Sunday, June 24, 2012

Speaking Truth to Power

“He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)

The prophet is called to always point out and proclaim the truth…even when it is unpopular.  That is what John the Baptist did.  That is why we celebrate his birth and his life on this day.  John was set apart in his mother’s womb to the prophet of the Most High, to prepare the way for the Lord, and to preach repentance.  He was such a great prophet that even Jesus himself said this about his cousin:  I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John (Luke 7:28).”  As the Scriptures tell us, preaching the truth came at a high price for John.  He was not afraid to preach truth to power that is why he denounced King Herod for marrying his brother’s wife.  Speaking such a bold truth to the maximum authority ultimately cost John his head.  Yet he was not afraid of death as so many martyrs of the Church through our 2000 year history.  John was faithful to God and was faithful to the truth that he was called upon to preach from his mother’s womb.

All of us are called to be prophets because we are members of a Church that is called to prophetic.  We are called to speak out for those who have no voice:  the poor, the marginalized, the unborn, the immigrant, and the outcast.  We are called to speak the truth and denounce injustice.  Just last week, our pastor got up at the end of Mass to explain the “Fortnight for Freedom” that the U.S. bishops have started.  This is a two week period that started last Thursday and runs up to Independence Day where we have been asked by our shepherds to spend time in prayer, fasting and in catechesis as we seek to become better informed about the current attack on our religious liberties and to pray that these liberties be protected.  There were people that did not like what our pastor was saying.  There were people that walked out of Mass with scowls on their faces as if the pastor had just preached some unspeakable heresy.  One parishioner even went so far as to argue with our pastor for five minutes after Mass about how wrong he was even though he was basically preaching Church teaching.  So now our own people don’t want their priests to preach the truth from the pulpit?  I guess we prefer a “feel good” Sunday experience where we aren’t challenged to do what we were baptized to do.  Well, the priests of this parish are committed to preach the truth, committed to denounce this current attack on our religious liberties, committed to protect the unborn, committed to protect the plight of the poor and the immigrant, committed to protect the conscience of each and every one of you that have been entrusted to our care.  As priests, we cannot and will not remain silent.  And neither should you.  Because you were baptized into the prophetic office of Christ, you are also called to proclaim the truth in the public square.  How else are people going to know that the first freedom, the freedom of religion, is currently under attack by our own government?

I preached on this back in January, but as Catholics, we need to develop a backbone and start calling out the things that are wrong with society just as John the Baptist did.  Yes, Jesus accepted everyone, but he did not accept their sin because when sinners turned to Jesus, they left their sins in the past.  We must be courageous enough to tell people that we stand with our Bishops in their fight to protect our religious freedoms because if we don’t then our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, and our Catholic soup kitchens and social services may be in serious danger.  If we don’t speak the truth in the public square, how are we going to turn the tide on a culture that day by day keeps turning its back on God and keeps doing “what feels good”.  Sometimes speaking truth truly is unpopular but it must be done.  Who else is going to tell the world that while we love and are compassionate towards homosexuals, marriage is defined as the union between one man and one woman?  Who is going to tell young couples that it is not ok to live together before marriage?  Who is going to tell couples that have been married that it is not ok to marry someone who has been divorced and then come and receive communion?  These are the truths that we don’t like to talk about or point out because we do not want to offend.  Let me echo what I said back in January:  if the truth offends so be it.  The truth of Jesus Christ is the same today as it was 2000 years ago when he preached to the multitudes.  We must be a bold and courageous Church modeled after the great prophet John the Baptist.  We must point out and proclaim the truth at all times even when it is unpopular precisely because we belong to a prophetic church that is called to stand up for the truth and bring Christ into the lives of our brothers and sisters.  WARNING:  Speaking the truth may cost you friends and it may cost you many restless nights, but that it is far better than being silent and having that cost you your eternal soul. 

St. John the Baptist, pray for us.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

More Than A Father

More than a Father

“Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away.”  (2 Corinthians 5:9)

Jesus Christ had only one will:  the will of his Heavenly Father.  Jesus came to show us the loving and merciful face of the Father.  It is an image that we contemplate on this Father’s Day.  The Father loved us so much that he gave us his only Son, and his only Son loved his Father so much that he accomplished His will perfectly.  Today the readings speak to us of majestic and sturdy trees where we can find shelter and refuge.  What a great image to illustrate fatherhood.  A father is supposed to be strong like the large trees that rise up from the small mustard seed.  A father brings us security and provides shelter.  One needs only to think of the great example of Saint Joseph whom God the Father chose to raise and protect his only Son.  Joseph took on the great responsibility of fatherhood and protected Jesus and Mary which is why we ask for his intercession on this special day.

As a priest, I will never get to experience the joys of biological fatherhood, but I experience the joys of spiritual father on a daily basis.  Here are two examples of how I have experienced fatherhood both as a spiritual father and as a son:

Very early on in my priesthood, I “got” what spiritual fatherhood really was.  One of my students told me to pray for his grandmother who was very sick back in his home country.  She was so sick that his father had travelled to be by her side.  Now this student of mine was a tough kid with a big heart.  He was always smiling, always the life of any party (still is), but underneath I could tell he was worried about his grandmother.  One afternoon, I was sitting in the priests’ residence across the street from the school when the rarely used doorbell rang.  It was my student and he had just found out that his grandmother had passed away.  He didn’t say a word.  I just knew by the look on his face.  This big kid started sobbing in my arms.  Right there, I “got” what it meant to be a spiritual father thanks to that young man.  His father was at his grandmother’s side, but he still needed refuge and shelter.  He needed the embrace of a father to reassure him that things were going to be ok.  So many times, we look up to the heavens, as Jesus did during the agony in the garden, seeking out our Father’s help in times of trial.  All we want is that sense of feeling safe and being loved that a father provides.

Last Tuesday, I said farewell to the good and holy priest that baptized me.  He was always so proud of the fact that he had baptized a future priest.  Whenever we were together he would proudly tell whoever was around that he had baptized me.  He was a priest for 60 years when he was called home by our Father.  I have a great picture from my ordination day with him and my father.  One man gave me the gift of life.  The other man gave me the gift of eternal life through baptism.  So when I approached his casket last Tuesday before his funeral Mass, I leaned over and kissed the sacred hands that welcomed me into the Church and claimed me for Christ my savior.  This holy priest and my own father remind me that fathers and priests are called to be more than fathers to their children.  We’re called to be counselors, consolers, mentors, coaches, cheerleaders, patient listeners, healers, and oh so much more.  We’re called to be as sturdy and strong as the most majestic tree  and to be a source of shelter and strength for our children.

This past week I came across this poem that really sums up all that is needed to be a father:

God took the strength of a mountain, The majesty of a tree,
The warmth of a summer sun, The calm of a quiet sea,
The generous soul of nature, The comforting arm of night,
The wisdom of the ages, The power of the eagle's flight,
The joy of a morning in spring, The faith of a mustard seed,
The patience of eternity, The depth of a family need,
Then God combined these qualities, When there was nothing more to add,
He knew His masterpiece was complete,
And so, He called it ... Dad
~Author Unknown~

St. Joseph, patron of all fathers, pray for us. 

Happy Fathers Day.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Doped Up Catholics

“While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” (Mark 14:22)

Earlier this year, I saw a remarkable movie that I have yet to write about.  It was a documentary from Spain where the director endeavored to cast a positive light on the priesthood by profiling the life of one particular priest who touched the lives of countless people.  The movie is filled with testimonials including the director’s who in the middle of the movie inserts himself to respond to all the countless remarkable things this priest did during the course of a day.  So when a college professor who knew the priest says, “On his own, a man cannot act like this.”  The director in a way pauses the movie to ask a question:

“Could it be that this priest might have taken some type of special energy substance that allowed him to do everything he did?  I would say yes.  This priest was doped up.  Every day he consumed a substance that is illegal in many countries but taken by many people although they are ashamed to admit it.  He not only consumed that substance, he was co-producer and distributor.  Every day this priest took a piece of bread and a little wine.  He repeated what Jesus Christ said 2,000 years ago, and then…he ate God.  So in that case, he wasn’t playing on a level playing field.”

This movie is extremely powerful, but this brief interlude to examine the effects of the Eucharist on the life of this priest had the greatest impact on me.  Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ so that we can better appreciate that which we receive every Sunday.  The director of this movie uses a bit of shock value to illustrate that this priest was not playing on a level playing field.  But the thing is that the priest isn’t the only one that consumes the Eucharist, all of you do as well.  Therefore, as Catholics, when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, none of us are playing on a level playing field with the rest of the world because we have consumed God himself and are at that precious moment of communion living tabernacles and the very presence of Christ here on earth.  Think about that.  We take this sacrament for granted so many times yet we are receiving the greatest gift that our Lord gave us.  We cannot take this celebration for granted because what we are doing here, what we do around this altar, what we receive from the hands of the priest:  my friends, there is NOTHING that you will do this week that is more important than what we are doing as a Body of Christ right now here at this Mass.  We receive Jesus Christ.  We become living tabernacles of his divine presence in order to transmit this presence into the world.  We cannot be ashamed of what we do here.  We cannot simply receive this heavenly gift and not share it with others.  If you become like Jesus, you have transmit and share this Jesus with the rest of the world.  That is the challenge of the Eucharist.  It is the challenge we receive at the end of this celebration when we are told to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” 

So yes, we are not playing on a level playing field because we take with us Christ himself in body, soul, and divinity.  This heavenly food should empower us to spread the presence and the Good News of our Lord, for as he gave of himself to us at the Last Supper, we are called to give of ourselves to each other.  No other religion receives on Sunday what we receive.  No other religion takes with them the presence of the living God.  Maybe “doped up” is too strong of a word because of its negative connotation when it comes to athletics.  The Eucharist is not going to make us stronger and faster like an athlete, but it is going to give us the supernatural and divine strength needed to conquer the world for Christ.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Simplicity of the Trinity

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba,* Father!”  (Romans 8:15)

My brother and sister have been generous enough to bless their brother the priest with three nephews who are 6, 3, and 6 months old.  Watching them grow up, from a distance, is a joy.  One of the great delights that I have is watching them pray before we sit down to eat.  My oldest nephew is left handed so he starts to do the sign of the cross with his left hand and gets half way before he notices that he needs to switch to his right hand to sign himself.  The three year old is a whirlwind who does the sign of the cross as any 3 year old would.  The six month old is too young to do the sign of the cross but according to my mother, he does pray because since he was a newborn he has always perfectly crossed his fingers when he’s in his uncle’s arms as if to signal that he is praying.  Only grandmother’s can pick that up.  The sign of the cross is the first prayer that we learn as children.  It is the simplest prayer and yet the most profound because we recall our baptism and the fact that we were baptized into a community of love known as the Holy Trinity.  Every time we sign ourselves we call upon the presence and guidance of a Triune God who has revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit.  One God yet three distinct persons who are one “not in the unity of a single person but in a Trinity of one substance” as the liturgy tells us.    

Today’s solemnity calls us to enter more deeply into the mystery of this community of love and to reflect that divine presence in our lives.  We take the sign of the cross for granted.  Yes, it’s admirable when we sign ourselves before we eat it, but do we do it haphazardly, as I sometimes do, or do we do it with the reverence befitting the Divine Presence we have just invoked?  This is where children can teach us a great deal.  Our second graders who just received their First Communion last month were taught to sign themselves right after they received the Body of Christ.  They do it so reverently that they do not leave the foot of the altar until the have carefully consumed our Lord and signed themselves ever so slowly.  Sometimes children grasp the divine better than we do.

Invoking the Trinity also draws us into the salvific mission of our God who seeks to draw humanity to himself.  As I said earlier, one God, three persons, and with three distinct missions.  The beginning of the Third Eucharistic Prayer under the old translation said:  “Father…all life, all holiness comes from you through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit.”  We see that everything emanates from the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.  This is how we pray during the Mass, and our lives should be lived as a perpetual offering to our God as we seek to draw more closely to this divine mystery of love that is poured out to us by the Blessed Trinity.  It is indeed a mystery how our God chose to reveal himself to us, but it can be as simple as watching a child slowly and carefully do the sign of the cross.  We call upon our Triune God to be with us, to draw us deeper into this community of love, and to help us communicate this divine presence to all.