Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

I love the readings we have today!  Susanna’s story is one of the most eloquent in the Old Testament Scriptures: in it we see the wisdom of the prophet Daniel, as well as the mercy and justice of God.  This story is certainly echoed in our Gospel reading about the acquittal of the woman caught in adultery, although Susanna was actually innocent.  In the Gospel reading, we see the wisdom of Jesus, brought about as it is with the mercy and justice of God.  But sadly, we see in both stories also the fickleness of the human heart and the evil and treachery that makes up some of our darker moments.

To those who seek to pervert justice and to collude with others against some other person, these readings expose those evil thoughts and flood the darkness with the piercing light of God’s justice.  No one has a right to judge others, especially when their own intentions are not pure.  Only God can give real justice, just as only God brings ultimate mercy.

To those who are the victims of oppression, these readings give hope that God in his mercy will always walk with those who walk through the dark valley, and give to the downtrodden the salvation which they seek.  God is ultimately very interested in the kind of justice that is characterized by right relationships with one another and with Him.  It is the desire of God’s heart that this kind of justice would be tempered with mercy and would go out and lighten all the dark places of the earth.

Today we are called upon to right wrongs, to be completely honest and forthright in our dealings with others, to seek to purify our hearts of any wicked intent, and most of all to seek to restore right relationships with any person who has something against us, or against whom we have something.  Our prayer this day is that God’s mercy and justice would reign, and that God’s kingdom would come about in all its fullness.

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

This feels like a little bit of deja-vu for me, because I just did a video lesson on holy water for the school kids yesterday.  Water is so important to us, and we see a lot of water in these readings.  Water refreshes us, sustains us, cleans us.  And people are saying that drinking water, if you get the COVID-19 virus can wash it into your stomach where it gets destroyed.  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’m drinking plenty of water anyway!

But when the readings talk so much about water, what we are being led to is a reflection on baptism.  We ourselves are the sick and lame man who needed Jesus’ help to get into the waters of Bethesda.  The name “Bethesda” means “house of mercy” in Hebrew, and that, of course, is a symbol of the Church.  We see the Church also in the temple in the first reading, from which waters flow which refresh and nourish the surrounding countryside.  These, of course, again are the waters of baptism.  Lent calls us to renew ourselves in baptism.  We are called to renew ourselves in those waters that heal our bodies and our souls.  We are called to drink deep of the grace of God so that we can go forth and refresh the world.

But what really stands out in this Gospel is the mercy of Jesus.  I think it’s summed up in one statement that maybe we might not catch as merciful at first: “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.”  It’s hard to imagine being ill for thirty-eight years, I’m sure that would be a pretty bad thing.  It’s hard to imagine anything being worse.  But I’m also pretty sure missing out on the kingdom of God would be that one, much worse, thing.  There is mercy in being called to repentance, which renews us in our baptismal commitments and makes us fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sometimes parishes have removed the holy water from church during Lent in a kind of fasting.  This is exactly why you shouldn’t: Lent is all about baptism, all about God’s mercy, all about being renewed and refreshed and healed in God’s grace.  I can’t wait for this virus situation to be over so that we can once again fill up the holy water fonts, and the pews, and rejoice together in our baptism!  

So I encourage you all to not take holy water for granted.  Think about that the next time you put your hand into the font and stir up those waters of mercy.  Be healed and made new; go, and from now on, do not sin any more.

The Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our readings today pick up the sermon that Jesus was giving in last week’s gospel.  Last week, he used the formula: “You have heard that it was said…  But I say to you…” to raise the bar on living the fifth, sixth and eighth commandments. Merely refraining from actual murder no longer means that we have not murdered in our heart.  Never having had an extra-marital affair doesn’t any longer mean that we haven’t committed sexual sin.  And never having lied under oath doesn’t mean we haven’t stretched the truth in ways that are sinful.  Disciples, people who believe in Christ, are expected to live differently: our faith looks like something, and that something is radical lives of integrity that set out to witness to God’s love in the world.

This week we have a bit more of the same, but this time expressed in terms of positive behavior.  Christian disciples, he tells us, are not just to refrain from anything that would tear down another’s life, they are not just to refrain from seeing people as objects, nor are they just to refrain from lying.  They are to go beyond all that and give of themselves, even when it doesn’t seem like they would strictly be required to do so.  Disciples are to give of themselves even when they themselves have been wronged.  They are to do more than the law requires and offer no resistance to evil.  Disciples are even to love their enemies, for heaven’s sake!

So what we are seeing over these two weekends’ Scriptures are a completely new message for the people of Israel.  Hopefully the message is not a new one for us, but it is, we have to admit, one of which we need to be reminded from time to time.  Because it’s really easy to get caught up in our own entitlement, and looking out for number one, and doing what seems best for us.  But disciples are called to a different kind of life, one that leads ultimately to the kingdom of heaven.  If we’re ever going to attain that eternal reward, we have to bring everyone with us that we can.  And to do that, sometimes we’re going to have to let someone else win the argument, or see the good in someone who isn’t presenting a real good side right now.  We might even have to go so far as to love and pray for those who are working against us, and trust God to work it all out.

And the thing is, God is trustworthy to work it all out, but sometimes we don’t have faith enough to let him do that.  That’s something we have to work on every day.  Because if the only one we ever trust in is ourselves, we are destined for a pretty bad end.  Even the brightest and best of us have limited ability, and none of us can ever make up to God for the offenses of our sins.  So our ability to be okay in bad times goes only as far as we can manage, unless we trust in the Father’s care.

Today, we have a video from our bishop about the Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal.  The diocese serves almost 700,000 Catholics in our seven-county area.  Some of the other ways the appeal helps us is by funding Young Adult and Youth Ministry programs, by nights of shelter and housing were provided to the homeless through Catholic Charities.  The Catholic Schools Office assists and gives direction to our own school and others, and is assisting us as we search for a new principal for our school, and the office of Faith Formation helps train and direct catechists.

I know you’re hearing about our capital campaign.  I appreciate all that you are doing to support that as well as our weekly offertory.  The diocese assists us in so many ways, and so many of the poor and needy depend on their work.  So I just ask you to be as generous as you can.  Our ushers will now pass out the pledge envelopes, and I ask you to please fill it out as we watch the video.  We will then collect them right after the video.  If you wish to take the envelope home and pray about it, you can return it next week.  Thank you for doing that.

Our Psalmist today reminds us that “The Lord is kind and merciful,” which is the theme of this year’s CMAA.  God is never outdone in generosity, and so when we extend ourselves to those in need, when we give above and beyond what is strictly required, when we love those who maybe don’t love us, and even pray for our enemies, we can trust that God will give us all that we need and bless us in ways that we may never have expected.  Trust in the Father’s care: that’s what our Scriptures and this year’s appeal ask us to do.  It’s sound advice, and I pray that we would all take note of it!

The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This weekend we continue our preaching series at Saint Mary Immaculate called “A Crash Course in Catholicism.”  Please continue to pray for the success of this preaching series, and for the openness for all to receive the grace God is pouring out on us in these days.   So far we have spoken about the fundamental Good News of our faith that we are saved by Jesus Christ.  God did not abandon us in our sinfulness, but in love sent us His Son, Jesus, to free us from sin and death by His own life, death and resurrection. God desires our salvation and healing.

In following God’s plan, we connect our lives to His through prayer, which we spoke of at length last week.  Hopefully over the past week you’ve had a chance to reflect on the way you pray, why you pray, and perhaps even tried some new way of prayer.

So this week, we are reflecting on our call to discipleship, our living of the Good News of Jesus Christ in such a way that it is infectious to others.  This call to discipleship isn’t just for Sundays, or even primarily for Sundays, but an everyday decision to follow Christ and walk in the way he has marked out for us.

Looking at the parable in today’s Gospel reading, I’m going to be very bold and say, you know, the Pharisee was quite right. His righteousness was beyond reproach. He has been innocent of greed, dishonesty and adultery. He has been more pious than even the law requires. Fasting was only required once a year, on the Day of Atonement, but he fasts twice a week. Tithes were only required to be paid on one’s earnings, but he pays them not only on his earnings, but also on all of his possessions, basically, he paid the tithe on his total net worth. He was probably quite right about his own righteousness, and he may well have been right about the failures of righteousness in the tax collector as well.

And, in those days, tax collectors were despicable human beings. There was no taxation with representation, so the tax collectors worked for the Romans and were in league with the foreign occupation. They were told what they had to collect, and whatever the collected over and above that was theirs to keep. Now certainly, they were entitled to some income, so a modest markup would have been understandable – that was how they were paid. But mostly the modest markup was far from modest, and often bordered on extortion. The tax collector in our parable today does not deny that he has participated in those activities. He does not even pray about anything he has done except for one thing: he has sinned. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” he says.

Both of these men were right in what they said about themselves. From an objective point of view, they have presented themselves honestly before God and everyone. So what’s the problem? Where has the Pharisee gone wrong and how did the tax collector, of all people, end up justified?

It’s pretty easy to see what went wrong when we step back and look at the nature of their prayers. The Pharisee uses the word “I” four times. It’s all about him. The tax collector does not use the word “I” at all; he uses the word “me.” What’s the difference? Think back to your grammar lessons: “I” is the subject, “me” is the object. So, for the Pharisee, it was all about what he had done through his own righteousness, and not about what God had done or could do. The text even says that the prayer he prayed, he said to himself.  Did you catch that?  Not to God, but to himself!  For the tax collector, it wasn’t about him at all. He acknowledges his sinfulness and asked God to have mercy. And that’s the second difference. The tax collector asks for something, namely mercy, and receives it: he goes home justified. The Pharisee asks for nothing, and that’s just what he gets: nothing.

So I think today’s Liturgy of the Word is asking us a very important question: have you been aware of your need for a Savior? Because sin is exhausting. Anyone who has struggled with sin, or a pattern of sin, in their lives can tell you that. Those who have been dragged down by any kind of addiction or who have tried to work on a character flaw or striven to expel any kind of vice from their lives often relate how exhausting the sin can be. Sin saps our spiritual energy, weakens our resolve to do good, and causes us to turn away in shame not only from God, but also from family, friends, and all those whose spiritual companionship we need in order to grow as Christians. That’s just the way sin works.

But today’s Liturgy gives us very good news. Sirach says in today’s first reading that “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay.” We see that very clearly in the parable in today’s Gospel. The lowly tax collector cannot even bring himself to raise his eyes to heaven. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” he says. It is the perfect Act of Contrition. He acknowledges his sin, he prays for God’s mercy. And God responds. He can go home justified.

So who here was the disciple?  It would seem like it would have been the praying, fasting Pharisee.  But is it?  Discipleship involves discipline – they have the same root word – a discipline that binds oneself to God and is committed to real change.  The Pharisee was self-righteous: he prayed to himself, did what made himself look good, it was all about him.  The tax-collector, on the other hand, had a righteousness that came from the mercy of God.  Because he depended on God, he was able to find forgiveness, bind himself to mercy, and go home justified.  Disciples don’t follow themselves, they follow Jesus.  They don’t pray to themselves, they follow Jesus.  They aren’t righteous in themselves, they are righteous in Jesus.

Disciples aren’t perfect – certainly the tax-collector was not – but disciples are open to conversion, open to a true change in their lives that allows the mercy of God to make them a new creation.  Disciples think of everything in terms of their walk with Christ and living the Gospel.  They do it every day, not just Sunday.  When a decision needs to be made at work, they think about Jesus’ example and how the decision might affect others.  When deciding where to spend their family’s resources, they think about the good they are called to do.  When working through a relationship issue, they think about where God is in that relationship and direct their energies in that way.  Disciples see themselves first and foremost as sons and daughters of God, and everything else in their lives falls in line with that identification.  They may not be perfect, but they are open to being perfected.

Disciples find themselves in the Church, receiving the Sacraments the Church offers them in order to perfect their lives of faith.  They receive the mercy of God in sacramental confession, and they live on the strength of God by receiving God’s Word and the Body and Blood of our Lord at Mass.

Just like the Pharisee and the tax collector, we have come to this holy place to pray today. What is our prayer like? Are there sins that have become a pattern for us? Do we have addictions that need to be worked out? Have we failed in some way in our daily life? What dark corners of our lives desperately need God’s light and God’s mercy? In what ways do we need a Savior? Have we asked for God’s mercy, or have we been like the Pharisee, asking for nothing and receiving exactly that?

I want to give you the opportunity to pray with this today…

Pray the tax collector’s prayer after me: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Saturday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

There are a lot of pitfalls on the road through our spiritual lives.  We ourselves experience that all the time.  Making our confessions, we have a firm purpose of amendment, but it seems like the devil knows that, and so we barely make it to the parking lot and there’s a new temptation or frustration.  Those pitfalls in the spiritual life are many, and frequent, and exasperating at times.

Jesus said it would be so. Listen to what he says in the Gospel reading again:

The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man
who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.

Did you catch that? The Kingdom of heaven will be like that. It will be planted with good seed, but the enemy will sow weeds.  That’s still the Kingdom of heaven.  So when we are frustrated by the pitfalls we encounter, we can at least take some relative comfort in that our Savior said it would be like that, and we’re still in the Kingdom of heaven.

But what we can’t do is accept that to the point that we decide we can participate in it and still be forgiven.  We can’t love our sins and expect God to save us.  That’s called presumption, and it too is a sin, and a pitfall in the spiritual life.  God is a God of justice; he sees that kind of nonsense and calls it what it is.

So here’s the take away. Yes, there will be pitfalls in the spiritual life.  But when we run into them, it doesn’t mean we’re not still in the Kingdom of heaven. What we have to do is call them what they are, repent, reform our lives, and call on God’s mercy.  But we can’t presume God’s mercy so that we give ourselves permission to sin.  We have to love God more than our sins; love eternity more than today’s passing pleasures. We have to be like the Psalmist today who prophesies that God will take care of the things we worry about if we place our worship in the right place:

“Offer to God praise as your sacrifice
and fulfill your vows to the Most High;
Then call upon me in time of distress;
I will rescue you, and you shall glorify me.”

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter

Today’s readings

“You shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:28).  I love that last line from the last of the Old Testament readings we heard tonight.  There is a covenant, there has always been a covenant, there always will be a covenant. God created us in love, and he loves us first and best.  No matter where we may wander; no matter how far from the covenant wemay stray, God still keeps it, forever.  We will always be his people and he will always be our God.  If I had to pick a line that sums up what we’re here for tonight, what we’ve been here for these last 40 days of Lent, that would be it.

Over the past couple of days, as we have observed this Sacred Paschal Triduum, which comes to its denouement tonight in this Vigil of vigils, we have been on a journey to the Cross. We get that direction from Holy Mother Church, as She sets the tone for this Triduum in the lines of the Entrance Antiphon, which we heard way back on Holy Thursday Evening.  That antiphon was this:

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,


in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,


through whom we are saved and delivered.

It might seem a little odd to reflect on the Cross – triumph or not – on this holy night.  I mean, surely we’ve moved on, haven’t we? We came here for resurrection and want to get on with our lives.  Just like we tend to rush through our grieving of loved ones – to our own psychological and spiritual peril, by the way – so too we want to rush through our Lent and particularly our Good Friday and Holy Saturday, so that we can eat our Peeps and chocolate bunnies and call it a day.

But we disciples dare not let it be so.  Because certainly we know how we got here to this moment.  We know that we would never get an Easter Sunday without a Good Friday, that we can’t have resurrection if there hasn’t been death, that we there isn’t any salvation if there hasn’t been a sacrifice.

And there sure was a sacrifice.  Our Lord suffered a brutal, ugly death between two hardened criminals, taking the place of a revolutionary.  He was beaten, humiliated, mistreated and nails were pounded into his flesh, that flesh that he borrowed from us, through the glorious fiat of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He hung in agony for three hours and finally, when all was finished, he cried out in anguish and handed over his spirit.  Placed in the tomb, he descended into hell.  Collecting the souls of the blessed ones of old, he waited while earth mourned and disciples scattered and everyone wondered what happened to this Christ, this Anointed One, this One who was supposed to be their Messiah.

And then came the morning.  The Sabbath was over, and the sun was rising in the east on the first day of the week, and the women came with spices to prepare their Lord for burial.  But they couldn’t: he has been raised!  He is not here!  Our Lord is risen and death is defeated!  The menacing, ugly Cross has become the altar of salvation!  The Cross, that instrument of horror, has triumphed over every darkness thrown at it, and we can– and we should – do no less than praise our God with all the joy the Church can muster!

We have journeyed with our Jesus for three days now.  We ate with him, we prayed through the night with him, some of us at seven churches.  We saw him walk the way of the Cross and tearfully recalled his crucifixion.  We reverenced the Cross, joining our own crosses to his.  Now we’ve stayed up all night and shared the stories of our salvation, with eager excitement at the ways God has kept that covenant through the ages.  A roaring fire shattered the darkness, and a candle was lit to mingle with the lights of heaven.  Then grace had its defining moment as Christ shattered the prison-bars of death and rose triumphant from the underworld.

It’s so important that we enter into Lent and the Triduum every year.  Not just because we need to be called back from our sinfulness to the path of life – yes, there is that, but it’s not primary here.  What is so important is that we see that the Cross is our path too.  In this life we will have trouble: our Savior promises us that.  But the Cross is what sees him overcome the world and all the suffering it brings us.  We will indeed suffer in this life, but thanks be to God, if we join ourselves to him, if we take up our own crosses with faithfulness, then we can merit a share in our Lord’s resurrection, that reality that fulfills all of the salvation history that we’ve heard in tonight’s readings.

Our birth would have meant nothing had we not been redeemed.  If we were born only to live and die for this short span of time, how horrible that would have been.  But thanks be to God, the sin of Adam was destroyed completely by the death of Christ! The Cross has triumphed and we are made new!  Dazzling is this night for us, and full of gladness!  Because our Lord is risen, our hope of eternity has dawned, and there is no darkness which can blot it out.  We will always be God’s people, and he will always be our God!

And so, with great joy on this most holy night, in this, the Mother of all Vigils, we rightfully celebrate the sacrament of holy Baptism.  Our Elect will shortly become members of the Body of Christ through this sacrament which washes away their sins.  Then they will be confirmed in the Holy Spirit and fed, for the first time, on the Body and Blood of our Saving Lord.  It’s a wonderful night for them, but also for us, as we renew ourselves in our baptismal promises, and receive our Lord yet again, to be strengthened in our vocation as disciples.

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,


in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,


through whom we are saved and delivered.

We are and always will be God’s people.  God has made new his glorious covenant through the resurrection of our Christ.  And so, having come through this hour to be sanctified in this vigil, we will shortly be sent forth to help sanctify our own time and place.  Brightened by this beautiful vigil, we now become a flame to light up our darkened world.  That is our ministry in the world.  That is our call as believers.  That is our vocation as disciples.  “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 forever and ever.  Amen.”

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Caiaphas had no idea how prophetic his words were. Actually, as far as the intent of his words went, they were nothing but selfish. The Jews didn’t want to lose their standing with the Romans. As it was, they had an uneasy peace. The Romans pretty much let them practice their religion as long as there wasn’t any trouble. But they knew that if everyone started following Jesus, the Romans would give preference to the new way, in order to keep the peace. The religious leaders couldn’t let that happen, so they began plotting in earnest to kill Jesus, planning to find him when he came to celebrate the upcoming feast day, which they were certain he would attend.

It’s a time of high intrigue, and for Jesus, his hour – the hour of his Passion – is fast approaching. That’s so clear in the Gospel readings in these last days of Lent. In just a few hours we will begin our celebration of Holy Week, waving palms to welcome our king, and praying through his passion and death. It is an emotional time for us as we know our God has given his life for us, the most amazing gift we will ever get. It is also a time of sadness because we know our sins have nailed him to the cross.

But, this is where the significance of Caiaphas’s words brings us joy. Yes, it is better for one person to die than the whole nation. God knew that well when he sent his only Son to be our salvation. Jesus took our place, nailing our sins and brokenness to the cross, dying to pay the price those sins required, and rising to bring the salvation we could never attain on our own. Caiaphas was right. It was better for one person to die than for the whole nation to die. Amazing as it seems, that was God’s plan all along.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent (Cycle C Readings)

Today’s readings

Back in the sixth century before the birth of Christ, the Israelites were in a bad way.  They had been separated from their God by sin: against God’s commands, they had betrayed their covenant with the Lord and made foreign alliances, which he had forbidden them to do.  He forbade this because he knew that as they made these alliances, they would give in to the temptation to worship the so-called gods of the people they with whom they allied themselves.  As punishment, God separated them from their homeland: the cream of the crop of their society was taken into exile in Babylon, and those left behind had no one to lead them and protect them.  Because they moved away from God, God seemed to move away from them.  But he hadn’t: I think it was really they who had exiled themselves from God.  In today’s first reading, God shows them that he still loves them and cares for them, and promises to make them a new people. I love the line: “See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?”  God would indeed bring them back and create their community anew.

The Israelites were in exile, but exile can take so many forms.  And Saint Paul had a good sense of that.  For him, the exile was anything that was not Christ; a sentiment we should embrace.  Saint Paul knows that he has not yet taken possession of the glory that is promised him by Christ, and so he wants to leave behind the exile of the world and strains forward to all that lies ahead, the goal and prize of God’s calling in Christ.

Which brings us back to the woman caught in adultery.  We certainly feel sorry for her, caught in the act, dragged in front of Jesus and publicly humiliated.  But the truth is, just like the Israelites in the sixth century before Christ, she had actually sinned.  And that sin threatened to put her into exile from the community; well, it even threatened her life.  The in-your-face reversal in the story, though, is that Jesus doesn’t consider her the only sinner – or even the greatest sinner – in the whole incident. We should probably wonder about the man with whom she was committing adultery; that sin does, after all, take two. And as serious a sin as adultery certainly is, Jesus makes it clear that there are plenty of serious sins out there, and they all exile us from God.  As he sits there, writing in the sand, they walk away one by one.  What was he writing?  Was it a kind of examination of conscience?  A kind of list of the sins of the Pharisees?  We don’t know.  But in Jesus’ words and actions, those Pharisees too were convicted of their sins, and went away – into exile – because of them.

Sin does that to us. It makes exiles out of all of us. The more we sin, the further away from God we become.  And it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jimmy and Suzy went to visit their grandparents for a week during the summer.  They had a great time, but one day Jimmy was bouncing a ball in the house, which he knew he shouldn’t be doing.  It didn’t take long for the ball to hit grandma’s favorite vase, knocking it off the table and breaking it.  He picked up the pieces and went out back and hid them in the woodshed. Looking around, the only person who was around was his sister Suzy.  She didn’t say anything, but later that day, when grandma asked her to help with the dishes, Suzy said “I think Jimmy wanted to help you,” giving him a rather knowing look. So he did.  The next day, grandpa asked Jimmy if he wanted to go out fishing. Suzy jumped right in: “He’d like to, but he promised grandma he would weed the garden.”  So Jimmy weeded the garden.  As he was doing that, he felt pretty guilty and decided to confess the whole thing to grandma.  When he told her what had happened, grandma said, “I know.  I was looking out the back window when you were hiding the pieces in the woodshed.  I was wondering how long you were going to let Suzy make a slave of you.”

That’s how it is with sin: it makes a slave of us, and keeps us from doing what we really want to do. It puts us deep in exile, just as surely as the ancient Israelites.  And it doesn’t have to be that way.  You see, it’s easier than we think to end up in exile.  All we have to do is a good examination of conscience and then think about the way those sins have affected us.  Have they made us feel distant from God, family and friends?  Have they caused us to drift in our life and not feel God’s presence in times of hardship?

Exile is heartbreaking. And to the exile of sin, God has three things to say today:

First, “Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore.”  That sounds like something that’s easy to say but hard to do.  But the fact is, once we have accepted God’s grace and forgiveness, that grace will actually help us to be free from sin.  Of course, that’s impossible to do all on our own.  But God never commands us to do something that is impossible for us, or maybe better, he never commands us to do something that is impossible for him to do in us.  God’s grace is there if we but turn to him.

Second, God says: “Forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead.”  Once sin is confessed and grace is accepted, the sin is forgotten.  God is not a resentful tyrant who keeps a list of our offenses and holds them against us forever.  If we confess our sins and accept the grace that is present through the saving sacrifice of Jesus, the sins are forgotten.  But it is up to us to accept that grace.  We truly have to confess so that we can forget what lies behind and be ready for the graces ahead.

Third, God says: “See, I am doing something new.  Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”  We are the ones who get stuck in the past, always fearing to move forward because of past sins, hurts, and resentments.  We are called today to be open to the new thing God is doing in our lives.  The way to open up is to confess our sins and get rid of the past.

For a long time in my young life, I didn’t go to confession.  I didn’t think I needed to.  I grew up in that whole time of the church when it was all about how you felt about yourself.  Garbage. I knew something was wrong when I was in my young adulthood and felt lost.  I took a chance and went to confession at a penance service, and the priest welcomed me back.  In that moment, I knew exactly the new thing God was doing in me, and it felt like a huge weight was lifted off of me.  In fact, I was released from the exile of all my past sins and hurts.

I never forgot that, and whenever anyone comes to me in confession and says it’s been a long time since they went, I am quick to welcome them back.  Because that’s what God wants, and it’s a great privilege for me to be part of that.  He wants to lift that weight off of you, to end your exile.  All it takes is for you to see that new thing he is doing in you, and to strain forward to what lies ahead.

So we have just a few times left to receive that grace before Holy Week and Easter.  We have confessions on Friday at 6pm, and Saturday at 3pm.  Come to either of them that fit your schedule.  If you miss that, please check the bulletin today for a schedule of confessions at parishes around us.  Would that we would all take this opportunity to forget what lies behind, and strain forward to what lies ahead.  God is doing a new thing in all of us these Lenten days.  May we all be open to it.

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

There’s a lot of talk about water in these readings today, and when that happens, we know that it means the talk is really about baptism. We ourselves are the sick and lame man who needed Jesus’ help to get into the waters of Bethesda. The name “Bethesda” means “house of mercy” in Hebrew, and that, of course, is a symbol of the Church. We see the Church also in the temple in the first reading, from which waters flow which refresh and nourish the surrounding countryside. These, of course, again are the waters of baptism. Lent calls us to renew ourselves in baptism. We are called to renew ourselves in those waters that heal our bodies and our souls. We are called to drink deep of the grace of God so that we can go forth and refresh the world.

But what really stands out in this Gospel is the mercy of Jesus. I think it’s summed up in one statement that maybe we might not catch as merciful at first: “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” It’s hard to imagine being ill for thirty-eight years, I’m sure that would be a pretty bad thing. But I’m also pretty sure missing out on the kingdom of God would be that one, much worse, thing. There is mercy in being called to repentance, which renews us in our baptismal commitments and makes us fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sometimes parishes have removed the holy water from church during Lent in a kind of fasting. This is exactly why you shouldn’t: Lent is all about baptism, all about God’s mercy, all about being renewed and refreshed and healed in God’s grace. Think about that the next time you put your hand into the holy water font and stir up those waters of mercy. Be healed and made new; go, and from now on, do not sin any more.

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