Sunday, June 30, 2019

13th Sunday OT (Cycle C): Jesus and Inclusiveness

    One of the Facebook pages I follow belongs  to a “made-up” personality who calls herself  “Susan from the Parish Counsel”. Now I have to tell you that this is a satire page and in no way, shape or form resembles any of our very hard working parish council members.
    Susan is not only a very active member of her Church community but she is also the council president. What makes this page so funny (To me at least) is that in her mind she believes that this position gives her the right and authority to run the whole parish conforming to her own personal idea of how the whole Catholic Church should be run by the Vatican.
   One of the favorite topics she likes to bring up with her readers is the fact (and she is convinced of this) that what defined Jesus ministry on earth was his compassion, his kindness and especially his inclusiveness.  Susan is always reminding us that Jesus welcomed everyone, and because of this we should all do the same. Compassion and kindness are the guiding lights which compel Susan’s to embrace all sorts of social causes and “wako” spiritualities, never mind what the teachings of the Church or the Bible are, in her mind the way she acts is the way Jesus would act if he in fact had the chance to be in Susan’s shoes, kind of like Jesus asking himself "What would Susan do"?
   I think this page is so funny because it disturbingly reflects the spirit of our times. Today the idea of Jesus accepting everyone without caring about the way they live their lives AFTER this encounter  has taken a hold of our society and culture. It is based on the erroneous idea that if we love someone we must accept everything they are or do because anything other than complete acceptance would be judgmental, unkind and even hateful.
  The problem is that under the shadow of gospel stories, like the ones I just proclaimed, this idea falls flat on it face. Yes, Jesus welcomed every one but he demanded something from everyone he encountered: Conversion. And not the one-time-thing kind of conversion that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling, but real conversion, the type which makes us realize we are sinners and places us on the path of a day-to-day struggle towards holiness.
   At the end of the day, what Susan and the spirit of our times ignore completely is the way in which Jesus welcomed everybody. His welcoming was more than a welcome, it was an invitation to a deeper relationship with the divine, it demands our attention. Jesus welcome is transformative, it changes us. It gives us life, it is a welcome to forgiveness and conversion. In the presence of the divine we are supposed to realize there are things about us that need to be changed. If we don’t we are missing the point. And what is the point? No one is perfect, no one is capable of standing in front of Jesus and say, ”I live a perfect life I do not need to change anything about it after I meet you”. Encountering Jesus requires we ask ourselves every day: what do I need to change about me? What can I give to you Lord as a response to you welcoming to me, to you giving me new life?
   Jesus was not an enabler, or a manipulator or a liar. He was very clear about the type of conversion he expected from the people he welcomed as his disciples. In today’s Gospel we see a couple of good examples of this: “Do not expect a life of luxury, I do not even have a place to lay my head at night” he says to one and “If you are to follow me you have to be willing to abandon everything and not look back not even to your friends and family”  he tells another.  A truly converted heart values a relationship with God more than a life of comfort and luxury, safe sleep, and even the death of a loved one.
   Jesus loved and accepted his disciples but he also was not afraid of correcting them. In today’s reading we also see how when the apostles are offended by the way they are treated in a Samaritan Village and want retribution for this treatment they are rebuked, because this is not the expected behaviour of one who had an encounter with the living Lord.
   Regardless of what you hear, the church wants all to be welcome, from the same sex couples to the ilegal inmigrant, form the pro-choice to the pro-life, from the straight to the LGTBQ. But as his Church, Jesus expects a specific type of behaviour from each of us. Not judging or condemning but of loving fraternal correction.  And he expects from us, his disciples to be able to look at our own sins and recognize we need conversion and when we fail, to be able to  accept the loving words of correction from others. That is what it means to love each other. That is what being welcoming and loving really means.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Advent 4 Cycle C: Theotokos

   I have to admit my intention on this homily was a bit ambitious. Condense the whole of Mariology in an 8 minute homily. As you might expect I have to leave quite a bit out, so some of what I left out is serves to clarify the main point I made. So instead of just publish the homily I added some of what I left out for completion. These parts will be in [BOLD]
   As important as the Blessed Mother is for Catholics when it comes to preaching about the Mother of God, we really don’t have  many chances to do this during the regular Sunday masses. This is why when we have readings in which she takes a primary role I like to grab the opportunity to reflect on who she is and on her importance in the history of our salvation.
   So today I decided to give you a bit of a catechism refresher on the mother of Jesus. The first thing I should point out is that if you call yourself a Christian (Not just a Catholic) by necessity, you are required to believe 4 things about the mother of Jesus. These things are not optional, you are required to accept these 4 truths even if we do not understand them or even can explain what they mean. Not because we need to have blind faith in what the Church teaches us but because if we do not believe these 4 thing about her we are saying that we do not believe that Jesus is who he revealed himself to be, The Son of God, The Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity.
  Early in the history of the Church, the Fathers realized that without Mary we can not understand Jesus. In fact, in the gospel of Luke, right after the reading I just proclaimed today, Mary herself tells us that we can gain a greater, more deeper understanding of who God really is through her. And  I’m referring to the first words of what we known as the Magnificat in which she state  “My soul magnifies the Lord”. Simply put,  Mary is the lens by which we can gain a deeper understanding of Jesus.
    Now Catholics call these four things every Christian has to believe about Mary: the Four Marian dogmas and they are as follows:
1) Mary was conceived without sin, which reveals to us Jesus complete freedom and power to save anyone at any time, even at the moment of their conception. [There is also a more practical reason why this dogma. By being born without sin, we are saying that Mary was not subjected to our  human tendencies towards sin, what St Augustine referred as Concupiscence. This protected Jesus holiness as a Jewish boy who was subjected to the will of his earthly parents by way of the 4th commandment. If Mary suffered concupiscence (Like we all do) What would prevent her from ordering Jesus to use his divine power to accomplish her own selfish desires?]  2) Mary was a virgin her whole life even after the birth of her son; which reveals to us how at the moment of the incarnation, at the union of created matter and divine power, divinity doesn't destroy or damage mater but elevates it to a special place in creation. A place reserved only to those things wish are pure, without blemish, things which are separated exclusively for God’s own purposes. [Jesus elevated human dignity to a special level by appropriating for himself a human body, Mary's. He used her flesh to generate the extra genetic material required for a human child to be conceived. It can be shown very easily how whenever God takes created matter for his purposes he uses the best materials available and then these remain at higher state of dignity. Just read how the arc of the covenant was built and teared] 3) Mary’s assumption into heaven which speaks to us about the complete humanity of her divine son; which compels him,  like every other loving human son, to take His mother with him to share his own glorified state. The same state we are all going to achieve after the resurrection of the dead.[If Jesus was completely human then, like any loving son he would want for his mother to share in his glorified state, anything less will make Jesus  a worst son than other normal human son] 4) And  Mary the Theotokos, the God bearer, the Mother of God which speaks to us about the complete divinity of her human son, which makes her the one human person who bears, brings to us the Second Person of God in the most human way, by been His very human mother.
  Of these 4 dogmas 3 are about events in her life, events God uses to show us to what extent he is willing to go in order to get closer to us, so close that he becomes one of us. The fourth dogma clarifies to us who she is because of whom Jesus is.
  In today’s readings we see that Mary was not just another Jewish girl, in fact back on the times of the prophets, they knew who this woman was. This is why we hear Micah say today: “Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth bears a son”. And back in the times of her cousin Elizabeth they knew this Jewish girl was going to have a very important role in the coming of the messiah.
   When Elizabeth realizes who Mary is, 3 times she calls her blessed   “Blessed are you among women,  and blessed is the fruit of your womb,”...” Blessed are you who believed”. The Jewish people thought that the mother of the Messiah was going to be a very unique and special person, and we can hear this in the angel’s greeting “Hail full of Grace The Lord is with you!” and we hear it in Elizabeth’s greeting: “And how does this happen to me,  that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
  Catholics sometimes are accused of giving Mary to much importance, I personally believe we do not give her enough attention. Without Mary there is no Jesus, no cross, no resurrection, and no Church. [Quite simply, without Mary's completely free 'yes' to the words of the angel, "She who is to give birth" would have never become pregnant, and with out this there is no Jesus. In God's plan, everything hinged on Mary's 'YES']
   In a couple of days we will be celebrating Christ birth, and once again we will relive the story of Christmas, God in the flesh a flesh which came from Mary’s most pure and most fertile womb. Let’s take this celebration as a chance to thank God for such a wonderful messiah who was born from such a wonderful and special woman.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

On the Crisis of Manhood in the Church; 20th OT Cycle B

    I was going to preach a homily about  how Jesus is the bread of life who comes down from heaven, but then on Wednesday, while I was on vacation, I started to see the news of the Harrisburg Diocese Grand Jury report. I have to confess that it pained me deeply that Cardinal Keeler, a man which I admired greatly, the man who ordained me to the diaconate, was in fact a big player in the culture of silence and  abuse that existed in Harrisburg. So I think that this Sunday, we the clergy of the Church can not ignore this devastating report from the pulpit.
   Since Wednesday I have been following the reactions of people in  social media and I have seen the pain, anger, and disappointment Catholics like you here today are feeling.  One of these commentators said something which stuck with me. He said: “It is not a good week to be Catholic”. At least for me, It’s been a brutal week. Just go to Facebook and look at the reactions Archbishop Lori’s statements referring to this report have generated, and you will see what I’m talking about.
    In my mind I am convinced that there is nothing we the preachers in this Sunday can say that will make you, the lay people, regain the trust of the men that are supposed to be our spiritual fathers and the successors of the apostles. So where do we go from here?  Well I feel that the only thing I can do is explore what in my opinion is the cause of why the horror stories in this grand jury report happened.
    I feel that this latest scandal reflects one of the great tragic realities of our times and our church. For decades, our church have been suffering from what I call a "crisis of manhood". The reason why our seminaries are empty is because we have forgotten as a church what the meaning of “being a man” is. The real tragedy is that we have ignored the one great example of manhood in front of our very eyes: Jesus the God man, dead on a cross. And what is this example? To give your life for the ones you love, to sacrifice self for the good of the other and to embrace and console those who suffer. This is what real men do and this is what we as clergy have failed to do.
   I feel that the only hope we have as a Church resides in the lay people. They are the ones who should keep us accountable and they are the ones who, like a mirror, should reflect to us what is lacking in us, where are we falling short from the real image of manhood, Jesus on the Cross. As a church we need to return to this image. This might not happen in one homily, or in a week or a year, it might take a generation or two, but once we return to this example, once we begin to reflect to the world the image of Jesus the Christ, we as a Church will return to be the moral beacon for our culture. We need men lay and clergy to embrace this image of Jesus Crucified for our sins, for the sake of ourselves, our families and our the world. God bless you my brothers and sisters.


Monday, July 30, 2018

The Bread of Life Discourse (17Th Sunday OT Cycle B)

    Today is a very special Sunday. If you are a liturgy geek like myself you will know that in the church we use a three year cycle for the Sunday readings. Meaning every 3 years we repeat the same Sunday readings; so today’s readings we have not heard since 2014 and we will not hear them again until the year 2021. Now the reason why today is special is because today’s Gospel reading is the beginning of what is known as the Bread of Life discourse, and I say the beginning because for the next 6 Sundays we will read the whole story.
   Now, if you are a bible geek like myself, you will know that the gospel reading for today comes from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John.  And if you are a theology geek like myself you will also know that for Catholics this section of the new testament is one of the most important sections in the whole of the bible. Why? Because this is the point in Jesus ministry in which he begins teaching His disciples about the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith. How important are these readings? Think about it, without faith in what Jesus tells us in these readings, that He is the bread of life who came down from heaven and that we need to eat His body and drink His blood in order to have eternal life, everything we do at mass, every single day and especially on Sundays, would have no meaning. In fact if Jesus were not present in the Eucharist, everything we do at mass could be considered idolatry.
     What Jesus begins teaching us today will culminate not 6 weeks from now but on the day of the Last Supper or Holy Thursday, the day in which for the first time, he gives himself to us in the forms of bread and wine, and gives His disciples to power to transform this bread and wine into His divine body and blood. He himself becomes the bread that comes down from heaven. 
  Now, when we look at today’s gospel again, we will notice that the Lord Jesus begins his catechesis on the Eucharist not with deep philosophical or theological ideas but with the one very common, very human act. The one act who gives life to the human race, eating and drinking. Of course the Lord could have used some other human act to remain with us. Before the first Jewish temple was destroyed by the Babylonians the Bible states that the presence of God resided in the temple as a form of permanent cloud in the Holy of Holies.
   Why would God select the form of bread and wine to remain with us “until the end of times”? Because he knows very well human hunger. physical hunger as well as spiritual hunger. The physical hunger can be taken care of by the substance of the bread and wine, but our spiritual hunger can not be satiated by material things. Some people try to do this by filling their lives with “stuff”. Some use money, some use sex, some use power, others use alcohol, or pills or illegal drugs, but what they are really doing is covering over the emptiness the carry in their spirit.
  But the only thing which can satiate this hunger is God himself, who created us with this hunger for him, a hunger which will not leave us until we fill our spirit with him. This is why we receive communion, to allow God to become part of who we are. To become part of our cells and our DNA and to allow him into our hearts to fill the emptiness we all carry inside..
  Like I said, today is just the first part of the Bread of Life discourse, in the next 5 weeks we will see how Jesus slowly moves from feeding 5 thousand people with 5 loaves of bread, to giving his body to be eaten and his blood to be drunk by the whole world.
  If you are a Catholic geek like myself, you will realize during this next few weeks that there is no life without partaking of the Eucharist, that we were created for this moment and that we will never be closer to the Lord than when we quietly kneel on our, pews after communion. GBYMBAS


Monday, May 28, 2018

Trinity Sunday (B): The Examen

     Father Mike was telling me before mass how happy he was that on Trinity Sunday, it was the deacons who were scheduled to preach. To which I gave a half hearted “thank you”. Now, don’t get me wrong I love to preach God’s word to this community, the issue today is the topic. It's been said many times that there is more heresy preached on this Sunday of the liturgical calendar than in any other Sunday of the year.
   As fascinating as the dogma of the Most Blessed Trinity is, there is not much we can say without, falling short with the words we use. In fact I am of the personal opinion that the only thing I can say about the Blessed Trinity without risking being misunderstood is that the Trinity IS true; That the persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit IS the One and True and Only God. And as you can see only by using bad grammar I can be specific enough about this great mystery. Even our language falls apart when we use it to describe the mystery of the One God in three persons.
     Of course we do not need to understand the true nature of God to develop a relationship with “Him Who Is Love”. We can all experience this mysterious being, without getting a theology degree. The reason for this is  because The Trinity is a mystery which wants to be explored, it wants to be part of our lives, it wants to have a deep relationship with us. The problem is that God is a pure spirit; we on the other hand are a strange mix of spirit and created matter. Our brains are not configured to understand spiritual realities and there is no higher spiritual reality than  the One God.
   So we find ourselves in a dilemma, as material beings we are incapable to perceive and understand spiritual realities, but God is the highest, deepest, and most mysterious of all spiritual realities. Luckily God in his infinite mercy is constantly trying to get our attention, so he constantly enters into our daily lives and leaves markers, little signs of His love for us, which we would discover if only we were to pause every day and tried to find them.  By discovering these little drops of God’s mercy, we can develop a deeper connection with this divine being.
  How can we do this? Well, in the two thousand years of history in our church many saints and spiritual masters have developed ways of discovering God’s mysterious actions in our lives. Today in this Trinity Sunday I would like to tell you about one method which is practiced every day by millions of people, and has proven to be very effective in discovering God’s mysterious actions. This method, developed by St Ignatius of Loyola is called The Exam and I call it the “5 Rs”: Request, Review, Relish, Repent, Resolve.

  • Request the Spirit to lead us through the exam. Begin with a short prayer to the Trinity, ask The Father, by the Son, through the Holy Spirit to help you on your examination of the day.
  • Review the day. You can do this hour by hour or morning, midday, afternoon, evening, or home, commute, work, commute, home, there is not a set way to do this just do what comes naturally to you.
  • Relish the moments that went well and all of the gifts received today. Focus on the small victories and try to see why? Why things went well and what was the reason of the gifts received 
  • Repent of any mistakes or failures. Don’t duel on these but don’t ignore them either. Again for each one of these as God for forgiveness. If any of these is serious enough, make a promise to yourself to attend the sacrament of reconciliation.
  • Resolve, Ask God to show you how tomorrow might go. Imagine the things you will be doing, the people you will see, and the decisions you will be making. Ask for His help.

  My brothers and sisters although we will never understand the true nature of God, He is a loving father which is always looking for ways to let us know He is there. I encourage you in this day to make a firm commitment to discover all the little ways he uses to take care of you throughout your day. I promise you that if you do this you will grow in your relationship with God, who loves you and gave the live of His Son for you.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Bad Laws and Rotten Fruit: 27th Sunday OT (Cycle A)

   This week all priests and deacons in our diocese received a very unusual email from archbishop Lori. It specifically asked us to preach about a piece of legislation that is slowly moving towards enactment in the Maryland legislature. Perhaps you have heard of this bill, it is trying to legalize Assisted Suicide in Maryland. If approved it will not require that the patient have a prior relationship with the doctor prescribing the lethal dose of drugs, and therefore no way for the doctor to recognize if the patient is under the undue influence of a family member or caretaker. Patients will not be required to receive a mental health screening for depression before they receive the lethal prescription. No family notification will be required. No medical professional or witness of any kind will be required to be present when the lethal dose is taken. It even allows people to get their lethal prescription at the local pharmacy, making pharmacists silent contributors to this great evil.

    With everything that has been happening in the last few weeks, the catastrophic hurricanes in the south and the Caribbean and the rampage in Vegas; I have to admit sometimes it feels as if the Lord has given up on our country.
   We live in a world in which death can happen in our own homes, or even while we're just listening to music at a concert and soon, if this bill passes, we will live in a state where instead of finding ways of protecting those who are vulnerable and suffering, the state resorts to cheapening the dignity of human life by encouraging and facilitating suicides. I listen to the words in today's first reading and have to admit...that vineyard that was left to grow among the brambles and thorns sounds awfully similar to us.

   And yet,  even in a reading like this, we see God’s love for his people. Let me show you, as I was reflecting in this reading it occurred to me that, the owner of this vineyard does something rather peculiar. You see, when one plants a garden, if for some reason this garden gives no product the logical step is to uproot all the plants until the ground is completely bare, till it, and then wait for the new season and plant new seeds. The owner of this vineyard doesn’t do this, he just lets the planted grapevines grow, even if they are among thorns and brambles. It is as if the owner knows very well that there is something good still growing. In fact even after abandoning this vineyard this gardener calls it “My cherished plant”.

   My brothers and sisters the Lord has not abandoned us. You, me, the people of Maryland, America, the whole world... is precious to Him. In the midst of bad laws, tragedies and calamities, this vineyard which yields no fruit is still good and cherished by the gardener. It is up to us, the ones who have been placed in the middle of all this turmoil to find a way of producing some fruit. How do we do this? Well by using one of Father Mike’s favorite phrases: By making good use of our time, talent and treasure. We can volunteer our time to help those that are close to us, so that resources can be freed to help Texas, Florida, Las Vegas and Puerto Rico. We can donate money for the reconstruction of these areas or to honor the memory of those who died. We can use our talents to contact our elected officials and let them know that suicide, even if it is allowed by the state, is a crime against the dignity of every citizen of Maryland.

    As members of the body of Christ it might look like our prayers, efforts and voices go unnoticed, but remember, the Gardener knows His vineyard, He knows the potential each one of us have. Even if we grow among all the brambles and thorns the world throws at us, this vine is getting strong, growing deep roots.

   Jesus's words in the Gospel gives us assurance of this fact, the stone the builder rejected will become the cornerstone, this is something the Lord will do by His own hand, and it will be a clear miracle to all who sees the crop of His beloved vineyard. GBMBAS

Monday, September 18, 2017

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

   This week’s readings are a perfect segue for me to talk about a ministry which is very close to my heart. This ministry has given me the opportunity to witness how God's grace can transform the human heart. Working on this for the last few years, I have seen the awesome and liberating power forgiveness has on those who are willing to forgive. I have also seen how when is NOT given, is capable of enslaving the human spirit.
    The ministry I’m speaking of today is the work I do with divorced and separated Catholics. Now it is a well known fact that Catholics do not divorce, right? It is also well known that more than 50% of Catholic marriages end in divorce. You might be thinking how can this be? Well I have found by talking to people who are in the midst of a separation or a divorce, that these two ideas can exist in our minds because we are convinced that divorce is something that only happens to other people and not to us.   Now I’m not going to get into why divorce happens, at the end of the day it happens because of human weakness and sin. Today I want to focus on how forgiveness is the KEY to deal with the hurricane of emotions we are thrown into when we suffer the end of a marriage, the breakup of a family, and the loss of a spouse.

    To do this I do not have to go too far;  In today’s first reading we hear Ben-Sirach exclaim “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD?”   Yes, it is that simple. Healing can only be given to us when we are able to abandon our anger against those who hurt us. 
   As you can imagine there is a lot of anger in divorce, anger against spouses, friends, relatives but also anger against ourselves. It is only when we recognize these emotions and refuse to be mastered by them that the healing process can move ahead. To some people it happens very fast, but to others it can take years.    I know very well what I’m saying here. Almost 30 years ago I went through my own divorce and it took me 15 years to realize I needed to forgive myself AND my former spouse in order to completely heal the wounds of my divorce. Now forgiveness is not “I forgive you, now we are going to become best friends again”. The forgiveness I’m speaking about is letting go of the past and accepting the other person and ourselves for whom we were that day in which the marriage vows were exchanged. And recognizing how weak, immature, selfish and arrogant we had been in our lives. This doesn't happen in an instant, it is a process that takes time, sometimes years.
   When I went through my divorce, I had to do this all by myself. Thirty years ago, divorce was something good Catholics in the Church did not acknowledge. Sadly, this is the reason why so many divorced people have decided to abandon the Church, or have chosen to live as Catholics in irregular second marriages.
    Luckily, this doesn’t have to be case any more. Here at St  Michael’s we have a divorce care ministry which is available to anyone who would like to start the long road to complete healing and liberation.
In a few minutes Irene Cochran, our co-facilitator for the Divorce Recovery Ministry will be telling you her own story and how we can help you in our ministry.
    So if you have experienced divorce, or know someone who has or is in the midst of their own divorce, I encourage you to take this information and share it with them.  Remember, the people who are not here today depend on you to reach out, touch them and bring to them the true healing that comes from the process of forgiveness. GBMBAS