Saturday, February 28, 2015

Day 11: Real Spiritual Protection

This morning I celebrated "First Communion Enrollment" with our children who are going to receive their First Holy Communion next year.  It is a nice ceremony in which they and their parents promise to better prepare for the Sacrament, come to Mass every Sunday, pray at home, and practice their faith more openly.  Towards the end of the ceremony, each child came up to receive from me a memento from this day.  It was a bookmark with the "Anima Christi" prayer that you can recite below.  Many people still recite it after receiving the Eucharist.  Now as the children were coming up to me, I noticed that they had their little necklaces with a small crucifix or medal of the Virgin Mary, but on many of them, right next to the Lord or Our Lady was a small black onyx rock called an "azabache." This rock is used by many  as a form of "spiritual protection" and they particularly put on children starting when they are newborns.  Now there are many origins to where this comes from.  In the Cuban culture it is quite prevalent as it is tied to SanterĂ­a.  Obviously, this goes against our faith, so I addressed the parents about there curious choice of jewelry for the children who were preparing to receive the Lord and quite simply told them: "Children, I know your parents aren't going to like what I'm about to tell you, but when you get home, if you have a black stone next to your crucifix, take the stone off your necklace...and throw it out."  Now I knew most of the parents were probably floored by what I had just said so I reminded them that a superstitious stone from another religion or cult went totally against our Catholic faith.  If they wanted true spiritual protection for their children, all they needed was the cross.
I can be a bit too blunt sometimes in catechizing my people, but we can't be wishy washy when it comes to our faith.  Our people deserve to be told the truth about our faith without apologies because many have given their lives for our faith, our Church, and our Savior.  God has sent us His angels to protect and His only Son to save us.  What more do we need?

Anima Christi
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ's side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints 

and with Thy angels
Forever and ever

Friday, February 27, 2015

Day 10: The Rest of the Serenity Prayer

Have you ever read the Serenity Prayer in its entirety?  You know the prayer that starts off with "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...?"  This beautiful prayer that is recited in Alcoholics Anonymous was written sometime before the mid 20th century, and it's author has been in dispute over the last several years.  The long version below (attributed to Protestant theologian Reinhold Neibuhr around 1951) is quite different and much more theological than the one we know by heart, and it beautifully mentions our need for grace and talks about accepting hardship as Jesus did.  Perhaps reciting the entire prayer may give you some much needed serenity right now:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Day 9: Praying Like A Child

When we are children, our spirituality is very simple: God is our Father, and we are his children.  We pray to him, and he answers our prayers.  At the end of today's gospel, Jesus gives us a lesson that we learned in preschool: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12)."  It is a very simple lesson which is why we learn it very early in our lives, but we forget very easily as we grow older.  As adults, sin makes us jaded, cynical, and we do not trust or confide totally in God as our children do.
As we continue our Lenten journey, it would we good to recover some child-like spirituality.  To pray to God as we did when we were children.  To treat each other with kindness.  To share the things that we have.  To smile a bit more often.  To delight in the wonders that delighted us when we were kids.  In God's eyes, we are still little children, and He has so many blessings that he wants to bestow upon us. Yes, we must become like children to enter the Kingdom, but it wouldn't hurt to become like children when it comes to our prayer lives as well.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Day 8: Not Feeling Lent Yet?

So where are we?  After one week of Lent, are we different?  Have we grown closer to Christ?  Have we "turned away from sin and been faithful to the gospel" as we heard on Ash Wednesday?  If you haven't...don't worry.  Be patient with yourself.  God definitely is.  Lent is a long journey, and there is plenty of time to get on track.  Just make sure you have your eyes firmly fixed on the Crucified Christ. The Collect or Opening Prayer of the Mass today starts with the line: "Look kindly, Lord, we pray, on the devotion of your people..."  It ends with a petition for us to be renewed in mind.  May we fervently ask the Lord for this renewal of mind so that we can fix our eyes on him and be steadfast in our journey through the desert.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Day 7: Martyrdom

It was never about politics.  Sometimes I cringe when it does.  It was about four Christian men who set out to save lives.  It was about three other people whose lives were spared who had to witness martyrdom with their own eyes (two of them became and still are very close to me).  I still remember sitting on my parent's couch, home for the weekend from seminary, seeing a billow of smoke on TV and praying that they would be found.  My prayers were probably no different than Kayla Mueller's parent's prayers when they heard that their daughter might be dead in Syria when all she wanted to do was to go help others in another crazy part of the world.  It's not that our prayers went unanswered.  It's that the Lord had already called them home.  Unfair.  Unexpected.  Tragic.  Yet so many of our brothers and sisters risk their lives every day to help people they do not know in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Sudan, and even in places as benign as the Straights of Florida.  There's a missing Methodist missionary in Nigeria I just read about.  There are people as brave as Kayla that would go into a war ravaged country to better the lives of those who nothing but the sounds of violence.  These brave men and women who wear no uniform and hold no rank or insignia go simply to help others.  Today they and their families deserve our prayers.   Somewhere there's a mother who hasn't heard from her son the humanitarian worker in the Sudan.  There's a father who hasn't heard from his daughter the missionary who is living the gospel somewhere in the Middle East.  There's a Methodist church in Seattle who is praying for their pastor to come home.  Pray for humanitarian workers, missionaries and their families today.

And then there's Mario, Carlos, Pablo, and Alejandro who just wanted to help their Cuban brothers and sisters who were yearning to be free.  Three planes took off 19 years ago today less than a mile from where I'm writing this.  Sadly, only one of those planes returned.   Jose, Andres, and Silvia sadly saw what martyrdom looked like.  It was never about politics.  It was about doing what Christ told us to do:  "Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34)."

Monday, February 23, 2015

Day 6: Cloistered Life

Every Monday morning I walk to the small convent that sits in the back of our parochial school to celebrate Mass.  There in the middle of the city live 11 cloistered Discalced Carmelite Nuns who dedicate their life to work and prayer and never leave their convent.  Their pace is different.  Their prayers are slow and deliberate.  The desert that we discussed yesterday is what they live every day.  When I celebrate Mass for them on Monday mornings, I notice that I have to slow myself down.  I have to fight off the temptation of thinking of what lies in the day or the week ahead to concentrate on these 11 remarkable women who pray for me every day.  They pray for our parish.  They pray for our school.  They pray for all of our priests in the Archdiocese.  Often times I have breakfast with them and I tell them about parish life and all eleven of them sit across from me, with metal bars separating us, and they just watch me eat and tell stories.  I like to talk.  They like to listen.  They also like to laugh.  They live joy-filled lives.  They sit outside in their yard which is adjacent to our preschool playground and they delight in the laughs, the cries, and the loud voices of our little children.  And even in this small desert literally in my backyard, they too have desert days as they seek to deepen their relationship with the Lord.

They also are great teachers of how to pray:  slowly, deliberately, taking in every word.  We are, after all, talking to God.  So the lesson for today, take the time to pray the Our Father or a psalm perhaps very slowly.  Let every divine word wash over you like waters of new life.  And pray for these sisters who pray for you and who are working diligently to build their new convent in South Dade.  They truly live heroic lives of prayer, and in turn teach us how to pray.

For more information about our sisters, click here: Monastery of the Holy Spirit

This is Mother Maria del Carmen de Jesus Sacramentado who has been a Carmelite for 70 years!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Day 5: The Silence of the Desert

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” (Mark 1:12-13

On the evening of Ash Wednesday when I finally retired for the evening and went home, I found myself surrounded by a blessed silence.  Usually one of the first things that I do when I walk through my front door at night is turn on the TV to whatever sporting event is on and fill my small house with noise.  Yet on Ash Wednesday, after a fruitful day of ministry, after encountering so many new people that had come to church for the first time in a while, and being aware that we were beginning this holy season of Lent, I just wanted to sit there in silence.  Now there are moments of silence that I carve out for myself throughout the day.  They are brief as I’m constantly anxious to proceed to the “next thing,” but on that evening I must have spent an hour or so just sitting in silence.  I said my prayers.  Did some writing.  Thought about what God had in store for me and for us during Lent, and it wasn’t until I went to bed that I noticed that I hadn’t turned on my television all evening.  It turns out that I missed a magnificent college basketball game, but I didn’t care because though I was tired from a long day of ministry, I went to bed with great peace.  No doubt the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is driven by that Spirit into the desert for forty days.  What is the Spirit driving you to do this Lent?  There’s still time to adopt a Lenten promise, to find what God wants you to do, and sometimes it is in the silence of the desert that God speaks to us so clearly.  The problem is, where is your desert?  As we walk into Church this morning, we are confronted with the altar surrounded by images of the desert.  In the desert there is nothing.  There is silence.  There is sand.  There are a few trees and some wild beasts as the gospel tells us, but essentially there is nothing.  Father Salvador was sharing with us last night the imagery that he was going to use in his homily today that I will now “borrow”:  “surrounded by all this desert imagery of barrenness and drought, our altar stands as an oasis in this desert that feeds us and nourishes us.”  It is where the angels congregate and minister to us just as they ministered to Jesus.  From the altar flows sacramental grace that renews, refreshes, and re-creates us, much as the waters of the flood re-created the world in the time of Noah.  What needs to be renewed, refreshed, and re-created in us?  We will only find those answers in the silence of our hearts.  On Easter morning when we wake up, we cannot be the same person that we were when we woke up this morning.  We must allow Christ to transform us into someone new.  May we embrace this blessed season of Lent and be driven by the Spirit into the desert with Jesus so that we may find what God wants from each of us in the silence of the desert. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Day 4: Finding Time to Rest

It is good to rest.  Relaxing may be difficult for some during weekends because of house chores or children's events that take up a parent's time, but we must always make time to rest even if it is brief.  Yes, I know that it's easier said than done, but even God rested when creation was complete.  There has to be a moment in your day when you can find time to rest with your God.  It may come first thing in the morning or maybe the last thing you do at night.  Find that little spot in your busy schedule to sit somewhere in silence because as 1 Kings 19:12 reminds us, we will not find God in the noise of the world, but in the soft, silent sound.

"In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing.  It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence."  

                                                                                                               -- Blessed Mother Teresa

Friday, February 20, 2015

Day 3: Stop! You're Doing Lent Wrong!

Time magazine!  Yes, that Time magazine, which last I checked was a secular magazine, wrote up a story on what the Pope wants us to give up for Lent.  Of course, the Pope didn't tell us what to give up specifically but Time put up a clever headline to make us click on the column.  The reason I'm mentioning this is that according to Time, fasting or giving up stuff for Lent has become "increasingly popular" even among the non-religious.  That's great, but do they know why they are fasting?  The column does correctly point out some things that Pope Francis has said about fasting, which have been said for centuries, and he even underscored some of these facts this morning in Rome.  In his Lenten letter in 2013 when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires (not knowing that he would finish that Lent as the Bishop of Rome), Cardinal Bergoglio quoted St. John Chrysostom: "No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others.  So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great."  Genuine fasting should benefit others.
When speaking of fasting this morning at Mass, Pope Francis said that fasting intertwines the law of loving God and loving our neighbor:  "Love of God and love of our neighbor is one and the same thing and if you want to show genuine and not just formal penance, you must show it before God and also towards your brothers and towards your neighbor.”
Again, as with most thing the media quotes from the Pope, he said nothing new as evidenced by two magnificent verses in today's first reading from Isaiah 58:6-7.  So yes, we can be as pious and remorseful and take up fasting all we want during this Lenten season, but if it doesn't genuinely benefit our neighbor, what good is it doing?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Day 2: What Does God Want For Me?

In all the planning we do for Lent and thinking and praying about what we should give up for our Lenten sacrifice, we sometimes forget one tiny detail.  We think of what we want to do for Lent, but we don't ask ourselves:  what does God want me to do for Lent?  Today Jesus tells us in the gospel of Luke:  "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his daily cross and follow me (Luke 9:23)."  We must deny ourselves in order to follow the Lord, in order to start this Lenten journey, in order to take up our daily cross.  We get so wrapped up, even in our spiritual lives, in what we want or what we think we need that we leave out the will of God.  Yes, the will of God can be difficult to discern sometimes, but maybe that is what He is calling you to do this Lent: to spend more time in prayer to discern his will.  What does God want for me this Lent?  What cross am I called to carry?  What do I need to do to deny myself and totally surrender to God's will?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Day 1: Ashes Won't Get You Into Heaven...

...but the Eucharist will!

A little backstory:  This morning I woke up bright and early to embrace the beginning of the Lenten season.  I walked over to the church where the 6:45am Mass was going on and wandered in during Holy Communion.  There was no music because most of the people had to go to work, but there was a solemn silence as people slowly went up to receive the Lord.  Now the ashes were going to be distributed at the end of Mass, so everyone kept their seat.  Obviously, not a soul left early.  The priest said the prayer and blessing over the ashes and then invited the people up to receive the ashes...BOOM!  Like shot out of a cannon people bolted from their pews as if the priest were handing out winning lottery tickets.  Now I've been a priest for almost 13 years and have been ministering on Ash Wednesday since I was a teenager so I wasn't surprised, but the thought that immediately entered my mind was: "Why don't people come to receive Jesus in the Eucharist with the same urgency that they come to get the ashes on Ash Wednesday?"

I know that if you're reading this that I'm probably preaching to the choir, but I told the people in the evening Mass the utterly shocking statement that those ashes won't get us into heaven, but the Bread of Eternal Life will.  And we received Him today and we receive Him every Sunday and we can receive Him every day if we wish.  Yes, the ashes are important. Yes, the ashes remind us that we have work to do during this Lent.  Yes, the ashes are a sign of our mortality, but more importantly of the greatness and the majesty of our God.  We are dust....but he loves us anyways!  We are sinners...but he forgives us anyways!  We are so blessed to begin this joyful season of Lent.  May we concentrate on what is truly important during these 40 days which is Christ crucified who gives himself to us over and over again every time we come to church and receive the greatest treasure he entrusted to us:  his Body and Blood!

(Side note: These daily meditations will be updated daily through Easter Sunday.  Have a blessed Lent!)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Have You Ever Felt Unwelcome in Church?

“A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40)

Imagine a time in your life that you felt marginalized, unwanted, rejected or unwelcomed.  It truly is a horrible feeling.  Now think about a time when you perhaps made someone feel marginalized, unwanted, rejected or unwelcomed.  This is the underlying theme of today’s gospel.  The prevailing attitude, law in fact, during Jesus’ time was to marginalize lepers.  They were cast out of towns, relegated to living by themselves or in leper colonies, and no one was allowed to touch them lest they become unclean.  Thankfully Jesus comes to turn around a law that had been written during the time of Moses and embrace those that were called unclean.  Notice the details that St. Mark spells out in the gospel.  The leper kneels before the Lord.  He begs him for healing.  Jesus, moved with pity, acknowledges the leper (this in and of itself was big), grants his request, stretches out his hand, touches him, and heals him/makes him clean. 

Now here is what strikes me about today’s gospel.  After this healing, Jesus had to retreat to deserted places because he could not enter towns openly.  The Lord, who according to the law was made unclean by simply touching the leper, retreats to the very places where lepers were relegated.  Jesus truly becomes like us in all things but sin.  He himself is marginalized, and he will soon be rejected.  So this is where Jesus dwells:  with those who feel unwanted or unloved, with the sick and the outcast, with the poor and downtrodden.  This is where we truly encounter Jesus, and today’s readings are a challenge for us to enter the fast approaching season of Lent with two attitudes:  1) Have I contributed to marginalizing a brother or a sister especially here in church?  2) What leprosy do I have that needs to be made clean? I’ll back to the first question in a second, but look inside your heart and ask yourself as you begin Lent what inside you is unclean.  If you look at the details of this gospel that I went through earlier (kneeling, begging, touching, healing), it is so close to what we experience in confession.  When was the last time you made a good confession?

To return to the first question I asked if we have marginalized others, this is critical as we examine our attitudes both as Christians and as a community of faith.  Who are we to look down on others who may be different than us, sicker than us, poorer than us, or think differently than us?  So many people have come back home to the Church after being away for many years because someone whether a priest or a layperson made them feel unwelcome.  If this happened to you, I apologize in the name of the Church.  If I personally made you feel unwelcomed or marginalized by something I said or did as a priest, I apologize as well.  The urgency of preaching the Good News does not afford us the luxury of excluding people from our Church.  I am not talking here about reception of Holy Communion (that’s another homily for another day).  I’m talking about the initial encounter of an individual with Jesus Christ, for when any individual steps into any church, particularly ours, they must encounter Jesus Christ in each of you!  They must feel loved.  They must feel welcomed.  And they must never be looked down upon.  All of us, including myself, must take a good hard look in the mirror this Lent and ask ourselves if we are pushing anyone away from Church with our attitudes or actions.  The doors of the Church are always open.  You don’t need a special code or password to get in.   All are welcomed in this holy place.

Pope Francis talked about this in his homily this morning and I want to share with you the last paragraph of what he said:

…as we look to Jesus and our Mother Mary, I urge you to serve…Jesus crucified in every person who is emarginated, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith; to see the Lord who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper – whether in body or soul - who encounters discrimination!  We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized!  May we always have before us the image of Saint Francis, who was unafraid to embrace the leper and to accept every kind of outcast.  Truly the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is found and revealed! (Homily of Pope Francis, 2/15/15)

That last sentence from the Holy Father is pure spiritual brilliance.  Our proclamation of the gospel can only be effective, can only be credible if we reach out to the marginalized.  Again, we do not have the luxury to look down our noses at anyone, to exclude anyone, to call anyone “unclean.”  People stop coming to church when they feel marginalized.  We must change our hearts, get rid of our own leprosy first, then we must rediscover this Gospel of the marginalized.  We must search out the lost, bring them home, and let them encounter this living Christ.  Then He will take care of the rest.  May no one ever feel unloved or unwelcomed in the house of the Lord.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Bringing Hope to the Hopeless

“When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed…” (Mark 1:32)

If you came today and only hear or paid attention to the first reading from Job, you would walk out of church simply depressed.  Listen to the cry of Job at the beginning and end of the reading:  “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? Are not his days those of hirelings?...My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”  (Job 1:1,6-7)  Pretty depressing, right?  As with all passages from Sacred Scripture, you have to read them within a greater context.  The first reading only illustrates for us that for the people of the Old Testament life without Christ had no meaning, no purpose, and no fulfilling or happy goal.  Job is full of hopelessness because everything had been taken away from him andin our lives, we know people that have the same attitude as Job.  We all know a Debbie Downer or two who sees life as half empty instead of half full.  These are people that bring us down and do not dare to hope.  As Christians, we are a people of hope.  We are a people that see beyond the darkness of this world and dare to dream of a life, a society, a world filled the peace, love and joy of Jesus Christ.

The people that were following Jesus in today’s gospel recognized that there was Hope.  That is why they brought the sick to Him.  This is what jumped out at me when reading this gospel yesterday:  the people brought the sick to Jesus.  The ill and possessed in Jesus’ time were people without hope.  They were ostracized from society, not taken care of, and yet the followers of Jesus laid them at his feet.  They brought hope to the hopeless.  We are called to do the same.  Scratch that!  We are obligated to do the same.  If we listen carefully to the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians in the second reading: “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me (1 Cor 9:16).”  Paul recognizes the urgency to proclaim the gospel, to proclaim the hope that Jesus brings and he concludes by saying “and woe to me if I don’t preach it!”  Yet obligation is a word we don’t like.  We’ve been conditioned by society to do as we please, to do what makes us happy not considering the consequences of our actions.  Obligations are tedious, burdensome, and get in the way of happiness.  But this particular obligation leads to pure joy.  There is no greater joy than to bring a friend who has given up hope to Jesus and watch their hearts be transformed.  There is no greater joy than to watch the ill be healed, to watch those possessed by the demons of addiction and vice be liberated by Christ.  This obligation to preach the gospel truly brings us pure joy.  

This is why we need to start being more proactive on filling that empty seat next to you, on filling this church as it deserves to be filled, and on approaching those who have no hope and offering them the hope of Jesus Christ.  Notice a great line in the middle of the gospel: “The whole town was gathered at the door (v33).”  This should be our church!  This obligation falls on all of us.  So many are hurting.  So many are lost.  So many are possessed and seduced by the hedonistic pleasures of this world.  I sometimes look at my kids that I have had in youth group and school over the years navigating through a soulless, hopeless, drug-infected, over-sexualized, amoral, “anything goes” world and I know they are not happy.  Some of them claim to be, but I don’t buy it.  Which is why I still look at them with hope-filled eyes.  I still nudge them towards Jesus.  Still pray for them.  Still try to get them to see the joy I have in my heart and the hope that fuels me every single day.  We need to bring them to Jesus.  He is the reason for our hope.  He is the cause of our joy.  He is what will fill a Job-like hopeless soul with pure life.  As one of my 7th graders is fond of saying: “Y’all Need Jesus!”

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Authority and Courage

“The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes (Mark 1:22).”

The last four Sundays, I have been preaching to you about our call as Christians.  First, we spoke about our universal call to holiness that we received at baptism.  Then we spoke about our call to always serve others.  Last week, I spoke about our call to serve the poor, and this week we are reminded about our call to proclaim the gospel with the same authority that Christ did.  There was a way that Jesus preached the gospel that captivated his early followers.  He did it with authority.  Obviously this came from above as the number of his followers grew.  What we sometimes fail to comprehend is that we too have this authority that Christ had to preach the gospel, for this authority was given to us through Baptism and strengthened in Confirmation by the seal of the Holy Spirit.  Authority is given.  Just as the Archbishop gave me authority as your pastor, each of you has received the authority to proclaim the gospel by the Holy Spirit.

The trouble is that we sometimes do not preach the gospel with the same gravitas that Jesus did, even though we have been given the authority to do so because the same Spirit that accompanied Jesus in his public ministry accompanies us every day.   We just have to have the conviction to preach the good news as Jesus did.  Last night, I was celebrating Mass for former Salesian students on the feast of St. John Bosco and I reminded them of something Don Bosco once said:  “In order to do good, we must have some courage.”  Unfortunately, and you’ve heard me say this many times, as Christians we sometimes lack the courage to go out and do good, to go out and defend our faith, and to go out and boldly proclaim the gospel.  One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we receive in Confirmation is the gift of courage, and this gift propels us to do amazing things.

Last week, one of brother’s fellow firefighters decided to run the Miami Half Marathon in his honor.  My brother ran it two years ago, and they used to see each other running up and down South Beach as they trained.  Yet this firefighter wasn’t simply going to run, he was going to run while wearing 75 pounds of firefighting equipment.  I can barely take two steps wearing my brother’s old gear, and this brave soul was going to run with this cross on his shoulders for 13.1 miles to honor my brother.  He didn’t say much.  He simply ran.  Obviously, his gear caught the attention of others including the media that featured him prominently in the evening news.  My family and I were deeply moved by this gesture as well as so many others who saw this as such an example of love and courage to call attention to the stress that all first responders have to go through because they deal with unspeakable tragedies every single day.  But this courageous young man was not done yet.  As I was preparing to go in for my last Mass of the day last Sunday, this courageous young man showed up at the front door of our church to present to me the medal he won to honor my brother.  As my sister and I put these stories up on social media last week, people were deeply moved.  This is courage.  This is true authority.  This is preaching the gospel without saying any words.  This is selfless, sacrificial, and heroic.  This is what Jesus spent his life doing.  This is what each of us is called to do.  This firefighter reminded us last week, that there are still Christ-like heroes among us.  What’s holding you back from doing the same?