Saturday, December 26, 2009

Feast of the Holy Family

Here is the homily for this weekend. Merry Christmas everyone!!!
Back in June of 2005 my family and I were vacationing on the beautiful beaches of South Carolina when we were visited by every parent’s worst nightmare. The surf was a bit ruff so I made a point of keeping an eye on the kids as they played in the breaking waves. When all of the sudden our younger daughter Sarah, was gone. I remember Nancy and I frantically asking our kids and our friends if they have seen Sarah. Someone said that the last time they seen her was playing in the surf. Imagine my desperation when, been from the Caribbean, I know very well, how strong currents can pull down a child and how easily their little lungs will fill with sand and sea water when they are fighting against the waves.
For the longest ten minutes of my life I ran up and down the beach calling for her and praying for her return. Thankfully, Sarah had just wandered of the water and not been able to find us in the crowd had kept walking. The report of a missing child named Sarah spread like fire around the beach. A quarter of a mile away a lady noticed a little girl walking by herself so she asked her if her name was Sarah, and offered to walk her back to her parents. I don’t think there are enough words in the English language to express the sense of relief and gratitude my family fell when we saw our daughter being returned to us by a Good Samaritan.
I bet that if I were to take a poll today, more than one family will say they have lived a similar experience. I also find it very interesting that the Church chooses a similar story to celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. You see, we might think that, since in the family of Nazareth, Jesus was the Son of God, Mary was born without sin and Joseph was a saint, their existence was peaceful and almost heavenly. But the reality is this: they were not that much different from us. And in today’s gospel we can actually see how much like the members of our own families they were. And how much the reacted like we react in our own families. Look for example at Jesus answer to his parents; doesn’t he sound like your typical teen? “Didn’t you know you could find me at my father’s house????? Come one Mon get with the program…isn’t it obvious!!! Where I was going to be???? Look at Mary’s statement: “Son, why have you done this to us??? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” Mary sounds like the mother that knowing there is a lot of tension in the family tries to be the peace maker. But to me the most telling part of today’s Gospel is Joseph’s reaction. Knowing really well that he, Joseph, was the one person responsible for protecting and providing for the Son God, the messiah of Israel, and that He had lost Him 3 days ago, when he finally finds him… he says nothing! I know that when my own child was lost for 10 minutes I had some “Choice Words” for her when she was returned to me. And if I were to ask parents (and children) here today they will agree that this is the most likely reaction. I don’t think we will never know but, I would venture to say that the reason why Luke did not record anything Joseph said is because perhaps he had some "chosen words" of his own.
My brothers and sisters, it should be a great consolation to know that the holy family was not much different than our families, and that regardless of the fact these were people who lived in a unique communion with each other and with God The Father, their family was not immune to the same events that can fill our lives with stress and despair, and that their first reaction was very human, very similar to our own reactions.
The feast of the holy family, which we are celebrating today, is the only major feast celebrated within the 12 days of Christmas. I think, it is fitting that we remember the Holy Family, not in their moments of domestic bliss, but in their most vulnerable moments, especially during these times in which our own families gather together. Because the reality is, many of us are not having a “Hallmark” Christmas. Many families might be dealing with the stress of… well… been a family! Perhaps, they might be dealing with the absence or the loss of a child or a parent. Perhaps they are dealing with their own “choice words” spoken in haste but not meant at all or perhaps there are some families here asking “Son, Daughter, mother, father, brother, sister…Why are you doing this to us???”
In today’s gospel we get a very human picture of the Holy Family a picture which reflects our own humanity. Today Mary, Joseph and Jesus are not just statues standing in a church but they are the members of our own families. So if the story were to end there at that very awkward moment in the temple, then we will have to say that there is not hope for our own families, but the reality is that after this happened, the gospel says that the three of them returned back home and Jesus remained obedient to them, Mary kept quietly all these things in her hart and Joseph in his silence continued imparting to Jesus His human wisdom. In short they went back home and kept loving each other.
This is the message we should take with us today. When our own families are confronted with moments of crisis or tension, it is important to look beyond our human frailties and continue loving each other. We all deal with stress in different ways. The holidays could be a very stressful time for families. I’m sure that Jesus getting lost in the temple was not the first or last time in which Joseph and Mary could not understand why Jesus was doing what he was doing. But they never stop loving him or loving each other. So on this time in which we might be dealing with the problems of our own family, let’s follow their example and look beyond those things that might be causing us despair and remember that we ARE family and that as family we are called to love and care for each other, not only during the holidays but every day at every moment of our lives. May you have a most blessed Christmas Season.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

2nd Sunday of Advent

I don’t know if you have noticed this but this year it seems like the Christmas season started way before Advent. As a matter of fact back in October I was meeting with my Tuesday morning men’s group when one of the guys pointed out that we were drinking from a Christmas cup. I took a look at the message written in the side and have admit that it caused a big impression on me. Now… I do not think it is proper for me to mention the name of this fine establishment were we meet every Tuesday. But, what I can do is show you the cup I’m talking about.

Like I said before, the message in this cup surprised me, not because I found some deep theological insight on it, but because I saw it as the complete opposite of the Advent message.
Let me show you what I mean. Right here around the seal we see the images of three Christmas ornaments with the words “Love” “Hope” and “Wish”. Perhaps it is because I’m a deacon but I’m always noticing stuff like this. When I saw this, my mind went to another very similar list of words “Hope”, “Love” and “Faith”; Which if you remember your catechism happen to be what the Church calls the 3 theological virtues.
Before we can continue I need to say a few things about the word virtue because this is one of those words we do not hear every often in our everyday life. A virtue is a character trait which is valued as been good. The Church teaches that a virtuous person has a firm disposition to do good.
Now if you go back to your religious education days again, you will remember that there are two types of virtues, human virtues (like fairness, wisdom, endurance) which we learn from our environment, family and friends.
And then there is the other kind of virtue, a type so fundamental to whom we are that they cannot be learned. The only way we can acquire these is as the result of divine action. These virtues are a gift from God, given to us freely with the exclusive purpose of helping us fulfill our eternal destiny which is the salvation of our souls. There are only three virtues of this type, faith, hope and love. There is nothing we can do to earn or deserve these; however like any other virtue what we can do is ignore them when we find ourselves in a situation in which we are require to use these. At any moment in our lives we can exercise our free will and decide that we do not want to love, or to have hope or worst of all we can decide to ignore the dictates of our faith.
You might be asking, ok…so…what about the cup? Well, when we see that “Faith” is replaced by “Wish”, the message is clear, in our culture we do not need faith; Yes, we should keep hope alive and love each other, but in this time before Christmas we should concentrate in wishing and wanting for those things that we would like to have. So at the end of the day what we are asked to do is, not to exercise a virtue but to enjoy a vice, vise we call “greed”.
You might be thinking that perhaps I’m reading too much in just a cup of coffee. And maybe you are right but before you dismiss what I’m saying let me read to you what it says on the other side of the cup.

Well… I do not know you but to me what makes the holydays the holydays is my belief that our Lord Jesus will return again in glory, along with the hope that he will take all of us with Him to heaven, and specially the holydays are the holydays because of the love I give to others and not because of anything I can wish for myself. Our faith tells us that this is a season for, loving and “waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our savior Jesus Christ” and not the season to sit down and contemplate the world as “it could be”.
Advent is the season to become the “John the Baptizers” of our times. A time to go out and become the voice crying into the desert of our culture, prepare the way of the Lord, Jesus will come again, hope in his promises of salvation and have faith in His word and His Church.
Faith, hope and love; this is the time to exercise these gifts from God, this is what makes advent so special. Have a most blessed and happy advent!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

33 Sunday of Ordinary Time

Here is the Homily for the 33rd Sunday.

When I was a kid I was fascinated by end of the world movies. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s in which movies like “Earthquake” and “Asteroid” were hugely popular. These were the times of the Nuclear thread and the Russian empire so, as much as we were encouraged to have a “good outlook on life”, these movies took advantage of the fact that our future was a big mystery and that in our small little world; we were at the mercy of invisible and cosmic forces which could have affected our lives in the most unexpected ways.
And you know what? Things have not changed that much. The Russians have been replaced by the Islamic terrorist, the flu virus and Global warming; but we are all still trying to make our children grow with a sense of security. On the other hand, we are all still flocking to see movies like “2012” and “I am legend”.
Now do not think for a moment that is all new. The reality of an uncertain future and of the human helplessness against cosmic powers has been a topic of conversation since the beginning of recorded history. But it is only in the last 30 or 40 years that it has become a very profitable industry.
Even before Jesus times Jewish religious leaders and prophets used what is called “apocalyptic language”, prophetic language that spoke of great catastrophes and the end of the world as a way to encourage their listeners during times of great turmoil and suffering. Take for example today’s first reading from the book of Daniel, these words were written during a time in which the Jews were suffering a horrendous persecution by the Greek King, Antiochus. This man tried to eradicate the Jewish religion by murdering or enslaving the whole population of Jerusalem. He went as far as desecrating the Jewish Temple by slaughtering pigs in the main altar in honor of the god Zeus.
You can imagine effect these events had in the mind of the Jewish nation. So the author knowing the mental anguish his audience was suffering tried to reach them by taking his story to the next level. Not only the temple remains desecrated and the people were enslaved or dead, but the time will come in which God will bring a greater calamity not only to Israel but to the whole world. But do not despair!... This is the time in which God will reveal His glory to the nations and reward those who remained faithful to the end.
Jesus, been the master story teller he was, borrows this technique of apocalyptic storytelling, to make some very important points to his disciples. In today’s Gospel we hear echoes of the prophet Daniel. Jesus also talks about the tremendous cosmic events that will happen at the end of time, and he also mentions angels coming to gather those that have maintained the faith to the end. But unlike Daniel or any of the previous apocalyptic prophets, Jesus inserts himself into the story. This is not Daniel talking about some mysterious undetermined point in the future. This is Jesus returning in glory after His death and sending His angels to gather His flock.
By doing this, by becoming part of the apocalyptic prophesy Jesus accomplishes 3 things. First he makes the end of the world a reality. The world will end, Jesus will return, faithful will be rewarded. Heaven and earth will pass but His words will not pass away. Second he gives a mandate to His church: Be attentive to the signs of the times. Do not grow lax on the practice of the faith because no one knows the hour of His return. And third and I think this is the most important point. He shows us that He has authority over all of human history. From this point forward our faith will hold us even when our present is crumbling around us. True disciples believe that future belongs to our Lord, and there is no thread, or fear or calamity that will keep us away from our eternal destiny which is to be lifted with him into heaven.
There might be turmoil in the world, maybe today we might be feeling that there are forces outside of our control that are threatening to destroy us. Today’s message is this: Hold onto the hope that one day, the good Lord will send his angels to collect us and take us to his glory. Wars and catastrophes might come and go but His words will never pass away.

St Leo the Great

I preached this sermon during the daily mass at the Shrine of St Anthony in Elliott City, where I was leading a day of reflection on Spiritual renewal. One of my favorite topics for sermons is Church History, specially history of the first Christians and the early church. Enjoy.
Today we commemorate the life of Pope Leo the Great, a man who led the early Church during a crucial moment of its history. He was bishop of Rome around the year 440. This was a time in which the Church was experiencing a great transformation. The Roman persecution of Christians was over. Cities in which the apostles had founded churches such as Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem were the sees of important and powerful bishops that saw themselves as the successors of some of the apostles. Each church had developed with great doctrinal freedom, which inevitably led to disagreement and in some cases accusations of heresies.
As the bishop of the imperial city of Rome, Leo realized the importance of Church unity as well as the need for the Universal Church to speak with one voice. And as the successor of the Peter, the prince of the apostles, he saw his role as the one uniting force that would keep the Church together. So throughout His pontificate he labored to establish the primacy of the Bishop of Rome not by the sword but by reason, and by showing that this had been the plan of our Lord from the moment he told Peter “You are Rock and over this rock I will build my Church”.
During the Council of Chalcedon (451), Leo defended the two natures of Christ being attacked by heretics with so much wisdom that the bishops participating in the Council cried out: "This is the faith of the fathers ... Peter has spoken through Leo ..." Which is the first recorded example of the dogma of Papal Infallibility.
Throughout the history of our church only three popes have received the title of “the great” Leo, Gregory who led the Church during a time of liturgical reformation and now it seems that John Paul II will be given this title. These three men are called great not because of what they when they were Popes but because they understood the role given to them by God in their particular moment of history.
You might think that these men had some kind of special gift because of what they did for the Church but fact is, their gift is shared by all baptized Christians. This is the moment in which their careers and ours started this is the moment in which the Good Lord makes each one of us Great. By our common baptism we are all called to do great things. The lesson we can learn from them is that they understood what was required of them to make the best out of their gifts and were not afraid to follow their purpose to the end.
So in this day, through the prayers and intersection of St Leo 1st may we too learn what is that great task the Lords wants us to do, and may we too be willing to follow were the spirit of God wants to take us. Amen.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

I preached this sermon to kick up our registration campaign for the Maryland Advocacy Network. It was received better than I expected, although I had a couple walk out on me in the middle of my preaching. I guess not everybody agrees with the social dimension of the Church. We had about 500 sign up for the network and hope to get some more stragglers in the next few weeks. After mass I got some questions about Church History, the crusades and the inquisition. Anyway I hope you enjoy it!
If you have ever traveled across countries like Spain or Bavaria you might have noticed something peculiar. There is always a Church at the center of every town. The reason for this is because up until perhaps about 100 years ago in these communities, the Church was the center of social and cultural life. Which begs the question: How could it be that the religion started by 12 Jewish fishermen became the dominant social institution of western civilization for more that 1000 years?
Well, after the collapse of the Roman Empire about the year 476 what people knew as “the government “and “the military” was gone. There was nobody in charge to offer political and social leadership. So the people turned to their bishops and priests to fill this vacuum. Eventually new states emerged from the ashes of the Roman Empire but the idea of the centrality of the Church remained so ingrained in this society that sometimes it was very difficult to determine where the church ended and the state began. Sadly, because of men’s fallen nature, instead of the Church influencing this new social and political order, the marriage between Church and state resulted in the corruption of the Church, and those things that should have remained most sacred: The respect for the life and dignity of the poor and for those who did not have a voice of their own was became secondary.
In our collective minds words like the inquisition and the crusades have become examples of everything that was wrong with this time. Now, I think it is important that as Catholics we accept and do not shy away from the reality of our History. However it is also important to know that when we take a critical view of Church history, the crusades and the inquisition become something completely different than what is presented to us by Hollywood or Monty Python) . Don’t get me wrong… I am not saying that there were no abuses by the leaders of the Church during these times, but for every bad, priest, deacon, bishop, crusader, inquisitor and even Popes, God gave us people like Francis of Assisi, John De Matha, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, John of the Cross and many more, great saints that kept alive what it meant to be the voice of the poor and the oppressed.
So we can look at the History of the Church in two ways: We can be cynics and say that because of this history of abuse the Church should not mingle into the affairs of the state or we can understand that because of its divine nature, the Church is in a unique position to take these failings and weaknesses and inform the society of today.
This history has taught us that The Church and the State should always remain separate, that it is harmfully to society for the church to attempt to take the place of the state. The Church role however is to remind those in power that their authority comes from God and should be used for the common good and to serve the needs of the poor and the weak.
Our Catholic faith should form the conscience of society especially of those in power so that they can recognize what is just, good and true. And when laws that affect the institutions which are the foundation of this society, like the family or the rights of human beings are introduced by the government it is the duty of the Church to subject them to a moral judgment.
Now this responsibility is not only reserved to the hierarchy of the Church, as baptized children of God we are all called to work for the common good, and the best way of doing this is through the exercise of faithful citizenship. To quote the Catechism “As far as possible citizens should take an active part the in political life” All citizens have the right and duty to speak up on issues that impact human dignity and the common good. My brothers and sisters, the voice of the faithful is a vital part of the Church’s advocacy for the poor and the weak. As constituent we all have an enormous influence regarding lawmakers’ decision as long as they hear from us!
By now you might be wandering where I am going with all this. Well… let me ask you this: Have you ever known of a piece of legislation that was passed, that you wish you could have expressed your agreement or disagreement to your elected officials? Have you ever said to yourself I disagree with this proposed law but “What can I do I’m only one person” Well, in order to help Catholics exercise their call to faithful citizenship at the state level, Archbishop O’Brien has instituted a program called The Maryland Advocacy Network and has mandated that all Catholics in our diocese be given the opportunity to register to participate in this program. So today I will explain how it works and then I will ask you to fill a form so you can register for this effort. Now let me assure you of two things: 1) This is NOT a fund raiser effort. You will not be asked to contribute any money for this effort. Everything is done via e-mails .2) The information collected will be kept private and will not be shared with any organizations.
Now to joint this effort you are asked to provide your name, e-mail address and home address. The bishop recognizes also that the spirit moves each one of us in a different way so we are given the opportunity to select only those areas of social justice that interest us. They have divided these in 4 areas :Education, Family life (marriage, adoption, work issues), Respect for life (pregnancy support, bio-ethics, end-of-life issues, death penalty, the rights of the unborn), Social concerns (poverty, health care, immigration, criminal justice).
The way it works is like this, the information you give today will be kept in our database. When an important vote at the state level is coming up, you will receive an e-mail alert, but only when it relates to the areas you have selected. The e-mail will link to a pre-drafted message to send to your lawmaker (this is why we need your address too!) . You can send the e-mail as it is or you can modify it to suit your style. The whole process will not take but just a couple of minutes.
Must emails will be sent between January and April, when the Maryland General Assembly is in session, though some alert will be send at other times
Now please open the brochure…
…The ushers will not collect them now.
On behalf of Archbishop O’Brien and especially on behalf of all those who will benefit from your advocacy, I would like to thank you for hearing the call to be faithful citizens of our great nation. God bless you.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

21st Sunday of Ordinary time

This is the second part of a two part holy I preached at St Michael's on the Eucharist this summer.

For the last 3 weekends there has been a common theme in all of the Gospel readings. Three weeks ago, on August 2nd we hear Jesus declare “I am the bread of life whoever comes to me will never hunger and however believes in me will never thirst”. A week later, we see Jesus telling the crowds “I am the bread who came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”. Last week we found Him in a synagogue in Capernaum saying “I am the living bread that came down from heaven whoever eats this bread will live forever and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of world.” And also “Amen, Amen I say to you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you do not have life within you!” So… I hope you see a pattern here…
All these passages from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John repeat again and again our need to eat the bread of life which is Jesus flesh and his blood, 14 times in just 24 verses. What is missing from the English translation is the urgency of Jesus voice every time he makes this declaration. I which I could show you the Greek version of the Gospel so you see what I’m talking about. The first few times we hear Jesus talking about eating the bread of life St John uses the Greek word “phago”; which In English means means the action of eating a meal. But as the Gospel progresses and Jesus continues to repeat this point St John switches from “phago” to “trogo” which not only means to eat but to literary gnaw, or to rip food with your teeth.
No wander today’s Gospel records some of the followers of Jesus saying “This teaching is to hard…who can accept it?! How can it be that this man will give us his own flesh to eat and his own blood to drink?” I’m sure some of them thought “Is he out if his mind? Does he really mean what he is saying? “ Many had trouble accepting this teaching to the point that, the Gospel say, many went back to their old way of life because of these words!
My brothers and sisters, throughout the centuries many have had a lot of trouble accepting this teaching. Many have tried to soften the words of Jesus. They have tried to say that Jesus was speaking symbolically, that he was somehow speaking about His spiritual body (whatever that means) and not His real body. But the reality is that when you read this passage with the eyes of the apostle John… there is no way around it… Jesus is talking about eating His real flesh and drinking His real blood. The question is: what are we to do with this idea? I think the safest thing we can do is to follow Jesus advice from the same chapter of John. “The work of God is that you believe in the one The Father has sent”.
Now you will agree with me when I say that, human beings have the habit of wanting to understand something before they can believe in this something. This works fine when we are talking about politics or science but when we talk about Jesus we are talking about the living God. He challenges us; he demands from us that we believe before we can understand! In today’s Gospel when he says that “ it is the spirit that gives life but the flesh is useless” he is telling us that our senses, those things we use to gather information so that we can understand before we allow ourselves to believe are useless, when we are talking about the bread of live. Only our faith can bring us to an understanding of its meaning.
There is a clear example of this in today’s Gospel; when Jesus asks the disciples if they too are going to abandon Him, and Peter answers “Whom can we go? You have words of eternal life!” He did not say “You have the bread that gives of eternal life” “Or you are the bread of eternal life” but “you have WORDS of eternal life”. He is telling Jesus “listen I have no idea how you are going to give us your flesh and blood but, one thing I know: you always speak the truth… You will find a way!” Of course we know that he fulfilled these words during the last supper, when he turned the bread and the wine into his body and blood… but he went further… He gave the apostles the power to repeat this miracle and to this day, in every mass we witness the transformation of bread and wine, simple elements, the work of human hands, into the most precious substance in the universe!!! The true body and true blood of Jesus Christ our lord!
My brothers and sisters…This is our faith…This is the faith of the church…When we come to the altar and the minister says “the body of Christ” and we answer “Amen” we are making a public declaration that we believe in the reality that Our Lord Jesus has given the Church the power to transform the bread and wine into His own body, blood soul and divinity and that we believe that this IS the true body of Christ. And this faith does not come from a cryptic reading of the Gospel, or from hundreds of years of theological argumentation and refinement. It comes right from the words of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John. We might not be able to explain it, and we will never be able to understand it. But it does not matter, because like Peter, we know that Jesus always speaks the truth. “Blessed be Jesus in the most holy Sacrifice of the Altar” AMEN.

18Th Sunday of Ordinary Time

This homily is the first part of a two part homily I preached this summer. The second part follows.

Do you remember last’s week’s gospel reading? What was it about? (I bet you did not expect a pop quiz at church today!) It was….The miracle of the multiplication of the bread, which happens to be the first few lines of the 6 chapter in the Gospel according to John.
Now Father might have mentioned this last week but starting last Sunday and for a period of 5 Sundays the Gospel reading will be snippets from this chapter, so you can bet that if the Church spends 5 weeks in just one chapter of scripture it must be a pretty important one right? It is so important that although broken in 5 parts all these readings must be taken as one long story that I hope you will take time to read during the week.
So, today what I’m going to do is to take a look at this reading line by line, to get us ready for what lies ahead in the next few weeks. To borrow from our Protestant brothers and sisters, if you want, pick up the missal and follow with me go ahead. The reading goes:
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Now, since we are following the story started last week, taken by itself this passage does not make any sense, why are they asking Jesus the time when he got there? Here is what we missed (Which by the way is the only part of this chapter we will not read in the 5 week period I mentioned), after the multiplication of the bread, Jesus went by himself to pray and the disciples took the only available boat to the other side of the lake. The next morning the people that had been fed by the miraculous bread, took on boats toward the other side of the lake looking for the apostles. When they arrived to the other shore they were astonished, because Jesus was there… they have seen only the apostles leave. How did Jesus make it to the other side? They did not know that during the night the apostles had seen Jesus walking over the waters. This is why they ask him “when did you get here”. So, Jesus answers them:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”
It is clear that Jesus can read what is in their hearts. He knows they do not care about his miracles; the only reason why they went to the trouble of crossing the lake was because they wanted more food! Which is understandable because at the times of Jesus food was not easy to find. And here Jesus gives them the first lesson of the day: he tells them “do not trouble yourself searching for normal food” Seek spiritual food instead, my words, the signs and wanders I do… these things are good for your soul…these will sustain you for all eternity. This is food that only the one sent by God the Father can provide.
So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Hearing Jesus talk about this food which “will endure for all eternity” they figure there must be something they will have to do to get it, because in their minds the only way to earn God’s favor was by performing some kind of act like a temple’s sacrifice. So Jesus knowing this gives them the second lesson of the day: He answers:
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
The only thing you have to do is very simple: Believe in what I say. That is it! Just listen to my words and follow them. But what happened next? Listen to what they say:
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
They do not believe him! Jesus is telling them how to get this food and they go back to wanting him to proof who he is by… Feeding them again! The only thing in their minds was the free meal!
Now you might be thinking … boy, these people were really dense... But if you think about it... we all at one time or another have treated God in the same way. How many times have we tried to make deals with God? ” Lord, I will believe your words… but only on my own terms”. Now, what comes next, is Jesus third lesson of the day. He says:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Which if you think about it, is another way of saying “Stop thinking with your stomach and start thinking with your head!” The bread of life which comes from heaven and gives eternal life is given to you for free by God the Father. No deals, no temple sacrifices, the only thing you have to do believe what I’m going to say to you! After this they finally realize what Jesus is saying and they ask:
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
To which Jesus gives the last and most important lesson of the day:
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
Imagine the surprise of the people listening to Jesus when he uttered these words. For us Catholics to hear Jesus call himself the bread of life is second nature, but to them, for these people that were expecting perhaps some kind of special bread, to hear Jesus call himself The Bread of Life must have been very confusing! I’m sure many of then though “he could not possibly be talking about heating his flesh and drinking his blood”. But we all know what he meant. He IS the bread of life that comes down from heaven and gives eternal life to the world! And the only thing we have to do is believe in his words! And up to this date we express this belief by eating His real flesh and drinking his real blood in the Eucharist at every mass in every Catholic Church in the world.
Now, If you keep reading on, you will see what happens when Jesus becomes more adamant about the necessity of for eating his flesh and drinking his blood, but for that you will have to come to mass for next 3 week. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

12 Sunday of Ordinary Time

I preached this Homily during Father's day which happened to be the day our youth took to their summer work camp. The reading comes from Mt 4:24-31.
I would like to congratulate all the Fathers here with us today. May you have a most blessed day with your loved ones… I’m a Dad too, so you will understand me when I say… enjoy Fathers day…we are all in this together… Now… today’s Gospel reminded me of my childhood… now I have to give you a bit of background, so you know what I’m talking about. Having lived in the Caribbean the first part of my life, I learned as a child that storms… Especially big tropical storms like Hurricanes could be very scary.
I remember one time I heard on the news that people in the coast of Louisiana and Texas like to hold hurricanes parties, and I could not for the life of me figure why? Imagine yourself locked up in your house for 8 to 12 hours with an angry animal trying to get into your home, and you will have an idea of what I’m talking about. Hurricanes winds can reach speeds way above 100 miles an hour. So believe it or not, rain falls horizontally, so when you are locked in your home in the middle of a cyclone it is as if someone is trying to break into your house, using a fire hose full blast to break open the doors and the windows. The sound of the howling wind will not let you sleep. There is not communication. The phones do not work. There is no power. If it is night and you do not have candles or flash light you are in complete darkness… except for the lightning of thunder. The pressure changes so very fast under these conditions that unsecured doors, like closets and cabinets, open or slam without warning.
As I was reflecting on today’s Gospel I kept remembering those days and how, me and my sister experienced some of this. But the fact is… I cannot remember a time in which we were scared. As a child in our little 3 room, one story house, even in the worst of storms, we always felt quite safe. It really did not matter how scary the wind and the rain in the outside were, in our home, with our parents there next to us, we always felt at peace.
Now, today’s reading has been used to show how Jesus had command not only of demons and sickness but of the elements themselves. The wind and the sea are symbols of the cosmic forces that are always trying to destroy our fragile human existence, and Jesus calming of the seas and storms are a proof to us that he is in-fact the son of God and the master of all creation. But I like to give to this reading another interpretation… I like to think that perhaps, it is not that the wind and the waves stopped at Jesus command, but that when Jesus was with the apostles, things that seemed terrifying like the wind and waves, the lightning and the thunder, did not look as scary as they once did. Like my sister and me, who felt secure in our little home in the middle of a raging hurricane in the darkness, the presence of Jesus had a quiet and peaceful effect on the apostles.
My brothers and sisters, this is a lesson we should apply in our lives. Of course here in Maryland we might never experience the full brunt of a hurricane like the ones in my childhood, but in our lives we all experience other types of storms. We cannot deny that sometimes our souls are in great turmoil. Scary things happen to us at times. A sudden sickness , the loss of a job, the loss of a love one, an unexpected accident, the betrayal of a friend, the separation that sometimes happens in a family, either because of divorce, school, vacation, even a situation like today in which we are sending our young people to their annual work camp. I’m sure Ted and his crew will take good care of them, but I’m willing to bet there is more than one parent here, that is having a tough time dealing with being away from their child a whole week. All these things could be scary; some of them can even throw us into the middle of a raging storm of fear and uncertainty. Life can make us as scared and confused as the apostles that night in the middle of the lake in Galilee. These are the moments to call upon Jesus to be with us, so that His presence gives us courage to deal with all of our fears. Our problems might not go away, the situation might stay the same, but like the wind and the waves that night for the apostles; they will not scare us anymore. It does not matter how big our troubles are, in the presence of Jesus we will always encounter the peace and the great stillness that we all crave for.
Now I will like to end today by specifically talking to Dads (and moms too) I want you to remember something very important: when your children are scared, they will look up to you for comfort. If you do not have peace yourself; how can you give that which you do not have? Always call upon Jesus to help you when you are dealing with your own fears and the fears of others. Always trust in him and you too will experience the peace and stillness his presence brings in the middle of raging storms. Happy father’s day…

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's been that long????

Wow... I can believe its been that long! I have not posted a homily since Pentecost. In the next few days I will be doing some house cleaning in the blog. and adding all the homilies for the summer. Also I intend to add a couple of articles to my other blog:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

2nd Sunday of Easter

HAPPY EASTER EVERYONE!!! Sorry I'm late with the posting but as always my life feels like I'm juggling ten balls with one hand. I will like to extend my thanks to Ali Donahue, who was just received into the church this Easter Sunday, for allowing me to use her story in my homily. Enjoy
Brady Malone , Kevin Crook, Dave Richardson and Ali Donahue. These are the names of the 4 people who entered the Church this past Easter Vigil. You might recognize their names but, what you might not know is that one of these people is a convert from Judaism. I bring this up because in today’s Gospel we are told about the conversion of another Jew, the Apostle Thomas, and when I say conversion I do not mean the type of conversion which happens in your head where we say “Yes… That makes sense…” but in your heart were we say “Yes… I believe!”
I learned Ali’s story from our RCIA meetings. She was raised in the Jewish tradition all of her life, attended Hebrew School and like every Jewish girl, when she was 13 “preached” during the celebration of her bat-mitzvah, which is the rite Jewish children celebrate when their congregation accepts them as adult members (Kind of like our own confirmation but without the Bishop… Or the large amounts of cake) As a every Jewish child does Ali learned the Shema Yisrael: A prayer wich comes to us from the times of Moses; and up to this day every devout Jew recites it every morning and every evening. It goes something like this: “ Shema Yisrael adonai eloheinu adonai echad”, which means “Hear oh Israel the Lord your God is one”.
This is more than just a prayer for Jews. It is a declaration of what they believe about God: “God is one”. We Catholics have a similar acclamation: “In the name of The Father and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit”. I say it is similar because we also declare God as one: If you haven’t noticed we do not say “in the NAMES” but “the NAME” (singular), because for us God IS one. However we also declare what has been revealed to us by the incarnation of the Lord Jesus, that the One God is not a lonely God but a community, a Trinity of persons … however, our God and the God of Israel are the same God.
Now all of this is kind of second nature for us because we’ve been exposed to the Christian faith all of our lives. But for a Jewish person, either a 21st century young woman like Ali or an uneducated fisherman of first century Palestine like the apostles, to think of God as a Trinity of persons is an alien thought!
Now, I think it is accurate to say that as observant Jews the apostles knew the Shema very well. They knew God as “One”… Of course, during their time with Jesus they heard him say things like “I and the father are one” and “I am in my Father and my Father is in me”, but these words never really affected the way they thought about God…Yes, they knew these were words of eternal life but not even when Peter, James and John witnessed the transfiguration, they realized they were in the presence of The One God. For them Jesus was the messiah, the Christ, the Son of man.
So, in today’s Gospel we are placed right at the moment of Thomas realization about who Jesus really was, the moment in which Thomas stopped thinking with his head and started believing in his heart, the moment of his conversion. A moment which begs the question: How can a faithful Jew who had recited the Shema since childhood, whose prayers were always directed to “the Lord God of Israel” can turn and address Jesus as “My Lord and My God”? What caused this change of mind? The answer resides in what we celebrate today and what we celebrate every week: the resurrection of our Lord. When Tomas realized that Jesus had kept His words and had risen from the dead and that he was able to touch Him with his own hands; in this moment all that he had heard and seemed in the company of Jesus for three years fell into place and he realized not in his head but in his heart that this was not any ordinary Human but God in the flesh.

The resurrection caused the total conversion of Thomas and the apostles. It caused them to think of God in different terms. It was not that they stopped believing in the God of Israel, but that the God of Israel had revealed Himself to them in a marvelous way, and now they were able to confess that Jesus WAS the Son of God. From now on, every time Tomas prayed the Shema, he will do it with a deeper understanding of these words because his hands had touched the one True God.
My brothers and sisters this IS the message of the Gospel today: To find who this One God really is we need to encounter Jesus resurrected. We need to see him with our eyes and touch Him with our own hands, only them our experience of God will becomes deeper. Every time we find Him, our minds and our hearts will be transformed. And our understanding of the one true God will deepen.
As Catholics we have a chance for this on every mass. When we receive communion we are given the chance to touch the body of our Lord. To have an encounter with Jesus resurrected, and to let Him change the way we think of Him.
I think it is fair to say that the 4 people who joined the Church on Saturday in one way or another had a moment of conversion like the apostle Thomas, although, perhaps not as dramatic… Speaking for my friend Ali I can tell you that her first encounter with Jesus was through His body the Church. As it happened, her boyfriend asked her to accompany him to mass at the chapel in the University of Maryland. There she was surprised about how similar our mass and some forms of Jewish worship are. This was her first step towards her conversion, by meeting the Body of Christ in worship.
In one of the RCIA meetings Ali once mentioned to us that, since her childhood she always wondered why haven’t the Messiah come yet. She asked many people this question, but nobody was ever able to give her and answer. In her journey to the Church she realized that Jesus WAS the messiah she had been searching for all of her life. And last Saturday like Thomas, Ali was finally able to touch the body of her Lord and Savior, with her own hands… eat His body and drink His blood… The best Easter gift ever…Happy Easter everyone! ALELUYA, Christ is our Lord is risen… He has risen indded!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

5th weekend of Lent

Here is my homily for the 5th week of Lent. If you want to read a good article about Benedict's comments just go to this link.


If you have been reading the newspapers or watching the news lately, you will have to agree with me that Pope Benedict has been having a pretty ruff time lately. It seems that every time this poor man opens his mouth it is to create uproar and controversy in the world media. Take for example the comments he made a couple of weeks ago on his way to Africa. Let me paraphrase what he said: “AIDS cannot be overcome by just the distribution of a contraceptives method; in fact the availability of this method increases the problem.” Now my intention today is not to discuss the truth behind the Pope’s words. My intention is to point out a simple fact about these words. None of this is new. Benedict was just repeating the words of John Paul II, which based his teachings of human reproduction and AIDS in Africa on Pope’s Paul VI encyclical “humane vitae”! But this was not new stuff either!! In fact, the first person who ever spoke about human dignity and contraception in our Church was Clement of Alexandria in the year 191. Nothing Pope Benedict said was new…. But what happened after he made these comments? Well… The world media went on attack mode! Benedict was called ignorant, out of touch with the real world and “fallible”, and his comments where called “A danger to public health policy”. There was even a German newspaper clamoring for Benedict’s resignation as Pope, and another calling for the Pope to be “impeached” (Whatever that means) And you know what was the Vatican’s reaction to this uproar? Just nine words…“ The Pope was maintaining the position of his predecessors”.

Now if you are like me that always try to avoid conflict (At least that’s what my wife says). You might think: wouldn’t it be better if Benedict just didn’t say anything? After all, the teachings of the Church are well known. Why stir controversy? Why give the professed enemies of The Church ammunition? Why not just quietly retire into the Vatican gardens and spend the rest of his life reading books, feeding the birds and visiting the museums? Well… I think that in today’s Gospel Jesus gives a very clear answer to that question, let me re-read it for you: “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” Unless his disciples are willing to die, they will not produce any fruit, and notice that I say HIS DISCIPLES. Because the call to be witnesses to the truth is for all of us not just the Pope. If we want to be good servants of the Lord we should follow Jesus commands. He is very clear when he says “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” And if that place, my brothers and sisters, is to be nailed to The Cross of public opinion… So be it.
Neither popes or clergy or anyone that has been baptized is called to be an innocent bystander, we are all called to get
involved, and be like Jesus witnesses of the truth regardless of the consequences. The history of our Church has been written with the blood of the Martyrs; men, woman and children that were willing to give their lives for what they knew was the truth. Of course in this day and age the majority of Christians do not have to risk their lives for the Gospel, but this is the same reason why the majority of Christians have no excuse for not been witnesses to the truth of the Gospel.
My brothers and sisters the words that we constantly hear the Church proclaim, words like “Human life in all of its forms from the one day old stem cell, to the terminally ill, to the elderly… all forms of Human life are sacred and should be protected from the abuses of the powerful” or the words of Pope Paul VI “Contraception will never be the a solution to any problem”, these words are not just slogans… They are part of the truth handed over to us by the Holy Spirit, through the teachings of the Apostles and the magisterium of the Church.
Pope Benedict does not shy away from controversy, does not walk quietly into the night because he knows well the words of Jesus from today’s Gospel… “What should I say?” whenever someone asks me a controversial question”Father save me from this hour? But that is the purpose that I came to this hour!”
Jesus told Peter to feed and take care of his flock. That is the purpose of Benedict's Papacy… But what about OUR purpose… why are we here in this time and place? …The answer is simple to be witnesses of the truth…our purpose has not changed in 2000 years.
My brothers and sisters, we should all ask God, every day, to give us the strength he gives Benedict, the strength he gave the Martyrs, the strength that can only come from the Holy Spirit so that when it is our turn to stand up for the Gospel, when it is our turn to defend our Catholic faith… when it is our turn to be witnesses to the truth… we will not shy away but proclaim to the world that as followers of Jesus we are willing and ready to make a stand, regardless of how mush it will cost us, for the Glory of God The Father, Amen.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

2nd Sunday of Lent

Yes... I know that I was scheduled to preach three weeks ago, in fact I had a very good idea for this homily but... Archbishop O'Brien decided to preempt me with a recorded Lenten message. So I guess I will have to wait for 3 years to get a chance to use my idea. Anyway, here is my homily for the 2 Sunday of Lent.
For the last 1200 years, the city of Santiago de Compostella in northern Spain, has witnessed one of the oldest traditions in the Catholic Church. Throughout all of this time millions of pilgrims from all over Europe have walked hundreds of miles, to visit the shrine were it is said the Apostle James is buried. You can imagine that in more than a thousand years of history, many legends and traditions have developed in this road.
One peculiar place on the road to the shrine of Santiago de Compostella is a mountain pilgrims have christened “El Monte del Gozo” or the mount of joys. Interestingly enough, noting significant ever happened in this hill. Its importance comes from the fact that this is the very first spot in the road from which on a clear day pilgrims which have spend weeks walking, can catch, for the first time a glimpse of the City of Santiago and of the shrine which houses the apostle James.
“Ultreya e suseya!” is a call of hope and encouragement among pilgrims on the road which literarily means “Press on! Don’t give up!”, and it is said that this call is never more urgent than when claiming the mount of joys.

I bring this up today because like those millions of people that have visited the apostle James, we are all pilgrims. Every man, woman and child in this sanctuary, is in their own personal journey. But unlike the road to Santiago our road is not marked by quaint monuments, not even by the steps of those before us. You can say that our road is just a path on the sand, because we do not walk a road but we wander in a desert. And this is never more evident than during this time of lent, a time in which, by wearing ashes, by fasting, by making sacrifices we show the world that as followers of Jesus we do not wander alone.
In this season, we give up comforts, small things like coffee in the morning or our favorite TV shows. Some of us even make an effort to serve others during this time, perhaps in a soup kitchen or visiting the sick. We do these things not because of some superstitious fear of the fires of hell, like many people like to believe, but because we recognize ourselves as pilgrims, members of the body of Christ that along with the apostles, in these 40 days, we walk with our Lord in his way to the Cross.
So on this time of penance and sacrifices today’s Gospel… Today’s gospel is a breath of fresh air in a long dusty road. Because, today Jesus takes us to a place where we can rest and catch a glimpse of the end of our road. In the transfiguration Jesus takes us to visit our own Mount of Joys. He reveals to us like as he really is, in all of His glory, a resurrected Lord friend of mighty prophets and simple fishermen, in a perfect relationship with The Father, which calls him “beloved” and invite us to listen to the words of His Son.
Our lord takes us with him to show us that His journey, and ours, does not end with the cross. In this mountain of all joys, we find him in His resurrected form and for a moment we experience the Glory of Easter. A moment so joyous that Peter, as the leader of the Apostles and the future head of the Church, echoes the universal feeling of the Eastern Vigil “Lord, it is good to be here!”
But we should not make the mistake the apostles made, where they though they could stay in this mountain forever. We should not forget my brothers and sisters that our journey is not over yet. This is just a stop on the road, a point for rest and get encouraged. Yes, Easter is waiting but between here and there, there is another mountain we all must travel with a cross, a crown and three nails, and in the pilgrimage of our lives we encounter this mountain many times.
Perhaps even today some of us are been visited by the pain of sickness, or the sorrow of losing a loved one. Perhaps we are experiencing fear and uncertainty because of what is going on in the world today. Transfiguration Mountain reminds us that the road doesn’t end with pain, sorrow and fear. Beyond the Cross lies the empty tomb.
So this 2nd Sunday of lent is a well deserved stop on a long road, a moment to visit for a short time with our resurrected lord. This is a day to gather all of our energies so we can go on with the pilgrimage of our lives, so the next time we find ourselves tired and discouraged… we can all return to this mountain of wanders, to this mount of all joys, and perhaps when we need it most we will hear the words of our God as he tells us: “Ultreya e Suseya!” Don’t give up, press on! The Glory of Eastern is waiting beyond the cross!

Monday, January 26, 2009

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Here is the homily for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary time. The story of Jesus calling Peter, Andrew, John and James and invite them to become "fishers of men"
Many years ago a historian working in a biography found the following note written on the margin of a diary: “I will prepare myself and perhaps one day my chance will come”. The author of this note was a 15 years old young man who had lost his mother when he was 9. Because he was needed in the family farm by his father, he was able to complete only 18 months of formal education. Of course living in a farm at the beginning of the 1800s did not give him too many chances for higher education, but what this hard life gave him was a chance to learn about the value of work, sacrifice, faith and hope. And these, more than any other lessons in his life, are the reasons why this 15 years old boy grew up to become a great man.
In case you are wandering, we all know this man. His name is Abraham Lincoln.
I chose this story because it illustrates the message of today’s gospel, the fact that life experiences are as valid and important as years of education. As Christians we can say with assurance that the experiences we accumulate throughout our life are God’s way of preparing us for that day in which our chance will come too, the day in which we will be called to the service of His kingdom.
The Gospel reading gives us an example of this on the persons of Andrew and his brother Simon Peter; and John and his brother James. These men were not educated; they did not know how to speak to big crowds. They wielded no power and they had very little resources. As a matter of fact the only two things we can say about them for certain is that: they had lived a very hart life and the one think they knew to do very well was fishing!
On first sight we might think, "How can these two things be enough qualifications to become an apostle"? But let’s look at this idea more closely: Fishing in the times of Jesus as in our times was a trade which required some very unique skills (I’m sure that right now, many husbands are looking at their wives thinking, “You see... the Deacon agrees with me!”). Anyway… Fishing required knowledge of the stars, currents, the ties, weather patterns, the seasons… In short it required a deep connection with God’s creation, the type of connection you cannot acquire by reading books. Fishing required for them to know how fish behaved in different seasons and what are their likes and dislikes… These were men that knew firsthand how capricious Gods creation could be and how astute they had to be in order to make each fishing trip a success. Fishing required knowledge of ships, sailing and how to make and repair of their own nets and equipment… These men knew the importance of using the right tools for the right job. Lastly to be a good fisherman in the times of Jesus you had to be used to back braking work and have lots and lots of patience.
In the times of Jesus, the common observer might have thought that these ruff uneducated men were the last men you should pick to lead a movement that would change the world for ever. But these were precisely the qualities that Jesus was looking for that day by the Sea of Galilee. Our Lord understood very well that for the business of fishing for soul’s life experiences are much more important than practical knowledge.
And here we must stop and remember one thing: the call to go out fishing for souls is not limited to just these 4 apostles; it is a call for all those that have been made members of the body Christ by the waters of baptism. The experiences in our lives, the good ones and the bad ones, must be viewed not as fate or karma or just random events but as gifts from God, as the way he uses to mold us into his perfect tools for the job at hand.
I tell you my brothers and sisters, you might be going through a ruff time right now, at home or school; you might even be very worried about your future or the future of your loved ones. But think about it this way, what would have been Peter’s reaction is someone would have come to him on one of those long fishing nights and told him, Simon do not worry because all the hardship you are experiencing is preparing you to be the rock in which God will built His church, or to Andrew one day you will be considered the father of the eastern rite and orthodox church. Or to John you will write one of the four Gospels, or to James you will be the head of the church in Jerusalem. These men had no idea of what they were being prepared for when day after day they struggled to scrape a living out of the sea.
It is the same story with us, our past and our present exists so that when the Lord comes calling (and he will come and call!) we can make use of these lessons for the greater glory of God. The good things happen so that we can experience what waits for us in heaven, and the bad things happen so that our pains and troubles might serve to teach and encourage others.
All of the experiences in our life are given to us so that, when our chance comes we too are ready to cast our nests, with Peter and the apostles, for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls. Amen!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord

"El dia de Reyes" is a big day for me and my family. I was blessed with the privilege to preach during this feast. As you can see my childhood memories are a bit different that those of the average person. I hope you like the message.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany; before we go ahead and explore the meaning of the star and the three wise men. I think it might help if I tell you a bit about how I grew up celebrating this feast, or as I call it “El dia de reyes”. In Puerto Rico, and in fact in most of the Spanish speaking world, the feast of the Epiphany is the third most important feast of the year, right after Eastern and Christmas. As a matter of fact when I was a kid this was the day in which my sister and I received most of our presents, yes St Nicolas will show up on Christmas Eve, but Epiphany… That was the big one! Even today the three wise men make a quick stop in my house for some well deserved rest in their way to Bethlehem, and they always leave some small token of appreciation for our hospitality.
When I was growing up (and still today!) people would throw these huge parties called “Promesas” in their homes. When I say huge I mean parties that would last 2 or 3 days! During this time there was much food, music and dancing going on, however every 3 hours the music and the dancing stops and everybody gathers together to pray the Rosary. You might be thinking “who in their right mind would go through the logistic nightmare of organizing a three day party in their homes, right after the Christmas Season???” What will motivate someone to do this?
It wasn’t until I was going to “Deacon School” that I understood a bit about why people do this. These lavish parties, all the planning, effort and energy are just the outward expression of a deep desire to share in the experience of these three mysterious men from the East, as they followed a star. A desire to be there when they encountered the Christ child and to bring with them the best gifts they could muster.
The people that organize the “promesas”, see themselves as companions of the three magi. These three men were the first non Jewish people to recognize Jesus as the son of God and the King of Kings. They were not like the shepherds who had an angel or Herod which had the priests and prophets. The three magi had nobody to tell them about the birth of the messiah, what they had was the willingness to look for God’s revelation in their lives. After this it did not take them long to figure that the shining star they had discovered in the darkness of the night will guide them to a marvelous event: an encounter with the true God, Emanuel, God in the flesh. In a dark world they looked up and saw a shining start and decided that it was worth leaving everything behind to follow.

Today, in the world in which we live, it is not difficult to see ourselves as companions of the magi too. Just turn on any news channel and you will know what I’m talking about. There is a lot of darkness out there. If we see ourselves a companions of the magi, then the star becomes the sign of that which brings light into this dark world, that which guides those that are willing to look up for a source of truth. If we accompany the magi, then it is fair to ask my brothers and sisters: What is our star? The answer to this question is simple: Our star is the Church. It is the light house; the compass and the guiding post that points towards the place where we can encounter the source of the truth we are seeking, in this dark world in which we live.
Now… I ask you… please… do not miss-understand me here, when I say that the star is the Church I do not mean just, the bishops, priests, deacons and religious. Yes… all these are part of the Church but that is not what I’m talking about. When I say that the star of Bethlehem is the Church what I mean is that the star is the teachings we have received from the apostles though the Holy Spirit, as well as the teachers that for two thousand years have been refining and communicating this truth to a world in darkness, Yes I’m talking about the Popes, the bishops, priest and deacons but I’m also talking about our very overworked religious education teachers, RCIA team members, bible study leaders, youth ministers, peer ministers and on and on… The star of Bethlehem represents all these people that regardless of persecutions, troubles or scandals, for 2000 thousand years have devoted themselves to passing and witnessing to the faith of the apostles and the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a generation which has always walked in darkness. Those of us that have received these teachings and try to follow them are like the three wise men Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar, which kept their eyes fixed in the one signal they knew would lead them to an encounter with the son of God.
But do not listen to my words just look at the words in the Gospel : “Behold The star that they has seen…preceded them…until it stopped over the place where the child was… entering the house they saw the child and His mother Mary.” What does the star do? It guides to an encounter with the incarnated Christ and His Most Blessed Mother.
But there is one more thing we need to talk about: What is the reaction of those who are following the star and finally encounter the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings and His most Blessed Mother? Well… they bring three things, First they give Him their Gold: they place their resources of time and treasure at the service of the Son of God; they give him frankincense: they recognize Him as the one true God and they give him the worship that only He deserves, and lastly they give him a spice used in funerals, they give the incarnated God their whole lives, to the very last breath!
My brothers and sisters if we see ourselves as companions of the magi in our life’s journey, The feast of the Epiphany is a good day to evaluate where we are, but most importantly what are we going to give the Christ Child when we finally find ourselves in His presence. I invite you to do this today, when you encounter Him in the Eucharist as you hold the King of Kings in your hands, ask yourself… “What am I giving you my Lord.”
I pray that you may have a joyous journey following the star of the one living God. And my brothers and sisters… “Feliz dia de reyes” !

Monday, January 19, 2009

Third Week of Advent

This weekend we had an invited speaker to talk about the needs of retired priests and religious. I gave a very short homily before introducing Sister Dolores to the congregation. Here it is

(NOTE: In case you are wandering...No that is not me on the left...)

The other day I was reading one of my favorite books “The count of Monte Cristo” By Alexander Dumas (You might know him by his nickname “The guy who wrote “The three musketeers”). I will not bore you with the details other that sharing with you the very last sentence of this book. It goes “All human wisdom is contained in two words: Wait and Hope.
Advent is a time for waiting and hoping, it is a time in wish we can find great wisdom. But Advent is also a season in which we remember special people. Today we have invited Sister Dolores to say a few words about a very special group of people, the retired priests and religious. These men and women have given their lives to the service of the church, and after many years, now, they to, like us wait “in joyful hope for the coming of our savior Jesus Christ”. So I will ask Sister Dolores to please come…

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Christ the King (And other things)

Here is the homily for Christ the King (Nov 2008). I can't believe it took me so long to post it! Once we reached Thanksgiving the holidays overtook me! My time has been much taxed this Advent and Christmas season. In the next few days I will post, my homilies for 3rd week of Advent and Epiphany.
Today we are celebrating the feast of Christ the king, a day in which our Lord Jesus presents himself as the great King who returns to His kingdom to be judge of the nations. Now this judge behaves quite differently from other judges we might know, like of Judge Judy or Judge Joe Brown. You see… these so called TV judges before they can do anything; need to ask a lot of questions. They do this because not only they need to keep the show interesting but also because their verdict can only be based on the information they can gather, the more information, the more certain they will be of their judgment.
Jesus the judge is quite different than what we see in TV, for one thing He asks no questions, He tells us that he lives in disguise among those who are the lowest and most desperate of His subjects, and there He waits to see how these “least of His brothers and sisters” are treated. His final judgment is not based on any testimony we can give Him but in the way we treated Him when He encountered us, but we did not recognize Him.
From this Gospel reading we can deduct two things. First we get a glimpse of the fact that right now at this very moment Jesus is living among us. Mother Teresa used to talk about the “many faces of Jesus in disguise”. We can see His face in those that need help, encouragement and consolation. His face is the face of sickness, pain and loneliness. If you want to see the face of God look into the eyes of those who do not have a place to sleep, food to eat or a shoulder to cry on. He makes it very easy for us to find Him, we just need to look for those who yearn for justice, for the poor, for all those society has abandoned.
The second thing we can deduct is the answer to one of life’s most nagging questions: Do the things I do matter? Well… according to Jesus they matter greatly. He says “whatever you do for the least, you do to Him”, yes he talks about visiting the sick and helping the poor but this is just part of the story whatever we do or do not do to our brothers and sisters, will have an effect in the way we will be judged.

Every action we take is building our eternal destiny, even the most simple and inconsequential action will reverberate in our eternal future. And the actions that have the highest effect in this future are those things that we do expecting no reward or recognition, especially for those that are in the most need of our help and attention.
Now if you are like me you might be thinking: “Hmmm if these are the things I need to do to get to heaven I’m in deep trouble here!” Because I’m not sure about you, but I fall very short of the standard Jesus is giving us today. Of course there are many valid factors for this, we have families and jobs. People depend on us so we cannot just leave everything we have and start feeding the first homeless person we encounter out there. But also, I do not think this is what Jesus wants from us either.
What God will want us to do is to concentrate on the first idea. He wants us to concentrate in seen Him in the ones who suffer, because if we learn to see Him in “all His disguises”, I assure you my brothers and sisters we would do anything to help them! If we were certain that our Lord was in jail, or sick or homeless we would sacrifice everything we have even our own lives to lend Him a hand. This is why learning to see him in those that are in need is fundamental to our eternal future.
But how can we do this? How can we learn to recognize the Great King in those who suffer? I think the easiest way is to start simple, by recognizing Him in those that are suffering around us. We do not need to go to the inner city or the prison or a hospital to start this process. We just have to look in our homes, our schools and our communities. I’m sure that right now we can all recall into our minds someone we know that is struggling with a sickness of the soul, or hungers for love, understanding or acceptance, or is imprisoned by a vice or a sin, someone that is thirsting for friendship and forgiveness. This is where we should start looking for Jesus face, once we recognize Him there, then it will be easy to see him in His many other disguises… And once we can do this, helping those in need will become not just something that as Christians we must do, but something that we will want to do. The great king is waiting for us, we just need to go out and find Him.