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!!"