Saturday, December 31, 2016

Resolutions 2017!

   I started writing a resolutions post every year as a way of documenting how I have done in important areas of my life, which in my opinion needed to improve. Last winter, with my Dad's health issues, my mind was on other things so I did not have the emotional stamina to sit and look at how my life had been in the previous year. Nevertheless, I did have a list of resolutions which I communicated to my family as a way of keeping me on track.

  Here is the list and an honest assessment of how I did in 2016:
  • Continue eating healthy AND control my sweet tooth - I'm proud to say that this year I have lost 30 pounds, in fact my cardiologist was pretty impressed. I still have a sweet tooth but I try to keep it in check.
  • Continue exercising (Walking) and do a multi-day hike either in the Appalachian Trail or the C&O Canal. - I'm proud to say that this year I did 2 multi-day bike rides (Hiking takes too long and I enjoy biking with my bride). In one trip, we did the last 50 miles of the C&O canal and on another we did the first 50. We are planning some more for 2017 and maybe a multi-day Appalachian Trail trip.  We will see! (And I'm starting to feel The Camino tug again)
  • Read at least 25 pages a day- I'll say that I mostly did this although I was not as faithful as I should have been in the last 3 months of the year, however I did get to read a number of books I wanted to read. Overall, I feel that I have read much more than I usually do. The picture below is of all the books I read in 2016 (these are JUST non-fiction books)!

  • Write at least one blog article a month. - Failed miserably, in fact I wrote less than a post a month! I really need to do better with this.
  • Produce at least 10 episodes of my podcast. - Failed miserably, mostly because my mind was not focused on it but also because there was a period in February-March that I was losing my voice so I could not speak into a microphone. Let's see what I can do for next year.
  • Increase my Guitar repertoire (And record at least some!) - I'm sad to report that this (at the moment) will not be achievable as I have developed a nasty bout of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in both my hands which makes playing classical guitar very painful. It is with sadness that this year I have confronted the reality that my classical guitar playing days are over.
Well, that is it for this year and now onto the resolutions for 2017!

  • Continue eating healthy and lose 30 more pounds (My goal is 170)
  • Continue exercising. I think I will dedicate more time to biking and less to walking as it is a better use of my time.
  • Complete another couple of multi-day hiking/biking trips.
  • Read at least 10 pages a day.
  • Avoid buying books for at least 1 year (Seriously folks, I ran out of places to store books and "She-who-must-be-obeyed" is starting to get annoyed with my piles of books everywhere!)
  • Blog more, let's say one homily and one article a month.
  • Produce 10 episodes of a podcast (I have some ideas for different podcasts but they are all at different stages of development in my mind)
  • Depend less on my phone and more on my computer. (I noticed that I waste the most time on my phone, time on the computer tends to be productive)  
  • At least once a week, go to bed before 9:00PM. 
  • Be more intentional with my relationships, stay in touch,  love more, be less of an introvert.
That is it! Let's see how I do in the next year!


Monday, December 26, 2016

Top Religion Related Science News For 2016

  Another year comes to an end which means it is time for Top of 2016 lists. Since religion and science are two of my favorite topics, this year I give you my Top Religion-Science Related news. I selected these from science aggregators throughout the year as a way to disprove the tired "Religion vs Science" canard. I would say that 2016  was quite a year for the intersection of science and religion, with many scientists taking a look at the benefits that religion has on "homo-sapiens", as well as important contributions religion has given to astronomy and ecology. But don't believe me, just peruse the list and tell me if I missed anything! 

By far, the most important Science news of the year was the discovery of Gravitational Waves, an event which has the potential to change our understanding of reality. What does this have to do with religion? I'm not too sure but there is a reason why the Vatican Observatory is organizing an international workshop to map the way ahead. Lets see what develops from this gathering of top notch scientists and theologians. Other significant discoveries were:

Astronomers  discover  RR Lyrae type stars in the center of the Milky Way - An international team of astronomers has discovered for the first time a type of ancient star in the center of our Galaxy. What does this have to do with religion? Well, part of the team were scientists that are employed at the Vatican observatory. Just another nail in the coffin of the old "Catholic Church vs Science" fable.

Science Daily publishes article on Echotheology - The online news aggregator Science Daily published a report about a recent paper proposing that the efforts of Christian theology in understanding the role of Man in the environment are not limited to the last few years. In fact, Christian theology has a long and distinguished history of wanting to understand. The most surprising statement in the paper is this:
"The vast majority of us subscribe to the idea that human activity dramatically changes the natural environment, altering many biological processes. But addressing the global nature of human impact may require help from belief systems large enough to conceptualize on a cosmic scale"
Is science starting to realize that, when it comes to humans, without the cosmological view that religion provides to define our common destiny as created creatures, they will never be able to gain main-stream acceptance? Only time will tell! 

Religious service attendance associated with lower suicide risk among women -  A study in June revealed that attending religious ceremonies not only does marvels for your spiritual life, but it also lowers your chances of suicide.

Worldwide study reverses notion most scientists are atheists - "The study's results challenge longstanding assumptions about the science-faith interface. While it is commonly assumed that most scientists are atheists, the global perspective resulting from the study shows that this is simply not the case." In other words, the majority of the world's scientists are religious and they do not try to keep science and religion exclusive.

Brain scans reveal prayer helps addicts deal with cravingsAccording to a new study, members of  Alcoholics Anonymous reported less craving for alcohol after reciting AA prayers and viewing drinking-related images. I guess it pays to trust in your "Higher Power".

Apparently is not only believers who think Richard Dawkins is a troll - A survey of British scientists revealed that most of them think Richard Dawkins(The darling of Scientific Materialists everywhere) gives science a bad rap.

Religion is, once again, found beneficial to adolescent development - A new study authored by University of Calgary researchers were able to show that religion has a "barrier" effect in young adolescents when it comes to viewing pornography at an early age.

Faith-based health promotion program successful with older Latinas - Another study revealed that your health could actually improve more if you follow a health program centered in faith and not just exercising. Nothing like sacramentalizing your day to stay healthy!

Winner of distinguished astronomy award speculates about the star of Bethlehem - "Florida International University astronomer, Professor Caroline Simpson, provides scientific insight into what may explain the Christmas Star phenomenon. Simpson studies how galaxies and the universe evolve over time. She is the recipient of the 2016 Richard H. Emmons Award for excellence in college astronomy teaching and one of the first physics professors at FIU to transform a basic introductory astronomy course for non-science majors into an active learning class." The funny thing about this one is that she reached the same conclusion I reached after my own research on this topic. You can hear my thoughts on this topic at my now semi-retired podcast "The Hidden Bible"

Here are some honorable mentions:

Avoiding spiritual matters could be detrimental to your health  
Thinking about spiritual matter activates brain reward areas
Oxytocin found to enhance spiritual well being
Religious actions convey pro-social intent 

Study shows that those who believe in God are considered more trustworthy

Well that is our list for this year. Let's see what the new year has to offer to us,

Many blessings and Happy New 2017 everyone!!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

On the Manhood of Josepth - 4th Sunday of Advent (A)

      Welcome to the 4th Sunday of Advent. If you are like me, by now you have heard enough homilies about Christmas, so...with this in mind I have decided that today I will not preach about Christmas but about another topic we hardly get a chance to preach about: Manhood. But not the sinless, divine manhood our Lord Jesus displayed while he dwelt among us. I have decided to preach about the more common manhood we encounter in everyday life. A manhood that is flawed, weak and sinful, but that sometimes, when it is willing to trust and abandon itself completely to God’s providence, is capable of greatness.
      First we meet King Ahaz, a descendant of King David, a man who was proud and weak, who did everything in his power to destroy the Jewish religion, to the point of allowing pagan altars and pagan sacrifices in the Jewish temple. He was such a bad King that when he died, his own Son, Hezekiah, refused to bury him among the other kings of Israel.
      In today’s reading we see the hypocrisy of this man, who while allowing sacrifices to pagan gods in the Jewish temple, refuses God’s gracious offering of a sign. Ahaz shows us the wrong kind of manhood. A manhood which is based on the abuses of its own power. A manhood which, while refusing God’s gracious gifts, thinks that he can impress God with false shows of religious fervor.
      In contrast to Ahaz we meet Joseph, another descendant of David, but not a king, a humble carpenter. Here is this man who just discovered that the woman he is “betrothed” to marry is pregnant with a child that is not his own. And after struggling with what to do decided what every good man of his times would, divorce his wife quietly so as not to bring shame to her. And now according to an angel the father of the child is the Holy Spirit, the child will be a boy, even his name has already been selected: His name will be Jesus. Everything is already taken care of; All Joseph had to do was sign here on the dotted line.
    I’m not trying to be disrespectful to poor Joseph, but I’m sure in his mind he had all his life planned and then... this! What does a good man do in situations like this? A real man trusts in God’s providence, and embraces the task given to him. Joseph, presented with the awesome responsibility to be a father to the savior of the world, be his protector and his provider welcomes Mary into his home.
     Now your average person would think, “ok, since all this is God’s doing, from here on it is going to be easy sailing”; well the fact is that just about everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong! Instead of security and comfort, Joseph finds himself on  a hard journey during the last stage of Mary’s pregnancy. Then when Mary was ready to deliver the baby he could not find a place to stay, with no family or friends to help.  So he has to settle for a filthy manger surrounded by animals. And after the baby is born he is forced to uproot his family and escape to Egypt and become what we today would consider an immigrant.
    Again, the average person might think “with all the calamities we have suffered, perhaps it was not such a good idea to listen to that angel.”
But this is not the way good men think. What does a man do when things are not going the way he planned?He maintains his trust in God’s providence.
    In today’s readings there is a great contrast between these two men, but there is something else: King Ahaz had lost his faith in the God of Israel and placed his trust in foreign gods; Joseph on the other hand placed his trust in God alone and the harder the way got the harder he trusted in God’s providence. This my brothers and sisters is the mark of true manhood: trust in God.
    In a culture in which the idea of manhood had been diluted to a point in which we are not too sure what real manhood is, we are given a quiet man. Not a King in command of great armies but a peasant with a simple faith and steady hand. God’s chosen father for his only begotten son.
   After the events of Christmas, Joseph retires into obscurity and we never hear what happened to him, all we know is that he did his job the best way he could and that he trusted that God will take care of the rest. I can not think of a better example of manhood for us here today. God bless your all.