25 March 2006

Homily - 26 March 2006

Laetare, Ierusalem! Rejoice, Jerusalem! Rejoice, all who belong to Lord our God! “This is the day the LORD has made, let us rejoice in it and be glad!” (Psalm 118:24).

We may think it odd to hear such words in the midst of the season of Lent, a season which we typically associate with weeping and with sorrow. Certainly these emotions and mindsets are a part of the Lenten observance, but if we stop here then we miss the very meaning of this season of grace and of mercy. Lent always looks to Baptism, to freedom from sin, to life, to joy, to glory. Can there be any greater cause for rejoicing than this? Can anything bring us greater joy than knowing that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life”? (John 3:16).

We know full well that through our pride and selfishness and sin we lost the blessed state in which we were created and we were cast out from the presence of God. It is a pain that we feel even today. We sometimes feel abandoned by God; at other times we feel that have utterly failed him, but we are not without hope because in Christ Jesus “God has visited his people” (Luke 7:16). For “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ,” all because of his love (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Because of our sin we, like the Israelites, had been taken captive by the Enemy and made subject to sin and death. No longer were we free but we were slaves to sin with no possible means of escape; we could do nothing to regain our freedom. But then, “in the blink of an eye” (I Corinthians 15:52) the tables were turned when the Father, because of his love, sent the archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary with this announcement:

Behold, you will conceive and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:31-33).

At the very moment Gabriel stood before Mary our freedom and salvation was close at hand. For Jesus Christ, to whom “all power in heaven and on earth has been given” (Matthew 28:18), has come to us to save us from the power of sin and death and to free us from our captivity, to restore us to the “glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

From his glorious position on the throne of the Cross, lifted up for all to see, Jesus proclaims to the world:

All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of [my] people, let him go up, [knowing that I am] with him! (II Chronicles 36:23).

We were doomed to death, but now, through the self-giving love of Christ, the sentence has been lifted, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Through the power of his love he brings us now into his house, and not as slaves but as friends (cf. John 15:15).

We know that we belong to Christ, we know that he has saved us, and yet we grow complacent in our faith; we openly rebel against him choosing our own will over his; we sin and we fall short of the glory he has given us. So Holy Mother Church gives us this “joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed (Preface, Lent I). It is a blessed time to return to the Lord, to dedicate ourselves again to living as his faithful servants, those who truly belong to his household. It is a time for us to cease our evil thoughts and deeds, to stop walking in the darkness and to begin walking anew in the light of the Lord. It is a time for us to embrace the power of the Paschal Mystery in each of our lives. How, then, do we do this?

Jesus says to us today, “Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God” (John 3:21). Jesus also tells us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). To live the truth, then, means to live in Jesus Christ, to recognize that in Baptism we have been made one with Christ and have become a “new creation” (II Corinthians 5:17). Living in Christ Jesus we journey within into heaven where the brilliant light of God is so beautiful and bright that even the angels shield their faces. How then do we always remember that we are new creations in Christ Jesus? How do we always live as true and faithful members of his house? Let us follow the advise of St. Clare of Assisi:

O dearest one, look up to heaven, which calls us on, and take up the cross and follow Christ who has gone on before us: for through him we shall enter into his glory after many and diverse tribulations. Love God from the depths of your heart and Jesus, his Son, who was crucified for us sinners. Never let the thought of him leave your mind but meditate constantly on the mysteries of the cross (Letter to Blessed Ermuntrude of Bruges, 9-12).

We must always focus on the “Son of Man [who was] lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The Cross is the source of our joy and it is to the Cross that the season of Lent leads us, and for this reason it is a joyful season.

Pausing today should fill us with the joy of the Risen Lord for today we are reminded that the final victory is already won because of the power of his love, a love that is stronger than death (cf. Song of Songs 8:6). We know that Christ has forever conquered sin and death and that his love is with us always. Let this be our consolation and our hope as together we journey toward Easter. God loves us. Let us rejoice and be glad.

18 March 2006

Homily - 19 March 2006

Are you thirsty? Have you found a means to quench your thirst? Is there a longing or a yearning in your heart that you cannot satisfy? We can rightly say that if we are not fully satisfied that we search for something or, perhaps better, that we thirst for somebody.

Today the Israelites grumble against Moses, demanding, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” (Exodus 17:3). They thirst for water, certainly; but they thrist for something more than the water they demand, even though they do not yet realize it. We are much the same.

Like the woman at the well, the Israelites thirst for the Messiah. With her, they know “that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything” (John 4:25). This woman has many unanswered questions. Her life has not been easy, nor has it been pleasant. For many years she has tried to quench her thirst. She has looked for ways to ease her troubled heart. She looked for ways to suppress her disturbing questions about life. In short, she looked for her happiness in the things of this world, yet never did she find it here.

Many of us look to food, or alcohol, or drugs, or money, or food, or sports, or cars, or clothing, or computers, or books – it could be anything – to satisfy our longings. We at least look to these sorts of things to forget about our questions, but this forgetting is only temporary and so we find ourselves in some sort of viscious circle of forgetfulness and remembrance and we grow more weary because the questions never go away. The more we try to avoid them the more insistent they grow and the more we try to satisfy our longings with things.

The Samaritan woman at the well sought her escape from her suffering and pain in the company and pleasure of men. Jesus pointedly reminds her of the uselessness of her quest for happiness when he says to her, “You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband” (John 4:18). In searching for her happiness she wandered farther and farther from the Lord her God, the only true source of happiness, fulfillment, and peace. Now her Lord comes to her, saying, “Give me a drink,” or rather, “Take a drink of me” (John 4:7).

With the Psalmist, the woman can sing, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My being thirsts for God, the living God. When can I go and see the face of God” (Psalm 42:2-3). Through her searching in vain for something to satisfy her deepest desires the woman came to realize that she sought the Lord himself. She is left with no where else to turn. All that she thought would bring her happiness has failed; she has been lied to and is lost. Now she knows that she was really searching for the Lord all along, but she does not know where or how to find him.

Her situation seems desperate and almost without hope. All of her life has led her to this point, but for what purpose? It has been a life of “emptiness and pain” (Psalm ). Have not each of us felt ourselves in this same predicament before? The singer and songwriter Rich Mullins sings this: “I can’t see how you’re leading me unless you’ve led me here / Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led / And so, you’ve been here all along I guess / It’s just you’re ways and you are just plain hard to get” (Rich Mullins, “Hard to Get”). Her difficult journey has led her here, to the very place where she is broken enough to recognize her need for the Savior. Today the Savior comes to her and says, “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!” (Isaiah 55:1). He calls, too, to us in our brokenness, “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!”

Jesus offers himself to her – and to us as well - as the only lasting satisfaction to her yearnings and as the only one who can tell her everything she has done (cf. John 4:39). As Jesus said to her so he says to each of us today: “whoever drinks the water I shall give will become in him a water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

But where do we find this water? When Jesus died upon the Cross for our salvation, “one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out” (John 19:34). By gazing upon the pierced side of the Crucified and Risen Lord we will find this living water, and the more we gaze upon him in love the more we, too, we will come to say, “For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, like a land parched, lifeless, and without water” (Psalm 63:2). We will come to realize that without the Lord Jesus we are empty and lost, but that with him all of our thirst will be quenched.

It is precisely at the Cross that we will find this living water and it is here where all of our deepest yearnings and desires and longings will at long last be fulfilled and satisfied. Beneath the shadow of the Cross we will find our happiness, our fulfillment, and our peace. This will only happen at the Cross because it is from the pierced side of the Savior that the Church and all of the Sacraments poured forth. The Fathers of the Church always saw the blood and water which flowed from his side as the symbol of the Sacraments – especially of Baptism and the Eucharist – and of the Church.

There are in our community a number of individuals who, like the Samaritan woman, have searched in vain for happiness until the Lord came to them and said, “Give me a drink; take a drink of me.” They [You] have found in Jesus Christ their happiness, their fulfillment, and their peace, and they [you] wish to share in full communion with us the riches and graces of the Sacraments of the Church, entrusted to the Church by the Savior. All of the joys and sorrows of their [your] lives have led them [you] to this moment and we are happy to welcome these [you] Elect and look forward to the day when they [you] will be one with us.

But before we can welcome them [you] fully into our community, we must first examine their [your] lives and their [your] commitment to Christ and to his Church. We must scrutinize their [your] motives and their [your] faith. We must ask the Lord to protect them [you] from and strengthen them [you] against the power of Satan and his ways. They [You] come to us now, in humility and in faith, to be received into our community. As these Elect and candidates come to us to ask for the Sacraments they say to us, “[We] have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).

Let us follow their example of complete faith and trust in the Lord Jesus and in his Church. Let us examine and scrutinize our own lives, so that we may cooperate with the grace of God to remove whatever it is that keeps us from following perfectly after him. Let us seek to become like him and so share fully in the glory of his Resurrection.

12 March 2006

Homily - 12 March 2006

Today, in the reading from the book of Genesis, we see a foreshadowing of the Messiah in Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son Isaac. The Lord called Abraham while he was still in the land of the Chaldeans and said to him: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you” (Genesis 12:1-2).

There was nothing particular about Abraham that gave the Lord a specific reason to call him. He had previously never known the Lord nor had Abraham performed any especially significant deeds. The Lord chose Abraham simply because he wanted to; the Lord chose Abraham simply because he loved him, and so he chooses us as well.

After Abraham followed the way of the Lord to the land of Canaan, the Lord clarified his promise to him that he would make of him a great nation:

Look about you, and from where you are, gaze to the north and south, east and west; all the land that you see I will give to you and your descendants forever. I will make your descendants like the dust of the earth; if anyone could count the dust of the earth, your descendants too might be counted. Set forth and walk about in the land, through its length and breadth, for to you I will give it (Genesis 13:14-17).

Here, then, we come to the particular dilemma Abraham faced when God said to him, “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust [as a burnt offering] on a height that I will show you” (Genesis 22:2). The difficulty here for Abraham is not so much in the offering of his son as it is in the Lord’s former promise to him. This is not to say that Abraham did not love Isaac – he certainly did – but this command of the Lord seems to contradict his promise to make of him a great nation.

When Abraham’s wife Sarah gave birth to her son she called him “Isaac” – a name that means “laughter” – because, as she said, “God has given me cause to laugh, and all who hear of it will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6). When Isaac was born Abraham was one hundred years old, and Sarah was close to this age. The Lord then told Abraham that “it is through Isaac that descendants shall bear your name” (Genesis 21:12). All of God’s promises to Abraham rested upon his only son and now the Lord asked Abraham to give him Isaac. Without Isaac, how could the promise possibly be fulfilled? Nevertheless, Abraham followed the command of the Lord.

When they reached the top of the height, Isaac – thinking they had gone to offer a sheep - looked around and asked his father, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?” (Genesis 22:7). The father answered his son, “God himself will provide the sheep;” surely there were tears in his eyes as his heart pounded within his chest (Genesis 22:8).

When all was ready and Abraham was about to sacrifice his only son, the angel of the Lord commanded him, “Do not lay your hand on the boy. Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son” (Genesis 22:12).

Now we come before the Lord fully aware of our sins and with the full knowledge that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). What are we to do? We, too, look around and ask, “where is the sheep for the holocaust?” We are told, “God himself will provide the sheep,” and the John the Baptist announces to us, “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

God indeed provided the lamb to atone for our sins; he sent his only Son whom he loved. “He … did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all” (Romans 8:32) because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). At the time of the Passover, the Lord commanded the descendants of Abraham, “Go and procure lambs for your families, and slaughter them as Passover victims” (Exodus 12:21). “The lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish” (Exodus 12:5).

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be . . . he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls . . . can sanctify those who are defiled . . . how much more will the blood of Christ? (Hebrews 9:11-14).

Jesus Christ, “like a lamb was led to the slaughter or a sheep to the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). “But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Of Jesus’ death on the Cross, the Father has said, “Through his suffering my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear” (Isaiah 53:11b). “He shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses” (Isaiah 53:12c).

Through his death Jesus has taken away our sins and redeemed us, restoring our relationship with the Father and giving us the promise of eternal life and glory with him. This is certainly cause for great rejoicing in “this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed” (Preface, Lent I). The Church presents to us today the reading from Genesis to remind us of the very reason for this penitential season. Through these forty days of Lent we are to renew our love and trust in the Lord who has saved us.

At the same, Holy Mother Church presents us with the reading from the Gospel of Matthew concerning the Transfiguration of the Lord to remind us of the joys of Easter which we will experience after these forty days. In her wisdom, the Church recognizes that the beginning of any sort of discipline is difficult. Ask someone who has quit smoking, or drinking, or gambling, or who has lost a significant amount of weight. The first week or so are always very difficult, but once that hurdle is cleared it becomes at least a bit easier.

So it is with Lent. I do not know about you, but a double bacon cheeseburger never sounded so delectable as it did on Friday. The Lenten disciplines are difficult if we truly seek to honor them. As we continue our Lenten observance may we always remember the Father’s offering of his only Son for the forgiveness of our sins. At the same time, let us keep in mind the great joys of the Resurrection that await us if we remain faithful when the Lord at last comes again.

09 March 2006

Homily - 5 March 2006

The sacred season of Lent “has a double character, namely, to prepare both catechumens [those who learn the Christian faith and are preparing for baptism] and the baptized faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery” (Ceremoniale Episcoporum, 249). The Paschal Mystery is nothing less than the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The focus of this Lenten season is, then, to prepare each of us to share fully in the Death and Resurrection of Christ the Lord.

We who have been baptized first shared in the Paschal Mystery of Christ the very moment we were baptized into the Church, the Body of Christ. St. Paul asks of us:

… are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. (Romans 6:3-5).

Indeed, as we entered into the waters of baptism – or as the water was poured over our head – we entered into the tomb of Christ having shared in his death. When we arose from the waters – or when the water ceased to be poured over us – we came forth as from a womb, sharing in the new life of Christ Jesus. In Baptism, we have shared fully in the Death and Resurrection of Christ, in the Paschal Mystery. Those who are to be baptized at the sacred Vigil of Easter are also called by him to share in this Mystery; they, too, are called to die and to rise with Christ. Together we journey and prepare for this great day, even if there are no catechumens physically present among us.

With Jesus, then, who, after his baptism by John in the River Jordan, entered into the desert, we, too, enter into the desert of Lent. Indeed, even as “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days,” so, too, are we driven out into the desert by the same Spirit where we will remain for forty days so that we might “return to the Lord” as we were called to do on Ash Wednesday (Mark 1:12; Joel 2:13).

Jesus is led into the desert, into the land of death where he lived “among wild beasts,” (Mark 1:13). But just what are these wild beasts? Scorpions and cobras and other creatures of the desert? Perhaps, but I suggest that these beasts are more than things of the earth, for why would the angels minister to Jesus simply for living among the animals?

Rather, these beasts are the various temptations that each of us face each day of our lives. We know that “we do not have a great high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). These wild beasts are the same beasts with which we contend in the desert of Lent. They are the same sins we face each day and now combat with increased prayer, with fasting, and with almsgiving, whether they be pride, greed, envy, gluttony, lust, laziness, or any other sin which we commit. Jesus wrestled with each of these beasts in the desert and he conquered each one of them and gave rise to the life-giving water of which he said, “the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life“ (John 4:14). “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Hebrews 4:16). Let us beg of the Lord the grace to valiantly fight against our sins to throw off the yoke of Satan which keeps us from fully following after the Lord.

As Jesus conquered each of our sins he demonstrated his great willingness and desire to share fully in our humanity. When he took on flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary, he did not abandon his divinity but fully accepted our human frailties. Jesus not only unites himself with us in the desert as he did at his baptism, but he undergoes the very same aspects of human life which we seek to avoid here in the desert. He came to us as we are to call us to himself and to reform our lives. As Peter reminds us today, “For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God” (I Peter 3:18).

As the angels ministered to him in the desert – just as they had ministered to the people of Israel in the desert and to Elijah – Jesus prepared for what he knew would come from his time in the desert. He knew that the desert prepared him for his mission, for when he emerged from the land of death, he boldly proclaimed, “This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the Good News!” (Mark 1:15).

This same message was preached to the people of Noah’s day and none but Noah and his family heeded the message. The waters of the flood destroyed all that was, all except for that which was on the ark. Through the waters of the flood the earth was re-created, even as we were re-created in the waters of baptism. We know well what Peter reminds us of today, that the waters of the flood “prefigured baptism, which saves [us] now” (I Peter 3:21).

When Noah and his family emerged from the ark, the Lord God placed the rainbow “in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between [the Lord] and the earth” (Genesis 9:). Even as he set his bow in the heavens as a sign of his mercy given to Noah, so the Lord now sets before us the Cross of Christ as the sign of his grace and mercy to us and to all. Through the Cross, the Lord Jesus “shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice, and he teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9).

Before we enter into the great joy of Easter, we know that we must pass first through the pain and sorrow of Good Friday; we must first embrace the Cross of our salvation. Today, let us embrace the Cross of our Lord! Let us take up the wood of the Cross and beat back the demons and with it’s power conquer our sins and be united with Christ the Lord. Let us again renounce the Evil One and seek to follow Christ in all things, that we might share in the glory of his Resurrection, for “this is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel!”

08 March 2006

Deus caritas est

Last evening I gave the first of a two-part presentation on Pope Benedict XVI's encynclical, Deus caritas est. I was given a very pleasant - and encouraging - sign when twice as many people (26) came to the presentation as had registered (13). I had anticipated a few more people attending than registered, but not quite this many and so did not have enough materials for everyone.

The presentation went very well and the feedback was positive. I very much enjoyed offering the presentation. It has been so long since I have done something like this that I think I forgot how very much I enjoy it.

I will offer the second presentation on the encyclical next Monday night and I am very much looking forward to it.