Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

God is dependable. The promises he makes, he keeps, because he is truth itself and cannot do anything contrary to that truth. So he delivers poor Jeremiah, who has been denounced – even by his own friends – for speaking the truth. Just so, he delivers Jesus from the hands of the Jews, because Jesus’ words and deed all testified to the truth. When we choose to live the truth the Lord puts in our hearts, we can depend on God to deliver us from the hands of those who do not seek the truth. As the psalmist tells us today, “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.”

It is difficult to witness to the truth sometimes, because in general, the world doesn’t want to hear it. The world would prefer to be deaf to the cries of the poor and the oppressed, preferring instead to attend to the convenience of big business and the wealthy. The world would prefer to ignore cries for real justice in the world, preferring instead to pacify lobbyists and others with more powerful voices. The world would prefer to ignore the truth of the Gospel: that Jesus is the way to the Father and the only way to eternal life. But we must witness to those truths every day. We may well be persecuted. But like Jeremiah and Jesus, we can depend on our God to hear our voice and deliver us from evil. God is dependable.

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word helps us to reflect on God’s promises. Ever since God made the first covenant with Abraham, he has been renewing that covenant in ever stronger ways with all of the people he created and loves. Abraham was able to see the land God promised him, but could not have appreciated in his own lifetime the great nation that was to come from him. Even though we as a people have strayed from God, he never has stopped reaching out to us. The covenant now is complete with the new and everlasting covenant we have in Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ contemporaries may not have been prepared to welcome this new covenant, but it cannot be that way for us disciples. We cannot resist the covenant in favor of hanging on to our own ideas, or of clinging to some kind of late night TV infomercial pop psychology, or anything that comes from Oprah and Dr. Phil. We need to be a people who cling only to the hope that we have in Christ, giving him our lives in faith as he pours out his love for all of us.

The psalmist tells us today that “The Lord remembers his covenant forever.” Let us remember it too, and give thanks for it as we celebrate the Eucharist today.

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Today Jesus speaks of his death and glorification, although he does speak of this in very veiled terms. Toward the end of today’s Gospel reading, he says, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM.” What he means, of course, is that when they lift him up on the cross, they will realize that he is the Son of God, made manifest in our world. And we know that after his death, the centurion has that very revelation: “Surely this was the Son of God!” This is reflected, then, in today’s first reading. Those who look upon the golden seraph that Moses lifted up on a pole had new life, just like those who look on the Son of God lifted up on the cross have eternal life.

Today the Son of God is to be lifted up for us in the Eucharist. Each time the host and the cup are raised up, we have the opportunity to know that Jesus is the Son of God, lifted up on the cross for our salvation, present in the Eucharist for our strength. As our Eucharistic and Saving Lord is lifted up for us today, may we come to a greater awareness of his glory.

Lenten Reconciliation Service

Today’s readings: Colossians 1:3-14 | John 14:1-29

In Jesus Christ, we have absolutely everything that we need for the forgiveness of sins, except one thing. In Jesus Christ, we have our God who became man (and we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation today which marks the beginning of the Son in his human nature). We have in Christ the Saving Sacrifice, his life poured out on us to take away the penalty of our sins and nullify the sting of our death. Not only that, but Jesus Christ strengthens us with the gift of his Holy Spirit, who enlivens in us the desire to be close to our God and to put our sins behind us. That Holy Spirit gives us the grace not just to know and confess our sins, but also the grace to avoid the sin ahead of us. In Christ, the way to forgiveness is open. We have all we need – except one thing.

That one thing that’s missing is our own “YES.” Today we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation when Mary said yes to the angel: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” That fiat was her act of faith that made possible our redemption from sin and death. We too are called to make a fiat today – an act of faith that says, “YES, God, I trust you to forgive my sins. YES, God, I will open myself to your reconciliation and peace. YES, God, I will follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance away from my sinfulness and back to you.” And that’s why we’re here tonight. To say that “YES” so that all that the Father wants for us can happen in us. We are here to accept that wonderful grace, purchased at an incredible price, and poured out lavishly on us. All we have to do is say “YES” to it.

This Lent we have been striving to develop, with God’s help, new habits of the soul, new habits of faith, hope and love. The habit we are called to work on tonight is the habit of repentance. Because once we repent of our sins, turn away from them, and confess them, we can then accept God’s grace and mercy, and become a new people, marked by faith hope and love. But repentance is a choice that’s up to us; it’s a habit we have to develop, because it’s not a habit that we see demonstrated much in our world. Our world would rather take mistakes and put a positive “spin” on them so everyone saves face. But that’s not repentance. Our world would rather find someone else to blame for the problems we encounter, so that we can be righteously indignant and accept our own status as victims. But that’s not repentance. Our world would rather encounter an issue by throwing at it money, human resources, military intervention, lawsuits or legislation. But that’s not repentance.

So, quite frankly, if we are ever going to learn the habit of repentance, we are going to have to look elsewhere than the evening news. World leaders are no help at all, and even if the media were to see an example of repentance, I’m not sure they’d give it much play. So where are we going to get the inspiration to live as a repentant people? These Lenten days, we might look at the wayward son’s interaction with the Prodigal Father, or perhaps the woman at the well who left her jug behind to live the new life. We might look at the woman caught in adultery or even at the “good thief” crucified with Jesus. All of these got the idea and turned from their sin toward their God and received life in return. This is the habit of repentance that we have been called to develop in ourselves.

Brothers and sisters, sin enslaves us and makes exiles out of us. Sin takes us out of the community and puts us off on our own, in a very empty place. That exile might look something like this:

  • We ignore the needs of the poor and exile ourselves from the full community;
  • We judge others and thus draw a dividing line between ourselves and those we judge;
  • We lie and are no longer trusted by others;
  • We refuse to forgive, and are trapped in the past, not willing to respond to the present;
  • We cheat, steal and abuse the rights of others and thus offend the right order of the community;
  • We act violently in words and actions and thus perpetuate forces that splinter and violate the human community;
  • We withdraw from their church and diminish the community’s ability to witness to God and serve others.

The exile of sin is heartbreaking, but it doesn’t have to be that way for us. The Liturgy of the Word throughout the Lenten season has been showing us the way back. We have the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit to inspire us with desire for communion with our God. We have the grace and mercy poured out on us through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we have the grace to do that one thing that’s missing; to develop that habit that makes us one with our God – that habit of repentance that brings us back no matter how far we have wandered or how many times we have turned away. Our God can still reach us in exile and he can still bring us back to the community, if we will but let him. Our God wants us to have nothing but the very best. He says to us in tonight’s Gospel: “Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

And that’s why we’re here tonight. God is aching to pour out on us the grace of his forgiveness and to bring us to his peace beyond all of our understanding, and we have chosen to come and receive it. We have chosen to be a people marked by faith, hope and love. We long to develop that habit of repentance which allows us to receive the new life God has always wanted for us. So let us now as a community of faith examine our conscience and repent of our sins.

Solemnity of the Annunciation

Today's Readings | Today's Feast

2annunc

"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word."

Today, we celebrate one of the most critical feasts in all of Christian history. In fact, it might be the critical feast. Without the Annunciation, there could never have been a Christmas. Without the Annunciation, there never could have been a Good Friday or an Easter. The faithfulness of Mary, even as a very young girl, is such an inspirational event. Nobody had ever given birth to God before, so she obviously had no frame of reference, yet, she is very firm in her fiat – her decision to exercise her faith: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."

We too are called to that same kind of faith, because surely the glory of God is aching to be born in all of us. We are called to bring Christ's presence to every corner of our world, every place where we are. The prospects of that can be scary, because we too don't know what the implications of God's work in us will be. We may be called upon to feed the hungry, or clothe the naked, or visit the sick, or shelter the homeless, or any of the other corporal works of mercy. But do we have those resources? Maybe not, but we are called to be Christ in those situations anyway. We might respond as Mary did at first: "How can this be?" But ultimately, we must respond that we are the Lord's handmaids an accept the call with great faith.

Mary is our patron whenever we feel overwhelmed by the task. May we rely on her intercession to guide us through the dark pathways of the unknown. May we look to her for an example of faith. May we follow her great example and let the Lord be born in us too, so that our Incarnate Lord can be made manifest in our world yet again. May we, like Mary, cry out in faith, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings

Back in the sixth century before the birth of Christ, the Israelites were in a bad way. They had been separated from their God by sin: against God’s commands, they had betrayed their covenant with the Lord and made foreign alliances, which he had forbidden them to do. As punishment, God separated them from their homeland: the cream of the crop of their society was taken into exile in Babylon, and those left behind had no one to lead them and protect them. Because they moved away from God, God seemed to move away from them. But he hadn’t. In today’s first reading, God shows them that he still loves them and cares for them, and promises to make them a new people. I love the line: “See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?” God would indeed bring them back and create their community anew.

The Israelites were in exile, but exile can take so many forms. And St. Paul had a good sense of that. For him, the exile was anything that was not Christ; a sentiment we would do well to embrace. St. Paul knows that he has not yet taken possession of the glory that is promised him by Christ, but he knows also that he has already been taken possession of by Christ. He wants to leave behind the exile of the world and strains forward to all that lies ahead, the goal and prize of God’s calling in Christ.

Which brings us back to the woman caught in adultery. We certainly feel sorry for her, caught in the act, dragged in front of Jesus and publicly humiliated. But the truth is, just like the Israelites in the sixth century before Christ, she had actually sinned. And that sin threatened to put her into exile from the community; well, it even threatened her life. The in-your-face reversal in the story, though, is that Jesus doesn’t consider her the only sinner – or even the greatest sinner – in the whole incident. We should probably wonder about the man she was committing adultery with; that sin does, after all, take two. And adultery is a serious sin. But Jesus makes it clear that there are plenty of serious sins out there, and they all exile us from God. As he sits there, writing in the sand, they walk away one by one. What was he writing? Was it a kind of examination of conscience? A kind of list of the sins of the Pharisees? We don’t know. But in Jesus’ words and actions, those Pharisees too were convicted of their sins, and went away – into exile – because of them.

Sin does that to us. It makes exiles out of all of us. The more we sin, the further away from God we become. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jimmy and Suzy went to visit their grandmother for a week during the summer. They had a great time, but one day Jimmy was bouncing a ball in the house, which he knew he shouldn’t be doing. After not too long, the ball hit grandma’s vase and broke in half. He picked up the pieces and went out back and hid them in the woodshed. Looking around, the only person who was around was his sister Suzy. She didn’t say anything, but later that day, when grandma asked her to help with the dishes, Suzy said “I think Jimmy wanted to help you.” So he did. The next day, grandpa asked Jimmy if he wanted to go out fishing. Suzy jumped right in: “He’d like to but he promised grandma he would weed the garden.” So Jimmy weeded the garden. As he was doing that, he felt pretty guilty and decided to confess the whole thing to grandma. When he told her what had happened, grandma said, “I know. I was looking out the back window when you were hiding the pieces in the woodshed. I was wondering how long you were going to let Suzy make a slave of you.”

That’s how it is with sin: it makes a slave of us, and keeps us from doing what we really want to do. It puts us deep in exile, just as surely as the ancient Israelites. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

You see, it’s easier than we think to end up in exile. Here are some ways people find themselves in exile:

• They ignore the needs of the poor and exile themselves from the full community;
• They judge others and thus draw a dividing line between themselves and those they judge;
• They lie and are no longer trusted by others;
• They refuse to forgive, and are trapped in the past, not willing to respond to the present;
• They cheat, steal and abuse the rights of others and thus offend the right order of the community;
• They act violently in words and actions and thus perpetuate forces that splinter and violate the human community;
• They withdraw from their church and diminish the community’s ability to witness to God and serve others.

Exile is heartbreaking. And to the exile of sin, God says three things today:

First, “Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore.” That sounds like something that’s easy to say but hard to do. But the fact is, once we have accepted God’s grace and forgiveness, that grace will actually help us to be free from sin. Of course, that’s impossible to do all on our own. But God never commands us to do something that is impossible for us, or maybe better, he never commands us to do something that is impossible for him to do in us. God’s grace is there if we but turn to him.

Second, God says: “Forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead.” Once sin is confessed and grace is accepted, the sin is forgotten. God is not a resentful tyrant who keeps a list of our offenses and holds them against us forever. If we confess our sins and accept the grace that is present through the saving sacrifice of Jesus, the sins are forgotten. But it is up to us to accept that grace. We truly have to confess so that we can forget what lies behind and be ready for the graces ahead.

Third, God says: “See, I am doing something new. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” We are the ones who get stuck in the past, always fearing to move forward because of past sins, hurts, and resentments. We are called today to be open to the new thing God is doing in our lives. The way to open up is to get rid of the past.

For a long time I didn’t go to confession. I didn’t think I needed to. I grew up in that whole time of the church when it was all about how you felt about yourself. Garbage. I knew something was wrong when I was in my young adulthood and felt lost. I took a chance and went to confession at a penance service, and the priest welcomed me back. In that moment, I knew exactly the new thing God was doing in me, and it felt like a huge weight was lifted off of me. In fact, I was released from the exile of all my past sins and hurts.

I never forgot that, and whenever anyone comes to me in confession and says it’s been a long time since they went, I am quick to welcome them back. Because that’s what God wants. He wants to lift that weight off of you, to end your exile. All it takes is for you to see that new thing he is doing in you, and to strain forward to what lies ahead.

Tomorrow night at 7:00 we have our parish reconciliation service. If you have not been to confession yet this Lent, or if, like me, you haven’t been in years, it’s time to end your exile. We will have six priests here to hear you, and we are looking forward to the opportunity to do that. Would that we would all take this opportunity to forget what lies behind, and strain forward to what lies ahead. God is doing a new thing in all of us these Lenten days. Let us all be open to it.

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

These days, we find ourselves in the middle of a section of John’s Gospel that leads up to the arrest and death of Jesus. But we’re not quite there yet, and if you’ve been following along these last few days as we’ve been hearing the story unfold, you can see that there’s a lot of confusion out there. The religious leaders are absolutely certain that Jesus is not only not the Christ, but also an imposter deserving of death. But the people aren’t so sure. They are hearing his words and seeing his deeds and realizing that there is something more to him than the religious leaders are prepared to acknowledge. The religious leaders can’t even arrest him yet, because the people are so convinced of his message that they fear the people will revolt if they lay hands on him.

But we may find ourselves on the edge of our seats, breathless at what is happening. It’s kind of like a movie that we’ve seen before: we know the way it will end, and we are in great anticipation of what is about to unfold. We know what will ultimately happen to him, and we know of the ultimate victory that will be his, and ours by grace. But we must wait for his hour to come and the fullness of God’s plan to be revealed.

We are on the downhill side of Lent right now. Have we been caught up in the story? Are we breathless in anticipation for Holy Week and Easter? In these last couple of weeks, it may be good for us to quiet ourselves and let God catch us up in the story as it unfolds. If Lent hasn’t been all you planned on it being: if you’ve perhaps neglected the fasting, almsgiving and prayer you planned to do, know that it is not too late to pick it back up again and let God catch you up in the story. It is never too late for God’s grace.

At the end of today’s Gospel, we are told that “each went to his own house.” My read of that says that included both the religious authorities and the people. As they went to their own house, they had to sort out the Jesus phenomenon and figure out what it meant for them. As we go forth to our own houses this day, may we take that same opportunity and let God catch us up in the story of his amazing grace.