Homilies Lent

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

Today’s readings

I’m going to say something that is probably going to make you think I’ve lost my mind. And that is that the great sin of the rich man was not the sin of neglecting poor Lazarus. Sure, that was certainly bad, but his greatest sin, I think, was that he trusted in himself instead of in God. That’s the deadly sin of pride, and the Fathers of the Church often tell us of the devastating effects of it. So the rich man, well he had everything he thought he needed in life, and he trusted in himself and in his own means to get it. But he never had a relationship with God; he didn’t see that as something he needed. Would that he had heeded the prophecy of Jeremiah from today’s first reading.  You don’t see him praying in the story or even giving thanks to God for his riches. All you see is him doing is enjoying what he has amassed, to the neglect of the poor.

So later on in the story, in death, he wants the good things God will provide for those who trust in him, people like Lazarus for example.   Lazarus has suffered much, and as the Old Testament Prophets proclaim, God is especially close to the poor and needy, so now he is exalted. But the rich man isn’t. He has already made his choice, and unfortunately now, trusting in himself doesn’t really help him at all.

So the loud warning this morning is that we are all too often the rich man and not so often Lazarus. We have a lot of stuff, we are blessed on earth more than most of the people in the world today. But sadly that often puts us at odds with the things of heaven. We can’t reach out for those when we’re holding on to the passing things of this world. We can’t take the hand of Jesus when we’re grasping tightly the stuff life in this culture gives us. That’s why fasting is so important during Lent, as well as almsgiving: both bid us let go of passing things so that we can have, like Lazarus, things eternal. Both bid us trust in God, not in ourselves and other human beings. Jeremiah says it plainly today: “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the LORD.” But, conversely, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD.”

So the question is, in whom do we trust? In ourselves? In other people? Or in God? “Blessed are they,” the Psalmist says today, “who hope in the Lord.”

Homilies Lent

The Second Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings

What would you give up for love?

That’s the question I want us to focus on today because I think it is, perhaps, the question of the spiritual life.  What is it that we are willing to give up for love?  And I’ll be honest: this set of readings gets me every time, and this is one of those homilies that has given me a few tears of repentance as I wrote it, and probably will as I preach it.  When I see what Abraham, Jesus, and ultimately God the Father would give up for love, it makes me repentant of the shoddy things I tend to hang on to.  But let’s bookmark that for a bit and get into the readings we have today.

Today’s first reading puts poor Abraham in an awful position.  Remember, he and Sarah were childless well into their old age.  And it is only upon entering into relationship with God that that changes.  God gives them a son, along with a promise, that he would be the father of many nations.  That was unthinkable.  Think of anyone you know who has had to struggle with the pain of being childless.  And here God puts an end to that just when they have come to terms with the fact it was never going to happen.  Everything changes for them, an old and childless couple.

And so put yourself in Abraham’s place.  After rejoicing in the son he never thought he’d have, God tells him: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah.  There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”  It’s not a suggestion, it’s not an invitation, it’s an order.  Now, Abraham knows that it’s only because of the gift of God that he has Isaac to sacrifice in the first place.  But for those of you who are parents: think about it, what would you do?  How would you feel in that moment?  That boy is the answer to your life-long prayers, and now God wants him back.  Wow.

The reading omits a chunk in the middle that is perhaps the most poignant part.  Abraham packs up and takes his son on a journey, travels with some servants, and at the end of it, he and Isaac haul the wood and the torch up the mountain.  Isaac asks him: “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”  Can you even begin to imagine the anguish in poor Abraham’s heart?  And yet he responds in faith: “My son, God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.”  Which, of course is true.  God had provided Isaac, who was intended to be the sheep.  God had, indeed, provided Isaac.  But Abraham couldn’t have known that God would intervene.

Now, we could get caught up in the injustice here and call God to task for asking such a horrible thing in the first place.  Why would God test poor Abraham so?  Why would he give him a son in his old age, only to take him away?   What purpose did that have?  Who wants to worship a God who would do something like that.  But we have to know that the purpose of the story is to illustrate that God has salvation in mind; he always intends the good for us.  Yes, God would provide the lamb.  It was never going to be Isaac; it’s not even the sheep caught up in the thicket – not really.  We know that the sheep for the burnt offering is none other than God’s own Son, his only one, whom he loves.  The story is ultimately about Jesus, and his death and resurrection are what’s really going on in today’s Liturgy of the Word.

Let’s let that sink in for a minute.  No, we don’t want to worship a God who would be evil enough to give a couple the gift of a child in their old age and then demand that he be sacrificed.  But we certainly worship this God who, in his great love for us, sacrifices his Son, his only one, whom he loves.  That, friends, is our God.  That’s what all of this is all about.

Now let’s get back to the thought I asked you to bookmark at the beginning of my homily today: Abraham trusted God and was willing to give up the thing he’d probably die for – his own son.  God asked, and he, anguished as he must have been, made the preparations and was ready to do it.  That’s what love of God meant to him.  So what are we willing to give so that we can demonstrate – to ourselves if no one else – our trust in God’s ability to love us beyond all telling?  For Lent, we’ve given up chocolate, or sweets, or even negative thinking or swearing.  Maybe we’ve not done well with them, or maybe we have even given up on the things we gave up!  But we need to see in Abraham’s willingness that our sacrifices are important; they mean something.  So maybe now, still early in Lent, it’s time to take a second look at our Lenten sacrifices.  Can we go deeper?  What are we willing to give up to experience God’s love more fully?

Jesus goes up a mountain in today’s readings too – and he too sees that he is to become the sheep for the sacrifice – sooner rather than later.  That was the meaning of the Law and the prophets of old, symbolized by Moses and Elijah on the mountain.  But knowing that, and knowing what’s at stake, he does not hesitate for a moment to go down the mountain and soldier on to that great sacrifice.  He willingly gives his own life to be the sheep for the sacrifice, because leaving us in our sins was a price he was not willing to pay.  His life was the thing he was willing to give up for love; for love of us.

There are a lot of things out there for us that seem good.  But the only supreme good is the life of heaven, and eternity with our God.  Think of the thing that means everything to you: are you willing to sacrifice that to gain heaven?  Are you willing to give everything for love of God?

Because, for you, for me, God did.

God did that for us.

Homilies Lent

Thursday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

If we take one thought out of Lent, it should be this: we need a Savior.

Even before Jesus’ time, Esther knew this.  Esther’s adoptive father Mordecai was a deeply religious man.  His devotion incurred the wrath of Haman the Agagite, who was a court official of King Ahasuerus of Persia.  Mordecai refused to pay homage to Haman in the way prescribed by law, because it was idolatry. Because of this, Haman developed a deep hatred for Mordecai, and by extension, all of the Israelite people.  He convinced King Ahasuerus to decree that all Israelites be put to death, and they cast lots to determine the date for this despicable event.

Meanwhile, Esther, Mordecai’s adopted daughter, is chosen to fill a spot in the King’s harem, replacing Queen Vashti.  Esther, however, never had revealed her own Israelite heritage to the King.  She would, of course, be part of the extermination order.  Mordecai came to Esther to inform her of the decree that Haman had proposed, and asked her to intercede on behalf of her own people to the King.  She was terrified to do this because court rules forbade her to come to the king without an invitation.  She asked Mordecai to have all of her people fast and pray, and she did the same.  The prayer that she offered is beautifully rendered in today’s first reading.

Esther knew that there was no one that could help her, and that it was totally on her shoulders to intercede for her people.  Doing this was a risk to her own life, and the only one that she could rely on was God himself.  Her prayer was heard, her people were spared, and Haman himself was hung from the same noose that had been prepared for Mordecai and all his fellow Israelites.  This evening, in fact, begins the Jewish feast of Purim, which is a festive observance of this very biblical story.

God hears our own persistent prayers.  We must constantly pray, and trust all of our needs to the one who knows them before we do.  We must ask, seek and knock of the one who made us and cares for us deeply.  But most of all, we must always be aware that, like Esther, we all need a Savior.

Homilies Lent

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Today’s readings

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.”

That’s advice I wish I’d taken sometimes when I’ve been coming down with something and think, “oh, it’ll pass.”  The sick need a physician!  How often have we had what we thought was a little cold or seasonal illness end up being much worse because we let it go, we didn’t want to go to the doctor?  This past year, that’s been so true with COVID-19.  The symptoms start out as something like a common seasonal illness, and sometimes they stay that way, but plenty have had something much worse develop.

Anyone who has battled an addiction will tell you how true this is.  Many have thought, “Oh, I can stop any time I want.”  But they really need that intervention, that twelve step meeting or that time with a counsellor to really do what’s needed.  You cannot make any progress in wellness in any aspect of life if you don’t admit you’re sick and accept help.  We all have difficulty doing that sometimes, I think, and much to our demise.

It’s important that we learn to do that in the spiritual life.  If you don’t think you need a physician for your spiritual life, congratulations, you can skip Lent.  In fact you don’t even need a Savior!  I say that in jest, but really it’s true.  Jesus is very clear today: he came to call sinners to conversion, and that includes all of us.  It’s been said that the Church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners.  And thank God that’s true, because all of us, me and you, all of us, need the medicine of grace in our spiritual lives time and time again.  And the good news is that Jesus gives us Lent to do just that.  Be converted, be healed, be made whole so that the glory of Easter can brighten our lives.

So our reflection this morning is two-fold. First, where and how do I need the Divine Physician in my life right now? And second, invite him in and let him heal us.

Homilies Lent

Ash Wednesday

Today’s readings

Someone reminded me that last year, I proclaimed that Lent to be the “Lentiest Lent that ever Lented!”  Certainly we have just been through a very Lenty year, with the specter of a pandemic, the sadness of racial injustice and social unrest, the frustration of political rancor, and all the rest.  The arrival of Lent again, already, well, it almost seems unfair, doesn’t it?

And this Lent seems more unfair with the directive that we cannot trace an ashen cross on people’s foreheads due to the pandemic.  Instead, today, we will sprinkle them on your heads as you bow in penitence.  But it seems like it’s just another thing they’ve taken away from us, that the virus has stolen from us.  Unless we, people of faith that we are, change our outlook.  If we look at this as an opportunity to receive ashes the way most non-English speaking countries in the world have for ages, then we can see this as an opportunity for Church unity.  If we seek to still witness to our faith even though we can’t point to our ashes, then we can see this as an opportunity to strengthen our Christian witness every day.  I get it: it’s still another thing we’ve lost this year, but if we activate our faith and let God give us new opportunities, then maybe this can be the moment that we get out of the funk we’ve seemingly been in for the last year and become a Church and a people who truly live for Christ so much that the people around us who don’t know Christ get curious about who he is.

In every day and age, times are tough.  Sometimes it seems times are tougher than others, and if this isn’t one of them, I don’t know what is.  But the only way we can get through that, honestly, is by being people of faith who entrust their times to the providence and love of God, who is most merciful.  Lent, friends, gives us the opportunity to do that, as it always does, through fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.

Fasting can take on a whole lot of forms.  It’s not the same thing as going on a diet for Lent.  We should certainly give something up, something that will be uncomfortable, something we will miss.  It should, ideally, be something we have given greater place in our lives than we have to God.  In fasting, friends, we learn that there is nothing we hunger for that God can’t provide, and provide much better, if we let him.  Fasting makes us remember that God is trustworthy, that his love for us helps us in ways we can’t even imagine.  So perhaps we will give up a favorite food or a television show, or a video game or social media.  Maybe we will give up the necessity to always be right, to always get our way, to always get the final word.  Maybe we will give up deep-seated resentments, or unjust attitudes toward others.  Maybe we will give up just living for ourselves and taking care of “number one.”

Almsgiving, too, can look different in every person’s life.  We are told that giving alms covers a multitude of sins, because giving alms shows love that is unencumbered by our ability to control things.  When we make a donation, when we give to a person in need, we let God decide exactly how that gets used.  It’s a way of freely giving of ourselves.  So maybe we will make a donation to the parish or to another charity; but almsgiving for us might look like giving of our time: helping to teach a religious education class or read to students, or looking in on an elderly neighbor or bringing them a lovingly-prepared meal.  Maybe giving alms for us looks like foregoing the daily Dunkin’ run or Starbucks stop and using that money to give to someone in need.  When we give of ourselves, we see God using us in ways we never even considered.

And finally, prayer.  We’re supposed to be praying every day, of course, and I think most of us do.  But there’s always the need, I think, to grow in our prayer lives.  That’s certainly true for me.  Maybe our prayer has become rote, or stale.  If that’s true, Lent is a great time to shake things up and do a reset.  I always tell people who say that their prayer life isn’t going anywhere to try something new.  Maybe the Rosary, or Divine Mercy, or if you’ve been doing those, maybe some centering prayer or prayerfully reflecting on a book of Scripture during Lent.  It could be coming to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, even if we’re doing it drive-up style for now.  It could even be as simple as zealously digging out a five minute break in the day to sit and be silent, looking at a religious picture, or listening to some inspirational music.  Whatever it is that we haven’t tried, it might be worth trying and see if we find it helpful.  Whatever leads us closer to God is always a grace, and God uses different experiences to speak to us all the time.  Try trying something new!

Lent isn’t all about the ashes.  There’s a lot to it: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.  But in another sense, it is all about the ashes: how will we quiet ourselves, humble ourselves, do penance, and come closer to Jesus?  I hope your experience of ashes, and of Lent, this year enlivens your life with Christ in ways you never imagined.  I pray that this forty day retreat moves heaven and earth in our parish, in our community, and in our homes.

Homilies Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

What strikes me about these readings is that they speak of the fact that we, with our limited human minds and imaginations, often don’t get God. Even those of us who are people of strong faith often miss what God is trying to do in us and among us. Which puts us in company with the Apostles. They lived with Jesus every day, and still, very often, they didn’t understand what he was trying to say to them or teach them. Jesus was trying to warn them not to get caught up in all the things the Pharisees get caught up in, and they thought he was disappointed they didn’t have enough food. Talk about getting your wires crossed.

Then look at the first reading. We’re only in the sixth chapter of the first book of the Bible, just a few pages from the creation of the heavens, the earth, everything in them, and all of humanity. And it seems like God is already thinking this was a failed experiment. Or are we getting our wires crossed again? Maybe the purification of the earth was always part of God’s plan for our salvation. Maybe the new life that came forth after the flood was a foretaste and promise of the new life that would come from the Resurrection of the Lord.  Maybe the flood itself is a foretaste of Holy Baptism, which washes away everything in us that is impure.

What we might take away from the Scriptures today is that often things of faith aren’t as easy to figure out as they may seem at first. We might often be missing what God is doing in us and among us. But a second, long look at things with the grace of the Holy Spirit can help us to see the salvation in the midst of everything that’s messed up. In the midst of all our calamities, God is absolutely working to bring us back to himself. But we have to pray for the grace to see that.

As we get ready to launch into Lent tomorrow, maybe that could be one of our Lenten practices.  To really reflect on what God is doing in us and among us.  What has he been trying to teach us in the midst of this pandemic?  How does receiving ashes by sprinkling on the head as opposed to the cross on the forehead give us opportunities to connect to the biblical practice of sprinkling ashes for penance?  In order to grow in our faith, which must be the goal of all our lives, we need to be open to seeing things as God sees them.  We need to uncross our wires, and let Jesus teach us the Way to the Father.

Homilies Ordinary Time

The Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In ancient days, a diagnosis of leprosy was a death sentence.  And that’s not just because they didn’t know how to treat the disease.  They didn’t – but what was really horrible is the way the lepers were treated.  First of all, they were called lepers – not people – so being labeled as such stripped them of their personhood, and put them on the same level as a virus that needed to be eradicated.  They were cut off from the community, so they would have no community or even family support.  They were forbidden to worship with the community, so they must also have felt cut off from God.  And so it went for those who contracted leprosy: sick and alone, they were left to survive as best they could, or just to die.

If that doesn’t sound somewhat like the current pandemic, I don’t know what does.  It’s heartbreaking to me to see how people die alone in hospitals because their loved ones are kept from visiting.  I understand what’s behind it, but the emotional cost of that is something we shouldn’t underestimate.

The worst part about the way the ancients treated leprosy is that most of the time people didn’t actually have leprosy: their lack of scientific knowledge led them to label as leprosy any kind of skin ailment.  The rules for dealing with people with these diseases were based on fear: they didn’t want to contract the disease themselves, so the “clean” ones ostracized those with disease, treating them as if they didn’t exist.

Jesus, obviously, didn’t agree with that kind of way of “treating” the illness of leprosy.  He didn’t really have any more scientific resources at that time to treat the disease, but it wasn’t the disease he was concerned about.  No, he was concerned about the person, not the illness.  And so he does not take offense when the leper breaks the Levitical law that we heard in our first reading and actually approaches Jesus.  Jesus, too breaks the law by reaching out to touch him and saying, with an authority that comes from God himself, “I do will it.  Be made clean.”

The thing is, we don’t treat lepers very well today, either.  I don’t mean people who have the actual disease of leprosy – that is actually pretty rare, very treatable, and even curable, in this day and age.  What I mean is that there are a lot of leprosies out there.  Some people tend to ostracize a loved one when they contract a difficult disease, like cancer.  They can’t bear the thought of death, or they don’t like hospitals, or they feel powerless to help in these situations, so they stay away.  Hospitals and nursing homes are full of people who never receive a visit from family or friends.  Right now, with the pandemic, it’s not possible, but in times when it is, a lot of people don’t get visited.  Our pastoral care ministers could probably tell you many heart-breaking stories with that theme.

And leprosy doesn’t apply just to sick people.  People who are different in any way are subject to ostracization: people who have different color skin than us, people who are not Catholic or not Christian, people who are homosexual, people who are poor or homeless.  All of these we treat from a distance, keeping them outside the community, outside of means of support, outside of the love of God in just the same way the ancients dealt with lepers.  We have a tendency to label people and then write them off.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad God doesn’t treat broken people that way.  Because then I might be cut off because of the brokenness of my many sins.  We all have something in us that is unclean, and it would be woe for us if God just wrote us off.  He doesn’t.  He reaches out to touch us to, exactly where we are at, without fear of contracting the illness of our sin himself, and heals us from the inside out.  “I do will it.  Be made clean.”

Our religion, thankfully, has rituals for the things that infest us.  When we are sick, there is the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.  When we are sinful, there is the sacrament of Penance.  We call these the sacraments of healing, because they do just that: give us God’s grace when we are sick or dying, and his forgiveness and mercy when we have sinned.

Many people misunderstand the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.  No longer do we think of that as something to be done at the last possible moment.  It should be done as soon as it is known that a person is gravely ill.  We rely on doctors to tell us that.  It should be done before someone has serious surgery.  It should be done when a person is suffering from mental illness of any kind.  It might be done more than once: when a person is first diagnosed, for example, and then again when they are near death, or when the illness is worse in any way.  It should be done at a hospital or nursing home, or in a person’s home, or even here at church.  Wherever the person is or is most comfortable.  We are also having a Mass with Anointing of the Sick during Lent here in church.  The sacrament provides grace to live through an illness, or mercy on the journey to eternity, sometimes even healing if that is what God knows to be good for the person.  Please don’t wait until a person has just moments left to send for a priest, don’t be afraid to ask us to anoint you before surgery, and don’t assume that if you’re in the hospital, we will know – they can’t really tell us that any more.

As for the Sacrament of Penance, there are many opportunities to celebrate that sacrament: Saturdays at 2:30 pm, and during Lent, starting this Friday, we will have a confessions on Fridays at 6pm.  The problem can sometimes be that a person feels embarrassed to go to Confession if they’ve been away from the sacrament for a long time.  Don’t be.  It’s our job to help you make a good Confession, and we are absolutely committed to doing that.  Your sins don’t make us think less of you; in fact I always have deep respect for the person who lowers his or her defenses and lets God have mercy on them.

These are wonderful sacraments of healing.  God gives them to us because he will not be like those living in Levitical times.  Just as he reached out to the leper in today’s Gospel, so Christ longs to reach out and touch all of us in our brokenness, in our uncleanness, and make us whole again.  As the Psalmist sings today, so we can pray: “I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.”   Praise God for Jesus’ words today: “I do will it.  Be made clean!”

Homilies Ordinary Time

Friday of the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s readings we have two different ways of approaching God, with two different outcomes. 

In our first reading, we have the story of the fall of humanity from Genesis, the first book in the Bible.  Over the past week, we have heard the stories of creation: how God created the world, the universe, and everything in them.  The most glorious of all his creation was the creation of man and woman, the first humans, the only part of creation that was made in God’s image and likeness, the ones for which God created everything else that he created.  All of his creation was good; it had to be made good so that it would be good enough for the people he created in love, to love.

And we know the story: the minute God leaves the people to themselves to explore the world in all its wonder, they eat the fruit of the forbidden tree.  They are tempted by the devil who had to absolutely hate the goodness of creation, because the devil never loves anything, let alone anything good.  So he works against the people and against God and convinces the woman, and she the man, that they should have something they weren’t supposed to have.  He made them desire it more than anything, even though God had given them everything they need and then some.

When we think about it, it almost seems unfair, right?  I mean, what’s the big deal about eating some fruit?  Why was that so bad?  Here’s the problem with it.  The devil made them want something that wasn’t God.  The people had everything: a place in paradise, and a loving relationship with God.  But the devil convinced them to want a piece of fruit more than they wanted that loving relationship with God.  And ever since, we have been doing that.  God still wants us and makes us in love.  But we so often turn away because we want something more than we want that loving relationship with God.

Now, look at the Gospel.  The people bring Jesus a man that was suffering for a long time.  He had a speech impediment and couldn’t say anything, let alone give praise to God.  But he turned to God instead of turning away, and he received the gift of speech.  And with that healing, with that gift of speech, his relationship with God became more than it ever was.  Even though Jesus asked him not to, his new voice couldn’t stop praising God!

Friends, for way too long, we have wanted stuff more than we have wanted God.  But if we would get it right and give ourselves to him, he might just heal us and give us a voice that can proclaim love, and peace, and grace, and healing, and justice, and joy – a voice that praises God and brings nothing but grace and healing to our hurting world.  So Lent starts next Wednesday, right?  What better time than Lent to think about what it is that we have been wanting more than we want God.  And then turn from that pain and let Jesus touch our tongue and give us grace to do more than we ever could on our own.

God made us for paradise, and we have to stop wanting to live broken lives, let Jesus heal us, and go into the world telling everyone what he has done for us.  Jesus has done all things well: he has made the deaf hear and the mute speak.  He wants to give us the voice we need to make our world better than ever.  We just have to let him.

Homilies Ordinary Time

Monday of the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Recognizing goodness in the world is an art form that brings happiness.  Too often in our day to day life, we run into others, and maybe it’s even ourselves, who seem to live to find fault with just about everything and everyone.  And sometimes it’s understandable: life is hard, and some days the bad seems to pile on so much that we can’t see anything good.  But I think we need to be constantly looking for the good if we ever want to find peace.

In today’s readings, there is goodness all over the place.  This morning we begin the reading of the creation narrative from Genesis.  Today we have the first four of the days, in which God creates day and night, the sky, sea and earth and everything that grows on it, and the sun, moon, and all the lights of the sky.  God’s reflection on these moments of creation is worth noting: he finds them good.

Just in case “good” doesn’t sound like much, we have to know that goodness is an attribute of God: God is goodness itself, goodness in its purest form, good beyond which nothing can be.  So when God says that something is good, He’s not just saying, “eh, you know, I guess it’s good,” but more like, “now, that’s good.”

And we can probably resonate in some way with that reflection.  Haven’t we been on vacation, you know, back when we could do those things without fear of a pandemic, and out on the road trip, we come across scenery that’s new to us: maybe a mountain range, or the shores of the ocean, or a beautiful canyon or forest range.  When we have taken that in, maybe we’ve gasped a breath of air, and thought, “now that’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen.”  We’ve noticed the goodness in it.

Perhaps, too, we can notice the goodness in a person God has created.  One whose love comes across brilliantly, a person who restores our faith in humanity.  Maybe when we’ve met someone like that, we might say to ourselves, “now she’s a good person” or “he’s really good to his loved ones.”  Hopefully, there are people in our lives in whom we have seen goodness.

People who look for goodness in the world are most likely to find it.  People who are on the lookout for people or places or creation that fills them with a sense of goodness are more likely to be close to God.  Our reflection today needs to take us on the hunt for goodness.  After we’ve left this place of worship, will we be ready to abandon seeing what’s wrong with everything and everyone, and instead look for what’s good?  Will we be ready to see the good things that God is giving us?  Will we be ready to see God?

Homilies Ordinary Time

The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It doesn’t take too much of our imagination to think of examples of suffering, having been through the last year of our lives.  All of us can probably think of someone we know who has suffered from COVID-19, or at least the scare of it, and many of us know of those who have died from the disease.  It has affected almost every aspect of our lives from the prospect of hugging our loved ones to eating out at a favorite restaurant.  Many have been affected economically in the last year, businesses closing, many people becoming unemployed.  Add to that the racial injustice, social unrest, political rancor, violence in our cities, and the reality of suffering is very real for all of us.

Suffering, though, is something of a mystery to us.  Today we hear it in our first reading: Job, the innocent man, has been the victim of Satan’s testing: he has lost his family and riches, and has been afflicted physically.  His friends have gathered around and given him all the popular answers of that time and place as to why he is suffering: namely, that he, or his ancestors, must have sinned and offended God, and so God allowed him to suffer in this way.  But Job rejects that thinking, as we all should: it is offensive.  Our sins have no doubt been huge, but this kind of thinking reduces God to a capricious child who throws away his toys when he tires of them.

That’s not Job’s God and it’s not our God either.  I’d like to say that we have eliminated that notion of why suffering happens, but sadly it persists.  Many people think they are being punished by God because of their sins when they are suffering.  And there is some logic to it: our sins do bring on sadness in this life.  Sin does have consequences, and while these consequences are not God’s will for us, they are a result of our poor choices.  But let us be clear that God does not penalize us in this way by willing our suffering.

In fact, God has such a distaste for our suffering, that he sent his only Son to come and redeem us.  Jesus was one who suffered too, remember: being nailed to the cross, dying for our sins – but even before that, weeping with those who wept for loved ones, lamenting the hardness of heart of the children of Israel, being tempted by the devil in the desert, even understanding the hungry crowd and miraculously providing a meal for them out of five loaves and a couple of fish.  Jesus felt our affliction and suffering personally, and never abandoned anyone engaged in it.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is found healing.  First Peter’s mother-in-law, and then those who came to him at sundown.  In this reading, Jesus is a sign of God’s desire to deal with suffering.  As Christians, we acknowledge the suffering in our midst, we do what we can to alleviate it, and we give it to our God who does not will our suffering, but who walks with us through it when it comes up in our lives.  Jesus doesn’t alleviate all pain from the world; some of that just persists.  But he never abandons those who are suffering: he didn’t in his earthly life and he doesn’t now.  We must do all that we can, in his Name, to alleviate the suffering of others, and then we must trust that our God who loves us beyond our imagining, will take care of the suffering that remains in the unfolding of eternity.

But the key here is that we care for those who suffer.  Indeed, we are partners with them in their suffering.  This weekend we kick off our annual diocesan Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal which funds the various ministries of the diocese of Joliet.  We at Saint Mary’s depend on these ministries to help us: educating seminarians like Frank, our new intern and Deacon John; and supporting the efforts of our school and religious education program.  In addition, through the efforts of Catholic Charities, housing is provided for those who are in need, and meals are served to the hungry.  Catholic Charities has partnered with us to bring the food trucks to our parish to help serve our hungry neighbors, especially during this pandemic.  We are blessed that we can come together as a diocese to provide these services, to “Shine the Light of Christ” on those who are in need.  You have received a mailing from the diocese about the Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal over the last few weeks.  I ask you to join me in being as generous as you are able to be in this difficult time.

We can’t make all of the suffering in the whole world go away.  But we can do the little things that make others’ suffering a little less, helping them to know the healing presence of Christ, together.