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.

Third Sunday of Easter

That very day, the first day of the week,two of Jesus’ disciples were goingto a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.He asked them,“What are you discussing as you walk along?”They stopped, looking downcast.One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply,“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalemwho does not know of the thingsthat have taken place there in these days?”And he replied to them, “What sort of things?”They said to him,“The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene,who was a prophet mighty in deed and wordbefore God and all the people,how our chief priests and rulers both handed him overto a sentence of death and crucified him.But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel;and besides all this,it is now the third day since this took place.Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:they were at the tomb early in the morningand did not find his body;they came back and reportedthat they had indeed seen a vision of angelswho announced that he was alive.Then some of those with us went to the tomband found things just as the women had described,but him they did not see.”And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are!How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these thingsand enter into his glory?”Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,he interpreted to them what referred to himin all the Scriptures.As they approached the village to which they were going,he gave the impression that he was going on farther.But they urged him, “Stay with us,for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”So he went in to stay with them.And it happened that, while he was with them at table,he took bread, said the blessing,broke it, and gave it to them.With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,but he vanished from their sight.Then they said to each other,“Were not our hearts burning within uswhile he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalemwhere they found gathered togetherthe eleven and those with them who were saying,“The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”Then the two recountedwhat had taken place on the wayand how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.


Happy Easter everyone! I know its been two weeks but today we need to make an effort to place ourselves back on Easter Sunday, and I’m not talking about two Sundays ago, to understand today’s message we have to go all the way back to that very first Easter Sunday.
Let’s try to imagine ourselves walking along towards Emmaus, in the company of these two disciples. The one thing we can say about them is that they are not Apostles, they are disciples of Jesus in the sense that they are just some of the regular folks that walked and listened to His teachings. We get from the text that they are part of the group of people which thought that when Jesus arrived to Jerusalem He was going to defeat the Romans and establish the kingdom of Israel. To their surprise, just two days ago, they witnessed the whole city turn against Him. Against all their hopes and dreams they saw Jesus scourged, nailed to a cross and finally watch Him die a horrible death. So we can imagine that for the last two days these two disciples had been in a state of shock, confusion and fear. To top all that, this morning, just a few hours ago, some women in their group came relating an incredible story: Jesus body was gone from the tomb and angels had announced to then that He had risen from the dead.
I don’t know about you but when I put all these facts together it seems to me that these two disciples are not “just” in the way to Emmaus, but in fact they are escaping from Jerusalem. They had witnesses all of these events and said to themselves “This is too much to handle, I’m going home!”
So as we walk with these two confused, dismayed, hurt, disappointed and scared disciples, leaving Jerusalem in haste, here comes a stranger who asks “are you guys OK?” and they just let him have it! Just listen to their answer: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know what has happened in the last few days? About Jesus the Nazarene who was a prophet… We had been following him and we were hoping he would be the one to redeem Israel” but the authorities crucified him!
Of course we know the stranger is Jesus… now… we would expect for our Lord to say: “Do not be afraid guys… It’s me… I’m back”
But here the most amazing thing happens! What does he do? He takes them to Mass! Yes my brothers and sisters what we see here is the celebration of the mass as it was meant to be celebrated!
Just listen to what the reading says: “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” What do we do every Sunday? We read scripture and interpret it in the Homily! And then the story tells that when they reached the city and saw that He was leaving them, what did they do? They asked Him for something! They said, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” You can almost hear the congregation say “Lord hear our prayer”. And what happens next? They give Jesus the place of Honor at their table. The Gospel says that “while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” I do not know you but this sounds very familiar to me! And finally, after they realized that this was Jesus, what did they do? They went in peace! All their hurts and fears were gone and they returned to Jerusalem the very place they were escaping from!
Now you might be thinking “boy the deacon is really grasping for straws today” but think about it. In 2008, when we say the word “mass” we think of altar servers, choir music and liturgical vestments, people standing up, people kneeling… but remember were we are in today’s Gospel… just two days ago Jesus was crucified! What we are witnessing is the mass reduced to its most basic elements: Jesus presiding, scripture being open to us, people in need asking Jesus not to leave them, hearts burning, bread being broken and shared, and the realization that there is no reason to be afraid anymore because He has risen indeed! These are the essential parts of the mass 2000 years ago and are the essential elements of the mass today!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying than the choir and the vestments, the ushers and the music are not important, they are because they enrich our sense of worship, but none of these things are essential. What is essential is what the gospel is showing us.
That we bring our fears and hurts with us to the mass and speak them openly to God, like these two disciples did to Jesus, that we are willing to listen to our Lord as He opens the scriptures us, that we ask him “Lord do not leave us because there is a lot of darkness out there”, that when we gather around the altar we realize: He is the one at the head of the table, He is the one making the offering of the gifts, the blessing and the sacrifice, that he breaks the bread for us, and send us in peace to spread his word.
Now as a deacon I talk to a lot of people and I have heard a lot of Catholics complain about been bored at mass (Even some of my CCD students have said this to me… I will not name names but you know how you are). I believe that the real reason why some people find the mass boring is because they concentrate in what they consider “Important” the quality of the music, the beauty of the sanctuary, but they forget the essentials. They come to church to be spectators, to be entertained, but the mass has no entertainment value! The mass is an encounter on a dusty road between confused and scared travelers and a loving God willing to give us strength for the journey.
I assure you my brothers and sisters, if we see the mass in this way and concentrate on the essentials, our hearts will burn to, and we too will recognize Jesus on the breaking of the bread. We will not only want to come to mass every Sunday but every day of our lives.
Now there is message to remember not just two weeks after Easter but for the rest of our lives.