Monday, July 25, 2016

Persistence in Prayer for Forgiveness

XVII Sunday of Ordinary Time—C
San Jose Parish
Austin, TX

Persistence. Pestering, pressuring, persevering, persistence.  Pestering, pressuring, persevering, persistence in prayer. Pestering, pressuring, persevering, persistence in prayer for purification from sin. 
Today we hear Jesus exhort us to persistence in prayer for the forgiveness of sins. From the “Our Father”—“forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us”—to the childlike Abraham—what if there are only 50; or 45; 40 maybe; 35; less 20; how about 10; would you spare the cities?—we are to beg, borrow, and barter our way in prayer for the forgiveness of our sins. To entice us, Jesus puts out before us a carrot, the good hope of answered prayers. “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”. “If you [fathers] then, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Lk 11:13). 
And yet, forgiveness evades us. It escapes us. Like a television series that is always “to be continued,” the struggle is never resolved; the plot only seems to thicken. Fleeting forgiveness. 
No matter how big or small, we keep committing the same sins. How many of us feel condemned to confess the same sins, over and over again? We make our examination of conscience, we are contrite and sorry for having done so, we go to confession, confess our sins (number and kind), resolve to do better, make our penance, and then…shortly, quickly we find ourselves back in the same situation. But, I say to you, do not let your hearts be troubled. Like the the friend in the parable, we must be persistent, nagging even, and keep asking. He will eventually give us those loaves of bread that we need. 
The virtue we need here is courage or fortitude, also one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Admittedly, it takes quite a bit of courage to be forgiven and to ask for forgiveness, again and again. It takes courage to follow Jesus. The same kind of courage or gumption it takes to wake up a friend in the middle of the night for a favor, and even more, when he says “no,” to ask again. This courage is a sort of audacity that knows, almost presumes, the Father will always forgive us our sins as long as we are contrite. And if we wear this attitude well, we will notice a sort of smirking joy that will creep out, a sweet smell of joy that will drift through the air. You can see this clearly if you ever go to a monastery. Rising at 4:00 am, praying and working the whole day, the monks constantly ask and pray for forgiveness from the Father. Its almost nauseating and oppressive, but if you look closely, you see the smirks and grins throughout the day. And wait especially until the beer comes out during their common meal. Silent though they are, for they cannot speak, they grin from ear-to-ear like a child on Christmas. Their joy is a fruit of persistently asking the Father for forgiveness.  
This courage, though, does not stop at our efforts to beseech the Lord for forgiveness. Indeed, the “our Father” continues with two essential aspects of our search for forgiveness. “Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us and do not subject us to the final test” (Lk 11:4). While God’s love is unconditional, His forgiveness is connected with our ability and willingness to forgive others. Who wants to give to the stingy guy who never gives to others, anyways? Jesus pulls on this same logic in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Cf. Matt 18:21ff), and so tells Peter that he must forgive his brother “not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matt 18:22). If we are to forgive like the Father, constantly and without fatigue. Such forgiveness of other takes a great deal of courage, courage to overcome the fear of the consequences that may result. This does not mean we are to ignore the reality. Forgiving someone who is wrecking havoc in your life does not mean allowing them to continue to do so. Sometimes this courage will have to provide us the strength to end or avoid a situation that is causing sin.
This is the second aspect of our search for forgiveness, avoidance of sin. “Do not subject us to the final text” we pray at the end of the “Our Father.” The same prayer that Jesus exhorted Peter, James, and John to pray as they fell asleep that fate filled night in the garden. “Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test” (Lk 22:46). Here we mean the avoidance of the occasion of sin. You know that group of friends that always gets you in trouble on the weekends, or that coworker whose mere presence raises the hair on your neck. These are tests. Now, some are voluntary, meaning we could choose to avoid them (and we should) and others are involuntary, meaning we cannot avoid them without some grave loss or harm caused to us, such as loosing a job. It will require us a great deal of courage to avoid the temptations we ought, and remain steadfast amidst the temptations we cannot. It takes courage both to leave behind a bad influence and to continue working a necessary job for an oppressive boss. If we wish to be forgiven and desire our prayers for forgiveness to be answered, we must take courage and forgive others and pray that we avoid such occasions of sin and temptation.   
Sloth, or laziness, due to fear and anxiety is our greatest enemy here. This discouragement is felt as an oppressive weight upon our chest, causing us to be sort of depressed or to give-in to despair. But, again I say to you, do not let your hearts be troubled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Lk 6:21). Say with the psalmist, “why are you cast down my soul; why groan within me? Hope in God. I will praise Him still, my Savior and My God” (Ps 42:6). 
As St. Paul reminds us: “even when you were dead in transgressions…he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14). If God the Father can raise Jesus from the dead, how much more can He bring us back from the brink of sin. Indeed, “You were buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him” (Col 2:12). When we were baptized we became sons and daughters of God the Father. And a son, always a son. If our mothers and fathers know this truth, how much more will our Father in heaven always see us as His sons and daughters no matter how far and many times we fall. And even if we tire of asking forgiveness, the Father never tires of forgiving us. Let His patience be your persistence in prayer for forgiveness. Seek the Lord in confession. Seek to encounter the risen Christ in the sacrament of confession. And persistently pray for forgiveness. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

"Martha, Martha, keep holy the Sabbath"

XVI Sunday of Ordinary Time—C
San Jose Parish & St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Austin, TX

Last week we heard the parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Lk 10:25-37). There along with the scholar of the law we felt the call to go forth and to love our neighbor as the Samaritan had, by engaging in Christ’s works of mercy. Today, we begin our readings with the story of the “Hospitality of Abraham,” (Gen 18:1-10) when Abraham hosts the three angels (representing God Himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Again, the message seems clear, we are called to take up the works of mercy—feeding the poor and granting drink to the thirsty—for in this way we play host to God Himself present among us in our neighbor. Again, love of God is now to be manifest in the love of our neighbor in whom we see and serve Christ Himself. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt 25: 40). 
And then, there is today’s gospel. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things…Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Lk 10:41-42). Does this not seem quite the contradiction? Go and serve, but now stop and rest. Busy yourselves in the love of neighbor, but now clear your mind and listen to my Word. And if the juxtaposition were not enough, this story of Martha and Mary directly follows the parable of the “Good Samaritan.” Has Jesus flip-flopped here? Or have we understood poorly the lesson of the parable? 
We are not the Good Samaritan. We are called to be, but we are not, not yet. We are the one who fell victim to the robbers. And until we experience the saving power of Christ, His love and mercy, by which he anoints the wounds of sin with the oil of salvation and washes them clean with the wine turned blood of His passion and death; until we have been brought to the inn which is the Church and had the price of our salvation payed, our lives redeemed, we simply cannot be the Good Samaritan. For if love of God is to be manifest as love of neighbor, then we must not forget that “We love, because He [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The parable of the “Good Samaritan” is the story of Christ not passing by, but choosing to save us who have fallen victim to sin and death. So if we are ever truly going to be able to love our neighbor, we must first receive that love and mercy from God Himself, though the reception of the sacraments. 
And what of Abraham? Undeniably, Abraham and his wife Sarah believe they are serving God by hosting these three angels. Yet, if he were to stop and consider the privilege being offered to him, that is, to communion with God by sharing in this banquet, he might think less of his works and more of the work God is doing—fulfilling the earlier promise that his 90 year old wife will bear a son who will be the father of a great nation as numerous as the stars in the sky. Indeed, what need have angels of some good BBQ? No, it is they, the angels, God Himself, who is serving Abraham. 
Unlike work, sports, games, community service, etc…the work we do matters less, not more, when it comes to our salvation; we cannot earn our salvation. It matters much more the works of God, than the works of men. Now, I do not want to say that we are passive in our salvation; that we simply receive it and have no part in its accomplishment. We do. But only by way of participation in the work God is already doing. That is by receiving His mercy and so being made bearers of God’s mercy into the world. Yet this requires this initial moment of encounter with Jesus Christ, a saving encounter in which through the reception of His mercy (much like the man who fell victim to the robber or Abraham and his wife with the angels) we are transformed and made capable of loving others. 
This moment of encounter, this time of receiving God’s mercy and love is precisely what Jesus is asking of Martha in our story today; that “one thing” is an encounter with the Risen Christ. Mary chose the better part for she chose this “one thing,” to encounter Christ. And it is time for Martha to do the same. 
Practically this means taking time to sit and listen to the Word of God, to rest in this transforming encounter with God’s mercy. Fortunately for us, this time is sort of preprogramed into our lives—Sunday: the third commandment to keep holy the Sabbath manifest in the Church’s precept to attend mass every Sunday. Thanks to our christianized society we are afforded (most of us) this day, Sunday, free of work and toil. Yet, even though we take this time off, Sunday, as a day of rest, do we really fulfill the commandment? Do we keep it holy? I know. There are a myriad of activities: the kids sports tournaments (multiple), the cowboys are playing, got to take a nap, catch up on your favorite TV show on Net flicks, go to the movies, get to Church, finish the final stage of that video game, visit or at least call grandma, read your favorite book, get some exercise, scratch one off the “Honey do list” or just go catching Pokemon. And while all of these things are good, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing” (Lk 10:41). As Pope St. John Paul the Great said, “Sunday recalls the day of Christ's Resurrection. It is Easter which returns week by week, celebrating Christ's victory over sin and death” (Dies Domini, 1). Unfortunately, Sunday can loose this fundamental meaning and simply become merely part of a “weekend.” Hence, “The disciples of Christ…are asked to avoid any confusion between the celebration of Sunday, which should truly be a way of keeping the Lord's Day holy, and the ‘weekend,’ understood as a time of simple rest and relaxation” (Dies Domini, 4). 
To do this, we must make Mass the center and high point of our Sunday. Everything orbits around this weekly appointment with the Risen Christ. We desire to communicate the importance of our faith to our kids. How this is done when nothing ever stands in the way of attending Mass, no tournament, social function, or busy weekend. We should also make time to pray and to share a meal as a family. For if the family is the “domestic church,” the Eucharistic table we gather around at Mass should extend into our homes through family prayer and a shared meal. I would also challenge those who help out at Church on Sundays. Make sure that you also make time for quiet prayer with the Lord. We all know how hectic serving in the Church can be. After a long week at work (sometimes over 50 hours) we need to make sure our desire to serve is not covering our fear of sitting quietly with the Lord. Again, it is less what we do, but more what God does for us in our Salvation that matters. 
There are innumerable other suggestions I could make, like going home and talking about the homily as a family—which is a personal favorite of mine—but I dare say that if Mass is a nonnegotiable and that there is time for family prayer and a shared meal, our Sundays will be quite holy indeed.  

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Homilía, Preparense al Venido del Señor

Sábato XXXIV Semana del Tiempo Ordinario 
Collegio Pontificio Nordamericano 
Roma, IT
Nov. 28, 2015
Normalmente cuando se habla de los tiempos finales, del fin del mundo, discutimos las señales, las cosas que pasarán. Se vea todo eso en las películas apocalípticas y también en las pruebas de los fundamentalistas que tratan de identificar de la Biblia el cuando y el como del fin del mundo. Pero se queda en esto modo en las cosas superficiales, todo lo que sucede a fuera, todo lo que está exterior a nosotros. 

Por eso nadie quiere hablar sobre que pasará en el interior de nosotros, sobre que Jesús nos quiere hablar hoy del disposición de la mente o del corazón. Porque cuando caerá todas esas cosas exteriores que vale será la disposición interior, pues, del corazón. Entonces si queremos ser listo per el final debe que ser dentro de nosotros “una oración continuamente” y un paz que no permite a “las preocupaciones de esta vida entorpecer su mente” (Lc 21:34).

Pero de más esta disposición de corazón tiene que ser una de conversión o de penitencia. Hoy es el ultimo día del año litúrgico. Yo tengo el placer de darles la ultima homilía del año. Y aunque empecemos el Adviento mañana, la lectura del Evangelio será lo mismo, exactamente lo mismo de hoy. Entonces, la Iglesia presupone que tenemos la misma disposición interior, del corazón, enfrente del fin del mundo y el nacimiento del Señor. Y como indicado por la persona de San Juan el Battista, la disposición del Adviento de Cristo es de conversión. San Juan preparó el venido de Cristo predicando un bautismo para la conversión (Matt 3:11). Sí, Él sabía muy bien que enfrente de cualquier venido del Señor debemos que dar fruto digno de penitencia y ser listo para conversión interior (Cf. Matt 3:8-11). 

Pero esta disposición de corazón penitente enfrente del venido del Señor o el primer o el ultimo, no es una disposición interior de destrucción o de devastación total, aunque todo lo que está afuera está cayendo. No, como indica nuestro San Juan es un preparación del camino del Señor, un hacer rectas sus sendas (Matt 3:3).  Entonces, mientras todo quieren hablar sobre la destrucción del mundo afuera en el ultimo día, nosotros queremos hablar de la construcción del corazón penitente, la disposición interior de la conversión que nos deja estar de pie delante del Hijo del Hombre quien es Jesucristo nuestro Señor que viva y reina por los siglos de los siglos. Amen.  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Homily, Pray for Sisters

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Pontifical North American College
Roma, IT
November 21, 2015

Brothers, I wish simply to exhort you to pray in gratitude for the many women religious who have done the will of our heavenly Father and entered the convent. For today sisters, whether they be postulants, novices, or finally professed, whether they be a few months, several years, or many decades, will contemplate in Mary their own entrance into the convent. They will think back to that day when responding to that gentle call of their future spouse in prayer, they finally arrived at those convent doors. Saying goodby to family and friends, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, jobs, careers, studies, their very livelihood—an experience to which we ourselves are not strangers—they bravely entered that convent as Mary that Temple for a life completely dedicated to God. Yes, they are in need of our prayers as we are of theirs, and how they pray for us. Oh how they pray for us! So pray for these sisters, these women consecrated to God, for they are the maiden companion of Mary, her attendants, who today are escorted by Mary amid gladness and joy to the King, Jesus Christ whose future coming we celebrate tomorrow. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Homily, Signs of Heavenly Realities

XXXI Sunday of Ordinary Time
Santa Susanna Parish
Roma, IT
November 8, 2015

Our second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews reminds me of a few years ago when I had the privilege of studying archeology in the Holy Land. For three whole weeks we followed some of the best archeologists in the world to some of the most magnificent cites. Yet, the one that struck out to me and, indeed, we kept coming back to, was the Temple there in Jerusalem. While all that remains of the Temple is its foundation, the Temple Mount, I was impressed by its size and grandeur, covering a space equal or greater to the city around it and dominating the skyline; it has no rival. And to think that this was just the foundation. I loved the many images and reconstructions of the actual Temple which helped me imagine the beauty and majesty of this lost place of worship. The pristine gold and white rock of its structure; the structured and tiered areas of worship; the altars of incense and sacrifice; the decorations that would have adorned its walls; and of course the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy of Holies, the sanctuary made by human hands where God Himself dwelt. 

This beautiful place was the culmination of thousands of years of meticulous and pain-staking attention to detail in the worship of God. From Moses following the tedious book length instructions of the Lord in building the Ark of the Covenant; to David who fought endless battles with numberless armies to secure the Holy Mountain of God, the city of peace, Jerusalem in the heart of the promised land; to finally Solomon, the wise king and son of David, who would lavishly build this Temple. And why? Because they believed that these signs and symbols contained in the Temple, the actions and gestures of worship, the sacrifice and incense they offered were copies of the heavenly original, shadows of the celestial reality. Yes they believed that in a mysterious way their sanctuary made by human hands was a reflection of the very same which existed in heaven. Why else would God dwell there, if it were not familiar to Him? And by building and acting out these liturgies, they participated in the adoration of the one true God in Heaven, Adonai. 

And we, Christians, heirs of this great mystery, do the very same. Look around you! We built big beautiful churches. And we feel this in Rome where every church we see seems to be the most elegant, stunning, and beautiful church we have ever seen such that we find ourselves saying over and over again: “this is the most beautiful church I have ever seen.” Why did our forefathers in faith do this? Why did they spend such time and money? Was it really to show off their power and wealth as we so often hear from our tour guides? Certainly intentions are always mixed, but deep down they wished to show off not their own riches but the riches of Christ and the heavenly kingdom to which these churches testify. Indeed, they believed that Christ their Savior who suffered, died, and was buried, rose again on the third day and ascended into heaven (not that old Temple built by human hands). Now He sits at the right hand of God the Father to intercede for us that the merits of His one sacrifice on the Cross, His blood might wash away our sins. And so to await His coming again (as St. Paul mentions today), such generous souls have created these magnificent and beautiful structures, these churches where we can already now see as through a mirror those heavenly realities that will one day be ours!

Yet there is another such Temple or church which is itself a mere copy of what we will have in heaven. If the Temple and the church are images of heaven, so too our own bodies are that new temple or dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. For when Jesus said—“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19)—He was not speaking of the stones and mortar before Him. No, as John the beloved disciple tells us in the margin notes—“But He spoke of the temple of His body”! (Jn 2:21). And so now our own bodies are images of what we will become after the resurrection when we will have glorified bodies. As St. Paul says—“Our homeland is in heaven, and from it we await our Savior Jesus Christ who will change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body (Phil 3:20-21). 

And so like the Temple and the church we must adorn and decorate this new temple. We must treat ourselves with the utmost care and respect realizing that we are signs of heavenly realities. I do not speak here of tattoos, piercings, or elegant clothing for these do not highlight the way we will be in heaven. No, like the church and Temple, we must be true images of that sanctuary not made by human hands. So we must dress ourselves with great modesty and out of respect of the purity we will have in heaven—blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. We must refrain from any behavior that is demeaning or damaging to the body. We must be healthy and moderate, for this is a dwelling place of God.    

If you will allow me another example, the Church requires priests and religious to refrain from marriage. Only months ago, I promised the Church that I would live a celibate life. While the reasons for this discipline are many, one of the under appreciated reasons is the sign-value, that is, the testimony such a celibate life gives to our future heavenly life. For as Jesus says—“For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mk 12:25). Thus, when one does marry here in this life, we qualify the vow, saying the proverbial “till death do us part.” In short, those who choose to live a celibate life do so as a sign of that future life; they have started their heavenly life early, so to speak. We stand like the Temple and the church as a sign of how things are in heaven. 

What of marriage, then? Do married couples have no sign-value? Of course not. St. Paul says that that marriage is a profound mystery, because if refers to Christ and His Church (Cf. Eph 5:32). Thus, marriage, your marriages, should (like the church and the Temple) be signs or shadows of the marriage in heaven between Christ and His bride the Church. Would that when people look at us they react as we do when we walk into these churches, not seeing the work of human hands, but seeing the reflection of that heavenly reality, eternal life with God. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Homily, Faith and Hope

Feast of All Souls
Pontifical North American College
Roma, IT
Nov. 2, 2015

Today’s feast is a workout in hope, whose primary weight is not measured in kilos or pounds but in propositions of faith. The opening collect asks: “as our faith in your Son, raised from the dead, is deepened, so may our hope of resurrection for your departed servants also find new strength.” And so like reps in the gym, we are presented with this proposition of faith—the resurrection of the dead—again and again. “The souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them,” we hear from the book of Wisdom (3:1). “Are you unaware that we…were baptized into his death?” says St. Paul. “We were indeed buried with him …so that just as Christ was raised from the dead…we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4). Maxing it out, Jesus promises: “This is the will of my father, that anyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day” (John 6:40). 

These reps, deepening our faith in the resurrection, strengthen our hope such that our hope is full of immortality (Wisdom 3:4). Indeed, such hope does not disappoint! For it is firmly rooted in the sure knowledge that Christ will do the will of the one who sent him (Cf. John 6:38). 

Yet this hope is not directed towards our own salvation but rather to those who have gone before us in the passing from this life into the next. Again the collect: “so may our hope of resurrection of your departed servants.” We are hoping in the salvation of “all souls.” 

And it is fitting that we should work on the virtues of faith and hope today, for amongst those who have gone before us, we have the most in common with those penitent souls in purgatory. At the gates heaven, faith and hope have passed from the holy ones of God such that love alone remains; at gates of hell, faith and particularly hope have been abandoned by all—and may we never have anything in common with those lost souls—; and yet for us the pilgrim people on earth and for them the penitent souls in purgatory faith and hope are held in common. 

And yet how deep is their faith in God where the light of His love radiates everywhere, casting not even a shadow of doubt. And how firm their hope as they strive towards the God who in His particular judgement has definitively wrought their redemption. And are these same virtues not to be found in us?

So, brothers, consider the surging hope and joy in the hearts of those souls who arrive today on the shores of purgatory. As our poet Dante describes, hundreds of souls on ships escorted by the angel of the Lord singing in exitu Israel de Aegypto, there they disembark where the Tiber meets the salty sea (Cf. Canto II: 28-54, 101). There they rush upon the shore endeavoring to understand new and eternal things. Hope, brothers, wrought by a definitive act of our Saving Lord. And we are to have the same virtue!    

Friday, October 23, 2015

Homily, God's Favorite Possession

Memorial of Pope St. John Paul II
St. Patrick’s Church
Roma, IT
October 22, 2015

Preaching Notes:

  • Paul speaks in no uncertain terms: we were slaves to sin and are now to be slaves of God for sanctification and eternal life (Cf. Rom 6:20-22). 
  • Our modern sensibilities find this idea almost repulsive; we do not want to be slaves to anyone, neither God nor man. Mankind has left the evil institution of slavery behind. We are people of a free society, free persons.
  • We can even find support from Jesus to this effect. Recall that in John’s gospel Jesus does not call the disciples slaves, but friends, for a slave does not know what his master is doing (Cf. John 15:15). 
  • Yet Paul is quite insistent about this slavery to God. He even begins his letter to the Romans identifying himself as a slave of Christ Jesus (Cf. Rom 1:1). 
  • Even Pope St. John Paul II in his devotion to the Mother of God considered himself a slave of Mary according to the consecration set forth by St. Louis de Montforte. Thus his Papal motto Totus Tuus, everything is yours.
  • At the heart of slavery is possession; someone other than yourself owns you. This is what challenges our dignity and self-worth. 
  • Yet in God’s love, there is a sacramental dynamic in which He takes possession of things. In baptism, He claims each one of us as His own beloved son or daughter: “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” In confirmation, He anoints us as His prophet, chosen to carry His Word into the world. In the Eucharist, He takes bread and wine and transforms them into Himself: “This is my body (and blood) which will be given up for you.” In the sacraments, God takes possession of something and identifies Himself with it.
  • Thus our enslavement to God consists in this, being possessed by God. We are His favored possession, His sacred treasure. He has taken us in and called us His own, even identifying Himself with us: “you will be my people and I will be your God.”
  • Christ the Incarnate Word does not exempt even Himself from this enslavement of God as Paul points out: “though He was in the form of God, [Christ Jesus] did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but emptied Himself and took the form of a slave being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7).
  • And yet at the end, Paul undoes the analogy, for these slaves receive wages. Those enslaved to sin receive death, while those slaves of God receive eternal life (Cf. Rom 6:23). So rejoice in being slaves of God, His favorite possession and most precious treasure, and reap your reward, eternal life.