Saturday, February 29, 2020

Gospel Reflection: Jesus came to save the sinners [02.29.20 Luke 5:27-32]

'After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” The Question About Fasting. '
Luke 5:27-32

Along with the Fall came sin.  St. Augustine taught that human nature as God intended was not a sinful nature; concupiscence was passed on from Adam and Eve, our first parents, and with sin came death in 2 forms: death of the body and death of the soul[1].  Physical death is when the soul separates itself from the body.  Death of the soul occurs when it is separated from God.  The Catechism (1849-1851) teaches us that sin turns us away from God and His love for us.

However, out of love for us, God gave us His Son, who died for our sins so that our souls could be redeemed.  Even during His mission, Jesus made it plain that he was not here as a reward for the righteous but as a redeemer of sinners.  When we are ill, we seek the help of a medical expert to help us find a way to get better.  God is the doctor who prescribed love for all those needing that little bit of extra help to find their way.   The breakthrough cure was Jesus, His life, mission, death and resurrection.  The instructions are in the Scriptures.

Very recently, Carlos had posted a blog on judgement of others.  Jesus Himself showed He judged others by their actions; not by what they did but what they are doing and the genuineness of their hearts.  He also reminds us that each of us are human beings, capable of sinning just like the next person.  None of us are perfect.  But no matter how imperfect each of us are, just like Levi welcomed Jesus into his home, as long as we keep our hearts open to Jesus, He will be willing to enter and be with us.  It is our choice to leave the door open.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Gospel Reflection: Maintaining the fast beyond Lent [02.28.20 - Matthew 9:14-15]

' Then the disciples of John approached him and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast [much], but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. '
Matthew 9:14-15

The Scriptures of today both talk about fasting.  In Isaiah 58:1-9, discusses fasting in anticipation.  We as Christians believe in the Resurrection of our Lord.  Our 40-day fast is following the example of Jesus fasting in the desert.  But rather than His fast be before a great battle where your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw, it was instead before He began His ministry in which he would release those bound unjustly... [Set] free the oppressed... [Share His] bread with the hungry, [shelter] the oppressed and the homeless.

However, in the Gospel, Jesus' apostles question why they and the Pharisees fast so much while the other disciples hardly fast at all.  Jesus answers it's because He is still with them.  There is nothing to anticipate for them because He is there.  But when He is no longer among them is when His disciples will fast.

The question is, why is it only when we feel we need God do we actually take the time to fast, to pray?  When we are in desperation or in a horrible situation is when we turn to God, praying and asking for His help.  That is when we cry out the loudest.  Why can we not cry out just as loud in thanksgiving for the day to day things?  Our gratitude should be for all His blessings both big and small.  We take so much for granted and only when we lose it do we realize it's value.

Many of us remain disciplined throughout Lent, but as soon as Easter rolls around we go back to our old ways.  What, then, was the point of cleansing ourselves from whatever it was that we gave up for 40 days only to go back to it?  Why can we not maintain the same discipline?

Thursday, February 27, 2020

What Does It Mean to Judge?

In today's world we hear a lot of people say things like: don't judge me, I feel so judged, only God can judge me, etc. It's almost like a deterrent with the person saying such things not wanting to own what they have done. However, such a person could have a good reason to feel this way due to the negative ways that people tend to pass judgment these days.

The Words of Jesus 

Consider Jesus' words from the Gospel of Matthew: Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. 

What is Jesus saying? Are we not to judge people at all or is it in the way that we judge people? As always, it is important to go back to the world in which Jesus lived in order to get a better understanding of what He was speaking about since He was in fact speaking to people who had a particular worldview at that time.

According to William Barclay, the idea of judging people favorably was an idea that was well known by the Jews in Jesus' time. Rabbis were known to remind the people that, He who judges his neighbor favorably will be judged favorably by God. Barclay even goes as far as stating that to judge a person in this way was not only thoughtful or considerate but also a sacred duty. Aside from these points Barclay also imparts the words of the famous Rabbi Hillel the Elder who said: Do not judge a man until you yourself have come into his circumstances or situation. Barclay also reminds us that we may never know the whole facts or the whole person so how can we possibly know the heart of the matter.

Such an idea is really important in the world that we live in today. So many people face big decisions that certainly challenge their morality. Further, what happens when that person is filled with fear or despair as they may face the possibility of rejection or in today's social media filled world, the possibility of public slander? We ask what would Jesus do but in this case I would ask what would a person filled with brokenness do? And, how do we know that we wouldn't do the same thing?

I am not condoning sin or dismissing a person's responsibility for their actions. Even the Lord, who showed love and mercy did not condone sinful behavior. This is why He would tell the sinner to: Go and sin no more (John 8:11). Yes, Jesus did accept everyone but He did not dismiss any form of unacceptable behavior. However, He was able to show his love and mercy to each sinner because He could see the the cause of the sin, which usually comes from some form of suffering.

This is why Pope Francis reminds us that mercy is a verb because it is something we have to show the person. As I tell my students from my own guilty moments of dealing with those who have wronged me in the past: Many times we expect others to forgive us almost immediately when we will turn around and hold a grudge towards those who have wronged us. This is why Pope Francis' words hit me hard when he says: We cannot meditate on mercy without turning it into action. In honoring the words of our Holy Father we also put into action God's command to love our neighbor. Of course, that is not always easy to do and one of many reasons we need God's grace to get us through this life.

Judging Justly 

Good theology recognizes that a truthful teaching isn't just looking at the whole passage but also the whole chapter with particular attention being paid to the order of what Jesus says in the Gospels. this is why we need so speak on the issue of privacy. Notice in the chapter that precedes Jesus talking about judging others He not talks about prayer but how personal prayer is to be done in private (Matthew 6:6-7). Aside from the fact that prayer is supposed to be done in private we are also told not to babble with our words because our Father in heaven already knows what we need before we ask Him. Now, why is this so important?

The first thing that comes to mind is Eucharistic Adoration. Yes, there are prayers that we say and songs that we sing as a community and we already know the importance of community prayer (Matthew 18:20). Still, there are also prayers that we are encouraged to say in the silence of our own hearts. We are also encouraged with sit with the Lord; to simply be in His presence. If you look carefully, this form of prayer allows us to look to the Lord as Abba, our daddy, as such things that we would say at this point are very personal and certainly similar to the memories that many of us have doing the same thing with our loving fathers.

Those who have been devoted to this practice for an extended length of time speak of the graces they receive simply by being open to what they Lord has to share with them; or as Jesus already said, Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. How would any father know what their child needs? Due to the intimate time spent with his child as such time would allow the father to grow closer to their child. This is why I would recommend you look at these beautiful quotes given to us by many of the Church's greatest saints when it comes to Eucharistic Adoration as we not only get the chance to grow closer to our God but also to our Abba in heaven:

Keep in mind that our experience of being judged could also be during our prayer time. Yes, our Father in heaven already knows what we need but Jesus did not comment on when or how he would address those needs. With my own children, I speak to them during private conversations about things that they have done wrong but I make sure to speak to them carefully so they can continue to trust me and so that they know that my intent to correct them is to help them be better people and not just to scold them. To restate Luke 11:13: (If I with my sins know what do give my children) how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?  

We need to take that same attitude to those that have wronged us and Jesus has in fact showed us the way.

In Matthew 18:15 Jesus says: If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. This would be something that require a certain level of respect and maturity between the two people in conflict because the offending brother would have to both listen and then take responsibility for what they did. Of course this would not be a problem for two people who not only love their neighbor but strive to be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect. In terms of the time period in which Jesus stated this, such an idea was not foreign to someone trying to live as a good Jew. Take these words from Leviticus 19:17-18. You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow man, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. 

Again, mercy is a verb and in doing something that is difficult we show both love and mercy. It also discourages us from carrying the burden of resentment and hatred, which is not easy because our humanity will not prevent us from the fear, anger and distrust that comes from being wrong by another. That is why we must remind ourselves of our need for the grace of God in order to live as He wishes also knowing that our heavenly Father will give us what we need so long as we are open to His grace.

This would certainly imply that the harboring of grudges and even gossip have been with us since the beginning of time. However, now we live in a day and age where people have access to even more ways of communicating. However it's done, consider this brilliant sermon from the movie Doubt:

Now, what if we are dealing with someone who will not take that high road as the brother that we have won over? Consider Jesus' words from Matthew 18:16:  If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

Of course the character and intent of these witnesses must be pleasing in the eyes of God so the offending brother does not feel attacked. Perhaps multiple witnesses will present a clearer picture of what occurred as everyone has their own way of seeing such events. With that being said, perhaps this more expanded vision of the events will help everyone have a clear understanding of what happened between everyone involved and not just the person who was offended.

Sadly, the conflict could go into further gridlock, which Jesus addresses in Matthew 18:17 with the following words: If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. 

For many this seems like a later insertion into the Gospel rather than something that Jesus actually said because the church had yet to be established. However, this could still be reflective of what Jesus intended for the church while also being something that both Jesus and the apostles were aware of in terms of what was practiced by the leaders of their time.

Take for example the Sanhedrin. Although their accusations against Jesus were said to have come from false witnesses (Mark 14:56) it doesn't mean that their method was totally flawed.The Sanhedrin was made up of 71 members including the High Priest at the time as well as some priests and aristocrats. The religious leaders were very well versed in the law but the interesting thing about such leaders is that their differing backgrounds also meant that some of them had different traditions in terms of how to interpret the law. In other words, it is almost impossible for anyone to be impartial in judging anyone, which is why it would be best to have the case reviewed by several individuals.

Hopefully in most cases the Sanhedrin or any respected body of people for that matter could offer a reasonable judgment on the case that would satisfy everyone involved. Of course in today's world people have opinions on so many things but it doesn't serve us well if we only interact with people who have a similar worldview. We need to be challenged in the way that we look at persons under suspicion because that is when we find out just how much we love our neighbor. In most cases, this can only be done if we welcome input from those who have a different worldview.

Of course there are those who think only of themselves who would refuse to resolve any conflict regardless of the circumstances. Jesus was also aware of this and did not tell His followers to avoid moments when they needed to distance themselves from such people, which in many cases could be for their own safety. Aside from the final part of Matthew 18:17 we also see the Lord speak of what His disciples should do if they encounter such hostilities from a place where they have been preaching (Matthew 10:13-14). The Lord Himself was rejected and had to leave where He was preaching (Luke 4:29-30) so, yes, there are times when you simply have to walk away and hope that something you said or did could plant enough of a seed for such people to reflect on that may sprout at a later time.

Opportunity for True Change 

We often don't realize how many struggles or conflicts are in fact gifts because they are opportunities for us to grow in holiness. Sometimes this gift is a moment of self-realization that for many of us is very eye opening. Take for example the following: For years I have told my students that regardless of how one sees the issue of same sex marriage that the whole phenomenon has in fact been a gift to all of us in one specific way: it forced all of us to ask ourselves how we have treated homosexuals through the years. Of course it's easy to assume that those who changed for the better supported the legalization of same sex marriage but such a generalization is quite misleading. There are in fact many who say support the idea of upholding traditional marriage but now treat their homosexual neighbors in ways that they had not prior to that moment of self-reflection. How is that a bad thing?

This is one of many issues that people face on a regular basis. From a young girl faced with the possibility of having an abortion to a teenager lying to a teacher at their school in order to avoid getting in trouble. From an adult who is arrested and accused of a serious crime to a mother whose child has learned a deep secret from her past. We should always take the time to listen to the person's reasons for their struggle and not just their sins. Yes, sin is bad and we should not water down things that are an offense to God. However, if Jesus Himself can come to earth as one of us in order to offer His mercy to those whose actions would be an offense to the Incarnate God then who are we to judge such people harshly rather than in ways to remind them that they are first loved by God as well as by the rest of us? On top of that, imagine the impact on any relationship if the person that the sinner offended was us and yet we still took the time to love them as God wants us to? That is something that would really change the world because we would be acting like our Savior when He forgave those who sent Him to his death (Luke 23:34).

Again, it is a great challenge but nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).


Carlos Solorzano
BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach  
Cettified through the Theology fo the Body Institute 
Co-founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

Gospel Reflection: Do not lose yourself [02.27.20 Luke 9:22-25]

Jesus said to his disciples:
“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected
by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

Then he said to all,
 “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit himself?”

Luke 9:22-25
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?  A profound question, and one that holds so much relevance today.  We now live in a world where outward appearance is more important than the truth.  A person's value is judged by how many "friends" or "followers" they have on social media, how many likes they can get on a single post.  Too much time is spent on getting that perfect lighting, that perfect angle, the perfect shot on the video. We spend too much time pretending or trying to show we are something or someone else, slowly losing ourselves.  We believe what we think others want us to believe.  We try and look how we think others want us to look.  What is lost in those moments is time with our loved ones, including God.  
We have lost much of our humanity.  The younger generation is having an issue communicating with others face to face.  I had realized how much of an issue this is when I had taken my students to the hospital the first time.  Many of them were intimidated with the thought of speaking to a patient. "What do we say to them?" was the question I kept getting.  It took so much pushing and prodding and modeling a conversation with the patient for them to overcome their fears and hesitations.
So what does this have to do with God?  If we are unable to communicate and connect with those who are in front of us or right next to us, how much more someone a bit less tangible and visible?  God is everywhere, but we must seek Him from within.  Yet we distract ourselves from seeking God and God's love while we're too busy seeking a like, a comment, a retweet from our favorite celebrities.  It has become another form of idolatry.
As we go through Lent, let is take time to let go of the worldly approval, the pretend riches for popularity.  God knows what is true in our hearts.  He knows who we really are.  Let us take the time to be with Him, and our loved ones.  Think of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Gospel Reflection: Instructions on Fasting [Ash Wednesday 2020 (02.26.20)]

Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites  to in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their  appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
- Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
We as Catholics know that Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Even those who do not practice their faith on a daily basis are aware of giving up meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday during the Lenten season.  However, even if you give to the poor, take time to pray, practice self-discipline and fast, ask yourself why.  What is your purpose?
Our faith is between ourselves and God.  Yes, God wanted us to be a community in prayer and in love.  But it should not to seek approval from anyone else but God, Himself.  So when you are posting about your Lenten sacrifice and how many days you've been good, or even worse,  the days that you were unable to stay disciplined, are you doing it because you are seeking a better relationship and understanding of our Lord, or are you doing it because you are seeking attention of others?

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

HCD at the REC

This past weekend Angel and I attended the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, CA. It was not the first time either of us attended the event as she was there in 2019 and I had been there a number of times over the years both as a CA resident and once after I had relocated to the Tucson area. Still, it had been about 14 years since I had last attended the event so I was very excited to return this year, especially since I was now going to be with my partner in ministry. That was why we had decided to get some polo shirts made with the amazing logo that Angel had come up with so we can share what we are doing with others both visually as well as when we had a chance to speak to them.

I was very proud of the reaction we had from those who saw our shirts. Angel is great at visual art so I was not surprised to see how much people liked the logo. Our purpose was to hopefully bring attention to our ministry. Over and over people approached us and asked about our ministry and in many cases they were really excited to hear about what we were doing. We had a chance to speak to theologians, catechists, medical professionals and so many people in different ministries who were excited to see our vision of combining theology with medical science. So many said that it was one of the many things that we need right now as the the distance between religion and science continues to grow. It also gave us a chance to tell many of the locals about our retreat at the Daughters of St. Paul Media Center that is scheduled for Saturday March 21st.

It was great to be able to have some time in the presence of the great speakers that are brought in for the REC. From Bishop Baron to Fr. Robert Spitzer who are two great teachers that I tend to watch a lot on You Tube was an even greater experience in person. Then there were those impromptu conversations with vendors to people we would randomly meet who were also on fire for their faith who sought out the company and resources of those with a similar passion. So many of them had some great information to share and were very inspiring to say the least.

One the things I missed the most from my time living in the Los Angeles area was the multi-cultural environment. Prior to becoming a student of the Theology of the Body I was very interested in what some call Third World or Global Christianity. I was always fascinated by the theologies and faith expressions by my Catholic brethren from other countries so to see the Ethnic Ministries display again was like a homecoming for me. It is always exciting to see the beautiful art that was displayed along with learning about the saints and martyrs that they were celebrating as their wisdom and courage is just as inspiring as all that we know of the more high profile saints and martyrs.

Aside from attending the amazing talks and witnessing a variety of activities we were also able to spend some time with great friends who are also partners in ministry. It was great to catch up with some old co-workers while also meeting some of the people they are working with now who are also in the same profession as us. Hearing their struggles along with their blessings gave me a great sense of solidarity with people I have longed cared about as we can see how much we are still in this work together. Of course hearing all of the great things going on in their family lives was also a great joy to me because these are good people who deserve an abundance of blessings.

Overall, the weekend was worth the exhaustion that it brought both from all of the walking as well as all that we learned and exchanged through many hours of networking. It gave us the sense that we were on the right track while also giving us new ideas in terms of what we needed to do to further our ministry.

It also encouraged us for some other future plans. We will be attending the CMN Momentum Conference in Dallas this coming July, the Arizona Marian Conference in Phoenix this coming August while booking more talks and retreats through the rest of the year.

As we can see, the work has just begun but we are blessed and encouraged to be where we are right now.

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