XVII Domingo Ordinario

            Imagina que estás entre esta multitud en el Evangelio hoy. Miles de personas han seguido a Jesús hasta un lugar desierto. Se hace tarde y la gente tiene hambre. Jesús hace que la multitud se siente. Empiezan a repartirse cestas. Cuando la canasta llega hasta ti, miras dentro y ves panes de cebada y pescado.

            Un poco de contexto aquí es importante. El pan de cebada era un pan barato y arenoso. Los pobres comían panes de cebada porque no podían permitirse nada mejor. Cuando el Evangelio menciona panes de cebada, no pienses en grandes panes artesanales de una panadería. Eran más como panecillos, y no muy buenos. Asimismo, la palabra griega que se usa para el pescado en este Evangelio se refiere más específicamente al pescado pequeño y salado, que se usa más como condimento que como plato principal. Estos no son filetes de salmón; son sardinas.

            De nuevo, estás sentado entre la multitud y obtienes la canasta y dentro hay panecillos baratos y sardinas. ¿Cuál es tu primer pensamiento? Para mí, probablemente estoy pensando, “¿Eso es todo? Me pregunto si habrá algo mejor en esa otra canasta que están pasando por allí. Cafarnaúm está a sólo dos millas de distancia; tal vez podría caminar hasta allí y encontrar algo mejor para comer”. Ciertamente no voy a estar muy feliz con una cena de panes de cebada y peces pequeños. Parece tan poco apetitoso.

            Cuando pensamos en el Evangelio de hoy, a menudo nos enfocamos en la cantidad de comida: que los discípulos comienzan con tan poco pero Jesús lo multiplica para ser abundantemente más de lo que necesitan. Pero quiero centrarnos no en la cantidad de comida sino en la calidad. Jesús podría haber transformado los panes de cebada y los peces pequeños en algo mejor. Él ya convirtió el agua en vino antes en el Evangelio. Ciertamente, si puede multiplicar cinco panes y dos peces para alimentar a miles de personas, también puede convertir esos cinco panes y dos peces en algo mejor. Pero no lo hace. Lo que Jesús ofrece a la gente son panes de cebada y peces pequeños.

            En mi propia vida, quiero que Dios me dé lo mejor de lo mejor. Creo que si Dios va a dar algo, debería ser lo más deseable posible. Pero, ¿qué sucede cuando Dios no nos ofrece lo mejor que podamos imaginar? ¿Cómo reaccionamos cuando Dios nos ofrece panes de cebada y peces pequeños? Cuando lo que Dios ofrece parece poco atractivo, ¿puedo recibirlo con alegría y acción de gracias, o empiezo a buscar en otro lugar?

            Hagamos esto realmente práctico. ¿Por qué no pasamos más tiempo en oración y leyendo la Biblia? Deberíamos hacer tiempo para orar y leer la Biblia todos los días. Y no solo una oración rápida de memoria antes de acostarnos, sino pasar tiempo con el Señor todos los días. Entonces, ¿por qué no lo hacemos? Nos gusta inventar excusas. “Pues, pasaría más tiempo en oración y leyendo la Biblia, pero estoy tan ocupado”. ¿De verdad estoy tan ocupado? Puedo pasar dos horas viendo un partido de fútbol, pero no puedo pasar quince minutos con Dios. Dedicamos mucho tiempo a muchas otras cosas, también podemos dedicar tiempo a Dios. “Pues, pasaría más tiempo en oración y leyendo la Biblia, pero no sé cómo hacerlo”. Eso es como decir que no ando mi bicicleta porque no sé cómo hacerlo. Solo aprendes a andar en bicicleta por haciéndolo. Y solo aprendemos a orar y leer la Biblia por orando y leyendo la Biblia. Aprendemos haciendo. Si no oro y leo la Biblia porque no sé cómo, nunca sabré cómo.

            Si somos honestos, la verdadera razón por la que no pasamos más tiempo en oración y leyendo la Biblia, la razón por la que no pasamos más tiempo con Dios, es porque parece poco atractivo. Queremos que nuestra experiencia del tiempo con Dios sea un tiempo de éxtasis espiritual. Pero, a menudo, es una experiencia de panes de cebada y peces pequeños. Y, como el milagro del Evangelio, Dios puede estar ofreciéndonos más que suficiente para satisfacernos, pero en la superficie parece insulso. Y entonces decidimos que vamos a buscar algo que parezca más atractivo, más agradable. Tantas cosas parecen mucho más agradables que pasar tiempo con Dios. Y entonces elegimos esas cosas sobre Él. Decidimos que los panes de cebada y los peces pequeños que Dios nos ofrece no son lo suficientemente buenos, así que decidimos que vamos a buscar algo más.

            Asimismo, sabemos que debemos asistir a Misa todos los domingos y días del precepto. Pero muchos católicos no lo hacen. Obviamente, hay razones legítimas para no asistir a Misa. Todos hemos experimentado eso durante el último año y medio. Pero, la mayoría de las veces, las razones por las que la gente no asiste a Misa no es porque hayan tenido impedimentos legítimos. La verdadera razón es que la Misa parece poco atractiva y algo más parecía una mejor opción. Entonces, en lugar de asistir a Misa, elegimos lo que nos parece más atractivo.

            Lo mismo sucede cuando se trata de vivir una vida de santidad. Sabemos lo que Dios nos pide. Sabemos los mandamientos y las virtudes. Pero vivir una vida de santidad parece mucho menos atractivo que el pecado. El pecado parece tan agradable, mientras que la santidad parece panes de cebada y pescado. Entonces elegimos el pecado.

            ¿En qué parte de tu vida Dios te ofrece algo que parece poco atractivo? Tal vez sea la invitación a pasar más tiempo con Él en oración y leyendo las Escrituras. Tal vez sea la invitación a ser más constante al asistir a Misa. Tal vez Él te esté llamando a arrepentirte de un pecado en particular y seguirlo más de cerca. Es diferente para cada uno de nosotros. ¿Qué es para ti? Nómbralo en tu corazón ahora mismo. Reconozca ese lugar donde ha sido tentado a rechazar lo que Dios ofrece porque parece poco atractivo. Y también reconoce lo que has elegido en lugar de Dios. ¿Qué es eso que parece más atractivo que lo que ofrece Dios?

            Hoy, Jesús nos invita a aceptar lo que nos ofrece, sin importar cómo nos parezca. Incluso cuando lo que ofrece parecen panes de cebada y pececillos, nos llama a aceptarlo, confiando en que, porque vienen de Él, serán sobradamente más que suficiente para nosotros. Pero aceptar lo que Jesús ofrece también requiere que renunciemos a lo que hemos elegido en lugar de Él. Si vamos a elegir lo que ofrece Jesús, tenemos que rechazar lo que parece más atractivo. No podemos tener ambos.

            Imagínese de nuevo en la orilla del mar de Galilea. La canasta se está pasando. Dentro está esa cosa que Jesús te ofrece que parece poco atractiva. ¿Te lo llevarás? ¿Aceptarás lo que Jesús te ofrece, sin importar cómo te parezca? ¿O lo rechazarás y elegirás algo aparte de Él?

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

            Imagine that you are in this crowd in the Gospel today. Thousands of people have followed Jesus to a deserted place. It is getting late, and people are getting hungry. Jesus has the crowd be seated. Baskets begin to be passed around. When the basket makes it to you, you look in and see barley loaves and fish.

            A little context here is important. Barley bread was cheap, gritty bread. Barley loaves were what the poor ate because they couldn’t afford anything better. When the Gospel mentions barley loaves, don’t think of nice, big artisanal loaves of bread from a bakery. These were more like rolls, and not very good ones. Likewise, the Greek word used for the fish in this Gospel more specifically refers to small, salted fish, used more as a condiment than as an entrée. These aren’t salmon filets; they are sardines.

            So again, you are sitting in the crowd and you get the basket and inside are cheap dinner rolls and sardines. What is your first thought? For me, I’m probably thinking, “Is that it? I wonder if there’s something better in that other basket that they are passing around over there. Capernaum is only about two miles away; maybe I could just walk there and find something better to eat.” I’m certainly not going to be very happy about a dinner of barley loaves and small fish. It seems so unappetizing.

            When we think of today’s Gospel, we often focus on the quantity of food: that the disciples start with so little but Jesus multiplies it to be abundantly more than they need. But I want to focus not on the quantity of food but the quality. Jesus could have transformed the barley loaves and small fish into something better. He’s already turned water into wine earlier in the Gospel. Certainly if he can multiply five loaves and two fish to feed thousands of people, He can also make those five loaves and two fish into something better. But He doesn’t. What Jesus offers the people is barley loaves and small fish.

            In my own life, I often expect God to give me the best of the best. I think that if God is going to give something, it should be the most desirable thing possible. But what happens when God doesn’t offer us the best thing imaginable? How do we react when God offers us barley loaves and small fish? When what God offers seems unappealing, can I still receive it with joy and thanksgiving, or do I start looking elsewhere?

            Let’s make this really practical. Why don’t we spend more time in prayer and reading the Bible? We should be making time for prayer and reading the Bible every day. And not just a quick memorized prayer before bed, but actually spending time with the Lord every day. So why don’t we do it? We like to come up with excuses. “Well, I would spend more time in prayer and reading the Bible, but I’m just so busy.” Am I really that busy? I can spend three hours watching the Cardinals play baseball but I can’t spend 15 minutes with God. We make lots of time for plenty of other things, we can also make time for God. “Well, I would spend more time in prayer and reading the Bible, but I don’t know how.” That’s like saying I don’t ride my bicycle because I don’t know how. You only learn how to ride a bicycle by doing it. And you only learn how to pray and read the Bible by praying and reading the Bible. We learn by doing. If I don’t pray and read the Bible because I don’t know how, I’m never going to know how.

            If we’re honest, the real reason why we don’t spend more time in prayer and reading the Bible, the reason why we don’t spend more time with God, is because it seems unappealing. We want our experience of time with God to be a time of spiritual ecstasy. But, more often than not, it is an experience of barley loaves and small fish. And, like the miracle in the Gospel, God may be offering us more than enough to satisfy us, but on the surface it looks bland. And so we decide that we are going to look for something that seems more appealing, more enjoyable. So many things seem so much more enjoyable than spending time with God. And so we choose those things over Him. We decide that the barley loaves and small fish that God offers us just won’t cut it, so we decide we’re going to go feed ourselves.

            Likewise, we know that we should come to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. But so many Catholics don’t. Now, obviously there are legitimate reasons for not coming to Mass. We have all experienced that over the past year and a half. But, more often than not, the reasons why people don’t attend Mass is not because they were legitimately impeded from attended. The real reason is that Mass seems unappealing, and something else seemed like a better option. So rather than come to Mass, we choose the thing that seems more appealing.

            The same thing happens when it comes to living a life of holiness. We know what God asks of us. But living a life of holiness seems so much less appealing than sin. Sin seems so enjoyable, while holiness seems like barley loaves and fish. So we choose sin.

            Where in your life is God offering you something that seems unappealing? Maybe it is the invitation to spend more time with Him in prayer and reading the Scripture. Maybe it is the invitation to be more consistent in attending Mass. Maybe He is calling you to repent of a particular sin and follow Him more closely. It is different for each of us. What is it for you? Name it in your heart right now. Acknowledge that place where you have been tempted to reject what God offers because it seems unappealing. And also acknowledge what you have chosen instead of God. What is that thing that seems more appealing that what God offers?

            Today, Jesus invites us to accept what He offers us, regardless of how it looks to us. Even when what He offers looks like barley loaves and small fish, He calls us to accept it, trusting that, because it comes from Him, it will be abundantly more than enough for us. But to accept what Jesus offers also requires us to renounce what we have chosen instead of Him. If we are going to choose what Jesus offers, we have to reject the thing that seems more appealing. We cannot have both.

            Imagine yourself again on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The basket is being passed around. Inside is that thing that Jesus is offering to you that seems unappealing. Will you take it? Will you accept what Jesus offers you, regardless of how it seems to you? Or will you reject it and choose something apart from Him?

XV Domingo Ordinario

            Nuestra misión parroquial es “Vayan y hagan discípulos de todas las naciones”. Es la misión que Jesús da a los discípulos después de su resurrección. Este trabajo de hacer discípulos no es solo para unos pocos elegidos. Todo cristiano tiene la responsabilidad de compartir el Evangelio. Si ha sido bautizado, entonces está llamado a ser misionero, a compartir la Buena Nueva. Esa es la misión de la Iglesia.

            Entonces, ¿por qué no sucede eso? Sabemos que estamos llamados a hacer discípulos. Entonces, ¿por qué no lo hacemos? En mi experiencia, hay tres excusas principales que las personas dan para explicar por qué no comparten el Evangelio. La primera excusa que es que no se sienten preparados. Tienen miedo de no saber lo suficiente, de no poder responder a las preguntas. O temen no tener las habilidades necesarias para compartir las Buenas Nuevas. La segunda excusa es el miedo al fracaso. Incluso si tienen el conocimiento y las habilidades, no creen que serán eficaces en compartir el Evangelio. Finalmente, algunas personas tienen una idea muy específica de cómo es compartir el Evangelio. Creen que hacer discípulos significa ir de puerta en puerta evangelizando o viajar a un país lejano como misioneros, y no quieren hacer eso, así que piensan que no están llamados a hacer discípulos.

            Nuestras lecturas de hoy dan respuesta a esas tres excusas. En el Evangelio, cuando Jesús envía a los Apóstoles, ellos han tenido muy poca preparación. Habían vivido con Él quizás un año y medio en este momento. Eso es todo. No educación formal. No título en teología. Y, además de eso, Jesús intencionalmente los envía mal preparados. Les dice que no se lleven nada. Estos no son misioneros bien preparados. Estos son hombres sin preparación que están siendo enviados a predicar el Evangelio. Asimismo, en nuestra primera lectura, el profeta Amós protesta que no es profeta ni hijo de profeta. No es alguien que se haya entrenado para su papel de profeta. Simplemente está haciendo lo que el Señor le envió a hacer.

            Asimismo, no es necesario tener un título en teología para hacer discípulos. Lo que necesitamos es confiar en el Señor. Los apóstoles confiaron en el Señor y su misión fue fructífera. Amós confió en el Señor y su misión fue fructífera. No fueron fructíferos debido a su capacitación y recursos. Fueron fructíferos porque confiaron completamente en Dios. Asimismo, no necesitamos un entrenamiento extenso. Necesitamos confiar completamente en Dios.

            La segunda excusa que hace la gente es el miedo al fracaso. Mire lo que el Señor les dice a los Apóstoles. “Si en alguna parte no los reciben ni los escuchan, al abandonar ese lugar, sacúdanse el polvo de los pies”. Hay dos cosas para notar aquí: primero, el Señor sabe que los Apóstoles experimenten fracaso. Habrá lugares que no escucharán a los Apóstoles. En segundo lugar, cuando experimentan un fracaso, no deben preocuparse por ello. Sacude el polvo de sus pies y sigue adelante.

            Cuando trates de hacer discípulos, a veces fracasarás. Habrá personas que no escucharán. Los apóstoles experimentaron fracasos. Pero aunque ellos sabían que algunas personas no escucharían, los Apóstoles salieron a predicar las Buenas Nuevas. Del mismo modo, no podemos permitir que el miedo al fracaso nos impida. Y, como los Apóstoles, cuando experimentamos un fracaso, no deberíamos enojarnos. Solo sacude el polvo de tus pies y sigue adelante.

            La tercera excusa que usa la gente es tener una imagen de evangelización demasiado formal. Es cierto que el Señor envía algunas de manera muy oficial como misioneros. Pero incluso si no estás llamado a la obra misionera formal, estás llamado a ser misionero. Todos estamos llamados a hacer discípulos, sin excepción. En el Evangelio, parece que los apóstoles están siendo enviados con asignaciones misioneras formales. Pero note lo que dice Jesús. “Cuando entren en una casa”. Más exactamente, el griego dice: “Dondequiera que entres en una casa”. No se les asignan asignaciones específicas, sino que se envían “dondequiera”. Dondequiera que se encuentren, ahí es donde deben hacer discípulos.

            Lo mismo es cierto para nosotros. Todos estamos llamados a hacer discípulos dondequiera que nos encontremos. Hagamos esto muy específico. Si estás casado, estás llamado a hacer discípulo de tu cónyuge. Tu misión, como persona casada, es ayudar a tu cónyuge a crecer en su relación con Jesucristo. Si eres padre, estás llamado a hacer discípulos de tus hijos, para ayudarlos a tener una relación real y viva con Jesucristo. ¿Tienes vecinos? Entonces estás llamado a hacer discípulos de ellos. Si trabajas o asistes a la escuela, estás llamado a hacer discípulos de las personas allá que conoces. Una vez más, esto no es necesariamente un proceso formal de evangelización. Puede ser tan simple como preguntarle a alguien: “¿Quieres ir a misa conmigo el próximo domingo?” Vamos a practicar esto ahora mismo. Dirígete a la persona que tienes a tu lado y pregúntale: “¿Quieres ir a misa conmigo el próximo domingo?” Hazlo ahora. Perfecto. Ahora haz eso ahí fuera. Esta semana, pregúntale a alguien “¿Quieres ir a misa conmigo el próximo domingo?” “Pero padre, ¿y si él me hace una pregunta y no puedo responder?” No se preocupe por su preparación, solo confíe en Dios. “¿Y si él dice que no?” Luego sacude el polvo de tus pies y pregúntale a alguien más. Pero haz algo. Ve y haz discípulos.

            Si puedo ser honesto, creo que en el fondo, bajo todas las excusas, realmente hay una sola razón por la que no somos más fervientes en hacer discípulos. Es porque no creemos que las Buenas Nuevas sean realmente buenas nuevas. Si disfrutas de una película, se lo cuentas a otras personas. ¿Por qué? Porque crees que la película es buena y quieres que otros la experimenten. Si realmente te gusta un restaurante, se lo cuentas a otras personas. ¿Por qué? Porque crees que es bueno y quieres que otros lo experimenten. Entonces, ¿por qué no le contamos a la gente acerca de Jesús? Porque no estamos convencidos de que tener una relación con Jesucristo sea realmente algo bueno que queremos que otros experimenten. Podemos pensar que es bueno para nosotros, pero no estamos convencidos en lo más profundo de nuestro corazón de que este es el mayor bien que cualquier persona pueda experimentar. No estamos convencidos de que el hecho de que Jesús, el Hijo de Dios, se hizo hombre, murió y resucitó de entre los muertos para salvar a pecadores como tú y como yo, sea realmente el mayor bien. Si estuviéramos completamente convencidos de eso, no podríamos callarnos. No podríamos dejar de contarle a la gente acerca de Jesús.

            Escuche lo que dice San Pablo en nuestra segunda lectura. Hemos sido bendecidos “con toda clase de bienes espirituales y celestiales”. Fuimos escogidos “antes de crear el mundo, para que fuéramos santos e irreprochables a sus ojos […] Determinó, porque así lo quiso, que, por medio de Jesucristo, fuéramos sus hijos.” “Pues por Cristo, por su sangre, hemos recibido la redención, el perdón de los pecados. Él ha prodigado sobre nosotros el tesoro de su gracia”. Sigue hablando de la gracia asombrosa que Dios nos ha dado en Jesús. Eso es lo que hemos recibido en Cristo. Eso es lo que Jesús ofrece a toda persona. ¿No deberíamos querer que ellos tuvieran eso?

            Si vamos a hacer discípulos de todas las naciones, tenemos que creer que las Buenas Nuevas son en realidad buenas nuevas. Este no es solo un ejercicio intelectual, sino una conversión de corazón. Pídele a Jesús, aquí en la Eucaristía, que te dé la gracia de experimentar verdaderamente que maravillosa es Su gracia. Pídele la convicción que sea tan firme que destruya todas las excusas. Que estemos tan profundamente convencidos de la bondad de su gracia que deseamos compartirla con cada persona.

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

            Our parish mission statement is “Go and make disciples of all nations.” We didn’t invent that mission ourselves; it is the mission that Jesus gives the disciples after His Resurrection. This work of making disciples is not just for a select few. Every Christian has a responsibility to share the Gospel. If you have been baptized, then you are called to be a missionary, to share the Good News. That is the mission of the Church.

            So why doesn’t that happen? I am hoping that most of us know that we are called to make disciples. So why aren’t we doing it? In my experience, there are three main excuses that people make for why they don’t share the Gospel. The first excuse that I hear from people is that they don’t feel equipped to share the Gospel. They are afraid that they don’t know enough, that they won’t be able to answer people’s questions. Or they are afraid that they don’t have the requisite skills to share the Good News. The second excuse that people use is similar, and it is a fear of failure. Even if they do have the knowledge and skills, they do not think that they will be effective in sharing the Gospel, so they don’t do it. Finally, some people have a very specific idea of what sharing the Gospel looks like. They think that making disciples means going door to door evangelizing or traveling to a distant country as a missionary, and they don’t want to do that, so they think that they aren’t called to make disciples.

            Our readings today give answers to all three of those excuses. In the Gospel, when Jesus sends the Apostles out, they have had very little preparation. They had been with him for maybe a year and a half at this point. That’s it. No formal education. No theology degree. And, on top of that, He intentionally sends them out underprepared. He tells them to take nothing with them. These are not well-prepared missionaries being sent on assignment. These are men who are completely underprepared being sent to preach the Gospel. Likewise, in our first reading, the prophet Amos protests that he is not a prophet nor does he belong to a company of prophets. He is not someone who has trained for his role as a prophet. He is just doing what the Lord sent him to do.

            Likewise, we do not have to have a theology degree to make disciples. We don’t need a lot of training or experience. What we need is to trust in the Lord. The Apostles trusted the Lord, and their mission was fruitful. Amos trusted the Lord, and his mission was fruitful. They were not fruitful because of their extensive training and resources. They were fruitful because they trusted completely in God. Likewise, we do not need extensive training to make disciples. We need to trust completely in God.

            The second excuse that people make is fear of failure. Look at what the Lord tells the Apostles. “Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet.” There are two things to notice here: first, the Lord fully expects them to experience failure. There will be places that will not listen to the Apostles. They will not be completely successful. Second, when they experience failure, they are not to get all worked up by it. Just shake the dust from their feet and move on.

            As you try to make disciples, you will fail. There will be people who won’t listen or respond to your invitation. The Apostles experienced failure; so will we. But even though they knew that some people would not listen, the Apostles still went out to preach the Good News. Likewise, we cannot let a fear of failure keep us from sharing the Gospel. And, like the Apostles, when we experience failure, we shouldn’t get all worked up and bent out of shape. Just shake the dust from your feet and move on.

            The third excuse that people use is having an image of evangelization that is too formal. It is true that there are some people whom the Lord sends in a very official way as missionaries. But even if you are not called to formal mission work, you are called to be a missionary. All of us are called to make disciples, without exception. In the Gospel, it seems like the Apostles are being sent on formal missionary assignments. But notice what Jesus says. “Wherever you enter a house.” They are not given specific assignments, but sent “wherever.” Wherever they find themselves, that is where they are to make disciples.

            The same is true for us. All of us are called to make disciples wherever we find ourselves. Let’s make this very specific. If you are married, you are called to make a disciple of your spouse. You mission, as a married person, is to help your spouse grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. If you are a parent, you are called to make disciples of your children, to help them have a real, living relationship with Jesus Christ. Do you have neighbors? Then you are called to make disciples of them. If you work or go to school, you are called to make disciples of the people there whom you know. Again, this is not necessarily some sort of formal process of evangelization. It’s can be as simple as asking someone, “Do you want to go to Mass with me next Sunday?” We’re going to practice this right now. Turn to the person next to you and ask them, “Do you want to go to Mass with me next Sunday?” Do it right now. Perfect. Now do that out there. “But Father, what if they ask a questions and I can’t answer them?” Don’t worry about your preparation, just trust in God. “What if they say no?” Then shake the dust from your feet and ask someone else. But do something. Go and make disciples.

            If I can be honest, I think deep down, under all the excuses, there is really only one reason why we are not more zealous in making disciples. It is because we do not believe that the Good News is actually good news. If you enjoy a movie, you tell people about it. Why? Because you believe that the movie is good and want others to experience it. If you really like a restaurant, you tell people about it. Why? Because you believe that it is good and you want others to experience it. So why don’t we tell people about Jesus? Because, we are not convicted that having a relationship with Jesus Christ is really a good thing that we want others to experience. We may think that it is good for us, but we are not convinced in the depths of our heart that this is the greatest good that any person could ever experience. We are not convinced that the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, became man, died, and rose from the dead in order to save sinners like you and me is really the greatest good. If we were fully convinced of that, we wouldn’t be able to shut up about it. We wouldn’t be able to stop telling people about Jesus.

            Listen to what St. Paul says in our second reading. We have been blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.”  We were chosen “before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ.” “In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.” On and on he goes, talking about the amazing grace that God has given to us in Jesus. That is what we have received in Christ. That is what Jesus offers to every person. Shouldn’t we want them to have that?

            If we are going to make disciples of all nations, we have to believe that the Good News is actually good news. This is not just an intellectual exercise but a conversion of heart. Ask Jesus, here in the Eucharist, to give you the grace to truly experience how wonderful His grace is. Ask for the conviction that is so firm that it destroys all excuses. May we be so deeply convinced of the goodness of His grace that we desire to share it with every person.

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

            Travel back in time with me to January 2020. I can distinctly remember people asking me around that time, “Father, how are you doing?” And I remember saying, “I’m doing well. I have been at Borromeo for two and a half years, and I feel like I finally have my feet under me and really know what I’m doing.” And I feel like God heard me say that and He said, “Oh, really, you have your feet under you? You think you know what you’re doing? Let’s just see about that.” Needless to say, two months later I did not feel like I had my feet under me, nor did I have the slightest clue what I was doing.

            One of my biggest struggles over the past year has been the feeling of not knowing what I’m doing. It feels like I was asked a hundred questions a day that I didn’t know how to answer. “Father, what are we going to do about this? Father, how are we going to do that?” I hate, HATE, not knowing the answer to things. I hate feeling like I am not in control. As a person of faith, though, in situations like that I turn to God and I ask Him to take care of it. Because that’s what we’re supposed to do, right? When something bad happens, we pray and trust in God, and He makes the bad thing go away.

            Something similar happens at the start of our second reading today. St. Paul speaks of having a “thorn in the flesh.” He doesn’t say what it is. There have been innumerable theories proposed by theologians as to what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. Was it a physical ailment? An emotional difficulty? A persistent temptation? We don’t know. And we don’t need to know. It doesn’t matter what St. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. But clearly he wanted it gone. He says that he begged the Lord three times to take it away. We can be fairly sure that the “three times” is a figure of speech. St. Paul means that he begged the Lord repeatedly to take it away. He didn’t just ask once, but he begged and begged.

            At this point, we would expect St. Paul to say, “I begged the Lord three times, and the Lord heard my prayer and took the thorn away.” That’s what we want for ourselves, right? When we beg the Lord repeatedly to take some problem away, to fix some difficulty, we want Him to do it. People share stories of faith like that. That time they prayed about something that seemed impossible, and God fixed it. Surely, when St. Paul begged the Lord to take away his thorn in the flesh, God would do it.

            But that’s not what happens. “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’” God doesn’t take it away. He doesn’t fix the problem or make everything better. Nor does God give St. Paul answers. He doesn’t tell him what the meaning behind the thorn is. In our own lives, we can often think, “Well, if God won’t make this bad thing go away, then as long as I can find some meaning, some purpose, some explanation for it, I’ll be fine.” But God doesn’t give that to St. Paul; and He often doesn’t give that to us either.

            I spoke earlier about how, in difficult times, I pray to God to help. But often, behind my prayers is really a desire for God to take the problem away so that I can go back to feeling in control. Often, when I bring my problems to God, it isn’t really about relying on God. On the contrary, it is about trying to get back to a situation where I don’t have to rely on anyone but myself.

            But that is directly contrary to the message of the Gospel. The message of the Gospel is not, “Have God take care of the hard stuff so that then we can rely on ourselves.” The message of the Gospel is precisely that we need God for everything. Look at the people in the Gospel reading today. They are religious people. They are in the synagogue. They pray. But they also clearly think that they can figure things out on their own. And so, when Jesus comes, they dismiss him. Even though they are religious people, their ultimate trust isn’t in God but in themselves.

            And we can fall into that same mindset. Like the people in the synagogue of Nazareth, we can externally look like good, faithful religious people, people who pray and go to church and believe in God. But, ultimately, we trust in ourselves above all. God is just there to take care of the things we can’t so that we can get back to relying on ourselves. For some people, that is how we have approached God our entire lives. The idea that our relationship with God can be anything other than simply using Him as a fixer can seem foreign.

            St. Paul shows us another way. He says that his thorn in the flesh was given to him so that he may not be too elated. It was there to teach him that he can never rely on himself, but must rely on God for everything. For that reason, he says, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses.” Can you imagine doing that? Can you imagine boasting of your weaknesses? Not hiding them, not running from them, but boasting of them most gladly. That is what happens when we realize that we need God for everything. When we truly admit that we need God for everything and rejoice in that fact, then we can boast of our weaknesses, because our weaknesses are nothing more than opportunities for God to display His power even more fully in our lives.

            Imagine living like that. Imagine not feeling like you have to be in control all the time. In fact, imagine boasting gladly in your weaknesses, in all the times when you aren’t in control. Imagine rejoicing every time things go wrong, every time you can’t do something, every time things fall apart. That is what God invites us to.

            First, we have to acknowledge that we need God for everything. Jesus tells us, “You can do nothing without me.” If we truly believe Him, then we have to give up the idea that we can do things on our own. We need Him for everything. Step one is admitting that. Step two, the harder step, is rejoicing in that. Most of us are so used to the idea that weakness is a bad thing. Admitting that we need God for everything sounds like admitting defeat. But, as disciples, it should be a cause for rejoicing. We should rejoice in every opportunity for God to display His power, His love, and His grace.

            When we can admit that we need God for everything and rejoice in it, then, like St. Paul, we will be able to boast most gladly of our weaknesses. We will no longer feel the crippling need to be in control. We will be able to rejoice that His power is made perfect in our weakness. That is what Jesus invites us to. If you want that, I encourage you right here in this Mass to ask God for it. Pray to Jesus right here in this Eucharist, “Lord, teach me to accept the truth that I can do nothing without you. Grant me the grace, Jesus, to rejoice in that fact. Free me from the need to be in control, to have all the answers, to do everything myself. Help me, Lord, to boast most gladly in my weaknesses, knowing that in them your power is made perfect.”

XIII Domingo Ordinario

            Cuando yo era seminarista, trabajaba en el seminario como lavaplatos. Una noche, el seminario tuvo una cena formal y yo estaba trabajando como lavaplatos. Llevaba unos vaqueros viejos y una camiseta blanca, ambos sucios después de horas lavando los platos. Cuando salía de la cocina, no estaba prestando atención, y casi me topé directamente al Arzobispo. Me sentí completamente avergonzado. Normalmente, si me estuviera reuniendo con el Arzobispo, me aseguraría de estar bien vestido y presentable. Nunca querría estar sucio cuando me reúna con él.

            Muchos de nosotros tratamos a Dios de la misma manera. Pensamos que, para encontrarnos con Dios, primero tenemos que estar presentables. Pensamos que no podemos acercarnos a Dios hasta que estemos limpios. Pues, no me malinterpretes, agradezco que la gente se duche y se vista con ropa limpia antes de venir a misa el domingo. Por favor sigue haciéndolo.

            Pero en un nivel más profundo, pensamos que espiritualmente tenemos que limpiarnos para Dios. Pensamos que nuestra suciedad, nuestra pecaminosidad, aleja a Dios. Mucha gente piensa que primero nos hacemos bien y limpios. Después de habernos limpiado, podemos tener una relación con Dios. Como yo con el Arzobispo, nos avergüenza nuestro desorden y queremos ocultárselo a Dios. Solo queremos que nos vea cuando nos sintamos presentables.

En el Evangelio, vemos que nuestra suciedad no es una barrera para Dios. Tenemos dos historias, ambas relacionadas con personas que eran consideradas ritualmente impuras. Primero está la mujer con flujo de sangre. En las leyes de pureza, no solo se la consideraba impura, sino que su impureza se consideraba contagiosa. Todo lo que tocaba se consideraba inmundo. Ella corre un gran riesgo. Como señalan los discípulos, la multitud está presionando a Jesús. No hay forma de que esta mujer se acerque a él sin tocar a muchas personas. Cada persona que ella toca se vuelve ritualmente impura. Si la reconocen, no se sabe cómo reaccionará la multitud, pero no será bueno para ella. Y ella está tratando de tocar a Jesús, lo que lo haría inmundo. Por eso ella tiene miedo cuando Jesús le pregunta quién lo tocó. Teme que la hayan descubierto.

            Entonces, Jesús llega a la casa de Jairo y se le dice que la hija ha muerto. Un cadáver se consideraba la cosa más impuro en las leyes de pureza judías. Era tan impuro que la casa en la que estaba, y cualquier cosa y cualquier persona en la casa, se consideran impuro. Es por eso que la gente detiene a Jesús antes de que entre. No quieren que Jesús entre en la casa sin saber que la niña está muerta y luego se vuelva impuro. Pero Jesús no solo entra en la casa, sino que toca al niño muerto. El Evangelio dice: “La tomó de la mano y le dijo: ‘¡Talitá, kum!’” Para nosotros, Jesús tomando de la mano a la niña muerta suena como un gesto conmovedor. Para los que estaban en la habitación con Jesús, habría sido una trasgresión espantosa de las leyes de pureza.

            Y, sin embargo, en ambos casos, Jesús no teme la impuridad. Él no retrocede ante esa. No requiere que la gente se limpie y luego se encontrará con ellos. Jesús los encuentra en su inmundicia y ese encuentro los limpia.

            A Jesús no le repugna nuestra inmundicia. Más bien, Él entra intencionalmente en él para limpiarnos. En la segunda lectura de hoy, San Pablo lo expresa así: Nnuestro Señor Jesucristo, que siendo rico, se hizo pobre por ustedes, para que ustedes se hicieran ricos con su pobreza”. Jesús entra en nuestra mismísima pobreza: nuestra falta de gracia, de santidad, de curación. El Viernes Santo, Jesús incluso entró en nuestra mayor pobreza, la muerte. No nos limpiamos y luego venimos a Jesús. Venimos a Jesús sucios e inmundos precisamente para que Él pueda entrar en él para limpiarnos.

            Ésta es la belleza del sacramento de la confesión. En la Confesión, traemos a Dios toda nuestra inmundicia. No la escondemos, la exponemos abiertamente ante Él. Y, a cambio, Él toca nuestras almas y nos limpia. Lamentablemente, muy pocos católicos hacen uso de este asombroso sacramento. Algunas personas se mantienen alejadas por vergüenza. Están nerviosos por decir cuáles son sus pecados, así que no vienen.

            Yo entiendo estar avergonzado. Yo también me confieso. Y yo conozco a los. Imagínate ir a confesarte con un amigo o compañero de trabajo. Así es para mí confesarme. Pero yo lo hago, porque yo sé que alejarme por vergüenza no ayuda en nada. Algunas personas me han dicho que tienen miedo de ir a confesarse porque temen que el sacerdote se sorprenda o escandalice. No hay nada que puedan decir en la confesión que me sorprenda a mí o a cualquier otro sacerdote. Lo hemos escuchado todo. Créeme. Lejos de ser sorprendente, la mayoría de las confesiones son bastante similares. Muy pocas personas son creativas cuando peca. En general, todos cometemos los mismos pecados que todos los demás. No tienes nada de qué avergonzarte.

            Especialmente cuando las personas luchan con pecados repetidos, a veces tienen la idea de que no quieren confesarse hasta que hayan roto el hábito. Después de que dejen de cometer el pecado, se confesarán. Esto es completamente al revés. Si está enfermo, no espere hasta que esté bien y luego vaya al médico para decirle lo enfermo que está. Va al médico cuando está enfermo para que pueda ser sanado. Si estamos enfermos en nuestros pecados, no esperamos hasta que nos hayamos curado para ir a Jesús. Vamos a Jesús cuando estamos enfermos para ser sanados. Y si tenemos que confesar el mismo pecado cien veces, eso es mucho mejor que alejarnos de Su gracia y tratar en vano de sanarnos a nosotros mismos.

            Especialmente si ha pasado un tiempo desde que te confesaste, aunque hayan pasado muchos años, te imploro, ven y deja que Jesús te encuentre en este maravilloso sacramento. Este es mi miedo sobre homilías como esta: animo a la gente a confesarse. Y confío en que hay personas aquí a quienes el Espíritu Santo está poniendo en tu corazón para confesarte. Y realmente desees responder a esa llamada. Pero cuando termina la misa, la homilía parece tan lejana, y te olvidas por completo y te olvidas de ir a la confesión. Si el Espíritu Santo está poniendo en tu corazón la convicción de que necesitas encontrar a Jesús en este maravilloso sacramento, haz algo al respecto. La mayoría de nosotros tenemos teléfonos con calendarios. Puedes sacar tu teléfono ahora mismo y poner en tu calendario un recordatorio para ir a la confesión. Tenemos confesión todos los miércoles a las cinco de la tarde y todos los sábados a las cuatro. Mira a tu calendario ahora mismo y encuentra una hora que funcione y colócala en tu calendario. Nuevamente, yo sé que hay personas que piensan: “Bueno, no quiero sacar mi teléfono ahora, porque entonces otras personas podrían juzgarme”. No te avergüences. Si el Espíritu Santo te está inspirando a confesarte, seas como la mujer del Evangelio. No dejes que el miedo a la multitud te aleje de Jesús. No dejes que la inspiración del Espíritu Santo se escape.

            Tenemos que dejar de poner una cara feliz ante Dios y ocultar nuestra inmundicia. Tenemos que dejar de pensar que necesitamos curarnos a nosotros mismos primero y luego venir a Dios. Jesús quiere encontrarnos precisamente en nuestra inmundicia. Quiere curarnos. Quiere darnos nueva vida y libertad. Y eso es lo que ofrece en confesión. Todo lo que tenemos que hacer es venir a Él.

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

            When I was a seminarian, I worked at the seminary as a dishwasher. One evening the seminary had a formal dinner, and I was working as a dishwasher. I was wearing old blue jeans and a white t-shirt, both of which were messy after a couple hours washing dishes. As I was leaving the kitchen I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going, and I almost walked right into the Archbishop. I felt completely embarrassed. Normally, if I was going to meet with the Archbishop, I would make sure that I was dressed up and presentable. I would never want to be dirty when meeting with him.

            A lot of us treat God the same way. We think that, in order to meet with God, we first have to make ourselves presentable. We think that we cannot come to God until we are clean. Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that people take a shower and put on clean clothes before coming to Mass on Sunday. Please keep doing that.

            But on a deeper level, we think that we spiritually have to clean ourselves up for God. We think that our dirtiness, our sinfulness, pushes God away. So many people think that we first make ourselves good and clean. Once we’ve made ourselves clean, then we think we can have a relationship with God. Like me with the Archbishop, we get embarrassed by our mess and want to hide it from God. We only want Him to see us when we feel completely presentable.

            In the Gospel, we see that our uncleanness is not a barrier to God. We have two stories, both involving people who were considered ritually impure. First is the woman with hemorrhages. In the purity laws, not only was she considered unclean, but her uncleanness was considered infectious. Anything she touched was considered unclean. She is taking a major risk. As the disciples point out, the crowd is pressing upon Jesus. There is no way that this woman gets close to him without touching numerous people. Every person she touches technically becomes ritually impure. If she is recognized, there is no telling how the crowd will react, but it will not be good for her. And she is trying to touch Jesus, which would make him unclean. This is why she is so afraid when Jesus asks who touched Him. She is afraid that she has been found out, and that she is about to be in a lot of trouble.

            Then, Jesus arrives at the house of Jairus and is told that the daughter has died. A corpse was considered the most unclean thing in Jewish purity laws. It was so impure that the house it was in, and anything and anyone in the house, is considered unclean. That is why the people stop Jesus before He goes in. They don’t want Jesus to go in the house unaware that the girl is dead and then become unclean by being in the same house as a dead body. But not only does Jesus enter the house, but He touches the dead child. The Gospel says, “He took the child by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum’”. To us, Jesus taking the dead girl by the hand sounds like a poignant gesture. To those in the room with Jesus, it would have been a shocking transgression of the purity laws.

            And yet, in both cases, Jesus is not afraid of the uncleanness. He doesn’t recoil from it. He doesn’t require that the people make themselves clean and then He will encounter them. Jesus encounters them in their uncleanness, and that encounter makes them clean.

            Jesus is not repelled by our uncleanness. Rather, He intentionally enters into it in order to make us clean. In the second reading today, St. Paul puts it this way, “Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” Jesus enters into our very poverty – our lack of grace, of holiness, of healing. On Good Friday, Jesus even entered into our greatest poverty, death itself. We don’t clean ourselves up and then come to Jesus. We come to Jesus dirty and unclean precisely so that He can enter into it to make us clean.

            This is the beauty of the Sacrament of Confession. In Confession, we bring God all of our uncleanness. We don’t hide it, we lay it openly before Him. And, in return, He touches our souls and makes us clean. Sadly, so few Catholics make use of this amazing sacrament. Some people stay away out of embarrassment. They are nervous about saying what their sins are, so they just don’t come.

            I understand being embarrassed. I go to confession, too. And I know the priests in the Archdiocese. Imagine going to confession to a friend or coworker. That’s what it is like for me to go to confession. But I go, because I know that staying away out of embarrassment doesn’t help anything. Some people have told me that they are afraid to go to confession because they are afraid the priest will be shocked or surprised. Folks, there is nothing that you could say in confession that is going to surprise me or any other priest. We have heard it all. Trust me. If anything, far from being surprising, most confessions are pretty similar. Very few people are creative when it comes to sin. We all generally commit the same sins as everyone else. You have nothing to be embarrassed about.

            Especially when people struggle with repeated sins, they sometimes have this idea that they don’t want to go to confession until they have broken the habit. Once they have done that, then they will go to confession. This is completely backwards. If you are sick, you don’t wait until you are well and then go to the doctor to tell them how sick you are. You go to the doctor when you are sick so that you can become well. If we are sick in our sins, we don’t wait until we have healed ourselves to go to Jesus. We go to Jesus when we are sick in order to be healed. And if we have to confess the same sin a hundred times, that is so much better than staying away from His grace and trying in vain to heal ourselves.

            Especially if it has been a while since you have been to confession, even if it has been many years, I implore you, come and let Jesus encounter you in this wonderful sacrament. Here’s my fear about homilies like this: I encourage people to go to Confession. And I trust that there are people here right now who the Holy Spirit is putting on your heart to go to Confession. And you may really want to respond to that call. But by the time Mass ends, the homily seems so long ago, and you forget all about it and forget about going to confession. If the Holy Spirit is putting on your heart the conviction that you need to encounter Jesus in this wonderful sacrament, do something about it. Most of us have smartphones with calendars on them. You can pull out your phone right now and put in your calendar a reminder to go to Confession. We have confession every Wednesday from 5pm-6pm and every Saturday from 4pm-5pm. Look at your calendar right now and find a time that works and put it in your calendar. Again, I know there are people who are thinking, “Well, I don’t want to pull my phone out now, because then other people might judge me.” Don’t be embarrassed. If the Holy Spirit is inspiring you to go to Confession, be like the woman in the Gospel. Don’t let fear of the crowd keep you from Jesus. Don’t let the inspiration of the Holy Spirit slip away.

            We have to stop trying to put on a happy face for God and hiding our uncleanness. We have to stop thinking that we need to heal ourselves first and then come to God. Jesus wants to encounter us precisely in our uncleanness. He wants to heal us. He wants to give us new life and freedom. And that is what He offers in Confession. All we have to do is come to Him.

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

            There are two kinds of people when the tornado sirens go off. The first are the people who immediately seek shelter. No matter what else they were doing, they stop it and react to the siren. The others are the kind of people who just kind of shrug it off. Maybe they pull up the news to see just how bad it is. Or, my personal favorite, they go outside to see if they can see anything. Some of us can be so familiar with the sirens that we no longer respond to them. We have heard tornado sirens time and time again, to the point that it no longer has an effect on us. Tornado sirens are supposed to upend our entire lives. They are supposed to break into our routine and cause us to change all of our plans. But some people treat them more like an inconvenience.

            We can treat the love of God the same way. Throughout Scripture, the love of God is like a tornado siren. It is a constant notice. Again and again God longs to convince us of His love. Like a tornado siren, the announcement of God’s love is supposed to radically affect our lives. But, much like a tornado siren, we can grow so accustomed to hearing about God’s love that it doesn’t affect us.

            What does it mean to let the love of God truly affect us? St. Paul in the second reading says, “The love of Christ impels us.” The Greek word for “impels” here means much more than “motivates.” It can mean grip, constrain, or binds. He is saying that the love of Christ has absolutely seized his entire being. St. Paul is convinced of the radical love of God, and this love has changed his entire life, such that he cannot do otherwise. In the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul says that he even rejoices in his sufferings because the love of God has been poured into his heart. The love of God is so transformative of his life that even sufferings become a source of joy.

            St. Paul says “The love of Christ impels us.” Us. Not just me. God’s love wasn’t unique to St. Paul. God loves us the same way He loved St. Paul. So why doesn’t His love have the same affect in our lives that it did for St. Paul?

            We have to always remember is that we have a spiritual enemy whose main goal is to cause us to doubt the love of God. When we think of the devil and temptation, we often think of temptations to this or that particular sin. But the strongest, most consistent temptation of the devil is to tempt us to doubt God’s love. If the devil can convince us to doubt God’s love for us, he has won, and it doesn’t matter what other sins we do or don’t commit.

            We are tempted to believe that we have to earn God’s love. We think that we have to make God love us by being good people. Rather than believing in an infinite, unconditional love, we think that God will love us more if we are good, and He will love us less if we sin. But if we have to earn God’s love, we are in trouble, because we will never be good enough. We will never be able to earn the infinite love of God, and we know that. So many Christians think they have to earn God’s love and are convinced that they will never measure up.

            The Scriptures tell us the truth about God’s love. St. Paul says in the second reading, “The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died.” Christ died for all. Not just for the good people. Not just for the people who deserve it. All. St. Paul says in the Letter to the Romans, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We don’t earn God’s love; we can’t earn God’s love. He just pours His infinite love into us.

            Nothing you ever have done or ever will do can change God’s love for you. God doesn’t love you more because you came to Mass this morning. If you had chosen to stay home or go out and commit every sin imaginable, God’s love for you would remain unchanged. That is what infinite, unconditional love is. Our life as disciples is not about being really good in order to make God love us. It is about realizing that God already loves us infinitely, and our lives are a response to that love. We don’t live for God’s love; we live from God’s love.

            Here’s the catch. Sometimes, deep down, we don’t want unconditional, infinite love. Unconditional love scares us. It is too close. We like being in control. If love is conditional, then we know that we can do something to make the person love us more, and we can do other things to make them love us less. Conditional love puts us in control. Unconditional love means that we are not in control. Infinite love cannot be confined to certain parts of our lives. If God’s love is finite, then it can affect certain parts of our lives, but not other parts. But infinite love cannot be confined to certain parts of our lives. Infinite love changes everything.

            A love like that, an infinite, unconditional love, changes the way we live. As St. Paul says, “He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves.” For some of us, that sounds amazing. I am sure there are some people who are saying, “I am so tired of living for myself. I am tired of the empty rat race, the meaningless pursuit of goals that never satisfy.” If that is you, oh boy, do I have good news. When we truly experience the love of Christ, the infinite, unconditional love that is poured into our hearts, we no longer have to live for ourselves, but just live from His love.

            For other people, not living for yourself sounds terrifying. Our society tells us a thousand times a day that living for ourselves is the only way to happiness. And we so easily believe it. The idea of giving up control, of not living for ourselves, sounds threatening. If that is you, I have good news for you, too. God is not a controlling dictator who wants to forcibly take control from us. He just loves us with an infinite, unyielding love. And, little by little, if we let ourselves be loved by Him, we discover that, not only is it safe to stop living for ourselves, but that, despite what our society tells us, this is the only true path for happiness.

            Now, I have had many times in my life where I have had powerful experiences of God’s love. I have had beautiful moments where I know how much God loves me and desire, like St. Paul, to live no longer for myself but for Him alone. But I also seem to so quickly forget. I so quickly go from convinced of God’s unconditional love for me to believing that I have to earn it. Or something bad happens in my life, and I doubt God’s love. We are like the Apostles in the Gospel today. Jesus has already performed numerous miracles. And yet, when they find themselves in the boat in a storm, it is like they have completely forgotten that, and they are afraid that Jesus doesn’t care or can’t help them.

            Like the Apostles, we can have spiritual amnesia. If we are going to live in God’s love, we have to immerse ourselves in God’s love again and again, or we will give in to the temptation to doubt His love. This is why daily prayer and reading the Scriptures is so important. Without it, we quickly forget how great God’s love for us is. I am going to challenge everyone here: every day this week, spend a few minutes in prayer asking God to deepen your experience of His love for you. Ask Him for the grace to realize how great His love truly is and to reject the lies that try to distort it. St. Paul understood the love of Christ, and impelled him to go to the ends of the world and endure innumerable hardships to proclaim that love to others. The world needs us to proclaim God’s love, by our words and also by our example. The world needs us to love others with the same unconditional love that God has for us. But we cannot give what we do not have. We have to experience God’s love for us if we are going to show that love to others. Every day this week, ask God in prayer to break through the lies, to deepen your understanding of just how much He loves you. And then all we have to do is live from that love.

XI Domingo Ordinario

            Al hablar en público, dicen que las primeras palabras que pronuncias son algunas de las más importantes. Ellos marcan la pauta para el resto de lo que tienes que decir. Las primeras palabras de Jesús que registra el Evangelio de Marcos son: “El tiempo se ha cumplido, y el reino de Dios se ha acercado”. El reino de Dios es un tema recurrente en el evangelio de Marcos. La frase “el reino de Dios” aparece catorce veces en el Evangelio de Marcos, incluidas dos veces en la lectura de hoy. ¿Así que qué es lo? ¿Qué es el reino de Dios?

            En pocas palabras, somos nosotros. Nosotros, la Iglesia, somos el reino de Dios en el mundo. El reino de Dios no es algo lejano o abstracto; como dice Nuestro Señor, se ha acercado. Eso significa que cuando Nuestro Señor cuenta una parábola que comienza, “el reino de Dios es así”, deberíamos estar escuchando, porque Él nos está diciendo quiénes se supone que somos. Hay dos parábolas como esta en el Evangelio de hoy, y nos enseñan tres lecciones importantes sobre quiénes somos como Iglesia, quiénes somos como Reino de Dios.

            En la primera parábola, el Señor dice que aunque el hombre siembra la semilla, el crecimiento ocurre de una manera que él desconoce y da fruto por sí solo. El crecimiento no es obra del agricultor. Lo primero que podemos decir sobre el reino de Dios es que experimenta el desarrollo dado por Dios. No podemos, por nuestra propia voluntad, hacer desarrollar la Iglesia. La gente a menudo viene a mí para preguntarme qué podemos hacer para que más personas asistan a misa, como si hubiera algún método infalible para hacer desarrollar la Iglesia o la parroquia. Ningún programa, ningún predicador, ninguna iniciativa puede, por sí sola, desarrollar el reino de Dios. El desarrollo de la fe es dado solo por Dios.

            Pero esto no significa que podamos simplemente sentarnos y esperar a que aparezca la gente. El hombre en la parábola todavía tenía que ir a sembrar la semilla. Todavía tenemos que salir e invitar gente. En la segunda lectura, San Pablo nos recuerda que recibiremos recompensa por lo que hicimos y por lo que no hicimos. Si el hombre no hubiera hecho nada, no habría crecido. Si no hacemos nada, el Reino de Dios no crecerá y seremos responsables de nuestra falta de acción. Y hay cosas que el hombre podría hacer para inhibir el crecimiento de las semillas. Asimismo, hay cosas que podemos hacer que inhiben el desarrollo del Reino de Dios y hay cosas que podemos hacer para fomentarlo. Pero, en última instancia, tenemos que darnos cuenta de que nuestro trabajo es simplemente plantar la semilla. El don de la fe, el don de la conversión, proviene solo de Dios. El reino de Dios aumenta como resultado del desarrollo dado por Dios. Podemos invitar a la gente, podemos animar a la gente, podemos dar un ejemplo de fe a la gente, pero no podemos hacer creer a nadie.

            La segunda cosa que el Señor nos enseña es que el reino de Dios parece pequeño. Por un lado, la Iglesia no parece tan pequeña. Hay más de mil millones de católicos en el mundo. Y, sin embargo, cuando miras el mundo y todos sus problemas y desafíos, es fácil decir: “¿Qué puede hacer realmente la Iglesia?” ¿Qué podemos hacer para detener la guerra o el aborto? ¿Qué podemos hacer para combatir la violencia y el racismo? ¿Cómo podemos detener la propagación de la codicia y el materialismo? ¿Qué podemos hacer para lograr un cambio sistémico y duradero para los millones de personas que carecen a las necesidades básicas de la vida? Frente a todo eso, puede parecer que el reino de Dios es tan pequeño e inútil como una semilla de mostaza. Pero eso está bien. El Señor nos dijo que el Reino de Dios parece pequeño y, sin embargo, puede tener un efecto masivo en el mundo. Pero, de nuevo, hay que plantar la semilla. Tenemos que salir y plantarlo. Es fácil sentirse abrumado, sentir que nuestros esfuerzos por difundir el reino de Dios no puedan hacer una diferencia. Pero el Señor nos dijo que sería así. El Reino de Dios parece pequeño. Pero esto nos lleva de nuevo a confiar en Él y al desarrollo dado por Dios que Él promete si hacemos nuestra pequeña parte.

            La tercera cosa que enseña Nuestro Señor sobre el reino de Dios es que es un nido para todo. Dice que, cuando crece la semilla de mostaza, las aves del cielo pueden anidar a su sombra. Aquí Él claramente se basa en el profeta Ezequiel, como escuchamos en nuestra primera lectura, que el Señor plantará un árbol “en él anidarán toda clase de pájaros”. Este árbol, que comenzó al parecer pequeño, el que experimentó el desarrollo dado por Dios, será un nido para todo. Todo clase de pájaros anidarán en él. El Reino de Dios no es solo para unos pocos; no es solo para este o aquel tipo de persona. La Iglesia es para todos. Podemos acostumbrarnos a ver principalmente a ciertas personas en la Iglesia que se ven y actúan de manera similar, y podemos pensar que la Iglesia es solo para ese tipo de personas. No lo es. Es nuestro trabajo asegurarnos de llevar el reino de Dios a todas las personas, no solo a las personas que se ven, actúan y piensan como yo. Eso significa que tenemos que ir a conocer gente que no es como nosotros. Es posible que tengamos que salir de nuestra zona de confort para plantar esa semilla de mostaza para que el reino de Dios pueda crecer. También significa que cuando alguien se presenta en la iglesia que es diferente a mí, es mi trabajo hacerlos sentir bienvenidos, en lugar de hacerlos sentir que no pertenecen. Cuando aparece alguien que se ve diferente o actúa de manera diferente, que habla un idioma diferente o cuya vida es diferente a la mía, es nuestra responsabilidad asegurarnos de que haya un lugar para ellos. Porque todos pertenecen al reino de Dios, que es el nido de todo.

            Esto es lo que es el reino de Dios: parece pequeño, pero experimenta el desarrollo dado por Dios y es un nito para todo. Eso no es solo lo que es la Iglesia como organización; es lo que estamos llamados a ser como miembros de la Iglesia, ciudadanos del reino de Dios. Todos estamos llamados a hacer nuestra parte, no importa cuán pequeña parezca, para plantar la semilla que pueda experimentar el desarrollo del Dios todopoderoso, para traer a todas las personas al nido del reino.

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

            In public speaking, they say that the first words you speak are some of the most important. They set the tone for the rest of what you have to say. The first words of Jesus that the Gospel of Mark records are, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.” The kingdom of God is a recurring theme in Mark’s Gospel. The phrase “the kingdom of God” occurs fourteen times in the Gospel of Mark, including twice in today’s reading. So what is it? What is the kingdom of God?

            Simply put, it is us. We, the Church, are the kingdom of God in the world. The kingdom of God is not some far off or abstract thing; as Our Lord says, it is here at hand. That means that when Our Lord tells a parable that starts off, “the kingdom of God is like this,” we should be listening, because He is telling us who we are supposed to be. There are two such parables in today’s Gospel, and they teach us three important lessons about who we as the Church, who we as the Kingdom of God, are called to be.

            In the first parable, the Lord says that though the farmer plants the seed, the growth happens in a way that is unknown to him and yields fruit of its own accord. The growth is not the farmer’s doing. The first thing that we can say about the kingdom of God from this reading is that it experiences God-given growth. We cannot, of our own accord, make the Church grow. People often come to me asking what we can to do get more people to Mass, as though there was some surefire method to make the Church or parish grow. No program, no preacher, no initiative can, on its own, spread the kingdom of God. The gift of faith is given by God alone.

            But this doesn’t mean that we can just sit back on our haunches then and just wait for people to show up. The farmer still had to go plant the seed. We still have to go out and invite people. In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that we will receive recompense for what we did and for what we did not do. If the farmer had done nothing, there would have been no growth. If we don’t do anything, the Kingdom of God will not grow, and we will be held accountable for our lack of action. And there are things the farmer could do to inhibit the growth of the seeds. Likewise, there are things that we can do that inhibit the growth of the Kingdom of God, and there are things that we can do to encourage it. But, ultimately, we have to realize that our job is simply to plant the seed. The gift of faith, the gift of conversion, comes from God alone. The kingdom of God increases as a result of God-given growth. We can invite people, we can encourage people, we can provide an example of faith for people, but we cannot make someone believe.

            The second thing that the Lord teaches us is that the kingdom of God is seemingly small. Now, you may be thinking that the Church isn’t that small, and, on one level, you’re right. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. And yet, when you look out at the world, and all its problems and challenges, it is easy to say, “What can the Church really do?” What can we do to stop war and abortion? What can we do to combat violence and racism? How can we stop the spread of greed and materialism? What can we do to bring lasting and systemic change for the billions of people who lack even the basic necessities of life? In the face of all that, it may seem that the kingdom of God is as small and as useless as a mustard seed. But that’s okay. The Lord told us that the Kingdom of God is seemingly small, and yet it can have a massive effect on the world. But, again, the seed has to be planted. We have to go out there and plant it. It is easy to feel overwhelmed, to feel like there is no way, in the grand scheme of things, that your efforts to spread the kingdom of God can make a difference. But the Lord told us that it would be such. The Kingdom of God is seemingly small. But this leads us back to trusting in Him and the God-given growth that He promises if we do our small part.

            The third thing that Our Lord teaches about the kingdom of God is that it is an abode for all. He says that, when the mustard seed grows, the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade. Here He is clearly drawing from the prophet Ezekiel as we heard in our first reading, that the Lord will plant a tree where “Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it, every winged thing in the shade of its boughs.” This tree, the one that started seemingly small, the one that experienced God-given growth, is to be an abode for all. “Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it.” The Kingdom of God isn’t just for a few; it isn’t just for this or that type of person. The Church is for everyone. We can get used to primarily seeing certain people at Church who all look and act similarly, and we can think that the Church is only for that kind of person. It isn’t. It is our job to make sure that we bring the kingdom of God to all people, not just people who look and act and think like me. That means that we have to go meet people who aren’t like us. We may have to go outside our comfort zone in order to plant that mustard seed so that the kingdom of God can grow. It also means that when someone shows up to Church who is different from me, it is my job to make them feel welcome, rather than to make them feel like they don’t belong. When someone shows up who looks different or acts differently, who speaks a different language or whose life is different than mine, it is our responsibility to make sure that there is a place for them. Because everyone belongs in the kingdom of God, which is an abode for all.

            This is what the kingdom of God is: it is seemingly small, yet it experiences God-given growth and is an abode for all. That isn’t just who the Church is as an organization; it is who we are called to be as members of the Church, citizens of the kingdom of God. We are all called to do our part, no matter how small it seems, to plant the seed that may experience growth from almighty God, to bring all people in to the abode of the kingdom.