Monday, October 20, 2014

10/24/2014 – Friday of 29th week of Ordinary Time – Ephesians 4:1-6

        In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes how he is a prisoner of the Lord.   Paul indeed was imprisoned in Rome at the time that he wrote this letter.  Even though he was behind bars, he was able to exhort the Ephesians to be patient, gentle, and humble.   I used to tell the prisoners that I used to visit and minister to in the state penitentiaries that there were far worst prisons that can confine them in their lives than the bars that they were behind.  We can be imprisoned by the addictions we have, and those addictions can take many different forms, can’t they?   In fact, many of the prisoners I visited admitted to me that they still were addicted to the drugs that they got their hands on even behind those bars.  We can be imprisoned by false expectations and sense of values, imprisoned by clinging the to values of the world and our worldly appetites that never seem to be satisfied.  Paul calls us to the one Body, the one Spirit, the one faith.
        An ancient Persian poet once said: “Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?”  We can imprison ourselves in so many ways.  But the Lord opens the door for us.  And we open the door in the way we remain faithful on our journey.

         Last week, at our deanery meeting, Danna Johnson from St Christopher’s parish in Pontotoc prayed the prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola with us.  I think it is very appropriate to the themes of our readings today: Take Lord receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will.  You have given al to me.  To you, Lord, I return it.  Everything is yours.  Do with it what you will.  Give me only your love and your grace.  That is enough for me.  Your love and your grace – this is enough for me.

10/22/2014 – Wednesday of 29th week in Ordinary Time – St John Paul II – Luke 12:39-48, Ephesians 3:2-12

       In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talks about the grace of God, of how it should be open to all.  It does not matter if we are Gentile or Jew  -  God offers us his grace and his salvation.  With his grace, we can draw ever closer to the Lord on our journey.
       Today, we celebrate the memorial of Pope John Paul II – now St John Paul II.  Many of us here can probably remember when Karol Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Krakow, Poland, was selected as the new pope in 1978.  He was the first non-Italian pope selected in 455 years.  When he came out to the crowd in St Peter’s square, he proclaimed: “Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ.”  As Paul proclaimed that God’s grace is open to all, we saw John Paul II living this proclamation in his pontificate, visiting 124 countries, some of which had very small Catholic populations.  He proclaimed God’s grace to the world in the international day of prayer for world peace in Assisi, Italy in 1986 in the hometown of the famous proclaimer of God’s peace, St Francis of Assisi.  No only did he invite the leaders of the major Christian denominations, but also those of other world religions, such as Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam.  We remember Pope Paul II in many ways, in the grace and dignity in which he forgave the man who tried to assassinate him in 1981, in the way he helped bring about the fall of the Communist regimes in many countries of Central and Eastern Europe. 
       In the Gospel, we are reminded that we do not know the hour when the master will return, the time when we will be required to give an accounting of the way we have managed the gifts God has given us.   May St John Paul II be an example of holiness for us, an example of someone who felt God’s grace working in his life and responded with courage and zeal.  Yes, let us open the doors to Christ. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

10/23/2014 – Thursday of 29th week in Ordinary Time – St John of Capistrano – Ephesians 3:14-21

        We hear a prayer today in our first reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  Paul kneels before the Father and prays for the Ephesians.  He prays that Christ may dwell in their hearts in their faith.  Faith is indeed a gift, and all of us can thank God for the faith that we have in my heart through his grace.  We seem to live in a world where faith is suspect or mocked or questioned.  But the faith that we have in Christ, a faith that we have in our hearts, is indeed a faith to be cherished. 
         The saint we celebrate today is a man of great faith just like St Paul: St John of Capistrano.  You probably are more familiar with him by his Spanish name, as mission San Juan Capistrano in California was named after him by the Franciscan missionaries who brought God’s word to the indigenous people of California.  St John of Capistrano was born in the late 14th century.  He was imprisoned for a time during a war with a neighboring town in Italy, and he entered the Franciscan community in Perugia after his release.  After being ordained to the priesthood, he brought his gifts of preaching to countries all over Europe – throughout  Italy, Germany, Bohemia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Russia.  Through his preaching, John of Capistrano tried to unify the Christians throughout the European realm.  He died of the plague on this day in the year 1456 in Italy. By the way, today, October 23, is the day that the swallows leave Mission San Juan Capistrano in California as they make their way down to Argentina. 

         How are we striving toward holiness in our lives?  How are we opening up our hearts to Christ and proclaiming his kingdom?

10/19/2014 – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – World Mission Sunday – Matthew 22:15-22

      The Holy Spirit gives us a very insightful Gospel reading as we celebrate World Mission Sunday today.   To start off, we can look at the motivation of the Pharisees in the way they ask Jesus questions in today’s Gospel.   The Pharisees asked their questions not wanting to grow in their faith, not trying to better understand Jesus’ calling or his relationship with his heavenly Father, but their question tried to entrap Jesus and discredit him and his teachings.  As we look at the motivation of Pharisees today, we see how important motivation is to our own faith and our proclamation of God’s kingdom in our lives.  When I was the associate pastor of St Richard Catholic Church in Jackson, we started a conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society, an organization dedicated to serving the poor.  When the regional director of the St Vincent de Paul Society came to our parish for a visit, she asked members of our group to identify the primary goal of the St Vincent de Paul Society.  Without any hesitation, one lady, a very accomplished social workers, answered without hesitation: “Helping the poor, of course”   The regional director quickly snapped back: “Absolutely not – that’s not the primary goal.”  She explained that primary goal of the Society Vincent de Paul Society is to be an apostolate where members can grow in faith and in their relationship with Christ.  Helping the poor flows out of faith of the members, out of their relationship with Christ.  Without that, the works of that group are just good works, not works of faith.  The good works have to come out of our faith. I felt the same way about my missionary work, since what I did as a missionary always started at the foundation of my faith.  Without my faith, without the way I grew as a Catholic and as a disciple of Christ, my missionary work would have been very different.  I still would have done good works, for sure, but my relationship with the people and with the work itself would have been very different taken out of the context of faith.
       Today, on World Mission Sunday, the theme is “I Will Build My Church.” This theme highlights the outreach of local churches through priests, religious and laity among the poor and marginalized around the world.  Our Catholic Church’s Society for the Propagation of the Faith advocates and facilitates this important work of the universal Church throughout the world, the work of bringing the message of Christ to the whole world.  Paul is the original model of the missionary of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the different peoples of the world.  Today, in our second reading, we hear the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Christian community in Thessalonica, a major city in Greece.  This is just one of the places where Paul traveled to bring the Gospel to those who had not heard it before.  We are called to be evangelizers of the Gospel on many levels – this is certainly one of the messages we have heard from our most recent popes – Benedict and Francis – again and again.  We are called to be evangelizers in our own parish, to reach out to those who have fallen away from our Catholic faith, to our community, and beyond.  As you know, in the past few months this summer, I traveled to a parish in New Jersey to talk about the reality of the Catholic Church here in Mississippi, and then to a large parish in Chicago to talk about the missionary work I did in Ecuador with the Comboni Missionaries on behalf of our universal Church.  It is important for us to share our story with others, to share our experiences as Catholics in places where Catholicism is not very common, even here in Mississippi.
      Yes, we are called to proclaim our faith, to proclaim the values of our faith. We have been celebrating Respect Life Month in the Catholic Church during the entire month of October.  Newly appointed Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago stated that regarding social justice issues in our society,  “the Church should never be satisfied (that) it’s doing enough if there’s still a social ill out there to be addressed.”  He said that it would be naïve for us to think that this is the Kingdom of God and that we have done enough. He said that we can’t nag and harangue others in our society about these issues, that this is not the best approach to take.  But, we have to keep pressing forward and engaging people into conversations about the Lord’s truth, illuminating the light of the Gospel of Christ as we speak about these various issues.  Archbishop Cupich listed various social issues that we face as a society: immigration, inequality, racism, pornography, drug abuse, white collar crime, abortion, and the death penalty.  Let’s be honest: these are difficult issues that divide our society.  However, Archbishop Cupich stated that these issues require the attention of the Church and they require changes in our policies and our laws in order to protect human life.
         Our Church challenges us today on World Mission Sunday to follow Jesus’ mandate: “I will build my Church.”  As the Body of Church, we are to build up his Church.  We are to be evangelizers and missionaries no matter where we are in our journey of faith.  Jesus, in the Gospel, tell us to repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God, but as Catholics, we have the responsibilities to participate in politics and the public life in our society, to infuse it with the values of our faith.   And we will have a chance to do this in the way we cast our votes in the election in November.  Yes, we definitely evangelize in many different ways. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

10/19/2014 – Homilia - El XXIX Domingo del Tiempo Ordinario – Mateo 12:15-21

       Hoy, escuchamos un enseñanza de Jesús en su encuentro con los fariseos.  Este encuentro nos presenta la hipocresía y la superficialidad de los fariseos en comparación de la sinceridad y gentileza de Jesucristo.  Para mi, es muy interesante que los fariseos siempre quieren atrapar a Jesús con sus preguntas.  Ellos no quieren avanzar en sus vidas de fe, o crecer en sus relaciones con Dios, o aprender mas sobre Dios.   Siempre, los fariseos y los escribas quieren dañar el ministerio de Cristo y la proclamación de su reino.  En lugar de atrapar a Jesús con nuestra preguntas y nuestras frustraciones, tenemos la llamada de dar alabanzas a Dios y de construir su reino aquí en nuestro mundo, en nuestra realidad.  
        En nuestra existencia como seres humanos en la imagen de Dios, debemos alabar y glorificar a Dios como una reflexión de la dignidad que El amerita.  Somos creado en esta imagen divina, y por eso, nuestra vida debe ser un cántico de alabanza para Dios.  San Agustín explicó sobre el Evangelio de hoy: “Así como el César exige su imagen en tu moneda, así del mismo modo, Dios exige su propia imagen en tu alma. Da a César -dice- aquello que es del César. ¿Qué cosa exige el César de ti? Su propia imagen. ¿Qué cosa te exige el Señor? Su propia imagen también. Pero la imagen del César está sobre la moneda, en cambio la imagen de Dios está en ti mismo – (es en tu alma y en tu cuerpo y en tu mente.) Si lloras cuando pierdes la moneda, porque has perdido la imagen del César ¿no deberías llorar cuando adoras a los ídolos porque injurian en ti la imagen de Dios?”
        Según Cristo en nuestro Evangelio de hoy, nosotros como seres humanos, debemos reconocer a Dios como el único Señor.  Si, es verdad, solo Dios debe ser nuestro Señor.  Y por eso, debemos darle gracias.  Necesitamos darnos cuenta que por la gracia de Dios, tenemos el don de nuestra existencia, el don de nuestra fe, con el don de nuestra redención y salvación.  Por estos dones, tenemos la llamada de darle gracias.  Nuestra vida debe ser una “acción de gracias” a Dios, con el amor del Padre que tenemos en nuestra relación con su Hijo.  Toda de nuestra vida es un don que tiene su origen en Dios.
         Dios nos dice hoy – “Den al César lo que es del César y a Dios lo que es de Dios.”  Son palabras muy sencillas, pero muy profundas también.  Pero, Cristo no nos dice que no necesitamos participar en el gobierno o en la vida de la sociedad.  El mensaje que ustedes deben escuchar en las palabras de nuestra Iglesia es el mensaje de justicia y solidaridad y unidad.  El nuevo Arzobispo de Chicago, Blase Cupich, explicó que la Iglesia nunca debe estar satisfecho que está haciendo lo suficiente si todavía hay problemas sociales en nuestra sociedad."  Según el Arzobispo: “Sería ingenuo por nuestra parte pensar que este es el Reino de Dios y hemos hecho lo suficiente. No podemos darle la lata acerca de estas cosas, pero tenemos que asegurarnos de que seguimos presionando hacia adelante y conversar con la gente en la verdad."
        Como testigos de Cristo en el mundo, tenemos la llamada de cambiar las leyes y las actitudes que son contra el Evangelio de la Vida, el respeto de la vida humana.  Ustedes como la comunidad hispana puede contribuir mucho a nuestra parroquia y nuestra sociedad en su compartir de su camino y sus experiencias. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

10/16/2014 – Thursday of 28th week in Ordinary Time – Ephesians 1:1-10, Luke 11:47-54

     Today, we hear the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  Ephesus was one of the most important Roman cities in Asia Minor during the time of Jesus.  Many scholars believe that Paul wrote this letter between the year 61 – 63 while he was imprisoned in Rome.   Paul explains that God had a secret plan that was devised from the beginning of creation. Now, that plan is being revealed to us through the revelation we have had through Jesus Christ.  God unites us together under Christ through the sacrifice he made for us.
      The unity we have in Christ is a good thing to think about as we hear the message in the Gospel, about Jesus rebuking.  Again in the Gospel from St Luke, Jesus is rebuking the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy because it prevents the people from reaching closer union with God.  They build memorials for the prophets that God sends, yet they reject the prophets’ message and cause their downfall.  I always amazes me how in our society we love putting our heroes on pedestals, but we always love seeing them fall and ripping them down from their pedestals as well.  Pope Francis, in a homily last year during the Lenten season, had this to say about hypocrisy: “The sign that (one) is far from the Lord is hypocrisy. The hypocrite does not need the Lord, he is saved by himself – so he thinks – and he disguises himself as a saint.”  It is hard to look at the ways we are hypocritical, isn’t it, to delude ourselves and to put ourselves up on pedestals.  May we look inside our hearts today to see the ways that God wants us to change and to be open to conversion. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

10/17/2014 – Friday of 28th week in Ordinary Time – St Ignatius of Antioch – Luke 12:1-7

It is remarkable to me the saints that we celebrate in the month of October, especially during this week.  They are a wonderful cross-section of the community of saints that have influenced our faith.  Wednesday we celebrated Teresa of Avila, a mystic and reformer and Doctor of the Church who lived in Spain in the 16th century in the middle of the Protestant Reformation and Spanish Inquisition.  Tomorrow we celebrate Luke the Evangelist and manner in which his Gospel and his book of Acts of the Apostles are part of Sacred Scripture.  Sunday is the feast day of Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, and their companions, a group of Jesuit priests who were martyred in 17th century Canada while bringing the Gospel to the native people of that land.  Today we celebrate an important bishop of the early Church, St Ignatius of Antioch from Syria.  Ignatius was a protégé of St John the Evangelist who was chosen as Bishop of Antioch in middle of the First Century.  He was martyred during the prosecutions during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan in the year 108. 
       In our Gospel today, after rebuking the Pharisees, Jesus turns to his disciples, issuing a stern warning, telling them that they should not be led astray by the Pharisees, who live by double standards.  The Pharisees are concerned with the outward appearance of being holy, but they neglect their inner spiritual lives and they judge others harshly by these same outward standards.  The Pharisees may look holy through their outward practices and their elegant robes, but the appearance of things can be deceiving according to Jesus.  The disciples may have been confused by these comments; they had not seen the Pharisees for who they really were.
Ignatius was well-known by the purity of his faith and the example that he showed the people of his day.  He stands in great contrast to the Pharisees of his day.  Here is a quote from him, showing his humility and honesty: “Please pray for me, that I may have both spiritual and physical strength to perform my duties; that I may not only speak the truth but become the truth; that I may not only be called a Christian, but also live like a Christian…. Christianity is not a matter of persuading people of particular ideas, but of inviting them to share in the greatness of Christ. So pray that I may never fall into the trap of impressing people with clever speech, but instead I may learn to speak with humility, desiring only to impress people with Christ himself.”
        May we thank the Lord for the examples of St Ignatius of Antioch and the other early Church fathers and mothers who passed down the faith to us.  May we always practice the one true faith, and not be trapped by empty rituals and superficialities.