Saturday, August 18, 2018

On the Crisis of Manhood in the Church; 20th OT Cycle B

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    I was going to preach a homily about  how Jesus is the bread of life who comes down from heaven, but then on Wednesday, while I was on vacation, I started to see the news of the Harrisburg Diocese Grand Jury report. I have to confess that it pained me deeply that Cardinal Keeler, a man which I admired greatly, the man who ordained me to the diaconate, was in fact a big player in the culture of silence and  abuse that existed in Harrisburg. So I think that this Sunday, we the clergy of the Church can not ignore this devastating report from the pulpit.
   Since Wednesday I have been following the reactions of people in  social media and I have seen the pain, anger, and disappointment Catholics like you here today are feeling.  One of these commentators said something which stuck with me. He said: “It is not a good week to be Catholic”. At least for me, It’s been a brutal week. Just go to Facebook and look at the reactions Archbishop Lori’s statements referring to this report have generated, and you will see what I’m talking about.
 
    In my mind I am convinced that there is nothing we the preachers in this Sunday can say that will make you, the lay people, regain the trust of the men that are supposed to be our spiritual fathers and the successors of the apostles. So where do we go from here?  Well I feel that the only thing I can do is explore what in my opinion is the cause of why the horror stories in this grand jury report happened.
    I feel that this latest scandal reflects one of the great tragic realities of our times and our church. For decades, our church have been suffering from what I call a "crisis of manhood". The reason why our seminaries are empty is because we have forgotten as a church what the meaning of “being a man” is. The real tragedy is that we have ignored the one great example of manhood in front of our very eyes: Jesus the God man, dead on a cross. And what is this example? To give your life for the ones you love, to sacrifice self for the good of the other and to embrace and console those who suffer. This is what real men do and this is what we as clergy have failed to do.
   I feel that the only hope we have as a Church resides in the lay people. They are the ones who should keep us accountable and they are the ones who, like a mirror, should reflect to us what is lacking in us, where are we falling short from the real image of manhood, Jesus on the Cross. As a church we need to return to this image. This might not happen in one homily, or in a week or a year, it might take a generation or two, but once we return to this example, once we begin to reflect to the world the image of Jesus the Christ, we as a Church will return to be the moral beacon for our culture. We need men lay and clergy to embrace this image of Jesus Crucified for our sins, for the sake of ourselves, our families and our the world. God bless you my brothers and sisters.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

The Bread of Life Discourse (17Th Sunday OT Cycle B)

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    Today is a very special Sunday. If you are a liturgy geek like myself you will know that in the church we use a three year cycle for the Sunday readings. Meaning every 3 years we repeat the same Sunday readings; so today’s readings we have not heard since 2014 and we will not hear them again until the year 2021. Now the reason why today is special is because today’s Gospel reading is the beginning of what is known as the Bread of Life discourse, and I say the beginning because for the next 6 Sundays we will read the whole story.
   Now, if you are a bible geek like myself, you will know that the gospel reading for today comes from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John.  And if you are a theology geek like myself you will also know that for Catholics this section of the new testament is one of the most important sections in the whole of the bible. Why? Because this is the point in Jesus ministry in which he begins teaching His disciples about the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith. How important are these readings? Think about it, without faith in what Jesus tells us in these readings, that He is the bread of life who came down from heaven and that we need to eat His body and drink His blood in order to have eternal life, everything we do at mass, every single day and especially on Sundays, would have no meaning. In fact if Jesus were not present in the Eucharist, everything we do at mass could be considered idolatry.
     What Jesus begins teaching us today will culminate not 6 weeks from now but on the day of the Last Supper or Holy Thursday, the day in which for the first time, he gives himself to us in the forms of bread and wine, and gives His disciples to power to transform this bread and wine into His divine body and blood. He himself becomes the bread that comes down from heaven. 
  Now, when we look at today’s gospel again, we will notice that the Lord Jesus begins his catechesis on the Eucharist not with deep philosophical or theological ideas but with the one very common, very human act. The one act who gives life to the human race, eating and drinking. Of course the Lord could have used some other human act to remain with us. Before the first Jewish temple was destroyed by the Babylonians the Bible states that the presence of God resided in the temple as a form of permanent cloud in the Holy of Holies.
   Why would God select the form of bread and wine to remain with us “until the end of times”? Because he knows very well human hunger. physical hunger as well as spiritual hunger. The physical hunger can be taken care of by the substance of the bread and wine, but our spiritual hunger can not be satiated by material things. Some people try to do this by filling their lives with “stuff”. Some use money, some use sex, some use power, others use alcohol, or pills or illegal drugs, but what they are really doing is covering over the emptiness the carry in their spirit.
  But the only thing which can satiate this hunger is God himself, who created us with this hunger for him, a hunger which will not leave us until we fill our spirit with him. This is why we receive communion, to allow God to become part of who we are. To become part of our cells and our DNA and to allow him into our hearts to fill the emptiness we all carry inside..
  Like I said, today is just the first part of the Bread of Life discourse, in the next 5 weeks we will see how Jesus slowly moves from feeding 5 thousand people with 5 loaves of bread, to giving his body to be eaten and his blood to be drunk by the whole world.
  If you are a Catholic geek like myself, you will realize during this next few weeks that there is no life without partaking of the Eucharist, that we were created for this moment and that we will never be closer to the Lord than when we quietly kneel on our, pews after communion. GBYMBAS

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Trinity Sunday (B): The Examen

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     Father Mike was telling me before mass how happy he was that on Trinity Sunday, it was the deacons who were scheduled to preach. To which I gave a half hearted “thank you”. Now, don’t get me wrong I love to preach God’s word to this community, the issue today is the topic. It's been said many times that there is more heresy preached on this Sunday of the liturgical calendar than in any other Sunday of the year.
   As fascinating as the dogma of the Most Blessed Trinity is, there is not much we can say without, falling short with the words we use. In fact I am of the personal opinion that the only thing I can say about the Blessed Trinity without risking being misunderstood is that the Trinity IS true; That the persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit IS the One and True and Only God. And as you can see only by using bad grammar I can be specific enough about this great mystery. Even our language falls apart when we use it to describe the mystery of the One God in three persons.
     Of course we do not need to understand the true nature of God to develop a relationship with “Him Who Is Love”. We can all experience this mysterious being, without getting a theology degree. The reason for this is  because The Trinity is a mystery which wants to be explored, it wants to be part of our lives, it wants to have a deep relationship with us. The problem is that God is a pure spirit; we on the other hand are a strange mix of spirit and created matter. Our brains are not configured to understand spiritual realities and there is no higher spiritual reality than  the One God.
   So we find ourselves in a dilemma, as material beings we are incapable to perceive and understand spiritual realities, but God is the highest, deepest, and most mysterious of all spiritual realities. Luckily God in his infinite mercy is constantly trying to get our attention, so he constantly enters into our daily lives and leaves markers, little signs of His love for us, which we would discover if only we were to pause every day and tried to find them.  By discovering these little drops of God’s mercy, we can develop a deeper connection with this divine being.
  How can we do this? Well, in the two thousand years of history in our church many saints and spiritual masters have developed ways of discovering God’s mysterious actions in our lives. Today in this Trinity Sunday I would like to tell you about one method which is practiced every day by millions of people, and has proven to be very effective in discovering God’s mysterious actions. This method, developed by St Ignatius of Loyola is called The Exam and I call it the “5 Rs”: Request, Review, Relish, Repent, Resolve.

  • Request the Spirit to lead us through the exam. Begin with a short prayer to the Trinity, ask The Father, by the Son, through the Holy Spirit to help you on your examination of the day.
  • Review the day. You can do this hour by hour or morning, midday, afternoon, evening, or home, commute, work, commute, home, there is not a set way to do this just do what comes naturally to you.
  • Relish the moments that went well and all of the gifts received today. Focus on the small victories and try to see why? Why things went well and what was the reason of the gifts received 
  • Repent of any mistakes or failures. Don’t duel on these but don’t ignore them either. Again for each one of these as God for forgiveness. If any of these is serious enough, make a promise to yourself to attend the sacrament of reconciliation.
  • Resolve, Ask God to show you how tomorrow might go. Imagine the things you will be doing, the people you will see, and the decisions you will be making. Ask for His help.

  My brothers and sisters although we will never understand the true nature of God, He is a loving father which is always looking for ways to let us know He is there. I encourage you in this day to make a firm commitment to discover all the little ways he uses to take care of you throughout your day. I promise you that if you do this you will grow in your relationship with God, who loves you and gave the live of His Son for you.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Bad Laws and Rotten Fruit: 27th Sunday OT (Cycle A)

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   This week all priests and deacons in our diocese received a very unusual email from archbishop Lori. It specifically asked us to preach about a piece of legislation that is slowly moving towards enactment in the Maryland legislature. Perhaps you have heard of this bill, it is trying to legalize Assisted Suicide in Maryland. If approved it will not require that the patient have a prior relationship with the doctor prescribing the lethal dose of drugs, and therefore no way for the doctor to recognize if the patient is under the undue influence of a family member or caretaker. Patients will not be required to receive a mental health screening for depression before they receive the lethal prescription. No family notification will be required. No medical professional or witness of any kind will be required to be present when the lethal dose is taken. It even allows people to get their lethal prescription at the local pharmacy, making pharmacists silent contributors to this great evil.

    With everything that has been happening in the last few weeks, the catastrophic hurricanes in the south and the Caribbean and the rampage in Vegas; I have to admit sometimes it feels as if the Lord has given up on our country.
   We live in a world in which death can happen in our own homes, or even while we're just listening to music at a concert and soon, if this bill passes, we will live in a state where instead of finding ways of protecting those who are vulnerable and suffering, the state resorts to cheapening the dignity of human life by encouraging and facilitating suicides. I listen to the words in today's first reading and have to admit...that vineyard that was left to grow among the brambles and thorns sounds awfully similar to us.

   And yet,  even in a reading like this, we see God’s love for his people. Let me show you, as I was reflecting in this reading it occurred to me that, the owner of this vineyard does something rather peculiar. You see, when one plants a garden, if for some reason this garden gives no product the logical step is to uproot all the plants until the ground is completely bare, till it, and then wait for the new season and plant new seeds. The owner of this vineyard doesn’t do this, he just lets the planted grapevines grow, even if they are among thorns and brambles. It is as if the owner knows very well that there is something good still growing. In fact even after abandoning this vineyard this gardener calls it “My cherished plant”.

   My brothers and sisters the Lord has not abandoned us. You, me, the people of Maryland, America, the whole world... is precious to Him. In the midst of bad laws, tragedies and calamities, this vineyard which yields no fruit is still good and cherished by the gardener. It is up to us, the ones who have been placed in the middle of all this turmoil to find a way of producing some fruit. How do we do this? Well by using one of Father Mike’s favorite phrases: By making good use of our time, talent and treasure. We can volunteer our time to help those that are close to us, so that resources can be freed to help Texas, Florida, Las Vegas and Puerto Rico. We can donate money for the reconstruction of these areas or to honor the memory of those who died. We can use our talents to contact our elected officials and let them know that suicide, even if it is allowed by the state, is a crime against the dignity of every citizen of Maryland.

    As members of the body of Christ it might look like our prayers, efforts and voices go unnoticed, but remember, the Gardener knows His vineyard, He knows the potential each one of us have. Even if we grow among all the brambles and thorns the world throws at us, this vine is getting strong, growing deep roots.

   Jesus's words in the Gospel gives us assurance of this fact, the stone the builder rejected will become the cornerstone, this is something the Lord will do by His own hand, and it will be a clear miracle to all who sees the crop of His beloved vineyard. GBMBAS
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Monday, September 18, 2017

The Healing Power of Forgiveness, 24th Sunday OT (Cycle A)

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   This week’s readings are a perfect segue for me to talk about a ministry which is very close to my heart. This ministry has given me the opportunity to witness how God's grace can transform the human heart. Working on this for the last few years, I have seen the awesome and liberating power forgiveness has on those who are willing to forgive. I have also seen how when is NOT given, is capable of enslaving the human spirit.
    The ministry I’m speaking of today is the work I do with divorced and separated Catholics. Now it is a well known fact that Catholics do not divorce, right? It is also well known that more than 50% of Catholic marriages end in divorce. You might be thinking how can this be? Well I have found by talking to people who are in the midst of a separation or a divorce, that these two ideas can exist in our minds because we are convinced that divorce is something that only happens to other people and not to us.   Now I’m not going to get into why divorce happens, at the end of the day it happens because of human weakness and sin. Today I want to focus on how forgiveness is the KEY to deal with the hurricane of emotions we are thrown into when we suffer the end of a marriage, the breakup of a family, and the loss of a spouse.

    To do this I do not have to go too far;  In today’s first reading we hear Ben-Sirach exclaim “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD?”   Yes, it is that simple. Healing can only be given to us when we are able to abandon our anger against those who hurt us. 
   As you can imagine there is a lot of anger in divorce, anger against spouses, friends, relatives but also anger against ourselves. It is only when we recognize these emotions and refuse to be mastered by them that the healing process can move ahead. To some people it happens very fast, but to others it can take years.    I know very well what I’m saying here. Almost 30 years ago I went through my own divorce and it took me 15 years to realize I needed to forgive myself AND my former spouse in order to completely heal the wounds of my divorce. Now forgiveness is not “I forgive you, now we are going to become best friends again”. The forgiveness I’m speaking about is letting go of the past and accepting the other person and ourselves for whom we were that day in which the marriage vows were exchanged. And recognizing how weak, immature, selfish and arrogant we had been in our lives. This doesn't happen in an instant, it is a process that takes time, sometimes years.
   When I went through my divorce, I had to do this all by myself. Thirty years ago, divorce was something good Catholics in the Church did not acknowledge. Sadly, this is the reason why so many divorced people have decided to abandon the Church, or have chosen to live as Catholics in irregular second marriages.
    Luckily, this doesn’t have to be case any more. Here at St  Michael’s we have a divorce care ministry which is available to anyone who would like to start the long road to complete healing and liberation.
In a few minutes Irene Cochran, our co-facilitator for the Divorce Recovery Ministry will be telling you her own story and how we can help you in our ministry.
    So if you have experienced divorce, or know someone who has or is in the midst of their own divorce, I encourage you to take this information and share it with them.  Remember, the people who are not here today depend on you to reach out, touch them and bring to them the true healing that comes from the process of forgiveness. GBMBAS


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Monday, August 28, 2017

A Church Built on a Rock: 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

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   In today’s  first reading we hear one of the key moments in the history of Christianity. One of those moments which seems to exist outside of time and space. To put it plainly, when you hear people say that the words of Jesus are eternal, they are thinking about a Gospel reading like today's. 
    The story is simple enough. Jesus, while walking with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi, decides to engage them in conversation. I imagine the conversation went something like this:
Jesus: “ I saw you talking to some of them...Who were they saying that I was?”
The Apostles: “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” …
Jesus ”Hmmm that’s nice… but you… Who do you say that I am?”
    If the Lord Jesus ever asked a loaded question... This. is. it.
    What follows is the moment in which Simon the fisherman without knowing it and inspired by the Holy Spirit, became the first person ever to recognize Jesus as the Son of God, The Christ. And because of this, Peter (As he was known from this moment on) was given authority and responsibility to guide the Church of Jesus Christ with the promise that this Church will be so inspired and protected that not even the Gates of Hell will ever be able to prevail against it.
    For the Catholic Church, today’s Gospel reading is a very important one, because this is the moment in which the Lord established this Church as an institution which, for the last 2000 years, has survived division, schism, persecutions, oppression and especially the leadership of flawed, weak and even evil men, all of them successors of Simon-Peter and the apostles.
    Now I’m the first one to admit that some parts of our history have been less than stellar. Some of the successors of Peter have not been the best examples of Christian life, in fact I can tell you some stories about some of these guys that would scandalize you to next week and back! However, I much rather point to a very interesting fact about the history of our Church:  It really doesn't matter how bad our leaders, how misguided, petty or plain incompetent these men were; Or how evil the members of this Church have been, there has never been a period in the history of this planet, that the Church Jesus entrusted to Peter has not been vibrant, growing and expanding. Even today, in our country, when  you hear of parishes closing and the very real future shortage of priest, if we look to parishes like St Michael’s, our Church is strong and vibrant.
    I think it is safe to say that the history of our church has been and will continue to be a sign of contradiction.  How can a divine institution be composed of flawed and sinful human beings? How come a Church which houses the greatest treasures of human art and knowledge, is at the same time the largest charitable organization in the world? How come this Church surrounded by a world obsessed with materialism and self contentedness, continues to feed the most hungry, care for the most sick and dying and protect the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters?
    To me the biggest proof that the Church is divinely inspired and guided by God, the biggest proof that this is the Church Jesus Christ founded is the fact that in spite the brokenness and sin of us, her children, the Church still stands strong, and continues to grow.
     In fact, when we think about the Church in all of its beauty and ugliness, and how God continues to act through this same Church it is very easy to bring to our mind the words of today’s second reading. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” that have created and sustained a Church like this!...And all this happened because one very flawed man, Peter recognized Jesus as the son of God.
    So the next time you hear someone blasting the church for this or that reason, someone pointing to you the ugly warts in the face of our Church, amaze yourself at the power of the Holy Spirit which continues the work of the Lord Jesus, here on earth, even when the only tools at hand are me and you.  GBMBAS
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Saturday, May 13, 2017

On the Diaconate of Mothers: 5th Sunday of Easter (Cycle A)

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    Today’s first reading is very close to the heart of every permanent deacon. It is a reading we hear in every diaconal ordination. It is the story of how the apostles, the first bishops of the Church, decided to call 7 reputable men filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom, to be ordained, and to become servants to the most vulnerable members of their community, poor widows.
   This weekend as well we are celebrating Mother's Day, a day on which we show how grateful we are for all the  sacrifices our mothers make for us. It is interesting that we get to read about deacons serving widows on a weekend set apart  to show our appreciation for the life long service our mothers give to us.
   Now I do not want to give the  impression that somehow I think being a deacon is equivalent to been a mother (I know my wife would have something to say about this!). But the reason why I think it is interesting that we have this first reading on this specific weekend is because these two ways of life, a man ordained as a deacon and a woman living her motherhood, require a very important gift from God: they both require a call, what we usually call a vocation.  Now vocations are a funny thing, at their core they are not something you do, but something you are called by God to become. They are like a seed.
   When a seed grows to become a tree, it is NOT something the seed chooses to do. The acorn  doesn't sit in the ground thinking  “When I grow up I’m going to become a weeping willow”. An acorn is born with the potential to become a oak, and it is only throughout a series of very specific conditions, experiences and events that it can reach its full potential, an oak tree.
  The vocation to motherhood is something like an acorn.  It is a vocation which is present in every woman, but it takes a series of very specific conditions and experiences in the life of this woman to reach the full potential of this vocation. And here I would like to make another a very important point about the vocations to the diaconate and motherhood. In the same way a man doesn't need to be ordained to reach his full potential as a servant to others, a woman is not required to have biological children to be true to this vocation. The call to motherhood is a call that goes beyond biology. Look at Mother Teresa who was a mother to millions of people, think of the Mary who is mother  to the whole human race; there is a reason why we call her Our Blessed Mother! In my own life I can say and I’m sure you can say the same thing, I have had the benefit of many true mothers who have helped me, supported me and given me the maternal love we all require from time to time.
  Now I have been talking about how the call to be a deacon and the call to be  mother are similar. Before I finish today, I would like to touch on one very important difference between these two. Sometimes after spending the day ministering to the People of God, and I think all the mothers here will relate to this, there are times in which  I end up feeling frustrated, tired, and even hurt. The difference is that I can always count with the support and motherly love I get in my own home from my wife and kids. Many mothers, especially those who suffer quietly for their husbands or their children sometimes have no one to turn to.
   Today I would like to finish with a word of encouragement to those brave women who suffer quietly. In times of confusion and fear listen to the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be”. You are not alone, God has given you a very important job, and you are fulfilling it to the best of your ability. Be certain that your sufferings do not go unnoticed, offer these to God as pure sacrifices for your family. And remember “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” ...You are the cornerstone of your family, and today we want to say to you that we love you and appreciate everything you do for us, even if sometimes we do not show it. God bless you and Happy Mother’s Day!

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