Garage Doors

2nd Sunday of Lent

Gospel of Mark 9:2-10

Garage doors. I want to talk to you, this 2nd Sunday of Lent, about Garage doors. I assume that my home is no different than many of your own homes in that there are things, mechanisms, windows, and doors that are in need of repair. I also recognize the unwritten rule that when one thing is fixed, another breaks, and in the process of repairing that item another problem is discovered, and that one has to be fixed before you can fix the problem you started to fix in the first place. For me, this week, it was the garage door.

How the garage door broke is of little significance. That it did break and how I responded to the broken garage door is what is important. I confess to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, that I lost my mind. I went from a happy pleasant start of my day to instantaneous outrage and exasperation. I am making no small matter of this garage door incident. I literally went from hope filled to despair…despairing of all things good and decent in a split second. God forgive me.

I am amazed at how often a small insignificant matter can upset and/or disrupt my true desire to live at peace with God, my neighbor, and myself. I marvel at my humanity, or more specifically, my weakness. The church describes this weakness and inclination to sin as concupiscence and though I do not wish to talk to you this day about sin and weakness it is necessary for us to understand its reality. Our Christian faith is hardwired for difficulty. In fact, and I may be speaking for myself at this point, however, I do believe some of you may agree with me when I say, at times, there appears to be more difficulty in the picking up of your cross and following Jesus, than there is comfort.

And, believe it or not, that is where we find hope in today’s Gospel. Today’s Gospel is the transfiguration. For us, followers of Christ, the transfiguration, is no small matter. For it is in these 8 verses of Mark that we find hope. In these 8 verses we see a moment of Jesus’s divine glory and that he is the Christ, the Messiah, the one to come, pointed too by the Law and Prophets of the Old Testament. In these 8 verses we also find the presence of the trinity; God the father in the voice, the Son in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the cloud covering them all. In these 8 verses we find the confusion of Peter, James, and John and their lack of understanding regarding the necessity of the suffering and death that Jesus must endure. In all of these, we modern day followers of Christ are able to find hope.

Hope is the virtue we desire and expect from God both for eternal life and the grace we need to attain it. Hope (as are the other theological virtues of faith, and charity) is essential to our Christian walk. For in hope we find joy and strength to endure the tests, trials, and tribulations of our pilgrimage here on earth. In hope we look forward to the promise of Christ for eternal life and glory. In hope we aspire to build God’s Kingdom here on earth that we may receive the reward and the praise of, “well done my good and faithful servant.” And it is hope, that the Apostle Paul points to in today’s 2nd reading when he asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

So I ask you, “How is your Lent going?” Have you remained faithful to your commitments? Have you been seeking God through prayer in the manner and method you planned? Have you stayed true to your fast? Your self-sacrifice? Your self-denial? Have you been serving others? Giving your treasure, time, and talent to those who are in need? Have you supported others in their Lenten journey?

Some of you have already faced obstacles, struggles, and road blocks. Some of you have experienced loss. Loss of health, loss of relationships, and even some of you may have already experienced the loss of death in your family or friends. Some of you have already despaired, or have been discouraged, and may have even given up on your Lenten journey.

Today I ask you if that is you. If you have already lost your hope, please open yourself to it once again. Trust in today’s Gospel message of the promise of eternal life and joy. Trust in the example of Abraham whose willingness to be put to the test resulted in a Promise and in abundant blessings. Trust in each other as you journey together that through love and fellowship with one another you will find encouragement and support.
Finally, do not let the failure of a man kind invention, such as garage door, set you back on your journey, rather, put your trust in Jesus Christ, who for a moment, shared his glorification with his disciples, in order that we may share in their testimony and find hope in the life, passion, death, and resurrection of our savior.

My first Lenten Season…

1st Sunday of Lent
Gospel Mk 1:12-15

My first Lenten season occurred while I was in RCIA, many years ago, and since then, the quality of my Lenten experiences have run the scale from worthwhile and beneficial to difficult and discouraging. With of course this being the first Sunday in Lent, I have spent some time reflecting upon my past Lenten experiences, and that has caused me to ask, “What makes the difference?” What makes the difference between a spiritually fulfilling Lenten season that culminates in the joy and celebration of Easter, versus a deflating and discouraging Lenten experience that limits my Easter joy?

As I previously mentioned, my very 1st Lent occurred as I was preparing to join the church as an adult. I remember this experience for many different reasons, but one particularly stands out because in the midst of my conversion journey I came upon a crossroads. I came to a place where my doubts and concerns about joining the church were preventing me from moving forward. I was so troubled in my mind and spirit that I contacted the priest and asked to meet with him to discuss my dilemma. This was during Holy Week, 3 days before I was to be confirmed in the church. I was so troubled by my doubts and questions that by the time I walked into the priest’s office I had made up my mind that I would not confirm. His counsel saved me. He said, “Jason, when you take a journey, any journey, do you know how it will end before it begins?”
“Of course, I don’t!” I answered.
He then said, “If you wait to have all the answers before you start a journey, you will never start your journey.”

In today’s Gospel we are given a little insight to the start, the beginning of Jesus’s journey. The Gospel reads, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert.” The Greek word used and translated as “drove” is associated with exorcism. This use of the word implies that that this 40-day period of desertion on which Jesus embarked upon, was both intentional and necessary. Though Mark’s Gospel does not provide us with the details of what exactly occurred in the desert, we do know that he was tempted by Satan, he lived among the wild beasts, and that immediately following its completion Jesus began his public ministry.

Today, however, rather than Jesus’s experience in the desert I would like to focus on the place of his experience, the desert. The desert, as it is presented in the bible, is not just a geographical location, but it also a destination. The biblical desert is where Moses encountered the burning bush. The biblical desert is where the people of God received the stone tablets of God’s Law. The biblical desert is where Elijah heard the gentle whisper of God. In these examples the common thread that binds them is that the desert is the place where God chose to reveal himself.

Whether it is the rocky, arid, desolation of the high mountain, or the sandy, hot, lifeless deserts of Africa and Asia the desert is a place that is resistant to life. It is not an environment conducive to human existence. The things that are necessary for life are not easily obtained in the desert. Water, food, shelter, and companionship are not abundant or readily available. Yet, it is in this environment, this environment of want, struggle, and strife, that God has ordained as the place where he chooses to encounter his people.

I propose to you today that for us, as followers of Christ, the desert is not just a place defined by topography and geography, it is also a space, a period of time, and a journey, too which we have been driven, that is resistant to our spiritual life. In this desert we will feel lonely, abandoned, and often despair. In this desert, our tried and proven spiritual disciplines, such as prayer and study, will become less effective and more difficult, and we will begin to question its purpose and value. In this desert, distractions abound and bring with them doubt and fear. In this desert, we will often ask the unanswerable question of God, “Why… Why, God, are you doing this to me?”

But I remind you that the desert is not just a place of inhospitality, it is also God’s chosen meeting place. It is in the desert that you will hear his voice, find his strength, experience his grace, and receive his comfort. When God calls us to the desert it is not a punishment, it is an invitation. An invitation to encounter him personally, tangibly, and remarkably.

This Lenten season the church has given you the guidance and the instruction, the survival kit if you will, in order that you may be best prepared for your desert journey. This survival kit contains prayer in order that you may find God. It also contains self-sacrifice allowing you the ability to leave behind unnecessary things and habits, and it contains service to others in order that you may not lose your way.

I wish to encourage you to pursue this Lenten season with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Do not let the desert cause you to quit and abandon your pursuit of God. Rely on those around you to be your compass and support in the difficult times and, I wish to leave you this day with the words that the priest gave me to on that day 17 years ago as I walked out of his office, he said, “See you at Easter, and Jason, it will be a great party.”

Today Marks the Beginning of a Journey

Ash Wednesday,

Gospel of Matthew 6:1-16, 16-19

Today marks the beginning of a journey.  An annual journey that will end 6 weeks from now with our Easter celebration.  Unlike other journeys on which we embark, journeys that begin with great anticipation and joy, this journey, our Lenten journey, begins with an atmosphere of sobriety and penitence.  That is not to say that there is no joy in today’s somber observance, for as followers of Christ we are called to live joy filled lives; however, on this day, Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge that this journey is one which requires self-sacrifice and service.

Today is also unique in that we as Catholics take upon ourselves a visible sign of our faith.  A sign that some, perhaps, would chastise and accuse us that in the very act of taking these ashes upon our forehead, we are in fact disobeying the very instructions of Jesus as outlined in today’s Gospel.  I would, however, like to encourage you to confidently live out your faith this day, in the full understanding that the ashes you are about to receive are not a display of righteousness, rather the ashes you are about to receive are in fact a public display of penance and supplication.

Jesus warns his followers to avoid doing righteous deeds in order that others might see them.  Receiving these ashes is not a righteous deed.  Receiving these ashes is in fact a public statement of our desperate need for Christ’s redemption.  As Catholics we are publicly, and in community, acknowledging our dependence upon the very grace of God which he has ordained for the salvation of many.

Finally, I would encourage you all here this day to take a moment and reflect upon the person sitting next to you here in this church.  Remember them, their face, their passion, and their resolve, for not only are we as one community publicly acknowledging our need for salvation, but we are also acknowledging our dependence upon one another.  Our Lenten journey should not be traveled alone.  I assure you that at some moment in the next 6 weeks you will falter, struggle, or waffle in your commitment.  You will encounter a person, an event, or a circumstance that will challenge your resolve and diminish your hope.  And it is during those moments, those moments when our true self, and our true dependence upon the grace of God, come into crystal clear focus, I ask you to pray, and to look to one another for help.

Our public sign of penitence is not only a reminder of our human condition and our need for salvation, but it is also a beacon.  A beacon to our Catholic brothers and sisters calling to them to be our aid in times of struggle.  This Lenten Journey upon which this day we embark is not a lonesome journey.  Rather, it is a journey to be traveled together, in both prayer and encouragement, one for another, as we eagerly anticipate the celebration to come.

So for Those of You

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 1:40-45

So for those of you who might be unaware I would like to remind you that this coming Wednesday, February 14, Ash Wednesday, is also Valentine’s Day. A friend of mine shared with me that since he could not participate in both the celebration of their love and in the penitent attitude of Ash Wednesday, he had to tell his wife, “Honey, don’t worry I will get you something next year.”
Now, please do not make my friend your example. I believe that most of you are capable of chewing gum and walking at the same time, so it should be possible to celebrate both Valentine’s Day and participate in Ash Wednesday without too much inconvenience. Besides, what better way to show love for your mate but through a little fasting and prayer.
With that being said, I thought it would be a good time to refresh our liturgical memories about the practice and purpose of Lent. The season of Lent finds its beginning in the Church as early as the 2nd century as early Christians prepared themselves for the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord by engaging in fasting and prayer immediately preceding the feast day. The liturgy for this season then developed throughout the next 5 centuries and by the 7th century the 6-week season of Lent, as observed by the modern Church today, was established.
So what is the purpose of this season of Lent? Lent is a period of time during which we prepare ourselves for the renewal of our baptismal commitment by abstaining from sin and praying for the continual conversion of our hearts. In order to get the most out of this period of preparation The Church encourages us to practice the “3- S’s”; Seek; Serve; and Sacrifice.
Seeking is accomplished through prayer and reading of scripture. So, during the next 6 weeks I encourage you to create for yourself space and time to engage in prayer and study. Service is accomplished by not only the giving of “alms”, or your treasure, but also through the giving of your time and talents. The third “s”, sacrifice, is accomplished through fasting, or more generically, self-denial. When we abstain from chocolate, coffee, beer, and other types of indulgence we allow ourselves the opportunity to discover our true nature, and more importantly our true dependence on God and his mercy for our sustenance.
However, I must point out that in order to truly appreciate our Lenten experience and ultimately achieve the grace intended we must go beyond just the adherence to rules, and to that end I ask you to reflect on today’s Gospel.
In today’s Gospel we see Jesus going about the business of being Jesus. In other words, engaging in the ordinary work of doing extraordinary works. On his journey from town to town he is approached by a person who is suffering from leprosy. In ancient Palestine leprosy was a diagnosis given to an individual who was suffering from a noticeable skin condition. Jewish law was very specific about the diagnosis of leprosy, and as today’s 1st reading indicates the life of the individual suffering from this diagnosis was a life lived very much on the outside.
In ancient Palestine a person suffering had no status. That person had to alter their appearance ensuring that wherever they went they were recognized as unclean and unworthy. Because they lacked status, they were excluded. They could no longer participate in their community. They couldn’t go to public places, engage in work and commerce, nor could they participate in worship. They were excluded from the normal everyday routine of living. Finally, a person with a diagnosis of leprosy in ancient Palestine had no recourse. They had no way of getting back in, unless of course they were healed, and at that time there were no effective treatments for a condition that had no specific diagnosis. In essence, a person suffering from the diagnosis of leprosy existed in a constant state of shame.
The significance of today’s Gospel is not that Jesus healed a man with leprosy, he had been healing people since the beginning of his ministry. The significance of today’s Gospel is found in the faith of a man who had no status, who was excluded from public life, and had no hope…except… for his hope in the healing touch of Jesus. And it is in that faith, the faith that Jesus could heal him, that this man found purpose, inclusion, and hope. It is in that faith, through which, and by which, Jesus looked upon him, and with compassion reached out and touched him, and he was healed.
I propose to you today that we have more in common with that suffering man of the Gospel then we would be willing to admit. You see sin, in it’s many different forms, in it’s many different manifestations, and with it’s many different symptoms, has for us the same consequence as leprosy. Sin causes us to live in shame. Sin causes us to exclude ourselves from our community. Sin steals our hope. When we allow ourselves to exist in a state of sin, we allow ourselves to exist on the outside, away from the love, grace, and abundant mercy of God our Father.
Our challenge this Sunday before Ash Wednesday, as we enter this season of Lent, is to imitate the faith of the leper. To approach our savior humbly, on our knees, recognizing that he is the only cure for our disease. Our disease of sin, no matter it’s manifestation, can only be cured through the forgiveness made possible by the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our challenge, is also, this Sunday before Ash Wednesday, as we enter this season of Lent, is to respond with the compassion of Jesus. As we interact with those who are suffering; those who are without status; those who have been excluded; and those who have no hope, we too should respond to them with compassion. The same compassion modeled by Jesus, who ignored social customs and norms, and reached out to the most marginalized and ostracized individual in that society and brought him back into community.
This Lenten season, as we seek God, serve others, and engage in self-sacrifice we will do so from the humble, faith-filled position of the leper. And, having discovered the only source of hope for our salvation in the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, we will share that same hope with those around us who are in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus.