Saturday, February 28, 2015

03-01-2015 -- 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B

March 01, 2015 - 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B
Saint Martin de Tours Catholic Church

Did you give up something up for Lent this year? For so many of us Catholics, giving up something is part and parcel of Lent.

For some, Lent is forty days of sacrifice: doing without chocolate or candy, going without coffee or cigarettes, turning off the TV, giving up alcohol.

For others, Lenten sacrifice may be giving up gossip or not cussing or not complaining. Some people may have decided to go all out and give up a large sum of money to charity.

Some folks have even given up on giving up, choosing instead to try to do something positive, like spending more time in prayer or taking better care of one’s health through proper diet and exercise.

Have you ever stopped to consider why we make these sacrifices? The word sacrifice comes from the same root as the word sacred. Our sacrifices are supposed to make us holy.

Ancient sacrifice, like the one we see in the first reading, involved offering some kind of gift. And in the ancient world the gift was alive.

Life was understood to reside in the blood. Blood was considered the most precious thing. So it was precisely what was offered to God.

We cringe at the thought. We are appalled by the story of Abraham and Isaac. But we forget the storyteller lets us in on a secret from the outset:
It is a test!!

God put Abraham to the test. “Abraham. Abraham.” “Here I am!” Abraham responds to God’s call. He is ready. He is willing.

Tested to the limit, Abraham’s trust in God is so great, that he is ready to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Most of us look at this and wonder why an all-loving, all-powerful God would put anyone to such a test. It’s about discovering what is really in Abraham’s heart.

And when we read the gospel we discover the parallel. We have two stories of loving fathers.

What God asks of Abraham, God is willing to do. God is willing to sacrifice his own son for us.

The early church saw Jesus’ death as the ultimate sacrifice. In this ultimate sacrifice it is God who does the giving.

Our every Eucharist contains this sacrifice, this transfiguration. The beloved son is sacrificed for us. Jesus’ body is broken. Jesus’ blood poured out that we might live.

Simple gifts are transformed into Jesus’ body and blood, soul and divinity.

This weekend we see Abraham tested. Abraham trusts God. Last weekend we saw Jesus tested in the wilderness, torn in a struggle between good and evil.

God did not withhold his one son, but gave him up to death. God sacrifices the greatest treasure, his only son, for us. What are we sacrificing for God?

Our answer is important because Abraham and Jesus aren’t the only ones being tested this Lent. So are we! Lent is rightly considered a time of testing.

If you sacrifice during these forty days of Lent, perhaps God might touch your heart and your life might be changed forever.

“Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am!”

What do you say when the Lord God calls your name?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

02-22-2015 -- 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B

February 22, 2015 - 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B
Saint Martin de Tours Catholic Church

If we sit down to watch the evening news or check out the breaking news on the Internet these days, it’s mostly bad news.

News outlets vie for our attention with stories that are sensational and controversial because sin sells, destruction sells, scandal sells. But is it good news? Not so much.

We’ve become numb to the daily stories about destructive storms, violent crime, terrorism, global warming, federal overspending and government waste.

So when Jesus says, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” I’m not so sure we even know what that means anymore.

The word gospel literally means good news. Repent and believe in the good news. But what good news? The good news that Jesus overcomes temptation for us.

What temptation? The temptation to be overwhelmed by all the bad news we hear everyday and to lose hope because of it.

When we lose hope, we are an easy target for Satan. He gets into our heads and we start to believe the lies he tells us.

We know that life can be hard. So, we believe Satan when he tells us we are not up for the task that we should just give in to our sinful impulses and desires because that would make our lives easier.

We know that life can be unfair. So, we believe Satan when he tells us he can make it fair for us, if we’d just turn to him for help.

We know that life can knock us to the ground and trample us underfoot. So, we believe Satan when he tells us that we don’t have the strength to get up again.

Maybe for Lent we promised to relax in the car on the drive home from work, but we lost it the first time someone cut us off in traffic.

Maybe we promised to give up alcohol for Lent or Internet pornography or something else, but the first time things got tough we indulged again.

Maybe we promised to be more charitable this Lent, but we find ourselves unable to resist the urge to be selfish and self-absorbed.

Unlike Jesus, we are not so good at resisting temptation. We fail again and again. But, the good news is that Jesus has already overcome all these temptations for us. Jesus knows we cannot battle evil alone.

Jesus wants to come into our lives to help us. Jesus wants to be our trusted friend, to journey through the temptations with us. So where can we encounter Jesus? Let us look to Noah for a clue.

Noah’s ark was built to save those who took refuge in it. The ark is an ancient Christian symbol for the Church. So the Church is built to save those who take refuge in it.

We come here to this sacred place for refuge. We come here to hear the good news. We come here to draw nearer to Jesus asking the Lord to help us overcome temptation.

Christ suffered for our sins once so that he might be able to lead us to God. Let us turn to him with our temptations. Let us beg him to be our refuge and our strength.

This is good news! So, let us not get caught up in our daily dose of bad news. Let us not lose hope.

Let us take advantage of the next forty days to repent and truly believe in the good news, the good news of Jesus who battles the evils in our lives for us.

Jesus comes proclaiming the good news of God, “This is the day of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

02-18-2015 -- Ash Wednesday, Year B

February 18, 2015 - Ash Wednesday, Year B
Saint Martin de Tours Catholic Church

Once again, we hear the words of the prophet Joel calling us to conversion. Thus says the Lord: return to me with your whole heart.

The ashes we receive on our foreheads today remind us of our need to return to the Lord.

For the next forty days we put away our alleluias to remind ourselves of our need to change; we need to work on our spiritual well being.

We know that we need to change our ways. We know that Jesus calls us to be better people. We know that we should act with greater charity.

Here we are at the beginning again. So, what to do? Jesus gives us our program for success by calling us to fasting prayer and almsgiving.

But these sacrifices are not an end in and of themselves. These Lenten penances are meant to change our hearts.

If we fast because we want to lose some weight, at the end of the forty days we already have our reward.

We should fast because our sacrifice helps us make room for God. Our fast helps us to strengthen our bodies so that we can carry our crosses with grace and strength.

If we pray because we want to increase our material wealth or we want other people to do things our way, then at the end of the forty days we already have our reward.

We should pray because we want to deepen our friendship with the Lord Jesus. We pray that Almighty God draw nearer to us and change our hearts.

As our prayer helps us deepen our relationship with the Lord Jesus, it also improves our relationships with others.

If we give to charity so that we can justify our continued lying and stealing and cheating, then at the end of the forty days we have already have our reward.

We should give alms as a service to the poor in order to increase our own capacity for generosity.

Our almsgiving helps us begin to see God in others and changes our hearts so that we are able to reach out and help those in need.

Now is the acceptable time to be reconciled to God. Now is the acceptable time to change our hearts and change our lives.

Now is the time to commit ourselves to living spiritually well-rounded lives, lives of faith, lives of hope, lives of love.

Let the ashes that we receive on our foreheads this day remind us of our need to change.

Let the hunger that we experience on this day of fasting be a hunger for the Lord. May these penances remind us of our need to repent and believe in the Gospel.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

02-15-2015 -- 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

February 15, 2015 - 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Saint Martin de Tours Catholic Church

By reaching out to the leper, Jesus crosses a social boundary that no one is allowed to cross. He breaks a social rule by associating with, speaking to and touching the leper. In doing this Jesus makes himself unclean.

The outcast leper is brought back into society while Jesus is alienated for breaking the established social norms.

We know this is so because in the beginning of the gospel story, Jesus moves about freely in the community but the leper is an outcast, isolated and shunned.

By the end of the story, the former leper, who is now healed, can move about freely in the community, while it is impossible for Jesus to do so. He must isolate himself because he is now ritually unclean.

The cleansed leper can now enter the town while the one who cured him cannot. In essence, Jesus takes the leper’s place.

This is the Paschal Mystery. Jesus takes upon himself our sins and infirmities, and the consequences, which are justly ours.

By our words and actions, sometimes we do the opposite of Jesus. We make some people feel like they are outcasts in our society.

Those with mental illness, those who are socially awkward, the homeless, gay people, those who are divorced and remarried, those who belong to a different race or social class.

We can be judgmental and make people who are different from us feel worthless and unwanted.

Jesus does not do that. Rather, Jesus stretches out his hand to touch those who are unclean, those who are alienated.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has given us many examples of following Jesus in this way.

Without hesitation, he reaches out and lays his hands on those who are ostracized, the deformed, the sick, the prisoner.

Word reached Pope Francis about a transgendered man who had been denounced by his own parish priest. Pope Francis met with the man privately.

In doing this, Pope Francis follows in the footsteps of Jesus. He encourages the church to have a personal encounter with those on the margins of society.

We follow Jesus every time we reach out and cross social boundaries to be with people who are ostracized and in need of healing.

Jesus and Francis include people. They do not reject them. Jesus cares about those no one else cares about. Jesus includes the excluded.

In the gospel we see a person thought to be repulsive and unlovable, maybe even evil, completely shunned by society. That same person is loved by God, receiving mercy and compassion and healing.

In place of rejection, Jesus offers acceptance. In place of disgust, Jesus offers compassion. In place of isolation, Jesus offers healing.

So, the story of the leper teaches us two important life lessons.

First, we can bring our dark and frightening sides to Jesus. We can present our sickness and sin to Jesus who embraces what others reject.

And second, we must learn to be less judgmental. The people who are judged, who are alienated, who are cast aside as worthless, they are the ones who are healed.

But those who are judgmental, who ostracize and alienate, they are not.