Sunday, March 15, 2015

God, our Loving Father

4th Sunday of Lent 2015:
Today is often called Laetare Sunday.  Laetare Sunday is one of the 2 Sundays during the Church year where we don pink, or if you prefer Rose, colored vestments.  We do so as a way to mark the fact that while we are still in Lent, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  The word Laetare comes from the entrance antiphon from today’s Mass: Rejoice Jerusalem.  So even though we are in the midst of a penitential season, a season that began with the somber reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return, the Church is reminding us to be joyful.  Remember that joy is not the same thing as bubbly enthusiasm.  Rather, joy is the peace of heart that comes from a relationship with Christ our Savior.  Joy comes from faith in the gospel.
So, in a way, Laetare Sunday is meant to be a bit of a pick-me-up.  I don’t know about you, but I’m sort of getting tired of Lent by now.  I wish I could have some sweets!  I miss singing the A word during Mass.  I’m about ready to be done with all this Penance.  This Laetare Sunday is the Church’s way of saying that Lent can be long and hard, but that we practice penance as a way to prepare ourselves to celebrate the joys of Easter.  It is a time to purify our intentions, to regroup and refocus our penance for the final push to Easter, when we will renew our baptism.  If we have lost our enthusiasm for penance today is a day to regain it.
Today we are continuing our exploration of the baptismal promises.  For the last three weeks have been thinking about rejecting Satan and his works and promises.  For the next three weeks we will look at the other side: proclaiming faith.  I think this is an important thing for us to do, because it shouldn’t always be gloomy Catholicism.  I know that some people think that the Catholic Church is just against a whole bunch of stuff, or that all we do is point out what is a sin.  But, that is certainly not how I see our Catholic faith.  While we need to reject Satan, it is ever so much more important to grow in our faith. 
Do you believe in God the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?  Do you believe in God?  I think most people, at the end of the day, believe there is a higher power.  I think most people probably believe there is something more than just what we see.  But, who is God?  As Christians we understand God because his Son Jesus told us about him.  We believe that God is almighty, creator of heaven and earth.  But, we also believe he is our Father.  This is a unique perspective, not shared by everyone.  God is not only the maker and the creator, but he is our loving Father.
Today’s gospel is one of those places where this is revealed to us: John 3:16 God so loved the world that he sent his beloved Son.  And one of my personal favorites: John 3:17 Jesus did not come to condemn but to save.  These two passages form, in many ways, the very heart of the gospel.  Jesus came to tell us that God is not some distant master, or some cosmic energy.  Rather, God loves the world and he sent Jesus here to save the world, to save each one of us.  This is truly a remarkable and groundbreaking belief: God loves us and sent Jesus to save us.  Hopefully this moves our hearts with love for God.
But there is one important feature to today’s gospel we cannot neglect.  Sure, John 3:16 and John 3:17 tells us that God is our loving Father, but listen again to how this love makes itself known: Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the son of man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  Love is manifested in the cross.  God so loved the world that he sent Jesus not to condemn but to save, but this love comes to us precisely in the suffering and death of Jesus. 
This gets me back to the season of Lent.  Lent is a time of struggle, a time of purification, a time of penance.  Lent is a time of sacrifice, of self-denial, of almsgiving.  Lent is a time to enter into the sufferings of Christ.  And, it is precisely through our suffering, our penance and self-denial, that we enter into the suffering of Christ, and in this way we are prepared to enter into the great Joy of Christ at Easter.  Our penance helps us to purify our hearts so we can renew the promises of our baptism.

In our own lives we live out the paschal mystery, namely that God loves the world, he sends Jesus to save us, Jesus shows this love on the Cross, which leads to the resurrection, which fills the world with Joy.  Love leads to joy, but it gets there by way of the cross.  Hopefully we start with love of God, and we want to get to the Joy of the resurrection.  But we too get there through suffering, we too get there through the cross.  Our love for God will lead to the joy of Easter, but only by going through this season of Lent, which is how a season of penance is lived as a season of Joy.  We are getting close to Easter, no wonder the church reminds us to rejoice.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

And all his empty promises?

3rd Sunday of Lent 2015:
Today we continue to look at our baptismal promises.  This week we are talking about the last of the three promises where we are promising to reject Satan.  Today we are thinking about rejecting all of Satan’s empty promises.  Kind of like last week, it might be good to quickly remember what Satan’s promises look like.
Remember back in the Garden when the serpent is tempting Eve.  He starts with a lie: did God really say you can’t eat from that tree?  Last week we talked about how important it is to reject that lie, that work of Satan.  But, he follows up his lie with two quick empty promises: you will certainly not die, and your eyes will be open and you will be like God.  Both of these are empty promises.
First, Adam and Eve do die, and their death is a result of their poor choice.  God did not create death, he did not create sickness, he did not create sin.  These things happen because of the Original Sin and the fall of the world.  Now, it is true that they didn’t die that exact minute.  But, they certainly did die.  Satan’s promise is empty: don’t worry you won’t die this minute, go ahead and do whatever you want, why worry about the long term.
Second, you will become like God.  I’ve been thinking about this one all week.  This empty promise is quite devious.  Don’t we all want to become like God.  Also, isn’t that what Jesus came to do, to make us all more like God?  Yes, that is why Jesus came.  What is wrong with the devil’s promise?  What does it mean to become more like God?
I think it gets to what is in the heart of each human person.  We were made by God in his image and likeness.  He also made us for communion with God.  So, each one of us has a longing for God, a desire in our heart that can only be satisfied by being in relationship with God.  The devil’s promise: don’t be in a relationship with God, just put yourself in his place.  All of the sudden, we are in the center of the universe.  We are no longer looking for God to be the satisfaction of all we desire.  Therefore, we have to turn to other things.  This empty promise says: don’t search for God, become God and fill your life with other things.
How do these empty promises play out in our lives?  Don’t worry about the long term, think only about today.  Satan tries to trick us into believing that our actions do not have lasting consequences, live today, don’t worry about tomorrow.  When I was a chaplain at the High School the kids would yell YOLO and then do something stupid.  Yolo means, you only live once, so go ahead and do whatever.  But, I’m sure I don’t have to convince all of you of the error of this empty promise.  Of course our actions have consequences.  Something we do today could carry with us the rest of our lives.  Rejecting Satan’s empty promises means that we take ownership of our actions.  
The other empty promise says that we can turn to things to fulfill the desires of our hearts.  All we need is that bigger house, that nicer car, more power in the workplace, more prestige in the community.  I’ll be happy as soon as I possess everything I see on TV, etc.  Or this next pleasurable activity will really give me the happiness I desire.  No, only our relationship with God is ultimately satisfying.  The things of this world all fade away.  No matter how much money, pleasure, power, or prestige we have, we will remain unsatisfied because we are looking for Christ.

If we have accepted some of these empty promises, don’t be afraid.  It just means that it is time to turn to Christ.  (Today we hear that he drives out the money changers from the Temple; or, Today we hear that he gives the living water to the woman by the well), what a beautiful image for Lent.  Let Christ cleanse us and make us new.  We know that only in him will we find the satisfaction of our deepest longings.