Sunday, December 13, 2015

That Voice Crying out int the Desert: 2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C

  6 Months ago I started a new job. On my way to work I stop at the corner of route 29 and route 198 in Laurel. In this particular spot there is a man who stands with a sign which states he is unemployed and that we will accept any help we can provide.
  As I was reflecting on the person of John the Baptist, I found myself going back to this man and to the different feelings he has caused on me throughout the last 6 months. I remember the very first time I saw him, I felt like just getting out of my car and offering him my help. Of course I could not just abandon my car in the middle of the road, so I had to sit there and stare at him feeling helpless, trying to figure what could I do. As the weeks passed I started looking at him with suspicion -  especially when I noticed someone else with a similar sign on the other corner of this intersection.
   Pretty soon I started to feel a bit angry at him, since people who stopped to give him some money were causing me to miss my turn adding time to my commune (I remember I told myself, here I am the one with a regular job been made late to work by the unemployed!) Well after six months of this, I’m ashamed to admit, I just feel indifference towards him. In fact, I have noticed that other drivers (I assume they are regulars like me, on this busy intersection) have trained themselves to not even make eye contact and just ignore him.  Helplessness, suspicion, anger and indifference; all these feelings just from a man standing in a corner, holding a sign.
  I think it is very proper that in a time of the year in which we are busy and stressed with the million little tasks we need to complete before the “Big Day”, in today’s Gospel, John the Baptist appears standing against the traffic of our busy lives as a voice, “Crying out in the desert”,  reminding us what this season is all about: “A time to change the direction of your lives, to straighten our paths, to smooth our rough ways, because the Lord is near”
  In this Second Sunday of advent, John the Baptist is our man on a corner, holding a sign, asking us how are we doing with our preparations for the coming of our Lord.

   The questions we should be asking ourselves today are not if our houses are ready, or are all the presents wrapped. But, how does John makes me feel, when I hear his call from the desert. Do we feel helpless because although we would want this season to be different, we see ourselves time and time again buying more, wanting more, wasting more?    Are we suspicious of his words, thinking that although it might be nice to refocus our attention in the coming of the Lord, that is the sort of thing which only religious nut jobs and old ladies do? The sort of things me and my family do not appreciate? Do we feel anger at the implication that our way of celebrating Christmas is not the right way? Anger at the implication that our way of life is not the right way of life? Or are we just indifferent, even perhaps numb, at his message to refocus our attention to what is important this season? Refocus our attention into Christ and his coming, and not into having the taller three, the most Xmas lights, the biggest presents.  
   The good news is that helplessness, suspicion, anger and indifference are just feelings, and as feelings they could be overcome by our will, with the help of God’s grace in our lives, which we receive through the sacraments..
   So as we enter this second week of advent, it is up to us to look into ourselves and decide that instead of helplessness this year we will be hopeful that the Lord will truly be born in our hearts, instead of suspicion we will be confident of the promises of our Lord, instead of anger we will love those we encounter, and instead of indifference we will make an effort to appreciate this time we have been given to prepare and receive the Lord like he deserves, with  a humble spirit and a joyous heart.God bless you all.

NOTE: Many people have asked me what happened to my daily compute friend. After I preached this homily I make the point of stopping and talking to him. I gave him my card and told him that if he needs any help he could call me and I can make him contact the proper Catholic charities which will be able to help him. I ask you to say a prayer for this man so that he takes advantage of the help he so much needs.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

On the Humanity of Pope Francis

   Pope Francis has done it again!!

   He has open his heart (His very human heart) to the world only to show us that he has the same struggles we have.

   Of course I'm speaking about his remarks to an Italian Lutheran woman married to a Catholic, during Francis' visit to a Roman Lutheran Church. Ms. Anke de Bernardinis asked Francis a very charged question:

Question: My name is Anke de Bernardinis and, like many people in our community, I'm married to an Italian, who is a Roman Catholic Christian. We’ve lived happily together for many years, sharing joys and sorrows. And so we greatly regret being divided in faith and not being able to participate in the Lord's Supper together. What can we do to achieve, finally, communion on this point?

  As a deacon and a family man I have been asked this same questions many times, even by people very close to my heart, and every time I felt torn.  I hear myself giving fine theological points that for someone looking to get closer to the Lord sound more like hollow excuses than two thousand years of  theological Eucharistic reflection.  So it pleased me greatly that in his answer, the Pope,  reflected my own conflicts and struggles while wrestling with this issue. Here is Francis' answer.

Pope Francis: The question on sharing the Lord’s Supper isn’t easy for me to respond to, above all in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper! I’m scared!
I think of how the Lord told us when he gave us this command to “do this in memory of me,” and when we share the Lord’s Supper, we recall and we imitate the same as the Lord. And there will be the Lord’s Supper, there will be the eternal banquet in the new Jerusalem, but that will be the last one. In the meantime, I ask myself — and don’t know how to respond — what you’re asking me, I ask myself the question. To share the Lord’s banquet: is it the goal of the path or is it the viaticum [provisions] for walking together? I leave that question to the theologians and those who understand.

It’s true that in a certain sense, to share means there aren’t differences between us, that we have the same doctrine – underscoring that word, a difficult word to understand — but I ask myself: but don’t we have the same Baptism? If we have the same Baptism, shouldn’t we be walking together? You’re a witness also of a profound journey, a journey of marriage: a journey really of the family and human love and of a shared faith, no? We have the same Baptism.

When you feel yourself to be a sinner – and I feel more of a sinner – when your husband feels a sinner, you go to the Lord and ask forgiveness; your husband does the same and also goes to the priest and asks absolution. I’m healed to keep alive the Baptism. When you pray together, that Baptism grows, becomes stronger. When you teach your kids who Jesus is, why Jesus came, what Jesus did for us, you’re doing the same thing, whether in the Lutheran language or the Catholic one, but it’s the same. The question: and the [Lord’s] Supper? There are questions that, only if one is sincere with oneself and with the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own. See for yourself. This is my body. This is my blood. Do it in remembrance of me – this is a viaticum that helps us to journey on.

I once had a great friendship with an Episcopalian bishop who went a little wrong – he was 48 years old, married, two children. This was a discomfort to him – a Catholic wife, Catholic children, him a bishop. He accompanied his wife and children to Mass on Sunday, and then went to worship with his community. It was a step of participation in the Lord’s Supper. Then he went forward, the Lord called him, a just man. To your question, I can only respond with a question: what can I do with my husband, because the Lord’s Supper accompanies me on my path?
It’s a problem each must answer, but a pastor-friend once told me: “We believe that the Lord is present there, he is present. You all believe that the Lord is present. And so what's the difference?” — “Eh, there are explanations, interpretations.” Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism. “One faith, one baptism, one Lord.” This is what Paul tells us, and then take the consequences from there. I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more.

  I have placed the parts which impacted me in BOLD. They impacted me because at one time or another I myself have reflected upon these ideas. But unlike Francis I have never been able to articulate these feelings.

 Why I'm writing this?

  This past Sunday as we were getting ready for mass, a lady approached me and said "Excuse me I am Lutheran may I  commune today?". Once again I was faced with this difficult questions and once again I have to say "I'm sorry but I can not give you communion, but you can come to my line and I will give you a blessing". Which in fact she did, but then something extraordinary happened: this lady (Which latter I learned is the Pastor of a local Lutheran Church), placed her hands upon my shoulders and gave me her blessing. A moment of true Christian union around the Table of the Lord.

  I think that from now, whenever I'm asked this question, instead of jumping into my standard answer heavy on Catholic theology I will just echo Francis words and say:

   The question on sharing the Lord’s Supper isn’t easy for me to respond to. I ask myself — and don’t know how to respond — what you’re asking me, I ask myself this question. But I also ask...  "Don’t we have the same Baptism? If we have the same Baptism, shouldn’t we be walking together?"
   There are questions that, only if one is sincere with oneself and with the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own. To your question, I can only respond with a question: what can I do for you, because the Lord’s Supper accompanies me on my path? It’s a problem each must answer, yes there are explanations, interpretations, but Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations.
   Should I answer your question with a "yes" or a "no"? I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and ask Him to tell you what is the right thing to do and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"

Some Comments About my Health


     I have been trying to find the best way to do this. I thought about placing a small blurb in our weekly bulletin but that felt a bit pretentious so I finally settle for this blog note. For the last year or so I have been struggling with hoarseness in my voice. Now, my regular voice is naturally hoarse so at first this did not worried me; since this is one of the symptoms during the  Prodrome stage of a migraine attack (just before the Migraine is set to hit). However for the last few months I have had a couple of instances in which I completely loose my voice for a period of a few hours. I finally went to a specialist and he diagnosed me (three months ago) with "Granulomas" on my vocal cords. At that time he indicated that these are most likely caused by acid re-flux and that I should just take it easy and monitor my diet, and go back for another check up in 90 days.
   I returned to see him a couple of weeks back and the news were not as encouraging as I had hoped. He said that the granulomas have expanded and that if I can not get them under control I could loose my voice. He gave me strict instructions not to raise my voice, sing, whisper, yell or strain my voice in any way as well as some medication and the command that I should use my voice as little as possible. He also indicated that if I can not get these under control the only option is surgery which will leave scar tissue and will definitely change my voice as well as require for me to take speech therapy so I can "learn to use my voice again".  I don't know you but these are the worst  news you can give a preacher!
   Of course one of the first things I did was inform my priest about this situation and ask him to pray for me. Him, been the good priest that he is, enlisted the help of our prayer warriors and I have had more people approach me and say "I praying for you" in the last couple of week than in my almost 9 years as deacon! Of course with all these prayers come speculation and based on some of the questions and comments I have received I feel I have to set the record straight.
    First, to use the words of my physician "The good news is that is not cancer". No, I do not have a "lung condition" or some other nasty bug. The reason why I have not been preaching at St Michel's is not because I've been punished, or will be transferred shortly is just because  my voice could not take it and Fr. Mike, Fr. Kurt and Deacon Cliff have come to the rescue in short notice.
   Currently I feel fine, I'm starting to notice I have more better days that bad ones so all the tender care to my vocal cords seen (at least to me) to be working. The one thing you could do for me and my family is pray; if you are no doing this already, ask for the intersession of St Blase, patron Saint of throat illnesses to procure from the Lord the grace of healing (If it is His will), or the grace I will need to endure this time.
   Again I thank you for your prayers and may God bless you richly today.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
Deacon Harbey

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Your Faith has Saved You: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

     Since the early years of the Church today’s gospel has been used to encourage and teach Christians about the power of perseverance in prayer. There is something unique about the way Bartimaeus, the blind man in our story, pleads for the Lord’s attention with complete disregard of of the people trying to silence him. Of course a blind man forced to beg charity from others to stay alive, has very little to lose; so he can ignore those who are trying to stop him.  When it comes to praying, Bartimaeus is always a good example to follow because he shows that perseverance always gets God’s attention.
    Now as it often happens with the stories about the Lord, if we look deeper we will find that there is much more going on that just the obvious message. In addition to prayer, this story serves as a guide to what to do, what the Lord expects from us and how he will reward us, when we are confronted with a situation which is becoming more and more common in our culture. I’m speaking about those cases in which Christians are required, even forced to make public declarations of their faith.
   From  Christians murdered for their faith, to public school coaches been disciplined for praying after games, to the removal of crosses and Christian symbols from public spaces, more and more it seems, every time the Christian faith is expressed in public there are always those who are ready and willing to silence us, to use the words of the Gospel they do not waste the chance to “rebuke us and try to make us silent”.

    If we think about it, Bartimaeus plea to The Lord was a declaration of faith. He believes, he has faith that Jesus mercy is the only thing which can help him, and Jesus proves this point when he tells him not "be healed" but “Your faith has saved you”. He pleads and screams, and those around him who only see a blind, dirty beggar discourage him and try to stop him.
    When Jesus finally notices him and calls him we are told that he “threw away his cloak”. Why would the writer point to this action? Because as a first century beggar this cloak, most likely, was Bartimeus most valued and only possession. By throwing it away he shows that for him there was nothing more important that to get Jesus attention, to express his faith in in the power of Jesus.
    But to me the most telling part is what Jesus says to him “What do you want me to do for you?” Here the Lord shows the willingness he has to reward those who call to him in faith and are willing to lose everything they have rather than allowing themselves to be silenced when declaring of their personal faith in Jesus.
    It is very troubling but most likely, today in 21 century America, the chances of having someone, even our own government try to stop us from expressing our faith in public is very high. Let us us pray that the beggar Bartimaeus is an example and a source encouragement for us and let us ask the Lord, like Bartimaeus did, for the light of his Mercy so that we are willing to sacrifice everything we have rather than deny our faith in Him. God bless you all.

NOTE: Today's homily was purposely shorter than normal because the yearly Financial  Report was scheduled for after Communion.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Marriage, Unique for a Reason: 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

   In today's first reading, taken from the 2nd chapter of Genesis, we are presented with the deepest and most mysterious reality of been human. The fact that we have been created to be in relationships. God our father and creator shows how well He understands the human condition when He declares “it is not good for man to be alone”. Human loneliness is not natural to us, and it is not part of our eternal destiny.
   Every creature in this earth although good enough to be our companion, will never be able fill the void of loneliness we carry in our hearts. So, as the last act of His creation, God gives the first man the
ultimate companion, the first woman, someone like himself, but different. Someone who could understand and relate to his spiritual hunger, to a degree that in their union they can become “One flesh”.
   This first reading is just a representation of a story which repeats again and again in history. In fact, I am sure that everyone here has experienced or will experience this type of loneliness which can only be
removed by meeting “that special person”.

  When people think they have found that special person it is natural for them to want for their union to be permanent; so they publicly express their desire to be known as life mates, as husband and wife. The Church has always recognized these types of unions as good and natural. But the Church also recognized very early in our history that Christians are called to a deeper type of union. A union which when
entered by two baptized persons reflects the very interior life of God which is self-giving
and self-revealing and always open to life. This union can only be entered by two baptized Christians, a man and a woman, and can only be entered freely and with complete understanding of what their responsibilities are. When done for the right reasons and with openness to life these unions receive great graces, and are what we call Sacramental Marriages.
   So today’s first reading is all about God, men, and women and the mysterious life affirming and life giving union which is Sacramental Marriage. Today’s gospel on the other hand brings us back to the sad
reality of our fallen nature and the fact that sometimes because of our human failures marriages end in divorce. Now Jesus is very clear in this reading, what God unites in sacramental marriage man can not dissolve; this bond can not be broken! And I think Pope Francis said it very well a few days back when he said “there is no such thing as Catholic divorce”
   Now we find ourselves with a dilemma, if I as Catholic thought that the day of my wedding I had freely expressed my desire to be bonded by God to another person and now because of our mutual failings I find myself alone again...What is left for me to do? Well the first thing is do
not despair, you are not alone. Although there is no such thing as a Catholic Divorce, the fact is that, many people (and here we might need to include ourselves) on the day of their wedding were not capable or willing to freely enter this type of spiritual bond.
   You might not know this but I’m an advocate to the marriage tribunal of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, I deal with a lot of Catholics who are trying to rebuild their lives, after their divorce; and experience has
taught me that, in the culture in which we live, with what our children see about marriage in the media, what they learn in schools and even by what they experience in the divorce of their own families, the sad reality is... there are many, many people that are not capable of entering Sacramental Marriage the day of their wedding because of they live with a warped idea of what the Church means when she says "marriage". So after their divorce they find themselves lost, hurt and afraid.
   Today is respect life Sunday, in a few minutes we will have someone speak about what we are doing here at St Michael in favor of the protection of all life, from conception until natural death. So I will like to focus now on what are we doing for divorced Catholics, which in my mind is part of our commitment to minister to all life.
   First I would like to mention again that I’m an advocate for the Marriage tribunal, so if you would like to investigate this process you could talk to me or Fr Mike. In addition to this we have the 12 week
Catholic Divorce Survival Guide for Separated and Divorced program which is just starting, and meets on Mondays at 7pm in room 109 . We also have the Monthly Divorce Recovery Ministry Meeting, an ongoing support group for those struggling with the pain of Divorce and meets the 3rd Tuesday of every month in the Conference Room. We Also have the Single Again Fellowship Events (SAFE) which are every other month outings for separated, divorced and widowed Catholics. In fact, I’m told that the next one will be on Saturday, October 17th. For all these we have a fantastic team composed of our coordinator, Irene Cochran, Stacey Ford our DRE and myself . All of us are willing to
listen and walk with you in this process of healing.
   The teachings of the Church about marriage are beautiful. Sadly (and I’m the first to admit this) we have done a horrendous job at teaching why marriage is a unique gift from God for those who enter into this
union. But we are fixing that, so if you would like to explore these beautiful teachings, if you would like to find healing from a broken marriage, I invite you to take advantages of these opportunities here at St
Michael, and always remember...You are not alone. God bless you all

Who do You Say That I Am? 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

    Today’s first reading might sound a bit familiar to our ears. It is taken from the Book of Isaiah, from a section also known as the Suffering Servant Songs. It sounds familiar because it is also read during the great mass at Palm Sunday, at the beginning of Holy Week. This was not done by accident. By placing such an significant reading next to today’s Gospel the church is telling us that today's Gospel reading is of great importance.  In fact some theologians have stated that  what we are witnessing in today's Gospel is a key moment in the history of Christianity, one of those moments in the life of Jesus which exist outside of time and space. To put it plainly, when you hear people say that the words of Jesus are eternal, they are talking about His words in a Gospel reading like this.
    The story is simple enough, Jesus while walking with his disciples decides to engage them in conversation. It is easy to imagine the Lord making small talk with the apostles, and I imagine the conversation went something like this:
“WOW what a beautiful day for a hike! How long do you think it takes to walk to Caesarea?  Did you see all the people that came out to hear me speak? I saw you talking to some of them...Who were they saying that I was?”

  “Well Master, some were saying you were John the Baptizer, others that you were a prophet, (Get a load of this) we even heard some calling you Elisha” …
”Hmmm that’s nice… but you… Who do you say that I am?”
    Such a simple question, and yet, men who for months had spend 24 hours with Jesus, men who had seem him heal the sick and feed thousands of people, couldn't find the words to answer.. In their silence we can almost sense their confusion, up until then they have been witnesses to the greatest events in the history of mankind and now… now for the first time, they are asked to stop, reflect and explain what did it all means to them? Who is this man?
   Every year when I teach Religious education to our teens, the very first time we meet I ask each one this same question, “Who is Jesus to you?” and invariably I get the same answers “ He is my friend“,”Someone I can trust, someone, who helps me when I need him, someone who listens” For these young people, as it was for the apostles, is very difficult to express who this mysterious historical figure is to them. Since in my class I do not let them stay silent, they all fall back into what I call your standard Jesus  description: someone that sounds suspiciously like a bigger version of whom they want be. Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that our youth are any different than your average Catholic. I’m willing to bet that when it comes to stating who Jesus is. if I were to ask the same question of adults, I would get many similar answers.
   To me the amazing thing is that this question is truly eternal, although it was asked two thousand years ago, its echoes reverberate every day in the life of every Christian. “Who do you say that I am” is a direct question our Lord asks to His disciples, not only the ones walking with Him that day but all of his disciples throughout the ages; and even after two thousand years of reflection we as the apostles that day are as incapable to finds the words to describe who he is.
   So the point of reflection for us today should be how would we answer this question.  Personally I have reflected on this question quite a bit and I have found that the easiest way to give an answer is not by what we could say about Him but by what we do because we know who He is. We show who Jesus is to us by the way we live our lives.
   How do we say Jesus is? He is the reason why we feed the hungry, clothe the naked; harbour the homeless, visit the sick, and ransom the captive. He is the reason why we love our enemies, and pray for their conversion. Why we pray, attend mass and have an active life in our community. He is the reason why we suffer with the suffering, and rejoice with the joifull. 
   To put it in short words: When we live in the way he told us to live, we realize that as disciples of the Lord, when we love, we show in our actions who he really is, our Lord and our God. God bless you my brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Words of Eternal Life: 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

    As I was reflecting on today’s Gospel it occurred to me that  there is a lot of truth on that old saying “The more things change the more they stay the same”....  For the last 4 weeks we have followed the Lord as he presented to his disciples the teaching, we all know today as “The Real Presence”. The belief that when we receive the Eucharist we are been fed with the true resurrected body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. During this time, I’m sure, you have heard either Deacon Cliff, Fr. Mike, Fr. Kurt or myself preaching about this great mystery of our faith. So today I decided to do something different, I decided not to focus as much on what Jesus said but on the reaction His teachings had on the people who were listening.
   The reading says that: “Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”  and that “as a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him”
   To me these passages are of great importance, because they show that from the beginnings the teachings of The Church have been found challenging and difficult to accept. Like I said at the beginning things have not changed much. Even after 2000  years of reflection and divine inspiration from the Holy Spirit I would venture to say that the majority of Catholics  still find some of the teachings of our church hard.
   Now I want to make something clear: I'm not talking about things like “Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest?” or “Why do I have to hold fast at least one hour before receiving communion?”...these are the easy ones!
    Where I want to focus today is in the teachings which are as challenging to us as the words “Eat my flesh and drink my blood blood” were to the people listening to the Lord. If you think about it this is the nature of all religious truth. Religious truth should challenge us and force us into a decision of what kind of person, what kind of disciple we are going to be.
     For some, the teaching that life is sacred and that unborn children should be protected even in the most difficult and heart wrenching cases, is a hard teaching! For others, the teaching that Marriage is an institution not defined or created by the state but by God and that it belongs to the order of nature which is one man and one woman is a hard teaching. For some others ,the teaching that illegal immigrants in our communities should be allowed access to basic social help and that we are called to treat them as if they were our own brothers and sisters is also a hard teaching. Even others, find that the teaching that in our country there is no social justification for the death penalty and that we should work towards eradication this law from all 50 states is a hard teaching! I can go on but I think you might be getting the picture by now. These teachings are not republican, or democrat, they are not conservative or liberal, they are the truth, and it is up to us to surrender our conscience and will to them or to abandon the truth of the Gospel.
    For some people been a Christian might seem easy, all you have to do is love God, love your neighbor like yourself. But this is not what Christianity is all about! Been a true believer requires an act of the will, and a complete surrender to a truth which does not come from any civil state or any sociological study or laboratory but out of the Word Made Flesh, and the Church He gave His authority to teach and guide His disciples.
   There is another part of today’s gospel I would like to share with you. Let me read it: “Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
  Here we see an example to follow: complete religious surrender when confronted with the Truth. Notice that Peter doesn’t say “Master don’t worry because we agree and understand everything you are saying” but “ Master, we are convinced you are the Holy One from God, Your words are words of eternal life”. We might not agree or even understand why you are saying what you are saying, but we believe that when it comes to decide between what you are saying and what my mind is telling have the words of eternal life”.  I would like to finish today with a piece of advice I give all my CCD and RCIA students: it is OK to struggle with some of the teachings of the Church, this is a sign of a healthy faith, but when it comes to make a decision, when it comes to making a stand and surrendering our will to what is true, we should always side with Jesus and his Church or we might run the danger of ending up like the other disciples in today’s gospel, the ones who abandoned the company of the Lord and returned to their old way of life. God bless you all my brothers and sisters.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Bread of Life - 15th Sunday Ordinary time (Cycle B)

    In today’s mass readings once again we find ourselves, in the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John; And I say once again because for the next few week the gospel reading is taken from this  important chapter of the Bible; important because it contains what is also known as the “Bread of Life Discourse”.  The one place in the bible in which Jesus explains in his own words the mystery of the Eucharist. In other words today there is going to be a lot of talk about eating bread, so, If you are following a low carb. diet, I apologize.
    As I was reflecting on this chapter of the bible, I found myself wondering about something I have asked myself many times: Who was the first person ever to figure that if you take a grain like wheat and grind it into a fine powder, and then add some milk and some yeast (of all things!), and then let it rise, and then you punch it and stretch it, and then you let it sit again and rise again, and then you punch it and stretch it again, and then you place it in a mold and let it rise again, and then you put it in an oven and bake it...You would actually get a loaf of bread.
    What I’m trying to say is that a making bread is not easy. This is quite a process to just figure out by accident. And yet if you think about it… every society in the world from the most advanced to the most primitive, have figured out a way of making their own version of bread. The steps and ingredients might be different but the results are almost always the same. It is as if making bread is a human universal.
  I would venture to say that this interesting fact about bread is not an accident. It explains why God, who as a pure spirit became a man, when it was time to return to his heavenly glory, and desiring to remain in a physical form here on earth, chose the one form of life giving food which is universal: bread. Not only this but, he made sure that his presence would remain throughout all of time, by giving priests the power to transform a regular piece of bread into his body, blood, soul and divinity for us the feed at every mass.
  In fact if you think about it a little more and you look at the steps you follow to make bread. They in themselves are a lesson, signs of the mystery which is the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of our Lord. The wheat which has to be transformed from beautiful wheat stalks into a fine powder, reminds us of how God in all his glory and beauty took our lowly human nature, which literally comes from the dust of the earth. The yeast which needs to be added to this flour in order to make it rise points to the divinity of the Lord who by assuming our lowly state, made our own human nature capable of rising to a point in which we can touching divinity. All the punching and knotting are the grim reminders of what he had to suffer on the Cross so that we could be saved from the brokenness of sin. And the final result, that loaf of steaming, golden fresh bread reminds us of community, of love, of one family sharing life giving nourishment.
   In today’s Gospel our Lord declares that he is the Bread of Life and that whoever eats of this bread will never hunger. With these words he takes advantage of the universality of bread, so that every  men, woman and child who ever lived, including you and me could know precisely what he is talking about.
   My brothers and sisters If today I could place an image in your mind it would be this: Jesus looking into our eyes and telling us, he is the only one that can satisfy all the hungers of your heart... this is the message of today’s Gospel, the message of the Eucharist, the message we will hear about again and again in the next few weeks as we continue reading from this chapter of the Book of John. So  As we revisit this most important teaching of our faith,  it is my prayer that we all have a renewed encounter with the bread of life who came down from heaven to feed us so that we would never ever hunger for anything else again. Blessed be Jesus, in the most holy sacrament of The Eucharist. Amen.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Why is There Religion? 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

   A couple of weekends ago one of our very inquisitive teens stopped me after mass to ask a question. Normally when this happens with an adult I get one of the easy ones, you know like “Why do the church hates Gay people?” or “Why are women second class citizens in the Church?”. But, the hard questions, the ones that require careful consideration, always come from our youth, so with a little bit of fear I answered “Sure… what’s in your mind?” to which he simply said “why is there religion in the world?”
   Now you might think that this is a pretty simple question but if you think about it, this is in fact one of the great questions of our times! Let me show you, if we were to look at the most popular beliefs systems in our culture today, we would find two extreme views, in one end stand those who do not believe in God and at the other those who claim they believe in “something”, and like to call themselves“spiritual but not religious”.
   How many times have we heard the first group say “If religion is the cause of so much pain, destruction and death?...Why is there religion?”. On the other hand how many times have we hear believers say “If all there is, is just Jesus and me, if we are OK with just been spiritual...Why is there religion?”
   Now in case you are wondering what my answer was, after frantically searching my memory banks, this is what I said: “The reason why religion exists is because some people are given faith by God, you see religion is just an expression, our reaction to this faith. At its core religion is how we respond to God’s desire to have a relationship with us”.
    For Catholic’s everything we do and how we do it, from the sign of the cross to the way we receive communion is an external sign of our faith. The more faith we have the more significant these simple actions become because by doing them we come closer to God. The collection of all these little acts, the prayers, the liturgies, the songs, the crucifixes around our necks, the statues of Mary and the saints in our Sanctuaries are expressions of our faith. The more we embrace these the deeper we enter into our faith.
     In today’s reading Jesus asks two questions to His disciples, do you remember what these were? “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”.  It struck me that these two questions could be asked from each one of us, every time we shy away from showing our Catholic identity, or fail to embrace our faith publicly. Sometimes we do not like to speak about religion in fact  if you are like me who works for the U.S. Government speaking about religion or even showing your Catholic identity could be a cause for derision and even persecution. Many times like the apostles in today’s reading we let fear of retribution or loss of status in the eyes of those around us control our actions.  But these are the moments in which we should remember these two questions “Why are we afraid? Haven’t we received faith from God?”
   Why is there religion? Because as long as there are  believers in the world,men and women, who are opened to the gift of faith that comes from God, and they allow this gift to inform the way in which they think, feel and act, there will be a Catholic religion, a Christian Church, a church of Jesus Christ to serve as a witness to the truth of the Gospel.  Amen?
Now faith is a funny thing, it is not something we generate, but a gift from God. God gives us faith so that we can develop a desire to know Him. Of course we have the choice of embracing this faith or just ignoring this call. When we say that someone is “Very religious” or that someone is a “Holy Person” what we are saying is that someone has reacted in a positive way to this mysterious gift of faith we receive from God. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Religion is what others see when we engage our faith; the more we embrace this gift from God the more religious we become and the more others experience our religion.

At the end of my homily I added these words:

My intention was to finish today right here, but then I caught myself watching the court proceeding of the poor soul who murdered the 9 people in a Charleston, South Carolina church. I was very moved as one by one the relatives of each of the murdered people forgave the assailant. Why is there religion? Because religion helps us reach down into the better corners of our souls, and gives us strengthen to live the way Jesus lived. God bless you all.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What really happened on the day the sun stood still?: Joshua 10 revisited.

  June 21, the longest day of the year or summer solstice, is right around the corner. In order to mark this astronomically important event I decided to take a look the longest day ever recorded in history, which appears in the 10th chapter of the book of Joshua.

12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
    and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 So the sun stood still,
    and the moon stopped,
    till the nation avenged itself on its enemies,
as it is written in the Book of Jashar.
The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!
  Before we can move ahead with this passage some background information would be helpful. The book of Joshua records the conquest wars fought by the armies of Israel under the leadership of a man called  Joshua. These wars were fought in Canaan, what we call today Syria and the “holy land”. When these wars were started, the armies of Israel were nothing more that a rag tag group of warriors, but with the help of Yahweh, and Joshua’s leadership, this group of warriors were able defeat, time and time again, the armies of much bigger and older cultures. One of the cities in Canaan, Gibeon, made an alliance with Joshua. Five other surrounding cities were not happy with this arrangement and decided to join forces and attack Gibeon. When this lone friend of Israel's heard of the approaching armies, they called on Joshua to honor their alliance and help them defend their city. We take the story right at the moment in which Joshua is departing with his army to defend Gibeon.
  This story has been used to make an argument against the Bible as the word of God. It is an argument which goes like this: how can a book supposedly inspired by God, get the way the universe works so wrong? We are talking about how Joshua asked God to “stand still the sun”; you see in Joshua’s mind the Sun moved across the sky, East to West every day, although we know this is not the case. How can the book of Joshua make such a horrendous mistake about the way the universe works?  The problem with this question is that makes invalid assumptions about the book of Joshua; that is that the primary intention of the author was to present how the universe worked that day.
  This book of the Old Testament is just an historical account of how Joshua and his small band of warriors, time and time again defeated much larger armies, until they gained control of all the land of Canaan. It presents what Joshua did and how God helped him. This book is not a cosmology treaty. It tries to put into context events which were out of the ordinary and that were not understood by the writers. What we read in it is basically the authors' attempt at describing a miraculous event using their understanding of the way their universe behaved.
 So the question is then... what happened that day, which caused Joshua to ask for God to “stop the movement of the sun” and what happened that day to make Joshua and his men believe that God had answered their prayers. Lets take a closer look at the reading and see if we can find answers
to these questions.
  Now keep in mind that, there are a lot of things happening in this reading, there is a lot of movement and action, so I’ll try to briefly point the important details that might pass unnoticed. The first few verses tell us that after receiving the request for help from Giveon, the Lord assured Joshua that he will defeat his enemies. Now keep in mind, Joshua was confronting the armies of five whole cities, so most likely this army was much larger than Joshua’s little band of warriors; so Israel’s warriors marched all night. From a previous verse we know they started this march in Gilgal, so the distance Joshua and his men had to walk at night was about 18 miles, which in the mountainous terrain of their march, could be accomplished in about 8 hours. This means that there is a very strong possibility that the surprise attack to defend
Gibeon started under the darkness of the early morning. Joshua’s element of surprise threw his enemies in disarray and caused them to flee all the way down to Azeka and Mechadda, through the pass of
Beth Horon, a trip of about 20 miles. It was during this retreat, according to the story that “God sent great hailstones” which killed most of the enemies of Joshua, and reduced the number of his enemies to a more “manageable” size. The reading implies that Joshua engaged his enemies after the hailstorm
which means that Joshua's army had to march 20 miles after an 18 miles overnight trip. That is 38 miles! Which, by the way would place the final battle in the late afternoon. It is at this time which Joshua makes his prayer to God to stand the Sun still so he can finish what we would call in modern times a "mop up" operation. Now lets do an assessment of Joshua and his army here, they have walked all night, they attacked early in the morning and now after another 8-10 hours of marching they find themselves battling their enemies again. They were tired, hungry and most likely they were operating on pure adrenaline but more importantly...They wanted to finish the job started so many hours ago.
  It being the late afternoon, Joshua realized he was running out of daylight so in his mind, the Sun needed to be stopped in order to make this day longer and finish disposing of his enemies. Many years ago I worked with a brilliant mathematician, who told me that he had lost his faith because of this story, he reasoned that if God were to stop the earth rotation, everything that is not literary nailed to the ground would come out flying because of the change on rotational speed; not to mention the catastrophic effect in plate tectonics, and ocean tides. My friend's literal interpretation of this story he could not conceive of a God so powerful that he would take into consideration all the effects of stopping the earth rotation. At the end of the day, this interpretation could only be applied to a less than infinitely powerful being.
  Another mistake my friend made was that he limited himself to just ONE potential explanation, the most literal of all. But, the thing is... there are other explanations that could cause Joshua and his men to think that the day was longer than normal and that the Sun stood in the middle of the sky, these are the ones I would like to explore.
  Since Joshua was asking the wrong thing God acted in a way that might have looked as if that the Sun had stopped in the western sky.  Some people have speculated that, since the sun was in the West, perhaps there was some type of meteorological phenomena which reflected the light of the sun after it had set, something like Sun Dogs or a phenomenon know as “noctilucent” or “polar mesospheric” clouds. Which might be related to the strange “hailstone” storm which killed many that day. Others have speculated that perhaps a meteor appeared bright as the sun before it disintegrated in the atmosphere.
    To me some of the most interesting theories have to do with “time” itself. One of these goes like this: Since we know now (Thanks to Albert Einstein) that time is not constant, an all powerful God would have the power of locally “slowing down time” making it seem as if everything moving outside of this
bubble is moving slowly.* So the Sun would appear as if it was standing in the sky.
  Another theory I find interesting is based on “Time perception”. There is a well known psychological phenomenon in which a person in a high level of stress becomes so focused that it looks as if time has slowed down around them. With Joshua and his men having been for such a long time in a high level of stress, it is possible that they lost track of time itself (After all, in the times of Joshua there was not reliable way of measuring time) so after repeated cases of feeling time slowing down they might have thought the day was much longer and in their minds the only way this could be possible was by divine intervention.
   Now I would be remiss if I were not to mention another interpretation based on the type of language used by writers of this book. Looking at the text we can see that the story changes "styles" when quoting Joshua’s prayer, also after this quote, the reading mentions the Book of Jashar, which scholars believe was a book of poems and songs about great Jewish heroes of this time (a book now lost). Because of these some scholars believe that this event never really happened and it is just a poetic way of saying that on a long day of fighting a superior enemy, God was helping the armies of Joshua to such a degree that “The sun and the moon stopped” to bring Israel victory.
    Of course we can speculate more but the reality is that we will never know what happened that day, only that it felt as if "The sun stood in the sky" for a whole day.  Like I mentioned before, some people have used this story to point out that the Bible is not reliable because it makes an error in the assumption that the sun rotates around the earth;  but this story is not about celestial mechanics but about how God responded to Joshua’s prayer. Even when He was asking for the wrong thing God graciously responded to his prayer.This in it self should be a source if great consolation, for how many times we have found ourselves asking God for the wrong thing, without knowing or understanding what we were talking about? God's eternal mercy is manifested on these moments, we might not have any idea what is he doing but we can be sure that he is making the universe work in the most beneficial way for all of His children.

* Now this reminds me of an old Start Trek episode titled “Wink of an Eye” in which a group of aliens, existing in a high level of acceleration attempted to take over the Enterprise. While they were moving everyone else appear static.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
"Ya Rabbi Yassou!!"

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Books, books and more books!

Just finished three books (not much to do while keeping company with my dad) The first one, a good intro on the Church's historical teaching about Original Sin. However I can not recommend it in good conscience as the premise is: The evolution of the universe contradicts the teaching of the Church, therefore the Church should change their teachings, and by the way, we have the right teaching for this: Process Theology. No space here to be specific, only to say that eventually they are forced to change the historical teaching about the nature of God in order to make it coherent with what (they think) science tells us about the universe. I found this part very narrowly presented, and was surprised about their lack of "theological" originality, as well as their complete disregard of what Cardinal Newman called "development of doctrine".

The second book I finished was a strong philosophical defense of miracles by a physicist. Not enough space here for a full blown review, just that although the tone is a bit to combative for my taste, the author does a great job at answering objections which have been made since the beginning of "The Enlightenment" against the events we call "Miracles". Sometimes verbose, sometimes whiny, but some good information never the less.…/…/ref=sr_1_2…

The third book I finished, was your basic good guys against bad guys (With a lot of "suspend your reality" in between). I was surprised about how this little book kept my interest all the way to the last few pages. Much fun to read.…/…/ref=sr_1_1…

Started 4 books (All of my life I've been able to read multiple books at the same time, so this is something quite normal for me). Here they are:
Suicide-Despair-Soul-Recovery-Finding the Light of God. 

The History of the Inquisition: Vol 1,2 & 3 - A series of three books, I hope to finish by the end of the year

Chaos Quarter - A sci-fi novel just for fun.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
"Ya Rabbi Yassou!!"

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Metanoia; 3rd Sunday of Easter

   I think it is fair to say that this past week we had a fantastic Parish Mission with Fr Leo Patalinghug. How many of you got to see him? All 3 days? Personally it was great to see this sanctuary filled to capacity for such an event! If you missed these evenings, do not despair, because for the last few days I have been trying really hard to come out with a way to share the message of these 3 days and I think I figure a way to do this. Sadly, if I want to keep my homily under 10 minutes, unlike Fr leo, I will not be able to show my own cooking skills…  If I were to compress Fr Leo’s  message into one easily digestible idea, believe or not, I can do this with just one word “metanoia”.
    Now this Greek word is not an easy word to translate into English. In today's readings this word is translated as “repent!” or “repentance” In fact, it is no accident that we hear this word twice in today’s readings, since it is a word used often by the Lord and the apostles.
     Now, we know that “repentance” is an action we take after  we have already done something wrong. It is the result of regret and guilt, and it involves our commitment to do something to repair the damage we have done. However this is not what Metanoia actually means. In fact this is not one word but a combination of two words; the first, “meta”  is the name of the markers used in a racetrack to indicate where the runners had to turn, and “noia” which means to have mental knowledge (noia-Know), so this word literally means “To know where are we supposed to turn”.
  So when in today’s two readings St Peter says “Repent that your sins may be forgiven” and the the Lord says in the Gospel “repentance would be preached in his name” they are not talking about feeling sorry for our sins but they are encouraging us to open our eyes and realize we need to turn our way of live around, from what was before into completely new direction.
  If you think about it, this is the same message Fr Leo brought to St Michael’s this past week. The first night he spoke specifically to our young people. He talked about how easy it is to sin and how difficult is to be good, and he demonstrated how in a group once one member decides to turn around and do good, this decision affects the whole group. All it takes is for one person to engage in this reorientation of one's life.
   The second night he dedicated to our Blessed Mother. He used her as an example of faith and trust. Turning around our lives will always be a scary process, because we really have no idea where the Lord is going to take us. Mary could not have known how much her life would change after finding herself as an unwed-mother and later as Simeon told her that “a sword would pierce her heart”. As scary of these things sound, she trusted God’s word, and always was open to God’s plan for her.
  On the third night Fr Leo showed us how we do not have to turn around our lives alone, how we have the sacraments especially reconciliation and the Eucharist to support us and guide us in this process.
    I’m telling you my brothers and sisters these 3 days were a fantastic opportunity for us experience “metanoia” in the way the Lord wants us too. Now there is one thing which I feel Father Leo left unsaid. How do we know if we are going the right way? After all change for the sake of change is never good. The worst think it could happen is that we decide to reorient our lives into a direction which is not what the Good Lord wants for us. Well I think this is where today’s second reading comes into play.  In this reading we hear St John telling “His children” that they have an advocate in Jesus who died on the cross for the sins of the whole world. But then he gives us the key to help us determine if we need to turn around our lives into a new direction he said: “The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments.” and then he goes further. he says “ Those who say, “I know him,” but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them.”
   Metanoia could be a scary thing, it is very easy to fool ourselves by thinking that we do not have to reorient our lives, it is very easy to lie to ourselves and to others making them and us think that we are OK. But the key is to make sure we are following Jesus commandments. And what is the easiest way to do this? By engaging in what the Church calls and “examination of conscience”.
   Now I have no time to tell you how to do a good examination of conscience, but there are some good resources online to guide you on this, and you can always make an appointment with a priest and he will help you. The point is, we all need to do this periodically if we want to follow the message of metanoia, of transformation and reorientation of our lives.
  I think last week’s mission was a complete success, but now it is up to us to built on what Father Leo accomplished, to take a good look at our lives and re-orient our whole being. Because when we do this, to use again the words of St John in the second reading “the love of God will be truly perfected in us.” God bless you.

Palm Sunday

    A few weeks ago I got a very strange text message from one of my daughters. She wanted me to tell her what color was the dress in a picture she was sending me; Maybe you know the picture and the dress I’m talking about. … and perhaps your own family like mine spend a couple of days arguing about “It is white and Gold...No it is Blue and black!”. The thing is...Regardless of what color this dress was, every one who saw it saw something completely different although they were all looking at the same picture of the same dress.
  Just now as we do every year, we heard the passion story as it was told by the Gospel of St Mark. I would venture to say that, today, like when that white and gold and blue and black dress almost break the Internet, each one of us heard a different story. For some this was the same long, boring story we have to endure every Palm Sunday. For others this story brought to mind images from the many movies they have seem about the passion of our Lord. Perhaps;  others, when they heard these words, might have remembered images of long gone Palm Sundays, from a time in which Churches presented Passion Plays with real Romans costumes and a real Cross.
  Regardless of what was our reaction to this long reading, today I would like to issue a challenge to all of you: Do you think you are brave and strong enough to, during this Holy week, especially during Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, to voluntarily forget all those tired images we recycle every year, and really pay attention to what will be happening  these days?  How about if we make a effort, this year to really enter into this story with all of our senses, all of our mind, all of our heart? Starting today lets really make an effort to hear the readings, to smell the incense, to see the fire in the candles and tapers, to really taste the wine and the bread. Let us make a conscientious effort to live these days like Jesus and the apostles lived then. Who knows, maybe we will discover new meanings for the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, for Jesus death on the Cross Holy Friday, for the new birth of baptism by those joining the Christian Church on Holy Saturday, for Jesus resurrection on Easter morning.
   If there is one thing that, sometimes white and gold, sometimes blue and black, dress proved is that usually we settle for the first thing our senses perceive and end up seen what we want to see. How about if this week we force ourselves not to settle, and make an effort to discover the true meaning of Holy Week?  Again I challenge you… are you strong enough?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

WWJD? 3rd Sunday of Lent (Cycle B)

   Every time I read this gospel story, the first thing that pops into my head is one of those colored plastic bands people use on their wrists. I’m sure you have seem the one I’m talking about, it has only 4 letters: WWJD which stand for “What Would Jesus Do”. In fact this has become so popular that I have seem  the same 4 letters in car stickers, t-shirts and even screen-savers.
    I think that today’s Gospel is particularly important for Christians because, like a friend told me once, it is a good reminder that sometimes doing what Jesus would do might involve wiping some people around, spilling their money on the ground and flipping some tables like a crazy person.
  Ok... Maybe that’s  taking it a bit too far, but today’s Gospel reading is important because it helps us dispel the erroneous image we have developed in our culture of a meek, passive, and submissive Lord. There will be time on Good Friday to be meek and submissive, a time in which the Lord is fulfilling the will of The Father, and gaining the eternal salvation of the world; but we see Jesus the man, doing what good men do: taking a stand. Not just pointing at an evil, but doing something about it.   
   I have to confess I never liked these WWJD merchandise, basically because I feel they are used as an excuse to remind Christians that in all situations we are supposed to project peaceful almost angelic image and in all circumstances we should strive for harmony and never do anything to upset the sensibilities of anyone by doing things like speaking the truth and  admonishing sinners.
   Now if we were to look deeper as to where this idea of a passive and meek Christian comes from we would have to admit that in fact this image is very attractive, to us. Why? because it is human nature to try to make everyone like us; and what a better way to do this than not upsetting anyone? The problem is that we transfer this image of a passive Christian into an image of a passive savior and in a sense we are making our Lord look just like us and not us look like him.
   The image of our Lord in today’s Gospel, becomes very upsetting when we realize that in certain circumstances in life we are to behave like this… when the moment calls for it we have to take a stance for what is right. 
    Now in the season of Lent we are supposed to use our time to correct those things that need to be fixed in ourselves so that we can enter more fully into the mystery of Good Friday and the Joy of Easter Sunday.  I would venture to say that one of the things we need to consider is our own personal image, quite simply lent is a good time to ask: Do I reflect Christ in me or do I make Christ a reflection of myself?
   Of course this type of self reflection is not easy, most times is very painful to look at our own shortcomings when it comes to imitating the master, so during lent the church gives us many opportunities to examine ourselves against the standard which our Lord. We have things like prayers, fasting and giving alms, which the Ash Wednesday Liturgy reminded us of how to do the right way. Then we have Stations of the Cross in which we see Jesus embracing his destiny and not shying away from the suffering he had to endure for the salvation of the world. And every Wednesday night in all the Churches of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the light is on for us. Which is the campaign we have every year to encourage Catholics to take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
   Now it is a sad reality for our Church that many Catholics hardly ever take advantage of this sacrament. Perhaps is because they are afraid, or perhaps it is because they feel that they have no sins to confess, or perhaps it is just because the feel it is not important, but the reality is that if we want to abandon this image of of a meek and passive Lord, the best way to start is by participating frequently of this Sacrament because it forces us to take a look at the ugliness of our personal sins. I am convinced my brothers and sisters that if Catholics were to take advantage of this wonderful gift of God’s mercy  more frequently, especially men which are to be the spiritual leaders of their families, to put it simply, we would change the image the world has of all of us.
  So in this upcoming week I invite you to ask not  what would Jesus do, but what would the master ask me to do at all times and in all situations, even if this means turning my own life upside down, and abandoning the image of a meek and passive Christian. Amen

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"
"Ya Rabbi Yasou!!"

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lent Fasting: Good for Your Soul and Your Health

   Lent starts tomorrow, after New Year's I think this is the most common time in which people take upon resolutions. Many of us decide to cut on sweets, chocolate, coffee, red meat and many other foods in addition to our every Friday abstinence.  If you have not decided to give up food this lent this might give you some motivation.   A new report from the Yale School of Medicine recently stated that:
"a compound produced by the body when dieting or fasting can block a part of the immune system involved in several inflammatory disorders such as type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer's disease."
   Lenten practices are all about discipline, but there is a deeper component to these. To put it simply: How do we prove to ourselves that we truly believe what we believe? By voluntarily following  the lenten disciplines. So if you find yourselves floundering in mid March remember that you are also doing something for your health by depriving yourself of that bar of chocolate or that extra snack at 3:00pm.

You can read the rest of the report here.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

About the Incarnation - 6th Sunday of OT (B)

   My brothers and sisters, perhaps you don’t realize this but Lent starts on Wednesday! Since this is a season of penance and abstinence, I decided to focus today in a feast which although smacked right in the middle of this penitential season, provides us with an opportunity to experience a little bit of Christmas in the desert of lent. I’m speaking about March 25 the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord. In this day we celebrate the moment in which the archangel Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary and asked for her permission so that God the Father, through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, could conceive The Son of God in her immaculate womb. Now notice that this feast happens precisely 9 months before Christmas, so not only we celebrate the visit of the angel, but we also celebrate the moment in which The Son of God became incarnated; Which is a word invented by the Church to give a name to the the mystery that is an infinite God “becoming flesh and dwelling among us”.
   Usually, because we are so involved in our Lenten practices this great feast passes unnoticed, pretty much in the same way that when we are reciting the creed, we say this word without reflecting in its meaning and implications. The reality is that this word “incarnation” describes the most important event in the history of humanity.
You might have never noticed this but at every mass we remember the incarnation, not in the creed, but in the preparation of  the gifts we bring to the altar.  Usually as the offertory song is still been sung, the priest or deacon performs a very simple rite in which he adds a few drops of water to the wine while silently saying “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in Christ divinity who humbled himself to share in our humanity”.
   In the incarnation the Son of God himself abandons the divine majesty of God the Father, and humbles himself to share in our lowly, corrupted and weak humanity, without gaining any of our sin or losing any of his divinity.  Now this does not mean that somehow the son of God becomes like a bigger version of ourselves, but that he embraces all that we are, our weaknesses, our fears, our pains and makes them his, raising our humanity to a condition in which we can be sharers of God’s divine Nature, a condition we lost because of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve.
   Now you might be wondering where am I going with all this. Well the reason for this is because in the story of today’s Gospel we see very clearly what the incarnation is all about. Jesus willingness to embrace His humanity. In the Gospel we hear about of a leper who came to Jesus and pleaded “If you wish it you can make me clean”. St Mark says that Jesus was moved by pity  for this man and that he touched the man and said “I do will it, be made clean”. 
    Let's think about this action for a second, this man was a leper, because of this disease he was condemned to a life of solitude away from any human contact. Jesus touch did something more than heal him, it gave him back what he had lost, but Jesus did this in a very specific way; he voluntarily becomes ritually impure by touching a leper; but not only this, the reading says that this man  went out and  publicized what Jesus did for him, forcing the Lord to live outside in deserted places. By healing this man Jesus went from a normal traveling teacher to living the life of a leper. He took upon himself the misery this man had experienced because of his disease.
   The incarnation is the reason why we can live a life close to God, is the reason why we can be assured that God knows and understands our pains and tribulations. It makes God not a mysterious far away being, but a God who understands, when we are  hungry, tired, hurt and discouraged; because of this mystery of God we can be certain that we are not alone in our human suffering. Of course the end result of the incarnation is what we celebrate on Good Friday, what we prepare for during the season of Lent, God taking upon our own sufferings on the cross. 
  My prayer for all of us today is for a lenten season which allows us to enter deeper into the mystery of the incarnation so that we can all come to share in Christ divine life who humbled himself to share in our lowly humanity.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Did I Fulfill my Obligation? An encounter with Liturgycal Abuse


   Today I experienced something I have never experienced before. It is one of those things that make you realize how lucky you have been in your life until that very moment. Before I tell you what happened  I need to give you some background. I do not consider myself ultra-conservative when it comes to the mass, however I'm not one for liturgical dancing either. Liturgically, I consider myself middle of the road with a few lane changes to the left or to the right depending on the circumstances of the moment. The extent of my experience with liturgical abuses is what I have seen posted in Youtube and to this my reaction has always been to laugh it out and move on. Until today.

   As it happens I'm visiting my dad for a week to spend some quality time with him and allow my sister (his primary care giver) some quality time with  her family. Usually when I come to visit I attend mass at my original parish church. Since the mass times were not convenient, today I decided to attend mass at another parish with a more convenient time (I'm trying to stay general when it comes to details to protect the privacy of everyone involved, priest and congregation). I showed up a bit early to have some time to wander around the almost 300 years old church I was visiting and enjoy some personal prayer time. In my wanderings I found myself standing in front of a very realistic crucifix. I was taken a back at the realism of this piece of art and started to reflect on the pain our Lord suffered for the sake of my own sins. As I went deeper in my reflection I realized I was experiencing a deep feeling of spiritual anguish. I was surprised by this and spent the rest of my time kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament wondering what the deal was with these feelings from just a few seconds ago. Mass was about to start so I walked to the very front pew and sat. How little did I know that soon all my questions about the source of spiritual anguish were going to be answered!
   I have never experienced a mass such as this. To say that the priest committed a few liturgical abuses is to put it nicely. Let me just mention the ones which come to my mind right at the moment.
  • The priest’s greeting for the mass was  "The grace of our Lord Jesus who died for our sins be with you". My first thought when I heard this was "What about God the Father, and the Holy Spirit??? I hope this is a Trinitarian Mass".
  • The penitential rite was the priest leading us in a "Yoga breathing exercise" while repeating a mantra.
  • There was no "May almighty God have Mercy on us". In fact there was no Kyrie. I was left wondering: "are my sins forgiven? Is the Blessed Mother, angels and saints praying for me??
  • During the homily I learned that
    • Paul was a misogynist and a Manichean.
    • Most demoniacs Jesus healed were just misunderstood epileptics.
    • We should listen to what the UN tells us about the environment.
    • The church is homophobic.
    • A homily is a good place to quote Nietzsche.
  • Once the homily was over (thankfully!!) we were led into the creed by the priest asking us "Do you believe in..." and us answering with the mantra we had just learned during the penitential rite. This ancient rite culminated by us assenting our belief in the "the Church which is One, Holy, Catholic, SINFUL and apostolic".
  • During the "agnus dei" the priest gave a host to each extraordinary minister of communion, which they held in front of them and consumed at the same time the priest did (As if they were priests too!) after the recitation of "Lord I'm not worthy to receive you..."
    Needless to say by then my jaw was hitting the ground! I kept asking myself “what am I supposed to do? Should I just walk away?" (Remember I was sitting in the first pew!), but if I walk away, wouldn't I be abrogating my responsibility as clergy? I have always advised people that when they witness one the things I just described, the only course of action is to confront the priest after mass and let them know that we were not happy with the fact that he gave us their own personal version of the mass and not the mass of Jesus Christ.

    On the other hand, I was just visiting, and "incognito", nobody knew I'm a permanent deacon; why should I get involved in parish politics so far away from my own archdiocese?...I'm ashamed to say these were the arguments I used to convince myself that I should just sit down and endure the rest of mass until I could quietly walk away during the offertory collection...until and old gentlemen tapped me on the shoulder and said quietly "Could you help collecting the offering?" "GREAT!" I though "Now I'm STUCK!" I took the basket and walked with him down the middle isle of the church helping collect the community's offering.

     When we finished with the collection we moved to the consecration of the bread and wine. Up to that moment I was convinced I was witnessing an illicit mass; but when the priest changed the words of institution during the consecration of the wine I let out an audible groan from my lips. This mass was not only illicit but now it was dangerously close to be invalid! What was I supposed to do now?! I couldn't in good conscience walk away from this mess (I mean mass) without confronting this priest. Once gain I heard a little voice in my mind reminding me that this was not my parish, or diocese so, why make a fuss??...and once again I figure I should receive communion, but just the Body of Christ. Here I gave father the benefit of the doubt and assumed father had the right intention when he "kind of" followed the rubrics for the consecration of the bread. However I could not in good conscience partake of the wine since he had completely botched the words of institution for that one! Mercifully, by counting the vessels on the altar I realized that this was a "communion with one form" parish.

  So I told myself "after communion, I will quietly sneak out"... As I was on my way out, for a second time, I was stopped by the same gentlemen who once again asked me if I could help with the second collection!! By then, I had gotten the message. The reason why I decided to attend this mass on the first place, the reason why I had experienced the spiritual anguish before mass, the reason why I had been stopped (twice!) from leaving, was because I had to fraternally admonish this priest.

   After mass I waited until most people were gone and approached father trying to figure how to do this in the most non-confrontational way possible. I figure that I could live with most of the abuses but changing the words of institution was something I could not in good conscience ignore since this act was spiritually dangerous for this priest and his congregation. I put my hand on his shoulder and said quietly "Father, I'm a permanent deacon visiting for the day, please do not take this the wrong way, I'm saying this in the most fraternal way I can, please do not change the words of institution again!!" He looked at me confused and just mumbled "Its the translation, I just read what is in it, this is how we do it in this diocese" turned around and quickly walked away. My heart ached.  I tell you reader, I don't know what was more painful, enduring this mass, or watching this priest walk away from me.

  After this (very painful) experience I kept asking myself if I fulfilled my obligation (of course there is the question of: Was this a mass? Did I fulfill my SUNDAY obligation? But those should be part of a different blog post). The bottom line is: I don't know. I know one thing. I learned a lot with this event. I learned a lot about how the Lord uses me, about the anguish he feels when His mass is profaned, about how much damage we can cause to the Body of Christ when we make the mass "our mass". Still I live with the nagging question, should I have said more?

  What is the moral of this story? Please pray for all our priests but especially for this very confused soul, so that light illuminates his mind and he realizes in what peril is he placing his flock and himself.  

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"