Monday, April 14, 2014

Bill Clinton on my Alma Mater

Last week President Bill Clinton spoke in Greenville, South Carolina at the Peace Center downtown.  During his speech where he spoke on a variety of topics he said the following about my Alma Mater, Furman University, located just north of Greenville:

“You could brand Furman if you will … as a place where problems are solved, potential is unleashed,” Clinton said. “People don’t care about politics. They care about the purpose of developing the human potential” in South Carolina and beyond.

President Clinton hit the nail on the head.

After attending Furman for two years, the university unleashed my potential to the extent that I was ready to take the next step in my life.  At the end of my sophomore year I was accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Savannah and transferred to Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio to begin studying philosophy.

I believe that in two years Furman did in my life what it usually does for its students in four.

My professors pushed me and challenged me to reach my human potential.  The challenges were not only academic, but they challenged my inmost convictions as a human person.  They instilled in me a desire to engage the world, to give of myself in service to others, and to think critically.  A history professor during my sophomore year stated that if we left Furman the same way we entered it, the university would have failed us.  This professor would be proud to know that I left Furman a very different person from when I arrived.

Furman challenged my academic abilities, my leadership skills, my religious views and my political views, yet through the challenge came clarity and strength.

I am grateful to the many people I met at Furman who helped me find my life's direction and vocation.  These are relationships and friendships I will treasure forever.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Gospel Reenactment

When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep.
“So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?
Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

With my friend James reenacting the Gospel passage at the Mount of Olives, 2007

The Mount of Olives

The way to the house of the high priest from the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

Original steps up the Kidron Valley to the House of the High Priest, steps Jesus would have gone up after his arrest.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Immigration in the Catholic Cafeteria

The term "Cafeteria Catholic" was coined time ago to describe Catholics who pick and choose which Church teachings to espouse and which ones to reject.  I remember seeing a t-shirt when Pope Benedict XVI was elected that read "the cafeteria is now closed" with a large picture of Cardinal Ratzinger.  This meant no more picking and choosing from among Catholic teachings, it's either all or nothing.

The well-known American author and political activist George Weigel has always presented himself as a faithful Catholic, far from being a Cafeteria Catholic.  He is best known for his biography of John Paul II and more recently for his political opinions which tend to be conservative.

This week Weigel has become a Cafeteria Catholic, putting political ideology before the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Commenting on the Mass Cardinal Sean O'Malley celebrated at the border in Nogales, Arizona, Weigel said, "It's not clear to me how holding Mass in these circumstances can be anything other than politicized."  He added, "To turn the Mass into an act of essentially political theater is something I thought we had gotten over in the Church, no matter how noble the cause might be."

Unfortunately many faithful Catholics who would not consider themselves Cafeteria Catholics share Weigel's opinion, and by doing so become Cafeteria Catholics.  My question for them would be the following: How about the Mass held each year at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC before the March for Life which calls for the repeal of Roe v. Wade?  Would Weigel call this a politicization of the Mass?  Of course not, he would call it standing up for Gospel values.  How about the Masses and events held in the past two years calling for religious freedom?  I wouldn't consider the Mass my own bishop celebrated in Savannah at Forsyth Park a politicization of the Mass, but rather a moment where he stood up for Gospel values.

It is inconsistent to dismiss the bishop's teaching on immigration reform and to accept all other teachings.  The bishops don't run a cafeteria.  Political agendas must be subservient to Church teaching, whether its convenient or inconvenient.

Weigel continued by stating that "it's not clear to me that the principles behind a Catholic approach to immigration reform have been well articulated at all."  Weigel must not have read any of the various documents published by the United States Bishops on immigration reform.  Weigel must not have watched the news report from when Pope Francis traveled to Lampedusa to speak against the suffering and injustices immigrants suffer.

Unfortunately Weigel has done what he criticizes others of doing, he has put his political agenda before the teachings of the Gospel.  He has picked which Church teachings to support and which not to support.  I am disappointed with George Weigel.

Friday, April 4, 2014

From Death into Life

As Jesus approached Bethany, Martha went out to meet him with sad news, his friend Lazarus was dead.  Martha was upset, almost blaming Jesus for the death of Lazarus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Jesus gently calms Martha with words of hope and continues on to Bethany.  He goes to the tomb, weeps and is perturbed.  He asks for the stone to be rolled away and after a brief prayer all he does is give a command, “Lazarus, come out!”  Lazarus’ life is restored and there is plenty to celebrate.

What price did Jesus pay to raise Lazarus from the dead?  It cost him his life.  The words of Jesus that raised Lazarus from the dead were brief, yet these words were powerful.  Immediately after raising Lazarus, Caiaphas along with the other priests of the Sanhedrin began to plan Jesus’ execution.  Saint John could not be any clearer when he wrote in his Gospel, “so from that day on they planned to kill him.”  The raising of Lazarus is an example of Jesus putting into practice his own words, “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

The price of Lazarus’ life was the death of Jesus.

The price of every human life is the death of Jesus.

Caiaphas himself foreshadowed the transformative power of Jesus’ death for all humanity when he said to the other priests, “it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.”  Caiaphas was speaking of the risk of revolt in Jerusalem, yet his words resound now as a prophecy of the salvific effects of the death of Jesus.  Through his death we no longer perish, but become heirs to eternal life.  Because we die in a death like his in baptism, we too will rise with him and share in the glory of the resurrection.

Every year there is the option to read the passage of Lazarus the Sunday before Palm Sunday for the celebration of the scrutinies.  The liturgy of the Church, by placing the raising of Lazarus in this particular place in the liturgical calendar emphasizes the relationship between the raising of Lazarus and the death of Christ.  This weekend we hear how the life of one man comes at the price of the death of another man, while next week on Palm Sunday we commemorate that the death of one man brings life to all of humanity.

Jesus asked Martha is she believed that he is the resurrection and the life and that whoever believes in him, even if he dies, will live and never die.  Martha’s response is a beautiful affirmation of faith, “Yes, Lord.  I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”  Martha’s response is our response as we approach Holy Week, the sacred week when we stand in awe at the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the mystery through which we receive eternal life.

De la muerte a la vida

Click here for English

Al acercarse Jesús a Betania, Marta salió a recibirlo con la triste noticia que su amigo Lázaro había muerto. Marta estaba perturbada, casi culpando a Dios por la muerte de Lázaro, "Señor, si hubieras estado aquí, mi hermano no habría muerto." Jesús calma a Marta con palabras de esperanza y continúa camino a Betania.  Al llegar a la tumba de su amigo Jesús llora y pide que retiren la piedra de la entrada.  Después de una breve oración, da la orden, "¡Lázaro, levántate!"  La vida de Lázaro es restaurada y hay mucho que celebrar.

¿Qué precio pagó Jesús para levantar a Lázaro de entre los muertos? Le costó su vida. Las palabras de Jesús fueron breves, sin embargo, estas palabras fueron potentes. Inmediatamente después de levantar a Lázaro, Caifás junto con los otros sacerdotes del sanedrín comenzaron a planear la ejecución de Jesús. San Juan no puede ser más claro al escribir en su evangelio, "así que desde ese día planearon matarlo." La resurrección de Lázaro es un ejemplo de Jesús poniendo en práctica sus propias palabras, "nadie tiene mayor amor que este, dar la vida por los amigos".

El precio de la vida de Lázaro fue la muerte de Jesús.

El precio de cada vida humana es la muerte de Jesús.

Caifás prefiguró el poder transformador de la muerte de Jesús para toda la humanidad cuando dijo a los otros sacerdotes, "no se dan cuenta de que es mejor que muera un solo hombre por el pueblo y no que perezca toda la nación." Caifás estaba hablando del riesgo de una revuelta en Jerusalén, sin embargo, sus palabras resuenan ahora como una profecía de los efectos salvíficos de la muerte de Jesús. A través de su muerte ya no perecemos, sino somos herederos de la vida eterna. Ya que morimos en una muerte como la suya en el bautismo, sabemos que resucitaremos con él y compartiremos en la gloria de la resurrección.

Cada año hay la opción de leer el pasaje de Lázaro el domingo anterior al domingo de Ramos para la celebración de los escrutinios. La Iglesia, colocando la resurrección de Lázaro en este lugar particular del calendario litúrgico enfatiza la relación entre la resurrección de Lázaro y la muerte de Jesús. Este domingo oímos cómo la vida de un hombre viene al precio de la muerte de otro hombre y la próxima semana en el domingo de Ramos conmemoramos el hecho que la muerte de un hombre da vida a toda la humanidad.

Jesús le preguntó a Marta si ella creía que él era la resurrección y la vida y que aquellos que creen en él, aunque mueran, vivirán para siempre. La respuesta de Marta es una hermosa afirmación de fe, "Sí, Señor; yo creo que tú eres el Cristo, el Hijo de Dios, el que tenía que venir al mundo."  La respuesta de Marta es nuestra respuesta al acercarnos a la Semana Santa, la semana sagrada cuando meditamos el misterio de la muerte y resurrección de Jesús, el misterio a través del cual recibimos la vida eterna.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Mass at the Border - Misa en la Frontera

Two days ago a group of Catholic bishops led by Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston celebrated a Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona.  Participants of the Mass were at both sides of the border fence.

The bishops along with Cardinal O'Malley decried the indifference towards the suffering of migrants under the current U.S. immigration system and called for action on immigration reform.  They called upon Congress to end family separations and requested the administration to limit deportations.  They also lay a wreath at the border to remember the thousands of migrants who die while making the dangerous crossing.

Cardinal O'Malley stated that he was inspired and emboldened by Pope Francis who visited Lampedusa, Italy, a place that has become synonymous with the suffering of immigrants going to Europe from Northern Africa.  Following the Pope's example, O'Malley traveled to the border to raise awareness of the great suffering which happens there each day.

O'Malley's homily at the Mass was excellent, below is a transcript.  He begins the homily with a story I've heard before, he shares it quite often.  It's a story that breaks your heart.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley's Homily at the Mass at the Border, Nogales, AZ
la homilia en espanol

For 20 years I worked in Washington DC with immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and from all over Latin America. The vast majority did not have the advantage of legal status. Many came to the States in great part fleeing the violence of the civil wars in Central America.

I often share the story of my first days at the Centro Católico when I was visited by a man form El Salvador who sat at my desk and burst into tears as he handed me a letter from his wife back in El Salvador who remonstrated him for having abandoned her and their six children to penury and starvation.

When the man was able to compose himself, he explained to me that he came to Washington, like so many, because with the war raging in his country it was impossible to sustain his family by farming. So a coyote brought him to Washington where he shared a room with several other men in similar circumstances. He washed dishes in two restaurants, one at lunchtime and one at dinnertime. He ate the leftover food on the dirty plates so as to save money. He walked to work so as not to spend any money on transportation, so that he could send all the money he earned back to his family. He said he sent money each week, but now after six months, his wife had not received a single letter from him and accused him of abandoning her and the children. I asked him if he sent check or money orders. He told me that he sent cash. He said: "Each week I put all the money I earn into an envelope with the amount of stamps that I was told and I put it in that blue mailbox on the corner." I looked out the window and I could see the blue mailbox, the problem was it was not a mailbox at all, but a fancy trash bin.

This incident helped me to glimpse the hardships and humiliations of so many immigrants who come to the States fleeing from poverty and oppression, seeking a better life for their children. Sadly enough many immigrants spend years without the opportunity to see their loved ones. How many rural areas are peopled by grandparents taking care of little grandchildren because the parents are off in the United States working to send money back home.

Many of the priests and bishops with me have much more experience of the border. However I did bury one of my parishioners in the desert near Ciudad Juárez who was murdered there. We know that the border is lined with unmarked graves of thousands who die alone and nameless.

Today's Gospel begins with a certain lawyer who is trying to test Jesus. The lawyer is an expert in the laws, but he is hostile to Jesus; he seems to want to know how to attain eternal life, but his real intent is to best Jesus in a public debate. Jesus responds to the man's question by asking "What stands written in the law?" The lawyer answers artfully with the great commandment: love of God above all else and love of neighbour as oneself.

Jesus says "You answered correctly. Do this and you will live." God's love and love of neighbour is the key to a good life. The amazing thing about the Gospels is how love of God and love of neighbour are intimately connected.

The lawyer is a little embarrassed so he asks another question to appear intelligent and perceptive. The question is so important: "Who is my neighbor?" This wonderful question affords Jesus the occasion to give us one of the great parables of the New Testament - the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

In Jesus' day the term "Good Samaritan" was never used by the chosen people. Indeed it would seem a contradiction of terms. How could someone be both a Samaritan and good? The Samaritans were the despised foreigners, heretics and outcasts. Yet Jesus shows us how that foreigner, that Samaritan, becomes the protagonist, the hero who saves one of the native sons who is rescued not by his fellow countryman and coreligionists but by a stranger, an alien, a Samaritan.

Who is my neighbour? Jesus changed the question from one of legal obligation (who deserves my love) to one of gift giving (to whom can I show myself a neighbor), and of this the despised Samaritan is the moral exemplar.

Jesus is showing us that people who belong to God's covenant community, show love that is not limited by friendship and propinquity but a love that has a universal scope and does not look for recompense.

The parables function either to instruct or to shock. This parable was to jolt people's imagination, to provoke, to challenge. The usual criteria for evaluating a person's worth are replaced by that of unselfish attention to human need wherever one encounters it.

We come to the desert today because it is the road to Jericho; it is travelled by many trying to reach the metropolis of Jerusalem. We come here today to be a neighbour and to find a neighbour in each of the suffering people who risk their lives and at times lose their lives in the desert.

Pope Francis encourages us to go to the periphery to seek our neighbour in places of pain and darkness. We are here to discover our own identity as God's children so that we can discover who our neighbour is, who is our brother and sister.

As a nation of immigrants we should feel a sense of identification with other immigrant groups seeking to enter our country.

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Only the indigenous Native Americans are not from somewhere else. So the word of God reminds us today that our God wants justice for the orphan and the widow and our God loves the foreigners, the aliens and reminds us that we were aliens in Egypt.

Because of the potato famine and political oppression, my people came from Ireland. Thousands upon thousands perished of starvation. On the coffin ships that brought the Irish immigrants, one third of the passengers starved. The sharks followed the ships waiting to devour the bodies of those "buried at sea." I suspect that only the Africans brought on the slave ships had a worse passage.

Frank McCourt of Angela's Ashes fame, wrote a play called The Irish and How They Got That Way. In one of the scenes the Irish immigrants are reminiscing saying: "We came to America because we thought the streets were paved in gold. And when we got here we discovered the streets were not paved in gold, in fact they were not paved at all, and we found out we had to pave them."

The hard work and sacrifices of so many immigrant peoples is the secret of the success of this country. Despite the xenophobic ranting of a segment of the population, our immigrant population contributes mightily to the economy and well being of the United States.

Here in the desert of Arizona, we come to mourn the countless immigrants who risk their lives at the hands of the coyotes and the forces of nature to come to the United States. Every year 400 bodies are found here at the border, bodies of men, women and children seeking to enter the United States. Those are only the bodies that are found. As the border crossings become more difficult, people take greater risks and more are perishing.

Last year about 25,000 children, mostly from Central America, arrived in the US, unaccompanied by an adult. Tens of thousands of families are separated in the midst of migration patterns. More than 10 million undocumented immigrants are exposed to exploitation and lack access to basic human services, and are living in constant fear. They contribute to our economy by their hard work, often by contributing billions of dollars each year to the social security fund and to Medicare programs that will never benefit them.

The author of Hebrews urges us to practise hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. He urges us to be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment. We have presently over 30,000 detainees, most of whom have no criminal connections. The cost of these detentions is about $2 billion a year.

The system is broken and is causing untold suffering and a tenable waste of resources, human and material.

We find in those prisoners, neighbours, fellow human beings who are separated from their families and communities. The sheer volume of the cases has led to many due process violations and arbitrary detentions.

At Lampedusa Pope Francis warned of the globalization of indifference. Pope Francis, speaking at the borders of Europe, not a desert, but a sea, said: "We have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the Priest and Levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road and perhaps we say to ourselves: 'Poor soul' and then go our way. It is not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people living in a soap bubble, indifference to others."

Our country has been the beneficiary of so many immigrant groups that had the courage and the fortitude to come to America. They came fleeing horrific conditions and harbouring a dream of a better life for the children. They were some of the most industrious, ambitious and enterprising citizens of their own countries and brought enormous energy and good will to their new homeland. Their hard work and sacrifices have made this country great.

Often these immigrants have been met with suspicion and discrimination. The Irish were told "they need not apply"; our ethnicity and religion made us undesirable. But America at its best is not the bigotry and xenophobia of the "Know Nothings", but the generous welcome of the New Colossus, that mighty woman with a Torah, the Statue of Liberty, the Mother of Exiles who proclaims to the world:

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp," cries she with silent lips, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (Emma Lazarus)

We must be vigilant that that lamp continues to burn brightly.

USCCB Press Release about this Mass

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My 100,000th Reader

In 2008 I began a blog.  I named it Labyrinthine Mind inspired by the beautiful poem "Hound of Heaven" by Francis Thompson.  It felt awkward broadcasting my ideas and thoughts into cyberspace.  Who would read?

I only posted four times in 2008, even less the following year.

Starting on April 2010 however I began to write on a consistent manner.  I was writing homilies every week and soon after I began to write for the diocesan newspaper.  I have now posted continuously every month for the past four years.  Keeping true to original mission of this blog, to explore the labyrinthine ways of my own mind and share it with others, I have posted 584 times on a variety of topics.

Having reached the 100,000th hit of my blog today, I decided to share with you the ten most read posts of Labyrinthine Mind and a brief comment on each.

Beautiful Lima Peru
With over 16,000 views since I wrote it on January 2012, this is the most read post of my blog.  I find this appropriate since it's about my native city; the city that welcomed me into the world.  At the bottom of the post is a neat video of downtown Lima.

Pope Francis explains reason for his name
Pope Francis has not only taken the world by storm, but he has taken the internet by storm also.  He was the most talked about person in the internet in 2013.  No wonder a post about him is the second one on my list.

Origin  of the Choirs of Angles
This post has surprisingly been on the top ten ever since I posted it two years ago.  It's a paper I wrote in seminary for a class on Dionysius the Areopagite where I discuss the origin of the angelic hierarchies.  A Buddhist website called Buddha Forum took note of it and reposted it (with my permission).

Homilia para la Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
This is one of several homilies I've posted for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Last year it received almost 500 reads just in the week before December 12th.  I have a feeling many priests "shared" my homily with their congregations.

Hispanic, Latino or Latin American?
This is a topic very close to my heart, so I am happy to see many people have read about this very important question, especially for us immigrants from Latin America to the United States.

Pray for Kidnapped Priest Friend
One year ago as I ate dinner before Palm Sunday's Vigil Mass I saw a news headline about a Syrian priest who had been kidnapped.  With dread I clicked on the link and saw the picture of my seminary friend Father Michel Kayal.  Not only has he been kidnapped for over one year, there has been no contact with the kidnappers for months.  Prayer is still needed for him and his family.

Beautiful Greenville
This is a brief post with pictures of where I lived for two years while attending Furman University.  Upstate South Carolina is a beautiful part of the country.

Conversion of Saint Paul
While I studied in Rome I loved going to the Basilica of Saint Paul where Saint Paul is buried as well as the Abbey of Three Fountains where he was beheaded.  The abbey was one of the most peaceful religious sites of Rome.  Sharing the same name with Saint Paul, I have always felt a closeness to him.

Pope Paul VI and President Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War
This is another academic paper I wrote, but this one for a history class in college.  I looked at the intricate diplomatic relationship between two men who deeply impacted world history, Pope Paul VI and LBJ.

Furman University
I will always be grateful for the two years I spent at Furman University.  I made amazing friends, professors challenged me and I found my calling from God.  Here I posted some pictures I took in 2011 during a visit.

Thank you for reading!  And keep on reading!