The Immaculate Conception


Audio homily here: 

Some question why Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has such a big place in the faith of  our church. The words of the angel in Luke’s gospel, words we often repeat in prayer, offer an answer: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

Mary is full of grace, gifted by God with unique spiritual gifts from her conception, because she was to be the mother of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.

She would be the “resting place of the Trinity,” and would give birth to, nourish, guide and accompany Jesus in his life and mission in this world. To fulfill that unique role she needed a unique gift. She would be free from original sin that clouds human understanding and slows the way we believe in God and his plan for us.

“How slow you are to believe” Jesus said to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. Jesus made that complaint repeatedly as he preached the coming of God’s kingdom. “How slow you are to believe!” “What little faith you have!” “Do you still not understand!” That human slowness to believe didn’t end in gospel times. We have it too.

Mary was freed from that slowness to believe. “Be it done to me according to your word,” she immediately says to the angel. Yet, her acceptance of God’s will does not mean she understood everything that happened to her. “How can this be?” she asks the angel about the conception of the child. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”  But the angel’s answer seems so incomplete, so mysterious.

Surely, Mary would have liked to know more when the angel leaves her, never to return. There’s no daily message, no new briefing or renewed assurance by heavenly messengers. The years go by in Nazareth as the Child grows in wisdom and age and grace, but they’re years of silence. Like the rest of us, Mary waits and wonders and keeps these things in her heart.

That’s why we welcome her as a believer walking with us. She is an assuring presence. She calls us to believe as she did, without knowing all. She does not pretend to be an expert with all the answers. She has no special secrets known to her alone. “Do whatever he tells you,” is her likely advice as we ponder the mysteries of her Son.


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Comfort for those who labor


Wednesday’s Advent Gospel (Mt 11: 28-30) is so beautiful and comforting. No wonder it is specially beloved and quoted by so many of His people. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

     I am trying so hard to talk less and to listen more, for God’s voice, during my prayer. It is not easy. But reading these Gospel sentences from Jesus always makes me feel as if He is personally talking to me with all His tenderness and love.

     One of the blessings of retired life is that my wife and I can go for an early dinner at 5:00 p.m. on a weekday. Last Thursday, while looking out the picture window of the diner, I could see row upon row of slow-moving headlights on Northern Blvd. and the Clearview Expressway in Queens, NY: so many people sitting through the heavy traffic in their cars in the falling darkness after a long day at work. I spent so much of my life like that, like so many others “who labor and are burdened”, longing for a few hours of rest at home. Back then I did not realize that the place of rest was right there within my heart, where the Love of Jesus was always waiting patiently for my conversion.

     Now, years later, when I rest and rejoice in His Love, I have also learned from Him a thing or two. His Love makes His yoke easy and His burden light, but it is still a yoke and a burden. He calls us to share, and relieve, the burdens of so many of our brethren, His brothers and sisters.   

     In the November 26th issue of The Brooklyn Tablet, Fr. Robert Lauder writes:

      ” While many of us may be able to wax eloquently about how beautiful love is, we may need to remind ourselves that in our lives the call to love God and neighbor can be demanding. Dorothy Day, who spent her life loving and serving the poor often referred to an insight from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel,

‘The Brothers Karamasov’. The insight is that in reality, love can be a harsh and dreadful thing. Love can call us to make great sacrifices. Though we benefit from loving, that does not necessarily make loving easy.”

     I pray that the people in those cars realize what an important part love has in the sacrifices and struggles that they undergo in their work-lives. I pray that within their personal loves they discover, some time, somehow, the One who loves them beyond comprehension, the Source of everything that is worthwhile and good in their lives, the One who at the end of the road waits for them with open arms to give them true rest.

Orlando Hernandez

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Wednesday, 2nd Week of Advent

The words from Isaiah  today, scholars say, are not the words of Isaiah but the words of an unknown prophet writing centuries later to Jewish exiles in Babylon. He urges them to return to Jerusalem, but many have settled in the new land and have no taste for returning.

The journey’s long and hard, some say. Nothing to go back to.  Forget Jerusalem and the One who called, others say. Our God has let us down, so we’ll sing the songs of this land.

Confronting them, the writer uses Isaiah’s name, a prophet long dead,  lest the Babylonians charge him with treason for suggesting the Jews return. Still, the unknown prophet confronts them with God’s words:

“To whom can you liken me as an equal? says the Holy One.”

God knows every one of you and calls you all by name. Come back where you belong; you can make the journey.

“He gives strength to the fainting;

for the weak he makes vigor abound.

Though young men faint and grow weary,

and youths stagger and fall,

They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,

they will soar as with eagles’ wings;

They will run and not grow weary,

walk and not grow faint.” (Isaiah 40)

Is it still the same, a people estranged from God, unaware of God’s call, unwilling to consider a return? Why believe in the promise? Why return to a city or a world or a church in ruins? But Advent call. In Advent we pray for “us, poor banished children of Eve.”.

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Dear Lord,

     The death of Fidel Castro, Cuban dictator, brought joy to many and sadness to others. In Miami there were celebrations in the streets of Little Havana. In Cuba there were nine days of mourning. Many of my friends ask how I feel about the death of Fidel. I’m neither happy nor sad. As a Christian I don’t rejoice in someone’s death. What I do is put them in Your capable hands, my Lord. I’m no one to judge!

     I’ve been praying for Fidel’s soul. Unfortunately I can’t forget that because of his political views and cruel policies generations lost their country and way of life. Torture, executions, imprisonment, all took place if you dared to disagree with any of his policies. Freedom no longer existed. Indoctrination began! Your churches, Lord, were closed. Prayer and religion were no longer necessary, we now had Fidel.

     My mother decided that she needed to leave Cuba for my sake and her own. In 1962 we became refugees. Thanks to the U.S., which opened its arms to us, we began a new life. It wasn’t easy, my God. Here we were penniless in a new land facing a new language and new obstacles. But with the help of family, the U.S. government, and the Catholic Church hope began to spring up and we survived.

     We left Cuba, my God, afraid and without much hope. We left Cuba because one man lost his way and the need for power overwhelmed his ideals. Fidel did have wonderful ideals, but the dark side won, in his case.

     I’ve been in the U.S. now for over fifty years. I’m in love with You, my Lord Jesus and I have to admit that happened here in the U.S.. Good things happened to most Cuban refugees. Most of us survived. We progressed. We lived full lives. But we never will know what could have been. The Cuba of today is nothing like the Cuba of yesterday. For some it’s very sad, for others it’s life. For me it is Your will, my God! May You, our Lord and Savior have the mercy on Fidel that he neglected to have for many of his people.

Berta Alvarez-Hernández


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Morning Thoughts: Such Small Spaces



Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, “Virgin Adoring the Host” ca. 1850s


Lord God, how is it You fit in such small spaces?

The Creator of all, the Maker of all things, He who knows every hair on every head—how is it Lord You fit in such small spaces?

The Light of Light, the King of Kings—the Heaven, the Earth, and all their Glory—how is it Lord You fit in such small spaces?

How is it Father that You fit in a cradle?

How is it Lamb of God that You fit in a host?

How is it Author of Life that You fit in a word?

How is it my Lord and my God You fit in such small spaces?


—Howard Hain


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Tuesday: 2nd week of Advent


“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end.” The tender  words of Isaiah in today’s reading end with this promise: ” Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.” (Isaiah 40,1-11)

“I am the Good Shepherd,”Jesus says

A few years ago Carol Rothstein took the picture above of shepherds in the Jordan Valley along  the road to Jericho . Jesus and his followers likely traveled this same road on their way to Jerusalem and surely passed  a scene like this. Would he have told them the story of the Good Shepherd then?

The mountains in the distance make the picture so interesting.  Can you imagine a shepherd taking off in search of one of his flock lost in those distant hills? What an effort it would be! An impossible task! The wondrous merciful love of God for each of us is like that, our gospel today says.

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,

will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills

and go in search of the stray?

And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it

than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.

In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father

that one of these little ones be lost.” (Matthew)

That’s a story of God’s mercy. Ending his earthly journey, Jesus will reach out to a thief who’s lost as he turns to the thief on the Cross and brings him to Paradise.

Handel put to music this powerful theme:


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Advent Readings: Week 2

Advent_heading copy 2To reach God’s holy mountain there’s a journey to make, but guides will show the way, Isaiah says. “Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, to prepare your way.” Mark 1, 1. John the Baptist appears in the desert calling for repentance and the forgiveness of sins as he baptizes in the waters of the Jordan.

The Old Testament readings for this week, mostly from Isaiah, describe the desert journey, always a hard journey, but the desert will bloom and a highway will be there, a holy way, the prophet promises. (Monday) God will speak tender, comforting words to his people on the way. (Tuesday) Those who hope in him will renew their strength, soaring on eagle’s wings. (Wednesday) Though we are as insignificant as a worm, God holds us in his hands and says:“Fear not; I am with you.” (Thursday) God is our teacher and shows us the way we are to go. (Friday) On the way, prophets like Elijah accompany us. (Saturday)

Jesus is our way, the gospel readings say. He healed and forgave the paralyzed man, symbol of a paralyzed humanity, who was lowered through the roof into the house in Capernaum. (Monday) Like a good shepherd he searches for and finds the stray sheep. (Tuesday) “Come to me all who are weary…”he says. (Wednesday) He sends us prophets and guides like John the Baptist and Elijah.( Thursday) Though rejected like John the Baptist, Jesus still teaches. (Friday)

He will save us, even though unrecognized like John and Elijah. (Saturday)

List of Readings

Monday: Isaiah 30, 1-10 The desert will bloom and a highway will be there, a holy way.Luke 5,17-26 The paralyzed man, symbol of a paralyzed humanity, is lowered through the roof, to be healed and forgiven.

Tuesday: Isaiah 40,1-11 In the desert, a way to the Lord. Comfort my people. Mattthew 18, 12-14 The shepherd searches for the stray sheep.

Wednesday: Isaiah 30,25-31 God is the strength of his people. Matthew 11,28-30   “Come to me all who are weary…”

Thursday: Isaiah 41,13-20   God says, “I will grasp you by the hand. Fear not.”Matthew 11,11-15   John the Baptist is sent like Elijah.

Friday: Isaiah 48-17-19 I teach you what’s for your good and lead you on the way to go. Matthew 11,1-19   John and Jesus rejected as teachers.

Saturday: Sirach 48,1-4; 9-11 Elijah, precursor of John, like a fiery furnace. Matthew 17, 9-13   Elijah and John not recognized.

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