Monday, September 18, 2017

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

0 comments
   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


Read more...

Monday, August 28, 2017

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

0 comments
   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
Read more...

Saturday, May 13, 2017

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

0 comments
    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!

Read more...

Sunday, March 5, 2017

What if Aliens Landed Today and Other Questions

0 comments
  I just had a very interesting interaction with a young lady on Facebook and thought that this would make a good blog post. Here is the original post:

To which I answered:


Which elicited this answer from her.

Because religion teaches that man is special, that the earth is the center of creation. Life on other planets would disprove this. What if aliens on another planet say Jesus is not god? What if they say God doesn't exist and that they have proof of how the universe was created and can present it? The bible says God created man and angels, and animals/plants of course. Catholics say Christ is lord of the universe. HOw is this possible? Was he born elsewhere and died elsewhere on the cross? Did he pick disciples there? So far, I think only the Mormons believe Christ traveled to other planets to preach.

What follows was my answer to her questions and the main body of this blog post.
Enjoy!

----------------------
   Hi Yesi, First let me commend you on taking time to think about these things. It is my experience that the majority of people never give a second thought to these things. It is refreshing to see someone so young wrestling with these sort of questions.

You said: "Because religion teaches that man is special, that the earth is the center of creation."

First, your use of the term "religion" is too general. There might be some religions who teach what you say but there are others that most certainly don't (Like the Catholic Church, the "CC" from now on). So, for the sake of argument, I will assume you refer to "Christianity" when you use that term. In addition, since I'm a Catholic I will give you the CC version. I make no claims about other "flavors" of Christianity.
  Having said this, lets break this first statement down into parts: "Because religion teaches that man is special" The CC teaches that man has "a special dignity" (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1700). The issue of "Is man the ONLY creature in the whole of Creation with this dignity?" is still an open question.
  "The earth is the center of creation" The most I can say here without a long discussion is this: when Catholics say this they mean "center" as a "central event". Think about it this way: about 10.4 billion years ago all the energy concentrated in the Big Bang singularity was directed towards resulting on our planet being born and the development of intelligent life. Again, the issue of other planets being born and other intelligent life being developed is still an open question. The CC makes no claims about this. So as you can see, the Catholic position in its essence is the same as the science position: "Wait and see".

You said:  "Life on other planets would disprove this."

By my answers above it is easy to see that the discovery of life, even if it is intelligent does not disprove the Catholic point. The most it would do is force us to reinterpret the central event in the history of our planet (i.e. the birth life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ) and what does this mean to all these new "islands" of intelligent life scattered around the universe. (More on this later in my answers)

You said:  "What if aliens on another planet say Jesus is not god?".

OK so... what if? Your question seems to imply that because these "aliens" are more advanced than us technologically, WE have nothing to teach THEM. Just look at human history. How many times have we as a civilization lamented the loss of some special knowledge from this or that tribe, or group of people that we have conquered or absorbed? This is an indication that less technological advanced groups can still teach something to more advanced beings. One would hope that the "aliens" have grown enough in their philosophical development to be open to what we have to teach them.

You said:  "What if they say God doesn't exist and that they have proof of how the universe was created and can present it?"

Your questions ring more as speculations than as questions. What if it is the other way around? What if they come and say "We have been looking all over the universe for the planet in which the Creator of the universe entered history...and you guys are it". As I see it, the most we can say is that there is a 50-50 chance for either of these two to happen. So again... what if?  What if they have been looking for us because of the Christ event?  Would this change your mind?  That is the problem with speculative questions.
    Now lets apply the same answer to my previous question to this one. On the event that your speculation is true... Just because they are more technologically advanced doesn't mean they have everything figured out! I would think that we would take their evidence and place it under the light of our divine revelation and see what it all really means. However we would do this without fear because Catholics believe that truth is universal and that truth is not a concept but a person: Jesus. I am certain (In fact I'm excited about this possibility!)  that any "alien's" proof would end up shedding light on His person and it would help us understand Him and ourselves better.

You said: "The bible says God created man and angels, and animals/plants of course. Catholics say Christ is lord of the universe. How is this possible?".

Christ is the Lord of the universe; we can only speak for what we know in our little corner of this universe and what God has revealed in our own history. Why does it seem so far fetched to think that, outside of planet Earth, God has revealed himself to other creatures? Look at the Christmas story (as it is presented in the first few chapters of the Gospel of Mathew), God revealed to "Magi from the East" that he was going to enter history in the womb of a young Jewish girl and then he led them to a back-water town of northern Judea. Why is it so far fetched to think that he has not revealed himself to other intelligent beings? And that he is leading them to a back-water planet in an unremarkable galaxy to meet Him personally?

You said: "Was he born elsewhere and died elsewhere on the cross? Did he pick disciples there?".

This, we can answer with certainty. No. If we look at human history it seems the Christ event was unique to us.  Why? Because way before the birth of the Christ, civilizations without any knowledge of Judaism prefigured this coming of a "savior". We we just have to extend this fact to the rest of the universe and I feel we have a better that 50-50 chance to say that this was a one time vent within the history of creation. Now this is a big topic. I would recommend the Roy Abraham Varghese excellent book, "The Christ Connection: How the World Religions Prepared the Way for the Phenomenon of Jesus". If you ever get to read it, we can talk about this in more detail.

I hope my answers give you a different perspective. I would also like to recommend two other books: Jesuit brother Guy Consolmagno's "Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?" So you can get a more extensive exposition of what the Catholic Church teaches about these issues. I would also like to recommend the C.S. Louis "Perelandra" trilogy in which he explores what I have been saying in my post, but as a work of Science Fiction. Lastly, I hope you don't mind but since this answer was so long, I posted it as an article in my blog (at www.DeaconHarbey.com) If you would like to continue our discussion I would ask you do it there since the interface of a blog comment box is more suited to deal with long posts than the Facebook interface.

Read more...

Monday, February 20, 2017

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

0 comments
   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
Read more...

Sunday, January 29, 2017

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

0 comments

   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.
Read more...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Resolutions 2017!

0 comments
   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!

Read more...