Saturday, March 31, 2012

Day 39 - Washing Feet

Last night sometime after Midnight, my mother posted on my Facebook wall:  “Eleven years ago you were ordained a deacon. It was on this day that you totally surrendered your life to the Lord…”  March 31, 2001.  Earlier in the day she had already told me something profound about my ministry that I shared with a brother priest:  “Don’t worry about the things that don’t matter.  You just concentrate on washing feet!”  Just like our Lord.  As we prepare to enter the holiest of weeks, this image of washing feet, of giving one’s self totally over to Christ and his people, is what I carry with me.  Eleven years ago, after my diaconate ordination was over and I was walking to the parking lot with my father, a bunch of parishioners stopped me to pose for pictures.  They apologized to my father for holding him up and he said to them, “No worries.  He belongs to you now.”  This is something that has stuck with me all these years.  I belong to all of you, and I thank God every single day for the gift of my ministry and for the gift of being able to serve you at the altar, at the pulpit, at the hospital, in your homes, and even here through cyberspace.  I am truly blessed.  “Just concentrate on washing feet.”

Friday, March 30, 2012

Day 38 - Some Much Needed Prayer

How much time have you dedicated to prayer during this Lenten season?  It is one of the three pillars of Lent along with fasting and almsgiving.  Yet, as we approach the final days of Lent, we may be tempted to pull back on the Lenten disciplines that we embraced five weeks ago.  This is where prayer comes in because it will help us persevere as we get ready to begin Holy Week on Sunday.  Being that today is Confirmation day here in our parish, I think it’s appropriate to call upon the Holy Spirit to guide our steps during the final days of our Lenten journey with this beautiful prayer for the great St. Augustine:

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.

Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy.

Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, that I may defend all that is holy.

Guard me, O Holy Spirit, that I myself may always be holy.
                                                                                    --St. Augustine

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Day 37 - The Faith of Our Teenagers

All throughout Lent, the teenagers of our parish have been gathering on Wednesdays after school to pray the chaplet of the Divine Mercy in our church.  They’ve been doing so quietly and without much fanfare.  I had heard about it last week, but didn’t know how many were going.  Yesterday afternoon, I was walking through the parking lot when I saw a bunch of young people congregating in front of the church.  I approached because I was curious to see how many kids were there.  They were passing out rosaries and instructions on how to pray the Chaplet.  I walked in to pray it with them.  The Youth Minister asked for their intentions which they presented to the Lord, and then very solemnly, they knelt and sang the entire Chaplet with incredible devotion.  As a priest, I was incredibly moved by their faith and the way they approached this devotion.  Just when you think you’ve seen it all, God surprises you in such incredible ways.  With me, it was with the teenagers of my parish.  God bless them all.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Day 36 - Our Hopes and Dreams

What do you dream of?  What are your hopes?  As Christians, we are a people of hope.  We are a people with our eyes fixed on the cross but with hope in the resurrection.  We must never lose hope no matter how dire our lot in life may be.  A people of hope are a people who are capable of achieving great things for the glory of God.  Lent is very much a season of hope because of the redemptive power of the cross.  So today ask yourself:  as I gaze upon the cross, what are my hopes and dreams?

Day 35 - Hope in Cuba

Very late last night after our parish mission was completed, I sat down to watch a replay of the Papal Mass in Santiago de Cuba.  I watched with great emotion as His Holiness was received with great joy and faith by the Cuban people.

I heard the young people of Cuba tell the Holy Father:  “Brother Benedict, the Cuban young people belong to Christ.”

I heard the Archbishop of Santiago get emotional as he implored the Pope as his predecessor did 14 years ago to Blessed John Paul II that the Supreme Pontiff pray for a people divided that needed to get beyond the violence and the discord that still haunts this beautiful island.

I heard the Successor of St. Peter tell the Cuban people that “before the gaze of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, I appeal to you to reinvigorate your faith, that you may live in Christ and for Christ, and armed with peace, forgiveness and understanding, that you may strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity, and which better reflects the goodness of God.”
I saw a people yearning for Christ, yearning for his love, and yes, yearning for freedom.
May these days in which the Vicar of Christ becomes a pilgrim himself in the homeland of my parents and grandparents, be days of peace and reconciliation.  May Christ reign in the hearts of all Cubans and may all Cuban hearts turn to Christ because only in the presence of the Son of God and the Son of Mary will we truly be free.  Our Lady of Charity, pray for us.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Day 34 - Totally Yours

The Church celebrates the Annunciation of the Lord today as we contemplate Mary’s total “yes” to God.  Contemplating this feast called to mind the motto of Blessed John Paul II, Totus tuus, or “totally yours.”  It expressed his devotion and consecration to the Blessed Mother which he takes from St. Louis de Montfort’s book “True Devotion to Mary:”  "I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours. I take you for my all. O Mary, give me your heart."  We want the heart of Mary because we want to say “yes” like Mary.  We want to be totally devoted to Christ like Mary.  We want to let the love of God totally consume us like it did with Mary on this day.  As Holy Week quickly approaches, may we cleanse our hearts of all impurity so that we may submit to the Lord’s will with a heart as immaculate as our Blessed Mother’s.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day 33 - Little Details

"We would like to see Jesus."  (John 12:21)

It's remarkable the little things children notice.  A couple of days ago I saw a video on YouTube of a 3 year old boy "saying Mass," and I was amazed at the gestures he had picked up no doubt from his parish priest (just search "Isaiah Saying Mass" on YouTube to see this).  One of my godchildren still remembers a habit I had early in my priesthood of taking my glasses off and placing them on the altar during "intense prayer moments" during the Mass.  He was 7 or 8 when he picked up on this detail that for some reason I have stopped doing.  Yesterday, I baptized my youngest nephew and before the baptism I was with my oldest nephew whose 6 years old going through the album of his baptism.  I showed him the pictures and explained some but not all of what was going on.  Amazingly enough, it was a picture that I didn't explain that stayed with him.  After his newborn cousin's baptism yesterday he asked me why I didn't lift the baby up in the air.  It took me a second, but then I realized that he was recalling a picture of me lifting him up in the air right after I poured the water on his head at his own baptism.

Children indeed pick up on the tiniest of details.  The type of things that we stop noticing as we grow older and start getting distracted by, well, life.  There is so much that God reveals to us each day, yet we don't notice his providential hand acting in our life.  Today some Greeks approach Philip with a simple request:  they want to see Jesus.  We would like to see him too, but we fail to recognize him in so many places particularly where is really present which is here in the Eucharist.  These children are able to see Jesus in a way most of us cannot because of their innocence and because their eyes have yet to be clouded by doubt and the anxieties that we carry around every day.  They come and behold the awesome and solemn sight that is the Mass, and when you ask them, "Where is Jesus?" they simply point to the cross.  Ah, the cross.  We lose sight of the cross so often.  You see Christ never lost sight of where he was headed.  He knew the end game of his mission.  He knew that he would be submitted to the most violent of deaths, and he even admits in today's gospel that he is troubled at this thought. (In the Spanish translation he says that he is scared.)  Christ experiences the same emotions that you and I do, but he isn't going to complain like so many of us do when faced with hardship, he continues down the road to Calvary because that was his mission.  Complaining your way through life never accomplishes anything.  Christ waited for his hour and followed his Father's will, and he is going to accomplish that will to the very last small detail on the cross before he finally says, "It is finished."

As we journey towards Holy Week, may we be like our Savior and never lose sight of the cross.   We want to see Jesus, and yes, Jesus wants to see us and embrace us and comfort us.  The trouble is we miss him because our eyes are clouded and we don't see him through the eyes of a child.  May our eyes be opened to behold the majesty of God's love in the little details of our everyday lives so that we can behold him and approach him with the love, the joy, and the innocence of a little child.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Day 32 - A Church Stands Up

Yesterday I witnessed a Church rising up, a sleeping giant being awakened, and the voice of Jesus Christ being heard on the streets of Fort Lauderdale. Young and old, black and whie, Democrats and Republicans, even Jews and Christians gathered together to stand up for religious freedom. Our Lent really started on the 20th of January when the Department of Health and Human services laid out a health care mandate that would force us to violate our consciences. We have fasted, we have prayed, and we have done penance since then, but the battle is far from over. Jesus' journey to the cross was a battle against sin and evil, and we join him on that journey during Lent to root out sin and evil in our lives. As good Catholics and as good citizens, we must root it out of society when we see it standing between us and fulfilling the mission the Lord entrusted us with. Some may be growing tired of hearing about this or think that we're making a big deal about it. If you know a good Catholic that thinks along those lines please tell them to WAKE UP because their faith is under attack and lately I have seen those attacks come from within from those very Catholics that think that we're making too much of big deal over this HHS mandate. One rally won't end this debate, but it sure will fire us up and bring attention to this decisive moment in our nation's and in our Church's history. Easter may be two weeks away, but the cross of this unnecessary mandate will still be on our shoulders well past Easter unless hearts start changing. And how do they change? Pray, pray, pray!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Opening Remarks at "National Stand Up for Religious Freedom" Rally

“…it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness...”  Benedict XVI (January 19, 2012)

Any person of faith has to be concerned with the direction this country is headed.  If we are truly free to worship and to practice our religion, then we cannot be forced to do something that goes against our faith and our morals.  We cannot be told by our government how we should practice our faith.  That is why the framers of our Constitution and most recently our Supreme Court in a unanimous decision wrote that government has no business telling us how to exercise this freedom.  This is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue or a Catholic issue.  This is an American issue because it strikes at the first freedom that the Framers enshrined in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

We gather here to pray for our country because if this mandate stands then the way we serve the most vulnerable around us through our Catholic hospitals, homeless shelters, schools, and charities will be severely threatened.  And if this mandate stands, what’s to stop them from telling us what we can or cannot preach from our pulpits.  Priests around the world are being persecuted for preaching the fundamental Gospel truths that may no fall in line with what society thinks is right.  The truths that Christ gave us 2000 years still apply today, and as a priest I will continue to teach and proclaim these truths.  Pray for your leaders both government and religious, and pray for our nation, so that the Good Lord may give us all the wisdom to respect each other’s religious freedom and that we may always be one nation, under God!

Day 31 - How Beautiful

Kneeling in prayer last night after a long day, I stared at the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  “How beautiful,” I thought, “that I can gaze upon my Lord and offer him my tired, yet joy-filled spirit at the end of the day.  How beautiful is my Lord that he is really present to me in the Eucharist and accompanies my on this glorious journey.”  On this day or perhaps sometimes this weekend, visit a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed…and just sit there and gaze upon your Lord.