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.