Feb 18, 2021

1st Sunday of Lent: What drives me?


"This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come"

Mark 1: 12 - 15

This first Sunday of Lent we hear a very bare bones reference by Mark to Jesus temptation in the desert.  The details of the temptations and the conversation between Jesus and Satan are left out as we hear in Matthew but Mark’s version contains a very intriguing comment: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert.”

If we have embraced the spirit of Lent we may want to ask ourselves what “drives” us to make the choices we do.  What ideas, emotions, ideologies or maybe others compel us to do what we do? 

Bishop Robert Barron, in commentary on our Gospel passage from the Word on Fire Bible writes: "Christianity is above all, a way of seeing.  Everything else in Christin life flows from and circles around the transformation of vision.  Christians see differently, and that is why their prayer, their worship, their action, their whole way of being in the world have a distinctive accent and flavor."

Lent is a good time, then, to examine our motivations and how we personally see the world through our Christian faith or maybe how we should be viewing the world as Christians in light of our need for conversion.  So, Mark states that Jesus went to the desert driven by the Spirit, meaning Holy Spirit.  That same Spirit which appeared above him at his baptism is the same Spirit which compels Jesus out to the desert to fast, pray, and wrestle with the forces of darkness - to embrace the mission ahead of him and to choose his Father’s way. Most importantly, to confront the “father of lies” (Satan) and the forces of evil itself. It is a model of what we too are invited to do what we do in our personal spiritual lives. 

We may even be bold enough to ask, what drives God to do what he does? Who knows the mind of the divine?  Who of us creatures would ever second guess God?  Our first reading this Sunday gives us some indication as to God’s motives: love and mercy. The story of Noah and the flood may seem initially harsh though.

As the story goes, God is basically fed up with humanity and our sinfulness and intends to destroy human life on the earth. He recognizes Noah and his family, however, and their faithfulness so he desires to at least spare them destruction by water.  He sees the non-human life on earth as a reflection of his beauty and not guilty for simply being what they are. But, people have the power to choose and have been created in God’s image and likeness.  So, they know better essentially.  Seems a God whose patience has reached its end with humanity in general?

But, our reading from Genesis this Sunday picks up after the flood has receded and Noah and his family have landed on dry ground.  God makes a covenant with humanity – a permanent divine pledge – “I will establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you . . . never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood . . .I set my bow in the  clouds to serve as a sign. . .”

While God is of justice he is more of mercy and new life.  To make a covenant relationship with his lowly creatures is not to establish equality between partners but a pledge of love and mercy to us.  God is always motivated to choose by the force of love that he is.  In Christ we see this visibly in human form and the cross of Christ is the new sign of the new covenant that God has established with us. From the bow to the cross we might say.  This Lent I think it calls us to examine the motivation behind our choices.  

Our walk in this desert experience of Lent is a call to self-examination and to be strengthened as we too wrestle each day with light and darkness in our lives. Though Jesus was tempted mightily as we hear in Matthew and perhaps even more as Mark implies: "He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan . . ." he consistently resisted and confronted this leader of deception.  By the time Satan relented, although not completely, he knew he was defeated. 

Is our faith behind the choices we make? Do we see life differently than the world around us or are we simply invisible to others, especially non-believers? We too were baptized and we were also filled with the same Spirit which hovered over Jesus and was the inner force compelling him to carry out the mission of salvation.

However, when we examine our reasons, we might find they are motivated by less spiritual forces such as a higher pay check, a more beautiful location, a more convenient opportunity, a nicer group of people to work with, or something else related to such reasons. These are not wrong in themselves and are very common.  If you are married with a family you certainly have a moral obligation to provide for them. There is nothing wrong with wanting to advance and be able to provide more financial support, etc.

But, is there a deeper more spiritual force for you?  Is our life centered on the pursuit of abundance or have we adopted this Lent a more sacrificial tone? We should imitate the same reasons why God does what he does .  Our love for him and our love for others should be the driving force, motivated by his Spirit. As we begin our Lenten pilgrimage this Sunday it might be helpful to examine reasons for the choices I make.

As we move to the Holy Eucharist we receive what Jesus choose for us - his very Body and Blood.  Out of extravagant love he chose to pour out everything for us.  What greater model could we possibly have for our choices?

Grant, almighty God,

through the yearly observances of holy Lent,

that we may grow in understanding

of the riches hidden in Christ

and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 

who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 

God for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Sunday Mass)



Feb 12, 2021

Lent in 3 Minutes (NEW!)

Let's get ready

 In less than a week we move our liturgical season into the six weeks of prayer, fasting, penance, chartable giving and personal conversion to ready ourselves spiritually for the 50 days of the Easter celebration recalling the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Since the earliest days of the Christian faith, the Church and its members have taken this spiritual discipline seriously.  This year, in spite of the continued tiring news of the virus progression, we are filled with greater hope as the faithful have returned step by step to the celebration of the Mass.  While that varies throughout the Country our Lent/Easter time should have a more familiar feel to it this year.

One tradition, however, will be new for us in the United States this year.  Due to the present viral status, in order to bring a level of comfort and safety to all, rather than receive the blessed ashes marked in the sign of the cross on your forehead, ashes will be sprinkled on the head of each person approaching.  This is a more ancient way and the familiar method in Rome and Europe so now for us here in this part of the Catholic world it will be a new practice for us - at least for this year. 

When you hear the priest proclaim after the ashes are blessed, "Repent and believe in the Gospel" or "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return" we are called in the same manner to take these words to heart.  As the ashes are sprinkled on your head remember that it is not so much about a visible sign but rather an invitation for you to become the sign of conversion to those around you.  

We are told in the Gospel for Ash Wednesday https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/021721.cfm that we are not called to draw attention to ourselves as the visible cross on our foreheads may have done.  But rather to, "wash our face and groom our hair" so that our heavenly Father will see our deeds, rather than others who may become the focus of our attention.  So, this Lent be the sign of God's mercy, be the sign of hope and healing, be the sign of true conversion and holiness by the good example we give in praise of our heavenly Father.    

I've always felt for a long time that coming into Lent, Ash Wednesday next week in particular, feels somewhat like riding a plane in mild turbulence as it approaches the runway for a landing.  Once we set down on that first day of the lenten journey, are marked with ashes, we suddenly put the brakes on and have to shift gears as we focus more intensely on our personal spiritual walk with the Lord in his Church.  The temptation may set in to become very myopic. To think that Lent is all about ME and my personal renewal.  

While that is true it is even more accurate to see this as a time for the collective renewal of the Church.  We await the baptism of new members in the Easter vigil and the Church collectively journeys with them.  Like the citizens of Nineveh who heard to call from the prophet Jonah for reformation, and responded with great zeal, we too should hear the call of God for the same and rejoice in his promise of mercy and new life.  

So, let's land the plan gently and put on the brakes for a slow down; a stop and a turning towards the safe gate of conversion to the Gospel.  Let's make the rest of 2021, despite all the mantra of virus news, a new and holier year.  Let's be a beacon of hope and light to those around us.  

Our lives are far more than a virus.  Come to confession, to Mass, to prayer and sacrifice and let this season of grace be the abundant sharing in God's love and forgiveness.  

Happy Lent!  

Feb 6, 2021

2/7: 5th Sunday: "To heal the brokenhearted"


"He grasped her hand and he helped her up"

Mark 1: 29 - 39

The Word: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/020721.cfm

It is an interesting fact that Pope Pius XII who had the unfortunate fate of being elected during a dark time in world history, was convinced that Adolf Hitler was possessed by Satan or at the least was guided by a very evil spirit.

The level of destruction and violence that Hitler encouraged would indicate this strongly, as was true in the case of Stalin and other ruthless dictators during the Second World War

That being so Pope Pius attempted the rite of exorcism from Rome, facing Berlin, over Hitler.  Apparently he did so repeatedly but it seems to have not had an immediate effect. There may be specific reasons for this, according to professional exorcists, but one would wonder if the powers of darkness had not been unleased for a period of time.

There is a reason why the Church reminds us about sin by naming three sources of temptation: the world, the flesh and the devil.  We live in a flawed world, wounded through human weakness but there is still much reason for hope.

Christ has overcome this power of darkness and his death and resurrection is the key to that success and to our salvation. In Christ there is only light and life.  Our Gospel this Sunday and the scene in the synagogue at Capernaum from last Sunday, is one such example.

Here we find Jesus in the ministry of healing, exorcism and preaching which Mark indicates that our Lord was very busy about such things on a daily basis.

This Sunday, after leaving the synagogue, Jesus comes as healer as he compassionately reaches out to Peter’s mother-in-law who was likely a widow considering her living in Peter’s house. Jesus, “grasped her hand, and helped her up” as the fever left her.  Many heard of this and as the Sabbath day ended after sunset, the whole town was gathered at the door with the sick and desperate.  He cured many and drove out demons.

The Gospels many times emphasize Jesus’ confrontations with the forces of darkness.  It was historically a dark time.  With the force of ruthless Rome, which kept the “Pax Romana” through force and subjection, the extreme poverty that most lived in, and all around indications of disease and ineffective ways to heal, the power of Christ to bring hope and healing became a powerful force for optimism.

Our first reading from the Book of Job while poor Job laments his human condition as hopeless it sets up a kind of backdrop for what Jesus found in the social conditions of his time.

The Gospel passage further tells us that as Jesus went off to pray, Simon Peter and others pursue Jesus stating: “Everyone is looking for you.” While we imagine that the compassion of Jesus had no limits it still indicates as our Lord says that his mission was greater than one location or simply to work healings all day.  He continued to preach the good news and drive out other demons throughout Galilee.  Here Mark shows a kind of frenetic Jesus who wasted no time in the active fulfillment of his daily ministry.

The very nature of our faith is to be sent out on the mission Christ has given to his Church.  We see this in everything the Church does and Pope Francis has made it clear that we cannot be a Church closed in on itself.  What God has done for humanity is sending his Son must be known by the world and like Jesus in the Gospel today we move out and “go to the nearby villages.” In this time of pandemic “lockdowns” and such that mission may seem to have been halted for a time.  Yet, the purpose and hope of that mission remains unchanged. We are even more called to challenge ourselves and not become apathetic or feeling stuck in one place.

For most of us, for myself as priest, we do so beginning here at home.  “Going out” may mean my own family and extended family, our neighbors, those we know who have left the Church, those we work with, those in our classrooms and even something as simple as prayer before a meal in a restaurant.  We can evangelize in both silent witness and in our behavior and words.  It might mean developing a more active and focused prayer and sacramental life or renewing my commitment in my marriage or other vocation. 

How can I combat evil that I see?  How can I live a life of virtue that is an example to others of who I say I am?  Jesus ministry of a preacher and healer is the mission we are called to where we find ourselves.  I can forgive rather than seek pay back; I can love rather than hate; be honest rather than try to hide something.

May Jesus be our model as we all share as loyal sons and daughters in the life he has gained for us. It may be time now to return to Church worship again after the isolation caused by facemasks, distancing, and fear.  The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, the place where we are fed for the mission by his word and in his sacrament. 

Peace to you

Keep your family safe, O Lord,

with unfailing care,

that, relying solely on the hope of heavenly grace,

they may be defended always by your protection.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 

who lives and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 

one God for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Mass)