Saturday, April 16, 2011

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

One of the many jobs I do at St Michael’s is teaching the Baptismal preparation class for parents that want to baptize their babies. Most of the time I start my classes with the same question “Why do you want to baptize your baby?” and most of the time couples have a really hard time articulating goods reasons for this decision. I get a lot of “Because is important” or “Because that is what Catholics do”. Every once in a while I get a couple or a parent who remembers their Catechism respond “Because I want to remove the stain of original sin from my baby”. The most common answer I get is “Because I want my baby to become a child of God”, which for them it means that they want their baby to experience the salvation promised by Jesus through the waters of Baptism. However what these parents do not realize at the moment is that becoming a child of God has another deeper meaning. It means that by the waters of Baptism their little babies become part of a bigger, much bigger family; a family which expands through out the world and across time all the way back to the apostles and martyrs.
Of course I do not expect everyone to go through life thinking about this great extended family we all belong to. In fact I’m willing to bet most of us never do. But what I find interesting, what amazes me about the Church and especially this parish is that although hardly ever we think of ourselves as a family, never the less, most of the time we behave as one!
I can not tell you how many times I have heard people say that here at St Michael’s they feel welcomed or how many times they have commented to me about how friendly people are in our parish. But it is not only in the friendliness of this parish were I see us as a family, it is in the times in which we all get together and bring our skills, what Ftr. Mike likes to calls our time and treasure to accomplish what needs to be done, without expecting a reward. There are not better examples of this than the Grace under fire capita campaign we just concluded, and the way people pour their time and efforts to make the Hoe Down a success year after year. My brothers and sisters I thank God for the great privilege of been not only your deacon but a member of this great family of ours.
However (and there is always a however) we should remember that our family is not just the people that gather with us every Sunday to worship God. Like I mentioned before our family extends beyond the geographical area of our parish. In the same way we are members of the St Michael’s family because of the waters of baptism we are also members of the family that is the Archdiocese of Baltimore, lead by Archbishop Bishop Edwin O’Brian. And in the same way our St Michael’s family needed us when the roof in the machine room leaks or the HVAC system is about to die, our Archdiocese family needs our help. Next weekend marks the beginning Archbishop O’Brian annual appeal, and the weekend after that it will be the follow-up weekend. My appeal to you today is for you to think about our extended family in the archdiocese. The money collected in this yearly appeal will be used to fund Catholic schools, religious education and vacation bible schools. Contributions help to underwrite the archdiocese office of Youth and Young Adult ministry, and fund outreach and evangelization through the office of Hispanic ministry and international support to Haiti, as well as more than 80 charities which compose the Catholic Charities organization. And if you think that we will never see the products of these annual campaign, I want to let you know that me and Deacon Cliff are products of your good will and generous contributions, since in the 4 years of our education to become deacons we only had to pay for our books, everything else was defrayed by the archdiocese.
Now I know how many of you have sacrificed of your treasure to make the Grace Under Fire and the upcoming Hoe Down a success this year, specially in these hard economic times. But I ask you to look upon your heart and think on our greater family and that in prayerful consideration you open your heart to the appeal of our Bishop to help our Archdiocese continue to serve those members of our church family that need help are less fortunate than us. God Bless you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

4th Sunday of Advent

The fourth week of Advent is usually the shortest week before the feast of Christmas. This year however is different… this year we have to wait a whole week before the big day. To some of us perhaps these last few days before Xmass are starting to look frantic; travel plans need to be completed, presents need to be wrapped, cards need to be mailed, cookies need to be backed… it feels like one week is not just enough!
Every year during our Advent journey the Church encourages us not to lose ourselves in the frantic pace of this time but to keep our eyes in what really matters, what is really important. For the last two Sundays we have heard about John the Baptist, a voice crying in the desert “make straight the paths of the Lord”. During this time the Church has used his voice to plead with us to remember what the real reason for Christmas is. The birth of our savior and the promise that some day he will return again for His Church… and every year some of us get to this last few days of advent thinking that there is still so much to do!
So this week, just as we get closer and closer to the celebration of Xmas, just as things are about to become more hectic… the Church changes the tone and gives us another man in the Sunday readings, to help us walk the rest of the way.
Today we meet someone completely different to John. We meet, St. Joseph the quiet carpenter of Galilee, the foster father of Jesus. Someone we can all relate to; a hard working man, protector of the holy family. A humble and simple man with the greatest responsibility ever, to teach the Son of God how to be a Man. Joseph is not like John, he speaks no words, but in his silence he resounds as loudly as John the Baptizer cries in the wilderness.
In this last week of advent, a time in which we can easily loose ourselves in the stress and anxiety of this season he comes to us with a fatherly and simple message: “Measure twice, cut once”
You see Joseph was first and foremost a craftsman, someone used to work with his hands, someone who recognized the value of quiet patience and careful consideration. I’m sure there are many craftsmen and women here today that understand the wisdom of quiet reflection before getting committed.
In today’s reading we can clearly see that for St. Joseph these were more than words, this it was a way of life! As the careful craftsman he was he applied this lesson to his whole life. You see, it is apparent that Joseph loved Mary deeply, and that when he heard about Mary’s pregnancy he began to struggle with what to do. He could react badly and report Mary’s pregnancy to the authorities. This was his right, but after careful consideration he chose the most sensitive course of action, an action that would satisfy his honor as a man and safe guard Mary’s dignity and perhaps even her own life. He chose to divorce her quietly and protect her from the authorities.
The careful craftsman measures twice and cuts once. The careful Christian thinks about what they are going to do or say twice and them make sure that their actions reflect the lessons of the Gospel, that their words and actions are sensitive and do not hurt or embarrass others.
And I think, my brothers and sisters that especially ina time in which people are so stressed by all the things that still need to be done, St Joseph example is one we can all follow.
During this season in which we have to deal perhaps with stressed bosses or teachers, with coworkers or even strangers in the street, a time in which we might meet with relatives that somehow manage to get the worst out of us let us Measure our words and actions twice before we do or say something we might regret later.
It is very easy to do or say the first thing that comes to mind, but to stop and think twice before we act, and to always follow the way of the Gospel, which after all is the way of unconditional love, that my brothers and sisters is following St. Joseph’s example, that is what is means to be a follower of Christ.
So in this week in which I know many of us will have an opportunity to put these words into action let us pray that through the intersection of St. Joseph, protector of the holy family and the Church, we can follow the example of this quiet and humble man, So that we have a joyful and peaceful Christmas and be a blessing to all those who we might encounter this season. Amen

Monday, April 11, 2011

1st Sunday of Advent

One of the main points I try to make when I talk to people in the RCIA program, which are preparing to join the Church in Easter, is that being a Catholic is not something you do but something you become. To join the Church is much more than just following a bunch of rituals and rules. It is embracing a new identity, a new way of looking at the world, at ourselves and our relationship with the creator.
I bring this today, being the first Sunday of Advent, because I think that the few weeks before Xmas day is a period in which every faithful Catholic struggles with the dilemma of keeping this identity while living in an environment saturated by what is universally known as “The Spirit of the Season”.
30 years ago (and I’m dating myself) It used to be that the beginning of this season coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the Catholic season of Advent. However, since them our society has been subjected to a process of what I call “The de-Christianization of Christmas”, a process in which we are openly encouraged to embrace the “Spirit of the Holydays” while making make sure that we keep the celebration of Jesus Christ and His birth a private, and personal matter.
It is sad to say that in some ways this process has been so effective that in this day and age, you can spend the whole Christmas season immersed in the “Spirit of the Holydays” without encountering once our Lord Jesus, the Virgin birth, the shepherds, the wise men or the star of Bethlehem.
Of course the removal of the Christian element has created a huge vacuum in our culture, a vacuum which has been filled by a completely new and sometimes strange mythology around the celebration of Christmas. To the point that, as a culture, we have replaced what is real with what is fake, made up, and only encourages us to think about ourselves and our own personal needs.
Let me show you what I mean, like I mentioned before, it used to be that the beginning of Advent corresponded almost exactly with the beginning of the Christmas season. Today the official start of Christmas is sometime between Halloween and Back Friday, mostly dictated by when stores like Walmart or JC Penny’s fill their shelves with Christmas ornaments. Since it is not socially acceptable to refer to anything which deals with the birth of our Lord, our culture’s has developed the idea of “The Holydays”, which has produced such wonderful Xmas moments as early morning stampedes on the day after Thanksgiving to real Xmas classics such as “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” and “All I want for Xmass is my two front teeth”.
My brothers and sisters I’m not trying to be scrooge here, but to point out the fact that in this day and age, if we Catholics embrace the “Christmas Season” we are constantly exposed to, we will be abandoning our identity as followers of Jesus, as people who wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior.
Now do not think for a second that our Lord Jesus did not know this was going to be the case. In today’s Gospel He reminds us of the times of Noah, A time in which people eat and drank and celebrated without giving God a second though while Noah and his family worked laboriously preparing themselves to the coming judgment. The Lord reminds us that we, his people, also need to be constantly ready, joyfully expecting his return.
The 4 weeks before Christmas day, the season of Advent, should be days of intense spiritual preparation, in personal recognition for what should be one of the holiest times of the year, the anniversary of the incarnation of the son of God, Emanuel, God in the flesh which foretells His glorious return at the end of time.
Like I said before, I’m not saying that we should play the scrooge during this time of the year as a way of avoiding the “The Spirit of the Season”. On the contrary, we should embrace our Catholic identity, and bring this identity into our homes and out in the public square, because after all, Christmas is OUR celebration. Without Christianity, without the Church, without Jesus there would be no Christmas.
And to do this my brothers and sisters what I’m talking about is for us to return to the basics. I invite you, during this time; make the birth of Jesus the center of your own life and you family’s. Get a Christmas wreath and light the candles every night during dinner. Place a nativity set in a place of honor in your house and every day you or your kids, move Mary and Joseph around your home to remind you of their long journey to Bethlehem, read the nativity story or the story of St Nicholas Bishop of Myra, who will secretly throw money through the windows of the poor, and miraculously land inside the stockings hanging by the fire to dry. Or what about this, make a point to instead of using generic “Season Greetings” cards, use Cards which have a Christ centered message.
There are so many ways in which we can embrace our Catholic identity during this time, ways in which we can show the world who we are and what does it means to wait and hope for the salvation promised by the prophets. The things we do during this time of expectant preparation might be rejected by our culture but at the end of the day these things have an infinitely more spiritual richness than anything the “Spirit of the season” has to offer to us.
I hope that these words today encourage you to embrace your identity as a follower of Jesus and pray that this is truly a time of multiple spiritual blessings for you and your family. And from me and my family have a blessed and Happy Advent!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

In Jesus times our Lord was followed by many types of people, there were the poor and the sick which came to him for healing and hope. There were the priests and scribes who came to him for his words of wisdom and authority. There were the Romans who every once in awhile crossed paths with him and his disciples. However the Gospels records two specific groups which interacted frequently with him: The Pharisees and the Sadducees. With the Pharisees our Lord had kind of a “love hate” relationship. On one hand, some of them found common ground with his teachings, like the resurrection of the dead; others showed admiration at his knowledge of the law and scriptures. And Jesus too was very fond of some Pharisees, like Simon who invited him to have dinner at his house. However, Jesus was not shy about condemning their actions and calling them hypocrites and “the blind leading the blind”. The Sadducees on the other hand… well…if there was a group that constantly antagonized our Lord it was the Sadducees.
In scripture we hear of them always trying to catch Jesus in a contradiction, or teaching doctrine which went against the Law. Who were these people that thought they could trap Jesus with their questions? And why where they always trying to entrap him in the first place? Well, the Sadducees were members of the priestly families of Jerusalem. They exercised an immense authority over the daily life of the people, an authority that was based exclusively upon their wealth and birth right. They were very strict in their beliefs, they only accepted the first 5 books of the bible and viewed the writings of the Prophets and other authors of in the Old Testament as less in value than the words of Moses. They were draconian in their interpretation of the Law. For them “an eye for an eye” meant just that, they had no sense of what proportionality in the way they administered punishment.
Because of all this there were many points of disagreement between them and Jesus. The Sadducees denied the concept of life after death, they thought that bodily resurrection, and most doctrines concerning the existence of angels and demons, where just plain non sense. So when Jesus went around teaching these ideas to the same people which lived under their religious yoke, they took it as a challenge to their authority and beliefs. So unlike the Pharisees which found common ground with some of our Lord teachings, the Sadducees, were often angered by his words, and did everything they could to antagonize him in front of the people.
In today’s readings we get a glimpse at the amount of contempt they felt for our Lord and His teachings. As we see in the first reading from the 2nd Book of Maccabeus, the teaching of the resurrection of the death was an ancient belief of the Jewish people. A belief which brought great comfort and hope for the Jewish nation in times of great distress. The certainty that some day they will become alive again and reunite with their loved ones made them capable enduring incredible persecutions and even dying horrible deaths for their faith. Not until the Catholic Martyrs of the first and second century will we see people suffering as much as these young men did for their faith. Why would the first Christians be willing to give their lives for their beliefs? Because Jesus confirms them in these same beliefs by teaching about the end of the world and the hope of an eternal reward for those who have faith in him. The Sadducees on the other hand take this hope and twist it, they mock it by asking hypothetical questions like what we hears in today’s Gospel: “If we are all to resurrect, how are we to sort out the obvious problems that arise when those who have lost loved ones continue living?” This question shows contempt and complete disregard of the only hope the poor and sick received from Jesus words.
I have to tell you my brothers and sisters, and I know I’m repeating myself but, in two thousand years things have changed very little. We Christians of the 21 first century still have to contend with the contempt and mockery of our beliefs, not from Saduceess but from atheists, secularists and agnostics. This is why Jesus answer brings great hope to us today. “Those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming world and to the resurrection of the death…they can no longer die…they are the children of God”
To me what is most important of these words is not what they say but what they imply. To Jesus, the resurrection of the death is a reality, it is an event that will happen, it is our destiny and our right as children of God. The sun and the moon might pass but His words will never pass.
As a member of the human race I can tell you, fearing death is natural, our bodies or perhaps the bodies of our parents and grandparents, or of a sick loved one, are growing old and slowly decaying. Some of us might be looking at the end of our lives or the lives of our loved ones with apprehension, perhaps we see this period in our lives as a time of suffering, hopelessness and misery, when in fact like the men in first reading show to us, the end of our life, of any life, is a period to test our faith in Jesus words.
The last thing we need, my brothers and sisters, is to be discouraged by the words of those who do not have faith, and do not believe in the promises or our Lord Jesus. Today’s two readings are a reminder of the reality of life, of the fullness of our life which do not end with our last breath but keeps going on, until the day in which we all will encounter ourselves together again in the great eternal celebration that awaits for us in heaven.
Old age and sickness are just parts of living; they prepare us for the life to come and allow those who are around us to show us their loved and fidelity. The end is just a wonderful beginning, promised by our Lord to those who hold to the end, and there is no, or atheist, agnostic, secularist or Sadducee in the world that can change that fact. Amen

Thursday, April 7, 2011

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

I'm slowly adding all the homilies I have not uploaded since last September. Here the one for the 26th Sunday. Hopeful I'll add another one before the end of the week.

I don’t like the prophet Amos. For one thing he is kind of blunt in his approach to prophesying and comes across as someone who does not care about offending the sensibilities of his readers. But I think the reason why I dislike him the most is because he makes me uncomfortable with his words, especially when he speaks about the complacent sitting in their couches, eating fine foods, drinking wine and listening to music, while they ignore the plead of the poor.
I rather read to Isaiah, now there is a prophet for me! I love to hear his great descriptions of the messiah. The problem I have with Amos is that he hits to close for comfort, with his reminders that although we might be living a seemingly secure and comfortable life, we cannot become complacent, because like Jesus said the poor will always be with us and God, who loves everyone in the same way, hears the cries of their cries.
Now on Amos favor, I have to say that, because the way he comes across, it is very easy to dismiss him as someone which dislikes the rich, specially those who are to be blessed by an easy life, but in fact what he really talks against is people who enjoy the blessings God has bestowed in them, while forgeting those who are less fortunate. His fight is clearly with those people that choose to think that taking care of the poor is the responsibility of someone else. And on this point Jesus and the prophet Amos echo each other.
We see this in today’s gospel, the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. In this story Jesus shows us that the great sin of the rich man is not that he was rich but that he became so content with his own live that the suffering of Lazarus, which lived right at his doorstep, became invisible. And this is the same attitude Amos condemns.
As Christians we are all called to secure justice for the oppressed. As the Church of Jesus Christ, we are expected to give voice to those who like Lazarus are invisible and have no voice. You, me, Bishop O’Brian and even Pope Benedict are all called not to forget the suffering of the poor and when necessary to make sure that the comfortable and the complacent do not forget the voices of our brothers and sisters that are suffering.
I’m sure that the vast majority of you agree with me in these points, but perhaps more than one might be thinking, what can I do to show that I have not forgotten those less fortunate? Should I quit my job and go and volunteer in a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen? Should I increase my offering to the poor? I do not think this is what the Lord has in mind for us today. I think that what the lord wants from us is solidarity with the less fortunate. What do I mean? The Lord wants us to look at the poor, the unborn, the elderly, the homeless, and the hungry not as someone we might be able to help by increasing our offering but as our own brothers and sisters. Once we can do this then helping them becomes, not an obligation, but a necessity. Once we accomplish this, then the Holy Spirit will guide us in what is the best way in which we can use our resources to help them, but for this, we need to stop looking at those who suffer as “Them” and start seen them as “Us”.
In a world in which the value of human life is defined by how much a person can produce, and in which the weakest members of our society do not have a voice of their own. The Church, all of us, are called to stand next to them in solidarity and exclaim “We hear the cries of the poor”, and today, the Good Lord has given us Amos the annoying, prophet, to reminds us who we are and what are we all called to do. Amen.

Monday, April 4, 2011

1st Sunday of Lent

Wow! I can believe its been so long! Hopefully in the next few days I will post the rest of my homilies since back in September. Here is my last homily from a few weeks ago.
We have all heard that a journey of 1000 miles starts with the first step, what we are never told is the large amount of preparation that happens before taking that first step. I bring this up because as members of the Church of Christ, the season of lent is one of preparation, preparation for our own "Journey of a 1000 Miles" which starts Holy Thursday and ends Easter morning. And for people who profess love for our Lord, this three day journey should be a grueling one. It is a journey in which we accompany Jesus as he gives himself to us in the Eucharist on Holy Thursday only to be paid by betrayal, and, abandonment on holy Friday. It is a journey in which we become silent witnesses as we see him, scourged, humiliated, tortured and finally nailed to a cross and left to die like a common criminal; all because of our own personal sins. This is a trip that should not be taken lightly. How am I going to get ready? What do I need to do to be prepared to experience these days?
The church as the good mother she is, calls us to a 40 day period of preparation for what lays ahead. First with the ashes of penance to remind us of our own mortality, and in this first Sunday of lent, by calling us to meditate on the things we need to take care, the things we need to fix in our lives to approach these days with the solemnity they deserve. And there is no better way to do this than looking at one of the most basic experiences of our fallen human nature, at the one thing we can all relate, the one thing we all experience day after day: temptation.
In today’s first reading we see clearly what effects temptation can have when we give away to our selfish desires and disobey God’s commands. But it is in the Gospel where we truly learn what temptation is and how it presents onto us. When Satan asks Jesus to change the rocks into bread, our Lord is suffering the lowest and most basic level of temptation: Temptations of the flesh. We know this type very well, we see it, almost every time we watch TV commercials, or look at advertisements. We are tested in this way every time someone or something caters to our most basic desires, our most basic animal instincts, hunger, lust, the desire for comfort and luxury.
The second type of temptation Jesus experiences are what I call Temptations of the Mind. Satan says “If you are the son of God throw yourself down and the angels will catch you”. These types of temptations address our self image; they take our basic human need to be recognized and loved, and turn it into a need to show “how much better we are than others”. These are the temptations we suffer when we feel the need to show others that we are smarter, bigger, faster, or that we have more money, a better car or a bigger house, and when we fall to these we commit acts of pride which is the source of all other sins.
Lastly Satan tested Jesus with what I call a Temptation of the Soul “I will give you all this if you worship me” These are the temptations we suffer at the core of our beings, the ones that cause the sins that can enslave us because we take the divine light that is in our souls, since our baptism and suffocate it with own selfish desires. Pornography, adultery, alcoholism, they take God out of the center of our lives and replace him with our own selfish pleasures. They make us stop worshiping the creator and start worshiping the creature.
My brothers and sisters, like the good Lord in the Gospel reading, we are all tempted. But unlike him, we have all fallen to our own selfish desires. And in this first Sunday of Lent, the church invites us to confront this reality so that we can begin to heal the devastating effects of sin, so that we can get ready for the journey ahead.
There is one temptation I have not mentioned, the temptation to think that God will not forgive us, that our sins are so embarrassing, so terrible that we are ashamed of thinking about them and even worst to speak them out loud. But this is precisely what we need to do, we need to confront our failures and speak them at loud, only them can we start the process taking away the power our sins have gained over us.
I think that this temptation is at the core of all the people that refuse, delay or just plain ignore the sacrament of reconciliation. People that think that they can confess to God on their own, or that refuse to confess because “they do not know what to say” or even worst that they do not need to be reconciled to God because they are “good people”; all of them fooling themselves because at the end of the day we are all tempted and we all fall. And if you do not know where to start, how about confessing those temptations that make you struggle?
In this Lenten season, why not approach this great sacrament? Every Wednesday night from 7 to 8:30, the light will be on for you, Father Mike will be here, waiting to hear your confessions and on April 13 at 7:30 we will have a number of priests for our annual Lenten Penance Service. I invite you to take advantage of these opportunities during this period of preparation for the Easter Tridum and to not delay on receiving the mercy of God which is waiting for you in this most precious Sacrament, so you too can be ready for the journey ahead. Amen