Sunday, March 22, 2015

"Do you want to see Jesus?" Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent – B                                  March 21, 2015
Jer 31:31-34                Ps 51               Heb 5:7-9                    Jn 12:20-33

“We would like to see Jesus.”

That was the request the Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast made to Philip, one of the apostles.  Philip passed it on to Andrew, and then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

This was an innocent sounding request on face value..  So many people wanted to see Jesus; the man who spoke such words of wisdom and provocation.  So many people wanted to see the man who healed the sick and performed many other wonders.

Many people have echoed those words down through the ages.  we would like to see Jesus.  How many of us right here have thought about what it would have been like to be one of his disciples, going with him on his mission trips around Galilee and Judah.  How many of us want to hear his voice, participate in his ministry, and be touched by his wonderful love.

“We would like to see Jesus.”

Of course, we live two thousand years later.  Long ago, Jesus ascended to heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father.  We believe that.  It is in our creed.  And yet, we still have that little inner longing – that wondering of what it might have been like to hear his voice.  What would it have been like to be with him in the temple that day and hear that voice of the Father from heaven that the gospel writer said sounded like thunder or the voice of an angel.
“We would like to see Jesus.”

Notice how Jesus responded.  He answered  the Greeks with some very curious words.  First he spoke about the grain of wheat falling to the ground and dying, so that it can produce much fruit.
Then he spoke about loving your life and losing it or hating your life in this world and preserving it for eternity.  Then He spoke about his purpose being fulfilled in this hour, being lifted up and drawing everyone to himself.

I imagine that his apostles and any others standing by and listening were totally lost.  After all, the Greeks just asked a simple question.  All they wanted was to see Jesus.

So we have a mystery here.  Not everything is as it seems.  This is often true in sacred scripture.  It is like a layer cake – multiple layers going on here.  Here, then, is a first clue for us.  When Jesus replied to the request from the Greeks, he is also replying at this present moment to us today.  We want to see Jesus too.  And Jesus is showing us the way to see him.

We are invited to see the crucified Jesus.  This is the one who is the seed that falls to the ground and dies.  He is present in the crucifixion. 

Every time we visit someone who is sick, we encounter the crucified Lord.  Every time we give comfort to someone who bears a heavy burden, we encounter the crucified Lord.  Every time we stand in solidarity with people who are poor and oppressed, we encounter the crucified Lord.  Every time we warmly greet the stranger in our midst, we encounter the crucified Lord. 

Often times, we go looking for Jesus in spectacular signs and miracles.  And he indeed continues to offer the world these signs of the kingdom.  But most especially he invites us to see him in the distressing disguise of the poor – to know him – and to love him.

Jesus said, “whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.  The Father will honor whoever serves me.”  Jesus said, “whatever you do to the least of these, you do also to me.” 

Do you want to see Jesus?  Then feed the hungry.

Do you want to see Jesus?  Then give drink to the thirsty.

Do you want to see Jesus?  Then clothe the naked. 

Do you want to see Jesus?  Then shelter the homeless

Do you want to see Jesus?  Then visit the sick

Do you want to see Jesus?  Then visit the imprisoned.

Do you want to see Jesus?  Then bury the dead and give comfort to the grieving

For when we do this, we will know Jesus in his finest hour - his hour of salvation among us.  We will know him in his love and mercy for us all.  We will encounter him in his sacramental and glorified presence in his church.  We will know the crucified Lord, who will draw us to himself in mercy and love and forgiveness.

Do you want to see Jesus?  To really see Jesus?  Then may all of us lay down our own lives in love and service and come follow Him. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

God so loved the world - 4th Sunday of Lent homily 2015

4th Sunday of Lent                                                     March 15, 2015
2 Chr 36:14-16,19-23             Ps 137             Eph 2:4-10                  Jn 3:14-21

“In those days they added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations…”

These are the first words of the first reading from 2 Chronicle -a declaration of the moral state of the people.  This ancient prophetic warning could be applied easily to the situation of the world today.  Historically, this text was a description of the people of Israel just before the Babylonian invasion and the sack of Jerusalem.  The utter destruction of the country and the Babylonian captivity was the prophetic judgment against the people for their infidelity to God.

History tends to repeat itself.  The basic same ole problem rears its head time and time again.  Each generation practices its own version of infidelity to God.  Thus, St. Paul has ample evidence when he says that “we were dead in our transgressions.”

From the original sin in the Garden of Eden until today, we human beings struggle with our sin, our lack of love.  In that struggle we discover that we are dead in our transgressions.  Spiritually dead, that is to say.  For we human beings commit all kinds of sins, acts of unfaithfulness, expressions of violence, abuses, backbiting, gossiping, divisions, factions, and the like.  Who of us has not been touched by sin?  This is the terrible inheritance we have received from our forebears.  This spiritual death of alienation, separation, and the darkening of our minds.

Biblical history demonstrates this human problem over and over. Remember the story of Noah?  God was going to wipe out sin from the earth through a flood while saving one righteous family in order to start over. But Noah’s family wasn’t immune from sin after the flood.  Genesis tells a story about Noah’s family that demonstrates family violence and abuse.

Remember the stories of the prophets?  They came time and time again to warn the people against the dangers of sin.  But consequence followed consequence because of the people’s unfaithfulness.  They continued to forget God and to remain in their sin.

Lest we think that modern day people are somehow better, just remember that the 20th century was the most violent and bloody century in all the history of mankind.  The 21st Century doesn’t seem to be any better.  Terrorism, the threat of global war, and every manner of corruption marks this present generation.  We seek peace, but it eludes us.  We seek enlightenment, but so many live in darkness.  The moral order seems to be going upside down.

It is painful to think about the direction of the world today.  But, we are people of hope, not despair.  Remember the words of Jesus to Nicodemus?  He said those words which are probably the most quoted words in the Bible, from John 3:16  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Amazing words, really.  These words reveal two important things to us. 
1.     These words reveal God’s feelings about us.  God loves the world.  That means you and me as well.  And God knows fully well the evil that people sometimes do.  But God has loved us even while we were sinners.  Even in the midst of our darkest time, when we do the worst - God loves the world.
2.     These words reveal God’s plan for us.  God wants to save the world, not condemn it.  God wants to save us through the gift of faith.  Listen to these words.  he gave us his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

There it is - brief and simple.  God’s feelings about us and God’s plan for us are revealed to us by Jesus.  So how do we respond?

1.     Remember the message of Ash Wednesday?  Repent and believe.  That’s our first response – our first step.  Believe in God’s love and God’s plan.  How do we do that? 

2.     Next step.  Be in a saving and sacramental relationship with Jesus.  God is as interested in us as individuals as God is interested in the whole of creation.  Love is always keenly interested in the beloved.  So be in a saving and sacramental relationship with our loving Father in Heaven through faith in Jesus.  Jesus showed us the way, after all.  He showed us that this relationship of love is so powerful, that it overcomes death.  Physical death and spiritual death.  That is why Jesus was raised from the dead. 

3.     That brings us to step three.  Receive God’s promise of eternal life. We often think of eternal life as that thing that happens after we die.  But that is too limited.  God promises us eternal life right here and right now.  When we believe in Jesus and have a sacramental relationship with God our Almighty Father, then we are invited to participate in heaven right here and now.  Jesus revealed that truth to us through his ministry here on earth.  He showed us that we can have mystical union with God.  He taught us to pray for it  - “Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  The saints throughout history show us that we have a divine inheritance.  The Eucharist is God’s visible sign to us of eternal life.  Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  This is the inheritance that transforms us into God’s saints.

4.     And that bring us to step four.  Become a saint.  But many people object here.  They say, “I’m just an ordinary person.  I can’t be a saint.”  Just remember.  Saints are ordinary people like you and me chosen by God (as we all are) to be in a saving and sacramental relationship with him.  The closer we get to our heavenly Father through Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit, the more we become God’s saints.  We get closer to our heavenly father through believing in Jesus, through prayer, and through receiving the promises Jesus gave us through the sacraments.  It’s that simple.  It is the way of love, the way of the saints. The saints are the ones who lived the words of Jesus – like what he said at the end of today’s gospel:  whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” 

All of this reveals God’s heart towards us and God’s plan for us.  This is summed up so well in Jesus’ famous words to Nicodemus.  Words to memorize.  Words to contemplate.  Words to live. 

“God loved the world so much, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A time of testing. A time of purification. Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent

Lent – 2nd Sunday                                                                 March 1, 2015
Gen 22:1-2,9-13,15-18                    Ps 116                        Ro 8:31-24                 Mk 9:2-10

A time of testing.  A time of purification

We always begin Lent with the story of Jesus going into the desert to fast, pray, and face temptation.  This was the story last weekend.  Jesus faced his hunger and temptation and overcame. 

This weekend the scriptures continue the theme of testing and purification.  In the first reading it says that, “God put Abraham to the test.”  And what a difficult test it was.  God had given Abraham a son in his old age.  His only beloved son.  God told Abraham to offer his beloved son as a sacrifice.

The parallel is so clear.  The church has always understood this story as a sign of God’s love for the world in giving his only beloved Son.  This was the ultimate test for Abraham.  Did he trust God?  It’s a test that is almost incomprehensible to us today.  But Abraham was willing to give up his beloved son, the son of promise, because of his complete trust in God.  Because of his complete trust, he passed the test.  Isaac was spared.  A ram was offered in his place.  The blessing was pronounced by God over Abraham and all of his descendants – a blessing that would impact all the nations of the world. 

A time of testing.  A time of purification.

We continue our Lenten preparation for Easter through fasting, prayer, and generosity.  We face our own testing and temptations.  Remember what we learned in the parish mission last week?  It is a great clue for facing the our own test and becoming purified.  Let’s remember the ABC’s of Divine Mercy.
A.  Ask.  Ask and you shall receive.
B.  Be Merciful.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall see God.
C.  Complete Trust. 

There is something about our willingness to place ourselves in the hands of God that helps us to face the test and be purified.  Abraham did this, Isaac was spared, and the blessing given to Abraham continues to be poured out on us.

We need to be reminded of the blessing that comes from placing ourselves in the hands of God, because the world is once again entering a significant time of testing and purification.  For so many in the world – people in the Middle East, in North Africa, and throughout the Orient, they have no choice but to place their lives in the hands of God.  Consider the 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded by the Jihadists.  Consider the nearly 200 Christians recently kidnapped by the Jihadists, facing the same terror.  Consider the millions of people in various parts of the world who have experienced persecution, who have lost nearly everything for the sake of their faith.  Here in Marion County, we have not yet faced that particular test.  But who can say that in the coming years that this test won’t come to our doors?  Some here among us have already faced extreme situations and know what it is like to place complete trust in God.

It is a time of testing.  A time of purification.

Jesus himself shows us the way.  He climbed the mountain and was revealed as the true son of Abraham, the beloved one.  Jesus is the lamb of sacrifice, God’s beloved son, sent to suffer, die, and then be raised from the dead.  He alone truly passed the time of testing and purification.  It is Jesus himself who leads us through the test.  He is the one who can give us the courage to pray the words from Psalm 116 that says, “I believed, even when I said, I am greatly afflicted.  Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.” 

The rising of Jesus from the dead gives us faith and courage to truly live those ABC’s of Divine Mercy. 

We have the faith and the courage to Ask.  Confident that we will receive all the grace we need to pass the test and enter into life.

We have the faith and the courage to Be Merciful.  For God has poured his mercy upon us.  And entering into the mercy we shall indeed behold the face of God.

We have the faith and the courage to place our Complete Trust in God.  We also can offer ourselves totally to the Father.  Just like Abraham and Isaac did.  Just like the saints who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith.

This is the lent of testing and purification. 

God our heavenly Father instructs us to listen carefully to Jesus.  He speaks to us the word of faith that strengthens us.  He speaks to us the word of mercy that cleanses us.  He speaks to us the words of eternal life, leading us to our heavenly homeland.  Listen to him, dear brothers and sisters, and be transfigured.  May his glory shine on us.

Jesus stretched out his hand. Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary time 2015

OT-6th Sunday                                                           February 15, 2015
Lv 13:1-2,44-46                    Ps 32              1 Cor 10:31-11:1                  Mk 1:40-45

Leprosy.  In the ancient world it was a horrifying disease.  People who contracted leprosy faced the slow disfigurement and putrefying decay of their living bodies.  Agonizingly slow, it always resulted in eventual death.  And people who contracted leprosy were often made to live away from their families and communities.

In the Old Testament leprosy was described as punishment for sin.  In ancient Hebrew society lepers were called “unclean.”  The impurity of the disease meant that they were unable to worship at the temple or live with their family and community.  They had to live outside, in deserted places.  The reading from Leviticus instructs people with leprosy to tear their clothing, shave their heads, and the men had to cover their beards.  They had to cry out a warning to others – “unclean, unclean!”  These ritual actions were signs of death, penance, and mourning.  What a terrible thing it was to contract Leprosy in ancient society.

With this as a background – we can understand the leper’s encounter with Jesus all the more.  It is a scene that really touches the heart.  The leper came to Jesus and knelt down before him.  He came as a penitent.  He came with nothing whatsoever to offer.  He came as a beggar.  Full of faith, the leper said this to Jesus.  “If you wish, you can make me clean.”

Leprosy.  Today we call it Hansen’s disease, and it doesn’t have the same stigma that it once had.  It cannot, because God has revealed to us a much deeper understanding of our sinful human nature and our universal need for salvation.  Our souls, which were once pure and spotless at the moment of baptism, become disfigured when we sin.  And when we commit those sins that are deadly, it is a slow but sure disfigurement and putrefying decay of our souls.  It is a living death, a kind of spiritual leprosy. 

Who among us can say that we have not sinned?  Who among us cannot say that at one time or another we have found ourselves in the midst of serious sin?  And when we persist in sin, then we follow a course that leads not to eternal life, but to eternal death.  We follow a course that leads us, not toward the light but toward the darkness.  The kingdom of hell is eternal death, eternal darkness, everything that is the opposite of life, love, and hope that come from God.  It is a true horror and tragedy, something which we must be aware of.  Hell exists.  The possibility of eternal death exists for us when we choose the death of sin. 

At one time or another each and every single one of us are given the opportunity to come before Jesus just like the leper in the gospel, kneeling before him and begging because of our sin.  And like the leper in the gospel, we have the opportunity to place our trust in Jesus and ask Jesus to make us clean once again.

This scene from the gospel has a mystical and powerful quality to it.  It says that, “Jesus stretched out his hand.”  Remember back in the book of Exodus when it described God, with arm outstretched, performing mighty deeds to save the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  Remember the iconic masterpiece by Michaelangelo in the Sistine Chapel with God’s arm outstretched, calling Adam into life?  Here is Jesus, God visiting his people, with arm outstretched, and moved with pity. 

And then the words – “I do will it, be made clean.”  This is the divine command that cleansed the leper.  Remember Genesis when God spoke and all of the cosmos came into being?  God’s word does what it commands.  Every time that Jesus spoke, His word accomplished what he said.  “Be quiet, be still” and the wind and waves obeyed him.  “Little girl, arise” and the dead girl came to life again.  “Be quiet. Come out of him” and the demon departed. “My son, your sins are forgiven,” and the paralytic was cleansed and then “rise, take up your mat, and walk” and the paralytic’s broken body was healed.  When Jesus speaks, his word accomplishes what he says. 

Let us therefore have faith that Jesus’ word does what he commands!  When we gather at this Mass and the words of Jesus are spoken, “this is my body, this is my blood,” over bread and wine, the power of his Holy Spirit works the Eucharistic miracle and we are fed by the living God.  If the world truly believed Jesus, they would be lining up out the door to be in the presence of the living God.  When we come to confession and the words are pronounced, “I absolve you of your sin” it is Jesus himself who cleanses us through his priest.  Oh that the world would believe and come to Jesus to be healed and forgiven.  Oh that the world would believe and come to Jesus to be fed by his divine presence.

How will they ever know if we, the church don’t tell them?  Each and every single one of us are invited to a life-changing encounter with Jesus.  Jesus looks at us with compassion.  Jesus stretches out his hand to us to heal us, forgive us, and feed us.

And when we meet Jesus that way, then like the leper may we go forth with the joy of Jesus in our hearts.  Like the leper, may we tell others our story of the love and mercy of Jesus.  After we encounter Jesus, whatever it is that we do, may we do everything for the glory of God.  Because when the church believes this way, and lives this way, being imitators of Christ, then we have power to bring others into the presence of Jesus.  And they too may be healed, forgiven, and saved for eternal life.