Sunday, September 6, 2020

Speak, Love, Pray (Reading Reflection 9/6/2020)

    Persecution.  Oppression. Discrimination.  Over and over, we hear these words being spoken, like the mantra of the world we are now living in.  Yet, what does it really come down to?  As I read today's readings, it shows us what is missing: love.  We as Christians are called by God Himself, in the words of His Son, our Savior, to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39) in what he called "the greatest commandment".  Why?  In Paul's letter to the Romans, he explains just that: "Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom 13:10).

    We as Christians have the responsibility to evangelize the love of God to others and speak out against injustices, just like we are being called in the book of Ezekiel (33:7-9).  But by the same token, we must understand that it is their choice.  If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life (33:9).  We have all been give free will by our Father.  We must understand that we all have a choice, and what happens after is not in our hands.

    Yet, we can speak out all we want, but the greatest evangelization we can do is in action.  When we act based on love, we would not act to hurt one another, but we act based on the understanding and compassion Jesus himself showed us in His ministry and life.  It is in how we treat others, which is what we are called to do in Paul's letters to the Romans.But what else is there?  We speak, we act, but what else is there?  Jesus tells us in the Gospel: take it to prayer, and pray as community.  We take our concerns to our faith community and pray as one.  That is how we as Christians are called to be: we speak against injustice while acting out of love and praying for others as a community.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The good, the bad, the valuable - Reflections on Sunday readings 7/26/20

Sunday Readings for July 26, 2020 from the USCCB

We all have that one thing that we sacrifice everything else for.  When we were younger it was that one toy, that video game, that bicycle, that we saved up all our allowance, maybe even would forgo some lunch meals to make sure we had enough money to buy it.  As we get older, we sacrifice time in order to work and reach our goals.  How valuable do you find the Kingdom of Heaven, and how do you intend to get there?

We have recently been thrown in a time where the material has become immaterial.  We have seen more value in the little things such as lunch with a friend, a handshake, a hug; the ability to walk outside without qualms.  Yet, in seeing the value of the human to human interactions that we've recently lost, we somehow have also become hostile, creating divisions that is even more apparent than they perhaps were before.  Differing ideals have blinded us, seeing one another through the lens of misguided truths, contorting our views of humanity.  Yet, as Christians, is this how we are called to act, to judge one another?  Where have we placed our values and how does that get us to the Kingdom?  What is it that we need to do as humans in order to reach eternal salvation?

In the first reading, God offers Solomon a chance to ask for anything he wishes.  Instead of asking for more riches he asks for one thing: an understanding heart.  What is more, understanding to distinguish right from wrong.  Notice, he didn't ask for the knowledge of what is good and bad.  Knowledge is becoming familiar with something, whereas understanding is actual comprehension.  It is not just looking at something for what it is at face value, but seeing the bigger picture.

In the second reading, St. Paul writes to the Romans about being called to the kingdom of Heaven.  For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.  This is not about the physical image of Jesus, but rather through His teachings and His example.  What is that example?  When we look back at the Responsorial Psalm, the refrain says: Lord, I love your commandments.  Jesus had summed up those commandments in John 13:34 Love one another as I have loved you.  Jesus, in His life and ministry, showed compassion and understanding.  He understood the nature of the humans, but also believed in the goodness God created in each of us.  He did not look at sinners for their previous actions, but judged them according to their repentant heart, allowing them to be forgiven, dining with them, allowing them to follow Him on His journey.  But we are given a choice.  Our omniscient and omnipotent God knows which one of us will choose that righteous path even before we were created.

Where do our choices lead?  That would depend on what you find to be valuable.  We as Christians believe in the Kingdom of Heaven, yet what are we going to sacrifice to get there? 
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.
Our ultimate goal is to get to Heaven, and it is more valuable than anything else we could possibly achieve in life.  But how do we get there?  By following Jesus' example.  When we see the goodness in God's creation, when we look at each other with understanding, when we act out of love for one another, we are acting according to the way God wanted us to be.  Jesus showed to look past human actions and see the human heart.  What do we gain in doing this?  The greatest treasure that God could have ever given His people: heaven.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

A Day in the Life of a Nurse

You walk into your shift, never knowing how the day is going to go.  You see your assignment, look up your patients and get report.  But things can change in a matter of minutes.  Where one minute you have a patient who was talking and not in any distress, you suddenly have to call a code blue.  The patient who was calm and asleep all night is now agitated and combative.  The patient who was lucid is now confused.  Your day seemed nice and steady, then the doctors make their rounds and you have 20 new orders.  Plans change, conditions change drastically within seconds, and you must be prepared to act at any given moment.

You are their emotional support.  There is fear, anger, frustration, anxiety.  You see the strongest in their weakest moments, and the weak remain strong.  You get to understand what it truly means to be family and witness what it means to die alone; where friendship is stronger than blood or where blood is thicker than water.  You see the tears, you hear the prayers.  You are their last source of comfort and assurance.

Your are their advocate for when things don't go right. You are their eyes and their ears.  You are their voice.  Your knowledge, understanding and awareness makes you the gatekeeper, making sure that the care they receive is the right one for them.  And should things go wrong, you will be reprimanded  because it was your responsibility to check it.

You are their coordinator, making sure that they receive all the care they are supposed to at a time that is right for them.  Ensuring that things are done efficiently and safely.  Should any needs arise, it is you who must make the call - the doctors/specialists, the social workers, the physical therapist, the occupational therapist, the speech therapist, the dietitians/nutritionists,  the radiology department, the pharmacy, the phlebotomist, the ECG technician, specialists, the patient transportation team, the turning/lift team. Every single one of them is important in the care of your patient. You are the one to ensure their daily needs are met, down to brushing their teeth. 

You are their teacher, providing them education on how to care for themselves at home. How to prevent further diseases and complications.  How to look for signs and symptoms that their conditions are worsening. And most of all, what kind of self-care is involved.  You show them how to continue their care when they get home.  Making sure that they take their medicines safely and as prescribed, and what their medications are for.

You help to ease their way to death or guide them back to life.  You learn to understand what the phrase "death is a part of life".  And as strong as you seem in front of the patient and the family, they don't see the tears you cry when turn around, or the heartache you truly feel, even when you know it's for the best.

Mid-shift photo
Meanwhile you have no time to think of you.  There is no break, no let-up, to the point you don't even have time to void.  You are tired, your feet and legs are aching, your back is hurting.  You're exhausted, but still manage to smile at your patients.  And often there is no "Thank you," mostly because your patients are too tired, they're sedated, or in too much pain.  You care for someone for days and don't even get to say, bye because they either got transferred, discharged or passed when it wasn't your shift.  Very rarely do you ever find out what happened to them later.  You don't do it for that.  You don't do it for any reward.  You just do it, and keep doing it because you are a nurse.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Lessons From Doubting Thomas

It's amazing how one moment in history or one exchange of words between two people and a person is labeled forever. Everyone of us knows that we all have our bad days, our bad moments as well as those stunning moments where we just don't know how to respond to a specific situation. In most cases the people who have labeled us have seen the way we usually act so while we expect them to be surprised we should also assume that they would be the first to offer us the benefit of the doubt.

Then there are those whose actions are misinterpreted but still, once they are labeled then such an identity sticks with them. In most cases many see them in a negative light because the person doesn't just accept what they are told but ask questions to better understand what is going on around them. It should be easy for us to understand that we all see things a certain way and/or that some people need more time to understand the situation around them. Still, when we don't want to take the time to address such concerns we find it easier to label the person who doesn't go along with the rest of us. 

This exists in all communities including the Church and as we will see it goes back to the very beginning, specifically when it comes to St. Thomas who is also known as Doubting Thomas. However, it is my hope that after this discussion we will remove all negatives from the word Doubting in this case and realize that his doubts were based on his desire to have a truly authentic faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

The Gospels 

Thomas is only cited in the Synoptic Gospels when the authors list the names of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus (Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19 & Luke 6:14-16). This alone is very important because of the role that the apostles played in comparison to just the regular disciples of Jesus. According to John McKenzie, the word apostle is defined as to send forth and The Twelve that Jesus chose were, His constant companions and given full instruction of the truths which He proclaims.

The Gospel of John though gives us a better glimpse of Thomas the follower of Jesus. During the Raising of Lazarus we see Thomas' zeal for his Master to the point where he is willing to accept death if he were to accompany Jesus back to Judea, which is there the Jews had threatened to stone Him (John 11:1-8). Thomas' reply according to John 11:16: So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go to die with Him." 

Does this sound like a man who doubted who Jesus was? He is openly saying that he will go and die with Jesus not because of what Jesus was about to do but because of who Jesus is. Thomas is already a man of deep faith. In the words of C. Bernard Ruffin: It was only Thomas who showed no reluctance to go. It was he who rallied the other apostles. 

Of course the moment in question that gave the apostle the Doubting label is from John 20:24-29. At the beginning of this passage it said that Thomas was not with the other apostles when Jesus had appeared to them. His response to them in verse 25 after they had informed that they had seen the Lord was: Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in  the nail marks and put my hand into His side, I will not believe. 

Imagine the complexity of emotions that Thomas must have been feeling at that moment. First, he and the other apostles are already frightened because they are in hiding (John 20:19). Then he hears that the other apostles have seen the Risen Lord? There certainly must have been a sense of joy that he didn't expect at that moment but it shouldn't surprise us if he also felt a certain amount of anger considering the fact that the last time he and the other apostles were in danger that he was the one who spoke out in terms of his willingness to die with Jesus....and now it is the other apostles who have seen Him again?

Let us also consider the following points:
  • Jesus was executed in a most horrific way and Thomas knew of the likelihood of his Master being dead and buried for good, just like all of the other Messianic leaders who were executed before Him. But, if Thomas were to see the wounds that he knew would come from someone that was crucified he would be able to believe in this miracle with a greater faith than when he saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. Keep in mind that Thomas was not told about Lazarus coming out of the tomb: he was there and witnessed it with his own eyes! This is why it is fair to consider these words from Ruffin: The incident involved Thomas'  doubting shows him a practical man of common sense who demanded empirical proof.
  • Like the other apostles, Thomas was a first century Jew and such people had to see a physical body in order to believe that someone had been raised from the dead.  Of course after Jesus' appearance had convinced the now eleven apostles that He had indeed been raised from the dead the Lord interacted with them in ways that demonstrated it was Him in the flesh, in His glorified body and that it was in fact a human body before them and not a ghost or an hallucination. Even to this day such an idea sounds far fetched, which is why Ruffin said the following about Thomas' condition for believing that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead: Thomas' reaction was eminently reasonable. He knew as well as anybody else that people who were really and truly dead did not come to life again.
  • Thomas was an apostle and if that meant that he was supposed to be given full truths from Jesus that he should have a full vision of the Lord as the others had? Therefore, could it be argued that he should also have the right to see the Risen Jesus since the Lord had in fact called him to be in the same role as the other apostles who had already seen the Risen Lord?  Even St. Paul, who was not one of the original twelve but is still regarded as an apostle saw the Risen Lord (1 Corinthians 9:1). In the words of Ruffin: He wanted to have the same experience that his colleagues had in order to prove to himself that the Resurrection was physical and material, rather than intellectual.
Meanwhile, the whole Doubting Thomas title seems to go deeper for some other than a man who simply wanted the proper evidence to justify his faith. Take for example this movie clip from the 1999 movie Jesus and the way Thomas is portrayed starting at 5:07:

The questions he asks Mary Magdalene was fair but when he mentioned Jesus speaking of false prophets while also stating that something else is going on here it almost seems to suggest that the issue for Thomas was not that the other apostles had already seen the Lord (in this film version they had yet to see Him) but that he didn't really believe in Jesus because he was still not fully convinced of who Jesus really was. That is unfortunately the portrayal that many have of Thomas even to this day.

When the Lord finally did appear to the apostles again and this time when Thomas was also in their presence He approached Thomas directly and invited him to do exactly what Thomas said he would have to do in order to believe (John 20:27).  The Gospel never says if Thomas in fact did do these things. It simply has Thomas reply with his famous words, My Lord and my God! Would a skeptic be so easily convinced if it was in his nature to question everything around him? Would seeing the actual wounds really convinced such a person that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead or would they at least wonder, even for a brief moment, if there was some way that Jesus could have possibly made Himself appear in this way?

Let me offer a few other observations:
  • First, if Thomas was such a skeptic why isn't he portrayed in questioning the things that Jesus did during other moments of His ministry, especially when they were all among those in the crowd who expressed their doubts and/or lack of belief. 
  • Second, when Jesus told the apostles prior to their arrival in Bethany that Lazarus had died one would think that Thomas would find good reason to stop the Master and ask how He could bring someone back from the dead. Instead, he continued to focus on the threat that Jesus had already faced and then he stated his willingness to die with Jesus if that was in fact what needed to happen. 
  • Finally, Thomas never said that Jesus had obviously failed in His mission following his crucifixion. He simply said that he wanted to see the same evidence as the other apostles so he too could believe. In other words, there is a difference between saying the words I will not believe instead of  I do not believe. In other words, if one looks carefully at John 20:25 Thomas was not convinced that Jesus would fail him, which is why he responded with the words My Lord and my God once he had finally had the same experience as the other apostles.
It's amazing that Thomas has been criticized for his lack of faith for simply wanting to have the same experience as the other apostles when we see in John 20:14 that Mary of Magdala saw the Risen Jesus but did not recognize Him. The same thing happened to seven disciples in John 21:4 and this was after they had already seen Him risen from the dead. We see a similar account in Luke 24:16 but none of these other disciples are criticized for their lack of faith the same way as Thomas.

Consider the words of Jack Zavada in this matter: All of the disciples, except John, deserted Jesus at the cross. They misunderstood and doubted Jesus, but the Apostle Thomas is singled out in the gospels because he put his doubt into words. It is worth noting that Jesus did not scold Thomas for his doubt. Instead of rebuking Thomas, he had compassion for his human struggle with doubt. In fact, Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds and see for himself. Jesus understands our battles with doubt and invites us to come near and believe.

The Beginning of the Church 

The book of Acts of the Apostles begins with Jesus continuing to appear before His apostles for 40 days while continuing His instruction about the Kingdom of God. In Acts 1:8 the Lord states: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. After that the Lord made His Ascension into heaven and it was time for the apostles to get to work.

Yes, they had seen the Lord raised from the dead. Yes, they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit who would remind them of all that Jesus taught while empowering the apostles with a grace to allow these simple men to share the Good News with everyone that they encountered. This would have to do because only the Holy Spirit could carry such a message in a world that would certainly demand various forms of proof in order to believe many of the claims that would be made by the apostles.

Still, there would be those who would follow them and for the apostles to be proper witnesses of the faith it would include the following from Acts of the Apostles:
  • 2:42- Teaching their faith community
  • 4:33- Bearing witness to the Resurrection of Jesus
  • 4:34-37- Providing for the needs of the less fortunate 
  • 5:12- Performed signs & wonders among the people
  • 6:2-6- Created the ministry of the Diaconate
  • 15:1-29- Called and ruled over the Council of Jerusalem

All of this occurred after facing threats from the same Sanhedrin that arrested Jesus before handing Him over to Pontius Pilate in order to be crucified (Acts 4:1-22). Thomas was a part of this leadership that was obedient to Jesus to the point where Acts 4:33 tells us that they received great favor for their efforts.  

Thomistic Traditions 

Traditions tell us that Thomas took his ministry outside of his native country even though the story of Thomas visiting India is met with skepticism. This is because the earliest claims come from the Acts of Thomas, which was written in the second century. The stories in this account between Thomas and an Indian king named Gundaphor seem to be legendary tales that cause great suspicion among historians.

There were those who even questioned the existence of Gundaphor until 1834 when ancient coins were discovered in the Kabul Valley of Afghanistan that bore the pictures and names of forgotten kings, which included Gundaphor. Later discoveries would soon follow as more coins were found from Bactria to Punjab. Research on these coins dated them from the first century AD.

As the 19th century drew to a close a stone tablet was discovered in ruins near Peshawar that, according to Samuel Hugh Moffett: not only named King Gundaphor, it dated him squarely in the early first century AD, making him a contemporary of the apostle Thomas just as the much maligned Acts of Thomas had described him. Further deciphering of the tablet sets, the inception of Gundaphor's reign in AD 19. He would still have been ruling, therefore, in 45 or 46, very near to the traditional date of the arrival of Thomas to India.

Prior to his supposed time in India Thomas is said to have ministered in Osroene, which was located in Upper Mesopotamia. Thomistic traditions claim that Thomas returned from Osroene to Jerusalem in 49 AD, perhaps for the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-29), which is also the time where it was said that the apostle met a Jewish Christian named Abban who was the royal trade commissioner for King Gundaphor.

While the Thomistic traditions remained unsolved we cannot totally dismiss the possibility that Thomas did in fact preach the Gospel in India due to the fact that this was also stated by the early Church Fathers and, as Moffett says: Travel back and forth between India and the Roman Empire was far more commonplace in the first century than some earlier skeptics had once thought possible.  Evaluating both the Thomistic traditions as well as the complex travel routes is quite extensive so I would suggest anyone interested in such things to see pgs. 29-36 in Moffett's The History of Christianity in Asia Volume I. 

There are also varying accounts of Thomas' death but in each case he died a martyr's death. Therefore, let us be reminded that he not only lived the life of a devoted follower of Jesus both before and after he encountered the Risen Lord while also showing his love for the Lord by offering his life for his Christian mission. 

Following Thomas' Lead 

Earlier in this discussion we saw why Thomas approached Jesus' Resurrection the way he did and there is so much we can learn from that in today's world.

First, in regards to a life of faith: prayer is such an important way for us to know our Lord and we are asked in faith to receive all of the graces that He has to offer us. But we cannot forget that part of being a good believer is to take the time to learn more about our faith. There are certainly times when we have to stay the course and be patient in terms of understanding the purpose of the things that happen in our lives. But there are other parts of our faith that require us to use our intellect to better understand such things. As teachers of the faith we have to deliver such truths to our brethren whether it comes from us or another resource that may be better informed on the topic in question. In other words, allow the person who is searching to ask for the evidence that they need in the same way as our apostolic father Thomas did as such insight may also allow them to show the same devotion to our Lord as Thomas did once he received the answers that he needed at that important moment of his life.

Second, today's world is filled with too much information and in many cases that's not a good thing. Although there are some who will ask, what is the source of your story? that is still not happening enough. Meanwhile, we know that there are too many times when a news outlet purposely misleads the public in order to promote their own agenda or political bias. Sadly, too many people still take what was reported as truth and then the war of words begins.

We don't necessarily have to imitate the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates whose Socratic method, according to John Chaffee, used a dynamic approach of questioning and intellectual analysis to draw answers out of people rather than lecture them, but it sure wouldn't hurt considering all of the lies that are being perpetuated in so many ways.

Therefore, don't be afraid to ask questions. It doesn't matter if it's that inquisitive five year old, a customer who wants more detail about a product that is on sale that they are being pressured to purchase or the information that is being shared both on cable news or on the internet. Most importantly, we should also be asking questions when it comes to our faith. Such skepticism is not necessarily a bad thing as long as the person accepts the truth once it is before them, which will in turn bring them peace. As teachers we have to accept the fact that we may never see that moment but we must do all that we can to make sure we either offer the right information to the person asking or at least point them in the right direction.

This is the great lesson from St.Thomas the Apostle. So let us find the answers to our faith that we seek and then once we take them in let us share them with the rest of the world, regardless of the trials and tribulations that we will encounter along the way.   

Prayers to St. Thomas the Apostle:

Carlos Solorzano 
BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach 
Certified Through the Theology of the Body Institute 
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

  • New American Bible 
  • Moffett, Samuel Hugh. A History of Christianity in Asia Volume I Orbis Book Maryknoll, NY October 2001 (pgs. 29 & 31) 
  • Ruffin, C. Bernard. The Twelve: The Lives of the Apostles After Calvary Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division Huntington, IN 1997 (pgs. 121-123, 125 , 128) 
  • Chaffee, John. The Philosopher's Way. Thinking Critically About Profound Ideas Upper Saddle River New Jersey 2005 (pgs. 48, 52-53)
  • Mckenzie, John L. Dictionary of the Bible MacMillan Publishing Inc. NY 1965 ( pgs. 46-47)

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Reaching for Christ

In this time of quarantine and isolation, my spiritual hunger was so much greater and more profound.  This Lenten Season was a challenging one.  Being forced to stay home, making time for my spirituality was actually in some ways harder.  Instead of being able to walk into a Chapel with the Blessed Sacrament in front of me, or kneel in front of the altar in Church, I was sitting in front of a computer screen, surrounded by my life’s distractions.  Too often, I was alone, praying alone.  I longed for a companion to pray with me, be on the same spiritual level as I was.

 I’d never longed those moments of silent prayer or the prayer community with the Mass more than the last few of weeks, and most especially this Holy Week.  It is said that in Spiritual Communion, the desire for Jesus to enter our hearts is what is enough to fulfill this Sacrament while we are physically unable to partake in the Eucharist.  Now, more than ever, I have realized how important that desire for Christ is.  While I say the prayer for Spiritual Communion, there is a sense of peace that overwhelms me that has been even greater than when I have actually received the Body of Christ.  Somehow I feel my faith has strengthened.

How can this be?   I had previously mentioned a meme I had seen that said "This is the Lentiest Lent there ever Lent".  We as Christians, are supposed to take this time to fast and abstain, as well as pray and give alms.  These lock-downs and safe-at-home orders have forced us to fast from the immaterial desires and distractions.  But do we truly know what it is to fast as Jesus did, alone in the the desert for 40 days?  To feel that that hunger, thirst and vulnerability in complete desolation?

I still cannot say that I know what Jesus had gone through, to be put into a position of such vulnerability that even as the Son of God, he faced temptation from Satan.  But we are now in a faith desolation.  The physical is no longer within our grasp, no longer tangible.  We no longer have a choice and cannot receive the body and blood of our Lord.    We yearn to feel the Blessed Host, taste the Blessed Host; feel and taste that sweet wine on our lips as we drink the Blood of Christ. Because of that, we are left spiritually hungry, yearning for that sense of prayer community. But we are not abandoned. What we do still have and always will have are the invisible graces that our Lord has provided us from the moment we were created.  With all the worldly distractions gone, I have yearned for the loving comfort of our Lord so much more, and I have felt His grace more powerfully than I ever have before.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday, the day Jesus entered Jerusalem, greeted with reverence as He entered the city, palm branches and cloaks laid on the road for him.  They were looking for a leader, a king, and thought that Jesus was that leader.  But he did not go in for a revolt against the regime while mounted on a noble steed.  Instead, He entered humbly on donkey with her foal. (Matthew 21:1-11) Just as he was welcomed by the people of Jerusalem longing for a King, it is a time for us to truly remember to welcome Jesus into our hearts.  We must be the humble donkey with our foal, carrying Jesus where we go while being that example for our children.

I'd recently seen a meme "This is the Lentiest Lent there ever Lent".  In the midst of this pandemic, we have, as a whole, been thrust into a period of humility.  It has not mattered what are status in life is/was, we have all been affected by it.  And what was once an abundance in our lives has become scarce.  Many of our vices/cravings are no longer available.  Now we long for simple human contact, the comfort of loved ones far away.  The most common thread of conversation during this "lock-down" is "When this is over, let's have dinner."  It's time with each other, quality time.

This is what God had wanted all along with us.  Human contact, connection and understanding.  Jesus' Incarnation became that human connection that our Lord God wanted to have with us for love of us.  But just with all living things in this world, what has experienced life will experience death.  Jesus, even through His divinity, did not make Himself exempt from death being fully man.  And not only did He die, He was mocked, humiliated, tortured, and whipped.  For what?

For us.  For we who are imperfect, this perfect being suffered a humiliating death.  For too long, we turned away, too busy to make time to be with He who gave up His life for us.  We made up excuse after excuse because of our busy lives.  Now that has all come to a halt.  This week, more than ever, we feel the loss of our Church communities.  Now more than ever, we have no option but to not go into His house, physically receive His Body and His Blood.  Now that we have no choice, we want it, we long for it.  Why, when it seems all is loss, do we suddenly feel our need for Him much greater?

This Palm Sunday, welcome our Lord into your heart, in your life, and do not once again abandon Him to our love of the world and worldly things.  Lay down your palms of peace and let Him thrive. For as we have recently seen, the world as we know it can always be taken away.  But the love of our Lord remains in us.  Seek it. Find it. Hold on to it.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Hope in our Faith... My reflection on Pope Francis’ Gospel Homily before delivering the Urbi Et Orbi during the COVID-19 outbreak

The sky is darkening and the rain is falling.  The Square normally over-crowded, full of people from all over the world, all different ages, all different ethnicities and backgrounds is now empty and quiet.  Silence as an old man, stooped and half-limping, walks alone, nothing to protect him from the falling rain, the only one visible, the brightness of his white cloth a contrast to the darkened square around him.  A small audience barely visible at the borders of the plaza, dark and faceless. Too far to speak to, to hear, and out of reach.  No one to wave to, no one to hug, no child to bless and kiss on the head.  Not even a single headlight from a passing car is seen.

As Pope Francis makes his way to the lit platform in the middle of St. Peter’s Square to deliver his meditation before he delivered his Urbi et Orbi blessing, and helped up the steps by Monsignor Marini, I am suddenly aware of the weight of all that I had been feeling for the last couple of weeks: the anxiety, the fear, the uncertainty.  As he opened in prayer, his breaths heaving, the droop in his face more pronounced, his eyes normally light with his smile are dark and weary, the strain of the last couple of months was apparent.

The Gospel reading was the Calming of the Storm (Mark 4:35-41), the perfect metaphor, and the setting could not have been more perfect. We were drifting through the sea of life, everything seemed in perfect order.  Though we each had struggles in our lives, we were getting by.  But... the disciples in the Gospel, we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.
Our daily routines we have grown so accustomed to have been disrupted.  Most of us are forced to stay home, unable to work or having to work from home.  Our social lives have been diminished to phones and screens.  All that we were looking forward to (concerts, festivals, conferences, parties, celebrations, social gatherings) have all been cancelled and/or postponed.  As we watch shelves empty, supplies barely able to keep up with the demand; our parks roped off and boarded up; “non-essential” stores and businesses shut their doors, we come to see what is immaterial. Those things we felt we couldn’t live without, we are being forced to cope without.   It is not the time of your judgement but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.  It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.  The life we knew has come to a jerking halt.  Like the disciples in the boat, we are alarmed and anxious.  We do not know when the worst of the storm will be or when it will pass.
The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities.  It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities.  The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls.
And as we listen to the number of cases increasing exponentially, the number of deaths climbing; as we are inundated with negative media, further stimulating our fears.  We cannot visit our distant family members.  We are suspicious of strangers, staying away, not knowing where they have been or what they may carry.  Hospitals are not taking visitors, leaving those who are ill without the comfort of loved ones.  Our Churches are closed, Masses are done at a distance.  At a time we most feel we need to receive the Eucharist, we are unable to physically do so.  Some of us may feel abandoned and alone.  The times we need the most comfort we cannot get it.  Just as His disciples questioned if He cared, we may wonder where is God, where is our Lord at this time?  But throughout his Homily, Pope Francis repeated Jesus’ words Why are you afraid? Have you no faith? (Mark 4:40)

We recognize the value in the smallest gestures that we had taken for granted: a smile from a stranger, a walk at the beach, the beauty of nature, a comforting hug, a simple “hello”.
How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility?  How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer?  How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.
We are being reminded that God, our faith and our spirituality remains in each and every one of us. Our spiritual desire is what fulfills us.  The Sacramentals which are physical reminders of the grace of our Lord are no longer in reach.  Their significance and value are dependent on our desire and need for God.  While we cannot feel them, see them, smell them, touch them, we can still feel God’s presence.  And we need God at this time. It is up to us to show one another, especially our children, how to seek Him.
Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation.  We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord... Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.
How many of us, because of our busy lives, have said we don’t have time to pray?  How many of us forgo weekly Mass because it does not fit our schedule?  Now we have time, time to sit down and find our faith in Him again.  While you are feeling abandoned, remember that by His cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others.  The Lord died for us.  Why would He not care for us at this time?  Repeatedly, Pope Francis spoke the words of Jesus “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

I’ll admit I was a the height of my anxiety.  Being in the health care field, continuing to teach new nurses, I had my own fears.  What if I bring it home to my children?  My child has been hospitalized for asthma triggered by a simple cold.  What more if he gets this? I’ve heard of nurses who refuse to go home to their families, in fear of passing it on.  We do not fear so much for ourselves as much as for our elderly parents and our children. Nurses have said they don’t walk straight into the house, but walk through their garage and remove their clothes there before walking in.  Even when we’ve taken every precaution we could, there is still that worry in the back of our minds. I worried for my friends and family who are still in the front lines, seeing and caring for patients every single day.  As he repeated “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” All I was feeling began to release itself, and I found myself crying the tears I could not cry.

It is time we find our spirituality, strengthen our faith, seek His guidance, heed His words.  God has given us the gift of hope, of love, of charity.  And we are in the age of technology, a time where we have the capabilities of spreading love and hope far and wide.  We still have all we need at our disposal.  We know more what it means to have what we need to survive.  To help us through this time, we must have faith in our Lord, who loves us and cares for us, who gave His life for us.

Full video with English translation from Vatican News