Not an Either-Or Scenerio

Holy Thursday

Gospel of John 13:1-15

I have desperately been seeking joy this Lenten season. I have been diligent, though not perfect, in my Lenten commitments and I have struggled to remain true to the spirit and purpose of the desert journey to which Holy Mother Church has called us all. Yet, despite my successes and/or failures these last 6 weeks have been a period of “blah”.

I share this not as a complaint, nor as a plea for sympathy.

Our Christian walk is not supposed to be easy… right? But, are we not all called to be joy filled? If you can appreciate those two things than you can appreciate my struggle this Lenten season.

As the Body of Christ, we have come to this somber celebration together. Tonight, Holy Thursday, begins the Holy Tridium, a Tradition of the Church that dates back to the earliest days of our faith. The oldest and official name of tonight’s celebration is, Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, as it commemorates the historical Gospel events surrounding the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. But, for those of us who may not be as official or as old, tonight is often referred to as the night of “washing feet.”

According to John’s Gospel Jesus interrupts the Passover supper, removes his outer garment, ties a towel around his waist and washes his disciples’ feet. This task was typically left to the lowliest of servants, yet Jesus, the master, assumed the role and took up the task; a task that had been left undone by all those present.

The Gospel clearly states this act of service came from love; “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end”, and from knowledge, “So fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power…” Jesus from his love, and in the knowledge of the will of the Father, gave us the gift of his example and served.

He also gave us a command, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

I wonder what would happen if I was as dedicated to obeying this command as I was to following the other, less difficult commands. Seriously, how would things be different if I were as committed to obeying the example of Jesus the servant as I was to going to Sunday mass, or receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, or observing days of fasting and abstinence, or adhering to other less significant local or cultural customs of our faith? Would my family life, my work life, and my parish life look and feel different? Would my thinking, my words, my actions, and most importantly my relationships change if I were as diligent to the service of others as I am to adhering to the basic rules of Catholicism?

How would your life be different? Would your home, your friends, your work environment, your parish be better or worse if you lived your life obediently to the command of Jesus; “as I have done for you, you should also do”? Would you find peace instead of discord? Would you find love instead of hate? Would you rejoice in struggle or despair? Would you find joy… instead of sorrow?

I do. I absolutely believe that following the command of Jesus to serve, to truly serve in love and in obedience to the will of the Father, would result in a joy filled life. I believe this because Jesus, on his final night with his disciples, gave them his greatest gifts; the gift of serving one another, and the gift of the Eucharist.

Was this an afterthought? Was this an, “oh, and by the way”? Of course not! Jesus in his final moments, knowing that he was leaving his disciples to do the work of building God’s Kingdom on earth, modeled for them the gift of service and instituted the gift of the Eucharist.

This was not an either-or scenario. His intention was not that we pick or choose one over the other. Rather, his instruction was that we lovingly do both. His gift of the Eucharist and his gift of service compels us to serve one another always in every way and to receive the Eucharist. We do these both as we live out our salvation and share the Good News of Jesus to those who are lost, hurting, and alone.

My brothers and sisters, we now begin the waiting. We now begin the waiting for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Tonight, the blessed sacrament will be processed and the altar will be stripped, and we will enter into a somber period of patient reflection as we await the joyous celebration of Easter. The celebration that indeed our Savior is risen. That indeed our Savior is alive and is preparing a place for us, and that indeed he will someday soon call us all to him. That, my friends, is indeed the very reason for our joy! Amen?

Palm Sunday

Gospel at the Procession Luke 19:28-40

Today is the beginning of Holy Week, the most solemn week of the liturgical year. Today, Palm Sunday, we, as the body of Christ, enter into a period of sacred reflection in preparation for a joyous celebration. Some of us are urgently looking forward to a fresh hot cup of coffee, or the sweet delight of chocolate, or simply the joy of no longer having to deny everyday pleasures. Others are trusting the practices and disciplines that were newly adopted 5 weeks ago will now become habits and routine. Regardless of the reason of how we got here, this week is both the end and a beginning, and ultimately an opportunity to renew our hope.

Hope is defined as, “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; a feeling of trust.” St. Paul the Apostle in his letter to the Romans encourages us to hope, because “hope does not disappoint”. An encouragement we pass on to others when we offer words of hope to one another.

Honestly, there are times when words of hope can feel empty, but in reality hope is be as filling as an Easter Day meal. Hope is intangible. It is hard to explain, but it is definitely a difference maker. One can be hopeful, and one can be hopeless, and there are time when all one has is hope. Hope cannot be traded, or sold, or even purchased, nor can it be stored, or preserved like grandmas canned peaches for use on a desolate day. Hope cannot be possessed, however it can be shared. It can be given away, freely without expectation of repayment or return.

Today’s Gospel reading at the Procession, St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ triumphant entry in the city of Jerusalem, is about hope. From the tethered colt, to the questioning owner, to the ground covered in cloaks of the multitude of disciples praising God, all bear witness to hope. Hope is an expectation, a desire for an outcome, an ending of a story, a result of an action, the fruit of a seed and all of Jesus’ disciples gathered that day and sang praises and shouted for joy, all in the name of hope.

When Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees as to the behavior of his disciples, he responded by stating, “I tell you if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” A statement confirming that he is indeed the King, the Messiah foretold by the Old Testament prophets, for if his disciples ceased in celebrating his arrival, then all of creation would take their place. Jesus’ triumphal entry was accompanied by the very chorus of hope. A chorus of voices crying out, celebrating the expectation of and a desire for salvation; the salvation promised by God for his people, for all of God’s people.

However, hope does not come without trial. Hope does not come without effort. St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, “that affliction produces endurance, and endurance proven character, and proven character, hope.”

Are we personally without trial? Are we personally lacking in effort? Are we not experiencing affliction? Each of us, in his or her own way, in his or her own voice, can attest to the trial, the affliction, and the struggle that feelsl like the exact opposite of hope.

Can we not say the same about our parish? Is our parish without trial? Is our parish lacking in effort? Is this parish, this body of believers, not without affliction?

In both cases, in our personal lives and in our parish, there is no absence of obstacles, hardships, and discouragement. This Lenten season has been a unique struggle both personally and communally. Our personal desert experiences have been complicated by the struggles within the parish. As our hearts go out to all those who work diligently for the body of Christ, and most especially Fr. Raul in his recovery, and Fr. Carlos in the heavier burden he must bear, we cannot help but recognize the struggle and the difficulty which we, as a body of believers, are experiencing.

Yet, we hope. We do not abandon our faith in God and our love for one another. We refuse to let struggles divide us. In spite of all that has occurred, and all that has yet to occur, we do not lose our hope.

Today, this first day of Holy Week, in preparation for the recollection of our Saviors Passion, culminating in our Saviors Resurrection, let us too shout out in joy for the hope symbolized in the triumphant entry of Jesus. May we fix our eyes upon Jesus in joyful anticipation of the fulfillment of all that he promised as evidenced by his life, passion, death, and resurrection. Let us this day join our voices with that of all creation and proclaim our hope… our hope in our King and our Savior.

Much Like a Lemon Meringue Pie

5th Sunday of Lent
Gospel of St. John 8:1-11

Today’s Gospel in John is layered, intricate, and laced with strategically placed subtleties of truth, mercy, and calls to obedience. When the ingredients of this Gospel are mixed with the current realities of our lives, both personal and communal, it is any wonder that the resulting confectionary, much like a lemon meringue pie, is a startling combination of sour and sweet.

The sour of individuals who, in the name of righteousness, were willing to destroy human life. The sour of the sin of a woman condemned to bear the consequence of her transgression, as well as the transgression of the one who was not there. The sour of the law that required death and was manipulated in order to obscure mercy. And finally, the sour in the condemnation and self-righteous vindication on full display in the words, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So, what do you say?”

The sweetness of this Gospel is recognized in the patience of Jesus as he knelt and deliberately drew his finger through the dirt. The sweetness of God’s justice when Jesus calls all to examine themselves before casting judgement on another. And finally, the sweetness of mercy. The mercy that was present in the most intimate of moment between the Redeemer and the redeemed when Jesus turns to the woman and says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

Is there a reason why the Pharisees brought before him this particular woman? Why did they drag this woman before Jesus as the instrument of their test?

According to John the Evangelist the words of the lawyers were very specific when they challenged Jesus. They stated, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.” The law did indeed call for death of those caught in the act of adultery. As it states in Book of Leviticus, “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.” Yet where is the man? Why was he not brought before Jesus to stand in judgement? We do not know the answer nor is it safe to assume, except that the Pharisees were not interested in justice only in the entrapment of Jesus.

Regardless, I call your attention to the specific language of the Pharisees. The law to which the Pharisees referenced was not just a sentence to death but it was specific to the means of death; death by stoning. This Law of Moses was applied to a betrothed virgin. Only a betrothed virgins caught in the act of committing adultery were to be stoned.

Is it by accident that the Pharisees brought before Jesus a woman accused of the same transgression of which his mother, the Holy Virgin Mary herself stood once accused?

The Pharisees were hoping to discredit Jesus. To demonstrate that his words, his miracles, and his message of salvation were nothing more than the concoction of a deranged itinerant preacher. Instead, Jesus turned the tables and used their own self-righteousness and their perversion of the law and caused them to declare themselves unworthy of condemning another.

When we take the truths presented in this Gospel and attempt to find application for them in our modern-day lives, we experience no shortage of examples. We are able to call out the names of priests and bishops whose secret sins have been so publicly and rightly exposed. We can point fingers at governments, institutions, and corporate entities who have been called to justice for the atrocities and evils inflicted upon humanity in the name of an agenda, cause, or profit. We can even describe the faces of individuals, whom we know and call friends, whose sin has wounded, caused scandal, and created division and strife in our lives and even in our church. There are no shortage of examples of personal or corporate sin in this world… in our nation… in our community… in our church… and, in our own homes.

We have no choice but to respond to the sin around us, whether it be in our community, in our church, or in our own home. However, we must not respond to that sin in the manner of the Pharisees. We cannot cast our fellow brothers and sisters into judgement and ignore the mercy which we ourselves have so readily received. Yes, we must always be calling sinners to repentance and we too must always be seeking repentance.

We judge, we condemn, and we get angry with those who openly and visibly engage in sin. But Jesus did not. He called the woman to repentance and offered his mercy and admonished her to sin no more. Are you? Are you offering mercy instead of judgement? Are you condemning and dismissing or are you forgiving and inviting the sinner into your home and into your church?

As we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter let us take this moment to examine ourselves in the light of today’s Gospel. In the sour and sweet reality of living for Christ in a world that does not recognize him. May we respond to one another and to the sin of this world with kindness and mercy and me we endeavor to obey the words of Jesus, “Go and from now on do not sin anymore.”

The Prodigal Son

4th Sunday of Lent
Gospel of St. Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most well-known parables of Jesus, and not just in Christian circles. There are numerous cultural examples of this parable being re-told throughout history and in many different cultural mediums. Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, the popular movie Legends of the Fall, starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, and even the comic book heroes turned movie franchises, Iron Man and Bat Man, all capitalize on the theme of a rebellious child leaving home and reaping the consequences of the sins of pride and selfishness, then returning home in hopes of forgiveness and redemption. These are only a few examples of the continuous cultural relevance and meaning found in the themes presented in this parable.

As parents we read this parable seeking comfort and hope anticipating the return of our own prodigal children. As children, we find the constant and never wavering love of the Father to be a beacon calling us back home, trusting that we too will be forgiven and restored, in spite of our fall. As the faithful, we quietly examine ourselves in the example of the elder son hoping that we have not exchanged our relationship with the Father for orthodoxy and religiosity. And, as fellow pilgrims on this journey, we come together in solidarity knowing that we are not alone, nor are we unique, because we all have found ourselves playing the roles of rebellion and self-righteous indignation in this continuing story of total dependence upon the love and the inexhaustible mercy of God.

Today’s Gospel, the parable of the Prodigal Son, speaks to all of us regardless of our vocation, title, or position.

I confess to you today my sisters and brothers in Christ, that I am struggling. Struggling to resist the discouragement associated with disappointment. The disappointment that comes from failing expectations. Expectations, either rightly or wrongly, that influence my thoughts and govern my behavior. Thoughts and behaviors that neither reflect the man that I am seeking to be nor reflect my hope in others in becoming what I hope they should be.

Am I alone in my discouragement? I am not. And neither are you.

We must push on. We must never cease in becoming what God wishes us to be; his children in perfect and holy communion with him. Today’s Gospel is a parable of hope. Hope that regardless of how low we have fallen, or how far we have fled, or how cold our hearts have become that redemption and restoration are ever present and available to those who are willing to receive it.

May our disappointment be replaced with resolve. May our failures result in opportunity. May our expectations be rooted in love, and may our actions be expressed in mercy and kindness.  May our sin bring us to the cross of Jesus, and may our orthodoxy never replace our relationship.

This 4th Sunday of Lent, as we peer ahead to the joy and celebration of Easter, let us find encouragement in the words of the father in the parable, “we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

You can’t fly with eagles, if you run with turkeys!

Gospel of Luke 9:28-36

When I was a kid, around the age of 12, I had convinced myself that it was time to begin my journey towards financial freedom and I decided to get a paper route. I made a phone call, spoke with the people in charge, and agreed to begin the route the following week. It was only after all that when I decided to fill my parents in regarding my plans for financial success. At first, they were suspicious and reluctant, but they eventually agreed to let me take my first steps toward financial freedom and start my first official job.

In all fairness their suspicion and reluctance were not misplaced. They had good reason to question my commitment and my motivation. This job would require me to get up every morning at 5am, roll somewhere just north of 100 newspapers, and then ride my bicycle throughout the streets of our town delivering papers. A job, by the way, that needed to be completed by 630am every morning, every day, no matter the weather or circumstance.

In spite of their better judgement, they agreed, and I became an official paperboy for the Billings Gazette delivering papers every morning 7 days a week.

In order to learn how to do the job properly I was to spend my first week as a “ride along”– sort of a newspaper boy apprentice. The current paperboy, from whom I would be learning, would teach me the route and the art of rolling and throwing newspapers. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that he was a senior in high school and he drove a 72 Chevy pickup truck that had a bumper sticker on the inside of the cab above the glove box, that read, “You can’t fly with eagles, if you run with turkeys!”

As I was preparing for this week’s homily, I found myself asking why the Holy Mother Church, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, has placed the Gospel account of the Transfiguration on the 2nd Sunday of Lent.

Seriously?

The Lenten season is about penitence, sacrifice, and self-denial. All of which are themes contradictory to the experience of the Apostles who witnessed the Transfiguration. Peter himself, in his exuberance and desire to prolong the mountain top experience, asked to build shelters for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. Compare that desire to extend time with your own Lenten experiences. I am pretty sure I can’t be the only person here who has already thought to themselves, “Man, is Lent almost over yet?”

Today being the 2nd Sunday of Lent it is quite possible that you may have already stumbled in your commitments. The caffeine headaches were too distracting, the diet restrictions too strict, and the earlier hour intended to be dedicated for prayer was just too early. Or, some of you may have simply forgot that it was Friday, and proceed to make your favorite ham & salami sandwich only too have one of your children turn to you, and exclaim, “Dad, what are you doing? It’s Friday! You’re a Deacon for crying out loud!”

Remember that this Lenten Season is not an opportunity for us to prove our righteousness. Rather, Lent is an opportunity for us to grow in righteousness. Our self-sacrifice and our service are not badges of honor to be put on display for our friends and family. We didn’t commit to prayer, fasting, and charitable works in an attempt to prove our worthiness. Instead, our prayer, fasting, and charitable works are the methods by which we move to a deeper, richer, and fuller relationship with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Lent is a season of movement, not stagnation.

Today, the Church is reminding us that our commitments are not without purpose. The Apostle Paul reminds us of that in today’s 2nd reading and calls us to join him on that journey. The journey to be imitators of Christ. To leave behind and let go of our worldly ways and attachments and recognize that our citizenship is in heaven and not of this world.

In case you were wondering, I was not a very good paperboy. It did not take long before the realities of getting up every morning at 5am, regardless of the weather or circumstance, began to diminish the reward of the paycheck I received every 2 weeks. I soon discovered that the path to financial freedom was not as simple or as easy as I had believed. However, I have never forgotten the bumper sticker.

During this Lenten season you will encounter turkeys. People, circumstances, temptations, and events that will discourage you, dissuade you, and dishearten you from your commitments. God is calling you. He is asking you to let go of those things which bind you and hold you back. This day, this 2nd Sunday of Lent, I too remind you that you cannot “Fly with eagles, when you are running with turkeys.”

Come to this altar today and ask God to forgive your failings and to strengthen your resolve and to receive the mercy and power that he so abundantly gives to those who follow him.

How Has You’re our Lent Going?

Gospel LK 4:1-13 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/031019.cfm

How has your lent been going? Have you honored your commitments? Have your practices of prayer, fasting, and charity been successful?

Have you found that what started with commitment and determination is now feeling like exercise? What was initially a beautiful garment adorned in anticipatory joy now looks a little bit used, with frayed edges, and subtle stains of doubt and discouragement.

Or, maybe everything is going great! Your prayer life is flourishing, your fasting is rewarding, and your almsgiving is overflowing. Despite the somber Liturgical season, you are finding personal satisfaction through self-sacrifice and each day brings new challenges offering greater reward.

Whether in a state of discouragement or joy, the truth is you are exactly where God intends you to be. If you entered into Lent with both intent and purpose, no matter how grand or how moderate, then whatever your current condition you are exactly where God wants you to be.

The Gospel reads, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days.”

Jesus did not wander into the desert because he was lost. He did not accidently follow the wrong road because he was too full of pride to ask directions. No. Jesus “was led by the Spirit” and was exactly where he was supposed to be, doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing.

Recognizing that truth helps bring into focus our current reality. We too have been led to this Liturgical season. We did not get lost and accidently stumble upon Ash Wednesday. We did not blindly follow “Siri” and accidentally find ourselves grumpy because it’s been 5 days since our last piece of chocolate, cup of coffee, or glass of beer.

We are here at this place and at this time because this is exactly where God wants us to be.

The road we are traveling, which began on Ash Wednesday and will end on Easter day, is not an easy road. It is a road will not be traveled quickly. It has speed bumps, yield signs, and traffic lights that take forever to change, and we are all traveling this road together with differing degrees of success.

As recorded in today’s Gospel reading there are 3 specific temptations that Jesus had to overcome. Though these 3 temptations were not the only temptations Jesus faced, these 3 are recorded for our benefit because in these temptations we can discover what we must be on the lookout for as we progress through this Lenten season.

The first temptation is the love of pleasure.

According to Luke, Satan presented Jesus this temptation when he was hungry and alone. Jesus was lacking in physical pleasure and comfort and that is exactly where Satan chose to attack.

At some point, most likely in the early stages of our Lenten experience, we will be tempted to succumb to our physical discomforts and lack of variety. We will tire of eating, or not eating, the same foods. We will tire of doing, or not doing, the same things. We will get bored, uncomfortable, and will crave something new or different. We must be on the look out for those moments, because it is during those moments when the tempters voice will fill our ears and our thoughts. Be aware and resist.

The second temptation for which we must be on guard is the love of possessions.

Satan offered Jesus all the world and all that it contained. A lie indeed, 1) because creation is not Satan’s to dispose of, and 2) Satan is a liar. However, the temptation to possess is a very real and tricky temptation.

We like to possess things because we want to control things. The more we possess the more we control, and the more we control the more significant we feel. During our Lenten journey we will be tempted to abandon our commitments for the illusion of control. Be aware and resist.

The Third the temptation is the love of glory.

Jesus was tempted by Satan to throw himself from the parapet of the temple trusting that God would not let him come to harm. This temptation, simply stated, is the temptation to manipulate God and to receive the glory that would bring.

During this Lenten season we will find ourselves tempted to manipulate God. We will add up the costs of our sacrifices and then present them as a bill, expecting full payment. What glory that would be, would it not? What glory to finally get physical, tangible, demonstratable evidence of God’s approval of our sacrifice. Of course I am speaking sarcastically, yet, I argue, that we all recognize that temptation all too well. Be aware and Resist.

Lent, as a liturgical season, can be a season of encouragement or a season of disappointment. Which, if we are honest, is exactly like any other time of the year. However, Lent is designed by Holy Mother Church, through the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, to bring us into a deeper, more refined, and holy relationship with God and with one another.

Wherever you are at this day, in whatever emotional state, rest assured that you are in the very hands of God. Where you are now is not where God wants you to be 6 weeks from now. I encourage you my sisters and brothers to be aware and to resist.