Thursday, November 28, 2013

100 Thanks (2013)

This is the 10th year that I do this.  As always, great fun.  Happy Thanksgiving.

1.     My family
2.     Genuine silence
3.     Pope Francis
4.     Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
5.     The much needed fruit of patience
6.     That “secret” place I go fishing with my father
7.     My mother's prayers
8.     Running out of the tunnel
9.     Saturday night chocolate chip cookies
10.  “The Joy of the Gospel”
11.  Crowded Masses
12.  Good Friday Processions
13.  Godsons who say yes to God
14.  Giving my godson his First Communion
15.  Saturday morning walks
16.  Phone calls that tell you that your parish's $3 million debt has been paid off
17.  Parish festivals
18.  Bumper cars
19.  Mondays at 6:30pm
20.  Latin Restaurant, aka “El Timbiríchi” or Sweetwater’s version of “Cheers”
21.  Dinner after the last Sunday Mass
22.  Game 6 and Jesus Shuttlesworth
23.  People who get it when I quote “The West Wing” (“Butterball has a hotline? God, I’m sorry, I love my country.”)
24.  People who get it when I quote “Seinfeld” (“The sea was angry that day my friends…”)
25.  “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
26.  “Take this, all of you, and eat of it.”
27.  “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
28.  “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” (I got to do that one this year!!)
29.  “By the power vested in me by the State of Florida…” (wait a second, I don’t say that.  The bride and groom say the vows. I only receive them, so…) “You have declared your consent before the Church…what God has joined let no man divide.”
30.  “Through this holy anointing…”
31.  “Father, I’m cancer free.”
32.  “Father, I need to go to confession.”
33.  Washing feet
34.  Celebrating the Easter Vigil
35.  Using Pope Francis’ daily homilies as the ultimate homily help
36.  10 minute homilies during daily Mass
37.  People who don’t care when I preach a 10 minute homily during a daily Mass
38.  Friends who build me chapels
39.  No leaks in the roof
40.  Plumbing that works
41.  The bills are all paid (you can tell by the last three that this list belongs to a pastor)
42.  Brother priests who cover for me during away games
43.  Prayers at midfield
44.  A winning locker room
45.  New Orleans with old students
46.  Touring St. Augustine with its bishop (how cool is that?)
47.  Rome and Italy pilgrimage next summer! (Who wants to go?)
48.  New York City
49.  New Yorkers or New Englanders who come home
50.  Silence and solitude on the beach
51.  The view of the Atlantic Ocean from my room during my vacation last summer
52.  The crash of the waves that I could hear from that room
53.  That redfish that keeps eluding me (I need the trifecta!)
54.  October dinners in Jupiter
55.  Visits to certain schools in Broward
56.  Teacher Happy Hours at Duffy’s (one glass of wine…that’s it)
57.  Troops that come home
58.  Phone calls from Fort Collins, Colorado
59.  Trips across the country to rendezvous with said residents of Fort Collins (St. Louis!)
60.  The Cathedral of St. Louis
61.  Students who call me “Father Mans(z)” (Not necessarily my favorite,  kudos to my first students for quoting Austin Powers and using “Fasha” or “Faj”)
62.  Former students who are now teachers
63.  Twitter shout outs
64.  Chumpes Chumpes Chumpes

65.  Wine Rooms!
66.  My yearly week “away” in KB
67.  My mothers on the Key
68.  "My boys" (who don't know how to end a group chat)
69.  "My girls" (are you still wearing your bracelets?)
70.  Bunk Beds for me and the “Bad Priest” (stop calling him that!)
71.  The iBreviary App
72.  Superhero movies (except Man of Steel which I'll pretend never happened)
73.  Seminarians becoming priests (superheroes in their own right)
74.  First Masses and First Blessings
75.  Wisdom of older priests
76.  Not sweating the small stuff (wisdom imparted from #75)
77.  My dedicated staff
78.  Festival volunteers (Total time worked by majority of volunteers: 35 hours over 4 days)
79.  Children Masses
80.  My triplets MTL (who always keep me so very grounded)
81.  My first nephew's mind
82.  My second nephew's delightfully wicked sense of humor
83.  My third nephew's ferocious appetite
84.  My sister's patience
85.  My brother in law's patience (yea, he needs it too)
86.  My brother's charm (he gets it from me)
87.  Friday Family Happy Hours (we've only had one all year!!)
88.  Goonies having babies (Finally! Girls!)
89.  The [blank] Family (Insert your family's name in the blank)
90.  Thanksgiving bags and turkey giveaways
91.  People who feed the hungry before and well after Thanksgiving
92.  Every parish that I have been blessed to serve
93.  Every family that considers me part of their own
94.  Finally witnessing the wedding of a former student (with more to come)
95.  Cool, not cold, weather
96.  Long days doing the Lord's work
97.  The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist
98.  The power of the Rosary
99.  The unwavering faith of the people of God which only strengthens my own
100.                  Romans 8:39

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Merciful King

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  (Luke 23:42)

When we were baptized, we were consecrated into Christ’s ministry as priest, prophet and king.  Priest so that we can offer up prayers as we are doing now in this Eucharist, prophet so that can always proclaim the truth, and king so that can serve others.  Christ was not a king that lorded over people.  He was a servant-king and a merciful king.  We celebrate his kingship today and are reminded that we are called to serve our brothers and sisters as Christ our King did.

Last week, we had a wonderful family festival here at the parish.  Everyone had a great time, and it allowed us the opportunity to get to know each other through our shared work.  It allowed me as a priest to get to know people in a different way in that joyous atmosphere.  People that I would not normally have a chance to talk to after Mass would come up to me and share their hopes and dreams for our parish, and I had some wonderful conversations.  Yet, and I say this as a full confession, for every wonderful encounter I had with a parishioner or a visitor, there were two or three moments where I was pulled aside in the middle of the work of the festival by someone because they saw a priest and decided that the joyful chaos of a festival was as good a place as any to just unload on the priest.  And that’s fine.  That’s why I’m a priest, but there’s been one individual that’s been on my mind all week.  He was one of those two or three that pulled me aside from work outside to talk to me about something.  He did so on Friday for an extended period of time and when we were done I said, “why don’t we table this until next week because this really isn’t the place?”  It wasn’t an urgent problem.  It wasn’t even a problem at all.  It was just a person that wanted to chat, at length, with a priest.  Fair enough.  On Saturday, this gentleman tried to stop me again to continue our conversation even though I was bustling from one end of the fair to the other.  Then came Sunday…I was behind one of our food booths where we had just finished roasting an entire pig.  It looked delicious, and there was a line of people waiting to be served.  One lady, bless her heart, waited all 7 hours for it to finish roasting.  So I was there with the volunteers slicing the meat with the biggest knife you can possibly imagine in my right hand.  I was chopping up the meat with urgency to feed the waiting patrons when the gentleman crossed the rope line and tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Father, I know you’re hungry, but….”  I turned around and faced this poor soul with that big old knife in my right hand and quickly cut him off with a stern and deep, “Not now!”  I went back to work, but briefly peered over my shoulder to see the gentleman leaving the same way he got in.  Never saw him or heard from him again.
This is what has been on my mind this entire week especially in light of today’s gospel.  Sure I can excuse this by saying that there is a time and a place for everything, but that just doesn’t cut it with me when it comes to the possibility of losing a soul.  I could not be bothered, whether I was genuinely busy or not was no excuse.  Christ was quite literally dying on the cross, painfully gasping for every breath when the good thief asked for forgiveness and to simply be remembered by the Lord when he came into his kingdom.  Our dying Lord did one better by promising the blessed thief nothing less than paradise that very day.  What is striking about Christ on the cross is that when he seems so very vulnerable is when he is in fact at his most powerful.  There on the cross he is destroying sin and death.  There on the cross he is making Satan tremble.  There on the cross he is redeeming you and me.  There on the cross is where he received his crown.  Not a crown bedecked by jewels and gold, but a crown of thorns.  Unlike the authorities and soldiers below him, the good thief recognizes that Jesus is King, recognizes the love emanating from that cross.  This is what people must see in us if we are indeed followers of Christ the King to say nothing of what people must and should see in their priests. 

So that is what has been on my mind.  We share in Christ’s kingship which means that at all times we should serve one another with love, with mercy, with compassion and, yes, with a tremendous amount of patience.  Imagine the patience our Lord had with the disciples who couldn’t grasp the simple concepts of the Kingdom of God, and yet our Lord entrusted the Church to them.  On this solemnity of Christ the King, we ask the Lord to help us be true sharers in his kingship because we fall short so many times.  We long to hear the same words that the good thief heard.  Those blessed words that brought him paradise.  That is why this day and every day our prayer must be the same as his:  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”


Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Confident Christian

“Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” (Luke 19:5)

There I was down on one knee at midfield on top of the Dolphins logo.  We had seemingly just won the game in overtime on a safety of all things.  The team needed the win.  As their chaplain, I wanted nothing more than for them to have some joy after four long weeks.  So as soon as the players ran towards the endzone to celebrate, I ran to midfield to pray with the players from both teams as I do after every game, win or lose.  Except that the play was under review by the referees.  Some players and coaches started retreating a bit to the sidelines thinking the refs may declare that the game was not yet over.  With confident faith, I held my position on one knee in the middle of the field of play looking up at the video screens knowing that the correct call was made, but also knowing that what is correct is not always what comes out of the referee’s mouth.  I just wanted my team to win.  So I held my ground.  Some may call it arrogance, but I prefer to call it confidence and little bit a faith that the victory would be upheld.  Many of the players and coaches were looking towards the referee making the signal for safety which is two hands joined as they would be in prayer except you place them over your head.  As I knelt there, I couldn’t help but smile as I watched all these players making this sign of prayer, even if it meant something else.  I don’t know how long the referee reviewed that play, but it was long enough that the confidence I had began to turn to humility and I slowly got up almost resigned to the fact they were going to rule against us.  So I took some steps towards the bench when the referee came out to the field and signaled that the correct call was made and we had won the game.  In video replays, you can see the players rejoicing and off in the distance, a man dressed in black doing a fist pump and dashing to midfield to make his second attempt at a postgame prayer.  Sometimes the Christian needs to be confident.

That is how Christ carried himself.  That is what gave him the authority to tell a sinner like Zaccheus that he would stay at his house that evening.  There was something about Jesus that drew this tax collector to the Lord.  There was something about his persona, his voice, his confidence, in who he was that prompted this sinner to open his house and his heart to Christ.  And once you open your heart to Jesus, things get turned upside down.  Zaccheus receives the Lord into his home and immediately tell Jesus that he would give half his wealth to the poor and repay whomever he extorted 4 times what he stole from them.  That’s conversion!  And part of that conversion was having the confidence to be able to stand up in front of your critics, and there were many in Jericho that day, and tell everyone how much your heart has changed and the actions you’re going to take to demonstrate the love of Christ that now exists in a forgiven sinner’s heart.  Jesus comes to seek the lost souls, prop them up, give them the confidence of the children of God so that they can change the world around them like Zaccheus did that day.  Lost souls are capable of incredible acts of faith and charity when they turn their hearts to Christ.  Today, Jesus is calling you by name asking to abide in your heart so that you may be a confident Christian. 

Because we have been forgiven and because we are children of God, we need to walk with our heads held high and with the confidence of knowing that we have been redeemed and that Christ is always at our side.  People will pick up on this Christian confidence, and they will gravitate towards us as we point them in the direction of our Master, Jesus Christ.  After I said the prayer at midfield, players from both teams graciously thanked me and when I arrived at the victorious locker room, others were thanking me for contributing to the win.  I always tell people that I don’t pray for wins.  I’m just there as a witness of the Church and of Jesus Christ standing confidently on that sideline because we already won: 2000 years ago on the cross.  Which is why I was able to walk off the field last week with my head held high after the crushing defeat in New England because of what a player prayed at midfield:  “Lord, nothing that happened on this field today is greater than what You did for us at Calvary.”  So much depth and truth in that prayer.  Walk confidently my friends, for Christ has redeemed you.