Saturday, March 26, 2011

3rd Sunday of Lent

    Thirst is a common human condition. We have all been thirsty. Thirst is even more dramatic than hunger. We can live weeks without food, but mere days without water. Today's gospel story hinges on the idea of thirst.

But, I find it fascinating that the first person to thirst in this passage is not the woman at the well, but Jesus. Give me something to drink, but we quickly realize Jesus is not interested in H2O, he is looking for something else from this woman. The preface in today's Mass puts it in a beautiful way when it says that Christ was thirsting to receive this woman's faith.

Even more, Christ longs for the faith of each and every one of us. In many ways, this desire, this longing on the part of Christ describes for us the reason the Word became flesh in the first place. God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son. God loves the world. He longs for communion with us. Jesus comes to each of us and says the same thing he said to that woman of Samaria: give me something to drink.

This is not the last time Jesus will thirst in the Gospel. The next time Jesus thirsts is on the cross. Just before he dies Jesus cries out "I thirst." The thirst Christ has for our salvation is present here at the well and only finds its completion on the cross.

Yet, Christ is not the only one to thirst in this story. When Jesus makes the offer of living water the woman responds: sir, give me this water so that I may not be thirsty. Now, it seems as though the woman means thirst on a basic bodily level. But, the water that Christ promises satisfies at a deeper level, the level of the heart. If we are all honest we would recognize that there is a deep yearning, a thirst, in each one of us. We all have hopes and desires. As Christians we believe that this longing, this thirst can only be satisfied by God. We have a longing for the infinite. St. Augustine said it best: you have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until the rest in thee. Only in Christ do we find this living water capable of quenching the deepest longings of the human heart.

But, our story takes an interesting turn. First, Jesus is thirsting for the faith of the woman at the well. Next, the woman becomes interested in this living water that takes away the thirsting of the human heart. So, we expect Jesus to tell her about this water. Instead, Jesus tells her to go get her husband. Why does he do this?

Notice that the woman is not named. St. John does this quite often when he wants us to be able to see ourselves in the characters in the gospel. There are many reasons for us to believe that this woman represents all of Samaria. Remember that the Samaritans were related to the Jewish people. The Samaritans stayed in the Holy Land during the Babylonian exile. Only, in addition to worshiping the Lord, they also worshiped the gods of the pagans. Would it surprise you to find out that there were 5 pagan gods worshiped by the Samaritans?

So, when Jesus asks the woman to call her husband, he is asking her about her faith. One of the most commonly used images for the relationship between God and his people in the Old Testament is marriage. If you notice the woman is not taken aback by the question at all. As soon as Jesus asks about the husbands, she asks about worship.

Fast forward to the next time Jesus talks about thirst, we hear: I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. In the Holy Eucharist we find what truly satisfies us. In this act of worship, the Holy Mass, we are again in the presence of Christ on the cross, thirsting for our salvation, and at the same moment Christ pours out for us his body and blood, to fill our hunger and satisfy our thirst. When we come here in this Church to worship, we meet the thirsting Christ who longs for our faith, and at the same time we meet the one who says to us: come to me and I will give you living water.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday Homily for Marian High School:

Ash Wednesday 2011:

    Return to me. Today we begin the season of Lent. A penitential season dedicated to bringing about these words from the prophet. God calls each and every one of us to repentance: return to me. The Hebrew word for repent is shuv. The word means return. It is a beautiful way to thing about the season of Lent. No matter where you are in your spiritual life. No matter if you feel close to God or if you feel distant, no matter if you have been away from Church for a while or if you go every day, we all need to return to the Lord. We are all sinners. We have all wandered away from God. But, no matter how far away we are, we can always come back, we can always return. Lent is a privileged season. I firmly believe that God pours out more grace during Lent than during any other season. Because the little secret is that God longs for our return even more than we do. God wants us to be in communion with him, he wants us to return and he will give us the grace to do so during this season of Lent. All of your prayers and sacrifices should be aimed at renewing your relationship with God, trust that he will help you.

    The word Lent actually comes from an old English word that means "Springtime." In Latin, Lent is called Quadragesima, which means 40 day thing. Not too creative I will grant you: what will we call this 40 day thing... I know, let's call it the 40 day thing! But, in English we call it Springtime. We do this for 2 reasons. First, we do this because Lent always comes in the Spring, since it is attached to Easter. I mean we all know how we compute Easter right: Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Piece of cake really! Lent is always in the spring. But, we also call it springtime because it is supposed to be a spiritual springtime. I don't know about you, but I am sick and tired of winter. I'm sick of seeing snow piles. I'm sick of wearing coats and gloves. I'm sick of being cold. I'm sick of being stuck inside. I long for the warmer months ahead. But, just as we desire the warmer weather of spring, all of us, I think, desire to have a warmer relationship with God. I am convinced that no one is really happy with a cold relationship with God. Wouldn't we all like to have that fiery relationship with God sometimes experienced by the saints? Well there is no way to go from the icy cold of a wintery relationship with God to the hot and fiery summertime relationship unless you pass through a springtime: Lent is that perfect time. This should be a time of warming. Let God warm your icy hearts. Let God cause new growth to spring up within you like the plants that grow in the springtime. Allow him to fill you with new life.

    This is the secret to Lent. We all know that we are supposed to do penitential things during Lent, but it is easy to forget why we do these things. We do them so that God may warm our hearts, warm our relationship with him, and cause new life to spring up within us. So make your resolutions today and keep them, stick to your guns for 40 days and God will do great things within you. But, you need a concrete plan. We hear today from Jesus the blueprint of our Lenten plan. We all know that we are supposed to pray, fast, and give alms. Every single one of you should make a resolution in each one of these three camps. And, you should follow my simple rule for Lenten observances: it should be difficult enough to be a sacrifice, but simple enough that you can do it for 40 days.

    Prayer: make a commitment to giving time to prayer. Make it concrete. Don't say: I want to pray more this year... That is not concrete enough. But, don't say: I'm going to make 6 Holy Hours per day... You will never get that done. A good commitment for High School kids is 10 minutes. Make a commitment this year to spend 10 minutes per day in the Chapel here at Marian. You could make it before school, after school, during lunch. Try to make a concrete commitment to a chunk of time and stick to it.

    Fasting: we all know that this is where we give stuff up for Lent. What are you giving up for Lent? This is a pretty standard question during this time of year. Remember it should be difficult enough to be a sacrifice: you can't give up something you don't like! I'm giving up brussell sprouts and boiled cabbage... Ok that's not a sacrifice. But not too difficult: I'm eating nothing but bread and water.... Ok too hard probably find something in the middle. I great one for high school kids would be to give up texting or Facebook, video games or drinking pop. Find something that would be a challenge and stick to it, you will find great spiritual benefit from having a good fast.

    Finally, giving of alms. Alms are money. Some of you have jobs, consider giving a portion of your paycheck each week to the poor. But, many of you don't have jobs. Consider supporting Eric's promise. This is a great way to live a simpler life, help the poor, and deepen your relationship with God.

    Lent is a season for us. God gives it to us so that we might become more holy, which makes us happier people. Prayer helps us grow closer to God. Fasting helps us with self-denial, which we all need help with that. Almsgiving keeps us less attached to this world and we get to help the less fortunate at the same time. All of which will cause a new springtime in our lives where God will bless us with a new relationship with him. All we have to do is hear his voice calling to each one of us: return to me with your whole heart.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

9th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A:


    Today in our second reading St. Paul speaks about faith and works! This issue of justification by faith or by works has been a contentious issue down through the centuries. We all know that this was one of Luther's biggest issues during the time of the Reformation. He contended that we cannot possibly be justified by our good works, because we are inclined to sin. Rather, we are justified by faith, meaning that God covers over our sinfulness by his own goodness. Our sin remains, says Luther, but we are justified by a gift of grace. Now, the Church has always taught that justification comes by a gift of grace. But, the Church has also taught that while we have certainly inherited original sin, we have concupiscence, which is the lasting effect of original sin, a disordered inclination toward sin. This inclination itself is not a sin. In other words, we might be inclined to sin, but we do not believe that we are fundamentally irreparable. In fact, the Good News of the gospel is that Christ can help us to overcome our sinfulness. He not only can forgive our sins, but through the power of grace won for us on the cross we can change, we can become holy people.

    Just for a moment, think about your sins and shortcomings... We all have them! Wouldn't it be great to be rid of them forever! Wouldn't it be nice to have the power to overcome temptation, the power to reform our hearts? Today we read the last of the Sermon on the Mount. During the past several weeks we have been hearing Jesus' vision for the moral life. Jesus calls us to something new, something beautiful, and something terrifying. Jesus says, "you have heard it said that you shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy; but, I say whoever looks with lust commits adultery, whoever hates commits murder, love your neighbor and your enemy." I contend that this is what faith and works is all about.

    Never once does Jesus say that the things we do no longer matter. He never says: you have heard it said do not steal, I say to you it is ok to steal so long as you are nice on the inside... He never says it is ok to sin so long as you have faith. Jesus calls us to overcome our sinfulness, to avoid those actions contrary to the law. Our works are certainly important: you are the light of the world, let your good deeds shine before all so that they might praise your heavenly Father. When Christ calls us to follow him, and make no mistake we have all received that call, he calls the whole person. It is impossible to be a follower of Christ only with our hearts, only with our external life. No, Christ wants the whole thing.

    Now this is certainly a challenge, and we cannot do it alone. This is why Christ says that the one who listens to my words and acts on them is like the person who built his house on rock. Jesus Christ is the Word of God. Whoever takes in this Word and puts it into action will have a firm foundation for life. Faith and works! Take in the word of God, this feeds and strengthens our faith! Act on it, putting the word of God into action makes us into the kind of people we want to be. Carrying out little virtuous actions eventually makes us virtuous people. What a program for the moral life: take in my words and act on them.

    Wednesday we begin the season of Lent. This is a privileged season of grace whereby we draw closer to the Lord through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving so that we might be better prepared to celebrate the great feast of Easter. The goal of Lent seems to be accomplished by listening to today's gospel: take in the word of God and put it into action. One great way to do this is by reading the Bible. If it has been a while since you've dusted off your Bible, maybe that would be a great observance for Lent: spend a few minutes a day reading the Bible. If you don't know where to begin, start with Matthew's gospel. He is our patron after all! The more you read the Bible the more you take in the word of God.

    Also, make the Mass a big part of your plans for Lent. Every Mass is a chance for us to increase our faith. At every Mass we receive the body and blood of Christ, who is the Word of God. At every Mass we are commanded to Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. At every Mass we take in the Word of God and we act on it. So, here at the Mass we are building our house upon rock so that we will be ready for whatever storms our lives may throw at us.