Homily From the 5th Sunday in Lent, Year A

As I was reflecting on the Gospel for today, I thought of two images of Christ.  The first is one that some of you might be familiar with, at the National Shrine in Washington DC.  It is a beautiful mosaic above the main altar, and is entitled “Christ in Majesty.”  Until someone told me that Jesus wasn’t German, this is what I thought he looked like.  It’s an image of the glorified Christ, the immortal judge and lawgiver, with flames of righteousness bursting from his blonde hair.  It is truly quite the sight, and really reflects the awesome power of God.  You might also be familiar with the other image I was thinking of.  It is a pencil-drawn image of the laughing Jesus.  It’s not my favorite, but you’ll find it at some of the religious goods stores around the area.  It shows Christ as a down-to-earth, friendly, man.  He’s just a nice guy, a pal.  These are two very different images, and both try to tell us something about who Jesus is, just as the Gospel does today.

You see we hear about two seemingly different sides of Jesus today.  We hear that Christ loved his friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus.  He apparently had spent some significant time with them, and they were a place of intimacy, rest, and relaxation for him as he was doing his public ministry.  This is something that everyone needs, even Christ himself.  But then Jesus hears that his friend is dying.  And he comes to the grave, and it all seems to hit him at once.  He sees Mary coming to him weeping.  He sees the mourners wailing the death.  He no doubt noticed the strange absence of his friend Lazarus.  And so he becomes perturbed and troubled, asking “Where have you laid him?”  And when they show him the tomb, we receive the shortest line in this wonderful Gospel – “And Jesus wept.”  Jesus wept.  He was overcome with emotion for love of his friend, and he couldn’t help but weep.  This certainly shows forth the verity of his human nature.  He really is a man, and he really does love.

But immediately afterwards, Christ shows us another aspect of himself.  He gives us the greatest miracle in his public ministry – he raises his friend Lazarus from the dead.  He orders that the tomb be opened, and the people reluctantly do so, although they know that there will be a stench, because this man is definitely dead.  But Jesus already knows this, and he is determined to show the power that he has over death.  And then, in an unforgettable way, Jesus called into the tomb and orders the dead man forth.  You see, in this miracle, we see that Christ isn’t just some guy, some ordinary Jewish man at the funeral.  No, he is truly God, and this caused people to believe in him.  People who had thought that death was the final answer, and that the story of Lazarus was over, are proven wrong.  And they come to believe in him.

Now, a lot of Bible scholars out there will tell you that these two aspects of Christ reflect his humanity and his divinity respectively.  And I think sometimes we can try to separate out Jesus the man from Jesus the God, based on his actions in the Gospel, but it’s important to remember that Jesus is one – he’s fully a man, and yet, without loss of his humanity at all, he is fully God.  This is what the Church calls the hypostatic union – that unbreakable unity in Jesus’ humanity and divinity.  Now, if you struggle to understand this, you’re not alone!  This is something the Church has been trying to understand since the very beginning, over which she clashed with all sorts of heretics.  Can you believe people used to actually form mobs and riots about the humanity and divinity of Jesus!  If only we had that sort of zeal today!  But ultimately through a lot of Councils, and a lot of inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and a lot of blood, sweat, and prayers, we have come to this understanding.  But why should this mean anything to us?  Why should we care about this at all?  Why not just leave this to the theologians?  Well, we see why right here in the Gospels – Christ cares for us, just as he did his friends.  He shares our joy and our sorrow.  He weeps with us.  But it’s important not to leave it at that.

I think this is a powerful passage because it’s one that people can connect to.  It shows us that Christ weeps for the deceased, just as those of us who mourn do.  But this passage isn’t just about earthly death, but that death that we all experience daily because of our sins.  Each time we sin, we embrace death again.  Sadly, there are people out there who have no idea that they are spiritually dying inside, or worse yet, that they are already dead.  And in a way, that sin effects Christ.  He weeps for our sins.  We weeps for us when we experience the sting of spiritual death, and we weeps with us as we’re suffering its effects.  But it isn’t enough for us simply to be grateful that Christ is a shoulder to cry on or something.  It isn’t enough to see him as a nice guy who we can talk to when we’re having a rough day or when we’re struggling with some sin.  Christ can actually do something about it!  In the midst of all that spiritual death, we have to remember that just as he told Martha and Mary, Christ himself is the resurrection and the life.  He is the source of life, and he is our very reason for living.  He wants to call us forth from that tomb of our sinfulness, and to untie us from the burial clothes that have become chains – chains of sin.  But as with the Gospel, this takes faith.  We have to seek him out.

The season of Lent is indeed about death.  But it’s not the death of sin, but rather a death to ourselves.  It is about dying to those things that keep us from God, and embracing the life that Christ offers to us.  Christ offers us special opportunities during Lent to embrace this life through the sacraments – Reconciliation and the Eucharist, especially.  So if you haven’t gone to confession yet, or even if you have, try to go soon, before Lent is over.  And as we continue on our Lenten pilgrimage, trying to be mindful of Christ as our Resurrection and Life, maybe we can ask ourselves a few questions.  In what ways have I been dying the death of sin, things that Christ is calling me away from?  And then, in what ways is Christ calling me to die to myself and embrace the life that he offers?  May we listen to his call, and when he calls us forth from the tombs of our sin, may we run to him and embrace him as our friend and Lord.

The Roman Missal: The SECRET Prayers of the Mass

One of the most awkward social moments is when you see someone moving their lips while looking at you, but you can’t hear what they’re saying, so you ask them, “What??”  At this point, the person turns a little more, and you notice they’re wearing one of those wireless Bluetooth earpieces for their phone!  I used to think the same thing about the priest when he was whispering some of the prayers at Mass.  I felt like I wasn’t listening hard enough, or that I was missing something!  So I figure now would be a time to talk about the SECRET PRAYERS OF THE MASS!!!

That caught your attention, didn’t it?  You might ask why I would call them that.  Are they rude comments about the congregation that the priest is venting to God?  No.  Are they the priest whispering sweet nothings into God’s ear?  No.  Are they ancient secrets about the child of Jesus and Mary Magdalene?  Settle down, Dan Brown.  No.  They are called “secret” because of the way they are described in Latin: “sub secreto”, basically translated as “said in a low voice.”

There are many occasions in the Mass where we hear (or don’t hear, in this case) these prayers, and the reason they are said quietly depends on the circumstance.  Some are quiet for historical reasons, stemming from days when the Mass was typically prayed in that low voice, with the parts out loud being the exception.

Others are the prayer of the priest on behalf of the Church.  This has to do with the Church’s understanding of the purpose of priests.  A priest has the humbling task to offer the sacrifice of Christ on behalf of all as an intercessor, both for those present and those not.  For this reason, there are some prayers that the priest prays personally to Christ, recognizing his unworthiness and weakness, and seeking the Lord’s divine help to do what he’s been asked to do.

One other reason that these prayers are silent is for a sense of mystery.  I’m not talking about cloak-and-dagger stuff here, but something that inspires wonder and awe for Christ, something that makes us acknowledge we don’t know everything about God.

As mentioned earlier, some of these prayers are for the priest alone, and really only make sense when spoken by someone in his position, but others are wonderful opportunities for personal devotion and prayer for all of us.  They remind us of the importance of interior prayer, so that we’re not just “going to Mass” or “saying Mass” (in my case), but that we’re “praying the Mass.”

So break out your magnifying glass and your Sherlock Holmes hat!  It’s time to look at the “Secret Prayers of the Mass!”

Homily From the 3rd Sunday in Lent, Year A

I have to make a confession (not the sacramental kind, FYI).  This week’s homily was pretty heavily recycled from last year, with maybe a few changes.  Sorry.  But hey, recycling is good, right?  Besides, my parishioners here haven’t heard it yet, and I’m banking that any parishioners from last year either don’t remember or weren’t paying attention when I gave it.  So here you go!

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A few years ago, my family and I were on a cruise, and one of the stops was Jamaica.  Now my dad and I had been very careful not to drink the water there, so we hadn’t been drinking anything.  But we saw some place that was selling Coca-Cola.  And I love me some Coca-Cola.  And it was bottled and sealed, so we didn’t think anything of it and enjoyed a nice, cold, Coca-Cola Classic.  The next day, though, both of us were sick as dogs.  It turns out, to our thinking at least, that it was the ice used to cool them that was the problem.  It was made from the Jamaican tap water, and so when it melted, it made us sick.  Terrible.  I never want to do that again.  So you have to be careful.  Sometimes, things that look good and that will quench your thirst will really only make you sick.  Sometimes, you can drink something that looks good, but tastes horrible – that’s why you always smell the milk in the bottle before drinking it.  Sometimes you drink things that just make you more and more thirsty, like drinking that carbonated mineral water like they have in Europe. But the point is, that sometimes, even though things look like they’re going to satisfy our thirst, like that coke, they really do us more harm than good.

Today, we hear the story about the Samaritan woman at the well.  We know a few things about her from the clues of the Gospel, but the most important thing is that she was thirsty. She wanted water that would last.  But we’re told that she has had five husbands, and with her current one, she didn’t even bother to get married!  Typically, women in Gospel times went to the well in the morning to get their water, and they would stand around chatting and gossiping, and braiding each other’s hair, and all the things you crazy women do when you get together.  It was much cooler in the morning, so they would go as early as possible to avoid the heat.  And the fact that this woman from the Gospel was going at noon meant she really must have wanted to keep away from the rest of the women.  She most likely earned her money from a less respectable job, and not selling bootleg DVD’s, if you know what I mean.  This woman was an outcast, and so by living water, she thinks Jesus means running water or fresh water, which she thinks is a good deal, so she doesn’t have to come to the well anymore and face the shame.  But she is also thirsting for something more.  She’d been thirsting for comfort, for acceptance, and for love her whole life,  but in all the wrong places.  In each of those failed relationships, she’d been looking for something lasting or fulfilling, but for some reason, she couldn’t find it.  She has a deeper thirst, a deeper desire, one for meaning and purpose.  She and the people she’s been living with have been wandering through a spiritual desert, like the Israelites in our first reading, with their souls slowly dying from a death of frustration, boredom, meaninglessness, and pain.

Many of us have similar thirsts.  We have an unquenchable desire for meaning and fulfillment, and most of the time, we don’t know where to look, so we have a few different kinds of “water” that we turn to.  Sometimes, we turn to things that look great, like that European carbonated mineral water, but even after we’ve filled ourselves with all that the bottle has to offer, we find ourselves still looking for more.  These are things like money, fame, or affirmation from other people.  No matter how much money or fame we have, or how often people might compliment us, we end up looking for more in an unquenchable cycle of thirst.  And so we only find ourselves back at square one, looking for something else.

Other times, we’ll turn to things that might look good from the outside, but are really rotten and smell to high heavens, like that rotten milk.  These are things like pornography or drug usage.  We try to dress them up as much as we can, convince ourselves that it’s really only one time, or that we don’t have anything else to drink from, so we just choke it down.  But in the end, we know in our heart of hearts that it’s rotten, and that it will leave us in a worse position than we began with.

Sometimes we turn to things that taste great and are refreshing at the time, giving us all the pleasure that we need or want – like that Coca-Cola – but afterward, we feel terrible, empty, sick, lifeless.  The Samaritan woman found this, trying to satisfy her thirst with husbands, partners, people she claimed to love, but who were just objects in the end, meant to quench her thirst for something more.  We can fall into this as well, replacing meaningful or lasting relationships with people we love with other relationships, which although they seem like true friends, really lead us to a sickening and nauseating end, and usually result in something wrong and sinful.

So what kind of water should we seek?  Even when all of our physical thirsts and desires are satisfied – the perfect house, the perfect job, the perfect family – we pause for a moment of reflection, and think to ourselves, “I’m still thirsty.”  What kind of water will satisfy us?  What kind of water can we drink from that doesn’t leave us sick or depressed?  What kind of water can we turn to at any time, anywhere, and for anything, which will comfort and console us more than any earthly water can?  The answer, of course, is Christ.  Ultimately, we thirst for Christ.  And equally important, if not moreso, is that Christ thirsts for us as well!  As the Catechism teaches us, “Man is made to live in communion with God, in whom he finds happiness.”  Christ goes to the well of our hearts, and asks us, “Give me a drink.”  If we choose to give him the water of our hearts, turning everything over to him, embracing the fact that only Christ can quench the innermost thirst of our souls, we ourselves become fountains of the living water.  We abandon ourselves to God and become flowing rivers of His love.  We satisfy other’s thirsts by living a life of the Gospel, promoting social justice and spreading the truth of the Gospel by our words and actions.  When we live a life as a fountain of the living water, we attract other people to Christ, just as the woman at the well did.  We won’t have to worry about getting sick from the water that Christ provides for us, because even from the very beginning of the world, God the Father created us to be quenched by this water.

During this season of Lent, as we near the Cross, where satisfying water and blood poured forth from the side of Christ, let us reflect on our thirst.  In what areas of our lives are we still thirsty?  Where will we choose to turn when we’re thirsty?  What sort of drinks have we been turning to?  The answer is, and must be, Christ.  So now, let us turn to the Eucharist, let us turn to Christ himself, in his body, blood, soul, and divinity, and drink fully of the Lord’s satisfying water.

The Roman Missal: Ite Missa Est!

ImageTHE END.  When this phrase shows up at the end of movies, it’s usually a pretty sudden dismissal.  So it might seem a bit strange that the name for the Eucharist as the “Mass”, comes from the Latin dismissal “ite missa est.”  But that word “missa” translates not only to “be dismissed,” but “be sent”.

We’ve been talking about the Mass and what kind of things the new translation has to offer us.  So if you’ve enjoyed this whole thing so far, that’s great!  Hopefully you’re going to Mass thinking less about what kind of bagel you’re going to get from Bread Co. and more about the meaning of each part of the Mass.  Hopefully, the Mass is becoming a more enriching experience.

But then it’s over.

How do we make sense of this?  How is it supposed to be less of a letdown and more of something to get us pumped up?  Pope Benedict talked about his at length, comparing the Mass to the Gospel story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-32).  The story takes place after the resurrection, with some disciples walking to Emmaus.  They’re downcast, troubled, and thinking about all the terrible things that have happened.  But then Jesus shows up, only they don’t recognize him, and he walks with them.  As he goes, he’s explaining all the scriptures to them and how they relate to his sacrifice on the Cross.  They’re intrigued, and they ask him to stay (“mane nobiscum, domine!”).  And so he does and has dinner with them.  And as they’re eating dinner, he takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to them.  And immediately, they realize who he is!

The same is true for us.  We probably come to Mass with a million distractions, and thoughts running through our heads.  But then as we listen to the scriptures, Christ reveals to us through the Holy Spirit all the wonderful works of God in our lives.  Then he comes to stay with us, to abide with us, acting through the priest to break bread, and he gives to us the greatest food – not bread, but his own Body and Blood.  And it’s there that we recognize him!

So then what?  The story in the Gospel continues that the disciples went out and praised God, proclaiming his great love for them.  As we are dismissed from Mass, we are to do the same!  The Mass, that intimate union with God, the greatest example of sacrifice and self-gift, is what we do.  It’s what we were created for.  And so we’re called to imitate it through our own gift of self.

So when you walk out those doors (preferably after the dismissal, please), truly we do so with new purpose, just like those disciples did.  So whether it’s the rather boring sounding “Go forth, the Mass is ended” or the coffee-induced charge “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”, go out and do likewise, saying from your heart, “Thanks be to God!”

So there you have it.  Most of the common parts of the Mass explained with their new translations.  But that’s not all!  There’s so much more to talk about, so tune in next week!

Homily From the 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B

I don’t know if too many people here have dogs, but one of the first things that people do when they buy puppies is to bring them to obedience school.  It’s there that they learn to sit, lay down, not jump on people, not bark obnoxiously, and many more valuable skills.  My own childhood dog went to obedience school in the Valley in 1993…until a flood came and destroyed everything.  And one of the things that took forever to get into our dog’s head was that she needed to listen to what we were saying.  Well-behaved dogs always listen very carefully to the certain commands that they’re given.  If only people were the same way!

Today’s readings talk about obedience and listening.  And it’s not an easy message, but let’s look deeper into the readings.  In the first reading from the book of Genesis, we hear the story about Abraham and his son Isaac.  Here’s a little background on this first.  Abraham and Sarah waited years and years to have a son.  They offered countless prayers asking for a child, and finally, God granted their prayers and gave them Isaac.  Families who have tried to have children probably know what this is about.  They finally had what they thought would complete their lives and what gives them great joy.  So imagine what they would think when God asks them to give Isaac back, to sacrifice him as a holocaust, a burnt offering to God.  To Abraham and Sarah, this must have seemed ridiculous.  It flew in the face of who they thought God was.  To start with, human sacrifice was forbidden by God – it was something that the savage countries around them did.  But think about what else bothered them: why would God give them this great gift, a gift that gives them joy and satisfaction, only to snatch it away.  But as we know, Abraham had faith, a real, authentic faith.  And even in the test, he is obedient, and he listens to God.

Now, fast-forward 2000 years to the Transfiguration that we hear about today in Mark’s Gospel.  The Transfiguration is one of those key events in the Gospels because it is an event of revelation – who Jesus is and what his mission is.  Jesus is there with Moses and Elijah, indicating that he is the fullness of God’s revelation.  God showed us who he is through the Law (Moses) and through the prophets (Elijah) and Jesus is ultimately what those things point towards.  It’s a moment of clarity on top of the mountain.  So what were they talking about?  The other gospels tell us that they were discussing their gameplan – how Jesus would have to go and suffer and be killed.  Now for the disciples who are seeing this, this seems ridiculous!  It flies in the face of what seems right!  Why would the fullness of God’s revelation be nailed to a tree and tortured and killed?  So Peter wants to build some tents and keep these guys around a while and talk some sense into Jesus.  But Jesus, Abraham, Peter, Isaac, and all of us are called to obedience.

Obedience is a tough virtue to follow.  Most of us probably have kind of a negative idea of it.  The American attitude does too.  All of our heroes aren’t people who just followed the rules and did what they were told – no, they’re the ones who bucked the system, who rebelled, who stood up to authority.  Now don’t get me wrong – I’m as American as the next guy, and it makes very exciting plots for movies.  But I think that view shapes our notion of the virtue of obedience.  So our idea of obedience becomes less of obeying what legitimate authority has in mind for our well being, and more of blindly following what someone else says because they say it.

So when we’re put into a situation like Abraham, where what happens seems to fly in the face of our idea of God, we’re supposed to be obedient?  Try telling that to someone who has lost a child in a miscarriage.  Try telling that to someone who has lost a family member or a son or daughter to an accident or war.  Try telling that to someone who has just separated from their spouse of 15 years.  Or try telling us that about some archaic teachings that the Church seems to cling to like annulments, or the big one right now, artificial contraception, or even the teaching of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  These sort of things fly in the face of who we think God is.

Most of the time, we don’t want to be obedient because we have our minds already made up.  We have what we think about something, what we think God says about something, and the apparent clash between the two.  So what’s the answer?  Do we follow blindly?  Of course not.  That isn’t what God wants us to do.  The answer comes from the Gospel – “This is my beloved son, listen to him.”  This is spoken to Jesus, but it really could be spoken to each one of us.  We are beloved sons and daughters of God, and because of that, God only wants what’s best for us.  So what do we do?  Listen to him.  Listen to what he has to say – in the Gospels, in the Church, and in our hearts.  Take a deep breath, put down the Riverfront Times, close the laptop with the crazy opinionated blogs, and listen to what God has to say.

This season of Lent is about listening to God.  It’s about tuning out the other voices in our lives and focusing on one voice – the Lord’s.  It’s a time for us enter into that mystery of denying ourselves – something that seems to fly in the face of what’s normal – and to listen to our Father, who cares for us deeply.  As we continue through this Lenten journey, may we each have the grace we need to listen, and knowing God’s will for us, to do it with obedience and love.