Monday, December 22, 2014

2nd Week of Advent (Cycle B)

First Reading:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God.

I rejoice heartily in the LORD,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,
like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,
like a bride bedecked with her jewels.

As the earth brings forth its plants,
and a garden makes its growth spring up,
so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise
spring up before all the nations.

   My brothers and sisters; welcome to the third Sunday of Advent also called "Gaudete Sunday" a day in which we are reminded by the festive liturgical color of Rose that we must rejoice because the Lord is almost here. Personally, I think this Sunday could not come any sooner, as I imagine that by now some of us might be reaching a saturation point. Many of us might still have a long list of things to do before Christmas and not enough time to do them, So; I will like to take his opportunity to tell you that if by now you do not have all of your Christmas lights out, or your cards in the mail, or your ginger cookies and houses made, or one of the other hundred little things we convince ourselves we have to get done in order to have the "perfect Christmas"; if we feel we are still "not ready"... Well,,, There is a strong possibility that some of these things will not get done in time.
  Now since this is Church and we are supposed to support and encourage each other I figure it will help if I share my own experience this year, specially as it comes to setting the Christmas tree at home, a few days ago. This year our family decided to invite some old friends to help us decorate our tree, so of course about an hour before people were due to arrive I dragged our 15 year old plastic Christmas tree out of its resting place in our basement and started setting it up. This is when I discovered that long sections of the string lights which are built into the three were not lighting, resulting in a tree with some very noticeable dark areas.
  Like I mentioned before, this year we invited some dear friends to come and help decorate the tree; a family we have known since before we all had children. As I heard them knocking at the door I accepted the fact that I had no time to fix the dark parts in the tree so with much sorrow in the heart and embarrassment in the face I gave up and decided to go with the tree as it was. After telling my sad story to our guests we all had a good laugh (at my expense) and proceeded to busy ourselves with placing the ornaments in our little tree. I took a step back to watch as the ribbons and ornaments kept finding their places and realized that the old raggedy plastic tree I had just dragged from the basement was no more. In its place stood a beautiful Christmas tree filled with the light and the love given by two generations of dear friends who have seen my kids and their kids grow together as one big family. To some our tree might not win an award, or make it to the cover of a magazine, but to our two families which have lived a whole lifetime together, this tree was the best present we could offer to one another... And you know what my brothers and sisters? It was one of the most beautiful presents we have given to one another in a long, long time.
  This is the message of today’s first reading, in this Gaudete Sunday. The Spirit of the Lord is the spirit of love, it brings joy to anything we do, if what we do, we do for love of others; it makes our heart rejoice not by the quality or the expense of what we are doing but by the meaning it has for us. When we do things out of love, the spirit of the Lord possesses us and clothes us with a rove of salvation and wraps me and my efforts within a mantle of justice.
  So in this Gaudete Sunday, ten days before Christmas, if you are feeling overwhelmed by all the things we still have to do; I'm here to tell you: It doesn’t matter... It doesn't matter if our tree is not the most handsome, or our house is not the one with the most Christmas lights, or if our plans do not go according to what we had in mind, or if we never get to realize our idea of what the "perfect Christmas" is supposed to be. What matters is that we pour our love into the things we get to do, because when the spirit of love enters into what we are doing, even if it is not the biggest, the most beautiful, or the most expensive thing;  our love will take what we are doing and transform it into something adorned with a diadem and bedecked with jewels...Something that comes from our very selves.
  Gaudete Sunday is a time to rejoice! REOICE AND BE GLAD MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS!! The Lord will be reborn in our hearts in just a few days! Forget about the million things we still have to do, and allow the Spirit of God, the spirit of love transform the few things we get to do into what really matters. Assure you if you do this, this year of all years, you will experience the "Perfect Christmas".

  From my family to yours, may you have a much blessed season of Advent and a very Merry Christmas Season!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christ the King (Cycle A)

   The Gospel reading for this week is very important. It is not an accident that the Church has selected this reading for the last Sunday in the liturgical year. Today we hear Jesus last public words to the crowds who were following Him. The gospel of Matthew tells us that after this, last public speech, given in Jerusalem; in just a few short days, The Lord would be dead, hanging on a cross. So today’s reading could be viewed as the culmination of Jesus message to the world.
   Now if we were to take all of Jesus’ teachings during his public ministry and were to give it a name, I think the best way of describing it would be as “The Law of Love”. In fact we can compress Jesus message into just a few very familiar statements. Love God with all your heart, your entire mind and all your soul, be a neighbor to all, and love all as yourself, love and pray for your enemies.
   Up to this moment in the ministry of Jesus, this Law of Love has been directed towards things we can easily identify: God, our neighbors, and our enemies. Today in this last message to the crowds Jesus directs us to go one step further. To this short list of statements about whom and how to love he adds one more element: Love those who for a better word we could call “Strangers”.
   Like I said, up to this moment it is easy to know who Jesus has been telling us to love.  We all have an idea of who God is, and we also have a pretty good idea, even if we do not know them personally, of whom our enemies and our neighbors might be, but “strangers” are something completely different. Strangers are people that we do not meet by accident, in fact these strangers are people who for one reason or another, either because they are sick, or in prison, or naked or hungry cannot be met were we normally meet others. To love these strangers we have to leave our circle of comfort and find them because they cannot leave their situation to find us.
   In our society we have taken this large mass of faceless strangers and turned them into a statistic. We clump them together and use phrases such as “the sick”, “the hungry”, “the homeless”, “the imprisoned”. “the immigrant”, to refer to them.
   What Jesus is doing with this final element of His “Law of love” is making sure no one, not one person, is left out from our responsibility to love them.  Those which are faceless, ignored or forgotten by others have become our responsibility, and it is up to us to find these “strangers” and love them as we would love our neighbors as we would like to be loved ourselves if we were in their situation.
   For Christians, for true followers of The Lord, Today’s gospel is one of the most challenging readings in the Gospel!   It demands deep reflection from us: how well and how much do I love? And I’m not talking about the kind of love that makes us feel good about ourselves, the kind of love which is easy to achieve. The love Jesus is demanding from us today is not a warm fuzzy feeling, but an act of the will. Is a love in which we must force ourselves into.
   But you know what is most amazing about this radical love for the stranger in need?  It brings us back to the very first of the Laws of Love!  The Lord tells us that in helping the stranger we help him; In going out and loving the stranger; we encounter Jesus himself, whom we have to love with all of our heart, all of our mind and all of our soul. The more we love the stranger the more we fulfill the very essence of the Law of Love.
   By now you might be thinking “ok, but how I, in my own little life can fulfill this command to love the stranger”? Well, I’m glad you asked! Here at St Michael’s we have ministries which are geared specifically towards doing just this! We have for example the yearly trip to Jamaica, I talking to Ted the other day and he said that he has only 2 people interested in going! We have the Chiros ministry to the prisons. We have the pastoral visitors to the Lorian senior center, a ministry we are planning to expand to other senior centers in the area. We have the first Saturday lunches for the homeless, in which for just 1 hour a month we prepare 500 lunches for a food center in Frederick. We have trips to Our Daily bread in Baltimore for our young people, so they can helps those who are hungry every day just 33 short miles from our homes. We have our food cellar which this year delivered groceries to 48 families who cannot spend their money on luxuries like Turkey Stuffing and pumpkin pies. We need volunteers to help in our funeral ministry. All you have to do is call the office and leave your information and someone will contact you.
  My brothers and sisters, today in this feast of Christ the King, I invite you to commit yourself to fulfilling Jesus Law of Love by fulfilling the needs of those who cannot be here with us is today. Remember, by loving the stranger we are loving God Himself. May you have a blessed thanks giving with your family and loved ones. Amen.   

Sunday, October 12, 2014

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

    Today’s Gospel reading has been interpreted in many ways throughout the ages. The most common interpretation I’ve seen goes like this: The king Jesus is talking about is of course God the Father, the son who is getting married is Jesus himself, the people who were originally invited to the wedding and refused to attend were the Jewish people in the times of Jesus who did not listened to what the prophets have said about the coming messiah. The servants who were killed were these same prophets. The town who was destroyed was again the Jewish people who suffered many calamities throughout their history for not listening to the prophets. The people who were gathered from the streets were the gentiles who were given the messiah which the Jewish people had rejected.
    The beauty of Jesus parables is that they could be viewed from many different angles by peoples from different cultures and time periods; and you can always find a new meaning for them which speak to that specific time and place.   Personally, I think that the interpretation I just gave worked pretty well for the people who were listening to Jesus 2000 years ago, but (and I say this with all respect to the Word of God) it really does not resonate well to Catholic Christians living in 21st century America.
    The question is then: how can we look at this parable of the Lord and extract a message for us today?  Well, let’s start by pointing out a few things we skipped over on our first way around. Did you notice how harsh the king in this story sounds? First he sends his soldiers to destroy the town of the people who refused to attend his wedding banquet, and then he sends his soldiers to “gather all they found the good and the bad”. After he had basically forced the people on the streets to attend his party, he takes a stroll to meet the guests and finds himself in front of a poor man who does not meet his own personal standards of fashion, after embarrassing this man, he orders his servants to tie him up and throw him into the darkness. I have to tell you my brothers and sisters this king acts more in the capricious way in which King Herod or Pontius Pilate behaved than in the way we expect a merciful God to act!
  But let’s keep digging, what about this poor man who was not dressed to the liking of the King?   The parable says that when the King confronted him “He stood in silence”. And here I need to remind you of a very important detail: The Gospels record another man who stood in silence when questioned by a king. Who am I talking about? Jesus in front of Herod the day he was crucified. This man, who the parable says was tied up and thrown into the darkness reminds us of Jesus bound and thrown out of the city of Jerusalem, abandoned by his friends and left to die alone in a cross.
    Now, by now you might be thinking “wow” the deacon is really grasping for straws today. What kind of teaching can we possibly get from looking at this parable in this way?
   Well, it is a sad reality of the culture in which we live that anyone who publicly expresses an idea which goes against what is the ‘accepted narrative”, is treated like this poor man in the parable. We have reached a point in which expressing publicly an opinion against abortion, or against the legalization of homosexual unions, or assisted suicide, or any number of other cultural topics been forced down on us by the media and even our own government means public ridicule, and the risk of legal persecution and even the loss of a job or a business.  What does our culture do with anyone who expresses in public the Christian belief on the sanctity of life, the uniqueness of the union between one man and one woman, and the dignity of the human person? What happens to the ones who do not conform to the ideas of the kings of this present world?  They are bound “hands and feet, and cast into the darkness outside, where there is wailing and grinding of teeth”.
     Today’s Gospel starts with the words “ The kingdom of heaven is like”. Of course we like to think that in heaven we will be invited to a magnificent feast like today’s first reading describes “With rich foods and choice wines”, but the reality is; as long as we find ourselves in this side of heaven, we the citizens of God’s kingdom can only expect hostility and persecution by the kings of this age. The beauty of it is that we were not created for this worldly kingdom, we are citizens of the kingdom of God.
    Jesus was murdered by the kings of his time only to receive a great reward for his faithfulness to God the Father, the resurrection. Our faithfulness to our true King, will be rewarded also by the eternal wedding feast we are all invited to attend, so rejoice and be glad! The Kingdom of heaven is waiting for us!

NOTE: The main idea for this homily was taken from a sermon by Lutheran Pastor Paul J. Nuechterlein from Delivered at Prince of Peace, Portage, MI. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

  Today I will break the number one rule, all homilists are instructed never to break. I will speak about what is going on in my personal life, (but don’t worry, It is for a good cause). As many of you know by now, in less than a week, Deacon Cliff and I will be leaving on a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostle St James in the city of Santiago de Compostela, in Northern Spain. As pilgrimages go this is NOT your average trip. The day after we arrive in Spain we will take a 5 hour bus trip to the Shrine of “La Virgen del Camino”, Our lady of “The Way” there we will pray and ask for her protection as we start our 300 Km (186 mile) walk culminating in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, God willing, 17 days later. We will carry our “Pilgrims Passport” which will allow us to stay in pilgrims “alberges” (low budget Hostels ran by Churches or volunteers), it will also allow us to eat from the “Pilgrims menu” in the alberges, which are the Camino version of soup kitchens. We will share living quarters with dozens of other pilgrims every night and we will sleep in our sleeping bags, wherever they can find space for us. We will carry all of our belongings in our backs, and hopefully we will be able to take a shower every day (Although this is not a 100 assurance). Our lives will be reduced to its bare minimum since the more we pack the more we have to carry in our backs. Every day we plan to pray the liturgy of the hours in community with each other, the angelus, and will try to attend mass in the churches and shrines we will encounter in our way. All this time we will be praying for our families and for you our, St Michael family, and if you have a specific intention you would like us to take to the tomb of the Apostle just drop Cliff or me an email and we will take it with us.
  Now, you might be wandering why would a couple of middle aged guys like Deacon Cliff and I, will put ourselves through the rigors of a trip which seems to be designed for men half our age. Well, I would not like to speak for Cliff but on my part I find that the words of today’s first reading explain my desire to engage in this trip quite well: “It becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones, I grow weary holding it in, and I cannot endure it”. In my mind these words of the prophet Jeremiah describes not only my own desire, but the yearnings of all those who have decided to abandon comfort and convenience leaving behind family and friends and follow the Lord.
  In today’s Gospel Jesus states it very plainly: “Whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”
  Now, when we hear talk about our own personal crosses we tend to think of people who are struggling in life, who are sick in hospitals, who are persecuted for their faith or who are suffering with the loss of a loved one.   We do not associate those words with the high middle class life we live here in the “4 county” area. But if we read Jesus’ words very carefully, the cross is not reserved to those who suffer. The only requirement needed to embrace our crosses is the desire to follow him.
   If you are like me you are accustomed to have everything at the tip of our hands, our lives are full of resources, convenience and comfort. Now I’m not saying that these things are bad; in fact I view them as a great gift and blessing from God, but unlike those who are forced to embrace their cross through suffering, we have to make a conscientious effort, and act of the will if you may, to take our crosses. And what would the cross be for us? The volunteer abandonment of conveniences and comfort; This is not easy! This is a struggle; the temptation to get back to our easy lives is great! Just try to spend a day of “the grid” without any social media, or communications or computers and you will know what I’m talking about!

   In the Catholic Church we have a long history of spiritual discipline, of denying ourselves with prayer, fasting, and giving alms, even works of mercy like visiting the sick and consoling the suffering, could become part of embracing our crosses, if they get us out of our comfort zone and cost us an extra effort. It is easy to say that we want to follow the Lord, but when “push comes to shove”, are we ready to do what the Lord expects us to do? Are we up to the challenge? Think and pray about it, and also pray for Cliff and I so that we have a safe and spiritually rewarding trip. God bless you all.
  By abandoning the same conveniences and comforts we have received as a gift from God we are following St Peter's advice in the second reading of “offering our bodies as a living sacrifice holy end pleasing to God”, we are offering “our spiritual worship”

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Couple of Memes

     Spending some relaxing time in the Caribbean, I had the chance to photograph this year's Supper Moon . The picture turned out so good I decided to combine it with one of my favorite quotes, the problem is...I have many favorite quotes. I narrowed down to two. Since I could not make up my mind which quote to use, I used them both. Here are the result of my efforts.I hope you enjoy them and I invite you to share them as much as you want.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Sunday, July 20, 2014

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

   Today’s Gospel reading is a bit strange. First we get this beautiful image about how the kingdom of God is like a field, in which a farmer intends to grow good seed, but an enemy disturbs this plan by planting weeds among the good plants… and then Jesus does this sharp left turn and starts talking about the mustard bush and some birds making nests in it and then he makes another sharp turn an tells about a woman mixing yeast and flour to make bread, and then finally he does a complete U turn and returns to the original story to explain its meaning to His disciples.
   One might think that when St Mathew was writing his gospel he could not find a good place for these two extra stories so he threw them right in the middle of the Good Sower parable, hopping that some day some poor deacon could make sense of it all. But I think this type of view for this Gospel reading is a bit…I don’t know…shallow? The reality is that these three stories, as confusing as they might look, appear together in this gospel for a very good reason.  Because this is the way the Holy Spirit uses to force us to reflect on the big ideas of Jesus’ message, ideas which will challenge us, the ones who require effort and commitment on our part.
   Let me show you what I mean: The first thing to notice is that all three of these parables are that they have a common theme: growth; a growing field, a growing bush, growing bread. The first parable is obviously the most important, since it is the only one which is explained by the Lord. In it we are instructed to the incredible ability the Kingdom of God has to grow, even when it is surrounded by enemies, enemies bent into destroying it.
   Now if you think about it, we, the disciples of the Lord are the ones who have been given the charge of growing as this kingdom. Jesus says very clear that the field is the world, and we are the good seed planted in it. The attitude of the servants in the story reflects the natural human desire to do things the easy way. It is true that we would much rather build the Kingdom of God without having to deal with any troubles. But, I don’t need to tell you that trouble is the one thing we cannot avoid. There are many Catholics who waist no opportunity to ignore and criticize the actions and the teachings of our Church. The natural tendency would be to remove these from the picture so that we can have a nice little kingdom all for ourselves.  But this is not God’s plan for us. God’s plan, which is given in the second parable, is to grow His kingdom from a small band of fisherman into what we are today, and what we will continue to be until the day the Good Lord returns to us:  the voice of the needy, the weak and those society wants to eliminate because they are inconvenient, the largest charitable institution in the world, home of saints and sinners.
   The attitude of the Master in the parable tells us what our own attitude should be: Ignore the bad seeds, eventually they will receive what they deserve; concentrate in growing the kingdom.  How? To borrow a phrase from one of my kids “By mixing it up”. We are called to be the yeast which mixes with the flour the world.
  Now I know for a fact that here at St Michael we have a lot of good bakers. I also know that if you want to make really good bread you have to mix the yeast in with the flour. This is not what you would call a “gentle process” There is a lot of hitting and pushing, and then there is some waiting and them some more knotting and hitting a bit more until the mass is ready to rise.  To make a good loaf of bread first you really need be manhandled.
   This is the image our Lord Jesus wants to place in our minds; to help us understand how are we to build the Kingdom Of God. It is not by staying in our own little world, but by getting out there, where we can encounter those who like flour have not reached their full potential until they are mixed with us. It is not going to be easy, we are going to encounter push back and hostility. I wish I could tell you differently, but to grow as the Kingdom of God, requires sacrifice.
   Which brings me to my last point. Today’s reading ends with a warning to evil dowers and to those who cause others to sin, a warning them about their eternal destiny. But it also ends with a promise to those who hold unit the end, to the ones willing to grow the kingdom among the weeds. Those will shine as bright as the Sun.
  Like I said at the beginning, today’s message require careful consideration. How am I growing the Kingdom of God and what can I do to be the yeast to the flour of our culture and our society? That is a question each one of us has to answer by ourselves. Today during communion let us ask to the Holy Spirit to guide us and show us the best way to grow, right where we have been planted. Amen?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Hidden Bible Podcast: Episode 1: Joshua 10


    For a while I've been thinking about what would be the easiest way of expanding my online presence. Currently I have the blog in which I faithfully post my homilies, and every once in a blue moon, whenever I can find the time, I write a post. I wish I could write more but I have found that  it takes me multiple iterations to get these up to my satisfaction.  The problem I'm encountering is that I have many posts (about 25!) in various stages of development, with no clear publishing date on sight. After much prayer and reflection I am convinced that the blog medium is not what I'm looking for.

   So after some more prayers and reflections I've decided that the best  way to increase this part of my ministry is with a podcast instead of more written posts. Now I've never done anything like this before and I'm not sure where this endeavor is going to take me but I feel this is the way to go, so with this in mind. I'm announcing my latest project: "The Hidden Bible Podcast" A semi regular podcast about those passages from the Bible which make us go like: "say what??????".

If you want to download the MP3 file to listen to it later just click here

And here are the show notes:

Ralph Reed  in Bill Maher Daily Show

Fr. Robert Baron's talking about the Maher-Reed exchange.

Joshua 10:7-15

This Is What Will Happen If Earth Stopped Spinning

Noctilucent Clouds

Time slowing down

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Corpus Christi (Cycle A)

  Last Sunday, been Fathers Day, I took some time to do a quick inventory of all the gifts I have received from God in my life. Don’t worry I’m not going to bore you with all the details of my list. The one thing I will say is that after I was done reflecting in all the blessings, material and spiritual, I have received…I have to admit I was feeling pretty good about myself… until later that day. That evening, as I sat down and stared reflecting on today’s readings and the feast of Corpus Christy, it became clear to me that I had forgotten the most important gift, the one gift which surpasses every other gift I have ever received from God; God himself… given to me in The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Now, to be fair if I were to ask everyone here to spend some time repeating my little exercise, I’m willing to bet that the vast majority will do as I did and list all the blessings they have received in their lives without considering Jesus in the Eucharist as the one gift above any other gift.
     So the question for us today should be, Why? Why do we forget so easily about the Lord if, like St. Paul says, in Him we “We live, we move and we exist?” Some people might claim that this is caused by our lack of faith, but I think this is not the case, I think it is the other way around, I think that we are so used to be in His presence that we take this divine person for granted. To put it plainly Familiarity breeds indifference. And I’m not saying indifference as in the “I do not care about you Jesus” sense but in the sense of “it is so obvious to me that you are there and I’m here that for me, you are just, part of the background”.  I think this is where the problem resides, Jesus is there and I’m here when it should really be: Jesus and I:  WE ARE here together. More than together, because our Lord wanted to be so close to us he commanded us to “eat His flesh and drink His blood”  the only way we can have ethereal life. When we receive him in the Eucharist he becomes one with us, this is how close he wants to be to us…not side by side but one with us.
   Now I do not want anybody to feel as guilty as I felt during my reflection, but I ask you today to join me in asking ourselves: what can we do to place our Lord were he deserves to be in our lives, at the very top of any gifts received? Well, I think it will take just three little things to accomplish this.
  First, we could start by recognizing our smallness and our complete dependency on Him and the fact that without Him we have no life in us. Yes, we might think that we have a good life, a great job, a beautiful house, but without feeding our spirit with His Body and Blood none of these things amounts to anything, because spiritually we are dead or dying.
   Second, once we recognize this dependency on Him, we need to capture back our sense of respect and awe. Think about it: When we sit in this Sanctuary we sit in front of the creator of the universe, the Alfa and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the lamb of God who takes away our sins, the bread of life who came down from heaven, the second person of the Most blessed trinity… Need I say more to make my point? Sitting here in front of Him is a pretty big deal????  My brothers and sisters at this very moment angels are prostrated around this tabernacle singing “Holy, holy, holy”.  Let’s ask ourselves: what is my own disposition when I enter this holy space? What do I do, In what do I think when I’m in front of Him?
  And finally, the third thing we can do, is ask ourselves, how is my soul doing? How do I prepare myself to receive Him?  Imagine for a second if after mass someone hands you a note which says “This Sunday, Jesus will drop by your house just to say hi and spend some quiet time with you”. I think our week would be a pretty busy one, we would all fall on a cleaning frenzy, we might even take care of little things that have been left un attended for a while like a leaky faucet or a cricking step. I’m sure that we would want our home to be spotless, ready to welcome him. How are our souls when we receive him? Is there any blemish, any corner which needs some cleaning? Maybe some garbage that has been slowly accumulating and we need to get rid off?
  There you have it, my brothers and sisters three small steps to help us rekindle the appreciation, respect and love we all felt that day so many years ago when we received our first communion, and today as on that day the same Jesus is present waiting to feed us with his body and blood, and give us His eternal life, Are we ready to receive him? Blessed be Jesus in the most holy sacrament of the altar. Amen.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ascencion Sunday (Cycle A)

    This Sunday we are celebrating the feast of the Ascension, the day in which our Lord Jesus Christ departed from the physical presence of His disciples to return back to the Father All Mighty in body and spirit. Every year this feast day falls around the time in which a lot of families are involved with graduation ceremonies. I myself went to two graduations this past week, so I know that although they might not want to admit it many parents and children have it in their minds that in a very short 8-12 weeks these graduates whom we have been celebrating will be leaving their homes to start new lives as college students.
   I bring this up because as I was reflecting on the image of the Apostles worshiping the Lord while interiorly struggling with their own doubts, I kept remembering when my own child left for college. You see many people think that when the gospel reading says that the apostles worshiped but doubted it means that somehow they were not sure if the person in front of them was in fact the Lord. However, It occurred to me that perhaps the real reason for the apostles doubts was  because they did not know what they were going to do now that they were going to be left all by themselves.
   Separation from the ones we love either because of reasons we cannot control or because we have to let them follow their own path in life, could be a source of deep doubt and fear. A parent that is left with an “empty nest”, a child that is starting a new life away from the protection and comfort of all that is familiar, a spouse who suddenly finds him or herself alone once again will inevitably experience these feelings.
    Fear and doubt are part of been human. Jesus knew very well what His friends were feeling, and what everyone of us feels every time we experience separation; so the last words that the Lord ever spoke with His human voice, recorded in Saint Mathew’s Gospel, were words not only spoken for His friends, but for every person who ever found experiencing loss of a loved one: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me…I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Time and distance mean nothing to Him, even if we feel that separation and absence hammers a wedge between us and our loved ones, with Jesus we can overcome anything. We are never truly alone. With our Lord Jesus we have no reason for fear and doubt because with the power that has been given to Him, there is not distance or period of time we cannot overcome.
     To me these finals words of Jesus are a source of great consolation whenever I am assaulted by doubt and loneliness. However these are not the only words Jesus spoke to his disciples, and to us, he also said “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The Lord Jesus wants us to do something better with our time than just feel sorry for ourselves. He wants us, those who stay home and those who depart to always, wherever we might be, at any time to be witnesses of His power to the nations. To quote Pope Francis “The Lord does not want sourpuss Christians” cowering in a corner, feeling sorry for themselves.
   The mystery we celebrate in the feast of the Ascension of our Lord has been called the greatest mystery of his life! How He by departing still remains with us, and now gives us power to be His witnesses. It is a mystery that speaks about having to let go so that we can encounter the resurrected Lord, and gain a whole world for Himself; disregarding any sense of fear or doubt.  It is a mystery about having to say goodbye, so that we can find Him, so that we can fulfill our destiny as Christians: In our homes, in our schools, even to ends of the world.
   I would like to finish today by congratulating all graduates, and by reminding them of the words Jesus spoke in the Gospel today. You will never be left alone, you are now sent on a mission to bring Jesus to those who don’t know him, never forget who sent you. God bless you all!

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Sunday, May 11, 2014

4th Sunday of Easter

   After Jesus resurrection the disciples found themselves with a great dilemma. For three years they had spent every minute of every hour with The Lord, they have seen him eat, sleep, and cry; they had seen him tired, hungry and mad, they had seen him do all the regular things a regular human being do. But, after the cross and the empty tomb things changed, Jesus was different. This was the same Jesus but his glorified body became something they had never ever experienced; To the point that, many times they had problems discerning Him as The Lord.
  In the previous two weekends the readings have presented us with examples of this problem. Two weeks ago we saw St Thomas for which, it was not enough that the risen Lord was standing in front of Him, he had to touch Him; he had to put his finger into the nail marks in order to believe. Last week we saw the two disciples on their way to Emmaus spending most of the day conversing with the Lord, only to recognize him as he shared the evening dinner, not by how he looked but by what he did; “the breaking of the bread”
  What I find interesting about these encounters is that looking at Jesus with their own eyes was not enough to recognize him; In fact it looks like Jesus knew very well this was going to be the case because as we heard in today’s reading he prepared the disciples to recognize Him not by using their own eyes but by listening to His voice.
   The readings of these three Sundays present to us how the disciples were able to know whom he was; they recognized him by the wounds of His body, by the actions of his hands, and by the sound of his voice.
    If you think about it, things have not changed that much in two thousand years. I think it is fair to say that we Christians of the 21 century still have a lot of trouble recognizing the risen Lord. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by all the different messages we receive telling us to find Jesus here or there or messages telling us that if we do this or that then we will have our own a personal encounter with The Lord. We forget that, what was true to the first disciples is still true to us today. We can still recognize the Risen Christ within our mists by the same three signs the scriptures have been teaching us for the last three weeks.
    We can easily recognize the risen Lord by His wounds. Every time we encounter suffering, there is Jesus. We can find him in the homeless person in the street corner, on the eyes of the tired immigrant, in the scared eyes of a young girl who has been convinced the only choice available to her is an abortion. We can find Jesus in the hospitals and the prisons of our community. The wounds that cover our society today are the wounds of the risen Lord, and by recognizing these wounded people as our brothers and sisters we are recognizing Christ himself.
   We can also recognize him by the actions of his hands. On every person who labors to bring the Gospel into world, He is breaking bread with those who want to meet Him. We can find the Lord in the missionary who is spreading the Gospel in some God forgotten corner of the world and in our classrooms here at St Michael, in the volunteer catechist teaching our children the basics of the faith. Wherever there is an action of the Church to spread the Gospel, there is the risen Lord.
   And finally we can recognize Jesus by the sound of his voice.  Now you might think“how are we going to do this if we have never heard him speak? If we do not know how His voice sounds? The answer to these, very valid questions is given to us in today’s first reading; in it we read that after Peter declared publicly  Jesus as The Lord, the people who were listening felt “cut to the heart” by his words. We can recognize the Risen Lord not by the sound of His voice but by the way his words cut us to the heart.
   Simply put, every time we are moved by the words we hear from Pope Francis, or from our Bishops or even the words you might hear here from this pulpit, these words do not come from us, it is the risen Christ who is speaking into your heart. The words of Jesus have the power to cut through all the clutter and the noise we live in; we just have to pay attention and treasure these moments.
    Now Tomorrow (Today) is Mothers Day. So I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention another way in which we can all recognize the risen Christ in our lives, and that is by the love we receive from our mothers. By their sacrifice and efforts we are kept safe, healthy and loved; showing us the love of the risen Christ by their action. Because of this, on behalf of all of us here at St Michael, I would like to thank you and wish you a very happy mother’s day. God bless you Mom.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday

   Many years ago, before I was ordained permanent deacon, I was doing my liturgical training at St Louis in Clarksville.  Monsignor Luca which was training me asked if I could help in their Easter liturgies. St Louis is like St Michael in which they get large crowds every Easter Sunday; so during communion I literary had hundreds of people in my line. With this many people your one goal is always to keep the line moving.  Just when I thought I had got into my “rhythm”, an older couple (What I assumed it was husband and wife) approached and stood in front of me smiling. It was obvious they did not know what to do. I asked them “Are you Catholic?” And the husband said “Oh no, we are Muslim but we love Jesus and we believe in the resurrection”. My first thought was “Wow you guys must be really lost!”, but then it down into me, although Monsignor Luca had prepared me for the many surprising things that can happen at the communion line; He never prepared me for that one.
    Imagine my dilemma, not been Catholic (or even Christian!) I could not in good conscience give them communion, but the problem was I had never in my life heard a better reason to be in a Catholic Church on Easter morning than “We love Jesus and we believe in the resurrection!” So I quietly told them that I could not give communion but that I will pray for them and give them a blessing. They looked happy with this and after I did the sign of the cross in their foreheads and asked the resurrected Lord to enter in to the hearts of these, His children they move on.

   Every Easter I think about this couple, because they taught me a great lesson. A lesson that not even Monsignor Luca with all his efforts to make of me a “half backed” deacon was able to teach me: Easter is a day which belongs to the whole world.  And every Easter I find myself wandering, how many people here at St Michel are like the Muslim couple of my story, how many find themselves lost, maybe feeling out of place, feeling that they cannot find their way, and after much wandering find themselves sitting in this sanctuary, this morning.

   My brothers and sisters if today you find your selves feeling like this, let me tell you: you are welcome here, this is your home and we are glad you came today. In fact, even if you feel like you are not worthy of sharing on the table of the Lord with us, I invite you get in line and come, cross your hands, and either me, Fr. Mike or one of the other ministers will pray to the resurrected Lord to enter into your heart.

   Easter is a day that does not belong to just “Catholics in good standing”, it does not even belong to just Christians; Jesus rose from the dead for all, for Muslims, for Indus, even for the ones who do not believe in Him.  He rose from the dead for all of humanity, every man, human and child that has ever existed, past, present and future. Today all that matters, all that is required of you to be a member of this family, is just two things: that you love Jesus and that you believe in the resurection. Happy Easter!!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

4th Sunday of Lent (Cycle A)

   Today’s Gospel reading is one of those bible stories which make you stop and ask… What is going on here??? Spit and mud smeared on a blind man’s eyes for healing? Why would Jesus go through all this trouble? Couldn’t he just snap his fingers and heal this man? Couldn’t he just command it in his mind without moving a muscle? In a reading like this Jesus comes across more as a medicine man using what he had at hand to heal a sick person than a creator and all powerful God.
  Now the fact that the Church has selected this specific reading to mark the almost midway moment of our journey towards Easter Sunday should not pass unnoticed. It is obvious that there is something in this image of the Lord (As strange as it might be) that should serve as great encouragement for us. What is the message we are to take away today? What could we possibly learn that will help each one of us slog along throughout what is left of this lenten season?
  Well, I think that before we can understand the significance of this Gospel, we should pause for a moment and take a serious look at how is our observance of lent going.    Now based on my experience after 3 and half weeks of fasting, prayer and alms giving, I usually find myself thinking:  Why? Why do I have to deprive myself of the foods I like or things I enjoy like videogames or TV? By now some people might be thinking “I know I said I was going to go to mass every day, but does God relay care if I miss a day?” Other people might have promised themselves that this was going to be the year in which they were going to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Three weeks into lent is when they might find themselves thinking “Do I really need to tell a priest my sins? God knows I’m sorry for them shouldn’t this be enough?”
   My brothers and sisters if today we find ourselves thinking like this, thinking that maybe what we had promised ourselves to do during lent is not as important as we thought it was, then today's Gospel is for us.     
   Now before can understand the meaning of today’s Gospel, we have to understand how God sees us as human beings. The Church teaches that all human beings are a very mysterious mixture of created matter and spirit. Our bodies are not like a car which is “driven” by our spirit. Our bodies and our spirits are an integral part of who we are. We are incarnated souls; and as material beings we depend on what God's creation for just about everything; we depend on food, drink, the air we breathe. We are so dependent of the mater God has created that when God, who is pure spirit, decided to manifest himself in a personal way to us, He did not “possessed” one of us, He did not appear from thin air, He appropriated the flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary to form a body for himself and BECOME one of us! And from that moment His Son became as dependent of this creation as we are.
   God sees us as what we are “incarnated souls”, so His relationship with us starts at the most basic level, which is the material world, and he uses this material world as the means to communicate His divine love.  This is a fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church, and it is the reason why we make use of material things like holy water to receive God’s grace. We even make use of our bodies to receive this grace! We stand, we kneel and we bow during the mass, because at the most basic level we have to worship God first with our bodies, so that our spirits can follow.
   This is why; it is not enough to just think we are sorry for our sins to receive forgiveness. Our sins need to be spoken out loud! In order to show the proper disposition and repentance we have to articulate them, they need to be heard by the human ears of the Lord which are represented by the priest in the confessional. It is not enough to tell ourselves, in our minds that we are sorry.
     Today’s image of Jesus using his own saliva, making mud and applying it to a blind man was and action done for our benefit.  A simple thought from the Lord could have healed the man, but Jesus decided to use his own body and what he had at hand, so that we can appreciate how important our own bodies and His whole creation are when He intends to get closer to us.
   The things we do during lent are our form of showing God how much we want to relate to his son, how sorry we are for our sins; to show how much we want to experience what he experienced on his way to the cross, but most importantly how much we want to experience what he experienced when he rose from the dead!  Everything we do during lent shows at the most basic level, how much we want to be with Him, who gave His life for us. The lent fatigue we might be experiencing is normal, but it is in there, where our bodies get fatigue and our spirit’s disposition falters where Jesus wants us to get closer to us. It is there in the hunger of fasting, in boredom of prayer and the sacrifice of alms giving in which we can have an encounter with Jesus the great healer, the son of Mary, our brother and the creator and user of everything that is visible and invisible. May today’s Gospel help you find new energies to continue your Lenten journey. Amen.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

When Engineers Get Bored: Lego vs Rubik


 So what do engineers do when they find themselves with a bunch of Lego parts, a Rubik's Cube and lots and lots of free time in their hands. How about the Cubestormer 3?

   The Cubestormer 3 (Apparently there was a version 1 and a 2) has shattered the previous speed world record for solving the RC. A feat which, in my opinion, will be hard to overtake. Being a mechanical device your average RC has mechanical limits for how fast its sides can turn before it  flies apart. Perhaps future Cubes might have to be constructed stronger and more flexible to allow faster speeds?
    Which implies that in essence now we will be designing toys not for us to play but for our toys to play with.Think about it, we will be making toys... for our toys...

   Here is an article with a bit more information about the CS3.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"


Sunday, March 9, 2014

First Sunday of Lent (Cycle A)

    As part of my personal observance of Lent I have Father Robert Baron, the priest who produced the Catholicism series, e-mail me daily reflections. Last week he compared the 40 days of lent with Baseball’s “Spring Training”. Every year baseball players use this time to work on the fundamentals of their game, how to throw the ball, how to hit the ball, how to catch the ball. They do this because in these basic skills resides their success as ball players.
    In a similar way during lent the Church uses the first five Sundays of Lent to remind us of the fundamentals of our faith to prepare us to the spiritual equivalent of the World Series:  Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday.
   I liked this analogy so I decided to dedicate this first Sunday of Lent to focusing in three points which are fundamental to our faith, using today’s first reading: the stories of the creation of men, the temptation of Adam and Eve, and their fall. 
   In this reading, first, we hear about how “The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life” so that “man became a living being”. The first thing to notice is that this passage echoes the words we heard last Wednesday night when we received ashes in our foreheads: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return”.  This is the first fundamental point of our faith: We are dust. It is only by God’s life giving breath, by God’s life giving spirit which we are here today. God created us out of the stuff of stars and gave each one of us an immortal spirit, making us unique along all of his creation.

    Next we hear about how “the LORD God planted a garden in Eden” and about how this garden contained “various trees that were delightful to look at, and good for food”.  This is our second point. God has called us into existence and planted us into a creation which is good and delightful to see and enjoy. In other words, our place in our families, our homes, our communities did not happen by accident. The Lord God prepared these for each one of us to enjoy and everything which is good and delightful in them is a gift from God.
   Now, so far the first two points have been pretty easy to see, God called us into existence out of nothingness to share the goodness of his creation with us. The third point however requires a little bit more work from us. In the reading we are told that at the center of this creation, God planted a tree which contained all the knowledge of good and evil, and that although this tree was to be admired; it was off limits. Of course we all know how the story goes from here; how the serpent, the great enemy of God and his creation tricked our first parents into believing that if they ate from this tree, they themselves would become as God, “who knows what is good and what is evil.”
   Now, much has been said about the nature of this tree and about why would God place it in the center of the garden, and then prohibit Adam and Eve from even touch it.  But this is precisely our third point! Let me explain it to you this way. Every day we are confronted with many types of actions, things we do, things others do.  We know that some actions are either good or just plain evil, however there are some which tend to fall in the “gray area”. Should I pass the red light or not, should I give money to that homeless guy or not, should I follow this teaching of the Church or not. We tend to look within ourselves for these decisions and we take them depending on how they could benefit us or others.
    The authority to label an action, any action as good or evil, does not reside within us. This authority is the Knowledge of Good and Evil God has planted in us, and it belongs only to God. Only God can dictate what is good or bad; and part of loving God is accepting his divine prerogative, without questioning His divine authority.
  My brothers and sisters, this last principle is one of the most important teachings of our faith. God created us to love and trust him. Our first parents on the other hand wanted to be like God, not in the sense that he is all powerful or all knowing, but in the sense that they wanted to be able to decide by themselves what was good and what was bad. They stole the divine authority which only belongs to God, who is the source of all good.  
That is our inheritance, that since the moment of our birth we have a deep desire to live our lives in our own terms, to decide what is good and what is evil based on our own selfish desires, feelings and opinions, relegating God to be just an observer of our own self destructive behaviors.  This is not why we have been created for and how God wants us to live our lives, and this is precisely what the Church wants us to understand and reflect on this season of Lent.
Reflecting on these three points should be a fundamental exercise of our spiritual life, especially in this time preparation for Holy Week and Easter. Like athletes who train for an important game, we are to exercise our spiritual muscles this lent by considering God’s creative love and goodness in our lives, recognizing how he has provided for us from the first moments he called us into existence, and lastly by confronting our fallen nature and our deep desire to live life in our own terms and not by following and accepting his divine authority.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Vietnamese Coffee Anyone?


   Coffee has always been (And always will be) one of my guilty pleasures. When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, "cafe" was as prevalent as soda is today in modern day America. In fact, one of my earliest memories as a child is of me holding and drinking from a bottle filled  not with formula or juice but with what people call today a "Latte", and this was when I was a toddler!

    A few weeks back I went to one of St Michael's small  groups meetings and the topic of coffee came up. I mentioned that the most extreme form of coffee making I have ever experienced comes from the Vietnamese culture. Our host encouraged me to prepare some for them and using the tools at hand I made what I thought was a pretty acceptable cup. However I have to admit I did not made justice to what people in Vietnam drink. So I decided to place this video in the blog to give honor where honor is due.

    Here it is for your pleasure, the perfect cup of Vietnamese coffee


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Atheist Meme #4:Science, Beauty and Awe

 I have not done one of these in a while, so I think it's about time.  I saw this meme this morning and it caught my eye, not because of the way it displays modern day secularists complete ignorance of what religion teaches about the nature of man...

...but because of the way it displays their complete ignorance of what science tells us about human beings. Quite simply, in all my years as an engineer, doing scientific research, I have never come across a study or research paper which provides evidence for the claim that a human child is "full of wonder" or "beautiful". You will be hard pressed to even find the use of this language in your average scientific paper.

   I wish I could ask the parents of this child, which are obviously filling her head with these erroneous views, what is the unit measure for "awe" or "beauty"? How many of these does a flower have over a Monet painting? How many "wonder units" will trigger that most common of all toddlers questions..."why?"

    The mistake this meme makes is that statements such as "you are beautiful" or "I'm full of wonder" are by their very nature philosophical. Science can say very little about wonder and the capability to appreciate beauty other than perhaps explain the neurological effects these unique human  experiences have in the brain. The most we should expect from science is to explain the "how" of these experiences.

    To find  the "why", why a child is beautiful and why it is full of wonder, we need more than science, we must turn to philosophy which tells us that man is much more than a collection of its own electrochemical and mechanical parts. Philosophy points towards a greater reality, spiritual and eternal. It is this reality which orients us towards what is true and beautiful.

   Religion just provides context to these philosophical ideas.

  • Why can we say we are are filled with wonder? Because we were created for this purpose. To be attracted to truth and beauty.  
  • Why are we attracted to truth and beauty? So that we can find out our true destiny, our place in  creation. We are oriented towards that which is eternal. 
  To put it in a Catholic context:

You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You - St Augustine

 This is what the true religion has to tell about us; that we are created with a deep need for truth, and we can only find this truth when we find the Creator.

 Up to now I have been focusing on the right side of the meme. Let me address the left side.

 Often secularists portray religion in a rather pessimistic (almost Calvinistic) way. They think that  religious people suffer from a horrendous case of self loathing. This is clearly evident on the list of what religion supposedly says about a young child. The problem with this view is that ignores one of the fundamental teachings of the Bible about human beings.

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness - Genesis 1:26

  We are created in the likeness of God, we reflect God's goodness and beauty, yes we are flawed and yes we make mistakes but fundamentally we are good because our creator is good. To quote the Cathechism of the Catholic Church:

1702. The divine image is present in every man. It shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the unity of the divine persons among themselves

 So you see, religion exalts the human being, but for science, humans are just another subject matter.

 I hope this presentation helps dispel the erroneous ideas this little meme is propagating.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Friday, February 14, 2014

A New Take on an Old Classic

    I've always been a big fan of the rock band Guns and Roses. It was great to see them during the Superbowl half time. I think that Sweet Child of Mine is one of their most recognizable songs.

 Today I found this new take on this old classic. I'm also a big fan of New Orleans blues sounds (thanks to  James Lee Burk novels), so this song really resonates within me. I hope you like it as much as I do.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Neuroscience and Christian Idea of Friendship

     The idea of friendship is universal. All cultures, even the most primitive ones, have the concept of a bond-like relationship between individuals. We understand that there could be many reasons why such a bond is established between individuals in our culture.We also recognize, as a sign of maturity, the ability to establish these bonds with different people depending on situation and circumstance.   It is wise not to treat all of our relationships in the same way
   Back in the 4th century, St. John Cassian tells the story of "Blessed Joseph", a revered abbot who, answering a question by his novices, gives this explanation of the potential friendship bonds which could be created in common human relations:

 "There are many kinds of friendship and companionship which unite men in very different ways in the bonds of love. For some, a previous recommendation makes to enter upon an intercourse first of acquaintance and afterwards even of friendship. In the case of others, some bargain or an agreement to give and take something has joined them in the bonds of love. Others, a similarity and union of business or science or art or study has united in the chain of friendship, by which even fierce souls become kindly disposed to each other, so that those, who in forests and mountains delight in robbery and revel in human bloodshed, embrace and cherish the partners of their crimes. But there is another kind of love, where the union is from the instincts of nature and the laws of consanguinity, whereby those of the same tribe, wives and parents, and brothers and children are naturally preferred to others, a thing which we find is the case not only with mankind but with all birds and beasts."

 For Abbot Joseph the bond of friendship can be entered in many ways. Even members of the same family can experience this bond. However, because these relationships are based more on circumstances than in the quality of the individual, these bond could be easily broken.

But we see that all these kinds of love of which we have spoken, as they are common both to the good and bad, and to beasts and serpents, certainly cannot last for ever. For often, separation of place interrupts and breaks them off, as well as forgetfulness from lapse of time, and the transaction of affairs and business and words. For as they are generally due to different kinds of connections either of gain, or desire, or kinship, or business, so when any occasion for separation intervenes they are broken off.

    But not all friendships are of these nature. There are friendships that go deeper than what just the convenience of a business partner or the blood bond. Of these Abbot Joseph says:

Among all these then there is one kind of love which is indissoluble, where the union is owing not to the favour of a recommendation, or some great kindness or gifts, or the reason of some bargain, or the necessities of nature, but simply to similarity of virtue. This, I say, is what is broken by no chances, what no interval of time or space can sever or destroy, and what even death itself cannot part. This is true and unbroken love which grows by means of the double perfection and goodness of friends, and which, when once its bonds have been entered, no difference of liking and no disturbing opposition of wishes can sever.

   Christianity has many examples of such bonds of friendship: Francis and Clare, Benedict and Scholastica, Ciryl and Methodius. These are relationships we should hold as the highest ideal for Cristian Friendship. These holy people held bonds of friendship which transcended themselves. Their closeness was such that it was as if they each lived and existed within the other. For those who have never experienced this sort of spiritual union, it is very difficult to understand. Even the Bible uses such  language to describe the relationship between Jonathan and David:

1 Samuel 18:1 -  When he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.

   The Catechism of The Catholic Church speaks of such relationships in the sections entitled "The integrality of the gift of self."

2347 The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends, who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality. (374)
Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one’s neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.

    The teaching of the Church is clear: the bond of friendship, regardless of how or under what circumstances it is established, when tempered by the virtue of chastity, by the control of our human passions and appetites through the exercise of our reason, has the potential to unite in deep spiritual communion. This statement also implies that any two people united by a bond of friendship will develop different levels of spiritual communion depending on the level in which they choose to control their human desires. Chastity, in friendship, has the potencial of "knitting" souls like Jonathan's and David.

   The skeptic would argue that such "spiritual unions" belong more to the realm of "superstition" than to what hard sciences like psychology and neurology can prove. But in this case, skeptics would be wrong.

   Consider the work of Doctor James Coan, a psychology professor in University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences. Dr Coan recorded MRI brain scans of subject which were threatened with receiving an electric shock. He also scanned the brains of the same subjects while threatening to give electric shocks to complete strangers and to friends.  As expected, the regions of the brain responsible for threat response became active under threat of shock to the self;  when researchers threatened to shock a stranger, those same brain regions showed virtually no activity. But when they threatened to shock a friend, the brain regions showed activity nearly identical to that displayed when the participant was threatened.

   What does this mean? I'll let Dr Coan explain in his own words:

"The correlation between self and friend was remarkably similar. The finding shows the brain’s remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat."

   I don't find these results surprising in light of the Church's teaching about friendship and about what it means to enter in spiritual communion with others. What I find surprising is how Dr. Coan explains the meaning of his research and its similarity to the ancient teaching of the Church. I guess it is true, there is nothing new under the sun after all.

   Here is the article explaining Dr Coan's research.

   And here is a copy of the original paper published by Oxford Journal's Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience journal.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

* All quotes from St. John Cassian. Are taken from:. "The Conferences of John Cassian". In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), E. C. S. Gibson (Trans.), "A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series: Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of LĂ©rins, John Cassian (Vol. 11, pp. 450–451)". New York: Christian Literature Company.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Epiphany of Our Lord

     The other day I was reading an on-line article which described a condition affecting many people this time of the year. Experts call it “The Post-Christmas let-down”.  It is defined as the felling we get when after all the preparations, all the efforts, all the anticipation for “Christmas Day”, we find ourselves asking “That was it??  Is this what Christmas is all about?”  The cause for this problem is the way our culture raises the expectations for Christmas day. For weeks we are encouraged to expect the perfect present under the Christmas tree, we are encouraged to dream of a “White Christmas”, and we are promised that in this day will be as much fun as “Dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh” “laughing all the way”. For many people however, the reality of this day is very different.  Most likely we did not get what we were hoping, or didn’t do all the things we wanted to do, and some us even, spent our Christmas wishing we could be with someone else or in some other place.
   In a culture which encourages and celebrates “Instant Gratification” we run the danger of putting all of our effort on making every second of Christmas day perfect, forgetting what we are really celebrating. So when the day is over we are left with toys to put away, presents to be return, kitchens full of dishes,  living room full of wrapping paper and empty boxes, and Christmas ornaments which need to be stored back to be used next year… Do this sound familiar??
   The reality is that for us Catholics December 25 is just the beginning of the Christmas season, a season which last 12 whole days and ends today with the feast of the Epiphany. A feast that, it seems to me provides an antidote to this dreaded Post Christmas Let Down.
   So my brothers and sisters, if you have been suffering from this Post Christmas Let Down, let me give you three simple steps to salvage what is left of the Christmas season:   Number One: take some time to reflect on what we were truly celebrating: Images of the sweet baby in the manger are nice,  but also remember that by taking human form, by appropriating for himself the flesh of the Blessed Virgin, and molding a human body from her, the creator of the universe has taken the whole of the human race and lift it up to a dignity greater than anything else in creation including the angels! Because of the incarnation we have been given the opportunity to one day be as close to God as Mary was when God Himself was in her womb, feeding of her and sharing of her own life! That is the mystery of the incarnation.
  Number two: spend some time looking at what you have received; look at each present as a token of love from God himself. What is God telling me through each present I have received? It does not matter if we are talking about a toaster or a video game; how does God want me to be happy with what I have received? What part of my life has been blessed by each gift received?
  Number Three, and this is the most important step, think about how am I going to use this present to give back to God in thanks? How can I give of myself to the person who gave me each gift?
   The beauty of the Christian celebration of Christmas is that we have twelve days to do this, and on the last day, today, the feast of the Epiphany we are given the Three Wise Men to show us how they were the very first people who celebrated Christmas with these three steps.
Let me show you; First they used science of their times and listened to the ancient prophesies, to realize that an amazing event was about to occur: the creator of the universe, loving His creation to the extreme, decided to enter into our history and become one of us.
   Second, they looked at their own resources, the gifts they had received from God as wise kings and scientists of their time, and understood that they were given these as a blessing; so that they could witness, be part of such a momentous event. So without delay they undertook the long trip to a far away land, a trip that would put them face to face with the living God, Emanuel, God in the flesh.
   Third, when they finally arrived to the house were the babe and His mother were, returned to him what they themselves had received, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, symbols of kinship, divinity and a life given for others out of love.
The Gospel reading tells us that the Three Wise Men were overjoyed when the saw the star stop at the house were Jesus and Mary were, the end of their long ordeal. Overjoyed, that is the felling we get when we celebrate Christmas the right way.
   The reason why we suffer of the dreaded Post Christmas Let Down is because in our mind Christmas ends on December 26. But for those who live their lives with the realization of the incredible gift God the Father has given us in Jesus, the realization that everything we have is a reflection of this blessing, which awakes on us a desire to return this blessing to Him by blessing others…for those who follow the example of the Three Wise Men, Christmas never ends, Christmas is a way of life. The one sure antidote against the Post Christmas Let Down is living our lives as if Christmas happens every day of the year.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

When Engineers Get Bored: Acoustic Levitation

  Acoustic Levitation is a very well understood phenomenon. In fact you can find many examples of this in Youtube. However students at University of Tokyo Nagoya Institute of Technology have taken this lab trick to the next level with their three dimensional manipulation of objects using acoustic standing waves. I will not bore you with the details, just watch the video and think how many practical applications can this technique have. Time will tell. Here is the video:

You can visit their web site for more information here.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"