II Domingo Ordinario

            Tengo curiosidad por saber qué porcentaje de personas aquí han invitado alguna vez a alguien a asistir a misa con ellos. ¿Cincuenta por ciento? ¿Treinta por ciento? ¿Diez por ciento? No les voy a pedir que levanten la mano, pero sospecho que el número no es alto. Sin duda, todos ustedes son personas que se toman en serio su fe. Están en Misa, incluso durante una pandemia cuando se suspende la obligación de asistir a Misa. Se les importa la Misa a ustedes. Pero en mi experiencia, incluso los católicos muy devotos son notoriamente malos para compartir su fe, incluso haciendo algo tan simple como invitar a alguien a asistir a misa. Esto es cierto no solo para los católicos individuales sino para la Iglesia en su conjunto. Hacemos un trabajo horrible al invitar a la gente. Estamos aquí, y si la gente viene a nosotros estamos muy felices de darles la bienvenida, pero a menudo esperamos que se presenten por su propia cuenta.

            El Evangelio hoy muestra los primeros discípulos siguiendo a Jesús. Pero noten algo muy importante: como San Juan cuenta la historia, Jesús no invita a nadie. En el Evangelio según San Juan, Jesús no les dice que lo sigan. Más bien, le son traídos por otras personas. Primero, Juan el Bautista dice a dos de sus discípulos que Jesús es el Cordero de Dios, y ellos le siguen. Después, uno de ellos, Andrés, va y dice a su hermano Simón sobre Jesús. Jesús no les llama a nadie directamente. Todos los primeros discípulos fueron llevados a Jesús por otras personas

            Cada uno de nosotros, por bautismo y confirmación, ha recibido la misión de llevar a otras personas a Jesús. Eso está reflexionado en nuestra misión parroquial: Vayan y hagan discípulos de todas las naciones. Nuestra misión es invitar a otras personas. Pero muchos católicos son muy malos en esto. Yo no estoy hablando de tratar de convertir a la gente. Este es nuestra misión también. Pero incluso algo tan simple como invitar a alguien, “¿Te gustaría asistir a la misa conmigo?” es algo que la hace incomodas a la mayoría de católicos. Pero es nuestra misión.

            Mira alrededor. Antes de la pandemia, tuvimos más de un mil personas asistiendo a Misa aquí cada domingo. Ahora, hay solo unos pocos cientos. Ahora, es comprensible. Sabemos la razón por que muchas personas no están aquí. Si tuviéramos mil personas en misa todos los domingos ahora, necesitaríamos muchos más Misas. Pero, algún día, terminará la pandemia. Y pensar que, cuando termine la pandemia, la gente volverá en masa a la iglesia sin que hagamos nada es ingenuo. Algunos lo harán, cierto. Pero para un gran número de personas, la pandemia ha causado una parada en sus hábitos de asistir a Misa, y no resumiré automáticamente esos hábitos. Además, tenemos casi siete mil feligreses registrados, pero, incluso antes de la pandemia, solo un sexto asistió a Misa en cualquier domingo. Hay miles de personas, nuestros amigos y vecinos, que son miembros de nuestra parroquia pero que no asistieron a Misa regularmente antes de la pandemia. No van a empezar mágicamente a asistir a misa cuando la pandemia se alivie.

            No podemos permanecer inactivos y suponer que la gente vendrá a nosotros. No podemos esperar que Dios llame milagrosamente a las personas sin que nosotros hagamos nada. Por cierto, vemos en la primera lectura que, incluso cuando Dios llama milagrosamente, a menudo alguien necesita ayudar. Dios llama a Samuel, pero Elí tiene que decir a Samuel que es Dios quien lo está llamando. Confiamos que Dios está llamando a nuestros hermanos y hermanas, pero, como Samuel, muchas personas no da cuenta que es Dios quien los está llamando. Nuestro trabajo es ser Elí, ayudar a las personas a darse cuenta de que Dios los está llamando a encontrarse con Él aquí en la Eucaristía.

            De nuevo, no me refiero a convertir a la gente. Esa es también nuestra misión, pero eso es mucho más intimidante. No estoy hablando de ir de puerta en puerta para contarle a la gente acerca de Jesús. Estoy hablando de invitar a personas que ya son miembros de nuestra parroquia a asistir a Misa. Estoy hablando de todos esos vecinos y amigos que conocemos que son católicos pero que no asisten a Misa. Si ni siquiera podemos hacer eso, si no podemos decirle a alguien que conocemos y que ya es miembro de nuestra parroquia “¿Te gustaría ir a misa conmigo algún tiempo?” ¿cómo iremos y haremos discípulos de todas las naciones?

             En este momento, obviamente, es difícil invitar a la gente a venir a misa. Lo entiendo. Pero eso debería hacernos sentir incómodos. Como discípulos, deberíamos decir: “Espero que este coronavirus termine pronto para que sea más fácil invitar a las personas a encontrarse con Jesús en la Eucaristía”. Deberíamos estar frustrados de que sea difícil invitar a la gente a asistir a misa. Pero supongo que, para la mayoría de nosotros, eso no es lo que estamos pensando. Para algunos, incluso puede haber una sensación de alivio. Tenemos una excusa para no compartir nuestra fe, para no invitar a la gente.

            Mira a tu alrededor de nuevo. ¿Es así como queremos que sea nuestra parroquia después de la pandemia? Si no es así, ¿qué estás dispuesto a hacer al respecto? Nuevamente, si nos sentamos y esperamos que la gente regrese mágicamente a misa después de la pandemia, nos estamos engañando a nosotros mismos. Si no hacemos nada y esperamos que la gente regrese a misa por su cuenta, así es como se verá la misa en los próximos años, incluso mucho después de la pandemia. No puedo hacerlo todo yo solo. No puedo invitar a seis mil personas a la misa. Todos somos requeridos.

            Yo espero y oro para que todos aquí estén dispuestos a ser parte de invitar a las personas a regresar a la Misa. Fíjense en el Evangelio de hoy que todos los que traen a alguien más a Jesús se han encontrado con Jesús antes. Juan el Bautista se ha encontrado con Jesús, por lo que puede decirles a sus dos discípulos quién es Jesús. Entonces Andrés tiene un encuentro con Jesús, y entonces puede llevarle a Simón. Si vamos a ser esas personas, si vamos a invitar a otros a Jesús, primero tenemos que encontrarnos con Él. Si estás diciendo: “Sí, quiero ser parte de invitar a la gente a regresar a misa cuando la pandemia se alivie”, eso comienza ahora. Empieza por crecer en tu relación personal con Jesús. Cuanto más fuerte sea nuestro amor por Cristo, más querremos contárselo a otros. Si experimentamos la Misa como un encuentro personal y profundo con Jesucristo, será más fácil para nosotros invitar a otros a la Misa. Comprometámonos aquí y ahora a crecer en nuestro amor por Jesús aquí en la Eucaristía para que podamos invitar otros para encontrarse con Él aquí también.

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

            I wonder what percent of people here have ever invited someone else to attend Mass with them. Fifty percent? Thirty percent? Ten percent? I am not going to ask people to raise their hand, but my suspicion is that the number is not particularly high. You all are clearly people who take your faith seriously. You make the effort to come to Mass, even during a pandemic when the obligation to attend Mass is suspended. Mass is clearly important to you. But I have found that even very devout Catholics are notoriously bad at sharing their faith, even doing something as simple as inviting someone to come to Mass. This is true not just of individual Catholics but of the Church as a whole. We do a horrible job of going out and inviting people. We are here, and if people come to us we are more than happy to welcome them, but we often expect them just to show up on their own.

            The Gospel today shows the first disciples following Jesus. But notice something very important: as St. John tells this, Jesus doesn’t actually call anyone. In the Gospel according to St. John which we hear today, Jesus doesn’t tell anyone to follow Him. Rather, they are brought to Him by other people. First, John the Baptist tells two of his disciples that Jesus is the Lamb of God, and they follow Jesus. Then one of them, Andrew, goes and tells his brother Simon about Jesus. Jesus doesn’t call them directly. Each of the first disciples were led to Jesus by someone else.

            Each of us, by virtue of our baptism and confirmation, are given the mission of bringing other people to Jesus. That is reflected in our parish mission statement: Go and make disciples of all nations. Our mission is to go out and invite people. But, as a whole, Catholics are very bad at this. I’m not talking about going out and trying to convert people. Even something as simple as asking someone, “Hey, would you like to come to Mass with me sometime” is something that most Catholics find extremely uncomfortable. But that is our central mission.

            Look around. Before the pandemic, we had over one thousand people attending Mass here at Borromeo every Sunday. Now, we are at a few hundred. Right now, that is understandable. If we were to have a thousand people at Mass every Sunday, we would need to double the number of Masses we have. I know why people are currently not attending Mass. But, at some point, the pandemic will end. And it is naïve to think that, when the pandemic ends, people are just going to come flocking back to church in droves without us doing anything. Some will, certainly. But for a large number of people, the pandemic has caused a break in their habits of attending Mass, and those habits will not automatically resume. In addition, we have almost seven thousand registered parishioners, but, even before the pandemic, only one sixth attended Mass on any given Sunday. One sixth. There are thousands of people, our friends and neighbors, who are members of our parish but did not regularly attend Mass on Sunday. Certainly among that group, they are not just going to magically start attending Mass when the pandemic eases.

            We cannot just sit back and expect people to come to us. We cannot just expect God to miraculously call people without us doing anything. In fact, as we see in our first reading, even when God does miraculously call people, someone else still has to help. God calls Samuel, but Eli has to tell Him that it is God who is calling him. We trust that God is calling our brothers and sisters to live their faith more fully, but, like Samuel, people often don’t realize that God is calling them. Our job is to be Eli, helping people to realize that God is calling them to encounter Him here in the Eucharist.

            Again, I’m not talking about going out and converting people. That is our mission also, but that is a lot more intimidating. I’m not talking about going door to door to tell people about Jesus. I’m talking about inviting people who are already members of our parish to attend Mass. I’m talking about all of those neighbors and friends who we know who are catholic but do not attend Mass. That’s pretty low-hanging fruit, in all honesty. If we can’t even do that, if we can’t say to someone who we know and who is already a member of our parish “Would you like to go to Mass with me some time,” how will we ever go and make disciples of all nations?

            Right now it is obviously difficult to invite people to come to Mass. I understand that. But that should make us uncomfortable. As disciples, we should be sitting here saying, “Wow, I hope this coronavirus ends soon so it will be easier for me to invite people to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist.” We should be frustrated that it is hard to invite people to come to Mass. But I’m going to guess that, for most of us, that isn’t where we are. For some, there may even be a sense of relief. We have an excuse to not share our faith, to not invite people.

            Look around again. Is this what we want our parish to be like after the pandemic? If not, what are you willing to do about it? Again, if we just sit back and expect people to magically return to Mass after the pandemic, we are deluding ourselves. If we don’t do anything and expect people to just come back to Mass all on their own, this is what Mass will look like for years to come, even long after the pandemic. I can’t do it all by myself. I can’t invite six thousand people back to Mass. It will take all of us.

I hope and pray that everyone here is willing to be part of inviting people back to Mass. Notice in the Gospel today that everyone who brings someone else to Jesus has first encountered Jesus themselves. John the Baptist has encountered Jesus, and so he can tell his two disciples who Jesus is. Then Andrew has an encounter with Jesus, and so he can bring Simon to Him. If we are going to be those people, if we are going to invite others to Jesus, that starts with us knowing Him. If you are saying, “Yes, I want to be part of inviting people back to Mass when the pandemic eases,” that starts now. It starts with growing in your personal relationship with Jesus. The stronger our love for Christ, the more we will want to tell others about it. If we experience Mass as a deep, personal encounter with Jesus Christ, it will be easier for us to invite others to Mass. Let us commit ourselves right here and now to grow in our love for Jesus here in the Eucharist so that we can invite others to meet Him here as well.

Baptism of Our Lord

Like many of you, this past Wednesday I was glued to the news in shock and disbelief as insurrectionists invaded the U.S. Capitol and attempted to derail the Constitutional processes of our country. What made it even more bizarre was the glaring contradiction in what the rioters claimed to believe and what they were doing. How could people who claim to be fervent American patriots attack a government building and attempt to obstruct the very Constitutional functions by which our country is governed? How could people who claim to support the police attack police officers, leaving one officer dead and others wounded? How could people who revere law and order act in a way that was completely unlawful and disorderly? How could so many people be persuaded to act in complete opposition to the very beliefs that they claimed were motivating their actions?

As human beings, we have an inherent need to know our identity and our value. We want to know who we are and that we are important. That is at the heart of today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord. When Jesus was baptized, the voice of the Father proclaimed, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Identity: “You are my beloved Son. And value: “With you I am well pleased.”

But this is true not only of Jesus but of each one of us. By our baptism, we are beloved children of God in whom He is well pleased. Unfortunately, we often don’t believe that. As a priest, I am not immune from this. Like many people, my temptation is to find my identity and value in what I do. But if we are defined by what we do, then what happens when we make mistakes? If we define ourselves by what we do, we will ultimately define ourselves by our failures. And then we spend a lot of time and energy trying to hide our weaknesses and failures from other people, convinced that if they ever see the “real me” they’ll stop loving me. And certainly God, who knows my sins and failures, cannot actually see me as His beloved Son with whom He is well pleased.

The most dangerous temptation we can face is the temptation to doubt God’s love for us. Sometimes it is outright denial. “God can’t love me because I did X.” It can also be the belief that God’s love for us is affected by what we do. If I do good things, God loves me more, but if I do bad things, God loves me less. But if God’s love if affected by my behavior, then it is no longer infinite and unconditional. I have to earn it. As the Lord says in our first reading, “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!” God’s love is unconditional, but we often think that we have to earn it.

Right now, I want you to do something. Hear God the Father saying to you, “You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased,” and listen to what in you pushes back. “I can’t be a beloved son of God because I struggle with lust.” “I can’t be a beloved daughter of God because I am impatient with my kids or my spouse.” Maybe it isn’t an outright denial but something that puts an asterisk on the Father’s proclamation. “Sure, God loves me, but He can’t really be pleased with me.” “God would love me more if I” fill in the blank. Almost all of us carry some sort of inner voice that pushes back against the Father who says we are His beloved child in whom He is well-pleased.

What is it in you that pushes back? Name it. Then, bring it to the light of the Father’s love and truth. Say, “Father, this is what I tell myself. Is that how you see me?”

Now, lies are resilient. They are like cockroaches. When you turn the light on, the cockroaches scatter and hide in the dark corners, and it is easy to think, “There are no bugs here.” But if you turn the lights off, they come back out. Likewise, when we first expose our lies to the light of God’s truth, they may seem to scatter. But often the lies are just hiding in the corners. And if we don’t continually keep the light on and allow it to shine in all the corners of our minds, those lies will begin to come back out and reassert themselves.

In addition, lies often root themselves deeply. The lies that tell us that we are not a beloved child of God in whom He is well pleased affect everything about our worldview. They affect how we see ourselves, how we see other people, and how we see God. That doesn’t change easily. And our lies tend to stack upon themselves. I tell myself one lie. “My identity and value are defined by what I do.” That is the first lie. But then another lie rises up. “If I am defined by what I do, then I am defined by my failures.” And this continues to build. “If I am defined by my failures, then I am a failure. If I am a failure, then I am unlovable. If I am unlovable, then God cannot love me.” As we bring our lies to the light of God’s truth, we shouldn’t be surprised to discover that there are more lies to uncover, nor should we be surprised to see that these lies have spread out to affect other areas of our lives besides our relationship with God.

If we do not find our identity and value in God, we will find them in something else. That is why some people become workaholics, because their identity and value are found in their work. It is why some parents push their children so hard, because their identity and value are found in the success of their children. This is why people join gangs or cults, because these groups offer them a sense of identity and value. And this is what we saw on Wednesday. A group of people found their identity and value in something, and now they thought that something was threatened, and they were willing to do anything to protect it, even acting in opposition to their own beliefs.

The majority of the people who participated in the violence on Wednesday were nominally Christian. Some even carried Christian symbols during their insurrection. But, by their actions, it is clear that their source of identity and value is found in something other than God. Just because we claim to be a Christian does not mean that God is the source of our identity and value.

Again, hear the Father say to you, “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.” Whatever in you pushes back, bring that to God. Just as the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism, so also you received the Holy Spirit at your baptism. As St. John says in our second reading, “The Spirit is the one who testifies, and the Spirit is truth.” And so ask the Spirit to pour His truth into your lies. Ask Him to help you reject the lies.

The sacrament of confession is an amazing place to find healing for our lies. People often say that they are afraid to go to confession. Why are we afraid? We are afraid to go to confession because we are convinced that we are defined by our sins. If my sins define me, then I have to hide them. I certainly can’t tell someone about them, because then they will love me less. But that isn’t what happens in confession. In confession, we bring God all of our sins and failures, and in return what do we hear? You are forgiven. You are loved. Go in peace. Especially if it has been a long time since you have gone to confession, I strongly encourage you to go. The sacrament of confession is an amazing help in combating our lies and remembering what our true identity and value are.

This feast of the Baptism of Our Lord calls us to live in the light of our own baptism and the identity and value which God gives us. Let us ask God for the grace to reject the lies and embrace the truth that, by baptism, we have been made beloved children of God, with whom He is well pleased.

Epiphany

            And then what? The magi “departed for their country by another way,” and then what? What did they do next? The magi were astrologers, trying to interpret the night sky for signs. For them, the appearance of a new star was a great sign. So they traveled hundreds of miles, and naturally, they went to Herod, assuming the ruling king will know the cause of this great sign. But Herod is unaware, and, instead, they find the new King in poverty, the child of a simple woman and a carpenter, though they hear stories that he is not the father, that the child has no earthly father. There are other stories of angels and shepherds and ancient prophecies coming to fulfillment. They themselves were part of fulfilling prophecy, as we hear in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah. The magi know that they have found the king they sought, and so they do him homage and present him with great gifts. Then, they themselves receive a sign, a dream that tells them not to return to Herod. And “they departed for their country by another way.” And then what?

            Did the Magi tell people in the cities they visited on the way back of the great things that had happened in the land of Judah? When they passed a travelling caravan, did they report to them the birth of a great king? When they made it back to their own country, did they tell their people that, in Israel, ancient prophecies were being fulfilled? Did they listen through their lives for reports about this newborn king?

            Or did they return to their ordinary lives, watching the stars, going and paying homage to this or that king and ruler, forgetting about the little child in Bethlehem among the various trips they have taken? Did being a part of the first Christmas make a difference in their lives, or did its impact fade by the time they made it back to the land they came from? Did Christmas change them, or was it simply a passing celebration that didn’t leave any lasting impact?

            And what about us? We are still in the Christmas season. In the Church calendar, there is still another week of Christmas, but how many of us have gone on with our lives, no different from how we were before Christmas? Most of us are familiar with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Towards the end, Ebenezer Scrooge proclaims that he would keep Christmas all year long. Most of us, on the other hand, probably find it challenging to keep Christmas for even the entire Christmas season. Like the magi, we have journeyed to Bethlehem. We have seen the Great King lying humbly in a manger. We have heard the ancient prophecies fulfilled. We have been warned of the threat that sin, the devil, and the world pose to this newborn King, just as the Magi were warned about the threat that Herod posed to the newborn Christ. But have we changed? Are we different as a result of our participation in the great mystery of Christmas? Or have we returned to our lives, perhaps with a few new gifts, but otherwise no different?

            We do not know what happened to the magi. The Bible never speaks of them again. We do know that they returned by another way, that is, if at least physically, they went back to their own land differently than the way that they came. What a shame it would be if that was the only difference that the birth of Christ made in their lives. The magi had the opportunity to be the very first to go out to the nations and tell them about the birth of the Messiah. What a shame it would be if the magi forgot about the newborn King of the Jews and told no one. And what a shame it would be if the only difference that Christmas made in our lives was that we got a new sweater or kitchen gadget. Ideally, the magi’s lives would be entirely changed by their experience of Christ. Likewise, our lives should be entirely changed by the birth of Christ. How can that happen? How can our lives be changed by the reality of Christ’s Incarnation?

            Traditionally, the feast of the Epiphany celebrates that, in the wise men, the message of Christ was first made known to the nations. Having just celebrated the birth of Christ, it is now our task to continue this proclamation of the Gospel to the world. If the magi really understood what they experienced in Bethlehem, they wouldn’t be able to stop telling everyone about it. And if we truly understand what we celebrate at Christmas, we won’t be able to stop telling everyone about it. Our parish mission statement is to go and make disciples of all nations. That magi were the beginning of that mission. Now it is our responsibility to continue it. But that means we cannot keep silent. If we are going to make disciples of all nations, we have to tell people the Good News. May we find, in the joy and peace which comes from the birth of Christ, a renewed desire to tell all people about Jesus. Let us resolve that, like the magi, we will return differently. Let us pray that God will give us the grace to continue the proclamation of the Gospel. May this year’s celebration of Christmas make us different. May the message of Christmas take root in our lives, so that we can go and make disciples of all nations.

Feast of the Holy Family

            I receive a lot of Christmas cards. That probably isn’t surprising. And many of them have very similar depictions of the Nativity. There’s Jesus and Mary and Joseph, and everything is absolutely perfect. Not a hair out of place, everything bathed in soft light, maybe some embossed gold if you got one of those really fancy cards. And I know why they portray the Holy Family that way. But I think it has the effect of making the whole thing seem fake, like a fairy tale or a movie.

            The Holy Family was real. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were real people, in a real family. They had laundry and dishes and in-laws. They had work and schooling and holidays. The Holy Family didn’t live in an idyllic world, where thing is perfect. They lived in a real city, with real neighbors and real lives.

            And that should inspire us. It is easy to think, “As soon as this situation in my life gets resolved or this problem goes away, then I could really focus on being holy.” A lot of people seem to operate with the mindset, “I’m too busy to be holy now. But once my kids are grown and I am retired, then I can worry about my faith. Then I can be holy.” But we are called to be holy now. It is precisely in the midst of daily life that we become holy. That is where the Holy Family found holiness, and it is where we will find holiness too. There is no other means of holiness but daily life.

            Now, here’s the interesting thing about the Holy Family: they aren’t necessary. God didn’t need to come down as a baby. He didn’t need a mother and father. In some regard, it doesn’t make sense for God to come as a baby. It seems unfitting for God to be a baby with a mom and dad. Think about it: Mary and Joseph had to change God’s diapers. They had to clean up God’s spit up. It seems undignified for God to choose to allow to humans, even two humans as holy as Mary and Joseph, to have authority over Him as His parents.

            So why did God do it? I think that when God became incarnate He did so in the context of a family because that is how He has always existed, as a family. God is the Trinity. What is the Trinity? The Trinity is a communion of three persons, united by the most profound love, all equal in nature and dignity yet distinct in their relationship to each other. And what is a family? A family is a communion of persons, united by the most profound love, all equal in nature and dignity yet distinct in their relationship to each other. The Trinity is a family. God is, God has always been, a communion of persons, a family. So, when the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became incarnate, He chose to do so in the context of a family. The Holy Family is a living image of the Trinity. But not just the Holy Family; all families are called to be living images of the Trinity.

            In the Trinity, the Three Persons are completely equal in nature, in divinity, and in dignity. But they are distinct in relationship, with each other and with us. The Son is begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It was only the Son who became incarnate. It is only the Holy Spirit who descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost. Each of the Three Persons has a unique position in the Trinity. They are equal, but they are not interchangeable. The same is true in the family. Father, mother, and children are equal in nature and in dignity, but they are not interchangeable. This doesn’t mean that one is better or worse, that one is greater or lesser. Remember, the relationships in the family are to reflect the relationships of the Trinity. In the Trinity, the Father and Son are distinct. This doesn’t mean that the Father is better than the Son, but He does have a distinct role in the family of the Trinity that the Son does not have. Likewise, in a family, each member has a distinct role. They are equal, but they are not interchangeable. And, just as in the Trinity, it is love that unites the members of a family and maintains their equality.

            And this brings us back to the Holy Family. They are the perfect example of a family, wherein each person perfectly fulfilled their unique role in the family, without pride or jealousy or dominance. Unfortunately, our families do not always model this the way the Holy Family did. As we celebrate this feast day of the Holy Family, let us reflect on our own families and our place in them. Husbands, what do you need to do to better fulfill your role like St. Joseph did? Are you leading your family in holiness and love? Are you an example of faith and prayer in your family? Wives, what do you need to do to better emulate the Blessed Mother in your family? Do you help your husband to lead your family, or are you more likely to be working at odds with each other? Are you a model of love and humility to your children? Children, even those of us who are adult children, are you obedient to your parents as Christ was obedient to Mary and Joseph? Remember, He was God Incarnate. He had no reason why He should be obedient to anyone. Yet He willingly made Himself obedient to Mary and Joseph in love. If Jesus can humble Himself to be obedient to Mary and Joseph, we can surely be obedient to our parents.

            Now, unfortunately, sometimes the ideal situation is not possible. Sometimes husbands or wives neglect their responsibilities. Sometimes parents fail in their role as parents. Sometimes children make it difficult for parents to fulfill their role in love. Many people are wounded due to experiences of a lack of love in their own family. Some people carry those wounds for decades, even for their entire lives. If you carry wounds from the shortcomings of your own family, I encourage you today to bring those wounds today to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and ask them to receive you into their family. The love of the Holy Family can heal the wounds that were left in our hearts by a lack of love in our own families.

As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, let us pray that we can fulfill our own roles in our families with love. Let us pray for all families, that more and more they may emulate the Holy Family of Nazareth as a living image of the Trinity.

Christmas/Navidad

            As we gather for Christmas, I just have one question for you: So what? What difference does any of this make? I know that this is not how people expect a Christmas homily to start, but I’m serious. When we look out on the problems of the world, the pandemic and division and turmoil, with so many people lacking the necessities of life and denied their basic rights and dignity, what difference does the Christmas make? In a world where those who are proud and rich and powerful continually exploit the poor and vulnerable and downtrodden, what difference does one poor, small child make?

            Mientras nos reunimos para Navidad, tengo una pregunta: ¿qué importa? ¿Qué diferencia hace todo esto? Yo se que esta es una forma extraña de empezar una homilía navideña. Pero lo digo en serio. Cuando vemos todos los problemas del mundo – la pandemia, la división y el tumulto entre la gente, con tantas personas que carecen de las necesidades de vida y se les niegan sus derechos básicos y su dignidad – con todo eso, ¿Qué diferencia hace la Navidad? En un mundo donde los orgullosos, ricos y poderosos explotan continuamente a los pobres, vulnerables, y oprimidos, ¿qué importa un niño pequeño y pobre? 

            That is the question that each of us has to answer tonight. What difference does Christmas make? There are two possible answers. The first is that Christmas is just a distraction. The pretty story of a baby asleep on the hay, the sparkly lights, the colorful presents, all of it is just a trinket that we use to momentarily distract ourselves from the problems of the world, but ultimately it doesn’t accomplish anything. The problems are still there, growing day by day. Christmas is just a nice shiny object to hold our attention for a minute so we don’t have to look at the darkness, just a fleeting mental anesthetic.

            Cada uno de nosotros tiene que responder a esa pregunta: ¿qué diferencia hace la Navidad? Hay dos respuestas posibles. La primera es que la Navidad es sola una distracción. La historia bonita de un niño durmiendo en un pesebre, las luces brillantes, los regalos vistosos, todo es sola una barajita para distraernos por un momento de los problemas, pero en última instancia no logra nada. Los problemas todavía están ahí. La Navidad es solo un objeto brillante para mantener nuestra atención por un minuto para que no necesitamos mirar la oscuridad, sólo un anestésico mental fugaz.

Our society peddles distraction and diversion. Real life seems too scary and we don’t want to deal with it, so we distract ourselves with television or our phones or work or sports, anything to take our mind off the real world. None of that solves anything, it just helps us forget the problems for a moment. And for many people, that is what Christmas is. Christmas is just one more distraction, one more excuse to eat and drink and be merry so that we don’t have to think about all of the problems that press upon us. And, as soon as Christmas is done, we’re off to the next distraction, the next shiny object that can briefly transfix us. When faced with the question “What difference does Christmas make?” the first possible answer is to say that, ultimately, it doesn’t make any difference at all. All of the problems are still there. Christmas is just a pretty distraction.

            La sociedad vende distracción y diversión. La vida real parece tan espantosa y no queremos enfrentarla, entonces nos distraemos con la televisión o nuestros celulares o trabajo o los deportes, cualquier cosa para dejar de pensar en la vida real. Nada de eso resuelve nada, solo nos ayuda para olvidar los problemas por un momento. Y, para muchas personas, eso es lo que es la Navidad. Navidad es sola una distracción más, una excusa más para comer, beber, y estar felices para que no tenemos pensar en los problemas que nos presionan. Y, tan pronto como la Navidad esté hecho, nos dirigimos a la próxima distracción. Cuando nos enfrentamos a la pregunta “¿Qué diferencia hace la Navidad?” la primera respuesta posible es que, en última instancia, no hace nada diferencia en absoluto. Todos los problemas siguen ahí. La Navidad es sola una distracción.

            The second possible answer is to say that Christmas changes everything. Now, we know that this is the “right” answer. But it is also the challenging answer. It is challenging for two reasons. First, it is challenging because, by all external appearances, it is false. We proclaim that God took on our humanity in order to destroy sin and reunite us with Himself. But, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but there is still a lot of sin in the world. And I can’t speak for you, but I know that, for myself, I still often feel very, very separated from God. If we proclaim that Christmas is God breaking into our world in order to destroy sin and unite us with Himself, there sure seems to be a lot of evidence to the contrary. We can proclaim that Christmas changes everything, but tomorrow all of our problems will still be there. The pandemic, the toxic divisiveness in society, the injustice, all of it was here before Christmas and it will be here after Christmas. So what changed?

            La otra respuesta posible es que la Navidad cambie a todo. Pues, sabemos que esta es la respuesta “correcta.” Pero también es la respuesta desafiante. Es un desafío por dos razones. Primero, es un desafío porque, por todas las apariencias externas, es falso. Proclamamos que Dios asumió a nuestra humanidad para destruir el pecado y para reunirnos con Él. Pero, si no has notado, todavía hay mucho pecado en el mundo. Y no puedo hablar por ti, pero a menudo yo siento muy, muy separado de Dios. Si la Navidad es Dios irrumpiendo en nuestro mundo para destruir el pecado y reunirnos con Él mismo, parece que hay muchas pruebas de lo contrario. Decimos que la Navidad cambie todo, pero mañana todos nuestros problemas todavía estarán aquí. La pandemia, la división tóxica en nuestra sociedad, la injusticia, todo eso estaba aquí antes de Navidad, y estará aquí después de Navidad. Pues, ¿qué cambió?

            If we are going to proclaim that the birth of Jesus changed everything, we have to look with the eyes of faith. In Jesus, the God of the universe assumed our human nature and entered our history in a completely new way. He did that in order to ransom us from sin, to free us from death, and to sanctify us so that we could live eternally with Him. He came to establish His Kingdom here on earth. And that Kingdom exists. It is not a political kingdom. It does not have an army or territory. It does not spread by power or force of arms. But there, in that tiny manger in Bethlehem, God Himself definitively established His everlasting Kingdom on earth. That Kingdom has not yet reached its definitive and completed form, but it does really and truly exist. God has broken into our reality in a way that permanently transforms that reality. In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, our faith tells us that Christmas truly changed everything.

            Si vamos a decir que al nacimiento de Jesús cambie todo, tenemos que mirar con ojos de fe. En Jesús, el Dios del universo asumió a nuestra humanidad y entró en nuestra historia en una manera completamente nueva. Él lo hizo para rescatarnos del pecado, para liberarnos de la muerte, y para santificarnos para que podemos vivir eternamente con Él. Él vino para establecer su Reino aquí. Y esto Reino existe. No es un reino político. No tiene ejército o fuerza de la armas. Pero ahí, en el pesebrito de Belén, Dios mismo estableció definitivamente su Reino eterno en la tierra. Eso Reino aún no ha alcanzado su forma definitiva y completa, pero existe real y verdaderamente. Dios ha irrumpido en nuestra realidad de una manera que transforme permanentemente esa realidad.

            I said that believing that Christmas changes everything is challenging for two reasons. The first is that there seems to be so much evidence to the contrary. The second reason is that, if I believe that Christmas changes everything, then it has to change everything about me as well. The way that I order and prioritize my life, the things that matter to me, the way I look at problems, all of that has to change. If God truly took on our humanity in order to transform us, then every part of my life has to be transformed. If Christmas changes everything, then God can’t just be an add-on in my life. He can’t just be something that I think about from time to time when I need something or when it suits me. Christmas means that we cannot keep God at arm’s length. Nothing in my life can be separated from God, because He didn’t separate Himself from any part of our humanity. Because God became human, every part of our life should be filled with Him. Everything that I do has to be done in the light of the Incarnation of God. If Christmas changes everything, then everything has to change.   

            Yo dije que creer que la Navidad cambia todo es un desafío por dos razones. La primera es que parece que hay muchas pruebas de lo contrario. La razón segunda es que, si creo que la Navidad cambie todo, entonces necesita cambie todo en mí también. La forma en que yo ordeno y priorizo mi vida, las cosas que me importan, la forma en que veo los problemas, todo necesita cambia. Si Dios realmente asumió nuestra humanidad para transformarnos, entonces cada parte de mi vida tiene que ser transformada. Si la Navidad cambia todo, Dios no puede ser solo un complemento en mi vida. No puede ser algo en lo que pienso de vez en cuando o cuando me conviene. Navidad significa que no puede mantener a Dios a distancia. Nada en mi vida puede ser separado de Dios, porque Él no se separó de ninguna parte de nuestra humanidad. Porque Dios se hizo humano, cada parte de nuestra vida debería ser llena de Él. Todo lo que hago tiene que hacerlo a la luz de la Encarnación de Dios. Si la Navidad cambia todo, entonces todo tiene que cambiar.

            And so each of us has a question to answer. What difference does Christmas make? In the light of the pandemic, of the divisions in society, of the countless people lacking the basic necessities of life, of all the problems in the world and in our own hearts, in light of all of that, what difference does this one Mass make? There are two options. The first option is to believe that this Mass is just a momentary distraction from all the evil and problems in the world but ultimately accomplishes nothing. Or, we can believe that here at this Mass, God truly comes to us in a real and powerful way. What we celebrate is not just God coming to us two thousand years ago. He comes to us right here and now. In this Mass, in the Eucharist, Jesus breaks into our world again and gives us the grace that can truly conquer all the evil and sin in the world and in our own hearts. But if that is true, then it changes everything. If I believe that, here at Mass, God enters our world, grace is poured out in abundance, and the same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem really comes to us in the Eucharist, if I believe all of that, then it has to change me. If Mass is the place where God comes to us in order to establish His Kingdom, then it changes the way I approach the Mass, it changes the way I order my life, it changes everything.

            So which is it? Does Christmas matter? Does this Mass matter? And, if the answer is yes, do I live like it matters?

Entonces, cada uno de nosotros tiene una pregunta que responder. ¿Qué diferencia hace la Navidad? A la luz de la pandemia, de las divisiones de la sociedad, de las innumerables personas que carecen de las necesidades básicas de la vida, de todos los problemas del mundo y de nuestro propio corazón, a la luz de todo eso, ¿qué diferencia hace esta Misa? Hay dos opciones. La primera opción es creer que esta Misa es solo una distracción momentánea de todo el mal y los problemas del mundo, pero que finalmente no logra nada. O podemos creer que aquí en esta Misa, Dios realmente viene a nosotros de una manera real y poderosa. Lo que celebramos no es solo que Dios vino a nosotros hace dos mil años. Él viene a nosotros aquí y ahora. En esta Misa, en la Eucaristía, Jesús irrumpe nuevamente en nuestro mundo y nos da la gracia que realmente puede vencer todo el mal y el pecado en el mundo y en nuestro propio corazón. Pero si eso es cierto, entonces lo cambia todo. Si creo que aquí en la Misa Dios entra en nuestro mundo, la gracia se derrama en abundancia y el mismo Jesús que nació en Belén viene realmente a nosotros en la Eucaristía, si creo todo eso, entonces tiene que cambiarme. Si la Misa es el lugar donde Dios viene a nosotros para establecer Su Reino, entonces cambia la forma en que me acerco a la Misa, cambia la forma en que ordeno mi vida, cambia todo.

Entonces, ¿cuál es? ¿Importa la Navidad? ¿Importa esta Misa? Y, si importa, ¿vivo yo como si importa?

Cuarto Domingo de Adviento

            ¿Puedes sentirlo? Es casi Navidad. Los niños están de vacaciones de invierno. Mamá corre de un lado a otro y se preocupa de que no haya tiempo suficiente para hacer todo. Papá está tratando de pasar desapercibido para que mamá no lo obligue a hacer todas esas cosas. Pero espera, todavía no es Navidad; todavía es Adviento. Me doy cuenta de que puede parecer una distinción sin sentido en este momento. Para la mayoría de las personas, ya es Navidad y lo ha sido durante semanas. Y no estoy diciendo que debamos evitar completa y totalmente cualquier cosa relacionada con la Navidad hasta el 25 de diciembre. No podríamos hacer eso incluso si lo intentáramos.

            Pero creo que la prisa por la Navidad es un síntoma de algo más profundo. Vivimos en una sociedad que se caracteriza mejor por:  “Sal de mi camino; Lo haré yo mismo  “. ¿Cuántas veces has pensado:  “Si quiero que esto se haga bien, debería hacerlo yo mismo “? Sé que caigo en esta forma de pensar constantemente. Alguien se ofrece a ayudar y mi reacción inmediata es decir que no. Queremos que las cosas se hagan ahora y queremos que se hagan a nuestra manera, así que lo haremos nosotros mismos. Y esa estrategia puede funcionar en los negocios. Pero es terrible en la vida espiritual.

            Vemos eso en nuestra primera lectura. En la lectura, David es rey de Israel. Y decide que va a construir un templo para Dios. Y al principio, el profeta Natán le dice que lo haga. Pero luego Dios le dice que no. Dios promete lo que Él hará por David, que establecerá la realeza de David como una realeza eterna, una promesa que se cumplió en Cristo. La lección para el rey David es clara: la vida espiritual no se trata de hacer cosas para Dios; se trata de que Dios haga cosas por nosotros. En nuestro mundo de  “déjame hacer este “, podemos olvidar eso. Queremos hacer las cosas nosotros mismos. No queremos esperar a nadie más ni depender de nadie más.

            Y eso se traslada a la vida espiritual. Mi vida espiritual se convierte en una consecuencia de lo que quiero hacer. Somos como el rey David, decidiendo que voy a hacer esto por Dios, en lugar de preguntar qué está haciendo el Señor en nosotros y por nosotros. Estamos tan acostumbrados a estar a cargo y a hacer las cosas a nuestra manera que olvidamos que esa es la manera absolutamente incorrecta de ver la vida espiritual. Mi director espiritual tiene que recordármelo constantemente. Casi cada vez que me reúno con él, le digo,  “Yo decidí hacer esto “, y él siempre responde con  “¿Le preguntaste a Dios si eso era lo que Él quería? “. Yo odio esa pregunta. Porque lo que decidí hacer puede parecerme algo bueno, al igual que la construcción del templo le pareció a David algo bueno. Pero eso no es lo que Dios quería que hiciera.

            El problema con esa mentalidad es que, en última instancia, todo se trata de mí. Yo decido que yo sé cómo manejar mejor las cosas, así que voy a hacer lo que yo quiero. Podemos pensar que lo que estamos haciendo es algo bueno, podemos pensar que lo que estamos haciendo es para Dios, pero en realidad Dios es solo una bonita apariencia que hemos puesto además de hacer nuestra propia voluntad.

            En contraste con esa mentalidad, tenemos a Nuestra Señora. En el Evangelio, el ángel Gabriel es enviado a María con una noticia bastante espectacular. ¿Y cómo responde María?  “Está bien, ahora tengo que elegir las cortinas para el dormitorio del bebé, y tengo que decidir a qué escuela Él debe ir, y me pregunto si José puede construir una cuna para nosotros, y … “ No. Ella le pregunta al ángel: ¿Cómo podrá ser esto “ ¿Cómo quiere Dios que esto sucede? No intenta resolver las cosas ni planificar. Y cuando el ángel responde, ella dice:  “Yo soy la esclava del Señor; cúmplase en mí lo que me has dicho “. No de la manera que creo que debería ser, sino de acuerdo con lo que tú me has dicho.

            Ese es nuestro modelo para la vida espiritual. No se trata de mí. No se trata de cómo yo quiero que funcionen las cosas. Dios ya está trabajando. Está haciendo cosas asombrosas. Pero a veces, sus planes toman tiempo. Piense en ello, desde el momento en que el ángel Gabriel se le apareció a María, pasaron treinta años hasta que Jesús comenzó a hacer esas cosas que el ángel había dicho que haría. En cualquier momento, María podría haber dicho:  “Apuesto a que si hiciéramos esto a mi manera, podríamos seguir adelante “. Pero ella no lo hizo. Ella permitió que Dios tuviera el control.

            ¿Le has preguntado a Dios qué Él quería para ti en tu vida espiritual? ¿Le ha preguntado cómo quiere que ore y que su relación con Él crezca? Al entrar en estos últimos días de Adviento, pidamos a María que nos enseñe cómo estar abiertos al Señor como ella lo estaba. Estemos abiertos a recibir del Señor, en lugar de seguir adelante con nuestros propios planes. Digamos, como ella,  “Yo soy la esclava del Señor; cúmplase en mí lo que me has dicho”.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

            Can you feel it? It’s almost Christmas. Kids are on winter break. Mom is anxiously running around and worrying that there isn’t enough time to get everything done. Dad is anxiously trying to fly under the radar so that mom doesn’t make him do all those things that still need to be done. Ahhh… the holidays. But wait, it isn’t really Christmas yet; it is still Advent. Now, I realize that may sound like a meaningless distinction at this point. For most of the world, it is Christmas, and it has been so for a while now. And I’m not saying that we should completely and totally avoid anything Christmas related until December 25. Let’s be honest, we couldn’t do that if we tried.

            But I think the rush into Christmas is a symptom of something deeper. We live in a society that best be characterized by, “Get out of my way; I’ll take care of this myself.” How many times have you thought, “If I want this done right, and I want it done quickly, I should just do it myself?” I know that I fall into this mindset constantly. Someone offers to help, and my immediate reaction is to say no. We want things done now, and we want them done our way, so we’ll just take care of it and move on. And that kind of strategy may work in the business world. But it is terrible in the spiritual life.

            We see that in our first reading. In the reading, David is now king over Israel. And he decides that he is going to build a temple for God. And at first, the prophet Nathan tells him to do it. But then God tells him no. God goes on to promise what He will do for David, that He will establish David’s kingship as an eternal kingship, a promise that was fulfilled in Christ. The lesson for King David is clear: the spiritual life isn’t about doing things for God; it is about God doing things for us. In our “let me handle this” world, we can forget that. We want to do things ourselves. We want to go ahead and just take care of everything the way we think it should be done. We don’t want to wait for anyone else.

And that transfers to the spiritual life. My spiritual life just becomes an outgrowth of what I want to do. We are like King David, deciding that I am going to do this for God, rather than asking what the Lord is trying to do in us and for us. We’re so used to being in charge and doing things our way that we forget that that is the absolutely wrong way to approach the spiritual life. My spiritual director constantly has to remind me of this. Almost every time I meet with him, I’ll make some comment like, “And then I decided to do this,” and he’ll always respond with, “Did you ask God if that’s what He wanted?” I hate that question. Because what I decided to do may seem like a good thing to me, just like building the temple seemed to David like a good thing. But that isn’t what God wanted him to do.

            The problem with that mentality is that it is ultimately all about me. I decide that I know how to best handle things, and so I am going to do what I want. We may think that what we’re doing is a good thing, we may think that what we’re doing is for God, but really God is just a nice veneer that we’ve put on top of doing our own will.

            In contrast to that mentality, we have Our Lady. In the Gospel, the angel Gabriel is sent to Mary with some rather spectacular news. And how does Mary respond? “Okay, now I need to go pick out curtains for the nursery, and I have to decide which school He should go to, and I wonder if Joseph can build a crib for us…” No. She asks the angel, “How can this be?” How does God want this to work? She doesn’t try to figure things out or start planning. And when the angel responds, does she take charge then? No. She says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Not the way I think it should go, but according to your word.

            That’s our model for the spiritual life. It isn’t about me. It isn’t about how I want things to work. God is already working. He is doing amazing things. But sometimes, His plans take time. In our rush to take charge and get things done, we can rush right by his plans. Think about it, from the time that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, it was thirty years until Jesus actually started doing those things that the angel had said He would do. At any point in there, Mary could have said, “You know, I bet if we just did this my way, we could move things along.” But she didn’t. She allowed God to be in control. 

            Have you ever asked God what He wanted for you in your spiritual life? Have you asked Him how He wants you to pray and grow in your relationship with Him? As we enter these final days of Advent, let us ask Mary to teach us how to be open to the Lord as she was. Let us be open to receive from the Lord, rather than charging forward with our own plans. Let us say, like her, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Third Sunday of Advent

            When I was a kid, every Third Sunday of Advent my pastor would insist, “I am not wearing pink, I am wearing rose. Priests don’t wear pink.” I’ve heard multiple priests say something along the same lines. And, with apologies to Shakespeare, methinks they dost protest too much. I’m wearing pink. It’s okay. You know that I’m wearing pink. I know that I’m wearing pink. It’s fine. Insisting that people call it “rose” doesn’t change the color, it just makes me look pedantic.

             The Church gives us the option of wearing rose, or pink, vestments on the Third Sunday of Advent. Today is meant to be a day of rejoicing in the midst of Advent. In our first reading, the Prophet Isaiah proclaims, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” In our second reading, St. Paul tells the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.” Our Responsorial Psalm today isn’t actually a Psalm at all; it is Mary’s Magnificat from the Gospel according to Luke. She says, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Rejoicing is all over the liturgy today.

            To be completely honest, when I sat down to write this homily, it was a struggle. It is really hard for me to talk about rejoicing these days when so much seems to be wrong. If we are trying to find our joy in the world, we aren’t going to have much to rejoice about at the moment. But listen again to our readings today. “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.” “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” The readings are consistent in placing our joy in God, not in the world. And this is very important to remember: God has not changed in the past nine months. God is still the same today as He was in February. If our joy is truly in the Lord, rather than in the world or in ourselves, then we have just as much of a reason to rejoice now as ever, because God is unchanged.

            In just a week and a half, we are going to celebrate Christmas. We are going to celebrate the fact that God loves us so much that He came down from heaven into this mess of our world in order to save us from our sins and unite us with Himself. That is the Good News of the Gospel. And it is still Good News, even in a world where everything else seems bad. That unchanging truth of the Gospel is supposed to be the cause of our joy. As Mary says, “My soul rejoices in God my Savior.” Her joy is in the salvation that God gives. Isaiah likewise rejoices because, in his words, God has clothed him with a robe of salvation. Our salvation is to be the cause of our joy, even in the darkest times.

            So why don’t we feel that joy? I think there are a couple reasons. Perhaps the biggest reason why we don’t feel that joy in the Lord is that we don’t appreciate the magnitude of salvation. God is perfectly holy. You and I, on the other hand, are sinners. By virtue of our sins, we deserve eternal separation from God. But God, in His infinite goodness and love, chose to take on our human nature, suffer, die, and rise from the dead in order to save us from our sins and reconcile us to Himself. We didn’t earn this. We don’t deserve it. It is an absolutely free gift of God. God, in pure love, frees us from the just rewards of our sins and gives us eternal life with Him.

            That is amazing. It is literally the greatest thing ever. But somehow, in our pride, we can shortchange our salvation. It often looks something like this. “Sure, I know that Jesus is my Savior. But, let’s be honest, I’m really a pretty good person to begin with. It’s not like I really needed saving.” If we think that our salvation is a small thing, then it doesn’t give us much joy. If we think that our salvation is something small or insignificant, then the joy of salvation is drowned out by the ills and the troubles in the world.

            If, on the other hand, we truly realize that our salvation in Christ is the greatest thing, then the joy that it brings is greater and deeper than any of the distress in the world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the Apostles that they will have a joy so great that no one will take away. The Apostles faced hardship. Their lives were far from easy. But through it all, they had the joy that nothing can take away, because they knew the magnitude of our salvation.

            In a week and a half, we will celebrate the fact that God came down from heaven to save us. Let us ask God, during these final weeks of Advent, to give us a true understanding of just how amazing this salvation is. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to give us His gift of joy, the deep, abiding joy that nothing can take away, the joy that comes from knowing His salvation.

Immaculate Conception/Inmaculada Concepcion

            Today we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary. That is, we celebrate the fact that Mary was conceived without original sin. From the very first moment of her existence, Mary had the grace of God in her soul. That is why we have the Gospel reading which we do today. This Gospel sometimes confuses people because they think the Immaculate Conception refers to Jesus being conceived in the womb of Mary. We celebrate that on March 25, nine months before Christmas. But we have this Gospel reading because of how the Archangel Gabriel addresses Mary. He calls her “full of grace.” The Greek word implies, “having been filled with as much grace as possible.” Mary has been filled with grace from the very first moment of her existence.

            Hoy celebramos la Inmaculada Concepción de María. Es decir, celebramos el hecho de que María fue concebida sin pecado original. Desde el primer momento de su existencia, María tuvo la gracia de Dios en su alma. Por eso tenemos la lectura del Evangelio que hacemos hoy. Este Evangelio a veces confunde a las personas porque piensan que la Inmaculada Concepción se refiere a la concepción de Jesús en el vientre de María. La celebramos el veinticinco de marzo, nueve meses antes de Navidad. Pero tenemos esta lectura del Evangelio por cómo el Arcángel Gabriel se dirige a María. Él la llama “llena de gracia”. La palabra griega implica, “habiendo sido lleno de tanta gracia como sea posible”. María se ha llenado de gracia desde el primer momento de su existencia.

            So Mary was conceived without original sin. Good for her. But what does that have to do with the rest of us? After all, we weren’t conceived without original sin. But I think one of the most important things to remember about the Immaculate Conception is that it wasn’t necessary. God didn’t have to create Mary free from original sin. There is no logical or theological necessity that the Mother of Jesus be free from all sin. There was no requirement for Mary to be free from original sin. The Immaculate Conception is a gift of God that goes above and beyond mere necessity.

             Entonces María fue concebida sin pecado original. Bien por ella. Pero, ¿qué tiene eso que ver con el resto de nosotros? No fuimos concebidos sin el pecado original. Pero creo que una de las cosas más importantes para recordar sobre la Inmaculada Concepción es que no era necesaria. Dios no tuvo que crear a María libre del pecado original. No hay ninguna necesidad lógica o teológica de que la Madre de Jesús esté libre de todo pecado. María no tenía ningún requisito de estar libre del pecado original. La Inmaculada Concepción es un don de Dios que va más allá de la mera necesidad.

            For myself, I often pray to God as though I have to beg Him to do just the bare minimum. When I’m struggling with something, I act as though I have to convince God to give me just enough to get by.  But the Immaculate Conception reminds us that this isn’t how God works. God doesn’t do just the bare minimum. He doesn’t stop with giving us just enough grace to make it through. God is abundant with His grace. He goes far beyond the minimum, giving lavish graces. God is unreservedly generous with His grace.

            Por mi parte, a menudo le rezo a Dios como si tuviera que rogarle que haga lo mínimo. Cuando estoy luchando con algo, actúo como si tuviera que convencer a Dios de que me dé lo suficiente. Pero la Inmaculada Concepción nos recuerda que Dios no obra así. Dios no hace solo lo mínimo. No se limita a darnos la gracia suficiente para superarlo. Dios es abundante en Su gracia. Va mucho más allá de lo mínimo, dando generosas gracias. Dios es generoso sin reservas con su gracia.

            Mary understood the generosity of God, which is why she was able to respond so generously as well. When asked to be the Mother of the Messiah, she agreed. She was generous, because she knew that God had been generous with her. When we think that God only gives us the bare minimum, we tend to only do the bare minimum for Him in return. But when we truly realize how generous God is with us, we find it easier to be generous in return. As we celebrate God’s generosity towards Mary in her Immaculate Conception, let us also remember how God has been generous with each of us. And let us imitate her example by being generous in giving of ourselves to God.

            María comprendió la generosidad de Dios, razón por la cual también pudo responder con tanta generosidad. Cuando Dios se le pidió ser la Madre del Mesías, ella estuvo de acuerdo. Ella fue generosa, porque sabía que Dios había sido generoso con ella. Cuando pensamos que Dios solo nos da lo mínimo, tendemos a hacer solo lo mínimo por Él a cambio. Pero cuando realmente nos damos cuenta de lo generoso que es Dios con nosotros, nos resulta más fácil ser generosos a cambio. Al celebrar la generosidad de Dios hacia María en su Inmaculada Concepción, recordemos también cómo Dios ha sido generoso con cada uno de nosotros. E imitemos su ejemplo siendo generosos al entregarnos a Dios.