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


Tuesday, March 10, 2020


In the New Testament Letter of James the author tells us in Chapter 1 verses 14: ...each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death. 

The words from the biblical text put great emphasis on word desire, which is defined as to long, hope or express a wish for (OED). In its simplest form it seems to have no harm as we could assume that such feelings are directed towards the things that a human being needs to survive. However, if we take the words of Shahram Heshmat who says that: Desires are directed toward specific objects (or people) with a promise of gain in pleasure (or relief from discomfort) we can begin to explore the possibility that a person has what some call a wrongly formed conscience?

Immediately there are those who may want to step back and say that we shouldn't be so quick to judge based on the fact people in this world do not necessarily share the same values. The only problem with this relativistic way of thinking is that people do judge because people do believe not only in a sense of right and wrong but in the fact that there is a sense of universal truth. One simply has to spend about 10-15 minutes on Twitter to see how many tweets are offered as critical replies to a statement made by another. Why does this happen? Simply because someone believes that the person that they are responding to is wrong and if that is the case then such statements need to be addressed. Sadly, the most important thing that is missing is the source that has led to the thinking that is being criticized and in some cases it could have been the result of the person giving in to temptation.

The Company We Keep 

What leads us to such desires? A lot of that has to do with the company we keep along with where that company takes us. What are we exposed to? How are these realities explained to us? What are some of the promises that are made to us in order to help direct our decision making? Finally, are the potential consequences fully outlined? Rather than restate what has already been written I suggest we all take a look at this article written by Brain M:

The truth is, there are very few people that will be able to resist all that can be of influence to them. I would suggest that such people would have come from a very strong family background where they have been raised with a strong sense of right from wrong along with a strong sense of self. Still, it may take even more to resist certain temptations that come one's way.

In the midst of all of my life struggles there is one success story that I am pleased to share and that is my sense of sobriety. I have never touched any type of narcotic and when it came to alcohol I have rarely drank and if I was somewhat inebriated it was minimal with me never being at a point where I was not aware of where I was, what I was doing or that I needed to stop. As of now I may have a glass of wine at home maybe 2-3 times a year with me really having no desire to drink at all.

At a young age my parents gave me a strong awareness of what could happen to someone who took drugs. That and the fact that they had a strong intolerance to what could happen to me in terms of legal consequences should I decide to immerse myself in such behavior. Aside from that, I was a big fan of rock music to the point where I would read as many articles as I could with many of them talking about certain band members who may have been asked to leave their respected groups because of their drug problems. Then, as I got older and started performing in my own rock bands I saw firsthand such behavior both in my fellow band members and other peers to the point where I had to make the decision to distance myself from those who were enslaved to their addictions. I would learn even more about drug abuse when I would see the talent that many of these people lost after destroying their bodies and minds.

Over the years I still took the time to learn more about the effects of drugs so yes, I am able to stand in any room with any group of people and NOT participate in such behavior. I have what I believe is a strong sense of right and wrong along with the knowledge of the dangers that I could face, thus, allowing be to stand before a world of people who are now lobbying governments to change their laws in favor of their worldview. Meanwhile, such social changes will have no impact on my decision making when it comes to this issue because I have long known the reasons why I should never use drugs.

Why do I bring this personal story up? It was one of the moments of my life when I was blessed to have a full knowledge of a topic, to the point where I had enough confidence to stand before a majority without budging. So, imagine how much different we would be if we took the time to learn just as much with the things that tug at our hearts in the most difficult ways.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation  

This line from the Our Father prayer is kind of misleading, which is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following about the way it is stated in its original language: It is difficult to translate the Greek verb used by a single English word: the Greek means, "both do not allow us to enter into temptation" and "do not let us yield to temptation." This extremely important because as the CCC continues: God cannot be tempted by evil and He Himself tempts no one; (see also James 1:13) on the contrary, He wants to set us free from evil." (CCC 2846)  

For years students have asked me if God Himself is the one who leads us into temptation. While I could use the statement from both the CCC as well as the Letter of James to say no it is actually not that simple. Take for example the Hebrew word for temptation, which is narah. That word is defined as to try or to test and frankly, we simply have to look to one of the most famous biblical stories in the Old Testament to see this acted out: The Testing of Abraham (Genesis 22:1-19). Even though this story focuses on Abraham proving his faith to God he was still tested by God and in doing so he risked giving in to the temptation to run away in order to save his son's life. However, what did Abraham know about God at this point that led him to have enough trust in God to go through with the command to sacrifice his son Isaac without knowing that the Lord's messenger would come to stop him from killing his son?

The most important thing would be to know why God has given us His Commandments. First of all, the creator of the universe is also the designer of the reality in which we live so who better to know what is best for us? Second, we have first the Mosaic Law, which tells us what to do and then the teachings of Jesus that address the heart of the matter but God did not stop there. As Jesus said in John 16:4-11: I did not tell you this from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to the One who sent is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. And when He comes He will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation, sin. 

First off, in the coming of the Holy Spirit we see a full revelation of the Trinitarian God. Second, while opponents of God's will do all that they can to stop the truth from being revealed it has failed to do so from and will continue to do so. That is because no law, no movement, no threat can extinguish the truth. As Jesus said in John 16:13-14: But when He comes the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears , and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. 

The Spirit of God lives in those who accept the truth and that is why the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. What kind of courage does it take stand at death's door and refuse to conform to a lie? Second, what is the source of that courage? It is not something that only lives within the person facing such a threat. It is also the grace that comes from the Holy Spirit that guides this person.

Avoiding Temptation 

One of the teachings of chastity is that it helps us see through the false media messages in terms of how they sell our sexuality to the masses. In the words of Christopher West when speaking on the issue of lustful desire he says: If we surrender our lustful desires (and other sins) to Christ, He can transform them by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism proclaims tat in the Sermon on the Mount "the Spirit of the Lord gives new form to our desires, those inner movements that animate our lives. Jesus teaches us this new life by His words; he teaches us to ask for it by prayer. the rightness of our life in Him will depend on the rightness of our prayer." 

That is why we should realize that the big question is what should do when faced with these moments when we are being tempted? In the words of the CCC 2848: "Lead us not into temptation" implies a decision of the heart; For were your treasure is, there will your heart be also....No one can serve two masters. 

Of course in the case of the true Master we know that it is not just about what we give to Him. According to 2 Peter 1:3: His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and power. Through these, He has bestowed on us precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. 

In other words, just as what was said to our first parents in the Garden (Genesis 1:28-30), God will give us everything we need and according the words of 2 Peter, even the divine nature needed to resist temptation. That of course can only be done through prayer. From the CCC 2849: Such a battle and such a victory become possible only through prayer. It is by His prayer that Jesus vanquishes the tempter, both at the outset of His public mission and in the ultimate struggle of His agony.

Yes, through that prayer we can be like Jesus and send away our tempter but we have to look at it for what it is. It is a struggle. There are moments when we will fail. We have to take these struggles to prayer and ask our Heavenly Father to give us an understanding as to why His will is the way for all of us. Then we have to make the commitment to live in that way and to allow these graces to change us. We must also have the courage to stand before the tempter and proclaim that we will only worship God and God alone, regardless of how these temptations are presented to us. Consider this theatrical presentation of the Temptation of Our Lord:

Finally, we should not look at temptation as something without value. As my high school theology teacher used to tell us, without sin we would not know what is good. Consider these words from the CCC 2847: The Holy Spirit makes us discern between trials, which are necessary for the growth of the inner man, and temptation, which leads to sin and death. We must also discern between being tempted and consenting to temptation. Finally, discernment unmasks the lie of temptation, whose object appears to be good, a "delight to the eyes" and desirable, when in reality its fruit is death (see also Proverbs 16:25).

If we deal with the temptation the right way we will learn the why behind God's law. We will see that God has commanded such things of us because He loves us and wants us spare us from the pain that we will endure should we give in to temptation. By doing so we can experience what our Lord says in Luke 17:21: For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you. 

Yes, God is with us but while He seeks to walk with us the tempter is, as stated in 1 Peter 5:8: prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. That means that while the Kingdom of God is among us that the reality of hell is also right before us....and we can get a taste of that in the same way that we can feel the love and grace of God. As stated in Sirach 15:14-17: When God, in the beginning, created man, He made him subject to his own free choice. If you choose you can keep the commandments; is it loyalty to do His will. There are set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose , stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, whichever he choose shall be given him. 

God gives us the freedom to make our own choices and will honor whatever comes out of these choices. However, if we choose Him then He will give us the things that we need to live as His children. That is why it says in James 1:12: Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that He promised to those who love Him. 


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

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Gospel Reflection 03.03.20: What does it mean to pray? [Matthew 6:7-15]

' In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. The Lord’s Prayer. “This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one. If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.'
Matthew 6:7-15

Why do we pray?  I am not asking for the scholarly response or for a qualitative survey.  Do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words."  Jesus is not telling us to not pray out loud, but he goes on to tell us Your Father knows what you need before you and me.  It does not matter what is said out loud.  What matters is what we say in our hearts.

One day in Confirmation class, I handed my candidates the Apostle's Creed, the Our Father and the Hail Mary.  I then proceeded to tell them to break it down line by line, interpreting their own meaning.  Most of the class knew the words.  But even those who had gone to Catholic school for 8-10 years, who had it ingrained into their everyday curriculum, had a hard time deriving some meaning.  I is not enough that we know the prayers, but understand the meaning behind the words. Understanding is not learning what others have written and reiterating old letters and Church teachings about them.  We must apply it to our everyday lives.  When we are saying Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, are you really exalting the Lord in your heart?  When we say Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, do you understand what you are asking for from our Blessed Mother, that we are asking her to pray for us even through all of our transgressions, and to intercede for us to our Lord?  When we say forgive us our trespasses and forgive those who trespass against us, you are asking for God's forgiveness and also attempting to forgive others?

How often as we pray, especially a long prayer such as the Rosary, or as we sit in Church, do our thoughts wander?  I am just as guilty as the next person.  If I truly fasted before mass, my thoughts would wonder what I'd have for breakfast.  If I have a lot to do, I'd start going through my agenda in my head.  Sometimes as I pray the Rosary, my mouth is saying the words, but my mind tends to daydream (not a surprise as I am called "scatter-brained" for a reason.

But this is exactly what Jesus is speaking against.   Something that I've gotten in the habit of is sitting in the front, or as close to it as I can, while I'm in Church and closing my eyes for most of it.  It's so easy to look around and get distracted by the people surrounding you.  When I pray my Rosary, I've started to listen to some instrumental music and say the words aloud, even when I'm by myself.  Again, I keep my eyes closed.  We must make that extra effort to keep prayer in prayer.  The thoughts my mind wanders to, I've learned to add them to my inner prayer intentions.  If my thoughts wander to a person, that they are given God's love and protection, if it's about a quarrel that God gives both of us peace, if it's about my tasks, that God helps me see how I should handle my day.  It becomes a productive prayer rather than a list of tasks.

Prayer should be our time with God.  Let go of the worldly distractions and take that moment to be with Him.   Find what works for you in order to fulfill the instructions of Jesus.  And whatever we ask for, ensure that we do our part.  It is not enough to just ask, but we must also do.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Gospel Reflection 03.02.20: Care of the less fortunate [Matthew 25:31-46]

' “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”'
Matthew 25:31-46

As we go on with our busy lives, we don't often think of the mishaps of others. I am reminded of a conversation I had in the last year when someone had commented that our growing homeless population is the worst in the U.S. than any other country.  We choose to live in a bubble, ignorant and blind to the plight of other people, and what's more other countries.  Now I'm not going to get political as that is not my purpose in bringing up this conversation.

Instead let us look at ourselves.  Let us not look at what we don't have but be grateful for what we do have, then look at what we can give.  Rather than comparing ourselves to those who appear to have more and covet their lives, see how someone else with less than you lives.  As we know, Lent is not only a time of fasting, but also almsgiving.  We are called to be charitable everyday, but it is even more celebrated during the Lenten season, the time of penance, prayer and renewal.

As far as judgement, could you really blame our Lord?  We as Christians are called to be generous (2 Cor 9).  We all know that one person who always takes and never gives.  There is that one friend or relative that you know can afford it but never offers to take or even split the bill.  We've all been in that one relationship (romantic or platonic) that it always felt like the other person kept taking without giving, whether in time or effort.  As generous as our hearts can be, they can sometimes grow weary when the effort is not reciprocated until one day we don't feel like giving anymore.

As it says in Galatians 6:7, For a person will reap only what he sows.  How can we expect our eternal reward when we provide nothing to others in this life?  Our Lord says it Himself, Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.  It is not only about what we do for God, but how we see and do for others.  When we put in the effort to see our Lord in all people, we see how we should love them.  Jesus' mission was about how we should show love to one another, regardless of status in society.  That status is human and worldly, not a heavenly one.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Gospel Reflection 03.01.20: The Temptation of Jesus [Matthew 4:1-11]

' Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him. The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry. '
Matthew 4:1-11

Our first parents showed us that even when we have everything we need, we have our own selfish desires.  There is a "self-idolatry" as C.S. Lewis puts it[1].  We allow ourselves to be ruled not by God but by our own biochemical make-up, allowing our desires to command us rather than His will.  As it says in the first half of 1 Corinthians 10:13 No trial has come to you but what is human. We give into those human cravings selfish desires, regardless of what consequences may arise later.

The problem is we leave ourselves vulnerable.  It is after Jesus fasts for 40 days that Satan tempts him, telling him to turn rocks into bread.  I’m sure all of us, after fasting for any length of time, would feel the pull to give in.  It’s like diabetics who crave sugar when they hear their diagnosis.  Some of us for Lent have given up some form of food (i.e. fast food, chocolate).  I remember being in a meeting and my boss had been on a carb-free cleanse.  For the meeting they ordered pastries for breakfast and she stood there in her introduction “I’m on a carb-free diet and the muffins are hitting me right now.”  It goes with the phrase you covet what you can't have.

So how do we arm ourselves so as to not leave ourselves open?  Temptation is inevitable.  But as Jesus told his disciples "Pray that you may not undergo the test."  Jesus, Himself, gave us instructions and the words in prayer Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil[2]. But as the verse in Corinthians continues God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.  God knows what human nature has become since the Fall[2].

Jesus also led us by example.  In order to gain strength, He went into a quiet place.  Before He started His ministry, he went into the desert to fast and pray.  Before He was to die for our sins, He went into the garden to pray.  This is not to say we must keep ourselves isolated, but prayer and meditation have been known coping mechanisms in mental health[4].  In periods of anxiety and depression, we tend to go for a quick fix, leading to unhealthy coping mechanisms and lifestyle choices.  However, when we pray, we actually physically change our brain structure.  Aside from helping us make better choices, allowing our spirituality to take over physically benefits our bodes not just by the choices we make to turn away from the temptations, but actually allows us to rewire ourselves for the better.