Saturday, August 6, 2011

Silver Rose Program

I was asked to lead a “Silver Rose” service by the Knights of Columbus at St. Mikes (You can read more about the Silver Rose Program here). The service included recitation of the rosary, Gospel reading, homily and the litanies to the Blessed Mother. Since this was a “one time thing” I preached “a capela” (without any notes). At the end my wife said that she really liked it. Since it was so short and it was so recent I remember pretty much what I said, so, here it is. The gospel reading was “The visitation”:
Since I only have a few minutes, today, I would like to reflect in just two words. The first one is a word that many of us have never heard: “Kecharitomene”, which is a Greek word. In fact this word is a made up word, it has not translation to other languages. Translators usually render it as “llena eres de gracia” in Spanish and in English as “Full of grace”. This was the actual word the Angel used to address Mary, the woman who was going to give of her flesh so that God could become incarnated. In Mary the mystery of the incarnation is fulfilled, a mystery so profound that even angels have no words to describe it. Now Kecharitomene is not gibberish, it is a word created from the combination of other words to give a sense of complete fullness not just at the moment but in the past, a fullness which remains in the present and will continue in the future. It is as if Gabriel is saying “You who God has made to represent the highest state of grace possible”. The Church tradition tells us that the blessed mother entered this state in the moment of her immaculate conception, she did not acquired her fullness of grace at some moment in her life, she was created by God pure, sinless and beautiful; full of grace from the first moment of her life. To gain some knowledge of this mysterious event we need to look at another word.

The second word I would like to mention today is not as uncommon as Kecharitomene but it is as mysterious, the word is “Transubstantiation”. This word was not created by an angel, but never the less it is also a made up word, Catholic Theologians use to describe that transformation of substance that happens when a Priest lays his hand upon bread and wine to transform it into the body, blood soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus, during the Holy Sacrifice of the mass. But what does this word mean? Let me take a minute to explain. In order to do this I will have to give you a brief metaphysics lesson. Objects, anything in the universe are composed of two types of properties: their substance and their accidents. Accidents are just the things from any object that we can perceive with our senses: size, color, smell that sort of thing. Substance on the other hand is what we perceive as the object itself, regardless of the accidents. For example, let’s say that you meet “Tom” an old friend, you have not seen since grade school, this person, their substance, their “Tomness” have not changed, Tom has always been Tom. He might be taller, heavier, with a beard but these are just accidents of the time that has passed between the time you last saw him and today, his substance however that which makes Tom who he is still the same.

With this in mind now it is easiest to explain what Transubstantiation is. In the case of Tom, of every object in the universe, their substance never changes only the accidents, in the case of the bread and wine in the Eucharist, the accidents do not change but the substance is transformed into the glorified resurrected body of our Lord Jesus, and we know this because of the witness of the Gospels and the unchanged teaching of the Church for two thousand years. Now why is this whole metaphysics stuff so important and relevant today? Because this teaching is at the core of the Church’s prolife stance. If Tom’s substance have not changed in all this years, that means that his “Tomness” extends all the way back in time to the moment in which one cell of his father and one cell of his mother merged to create a new cell, a cell who grew to become an embryo, a fetus, a baby, a child, a teen, and a grown man. Tom’s substance has never changed; in the moment of his conception he was not a bunch of cells with the potential to become Tom, he was Tom. From that moment on, the only thing that changed in Tom was his accidents, but his substance stayed the same. Just like Mary’s fullness of Grace, which she received at the moment of her conception.

Kecharitomene and transubstantiation are just made up words. They are an attempt to explain with human words mysteries of our faith which cannot be understood, by the mind but must be accepted by the soul. Furthermore they are the basic blocks in which our faith rests. We cannot say I believe in transubstantiation but I do not believe in the sanctity of life, or I believe in the Blessed mother but I belive in a woman's right to chose an abortion because what is aborted is not a baby. It does not work like that, if we accept one we have to accept the other one or we will find ourselves believing in a contradiction.

So as we continue praying today let’s ask the great Theotockos, the great Kecharitomene, Mary full of all graces to procure for us the graces we will all need in order to continue fighting for the sanctity of all human life, from conception until natural death. God bless you.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

In the spirit of full disclosure, and because so many people had commented how much they loved this homily, I must give credit where credit is due. The idea of tying the gospel reading with the formation of conscience was all mine. The 7 step plan to form your conscience is based on a 10 step plan I found in this web site, which bases its plan on the book: The Catholic Faith Handbook for Youth. published by St. Mary's Press.
Like I said, this homily got such a good reception that I'm working on turning it into a 45 minute talk and make it available on MP3 for people to download and share with others.
Also I've decided to merge my personal blog "Tolle lege!!" and this one, in the hope I can manage them better (And this will motivate me to add more content) Stay tuned!!

Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last week’s reading. In fact both readings share many themes: they are both parables, they both talk about of planting fields, of soil, and harvest. However, if you recall last week’s gospel, Jesus talked about a farmer who’s good seed landed in types of soil; on the road, on rocks, among weeds. In today’s parable Jesus is more focused, he talks about just one type of soil, the good soil, the fertile one, the soil that when planted with good seed will produce, 30 or 60 or 100 fold. The kind of soil we know very well here in the four-county area, soil in which the smallest seed, like the mustard seed, can grow into a great tree. But also the kind of soil so fertile, that it takes time and effort to get it ready, and once is planted requires a lot of tending and care, because if we go and plant it without tiling or fertilizing it and don’t take care of its cleaning and hoeing, most likely we will end up dealing with lots of weeds, especially if an enemy, comes after us and spreads bad seed in our field.
The beauty of Jesus parables is that the same story can be used to teach multiple lessons. For example, in today’s gospel Jesus gives us an interpretation for this reading, but we can take this story and apply a different interpretation, one that will shed light in some of the biggest questions of our culture. In this new way of looking at this parable the field is our conscience; the place within our mind in which we make judgments, the place in which we decide what is right and what is wrong, the place in which we decide how we are to live our life. The good and bad seed are the ideas we receive from our culture ideas we get from the church, the Bible, our parents, our friends, the TV, the internet, magazines, surfing the web, there are dozens and dozens of sources for these “seeds”. Some of them are good and some of them are bad, but all of them when allowed to grow in the soil of our conscience will make us the person we are.
As I mentioned before any fertile field which is not prepared correctly and is not tended lovingly will end up over run by weeds. So the topic I would like to explore today is this: How can we prepare our conscience? How can we help form our conscience and the conscience of those with whom we live? How can we plant the right seeds and tend to them so that at harvest we can produce much fruit? Well… To answer this question let me introduce you to a quick seven step plan to form your conscience. I assure you if you follow these steps you and yours will develop very strong characters.
First: Study, pray and practice the Scriptures; in your daily life and in the lives of others. Follow rules like: Love your enemy, feed the hungry, protect the innocent and give voice to the weak. Lear what Jesus says about these things, plant then in your mind and then do them!
Second: Receive the Eucharist. The body and blood of our Lord is like the sun and the rain which gives life and nourishment to the fields. We receive the love of God in communion, he will give us strength and a desire to seek truth and act in a way pleasing to him.
Third: Examine your conscience and Go to confession. Reconciliation is like weeding the field of our conscience from the weeds we get because of our fallen nature and that we receive from our culture. Start with the commandments and ask yourself each day: Were my decisions today based on these them or did I made them on my own?
Fourth: Find out what the Church teaches about important matters. Read the catechism, talk to a priest, read religious articles and books. Educate yourself on what the Church says and why. This knowledge is like the round-up that will get rid of any erroneous ideas that might be keeping us from the truth of the Gospels.
Fifth: Pay attention to the little decisions that you make every day. Habits form before we can recognize them and often choices that seem small in the beginning can become like crab grass in our conscience, once they attach to the ground they are very difficult to eradicate. Base your decisions on the eternal and simple truths of the Gospel: Truths like Human life is sacred, or like: In the order of creation there is only one life giving union that reflects God’s inner life that of one man and one woman united in Holy Matrimony; We were created to be in life giving relationships, anything else goes against Gods plan for each one of us. Everything we do even the smallest act, even if we do them in private moments of our life form the person we are and make our fields grow.
Six: Pay attention to your environment. Every day we are bombarded by ideas. It’s just like watching what you plant in your garden. You want to be careful you are using the right kind of seeds. You want to make sure of that what you read, or watch will not corrupt your mind. Surround yourself with things that line up with what is good, true and beautiful in life and reject what is fake and disturbing.
Seven: Look for role models. Look to those people who live virtuous lives, priests, nuns, deacons. Learn about the lives of saints and imitate them! Look at how the fields of others are fruitful, and imitate them.
My brothers and Sisters you might be saying “That sounds like a lot of work” Well?… Any farmer will tell you that it takes a lot of work to get a good harvest. I you want to form your conscience the right way don’t settle for anything else, work hard for what pleases the Lord and ask Him to help you plant the right seeds in your fields so that you too can produce a bountiful harvest. God bless you.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Corpus Chirsti Sunday

On this celebration of Corpus Christi, I decided to tell you the story of a saint. Not one of the “Big ones” like Francis of Assisi or Therese de Lesieux. The Saint I’m talking about is hardly known. The reason why I’m talking about her today is because of a conversation she had with a deacon, about 800 years ago, a conversation that unknown to both of them, was going to change the history of the Church forever. Her name is St Juliana of Liege.
She was born in the year 1193. When she was 18 years old St Juliana began having mystical experiences in which Jesus visited her, and it was these private revelations that made her dedicate her life to the propagation of devotions to the Blessed Sacrament.
Anyone reading the stories of St Juliana’s visions, would dismiss them as just one more story from just one more virtually unknown medieval Nun, except for the fact that one day, by chance, a Deacon named James Pantaleon, a young theologian of his time, decided to visit Juliana in her convent. During this visit she revealed to Deacon James that in one of her visions Jesus had specifically requested to have one day of the year dedicated to the exaltation of the Eucharist. The young deacon was so impressed with Juliana’s sincerity that he left her convinced she was telling the truth.
What neither of them could have known was that, with time this same deacon became a leading medieval theologian, which allowed him to advance in the ranks of the church leadership until in the year 1261 Deacon James Panteleon, was elected Pope Urban IV. Now Urban never forgot his encounter with St Juliana, and the story of her visions, and in the year 1264 just a few months before his own death declared the feast of Corpus Christy a universal feast of the Church.
And since then, answering to the desires of Jesus expressed in the private revelations of an obscure visionary, every year the Church takes this day to reflect on the mystery of the Eucharist, on the mystery that is, Jesus Christ resurrected and glorified body, blood, soul and divinity making himself present on the altar and becoming food and drink to satisfy our thirst and hunger.
Like I said, all this happened in medieval times, 800 years ago; with time the Church came to realize that the miracle of the Body and Blood of our Lord is the one fundamental truth of our belief. It is the one truth by which The Catholic Church stands or falls, to the point that the Second Vatican council simply calls the Eucharist the “Source and summit of our faith”.
But what is the meaning of this to us? Just think about it for a second, if what we had been doing and proclaiming since the revelations to St Juliana, in fact since the times of the apostles… if this is somehow not true then every time we treat the bread and the wine as if it is our God, every time we kneel, genuflect, pray to it, offer our adoration to it, offer it to the Father as a victim for our sins, we are committing a terrible blasphemy.
On the other hand… if we are right, if the words of Jesus in the gospel are in fact true when he says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven… Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will not have life within you…For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” If Jesus truly meant all this we read in the Gospel of John today, then every time we come to mass we are witnessing the greatest miracle of all times. In every mass the God of the universe enters His creation, to bring us closer to Him, and every time we receive communion, when we eat and drink his body and blood we are making Him part of our bodies, part of our DNA, part of who we are.
Simply put my brothers and sisters Corpus Christi Sunday is a day to reflect on where are stand; Is the one day of the year in which Jesus challenges us directly. What do we truly believe? Do we believe in Jesus own words or is this teaching to hard for us? Do we believe it is truly Him who we receive in communion? This is a day to look within ourselves and think hard if I truly believe that God loves me so much and that he is so powerful that in an incredible act of love he becomes for me, bread and wine, so that He can be as close to me as it is humanly possible in this side of heaven.
This is a day for us to examine what we think is true. Because if we believe that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist it would make sense for us to spend hours, days prostrated in adoration thanking him for all the gifts he has bestowed in us? If we truly believed he is present in every mass it would make sense for us never allow anything, not sports event, no travel team, no business or vacation trip to keeping us from attending mass on Sundays.
If we believed Jesus is present in the Eucharist, every time we had a problem, or become scared, or tired or confused; this place right here in front of the Tabernacle would be the first place in which we would look for consolation, not on friends, not on food, not on sex, not on therapists, but right here were he can see us in all our sinfulness and brokenness, and we can see him in all his humility.
If we truly believed Jesus words, we would be like St Juliana and the Eucharist would become our number one priority in life not only at church but at home, in school, at camp; every were we go and everything we say and do would be pointing towards making sure we are bringing glory and honor to Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior.
Blessed be Jesus in the most holy sacrifice of the altar.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ascencion of our Lord

As I was preparing to preach this Sunday I came across a homily from Father Ron Rolheiser, one of my favorite preaches. I liked it so much that I decided to adapt it for this Sunday. I borrowed quite a bit from Him. Some words are my own, some words are Fr. Ron's, but it was all inspired by the Holy Spirit, for the Glory of God The Father. I hope you enjoy it.
Today we are celebrating the Ascension of our Lord, one of the most mysterious events in the life of Jesus. To understand its meaning we have to return to the Last Supper account that is recorded by the apostle John in his Gospel. In here we find Jesus giving His apostles final instructions and preparing them for what lay ahead. And, he did this by explaining the reason why he had to leave them; not by dying on the cross but by finally returning to the one how sent him. There is no doubt about this in the culminating point of his instructions we hear Jesus say: “It is better for you that I go away! For if I do not go the Advocate will not come to you.”
All 4 gospel accounts record that the Apostles did not understand what he was talking about. And it was not until his ascension and after the coming of the Holy Spirit that they realized how the sadness of this final departure had turned into great joy.
Jesus knew their hearts very well. He knew that after, experiencing the sorrow of the crucifixion and the joy of the resurrection, His final goodbye was going to leave them confused and scared. And he knew this because part of been human is not been able to handle separation and absence. After all, we are created to be in relationships. It does not matter how strong we might think we are, no matter the circumstance; no one can handle final a goodbye and having to let go of someone we love.
Separation and absence are part of the human condition, they can be painful, they can fill us with emptiness, and they can make us feel as if all the color, energy, and joy that form the tapestry of our lives are snuffed like a candle in the night. Jesus knew this very well, but he also knew the meaning of his resurrection, the fact that with him there are no goodbyes.
Our daily experiences are proof of this. How many times after the restless, dark heartache of a painful goodbye passes something happens that makes us experience the opposite. And we realize that goodbye is just a new way of seeing and sensing our loved one’s presence in a new and different way.
Parents, for example, experience this when their children grow up and leave home to start lives of their own, or get married, or when they leave for college, and specially that very first day of school in kindergarten.
When we separate from someone we love we are left with a restless heartache and feelings of emptiness. But, after a while, especially when we meet that person again, the heartache quickly disappears. Because by their absence they make us realize how rich is our love for them. The pain of losing someone can turns into the joy of finding something deeper in the one whom we thought we had lost.
“It is better for you that I go away”, These are the unspoken words that children say to their parents when they leave home; these are the unspoken words we say to our friends when we have to move on with our lives; these are the unspoken words spouses sometimes say to each other when they have to grow in ways that, at the end of the day, will make a marriage stronger; and these are the unspoken words we say to each other every time we have to say a final goodbye.
The interplay of presence and absence in life is a great mystery. Jesus shows this today in the gospel with his final goodbye to his friends. As people created for relationships, we need to be present to each other physically, but we also need to be gone from each other at times. We bring a blessing both when we are with someone and when leave someone for a time. There is no presence without absence and there is something of our spirit that we can only give to the ones we love by going away.
Why is this so? Because absence is sometimes the only thing that can purify presence. When we are physically present, there are always tensions, irritations, disappointments, and faults in our character that partially block our full love. That’s why we rarely appreciate our loved ones fully, until they are taken away from us.
The pain of absence can help us to stretch our hearts so that the essence, the beauty, the love, and the gift of the one who is absent can flow into us without being distorted by the tensions, disappointments, and flaws of everyday life. Absence can work to stretch our hearts so that we can receive our loved one in a way that more fully accepts and respects them for who they really are. That’s why children have to go away because in this way they force parents to accept that they are growing and that as time passes, they have to develop lives of their own.
The mystery of saying goodbye is really the mystery of the Ascension, the less understood of all the mysteries in the life of Jesus. Is a mystery that speaks about having to go away and having to let go, so that our loved ones can fully receive our spirit. It’s a mystery about having to say goodbye, when goodbye isn’t really goodbye at all, but only love’s way of taking on a different color, a color that is deeper, purer, more permanent, less-clinging, and less-limited by the tensions, disappointments, inadequacies, wounds, and betrayals that that are part of our fallen nature and that distort all our relationships. The mystery of the Ascension It’s a mystery about living with each other even when we are still a work in progress. Is a mystery about understanding than in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, goodbye is just another way of saying, I love you. God bless you my brothers and sisters.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

4th Sunday of Easter

The other day I was reading a report about the religious landscape in our country that painted very grim picture about Catholics in America. Here are some statistics for you: In America 1 in 10 people identify themselves as ex-Catholics. If these people were to create their own separate Christian Church, they would become the third-largest Christian denomination in the United States. The report cites many factors for this exodus, but the number one factor given by almost 1 in 4 people who have left the Church was that “their spiritual needs were not been met”.
I’m sure none of this comes as a surprise to many of you, as I’m willing to bet that almost everyone here today has friend or a relative, perhaps a sibling or a child, who has abandoned their Catholic faith for some other faith or just plain stopped going to church.
The thing is… I find such a contradiction between reports of friends and family losing their Catholic faith and the readings of today’s Gospel. Losing the faith does not match with the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who calls every one of His sheep by name with a voice who promises to satisfy our deepest spiritual hungers. How come then, some people give a lack of spirituality within our Church as the number one reason to abandon their faith? The natural reaction when we hear this reason is to ask: What is wrong? What is missing in the Church that caused this person to move on? And my answer to this question is a simple one: Nothing… Nothing is missing. We know that Christ calls everyone to follow him wherever he will lead. We know that, as imperfect as His church might be, His guidance is given in the teaching of this same Church, because that is His promise. And we also know that those who are suffering and in pain when they hear His voice receive great consolation and strength to deal with their fears and troubles. How can anyone abandon all this?
The thing is, my brothers and sisters that in order to follow the shepherd, a sheep needs to do two things. First they need to hear His voice clearly and then, they need to react to its message. Sheep need to make a decision to respond in a positive way to the call of the shepherd. God’s grace is free and is given to us through voices of all those who Christ has designated with His own authority to teach and preach the Gospel and to celebrate the sacraments he instituted and commanded His shepherds to perform for the good of the flock. But God also gives each one of us free will. He created us free so that we can accept or reject the voice of the shepherds.
In the world in which we live there are many voices who compete with the voice of Christ, the voice of the Church, Voices who disguise themselves as the voice of our divine shepherd, Voices who tell us about how the message of the Church is one of intolerance or even irrational. If we listen very carefully to these voices it does not mater where they come at the end of the day we will realize that they are our own voices. Every one of our brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, mothers and fathers that have abandoned their faith has made a free choice to stop listening to the authority of the Church and start listening to their own voices; they have become an authority in themselves. They have stopped been sheep and now are their own shepherds.
Now it is very easy to think about those people that have left the Church as “them”, as the ones we will never follow. But, and this is a very important point now, we have to be careful because we all run the danger of ending like them. If we are not careful, we are all run the danger of substituting the voice of Jesus for our own personal voices.
If we are to be safe and not let the thieves and robbers, like Jesus calls them, to confuse us and steal us from the divine shepherd, there are two things we must be willing to do. First we should follow his voice by following the teachings of His Church. For two thousand years the Lord has provided shepherds that have been willing to sacrifice their own lives for their flock. Because of them the teachings of the church have been constant since the times of the Apostles so we are certain that their voices have the authority of the Lord. Secondly we should never stop receiving the sacraments. The grace we receive through reconciliation and Eucharist brings us closer to our true shepherd, who commanded us to “Do this in memory of me”.
It is my experience that, those who claim that “their spiritual needs are not been met” by the Church, most likely disagree with what the Church teaches about marriage, the dignity of all human life, from conception to natural death or the roles of women and men in the Church. And they convince themselves that they know better that the two thousand years of reflection the church posses. These are also the people that come to mass, not to worship God but to be entertained by him. If they do not like the music or the preaching they feel they have not encountered God. They forget that when we come to mass we should bring more than what we take with us. If we do not leave our pains, fears, and sufferings here at the foot of the cross, we will have no space within us to take the consolation that comes from receiving the body, blood soul and divinity of Christ in the Eucharist. If we do not come here willing to do or give anything to God in exchange for His divine life, then what we do here has no meaning, it becomes a chore.
Jesus is the good shepherd, we wants to guide us, to green pastures, he wants to give us consolation for our troubles. We just have to listen to his voice and faithfully follow him, while resting on him all of our fears, doubts, worries and sorrows. If we follow this formula, all of our spiritual needs will be fulfilled and to quote Him in the last words of today’s Gospel, he will make sure that “We will have life and have it more abundantly”. Happy Easter everyone.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Easter Sunday

Just before Ash Wednesday, I was invited by one of our Kindergarten Sunday School for a visit. Kids at that age are really shy around strangers especially with someone they see on Sundays right in the middle of all the action at the altar, so during my visit as I expected , I spent most of the time talking to Miss Trish and Miss Maureen while all the kids spent their time coloring. At the end of my visit I asked if we could finish with a prayer, and asked if anyone had any prayer intentions. I was amazed about the reaction I got from this request. Suddenly 5 or 6 hands went up, kids that a few moments ago could not peel their eyes from the picture they were coloring all of the sudden were eager to catch my attention. But what surprise me the most was the type of petitions I heard from these little children. “For my grand pa who has a brain tumor” “For my aunt how is sick with cancer” “For my friends brother who had a car accident and is in the hospital”. All the intensions of this group of angels were not for themselves but someone else. Someone that was either sick, in pain or suffering; and they were praying to Jesus with the certainty that he understood what human pain and sickness is, and the certainty that he could hear our prayers and that he had the power to help.
I left the room that morning asking myself, why? Why, instead of asking for stuff for themselves, they all asked Jesus to help someone else, and it has taken me the whole season of lent to find an answer to this question. These Children understood what Easter morning is all about. They prayed in the way they did because, my brothers and sisters, these children are what I call, People of Easter Morning. For them God is real, Jesus is alive, and it does not matter how bad the medical prognosis is or how much human pain our loved ones are experiencing, for People of Easter Morning, God’s mercy, love and hope is just a prayer away. I have to admit I was humbled by this lesson, after 50 years of life I finally understood what the Lord meant when he said that the kingdom of heaven is here and that it belongs to those who are like children.
The problem we grown-ups encounter is that we get so involved in the problems of everyday life, thinking that we need to somehow solve these by our selves, that we live as if we were stuck on Good Friday!
Many years ago I saw a car sticker that nicely captured this idea it simply said “If you believe in God, why do you live like he does not exist?”, sometimes we want to exert so much control in our lives and the lives of others that we forget that at the end of the day God is the only one that is in control. When you combine this with the fact that our culture operates as if God does not exist; we have to admit we find ourselves in a pretty pathetic situation!
Jesus spent the last three years of his life telling about God’s love and how to experience the joy of Easter in every moment of our lives, and we live our lives as if he is still resting quietly in his tomb. There is not much difference between the apostles that first Easter morning and us! When you are stuck on Good Friday, you do not know where to go or what to do and life becomes just series of struggles we just have to endure alone. It does not matter how much we come to church if we live as if Jesus were still dead, resting quietly in his tomb, we live a lonely life devoid of any hope.
But like the women who received the news from the angel in today’s Gospel, in this glorious Easter morning we are called to be like children again, to be people of Easter. People that have an unbreakable trust in the power of Jesus Resurrected, people convinced that God understands our suffering because of Jesus suffering in the cross, people that have an unyielding hope that God is in control and that at the end, it does not matter how bad our situation is, we too will rise again with Him. And when we become Easter people, we become people who cannot stay quiet, people who need to go out into the world and communicate the good news “CHRIST IS RISEN, HE HAS RISEN INDEED! Like our Kindergarteners we become people of faith and hope in the power of the Risen Christ to resurrect us too.
You know my brothers and sisters, if you ever question if God hears your prayers, or if you ever wander if there is still faith in the world, if you ever feel lonely and that there is not light at the end of the tunnel and that in fact you are not in a tunnel but in a tomb or a sepulcher, I invite you to pay a visit to Miss Trish and Miss Maureen’s Sunday morning class, ask the kids to pray with you, ask the kids to pray for you and you will see what people of Easter Morning look like. Happy Easter everyone!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

One of the many jobs I do at St Michael’s is teaching the Baptismal preparation class for parents that want to baptize their babies. Most of the time I start my classes with the same question “Why do you want to baptize your baby?” and most of the time couples have a really hard time articulating goods reasons for this decision. I get a lot of “Because is important” or “Because that is what Catholics do”. Every once in a while I get a couple or a parent who remembers their Catechism respond “Because I want to remove the stain of original sin from my baby”. The most common answer I get is “Because I want my baby to become a child of God”, which for them it means that they want their baby to experience the salvation promised by Jesus through the waters of Baptism. However what these parents do not realize at the moment is that becoming a child of God has another deeper meaning. It means that by the waters of Baptism their little babies become part of a bigger, much bigger family; a family which expands through out the world and across time all the way back to the apostles and martyrs.
Of course I do not expect everyone to go through life thinking about this great extended family we all belong to. In fact I’m willing to bet most of us never do. But what I find interesting, what amazes me about the Church and especially this parish is that although hardly ever we think of ourselves as a family, never the less, most of the time we behave as one!
I can not tell you how many times I have heard people say that here at St Michael’s they feel welcomed or how many times they have commented to me about how friendly people are in our parish. But it is not only in the friendliness of this parish were I see us as a family, it is in the times in which we all get together and bring our skills, what Ftr. Mike likes to calls our time and treasure to accomplish what needs to be done, without expecting a reward. There are not better examples of this than the Grace under fire capita campaign we just concluded, and the way people pour their time and efforts to make the Hoe Down a success year after year. My brothers and sisters I thank God for the great privilege of been not only your deacon but a member of this great family of ours.
However (and there is always a however) we should remember that our family is not just the people that gather with us every Sunday to worship God. Like I mentioned before our family extends beyond the geographical area of our parish. In the same way we are members of the St Michael’s family because of the waters of baptism we are also members of the family that is the Archdiocese of Baltimore, lead by Archbishop Bishop Edwin O’Brian. And in the same way our St Michael’s family needed us when the roof in the machine room leaks or the HVAC system is about to die, our Archdiocese family needs our help. Next weekend marks the beginning Archbishop O’Brian annual appeal, and the weekend after that it will be the follow-up weekend. My appeal to you today is for you to think about our extended family in the archdiocese. The money collected in this yearly appeal will be used to fund Catholic schools, religious education and vacation bible schools. Contributions help to underwrite the archdiocese office of Youth and Young Adult ministry, and fund outreach and evangelization through the office of Hispanic ministry and international support to Haiti, as well as more than 80 charities which compose the Catholic Charities organization. And if you think that we will never see the products of these annual campaign, I want to let you know that me and Deacon Cliff are products of your good will and generous contributions, since in the 4 years of our education to become deacons we only had to pay for our books, everything else was defrayed by the archdiocese.
Now I know how many of you have sacrificed of your treasure to make the Grace Under Fire and the upcoming Hoe Down a success this year, specially in these hard economic times. But I ask you to look upon your heart and think on our greater family and that in prayerful consideration you open your heart to the appeal of our Bishop to help our Archdiocese continue to serve those members of our church family that need help are less fortunate than us. God Bless you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

4th Sunday of Advent

The fourth week of Advent is usually the shortest week before the feast of Christmas. This year however is different… this year we have to wait a whole week before the big day. To some of us perhaps these last few days before Xmass are starting to look frantic; travel plans need to be completed, presents need to be wrapped, cards need to be mailed, cookies need to be backed… it feels like one week is not just enough!
Every year during our Advent journey the Church encourages us not to lose ourselves in the frantic pace of this time but to keep our eyes in what really matters, what is really important. For the last two Sundays we have heard about John the Baptist, a voice crying in the desert “make straight the paths of the Lord”. During this time the Church has used his voice to plead with us to remember what the real reason for Christmas is. The birth of our savior and the promise that some day he will return again for His Church… and every year some of us get to this last few days of advent thinking that there is still so much to do!
So this week, just as we get closer and closer to the celebration of Xmas, just as things are about to become more hectic… the Church changes the tone and gives us another man in the Sunday readings, to help us walk the rest of the way.
Today we meet someone completely different to John. We meet, St. Joseph the quiet carpenter of Galilee, the foster father of Jesus. Someone we can all relate to; a hard working man, protector of the holy family. A humble and simple man with the greatest responsibility ever, to teach the Son of God how to be a Man. Joseph is not like John, he speaks no words, but in his silence he resounds as loudly as John the Baptizer cries in the wilderness.
In this last week of advent, a time in which we can easily loose ourselves in the stress and anxiety of this season he comes to us with a fatherly and simple message: “Measure twice, cut once”
You see Joseph was first and foremost a craftsman, someone used to work with his hands, someone who recognized the value of quiet patience and careful consideration. I’m sure there are many craftsmen and women here today that understand the wisdom of quiet reflection before getting committed.
In today’s reading we can clearly see that for St. Joseph these were more than words, this it was a way of life! As the careful craftsman he was he applied this lesson to his whole life. You see, it is apparent that Joseph loved Mary deeply, and that when he heard about Mary’s pregnancy he began to struggle with what to do. He could react badly and report Mary’s pregnancy to the authorities. This was his right, but after careful consideration he chose the most sensitive course of action, an action that would satisfy his honor as a man and safe guard Mary’s dignity and perhaps even her own life. He chose to divorce her quietly and protect her from the authorities.
The careful craftsman measures twice and cuts once. The careful Christian thinks about what they are going to do or say twice and them make sure that their actions reflect the lessons of the Gospel, that their words and actions are sensitive and do not hurt or embarrass others.
And I think, my brothers and sisters that especially ina time in which people are so stressed by all the things that still need to be done, St Joseph example is one we can all follow.
During this season in which we have to deal perhaps with stressed bosses or teachers, with coworkers or even strangers in the street, a time in which we might meet with relatives that somehow manage to get the worst out of us let us Measure our words and actions twice before we do or say something we might regret later.
It is very easy to do or say the first thing that comes to mind, but to stop and think twice before we act, and to always follow the way of the Gospel, which after all is the way of unconditional love, that my brothers and sisters is following St. Joseph’s example, that is what is means to be a follower of Christ.
So in this week in which I know many of us will have an opportunity to put these words into action let us pray that through the intersection of St. Joseph, protector of the holy family and the Church, we can follow the example of this quiet and humble man, So that we have a joyful and peaceful Christmas and be a blessing to all those who we might encounter this season. Amen

Monday, April 11, 2011

1st Sunday of Advent

One of the main points I try to make when I talk to people in the RCIA program, which are preparing to join the Church in Easter, is that being a Catholic is not something you do but something you become. To join the Church is much more than just following a bunch of rituals and rules. It is embracing a new identity, a new way of looking at the world, at ourselves and our relationship with the creator.
I bring this today, being the first Sunday of Advent, because I think that the few weeks before Xmas day is a period in which every faithful Catholic struggles with the dilemma of keeping this identity while living in an environment saturated by what is universally known as “The Spirit of the Season”.
30 years ago (and I’m dating myself) It used to be that the beginning of this season coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the Catholic season of Advent. However, since them our society has been subjected to a process of what I call “The de-Christianization of Christmas”, a process in which we are openly encouraged to embrace the “Spirit of the Holydays” while making make sure that we keep the celebration of Jesus Christ and His birth a private, and personal matter.
It is sad to say that in some ways this process has been so effective that in this day and age, you can spend the whole Christmas season immersed in the “Spirit of the Holydays” without encountering once our Lord Jesus, the Virgin birth, the shepherds, the wise men or the star of Bethlehem.
Of course the removal of the Christian element has created a huge vacuum in our culture, a vacuum which has been filled by a completely new and sometimes strange mythology around the celebration of Christmas. To the point that, as a culture, we have replaced what is real with what is fake, made up, and only encourages us to think about ourselves and our own personal needs.
Let me show you what I mean, like I mentioned before, it used to be that the beginning of Advent corresponded almost exactly with the beginning of the Christmas season. Today the official start of Christmas is sometime between Halloween and Back Friday, mostly dictated by when stores like Walmart or JC Penny’s fill their shelves with Christmas ornaments. Since it is not socially acceptable to refer to anything which deals with the birth of our Lord, our culture’s has developed the idea of “The Holydays”, which has produced such wonderful Xmas moments as early morning stampedes on the day after Thanksgiving to real Xmas classics such as “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” and “All I want for Xmass is my two front teeth”.
My brothers and sisters I’m not trying to be scrooge here, but to point out the fact that in this day and age, if we Catholics embrace the “Christmas Season” we are constantly exposed to, we will be abandoning our identity as followers of Jesus, as people who wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior.
Now do not think for a second that our Lord Jesus did not know this was going to be the case. In today’s Gospel He reminds us of the times of Noah, A time in which people eat and drank and celebrated without giving God a second though while Noah and his family worked laboriously preparing themselves to the coming judgment. The Lord reminds us that we, his people, also need to be constantly ready, joyfully expecting his return.
The 4 weeks before Christmas day, the season of Advent, should be days of intense spiritual preparation, in personal recognition for what should be one of the holiest times of the year, the anniversary of the incarnation of the son of God, Emanuel, God in the flesh which foretells His glorious return at the end of time.
Like I said before, I’m not saying that we should play the scrooge during this time of the year as a way of avoiding the “The Spirit of the Season”. On the contrary, we should embrace our Catholic identity, and bring this identity into our homes and out in the public square, because after all, Christmas is OUR celebration. Without Christianity, without the Church, without Jesus there would be no Christmas.
And to do this my brothers and sisters what I’m talking about is for us to return to the basics. I invite you, during this time; make the birth of Jesus the center of your own life and you family’s. Get a Christmas wreath and light the candles every night during dinner. Place a nativity set in a place of honor in your house and every day you or your kids, move Mary and Joseph around your home to remind you of their long journey to Bethlehem, read the nativity story or the story of St Nicholas Bishop of Myra, who will secretly throw money through the windows of the poor, and miraculously land inside the stockings hanging by the fire to dry. Or what about this, make a point to instead of using generic “Season Greetings” cards, use Cards which have a Christ centered message.
There are so many ways in which we can embrace our Catholic identity during this time, ways in which we can show the world who we are and what does it means to wait and hope for the salvation promised by the prophets. The things we do during this time of expectant preparation might be rejected by our culture but at the end of the day these things have an infinitely more spiritual richness than anything the “Spirit of the season” has to offer to us.
I hope that these words today encourage you to embrace your identity as a follower of Jesus and pray that this is truly a time of multiple spiritual blessings for you and your family. And from me and my family have a blessed and Happy Advent!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

In Jesus times our Lord was followed by many types of people, there were the poor and the sick which came to him for healing and hope. There were the priests and scribes who came to him for his words of wisdom and authority. There were the Romans who every once in awhile crossed paths with him and his disciples. However the Gospels records two specific groups which interacted frequently with him: The Pharisees and the Sadducees. With the Pharisees our Lord had kind of a “love hate” relationship. On one hand, some of them found common ground with his teachings, like the resurrection of the dead; others showed admiration at his knowledge of the law and scriptures. And Jesus too was very fond of some Pharisees, like Simon who invited him to have dinner at his house. However, Jesus was not shy about condemning their actions and calling them hypocrites and “the blind leading the blind”. The Sadducees on the other hand… well…if there was a group that constantly antagonized our Lord it was the Sadducees.
In scripture we hear of them always trying to catch Jesus in a contradiction, or teaching doctrine which went against the Law. Who were these people that thought they could trap Jesus with their questions? And why where they always trying to entrap him in the first place? Well, the Sadducees were members of the priestly families of Jerusalem. They exercised an immense authority over the daily life of the people, an authority that was based exclusively upon their wealth and birth right. They were very strict in their beliefs, they only accepted the first 5 books of the bible and viewed the writings of the Prophets and other authors of in the Old Testament as less in value than the words of Moses. They were draconian in their interpretation of the Law. For them “an eye for an eye” meant just that, they had no sense of what proportionality in the way they administered punishment.
Because of all this there were many points of disagreement between them and Jesus. The Sadducees denied the concept of life after death, they thought that bodily resurrection, and most doctrines concerning the existence of angels and demons, where just plain non sense. So when Jesus went around teaching these ideas to the same people which lived under their religious yoke, they took it as a challenge to their authority and beliefs. So unlike the Pharisees which found common ground with some of our Lord teachings, the Sadducees, were often angered by his words, and did everything they could to antagonize him in front of the people.
In today’s readings we get a glimpse at the amount of contempt they felt for our Lord and His teachings. As we see in the first reading from the 2nd Book of Maccabeus, the teaching of the resurrection of the death was an ancient belief of the Jewish people. A belief which brought great comfort and hope for the Jewish nation in times of great distress. The certainty that some day they will become alive again and reunite with their loved ones made them capable enduring incredible persecutions and even dying horrible deaths for their faith. Not until the Catholic Martyrs of the first and second century will we see people suffering as much as these young men did for their faith. Why would the first Christians be willing to give their lives for their beliefs? Because Jesus confirms them in these same beliefs by teaching about the end of the world and the hope of an eternal reward for those who have faith in him. The Sadducees on the other hand take this hope and twist it, they mock it by asking hypothetical questions like what we hears in today’s Gospel: “If we are all to resurrect, how are we to sort out the obvious problems that arise when those who have lost loved ones continue living?” This question shows contempt and complete disregard of the only hope the poor and sick received from Jesus words.
I have to tell you my brothers and sisters, and I know I’m repeating myself but, in two thousand years things have changed very little. We Christians of the 21 first century still have to contend with the contempt and mockery of our beliefs, not from Saduceess but from atheists, secularists and agnostics. This is why Jesus answer brings great hope to us today. “Those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming world and to the resurrection of the death…they can no longer die…they are the children of God”
To me what is most important of these words is not what they say but what they imply. To Jesus, the resurrection of the death is a reality, it is an event that will happen, it is our destiny and our right as children of God. The sun and the moon might pass but His words will never pass.
As a member of the human race I can tell you, fearing death is natural, our bodies or perhaps the bodies of our parents and grandparents, or of a sick loved one, are growing old and slowly decaying. Some of us might be looking at the end of our lives or the lives of our loved ones with apprehension, perhaps we see this period in our lives as a time of suffering, hopelessness and misery, when in fact like the men in first reading show to us, the end of our life, of any life, is a period to test our faith in Jesus words.
The last thing we need, my brothers and sisters, is to be discouraged by the words of those who do not have faith, and do not believe in the promises or our Lord Jesus. Today’s two readings are a reminder of the reality of life, of the fullness of our life which do not end with our last breath but keeps going on, until the day in which we all will encounter ourselves together again in the great eternal celebration that awaits for us in heaven.
Old age and sickness are just parts of living; they prepare us for the life to come and allow those who are around us to show us their loved and fidelity. The end is just a wonderful beginning, promised by our Lord to those who hold to the end, and there is no, or atheist, agnostic, secularist or Sadducee in the world that can change that fact. Amen

Thursday, April 7, 2011

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

I'm slowly adding all the homilies I have not uploaded since last September. Here the one for the 26th Sunday. Hopeful I'll add another one before the end of the week.

I don’t like the prophet Amos. For one thing he is kind of blunt in his approach to prophesying and comes across as someone who does not care about offending the sensibilities of his readers. But I think the reason why I dislike him the most is because he makes me uncomfortable with his words, especially when he speaks about the complacent sitting in their couches, eating fine foods, drinking wine and listening to music, while they ignore the plead of the poor.
I rather read to Isaiah, now there is a prophet for me! I love to hear his great descriptions of the messiah. The problem I have with Amos is that he hits to close for comfort, with his reminders that although we might be living a seemingly secure and comfortable life, we cannot become complacent, because like Jesus said the poor will always be with us and God, who loves everyone in the same way, hears the cries of their cries.
Now on Amos favor, I have to say that, because the way he comes across, it is very easy to dismiss him as someone which dislikes the rich, specially those who are to be blessed by an easy life, but in fact what he really talks against is people who enjoy the blessings God has bestowed in them, while forgeting those who are less fortunate. His fight is clearly with those people that choose to think that taking care of the poor is the responsibility of someone else. And on this point Jesus and the prophet Amos echo each other.
We see this in today’s gospel, the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. In this story Jesus shows us that the great sin of the rich man is not that he was rich but that he became so content with his own live that the suffering of Lazarus, which lived right at his doorstep, became invisible. And this is the same attitude Amos condemns.
As Christians we are all called to secure justice for the oppressed. As the Church of Jesus Christ, we are expected to give voice to those who like Lazarus are invisible and have no voice. You, me, Bishop O’Brian and even Pope Benedict are all called not to forget the suffering of the poor and when necessary to make sure that the comfortable and the complacent do not forget the voices of our brothers and sisters that are suffering.
I’m sure that the vast majority of you agree with me in these points, but perhaps more than one might be thinking, what can I do to show that I have not forgotten those less fortunate? Should I quit my job and go and volunteer in a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen? Should I increase my offering to the poor? I do not think this is what the Lord has in mind for us today. I think that what the lord wants from us is solidarity with the less fortunate. What do I mean? The Lord wants us to look at the poor, the unborn, the elderly, the homeless, and the hungry not as someone we might be able to help by increasing our offering but as our own brothers and sisters. Once we can do this then helping them becomes, not an obligation, but a necessity. Once we accomplish this, then the Holy Spirit will guide us in what is the best way in which we can use our resources to help them, but for this, we need to stop looking at those who suffer as “Them” and start seen them as “Us”.
In a world in which the value of human life is defined by how much a person can produce, and in which the weakest members of our society do not have a voice of their own. The Church, all of us, are called to stand next to them in solidarity and exclaim “We hear the cries of the poor”, and today, the Good Lord has given us Amos the annoying, prophet, to reminds us who we are and what are we all called to do. Amen.

Monday, April 4, 2011

1st Sunday of Lent

Wow! I can believe its been so long! Hopefully in the next few days I will post the rest of my homilies since back in September. Here is my last homily from a few weeks ago.
We have all heard that a journey of 1000 miles starts with the first step, what we are never told is the large amount of preparation that happens before taking that first step. I bring this up because as members of the Church of Christ, the season of lent is one of preparation, preparation for our own "Journey of a 1000 Miles" which starts Holy Thursday and ends Easter morning. And for people who profess love for our Lord, this three day journey should be a grueling one. It is a journey in which we accompany Jesus as he gives himself to us in the Eucharist on Holy Thursday only to be paid by betrayal, and, abandonment on holy Friday. It is a journey in which we become silent witnesses as we see him, scourged, humiliated, tortured and finally nailed to a cross and left to die like a common criminal; all because of our own personal sins. This is a trip that should not be taken lightly. How am I going to get ready? What do I need to do to be prepared to experience these days?
The church as the good mother she is, calls us to a 40 day period of preparation for what lays ahead. First with the ashes of penance to remind us of our own mortality, and in this first Sunday of lent, by calling us to meditate on the things we need to take care, the things we need to fix in our lives to approach these days with the solemnity they deserve. And there is no better way to do this than looking at one of the most basic experiences of our fallen human nature, at the one thing we can all relate, the one thing we all experience day after day: temptation.
In today’s first reading we see clearly what effects temptation can have when we give away to our selfish desires and disobey God’s commands. But it is in the Gospel where we truly learn what temptation is and how it presents onto us. When Satan asks Jesus to change the rocks into bread, our Lord is suffering the lowest and most basic level of temptation: Temptations of the flesh. We know this type very well, we see it, almost every time we watch TV commercials, or look at advertisements. We are tested in this way every time someone or something caters to our most basic desires, our most basic animal instincts, hunger, lust, the desire for comfort and luxury.
The second type of temptation Jesus experiences are what I call Temptations of the Mind. Satan says “If you are the son of God throw yourself down and the angels will catch you”. These types of temptations address our self image; they take our basic human need to be recognized and loved, and turn it into a need to show “how much better we are than others”. These are the temptations we suffer when we feel the need to show others that we are smarter, bigger, faster, or that we have more money, a better car or a bigger house, and when we fall to these we commit acts of pride which is the source of all other sins.
Lastly Satan tested Jesus with what I call a Temptation of the Soul “I will give you all this if you worship me” These are the temptations we suffer at the core of our beings, the ones that cause the sins that can enslave us because we take the divine light that is in our souls, since our baptism and suffocate it with own selfish desires. Pornography, adultery, alcoholism, they take God out of the center of our lives and replace him with our own selfish pleasures. They make us stop worshiping the creator and start worshiping the creature.
My brothers and sisters, like the good Lord in the Gospel reading, we are all tempted. But unlike him, we have all fallen to our own selfish desires. And in this first Sunday of Lent, the church invites us to confront this reality so that we can begin to heal the devastating effects of sin, so that we can get ready for the journey ahead.
There is one temptation I have not mentioned, the temptation to think that God will not forgive us, that our sins are so embarrassing, so terrible that we are ashamed of thinking about them and even worst to speak them out loud. But this is precisely what we need to do, we need to confront our failures and speak them at loud, only them can we start the process taking away the power our sins have gained over us.
I think that this temptation is at the core of all the people that refuse, delay or just plain ignore the sacrament of reconciliation. People that think that they can confess to God on their own, or that refuse to confess because “they do not know what to say” or even worst that they do not need to be reconciled to God because they are “good people”; all of them fooling themselves because at the end of the day we are all tempted and we all fall. And if you do not know where to start, how about confessing those temptations that make you struggle?
In this Lenten season, why not approach this great sacrament? Every Wednesday night from 7 to 8:30, the light will be on for you, Father Mike will be here, waiting to hear your confessions and on April 13 at 7:30 we will have a number of priests for our annual Lenten Penance Service. I invite you to take advantage of these opportunities during this period of preparation for the Easter Tridum and to not delay on receiving the mercy of God which is waiting for you in this most precious Sacrament, so you too can be ready for the journey ahead. Amen