Fr. Jose Poch

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Persecution of Christians

We have all been reading recently and for several months now story after story of beheadings, executions and just chaos and mayhem in the Middle East at the hands of the so called ISIS group of Islamic terrorists. We have seen Iranians, Americans, Japanese and others executed in horrific ways, photographed and videotaped in a prideful and menacing way. Exactly what they want is not well known, at least not to me, not fully nor completely. No matter how many planes drop bombs and try to stop the growth of this group, it seems that it continues to grow in numbers and support. They are like a bad infectious rash. This week a video surfaced where one of the cells of ISIS, now in Libya, has executed 21 Egyptian Christian men near a beach.


I would like to offer you for your consideration and prayer the comments made this week by The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis, Archbishop of the Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa. You may read his entire comments and others at http://anglicanink.com/article/archbishop-egypts-statement-libyan-martyrs.

A second site I would like to bring to your attention is by the Christian Aid Mission Society where they report how the Islamic State (ISIS) is having a very different effect among Yazidis, an ethnoreligious community in Iraq that was once inaccessible to native Iraqi missionaries, as members lived reclusively in distant mountains near the border with Turkey. Since Islamic State (ISIS) atrocities drove them from their mountain strongholds last year, however, Yazidis now account for most of the people who have turned to Christ through a local ministry. You may want to read more on this move of Christ at http://www.christianaid.org/News/2015/mir20150205.aspx?SC=MIR

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

On Ash Wednesday

Each year Ash Wednesday begins the Season of Lent, a Season of 40 days, not counting Sundays, which continue to be considered Feasts of our Lord Jesus Christ and which precede the marvelous day of Easter in which, of course, we celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection and His victory over death, sin and all that stands between us and our great God. It is a period of 40 days in which the Church invites us to set time apart to refocus all our attention on the things that truly matter in life, and not those that are passing away so easily and with increasing speed, things of everlasting consequences, things that transform life as we know it in the here and now. It is a period of 40 days that set us apart from all that surround us, inside and outside of ourselves to bring us into a closer relationship with our God and our Lord.

For Lent to have its full effect in our discipleship, repentance, renewal and continuous walk in the Spirit, we have to consciously plan for it by giving ourselves to daily spiritual disciplines such as the reading of God’s Word, prayer, meditation, solitude, fasting, sharing our lives with others in Christian love, sharing the Gospel with others who may ned to hear of God’s love for them, caring for the poor and the destitute, and even the abstaining of those things and/or personal pleasures that might take us away from doing these things just listed. Conscious planning and execution of these disciplines will make for a very successful Lenten Season.

The marks for the beginning of Lent are Ash Wednesday and the sign of the cross made with ashes on our foreheads. The sign of the cross with ashes on our foreheads signal that we recognize that we are created beings and that we did not create ourselves or depend on ourselves for our existence or even our daily sustenance. The ashes on our foreheads also signal that we were not created from gold or silver or any other precious metal or stones, but from the very dust of the earth to keep us humble and earth focused. The ashes also signal that we are mortal, that the breath we breathe and the life we live comes from the Lord our God and that outside of Him there is no life in us. The words spoken over us as the sign of the cross is made on our foreheads with ashes keep this idea in view, “Remember that you are dust and to the dust you will return.”

But Lent also reminds us that there is life beyond our mortality, that the God who gave us life from the beginning is the same God who gives us life for all eternity through His Son our Lord Jesus Christ. That beyond the struggles of life and the sacrifices of life and the mortality of life, there is an Easter morning waiting for us. Peter reminds us of this in 1 Peter 1:3-5, after recounting our new birth, he writes, “to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Lent is a rich time of introspection, growth and maturing. Let us use it well and to God’s glory.

What do you think? Share your thoughts! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cuba-U.S. Relations

Because I was born in Cuba and most of my friends and acquaintances know this and even strangers I meet recognize it almost immediately because of my accent, which they tend to question its origin soon after hearing me speak, although I have been in the US for over 47 years, longer than I ever was in my native country, the question has been asked over and over again as to what I think of the recent developments in relations between the United States and Cuba.

Recently President Obama announced that it was his intentions to reestablish relations with the Cuban government which had been broken since the days of Missile Crisis in 1962, the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the establishment of the Economic Embargo in the early 1960s after the Castro regime and dictatorship confiscated all American interests in the Island. The Embargo was originally commercial, economic and financial but it did not include food and medicine but in 1962 it was extended to include all imports into the Island. The Helms-Burton Act of 1992 further restricted U.S. citizens from doing business in or with Cuba, and mandated restrictions on giving public or private assistance to any Cuban government. Later during the Presidency of Bill Clinton in 1999 the Embargo was expanded to include any foreign subsidiary of U.S. companies to trade with Cuba. The Embargo has now been in effect for over 53 years. If the intent was to topple the Cuban Communist government and bring about a more democratic form of government, it has failed, but if the intent was to weaken communism in the Island and its exportation of it to other Latin American Countries at our doorsteps, then we might say that it has partially worked. People stand on different sides of the aisle as to whether the Embargo has been successful, partly successful or a complete failure. I respect the opinions of all and request that my opinions also be respected.

The reality is, no matter what position you take, that the people of Cuba have paid a very heavy prize as a consequence of the Castro takeover of the Island in Dec. 1959. Both those who have been forced out of their home land and have rather chosen exile to many other countries around the world and primarily here to the U. S., and those who have remained in the Island experiencing great oppression and scarcity, we have all paid a very heavy prize. Now, news of the reestablishment of relations with Cuba alarm every Cuban, whether here in the U. S. or in Cuba. What will this all mean? Will the U.S. begin to support the existing Cuban Communist government through the lifting of sanctions and an increase in exports into the Island without demanding a more democratic form of government in the Island? Will the U.S. remove Cuba from the list of state funded terrorism? Washington placed Cuba on the list in 1982, citing then President Fidel Castro's training and arming of Communist rebels in Africa and Latin America. The list is short: just Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba. The Cuban government will make this a requirement of further talks in April 2015 in Panama. Will we give back the portion of the Guantanamo Bay we have held for over 100 years, (since 1903)? There are so many questions left unanswered.

So here is my personal opinion on this issue. Perhaps it is time for the Embargo to be lifted, for the sake of the people in Cuba, but let us not be na├»ve, the problems in Cuba are not just the Embargo, although it is one of the primary reasons for the economic collapse of the Island’s economy, but the real and unresolved problem is the Communist regime of the Castro brothers, who control the populace by keeping them subjugated and in fear. Any imports from the U.S. into Cuba will still be regulated by the Castro government and may not ever get to the people who need them. I am in favor of ultimately lifting the Embargo, it has been long enough and it has not been completely successful, but we also must receive from the Cuban government a promise to democratize the government of Cuba and cease the exportation of communist terrorism from Cuba. If they want new relations, let us have them effective and properly balanced, both sides acting in complete transparency and the best of intentions, otherwise, it will not work and it will return to bite us, you know were. It is good for neighbors to get along and to support each other, whether individuals or countries but they must act with equal mutual interests. I think President Obama, who has socialist leanings, should be extremely careful how he deals with the Castro brothers and until there is transparency and democracy we should not give any assistance to the government of Cuba, either by lifting the Embargo or establishing unchecked relations with the Castros.


At least this is my opinion as a Cuban-American. What do you think?

Would You Be My Valentine?

On Saturday, February 14, 2015, we will be celebrating the Day of St. Valentine. St. Valentine of Rome, according to tradition, was a Christian saint who was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians who were persecuted under the Roman Empire and was later executed. There are surely other traditions to the origins of St. Valentine’s Day. The date was first associated with romantic love during the High Middle Ages when the tradition of courtly love flourished and has further evolved into a day in which those in love give each other flowers, presents or some other expression of affection. Today, on Valentine’s Day even friendships are celebrated.

I have been married for almost 39 years to my one and only Valentine and I look forward to celebrating this day with her and not only this day but every day for the rest of our natural lives. When I think of Valentine’s Day I can’t help but to think of that precious poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

HOW DO I LOVE THEE?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and if God chooses
I shall love thee better after death.

However, the true purity and perfectness of real and lasting love can be found in no other example than in the sacrificial love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The love within the Trinity itself for each of its members is the greatest example of love. That is why they relate to each other with the filial terms, My Father, My Son and My Spirit. They are intrinsically related to one another in inseparable ways. But also the love of the Trinity for the world and the creatures they created is clearly evident in the way the Father constantly seeks the lost, with mercy and compassion, the way the Son sacrificially offers Himself on the cross as the Redeemer of sinners and the way the Holy Spirit works within each of us to sanctify us and lead and draw us to the Father and to the Son.

The greatest, most beautiful and most profound description of this love within the Trinity and therefore the greatest example of what love should and must look like for all of us, including within the marriage relationship, is not in a poem but rather in St. Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” This is the kind of love that all of us seek for with the greatest longing, hunger and thirst for passionately and that would satisfy us at the deepest levels and would be the greatest gift we could give to one another this Valentine’s Day and every other day of the year.


Is this how you express love for your Valentine? You should! What do you think?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Spanking or Not Spanking . . . That Is the Question

Recently, Pope Francis got into some undeserved trouble, in my opinion, for suggesting, during his weekly general audience, which was devoted to the role of fathers in the family, that spanking a child for the purpose of discipline, was not wrong, as long as you preserved the child’s dignity. He of course was not advocating child abuse of any type or degree, even if some go the extra mile and call “spanking” child abuse automatically.

The truth is that the Bible itself calls for some forms of corporal discipline as a means of helping a child grow up and mature as a well-disciplined adult. It is the most solemn duty of parents, who love their children, to insure that their children grow up to be well-behaved, respectful of others, well-adjusted members of society that respect and obey the laws of the country and the rights of others. The maturing and disciplining of one such adult begins at home and starts at the crib, with tenderness, respect, and a great deal of love, mercy, forgiveness and compassion, but it would be naive on all our parts to think that discipline will not also be necessary and with it correction and at times punishment. The particular passages of the Scriptures I am thinking about are from the Book of Proverbs:
  • “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” (13:24)
  • “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him.” (22:15)
  • “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death” (23:13-14).
  • “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.” (29:15).

The mention of the “rod” brings back all kinds of images of child abuse, of belts and belt-bruises, of sticks and scars and broken bones, of rulers on the knuckles, etc. but that is not the intention of the Scriptures at all, but rather the idea of not sparing correction from a child but gaining their respect so that you can mold their character into a respectful human being. The norm, as the Pope, explained, is that a child should never, in fact must never, be struck on the face or on any other part of the body, the head, the torso, the arms or the legs other than in the fleshy part of the rear or the butt and most certainly never out of anger or revenge.

I was raised in what I consider to have been a loving household, not perfect by any sense of the imagination and most certainly I think my father in particular may not have always been fair in the ways he disciplined me but I certainly grew up respecting him, his word and his decisions, my mother on the other hand, was not a strong disciplinarian and we ran around her, not always listening or obeying. Today, I am extremely grateful to both my mother and my father, they balanced each other and I am today a human being that has learned the values of respect, obedience, family and to respect others. I never got into drugs or gangs (they were all around me in High School), or other mischievous behaviors because I would not have known how to face my father. Even as an adult, I respected him, even after his death, I still respect his memory and the disciplined-life he taught me. My work ethics were high because I learned them from him and would have been extremely embarrassed to come to him and tell him I was fired from any job for laziness or misconduct of any kind.

When the time came to raise my own family, I practiced what I learned at home. Never have I struck either of my daughters in the face or on any other parts of their bodies, but I did spank them both a few times and the time came when all I had to do was raise my voice and call them by their full names and they knew I was displeased about something and they automatically ceased what they were doing.

Let me be clear either extreme is very unhelpful and will lead our children to chaos, lack of discipline and potential behavior that will damage them at the end. No discipline is also child abuse and extreme discipline is equally child abuse and more, which neither do I advocate, nor the Bible, nor I think the Pope. Some parents have other ways of disciplining their children, timeouts, take away something they like, etc. If those work for you and your children, go right ahead and use them, it is preferable in my opinion, but spanking (in the rear and for the purpose of discipline not abuse or anger, of one who cannot defend themselves) is sometimes a good attention getter that leads to respect, and discipline.

At least this is my opinion. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

On Rest and Relaxation


We all want more time to rest and relax. We crave those days when we have nothing much to do but to sit down with friends or family and just simply talk, even if about nothing. I some days just simply crave more time with God when I can talk to Him with an open and vulnerable heart and not in a hurry to get to work or to my next appointment. Sometimes, even taking time to write these blogs is a major enterprise, not because I don’t have anything to share, but simply because I don’t find the time, or perhaps make the time, to sit down, focus and write. We sometimes run around like “chickens with our heads cut off”. This analogy is very meaningful to me, because I remember back in Cuba when you would go to the market place and buy live chickens which then would be brought home and their necks twisted in such a way that they died after jumping around for a while. I know you don’t want to hear of these things but that is the experience of many in other countries, where animals are purchased alive. This word-picture is a living one for me. Sometimes our schedules rule us in such a way that we feel harassed, restless, busy, and in a hurry, jumping around like one of these chickens.

As if by a message from the Lord, two different magazines I received this month and within days of each other, addressed this issue for me, one was a daily devotional by Ligonier Ministries named TableTalk which I use often in my daily quiet times. It has articles and a daily Bible reading with a brief commentary. In the month of February the articles addressed the issue of Labor and Rest. The different authors focused on how the creation story in Genesis 1 calls us to “labor” and in fact God Himself calls the man and woman, whom He created in His image, to that noble task of laboring, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” God Himself “labored” for six days creating all that has ever been created. “Labor” is good, it is honorable and it is helpful and contributes to our own wellbeing, that of our families and of society.

But Genesis 1 also calls us to “rest”, for God also rested on the seventh day. He so intended for us to follow after His example on this issue, that He hallowed the seventh day and made it holy, that is He separated it from the rest of the days as a day of rest and relaxation, and a day of worship to Him. For us to labor without rest is then an act of disobedience of biblical proportions. All of us must find and make time to rest and relax from work, all of us need a time to have some fun and enjoy the company of family and friends, a time to do the things that bring us peace and joy. We all must make the time, it generally will not come to you without you planning for it and making sure you keep that appointment with your own body, soul and mind.

The second magazine I mentioned above is the Leadership Journal, winter 2015. In it there is a very interesting article by Bill Hybels, pastor of one of the largest churches in the country, titled, The Secret of Strategic Neglect and it is based on a book he just wrote under the title Simplify. In it he tells us about sitting down with his calendar before the Lord and a submitted spirit and scheduling not all that he wants to accomplish but asking himself in the presence of God who he wants to become, as a father, a husband, a friend and a pastor, then and only then, he will schedule work stuff. Bill says that “simplifying his life is not necessarily about doing less but about working smarter.” You have to ask yourself constantly, “what does God want me to accomplish?” and then purposely “neglect” those things He is not calling you to do.

Wow! Do I even dare practice these principles? I wonder what my calendar would look like if I start chopping it down to size. What would I leave out that I am doing today - Diocesan involvement, which of the Bible Studies should I stop doing, how about my daily meditation I write for the congregation? Do I limit how many people I see for counseling each week? Where do I start? For one thing I must continue to put self, family and friends ahead of work, always making time in my schedule for us/them, occasionally take days off, even a study week where I read books that refresh and build me. Secondly pace myself, where I can, and be clear as to what is of the Lord and what is of my ego as a pastor. Will you give it a try as well? Let me know what you think?