Daily Reflection: 14 April 2017

Today’s readings can be found here.

Reflection:

Frankly, today’s readings speak for themselves. They are the greatest story ever told. So to comment on them specifically is always a daring challenge. Today, I’d like to reflect upon how I have recently witnessed the kind of sacrificial love Christ offers for us on the Cross.

As some may know one of my roles in the diocese is as professor/formator for the Spanish speaking permanent diaconate candidates.

Yesterday, the teacher became the student.

I was blessed to be able to attend the naturalization ceremony for one of the candidates and his family.

What did I learn?

Of course there was a great civics lesson, as it was a truly unique and moving ceremony.

More importantly I learned about the values of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. For yesterday was not just about 35 minutes in a Federal Court Room, it was about 19 years of love and sacrifice.

Today we celebrate Good Friday, Christ’s sacrificial love for us on the Cross. this candidate and his wife give us a living witness of this love through the sacrifices they have made for their children.

Thank you for letting me be a part of your special day.

Thank you for letting the teacher be the student once more.

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Making sense of the signs

This past weekend I preached at my apostolate, Loyola University Chicago’s John Felice Rome Center. I was preaching to a group of college students currently studying abroad here in Rome. It was my first Sunday homily since being ordained a deacon. Over the weekend I gave two other homilies as well, I didn’t have a text for either of them, especially since I found out I was doing one 30 seconds before Mass. If I have time and remember well enough what I said, I’ll type them up too. As always, these homilies are meant to be delivered, but here’s the text anyway:


October 27, 312, just a little more than 1702 years ago, not too far from this very spot Constantine and his troops were camped out before the famous battle of the Milvian Bridge. That evening Constantine had some sort of a vision, he saw a sign, the Chi-Rho. To us Americans it looks like P-X, they are the first two letters of the Christ in Greek, Christos.  So he put the sign on the shields of his men and the next day, despite being outnumbered, won the battle. So as he entered this great and eternal city, he had a problem. Unlike the other Roman leaders, he couldn’t offer sacrifice at the temple of the God who won his victory, because that temple didn’t exist. So he’s forced to go to Sylvester, the Pope at the time and asks what can I do? The first response was, “stop persecuting us!” And so the Edict of Milan was passed in 313. The second time he asked, the response was, “Build us a Church!” That Church, what some refer to as the first Church of Christendom, is known to us as St. John Lateran, the Cathedral of Rome, one of the four major basilicas. All throughout the world people are celebrating the dedication of that Church, and we are so blessed to be right here.

Some of you who are historically inclined might disagree with my more, narrative approach, but I do so for a reason. Certainly I don’t think that any of us can directly relate with all of the elements of this stories because I’m pretty sure none of us have ever been generals, emperors, or had such mystical type of experiences. However, I also believe that there are certain elements of this story that very much relate to each one of us.

We are all looking for signs. For all of you who are in college these are such important years when you are trying to decide what you want to do with your lives, we’re constantly looking for answers, for signs.

We want to know if we are called to priesthood, religious life, or married life.  We want a sign, or we say, we haven’t received a sign so therefore I’m not called to priesthood or religious life. If that’s the case then marriage risks becoming some sort of a default, which does that vocation a great injustice. It’s not fair to your future spouse if you see marriage as a default, it is a vocation.For religious life, priesthood and marriage are all vocations. We are all called.

The other problem we have is that we all expect the sign, the call to be some sort of overwhelming experience, much like that of Constantine. We expect some sort of big experience. Or we think it will be like the Lion King and God will appear in the clouds and tells us what we are to do. Or maybe we think of the sorting hat in Harry Potter, you just put a hat on your head and it yells out, “Priest!” “Sister” “Husband” or “Wife.” Rather God calls us through much more simple and subtle signs, which can be difficult to see and hear sometimes.

When I was still in high school, before I would ever have said I was actively considering, or discerning I was serving Mass on Sunday I was sitting on a bench and the visiting priest came over and asked me, “what are you going to do when you get bigger?” I replied, “Be a better lineman.” He asked again, I responded, “Hit harder.” Again, “Block better.” Finally he gave up asking and just said, “what about being a priest!” I laughed at him. I gave it no thought, just laughed. I wonder what he’d say if he saw me now…

See in the moment I didn’t see that as a sign, I didn’t want to listen, I just laughed and dismissed the priest. This wasn’t some powerful experience, some great clarity or great sign, it was a simple, maybe all of a 1 minute conversation. If we walk around this life looking and waiting for a  big sign, we’re likely to laugh at all the small signs as they pass us by.

In the story of Constantine even after he had received this special grace, he wasn’t sure what to do. So for us who receive signs in more subtle ways, it can seem even more difficult to make sense of it all, to figure out if we are indeed called to priesthood, religious life, or marriage.

So what can you do if your wrestling with these different signs? Trying to make sense out of life and what God is or is not calling you to do with your life can be difficult. To do this in some way we must imitate the example of Constantine, who went to the Pope, Pope Sylvester, he went to the Church to get answers. Thankfully the Church provides us great help. You can go on come and see weekends, visit with vocations directors, visit with priests (or seminarians) and sisters and other couples that are already married. Hopefully your home campus ministry programs organize events and activities to help you discern and support those who are discerning. In addition to all of these good things organized by the Church, there is one thing that is still much more important, prayer.

I once met a sister from Albania, she grew up under the Communist regime. A country whose regime prided itself on being the most atheistic regime, a regime who imprisoned, tortured and killed many people for their Catholic faith. At the time this sister was growing up, there was no Church, no Mass, no campus ministry, no activities. There was only one thing they could do, pray. And even that they had to do in secret. So when she started to hear a call, a sign, she had only one option, so she prayed and she prayed and she prayed. Eventually, the regime fell, and shortly thereafter she entered the convent, where has happily served the people of God for over 20 years now.

We are all blessed because we do not live under such harsh circumstances, but we too must pray. In prayer we grow in a personal relationship with God. As we grow in that relationship we will be able to see and understand exactly how he is calling each and every one of us, because he is calling all of us. We learn to make sense of all the small signs and calls, so we can better respond more fully.

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of his body as a temple. The temple is the place where God dwells. In order for him to dwell in each one of us, we must first open up the doors to let him in. For if we let him into our lives, and as he dwells in us, it will become easier and easier to make sense of all the signs and calls, so that we can fully respond to do whatever it is that he is calling us to do whether it be priesthood, religious life or marriage.

Recognizing Christ in the Eucharist

Over the past weekend I was also able to preach during a holy hour with some of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was my first time doing exposition and benediction. It was a beautiful evening. The mother superior asked me to preach a few words during the holy hour, of course I obliged. I must say it was a little different than preaching during the Mass. Below is a rough text of what I’m pretty sure I said, I gave the homily without a prepared text and in Italian, however, later that evening I typed it out in English to send to one of the sisters in the USA. I think the text if faithful to what I actually said, I’m certain it’s faithful to some of the sentiments I wanted to convey. While it is geared towards a very specific (and wonderful) congregation of women religious, I believe some of the sentiments found therein have a universal application.

Text:

As many of you already know after my first year in Rome I could not go back to the United States. So I went off to Albania to go on mission with the Apostles. However, when I arrived, as I stepped off the airport to go down the steps to bus, as I looked at the bus with an Albanian advertisement on the side, I realized something. I was in a country where I didn’t speak the language, a country even further from home, where i knew no one, didn’t know the culture. I suddenly felt quite alone, quite lost, I started to question myself, what was I doing here? Did I make a mistake? What’s going on? Etc.

Then when I walked into the house of the Apostles, something changed. No, I didn’t know those individual sisters themselves or even their names yet, but it was as if I already knew them, because I already knew all of you, and all of your sisters in the United States. I was able to immediately recognize them, not just by the habit, but rather by their faith, their joy, the way they lived out their vocation. The same way I see it in all of you and your sisters in the United States. By the end of lunch it was as if I had known them for years. All of my worries, confusion, and doubts had been taken way because I was able to recognize these sisters right away.

This is how it is when we enter the chapel anywhere in the world. In the Eucharist, we recognize the presence of Christ. We we are far from home, when we feel confused, when we have doubts, concerns, problems, when we feel alone. We come to the chapel and recognize Christ in the Eucharist, for it is he who can take away all of these burdens. When we recognize him and he takes away everything, we can be at peace, we never have to feel alone again.

First Homily

After posting my homily from this past Saturday, I’ve received some requests for my first homily after my diaconate ordination. The Mass was celebrated by my Bishop at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. The Church is very important in Rome because it houses the relics brought back to Rome by St. Helena, mother of Constantine. Given that I had family and friends present from eight different countries, I decided to preach in both English, Spanish and Italian. I didn’t want anyone to be left out!

First the text as prepared in the different languages, then a translation with the full text in English. While homilies are meant to be delivered, I hope reading the text provides for fruitful reflection as well.

Continue reading “First Homily”

“Lo profundo de la tierra”

Today I preached at Mass for the first time since my Mass of Thanksgiving the day after my diaconate ordination. Since then, I have deaconed many times, but not had the opportunity to preach.

The Mass I was assigned to preach today was for seminarians and it was in Spanish.

The readings can be found in English here, and in Spanish here.

Here is the original text, followed by a quick translation. Homilies are meant to be delivered obviously, so this is not the same thing, but maybe it helps you get a grasp of my message.

En Febrero después de los exámenes de mi segundo año en Roma fui con unos de nuestros hermanos a Polonia. Mientras estuvimos allí fuimos un día a Auschwitz. Fue una experiencia muy difícil, muy fuerte. También es muy difícil explicar mis emociones cuando estaba en aquel lugar donde un número inexplicable de  personas habían sufrido tanto y donde habían muerto. Siempre digo a otros que me preguntan acerca de mi visita  que era como caminar en un nube de maldad. Al fin de nuestro tour de tres horas, tres horas en el mal, estuvimos muy cerca a la puerta principal de Auschwitz, estábamos en un círculo y cuando mi di la vuelta la primera persona que vi era… un sacerdote. Inmediatamente, mi paré. 

En otras palabras como dice San Pablo hoy, “El «subió» supone que había bajado a lo profundo de la tierra”

Estuvimos en uno de los lugares más horribles en el mundo, un infierno sobre la tierra, y allí  fue un sacerdote, en imágen de Cristo, En frente a los horrores incompresibles, algo casi incomprensible donde me  sentía como en una grande oscuridad, allí encontré un sacerdote: una luz de Cristo, una luz en la oscuridad de nuestra existencia humana.

 Nosotros quienes somos llamados al sacerdocio tenemos que reflexionar sobre estas palabras de San Pablo, este ejemplo del sacerdote y el ejemplo de Jesu Cristo.

Como también dice San Pablo hoy todos tenemos una vocación en la Iglesia para la salvación de los otros, y nosotros como sacerdotes, o futuro sacerdotes, tenemos que salir de nuestras casas, de donde nos sentimos cómodos, tenemos que ir a los lugares difíciles, los lugares donde existe la maldad, donde la gente está sufriendo, en lo profundo de la tierra.

El sacerdote que vi aquel día no tenía medio de ir en un lugar tan lleno del mal, pero hay también otro sacerdote que en aquel mismo lugar, Auschwitz, dio su vida por un otra, San Maximiliano Kolbe. Estos dos sacerdotes nos presentan un  gran testimonio de cómo podemos imitar Cristo. Si querremos traer, mejor, subir, la gente a Dios, a Cristo, antes tenemos que ir donde están ahora, incluyendo en los lugares más difíciles, en lo profundo de la tierra.

 Y si podemos hacer esto cuando hablen de nosotros no digan, “supone que habían bajado” sino “sabemos que habían bajado.”

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In February after exams of my second year in Rome I went with some of our brother seminarians to Poland. While we were there we went one day to Auschwitz. It was a very difficult and powerful experience. It is very difficult to describe all of the emotions I experienced when I was in that place where an inexplicable number of people suffered so much and died. I always tell people who ask me about my visit that it was as if I was “walking in a cloud of evil.” At the end of our tour, three hours walking through this evil. We were very close to the main gate of Auschwitz, we were huddled up in a little circle and when I turned around the first person I saw was…a priest. Immediately, I stopped.

In the words of St. Paul today, “What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended into the lower regions of the earth?

We were in one of the most horrible places on earth, a hell on earth, and there a priest went, in the image of Christ. In front of incomprehensible horrors, something that was so incomprehensible I felt like I was in a great darkness, there I encountered a priest, a light of Christ, a light in the darkness of our human existence.

Those of us called to be priests need to reflect on these works of St. Paul, the example of that priest and the example of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul also tells us today that we all have a vocation in the Church for the salvation of others, and for us as priests, or future priestes, we have to leave our homes, where we feel comfortable, we have to go to the difficult places, the places where evil exits, where people are suffering, in the “lower regions of the earth.”

The priest I saw that day did not have fear to go to a place so full of evil, but there was also another priest in that same place, Auschwitz, who gave us life for another, St. Maximilian Kolbe. These two priests present to us a great testimony of how we can imitate Christ. We we want to bring, better, raise people up to God, to Christ, before we must go where they are now, including the most difficult places, in “the lower regions of the earth.”

If we can do this, when others speak of us they will not say “suppose they went down” but, “we know they did.”

(On this last point the English translation of the scriptures varies from the Spanish text by not using the verb to suppose.)