Wednesday, October 31, 2012

11/3/2012 – Saturday of 30th week in ordinary time – St Martin de Porres - Luke 14:1, 7-11

In today’s parable from the Gospel of Luke, we hear Jesus teaching us about self-importance & humility, particularly in the context of our discipleship as followers of Christ.  Perhaps, on the surface, we might interpret this parable to mean that all the wedding guest needed to do to be special in the eyes of God & in the eyes of all those at the wedding banquet was to sit in a very undistinguished at the end of the banquet table, to wait to be called to a place of honor nearer to the head of the table. This would show everyone how important the guest really was in the eyes his hosts. 
         Yet, the significance of this parable may rest in the way we only find true meaning in our lives in our relationship with God, as we accomplish nothing of importance without him.  When we acknowledge our dependence upon God, when we are willing to completely put our trust in him, we will learn who God really is.  Then we will learn about God’s love, patience, and forgiveness, as we start to share those same qualities with others in our lives. 
         There is so much for us to learn about God as we continue on our journeys of faith.  On Thursday of this past week, we had the opportunity to celebrate the community of saints in a special way on All Saints Day, as we recognized those men and women who are now united with God in his eternal kingdom, who help us with their intercessory prayers.  And we had the opportunity to pray for the repose of the souls of the faithful departed yesterday on All Souls Day, to pray for those family members, friends, and members of our community of faith who have departed from this world, those who are undergoing a process of purification. 
         In our Church today, there is a lot of diversity, there are different gifts operating at the same time. We celebrate this diversity of gifts in the saints of our Church.  The diversity in our Church can sometime cause tension, this is true.  Yet, since the beginning of the early Church, there has been a diversity of spirituality and different approaches as to how we can live out our faith.  As we come together as a faith community, it's important to recognize the different gifts we bring to the Body of Christ, how in our unity in the midst of diversity we add so much to the life of our Church. 
         Today, we celebrate the feast day of Martin de Porres, a Dominican brother from Peru from the 16th century.  Martin was very discriminated against in colonial Latin American society, being the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman & a freed African slave.  However, Martin never gave up: he used his gifts to contribute to the Body of Christ, even though that was not always so easy for him. Martin's compassion for the poor & the sick of Lima made him a legend in his own time.  Even in the midst of a society and a Church that greatly discriminated against him, his compassion and humble nature won over people's hearts and brought many to God.  The broom became his symbol, because he would bring a broom with him to clean the living quarters of the sick and the poor when he would visit them.  He eventually founded an orphanage and a children's hospital in Lima, Peru to care for the poor.  From the alms he collected, he fed over 150 poor people a day.  Martin was canonized as a saint by Pope John XXIII in 1962 – he is the patron saint of the poor & of social justice.  He is still known today as the saint of the broom. Martin de Porres is a great example of the different gifts that exist in our Church.
         As we learn from Jesus’ parables and from the saints such as St Martin de Porres, may all that we learn on our journey bring us ever closer to God. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

11/2/12 – All Souls Day- Wisdom 3:1-9, Psalm 23, Romans 6:3-9

       “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them.”  This is the opening line from our reading from the book of Wisdom today as we commemorate the Faithful Departed on All Souls Day today.  This day is set aside to pray for all of those souls who have departed this world and who are going through a purification process to ready them for unification with God in their state of eternal life.  We pray for these souls all throughout the year, but today is especially set aside for this occasion.  In addition, it is customary for Christians to use this day to offer prayers on behalf of their departed relatives and friends.
         There are many customs from many different cultures used to celebrate All Souls Day.  In Mexico, Catholics celebrate el Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), a day that combines Aztec indigenous customs with the Catholic religion that the Conquistadors brought to that country.  Here in our parishes in Yazoo City and in Belzoni, we have the custom of going out to the graves in the cemetery to offer a special blessing and prayers at the graves of our loved ones, which is a very beautiful and touching ceremony, one that I look forward to each year.  In many ways, I feel that our prayers for our deceased loved ones connect us to them.  These prayers are a way for us to show our love and reverence for them, to keep them alive to us in their role in the Community of Saints that exists in the Church.  Indeed, if we truly believe the words of the 23rd psalm that is so beloved to so many Christian believers, we see Jesus as the Good Shepherd leading our dearly departed loved ones to the refreshing waters of eternal life after their journey here on earth has ended.
         Praying for the dead has always been a part of our Christian traditions since the days of the early Church.  Indeed, we can even find prayers for the dead inscribed in the catacombs outside of Rome.  Early Christians also believed that their prayers would provide assistance and encouragement to the souls of their departed loved ones who were undergoing a process of purification in the afterlife.
         Our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans addresses our baptismal promise – how we die with Christ in the waters of our baptism and how we rise to new life in him in those same waters.  Paul explains that if we are united with Christ in his resurrection in the waters of baptism, then when our days here on earth come to an end, we will be united with him in the resurrection in eternal life.  This confirms our belief that Christ who was raised from the dead indeed lives and dies no more. 
         So while we miss the presence of our loved ones here on earth, we take heart that they our with Christ in eternal life, and their prayers and intercessions accompany us, just as our prayers and intercessions go out to them today in a special way on All Souls Day.  And we pray for those souls that are still going through a process of purification, that they one day be fully united with Christ, who is the life and the resurrection.  

11/1/12 – All Saints Day – Mark 5:1-12 –

The solemnity of All Saints is an important celebration for us in our Catholic Church.  In fact, it is marked as a holy day of obligation for us as believers in the faith, a day when we are obliged to attend mass together as a community to celebrate this day together.  Today, we celebrate and honor the example, the witness, and the intercessions of the holy men and women who make up the community of saints in heaven.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness....They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us...So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.”
         The Gospel reading we hear today is of the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel.  Even though the Beatitudes are a very familiar part of our Sacred Scriptures, perhaps we still have a hard time understanding the teaching that is behind the Beatitudes.  If you think about what our secular society sees as a blessing or happiness in our lives, you might name things such as riches and material wealth, popularity, power, fame, intelligence, and athletic ability.  Those considered blessed by Jesus would not be seen as such through the eyes of our world – the poor in spirit, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who mourn.  Yet if you think of those who Jesus names in the Beatitudes, it encompasses those who truly live out the Gospel in their lives.  For example, the poor in spirit are those who place their reliance on God and on the values of the Gospel, who put their faith in God in not in the fleeting, secular values of the world.  If we think of those who are merciful, they show love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness to their neighbor, even when it is difficult to do so, even when it would be so much easier to seek revenge or vengeance or retribution. When we see those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, we see men and women who seek to bring justice and peace into our world, who are willing to stand up for the values of our faith even when it means that we will suffer greatly for it.  Jesus sees those who live out the values of the Gospel as being truly blessed. 
         Today, on All Saints Day, we celebrate the Community of Saints that is a real part of our lives of faith; we celebrate the members of the Community of Saints who lived out the values of the Gospel and the reality of the Beatitudes in their lives here on earth.  When we think of the community of saints, we probably think of those famous and beloved saints who have been recognized by our Church, such as St Francis of Assisi, St Joseph, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and St Joan of Arc.  But we also recognize those members of our Community of Saints who are less famous and who are not officially named as such by the Church. Think of the little grandmothers who went to mass each day and raised their children and grandchildren in the faith.  Think of the fathers who worked out in the fields and in the factories each day to provide for their families, who lived out the values of the Gospel in their lives each day, who instilled those values in their family members by their examples. I think all of you can think of loved ones and family members who influenced your life of faith and who are now members of the Community of Saints. In celebrating All Saints Day today, we also celebrate the importance of community in our lives of faith.  Our personal relationship with God is indeed very important, but our journey in life and our journey in faith take place in community, and it is in community that we live out our faith and the values of the Gospel.  Our faith community helps us and encourages us on our journey.  Our faith community helps educate us and nurture us.  And the Community of Saints not only helps us through its witness, but through the prayers and friendship its members provide to us as well. 
         Today, we give thanks for the Community of Saints in our lives, for the help, prayers, intercessions and witness that the saints provide for us.  

11/4/12 – 31st Sunday in ordinary time – Mark 12:28b-34

         When we hear this scribe asking Jesus this question about which is the greatest commandment of all, we are probably thinking: Well, Jesus has 10 commandments to choose from, so this doesn’t seem like such a difficult question.  However, according to Jewish tradition, there are 613 mitzvot or commandments in their Holy Scriptures, so this question is actually a lot more difficult than it seems on the surface to us.  And when you think of how the scribes and Pharisees were obsessed in their observance of the law, Jesus is indeed faced with a very challenging proposition. 
         This question is posed to by the scribe in the Gospel of Mark, after this scribe hears Jesus having an intense discussion with some Pharisees and Herodians.  These Pharisees and Herodians were asking Jesus a bunch of questions in order to try to trap him and get him in trouble with the chief priests and the Jewish elders.  All of this got me thinking about the questions that we ask. 
         Sometimes we are afraid to ask questions, aren’t we?  Maybe we think our question is silly, that we should already know the answer.  Maybe we are afraid of embarrassing ourselves.  We often see the disciples in the Gospels being very hesitant to ask any questions at all; perhaps they are afraid of the answers they will get from Jesus.  We see the Pharisees ask a lot of questions in the Gospels, but as we know, they used their questions to push Jesus into a corner.  In fact, we can see a lot of people in our society who use questions in a sarcastic and mean-spirited way, using questions as weapons that will harm or injure.  This is certainly not the way we are called to asked questions in our lives of faith.
Sometimes we have a lot of questions in our minds, but the answers we seek are not so clear-cut and are not so easy to understand.  I remember that when I went off to be a missionary in Canada and in South America, I had a lot of questions that I thought would be answered through my missionary work.  I wondered about the best approach to help people in a country that is surrounded with poverty, with corruption and violence that seemed overwhelming.  I brought my questions and my wonderings to my missionary work with a very idealistic and positive attitude, or so I thought.  I spent 8 years as a missionary, and I returned from those experiences with even more questions and not a lot of answers.  And perhaps I lost a lot of idealism along the way as well.
         In our society, perhaps we think that asking questions is a sign of weakness.  There are a lot of religions out there that try to answer every question with a very precise, confident answer.  Yet, in our Catholic faith, we are not afraid to say that we do not have all of the answers.  We are not afraid to admit that there is a sense of mystery to our faith, that there will always be some aspect of the divine that is beyond our human comprehension.  Sometimes someone comes to me as a priest thinking I will give them an authoritative answer to their questions and tell them exactly what they should do and what they should know.  However, I think that a more appropriate role for me as their priest is to help them find the answers for themselves, to give them the tools to live out their faith, and to help them understand what the Church teaches so that they can make an informed decision for themselves. 
         Look at the twists and turns our lives of faith can take as we travel along our journey.  Sometimes in our journey of faith and in our search for meaning in life, our questions can turn into doubts that end up having us question our very faith.  But asking questions, struggling with our doubts and our unbelief, will make us all the more stronger.  A searching, inquisitive faith is far better than a faith that is lazy and complacent.  I remember that one of my advisors in seminary challenged me with a couple of really provocative questions that really made me think.  He asked me: “Lincoln, what kind of priest do you want to be?  What kind of priest are you going to choose to be?”  At first I thought: What kind of questions are these?  What is he really asking me?  Can’t I be the kind of priest that everyone needs me to be?  Well, of course the answer to that question is certainly no – I certainly can’t be everything to everyone.  Those questions really have me thinking, and I still wonder what kind of priest God wants me to be, that God is calling me to be.  I wondering what kind of priest my parishioners need me to be.  
         So I might ask all of you a couple of questions in light of todays Gospel and todays homily:  How is God calling you to live out your Christian faith?  What kind of questions do you need to ask in order to grow and develop as a follower of Christ?  Are there are questions that you are afraid to ask?  And if you have a question where there is no easy answer, are you willing to wrestle and struggle with that question, and try to find some sort of meaning without any easy resolution? 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

10/28/2012 - Trigésimo Domingo del Tiempo Ordinario – Marcos 10, 46-52

El ciego se llama Bartimeo – El grita a Jesús cuando le ha visto caminando con sus discípulos.  El conoce en su corazón que Jesús es el Hijo de David.  Bartimeo grita – “Jesús – ten compasión de mi.”  Bartimeo conoce que tiene una oportunidad muy grande para tener curación en su vida.  Por la fe y la perseverancia de Bartimeo, él recibe una respuesta de Jesús – “Vete - tu fe te ha salvado.” 

Tenemos una llamada de fe con este cuento notable del Evangelio de Marcos.  Y este cuento tiene importancia en el tema de este mes de octubre.  Octubre es el mes de la Virgen María, pero también es el mes para respetar la vida como una parte esencial de nuestra fe católica.  El Papa Juan Pablo Segunda nos explica que nuestra proclamación del Evangelio de la Vida es importante en la cultura de la muerte que existe en nuestro mundo moderno.  La cultura de la muerte es una consecuencia del deseo de tener una vida conveniente que no tiene respeto para la vida humana. 

En el once de octubre de este año, celebramos el quincuagésimo aniversario del Concilio Vaticano Segundo, un concilio que explicó que necesitamos leer los signos de nuestra época, que necesitamos tener una influencia en nuestra cultura con nuestra fe.  Lamentablemente, este enero, observaremos un aniversario muy vergonzoso – el cuadragésimo aniversario de una decisión de la Corte Suprema de los Estados Unidos – la decisión de Roe contra Wade que hizo permitido el aborto en nuestro país.  Desde esta decisión, hemos visto un desgaste del respeto de la vida humana en nuestro país. 

En el Evangelio, Jesús explicó que Bartimeo puedo seguir por su camino, que su fe estaba su salvación.  En este momento que Jesucristo proclamó estas palabras, Bartimeo recibió la curación en su vida.  El tema del mes de respetar la vida este año es “la fe abre nuestros ojos a la vida humana en toda su belleza y su esplendor.”  El Papa Benedicto explica la fe es un viaje, una peregrinación, que el sendero del fe tiene etapas de penitencia y renovación.   Como peregrinos, necesitamos tener una transformación en nuestra vida de fe.  En el Evangelio de hoy, tenemos el ejemplo de Bartimeo en su camino de fe y en su curación.  Pero, necesitamos recordar que la fe no es una superstición, no es algo mágico. La creencia que Bartimeo tenía en su fe no es la razón única de su curación.   Jesús hizo su curación, y en su curación, Bartimeo recibió esta curación en su fe y en su vida.  Con el Evangelio de la Vida que Jesús proclamó en sus enseñanzas y en su vida, recibimos el Evangelio de la Vida en nuestros corazones.  Y recibimos las enseñanzas de Cristo de respetar la vida humana para seguirlas.