Sunday, March 31, 2013

Searching For Life

Last night, at the beginning of our Easter Vigil, after the Easter Proclamation was sung, all the candles were extinguished and the church was in total darkness, save the light emanating from the Paschal Candle. We could not see. But something happened as we started hearing the readings that told the history of our salvation: our eyes began to adjust to the darkness. At first from my chair on the sanctuary I saw nothing. Then I began to make out silhouettes of the people in the pews, and as we grew closer to the Gloria and the lights being turned on, I was finally able to see what was going on in the back of the church. When we abide in darkness, we get used to darkness. Conformity sets in. That is the trap of the darkness of sin: we become used to it. We cannot see true light and the things we do in the darkness that offend our Lord become habitual, commonplace, and we become slaves of sin. We basically become trapped in a tomb.
When Mary Magdalene and the other women go to the tomb early on that first Easter Sunday morning, the angels appear and pose to them a very good question that is most certainly asked of us on this day: Why do we look for the living among the dead? Why do seek life where there's death? Why do we look for light in the darkness? Why do we seek joy where sin abounds? Why don't we first go to the source of all life, the one who conquered death? And that’s why we celebrate today because Christ has overcome death and has freed us from the darkness. We cannot and should not be subjects of the evil one any longer because our Lord has once and for all freed us from a slavery that was worse than what the Israelites experienced in Egypt: the slavery to sin and death. Yet we hesitate because we grow comfortable in the darkness where we don’t hear the whisperings of the Lord. We grow comfortable surrounded by a world that drowns the voice of God out because we are unable, unwilling, maybe even afraid to change. Open the tombstone that is covering your heart and let the light of the Risen Christ in just a little. Trust in him. “Do not be afraid,” the angels told the women. Light is what brings clarity, what brings peace, what brings joy! We will not find it in the darkness. We will not find it in a world that ignores God and ignores, adjusts or rewrites the moral truths that God has written in the hearts of all. We will only find true joy when we allow Jesus to take our hand and raise us from the depths of sin and into the new life he has prepared for us.
Over 10,000 people walked through the doors of our church during this Holy Week. Each seeking something different, but all longing to be at peace with their God. My message to you today as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord is that we share this news. Something is stirring in our Church. It began before Lent when Benedict steered us in a different direction that ultimately led to Francis being elected as his successor. I’ve never believed the media hype that the Church is in turmoil because I have always seen a Church that is very much alive! And now it is as if the fountains of grace that come from above are overflowing and a new day has arrived. Easter is that new day. That day when we are called to share the Good News of the Risen Lord. That day when we renew our baptismal promises, are cleansed with the holy waters of baptism, and sent forth to shout “Halleluiah!” from the highest mountain. That is where true joy resides. Sharing this news and living it as well by serving the poor, the sick, the outcasts, and those who have forgotten that God loves them. God loves us so much that he sent his only Son to suffer the cruelest of deaths only to raise him up so that we might have life. This life is yours my friend. Look for the living AMONG THE LIVING! Stop fooling yourself into thinking that a life without Jesus is a happy life. A life without Jesus is no life at all. He came to bring us life and life in abundance. Today we share in that abundance and are called to share it with others. Our God is full of surprises as Pope Francis told us last night. What surprise does he have in store for you if you would only let the light of the resurrection penetrate your heart?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Something Strange

We don't know what to feel on this day.  We are surrounded by silence.  The Church awaits the great Easter cry, but in the meantime we wait by the tomb.
 
This morning every religious read the same ancient homily on Holy Saturday from the Divine Office: "Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear."
 
Such is the anticipation we all feel.  We wait on the Lord to come rescue us as he rescued those that came before.  Silence surrounds us.   Do not be afraid.  Soon the world will hear the victorious songs of an Easter people.

 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Following the Lord

No words needed.  For 1.5 miles the multitudes walked and followed HIM.  We adore you, Oh Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world:



Thursday, March 28, 2013

Anointed: The Blessed Life of a Priest


“If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)

 

I have presided at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper before, but never as the pastor of a parish.  On this day in which we gather to celebrate the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist, I was surrounded by four brother priests, two deacons, and roughly 1,700 parishioners who crowded into our church, some arriving 90 minutes early, to do what the Lord commanded us to do.  I didn’t write a homily.  I took my cue from Pope Francis and preached off the cuff (with some prepared mental notes).  I don’t remember what I said just barely two hours ago, but I will endeavor to reconstruct what I preached during an emotional evening in which I washed the feet of a wonderful group of 12 people selected by our deacon that included a blind man, a man in a wheelchair, several of our sick, and a young man who was once in seminary with me.  Indeed, very emotional:

 

Two days ago, all the priests of the Archdiocese of Miami gathered with Archbishop Wenski at the cathedral for the Chrism Mass in which we renew our priestly promises and bless the oils that we use to anoint and sanctify the people of God.  This morning our Holy Father talked about the importance of priests anointing God’s people with the oil of gladness as an essential part of our priestly ministry: “A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed: this is a clear proof. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news.” 

 

He challenged his priests to go out to the outskirts to find the people of God where they are at: “We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters…This I ask you: be shepherds, with the “odor of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men.” 

 

This part of the “odor of the sheep” is what stood out for me during the pope’s beautifully constructed homily.  As a priest, I am called to go out and to be among the people not to sit behind a desk and manage a parish.  I must be among the flock, carrying the wounded lambs, searching for the lost ones, and washing the feet of the poorest among us.  As a church, as a parish, as a people of God, this must be our first priority: to seek out those who are lost, those who have fallen away and share with them the oil of gladness that we have received.  The Holy Father spoke at great lengths this morning about the pouring forth of oil that has its roots in the Old Testament with Aaron the high priest.  In Psalm 133, the oil is poured upon Aaron’s head and runs down his beard and his robes.  We too have been anointed with that oil at baptism with the sacred chrism that takes away the odor of sin and leaves with a sacred fragrance.  But the oil gives us much more than fragrance, the Holy Father tells us, it goes to the edges of the robe and pours forth to anoint the people entrusted to a priest’s care.

 

Without personal merit, the Good Lord and the archbishop have entrusted all of you to my care and I pray that during the last five months that I have anointed you with this oil of gladness.  The thing is that the fragrance that I sense in this church tonight, this fragrance of faith and holiness, is what sustains me as a priest.  Your prayers, your rosaries, your novenas, your holy hours, all the things you do as a holy people of God and as individuals to show your love for your priests lifts my faith and makes me want to be a better priest and a better shepherd of souls. 

 

There is no better life than the life of a priest!  Every day I break open the word for you and feed you what Jesus gave us 2000 years ago on this very night.  I am so blessed to belong to such a vibrant and faith-filled community.  And so now, I will do what the Master did so that you might do the same.  We must wash each other’s feet.  This means that we must go out and start knocking on doors and telling people that we are so very proud of our parish, that we are so very proud to be Catholic that we want them to experience the same joy that we experience.  So as we walk with Jesus during this Holy Week, we must do what he did and go to the outskirts where those ignored by society live…and bring them back home!  “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)


 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Distractions

This morning I was surrounded by so much nonsense whether it was stuff in the office, on the car radio, and even the news that's been dominating the headlines that I thought, "this is distracting me from Holy Week."  In fact, the frustration reached such a point that I tweeted the following while I was having a quiet lunch:  "The world is trying very hard to distract us from the only thing we should be focused on this week: the cross of Jesus Christ."

We cannot be distracted from Christ or from the truth he brings which will set us free from our sins.  His truth is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  The gospel today tells the story of Judas' betrayal of Jesus.  Judas wanted Jesus to be something he was not.  Judas had his own truth.  Jesus IS the TRUTH.  Judas wanted to force Jesus' hand and did not allow the transformative love of the Master to transform his heart.

It is Holy Week.  Do not let the world distract you from your journey to the cross and ultimately to the victory of Christ over sin and death.  The cross set us free 2000 years ago, and during this holiest of weeks, it will set us free again.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Thou Art a Priest Forever

This morning all the priests of the Archdiocese of Miami gathered at St. Mary's Cathedral to renew the promises they made at their ordination to teach and to sanctify.  I had a perch behind all of my brother priests as I was broadcasting the Mass on Radio Paz and joined them in renewing our promises.  As I gazed over my brothers, I asked the radio audience to pray for their priests, for those who serve in their parishes, for those who have anointed them, absolved them, rejoiced with them, and consoled them.  Our Holy Father said in an interview before he was elected that priests have a heavy cross to carry, a cross that is different from the one of the laity.  So this Holy Week, and particularly on Holy Thursday when we celebrate the Institution of the Priesthood, pray for your priests.  We need your prayers.  We feel your prayers and are sustained by them.  It is indeed an extraordinary life to be a priest of Jesus Christ!

Thou Art A Priest Forever
 
To live in the midst of the world,
Without wishing its pleasures; 
To be a member of each family, 
Yet belonging to none; 
To share all sufferings;
To penetrate all secrets; 
To heal all wounds;
To go from men to God
And offer Him their Prayers;
To return from God to men
To bring pardon and hope;
To have a heart of fire for charity
And a heart of bronze for chastity;
To teach and to pardon,
Console and bless always--
What a glorious life!
And it is yours,
O Priest of Jesus Christ!
                                                             --Author Unknown
 

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Patience of God

Again, Pope Francis is making my preaching life so much easier during this Lent because of the incredible gems that are coming from his homilies and actions.  This morning he continued to celebrate Mass for the workers of the Vatican, and he focused on today's gospel where Judas gets angry when he sees Mary, the sister of Lazarus use an expensive liter of oil to anoint Jesus' feet.  Francis noted how patient Jesus is with Judas.  This is the patience that God has with us.  "The emblem of the infinite patience that God has for man is reflected in the infinite patience that Jesus has for Judas...he was patient with Judas, trying to draw him closer through patience, his love. During Holy Week, we would do well to think of the patience of God, the patience that God has with each one of us, with our weaknesses, our sins."

When we look back on our lives and think of all the times we have been impatient with others, especially with loved ones, and yet still turn to a loving and patient God for mercy.  The beauty of this Holy Week is realizing that God never gives up on us.  The Holy Father rightly compares God to the father of the prodigal son who waited for his son to return.  Now is the time to return to God and reward his patience with our contrite hearts.  The Pope concluded his homily by saying: "Let us think of our personal relationship, in this week: How patient has Jesus been with me in my life? Just this. And then the words will rise from our hearts: 'Thank you, Lord! Thank you for your patience."

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Day 40: The Challenge of the Cross

“…for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31)

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

We begin the liturgy on this Palm Sunday with Christ’s grand entrance into Jerusalem. We sing Christ’s praises as the crowds did 2000 years ago, and we enter rejoicing because we are indeed praising our Lord and king. We wave those palm branches to herald Christ’s entrance into the City of David, but as much as we obsess about these simple branches that we can get off any tree in South Florida, they are meaningless and of little value unless they remind us that just as Christ entered Jerusalem with waving palms, we need to allow Christ to enter our hearts during this Holy Week. We obsess about simple branches when every single Sunday, and every day for that matter, we give away something far more valuable which is the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. Priorities. Then we spend most of the Mass shaping the palm branches into crosses. That’s fine. I’m glad we have the cross on our minds because it is something that we cannot ignore during Holy Week and these branches that we form into crosses help us to remember this central reality of the Paschal Mystery: the cross.

This past Friday, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, celebrated Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta where he has been staying since his election with the workers of the house, the Vatican gardeners, and the street sweepers who clean St. Peter’s square. Now I’ve stayed at this house and prayed in this chapel and there’s only one way in. When everyone had gathered before the Mass and was praying, the Holy Father slipped in and sat in the back praying silently with the people without anyone noticing except the photographer who took the picture. When he got up for Mass and started preaching, he talked about the cross and made the point that Christ didn’t die “for all” in as much as he died “for each and every person” and if he died for “each of us” then “each of us” must say “yes” to him. The cross requires a response from those who gaze upon it. We can wear it around our necks, hang it in our homes, see it in popular art work, but we cannot ignore the challenge of the cross. It challenges us to respond to the great love that pours forth from it. The Son of God. Dead. On a cross. How can we not respond?

One man who did respond was the repentant thief crucified next to the Lord. Now I’ve read this gospel countless times privately and publicly from the pulpit, but I don’t know what came over me when I read it last night at my first vigil Mass. I was proclaiming the gospel and when I got to the part of “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” I started to get teary eyed. And when I got to the part where the Lord responded “Today you will be with me in paradise,” I could hardly read anymore. These words aren’t just words on a page, they are the story of our salvation and we must live them during these holy days. The story of the repentant thief is our story because who among us hasn’t been desperate for God’s mercy at some point in our lives. This thief recognized that he was justly condemned and that Christ was not. He also recognized who Jesus was and asked for his mercy. It was a Hail Mary pass if you will, one last effort to be forgiven, and that small opening in our hearts is all God needs to totally transform our lives. If this is how God treats a thief, what blessings does he have in store for us?

We are all the repentant thief. We are all in need of his mercy and forgiveness, and we all yearn to hear those blessed words: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Christ is basically telling this man what he tells each of us: it doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, I will forgive you! What else could we possibly ask for this Holy Week? During this holiest of weeks, may we feel the same passion and love that our Lord felt for us. May we live this Holy Week as we walk with Christ, pray with Christ, suffer with Christ, die to our old selves with Christ, and rise to new life with Christ. My friends, as Christians, we cannot ignore the cross, for we are called to respond to its challenge. As we stand before the glorious cross today, how will we respond?
 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Day 39: "We Are Brothers"

It seems like we wake up to joyous news from Rome every morning since Lent started.  A historic first occured this morning when Pope Francis met with his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo.  They embraced at the helipad then they went to pray together.  As they entered the chapel, Benedict pointed to a chair and a kneeler that had been prepared for Pope Francis, but Francis would not sit by himself.  "We are brothers," he told his predecessor, and the two went to the first pew of the chapel and both knelt in prayer.  Both bear or have born the heavy burdens of the Petrine Office.  Both have a unique love for the universal Church.  The picture below as they knelt before the Blessed Sacrament speaks volumes.  As a Church, we are so very blessed because we have Francis leading us and Benedict praying for us from behind the scenes.  Two popes.  One love.  May the Good Shepherd guide them both and may our Blessed Mother always protect them.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Day 38: The Truth Hurts

Over the last couple of days, we've been reading about how the Pharisees were getting more irritated with what Jesus was saying to the point of picking up stones to cast at him.  Truth is that the words and message of Jesus irritate the world, and when we as Christians help spread Christ's message, we too become irritating to many. The truth of Jesus Christ does indeed hurt the world because it is a truth that the world cannot and will not accept.  It is not convenient.  It does not lead to instant gratification.  It does not lead to an easy life.  BUT it does lead us into the safe and loving and forgiving arms of a God who loves us to no end and who will keep us safe and secure from the stones that may be cast our way.  We must never tire of speaking the truth of Jesus Christ no matter how irritating it may be to those who hear it.  We must never confuse respect for someone else's beliefs with compromising our own beliefs because we are ashamed to speak the truth.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Day 37: The Heat and Confession

There's a joke going around that LeBron gave up losing for Lent.  Clever especially after last night's remarkable comeback and game.  So here's where I started linking what the Heat are accomplishing to what we're trying to accomplish this Lent: we all want to win.  They want to win championships.  We want to win the greatest prize which is eternal life.  The Heat want to eradicate any losing mentality from their team.  We want to eradicate the losing that comes with sin from our lives.  Sin can only lead us to great loss and misery.  True joy isn't found in championships, winning streaks, or amazing comebacks.  True joy is only found when we rid our hearts of sin and start a winning streak of our own by living holy lives.  We start this by going to the sacrament of Confession.  They say LeBron is now free to reach greater heights because he has won his first title.  That is nothing compared to the freedom that we will feel and the heights we will reach once we rid our hearts of sin.  So it all boils down to the tweet that I sent out early this morning:

"Like the Miami Heat, you too could give up losing for Lent...go to Confession: Forgiveness > #HeatStreak"

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Day 36: That They May All Be One

This morning Pope Francis meet with leaders of different churches and religions and present among them was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew.  This is significant because this is the first time that the head of the Orthodox Church attends a Papal installation since the Great Schism of 1054 in which the Eastern and the Western Churches separated for reasons that are too lengthy to mention here.  Point being, our Holy Father has begun his Pontificate stressing the importance of unity among Catholics, among Christians of other denominations, and among all people of good will since the Chief Rabbi of Rome was also present this morninig.  During this Year of Faith which commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, we recall the landmark documents on Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue that arose from the council.  Blessed John Paul II prayed the same prayer that Jesus prayed, "That they may all be one."  It must be our fervent prayer that all those who profess Jesus as Lord be joined together in one common faith, one common song, and one clear voice to announce this Good News to the entire world.  As we continue to pray for Pope Francis, also pray for the unity of all Christians so that one day we may indeed all be one.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Day 35: Pope Francis and the Power of Service

The alarm went off at 4:20am.  I had been asleep for maybe 3 1/2 hours but that didn't matter.  I had to see what Pope Francis had to tell the world LIVE!  When I turned on the TV, he had already made his trip in the open aired jeep through the square stopping to kiss babies and to bring comfort to a sick person.  Now he was praying at the tomb of the one he was succeeding: St. Peter himself.  The Holy Father made his way out to the piazza and received the pallium and the simplest version of the Fisherman's Ring that you could get, and we all waited for his homily on this great Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary and Protector of the Holy Family and the Church.  The homily in its entirety can be found here, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/homilies/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130319_omelia-inizio-pontificato_en.html, but I just wanted to highlight what struck me about his remarkable homily:

"How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand...How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own....


In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!  Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened....


We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!  Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!...

Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!...


To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!

I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen."



Monday, March 18, 2013

Day 34: Psalm 23

Nothing brings us more comfort than reciting the 23rd Psalm.  Over the last three Sundays, most of us have been watching the very well done miniseries "The Bible" and I found it curious and bit uplifting that when they depicted the battle of David and Goliath, they had David reciting this psalm as he went off to confront the giant that he would eventually slay.  There are so many giants the Lord empowers us to slay if only we allow him to do mighty things through us.  When we are down, when we are going through a spiritual desert, or if we just want to be reminded of God's loving care for us, all we have to do is recite this psalm of great comfort:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Day 33: Sin No More


“Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.” (John 8:11)

What an extraordinary week it has been to be a Catholic.  To witness history and see our new Holy Father elected has been something remarkable.  Even more amazing has been seeing him so actively exercising the Petrine ministry in his own unique way.  Two examples come to mind of how extraordinary this pope is (and really, all popes are extraordinary in their own right):  the first came on Thursday when he celebrated his first Mass as Pope with the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel.  He didn’t go the traditional route of reading a prepared homily from a text while sitting in his char.  No, he went straight to the ambo, like priests do around the world every day, and without reading from a text preached to us from the heart in a short 7 minutes.  The second example came this morning when he said Mass at the parish church of the Vatican, St. Ann, where he preached a 5 minute homily on today’s gospel (it takes me 5 minutes just to warm up) and after Mass, again, he did what priests around the world do after Mass, he stood at the doorway of the church and greeted parishioners as they left.  Pope Francis is truly one of a kind.  But back to his homilies.  This morning the Holy Father highlighted the depths of God’s mercy.  When referring to the gospel of the adulterous woman, he reminded us that like the accusers in the gospel, we are are faster to condemn than to forgive.  But the pope’s brilliance came when he uttered the following line:  “The Lord never tires of forgiving us, never!  We are the ones who get tired of asking for forgiveness.”

The last two weeks we have witnessed in the gospel God reaching out to forgive.  Last week, we saw the father of the prodigal son run to his son to forgive him.  This week, Jesus approaches the woman caught in adultery to show her his divine mercy.  As we approach Holy Week, the Lord is calling out to us, inviting us, and imploring us to return to him especially in the sacrament of confession.  This coming weekend is Reconciliation Weekend in the Archdiocese of Miami and there are parishes all over who will be open and filled with priests on Friday night and Saturday morning and afternoon so that we may go to confession.  Christ is reaching out to us as he did to the woman in the gospel.  He does not condemn us.  He wants to forgive us.

One of the striking things about our new Pope is the choice of the name Francis in memory of St. Francis of Assisi.  He admitted yesterday that he chose it because he was told by a brother cardinal upon his election to remember the poor.  But as we contemplate the life of St. Francis of Assisi, we cannot forget the story of how he was praying before the crucifix in San Damiano centuries ago and heard the voice of the Lord tell him clearly from the cross: “Francis, rebuild our church.”  This may very well be the call of our new Holy Father, but in his first homilies, he has already reminded us that the rebuilding of the church must begin in our hearts.  We must embrace the cross of Jesus because there we find true love, and we must be able to seek the Lord’s forgiveness, which he will give to us over and over again because that is how much he loves us.  New hearts=Strong Church!  Approach the Lord in confession these last two weeks of Lent.  Do not be afraid.  Do not let these extraordinary days of grace go by without allowing that grace to transform your heart.  “The Lord never tires of forgiving us, never!  We are the ones who get tired of asking for forgiveness.”

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Day 32: The Poor

Our new Pope continues to challenge us in very direct ways, and this morning he said a statement that challenges the entire church and struck very close to me.  This simple statement is today's meditation, for to explain it would do it injustice.  Read it and let it linger in your heart and mind for the rest of the day to remind us what Christ calls us to be:

"How I would like a church that is poor, and that is for the poor." --Pope Francis I (3/16/13)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Day 31: Us Against the World

Now is the time when things really get serious during the Lenten season.  Now is when those sacrifices, prayers, and works of charity begin to become a chore or a burden.  Now is when we really start to be tempted because the evil one wants to prevent us from celebrating the Easter mysteries in the state of grace.

So now is the time to fortify our hearts, to rededicated ourselves to our Lenten promises, and to embrace the cross of Christ all the more.  Do not get discouraged as the world tries to steer us off path, and as the devil himself tries to knock us down from the rightful place that we occupy near our Lord.  Last night as I went to bed, I read this passage from 1 Peter 5:8-9a: "Stay sober and alert.  Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, solid in your faith."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Day 30: Quo Vado Domini?

It is said that when St. Peter was first threatened with crucifixion in Rome that he fled the city and on his way he encountered the Risen Lord.  Peter asked: "Quo Vado Domini?" (Where are you going, Lord?)  Jesus responded, "To Rome to be crucified again."  Peter mustered up the courage and returned to Rome where he was indeed crucified.  The Lord had told Peter at the end of John's gospel: "...when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. (John 21:18)"

Where are you going Lord?  I, along with many fellow priests, ask this question ourselves when we don't know where the Lord is travelling because where he goes, like Peter, we have to follow.  In the next verse of that passage above, Jesus tells Peter, "Follow me." 

As I witnessed the extraordinary events in the Vatican yesterday as a humble Jesuit cardinal walked out to the loggia and to his people for a blessing, I smiled and kept thinking to myself, "Where are you taking us, Lord?"  The first Latinamerican Pope, the first to be called Francis (my patron saint), and the first Jesuit (even the Jesuits that know me tell me that I'm a Jesuit at heart because I decided to become a priest during the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius).  The cardinals chose a simple Argentinian man to do extraordinary things.  It is said that no one wants the weight of the Papacy, and Pope Francis told the cardinals last night at dinner, "May God forgive you for what you've done."  Remember Jesus told Peter that he would be led to where he did not want to go, but the Spirit pointed to this man at this moment.  He is Peter.  And the throngs of people in the square welcomed him, not because they knew him, but because he was the one chosen by God himself to lead His Church.

So where is the Lord taking us?  Ah, that's the beauty of following Him and allowing the wind in our sails to be guided by the gentle breezes of the Holy Spirit.  We don't know where we are going, but the reason I couldn't stop smiling last night and even this morning, is because of the excitement of knowing that a new day has dawned for the Church and that we are going to be led to new shores.  It is the same smile I had 8 years ago when Benedict XVI appeared on that balcony, and the smile I have now knowing that a good, humble and gentle servant of the Lord is now steering the bark of St. Peter.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Day 29: His Will

"I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me." (John 5:30)

Part of our Lenten journey is to quiet the noise of the world to hear more clearly the voice of God.  Jesus made it quite clear in today's gospel that he sought only to do the will of the Father.  There are distractions all around us (yes, even chimneys in Rome) that can prevent us from doing God's will.  But during Lent, our ears and hearts must be more finely tuned to God's voice who is calling us out of the wilderness and into his loving arms.  May we endeavor each and every day to seek not what we want or our selfish interests, but to seek always the will of a loving God who will always lead us to where we need to be.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Day 28: A Time of Discernment

Our eyes this day will turn towards a chimney erected atop one of the most famous chapels in the world.  Inside under the glorious frescos of Michelangelo and looking up at "The Last Judgment," the College of Cardinals will begin their most solemn duty to elect the next Roman Pontiff.  What you will see today is prayer, prayer, and more prayer.  And once the "extra omnes" is uttered for all except the cardinals to retire and the conclave (literally translated "with key") officially begins, these men from all parts of the world, sinners just like you and me, will begin to cast their votes.  As they do so, they will say the following prayer: "I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected."  They are fully aware of the gravity of their task and rely on our prayers to elect the one chosen by God.

I posted this 5-minute video last week  and don't know how many people actually saw it, but it shows what goes on inside the conclave as told by cardinals who have gone through this process before and share their unique experience.  It is a truly moving video made by Catholic News Services that should remind us that this is not just about tradition and ritual, that this is about discerning the will of God.  May the Holy Spirit guide the College of Cardinals today, and may he prepare the heart of the man who will soon be chosen to walk in the Shoes of the Fisherman.

Inside the Conclave:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-VEm07o9ZU&feature=player_embedded

Day 27: Everybody's Talking

Everyone has an opinion, but opinions don't matter when it comes to the election of a pope.  Yesterday in an aside from my homily, I told the congregation that this week was an extraordinary time to be a Catholic because everyone from the media to co-workers will be talking about Catholicism and the conclave.  Of course, most of the stuff people will be talking about will either be misinformed opinions about our faith or just plain anti-Catholic rhetoric.  This is where I exhorted the people that it falls to each of you to stand up for your faith, to courageously correct those who speak ill of Catholicism, and to hopefully shed light on and evangelize those who have fallen astray.  We are a people of faith guided by the Holy Spirit, for when the new Successor of St. Peter walks out to greet the world our prayers will immediately be offered for him because of the great task that he has received from God himself.  We believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by Christ himself and handed down through the centuries by his apostles and their descendants.  Stand up for your faith this week.  Don't let random critical comments go unanswered or unchallenged.  This is the time for the Church to rise up and unite in prayer for God has given us this time of grace to manifest his glory.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Day 26: Undeserved Forgiveness

because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.” (Luke 15:24)

Every time I have to preach on this gospel, I spend my entire week staring at Rembrandt’s painting that hangs in my office and flipping through my copy of Henri Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” I have preached retreats, missions, and workshops on this parable. I have read the book at least four times and read the parable countless times, yet I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what Jesus want to teach us through this parable. This morning I read a tweet from the Jesuit father James Martin that read: “With the Prodigal Son story Jesus tells us that God is merciful and forgiving even if we don’t deserve it—especially when we don’t [deserve it].” I remember hearing this parable as a kid and being troubled at how grossly unfair it was. Why would the father forgive the prodigal son? I was a kid that still had not come to grasp with the true concept of God’s mercy or because I hadn’t needed God’s mercy in the same way this young man did. As adults, we all empathize with the prodigal son because at one point or another in our lives we’ve been a desperate situation that has required God’s“no questions asked” mercy. 

Yet, even knowing how magnificent our God’s love and mercy are, we still leave home and set off for distant countries and forget our forgiving Father. Father Nouwen writes: “Leaving home is…a denial of the spiritual reality that I belong to God with every part of my being, that God holds me safe in an eternal embrace, that I am indeed carved in the palms of God’s hands and hidden in their shadows.” WE BELONG TO GOD! We so easily forget that and go looking for pleasures and happiness far from our spiritual home. Sometimes we need to hit rock bottom like the prodigal son to realize that we are a child of the Father, that we belong to him, and that, no matter how far we have travelled into the world of sin, we always have a home to return to. Did the prodigal son deserve forgiveness? Of course not! But nobody bothered to ask the forgiving father who RAN to his son, embraced his son, kissed his son, clothed his son with the dignity of being one of his children and ordered a celebration FOR his son. In the eyes of the world this kid should have been treated as his older brother wanted him to be treated, but the eyes of this father only saw his lost son returning home. Who cares what he had done? Who cares what happened to the inheritance? Who cares why he came back? Only one thing mattered to the father: his son was home!

Nouwen continues: “I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love and persist in looking for it elsewhere? Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the Beloved of my Father?” And the thing is that we allow the voices of the world to lure us away from our true home and into sin over and over again. We forget that voice of the Father that says to us as he said to Jesus: “You are my beloved Son upon whom my favor rests.” Lent is a time to rediscover that voice, to remember that we have a Father whose love and mercy knows no ends. We must become the prodigal son and present ourselves to our Father who will come running to embrace us and to restore us to the dignity of the children of God. In today’s gospel, Christ reveals to us the face of this merciful father and invites us to be recreated and to return to being God’s children. As St. Paul says in the second reading, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation, the old things have passed away, behold, new things come.(2 Cor 5:17).” The prodigal son was recreated and the elder son was invited to participate in this new creation. Old things have passed and new things are promised. A celebration is guaranteed! May we leave that distant country where sin persists behind and return home this Lent. May we shut out the voices of the world and listen only to that one loving voice that reminds us over and over again, “You are my beloved son upon whom my favor rests.”
 
 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Day 25: Meat on Friday

Last night, I had dinner with one of my cousins and her family.  Her 8 year old daughter was with us in the restaurant as we scoured the menu for something that didn't have meat on what was a Friday of Lent (not as easy as you think).  My little cousin wanted to have the sliders, which are excellent by the way, but her mother was hesitant because even though she was young and technically didn't have to abide to the abstaining from meat rule until she was 14, she still did not usually eat meat on Fridays.  So my cousin looked at me as if I was the family arbiter in this dilemma, so I looked at her young daughter and simply asked her:  "What's worse?  Eating meat on Friday or treating someone bad?"  Without hesitation she responded, "Treating someone bad."  I turned to my cousin and said, "Let her eat her hamburger."

Children have a way of seeing past the rules and regulations that we govern ourselves with and getting to the heart of the matter.  They have no guile, are still fool of innocence, and say the first thing that pops into their heads. No wonder they have favored status in our Lord's eyes.  We spend our entire adult lives trying to recapture that innocence which leads us right into tomorrow's gospel and homily...stay tuned...

Friday, March 8, 2013

Day 24: Replacing Idols

"I am the Lord your God: hear my voice." (Psalm 81:11)

This morning's readings are all about idoloatry.  We idolize or make gods out of so many things, people or ideologies when our Lord reminds us of the ancient commandment: "The Lord our God is Lord alone!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you mind, and with all your strength."  Lent is a time to cast aside idols and replace those things in our lives that have become gods.  We are so easily led astray by false ideologies or things that promise us to make us happy.  We become obssessed to the point that they become minor gods that prevent us from following or listening to the Lord.  There is only one God.  Listen to his voice!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Day 23: What's the Rush?

There's a great scene in what is probably my father's favorite movie, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," in which Buddy Hacket and Mickey Rooney are in a cab trying to catch Sid Cesar whose in the cab ahead of them.  They tell the cabbie to step on it. The cabbie asks, "What's the rush?" to which Buddy Hacket hilariously responds as only he could, "We're not in a rush.  We just want to get there in a hurry!"

Last Sunday, a gentleman approached me after Mass concerned that the College of Cardinals did not have any urgency to start a conclave and elect a new pope.  I asked if he wanted them to do it fast or to take their time and do it right.  Everyone in Rome right now is in a holding pattern and making up news because, quite frankly, there is no news.  There's only two bits of concrete news that we are going to get before Easter: the date the conclave starts and the identity of the new Pope when he emerges on the loggia of St. Peter's to greet the world.  Everything in between is pure speculation and distraction which is what prompted yesterday's Holy Hour by the Cardinals so extraordinary.  They are very aware of the great responsibility that they have and what they are about to do.  They are in no rush.  They wanted to entrust the Church to the Eucharistic Lord.  They are just now opening their hearts to the Holy Spirit and slowly shutting themselves out from the noise of the world to hear the promptings of the Spirit more clearly.  That is why our prayers must be with them and for them so that they choose a worth successor to St. Peter and say the following prayer often until we meet our new pope:

Prayer for the Election of a New Pope
O God, eternal shepherd,
who govern your flock with unfailing care,
grant in your boundless fatherly love
a pastor for your Church
who will please you by his holiness
and to us show watchful care.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Day 22: The Need for Silence

This past weekend in our parish bulletin, I wrote about, among other things, the need for silence in our church.  I wrote:  "The world is afraid of silence, and sometimes we drag the noise of the world into church with us."  I am blessed to have my office some 25 steps from our Blessed Sacrament Chapel (I know because I just got up from my chair and counted).  This morning the phone wouldn't stop ringing.  The garderners came early to cut the lawn.  And all that happened before I got to my church office.  Things didn't get much better there.  That's when I decided to disconnect. I left my cell phone on my desk and walked those 25 steps to the chapel to just sit there in silence.  Retreat. Refocus. Reset. Refresh.  "Learn to be a lover of silence," a holy Nigerian priest told me last year during a confession.  Those words have resounded in my heart since last summer.  We may not all have the Blessed Sacrament so close to us (but making the effort to visit surely helps), yet we can all have places we go when we need silence.  Someone told me the other day that they go to the bathroom in their place of work to pray.  Others go for a walk.  There is so much noise around us, yet God only speaks to us in silence.  Find that quiet place this Lent, and learn to be a lover of silence.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Day 21: Embracing the Voice

...and when we hear that voice that assures us, "Do not be afraid," and we follow that voice that leads us out of darkness and despair.  We are led to an eternal embrace.   An embrace of mercy that reassures us that we are safe, we are forgiven, we are loved.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Day 20: Learing to Trust

Abraham and Moses against all odds relied solely on God and learned to trust in his divine will.  Through human eyes, their plans were erratic, unconventional, and foolish, but their faith allowed God to work great wonders through them.  He wants to do the same with us.  Why do we find it so difficult to trust God when He, believe it or not, trusts us?  Abandon yourself to His will like our fathers in faith, and surrender to the promptings of the Spirit.  The less we fight God, the happier we will be.

"...we are still awaiting Easter; we are not yet standing in the full light but walking toward it full of trust.”  --Benedict XVI

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Day 19: Lives of Purpose

“Sir, leave [the fig tree] for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:8-9)


Last Sunday, during a very weird Oscars telecast, there was an homage to musicals and the cast of the movie version of Les Misérables came out to do a medley of songs. Before I saw the movie, I had never read Victor Hugo’s novel nor seen the musical on stage, so I went into the movie not knowing most of the plot. The main character, Jean Valjean, captivated me because of his humanity and because of the Christian virtues he exhibits throughout the story. When the story begins in a post-Napoleon, early 19th century France, he is imprisoned for simply stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving family member. He is a man of virtue that becomes hardened in prison. When he is put on probation, he does not check in with his probation officer and begins running from the law and seeks shelter in the church of a kind bishop. The bishop offers him food and shelter. Yet Valjean is a hardened criminal by now and steals some of the treasures in the church and runs off in the middle of the night. The authorities catch him and bring him before the bishop so that he might be charged with theft. The good bishop tells the authorities that he had given the stolen goods to Valjean and in fact he had forgotten two candlesticks. Valjean is taken aback from this unconditional act of mercy. The bishop had looked on him as a child of God and not as a criminal which is what the rest of the world saw. All this takes place in the first 10 minutes and leads Valjean to lead, as my godson would say, “the life of a saint.” Valjean discovers that now his life has purpose because love and mercy had been shown to him.

In the first reading, Moses also is given a purpose. He had forgotten about the Israelites, his kinsmen, who were enslaved in Egypt. He had fled after killing an Egyptian who had mistreated a slave. God appears to him in the burning bush and calls him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses offers every excuse to God to get out of this mission (don’t we do the same?), but eventually does the Lord’s bidding. His life was not to tend his father in law’s sheep, but to allow the Lord to do wondrous things through him.

Each and every one of us has a purpose, a vocation, a mission. As Benedict XVI at the beginning and towards the end of his pontificate reminds us, we are not an accident, an act of randomness, but a child of God lovingly created in his hands. Even the fig tree in today’s gospel has a purpose. It’s a simple purpose: to produce fruit. The owner comes to cut it down because it is not producing. Could you imagine if God dealt with us in the same manner that this owner was going to treat the fig tree? Thankfully, as the psalm reminds us, the Lord is kind of merciful. The gardener in the gospel realizes that this tree still has value if it is properly taken care of. We should tend to our hearts in the same way that the gardener is going to tend to the fig tree. Cultivate love in our hearts so that we may produce fruit for the kingdom of heaven. We must recognize that each and every one of us has a purpose and is loved and cherished by God. What made Moses and Jean Valjean lead virtuous lives was the fact that they had been forgiven and loved in a way that they couldn’t fathom. Today Christ is calling us to repentance and is giving us a second chance this Lent just as the fig tree is given a second chance. What will we do with this generous love and mercy? We must respond to our most basic calling which is to live as sons and daughters of God called to produce fruit by simple acts of love.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Day 18: When God Ran

This morning's gospel is the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Since it's the gospel in two weeks, I just dwelled on five words this morning at Mass: "He ran to his son...(Luke 15:20)."  All we have to do is give God a small opening to our heart, some semblance of repentance, and he will go running to meet us instead of waiting for us to come home.  This is our Lenten journey. It is opening our hearts just a bit to allow our Father to come running towards us to hold us in an eternal embrace.
For the music that inspired the title, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCVvSArfVw0