Saturday, May 13, 2017

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

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    Today’s first reading is very close to the heart of every permanent deacon. It is a reading we hear in every diaconal ordination. It is the story of how the apostles, the first bishops of the Church, decided to call 7 reputable men filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom, to be ordained, and to become servants to the most vulnerable members of their community, poor widows.
   This weekend as well we are celebrating Mother's Day, a day on which we show how grateful we are for all the  sacrifices our mothers make for us. It is interesting that we get to read about deacons serving widows on a weekend set apart  to show our appreciation for the life long service our mothers give to us.
   Now I do not want to give the  impression that somehow I think being a deacon is equivalent to been a mother (I know my wife would have something to say about this!). But the reason why I think it is interesting that we have this first reading on this specific weekend is because these two ways of life, a man ordained as a deacon and a woman living her motherhood, require a very important gift from God: they both require a call, what we usually call a vocation.  Now vocations are a funny thing, at their core they are not something you do, but something you are called by God to become. They are like a seed.
   When a seed grows to become a tree, it is NOT something the seed chooses to do. The acorn  doesn't sit in the ground thinking  “When I grow up I’m going to become a weeping willow”. An acorn is born with the potential to become a oak, and it is only throughout a series of very specific conditions, experiences and events that it can reach its full potential, an oak tree.
  The vocation to motherhood is something like an acorn.  It is a vocation which is present in every woman, but it takes a series of very specific conditions and experiences in the life of this woman to reach the full potential of this vocation. And here I would like to make another a very important point about the vocations to the diaconate and motherhood. In the same way a man doesn't need to be ordained to reach his full potential as a servant to others, a woman is not required to have biological children to be true to this vocation. The call to motherhood is a call that goes beyond biology. Look at Mother Teresa who was a mother to millions of people, think of the Mary who is mother  to the whole human race; there is a reason why we call her Our Blessed Mother! In my own life I can say and I’m sure you can say the same thing, I have had the benefit of many true mothers who have helped me, supported me and given me the maternal love we all require from time to time.
  Now I have been talking about how the call to be a deacon and the call to be  mother are similar. Before I finish today, I would like to touch on one very important difference between these two. Sometimes after spending the day ministering to the People of God, and I think all the mothers here will relate to this, there are times in which  I end up feeling frustrated, tired, and even hurt. The difference is that I can always count with the support and motherly love I get in my own home from my wife and kids. Many mothers, especially those who suffer quietly for their husbands or their children sometimes have no one to turn to.
   Today I would like to finish with a word of encouragement to those brave women who suffer quietly. In times of confusion and fear listen to the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be”. You are not alone, God has given you a very important job, and you are fulfilling it to the best of your ability. Be certain that your sufferings do not go unnoticed, offer these to God as pure sacrifices for your family. And remember “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” ...You are the cornerstone of your family, and today we want to say to you that we love you and appreciate everything you do for us, even if sometimes we do not show it. God bless you and Happy Mother’s Day!

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

What if Aliens Landed Today and Other Questions

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

To which I answered:


Which elicited this answer from her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, February 20, 2017

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

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   It is common knowledge that we Christians are supposed to “To turn the other cheek”. In fact, this phrase is used as a reminder that we are not supposed to stand for ourselves whenever we are being persecuted or attacked. It reminds us that we are supposed to go quietly into the night without fuss, without complaint about the way others oppress, mistreat, take advantage and abuse us.
    Is this what Jesus had in mind? Well, he certainly tells us in the same reading to “offer no resistance against those who do us evil” and that we are supposed to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us”.  But if we just pick these three short passages from today’s gospel and give them that very shallow interpretation we are completely missing the point of what Jesus is teaching us. Why?? Because this “turn the other cheek” business does not stand alone in the reading.  If we pay attention there is also this other business about giving up our tunic along with our cloak, and carrying a heavy load the extra mile.  And we are to do all three things out of love for our enemies
  To clearly understand what Jesus is telling us, this is one of those times we need to bring to mind the context of why, when, where and who were listening to the Lord when he spoke this teaching. Now, we know that Jesus lived in a time in which the Jewish people were been oppressed by a Roman occupation force. We also know that Jesus lived in culture with very specific rules of behavior. For example, under Jewish law when a man was taken to court he could lose everything he had, everything except his cloak. You see, Jewish men of this time wore just two basic pieces of clothing: a cloak and a tunic. If a man were to lose both he would be left naked, which in this time was source of great shame, not to the naked person but to those who looked at him. So by Jesus saying to also give your cloak away he is saying “Don’t be afraid to show your enemy the shame their actions cause to those who are just quietly observing”.
  Now in the times of Jesus, Roman soldiers could force regular people to help them carry their equipment, but only for one mile. If they forced anyone to go a longer distance they would break the law and incur in serious disciplinary actions. By telling his disciples to go “the extra mile," Jesus is telling them “do not be afraid to let your persecutors know that their actions are immoral and a sin against justice”.
   Ok, so, with this background... what about the “turn the other cheek” business? Notice that Jesus' original words were “If someone strikes you on your right cheek”, which if you ask me is a bit too specific. Well if we think about it, in a world which is mainly right-handed, a slap across the right cheek would be most likely done with the back of your right hand, back-handed. In Jewish culture, this type of slap was meant not so much to inflict physical injury as to cause dishonor to the person slapped. In fact, if someone dishonored you with a demeaning back-handed slap, you were expected to reclaim your honor by responding in kind. So Jesus is telling his disciples “do not ignore evil actions against yourself, but do not retaliate. Make a stand, let those who attack you know that they will not intimidate you into silence, and that their actions do not dishonor you but them”
   Now why would the Lord teach and expect from his disciples such non­violent response to oppression rather than just turning around and walking away?? The key is in these other words of today’s Gospel: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. The reality is that if the only thing we do when we are attacked enemies is just “turn the other cheek” and become a doormat, we are not truly loving our enemies. Loves demands correction in charity. It demands we swallow our pride and do not retaliate. But it demands that we make an effort to show our enemies that we love them enough to correct them in love; and because we love them we are willing to make a stand and show them how their actions not only hurt us, but bring shame to the rest of the community, that their actions are a sin against justice, and that we are making a passive stand not out of or anger or fear but out of love for them. Only then can we say that we are following Jesus final command in today’s reading: to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father in heaven is perfect.  God bless you MBAS
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Sunday, January 29, 2017

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

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   I am sure that every person in this church has heard the expression: “I’m Spiritual but not religious”. Which in our culture is code for “I don’t need to go to church, I don’t need to be part of a community, I don’t need to talk about or show my faith in public to, you know...be OK with the man upstairs”.
      What is wrong with this statement of “spiritual but not religious”  is that it takes two ideas which are a complement of each other and makes them opposite. It presents the lie that we can have one without the other, when in reality one cannot exist without the other. If we are truly spiritual, religion will  flow from our own existence since at its most basic core religion is just the way we live and express our spirituality. So a spirituality without religion is like a flower garden with no dirt, no plants and no flowers.     I am not really sure where this idea comes from. The one thing I am sure is that it is the complete opposite of what the Lord Jesus expects from each one of us, as his followers. And there is no clearer passage in the Gospels to prove this point than the reading I just proclaimed a few minutes ago.
       Today’s Gospel reading is one of Jesus most remarkable sermons, so remarkable that it even has its own name...The Beatitudes.  Here Jesus gives us a list for how we, his disciples,  are to live our own spirituality, and how are we to know that we are on the right path towards becoming more like him. 

      First as disciples of the Lord it is key that we realize we are “poor in spirit”. It really doesn’t matter how spiritual we think we are, at a spiritual level we can never be anything more than “poor”. In fact, the more we deepen our spirituality, the more aware we will become of how much we lack in our spirit. So the real spiritual person is one who knows how poor of spirit they are.
      As his disciples, we also have to realize that suffering is a part of life, and that it is OK to mourn for our sufferings and the sufferings of others. But most importantly, we need to understand that our consolation from suffering doesn't come from material things. As disciples of the Lord, he is the only one who can console our hearts, and this is what gives us the power to console others.
     As spiritual people we have to be meek, we have to be gentle, we have to be willing to serve others in quiet submission. Pride is the great sin, it is the source of all sins. The only way we can defeat our own pride is by humbling ourselves. Only then we can be worthy of the gifts he has promised to those who follow him, only then we will inherit the land.
    True spiritual disciples hunger and thirst for righteousness. They live lives which follow a moral code given to us by God and not by the changing fashions of the day. Truly spiritual people reject sin, and not only sin but even the potential occasions TO sin. To be spiritual we need to hunger and thirst, not for what gives us pleasure but what is good, right and just, even if its is difficult.
     Our spirituality needs to be merciful. It doesn’t matter how much or how hard we pray, if we do not practice mercy towards others, our spiritual life is dead. Spiritual people live their spiritual life among those who need mercy the most.
     Spiritual disciples are clean of heart, they rely on God’s forgiveness to remove the stain of their sins. They don’t go to the sacrament of reconciliation, they run!! They constantly take specific steps to seek God's forgiveness and never think that sin is not important, or that God doesn't care about it.
     And finally a healthy spirituality brings peace, but not the temporary peace we get from material things. The peace we get from Him is a peace we can not keep locked for ourselves, it needs to be shared with others. Spiritual disciples are agents of healing and reconciliation in a world in which division and hate are the order of the day, and they bring peace wherever they go.
     Now how are we to know if we have a healthy spiritual life? Jesus gives a very simple answer to this question: If we are persecuted for being his spiritual disciples, if we are insulted, if the world utters every kind of evil and falsely accuse us because the way we live our spirituality, the way we show our religion. If the people at school, at work even in our own houses, think that the religious practices which flow from our spirituality deserve jokes, ridicule even hatred and persecution, rejoice and be glad because we we are on the right track to become true disciples of the Lord.
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