By: Rick Hernandez
A few years ago, due to my work, I found myself living away from my family, in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis, during a particularly difficult Wisconsin winter. While I was there, I attended Mass at Mary Queen of Heaven Catholic Church, served by the Missionary Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament. After a few weeks of attending, that wonderful church became for me, a second home. There we had Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament every night in a small intimate space, where I would go and kneel, to tell God of my day and to try to hear his comforting words in my soul.
It was difficult to be away from home, and my loneliness was difficult to overcome as winter kept most people cooped inside, where it was not freezing with below-zero temperatures. Most of my comfort came from praying with my rosary in the Adoration chapel, feeling quite content that I was finally wearing down some of the edges of my rosary beads. Then one day, while working outside, I noticed that I had lost my rosary. I was so sad and hurt over this. I felt deflated and lost. That physical rosary had become so important to me, like it was the one connection to my sanity, the one road to soothing my anxieties over my loneliness, and it was now lost... I shed many tears over this. It is not that I did not have other rosaries. I did. It is just that both habit and the context of my living situation had given much more meaning to that particular rosary. I felt that loss deeply.
I started praying about this, and when I visited Our Lord in his Adoration chapel, I brought forward my questions... “Why did it become like this? Why did that rosary become so important? I have you here right now Lord, and that is of more value than a thousand rosary beads, just material things...” But then, why did it hurt so much? Right at that moment, as I was kneeling there in that little chapel, I felt God placing his soothing hand over my shoulder. With this fatherly gesture, a great calm washed over me; I knew then that it was ok. I understood at that moment that my prayers through that particular rosary helped bring forth both His love for me and my love for Him. That rosary was a token of our relationship, of a love alive, shared freely in both directions; but a token does not define a relationship, the relationship defines the token.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
I had come to terms with my loss and I felt so grateful for the time that I spent there, and for the gift of understanding that comforted my heart. After a while, I said my goodbyes and left. Hunger reminded me that I had not eaten yet and I decided to stop and pick up something to eat in a pretty famous burger joint, not far from the church. I got out of my car and there in a snow mound I saw it, my rosary waiting for me. How did it get there? Well, that is for the angels to reveal, but I know deep in my heart, that it was another gift, just for me. Like my rosary, I was a little lost, but at that moment I knew that I had been found. What a way to be yet again claimed by the One who loves me!
I pray for all of us, that whenever we are discouraged, lost, anxious or wavering, we are again reminded by the power of His own hand, that we are LOVED, that He is with us, wherever we go. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
A few decades back, my parents traveled to upstate NY to lead a retreat with a group of their missionary brothers and sisters. They landed at the airport and were met by their hosts, who were also waiting for a few of the retreat participants arriving on a different flight. Weather problems were affecting the airport and a few flights were cancelled. Talking amongst themselves, they wondered whether the people in-transit were going to make it in at all. After a while, the flights did get cancelled. In a corner away from them was a young man, lying on the floor and reeking of alcohol. He had been listening intently to their conversation; he reached out his hand and with a desperate voice said: “If they cannot make it, take me instead. I will go.”
Now, let us imagine ourselves in that situation… this is a group of catholic missionaries, that now had two openings for the retreat, and a man, intoxicated, down on his luck, asking them to let him go with them. What would we have done?
Through the virtue of Prudence, the Holy Spirit begets the gift of Counsel, allowing us to judge a situation promptly and rightly. Our merciful missionaries, taking counsel from the Holy Spirit, reached out their hands and grasped the young man’s hand. They invited him to come with them. During the retreat they provided for him, listened to his story, taught him of the love of Christ, and put him in contact with a group from the local parish. That retreat changed his life. The local parish group cared for him, helped him to get back on his feet, to get back to the dignity of a well-lived life. He discovered Christ acting in his life through the actions of others.
"Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes. You are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours." - St Teresa of Avila
That young man is now a not-so-young man, a leader of his community of faith, a solid member of society, and a loving reminder of the Mercy of God. He is today the one that reaches out his hand to help others in need. “…We must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Lk 15:32). We have recovered our brother by our willingness to allow God’s love to act through us, His Body.
When we are all together at the Eucharistic banquet, sharing of the love of our Lord with our brothers and sisters, I am reminded that there are some that are not present, and we ache for them. I think about this often. How many people went through that airport that day? How many of them spared a look towards that young man? How many exchanged a word or two with him? How many smiled? How many offered to share a part of a meal? How many listened to his story? How many spent a minute or so, thinking about a loved one because of him? How many wondered what would Jesus do? What would I have done? It only takes one merciful soul to reach out to another and acknowledge Christ in them. Would that merciful soul have been mine? What would keep me from doing so?
There are so many in need, yet the enemy is always conspiring against us, always attempting to cast us one against the other. We must not let the enemy discourage us from helping. We must hold fast to charity and nurture it in our hearts, for it is the most important of the virtues that the Holy Spirit imparts on us. Let us love one another. Let us care. Let us fight the apathy that the enemy uses. Christ has no body now on earth but ours. Can we help a soul find its way home? Can we help all our souls find their way home?
“The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand…, without cost you have received; without cost you are to give… As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you” (Mt 10:7-8,11-12). Let us both be good and do good; let us reach out our hands to the neglected ones, without being discouraged. Let us also accept the hand that is offered to us in the peace and mercy of Christ, that we may all work together towards the goal of Heaven, for it is hard to imagine Heaven without all of us there.
May our Good Lord bless us abundantly with Love, Mercy, Prudence and Right Judgement. Amen.
By: Rick Hernandez
We are imperfect. We err often. We make mistakes. This is absolutely an intrinsic part of the human existence, and it is a fact that our mistakes help pave the road of our experience. It is in our human imperfection, in this human limitation that we live in, that Christ calls us to greater heights. "Be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Christ directly states what is the goal. The goal is perfection. But what does perfection mean? What is Christ really asking us to be?
We are never going to be perfect, not in the meaning of the word we use today. The original Greek word used in the Gospel of Matthew is "teleioi", which comes from the word "telos", meaning "to be complete" or "to achieve its end". We are imperfect, yet we can work towards fulfilling our purpose and achieving our end, thus reaching for that completeness that we are called to seek.
Thomas Aquinas asserts the following correspondences between the seven Capital Virtues and the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit:
How pure is the love of the Father, that allows us to make our mistakes, yet offers loving guidance towards the right way for us? The road is forward towards the way of growth, the way of experience. Experience allow us to grow in our wisdom and understanding. This understanding allows us then to work diligently towards our completion, towards fulfilling our purpose, and our purpose is to completely unite ourselves with our Lord, to be like Christ, to make it to Heaven. "I have called you by your name: you are mine" (Isaiah 43:1). He calls us, just as we are. He claims us, for He knows exactly who we are. He waits for us, for He knows both our time and our path.
The host that the priest consecrates during Mass is but a piece of bread before the Consecration takes place. It is an imperfect object, but after the Consecration, that imperfect host becomes the Body of our Lord, becomes perfect. This perfection cannot be seen with human eyes but we both know and feel its perfection, for it is Jesus Eucharistic, fulfilling His purpose, showing us the end of the work of Redemption, perfect, complete. In the humble Eucharist we receive His perfect gifts: perfect love, perfect faith, perfect hope.
We are called to achieve our end, to fulfill our purpose, and it is the virtue of Hope that allows us to continue moving forward. Imperfect, incomplete as we are, we can ask God to perfect our charity to be just like His. We can ask God to perfect our faith in Him who is faithful. We can ask God to perfect our hope, that we may draw closer to our goal. Our love convicts us. Our faith emboldens us. Our hope encourages us. Imperfectly perfect we are called to be.
This week, as we are praying the Novena of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), let's take time to meditate on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, that we may grow towards our call to "telos" (perfection), which is only attainable with God's help. We pray to the Holy Spirit to move us, that His will for us be done, that we may "be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
By: Rick Hernandez
During my teenage years, I was blessed with living very close to a chapel, one to which I had access on a regular basis. The Chapel of Santa Ana, that small and humble building was my refuge, my safe harbor. Whenever I felt troubled, sad, lonely, or overwhelmed with life, I would try to go into the chapel. I always searched for the lighted sanctuary lamp that indicated the Real Presence of our Eucharistic Lord, there in the tabernacle. I felt great comfort, comfort from knowing that my Lord was there and watching over me. These visits with my one true friend, in that small building, were dear to me. We would have the best conversations in the silence. Most times I would offer Him a song before departing. That was our little routine.
"Society will be restored and renewed when all its members group themselves around our Emmanuel." -- Peter Julian Eymard
Here we are today, and we are mostly kept from our wonderful church buildings and chapels. Some lucky few still have access to visit Him directly but most do not. Yet, we are not kept from our conversations with Him who loves us. It is not the same as a visit, but we still can talk to Him in prayer. The same way that a phone call cannot replace a live visit, this remote prayer cannot replace our offering of presence to the Lord. Yet it can hold us over until we can, once more, be together. Soon we will be able to gather again, to be able to gift our presence to the Lord in all the altars and tabernacles of the world. Until then, let us keep up our offerings of prayer and mindful meditation. Let us love the ones near us and be mindful of both what we have to give, and what we are missing.
At the end of these visits with my Lord in His temple I would often proceed to sing this song, which always made His presence more tangible to me and truly soothed my heart. I gift you with this song's lyrics, clumsily translated from Spanish, in the hope that it may bring you some comfort in these trying times. Hold on to your faith in Him who loves us. We are almost there.
I AM... (Translated and adapted from the Spanish song "Soy")
By: Rick Hernandez
One time, during my childhood years, our Bishop declared a pilgrimage of penitence to visit the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Montserrat in Hormigueros, PR. Visiting the Basilica, with its Holy Door opened for all of us, was a grand occasion. From my hometown of Peñuelas, the trip was about 33 miles. I was but a child, but I remember clearly how amazing this was for our community of believers. A large number of people from all over our diocese joined in this march towards the basilica. If you could imagine thousands of people, walking together down the sides of major roads for 14 hours straight, old and young, healthy and sick, people of all colors and shapes, all in a mindful, sorrowful silence, only broken by the praying of the rosary... The group took care of each other; if someone faltered, there were people there to help them carry on. We had buses ready to help the ones that could not walk anymore. Our Bishop walked with us. Our priests walked with us. Religious Sisters and Brothers walked with us. And us, the lay people, rejoiced in the opportunity to do this for the love of our Lord and under the care of our Lady.
I walked the 33 miles with my family, but especially with my maternal grandmother, Rafaela, who held my hand most of the way. Grandma whispered to me for most of the trip, explaining to me what we were doing and why. I remember that my feet hurt and I was so tired, but Grandma kept telling me that it was good to be tired. "You have something to offer now", she said. That "long walk" was my introduction to the concepts of sacrifice, repentance and penance as expressions of love. It is true that penitence was the main purpose of the journey, but I understood clearly that what fueled everything in the end was love. As such, for our penitence to be real, love has to be our offering. Christ's march on the Via Dolorosa, with all its falls, full of pain and humiliation, while carrying the Cross for us, was a gift of love.
Think of the moment Our Lord's journey to Golgotha ended, all that pain and suffering inflicted upon Him. There was nothing else for Christ to give physically, but more was asked of Him, and love compelled. Christ once more summoned the strength to continue, to go through with the Crucifixion, completing then the great work of redemption. We know now that there is no Cross without love. Following His example, we have to be willing to suffer for the ones we love, for the suffering is in fact an offering of love. But then, when we think that we have suffered enough, that we have nothing else to give, more is asked of us, and love compels us once more to dig deep and find what is needed.
After our pilgrimage journey ended at the steep steps of the basilica, my Grandma asked me to join her in completing a traditional penance at the steps to the church. We were to go up the 72 steps, on our knees while praying, intention fully in mind to offer this action for the healing of the world. I thought I could not give more that day. I was tired and just a kid. I had just walked 33 miles and prayed more than I had ever prayed before. How would anyone expect me to also go up these stairs on my knees after all I had already done? But love compels, so up we went, each step on our knees. I had never before felt more elated to have finished a task. That day, many miracles happened, and they happened because of sacrifice and penance, offerings of love.
We are here today, commemorating the long silence of Holy Saturday. This is a day perfectly suited to sacrifice, penance and silence. Let us take the time to meditate upon the great sacrifice of Christ and His gift of love to us on the Cross. Let us bring our own pain and suffering, our crosses, as offerings of love, and unite them to His. May this union transform our hearts, that we may say, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, for in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24).
May our Good Lord bless us all. Happy Easter!
By: Rick Hernandez
“…any superior to whom God has given authority over you stands in the place of God: “Whoever listens to you listens to me” (cf. Lk 10:16). Whenever you perform any deed out of obedience, you are fulfilling God’s will. Direct your obedience to God himself, who is listening. Since you cannot see him, you act out of faith in the authority that he has given; and this makes your obedience meritorious. Your obedience is not merely to the person who commands, who is nothing more than an instrument, but to the very authority this person wields.” - St. Peter Julian Eymard
Once a cherub of God, Lucifer, the “bearer of light”, was himself “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ezekiel 28:12). More perfect that any other created being, Lucifer thought himself wiser than all, and that pride corrupted his wisdom (Ezekiel 28:17). From that corruption, Lucifer rebelled against God, his creator and the one that had his best interest at heart. Lucifer was disobedient to God, thus becoming Satan (a name that means “Adversary”). Lucifer’s disobedience cost him Heaven.
"Pride is the commencement of all sin… and the beginning of pride is when a man departs from God." (Saint Augustine’s commentary on Ecclesiastes 12).
How many times do we think that we “know better” when figures of authority (bosses, leaders, parents, priests) tell us to do something? Or when we receive advice? Or when we are admonished? As with Lucifer, we think we know better but really, how often do we end up with peace from our own machinations and planning? Yet, our worldly wisdom feeds our pride and our pride feeds our rebelliousness. But God is not asking us for rebelliousness, he is asking us for faithfulness and obedience…
“Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Our leaders are to be just, for they are responsible for us. We have to pray for an increase in humility, so that as we grow in wisdom, we can also fend off the arrogance of pride and be good, faithful followers. When we do this, we surrender to our Lord’s Divine Will, and His perfect plan for our good.
“The more we see that any action springs not from the motive of obedience, the more evident is it that it is a temptation of the enemy; for when God sends an inspiration, the very first effect of it is to infuse a spirit of docility.” - Teresa of Avila
Today, as the world is embroiled with the coronavirus pandemic, our leaders, both civil and Ecclesial, are asking us to make sacrifices, to let go of most of our comforts for the good of the whole. We may be tempted to criticize and vent our frustrations instead of lifting up our brethren trough our actions and words.
Let’s take a little time today to look inwards towards our intentions and identify all our prideful and selfish matters. Let’s pray that we can, with the help of God, remove those imperfections. As Saint Teresa of Avila said, let’s pray for humility and docility. Let’s also pray for our Church, our lay people, our brothers and sisters in religious orders, our deacons, our priests, our bishops and our Pope. For all of us, in that order, have increasing responsibility for the rest of us. Let’s surrender our will to our Father’s Divine Will, which only desires what is best for us; for in that obedience that we owe Him and his Church, our Lord takes full responsibility for us. For “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Romans 6:8). Remember always that “If God is for us, then who is against us?” (Romans 8:31). Praying for all of us. May our ever-loving Lord grant us peace.
By: Rick Hernandez
“Everyday, let us make a visit of charity to Purgatory, and this act of charity will make us more vigilant and faithful in the service of God." - St. Peter Julian Eymard
For many years, I've heard people try to explain charity. The concept of charity, in modern society, has come to mean giving to the less fortunate, as in, giving money to help the needy. It is important to give monetary support to the poor, but we are called to more. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines "charity" as "the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God". To love as God loves is more than just giving money to the needy.
Let me share a little story.
Not too long ago I was working for a big bank in Jersey City, NJ. Jersey City is that kind of place where the old and the new clash on a daily basis. There are the new, big, hip apartments buildings soaring 40 floors high next to simple and humble brownstone houses from the last two centuries. The rich and the poor mixing, but not always in perfect harmony...
Often, my coworkers and I would go out to lunch in the area, to modern and convenient restaurants available to us. It was easy and fun to do that. Every day I would walk by the little park and the ABC store that were right next to the office and see this man, sitting outside in temperatures around 30 degrees Fahrenheit and bundled up in an old trench coat. The brown bag in his hand hinted at why he was always there, and his "thousand yard" stare gave me pause whenever I saw him. I would always say "Good Morning" to this man, same as I did everyone else I met, almost in automatic mode with no real thought behind it, and I would receive no reaction whatsoever from him. Yet this one day, for some reason I really looked into this man eyes when I said my greeting and I saw him react to me for the first time. He answered back with a greeting of his own; I stopped and asked him his name, "George. George is my name". "Nice to meet you George", and I told him my name. I asked him to make sure to say Hi whenever he saw me around and then I left.
Over the next six months, I would daily stop on the way to work to say Hi to George. We would speak for a few moments, and little by little I learned about him and his life. Often, I would buy lunch and we would break bread together in the park. George was a lawyer, graduated from a very well known and respected school of law, and the son of a very well-known and famous lawyer. George married his college sweetheart with opposition from both his and her families and moved to Jersey City to get away from all the bickering in the families. In time, George built a thriving law practice and prepared to finally start a family. After trying for a long time, they finally got pregnant! Their happiness was short-lived as his wife was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer. Within a couple of months, both mom and unborn child passed unto the glory of our Lord. The bickering from the two families got worse. George descended into an incredible depression and turned to alcohol to suppress his pain. Soon after, his law practice failed. George lost his business, his cars, his home, and spent all his time and money on alcohol. Soon he was homeless, sleeping behind the Government Hall, one block from where I met him. He had spent years living like this, isolated from the world that he believed was causing him pain, trying to be invisible yet unable to let it all go.
At the beginning I did not say too much in my interactions with George. What I tried to do was to be there, present for him, and I prayed. Little by little, our meetings were changing both of us. I noticed I was more aware of everyone I met. I learned the importance of looking at everyone in the eye and how dignifying it is for someone when you spend a few seconds addressing them directly, as if they are the only person in the world at that moment. I felt I was getting more patient, and more willing to listen, because I understood that people feel validated when they are heard, which acknowledges their inherent value as sons and daughters of God. On George’s side, he was drinking less frequently and started standing straighter, speaking vividly and with more clarity. He started trying to get to the shelter at night and wash his clothes. His sense of humor was returning. Eventually, as George's heart started healing, he started talking about returning home. The pain was still there, but there was a sense of longing to share his pain with the other ones that could understand it, his family.
One day, George was not at his usual spot. I did not find him that day nor any other day after that. I prayed that as his heart was healing, that he would go back to his family and heal those wounds too. After another two months, my assignment at the bank was over and I returned home to Tampa. I have never seen George again, yet this dear man will forever be in my heart. I think about him often.
Like Father Eymard said, visiting purgatory (sitting down with the ones suffering) changes us for the better. It makes us into a better likeness of Christ and helps us build on our charity, the real charity. I sometimes think that the one with the real charity in my story was George. He was the one in pain, the one that had lost everything, yet he was the one that took the time to also be with me, to emerge from his difficult position in life to engage with me, to teach me to care, to love as Christ did. He took my gift of charity and gave it back, through Christ, tenfold.
Father Eymard took care of the poor and indigent in Paris. Mother Teresa took care of the sick and dying in Calcutta. Both of them rested in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in order to increase their charity, their love. Let us take the opportunity, as we start this Lenten period, to do likewise, to increase in our love (caritas) so that we can go out into the world, share of ourselves and truly love. May you also find your George.
We are Ivonne Hernandez, Rick Hernandez and Laura Worhacz, Lay Associates of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and brothers and sisters in Christ.