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.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Homily for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Aug. 10, 2014

Homily for  19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Aug. 10, 2014

(This homily is also part of my Missions Appeal for the Pontifical Missions Society, so there is a "sales pitch". If you feel so moved, give to the society at their website, www.onefamilyinmission.org or another to help with the crisis in the Middle East is www.cnewa.org which is the Near East Christian Welfare Association, a Pontifical Society as well.)

God speaks to us in the most unusual ways.  A man was at his home when the rains started coming down, the weather forecast called for flooding and everyone was evacuating from the tiny town, except for this one man. The 4X4 rescue vehicle came by to offer a ride. The man replied, “No, God will save me, I have faith.” So the van drove away. The waters started to build up around the man’s porch and a rowboat came by to offer assistance, “No,” the man replied again, “God will save me, I have faith.” Finally the waters rose so high that the man had to go to his roof. A helicopter came by to rescue him, but once again the man said, “No, I have faith that God will save me.” Well, of course, the man drowned in the flood and when he stood before God in Heaven, he was a little bit more than upset. “I had faith in you God to rescue me, why didn’t you?” To which God replied, “I sent a 4X4, a rowboat and a helicopter, what more did you want?”

Yes, God speaks to us in the most unusual ways.

          Elijah, had just slain the 400 prophets of Baal. He saw, and all saw the miracle of God throwing fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice that Elijah had offered to God to prove that God is the one true God. Yet, here he is not more than a month later, hiding in a cave, not knowing what to do. When Elijah waited for the Lord, he knew the Lord’s voice, and even when howling winds, earthquakes and fire came, Elijah knew that the Lord was not speaking through those events. For Elijah, the Lord spoke to him in a still small voice, a whisper.

The Gospel reading for today, offers a vivid portrait of Jesus’ followers.  When they felt overcome by danger, Christ’s responds to their needs.  After performing the miracle of the loaves and fish, Jesus went up to the mountain to pray. The Apostles took a boat to meet him on the other side of the lake. Soon their boat “was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, which was between 3 and 6 in the morning, the darkest part of the night, He came toward them walking on the sea”. Surely, the great storm in the deep darkness before dawn petrified the men. They needed help, then they saw Him – coming to them.

The Apostles were in fear for their lives, just like Elijah had been in fear for his life. Despite all the miracles they had witnessed, they were awe-struck at the sight of Christ walking on water. They could not believe it, would not believe it, even though they had just witnessed the miracle of the fish and loaves.

Jesus calmed their fears by simply speaking to them, not shouting over the wind, but as the Master of the wind and waves, by simply speaking to the disciples, the disciples heard. Peter, who was having a doubting Thomas moment here, asked to be able to come to Jesus, so again Jesus gives the invitation to “Come”. 

That is all we need to walk with Jesus, an invitation, which has already been given by Jesus. Peter WALKED on the water, but he looked at his surrounding situation and began to sink because of his lack of faith. He took his eyes off of Jesus and saw the turmoil around him.  This has many applications to us today. How does God speak to us? 

He uses His Church, to speak to us. He also uses crises to speak to us, to call us to action. God is speaking to us today to act to help our brothers and sisters who are in dire straits and are being killed for just being a Christian. The humanitarian need in the Middle East right now is tremendous, not just for Christians, but for others who are also suffering because of war and injustices being heaped upon them by godless forces.  God is calling us to action, but what form will that action take? I can think of a few ways we can respond to the crises that are happening now in our world.

1: To Pray. Pope Francis says that prayer, intense prayer is needed for the Middle East.

2: To Fast. Fasting is a way to support your prayers. There are evil forces running through ISIS. How else can one describe the evil that is taking place “in the name of God”? : Beheadings, crucifixions, mass killings and a diaspora of Christians and other non-Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Syria.

3: To Give. The Pontifical Missions Society supports over 1150 mission dioceses around the world, and of course this appeal is for the support of these missions. We have over 9000 medical clinics in those dioceses, where people can come and receive the basic of medical care for little or no cost. We have over 10,000 schools and orphanages where child can live and learn in relative safety. We also support over 18,000 seminarians who will be serving as priests in the near future in these dioceses.
In giving to the Missions, we are also being the missionaries we were called to be by our Baptism. “To go and preach the Gospel to every creature”, to be agents of peace and comfort, and to give courage and hope to those who have lost hope.

Jesus was there for his disciples during the times of crises, during the dark night of the soul, when it seemed they lost all hope, and He will always be there for us with comfort and courage when we face our own dark and stormy nights.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Follow Up To The Murrieta Standoff

Martha and I decided to go to the Border Station in Murrieta today July 4, 2014, to receive the undocumented minors when they arrive. Well, we were there from 3 until about 9:30 and no buses, so we came home. That does not mean that nothing of importance took place, just the opposite. I learned a lesson today about prejudice and bigotry, fear and hate.

We took a couple of cases of water in order to share with whomever wanted it. The temperature reached into the 90's with a good dose of humidity, so water was a welcomed gift.... to some. I went to a corner where a number of people had gathered, "Anglos" on one side, and those whom I first thought were "Latinos" on the other. I approached the Latino people first, offered them water and to my surprise, only one guy accepted. One of the girls looked at me like I had three heads! She told me in no uncertain terms that she didn't want anything from me because she knew what MY people did to HER people, historically; I realized that I had stumbled upon a group of Native American Activists. This girl was full of hate, real hate; the kind that if she would have had a gun, I would not be typing this now. UPDATE (now three days later, I came up with the perfect retort to her accusation. I should have said, "MY people? My Paternal Grandmother was 1/2 Cherokee, so I really don't know what you are saying." but I have never been quick on the retort).

Across the street, I offer water to the "Anglos"; they accept and thanked me, then asked me where I stood on this issue. I told them I was on the side of justice, God's justice and that this is a humanitarian crisis and if they are requesting asylum, they should get it. And then I get blasted from this side too! One woman told me that Jesus wants us to obey the law; I did not want to get into a confrontation because two men had already been arrested for fighting with police on this street corner. I did think it curious that Jesus would want us to obey the law, when his entire ministry was breaking the law to show that the law was not going to save mankind. But I did not want to get into a Theological debate with a person who was absolutely right in everything she thought.

We drove back down to the main street and then up the other side street to get closer to the Border Station. The two groups were a bit more civil to each other, but there were more shouting matches. I got into a discussion with one woman who I think really wanted to engage in a civil talk, but a woman who "interviewed" me last night showed up and started up again with her "open borders" tirade, claiming that I said that the Church is in favor of open borders (she called me an old school liberal!) I was upset because she had it on her camera that I said the exact opposite and she still wanted to put words into my mouth. I moved away because I chose not to engage with her. You cannot talk with a person if they have already made up their minds as to what you position is.

A good thing happened when we ran into Lupillo Rivera, a well known Mexican singer (born in Long Beach, Ca.) who had just delivered over 100 In-n-Out burgers for the people who were there, on either side of debate. That is a class act. Martha was interviewed by a local TV station and made the 11 clock news. There is still a lot of work to do, but with prayer and elbow grease, we can turn this situation around.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Ponderings on the Immigration Debate: My views on the Town Hall Meeting in Murrieta, California

I attended a town hall meeting last night (July 2, 2014) in Murrieta, California, a neighboring city to where we live. The reason for the meeting was because of the protests that had happened on July 1st, where three Homeland Security buses, with 140 undocumented immigrants from the Central American countries of Guatemala and Honduras, mostly women and children with some of them being unaccompanied minors. The protesters were successful in turning the buses out from their town and in turn, the buses ended up in San Diego at a Federal facility there. The protest were fairly peaceful, but there was one act of violence and bigotry that happened, that can be found here (In Spanish, but he states he was spit upon and threatened. The police witnessed this and did nothing) http://noticias.univision.com/al-punto/videos/punto-seguido/video/2014-07-03/lupillo-escupen-razones/embed
He even asked the mayor at the Town hall meeting why there was no arrest, to which the mayor had no answer...

The town hall went as one would expect in a city where the emotions against undocumented/illegals run high. There was a number of cheers when the mayor would say something positive toward the crowd, and boos when the crowd didn't agree with what was said. For the panels part, most of them shared facts; the number of undocumented, the exact scope of their particular job/mission, etc. without giving commentary as to their feelings toward the current situation. Others, however, used the opportunity to play to the crowd by speaking half truths, or implying that certain "diseases" would become rampant in the community if these immigrants would be allowed to stay (the Head of the County Health Department calmed any fears about that).

Alan Long, the mayor of Murrieta, who ran the meeting as smoothly as possible (a difficult task given the number of people who yelled out at various times), himself claims to be 1/2 Mexican and is married to a Mexican lady and had his Father in law in the audience last night. He made sure to inform the crowd that his "Suegro" entered into this country the "proper" way, stating that he came in during the "civil war". Now if you ask me, the man didn't look THAT old. I didn't know which civil war he was referring to, the American Civil War was from 1861 to 1865 and the Mexican Civil War was from 1858 to 1861, then again in 1909 to 1913 (Revolution). Perhaps Mayor Long meant the Cristeros Movement in 1926 to 1929, where the Mexican Government tried to silence the Catholic Church in Mexico and the cry of the people being "Viva Cristo Rey" was able to win back their religious freedom (yes, I realize it is a simple view, but this blog is about the protests...remember?) I bring this up because to me it seems that this is the type of pandering that is done to try and invoke empathy with the Hispanics in the crowd, while placating the "hometown" crowd. So I looked at the Immigration policy of the last century which can be found here http://web.missouri.edu/~brente/immigr.htm

From the beginning, Immigration has been driven by bias and bigotry, not by economics. This was plenty evident during the protest of July 1 and the town hall meeting of last night. I made a comment to my wife that it reminded me of the refugees of Vietnam in the 1970's; many Americans were furious that our government would bring these people over here, and who knows what kinds of diseases they would bring with them? Had the US deported these back to Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge would have killed them upon arrival. It is the same with these "illegals" from Central America; they are refugees, not immigrants. They are fleeing their homeland because of the gangs that have killed so many for not paying extortion monies and their governments won't/can't do anything about it. They would rather trust the unknown than face a certain death. This is an act of faith, of hope.

I was reading other blogs about this and I was reminded of the Jewish refugees on the MS St. Louis turned back in 1939, returned to Germany where it is estimated that at least 1/3rd died in Concentration Camps, because we didn't want them here. Or of our own shameful concentration Camps along the West Coast during WWII, oh we didn't call them Concentration Camps, but Relocation Camps. We didn't kill and incinerate the prisoners, but we treated them as less than humans. This attitude is still prevalent today. A man two seats down from me made a comment how we should "catch and release" (a reference to immediate deportation), I turned to him and said that they are humans, not fish; to which he replied, well I would rather not repeat what he said. Suffice it to say, had it been an earlier time in my life it might had come to fisticuffs. Too many of the comments were of this ilk. What was the most discouraging to hear were the "amens" coming from the Christians in the auditorium. The claims that the people of Murrieta are a compassionate people fell on deaf ears (mine). Perhaps they are compassionate to their own, I do not doubt that. But it is easy to be compassionate to those you know or have something in common. But to be compassionate to those you don't know or are your enemy, is a different thing (The Good Samaritan comes to mind).

I was "interviewed" by a lady who wanted to "ask" questions, to know what we thought. (I felt from the beginning that I was being set up) So she starts with her interview and kept asking the same type of questions, she was trying to get me to say that we were for open borders, that we should let anyone who wants to come in to do so. I told her in the most direct way I could; the Church does not advocate an open borders policy, that every country has the right and responsibility to protect their borders. When she pressed me further about refugees, I told her that absolutely if someone comes to the US to seek asylum, they should be granted asylum. Of course there is a whole lot of interviewing that goes on in order to grant that asylum, but she was only interested in hearing that we should let anybody and everybody in. I ended the interview with the comment that I am curious as to how this will be edited and where it will appear online, because it seems that you only want to hear what you want to hear. This was in "interview" where the outcome was decided before the first word was uttered.

I have been preaching for the Missions Appeal in my vicariate and we are collecting money to assist the missions in Africa and Asia and while these are noble causes to support, how much closer can we get to help those who need it, to visit the widows and orphans in their distress? Yes, I know I will hear the argument of "well, we can't even help our own here" to which my reply is, "can't? or won't?" The people of Murrieta (and the surrounding area of Temecula, Wildomar and Lake Elsinore) have the opportunity to show the compassion that was touted so prominently last night. The question is, will they?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Remembering a friend

The Reverend Roberto Guerrero, or Father Bob, as we called him, was called home to be with our Lord this last Sunday, May 4, 2014. He would have been 53 on the 18th of this month. I saw him for the last time at our Chrism Mass, the Tuesday of Holy Week this year, and only had the opportunity to talk with him briefly. He mentioned he was going in for surgery on his stomach on Saturday May 3rd, but didn't seem too worried about it. That would be just like Fr. Bob, not worried because he had already been through so much (health wise). I found out later, that after the surgery, he simply never woke up from the anesthesia and passed from this life to the next on Sunday.

Father Bob was my pastor at St. Frances of Rome for a number of years, long before I was ordained, but we talked about the call many times. Father had a way of taking care of his flock. He was always at the various ministry meetings, always walking around the church grounds during the festivals and special occasions with his cowboy hat and boots, and his clericals always cleaned and pressed. Yes, he had his faults, we all do, and Father had a hard battle against the bottle, which he won after much work. He loved his parents very much and when his Mom died, he took it hard. His Dad had passed many years before his Mom, so in a certain way, Father Bob felt alone in his world.

We have always tried to make our priests feel that they are part of our family. We have invited more than one priest to accompany us on family vacations to Mexico on various occasions. Father Bob went with us a number of times to Mexico. We took him to Martha's hometown of Cotija, Michoacan where we presented him to the Parochial Vicar, who invited him to assist in a Mass that afternoon. Father was expecting a couple of Altar Servers and maybe another priest, what he got was about 8 Altar Servers and 6 priests concelebrating! They paid him 50 pesos for his help and Father got the biggest kick out of that, he also help at a number of other Masses during the week. We also taught Father how to ride a scooter that week too. He discovered Mexican paletas (ice cream) there too. Imagine our surprise when one afternoon we spied Father Bob riding the scooter down the street with an ice cream in BOTH HANDS! he said he couldn't get enough. Of course, later that evening, when his stomach started to "turn" because of all he had eaten that day, I introduced him to a Japanese Powder (antacid powder) where you put it on your tongue and then drink water to swallow the powder. Father Bob wasn't ready for the strong ginger taste of the powder and he blew it out of his mouth in disgust. It was a very funny scene!

He also went with us to Puerto Vallarta and we put him in the parasailing rig at the beach. I remember the look of sheer terror on his face as he took off into the air while being pulled by the boat. We introduced him to scuba diving at Cabo San Lucas, but he couldn't get the hang of it and went back into the boat after a short time.

We continued to keep in touch with Father Bob well after he left our community in order to pastor elsewhere in the Diocese. He was a loving soul and truly wanted to see the best in his parishioners and the community in general. He will be greatly missed. Our loss is Heaven's gain. Rest in Peace Father, we will see each other again one day. +

Monday, April 28, 2014

Las Vegas: A view from behind the Altar.

This past weekend, I was honored to preside at a wedding for a friend of mine who was married at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Las Vegas. Even though we live (including the bride and groom) 4 hours away from Vegas, they had the wedding there; mostly because of centrality of other family and the fact that they like to go to Vegas.

The wedding was beautiful and went off without a hitch (well, except that I had to remind the first reader it was time for her to go and proclaim the first reading), and we all had a most wonderful. Time and for me personally, a wonderful experience. This was my second wedding since my ordination, but my first one out of my Diocese (which I needed a letter from the Diocese to St. Joan of Arc letting them know that I am indeed a validly ordained deacon and have full faculties) and it was my first bilingual wedding, although most of it was in Spanish (the wedding rite itself and the Communion Service).

Martha and I drove around the town before and after the wedding, to see the sights. I took her to the Stratosphere, which has the thrill rides on top of the building 1000 feet above the Strip, and actually go OVER the side of the building! You can even "jump" from the observation deck at 855 feet above (they have a harness and you "free fall" while attached to a cable). All of which were not operating when we were there because the wind was blowing between 45-50 mph. We ate gelato at The Venetian on Saturday afternoon and strolled through the casino there ( we won about 150 on a one armed bandit, which we promptly cashed out, not willing to give the house a chance to take it back). And we ended our weekend by going to the 9:30 am Mass at the Guardian Angel Cathedral.

Now, I tell this story to bring about an observation we made: Las Vegas is a city of contrast. There is obvious wealth on the Strip, yet there is abject poverty on the same Strip (not to mention in other parts of the city). Perhaps Vegas is not so much different than other cities in the world, but only that the disparity is so obvious to one who will see it. Martha pondered if the casinos would give the food they don't use to food banks perhaps the homeless would have enough to eat (I don't know that the casino DON'T do this, but Martha was just thinking out loud). It is quite a sight to see such open debauchery on the streets of a city. Apparently it is not a crime to walk the Strip while carrying and consuming your favorite adult beverage. It is not uncommon to see vomit in the streets either, we drove by a parked limo whose driver was emptying out his stomach from the party the night before. (I declined to ask him for directions) There are also the "rolling billboards" driving up and down the Strip, advertising everything from Jason Alexander's hair to Gentlemen's Escort Services.

In the middle of the Strip, right behind Wynn's Resort and Casino is Guardian Angel Cathedral. A light in the middle of so much darkness. There is a presence of God on the Strip. They have 9 masses on the weekends, and 2 masses a day during the week and they have so many who work the casinos come in to get close to God, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation; Confession is held 1/2 hour before each weekday mass and before the Saturday morning Mass. They are welcoming to all who come. Their mission work is tough, tougher than most parishes, so I would ask for your prayers for the people of Guardian Angel Cathedral and the other parishes of Las Vegas: St. Joan of Arc, St., Christ the King,Holy Family, Holy Spirit,Our Lady of LaVang, Our Lady of Las Vegas, Prince of Peace, St. Anne, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Bridget, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Francis de Sales, St. James the Apostle, St. Joseph husband of Mary, St. Paul Jung Ha-Sang, St. Viator, Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer, and St. Thomas Aquinas at the UNLV Campus. they are the city set on a hill and need our help to keep the light shining.