Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fall in Love

"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37)

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, 
than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. 
What you are in love with, 
what seizes your imagination, 
will affect everything. 
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, 
what you do with your evenings, 
how you spend your weekends, 
what you read, 
whom you know, 
what breaks your heart, 
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. 
Fall in Love, 
stay in love, 
and it will decide everything."
                                        --Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Reflections on the Synod

Didn't preach this week because I was traveling but here is what I wrote in my bulletin this Sunday about the just concluded Extraordinary Synod on the Family and a topic that no one is talking about but is of paramount importance:
This past week, Pope Francis, along with cardinals, bishops, and lay people from around the world, concluded the first part of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Our Holy Father is very aware of what we already know: that the family is the cornerstone of society and if it fails then society fails. As the Synod opened, the Pope said: “The family continues to be the unparalleled school of humanity, an indispensable contribution to a society of justice and solidarity” (Oct. 5, 2014).
One of the main topics that the secular media has focused on is the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Obviously, what we believe about this sacred union is not what society at large believes about marriage. The Synod participants sought to strengthen Christian marriage in an effort to strengthen the Christian family. In order for this to happen, solid preparation for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is paramount. In the summary of the 8th general congregation that took place on October 10th, which is a summary of what was discussed during that particular meeting, the Vatican Press Office released this statement:
The Assembly reiterated the importance of adequate preparation for marriage, as its celebration seems to be increasingly reduced to the social and legal status, rather than a religious and spiritual bond. The preparatory course, it was noted, is often perceived by couples as an imposition, a task to complete without conviction, and as a result it is too brief. Since marriage is a vocation for life, preparation for it should be long and detailed, as in the case of preparation for religious life. It was also shown that, among couples, there is a frequent lack of awareness of the sacramental value of the marriage bond, so much so that the celebration of the marriage rite, it was said, is not automatically the celebration of the marriage sacrament.
I can testify to the lack of preparation and disinterest that some couples show when requesting to receive this Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, as can my brother priests and deacons here at Immaculate. While none of the discussions held so far in the Synod are final until the Pope publishes its conclusions in an Apostolic Exhortation late next year or in early 2016, what the statement above proves is that our bishops are very aware that we need to do more to prepare young couples for Holy Matrimony to build stronger Christian families. Couples need to see this sacrament and its preparation for it as a gift and not an imposition. Couples need to have the conviction that marriage is a vocation and not merely a choice of a spouse. They need to see their spouse as someone who God himself chose for them to enrich their life and to help them achieve salvation. I always say that the stronger our marriages, the stronger our families because the love that a married couple shares, which is rooted in Jesus Christ, will be transmitted to their children creating a family modeled after the Holy Family.

As we celebrate World Mission Sunday today, may we make it the mission of this parish to support our families who are being fragmented by a secular world. May we support families who for whatever reason only have one parent or guardian, but above all, may we embrace everyone who is part of God’s family: the body of Christ. Please continue to pray for our bishops as they continue to deliberate the results of this Synod, which will conclude next year, and continue to pray for all our families in our parish so that we may be shining examples to the world of the love of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dressed For the Party

“But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.” (Matthew 22:11)

There is so much going on in the parable in today’s gospel.  Our Father is the king, and he throws the great wedding feast for his son, Jesus.  If there is a wedding than there has to be a bride.  Christ’s bride is his Church: each and every one of us.  But let’s go back a bit and go deeper into this parable.  When the king makes his initial invitation to the wedding feast, the invited guests reject his invitation.  This is similar to last week’s gospel where the workers rejected the servants of the vineyard owner and beat up and killed some of those that were sent.  In both parables, the workers and the invited guests who reject the servants represent Israel who throughout the Old Testament rejected God’s prophets.  Now the king later on sends his servants out to invite everyone much like Christ sent the apostles “to all nations” to preach the Good News and to invite them to come to the feast: the Eucharist.

Yet once again, there is an element of unfairness, at least from a human perspective, at the end of the gospel.  The king wanted guests for his son’s wedding feast and guests he received!  The hall was full, but there was one man who was not dressed for the occasion.  There was one that was not in a wedding garment.  If the king wanted everyone there, why did he have this man thrown out?  Many are invited, but few are chosen, Jesus tells us at the end of the gospel.  The wedding garment is like our baptismal garment that we receive at baptism.  It symbolizes the purity that we receive through that first sacrament.  Obviously, we grow out of that garment, but we still wear a spiritual garment that is as pure as Christ himself.  But as we grow up and begin to fall into the trap of sin, the spiritual garment starts to get stained.  When we commit mortal sin, our garment is not fit for the feast that we celebrate every Sunday here in Mass, and thus we refrain (and if we don’t, we should refrain) from receiving Holy Communion which is greater than all the food we hear about in today’s readings.  But isn’t it wonderful that we can wash our spiritual garment in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?  I told my Spanish Mass this morning that I have the best Dry Cleaning and Laundry Service in town right here to the right of the sanctuary in our confessionals.  We walk in there stained and burdened by our sins, and we walk out as clean and as pure as the day we were baptized.  What a gift we have in this holy sacrament where Jesus through his Divine Mercy makes us worthy to partake in his Father’s feast.  What love the Father has for us that he allows us to return time and time again to receive absolution.  The alternative would be to be tossed out like the man in the gospel.

I know that there are many who carry the great burden of sin on their shoulders and perhaps walk into this beautiful temple with their spiritual garment not suitable for the feast that we partake in.  God wants everyone to partake in this banquet.  It’s time to cleanse our garments.  It’s time to accept the King’s invitation.   It’s time to rid ourselves of our sins through confession and realize that we have been both invited and chosen to partake in the great wedding feast of our Lord and Savior.  When was the last time you went to confession?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

You Are God's Masterpiece

“…whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

We all got up with a little spring in our step this morning because we felt the first chill in the air of autumn.  Sure, the temperature only made it down to 70, but as South Floridians that’s a big deal.  I walked out the door of my house and saw our beautiful church lit up by the morning sun against a bright blue backdrop of a sky and some wispy clouds off in the back.  What a sight!  Immediately I thanked God for the gift of the new day, for making each sunrise different, and for personally creating this particular Sunday morning.  His day.  The Lord’s Day.

God did the same with each of us when we were created. He did it so lovingly, so carefully, so uniquely.  We were each created with a purpose.  In today’s bulletin I wrote that we were all traced by the very finger of God himself.  Since God is the master artist then we are each nothing less than a masterpiece.  Pope Francis said so himself in comments during last year’s Day of Life:  "even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God's creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the upmost reverence and respect."

Yet the world rejects so many of God’s children like they rejected all those sent into the vineyard in today’s gospel, not realizing that each servant that the owner sent was sent by God himself.  So many times we fail to realize that we are all part of God's vineyard and we are each an important vine.   Each person has a role to play in God’s plan.  But listen to the last three words the Holy Father uses: “respect and reverence.”  We are to treat the outcasts of society with reverence.  This is a word that we normally associate with the sacred.  We are reverent when we walk into Church or in the presence of an important figure, but to be reverent to a homeless person, an Ebola patient, an undocumented immigrant, a dying old person, or the unborn?  That’s not the word we usually use.  Society would rather forget all those people mentioned above.  Case in point:  In Oregon two years, ago, a retired bus driver had a recurrence of lung cancer.  Her oncologist suggested that she be given an experimental drug that would give her a 45% chance of being alive in a year.  “The State of Oregon denied this treatment stating that her prognosis wasn’t good enough to warrant expensive medication to treat her cancer. Yet in the same letter denying coverage for her medication, the State offered full coverage (100%) for her assisted suicide.” (2012 Respect Life Program, “Life Matters: Doctor-Assisted Death by Suicide”; USCCB website) In our own country, we are throwing the elderly and the sick to the side and PAYING for them to kill themselves so that they would be less of a burden on society.

We have become no better than the people in the gospel that beat and reject God's servants.  We are called to defend the most vulnerable among us especially the elderly and the unborn (over 50 million lost young lives since 1973, 5 times the number of people killed in the holocaust).  On this Respect Life Sunday, we must recognize that we are all “masterpieces of God’s creation” because if we did, we would see each other with the eyes of God as brothers and sisters that are meant to be treasured, not rejected and discarded as the world so callously does.  And as a masterpiece, we are called to sing the praises of our Creator at every moment and denounce the culture of death around us.  Those silent, rejected voices have so much to teach us, particularly the elderly as Pope Francis reminds us.  May we rise up as a Church and protect those voices, protect God’s creation.  To discard one of His masterpieces would be akin to burning the Sistine Chapel, except the Sistine Chapel was not made by the loving hand of God.