Sunday, December 13, 2015

That Voice Crying out int the Desert: 2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C

  6 Months ago I started a new job. On my way to work I stop at the corner of route 29 and route 198 in Laurel. In this particular spot there is a man who stands with a sign which states he is unemployed and that we will accept any help we can provide.
  As I was reflecting on the person of John the Baptist, I found myself going back to this man and to the different feelings he has caused on me throughout the last 6 months. I remember the very first time I saw him, I felt like just getting out of my car and offering him my help. Of course I could not just abandon my car in the middle of the road, so I had to sit there and stare at him feeling helpless, trying to figure what could I do. As the weeks passed I started looking at him with suspicion -  especially when I noticed someone else with a similar sign on the other corner of this intersection.
   Pretty soon I started to feel a bit angry at him, since people who stopped to give him some money were causing me to miss my turn adding time to my commune (I remember I told myself, here I am the one with a regular job been made late to work by the unemployed!) Well after six months of this, I’m ashamed to admit, I just feel indifference towards him. In fact, I have noticed that other drivers (I assume they are regulars like me, on this busy intersection) have trained themselves to not even make eye contact and just ignore him.  Helplessness, suspicion, anger and indifference; all these feelings just from a man standing in a corner, holding a sign.
  I think it is very proper that in a time of the year in which we are busy and stressed with the million little tasks we need to complete before the “Big Day”, in today’s Gospel, John the Baptist appears standing against the traffic of our busy lives as a voice, “Crying out in the desert”,  reminding us what this season is all about: “A time to change the direction of your lives, to straighten our paths, to smooth our rough ways, because the Lord is near”
  In this Second Sunday of advent, John the Baptist is our man on a corner, holding a sign, asking us how are we doing with our preparations for the coming of our Lord.

   The questions we should be asking ourselves today are not if our houses are ready, or are all the presents wrapped. But, how does John makes me feel, when I hear his call from the desert. Do we feel helpless because although we would want this season to be different, we see ourselves time and time again buying more, wanting more, wasting more?    Are we suspicious of his words, thinking that although it might be nice to refocus our attention in the coming of the Lord, that is the sort of thing which only religious nut jobs and old ladies do? The sort of things me and my family do not appreciate? Do we feel anger at the implication that our way of celebrating Christmas is not the right way? Anger at the implication that our way of life is not the right way of life? Or are we just indifferent, even perhaps numb, at his message to refocus our attention to what is important this season? Refocus our attention into Christ and his coming, and not into having the taller three, the most Xmas lights, the biggest presents.  
   The good news is that helplessness, suspicion, anger and indifference are just feelings, and as feelings they could be overcome by our will, with the help of God’s grace in our lives, which we receive through the sacraments..
   So as we enter this second week of advent, it is up to us to look into ourselves and decide that instead of helplessness this year we will be hopeful that the Lord will truly be born in our hearts, instead of suspicion we will be confident of the promises of our Lord, instead of anger we will love those we encounter, and instead of indifference we will make an effort to appreciate this time we have been given to prepare and receive the Lord like he deserves, with  a humble spirit and a joyous heart.God bless you all.

NOTE: Many people have asked me what happened to my daily compute friend. After I preached this homily I make the point of stopping and talking to him. I gave him my card and told him that if he needs any help he could call me and I can make him contact the proper Catholic charities which will be able to help him. I ask you to say a prayer for this man so that he takes advantage of the help he so much needs.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

On the Humanity of Pope Francis

   Pope Francis has done it again!!

   He has open his heart (His very human heart) to the world only to show us that he has the same struggles we have.

   Of course I'm speaking about his remarks to an Italian Lutheran woman married to a Catholic, during Francis' visit to a Roman Lutheran Church. Ms. Anke de Bernardinis asked Francis a very charged question:

Question: My name is Anke de Bernardinis and, like many people in our community, I'm married to an Italian, who is a Roman Catholic Christian. We’ve lived happily together for many years, sharing joys and sorrows. And so we greatly regret being divided in faith and not being able to participate in the Lord's Supper together. What can we do to achieve, finally, communion on this point?

  As a deacon and a family man I have been asked this same questions many times, even by people very close to my heart, and every time I felt torn.  I hear myself giving fine theological points that for someone looking to get closer to the Lord sound more like hollow excuses than two thousand years of  theological Eucharistic reflection.  So it pleased me greatly that in his answer, the Pope,  reflected my own conflicts and struggles while wrestling with this issue. Here is Francis' answer.

Pope Francis: The question on sharing the Lord’s Supper isn’t easy for me to respond to, above all in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper! I’m scared!
I think of how the Lord told us when he gave us this command to “do this in memory of me,” and when we share the Lord’s Supper, we recall and we imitate the same as the Lord. And there will be the Lord’s Supper, there will be the eternal banquet in the new Jerusalem, but that will be the last one. In the meantime, I ask myself — and don’t know how to respond — what you’re asking me, I ask myself the question. To share the Lord’s banquet: is it the goal of the path or is it the viaticum [provisions] for walking together? I leave that question to the theologians and those who understand.

It’s true that in a certain sense, to share means there aren’t differences between us, that we have the same doctrine – underscoring that word, a difficult word to understand — but I ask myself: but don’t we have the same Baptism? If we have the same Baptism, shouldn’t we be walking together? You’re a witness also of a profound journey, a journey of marriage: a journey really of the family and human love and of a shared faith, no? We have the same Baptism.

When you feel yourself to be a sinner – and I feel more of a sinner – when your husband feels a sinner, you go to the Lord and ask forgiveness; your husband does the same and also goes to the priest and asks absolution. I’m healed to keep alive the Baptism. When you pray together, that Baptism grows, becomes stronger. When you teach your kids who Jesus is, why Jesus came, what Jesus did for us, you’re doing the same thing, whether in the Lutheran language or the Catholic one, but it’s the same. The question: and the [Lord’s] Supper? There are questions that, only if one is sincere with oneself and with the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own. See for yourself. This is my body. This is my blood. Do it in remembrance of me – this is a viaticum that helps us to journey on.

I once had a great friendship with an Episcopalian bishop who went a little wrong – he was 48 years old, married, two children. This was a discomfort to him – a Catholic wife, Catholic children, him a bishop. He accompanied his wife and children to Mass on Sunday, and then went to worship with his community. It was a step of participation in the Lord’s Supper. Then he went forward, the Lord called him, a just man. To your question, I can only respond with a question: what can I do with my husband, because the Lord’s Supper accompanies me on my path?
It’s a problem each must answer, but a pastor-friend once told me: “We believe that the Lord is present there, he is present. You all believe that the Lord is present. And so what's the difference?” — “Eh, there are explanations, interpretations.” Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism. “One faith, one baptism, one Lord.” This is what Paul tells us, and then take the consequences from there. I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more.

  I have placed the parts which impacted me in BOLD. They impacted me because at one time or another I myself have reflected upon these ideas. But unlike Francis I have never been able to articulate these feelings.

 Why I'm writing this?

  This past Sunday as we were getting ready for mass, a lady approached me and said "Excuse me I am Lutheran may I  commune today?". Once again I was faced with this difficult questions and once again I have to say "I'm sorry but I can not give you communion, but you can come to my line and I will give you a blessing". Which in fact she did, but then something extraordinary happened: this lady (Which latter I learned is the Pastor of a local Lutheran Church), placed her hands upon my shoulders and gave me her blessing. A moment of true Christian union around the Table of the Lord.

  I think that from now, whenever I'm asked this question, instead of jumping into my standard answer heavy on Catholic theology I will just echo Francis words and say:

   The question on sharing the Lord’s Supper isn’t easy for me to respond to. I ask myself — and don’t know how to respond — what you’re asking me, I ask myself this question. But I also ask...  "Don’t we have the same Baptism? If we have the same Baptism, shouldn’t we be walking together?"
   There are questions that, only if one is sincere with oneself and with the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own. To your question, I can only respond with a question: what can I do for you, because the Lord’s Supper accompanies me on my path? It’s a problem each must answer, yes there are explanations, interpretations, but Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations.
   Should I answer your question with a "yes" or a "no"? I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and ask Him to tell you what is the right thing to do and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Some Comments About my Health


     I have been trying to find the best way to do this. I thought about placing a small blurb in our weekly bulletin but that felt a bit pretentious so I finally settle for this blog note. For the last year or so I have been struggling with hoarseness in my voice. Now, my regular voice is naturally hoarse so at first this did not worried me; since this is one of the symptoms during the  Prodrome stage of a migraine attack (just before the Migraine is set to hit). However for the last few months I have had a couple of instances in which I completely loose my voice for a period of a few hours. I finally went to a specialist and he diagnosed me (three months ago) with "Granulomas" on my vocal cords. At that time he indicated that these are most likely caused by acid re-flux and that I should just take it easy and monitor my diet, and go back for another check up in 90 days.
   I returned to see him a couple of weeks back and the news were not as encouraging as I had hoped. He said that the granulomas have expanded and that if I can not get them under control I could loose my voice. He gave me strict instructions not to raise my voice, sing, whisper, yell or strain my voice in any way as well as some medication and the command that I should use my voice as little as possible. He also indicated that if I can not get these under control the only option is surgery which will leave scar tissue and will definitely change my voice as well as require for me to take speech therapy so I can "learn to use my voice again".  I don't know you but these are the worst  news you can give a preacher!
   Of course one of the first things I did was inform my priest about this situation and ask him to pray for me. Him, been the good priest that he is, enlisted the help of our prayer warriors and I have had more people approach me and say "I praying for you" in the last couple of week than in my almost 9 years as deacon! Of course with all these prayers come speculation and based on some of the questions and comments I have received I feel I have to set the record straight.
    First, to use the words of my physician "The good news is that is not cancer". No, I do not have a "lung condition" or some other nasty bug. The reason why I have not been preaching at St Michel's is not because I've been punished, or will be transferred shortly is just because  my voice could not take it and Fr. Mike, Fr. Kurt and Deacon Cliff have come to the rescue in short notice.
   Currently I feel fine, I'm starting to notice I have more better days that bad ones so all the tender care to my vocal cords seen (at least to me) to be working. The one thing you could do for me and my family is pray; if you are no doing this already, ask for the intersession of St Blase, patron Saint of throat illnesses to procure from the Lord the grace of healing (If it is His will), or the grace I will need to endure this time.
   Again I thank you for your prayers and may God bless you richly today.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
Deacon Harbey

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Your Faith has Saved You: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

     Since the early years of the Church today’s gospel has been used to encourage and teach Christians about the power of perseverance in prayer. There is something unique about the way Bartimaeus, the blind man in our story, pleads for the Lord’s attention with complete disregard of of the people trying to silence him. Of course a blind man forced to beg charity from others to stay alive, has very little to lose; so he can ignore those who are trying to stop him.  When it comes to praying, Bartimaeus is always a good example to follow because he shows that perseverance always gets God’s attention.
    Now as it often happens with the stories about the Lord, if we look deeper we will find that there is much more going on that just the obvious message. In addition to prayer, this story serves as a guide to what to do, what the Lord expects from us and how he will reward us, when we are confronted with a situation which is becoming more and more common in our culture. I’m speaking about those cases in which Christians are required, even forced to make public declarations of their faith.
   From  Christians murdered for their faith, to public school coaches been disciplined for praying after games, to the removal of crosses and Christian symbols from public spaces, more and more it seems, every time the Christian faith is expressed in public there are always those who are ready and willing to silence us, to use the words of the Gospel they do not waste the chance to “rebuke us and try to make us silent”.

    If we think about it, Bartimaeus plea to The Lord was a declaration of faith. He believes, he has faith that Jesus mercy is the only thing which can help him, and Jesus proves this point when he tells him not "be healed" but “Your faith has saved you”. He pleads and screams, and those around him who only see a blind, dirty beggar discourage him and try to stop him.
    When Jesus finally notices him and calls him we are told that he “threw away his cloak”. Why would the writer point to this action? Because as a first century beggar this cloak, most likely, was Bartimeus most valued and only possession. By throwing it away he shows that for him there was nothing more important that to get Jesus attention, to express his faith in in the power of Jesus.
    But to me the most telling part is what Jesus says to him “What do you want me to do for you?” Here the Lord shows the willingness he has to reward those who call to him in faith and are willing to lose everything they have rather than allowing themselves to be silenced when declaring of their personal faith in Jesus.
    It is very troubling but most likely, today in 21 century America, the chances of having someone, even our own government try to stop us from expressing our faith in public is very high. Let us us pray that the beggar Bartimaeus is an example and a source encouragement for us and let us ask the Lord, like Bartimaeus did, for the light of his Mercy so that we are willing to sacrifice everything we have rather than deny our faith in Him. God bless you all.

NOTE: Today's homily was purposely shorter than normal because the yearly Financial  Report was scheduled for after Communion.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Marriage, Unique for a Reason: 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

   In today's first reading, taken from the 2nd chapter of Genesis, we are presented with the deepest and most mysterious reality of been human. The fact that we have been created to be in relationships. God our father and creator shows how well He understands the human condition when He declares “it is not good for man to be alone”. Human loneliness is not natural to us, and it is not part of our eternal destiny.
   Every creature in this earth although good enough to be our companion, will never be able fill the void of loneliness we carry in our hearts. So, as the last act of His creation, God gives the first man the
ultimate companion, the first woman, someone like himself, but different. Someone who could understand and relate to his spiritual hunger, to a degree that in their union they can become “One flesh”.
   This first reading is just a representation of a story which repeats again and again in history. In fact, I am sure that everyone here has experienced or will experience this type of loneliness which can only be
removed by meeting “that special person”.

  When people think they have found that special person it is natural for them to want for their union to be permanent; so they publicly express their desire to be known as life mates, as husband and wife. The Church has always recognized these types of unions as good and natural. But the Church also recognized very early in our history that Christians are called to a deeper type of union. A union which when
entered by two baptized persons reflects the very interior life of God which is self-giving
and self-revealing and always open to life. This union can only be entered by two baptized Christians, a man and a woman, and can only be entered freely and with complete understanding of what their responsibilities are. When done for the right reasons and with openness to life these unions receive great graces, and are what we call Sacramental Marriages.
   So today’s first reading is all about God, men, and women and the mysterious life affirming and life giving union which is Sacramental Marriage. Today’s gospel on the other hand brings us back to the sad
reality of our fallen nature and the fact that sometimes because of our human failures marriages end in divorce. Now Jesus is very clear in this reading, what God unites in sacramental marriage man can not dissolve; this bond can not be broken! And I think Pope Francis said it very well a few days back when he said “there is no such thing as Catholic divorce”
   Now we find ourselves with a dilemma, if I as Catholic thought that the day of my wedding I had freely expressed my desire to be bonded by God to another person and now because of our mutual failings I find myself alone again...What is left for me to do? Well the first thing is do
not despair, you are not alone. Although there is no such thing as a Catholic Divorce, the fact is that, many people (and here we might need to include ourselves) on the day of their wedding were not capable or willing to freely enter this type of spiritual bond.
   You might not know this but I’m an advocate to the marriage tribunal of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, I deal with a lot of Catholics who are trying to rebuild their lives, after their divorce; and experience has
taught me that, in the culture in which we live, with what our children see about marriage in the media, what they learn in schools and even by what they experience in the divorce of their own families, the sad reality is... there are many, many people that are not capable of entering Sacramental Marriage the day of their wedding because of they live with a warped idea of what the Church means when she says "marriage". So after their divorce they find themselves lost, hurt and afraid.
   Today is respect life Sunday, in a few minutes we will have someone speak about what we are doing here at St Michael in favor of the protection of all life, from conception until natural death. So I will like to focus now on what are we doing for divorced Catholics, which in my mind is part of our commitment to minister to all life.
   First I would like to mention again that I’m an advocate for the Marriage tribunal, so if you would like to investigate this process you could talk to me or Fr Mike. In addition to this we have the 12 week
Catholic Divorce Survival Guide for Separated and Divorced program which is just starting, and meets on Mondays at 7pm in room 109 . We also have the Monthly Divorce Recovery Ministry Meeting, an ongoing support group for those struggling with the pain of Divorce and meets the 3rd Tuesday of every month in the Conference Room. We Also have the Single Again Fellowship Events (SAFE) which are every other month outings for separated, divorced and widowed Catholics. In fact, I’m told that the next one will be on Saturday, October 17th. For all these we have a fantastic team composed of our coordinator, Irene Cochran, Stacey Ford our DRE and myself . All of us are willing to
listen and walk with you in this process of healing.
   The teachings of the Church about marriage are beautiful. Sadly (and I’m the first to admit this) we have done a horrendous job at teaching why marriage is a unique gift from God for those who enter into this
union. But we are fixing that, so if you would like to explore these beautiful teachings, if you would like to find healing from a broken marriage, I invite you to take advantages of these opportunities here at St
Michael, and always remember...You are not alone. God bless you all

Who do You Say That I Am? 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

    Today’s first reading might sound a bit familiar to our ears. It is taken from the Book of Isaiah, from a section also known as the Suffering Servant Songs. It sounds familiar because it is also read during the great mass at Palm Sunday, at the beginning of Holy Week. This was not done by accident. By placing such an significant reading next to today’s Gospel the church is telling us that today's Gospel reading is of great importance.  In fact some theologians have stated that  what we are witnessing in today's Gospel is a key moment in the history of Christianity, one of those moments in the life of Jesus which exist outside of time and space. To put it plainly, when you hear people say that the words of Jesus are eternal, they are talking about His words in a Gospel reading like this.
    The story is simple enough, Jesus while walking with his disciples decides to engage them in conversation. It is easy to imagine the Lord making small talk with the apostles, and I imagine the conversation went something like this:
“WOW what a beautiful day for a hike! How long do you think it takes to walk to Caesarea?  Did you see all the people that came out to hear me speak? I saw you talking to some of them...Who were they saying that I was?”

  “Well Master, some were saying you were John the Baptizer, others that you were a prophet, (Get a load of this) we even heard some calling you Elisha” …
”Hmmm that’s nice… but you… Who do you say that I am?”
    Such a simple question, and yet, men who for months had spend 24 hours with Jesus, men who had seem him heal the sick and feed thousands of people, couldn't find the words to answer.. In their silence we can almost sense their confusion, up until then they have been witnesses to the greatest events in the history of mankind and now… now for the first time, they are asked to stop, reflect and explain what did it all means to them? Who is this man?
   Every year when I teach Religious education to our teens, the very first time we meet I ask each one this same question, “Who is Jesus to you?” and invariably I get the same answers “ He is my friend“,”Someone I can trust, someone, who helps me when I need him, someone who listens” For these young people, as it was for the apostles, is very difficult to express who this mysterious historical figure is to them. Since in my class I do not let them stay silent, they all fall back into what I call your standard Jesus  description: someone that sounds suspiciously like a bigger version of whom they want be. Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that our youth are any different than your average Catholic. I’m willing to bet that when it comes to stating who Jesus is. if I were to ask the same question of adults, I would get many similar answers.
   To me the amazing thing is that this question is truly eternal, although it was asked two thousand years ago, its echoes reverberate every day in the life of every Christian. “Who do you say that I am” is a direct question our Lord asks to His disciples, not only the ones walking with Him that day but all of his disciples throughout the ages; and even after two thousand years of reflection we as the apostles that day are as incapable to finds the words to describe who he is.
   So the point of reflection for us today should be how would we answer this question.  Personally I have reflected on this question quite a bit and I have found that the easiest way to give an answer is not by what we could say about Him but by what we do because we know who He is. We show who Jesus is to us by the way we live our lives.
   How do we say Jesus is? He is the reason why we feed the hungry, clothe the naked; harbour the homeless, visit the sick, and ransom the captive. He is the reason why we love our enemies, and pray for their conversion. Why we pray, attend mass and have an active life in our community. He is the reason why we suffer with the suffering, and rejoice with the joifull. 
   To put it in short words: When we live in the way he told us to live, we realize that as disciples of the Lord, when we love, we show in our actions who he really is, our Lord and our God. God bless you my brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Words of Eternal Life: 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

    As I was reflecting on today’s Gospel it occurred to me that  there is a lot of truth on that old saying “The more things change the more they stay the same”....  For the last 4 weeks we have followed the Lord as he presented to his disciples the teaching, we all know today as “The Real Presence”. The belief that when we receive the Eucharist we are been fed with the true resurrected body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. During this time, I’m sure, you have heard either Deacon Cliff, Fr. Mike, Fr. Kurt or myself preaching about this great mystery of our faith. So today I decided to do something different, I decided not to focus as much on what Jesus said but on the reaction His teachings had on the people who were listening.
   The reading says that: “Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”  and that “as a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him”
   To me these passages are of great importance, because they show that from the beginnings the teachings of The Church have been found challenging and difficult to accept. Like I said at the beginning things have not changed much. Even after 2000  years of reflection and divine inspiration from the Holy Spirit I would venture to say that the majority of Catholics  still find some of the teachings of our church hard.
   Now I want to make something clear: I'm not talking about things like “Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest?” or “Why do I have to hold fast at least one hour before receiving communion?”...these are the easy ones!
    Where I want to focus today is in the teachings which are as challenging to us as the words “Eat my flesh and drink my blood blood” were to the people listening to the Lord. If you think about it this is the nature of all religious truth. Religious truth should challenge us and force us into a decision of what kind of person, what kind of disciple we are going to be.
     For some, the teaching that life is sacred and that unborn children should be protected even in the most difficult and heart wrenching cases, is a hard teaching! For others, the teaching that Marriage is an institution not defined or created by the state but by God and that it belongs to the order of nature which is one man and one woman is a hard teaching. For some others ,the teaching that illegal immigrants in our communities should be allowed access to basic social help and that we are called to treat them as if they were our own brothers and sisters is also a hard teaching. Even others, find that the teaching that in our country there is no social justification for the death penalty and that we should work towards eradication this law from all 50 states is a hard teaching! I can go on but I think you might be getting the picture by now. These teachings are not republican, or democrat, they are not conservative or liberal, they are the truth, and it is up to us to surrender our conscience and will to them or to abandon the truth of the Gospel.
    For some people been a Christian might seem easy, all you have to do is love God, love your neighbor like yourself. But this is not what Christianity is all about! Been a true believer requires an act of the will, and a complete surrender to a truth which does not come from any civil state or any sociological study or laboratory but out of the Word Made Flesh, and the Church He gave His authority to teach and guide His disciples.
   There is another part of today’s gospel I would like to share with you. Let me read it: “Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
  Here we see an example to follow: complete religious surrender when confronted with the Truth. Notice that Peter doesn’t say “Master don’t worry because we agree and understand everything you are saying” but “ Master, we are convinced you are the Holy One from God, Your words are words of eternal life”. We might not agree or even understand why you are saying what you are saying, but we believe that when it comes to decide between what you are saying and what my mind is telling have the words of eternal life”.  I would like to finish today with a piece of advice I give all my CCD and RCIA students: it is OK to struggle with some of the teachings of the Church, this is a sign of a healthy faith, but when it comes to make a decision, when it comes to making a stand and surrendering our will to what is true, we should always side with Jesus and his Church or we might run the danger of ending up like the other disciples in today’s gospel, the ones who abandoned the company of the Lord and returned to their old way of life. God bless you all my brothers and sisters.