Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Today’s Scriptures speak to us words of healing. But more than that, they speak of healing us from disease that we have inflicted on ourselves. The children of Israel needed this kind of healing. They had been bitterly complaining about their treatment in the desert, after God had gone to great lengths to rescue them from their captivity as slaves in Egypt. Think about that, would they really rather have remained in bitter slavery than have to put up with some inconveniences as they approached the freedom they had long been promised? But still, they complained, and so they are bitten by seraph serpents and many of them died. But they are healed when they look upon the brass serpent lifted up on the pole, made by Moses.

This prefigures the way God intended to heal the human race through the lifting up of his Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. We too had been subjected to bitter slavery, and in some sense we continue to be subject to it. The slavery here is slavery to sin, to whatever it is that drags us down, keeps us from God, and makes us miserable, ungrateful, wretched souls. That’s what sin does to us. But we need not die in that miserable state. There is a remedy. We don’t have to look to a mere bronze serpent, because that’s a poor substitute for the remedy God has in mind. Instead, we can look up to Christ, lifted up on the cross for our salvation, and better still, lifted up from his death by the glory of the resurrection.

There’s a lot of lifting up going on. God intends to raise us all up, as he did for Christ. That’s why he created us. He knows that we are still subject to slavery – not in Egypt, of course, but to sin, which is even worse. But thanks be to God, he has provided the remedy by giving his only Son for our salvation.

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Susanna’s story is one of the most eloquent in the Old Testament Scriptures, in it we see the wisdom of the prophet Daniel, as well as the mercy and justice of God. The story serves as a beautiful support to the acquittal of the adulterous woman, in which we are treated to the wisdom of Jesus, brought about as it is with the mercy and justice of God. But sadly, we see in both stories also the fickleness of the human heart and the evil and treachery that makes up some of our darker moments.

To those who seek to pervert justice and to collude with others against some other person, these readings expose evil thoughts and flood darkened hearts with the piercing light of God’s justice. We ourselves have no right to judge others if our own intentions are not pure. Only God can give real justice, just as only God brings ultimate mercy.

To those who are the victims of oppression, these readings give us the hope that God in his mercy will always hear the cry of the poor and give to the downtrodden the salvation they seek. God is ultimately very interested in the kind of justice that is characterized by right relationships with one another and with Him. It is the desire of God’s heart that this kind of justice would be tempered with mercy and would go out and lighten all the dark places of the earth.

Today we are called upon to right wrongs, to be completely honest and forthright in our dealings with others, to seek to purify our hearts of any wicked intent, and most of all to seek to restore right relationships with any person who has something against us, or against whom we have something. Our prayer this day is that God’s mercy and justice would reign, and that God’s kingdom would come about in all its fullness.

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings

He had worked for the company for twenty-seven years, and the beginning of his association there was great. The job was energizing, he worked with great people, he worked for great people. It was a family business, and they treated the people who worked for them like family. They were paid well, had good benefits, and they all worked hard – it was an ideal situation. But, over the years, the brothers who ran the company retired, and sold the company to another in the same business. They were taken over a few years ago by still another company, and they started to joke that they should replace the sign out front with a dry-erase board so they could change the company name more easily.

So he found his job satisfaction decreasing day by day. The job was more hectic and drained him of his energy every single day. The people he worked with were in the same boat as he was – they were all so stressed that they hardly had time for each other. The great people he worked for were all retired. It wasn’t family any more – it was dog eat dog, profits were most important, and the quality of work and product wasn’t so important as was the next big presentation for the stockholders. Everyone was trying to get ahead, and they were cutting corners to do so.

Eventually he became aware that something was really off. What they were billing their biggest clients for, and what they were providing, were two different things. He’d seen the invoices and the sales orders and they didn’t match. And these were government contracts. He checked and re-checked, and there was no getting around it, the disparity was clear. As time went on, he knew he couldn’t live with what was going on. But if he blew the whistle, who was going to have his back? He had a family and needed the job and its benefits. Who was going to hire him at his age? Even when he found a job, he wouldn’t make what he was getting now. But his faith had informed his conscience and he knew he couldn’t just look the other way.

His hour had come.

Many of us have to face our own “hours.” A teenager says his friends are constantly getting drunk and he does not want to join them. As a result he loses those friends. A parent objects to athletic practices for her children on Sunday morning. As a result, her child does not make the team. Our hour comes whenever our identity is on the line, when we are called on to make sacrifice, when we must make a decision that will cost us. The “hour” often puts our choices at odds with others and we must decide if we will live out and, in a way, die for what we believe.

And so, maybe we can relate a bit to Jesus today. His hour had come, the hour for him to be glorified, sure, but it was also an hour that would lead first to his death. He knew this very well. In John’s Gospel, none of this is a surprise for Jesus – he is not arrested and dragged to his death, there is no Garden of Gethsemane moment where he begs for the cup to be taken from him. Instead, John’s Gospel has Jesus in full control. He knows why he came, he knows that the hour is at hand, and he freely lays down his life for all of us. But, even so, that hour does not come without some pause, even some dread – John’s Jesus is still fully human in that way.

We are in the “homestretch” of Lent right now. As Jesus approaches his defining hour, we are entering into the final full week of Lent, this wonderful season of grace and blessing. Lent itself ends on Holy Thursday just before Evening Prayer or Vespers. So we have about ten and a half days left. And the preparations are in full swing. The maintenance staff has been repairing and refinishing the pews so that the Church will look good for Easter. We’ve been stocking up on the candles and hosts and supplies that we will need for these incredible days. Liturgies are being prepared, readings are being practiced, music is being rehearsed. The Elect have taken part in all the Scrutinies and are eager for the Easter Vigil when they will receive what they have been longing for – new life in Christ.

So I think this is a good time for us to pause and see where we are and where we’ve been. Where has this Lent taken us? Did you participate in Forty Hours, in the Mission; have you come to the Stations of the Cross, did you eat at the Fish Fry? Have you found time for additional prayer in your life? Have you come to daily Mass? Have you fasted from those things which distract you from a full relationship with God? Have you given of your own time, talent and treasure to reach out to those who are not as fortunate as you are? Have you taken the time to confess your sins?

If Lent has not been as stellar as you’d hoped; if you’ve intended to do some things that haven’t actually taken shape, if you’ve been lax in some of your practices, well you have these ten and a half days to make it right. If you’ve failed in your resolutions, they are not dead; now is the time to revive them and make a ten-day effort to let them change your hearts, to let God change your hearts. We even have one final opportunity for the Sacrament of Penance, next Saturday, from 3:30 to 5pm, and all three of us priests will be available: me, Fr. Ted and Fr. Jude.

How wonderful it would be for all of us to enter into Holy Week with minds and hearts renewed, open to the grace of the Paschal Triduum. How wonderful it would be to pack this church on all three days of the Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil; all of us open to the celebration of our salvation through the cross and resurrection of Christ. The hour is nearly here, and our entering in to this hour enables us to face those other “hours” of our lives with more grace. So that when our identity is tested and our faith is on the line, we will know that we can take up the cross, confident in the resurrection.

Jesus tells us today, “Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” We confidently approach this hour of judgment with the prayer of the Psalmist today, “Create a clean heart in me, O God.”

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

There are two things happening in the readings these later days of Lent. In the first readings, we have had the prophets complaining about the evil that is plotted against them and also them calling on the Lord God to be their help. In this they foreshadow what will happen to the Christ during his life: he too will be a prophet who is not welcome, who is not understood, who is treated with evil intent. He too will find his only trust in the Lord God, his Father.

The second thing that is happening is that, as we read through the later part of John’s Gospel, it’s starting to get a little dangerous for Jesus. The authorities aren’t sure what to make of him, and most of them would like his troublesomeness taken from them. They wish to arrest him and put an end to his prophecies and words of challenge. They begin to plot against him more and more in earnest. But, they are unable to lay hands on him because “his time has not yet come.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ life is not taken from him; instead, he freely lays it down, and he does it in the Father’s time, not his, not the Jews’, not anyone else’s.

So in our readings we are beginning to hear a sense of urgency. Our days of Lent are quickly coming to a close. Holy Week will be here before we know it. And so if we’ve had Lenten plans that have not quite taken hold or have been put off, now is the time to revive them in earnest. We need to confess our sins, to fast, pray and give alms, to ready our hearts and our spirits for the wonderful days of grace that lie ahead.

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Knowing where a person is from is a Scriptural way of labeling that person. So maybe we too have ways of “knowing where people are from” and we label them according to race, or parentage, or upbringing, or whatever. We are especially quick to label and write off those who would challenge us, just like the just one was “beset” in today’s first reading. We have to be very careful not to write people off – regardless if they are different from us, or are troublesome, or are challenging to us, because in doing so we write off Jesus himself, and turn our back once again on the words he would speak to us.

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

In our first reading, Moses stood before God to turn away his wrath from his people. Jesus, of course, perfects that by paying the price for our sins. Where Moses stops God’s anger for a time, Jesus’ sacrifice reconciles God and humanity forever. Jesus is telling the Jews, particularly the religious leaders of the time, that they had missed the real message of Moses; if they hadn’t, they would have accepted him. Jesus rebukes them for not accepting praise from God alone, which is really rebuking them for idolatry. It’s a caution we can accept also today, a caution to focus on God’s action in our lives and accept his grace for what we need.

Solemnity of the Annunciation

Today’s readings

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, remembering that the birth of Jesus was foretold to Mary through the messenger of God, the archangel Gabriel. We celebrate it deliberately on this day, the 25th of March, exactly nine months before the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord on Christmas Day.

This is an important celebration of our faith, because if Mary hadn’t been so cooperative, well, salvation history may have been affected rather poorly. But she said yes, even though she could never have known how this would all turn out. Her fiat, her faith-filled “yes” resounds through the ages to ring in the final chapter of God’s saving grace poured out on the world. We too are called on, time and again, to make our own fiat, our own leap of faith, saying “yes” to God’s plan for our lives. We don’t get the big picture either before we have to make that decision, we are called to cooperate with God and trust that he will provide the grace to bless our efforts. The Psalmist’s prayer is ours too, today: “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

There’s a lot of talk about water in these readings today, and when that happens, we know that it means the talk is really about baptism. We ourselves are the sick and lame man who needed Jesus’ help to get into the waters of Bethesda. The name “Bethesda” means “house of mercy” in Hebrew, and that, of course, would be the Church. We see the Church too in the temple in the first reading, from which waters flow which refresh and nourish the surrounding countryside. These, of course, again are the waters of baptism. Lent calls us to renew ourselves in baptism. We are called to enter, once again, those waters that heal our bodies and our souls. We are called to drink deep of the grace of God so that we can go forth and refresh the world.

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

One of the best reasons for us to make the most of Lent is that God is doing something new, as he tells us in today’s first reading. He wants of us an increase in faith. He wants us to have a faith that accepts the gift of miracles, but does not rely on miracles to sustain it. The royal official and his household came to believe when his child was cured, and that’s a good first step. Whatever it takes to bring us to faith is okay. But we are called to go beyond that, and to nurture a faith in Jesus that trusts even when trusting seems foolish. God is doing something new in us this Lent; may our Eucharist strengthen us to receive it.

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings
[These readings were used for the Mass of the Second Scrutiny.]

When Dad was alive, we pretty much couldn’t go anywhere with him and not have him find someone there that he knew. He’d been a softball coach for over 25 years, had been a catechist at church, and helped with the youth retreat for many years. So it often seemed like he knew everyone everywhere we went. Sometimes it was kind of annoying, to be honest. We had a schedule, but he had to stop and catch up with whoever it was he recognized. To us, they were all strangers, but to Dad, they were so-and-so’s brother, or the girl he coached fifteen years ago, or the son or daughter of someone he knew from church. Not only that, but Dad was able to see in them talents or gifts that they sometimes didn’t know they had. He brought out the best in those he coached, and after he died, many people told us how he encouraged and challenged them to do wonderful things. We knew he did those things for us, of course, but to know how he saw great things in others was a real blessing.

Dad had the kind of vision that God wanted from Samuel in today’s first reading. It’s easy to get caught up in seeing people from the outside, but God’s vision goes way beyond that – to the heart, to what makes the person whole and holy. Eliab was the logical choice for king of Israel. He was strong, mature, and good-looking; he would be charismatic enough to lead the people. But that’s not what God was looking for. He was looking for a man with a good heart, and David was that man. He too made a “splendid appearance” but that appearance went through to the core of who he was, and that was the vision God had for Israel.

Today’s readings are filled with images of vision – blindness and sight, light and darkness. And it’s our second reading today that points to the problem: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Notice how it does not say “You were once in darkness” – no, it says, “You were once darkness.” We were once darkness itself, plagued by the darkness this world can so often bring upon us, engaging in the darkness that keeps us from seeing the heart of others but instead keeps us focused on their outward appearance or first impression. But, as that line also points out, we have the antidote – we have the Lord who makes us light – and not just people in the light, but people who are light itself. This is the crux of what the scriptures are getting at today.

The vision theme is really played out in today’s Gospel reading. We have here the man born blind, and his healing. So I imagine you’ll all be surprised to know that this story is not about the healing of the blind man. Sure, that’s how it looks on the surface, but just like Samuel, we are being called to look a little bit deeper. Yes, Jesus heals a blind man. He does that rather quickly, actually, like in the first minute of the story. Then we spend all the rest of that story standing there listening to something else. And that something else is the real story here – that something else is the healing of the formerly-blind man’s darkness from the inside out.

Notice the progression. He is sent to Siloam to wash and on coming out, he can see. He then is questioned by the people who knew him as a blind man about whether he was in fact the man who was blind. He replies “I am.” Then he has this to say about Jesus: this man called Jesus restored my sight, but I don’t know where he is now. Simple as that. Later he is questioned by the Pharisees, and when they suggest Jesus is a sinner because he does not respect the Sabbath, the blind man rejects this and says “he is a prophet.” He is questioned a second time by the Pharisees, and this time he goes a little further, he suggests that he is a disciple of Jesus, and when he meets Jesus after being thrown out of the synagogue, makes a beautiful confession of faith and says, “I do believe, Lord.” His faith has grown from being in total darkness, to recognizing Jesus as a man who healed him, to seeing him as a prophet, to acknowledging him as Lord and God. He has grown in his faith.

So that, I would suggest, is the real story here. We have a story of a man who has grown in his faith. Just like last week, if you came to the nine o’clock Mass, we had the story of the woman at the well. It wasn’t just a story about a woman who gave Jesus a drink of water. It was a story of a woman who came to know Jesus more deeply, and realized that she was really thirsting for that living water that only Jesus can give.

There are a couple of details in the story of the healing of the blind man that are worth noticing. First, he is sent to the pool of Siloam to wash the clay off of his eyes. So the detail here is that there is water involved. Whenever we see water mentioned in the Scriptures, it usually reminds us of a certain sacrament – what sacrament is that? Right, baptism. So what’s involved here is a baptismal moment, in which a man who was formerly plagued by darkness is now redeemed and re-created and comes to new life and light through the sacramental remedy of baptism. The name of the pool – “Siloam” – is significant. We are told that it means “sent.” So by washing in the pool of Siloam, the man receives baptism and is then sent forth into his true vocation. This is a mirror of our own baptisms in which the blindness that we are born with is washed away in the pool of baptism and we are sent forth to be people of light.

The second little detail is the answer the man gives when he is first questioned by those who used to know him as the blind man. He is asked whether he is indeed the man who was born blind, and he says, “I am.” That probably is a familiar Scriptural phrase for you. Because whenever you hear it, it’s always in reference to God. When Moses asks God who he should say sent him to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, God says, “tell them I Am sent you.” In the Gospel of John, the phrase “I am” is used many times, but only by Jesus and in relation to himself. Except for this one time. Here it is used by the man re-created from darkness to light. Why would that be? Well, nothing in the Gospels is ever an accident, so we can dismiss that thought – it’s certainly no mere coincidence.

What I think it means is that this man is presented now as another Christ, who has been healed and forgiven and converted from darkness to light and now sent into the world to witness to his faith and draw others to faith in God. And here, then is the real story, finally. The story is about all of us. We are the “other Christs” who are washed clean and recreated from darkness to light in baptism, and are called on to deepen our faith throughout our lives, and to spread the light to every corner of the dark places in which we live. We have to be people who reject the devil’s darkness: we have to reject seeing and labeling people in negative ways, reject racism and hatred, reject violence, terrorism, war and crime, reject the idea that life is expendable, we have to simply reject the darkness this world calls us to in all its forms. We have to go to the pool of baptism and allow God to recreate us as people of light.

We do this together with our Elect, those who will receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist at Easter. As they come before us for the second scrutiny today, we reflect on the darkness in our own lives and we set it before the One who is light itself, the source of the light that we receive at baptism, and we renew our pledge to be the “other Christs” who will spread the light in our world – in our workplaces, our schools, our communities, wherever it is that God puts us. Because God intends to recreate those places, and all the people who are in them, with his wonderful light as well.

Physical blindness isn’t nearly as destructive as the blindness that comes from stubbornly resisting the light. There is no sin in physical blindness. But we cannot – indeed we must not – remain as the Pharisees, saying “we see just fine, thank you.” That is the way sin remains. Just like the man born blind, we have to acknowledge our own darkness in order that it would be exposed to Christ’s wonderful light.