Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ash Wednesday 2020

Today is Ash Wednesday the beginning of the season of Lent. Many reflections come to my mind, in particular, the humility we should aspire to live by.  It is also St. Valentine's day, a day hijacked by secularism to reflect relationships.  More on this later.

During Ash Wednesday, we receive the ashes as a sign of repentance, humility, and reminder of our finite existence on Earth. The use of ashes is not new and can be found in Sacred Scripture: Esther 4:1Job 42:6 and Daniel 9:3.

The ashes remind us of our state of this world.  "We are dust and to dust, we shall return" which comes from Genesis 3:19.  It is a reminder that we are not an end in ourselves.  Our lives, our successes, our education, in a word; our entire being returns to dust and ashes after death.  All that we were or could have been is reduced to a pile of ashes.  The whole thought is humbling.  The very word 'humbling' comes from 'humility.'  The word 'humility' comes from 'humus' which means 'dirt, soil or ashes from the Earth.'  The ashes placed on us should remind us of humility.  It should remind us that eventually, we will die and that life should be well spent, so to speak.  

We do not have all the time in the world so we must make good use of it in order to try our best to follow God's will.  As Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 states:  
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;"
God will call each one of us in due time. We will face judgment immediately after death as Hebrews 9:27 tells us, and there is no attorney nor can we make use of any alibi.  It is important that we try to do God's will and not waste our lives on sin and other vices that give the illusion of happiness or joy. Like the quote from the classic movie, "A Bronx Tale" produced by Robert De niro states: "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent."  We all have the talents necessary along with God's grace in order to live a virtuous life and grow spiritually.  Ash Wednesday and Lent should remind us of this.

The ashes remind us of our finite state in this world. The popular Oscar winning movie, "Joker" has a line where the Joker Arthur Fleck says, "I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it's a comedy."  Many times, we may see life as a tragedy. Some even take their lives because of this belief. Life is not a tragedy. In fact, it is a comedy of sort. If we sit down and think carefully, the things we get mad over or that we let bother use are tiny compared to life and our potentiality.  We are in control of our lives. The fasting and abstaining from meat remind us that we can give up anything in order to grow spiritually, even sustenance.  This shouldn't be a burden for 'man does not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God." (Matthew 4:4)  

As an atheist, existentialism was part of my frame of mind which states that all rests on the individual - we are an end in ourselves.  Ash Wednesday added to my way of thinking.  It reminded me that I am not an end in myself.  My intellectual reasoning ability, my knowledge, my talents etc eventually will dissipate as I take my last breath.  This allowed me to consider that there has to be more to life, this couldn't be it on Earth.  However, this is a topic for another blog post.

Unfortunately, some Catholics rely on the external aspect of days like Ash Wednesday.  The "A&P Catholics" come to church on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday out of 'duty' or false piety and not a genuine search for God and discipline to grow more in Him.  Like the Pharisees, they do not internalize the symbolism behind the sacramentals given on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday. Faith cannot become a mere "duty" or "obligation."  It must be a way of life.  The ashes on Ash Wednesday must not become a pagan ritual, if you will.  There is nothing magical about the use of ashes. It does not have any powers.  They are just holy reminders of our mortality.   

I hope you attending Ash Wednesday Mass today or if you receive ashes during a service that you remind yourself that we must be humble.  We must remember that we are indeed 'dust and to dust, we shall return.'  Nothing will change this.  No advancements in science or medicine will make death a thing of the past.  The ashes should remind us that the hourglass is slowly emptying and that we must make every effort to use every precious second to grow spiritual in God's grace.  We will fall along the way, but God will help us get back up.

The first reading reminds us that we have to return to the Lord.  Our fasting, the ashes we receive, our abstaining from meat much have an internal meaning, the rending of our hearts.  God is merciful and gracious.  He waits for us to return to Him.  In this season of Lent, we must do our best to return to God. None of us are perfect.  We all sin. However, sin is not the end of the story.  Sin is the villain in our story that we have to defeat.  We can only do this by living a holy life of prayer and reception of the Sacraments. These bring about a greater representation of Christ in the world. We begin to love God and our neighbor more and more.  We start to gain courage to face all trials.  Lent is a special time in the Church. We walk with Jesus in the desert, face temptation and walk out victorious with Christ Jesus.

The first reading reminds us the need to ask God for mercy; to spare His people!  We receive the ashes as a reminder of our mortality. Humans are just dust and to dust they shall return. Scientifically speaking, we are carbon based lifeforms who are made of "star dust," as the late Carl Sagan famously stated. Our accomplishments, our intelligence, our capacity to reason should not make us feel pride as if we are gods on earth; we are not!  Nature is constantly reminding humanity that despite its accomplishments, a simply act of God can wipe everything away. The wildfires and losses of wildlife due to man made activities which add to global warming remind us of how our pride will be our destruction.  As Scripture says, after pride, the fall comes (Proverbs 16:18).  Man thinks he can control the forces of nature and destroy the environment, but he is reminded time in and time out that God ordained nature to function in a certain way and if man interferes, he will suffer the consequences. Today, there is fear of a pandemic that is taking hold. The Coronavirus or COVID19 is taking the world by storm. Is this divine justice, part of man-made global warming or just nature doing its thing?  We may never know. However, the timing cannot be coincidental. Nevertheless, even this disease is reminding man that he is not an end to himself. The ashes today remind us of this. This is why we must repent and believe in the Gospel.

We need mercy from God for we have sinned, as the responsorial Psalm says.  God is indeed mercy. There is no sin He will not forgive unless it is the sin against the Holy Spirit, or the sin of not trusting in God's mercy and avoiding it. Only God can cleanse us of our sins and guilt. Only God can create a pure heart in us and a steadfast spirit. We must take this time during Lent to call on God to have mercy on us so that we can proclaim His praise.  The second reading tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ.  We represent Christ in our state in life to others.  Therefore, we must be holy and humble.  We must be full of love and mercy.  This can only be done if we ar reconciled with God.  Jesus became the image of sin (human) but did not sin so that He could rescue us from sin.  We must not be ingrates and receive God's grace with humility and not vain. Ashes on our foreheads are not a trophy to show off to others.  They are a reminder that we are mere dust.  They give witnesses that we are nothing but dust before God and therefore must rely on Him and His mercy.

The Gospel today reminds us that our righteous deeds are not supposed to be for self-glorification or promotion. We must not "blow a trumpet" before ourselves in order to be looked upon as if we are religious celebrities. Instead, we must pray in private, do things in private whether it is giving to the poor or helping others.  In other words, we must not make a spectacle of our actions as if we need to be praised by others because we did good.  Praying and doing good must be directed towards God, not self-glorification. During Lent, we fast and abstain from meat. This may be hard for some of us. However, we must not walk around with gloomy faces so that others can see and focus on our misery as if we fast and abstain in order to feel pity from others or garner attention.  God will reward us for suffering in silence.  Joy has to be part of this as well. We do all of these sacrifices for a greater purpose which brings joy. During Ash Wednesday Mass at my old parish St. Dominic in the Bronx, as I was distributing ashes. A father came carrying his baby girl. As I placed the ashes on her forehead, she gave me a stern look and grabbed my hand to take it away. We all laughed. It reminded me of what Jesus said about being like a child. We must be humble and not take ourselves seriously. Our fasting and abstinence must serve to make us stronger, not miserable, bitter or neurotic. 

As mentioned previously, many in America and around the world also celebrate Valentine's day.  On this day, couples give each other chocolates, roses, cards and what not.  The fact that both days collided this year is interesting and can be used as a reflection.  Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our mortality and that we must repent.  We can repent and change because God wants us to and allows us to.  This is because He loves us.  God is love. God is the ultimate love.  Love finds its definition in God.  What a wonderful way to celebrate Valentine's day by repenting and accepting the Love of all Loves: Jesus Christ.

Take this time during Lent to refocus your attention to God. Do things for His honor and glory, not your own.  Wear the ashes as a witness to your mortality and as a witness to your conversion to Christ. Do not wear them in order to show off as if the ashes cry out "Hey!, I am a Catholic."  This is not what Ash Wednesday is about. Remember to be humble. We are just dust, not gods. May Jesus Christ be praised!


Sunday, February 23, 2020

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Perfection in God

Today's readings remind us that we have to seek holiness and be merciful. We are the temples of the Holy Spirit. This means that God literally dwells in us. In effect, we are walking tabernacles of sorts. In fact, the Blessed Sacrament was meant specifically for us, not to be stored in a Church. This is why we must make use of the Sacraments often, especially Reconciliation and Holy Communion.  This, along with spiritual exercises and works of mercy and charity wil help us grow in holiness. You will find that no saint canonized by the Church has ever become holy without the aforementioned. The Gospel tells us that we must not be vengeful. I know there are people out there that drive us to drink; however, we must bear with one another. We must try to be understanding. Human beings are fallen creatures. They will fail and fail again in everything. This is the result of Original Sin. Human nature has been scarred. 

We must be perfect as the Father is perfect, Jesus tells us. These words on their own are worthy of a long reflection. Jesus tells us that God is our Father!  This means Jesus is our brother!  How awesome is that?  However, what does it mean to be "perfect like your Father in heaven?"  This does not mean to literally be like God. No one can be like God, more less, perfect like God. What Jesus means is perfection in virtue, mercy and love. We must forgive others. An eye for an eye does not literally mean plucking out eyeballs. It is an ancient Hebrew custom pertaining to debts. Some fundamentalist take the words literally believing it to mean that we must avenge wrongs. Even some atheists take this interpretation and use it to attack Christians. We must be careful with these false interpretations and must looks at the exegesis of Scriptural verses.  As we approach Lent, let us try to be merciful with others and forve. If we use social media, there is no real reason someone should block others on Facebook, Twitter or whatever platform one uses. This is against mercy. This goes against the perfection Christ speaks of. God does not "block" anyone who wrongs Him or others. He is ready to forgive. We must do the same. 


Sunday, February 16, 2020

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Follow God's Law

Today's readings remind us that we must follow God's law. In other words, we must follow the rules set in place by God. The first reading tells us, "If you choose you can keep the commandments," this tells that that it is up to us. God does not force us.  We have to freely choose. God gives us fire and water, life and death.  We have to make a choice. These are the choices set before us. Regardless of what choice we make, God has predetermined rules without our being. This is the Natural Law. It guides our conscience to seek the good and just; to surpass our animalistic tendencies. God has set these rules in us, as well as, the rules of how nature must operate. Science calls this the "Laws of Physics." Everything was predetermined before the ages via God's wisdom. Jesus reminds us that He did not come to remove the law, but to fulfill it. This means that the law will always be in place, but He came to show how they are supposed to be followed. Human beings love to distort things. They have a tendency to over legislate.

This includes those in the Church. We make rules and then add rules on top of those rules and on top of those etc.  In the end, we have an entanglement of law that stifle progress and serve no purpose. We see this in the Scripture where the Pharisees took the law and made up all kinds of interpretations that forced them to be trapped in a mechanic display of religion that never internalized.  Today, we see in the Catholic faith those who call themselves "Traditionalists" or "Radical Traditionalists" who live just to criticize others and do not interpret the laws and rubrics of the Church via their intended purposes. We then have quarrels about receiving Holy Communion only on the tongue or the sanctuary only having males present and no females. The Gospel is lost in all of this. These individuals turn into rabid gossips who are bitter instead of Christians full of love, faith, hope and joy. This is why following the law must be accompanied by a spiritual life. 


Sunday, February 9, 2020

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's readings remind us to be just and be a witness in the world. The first reading tells us that we must care for others and remove from our presence oppression, false accusation and malicious speech. This is nothing new. We know that God expects us to love one another and to care for one another. This is what it means to be a Christian and a Jew!  We must care for the sick, homeless, widows, and yes, those in prison and foreigners and immigrants. Today, the latter have become topics of contention. Some believe prisoners are pariahs and need to be killed off in death penalties, others believe nations should keep their "own kind." While there are many pros and cons to these quarrels, we must not get caught up in the politics of this world. Our focus is our nation in Heaven. America, both south and north will pass away. Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East as well. Heaven will not pass away. Entry in heaven is based on the passport of sanctity which stems from the love we gave to God and one another.

This is what makes us light in the darkness. This is not about human wisdom, but solely from the power of God, as the second reading tells us. Christ tells us that we must be the salt of the earth and light of the world. We must give flavor to the earth. Salt is used to give flavor. Just a tiny cube of it is enough to get a sensation on the tongue. This is how powerful this compound of NaCl is. Moreover, salt on its own does not possess conductivity. It is when it is mixed with water that it can generate electrical conductivity. Think of this for a moment. What does water have to do with us?  Well, our baptism!  We were baptized with water. This water along with the salt we are supposed to be will generate the electricity to be the light of the world!  This is the physics student in me reflecting now on today's Gospel. I think this reflection will help you reading this as well.  Let us be the salt of the earth and the light of Christ to others. This can only be done if we follow God's ways, the teachings of the Church, receive the Sacraments, live a prayerful and humble life and love others.  


Sunday, February 2, 2020

Presentation of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Colloquially in the Catholic Church, this day is often called "Candlemas" which is from the Old English version Candelmaesse. On this day, we recall how Christ was presented to the Lord in the Temple and the Blessed Virgin Mary underwent the rite of purification.  Leviticus 12 tells us the rite of presenting a lamb as a offering to burn, as well as, a young pigeon or dove as an offering for sins committed. For quite some time, the Presentation of the Lord was the official day when the Christmas season ended. Some who still adhere to the Pre-Vatican II Liturgies still keep this practice while others stop celebrating the Nativity at the Epiphany or Baptism of the Lord.  The day is called "Candlemas" because of the use of vigil candles during the celebration. Candles are blessed on this day. 

Today's readings point us to Christ, the messenger who God is sending. In other words, the Messiah. Christ is the King. This is what the word "Christ" means. He is the Messiah, or the anointed one who was chosen by God. This does not mean Christ is just a human prophet God chose like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David or John. Christ is way much more. He is God. He is the second person of the Holy Trinity. Jesus is the King of Glory who became one of us in flesh and blood. He was a human in all ways possible except for sin. Jesus is the Sacrificial Lamb God provided to redeem the world. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is no accident. God preordained all of this. Jesus being presented was not just a typical Jewish ritual. It is way more meaningful. He IS the Lamb that was presented. He IS the sin offering presented.  It is no coincidence that Jesus is called the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  This is what He is.  



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