Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The presence of God, in some ways, is quite often really unwelcome, at least to those who have made their own gods. In today’s Gospel the demons that possessed the poor man knew who Jesus was and what he came to proclaim. Those demons wanted no part of Jesus, in fact, they wanted him to go away. But of course, Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life will not let the man remain possessed, and the demon flees.

But the demons that oppose God’s presence remain in our world and are quite active. They possess people, institutions, and social systems. They attempt to cloud a respect for life by preaching the so-called truth of “choice.” They attempt to oppress whole peoples and developing nations with greed and rampant consumerism. They attempt to derail justice with corruption, peace with selfishness, respect for authority with a kind of false freedom of expression. The expression of truth in our society is so relativistic and centered around “me.”

But the Jesus will not go away; he will not be overcome by anything; he will be always omnipresent. And we believe that forces of darkness will never have the last word. For the truth will overcome them like the thief in the night, and all that darkness will be put to flight in the light of truth. So may we Christians continue to sing of the Lord’s truth so that all people will continue to be amazed, just like the bystanders at the casting out of the demon. And with the Psalmist, we can look forward to the full revelation of the truth: “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.”

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.

So John isn’t just telling us what time it is.  When he says “and it was night,” he is telling us that this was the hour of darkness, the hour when evil would come to its 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, 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 and burst forth with him to the brilliant glory of morning.

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The question that Saint Paul asks at the beginning of today’s first reading is one that we’ve all heard countless times: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  We might even be tempted to pass by that question and move on to something else in today’s Liturgy of the Word, but I don’t think that’s wise.  Because it’s an important question, and one that confronts us all, in some way, time and time again.

We might go through a rough patch in our lives: loss of a job, death of a loved one, a severe and trying illness, damage to a marriage or strain in any relationship.  These are the issues that try our souls and sorely test our faith.  We might even at times be tempted to give in to despair and lose our focus in such a way that it affects our health and well-being.  But we believers dare not do so, because God is for us.

We might hear news that is difficult to absorb.  Our society may be in a sad state of affairs; the political climate may be divisive and disheartening; we may be fatigued or even alarmed by the rise of terrorism and the proliferation of war; morality of our communities may be far off-base and all of this might cause us to question what is going on.  We might be tempted to throw up our hands and lose all hope.  But we believers dare not do so, because God is for us.

There is someone, certainly, who is against us, and that one is Satan, and yes he and his threat are real.  Even the celebration of this Halloween day might make us shake our heads.  But Saint Paul reminds us that even Satan cannot ultimately take us down, because God is for us.  Saint Paul quite rightly insists that “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That is the same consolation that comes from devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus or the Divine Mercy.  It is the consolation for which we gather this morning at the Table of the Lord.  It is the consolation that takes on every threat we encounter this day or ever in our lives: nothing and no one can separate us from God’s love.  Nothing.

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 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.

Monday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s first reading, like the first readings we’ve had last week during daily Mass, kind of makes you cringe.  But these readings are here for a purpose, and the Church wants us to read them for a reason.  The story we have been getting is one of salvation rejected by the ones who need to be saved.  We have to back up just a little bit.  The whole deliverance from slavery in Egypt, which we read about in Lent, symbolized the deliverance from the power of sin.  Wandering through the desert for forty years symbolized the purification that we go through on the way to salvation.  Crossing the River Jordan symbolizes baptism, which wipes away our sins, and entering into the Promised Land symbolizes the salvation from sin, which we all seek.

But this is where it all goes wrong.  When the chosen people crossed into the Promised Land, they were instructed to wipe out all the people who inhabited the land – and not just the people, but the livestock and the cities and everything in them.  They were supposed to do that because God knew that if they lived among these people, the chosen people would be tempted to follow false gods and to turn away from him and do every kind of evil.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened: they did not wipe out the people; instead they lived among them.  And they turned away from God and followed the false gods of the people of the land and they did every kind of evil.

Those tempters are represented in today’s first reading by Jezebel.  Even her name has become a symbol of all that is wrong with humanity.  Literature often calls evil women “Jezebels” because of her.  Naboth the Jezreelite was a just man; he earnestly sought the one true God and honored the covenant.  He was not interested in giving up his vineyard, his ancestral heritage which had been given to him and his family by the one true God.  Giving that up to Ahab would have meant doing exactly what God did not want the people to do: turn away from him toward every kind of evil.

Unfortunately, Naboth’s vindication does not come in this life; he loses his life to the evil Jezebel and her scheming.  His own fellow citizens conspire with her and are complicit in her sin – they had turned away from God and would do it again in a heartbeat.  But Ahab and Jezebel’s sin is not rewarded either; we’ll hear about that tomorrow in the first reading.

The question for us today is this: what is the Jezebel in our lives?  What tempts us to give up the salvation of our heritage and turn away from our God?  Whatever it is, we absolutely must put it to death – wipe it out – so that we can live in the promised land of our salvation.

Anointing of the Sick During Mass

Today’s readings: Isaiah 61:1-3a, Psalm 147; Romans 8:18-27, Matthew 8:5-17

I had the opportunity yesterday, as I often do, to visit with two parishioners who are ill and hospitalized.  In their illness they, along with their families, did as we should always do: they called on the priests of the Church to come and give them the sacraments of healing and be present to them at a difficult time.  We do that as a Church because we are convinced that it is only our faith that can give us solid foundation when we are sick or dying.  It takes an act of faith in God’s care for us to really navigate illness and pain.

This Mass is that act of faith.  In the Anointing of the Sick, the Church proclaims courageously that there is no malady that cannot be addressed by our God; that he can take on whatever ails us, bind up whatever is broken in us, and bring forth something new, something beautiful, something perhaps unexpected.  Today we gather as the Church and place our faith in the healing of our God.  We acknowledge that the healing God brings us doesn’t always make all of our illness go away, but we also don’t rule that out.  We trust that God, who sees the big picture, knows what is best for us and desires that we come to the greatest good possible.  We also trust that God’s grace is enough to help us address illness, infirmity, pain, suffering, and the ardors of medical treatment.  We know that our God walks with us in good times and in bad.

Our readings today help us to express the faith we place in this wonderful sacrament and in the healing that Christ brings us.  In the Gospel, Jesus is amazed by the faith of the centurion who trusts that Jesus’ healing can transcend time and space and that “just the word” of Christ would bring that healing to his servant.  His is a faith we use to express our own faith in the healing power of the Eucharist whenever the priest raises the host and cup: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  These words remind us also that healing is not just a physical thing.  The soul and the spirit have to be healed in so many ways, from the evils of sin to the sadness of infirmity – Christ’s healing power addresses our brokenness from the inside out, and that power is so beautifully manifested in the Eucharist we celebrate.

The second reading is solace for weary pray-ers.  Especially during times of illness, it can seem like we pray and pray and pray, and there is no answer, or little answer, even silence from our God.  We may also feel so overwhelmed by our situation that we don’t know how to pray.  I myself felt that way in my second year of seminary when both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer within a month of each other.  I had no idea what to say to God any more, and the only thing I could do was groan “Help!”  And that was enough.  The Holy Spirit took care of the rest of my praying, as did so many of my classmates who came to pray for me and with me.  I did not know how to pray as I ought, but the Spirit certainly interceded with groanings I could not manage to express.  That happens often during times of illness and crisis.  But faith says that we don’t have to have all the right words, because our faith is enough and our God knows what we need.

And so in our faith, we gather today to express the prayers of our hearts, perhaps prayers we haven’t been able to utter for some reason or another.  We gather today to place ourselves in God’s hands and experience his healing, in whatever way is best for us.  The Apostle Saint James tells us that we should turn to the Church in time of illness, calling on the priests to anoint the sick in the name of the Lord, knowing that God desires healing, and that the prayer of faith will save the sick and raise them up, forgiving them their sins.

The Church has this sacrament because of who Jesus was and because of what he came to do among us.  Jesus was that suffering servant from the book of Isaiah’s prophecy, the One who took on our illnesses and bore our infirmities.  He was spurned and avoided, oppressed and condemned, all the while giving his life as an offering for sin, justifying many, and bearing their guilt.  God always knew the frailty of human flesh, but when he decided to come to his people, he did not avoid that frailty; instead he took it on and assumed all of its effects.  This is why we treat the sick with dignity: our frailty was good enough for our God, and we know that the sick are very close to our Lord in their suffering, because he suffered too.

And we know that Jesus cared deeply for the sick and the suffering.  Large portions of the Gospel – including today’s Gospel reading – see Jesus caring for the sick, responding to their faith, healing them from the inside out.  The sick sought him out, they called out to him as he passed along the way, they reached out to touch just the tassel of his cloak, their friends brought them to Jesus, even lowering them down from a hole in the roof if the crowds were too big.  He was moved by their faith, always responding to them, healing not just their outward symptoms, but also and perhaps most of all, the inner causes of their illnesses, forgiving their sins, and giving them a place in the Kingdom.

Jesus still does this today.  He still walks with us in our suffering, whether we are to be cured or not, letting us know that we don’t suffer alone.  He still responds to our faith, curing our brokenness and healing our sinfulness.  If he judges that it is best for us, he heals our outward symptoms too, perhaps even curing our diseases, and he gives us all a place in the Kingdom, if we have the faith to accept it and to receive the healing he brings us.

Jesus continues his healing mission through the Church in our day.  Certainly the priests provide the sacraments to the sick and the dying.  But also, the entire people of God are called to the corporal work of mercy of caring for the sick.  Every act of mercy and every prayer for the sick is part of the healing work of Jesus.  Doctors and nurses and therapists and other caregivers also provide the healing ministry of Jesus, particularly when they are men and women of faith.  This ministry is also provided by our many Ministers of Care, people who visit the sick and bring them the Eucharist in their homes, in hospitals, and in nursing homes.  The Church’s ministry to and with the sick is the visible sign of the love of God at work in our world and his care for all those who are suffering.

We don’t know if you all will walk out of this holy place healed of all your diseases.  But we can promise that you will be freed from your sins, healed from the inside out, and that your Lord will always walk with you, even in your darkest hours.  We have faith that healing will come at some time in some way, of the Lord’s choosing, for your good, and for the glory of God.  That’s why we are here today.  That’s why we celebrate this beautiful sacrament with you today.  We know that our Lord deeply desires to heal us.  And we know that every healing moment is a miracle, made possible by God’s great love poured out on us when we make an act of faith.