Monday, February 20, 2017

On Turning the Other Cheek: 7th Sunday of OT (Cycle A)

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   It is common knowledge that we Christians are supposed to “To turn the other cheek”. In fact, this phrase is used as a reminder that we are not supposed to stand for ourselves whenever we are being persecuted or attacked. It reminds us that we are supposed to go quietly into the night without fuss, without complaint about the way others oppress, mistreat, take advantage and abuse us.
    Is this what Jesus had in mind? Well, he certainly tells us in the same reading to “offer no resistance against those who do us evil” and that we are supposed to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us”.  But if we just pick these three short passages from today’s gospel and give them that very shallow interpretation we are completely missing the point of what Jesus is teaching us. Why?? Because this “turn the other cheek” business does not stand alone in the reading.  If we pay attention there is also this other business about giving up our tunic along with our cloak, and carrying a heavy load the extra mile.  And we are to do all three things out of love for our enemies
  To clearly understand what Jesus is telling us, this is one of those times we need to bring to mind the context of why, when, where and who were listening to the Lord when he spoke this teaching. Now, we know that Jesus lived in a time in which the Jewish people were been oppressed by a Roman occupation force. We also know that Jesus lived in culture with very specific rules of behavior. For example, under Jewish law when a man was taken to court he could lose everything he had, everything except his cloak. You see, Jewish men of this time wore just two basic pieces of clothing: a cloak and a tunic. If a man were to lose both he would be left naked, which in this time was source of great shame, not to the naked person but to those who looked at him. So by Jesus saying to also give your cloak away he is saying “Don’t be afraid to show your enemy the shame their actions cause to those who are just quietly observing”.
  Now in the times of Jesus, Roman soldiers could force regular people to help them carry their equipment, but only for one mile. If they forced anyone to go a longer distance they would break the law and incur in serious disciplinary actions. By telling his disciples to go “the extra mile," Jesus is telling them “do not be afraid to let your persecutors know that their actions are immoral and a sin against justice”.
   Ok, so, with this background... what about the “turn the other cheek” business? Notice that Jesus' original words were “If someone strikes you on your right cheek”, which if you ask me is a bit too specific. Well if we think about it, in a world which is mainly right-handed, a slap across the right cheek would be most likely done with the back of your right hand, back-handed. In Jewish culture, this type of slap was meant not so much to inflict physical injury as to cause dishonor to the person slapped. In fact, if someone dishonored you with a demeaning back-handed slap, you were expected to reclaim your honor by responding in kind. So Jesus is telling his disciples “do not ignore evil actions against yourself, but do not retaliate. Make a stand, let those who attack you know that they will not intimidate you into silence, and that their actions do not dishonor you but them”
   Now why would the Lord teach and expect from his disciples such non­violent response to oppression rather than just turning around and walking away?? The key is in these other words of today’s Gospel: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. The reality is that if the only thing we do when we are attacked enemies is just “turn the other cheek” and become a doormat, we are not truly loving our enemies. Loves demands correction in charity. It demands we swallow our pride and do not retaliate. But it demands that we make an effort to show our enemies that we love them enough to correct them in love; and because we love them we are willing to make a stand and show them how their actions not only hurt us, but bring shame to the rest of the community, that their actions are a sin against justice, and that we are making a passive stand not out of or anger or fear but out of love for them. Only then can we say that we are following Jesus final command in today’s reading: to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father in heaven is perfect.  God bless you MBAS
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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Spiritual but not Religious: 4th Sunday of OT (Cycle A)

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   I am sure that every person in this church has heard the expression: “I’m Spiritual but not religious”. Which in our culture is code for “I don’t need to go to church, I don’t need to be part of a community, I don’t need to talk about or show my faith in public to, you know...be OK with the man upstairs”.
      What is wrong with this statement of “spiritual but not religious”  is that it takes two ideas which are a complement of each other and makes them opposite. It presents the lie that we can have one without the other, when in reality one cannot exist without the other. If we are truly spiritual, religion will  flow from our own existence since at its most basic core religion is just the way we live and express our spirituality. So a spirituality without religion is like a flower garden with no dirt, no plants and no flowers.     I am not really sure where this idea comes from. The one thing I am sure is that it is the complete opposite of what the Lord Jesus expects from each one of us, as his followers. And there is no clearer passage in the Gospels to prove this point than the reading I just proclaimed a few minutes ago.
       Today’s Gospel reading is one of Jesus most remarkable sermons, so remarkable that it even has its own name...The Beatitudes.  Here Jesus gives us a list for how we, his disciples,  are to live our own spirituality, and how are we to know that we are on the right path towards becoming more like him. 

      First as disciples of the Lord it is key that we realize we are “poor in spirit”. It really doesn’t matter how spiritual we think we are, at a spiritual level we can never be anything more than “poor”. In fact, the more we deepen our spirituality, the more aware we will become of how much we lack in our spirit. So the real spiritual person is one who knows how poor of spirit they are.
      As his disciples, we also have to realize that suffering is a part of life, and that it is OK to mourn for our sufferings and the sufferings of others. But most importantly, we need to understand that our consolation from suffering doesn't come from material things. As disciples of the Lord, he is the only one who can console our hearts, and this is what gives us the power to console others.
     As spiritual people we have to be meek, we have to be gentle, we have to be willing to serve others in quiet submission. Pride is the great sin, it is the source of all sins. The only way we can defeat our own pride is by humbling ourselves. Only then we can be worthy of the gifts he has promised to those who follow him, only then we will inherit the land.
    True spiritual disciples hunger and thirst for righteousness. They live lives which follow a moral code given to us by God and not by the changing fashions of the day. Truly spiritual people reject sin, and not only sin but even the potential occasions TO sin. To be spiritual we need to hunger and thirst, not for what gives us pleasure but what is good, right and just, even if its is difficult.
     Our spirituality needs to be merciful. It doesn’t matter how much or how hard we pray, if we do not practice mercy towards others, our spiritual life is dead. Spiritual people live their spiritual life among those who need mercy the most.
     Spiritual disciples are clean of heart, they rely on God’s forgiveness to remove the stain of their sins. They don’t go to the sacrament of reconciliation, they run!! They constantly take specific steps to seek God's forgiveness and never think that sin is not important, or that God doesn't care about it.
     And finally a healthy spirituality brings peace, but not the temporary peace we get from material things. The peace we get from Him is a peace we can not keep locked for ourselves, it needs to be shared with others. Spiritual disciples are agents of healing and reconciliation in a world in which division and hate are the order of the day, and they bring peace wherever they go.
     Now how are we to know if we have a healthy spiritual life? Jesus gives a very simple answer to this question: If we are persecuted for being his spiritual disciples, if we are insulted, if the world utters every kind of evil and falsely accuse us because the way we live our spirituality, the way we show our religion. If the people at school, at work even in our own houses, think that the religious practices which flow from our spirituality deserve jokes, ridicule even hatred and persecution, rejoice and be glad because we we are on the right track to become true disciples of the Lord.
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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Resolutions 2017!

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   I started writing a resolutions post every year as a way of documenting how I have done in important areas of my life, which in my opinion needed to improve. Last winter, with my Dad's health issues, my mind was on other things so I did not have the emotional stamina to sit and look at how my life had been in the previous year. Nevertheless, I did have a list of resolutions which I communicated to my family as a way of keeping me on track.

  Here is the list and an honest assessment of how I did in 2016:
  • Continue eating healthy AND control my sweet tooth - I'm proud to say that this year I have lost 30 pounds, in fact my cardiologist was pretty impressed. I still have a sweet tooth but I try to keep it in check.
  • Continue exercising (Walking) and do a multi-day hike either in the Appalachian Trail or the C&O Canal. - I'm proud to say that this year I did 2 multi-day bike rides (Hiking takes too long and I enjoy biking with my bride). In one trip, we did the last 50 miles of the C&O canal and on another we did the first 50. We are planning some more for 2017 and maybe a multi-day Appalachian Trail trip.  We will see! (And I'm starting to feel The Camino tug again)
  • Read at least 25 pages a day- I'll say that I mostly did this although I was not as faithful as I should have been in the last 3 months of the year, however I did get to read a number of books I wanted to read. Overall, I feel that I have read much more than I usually do. The picture below is of all the books I read in 2016 (these are JUST non-fiction books)!

  • Write at least one blog article a month. - Failed miserably, in fact I wrote less than a post a month! I really need to do better with this.
  • Produce at least 10 episodes of my podcast. - Failed miserably, mostly because my mind was not focused on it but also because there was a period in February-March that I was losing my voice so I could not speak into a microphone. Let's see what I can do for next year.
  • Increase my Guitar repertoire (And record at least some!) - I'm sad to report that this (at the moment) will not be achievable as I have developed a nasty bout of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in both my hands which makes playing classical guitar very painful. It is with sadness that this year I have confronted the reality that my classical guitar playing days are over.
     
Well, that is it for this year and now onto the resolutions for 2017!

  • Continue eating healthy and lose 30 more pounds (My goal is 170)
  • Continue exercising. I think I will dedicate more time to biking and less to walking as it is a better use of my time.
  • Complete another couple of multi-day hiking/biking trips.
  • Read at least 10 pages a day.
  • Avoid buying books for at least 1 year (Seriously folks, I ran out of places to store books and "She-who-must-be-obeyed" is starting to get annoyed with my piles of books everywhere!)
  • Blog more, let's say one homily and one article a month.
  • Produce 10 episodes of a podcast (I have some ideas for different podcasts but they are all at different stages of development in my mind)
  • Depend less on my phone and more on my computer. (I noticed that I waste the most time on my phone, time on the computer tends to be productive)  
  • At least once a week, go to bed before 9:00PM. 
  • Be more intentional with my relationships, stay in touch,  love more, be less of an introvert.
That is it! Let's see how I do in the next year!

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Top Religion Related Science News For 2016

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  Another year comes to an end which means it is time for Top of 2016 lists. Since religion and science are two of my favorite topics, this year I give you my Top Religion-Science Related news. I selected these from science aggregators throughout the year as a way to disprove the tired "Religion vs Science" canard. I would say that 2016  was quite a year for the intersection of science and religion, with many scientists taking a look at the benefits that religion has on "homo-sapiens", as well as important contributions religion has given to astronomy and ecology. But don't believe me, just peruse the list and tell me if I missed anything! 

By far, the most important Science news of the year was the discovery of Gravitational Waves, an event which has the potential to change our understanding of reality. What does this have to do with religion? I'm not too sure but there is a reason why the Vatican Observatory is organizing an international workshop to map the way ahead. Lets see what develops from this gathering of top notch scientists and theologians. Other significant discoveries were:

Astronomers  discover  RR Lyrae type stars in the center of the Milky Way - An international team of astronomers has discovered for the first time a type of ancient star in the center of our Galaxy. What does this have to do with religion? Well, part of the team were scientists that are employed at the Vatican observatory. Just another nail in the coffin of the old "Catholic Church vs Science" fable.

Science Daily publishes article on Echotheology - The online news aggregator Science Daily published a report about a recent paper proposing that the efforts of Christian theology in understanding the role of Man in the environment are not limited to the last few years. In fact, Christian theology has a long and distinguished history of wanting to understand. The most surprising statement in the paper is this:
"The vast majority of us subscribe to the idea that human activity dramatically changes the natural environment, altering many biological processes. But addressing the global nature of human impact may require help from belief systems large enough to conceptualize on a cosmic scale"
Is science starting to realize that, when it comes to humans, without the cosmological view that religion provides to define our common destiny as created creatures, they will never be able to gain main-stream acceptance? Only time will tell! 

Religious service attendance associated with lower suicide risk among women -  A study in June revealed that attending religious ceremonies not only does marvels for your spiritual life, but it also lowers your chances of suicide.

Worldwide study reverses notion most scientists are atheists - "The study's results challenge longstanding assumptions about the science-faith interface. While it is commonly assumed that most scientists are atheists, the global perspective resulting from the study shows that this is simply not the case." In other words, the majority of the world's scientists are religious and they do not try to keep science and religion exclusive.

Brain scans reveal prayer helps addicts deal with cravingsAccording to a new study, members of  Alcoholics Anonymous reported less craving for alcohol after reciting AA prayers and viewing drinking-related images. I guess it pays to trust in your "Higher Power".

Apparently is not only believers who think Richard Dawkins is a troll - A survey of British scientists revealed that most of them think Richard Dawkins(The darling of Scientific Materialists everywhere) gives science a bad rap.

Religion is, once again, found beneficial to adolescent development - A new study authored by University of Calgary researchers were able to show that religion has a "barrier" effect in young adolescents when it comes to viewing pornography at an early age.

Faith-based health promotion program successful with older Latinas - Another study revealed that your health could actually improve more if you follow a health program centered in faith and not just exercising. Nothing like sacramentalizing your day to stay healthy!

Winner of distinguished astronomy award speculates about the star of Bethlehem - "Florida International University astronomer, Professor Caroline Simpson, provides scientific insight into what may explain the Christmas Star phenomenon. Simpson studies how galaxies and the universe evolve over time. She is the recipient of the 2016 Richard H. Emmons Award for excellence in college astronomy teaching and one of the first physics professors at FIU to transform a basic introductory astronomy course for non-science majors into an active learning class." The funny thing about this one is that she reached the same conclusion I reached after my own research on this topic. You can hear my thoughts on this topic at my now semi-retired podcast "The Hidden Bible"

Here are some honorable mentions:

Avoiding spiritual matters could be detrimental to your health  
Thinking about spiritual matter activates brain reward areas
Oxytocin found to enhance spiritual well being
Religious actions convey pro-social intent 

Study shows that those who believe in God are considered more trustworthy

Well that is our list for this year. Let's see what the new year has to offer to us,

Many blessings and Happy New 2017 everyone!!
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Saturday, December 24, 2016

On the Manhood of Josepth - 4th Sunday of Advent (A)

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      Welcome to the 4th Sunday of Advent. If you are like me, by now you have heard enough homilies about Christmas, so...with this in mind I have decided that today I will not preach about Christmas but about another topic we hardly get a chance to preach about: Manhood. But not the sinless, divine manhood our Lord Jesus displayed while he dwelt among us. I have decided to preach about the more common manhood we encounter in everyday life. A manhood that is flawed, weak and sinful, but that sometimes, when it is willing to trust and abandon itself completely to God’s providence, is capable of greatness.
      First we meet King Ahaz, a descendant of King David, a man who was proud and weak, who did everything in his power to destroy the Jewish religion, to the point of allowing pagan altars and pagan sacrifices in the Jewish temple. He was such a bad King that when he died, his own Son, Hezekiah, refused to bury him among the other kings of Israel.
      In today’s reading we see the hypocrisy of this man, who while allowing sacrifices to pagan gods in the Jewish temple, refuses God’s gracious offering of a sign. Ahaz shows us the wrong kind of manhood. A manhood which is based on the abuses of its own power. A manhood which, while refusing God’s gracious gifts, thinks that he can impress God with false shows of religious fervor.
      In contrast to Ahaz we meet Joseph, another descendant of David, but not a king, a humble carpenter. Here is this man who just discovered that the woman he is “betrothed” to marry is pregnant with a child that is not his own. And after struggling with what to do decided what every good man of his times would, divorce his wife quietly so as not to bring shame to her. And now according to an angel the father of the child is the Holy Spirit, the child will be a boy, even his name has already been selected: His name will be Jesus. Everything is already taken care of; All Joseph had to do was sign here on the dotted line.
    I’m not trying to be disrespectful to poor Joseph, but I’m sure in his mind he had all his life planned and then... this! What does a good man do in situations like this? A real man trusts in God’s providence, and embraces the task given to him. Joseph, presented with the awesome responsibility to be a father to the savior of the world, be his protector and his provider welcomes Mary into his home.
     Now your average person would think, “ok, since all this is God’s doing, from here on it is going to be easy sailing”; well the fact is that just about everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong! Instead of security and comfort, Joseph finds himself on  a hard journey during the last stage of Mary’s pregnancy. Then when Mary was ready to deliver the baby he could not find a place to stay, with no family or friends to help.  So he has to settle for a filthy manger surrounded by animals. And after the baby is born he is forced to uproot his family and escape to Egypt and become what we today would consider an immigrant.
    Again, the average person might think “with all the calamities we have suffered, perhaps it was not such a good idea to listen to that angel.”
But this is not the way good men think. What does a man do when things are not going the way he planned?He maintains his trust in God’s providence.
    In today’s readings there is a great contrast between these two men, but there is something else: King Ahaz had lost his faith in the God of Israel and placed his trust in foreign gods; Joseph on the other hand placed his trust in God alone and the harder the way got the harder he trusted in God’s providence. This my brothers and sisters is the mark of true manhood: trust in God.
    In a culture in which the idea of manhood had been diluted to a point in which we are not too sure what real manhood is, we are given a quiet man. Not a King in command of great armies but a peasant with a simple faith and steady hand. God’s chosen father for his only begotten son.
   After the events of Christmas, Joseph retires into obscurity and we never hear what happened to him, all we know is that he did his job the best way he could and that he trusted that God will take care of the rest. I can not think of a better example of manhood for us here today. God bless your all.
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Sunday, October 16, 2016

That Faith "Thing": 29th Sunday Ordinary Time (C); To the 8:00 AM Crowd

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Today was one of those rare Sundays in which I have to prepare two homilies, as I was preaching to two different groups. Saturday night I preached specifically to the confirmandi and Sunday morning to the the regular 8:00AM crowd. Here is the 8:ooAM version of my homily.

  Today’s Gospel ends with a very disturbing question by Jesus. “When the son man comes, will he find faith?”. I find this question disturbing because it is a direct challenge to my own “spiritual comfort zone”. I like to think that I have a strong faith, a faith I could show the Lord in my last day and say “Master, Look what I did with the talents you gave me”. And then I start remembering all the times I was less than faithful. You know, the times I didn’t pray when I was supposed too, the times I received communion knowing that I was less than ready to receive the Lord, the times in which I thought that just doing the minimum effort was good enough, even the times in which I told myself “God will understand” before going ahead and behave in a less than Christian way. And then I start thinking that perhaps I’m not as ready to show my faith to the Lord as I thought I was. To me is not if I will show the Lord my faith, but what kind of faith I will end up showing him.
   In fact, I’m convinced that for Christians who want to take their faith serious, asking themselves every day “If the Lord were to come to me today what kind of faith will he find?” is a good and helpful thing.
  Now, this weekend is a very important weekend here at St. Michael, because if the day that 70’some  young men and women will enroll into the last part of our confirmation program. In April or May, God willing they will receive the sacrament from the bishop. I was planning to preach two different homilies but then I sat and stared looking at what I told this group of young men and women and thought “There is some good stuff here”, so I decided to just adapt what I said. So if you are a seeker and are having doubts about your faith this is for you:
   My dear friend, I know who you are and I know why you are here. You are the future of our parish, our church, our country and our world.  I know that some of you are not too sure why you are here, I also know that some of you do not want to be here, and that the only reason why you are here is because you want to please someone.
    I know that for you this faith thing is very confusing, and that in fact it seems that the only place in which faith is important is in church. Outside of these walls faith is boring, unimportant and even embarrassing.
   I know that that some of you are even questioning the very existence of this faith, this church and even God himself. I’m here to tell you it is OK. To have faith is to question, to doubt and to seek. You might be thinking why would I want live a life with doubt? Here is my answer: Because to have faith also means to have hope. Hope in the future, hope in yourselves and hope in the fact that there is a destiny for each one of us which is eternal; where we will meet all those who have passed from this life into whatever is waiting for us on the other side of death.
  If you can identify yourself with what I just told you, then I have a promise for you. I want to promise you that if you are a seeker and are willing to sit down and talk, either to Father Mike, Father Kurt, Deacon Cliff or myself, we will do everything in our power to answer all of your questions. I assure you, we have answers for all of them.
   Lastly I will like to tell you this, in your mind you might have many reasons why you are here tonight, some of you just want to make someone happy, others might think that “this is what my family has done for generations” and even others might not even be able to articulate why you are here! Regardless of what your reason is I want to tell you this: The reason why you are here today is because God wants you to be here, he has called you, you have not answer to his call yet, but at least you stopped looking at yourself long enough for him to catch your attention. That is all God needs, that is all he asks, God has called you and you have heard this call: What are you going to do about it?

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
"Ya Rabbi Yasou!!"
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That Faith "Thing": 29th Sunday Ordinary Time (C); To the Confirmandi

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Today was one of those rare Sundays in which I have to prepare two homilies, as I was preaching to two different groups. Saturday night I preached specifically to the confirmandi and Sunday morning to the the regular 8:00AM crowd. Here is the confirmandi version of my homily.

     Today’s Gospel ends with a very disturbing question by Jesus. “When the son man comes, will he find faith?” I find this question disturbing because it is a direct challenge to my own “spiritual comfort zone”. I like to think that I have a strong faith, a faith I could show the Lord in my last day and say “Master, Look what I did with the talents you gave me”; and then I start remembering all the times I was less than faithful. You know the times I didn’t pray when I was supposed too, the times I received communion knowing that I was less than ready to receive the Lord, the times in which I thought that just doing the minimum effort was good enough, even the times in which I told myself “God will understand”, before going ahead and behaving in a less than Christian way. And then I start thinking that perhaps I am not as ready to show my faith to the Lord as I thought I was. To me it is not if I will show the Lord my faith, but what kind of faith I will end up showing him.
   In fact, I'm convinced that for Christians who want to take theirs faith serious, asking themselves every day “If the Lords were to come to me today what kind of faith will he find?” is a good and helpful thing.
   Now tonight we are lucky, we have a big group of our future confirmandis with us here, so I would like to direct the rest of my homily to them.
   My dear confirmandi, I know who you are and I know why you are here. You are the future of our parish, our church, our country and our world.  I know that some of you are not too sure why you are here, I also know that some of you do not want to be here, and that the only reason why you are here is because of your parents.
    I know that for the majority of you this faith thing is very confusing, and that in fact it seems that the only place in which faith is important is in church. Outside of these walls faith is boring, unimportant and even embarrassing.
   I know that that some of you are even questioning the very existence of this faith, this church and even God himself. I’m here to tell you it is OK. To have faith is to question, to doubt and to seek. You might be thinking why would I want live a life with doubt? Because to have faith also means to have hope. Hope in the future, hope in yourselves and hope in the fact that there is a destiny for each one of us which is eternal. Where we will meet all those who have passed from this life into whatever is awaiting on the other side.
  If you can identify yourself with what I just told you, then I want to make you a promise. I want to promise you that if you really invest yourself in this program, if you honestly think about the important issues we will be discussing during the next few months; I assure you that all of your questions will be answered and if they are not, just come to me and I will do my best effort to give you an acceptable answer.
   Lastly I will like to tell you this, you might have many reasons why you are here tonight, some of you just want to make your parents happy, others might think that “this is what we do in my family” and even others might be here just because there is a cute girl or guy here too. Regardless of what you think your reason is I want to tell you this: The reason why you are here today is because God wants you to be here, He has called you, you have not answer to His call yet, but at least you stopped looking at your phone and social media long enough for Him to catch your attention. That is all God needs, that is all he asks, God has called you and you have heard this call: What are you going to do about it?
  God bless you all, and I hope to see you all back here in April to meet the bishop and receive the Sacrament of confirmation.

"VIva Cristo Rey!!"
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