Sunday, January 26, 2020

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time: Sunday of the Word of God

Today is the first Sunday of the Word of God. In his apostolic letter Aperuit Illis, Pope Francis called the Church to reflect on the Word of God on this Sunday. You can read the text here:  The Holy Father writes:

"Consequently, I hereby declare that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God. This Sunday of the Word of God will thus be a fitting part of that time of the year when we are encouraged to strengthen our bonds with the Jewish people and to pray for Christian unity. This is more than a temporal coincidence: the celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God has ecumenical value, since the Scriptures point out, for those who listen, the path to authentic and firm unity.

The various communities will find their own ways to mark this Sunday with a certain solemnity. It is important, however, that in the Eucharistic celebration the sacred text be enthroned, in order to focus the attention of the assembly on the normative value of God’s word. On this Sunday, it would be particularly appropriate to highlight the proclamation of the word of the Lord and to emphasize in the homily the honour that it is due. Bishops could celebrate the Rite of Installation of Lectors or a similar commissioning of readers, in order to bring out the importance of the proclamation of God’s word in the liturgy. In this regard, renewed efforts should be made to provide members of the faithful with the training needed to be genuine proclaimers of the word, as is already the practice in the case of acolytes or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Pastors can also find ways of giving a Bible, or one of its books, to the entire assembly as a way of showing the importance of learning how to read, appreciate and pray daily with sacred Scripture, especially through the practice of lectio divina. (#3. "Aperuit Illis")

Reading Scripture is extremely important. Even more important is actually putting the words into practice. Today's readings remind us that the Lord is the light and source of salvation.  The first reading we heard during Midnight Mass. The people walk in the darkness but see a great light. This light is Christ who alone brings salvation. No one else can save. It is very important to stress this, even to fellow Catholics. I have met a few Catholics who love Our Lady and the Brown Scapular. They take the words about not facing the pains of hell as a form of a free ticket to heaven. This is not so nor what Our Lady meant via the Scapular. The Scapular is just a sacramental. It is supposed to aid us in the spiritual life so we may achieve salvation in Jesus. The Scapular does not save anyone on its own merits or even on the merits of Our Lady. She herself told us to do whatever He says. These were her last recorded words in the Gospel. So wearing a Scapular or following a specific promise from any devotion does not save anyone by its own merits. This is why in the second reading we read, "Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" Paul etc are instruments God used. They are not the source of salvation. It is important to understand this. Christ is the focal point. He is the Savior. We must be united in His name and not be divided, as the second reading tells us. We must be of one mind and purpose. If not, then we make a mockery of Christ and Catholicism.

We must follow Jesus. Jesus calls us to be fishermen and go out and cast our nets to bring the catch in. This means evangelization. Unfortunately, our Church has lost this sense. We are not going out there and evangelizing. Evangelization can be done in many ways. This does not mean standing on a corner preaching. Even a simple smile and friendly attitude is evangelization. It opens others to respect you and listen to you.  This presents the opportunity to plant seeds of faith via amicable discussions.  We have to  avoid proselyzing or being overly aggressive that we turn others away. If someone does not want to hear it, then so be it. They have made their choice. It may be temporary or permanent, only God knows. The Gospel tells us that Jesus chose the disciples for this very mission: to evangelize. We must do the same and follow Jesus.  Today's Sunday of the Word of God is important. Despite being the Church that gave us the Bible, many Catholics are ignorant of it. While some Protestants may give the pretense of knowing Scripture, they simply memorize the ones that their "pastors" teach them in order to attack Catholics.  So they too are ignorant of Scripture. This is not good. Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ, as St. Jerome tells us. We must learn Scripture. Most importantly, we must learn Scripture the way it was meant to be learned. Only the Church can interpret the Scriptures via the Holy Spirit. This is why we must seek sources approved by the Church and not just read any material out there. Scripture is full of so many great teachings and sayings, but there are also sections that may come across as disturbing or contradictory which must be read in the right context with the right exegesis and historical perspective. If not, then we will end up starting our own sect or become an atheist claiming the Bible is work of chaos instead of the Word of God. 


Sunday, January 19, 2020

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Behold the Lamb of God

We are fresh off the holidays. Christmas and the Epiphany are over. The new year is here and we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus last Sunday. Now the Epiphany is taking hold. We are seeing Jesus revealed more and more. Last Sunday, we are told by God the Father that He is the beloved Son. Now we begin Ordinary time and will learn more about Christ and what He has to offer. Ordinary time is not ordinary at all. It just means that no serious big events will take place. So do not let the word "ordinary" fool you.  In fact, in my opinion, Ordinary time is the period which we all should focus a little more on. This is because we learn more on the person of Jesus and what He expects from us believers.

In the first reading, we are told of the servant who God will use to show His glory. This servant will bring Jacob and Israel back to the Lord and will be a light to the nations. Jesus is this new servant. He is the one who will gather Jacob and Israel back. He is the light of the world and the one who brings salvation. We too are servants of the Lord who must be His mouthpiece, hands and feet in the world. We must do God's will. Today's responsorial Psalm reminds us of this. Like the Psalm states, "Here am I, Lord; I come to do you will," we must state this proudly and move onward to do His will in the world.  Unfortunately, many Catholics tend to believe that a vocation or a "call" is solely for those men who eventually become priests or brothers. The same can be said of those women who eventually become religious sisters. However, this is not the case. All believers in the Church are called by God in one way or another.

In the second reading, we see how Paul himself is called to be an apostle of the Lord. The Gospel tells us that Jesus came to do a job, so to speak. John the Baptists points to Him as the "Lamb of God." This lamb takes away the sin of the world. What does this all mean?  Calling Jesus a "lamb" is representative of the fact that Jesus is the sacrificial offering. We read in the Old Testament how God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. This was, of course, a test. Isaac was never sacrificed. In fact, God later provides the sacrificial offering. Similarly, God once again provides the sacrificial offering: His only Son. Next, what is the "sin" of the world? Can the world even sin? Well, we must look at Adam and Eve for the answer. The "sin" of the world is original sin, the rejection of God and disobedience that Adam and Eve began and which has passed on to us. This "sin" is what leads to other sins, venial, mortal which are actual sins.

This is why Jesus is the Lamb of God. He is the sacrifice whose blood will serve as expiation for the sin of the world. John the Baptist tells this to all present and to us today in 2020. John the Baptist tells us how the Holy Spirit came like a dove upon Jesus and that this one is the person who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. This means that the water of baptism is sanctified and given authority only in Jesus. Let us now follow Jesus more closely. It is a new year and new decade which we should use to focus on growing in holiness. There are so many events going on in the world that make us wonder how much time is left. Let us not sit and speculate, but take action to better our lives via the Sacraments, the Mass, prayer and the faith.


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Friday, January 3, 2020

2020 New Year New Decade New You

It is a new year and a new decade, and we all fall into the social custom of making "resolutions." These resolutions are goals we want to accomplish in the new year. The most common resolution is losing weight.

The over-indulgence during the holidays of food and drink can add on the pounds. It is estimated that Americans gain over 10 lbs. from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. That amount may not seem much, but it is and is unhealthy.

That fat collects around the body, usually in the abdomen. Each of our bodies is different so each of us will store fat in different areas based on our genetic makeup and gender.

Depending on our eating habits and the food we ingest, some of us might store fat around the abdomen, legs, upper arms, or rear end. Fat is necessary for human physiology. Fat is stored energy, or a reserve in case the body does not have nutrients available. When we eat more calories than we need, those extra calories are converted into triglycerides. The average adult human body needs about 2,000 calories a day. A child needs about 900-1000 calories. Anything beyond that will turn into fat and will be stored until the body burns it off.

Fat is a "good" per se; however, anything in excess can do harm. It is not good to be overweight or obese. Excess fat, especially around the abdomen can damage vital organs. One organ that gets damaged easily is the liver. 

The liver is like a sponge and when too much fat enters it, the liver will expand and turn yellowish. This condition is called "Fatty liver." Imagine taking a sponge, dipping it in oil and letting it dry. The oil will solidify turning into a buttery substance. This is what a fatty liver basically looks like.

The liver is extremely important. It regulates chemicals, nutrients and produces bile which helps break down fat. The liver also filters the blood of any impurities. This is why they call it the "live-er." A fatty liver decreases the function of the liver. It will make you feel weak, disrupt your concentration ability, and other problems will arise in your body. A fatty liver is detected via simple blood tests. Elevated enzymes found in the blood will indicate that the liver may have too much fat or is damaged. Further tests may be needed in order to rule out any other disease such as cirrhosis. Fortunately, fatty liver is reversible. Diet and exercise will eventually restore the liver to its normal function.

Diet is probably the second "D" word people fear after the "D" word death. We all love food. Those yummy chips, cookies, cakes, twinkies; oh, that fried chicken, McDonald's hamburger or Burger King meal hits the spot. Let me not forget the cannoli, pizzas, rice and beans, and pork chops. Let me stop the temptations :-)
These foods all taste good, but too much of them is not good. We all can live without them.

The foods we should eat instead are vegetables, fruits, fish, some red meats, grains and dairy. There are no vegetables or fruit on Earth that are bad for you unless they are rotten. These are "sacred" natural items that we should always eat. I call them sacred because they keep us alive and healthy. Fish is an excellent alternative to red meat. It has nutrients that help brain development and is generally low in fat.

Lean meats are also good for the body but should be eaten in moderation. This means no huge drumsticks or ribs like Fred Flintstone likes. Grains such has whole wheat bread should be eaten instead of white bread. Low-fat dairy products must replace those high in fat.

Avoid foods with high fructose syrup, trans-fats and any ingredient that you can't pronounce or sounds like it is a chemical in a laboratory. These are man-made additions to food products which harm the body. Our bodies were designed to process natural nutrients.  Our bodies don't know what to do with ingredients found in man-made processed foods, so these get converted into a fat that is hard to burn off and causes damage to organs, especially the heart and brain. 

Drink water instead of juices and sodas.  Pure water from a spring source is best.  Our bodies are mostly 50-75% water.  Water keeps our bodies functioning properly, helps flush out the body of impurities and keeps skin healthy.  The human body can survive a month or more without food, but will not last long if it has not had water for more than a week.  Water is extremely important. One can lose up to 10 lbs in a month just by drinking water instead of sodas or juices.  Juices are okay, but naturally squeezed from a fruit is best instead of processed versions.     

If you are overweight or obese and want to get into shape, a diet is a must. This does not mean that you have to starve yourself. As a matter of fact, some believe that by skipping meals or starving oneself, they will lose weight faster.  The contrary happens.  When we skip a meal or starve ourselves, our bodies go into "survival mode."  During this "mode," the metabolism slows down which in turn slows down the fat burning rate.  We begin to store fat as reserved energy.  This is due to evolution.  Our bodies evolved to handle what nature throws at us.  Our ancestors had to face all kinds of hardships, including not finding food.  To compensate, the body learned to slow its metabolism down in order to store fat in case there were no nutrients around.  This is why it is important not to skip meals.  Have three meals, or smaller meals throughout the day to keep the metabolism going.  Instead of having a 2,000 calorie intake, lower it to 1,200. By doing this, you are skipping 800 calories which will force the body to burn the fat you already have to make up for those missing calories. The burning of fat equals weight loss. When you add exercise to this, the results will come even faster. You will burn the fat you have plus prevent any fat from even storing. The human body is amazing, right?

Avoid Alcohol
This may sound crazy especially to those who love to party hard on new years.  However, it is sound advice. There is nothing beneficial about drinking alcohol.  Alcohol increases depressions, creates addiction and can cause death via accidents or poisoning.  It impairs judgment, destroys families and friendships.  Drinking too much alcohol will also cause damage to the liver leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer.  It will lead the heart disease, hypertension, throat/esophagus cancer or damage, stroke; breast, stomach, colon cancer, and mental illness.  If you or anyone you know suffers from alcoholism, treatment is necessary.  Get help quickly before it is too late.  There is no rational reason to drink. Water is the best liquid we can drink.    

Exercise is another thing most of us hate. Who likes to go to the gym? When we were kids we probably preferred gym over math, but as not so much. Exercise is extremely important. Our bodies are designed to work against gravity. We can use this in order to maintain healthy bodies. Exercise can be done anywhere. One does not need to buy a gym membership. A simple chair, a wall, sofa, even the floor can be used to do simple workouts that will bring about results. One can even use a book, phone, water bottle as a weight. Exercise helps keep the blood flowing. It helps the heart and helps with the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells of the body. There are many exercises that can be done.

In order to burn fat, one must do cardio - or exercises that get the heart rate going. For those who are young, the heart rate for maximum burning is about 135. The rate decreases as you age, so it is important that you keep your heart rate at the right level depending on your age in order to avoid over-stressing the heart. In other words, a person who is 50-80 years old should not have a 135 heart rate while exercising. A heart rate of 90-115 suffices. Cardio can be done with walking, jogging, running, swimming, dancing; basically any activity that gets your heart pounding. One can walk around, take the stairs instead of the elevator, jog or use a treadmill. 
If a treadmill is too much in regards to impacts on joints, then an elliptical is best. Elliptical's are excellent workout machines. They are probably the best. They workout the whole body and also keep your heart rate up. 

Exercise programs such as Zumba or even video games such as Just Dance, Your Shape, etc offer good cardio routines.  The latter can be used if you can't afford a gym membership which can be costly.  Some parks have simple exercise equipment you can use as well.  At home, you can jog in place to get your heart moving or even doing chores with a little more effort can help.  Cleaning can burn over 100 calories an hour.

Weigh training is important as well. The more muscle you have, the more fat you will burn. Muscles need energy to repair themselves and grow. When we lift weights, this causes tiny tears in muscle tissue and this produces pain or soreness after lifting something heavy. Our muscles then absorb fat in order to repair those tears. When muscles are repaired, they will become bigger and more toned. Lifting weights also helps with skin elasticity which helps remove that flabby extra skin.  Weigh training might not be attractive for all, especially women who do not want to look manly, but it is important. Light weights can prevent a women from looking like the Incredible Hulk. Nevertheless, it is important that weight training be part of exercise especially if you want to look toned, lose weight and keep it off.  Be sure to allow yourself a day or two to recover in order to avoid damaging muscle tissue.  Do not use heavy weights too quickly.  Start out with light ones and work yourself up to what you can handle.  Use belts or other devices to avoid getting a hernia.

Faith, Prayeractivate and Meditation 
Prayer and Meditation are important not only for spiritual health, but mental and physical as well.
Studies show that they increase happiness and overall health.  Taking a few minutes, a day to pray and meditate helps relax the mind, body, and soul.  Prayer and meditation activate the frontal lobe and the amygdala.  

In the amygdala, it calms the area that controls fear and anxiety which in turn gives us serenity and peace.  The frontal lobe is the area of the brain that controls the higher functions of man, e.g. reason, awareness, intellect, memory, etc. It is the "human" part of the brain that distinguishes us from other non-human animals.  This part is more active in those who have faith, pray, and meditate as opposed to atheists whose frontal lobes are not as active.  The amygdala controls emotions, the processing of emotions along with memory, our response to fear, and social interaction.  Prayer, meditation, and faith "exercise" the frontal lobe and overall brain increasing mental health and intelligence.  Moreover, prayer has been shown in studies to contribute to good heart health.               

Remember, to always seek a doctor before starting any diet or exercise.  Our bodies are unique and need specific attention.  What works for some may not work for all.  A doctor or nutritionist can help tailor a program that works for you, especially if you have another condition such as diabetes or high cholesterol.  

So, it is possible to lose weight and be healthy.  Don't give up! If you start now, by spring you will be a new person, physically speaking!  You will be living better!  Life is short.  Thankfully we have some say as to how short it will be if we live healthily.    

We are now at the precipice of a pandemic. Reports coming from China concerning Coronavirus or Covid-19 are alarming. It is most likely that this novel contagion will spread uncontrollably around the world and may bring about a global pandemic that will stall societies and bring lockdowns and many deaths.  Please be safe and be prepared for any such event. Use masks when in public, hand sanitizer and keep space with each other so as to avoid the spread of this new virus if it gets to this level. So far indications in China show it will get out of control. Let us pray it does not!


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