today, as you approach the Eucharist (whether or not you are able to receive it), pray, before you receive it (or before you present yourself before it); "Jesus, if you will, you can make me clean"; because, I assure you, he does will it.  Receive, then, his healing; and go forth telling everyone how Jesus made you clean and put your life back in order so as to make life's sufferings a little more bearable for you and, thus, for those around you.  Then we will begin to see more clearly the truth that Jesus proclaimed: that this truly is the time of fulfillment.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 10th & 11th, 2018

Monday, February 5, 2018

Sanado para servir

Santa Josefina Bakhita: Dia Festivo 8 de Febrero

Homilía: 5º Domingo en el Tiempo Ordinario – Ciclo B
          Santa Josefina Bakhita nació en la región de Darfur en Sudán del Sur en 1869. Cuando tenía siete años, fue secuestrada y vendida como esclava. En los años siguientes, fue vendida y revendida a diferentes dueños de esclavos, sufriendo abuso físico y psicológico donde quiera que fuera. Bakhita fue el nombre que le dio su primer dueño de esclavos. El abuso que recibió a lo largo de los años la traumatizó tanto que olvidó el nombre que le habían dado sus padres. Finalmente, ella se encontró en manos de un embajador italiano, Callisto Legnani. Con esta familia no hubo abuso y el largo viaje de sanación de Bakhita pudo comenzar.
          Debido a las tensiones políticas en Sudán, el embajador Legnani tuvo que abandonar África para regresar a Italia y, a petición de Bakhita, la trajo junto con su familia. Al regresar a Italia, la familia Michieli, que eran amigos de los Legnanis, solicitaron que Bakhita se quedara con ellos. El Sr. Legnani estuvo de acuerdo y cuando los Michielis dieron a luz a una hija, Bakhita se convirtió en su niñera y amiga. Cuando los Michielis se vieron obligados a regresar a África por negocios, Bakhita y su hija fueron confiados a las Hermanas Canosianas del Instituto de Catecúmenos en Venecia. Fue allí donde Bakhita llegaría a conocer a Dios.
          Después de varios meses de oración y estudio en el catecumenado, Bakhita recibió los Sacramentos de Iniciación, tomando el nombre de Josefina. No mucho después, los Michielis regresaron, habiendo establecido sus negocios en África, para llevar a su hija y a Josefina para que estuvieran con ellos. Sin embargo, Josefina se negó a regresar a África, y solicitó quedarse con las Hermanas Canosianas. Debido a que la ley italiana había abolido la esclavitud, las Michielis no podía obligarla a ir y por lo tanto se le concedieron su deseo.
          Josefina se quedó con las hermanas; eventualmente siguiendo el llamado a entrar a la vida religiosa ella misma. Seis años después de su bautismo, hizo su profesión solemne como hermana Canosiana. Durante los siguientes cincuenta años, sirvió humildemente y diligentemente a sus hermanas y a las personas con quienes se puso en contacto a través del apostolado de las hermanas. Todos los que la conocían, sabían la alegría que irradiaba de ella en cada encuentro. Ella era conocida por decir "Sé bueno, ama al Señor y ora por aquellos que no lo conocen. ¡Qué gran gracia es conocer a Dios!" En ella, hoy encontramos la historia inspiradora de una mujer liberada de la opresión y la esclavitud a través de la acción cristiana que luego se volvió para ofrecerse completamente en el servicio a Dios.
          En nuestra lectura del Evangelio de hoy, escuchamos una historia con un resultado similar. Habiendo enseñado en la sinagoga de Cafarnaúm (donde liberó a un hombre de un "espíritu inmundo"), Jesús regresó a la casa de Simón y Andrés. La suegra de Simón estaba gravemente enferma con fiebre. Cuando le contaron a Jesús acerca de ella, él fue a ella y la sanó. Entonces el Evangelio dice que "se puso a servirles". Visto a la luz de la historia de Santa Josefina, podemos hacer estas correlaciones: la suegra de Simón fue "esclavizada" por una enfermedad; los discípulos de Jesús, habiéndolo visto expulsar al espíritu inmundo horas antes, "inmediatamente" le avisaron de ella; Jesús se acercó a ella y la liberó; y ella, en su libertad, luego elige servir. En otras palabras, liberados por Jesús a quien encontraron a través de las acciones de sus discípulos, estas mujeres eligen libremente someterse al servicio de los demás.
          A pesar de que la esclavitud está casi universalmente abolida, millones de hombres y mujeres en todo el mundo aún la padecen. Todos los días, los hombres y las mujeres se ven obligados a trabajar opresivamente o, lo que es peor, se los compra y vende como esclavos sexuales para alimentar la lujuria que crece exponencialmente en la humanidad. En nuestro propio estado, e incluso en nuestro propio condado, la adicción al alcohol, la heroína y los analgésicos recetados ha esclavizado a muchos de nuestros familiares y amigos. Para muchas de estas personas, la vida se parece mucho a lo que describe Job en nuestra primera lectura de hoy: un trabajo pesado, con días como el de trabajos forzados sin alivio a la vista, y en el que la esperanza de volver a experimentar la felicidad ha desaparecido.
          Por lo tanto, más que nunca, estos hombres y mujeres necesitan ayuda para ser liberados. Como cristianos, nuestro primer recurso es siempre la oración, en la que rogamos al Señor Jesús que venga a ellos, los ayude y los libere. Nuestro trabajo nunca termina allí, sin embargo; porque entonces debemos actuar en el mundo y acercarnos a ellos, como lo hizo San Pablo, haciéndose "esclavo de todos"—es decir, convirtiéndose en "todas a todos"—para que, a través de nuestra acción cristiana, estos hermanos y hermanas nuestras podrían ser liberadas verdaderamente.
          Liberados, por lo tanto, por nuestra oración y nuestra acción, estos hombres y mujeres pueden elegir servir, como hizo la suegra de Simón y como lo hizo Santa Josefina: por haber sido amada, la mayoría de las personas elegirá entonces devolver el amor a través de servicio a los demás, porque Jesús nos asegura que "no hay mayor amor que este, dar la vida por nuestros amigos".
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, como un pueblo liberado por el amor de Cristo, que se acercó a nosotros cuando se convirtió en uno de nosotros, y que permanece cerca de nosotros, especialmente aquí en esta Eucaristía, debemos actuar para ser sus manos y sus pies que se acercan, en oración y en acción, a los que aún están esclavizados, para que ellos también puedan ser liberados y así "conocer la libertad de los hijos [e hijas] de Dios". Incluso cuando San Pablo se entregó a sí mismo libremente (y sin costo) por el bien del Evangelio, para que él pueda compartir las bendiciones que provienen de él, así también debemos llevar estas buenas nuevas a aquellos que están esclavizados en nuestros días; porque solo compartiremos sus bendiciones en proporción a la medida en que la hayamos compartido con otros.
          Por lo tanto, mis hermanos y hermanas, actuemos para ver manifestar el poder del Señor Jesús: en todo el mundo y aquí en el condado de Cass. Porque cuando lo hagamos, comenzaremos a compartir las bendiciones de las buenas nuevas y, así, cuando regresemos a este lugar, nos inspirará a cantar, como el salmista en el salmo responsorial de hoy, "Alabemos al Señor, quien sana los corazones quebrantados".
Dado en la parroquia Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

4 de febrero, 2018

Healed so as to serve

Saint Josephine Bakhita: Feast Day February 8

Homily: 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
          Saint Josephine Bakhita was born in the Darfur region of South Sudan in 1869.  When she was seven years old, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery.  In the ensuing years, she was sold and resold to different slave owners, suffering physical and psychological abuse everywhere she went.  Bakhita was the name given to her by her first slave owner.  The abuse she received over the years traumatized her so much that she actually forgot the name that her parents had given her.  Finally, she ended up in the hands of an Italian ambassador, Callisto Legnani.  With this family, however, there was no abuse and Bakhita’s long journey of healing could begin.
          Because of political tensions in Sudan, ambassador Legnani had to leave Africa to return to Italy and, per Bakhita’s request, he brought her along with his family.  Upon returning to Italy, the Michieli family, who were friends of the Legnanis, requested that Bakhita stay with them.  Mr. Legnani agreed and when the Michielis gave birth to a daughter, Bakhita became her babysitter and friend.  When the Michielis were forced to move back to Africa for business, Bakhita and their daughter were entrusted to the Canossian Sisters of the Institute of Catechumens in Venice.  It was there that Bakhita would come to know God.
          After several months of prayer and study in the catechumenate, Bakhita received the Sacraments of Initiation, taking the name Josephine.  Not long after, the Michielis returned, having established their business back in Africa, to take their daughter and Josephine to be with them.  Josephine refused to go back to Africa, however, requesting to stay with the Canossian Sisters, instead.  Because Italian law had abolished slavery, the Michielis could not force her to go and thus she was granted her wish.
          Josephine stayed with the sisters; eventually following the call to enter religious life herself.  Six years after she was baptized she made her solemn profession as a Canossian Sister.  For the next fifty years, she humbly and dutifully served her fellow sisters and those with whom she came in contact through the sisters’ apostolate.  All who knew her knew the joy that radiated from her in every encounter.  She was known to say “Be good, love the Lord, and pray for those who do not know him. What a great grace it is to know God!”  In her, we today find the inspiring story of a woman set free from oppression and slavery through Christian action who then turned to offer herself completely in service to God.
          In our Gospel reading today, we hear a story with a similar outcome.  Having taught in the synagogue in Capernaum (where he freed a man from an “unclean spirit”), Jesus returned to the house of Simon and Andrew.  Simon’s mother-in-law lay seriously ill with a fever.  When they told Jesus about her, he went to her and healed her.  Then the Gospel says that “she waited on them.”  Viewed in the light of St. Josephine’s story, we can make these correlations: Simon’s mother-in-law was “enslaved” by an illness; Jesus’ disciples, having seen him cast out the unclean spirit just hours before, “immediately” tell him about her; Jesus approaches her and sets her free; and she, in her freedom, then chooses to serve.  In other words, set free by Jesus whom they encountered through the actions of his disciples, these women then freely chose to subject themselves in service to others.
          Although slavery is almost universally abolished, millions of men and women throughout the world still suffer from it.  Every day men and women are forced into oppressive work or, worse yet, are bought and sold as sex slaves to feed humankind’s exponentially growing lust.  In our own state, and even in our own county, addiction to alcohol, heroin, and prescription pain killers has enslaved many of our own family members and friends.  For many of these persons, life looks a lot like Job describes in our First Reading today: a drudgery, with days like those of hard labor with no relief in sight, and in which hope of ever experiencing happiness again has disappeared.
          Therefore, more than ever, these men and women need help to be set free.  As Christians, our first recourse is always to prayer, in which we beg the Lord Jesus to come to them, to help them up, and set them free.  Our work never ends there, however; for then we must act in the world and draw close to them, like Saint Paul did, making himself a “slave to all”—that is, becoming “all things to all”—so that, through our Christian action, these brothers and sisters of ours might actually be set free.
          Set free, therefore, by our prayer and our action, these men and women can then choose to serve, like Simon’s mother-in-law did and like Saint Josephine did: for having been loved, most people will choose then to return love through service to others, because Jesus assures us that “there is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
          My brothers and sisters, as a people set free by the love of Christ, who came close to us when he became one of us, and who remains close to us, especially here in this Eucharist, we must act to be his hands and his feet that draw close, in prayer and in action, to those still enslaved, so that they, too, might be set free and thus “know the freedom of the sons [and daughters] of God.”  Even as Saint Paul gave himself over freely (and free of charge) for the sake of the gospel, so that he might have a share in the blessings that come from it, so too we must bring this good news to those who are enslaved in our day; for we will only share in its blessings in proportion to the measure in which we have shared it with others.
          Therefore, my brothers and sisters, let us act so as to see the power of the Lord Jesus manifest: both throughout the world and right here in Cass County.  For when we do, we will begin to share in the blessings of the good news and, thus, when we return to this place, we will be inspired to sing, like the Psalmist in today’s Responsorial Psalm, “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.”

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 4th, 2018