Saturday, March 29, 2014

Jesus brings healing

4th Sunday of Lent Year A 2014:
First, let me just say happy Laudate Sunday to you all.  You may notice that I’m wearing the pink vestments today (call them Rose if that makes you feel better).  We do that because of today’s entrance antiphon that starts: Rejoice Jerusalem.  This pink vestment is a sign that we are already halfway through Lent.  Easter is only 3 weeks away.  So, the pink vestment gives us hope in the midst of our Lenten penances, but also reminds us that we have 3 good weeks left to prepare ourselves to celebrate the feast of Easter.
Today in the gospel we hear of the encounter of Jesus with the man who was born blind.  Right away I find something very interesting about this story.  Notice the first thing the disciples ask Jesus “who sinned?”  Seems like a strange question.  Clearly the disciples recognize that this man’s condition is one of profound difficulty.  This man bears an affliction, for he is deprived of sight.  Because of this, he would have experienced much suffering in his life.  But, the disciples assume that someone must have sinned, someone needs to be blamed for this man’s condition.
How does Jesus respond?  Neither him nor his parents are responsible for his condition.  He was not born blind because of someone’s sin.  Many times when people are going through a tough situation, they will say to me, “I think God is punishing me.”  It’s the same attitude in the gospel, bad things happen because God punishes sin.  But, I don’t think God works that way.  I think it is true that we are often judgmental and vindictive, but I don’t think God works that way.  God does not cause evil.  Why was this man born blind?  Why do we suffer?  Why do bad things continue to happen to good people?  We still want answers to these questions.  When faced with the problem of suffering, sadness, grief, mourning, blindness, and death, we want to know why this happens.  Who sinned, who’s to blame?
No one in particular is to be blamed.  We live in a broken world.  The man born blind reminds us of this fact.  We inherit a certain brokenness, a blindness.  We go through suffering and pain.  But, this is not the end of the story.  Our Father in heaven looked with mercy on us, and sent his Son Jesus to take away our blindness, to heal our brokenness.  He came to give us sight.  The story of the gospel is really our story, because when we were baptized Jesus opened our eyes.  He invited us to understand that while we might live in a broken world, he came to bring us healing.  Even though we might suffer and die, Jesus came to give us strength and to lead us to everlasting life.
But, this doesn’t happen all at once.  Notice that the man born blind was healed by Jesus, but when asked at first, he says that Jesus is a prophet.  Yet by the end of the story, he calls Jesus Lord and worships him.  Even though he was enlightened by faith, he continued to grow in his faith by his worship of Jesus.

We have been enlightened by faith through our baptism.  But, we also grow in our faith by our worship.  Here at the Mass we have a chance to worship Jesus, to receive the Holy Eucharist, to grow in our faith.  Like the man born blind in the gospel today, we all experience the brokenness of this fallen world in one way or another.  But, enlightened by faith that comes through baptism and strengthened by our worship of Christ in this Holy Sacrament we can find in Jesus the one who can take away our blindness, the one who can bring us healing and peace.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Transfiguration

2nd Sunday of Lent Year A:
Every year on the second Sunday of Lent, the Church gives us the Transfiguration as our gospel passage.  It is an interesting passage to get for Lent.  We know that Lent is a time of purification, self-denial, and sacrifice.  Yet, this gospel is all about the glory of Christ revealed to his disciples.  Why a passage on the transfiguration, when a passage on Jesus’ suffering seems more appropriate.
I think it is so easy to focus on Christ in this passage, that we miss out on the role this event had on the lives of the disciples.  Notice how the event begins, Jesus takes them up a mountain.  Also, notice how the event ends, Jesus takes them back down a mountain.  The event itself is spectacular: the disciples get to see Jesus Christ, the Son of God in all his glory.  They get to see the prophets.  They even get to hear the voice of God the Father speaking from heaven, convincing them that Jesus really is God’s Son.  What an unbelievable and exciting event, it must have changed their lives forever.  But, what do we find?  They returned down the mountain, in the same ordinary way they got up there.
Also, you would think that if the disciples had seen Jesus transfigured on the mountain, they never would have forgotten something so amazing.  Yet, we know what happens a little while later on the night when Jesus is arrested.  No one stays with Jesus.  No one defends him.  No one says to the guards, you might as well kill me.  I won’t let you take Jesus, I know who he is.  I have seen him transfigured, I have heard the voice of God saying he is his only begotten son.  Instead, they all flee.
I have been thinking about this passage a lot.  In some ways it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  It is an amazing and wonderful event.  But, why didn’t it change their lives forever?  In some ways this event seems a bit like an episode of the Simpsons.  Have you ever noticed that in every episode crazy and funny things always happen.  Yet, the very next episode begins and nothing is ever different.  Bart stays a little boy, Homer never seems to learn anything.  It is as if the previous episodes hadn’t happened.  Why do the disciples act as though the transfiguration didn’t stay with them?
I think it is as simple as the fact that they forgot about it.  No matter how amazing this event must have seemed when they were experiencing it, it didn’t leave a lasting impression on their lives.  Rather than letting this be a formative experience that helps them in their life of discipleship they seem to forget about it.  And since they forget about it, it doesn’t have a lasting effect in their lives.
Are we all that much different?  Speaking from my own experience, I have had many wonderful experiences in my life that were similar to the transfiguration.  No, I never saw the heavens opened up quite like in the gospel.  But, I have had profound moments of prayer.  I have had moving experience, like the day I was ordained a priest.  I have had experiences of love and joy with my family and friends.  In many ways, God reveals himself to us in these great experiences.  But, how often do we remember them?  Do we let these amazing experiences affect who we are?  Or when we are done with these great experiences, do we live our life just the same as always?
Now, when God gives us these amazing events, we might want to put up our tents and stay there like Peter suggests.  We know we cannot do that, we have to continue to live our daily lives.  But, the key is that when God touches our lives, he does so in order that we might be able to rely on that experience in difficult times. 

No wonder, then, that we come here to Mass every week, or even every day.  I think of the Mass as an example of the Transfiguration that happens all the time.  Every time we go to Mass Jesus leads us up the mountain.  Every time we go to Mass, Jesus is right here before us.  We hear to voices of Moses, Elijah, or the other prophets in the Scriptures.  We hear the voice of God, in the gospel.  We even hear the Father pointing to Jesus when the priest says: Behold the Lamb of God.  Then when Mass is done, we walk back down the mountain and back to our regular lives.  But, hopefully we are different.  Unlike the Simpsons who never seem to change, hopefully our faithful participation at Mass has a lasting effect in our lives so that when we face difficulties we might be able to say and do the right thing.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Temptation

1st Sunday of Lent Year A:
Today the Church gives us the story of Adam and Eve and the Tempting of Jesus in the desert.  We can certainly see a common theme, both scenes include temptation from the evil one.  But, these stories are not so much similar as they are opposites.  Adam and Eve are tempted in the lush Garden of Eden given to them by God.  Jesus is tempted in the harsh wilderness that we inherit because of sin.  Adam and Eve are given the trees of the garden for their food, Jesus fasts for 40 days.  Adam and Eve are tempted and fall.  Jesus is tempted, but stands strong.  The fall of Adam and Eve brings death into the world.  The obedience of Jesus brings life!  For death entered the world through one man: Adam.  Life entered the world through the new man: Christ. 
This was not easy, new life does not come cheaply.  When we read the story of Jesus temptation we might suppose that this was quite easy.  From one point of view, it is impossible for Jesus to sin; he is the Son of God.  So we might think that this temptation is almost a joke.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  For Christ to heal us down to our very roots he had to take to himself the depths of our brokenness.  He took upon himself sin and suffering, temptation and death so that we might be freed from all these.  Jesus is tempted so that we might overcome temptation.  Jesus dies so that we might have life.
            Lent is a season of suffering and self-denial that prepares us for the feast of Easter.  This is important because it was through the suffering and self-denial of Christ that led to his Resurrection.  The same thing will be true for us.  On the small scale, we will be able to experience the joy of Easter more fully if we enter into the season of Lent with a true spirit of penance and self-denial.  But, on the grand scale, this season also prepares us for all the suffering and self-denial we will face through the course of our lives.  What Jesus shows us today in the gospel is that every human being will face temptation.  But, no longer must human beings fall to temptation.  Christ shows us the way.  He gives us a great example.  In his moment of temptation, Christ relies on scripture and the power of God to overcome these trials.  Christ wants to give us that same power.
Right here in this Holy Eucharist that we celebrate we have a wonderful remedy for temptation.  Right here in the Holy Eucharist we receive the very body and blood of Christ.  It is through the power of this Holy Eucharist that we receive the grace of Christ.  In this Eucharist we are united to him.  Remember he was the one strong enough to overcome temptation, sin, and death.  When faced with these obstacles in our own life, we will only overcome them by our union with Christ.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Be perfect, that's all...

7th Sunday OT:
Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.  Clear enough?  I guess I should just sit down now.  All that Jesus expects of his disciples is that we be perfect.  So, if you are not perfect yet, get cracking on that…  I will check back with you next week.  Let’s hope we are all perfect by then.
How do you hear these words?  Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.  At first it may sound a little bit like Jesus is being completely unreasonable.  He seems to be asking for something that is clearly beyond our power to achieve. 
As some of you may know, I have a couple of jokes that I use over and over again. One of my favorite jokes is when I see kids who are going into the gym for basketball practice, I always ask them what they are doing: going to basketball practice…  So, I always ask them quite seriously, ok, would you mind doing me a favor?  When you are slam-dunking the basketball, would you make sure you don’t hang on the rim?  I don’t want to have to replace those hoops, they are expensive.  One girl said to me, sheepishly, “Fr. Jake, I can’t even touch the net…”  The funny part of the joke is that I’m asking 4 ft tall 5th graders not to dunk a basketball, because it is so obvious that none of them can jump that high.  Asking them to dunk a basketball is something clearly beyond their ability.
When Jesus is asking us to be perfect as God the Father is perfect, he is clearly calling us to something beyond our ability.  But we know, without a doubt, that Jesus is loving and benevolent.  He is not calling us to perfection simply as a way to leave us frustrated failures.  His call to perfection is not so much an expectation, but an inspiration.
Nobody knows us better than Jesus Christ.  He is the Word through whom all things were made.  Even more, Jesus Christ became human.  He knows us inside and out, so to speak.  He would never call us to perfection unless he saw that potential within us.  He knows we can do better than sinfulness, he knows we were not created for mediocrity.  He did not come to earth to die on the cross so that we would become basically nice people.  He came to call us to something so much more.
And don’t we want that?  Don’t we want more than just mediocrity?  I don’t know about you, but I have always been a competitive person.  If you don’t believe me, ask my Mom.  I have never been satisfied with just good enough.  I always wanted to win every game, to get an A in every class.  I haven’t always been able to get that, but I want to.  Is that an unrealistic expectation?  Sure, it is unrealistic to expect perfection, but I want it. 
I think that there is a desire for perfection, a desire for holiness in the heart of each of us.  We want to be holy, we want to overcome our sins, we want to live for others.  We might not quite get there.  But, doesn’t Jesus’ call to perfection resonate in your heart?  It does in mine.  When I hear Jesus telling us to be perfect, I don’t know if I could possibly get there in this life, but I want to.  It makes me want to turn to Jesus.  Yes, Lord, I do want to be perfect.  Help me, give me the grace, show me the places where I need to grow.  You Lord have called me to be perfect, now help me. 

What a beautiful gift we have in the Eucharist.  Here the perfect one, the Son of God, gives us his body and blood to be our food and drink.  Here he gives us the strength to fight against sin, to fight against our weakness and shortcomings.  It is true that Jesus calls us to be perfect, but here in the Holy Eucharist he gives us grace grow in holiness.  We will never be perfect in this life, and that’s ok.  But, through the power of this sacrament Christ will help us to be more like him.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Light of the World

Presentation of the Lord Year A:
         Today The Lord is brought into the temple. We might have a tendency to think this a bit strange. After all Jesus Christ is the son of God. God dwells in the temple. So bringing Jesus into the temple seems a bit redundant. But, notice how he is presented. He is presented in accordance with all the laws and guidelines of the Old Testament. In other words he is presented not because of his divinity, but because of his humanity. And what an amazing presentation.
         As our second reading says today he became like us in every way. Jesus is fully human. So when he is presented to God he is Gods own son, but he is one of us. Now when God looks on humanity he sees the face of his son.
This week I received an urgent call that someone was near death down at the nursing home. I can't tell you how much I'm honored to be a priest in those moments. To be with a person as they prepare to meet Christ and to be with the family. But, I was thinking about the prayers we say during that right. At one moment we pray: "May The Lord look upon our sister and see in her the face of his own suffering son" let us pray to The Lord. I find that a beautiful reflection on the incarnation. When God looks at us he can't help but see Jesus. Through our common humanity we are united to Jesus Christ.  So when Christ is presented in the temple today, we are all presented to God with him.
But, we all know that the Lord is never outdone in generosity.  We present Jesus to him, and God gives him back to us as a light to the nations.  At the beginning of this mass we all lit candles.  This candle reminds us of the first candle most of us received, our baptismal candle.  On the day of our baptism we were given a light, or our parents and godparents received this light for us.  The prayer is quite beautiful that goes along with it: this light has been entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly, you have been enlightened by Christ, walk always a child of the light.  This light is a powerful symbol because it represents Christ who is our guide in life.
The summer after Hurricane Katrina I went on a mission trip to New Orleans.  On our way we stopped at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.  As the name implies it is a huge cave.  One part of the tour included letting us experience what total darkness felt like.  At one point deep in the cave they turned out all the lights and there was absolutely no light what so ever.  Now I don’t normally consider myself afraid of the dark, but I have never been in such a dark place in my life.  It was almost like the darkness was alive and pressing in on me from every side.  The strangest part was blinking, because there was absolutely no change.  Then, for some reason, someone took out their cell phone.  And the little light from the screen seemed like the brightest light I had ever seen.  No matter how dark it might seem, even a faint light can seem tremendously bright.

This is the role Christ wants to have in our life.  To be a light.  His light might seem brighter at times, fainter at other times.  But, the darkness can never overcome his light.  I don’t mind sharing that this has been a particularly dark week for many of us.  The diocese announced that one of our priests has been suspended because of credible allegations of child abuse.  Another priest died recently.  A member of our parish staff had a stroke on Tuesday, then another member of our parish staff is grieving the loss of her father, then today we are all grieving the loss of Joe Becker another member of our parish staff.  There is another family in the parish that many of you know who is dealing with a tremendously scary medical condition.  Seems like an awful lot of darkness.  But, the darkness never wins.  Christ came to shine a light in the darkness.  He came to lead us.  He came to strengthen us.  He came to unite us to the Father, so that when the Father looks at us, he sees his beloved sons and daughters.  So my friends during dark and difficult times, we turn to Christ, the light of the world.