25 December 2013

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel, has come to thee oh Israel!

First of all, Merry Christmas!  Ok, now that that's out of the way, let's get down to business.  Today, there are feasts and gifts galore, and for some, there is time to reflect and recall the roots of this celebration.  (this moment of reflection is a gift in itself for those of us who are introverts)  Anyway, as I spent yesterday into today with family, I was struck by the diverse group of people gathered at my mom's house.  All of us gathered as family, some of us closer than others, but all somehow connected to each other, even if only by the chance that we were under one roof at this precise moment.  The same can be said of the millions gathered to celebrate and worship God's gift on this day.  Rich and poor alike, faithful and not so much, who gather to commemorate Love's taking on flesh.  This morning, as I sat in prayer and reflected on the readings, I was particularly struck by the Gospel of Matthew which is read at the Vigil of Christmas.  In the passage, there is a beautiful recitation of the genealogy of Jesus.  (beautiful but sometimes awful to hear, depending on who's doing the reading)  Either way, to sit and reflect on this list, one can all too easily glaze over the names and fast forward to the good stuff, especially when the Gospel writer begins to tell of the birth of Jesus, and the fulfillment of the prophecy.  In the entire passage, which spans a whopping 25 verses, there is one part that struck me in particular.  This is perhaps the most striking message this entire season, it is when Joseph receives the call to take Mary as his wife.  The passage goes on to speak of her as the bearer of the Savior, the one who "will save his people from their sins."  This is a powerful message in itself, and as we know, it is enough to convince Joseph, but there is more to this passage.  As I sat in church today and prayed before Mass, I was particularly struck by what this message means for us today.  Sure it's nice to celebrate Christmas, it's nice to give presents and to spend some time with family.   It's nice to live out the traditions of yore and to share in creating new ones, but there is something far more profound that takes place in the celebration we observe today.  As I thought about what this simple phrase states "He will save us from our sins,"  I kept reflecting about how this is made real in our world today.  Theologically, one can say that it is effected into reality through the changing of bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, but that is too easy.  In a more human way, this phrase is made real (or should be made real) in our every day lives.  Beyond Christmas and New Years, and beyond the holidays that everyone recognizes as moments to pause and reflect, we are called to be people whose sins are forgiven.  But what does this mean, and to whom does this apply?  This past week, as I waited in an eternal and infernal line, I overheard two people making political commentary as the TV rambled on in the background,  These two folks had no problem in taking their cues from the different topics the talking heads on TV were referring to.  Inevitably,  the topic of Duck Dynasty and Phil Robertson came up.  When this happened, my ears perked up a bit more to see what these two commentators would contribute, to my joy, they took the bait and quickly proceeded to make their observations.  If nothing else, this back and forth between the TV and these two people would have been a bit of entertainment as the line progressed, but for some reason, their comments became a reminder of what we still need in our Christian lives.  Almost without fail, one of the two started with "I'm a Christian, but..."  The words that followed were evidence to me of the ignorance that permeates so much of who we are as people of faith.  In the end, lets just say that Christ was used as a justification for ignorance and intolerance.  Their words were enough to make me tune out, and slowly their number was called up and the lined moved on.  What struck me, however, was the fact that we are a people of faith, and as Christian, we are called upon to be a people whose lives have been inextricably changed by the crazy power of LOVE!  At its root, this is what we celebrate on Christmas, not the opportunity to show each other up with the fanciest gifts or the best feasts, but with the most love.  After all, it is Love that has taken on flesh and it is Love that has come to save us of our sins.  And while there are many of us who are still trying to become people of love, there are many more who take on the name of Love to justify and rationalize ignorance, hate and violence.  Whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or anything else, at a very primitive level, we are called to love.  It is love that has sparked creation and love which compels us in our faiths, but the moment when love is used as an excuse for hurting another human being, we are reverting back to becoming people of sin, people of death.  And so this is Christmas, a day in which we gather and sometimes have to put up with our weird family members, but more than that, I hope (perhaps naively) that this is a day of love, in which I recognize that I have been offered a new way of living, a new way of being Christian, one in which I, the leper, am approached and loved, one in which I, the leper, in turn love others because I have known love, one in which I, the leper, live out love as much as I can and become a witness to the redemptive power of love.   I pray and hope that this and every day is a day in which I, the leper, am not seen as someone to be cast out and pushed back, but received and loved, because it was upon me, the leper, the shepherd, and the world, that the star shone upon as it announced glad tidings, that unto me, the leper, a child was born in the town of Bethlehem.  A child who is my Savior, a child who is my love.  I pray, and I keep working at it myself, and who knows, maybe one day more and more of us will share love because we have been saved from our sins, by Love, Emmanuel, Christ! Either way, I pray that in my own journey, as clumsy as it may be, I may be a witness of love, even if it has to be with one person at a time,  I want to be a Christian who loves, not one who uses Christ to condemn.   As always, know that you are loved.  Merry Christmas.  RL

19 December 2013

O Brother! (Silly take on the O Antiphons)

From the 17th of December until Christmas Eve, the Church has what is called the O Antiphons.  Each day, there is a new facet of the name of God.  A very common rendition of these is the hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.  Personally, it is a time of anticipation as Advent draws to a close and we prepare for Christmas.  This season, however, the O Antiphons have taken on a new significance.  For whatever reason, they have struck chords in my heart that hadn't been touched in quite a while.  The resounding of these Antiphons in my heart has been particularly interesting because since leaving ministry, I have come to know God in a very different manner.  In entering this process, I have also come to know how much I need God in my life, and on a very basic, and perhaps simplistic level, I have come to realize how much this longing for God is satiated by love.  Now, since October 7th, and even before, a popular question that I have been asked is "have you found anyone?"  After laughing, I quickly say  no, but in actuality, I am finding someone, and that is God.  As such, this Advent has been a time of getting back to the basics, literally.  It has called me to focus on God and the love that is freely out poured on every single one of us, believer or not.  It is a love that calls us into being and a love that can unite every single one of us, if only we allow it to do so.  And so, as I partake of pleading in the hymn: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, I am comforted by the little acts of love that manifest themselves daily, I am challenged to love, especially when that one lady rolls her eyes at me at the check out line, and I am tempted to sit in awe on Love himself, who takes flesh for me, for you, for us all, no exceptions.  As always, know that I love you.  RL

12 December 2013

Madre of us all.

Unbeknownst to many, and very much known to others, today is the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  For generations now, since 1531, the celebration has been one that has become a staple of the Mexican culture, and has spread far and wide in honor of the simple girl from so long ago.  Even Hong Kong boasts an Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church.  Either way, I find this day to be one of mixed emotion for me.  Mixed emotion because every time this day rolls around, I am profoundly touched by the devotion and love that so many have for Our Lady.  On a personal note, I am reminded of my Nana who so long ago shared with us her faith and her own devotion to "la morenita."  Whether one celebrates this day or not,  or whether one is Catholic, Christian, or of any other persuasion, the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is more than just a Catholic event, in some ways, it is a reminder of our dignity as human beings.  It is a day in which I cannot help but recall the power with which Guadalupe helped raise so many people out of a slavery that had been imposed on them by forces beyond their understanding.  After ten years of bloodshed and death by the conquering forces, Guadalupe came to a poor peasant in the middle of nowhere on a cold December day, as he trudged along faithfully going to church, he was startled by the pleasant voice of a young maiden, and by the singing of birds.  Being a man of the earth, he quickly realized the significance of this event.  It wasn't normal for this time of year nor was it ordinary to hear a woman's voice out in the middle of nowhere.  He went to her and she spoke to him in his own language, she charged him with a mission to go the bishop and ask him to build a church.  Several times, he attempted to gain entrance into the palace of his grace, and several times he was denied entry.  Finally, discouraged and disappointed, he tried to avoid the young woman.  His attempt was foiled because to his surprise, she met him on his different route.  This time, she encouraged him to go again, but instead of sending him alone, she entrusted him with roses, beautiful scented roses (like you get at the flower shop, not the grocery store.)  This type of rose, however, was the type that grew in the region of Spain that the Bishop was from.  Upon arriving at the Bishop's palace, he was accepted and when asked for proof, Juan Diego, the peasant, unraveled his mantel from which fell the many roses.  Aside from the beautiful array of flora, the miraculous image of Our Lady appeared.  This event, aside from being miraculous, was significant because shortly after the apparition, millions of people converted to the faith that this young maiden had presented.  In only a year after the miracle at Tepeyac, more people converted to the faith than in all the ten years before.  While this was of great importance, what was even more miraculous, was the manner in which so many people have seen in the simple exchange between Guadalupe and Juan Diego, a momentous occasion in which the poor and unimportant people of that time were raised to a new level of dignity.  Not only were they brought to God who was love, but their difference was overlooked, and embraced by this beautiful maiden who spoke their language.  As such, I believe that this celebration is not only one meant for the churches, but one meant for every Christian and person of faith, because in Guadalupe, we are reminded of Christ Himself who took on the vulnerability of flesh, and even more so, placed himself on the margins of society by going to the marginalized.  Today, and every day, we as a people of faith and as members of the human race,  must turn to those cast aside or forgotten, we must overlook the differences and embrace each other in love, not accepting those things that rob us of our human dignity, but helping each other to grow into the best person God intends us to be.  Guadalupe in the light of Christ, is a reminder of this calling to serve, and serve we must, especially in a world that so easily uses the name of God to make people into the very outcasts Christ would tend to.  May you be blessed today and always, and as always, know that you are loved.  RL  Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, ensenanos a amar.

07 December 2013

I'm back?

It has now been two months since my faculties as a Roman Catholic priest were officially revoked.  Since then, I have been working at my family's company which my dad started almost 30 years ago.  The time has flown by rather quickly, but in the two months that I have been living this new life, there have been many things that I did not expect.  I think the one that stands out the most is the fact that I have time.  I have time to myself, time to read, time to laugh, time to enjoy with family, and most importantly, time to be with God.  Of all the changes that have come in these short couple of months, my time with God has been the most significant.  Since very early on, I have known God to be my lover, and from the very beginning, I looked toward God as I imagined a couple in love does for one another.  This relationship was beautiful and life giving.  In my relationship with God, I felt great peace and joy, I knew a life that was calm and good even during stressful times.  This relationship, however, as so many can so easily do, started to become weak and corroded.  In time, I started to put God aside as I tried to go about doing His work.  Ironically enough, I had become an agent of God, but in doing so began to drift away from the essence of my call, primarily, my relationship with God.  I knew my lover and tried to do His work, but slowly, I drifted away from Him and as St. Paul warns, became an empty cymbal.  All this became more pronounced as I began to face pressure from my religious congregation.  After stating to them that I needed and wanted to join the diocese, they rejected my petition and called me to obedience, but obedience to what?  As I discerned and prayed about my call, I had to be honest with myself.  In all that I was doing, there was a vital part missing.  I was spending myself and doing so much "good," but for what?  God was no longer a part of any of that.  I had to make a decision.  Around March, I started seeing Fr. John, and Episcopalian priest that had been recommended as a spiritual director.  Although I was uncertain about having him as my director, I figured there could be no harm.  Our journey began and through our time together, this gentle man who had lived so much and known God's great love in so many different ways, began to show me a path of service that was very different from what I had figured was the only way.  In his walking with me, I was amazed hear from his own life how so many paths had diverged and brought him to where he is today.  He helped me understand that responding to God's love in service is so much more than a collar and a set of vestments, it is loving in a radical and profound way, a manner in which lives are touched and changed, including my own.  This is not to say that I hadn't ever been touched as a priest, but for some reason, I had started to become cold and indifferent.  A call to the hospital was just that, a call.  Mourning was a mask that would be put on and taken off as soon as the service was over, only on a few occasions did I truly feel compassion for the people I served, but these occasions were becoming far and few between.  In our conversations, Fr. John challenged me to reevaluate my vocation and to be honest, really honest with myself.  At this point, another great man helped in my discernment as I opened up to him as well.  My pastor was not happy to hear of where I was being lead, but he was supportive and provided a guidance that was confident and professional.  In the months between my first deciding to be honest about my vocation and finally resigning from my post as Parochial Vicar of St. Ann's Catholic Church, I lived a fear that permeated my being.  This fear, however, was not something that paralyzed me or stunted my discernment.  It was something that allowed my honesty to be more prevalent.  I had nothing to hide behind, and no excuse would suffice, I was being called to something different, and I had to go.  When the decision was finally reached to resign on the 7th of October, I once again started to feel the great peace that had once been the key in my relationship with God.  With this peace, came also hope.  Hope brought life, and this life has brought me back to God, in whom I have found more life.  And so, two months later, here I am, sitting in the office which I have known so well since my dad started the company, outside, the temperature is 16 degrees and the world is still, but I am alive, doing well and ready to go out and proclaim to all how good is God's love.  A few weeks ago someone told me that they were praying as I struggled with my vocation, I told them that I appreciated their prayer, but that I was no longer struggling, I have started reconnecting with my love, God and this is all good.  Two months and the love which I once felt so strongly, a love that brought me to give everything up, has started to be rekindled, and I too am living a life that is me.  As God wants me.  Collar or not, I will serve, because I have known great love.  As always, know that I love you.  R.L.

22 February 2013

My Safety Blanket

At times, in moments of loneliness or after a particularly challenging day, there are times when small comforts seem  to bring so much peace and security.  I can imagine why Linus, from the Peanuts characters, held that blanky so close, especially when things were a little tense with the rest of the gang.  In our lives, however, clinging to that "safety blanket," while comforting, is a reality that cannot become our only escape, and maybe those are the crosses we are meant to carry.  As I think about this safety blanket and those things that can provide a sense of security, as weak or false as it is, I think of Abram and the way in which he trusted God with such complete devotion that he seemingly never hesitated to respond to God's call.  I hold Abram in high regard and a certain awe because in his acceptance of God's will, he never seemed to hesitate, and here I am... hesitating... waiting... going, but cautiously.  Perhaps this is what Lent is about, its about our entering a reality that is beyond ourselves, one which calls us beyond our comfort and our being comforted, and yet, the irony is that if we venture beyond our now, we will find that God is providing even more than that which we held on to for dear life!  We discover that in following Jesus up the mountain, or beyond my wants, we are mesmerized by the glories that God calls us to participate in and become.  Even after we come down, or come back to my comfort zone, we cannot help but hold an awareness of just how much God's love is with us.  Always calling us beyond ourselves into a life that is true, a life in Him, a life where we not only find ourselves in the safety of His presence, but more importantly, a life where we know ourselves in the safety of His love.  As always, know that I love you.  God bless you.  Fr Ricky

11 February 2013

From the Peanut Gallery

Ok everybody, take a deep breath.  And another, and another.  Ok, good, here we go.  I imagine today’s news of Pope Benedict’s announcing his resignation must have hit everyone with as much surprise as woke me up this morning.  It has truly been a historic day and I can only imagine that it must have been something like this when Pope John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council over 50 years ago.  I wasn't there, but I think it must have been a similar sense of (O CRAP!) that I felt this morning.  After that initial reaction of “the sky is falling, the sky is falling!” I have had time to reflect on the day and the momentous announcement that has been heard around the world.  First of all, although he did not mention it at all, today is the World Day of the Sick, and under the patronage of Our Lady of Lourdes, hundreds of thousands will call upon God today for help in their needs.  This announcement seems to fit into the context of coming before God and recognizing one’s limitations.  In his declaration today, Pope Benedict is publicly welcoming us, the Church and the world, to reflect on the reality of humility.  It comes down to being able to recognize that sometimes, I can’t do this or that, and just as Peter during this past Sunday’s Gospel, we are surprised by the Love of God as we entrust ourselves to Him and Him alone.  To a certain degree, the Pope is doing that right now, he is telling us all and perhaps even inviting us to be honest with ourselves, in recognizing that sometimes there are things beyond us that cannot be explained or fully known, sometimes, it is about taking a leap of faith (and how appropriate that is during the Year of Faith).  In confidence of God’s Divine Providence, we walk into tomorrow (or February 28 at 8pm Rome time, 1pm CST) and trust that God is already at work there doing what needs to be done.  We walk into the heart of God trusting that as we do, we will find the grace and strength necessary to continue the journey into a deeper and more profound relationship with God.  And so, the Pope has come before us all and announced that he is to retire, good for him!  In doing so, I am stirred by the beautiful readings that we are given today for Mass.  The first reading comes from the beginning of the Book of Genesis, in it we hear that “in the beginning God created.”  I cannot help but imagine the great love with which He must have looked upon all of creation.  As a parent loves their child, even more God looked at all creation and smiled upon us.  So too now, God is at work in our world and in our Church and as we enter this monumental time in our Church, we enter with a trust that God is indeed at work and still smiling.  Even beyond human decisions, God is at work, and as we walk with Benedict, we walk as the Body of Christ, perhaps into unknown or forgotten territory (its been over 700 years since the last resignation), but ultimately toward God who is Love.  And so more than ever, let us LOVE, for it is there that we will find our life.  All ye holy men and women, pray for us.  As always, know that I love you.  God bless you.  Fr Ricky.

06 February 2013

Regarding CRS Rice Bowl

Some years ago, I had the good fortune of being invited as part of a team that had convened to assist in a bridge-building effort that would bring together Oblate School of Theology and three different institutions in Zambia.  Having been part of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, I found this invitation a great opportunity to further develop my relationships with missionaries from other countries, and to continue my own discernment to a missionary vocation.  The team met for several months before the trip and the attempt was made to prepare everyone by helping us gain a better understanding of what we would encounter.  The preparation was difficult at times, but eventually the day came and with much excitement and joy, we were off!  After almost 24 hours of travel, we finally arrived to the South-Central African country of Zambia.  The weather was much like it is here in west Texas, dry and windy, already, I felt comfortable.  The reception was quite warm and the capital city of Lusaka reminded me of a city in Mexico, not rich, but not devastatingly poor either.  Overall, things seemed to be pretty manageable.  After a few days, we were scheduled to leave Lusaka and to travel to the Western Province to a town called Lukulu.  The trip there would normally take us two hours here in Texas, there, it took almost 11 hours.  When we finally arrived, after much excitement along the crazy road, we were once again greeted with a warm and welcoming spirit.  Our time in Lukulu consisted of some realities that I had never anticipated encountering, the services available to the people were dismal at best, water was brought in from the Zambezi River each morning, and everyone lived in a poverty unlike anything I had ever even imagined.  During our time there, we tried to acknowledge the needs of the people.  We did what we could, always with our goal in mind.  We visited with different organizations and tried to make connections where possible.  It was intense but manageable; at least that’s what I thought until one night when things became quite clear as to how desperate the people were.  On this particular night, we had had our dinner and had enjoyed an evening together, recalling the day and trying to debrief.  Throughout this time, we had been very conscious of the needs of the people, helping where possible, and taking notes for future assistance where not immediately available.  This night, however, we, or at least I was made very aware of the fact that while we had been working very hard to help the different people, we had only begun to scratch the surface.  That night, as we gathered in the living room, just having had a simple but good dinner, we heard some noise outside.  Being the youngest and perhaps the most ignorant in the group, I “bravely” went to check what was causing the noise.  As I went through the dark kitchen to look out the window to where the noise was coming from, I anticipated seeing some mystical African animal scrounging through the remains of our dinner.  Instead, my heart sank as I gazed on several small children scraping up the chicken bones which we had just thrown out.  At that moment, I realized that while I had believed myself to be doing all I could, I could do more.  I, and the others, did what we could, recognizing that we would never find answers to all the questions.  We did what we could and helped many people, knowing full well that there were countless others who were being left without assistance.  
As I prepare for Lent, as we enter this sacred time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, I remember the faces of those children and recall my realization that what I had done, while plenty, could be supplemented by more.  As we live our Lenten journey, CRS Rice Bowl is another way in which we are able to further enrich our sacrifice.  It doesn’t take much to participate, we take a CRS Rice Bowl, and fill it as we go along the season of Lent.  If the bowl is too small, a coffee can or other container can work just fine.  CRS Rice Bowl is the opportunity to become aware that while I am doing plenty already, maybe there is something more I can do.  It is an invitation not only to give during this season of Lent, but to do so in the knowledge that in my giving, in my sacrificing, there is life.  Maybe through the sacrifice that I put into the CRS Rice Bowl, I will be able to encounter God in a way different than before.  As I live CRS Rice Bowl, perhaps I will become aware not only of the suffering that exists in our world, but of the change that I can make, just a little at a time.  The group that went to Zambia and I had done all that we could to help the people we met, and just as we believed ourselves to be doing very well, we were reminded that sometimes there is just a little bit more that can be done, in that case, it was chicken bones, today, it can maybe mean making CRS Rice Bowl and added part of my Lenten offering.  Whether we do CRS Rice Bowl alone or with family, God calls us to Himself and in our prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we experience different facets of God’s love along each step of the way.  And so, as we celebrate this season of Lent, let CRS Rice Bowl serve as another tool along the road to knowing and loving God, and neighbor.  
As always, God bless you and know that you are loved.  Fr. Ricky

26 January 2013

O! How He loves us!

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit for three hours and listen to confessions at the Youth 2000 retreat that is taking place right now at St. Stephen’s.  At a certain point, while listening to the young person in front of me, someone opened the door and in flooded a song which spoke of God’s great and amazing love.  I’ve used it before in homilies but every time, this song moves me and serves as a reminder of the goodness of God that I, that we are invited to live out every day, especially through the most Holy Eucharist!  As I heard the song, I asked the young person to listen, and just at that moment, the chorus of the song was ringing through the hall, “O, how He loves us!  O, how He loves us, O, how He loves us O.”  Teary eyed, and moved by the Spirit, I told the young person to listen and to become that song!  
We hear in today’s first reading that Ezra, the priest, brought the law before the assembly, we hear that he read the Word of God and interpreted what had been handed to them so long ago.  We also hear how the people wept.  Now, this point is quite interesting, because to have been next to me yesterday, one could easily have said that the reasons I teared up and the young person teared up were very different, and this is also true for any large crowd, but the first reading today speaks of the people weeping because of what they had experienced,  in their own lives, they had clearly chosen to go away from God, to a certain degree, they had chosen to become silent, to stop singing, to stop knowing and loving God, and yet, here they stood, a people out of exile who now heard the Word of God and were shaken and inspired by the words of love.  Here, they, and we listen to the movement of the Spirit within us that invites us to proclaim before all, just how good the Lord is, here, in Christ the Word, and at this Eucharistic feast, we are called upon to recognize what it is that we need to change, what it is that we must give up, that which robs us of our song. We are called to stop and listen, and to become aware of how it is that God is daily inviting us to live in truth. In Christ!.  We are enjoined upon to recognize that God has sent to us Christ, through whom we have found life, and in whom we love.  The readings today are an invitation to move!  To sing!  To do that which glorifies God in our living, it is a call to know the will of the Father in our lives and to have the faith to act so as to find fulfillment.  Today, God calls upon us to stop our weeping, to know who we are in His eyes, and to proclaim to all the world that in Christ and through God’s great and immense love, we too have become bearers of the words of Jesus: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me 
to bring glad tidings to the poor.”  And so, we must roll up our fears and uncertainties and go, for in our living with Christ the Scripture passage is fulfilled!. And we too proclaim, “O how He loves us O, how He loves us O, how he loves us O.”*David Crowder, "How He Loves Us"

As always, know that you are loved.  God bless you.  Fr Ricky

19 January 2013

Fill the jars with water...

Upon hearing the Gospel passage for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (what happened to the first?)  there are many routes that one can choose to take in reflection and thought.  Due to events that happened this past week, I couldn't help but focus on the fact that water was brought up.  Sure, there was intercession by Mary, there was Jesus' first sign (not miracles for John, they're always signs, Mr. Hoity Toity over here!) and there were other elements in this Gospel that could so easily become a great homily.  In all of that though, I was touched by the water.  The servants took the jugs and "They filled them to the brim."  And that's all it took.  There must have been some mumbling among them and perhaps even some hesitancy, after all, these jugs were not your average milk jug with handle and all, they were stone or clay jugs that held twenty to thirty gallons of water, (its like taking one third off of those 55 gallon barrels).  Either way, the servants did as they were told, after all, they were servants, and then something happened... almost from no where, the water is turned into wine!  and not just your average Albertsons (or Publix or Vons)  aisle #13 wine, but your HEB (or Trader Joe's or Whole Foods)  wine!  (Now that's fine wine!)  And that is what is amazing to me, here, in his great love and mercy, Jesus shows us the measure of what he is willing to do for us!  Yes, this sign is a precursor to the great banquet which is set before us at every Eucharist, and yes, it is a foretelling of the sacrifice that Jesus Himself will make, but it is also a sign of what our Loving God is willing to do to make us happy.  He takes what we can give, (which by the way, we give what we have been given) and creates from that a person restored.  He takes our brokenness and begins to send His Spirit into us, and just as water is changed into wine, I, a sinner, is changed into love, into sanctity, into hope, into life!  And so I reflect on this reading and think back to what God has done in my own life, I cannot take credit for the good which I have received,  I can only praise God and hope that out of this water, that out of me, he can make great wine, (or at least a good priest).  No matter what, I pray that just as He has entrusted me with the great gift of the priesthood, and all of us with being a part of the Body of Christ, so too I may be able to witness and testify to the great works that He can do with my, your, our hearts no matter where they've been.  Mary tells the servants: "Do as He says."  and today too, we are told, to come, to bring what we have, for in His love and in His mercy, we will be wine!  As always, know that I love you, and may God bless you.  Fr. Ricky

18 January 2013

Good luck lowering me through the roof!

This week has been Vocation Awareness Week, and let me tell you, I am very much aware of my vocation! Thanks be to God.  I don't think that's what this week was supposed to be about, however.  As I reflected on today's readings, the friends lower the paralytic down into the room where Jesus is, I kept thinking of how this connects to the very real vocations that each of us has received.  Right off the bat, I wanted to share about the real and touching care with which these friends helped the paralytic man reach Jesus, I mean c'mon, in living out our vocation, we too help each other discern and respond to our vocation, whatever that may be.  And yes, while that is an amazing route to take, I want to focus a little more on the thought process that must have taken place among the friends.  The attitude with which the friends must have approached their situation was not a passive and "we'll see what happens" attitude, but as the Scriptures so often point out in people such as Zachaeus, or Bartimeus, they had a zealous and willing approach, one could almost say that like the Apostles, the followed or acted immediately.  This is something to be considered.  In my own life, or in the lives around me, perhaps children, loved ones or others, how is it that I take a role of encouragement that allows others to be comfortable in their discerning their vocation.  Or perhaps, the question can be, how can I help others discern, whether through prayer, through helping them see the different benefits and blessings, or in many other ways.  The reality is, that more and more, there is a general sense of "we need priests, but not my son!"    or... "we need nuns, but not my daughter!", and in an even more unfortunate.. "poor saps, they were no good as anything else."  Just this past month, I was approached by a young man in college who has been discerning God's call in his life, and while his parents pray for vocations every time they go to mass, they refuse to even let him go on a discernment retreat.  I understand that as a parent or a friend, seeing a son or a daughter go off and give their life to God must seem like a foreign and strange thing to do and even difficult, especially in an age when there are so many "better" jobs that one can do (i was even encouraged to become a plumber at one point in my discernment), but the reality is that sometimes, despite ourselves, God calls.  The question then becomes, will we take on a role of those friends who went to all sorts of weird measures to help out their friend, or will we take one look at the roof and decide that the law suit would be too much!  We mustn't be afraid!  In our own journeys of life, let us be those encouraging people who are willing to go to any extreme to help a our brother or sister in discernment, whether they are called to the priesthood, the religious life, the diaconate, married life or the single life, I hope that as a people of God, we can trust that after all is said and done, He will make the repairs needed on that roof, or pay the bills, as long as our brother or sister, my son or daughter, our friend, can say  that he or she has found the peace that is in saying yes to God.  As always, know that you are loved.  God bless you.  Fr. Ricky

10 January 2013

Do you preach the word?

Call me a bit over sensitive, but I had one of those experiences today that left me a bit reflective and bemused.  I was paying at a local thrift store here in Midland and was minding my own business when an older gentleman approached me like one would approach a dangerous or unknown animal.  He got close enough to talk but not close enough for me to bite him, not that I was hungry or anything.  Anyway,  after a brief moment of awkwardness ( he was staring at me quite intently) he asked me if I "preached the word."  To be honest, part of me wanted to question to which word he was referring. Presuming, he meant the word of God, I answered with a happy, almost jolly, yes.  (I mean c'mon!  I don't wear this for my health! Although it does keep my neck warm)  Upon hearing that I was indeed a preacher, he asked me where MY church was, again, I thought of the silliness of thinking that I possessed a church all to my own!  (mine, mine, mine).  I replied that I ministered at St. Ann's down the street, and after a brief moment of processing what that meant, he smirked and said, "oh, you're a Catholic, that's not the word."  and walked away.  I received my change and left, amused at the almost absurd experience I had just had.  This brief encounter, however, left me with several questions and thoughts to be processed, and perhaps shared, after all, this upcoming Sunday, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and in the Gospel according to Luke, we hear of the great expectation with which the people lived their lives.  Clearly, they awaited the arrival of the Messiah, the chosen one who would come to save his people.  They awaited the fulfillment of the Word.  This fulfillment, however, was not what they had expected, instead of a mighty warrior, we have a man born in a manger, a man who is adored by the shepherds and magi, we have a man who is come to be baptized by John, instead of the opposite.  This is the Christ, and unlike any of the expectations that had developed throughout the ages, he chose to do something different.  The liberation and life that he offers us is not a triumphant and earthly one filled with riches and things, instead, this humble man, who is the self-giving of God, or if you prefer, love taken on flesh, shows us that instead of coming through with our expectations, God often has a plan much greater than anything we can imagine, and often, it leaves us surprised and bemused, in awe of the elegant simplicity with which God does such great things.  In all of this however, much like the man that approached me, we sometimes let our expectations and false hopes to get the best of us, and instead of sharing a moment among people who believe in the Word, we get lost in the words.  Today, as always, we are called upon by God and invited by Christ, to enter the waters of unity and love, the same waters that are made clean by Christ, the one who takes upon himself our sin.  Today, we are welcomed into the arms of a loving redeemer who goes beyond our expectations and surprises us with things unimagined.  Today, we are called upon to hear the Word, and to let that Word ring true in our hearts, so that in our every day living, we may become engulfed in the Word, and not lost in the many words around us.  No sir, I don't have my own church, nor do I preach at a church like yours, but listen, do you hear him?  He, who has died for you and me, he calls us, and because we share in hearing, Him, the Word, we are one, and for that, I thank God.  Maybe I should have given him a hug (that would have really freaked him out!  too bad I don't like hugs).  As always, know that I love you.  God bless you.  Fr. Ricky