Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Beginning

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

“Comfort, give comfort to my people.” (Isaiah 40:1)

It is a singular and undeserved honor to be installed today as the 7th pastor of Immaculate Conception, this great parish rich with 60 years of tradition.  I thank my former seminary classmate both as students and as priests, Father Jose Alvarez, who is now my dean, for representing Archbishop Wenski at this installation, and I also want to thank the Archbishop for having the faith and confidence in me to lead this community in what I hope will be many years to come.  I know this great honor is bestowed upon me in the wake of my brother being called home to the Father.  One of the first decisions we made as a family was for me to proceed with this Mass for the good of our family and for the good of our Church, for the Christian does not hide in the face of death, but rather must witness to the whole world the power of our faith and be authentic witnesses of the resurrection.  So today my family celebrates because we are convinced that my brother is celebrating with us and with our Lord in heaven and definitely having a better time.

It is providential that I assume the responsibilities of pastor on the vigil of our patroness, the Immaculate Conception, and on the Second Sunday of Advent where the readings talk about beginnings.  During Advent, the Church seeks to lead us back to Jesus Christ, and so goes my ministry as pastor to lead each of you to a personal and genuine encounter with our Savior.  The first words of the prophet Isaiah resound in my heart this day in which the Lord says, “Comfort, give comfort to my people.”  What else is a pastor to do?  In the person of the priest, the people of God should find genuine comfort as if receiving it from Christ himself whether it be nourishment in the Eucharist, mercy in Confession, healing in Anointing, or seeking spiritual guidance.  In this sacred place, we must always find comfort particularly from our priests who are called just like John the Baptist to “go up on to a high mountain [and] cry out at the top of your voice,” for our preaching every Sunday should set your hearts on fire to go to preach Christ from your mountains at the top of your voices.  The words that hear in the first reading are words that the Virgin Mary will hear in tomorrow’s gospel: “Fear not!”  As St. John Paul II reminded us over and over again during his pontificate, do not be afraid to open your hearts to Jesus Christ.

The words of the first reading come to the people of Israel as they are liberated from exile.  These words usher in a new beginning in their relationship with their God.  This theme of beginning is carried over in the gospel as we read from the first chapter of Mark.  He is about to proclaim the gospel, the Good News, of Jesus Christ the Son of God.  This begins with the proclamation of John the Baptist who, like all things during this Advent season, points to Jesus.  Last Monday, Pope Francis laid out a plan for each of us during Advent: "We ask the Lord, in this Advent season, to bring us nearer to his mystery and to do so the way that He wants us to do: the way of humility, the way of meekness, the way of poverty, the road where we feel sin. So that he can come to save us, to free us. May the Lord give us this grace. "

It is from this place of humility, meekness, and poverty that I am called to serve each of you.  It is by washing your feet, preaching to you, feeding you, crying with you, laughing with you, dancing with you, walking with you, playing with you, praying with you, and being with you that I authentically become your pastor, for as the Holy Father tells us:  the pastor must smell like his sheep.  I am challenged this day and every day to make this Jesus we hear about real to each of you and to each of the souls entrusted to my care within this great city who never enter this Church and who do not know who Jesus is.  Now is the time to share this Good News.  Now is the time for you to help me in proclaiming that Jesus is Lord.  This time of Advent when we place our nativity scenes outside our homes is the perfect time for people to recognize, accept, and proclaim this Jesus that has entered into our lives.  We can’t sit idly by as the world turns and not proclaim this message.  As my 7th grade students are found of saying: “y’all need Jesus!”  We need to be a parish that goes outside our comfort zone to proclaim Christ.  We need to give genuine witness in our homes, in our schools, everywhere of the presence of Christ in our lives.

Advent is indeed a time of new beginnings.  It is a time in which we rediscover the joy of knowing Jesus Christ.  And like John the Baptist and the Blessed Mother, I am called to be in everything I do and say, a humble servant who points you in the direction of Christ and says, “He is mightier than I.”  His might delivers us from evil and brings us a joy that we are compelled to share with the world.  It is a joy that I hope I share with you, my parish family, every single day.

Recognize this Jesus.  Accept this Jesus.  Proclaim this Jesus.  May our Blessed Mother who was the first to accept this Divine Word, guide us as a parish community.  To her maternal care and protection I entrust my ministry as your pastor so that she may always lead me and lead us to the heart of her Son, Jesus Christ.