Tuesday of Holy Week

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reading contains four of the most chilling words in all of holy Scripture: “And it was night.”  Those narrative words come just after Judas takes the morsel and leaves the gathering.  But the Beloved Disciple didn’t include those words to tell us the time of day.  In John’s Gospel, there is an overriding theme of light and darkness.  The light and darkness, of course, refer to the evil of the world that is opposed by the light of Christ.

That John tells us it was night meant that this was the hour of darkness, the hour when evil would come to an apparent climax.  This is the time when all of the sins of the world have converged upon our Lord and he will take them to the Cross.  The darkness of our sinfulness has made it a very dark night indeed.

But we know the end of the story.  This hour of darkness will certainly see Jesus die for our sins.  But the climax of evil will be nothing compared to the outpouring of grace and Divine Mercy.  The darkness of evil is always overcome by the light of Christ.  Always.  But for now, it is night.

In these Holy days, we see the darkness that our Savior had to endure for our salvation. May we find courage in the way he triumphed over this fearful night.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent (Scrutiny III)

Today’s readings

“Lord, by now there will be a stench.”

That’s one of my favorite lines in scripture. It begs the question I want you to pray about this week, which is, “What in your life really stinks?” Because we have to have that stench washed away in order to really live.

If you know my preaching, you’re not going to be at all surprised about this, but I have to tell you honestly, our Gospel reading isn’t about Lazarus. Yes, he got raised from the dead, so good for him, but he isn’t the center of action in the story. In fact, he’s dead for most of the reading, so he doesn’t play a major part. The action is, of course centered around Jesus, and as I tell our school children, if on a religion test they write something about Jesus, they should always get at least partial credit! Our Gospel today is about Jesus, who through baptism and grace is the remedy for all that stinks in our life.

So Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus is ill. He knows that Lazarus will die, and he knows that he will raise Lazarus up, so very much like the rest of John’s Gospel, Jesus is in full control. He delays going to see Lazarus because it will give him the opportunity that will increase faith in the other players in the story. So when he arrives, Lazarus has been dead four days. That’s an important detail because it tells us that Lazarus is really, really dead. The Jews believed that the soul of a person hung around for about three days, but after that, well, he or she was gone forever. So if Jesus had raised Lazarus on the second day, no big deal. If on the third day, that would have been a foreshadowing of himself. But on the fourth day, he raises up someone who is really, really dead, someone just like us.

So just like the man who was born blind last week, we are born dead, in a way. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but stay with me. We are born dead in our sins, and there is nothing we can do to raise ourselves up out of it except for the grace of God. So the movement in our Gospel today is from life that is so mired in sin that it stinks, to life that is so free of death that burial bands and tombs cannot contain it.

There are three groups of catechumens in today’s Gospel. The first group is Mary and Martha, those friends of Jesus that are part of John’s Gospel a few times. Here, the rubber meets the road in their faith. Here, like so many of us, they have something tragic happen in their lives, and now they have to grapple with whether their faith helps them with that or not. Mary is so troubled that she doesn’t even go out to meet the Lord until her sister tells her a white lie that Jesus was asking for her. Both she and Martha, when they first see Jesus, complain that he should have come sooner so that he could have saved Lazarus. But Martha has a little faith. She says very importantly that “Even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” That’s the beginning profession of faith. She knows that Jesus has power over life and death. So then they have a little catechesis about life and death and eternity, and at the end of it, Martha professes that Jesus is the Son of God who was coming into the world. The sisters move from their grief, to faith in Jesus, even before he accomplishes the miracle.

The second group of catechumens is the Apostles. God bless them, they’re still trying to make sense of Jesus. We can’t be too hard on them, because they’re a lot like many of us who are trying to be men and women of faith, but don’t really have all the facts right now. “Let us also go to die with him,” Thomas says. And they will, of course: they have to go through the cross before they see and understand Jesus fully. We too will have to take up our own crosses before we can understand the salvation that Christ has won for us.

The third group of catechumens is the Jews. A bunch of them are weeping with Mary, and they go with her to see Jesus. Along the way, they complain that if he could heal the man born blind like he did in last week’s Gospel, why couldn’t he have healed Lazarus? But seeing the miracle, they come to believe, in the very last verse of this long reading. They are a lot like those of us who are skeptical for a long time, but see something wonderful materialize in the life of another and finally decide there’s something to this Jesus that’s worth believing in.

But key to all of these catechumens is that, in order to move to belief, they had to have some kind of stench in their lives washed away. For Martha and Mary, they had to see past their grief. For the Apostles, they had to get over themselves and realize that Jesus was in charge. For the Jews, they had to get past their skepticism and let him perform miracles among them. For all of us, on the journey of faith, some kind of stench has to be washed away, in order to come to full faith in Jesus. And that stench is, of course, sin. The way it gets washed away is in baptism.

This reading is all about baptism, brothers and sisters in Christ. Is it a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection, well maybe a little. But it is more about baptism. Because baptism is a kind of death. As Saint Paul says this morning, baptism is the kind of death that gives life to our mortal bodies. It’s hard for us to imagine that kind of thing when the baptisms we’ve seen are just a mere pouring of water over a baby’s head. But baptism in the early church was full submerging in water while the formula was pronounced, after which they came up out of the water gasping for air. Believe me, they got the connection of baptism with death and resurrection!

Baptism is what washes away the stench in our lives. It does that with original sin, and if we live our baptism by participating in the sacraments, it does that with the sins of our daily life. The sacrament of Penance is an extension in a way of the sacrament of Baptism, in which the sins of our lives are completely washed away, leaving us made new and alive in ways we couldn’t imagine.

So today, Jesus sees us dead in the flesh, stinking of our sins. But he calls us forth in baptism, rolling away the stone of sin that keeps us from relationship with him, releasing us from the burial-bands that bind us, and calling us to new life.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent (Cycle B)

Today’s readings

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Bill had worked for the company for twenty-seven years, and he loved his job: it 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, so it was hard sometimes to remember who they even worked for. It wasn’t family any more –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 it.

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. 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 dragged to the cross, 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.

We are in the “homestretch” of Lent right now. Maybe this would be a good time to look back on our own “hours” and see how we’ve handled them. Have we stood for what we believe and died a little in the process? Or have we given in to the world and gone with the flow and lost our faith in the process? Chances are we are all somewhere on that journey, and now is a good time for us to return if we’ve gotten off track. Go to confession, maybe during our mission this week, and make plans to live our faith anew. It would be great if we could enter into the glory of Easter, knowing that we have made decisions that make our lives new.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. We know how he responded and what he gave for us. What are we willing to give for him?

St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Foster Father of Our Lord

On today’s feast, we celebrate the faithfulness of Saint Joseph. When he became betrothed to Mary, he got more than he could ever have bargained for. It certainly would have been easy to divorce her quietly when the news of her pregnancy became known, and it certainly would have been difficult to continue the relationship under those circumstances. Yet, he heeded the word of the angel in his dream, and was faithful to God’s will for him. His faithfulness preserved the heritage of Jesus, so that he would be born of David’s line.

And so we owe much to Joseph and his willingness to act on his faith in God’s word.  We know that he was part of the ancestral line that extended from the beginning to the birth of Jesus, but Joseph probably didn’t.  We know that he was the strong family leader who made possible the growth of his foster son and the protection of his holy family, but Joseph probably didn’t.  There was a lot of the big picture that Joseph didn’t get to see; he acted in faith on the little messages he received in dreams.  I wonder if any of us would be so willing to make that leap of faith.

Joseph was the faithful father who protected Mary and Joseph, taught him the faith as a good father would, and taught him his craft.  He is the patron of fathers, of workers, and of the universal Church, among others.

When we find faithfulness difficult, we can look to Joseph for help. Through his intercession, may our work and our lives be blessed, and may we too be found faithful to the word of the Lord.

Saint Patrick, Bishop

Today’s readings

“The Lord of hosts is with us, our stronghold is the God of Jacob.” These words of the Psalmist are ones that guided Saint Patrick throughout his life and ministry. He was subject to so much misfortune, that it would have been easy for him to throw up his hands and not give God a second thought. But he trusted in God, his stronghold.

At 16, Saint Patrick and a large number of his father’s slaves and vassals were captured by Irish raiders and sold as slaves in Ireland. Forced to work as a shepherd, he suffered greatly from hunger and cold. Life was not easy for him. But after escaping to France, he studied to be a priest. In a dream, it seemed to him that “all the children of Ireland from their mothers’ wombs were stretching out their hands” to him. He returned to Ireland and led a concerted effort that drenched the pagan culture there in Christianity and won many souls for Christ. His trust in God did not allow him to forget the people of Ireland even after having suffered among them.

In his wonderful work, the Confessio, Patrick tells us the source of his peace: “Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.” His wonderful “Breastplate” prayer has so much to say about his faith in God’s power to save him. These are some excerpts:

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of demons,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Amen.

Whatever the circumstances of our life, we are called to remember that it is not about us; we cannot be the ones to save ourselves. We must trust in God to be our stronghold who will never forsake or abandon us. And then we must do everything we can to let God be that stronghold in our lives, even as we reach to new heights to do his work.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Scrutiny II)

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy calls us to clear up our clouded vision and become people of light.  The gospel gets at that pretty quickly, healing the man born blind in the first couple of minutes of what is admittedly a pretty long reading.  And that’s a good thing because, honestly, who cares about the man born blind?  I know that sounds terrible, but he lived a couple thousand years ago, and he was healed, so you know, good for him, but how does that affect us?  I’ll tell you how it affects us: the man born blind is us.  We all have affected vision: none of us sees others or even sees ourselves as God does. The first reading then is a wake-up call to us.  And we have to decide today if we are the man born blind who is easily and quickly healed, or if we want to be the Pharisees who, at the end of the day, never regain their sight because, well, they just don’t want to.

So maybe you’re asking the same question those Pharisees asked, “surely we are not also blind, are we?”  Of course we are.  We are, first of all, born blind. We don’t have a way of seeing the Truth that is in front of us; we can’t acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ and the King of our lives. It takes baptism to cure that born blindness in us. Secondly, we have a kind of blindness that affects us all through our lives. We often lose our vision and wander off the path to life. We are affected by temptation, by cyclical sin and by the darkness of our world. That’s why we have Lent: to realize our brokenness and to accept the healing power of Christ.  Lent calls us to remember that we are dust, that we are broken people fallen into sin, but it also proclaims that none of that is any match for the power of Christ risen from the dead, if we just let him put a little mud on our eyes.

Today’s Gospel then is a kind of journey to clearer vision.  We are all born blind, in a sense, and it takes the presence of Jesus to clear our vision.  Just as the man born blind was sent to the pool of Siloam, we too are sent to the waters of baptism, which clears our eyes and helps us to really see.  Our Elect, Brandon, will experience that in a very literal way this coming Easter Vigil.  In baptism, our inherited sin and evil is washed away; the darkness of life is transformed by the presence of Christ, the Light of the World.  We see that light shine brighter and brighter in today’s Gospel.  During the course of all the questionings that follow, the man’s vision becomes clearer and clearer.  At first he doesn’t know who Jesus is or where to find him.  Later on he testifies that Jesus is a prophet and finally, with the help of Jesus’ instruction, that Jesus is the Son of Man and worthy of worship. As he sees more clearly, his faith becomes bolder.  We make this same journey ourselves.  From the waters of baptism, we need to continue the conversation and return to Christ again and again to grow in our faith.  We grow in the way that we see Jesus through our lives.  Our faith when we were young is not the same faith that works for us later in life.  At one point Jesus is a friend walking with us on life’s path; later on he might be a rock that helps us in a particularly stormy time of life.  Still later, he might be the one calling us to become something new, something better than we think we can attain.  Jesus is always the same, but we are different, and Jesus is with us at every point of life’s journey, if we open our eyes to see him.

Traditionally, today is Laetare Sunday – laetare being Latin for “rejoice.”  That’s why we’re wearing these rose-colored vestments today.  We are now pretty much half way through Lent, and with eyes recreated by our own trips to the pool of Siloam – the waters of baptism – we can begin to catch a glimpse of Easter joy.  It kind of reminds me of the last section of the Exsultet that Deacon Chris Lankford will proclaim on the evening of the Easter Vigil. That last section tells us:

May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death’s domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever. 

Christ’s peaceful light changes everything. It clears up the darkness of sin and evil, and allows all of us blind ones to see the glory of God’s presence.  All of us have, indeed been born blind.  But we’re not supposed to stay that way.

Saturday of the Third Week of Lent

Today’s readings

“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

These are perhaps the most important words of the spiritual life, uttered today by the repentant tax collector in the temple area. These words are so important, actually, that they form the basis of one of the most ancient acts of contrition that we have, called the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer comes out of the eastern and orthodox Church traditions, and the full version is “Lord Jesus Christ, be merciful to me, a sinner.” I want to put that in your prayer toolbox today: everyone should memorize this prayer.

The Jesus Prayer, and our readings today, give us one of the great tools of Lent: humility. Humility is that great virtue that recognizes that I need a Savior. That because of my sins, I have no access to God, except for the fact that he loves me beyond anything I have a right to hope for. Humility recognizes that God loves us all so much that he gave everything for us, poured himself out for love of us, and desires to heal all of our sins and brokenness.

All it takes is a little repentance: realizing my sinfulness, turning back to Christ, letting him love me, and accepting his forgiveness. The prayer that manifests that kind of attitude is not the prayer of the Pharisee in the Gospel reading today: his attitude is the antithesis of what prayer needs to be. The prayer that manifests the attitude we must have is that of the tax collector: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

O, that God would grant us the great gift of humility this Lenten day.