Monday, December 30, 2013

Here are My 2014 Resolutions!

     Since the end of 2013 is upon us I think this is a good moment to list my next year's resolutions. Normally people keep these lists private, but as a way of making myself accountable...Here they are in no particular order.

  • Eat better - I usually try to eat healthy but many days I just eat what I can find in the small cafe at work. I will make a better effort at eating a more balanced diet at work.
  • Walk more - I had knee surgery this summer, so I was a bit inactive for the second half of the year. I'm planing a couple of multi-day hiking trips this year in preparation for a 2 weeks pilgrimage in a couple of years so I have to train and build up strength on my knees.
  • Spend more time reading - I'm an avid reader but acquire so many books that I hardly have any time to keep up with my queue. I commit to read a minimum of 12 books on paper and another 12 on tape. This will make it a minimum of 24 books in 2014, a goal I feel is easily achievable.
  • Spend less time on line - One of my time wasters is my "second-life" (I.E internet persona, which includes facebook, tweeter,etc,  as well as on-line gaming). It is very easy to disconnect your brain and spend hours just paging over completely useless information. With my limited time, I do not have the luxury for these.
  • Record more of my music - I need to make an effort to record my music so that i can share it here in the blog.
  • Increase my guitar repertoire - this is something I'm always doing, but I need to be more structured about it.

   So there you have it, my new years resolutions for 2014. Lets see how much I can accomplish this year!

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Things Have Been Quiet Lately

     Things have been quiet lately here at the blog. Mostly because my time have been very taxed by ministry, family, work and a little renovation project I undertook at the beginning of October (If you follow me on Facebook you might have seen the pictures of my slow progress). Luckily the bulk of the  work is done and I will be able to write on-line a bit more.
My Little Project as it Stands Today.

     I was reviewing the list of posts I have on draft mode (Posts which for one reason or another I have not finished) and discovered that I have quite a bit number of unfinished business, so one of my new year's resolution is to finish and add these to the blog and to be more regular on my blogging. Most people abandon their resolutions at one point or another, however I have always been pretty good a keeping mine so we will see how long I can keep them up.

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support to my ministry, and also to wish you a most blessed Christmas season and a great 2014 year!

     "Viva Cristo Rey!!"


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christ The King (Cycle C)

    To Catholics the image of Jesus nailed to the cross is very familiar. In a sense we are saturated with this image, every rosary ends with a crucifix, every church is required to have one in their sanctuary, and if you come from a Hispanic culture like mine, every man who calls himself a good Catholic wears one of this around their necks.
    This image is so familiar that we have been desensitized to the horror it presents: a human being nailed to a piece of wood. Think about it, only dead things, inanimate objects are made to be attached to trees. In our culture any animal treated in this way would evoke indignation and disgust, so to witness a human being treated in this way should horrify and outrage us.    
    In our collective social conscience we know humans are not to be treated in this way. We sense how dehumanizing this act really is. The one condemned to die in this shameful way is degraded to such extent that it is no longer a person; it’s not even at the level in which irrational animals deserve to be treated.
So, since today we are celebrating the feast of Christ the King, and the gospel takes us back to Good Friday and to our Lords final hours. I think it is fair to ask: Why would the church select this specific image to celebrate the Kingship of Jesus?
    This feast was instituted as an antidote against specific trends in human history which aimed at the complete eradication from every human endeavor of anything which had to do with God. Back in 1925 Pope Pious XI was worried about the way governments and societies were trying to eliminate any thought of God from art, science, ethics, and morality. So created this feast, a day in which the Church boldly proclaims Christ kingship not only over nature but over all of history and time; and especially over the lives of every men, woman and child which has ever lived on this planet. This feast culminates the liturgical year, after today; there is nothing else to celebrate, until the beginning of the new Church year next weekend with the First Sunday of advent.
    So, if the Church wants us to acknowledge Christ supreme power over “all things, visible and invisible”, why wouldn’t the Church, present Jesus at one of his most powerful moments? Maybe feeding thousands, or silencing his critics.
    The reason why, the Church today, gives us Jesus Crucified is so that we understand this; Christ, Our King is different than any other kings that has ever existed. If you have ever visited the great palaces of Europe, like Buckingham and Versailles you will know that human kings are defined by what they posses. We are used to see kings surrounded by luxury and wealth.  For human kings these things mean power and respect, their Royal status is defined by what they have. But Christ the King, Christ our King has nothing, he is a rejected man, abandoned by all, nailed to across, left to die, while the on lookers jeer and insult him. He leaves this world in the same way he came, poor and humble, with just His mother by his side. From where, then does Christ Royal status comes?  It comes not from what he has but from what he can do, from the authority He, as the Son of God, posses. It is His divine nature what makes him a powerful king. He has nothing and yet he has the power to do anything, and power over everything and everyone. He even has the power to open the gates of heaven closed to us by the sin of Adam and Eve. And he has the power to welcome anyone he wants into his kingdom, even to the lowest of criminals.  Human kings might have hundreds of thousands of soldiers at their disposal, the might have palaces and honor, but they have no authority over the eternal souls of their subjects. Only Jesus can forgive, only Jesus can take on our sins and offer himself as an acceptable sacrifice for our guilt, for all the offenses we commit against God’s perfect justice, only Jesus can break open the doors of paradise to us.
    For the son of God, status and material powers mean nothing, even dying in the horrendous way he did was nothing compared to the “kingdom, the power and the Glory” he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit, a kingdom, a power and a glory he wants to share with us.
    In this feast of Christ our King we are to recognize Him in his true self, humble and meek; unlike the Kings we are all used to see. We are reminded of how He was willing to sacrifice His own self so that we can have abundant life with him in heaven for all eternity.
    There, my brothers and sisters here is our King. Blessed be Holy name of Jesus, Lord of Lord and King of Kings, forever and ever, Amen.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Monday, October 14, 2013

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

This morning I was visiting with some of the CCD classes, talking about the role of deacons in the parish. I explained to them that one of the things I do is taking communion to the sick at the Howard County General Hospital.

I bring this up today because I will like to share something that happened to me a few weeks ago in one of these visits. That day I entered a room in which a group of nurses were attending to an older gentleman. I greeted him and waited quietly until they left to ask if he would like to receive the Eucharist. As it is my custom, after praying and giving him communion I spent some time in his room just talking. I asked him why he was in the hospital, how long had he been there, if he had any family or friends around and how was he feeling. The answer he gave to this last question left me speechless. With tears in his eyes he simply said: “How am I? I am well, now that I have Jesus in me”.

I got to tell you my brothers and sisters in the two years I have been visiting the sick in this hospital I have never experienced such a display of faith and trust in the Lord. It was not what he said but how he said it that left me without anything to say; this man who a few minutes ago had a medical team hovering all over him because his high blood pressure, this man who was in serious risk of a stroke or a heart attack, revealed onto me the very image of hope, peace, and trust.  That day I was reminded of a very important lesson: When we encounter Jesus, there is a big difference between been healed from our infirmities and been made well by this encounter. It all depends in our interior disposition and in how we see the Lord. 
Today’s Gospel shows this distinction, after the ten lepers followed Jesus command and took off to present themselves to the priests, after their bodies had been healed, after what they had prayed for so long was finally granted , only one returned glorying God to thank the Lord. At this Jesus wanders out loud: “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?”…

 Ten were healed, ten were made whole, and to ten sick men everything leprosy had taken away, their families, their friends, and their lives in the community were given back again. Only one returned to thank Jesus. For only one of them the healing experienced was the cause of a transformation of the soul, and It is because of this transformation that Jesus exclaims "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."
It was not the healing power of Jesus who saved this man, but what he did with this gift of health. How this gift made him realize that more important than getting his life back was the returning to the Lord to thank him.  This encounter with Jesus transformed him so that he was not just healed, he was made well.

Like I said I visit many people in the hospital and I have seen the power and consolation the Eucharist brings to the sick. But what I saw a few weeks back, the encounter of a sick man with Jesus in the Eucharist, made me realize that more important than any miraculous healing we might think we need for us or for our loved one, been made well by God should be the goal of every Christian, a goal which can only be accomplished through an encounter with the resurrected Lord.

The beauty of it all is that one does not need to be sick, or in a hospital for this encounter, Jesus is always calling on us to recognize him in those who surround us. And the best way to have this encounter is in the reception of the Eucharist. In this sacrament Jesus is present body, blood soul and divinity. By feeding us with his body and blood he unites with us, he becomes part of who we are; part of how we think and how we act. He opens the door for a deep encounter with us in every mass. When we truly recognize him in the sacrament of the altar we, like the leper in the gospel, would proclaim the Glory of God, and only then we would be able to say with certainty, “How can we be not well, when we have Jesus in us".

Friday, October 11, 2013

Katy Perry and the Use of Sacred Images by Secular Icons

    I'm no fan of Katy Perry. I don't care about her music.  I couldn't recognize her even if she were to walk right up to me and say "hi!". I however have an eagle eye (my kids call it an obsession) for all things Catholic in the secular media, specially when these things are our Sacred Images...Specially when these Sacred Images are the images of Our Blessed Mother. This is why when this article flashed  for a couple of seconds in my Yahoo news-feed it caught my attention.  I can not describe my reaction when I saw Katy Perry (yes, the same Katy Perry who has recorded songs like "I kissed a Girl" and "U R so Gay") displaying an image of the Blessed Mother on her shirt.

    I often wander if the Church should trademark all things Catholic, you know like the rosary (used by rapers and gang members as jewelery), the sign of the cross (most often seen in horror movies and shows like "Ghost Hunters" when things start getting "really scary") or even the word "Catholic" (nowadays used by many "less than Catholic" universities and hospitals). At the least this would protect our beloved sacred objects from been profaned and desecrated; at the most it would create some badly needed royalties income to pay for more pro-life and pro-family media content. One can only dream...  

Anyway, here are some pictures of Ms. Perry appearance at Jimmy Fallon's Late night show, reducing the image of the Theotokos to a mere name brand product.

 This one made me wander...

 What will Ms. Perry say when The Good Lord asks her "Soooo...What did you do with that image of mom I sent you???"

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review:The Church and the New Media: Bloggers, Online Activists and Bishops Who Tweet

Here is a book review I wrote. It was published in the Archdiocese of Baltimore Deacon's Newsletter

  “Today in particular, the pressing pastoral task of the New Evangelization calls for the involvement of the entire People of God and requires a new fervor, new methods, and a new expression for the announcing and witnessing of the Gospel”   Blessed John Paul II , Pastoral Exortation Pastores Dabo Vobis

On the day of our diaconal ordination each one of us was handed a copy of the Book of the Gospels while we listened to the bishop’s words: “Receive the book of the Gospels, whose herald you have become”.  This short rite is unique to diaconal ordinations. It emphasizes the deacon’s exceptional character as communicators of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Throughout our ministries, every Sunday, we strive to fulfill this important office through the reading of the Gospels and our preaching at mass. But, in a world of instant communications, 30 seconds news clips, and the ability to touch millions of lives by the pressing of a single key on our cell phones, is our Sunday service enough? How can we extend the reach of our ministry to not only the people who come to mass on Sunday but the ones that stay away? What about the millions out there who hunger for the good news that have never been exposed to the Catholic truth?

These were the questions I found myself asking while browsing the book stacks at last March’s Mid-Atlantic Congress in Baltimore,  when I came across this little book:  “The Church and the New Media: Bloggers, Online Activists and Bishops Who Tweet” By Brandon Vogt  (Amazon $11.17)

This read is a great point of departure to find the answers to these questions. The book is divided into 11 chapters; each written by a New Media personality; each bringing their unique perspective and particular experience of online pastoral and lay ministries. Some names will sound familiar, Fathers Robert Barron and Dweight Longenecker, Mr. Mark P. Shea; others might be less easy to recognize, but all engage you in a direct and simple manner. You do not need an Information Systems degree to understand what each writer is saying.

In here you will find advice ranging from how to engage people and perform online apologetics, to how to use social media and collaboration tools to reach the people of your parish beyond their Sunday mass experience. The beauty of this little book is that each chapter stands on its own, but each is part of the overall idea that “the church belongs where the people are, and in this day and age the people are online”.

The only critique I give to this work is this: If you are looking for help creating a blog for your homilies or a mailing list for your CCD class, you will be better served by consulting some other book. The Church and the New Media assumes you either have the knowledge to do this or you can find someone who will help you; however once you are up and running, this is the definite source for making the greatest impact in the least amount of time.

On a personal note, the most helpful chapters to my ministry have been Scott Landry’s “Innovative Shepherding: New Media in the Diocese” and “High Tech Community: New Media in the Parish”. Both gave me great ideas for adding a “New Media dimension” into my own ministry by helping me with placing my homilies online and creating my own personal blog.

In short, I think every priest, deacon or bishop who is serious about expanding the reach of their ministries, should make reading this book a priority.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

   The other day I was watching one of those Discovery Channel programs which had Norman Freedman talking about how big the universe is. He was saying that just within our galaxy, the Milky Way, there are about 300 billion stars, and in the whole universe there are about 500 billion galaxies. The farthest galaxy we have been able to see with the Hubble Telescope is so far away that it takes 13.5 billion years for its light to reach us here in planet earth.
   As mind boggling as these numbers might sound, we Christians understand that our God is bigger than this, not in the sense of size, but in the sense of its power and influence. It was King David who after experiencing the divine presence said in psalm 147 that God, the creator of this almost inconceivable number of starts knows each one of them by name!  Not only has he known all these since their creation, but nothing that happens in this vast expanse happens without Him noticing and allowing it, even to the smallest events. The average person might have trouble imagining how big the universe is, but it is infinitely easier to understand the depth and size of the universe than to wrap our minds around how magnificent and powerful our God is.

   Our Lord Jesus lived a life of poverty and simplicity, but not only this, he spent a big part of his ministry teaching about how the true heirs of the kingdom of God are those who are humble either by choice or by situation. In the example of His life we see how Jesus felt most comfortable with the children, the poor, the sick, the ones who live without false pretenses and pride. The ones who were humbled not by choice but by circumstance. In the Gospels we also see how many times Jesus gives his apostles advice about how to be humble. Today’s Gospel reading is a good example.
   I have to admit that when I read today’s Gospel I found it strange that Jesus, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity,  instead a revealing to the Pharisees some great mystery, like the true nature of the divine persons, instead takes this time to teach the proper sitting arrangements in a banquet. Why? In a universe this big, does it really matters that much where do I sit at a table or who do I invite over to diner?  
   My brothers and sisters, the fact is humility is an act of the will. The average person has to make a conscious decision to embrace it. It does not come naturally to us. We have to be taught how to speak and behave humbly, and even when our parents teach us, it is a personal choice we all make. Jesus knowing the importance of been humble, takes every opportunity he has to teach his disciples about how to live a life of simplicity.
   There is a reason why Jesus spent so much energy teaching and preaching about humility. We tend to think that the best way to encounter God is through prayer, and prayer does help but the fact is, the easiest way of encountering God in a personal way is with a heart full of humility. It is when we recognize our own lowliness when confronted with the infinite God, creator and sustainer of this universe, that we can experience the divine presence.  It is only when we lower ourselves that we make enough spiritual space for God to enter into our lives.
   We live in a world in which humility has no value.  We live in a world in which we are encouraged to be the biggest, the best, and the most powerful; in a world in which selfishness and self-centerness is praised and rewarded.  That is not the way of our God; His way is self-sacrifice, and meekness. 
   Today’s readings are a reminder of how important it is to act humbly under any circumstance and that, If we want to encounter God, if we want to experience His divine presence, we must start by following  Jesus example and embrace a life of simplicity and humility. Amen.

  And yet, as powerful and magnificent as He is, He has decided to reveal Himself in complete humility.  We don’t have to look far to prove this point; from His birth to the moment of His death our Lord Jesus is the image of God’s absolute humbleness. In one of my most favorite passages in the bible, St Paul in the Letter to the Philippians puts it in very simple terms: “Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped, took the form of a slave, born in the likeness of men, and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” It is as if the one thing that can only match God’s greatness is his meekness.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Crikey: The Australian Spanish Speaking Kookaburra

   So there is this bird, his name is Crikey. He lives at the San Diego zoo. Crikey is a Kookaburra which I believe is Australian for "Hilariously loud small bird". You can find lots of Kookaburra videos on line, no big deal. What is particular about Crikey is that you can make him laugh by "rolling your r's" like in the Spanish word "Arroz". Apparently, Crikey reacts to this most unique Spanish sound. I'm not sure if all Kookaburras do this, but to me this could only mean that Crikey has a special affinity to "La lengua de Cervantes". Here is Crikey in all his glory, Notice how his handler tells people to "roll your r's like in Spanish". 


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What Should Deacons/Priests do When Attending Mass While on Vacation?

A few years back I found this article about Bishop Tobin (RI) "sneaking" into mass in his "civies" while on vacation. At the time I wrote a short post in my old blog. Since I think this is a question every recently ordained deacon asks, I figure I will include it in my new blog.

Here is part of the good bishop's article.

During vacation this summer I followed my normal practice of attending Sunday Mass as a “private citizen,” that is, in secular attire, with the congregation, in the pews. Even though I truly cherish the privilege of leading the liturgy as I do almost every Sunday, it’s also refreshing once in awhile to be on the other side of the altar.

Doing so allows me to avoid the public spotlight, eliminates the pressure of having to prepare a homily, and helps me to return to the ministry relaxed and ready to go.

Whenever I join the rank-and-file, it’s amazing how quickly I assume the characteristics of what might be considered the “typical Catholic.” I planned my schedule so I wouldn’t arrive at church too early. I sat toward the back of the church to avoid special involvement. I complained, at least mentally, about the length of the sermon. I was dismayed to learn there would be a second collection – and yes, I did pry open my wallet to contribute to both! And I was appropriately irritated by the log jam of traffic in the parking lot after Mass.

Forget my need for “full, active and conscious participation.” I was on vacation. I wanted something short, sweet and to the point, just enough to fulfill my Sunday obligation.

I'm willing to bet my lunch money that the question of "What to do when attending mass while on vacation" has crossed the minds of many if not all  Catholic clergy. Should we identify ourselves as clergyman that are just "passing by"? I imagine that for priests and bishops this is not that pressing since they can celebrate mass privately. Deacons however, like every other good Catholic, depend on finding a mass to fulfill their Sunday obligation. As ordained clergy our place is at the altar, as family man,  it is nice to sit side by side with wife and children while visiting a strange parish.

Before I was ordained I did some checking on this question and found out that the Church has no specific rule about what to do in these situations. During my research I found out a wide variety of opinions about this dilemma. Some said that you should identify yourselves to the celebrant and give them a chance to invite you to serve. Others say that it is best to follow bishop Tobin example and just stay quiet about our clerical state. I was not able to find consensus on what to do. So I came up with this rule for myself wich I apply when ever I find myself in this situation. 

 It is a proper and respectful to identify yourself to the celebrant as clergy. However when to do this is up to you, it could be done before or after the mass.

You might think identifying yourself is not a big deal but, like I had experienced a couple of times, if you approach the celebrant BEFORE mass you are running the risk of being asked to vest and serve. Perhaps the celebrant was trying to be polite but it put me in a very difficult position for: how can a deacon say no to the opportunity to serve at the altar of God?  On the other hand by identifying ourselves as deacons at the end of the mass we avoid this potentially embarrassing problem.

I wander if Bishop Tobin followed this rule, Or if he just sneaked out of the sanctuary "incognito" and followed the congregation to the fellowship hall for some donuts and coffee.

When I found this article, a few years back, I was impressed by bishop Tobin sincerity and openness refreshing. I also made a mental note to start paying more attention at who is sitting in the back of the Church when I'm preshing a homily. You never know.

Viva Cristo Rey!!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

   Today’s first and second readings are very similar. They both give an answer to the question: What is Faith?  In the first reading, taken from the Book of Wisdom, we are told that faith is the sure knowledge of the promises of God and of their eventual fulfillment. In the second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, we are told that faith is “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen”. Both readings point to the fact that faith is just the certainty of things we cannot see with our eyes, the certainty of spiritual realities, of the desire we have for justice, for the happiness we will feel when we meet our departed loved ones again, of heaven and eternal life.
   With all this talk about faith, it occurred to me that it is rather strange the Church decided to group these two readings with a Gospel which starts by Jesus proclaiming “Do not be afraid”. What does faith has to do with fear?  To answer this question we have to take a look at the context in which Jesus spoke these words.
    Today’s Gospel is taken from a section of Luke which is known as “the travel narratives”. It is called like this because these were stories of Jesus and his disciples as they traveled towards Jerusalem, to celebrate the Passover. The same Passover, in which Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified.
   The apostles sensed that something was going to happen the moment they arrived to the city. Perhaps he would reveal himself as the Messiah, perhaps we would use his divine power to defeat the Roman tyrants and establish the Kingdom of God.  Jesus, on the other hand, knew very well what was going to happen; He also knew the effect these events were going to have in the faith of his friends and followers. So in preparation for what was waiting in Jerusalem, the Lord gives a lesson about how to always be ready for Him to appear, and about how, regardless of what our situation is, we must keep our faith on Him and avoid fear, because fear is the great enemy of those who wait for His promises; faith gives us courage and consolation. Fear turns us inwards, to look inside of ourselves for strength that only God can provide.  Fear makes us forget that God is always, always in control, and that when we least expect it He sends his angels to help us.
Sketch Artist Depiction of "Mystery" Priest
   In the last few days, there is a news story been reported which, in my opinion gives a perfect example of today’s message. There is this young woman; her name is Katie Lentz, who was hit head-on by a drunk driver this past Sunday morning on an isolated highway in Missouri. She was seriously injured and trapped inside her car.  For close to 45 minutes the emergency personnel tried to pull her out of the wreckage but couldn't free her.  During this time, Katie which had multiple fractures in her body and must have been in an incredible amount of pain, prayed out loud. After an hour of struggle, the responders realized that to use the words of one firefighter “Katie was slipping way” and that the only chance they had to save her was by turning the car upside down, a move which could very likely, kill her. When they inform Katie about their very dangerous plan, instead of sinking into despair, she asked them if they would pray with her out loud. It was at this moment, eyewitnesses’ report that right out of nowhere a priest appeared, even though the road had been blocked off for two miles and they were in an isolated stretch of highway. The priest said that he will pray with her and anoint her with the oil of the sick.  Eyewitnesses tell that while this was happening, a sense of peace fell over Katie and the men trying to save her life. After the anointing the priest also blessed the rescuers and told them not to worry as they will now be able to release her, which in fact they were. When she was safely out of the car the rescuers tried to locate and thank the priest for what he had gone, but could not find him. To this day no one knows who this priest was. The archdiocese of Missouri has said that none of their priest was at the accident that day. The strangest thing about this story is this: in more than 80 pictures taken during the time this was going on, not one of these captured the image of this mysterious priest.
   Some people are calling this a miracle; they are saying this priest was just an angel in disguise. I think that it does not matter if this was an angel or just a priest from another diocese, on vacation out for stroll. The real miracle is this: at a moment in which many people would sink in despair and fear, the faithful prayer of a young woman in need was answered.
    My brothers and sisters faith is the great antidote against fear. Fear is the great enemy of the faithful. I pray that no one ever in this community of St Michael’s has to deal with a situation such as Katie Lentz experienced, but I also pray that if we ever find our faith tested, we remember Jesus words today: Do not be afraid. Trust in your faith, trust in the power of God’s consolation, and be open to his wonderful care and you too will be the witnesses of miracles. Amen!


Here are some links to the "Mystery" Priest story:

 Story 1, Story 2, Story 3

UPDATE: The Mystery Priest has stepped forward. Here is the link.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Question About Homosexual Marriage

I was doing some cleaning in one of my old (2009) attempts at blogging and I found an answer I gave to one of our very inquisitive cathecumens. I thought my answer was worth posting, so I added to my old blog. Since I feel it is still relevant, here it is. First is the e-mail I received followed by my answer:

2) My second question is about homosexuality and gay marriage. This is not just related to Catholics, but is an issue being dealt with in many Christian churches. Coming from the Episcopal Church I am very aware of how deeply divisive the issue is, but I can't help but see it as a human rights issue. I understand the biblical arguments, particularly those from the Old Testament, but following the argument of St. Paul when dealing with the Jerusalem Church, those laws, especially from Leviticus no longer apply. Christian men do not have to be circumcised; we are allowed to eat pork, lobster, shark, rabbit and ostrich; modern Christian's do not believe that it is OK to hold slaves.

I also understand that St. Paul himself addresses and condemns this issue in one of his letters. The problem is he was not talking about two consenting adults entering into a mutually supportive consenting relationship. Rather he was talking about the very unequal ancient Greek practice of older men having relationships with young boys, as well as the practice of cult prostitution.

... The point is more that I don't think this statement from Paul applies to the current situation and so we are left without much scriptural guidance on a very controversial issue.

There are a number of points in your question. I hope I can cover them all! First it seems to me that you have 3 ideas in your mind:
1) Scripture’s and Church stance on homosexuality
2) Scripture’s and Church stance on Gay marriage
3) The place of Scripture on solving moral questions

Let me see if I can address them all. The claim that Christians are against gay marriage because of what scripture says can be attributed to the many evangelicals which use the scriptural passages you mentioned to justify their stance against the relaxation of the definition of marriage from “one man and one woman” to just “two people”. Now here let me first make an observation. This might surprise you but: The Bible never speaks directly against gay marriage. It directly speaks against homosexual acts, but it never even mentions the case of a marriage between two people of the same sex. This is not to say that scripture condones gay marriage since every time it refers to marriage it assumes the reader knows that what is meant is the covenantal union of one man and one woman. The reason for this is because natural law is implicit in scripture. The order God placed in creation existed before scripture. Since this law is written in our hearts there is no need to be specific on matters of natural law, although sometimes scripture IS very specific in these matters.

Now for our Protestant brothers and sisters, (Especially those who believe in “Sola Scripturae”) this is problematic. Since their argument falls flat on the face when confronted with the reasons you presented. For the Catholic Church it is a different story all together. Like in scripture, the Church condemns the homosexual act, but it does not condemn homosexuals. The moniker “Hate the sin but love the sinner” applies in this case. People with homosexual tendencies are called to live a life of chastity (in the same way all heterosexuals are called to live this life.) The CCC teaches:

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Having established this… What about homosexual marriage? If scripture is silent about this issue what to do? Why does the Church advocate a ban on the so called “Homosexual Marriage.” Like you said isn’t this a matter of just human rights? To answer this, the Catholic Church turns first to natural law. Starting from the simple question “What is the natural order of creation?” The CCC teaches that:

1603 "The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage."The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. "The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life."

This natural order is affirmed in scripture, to quote the CCC again:

1605 Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: "It is not good that the man should be alone." The woman, "flesh of his flesh," his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a "helpmate"; she thus represents God from whom comes our help. "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been "in the beginning": "So they are no longer two, but one flesh."

So as you can see if we look at the order of creation and what God has revealed we can conclude that the union between one man and one woman is ontological. It is part of who we are.

Once this is established we can make the argument that in fact gay marriage IS a human rights issue. Because any attempt to alter the order of creation will have a negative effect in the rights of the human person, and society (take for example paternity, children have the right to a one father and one mother. Anything else would be a violation of their rights as members of the human species). The common good demands that the marriage between one man and one woman be protected since it is a fundamental element of who we are as creatures and as a society.

I hope this helps

Saturday, July 20, 2013

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

  I had a very nice homily prepared about Mary and Martha, and about how to be a real disciple and then I sat in front of my computer and saw this headline:

“Vatican offers 'time off purgatory' to followers of Pope Francis tweets”

  Since I figure, some of you might get asked about this, today I will give a quick refresher on Indulgences.

  First: What triggered such headlines?  On June 24 the Vatican issued a document stating that those who receive reconciliation, the Eucharist, pray for the intention of the Pope and follow the events of World Youth Day devoutly,  (happening in Brazil from July 22-29)  either in person or electronically (TV, Radio, Internet) will receive an indulgence.

  Now I want this to be very clear: It is not just following the Pope on tweeter which gains us this indulgence, we need to actively participate in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church to receive this spiritual gift.

  You might be thinking: Why does the Church insists in embarrassing us? Aren’t indulgences a medieval leftover from a period of our history we rather forget? To which I would answer: There is no doubt that there was a time when indulgences were abused by some in the Church. However, the fact is: a teaching does not become invalid because some people abuse it. Indulgences still play a very important role in the spiritual life of Catholics. This is why the Pope Francis, using his authority as the successor of Peter granted this special privilege during World Youth day.

  What is an indulgence?  Well, I could use a lot of “theology talk”, but, I rather explain them like this: indulgences free us from our attachments to sins in the same way exercising free us from our attachment to gravity.  What do I mean? Let me explain: every time we sin two things happen: We offend God and we hurt ourselves. When the priest absolves us from our sins he applies the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as payment. If we are truly repentant, in the eyes of God we are guilty no more. In a more personal level however, every time we sin, especially if it is a sin we commit frequently, like gossiping or visiting some web sites, we gain what I will call “spiritual fat”, we develop an attachment to certain sins to the point that we become enslaved by them.  With time these become part of our personality in the same way, eating doughnuts becomes part of our waist line; we which we could be lighter, but our sins make us spiritually heavy and sluggish.

   An indulgence is like an exercise plan to get rid of all the extra spiritual weight we have accumulated, to help us loose our attachments to sin. Why is losing this is important? Because we know that nothing impure can enter the presence of God, and attachment to sins is the primary cause why we remain impure why we can not reach holiness. Either in this life or the next one we will have to lose all those spiritual pounds we put on in life before we can see God face to face.

   So what will happen if I have never received and indulgence? Nothing, we Catholics believe that before we enter into the glory of God we have to cleanse ourselves of all sinful attachments in purgatory anyway; however, indulgences are a way of starting this process while we are alive. But not only this, (and this is where indulgences were abused in the middle ages) we can apply these indulgences to our deceased loved ones, so they can become pure and enter in the presence of God, in the same way we pray for their eternal rest after their passing.

   Now, in case you are thinking the Church made all this stuff up, there is very strong scriptural basis for this teaching. You will not find the word indulgence in the bible, but that is not a problem since, we cannot encounter the terms Trinity, or Original sin either. What we find in scripture is this idea of purifying ourselves before entering in the presence of God and the idea that personal sacrifices help, not only us but the entire body of Christ.

  One of the places to see this second point happens to be in today’s 2nd reading. Paul says “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24). As a Christian Saint Paul, like us, believed that Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross was enough to pay the price of all the sins ever committed in the past, present and future. If this is the case, isn’t he contradicting this doctrine in this passage? Unless he believed that the afflictions he suffered completed not what was lacking in Christ sacrifice of the cross but was is lacking on us, what is preventing us from enjoying the rewards of this sacrifice. It is obvious that Paul believed sacrifices, and spiritual disciplines have an effect in our spiritual life and in the life of other members of the Church. The indulgence declared by Pope Francis is nothing more than a plan for us to follow and help us enjoy the rewards of Jesus sacrifice.

  The last thing I’ll like to say is this, Indulgences are not some medieval invention, or an easy way to skip purgatory. They require sacrifice, discipline and prayer, they are part of our faith, and they are there as a gift from  God who desires to meet each one us, face to face in heaven. So in this special time of grace, during the upcoming World Youth Day, I invite you to take advantage of these spiritual gifts and to continue moving forward our final goal which is, eternity in the presence of God.  AMEN!

EDIT: Folks, Jimmy Akin, Catholic Apologist extraordinaire just posted  a very informative article which complements very nicely with my homily. It even covers areas I had to leave out because of time constraints.

Monday, July 15, 2013

When Engineers Get Bored: Engineering Students are at it Again!

Well folks, the Engineering students at the University of Toronto have accomplished the seemingly impossible: A human powered helicopter. Of course this is a prototype, and the sheer size of this apparatus makes it unpractical,  but Orville and Wilbur would be proud of them (and I thing there are reports that Leonardo Da'Vinci just sat up in his grave).

 Here is the video:

Viva Cristo Rey!!


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Miracles, Science and Divine Intervention

Miracles have been in the news lately. The Vatican just announced the approval of a bonafide miracle (after a long investigation by doctors and theologians) of a woman in Costa Rica who was healed by the direct intercession of  Blessed John Paul II, as the second miracle needed for his canonization. The Catholic Herald website reports that:

   A Costa Rican woman has told how she recovered from a brain aneurysm after praying to Blessed Pope John Paul II – the second miracle attributed to the pontiff, who died in 2005.
   According to Floribeth Mora Diaz, she was told by doctors in May 2011 that her condition meant she only had days to live. After receiving the news she returned to her home in Costa Rica’s Cartago province and while praying to John Paul II in her small bedroom she heard him say: “Rise! Don’t be afraid.”
   Mora said that the incident occurred after she returned from the doctor’s and watched the beatification of the former pope on television. As she prayed, she heard his voice speak to her from his picture on the cover of a magazine.

  After the incident, Mora’s condition rapidly improved and doctors could not explain the reason for this. According to Reuters, her neurosurgeon, Alejandro Vargas, admits Mora’s condition was potentially fatal, but says he predicted only a two percent chance that it would kill her.

Not only JPII is getting a miracle attributed to his intercession but also the Venerable Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, the second leader of Opus Dei, has been credited with a miraculous healing.  It was reported that in 2003 a newborn who suffered a major cardiac arrest and was declared dead, came back to life after his parents prayed for Bishop del Portillo's help. This time it is EWTN News who gives more information.

The miracle involves the August 2003 healing of Chilean newborn Jose Ignacio Ureta Wilson. A few days after his birth, the boy suffered a 30-minute period of cardiac arrest and a major hemorrhage.
The medical team treating the baby thought he had already died, but his parents prayed for healing through the intercession of the bishop.
The baby’s heart started to beat again and he recovered to live a normal life.

Of course the media commentators did not miss the opportunity to give their "expert" opinion on these cases, which could be reduced to "What is all the fuss, this happens all the time". The LA Times published an article by Lawrence Krauss, which was linked to by no other than the Richard Dawkins web site (The internet hub for all things atheist). The article stated:

There are many medical results we do not understand. Spontaneous remission of cancer, for example, occurs in a reliable but small fraction of the population; no immediate explanation can be presented on a case-by-case basis.

The problem, however, is that when one examines the spontaneous remission rates in the general population from diseases such as cancer, the rate is actually higher than that reported among the Lourdes pilgrims. (*Sagan pointed this out, but others have also compared medical reports and Lourdes reports.) Thus, if you bathe in the Lourdes waters, you apparently have a smaller likelihood of being spontaneously cured than others who have not.

*NOTE : That would be Carl Sagan of NOVA and Cosmos fame)

Blessed JPII and Venerable Bishop del Portillo
The LA Times article makes some very good points... about the wrong things. If you go back and read closely Ms. Mora's and young Jose Ignatius' healings were not a random event, like the spontaneous cures used as counter arguments by the LA times. These miracles were the result of prayer triggered by the desperation of the faithful. Completely different events than say someone who wakes up one morning and finds themself free of cancer.

The point I'm trying to make is that the LA Times explicitly uses a rather limited definition of miracle, first proposed by medieval philosopher's Baruch Spinosa; for whom a miracle was "a violation of the order of nature" ("Tract. Theol. Polit.", vi). Catholics have a much broader view of what constitutes a miraculous event. To quote Aquinas: "Those effects are rightly to be termed miracles which are wrought by Divine power apart from the order usually observed in nature" (Contra Gent., III, cii). The LA Times focuses the attention of the reader on the seeming violation of natural order; the instantaneous healing of a sick (or dead) person, while for the Church this violation is not enough to be declared a miracle. The event needs to happen within a religious context.

As a man of science, I'll admit there is some probability that there is a natural mechanism we do not yet understand, perhaps a sort of biological trigger, which, under the correct set of conditions would actuate the spontaneous healing of  a brain aneurism or even jump-start a heart that was paralyzed for 30 minutes. Who knows if in the future doctors would be able to use this mechanism routinely.

As a religious person I understand that God uses what we call "randomness" to interact with His creation, at His own will and pleasure. I also understand that God hears the prayers of all those who call for his help, even those without faith. Who knows, perhaps all those unexplained healings referred to by Krauss are just the result of this type of "unbeliever prayer".

As a Catholic I know that the intercessory prayers of many or even a few (In these cases the few included JPII and Bishop del Portillo) have a tremendous influence on the way God interacts with His creation.  I also understand that the miracles approved by the Vatican were not just spontaneous healings but the results of faithful prayer from those seeking God's help, and actuated by God's desire to bring glory to Himself through His creation.

For Catholics, it is not enough to have an unexplained event to be able to declare this event as a Miracle. Events which are seen to depart from the usual order observed in nature, although strange and even beneficial in some cases are not in themselves miracles. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Miracles expresses this idea:

In referring the miracle to God as its efficient cause the answer is given to the objection that the miracle is unnatural, i.e., an un-caused event without meaning or place in nature. With God as the cause, the miracle has a place in the designs of God's Providence (Contra Gent. III, xcviii).

The difference between these two understandings of miracles (Spinosa vs Aquinas, LA Times vs Catholic Church) is very important.  Think about this for a second: what would happen if in 20 years or so medical science were to discover how to trigger a currently unknown biological mechanism which will cause the healing events Ms. Mora and young Jose Ignatius experienced? According to Spinosa's and Mr. Krauss's idea of a miracle, since now we understand and can repeat the natural conditions to trigger the healing for someone with the same type of condition, this event was just an act of incredible luck, which did not require divine intercession. This will put into question the infallible sainthood declaration (Canonizations are considered infallible declarations) of two servants of God, JPII and Bishop del Portico.

By using Aquinas idea of a miracle the Church avoids the dependency on an inexplicable event which could be explained later as our understanding of the natural world expands. Under this view the healings of  Ms. Mora and young Jose Ignatius were not triggered randomly, they were the result of a direct petition for intercessory help.

There is nothing miraculous about the result of some random event. But when a perfectly rational person receives a divine command to, "Rise! Don’t be afraid" after praying for healing, or parents ask in desperation for the life of a dead baby, and these prayers are clearly answered precisely in the way the petition was made, regardless what mechanisms God uses, the final result still remains a miracle, given to us by the mercy of God, who answered the prayer of His children in a moment of need.

Of course atheists would claim that prayers can not be taken seriously because it cannot be reliably shown that they are answered. The LA times implies this when they report that on the average there are more unexplained healings than the type of healing reported by the Vatican. But perhaps this is caused because the effort the Vatican places in finding a natural explanation is more stringent than those, like the LA Times, who attach the word miracle to every un-explainable healing they find.  

I hope this helps put in perspective the criticism of the secular media, which wastes no time to misinform and confuse all things Catholic-wise.

Viva Cristo Rey!!


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave?

   Today is 4th of July, Independence Day. Lots of people will be celebrating the freedoms given to us by our founding fathers. In our history millions of men and women have given their lives so that, throughout generations, we can still enjoy the freedoms of this great nation. Parades, cookouts, flag waving and many renditions of the Star Spangling Banner, our national anthem will be the order of the day.

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

   When Francis Scott Key wrote this song, using the tune of an old drinking song, he never thought of how much it would mean to our country.

 Of the 8 lines which compose our National anthem I'll say that the most well known and quoted is "Land of the free and the home of the brave". In fact this phrase has turned in to a kind of nickname for our country. The funny thing is... This is just not what Francis Scott Key intended. If you look at the lyrics again this statement was never intended it to be an affirmation of our country but a question: "Tell me, Does the flag still wave over the land of the free? Over the home of the brave?

   We like to think that our country IS these things but the reality is that this should never be an affirmation, but always a question. Every day, especially a day like today, we should recall the meaning of what Francis Scott Key intended and ask, are we still brave? Are we still free?  Is this the land which represent these things? If it is...What are we doing to conserve it like this? If it is not...What are we doing about it? What kind of sacrifice are we prepared to make in order to reach this ideal?

  Land of the free, home of the brave, should  always be a goal, an ideal, and not what it has turned into, an affirmation of  a reality far away of what our founding fathers intended as a legacy for generations to come.

Happy 4th of July!

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"


Sunday, June 30, 2013

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

The other day I was reading an article which made an amazing claim. Apparently scientists have discovered that our brains are configured in such a way that we are born with a natural disposition to find, follow and admire people which display the characteristics of a leader. Scientists believe this desire comes from our need to be part of a group and the fact that we are social creatures.  

What I found interesting about this article is that it took scientists more than 2000 years to discover what St Augustine of Hypo knew back in the fourth century. Back then St Augustine declared that God created us for himself and that our hearts will never find rest until we direct our desires towards God and rest in Him.

 The problem is that since we are not born with the knowledge of God in our minds, we spend our lives trying to satisfy this desire, trying to fulfill this need to follow and give our adoration to something bigger than ourselves.  Since we don’t know how to direct this desire, most of the time we end up following the wrong thing. It is our nature to be attracted to those people who represent hope and greatness. We even have a name for this, we call this behavior “Hero Worship”.

In today’s reading we see this desire in action.  Jesus encounters three different people who express their willingness to follow him. Each time Jesus gives a surprising, if not confusing, answer to their requests, but each answer also shows that Jesus is unlike any hero or personality we will ever meet.

The first man offers to follow Jesus were ever he would go, Jesus in reply says “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”. To understand His words we need to keep in mind that Jesus lived in a time in which people were very close to nature. For His listeners, foxes and birds were examples of creatures who prepare nests, a place they can call Home. The Lord is telling this man his followers have nothing, and that to follow  Jesus means the embracement of  poverty.

 The second man tells The Lord he will like to bury his dead father, before accepting his invitation. Jesus answers “Let the dead bury their dead; but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”… On Jesus times the dead was considered unclean, and touching them would make you impure. Jesus is telling that to proclaim the Gospel one must be kept clean and pure, one must embrace spiritual and physical chastity.

The third man wants to follow Jesus but will like time to say goodbye to his family, again Jesus answer “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”…To be a follower of Jesus one must be willing to abandon everything, even their family, and once one has started walking with the Lord, one must never look back, one must live in complete obedience to his plans.

Poverty, chastity and obedience this is what Jesus demands of His followers.

You might be thinking that these demands are impossible to meet for us, people of the 21st century; but the fact is, we all know people who live their lives by these simple rules. Poverty, chastity and obedience are the three promises every priest, nun and religious brother make when they profess their solemn vows.  They are the visible sign of God’s kingdom on earth, the example for us to follow.

Like I said, Jesus is unlike anyone we will ever meet. No celebrity will ever demand these things from their fans, on the contrary, many celebrities today encourage a life of riches and excess; and many of their followers live to imitate this life; a type of life which in itself is a miss-use of our God given desire to follow greatness.

Jesus greatness and the greatness of his followers contradict everything we have learned about success and about how to reach complete happiness. For his followers success and happiness reside in the complete willingness to self sacrifice; to live lives dedicated to the service of the kingdom of God, staying pure, and chaste and obedient.

Before I finish today I would like to give the young people here a challenge. The future belongs to you, and it is a future in which most likely the religious freedom we enjoy today will be severely, limited. Under these conditions, a life lived on poverty, chastity and obedience will be the truest, highest and most difficult form of live you can imagine. Are you tuff enough to take this challenge? If you are tired of following, heroes made out of clay, that only care about themselves, Isn’t it time you try to follow a new kind of Hero? The Lord is waiting for your answer. I assure you, following Him will be un-like anything you have ever tried before.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Egyptian Statue Turning 180 degrees... by Itself???

Coming from the Caribbean I have seen some weird stuff in my life. This is why this video caught my attention. Apparently there is an Egyptian statue at the Manchester Museum (UK) which slowly (it actually takes days) turns by 180 degrees. The statue is in a sealed enclosure attached to the wall, and by what can be seen in the security camera no one touches it. Here is the raw video:

                                               NOTE: I apologize for the background music. Not of my making.

Some people are claiming a supernatural origin for this behavior, but I think there is a more natural explanation for it. Notice that the statue only moves during the day when people walk by it. During the  night (and you can see when the night is in the video) the statue remains still. So the correlation between the vibrations caused by people's steps and the movement of the statue is clearly established.

An easy way to see if the movement is intrinsic to the statue (supernatural) or due to the vibrations caused by museum patrons (natural) is to place the statue on a pedestal and see if this behavior continues.  Of course I'm sure the museum would not like to determine what causes this movement, since a statue who moves by itself is always good for business.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Saturday, June 22, 2013

St. Thomas More and Archbishop WIlliam Lori

The very first time I heard Archbishop William Lori preach was during his mass of installation, at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore. I was very impressed with the first words he delivered as the leader of the Baltimore Church. Since then I've had a couple of opportunities to serve with him and I continue to be impressed by his preaching.

In this memorial of St Thomas More, a man who was martyred because he refused to yield to the demands of an unjust monarch, I think it is fitting to take a quick look at the highlights of Archbishop Lori's homily for last night's mass celebrating the beginning of the 2013 Fortnight For Freedom campaign. Once again Archbishop Lori was presiding and, once again he was not pulling any punches. Here are some highlights from his homily.

“Faith enriches public life not only by the magnitude of its services but by the qualities of mind and heart, by the values and virtues, it brings to the task,”

 “the Church does not have two wings: a ‘faith and worship’ division on the one hand, and a ‘service’ division on the other.... what we believe and how we worship gives rise to public service.”

“No wonder we shudder, no wonder we react so strongly, when governmental authority tries to slice and dice our Church by separating in law and policy our houses of worship from our charitable, healthcare and educational institutions on the score that the latter are somehow less religious than our churches.” 

“We continue to live in an age of martyrs – when believers, not just Christians, are being persecuted for professing and practicing their faith – when believers are tortured and killed because they are believers, in places like Iran, Iraq, China and Nigeria.”

“Let us keep the flame of faith and the flame of freedom burning brightly not only for our children and our children’s children, but also for the sake of these persecuted believers who see in our form of government and in our great land a beacon of hope.” 

I'm trying to get the complete text as I have only found excerpts, but judging from what I have seen, once again, Archbishop Lori delivered.

I'm very proud and happy to have such a courageous man as my bishop and spiritual leader.

St Thomas More pray for Archbishop Bishop and for all of us.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

When Engineers Get Bored: I Know What I Want for Christmas!!!

If you follow me in facebook you might have noticed a series of videos which I have titled "When Engineers Get Bored" (or WEGB for short).

Back in my college years, when a I was a very busy engineering student, boredom was something me and my peers hardly ever encountered. When we did however, we became a dangerous lot, always trying to channel our creative energies by coming up with some really outrageous ideas just for fun.

In honor of those days and of the hundreds of engineers and engineering students that know what I'm talking about, I give you the first installment of what I hope will be a recurring feature.

From the University of Maryland I present to you: RoboRaven


Tweets Show that Christians Happier than Atheists

From the University of Illinois comes this study. Perhaps you have seen reports about it, since it has been picked by multiple news feeds. My quotes are from this Pacific Standard article.

Researchers compared the tweets of well known religious figures against well known atheists figures looking for:

... the relative frequency of words expressing positive and negative emotions. They also looked at the usage of terms indicating social interaction (such as “friend”), and the presence of terms associated with intellectual analysis (including “think” and “consider”).

The results were not surprising .

In their tweets, Christians expressed more positive emotions, and fewer negative ones, than their atheist counterparts. In contrast, the non-believers tended to use “a more analytical thinking style,” which, the researchers write, is “associated with less happiness.”

“Christian followers were more likely to use insight words characterized by certainty and emotion, whereas atheist followers were more likely to use insight words characterized by skepticism and analysis,” they report. “The percentage of words expressing certainty was higher among Christian tweets than atheist tweets.”

In addition, “Christians talked more about social processes than atheists, which was in turn associated with more happiness,” the researchers write. “On average, 9.36 percent of words used by Christian followers were related to social processes, compared to 8.08 percent among atheist followers. [This is] consistent with the hypothesis that religion promotes social support and social connectivity.”

Like I said, I'm really not surprised. Based on my interactions with atheists and believers, I have found that those with a deep faith are able to cope better with life situations,  approach life's unavoidable trials with a better attitude and are generally more positive about the future than non-believers.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

SCOTUS Balks at Making a Decision: Freedom Suffers.


Today, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) refused to rule in a case which pinned the right of pro-life activists to publicly display images of abortion against the right of children not to be exposed to gruesome images. Here is a link to an article from World Christian News. This is such a thorny issue, I don't blame the SCOTUS for deciding to stay away from it, but I am afraid their silence will provide the pro-abort side with a powerful weapon.

As a father I see how I would do everything in my power to protect my kids from the gruesome reality of aborted babies. As a prolifer, I'm of the same mind as Father Frank Pavone, from Priests for Life: the only away Americans will wake up to the horrors of abortion is by been exposed to the product of this inhuman medical procedure.

With their silence the justices upheld decisions from two lower courts in Colorado, which ruled in favor of preventing the display of these images when children are present. The lower courts said that there is a “compelling government interest in protecting children from disturbing images.” Which makes me wonder where are these judges during primetime TV, but that is another issue.

My biggest concern is the ramifications of this decision by the Colorado courts; as now the pro-abort side could turn children into "human-shields" to prevent the education of adults. It would be a disturbing precedent if children start appearing at Planned Parenthood abortion mills to be used as a legal tool against the freedom of speech of pro-choicers. The 2014 March for Life is going to be interesting.

One thing is certain; I don't think we have heard the last of this.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Deacon Harbey

Monday, June 10, 2013

10th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

I preached this homily after been inspired by the Ironman 3 movie. Go figure.

Lk 7:11-17

Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him.
As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her,

“Do not weep.”

He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said,

 “Young man, I tell you, arise!”

The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming,

“A great prophet has arisen in our midst, ”
and “God has visited his people.”

This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and in all the surrounding region.


Last week I went to see the new movie Ironman 3, the story of Tony Stark, a genius billionaire who wears a metal suit which gives him super powers while shielding him from bullets, fire and explosions. Don’t worry I will not give you any spoilers other than to say that like in the previous 2 movies we are confronted with a paradox; The same suit which Tony Stark uses to protect himself from enemies, acts as a shield against the efforts of those who love him and are trying to get close to him.

Some might say it is very difficult to find deep theological insights in summer super hero movies. But the fact is the contrast between Ironman and Jesus could not pass unnoticed. Believe it or not if you think about it Our Lord Jesus is everything Tony Stark (Ironman) is not. Jesus was poor, and humble; Tony is rich and arrogant. Jesus was wise; Tony although a brilliant scientist lacks the ability to connect with others an live a normal life. Jesus was compassionate while Tony Stark is self-centered.

What made Jesus so special was that although he had divine powers he was always willing to get close and touch the people who needed him; what makes Tony Stark special is just an iron suit which although giving him super powers, keeps his friends and the people who love him way.

I know I’m supposed to enjoy the movies, but it stroke me how Tony Stark instead of trying to overcome the shielding effects of his Iron suit actually used it as an excuse to remain isolated from his friends. Sadly, this is a trait many of us share with Ironman. For some people the idea of pushing others away, of keeping others from getting to close, becomes a way of life. Instead of using an Iron suit, they use their bad temper, grumpiness, or even false pretenses. They think that by showing to others they are smarter, stronger or even wealthier those around them they will be kept at bay, where they belong.

We can all say that we know someone like that. What is harder to admit to ourselves is that, if we think really hard, we all do this in one way or another. And by imitating Tony Stark in this specific point, we become the complete opposite of who we are supposed to be. The model of our lives, the Lord Jesus. Our Savior never wore a shield to keep others away from himself; in fact he made sure to eliminate anything which could potentially isolate him from others.

In today’s Gospel we see a perfect example of this; Jesus is approaching a town, when he encounters the funeral procession of a man, been accompanied by his grieving mother. He could have very easily let them pass quietly and with deep respect for their suffering. Instead Jesus confronts what separates Him from those who needed him: The grief of a mother mourning her dead son, and death itself. This reaction must have been so shocking to his disciples that they remembered it long enough to record it in scripture. St Luke tells us that Jesus was so moved with pity by the woman’s sorrow that he approached her and said “Do not weep”, and then he turned, approached the coffin and touch it, bringing her dead son back to life!

My brothers and sisters this is such a personal act, of our Lord! Bringing consolation to the suffering and breaking through the barriers of sorrow and death with this just a word and His divine touch.

In our culture we are conditioned to place barriers between us and those around us. Jesus doesn’t want us to be like that. He wants us to imitate Him and break through those barriers so that we can bring his healing power to those who are suffering. He wants us to be as personal as He himself is personal. He wants us to touch, the poor and the suffering, even death itself with our own hands.

Iron man is a great movie; it is filed with great action. It is a great way to disconnect our brains for a few hours. However, after the movie is over and the credits roll, we have to enter the world in which we live, the real world, a world filled with people who might be experiencing great pain and sorrows in their lives. The Lord Jesus doesn’t call us to be super heroes, he calls us to be human… just as human as he was; to walk, to talk, to touch, and to be present to be present to each other and those who need Him.

Jesus calls us today to be his imitators, and he assures that been like him is much better than any iron suit or any superpower we whish we had.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost 2013

Here is the homily I preached at St Mike's this Pentecost Sunday about the Sacrament of Confirmation.
John 14:15–16, 23b–26
 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever,
 23 Jesus answered him, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
 25 “These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

    Today we are celebrating the great feast of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost, and Archbishop Lori has asked all priests and deacons to dedicate our homily to the Sacrament of Confirmation. I figure the best way to do this is by starting from the basic question: How does one becomes a Christian?
   If you ask a protestant brother or sister this question most likely they will answer that one has to accept the “Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior” and “allow Jesus into their heart” before they can call themselves Christian.
    For us Catholics, there is a bit more to becoming a Christian than just a declaration of our faith. After all it was the Lord who said “Many will say "Lord, Lord" (Matthew 7) but I will not recognize them”. For us becoming a Christian depends not on something we might say in the spur of the moment. For us becoming a Christians is a lifelong process. This becoming is connected to the decisions we make throughout our life; how much have we chosen to love, our family, our friends, our enemies, those how we do not know, those who have become invisible to society. This love determines if we are truly a disciple of Jesus or just pretending we are, after all, Jesus also said that His disciples would be known by their love (John 14).
   If you think about it loving all the people I just mentioned all of the time is quite a daunting task! Some might say impossible. We would need some type of supernatural love to accomplish this. A love which can only come from God. We call this love Grace, and it is a free gift from God to help us become true disciples of Jesus.
   We can receive Grace in many ways, however, divine grace, grace that has the power to transform us and take us closer to the idea of a true Christian, the idea every one of us should strive too, is given by God through the 7 the sacraments. Now this is important: I’m not saying  the ONLY way to becoming a true Christian is through the sacraments of the Church but that the sacraments are the ONE and EASIEST way Jesus, thru the ministry of his Church, reaches out to those willing to accept this free gift of Grace.
   Now of the 7 sacraments there are 3 which are specifically oriented to initiate us on the path to become a true follower of Jesus: Baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation. Each one of these relates us in a particular way to each of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity which is the source of all graces.
   Baptism joins us into the family of God the Father; from that moment on we can be called children of God. In Holy Communion we have a deep encounter with the Glorified Resurrected Christ, and by eating His Body and Blood, we enter into the intimidate life the Son and the Father share. In confirmation we receive the power of God’s Holy Spirit to help us meet the demands of becoming a full members of Jesus mystical body.
   Another way of looking at the relationship between these three sacraments is like this: In baptism God’s Grace is implanted into our hearts; in Holy Communion this grace is reinforced, reenergized by the Body and Blood of the Lord, like water makes a seedling grow stronger; in confirmation this grace blooms into the fruits of the spirit. In this moment, the Grace we have received from and since the day of our baptism is transformed into wisdom, understanding, wonder and awe of the sacred (what it’s called Fear of the Lord) , counsel, knowledge, fortitude, and reverence, which are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. However, even when we are given these gifts it is up to us to make good use of them for the good of the Gospel. As members of the family of God, he expects us to make good use of the grace we receive through the sacraments to further the advance the Kingdom of God.
   Sadly, many people see Confirmation as a rite of passage a “graduation” from yeas of attending CCD. In fact it is sad to say that the last time we see a lot of the young adults in our parish is the day of their confirmation; the fact is Confirmation should be the beginning of what is supposed to be a lifelong journey, aided by God’s grace, towards becoming a true disciple of the Lord, a true Christian.
   How one does becomes a Christian my brothers and sister? By loving, not in a human way, but in a supernatural way, through the power of God’s grace, which we freely receive, in the sacraments of His Church.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Deacon Retreat Homily

          Last weekend I attended the yearly Deacon’s retreat for my Archdiocese. One of my favorite things to do during these gatherings of deacons is reciting the Holy Office in community. I was asked to give a brief reflection during the Evening Prayer for the Saturday service. That morning another deacon gave his reflection using as an illustration the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof. I picked on this theme and this is what I preached.

Evening of the 5Th Sunday of Easter,
READING 1 Peter 2:9-10
You are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own to proclaim the glorious works” of the One who called you from darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people; once there was no mercy for you, but now you have found mercy.
Following the Broadway musical theme we started this morning during Morning Prayer I would like to recall another famous production: Les Miserables. This story of redemption tells of a man, Jean Valjean, who after 20 years in jail decides to break his parole and start a new life. With time he becomes an important person in his town, only to discover that another man has been accused of being Jean Valjean and that this man will be tried in his place. Valjean struggles with what to do and it is at this moment in the play in which Valjean sings the song “Who am I?”.
As deacons, we move between different worlds;  between ministry, family life and professional careers.  Sometimes the demands of each one of these worlds pull on us from different directions.  I think it is fair to say that each one of us here today at one time or another, have asked this same question. “Who am I?” I’m I a dad? A husband?  A professional? Clergy?
Today’s readings provide an answer to this question, an answer which comes from the Lord himself.  Who does the Lord see us to be?  We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people He claims for His own to proclaim His glorious works.  Brothers, it is very easy to forget who we are. Today the Lord reminds us of our calling and our true identity.
In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean decides that he cannot allow an innocent man to suffer for his crimes. It is at this time in which the answer he gives to himself could very easily be applied to us.  He said:
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope, when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on.

Who am I? Who are we? We are deacons called to serve the Body of Christ.