Sunday, September 23, 2012

What is in this for Me!!! Homily for 25th Sunday of OT

I love infomercials.  Not because of the products they sell.  But because of how they go about selling them.  They take an absolutely unnecessary product and make you think it is necessary.  And they make you believe that you are going to get something out of the deal.  Call us, and will give you this product at 40% of the normal price. But wait, if you act now before this commercial is done, we will also give six of them free and this nice glow-in-the-dark magnet. 


Whatever the product they are selling, marketers have figured it out.  If you are going to sell something, you have to show people what is in it for them.  For we are, most often in our lives, a “what is in it for me” kind of people.


What is in it for me?  Unfortunately, this kind of thinking doesn’t just affect the products we buy.  It also affects other areas of our life:  Our approach to religion and faith. 


Take Sasha:  She attended church because she wanted to receive the blessings that God grants to those who are faithful. Unfortunately, she thought that those blessings included money, wealth and power.  When she was laid off from her job and could not make the payments on her house, she felt God had betrayed her.  God had not upheld his end of the bargain.  If she was faithful, then she should have been blessed with money and wealth.  Right?  Sadly, when faith didn’t produce what she wanted, she stepped away from her relationship with God.




And then there was Alex and Cindy.  They had not been to church since they were confirmed.  Now that they were married with one child born and another on the way, they felt it was time to go back. They had their children baptized and started going to classes themselves. Alex and Cindy knew their family needed protection from the dangers and threats of life.  They prayed for this fervently each night and at Mass.  When, however, two years after joining the church their son tragically died of cancer, they left the Church and never came back. This was not what they signed up.  God had not upheld his end of the bargain.


Finally, there was Mark.  He started going to church because he liked the music, and the pastor was a real charismatic preacher.  He felt he got a real emotional high from the experience of Mass.  However, when the priest was given a new assignment and the musician had to move because of a job change, Mark stopped experiencing that same high at Mass each week.  His emotions calmed to almost apathy.  When the priest, musician and emotions left, so did Mark.


All of these situations are common experiences.  Their results are sad because ultimately the people choose to remove themselves from the support and love of a community.  But the most devastating part of these situations is the underlying philosophy that at least motivates, at some level, the decisions of the people.  It is the same thing that gets us to buy the useless infomercial product:  “what is in it for me.”  For Sasha, Alex, Cindy and Mark, what was in it for them in a life of faith was money, wealth, a lack of suffering, emotionally high experiences and entertainment.      Their faith became dependent on these things, on what they could get out of it.  If they didn’t get it, then they were out.


The disciples in today’s Gospel were not much different.  For them, they were interested in recognition, position, and importance.  If they followed Jesus, they wanted to sit at his right hand, to be recognized, to be important, to be the greatest.  They were looking at a life of faith in terms of what was in it for them.  Unfortunately, with Jesus right there in their midst, they missed the point.  For the disciples and for us, a life of faith is not about what’s in it for me.  It’s ultimately about what’s in it for God, and what’s in it for others.    For Jesus tells us:  if you wish to be first, you must be last of all, and servant to all.


Now I realize that I may not be very good at marketing.  What is being asked of us by Jesus is tough, tough stuff.


Living a life of faith means that first and foremost, we come to Mass to worship God.  Not for the music or the homily or the food or the decorations or the fellowship or the emotions or the priest (certainly not the priest).  We come to mass to worship God.  What we receive from Mass and our own needs come second, God is placed first. 


Living a life of faith also means that not only will we still experience the normal suffering of life, but we may even have to make decisions that will cause us more suffering.  For we see in the very example of Jesus, who was perfect, loving, and both God and man, that he suffered.  Jesus, of all people, should have been free of suffering.  Yet he allowed himself to suffer that we might live.  He even chose to remain open to his death on the cross that we might be saved.  Jesus did not come to abolish suffering, but to redeem it.  So how can we expect our lives to be any different? 


Finally, a life of faith is not about the blessings we receive, but about the blessings with which we provide for others.  This means that others will probably get their way, rather than us.  When we have clearly called the front seat when going to the store, we may have to give it up to your sibling.  When there is only one can of soda left in the fridge, it may be our siblings who get to drink it, and not us.  When both you and your spouse have had a long, long day, it may be you who has to cook the meal.  When you work on a project at work with another coworker, it may be him that gets the recognition, rather than you.  When the baby is sick during the middle of the night and no one wants to get up, it may be you who has to make the first move.  Jesus put our needs and salvation in front of his entire life.  If we are to follow him, we must also do so.


At this point most people stop listening.  Most people say it is too much and walk away.  This kind of life is so difficult.  And this is because it is so much a part of who we are to wonder what is in it for us.  In a life of faith, it is really about what is in it for God, and for others. 


But in case we were a little too worried that we would get nothing out of this life, I think that it is worth mentioning:  In the end there may be a reward for us.  In putting others first we finally find the peace our heart has longed for.  In enduring our suffering through faith in Christ we experience a silence that calms our soul.  And in putting God before ourselves we find what we have lost all this time:  what it really means to be fully human.


And so the choice is ours.  But please hurry, if you act now, before the homily is over, you will receive all of this, and God will even throw in eternity in heaven.  But don’t wait around, this is a limited time offer.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Somos Unidos en Nuestra Sufrimiento--24 Domingo en Tiempo Ordinario

Conocí una chica llamada Lucia.  Cuando ella tenía quince años, todo el tiempo, ella hacia comparaciones.  Ella decía: él tiene la mejor camioneta. O ella tiene los mejores pantalones y camisetas.  Aghhh, me gusta su pelo o no me gusta su maquillaje.  Y siempre ella necesitaba tener lo mejor.  La mejor moda, el mejor pelo, el mejor carro.  Y ella quería ser diferente de todo, diferente con lo mejor. 
Pero un día, ella me dijo: Aaron, yo no creo que nadie me conoce.  Las otras personas ven mi carro, mi pelo, mi ropa, y maquillaje, pero nadie conoce mi corazón, mi alma, mi vida. Estoy sola.
Y mientras ella lloraba en mi hombro, estropeó su maquillaje, y sus lágrimas se cayeron al suelo. 
Es muy común para las personas intentar ser diferente.  A veces, usamos las cosas materiales para ser diferentes, usamos las clases sociales, y también nuestros estados o países.  Pero, yo pienso que aunque intentamos ser diferentes y mejores, nosotros estamos unidos.  Porque estamos unidos en nuestro sufrimiento.  
Desafortunadamente el sufrimiento es una parte de la vida.  Quien aquí, no ha tenido una noche con lagrimas, dudas, o temores?  Pienso que todo hemos tenido una noche como esa.  Pero, intentamos esconder el sufrimiento, las lágrimas y los temores.  Usamos muchas cosas para parecer fuerte, feliz, y en control de nuestras vidas.  Pero pienso que no es real.  La realidad es todo sufre, todo tiene lagrimas, todo tiene temores. 
En el evangelio de hoy, Jesús les dijo a sus discípulos que él también necesita sufrir.  Los discípulos no querían aceptar eso.  Pero Jesús les dice que es necesario. Y nosotros sabemos que Jesús sufrió  mucho en la cruz.
Sería bueno no tener el sufrimiento.  Pero es una realidad.  Yo pienso que hay sabiduría en el sufrimiento.  Y esta es la sabiduría: estamos unidos a Cristo con nuestro sufrimiento. Y estamos unidos juntos, todos los que están aquí, en nuestro sufrimiento.  Por lo tanto necesitamos compartir nuestra experiencia de sufrimiento con la comunidad de fe, y necesitamos apoyar y ayudar el uno al otro.  De este manera, juntos, nosotros cargar la cruz.

Nosotros no solamente estamos unidos porque tenemos sufrimiento en nuestras vidas.  También, estamos unidos porque nuestra salvación ha ocurrido a través el sufrimiento de Cristo.  Jesús voluntariamente ha aceptado recibir el sufrimiento de su pasión por todos los que están aquí, y en todo el mundo.  Él recibió los golpes en su espalda, los insultos, los salivazos, y la cruz.  El recibió estas cosas por nosotros.  Y juntos, nosotros vamos a recibir nuestra salvación porque Jesús aceptó su sufrimiento. 


Cuando nosotros no podemos entender nuestro sufrimiento, cuando queremos esconder el sufrimiento y las lagrimas, busca la cruz.  Porque la cruz es un símbolo en la que hay sabiduría en el sufrimiento.  Cuando nosotros vemos la cruz, necesitamos recodar que todos sufren, Cristo sufrió por nosotros, y entonces, por Él, estamos unidos en el sufrimiento.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Spiritual Deafness: 23rd Sunday in OT

We come from a long line of people who are a little hard of hearing.  And I am not referring to physical deafness as we find in the Gospel today, but spiritual deafness.


Our first parents were told to enjoy the blessings of Eden and to only stay away from this one tree: they found themselves outside of paradise hiding from God.


Noah tried to warn the people of an impending flood and danger, but many found themselves drowning as the ark sailed away.


Moses held his staff, shouted his commandments, and passed his judgments, but his people found themselves grumbling with their false idols outside of God’s law.


Samuel told his people about the danger of having a king, but they found themselves with one who hoarded riches and flaunted honor.


Jeremiah and Isaiah cried out for the Israelites to return to the Lord, but they found themselves in exile and without hope.


And not much needs to be said about Jonah---his trip in the belly of a whale is proof that he could have worked on his listening skills.




Of course, it wasn’t just Old Testament figures that were hard of hearing.  The characters of the New Testament weren’t much better.  The Pharisees couldn’t hear through their hardness of heart and obsession with the law.  The Sadducees couldn’t hear due to their position and status. And the disciples had the Son of God of in their presence and only realized after the fact what Jesus actually was saying to them.


I think it is honest to say, we come from a long line of people who struggle with spiritual deafness.


But in case we think we have improved in our own time, I think we can say that spiritual deafness is something with which we still struggle:


God tells us that his love is unconditional and we only hear the shame of the sins of our past.


God tells us that we are made in his image and we only hear the lies we learned as a child.


God asks us to place him first above all other things, and we only hear our excuses to neglect honoring him in worship each week.


God asks us to protect the dignity of human life and we only hear the false hope of partisan compromise.


God asks his Church to stay united and we only hear our personal preference and agenda which trump the common good.


Each of us in our own way has struggled with spiritual deafness.  But the Gospel today has the chance to serve as a spiritual hearing aid, a sign language that leads us to new life and peace.  A message that opens ours ears to the promise of salvation.



A deaf man was brought to Jesus.  One can just imagine his struggle to connect with the world and experience a fullness of life, being that he was also unable to speak.  As it would be still today, it must have required tremendous courage and adversity to overcome his impairment.  Christ showed his compassion on those who are unable able to hear by healing this man’s infirmities.  A finger in the ear, a little saliva, and a miracle of healing had taken place. 


Now I think we can all be thankful that Jesus will not be sticking his fingers in our own ears or using saliva on us in order to heal our spiritual deafness.  But I think taking a closer look at Jesus’ own life can reveal to us how we might overcome our own spiritual deafness.




Christ was a man who placed himself around people who were different than him, and ideas that were different from his.  He ate with sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes.  He spoke with Pharisees and Sadducees, even though he did not share their same philosophy.  And he even reached outside of his own people when pressured to do so.


To overcome our spiritual deafness, I think this can be a starting point for us.  To associate with people who think differently than us, and to hear ideas that are different from our own. Now this is terribly challenging to do.  It is much easier to be around people who think and act like us.  But associating with people who are different helps to reveal the errors of our ways, and opens us up to those things which our spiritual deafness may have been keeping from us.  This is also the reason we continue on in faith formation from as young as a child to the oldest member of our community:  to hear new ideas and be challenged out of our deafness, into the fullness our faith has to offer.


Christ is also a perfect example of dialogue.  As the second person of the trinity, in relationship with the Father, they exemplify perfect dialogue.  Each remains open to the other in an exchange of love.  Each has something to share.  Each is able to receive.  And it is the gift of the spirit, true wisdom, that is the result of this perfect dialogue.


In order to overcome our spiritual deafness, we must to be people of dialogue.  This requires us to not only be willing to be vulnerable by sharing who we are with others.  But it also requires us to listen intently to others, believing that they have something to share with us.  And to believe that we still have many things to learn in life.


Finally, Christ does not compromise truth.  He states very clearly that he is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one can come to his father except through him. He therefore embodies truth.  It can never be divided, it has only one source, and it is only through this truth, who is a person, that one can achieve the fullness of life and salvation.


We, too, then, in order to overcome our spiritual deafness must not compromise truth.  This first must be in relationship to the lies to which we each hold.  Lies that we are not good enough, that God could never forgive us, that we could never be loved, or that we are trash.  These lies must be erased by the salvific truth of Jesus.  A truth that calls us his daughters and sons. A truth that offers us forgiveness and compassion. 


But this also calls us to throw aside a relativistic and individualistic worldview.  In other words, embracing the truth of Christ means that we do not as individuals determine what is true:  simply because I believe it does not make it true.  Neither does each thought and value have an equal standing in public discourse.  We must have the humility to accept the truth that comes from Christ and his Church, recognizing that when left to our own self to determine what is right, we are only left with division, strife and compromise.


The liberation from our spiritual deafness is in reach.  Jesus proved to us in today’s gospel that he wants us all to hear and thus embrace the Good News.  If we trust in his healing power, and strive to associate with those different than us, seek dialogue, and yet never compromise on truth, then we too will have our ears opened.  And we will never be able to resist sharing our savior with the world.  Like the deaf man in the Gospel, we too will shout with joy that God does all things well.


Let us proclaim together this day:  Ephphatha---Be opened!!  And be rid of our spiritual deafness forever!!

Monday, September 3, 2012

The People are Watching, Observing, Seeing: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary--My first weekend in the Missions of Tennessee

When I was a little boy I loved Saturdays.  Saturday meant that it was time to be with my dad.  I would wake up early and watch him shave, eat breakfast, drink his coffee, yawn.  When he sipped his coffee, I sipped my juice.  When he yawned, I yawned.  When he rubbed his face, I did the same.  My eyes were always fixed on him waiting for his next move.  After breakfast it was time to carry wood to our basement so we could heat the house.  I watched him stack wood in a wheelbarrow.  I stacked wood in my red wagon, log after log, just like my dad.  I would pull my wagon next to him, step by step.  My eyes never left him.  We didn’t always talk a whole lot.   But we communicated: my eyes watching, observing, seeing.  To me there was something special about my dad.  He was different.  And I wanted to be just like him. 




In the first reading today, Moses is asking his people to observe the decrees which the Lord had given them.  He promises them that if they do so, then they will have life and receive all the blessings that God desires to give them.  But more importantly, Moses knew that other people were watching, observing, seeing.  If Moses’ people could live the way in which the Lord had asked them, then others would see that they were special; that they were different. 







As I have made my way through Maynardville and Rutledge these past few days I have noticed that people are watching me.  They are wondering who the new guy is, and they are even more intrigued when they see me in my collar.  But I come from a small town and am used to the way small towns operate.  Change always attracts attention.  But there is no doubt in my mind that the people of these two towns, who have been watching me, have also been noticing you all, too.  As you’ve grown as a community, as you’ve started filling this store front, they’ve been watching, observing, seeing.  Perhaps they are saying to themselves: those people seem different, and they seem to have something special.





A number of years ago I was involved in prison ministry in eastern Kentucky.  The men who came to the mass we offered each week were inspiration to me.  They helped me grow as a person of faith far more than I could ever have helped them.  Though there were at most 20 who attended the mass, they sang like 100s gathered together.  They always welcomed me and anyone who came to visit.  And they never wanted to leave.  During the Eucharistic prayer they would drop to their knees down on the hard concrete. And they were faithful, hardly ever missing mass during the week. The guards would walk by and simply catch a glimpse of what we were doing.  If I looked out the door and made eye-contact with them, they would turn quickly away as if they were going about their business.  But they were interested.  We even started attracting many non-Catholic Christians and even a Muslim came to our mass.  After a number of weeks I asked the Muslim man why he continued to join us.  He said very simply:  you Catholics are different.  There is something special about you.





When people look upon this group of Catholics, what is it that they see?  Now certainly I am no expert here, only being part of the community for a short time.  But as I have followed you all on Fr. Steve’s blog, as I have talked with Br. Craig and Br. Joe, and what I have seen with my own eyes, there is something special about this community.  There is something different.  For in just one short year so many miracles have happened:





Strangers are being welcomed

The hungry are being fed.

The naked are being clothed.

The lost are being found.

The faithful are gathering.

The people are rejoicing.

There is something special here.

There is something different.







Hopefully what people see in this community continues to look more and more like the true religion that Saint James refers to in his epistle.  And we should expect nothing less from our Catholic faith. For it has the ability, more than any other institution or religion, to be transformative.


For we have a history of 2000 years

We have a promise made by Christ to Peter to protect his Church 

We have the promise of the Holy Spirit to guide us. 

We the promise that we’ll never be alone as long as that light glows near the tabernacle

We are different. 

We are special. 

And if we live our faith people will be attracted to what they see.


But here is the catch:  Jesus warns us today in the gospel that we are to never take advantage of these gifts.  The gifts are made present to us, but we have to allow them to transform our lives.  And that choice is ours.  Jesus desires to help our hearts heal, our faith grow, our fear disappear, our hungers be satisfied.  He desires to transform our entire being.  And in transforming our lives we will transform our families, our towns, our country, and the world.  Much, like you all have being doing here in this beautiful area of eastern Tennessee.


Therefore, it is truly an honor for me to be part of the wonderful work that is already being done in these communities.  I could not have asked for a better mission to serve in for my first assignment.  It is an honor to work alongside Fr. Steve, Br. Joe, Br. Craig and Godfrey.  It is an honor to serve with you all.  I look forward to growing with you all, to sharing my faith and learning from yours, and to seeing the works that God will continue to accomplish in this area. 


Let us remember that the people are watching, seeing, observing: We are special.  We are different.  And for this, we can only give glory to God.

La Gente esta observando: Primero fin de semena en el mision en Tennessee---22nd Domingo en tiempo ordinario

Cuando era un niño, vi y observé a mi papá todo el tiempo.  En las mañanas, cuando el bostezaba, yo también bostezaba.  Cuando el bebía su café, yo bebí mi jugo.  Cuando él comía su avena, yo comía mi cereal.  Todo el tiempo, fijaba la mirada en el. En la tarde cuando nosotros estábamos trabajando juntos, también, observaba a mi papá.     Cuando el apilaba la leña, yo también la apilaba en la misma manera.  Para mí, cuando era un niño, había algo muy especial sobre mi papa.  Él era diferente.  Y yo quería ser como el. 

En la primera lectura hoy, Moisés le pide a la gente cumplir los mandatos del Señor.  Si ellos cumplen los mandatos y decretos del Señor, ellos van a tener vida y podrán recibir todas las bendiciones del Señor.  Pero lo que es aun más importante, los vecinos del pueblo de Moisés los estaban observando.  Y, si el pueblo de Moisés cumplen los mandatos del Señor, los vecinos podían decir: el pueblo del Señor es un pueblo sabio e inteligente.  Ellos tienen un Dios que es amoroso y compasivo.  Ellos son un pueblo especial y diferente.

Yo llegué en Maynardville y Rutledge hace pocos días.  Y me he dado cuenta que la gente me ha  estado observando.  Y pienso que ellos se estaban preguntando: quien es este hombre?  Y por qué está llevando un alza cuello?  Él es un sacerdote?  Por qué esta aquí?  Pero yo pienso que las personas que me han observado, también, los están observando a ustedes.  Se han dado cuenta de que ustedes se reúnen en una tienda.  Y también se han dado cuenta de que todos los fines de semana hay mas personas se reúnen en estas últimas semanas.  Y que piensan ellos?  Yo pienso que ellos dicen: los católicos son diferentes.  Ellos tienen algo especial. 



Hace pocos años, trabajé en una prisión en Kentucky.  Este fue un ministerio muy especial para mí.  Porque los prisioneros tenían mucha fe.  Ellos cantaban todas las canciones con mucha fuerza.  Ellos eran muy hospitalarios con nosotros.  Y ellos nunca se perdían la misa.  Ellos me inspiraban mucho.  Porque la comunidad tenían mucha hospitalidad y energía, ellos llamaban la atención de otras personas: personas que no eran católicas, e incluso un musulmán.  Después de pocas semanas, le pregunté al musulmán: por qué continuas asistiendo a la misa?  Él me dijo: ustedes católicos son diferentes.  Hay algo especial sobre ustedes.  



Cuando la gente observa nuestro grupo de católicos, que observan?  Pienso que la gente dice:  esta es una comunidad especial.  Ellos son diferentes.  Porque ellos pueden ver las cosas milagrosas que han ocurrido:




Extranjeros son recibidos

Los hambrientos son alimentados

Los desnudos son vestidos

Los perdidos son encontrados

Los fieles se reúnen

El pueblo se alegra

Hay algo especial aquí

Hay algo diferente







Y los católicos son diferentes.  Porque nosotros tenemos una fe que pueden transformarnos mas que cualquier religión o institución.   Porque nosotros tenemos algo diferente:


Tenemos una historia de dos mil anos

Tenemos una promesa de Cristo a Pedro para guiar su iglesia

Tenemos una promesa del Espíritu Santo para protegernos

Tenemos una promesa en la eucaristía para nunca estar solos

Nosotros somos diferentes.  Y si vivimos nuestra fe, la gente se sentirá atraídos por nosotros.


Pero nosotros tenemos una decisión.  Necesitamos vivir la vida de fe.  Jesús quiere transformarnos; solamente necesitamos tomar la decisión. 


Y yo estoy feliz, porque ya observé que ustedes están viviendo la fe.  Y me siento honrado porque puedo servirles a ustedes.  Me encanta mucho que puedo trabajar con el Padre Esteban, Hermano Craig, Hermano José, y Godfrey.  Le agradezco a Dios porque tengo mi primera asignación aquí en Tennessee.  Espero observar más milagros de Dios aquí en estas comunidades.


Vamos a recordar que: la otra gente está observándonos.  Nosotros somos diferentes.  Somos especiales.  Y por esto, damos honor y gloria a Dios.