Homily: Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Happy Third Day of Christmas!

As you may know by now, today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Before I preach about that, however. Can anyone tell me what is another feast that the Church celebrates today? The Feast of John the evangelist, Jesus’ beloved disciple. John wrote one of the four gospels and the Book of Revelations. However, the unique reason for remembering him today is that John represents each of us as adopted children of the Holy Family. Let’s take a quick journey to understand why. First, fix your gaze at the Jesus crucified in front of you. If you feel comfortable, close your eyes. Imagine that you are John standing with Mary at the foot of the cross as I read the following scripture verse:

“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.”[1]

Let those words resonate in your heart for a moment.

What a blessing that John remained faithful to Jesus until the bitter end. In doing so, all humanity became members of the Holy Family. If you forget anything that I say to you today, I pray that you remember Jesus’ words to John every time you gaze at Him on the cross.

Now, let me talk about the Holy Family. When you think about the Holy Family: What word comes to your mind? I will give you a brief moment to reflect on that. Keep that word in your heart. After Mass, I encourage you to contemplate in private or with a group or as a family about why that particular word came into your heart. For me, the word that comes to mind is the virtue of perseverance.  The reason is that the Holy Family, by their lives, are examples of the miracles that can take place when our hearts are filled with the fruit of perseverance. Through perseverance and trust in God, we, like the Holy Family, can overcome, give meaning, and strive despite adverse events in our lives.

Jesus’ humility gave us the miracle of eternal salvation. The the Son of God did not have to submit himself to judgment, humiliation, and torture. He, however, chose to humble himself for the sake of our salvation.  Every time I serve on Mass, I am reminded of that. During the Eucharistic Prayer, you will witness me pouring wine and water on the priest’s chalice. At that time, I will say the following words on your behalf:

“By the mystery of this wine and water, may we come to share in the divinity of Jesus, who humble himself to share our humanity.”

At 13 years of age, Mary’s “yes” to God gave us the miracle of the Incarnation of Jesus. Mary’s perseverance gave her the strength to witness the painful prophecy related by Simeon:

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted – and you yourself a sword will pierce – so that the thoughts of many be revealed.”

All mothers here can probably feel in their hearts how difficult it must have been for Mary to hear those words. Yet, she persevered all the way to the foot of the cross.

Joseph’s obedience exemplifies the miracle of patience. Most men in Joseph’s time and even now would have run away from Mary or walked out of his father’s responsibilities. Instead, he embraced them. Like Mary and Jesus, Joseph persevered in his vocation to do God’s will.

The Holy Family is the universal family. Jesus is the savior of humanity. Mary is not only the Mother of God; she is also our mother.  Joseph is more than Jesus’ adopted father. He is the Patron of the Universal Church.

In the Holy Family, we find love, strength, and motivation to persevere in life. The Church recognizes that to be the case. For example, in his new Apostolic Letter “Patris Corde” (“With a Father’s Heart), Pope Francis proclaimed Dec 8, 2020, through  Dec 8, 2021, as the year of Joseph. In his letter, Pope Francis stresses ‘the creative courage’ of St. Joseph, which ’emerges especially in the way we deal with difficulties.” “The carpenter of Nazareth,” explains the Pope, was able to turn a problem into a possibility by trusting in divine providence.” He had to deal with “the concrete problems” his Family faced, problems faced by other families in the world.” [2]

The efforts to celebrate the Holy Family as a sacramental symbol of perseverance are happening in our diocese as well. Bishop Vasquez has declared today as the beginning of the Year of the Domestic Church in our diocese. “This day will begin the year-long observance of the home as the first school of Christian life.” Recognizing the impact that 2020 has had in our society, Bishop Vasquez acknowledges that many families and individuals  are experiencing challenges and difficulties securing “material or spiritual resources.”[3] However, his hope and prayer are that each of us can find in the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, a model of perseverance that we can emulate through worship, action, and community. A simple way to start the year of the “Domestic Church” is by imitating  John the evangelist and take Mary into to our hearts.  

Let us pray:

O God, creator of all, you ordered the earth to bring forth life and crowned its goodness by creating the human Family. In history’s moment, when all was ready, you sent your Son to dwell in time, “practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity.” Teach us the sanctity of human love; show us the value of the Domestic Church; and help us live in peace with all people, which we may share in your life forever. With the intercession of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, we ask this through Christ the Lord. Amen. – Prayer for the Diocese of Austin Year of the Domestic Church

St. Michael the Archangel, First Champion of the Kingship of Christ, pray for us.

[1] https://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/19

[2] https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-12/pope-francis-proclaims-year-of-st-joseph.html

[3] https://austindiocese.org/domestic-church

Homily: First Sunday of Advent 2020

HAPPY New Year! You heard me right. Happy New Year! Today is the first day of our new liturgical calendar year. As you probably noticed by the purple cloth on the tabernacle, our purple vestments, and the Advent wreath, today we mark the first season of the liturgical year, Advent. Advent is a special time of joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

LET me ask you, when you receive guests at home, do you spend time cleaning and putting your house in order? How do you prepare for the visit? A pleasant visit does not happen by accident, right?. It takes organizing and preparation.

ADVENT is a time for getting our spiritual home in order to receive the Lord. Just like the homes we live in, our spiritual lives sometimes get unorganized and filled with clutter. Advent and the new liturgical year allow us to look around our spiritual home and notice what needs to be cleared out and ready our soul to welcome God. All of us, regardless of the state of our spirituality, have the opportunity to do that. How? Through acts of reflection and repentance. We can find examples of these acts in the readings we heard today. For instance, in the First Reading, we hear the Israelites say to God: “Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our deeds are like polluted rags.”[1] Their words show that they took the time to reflect on the purity of their souls. In the responsorial psalm, we hear about repentance: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”[2] Advent is an excellent occasion to experience the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is God’s gift of healing and restoration. I realize that for some, Confession may not be an easy thing to do. I get it.  If you are in that place, I pray that God shows you the light to guide you closer to Him.  He wants to purify our cluttered hearts, but we must do our part. During Advent, can you set aside time to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation? To reflect on the purity of your soul? Is it clean or filled with cluttered? Is it ready to welcome God?

AS essential as organizing one’s soul is, any good host knows that hosting is more than cleaning; it requires preparation. And so it is as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus.[3] In today’s second reading, St. Paul gives us a hint on how to prepare. He told the Corinthians: “the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[4] Paul is encouraging us to prepare for the coming of Jesus by cultivating the gifts of the Holy Spirit. What are the gifts? Understanding, Knowledge, Wisdom, Fear of the Lord, Good Counsel, Piety, and Fortitude. Perhaps this Advent Season, you could focus on cultivating one gift in preparation to receive God’s revelation.  Maybe you can prepare for Advent by developing the gift of Fortitude.  Fortitude enables us to stand firm when faced with suffering.[5] The last nine months have been difficult. It could be easy to develop a pessimistic view of the world and a hopeless image of God. The gift of Fortitude may help us create a more resilient attitude toward life and a more faithful outlook of God. It is a gift that could help us to organize and prepare our hearts to receive God.

ADVENT is a time to be watchful. When I served in the United States Army, I performed guard duty. One of my routines before performing my guard duty was to recite the three general orders that governed it. Among them was this order: “I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.”[6] That order was like an anchor that held me from drifting away from my responsibility to guard my post.

BY way of our baptism, we are all on spiritual guard duty. We are on the lookout for the unexpected encounter with Jesus, who tells us today: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” As guards in His kingdom here on earth, we too have general orders: the commandments. The next four weeks are an opportunity to live them, meditate on them, memorize them. I encourage you to choose one commandment and to focus on it throughout Advent. For example, the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God, you shall not have any strange gods before me.” Are there any gods in your life preventing you from being watchful? Social media? Sports? Materialism? Take time this Advent to reflect on that.

ADVENT is a journey meant to be filled with joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Take it, enjoy it, own it. Also, persevere. There are times when a journey can be costly, lonely, and challenging. The good news is that you are not alone. Jesus is here for you, in the Eucharist. Receive the Eucharist to nourish your soul. The Eucharist will help you organize your soul, prepare youself, and give you the strength to remain watchful this Advent. I wish you a happy Advent.

LET us pray:

“Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we rejoice in the hope of the Savior’s coming and look forward with longing to his return at the end of time. Prepare our hearts. Remove any sadness, doubt, or anxiety that may hinder us from feeling the joy and hope which Jesus’ presence will bestow, for he is Lord forever and ever.” Amen.

St. Michael the Archangel, first champion of the Kingship of Christ, pray for us.

[1] Is 63:4-5

[2] Ps 80:4

[3] https://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year-and-calendar

[4] 1 Cor 1:6-7

[5] Disciples of Christ, Education in Virtue, Educator’s Guide Sister John Dominic Rasmussen, O.P. and Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. 2013

[6] www.Armypubs.army.mil

homily: The Israelites’ exodus and immigration

Readings: EX 22:20-26 and MT 22:34-40

What comes to mind when you hear the word departure?

Before the pandemic, I used to travel by plane often for work. On those days, when I heard the word departure, it meant one of three things: leaving, working, returning. I was leaving home for a new destination. Once there, I participated in a bunch of meetings. Then, I returned home. My travel was predictable, productive, and rewarding. That is not the case for some people who depart their homes due to oppression, poverty, or persecution. Their travel is usually a one-way ticket filled with uncertainty, frustration, and even despair.

Take, for example, the Israelites’ departure from Egypt. The Old Testament details their departure in the Book of Exodus. The word Exodus comes from the Greek word for “departure.” Through Moses, God led the Israelites out of Egypt in search of a new home. A place where they could escape oppression and poverty. A place they could call home. Can you imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites to all the sudden having to depart from their homes? To leave all their possessions and the life they knew behind? Imagine the fear on their faces as they saw Pharaoh’s army approaching them?

After their escape, the Israelites became frustrated with the poor conditions of their journey. They began to complain and to adore other gods. To bring them closer to Him, God gave them the commandments. He also gave them social laws to guide their interactions with others. One of those laws says: “You should not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” God wanted the Israelites to honor the dignity of those who, like them, departed their homes under challenging circumstances to escape oppression, persecution, and poverty. To me, the Israelites’ exodus represents three elements that we can relate to the status of immigration in our country today: aliens, faith in God, and mercy.

First, we are a nation of aliens. Like the Israelites, the first settlers came to America to escape their difficult lives. They departed their homes in need of a new home. Their efforts gave birth to the nation we know today. Outside of the Native American’s experience, our nation’s heritage is one of immigration.  Unfortunately, in our political climate, some people have forgotten that. Instead, our country is engaged in a battle of migrants vs. Americans. Some people are even supporting and sponsoring policies aimed at stopping immigration at any cost. Those who believe in such extremes go as far as supporting breaking up families to achieve their goals. You probably heard in the news that the parents of 545 children separated at the United States-Mexico border still cannot be found. Can you imagine the terror those children and their parents must be experiencing? As Christians, we should be outraged by any policy or law which degrades the human dignity of another person. Does this mean that we should not have immigration policies? No. We need immigration policies. However, immigration laws ought to be just and humane. Should we be the only nation responsible for it? No, we should work with nations to improve the lives of those thinking to migrate so they may have prosperous, secure, and productive lives in their own country. However, we should not forget our past when dealing with immigration because we are a nation of aliens.  

Second, we are a nation founded by people of faith in God. The Israelites trusted in God when they departed Egypt, and so did the pilgrims who arrived in the Mayflower in 1620.  They have faith in God, so much so that that they called themselves “Saints.” We can influence their influence in words printed on every coin and dollar “In God we trust.” However, those words make us hypocrites if we, like the Sadducees, do not obey these commandments: “You should love your Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on those two commandments.” To live up to these commandments is to love God, for Jesus said: “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15), and “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me (John 14:21). The pilgrims tattoed those words in their hearts. We are a nation founded by people of faith in God.

Finally, we are a nation of mercy. We believe so strongly in this virtue that ironically, many people have died to protect it, for example, during the nation’s civil war and conflicts worldwide. We are an imperfect nation. Deep within us, however, God has planted the seed that our neighbor is all the people in the world. A grain of faith that tells us that each one of us, including immigrants, are beloved children of God. We all make up the mystical body of Jesus. Therefore, we ought to welcome immigrants in our nation. We should take loving and accepting actions to protect them from unjust and unnecessary suffering, especially the most vulnerable: women and children. To do otherwise angers God, for He said: “You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword, then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.” God uses strong language to make a point: He cares for all his children. He desires that we be merciful like He is merciful towards us (cf. Luke 6:36). His mercy is such that His crucified Son stands in front of us. Please take a look at him. That’s how merciful God is. Jesus died not just for some of God’s children. He died for all, including immigrants. That teaching is what makes us a nation of mercy.

As you prepare to receive the Eucharist, pray to God to show you how we, as a Christian community, can help support immigrants. Meditate on how you can help our nation become more accepting of immigrants. Ask God to show how you can help our political leaders pass just and humane immigration.

Immigrants are children of God in exodus. Like the Israelites and the first pilgrims, immigrants depart their homes searching for a nation of aliens filled with faith and mercy.

St. Michael, Guardian and Defender of the Church, pray for us.

Scripture Message and Food Insecurity

On this Sunday, all the scriptures (Is 25:6-10A, Philip 4:12-14, 19-20, Mt 22:1-14) reference food. I invite you to read and reflect on them in relation to our times.

According to the U.S.D.A, there over 37 million people in the United States, that is equivelant to the entire population of Texas and Arizona, who are food insecure. These individuals and families go hungry or eat low quality food because of the lack of money and other resources. The pandemic has made the situation worst. Conservative estimates indicate that 1 in 8 Americans do not have enough food to eat. Think about that for a moment. One out of eight people you will encounter today is food insecure.

Christians have a responsibility to be generous to the community at all times but especially in times of need. People are in need for food. That gives us an opportunity to be generous, to share in their distress. That is what God desires from us. There is no doubt that our prayers are important, but our generosity is what pleases Jesus and those in need: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13). Paul confirmed Jesus’ command when he said to the Philippians: “I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry…. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress” (Phil 4: 12-13).

Recently, I read a Jewish story about generosity which captures today’s themes. The story says that “in hell, people sit around a great banquet table piled high with food. Each person is given a fork six food in length, far too long for them to maneuver into their mouths. They are starving. In heaven, on the other hand, people sit around exactly the same banquet. But in heaven each feeds the person across the table. And in so doing, all are filled” (Alan Morinis, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path to Mussar).

I encourage you today to take a moment to think about how you can help people experiencing food insecurity. Can you make a contribution – money or time – to an organization like Catholic Charities or your local food bank? Can you spare a coin to someone in need? Can you make that a habit? How can you influence our government, civic, and religious institutions to help those suffering from food insecurity?

Finally, I pray to God that if you are suffering from food insecurity that He guards your hope. That you keep Paul’s words in your heart: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” Trust in Isaiah’s words: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all people a feast of rich food and choice of wines” (Is 25:6). That you accept Jesus’ invitation to “come to the feast” of the Eucharist.

Let’s pray:

Sharing the loaves and fishes,
You gave us an image of solidarity with the hungry, O Lord.
Sharing yourself in the bread and wine,
You called all to the table, O Lord.
Give me the hunger to be a part of the feeding
And the healing of this world.
Nourish me with your Grace,
So I may work with joy to serve your children.
Open my eyes and my heart
To recognize those in poverty
And increase my awareness
Of the structures and systems
That need to be changed
So we may all break bread together.
In your name we pray for the end of hunger.

  • Prayer for the End of Hunger, Jesuit Resource Education for Justice

May God bless you.