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