Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christ the King (Cycle A)

   The Gospel reading for this week is very important. It is not an accident that the Church has selected this reading for the last Sunday in the liturgical year. Today we hear Jesus last public words to the crowds who were following Him. The gospel of Matthew tells us that after this, last public speech, given in Jerusalem; in just a few short days, The Lord would be dead, hanging on a cross. So today’s reading could be viewed as the culmination of Jesus message to the world.
   Now if we were to take all of Jesus’ teachings during his public ministry and were to give it a name, I think the best way of describing it would be as “The Law of Love”. In fact we can compress Jesus message into just a few very familiar statements. Love God with all your heart, your entire mind and all your soul, be a neighbor to all, and love all as yourself, love and pray for your enemies.
   Up to this moment in the ministry of Jesus, this Law of Love has been directed towards things we can easily identify: God, our neighbors, and our enemies. Today in this last message to the crowds Jesus directs us to go one step further. To this short list of statements about whom and how to love he adds one more element: Love those who for a better word we could call “Strangers”.
   Like I said, up to this moment it is easy to know who Jesus has been telling us to love.  We all have an idea of who God is, and we also have a pretty good idea, even if we do not know them personally, of whom our enemies and our neighbors might be, but “strangers” are something completely different. Strangers are people that we do not meet by accident, in fact these strangers are people who for one reason or another, either because they are sick, or in prison, or naked or hungry cannot be met were we normally meet others. To love these strangers we have to leave our circle of comfort and find them because they cannot leave their situation to find us.
   In our society we have taken this large mass of faceless strangers and turned them into a statistic. We clump them together and use phrases such as “the sick”, “the hungry”, “the homeless”, “the imprisoned”. “the immigrant”, to refer to them.
   What Jesus is doing with this final element of His “Law of love” is making sure no one, not one person, is left out from our responsibility to love them.  Those which are faceless, ignored or forgotten by others have become our responsibility, and it is up to us to find these “strangers” and love them as we would love our neighbors as we would like to be loved ourselves if we were in their situation.
   For Christians, for true followers of The Lord, Today’s gospel is one of the most challenging readings in the Gospel!   It demands deep reflection from us: how well and how much do I love? And I’m not talking about the kind of love that makes us feel good about ourselves, the kind of love which is easy to achieve. The love Jesus is demanding from us today is not a warm fuzzy feeling, but an act of the will. Is a love in which we must force ourselves into.
   But you know what is most amazing about this radical love for the stranger in need?  It brings us back to the very first of the Laws of Love!  The Lord tells us that in helping the stranger we help him; In going out and loving the stranger; we encounter Jesus himself, whom we have to love with all of our heart, all of our mind and all of our soul. The more we love the stranger the more we fulfill the very essence of the Law of Love.
   By now you might be thinking “ok, but how I, in my own little life can fulfill this command to love the stranger”? Well, I’m glad you asked! Here at St Michael’s we have ministries which are geared specifically towards doing just this! We have for example the yearly trip to Jamaica, I talking to Ted the other day and he said that he has only 2 people interested in going! We have the Chiros ministry to the prisons. We have the pastoral visitors to the Lorian senior center, a ministry we are planning to expand to other senior centers in the area. We have the first Saturday lunches for the homeless, in which for just 1 hour a month we prepare 500 lunches for a food center in Frederick. We have trips to Our Daily bread in Baltimore for our young people, so they can helps those who are hungry every day just 33 short miles from our homes. We have our food cellar which this year delivered groceries to 48 families who cannot spend their money on luxuries like Turkey Stuffing and pumpkin pies. We need volunteers to help in our funeral ministry. All you have to do is call the office and leave your information and someone will contact you.
  My brothers and sisters, today in this feast of Christ the King, I invite you to commit yourself to fulfilling Jesus Law of Love by fulfilling the needs of those who cannot be here with us is today. Remember, by loving the stranger we are loving God Himself. May you have a blessed thanks giving with your family and loved ones. Amen.   

Sunday, October 12, 2014

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

    Today’s Gospel reading has been interpreted in many ways throughout the ages. The most common interpretation I’ve seen goes like this: The king Jesus is talking about is of course God the Father, the son who is getting married is Jesus himself, the people who were originally invited to the wedding and refused to attend were the Jewish people in the times of Jesus who did not listened to what the prophets have said about the coming messiah. The servants who were killed were these same prophets. The town who was destroyed was again the Jewish people who suffered many calamities throughout their history for not listening to the prophets. The people who were gathered from the streets were the gentiles who were given the messiah which the Jewish people had rejected.
    The beauty of Jesus parables is that they could be viewed from many different angles by peoples from different cultures and time periods; and you can always find a new meaning for them which speak to that specific time and place.   Personally, I think that the interpretation I just gave worked pretty well for the people who were listening to Jesus 2000 years ago, but (and I say this with all respect to the Word of God) it really does not resonate well to Catholic Christians living in 21st century America.
    The question is then: how can we look at this parable of the Lord and extract a message for us today?  Well, let’s start by pointing out a few things we skipped over on our first way around. Did you notice how harsh the king in this story sounds? First he sends his soldiers to destroy the town of the people who refused to attend his wedding banquet, and then he sends his soldiers to “gather all they found the good and the bad”. After he had basically forced the people on the streets to attend his party, he takes a stroll to meet the guests and finds himself in front of a poor man who does not meet his own personal standards of fashion, after embarrassing this man, he orders his servants to tie him up and throw him into the darkness. I have to tell you my brothers and sisters this king acts more in the capricious way in which King Herod or Pontius Pilate behaved than in the way we expect a merciful God to act!
  But let’s keep digging, what about this poor man who was not dressed to the liking of the King?   The parable says that when the King confronted him “He stood in silence”. And here I need to remind you of a very important detail: The Gospels record another man who stood in silence when questioned by a king. Who am I talking about? Jesus in front of Herod the day he was crucified. This man, who the parable says was tied up and thrown into the darkness reminds us of Jesus bound and thrown out of the city of Jerusalem, abandoned by his friends and left to die alone in a cross.
    Now, by now you might be thinking “wow” the deacon is really grasping for straws today. What kind of teaching can we possibly get from looking at this parable in this way?
   Well, it is a sad reality of the culture in which we live that anyone who publicly expresses an idea which goes against what is the ‘accepted narrative”, is treated like this poor man in the parable. We have reached a point in which expressing publicly an opinion against abortion, or against the legalization of homosexual unions, or assisted suicide, or any number of other cultural topics been forced down on us by the media and even our own government means public ridicule, and the risk of legal persecution and even the loss of a job or a business.  What does our culture do with anyone who expresses in public the Christian belief on the sanctity of life, the uniqueness of the union between one man and one woman, and the dignity of the human person? What happens to the ones who do not conform to the ideas of the kings of this present world?  They are bound “hands and feet, and cast into the darkness outside, where there is wailing and grinding of teeth”.
     Today’s Gospel starts with the words “ The kingdom of heaven is like”. Of course we like to think that in heaven we will be invited to a magnificent feast like today’s first reading describes “With rich foods and choice wines”, but the reality is; as long as we find ourselves in this side of heaven, we the citizens of God’s kingdom can only expect hostility and persecution by the kings of this age. The beauty of it is that we were not created for this worldly kingdom, we are citizens of the kingdom of God.
    Jesus was murdered by the kings of his time only to receive a great reward for his faithfulness to God the Father, the resurrection. Our faithfulness to our true King, will be rewarded also by the eternal wedding feast we are all invited to attend, so rejoice and be glad! The Kingdom of heaven is waiting for us!

NOTE: The main idea for this homily was taken from a sermon by Lutheran Pastor Paul J. Nuechterlein from Delivered at Prince of Peace, Portage, MI. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

  Today I will break the number one rule, all homilists are instructed never to break. I will speak about what is going on in my personal life, (but don’t worry, It is for a good cause). As many of you know by now, in less than a week, Deacon Cliff and I will be leaving on a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostle St James in the city of Santiago de Compostela, in Northern Spain. As pilgrimages go this is NOT your average trip. The day after we arrive in Spain we will take a 5 hour bus trip to the Shrine of “La Virgen del Camino”, Our lady of “The Way” there we will pray and ask for her protection as we start our 300 Km (186 mile) walk culminating in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, God willing, 17 days later. We will carry our “Pilgrims Passport” which will allow us to stay in pilgrims “alberges” (low budget Hostels ran by Churches or volunteers), it will also allow us to eat from the “Pilgrims menu” in the alberges, which are the Camino version of soup kitchens. We will share living quarters with dozens of other pilgrims every night and we will sleep in our sleeping bags, wherever they can find space for us. We will carry all of our belongings in our backs, and hopefully we will be able to take a shower every day (Although this is not a 100 assurance). Our lives will be reduced to its bare minimum since the more we pack the more we have to carry in our backs. Every day we plan to pray the liturgy of the hours in community with each other, the angelus, and will try to attend mass in the churches and shrines we will encounter in our way. All this time we will be praying for our families and for you our, St Michael family, and if you have a specific intention you would like us to take to the tomb of the Apostle just drop Cliff or me an email and we will take it with us.
  Now, you might be wandering why would a couple of middle aged guys like Deacon Cliff and I, will put ourselves through the rigors of a trip which seems to be designed for men half our age. Well, I would not like to speak for Cliff but on my part I find that the words of today’s first reading explain my desire to engage in this trip quite well: “It becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones, I grow weary holding it in, and I cannot endure it”. In my mind these words of the prophet Jeremiah describes not only my own desire, but the yearnings of all those who have decided to abandon comfort and convenience leaving behind family and friends and follow the Lord.
  In today’s Gospel Jesus states it very plainly: “Whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”
  Now, when we hear talk about our own personal crosses we tend to think of people who are struggling in life, who are sick in hospitals, who are persecuted for their faith or who are suffering with the loss of a loved one.   We do not associate those words with the high middle class life we live here in the “4 county” area. But if we read Jesus’ words very carefully, the cross is not reserved to those who suffer. The only requirement needed to embrace our crosses is the desire to follow him.
   If you are like me you are accustomed to have everything at the tip of our hands, our lives are full of resources, convenience and comfort. Now I’m not saying that these things are bad; in fact I view them as a great gift and blessing from God, but unlike those who are forced to embrace their cross through suffering, we have to make a conscientious effort, and act of the will if you may, to take our crosses. And what would the cross be for us? The volunteer abandonment of conveniences and comfort; This is not easy! This is a struggle; the temptation to get back to our easy lives is great! Just try to spend a day of “the grid” without any social media, or communications or computers and you will know what I’m talking about!

   In the Catholic Church we have a long history of spiritual discipline, of denying ourselves with prayer, fasting, and giving alms, even works of mercy like visiting the sick and consoling the suffering, could become part of embracing our crosses, if they get us out of our comfort zone and cost us an extra effort. It is easy to say that we want to follow the Lord, but when “push comes to shove”, are we ready to do what the Lord expects us to do? Are we up to the challenge? Think and pray about it, and also pray for Cliff and I so that we have a safe and spiritually rewarding trip. God bless you all.
  By abandoning the same conveniences and comforts we have received as a gift from God we are following St Peter's advice in the second reading of “offering our bodies as a living sacrifice holy end pleasing to God”, we are offering “our spiritual worship”

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Couple of Memes

     Spending some relaxing time in the Caribbean, I had the chance to photograph this year's Supper Moon . The picture turned out so good I decided to combine it with one of my favorite quotes, the problem is...I have many favorite quotes. I narrowed down to two. Since I could not make up my mind which quote to use, I used them both. Here are the result of my efforts.I hope you enjoy them and I invite you to share them as much as you want.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Sunday, July 20, 2014

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

   Today’s Gospel reading is a bit strange. First we get this beautiful image about how the kingdom of God is like a field, in which a farmer intends to grow good seed, but an enemy disturbs this plan by planting weeds among the good plants… and then Jesus does this sharp left turn and starts talking about the mustard bush and some birds making nests in it and then he makes another sharp turn an tells about a woman mixing yeast and flour to make bread, and then finally he does a complete U turn and returns to the original story to explain its meaning to His disciples.
   One might think that when St Mathew was writing his gospel he could not find a good place for these two extra stories so he threw them right in the middle of the Good Sower parable, hopping that some day some poor deacon could make sense of it all. But I think this type of view for this Gospel reading is a bit…I don’t know…shallow? The reality is that these three stories, as confusing as they might look, appear together in this gospel for a very good reason.  Because this is the way the Holy Spirit uses to force us to reflect on the big ideas of Jesus’ message, ideas which will challenge us, the ones who require effort and commitment on our part.
   Let me show you what I mean: The first thing to notice is that all three of these parables are that they have a common theme: growth; a growing field, a growing bush, growing bread. The first parable is obviously the most important, since it is the only one which is explained by the Lord. In it we are instructed to the incredible ability the Kingdom of God has to grow, even when it is surrounded by enemies, enemies bent into destroying it.
   Now if you think about it, we, the disciples of the Lord are the ones who have been given the charge of growing as this kingdom. Jesus says very clear that the field is the world, and we are the good seed planted in it. The attitude of the servants in the story reflects the natural human desire to do things the easy way. It is true that we would much rather build the Kingdom of God without having to deal with any troubles. But, I don’t need to tell you that trouble is the one thing we cannot avoid. There are many Catholics who waist no opportunity to ignore and criticize the actions and the teachings of our Church. The natural tendency would be to remove these from the picture so that we can have a nice little kingdom all for ourselves.  But this is not God’s plan for us. God’s plan, which is given in the second parable, is to grow His kingdom from a small band of fisherman into what we are today, and what we will continue to be until the day the Good Lord returns to us:  the voice of the needy, the weak and those society wants to eliminate because they are inconvenient, the largest charitable institution in the world, home of saints and sinners.
   The attitude of the Master in the parable tells us what our own attitude should be: Ignore the bad seeds, eventually they will receive what they deserve; concentrate in growing the kingdom.  How? To borrow a phrase from one of my kids “By mixing it up”. We are called to be the yeast which mixes with the flour the world.
  Now I know for a fact that here at St Michael we have a lot of good bakers. I also know that if you want to make really good bread you have to mix the yeast in with the flour. This is not what you would call a “gentle process” There is a lot of hitting and pushing, and then there is some waiting and them some more knotting and hitting a bit more until the mass is ready to rise.  To make a good loaf of bread first you really need be manhandled.
   This is the image our Lord Jesus wants to place in our minds; to help us understand how are we to build the Kingdom Of God. It is not by staying in our own little world, but by getting out there, where we can encounter those who like flour have not reached their full potential until they are mixed with us. It is not going to be easy, we are going to encounter push back and hostility. I wish I could tell you differently, but to grow as the Kingdom of God, requires sacrifice.
   Which brings me to my last point. Today’s reading ends with a warning to evil dowers and to those who cause others to sin, a warning them about their eternal destiny. But it also ends with a promise to those who hold unit the end, to the ones willing to grow the kingdom among the weeds. Those will shine as bright as the Sun.
  Like I said at the beginning, today’s message require careful consideration. How am I growing the Kingdom of God and what can I do to be the yeast to the flour of our culture and our society? That is a question each one of us has to answer by ourselves. Today during communion let us ask to the Holy Spirit to guide us and show us the best way to grow, right where we have been planted. Amen?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Hidden Bible Podcast: Episode 1: Joshua 10


    For a while I've been thinking about what would be the easiest way of expanding my online presence. Currently I have the blog in which I faithfully post my homilies, and every once in a blue moon, whenever I can find the time, I write a post. I wish I could write more but I have found that  it takes me multiple iterations to get these up to my satisfaction.  The problem I'm encountering is that I have many posts (about 25!) in various stages of development, with no clear publishing date on sight. After much prayer and reflection I am convinced that the blog medium is not what I'm looking for.

   So after some more prayers and reflections I've decided that the best  way to increase this part of my ministry is with a podcast instead of more written posts. Now I've never done anything like this before and I'm not sure where this endeavor is going to take me but I feel this is the way to go, so with this in mind. I'm announcing my latest project: "The Hidden Bible Podcast" A semi regular podcast about those passages from the Bible which make us go like: "say what??????".

If you want to download the MP3 file to listen to it later just click here

And here are the show notes:

Ralph Reed  in Bill Maher Daily Show

Fr. Robert Baron's talking about the Maher-Reed exchange.

Joshua 10:7-15

This Is What Will Happen If Earth Stopped Spinning

Noctilucent Clouds

Time slowing down

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Corpus Christi (Cycle A)

  Last Sunday, been Fathers Day, I took some time to do a quick inventory of all the gifts I have received from God in my life. Don’t worry I’m not going to bore you with all the details of my list. The one thing I will say is that after I was done reflecting in all the blessings, material and spiritual, I have received…I have to admit I was feeling pretty good about myself… until later that day. That evening, as I sat down and stared reflecting on today’s readings and the feast of Corpus Christy, it became clear to me that I had forgotten the most important gift, the one gift which surpasses every other gift I have ever received from God; God himself… given to me in The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Now, to be fair if I were to ask everyone here to spend some time repeating my little exercise, I’m willing to bet that the vast majority will do as I did and list all the blessings they have received in their lives without considering Jesus in the Eucharist as the one gift above any other gift.
     So the question for us today should be, Why? Why do we forget so easily about the Lord if, like St. Paul says, in Him we “We live, we move and we exist?” Some people might claim that this is caused by our lack of faith, but I think this is not the case, I think it is the other way around, I think that we are so used to be in His presence that we take this divine person for granted. To put it plainly Familiarity breeds indifference. And I’m not saying indifference as in the “I do not care about you Jesus” sense but in the sense of “it is so obvious to me that you are there and I’m here that for me, you are just, part of the background”.  I think this is where the problem resides, Jesus is there and I’m here when it should really be: Jesus and I:  WE ARE here together. More than together, because our Lord wanted to be so close to us he commanded us to “eat His flesh and drink His blood”  the only way we can have ethereal life. When we receive him in the Eucharist he becomes one with us, this is how close he wants to be to us…not side by side but one with us.
   Now I do not want anybody to feel as guilty as I felt during my reflection, but I ask you today to join me in asking ourselves: what can we do to place our Lord were he deserves to be in our lives, at the very top of any gifts received? Well, I think it will take just three little things to accomplish this.
  First, we could start by recognizing our smallness and our complete dependency on Him and the fact that without Him we have no life in us. Yes, we might think that we have a good life, a great job, a beautiful house, but without feeding our spirit with His Body and Blood none of these things amounts to anything, because spiritually we are dead or dying.
   Second, once we recognize this dependency on Him, we need to capture back our sense of respect and awe. Think about it: When we sit in this Sanctuary we sit in front of the creator of the universe, the Alfa and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the lamb of God who takes away our sins, the bread of life who came down from heaven, the second person of the Most blessed trinity… Need I say more to make my point? Sitting here in front of Him is a pretty big deal????  My brothers and sisters at this very moment angels are prostrated around this tabernacle singing “Holy, holy, holy”.  Let’s ask ourselves: what is my own disposition when I enter this holy space? What do I do, In what do I think when I’m in front of Him?
  And finally, the third thing we can do, is ask ourselves, how is my soul doing? How do I prepare myself to receive Him?  Imagine for a second if after mass someone hands you a note which says “This Sunday, Jesus will drop by your house just to say hi and spend some quiet time with you”. I think our week would be a pretty busy one, we would all fall on a cleaning frenzy, we might even take care of little things that have been left un attended for a while like a leaky faucet or a cricking step. I’m sure that we would want our home to be spotless, ready to welcome him. How are our souls when we receive him? Is there any blemish, any corner which needs some cleaning? Maybe some garbage that has been slowly accumulating and we need to get rid off?
  There you have it, my brothers and sisters three small steps to help us rekindle the appreciation, respect and love we all felt that day so many years ago when we received our first communion, and today as on that day the same Jesus is present waiting to feed us with his body and blood, and give us His eternal life, Are we ready to receive him? Blessed be Jesus in the most holy sacrament of the altar. Amen.