Sunday, January 24, 2016

Our Young Prophetic Heroes

“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Luke 4:21)

This morning many of you were asking me, “Father, how was your trip to DC for the March for Life?”  Well, the perfect storm in the Northeast combined with the perfect storm of events here in the parish prompted me to cancel my trip to tend to the parish, the school, and some grieving families as we lost two giants from our parish family.  Nonetheless, our youth leaders insisted on making the trip to Washington to stand up for the unborn and to lift up their voices for those who have none: from the unborn to the poor to the forgotten elderly.  They went unsure of when they would return, and though scheduled to return last night, they look like they are finally flying home Monday afternoon.  What these young people from our parish did, along with the thousands that ignored the storm warnings and still showed up in DC, was do exactly what Ezra and Jesus did in today’s readings: be prophetic and proclaim the word of God.  That is, proclaim the truth.  Proclaiming the truth and being prophetic is unpopular just as what our young people in DC did on Friday is unpopular in the eyes of the world.  What we do in the eyes of God is all that matters.  They went into a cynical town, just as Jesus would do throughout his ministry, and speak out on an issue that is unpopular.  They spoke the truth loudly and boldly in a town that has twisted the truth into lies such as “abortion is health care” or that “life doesn’t begin at conception.”  I’m sure there are many that wished that they would have stayed home, but they would not let a historic blizzard deter them.  The truth must be shouted and proclaimed through any storm. Abortion is genocide.  It is evil.  It is the holocaust of our time that has silently claimed more than 54 million tiny lives.  No one  and no storm could hold these kids back.  So even if they are still stuck in DC as I preach this homily.  Even though they are freezing and longing for the warm climate of South Florida.  Even though a great many in their generation think they are crazy; they embraced the prophetic call they received in baptism and raised their voices louder than I am raising mine now.  So to Christy, Brittani, Katie, Nina, Carlos, and Christopher: your parish is so proud that you represented us in Washington for the March for Life.  What you have done in the face of horrible weather and flight cancellation after flight cancellation is nothing short of heroic.  To you and to all the young people who represented our Archdiocese, you have taught us so much this weekend of what it means to be a prophet.

And if I can finish with one final anecdote about the March for Life that you may have seen shared on Facebook but will definitely not see in the national news about what happened on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  A group of students who left on a bus immediately after the March ended on Friday afternoon got stuck on the turnpike around 10pm on Friday evening as the massive amounts of snow started piling up.  They were stuck. They continued their pro-life mission as they started welcoming motorists from smaller cars into their heated bus.  The next day, a group of kids from a high school in Iowa joined another group from a high school in Missouri them and they created an altar of snow just off the highway.  One of the groups had a priest with them and right there on that altar of snow, they celebrated Holy Mass.  This calls to mind what Ezra did in today’s first reading: “Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the occasion (Neh 8:4).”  And on this holy occasion, these kids worshiped the Living God in the middle of a blizzard as they were trying to return home from the March for Life.  It was something special to behold ( as they sang as if they were in church.  But they were!  The church is not confined to these four walls.  The church, as Pope Francis constantly reminds us, is called to go to the peripheries.  The church is called to be prophetic at all times and to change the world with young witnesses and prophets like these young people. (To see photos from that “Snow Mass” click here:  The events of the last four days from these young prophets reminds me of a quote from the great Catholic, English writer G.K. Chesterton: “We do not want a Church that will move with the world.  We want a Church that will move the world.”  This weekend, thousands of Catholic young people in DC and beyond did just that.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

When We Run Out of Wine

“The have no wine.” (John 2:3)

Last summer, I was driving with my parents to the gulf coast and listening on the radio to a homily that Pope Francis was preaching in Guayaquil, Ecuador.  The Mass was offered for families and the gospel that was proclaimed was the same that we just heard: the wedding at Cana.  The Holy Father focused on four simple words uttered by Mary: “they have no wine.”  St. John makes special emphasis that “the mother of Jesus was there” as if to tell us that someone was watching over the wedding just like Mary watches over all of us, and she notices that there is no wine.  Pope Francis points out that “wine is a sign of happiness, love, and plenty.”  We all need this wine in our lives (I’m speaking figuratively about wine at this point and not literally).  Yet, how many of us lack this wine?  How many of our homes, of our families, of our young people, of our elderly lack this wine?  How many do not take part in the “wedding feasts” of our lives?  Mary goes to Jesus because she wants everyone to take part in this feast, and more importantly the wedding feast of her Son, and to drink the new wine of the kingdom.

Now notice, the Holy Father says, the confidence in which Mary approaches her Son to make her request.  It is almost as if she is in prayer.  She doesn’t go to the steward as the servants do at the end, she goes straight to the source of life.  Jesus says his hour had not yet come, but the hour is hastened because how could Jesus turn down his mother’s confident request?  How often do we approach Jesus with a petition as Mary did with her confidence, with her humility, and with her love?  We need to approach prayer like this.  The Holy Father adds, “She teaches us to put our families in God’s hands; she teaches us to pray, to kindle the hope which shows us that our concerns are also God’s concerns.”

Then our Blessed Mother, without knowing what Jesus would do next, tells the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do.  Mary wants us to trust in her Son.  She wants us to obey her Son because he will indeed address our concerns and call us to service as he did the servants in the gospel especially when there is a lack of wine in our families.  This is where Pope Francis turns his attention to the family: “Service is the sign of true love. Those who love know how to serve others. We learn this especially in the family, where we become servants out of love for one another. In the heart of the family, no one is rejected; all have the same value.”

And Pope Francis ties all of these ideas about the new wine and the family brilliantly towards the end of his homily: “In the family, and we are all witnesses of this, miracles are performed with what little we have, with what we are, with what is at hand… and many times, it is not ideal, it is not what we dreamt of, nor what “should have been”. There is one detail that makes us think: the new wine, that good wine mentioned by the steward at the wedding feast of Cana, came from the water jars, the jars used for ablutions, we might even say from the place where everyone had left their sins…it came from the “worst” because “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20). In our own families and in the greater family to which we all belong, nothing is thrown away, nothing is useless.”

Mary helps us to make small miracles out of nothing through her blessed intercession.  We long for the new wine that comes from Jesus.  We long for happiness, love and plenty.  We long for families that are united to Christ and become models for society.  And even in the midst of despair, in the midst of a world that has no wine, Pope Francis promises that the best is yet to come because there will be new wine: “The best wine will come to those who today feel hopelessly lost. Say it to yourselves until you are convinced of it. Say it to yourselves, in your hearts: the best wine is yet to come. Whisper it to the hopeless and the loveless. Have patience, hope, and follow Mary’s example, pray, open your heart, because the best wine is yet to come. God always seeks out the peripheries, those who have run out of wine, those who drink only of discouragement. Jesus feels their weakness, in order to pour out the best wines for those who, for whatever reason, feel that all their jars have been broken.  As Mary bids us, let us “do what the Lord tells us”. Do what he tells you. And let us be thankful that in this, our time and our hour, the new wine, the finest wine, will make us recover the joy of families, the joy of living in a family.”

…and help us recover the joy of being a child of God!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Grasping God's Hand

"I, the LORD, have...grasped you by the hand..." (Isaiah 42:6)

Last night I was sitting in the confessional and between confessions I started thinking of the verse above from today’s first reading.  How many people have walked into that confessional desperate, burdened by sin looking for the merciful hand of God? How many times have I, a sinner, needed His merciful hand as well? Then, in light of today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord, I started thinking of something that my spiritual director once told us in seminary: “when you walk out of confession, you are as clean and as pure as the day of your baptism.”  This is something I have told penitents many times when seeking absolution.  They need to hear it, and they also need to hear the words of God the Father at the end of today’s gospel: “You are my beloved son (child), with you I am well pleased.”  What words of comfort! Initially directed to our Lord, but now directed at us because we have become God’s children through baptism.  These words of comfort are of particular importance during this Year of Mercy.

Obviously, Jesus did not need baptism.  He was sinless which is why St. Gregory of Nazianzus, a Church Father from the 4th century, says that Jesus comes to be baptized “to bury sinful humanity in the waters.”  Just like we are re-created in the confessional, Christ comes to begin a new creation in those waters.  Then St. Gregory begins a beautiful description of the exchange between John and Jesus:

The Baptist protests; Jesus insists. Then John says: I ought to be baptized by you. He is the lamp in the presence of the sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman in the presence of the firstborn of all creation, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of him who was adored in the womb, the forerunner and future forerunner in the presence of him who has already come and is to come again….Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him. The heavens like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are rent open. …Today let us do honor to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men…He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. (Oratio 39 in Sancta Lumina, 14-16, 20: PG 36, 350-351, 354, 358-359)

(There is so much wisdom to be drawn from the Church Fathers.  As priests, we read excerpts of their teachings daily in the Divine Office such as the one mentioned above from St. Gregory of Nazianzus.)

So Christ today begins the re-creation of humanity.  The skies literally open up (notice that in St. Luke’s gospel this happens while Jesus is praying) and we see the Spirit descending and hear clearly the voice of the Father talking to Jesus and to us.  These are the words of comfort that we long to hear when we are weighed down by sin as the Father stretches his loving and merciful hand towards us so that we can grasp it and says to us as he said to his Son and our Lord: “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.” 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

O Come Let Us Adore Him

“…and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.” (Matthew 2:11)

Yesterday I was meditating on all the wonders that Mary and Joseph saw on the day and in the weeks following the birth of Christ.  The shepherds came that very night, and now these strangers from the East come and prostrate themselves before their Son.  These magi went in search of a king to the point of putting their own lives at risk when they start asking questions in Jerusalem about where the newborn king of the Jews was.  Their lives were at risk because Herod, who was tyrannical as a king, could have killed them the same way he slaughtered the Holy Innocents.  Herod saw this Child as a threat while the magi saw him as a blessing they had to see.  Through the grace of God the Magi complete their journey when the star leads them to Bethlehem.  They prostrate themselves, and in the Spanish translation of this passage, the gospel says they “adore” the Lord. 

This verse jumped out at me when I was preparing my homily.  Here we are on the third day of a New Year making up all sorts of resolutions when there is golden one spelled out for us in today’s gospel.  Like the magi, we are called to seek out the Lord and adore him.  I have always said that one of the greatest treasure that we have in this parish is our Perpetual Adoration Chapel where Jesus is waiting for you, longing for you, thirsting for you.  That chapel is like the manger in Bethlehem where Christ, as an old song says, forever a child, waits for you so that you may adore him like the magi.  So how’s that for a New Year’s resolution?  Why don’t we spend more time in that chapel this New Year? In prayer, in adoration, or we could simply just sit there.  I say this because some of us may not know what to do or what to say in there when it is perfectly fine to just sit there in his divine presence.  St. John Vianney was once asked what he does in front of the Blessed Sacrament: “Nothing.  I just look at Him and He looks at me.”   That’s all we need to do.  The fruits that you will receive are endless, and the fruits this parish will receive will be beyond anything we could possibly imagine.

So Christ is waiting for you.  Sure the gym is a great resolution, a diet is reasonable, but oh how I wish that my chapel be as full tomorrow morning as every gym in Miami.  The change that we need in this New Year, and the peace that we long for are all in that tiny chapel.  I know I didn’t write a homily on Christmas or New Year’s Day, but the fine points that I touched upon in those homilies dovetail into what I just preached.   On Christmas, I invited the faithful to approach the manger and in silence simply: adore, pray, and listen.  And on New Year’s Day I tweeted four simple mini-resolutions for 2016: 1) be joyful, 2) be merciful, 3) be prayerful, and 4) be holy.  Very simple goals that the Herod’s of the world want to destroy.  Yet we are called to be joyful, merciful, prayerful, and holy.  All attainable goals, if we simply go and adore him.