Homily From Good Friday

Pieta-GMR_6315A few years ago, a few friends and I had the opportunity to go to Rome, and on one particular afternoon, we visited St. Peters Basilica.  And as soon as we walked inside and along the route, I was struck with the amazing piece of artwork that was before me in Michelangelo’s famous Pietá.  It’s quite a piece of artwork, and it stands out quite a bit.  It’s obviously painful, but at the same time, comforting.  If you walk by too quickly, however, you might get the impression that it’s too objective, too passive, to statuesque to have much meaning.  Even here in our own church, as we look around, all the ornamentation and decorations have gone away, and the only image that we have of the Passion that we have in our midst is this image of the Pietá.  Once again, if we’re just passing it quickly on the way back from receiving Communion, it might not seem to have much meaning.  But having it here, it got me to thinking what Good Friday was like through the eyes of our Blessed Mother.

crucifixion_largeSometimes we ourselves can think of the Passion like a statue and passively look at it without going too deep into the meaning.  Maybe to make it real for us, we should consider what Mary actually felt, what was going through her mind – the memories of him growing up, the secret memories that only she had of him, paired with the agony of the images before her.  Perhaps she had memories of his birth, and the tears of hunger or uncomfort or whatever babies cry about (only moms are good at picking those out for sure) rolling down his cheeks as he lay in the manger – only to have that image paired with the tears and blood dripping down his face.  Perhaps she remembered him getting left behind in the Temple and the feelings of helplessness of not knowing where he was.  And that struck all too true as she felt the helplessness of watching him taken away from her as he was condemned by Pontius Pilate.  Perhaps she remembered him running through the streets of Nazareth with his friends, falling and skinning his knee as every kid in the universe does – paired with the image of him falling time after time under the weight of the Cross and under the blows and spit of passersby.  Perhaps she remembered making his clothes, washing them, drying them – only to see them savagely ripped from his broken body because they couldn’t fit over his head with the crown of thorns there.  Perhaps she remembered pouring him milk or water, perhaps telling him not to spill it on his clean shirt, or to keep his elbows off the table, only to find herself begging a soldier to simply give him a taste of wine and gall as he hung on the cross, helpless to reach for it.  Perhaps she remembered listening with a motherly pride as he spoke to the crowds from the mountain, teaching them the Beatitudes and that theirs was the kingdom of Heaven.  And yet she stood there watching him turn to Dismas, the repentant thief, telling him that today, he would be with him in paradise.  Almost assuredly, she remembered the first time he had called her “mother”, and imagine her pain at seeing him turn to her at the point of death and say, “Woman, behold your son.  Behold your mother.”

I think there is a part of us that desires to gravitate toward those fond and happy memories.  We like hearing about the tales of comfort and forgiveness and healing that Jesus gives to the poor and marginalized.  We might be touched by the simple acts of servitude, like the washing of the feet that we heard about last night.  We love hearing the beatitudes, and that the Law of God is about humility and love.  So naturally, there’s a force in us that wants to keep that in the forefront of our minds, and be repulsed by the agony and suffering that we witness today.  How natural would it have been for Mary to walk away, not wanting to see her Son like that, to hold onto the memories of him that were filled with joy?  How natural would it be for any of us to do that?  But she doesn’t.  She keeps her station at the foot of the cross until the end.  And it’s because it’s only the cross that fulfills the rest of those memories, that makes the rest of Jesus’ life make sense.  All those other happy memories were part of a quest to teach his mother and us about happiness.

The most vivid memory that I have of Good Friday is of spending it with my grandmother at St. John’s Hospital.  There was nothing sentimental about it – everything was bare and sterile in the hospital chapel – as you’d expect in a hospital.  There were only about 5 other families besides us, each with someone attached to some form of medical device, each sort of unkempt and with semi-ruffled hair, each burdened by the exhaustion of worry and concern for their loved one.  But it was then that I was able to really see the meaning of Good Friday through those people and through my grandmother.

The Isenheim AltarpieceBy Matthias Grünewald
The Isenheim Altarpiece
By Matthias Grünewald

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that if we really want to be happy, we should despise what Jesus despised on the Cross, and love what Jesus loved on the Cross.  What did he despise?  Well, look at the four things in which we usually seek comfort and happiness.  Wealth?  He’s entirely stripped of it.  Pleasure?  He is at the limit of physical and psychological suffering.  Power?  He has none; he can’t even move.  Honor?  They are mocking him as he’s publically displayed.  He’s detached from all these things.  So what is it that Jesus loved on the Cross?  Jesus’ only desire was to do the will of his Father.  He was hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and in doing so, became the ultimate peacemaker.  It’s strange to put it like this, but if Aquinas is right, that terrible image that I described earlier is the image of a happy man.  When we’re able to flip around our perceptions and our desires, when we’re able to embrace both the comfortable and agonizing parts of Jesus’ life and ours, it’s when we are able to see that this is an image of freedom.  This is a picture of joy.  That’s why we call today Good Friday.  It’s a paradox, a contradiction that gets to the heart of our faith.

Maybe that’s why the image of the Pietá was the way that it was.  As much as holding the body of her son was a dagger to her heart, it was also an olive branch of hope.  As much as it paralyzed her with grief, it was also a gift of true freedom.  As much as his broken body was the product of hatred, it was the perfect symbol and gift of love.  The same is true for us today.  So as we turn to the Lord now and receive him in the Eucharist, that same gift of his body that he gave his mother, let us offer him our hearts in thanksgiving for all he has given us on this holy day.

Homily From the 4th Sunday in Lent, Year A

Whoops!  It looks like with all the craziness of Lent, I forgot to post this one.  Here you go!

 

When I was in high school, I took a theater course one semester, and I remember at one point receiving the script of a play called Terra Nova to study.  Just looking at a script from an academic standpoint is kind of boring though.  There’s a description of the setting and props, then “name, colon, dialogue” and on and on.  It’s pretty lifeless.  But I remember then having the opportunity a few years later to see Terra Nova at the Repertory Theater, and it came to life.  It’s one thing to read the lines, but another to see the emotion of the characters and to grow and connect with them.  I think the same is true with the Gospel.  We read the readings every week as a parish, and some of them multiple times a year, so it becomes ordinary to us.  But really, we’re invited to enter into it; to put ourselves into the place of the biblical characters.  That’s a Jesuit style of reading the Scripture, and now that we have a Jesuit pope, well, I guess that means it’s a good thing!

St. John is incredibly brilliant in the efforts he makes to help the Gospel come alive for us.  Every little detail is important.  For example, Lazarus and Bethany are just names and places, but it’s also true that in Hebrew, “Lazarus” means “God helps” and “Bethany” means “House of the Afflicted.”  Well that’s all of us!  All of us are afflicted and need God’s help.  We all live in Bethany with our own kinds of afflictions, and all of us are Lazarus, seeking the help of God.  We’re meant to connect in some way with the dead man and his family, who we’re told Jesus loved and cared for very much.

The Raising of LazarusBy Rembrandt
The Raising of Lazarus
By Rembrandt

It’s interesting that when Jesus hears about his friend, he doesn’t rush, but waits two whole days!  Does that make sense?  Was he not able to catch a flight?  Did he want to catch just one more episode of The Big Bang Theory and get hooked on it?  Why would the only man who can do anything about this problem delay?  Isn’t that a question we find ourselves asking sometimes?  Why does God make us wait?  Why doesn’t he just deal with our pain?  C’mon Jesus, I’m Lazarus and I’m in Bethany!  Let’s go!  But Jesus gives the answer that the Son of Man will be glorified through the illness and death in Lazaurs.  Now this might seem strange, but that’s one truth that we find throughout the Bible – when God is glorified, he gives life.  Whether it’s the glorious word of God creating the universe, the glorious pillar of fire giving new life to the People of Israel in Egypt, or the greatest mystery that we’ll soon celebrate on Easter, when God is glorified, he gives new life to his people.  That’s why St. Irenaues of the Early Church wrote that “The Glory of God is man fully alive.”  The only thing more powerful than death is the divine love with which Jesus loves us.

There’s a really interesting detail that sneaks into our Gospel here.  The Gospel points out that when Jesus arrived, he spoke to Martha, who then called Mary, her sister.  The Gospel points out that Mary gets up and goes to Martha, and that all these Jewish women with her got up and followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep.  In Jesus’ time, every funeral would have this group of official mourners who would represent the community.  They were hired to wail and weep and play flutes and sing “Amazing Grace” and whatnot.  So when Mary gets up, they think she’s going to the tomb to weep and mourn.  But she doesn’t – she goes to Christ.  Don’t miss this detail.  Everything in her system was telling her to go to the tomb, to weep her heart out.  How true is that for us when we experience the pain of loss?  It could be the death of a relative like Martha and Mary, but it could be the loss of other things: some illness that causes the loss of independence or physical ability, the loss of a job and the dignity that goes with it, the loss of a friend or family member who turns their back on you.  How much do we want to turn back to that loss and simply remain there, emotionally or spiritually dead?  But where does Mary go?  Not to death, but to Christ.

The Raising of LazarusBy Alessandro Magnasco
The Raising of Lazarus
By Alessandro Magnasco

This is followed by what I believe is one of the most gut-wrenchingly moving scenes of the Bible – Jesus weeps.  We know that Jesus is God.  We know that he’s all-powerful and all-knowing – but he’s not a distant God.  We see many emotions in Jesus throughout Scripture – intense suffering, anger, exultation, and even a little partying at the Wedding Feast at Cana.  But only here in the shortest line of the New Testament do we see Jesus weep.  Jesus is experiencing the awful sense of finality that we all feel when we recognize loss.  It’s a terribly real experience of our humanity that we will one day be separated from the ones we love.  We’ve been talking about that this whole homily – being the Lazarus in Bethany, the one in need of God in the house of the afflicted, being the Martha and Mary struggling to understand and cope with suffering and loss, that experience of waiting for God to come and do something, anything, to make that loss go away.  Well, now we see Jesus enter into that real human experience, weeping with the grief that we all feel.  Christ weeps when we weep.  He stays with us in the Eucharist even when everyone else has abandoned us.  We may be tempted to be angry with God or feel abandoned by him, but we need only think of this, the shortest line in the New Testament – “Jesus wept.”  When God permits us to suffer, he isn’t abandoning us, but weeping with us, bearing with us his saving Cross.  St. Therese of Lisieux, one of my favorite saints, put it this way: “The greatest honor God can do a soul is not to give it much, but to ask much of it.”

Brothers and sisters, let us turn now to the one who gives new life to the seeming finality of death.  Let us answer him as he calls us forth from the tombs of our sinfulness and self-loathing and loneliness.  Let us allow him to remove the sin and attachment to loss that binds us and prevents us from coming to him.  Let us be satisfied by the Eucharist with which he now feeds us, and follow him to the conclusion of Lent as his disciples.

Homily From Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

fisheaters.com
fisheaters.com

A few years back, the seminarians, including myself, had the fantastic opportunity to go to Cologne, Germany for the 2006 World Youth Day with Pope Benedict XVI.  It was an amazing experience that I remember very fondly to this day, but one of the most exciting experiences was at the gathering for seminarians at a parish in the city with the Holy Father himself.  As he was even still approaching, we seminarians erupted in cheering, with everyone wanting to get a picture of him or touch his hand or get a short blessing from him.  All of us were so excited to be there in fact, that we all pushed each other out of the way.  So trust me, if you thought seminarians and priests just sat around and prayed all day, that’s very, very far from the truth.  It’s interesting to me, however, that as he retired, Pope Benedict was surrounded by negative reports and attitudes: that he didn’t do enough, that he didn’t go in the right direction, that he had a failed papacy.  If you had polled those people in Cologne, Pope Benedict would have been the equivalent of Bruce Springsteen with red shoes – a rock star.  And only a few years later, people would turn on him.  This experience came to mind as I was praying about the readings for today, trying to get some idea of what it must have been like to be there.  Everyone was waving their palm branches and shouting praises to Jesus and singing “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  They recognized, perhaps, just how great Jesus was: that he was in the royal line of David, the heir to the holy throne in Jerusalem that had been taken over by some Roman sympathizers.  He was God’s chosen, and everyone just wanted to be close to him and have some contact with him!

And then, just a few days later, they had changed their minds.  The “Hosanna’s” had turned into “Crucify him, crucify him!”  Instead of people reaching out to touch him and receive a blessing from him, there were mobs content with throwing stones, mud, spit, and insults at him.  For them, Jesus was causing trouble, and they wanted him out of there in the most permanent way possible – crucifixion.  They hated what he was, they hated what he stood for, and they just wanted to get rid of him.  Now sure, some people might have just been caught up in the terrible circumstances, but rather than walking away, they just sulked around in the background.  But instead of picking up his toys and leaving as most celebrities might do when confronted with this hatred, Jesus just sat there and took it all.  Not simply to get it over with, but to fulfill the Father’s will, and to show just how much he loved us.

Crucifixion Scene from the San Zeno AltarpieceBy Andrea Mantegna
Crucifixion Scene from the San Zeno Altarpiece
By Andrea Mantegna

Now this might sound sad to us, but we have to realize that we’re very much part of this story.  Today in the Mass, WE were the ones who sang “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  We were the ones who waved our palm branches, and who want to be close to him here at Mass.  But we were the ones who condemned Jesus also, right?  We read those lines in the Passion narrative, all of us!  We are perpetrators of both of these attitudes, not just here one day out of the year on Palm Sunday, but every day of our lives.  Sometimes we rejoice in the things that God gives us and cry out, “Hosanna!”  This could happen to us when someone does something kind for us in the workplace, or we accomplish something incredible, or we have a great experience in prayer, or when you realize the Cardinals opening day is just 7 short days away!  We give thanks for those things and count them as blessings.  But sometimes, when things don’t go our way, when we’re faced with a tough decision or tough reality, or when those blessings are a little harder to notice, we turn our backs on Christ rather than follow him, and cry out instead, “Crucify him!”  This could be anything, from sneering or exchanging some not-so-friendly gestures with someone who cut us off on the road, to openly expressing discontent or even anger at the Church for one of her teachings.  Really, in these circumstances, when we’d like to condemn Christ, it’s really us that should be condemned.  But thankfully, the story of Holy Week doesn’t end with the crucifixion.  We know in faith that Christ rose on that third day after his crucifixion so that all of us, whether we glorified or condemned him, could be given eternal life.  So now, the challenge to us is to look at our own actions in our lives.  Perhaps, as a daily practice, we might ask ourselves before we go to sleep, “What are the ways in which I glorify the Lord for his blessings to me, and how did I turn my back on Christ and condemn him today?”  If we’re more aware of those ways in which we condemn Jesus, we can more easily ask him for the graces we need to follow him and to look for those hidden blessings he gives us.

So as we approach Jesus in the Eucharist today, fully aware of those times when we have condemned rather than glorified him, may we come to see the beauty of the gift of his mercy, won for us by his death on the Cross and given to us once again here in his Body and Blood.  And then, having received him, let us commit ourselves all the more each day to glorify him, saying, “Hosanna, to the Son of David!”

Homily From the 3rd Sunday in Lent, Year A

Wow, Gladys!  Did you hear about the Cubs' 92 win season this year?http://www.adbranch.com
Wow, Gladys! Did you hear about the Cubs’ 92 win season this year?
http://www.adbranch.com

It’s interesting to see the phrases that beverage companies will use to sell their products.  They’re kind of fun, kind of entertaining, and believe it or not, they work!  That’s why we all loved watching the Bud Light commercials during the Super Bowl over the past few years.  There are so many good slogans that they’ll use.

  • Coke – “Open happiness.”, “Life tastes good.”, “Can’t beat the feeling”
  • “Revives and sustains.” – from Coke in 1905, back when the Cubs were still good.
  • Bud Light – “Where there’s life, there’s Bud.”
  • Guinness – “Out of the darkness comes light.”
  • Sprite – “Image is nothing.  Thirst is everything.  Obey your thirst.”

The way these ads talk about it, they almost sound biblical, like these things are the secrets to true fulfillment and will satisfy even the deepest thirst.  But the funny thing is, if they actually did that, these companies would be out of business.  No matter how many Cokes or Bud Lights or Guinesses or Sprites you drink, sooner or later, you’re going to go back for more.  That’s why you have a fridge.  That’s why Pepsi comes in 24 packs.  That’s why the Fish Fry seems to constantly be reloading the keg of Bud Light on Fridays.  You always need more!

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.  In fact, when Jesus starts talking about living water, or running water, she’s sarcastically excited, because it means that she won’t have to keep coming to the well anymore!

The Samaritan Woman at the WellBy Annibale Caracci
The Samaritan Woman at the Well
By Annibale Caracci

But clearly, the woman is thirsting in a different way.  The thirst she has isn’t of the body, but of the soul.  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.  She is also thirsting for something more.  She’d been thirsting for comfort, for acceptance, and for love her whole life, but can never seem to satisfy her thirst.  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.

There are a lot of people like that in this world.  Most people follow the advice of Sprite and obey their thirst.  They drink up from what people call love, what people call happiness, what people call meaning and significance.  But love, happiness, and meaning is often defined by people who don’t know the meaning of those words.  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 turn to things that can’t satisfy us.  They look great, but when we fill ourselves, they leave us wanting more.  These are things like money, fame, and affirmation.  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, back at the great metaphysical refrigerator, looking for something more.

A few years ago, I spent a few months helping out at the childcare center for the Missionaries of Charity in North City, and everywhere I looked, I saw the phrase, “I thirst”.  I was curious as to the reason for it being everywhere, and sister explained to me that it comes from a beautiful prayer composed by Blessed Theresa of Calcutta.  Now without looking at it, we might mistake the prayer for speaking about what we thirst for, but Mother Theresa took what we’ve just be talking about with this woman at the well, and flips it on it’s head.  Remember, the whole story of the Gospel begins with Jesus wanting something to drink.  The title is taken from John 19:28, the crucifixion scene.  The thirst belongs to Christ.  And he doesn’t come to us to satisfy his own thirst, but to satisfy ours.  So Blessed Theresa writes:

mother-teresa-crucifix-i-thirst“No matter how far you may wander, no matter how often you forget Me, no matter how many crosses you may bear in this life; there is one thing I want you to always remember, one thing that will never change. I THIRST FOR YOU – just as you are. You don’t need to change to believe in My love, for it will be your belief in My love that will change you. You forget Me, and yet I am seeking you every moment of the day – standing at the door of your heart and knocking. Do you find this hard to believe? Then look at the cross, look at My Heart that was pierced for you…All your life I have been looking for your love – I have never stopped seeking to love you and be loved by you. You have tried many other things in your search for happiness; why not try opening your heart to Me, right now, more than you ever have before…Whenever you do open the door of your heart, whenever you come close enough, you will hear Me say to you again and again, not in mere human words but in spirit. “No matter what you have done, I love you for your own sake. Come to Me with your misery and your sins, with your troubles and needs, and with all your longing to be loved. I stand at the door of your heart and knock. Open to Me, for I THIRST FOR YOU…”

Brothers and sisters, Christ does indeed thirst for us.  He longs for us.  He wants to fulfill us and make us happy.  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?  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.

Eucharistic Prayer I: Holy and Venerable Hands

Have you ever thought about how you use your hands?  I’m so glad I’m a human being and not a turtle or a dinosaur or something else without hands.  Think of all we can do with hands – we can type, throw a baseball, feed ourselves, greet others by shaking hands, and gesturing (in good ways like waving someone to go ahead in traffic, and in not-so-good ways, if you know what I mean).  Hands are important!  In a sense, they are sort of one of our gateways to our relationships and interactions with others.  They are how we pass things on to those around us.

We’ve already talked about the consecration numerous times in other articles that I’ve written, but Eucharistic Prayer I makes a big deal about the “holy and venerable hands” of Jesus Christ.  When something is venerable, it is deserving of our respect and devotion.  If it’s true that our hands are the gateways of our relationships, then what better way to show the relationship between God and man than by Jesus’ hands?  It’s through these hands that he gives us the greatest gift we can imagine – Christ’s own Body and Blood.  And it’s through the hands of the priest that Jesus makes the Eucharist present, breaks it, and gives it to all of us.

At ordination, the priest’s hands are anointed with the oil of Sacred Chrism, the holiest of the three oils of the Church.  Through that anointing, his hands are consecrated and set apart, not to be just the priest’s hands, but to be Christ’s venerable hands – extended in blessing, pouring water and new life on the baptized, anointing the sick, giving absolution to sinners, distributing to the faithful his Body and Blood.

That’s some powerful stuff!  One of the traditions that I learned as some of my best friends were ordained a few years ahead of me was that after receiving the first personal blessing of the priest, it’s a pious practice to kiss his hands.  That seems like a strange thing to do, especially to your best friends, almost as though your were pledging your fealty to a king.  But as I thought about it, the kiss on the hands isn’t because they are the priest’s hands, but because they have become Christ’s hands through that anointing with the sacred oil.

Now, in this case, we were specifically talking about the hands of Christ in a sacramental and ministerial way, but in a more general way, all of us, by our baptism, are called to allow our hands to become Christ’s hands as well.  Maybe that’s something to think about this week.  Are your hands the hands of Christ?  Do they offer healing and forgiveness to those who wrong us?  Do they offer generosity to those in need?  Especially as we’re kicking off the season of Lent, make an effort to open yourselves to be Christ’s venerable hands this week!

Homily From the 2nd Sunday in Lent, Year C

Sorry I forgot to post this earlier, but here’s the homily from last week!

 

Earlier this week, I was thinking about what I was going to preach about today, and I decided that I would really love to speak about Confession.  You know, it’s appropriate during Lent, it’s something I think we priests should talk about more, I’d get you all pumped for Tuesday and Saturday so I wouldn’t fall asleep sitting in the confessional (that never happens, by the way), and so on.  But then I read today’s Gospel…and it’s the Transfiguration.  Here I was getting into the mood of Lent, with it’s penitential purples and minor chord songs, and talk of penance and fasting – and we’re talking about the Transfiguration?  Well that doesn’t make sense.  It’s got it’s own feast on August 6th, for goodness sakes!  (For all those Twitter users, #priestproblems, right?)  I was trying desperately to connect the topic that I wanted to preach on today, but God wasn’t having any of it.  So I decided to reconsider what I was going to preach on, and thought about why the Church would give us the readings of the Transfiguration in the Second week of Lent anyway.  And I realized, it really has quite a bit to do with Lent.

One of the things that caught my eye this week was the fact that the disciples fell asleep.  These guys are always falling asleep – on boats, in gardens, on mountains – lay off the Ambien, fellas!  But the more I got to thinking about it, perhaps the Gospel speaks to us of spiritual sleep today.  If you think back a few weeks, we heard the story of the call of the disciples Peter and Andrew.  They are called, they left their nets and their father, and they follow Jesus.  And following that, you can imagine their enthusiasm in listening and following Jesus.  Now, who knows their hearts aside from God alone, but they get this invitation – just Peter, James, and John – to follow him up the mountain and pray.  Now you’d think that if you were called aside by Jesus, you’d probably be paying attention, but somehow, they fall asleep.  Maybe being with Jesus had become too ordinary for them.  And then, when they awake, Jesus is standing there over them, clothed in dazzling white and speaking to these two monumental figures of their Jewish history and faith – Moses and Elijah, guys who have been dead for almost 1400 years!  I can’t imagine their groggy faces as they realized it was real.  Their eyes are opened, and they realize all at once who this Jesus was that they are following.  Nothing about Jesus had changed, aside from his white clothes.  He is still the man who called them from their fishing boats, but his glory was given to them in a very intense and new way.  Maybe that experience brought them back to what it was like to first be called by Jesus and to recognize he was someone worth following.

Now think about your own faith for a moment.  Maybe, like the disciples, there was a time when you first heard God’s call to you, a time when you were very enthusiastic about your faith, at time when you were happy and excited to live it.  Maybe it was after some experience at a retreat.  Maybe it was after getting married or after having your first child baptized.  Maybe it was as far back as your first communion or confirmation.  After a while, however, maybe you fell asleep.  The excitement of the moment faded, and maybe became too ordinary.  Let’s use communion as an example: the first time, it’s awesome!  I love seeing the children’s faces light up the first time they receive Communion.  But then you start receiving every weekend.  Sometimes you’re into it, and sometimes you’re not.  It becomes ordinary.  And then, as responsibilities and distractions start to pile up, it becomes a chore – it gets in the way of sleep and soccer games and so many other things.  Until eventually, that excitement is all but gone.  What happened to that bright-eyed child holding their hands out like a throne to receive communion?  You see, when we become spiritually tired or asleep, we start to miss the things that God has in store for us.  We might be physically present at Mass – the disciples were physically present with Jesus at the top of the mountain too – but like the disciples, it takes something to wake them up.

I like to think about this like a fire.  What can I say – once a Boy Scout, always a Boy Scout, right?  My friends and I were trying to burn up some firewood that we had stored up, so we put it in a fire pit and lit one of those Duraflame logs (I know, it’s cheating).  The fire quickly lit, and was raging – for about 5 minutes.  But we hadn’t prepared it well enough with little sticks and kindling, so it cooled off and turned to embers.  We were blowing on it to get it back into shape, but the most we could keep it going for was a few seconds.  We needed something drastic, so my genius friends thought of a brilliant idea.  Now please note: do not do this without adult supervision, or really, firefighter supervision as well.  So they fired up the leafblower and pointed it at the fire, and in about 20 seconds, it turned that little pile of ashes into a raging inferno.  Now, it’s funny, but isn’t it the truth?  If we haven’t fortified and fed the fire of faith in our hearts with little everyday acts of charity and self-denial, the flame goes out.  It needs something drastic, which is why I love the season of Lent.

I love Lent.  Not because of the fish fries, although those are excellent.  Not because I like to punish myself.  I love the music and beauty of the liturgy in Lent, but I don’t love Lent bevause of those either.  I love Lent because it’s a season that wakes us up.  It’s a season of challenge, dedicated to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  It’s a season when we consciously choose to make our lives a little more difficult, when we choose to deny ourselves to force a little more effort.  It forces us to focus on our weaknesses, and all those acts of self-sacrifice reorient our mistaken desires back to what they should be pointing towards – Christ.  It’s a season when we can realize if we’re spiritually drowsy or asleep, and it shakes us awake to realize the glory of God in our midst, like those disciples at the Transfiguration, taking the things that have become common and jarring us awake so that they aren’t so common anymore.  If we let it, this season has the potential to bring us back to that point of excitement where we first heard God’s call in our lives.  And like those disciples who witnessed the transfiguration, it prepares us and strengthens us to meet the time of the Cross – both liturgically on Good Friday, and whenever we encounter the bitter pain of the Cross in our lives.

Brothers and sisters, as we come here before this altar, an experience that maybe we have let become too common or too ordinary in our lives, let us ask the Lord to open our eyes to behold the glory of his presence in the Eucharist.  Let us ask him to fan the flame of his Spirit within our hearts, to grow in our appreciation and love for all he is and all he has given us.  Let us continue this season of Lent, asking the Lord to recreate that desire for him within us, and to lead us, awake, to the glory he has prepared for us.