Sunday, November 2, 2008

All Souls Day

Here is the homily for All Souls day. I was commenting to Father Steve that we get so many few opportunities in the liturgical cycle to preach about Purgatory that we must "grab" every chance we can get. However, there is so much to say that it is hard to keep the homily to less than 10 munites, as it is I did not get to even mention indulgences... maybe next time around.
Few events are more traumatic in the life of a human being than the death of a loved one. Very few people are prepared to handle this, but as traumatic as this event might be, all Christian traditions have a great advantage over non believers. Our faith gives us great hope about what awaits for us after this life.
On our own Catholic tradition we think of life after death in terms of heaven, hell and purgatory. Our protestant brothers and sisters share our belief about heaven and hell. Those are the easy ones … Purgatory on the other hand… well let’s just say that there is as much confusion about Purgatory inside our own Church that outside the Church. So since today is a day to remember those loved ones that have gone to rest, especially those that perhaps are experiencing purgatory right now, I’ve decided to spend some time talking about these important topics.
I think that the best way to start looking at Purgatory is to look at human behavior. Specially to look at what we call “sin” and its effects in our souls. Usually we think of sins in terms of actions: Sin is something that people do. This is true, however there is another very important dimension to sin: The fact that if we commit the same sin frequently, eventually it becomes part of who we are. Think of lying for example. We all tell lies, however there are people that in their lives lie so much that it is almost as if they could not be who they are without lying. We can say the same thing about any sinful behavior, selfishness, lust, pride, all these sins, when we commit them frequently they become part of who we are.
Now when we receive the sacrament of reconciliation all of these sins are forgiven, however the fact remains, when we walk out of the confessionary…most likely we will continue been liars, lustful or selfish. The question is…Why? Why can’t the sacrament of reconciliation change the way we behave?
I like to think of our souls as a glass house, created to allow the clear light of God to pass right through us. Sin is like mud that splashes the glass walls of our home. Every time we sin we throw a smelly sticky mess at them. When we pack a lot of mud on these walls they get scratched. So light cannot penetrate on the inside.
The sacrament of reconciliation is like Windex, it takes away all the sticky messiness but it does not polish the glass, the scratches remain, not because the sacrament cannot remove the mess sin created but because the scratch has become part of the glass, part of whom we are. If we want to have clear, un-spoiled, transparent walls, reconciliation is just the first step. We need more than Windex need a good polisher and a lot of elbow grease to get the glass walls of our souls pristine again.

That polisher and that elbow grease is nothing more than prayer and sacrifices. The less scratches in our walls the less attachment to sin we will have. The more we pray or have others pray for us, the more we discipline ourselves by denying those sins or occasions to sin, the more we allow the grace of God to release us from our attachments to sin.
The idea is that eventually when meet God our souls will be so clean that we will be able to receive all of God’s light into our soul, without any scratches to distort his pure light.
Now let us say that we are well in our way of having the glass walls of our souls completely clean. What would happen if in the middle of this process we die? Well… even when our sins are forgiven and we have a one way ticket to heaven in our pockets, if our attachment to sins is not resolved, we still have to finish this process for our own good, because without it we cannot be pure enough to enter into the presence of God, and scripture clearly says the nothing that is impure can enter into heaven.
The good news is that by the mercy of God if our purification is not complete when we die, this process continues in the next life. We call this process Purgatory. It is not a place but part of the process we might need to go through before meeting God face to face.
Does that make sense? There is one more thing… We know that our prayers help us in this process but, How do we know that in fact our prayers help those that have died in their process of purification? I can show you in scripture but there is a simpler way.
When we pray the creed we say that we believe in the communion of the saints. What this means is that we agree with Paul when he says that we are all part of the Body of Christ. We believe that by our baptism and the saving action of Jesus in the Cross we are all united in Him. Communion of the saints… Common union… so when one of us does something to help the body of Christ, such as prayer or a sacrifice this benefits all of us. This is why we can help others in their process of purification; because we can ask God to apply our efforts not for our benefit but for the benefit of others.
I hope you realize what all this means, praying for our dead is the greatest act of love we can show to them, because we are helping them fulfill their eternal destiny, which is to stand pure and spotless in the presence of God. My brothers and sisters if there is any doubt about what I just said just look at the witness of scripture, look the witness of the first Christians that prayed for their own dead and finally look at the witness of Jesus who proved that there is life after death by dyeing in the cross and rising from the death.
Remembering our loved ones, asking God to have mercy on their souls is the greatest sign of love and fidelity we can show to the other members of the Body of Christ. That my brothers and sisters is what been part of the communion of the saints is all about.
May our prayers and sacrifices help the souls of our beloved dead see the light of Christ… Amen

Saturday, October 11, 2008

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Last week I was talking to another deacon. He mentioned that for the Year of St Paul, he was making an effort to preach only on the Epistle reading. I though this was a neat idea, that I should try on my own homilies. I went home and took a look at the homily I had already started. I had to admit in light of the financial troubles our nation is suffering, what I had prepared did not resonate with me all.
So I took my friends advice (He is a theology college professor so I always follow his advice :-)and took a second look at the Epistle reading (In fact I took a look at the whole Letter to the Philippians for context) and that was it, all the parts just fell in place.
The most amazing think is that I usually spend 8 to 10 hours preparing for a homily but this time it only took me two hours, from first idea to final product! I pray to the Lord that the words of St Paul are a source of great consolation to you.
Phil 4:12-14, 19-20

Brothers and sisters:
I know how to live in humble circumstances;
I know also how to live with abundance.
In every circumstance and in all things
I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry,
of living in abundance and of being in need.
I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.

My God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.

This past June Pope Benedict 16 announced the beginning of a special year dedicated to the Apostle Paul. During this time Catholics are encouraged to remember this great apostle and to study and reflect on his writings.
Usually in my homilies I focus in the Gospel, However since this is a special year, I have made a point to seek for opportunities to preach about the letters of this great apostle.
So while getting ready for today, I was astounded by the second reading, in fact my surprise became even greater when I discovered that in a period of 5 weeks, this year, we will get to read the whole letter to the Philippians! (You might be thinking “men if the deacon gets excited about this sort of things he really needs a hobby”) But I ask you to bear with me in the hope that at the end of today’s homily you will see what I’m talking about.
Before we proceed I need to give you a bit of background about the Letter to the Philippians. Paul wrote this letter while imprisoned in Rome, we know that he had been under house arrest for 2 years, and he makes very clear that he knew he was going to be executed soon, so by the time he wrote this letter he had at the least the suspicion that his career as an apostle was coming to an end and it is clear that he had come to accept this fate. You can say that this is an “end of life” letter.

You can see that in this letter, all the fiery rhetoric of his previous works is gone. What is left is Paul the man, reflecting on a life dedicated to spreading the Gospel. He has seen much, he has suffered greatly, and now, as he awaits his fate, he advices us about the most fundamental aspects of life, those things that in his experience are most important in the life of the believer.
You might be wandering, why is all this significant to us today? Well because as it also happens for the last few weeks our country has been suffering from the deepest financial crisis in memory. I’m sure some of you can relate to the story of a dear friend of mine. He was telling me that since this crisis started they have lost most of their retirement fund and the money they had invested to send their children to college is disappearing right in front of their eyes. Their family is afraid, angry and confused. For them, their future, all the plans they had, all their work for the last 20 years is gone, evaporated in just a few weeks. On top of that they are worried about the direction our country is headed and about what kind of world their children will inherit.
Now, the reason for my surprise when I was preparing for this homily is based on the simple fact that I do not believe in coincidences. I do not think that things happen by chance. I do not think that it is just a fluke, that our Holy Father back in June decided to encourage us to look deeper at what St Paul has to teach us, and I do not think is a coincidence either, that the economic catastrophe our country is suffering is happening precisely during the only five weeks in the liturgical calendar in which we read the complete Letter to the Philippians, which by the way we will not read in this way until the year 2011!
By now, you might be thinking what can possibly Paul have said that will shed light upon the serious problems we are facing today?
In another of his letters, Paul calls God “the God of all consolation”, Today I tell you if you are facing the same fear, confusion and anger my friend is going through or if you know someone that is, I invite you to listen carefully to the following excerpts from this letter, Paul writes:
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
“Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish.”
“Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Amen”…My brothers and sisters I have nothing else to say other than sometimes we should just let scripture speak to our hearts.

Monday, September 22, 2008

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Here is my homily for this last week. I like it becasue it is short and to the point. I hope you enjoy it...

Mt 20:1-16a

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

I think it is safe to say that America or Americans hate cheaters!... However, if you are like me sometimes we do not mind bending the rules a little bit just to keep the game interesting… For example, when I’m watching football (You knew I was going to bring football into my homily right?) I do not mind if the ref misses an occasional call as long as it is in favor of the Redskins, God knows they need all the help they can get.
So... In light of this reality, I think I should rephrase my original statement, what I should have said is that what we Americans really dislike is been treated unfairly an unjustly. Why I bring this up? Well, I must confess, that today’s gospel got me a little miffed. I looked at the way this land owner treated His faithful workers, the ones that labored the whole day under the sun and say, How can this be?, If we proclaim that God is a God of justice, how can he behave in such an unfair way? The workers that came late should get less pay, what happened to the ”equal pay for equal work” law????
Now, people like you and me, children of western civilization, have a very developed sense of justice. For us it is very easy to relate to the concept of fairness and justice in part because God created us in his image and resemblance, so we are configured for justice, and in part because we have been conditioned to “play fair”. To be just is to follow the rules… which imply that, we do not have to make any decisions, because the rules are already there, we just have to follow them.
This works fine until we are confronted with the concept of mercy. For us mercy is a more difficult idea to grasp. Mercy breaks the rules, it does not come from applying time tested guidelines but from applying our God given faculties to love and forgive. It is not easy to know how much mercy we should give to those around us. The times in which we find ourselves deciding between been just and been merciful are not easy times. In us justice and mercy are always in conflict.
Luckily, God is not one of us (regardless of what some people like to think) in God there is no conflict between justice and mercy.
The reason why today’s Gospel might cause such strong feelings in some of us is because Jesus uses this parable to present to us the fact that in God infinite justice and infinite mercy reside in perfect harmony.
When we hear the land owner say in the gospel “Am I not free to do what I wish with my own money, are you envious because I’m generous???” what he is saying is that God is never conflicted between mercy and justice, mercy is His to give as He pleases, and when He does, he does it, fairly, even if we do not understand His ways.

If we think that God is unfair when he dispenses His favor and mercy, it might be because we are spending too much time judging God’s actions and too little time judging ourselves. Simply put: In what way God’s generosity to others affect me personally? That promotion that my co-worker received, that vacation that my neighbor took, that toy that my friend have, how does their good fortune affect me?… Let me put it differently, when we hear today’s parable, why is it so easy to feel that the land owner was unfair but so difficult to say: what a lucky Laborer! What a generous master!
When we are confronted with God’s favor to others we should think about how lucky we are to have a God that is this merciful, because if we feel he gives to those who do not deserve, how much more will He give us?! On the other hand… if we were to demand for God to always be just, to always follow the letter of the law, how much space are we giving Him to be merciful?
I want you to think about this last point very carefully because the possibilities are frightening, do we truly deserve all the blessings we have been given? Our country? Our community? The love of our families and good friends? Do we truly think that we deserve the fact that Jesus died on the cross so we could live forever with Him? The fact that we can approach the altar every mass and receive Him? If God were to exercise His divine right to be just, heaven would end up being a very lonely place!
If you disagree with this just think: in the last day, when we all gather together to meet Our Lord, and we stand in front of the heavenly throne, and our lives are revealed for everyone to see, every little action, every thought, every intention, every opportunity to love, to be merciful, all the things that we have done and we have left un-done, what do you think the most common plea that day will be? “God give us justice” or “Lord have mercy”?
My brothers and sisters like I said in the beginning, God has configured us to be just, but he has also configured us to be merciful. The thing is, unlike with justice, in our society and our culture we are not encouraged to be merciful. The only way we can become merciful is by being like God, by imitating the land owner of the parable that gives freely and generously out of the goodness that God has placed within his heart. We become merciful when we can be happy, truly happy for the blessings that others have received and by remembering that the only reason why we should be merciful is because we have received much mercy ourselves. Amen.

Monday, September 1, 2008

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Here is my homily from last Sunday. I personally love to preach about the Cross.
Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
He turned and said to Peter,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

Sometimes it is very difficult to grasp the impact of Jesus words on those who heard them for the first time. Take for example today’s Gospel where Jesus tells the apostles: “Whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me”. Now I’m sure we all have heard these words many times, it occurred to me that, for us and the apostles the images evoked by these words are completely different.
Let me explain, as human beings we develop knowledge based in our personal experiences. So without the personal experiences of a first century Jewish peasant it is not easy to relate to what the apostles felt the very first time Jesus said these words. Take for example the bit about “denying ourselves” I don’t know you but every time I hear that phrase I think of lent, because that the time of the year in which I do most of my heavy “denying of myself”.
Now the apostles, on the other hand, had a different perspective about what denying themselves for Jesus meant, these where men that had abandoned everything to follow Jesus hoping that he was the Messiah. For three years they had denied themselves of friends and families, homes and jobs, and became wanderers with no clear idea where Jesus was taking them, I’m sure that when they heard Jesus say that they must deny themselves, the last thing in their minds was not eating meat on Friday’s or giving up deserts for 40 days.
Now, I think that, for us, the most difficult part of Jesus message to relate to is the bit about picking up our crosses. You see the Cross has suffered a remarkable transformation from the times of Jesus until today. For us the cross is the symbol of our salvation, a reminder that we are Christians. I’m even willing to bet that many you, today, have a little silver or golden cross hanging from their necks.
In the times of the apostles, having a cross hanging from their neck would have been inconceivable! For the people of first century Palestine, people living under the oppressive and abusive joke of the Roman Empire, the cross was a shocking symbol, it was the instrument used in public executions, to shame and subjugate those who resisted the oppressor. It represented pain, hopelessness and death. The only time in which a Jewish peasant peasant will pick up their crosses, was in the way to be executed by the authorities in a brutal and inhumane way so that they could serve as an example and warning to others.
To contemplate the cross as the apostles did is not an easy task for us. We do not have a symbol that by its mere nature is able to strike fear, uncertainty and hopelessness in our hearts.
However, that is not to say that we have not experience moments of hopelessness and fear, moments that although in the pass still haunts us, we have all been there, the painful sudden death of a friend, the fear of a serious disease diagnosis, the hopelessness of those long days waiting for test results, the dread of a phone ringing in the middle of the night. It might not be two beams of wood but if we try, we can all stand next to the apostles and contemplate our own crosses.
The one difference between the disciples and us is that we know how the story ends. The disciples looked at the cross and saw death, but we know that behind the cross there is life because we have been there on Easter Sunday, we have tasted the wine and the bread that is the sacrificed body and blood of our Lord, and as Christians we live in the hope that we will also share in His resurrection.

When in the second reading Paul urges the Romans to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice pleasing to God, what he means is that in the same way that Jesus sacrifice in the cross redeemed the world, our own crosses, our sufferings and fears have a redeeming quality. Because if God has the power to take a despicable instrument of death like a cross and turn it in to the source of salvation for all of creation, he has the power to use our crosses for our own good and the salvation of our souls. All we need is the willingness to pick our crosses and follow Jesus each day.
The words of Jesus today might evoke different images for us, but the message is the same, to be a true disciple of Jesus means not to shy away from our own crosses, they might be painful and scary but if we trust in God he will turn them in to a source of tremendous grace and blessings in our lives. Amen.

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C (Last Year)

On my effort to make all of my past homilies available on line, I'm adding this one on the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. I preached this homily last year around this time, which happens to be the beginning of the Football season. By know most people at St Michel's know that once the "grid iron" starts a little bit of Redskins mania always finds its way into my homilies... enjoy... oh yea, one more thing... Go Skins!
"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
"Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
" 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "


Let me let you in on a little homilist secret… sometimes when we get a gospel like this one we like to think “men… this is truly a gift from heaven! This is going to be a piece of cake”
What I mean is that the story of Lazarus and the rich man is a story that almost everybody knows by heart: There is Rich man- and there is a poor man, When they die each one of them gets their just reward: rich man goes to the netherworld (A very unpleasant place), but the poor man goes to duel with Abraham. I mean…“How difficult could it be to talk about this stuff?” The Rich should help the poor, the poor has human dignity, Social Justice…Good, 8 minutes tops, and we’ll be home before kick off!
But when we start reflecting on what the reading actually says and we start noticing little things, like for example, why are we never told the rich man’s name? The only thing we are told is that he dressed in purple and dinned sumptuously but we are never told who he was….Is it, because it is more important for us to know what kind of life this man lived? A life we can all relate to? Or at the least the type of life we all aspire to?
A life very different to Lazarus’s life which was full of pain and suffering. The type of life we all try to avoid, or at least not think about to much?
Another thing we are not told is if these two men knew each other… What we know is that that Lazarus spent his days at this man’s door steps so at the least he had an idea of who lived in this house. On the other hand we can conclude that this rich man knew about Lazarus because of the way He and Father Abraham talk about him. So… Although we are never told, it is obvious that their paths must have cross more than once.
There is lot in this story that is left to the reader’s imagination. But the most important fact that we are never told is this: Why does this rich man end up in the “Netherworld”? …Why is he sent to a place of torment and fire? We are never told that he mistreated or abused Lazarus in any way and been rich in it self is not a sin! What was this rich man’s great sin?
At the end of our analysis we are left with a feeling that although this rich man knew of Lazarus, and of the hard life he was living, he was indifferent to Lazarus suffering.

Right now you might be thinking “ok here it comes, the social justice punch line” and don’t get me wrong, social justice is an important theme in this reading, we can spend a whole series of homilies talking about the responsibilities those with more resources have towards those less fortunate, but I think today’s message goes deeper than that.
To understand this message we should start with a simple statement: suffering is a fact of life, we all suffer. Regardless how wealthy or how poor we are, how young or how old, we all experience pain, injustice and loneliness. The poor, the hungry and the sick experience very visible forms of suffering, but for the kid that feels he is not good or cool enough at school, for a teen that struggles to be accepted, for a mom or dad overwhelmed by their children’s problems, for a grand-ma and grand-pa struggling with old age, their pain, our pain is as real as Lazarus pain of having to let dogs lick his sores.
It is because of this that we like to think that pain is something that happens to other people, far away. But the moment we are confronted by the pain and suffering our first reaction is to close our eyes, and practice avoidance. Those are the time when we tell ourselves “do not make eye contact, it will go away”.
Jesus is telling us today that as Christians we can not go thru life ignoring the pain that happens at our own doorsteps. What this rich man did… this man’s great sin; was not that he abused Lazarus in any way, but that to him Lazarus suffering was invisible.
I can tell you from experience that staring at the suffering of others is not an easy task. What can you say to family that has lost a love one? Or a man or woman that is unloved? A child is been bullied? What can you say that will make the pain go away? Nothing, the only thing we can do is follow the example of Jesus on the cross. Embrace this suffering and let this person know “I will suffer with you, I will suffer for you”.
My brothers and sisters, it is easy to make the mistake to think that today’s Gospel is about the suffering of those that live far away from us, in the inner city, in homeless shelters, but if we do not see the suffering that is at our own door step, Aren’t we as guilty as the rich man from the story?
Many years ago blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was told by a young man that he wanted to abandon everything and follow her to the streets of Calcutta to help the poor, her answer resonates with today’s gospel "Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right there where you are -- in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. ... You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected… completely forgotten, completely left alone."
I have to tell you my brothers and sisters some Sunday Gospels are truly gifts from heaven.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Summer is almost over!

It seems incredible that summer is almost over! The kids will be heading to school in a week, CCD and RCIA will be starting soon and before you know it we'll be entering the Advent season! It has been a good relaxed summer for me and my family, but the time has come to roll back my sleeves and start writing again!

Here are two homilies, the first one, I preached during the feast of the assumption of the Blessed Virgin. The second one I preached a year ago, the week after the feast of the assumption. I'm also working on a series of articles for the Sunday bulletin at St Mike's about those things that make us unique as Catholics. Any way, I hope you enjoy these two homilies and as always, please keep me and my family in your prayers, rest assured that I'm doing the same for you.

Deacon Harbey

Feast of the Assumption

I preached this homily during the feast of the assumption 2008 at St Mike's. Because of it's strong apologetics flavor I also posted it in the forums (Those of you who listen to Catholic Answers know what I'm talking about), I was pleased by the reception so I hope you enjoy to.
Revelation 11:19,12:
"Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter."

Today we are celebrating the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother. To be more specific, we are celebrating that (To paraphrase Pope Pius XXII) “When the course of her earthly life was finished, Mary the Mother of Jesus, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, to be exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she will be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death”
The Church has defined 4 Marian dogmas as infallible truths: Mary the Mother of God, Mary born without sin (What we call the Immaculate Conception), Mary’s perpetual virginity even after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of course what we are celebrating today, her bodily assumption into heaven. Like I said before these are Dogmas of faith which means that as Catholics we must believe them and when I say MUST I mean that “if we do not profess this belief we should not call ourselves Catholic”.
Now I know what you are thinking, nobody likes to be told what they should or should not believe, especially in religious matters. It would help if we could just pick up the bible and look for a passage that describes Mary going into heaven like the stories of the prophet Elisha or Her Son, our Lord Jesus. But as you might know there is no place in the bible in which we can find this.
This is why Marian dogmas are one of the biggest stumbling blocks for non-Catholics to accept the Church as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church. Because when they turn to their bibles they can’t find a specific place in which these events are described clearly.
So today, since we are celebrating the assumption, what I’m going to do is show you the one passage which proves that, by the divine power of her Son the blessed mother was taken into heaven body and soul. A passage that in fact proofs that our lady, is, right now, as we speak, been honored as Queen of the heavens and earth, clothed with the brightness of the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of stars over Her head, with myriads of angels exalting her as the most pure expression of arc of the covenant, and with choirs of saints repeating “blessed are thou among woman and blessed is the fruit of thy womb”. Ok get your bibles out (Ups I’m sorry… For a second I thought I was in protestant Church …) Not to worry I brought my own… Now pay attention because this is a very important passage for Christians: Exodus 20:12: “Honor your father and your mother”
You might be thinking, “wait a second; that is the fourth commandment!” And you are right! You see the church teaches that the blessed mother was brought to heaven by her son to be honored, not because we want to place Mary at the same level as God, but because the church has always taught that Jesus is 100% human.
Paul explains it in simple terms when he says that “Jesus was like us except in sin”. If you turn to Gospels you see that everything Jesus did, throughout His life, was to bring honor and glory to His father. Right? Well?...What about His mother? If Jesus was true man, and he followed the 10 commandments how can he honor his father with all of his human and divine abilities but not His mother?

Think about it this way, which parent here have never been told by a child, “When I grow up I’m going to buy you a big house, a big car, I’m going to take you for a trip around the world, I’m going to give you anything you want!”
Or let me give you another example: I ask those of you here whose parents have passed away…If it were in your power wouldn’t you want to see them again and talk to them and let them share in your lives?
My brothers and sisters, if we say that we believe Jesus is true man; what we are saying is that he had the same feelings towards His mother as we have towards ours. The only difference is that Jesus has the power to do those things we can only wish we could do! To think that after he went to heaven He somehow forgot about the woman that gave him life is to think that He is beyond the normal feelings of a any human being.
So, you see, when the church says that we must believe in this dogma, it is not because we are trying to make Mary similar to God but because The Church is trying to make us understand what we mean when we say that Jesus is true man and true God. There is no other way, to believe that Jesus can love His mother any less than how much we can love our own mothers is to believe that Jesus is less man than us! And that my brothers and sister is a repugnant blasphemy! A blasphemy we should all reject!
So, in this feast of the assumption of the blessed mother, what we are truly celebrating is the humanity of Jesus and not (like some people erroneously think) the divinity of Mary. We celebrate the fact that Jesus is a good son… we celebrate the fact that he is a much better son than we can ever be… The fact that He is the best son ever.
In a few seconds, we will profess our faith, when we say that “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, eternally begotten of the father God from God light from light true God from true God, begotten not made, one in being with the father” and that this same Lord Jesus Christ “ came down from heaven and by the power of the Holy Spirit was born of the Virgin Mary and BECAME MAN” We profess the fact at this very moment in heaven Mary’s boy is trying with all of His power to honor her and show her how much he loves Her. How can we say this? We do not need to read it in the bible… We just need to look at ourselves and realize that if we had the power that Jesus has, we would be doing the same thing.

20th Week of Ordinary Time (Last year)

I preached this homily last year the Sunday after the feast of the assumption. I preached about one of my favorite Saints Maximilian Kolbe, for whom I have a special devotion. I hope you enjoy it...
Luke 12:49-53

"I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."


I have a question… Can anybody tell me what did we celebrated this pass Tuesday? I’m sorry that was a trick question just to make sure you are with me…This past Tuesday we celebrated 66 years, since the death of St Maximilian Kolbe, in the concentration camps. You might know his story but it is worth repeating.
In July 1941, a man from Kolbe's barrack vanished, prompting the camp commander, to pick 10 men from the same barrack to be starved to death, a common way of punishment. One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, lamenting that he will never see his family again. Maximilian took a step forward identified himself as a Catholic priest and volunteered to take the place of this family man.
During the time in the cell, he led his companions in songs and prayer. After three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe was still alive. Exasperated the guards finally executed with an injection of carbolic acid.

I bring this up today because St Maximilian is a good example of what Jesus meant when he said that he had come to set the world on fire. This final act of self sacrifice, giving his life so that other could live, was the culmination of a life dedicated to following the gospel.
Those who have never heard this gospel might think, because of the horrendous way St Maximilian died, that this teaching must be a very dangerous, teaching.
But we who have been brought up listening to this gospel know how simple this message is: Love God with all of your hard and mind love your neighbor like yourselves and love and pray for your enemies. You might think that the Gospel calls for the overthrow of governments and the destruction of civilization by the way those who decide to follow it are treated. Even today Christians are persecuted and martyred, just because they live the gospel.
And yet in today’s Gospel Jesus makes a point to tell us that this message, as simple and as peaceful as might sound. This message, will set the world afire. It will shake society to its core. This message when lived like he demands us to live it has the potential to shatter the most basic structure of our society, the family. It seems incredible that a simple message of love and peace will, turn fathers against their own sons and daughters against their own mothers.
How could this be? How does forgiving your enemies and loving your neighbors can be a cause for division?
My brothers and sisters we like to think that it is easy to live this simple message. We are conditioned to think of the Jesus words as, what I like to call The Gospel According to Barney, “ I love you, you love me, we are a happy family!” but the reality is that to truly follow his commands, like Jesus expects us, we must be willing to take on very unpopular stands, to risk our relationships and even our lives for sake of these words.
We must be willing not only to stand for the unborn, but to be agents of healing, mercy and compassion to the women that have had abortions, and to those that have facilitated this procedure, the doctors, the nurses and the politicians. We must not be satisfied with coming to church every Sunday but we must take the presence of Christ to those who are not here, to the poor and the lonely. We must be willing to share and alleviate the pain of the immigrant that only wants a better life for his children, regardless of what our political incline is. To be a follower of Jesus means to take on the very essence of our culture.
My brothers and sisters Jesus message might be simple, but when taken seriously like St Maximilian did, it will pin us against the grain of everything our culture has conditioned us to be and think. It demands that each one of us take a deep look at our own prejudices and fears, confront them face to face, and deny the power they have over our lives, for the sake of love
The good news is that we are not alone in this struggle. Like the second reading says, there is cloud of witnesses that surrounding us. These are the witnesses that willingly heard the message of Jesus and embraced it. These are the ones whose examples we should follow. These were the ones that set the world on fire. Their names are known to us Francis, Mother Teresa, Maximilian Kolbe, John Paul the Great.
But we not only have the example of their lives, Jesus gives himself to us in every mass so we do not have to struggle alone. In the Eucharist we receive the strength we need to live this message everyday. But we must be willing to set the world on fire too, to stand against our culture, and to never compromise for the sake of a false sense of harmony and peace. Only then we will be able to say like Jesus, like the saints and the martyrs, we to have set world on fire.

Monday, July 21, 2008

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

First Reading:
Wis 12:13, 16-19

There is no god besides you who have the care of all,
that you need show you have not unjustly condemned.
For your might is the source of justice;
your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.
For you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved;
and in those who know you, you rebuke temerity.
But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency,
and with much lenience you govern us;
for power, whenever you will, attends you.
And you taught your people, by these deeds,
that those who are just must be kind;
and you gave your children good ground for hope
that you would permit repentance for their sins.

Mt 13:24-43 or 13:24-30

Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened
to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.
When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.
The slaves of the householder came to him and said,
‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?
Where have the weeds come from?’
He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’
His slaves said to him,
‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them.
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
“First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn.”

Today’s first reading is taken from the Book of Wisdom. Of all the books in the Old Testament, this one was the very last one to be written, about 100 years before the birth of Jesus. So it comes as no surprise that this short work serves as a sort of meditation on everything that God had revealed to the people of Israel from the times of Genesis all the way to just before the birth of the messiah. We can think about this book as a kind of biblical “cliff notes” (Children, if you do not know what a “cliff notes” is, just wait until you get to high school and college)

We can honestly say that the Book of Wisdom is the last time God speaks though the old prophets. The next time he speaks it will be through angels that will announce the birth of His only begotten Son, Jesus, The Christ.

Historians tell us that the Book of Wisdom was written about 150 years after the land of Israel had fallen under the control of Greek conqueror Alexander the Great. Throughout all this time, the people of Israel had been forced to accept Greek culture and reject the old Jewish religion. So when the author of this book sat down to write must likely he did it because he was dismayed by how much the culture of their conquerors was affecting the world in which he lived.

History tells us again that this was a time of deep religious skepticism on the part of the people of Israel. The idea that if it felt good, then it must be good, was taking over the ideas given by God in the 10 commandments. The people of this time felt unhappy with the Jewish religion, and were outright rejecting the faith of their fathers and embracing the very secular philosophies of their conquerors. To make maters worst a lot of the people that was trying to hold to the old traditions… compromised, and started practicing a “watered down” version of their religion, picking and choosing what they liked and rejecting what they did not like. They did this, in part, because they where afraid of being ridiculed by their peers and neighbors, and in part because they looked around and saw that only those that conformed to secular culture where accepted by the rest. To put it in simple terms the culture of this time was suffering of a deep “crisis of faith”.

By now I hope you can see the many similarities between our culture and the culture of this time. So that, you will agree with me when I say that although the Book of Wisdom was written 2200 years ago it has something to say today, to us Catholics of the 21 century.

Now it seems that when this book was written there were still a small group people trying to hold fast to their faith. The problem was that these people were getting discouraged and were starting to ask the question that I’m sure many of us have asked before “Why doesn’t God do something about it?, Why doesn’t he get rid of all those that are destroying our faith, ridiculing our beliefs and poisoning our culture?” To these very well intentioned people the Book of Wisdom gives a very simple answer: God is merciful, He judges with clemency and rules the word with leniency because he always gives his children, all of His children, a chance to repent.

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us a powerful illustration of this fact. He compares His kingdom with a planted field in which wheat and weeds grow together when asked by His servants to “pull out” all the bad seeds he says “No, let the field grow and I will make sure to separate them during the harvest”.

There are three reasons for this answer: the first one is the obvious one, if you pull the weeds you might lose some of the wheat. If God were to get rid of all the misguided souls that reject His message of repentance and redemption, what would happen to the rest of us? Are we to live a life of fear, wandering what would happen if we were to “stray of the path”? If He were to do this He would end up not with children that loved Him but with people that feared Him. God does not want to rule by fear but by love, and what a better way to show this love than by showing mercy to those who are separated from him?

The second reason is not as obvious: Unlike the weeds in Jesus story, humans can change. weeds cannot understand the errors they commit, they cannot repent and seek forgiveness, but we can. As long as there is mercy there is hope for all of us. We can turn to God at any time and seek his forgiveness. This is why he is so patient with all of his children.

And the third reason is the challenge of today’s Gospel for us; we are called to live among the weeds. We are called to show all those that do not share our values that we have the answers, the real answers to all of the problems in our culture. And we are called to do this by rooting ourselves in the good ground of the gospel and producing good and strong fruits.

The message of the book of Wisdom has not changed at all! God’s mercy knows no bounds. It is given freely to anyone willing to accept that the world in which we live does not have the answers they are seeking. We might think that God is unjust because he does not deal with sinners in the way we would like Him to. But in fact we should be grateful he does not do this, because this is how he shows His love for the good and the bad.

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who planted good seeds in his fields, and waited, and waited and waited in the hope that when harvest comes, everything he sowed will turns out to be good and strong wheat. So he does not have to go through the painful process of throwing the bad weeds into the fire. Thanks be to God for that!


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Father's Day 2007

Last year I celebrated Father's day by preaching at St Michaels. In honor of all fathers I'm posting that homily...Happy Father's Day!!!


Luke 7:36-8:3

Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.
And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume,
and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner."
Parable of Two Debtors 40And Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he replied, "Say it, Teacher."
"A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
"When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?"
Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have judged correctly."
Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
"You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet.
"You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume.
"For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little."
Then He said to her, "Your sins have been forgiven."
Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this man who even forgives sins?"
And He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."


I would like to congratulate in a special way all the dads that are present here today, may your day be a blessed and restful one in the company of your families. I have to confess that as a dad, I have asked myself many times: Why do we celebrate Father’s day? Why do we celebrate this day in June? I have always suspected that this holiday was created mostly so Dads do not feel left out, after all Mothers day was just a few weeks ago. You see I’m willing to bet that no Dad was ever consulted about the creation of this date. I know that if it were up to me I would celebrate this day, Super Bowl Sunday. But here we are on the third Sunday of June.
So today I would like to take some time and reflect on the Gospel reading in light of this very special day. The gospel story introduces us to two very different people, a Pharisee and a woman. Each one of them shows different attitude towards Jesus. The Pharisee looks at Jesus and sees just another man, a prophet that has come to honor his house with his presence. The woman on the other hand hears that Jesus is in town and recognizing him as God, the only one with the power to forgive her many sins goes after him and finds him and unlike the Pharisee, throws herself at his feet in gratitude and gives Jesus one of the greatest display of love and devotion ever recorded in Holy Scripture. But the question is: Why do these people react so differently to Jesus presence? Why is this difference so radical? What lesson can we get from this two people? Jesus himself is telling us today : Those who realize God’s power to forgive, those who are willing to show how sorry they are for their sins and how grateful they are for God’s unconditional forgiveness, are capable of great displays of love.
In a day like today this is a very important lesson. You see I believe that a great thing about being a dad and for that mater the great thing about having a dad is that we get a lot of opportunities to practice the incredible power of forgiveness. There is an old country song (and yes, sorry to scandalize our young congregation members but your deacon likes to listen to country music) There is an old song that says that the love of a father is a love without end, Amen. This is what the woman of the Gospel understood when she saw Jesus, this is what the Pharisee missed: A love and a willingness to forgive with no end.
So I restate my question, why do we feel it is important to celebrate days like father’s day and mother’s day? The reason is simple. We all know how much our parents have to put up from us. And we are grateful for the unconditional love they have given us throughout all of our lives.
I think the most important point to remember in a day like today is that the love and the capacity our parents have to forgive, pales completely when compared to God’s infinete capacity to love and forgiveness. After all our parents are not perfect, they are also affected by their own sins, and sometimes… many times, they are also in need of our forgiveness. But God’s love truly IS a love without end, Amen! His is a love that is willing to forgive the worst sinners among us. The only thing we have to do is turn to him and tell him how sorry we are.
We must stop treating God like the Pharisee in the gospel. God is not our equal, he is our father and as our father he to deservers our love and gratitude for everything he has given us, for our health, our community and our country.
You see one not so glamorous parts of being a dad is that if you do your job well, you become the 24 hours on call service desk for your children, every time there is a problem just call dad and he will fix it. DO we treat God like this to? Do we only call on him when there is a problem we can not handle or when there is something broken in our lives that we do not how to fix?
I believe that today is a perfect day to follow Jesus advice, today is a perfect day to recognize God for whom he really is, the only one that can truly forgive all of our sins, today it is a perfect day to tell God how sorry we are for not living up to what is expected from His children, and it is a perfect day to commit ourselves to go to our homes, schools and communities and show our gratitude to our Father in heaven with great displays of love.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Missing Sunday Mass

The beginning of summer is a good time to review what the Church teaches with regards to our Sunday obligation. Simply put missing Sunday mass is a grave matter for us Catholics. It is an act that goes in direct violation of the third commandment and hence a serious or mortal sin. If we do not have a “good reason” why we did not fulfill this obligation, we can not approach the sacraments until we have received absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
With this said, what are “good reasons” to miss mass? Well… the best way to look at this is to think about our intensions. Did we intend to attend mass? Was there any cause outside of our control that prevented us from fulfilling this obligation? Good examples of these are: lack of transportation, sick child, family emergency, un-avoidable work schedule, been in a place with no mass available. There are much more but…you get the idea.
A question many people ask is: What do I do when I'm on vacation? While we are obligated to go to mass every Sundays of our vacations, the Church does not expect you to do heroic deeds to get to mass. For example, the church does not expect you to rent a helicopter to fly a 100 miles to the closest Sunday mass.
I tell people to do this: First, go to, this is a great web site with mass times from all over the world. Second, find a Church that is within a reasonable distance from were you are going to be. Third, schedule a time Sunday morning for mass, but be flexible. Most of the times, vacation schedules are very fluid; to be in the safe side go to your pastor and explain that you intend to go to mass but there is a chance you might not be able to do it. Ask him for a "dispensation from your Sunday obligation". This will allow you to miss mass in the event your vacation schedule changes. Happy travels and God blessings!

Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Mt 9:9-13As Jesus passed on from there,he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.He said to him, “Follow me.”And he got up and followed him.While he was at table in his house,many tax collectors and sinners cameand sat with Jesus and his disciples.The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”He heard this and said,“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.Go and learn the meaning of the words,‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”


Well… The Holydays are over! … you might be wandering what I’m talking about. Christmas was 6 months ago, but if you have been attentive, for the last few months it seemed that almost every weekend we were celebrating a different feast. Since the end of Lent we had: Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, Ascension Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christy and just last weekend, on we celebrated the Feast of the Visitation the Feast of the Sacred Heart!
Now, each one of these celebrations is important to us because they bring our attention to special aspects of God’s immeasurable love, however for the next few months every Sunday is what we call a Sunday of ordinary time. If there are no special celebrations during these Sundays, how are we supposed to experience God during this time? Well, during ordinary time we are called to experience God in the ordinary aspects of our lives.
Now I do not want to give the impression that ordinary time Sundays are less important than feast Sundays. Let me make this very clear: as Catholics we believe that every Sunday is a very important day, because Sundays is the day in which we gather as a family to celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to offer this in reparations for our sins, and that is a huge deal!
But I would like to propose that Ordinary Time Sundays are perhaps even more significant than a Sunday feast. Why? Because like Father Mike likes to point out “Ordinary time is for ordinary people”. It is a time for people like you and me, and if you think about in the ordinary times of our life’s is when we are more ourselves, and these are the times in which God can get closer to us.
Take Today’s Gospel for example. What can be more ordinary than today’s reading? Jesus goes to the place where Mathew the tax collector is working, the Roman Internal Revenue Service, and tells Mathew to follow Him. In response Mathew takes Jesus to his house, to have dinner with him and what seems to me are many of Mathew's friends: other tax collectors and your average run of the mill sinner. Now what can be more ordinary than this? No great healing or walking in water, just a chance encounter at the IRS office and then just “chilling” at Mathew’s home, with some of his bodies having something to eat. And yet, Jesus uses this simple scene to teach us a very important lesson. Jesus the Christ, the son of the Living God, second person of the Most Holy Trinity, did not come to call the righteous and the saints to Himself, he came for the sinners, for people like Mathew the tax collector, and all of his sinner friends, and he is willing to meet them where they are most themselves, in the middle of their ordinary lives.

Now…We come to church every Sunday looking to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist. For some of us this is the one hour in our week in which we approach God. Within these walls we are in our best behavior, some of us even make a point to wear our “Sunday’s best”, because we recognize how important and special this time is. When we are here at least for an hour each week, we are all saints, right? So… What happens when we return to our ordinary lives? Do we leave Jesus behind? Do we say “Goodbye Lord See you next week?”
Every year ordinary time coincides with the summer, a time to relax, to be ourselves. A time to visit friends and families, go on vacation, or just stay home hanging out with friends. Is a time to take a break from school and work and just… You know…”chill”.
It is a perfect time for us to meet Jesus in the ordinary events of our lives. The sad reality is that some Catholics not only say ‘See you next week Lord, but “see you in a couple of weeks Lord” because it is too much trouble to find a Catholic Church near the beach or at the cabin or wherever it is we are going on vacation. Or even worst “See you in the fall because we are taking a break from Church this summer” My brothers and sisters let me make this very clear now, unless we have a good reason to miss Sunday mass, like a sick child or been in a place were there is not easy way to get to a Catholic Church, missing Sunday mass is a very serious sin, a mortal sin that can only be forgiven in the sacrament of reconciliation
This is why Sunday’s should be a sacred day for all of us regardless of where we are, but Jesus does not want to meet with us just on Sundays, he wants to go with us to the places where we are ordinary, to our homes, to our jobs and even come along in our vacations! He is willing to meet us wherever we are, He wants to sit with us at lunch in the cafeteria, He wants to work with us in the garden, He wants to hang around the pool with us, go to the movies with us and take that long road trip along with our families. He wants to go to the places in which we are ordinary because these are the places in which we are who we really are, sinners, people in need of redemption.
Let me tell you a secret my brothers and sisters, when we are willing to invite Jesus to the places in which we are ourselves, ordinary times become extraordinary.
Let us ask our Lord to give us strength to fulfill our Sunday’s obligations wherever we go this summer and to bless those simple moments in our lives in which, if we let him, He will come to us not as a judge but as a friend and healer. Amen!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Trinity Sunday 2008


Jn 3:16-18 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,so that everyone who believes in him might not perishbut might have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,but that the world might be saved through him.Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.


Today is the one Sunday in the liturgical year that priests and deacons are encouraged to preach about the Blessed Trinity (We call this day Trinity Sunday). When I was attending “Deacon School” one of our teachers told us that this is the most difficult day of the year to preach. Simply put… How can you describe that which cannot be understood?
Now… When the fathers of the Church tried to make sense of Jesus teachings about God they turned first to scripture, but there they where only told that there is one God, and that this God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, that’s it… It was through a long process of theological reflection that the Holy Spirit guided the Church to define each one of these divine persons. All this reflecting took about 400 hundred years. On Trinity Sunday, my seminary professor told us, we get to explain all this in just 8 minutes!
The fathers of the church never defined how one being can exist in tree unique person. Very early in their reflection they realized that the mysterious nature of God can never be understood by the human mind. Of course this does not mean we should not spend time thinking about it.
Personally I like to think that the Blessed Trinity is like a diamond with an infinite number of facets, each one giving away a very unique spark of light. We can stare at anyone of these facets and discover much beauty and wisdom, we can even see ourselves reflected in these sparks of light, but although we can hold this diamond in our hands, we can never see it as the precious stone it really is until we are standing in front of the throne of God in heaven.
So today, in the 5 minutes I have left, what I’m going to try to do is to show you one of these facets.
Today’s gospel is the very famous John 3:16 passage in which we are told that God the Father (the First person of the Trinity) loved the world so much that He gave His only Son (Second person of the Trinity) so whoever believed in Him (through the action of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity) will not be lost. What we are going to do is concentrate in this divine action of “giving”. Of course we cannot avoid talking about this “giving of His son” without talking about The Blessed Mother because in the process of this giving, Mary experienced the Blessed Trinity in a way that no other person in creation did.
To explain this I will use… The rosary… (Don’t worry we will not do the whole thing only these 3 beads) When I was a kid I learned the rosary by listening to my parents pray it. In the Spanish version, I learned to pray these 3 beads differently than in the English version, Instead of saying “Hail Mary Full of grace the lord is with you…” three times, I say, Hail Mary daughter of God the Father, full of grace the lord is with you… the next time I say Hail Mary Mother of God Son, full of grace the Lord is with you… and Hail Mary Spouse of the Holy Spirit”… between the last Hail Mary and the first Glory Be I say, Hail Mary temple and tabernacle of the most Blessed Trinity.
Now there is a deep theology behind these simple words. Mary was first the Daughter of God the Father, in the book of Genesis we read that after the fall God said to the serpent “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring”. When God is formulating the plan of salvation, He is thinking about how he will “give” His son to us. I ask you brothers and sisters, how can this woman in genesis be any other than the Mother of His son given to the world so that “everyone who believes in him do not be lost but receives eternal live”? From the first moments after the fall God was thinking, planning, and molding her into His most perfect daughter. Hail Mary Daughter of God the Father!
But Mary is the mother of The Son, she is the great Theotokos that brings and makes this giving of God’s only Son possible! She is true mother because Jesus is true man. She gave Him her own flesh and blood; she cared for Him, protected Him and taught Him. One must wander how many times when we listen Jesus praying in scripture, what we are listening is Mary’s voice as she must likely taught Him to pray the psalms as a child. Hail Mary mother of God the Son!
And Mary is the perfect spouse of the Holy Spirit! We hear in the story of the annunciation that she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. The spirit of God, this infinite mystery we are trying to understand today, did not overwhelm her or overcome her but overshadowed her. In the same way that spouses are supposed lose each other in the arms of their beloved, she was united in a loving embrace with the spirit of God. We can almost imagine this beautiful young girl surrounded by this cloud of love, giving her divine spouse and eternal “yes”… A “yes” that brought forth the only son of God so that all that believes in Him never be lost. Hail Mary Spouse of the Holy Spirit!
Now, we know that God is one being that exists in three persons. By the way he chooses Mary to make the “giving” of His only Son possible, this existence becomes clear. In the same way that Jesus exists in our tabernacle, and in this temple, the Most Blessed Trinity revealed its existence through Mary. So that when we look at her through her relationship with each one of the divine persons, Her relationship with the “One God” we can honestly say, Hail Mary, Temple and Tabernacle of the Most Blessed Trinity.
Now, what can we learn from all this about the Trinity? Well, when we look at the divine action of “giving” through Mary, we see that although undertaken by the 3 divine persons, the act in perfect unity and harmony. We can look at any action from God, the Eucharist, baptism, reconciliation; all these are actions of God undertaken by the three divine persons in perfect unity.
It is incredible what we can see when we stare in faith to one of the infinite sparks of light that is the Trinity. I hope that my explanation today awakes your desire to learn more about the nature of God, and in discovering new things about the trinity you deepen in the love of God who gave His only son so that we can have eternal live. Amen.

Trinity Sunday 2007

June 3rd 2007 will always be a very special day for me. This is the date of my very first mass! As it happens this was the solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity. I can hardly believe its been a year! Since this past Sunday we celebrated this solemnity, and I had the honor to preach again, here is the text of the very first homily I preached at St Michael's almost a year ago.


As you well know by know two weeks ago I had the very humbling honor to stand in front of our bishop, Cardinal William H. Keeler along with 8 other men to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. To me the most moving part of the ceremony was the imposition of hands by the bishop. This part of the rite comes directly from apostolic times; in fact the book of Acts describes how the apostles laid hands on the very first 7 deacons of the church, before sending them to minister to the first Christian community.
4 years ago I started the formation process to become a Deacon. And, throughout this time the prayers and good wishes of many of you, my brothers and sisters, have been with me. There have been times during this process that because of these prayers for my family and me, the words of today’s Gospel have been true in my life. I have felt how the Spirit of the Lord was guiding me. This is why I would like to share with you something that happened to me during my ordination.
Like I mentioned before, there is a part of the ceremony in which the Cardinal imposes his hands over each one of the candidates, while praying silently. I must admit I was expecting a different feeling from the hands of this 76 years old man, a man that has met 5 different popes, a man that a few minutes before had recalled how he remembered being present when the bishops of the second Vatican council had discussed and agreed to reinstate the permanent diaconate in our church.
As I was on my knees, I was expecting a gentle and fragile touch instead I was surprised by how young and strong His hands felt on my head. As I was walking to my seat I kept thinking about where have I felt these hands before? You see my dad used to be a construction worker, he has used his hands all his life, his hands know very well the mark tools and hard labor. But most importantly, I have been in the receiving end of those hands before! So I can recognize the hands of a working man.
It was in this moment as I was taking my seat with the other Deacons that the impact of what has just happened hit me.
The hands that had touch me were not the hands of “a prince of the church” they were the hands of a laborer, they were hard, strong hands, used sweat and to hard work. At this moment I realized in my heart that the hands that touched me, the hands that were ordaining me, were the hands of a carpenter.
Why am I telling you this? Well, today is the one Sunday in the liturgical year in which the homily is supposed to center on the Most Blessed Trinity and the nature of our Triune God. As I was preparing for this day I was torn between spending my time in a long theological explanation aiming at making you understand that; which can not be understood by any human means… or I could share with you how this same God that we profess, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have touched my life in a profound way during my ordination.
The choice was a simple one. You see, we live in a world where skepticism is a badge of honor. We are conditioned to understand before we can believe. In this Sunday, God comes to us and says “I want you to believe before you can understand”. This is what Paul means when he says by our faith we are justified. God doesn’t want us to understand him but to believe in him; only them can we enter into an intimate relationship with Him.

The hands of the Carpenter of Nazareth want to touch each one of us today. For this to happen we need to abandon our own skepticism. We need to realize that we are spiritual beings, that there is a spiritual dimension to each one of us and that spiritual reality is at the very core of our beings. It is in this core where our Triune God resides. It is in this interior world that if we allow it, we can experience the grace of The father, the love of The Son and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Let me put it this way: There is not one person in this church young or old, that has never felt un-loved, or lonely, or even abandoned, and there is not one person in this church that at one time or another have not felt the consolation that comes from being a child of God. Think about it, it does not have to be a life changing experience, because our God acts in mysterious ways… A word of encouragement from a friend. A song on the radio, even the smile of some unknown person, all these things can reach deep into our souls and open the doors of that place in which our God is waiting to enter and dwell within us to provide the hope and the consolation that is free to us because of our Trinitarian baptism, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
To feel the hands of the carpenter of Nazareth, we just need to leave our skepticism behind and recognize his presence in our lives.
Again I would like to thank you for your prayers and good wishes during the last four years. I know that some of you might be thinking “What is this guy talking about I have never seen him before in my life”. But you are part of the body of Christ, your presence in this church is the reason why our Lord called me to serve you. I’m grateful for the opportunity I have been given by our God. And pray that through the grace of our Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we can get to know each other, and participate together in the community of love that is the Body of Christ.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Catholics in your TV.

Check out this add that (hopefully) pretty soon will be appearing in regular TV. I have seen it already in EWTN.

It is for a campaign to bring Catholics back to the faith.

Click on the image, go to the bottom of the page and click on any of the pictures. There are three different clips with more to come.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

I'm famous in Europe!

Here is a news clip from the Swiss Cable Network. As I was serving at the Papal mass at Washington DC I was interviewed by the Swiss Cable Network. I was surprised to see they used some of this interview for their 6:00PM news. I was more surprised about the fact that I can speak French! Anyway it was a great for the Church in America, (Benedict's visit I mean) and I'm sure glad I was part of it!

Now be honest... Should I do my homilies in French from now on?

In His love,

Deacon Harbey

Friday, May 2, 2008

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Jesus said to his disciples:“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.And I will ask the Father,and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,because it neither sees nor knows him.But you know him, because he remains with you,and will be in you.I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.In a little while the world will no longer see me,but you will see me, because I live and you will live.On that day you will realize that I am in my Fatherand you are in me and I in you.Whoever has my commandments and observes themis the one who loves me.And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”


Today’s Gospel is one of those readings that cause the reader to stop and ask… “What is Jesus talking about?!” “The spirit of truth will remain in you” I am in my father and he is in me and me in you” I have to admit that my first reaction to these passages was: Is this some kind of divine riddle?
However when I started looking closely to what Jesus was saying I realized that by using this type of language (Me in you, you in me) what he is doing is explaining the mysterious relationship between the three persons of the most Holy Trinity by using another mystery: The mystery of the human heart. What do I mean by this? With this language Jesus is using the fact that as humans we have the capacity to allow certain people to live within us as well as they have the capacity to allow us to live within them.
Think of the people you love the most, your children, your friends, your spouse’s… we have all given these people a tremendous power over ourselves, the power to make us happy or hurt us deeply. But, how do we do this? Well… the best way to describe it is that we have given a part of ourselves to these people and in turn we have allowed them to place part of themselves in us. We even have a term for this… “We share our lives together” with these very special people. Their joys become our joys and their pains become our pains. It is as if part of them lived in us and part of us lived in them.
So when Jesus wants to teach us about the mysterious relationship between Himself, the Father and Holy Spirit, He does it in a way that we might not understand with our heads but that, if we try, we can understand with our hearts.
However, in today’s gospel reading Jesus not only wants to teach us about His relationship with the father, but more importantly he wants to teach us how we can achieve the same type of relationship with God. Just look at the way He frames this whole idea of “the father is me and me in you and you in me” between two very similar phrases. The reading starts with: “If you loved me you will follow my commands” and ends with “whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” In between these two statements He explains that those who show their love for Him in this way will not be left orphans, they will receive the Spirit of Truth that will make them realize that they are in Jesus and Jesus is in them, sharing in the same type of relationship Jesus and the Father share. So, and this is a very important point, participation in this type of relationship with God, is not based in our wishes to be closed to Him or in making declarations of our love for Jesus but in the simple fact that we follow His commandments.
Now why couldn’t Jesus just explain it in simple terms like these? My brothers and sisters I believe that the answer to this question is the real message of today’s Gospel. Think about it this way, Jesus wants us to follow His commandments but, what are these commands we need to follow? Yes, scripture gives us the 10 commandments, but the reality is, these are very general statements. As followers of Jesus in this day and age when we are confronted with issues that are a lot more complex than just the language Jesus uses in the Gospel today, how are we to know what to do? What course of action is “following Jesus commands”?
The point is that Jesus didn’t say “Ok guys here is a book figure it all out by yourselves” He established a Church to instruct us in how to follow His commands. In the same way that you listened as I interpreted the scripture, we as Catholics are called to listen to the teachings of the Church to get answers to the problems of our modern world.
The same spirit of truth Jesus is introducing to us in this reading has been inspiring in the Church for 2000 years! In the wisdom of the Church we can find answers to all the spiritual, moral and ethical problems of our times.
However our modern world condemns this wisdom as antiquated and impinging in our freedoms, but you know what? Jesus knew this was going to happen this is why He was very clear when he said that the world cannot accept the wisdom of the Holy Spirit because the world cannot see and do not know this spirit.
If we are to follow Jesus commands, if we are to know the Spirit of Truth, we must follow what the Church teaches. Think about it this way the Church cannot be right in some things but wrong in others. This is not the way the Spirit of Truth operates. We cannot say “I believe the Church when it says this is the body of Christ, but the Church is wrong about its stand on things like abortion and the sanctity and dignity of all human life”.
Been Catholic is not a matter of picking and choosing what teachings of the Church we agree with, been Catholic is a way of life that permeates everything we do and think, it’s a way of life that when lived in accordance to Jesus wishes, will go against the grain of everything the world stands for. Being Catholic is not just telling Jesus “we love you Lord”, its showing this love by following His commands; by trusting in wisdom of the Holy Spirit in His Church.
And if we disagree with a specific teaching of the Church, it is up to us to find out, why does the Church teach what it teaches? I assure you my brothers and sisters, if we do this, if we take time to learn our Catholic faith, we will be surprised about how much our point of view becomes very different that the point of view of the world.
Only then we will be certain we are following Jesus commands, only then we will be able to share in the same relationship that Jesus and the Father share, and like the Gospel says, only then the Father will give us the Spirit of truth and Jesus will reveal Himself to us. Amen.