By: Rick Hernandez
A couple of days ago, as I was contemplating the meaning of the Lenten season, I felt inspired to look up the etymology of the word “season”. This is what I found:
When I think of the “sower”, I can’t help but picture our Lord Jesus Christ. From times immemorial, the sower spreads the seed all over the land, each seed landing in a different spot. The time and place mean opportunity to the seed. It is in that present moment that the seed can take hold of the ground and get nourishment, making the most of the opportunity. If it does this, it will thrive. If the seed does not grab hold of the opportunity, it will perish.
So, how are we like seeds? What does it mean for us to have opportunity? Christ Jesus is the Divine Sower; we are his seeds. Our Lord, in His great love and wisdom has given us both a time and a place so that we sprout and live fruitfully. That time is now and the place is here. Lent is our reminder of that. Lent is our season, our time of opportunity, our time to do His work. Maybe this Lent, we will all be a people of the “season”. Together let us pray.
For our sake, Lord, You created all that is seen and unseen. For our sake You became incarnate, lived amongst us, taught the many, loved us all, and showed us how to live. For us and for our salvation You died on the cross. For our sake You also resurrected on the third day, opened the gates of Heaven. For our sake You fulfilled all of scripture, promises made out of love. For our sake, Lord, You became humble bread and wine, body and blood, the Paschal Lamb. Out of love You became the Food for Eternal life, the nourishment for the journey home. From Your perfect sacrifice, the most perfect gift to the Father, You redeemed us, poor sinners.
Lord, You atoning for our sin? We do not deserve that, yet You willed it; such is Your love. You have done so much… and just what is it that You ask of us? Love and faithfulness. You ask that we take this life You have given to us and use it for good, that we do not turn away our eyes from those in need, those that You love. You ask that we reach out our hands, that through them You may soothe the pain of the ones who suffer; that we may teach the ignorant, accompany the lonely, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, share with the poor, love the unloved, visit the jailed, and tend to the sick. You are asking us to care… that the work of these human hands now be as the work You do on this world with Your very hands, that it may leave a real mark in the lives of the many, that it may show them exactly who You are.
You ask that mercy and compassion be given to our brothers and sisters. You ask that we might see them through Your eyes, to see them with Your love. In this time we have now on this Earth, we are but preparing to go home to Heaven. Lord, we do hope that when we show up to the gates of Heaven, we do so in the company of all our brothers and sisters that we tended to in this life. Oh Lord, how much we desire to share of Your infinite light and Your all-encompassing love, all of us together!
It is not too much to ask of us, Lord. Please, grant us the strength to do Your work with a joyful heart, that we may glorify You always and in everything, forever Yours. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
Not too long ago I found myself gazing at a bowl of soup. I know that it sounds odd to use the word “gazing” here, but that is what it was. It was no mere “looking” at my bowl, but a real contemplative inspection of the meaning of this food placed in front of me. This was just a normal bowl of soup, yet for me, in those few minutes, it contained both the strength of a thousand memories and an awakened power of recognition. In a flash, I remembered the times when my grandmother fed me as a child. This beautiful and faithful woman cared so much for me. I could not name it at the time, but I can see now how much love she put into the making of those dishes. Now I can see that being included in her thoughts about what to make, validated my dignity, especially as a child. I now remembered the countless times my mother and father fed and cared for me, and how much effort they put into making sure it was something good for me. They wanted me to thrive, to grow into a good and healthy man. There was so much love there, but sadly, mostly unrecognized at the time because of the regularity of the mundane. That day, looking at my soup, I recognized their love, and I was moved to offer a prayer of thanks for them from the deepest part of my heart. So much was given, and given freely. Then I remembered the times that I was sick or lonely and the many that went out of their way to bring me soup. Oh Lord, there was so much love there too! I remember all the times we, my wife and I, fed our children too, and how we aimed to nourish them. Soup is not their thing, but we tried to feed them food that would help them thrive. Yes, there was real thought and intent, a beautiful mindfulness behind the actions. Remembering all this, I could not help but shed a few tears at the table… for I recognized the true love present there.
Our Lord Jesus loves us so much that He left nourishment for us along our way to Heaven. He has left us the recipe for love, which is to share in His bread and wine, the true Flesh and Blood of the Lamb of God, with our brothers and sisters. When we share of this simple, yet majestic banquet, we are united in love to all of His body, the members of the Church. After so many times of doing this, it is true that in our minds it may become part of the regularity of the mundane. We must fight this! Every time we receive our Lord, we are exactly what we are called to be, one with Him who loves us. Each time we receive Him must become a landmark in our lives, a memory to cherish, a treasure of grace to go back to. It is worth of shedding a tear or two. What a grace that is! The gift of tears. The gift of humble recognition. He nourishes us because He loves us! And He is there, ever present, door always open, food always on the table, ready for creating memories of shared time in relationship. Should we not take Him up on the offer?
That day at the table I re-lived so many loving memories that my heart became mush. With tearful eyes I looked at my wife and my children and was overwhelmed with the thought of how many more meals I will get to cook for them or how many more times we will be sharing together at the table. Any table that we share, is now in my heart the table of love, the table of plenty. I remember that just after that experience, I became rabidly hungry, yet I ate mindfully slow, for I wanted to taste the love that we were sharing. Oh, my precious Lord, please do not ever let me forget the taste of your Love!
Let us pray: Our most loving Lord, you are the God of Plenty, the God of Love. Let us share of your banquet and satiate our hunger for You. Helps us to share You with everyone at our table. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
January 6th is the traditional day for the celebration of the Feast of The Epiphany. This feast is celebrated all over the world with many different customs and traditions, some of which are as big as the traditions of Christmas. But we know that what is really important in a tradition is not the celebration itself but the great wisdom within.
The word “epiphany” is defined in the dictionary as:
A revealing scene? Picture the Holy Family in the manger. We recognize the scene immediately but, do we recognize its essential nature and meaning?
The early Church Fathers had much to say about our early Church’s customs and traditions. They speak of the “Epiphanies”, three in total. These three famous gospel scenes are: The Visitation of the Magi, The Baptism of Our Lord in the River Jordan and The Miracle at the Wedding Feast at Cana. These scenes are so easily recognized by the faithful, but we have to dig deeper to get to their essential nature and meaning. What do we recognize? What do we testify to?
The first and most commonly recognized Epiphany scene is The Visitation of the Magi. For us Eucharistic people, we can identify this scene as one of the first two public adorations of the Christ Jesus. It is written that the local shepherds, after being told by an angel, went to visit the manger and recognized the Christ Jesus. “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them” (Luke 2:16-20). Then the Magi arrived and from their recognition they “prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:1-12). Do we recognize our Lord, ever-present in our lives? Our Lord’s presence in the Eucharist is as real as the Child Jesus on that manger so long ago. When we prostrate ourselves, what is our offering?
The second Epiphany scene is The Baptism of our Lord in the River Jordan. This feast day, in the Roman Catholic Church is celebrated the Sunday after January 6th. This day traditionally marks the end of the Christmas liturgical season. In this scene we encounter Saint John the Baptist, practicing the baptism of water, also called the baptism of repentance. John preaches, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). Then our Lord walks by the river and humbly asks to be baptized. After His baptism, the whole of the Holy Trinity is present, revealed for us to see, “…and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Mark 3:16-17). Do we recognize our Lord Jesus guiding us by example into being initiated into the faith? Out of this recognition we receive a desire for initiation, for us and for our children. Are we aware of the Holy Trinity working in our lives? Do we acknowledge that perfect union, that perfect love? For those of us already initiated into the faith by the Sacrament of Baptism, we are invited to meditate upon this gift of Faith.
The third Epiphany scene is The Wedding Feast at Cana, the first public miracle of our Lord. It is traditionally celebrated on the second Sunday after The Epiphany. In this scene, our Mother Mary tells Jesus “…They have no wine” (John 2:3). Our Lord Jesus is moved into action by His love for His mother, Mary, and performs His first “sign”, turning water into wine. Thus, by His blessing, marriage is confirmed as a sacrament. Our Lord “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him” (John 2:11). His disciples already recognized the Christ Jesus from their earlier experiences, but like us, needed a reinforcement, a confirmation of what was already professed. Our Lord Jesus performed this sign, in public, because of love. The disciples could not be anything other than convicted in their hearts. Looking and meditating upon this scene, we are invited to confirm our faith. We see love, obedience, humility, truth and awe. It is the gift of recognition. Our Lord is exactly who He says He is.
Saint Peter Julian Eymard wrote long ago: “Look at Magdalene: one word from Jesus and she recognizes Him. He acts in the same way in the Blessed Sacrament: He says one word only but it rings in our very hearts: “It is I!….” We sense His Presence; we believe in it more firmly than if we were to see Him with bodily eyes.”
The “Epiphanies period” is for us an opportunity to work on our recognition skills. We recognize Christ; we confirm our initiation into His Faith and His Church. For all the talk about epiphanies, what we have to do first is to keep our eyes and hearts open to Him. We need to be convicted in His love for us, for He is here now, waiting for us to do that. It is all the “Theophany”, meaning: the manifestation of our God, both Human and Divine. He is here, present for us to recognize, waiting... “Oh, let us come and adore Him” (Psalm 95:6).
Let us pray: Lord, open our eyes so we can see. Convict our hearts in Your Love. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
Here we are, once again coming close to the end of another year. But this year has not been like other years. 2020 has been very trying for most of us. We have been mostly isolated and kept from many of our social interactions, at one point even away from our Church. As a Eucharistic person, being away from the community of the Church and away from Communion is very difficult. We are forever grateful for our faithful priests that made the Eucharist available to us in accommodating and imaginative ways. Drive-by Communion? Yes, that became a thing. Who would have thought that was going to happen? There have been stress and fear, loneliness and sadness, and also, deep loss and grief. We have lost so many of our brothers and sisters to this dreadful disease. We have to both acknowledge and remember that. But there has also been great love and great mercy. There have been great moments of surrender and great growth in humility. Are we remembering that we depend upon God's mercy? When we remember this, our time of quiet prayer becomes a purposeful offering of faith. Through our faithful actions, we glorify God and bring about that union of purpose that we are required to have as followers of Christ, that others, especially the ones closer to us, may recognize His love for us and believe in Him.
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me" (John 17:20-23).
Let us consider well that there will continue to be plenty of opportunities for self-reflection, for edifying solitude, for separation from the busyness of regular life, and for connection in prayer to the One who Loves us. For us the faithful, we trust that we are never really alone. He is always accompanying us. "...behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
Now, we are almost at Christmas; we have to ask ourselves if we are taking the time to diligently prepare ourselves to commemorate the birth of Our Lord and Savior. Are we thinking about what the Incarnation of Christ Jesus means to our lives, even in the midst of everything that has happened? Are we taking time to meditate on the extent of Our Lord's love for us? Let us think about that for a few minutes. The Creator of everything that is and will ever be, loved us so much, that He gave us His Son, our Lord, so that we may be redeemed.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:16-17).
Our Lord already knew of every single challenge that we would have to face and has told us that we can face them well, for He is with us. To all of us that are here on this Earth today, are we feeling hopeful? We can see that the future is starting to look brighter. It is possible that a slight return to normalcy will be upon us in due time. Still, we must consider what this year has meant for all of us. For all the ones we've lost, we must remember and pray. Hope works that way.
Let us pray. Lord of Heaven and Earth, as we come upon the Christmas season in this trying year, we ask for your mercy towards us. Help us to keep our Hope strong and steady. Help us to make our Faith visible, to help strengthen all of those around us. May your love reign around the world. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
I often meditate on the hidden life of Christ Jesus. I close my eyes and wonder how were those first 30 years of His life in this world. If we try, we can visualize Jesus, the son of Mary, living in the household of Joseph, first as a young child doing young child things, and then later, as a young man doing young man things... How was the daily life of Jesus? I imagine it would not have been too different from ours today. The child Jesus probably learned to read and write Aramaic at home, then probably went to school at the synagogue, where he heard the teachers read and teach from the Torah. I wonder if he liked school and if he was a good and diligent student. After school he would go home and I can imagine Mother Mary asking Him to help around the house. Did he carry water by Mary's side? I can “see” Him doing that… and when Jesus was done helping with the household tasks, He probably asked to go play with His neighborhood friends. I can imagine simple fun and games, played all-out with much laughter. Simple little things.
Later on, Jesus grew to become a young man. “And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:52). With more age and experience, I can imagine that He had more responsibilities. We know He was a carpenter. How did He learn the trade? I can imagine Jesus helping Joseph with his carpentry tasks. That would be what we call an apprenticeship, on-the-job training. Yes, small tasks preparing Him for bigger tasks. Once done with work, I assume that, as most apprentices, He would sweep the floors of their humble workplace. Can you see Jesus going back home to help bake bread or carry more water? Of course. He must have done all of these common things. Imagine. This was the Son of God incarnate! He was tasked with the work of redemption, the biggest and most important work of all time. Yet, our Lord Jesus had to do all of these simple little human things... But is not God about the big important things?
If we can interpret this image of Jesus in his early life, then we can find the answer to that question. Many of the little things that we did as children in our own homes, Jesus also did. Christ Jesus, all human and all divine, did all of these simple little things with perfect humility, with perfect faith, and with perfect love. Why is that? It is because He understood that all of what we do, and how we do it, matters. The little things we have to do prepare us for the bigger things and confirm who we are. Our thoughts and actions are our contribution to our family, to the world, and to the Kingdom of Heaven. Those simple things we often dismiss, Jesus sanctified and offered to the Father. Honor your parents! Love God and neighbor! Bring your offering! Like Jesus, we must become aware that both the mundane and the ordinary can become our faithful offering to the One who loves us.
For God, all actions have great value, big and small, if we align them to His will for us. But we are human and we tend to have our eye on the "big things". “Go big or go home”, is often said. We want our action’s value to be readily apparent for all to see. I like to think of every big and important task as a collection of many little important tasks. When we focus on the big things and how there is so much to do, we may be tempted to take shortcuts and skip on the little things, but really, is that wise? Aren't we then veering from the script and missing on an opportunity for a sanctifying offering? "The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones." (Luke 16:10).
For us, the faithful, our sanctifying offering is in what is in front of us. Our offering is in every little action in this moment that we have, now. We call it the gift of the "Present Moment". Those actions that we take, and our intent, do direct our lives. Let us become aware of what is our intention and what is our desire. Are they aligned to God's will? When we do align our will to the Father's, the little actions that we take in faith and in love, do prepare us, in hope, for the big ones that may be required from us. At the end of the day, is our offering that we have acted justly? Have we loved as much as we could? Have we cared enough? Is our offering that we have been faithful in all things, big and small? What will we say when we are asked to give account for our time? It is in the little things... that we show faith.
Let us pray: Lord, you knew me perfectly even before I was in my mother’s womb. You know what my right hand does as well as my left. From You I cannot hide. I humbly offer you all that I am, and all that I do, with both my successes and my struggles, in faith and love, in the hope for the grace needed to find You in all things and guide more people towards You, who loves us so much. Help me to be as your hands in this world. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13)
The previous excerpt from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is known as “The Way of Love”. It is one of the most beautifully written and insightful passages in the New Testament and a reminder to us all that “Love” must rule in our lives. Now, let us be sincere. Do we allow God’s love to rule in our lives? Are we actively trying to grow in charity, patience, kindness and understanding as ways to show God’s love for us to the world? Are we showing the fruits of that labor to the ones that need charity, patience, kindness and understanding? Yes, do we give the fruits of our labor to the ones that need our love, even if they do not love us?
In society today, we try to teach our young ones the “Golden Rule”. That is, teach them to “treat others as you wish to be treated”. What often goes unexplained in this teaching, is that your behavior towards others is meant to be independent of their behavior towards you. Often, the children are not encouraged to learn that. In time, we grow to become adults, and often we become disappointed and angry when our love and good will towards others is thrown back on our faces. When our good will is neither accepted nor acknowledged by others we think: “They do not love me, nor accept me”. We then often proceed to withdraw our love from them and replace it with anger, or even sadder, with indifference for their well-being. We go into the Internet, or social media, or the park, or the church and scream in anger at all the ones that we feel have done us wrong; we call them names or shun them out of our circles. How is that loving? That is the “childish” behavior that Saint Paul’s refers to in the excerpt from 1 Corinthians. We throw a tantrum, as a child. We are asked to grow up, to love in a mature manner, the way God loves us. Can you imagine God behaving the way we do when we are hurt or angry?
Our Good Lord meant it when he said: “When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:39-40)
Our Lord Jesus is not asking us things that are outside of our control. We cannot force people to “treat us well” nor “love us well”, but we can train ourselves us to not to act angrily or indifferently towards them. We are asked not to withhold our love, even from those that do not love us. If we read through the beatitudes, we see what we are to follow, and what is there to obtain:
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-12)
Let us pray: Our all-loving Lord, may we all grow to maturity in our love, that we may be able to love as You love us, that we may be blessed and be able to, at the end, see the light of your face. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
“I do not cease giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of [your] hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might”. (Ephesians 1:16-19)
A priest friend once told me: “Our eyes are how we see the world, but the eyes only produce images, impressions of the light on the world. Interpreting the images is what “seeing” is. Both our intellect and our soul give meaning to the images we see so we can gain insight from them, but too often we just see with the eyes of our intellect, as most of the world sees. We have to learn how to see better with the eyes of the soul, for that is how we gain wisdom”.
In the first letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul tells us to pray to God for a “spirit of wisdom”, that is, for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom to come forth to us. From our relationship with the Holy Spirit, active in our lives, we gain both the exercise of the theological and moral virtues and the use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Among the gifts that we receive are wisdom, knowledge, understanding and awe. These gifts are directly related to each other for they relate to “seeing”.
Paraphrasing St. Thomas Aquinas, the gift of wisdom is to be able to see the work of the hand of God in all things, in our lives and in the world. If we use St. Paul’s words from Ephesians 1, wisdom is to “have the eyes of our hearts enlightened”. We are enlightened.
The gift of knowledge is the recognition of our purpose as children of God and how He relates to us. This is that we “may know what is the hope that belongs to His call”. We are able to focus.
The gift of understanding is the ability to comprehend how we are to live as followers of Christ. The moral issues become clear. We are able to discern.
Along with this wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, we can also receive the gift of awe, which is to see and comprehend “the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might”. We are able to stand in awe of the greatness of God.
I have always been more intellectual than anything else. I have always strived for “understanding” as a means to better myself and to help others. I often, mistakenly, thought than knowledge and understanding would inevitably lead to “wisdom”. That is not the case, though it helps. For the true gift of wisdom to be active in our lives, we must cozy up to the Holy Spirit. We must strive to see the world a little differently, through the eyes of our soul and through the eyes of Christ. The eyes of the soul are opened by the virtues, and living the virtues invariably leads to a life of grace. A grace is a gift, just like the gifts of the Holy Spirit. If we live a life of grace, then our life itself becomes a gift, an offering to our Lord.
More than anything we must strive to live in this world with virtue. That is what makes normal people into saints. Extraordinary, heroic virtue comes after normal, ordinary virtue has become a normal part of our lives. Many Saints recognized the role of the mundane and ordinary in this world. When seen through the “eyes of the soul”, the mundane becomes the foundation of our heavenly work on this Earth.
“A saint is one who has learned to spiritualize and sacramentalize and ennoble everything in the world and make of it a prayer.” - Archbishop Fulton Sheen (The Divine Sense of Humor)
Let us pray: Lord, you are the creator of all that is seen and unseen. You have left us your Holy Spirit to guide us toward the path to Heaven. Help us then to be guided by your Spirit, that through His guidance we may achieve a virtuous life. Help us see the world as you see it, that our love may be like yours. May your precious gifts to us be also a gift for our brothers and sisters, that our eyes be opened by your Grace. Amen.
FOLLOW ELISHEBA HOUSE:
We are Ivonne Hernandez, Rick Hernandez and Laura Worhacz, Lay Associates of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and brothers and sisters in Christ.