Sunday, November 27, 2011

Starting Anew

"Yet, Lord, you are the Father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are all the work of your hand." (Isaiah 64:7)

There is so much that is new as we gather today for the Eucharist. The words of the Mass have changed. The decor of the altar has changed to reflect the season of Advent. Yet, the one constant that never changes is the presence of the Lord in this sacred place and in this celebration. It is this Lord that we prepare to greet this Advent season as we will celebrate his coming into the world to make all things new. We are surrounded by change, but the question we must ask ourselves today is, "Are we ready to change?"

The one image that I take from this week's readings is the image of the clay and the potter. As we begin this Advent season may we surrender to the loving hands of our Father who seeks to make something new. He wants to mold us and fashion us into the image of his Divine Son. But do we trust Him? Are willing to start anew? We spend so much time preparing for Christmas: decorating, partying, and shopping. But how much time do we spend preparing our hearts for the coming of the Lord. All those people that stood in long lines for Black Friday were in search of something that will not bring them happiness and will definitely not bring them closer to Christ. What Christ wants for Christmas does not come in a box, it's not for sale, and it can't be bought. All he wants is our hearts: totally and completely. That is why we must allow the Potter to mold and fashion our hearts to be a worthy vessel for the coming of his Son. We must surrender to the Father's will and be different people on Christmas Day than we are today.

The Lord is coming. What will he find on Christmas morning? The same lump of clay? Or something beautifully re-created by his Father that was surrendered into His hands? This Advent, surrender yourselves into the hands of a loving God and watch how he transforms your life into something beautiful and new.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

100 Thanks (2011)

For those that aren’t familiar with what has become a Thanksgiving tradition for me, every year I list the 100 things I am thankful for.  It’s fun, it’s introspective, and it reminds us that the heart of the Christian must always be thankful.  This year more than most, this day of thanks takes on special importance.  So in no particular order, here are the 100 things I am thankful for.  Happy Thanksgiving!

  1. My God
  2. My faith
  3. My priesthood
  4. My father
  5. My mother
  6. My sister
  7. My brother
  8. My brother in law
  9. My best friend
  10. My oldest nephew
  11. My youngest nephew
  12. My unborn nephew
  13. My cousins (all my cousins!)
  14. My extended family
  15. My friends
  16. My parish family
  17. My former parish families
  18. My quiet time with the Lord before the Blessed Sacrament
  19. Celebrating Mass
  20. Preaching
  21. Bringing comfort and anointing to the dying
  22. Bringing a soul back home in confession
  23. Witnessing the union of two souls in marriage
  24. Baptizing a child
  25. Laughing with a joyful child of God
  26. Crying with a mourning child of God
  27. Retreats
  28. My brother priests
  29. The hands that absolve my sins
  30. God's unwavering mercy
  31. Being tired after a long and fruitful day of ministry
  32. My St. Agatha students
  33. My St. Agnes students
  34. My St. Brendan students
  35. My MHOC students
  36. My St. Gregory students
  37. Lunchtime
  38. “Do you know my name?”
  39. My students' Thanksgiving lists!
  40. Random phone calls and texts from any of my former students
  41. Teachers
  42. Firefighters/Paramedics
  43. Our military
  44. Doctors and nurses
  45. Sign Language Interpreters
  46. The gift of speaking
  47. The gift of listening
  48. My health
  49. My faults
  50. Days off
  51. Hot water
  52. Home cooked meals
  53. Electricity
  54. WiFi
  55. No hurricanes
  56. Vacations
  57. Captiva
  58. Fishing
  59. Trips to the Key
  60. Stay-cations
  61. Phone calls from Connecticut
  62. The little girl (Eeeeeeagle!)
  63. Godchildren
  64. Compadres (i.e. my godchildren's parents)
  65. Visits from former parishioners (especially unexpected ones)
  66. Long talks with good friends
  67. Lunches at diners
  68. Scrubs reruns
  69. Seinfeld reruns
  70. Chuck
  71. Parks and Recreation
  72. Of Gods and Men
  73. Three game winning streaks
  74. Standing with the U
  75. Pinstripes
  76. Opening Day with my father
  77. Undeservedly being called Father
  78. Almost 10 years of priesthood
  79. Consecration
  80. Special rosaries
  81. Prayers from my mother
  82. Wisdom from my father
  83. Spoiling my sister
  84. Pride in my brother
  85. Rare moments that we're all under the same roof
  86. Naps
  87. Peaceful silence
  88. Sunsets
  89. The sounds of the ocean
  90. The comfort of Scripture
  91. The parable of the Prodigal Son
  92. The writings of Henri Nouwen
  93. The writings, life, and example of Blessed John Paul II
  94. The countless prayers of parishioners
  95. The intercession of Blessed Mother Teresa
  96. The intercession of my Blessed Mother
  97. The unconditional love of my family
  98. Miracles great and small
  99. My father’s health
  100. Being able to bow my head this Thanksgiving day with my father, my family, and my friends to say “Thank you, Lord!”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Servant King

"I myself will look after and tend my sheep." (Ezekiel 34:11)

I've been debating all evening whether to write a reflection because I didn't preach today.  It has been a surreal day for me to say this least.  But I just wanted to share a few thoughts with you my dear friends.

On this feast of Christ the King, there was one prevailing thought that I've been pondering the last few days especially as I look at the cross: "If Christ did this for us, what must we do for him?"  In today's gospel, Jesus teaches us that whenever we serve the least of our brothers and sisters we are serving him.  We have a King who taught us how to serve and who taught us that true power and greatness lies in service.  

There are so many people in our lives that live exemplary lives of service and who devote their lives completely to others without regard for themselves.   This is what our Lord did.  This is why the Father crowned him with glory:  because he "loved to the extreme."  These people in our lives who love and serve as Christ did serve as true models for us to change our selfish ways and live totally for the other.  We want to follow their example but so many times fall short.  This should not discourage us but rather inspire us to keep reaching for greatness.  More often than not, we will fall short of the example of Christ, but we still strive every day to be better Christians.  And if we are discouraged, all we have to do is listen to the first reading and psalm where our Good Shepherd promises to look after and tend to us.  Christ, our Lord and King, will lift us up for he has destined us for eternal glory.  And when we fall short, he places people in our lives that are living and breathing "alter Christus" in our lives.  The ones who personify service and love. The ones who would lay down their lives for us.  The ones who inspire us to be better Christians. They are the ones that lead us to the Lord, who show us Christ's true face, and who will one day share in Christ's kingship.  May we be found worthy to share in this kingship one day.  All we have to do is follow Christ and the example of those who reflect him in our lives through their service.  

Long live Christ the King!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Maximizing Our Talents

"Well done, my good and faithful servant...Come, share your master’s joy." (Matthew 25:21)
The beginning of my homily this evening totally depended on the outcome of this afternoon’s Dolphins game.  You see all year long many fans have been rooting for our home team’s demise in the hopes of getting a coveted quarterback out of Stanford University.  I never quite understood this mentality.  I could see the practical logic (somewhat), but how could you root against your home team?  How could you want your team to perform at a substandard level when it is filled with talented players?  I was overjoyed when the Dolphins won their first game last week, and yet I had friends arguing with me over the cause of my joy because in their mind we had just blown any chance at the first pick in the draft.  Since when does failure equal success?  It’s no secret that I celebrate Mass for the Dolphins the night before every home game.  These are proud and talented men who play and coach for this team with great passion.  They don’t know how to go at any other speed than full speed.  I must tell you that they were upbeat last night.  There was joy.  Today’s outcome seemed predestined because they were dancing on the sidelines at game’s end.  Yet I still got a text from a friend after today’s game telling me that this was bad.  Why?  Those who don’t give their best effort when they have been blessed with great talent will never be justly rewarded.  If you want further proof of this, I offer up the third servant in today’s gospel as Exhibit A.
The third servant had been blessed.  Sure he hadn’t been blessed with as many talents as the other two servants, but he was still blessed nonetheless.  Yet he chose to do nothing with what he had.  He feared his Master.  He feared success.  He thought it would be safer to hide what his master had given to him instead of putting it to good use.  The other servants were bold and put their talents to work.  Upon their master’s return they were justly rewarded with those words we all hope to hear one day in heaven:  "Well done, my good and faithful servant...Come, share your master’s joy." 
The truth is that there are many Christians like the third servant who fear putting their talents and knowledge of their faith to use afraid of what the world might say.  To bring it back to the Dolphins, a great majority of fans would’ve been happy to see them fail and bury their talents in the ground, but the team overcame adversity and strung together two satisfying wins because that is what they are supposed to do:  win!  Not next year, but now!  The Christian who buries his or her talent in the ground is in a way being selfish and not sharing the blessings the Lord has bestowed on them.  They are called to always share this talent:  not next year, but now!  Could you imagine if our musicians here never opened their mouths to sing or played an instrument for fear of failure?  Could you imagine if I, as a priest, never said yes to God because I feared getting up and preaching his Word to hundreds of people every week?  We cannot be afraid, and we cannot be content with mediocrity.  As Christians, we have to multiply the blessings the Lord has given to us.  If things don’t go our way at first, we keep on trying because the Lord is depending on us to spread his Good News through the abundance of talent that he has bestowed on each and every person in this church. We cannot be fearful of what the world has to say or how other people will react.  It’s time we started putting Christianity back in the mainstream and reject the notion that we have an antiquated and outdated faith.  We have to put our talents at the service of the Kingdom of God which is present in the here and now.  We have to multiply our blessings and share them with the world.  We cannot bury our heads in the sand and let the world transform us when we should be transforming the world with the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
We definitely have to bold like the first two servants and set the world on fire for Christ because that is what is required of every Christian.  To do less is to condemn ourselves to the same fate as the lazy and fearful servant.  We must be Christians of conviction that aren’t ashamed to say that we are Christian and to act like someone worthy of that name.  Moreover, we should be people that aren’t ashamed of saying with pride that we are Roman Catholic and that we uphold all that our Holy Church teaches and professes!  Of course, being bold and courageous for the gospel in this increasingly secular world is difficult, but we cannot be fearful and we cannot give less than what we have been blessed with.  To do so would be downright sinful.  If we fold in the face of adversity, as many fans want our football team to do, we will never experience the joy that the first two bold servants were offered by their master. Basically, it all comes down to this:  at the end of our life we will stand before the Lord and he will ask us if we maximized the talents and blessings that he bestowed on us.  May each of us share with the world what the Lord has given to us, so that we may one day hear those glorious words:  "Well done, my good and faithful servant...Come, share your master’s joy."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Staying Awake

"Therefore, stay awake, for you neither the day nor the hour."  (Matthew 25:13)

December 2, 1985.  It was quite possibly the greatest football game the Miami Dolphins ever played.  The undefeated Chicago Bears were coming into town to play on a Monday night and to steal our hallowed undefeated record from our franchise, but our golden boy quarterback and the best game plan Coach Shula ever devised crushed the Bears and sent them home with their only loss of the year.  It was one our franchise's finest hours...and I couldn't see it!  I felt the electricity as we travelled near the old Orange Bowl just hours before kickoff.  I was as pumped up for this game as a 10 year old could get.  But when my bedtime came around, my father pointed to my bedroom and sent me straight to bed.  I don't know how I slept that night, but I did and didn't find out who won until the next morning.  I still give my father a hard time about it to this day.

There are so many things that we miss in life because we fall asleep at the wheel, and we aren't alert enough to notice them especially in our spiritual lives.  If we go through the motions in life, it is almost impossible to see God's mighty hand at work in our life.  This morning when I preached to the children, I leaned in close to them and asked them if any of them had ever fallen asleep at Mass.  They were hesitant at first but eventually admitted that they had dozed off at Mass before.  Then came the money question:  I asked if their parents had ever fallen asleep during Mass. The kids jubilantly shouted "YES!" as their parents tried to hide.  We get distracted, we get bored, and we lose focus on what's important.  As we approach the end of the liturgical year, Jesus is warning us to stay awake, stay alert, and be ready, for we never know when he might come knocking at our door.  Obviously, Christ here is referring to his second coming, but there are so many other times where he tries to do great things in our lives but finds us sleeping or unprepared like the foolish virgins in today's gospel.  

Here's the problem:  we get lazy with our spiritual life far too often.  We don't nurture our soul.  We don't tend to our prayer life.  We get distracted by the external and don't make time for a God who always has time for us.  We are constantly moving on to the "next thing" without enjoying the present.  Just one day after Halloween, they started bombarding our airwaves with Christmas commercials even though it's still a month and a half away.  All of us are a week or two from complaining about being totally overwhelmed by the upcoming holidays.  We're putting the cart before the horse and the horse isn't even out of the barn yet.  We spend so much time planning for the superficial and the material that we do not concentrate on what we need in the present.  There will be plenty of time to prepare for Christmas.  We call it Advent.  Today, we have to focus on the here and now because Christ is present in the here and now.  Like the wise and prudent virgins, we must be sufficiently prepared spiritually for what lies immediately before us, and not be unprepared and get distracted like the foolish ones.  At this Mass, we should be thinking about how we can grow in our love for Christ, and not thinking about the week that lies ahead or what we're going to do after Mass.  We should come spiritually prepared to celebrate the mystery of God's love, and not look past this sacred hour, for around this altar is where our Lord does some of his finest work.  So stay awake my friends for the Lord is ready to do something wonderful in your life, and you definitely don't want to be asleep when it happens.