Monday, November 30, 2009


We have come to the end of a liturgical year. The cycle is complete and once more a new Liturgical year opens with the season of Advent, a word from Latin origin meaning “coming”. And for us Christians of course this is the coming of the Lord, the miracle of the incarnation, another Latin word meaning to take on flesh. This is because the awesome act of God, the creator of the universe, of all that is visible and invisible, who stands outside his creation in unlimited freedom and power, taking the form of a human being, sharing with his creation the frailties, weaknesses and humble condition of the flesh.

Imagine that! To give us an idea of the immensity of God’s act is to think of a human being taking the form of an ant and sharing with the ants their anthill. Except that in the case of God the difference is incomparably and infinitely greater than the between the ant humans. At least we and the ants share a carbon based, genetically encoded fleshly constitution. God is spirit and his greatness is so vast that is unfathomable for us humans. Think of it, God created the universe, trillions and trillions of stars, galaxies in which our earth is less than a grain of sand in the beach. This same God created the genetic code; governs the atoms, quarks and other infinitesimal particles. This is power and greatness in an unthinkable scale.

Just like a play writer or a novelist creates his work, so God did create our destinies. And yet He chooses to come down, to humble Himself to become a human, a man born of a young girl in a specific time and place. He who is outside time and space enters these dimensions in the form of a man. He who has complete and absolute power will be limited by a human body that will be hungry, tired, limited in scope of action. He who has no beginning and no end, who was there present at the Big Bang and will be there present when the universe ends, eons and eons of existence, He became mortal in the flesh and blood form of a the man Jesus.

Why did God choose to do this? That is a mystery. But we know that God gave us freedom and that He will not force His will on us. I guess He could have thundered and announced His presence (well actually He did at Mount Sinai and yet the Jews rebelled any way). He could have intervened directly in our affairs (well actually He has done this too, repeatedly). But we are such a stubborn lot that none of this things will suffice to make us choose what is good. Jesus recounts in one of his parables how Abraham tells the rich man in hell who begs him to raise the dead so they can warn his brothers of their impending lot, just like his, in hell forever; And yet Abraham tells him that they already have the Law and the Prophets, surely they will not even listen to someone rising from the dead. So God sends Jesus, to announce God’s Kingdom of mercy and love. Jesus enters humanity to form a group of frail, weak humans and send them like yeast in the dough, to ferment the whole batch and transform the world. Jesus, God’s own son, indeed God in the flesh, enters history to transform it. And yes, he even rises from among the dead knowing full well that many will not even believe this.

God’s redemption through the death of His son is another great mystery. But we are told in God’s word that this death paid a debt owed by all humankind. The heavy debt of our sins paid in full so that from now on it will only take an act of the will; repentance and faith in Jesus to obtain God’s mercy. By entering into space and time, God in Jesus will now take us out of space and time into everlasting life. Just as He became low, suffered and died and then rose, so he allows us now to be exalted, to be taken up into a new dimension where death no longer will exist, where suffering will end. Just as He became a human so now he will make us into gods. Not gods in the idolatrous sense or to be compared to God, but gods in the sense that once redeemed and entering this new dimension, our bodies will become new, full of life, eternal, outside time and space. All we need to have this is Jesus himself, having faith in Him and living for him. Our small sacrifice here on earth has already been paid in full by Jesus to ensure our entrance in the glorious dimension of what we know as “heaven”.

This season of Advent when we re-live the time of expectation that Israel had for the coming of the Savior, we need to reflect, to think hard about our lives. We need to measure our faith, our behaviors, and our response to God. In times past Advent was actually a “small lent”, a season for austere recollection and sacrifice, a time to give and to give up. The Church, that group of people left here on earth by Jesus to transform it, reminds us that in this season of expectation and anticipation we need to think about those others who have less than we do and invites us to give them some of what we have more. Advent is a time for quiet expectation and thoughtful judgment of our shortcomings so that when the time comes we can rejoice in the coming of our Savior.

As this New Liturgical Year starts, may we think about our sins, repent, change and live for our Lord in those he entrust to us. And then when the time comes, may we rejoice in his coming and the Great Good News of his birth among men.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Bishop, The Conressman and Catholic Teaching

There has been a controversy in the last few weeks between Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Rhode Island and Congressman Patrick Kennedy who represents the same state in the U.S. Congress.

The controversy at issue has escalated because of the Congressman’s public and harsh criticism of the Catholic Church for not supporting abortion in the Health Care bill initiative initially in the U.S. House of Representatives and now in the U.S. Senate.

In view of Patrick Kennedy’s public criticisms and responses, Bishop Tobin has answered the accusations publicly, even when the initial request from the bishop from the congressman to refrain from communion was originally issued privately in 2007. Kennedy chose last week to divulge this request from the bishop publicly.

The basic issue is that Bishop Tobin has asked Representative Kennedy to refrain from taking communion because of his support for abortion in general and in particular his push to have it inserted into the healthcare reform and funded with taxpayer’s money. In addition Representative Kennedy supports other legal initiatives in favor of homosexual marriage, embryonic stem cell research, cloning and other stances that in direct opposition to the doctrine and beliefs of the Catholic Church.

The issue here is not weather Rep. Kennedy or any other elected politician should obey any religious leader’s order to vote one way or another; the issue is that if the congressman chooses to vote for abortion or any other issue at odds with his Catholic faith he in all effects breaks communion with his Church and commits a grave sin in accordance with Catholic doctrine and law. Patrick Kennedy is free to vote his conscience, but he is not free to do so and still consider himself a Catholic in good standing and partake of the Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Catholic doctrine teaches that a mortal sin precludes one from the privilege (and communion is always a privilege and not a right) of communion. In order for the person to come back for communion he or she needs to repent, that is change their course, make a confession (which is the external expression of penance and contrition for the sins made and the lawful authority of the Church to forgive). Procuring an abortion, helping someone get an abortion, cooperating in the sinful structure of power that has legalized and supported abortion are all mortal sins that automatically set the person apart from communion.

In the end the person alone is responsible to make the decision to abide or not by the commandments and instructions of his or her faith. No power in the United States is going to make Mr. Kennedy or any other politician vote against his or her own conscience. Yet at the same time they should not expect to have the cake and eat it too. If you choose to vote against the teachings of your Church, do not expect this same Church and indeed Christ, to take you back without condition.