Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thy Kingdom Come

"My kingdom does not belong to this world." (John 18:36)

In 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted a new solemnity that we celebrate today:  Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.  The pope's reasons were twofold: to combat the totalitarianism and the over pietism that existed at the time.   Pope Pius was seeing the state, or in some cases a dictator, become the dominant figure in many societies, so he wanted to emphasize that Jesus Christ was the only King of our lives and he could not be replaced by a figure, a state, or an ideology.  Communism and Fascism were on the rise with Naziism in its infancy so the people were reminded of Christ’s kingship in their daily lives and to not allow an ideology to replace Christ.  Those three “-isms” have fallen into “the ash heap of history,” but have been replaced with other “-isms” like materialism and secularism.  We’ve seen materialism all too much in the last three days with the onslaught of Black Friday.  Well, it isn’t so much on Friday anymore as it has crept into Thanksgiving evening when people are supposed to be spending time with their families.  It is a bit surreal and incredibly tragic that we go from a day that is set aside to give thanks to God and to focus on family to being totally consumed by all things material the next day.  We used to cherish Thanksgiving because it had not been commercialized and it was a true family and God-centered day, but it is slowly being secularized like Christmas was long ago where the true meaning of the holiday is replaced by things that have nothing to do with the day itself.  Speaking of secularism, Pope Benedict mentions this quite often because our society is consumed by it.  We live in a world where God isn’t relevant, necessary, or even acknowledged.  This is why today’s feast is so important because we need to be reminded that Jesus is King!

When it came to the second reason why Pope Pius XI began this feast, pietism, he wanted to make sure that whatever we were doing inside our churches translated into genuine action out in the world.  It isn’t enough to proclaim that Jesus is King with our lips but we also have to make people aware of this kingship through our actions.  To say that He is King means that he reigns in my heart and that he lives in me and through me and that we work to build up his kingdom daily.  If Christ is truly the King of our lives, then prayer is genuinely transformed into action.  Jesus mentions his kingdom in today’s gospel when Pilate is interrogating him.  Jesus asserts that his kingdom is not of this world.  Pilate was asking about a temporal kingdom while Jesus referred to the spiritual kingdom which he instituted on this earth and that we are all called to help bring to completion.  This morning in his homily, Pope Benedict talked about this kingdom that is consumed by love:  “We invoke the kingdom daily in the prayer of the Our Father with the words `thy kingdom come’; in effect we say to Jesus: Lord, make us yours, live in us, gather together a scattered and suffering humanity, so that in you all may be subjected to the Father of mercy and love.”  Christ shares his kingship with us through baptism, but this kingship is one of service towards our brothers and sisters.  Building up this kingdom entails proclaiming Christ the King even when it is unpopular and even when it may cost us our lives.

This morning, right before I came out to celebrate Mass, I was in my office and I read about another tragedy in Nigeria where a suicide bomber loaded a bus with explosives and rammed into a church in a military barracks killing 11 Christians.  Most of the people that died were killed in a second explosion that went off ten minutes after the first in a parked car outside the church.  Those people were merely rushing in to try to help the first victims.  Needless to say, it is not safe to worship Jesus Christ in some parts of the world.  Yet many still go to worship Christ their King in spite of adversity even if it may cost them their lives as it has for so many martyrs during the history of the Church.  Martyrs like Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro, whose feast we celebrated on Friday, who died during the Cristero War in Mexico in the 1920’s right around the time this solemnity of Christ the King began to be celebrated.  The Church was under great persecution in Mexico and Father Miguel, a Jesuit priest, was arrested and executed under false charges.  While he was being executed he, as well as many who died during those times, proclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey! (Long live, Christ the King!)”  Those words should not only be on lips, but engraved in our hearts every single day.  Christ must reign in our hearts so that we might make his kingdom known to all even in the face of adversity.  It is getting harder to be a Christian, even in this country, but this is why Pope Pius instituted this great solemnity:  to remind us that no matter what adversity we may face, Jesus Christ is King!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

100 Thanks (2012)

As I have done every year since 2004, here are the 100 things that I am thankful for this Thanksgiving Day:

1.     The gift of faith
2.     The gift of my priesthood
3.     The gift of being a pastor
4.     My mother’s love
5.     My father’s health
6.     My sister’s strength
7.     My brother’s heroism
8.     My brother in law’s patience
9.     My nephews’ smiles
10.  My godmother’s unshakeable faith
11.  My best friend’s wisdom that keeps me grounded
12.  My many godchildren
13.  My “nieces”
14.  My family’s functional dysfunctionality
15.  My many, many, many cousins
16.  Those who call me their cousin, nephew, or friend
17.  Los Fenicios
18.  My new parishioners’ love of their Church
19.  Those who were once and will always be my parishioners
20.  The many wonderful students, teachers, and staff I left behind at Mary Help and St. Gregory
21.  The faith and patience of my Hispanic communities in Broward
22.  All “my kids”
23.  Being the team priest for our Miami Dolphins
24.  Chartered Flights (Seriously? How can I possibly fly commercial again?)
25.  The unappreciated blessing of flipping a switch and having lights come on
26.  Drinkable water
27.  Checking a box and casting a vote
28.  The men and women of our military who are far from home so that we can be home safely living in freedom and peace
29.  The families of those men and women who sacrifice so much for love of country
30.  Sunsets in Captiva
31.  Hooking and catching a 40 inch snook
32.  A Texas cattle drive
33.  An Arizona desert sunrise
34.  The invincibility of Manhattan
35.  The power and serenity of Niagara Falls
36.  Any day in the Keys
37.  Any day on Key Biscayne
38.  Chumpe Tours
39.  Hastily and lovingly planned barbeques in backyards on the Key
40.  Rushed dinners in the Village with people from Connecticut
41.  Former students that leave Manhattan and go into Jersey just to visit me
42.  Unexpected phone calls from former students
43.  Saturday night Mass and dinners or lunches at diners with my Parkland gang
44.  The lost sheep that come home
45.  The constant prayers of the people of God
46.  The necessary intercession and protection of our Blessed Mother
47.  My overworked guardian angel
48.  The life, example, and blessed death of my beloved Bishop Roman
49.  The friendship of my brother priests
50.  The example of humility and holiness of religious sisters
51.  The 305
52.  Cars that cut me off
53.  Bad English grammar on signs and billboards
54.  Pastelitos across the street from my church
55.  Neighbors talking to one another (and screaming)
56.  Parish festivals
57.  Cuban food made by Cuban grandmothers
58.  Driving past downtown Miami at night
59.  Spanglish and not realizing that you’ve switched between two languages a dozen times during the course of a conversation
60.  My rosary
61.  My Dolphin rosary
62.  Running out of the tunnel with the Dolphins
63.  Special Teams
64.  Bringing the presence of Christ to the sidelines and hopefully beyond
65.  Being yelled at by Jets and Bills fans
66.  A Heat Championship
67.  Opening Day in a new ballpark with my father
68.  Major League Baseball (not minor league baseball trying to pass off as the real thing)
69.  The perseverance of the coaches and players at the University of Miami
70.  Baptizing children
71.  Absolving sinners
72.  Receiving absolution and forgiveness myself
73.  Witnessing two souls become one in marriage
74.  Commending a dying soul to the Father
75.  Rejoicing in the healing of someone that I anointed
76.  The unexplainable gift of being able to celebrate the Eucharist
77.  That moment of silence after Communion
78.  When your godson tells you definitively that he wants to be a priest
79.  When the godson I baptized stands up and reads at Mass
80.  Lunch with my students
81.  Tater tots and giant chocolate chip cookies
82.  Getting shout outs from my students on Twitter
83.  Little children screaming “Fader Manny, Fader Manny”
84.  LifeNights on Wednesday
85.  YA and Core leaders meetings
86.  Youth Mass on Sundays
87.  The rush of preaching a homily
88.  Bringing the joy of Christ into a room
89.  400 years of La Virgen de la Caridad
90.   The undeserved honor of being called “Father”
91.  Good liturgical music
92.  Angelic voices
93.  Trumpets at Christmas and Easter!
94.  Deep Fried Turkey
95.  Dad’s Mashed Potatoes
96.  Mom’s Tres Leches
97.  Ten years of joyful priesthood
98.  Celebrating Thanksgiving Mass with my parish community
99.  Knowing that I’m only an 8 minute drive away from Thanksgiving dinner
100.        Being home with my family to give thanks

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

About the Mayan Calendar...

“You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right forever.” (Psalm 16:11)

Twenty years ago, after finishing a summer of mission work, I visited the pyramids of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan peninsula.  They are remarkable structures built by the Mayans who were a very advanced 
civilzation.  These days the Mayans are part of everyday conversation because of their calendar.   I remember when I preached on today’s readings three years ago that I did a little research about this fascination with the Mayan calendar:  “Apparently the Mayan calendar runs out during the winter solstice on December 21, 2012. The Mayan calendar runs for exactly 5,126 years, and wouldn't you know it, it runs out [next month].  This date is also significant because it will be the first time in 26,000 years that the Earth and the Sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way.”  Fun, right?  So I guess I don’t have to do any of my Christmas shopping because we won’t make it past December 21st.  People keep making jokes about how all the terrible things happening in the world point to this calendar expiring and the coming apocalypse.  I guess they didn’t read today’s gospel in its entirety.

I am always amused by people that are obsessed, yes, obsessed with the end of the world.  They look for clues in the Scriptures, especially in the beginning of today’s gospel, to point to things that are happening in the world that are perhaps, maybe, possibly alluded to in the Bible.  (Let me clarify once and for all that the results of the recent election were not foretold in the Scriptures.)  So instead of scaring you this weekend with images of a darkened sun and falling stars, let me offer some words of hope:  only the Father knows the day or the hour and the Son assures us that he will be with us right to the very end.

So why worry?  If we are living the Christian ideal that Christ spelled out for us two weeks ago, love God and neighbor, then we shouldn’t worry about the end times.  We should delight in mighty hand of God, as the psalm says, instead of fearing it.   We spend so much time worrying about things that wcannot control in the future when we should be focused on the present and following Christ and his commandments in the here and now.  This morning I was reading a passage written by St. Augustine who said:  “Let us not resist the first coming, so that we may not dread the second.”  There you have it:  if we’re doing what the Lord wants us to do, why worry?  We are a people of hope and of joy.  If we are in the good graces of our God, why should we fear?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Who Would've Imagined?

“Praise the Lord, my soul!” (Psalm 146:1b)
In the spring of 1984, right here in this beautiful church of the Divine Providence, I received for the first time the greatest gift that Christ left us: the gift of the Eucharist. My first memories of my faith were forged right here in this parish where my parents tirelessly worked as parishioners from 1980-1986. I remember the beautiful Masses, the Good Friday processions, the first “Griterias,” and the fun of the annual festivals. It is here where I received catechesis in CCD, where I discovered the beauty of the Mass when I made my First Communion, and where the beginnings of a priestly vocation journey began.  My childhood friends, who are still my friends today, were raised here with me, and we would run out to the lake after every Mass to toss rocks into the water.  We would get in trouble for being too noisy during Mass or for rolling down the very tiny hills that made up the parish grounds, but it is here that I as a little boy discovered the precious gift of my faith. Who would’ve imagined that Providence would bring that little boy back to this parish so close to his heart to serve you as your pastor?  I have come home!
What an honor the Archbishop has bestowed on this unworthy servant.  As soon as he told me the news, I feel to my knees asking God to give me His strength as I put my total trust in him.  This is exactly what the widows in today’s readings did despite their poverty.  They gave everything they had to God and God greatly blessed them.  As Christians, we must constantly commend ourselves to God despite our unworthiness, our sins, and our failings, and trust that he will provide for us.  We must have the faith of these widows to throw ourselves into the unknown knowing that our Lord will provide for us.   
I have come simply to serve. I only bring with me the Word of God on my lips and the joy of Christ in my heart. It is this Word and this joy that Christ gives us that we, as Christians, are called to share. And these are my memories of Divine Providence Parish: a community full of joy and filled with the love of God. The Archbishop has truly honored me with this precious gift of allowing me to serve you at the altar of Our Lord. As I commend my new ministry to the Lord, I also commend myself to all of you. I ask you to pray for me and for all priests so that we may be faithful and holy servants of our Lord Jesus Christ. With the help of God and the intercession of our Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of Divine Providence, together we will continue the beautiful mission of this parish of sharing the Good News with the whole world. Who would’ve imagined that a little boy who used to sit among you and look up at this beautiful Risen Christ would one day serve this community as its pastor?  What a joy to be back home! What a joy to be able to serve this holy people at the altar of Our Lord!