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.

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

Saturday, March 21, 2020

You Are the Temple of the Holy Spirit

Do you not know that your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                1 Corinthians 6:19-20

We live in a world where the exploitation of the human body is seen as a badge of honor. In saying that I am not certain that I agree with those who claim that we are at an all time low because history has shown us the various levels of depravity that existed over the years in various parts of the world. Yet, many of these people were at times spared further consequences of their actions once they received the truth of God's plan that was intended for the human body.

Paul's quote from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 was written to a community that he established in the city of Corinth. This city can be described as: a commercial crossroads...a melting pot full of devotees of various pagan cults and marked by a measure of moral depravity not unusual in a great seaport.  Still, the apostle was able to establish a Christian community in such a place so we must be reminded that while we continue to do the same work in our communities that we are also empowered by the same Spirit that guided the apostle Paul.

The Body is a Temple 

There are some Christians who have very negative views of the body and while that at times is part of some theological persuasions it was actually a way of thinking that had an influence on the earliest Christians. According to William Barclay: The Greeks always looked down on the body. There was a proverbial saying, "The body is a tomb." Epictetus said, "I am a poor soul shackled in a human corpse." The important thing was the soul, the spirit of a man; the body was a thing that did not matter. 

As a result of this way of thinking Barclay tells us: That produced one of two attitudes: Either it issued in the most rigorous asceticism in which everything was done to subject and humiliate the desires and instincts of the body. Or--and in Corinth it was this second outlook which was prevalent-- it was taken to mean that, since the body was of no importance, you could do what you liked with it; you could let it sate its appetites. 

This was the world of St. Paul and while Barclay speaks of two extreme views there were in fact truths that were preached both by the Apostles as well as the Jewish philosopher Philo. As James D. G. Dunn tells us: Paul's reply to such thinking was very clear: "You are God's temple" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17); "your body is the temple of the living God" (2 Corinthians 6:16). The thought is not particularly new. Philo speaks of the body as "a sacred dwelling place or shrine for the reasonable soul." To further expand St. Paul's point about the body Barclay says: God's Spirit dwells in us (so) we have become a temple of God; and so our very bodies are sacred. And more-Christ died to save not a bit of a man, but the whole man, body and soul. Christ gave His life to give a man a redeemed soul and a pure body. 

If we take the time to reflect on these words we can see the echo of God's plan from the beginning when He declared that all that He created was good (Genesis 1:31). That includes humanity and we need to really take the time to think about what this really means for each of us. Yes, we live in a world distorted by sin but that does not take away the goodness of who we are as well as how we are seen in the eyes of God. That is why it is important for us not only to recognize how all that He commands of us is not meant to be an imposition but a guide for us to follow in order to live the lives that He meant for us. This is why good theology must give us more of the why rather than just the what. Why does our Lord ask us to refrain from doing X, Y or Z?

A Deeper Meaning

Since Paul made his remarks about the sacredness of the body in regards to sexual behavior we will use that route as a way of discussing one of the whys that the Lord commands of us.  In Exodus 20:14 the Lord states: You shall not commit adultery. Further, we know that Jesus expanded the definition of adultery when He stated: You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery,' but I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. This would be an example of Jesus coming to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17), which means that He is giving us a greater understanding of the law. Further, we are also commanded by the Lord to: teach them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:20) so it would be our responsibility to not only convey the message of Jesus to others but to also figure out what method of teaching would work best for our audience. Therefore, we can take Jesus' example of offering a greater understanding of the law and thanks to disciplines such as science we can demonstrate to everyone why the Lord commanded us not to commit adultery.

During the time of Moses the main purpose of not committing adultery was, as stated in the Harper's Bible Dictionary: (to guard) marriage and family against the intrusion of third parties and the socially disruptive questions of the legitimacy of children and the transfer of the family legacy. Obviously, a very important concept in the world of a nation looking to establish its social order after being free from centuries of bondage in Egypt. Of course later on the nation of Israel is established and the people go through their challenges when it comes to following the Law before Jesus comes to give a more personal understanding of the Commandment. Now it goes from not doing something to the way that we are even see our neighbor. In other words, the Lord also put emphasis on what in in our hearts with this approach being foretold by the prophet Jeremiah in 31:33 when he said: I will place My law within them, and write it upon their hearts.

Today we have those who call the teachings of the Church outdated as well as unrealistic and there are times when the response lacks depth. Take for example some biblical literalists who focus simply on what is commanded in scripture. In taking that approach they fail to recognize all that we have discovered about the body that God created and how this knowledge gives us a deeper understanding of why we shouldn't commit adultery.

Let's begin with the words of Jesus from Matthew 19:4-6: Have you not read from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become on flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together no human being must separate. 

This is a rather beautiful statement and surely seen by some as a nice metaphor for marriage. Yet, many of us still fail to realize that this whole two becoming one flesh phrase is trying to tell us a deep truth about something that happens between two people who have been intimate with each other. Of course if this is done as God intended, which would be in the context of a faithful marriage, then it is nothing less than a most beautiful experience. Sadly, what happens when we choose to go against God's design for the human body when it comes to how couples interact with each other? Consider what is said in the following article by Sheila Wray Gregoire:

If embrace the idea that God is trying to protect us with His laws and allow His grace to fill us with the understanding as to why He has designed us in this way then we can take in Barclay's words when he says: The great fact of the Christian faith is, not that it makes a man free to sin, but that it makes a man free not to sin. It is so easy to allow habits to master us; but the Christian strength enables us to master them. 

Our bodies are not something that we have as it is also a part of who we are. So, when we go against God's design while also including someone else's body we can cause great harm to ourselves as well as the other person. Consider this comment from the Jerome Biblical Commentary on the human body: Although the body serves as the instrument of sin in other vices (IE, drunkenness and gluttony) it is not intimately united to another person, handed over to the power of another, as it is in fornication. The fornicator sins against his own body, his own person, because he tears it away from the Lord and deprives it from its glorious destiny. To add more from Barclay again: Because of that a man's body is not his own to do with as he likes; it is Christ's and he must use it, not for the satisfaction of his own lusts, but for the glory of Christ. 

With the sin of lust being one of the deadly sins that can enslave the sinner we can also consider the words of Raymond Brown when he says: People do not live in a neutral environment. To indulge in loose behavior is not freedom but bondage to compulsions that enslave. Sexual permissiveness affects the Christian's body, which should be evaluated as a member of Christ's body. In other words, it does great harm to us whether we intend for that to be the end result or not. Consider this exchange from the movie Vanilla Sky:

We also have to remember that it is more than just the two people involved in the sexual act. Being a Christian also produces certain realities, such as the baptized being united with Christ. If Christ is indeed united to us it will not only be when we are acting as the Body of Christ in this world. He is also united to us when we engage in sexual acts. As Brown says: One's body is a means of self-communication, and so intercourse produces a union between the partners. Union of one who is a member of Christ with an unworthy partner, such as a prostitute, disgraces Christ, just as marital union glorifies God. 

Wired To Sin 

Today we see a movement to care for the human mind, which has thankfully led many people to speak with less hesitation about going to therapy. Aside from that we also have people who at times take days off from work or school in order to rest their minds. As a high school teacher I have also seen anxiety now become the one of the biggest problems for our young people so I am very happy to see our culture embracing the importance of caring for one's mental health along with their physical health.

Being a musician I know both the impact of this beautiful art both as a performer and as a fan. As a performer I have always appreciated every opportunity to express myself before an audience while also having the chance to work with other musicians in a way where our efforts produce a positive impact on both our audience as well as ourselves. Deane Alban says it best in the following article:

While accepting the positive impact that music can have on us we would be foolish to ignore the impact that a negative musical message or mood can have on our culture as well. I listen to all kinds of music because of the fact that my mood varies but I have also removed some music from my collection because of the negative impact it had on me. Mind you that I have never liked or purchased music that is filled with excessive profanity so I can only wonder the negative impact such songs would have on a listener who is accustomed to listening to such music. That and dialogue that we see in films today...and we wonder why we can't seem to go anywhere anymore without encountering people who are speaking in the same way. 

Speaking of film, we cannot ignore the frightening reality of what some identify as an addiction to pornography. There are some who not only deny such a claim but also question the moral dilemma behind viewing pornography due to the fact that such people are only viewing the sexual act. Still, the words of Jesus from Matthew 5:27-28 stand out even more because of the way such people, specially women, are being objectified in such films. Here are some of the serious consequences that come from viewing pornographic material on a regular basis:

Besides looking at Christ's words in Matthew 5:27-28 we also have to consider what He says in Matthew 5:29-30: If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

Powerful words indeed and if we reflect deeply we can see that the sin of lust is indeed a great struggle as the fascination and excitement that comes with it runs deep into the core of our being to the point where it can actually rewire our minds. Therefore, to conquer this sin we need to accept that fact that it is going to take God's grace as well as the acceptance that it is not going to be without great struggle. The pain would probably rival the feeling one has when they lose a part of their body, especially if one's sin includes the participation of another person as the bodies will again do what they were designed to do while participating in the sexual act. Further, the main reason Jesus wants us to rid ourselves of the thing that is causing us to sin is because it has an impact on our whole body. This is most important because if we in fact are our bodies then it can be argued that the human body is reflection of the human soul so it would not be incorrect to say that our sin actually has an impact on our entire being and not just our bodies.

Again, it is this same Christ that can strengthen us if we accept His message and allow His grace to change us. The reason why chaste living helps us see through the media messages in terms of what our culture teaches us about sex is because as we reflect on our deeper understanding of what the body truly is gives us a greater insight on the reason for living a life of both modesty and moderation. We would know first, what we don't want to do to ourselves and second, what we would not want to do to another. Again, the Christian message is never just about us as we are always called to love our neighbor.

So many sinners give in to social expectations due to the fear of rejection. How different would our culture be if we really took the time to understand and accept the truth of the human body with a confidence that could only come from the Holy Spirit. In doing so we would truly be free.

If we are truly in Christ we would be as stated in Matthew Henry's Commentary: There is a liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, in which we must stand fast. But surely he would never carry this liberty so far as to put himself into the power of any bodily appetite. 

The Whole Person 

There are times when Christians tend to focus solely on sexual purity and not the well being of their whole body. For example, what is the point of living a chaste life if we ignore the importance of adhering to a good diet while also taking the time to exercise? Our bodies were also meant to work and for various forms of expression including how we worship the Lord so how are we to do that if we do not prepare for and/or maintain our ability to do such things?

What some people may not know about me is that aside from working full time as a high school theology teacher I am a also a professional drummer that works part time in the local music scene and occasionally in the recording studio. Most of my shows are with my working country band and are usually 4 hours long. I am not getting any younger and to do this while carrying a full work load during the week along with my family obligations takes a lot of strength and endurance. Therefore, I do some regular strength training and cardio activity while also doing what I can to take part in a healthy diet. That and the fact that my father passed away in his 60's after a long illness, which caused me to question my own mortality. Overall, it made me think of my desire to be there for my family as long as I can and while there are certain things I can't control I do not want to my passing to be because of the things I should have done to better myself.

We are Christians have to look beyond sexual purity, which in turn would show ourselves and the rest of the world how much we value the bodies that God gave us. As Cathi Douglas said: Paul warned against sexual immorality, but there are numerous other pitfalls we must avoid to honor our physical selves. Self-respect and respect for God means that as adults we need to refrain from destructive actions such as heavy drinking, overeating, unsafe driving and extreme risk-taking. As children, we need to be taught personal hygiene, including bathing, brushing our teeth and wearing clean clothing.  

This is in fact something that is part of our Church's legacy from the very beginning. As stated by Cheryl Dickow: The health of the body is so important that, even after Jesus’ ascension, the apostles are able to carry on His work of healing.  In Acts 3:1-10 Peter heals the Crippled Beggar.  We see in this passage that a healthy body, as well as the gift of healing, glorifies God. The apostles certainly also healed people for the same reasons that Jesus did, to be signs of God's Kingdom (Luke 11:20). 

However, Christians are also called to continue the work of Christ. As stated by Dickow: Oftentimes, we come to know illness as a cross to bear or as a part of our earthly journey.  But at other times we ought to look at illness as an impediment to our ability to do God’s work.  We also have to remind our children, who are not just the future of the Church but members of the Church right now that they need to care for themselves. Again, Dickow says: Helping our children become aware that they are spiritual entities connected to God, and yet live in physical bodies that require care, will help them learn to live a life of balance and good choices.  Teaching them to treat their bodies, and one another’s bodies, as temples to the Holy Spirit translates into a mind, body, soul, and spirit ready to be devoted to our Lord. 

Aside from our physical health we also need to ask ourselves if we are caring for our entire being. What type of relationships do we have with others? How do we care for ourselves in terms of getting enough rest? Then of course there are the other things that have already been cited in this discussion. Still, take a moment to see what JB Cachila has to say:

So we need to ask ourselves: how do we live? Do we eat a diet that glorifies the bodies that God gave us? Do we also not consider many of the natural delicacies that God has provided for us that were meant to nourish and sustain our bodies? Do we exercise as a way to strengthen our bodies in order to take care ourselves, our loved ones while also doing the will of the Lord? Do we also understand that our ability to do such movements is in fact a gift because we are still able use our bodies in this way? Finally, do we understand that a healthy body is a reflection of our attitude towards the body? Think of the evangelizing that can be done with this approach especially when we state that our healthy attitude towards our bodies come from Christ, who is not just the source of our joy but also the author of the human body?

Again, to paraphrase St. Paul: We are a Temple of the Holy Spirit. Temples are sacred therefore you are sacred. Therefore, glorify God with your bodies knowing that there are so many ways for us to express our holiness.

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