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.