Saturday, March 7, 2015

WWJD? 3rd Sunday of Lent (Cycle B)

   Every time I read this gospel story, the first thing that pops into my head is one of those colored plastic bands people use on their wrists. I’m sure you have seem the one I’m talking about, it has only 4 letters: WWJD which stand for “What Would Jesus Do”. In fact this has become so popular that I have seem  the same 4 letters in car stickers, t-shirts and even screen-savers.
    I think that today’s Gospel is particularly important for Christians because, like a friend told me once, it is a good reminder that sometimes doing what Jesus would do might involve wiping some people around, spilling their money on the ground and flipping some tables like a crazy person.
  Ok... Maybe that’s  taking it a bit too far, but today’s Gospel reading is important because it helps us dispel the erroneous image we have developed in our culture of a meek, passive, and submissive Lord. There will be time on Good Friday to be meek and submissive, a time in which the Lord is fulfilling the will of The Father, and gaining the eternal salvation of the world; but we see Jesus the man, doing what good men do: taking a stand. Not just pointing at an evil, but doing something about it.   
   I have to confess I never liked these WWJD merchandise, basically because I feel they are used as an excuse to remind Christians that in all situations we are supposed to project peaceful almost angelic image and in all circumstances we should strive for harmony and never do anything to upset the sensibilities of anyone by doing things like speaking the truth and  admonishing sinners.
   Now if we were to look deeper as to where this idea of a passive and meek Christian comes from we would have to admit that in fact this image is very attractive, to us. Why? because it is human nature to try to make everyone like us; and what a better way to do this than not upsetting anyone? The problem is that we transfer this image of a passive Christian into an image of a passive savior and in a sense we are making our Lord look just like us and not us look like him.
   The image of our Lord in today’s Gospel, becomes very upsetting when we realize that in certain circumstances in life we are to behave like this… when the moment calls for it we have to take a stance for what is right. 
    Now in the season of Lent we are supposed to use our time to correct those things that need to be fixed in ourselves so that we can enter more fully into the mystery of Good Friday and the Joy of Easter Sunday.  I would venture to say that one of the things we need to consider is our own personal image, quite simply lent is a good time to ask: Do I reflect Christ in me or do I make Christ a reflection of myself?
   Of course this type of self reflection is not easy, most times is very painful to look at our own shortcomings when it comes to imitating the master, so during lent the church gives us many opportunities to examine ourselves against the standard which our Lord. We have things like prayers, fasting and giving alms, which the Ash Wednesday Liturgy reminded us of how to do the right way. Then we have Stations of the Cross in which we see Jesus embracing his destiny and not shying away from the suffering he had to endure for the salvation of the world. And every Wednesday night in all the Churches of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the light is on for us. Which is the campaign we have every year to encourage Catholics to take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
   Now it is a sad reality for our Church that many Catholics hardly ever take advantage of this sacrament. Perhaps is because they are afraid, or perhaps it is because they feel that they have no sins to confess, or perhaps it is just because the feel it is not important, but the reality is that if we want to abandon this image of of a meek and passive Lord, the best way to start is by participating frequently of this Sacrament because it forces us to take a look at the ugliness of our personal sins. I am convinced my brothers and sisters that if Catholics were to take advantage of this wonderful gift of God’s mercy  more frequently, especially men which are to be the spiritual leaders of their families, to put it simply, we would change the image the world has of all of us.
  So in this upcoming week I invite you to ask not  what would Jesus do, but what would the master ask me to do at all times and in all situations, even if this means turning my own life upside down, and abandoning the image of a meek and passive Christian. Amen

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
"Ya Rabbi Yasou!!"

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lent Fasting: Good for Your Soul and Your Health

   Lent starts tomorrow, after New Year's I think this is the most common time in which people take upon resolutions. Many of us decide to cut on sweets, chocolate, coffee, red meat and many other foods in addition to our every Friday abstinence.  If you have not decided to give up food this lent this might give you some motivation.   A new report from the Yale School of Medicine recently stated that:
"a compound produced by the body when dieting or fasting can block a part of the immune system involved in several inflammatory disorders such as type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer's disease."
   Lenten practices are all about discipline, but there is a deeper component to these. To put it simply: How do we prove to ourselves that we truly believe what we believe? By voluntarily following  the lenten disciplines. So if you find yourselves floundering in mid March remember that you are also doing something for your health by depriving yourself of that bar of chocolate or that extra snack at 3:00pm.

You can read the rest of the report here.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

About the Incarnation - 6th Sunday of OT (B)

   My brothers and sisters, perhaps you don’t realize this but Lent starts on Wednesday! Since this is a season of penance and abstinence, I decided to focus today in a feast which although smacked right in the middle of this penitential season, provides us with an opportunity to experience a little bit of Christmas in the desert of lent. I’m speaking about March 25 the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord. In this day we celebrate the moment in which the archangel Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary and asked for her permission so that God the Father, through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, could conceive The Son of God in her immaculate womb. Now notice that this feast happens precisely 9 months before Christmas, so not only we celebrate the visit of the angel, but we also celebrate the moment in which The Son of God became incarnated; Which is a word invented by the Church to give a name to the the mystery that is an infinite God “becoming flesh and dwelling among us”.
   Usually, because we are so involved in our Lenten practices this great feast passes unnoticed, pretty much in the same way that when we are reciting the creed, we say this word without reflecting in its meaning and implications. The reality is that this word “incarnation” describes the most important event in the history of humanity.
You might have never noticed this but at every mass we remember the incarnation, not in the creed, but in the preparation of  the gifts we bring to the altar.  Usually as the offertory song is still been sung, the priest or deacon performs a very simple rite in which he adds a few drops of water to the wine while silently saying “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in Christ divinity who humbled himself to share in our humanity”.
   In the incarnation the Son of God himself abandons the divine majesty of God the Father, and humbles himself to share in our lowly, corrupted and weak humanity, without gaining any of our sin or losing any of his divinity.  Now this does not mean that somehow the son of God becomes like a bigger version of ourselves, but that he embraces all that we are, our weaknesses, our fears, our pains and makes them his, raising our humanity to a condition in which we can be sharers of God’s divine Nature, a condition we lost because of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve.
   Now you might be wondering where am I going with all this. Well the reason for this is because in the story of today’s Gospel we see very clearly what the incarnation is all about. Jesus willingness to embrace His humanity. In the Gospel we hear about of a leper who came to Jesus and pleaded “If you wish it you can make me clean”. St Mark says that Jesus was moved by pity  for this man and that he touched the man and said “I do will it, be made clean”. 
    Let's think about this action for a second, this man was a leper, because of this disease he was condemned to a life of solitude away from any human contact. Jesus touch did something more than heal him, it gave him back what he had lost, but Jesus did this in a very specific way; he voluntarily becomes ritually impure by touching a leper; but not only this, the reading says that this man  went out and  publicized what Jesus did for him, forcing the Lord to live outside in deserted places. By healing this man Jesus went from a normal traveling teacher to living the life of a leper. He took upon himself the misery this man had experienced because of his disease.
   The incarnation is the reason why we can live a life close to God, is the reason why we can be assured that God knows and understands our pains and tribulations. It makes God not a mysterious far away being, but a God who understands, when we are  hungry, tired, hurt and discouraged; because of this mystery of God we can be certain that we are not alone in our human suffering. Of course the end result of the incarnation is what we celebrate on Good Friday, what we prepare for during the season of Lent, God taking upon our own sufferings on the cross. 
  My prayer for all of us today is for a lenten season which allows us to enter deeper into the mystery of the incarnation so that we can all come to share in Christ divine life who humbled himself to share in our lowly humanity.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Did I Fulfill my Obligation? An encounter with Liturgycal Abuse


   Today I experienced something I have never experienced before. It is one of those things that make you realize how lucky you have been in your life until that very moment. Before I tell you what happened  I need to give you some background. I do not consider myself ultra-conservative when it comes to the mass, however I'm not one for liturgical dancing either. Liturgically, I consider myself middle of the road with a few lane changes to the left or to the right depending on the circumstances of the moment. The extent of my experience with liturgical abuses is what I have seen posted in Youtube and to this my reaction has always been to laugh it out and move on. Until today.

   As it happens I'm visiting my dad for a week to spend some quality time with him and allow my sister (his primary care giver) some quality time with  her family. Usually when I come to visit I attend mass at my original parish church. Since the mass times were not convenient, today I decided to attend mass at another parish with a more convenient time (I'm trying to stay general when it comes to details to protect the privacy of everyone involved, priest and congregation). I showed up a bit early to have some time to wander around the almost 300 years old church I was visiting and enjoy some personal prayer time. In my wanderings I found myself standing in front of a very realistic crucifix. I was taken a back at the realism of this piece of art and started to reflect on the pain our Lord suffered for the sake of my own sins. As I went deeper in my reflection I realized I was experiencing a deep feeling of spiritual anguish. I was surprised by this and spent the rest of my time kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament wondering what the deal was with these feelings from just a few seconds ago. Mass was about to start so I walked to the very front pew and sat. How little did I know that soon all my questions about the source of spiritual anguish were going to be answered!
   I have never experienced a mass such as this. To say that the priest committed a few liturgical abuses is to put it nicely. Let me just mention the ones which come to my mind right at the moment.
  • The priest’s greeting for the mass was  "The grace of our Lord Jesus who died for our sins be with you". My first thought when I heard this was "What about God the Father, and the Holy Spirit??? I hope this is a Trinitarian Mass".
  • The penitential rite was the priest leading us in a "Yoga breathing exercise" while repeating a mantra.
  • There was no "May almighty God have Mercy on us". In fact there was no Kyrie. I was left wondering: "are my sins forgiven? Is the Blessed Mother, angels and saints praying for me??
  • During the homily I learned that
    • Paul was a misogynist and a Manichean.
    • Most demoniacs Jesus healed were just misunderstood epileptics.
    • We should listen to what the UN tells us about the environment.
    • The church is homophobic.
    • A homily is a good place to quote Nietzsche.
  • Once the homily was over (thankfully!!) we were led into the creed by the priest asking us "Do you believe in..." and us answering with the mantra we had just learned during the penitential rite. This ancient rite culminated by us assenting our belief in the "the Church which is One, Holy, Catholic, SINFUL and apostolic".
  • During the "agnus dei" the priest gave a host to each extraordinary minister of communion, which they held in front of them and consumed at the same time the priest did (As if they were priests too!) after the recitation of "Lord I'm not worthy to receive you..."
    Needless to say by then my jaw was hitting the ground! I kept asking myself “what am I supposed to do? Should I just walk away?" (Remember I was sitting in the first pew!), but if I walk away, wouldn't I be abrogating my responsibility as clergy? I have always advised people that when they witness one the things I just described, the only course of action is to confront the priest after mass and let them know that we were not happy with the fact that he gave us their own personal version of the mass and not the mass of Jesus Christ.

    On the other hand, I was just visiting, and "incognito", nobody knew I'm a permanent deacon; why should I get involved in parish politics so far away from my own archdiocese?...I'm ashamed to say these were the arguments I used to convince myself that I should just sit down and endure the rest of mass until I could quietly walk away during the offertory collection...until and old gentlemen tapped me on the shoulder and said quietly "Could you help collecting the offering?" "GREAT!" I though "Now I'm STUCK!" I took the basket and walked with him down the middle isle of the church helping collect the community's offering.

     When we finished with the collection we moved to the consecration of the bread and wine. Up to that moment I was convinced I was witnessing an illicit mass; but when the priest changed the words of institution during the consecration of the wine I let out an audible groan from my lips. This mass was not only illicit but now it was dangerously close to be invalid! What was I supposed to do now?! I couldn't in good conscience walk away from this mess (I mean mass) without confronting this priest. Once gain I heard a little voice in my mind reminding me that this was not my parish, or diocese so, why make a fuss??...and once again I figure I should receive communion, but just the Body of Christ. Here I gave father the benefit of the doubt and assumed father had the right intention when he "kind of" followed the rubrics for the consecration of the bread. However I could not in good conscience partake of the wine since he had completely botched the words of institution for that one! Mercifully, by counting the vessels on the altar I realized that this was a "communion with one form" parish.

  So I told myself "after communion, I will quietly sneak out"... As I was on my way out, for a second time, I was stopped by the same gentlemen who once again asked me if I could help with the second collection!! By then, I had gotten the message. The reason why I decided to attend this mass on the first place, the reason why I had experienced the spiritual anguish before mass, the reason why I had been stopped (twice!) from leaving, was because I had to fraternally admonish this priest.

   After mass I waited until most people were gone and approached father trying to figure how to do this in the most non-confrontational way possible. I figure that I could live with most of the abuses but changing the words of institution was something I could not in good conscience ignore since this act was spiritually dangerous for this priest and his congregation. I put my hand on his shoulder and said quietly "Father, I'm a permanent deacon visiting for the day, please do not take this the wrong way, I'm saying this in the most fraternal way I can, please do not change the words of institution again!!" He looked at me confused and just mumbled "Its the translation, I just read what is in it, this is how we do it in this diocese" turned around and quickly walked away. My heart ached.  I tell you reader, I don't know what was more painful, enduring this mass, or watching this priest walk away from me.

  After this (very painful) experience I kept asking myself if I fulfilled my obligation (of course there is the question of: Was this a mass? Did I fulfill my SUNDAY obligation? But those should be part of a different blog post). The bottom line is: I don't know. I know one thing. I learned a lot with this event. I learned a lot about how the Lord uses me, about the anguish he feels when His mass is profaned, about how much damage we can cause to the Body of Christ when we make the mass "our mass". Still I live with the nagging question, should I have said more?

  What is the moral of this story? Please pray for all our priests but especially for this very confused soul, so that light illuminates his mind and he realizes in what peril is he placing his flock and himself.  

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Religion Related Science News for January 2015

Folks, I have decided to make this a regular post in the blog. Every month I will present a digest of news which show harmony between science and religion as well as news in which religion and science intersect. If you go to this page on the blog  you will see a list of all the news reported so far. I invite you to link at this page and use its information to dispel the erroneous notion that science and religion are somehow at odds with each other. Enjoy.

More evidence for the Anthropic Nature of creation.
The Anthropic Principle is an idea belonging to Astrophysics and Cosmology. Simply stated, it makes the claim that because some physical properties and constants which make intelligent life possible seem to be "fine tuned", it appears that the physical universe is "compatible" with the necessary constants to accommodate conscious life. The article reports a new study from the University of Bonn which provides new evidence in favor of this principle of Nature. Can someone say "Designer's Universe"?

New study Shows strong correlation exists between religiosity and personal happiness.
New study from Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture has shown that higher levels of church attendance “predict higher life satisfaction,” even after accounting for how important religious faith is in people’s lives. There is one more reason to attend Mass every Sunday!

Scientists Seek Religious Experience -- in the Brain.
Neuroscientists at the University of Utah are seeking to examine how the human brain behaves during a religious experience. Personally I feel this sort of research is well overdue. I would love to see in an MRI which parts in the cerebral cortex light up when some one is experiencing a vision of the St. Bernadette at Lourdes type.

Papal astronomers promote harmony of science, faith. 
To commemorate this year's International Year of Light, which celebrates the importance of light and its role in new technologies, Jesuit astronomers at the Vatican Observatory have launched a number of new initiatives aimed at increasing dialogue with Muslims, nonbelievers and Catholics, who may not know that their faith and science are not at odds. In Jan 13-15 the Holy See  sponsored a workshop studying "The Role of Astronomy in Christianity and Islam." The workshop, which brought Muslim, Catholic and other scholars together, looked at some of the ways Christianity and Islam studied the heavens in the fields of science and faith.

Earliest copy of Gospel of Mark found in a first century Egyptian mask. 
One of the main arguments deniers of the Historical Jesus love to throw around is that the gospels were written "hundreds of years after the fact". This argument will no longer be valid as scientists have announced the finding of a papyrus containing a fragment of the Gospel of Mark from the the first century. We are talking a mere 60 years after the fact! A time period in which some of the eyewitnesses to the events recorded in the gospel were still alive!!. Here is a video with some more information.

To be fair this is not exactly what I would call a  "science news". However since it touches on a topic which I suspect will be used to underline the "animosity  between science and religion", I decided to include it in this month's digest. Read the article and tell me what you think. (COMING SOON  more extensive blog-analysis)

Using stem cells to grow new hair.
Last year scientists in the University of Pennsylvania reported the making of hair follicles from Adult Stem Cells, a very promising therapy for those experiencing hair loss. This year, sadly, this technology has taken a more sinister turn as scientists are reporting in PLOS ONE their morally objectionable use of embryonic stem cell for their own version of this research. This is one more example of scientists ignoring the humanity of embryos for the sake of their research. In this case the use of human embryos is more troubling as they are been used to research non-life-saving technologies.

Scientific method: Defend the integrity of physics
One of the favorite arguments secularists and atheists use when underlining the animosity between science and religion is the fact that in religion one can never appeal to empirical evidence, unlike science which is not based solely on faith. Apparently some scientists are starting to realize that some of their theories although capable of explaining the way the universe came to be theoretically, can not be tested experimentally, so they are advocating for taking these theories on faith only, without any empirical data to prove them. This is a big argument currently among physicists which is threatening the old canard that lack of evidence is a defect belonging exclusively to religion.

Does time pass? New book says it does—but not in the way you may think. 
We finish this month with a recently published book presenting a new way to consider the passage of time. I have not read the book (and at $47.00 on the Kindle store I might wait for the movie) however this article gives enough information to tempt me into investing this kind of money. The book presents what philosophers call the "block universe" theory of time. I don't want to go into details here (after all this just a digest) but after reading the article and doing some research on this theory, it sounds very similar to what believers think off when they explain that God lives in the eternal present. Quite and intriguing proposition.

See you all next month!

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Sunday, January 25, 2015

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

  Today’s two first readings  communicate a feeling of urgency, of transition, of terrible things to come. The Gospel however gives a more hopeful outlook, it resonates with a feeling of  ending of one thing and the beginning of something completely new.    First we have the prophet Jonah walking across Nineveh announcing that in forty days this great city would be destroyed if they did not mend their ways; then we hear Paul telling the Corinthians not to get too comfortable in their lives because the Lord’s return was at hand.  In the gospel however, although we see Jesus, like Jonah proclaiming the message of God and calling the ancient world to repentance there is a bit more to the story. Here we also see how the Lord calls his first apostles and how these men abandon everything they had not because Jesus performed some great miracle, or because they had a tremendous spiritual experience. These men... these hard working men accustomed to back breaking work abandoned everything they have known in their lives to respond to Jesus’ simple promise “If you follow me I will make you fishers of men”.
     All the anticipation, all the fears in the two previous readings are dissipated by this simple statement from Jesus. Here Jesus is revealed  as something completely new in the history of the Jewish people, and we see the transformation of Jesus from just another prophet, into something the people of Israel have never seen, into something completely different.
       Up until this moment prophets communicated the directives they received from God, and nothing else. They were the voice of God in a sinful and broken world, and were condemned to witness its corruption and slow death; but in today’s Gospel Jesus changes this, not only he preaches about the Kingdom of God, but unlike the prophets of old.  He takes what he finds in this kingdom and transforms it into something new, something the whole world has never seen before, something life giving.
   “ I will make you fishers of men”...Think about it for a second, when  we go fishing we take fish out of their natural environment, but when we fish a man from the water we are rescuing them, we are taking them from a potentially deadly environment into the safety of our boats.  Jesus did not, take something from the kingdom of God and destroy it to form something new, Jesus took what the apostles had in over abundance, the work they knew so well and offered to show them how to use this in a completely new way. To rescue men from their sinful environment and bring them life for Glory to God.
   There is a part in the mass, which always reminds us of this moment in the history of salvation, of how God can take anything we humans have to offer and transforms it into something that is life giving. Right after the offertory, when the priests lifts the chalice and says: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received this bread and wine we offer you: fruit of the earth and the work of human hands”  This wine and the bread which was produced by the work and the suet of humans becomes the body and blood of Christ, something divine, which gives life to the world.  In this moment of the mass we connect with that crucial moment in the history of salvation, and at every mass Jesus once again tells us “If you follow me, I will make you”.
   The challenge for us today and at every mass is to ask ourselves how are we going to respond to that invitation from the Lord, how are we going to fill that “ dot,dot,dot”. How are we going to allow him to use the work of our hands, to rescue the world from its sinful and corrupted state.
   2000 years ago Jesus took on changing the world with just a few fisherman. Now imagine what he can do with the work of our hands here in Saint Michael. If I were to do an employment survey here today I bet that I would get a fair number of retired people, a lot of students, and a great diversity of professions.  Again Imagine what can the Lord do with all the work our human hands. All we have to do is answer to His call and allow ourselves to be challenged like the apostles, following him and letting him bless and consecrate the world by the work of our own hands.

Friday, January 16, 2015

More Religion Related Science News

   WOW... A few days back I did a Top 5 post for (What I thought were) the most significant religious related Science news of the Year 2014. Who would have known that it would increase the traffic in my blog by 10 fold! It was even selected by one of the top Catholic news aggregators on line right now. The fact is, this sort of news happens all the time but the Main Stream Media just ignores them. So I decided to continue posting these as I encounter them.

Here are the ones which have been reported since the beginning of the year:

More evidence for the Anthropic Nature of creation. The Anthropic Principle is an idea belonging to Astrophysics and Cosmology. Simply stated, it makes the claim that because some physical properties and constants which make intelligent life possible seem to be "fine tuned", it appears that the physical universe is "compatible" with the necessary constants to accommodate conscious life. The article reports a new study from the University of Bonn which provides new evidence in favor of this principle of Nature. Can someone say "Designer's Universe"?

New study Shows strong correlation exists between religiosity and personal happiness. New study from Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture has shown that higher levels of church attendance “predict higher life satisfaction,” even after accounting for how important religious faith is in people’s lives. There is one more reason to attend Mass every Sunday!

Scientists Seek Religious Experience -- in the Brain.
Neuroscientists at the University of Utah are seeking to examine how the human brain behaves during a religious experience. Personally I feel this sort of research is well overdue. I would love to see in an MRI which parts in the cerebral cortex light up when some one is experiencing a vision of the St. Bernadette at Lourdes type.

Well folks there you have it more news from the intersection of science and religion. Hopefully the new year will bring more of this.

NOTE: Following the suggestion from one of my commenters I decided to add a page to the web site in which I will continue reporting these sort of news throughout the year. You can link to it here. 

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"