The Grace that comes from Easter begins in the Wilderness of Lent: A Post-Lenten Reflection

download 2Author’s note:  I apologize for the lack of postings of late.  I have recently had surgery on my knee and I am playing catch-up with my homilies.  This special post is a culmination of Holy Week and Easter season.

In all my years of being a Christian in the Catholic Tradition, I doubt that I have had as much self-reflection and discernment in my faith as I have had these past five months.  The role that I placed myself within my Parish and my self-importance was different than what it had been-and what it SHOULD have been- at the moment of my ordination.  The image that what I wanted to display was one of the “go-to” guy to take the pressure away from the Pastor so he can plan his retirement.  But what the role became was someone who was seen as “Mr. Indispensable.”

When a person thinks they are indispensable, the sins of Pride and Vanity creep up in their lives and become more important in their mind than those whom they are helping and, unfortunately, more important than God.  Having confidence in one’s abilities is one thing, and important to be a success.  But it is another to place ourselves as the center of our faith replacing God.  To be indispensable means that we can do no wrong; that is the definition of God, not Man.

This could be the reason why Jesus went into the wilderness after being baptized by John in the Jordan River.[1]  John had been preparing his disciples for the Messiah, but assuring them that was not him.[2]  When Jesus did arrive to be baptized, the names that he was called could have caused him to think he was more important than the Father (who announced Jesus as his beloved Son)[3], or the Holy Spirit (who descended down on Jesus like a Dove)[4].  This thought would have placed him out of the Holy Trinity and, effectively, above God.  Even John’s pronouncement of Jesus as the “Lamb of God” would have made someone have delusions of self-grandeur.[5]

I had faced a similar situation earlier this year.  After I had received my Master’s Degree in Pastoral Theology, I had thought my life would change and I was on the path toward full-time ministry.  When I was asked to take over our Parish Pastoral Council, I believed I was on my way.  What I soon found out was that for all my abilities and accomplishments, if I do not treat those around me as equals and respect their abilities, I am nothing but a narcissist.  Because of the result of that attitude, tensions became strained with the Parish to the point where I had to get away from the Parish and gather my thoughts.

Before Jesus had got caught up in his self-importance on earth, he retreated to the wilderness, away from all distractions so he can hear the voice of his Father.[6]  He used this time to prepare for the ministry that he was to do on Earth; and yet he already knew what his purpose was.  It was the purpose that showed the Universe who he was from the beginning:  A beginning that did not start in the wilderness nor in the Temple nor at his birth but at the start of the Universe itself. “In the beginning was the WORD; and the WORD was with God; and the WORD WAS God.” [7]

When I had gone away, I did not want anyone to know the reasons for my absence.  It was not their concern.  I could not see what the power was doing to me.  Then to add the pressures of my regular job (I work for a national utility company in their customer service department) had caused my mental state to reach a stretching point.  I felt the world was crashing around me and in order to maintain my control I had to push back.  I had taken these positions as a point of pride, but they were just preparing me for the fall.  I fell hard, but the fall had already started, so the landing was not as hard.  The mentors that I spoke with gave me the proper insight to help myself and enabled me to work a bit better back in my parish and at my work.

When Jesus returned from the wilderness, he may have thought his temptations were over.  On the contrary, they were the just the beginning.  The Devil viewed his human weakness as an opportunity to control his humanity by preying on his divinity.  When Jesus came from the wilderness, he was tired and hungry.  The Devil tempted him three times to use is power to refresh his body, his mind and his soul; and three times Jesus refused to give in to the temptation.[8]  He realized the danger when our bodies are tired and hungry that we may try to do whatever or agree with whomever to make us better, stronger and popular.  When we are down, we look to find things or people who will take our pain away.  Yet we realize that when we seek what help us, we replace God’s plan with our own.

During Lent, I spoke about the four methods of self-importance.  They were the methods I realized I had done prior to my “journey in the wilderness.”  I place them here for review:

The first view comes from one who is totally blind of the world around them.  They do not know nor do they care.  They are acclimated to the world, know how to function, and do not care if their lives get any better.  They have no reason to think their lives will get any better.

The second view is one of societal assumptions.  We may not know the reason why we do something; we just know we do because we were told it was the only way to do it.  It was just fine with their parents, and it is just as fine with us.  It is at these moments we begin to hear the song “Tradition” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

The third view is in the form of the “societal arbiters.”  These are the ones who gain influence over others by association and laud it over those who are not in line with their view of the world.  These groups can get their members from the other groups who are looking to be better but are not sure who to join.  That seems more like dependency than determined opinion.

A final view comes from a person’s lack of self-confidence.  When someone gets bullied or ignored as a child, that pain will manifest into either a flawed sense of domination or a continued peer-subservience.  Their lack of engagement with others does not prepare them for the simplest disagreements so they stay in their own little world and blame others for their own unhappiness.  Whichever view is held, it still comes to only one conclusion:  that anytime we act for ourselves alone we prevent the Grace of God to act for us.

Our path from self-importance to salvation starts with our moving away from our work being for ourselves and for our God.  It some cases, that path requires us to go backward in our lives so that we can move forward to the beginning.  And that beginning starts with understanding who Jesus was and what his life on Earth means for us as he continues his ministry through us as he lives in Heaven.  “In the Beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word WAS God.”  This was the time when everything came into focus for God and the world was created because of it.  So he sent someone to prepare for the coming of the Son of God.  “A man named John was sent from God.  He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”[9]

It continued in a cave.  That light did not come with a flourish of trumpets nor found in a palace bed, but in the cries of a small child born of a carpenter in a cave used to store the animals at night in a town he was not from.  “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”[10]  He was wrapped in swaddling clothes that resembled the wrappings of someone who had just died.  His mother placed him in a manger; the place for putting food out for the animals to eat.  The light of the world came to earth to be the food in which all will partake to enter Paradise.

His coming was foretold by the prophets that waited for a Messiah.  But the kind of Messiah they wanted was not the one God had sent.  It was John the Baptist who came to prepare the way of the Lord.  “He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”[11]

As I was on my retreat, there was a moment that I felt that I was “unworthy to untie the sandal strap.”  The chapel inside the retreat center looks upon the large church used by the monks.  The windows behind the altar of the chapel are in a criss cross design, and they looked like prison bars.  I had been to the church many times for Mass and daily prayers, but this particular morning I could not see myself entering those doors.  So I just stayed in the chapel.

At one point, I went up to the window and looked across the way.  I felt like the rich man staring across the chasm toward Heaven.[12]  Something was stopping me from going over, so I sat down to focus on it.  As I did, the prayers that I were doing took a deeper meaning.  They were not being recited, they were being said, as if I was speaking them from the heart rather than from the book.  It was like the same moment a musician or singer stops performing notes on the paper and making music to the world.  Then I looked down at my hands.  When once they were together as in conventional prayers, they had a hard time being put together and were in the position in front of my body as if I were holding someone else’s hands sitting across from me.  I was not the person leading the prayers; I was the person being led by the one who the prayers were meant. I was being guided through the prayers and now understand that is how our prayers need to be done:  not as a recitation, not as a reading of ancient texts but as a guide to help us communicate with God and allow us to be led by them to Paradise.

When Holy Week came, I had a new insight into the Passions being proclaimed to the Church.  When I spoke about this on Good Friday, I talked about the rationale behind this.  During Holy Week, the Church proclaims two versions of the Passion Narrative:  one on Palm Sunday taken from the Gospel of that year (this year being Matthew) and on Good Friday which always comes from the Gospel of John.  Why is that?  Each Gospel has its own account of what happened and what Jesus did on the way to Golgotha.  For example, we have all heard about the Seven Last Words of Christ.  But not all of the seven words are in all four.  Matthew and Mark only have one word noted, while Luke and John have three separate words.  In Matthew, we hear Jesus cry out, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” that come from the beginning of the 22nd Psalm.  The psalm continues saying that I cry by day to God, but get no answer; and at night I find no rest.  Yet God is holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel; their fathers cried out and were rescued; they trusted God and were not put to shame.  This psalm runs parallel to Jesus’ cry in the Garden.  According to Fr. Raymond Brown, Matthew “does not hesitate to show Jesus in the utter agony of feeling forsaken as he faces a terrible death.”[13]  By contrast, John’s Gospel is portrayed as someone who understood this moment and had prepared for it from the time of his birth in that cave in Bethlehem.  “He is not a victim at the mercy of his opponents,” Brown continues, “since he has freely chosen to lay down his life with the utter certitude that he will take it up again.” [14]

This image of Jesus is demonstrated in the words John writes while he was on the cross.  Like anyone who has accepted their fate, they move to get their affairs in order.  Jesus sees his mother standing in front of him with the Apostle whom he loved.  He gave his mother to the disciple; and the disciple to his mother.  This made the disciple her son, and therefore, Jesus’ brother.[15]

He then tells the crowd that he thirsts.  When he is given wine to drink that was in a sponge attached to a sprig on hyssop, John brings back images of the First Passover, where hyssop was used by the Hebrews to sprinkle blood from the Paschal Lamb on their door posts.  When Jesus drank the wine, he declared “It is finished” in which he gave up his spirit and died on the cross.

These two Gospels, bookending Holy Week, take this image of the Crucifix and take it from being a badge of belonging to the Key of Salvation.  As we continue our Easter Triduum, let us heed the challenge from Pope Francis to wear the Cross not as an ornament but as a promise; a promise that we are to do for others what He did for us when He was nailed to the Cross.  Not an image; Not a morbid curiosity; Not a fantasy; but a reality that transcends all time for those who understand and truly believe in the Cross that can truly call themselves, without hesitation, a Christian.

Not only had I taken a different view of the prayers, I have also looked at some of the images we have in the Church to assist us in our worship of God.  On that same day, I asked the congregation when they see the crucifix, what comes to their mind?  Is it just an image?  Is it an ornament to hang on a wall or a badge to wear around your neck?  Do they just see it as a piece of art that they didn’t like because it portrays a dead man?  To view the crucifix is not just to look on it as a symbol of Church identity but as a reminder of what was done for us to gain our freedom from sin and death.  That is what we are supposed to have in our minds when we think of the crucifix, anyway.

And yet, we still use it as some ID charm, or worse, a way to show moral superiority over those around us, including our brothers and sisters in the faith.  This was a concern Pope Francis spoke about last week at Mass.  He asked his congregation that day, “What is the cross for us?  Yes, it is a Christian symbol, we make the Sign of the Cross, but often we do not do it well… the Cross is like a badge of belonging… that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be like a team badge, it must be instead a reminder of what became sin.  How do I wear the Cross?  As a souvenir?

When I make the Sign of the Cross am I aware of what I am doing?  Or is the Cross only a symbol of belonging to a religious group; an ornament, like a jewel with gold and many precious stones?”  Pope Francis then challenges them (and us) by asking “Have I learned to carry (the Cross) on my shoulders, where it hurts?”[16]  The Cross maybe just a symbol to some, but for those who understand, the Cross is the whole of Salvation for the entire world.

In coming from the wilderness, we are given the chance to lose our indispensability to the world.  We can only survive in the world when we help others so they can help us so that we can all succeed.  By looking at what Lent is to be (as a chance for purification) rather than what it has been (as a practice of sacrifice and repentance) then we can take its meaning in its fullness rather than as a disturbance in our lives.  Then Easter becomes much more intense than we have celebrated and, as a result, our faith becomes more intense, more enlivened and more authentic.  This is the true meaning of the Lenten and Easter Seasons and what we all should strive to attain.

 

 

 

 

 

[1]Mt. 3:13-17/Mk. 1:9-11/Lk. 3:21-22.

[2] Mt. 3:7-12/Mk. 1:2-8/Lk. 3:7-12/Jn. 1:26-27.

[3] Mt. 3:17

[4] Mt. 3:16

[5] Jn. 1:29-34

[6] Mt. 4:1-2/Mk. 1:12-13/Lk. 4:1-2

[7] Jn. 1:1

[8] Mt. 4:1-11/Mk. 1:12-13/Lk. 4:1-13

[9] Jn. 1:1-9.

[10] Jn. 1:14.

[11] Jn. 1:6, 26-27.

[12] Lk. 16:19-31.

[13] Brown, Raymond E.  “A Crucified Christ in Holy Week:  Essays on the Four Gospel Passion Narratives.” (Collegeville, MN.:  The Liturgical Press.), 1986, p.44.

[14] Brown, 57.

[15] Brown, 65.

[16] Agasso, Dominico Jr. “The Cross is not a badge; it must be carried on the shoulders, where it hurts” in The Vatican Insider (La Stampa). April 4, 2017 (www.lastampa.it/vaticaninsider/eng).

And Jesus Wept for us all!

HOMILY FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF LENT

Readings:  Ez. 37:12-14/ Rom. 8:8-11

Psalm:  130:1-8

Gospel:  Jn. 11:1-45

                “And Jesus Wept.”    In the world of Trivia it is the smallest sentence in the Bible and yet it has the most meaning, not only during the Lenten Season but throughout the entire ministry of Christ.  Most of the emotions that we hear the Jesus displayed were of compassion, anger, love and tenderness toward the others that had come to ask for his aid.  He was willing and able to help anyone in need of assistance.  But in the Gospel proclaimed today from the Eleventh Chapter of the Gospel of John, we are told that Jesus wept. Why?  Why was it that he wept?  Was it for his friend or his disciples or the Jews or for himself?  While we think we know (as did those who saw this) we can only begin to try to understand what was going on in his mind.  What we do know is that even in the moments that God shows his glory, the humanity of Christ will come to us.  What was John trying to tell his readers (and us) by making this a point in the story of Lazarus?  This answer can be multi-faceted, but with a simple conclusion.

“And Jesus Wept” for his friend.  He was the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany.  Lazarus was getting sick and was not getting any better.  His sisters sent someone to Jesus to tell him that he was dying and if he wanted to see him one more time, then he should come now.  Jesus could have gotten up and left right away, but he decided to stay a few more days where he was.  They had just left Judea, where he had trouble with the Jews before, and was almost stoned to death.

But that was not the primary reason for his staying.  Like the blind man that he gave sight, Jesus saw Lazarus as a way for the Son of God to be glorified.  But to do that, he had to stay put, letting his divinity dictate to his humanity the dictates of his Father in Heaven.  Jesus the man wanted to be with his friend, but Jesus the Christ did the will of his Father.

“And Jesus wept” for his disciples.  When Jesus told the disciples of his plans to return to Judea and be with his friends Mary and Martha, he told them that Lazarus was asleep and he is going to wake him up.  The disciples took this meaning literally.

After all the times that they listened to his stories and parables, they still could not understand Jesus’s meaning.  Frustrated, he told them the Lazarus was dead.  Their disbelief if Jesus as the Son of God came to a head in his mind, for it was this moment that he understood that if they had gone when they were told of Lazarus’ illness, they may not have been able to truly accept Jesus as the Son of God.  Like the moment Jesus returned from the wilderness before beginning his ministry, Jesus returns from outside to display his glory to the Chosen people.  It is with some surprise that it was Thomas (called Twin) who had doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead, accepted that in order to believe, they had to return with Jesus to Judea.

“And Jesus wept” for the crowd.  The Jews remembered the miracles Jesus performed, in particular giving the blind man his sight at the pool of Siloam.  They felt that if he had gotten here sooner, he could have performed the same sort of miracle.  The Jews still saw him as a prophet and miracle worker and nothing more.  Jesus’ frustration with their lack of faith caused him so much pain that he moved away from them upon his arrival and went to the cave.

He had hoped that the Jews would have come to the point that Paul wrote about in his Letter to the Romans:  “You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.”  Jesus would have hoped they would have the spirit of God in them.  It turns out; they were still living by the Word of God and the Law of Moses, only.

“And Jesus wept” in gratitude to his Father.  He knew that the moment that he heard that Lazarus was ill and prepared to die that he would do something. Jesus met Mary and Martha separately, but both said the same thing to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would still be alive.”  It was then, I believed, that Jesus heard God and that he would restore the life of Lazarus.  So he asked them both if they believed in him.  In their own way they said yes, Martha by words and Mary, as before, by her tears that had washed the dirt from his feet at an earlier meeting.  Jesus assured them that he would bring him back to life because he “was the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will never die.”

When he went to the cave, he thanked his Father for hearing him.  “Thank you for hearing me,” he said. “I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they believe that you sent me.”  At that moment, Jesus cried out to Lazarus to come out of the cave.  He walked out, tied hand and foot, and appeared to the crowd.  Jesus told someone to untie him so that he could return to his family; to his community; to his faith.

“And Jesus wept” for us all today; those of us who have not seen and yet believe.  As we continue our journey of faith, we strive to believe that Jesus is our Messiah, our savior, as much as he was the Messiah of the chosen people.  For us, that means we not only believe and accept his presence in the Body and Blood we partake at communion, but also proclaim this acceptance to the world.  We must show our belief that Jesus is the Son of God as we freely and joyfully partake in the Sacraments of the Church handed down to us by Christ.

 

 

Many of these stories are the basis of our continuation of our ministry of faith that we received from our baptism, strengthen in our confirmation, enhanced in our reconciliation and fortified through our communion as we go out into the world.  Just like Lazarus, Jesus asks the Church to untie us and let us go.  The Church is to be our removal of our bindings that the world places on us.  However, we think those bonds are part of our freedom on earth.  It is a false sensation.  When we act in the spirit and not the flesh, we become one in the Spirit and will be given true life, a life in Christ.

“And Jesus wept.”  Three words that mean more than what is on the surface.  It is in these words that the whole of salvation is contained.  Jesus is all God and all man; these words prove that.  “And Jesus wept”; more than trivia.  More than a release of emotions.  It is true salvation.

 

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

Self-importance can cause Blindness

HOMILY FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY OF LENT

Readings:  Sam. 16:1,6-7,10-13/ Eph. 5:8-14

Psalm:  23:1-6

Gospel:  John 9:1-41

                Has there been a time in your life that you had to be “put in your place?”  Those moments when you believe nothing can be accomplished without your input or supervision and were proven wrong?  That one moment when you realize that, once you were proven wrong, you begin to deflate back to the size of your hat or shirt?  These are the moments when our self-importance gets in the way of God’s grace in our lives.

This view of self-importance can come to us in different ways.  One view comes from one who is totally blind of the world around them.  They do not know nor do they care.  They are acclimated to the world, know how to function, and do not care if their lives get any better.  They have no reason to think their lives will get any better.

Another view is one of societal assumptions.  We may not know the reason why we do something; we just know we do because we were told it was the only way to do it.  It was just fine with their parents, and it is just as fine with us.  It is at these moments we begin to hear the song “Tradition” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

A third view is in the form of the “societal arbiters.”  These are the ones who gain influence over others by association and laud it over those who are not in line with their view of the world.  These groups can get their members from the other groups who are looking to be better but are not sure who to join.  That seems more like dependency than determined opinion.

A final view comes from a person’s lack of self-confidence.  When someone gets bullied or ignored as a child, that pain will manifest into either a flawed sense of domination or a continued peer-subservience.  Their lack of engagement with others does not prepare them for the simplest disagreements so they stay in their own little world and blame others for their own unhappiness.  Whichever view is held, it still comes to only one conclusion:  that anytime we act for ourselves alone we prevent the Grace of God to act for us.

These four views of self-importance are displayed in the Gospel proclaimed today.  The Gospel begins with Jesus and his disciples come across a blind man sitting down on the ground.  He was no different than any other beggar they came across.  For the most part, he was content with his life and how he was trying to make a living. The disciples, seeing him, understood that his blindness was due to sin, either his sin or the sins of his parents.  Jesus, taking matters into his own hands, said that no sin caused him to be blind; yet while Jesus was on the earth, he would bring light to those in the darkness because he was the light of the world.  So Jesus took some mud, rubbed it on the eyes of the blind man and told him to go wash in the nearby pool.  Once the man washed, his eyes were opened for the first time in his life.  Those who knew the blind man were skeptical that this was the same person, let alone that he could see them.  Either he was an imposter, or he was a fraud.  Either way, the idea that he could see was hard to comprehend.

This unsure crowd took the man to the Pharisees, the society that kept the Jewish laws and practices to heart.  While they accepted the fact the man could see, they disputed this was done in God’s name because this was done on the Sabbath, the day of rest.  So, if anything is done on the Sabbath, it is a sin.  Therefore, the one that allowed the man to see must be a sinner.  He is not from God. They wanted the man to accuse Jesus of being a sinner, but he couldn’t.  He didn’t know who he was, only that he was a prophet.  To him, it did not matter if was a sinner or not nor what day of the week this was done.  All he knew was that he was once blind but now he can see.

So, to bring pressure on the man, the Pharisees brought his parents into the discussion.  They asked them if their son was born blind, and they said yes.  They asked them how was it that he can now see.  Now these parents were good Jews, devoted to God, the Law and the prophets, and they taught their son to obey them in all things so they can live the best way they can.  But, when pressured by the Pharisees about his new-found sight, they would not answer the question because they were afraid what would happen to them.  They told the Pharisees that their son was of age to speak for himself, so ask him.  The Pharisees pressed further to the point that the man began to wonder if they wanted to be this man’s disciple’s as well.  They took that as an insult and threw him out into the street.  This indignation would not stand so, in the name of all that is holy, they “cleansed” the area of the unbeliever.

Each one of these groups had a certain view of God’s law, but none of them could totally understand the completeness of what God’s law really means until this moment:  the moment when their Savior came into their midst.  In each scenario, each one was blind and was given their sight back.  How much they could see or wanted to see was up to them.

The disciples, who asked about the man born blind, realized that their eyes were open when they understood that sin does not cause one to be infirm.  Sin damages the soul, not the body.  The Pharisees eyes were opened to the fact that God’s grace is not only given out six days a week, but every hour of every day; especially on the Sabbath, the day that is holy to the Lord.  It was unfortunate that their self-importance shaded their vision to the point of not seeing clearly.

The eyes of the parents were opened when they saw that their son could see them for the first time.  Their prayers for their son were answered; and were answered at a time to show God’s grace to the world.  Jesus said that he was blind “so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” (Jn. 9:3).  While they were still worried for their life, they had the strength to acknowledge that this was their son.  They could have denied him and walked away, but they stood firm and claimed this man as their son.  Their eyes were opened to the love they had for God and how that love manifested in their son to bring the light of the world in their midst.

Each one of these groups were victims of what psychologists call scarcity.  It is the act by which a person will focus on something so intently that they will develop a kind of tunnel vision that brings the focus from long-term to short-term goals.  When we do that, we can dig ourselves deeper in a hole that we don’t know we are in and are unsure how deep that hole is.  Only until we reach our goals can we finally see everything clearly.  These groups could only see one part of God’s salvation for his people; and they clung to that part to the point that they believed it was the only way into Paradise.  Yet only when Christ entered their lives were they able to understand the fullness of his compassion. The scarcity was removed and they were given the power to see the long-term goal that is salvation. That is the goal for us each and every day.  We have to be ready to see God’s grace in everything we do and everywhere we go.  We cannot just act like we have the only way to salvation, hoping that we are correct on the Day of Judgement.  By then it is too late!  Our faith is based on having the vision to see Christ in everything and everyone. When we can do that day in and day out then this Sunday can be the beginnings of our Laetare:  our rejoicing of having true sight to see the vision of our Glory and see the path into Paradise.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

An introduction to “Theo-Civics.”

download 2

HOMILY FOR THE 8TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings: Is. 49:14-15/ 1Cor. 4:1-5

Psalm:  62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9

Gospel Mt. 6:24-34

          In 1977, John Denver and George Burns starred in the movie “Oh, God!” Denver played an assistant manager at a supermarket where he gets an invitation to meet with God, played by George Burns. Reluctant at first, Denver become God’s spokesman on earth as his world was crumbling down about him. In order to prove his claim, a group of ministers gives him a set of questions written in Aramaic to try and trip him up. While in seclusion, God arrives and helps them answer the questions.  In one of the questions, the group asked “Which of the world’s religions is the closest to the Divine Truth?”  God answered the question this way. “No building or book or story has the answer of the Divine Truth. The heart is the temple where all truth resides.” Sometimes we need to remember that despite all the rhetoric regarding who is superior, it is what we have in our hearts that brings the work that God asks of us to show his love for each other.

As we conclude the Gospel proclaimed today from the Sermon on the Mount, we hear Jesus’ concerns with trying to listen to multiple voices saying they are right. Jesus is that no one can serve two masters. We generally understand that to mean no one can be beholden to God and money at the same time. Both will pull us in opposite directions to gain our attention. So we have to choose in order to make our lives uncomplicated by having too many irons in the fire. We try to tell ourselves that we are doing this to make our lives better in the long run. But in the process, we eventually lose ourselves.

How do we decide which one to follow? Jesus gives us the guide. He tells us to look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap, but God cares for them just as much as he does us. Look at the flowers in the field. They do not work or spin, but they are more beautiful than anything that King Solomon had ever worn. So if God provides for their needs, why do we need to worry about how he will provide for ours?  Seek first the kingdom of God, Jesus tells us, and all his righteousness at all these things will be given to you. All that is needed is for us to listen to the voice of God and there we can find true happiness; not only for ourselves, but for all our brothers and sisters in Christ.

So often we hear a lot of people saying the same words at the same volume but having a slightly different meaning. Just one change in a phrase can mean the difference between prosperity or pain. We all want to see everyone do well, but we don’t want that to happen at the expense of others. For when we do well together, we all prosper; but when we act out of fear and vanity, we all suffer. Our duty as citizens is to be sure that what we do in society helps everyone be a better person. This does not just make us better citizens, but better Christians.

When I was in school, I had to learn what it meant to be a citizen of this country. I and my classmates had to learn such things as Morals (the study of concerning oneself with right and wrong in their distinction), and Ethics (the concept to conform to an accepted standard of good behavior). These two ideals became the basis of the concept of Law in this country (the custom or practice recognized as binding by a community).  When we were deemed ready, we showed our proficiency in these matters by answering questions regarding the U.S. and Illinois State Constitutions. In other words, we studied Civics (the study of the rights and duties of citizens).

These past few weeks, Jesus has been giving us his own brand of, for lack of a better term, “Theo-civics.”  He has asked of us to think beyond we have known what the law has been into what the law supposed to be. Jesus wants us to live for the present, not in the past nor in the future; for God will provide to those who cannot provide for themselves. How God will do that is up to us.  He looks to us for that providence as much as you look to God for it, and even more so.  As we move forward toward the Lenten season, our belief in God will be reflected each one of us in order for us to understand the Paschal Mystery.

We cannot truly understand the Resurrection without knowing its purpose in our lives. And we will not be able to know its purpose without proper reflection upon the words of Christ and his revelation of his Father’s will. Likewise, a person cannot understand the laws of the country without recognizing the rationale behind them.  Being both a citizen and a Christian takes work, and not only just a superficial understanding. We are not superficial because God is not superficial; for we are made in the likeness of God. Jesus speaks to us today to remind us of this. We are to keep that in mind as we prepare for Lent; our journey of reflection and repentance. To repent means that we must forgive; to forgive means that we must reflect; to reflect means that we understand. Let our understanding of the civics of our faith enable us to treasure meaning of Lent.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

Questions for Reflection:

1. What are the things that are taking you away from God?  What will it take for you to come back?

2. Are there certain things that have kept you from fully embracing the faith?

3.  What did Jesus mean at the end of the Gospel when he said “Sufficient for a day is its       own evil?”

The State of Faith is the Union between Us and God

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HOMILY FOR THE 6TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 

Readings:  Sir. 15:15-20/1Cor. 2:6-10

Psalm: 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34

Gospel:  Mt. 5:17-37

 

When was the last time the world you knew suddenly pulled out from under your feet? That feeling that everything you were told was wrong? The notion that everything you’re told growing up that made the world a better place and you a better person was a lie?  What is your first instinct? To doubt yourself; to doubt your family; doubt society: to blame those who were in charge for telling you the wrong things in the first place? Now this doubt can be as small as a teenager thinking that they are more popular than they really are, or as large as an adult seeing everything they had built be destroyed in a single instant.  Yet no matter how large your house, that moment always brings someone to a realization that the life they knew was gone and the life they are to leave and never be the same. I myself fall victim to this every so often and, while I would like to remain in my world self-delusion, the realities of this world pull me back so that I can function as a member of this society.

I would like to think that I am some great preacher or theologian just waiting to be discovered; or going to some recording studio and make an album of my favorite songs.  But then I look around and I see those who are more talented than I and they are given the chance to make the dream come true. When that moment comes, I do tend to have a healing of abandonment to which I have to re-examine my life so I may move forward with my life.

Now imagine that same feeling coming over an entire nation. All their hopes, all their dreams, all their wishes for them to be free and live their lives in a way that they were told it should be has been threatened to the point of nonexistence. For the past few weeks, the gospel has been proclaimed from the Sermon on the Mount. It started a couple weeks ago and what I refer to as Jesus’ “inaugural address.” Last week, the gospel claimed that we are salt of the earth the light of the world. While those may sound nice, the Jewish people were seeing the world not as salt and light but as spoilage and darkness.

The Jews were a group that all their lives were told they were a chosen people. They were the ones designated by God to bring about his kingdom. And yet, they had been constantly attacked, imprisoned, dispersed, re-settled, and occupied to the point that they are now unsure what truly being salt and light really means. Some had tried over the centuries to explain to the Jewish people what salt and light means. Some tried being overly pious; others have tried being overly populous. Still others have tried being overly patriotic. While these methods may have worked in the short-term, by themselves they never held much staying power and, as a result, were dismissed with just as much passion as they had been accepted. It is a pattern that has occurred over the centuries and is still with us today. The question now becomes how the people will respond to changes in the hopes of the better people, better neighbors, better citizens, brothers and sisters in the eyes of God?

Article 2, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states, “(the president) shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”  When we listen to a state of the union address, we hear the items that the president wants to have passed the upcoming legislative session. Mainly, it is his way to see that his agenda gets carried out for the betterment of the nation. This agenda is usually based upon a history of prior actions within the country-good or bad-that the president wishes to either enhance or replace. If we can continue the parallel with the president and his speeches with Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, we can view the Gospel proclaimed today as Christ’s state of the union (or at least his message to the Congress being his first address).

Jesus starts by laying the foundation of his ministry, his message to the nation. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part of the letter pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” For those hearing this for the first time, it must’ve been rather confusing. Most prophets would yell and scream and demand that their congregations do a complete 180 of what they had been taught in the temple in the synagogues. Or at the very least, find a reason for their actions to be against the Law.

Jesus is telling them that what they have known and what they have learned was correct, and he is not there to tell them otherwise. In fact, what he is doing is bringing the law and the prophets to its full and natural conclusion.  It was probably the first time many of the crowds felt reassured that how they were living were not a punishment by God.

So, what examples does Jesus give that he is to bring the law and the prophets to their fulfillment? He brings out a few of the general things that have been going on and tells him they could be done better. If you are not to kill, then start by not being angry. If you do want to be caught in an overly romantic relationship-especially if you’re not married to the person-then it would be better for you to not look at someone in a manner that is more than just friendship. If someone requires you to make some sort of an oath, do not take it for fear of punishment to make sure that what you say is truthful and the oath would not be necessary. The more we understand the need to be in unison with our brothers and sisters in Christ, the more we are able to truly love one another as God intended us to do.

What we say to one another is mostly based on our actions we display to one another. The more genuine our actions are the more genuine and honest our words will be. Likewise, if our actions are disingenuous or are for some other purposes, then what we say will have a false meaning. Jesus was reminding the Jews that the law and the prophets were there to help us be better people, not necessarily find us to a specific way of living. The law did give them a way of living to distinguish themselves from the rest of the tribes, this is true. But, there was very little room for growth in just the strict observance of the law. When we read about the origins of our faith, we look at it as something that goes above and beyond the norm. Yet without that faith, our belief in God would be just as bland and stagnant as it was before Jesus came on the earth.  Let our faith be the salt of the earth the light for the world so we can be the example Christ wants us to be for all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

Questions for Reflection:

  1. When was the last time you had the world pulled out from under your feet? How long did it

    take to get back up?

  1. The Gospel spoke to remove your eye or hand if it is causing you to sin. What sort of things

    that cause you to sin do you need to remove from your life?

  1. If someone called you Salt of the Earth or the Light of the World, what do you think they

    saw in you to say that?

 

Servant of God Ebenezer Scrooge

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HOMILY FOR THE 2ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings:  Isaiah 49:3,5-6/1Cor. 1:1-3

Psalm:  40:2,4,7-10

Gospel:  Jn. 1:29-34

 

 

A few days ago I was looking in the comic’s page and I came across the comic “Family Circus.” The comic had the daughter Dolly walking toward her Grandma and telling her “You can tell the holidays are over, Grandma. Everything is getting back to normal” while in the background her brothers Billy and Jeffey are having a fight.  Yes the holidays are over. Now what we do? Many of us look at the holidays as a way to excuse poor behaviors that are displayed in us as well as others. Still others look at the holidays as a way to do something more for others for just a few weeks to make up our actions the rest of the year. The holidays have become less of WHY we celebrate and more of HOW we celebrate.

One example of this over emphasis of holiday-as-festival is in Charles Dickens classic “a Christmas Carol.” Ebenezer Scrooge is tired of all the unnecessary frivolity (in his mind) of the Christmas season that allowed society to lose its focus on business.   Each time someone came to solicit something from him; they did it in the “Spirit of Christmas.” His disdain for their insistence of joyful behavior during this time of year, however, caused him to disregard Christmas altogether.

In the story we know that it took three spirits-one from his past, one from the present, and one from his future-to make him realize that Christmas was more than just something that was to be  celebrated only one time of the year. Christmas is to be honored every day of our lives:  For if we did not have Christmas, we would not have Christ. And if we do not have Christ, salvation would not have come. At the conclusion of the story, we are told that Scrooge kept Christmas in his heart every day for the rest of his life and we are left with the declaration, “God bless us, everyone.” Our focus in the story has always been on Scrooge the miser. Yet Dickens wants us to view Scrooge as our example to how we need to keep spirit of Christmas with us every day of our lives. This is a hope that we should all strive for as we continue our journey of faith toward the kingdom of heaven.

In the Gospel proclaimed today we get a glimpse of the ministry of John the Baptist.  As he went out into the desert and preached a baptism of repentance, his influence among the people began to increase.  His disciples and those who listened to his words couldn’t help but think that he was the Messiah.  When a delegation from the temple in Jerusalem approached and asked him if he is the Messiah, he told them no. They asked him if he was Elijah or Isaiah the Prophet that had returned to them.  Again he told them no. So they asked him who he was.  John told them that he was the voice that is crying out in the wilderness to make straight the way of the Lord. Since he wasn’t Isaiah or Elijah or the Messiah, they wondered then why then did he baptize his disciples?  He assured them that his baptism for the forgiveness of sins was to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah.

And then one day, while Jesus was coming to him, John recognized Jesus as the Messiah.  John pointed to Jesus and told the crowd that this is the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world. This is the person, he said, that I told you about. Now did the crowds, upon seeing this, appreciate the moment and then just get up and walk away and get on with our lives like they had before? No. They began to follow Jesus and understood his message not only at the end of the life of John the Baptist, or at the end of the life of Jesus, but throughout their lives up to the moment of their death.

This was the example that Dickens had wanted us to see in his story; that while those who are considered good and upright in society tend to misbehave from time to time then place an over-emphasis of proper behavior during certain times of the year, it is the one that does a complete and total reversal of their behavior from bitterness to joy in the light of the Incarnation that we truly say are the Servants of God.

That term-Servants of God-is a rather unique phrase in the Catholic Church. The title is given to one who is on the path to sainthood. (We in the Springfield Diocese are probably going to hear this phrase quite often because of the cause of Father Augustus Tolton, the first African-American priest in the United States and was buried in Quincy, Illinois.) It designates someone who has lived an exemplary life in service to God and to the church. In particular, it is for those that are recognized in helping others who are also seeking the kingdom of God. Their lives are investigated and if it is found that they did live a life of “heroic virtue” then the cause for their sainthood can continue.

This title is not exclusive to Catholics.  In fact, the term “Servant of God” appears eight times in the Bible:  four times in the Old Testament four times in the New. In Arabic, the name Abdullah means Servant of God; in Hebrew, it is Obadiah; and in German, it is the name Gottschalk. The Eastern Orthodox refers to each other as Servants of God. Even the Holy Father, to show his humility among the faithful, is designated with the title “Servant of the Servants of God.”

Yet this is more than just a title. It is a goal that each one of us should strive to attain. This starts by having a belief in God, not just a ruler or as an arbiter, but as a loving father and parent. This belief comes from a faith that springs from our baptism.   This is the first sacrament that we receive as the sins that we have committed are forgiven. We are welcomed into the church, and begin along our path of the journey of faith. In preparation for the coming Messiah, John the Baptist prepared his followers by baptism for the forgiveness of their sins. He welcomed them into the community of believers and removed all doubt of Jesus’s identity as the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sins of the world.

We as Christians continue this ministry of not only Jesus but also John the Baptist by bringing everyone into the belief that we are not only God’s chosen but also the servants of God and then we can announce to God and to the world in the way the psalmist has proclaimed today “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”

 

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Have you ever thought of Ebenezer Scrooge as a model for conversion?

 

  1. If you heard John the Baptist make his declaration of Jesus, would you believe him?

 

  1. Part of a conversion is to assist in the continuation of the message. When have you experienced moments when you have said, “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will?  What happened?