First Sunday of Lent: Getting Lent Right

Let’s start today with a survey. How many of you have given something up for Lent? And how many of you are happy about that? How many of you would say that giving something up for Lent brings you closer to God?

I think a lot of people – myself included – have given something up for Lent because they felt they had to. It may even be that we’ve wanted to give something up for Lent because we figured that in these forty days we had the opportunity to make ourselves better. But I think we have that all wrong. I’m not saying you shouldn’t give something up for Lent – in fact I think you should, but for maybe a different reason, and we’ll come back to that. But what I think we have wrong is the whole idea that we can, or even that we should, make ourselves better during Lent. Today’s readings tell us that it’s the other way around: God wants to use this time of Lent to do something amazing in our own lives.

The part of today’s Liturgy of the Word that really stands out for me is the Gospel. Matthew, Mark and Luke all have this same story of Jesus being tempted in the desert. Matthew takes eleven verses to tell the story, and Luke takes thirteen. But Mark, who we have just read, gives us the story in just two verses. We might suspect that Mark is giving us the “Reader’s Digest Version,” that we’re missing something here. But that’s not quite the case. In those two verses, Mark makes some pretty important points and it would be good for us to slow down, hear them again, and not miss anything.

The first point Mark makes is that Jesus is driven into the desert and its temptations by the Spirit. I don’t know about you, but when the Bishop said, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” to me on my Confirmation day, I never pictured that Spirit gifting me with a visit to the desert to confront my temptations. No, I pictured that Spirit as one of comfort and peace, and maybe you did too. But honestly, the Spirit gives us difficult experiences all the time. If that weren’t true, we wouldn’t have any prophets, all of whom had to say some very difficult things to people who didn’t want to hear it. If that weren’t true, nobody would ever take up the leadership of a community during difficult times. So it’s no big stretch that it’s the Spirit who drives Jesus out into the wilderness to confront temptation.

Now that Jesus was tempted at all should be very comforting for all of us. Let’s take another survey: who here has ever experienced any form of temptation in their life? It doesn’t matter if it was a second piece of chocolate cake or something much uglier, and I don’t want you to say what it was out loud, but who here has ever experienced that? So that Jesus experienced temptation should be a source of comfort for all of us who have had to go through that ourselves. Now this survey, I just want you to think about in your head, so you don’t need to raise your hand. I want you to think of one temptation that has been particularly difficult for you in your life. When you have that in mind, think about all your attempts to deal with it. Would you say that it is true that if you worked hard enough, that temptation would go away? Or would you say that sometimes it would go away, and other times it would take over even worse? If you’re like me, sometimes you have your good days and sometimes you have your bad days, and temptation is always with you no matter what.

But here’s what I think is very interesting in today’s Gospel: Mark never says that the temptations stopped after Jesus left the desert. From that, we can assume that Jesus had to deal with temptation every day, just like you and I do. That’s what we mean when we say that Jesus was fully human: he dealt with all of the same temptations that we do. It might seem like it was no big deal because he was always victorious over that temptation, but make no mistake: that was never a done deal. He had to struggle with temptation in the same way that we do. Even in the last moments of his life, he was tempted to abandon his mission – we know about the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed that the cup would pass him by. We know he ultimately accepted the Father’s will, but we also know he agonized to the point of sweating blood over the temptation to give it all up. Jesus was tempted in the same way that we have been. To say anything else is simply not true.

So to those of us who have struggled with temptation and have often been defeated by it, Jesus comes to stand with us. To those of us who are feeling defeated by temptation right now, Jesus comes to redeem us. If our temptations seem like permanent fixtures in our lives, so is God’s love and forgiveness. That’s what we see in the rainbow of God’s covenant with Noah. That rainbow was a sign of the covenant, but not a sign that Noah and his descendents would see it and live up to their part. No – it was a sign that when it appeared in the heavens, God would see it and remember his mercy and his promise never to wipe out humanity again. The rainbow isn’t a symbol of what we are going to do, but of what God does for us, time and time again.

And so we can take courage, I think, that Jesus stands with us. We can go out into the wilderness of our own temptations knowing that, even though we have to go through it, we don’t have to go through it alone. All we have to do is call to mind the rainbow and God’s covenant with Noah and we’ll know that God is intensely devoted to the love of his people. All we have to do is look up at that cross and we’ll know that Christ came to redeem our suffering and put an end to death. All we have to do is approach the Eucharist today to know that God longs to feed us with nothing less than the body and blood of his only Son. Today’s Liturgy quite rightly reminds us that there is no part of our own life that is too ugly for God, and there is no way that we can fall too far for God to reach out to us. Today’s Liturgy reminds us that Lent is not about what we can do to make ourselves better people, but that Lent is about the great lengths to which God will go in order to have us at his side for all eternity. That’s why Lent is a joyful season. Yes, joyful.

So our efforts during these forty days should not be so much about making ourselves better people. That may be an admirable goal, but it’s not what Lent is ultimately about. We should take this time to find ways to open ourselves more to God’s love. And that’s why I think we should all give something up for Lent. Maybe giving something up will create a hunger in us – that hunger may be the result of fasting from food or some particular food, or from giving up television or the internet, or whatever it is that has us believing that we can take care of our own hungers and fulfill our own needs. If giving something up makes us hungry in some way, we can live with that hunger knowing there is nothing that we hunger for that God can’t provide. And giving up some of the stuff that clutters our lives may open us up to the wonderful gifts that God is longing to give us.

So I think that’s the motivation we have to have in giving something up for Lent. If we give something up and then prayerfully reflect on the blessings God gives us each day, we might find ourselves receiving much more than we’ve ever imagined. And in the end, if we approach Lent this way, we won’t have to worry about making ourselves better people, because Lent will make us better people through the power of God. We will become people who are open to the love and the healing, redemptive presence of God in our lives; people who can face their own temptations and inadequacies and not be defeated by them; people who are so richly blessed that we cannot help but let those blessings flow into the lives of other people as well.

Ash Wednesday

Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

One of the ministry things I have been involved in during my time in seminary is as a fire chaplain. I work for one of the local fire departments, and sometimes go to the scenes of ambulance calls or fires. Last year on Ash Wednesday, we were called to the scene of a fire. I went with one of my friends who also is a fire chaplain for the department. The fire was at a four-unit condominium, and it was looking pretty bad. When we arrived, we checked in with the Chief, and he told us that the families were in an apartment across the street. We headed that way and spoke to some of the family members who were home at the time and started to be sure that their needs were being taken care of. After we had talked with them for a time, I started a conversation with the woman in whose apartment we were all gathered. I asked her if she knew any of these people before the fire. She told me that she didn?t and I thanked her for opening her home to the victims of the fire. She said she wouldn?t think not to do something like that. And I believed her: she had on a sweatshirt that said, ?What would Jesus do?? Now we have all heard the WWJD thing a million times and I wonder if it even means anything to anyone anymore. Theologians also tell us that in some ways that?s the wrong question to even ask. But as I was there with this nice woman who opened her house up to us all, and with fire fighters and police officers coming in and out with snowy and wet boots, I wasn?t so sure that WWJD was completely pass鮠 It struck me that in asking what Jesus would do, maybe we can grow in our relationship with Jesus so much so that we do the work he wants to do right here and right now, without even stopping to think about it. After all, at this time, we are all his hands and feet, and he works through us to give people a place to gather while their house is burning, or he works through us to show his presence in our world in thousands of ways every single minute of every single day. Today?s first reading and Gospel talk about fasting and almsgiving, which are appropriate topics for this first day of Lent. Above all, these readings tell us that we can?t get all caught up in the show of it all. Our fasting, our almsgiving, our service ? all of these can?t be done just so people can see it and think well of us. No, we must do these things as naturally as someone who has made it their prayer to live every day doing what Jesus would do, and living as people who have come to know their Lord in a way that they can do that without a moment?s hesitation. Indeed, these kinds of ?hidden? works of fasting, almsgiving and prayer should be natural for us who know the Lord and live as people who have been redeemed by him in this very acceptable day of salvation. So maybe our question to one another ought not to be ?what are you giving up for Lent this year?? Maybe it would be better to ask ?how are you using Lent to come to know the Lord better?? And maybe in doing that we will fast, because fasting helps us to realize that there is nothing that we hunger for that God can?t provide. Maybe in doing that we will give something up, because in denying ourselves we can be open to the many ways God wants to bless us. Maybe our way of coming to know the Lord better will be through prayer, or reading a book of Scripture during Lent, because prayer and Scripture are ways that Jesus reveals himself to us all the time. Or maybe our way of coming to know the Lord better will be through some kind of service to others ? maybe even something we?ve never done but have been asked to try ? because in service we can come to see that God does things in us we could never do on our own. But whatever it is we are called to do in these forty days of Lent, let us not waste this time in any way and let us not make a big show of it. The time to grow in our spiritual life ? to come to know our Lord Jesus Christ better ? is now, today, right this very minute. Let us not put it off because indeed now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time: Bringing Friends to Jesus

This was my homily for yesterday. It had a lot to do with the topic of friendship and how God is incarnate in our friends — that’s just been on my mind and heart a lot lately, and this Gospel just really spoke to that.

I can hardly believe it but we’re just now into the second chapter of Mark’s Gospel. All this time since Christmas, we’ve been reading from Chapter one. And if you’re like me, Christmas seems like a long time ago now. If we look back at what we’ve heard in these weeks since Christmas, we probably remember a lot of healings that Jesus did. And today is no exception from that. Today, Jesus heals a man who was suffering from paralysis. What is interesting about Jesus’ healing of the paralytic is that his first effort is not to heal the paralysis, but to heal something that is perhaps even more paralyzing in his life and in ours: sin.

The whole exchange here between Jesus and the scribes is interesting for two reasons. First, it shows that they still don’t get it. For all of the healings he did, and as I said, we’ve heard a lot of them in the last few weeks; they still don’t quite understand what Jesus came to do. So Jesus says to the man, “your sins are forgiven.” In those days, if someone was ill or afflicted, it was thought to be the result of sin. So Jesus goes beyond just healing the physical paralysis—which is nothing more than a symptom of the problem—and goes right to the heart of the matter: he heals the brokenness in the man’s life that is the result of sin. Jesus was doing something much greater than anyone expected him to do. They just wanted the man to be healed physically; but Jesus goes them one better: he heals the man from the inside out. As Isaiah says in the first reading, God is doing something really new here, and they need to open their eyes and see it.

Second, it’s easy enough to say, “your sins are forgiven.” But it’s hard to know if that really happened, right? I mean, when your sins are forgiven, your hair doesn’t change colors. Sin doesn’t cause spots on your body that magically disappear when you’ve been forgiven. It’s hard to know what forgiveness of sins looks like, and this is part of the problem the scribes have with Jesus. He says, “Your sins are forgiven” easily enough, but how can they be sure he’s done anything? And they believed that forgiveness of sins was reserved to God alone. They were right about that, but they missed the fact that they were looking into the face of God. They just didn’t get it.

What strikes me most, though, about today’s Gospel, is the way the paralytic came to Jesus. He is carried by four of his friends. They bring him to Jesus for healing and are met with what must have been a pretty irritating obstacle. They couldn’t even get into the house where Jesus was preaching because of all the people crowded in there. There were so many people, they couldn’t even move a little to make an aisle to bring the man in. But they didn’t say to the man, “well, we tried; maybe we’ll come back another time.” No, they climbed up onto the roof, ripped a hole in it, and lowered their friend down in front of Jesus as he was preaching. Can you imagine the audacity of that? They destroyed a person’s roof and interrupted Jesus’ preaching. I just want to let you know that if that happens during today’s homily, we’ll be taking up a second collection to repair the roof… But the point is that these four very good friends did not allow a simple obstacle to get in the way of their desire to bring their friend to Jesus. They had come this far and weren’t about to give up so easily.

That got me to thinking about how friends can bring us to Jesus. I just finished final exams, thank God. One of my classes this past quarter was called “Friendship and the Moral Life.” In that class, we discussed the virtue of friendship. Friendship is a special kind of charity, or love, in which the two people in the relationship desire the Good of the other person most of all. This is not a friendship of utility where people are related because they can give each other a ride to work or something pragmatic like that. And it’s decidedly not some kind of misguided relationship where two people are “partners in crime.” This is the kind of relationship where two people encourage each other in the spiritual life and literally bring each other to Jesus. There are examples of this here and there in the saintly literature, most especially between St. Thérèse of Liseaux and Maurice, a seminarian. Through their relationship, Maurice was encouraged by Thérèse to stick with his formation for priesthood, and he was eventually ordained. And Thérèse herself admitted that their correspondence helped her to see her life in a different light and made her desire to be with Christ all the stronger. This kind of friendship is a gift from God, which we can all receive, but we must also nurture those friendships in our life.

This past week, between writing like a million pages of papers that were due in the last days of the quarter, I took some time to pack away some of the books on my shelves that I won’t be using in the next eight weeks. This coming quarter is my last one at Mundelein, and I wanted to get a head start on packing up so that I won’t have to move everything in May. When I was packing up those books, I came across a book of memories that was made for me by my friends at the place I worked before I went to seminary. I hadn’t seen that book in maybe five years, so I stopped to page through it. There were pictures and stories and notes from all of them. I laughed and I cried. But most of all I remembered all of the support and encouragement they gave me when I was getting ready to go to seminary. In some ways, I don’t think I’d be here now if it weren’t for them, and for the support of so many other friends and family who literally brought me to Jesus throughout my life, and in a special way while I was discerning my vocation. They literally brought me to Jesus, who was able to heal me of the paralysis I was having with regard to my vocation. As I think about all those folks, I realize with a great deal of humility how blessed I have been with that special kind of friendship that has always led me to Jesus.

Think of that for a moment. We are all called to bring each other to Jesus. That’s why God gives us our friendships. We have to be the people who challenge and support each other and help each other to grow. To what extent are our friendships like that? Supporting each other is generally easy to do, but how often do we challenge each other when the other needs it? I’m not talking about picking fights with each other, but rather of helping each other to become what God has called us to be.

And think too about the friends in your life. Who are those who have brought you to Jesus? Who are those who have challenged you to grow and supported you when you were hurting? Who are those who have pointed out and celebrated the gifts you have? Who are those who have pushed you to become something more than you could have on your own; something more than you ever thought you had potential to become? Maybe they were teachers or parents or family or classmates or coworkers or mentors. But whoever they were, they were that gift God gave you, and they were the people who ripped open the roof and lowered you down to Jesus so that he could heal whatever was paralyzing you in your life and keeping you from growing. Take a minute to think of them today, thank God for them, and as we offer our gifts at the altar today, place them before the altar that they too might be brought to Jesus in whatever way they need that today.

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Be Made Clean

Well, I didn’t preach this week, but some things came to me as I prayed through the scriptures this weekend.

First, the leper in the Gospel was clearly a man of faith. “If you will it, you can make me clean.” There is no hesitation there; he knows that Jesus can heal him. Whether this comes from an actual life of faith or whether it is just from what he’s seen and observed about Jesus’ healings so far, he clearly knows without a doubt that Jesus can make him clean.

Second, Jesus responds to the man’s faith: “I do will it. Be made clean.” It’s as simple as that — faith makes the work Jesus came to do possible. And it’s as difficult as that — even our lack of faith can stymie the work of Christ in our lives.

Third, it doesn’t matter how often Jesus tells those who have been healed to keep it under their hats, they can’t help but make it known. The leper in today’s Gospel seems most enthusiastic to do so: he publicized the whole matter, spread it abroad, and through his proclamation of the saving event in his life, people came to Jesus “from everywhere.”

Fourth, and this almost should go without saying, but the real saving news here is not the healing, although that’s certainly up there. The real Good News here is that Jesus reaches out and touches the man. His reaching out to touch an untouchable makes it possible for all of us to go outside ourselves, and reach out to those it is difficult to touch, and bring them the healing and loving touch of Christ. If Jesus didn’t do it, we’d have no reason to; now that he has, the ball’s in our court.

Finally, all of these acts of faith make possible not just mere healing, not just a mere cessation of leprosy, or whatever it is we’re afflicted with, but more than that: true joy. God yearns to not just make the pain go away but to completely change our lives. And this complete change is what the psalmist sings about today: “I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.” The Lord didn’t just make the psalmist’s troubles go away, but the Lord actually filled the psalmist with the joy of salvation. Our acts of faith are truly blessed.

Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time: The Meaning of Suffering

My homily today was shortened a bit from the original. We had a letter to read from the bishop. So this is the homily as I actually preached it:

Today’s Gospel once again shows Jesus curing people and casting out demons. People were naturally amazed at his ability to alleviate suffering and flocked to him. He even had to get up real early in the morning just to have some time to himself. When the disciples find him, they say, “Everyone is looking for you.” And everyone probably was looking for him; how could they get enough of his miraculous healings?

Sometimes when I hear Gospel passages like that, I think, well, why doesn’t Jesus just heal everyone? Have you ever thought about that? This, I think gets to the heart of the matter for all of us: why is there suffering in the world? Why, especially, do good people, the innocent, and children have to suffer? It’s a question we all ask at one time or another.

This issue has been especially poignant for me this week. I talked to a friend from the parish where I did my pastoral internship two years ago. In catching up with the news from the place, she told me that one of the nuns that worked there, and the mother of another staff member had both been diagnosed with cancer in the last few weeks. This week in talking to my parents, I found out that one of our young friends, who himself has a large family, has serious cancer in a number of areas in his body. Another friend is undergoing some worrisome tests. And the father of one of my friends at the seminary had a serious stroke on Friday, and my friend had to sign a DNR order for him.

Why do people have to suffer?

Maybe it’s a question you’ve been asking recently. Maybe you have a friend or family member, or even more than one, on your mind right now. Maybe your heart is heavy as you sit here, listening to Jesus healing all the people in town. This can be a real hard Gospel for us to hear when we’re in that place.

In fact, I think if Job heard this Gospel, he might have lost his mind. If you’ve ever read the whole book of Job, you know that Job was a good and righteous man. He had a solid relationship with God, and was rewarded with a big family and many possessions. But Satan the accuser wanted to test him, so God allowed it. In an instant, Job’s possessions were all gone, all of his children killed in an accident, and he himself was afflicted with sores from the top of his head to the soles of his feet.

In the theology of the time, those who suffered were thought to be suffering because of something they or their ancestors had done. Suffering was simply a punishment for evil. But for Job it wasn’t that simple: he had done nothing wrong as far as he or anyone else could tell, so there didn’t seem to be a reason for the calamities that had befallen him. Today’s first reading from the book of Job, then, is the beginning of a Job’s prayer of complaint. He feels like there will be no end to his misery, and says: “I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me … Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” Who hasn’t felt like Job at one time or another?

I think today’s Liturgy of the Word as a whole teaches us that we must have faith, even in the midst of suffering. Satan’s desire in afflicting Job with those misfortunes is that Job would “curse God and die.” In fact, those were the very words Satan put in the mouth of Job’s wife at one point in the story. But Job, even though he complained and lamented, still retained his faith in God’s mercy. And in today’s Gospel, Simon and Andrew have faith that Jesus will heal Simon’s mother-in-law, which he does. The people of the town have faith enough to gather and bring to Jesus all who were sick or possessed by demons. And Jesus responds to their faith. Even today’s responsorial psalm reflects that faith by extolling the mercies of God. It says of God, “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.”

We are called to that same faith when we suffer. Jesus tells us in another Gospel passage “In this world you will have troubles.” Suffering is inevitable in our life. But we have to remember that our God longs to see us through it, and that God will respond to our faith. The healing might not come all at once, right this minute, or even in the way we’d like to see it happen. But God sticks by us and will deliver us from evil, in his way, in his time. Suffering never makes sense, but I think it’s worse if we don’t have confidence in God’s mercy that comes from a faithful relationship with him.

Prayer can’t be our last resort, or the answers don’t make sense. So we have to be people of faith even in our suffering and pain. As we turn now to the Eucharist, let us offer the prayers of all those in our lives who are suffering in any way. As we come to receive the body of our Lord, let us receive his grace to strengthen us and heal us and bind up all our wounds. And even as we walk through the messiness of our pain, let us praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time: Repent and Belive in the Gospel

Here’s my homily for this evening and tomorrow. This is my first weekend at the parish I’ve been assigned to as a deacon: St. John the Baptist in Winfield. I’m excited about beginning there, and I hope I have a word or two here that will speak to their hearts.

The call to repentance runs all through today’s readings. When we think about what repentance means, we usually think about turning away from sin. Well that’s about half right. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Jesus’ call to repentance means a turning away from sin, or at least from a way of life that is not ultimately satisfying, and toward the way of life that God wants us to live.

Jonah’s repentance was all about turning away from his idea of who could receive salvation and toward God’s call that he be the messenger of repentance to the Ninevites. You might know that we don’t have all of Jonah’s story in today’s first reading. Based on today’s first reading, we might think Jonah heard God’s call and went forth and did it, and all worked out well. But that’s not quite true; Jonah’s first response to God’s call that he go preach to the Ninevites was that he didn’t want to do it and there was no way God could make him. You see, the Ninevites were an extremely evil people who were incredibly cruel to the Israelites, so Jonah quite rightly feared for his life. And Jonah felt justified in letting God destroy the city and rid that evil people from the face of the earth. To get away from God’s call, Jonah boarded a ship headed to Tarshish, but that wasn’t far enough to get away from God – when we try to flee from God we’re never going to be successful. The story goes that God whipped up a storm that threatened the ship and everyone on it. Jonah knew the reason for the storm, so he convinced the crew to throw him overboard. And maybe you know the story here: when he hit the water, he was swallowed up by a big fish and lived in the belly of the fish for three days before he was coughed up on land. Today’s first reading, then, is Jonah’s second response to God’s call, and it was all about him turning away from his fears, away from his prejudices, and toward the mission that God called him to do.

The Ninevites, then, had some repentance of their own to do. Jonah’s mission to them was incredibly successful. He was only about a third of the way through this massive city, when they heard his announcement and determined to reform their lives. They put on sackcloth and proclaimed a fast, and we get the idea that they truly reformed their lives because God did not, in fact, destroy their city.

St. Paul’s message in today’s second reading is another call to repentance. Paul thought that the return of Christ would happen in his lifetime, so he did not want people to get too attached to life in this world. Even though he was wrong about Christ’s return, he was still quite right, I think, about not being too attached to this world. Because we have been created for life with God, and ultimately that means life in heaven. But if we’re too attached to the limited life that this world allows us, we’ll never get there. We need to turn away from getting too attached to life in this world, and instead to turn our attention toward life with God in heaven.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John to turn away from fishing and to turn instead toward a life following him. Fishing was the only way of life these men had ever known. Their families had probably been fishermen for generations, and James and John even left their father on the boat, along with the nets and the hired hands. They gave it all up at once to become fishers of men, something they had no idea how to do.

This is Respect Life weekend, and respecting life involves repentance for all of us. It’s easy enough, I think, for us to be proud of our efforts to respect life when we haven’t murdered anyone and don’t support abortion. But the Church teaches that respecting life involves far more than that. Respecting life also means that we must have a preference against capital punishment, against war and terrorism, against euthanasia and assisted suicide, against racism and prejudice in all of its forms, against gossip and scandal – in short, against anything that de-values human life. The principle of respecting life is grounded in the fact that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and that each person needs to be for us a reflection of God in our world. Therefore, we are called to treat each person accordingly. Today, I think, it would be good for all of us to reflect on the ways in which we need to repent of our life-destroying attitudes and behaviors, and turn instead toward God, the giver of all life.

We are still more or less at the beginning of Ordinary Time today, and I think the Church begins Ordinary Time with a call to repentance because Christ began his ministry that way. For us who would be followers of Christ, repentance needs to be a way of life. It’s not something that happens once and for all, and then we’re done with it. Every day, we are confronted by attitudes that are not life-giving, and tempted toward behaviors that turn us away from the God who made us. If we would believe that we are called in the same way Peter, Andrew, James and John were called, then we must remember that we are also called in the same way the Ninevites and the Corinthians were. We have to give up our sinful attitudes and behaviors, and our attachments to the world which is passing away, and turn instead toward God’s will and our true calling in Christ.

Again, this is a decision that we must make every day. And maybe a good way to do that is to begin every day with the prayer of today’s responsorial psalm: “Teach me your ways, O God.”

Third Sunday of Advent

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. End of the quarter, and a whole bunch of things got in the way. But here we are, in a new liturgical year, on the Third Sunday of Advent. Instead of just some reflections, I’m posting the text of the homily I preached today.

There’s a little more light today.

It might not seem like there’s more light, because the days are rapidly getting shorter, and will continue to do so until the winter solstice. The darkness and cold of the night seem so much more prevalent than the joyful light of day.

But still, there’s a little more light today.

It might not seem like there’s more light, when we look at the darkness of our world. It is a world still wrapped in sin and scandal and death. It is a world affected by sickness and disease. It is a world where tragedies and wars still hang heavy on our horizons. It is a world where the sadness of poverty and injustice and inequality and racism still mar the brightness of our days.

But still, there’s a little more light today.

It might not seem like there’s more light, when we look inward at the darkness of our own souls, grown cold in the scandal of sin in the world and grown bitter at the triumph of injustice and death. In our own lives, there is sin, sin that maybe has been defended by our own self-righteousness, or ignored in our jadedness. In our own lives, maybe we have prayed less than we should, or treated others with something quite less than love, or have been greedy, or have damaged our relationships by giving in to lust, or have taken possession of what does not belong to us. In our own lives, maybe our sin has gone unconfessed because of fear or indifference.

But still, there’s a little more light today.

John the Baptist came into the world to point to that light. He readily admitted that he himself was not the light, but drew the attention of the Pharisees and others who were questioning him to the one who was already in their midst – one they did not recognize. And that one was Jesus Christ, the true light of the world.

Because of John the Baptist, we can see that there’s a little more light today.

The Church tells us there is more light as we continue to light the candles on our Advent wreath. With each additional candle, there is more light shining on our celebration and drawing us into the great light of Christmas. We light the rose candle today, the color of which reminds us that this is “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudete is Latin for “joy,” and reminds us that even in the darkness of winter, even in the darkness of our world and even in the darkness of our own lives and sin, that there is one among us – one that maybe we don’t recognize as often as we should. And that one light is Jesus Christ, the true light of the world.

Because of the Church, we can see that there’s a little more light today.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells the community at Thessolonica to do three things: rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in every circumstance. These three actions are the heart of the Christian life, and keep us united to Christ. To do anything less would be to quench the Holy Spirit, and St. Paul insisted that living a life filled with rejoicing, prayer and thanksgiving was the way to become perfectly holy, which is the goal of all of our lives.

Because of St. Paul, there’s a little more light today.

All of this comes as a result of God’s gracious gift in our world and in our lives. By Christ coming into the world as a tiny child, and growing up to take our sins to the cross and rise triumphant over them, the darkness of sin and death are no longer the powers that rule the day. Instead, the great light of God’s love, against which nothing can prevail, becomes the great power of the day.

Because of Jesus Christ, there’s a lot more light today.

So it comes to us. Now we are called to be the light that brightens our darkened world. The spirit of the Lord God is upon us, and we have been anointed to bring good news to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted. We must be the light that releases those imprisoned in darkness and proclaims the vindication of God.

And I would like to suggest that we can use St. Paul’s model to do that in three very specific ways. First, we can rejoice always. In this season, maybe we can all send a Christmas card to someone who wouldn’t otherwise receive one; to someone who probably won’t send one back to us. Maybe that’s to a relative who has grown distant, or a homebound neighbor. Even if you don’t send any other cards this Christmas, send that one card. Second, we can pray without ceasing. And in Advent, maybe that means going to Confession. The Sacrament of Penance can make the world very bright for you and for the community by letting go of the darkness of sin. There’s a penance service on December 21st, and many other opportunities for the sacrament before Christmas. Be not afraid, there is a lot of joy and much light that comes from celebrating the sacrament of our forgiveness. And third, give thanks in all circumstances. This Advent, maybe we can all take the time to thank one person for what he or she has done in our lives this year. God gives us the blessing of so many relationships, but how often do we thank God for them, or even thank them for being God’s presence in our lives? Or maybe we can make a list of people and blessings for which we are thankful, and pray through them as we sit by the light of our Christmas trees this season. Let us give thanks in all circumstances.

Because, if we do even these small things, we will see that in us, there’s a little more light today.