Sunday, February 22, 2015

1st Sunday of Lent: Do you reject Satan?

1st Sunday of Lent Year B 2015:
Happy Lent to you all!  I know that this is a time of prayer and also of penance and self-denial.  So, thinking of Lent as a happy time might not seem quite right.  But, it is my experience that Lent is always a wonderful season of grace, where God helps us grow closer to Christ, to grow in our faith, and to overcome some of our imperfections.  So, while it is a season of suffering and self-denial, we become better people because of this season, which is why it is a happy season.
As a parish, this year we are going to spend time this Lent thinking about baptism.  In the documents of the Church, Lent is described as a season of preparation for baptism.  There are men and women from our parish who are getting ready to be baptized.  For them, Lent is a time to clear away whatever holds them down, to grow closer to Christ, and be ready to take the plunge, literally, at the Easter Vigil.  But, for those of us who are already baptized, Lent has a similar significance.  That’s because on Easter all of us will have a chance to renew our baptism.  Easter is a chance for us all to take the plunge again, so to speak.
An important part of the baptismal rite is the profession of faith.  As you may remember, the profession of faith in baptism takes the form of questions.  This is also true of all of us who are renewing our baptism, we will be asked to renew our baptismal promises.  There are 6 baptismal promises, there are also 6 Sundays in Lent.  So, for each of the next 6 weeks, we will take some time thinking about each of the promises.  You can read more in the bulletin as well.
The first baptismal promise is quite fitting with today’s gospel: do you reject Satan?  At first this might seem like an easy question: do you reject Satan?  Who’s going to say no to that?
When I was going to school in Boston, one of the ministries there was giving catechesis to learning disabled young people.  There was one young man who came for instruction named Charlie.  Charlie was preparing for confirmation.  The day for confirmation finally came.   He was all prepared and ready for the sacrament.  Part of the rite of Confirmation is to renew one’s baptismal promises.  So the bishop who was conducting the ceremony came up to Charlie and asked him the questions: Charlie, do you reject Satan?  Nothing…  Charlie, do you reject Satan?  Nothing… Everyone in the chapel was urging Charlie to make a response, but he had just clammed up.  So, the bishop said a final time: Charlie, we can’t go on with the confirmation if you don’t answer the question, so I ask you: do you reject Satan?  Charlie almost yelled: you’re darn right I do (only he didn’t say “darn”).  The place erupted and Charlie was confirmed.
Do you reject Satan?  You’re darn right I do.  We know that Satan is empty and hollow.  He has absolutely nothing to offer.  He only wants each one of us to be as miserable as he is.  He wants us all to reject God just like he did.  Do we reject Satan?  Of course.  But, do we really?  Over the next two weeks we will explore this further because the next two questions are: and all his works, and all his empty promises.  But, for today, let’s just think about this: do we reject Satan?
This rejection of Satan has to begin in our hearts and minds.  Of course we say that we reject Satan, but do we really?  Is my heart really set on God?   Rejecting Satan means to have a hard and fast resolution to follow Christ.  We need to have a resolution to turn away from evil, to take a hard look at our lives and see where we need to change, where we need to grow.  Rejecting Satan and clinging to Christ is the very first step in the spiritual life.  It will be impossible for us to overcome our sins and become faithful disciples of Christ if we don’t start with this fundamental stance toward Satan and toward evil. 

Do we reject Satan?  You’re darn right we do.  May this season of Lent be for us all a time of grace and renewal, so that we might reject Satan and hold fast to Christ our Savior.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Faith is a relationship with Christ

5th Sunday of OT year B:
This is an exciting time of year for me and for the parish.  This past week I had my first meeting with all the couples who are preparing to get married this year.  We have 13 couples from our parish who are preparing for marriage.  If you can remember, say a prayer for them from time to time.  I have meetings where I meet with the couples together, and I have meetings where I talk with them alone.  One of the questions I always ask them when I’m meeting them alone is “why do you want to get married?”  I mostly like asking this question because they always start to squirm.  Um, I don’t know, we love each other, um…  Isn’t that bad?  I put them on the spot like that.  And really, I’m not looking for any profound explanation of their love for each other, etc.  I just want them to ask themselves, why do I want to get married?  I hope it is because each of the spouses has a passionate desire to love the other spouse for the rest of his/her life.  I hope it’s because they greatly desire to enter into a permanent union, that they want to start a family.  I’m hoping that they want to get married, because they really WANT to get married.  I’m hoping there is passion and desire at the root of their decision to enter into this marital relationship.
Is faith really so much different?  Faith is a relationship.  Each one of us has a relationship with God, but also as a people we have a relationship with him.  Like any human relationship, there are two sides to the relationship.  I hope that the reason we are in this relationship is because we have a passionate desire for communion with God.  We certainly know that God has this desire for communion with us.
One of my favorite scripture passages is the famous John 3:16: God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son.  God loves the world, he loves us so much that he sends his son Jesus to be our savior.  We know that Jesus loves us, look at his self-giving on the cross.  We know that Jesus still loves us because he continues to give himself to us in the Holy Eucharist.  Today’s gospel passage tells us about the love Jesus has for us.  He heals Simon’s mother-in-law, he cured the sick, and drove out demons.  And as if that wasn’t enough, he gets up early the next day and says “to the other towns I must go.”
I think that very often we can picture God as being remote and lofty.  He’s the creator of the universe.  But, I think we do well to remember the passionate love of God.  He loved us so much that he sent his son to die on the cross.  Jesus came to raise us up.  His love is such that it took him to the cross.  Faith is a relationship, and it is a relationship based upon love and desire.  God loves us, and he wants us to be in communion with him.  What about our end?

Is our faith based on a passionate longing for communion with God?  Just like our human relationships, our relationship of faith has ups and downs.  There are times when we have that passionate love for God, then there are times when our faith isn’t so strong.  But, just like our human relationships, the key is fidelity and communication.  When I’m preparing couples for marriage I tell them that not every day will be perfect, they will have fights and disagreements, but fidelity and communication are the keys to lasting marriage.  Stay faithful to God.  Even when he feels distant, even when faith is a struggle, keep going.  Communication is essential.  Speak to God in prayer, listen to him in the Scriptures, welcome him into your life in this holy Eucharist.  Faith is a relationship of love.  God loves us very much, and just like the people in the gospel today, if we draw near to that love God can pick us up and heal our wounds.