Monday, March 3, 2008

Lenth - 4th Sunday

Lent – 4th Sunday
March 2, 2008

1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

I am the light of the world, says the Lord. Whoever follows me will have the light of life.

And so is the faith we proclaim as Catholic Christians. It is not just a faith in a philosophy or a doctrine, but most especially a faith in a person. The person of Jesus – the light in our darkness.

Last week we heard the story of the woman at the well from the gospel of John and reflected on its sacramental character.

This week we are asked once again by the Church to hear these readings in light of the celebration of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist which we will celebrate in a most special way at the Easter vigil.

Today is the story of the healing of the man born blind.
In some sense, the story is very simple. The man born blind represents all of us in our spiritual blindness. We are all born with it. The man born blind is anointed by Jesus with the clay that he makes, and then he washes in the pool of siloam. This ritual washing reminds us of the sacrament of baptism. After Jesus heals his physical sight, the man comes to have faith in Jesus and so he is spiritually enlightened. He comes to know Jesus as the light of the world.
On the other hand, the Pharisees, though they can see physically, remain spiritually blind. They refuse to have faith.

For us who prepare for the great celebration of Easter, the call of this gospel is two fold.
We need Jesus to save us from our own works of darkness. Where our eye looks with judgment toward another person, we need Jesus to illumine us with his mercy. Where our eye looks down on another person, we need Jesus to come show us the dignity of each human person. Where our eye looks lustfully at another person, we need Jesus to show us the beauty and freedom of chastity. When our vision is darkened by the lack of faith, we need Jesus to ignite a brilliant light of faith in our souls. Therefore St. Paul writes to the Ephesians telling them to “take no part in the fruitless works of darkness. We need Jesus to save us from our own works of darkness.

Jesus comes to make us the light of the world. Remember. He who is the light of the world said this to his disciples. You are the light of the world. And the Lord wants us to shine brightly for him to the whole world.

Shine for him.
When people practice hatred, let our love increase for them.
When people offend us, let us forgive them endlessly
When people are full of unbelief, let us plant seeds of faith in them
Shine for him.
When people are in despair, may we speak hope to them
When people are full of sadness, let us bring joy to them

Shine for him.
When people live in darkness, may we be light for them.

And we can only do that when Jesus is our love, our forgiveness, our belief, our hope, our joy, and our light.

He is the light of the world. To truly follow him is to have the light of life.

Lent - 3rd Sunday

Lent – 3rd Sunday
February 24, 2008

Exodus 17:3-7
Romans 5:1-2,5-8
John 4:5-42

This weekend, and the next two weekend liturgies present these longer readings from the gospel of John. Each one is a reflection on the paschal mystery – that is, the death and resurrection of the Lord. Each one, therefore, also asks us to think about the meaning of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist.

So let’s take a look at today’s gospel, the story of the woman at the well, and see what it tells us about the meaning of baptism, confirmation, and Holy Communion – the three sacraments of initiation.

So first, let’s revisit the story. Jesus meets the woman at the well, asks for a drink, and then they have this little bout of friendly verbal banter in the form of little riddles. You can almost see them having some fun with it, talking about water, then living water, and then getting a drink. Until, of course, Jesus throws in the zinger about stating the woman’s history with six different men. Then the conversation turns more serious and Jesus begins telling her about salvation. She gets all excited, forgets about the well water, runs off, tells the people of the town to come and listen to the rabbi at the well. The disciples show up while she runs off and Jesus tells more riddles to his disciples about food to eat that they don’t know about. In the end, the people in the town listen to Jesus and come to faith in him.

Now, let’s learn what to do with this story.

The first symbol is the “living water.” It refers both to the sacrament of Baptism and to the Holy Spirit conferred in baptism and confirmation and all the gifts we receive from those sacraments.

When Jesus begins to explain living water to the woman he does so by explaining worship. This is the fundamental purpose for our creation. To be in relationship with God. We are in relationship with God by receiving His gift to us and then offering it back with thanksgiving. Let me say that again. We are in relationship with God by receiving his gifts to us and then offering them back with thanksgiving. This is the essence of worship. We do this at mass. In fact, the word, “eucharist” means “to give thanks and praise” That’s what we do at mass. And the mass teaches us about a fundamental attitude we can apply to everything we do. To worship in Spirit is to truthfully acknowledge God’s gifts to us and give thanks. Therefore, in everything, give thanks to God.

So, our first Lenten instruction is this: Worship God in spirit and truth. How? By giving thanks in everything. This is worship in spirit and in truth.

The second symbol is the “Food which you do not know” and has the double meaning of the Eucharist and to the effect of the Eucharist in our lives.
The story of the Last Supper in the gospel of John does not include the institution narrative but does, however, uniquely include the story of the washing of feet. That is to say, Eucharist turned into action. After all, we Catholics believe the biblical truth that we are saved by both faith and works.

So Jesus talks about the food that means doing the will of God and finishing his work. Then he gives the example of the harvest – obviously referring not to crops but to people. Helping other people come to faith in Jesus.

This brings us to the second Lenten instruction which is: Help others people come to faith in Jesus.
How? Helping them to receive the living water of baptism and the Holy Spirit. To receive the true food of the Eucharist that strengthens us to do God’s will.
Consider: Have you ever helped somebody to convert to faith in Jesus and to be baptized, confirmed, and receive first Eucharist? Pray to the Holy Spirit to give you the opportunity to help others come to faith in Jesus.

The third symbol in the story is the woman at the well. She represents sinful humanity in need of salvation. Notice that she was there getting water in the heat of the day, not in the morning when the respectable women of the town would gather together. She was obviously something of an outcast in her town. Jesus talks to her – in and of itself something remarkable to her because this simply was not done. Then, Jesus tells her of her sins, but not in a way that judges or condemns her – even more remarkable. He just says that he knows her and repeats his offer of living water. The water of worship that wipes away past sins. That washes away guilt and regret. The water of the Holy Spirit that brings us into communion with God and with the saints. The flow of the Holy Spirit that sends us to tell others about how Jesus saves us from our sins. The woman at the well – with shame turned to joyful hope – became the first evangelist for her town.

Our third Lenten instruction. No more regrets. For Jesus has redeemed us by his death and resurrection. He has given us the living water of the Holy Spirit and bread from heaven – his own body and blood. He brings us into communion with our Heavenly Father along with all the saints. Jesus makes all things new.

Come, let us worship in spirit and in truth.

Lent - 2nd Sunday

Lent – 2nd Sunday
February 17

Genesis 12:1-4a
2 Timothy 1:8b-10
Matthew 17:1-9

Do you ever get bummed out by Lent?

Some people really do. The whole idea of making the Church bare for mass. The whole idea of fasting and other personally chosen deprivations. The whole focus on repentance – reminding us that we are, in fact, sinners in need of salvation. For some people this time of year can get rather depressing.

Let’s add to the fact that it is February – traditionally one of the most depressing months of the year. Spring is trying to get here but February is generally colder, grayer, and damper than most other months.

Lent is a time of annual review. How have we done spiritually this past year? What do we need to repent of? What actions do we need to incorporate in our lives to fulfill the gospel Lenten call of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer?

February and Lent sometimes seem like they are that time of the year that we just have to slog through in order to get to the good stuff. And in a sense, that is true.

Consider the trajectory of the readings during Lent. Combine the readings all together and we get a long reflection on the meaning of the sacrament of baptism. It is connected with Jesus journey to the cross. That gut wrenching experience of Good Friday.

Jesus says over and over during Lent that the Son of man must suffer and be put to death. And on the third day he will rise from the dead.

And then he tells his disciples to take up their cross and follow him. Depressing thought. For if we will be his disciples then we must take that journey to Jerusalem along with him. We have to be willing to face difficulty and opposition for the sake of the gospel. We have to be willing to suffer. And we all have to face our own imminent deaths. For sooner or later we will all die. We will all have our own personal Good Friday, facing the deaths of loved ones and then finally our own death.

It’s no wonder that Lent can get so stark and bleak sometimes.

And so that’s why today’s gospel is so important in the Lenten cycle. This story of the transfiguration – where the disciples have a vision of Jesus in all his amazing glory conversing with Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the prophet. This is a little token, a foretaste, of what will come after Good Friday.

And, of course, Peter, James, and John didn’t get it at all. For this reason Jesus told them to be quiet about it until after the resurrection. And God the Father’s command to them? Very simply – “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

The same message and the same voice when Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan. The second theophany of the Holy Trinity in the gospel story. Amazingly important.

And for two reasons.

God wants us to see. This story is where God shows us a small foretaste of the glory that he has prepared for us from the foundation of the world. Just as Jesus was revealed in his glory to the disciples, the other underwritten message is that we who believe and are saved by him may participate in his resurrection when he raises our mortal bodies from the grave.

God wants us to see these things yet to come. Even in the midst of our slogging through Lent. Fasting reveals to us the importance of the wedding feast of the Lamb in the Eucharist and in heaven. Almsgiving reveals to us God’s great generosity working through us. Prayer brings us into more intimate union with God. These actions open our eyes to see spiritually these things are truly glorious. The unveiling of things yet to come.

God wants us to hear. Did you hear God’s command to Peter, James, and John? “Listen to him”. Boy, that’s a tough one. In our frenetically paced lives it gets increasingly difficult to make ourselves listen. Too many things to think about. Too many things to do. Lots of stuff to analyze. We need to really listen. To hear more deeply God’s messages to us in our lives.

God wants to show you things. God wants to tell you things. All in the name of preparing you to fully enter into his heavenly kingdom. And how many times do we miss these fantastic revelations of God because we have no eyes to see and no ears to hear? Too busy? Too selfish? Too sinful?

So here’s a radical idea to lift your lent. Do this and you will honestly look forward to Lent every year. Ask God to open your eyes to see and open your ears to hear all this lent. And begin taking note in a little journal of the things you see and hear each day that inspire you. Remember, inspiration comes from the Holy Spirit.

When you do this the Holy Spirit will show you the glory of the resurrection. You will hear Jesus speak to you. And you will fulfill the commands given to us by God in this reading.
Rise, and do not be afraid.
Listen to him.

Lent - 1st Sunday

Lent – 1st Sunday
February 10, 2008

Genesis 2:7-9,3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Everybody faces it. We’ve been dealing with it since Adam and Eve in the garden. It’s the whole idea that there are things that are bad for us or bad for others that nevertheless look very appealing to do.

Food is great. But if we eat too much or eat the wrong stuff our health gets affected.
Sex is great. But if we have it with the wrong people or in the wrong way then the family and society are destabilized and public health is compromised.
Power is great. But if we abuse it then lots of people get hurt and we ourselves become dehumanized as we dehumanize others.

And so it goes. Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. But instead of receiving this godly identity as a gift from God, they decided to grasp it for themselves. They listened to a lie, took the forbidden fruit for themselves, and the rest is history. We, the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve keep trying to grab a hold of the things we want. Tendencies toward pride and fear and greed keep the old cycle of temptation going.

And yet God in his graciousness sent us a gift through Jesus. Today we are going to learn how to overcome temptation by meditating on the temptations of Jesus.
Let’s take a look at his situation. He has been alone in the desert fasting and praying. In this situation he is probably at his weakest moment. Think about it. For those who are involved in recovery groups they have a little saying that when you are “hungry, angry, lonely, and tired” you need to HALT. These situations leave us vulnerable to our addictions and our temptations.
Certainly Jesus was hungry, lonely, and tired.
And then the temptations came
If you are the Son of God, then turn stones to bread.
If you are the Son of God, then jump from the parapet.
I’ll give you everything if you worship me.

What a sequence.
The first and most basic temptation the devil had was to strike at Jesus identity as the Son of God. Notice how he puts it to the question? Then he suggests something innocent enough. Turn stones to bread. But the whole idea here was to strike at Jesus core identity. And he strikes through the temptations of appetite. That is why people fall into sins of the appetite. They first believe a lie about their own identity. We believe that we are not loved. So we look for love and satisfaction in all the wrong places. We use food, drugs, sex, and other entertainments to mask our inner doubts. We believe the lie.

How did Jesus overcome? He never doubted who he was. He was grounded through prayer and knowledge of the Word of God. He was ready for this temptation and he overcame.

The second basic temptation the devil had was to strike at Jesus’ relevance in ministry. He takes Jesus to the parapet of the temple. This is the center of worship. This is a high place both literally and spiritually. And he says, just jump and see if the angels catch you. Satan even quotes scripture here. Satan strikes through the temptations of security and relevance.
This is how people fall into sins of insecurity and fear. We begin believing the lie that we are not loved or wanted or are important and so we do risky things to get noticed and to get attention. We believe the lie.

How did Jesus overcome? He never doubted his role. He was grounded in his identity through prayer and through knowledge. He was ready for this temptation and he overcame.

The third basic temptation the devil had was to strike and Jesus power and authority. He shows Jesus the world and promises to give it all to him in exchange for a little worship. Remember, Satan wants to be God and wants to be worshipped. For that matter, so do some people. So many people become willing to sell their very souls for power, money, and influence. All manner of evil and human misery come from these temptations.

How did Jesus overcome? He was solidly grounded in the idea that power and influence are ultimately a gift from God. You can’t grasp at these things. Rather, one must receive them with open hands from God and then return them to God. This is the fundamental idea of worship.

Our identity, our relevance in life, and our power are ultimately gifts from God. The problem is that we constantly forget that fact. And so we try to grab hold of them for ourselves. But Jesus teaches us through his example that all these things are a gift we can receive with open hands.

So do you want to know how to overcome temptation? Do what Jesus did. The long and consistent practice of three things:
Prayer. He was completely grounded in his identity through prayer. That’s what it does for us. We know God and therefore we know who we are in God.
Fasting: Jesus became disciplined with his appetites. He ruled his body. His body did not rule him.
Bible. Jesus knew the word of God from memory. This gave him tools to call to mind when faced with temptation.
These three things – prayer, fasting, and the bible will strengthen you by God’s grace to overcome. Victory over sin and death is God’s gift to us through Jesus. Through the open hands of faith we can receive it.

Ordinary Time - 4th Sunday

Ordinary Time – 4th Sunday
Stewardship Sunday
February 3, 2008

Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13
1 Cor 1:26-31
Matthew 5:1-12a

Blessed are they.
This is probably the most famous passage from Jesus’ sermon on the mount. The Beatitudes. Nine blessings given by Jesus for these attitudes and actions of his followers.

This is at once both familiar and also greatly misunderstood.

For example – let’s look at the first Beatitude – Blessed are the poor in spirit. Why would poverty of spirit be a blessing? What does that mean?

I would like to submit to you that all of these beatitudes are a sequence describing the process of conversion for believers. Illumination leads to interior convictions which leads to charitable action for the sake of the gospel.

Let’s take a look and see how this sequence works.

The first three have to do with attitude.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. What this means is the believer’s first realization of his or her own poverty of spirit. We can not save ourselves from sin solely by our own works. This is the first realization of the futility of our own actions apart from God. We are commanded to love God and love our neighbor, but we have to understand that apart from the grace of God we can not do it. So when we realize that we need God to save us and we ask for it, then something wonderful happens. A blessing comes. The kingdom of heaven is yours. But you’ve got to know your poverty of spirit first.

When we truly know our poverty of spirit, then another blessing comes.
Blessed are they who mourn. Mourning naturally follows the realization of poverty of spirit. This is sorrow for our sins and for the sins of the world. It is a good thing to feel bad about sin. To mourn. For when we mourn our sins and when we go to God, then we receive the promise. We will be comforted. And the blessing comes.

Next comes meekness. Who of us can be prideful if we experience poverty of spirit and the sorrow that follows? Meekness is being grounded in the solid reality of the human condition and our utter need for God. And when we are meek, then the blessing comes. The meek shall inherit the earth.

The next four have to do with actions.

Let’s list them now.
blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the clean of heart
Blessed are the peacemakers

See here how the experience of initial conversion leads each believer to good works. Here we can see clearly how Jesus teaches that we are saved by faith and works. Works of righteousness, mercy, purity, and peace are the natural expressions of those who profess faith in Jesus. And they will receive the blessings. They will be satisfied by God. They will receive mercy. They will see God. And they will be called Children of God.

The final two are about the believer’s encounter with evil in the world.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. To persevere in goodness the face of overwhelming evil is not easy. But those who hold to their faith and continue in their good works are promised the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. These are the folks who are actively and vigorously persecuted because of their faith. They suffer greatly and many become martyrs. Jesus’ blessing for them is that they will receive a great reward in heaven.

So you can see here the sequence of the Beatitudes.
Blessings come with the first steps of our faith. Our interior reality changes when we recognize sin, mourn our sin, and become humble before God.
Blessings come with the works that are the natural expression of faith. Our interior reality will lead to our work to change the world.
And blessings come when the conviction of faith remains true despite temptation and persecution.

So, good people. Let us consider our calling by considering the works that come from our faith. As promised last Sunday, today is stewardship renewal. Let’s take a few minutes to consider our blessings and how we will express them in the ministry of this parish.

For our guests this (evening / morning), spend a few minutes in prayer for the parishioners of Annunciation as they recommit to the stewardship of time, talent, and treasure.

Last week all parishioners at mass were given a time and talent directory in order to become familiar with the ministry activities of the parish for this year. Hopefully, you had a chance to think about what you want to do in the parish this year. Today you received an intention form to fill out during mass. Please take a moment to write in your personal information at the top of the sheet and at the bottom of the sheet. We will use this to update our parish census.

Now, look at the bottom right hand corner where it mentions the Sunday offering. Since ministry can’t happen without financial support, let’s fill this in. We will use the figures you give us to establish the budget for next year.
If you are wondering what figure to put in there, then consider your gift by the percentages. If you give 5% of your income to the parish and then 5% of your income to other charities, then you will fulfill the biblical tithe. Also, please know that we keep your information private. But we need to know your intention so that we can figure out how to support the parish ministries.

Now let’s look at the big middle section. These are all the parish ministries happening this year. Please take a moment to fill in your commitment to either continue in a ministry or to begin in a new one. If you wish to resign from a ministry, please indicate that as well. Sometimes it is good make changes every so often.

Now that you have filled this out, you may turn it in with the today’s collection. If you need more time, then please feel free to take the time you need.

Dear people, blessed are you. Let’s build the kingdom of God.

new posts

Dear friends,
I am once again woefully behind on posting. Seems when the blogsite is out of sight that it gets out of mind. Thanks to a friend who recently asked me if I am posting because he wanted to see the Lenten homilies. So here they are, from the 4th Sunday Ordinary through Laetare Lent. I have enjoyed preaching this Lent, and do hope that you have enjoyed listening and reading.
peace of Christ,
Fr. Bill