An unforgettable encounter with Pope Francis

At about 3:00pm on Friday, June 12 at the Basilica of St. John Lateran , a priest friend of mine and myself, were asked to move for a second time from what seemed like the perfect seats for Pope Francis’ visit to the Worldwide Priest Retreat in Rome. This visit was obviously the highlight of the whole week and so even among mature, somewhat holy men, running into the church to find the best seat and creatively repositioning your chair was not out of the question. Despite our twice failed effort to obtain a highly prized seats in the front row or along the aisle the evening and the visit was not lost, these were only minor details in an encounter that will not soon be forgotten. The Holy Father arrived that evening in high spirits, took his time to greet some of the priests and then proceeded to spend a little over three hours conversing and then celebrating Mass with all of us priests (which was certainly not easy to carve out of his schedule). The greatest thing about this evening was that even if you were not physically close to Francis, you knew that he was close to you, in his sentiments, his tenderness and his willingness to spend 3 hours with 1000 priest from all around the world.
In his words to us priest, Pope Francis spoke very openly, honestly and even directly in a way of opening up his heart to us about what he hope the priesthood and the Church should and could be. In this meeting there was a real sense of a father instructing and guiding his sons in how to love and serve God’s people. Even when his words were challenging and corrective there seem to be a real sense of love and genuine concern. I have often wondered what it was like for the first disciples to sit with Christ and receive teaching and instruction from him. At this encounter with Pope Francis I think I found out something of what it was like, it was a very real family and Spirit filled atmosphere; where one can even share their weaknesses, their fears and their humanity. I was also struck by Francis’ deep concern for mercy and showing others the mercy of God our Father. He spoke on confessions, on giving homilies, and even the need of priest to be close to their people and underlying all of this was a deep conviction that God’s mercy is capable of transform all of us. In the end I feel very privileged and blessed to have participated in this retreat and had this time with the Pope. In these memories I am also reminded in a real, tangible way of how much God the Father loves his people and desires to be very close to them. I hope each of us can take some time this summer and discover this great closeness and love God has for his people. To see how God wants to take to sit with his people like a father with his children and instruct us in the ways of life and true joy. May God Bless you all.

Confirmed in the Spirit

When I was in elementary school each year in the middle of December our school would have a Christmas market so that we, the students, could buy little gifts for our parents without them knowing what we bought for them. Each Christmas my siblings and I would give them these gifts, that we had bought with their money, and they would always tell us how this gift was the best gift of all of Christmas (even though we usually bought them things they already had like nail clippers or would never use like numerous paper weights). My parents did keep a lot of these gifts out of sentimental value even if they were otherwise fairly useless items. The way my parents received these gifts and affirmed their love for us in receiving them, we could compare to the grace received in the sacrament of confirmation. While we may be “confirming” our faith in him through receiving this sacrament, the greater action is really on God’s part as he is “confirming” his love for us by strengthening us with the oil of salvation and the Holy Spirit.
Today in our preparation to receive to this sacrament we often times have overemphasized the part about us “confirming” God and lost sight of the true gift we are receiving. If we limit the sacrament of confirmation, to a mere confirmation of our faith then Confirmation seems to become nothing more than a rite of passage, a graduation from RE, and unfortunately many times a graduation from going to Mass. Yet, the reality of Confirmation is so much more powerful if we would only look to our catechisms and see that the effects of Confirmation. In Confirmation there is a strengthening of our relationship to God, a deeper union with the Church, and a greater strength to live and defend our faith (CCC 1303). At first glance it may seem that nothing has really happened, I’m really still the same and there is no measurable difference of before and after. This is perhaps is where many of us got lost, that without a true change of lifestyle in which I am increasingly more dependent on the Lord I see no real need for Confirmation and a “strengthening” of my faith. This strength of faith that the Lord wishes to give us may scare many of us but it is necessary if we wish to fulfill the plans the Lord has for us.
Many of us may have not seriously considered that God has plans for his people. However, in a unique way we have all been called to carry the message of God into the world in a unique way and so Christ strengthens us for this journey. St. Ambrose once said of Confirmation, “Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the [Holy] Spirit, in your hearts.” Why all these special gifts if God is not calling us to something great! Something greater than good grades and a college degree! Something greater than our dream job! And something greater even than the house and family of our dreams! Christ calls us to be apostles, evangelizers and signs of the living God in the World! He calls us all to be great Saints, something we can only attain with his grace and the strength of the Holy Spirit. But if we are not looking for this then Confirmation is only a passing day that includes a memorable picture with a guy in a pointy hat (the Bishop) and a party afterwards. I encourage all who are confirmed and to be confirmed to discover the strength of the Spirit and wonderful plans God has for you all.

Baptism and New Life

Spring time!  Easter season!  More sunlight, longer days, warmer temperatures, blooming flowers and most importantly the opening of baseball season!  Who of us is not excited by the new life of Spring and Easter?  In the world signs of new life are all around us and in the Church we see this theme of new life as well.  Most prominently we saw new life at the Easter Vigil by lighting the Easter Candle, celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the baptizing of our RCIA and RCIC students.  As well that night we all renewed our own baptismal vows and renewed that new life that God has already placed in us.  However all to soon this excitement will grow old, the flowers will wilt, we will put the baptism pictures in a picture album and move on with our life probably as if this time of year never really happened but was just a fun distraction for a few weeks.

Those baptized into Christ cannot let this happen again this year!  When we speak of the new life that comes into us from baptism we are not talking about a passing emotion, a preview of some future event or even a prolonged party for springtime.  We are speaking about real divine life that comes into us through grace and effects every part of who we are and what we do.  At times God’s grace and new life given in baptism may require us to change our life style, it may stretch us a bit and even test our faith but it is anything but a passing fad celebrated at Easter time.  Rather our baptism calls us to a new life that St. Paul described in this way:  “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).  In other words St. Paul is drawing our attention to the fact that baptism cannot be one time event that I receive but then continue on as nothing really happened when I entered those baptismal waters.

Too often it seems baptism are about nice photo’s and a cake, a “rite of passage”,  “settling” our worries about God and salvation but rarely do many of us see the call to live a radical life for Christ that the risen Jesus calls me to.  Perhaps, often “new life” in Christ only last so long because at times I may need to continue to die to myself to experience God’s new life.  Sometimes we become bored with the same “joy” and God’s ways become monotonous and tiresome and we forget that he promised us, “daily bread”.  Unfortunately new life is not always as exciting as the first days we were baptized into Christ but we are only fooling ourselves if we check baptism off the “to do” list and then move onto the next exciting thing.  This 2015 let us take the time to truly live out our baptismal promises.

Enamorarse de la casa del Padre

Mis queridos hermanos, a veces somos flojos en el amor de la iglesia, que es casa de Dios. La tratemos como edificio vano, una cafeteria, o restuarante y casi no hacemos caso que estamos en casa de Dios. El evangelio Juan 2, 13-25 donde Jesus se enojo y expulsa los mercaderos del templo puede parecer raro pero de hecho nos recuerda de la gran dignidad que tiene el templo de Dios.