Mar 25, 2017

4th Sunday of Lent: "Now I see"

"I do believe, Lord"

I Sam 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Eph 5: 8-14
Jn 9: 1-41

Criminal investigations and courtroom dramas are popular themes for books and movies. It all began with the television lawyer, Perry Mason, whose investigations and surprise findings always made that series popular. British author Agatha Christie and her murder mysteries and American novelist John Grisham are just two well-known examples, not to mention movies that have been made from their writings.

Who knew what, when, and how much did they know? is essentially a search for the truth. I once had to testify in court. I stood, raised my right hand and took the oath, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” I said, “I do, so help me God.” (The officer never asked me about God so I added that in my response).

From the exciting Gospel story this Sunday of the man who was healed of blindness by Jesus, we have a wonderful investigative process which unfolds before us. On the one side you have the man who was healed in defense of “Who” healed him. On the other side are the skeptical and self-righteous Pharisees who demand their answer to “how and what” happened. In this case the “who” is far more significant for the story than the “what or how.”

Though the man claimed to be born blind the Pharisees doubt his story and imply perjury on the part of the formerly blind man: “The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and gained his sight . . .” (Jn 9: 18) so they call in two witnesses to verify their suspicion: the parents of the man who claimed to be healed by Jesus. They, in fear, pass off their testimony to their son: “. . . Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself . . .” (Jn 9: 21).

The investigation continues as a division appears between the testimony of the formerly blind man, the crowds, the parents, and the suspicion of the Pharisees about Jesus: “. . . We know that this man is a sinner . . .” (Jn 9: 24). But the Pharisees insist on hearing, again, what happened and how it was done by Jesus. The man who can see only knows that Jesus gave him sight. Such compassionate power is not the work of a "sinner."

Yet, the poor man who was blind is caught in the middle and is eventually expelled from the synagogue. Still, his insistence that Jesus was a good man, a prophet from God never waivers. Finally, after being barred, Jesus finds him: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (Jn 9: 35) Jesus asks the man who kneels before him and looks directly into his face. The man who can now see confirms his faith: “I do believe, Lord.” (Jn 9: 38).

Like the story last week about the woman at the well, this man is a sign of all of us who are called to renewed faith this season of Lent. In fact, these are stories of how we come to faith.  The woman became a kind of apostle as she went to tell others about Jesus, then brought them to him.

This formerly blind man comes to believe through a personal encounter with Jesus.  Not only is his blindness healed, which he never requested be done, but through God’s reaching out to us, we come to see that he is the One who offers us new “sight;” he is the “light of the world.” From darkness to light the man has gone; from ignorance to knowledge to faith in Christ, who is the light of the world. Is that not our own Lenten journey and that of our Elect?

The darkness of our lives is only illuminated by the light that Christ can bring. As St. Paul writes so beautifully in the second reading today from Ephesians: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light . . .” (Eph 5: 8-9). The “what” and the “who” questions lead us to see the truth – who is Jesus alone.

While coming to faith is not a police investigation, yet through the growth stages of our life we gradually come to find the Lord but only if we are ready to receive.  The man asked nothing of Jesus, yet Our Lord gave to him a new vision; a new direction to his life.  Such act of divine compassion is offered to us as well.

So, what sort of blindness covers us? Sometimes it isn’t physical – it is a spiritual blindness that is darker; a “know it all” attitude rooted in pride. The Pharisees, in the end, are blasted by Jesus: “I came into the world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind. . . . You are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains!” (Jn 9: 39-41). The Pharisees, blinded by their own self-importance cannot “see” or recognize the source of all truth in Jesus who comes as the “Son of Man” a Messianic title. Christ is the one they are waiting for, he stands before them but their pride blinds them.

God sees differently than human beings. The first reading from Samuel tells the story of David’s choosing – the last and youngest among his older brothers. The least likely to be chosen and anointed but he’s the one God chooses as his king, his representative among his chosen people. Why him? Because, “. . . man sees the appearance but God looks into the heart.” (1 Sm 16: 8).

So, it is an outcast, an unproductive blind man whose worth was dismissed by his own people who shows us the truth of who Jesus is for our lives and our world. It is a powerful and thought provoking example of God’s mysterious work in our world. It challenges our own prejudices and expectations and humbles us.

Where do I not see? Is it my pride? My "I know that already" attitude? My Independence? Addictions or compulsions? My fear or lack of faith? Just plain old laziness?

What do I need to bring to the Lord for healing this Lent?

The Eucharist stands before us as a sign of the living Christ: Light of the World for all to follow. Do I see him? Do I see his presence in my brothers and sisters?

Mar 18, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent: "I am thirsty"

"The water I shall give will become . . . a spring of water welling up to eternal life." 

Exodus 17
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
John 4:5-42

I would guess that our obsession for clean filtered water is a multi-million dollar business today.  We see shelves of bottled water in grocery stores, we hear of water filters that eliminate nasty particles and dirt from your drinking water, as we feel that for whatever reason the water from the tap, despite what we are told, is simply not clean enough to drink. Yet, it looks certainly safe to drink and use for whatever other purpose. So, I don’t think we put water filters on our bathroom fixtures: shower heads or bathroom sink faucet and we brush our teeth with water from the tap for example.  We wash our clothes with that same “unfiltered” water so the psychology of marketing bottled water for general use at home has made quite a market. We all look for clean water that is safe to drink and enjoy; water that will satisfy our thirst but the readings this Sunday remind us there is a deeper thirst we are really looking to satisfy.

In the first reading from Exodus, despite the complaining of the people, Moses strikes the rock as God told him and clean, fresh water appeared to satisfy the thirst of an ungrateful people.  Yet, in that case, like the Gospel, simple water became a moment of renewed faith in God’s care for them.

Further, on this third Sunday of Lent, we hear of water both from a well, hardly unfiltered yet much cleaner and safe than water from the Dead Sea for example and of a kind of strange “living water” that Jesus offers. On a cultural level this is a shocking and complex story rich with both theological and historical elements.

Simply put, though,  Jesus a Jew and a man, engages in conversation, in public, with a Samaritan woman who comes from a sect of Judaism that considers Jews in Jerusalem to be heretics and mortal enemies. There would be no reason, and quite risky, for Jesus in his position to ask this woman for anything and better for him to simply remain silent, maybe turn his back, or to walk away.

Further, this is no clandestine meeting between Jesus and the unnamed woman but in broad daylight, in the sight of all, with this woman who was no doubt startled by the fact that Jesus would even acknowledge her existence at the well. I would imagine that when she saw him there, she may have hesitated to move towards the well. But, maybe not considering her personal history we hear about.   

Also, she comes alone in the heat of mid-day.  That would have been unheard of since women would travel in groups, in the cool of the early morning, to engage in conversation and to draw drinking water for their day.  So, there must have been some reason why she was shunned from the group of other local women and forced to travel alone to this well in the hot sunshine. So all around, this remains one of the most dramatic scenes in the Gospels.  

Despite all of that, Jesus strikes up a simple conversation with her as he requests a drink of water. As the conversation goes deeper, we hear both theological and historical references that are interesting but not so much the heart of this passage.

In this dramatic scene, we hear words of hope from the mouth of Jesus to this woman: "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst;  the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Since water is essential for life, Jesus offers to the woman a call to look deeper beyond the literal use of water to the sign of the new life he offers to her. 

Jesus finally asks her, "Go call your husband and come back." The woman answered and said to him, "I do not have a husband." Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, 'I do not have a husband.' For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” So shunned among the other women of the area due to what may have appeared a promiscuous lifestyle, Jesus does not belabor that issue nor do anything that would call her to public shame.   Rather, in their dialogue, Jesus holds up a mirror of her life to the woman.  He simply reveals what he knows as God and shows it to her. That powerful and compassionate move on our Lord’s part is a door to deeper understanding and conversion.

God offers us “water” that will never end – union with him through forgiveness and eternal life.  It’s clear, however the woman doesn’t understand the deeper symbolism of Jesus’ words fully but she does perceive that this man she speaks with is unlike any other man she had ever encountered.  Jesus offers something that touches her on a level where our common human thirst for God is satisfied. The woman reflects: "I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one speaking with you."

And she is forever changed as she returns to her community and states in hope that Jesus may be “the Christ” because he “told me everything I have done.”  Which perks interest in wonder as to what more did Jesus reveal to her about her past? What more did Jesus reveal to her about herself? And in that true “come to Jesus” moment, the woman found her need satisfied in Christ; his living water, the presence of the Holy Spirit, would become a “spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The other women return in curiosity and come to believe in Jesus as the longed for Messiah, the Christ.  Through finding him, no longer on the witness of another, they come to believe that Jesus is the “savior of the world.” They have come to faith now no longer on the woman’s testimony alone but their own faith has been moved by their encounter with the Lord.  Was the woman at the well a kind of Samaritan Apostle as she invited others, like Andrew did with his brother Simon, to meet the Lord?  It seems such in this beautiful story. 

At this time in Lent, along with our Elect preparing for baptism, confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist, we are invited to see the change in this woman.  She is us and despite the complicated historical and theological discussion between Jesus and her at the well, what really does matter for all of us is a personal encounter with Christ. In Jesus, God’s love is revealed and this woman is now invited to seek the water that will satisfy her thirst. To find that in Christ, we meet the source of Spirit and Truth.   

So, we may feel confronted with our own lack of faith and our lack of knowledge and invited to go deeper into the well of Jesus own presence both in the Sacraments and the sacred Word of God.  The Scriptures are a living word that speaks to every age of human history.  What is so appealing about writings that at the newest are 2,000 years old?  We read ancient writings form the Greeks and Romans and various philosophers of the same time when the Scriptures were written.  We hear stories from the ancient Egyptians yet the Word of God remains alive.  While such pagan writings have historical and literary value there is a living presence to the Bible and there we find God and his constant efforts to get our attention. 

In our Catholic life, our Sacraments are not just empty rituals or meaningless words.  The rituals are rather simple yet in that simplicity, such as the Anointing of the Sick or even Baptism or the Marriage Rite itself, we find the living presence of Jesus and through them we experience an encounter with him most especially in the Eucharist where he becomes food for us. 

The unnamed woman came to draw simple water from a well as she had done for a long time.  She never imagined that this Jewish man who reached out in respect for her dignity would forever change her life and that same moment is meant for all of us.  

There is one final question, though.  Did she ever give Jesus that drink of water? 

"Every Christian is a missionary to the extent
that she or he has encountered the love of God
in Christ Jesus."

(Pope Francis from his Apostolic letter:
"The Joy of the Gospel")

Mar 16, 2017

The reality of the human struggle towards holiness:

This coming Sunday, the third Sunday of Lent, we hear the beautiful story of Jesus and his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well: 

During the season of Lent we especially hear of how Jesus responded to the reality of human sin and in particular how he deals with the sinner.  By association we must see, then, of how the Church and in particular its ministers of the Gospel, priests in parish for example, should respond to his people.  What do these stories of the Gospel tell us?  That God's response to sin is always compassion for human frailty, mercy towards the sinner, an understanding of the struggle that we daily find ourselves in to avoid sin and to seek virtue, and an invitation to see the good news of Jesus as the road to salvation.  Quite frankly, I hear echoes in all of this of our present Holy Father Pope Francis.  

That is not to say that our past Popes were somehow not what Francis is today but it seems to me that Pope Francis has brought a certain humanity to the Papal throne that has deeply touched the hearts of many.  In particular when he used the metaphor of the Church as a: "field hospital" for wounded sinners.  In other words, a place for all of us!  

We priests hear it in the confessional all the time. If we are honest, we see it in our own personal life.  The truth is that there is the objective truth of Church teaching, the truth of the Gospel, the lived experience of the Church and the application of such truth to the subjective reality of our human experience as we find ourselves in a kind of spiritual warfare in the pursuit of genuine holiness. 

 I ran across an article you can find in the link below: 

I recommend everyone read it.  The pastoral application of Church teaching to the reality of this man's life is part of my ministry and the key to understanding what a gift of the Holy Spirit Pope Francis is to the Church at this time in history.  

So, if you struggle with repetitive sin, if you find yourself frustrated in the pursuit to seek good in your life, if you're not sure about receiving Holy Communion at Mass at times, read this article.  It is deeply moving and rooted in the reality of human experience. 

A blessed Lenten journey and more will indeed come . . . 

Mar 11, 2017

2nd Sunday of Lent: "Do you hear Him?"

(Giovani Bellini, 1490)

Gn 12: 1-4a
2 Tm 1: 8b - 10
Mt 17: 1-9

It is true that in order to be a good conversationalist we need to be a listener even more. I think this human art has been lost these days.  We live at a time of information overload, social media, and endless analysis of the daily events political, economic, religious and social.  While the internet is a rich source of information and communication it is also a powerful and at times addictive tool which can affect our personal and cultural lives in some very negative ways.  Opinion as told us, we shout and scream, demand that we be heard, we express our opinion we speak over another as they as speaking. So, we must be on guard and discern wisely what we hear and read about.  What can be a message of light and what can bring us to greater darkness? We ask, “Do I really listen in order to understand?” Can I hear what is being said or have I lost that art?

This second Sunday of our Lenten journey brings us face to face with a moment to listen.  On the mountain we see Jesus and three of his Apostles:  Peter, James and John.  I’ve wondered why these three and not Matthew, Philip or Andrew or any of the other?  Why not just all twelve of them together? 

Well, we can’t presume to know what was in the mind of Jesus but history may reveal some reason.  Peter would become the “rock” of the Church; the flawed but essential sign of the unity Jesus prayed for.  James would become the first leader of the Jerusalem Church and the first of the Apostles to die a martyr’s death.  John would later be given care of Mary, Jesus’ mother, after his death and resurrection.  John would live the longest of all the Apostles and eventually bring the Church to the end of its first century. He was personally known by some of the already successors of his Apostle brethren martyred before his own death.

Be that as it may, these three were obviously significant in the mind of our Lord and to them he sought to reveal a great truth.  He caught their attention and despite Peter’s sincere shout out, they were called to listen and understand.  The future knowledge of the nature of Christ and the unity of the Church would demand it. 

So, in a moment of strange transformation, on the mountain these three encounter a new vision of Jesus never seen before – a shadow of his resurrection. His face “shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” And the great prophets, Moses and Elijah, who bring together the Law and the Prophets, are seen speaking with Jesus.  Then to add to the overwhelming vision, a “bright cloud cast a shadow over them” and “a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son . . . listen to Him.’”

Now if a human face is suddenly  transfigured to a human form filled with glory, that shines like the sun, two long ago dead significant Jewish figures appearing, a cloud that shines and a voice that booms from it doesn’t cause you to stop and listen, nothing ever will! Certainly, this was not a Hollywood special effect but rather a deep truth uncovered for these future leaders of the Church. 

That is, Jesus is not a normal human being.  That his nature is both human and divine; that his mission is beyond this world and that he has come in the line of the prophets as the sign of God’s new Covenant, originally established through Abram (our first reading from Genesis) and Moses as the final fulfillment of that sacred Law.  For three Jews to witness such an event it would have all come together in a profound way.  God has fulfilled his promise to Israel and to all of humanity.  This is God’s answer to our sinful disobedience which estranged us from God. (Recall last Sunday’s story of Adam and Eve from Genesis 2).  Now, in Christ, his future passion, death and resurrection, a new and eternal Covenant is established between God and humanity. Still, why not build three tents?  Why not hold on to this glory?   

Once Peter has been silenced in order to get his attention all the more, and after the awestruck fear of the three, there stands Jesus alone as they have known him.  With him, there is no other nor will there be. Yet, this awesome display of other world glory was only temporary.  Here Jesus strengthened them for the days ahead – a time of no glory but suffering and passion; the seeming failure of a mission with the best of intentions.  This was an encounter they would need to never forget for beyond the suffering Messiah, there would come greater glory in the resurrection when the full story would be uncovered of Jesus’ identity and mission, which is now that of the Church.  For now, hold on to this but bring it down the mountain for future reference when the mission will carry on beyond Jerusalem to the entire world. 

That mission began with Abram when God asked a very risky and shocking thing of an old man who by now had settled down albeit apparently not rooted or fixed. Still, with no legacy in sons to leave behind progeny, we can only speculate that Abram may have given in to some level of sadness in, “this is as good as it gets.”

God asked Abram to begin again.  To listen to his command and to “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk . . .” With a divine promise only to go on, Abram went trusting that God “. . . will make of you a great nation.” Abram’s example is forever of one who listened without question and obeyed a command that gave little in detail.  He was able to obey because he listened first only to now see on the mountain who would finally carry this promise to completion.

In the end, the grace of God is given to us all so that we may listen more attentively in order to recognize the voice of God in our own moments of change or transfiguration.  We are not changed as Christ was before his startled three of course but God provides moments for us to listen and understand.  This Lent is always a time for us to stop talking and to listen to God that we may be changed.

In prayer, in charitable service, in the sacraments, in compassion for another, at a time when we include another without judgement and recognize their human dignity, in the sacred Word of God, in the Holy Eucharist, in spiritual reading, in a tough time I’ve endured, in the sickness of another or a word spoken to me or who known where and how and when God will call our attention to himself and demand our ear. All these are moments of encounter with Christ but do I hear him? It may not be a shining face, a voice from clouds above or even at a mountain top moment. How, when or where God will speak to us we will never know if we are not paying attention or wrapped in our own preconceived perception of holiness or self - righteousness. 

Peter, James and John are more like us than we may admit.  They needed to learn and to be formed in the Gospel truth of who Jesus was and who he remains but they eventually made the grade.  They learned to listen to him.

At Mass we hear his Word and we encounter his living presence in the Eucharist - are we changed by him?  Let's pray this Lent teaches us to listen more and talk less that by his grace we may be changed for Easter resurrection.  

O God, who have commanded us
to listen to your beloved Son, 
be pleased, we pray, 
to nourish us inwardly by your word, 
that, with spiritual sight made pure,
we may rejoice to behold your glory.

(From Collect of Mass)