Sunday, December 28, 2014


“…they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”  (Luke 2:39-40)

Sometimes lost in the immense shadows of St. John Paul II and St. John the XXIII is the remarkable pope that served between them:  Blessed Paul VI.  Pope Paul continued the trajectory of the Second Vatican Council, wrote extensively on the New Evangelization, and 50 years ago became the first pope to visit the Holy Land.  I used this following text two years ago in my homily for the feast of the Holy Family, but in light of the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family, I think it is worth revisiting.  At Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, Blessed Paul VI gave this beautiful teaching on the mystery of the life of the Holy Family that is even quoted in our Catechism:

The home of Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus - the school of the Gospel. First, then, a lesson of silence. May esteem for silence, that admirable and indispensable condition of mind, revive in us. . . A lesson on family life. May Nazareth teach us what family life is, its communion of love, its austere and simple beauty, and its sacred and inviolable character... A lesson of work. Nazareth, home of the "Carpenter's Son", in you I would choose to understand and proclaim the severe and redeeming law of human work.  (CC 533)

We must learn from the school of Nazareth and learn from the holiness exhibited by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph who through their holiness sanctify all families.  Family is supposed to be about communion, about seeking God first above all things, about helping your spouse and your children achieve salvation, and being living witnesses of Christ’s love to the entire world.  This is why Pope Francis this morning called on every family to be like the Holy Family and to center their lives on Jesus.  The beauty of family comes from having Jesus at the center, but if Jesus is removed from the center….we simply crumble when trouble arises, and what family doesn’t encounter trouble?  Mary and Joseph did when they had to flee Herod and take Jesus into exile and then again when they lost Jesus in the temple.  No matter what storms arise, Jesus was always the focus, always the center.

Unfortunately, all too often Jesus is not the center of family life.  Children pick up on this.  It always amazes me how much children do pick up from their parents’ religious practices or lack there of.  A lot of parents make the excuse, and a poor one at that, that they don’t bring their kids to Mass because they cause to much fuss, because of the looks on people’s faces when their child cries, and because it is a chore.  Listen, I was as rambunctious as they came when my parents took me to Mass, and I was the oldest of three small children.  Every week my parents brought the three of us to church, NO CRY ROOMS!, and I  would talk, move around, and cause headaches for my poor mother, but hey, no big deal, I just ended becoming a priest.  When I was a child, I picked up on the fact that when we walked into a church, we were entering the house of God and that I had to be quiet lest I get an elbow from my mother or father.  I picked up on how to do simple things from observing my parents like the sign of the cross, wanting to recite the Creed entirely without help just to impress them, and eventually by the time I turned 5 asking why I couldn’t receive Communion.  The holy witness of parents is so important to children.  I see it when I sit up in that chair and gaze out at young families and see how the children behave.  Those parents are living the school of Nazareth in their homes and cementing those lessons by making time for Mass each week by bringing their little ones to church.

The example from parents obviously goes beyond the hour a week we spend in Mass.  In everything we do, our children need to see holy mothers and fathers like Mary and Joseph.  Our families must be modeled after the Holy Family because the world so desperately needs it.  Our children need a mother and a father just like Jesus needed Mary and Joseph.  Yes, I know that what I just said is extraordinarily politically incorrect, but I am not a politician, I am a priest.  And I know that there are heroic single mothers and fathers out there that through no fault of their own, or through poor choices, are doing amazing things in raising their children.  The Church walks with you and I walk with you because my oldest nephew is the child of single parents.  It doesn’t make him any more or any less extraordinary than what he already is because as Pope Francis told parents of large families this morning: “each of your children was wanted by God.”

But make no mistake, marriage, the sacrament of HOLY Matrimony, is the key.  We need young couples to embrace this sacrament as the vocation that it is in order to build up holy families.  Yet so many young people don’t even bother to get married.  They start living together for economic reasons or reasons of convenience or because marriage “is just a piece of paper.”  When they do decide to get married, I sometimes wonder: “what is changing?”  Yet, ever the optimist, I always pray that the grace of the sacrament does change them and propel them down the path to holiness.  However marriage remains a stumbling block to so many, the “M” word, and to those young people, Pope Francis offered this challenge last year: 

Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion. Is it out of fashion? In a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘for ever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage ‘to swim against the tide’. And also have the courage to be happy. (7/29/2013 at World Youth Day in Rio)

The Church wants all her children to be happy, but she is saddened when families are broken because they did not keep Christ as the center of their lives or because they opted for convenience and what they thought would make them happy when true joy only is found in Christ.  And to this equation of the family, our Holy Father pointed out twice this morning the importance of grandparents who pass on wisdom to their children who are now parents and to their grandchildren. We must cherish every second we spend with grandparents.   Trust me, mine are in heaven.

So we return to the school of Nazareth to gather the tools and learn the lessons we need to be holy families.  We learn that Jesus must be the center.  We learn the importance of mothers and fathers.  We learn that the love of mommy and daddy is so important especially when it is blessed and consecrated by the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  We learn that we must pray as a family, play as a family, and shut the world out sometimes.  Remember that the first thing that Blessed Paul VI pointed out was the need for silence.  So often our kids are so transfixed by video games, computers, phones and other modern contraptions that they don’t know how to sit down quietly to do something as simple as having dinner with the family.  And there it is.  The family is nurtured not only at this table where we receive the Eucharist, but it is nurtured and strengthened when we gather to eat at our dining room tables as a family at home.  Learn the lessons of Nazareth.  Dare to be holy.  Dare to be missionaries be making your family holy.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Born Humble

“For today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

As we gather for Midnight Mass, there is always a sharp contrast between darkness and light.  The first reading from Isaiah reminds us that God’s people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.  Behold, say the angels, this light is born for us this day.  We too walk through the darkness of this night towards our beautiful church with its tall steeple lighting up the night sky.  We walk with the shepherds towards the manger to behold this marvelous event.  God humbles himself and becomes a child.

It is always striking when we hear the story of the birth of Christ that this King was born in such poverty.  We hear the name of the Roman emperor at the very beginning of tonight’s gospel.  The very name of the emperor carried authority and power and fear.  He ordered the mighty Roman army to conquer foreign lands and to defend his territories.  And yet in a small hamlet, in the poorest of conditions, another King is born.  He too brings an army but a celestial one.  We hear of the host of angels that go out into the countryside to announce his birth.  Jesus is born without any trappings of power or riches or prestige.  The powerful did not visit him this day:  only the shepherds who like this child were very poor as well.

And this is the lesson of this encounter between God and humanity: we must be humble to recognize and embrace this child.   A powerful person, a person whose ego is bigger than them, a person that carries their head a bit too high looking down on others cannot possibly recognize this Christ child.  Is it any wonder the when you enter the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem that you have to bend and lower your head to fit through the small door?  We can only encounter this newborn King in our lowliness, in our poverty, in our humility.  God has dared to become human so that we can embrace him, touch him, hear him and fall in love with him. 

Yet humility is so difficult for us to grasp.  Pope Francis in his Midnight Mass homily asked:  “How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close?”  The pompous and the arrogant cannot possibly know who this Jesus is.  How many times in this very church have we given off an air of superiority because we’ve been here for decades and look down on those who just got here?  This is not Christian.  This has no place in the Church as the Pope reminded those who worked with him earlier this week that we could not have any airs of power or arrogance in us if we are to relay the Christian message effectively.  We have to be meek and humble like the Christ Child.

It is becoming humble that we are able not only to love God as he deserves but able to love others particularly the poor.  “How much the world needs tenderness today!” the Pope lamented.  We gaze on the tenderness of Mary with her newborn baby and learn from her example.  We learn from the humility of Joseph who put his pride aside to take Mary and this child into his home and cared for them.  We must be small like our Lord.  The Holy Father concludes: “When we realize that God is in love with our smallness, that he made himself small in order to better encounter us, we cannot help but open our hearts to him, and beseech him: Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict.”

We gather as one family tonight to adore this newborn King.  We gather and marvel at his smallness and ask him to make us small and humble like him so that we can love and allow ourselves to be loved like him.  Cast off the darkness of pride and ego and embrace the light of meekness, tenderness and humility this night.  Allow yourself to be loved by God in your smallness.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

She Said Yes!

“I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38)

Over the last few days, I've been seeing a lot of friends and many former students getting engaged to be married. I literally had three within a 36-hour span and more to come as is the case with Christmas and New Year’s.  Often I will see pictures on social media with the caption "She said yes!"  I've never had to get down on one knee to propose, but I can imagine how nerve wracking it must be.  “What if she says no?” I’m sure prospective grooms ask themselves. As we rapidly approach Christmas, we ponder today the most important "yes" ever given in human history: Mary's yes to God!

Mary becomes a dwelling place for the Almighty when she accepted God’s proposal.  God’s dwelling place is at the center of today’s readings and of our celebrations in the last days of Advent.  In the first reading, David is concerned because he is living in a great house yet the ark of God, where Israel believed that God’s presence dwelled was still in a tent.  Yet God was not concerned about a physical house for Him but rather establishing and blessing the house of David, in other words, his lineage:  “your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.“ (2 Samuel 7:16)  God also reminds David that He has been with David and His favor rests on him.  This prophecy is fulfilled in today’s gospel, and this presence and favor now rest on the Virgin Mary.  The angel Gabriel tells Mary that her son will receive the throne of David his father and of his kingdom there will be no end.  The God who dwelled in the Ark of the Covenant where the Ten Commandments were kept is now seeking to dwell in the ark of the New Covenant: Mary.  The Blessed Mother is able to say yes, obviously because she is without sin, but also because the favor of God is with her.  There is nothing in her heart that prevents her from saying yes to God.  She puts no conditions.  She offers no reservations.  She abandons herself completely to God’s will.  God comes knocking on the door of her Immaculate Heart and she humbly allows Him to dwell there.

During these final days of Advent in Mexico and in many Latin American countries, these days are marked by “Las Posadas” which re-enact what Mary and Joseph had to go through in order to find a place for them to dwell so that Jesus may be born.  Time and again they went looking for a dwelling place but were rejected.  How many times have we rejected God when he comes knocking at the door of our hearts?  Too many times like those innkeepers we reject the Lord because we don’t have room for him.  What is taking up room?  It is usually sin.  This is why we have four shopping days left to get rid of whatever is preventing Jesus from completely dwelling in our hearts this Christmas.  Here in this church we have confessions this Tuesday night so that we may greet the Lord with open hearts on Christmas Eve.  Yet we offer excuses as to why we don’t go to confession.  We don’t want Christ to change our lives like he changed the lives of Mary and Joseph.  But look at the Blessed Mother:  “fear not” she was told!  What do we have to fear if it comes from the Lord?  Couples that are ready to get married probably have some fear and some doubts as they take the giant leap towards holy matrimony, but if they abandon themselves to God’s will and follow the example of the Virgin Mary and allow God and his will, not ours, to be done, then there is nothing to fear.  When God calls we will always say yes!

So, as Advent rapidly comes to a close, are we ready, like Mary, to say yes to God and prepare a worthy dwelling place for him in our hearts?  We are the Church, Christ’s bride, and he is our bridegroom.  When he comes this Christmas and offer to change our lives, will we say yes?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Rejoice Even When You Don't Feel Joy

"Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thes 5:16

There are so many that find this time of year so very difficult because of loss, loneliness, illness that they can't muster up genuine joy as we rapidly approach Christmas. On this Sunday of joy, we are called to rejoice because our salvation is at hand.  Even through dark times, we are called to be joyful. We are called to find beauty amidst the darkness because we never know when Christ sends a neighbor to bring us his joy.

One of my seminary classmates used to say that you could find a homily anywhere, so here goes:  Yesterday I was sitting on the Dolphin's plane ready to take off and not in the best of moods when out of nowhere former Dolphin great Kim Bokamper handed me his phone.  Kim and I have a cordial relationship but nowhere near as close as I have with other coaches, staff and players so I was surprised at his insistence that I see a video on his phone.  I'm not going to explain the video because it is linked below and it speaks for itself about finding beauty in the most improbable of places and to cherish those moments of joy and those who hand them to you out of nowhere:

Jesus is indeed the joy of man’s desire.  Spread his joy as we approach Christmas.  Don’t let any darkness consume you.  Pray without ceasing, give thanks, and spread the joy of this homily and this video to others…

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.