Sunday, November 30, 2014

Father, Help Us

"You, LORD, are our father...Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you..." (Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7)

Advent quietly begins in our Church this weekend as the world noisily prepares for Christmas. The altar is modestly decorated with the advent wreath and shades of purple to remind us that this is a penitential season in which we slowly build up towards the great Feast of the Nativity. We aren't as glamorously decorated like shopping malls because as a Church we first have to strip everything bare and get rid of all the clutter in our hearts to make way for the coming of our Savior. The decorations will slowly build as we grow closer to Christmas as will our hearts as we listen to the words of Isaiah and John the Baptist who urge us to prepare for the Messiah.  Today, it is Isaiah who voices the desire of the people of Israel who long for a Savior.  That longing might as well be each one of us as we look around us and see how much our world needs Jesus Christ.

Let's break down that beautiful first reading which is a cry from the Israelites who recognize their sinfulness and their need for help from above:

You, LORD, are our father
They begin correctly by recognizing their God as Father which makes them His children.  We turn to our fathers in times of need, when we need protection, deliverance, and comfort.  Calling God Father also reminds us that in his eyes we are still children trying to find our way back to him and that we constantly need his guidance.

Return for the sake of your servants...
Now comes the cry for deliverance.  This is the cry of a desperate people who have been knocked down and defeated over and over again.  This is a people that looks at the world around them and realizes that there only hope can come from heaven.  Many of us have probably had a difficult year, a year that we would rather just forget, because of different problems that have overwhelmed us from every side.  We feel like the world is trying to bring us down, but in the distance we see that one sign of hope, that tiny flickering light that much like that first lit candle of advent reminds us that Christ will indeed come to save us.  He will pull us out of the quagmire of the world and lift us on his shoulders as a shepherd would do with the tiniest of his lambs.  So many of us feel so burdened by our every day problems that we should, in fact, we must take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is coming.

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you,
Israel wanted the Messiah to come like a mighty warrior with fear and trembling and with powerful deeds to make his presence known.  But that is not how Jesus entered our world.  He came in the silence of a manger in Bethlehem.  God's will usually runs contrary to our own, for he always surprises us and brings not only what we hope for, but so much more than we could possibly imagine.

Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.
The cry of the people comes full circle as they once again call God their Father, but now they use the beautiful image of the clay and the potter.  If we do indeed want true deliverance, then we must totally surrender to the hands of our God who like a potter would mold and fashion us into the image of Christ. This is why Jesus comes into the world: to teach us how to be human, to restore what we had lost to sin, and to restore the dignity we have in being created in God's image and likeness.  One of the prefaces of the Mass during Ordinary Time asks the Father to see and love in us what he sees and loves in his Son, Jesus Christ.  The Father sends his Son not only to rescue us, but to make us like him, to give us a share in his divinity and to make us shine as brightly as the Christmas star.

"Watch!" our Lord tells us in the gospel.  So many years we fall in the trap of letting advent go by and not being fully prepared for the Messiah when Christmas comes.  May we start today by surrendering totally to our Father in heaven who has heard the plea of his people and is ready to "deliver us from evil" through a child, his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

100 Thanks 2014

As is my tradition every Thanksgiving, I write down the 100 things that I am thankful for.
Happy Thanksgiving!

100 Thanks 2014

1.     My brother
2.     My brother's heart
3.     My brother's heroism
4.     My brother's charm
5.     My brother's smile
6.     My brother's laugh
7.     My brother's reckless abandon
8.     My brother's comrades and friends
9.     My brother's son
10.  My brother's life
11.  My mother's faith
12.  My father's peace
13.  My sister's strength
14.  My brother in law's courage
15.  My best friends' presence
16.  My family's resilient spirit
17.  My brother priests holding me up
18.  My faith in the eternal
19.  All of my friends' prayers
20.  Honor guards
21.  Fire trucks
22.  The American flag
23.  Happy Memories
24.  Crazy Memories
25.  Peace
26.  "What's Next?"
27.  Quiet time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament
28.  Celebrating the Eucharist
29.  Confession and Absolution
30.  My new parish
31.  My new parochial school
32.  Having students again
33.  Hearing "Fader Manny, Fader Manny" from tiny voices again
34.  Having Friday School Masses again
35.  Giving this Thanksgiving List assignment again ("Seriously, Father? 100?")
36.  Reading what 13 year olds give thanks for
37.  Friday Recess Kickball and Football Games
38.  Teachers: Brilliant, Creative, and Selfless Teachers
39.  Parents who trust teachers
40.  Carnivals
41.  Tailgating at the carnival
42.  My staff
43.  Memories from my last parish
44.  Good Friday Processions
45.  Griterias and taking it to the streets
46.  Overflowing Noon Masses
47.  Monday nights
48.  Sunday Night Dinners at Latin
49.  Christmas Eve with the cousins
50.  The Peace of San Damiano and Assisi
51.  St. Peter's Square at night
52.  Mass near St. Peter's Tomb
53.  Il Duomo
54.  Gelato in Padua
55.  The Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua
56.  St. Mark's Square in Venice
57.  The steps of St. Paul's
58.  The unexpected joys of London
59.  Football Football Football
60.  Our Dolphins
61.  Our Head Coach
62.  Pacing the sidelines nervously during close games
63.  Post game prayer
64.  Victory Mondays
65.  Wade County
66.  4 straight Junes of joy
67.  The crack of Giancarlo's bat
68.  The pop of Jose's fastball
69.  The fact that I don't have to pay either of them
70.  Seeing Derek Jeter play one last time
71.  New York City with my father
72.  Central Park, Little Italy, Washington and Union Squares with the Little Girl
73.  Captiva
74.  Fishing from the shore
75.  Key Biscayne
76.  Fishing in quiet places
77.  Staycations
78.  Keyrats
79.  Random texts and group conversations with Keyrats scattered all over the world
80.  Many mothers
81.  Families in Broward
82.  Weddings in Coral Gables (and with couple that actually "get it")
83.  Our beautiful bell tower
84.  Old stories from our founding parishioners
85.  My regularly scheduled Monday afternoon phone call
86.  My nephews
87.  Playing video games with my nephews
88.  Refusing to grow up (I'm not 40 yet!)
89.  My godchildren
90.  Dinners with old friends
91.  Friends that keep me grounded
92.  Those precious few moments of silence after receiving Communion
93.  The exhilaration of preaching a Sunday homily
94.  The joy of absolving a penitent in confession
95.  Being able to anoint and commend a soul on their way home to the Father
96.  Being loved and forgiven unconditionally by our God
97.  Transmitting that love and forgiveness to others
98.  Being trusted with so much while deserving so little
99.  Striving each day to reach what seems to be, but isn't, the unattainable gift of holiness

100.        Writing this list on the Dolphins Charter at 30,000 feet and being so very close to my little brother

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Heart of My Brother

(I delivered this homily on November 19, 2014 at the Funeral Mass of my dear brother, Danny.)

Sebastian, all these people are here because they love your father.  And why do they love your father?  Well…because he was Danny!  Danny would own a room the moment he walked in.  He would flash his million-dollar smile and the party would begin.  We are here because we loved Danny, and we are here, Sebastian to thank God for the gift of your father?

Yes Danny would do things that would infuriate us at times, but we know that inside that big firefighter was a heart that could only have been created by God himself. A heart where the seed of faith was planted by my parents:  the same seed that they planted in my sister and me.  Growing up, Jesus Christ was the center of our home.  We would pray intensely before every meal.  We were taught the meaning of love of neighbor.  We were taught to love God and country since our parents and grandparent fled their own country so they could raise us in a free land.  We were taught to open our hearts to the poor, to the less fortunate, to the stranger.  Many people have always pointed out how different Danny the firefighter and his brother the priest are.  I have said this many times and my own mother can confirm this, but my brother has a heart that is bigger than mine.  It was a heart that even this priest envied.  It was a heart that was raised in a loving home by two extraordinary parents who raised their three children exactly the same way.  It was a home where three vocations of service were nurtured:  a priest, a sign language interpreter, and a firefighter.  My mother prided herself in telling anyone who asked that each of her children served the Lord in their own way because in our kitchen was a sign that displayed the Old Testament verse, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).”  It was a home that was consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary that allowed each of us to answer God’s call and to utter in different ways: “Be it done to me according to thy word (Luke 1:38).”  But it was my brother’s heart that was the biggest, and it impacted so many lives especially those he served in the line of duty as a firefighter. 

My brother rarely talked or bragged about the heroism he displayed every day that he put on the uniform of a City of Miami Firefighter.  But over the last few days, his brother firefighters have shared with me stories that show me and show my parents that the seeds of faith that they planted bloomed beautifully when he served the people of Miami.  Not long ago, he showed a young firefighter what compassion was all about.  This young firefighter wrote this to my brother on Saturday night:  “I remember a homeless guy at 3am covered in urine and smelling awful with no real 911 emergency—we knew he just wanted out of the rain.  You treated that man like he was an old friend.  Talking to him kindly and being warm with him even though we were near our 20th call of the tour.  When we left him at [Jackson], I watched you shake his hand.  And the man thanked you. Your reply was to thank him for the “conversation” you shared in back of the rescue.  I will remember you Danny as will so many others for being a good man with a good heart.”

This was my brother.  He may not have gone to church every Sunday, but he lived the Gospel of Jesus Christ during every shift and every tour.  He loved his vocation with reckless abandon.  I’ll never forget his graduation from the academy when he scaled the ten story training building in Coconut Grove and came down headfirst!  It was with that same reckless abandon that he played football (I still remember a game when he proudly wore the Columbus uniform in which he dislocated his finger, sat out one play, popped it back in, ran back on the field, only to break his finger on the next play…my brother!) But in the firefighter’s uniform, he exemplified what it meant to be a firefighter and a Christian.  This is what our parents taught us and this is the legacy of service he leaves behind to all of his brothers who wear the uniform throughout South Florida in so many departments.  May the Good Lord and St. Florian, the patron of firefighters, always protect you all.

Yet we gather this morning with a void in our hearts.  It is a void that can only be filled by Jesus Christ and his merciful love.  A wise nun told my mother on Saturday that the mercy of God is far greater than the justice of God.  So we gather to pray for my brother and the repose of his soul comforted by the words we just heard from St. John:  “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).”  This is what our family spiritual director told us with firm conviction on that awful Saturday morning:  “Now your brother is being embraced by God our Father with the unconditional love that he has for all of us.  And now he sees all the Truth that he did not see before.”  This is the same priest that baptized my brother in the waters of eternal life 35 years ago and who sprinkled him with those same waters this morning.  And yesterday I reminded my mother who kept repeating that her son was now an angel, I said, “Mom, as Christians we don’t aspire to be angels, we aspire to be saints,” for the saints are the ones who are blessed to behold the magnificent face of our Father in heaven.

My friends, our Savior tells us “do not let your hearts be troubled…In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”  We pray that Danny enter the dwelling place that Jesus has prepared for him: for he died for him, loved him and blessed that incredible heart of my brother in this life.

His was a heart that loved his son more than words can express, and now we need to shower my nephew with the same love of Jesus.  Sebastian, who is the greatest gift that Danny gave our family, inherited the heart of his father and along with his mother we need to nurture, protect and fill that heart with unconditional love.

And now all of us who grieve lean on the Merciful Heart of Our Lord for consolation and strength.  We look to Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Only with faith can we overcome this trial.  Only by following the example of Mary who also had to bury a Son can we persevere through any dark hour.  But we lean on Lord in this month of thanksgiving, to thank Him for the gift of Danny, for the gift of his smile, for the gift of his good looks, his charisma, his charm, his strength, his grit, his determination, his service, and most of all for that amazing heart of his.  Thank you Lord Jesus!  Thank you Lord Jesus! Thank you Lord Jesus, for the gift of my brother.

Rest well, little brother.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.