Sunday, January 04, 2009

New Blog

I have decided to start fresh. On the first of this year, I've moved on to a new blog: which is a little more friendly to guys like me who don't know a whole lot about formatting blogs. I won't be updating this blog anymore; in fact, I am planning on deleting it in the near future. So, please visit and subscribe to my new blog at wordpress.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

God Never Stops Being Our Father

I preached the homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time this weekend (September 15-16) at the 4PM Saturday evening Mass and the 8:15 AM Sunday morning Mass here at Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church, Lexington KY, where I've been Parochial Vicar since the 5th of July. The readings for this Sunday are the following: Ex 32:7-11, 13-14; Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19; 1 Tim 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-32. What are in parentheses below are lines that I delivered spontaneously during the homily and only added afterwards to the original text.

Last Friday, I drove down Kingdom Come Parkway to attend a funeral for a Filipino doctor in Harlan, Kentucky. (Of course, I knew that Harlan is a fur piece from Lexington but I didn’t realize that I had to drive through Kingdom Come to get there.) At the funeral, several people gave eulogies in honor of Dr. Ocampo, among them this older gentleman who shared something that seemed to me really didn’t fit in his eulogy and it was also something that I found to be quite sad. For the sake of this story, let’s call this man 'Ron.'

This man shared that his son now calls him 'Ron' and not 'Dad,' because the son had told him that after his 18th birthday, his father’s work was done, his father no longer has any control or influence over him, he is now forever independent from his father. Thus, he feels no need to call his dad 'Dad;' he’s now just plain 'Ron.'

I don’t know about you, but, I thought to myself that they got it all wrong. At least from what I was taught as a child growing up, a father never stops being a father, a mother never ceases being a mother. A son or a daughter might stop being a son or a daughter to his or her parents, that is, he or she might stop being a child who respects and honors his or her parents, but a father is always a father, a mother is always a mother.

Then again, this just might be my so-called ‘backward-Third-World’ values talking. What do I know? I don’t have any kids of my own.

Still, this incident came to mind when I heard this Parable of the Prodigal Son, how in the parable the son decided to stop being a son to his father, how he was insistent on cutting his ties with his family, how he wanted to leave home with his share of the inheritance and to spend it every which way he wanted—every which way that brought shame and disgrace to himself, every which way that brought shame and disgrace to his father, every which way that brought shame and disgrace to his family name. The Prodigal Son stopped being his father’s son, and he himself admitted this when he said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.”

But here is the Good News: the father in the parable never stopped being a father. Despite the fact that his son has brought shame upon himself and to his name, despite the fact that he no longer deserved to be called his son, despite the fact that his son had rejected him, the father never stopped being a father to his son. He never stopped calling him his son. He never stopped forgiving his son. He never stopped loving his son. He never stopped loving his son because he knows that a parent’s love does not come with expiration dates.

But in our lives, in our society, in our day, we know that there are fathers who have forgotten how to be fathers and have left their families. We know that there are mothers who have forsaken being mothers and have allowed their unborn children to be killed. Yet, we hear the words of the Lord from the 49th chapter of Isaiah: “Can a mother forget her baby, or a woman the child within her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you. I will never forsake you. See, I have carved your name on the palm of my hands.”

Indeed, even when we stop being God’s children, God never stops being our Father—just like that father in the parable: God never stops being God. Even when we forget God, God never forgets us. Even when we turn our back to God, God never turns His back on us. Even when we stop praying to God, God never stops calling us His children. Even when we sin and devote ourselves to the idols of our day, God never stops forgiving us. Even when we stop loving God, God never stops loving us.

(This past Tuesday, we marked the sixth anniversary of the tragedy of September 11. I remember how many in those days following 9-11 demanded, “Where was God?” And yet, at the 5:30 PM Mass last Tuesday, on the sixth anniversary of that tragedy, there were only six people at Mass. I was wondering whether God was going to ask back, “Where were you?” Where is God? God is always with us. Indeed, it is us who are not always with Him. We, just like that prodigal son, are the ones who often distance ourselves away from God. But, day in and day out, God is always with us.)

We might forget that. We might not even believe that. But that doesn’t change the fact that our names are carved on the palm of His hands. Our names are carved there by rusty nails driven through flesh because there is no pain, there is no suffering, there is no sin of ours that He would not bear, because there is nothing that would stop Him from loving us.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Comfort Food

I presided over the Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament tonight at the Saint Thomas Aquinas Chapel here at Saint Meinrad. I preached a short homily (my last as a transitional deacon here at the seminary) based on one of the Bread of Life discourses, specifically, Jn 6:24-35.

Some people have fried twinkies. Others have Doritos. I have the strawberry cheesequake blizzard from Dairy Queen. It’s what we call comfort food: the dessert, the snack, the meal that we would turn to when our day needs some major cheering up. When all else fails, a pint of ice cream, a slice of cold pizza, a bag of butter-drenched popcorn, or what-have-you brings that sought after consolation to the breaking heart and satisfaction to the empty stomach, and somehow it makes an unbearable day a lot more bearable.

I suppose it is part of our make-up as human beings. The food that we crave when we are hungry not only satisfies the emptiness in our bellies, it also can console us in our miseries, albeit for a short while. Food has the ability of captivating us by heightening our senses; it makes our mouths water, it thrills our sense of smell, it captivates our eyes with its colors, it can give us a brain-freeze. Food, good food is good, and some of it that can be bad for you—fried twinkies, Doritos, and DQ blizzards—also has the ability to make you feel better.

No one else understands this more than the God who made us. A quick glance at the Sacred Scriptures will remind us of how concerned God has been throughout salvation history about the diet of His people. Don’t eat the fruit of that tree, He told Adam and Eve. Prepare unleavened bread and roast lamb for your Passover, He ordered the Israelites in Egypt. In the desert, He gave His people manna and quail from Heaven and water from the rock to sustain them in their journey to the Promised Land. He sent an angel to take Habakkuk by the hair so that the prophet could share his bread and stew with the starving Daniel in the den of lions. And don’t even get me started with the God-given dietary laws in the Book of Leviticus. The history of our salvation bears witness to our Lord who nourishes the hungers of our bodies and feeds our starving hearts and souls.

It should not come as a surprise then that our Lord chose food—bread and wine consecrated by His words—to be the sacrament of His real presence to His people. The Eucharist is food; it retains the appearance, the smell, the taste, the feel of food that sustains an empty stomach. But more so this food is the Body and Blood of Christ, the foretaste and promise of everlasting joy. Our Lord is profoundly sensitive to our human sensibilities that He deemed to give Himself to us in so tangible a manner such that our salvation is now something we can see, smell, taste, touch, eat. But this is also the Paschal Lamb that the Church in the East proclaims is ever eaten but is never consumed. Manna and quail, the forbidden fruit of the tree and the water from the rock, all of these that once fed our ancestors in faith eventually went stale and old. But the Bread of Life is non-perishable: it endures for eternal life.

This is the Bread of Life; whoever partakes of Him will never hunger, and whoever believes in Him will never thirst. This is the ultimate comfort food, that which not only gives us the consolation of God but more so unites us with the God of consolation. There is no other food on earth that the very sight of it can nurture many a famished soul. For indeed, whatever pain and drudgery is there in our lives, we know that in this Blessed Sacrament we can find our viaticum, the comfort and the strength we need in our pilgrim way.

Stay then with Him and let your hunger be fed, your thirst slaked, your burdens lifted, your heart comforted, your life filled with grace upon grace.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Beloved Disciple(s) at the Foot of the Cross

I preached the homily at this afternoon's celebration of the Lord's Passion at St. William Catholic Church in London Kentucky. These were the readings for Good Friday: Is 52:13-52:12; Ps 31:2, 12-13, 15-17, 25; Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Jn 18:1-19:42

We know their names, all of those whom Jesus called to be His disciples. We know where they’re from. We know their stories. We know which one had trouble handling money, which one was a religious fanatic, who were the fishermen, which ones were the mama’s boys. We know of their efforts to follow Jesus and we also know how they fared on these three days. One betrayed Jesus and sold Him off for thirty pieces of silver. The others snoozed through the night of prayer and later abandoned the Master. Another denied ever knowing Him. The rest stood by in silence as injustice was carried out according to the demands of the crowd: to have Him who is most innocent be crucified. Yes, we know who the disciples of Jesus are, and we also know what they have done and what they have failed to do.

We know their names because they are our names. We are the disciples of Jesus. And, in our lives, we too have betrayed Jesus for a whole lot less than thirty silver coins. We call such betrayal ‘sin.’ The Lord knows that we have snoozed through many a moment of prayer. We may not have denied knowing Jesus, but we fail miserably every day to share with others what we know of Him. We have stood by in silence as small acts of injustice are carried out. Indeed, we the modern-day disciples of Jesus are no different from the Twelve who came before us. Look at the cross; look at the bloody and broken body of our naked Savior. This happened because of what we His disciples have done, but most of all because of what we have failed to do.

Yet despite all this, the final word is not sin and death; it is mercy and eternal life. That is what we have gathered here today to remember. Here and now the Lord offers us another chance, the chance to be that other disciple, the disciple whom Jesus loved, that one who stood at the foot of the cross throughout the ordeal of Good Friday. In our sinful lives, we have failed the Lord in the same way as those other disciples did. But right here and right now, we are no longer those disciples. Instead, we are all called to be the beloved disciple of Christ; we are called to stand at the foot of His cross.

In a few moments that cross will be brought into this church and raised up for our eyes to see. Then we will have the opportunity to approach and to venerate the wood of the cross on which hung the Savior of the world. The Jews look at the cross and call it a scandal; the Gentiles call it madness. But we bow down in worship to the cross because it is not a scandal. It is salvation for the whole world. It is not madness; it is the wisdom of God. It is not defeat; it is victory. It is not the finality of death; it is the key to eternal life.

Behold, then, the wood of the cross, on which hung the Savior of the world. Come, all of you, beloved disciples of Christ; let us worship.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Season of the Superlative

I preached the homily today, the Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time (also known as Mardi Gras, the eve of Ash Wednesday), at the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel of the Saint Meinrad School of Theology. These were the readings of the day: Sir 2:1-11; Ps 37:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40; Mk 9:30-37.

So, here we are again in the season of superlatives, that time of the year when we hear a lot of talk about who and what is the best, the most outstanding, the most valuable, the greatest. It’s the awards season. Here we are a week and a half after the Grammys honored the best in music and a mere five days before movie buffs fulfill their annual Oscar obligation. But, lest we forget, we are also only a week away from every sports fans’ favorite month, the madness that is March. Indeed, it is the season of superlatives: of best picture, best actor, best actress, best director, of most valuable player, most outstanding player, of record and album of the year. It’s also the season of office pools and Vegas high stakes, the season when every score and point counts, when every vote matters, when all bets are on: which teams will make the Sweet Sixteen, which ones will move on to the Elite Eight, who are going to duke it out in the Final Four. Or, in my world, the question is: will Martin Scorsese, on this his sixth nomination as Best Director, finally win his first Oscar?

Who is the best, the most outstanding, the most valuable, the greatest? The Gospel tells us that even the disciples were keenly interested in that question. I’m sure that the Twelve were probably keeping score among themselves: how many evil spirits did one drive away, what’s their personal best for conversions in a day, which one got the most me-and-Jesus time. It’s just what people do when they get together; they compare their achievements and talk about their success stories. Of course, what fool would risk being vulnerable in a group of twelve men and share his disappointments and failures? The disciples were having a session on superlatives, not an IPR meeting at their ministry assignment. It was all fun until, Jesus, like a CPE supervisor who bursts everyone’s bubble, confronts them, and soon it became clear to all how childish it was to argue among themselves who is the greatest. It was childish because they were arguing about this right after Jesus speaks to them about His passion, death, and resurrection. Indeed, the self-interest of the disciples pales in comparison to Jesus’ self-sacrifice.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who is the best, the most outstanding, the most valuable, the greatest among us. Indeed, all of us will be told tomorrow to remember that we are but dust and unto dust we shall return. It doesn’t matter what we have—Grammy awards, Oscar statuettes, NCAA titles; all signs and symbols of our superlative achievements eventually tarnish and break, are forgotten and get lost. Only one sign of superlative achievement has endured throughout human history: the cross of One who humbled Himself to become man and suffered and died for the sins of the world, Him who is always the first and the greatest yet chose to be the last and the servant of all. Only He has made a victory out of what seems to be a defeat. Only He has given life out of His death. Only He has brought redemption out of His condemnation.

So, we gather here in this eve of the season of Lent, the season of Him who alone is the superlative, and we do so beneath the shadow of His cross and before the altar of His sacrifice. Happy are we to be in His company. Grateful are we to be His friends. Humbled are we to be called to His supper.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Diaconate Ordination in Sioux City IA

By the end of the Fall Semester, only two of our classmates had yet to be ordained to the Diaconate: Brent Lingle and Bao Vo, both of the Diocese of Sioux City IA. Their Ordination was scheduled for today, Friday, at six in the early evening at the Cathedral of the Epiphany in Sioux City. Only five members of our nineteen-strong Deacon Class were not able to make it. Those who were from neighboring dioceses and states drove up to Sioux City; the rest of us flew in to the airport in Omaha NE and then drove up to southwestern Iowa.

Deacon Chris and I were among those who flew in. We left the Bluegrass Airport in Lexington on Thursday afternoon and arrived at around 9:30 at night in Omaha. It was already late and we still had an hour-and-a-half drive left before we would arrive at our hotel in North Sioux City in South Dakota. In those wee hours of the night, I drove through three states to get to the Comfort Inn in North Sioux City where the rest of our classmates were staying. (This was one of those tristate areas; in this case, these three states converge: Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota.) But here was the blessing: the northern lights were dancing in the evening sky while I was driving up to South Dakota. Much of this area remains rustic; thus, no other lights—incandescent and fluorescent—distracted us from the glorious aurora borealis that was guiding our northern drive.

The northern lights reminded me last night of the great blessing that our two brother-deacons received this evening. I have seen all but one of my classmates (Br. Cyril, OSB of St. Joseph Abbey in Louisiana) get ordained yet each time I do not cease to be amazed by the immensity of the grace that we have received through the Sacrament of Orders. I pray that all of us will be reminded constantly of the utter simplicity of having been called by God and of the glorious gift of having been chosen to serve Him and His Church.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Diaconate Ordination in Glennonville MO

The entire Deacon Class (with the exception of Deacon Stern who stayed behind to preach the homily at the Sunday Eucharist at the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel) braved the five hour road trip to southern Missouri so that we could all attend the Diaconate Ordination of our classmate, Joe Weidenbenner of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. Five vehicles left Saint Meinrad at different times on Friday, hoping all the while that we would avoid the snowstorm that had ravaged a good part of the Midwest that day. The Ford van I was in arrived at around eight o’ clock Friday evening at the Holiday Inn in Poplar Bluff MO, but not before all six of us had a stopover in Sikeston to dine at the renowned Lambert’s Café, the “only home of throwed rolls.” Lambert’s was a great experience in southern dining, yet I wasn’t brave enough to catch any of the throwed rolls; I just asked my classmates to catch a couple for me.

After breakfast this morning, the class drove down to Joe’s hometown, Glennonville, for the Ordination. The liturgy was celebrated at his home parish, St. Teresa of Avila. His bishop, the Most Rev. John J. Leibrecht, DD, ordained him there, in the presence of his family and many friends. The whole crowd at the church gathered afterwards for the reception at the Knights of Columbus Hall where the picture on the right above of me and Deacons Clay and Weidenbenner was taken. (NB: Joe had to take off his clerics after getting icing on his coat and getting his collar all mixed up; that's why he's dressed up the way he is above.)