28 January 2016

Isn't this Joe's son?

Readings Here

I ran across this picture on Facebook today, and it touched me.  Sr. Thea Bowman, always touches my heart.  This is especially true when I think of her courageous final days of life as she continued to live out her vocation.  I also remember her singing to the Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops.  I imagine she must have made more than one Bishop uncomfortable, or at least, I hope so.  Sr. Thea Bowman sings here
Either way,  as I came across this picture and as I watch the video of Sr. Thea singing, even as she was too sick to stand, I was touched because it reminds me of who I am called to be, and to be perfectly honest, that scares me.  Just the other day, I was reflecting on what it means to be a priest, what does it mean to be entrusted as an envoy of God's love, and how am I to continue being this person in today's world, and more specifically, here in West Texas?  The Gospel in this Sunday's readings is particularly challenging because in so many ways it reminds me that when you do the Gospel right, it can be uncomfortable.  This is especially true today when we are so used to seeing pastors in their private jets, or mega churches that spend millions on lights and technology.  In a society where the Gospel of Prosperity is more fitting for the tv show "Lives of the Rich and Famous," than the poverty and simplicity of Christ, I am called to service, and we are called to service.  As Christ sat and read this passage from the Hebrew Scriptures, people looked at him with some consternation.  I can almost imagine the viejitas (old ladies) whispering among themselves as they remark of Joe's son. I can hear the crowd looking at Jesus with some suspicion, after all, they know him, and they know his family, but here he is, reading the scripture.  When Jesus is done, he then looks up at the crowd and speaks... "This passage is filled in your hearing."  Then he goes on to remind what the scripture says about God's love being made real in the olden days.  He reminds them of how stubborn of heart and cold they are and challenges them to envision God today.  As you can imagine, they do not like this, and they want to kill this twerp.  But in the melee, Jesus escapes.  What does this mean for us today though?  It's a nice passage, and we've obviously heard it before, so what?  This is where I believe things get tricky.  In particular, this is where I believe now turns to look at us and challenges us to envision the same things he invited those people in the synagogue to envision.  We are not a people that is meant to go about our lives empty and complacent, instead, we are a people who are meant to love and live.  We are a people who stand up as a body and celebrate the different gifts that each one of us has to offer, and we are a people that recognizes that when one part of the body hurts, we all hurt.  More importantly, we are a people brought together in the love of Christ.  We are to be one body, and yet, we are so often ready to tear each other apart.  In the false race to be the "one true church," we forget what it means to be Church and to be Christian and we go about our days looking for new methods of gaining members.  Instead of counting numbers, what if we lived out our lives in an authentic manner?  What if we were able to recognize the other as a brother or sister and not have to place titles on them or box them in?  What if in our daily lives, we took the words of Christ and allowed them to become fruitful?  What if we became the fulfillment of God's love today?  These are all questions that have no true answer, but I refuse to believe that I must be limited by boundaries that are very much human.  God's love cannot and must not be contained, because when we live that love out, we discover that today, this passage, and so many others, are fulfilled.  My prayer is that one by one we may become the fulfillment of God's love and that in doing so, we remember who we are, and whose we are.  As always, know that you are beautiful and you are loved.  Peace to you.  Fr. Rick

Sr. Thea, pray for us.

19 January 2016

Praise to our death, that makes our life real

This is from my treasury of experience.

This past week, I started my morning by checking my phone.  Unlike most mornings, I had received a barrage of text messages the previous night.  Although they were a lot, I read each one and recognized that they had been sent by a friend who had recently had to deal with not just the loss of her father, but also other family members, and her spiritual father.  In the message, there was pain and anger, confusion and loss, but there was also hope.  I read the messages, and in my wry sense of humor, I wanted to say something witty in a naive attempt to cheer her up.  Thankfully, I didn't do that.  I waited and prayed, I lifted her up in prayer and those she had lost and in my prayer, many of the ones I had lost along my journey came to mind.  The centenarian who had worked for the National Biscuit Company, the man who grew orchids, the priest who had served with great zest... and on and on.  As I thought of this and of my friend's pain, I kept thinking to the first time I ever felt that kind of pain.  I remember it clearly, it was January 1 of 2005.  I was in the Novitiate and phone calls were limited to Saturday evenings.  The interesting this is that the phone call came around the time we were starting our movie night.  We were all gathered around the TV ready for whatever movie it was that were had selected that day.  The phone rang, our Novice Master answered, and then called another Brother to the phone.  This Brother listened attentively, and I, remained oblivious.  It was only after he hung up the phone that he asked to talk to me.  "Ricky," he said, "Veronica passed away today."  It took a few moments for me to begin to grasp what this meant.  Although I wasn't surprised at the death (she was 104), the pain was still very real and very present.  I remember going to the chapel and sitting in the peaceful darkness, and then it happened, a flood of emotion, tears and snot came rushing forth.  I was a mess and I didn't know what to do.  I cried and felt the loss, she was 104 years old and yet, her death was heavy and all too sudden.  As I sat in the chapel, crying, one of my brothers came to me and tried to comfort me.  In the mess, I spoke of the pain that I felt, and it was then that I realized that this must be love.  Before this death, I had experienced the death of three grandparents, but nothing had ever been like this, for the first time, I mourned the loss of a friend, a sister, someone for whom I cared.  For the first time, I realized what it meant to love a person in this different way.
From that day, every time I have experienced death or loss, I have mourned, but have also celebrated because of the reality that life had existed and love had occurred.  In many ways, the feeling of loss and the pain of death is something that reminds us of who we are and how we have loved.  These things are a vibrant reminder of the gift that is loving another person.  Whether family or friend, or even a celebrity, our sense of loss is a glimpse of the great love with which God receives us and holds us to God's very self.  We are not alone, we are not abandoned, and even in the face of death, love reminds us that we are not ended, but transformed.  Yes, these may seem like platitudes that we say to each other in a feeble attempt to comfort one another, but the fact is that as Christians, and really, as humans, we are built for love and it is love that reminds us of the beauty and grace that is entrusted to us by our loving God.  In all honesty, the death of a loved one sucks, but as the funeral liturgy so eloquently states: "For those who believe, life is changed, not ended."  In some words, the loss we experience is not our end, but a point of transformation.  We are changed, not ended, and life and love move us into tomorrow as we encounter God today.  In some ways, this is what Lent invites us to consider, not the pain of giving up Coke Zero (or whatever your poison may be) but to celebrate the many gifts that are daily outpoured upon us.  We are called to reflect on the gift of life and love.  The gift of relationship and redemption, and most importantly, the gift of Christ.  So, yes, death sucks, but in death we are reminded of our own life and the hope which is afforded us in knowing the author of life and love.  In our encounters with each other, in love, we are reminded that God is here and now, and that in a simple hug or kiss, a handshake or high five, God is present, love is there and we are alright.  So, my friend, I cannot take away your pain, but let the loss you have experienced be a joyful and joy filling reminder of the love you posses for it is ultimately that love which offers a glimpse of Love who rose from the grave.  Peace to you and know that you are beautiful and you are loved.  As always, I love you.  Fr. Rick

09 January 2016

The Baptism of the Lord

Readings Here.

Greetings to you, and God's blessings!  Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  This celebration is significant because it marks a new begining.  Just as Christmas marked the miracle of God taking on flesh, we now see God take another step in His wondrous love.  A professor once spoke of Jesus, clean and free of sin, going into the waters of the Jordan, not to be made clean as we understand it through our own Baptism, instead, by Jesus, clean and holy, going into the dirty waters, he makes the waters pure so that when I, sinner that I am, step into those waters, I too may participate in the new life that God's love promises me.  Jesus had no need to be Baptized, instead, His baptism was another radical step in proclaiming God's love because by His taking on our sin, he reminds me that each one of us is redeemed.  By Jesus being called "the chosen one" I too then participate in something that I could never have fathomed.  Christ is Baptized so that I may live.  And so I celebrate this Feast in awe and wonder because just as it is amazing to think that God took flesh and became vulnerable for me and you, it is amazing to know that in His great love, He took on my sin to make me whole.  I am no longer afraid, I am not longer alone, and sin is no longer my end.  Instead, I am called, I am God's and I am redeemed, I too have been called "chosen" and in my life, my call is made real in my love.  May we all love as we have been loved and in our journey, may we know that God's love and grace make us worthy and beloved children of our glorious God!  Know that you are beautiful and that you are loved.  Happy Feast Day!  Fr. Rick