Sunday, October 25, 2009

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

I preached this sermon to kick up our registration campaign for the Maryland Advocacy Network. It was received better than I expected, although I had a couple walk out on me in the middle of my preaching. I guess not everybody agrees with the social dimension of the Church. We had about 500 sign up for the network and hope to get some more stragglers in the next few weeks. After mass I got some questions about Church History, the crusades and the inquisition. Anyway I hope you enjoy it!
If you have ever traveled across countries like Spain or Bavaria you might have noticed something peculiar. There is always a Church at the center of every town. The reason for this is because up until perhaps about 100 years ago in these communities, the Church was the center of social and cultural life. Which begs the question: How could it be that the religion started by 12 Jewish fishermen became the dominant social institution of western civilization for more that 1000 years?
Well, after the collapse of the Roman Empire about the year 476 what people knew as “the government “and “the military” was gone. There was nobody in charge to offer political and social leadership. So the people turned to their bishops and priests to fill this vacuum. Eventually new states emerged from the ashes of the Roman Empire but the idea of the centrality of the Church remained so ingrained in this society that sometimes it was very difficult to determine where the church ended and the state began. Sadly, because of men’s fallen nature, instead of the Church influencing this new social and political order, the marriage between Church and state resulted in the corruption of the Church, and those things that should have remained most sacred: The respect for the life and dignity of the poor and for those who did not have a voice of their own was became secondary.
In our collective minds words like the inquisition and the crusades have become examples of everything that was wrong with this time. Now, I think it is important that as Catholics we accept and do not shy away from the reality of our History. However it is also important to know that when we take a critical view of Church history, the crusades and the inquisition become something completely different than what is presented to us by Hollywood or Monty Python) . Don’t get me wrong… I am not saying that there were no abuses by the leaders of the Church during these times, but for every bad, priest, deacon, bishop, crusader, inquisitor and even Popes, God gave us people like Francis of Assisi, John De Matha, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, John of the Cross and many more, great saints that kept alive what it meant to be the voice of the poor and the oppressed.
So we can look at the History of the Church in two ways: We can be cynics and say that because of this history of abuse the Church should not mingle into the affairs of the state or we can understand that because of its divine nature, the Church is in a unique position to take these failings and weaknesses and inform the society of today.
This history has taught us that The Church and the State should always remain separate, that it is harmfully to society for the church to attempt to take the place of the state. The Church role however is to remind those in power that their authority comes from God and should be used for the common good and to serve the needs of the poor and the weak.
Our Catholic faith should form the conscience of society especially of those in power so that they can recognize what is just, good and true. And when laws that affect the institutions which are the foundation of this society, like the family or the rights of human beings are introduced by the government it is the duty of the Church to subject them to a moral judgment.
Now this responsibility is not only reserved to the hierarchy of the Church, as baptized children of God we are all called to work for the common good, and the best way of doing this is through the exercise of faithful citizenship. To quote the Catechism “As far as possible citizens should take an active part the in political life” All citizens have the right and duty to speak up on issues that impact human dignity and the common good. My brothers and sisters, the voice of the faithful is a vital part of the Church’s advocacy for the poor and the weak. As constituent we all have an enormous influence regarding lawmakers’ decision as long as they hear from us!
By now you might be wandering where I am going with all this. Well… let me ask you this: Have you ever known of a piece of legislation that was passed, that you wish you could have expressed your agreement or disagreement to your elected officials? Have you ever said to yourself I disagree with this proposed law but “What can I do I’m only one person” Well, in order to help Catholics exercise their call to faithful citizenship at the state level, Archbishop O’Brien has instituted a program called The Maryland Advocacy Network and has mandated that all Catholics in our diocese be given the opportunity to register to participate in this program. So today I will explain how it works and then I will ask you to fill a form so you can register for this effort. Now let me assure you of two things: 1) This is NOT a fund raiser effort. You will not be asked to contribute any money for this effort. Everything is done via e-mails .2) The information collected will be kept private and will not be shared with any organizations.
Now to joint this effort you are asked to provide your name, e-mail address and home address. The bishop recognizes also that the spirit moves each one of us in a different way so we are given the opportunity to select only those areas of social justice that interest us. They have divided these in 4 areas :Education, Family life (marriage, adoption, work issues), Respect for life (pregnancy support, bio-ethics, end-of-life issues, death penalty, the rights of the unborn), Social concerns (poverty, health care, immigration, criminal justice).
The way it works is like this, the information you give today will be kept in our database. When an important vote at the state level is coming up, you will receive an e-mail alert, but only when it relates to the areas you have selected. The e-mail will link to a pre-drafted message to send to your lawmaker (this is why we need your address too!) . You can send the e-mail as it is or you can modify it to suit your style. The whole process will not take but just a couple of minutes.
Must emails will be sent between January and April, when the Maryland General Assembly is in session, though some alert will be send at other times
Now please open the brochure…
…The ushers will not collect them now.
On behalf of Archbishop O’Brien and especially on behalf of all those who will benefit from your advocacy, I would like to thank you for hearing the call to be faithful citizens of our great nation. God bless you.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

21st Sunday of Ordinary time

This is the second part of a two part holy I preached at St Michael's on the Eucharist this summer.

For the last 3 weekends there has been a common theme in all of the Gospel readings. Three weeks ago, on August 2nd we hear Jesus declare “I am the bread of life whoever comes to me will never hunger and however believes in me will never thirst”. A week later, we see Jesus telling the crowds “I am the bread who came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”. Last week we found Him in a synagogue in Capernaum saying “I am the living bread that came down from heaven whoever eats this bread will live forever and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of world.” And also “Amen, Amen I say to you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you do not have life within you!” So… I hope you see a pattern here…
All these passages from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John repeat again and again our need to eat the bread of life which is Jesus flesh and his blood, 14 times in just 24 verses. What is missing from the English translation is the urgency of Jesus voice every time he makes this declaration. I which I could show you the Greek version of the Gospel so you see what I’m talking about. The first few times we hear Jesus talking about eating the bread of life St John uses the Greek word “phago”; which In English means means the action of eating a meal. But as the Gospel progresses and Jesus continues to repeat this point St John switches from “phago” to “trogo” which not only means to eat but to literary gnaw, or to rip food with your teeth.
No wander today’s Gospel records some of the followers of Jesus saying “This teaching is to hard…who can accept it?! How can it be that this man will give us his own flesh to eat and his own blood to drink?” I’m sure some of them thought “Is he out if his mind? Does he really mean what he is saying? “ Many had trouble accepting this teaching to the point that, the Gospel say, many went back to their old way of life because of these words!
My brothers and sisters, throughout the centuries many have had a lot of trouble accepting this teaching. Many have tried to soften the words of Jesus. They have tried to say that Jesus was speaking symbolically, that he was somehow speaking about His spiritual body (whatever that means) and not His real body. But the reality is that when you read this passage with the eyes of the apostle John… there is no way around it… Jesus is talking about eating His real flesh and drinking His real blood. The question is: what are we to do with this idea? I think the safest thing we can do is to follow Jesus advice from the same chapter of John. “The work of God is that you believe in the one The Father has sent”.
Now you will agree with me when I say that, human beings have the habit of wanting to understand something before they can believe in this something. This works fine when we are talking about politics or science but when we talk about Jesus we are talking about the living God. He challenges us; he demands from us that we believe before we can understand! In today’s Gospel when he says that “ it is the spirit that gives life but the flesh is useless” he is telling us that our senses, those things we use to gather information so that we can understand before we allow ourselves to believe are useless, when we are talking about the bread of live. Only our faith can bring us to an understanding of its meaning.
There is a clear example of this in today’s Gospel; when Jesus asks the disciples if they too are going to abandon Him, and Peter answers “Whom can we go? You have words of eternal life!” He did not say “You have the bread that gives of eternal life” “Or you are the bread of eternal life” but “you have WORDS of eternal life”. He is telling Jesus “listen I have no idea how you are going to give us your flesh and blood but, one thing I know: you always speak the truth… You will find a way!” Of course we know that he fulfilled these words during the last supper, when he turned the bread and the wine into his body and blood… but he went further… He gave the apostles the power to repeat this miracle and to this day, in every mass we witness the transformation of bread and wine, simple elements, the work of human hands, into the most precious substance in the universe!!! The true body and true blood of Jesus Christ our lord!
My brothers and sisters…This is our faith…This is the faith of the church…When we come to the altar and the minister says “the body of Christ” and we answer “Amen” we are making a public declaration that we believe in the reality that Our Lord Jesus has given the Church the power to transform the bread and wine into His own body, blood soul and divinity and that we believe that this IS the true body of Christ. And this faith does not come from a cryptic reading of the Gospel, or from hundreds of years of theological argumentation and refinement. It comes right from the words of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John. We might not be able to explain it, and we will never be able to understand it. But it does not matter, because like Peter, we know that Jesus always speaks the truth. “Blessed be Jesus in the most holy Sacrifice of the Altar” AMEN.

18Th Sunday of Ordinary Time

This homily is the first part of a two part homily I preached this summer. The second part follows.

Do you remember last’s week’s gospel reading? What was it about? (I bet you did not expect a pop quiz at church today!) It was….The miracle of the multiplication of the bread, which happens to be the first few lines of the 6 chapter in the Gospel according to John.
Now Father might have mentioned this last week but starting last Sunday and for a period of 5 Sundays the Gospel reading will be snippets from this chapter, so you can bet that if the Church spends 5 weeks in just one chapter of scripture it must be a pretty important one right? It is so important that although broken in 5 parts all these readings must be taken as one long story that I hope you will take time to read during the week.
So, today what I’m going to do is to take a look at this reading line by line, to get us ready for what lies ahead in the next few weeks. To borrow from our Protestant brothers and sisters, if you want, pick up the missal and follow with me go ahead. The reading goes:
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Now, since we are following the story started last week, taken by itself this passage does not make any sense, why are they asking Jesus the time when he got there? Here is what we missed (Which by the way is the only part of this chapter we will not read in the 5 week period I mentioned), after the multiplication of the bread, Jesus went by himself to pray and the disciples took the only available boat to the other side of the lake. The next morning the people that had been fed by the miraculous bread, took on boats toward the other side of the lake looking for the apostles. When they arrived to the other shore they were astonished, because Jesus was there… they have seen only the apostles leave. How did Jesus make it to the other side? They did not know that during the night the apostles had seen Jesus walking over the waters. This is why they ask him “when did you get here”. So, Jesus answers them:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”
It is clear that Jesus can read what is in their hearts. He knows they do not care about his miracles; the only reason why they went to the trouble of crossing the lake was because they wanted more food! Which is understandable because at the times of Jesus food was not easy to find. And here Jesus gives them the first lesson of the day: he tells them “do not trouble yourself searching for normal food” Seek spiritual food instead, my words, the signs and wanders I do… these things are good for your soul…these will sustain you for all eternity. This is food that only the one sent by God the Father can provide.
So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Hearing Jesus talk about this food which “will endure for all eternity” they figure there must be something they will have to do to get it, because in their minds the only way to earn God’s favor was by performing some kind of act like a temple’s sacrifice. So Jesus knowing this gives them the second lesson of the day: He answers:
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
The only thing you have to do is very simple: Believe in what I say. That is it! Just listen to my words and follow them. But what happened next? Listen to what they say:
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
They do not believe him! Jesus is telling them how to get this food and they go back to wanting him to proof who he is by… Feeding them again! The only thing in their minds was the free meal!
Now you might be thinking … boy, these people were really dense... But if you think about it... we all at one time or another have treated God in the same way. How many times have we tried to make deals with God? ” Lord, I will believe your words… but only on my own terms”. Now, what comes next, is Jesus third lesson of the day. He says:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Which if you think about it, is another way of saying “Stop thinking with your stomach and start thinking with your head!” The bread of life which comes from heaven and gives eternal life is given to you for free by God the Father. No deals, no temple sacrifices, the only thing you have to do believe what I’m going to say to you! After this they finally realize what Jesus is saying and they ask:
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
To which Jesus gives the last and most important lesson of the day:
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
Imagine the surprise of the people listening to Jesus when he uttered these words. For us Catholics to hear Jesus call himself the bread of life is second nature, but to them, for these people that were expecting perhaps some kind of special bread, to hear Jesus call himself The Bread of Life must have been very confusing! I’m sure many of then though “he could not possibly be talking about heating his flesh and drinking his blood”. But we all know what he meant. He IS the bread of life that comes down from heaven and gives eternal life to the world! And the only thing we have to do is believe in his words! And up to this date we express this belief by eating His real flesh and drinking his real blood in the Eucharist at every mass in every Catholic Church in the world.
Now, If you keep reading on, you will see what happens when Jesus becomes more adamant about the necessity of for eating his flesh and drinking his blood, but for that you will have to come to mass for next 3 week. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

12 Sunday of Ordinary Time

I preached this Homily during Father's day which happened to be the day our youth took to their summer work camp. The reading comes from Mt 4:24-31.
I would like to congratulate all the Fathers here with us today. May you have a most blessed day with your loved ones… I’m a Dad too, so you will understand me when I say… enjoy Fathers day…we are all in this together… Now… today’s Gospel reminded me of my childhood… now I have to give you a bit of background, so you know what I’m talking about. Having lived in the Caribbean the first part of my life, I learned as a child that storms… Especially big tropical storms like Hurricanes could be very scary.
I remember one time I heard on the news that people in the coast of Louisiana and Texas like to hold hurricanes parties, and I could not for the life of me figure why? Imagine yourself locked up in your house for 8 to 12 hours with an angry animal trying to get into your home, and you will have an idea of what I’m talking about. Hurricanes winds can reach speeds way above 100 miles an hour. So believe it or not, rain falls horizontally, so when you are locked in your home in the middle of a cyclone it is as if someone is trying to break into your house, using a fire hose full blast to break open the doors and the windows. The sound of the howling wind will not let you sleep. There is not communication. The phones do not work. There is no power. If it is night and you do not have candles or flash light you are in complete darkness… except for the lightning of thunder. The pressure changes so very fast under these conditions that unsecured doors, like closets and cabinets, open or slam without warning.
As I was reflecting on today’s Gospel I kept remembering those days and how, me and my sister experienced some of this. But the fact is… I cannot remember a time in which we were scared. As a child in our little 3 room, one story house, even in the worst of storms, we always felt quite safe. It really did not matter how scary the wind and the rain in the outside were, in our home, with our parents there next to us, we always felt at peace.
Now, today’s reading has been used to show how Jesus had command not only of demons and sickness but of the elements themselves. The wind and the sea are symbols of the cosmic forces that are always trying to destroy our fragile human existence, and Jesus calming of the seas and storms are a proof to us that he is in-fact the son of God and the master of all creation. But I like to give to this reading another interpretation… I like to think that perhaps, it is not that the wind and the waves stopped at Jesus command, but that when Jesus was with the apostles, things that seemed terrifying like the wind and waves, the lightning and the thunder, did not look as scary as they once did. Like my sister and me, who felt secure in our little home in the middle of a raging hurricane in the darkness, the presence of Jesus had a quiet and peaceful effect on the apostles.
My brothers and sisters, this is a lesson we should apply in our lives. Of course here in Maryland we might never experience the full brunt of a hurricane like the ones in my childhood, but in our lives we all experience other types of storms. We cannot deny that sometimes our souls are in great turmoil. Scary things happen to us at times. A sudden sickness , the loss of a job, the loss of a love one, an unexpected accident, the betrayal of a friend, the separation that sometimes happens in a family, either because of divorce, school, vacation, even a situation like today in which we are sending our young people to their annual work camp. I’m sure Ted and his crew will take good care of them, but I’m willing to bet there is more than one parent here, that is having a tough time dealing with being away from their child a whole week. All these things could be scary; some of them can even throw us into the middle of a raging storm of fear and uncertainty. Life can make us as scared and confused as the apostles that night in the middle of the lake in Galilee. These are the moments to call upon Jesus to be with us, so that His presence gives us courage to deal with all of our fears. Our problems might not go away, the situation might stay the same, but like the wind and the waves that night for the apostles; they will not scare us anymore. It does not matter how big our troubles are, in the presence of Jesus we will always encounter the peace and the great stillness that we all crave for.
Now I will like to end today by specifically talking to Dads (and moms too) I want you to remember something very important: when your children are scared, they will look up to you for comfort. If you do not have peace yourself; how can you give that which you do not have? Always call upon Jesus to help you when you are dealing with your own fears and the fears of others. Always trust in him and you too will experience the peace and stillness his presence brings in the middle of raging storms. Happy father’s day…