30 December 2012

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Ok, here is an attempt to put into words something that I have thought about and dealt with for many years.  First, however, I must mention that I am sitting here, writing this, eating home-made Cranberry Oatmeal cookies that were made and imported for me from New Mexico!  I also sit here, just having spent a great time with some friends after a day of 3 masses, in three different cities (although Lenorah is more of a spot.)  I'm playing Scramble with Friends and wearing a comfy pair of Green Bay Packer slippers that were gifted to me this Christmas.  That said, I thought it would be good to sit and reflect on family.  Today, we celebrated the feast of the Holy Family, and while the idea of the Holy Family is one which may fill us with joy and warmth, I kept thinking about the nitty gritty, I mean, come on, the baby was in a manger, I can only imagine what Mary must have been thinking and poor Joseph, what a mess!  And yet, in all of that, we see how it is that God's plan seems to bring this simple and miraculous family through what appears to be a moment of high stress.  Not only that, Jesus' wierd uncles arrive (the shepherds), the doting aunts are present too (the angels) and then the family from out of town shows up (you guessed it, the Magi.)  In all of this, however, there is a thread of God that is woven into what would today seem like a complete and utter failure to plan ahead.  But I digress,  as I pray and sit with the Holy Family, there is something going on within me that is almost without words.  As I think about this celebration today, I remember a question that my mother made to me many years ago when I had announced my intention to enter the seminary.  After a moment of awkward silence, she asked if I was ready to "never have a family of my own."  In my youthful ignorance, I quickly replied "yes," and that was that.  Throughout the years, I have carried this question as I continued my journey through seminary, into vows, then diaconate, and priestly ordination and then onto my first assignment and others.  It has been a question that is there but not always recognized, and yet, in moments such as today, I recall that almost haunting question.  Back then, in my zeal to serve the Lord, I could care less about a family, after all, I would be doing God's work, who needed a family!  Today, however, I am humbled at the glory of God as I sit and reflect on the many gifts that God has granted to me.  As I sit here and eat my cookie, I am touched to think that just as God took care of that scene in the manger, and many many others after that, He too has been more than taking care of me through my journey.  And although my house is quiet tonight as I sit here alone with my two dogs, without a family, I sit with the peace of knowing that while there is no wife and kids to fill this house, there are many many brothers, and sisters of mine all around the country, and maybe even the world.  As I sit here and think on the blessings of family, I rest assured that family is not only the immediate group of people with whom I share a common bloodline, but rather, a group of people with whom I form the Body of Christ.  My family, as God has blessed me, is composed of many different people, some closer to me than others, but all securely carried in my heart.  To some I am a Father, to others a friend, to many I am Ricky but no matter what, I love them, and I love you.  And so as I come to the end of this blessed and wonderful day, I write to share with you (not my cookies), but my thoughts, and my love.  Thank you Lord for this, my family.  May God bless you, and as I have said, remember that I love you.  In Christ always, your Fr. Ricky.

24 December 2012

25th of December, the Eleventh day of the Lunar month

Tonight is one of those nights when we gather together as a family, a time when all is forgiven (or at least set aside for the night) when we gather and share with each other.  There is family and food, decorations and presents, and for some, there is Church.  Whether we believe or not, whether we believe the same or not, tonight, we are invited to transcend the differences that sets each of us apart, and to extend a hand to each other, to embrace or welcome my sister, or brother, or uncle or aunt.  We come and in our own way, we bring the best of who we are as we see new faces or become reacquainted with old ones.  We celebrate in the chill of the evening as the different groups come together, this group in the living room, the kids somewhere else, the old folks in the dining room and everyone chatting and having a good time.  Tonight, however, as we come together, we celebrate a reality that is far beyond our understanding.  God becomes man.  Love takes on Flesh.  Christ is BORN!  We celebrate that glorious event of God's reaching out to each and everyone of us in great love, a love that takes on flesh and becomes one of us in all things but sin.  We come together and allow the twinkling of the lights and the warmth of the home, to embrace us in a way that God himself does for each and every one of us.  We come together and in the hug or kiss, the handshake or fist-pump, we feel the warmth of God made man.  In sitting across from each other at dinner or bringing a gift to another, in a gentle smile of a friend and even a foe, we are reminded of the joyous occasion that is God coming to each of us.  Not a mighty warrior or triumphant king, but a gentle baby.  A baby that needs us to care for him even as he grows so as to care for us, a baby that becomes the bread of life, a bread that is to be broken.  We come together and remember that in Jesus the Christ, we are redeemed and that just as a baby is vulnerable and open to our care, so too the redemption that Christ offers.  It is not imposed upon us or forced, but rather in great love, it is offered to us in an invitation over and over again, always with love beyond all telling.  And so as we come together and commemorate the birth of Him who would eventually be broken for us, we are reminded that we have no need to remain broken, because in Him we are made whole, and for that, we proclaim with all of creation, Glory to God in the Highest!  Peace to you and God bless you.  And as always, know that I love you.  Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad.  Fr. Ricky

17 December 2012

Mr. President, you are correct, but not.

On Sunday evening, most of the major TV networks cut to a live feed of the speech given by President Obama at the Memorial Service for the victims of last Friday’s tragic shooting.  In his remarks, nicely accented with Scripture, he stated that “surely we can do better than this,” referring to the need to take better care of our children.  As his speech came to a close, he read the names of the children who had been killed.  Slowly and deliberately, each name spoke of a future snuffed out by the senseless and aggressive act of violence which has left us all with saddened hearts.  
As I sat after the speech, reflecting on what had been said, I couldn’t help but see a blatant contradiction between the President’s words and his actions.  While he is not directly connected to the death of children, there is today, a push to attain abortifacient drugs and medications to end “unwanted” pregnancies.  As I thought about the words of the President, I was moved to think about the countless innocent who are daily massacred.  Nameless and forgotten, they are brought to a state of dismay as their lives are ended without ever having received even a blink from the same people who so eloquently call for our doing “better.”  The reality is that as we gather more and more, four times in his presidency, to mourn tragic events such as last Friday’s or like in Aurora, CO, we gather with authentic and real grief.  In all of this, however, we must come to terms with a radical truth that many of us have missed, as Pope John Paul II warned some years ago, we have become a culture of death.  As such, life is something that happens but death is a norm that can be chosen, even if we still cringe at gross events such as what we witnessed last Friday.  In truth, we have become a society that accepts death and promotes it through social and legal justifications, “I’m just not ready to have this child.” Or “He deserves to die, he’s a monster!”  More and more the message of life, the message Christ Himself offered, is pushed aside and relegated to the quiet comfort of our homes and churches, and even they aren’t as sacred as once before.  In our time, we have become a people who have willfully chosen to turn away from God, choosing for ourselves false idols that bring temporary comfort and pleasure, but which ultimately lead to our own destruction, pockets of which, we see more unashamedly in events such as those at Newtown.  In his speech, President Obama said that our “first task: caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right. That's how, as a society, we will be judged. And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we're meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm?"  Good question Mr. President, and looking at your mandates and your record, the answer is No.  May we become people of life, that together, in the Life that is given to us by Christ, we may not only safeguard our children, but also pass on to them a truly safe life in which death is no longer part of our choices.  Mr President, lead us in working toward a world where Scripture isn’t just a passing story, but a reality in which we all live!  Lord Jesus, come. As always, God bless you, and know that I love you.  Fr. Ricky

08 December 2012

A Funeral Homily

Death has a particular way of inflicting itself upon us.  When we least expect it, even after a long infirmity, it seems to creep up on us as if a fog creeping in the morning, or a sandstorm ominously approaching from far away.  Death enters, and life is forever changed.  For those who continue living, death has the innate ability to shake us to the core, whether because it reminds us of our own mortality, or because it makes us experience the loss of a dear beloved person.  Whatever it does, death has that not so subtle way of imposing itself upon us, and in a certain way, when death arrives, it takes not only the life of those we love, it forever makes the lives of the living, different.  
Something else that death manages to do when it entangles us in its grasp, is to test our faith and sometimes, to alter our hopes, it is capable of making a dent in our lives that is sometimes not overcome, or it burns memories into our minds of those last moments, or what I should have done differently, regrets are created and at times, because of those memories, we mourn.  Death has a way of doing that quite well. 
And then, just as we believe ourselves to have overcome the shadow of death, maybe a year or two later, we all of a sudden remember it once again, as we remind ourselves that I need to tell dad about this or that thing, only to realize that dad, is gone.  Death is here.
But as Christians, we come together at times of death, and yes, while our faith may be tested by the loss we have experienced, or as our hopes may be altered or changed because of the void in our lives, St. Paul reminds us that after all have passed away, of faith, hope and love, only love remains.  As Christians then, we gather at times of death not only because we must, but because in Christ, and in His love, we have glimpsed the power of His transformative life.  Upon taking Christ into our lives, and as we become heralds of Love having taken on Flesh, we are reminded that while faith and hope may pass, or while the tomb may pretend to contain them as it did Jesus, or as it will all of us, even there, in the cold silence of the dark tomb, love will call upon us, love will call us beyond death, Love will call us to Himself and in Him, we will live! We shall have the life that we shared here on earth, a life that we glimpsed through the sacraments and a life that is felt now, in the love we have for each other.  Because as we gather today, we not only come to celebrate life, we come to acknowledge the life we now share in each other, through Christ.  
We come and recall that in the gentle hug of friend, or the warm hand of our neighbor we experience the touch of Christ, the same Christ whose voice we pray, that those who have preceded us will hear and respond to, the Christ who in his great love has come to each and every one of us.  Christ who in His own victory from the dead, reminds us that our hope is not in vain nor our faith empty, but rather fulfilled in his love in which we are strengthened for the journey, one in which we encounter God’s love on a daily basis, through those around us and in our selves, a journey which will one day appear to give into the cool grip of death, but in reality a journey in which we, through the great love of Christ, will be transformed as our life is changed, not ended.  
And so, we gather here today, and we continue walking into tomorrow, knowing that while there will be sorrow at times, as people as we sit in an empty room for the first time, or maybe six months down the road or at his birthday, we will continue walking with Christ and sharing in his life, trying to understand that in every step, as we await our friend death, we will not fear, but rejoice, because beyond death, God calls us into life.  And so we live, we celebrate and we change, for we too will not end, but be changed, and together, with all the Saints and angels, we will rejoice in Him who is our life.  
As always, know that you are loved,  God bless you and Peace to you! Fr. Ricky

02 December 2012

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It feels as though only yesterday we were being bombarded by the different political ads and propaganda!  Vote for me!  Vote for me!  I promise this, I promise that, no new taxes!  Since Thanksgiving, we went from political ads to store ads and great bargains!  Black Friday came early followed by Small Business Saturday, Sunday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday and this and that thing.  Now, we hear on the radio and on TV about the "fiscal cliff,"  a new Boogie Man-esque ordeal that threatens to bring chaos into our midst.  No matter what, the more we stand and listen to this or that thing, and then throw in the dark readings we have been having in our Masses, there is plenty of room to become scared and really worried about what is really happening in our world today.  The apocalyptic readings, attached with some crazy preacher's words of woe can easily send anyone into a fear that may seem inescapable.  At the base of all this, however, there is something that we are invited to consider during this time of Advent.  In all the chaos and noise of this season and this time, we are invited to enter a period of reflection and preparation.  It's not just about the Christmas gifts and decorations, or about the things we will get or do for the holidays, instead, it is about coming to a place of quiet where we are able to sit with Christ and reacquaint ourselves with the one light that transcends all things, His infinite Love!  It is this love that is represented in the lights and glimmer of the ornaments, the hopefulness of the green tree and the merriment of our carols and songs are gentle reminders that it is His Love that calls us to new life, and in celebrating the birth of Christ, we celebrate not only the birth of our Savior, but indeed, the fact that in Jesus, Love Takes on Flesh.  He comes to each and every one of us and invites us to be part of his love, and in that same love, we are brought to new life.  In the simple and vulnerable love of Jesus, we are invited to enter into relationship with God, no longer hidden behind the curtain in the Temple, but now dwelling in our midst.  He, the Bread of Life, is born and is handed to each of us to accept or deny.  He is placed in a manger, a feeding trough, and it's up to us to either accept His life-giving love, or to get lost in the hustle and bustle, and the chaos of life.   In Christ, we are invited to enter a place of reflection and holiness where we strive to become Saints, not just a place where we get by in obeying obligations and fulfilling duties.  Just as a baby enters the life of his family in a most vulernable state, so too does Jesus come into our midst, not as the mighty warrior that had long been expected, but as the baby that we can either choose or not.  Today, as we enter Advent, we are brought to remember that the end will come, but it is up to us whether or not we will hear His voice when He calls, or will we be lost in the chatter of the world.  Its our choice, but in Advent, let us take time to prepare ourselves to celebrate the Birth of Love, not just because we have to, but because we know this love and we love Him.  As always, may God bless you and know that you are loved.  Fr. Ricky