Sunday, February 14, 2021

Jesus: the Catalyst of a Transformed Human Heart (Mass Reflections 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B)

Mass Readings 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Lv 13:1-2, 44-46; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Mk 1:40-45)

Whether it's because it was happening to us personally, we were the perpetrator, or we were the bystander watching it happen, we have all experienced someone being ostracized for any number of reasons.  Whether it's simply because they were different in looks, personality or interests; or because they had some unappealing and blemished features; or because there is something in their past that they did or were affiliated with.  They are mocked and humiliated, then abandoned.  Not only have they been judged, they were condemned by the people around them to a life of misery and loneliness, but for what?  How many people actually get to know them and see them for who they are despite their imperfections and impurities?

In the first reading, God told Moses, "The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall... declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp."  Not only is he to isolate himself from the rest of the community, but he is also made to declare his presence and show that he is "unclean" in the way that he presents himself.

What a stark contrast to Jesus when, in the Gospel of Mark, a leper went to him and begged Jesus to cleanse him.  He was moved with pity, stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him "I do will it. Be made clean."  Multiple things are happening here.

First of all, the leper himself went to Jesus and asked to be cleansed.  We all have our own blemishes in our visage, in our hearts.  How willing are we to beg Jesus to cleanse us from these blemishes?  It is up to us to seek Jesus.

Secondly, Jesus was moved with pity.  We are reminded why He was Incarnated: He loved us.  He was the embodiment of the love our Creator has for us.  Over and over again, He was not afraid to reach out to the outcasts, those in society who were humiliated, ostracized, and punished  for their sins, their illnesses, their imperfections.  We saw this when He was anointed by the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50), when he saved the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), and when he dined with the tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:13-17).  He went where no one else would go.  And just like with the leper, he was moved with pity for us enough to die for us.

But why did He die for us?  He reached His hand out to the leper and said "Be made clean".  He came because "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." (Mark 2:17).  He came to heal us, heal us from the pain and blemish of our sin.  He made the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate show of love.  Why?  Because he let us know that we are all worthy of the love of God.  Even as He was dying on the cross, when one of the sinners who recognized who He was, the Son of God, and this condemned man essentially asked Jesus for forgiveness when He said "Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and Jesus tells this sinner dying next to Him "Amen, I say to you, you will be with me in Paradise."

Every. Single. One. Of. Us. Is. Worthy.  Jesus shows us that.  It is up to us to be transformed by that love.  Not only in the lives we live but in how we treat others.  In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he tells them "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ."  Jesus is our example of love, compassion, empathy, sympathy.  That is how we must see and treat others.  And He was the catalyst for the change of the human heart.  He was the embodiment of unconditional love.

Love God.
Love Yourself.
Love others.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

New Eyes and New Heart (4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Reading Reflections)

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Readings (Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28)

Think of a movie that you used to watch, a book you read, a song you listened to over and over as a child, and now you're watching it, reading it, or listening to it as an adult.  Suddenly you have a different view of the storylines, the characters; a different understanding of the meaning behind actions and words because you are now seeing the whole thing through the lens of experience and wisdom that you did not have as a child.  It took a new experience for it to hit you on a much deeper level.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is teaching in the temple and "he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes".  As he is teaching a man with an unclean spirit questions him, and Jesus tells the spirit to leave this man's body and it does.  The people were astonished, and recognized that with his authority he even commands unclean spirits.

But where did this authority come from?  In the First Reading, God had told Moses "I will raise up for them a prophet like you form among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him." The voice of Jesus rings with words from the Father Himself, a new authority which the people had never before encountered.  Suddenly the teachings which they had heard over and over before they heard in a new light, and it was all made clearer.  What made it different was that it was God speaking directly to through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The human mind is astounding.  We as a species have the capacity and ability to think abstractly and see what is beyond the page in front of us.  An experience can become symbolic for us, representing something that is deeper and more meaningful than a mere mundane scenario that is to be forgotten.  We also have the ability to change our perspectives, which can also change in hindsight as we gain more insight.  We are able to emphasize and sympathize.

No, we don't have Jesus directly in front of us teaching us in a crowd of people.  Nor do we have "proof" of the amount of authority He has as we watch him drive out unclean spirits.  But we do believe in God's existence.  We are aware of His omnipresent authority over all of creation.  And though there may be times we may feel forsaken, does not diminish his omnipotence or omniscience, including what is in the depths of our hearts.

So now it is our turn to change our perspective, and instead of seeing things as the world would see it, how would God like us to see it?  In times of struggle, try and see how he is trying to strengthen you, the graces He has bestowed upon you.  In times of joy, give thanks for the blessings.  And know that when you are hurting, Jesus knows your pain because He suffered pain.  The one with the authority to speak the Words of God had to endure suffering greater than we can possibly fathom. How can we change our perspective?  Look at everything within a prayer.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Drop what you're doing and follow

 Readings for Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Jonah 3:1-5,10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20)

If there is anything that the past year has shown us, the verse from Paul's letter to the Corinthians rings true: For the world in its present form is passing away.

Since we are inundated with political media, I will not focus on that, other than to say we are still in a the midst of a pandemic, coming close to the year mark that states began to shut down, and we now have a new American President in office.  But let us not just look at the world we live in, but look at ourselves.  If last week's readings were about listening, today's readings are about doing. In the first reading from Jonah, When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them.  Even at the very moment He wanted to smite them, He recognized their change, not in word or thought but in deed.  It is up to us to change.

The past year has brought many challenges, mostly emotional ones; missed opportunities because of the shut down; loss of loved ones; the inability to connect with my students the way I hoped to because of the forced distance learning; the anxiety of being in the hospital knowing I could bring this home to my babies.  It was so easy to shut down and shun the world, and guiltily I did.  The world prior to this pandemic was gone, and I had to make it in a new world.

But what it forced me to do was to challenge myself and find opportunities where I would never have looked before; celebrate the goodness in life because it could be our last; find new ways of connecting to people and avenues to reach people's hearts; keep myself as safe as possible, taking the necessary precautions so I have less of a chance to bring home this deadly infection.  But I had to make the choice to change myself, see God's call where I did not see it.

How did I change?  It wasn't an easy task.  But in the end, I had to believe that there was still goodness in the world, because to see the goodness in the world was to see the goodness of God.  But I had to work on myself from the inside; find new avenues for my spirituality in order to continue in the mission He set before me.  But what good will all of this do?

In the second half of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus said to Simon Peter and Andrew "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."  They and James and John dropped their nets where they were and followed Jesus.  They dropped their old lives and followed in Jesus' way.  Fishing was their livelihood, the way to feed themselves and their families.  Yet they left it all behind.  We are called to forget how we were and find a new way to be.  However in order to do this, we must have great faith.  But how can we have great faith?  By believing in the Gospel of our Lord.

In the Responsorial Psalm, it reads Remember that your compassion, O Lord, and your love are from of old.  In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O Lord.  God has always loved us.  We must trust in that love, and follow in His truth.  We cannot continue to live the life we used to if we are going to follow His call to action, be that compassionate loving follower that others are going to want to see the truth of God's love.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Are you really listening? - Sunday Reading Reflections 1/17/2021

Many of us have been in those conversations that seem to go one way.  The person is constantly speaking but hears nothing that you say.  Either they tune you out or uninterested in your words.  How frustrated do we feel?  One way conversations often lead to discord. There is a lack of communication, often causing more problems.  It is one-sided, where there is no compromise, and the one who feels unheard may feel resentment that their own needs are not being met, their opinions not being valued.

I am also reminded of a friend who I had known for years.  By their own nature, they were very private.  They were the kind of friend that would only listen but never revealed their own thoughts.  It was only after 15 years of friendship that I finally found out what they had been going through.  Someone you thought you knew so well, suddenly you had a different perspective and understanding of who they were as a person.  This was not a negative thing, but what it made me see was how much I did all the talking and how long it took for me to stop and hear their stories.  Granted he never initiated the conversation until then, but I also never took the time to ask.

How often does this happen in our relationship with God?  We are so engrossed in our day-to-day tasks, the only time we stop and "speak" to God is when we really need Him.  But how much do we really take the time to get to know Him and listen to Him?  How often do we push what we think would be good for us, and get angry when things don't go our way, only realizing later that it was probably for the better?

In the first reading, it is the older Eli who heard God's call, although it was Samuel He was calling.  Why is that?  Samuel was not familiar with the Lord, because the Lord had not revealed anything to him as yet.  When we do not take the time to know God, how will we know when He is calling us and what He is calling us to do?  When Samuel finally realized it was he who was being called, his response was "Speak for your servant is listening."  Listen to for His voice in all that we do.

The Gospel has John crying out "Behold, the Lamb of God" and that was when Andrew and Simon Peter followed him.  Why?  They heard that Jesus was there and when He asked them "What are you looking for?" they asked to follow Him.  What are we looking for?

During this time of the pandemic, as I see with my own eyes the worsening conditions, loved ones suffering and dying from this disease; during this political climate, as we see the way others act, my anxiety is rising.  Now more than ever, we need God, and we need to seek Him.  But unless we stop and listen for His call, listen for His voice, listen for His coming into our lives, we will not find Him.

Still, even if He is there in front of us, how can we see Him?  We can find Him within us.  We are a temple of the Holy Spirit.  But unless we see our own value, treat ourselves as that worthy servant, we will not see Him.

Take time in the day to pray.  Listen for His voice because He is calling us to be the good people, to spread His word and love in this world that needs it more than ever.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Reflecting on the Incarnation

We have a fascination with knowing the lives of our favorite celebrities and historical figures. Seeing their interests outside of the medium that we are used to seeing them in adds a more human element to who they are since we see them outside of the part of their life that made them famous. When they step outside of the spotlight we can at times get a glimpse of their past, which can be very inspiring especially when it comes to hearing of the obstacles they had to overcome. It hits us even harder when their story is something that we ourselves have also gone through.

How could this not be the same for Jesus, the man from Nazareth in the region of Galilee? As Christians we tend to focus more on the Messianic figure who came to save us from our sins, and while that is certainly the most important part of His life we sometimes forget that He came to us as one of us, a man. He has a life story and while we may not be able to know as much about Him as we like there is enough information about life in the area where He grew up to give us some idea of the world in which He existed. 
There are so many of us who wonder about his teen and young adult years and while that would be interesting to know there is certainly much more that we can explore. What was it like to be from such a small town? What was it like to come from a small family? How did it feel not to come from wealth and privilege? What was it like to hear stories of the dangers that your family faced prior to and right after your birth? What was it like to live in a nation that was occupied by a foreign power? How did it feel to be so different from those around you? Finally, how many of us also have a story for these same questions? 

The last question is most important because we have all had that experience of having some kind of mentor in our lives, perhaps even a famous person that we have followed for years whose story is similar to ours. A person whose story is like our own and for that reason alone, we feel a deep connection to them. What if we found similar connections with the same man who was also the God of the universe? How much would that change our prayer life? How would that impact the way we receive the Eucharist? Could we ever pray specific Mysteries of the Rosary in the same way? In other words, could it draw us even closer to Jesus just based on the fact that we have found a deeper human connection with Him? 

History, Geography & Culture

The scriptures tell us that Nazareth was the home of Mary (Luke 1:26) and the place where Jesus grew up (Matt 13:54, Luke 4:16, Luke 2:4 & Matt 2:23). It was seen as an insignificant agricultural village not far from the major trade route to Egypt known as the Via Maris. Right away, those of us from small towns can relate to Jesus' upbringing in the sense that we too have probably had been questioned as to why we would live in such an area or perhaps have been criticized for our simple lifestyle.
The fact that Jesus came from Nazareth led Nathanial to question His legitimacy with these words from John 1:46: Can anything good come from Nazareth? While many people may be quick to criticize those from a small town perhaps Nazareth was the perfect place for the Messiah to come from based on a   Hebrew inscription found at Caesarea that lists Nazareth as one of the villages in which the priestly division resided after the Jewish revolt (see Luke 1:8-9). The influence of such priests is without a doubt due to the piety attributed to the people of Nazareth. This is best displayed in the fact that it is the only Jewish settlement where archaeologists have never discovered any pagan remains.  
This little town in Galilee was never mentioned in the Old Testament but the pious presence within the community was perhaps the perfect setting for Mary and Joseph. The holiness that had to be a part of their daily lives certainly produced a piety that was necessary to raise their divine Son while also giving them the spiritual wisdom to receive specific messages from heaven. After all, this is the place where our Blessed Mother experienced the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) as well as the place where Joseph had his dream that encouraged him to take our Blessed Mother and Jesus into his home (Matthew 1:18-25). In other words, was there a better place during that time and place to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit?
These are things we can relate to for a number of reasons. Every town has its issues but not every town has the same values. Many people tend to notice that small towns have a greater sense of community. Aside from that, they also have less distractions so perhaps this is the best environment to live out one's faith. After all, is it not common for people from the big city to find places for retreats that provide some sense of quiet or distance from the metropolitan life? 
We also see people judged more by where they are from rather than what they can do along with their values and principles. What did Nathanial mean when he questioned the possibility of anything good coming from Nazareth? Was there a natural assumption that the Messiah would come from Jerusalem simply because it was the location of the Temple? We tend to fall into the same way of thinking today, which is rather interesting since we now have a President-elect who is from the state of Delaware who defeated the incumbent from New York. The lesson here, look at the person for who they are and not where they are from.  

Therefore, in terms of where Jesus came from, Nazareth was the perfect place.


The region of  Galilee is in the northern territory where Jews began to settle in 164 BC following the Maccabean revolt. It is also the place where Jesus conducted a major part of His ministry. His upbringing and early ministry took place in Nazareth, which is in lower Galilee while most of His public ministry occurred in Capernaeum, which is located in the northwestern end of the Sea of Galilee. Matthew identified Capernaeum as Jesus' home (Matthew 9:1).
It is said that Judaism assumed its definitive form there as it produced the Mishnah, which is a colletion of Rabbinic laws that covered everything from agricultural tithes, public feasts, marriage, torts, sacrifices at the Temple and ritual purity. The region also produced the Palestinian Talmud, which is one of two long collections of Jewish religious literature. 

In other words, Jesus came from a region that was had a strong sense of order, which He addressed when He spoke of fulfilling the Law in Matthew 5:17-18:  Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. 

Jesus could not speak of the true meaning of the Law if He wasn't familiar with the Law itself. Yes, there are those who would speak of His divine nature as part of the Godhead who delivered the Law to Moses but it is also rather interesting to see that He comes from a region where many scholars wrote extensively on the application of these laws. 

Many of us experience such order in various places from taking classes with strict teachers, coaches with teams who followed specific guidelines to professions that require its employees to adhere to certain rules to not only increase production but to also protect the employee and the company from harm. In each case, the group can only work effectively if they not only follow the rules but buy into those rules.

Even if the focus was on Jesus being from the region of Galilee rather than the town of Nazareth it would still not spare Him from some type of suspicion. The Gospel of John (1:46 and 7:52) demonstrate this attitude of the Jews from Jerusalem and Judea towards those from Galilee.

In other words, like many of us, Jesus was judged based on where He was from. That would also include the way He looked and the way He lived. This is a challenging part of the human experience and something we can take to Jesus in prayer knowing that He knows this from firsthand experience. 


Most of us might assume that Jesus' trade was similar to what carpenters do today but that was not the case. According to Isaiah 44:13-17, carpenters planted, tended to and cut down the trees with which they worked. That meant that they were responsible for more than gathering the necessary supplies to do their work as they had to provide it for themselves. 
Carpenters followed in their father's footsteps as it was not a profession that was sought by educated men.  It was certainly hard and laborious work as excavations have uncovered tools such as an axe, saw, chisel, hammer, drills and nails. Such tools were needed as carpenters built homes while also making and repairing stools, tables, benches, cabinets, doors, window frames, plows, yokes and many other essential items. Therefore, when we create artistic depictions of Jesus, while skin color seems to be a point of debate for some I think it is fair to say that the one thing we can all agree is that Jesus was probably quite muscular.

This is why many were surprised at Jesus the teacher as was displayed in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3. Such wisdom was not normally displayed by men of this trade so like many of us, Jesus was labeled based on what He did to make a living. 
Many of us have been looked upon with suspicion based on our livelihoods or perhaps even our worldviews or affiliations. How many times were labels given to us by those who knew nothing more than what we did for a living? Yes, Jesus would know that same feeling and it had to hurt to receive such reactions since the wisdom He displayed was for the benefit of all, including those who treated Him in this way. 

Trades and Professions
Hundreds of Galileans lived in small towns and villages scattered throughout the countryside. They lived in modest homes made of mud brick that were clustered together on the side of a hill. Local craftsmen included carpenters, potters, weavers, blacksmiths and shoemakers who had small one room shops. Most of these craftsmen were assisted by their son who also acted as their apprentice. Many of them were also farmers and shepherds with many Galileans rarely traveling more than a day's journey from home. They might visit the Holy City once a year in the same way that Joseph took his family for Passover (Luke 2:41).
Each of these workers had to know of the effort that each person put into their crafts. Since these small shops were usually at the edge of the marketplace they had the chance to not only admire each other's work but also see how everyone contributes to the communities that they lived in. Jesus was a part of such a community and therefore witnessed the progress these communities made through their collective efforts.
Aside from that, Jesus also used this experience when it came to teaching the crowds. Rebecca Sodergren tells us that "(many of) Jesus' parables sometimes focused on day laborers." When one reads through such parables we can see the detail that Jesus uses to make His point, which had to resonate more than what they might have heard from the more learned teachers of the Law who did not live the same lives as most of the people. 

Sadly, there are still those who look at laborers with suspicion or with some form of elitism. In fact, young people at times base their future choices on both going to college and pursuing some reputable career that may not be the calling of their heart because of the status that they think it will bring. Meanwhile, we continue to fall short in seeing the contributions that these laborers make to our world based on what we have been taught in terms of who deserves to be treated with greater reverence. 

Why is this so? How much do we really know about the plumber or electrician? They certainly went to school and are most likely literate. For all we know, they might spend a lot of their down time reading, watching the news, spending time helping their kids with homework....learning! All one has to do is sit down and have a conversation with such people to see what I am talking about. So how is it not possible that this carpenter from Nazareth might know what He is talking about when it comes to the Kingdom of God?
Religious Life, Education and Diet 
The faith life of these people was also of great importance. After dinner the men gathered in local synagogues for evening services. There they would not only pray but also read and discuss the scriptures. During the day young boys went to school at the synagogues. Most of the boys learned ancient Hebrew even though Aramaic was the common language of the people. 

Jesus most likely joined Joseph for evening prayer at the synagogue and one could only imagine the impact this had on the young man. After all, this is not only the same man who listened to the voice of the angel who told him to take Mary into his home but already had a fervor of faith in his heart that allowed him to trust that voice. Now this same man is raising the boy that Mary carried within her womb and was not only including him in this daily practice but also with the understanding of why it had to be done. Joseph knew who Jesus was and the responsibility he carried to help raise this young boy to become the man that God intended for Him to be. 
We already discussed earlier the piety of the people from Nazareth...and this is where Jesus attended daily prayer services in synagogues, learning from priests who led a community that was never corrupted by the influence of paganism. Yet, there were those who questioned anything Jesus had to say simply because of where He was from? Amazing!

What impact would it have today for a father to take his son to church? For a son to see his father pray on a regular basis? Once again, we can look not only to the example Jesus set in His ministry but also the example that was given to Him by His earthly father.
Jesus' family were not a part of the Jewish aristocracy that lived well thanks to the appointments that were given out by their Roman rulers. Therefore, they most likely ate meat only on holidays, which was anything from roasted lamb or goat, small fowl such as pigeons, salted fish from the Sea of Galilee or boiled chicken from a local farm. Their regular diet included beans, lentils, cucumbers, leeks, onions, garlic, lettuces, figs, apricots, olives among many other things, which of course included bread most likely made from ground legumes along with grains. 

Such a simple diet certainly suggests that time spent eating with one's family members had to be an important part of one's day. This is certainly something we can relate to, especially when we think of those moments of eating comfort food with our family members and friends, our daily lunches with our co-workers along with those important discussions we have over a meal. We would certainly be correct in thinking that Jesus had some of His most important discussions with His own disciples during a meal, which of course was best demonstrated at The Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-38 and John 13:1-30).

The Messiah 

There is only one Messiah and such a person was going to be different from the rest of us. The pressure was enormous due to the expectations from the people alone without thinking about the purpose of such a mission. Then there would certainly be the threats that one would have to endure from those who would be threatened by this person's appearance. 

The expectations from the people were based on themes and beliefs that originated in early Israelite religion along with ideas that came from extra biblical and/or apocryphal sources. Regardless of how messianic ideas developed it is clear that there were no consistent conceptions. Of course, there were many popular ideas such as the restoration of Israel and/or the establishment of an earthly paradise. Further, the Messiah himself was believed by many to be a pre-existent superhuman being who would come from heaven that will conqueror the nations and rule the earthly kingdom. 

Then comes this humble carpenter from Nazareth.

For years theologians and Christians have speculated of the conversations Mary and Joseph had with Jesus about who He was along with His future mission. Of course, that would include stories from their past such as The Flight to Egypt in Matthew 2:13-15 when they had to endure the first of many threats that could come Jesus' way, which would serve as a preview of one of many struggles Jesus would face during His earthly ministry. 

Jesus endured rejection (Luke 4:16-30) and abandonment (John 6:60-66) and then told His own followers that they too were to expect such things (Matthew 10:16-25). Did this sound anything like the Messianic expectations that had long been discussed by the Jewish people? No, but that is the difference between truth and belief. Still, Jesus had to endure the struggles that would come from not fulfilling the expectations of many. 
Speaking of struggles, one could only wonder how much Jesus endured during the temptation in the desert. The Gospels tell us that He was hungry at the end of His fast (Matthew 4:2 and Luke 4:2). The Gospel of Matthew tells us that He fasted for forty days, which in biblical language means an adequate amount of time. Some may ask adequate for what and that is where I would suggest that He was out in the desert long enough to be vulnerable to Satan's temptations. 
Is that not in fact something we also encounter in our lives? Take for example, the opportunity to steal money. In most cases, I would argue that most of us would not do such a thing or at least think more about why we shouldn't do it. But would that be the case if we were facing financial hardships? Would that not be a moment when we might try to find reasons to take money that doesn't belong to us since we can find a good use for it? Therefore, would Jesus find reasons to turn stone to bread if He was in fact hungry? 

That is the nice thing about speculation is that we can do so by applying real life experiences to the discussion. It is even better when an artist does so in a way where we can highlight some specific circumstances that really make us think about why we might be prone to do certain things that are not in our character. Take for example the temptation scene from the film Jesus when our Lord was played by Jeremy Sisto:

How does one not see this scene and not appreciate Jesus' commitment to God's will? Yes, we can remind ourselves that He was both God and man but He was still a man that endured the same struggles we encounter and showed us how to do things the right way.

I want share a story from my early days of teaching. It was Back to School Night and I recall a student telling me earlier in the day that his father would come in and most likely ask a ton of awkward questions. I laughed aloud when the student apologized to me beforehand. It didn't take long for me to discover who his father was as he walked into a class filled with parents and started with his inquiries. I could see the irritation from some parents as he never gave me a chance to start with my presentation. It got even worse when he asked me about a class that I was not teaching at the time: If this is a Catholic school, why do you have a class called World Religions? I simply told him that I am not in charge of  curriculum and that he should go and speak to the teacher of that course, whose classroom was down the hallway. 

He wasn't done. Okay then, what would you say if a student asked you what was so different about our religion compared to other religions? Oh man....really?! You had to ask this young twenty something year old teacher that question in a classroom full of parents? Now the irritated parents began to murmur as they too were intrigued by his question. That was when I took a look around the room and noticed the number of parents who were dressed in suits, scrubs and other professional attire; educated people who had obviously come from work to see their children's teachers. And now I had to prove to all of them that they were spending their money well on tuition and other fees. 

Thank God for the influence of the Holy Spirit: Jesus never asked anything of His followers that He Himself did not do. 

Yes, the parents commended me on my answer, including the father with all of the questions. For years I focused on the fact that Jesus not only told His followers to expect to be persecuted and killed for what they did for the Kingdom of God but also endured those harsh realities Himself. But as I reflected on this blog I realized that my answer was far more than that. Jesus had a family, had to learn various skills so He could work, had a specific diet based on what was available, lived in a world that was occupied by harsh rulers and so much more...before He would go out and endure all the trials and tribulations of His ministry. 

So what does that really say about the fact that the God of the universe came to us as one of us? What does that say about the value of a human being? What does that say about us being able to relate to Him knowing that He knows that much about us and mind you, not just from His omniscience but from the fact that He also lived it? 
He was not in some kind of parallel existence as He too lived in this broken world. He was right there with us, living the same struggles. Yes, we speak of Jesus being without sin but how many times have we all succeeded in doing the right thing? Yes, all of us have done it, which shows that it can be done, especially when we allow God's grace to empower us to do His will. 

Jesus is always there to show us the way and if we look hard enough we can see that He did that long before He started His earthly ministry.

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


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.