Archive for February, 2016|Monthly archive page

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT – C – February 28, 2016

A reading from the Book of Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15

Reading from St. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-11

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 13:1-9

 

Why are people more comfortable with a punishing God who exacts the pound of flesh and is quick to punish the wrongdoer? There are those quick to see floods, famines and earthquakes as punishments coming for sin and coming from God’s hands. Is it surprising then, that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is thought by some to be the God prone to wrath and quick to destroy?

Some find refuge in a spirituality that sees Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross as delighting God. Was that awful death willed by the God Jesus called Father? Jesus’ yes to the Father’s will that delighted, not his pain. Jesus’ fidelity where others failed expiated for sin. Sin, after all and at its core, is saying no to God. That is something Jesus never did.

One day a friend stopped by the rectory to see me. As I came into the office his back was to me and he stared out the window at the rain. When he heard me enter the room, he turned toward me. I saw his tears. I’ve always tried to be a good person. I go to Mass every Sunday. I give what I can of my time and money. I’ve never been unfaithful to my wife. Now I am dying. I just found out I have a cancer that will kill me soon. What did I do to deserve this? Why is God doing this to me? Why am I being abandoned?

In that moment before responding I remember wondering what Jesus would say to my friend. Perhaps he would encourage my friend to unite his present suffering and feeling of abandonment with Jesus’ Agony in the Garden and Passion, a share in Jesus’ suffering. On the other hand, Jesus might challenge the premises upon which my friend and others base their ideas that God is wrathful and is pleased and appeased by sufferings. My friend could well have been chided for the assumptions that prompt him and others to ask, what did I do to deserve this?

If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable under the Lenten Liturgies of the Word, many Lenten assumptions will be challenged – even our attitude toward Lent itself, which tends to be dour and negative, a season to be endured. Yet the church speaks of Lent as a joyful season. Yes, sin has its consequences, but so does repentance. Over everything is God’s abiding love, unconditional and eternal.

The Israelites wandered in the desert of repentance, conscious of their sinfulness. The reality of their sinfulness confronted them, as did suffering, their own and the World’s. God journeyed with them. When they were hungry and cried out for food, manna rained down. When they thirsted, Moses tapped the rock and water gushed forth. And all the while through Moses, God reminded the people of the land of promise, the land flowing with milk and honey, the land that God will give them.

People struggle with cancers and dementia, with separation and alienation. Add to these war and famine, the afflictions of the dispossessed and the unjustly imprisoned. Does God do all this? And, if so, for what purpose?

Jesus challenges us to find a different God, or rather, to see God differently. The God of the Hebrew Scriptures is a loving god who never exhausted dazzling displays to prove God’s love for the people being formed in the Desert. That is what Paul speaks to in today’s second reading. The people grumbled at the trials of their trek. Water gushed from the Rock and God proved his love again. Paul said Christ is that Rock, and the Cloud overshadowing the people. The calling forth from slavery, the trials in the Desert, the famine and thirst, all served to strengthen the people, just as the Water, the quail, the manna and the Pillar of Fire in the night and the Pillar of Cloud in the day all confirmed God’s love for and presence in the midst of the people.

This is a God who loves and is eager to forgive. In fact, if truth were told, doesn’t God forgive even before signs of repentance appear? When we ask for forgiveness that is a sign of the grace of forgiveness already at work in our hearts.

So where ought our focus be as we journey through this Lenten Desert? It is a time to look into our hearts and confront attitudes that are in contrast to those of Jesus. This is not a time for complacency. Pope Francis reminds us that sin still has the power to thwart God’s plan. Sin can still separate us from God’s love. The fasting, praying and almsgiving that are called for during these forty days are not ends in themselves. They are meant to create the hunger for a deeper relationship with God, to open our hearts to God’s presence, and to awaken us to Christ’s presence in the suffering poor. These Lenten practices are meant to rekindle the fervor that was ours at the time of our Baptism and empower us to do what Jesus does – say Yes to the will of the One who sent Jesus to be one with us and to live in our midst.

There is a special group of people that Christ would have us keep in mind throughout these forty days. There are those among us journeying to the Font. These Elect are preparing for that encounter with the Water in the Easter Night. If they experience the Mystery being lived by and in us, the baptized, they will be encouraged to bear their difficulties on their way and be eager to die to sin and rise from the Waters to new life in Christ.

This is not a dour season of gloom and doom, forty days to be endured. It is a joyful season of hope and rebirth.

Sincerely,

Didymus

P.S. I love the parable of the dormant fig tree. I thank Jesus for being the Gardener who tells me it is never too late for me. This can be my second spring.

 

 

Advertisements

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT – C – February 21, 2016

A reading from the Book of Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18

A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 3:17-4:1

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 9:28b-36

 

I remember a night many, many years ago.  This young boy sat in the dormer window of his bedroom and gazed into the starry heavens.  Did he pray?  Certainly he wondered about God.  He thought about Jesus and wondered what the Lord wanted him to do.  His child’s mind sought reassurance, a view into the future that would make decision less risky.  As all children do, he wanted to know that everything would work out, that the dreams would be realized and he would be save.

I remember asking for a sign.  Please give me a sign so that I will know what it is you want me to do.  Hubris?  From this vantage point it would seem so.  But not as I remember that moment.  There was too much pleading and too many tears for hubris.  Naiveté?  I close my eyes and that moment is etched in my mind clearly and indelibly.  One word escaped my lips as I whispered into the night.  Please!  In that moment a bright ball of light arced through the sky over me, brilliant, brief and beautiful.  And all I could do was gasp and wonder what it was.  A sign?

Signs, omens?  The stuff of seers needing sages to interpret.  But I have clung to that moment and returned to it in challenging times and have found it in reassurance.  Abram had lived for many years in fidelity to God, clinging to the promise that he would be the father of innumerable children down through the ages.  But years had gone by since he first heard the promise and now he is an old man and childless.  So God gave him the sign of the flaming torch and the fireball passing between the lavish sacrifice Abram had prepared in keeping with God’s instructions.  When Abram saw the fire and the smoke his faith was restored; he remembered the promise and continued on his journey believing the promise would be fulfilled.

I had no history that night.  I had only the memory of my first encounter with Christ in the Waters.  Not many weeks intervened between the day of my Baptism and that star-filled night.  As an eight-year-old, I had just begun my journey.

To begin a journey of faith is one thing.  To persevere on it is another.  That is what Paul agonizes about in the second reading from his letter to the Philippians.  Those had taught and brought to Baptism and now turning away from the purity of Paul’s instruction and want to reintroduce elements from their Jewish tradition.  Paul pleads with them to return to the new way as he had taught them and find their hope in Christ alone.

That is the reason that the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent is always an account of the Transfiguration.  The favored trio, Peter, James, and John, are at the start of a journey that is unprecedented.  They will be going to Jerusalem with Jesus, where Jesus will be rejected, be condemned, and will suffer in ignominy and die.  In that moment on the mountaintop their heads swam in what seemed to be an affirmation of what they believed about Jesus, that he is the Christ, the anointed of God, the one who would change history forever.  They saw the power and the majesty.  They saw Jesus speak with Moses and Elijah.  Surely, the new Exodus opened before them.  Would they remember the Mountain when they came to the other hill outside Jerusalem and watched from a distance to see how it all would end?

Do we need this epiphany moment recalled as we begin our Lenten journey?  Or, is this meant for those among us we pray for, those elect heading for the Font for their dying moment and rebirth in Christ?  Do all of us need the telling because no faith journey is without hazard?  Each disciple walks with Jesus, each on his/her own winding and twisting path.  Each one faces unexpected challenges to faith, moments that could elicit doubt, and events that will threaten to stifle and break the believing heart.

I remember sitting in a hospital room with a young couple.  The mother sat in a rocking chair and cradled the dead infant in her arms.  She rocked and hummed a lullaby.  The father knelt and placed his head in her lap.  Tears streaked both faces.  Time passed.  A moment?  An hour?  Time froze.  Then she whispered, Jesus knows.  Jesus cares.  Our hope is in him.  What was she remembering?  An Easter past?

Lord Jesus, help us to remember.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT – C – February 14, 2016

 

A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy 26:4-10

A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans 10:8-13

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 4:1-13

How many Lenten journeys have you made?  How many times have you knelt to have the ashes traced on your forehead and heard the words: Remember Man that thou art dust and unto dust you shall return?  And, secretly, how many times have you wondered what Lent is really all about?

It is not surprising that Lent has a negative connotation with many people.  With the focus seeming to be a focus on guilt and sinfulness and the danger of hell’s fires being unleashed by a vengeful God if you do not repent, no wonder that not long after having risen from the imposition of the ashes enthusiasm for the season wanes.  Focusing on fasting, praying, and almsgiving for forty days is laudable, but only if seen as an invitation through the practices to respond not out of terror of eternal punishment, but in awe of the God who loves unconditionally and eternally, a God who forgives even before the sinner repents, a God whose love is incarnate in Jesus whose ways Lent invites us to walk in more closely.

In the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses invites the people to remember their story, that they survived a terrible period of slavery and abuse under their Egyptian captives, and in response to their suffering, the all powerful God through signs and wonders led them out of slavery to the freedom of the desert, all the while lavishing love on them.  Now, in the land of plenty that God has given them, they are to offer up sacrifice as a sign of awe and gratitude.  Instead of our remembering that we are dust and will return to dust, we should be invited to remember that we are loved and will be loved for all eternity.  And the challenge of Lent can be to fast, pray, and give alms as ways that help us to live that love in our daily lives.  This being the Year of Mercy might be an added incentive to be vehicles of mercy to the many who feel alone and abandoned and hopeless in these times.

Live the faith is what Paul urges us to do in his Letter to the Romans, speak it and believe it in the heart.  Recognize that it is all grace, not earned but freely given.  And all who respond to grace, whether Jew or Greek and therefore any other ethnic definition, all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.  It is not casually that Paul uses the word all.  He is responding to the movement in the early church to demand that converts to Christ first become Jews.  There is no salvation for the Gentiles.  Paul declares that is not so.  Salvation is for all.

Pope Francis shocked some when he declared that there were many paths to God.  God loves even atheists.  Salvation is theirs if they live good lives.  In this Lenten season we could do well to hear the pope and examine whether that attitude is ours and is reflected in the acts of charity we practice.  Lent is a season in which we are reminded.

Listen to Luke’s Gospel and allow yourself to be vulnerable before it.  Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit when he came back from the Jordan and his Baptism.  He was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.  Some say that the word led is euphemistic for the reality being described.  Better put, Jesus was driven, almost forced into the desert, as if he were reluctant to go there.  The word tempted can also mean tested.  Something harrowing and heroic will be happening in this encounter between Jesus and the devil.  This sojourn resembles Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the desert during which a people is formed and a relationship with God is set.

Jesus’ mettle will be tried and proven.  This testing will steel him for the rigors of his coming public ministry.  Jesus will avow before the evil one that his desire is always to do the will of the One who sent him.  It is not his own glory that he seeks, but God’s.  Jesus is God’s own beloved.  The hearer might be tempted to conclude that there will be no match here, that Jesus will be in charge all the way, that there will be no struggle.

Except for those among us journeying toward to Font and their Easter Vigil encounter with the Water, we have all come from our Baptism.  A new leg of the faith journey begins as this Lent dawns.  This time of fasting, praying, and almsgiving is preparation and testing for what is coming.  Life has chapters.  Chapters conclude.  That does not mean the book ends.

We make this sojourn with Jesus to be tested.  It is not likely that there will be a dramatic encounter with the devil.  Jesus destroyed the devil’s power.  Our testing is to prepare us for what lies ahead.  As you have tried to do from the day you first met Jesus, watch him and learn.  Challenge yourself to conform more closely to the example Jesus gives.  Walk the walk and talk the talk, as they say, and dare to ask how much of self has been emptied for Jesus to fill.  Each of us must become less and less that Jesus might become all in all.

We enter this Lent individually and as church.  Pope Francis by word and example can help us focus on how we should respond.  His call for a poorer church serving the needs of the poor, for shepherding to be in the midst of rather than over the sheep, to put aside splendor and pomp and be servants, help us to avoid the devil’s desert temptations and to triumph as Jesus did as he began his ministry and we continue ours in his name.

Lent leads us to Easter.  Easter is not an end, but a beginning.  Something new always opens up in the celebration of the great Vigil.  The Candle scatters the darkness as life’s triumph over death is proclaimed.  People are baptized.  Sinners are reconciled in the renewal of the baptismal promises.  This renewed people renew the Eucharist and so are sent to bring the Light to the world.  Lent tested us all.  Easter continues the walk with Jesus on the Way.

We must live in the now, here in the desert, and be open to the trial, the testing, the temptations.  We must watch and wait and listen.  Fast and experience hunger for Jesus.  Pray, but mostly through silent listening as you long for Jesus’ voice to tell you of his love even as he reminds us that he is our strength.  Pour out yourself in service.  What else can you do if you journey with Jesus?

The past has prepared you for this Lent.  Where will you go from here?

Sincerely,

Didymus