Baptism of Our Lord

            At first glance, it may seem like John the Baptist needs to work on his self-esteem. In speaking of the Messiah, John says that he is not worthy even to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  This task is the lowest, most menial, most servile task that someone could do. John is saying that his worth is so low in comparison that he is not even worthy of doing the most demeaning task. It might seem like John has an extremely low opinion of himself to think that he is unworthy of something so condescending. But here’s the important thing: John the Baptist is right. He is not worthy to loosen Jesus’s sandals. Jesus is God. Even loosening the thongs of his sandals is such an immense honor that no one, not even John the Baptist, is worthy to do it.

            But the amazing thing is that John is asked to do much more than just loosen Jesus’s sandals. John is given the task of baptizing Jesus. If John isn’t even worthy to loosen His sandals, he is infinitely less worthy of baptizing Him. But he does it. John doesn’t let the fact that he is unworthy of baptizing Jesus stop him from doing it. He could have. John could have refused to baptize Jesus, insisting that he was too unworthy of such an honor. In fact, the Gospel according to Matthew records John telling Jesus that he is not worthy to baptize Him. But when Jesus tells John to do it anyways, he does.

            I think we can often let our own sense of unworthiness get in the way of following God. For example, when I talk to people about prayer, they often say that they don’t know how to pray. When I tell them that prayer is just talking to God, people often say that they don’t know what to say or are afraid of saying the wrong thing. What is under the surface of this fear that our prayers have to be worthy of God. We are afraid that we might say something “wrong,” something unworthy of God. We don’t feel worthy of being able to freely speak to God, openly and honestly. We are convinced that there must be some sort of “right” way to pray – a way of prayer that is worthy of God. And because we don’t know what that is, we figure it is better to not pray at all rather than pray in a way that is unworthy.

            Or when I speak to people about sharing the faith with others, there are often plenty of excuses. “I can’t do that. I’m not smart enough. I’m not skilled enough. I’m not holy enough.” Ultimately, again, the underlying fear is unworthiness. We think that to be worthy to share the faith with others, we have to meet certain requirements. And because we don’t think we meet the requirements, we are not worthy to share the faith, so we don’t do it.

            I think of how many times I’ve stood up here at Mass and asked for volunteers for this or that, and, despite the fact that we have over a thousand people at Mass every Sunday, we’re lucky if anyone responds to a request for volunteers. And I wonder how much of that is because people assume that there must be someone better out there to do it than themselves. Surely there is someone with more time, more skills, more expertise – that is to say, more worthy.

            But what if worthiness doesn’t matter? John the Baptist was completely unworthy to baptize Jesus. He knew it, and Jesus knew it. But He did it anyways. And, yes, we are unworthy as well. Any prayer that we ever say will be unworthy of God. The most beautiful, well-worded, heartfelt prayer ever said was unworthy of God. We will always be unworthy of sharing the faith. The best, most well-trained missionary or evangelist in history was unworthy of sharing the faith. There will always be someone who is better than we are to fill this or that role in the Church. But the amazing truth is that it doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter to Jesus that John the Baptist was unworthy to baptize Him. And it doesn’t matter that we are unworthy either. Because our worth is not found in ourselves; it is found in Jesus.

            Jesus made John the Baptist worthy of baptizing Him. And He makes us worthy as well. Because Jesus was baptized, our baptism unites us with Him. His baptism by John makes our baptism holy. When we are baptized, we become sons and daughters of God. And as sons and daughters of God, we are made worthy. Jesus makes us worthy to pray, and to do so honestly and openly. Jesus makes us worthy to share the faith with others, even though we are imperfect sinners. Jesus makes us worthy to share in His work of building His Kingdom. We are worthy not because of anything thing we have done, but because of what He has done in us.

            That is where our focus should be – not on our own unworthiness, but on Jesus who calls us. Jesus called John to baptize Him, regardless of John’s unworthiness. And Jesus calls us also.

Solemnidad de la Epifanía del Señor

            ¿Qué significa evangelizar? A menudo, la gente piensa que evangelizar es decir las cosas correctas para hacer que alguien se convierta. Si bien es cierto que evangelizar requiere hablar, generalmente la evangelización ocurre mucho más por atracción que por persuasión. Es decir, es mucho más probable que las personas se vuelvan católicas porque ven algo o alguien que es católico que los atrae a la fe, en lugar de porque alguien los persuadió con palabras.

            En el Evangelio de hoy, los magos vienen en busca de Jesús. En los magos tenemos a las primeras personas de entre las naciones que escucharon la Buena Nueva, las primeras personas en ser evangelizadas. Pero, ¿qué los atrae a Jesús? Nadie los persuadió con palabras. Más bien, fueron atraídos por la estrella. Podríamos decir que sucedieron tres cosas que pusieron a los magos en el camino que los condujo al encuentro con Jesús. Primero, ven la estrella, es decir, ven algo diferente. Hay mucha especulación sobre qué era exactamente la estrella, pero en última instancia, no es muy importante. Lo que está claro es que había algo que era lo suficientemente diferente como para que los magos lo notaran. En segundo lugar, sabían que esta estrella, esta cosa diferente, era una señal de buenas noticias. Sabemos que en el mundo antiguo, a veces, los fenómenos astronómicos, como los cometas, se veían como malos augurios. Diferente no siempre significaba bueno. Pero cuando los magos vieron la estrella, supieron que significaba una buena noticia, el nacimiento de un rey. Y tercero, querían saber más. Eso es lo que los llevó a Israel. Los magos podrían haber visto la estrella, haber dicho: “Eh, parece que ha nacido un rey en Israel”, y luego simplemente continuar con sus vidas normales. Pero no lo hicieron. Querían saber más.

            Si vamos a evangelizar a la gente, si vamos a hacer discípulos, lo haremos de la misma manera que los magos fueron evangelizados. Primero, si vamos a evangelizar a la gente, ellos tienen que ver algo diferente en nosotros. Si nuestras vidas se parecen a las de todos los demás, si vivimos, actuamos y hablamos como todos los demás, entonces no hay nada que atraiga a las personas a la fe. Si los católicos no son diferentes a los demás, es fácil para la gente pensar: “¿Por qué ser católico? No parece haber nada especial en ellos”. Si vamos a atraer personas a Jesús, necesitan ver algo diferente en nosotros. Y entonces podemos preguntarnos: “¿Hay algo en la forma en que vivo mi fe que otros se den cuenta?”

Por supuesto, lo diferente en sí mismo no siempre es algo bueno. Si vamos a atraer a las personas a Jesús, no solo deben ver que somos diferentes, sino que esa diferencia debe ser atractiva. A veces, la gente ve a los católicos como diferentes, pero de mala manera. Ven a los católicos como críticos y excluyentes. Para algunas personas, los católicos son diferentes de otras personas, pero no de una manera que los atraiga. Si vamos a hacer discípulos, nuestras vidas deben ser diferentes en formas que atraigan a la gente. Debemos ser más amorosos, más misericordiosos, más generosos, más alegres y más acogedores que los demás.

            Finalmente, si vamos a evangelizar a las personas, deben querer aprender más. Así como los magos tenían que desear aprender más sobre lo que significaba la estrella, también cuando otros nos ven, necesitan no solo notar que somos diferentes y que la diferencia es algo bueno, sino también querer aprender más. No es suficiente que la gente nos vea y diga: “Es una persona tan agradable”, pero déjelo así. Aquí es donde compartir la fe es tan importante. La gente necesita no solo darse cuenta de que somos diferentes, sino también saber por qué somos diferentes. No solo necesitan vernos como personas amorosas, misericordiosas, y acogedoras, sino que también necesitan saber que la razón por la que somos así es por Jesús, y que también pueden ser transformados por Su gracia.

            Nuestra misión es hacer discípulos de todas las naciones. Todos estamos llamados a ser evangelistas. Y la fiesta de hoy nos muestra cómo hacerlo. El primer paso para ser un evangelista es asegurarnos de que seamos discípulos nosotros mismos, que nuestras vidas hayan sido transformadas por Jesús. Al celebrar esta fiesta de la Epifanía, y al comenzar un Año Nuevo, pidamos al Señor que transforme nuestras vidas, para que podamos dirigir mejor a las personas hacia Jesús.

The Epiphany of the Lord

            What does it mean to evangelize? Often, people think that evangelizing is essentially talking someone into converting. While it is true that evangelizing will require some talking, usually evangelization happens much more by attraction than by persuasion. That is, people are much more likely to become Catholic because they see something or someone who is Catholic that attracts them to the faith, rather than because someone persuaded them with words.

            In the Gospel today, the magi come in search of Jesus. In the magi we have the first people from among the nations to hear the Good News, the first people to be evangelized. But what draw them to Jesus? No one talked them into it. Rather, they were attracted by the star. We could say that there are three things that happened that put the magi on the path that led to their encounter with Jesus. First, they see the star, which is to say that they see something that is different. There’s a lot of speculation about what exactly the star was, but ultimately, it’s not super important. What is clear is that there was something that was different enough for the magi to notice it. Second, they knew that this star, this different thing, was a sign of good news. We know that in the ancient world, sometimes astronomical phenomena, such as comets, were seen as bad omens. Different didn’t always mean good. But when the magi saw the star, they knew that it signified good news, the birth of a king. And third, they wanted to know more. That is what ultimately brought them to Israel. The magi could have seen the star, said, “Huh, it looks like a king has been born in Israel,” and then just gone about their normal lives. But they didn’t. They wanted to know more.

            If we are going to evangelize people, if we are going to make disciples, we will do it the same way that the magi were evangelized. First, if we are going to evangelize people, they have to see something different in us. If our lives look just like everyone else, if we live and act and talk just like everyone else, then there is nothing to attract people to the faith. If Catholics are no different from anyone else, it is easy for people to think, “Why be Catholic? There doesn’t seem to be anything special about them.” If we are going to attract people to Jesus, they need to see something different about us. And so we can ask ourselves, “Is there anything about the way that I live my faith that others would notice?”

            Of course, different in itself is not always a good thing. If we are going to attract people to Jesus, they not only need to see that we are different, but that difference needs to be attractive. Sometimes, people see Catholics as different, but in the wrong way. They see Catholics as judgmental and exclusionary. To some people, Catholics are different from other people, but not in a way that would attract them. If we are going to make disciples, our lives need to be different in ways that attract people. We should be more loving, more merciful, more generous, more joyful, and more welcoming than others.

            Finally, if we are going to evangelize people, they have to want to learn more. Just as the magi had to desire to learn more about what the star meant, so too when others see us, they need to not only notice that we are different and that the difference is a good thing, but to want to learn more. It isn’t enough for people just to see us and say, “Wow, they are such a nice person,” but leave it at that. This is where sharing the faith is so important. People need to not only notice that we are different but know why we are different. They not only need to see us as loving, merciful, generous, welcoming people, but they need to know that the reason we are like that is because of Jesus, and that they can also be transformed by His grace as well.

            Our mission is to make disciples of all nations. Each of us are called to be evangelists. And today’s feast shows us how to do that. The first step to being an evangelist is making sure that we are disciples ourselves, that our lives have been transformed by Jesus. As we celebrate this feast of the Epiphany, and as we begin a New Year, let us ask the Lord to transform our lives, so that we can better point people to Jesus.

Holy Family

            People talk a lot about keeping Christ in Christmas. And that is true, we need to make sure that Christmas doesn’t become simply a secularized holiday, taken over by all the gifts and decorations but forgetting what we are actually celebrating. But do you know what is just as important as keeping Christ in Christmas? Keeping Christ in the other 364 days of the year. At least on Christmas, we regularly see depictions of Jesus’ birth as a reminder of what we celebrate. But when the decorations go back in the box, it is so easy to get caught up in the daily realities of life and forget about Jesus.

            We see something similar in the Gospel today. It’s easy to read this Gospel and think, “How on earth could Mary and Joseph forget Jesus?” But I’m reminded of a story that my parents tell. I was about four years old, and we were going on a float trip with my extended family. They were in the parking lot getting everything out of the car when they saw some child running in between cars on the other end of the parking lot. My parents said to each other, “What sort of parent would let their child run through a parking lot like that?” right before they realized that the little boy was me. Every parent has probably had that moment when you turn around and realize that you don’t know where your child went. You could have sworn they were right there, but the next thing you know they are gone.

            Mary and Joseph would have travelled to Jerusalem in a large caravan of family and friends for the celebration of Passover. Thousands upon thousands of people descended upon Jerusalem for the feast. As they were preparing to leave, it would have been very easy for them to assume that Jesus was in the group, perhaps off playing with a friend. Perhaps Mary and Joseph themselves were in separate parts of the caravan, and each assumed that Jesus was with the other one. It wasn’t until the caravan stopped for the night that they realized that Jesus was not there.

            Mary and Joseph were not bad parents. They weren’t malicious or negligent. They just got distracted. They were busy with all the details and logistics of the journey home, and they didn’t realize that they were leaving Jesus. They didn’t intentionally abandon Him. They just got caught up with other concerns, and they took Jesus’s presence with them for granted.

            That can happen to all of us. I’m guessing none of us are the kind of people who are intentionally malicious or negligent in our relationship with Jesus. We’re at Sunday Mass the day after Christmas, after all. Obviously, you’re here because your relationship with Jesus is important to you. And yet, I know for myself I’m often like Mary and Joseph. My relationship with Jesus is important, but I so easily get distracted by all of the concerns of daily life. I take Jesus’s presence in my life for granted, but I don’t actually make sure that I am walking with Him. And, if I’m not careful, like Mary and Joseph I can end up leaving Him behind completely and not even realize it. I love Jesus, but I get so busy, and before I know it I haven’t prayed and my Bible is collecting dust on the shelf because it has been so long since I’ve read it. I am going to assume that I’m not alone in that. For all of us, it is so easy to get preoccupied with a million other things and forget Jesus. Maybe some of you are feeling that right now. You look at your life and realize “I don’t know where Jesus is in my life. I know He was here, but I’ve gotten so caught up in other things and forgotten all about Jesus.”

            Here’s the reassuring thing: today is the Feast of the Holy Family. Mary and Joseph forgot Jesus, but they are still holy. Sometimes, when we realize how often we fall short, when we realize how often we forget about Jesus, it is easy to get discouraged and think that we missed our chance. We can think that we have failed too many times, and there is no way that we could ever be holy. But if Mary and Joseph can forget the child Jesus in Jerusalem and still be holy, so can we. Holiness is a real possibility for us. And Mary and Joseph give us the example to follow. When they realized that they had gotten distracted and left Jesus behind, what did they do? They hurried back to Jerusalem and searched for Him diligently, and they didn’t stop searching till they found Him. Likewise, when we realize that we have drifted away from Jesus, being too caught up in other things and neglecting our relationship with Him, we are called to run back to Him.

The temptation is to get stuck where we are, to beat ourselves up for our failures and wallow in shame. It would be like Mary and Joseph, upon realizing they had lost Jesus, just sat down where they were and said, “Oh no! We are such awful parents! I can’t believe we did this! How could we be so careless? This is awful!” But the whole time they are sitting there they are not getting any closer to finding Him again. Wallowing in their mistake doesn’t help them. When we realize that we have neglected our relationship with God, the temptation is to get stuck in feeling bad. But getting stuck there doesn’t help us. What helps is running back to Jesus. And the best thing is that, unlike Mary and Joseph, we don’t have to wonder where He is. We know where Jesus is. He is in prayer; He is in His Word; and He is in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession. If we realize that we have neglected our relationship with Jesus and lost our connection to Him, we will find Him again in prayer, in reading the Bible, and in going to Mass and Confession.

 As we continue in the Christmas season, it is important that we do not lose Jesus along the way or take His presence for granted. May we stay close to Him today and every day.

Navidad

Todos hemos escuchado la historia del nacimiento de Jesús en innumerables ocasiones. Los detalles de esa historia son tan conocidos que no les damos mucha importancia. Pero hay un detalle en particular en el que quiero centrarme hoy. La Escritura nos dice que cuando María dio a luz a Jesús, ella “lo envolvió en pañales y lo acostó en el establo, porque no había alojamiento para ellos en la posada”. Esa es una parte familiar de la historia para todos nosotros. Lo vemos representado innumerables veces en los belenes.

Pero tómate un minuto para pensar realmente en lo que dice. Hay casi cien millas de Nazaret a Belén. María y José han viajado toda esa distancia mientras María está embarazada. Llegan a Belén buscando un lugar para quedarse y todos los rechazan. Belén no era una ciudad grande, y es probable que para empezar no hubiera muchas habitaciones disponibles para los visitantes. Pero seguramente alguien podría hacer algún tipo de espacio para una mujer embarazada y su esposo. Y, sin embargo, nadie lo hace, por lo que deben recurrir a la estancia en un establo.

¿Cómo puede la gente ser tan cruel? ¿No había ni una sola persona en todo Belén que pudiera recibir a esta joven pareja? ¿Cómo podían encontrar a nadie que estuviera dispuesto a dejarles espacio? ¿Todos en Belén eran tan despiadados que rechazarían a este pobre esposo y a su esposa embarazada?

Puede parecer increíble. Y sin embargo, ¿cómo responderíamos nosotros? Si hoy una pareja de personas sin hogar llamara a su puerta, buscando un lugar para quedarse, ¿qué tipo de bienvenida recibirían? Si María y José llegaran a nuestra puerta, embarazada y cansados, ¿les haríamos un lugar? ¿Les ayudaríamos a encontrar un lugar para quedarse? ¿O serían rechazados, abandonados a su suerte?

En nuestro mundo de hoy, María y José vienen a nosotros bajo tantos disfraces. Vienen a nosotros como pobres y personas sin hogar. Vienen a nosotros como inmigrantes. Vienen a nosotros como personas atrapadas en la adicción o luchando contra enfermedades físicas o mentales. María y José vienen a nosotros como el vecino que vive solo y con el que nadie interactúa. María y José vienen a nosotros como todos los marginados, ignorados o necesitados. Y en todos ellos tenemos la oportunidad de hacer un espacio para María y José, o de rechazarlos.

Yo asumiría que muchas de las personas que rechazaron a María y José se sintieron mal por ellos. Probablemente simpatizaron con la difícil situación de esta joven pareja que no podía encontrar ningún lugar donde quedarse. Pero su simpatía no los motivó a actuar. Se sentían mal por María y José, pero sentirse mal no los motivó a abrir sus hogares a esta pareja necesitada. También por nosotros mismos, a menudo nos sentimos mal por los pobres y necesitados. Pero, ¿ese sentimiento nos motiva a preocuparnos realmente por sus necesidades?

Por supuesto, María y José no vinieron solo ellos dos. Traen consigo a Jesús, Dios mismo. Es Dios mismo quien viene buscando espacio, y Dios mismo quien es rechazado. La gente de Belén no lo habría sabido. Y es fácil pensar que, si Dios viniera a nosotros, ciertamente le haríamos un espacio. ¿Quién rechazaría a Dios?

            Y, sin embargo, ¿con qué frecuencia hacemos eso? ¿Con qué frecuencia en mi propia vida no hago espacio para Dios? ¿Con qué frecuencia viene Dios a mí, pidiéndome que haga tiempo para Él en oración, leyendo la Biblia, adorándolo en la Misa o compartiendo mi fe con otra persona? ¿Y con qué frecuencia le cierro la puerta y lo despido? Dios mismo viene a mí, buscando una habitación, buscando un lugar para quedarse. No busca una habitación en la posada, sino un lugar en mi vida. Pero con frecuencia estoy demasiado ocupado, demasiado preocupado por mis propios intereses y deseos, y Dios no encuentra un lugar donde quedarse.

            Esta Navidad, Dios nos invita a abrir nuestro corazón. Estamos invitados a abrir nuestro corazón a María y José, que vienen a nosotros en los pobres y marginados. Y estamos invitados a abrir nuestro corazón a Jesús, quien nos pide que le hagamos tiempo en nuestras vidas. No seamos como la gente de Belén que rechazó a la Sagrada Familia, sino abramos nuestro corazón para recibirla con alegría y generosidad hoy y todos los días.

Christmas

            We have all heard the story of Jesus’s birth countless times. The details of that story are so well-known that we can take them for granted. But there is one detail in particular that I want to focus on today. Scripture tells us that when Mary gave birth to Jesus, she “wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” That’s a familiar part of the story to all of us. We see it depicted countless times in Nativity scenes.

            But take a minute to really think about what that says. It is almost 100 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph have travelled that whole distance while Mary is pregnant. They arrive in Bethlehem seeking a place to stay, and everyone turns them away. Bethlehem was not a large city, and it is probable that there were not many rooms available for visitors to begin with. But you would think that someone would be able to make some sort of accommodations for a pregnant woman and her husband. And yet no one does, so they must resort to staying in a stable.

            How could people be so cruel? Was there not a single person in all of Bethlehem who would welcome this young couple? How could they find no one who was willing to make room for them? Was everyone in Bethlehem so heartless that they would turn away this poor husband and his pregnant wife?

            It can seem unbelievable. And yet, how would we respond? If today a homeless couple knocked on your door, seeking a place to stay, what sort of welcome would they receive? If Mary and Joseph arrived on our doorstep, pregnant and weary, would we make a place for them? Would we help them find a place to stay? Or would they be turned away, left to their own devices?

            In our world today, Mary and Joseph come to us under so many disguises. They come to us as the poor and homeless. They come to us as the immigrant. They come to us as those who are caught in addiction or battling physical or mental illness. Mary and Joseph come to us as the neighbor who lives alone and whom no one interacts with. Mary and Joseph come to us as all of those who are outcast, overlooked, or in need. And in all of them, we have the opportunity to make a room for Mary and Joseph, or to turn them away.

            If I had to guess, I would assume that many of the people who turned away Mary and Joseph felt bad for them. They probably sympathized with the plight of this young couple who could find nowhere to stay. But their sympathy didn’t motivate them to action. They felt bad for Mary and Joseph, but feeling bad didn’t motivate them to open their homes to this needy couple. For ourselves as well, we often feel bad for the poor and needy. But does that feeling motivate us to actually care for their need?

            Of course, Mary and Joseph did not come just the two of them. They bring with them Jesus, God Himself. It is God Himself that comes seeking space, and God Himself who is turned away. The people of Bethlehem would not have known. And it is easy to think that, if God came to us we would certainly make space for Him. Who would turn away God?

            And yet, how often do we do just that? How often in my own life do I fail to make space for God? How often does God come to me, asking me to make time for Him in prayer, in reading the Bible, in worshiping Him at Mass, or in sharing my faith with another? And how often do I close my door on Him and send Him away? God Himself comes to me, seeking room, seeking a place to stay. He is not looking for a room at the inn but a place in my life. But too often, I am too busy, too preoccupied with my own interests and desires, and God finds no place to stay.

            This Christmas, God is inviting us to open our hearts. We are invited to open our hearts to Mary and Joseph, who come to us in the poor and outcast. And we are invited to open our hearts to Jesus, who asks us to make time for Him in our lives. Let us not be like the people of Bethlehem who turned the Holy Family away, but let us open our hearts to receive them joyfully and generously today and every day.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

            Sometimes people say that the honor and praise that we as Catholics give to the Blessed Virgin Mary is something isn’t based in Scripture. Sometimes they’ll even claim that it is contrary to Scripture. In fact, as today’s readings show, the honor we give to Our Lady has its origin in the Bible itself. When Elizabeth hears the voice of Mary, we are told that she was filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth praises Mary. The sound of Our Lady’s voice, her very presence, fills Elizabeth with joy.

            Of course, Mary did not come in order to be praised. This Gospel immediately follows the Annunciation, wherein the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to the Messiah, the Son of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit. And, to provide proof for this amazing claim, he also tells Mary that her relative, Elizabeth, is pregnant, even though she was barren and past childbearing age. And immediately Our Lady sets out, “in haste” St. Luke says. She cannot keep this good news to herself, but desires to share her joy and to share in the joy of Elizabeth. And the same Holy Spirit by whom the Blessed Mother has just conceived the Christ now also fills Elizabeth and inspires her to sing Mary’s praises. The joy that each of them felt as a result of God’s great work is multiplied as they share that joy with each other.

            Elizabeth proclaims that, upon hearing Mary’s voice, the infant in her womb, John the Baptist, leaped for joy. Our Lord at that point had just been conceived; He was only a few days old, and already His presence brings joy. But it was not Jesus that Elizabeth saw, nor was it His voice she heard. Rather, it was Mary. The presence of Jesus is made known in and through Mary. Where she is present, where her voice is heard, Christ is found. How beautiful the voice of Mary. Her every word announces that Christ is near, and she comes to proclaim the joy of God’s saving work.

            And that is why, from the very beginning of the Church, Christians have drawn near to the mother of our Lord, because we know that, in drawing near to her, we also draw near to her Son. The Holy Spirit inspired Elizabeth to praise Mary. Does it not stand to reason that the same Holy Spirit would inspire us to do the same? We even use the words of Elizabeth, the words that the Holy Spirit inspired, in the Hail Mary. St. Elizabeth adores Jesus while He is still in the womb of His mother. So we too adore Our Lord through His mother. We hear in our second reading that “we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Should we not honor her from whom He received that Body?

            Our Lady is a model of who we are called to be as Christians. She cooperated perfectly with the will of God and was open to His grace. But she did not keep those blessings for herself, nor did she seek to draw attention to herself. Rather, she sought to serve others and to share in their joy. And by her presence, she made known the One who had blessed her. Imagine if we were as open and obedient to the Lord as Mary was. Imagine if when people heard just the sound of our voice, they knew that Christ was present. Mary was so full with the presence of God that He inhabited everything about her, so her very words were filled with Him. We too carry God within us. We have received Him in our baptism, been strengthened with His presence by our confirmation. When we receive the Eucharist, we literally have the presence of Christ within us, just as Mary did. How would our lives be different if we would allow His presence to fill us just as she did, so that when we leave church this morning, every word we said would give witness to Him? That’s our goal as Christians, to carry the presence of Christ to the world. The Blessed Mother is the perfect model of what we all are called to. And so it makes sense that we draw near to her, seek to learn from and imitate her. There is no one who loves Christ better than His Mother. And there is no one whom He loved more. If we want to love Him, we should draw near to the one who loves Him best. If we want our hearts to be like His, we should love the people that He loves, and imitate the special love that He has for the Blessed Mother.

            As we prepare to celebrate that great feast of Christmas, we cannot forget the woman who, by her “yes” to the Lord, made this solemnity possible. We cannot fittingly honor His birth without also honoring the one of whom He was born. Let us join St Elizabeth in praising the Mother of Our Lord. Let us join St. John the Baptist in rejoicing at her presence and the sound of her voice. But, more than just praising Mary, let us also seek to imitate her. Our Lady does not desire our praises as much as she desires that we love her Son as she did. As we approach the celebration of Christmas, let us draw near to Mary. Let us seek her intercession and learn from her example, so that we too may bring the presence of Christ to those we meet.

III Domingo de Adviento

            Cuando yo estaba en el seminario, uno de los otros seminaristas había leído historias de varios santos sobre de cómo algunos de ellos habían pasado períodos de tiempo muy largos con muy poca comida o bebida. Y entonces él decidió que no iba a comer más que pan y agua, y no mucho de ninguno de los dos. Después de unos días, se desmayó en medio de una clase, se cayó de la silla y se golpeó la cabeza contra el escritorio junto a él. Tuvo que ser llevado al hospital y tratado por desnutrición.

            En respuesta, el sacerdote a cargo del seminario nos dijo: “En la vida de los santos, hay partes de sus vidas que estamos llamados a imitar, y hay partes de sus vidas que admiramos pero no imitamos”. Esa es una distinción importante. Si pensamos que para ser santos tenemos que hacer todo lo que hicieron los santos, nos desanimaremos y pensaremos que no podemos ser santos porque no somos como ellos. O, como el seminarista, intentamos imitar cosas que no deberíamos.

            Hay el peligro de que pensemos que la santidad consiste en hacer esas cosas extraordinarias que hicieron los santos. En el Evangelio de hoy, varias personas le preguntan a Juan el Bautista: “¿Qué debemos hacer?” Este es el hombre que vive en el desierto, vestido con ropa de pelo de camello y comiendo langostas y miel. Es una persona extrema. Y es fácil esperar que Juan dé una respuesta dramática, incluso extrema. Si le preguntas a Juan, “¿Qué debemos hacer?” podrías esperar que te diga que imites su vida.

            Pero, ¿qué les dice Juan? Comparte con otros. Haz tu trabajo bien y con honestidad. No te dejes llevar por la codicia. Todo parece tan simple y directo. Juan no le dice a la gente que necesitan adoptar su extraordinaria forma de vida. Su guía parece ordinaria. Pero eso se debe a que Juan sabe que la santidad no se trata de hacer algo extraordinario. La santidad es permitir que Dios tome lo ordinario y lo haga extraordinario. Seguir a Dios no es encontrar un camino esotérico hacia la iluminación. No hay ningún conocimiento secreto o ceremonia oculta. Como dice Sofonías en la primera lectura, “El Señor está en medio de ti”. Él está entre ustedes. No tenemos que ir en busca de Dios. Él está en medio de nosotros; solo tenemos que encontrarlo aquí.

            Hoy es la fiesta de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. En las apariciones de María a Juan Diego, vemos precisamente cómo Dios toma lo ordinario y lo hace extraordinario. Juan Diego era un hombre corriente. No fue elegido porque fuera particularmente notable. En Juan Diego, Dios eligió a un hombre común para hacer algo extraordinario. Además, las instrucciones de María a Juan Diego son muy sencillas. Ore y pídale al obispo que construya una capilla. Eso es todo. Mary no dio una serie de instrucciones largas o complicadas. La petición de Mary fue muy ordinaria. Y, sin embargo, a través de esa petición ordinaria, millones de personas han llegado a la fe en Jesús.

            Por supuesto, Jesús mismo es el ejemplo principal de Dios haciendo extraordinario lo ordinario. ¿Qué podría ser más ordinario que el nacimiento de un niño? ¿Qué podría ser más ordinario que el hijo de un carpintero? Y, sin embargo, este niño ordinario es Dios Encarnado. En Adviento, nos preparamos para celebrar a Dios haciendo lo más extraordinario a través de los medios más ordinarios.

            Dios nos llama a cada uno de nosotros a ser santos. Pero tenemos que entender la santidad correctamente. Cuando decimos que Dios nos llama a cada uno de nosotros a ser santos, no estamos diciendo que Dios nos llame a cada uno de nosotros a huir al desierto y vivir de langostas y miel. No estamos diciendo que Dios nos esté llamando a hacer algo extremo. Cuando decimos que Dios nos llama a ser santos, significa que Dios quiere trabajar en nuestras vidas para hacer que las cosas ordinarias sean extraordinarias. La forma en que hacemos nuestro trabajo, la forma en que amamos a nuestras familias, la forma en que tratamos a nuestros vecinos, la forma en que dedicamos tiempo a la oración en nuestras vidas, la forma en que somos generosos con los necesitados, esas cosas ordinarias son el camino a la santidad cuando permitimos que Dios trabaje en ellos y los haga extraordinarios.

            Hoy es el punto medio de nuestro viaje de Adviento. Si se está preguntando: “¿Qué puedo hacer para preparar verdaderamente mi corazón para recibir al Señor durante el resto de esta temporada de Adviento?”, Parecerá el consejo que Juan el Bautista dio a la multitud. Haz tu trabajo bien y con honestidad. No se deje motivar por la codicia y el egoísmo. Ama bien a tu familia. Dedique un tiempo cada día a la oración. Así es como nos convertimos en santos, cuando permitimos que la gracia de Dios tome lo ordinario y lo haga extraordinario.

Third Sunday of Advent

When I was in the seminary, one of my classmates had apparently read stories in the lives of various saints about how some of them had gone very long periods of time with very little food or drink. And so he decided that he was going eat nothing but bread and water, and not very much of either. A few days into this endeavor, he fainted in the middle of class, falling out of his chair and hitting his head on the desk next to him. He had to be taken to the hospital and treated for malnutrition.

In response, the priest in charge of the college seminary told us, “In the lives of the saints, there are parts of their lives that we are called to imitate, and there are parts of their lives that we admire but do not imitate.” That is an important distinction that we often overlook. If we think that in order to be holy we have to do everything that the saints did, we will get discouraged and think that we cannot be holy because we are not like them. Or, like the seminarian, we try imitating things that we shouldn’t.

There’s a danger that we think that holiness consists in doing those extraordinary things that the saints did. In the Gospel today, multiple people ask John the Baptist, “What should we do?” This is the man who lives in the desert, wearing clothes made of camel hair and eating locusts and honey. He’s an extreme person. And it is easy to expect John to give a dramatic, even extreme answer. If you ask John, “What should we do?” you might expect him to say that you should imitate his actions by living in the desert and eating locusts and honey.

            But what does John tell them? Share with others. Do your job well and honestly. Do not be driven by greed. It all seems so simple and straightforward. John doesn’t tell the people that they need to adopt his extraordinary way of life. His guidance seems ordinary. But that is because John knows that holiness is not about doing extraordinary. Holiness is allowing God to take the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. Following God isn’t about finding some sort of esoteric path to enlightenment. There isn’t some secret hidden knowledge or ceremony. As Zephaniah says in the first reading, “The Lord is in your midst.” He is among you. We don’t have to go in search of God. He is in our midst; we just have to find Him here.

            Today in the church is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the apparitions of Mary to Juan Diego, we see precisely how God takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. Juan Diego was an ordinary man. Though he was notable for his piety and love of God, there’s nothing about his life prior to the apparitions that stands out as remarkable or extraordinary. In addition, Mary’s instructions to Juan Diego are very simple. Pray and ask the bishop to build a chapel. That’s it. Mary didn’t give a long or complicated set of instructions.

            Of course, Jesus Himself is the prime example of God making the ordinary extraordinary. What could be more ordinary than the birth of a child? What could be more ordinary than a carpenter’s son? And yet this ordinary child is God Incarnate. In Advent, we prepare to celebrate God doing the most extraordinary thing through the most ordinary means.

            God calls each of us to be holy. But we have to understand holiness correctly. When we say that God calls each of us to be holy, we are not saying that God calls each of us to run off to the desert and live on locusts and honey. We are not saying that God is calling us to do something extreme. When we say that God calls each of us to be holy, what we mean is that God wants to work in our lives to make the ordinary things to be extraordinary. The way that we do our jobs, the way that we love our families, the way that we treat our neighbors, the way that we make time for prayer in our lives, the way that we are generous to those in need, those ordinary things are the pathway to holiness when we allow God to work in them and make them extraordinary.

            Today is the halfway point of our Advent journey. If you are wondering, “What can I do to truly prepare my heart to receive the Lord during the rest of this Advent season,” it will look like the advice that John the Baptist gave the crowds. Do your work well and honestly. Don’t be motivated by greed and selfishness. Love your family well. Make time each day for prayer. That’s how we become saints, when allow God’s grace to take what is ordinary and make it extraordinary.

II Domingo de Adviento

Si tuvieras un mensaje extremadamente importante que quisieras que la gente escuchara, probablemente no saldrías al medio de la nada a proclamarlo. Si quieres que la gente escuche lo que tienes que decir, dilo en algún lugar lleno de gente. No necesita ser un genio del marketing para darse cuenta de que su mensaje no es bueno si no hay gente alrededor para escucharlo.

Pero en el Evangelio de hoy, Juan el Bautista sale al desierto para proclamar su mensaje. Podemos estar tan acostumbrados a pensar en Juan el Bautista predicando en el desierto que nos olvidamos de lo extraño que es. Si Juan quiere que la gente sepa que el Mesías está cerca, ¿por qué va al desierto a proclamarlo?

Tenemos que tomarnos un momento para comprender el simbolismo del desierto en las Escrituras. En el Libro del Éxodo, después de liberar a la gente de Egipto, Dios le indica a la gente que vaya a tomar la Tierra Prometida, pero la gente tiene miedo. Como resultado de su falta de confianza y desobediencia, se ven obligados a vagar por el desierto durante cuarenta años. Mientras vagaban por el desierto, la gente dudaba repetidamente de Dios y trataba de volver atrás. En Éxodo, entonces, el desierto es el lugar de la prueba, del pecado y del castigo.

Sin embargo, las generaciones posteriores adoptarían una visión diferente del desierto. En el desierto, la gente fue guiada por Dios, y Dios proveyó para ellos en sus necesidades. El desierto llegó a ser visto como un lugar donde todas las distracciones de la vida desaparecían. Era un lugar de intimidad con Dios y de confianza en Él.

Cuando Juan el Bautista sale al desierto para proclamar que el Mesías está cerca, lo hace intencionalmente. Juan pudo haber ido al templo a predicar, o pudo haber ido a los mercados. En cambio, salió al desierto alrededor del Jordán, que es donde la gente del Éxodo cruzó inicialmente a la Tierra Prometida. Al salir al desierto, Juan está indicando que está llamando al pueblo a regresar a su origen como pueblo.

Además, al salir al desierto, Juan está llamando a la gente para que se aleje del ruido y el bullicio de la ciudad. Si Juan hubiera predicado en la ciudad, podría haber tenido una audiencia potencial más grande, pero también podría haber sido ahogado por todos los demás ruidos de la ciudad. En el desierto, no hay distracciones, nada que compita con la predicación del arrepentimiento.

De esta manera, Juan en el desierto es también una invitación para nosotros. Vivimos en un mundo muy ruidoso. Yo sé que, para mí, hay días en los que lo primero que hago cuando me despierto es mirar mi teléfono, y lo último que hago antes de quedarme dormido es mirar mi teléfono, y parece que cada momento en entre hay algo que proporciona algún tipo de estímulo externo. No estoy solo en eso. Entre teléfonos, televisores y computadoras, muchos de nosotros vivimos vidas muy ruidosas. Nos acostumbramos tanto al ruido que nos sentimos incómodos con el silencio. Ésta es una de las razones por las que la gente hoy en día a menudo encuentra la oración tan difícil. La idea de sentarse tranquilamente, sin ningún estímulo externo, nos incomoda.

Pero en medio de todo este ruido, puede ser difícil escuchar la voz de Dios hablándonos. Cuando nuestro cerebro está constantemente ocupado con mil distracciones, es muy difícil notar a Dios. Cuando cada segundo de nuestro día está lleno de tantas cosas, no queda lugar para el Señor. Al salir al desierto, Juan nos invita a alejarnos de todo el ruido para encontrarnos con el Señor. Para encontrarnos con el Señor, a menudo necesitamos llegar a un lugar donde todo lo demás se quita. Todas las distracciones, todas las otras cosas que llenan nuestro tiempo, todas las otras cosas a las que recurrimos en lugar de Dios, el desierto es el lugar donde todas esas cosas se eliminan para que podamos encontrarnos con Dios de una manera nueva y personal.

¿Con qué frecuencia dejas que Dios te lleve a ese desierto interior, el lugar donde no hay nada más que tú y Dios? ¿Con qué frecuencia en su vida dedica un tiempo intencional a la oración, libre de todo el ruido y las distracciones de la vida? Especialmente durante esta temporada de Adviento, hay una invitación al desierto, pero también puede ser una temporada del año muy ruidosa y ocupada.

Juan el Bautista nos llama al desierto, nos llama a encontrarnos con el Señor lejos del ruido de la vida diaria. Afortunadamente, no tenemos que ir físicamente a un desierto para hacer esto. ¿Qué pasa si apartamos solo el uno por ciento de nuestro día para encontrarnos con el Señor en oración silenciosa? El uno por ciento de nuestro día son unos quince minutos. Entre ahora y Navidad, dedique solo quince minutos al día, el uno por ciento de su día total, lejos del ruido y el ajetreo de la vida para pasar tiempo con el Señor. Al principio, puede parecer difícil. Si no está acostumbrado a la oración en silencio, quince minutos pueden parecer una eternidad. Pero cuanto más tiempo hagamos para la oración en silencio, más cómodos nos sentiremos en el desierto interior, lejos de todas las distracciones, más podremos escuchar la voz de Dios en nuestras vidas. Cuanto más nos vamos al desierto interior, más allá de todo lo demás, más descubrimos que Dios está allí. Si podemos construir un hábito de quince minutos diarios de oración silenciosa, es asombroso cómo el Señor se encuentra con nosotros en el desierto y, como dice Juan el Bautista, prepara el camino.