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Holy Thursday Homily

Holy Thursday
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-15
April 18, 2019

We began our readings tonight with God’s instructions for the first Passover.   It is to be celebrated once a year and put at the head of the calendar.

They are to sacrifice a “year-old male..without blemish.”  They aren’t supposed to take an old lamb they don’t want anymore.  They are to sacrifice a young healthy lamb so it represents a real sacrifice to them.

It is to be “without blemish” to be a worthy sacrifice, nothing imperfect.

It involves unleavened bread because they were “in flight” from the Egyptians and could not wait for the bread to rise.

It is called the Passover because, after they had marked their doors with the blood of the sacrifice, the blood served as a sign for God to “pass over” that house as He went from house to house, killing the firstborn of the Egyptians but not the Israelites.

The first Passover was celebrated as worship to God during the Exodus but it was not to be celebrated just once.  God told them to make it a “memorial feast,” “a perpetual institution” to be celebrated on an annual basis.  And so it was.  The first Passover was celebrated in the 16th century B.C.  The Passover has been celebrated many times since then.

Jesus himself, faithfully following the Jewish law, went to the Passover each year.  What we celebrate tonight commemorated the last Passover (the Last Supper) that Jesus celebrated.

This begins our Easter Triduum.  It was no accident that Jesus choose the time of the Passover as the hour for which He came.

Remember, at the time of the Exodus, God told them to put the Passover at the head of their calendar.  The Passover is central to Jewish identity as it commemorates the time when God set his people free from slavery in Egypt. 

Jesus takes the Passover and makes it something even greater.  He takes the bread and wine used as part of the Passover celebration and makes it his Body and Blood.

That’s we continue to use unleavened bread even today, as a reminder that we continue in a covenantal relationship with God dating back to the Exodus. 

The Israelites used the blood of the sacrificed lamb at the first Passover to mark their doors as children of God.  We are forever marked as children of God.

As the Jews continued the Passover celebration at God’s direction as a “memorial feast,” “a perpetual institution,” we hear Jesus’ words at the Last Supper to “Do this in remembrance of me.” 

It is a precept of our faith that we come to celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday and Holy Day.  We have daily Mass for those who are able. 

Paul reminds us that when we celebrate Mass, we are not just celebrating a Passover meal or the Eucharist in and of itself.  Paul writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

Jesus’ own words at the Last Supper include “this is my body which will be given up for you…this is my blood shed for you.”  Jesus took the Eucharist and united it to his sacrifice on the Cross.  Jesus, without sin, becomes the unblemished lamb for the sacrifice.  This is what we celebrate in the Eucharist.

Why is so important for us to celebrate the Eucharist weekly, if not daily?  Because it is the bread of life.  It is the food that strengthens us.

It strengthens us for what?

To serve.

The Eucharist is not something God gives us simply for our own needs.  God gives us the Eucharist to strengthen us to help one another.

Tonight is called the “Institution of the Eucharist.”  It is also called the “Institution of the Priesthood.”  The priest is the one who presides at the Eucharist. 

To do so, as a priest, I received the Sacrament of Ordination.  I did not receive this Sacrament for my own gain.  I was ordained not for my own benefit.  Rather I was ordained to serve others.

Tonight’s washing of the feet serves as a reminder of that.  At the moment, I am wearing vestments that signify my role as a priest but in a moment, I will take them off and wash the feet of twelve parishioners as a model of service.

God gives you the gift of the Eucharist.  What do you do with the grace you receive in this sacrament?

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, Year C – Homily

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, Year C
First Gospel – Luke 19:28-40
Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24 (2a)
Philippians 2:6-11
Luke 22:14-23:56
April 14, 2019

Today we mark the beginning of Holy Week.  We began our Mass today by hearing the gospel story of Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem as He began the first Holy Week.

He received a royal welcome with cloaks laid out on the road and the crowds proclaiming, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”  They eagerly welcomed him into Jerusalem.

Things changed during the course of the week.  By the end of the Passion Gospel that we just listened to Jesus, had been crucified and laid in the tomb. 

The people went from proclaiming, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” to shouting, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” 

What changed?

To begin, not everyone was eager to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem.  There were some of the Pharisees who told Jesus He should rebuke his disciples for welcoming Jesus as a king.  They did not believe Jesus was a king and led the persecution against him.

To understand what changed during Jesus’ final week, we should take a look at the readings we heard today in between the two gospels.  In Isaiah we hear the Suffering Servant say, “I gave my back to those who beat me.”  In the psalm we see similar prophecies.  The Passion of Jesus fulfills many prophecies like these.  The hour has come.

To give his life for us, Jesus had to first, as Paul writes in Philippians, empty himself, humbling himself, “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Pilate and the Romans often get blamed for crucifying Jesus.  Yet, in Luke’s Passion, we hear Pilate say he found Jesus not guilty three times. 

It is Peter that denies Jesus three times. 

How many times have we sinned?  How many times have we denied Jesus?  This is what Jesus died for.

We need to be like the “good criminal” who said to the criminal who ridiculed Jesus, “We have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”  The good criminal says to Jesus, “remember me when you come into your kingdom” to which Jesus responds, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  The good criminal is good because he repents.  Because he repents, Jesus forgives him and welcomes him into his kingdom.”

Jesus dies for our sins.  This was the reason for his Crucifixion.  He was not crucified because of the crowds calling out, “Crucify him!”  He was crucified because it was the Father’s Will.  It was not easy for him.  In the garden, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”

It is not always easy to do God’s will.  God will give us the grace we need.  When we fall short, He will forgive us if we give our lives to him, praying as Jesus did, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

“God’s Got a Plan” – Homily for April Holy Hour

Homily for April 2019 Holy Hour
Jeremiah 29:10-15
Psalm 31
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Luke 22:39-46

Next week we will celebrate the Passion of Jesus.  We know that God had a plan to save his people that culminated Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection.  Knowing of the Resurrection helps us to see the value of the Crucifixion. 

On at least three distinct occasions Jesus told his disciples about his coming Passion.  He told them that He would be arrested and crucified.  He told them that He would rise on the third day but they had no idea what it meant to rise.  So, it was no consolation for them.  Thus, the Crucifixion made no sense but it was God’s plan.

God has always had a plan.  Sometimes the plan seems obvious.  Other times, we can feel like we have no idea what we are supposed to do.

Sometimes even when we know the plan, it can be difficult to fulfill.  Jesus knew what the Father’s plan was for him.  He knew He must suffer.  Still, in the garden He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me.”  Jesus didn’t want to suffer but He accepted it as He finished his prayer with “still, not my will but yours be done.

God has always had a plan.  He rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  He formed a covenant with his people that included the Ten Commandments and his promise to be there for his people.  God honored his part but the people sinned. 

God allowed them to suffer the consequences of their choices towards evil.  He allowed them to be defeated by the Babylonians.  Many were taken into exile.  However, that was not the end of God’s plan.  Even as the Exile began, God told his people through the prophet Jeremiah that it would only last 70 years.  God never abandons his people but sometimes do need to wait, knowing God has a plan for our “welfare and not for we.”

God can choose to reveal his plan in any way He wants.  Our goal in prayer should be to follow his plan.

Yet, often we are not patient in waiting for God’s direction.  Sometimes we go and start our own plan.  When we do so, our tendency is to think about what we are good at and focus on that alone.

However, that isn’t always the way God works.  Sometimes God chooses to work through our weaknesses so that we know it his grace at work as He said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weaknesses.”  When we accept our weaknesses, we open ourselves to God’s grace.  We stop trying to do it all ourselves and we let God in.

This doesn’t mean that everything that happens is the way God wants it.  For instance, it’s no secret that attendance at Mass has been going down for years just like the number of priests and religious.  God did not cause the decrease in numbers but He does have a plan on how to deal with it.

God has plans for us as individuals and as a community of believers.  The Catholic parishes of Wayne County spent fifteen months discerning together how to collaborate in light of declining numbers.  Now we have a plan and we await word when it will be implemented.  It won’t be easy but, done well, it will help strengthen our Catholic Church.  Pray that it be done well.

We will lose a Mass (4:30) but we can share ministries.  We can share resources to ease the financial burdens and eliminate needless duplication of efforts.

At the heart of good planning is a desire to do God’s Will.  Jesus gives us the perfect example of this when He prayed in the garden, “not my will but yours be done.”  This becomes our prayer when, in the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “thy will be done.”

Are you ready to surrender to the Father’s Will?

God has a plan for each one of us.  Sometimes the plan is for us to “do something.”  Other times, it is to pray for others to do their part.  Everyone can pray that God’s Will be done.

Remember Jesus’ final words, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” 

Now, look at Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and pray for God’s Will to be done.

5th Sunday of Lent, Year C – Homily

5th Sunday of Lent, Year C
Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6(3)
Philippians 3:8-14
John 8:1-11
April 7, 2019

As Paul writes to the Philippians he tells them, “I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Paul has come to realize the worldly things are not important, hence seeing “everything as a loss.”  How did he come to realize that worldly things are not important?  It is through his encounter with the risen Jesus and everything since then that he has come to see Jesus as the “supreme good.

As a Jew and a Pharisee, Paul had put his trust in following the Mosaic Law.  Now, he realizes that it is not the Law itself that saves but Jesus.  He has come to realize that he cannot save himself but Jesus can save us.  Jesus is the one who, through his death on the Cross, brings us back from our “captivity to sin”.  It is through his forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that the Lord restores our spiritual fortunes.

Is the Law (centering on the Ten Commandments) good?  Absolutely!  It came from the Lord.  Yet, Jesus opens a way for us to fulfill the Law in a new way. 

We see this way in the way Jesus responds when the scribes and the Pharisees bring to him a woman who was caught in the very act of adultery.  They speak of how the Mosaic Law prescribed stoning in cases of adultery.  They ask Jesus what He thinks.  They really don’t care what He says.  They are just looking for something to charge him with.

Jesus is not concerned.  He uses the opportunity to teach about forgiveness.  His reply is simple, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.

They thought of themselves as holy.  One might think they would go ahead and cast stones but they don’t.  Why?

As this is going on, Jesus is writing something on the ground.  We are never told what He writes but some scholars suggest that perhaps He was writing their sins…greed…theft…envy…coveting.

If you were standing there and Jesus wrote your sins on the ground what would you think? 

None of them say anything.  Rather, “in response, they went away one by one.”  Jesus had said the one without sin could cast the first stone.  While they never name their sins out loud, inside they know their sins.  Thus, they leave in silence, no one throwing a single stone, only Jesus and the woman caught in adultery remain.

Jesus’ words to the woman are simple, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and from now on do not any more.

Isaiah speak of the Lord as the one “who opens a way.”  It is a way of forgiveness.  It is a way that calls us to “remember not the events of the past.” 

We cannot change the past.  We can change what we do in the future.  We need to let go of the past.  However, this doesn’t mean the past is okay.  Jesus is not calling us to ignore the past.  He is calling us to let go of the past. 

When we are the ones who sinned, then we need to admit our sins, we need to confess our sins, to hand them over to God who takes them away.

Jesus never says there is no sin.  Sin is real.  He does not excuse the woman’s sin of adultery.  The last two words of Jesus to the woman are essential.  When He tells her to go, He tells her “do not sin ANY MORE.”  That means she has sinned but He does not condemn for her sin.  He forgives her.

Jesus wants to forgive our sins.  To be forgiven we need to admit our sins, meaning we need to confess them to allow Jesus to forgive us.  We do a penance for our sins to show we are sorry.  We make amends where we can but ultimately we need to go of the past whether we are the sinner or a victim.  If the latter, we need to forgive.  If the former, we need to be forgiven.

God wants to forgive us.  That’s why Jesus died for us.  That’s why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Pope Francis once said, “The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better.”  The motivation is not based on fear but God’s love.

4th Sunday of Lent, Year C – Homily

4th Sunday of Lent, Year C
Joshua 5:9a, 10-12
Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7 (9a)
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
March 31, 2019

Sometimes I hear parents lamenting that they feel like all they are to their children is a chauffeur and/or a source of money.  “Mom, I need to drive me over to Susie’s house.”  “Dad, I need money so I can go to the movies with my friends.  Oh, and I need you to drive me there.”

In today’s gospel we see this taken to an extreme.  The younger son asks his father for his inheritance now.  No good motive is given for this.  He wants the money so he can leave and do what he wants.

This was allowed at the time but you need to understand the full significance of what the younger son is saying.  The culture of the time allowed him to ask for his inheritance before his father died but to do so would be akin to divorcing his father.  In asking for the money, he is saying he is going to take the money and leave, never to see his family again.  He would be considered dead to his family.

See what I mean when I said this takes a child seeing their parent as a chauffeur or money source to extreme?  He doesn’t want his dad in his life.  He just wants his money.

Remarkably, his father gives him the money and he “set off to a distant country…squandering his inheritance…freely spent everything.”  He made no plans for the future.  If he had planned well, he might have been able to live a long time on his inheritance but because he squandered it, when a severe famine struck, “he found himself in dire need.

He hit bottom.

Only when he hit bottom did he come to his senses.  He recognized how good life was in his father’s house.  However, because of the way he left, he had no reason to expect his dad to take him back.  He just hopes to become a hired hand there.  He heads back to confess his sins and beg for a job.

His family could choose to forgive him or to be reject him, holding his sins against him.

Which would you choose?

His father chooses to forgive.  In fact, he is so happy when he sees his younger son returning that he runs out to meet him.  No one would expect him to do it but the father is merciful.  Maybe others would make him a hired hand but the father does more.  He tells his servants to put the finest robe on him and a ring.  This symbolizes the father giving back his full status as his son.  He is so happy that he “celebrates with a feast.

No one would have expected such a merciful response by the father. 

Let us not forget the older brother.  He has always done as his father asked and never asked for much.  He might seem like the epitome of a good son.

Yet, his reaction to his brother’s return is very different than his father’s.  Clearly, he does not want to forgive his brother.  He is even angry with his father for throwing a feast to celebrate his younger brother’s return. 

He refuses to forgive.  He refuses to show mercy.  He refuses to let his brother begin anew.

There are three characters in this story.  Which one are you like?

  • Are you the younger son who sinned and needs mercy?
  • Are you the father who offers mercy and complete reconciliation?
  • Are you the older son who refuses to forgive and rejoice?

When we are the younger son who sins, is it possible to start over with God?  Of course it is.  God is like the father in the son.  God’s forgiveness and mercy is absolute. 

With God is always possible to become a “new creation.”  When we confess our sins, God removes them (“the old things have passed away) to reconcile us to himself through Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross.

God constantly makes things new for his people.  He leads his people into new life as they enter the promised land with Joshua.  He leads us to new life with Jesus.

Sometimes people think God won’t forgive them.  Why?  Because they are like the older son won’t forgive.  If we think forgiveness is not possible between brothers, it’s not a big step to think God won’t forgive us.

Sometimes, we think we have to fix what we have done before we can be forgiven but we can’t change the past.  Know that God stands ready to forgive.

Paul speaks of a “ministry of reconciliation.”  We all have a part to play in this ministry.  We need to forgive others so we can reconcile with them.  We need to tell them that God is willing to forgive us through Jesus’ death on the Cross.

There is only one thing that stops God from forgiving us.  Us.  We have to let God forgive us.  That means we have to forgive ourselves.

So, again, who are you like in the story?  The younger son who sins, the older son who refuses to forgive, or the father who is just waiting to forgive?

3rd Sunday of Lent, Year C – Homily

3rd Sunday of Lent, Year C
Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11 (8a)
1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
Luke 13:1-9
March 24, 2019

Suffering is real.  Some say, “everything happens for a reason.”  Why does suffering happen?

In Jesus’ time a common understanding of suffering was that it was punishment for sin.  Therefore, if you were suffering, it meant you must have sinned.

So, when some people hear how Pilate had some Galileans killed and mingled their blood with the Roman sacrifices, the people interpreted it as punishment for some sin.  Jesus tells them “By no means” is this true. 

Jesus says the same is true for the “eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them.”  They were no “more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem.

Suffering does happen.  In the Old Testament, the entire book of Job is centered on the question of suffering.  Job is good and wealthy man until he loses everything.  His friends take his losses as proof that he must have sinned to be punished so severely.  He maintains his innocence.  He also holds fast to his faith in God.  As time goes on he begins to wonder about his suffering.  He questions God.  God’s response is that Job, as a human, can’t understand it all.  Job comes to realize that he may not understand but that he can still trust in God.  (Incidentally, Job’s suffering is caused by Satan trying to get him to reject his faith.)

So, what is Jesus trying to tell the people about these two cases of suffering?  While those people were no worse sinners than others, it is a call for us to realize that our time might be short and we need to repent of any sins we have committed.

The story of the Exodus gives us a different perspective on God’s activity in suffering.  The Jews were slaves in Egypt.  They suffered at the hands of the Egyptians.  God “witnessed their affliction” and “heard their cry.”  So, God came “down to rescue them” to lead them to “a land flowing with milk and honey.

God led them through the waters of the Red Sea as we are led through the waters of baptism.  God fed them with manna as we are fed with the Eucharist. 

Did they suffer?  Yes.  Was there value in the suffering?  As Paul writes, “These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us.

God gives us many, many chances to stop sinning but there will come a day when there are no more chances.  It might be the day of the Second Coming or it might be the day of our own death as it was for the Galileans killed by Pilate or those at Siloam on whom the tower fell.  Their deaths were not because of their sins but it left them with no more time to repent.

Sin is a powerful foe.  The devil is a great deceiver.  We become slaves to our sins.  We need to repent with contrite hearts.  We need to ask God to set us free from our afflictions.  Remember how God “witnessed the affliction” of his people in Egypt and “heard their cry?”  Remember how He came down to rescue them?

When we cry out to the Lord with a contrite heart for our sins, He comes down to rescue us.  He does this in Jesus who gave up his place with God to come down to die for our sins.

What afflictions do you face?  What suffering do you face?  What sins do you need to be forgiven for?

Do not fear for “the Lord is kind and merciful…He pardons all your iniquities…He redeems your life from destruction.”  You just have to ask for forgiveness, confessing your sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

“Coming to Know Jesus”

Homily for March 2019 Holy Hour
Exodus 17:3-7
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 (8)
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
John 4:5-42

How much do you know about our faith? 

How well do you know Jesus?

I’m sure everyone here tonight knows the Lord’s Prayer by heart.  How much time do you pray about what the words of this prayer that comes from Jesus really mean?

I know at least some of you pray the rosary at least once a day, if not more.  It’s a lot of repetition.  How much do you just say the words without meditating on the words and the mysteries of the rosary?

These prayers are meant to draw us into relationship with Jesus.  The repetition of the rosary is meant to draw us into the presence of the Lord. 

What do you seek from Jesus?

What did the Israelites want from the Lord?  They had cried out the Lord while in slavery in Egypt.  He set them free.  Then, in the desert, they complained about not having food to eat.  He gave them manna, the bread from Heaven.

Then, they grumble against Moses because they did not have water to quench their thirst.  Food is necessary for life.  Likewise, without water we die.  They had every right to ask for food and water.  Yet, it doesn’t say they “asked” for water.  We are told they “grumbled.”  Of course, God provides them water.  He does it in a way no human ever could.  The water flowed from a rock. 

When you are in need, do you come to God with a contrite heart, submitting yourself to our Father’s Will, or do you grumble because God doesn’t make everything easy for you?

We sit before the bread in the monstrance on the altar.  Do we know what the bread has become?

The obvious answer would be yes, it is the Body of Jesus.  If we thought it was still just bread, we wouldn’t be here tonight.

Do you appreciate what it means to say it is the Body of Christ?  Do you fully comprehend the mystery of the Eucharist?

I think a lot of people don’t.  Why else would they not come to church?  If you know it to be Jesus, why not come to Mass?

We just listened to the story of the encounter the Samaritan woman has with Jesus at the well.  On her part, it started as a very superficial conversation.  To her, it was two people who happen to go to the well to get water at the same time.  She recognized Jesus as a Jew but nothing more.

So, she was shocked when He speaks to her, “give me a drink.”   It’s not the words that shock her.  She takes them at face value, thinking He asked for a drink because he had no way to draw water for himself.  She was shocked because no Jew would talk to a Samaritan, let alone a woman.  It just wasn’t done.

Jesus spoke of “living water” but she remained on a surface level and said it was impossible for him to give her water when He has no bucket.

While she remained on a surface level, she was intrigued when Jesus said those who drink of this “living water” “will never thirst.”  How convenient it would be to never have to fetch water again.

I wonder how many people who have some sense of the Eucharist are in a place parallel to the thinking of this Samaritan woman.  They know the Eucharist is something good but have a hard time appreciating or understanding why.

Jesus helped the woman along in her spiritual life by speaking of her husbands, something He would not know if He was just a regular Jew.  So, she came to think He must be a prophet just as some come to realize the Eucharist is not just ordinary bread.

The conversation continues and deepens to talking about Jesus as the Messiah.  She went and told us others what she has discovered about Jesus.  She said to others, ”Could he possibly be the Christ?”  She can’t explain it but she is coming to believe.

The transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus cannot be explained in earthly science.  It is a mystery.  We don’t have to be able to explain it.  Science can’t but we have something better than science.  We have Jesus’ words, “this is my body….this is my blood.”

Look at the bread in the center of the monstrance.  See Jesus.  Now, bask in his presence.

2nd Sunday in Lent, Year C – Homily

2nd Sunday of Lent, Year C
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalm 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14 (1a)
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 9:28b-36
March 17, 2019

Jesus went up on the mountain to pray. 

What does “prayer” mean to you?  It can include recite familiar prayers like the Rosary.  Other forms of recited prayer might include the Divine Mercy Chaplet or whatever your favorite devotion is. 

Do you think this is what Jesus did when He prayed?

In reflecting on what it means to pray, we are told that Jesus “went up the mountain to pray.”  Why a mountain?  We think of God being up in the heavens so going up the mountain was seen as getting closer to God.  The whole point of prayer is to draw us closer to God.  Prayer can be a conversation with God.

Our first reading today is a conversation Abraham (Abram) had with God.  God had promised Abraham that he would have an heir.  Abraham wondered how this was to be since both he and his wife were old.  Ultimately, Abraham “put his faith in the LORD.”  He trusted God because he knew that God loved him and would keep his promise.

Near the end of the passage we read, “a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.”  Some might call this a mystical presence.  Whatever you call it, it was a profound encounter with God that strengthened Abraham. 

We hear in the psalm today, “Your presence, O LORD, I seek.”  Is not the greatest gift we can receive simply know that God is with us?

What difficult situation have you faced lately?  Our first prayer in suffering can (and should) be to ask God to take it away.  In this, perhaps the most common prayer is telling God what we want.  Is prayer just a matter of giving God a list of our demands?

Now, imagine your most recent difficult situation again.  You asked God to take it away.  God said no.  What might be the next thing you ask for in prayer? 

Do you ask to know that God walks with you in the difficult situation? 

Abraham knew that God was there for him.  That is why he “put his faith in the LORD.”  Turning to the gospel, Jesus had just told his disciples about his coming Passion.  He knew they were troubled by what He told them and that they would be even more troubled when it actually happened.  To give them “divine assurance,” He took Peter, James, and John with him so they could see him transfigured, so that they would see his glory.  They also say Moses and Elijah with him to show them that He is the fulfillment of the law.

The experience of seeing Jesus transfigured left Peter not knowing “what he was saying.”  Think of your greatest experience of God.  Can you find works to adequately describe it or does it seem like no words can describe it?  It is the experience that can be most key to know that God is with us.

Thus, prayer has at its heart our desire to open ourselves to God’s love.

Prayer can come in three parts.  First is spoken prayer.  This could be either the recited prayers I mentioned before or the list of our needs we offer to God.  The purpose of “reciting” prayers isn’t to say we did it.  It’s to draw us closer to the Lord.  The point of listing our needs to God isn’t to tell him our demands.  It should be to tell him where we feel we need him most.

A second category of prayer is “mediation.”  This can include recited prayers if we move from just saying the words to thinking about what the story behind the words means to us.  Here one might think of meditating on the mysteries of the rosary as thinking about the important moments of Jesus’ life and what they mean for us.

Mediation can also include reading the Bible but I’m not talking about reading it like any other book.  Meditation means to read a few words or lines while pausing to think about what it means for us.

A third category of prayer is contemplative prayer.  For me, this can be both the most rewarding form of prayer and the most difficult.  It can be difficult because it requires us to stop thinking.  It isn’t about reciting words or meditating upon spiritual writings.  Contemplative prayer calls us to let go of all our thoughts.  This form of prayer is less about conversation with God and more about simply basking in his presence.

Think of when Peter saw Jesus transfigured.  He tried to find words to describe what he saw.  Contemplative prayer says don’t worry about the words.  Just enjoy the moment.

The problem with contemplative prayer is that you can’t make it happen.  If you try to sit there all day and force it to happen, it won’t.  I can’t give you a lesson here about it but here are some basic thoughts.  It means letting go.  If you read about centering prayer (a type of contemplative prayer), it recommends twenty minutes at a time but NEVER start with 20 minutes.  Start with just a couple of minutes after your normal prayer.  Let the thoughts go.  Find a word as simple as the name “Jesus” to repeat over and over to surrender yourself to the moment. 

The goal of prayer is to open ourselves to God, to let God lead the conversation.  Only then can we be transfigured by the experiences we have in prayer.  It is only when we stop dictating the conversation in prayer that we truly open ourselves to know that God is with him and we put our faith in the Lord.

Video Presentation – “Where Do We Go For Truth?”

I gave another presentation on Monday. This one, “Where Do You Go For Truth?,” discusses “Truth” and provides some guidance on how we search for God’s Truth to answer the tough questions in a world where society says there is no truth. Hope you enjoy it. It lasts about an hour and a quarter.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

1st Sunday of Lent, Year C – Homily

1st Sunday of Lent, Year C
Deuteronomy 26:4-10
Psalm 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15 (see 15b)
Romans 10:8-13
Luke 4:1-13
March 10, 2019

Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.” 

There are many people who cry to the Lord when they are “in trouble” but don’t pay much attention to the Lord when things are good.  I know in the years when I didn’t go to church, when things were going well, I didn’t pray much but if something was wrong, I’d offer a prayer.  When we face trouble, we ask the Lord to provide us shelter.

While there are more and more people who don’t come to church, the idea of people crying out to the Lord when they are “in trouble” is nothing new.

Think of all the people who came to Jesus to be cured of illness or for exorcism of evil spirits.  They know their troubles and they bring them to Jesus.

We see in the Old Testament.  In fact, in the Old Testament we see a cycle repeating over and over.  When the people are in trouble, they cry out to the Lord.  The Lord hears their cry and rescues them.  In gratitude, they follow the Lord’s way for a while but over time the people once again forget the Lord and fall back into sin.  God allows this.  God also lets them face the consequences of their sins and bad things happen.  They suffer until they realize the error of their ways and again repent and cry out to the Lord for help.

Here one might wonder where society is at right now.  There are people who think society is at its best because of all the “freedoms” people enjoy to live however they want.  I see a different perspective.  The shootings, violence, and partisan politics show a low point in society.  We need to turn back to the Lord.

We need to acknowledge our sins.  We need to acknowledge that we need the Lord’s help.  We cannot rescue ourselves.

God will deliver us as He delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  They had become slaves to the Egyptians.  We become slaves to sin.  Maybe we don’t even recognize our sin.

Are you a slave? 

We can become slaves to sin in that we become fixated on the physical pleasure that can go with some sinful acts.  Our desire to experience that pleasure controls our actions.  It might even become the most important thing.  We put that physical pleasure before the eternal life that Jesus offers us.  Even when we realize our sin, we cannot on our own break free from the sin.  This is what it means to be a slave to sin.  That’s when we need to acknowledge our sins to Jesus who can take them away in the Sacrament of Reconciliation when we confess our sins.  We can’t set ourselves free from sin but God can.

What about becoming slaves to activities that spiritually and morally are neither good or bad on their own but they still come to control our lives?

It might be something as simple as sports that we do for the fun but then require too much of our time and don’t allow us time for family, friends, or God.

It might be power or money.  I know people who wait to get married for years while they “start their career” so they can make money and have status.  They work many long hours to get established, thinking someday they won’t have to work so much and they can get married and start a family.  Do the long hours ever stop?  Does one become a slave to their work under the guise of providing for their family?

Is there sin in this?  Ask yourself if you have made your job and career your “false god”?  Have you made money or sports or leisure activity your “false god”?  If you have, think about the commands to have no “false god” for there is only one god.  Has your attachment to activities or things kept you from keeping the Sabbath holy?

Confess it to God and cry out to him for help.  As we cry out for the help, we need to be in it for the long haul.  We might may not be able to change everything overnight.  It might take time.  Even when we do change, the temptation can remain.  We can be weak against temptation and fall back into sin.

Jesus is the one who is successful against temptation.  He had fasted for forty days.  He was hunger.  The devil knew this and tried to tempt him to change the stone into bread.  Who would blame Jesus if He did this?  Would it be any different than we give up candy and/or snacking for Lent and then when Lent is over, we gorge ourselves on the very thing we gave up.  Has anything changed?

Some might even see it as a good thing to do in his hunger.  Yet, Jesus knows He has not been given this power for selfish gain. 

Jesus resisted all the “power and glory” that the devil offered him.  This could be like the temptation of career and status that we face.

What is your Achilles’ heel?  What is your greatest temptation?  Does it relate to a real need that you need help to fulfill or is it a want or simple pride that you need to let go of?

What can you do to free yourself of the temptation?   What help do you need from the Lord?