Sunday, November 27, 2011

12/04/2011 – Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent - Cycle B – Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11, Mark 1:1-8

         The prophets cry out to us today on the 2nd Sunday of Advent.  Yet, we have to make space for the voices of John the Baptist and Isaiah in our lives, space in the midst of all the cell phone calls, through all the text messages and emails we get each day, in the midst of the noise of the televisions and radios that are blaring everywhere.  Our modern world is full of many voices, many messages, a lot of noise.  There are many prophets out there, there are many messages, but what are we to believe, & how is God going to get his message through in the midst of all of this? 
         When I was up in Canada a couple of weeks ago, I read an article in the Toronto newspaper, The Globe and Mail, bemoaning the fact that so many Canadian college students have so little knowledge of the Bible.  College professors up in Canada used to take for granted that their students had a general knowledge about the Bible, that it united them together as a society, that the Bible was a natural part of the general conversation of society.  But that is no longer true.  The professors can make a comment about the Bible, or there can be symbolism or a storyline in a work of literature that directly connects it to a biblical reference, but nowadays, most students would not pick up on that. I guess this goes to show how often the message that Christianity is trying to get across to our world can get lost in everything else that is going on.
         We as Christians hear the voice of John the Baptist each year crying out to us on our Advent journey.  Today, his cry comes from the very first verses from the Gospel of Mark.  John is the messenger that foreshadows the coming of Jesus into the world.  He is in the middle of the desert wilderness, a strange figure wearing clothing made out of camels hair, eating locusts and wild honey.  He is telling people to repent, to be baptized in the river Jordan in acknowledgement of their sinful ways.  If we met John the Baptist coming down Main Street here in Yazoo City, we would probably label him a crazy person, and we probably wouldn’t listen to his message at all.
         Advent is a time of the year that is very different for us, isn’t it?  The purple color that characterizes this season tells us that it is a time of repentance, penance, and renewal.  And while we hear Christmas carols on the radio already this time of the year, and we see garland and tinsel, Christmas trees and lights all over the place, we don’t see a lot of decorations up yet in our church.  You see, as John the Baptist tells us, the journey through Advent is a journey through the desert.  It is a stark journey that recalls the very real encounter that the Israelites had with God as they journeyed through the desert to the promised land.  The desert is a difficult, forbidding place that recalls the brokenness and the lack of faith that the Israelites had a long their journey.  But John the Baptist is not trying to lead us into a place that will cause fear to grow in our hearts, that will break us or destroy us.  It’s the opposite.  We are being led into the desert as a place of renewal and hope, as a cleansing place where reflection and conversion can take place.  As Isaiah tells us, the message that God sends out to us is a message of comfort.  We are to be comforted in the midst of our struggles and brokenness.
         As I mentioned there are a lot of hollow words and false prophets crying out in our world today.  However, God is still here in our land as well, Christ is still alive, the true prophets of God are still trying to get God’s message across.  As I mentioned earlier, so much in our society is about self-gratification, enjoyment, and pleasure, of having it right now the way we want it, which is so different from our Advent message of waiting and preparing and expecting.  If there are so many in our world who are not getting the message of the prophets, the message of Advent, we need to try to bring the message to them.  We need to show the world that we are preparing our hearts, that we are preparing a path to the Lord in the midst of the all the commercialism and buying presents. 
          And as we listen to the voices of the prophets John the Baptist and Isaiah this morning, we need to listen to the voices of the prophets that God sends to our modern world.  I recently stumbled upon an article telling the story of a nun in the country of India named Sister Valsa John.  She had been working with a small community in India, where a coal mining company forced the poor off their land, giving them very little compensation in return.  The government is so eager to have jobs and income that it gives little heed to rights of the people who are trampled in this process. This sister in fact helped fight for compensation for the poor who were fighting for the rights, but the company failed to adhere to the agreement that was reached. She removed herself from this community for several years due to death threats that were made against her, and when she finally did go to visit this village again, she was beaten and hacked to death by a group of men who invaded the place where she was staying.  For me, Sister Valsa John is a true prophet for times, she is someone who proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ with her life and her work, making a path for the Lord in our secular world.  We need to listen to the prophets that God sends to the world, to heed their call for justice and peace, to practice the values that they teach us in our own lives. 
         Just how are we making a path for the Lord in our own lives, in the midst of this busy season of preparation?  How and we listening to the prophets?  And how are we being prophetic ourselves? 

Friday, November 25, 2011

11/27/2011 – Homilia del primer domingo del adviento – ciclo B – Marcos 13:33 – 37 –

        Según nuestro Señor en el Evangelio de hoy, necesitamos estar despiertos y vigilantes porque no sabemos cuando llegará el momento importante en nuestra vida, cuando llegará Jesucristo otra vez.  En la misa de hoy, empezamos el Adviento, un tiempo de preparación, un tiempo de espera.   En Adviento, esperamos cuarenta días antes del nacimiento de Jesús en nuestro mundo. 
         El adviento es una vigilancia constante y responsable para nosotros, los creyentes.  Como seres humanos, esperamos muchas cosas en nuestra vida, como el momento cuando podemos empezar la escuela, cuando podemos salir de la casa de nuestros padres, y cuando podemos trabajar y podemos manejar un carro.  Pero, la espera que tememos en nuestra vida de fe como católicos es muy distinta.  Tenemos una espera en el presente, es verdad, pero esta espera mueve al futuro cuando llega el nacimiento de Jesús, y cuando llegará Jesús otra vez en el futuro también.  Tenemos que esperar como nuestra vocación católica.  Muchos de nosotros queremos esperar según nuestra propia voluntad, según las expectativas que tenemos, según nuestros deseos.  Pero, al contrario – como católicos, necesitamos esperar en adviento según el ritmo de Dios en nuestro mundo.  En esta espera, necesitamos tener confianza en nuestro Dios.  Necesitamos tener confianza en nuestra fe.
         En esta espera que tenemos en Jesús en adviento, tenemos un encuentro con El.  Tenemos una relación muy especial con El.  Sabemos que el niño Jesús llega en nuestro mundo y en nuestra vida en el 25 de diciembre.  Pero, el Señor no nos dice cuando El viene otra vez.  No sabemos la fecha, no sabemos la hora.  Hay personas que dicen que ellos pueden calcular esta fecha concreta.  Pero, la palabra de Dios nos dice que nadie puede saber la fecha en este respecto.  Por esta razón, debemos mantenernos alertos.  Debemos estar vigilantes y despiertos para descubrir la invitación de conversión que Dios tiene para nosotros. 
         En el adviento este año, Dios nos invita para caminar con El.  Para orar.  Para estar alertos y atentos.  Para esperar con todos nuestros corazones.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Homily - Advent Reconciliation service - (1 John 1:5 – 2:2; Psalm 27; John 12:31-36)

At my parishes in the Mississippi Delta, I will be having reconciliation services in the first few weeks of the holy season of Advent.  Our service at Belzoni in Humphreys County, Mississippi will be Wednesday, November 30, and our service in Yazoo CIty will be Monday, December 12.  The following is the homily reflecting upon the reading from Sacred Scripture at those services. 

         Light is a common theme in all of our readings today.  As we come together to celebrate a communal reconciliation service as a part of our period of preparation during Advent, we can think about how we light the candles on the Advent wreath to mark the passing of the days during this holy season of preparation.  When we finally reach Christmas, we see lights displayed everywhere – on Christmas trees, and lighting up houses and windows.  These lights represent the reality that Christ was born as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem in order to be the light of the world.
         You know, I was just up in Canada a couple of weeks ago to visit friends.  I lived in the city of Winnipeg for two years and survived two long winters up there.  Up north, during the winter months, it seems like it is dark and cold all of the time.  With our mild climate here in Mississippi, and being so far south in our country, we don’t expereince the darkness and coldness so much during this time of year.  I really appreciated how the people in Winnipeg loved the Christmas lights in the midst of that darkness, reminding them that not only is Christ the light in the midst of all the darkness, but that springtime would be coming as well.
         The light of Christ enters our lives when we are baptized, and we are symbolically given a baptismal candle that is lit from the Easter candle to represent the light of Christ in our lives.  At the Easter vigil mass, the entire Church is lit up with candles lit from that same Easter candle as a wonderful sign of the light of Christ we are called to be as the Church and as followers of Jesus. 
         Yet, when we sin, when darkness enters our lives, when the relationships we have with God and with others are broken or strained, the light of Christ is diminished in our lives.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation that we are celebrating this evening is here to help us restore that light.
         This season of preparation during Advent is a very busy time for all of us.  Students are winding down the semester, and all of us have so many activities going on this time of the year. Most of us really look forward to the Christmas season, to the time we spend with family and friends. However, Advent is also a time of conversion, a time when we can look at our life of faith in a fresh and new way.  May we see Advent, and this communal service of reconciliation today, as a holy time of renewal for us, a time where the light of Christ can be celebrated in our lives, a light that will take away the darnkness, a light that will signify the strong presence that Christ and the Church have in our lives.
         In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us to keep faith in the light while we have the light, that we may become sons and daughters of the light.  May the healing and grace that we receive from this communal service of reconciliation and the Sacrament of Reconciliation reinforce our identity as sons and daughters of the light.  May we bring this light to others.  

12/3/2011 – Homily for Saturday of the first week of Advent – Matthew 9:35-10:1; Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26

       In today's Gospel, we hear how Jesus' heart was moved with pity for the crowd that was gathered around him in the towns, the villages, & the synagogues. He was touched by those who were troubled & abandoned, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.  The Greek word that we translate into Jesus being moved by pity literally mean that he was moved & stirred up all the way down to his stomach & his guts, that he actually had a physical gut reaction to the sufferings of the people. 
       So, if we are to have Jesus as our model for ministry and our model for a life of faith, if we are sent like by Jesus like he sent out his disciples to the various towns & villages to proclaim the kingdom of God through word & action, what does this really mean for us?  Part of our reflection during this Advent season should include an examination of how we are living out our faith, as we hear Jesus challenge us & motivate us in today's Gospel.  Jesus empowered those first disciples, just as he is empowering us to spread his Good News throughout the world. 
       Listen to the final words of today's Gospel: “Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give.”  What an incredible gift we have received in our faith, in the new life we have received in Christ.  Yet we too are to give in return, in many different ways: in the practice of justice and kindness; in the way we acknowledge and serve; in the way we love others in the same way that God loves us. 
       As we coninue on our journey during Advent today, may we be challenged to open our hearts to the ways Jesus is sending us out to spread the Good News to others.  

12/2/2011 – Homily for Friday of the first week Advent – Isaiah 29:17-24; Matthew 9:27-31

The blind men cry out to Jesus, they ask him to have pity on them.     They put their faith in Jesus, they truly believe that he can heal them.  Out of their faith, Jesus brings healing into their lives.
Our faith can certainly bring about miracles, but perhaps we do not see all of the miracles in which God is at work in our lives.  Sometimes, if we just open ourselves to new experiences in our lives, if we open up ourselves to new possibilities in which God can work in us, then we will be surprised as to how God can work his miracles in us. Isaiah tells us of a day in which the deaf will hear the words of a book, in which the eyes will be able to see out of the gloom and darkness of our world.  And we are preparing for that day, for that day when Jesus comes as a light in our world, a light that is shining in the darkness, a light that gives us the hope to endure all that we are struggling through in life. Just as the blind men had faith that brought about great changes in their lives, may our faith also bring many different possibilities into our own lives & into the lives of those to whom we witness.  

12/1/2011 – Homily for Thursday of the first week of Advent – Isaiah 26:1-6

          Isaiah is a prophet whom we often hear from in the season of Advent, since his prophecies are seen as precursors to Jesus’ entry into our world.  In today’s reading from Isaiah, we hear of a lofty city that is brought down by the Lord, a city that ignores justice, a city that ignores the cries of the poor. This city is turned to dust that is trampled down by the footsteps of the poor and the downtrodden. 
         With all the missionary work I have done throughout the world, I truly believe that the Lord does hear the cry of the poor.  Yet, as a nation & as Christians, we often struggle with what it means to hear the cry of the poor.  As most of you know, I recently came back from a visit to Winnipeg, Canada, where I spent time with friends whom I initially met when I worked full-time at a soup kitchen & food bank there.  It was through those experiences that I had first hand interactions with the homeless and street people, with prostitutes and drug addicts.  I left that experience in Winnipeg with more questions than answers.  And even though it’s not easy to struggle with the poor & to journey with them, it is something with we are called to do as followers of Jesus. We don’t have to look overseas or the large urban areas of our country to hear the cry of the poor, as it is right here in our own community in Yazoo City.  That is probably obvious to all of us.
         So we might ask ourselves today: How are we responding to the poor in our midst?   Are we creating a just society, or are we a lofty city that will be taken down by the Lord?  

Scenes from a trip to WInnipeg

I spent 12 days in beautiful Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, just as winter was setting in.  Here are some scenes of what I saw.  

Ducks and Canadian geese along the Red River. 

Portage Avenue - downtown Winnipeg

MTS Center - where the Winnipeg Jets Hockey team now plays.  This is its first year back in Winnipeg.  The center is downtown at the site of the former Eaton's department store. 

Walkway along the Red River.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

11/21/2011 – Homily for Monday of 34th week in ordinary time – presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Luke 21:1-4

      In today’s Gospel, Jesus addresses the importance of sacrificing for our faith, how the two coins that the widow gives as an offering, coins that represent all that she has, means much more than a huge sum of money that a wealthy man gives out of his surplus.  This Gospel has such a strong message for us in our modern world. On the day we hear about sacrifice, we celebrate the presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple, an event which does not have a direct reference in the Gospels, but can be traced to other first century writings & to tradition in the early Church. 
       Mary was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem when she was a young girl.  She must have spent a great deal of time in the Temple preparing for her eventual role as the mother of our Lord & the mother of Church.  We can use our imagination & our understanding of Mary from Scripture & tradition to reflect upon what her childhood & her journey of faith might have been like before the annunciation.  We can also ask ourselves how we can turn to Mary and ask her to help prepare us for our mission as Christians in our modern world. 
       Although Mary probably spent much time in the Temple & in the study of Jewish Scripture & tradition, she also probably spent a lot of time with St. Anne & St. Joachim, her mother & father, growing up in a loving family who exposed her to the reality of life around her, including the sufferings of the poor. Mary was full of grace, but I also imagine that her parents and her upbringing fostered and encouraged her empathy and compassion, her generosity and humble nature, her empathy and forgiveness. 
       May the example of the Virgin Mary encourage us as we travel along our own journey of faith. It's so easy to have a cynical vision of our world, & to have that cynicism & sarcasm seep into our lives of faith.  Look at how so many in our society place their faith in trust in their wealth and riches, thinking that those things will bring them redemption and happiness. May the Virgin Mary be an example of Christian love & virtue for us in how we should live our lives of faith, to combat the skepticism, sarcasm, and cynicism of our modern secular world.

11/30/2010 – St Andrew the Apostle – Homily for Wednesday of first week of Advent – Matthew 4:18-22, Romans 10:9-18

         Today we celebrate the feast of St Andrew, one of the 12 apostles.  Like many of the apostles, the Gospel does not go into a great detail about him.  Today’s reading from Matthew tells us that Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter, that he was called to be a disciple out of the everyday reality of his life while he & his brother were casting a net into the sea.  Jesus called them to follow him – they were amongst his first followers.  Andrew & Simon Peter immediately put down their nets & followed him.  Tradition has it that Andrew brought the Gospel to the people of Turkey & Greece after Jesus’ death & resurrection, where Andrew gave his life as a martyr in order to continue Christ’s mission to the world.
         In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us how important it is for us to share our faith with others, to continue the work of Christ here on earth by preaching the Gospel.  Paul tells us it does not matter if we are Jew or Greek – it doesn’t matter who we are & what our status in life is – Christ’s Gospel is open to all.
         As we journey through this first week in Advent & as we hear of the witness of Andrew the Apostle, may we see the responsibility we have in helping to spread the Gospel throughout the world.  As part of our Advent practices, may we find new & different way that we can help Jesus & his apostles in their mission to spread the Good News throughout the world.