By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
One of the traditions I miss from Puerto Rico is the celebration of Three Kings Day. Every year, on the eve of January 6th, children fill shoe boxes with grass for the camels and then go to bed with great expectation, for the Three Wise Men will visit that night and leave presents behind. We continued that tradition with our children, but, since we lived in the United States, we had to come up with great stories to explain why the neighbors did not get presents on January 6th; my kids accepted the completely logical idea that camels were slower than Santa’s sleigh and only had time to stop by the houses of the Puerto Rican children who believed in them. They accepted it because it came from us, their parents, who they trust and love. And it was true… as long as they believed the Three Kings would come and visit them that night, they did.
In today’s Gospel (Mk 16:15-18) Jesus says that “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” But later He adds,
“These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
When I read that impressive list, my first thought is, “well, I guess I don’t really believe.” But then, as I ponder a little more, I challenge that thought. I remember the times that I did drive out demons in Jesus’ name. Like the time I was speaking with someone who was having a really bad day, and I witnessed despair leaving and hope settling in instead. I remember the times when my eyes have met the gaze of another, and a new language was spoken, one that went straight to the heart, without a sound being uttered. I remember the time when the “snake” was lurking inside my home; I learned all I could about internet safety and had some uncomfortable but necessary conversations with my children. I remember the time I was given a false teaching, like a deadly thing to drink, yet the truth was so clear in my mind that it did me no harm. And I can also remember the times when a touch, a hug, or just a pat on the shoulder healed a heart sick with loneliness and doubt. Seems like at least sometimes, I do believe. But what about the rest of the time? What about those times when I let fear and worry creep in?
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). We need to return to the place where we trust, where we believe. Every time the world tells us we need to be afraid because things are scary and out of our control, we need to turn and hear the Word saying, “Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43:5), and believe that “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Phi 4:13). “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!”” (Rom 8:14-15).
My children received gifts from the Three Kings because they were born into our family. It didn’t matter that they were living in a different land, they only had two requirements to fulfill: to be part of our family and to believe. God also has a gift for His children who believe. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16). Through Baptism we have become children of God. Let us help each other remember the truth when doubt creeps in. Let us believe so that God can work amazing signs through us – through our words, our eyes, our hands, our feet. Let us help each other believe.
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
“There is nowhere to go, but down.” These were the “encouraging” words an older and wiser coworker of mine shared the day we found out our company was closing the site we were working at and we would soon be unemployed. I had landed the “perfect job” after college; the work was challenging, the pay was excellent, the coworkers were wonderful to work with, and my boss was amazingly supportive. Those words proved to be kind of prophetic, as every work experience after that one failed to measure to the ideal I had just lived. It seemed that everywhere I went there were compromises to be made. I could have a good salary OR a flexible schedule; I could have challenging work OR supportive teammates. The disappointments and job dissatisfaction I experienced eventually led me to become a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, where there was nowhere to go but up.
“I always wanted to become a saint…Instead of being discouraged, I told myself that God would not make me wish for something impossible…I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight. It is your arms, Jesus, which are the elevator to carry me to heaven. So there is no need for me to grow up. In fact, just the opposite: I must become less and less.” – St. Therese of Lisieux
We have a built-in desire for perfect happiness, perfect love, perfect beauty, perfect truth. We search and seek, yet anything we set our sights on, in this world, has a limit, an ending. Once we climb to the summit of one mountain, we must come down and look for another, taller mountain to climb, yet no matter how high it is, it will never be enough. Still, we know that there is something, or rather someone, who will fulfill our deep desire, because, just like St. Therese said, “God would not make me wish for something impossible.” It is only when we plug in our desire for perfect love to the perfect love of Jesus on the Cross that our desire is fulfilled; anything less will leave us wanting. Like St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
So, how do we “plug-in” to His love on the Cross? We don’t do it…we rest in Him and let it be done to us. Every cross in our lives is an invitation to an encounter with Jesus; we either pick it up and follow Him, or we don’t…we can try to escape it, deny it, go around it, or drag it, but we will remain restless and unfulfilled. I’d like to share a little acronym I came up with when I was praying about this “rest”.
It is in that act of surrender and thanksgiving that our poverty meets His Majesty. It is there, at the foot of the Cross, where His arms, like rays of blood and water, reach down and carry us up to Heaven.
After a few years of trying to be a career woman and a working mom, God called me to serve Him from home. It is there I found mouths to feed, minds to fill, and what seemed like a string of endless, mindless chores. But behind each one of those chores hid a reason of love. When I remember that I am doing these for another eternal soul, everything changes; the things that didn’t seem to matter, matter now most of all. It is when we “scoot down” to serve others that Jesus lifts us up; this is the contradiction of the Cross, …where we go down, so we can then go up.
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
In the Gospel for this Sunday, we find Jesus nailed to the Cross. The rulers and the soldiers mock him saying, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself"(Lk 23:37). Amidst the sneering and jeering we hear a lone voice, like one crying from the wilderness, saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). This is the climax of the story that had been unfolding since Jesus began His public ministry saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, brings us to the contradiction of the Cross.
When I look at the two men crucified at either side of Jesus, I wonder... What was the difference between them? They both met Jesus on the Cross, but only one recognized the King in disguise. Why did one see the mystery while the other did not? Perhaps one was blinded by self-interest, by self-love. "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us” (Lk 23:39). He just wanted to get off the cross. Yet, the other one had wisdom, for he said, "Have you no fear of God?” …The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD (Pr 9:10). The Good Thief saw himself hanging next to the innocent Lamb and accepted his own cross; he did not ask Jesus to bring him down from it, for he realized it was just. Wisdom allowed him to see that Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36), and, repenting from his actions and accepting his current suffering, placed all his hope in Love.
“If you want to be happy, despise what Jesus despised on the Cross, and love what Jesus loved on the Cross.” (St. Thomas Aquinas) This is the contradiction of the Cross, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:25). This is the truth, and it is found in the crosses of our lives. It is when we are suffering the consequences of sin that we must focus on the Kingdom of Heaven. We must close our ears to vanity and focus on the one Who is hanging right beside us, for He longs to say to each one of us, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
“Listen kindly to our prayers, O Lord, and, as our faith in your Son, raised from the dead is deepened, so may our hope of resurrection for your departed servants also find new strength.” (Collect Prayer for today’s Mass, The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, All Souls Day)
I find it interesting that our society seems to be fixated with certain aspects of death, like zombies, haunted houses and Halloween. People pay a lot of money to go somewhere and be “scared to death”. But then, when it is time to talk about preparing for our own death, people think it is morbid and turn quickly to avoidance. Today, as we remember our loved ones who have passed from this life and pray for their eternal rest, we also strengthen the hope that we too will rise again with Christ, not only on the last day, but also today, as we rise from our pain and our fears.
I have discovered that the more I bring my fears to prayer, the more they lose their grip on me. Losing my father at the young age of nine, the reality of the separation we experience when a loved one dies was too much for me to deal with at the time. For many years I avoided looking at that wound. I became an expert at distraction and escape, but God had a different plan. The very wound that made me feel abandoned, became a source of love and grace. It is now the place where God shows me, over and over again, that He is my Father.
“Brothers and sisters: Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). This love that was poured out on the Cross, is in the cup He gives us to drink (Mk 10:38). When we accept the pain and suffering that life brings, and bring it in prayer to God, we find the love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). And it is that love that will transform our wounds into rivers of flowing grace, into witnesses of His love.
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
I am just coming down from the high of having celebrated my 50th birthday. It was a weeklong celebration of the gift of life, the gift of family and friends and, above all, the gift of love. This year, as I thought of how I wanted to celebrate, one idea came to mind during prayer. I would begin counting down the days from 50 days before and look for little love notes from God; like a scavenger hunt. I know He shows me His love every day, but I do not always notice. So, my desire was to open my eyes to His gifts, to open my heart to His love.
I thought it was a pretty clever idea… 50 till 50, and I started with zeal. I jotted the number of days left (50, 49, 48…) as I journaled each day, but about halfway through, I started to miss. I had forgotten how difficult it is to establish a new habit, and I hadn’t realized how long 50 days truly is! During those 50 days, life still happened, and challenges came. Illnesses, travel, deadlines, all these kept rocking my boat. During those times all the extras get stripped away and we hold on to the basics. We hope to at least find time to sleep, eat and shower. So then, how do we pray?
Just like our physical care routine changes, our spiritual care routine changes too. These are times when we need to hold on tight to God and let Jesus take the wheel. Trusting that He is allowing everything that happens to us, and that “all things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28), we surrender our preferences, and rely on Him alone. St. Peter Julian Eymard says, “Continue to be like a little child in a boat which God is navigating. Leave the care of the future to the Good Lord; yours is to be ready to fulfill His Holy Will.”
I did have a wonderful birthday celebration, but my routine was once again disrupted. I will look around after the storm to see which areas need reinforcement and be ready for when the winds shift again. But, as I sat in my back porch today sipping my afternoon coffee, I noticed a gift, the comforting rhythm of an ordinary day. So, in the end, like always, God is more faithful than me. He keeps sending me love notes even when I don’t see.
We are Ivonne Hernandez, Rick Hernandez and Laura Worhacz, Lay Associates of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and brothers and sisters in Christ.