Monday, February 17, 2020

6th OT (Cycle A) God's Wisdom

    When I came to live in the United States, about 35 years ago, I had what you would call a culture shock. Mostly because I came from a culture in which Catholicism was part of everything I did. It was not that religion was part of life, it was that religion was life. I still remember when, during the Holy Week all schools, government and private businesses were closed. The only thing open were churches. On TV (Granted we only had 3 channels) the only things you could watch  were movies about the life of Jesus and especially his passion.
    When I relocated to this area  everything was different. Here the Catholic religion was one among many, and that one was part of the minority. Worst, the way people talked about the Church, the things they said were so outrageously wrong to me an informed Catholic, that many times I was left speechless, not because I did not have the answers but because a comment was too outrageous to even deserve an answer.
     There were many things that confused my religious sensibilities back then but the most confusing thing for me was the usage of the Lord's name. You see, since I was a child the Lord’s name was always in my parents lips. In fact, growing up, our day to day talk was filled with religious references. In the Puerto Rico of my childhood we were constantly giving thanks to God, blessing his name and requesting favors for ourselves. The names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph were common companions in our speech.  Of course when I arrived in Maryland I just began to translate this custom into my English speech, so in my new job, with my new friends, even in public I began to  use the name  of “Jesus” often.  Boy was I wrong! Finally one of the secretaries that worked with me, pulled me to the side and corrected me. Because, unknown to me, I was “using the name of the Lord in vain”.  I tried to explain to her that I would never use the name of the Lord in a less than worthy way, but that was beside the point. The people listening to me did not care about my intentions but about the fact that I was actually using the name of Jesus in a “secular”setting.
    And this was the moment in which I discovered one of the realities of our fallen human nature: When we make an action, speak a word or even give a look most people only care about what it means to them.  They don’t care about our intentions, they will only judge our actions by the way these actions make them feel. That is the sad reality of our human wisdom, that it can only focues on what we perceive.
    Today’s readings remind us that God’s wisdom is unlike our human wisdom. God looks in what is in our hearts he doesn’t wait until we make up our minds and make an action. Human wisdom tells us that killing is wrong, God’s wisdom tells us that we can kill someone way before we lift a finger against them. Human wisdom tells us adultery is wrong, God’s wisdom tells us we can hurt our relationship with our loved ones way before we touch, kiss or even reconnect with that long lost highschool flame. Human wisdom tells us not to make false promises, God’s wisdom tells us not to make promises at all, to let our words be yes or no, anything else will just open us to the temptation and occasions to lie. 
   God’s wisdom is based on what matters in all of us, the state of our souls.  Paul calls God’s wisdom something mysterious and hidden. Mysterious because it is unlike any type of human wisdom we can conceive. Hidden because it can reach deeply within our souls and we can not hide from its presence. The spirit scrutinizes everything, even the deepest corners of our souls. I assure you my brothers and sisters, nothing is hidden to God; because of our baptism the spirit IS the constant companion of our souls every second of every day, witnessing to what resides in our hearts.  He is a witness to every thought and desire we indulge, in every second of every day, and testifies about the way we decide to live our lives.
  I guess the best way of finishing today is by repeating the words of the first reading: “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; If you trust in God, you too shall live; Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.  Immense is the wisdom of the Lord;he is mighty in power, and all-seeing” GBMBAS


Sunday, February 9, 2020

3rd Sunday OT (Cycle A): The People Who Sits in Great Darkness

   “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light.” Believe it or not, this is a very important passage for us Christian because it not only describes what happens when those who are suffering and abandoned, find themselves confronted with God’s love and mercy, but it also describes how those who serve others are illuminated by the face of Christ when they give themselves in service.
    The first time we hear these words today is taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah, who is speaking to those poor souls that had fallen under the captivity of the Assyrian king about 800 years before the birth of Christ. In the Gospel, we find ourselves in another very dark moment in the history of the people of Israel, the Roman occupation, however Matthew uses these same words to describe NOT the political liberation of his people but their spiritual liberation from the powers of evil. In Jesus ministry  these words find a different meaning, the darkness they speak about is much more than physical oppression, it is the darkness of a world that lives in ignorance. Ignorance of the suffering of their neighbor, ignorance of the will of God for their lives, but more importantly ignorance of the power of God and of the role of each person plays in the building of the kingdom of God. Matthew takes a prophecy which was spoken specifically for the people of Israel and gives it a universal meaning, a meaning not bound by time and space. Who are the people who live in darkness? Everyone who has not heard the good news of the Gospel, and every one who has heard the Gospel but has never taken the next step and put these words into actions.
   As you might know, last Monday I returned from our yearly Jamaica mission. This is my 8th trip and every time I visit this country I see people who are living in great darkness be blinded by the great light which is the Gospel of Christ in action.
   This year we had a good mix of young and old. We had married couples, college students, parents with their children, siblings, friends, college roommates, as well as people on their own. We packed 1800 pounds of donations, from you the good people of St Michael’s. We brought toys for children, clothes, school supplies, tools, laptops, phones and more than $25,000 dollars in contributions.  Our center of operations was the Our Lady of the Annunciation Catholic Church in Hase Jamaica. An area forgotten by the government. A mere quarter of a mile away from a 400,000 gallons open air chemical waist pool for a Chinese operated aluminum processing plant. In fact you can see the levee of this pool from inside the church if you look out the window, and when the wind blows just right you can not miss the aroma.
   To complicate the matter the community has been trying to recuperate from losing a beloved priest and has just been assigned a “part-time” pastor. Needless to say this was a community experiencing great darkness. The task which took the bulk of our time there was replacing a rotted roof and moving a small wooden structure to a new foundation. But I would say these were the least important aspects of our trip.  Seeing how grateful and willing to embrace us  this community was, was truly an eye opening experience for us. For example, noticing that on the first day of work we only had sandwiches for lunch they gathered their few resources and for the next 3 days, for lunch, prepared for us a true Jamaican feast cooked right there on the site with burning wood using  an old tire rim as a stove.
     I could spend hours talking about our experiences on this trip and how we saw the light of Christ on the service work we did but I will do something better; I will read to you a note sent to Ted Burkheart by one of the college kids that accompany us. And I will let it speak by itself:
“   Hi Mr. Ted! Thank you so much for all you’ve done this year and all the years prior to get us all prepared for this trip and giving us this amazing opportunity. Going in, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All my siblings and my father had told me about the poverty and injustice I was going to see, as well as the kind and joyful spirits I was going to meet, but nothing they said really prepared me to see and experience it myself. The trip was truly a unique experience that I think everyone who has been as blessed as I have been, during my entire life, should have at least once in their lifetimes. Meeting the people of Jamaica, who don’t have nearly as much as us, but are still so much more joyful and gracious than us, really changes your perspective on the world. I see them all as an inspiration on how I want to live my life from now on, with that same joy and graciousness. I really think service trips such as this one are not only fulfilling and worthwhile, but also part of our duty as people so fortunate to help those who have not been as fortunate.”
   Wow, I tell you my brothers and sisters, because of the generosity of you; the people of St Michael, people who normally sit in darkness have, indeed, seen a great light. God bless you my brothers and sisters.