Monday, June 14, 2021

11th Sunday OT (Cycle B) The Columbia Pregnancy Center

(Mk 4:26-34)
Jesus said to the crowds:
“This is how it is with the kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and through it all the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.”
He said,
“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.
Without parables he did not speak to them,
but to his own disciples he explained everything in private. 

    Last Thursday I attended the yearly dinner and fundraiser for the Columbia Pregnancy Center. An organization which provides services to women in crisis pregnancies. This year, they are celebrating their 40th anniversary, and are hoping to raise close to $300,000 to continue their work of providing women in need with a better choice than Abortion. Which to many women, seems to be the only viable choice our culture has to offer.

     I was very pleased to see a good compliment from St Michael’s parishioners there, especially from the Knights of Columbus and the Respect Life committee .  I tried to mingle as much as possible and say “hi” to all, but there were just too many people so if you were there and I missed you please forgive me.

    We heard some very good speakers, all women who have experienced motherhood, some who had experienced abortions and now regret this decision deeply; others who by the work this center does of educating and providing support,  where able to take their pregnancies to term and now have healthy and babies.

    Usually you hear pro-abortion advocates say that we pro-lifers like to help woman have their baby but that after the baby is born we don’t care anymore about mother and child. If anyone ever gives you that argument, send them to this center and they will see the work pro-lifers are doing to help families  before, during and after the baby is born.

    One of the speakers told us about the humble beginnings of this center. And how this was just the idea of two pro life women who felt they needed to do more to help pregnant women. As she was telling this story I kept thinking about one of the Lord’s parables in today’s reading. How the mustard seed is the smallest and least impressive of all seeds when it is planted and how it grows to become a large plant and its branches grow so big that the birds of the sky come to enjoy its shade. 

    From its humble beginnings this center now helps about 1200 families a year to safely deliver healthy babies. Babies that are wanted and loved. Babies that without this support most likely would have never seen the light of day.  In my mind I could see how everyone of these babies was like a bird resting securely under the shadow provided by volunteers, staff and friends of this center.

    To paraphrase the Lord in today’s readings.  The kingdom of God is composed of many seeds the farmer plants into fertile ground and then sits and waits to see how much fruit each plant will provide. The seed the Lord planted right in the center of our community has become a big strong tree, and has produced much fruit for the last 40 years.

   As it always happens in events like this,  one of the speakers gave us a bunch of statistics about everything they had accomplished during the last year. Perhaps it is the engineer in me but whenever I hear numbers my brain just pays attention. Because of this there was one statistic that hit me like a hammer: Even after all the work and effort of the good people volunteering their time to this center last year of all the women who have sought their  help only 82%  decided to keep their babies. This might sound good to some but it also means that last year, right here in our Howard County Community (And please forgive me, but there is no other way of saying this) 216 babies had their lives extinguished because  women thought that the help offered by our prolife efforts was not enough.

       So this tree planted by the Lord 40 years ago is still trying to find its full potential.  It is by the efforts of communities like St Michaels that this work can continue, and we should be proud of our achievements, but also keep in mind that the work is not yet done. There is room to grow, work to be done and lives to be saved. 

     I pray that in the year ahead more and more people here at St Michael’s get involved in the fight against the great evil that is abortion, and that they lend their time and voices to help women who have no other place to turn than the Columbia Pregnancy Center.  GBMBAS


Sunday, February 7, 2021

5th Sunday OT (Cycle B): Self Reflection in times of COVID


For a streamed version of this homily you can go here. 

  In today’s mass we hear about 3 very important men in the history of our salvation. In the first reading we meet Job, a man who's strong faith is an example to all believers because after losing his fortune, his home, his wife, his children even his health had the strength to famously say “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of Lord”.   On the second reading we met Paul, a former Pharisee, well educated, Roman Citizen, a well respected tent maker, and a persecutor of the Church. A man who after an encounter with the risen Christ, voluntarily gave everything he was and had in order to become a messenger of the Good News. Finally, in the Gospel reading we meet the Lord Jesus but not in all his glory. We meet him as a simple man who unlike Job and Paul, who in their lives had wealth and family, had nothing. In fact his parents were poor, so poor that he was born in a manger and as a baby became a refugee. We meet  him as a man that is beginning to fulfill his calling in life. Not worrying about what he had or what he gave up but focused on the task He received from the Father, to bring the good news to the world.. 

   We meet these three men at different stages in their lives. Job is at the end of his rope, he looks at himself and only sees failure, pain and disappointment. Paul is in the middle of his ministry reflecting upon why he does what he does, how he has given everything to the Gospel without expecting any recompense. And Jesus is at the beginning of his ministry, still trying to decide how to reach the people he had come to save, relying on prayer and contemplation to follow the way the spirit takes him.   

   The interesting thing about these three stories is that we meet each one of these men in a moment of self reflection. One of those moments in which we are forced by circumstance to take a good look at ourselves, reflect on where we had been, and decide how to move forward into the next step in our lives.  

    I would venture to say that every human being on earth, it doesn't matter from what culture or which time, has experienced moments like these throughout their lives.  The question for us today is :  In a time like the one we are living, in the middle of a pandemic, a time in which the act of wearing a mask, keeping our distance or even speaking loudly can be the difference between life and death for ourselves or for the ones we love.  What can we learn from these three men? What should our own moments of self reflection tell us?

    Well to the ones who have suffered great loss and now find themselves wondering what next, Jo(U)b teaches us that life is truly like the wind and that even when we feel that we will never feel happiness again, our faith doesn't end with what we have lost.  Winning or losing  the name of the Lord will always be blessed because as long as we have life, there is an opportunity for His eternal love and mercy to reach us and restore to us that which we have lost, even if we think this impossible.

    To the ones who day after day feel they give everything they have and are, and feel that they do not have anymore to give, St Paul reminds us that our efforts are not in vain. We have the assurance that some of the people we serve will be saved, but we should also accept the reality that some will be lost or not appreciate what we do for them. This is fine because our Father in heaven knows how much we love and care for the lives of others.

   To the ones who are starting on their efforts to help others, how have finally pushed fear out of the way and have taken the decision that this pandemic will not dictate the way we will live our lives, the Lord Jesus teaches us that only living a life of prayer and contemplation will give us the strengths and understanding we need to move ahead not where we want to go but where God the Father wants to send us.

  In today's readings we meet 3 very different men, in very different situations; each one reflecting on what lies ahead, what they should do, where they should go. Three men whose approach to dealing with the uncertainty of life have much to teach us.

    In these times in which we find ourselves wondering what comes next after COVID, let us focus our attention on the lives of these three men as a great example for us to follow. 


Sunday, January 17, 2021

2nd Sunday of OT (Cycle B): Here I am Lord


You can see the video here

      As I was reflecting on today’s readings, I kept wondering about how to relate these stories to the situations we have been living in our country for the last few weeks. What can God’s call, to 9 year old Samuel, and Jesus' first conversation with two of his future apostles teach us about the deep divisions, and anger we see every day in the news? About the fear and frustration of life in the middle of a pandemic? What light can these images shed on the way we are all feeling today about our country and our future?

  These were my thoughts that occupied my mind during my reflection and had to ask my family for a little help because I was having  difficulty with today’s readings. It was my older son, Lucas, who pointed out something I had completely missed. You see, in both of these stories we are witnessing events which are confusing and scary. In the first story we see Samuel listening to a voice in the dark calling his name. He is confused and asks Eli if he is the one calling him. An unknown voice, in the dark calling your name is a pretty confusing and scary thing, especially for such a young child. 

   In the second story we see Andrew and John, future disciples following the Lord after John the Baptist calls Him “the Lamb of God”. In a moment they did not expect, Jesus surprises them by turning around and asking. “What are you looking for?” They are so confused and surprised by this that they respond with the first thing that comes to their minds “Where are you staying?” 

   These two stories are born out of surprise, fear and confusion. However, although this is a common thread between them, the part that can help us navigate our own situations is not their surprise and fear but their reaction to an unexpected challenge coming directly from God. These events were just the beginning of something completely new, something none of these men could have predicted or even imagined!

  Samuel became one of the most important prophets of Israel. Andrew and John became part of Jesus' inner circle of apostles. What would have happened if any of these three men decided that this event was too scary to handle, or that they were too comfortable and happy with the life they were living and did not want to bother with living the life the lord was presenting in front of them?

   Of course if we try to describe the mood in our country for the last few months or last few weeks I think that anger, confusion and fear are the best words we can use. Now if we were to list the reasons why we feel like this we will list the usual suspects: The pandemic, social distancing, the election results and the reactions towards these results. And those are big reasons,  we can certainly add to this list things like, problems in our jobs, our schools, troubles with friends and loved ones. Fear of getting sick, or of a parent or a friend getting sick, and on and on.

  Anger, fear and confusion are natural reactions to sudden changes to the peace in our lives. As humans we don’t like change, we avoid it, we resist it. But in the history of any country as it is in the history of any person change is the only constant thing in life. How do we react to this change is what determines what kind of people we are, and I hope that if I were ever to ask anyone here to day (and anyone viewing our streamed mass): What kind of person you are, the first answer you all would give is: “I’m a follower of Jesus, I’m a Christian, I’m a Catholic. That’s the kind of person I am.”

     What will define us in these coming days, months and years of fear and confusion will not be how we voted, which political party we followed, what kinds of protests I agree with, whether I chose to wear a mask or I just don’t care anymore. What will define us as persons will be the way we react to the changes happening around us. Whether I decided to follow the Lord and how far was I willing to go. The one thing to know is this: It doesn't matter what is going on in my life at the moment. What matters is what kind of reaction I’m going to have to these events. 

   Am I willing to accept changes that I know will make the world less comfortable, less safe, less certain? Am I ready to embrace these changes like a disciple of the Lord should with faith and hope? Will I forgive those who offend me?  Will I pray for my enemies and the people who persecute me and threaten the security of my future and the future of those who I love?  

   Anger, confusion and fear are the results of losing control in our lives. But If you ask me the reason why we were born in these times and in this place was so that we can be an example and overcome these emotions and plunge ourselves into the darkness with confidence like young Samuel, and follow the Lord to wherever he wants to lead us like Andrew and John. This is what our families, our communities and our nation needs right now: it's not, democrat or republican leadership. It's not enraged protesters tearing  down the institutions that we are all supposed to protect, it is not Black Life Matters movement, it is not White supremacy ideas, it is not conspiracy theories, or crazy politicians. None of that can bring true peace to our nation. The only thing that it’s going to bring peace is true disciples of our Lord Jesus, like you and me, willing to embrace the changes and situations God is proposing to our nation, without fear, without anger and without confusion but with God’s love which surpasses all understanding. GBMBAS


Friday, January 8, 2021

Your Grandchildren Carry the Weight of your Life Experiences


NOTE: Being an engineer and a deacon, I'm always attuned to the intersection of science, theology and spirituality. Usually when I encounter these I reflect on the event and move on, but since I have resolved to leave more permanent traces of myself for 2021, this year when ever I encounter these intersections I will write a post about them. So here is the first of what I hope will become a more regular event.

  Does God punish children for the sins of their parents (or Grandparents)? There are more than one bible passage that seems to say this. Here are a few examples:

Deuteronomy 5:9 - You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me

Exodus 34:7 -  Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.

Isaiah 14:31 - Prepare a place to slaughter his children for the sins of their ancestors; they are not to rise to inherit the land and cover the earth with their cities.

  How can a just and loving God behave like this? This is a very important theological question specially for people seeking to deepen their relationship with this divine being. There is a good answer to the justice behind this idea of children caring the guilt of their progenitors, which I intend to answer in an upcoming episode of my podcast.  However as I was researching this question I was shocked to find that the Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, also known by the non-scientific folk by the name Science, has published an article explaining the "how" of this process. You can read part of the article here

  The article I linked to (The epigenome—a family affair by John R. McCarrey, Department of Biology, University of Texas at San Antonio) is 5 years old and presents a state of the science up to that point. What is surprising to me, is that this branch of genetic science (epigenetics) presents a mechanism by which this biblical tenant is made true in the lives of human beings.  Since this article was published more research has being made offering  more proof  that the events in the life of parents and grand parents can have a direct effect on the genetic code of their off spring. 

  Once again science and theology are more interrelated than what many people would like to admit.

"Viva Cristo Rey!!" 


Saturday, January 2, 2021

2021 Resolutions!


      I used to do one of these types of posts every year as a way of keeping myself accountable. However back in the winter of 2017 I started having health issues which culminated in an open heart surgery. As you can imagine this caused quite a disruption in my life and for the last 3 years I hardly had any time to focus my mind on End of Year resolutions, when the only End of Year resolution that mattered for me and my family was "Get better".

    Enter COVID 19. Because I'm considered  "high risk" (Due to my heart problems) I have had to sit in my home for the last 10 months, which gave me a lot of time to return to activities I had neglected since before my surgery. So this year, as 2020 ends I decided to return to my resolution tradition. After much meditation I realized that this year I only care for 1 resolution.

    "I will be more present in the real world."

   You might be wondering what I mean. Well, I noticed that because of my long recuperation during  2017-2018 and the COVID 19 quarantine I  have developed the habit of spending a considerable share of my time viewing online content. Time that I was robbing away from my family and activities that throughout my life have given me great pleasure, like playing classical guitar, reading, blogging and podcasting.  My only online presence during the last three years has been basically emails and Facebook posts. I have decided that in 2021 this is going to change. By "being more present" I mean that I will stare less at screens and will use my time in a most productive way in "The real world" by continuing projects that have more significance to my life and ministry and that will leave a better digital footprint of myself for my friends and family, than just a bunch of funny Facebook posts.  

Now, I understand that "being more in the real world" is quite a general statement, so I need to refine the idea a bit more so that it could be applied to my day to day life. So I figure that I could translate this into 4 more specific activities that will help me focus better during this year. They are:

        A. Lurk less.

  Again, I spend an in ordinate amount of time staring at different social media, just to publish a few funny Facebook posts a week. In order to be more present in the real world I will focus on  being less and consumer of pre-processed content. 

        B.  Leave more permanent traces of myself.

  This might sound silly to some (perhaps it was my close brush with death) but for a while I've been thinking, "If  100 years from now one of my great-great-children decides they would like to get to know me better and went to the internet to find any digital traces I have left behind, what kind of picture would they get of me if the only content they can find are just my Facebook posts?". To leave better permanent traces of myself, this year, I will copy and paste less and endeavor to create more. I will focus on leaving a permanent record of my thoughts and significant events in my life. 

        C. Stay honest with myself.

 One of the reasons I have achieved both personal and professional goals throughout my life has been my ability for self reflection and self discipline. I have always thought  that I owe this to my Catholic upbringing, that always calls me to reflect on the consequences of my actions on others lives and to sacrifice comfort and personal pleasure for the greater good. (Fasting and penance are a great way to develop self discipline!) This year I will endeavor to reflect more on how I'm using my time and be willing to adjust my path when moving away from my goals. In short: I will try to be less on "automatic" mode and more on giving my complete attention to every task at hand. After all my goal is to leave a better picture of myself, so I need to pay attention to make sure I leave the best of me.

        D. Improve my skills.

   As I was recuperating from my surgery (2017-2018), I spent a lot of time just sitting on the sofa watching reruns of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, or just sitting quietly and reflecting about the meaning of  my situation. (Back then my prayer to God was "I can't wait to see what good are you going to squeeze out of this mess in which you have put me")  Looking back I realize that this was the only thing I could do while the hole in the middle of my chest healed. Which drove me crazy!  But the situation required me to completely focus on healing my body as well as my spirit. 

   As 2019 ended I was feeling pretty good. I was in the best shape of my life (Or at least since my college years) and was beginning to think of what challenges I could take for the new year. And then the pandemic quarantine happened. During my time at home I was able involve myself in projects that improve my skills professionally as well as personally. I have completed a couple of construction projects around the house and honed my programing skills on Python and R programming. I have began to take a look at the new computer science field of Data Science.  All of my life I had been a student in one field or another, but was forced to neglect this side of myself for two years. In 2021 I will continue to focus my efforts on learning and growing.

   Now that I have broken down my year's resolution in 4 areas,  I can create a list of real life activities that will make me more present to the world.

Here is my list:

A: Lurk Less

Limit my social media use to 1 hour a day (Ideally 30 ins in the morning and 30 in the evening)

Do not carry the phone around with me when I'm at home. 

Use YouTube for educational purposes not entertainment. 

I will share my entertainment time with my family.

I will only buy a book when I have finished reading 5 al ready in my reading list

I will read 25 a minimum of pages every day

B: Leave more permanent traces of myself 

Resurrect my blog

Resurrect the "Hidden Bible Podcast"

Work on a few writing ideas I have.

Use Facebook exclusively as a way to communicate with friends and family about my life, not as a way to entertain the world.

C: Stay Honest

Post every month how I am doing in my efforts

Develop a schedule allowing a fair time to each activity (Experience has shown me that it is easy to give all your time to things you like to do and very little time to things you NEED to do)

Check with family once a month to see how am I doing.

D: Improve my skills

Exercise 3-4 times a week. (I was doing this before the pandemic; once we were in lock down I have done very little of this. For 2021 I will find ways to replace gym time with other activities like walking the dogs or hiking).

Limit my classical guitar playing to 30-60 minutes a day tops.

Continue improving my programing and data science skills by taking online training and finding ways to apply these skill to my telework.

So there you have it, my resolutions for 2021!