Monday of the Second Week of Advent

Today’s readings

What the Pharisees were missing in this gospel story was that there is something that paralyzes a person much worse than any physical thing, and that something, of course, is sin.  And if you’ve ever found yourself caught up in a pattern of sin in your life, of if you’ve ever struggled with any kind of addiction, or if a sin you have committed has ever made you too ashamed to move forward in a relationship or ministry or responsibility, then you know the paralysis this poor man was suffering on that stretcher.  Sin is that insidious thing that ensnares us and renders us helpless, because we cannot defeat it no matter how hard we try.  That’s just the way sin works on us.

We cannot just raise our hands and say, hey, I’m only human, because nothing makes us less human than sin.  Jesus, in addition to being divine, of course, was the most perfectly human person that ever lived, and he never sinned.  So from this we should certainly take away that sin does not make us human, and that sin is not part of human nature.

And it doesn’t have to stay that way.  We’re not supposed to stay bound up on our stretchers forever.  We’re supposed to get ourselves to Jesus, or if need be, like the man in the gospel today, get taken to him by friends, because it is only Jesus that can free us.  That’s why the church prays, in the prayer of absolution in the Sacrament of Penance, “May God give you pardon and peace.”

Freed from the bondage of our sins by Jesus who is our peace, we can stand up with the lame man from the gospel and go on our way, rejoicing in God.  We can rejoice in our deliverance with Isaiah who proclaimed, “Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; They will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.”

Friday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It could have been jealousy.  Or maybe they just felt threatened.  Either way, the Pharisees had lost sight of the mission.

You could see how they would have been jealous: here they are working long and hard to take care of the many prescripts of their religion, attending with exacting detail to the commandments of God and the laws that governed their way of life.  But it is Jesus, this upstart, and not them, who is really moving the people and getting things done.  People were being healed – inside and out – and others were being moved to follow him on his way.  That had to make them green with envy.

And, yes, they probably felt threatened.  The way that he was preaching, the religion he was talking about – well, it was all new and seemed to fly in the face of what they had long believed and what they had worked so hard to preserve.

But how had they gotten here, how did they lose the way?  Because what Jesus advocated was really not a different message: it was all about how God loves his people and that we should love God and others with that same kind of love.  That message was there: buried deep in the laws and rules that they were so familiar with, but somehow, the laws and rules became more important than the love.

The Pharisees wanted to preserve their religion and the way of life they had lived for so long.  Jesus wanted to make manifest God’s love, forgiveness of sins, and true healing.  It’s not that the rules of religion are not important, but the underlying message and the greatness of God cannot be overshadowed by legalism.  That is the argument in today’s Gospel; that is the argument that ultimately brought Jesus to the cross.  He would rather die than live without us; he paid the price that we might be truly healed and might truly live.  As the Psalmist reminds us today: Praise the Lord!

Monday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The leader of the synagogue had it all wrong, and he of all people should have known what was right. God always intended the Sabbath day to be a day of rest, yes, but also of healing, also of mercy. There is no way that we can rest if we are in need of those things. The woman in the story was plagued by a demon that kept her bent over for eighteen years. Some translations of this passage say that she was “bent double.” So she wasn’t just slouched over or bent part way, but more like this, bent in half, for eighteen years! For eighteen years she never had a moment’s rest from this demon. Not only that, because she was bent double, people never even really saw her – really looked her in the eye.

We find great healing when we rest, and so the healing of a person who had been plagued for so long by a demon that she was bent over double from the weight of it, that healing had every right to take place on the Lord’s Day, the Sabbath Day of rest. Who are we to decide when someone should be healed? That grace comes from God, and his mercy comes on his timetable, not ours. The Sabbath has come and gone for us this week, but as we head into the workweek this day, it would be wonderful if we could take a moment to plan for the coming Sabbath day of rest. We too are offered healing and mercy if only we would ask for it, if only we would rest in the Lord.

(Image by Doris Klein)

Friday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Angels are messengers that God sends sometimes to let us know his plans for us, or to guard and guide us, or even to help us to see what’s really important. And it’s that last thing that the archangel Raphael does in today’s first reading. If we remember all the way back to Tuesday, we heard about Tobit being made blind by cataracts caused by bird droppings, and later in that same story, he scolded his wife for accepting a goat as a bonus on her labor, because he did not believe her story. I mentioned then that Tobit had to learn that charity – for which he was quite well known – begins at home. His period of blindness gave him that very insight, I think, and in today’s story he rejoices in his cleared vision.

Through the intercession of St. Raphael, Tobit regained his sight and was able to see his son safely returned from a long and dangerous journey. He saw also the return of his family fortune. And he saw the union of his son Tobit with his new wife Sarah. There was great cause for rejoicing in all that he was able to see and Tobit didn’t miss a beat in placing the credit where it belonged. He said,

Blessed be God,
and praised be his great name,
and blessed be all his holy angels.
May his holy name be praised
throughout all the ages.
Because it was he who scourged me,
and it is he who has had mercy on me.

And so we praise God today for angels who help us to see what’s really important. We praise God for angels who clear up our clouded vision and help us to see past the obstacles we’ve put in God’s way. We praise God for angels who help us to overcome our pride and self-righteousness so that God’s way can become clear to us. May we rejoice along with Tobit and Anna and all the rest that God has truly sent his angels to us often to bring us back to him.

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings
“When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will realize that I AM…”

Just as the saraph serpent was lifted up on a pole in the desert for the people to see, and thus live, so the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, was lifted up on the cross for the salvation of the world.  In these late Lenten days, the Church is looking to the Cross, looking toward Jerusalem, knowing that the hour of the Lord, in which he would pay the dear price of our salvation, is near at hand.

With hearts filled with gratitude, we come to this Eucharist, with our eyes fixed on our Lord lifted up for us, who pours himself out for us again and still.  When we see him lifted up, we remember that he is “I AM,” our crucified and risen Lord, and whenever we look to him, we are saved from all that ails us, from our sins and brokenness, and we ourselves are lifted up to eternal life.

Our challenge in these late Lenten days is to be that icon of the Cross, like the saraph serpent, to whom people can look and find healing and salvation. We have to be the image of Christ crucified so that the world can become whole.

Monday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So the disciples are waiting for Jesus to come down the mountain after the Transfiguration.  They have attempted to cure a man’s son from the hold of a demon, but they were apparently unable to do so.  This seems to have led to an argument between them and the scribes.  You can almost feel Jesus’ exasperation.  Both the disciples and the scribes should have been able to do something for the boy, but they couldn’t.  Why?  Because instead of praying, they argued about it.  “This kind can only come out through prayer,” Jesus tells the disciples when they ask why they were ineffective.

I often wonder, with more than a little fear, how many demons I could have cast out – in myself and in others – if I had a little more faith, if I prayed a little more than I do.  There are, of course, all sorts of demons: demons of illness, demons of cyclical sin, demons of impure attachments, demons of homelessness, poverty, and marginalization, and so many more.  Think of all the demons we could cast out if we just had more faith, if we prayed more fervently.

Sometimes, when we are trying to overcome some problem, the last thing we think to do is pray, when it should absolutely be the first.  The disciples were guilty of it, the scribes were, and we are too sometimes, if we’re honest.  And all of us should know better.  I know that I myself can think of a number of problems I’ve tried to solve all by myself, when it would have been so much more effective to first turn them over to our Lord.  We can’t just cut God out of the picture and rely on our own strength; that never works – our own strength is so fiercely limited.  We have to turn to the tools we have been given: faith and prayer.  And we can start by saying with the boy’s father: “I do believe, Lord; help my unbelief.”

The Third Sunday of Advent: The Anointing of the Sick at Mass

Today’s readings
#adventnd #anointingofthesick #healing #mercy

Today’s readings and liturgy call us to rejoice.  That’s the reason for the rose-colored vestments and the more joyful tone of today’s readings.  This is called Gaudete Sunday: gaudete being Latin for “rejoice,” the first word of today’s introit or proper entrance antiphon which says: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed the Lord is near.” The Church takes that antiphon from the words of the second reading today.

We can especially rejoice in the healing presence of our God. Healing is, in fact, a sure way that we know that Christ is present. Jesus said as much in our Gospel today when he addressed the followers of Saint John the Baptist:

Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.

Those who lived in and around Jesus in those days had to be amazed at all they were seeing. Indeed, many of them were moved to conversion of heart and rejoiced in all they were seeing.

I think, though, that it can be hard to rejoice when we are suffering from illness or injury. Sometimes when we’re sick, it can even be hard to pray or find God in anything. A wise person once told me that you have to make sure that you’re praying when you’re well, because when you’re sick, it can be hard to pray. But it those times of illness or injury, that’s when you need to rely on God the most. If you have been praying when you’re well, then that relationship is going to be something you can lean on when you need healing.

Indeed sometimes, for us, healing is a little harder to see. We may have been dealing with a persistent, chronic, or even terminal health condition for years. Or maybe we have been at the side of a loved one who has been ill and for whom we have prayed long and hard, but have seen no healing. If that’s where we are right now, Jesus’ words are still our hope. Because healing comes in all sorts of ways, according to what Jesus sees that we need most. That might come in the form of something other than physical healing: perhaps the healing of relationships, or the conversion of our hearts. In every case, though, Christ promises to be with us through it all if we turn to him in our hearts. And he keeps his promises, giving us grace that sees us through whatever stormy waters we are wading.

And so we gather in faith today to express the prayers of our hearts, asking for God’s mercy, praying prayers, perhaps, that 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 the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick 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.

So today if you are sick in any way – body, mind, or spirit, – if you suffer from addiction, chronic pain, or emotional anguish – I invite you to approach the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick after this homily. The Church teaches that this sacrament is not to be saved only for the moment of death. No, we are to approach it when we are seriously ill, or before surgery, and yes, in the hour of death. If we have been anointed before, we can be anointed again if necessary, even in the same illness, if it has been some time or especially if the illness has progressed. In this sacrament, we pray for healing in body, mind, or spirit, in whatever way God judges to be best for us, and we trust in his sacramental grace and presence with us in our suffering.

Just a procedural note: During the ritual of anointing we will ask those who are to be anointed to stand, and I will impose hands over all of you at one time for a few moments in silence. Then, when it comes time for the anointing, we will come to those who are not ambulatory and are seated in the front of church. Those of you not seated in front will come forward as for Holy Communion, and we will anoint you in the center aisle.

Today we rejoice because our Lord is near.  We light that third, rose-colored candle on our Advent wreath and we see there’s not many candles left until the feast of the reason for our rejoicing.  We rejoice, too, that we can come to him for help and sustenance and companionship on the journey to healing. We look forward to celebrating the Incarnation, perhaps the greatest and best of the mysteries of faith.  That God himself, who is higher than the heavens and greater than all the stars of the universe, would humble himself to be born among us, robing himself with our frail flesh, in order to save us from our sins, heal our brokenness, and make his home among us for all eternity – that is a mystery so great it cannot fail to cause us to rejoice!  Indeed that very presence of God gives hope even in our most difficult moments – THE LORD IS NEAR!

These final days of Advent call us to prepare more intensely for the Lord’s birth.  They call us to clamor for his Incarnation, waiting with hope and expectation in a world that can sometimes be dark and scary.  These days call us to be people of hope, courageously rejoicing that the Lord is near!  Come, Lord Jesus!  Come quickly and do not delay!

Monday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The leader of the synagogue had it all wrong, and he of all people should have known what was right. God always intended the Sabbath day to be a day of rest, yes, but also of healing, also of mercy. There is no way that we can rest if we are in need of those things. The woman in the story was plagued by a demon that kept her bent over for eighteen years. Some translations of this passage say that she was “bent double.” So she wasn’t just slouched over or bent part way, but more like this, bent in half, for eighteen years! For eighteen years she never had a moment’s rest from this demon. Not only that, because she was bent double, people never even really saw her – really looked her in the eye.

We find great healing when we rest, and so the healing of a person who had been plagued for so long by a demon that she was bent over double from the weight of it, that healing had every right to take place on the Lord’s Day, the Sabbath Day of rest. Who are we to decide when someone should be healed? That grace comes from God, and his mercy comes on his timetable, not ours. The Sabbath has come and gone for us this week, but as we head into the workweek this day, it would be wonderful if we could take a moment to plan for the coming Sabbath day of rest. We too are offered healing and mercy if only we would ask for it, if only we would rest in the Lord.

(Image by Doris Klein)

The Third Sunday of Easter: Do You Love Me More Than These?

Today’s readings

What Satan wants is a community of disciples so mired in their sins, that they do nothing to foster the Kingdom of God and live the Gospel. Bookmark that thought, because I’ll come back to it in a bit.

I love today’s Gospel because it features one of my favorite characters, Saint Peter. Saint Peter has been inspirational to me because, despite being called to do great things for God, he does a lot of messing up and often has to pick himself up and start all over again. Today’s Gospel reading has him trying to figure things out. He’s very recently been through the arrest and execution of his Lord, only to find out that he is risen, and has appeared to various disciples, including Peter himself. I think today’s story has him trying to make sense of it all and figure out where to go from here. But he’s trying to figure it out in the midst of having fallen again, since he denied even knowing the Lord three times on the night of Holy Thursday.

So, in an effort to figure things out, he goes back to what he knows best, which is to say he goes fishing. And he takes some of the others with him. And, as is very typical of Peter’s fishing expeditions recorded in the Gospels, he catches nothing even though he’s been hard at it all night long. It’s not until the Lord is with them again and redirects their efforts, that they eventually pull in an incredibly large catch of fish. Jesus then invites them to dine with him, using one of my favorite commands in all of Sacred Scripture, “Come, have breakfast.”

Then we have this very interesting, and in some ways tense, conversation between Jesus and Peter. Jesus takes him off to the side after breakfast, and just as he redirected Peter’s efforts while they were fishing earlier, now he redirects Peter’s efforts in his life. There are a couple of points of background that we need to keep in mind. First, just as Peter three times denied his Lord on the night of Holy Thursday, so now Jesus gives him three opportunities to profess his love and get it right.

Second, the Greek language has a few different words that we translate “love.” Two of them are in play in this conversation. The first is agapeo, which is the highest form of love. It’s a love that always wills the best for the other person, a love that is self-sacrificing and enduring. It’s the love that God has for us. The other kind of love that is used here is phileo, a bit lower form of love that is something like a strong affection for someone else. Where agapeo is an act of the will, phileo is more of a feeling. Many scholars don’t see this as an appreciable difference and say John in his Gospel just uses two different words to mean the same thing. But I think John is careful with language, and the two uses mean something, as we will see.

So the conversation begins, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” That’s literally a loaded question, so let’s look at it. First of all, Jesus calls Peter “Simon, son of John.” But Jesus is the one who changed his name from Simon to Peter. So this seems to be a bit of a rebuke: Okay, Peter, if you’re just going to revert to your former self and pretend you haven’t known me the last three years, then I’ll just use your old name. I’m sure Peter didn’t miss the inference. Then at the end, “do you love me more than these?” Scholars have a lot of opinions on what “these” are: Do you love me more than you love these other guys? Do you love me more than these other guys love me? Do you love me more than this fishing equipment, the tools of your former life? It doesn’t matter what he meant by “these,” the effect is the same: Peter is called to a higher love, which is evidenced in the word Jesus uses for love, which is agapeo. Peter responds, acknowledging Jesus’ omniscience, “Lord you know that I love you.” But he uses phileo, perhaps acknowledging that he is not capable of the agapeo kind of love. And he’s probably right about that, since sin does diminish our capacity to love. He receives the response “Feed my lambs,” of which I’ll say more later.

The conversation continues in the same manner, using the same forms of the word “love” in both the question and the response, and ending with the injunction, “Tend my sheep.” But the third question is interesting. Jesus asks the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” But this time Jesus uses the word phileo, as much as to say, “Okay, Peter, do you even have affection for me?” And Peter seems to get the inference, because he responds emotionally: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And he’s right: Jesus does know. But Jesus needed Peter to know it too. Jesus, in his Divine Mercy, has healed Peter, forgiven his sins, and helped him to remember his mission, redirecting his efforts to “Feed my sheep.”

Because if Jesus hadn’t done this, Satan would have won. He would have had that community of disciples so mired in their sins, that they do nothing to foster the Kingdom of God and live the Gospel. And then we wouldn’t be here today, would we?

And let’s be clear about this. We, like Peter, all have a mission to accomplish. We all have some part of the Kingdom to build. We may not be the rock on which Jesus will build his Church, but we are indeed part of it. And we are all affected by our sins. We have all denied our Lord in one way or another by what we have done and what we have failed to do. And so the Lord in his mercy says to us today, “Patrick, do you love me?” “Susan do you love me?” And we respond with whatever love we’re capable of. In that moment, Jesus redirects our life’s efforts too, so that we can do what we’re called to do. We, who have been purified by our Lenten penance, are now called to the life of the Resurrection, in which all God’s lambs are cared for, and all his sheep tended.

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Just as the saraph serpent was lifted up on a pole in the desert for the people to see, and thus live, so the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, was lifted up on the cross for the salvation of the world.  In these late Lenten days, the Church is looking to the Cross, looking toward Jerusalem, knowing that the hour of the Lord, in which he would pay the dear price of our salvation, is near at hand.

With hearts filled with gratitude, we come to this Eucharist, with our eyes fixed on our Lord lifted up for us, who pours himself out for us again and still.  When we see him lifted up, we remember that he is “I AM,” our crucified and risen Lord, and whenever we look to him, we are saved from all that ails us, from our sins and brokenness, and we ourselves are lifted up to eternal life.

Our challenge in these late Lenten days is to be that icon of the Cross, like the saraph serpent, to whom people can look and find healing and salvation. We have to be the image of Christ crucified so that the world can become whole.