Sunday, April 26, 2015

Why Not Priesthood?

“I am the good shepherd.  A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” (John 10:11)

Last Thursday, I was blessed to speak to our MOMS ministry. After I finished talking, I opened up for questions and one of the ladies asked me, "Why priesthood?"  I responded, "Why not priesthood?"  I can think of no better life. I can conceive of no greater adventure. I am called to be a Good Shepherd like Jesus. Called to lay down my life for all of you every day.

As we have heard Pope Francis say, “a priest is to supposed to smell like his sheep.”  This is what I endeavor to do every single day.  This week I smelled like fast food when I was serving our children at a McDonald’s.  I smell like a grandmother’s perfume on Sunday when our grandmothers come out of Mass and give me a big hug.  I smell like, well not very good, when I finish playing kickball with our children during their midday recess.  I smell like incense when I expose the Blessed Sacrament to the faithful like I did last Friday.  There is not one smell that is particular to the sheep, for we as shepherds are called to go into different pastures and meet the sheep where they are.  

So “why not priesthood?”  Because of all the reasons that I enumerated above.  This is the life that I challenge other men to lead.  In two weeks, 6 men will embark on this journey when they are ordained priests of Jesus Christ here in the Archdiocese.  Where did they come from?  Quite simply, they came from families just like yours.  One of them came from a family in this parish which is why we should feel exceptionally blessed as a parish community that one of our sons is being ordained.  Why did they choose priesthood?  Because they too want to smell like sheep.  They want to bring the Good News into a bad news world.  They want to lay down their lives for the people of God just like Christ the Good Shepherd.  At their ordination, they will literally lay down on the cathedral sanctuary floor as a gesture of humility, of total self-giving, of surrender, of laying down their lives for the sake of the sheep.  They are good young men who will serve the Church well, but where will the next group of courageous young men come from who dare to say yes to the priesthood?  They must come from your families.  Talk to your children about vocations.  Pray with your children for your priests and religious.  Instill in them a love for those who are consecrated to God.  This is how we will continue to grow the seeds of vocations in this parish, for among us is a young man who God-willing one day will say to himself, why not priesthood?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Face of the Father's Mercy

“Give to the Lord, for he is good, his mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1)

Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.

With those words Pope Francis began his Papal Bull to announce the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy.  He chose to do this last night on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday because next year will be totally dedicated to mercy.  The Papal Bull is a masterpiece and it is a short read which I highly recommend that you read by clicking here:

Jesus desired to show this face of the Father’s mercy to the apostles on that first Easter which is why he commissions them to go and forgive sins.  He wants his Church to also be a reflection of the Father’s mercy.  This is what our Holy Father desires as well.  Let me share with you some lines from last night:

We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace.  Isn’t that what we all desire?  Joy, serenity, and peace.  Christ says “peace be with you” three times in today’s gospel because he knew how rattled the hearts of his disciples were and how much they needed the peace that he offered.  We find what our heart desires in the heart of our Lord, which is why we must be in constant contemplation of the mystery of His mercy.   His mercy is a mystery because the world does not understand it.  His mercy, like the sun, rises and sets both on the just and on the sinner.  It is for all!  And he offers all of us the gifts of joy, serenity, and peace.

Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.  This bridge of Divine Mercy is what Jesus Christ came into the world to establish.  This bridge is the cross.  This bridge is his forgiveness of the adulterous woman, of Peter, and the forgiveness that he talks about in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  This bridge brings us closer to the Father DESPITE our sinfulness.  So many of us think that our sins are unforgivable, but you show me an unforgivable sin and I’ll show you God’s infinite mercy.  It is boundless.  As the psalm says, it is everlasting and endures forever.

The Holy Father, whose hand is firmly steering this great bark of Peter, sets the Church on the course of mercy.  He tells us:  Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life.  All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.  Everything we do as a Church must begin from the heart of mercy.  We must be compassionate.  Mercy also means that we must refrain from judging and condemning.  So many times we, both as a Church and as individuals, are quick to judge or condemn those that are in sin or are far from the Church.  If we do not show mercy, how can they possible return?  The Church in the past has erred in this even when preaching doctrine and dogma.  For example in the Council of Trent, when solemnly defining the sacraments during its 7th session back in 1557, the council fathers defined every sacrament and in doing so to each definition, and I’m paraphrasing here, they would add that if someone did not believe this definition, “let him be anathema.”  In other words, let them be excommunicated if they take a position contrary to the Church.  We cannot effectively preach the gospel if we do not do it with mercy and compassion.  Holy Mother Church will always uphold its doctrine and dogma, but must do so from a position of mercy. This is the direction the Holy Father wants to take the Church:  a Church flowing with mercy and not one quick to judge and condemn which brings me to the last line that I want to share.  Pope Francis says: Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe.  In fact the Pope says, “God’s justice is his mercy.”  If we want to be like Christ, if we want to share his Divine Mercy, we cannot exclude, we cannot judge, we cannot condemn.  First mercy!  Then when that person that we welcome has a genuine encounter with Christ and his Divine Mercy, they are offered “a new chance to look at [themselves], convert, and believe.”  We are called to welcome people not on our terms or even on their terms, but on God’s terms, which will always be mercy.  But we must be agents of that mercy.  Each of us must be, like Christ our Lord and our God, the face of the Father’s mercy.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Sunday: Wide Awake

“Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1)

5:42 a.m.  One hour before dawn’s first light. Well before my alarm was supposed to go off, in the quiet and dark of the night, I was wide awake.  A rooster crowed in the distance, but this time it announced not the denial of a sinner but the triumph of a Savior.  It was Easter morning!  There is no greater dawn!  There is no greater morning!  How could I sleep?  I tossed and turned for about an hour and then walked out the door to see the sunrise.  I sat there on the church steps watching light fill the sky.  I thought about the week that was: about the washing of the feet, the agony in the garden, his betrayal, his trial, his suffering, his crucifixion, and his death.  Yesterday afternoon I climbed up a ladder to adjust the white cloth on the crucifix and there I was 20 feet over the sanctuary staring at our beautiful crucifix and seeing the details on Jesus’ suffering face.   Now this morning, that suffering was gone.  He has conquered death.  He has conquered sin.  Our Savior is alive!  How could I sleep?

In the gospel, Peter and John run to the tomb because they could not believe what Mary Magdalene had told them.  When they get there, they have to “bend down” to look into and go into the tomb.  An act of humility which ties together a theme that I touched upon on Holy Thursday: humility is how we encounter Christ.  Today it is how John encountered the reality that the Lord was alive.  Pope Francis touched upon this theme this morning when he gave his Easter Blessing: “To enter into the mystery, we need to “bend down”, to abase ourselves. Only those who abase themselves understand the glorification of Jesus and are able to follow him on his way.”  It is only when we humbly come before the Lord that we realize how much he loves us and how much this day truly means.  His victory is our victory. His triumph is our triumph.  Now we go out like Mary to share this victorious news.  Our Lord is alive!  How can we sleep?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Holy Saturday: In Stillness, We Wait

The Church is silent this day.  Silence can at times be deafening.  The Church waits by the tomb in great anticipation.  We know how the story ends.  We know what is too come, but there is still so much to meditate upon when we look back at what happened over the last two days.  When we think back to the Last Supper, the Agony, the Trial, the Passion, the Crucifixion, and all the rituals and ceremonies we experienced, it merits extra reflection.  This is why we wait.  We wait for the new dawn. We wait for the new light.  We wait for new life.  In stillness, we wait for the newness of Easter and the blessing the Risen One will bring.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday: Like a Rose Trampled on the Ground

"Who would believe what we have heard?" (Isaiah 53:1)

Way back on Ash Wednesday during our school Mass, the children began to sing a song that I had not heard in a very long time.  They sang it with such tenderness, but since it was about the crucified Lord, the song resonated even more because it was sung by our children.  The song is "Above All" and the chorus is what gets me every time:

Laid behind the stone
You lived to die
Rejected and alone
Like a rose trampled on the ground
You took the fall
and thought of me
above all

The thought of our Lord who loved us so much being rejected, cast aside, insulted, and trampled upon.  Isaiah foretold this.  He was "crushed for our iniquity...though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; like a lamb led to slaughter... (Isaiah 53:5,7)"  Jesus was tossed aside, ignored.  And this day my thoughts turn to all our brothers and sisters around the world who are tossed aside and ignored; those who are forgotten and who are the crucified Christs of our time.  Those suffering persecution in Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria, and then of course, the deaths of 148 Kenyan students that were shot simply for being Christians.  These are the roses that are being trampled upon today.  The silent souls whose deaths cry out to God.  Yet, they are souls that are blessed because they suffered martyrdom for their Savior.  Their blood proclaims the glory of God, for while we look upon the cross and see a deformed, beaten, and lifeless savior, we know that what Christ did on that cross was done out of love for you and me and for all those who have suffered and died in his name.  It breaks our hearts to behold the terror of the cross, for we too at times have tossed Christ aside and left him rejected and alone.  But he continues to love us and bear those wounds for us because though trampled and beaten, when he took those nails, he thought of you...above all.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Holy Thursday: Eucharistic Renewal

“I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

“Les he dado ejemplo, para que lo que lo que yo he hecho con ustedes, también ustedes lo hagan.” (Jn 13:15)

En esta noche santa, Jesucristo nos da el modelo por excelencia de servicio cuando le lava a los pies a sus disipulos.  El nos deja no solamente su cuerpo y su sangre en la Eucaristia pero nos deja este modelo de servicio.  Si queremos ser como Cristo, tenemos que considerar al projimo como mas importante que nosotros (cf. Fil 2:3)

Christ leaves us on this most sacred night not only the precious gifts of the priesthood and the Eucharist, but also the model of service by which we will all be judged.  Saint Paul tells the Philippians to always consider others as more important than yourself.  This is how Christ lived his life and on the night before he died he showed us what true love and true service really means.  This is the night in which he instituted the ministerial priesthood and taught all priests the measure by which we are to minister to our people.  We are servants: plain and simple.

Hoy celebramos la institucion del sacerdocio y la eucaristia y desde el principio de su pontificado hace dos años, el Papa Francisco ha hablado francamente de lo que el pueblo de Dios merece de sus sacerdotes:  Al buen sacerdote se lo reconoce por cómo anda ungido su pueblo; esta es una prueba clara. Cuando la gente nuestra anda ungida con óleo de alegría se le nota: por ejemplo, cuando sale de la misa con cara de haber recibido una buena noticia.”  Hoy se nos presentaran los oleos que fueron bendicidos y consagrados por el arzobispo esta semana.  El oleo del crisma se usa para ungir la manos del sacerdote para que esas manos consagren, bendigan, y absuelven.  Pero esas manos tambien tienen que ser como las manos del carpintero que hoy ofrecio su cuerpo y sangre por nosotros.  Manos que ayudan a su pueblo, manos que se ensusian con su pueblo, y manos que serven a su pueblo.

Pope Francis has always set the bar high in what he expects from his priests:  “We [as priests] need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters… be shepherds, with the “odour of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men.”  Archbishop Wenski echoed these words two days ago when he told us as his priests:  “Thus, a priest is to “cure the sick,” that is, to attend to the ill and the injured, healing their isolation with a visit and bringing courage to those who are weak; a priest is to raise the dead, that is, to restore hope to those deadened by discouragement and defeat; a priest is to cleanse lepers, that is, to befriend the outsider, to extend the hand of friendship to the marginalized and rejected; a priest is to drive out demons, by helping people deal with the various addictions that affect them and by not failing to address any personal demons that may threaten the integrity of his commitment.”  As priests, we are empowered by the Lord’s command to not only “Do this in memory of me,” but also to go forth from this altar to spread this unction, this divine fragrance we have received to a world the longs to be fed and anointed.

Hermanos, nunca cesen de rezar por nosotros sus sacerdotes.  Nosotros sabemos el hambre espitiual que tienen y deseamos de lo mas profundo de nuestros corazones de saciar esa hambre con la eucaristia.   El Señor verdaderamente nos ha ungido y cuando a veces no compartimos esa uncion, dice el Papa:  “la gente nos roba la unción.”  Para eso fuimos unigidos sacerdotes, para que ustedes nos roben, como dice el Santo Padre, la ultima gota de nuestra uncion.  Ahora si, tenemos que dar el ejemplo que nos dio Cristo en el evangelio de esta noche.  Tenemos que humillarnos como el y lavarles los pies.  Tenemos que trabajar con ustedes, servirles a ustedes, reirnos con ustedes, y llorar con ustedes. Una las frases mas famosas del Papa Francisco las predico en un jueves santo:  “el sacerdote tiene que oler a sus ovejas.” Y como compartio uno de mis hermanos sacerdotes esta tarde en el almuerzo “y si el sacerdote ejerce bien su ministerio, las ovejas empiezan a oler como su pastor tambien.”

This model that the Lord has given us to follow is obviously a difficult one, which is why this evening he also gave us the gift of the Eucharist.  For it is at this Eucharistic feast that we are made Christ-like and given the nourishment that we need to serve the least of our brothers and sisters.  Tonight’s Mass is all about service.  The Lord gives us the priesthood and the priesthood gives us the Eucharist: that heavenly bread, that medicine of immortality. You will hear me say this repeatedly: there is nothing more important that we do as a parish community than when we gather around this altar to celebrate Mass.

En esta noche en que celebramos la instituicion de la eucaristia, repito algo que reptetire constantemente hasta que el la lengua se me puegue al paladar: no hy nada mas importante que hacemos como comunidad parroquial que cuando nos reunimos alrededor de este altar para celebrar la Santa Misa.  Todos nuestros ministerios y todo nuestro servicio como parroquia brota de este altar y debe regresar a este altar.  Y es por eso que esta noche, anuncio que nosostros como comunidad parroquial de la Inmaculada Concepcion nos vamos a rededicar a la devocion eucaristica empezando el mes de que viene cuando celebraremos 40 Horas de Adoracion Eucaristica el 7 y 8 de mayo.  Tenemos que hacer, nos urge hacer una parroquia eucarisitica.

We must be a Eucharistic parish for it is at this altar from our Master that we learn how to serve.  That is why this evening I announce that as a parish community we will rededicate ourselves to Eucharistic devotion next month with a 40 Hour Eucharistic Devotion on May 7th & 8th.  A parish that is centered on the Eucharistic Christ is a parish that can move mountains. It is a parish filled with parishioners that are willing to get down on their knees and wash the feet of their brothers and sisters.  Immaculate Conception has been for over 60 years a beacon of light for this city, and it is time for us to recommit ourselves before our Lord and Savior to prayer and to service.

La Eucaristia y esta devocion les prometo, porque Jesus mismo lo prometio, transformara a nuestra parroquia para que podamos seguir el ejemplo que Jesus nos dejo en el lavatorio de pies.  Tenemos que ser reflejos de ese Cristo, dar la bienvenida al que nos visite como ese Cristo, y amar hasta el extreme como ese Cristo.  La tradicion es bien importante y algo que yo valoro como tesoro que se ha pasado de generacion a generacion.  Pero la Eucaristia siempre trae algo nuevo y nos impulsa a la conversion.  Esto empieza conmigo que soy el mas pobre servidor de esta comunidad, pero los invito a que participen en esta renovacion parroquial.  Que cuando alguien entre por estas puertas vean en nostoros el rostro de Cristo y sientan el abrazo de Cristo. No podemos ser obstaculos a este servicio que el Señor nos ha encomendado.  No podemos ser como los Fariseos y seguir en la mismas practicas que trabajaban hace 30 o 40 años!  Muchos diran, “Padre pero eso es trabajo para los jovenes!”  Y yo les digo, mira como el Papa con sus 78 años a renovado a la iglesia cuando se supone que estuviera jubilado.  No, este proyecto es para jovenes y ancianos, para toda cultura que enriqueze esta iglesia y no vamos a conformarnos con la mediocridad espiritual porque esta es La Inmaculada Concepcion!  Y aqui como en un juego de soccer siempre tirmamos para alente y no tenemos el lujo de tirar para atras.

So as we celebrate the Lord’s greatest gift to us, which was himself.  We too have to learn to give of ourselves to our brothers and sisters.  While we cherish our storied past as a parish and treasure every tradition, we cannot and will not be stuck in the past for the Lord does not dwell there.  The Eucharist is a continual call to conversion.  It is a call to serve those who do not know Jesus.  It is call to exercise the priestly ministry that each of us received at our baptism to boldly share this Good News.  Jesus left us the ultimate example for us to follow.  It is time to put his words into action.  For over 60 years this parish has been a beacon of hope for so many, which is why we cannot settle for apathy or spiritual mediocrity.  We are Immaculate Conception!  Mediocrity has never been part of this parish’s vocabulary and it never will as long as we have our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus Christ.  And like that bell tower that beautifully illuminates the night sky this evening, we as a Eucharistic people stand tall as well because we have been fed by the Lord himself from this altar to go forth and do great things in his name.