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.