Sunday, March 18, 2018

The days are coming...

5th Sunday of Lent year B 2018:
Well, my friends, we are entering into the very last part of Lent now.  These last two weeks are often referred to as “passiontide”.  These two weeks are an intense time of reflection upon the death of Christ so that we can fully grasp and appreciate his glorious resurrection.
You notice that our readings are really drawing our attention to what is coming up in the near future.  The first reading we hear “the days are coming when I will make a new covenant.”  We know that the new covenant is the promise of love and salvation from God that is sealed with the blood of the new Lamb, Jesus Christ.  When we look at the cross, when we reflect on Christ’s saving passion, we see the promise of the Father’s love.  This is how much God loves us: he loves us so much that he sent his Son to die for all of us.  Indeed, the days are coming when we will celebrate this blessed passion.  But, we also call our attention to the days when Christ will come again, when this New Covenant is fulfilled with eternal life.
Jesus calls our attention to his upcoming hour as well: the hour has come for the son of man to be glorified.  Interesting to think about the passion of Christ as the moment of his glory.  In some ways it’s quite ironic.  The moment that he looks the weakest, the most abandoned, the farthest from human glory is his moment on the cross.  But, the moment when he shows his divine power, the moment where he is most in communion with God’s will for our salvation, the moment he receives the greatest glory is the moment he offers his life for the salvation of the world.  It’s amazing how big the difference is between these two perspectives on the same event.  Jesus Christ dies on the cross.  From a human perspective, it was a great defeat.  From the divine perspective, it is a great triumph.  Same event, two very different impressions.
So, this is why I think it is so important for us to spend the next two weeks reflecting intensely upon the passion of Christ.  Because we have all heard this story so many times, we forget just how amazing a story this really is.  Jesus suffered, he died.  He did it for us.  Because of this sacrifice, he has opened the door for our salvation. 
I would like to recommend two beautiful devotions that you could try these two weeks to help you reflect upon the passion of Christ.  First, there are the stations of the cross.  This afternoon we will pray the stations throughout the neighborhood.  We also have the stations at 1:00 and 6:30 on Friday.  But, you can pray these anytime either by stopping in here at church, or by praying these at home.  I still remember that as a child we used to pray the stations in our living room as a family.  Each child took a turn reading the reflections on the stations.  I really like the stations devotion.  I find that reflecting on these 14 events in the life of Christ really helps me to understand all that Christ did to save us. 
The other devotion that I would recommend is the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary.  The more I pray the rosary, the more I find it an amazing prayer.  The five sorrowful mysteries encompass the suffering of Christ, but I also think that all human suffering can be found in these mysteries.  The agony of the garden represents all emotional and spiritual turmoil.  The scourging of the pillar represents all suffering we receive from others.  The crowing of thorns represents all pain as a result of sarcasm and mockery.  The carrying of the cross represents chronic and long-term suffering, daily struggles.  The crucifixion represents all suffering associated with death.  It seems like all human suffering fits in there somewhere.  So, when you pray the sorrowful mysteries you can find a place to unite your own sufferings to that of Christ.

Reflecting on the passion of Christ is a wonderful spiritual exercise.  He called it his hour of glory.  Therefore, it is a very fruitful place to spend some time.  Make time these next two weeks to reflect on the passion.  Use the stations or the sorrowful mysteries as a way to enter into the very sufferings of Christ.  We heard today: son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.  How much more for us?  We too will learn obedience to God’s will through our own sufferings and by reflecting on the sufferings of Christ.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The light of the world

4th Sunday of Lent Year B 2018:
Now, you might be wondering why I am wearing rose colored vestments this week.  This is known as Laetare Sunday, which comes from the opening antiphon, it means: rejoice.  Just like in Advent when we wear rose vestments on the third Sunday of Advent, the rose is a reminder of the joy that awaits us at the end of this penitential season.  I think this is an important point.  I mean, I hope you have had a great season of Lent.  I hope it has been a time for growth in your spiritual life because of your practices of self-denial.  But, there is a point to this whole thing, right?  Lent is not an annual season of self-flagellation.  Rather, it’s a chance to grow and renew our lives so that we can celebrate the feast of our redemption with great joy.  So, even though this is a season of self-denial, it is a season of joy.
In fact, all of Christian life should be filled with joy.  Why?  God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, so that we might have life.  There is a reason why this one of the most famous lines in the whole Bible.  It is so filled with love and hope that it makes us joyful: God loves us.  Anytime we think about Jesus, we should always remember that he is the proof of God’s love. 
So, even during this season of Lent, even during these days in our “desert” we are filled with joy.  Why?  Because God loves us.  But, I would like to call your attention to the rest of the reading.  I mean, it can be easy for us to pay attention to the beginning of this passage and to miss the rest of it.  But, I find it really interesting, and a great help as to understand what we are doing during the season of Lent.
St. John puts things in terms of light and dark.  These are powerful metaphors.  And we have all experienced them before.  We know what it means to be in the light and to be in the dark.  I remember going on a youth trip one time where we stopped off at a cave down in Kentucky somewhere.  During part of the tour, when we were well underground, the tour guide said: “ok, now we will give you a chance to experience pure darkness.”  They turned out the lights.  And, I’m telling you, unless you’ve had this kind of experience, you don’t know what it means to have pure darkness.  Whether my eyes were opened or closed, it made no difference.  There was absolutely no light.  After about 4 tenths of a second of pure darkness, I was getting freaked out.  Luckily they didn’t leave the lights off for too long.
This is the kind of darkness that John is talking about when describing humanity after sin.  The fall of our first parents removed us from God’s presence.  This fall led humanity out of the light and into the darkness.  The darkness is a place without hope, a place without joy.  The dark is full of fear, anxiety, hopelessness.   But, God did not leave us in the darkness.  He sent Christ to be the light of the world.  And yet, some people prefer to remain in the darkness.
Why would anyone want to stay in the darkness?  The light is always way better than the darkness.  I couldn’t get out of that cave fast enough.  But, imagine if you lived in that cave your whole life?  The outside might seem scary.  That bright sun might seem like too much.  The same is true of Christ.  Having gotten so used to sin, holiness can seem scary.  It might seem scary to try to follow Christ, to give up the comfort of our darkness, our sins and our selfishness.  St. John’s words are still true today: some have preferred the darkness. 
This is why Lent is so great.  It’s a chance for us to venture out into the light.  It is a time for us to consciously and specifically look at the darkness in our lives.  I’m sure each one of us is guilty of preferring the darkness to the light at times in our lives.  But, the light is always way better than the darkness.  So, let’s look to Christ, the light of the world.  He came to lead us out of darkness and into God’s wonderful light. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

He had pity on him...

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, year B 2018
I have always appreciated this story from Mark’s Gospel.  It truly helps us to experience the compassion, the love of Christ.  We hear that Jesus is moved with pity.  Then he stretches out his hand to the leprous man, and heals him.
In many ways, this many with leprosy represents the whole human race.  He is sick, he is cast out from the community, he is hurting, he faces a great deal of suffering.  Isn’t it true for us as a whole?  The whole human race fell away from God.  We have inherited this great wound, we call it original sin.  It leads us away from God, it causes us weakness, suffering, death, sadness, sorrow.  And yet, God is moved with pity. 
Many times in our lives we will ask the question “why” in the face of suffering.  Why did this person die?  Why did this disaster happen?  Why did my loved one get sick?  These are honest and heart-felt questions.  The answer is often illusive: we suffer and die because we live in a fallen cosmos.  This isn’t the most satisfying answer.  We want someone to blame!
But, as I often like to say, rather than ask “why” we can ask “what”.  In other words, what did God do to respond to the suffering of the human race: he was moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, he sent his only beloved son.  My friends, this mercy extends to every one of us.  Know and believe that Christ continues to have mercy, compassion, pity for every one of us.  Just like the man in the gospel, he is there to stretch out his hand, to heal and save us. 
So, this story teaches us a great deal about God, his son Jesus, and the great mercy and love he has for us.  But, I think, it also teaches us a little bit about the spiritual life.  The many with leprosy represents us all.  So, his actions sketch out a pathway for us.  Notice he does 3 things in the gospel before he is healed.
Number 1: he approaches Jesus.  This might sound simplistic.  But, it is truly impossible to receive the healing and mercy of God if we don’t go to him.  Our task in this life is to love and serve God.  But, it is quite difficult to love and serve a God we don’t know.  Without spending time with God, without turning to him in prayer and praise, we will keep wandering around lost and suffering.  But, if we take the example of this man in the gospel, we will approach Jesus, we will pray and spend time with him.
Number 2: he kneeled down.  I love this image of kneeling down.  It’s a powerful image of submission.  It’s an image of worshiping.  Kneeling down is a powerful reminder that God is the great king.  Kneeling down is an act of thanksgiving, it is an act of prayer.  So, our prayer life should certainly include giving God thanks and praise.  I mentioned this last week when I spoke about stewardship, but the more we recognize that everything comes from God, the more we will be filled with his joy and peace.  Like it often says in the Eucharistic prayer, to give God thanks is itself a gift from God.  Kneeling down before the Lord gives us a great perspective.
Number 3: he begs Jesus.  He makes known to Christ his needs: if you want you can heal me.  So, the other side of the life of prayer is to beg God for all that we need.  To ask him for healing, to ask him for guidance, to ask him for courage.  These are the prayers we can bring before the Lord.  Now, the healing we are looking for may not happen as swiftly as it did in the gospel today.  In fact, we might not receive the fullness of the peace we long for until heaven.  But, by begging Christ for all we need, we grow closer to him, and we experience his love and compassion more deeply.

So, I love this reading because it tells us a great deal about God.  He is moved with pity at our suffering, he sent Jesus as the response to human suffering.  And, it teaches us about the spiritual life.  If we long for healing, if we desire to experience the mercy and compassion of Christ, we approach him, we kneel down, and we beg him for all that we need. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Everyone is looking for you

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B 2018 Stewardship Sunday
Everyone is looking for you.  These words were spoken by Simon Peter to Jesus over 2000 years ago.  But, I think they are just as true now.  Lord, everyone is looking for you.  Jesus Christ is the answer to the question of human existence.  Jesus Christ is the answer to the question buried deep in every human heart.  What is that question?  Why am I here?  What is my destiny?  The answer is Jesus Christ.  He is the union between God and humanity.  Why am I here?  Because God put me here.  What is my destiny?  To be united with God forever.  We are all gathered here in church to day because we too are looking for Jesus.  Everyone is looking for you.  Because we have found Jesus, because we have the gift of faith, we come here to give God thanks and praise for all the many gifts he has given to us. 
This is a familiar pattern.  God does amazing things, and his people give him thanks and serve him in return.  This is what Simon’s mother-in-law does.  Jesus heals her fever.  Then, the gospel says, she waited on them.  Gift leads to service.
It was similar for St. Paul in the second reading.  Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.  Paul had received so much from God, that he was internally compelled to serve God, to preach the gospel and to serve the people “free of charge.”  And, most importantly, he says that it was important for him to do it willingly, not under constraint.  He loved God so much, and God had done so much for him, that he gave back freely to the Lord.
This weekend we celebrate our Stewardship Sunday.  Every year about this time, we take a Sunday to pause and to reflect upon the Stewardship way of life.
I would like to start by giving a little update, especially when it comes to our stewardship of treasure.  The last time I spoke to you about parish finances, things did not look so good.  We put together our parish budget in the spring and noticed big problems.  So, I brought these problems to the attention of everyone this last spring.  The response has been tremendous.  You have generously answered the Lord’s call to generosity.  We had been noticing our collections going down over the last few years.  This past year our collections are going up again.  Thanks to your generous response our financial situation is looking stronger.  Also, we made some pretty major changes in staffing in the school.  Mike Obergfell and all the faculty and staff creatively found ways to give an excellent education to our children, while significantly lowering the annual budget.  This has helped tremendously.  Also, over the past year, we have received some very generous contributions to pay for technology improvements in the school, and here in the church.  This has been a year of tremendous blessing.  This is all thanks to you and to your generous response to the gifts that God has given you.
But, when I look to the future, there are always things that cause me some anxiety.  Our projected number of school children ended up about 15 too high, which means that our school income will be quite a bit lower than I had anticipated.  We had a few pipes break in the school, and we still have to decide how to fix these issues.  There are a number of other capital improvements that we can see as being needed in the next few years. 
So, what is the outlook of our parish?  I think it is tremendously hopeful, with a dash of uncertainty.  And you know what?  That’s probably good.  I mean, this just means that St. Jude is just about like any family, right?  Doesn’t this sound like most of our own personal financial situations: tremendously hopeful with a dash of uncertainty? 
So, I’m here today to encourage each and every one of you to continue to cultivate the stewardship way of life.  This is an important spiritual principal for all of us to live by.  God gives us so much, we give back to him out of love.  He has given us our lives, our talents, our treasures.  We use these things for his good and for his glory.
This week you will receive from us an annual report about Stewardship in our parish.  This will include financial information, but also a great deal of information about all the important works of service that have taken place here at St. Jude because of your great commitment of time and talent as well.
As I mentioned, life is often a mix hopeful and uncertain.  This is just a fact of life.  But, if we put our attention mainly on the uncertainties of life, we are filled with worry and dread.  But, rather, if we put our attention to the tremendously hopeful things in life, we will be filled with God’s joy and peace.  As pastor, I put my hope and my trust in God and in all of you.  Over the past year you have responded with incredible generosity, and I know you will certainly continue to do so in the future. 

Therefore, I invite all of you to spend some time this week to think about your stewardship of Time, Talent, and Treasure.  And I invite all of us to recommit to giving back to God for all the good he has done for us.