Sunday, April 24, 2016

I tend to complain too much

I stay pretty busy as a deacon in my diocese. When I am not serving at my parish, I usually am serving somewhere else, or preaching the Mission Appeal for the Pontifical Mission Society through our diocese (I have 4 parish assignments per year, so I am preaching at least 4 times a year, multiply that by at least 6 masses a weekend and it adds up), not to mention all the other things I do with marriage preparation and annulments from marriages that were broken from before the beginning of the marriage, teaching RCIA, and doing various visitations for hospital or home visits. People even come up to me at parties and ask for prayers for their family members, this is how hurting our world is. I am blessed that they have the confidence to confide in me enough to ask for my prayers and counsel.

So, as busy as I tend to get, it is a real treat for me to sometimes get the view from in front of the altar, instead of from behind it. This is what happened to me today, as I went to a neighboring parish to witness my niece receive her first Holy Communion. It was not held in the parish, instead, it was held outside at a popular venue in town (the owners are parishioners at this particular parish). The reason it was held outside was because the parish was finishing up their construction of their church and they didn't know if it would be ready in time for the children's first communion (it was, actually and the Bishop consecrated it later in the day, but the mass had already been scheduled and it would have been too late to change).

All this intro to get to my reflection: While it was outside, which the Bishop gives permission to do with extreme circumstances, it was not very hot, but it was very sunny. I have a bald spot on my head that looks like I should be a Franciscan Friar, and while it was not hot outside, the sun was still beating down on everybody at mass. (well, almost everybody, there were numerous shade trees where many took refuge). About three quarters of the way through the mass, I started to "feel" the burn, as it were, and it caused me to reflect. I noticed many around me were uncomfortable also, and I wondered how it is that we have come to expect an air conditioned worship experience? The early church survived without air conditioning, heck, the early church survived without running water and indoor plumbing (unless they were Romans who could afford it, and it wasn't the running water we are used to). There are places in this world today that do not have what we have here in the West, yet they survive, sometimes even thrive in their spiritual lives.

We in the West are living in the 1% of the world's wealth, resources and technology, yet we complain (even if to ourselves) when things aren't exactly "perfect". As Father Tom reminded us in his homily today, as the sun was beating down on my poor Franciscan Head, Jesus gave us three commandments to follow; 1: Love one another as I have loved you. This is hard because we don't want to love our enemies, but it is the self sacrificing love that leads to salvation. 2: Do this in memory of me, that is, Eucharist. Taking of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We do this for our spiritual nourishment. 3: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Pretty straight forward commands from our Lord. Come to think about it, Jesus never said anything about having a nice cool, safe place to do this in. I think the next time I am able to go to an outdoor Mass, I will keep my eyes on the Son on the Altar and not worry about the sun in the sky.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Homily for Ash Wednesday Feb. 10, 2016
Here we are again, Ash Wednesday; the beginning of Lent. It is the season of  preparation for Easter, the most glorious event of the Christian calendar, when we give glory to God for his gift of eternal life through his Son,  Jesus Christ
But what do we need in order to celebrate? We need a time of reflecting on what we have and have not done throughout the year, how we have lived and how we can live better, to walk closer to our God and his people. Let us look at what today's readings are calling us to do:
1: God is calling us to Repentance; return to me with your whole heart says the Lord in Joel. We must be like the prodigal son, who after seeing his situation came to his senses and in humility returned to his father. It doesn't matter what kind of life you've been living, God is that Father in the story, always out on the road looking for his son to return home where he belongs. God is waiting for us to return home to him, where we belong.
2: God is calling us to Conversion; Paul is telling the Corinthians that they are ambassadors for Christ. There are always two types of ambassadors, the kind that push their own agenda and those who push the agenda of the one whom they are representing. Conversion comes from repentance and a determined will to change with the help of the Spirit of God. St. Paul says that today is the day for conversion. This is Lent's main message: today is the day to be reconciled to God,  before it's too late.
3: God gives us the plan on how to live this season (and all sesons); Jesus gives us the plan in today's Gospel. He says to live humbly, to live a life that is pleasing to God. During this season of Lent, we are called to Pray,  Fast, and give Alms. And as we do these, we are not to be like those of the world who shout from the mountaintops, as it were, in order that all might see their works and give them praise. We are to do these things humbly and without fanfare,  so that our Father in Heaven will see and he will give us our compensation.
Let me give you an example of this principle in action: In the Republican debates the other night, Donald Trump was not there to debate the issues. Why? Because he was out at a fundraiser for veterans. Now he made it perfectly clear to all who would listen about how great a guy he is because he was able to raise 6 million dollars for the veteran's organizations. He shouted from the rooftops about his generosity. I say to you that he has received his reward already (the applause of his supporters). Now there is a man in New York who works in a very uptown, very expensive hair sal√≥n. He is much in demand as a stylist and works 12 hours days, sometimes 6 days a week. He was photographed, by a passerby who happen to know who he was, cutting the hair of a homeless person on the streets of New York on his day off. Asked why he does this, his response was that these people deserve to be treated like people. He receives no money from the homeless for his services, just thanks and a smile. God sees those types of works with a totally different eye than the works that are touted and shouted from the rooftops of the city.  
Let us begin our Lent by receiving ashes on our forehead to remind us of our frailty and our dependence on God for all things. Let us all repent, convert, and live the life God is calling us to live. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Stephanie's Story Part II

A couple of weeks age, I shared the story of a young woman who came to our country in search of refuge from the violence in her home country. I would like to share some of her story of how she came into our family.

The way that our son and his wife met is something out of a movie. Raymond had gone to Texas to visit a couple of his cousins, whom he hadn't seen in quite a while and decided that May was as good a time as any to go to Texas (at least he didn't think August would be a good time). On his trip home, he was in line at the airport to get his boarding pass and he noticed a young lady having difficulty explaining herself to the ticket agent. She was speaking in Spanish and the agent wasn't (how it is in Texas, they don't have bilingual agents at an International Airport is beyond me). Our son, being the gentleman we raised him to be, stepped in and offered to be an interpreter for Stephanie.

Once the boarding passes were in hand, they went to the gate to wait and wait and wait, apparently the flight was delayed. So they started talking, getting to know one another, as it were. Raymond later told me that it was if they had known each other for a long long time. When they finally boarded, Stephanie was seated a couple of rows in front of where Raymond was seated. When he saw that no one was sitting next to Stephanie, he wasted no time in asking if he could sit next to her for the flight from Houston to Los Angeles. She said yes, of course.

Once in Los Angeles, Raymond and Stephanie exchanged phone numbers and each went their own ways, Stephanie to her Uncle's house in LA, and Raymond to Riverside County. Now, Raymond hasn't given me all the details, but apparently he immediately started to call Stephanie to see if she would want to go out. She played coy, wanting to see if Raymond was going to be insistent in his calling. He was, she finally said she would go out with him. The banda was just starting to warm up....

Friday, August 28, 2015

Stephanie's Story; Part 1 of ?

The other day I wrote about immigration, and I mentioned a young lady who came to our country from El Salvador as a refugee. I have talked with her and asked her permission to tell her story and she has given me permission to tell her story.

Stephanie, 21, grew up in the outskirts of a town in the southern part of El Salvador, close to the Pacific Ocean. Her decision to leave her country did not come easily, it never does. How can one pick up and leave family behind and go into a country where you don't speak the language, don't understand the cultures, and don't even feel welcomed? The Vietnamese felt that way in the 70's, but that is another blog for another day. Yet, the Vietnamese and the Salvadorans have much in common; a government that is corrupt, local politicians that hold sway over the populace by way of gangs who extort the people, at gunpoint if necessary.

This is the stifling atmosphere that Stephanie was born into, her grandparents ran a successful business, despite being extorted repeatedly by the local gangs. At one point her grandmother had a pistol pointed at her head, at point blank range. Stephanie was finding herself in situations where she ended up transferring to three different universities and yet she was still being threatened by the local gangs.

She went to apply for a Visa, twice, and both times was rejected. Apparently a "mordida" was not in the offering. So she decided to make the dangerous trip up through Guatemala and Mexico and into the U.S. With the help of her Grandmother (financially helping her) she was able to secure the help of a "coyote" (one who smuggles people into another country). She did not tell me how much she spent in order to come here, but from my experience of talking with immigrants and working on immigration issues, to cross the border can run into the thousands of dollars.

After six weeks of traveling through two countries, she arrives in the U.S. (of course after entering without proper documentation). She then applies for refugee status because of the history of her country, the U.S. government has determined to have individual deportation hearings for those coming from Central America. So she has her deportation hearing this January, 2016. She now has another reason to stay here. She has married a U.S. citizen, after a 4 month courtship, she married a wonderful young man from California. Now for those who might think this was an arranged marriage, or that it was done for her to get her papers, let me tell you that my parents met and married in six weeks time (and not because they had to). Both families said it would never last, my Dad was 26, my Mom was 18, even people at their church said it was a mistake, but they were married for 52 years when my Dad passed away 7 years ago; So a 4 month courtship is not too short in my book. So why do I tell this story that has not ended yet? Because Stephanie is someone I met at lunch one day after a Sunday Mass, when my oldest son brought her to meet us. Yes, that nice young man from California is my oldest son. They married in Las Vegas (her passport being a valid identification for licensing purposes) and we are looking at the Blessing in the Catholic Church this December.

More on how they met and how they built their relationship in my next blog.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Another view of our current Immigration "problem"

My friends who know me, know that for the last 31 years, I have been in a relationship with a wonderful and beautiful woman from Mexico. Two years of dating and 29 years of Holy Matrimony (this November 29, 2015 if God wills). In my life with Martha, and her family, I have learned many things about Mexican Culture, Mexican Mindset, and Mexican Values. This I know, that you cannot pigeonhole Mexicans with a stereotype, anymore than you can pigeonhole a citizen of the United States with a stereotype.

One of the issues that I have become involved in, is that of Immigration. This is for a myriad of reasons, but the most important reason is that of human dignity. In my experience, study, and ministry, I have come to learn to see the immigrant, the stranger, the other, as myself. The immigrant is not that "illegal" Mexican that is a "child rapist", as some like Donald Trump would assert, we had a problem with molestation long before we had a problem with immigration. That problem comes from a bad heart, no matter who does it.

My heart, my love for those who come to this country to seek a better life comes from an experience of walking with these folks, hearing their stories, sharing their fears and tears. Yes, I believe we need Immigration Reform, we have needed it for many years, but we also need another kind of reform, that of reform of the heart, which can only come about through an encounter outside of ourselves. That encounter being an encounter with the Living Lord, who alone has the ability and the desire to change the hearts of all people.

But there are those who come to this country, not to seek a better life, per se, but because the life they have in their country is no longer a viable option to pursue. When a country becomes so corrupt, so violent, so overrun with gangs and government troops that extort the people (many times you cannot tell the difference between the troops and the gangs), the people have no other option but to leave everything and seek refuge in a safer country. This is what has been happening for the last few years in Central America. The U.S.A. has abandoned the C.A. countries after years of trying to support "democratic" governments, most of them being nothing more than military juntas. I have been doing quite a bit of reading on the assassinations of various priests and religious in various countries of central America, most notably the killing of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Ignacio Ellacuria and the martyrs of the University of Central America. Killed by ammunition, guns manufactured in, and troops trained by the United States. Not to mention my personal experience of knowing a Franciscan Priest who was attacked in Guatemala (his Bishop was killed in the attack), who came to the US to work (he lived and worked at my parish), who went to Tijuana to have a doctor remove the last bullet from his stomach, and upon return to the U.S. was denied entry because his Visa had expired (an oversight). He had to return to Guatemala to renew his Visa, and the government completed what they had started to do years before and gave Father Francisco Cisneros a bullet to the head.

I share this, because again, God has caused my path to cross with one who is a refugee from El Salvador. A young woman of 21, she carries herself with a wisdom and strength beyond those years. She tells me her story of a 6+ week trip through Guatemala and Mexico in order to arrive in the U.S. (this because her visa application was turned down twice, even though she had proof her life was in danger). Her strength and resilience shines through her beautiful smile. She knows that despite the dangers that were on the road to get here, it was worth it. She has a hearing before a judge in January 2016, but it doesn't mean she is on the government dole. She has family here, and her family back home sends what they can to assist her in her expenses (she is not a drain on taxpayers....). This, in a way was a reason she fled, her family was being extorted because of their "success" and she was in danger of either kidnapping, rape, torture, or death.

She has given me a clearer vision that my work in advocacy for immigrants rights is the right thing to do. Why do we always blame the "other" for our own problems? An undocumented immigrant, who had been deported many times, ends up killing a woman on a San Francisco pier. A tragedy indeed, one that should not have happened. The man was a repeat felon and should have still been in prison, but many take that tragedy and project it on all undocumented people. That is not fair. Where is the outcry when violence takes the life of so many Americans in the suburbs of Chicago, D.C., Baltimore, etc. by other Americans? We are a xenophobic nation to be sure.

All I ask, is for US to open our eyes to see the reality of the world we live in, and in many respects shaped this world to be like it is. To open our minds to understand that we are a great force in this world and with great power comes great responsibility (thanks Uncle Ben Parker). And to open our hearts to those who come to our country for refuge from the storms in their own countries (storms that we had a major hand in creating). Is that too much to ask for?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say that she saw the face of Christ in all to whom she ministered to. The thought of her ability to actually see Jesus in everybody sometimes overwhelms me, I mean, I can understand the poor and marginalized, but she saw Jesus in the rich and important too. She saw Jesus in the 99% and the 1% also.

This past weekend, my wife and I traveled to Loveland, Colorado to witness the grand opening of her family's restaurant and to give the business and the workers a blessing with word and holy water. On Sunday evening, we were sitting around the bar, waiting for the final work to be done in order to pray and bless the business and workers, when I found myself engaged in conversation with the last customer of the night who came in to get a "to go" order.

It was obvious to all, even the customer, that he had one too many before he even came in to our place (he did not have any drinks while waiting for his order). He looks at me over the corner of the bar and starts off the conversation by making a comment about my crucifix that I wear around my neck on the outside of my shirt. Now mind you, I get a lot of comments on my crucifix, the majority of them positive, and I tell them that Martha had purchased it in Jerusalem a few years ago and that it is the same crucifix that the Catholic deacons in Jerusalem wear to identify themselves as deacons.

He tells me that he has a "cross" like mine at his house, but he doesn't wear it because he no longer believes. And so it begins: the "evangelization" of Anthony. He shares with me certain aspects of his life, but nothing "deep". He actually told me that I was "judging" him because he is a ""bad" person and has no heart. I assured him I was not, and I wasn't. The more he shared with me about his life, the more I could see that he had been deeply hurt in his youth. It doesn't take a psychology degree to see the layers of protection that someone wraps  themselves up in order to not feel that hurt. And because of that hurt, comes the low self esteem, the violent lashing out at anyone who might see through the rough exterior (I never felt in danger at any time).

The longer we talked, which was close to an hour, the more I saw in him a man who not only wanted to do good, but actually DID do good. He recalled to me how he went about collecting coats for those who had none so they would be warmer in the brutal winters of Northern Colorado, because he to had been homeless and living on the streets at one time. He would admit he had compassion, but insisted he had no heart, because his heart had been ripped out and trampled on too many times in the past, beginning with his abusive father. The more we talked, the more he opened up. He knew what the source of his hurt and anger was, but would not reveal that to me. He told me in very colorful language that it was none of my ******* business. By then, I was confident enough that I could tell him the plain truth without being on the receiving end of a right hook, and told him that until he was ready to share his deepest hurt, the source of his hurt and anger, that he would NEVER become the man that God had called him to become! To be able to share the love that God has poured out to all of us is a wonderful gift of God's grace in one's life.

So, I started out with a story from the life of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. So I end with this observation: The more I talked with Anthony, the more I saw Jesus in him. Through the liquor baited breath, the profanity laced vocabulary, the sheer human pain of being on the outside looking in, I saw Jesus.

Jesus, who calls us to walk with him through the dirty side streets of Calcutta, India to hold in your arms a person who is dying from some disease that is so contagious that no one would help, to hold that person and let them know that, yes, someone DOES care and loves them, even if you know that they will die right there in your arms.

Jesus, who calls us to walk with the migrant in a land that they know not, where no one wants them because of the xenophobia that always seems to grip humanity when faced with something unknown. Jesus, who calls us to love all people, because they are made in the image and likeness of God himself and are deserving of love for no other reason besides that.

Jesus, who did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself out and took on our humanity in order to be with us, in our struggles, our infirmaries, our inability to love, in short, our sin.

Yeah, I saw that Jesus.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

On the Death of a Child; Not Yet Born

This last Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, I went to help a family say goodbye to their son, who was miscarried at 5 months of term. This was my first graveside commitment service that I had done on my own (I had previously assisted at others). Since it was a graveside commital, there was no homily involved, and for that I was grateful, for what do you say to a mother or father who had lost their child before the child ever had a breath of life? They will never see that son grow up, become a man, live his own life. We often wonder what if? What if he would have been born? What would he have become? What path would he have followed?

My mother lost a daughter, who at 18 months, died of SIDS (back then they called it crib death), and my mom was about 6 months pregnant with me at the time. The doctor was worried for my heath because of the trauma that mom had suffered (ok, those of you who know me can insert stupid joke here). My mother in law lost two children, one from SIDS, the other from Leukemia (Javy was 11 at the time). I recall vividly Javy's illness and passing, they lived next door to us for many years and our oldest grew up with his uncle like they were brothers (being only 2 years apart). It is always harder to see a young boy or girl suffer a grevious illness, it is harder still on us who watch them succumb to that illness. I know in Javy's case, the family started to doubt even their faith. However, in my in law's situation, they doubted in a way that made their faith stronger, where they drew closer to God, closer to His Church and closer to one another in the family unit.

When we have life happen to us this way, we tend to doubt the meaning of life. We can looking at it in a number of ways. One way would be from the oldest book in our Sacred Scriptures, Job: The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1:21. God is in control. This is very pragmatic, in that we acknowledge God's hand in all things in that He is in control. However, we can also be comforted in our grief, in our doubt, by looking at what St. Paul has to say; 'What can separate us from the love of God?' Romans 8:35 and following...not even death can separate us from the love of God. God came down and through the power of the Holy Spirit of God was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, through Jesus' passion, death and resurrection, He leads us back to the Father, who loves us and created us for that love.

It was an honor to commend little Diego Anthony into God's hands and to give words of comfort to the parents and family there that eventhough this seems like the end (before it begins), it is not. There is more, and one day we will see all who have gone on before us to God. One day I will see and know Mardie Ann (my sister who died before I was born), one day we will see Luis Javier (my little brother in law). One day we will see my dad, my father in law, all those who died in the faith of the resurrection in Christ. And yes, one day we will see and know Diego Anthony, who died before he was born, but was a living soul from the moment of his conception. And the soul lives...FOREVER.