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!

The Fifth Sunday of Lent – Scrutiny III (Cycle A Readings)

Today’s readings

“Lord, by now there will be a stench.”

That’s one of my favorite lines in scripture.  It begs the question I want you to pray about this week, which is this: “What in your life really stinks?”  Because we have to have that stench washed away in order to really live.

If you know my preaching, you’re not going to be at all surprised about this, but I have to tell you honestly, our Gospel reading isn’t about Lazarus.  Yes, he got raised from the dead, so good for him, but he isn’t the center of action in the story.  In fact, he’s dead for most of the reading, so he doesn’t play a major part.   Our Gospel today is about Jesus, who gives us baptism and grace, those helps that are the remedy for all that stinks in our life.

So Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus is ill.  He knows that Lazarus will die, and he knows that he will raise Lazarus up, so very much like the rest of John’s Gospel, Jesus is in full control.  He delays going to see Lazarus because it will give him the opportunity that will increase faith in the other players in the story.  So when he arrives, Lazarus has been dead four days.  That’s an important detail because it tells us that Lazarus is really, really dead.  The Jews believed that the soul of a person hung around for about three days, but after that, well, he or she was gone forever.  So if Jesus had raised Lazarus on the second day, no big deal.  If on the third day, that would have been a foreshadowing of himself.  But on the fourth day, he raises up someone who is really, really dead: someone just like us.

So just like the man who was born blind last week, we are born dead, in a way.  I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but stay with me.  We are born dead in our sins, and there is nothing we can do to raise ourselves up out of that sinfulness except for the grace of God.  So the movement in our Gospel today is from life that is so mired in sin that it stinks, to life that is so free of death that burial bands and tombs cannot contain it.

During Lent, we have been journeying with our catechumens, who are now called the Elect, as they prepare to be baptized, confirmed, and receive first Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil.  Much like them, there are three groups of catechumens in today’s Gospel.  The first group of these scriptural catechumens is Mary and Martha, those friends of Jesus that are part of John’s Gospel a few times.  Here, the rubber meets the road in their faith.  Here, like so many of us, they have something tragic happen in their lives, and now they have to grapple with whether their faith helps them with that or not.  Mary is so troubled that she doesn’t even go out to meet the Lord until her sister tells her a white lie that Jesus was asking for her.  Both she and Martha, when they first see Jesus, complain that he should have come sooner so that he could have saved Lazarus.  But Martha has a little faith.  She says very importantly that “Even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  That’s the beginning profession of faith.  She knows that Jesus has power over life and death.  So then they have a little catechetical dialogue about life and death and eternity, and at the end of it, Martha professes that Jesus is the Son of God who was coming into the world.  The sisters move from their grief, to faith in Jesus, even before he accomplishes the miracle.

The second group of catechumens is the Apostles.  God bless them, they’re still trying to make sense of Jesus.  We can’t be too hard on them, because they’re a lot like many of us who are trying to be men and women of faith, but don’t really have all the facts right now.  “Let us also go to die with him,” Thomas says.  And they will, of course: they have to go through the cross before they see and understand Jesus fully.  We too will have to take up our own crosses before we can understand the salvation that Christ has won for us.

The third group of catechumens is the Jews.  A bunch of them are weeping with Mary, and they go with her to see Jesus.  Along the way, they complain that if he could heal the man born blind like he did in last week’s Gospel, why couldn’t he have healed Lazarus?  But seeing the miracle, they come to believe, in the very last verse of this long reading. They are a lot like those of us who are skeptical for a long time, but see something wonderful materialize in the life of another and finally decide there’s something to this Jesus that’s worth believing in.

Key to all of these catechumens is that, in order to move to belief, they had to have some kind of stench in their lives washed away.  For Martha and Mary, they had to get past the stench of their grief.  For the Apostles, they had to get over the stench of trying to figure things out and realize that Jesus was in charge.  For the Jews, they had to get past the stench of their skepticism and let him perform miracles among them.  For all of us, on the journey of faith, some kind of stench has to be washed away, in order to come to full faith in Jesus.  And that stench is, of course, sin.  The way it gets washed away is in baptism.

So if you take away anything from today’s Liturgy, let it be this: this reading is really all about baptism, brothers and sisters in Christ.  Is it a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection?  Well, okay, yes, maybe a little.  But it is more about baptism.  Because baptism is a kind of death.  As Saint Paul says in our second reading today, baptism is the kind of death that gives life to our mortal bodies.  It’s hard for us to imagine that kind of thing when the baptisms we’ve seen are just a mere pouring of water over a baby’s head.  But baptism in the early church was full submerging in water while the formula was pronounced, after which they came up out of the water gasping for air.  Believe me, they got the connection of baptism with death and resurrection!

Baptism is what washes away the stench in our lives.  It does that with original sin, and if we live our baptism by participating in the sacraments, it does that with the sins of our daily life.  The sacrament of Penance is an extension, in a way, of the sacrament of Baptism, in which the sins of our lives are completely washed away, leaving us made new and alive in ways we couldn’t imagine.

So today, Jesus sees us dead in the flesh, stinking of our sins.  But he calls us forth in baptism, rolling away the stone of sin that keeps us from relationship with him, releasing us from the burial-bands that bind us, and calling us to new life.

So maybe in these closing days of Lent, we still have to respond to our Lord’s call to live. Maybe you haven’t yet been to confession before Easter.  We have confessions tomorrow at 2:00pm until all have been heard, then Friday at 6pm, and Saturday at 3pm.  Come to any of them that fit your schedule.  If you miss that, please check the bulletin today for a schedule of confessions at parishes around us.  We invite you to come and have the stone rolled away and to be untied from your burial cloths.  Wherever you find yourself at this point of Lent, I urge you, don’t let Easter pass with you all bound up and sealed in the grave.  Lent ends just before Evening Prayer on Holy Thursday.  That gives us around ten and a half days to take up our Lenten resolutions anew, or even make new ones, so that we can receive new life in Christ.  Don’t spend these days in the grave.  Come out, be untied, and be let go.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent – Scrutiny II (Cycle A Readings)

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy is all about vision and sight and light and darkness.  All of these, dear friends, are things that many of us certainly take for granted.  Think about it: we don’t appreciate the gift of light until that dark and stormy night when the electricity goes out and we’re fumbling around in the darkness trying to remember where it is we put that new package of batteries for the flashlight.  We likewise take for granted our own ability to see.  I think of my Aunt Mia, who several years before she passed away lost her sight and had to learn how to see things and how to function in a whole new way.

When I hear today’s first reading, it always makes me think of my dad.  He was the kind of Irishman who never knew a stranger.  We couldn’t go anywhere without running into at least one person he knew.  But he didn’t just know them, he knew their story.  And so if someone were to complain about someone he knew, he would always be able to tell them something good about that person, because Dad saw the best in them.  That’s the kind of vision we are all called to have for one another: we need to see the best in them, we need to see Jesus in them.

So what about this miracle story in the Gospel today.  Here’s a question I always like to throw out there: who cares?  I mean, it’s nice for that man born blind who can now see, but I mean, he lived two thousand years ago, so what business is it of ours if he can see or not?  Why take up so much time with this reading?  Well I’ll tell you why we should care: we should care because the man born blind is us, friends.  We all have affected vision: none of us sees others or even sees ourselves as God does.  So 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?”  Well, 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 holy 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 a pool: the waters of baptism, which clears our eyes and helps us to really see.  Our Elect, who are here with us today, 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, after he has been unceremoniously thrown out of the synagogue, he meets Jesus again and testifies 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.  Think about it: 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 an anchor 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 we will hear proclaimed on the Holy Night 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 spiritually blind.  But you know what?  We’re not supposed to stay that way.

Easter Monday

Today’s readings

Well, it wasn’t all that long ago that we saw the disciples scatter in fear, was it?  Here they had seen their friend arrested, tortured, and killed, so one could not blame them for running scared.  I’m sure I would have done no different if I had been them.

But in today’s first reading, we see them different.  They have witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, they have seen him alive.  More than that, they have been filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit, that great gift he had promised them all along.  And so now they get it.  Now they realize what he had been saying to them, and now they have courage and fortitude to proclaim the Gospel.

“God raised this Jesus, of this we are all witnesses,” Peter says on their behalf.  They have entered into mystagogia … that time following a great event when those involved look back on what they have experienced, and come to new understandings based on those experiences.  Their mystagogia of the Easter event has given them fresh hope and courage, and has empowered them to proclaim the message.

Here at Notre Dame, we saw our sister Korrin baptized, and received our brother Brian into full communion with the Church.  In addition, many were baptized into the Church and Christ Jesus throughout the world.  They are all experiencing mystagogia in these days.  They are looking back on their reception into full communion with us, and reflecting on what they have learned and how they have grown in their faith.  We cradle Catholics also experience mystagogia in these days.  Our baptisms are not as fresh in our minds as are the baptisms of our new brothers and sisters, but we recall with gratitude and profound joy the saving sacrifice that has given us hope of new life.  So we too, like the apostles, are empowered to proclaim the message.

God has raised this Jesus from the dead, and we are witnesses of these things, brothers and sisters in Christ.  Praise God!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

The Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time [C]

Today’s readings
The parts in brackets were done at the 5pm Mass which included the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of the Catechumenate.

Today’s readings remind me of one of my favorite theological facts: we were all created for something.  I think it takes the better part of our lives sometimes to see what that purpose is, but rest assured: God has a purpose.  In our first reading, God says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you…”  Those words are spoken to the prophet Jeremiah, but also to all of us.  God has personal knowledge of every person he has created, and dedicates each one of us to some special purpose.

It’s an important thing for us to hear in this day and age, I think.  Sometimes I think we take the cynical scientific position that each life is a happy accident.  Molecules have just come together in the right way, and so here we are.  Whatever becomes of us, then, is either fate: something we inevitably take on, or happenstance: we take on the persona of whatever is expedient at any given time.  So if all that is true, then there doesn’t have to be a God, or if there is one, he has set things in motion and stepped back to observe our progress like someone viewing an exhibit at the zoo.

But our faith teaches us that none of that is true.  Faith tells us that God is really active in the world, that he has personally created each one of us, that he desires our happiness, that he gives us grace to become what he created us to become.  That doesn’t mean that every life will be easy and that there will never be suffering or pain.  Sin is a consequence of free will, and the evils of disease and disaster and sadness all run through the world as a consequence of that.  If God desires our happiness, Satan certainly desires us to be unhappy, even unto eternity.

So if there is purpose to our lives, and if God desires that we be happy, then that purpose is well expressed in today’s second reading from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  This letter is certainly familiar to anyone who has been to any number of church weddings.  It’s easy to see why so many couples would choose that reading: the romantic nature of the love they have for one another wants a reading as sweet and beautiful as this to be proclaimed at their wedding.  But I always tell them that they should be careful of what they’re asking for.  Because the love that St. Paul speaks of is not something that you feel, it’s more something that you do.  Or, even better, something that you are.

Because, in any relationship, love is a choice.  If it were just a feeling that you automatically had for someone close to you, it would be so much easier.  If love happened automatically like that, there would be no abusive relationships.  Young people would never turn away from their families.  Parents would never neglect their children.  Spouses would never separate.  We wouldn’t need the sixth commandment, because no one would ever think to commit adultery.  Priests would never leave the priesthood because their love for their congregations and the Church, and above all, for God, would stop them from any other thoughts.

And that’s why St. Paul has to tell the Corinthians – and us too! – that love is patient, kind, not jealous, and all the rest.  In fact, that passage from St. Paul defines love in fifteen different ways.  Because love absolutely has to address pomposity, inflated egos, rudeness, self-indulgence, and much more.  All of us, no matter what our state of life, must make a choice to love every single day.  If you are married, you have to choose to love your spouse; if you are a parent, you have to choose to love your children.  Children must choose to love their parents; priests have to choose to love their congregations, and the list goes on.  Love is the most beautiful thing in the world, but love is also hard work.

As today’s Liturgy of the Word unfolds, we can see that love – true love – makes demands on us, demands that may in fact make us unpopular.  In the first reading, Jeremiah is told that he was known and loved by God even before he was formed in his mother’s womb.  That love demanded of him that he roll up his sleeves and be a prophet to the nations.  God gives him the rather ominous news that his prophecy won’t be accepted by everybody, that the people would fight against him.  But even so, Jeremiah was to stand up to them and say everything that God commanded him, knowing that God would never let him be crushed, nor would God let the people prevail over Jeremiah.

For Jesus, it was those closest to him who rejected him.  In the Gospel today, while the people in the synagogue were initially amazed at his gracious words, soon enough they were asking “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” as if to say, “Who is he to be talking to us this way?”  When Jesus tells them that his ministry will make God’s love known to the Gentiles – those whom God had supposedly not chosen – it is then that they rise up and drive him out of the city, presumably to stone him to death.

So we have been created in love, created to love, and created for love.  God is love itself, love in its most perfect form, and out of that love, he set us and the world and everything there is into being.  Out of love for us, God continues to be involved in our lives and in our world, giving us grace, and revealing himself to us when we seek him with all our hearts.  And when we seek him with all our hearts, we do that out of love for God, which is in fact God’s gift to us!  Love is a complex and beautiful thing and love is the purpose of our lives.  Love is a still more excellent way than anything we have in the world!

[God continues to love so much that he calls people to come close to him every day.  Today we celebrate with Korrin her call to become part of God’s family in our Church.  Today, she has joined the order of catechumens, one of the ancient orders of the Church.  Unlike unbaptized people who are not catechumens, Korrin and other catechumens have rights in the Church.  They have a right to assistance as they grow in faith by learning about the teachings of the Church and participating in works of service in the parish.  They also have a right to be married in the Church and to receive Christian burial, which we hope won’t be necessary any time soon!

[Korrin’s call is an important one for us to witness.  As we see her grow in her faith, we recognize that God continues to call all of us to grow closer to him as well.  Her journey, which we will observe in the public rituals of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, calls us to continue the journey wherever we find ourselves on it.  God’s love continues to call Korrin and all of us to grow closer to him each and every day.]

May the call of all of our lives remind us that we are all embraced in God’s love, and that because of God’s love, we all must decide to love in our own way, according to our own vocation and station in life, every single moment of our lives.  May our love for God, our love for others, and our love for ourselves permeate and give new purpose to a world that has forgotten love, and forgotten how to love rightly.

The Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Rite of Welcoming of Candidates for Full Communion

Today’s readings

There are a lot of experts out there.  And those experts will be happy to give you their opinion.  Really, there is no shortage of places these days from which you can get information.  Television, print media, and especially the internet – God knows what we did before the days of Google! – all of these will gladly disgorge information on just about any topic, and so the days of searching high and low for information are pretty much long gone.

But one has to wonder about the quality of the information that we get.  Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it true!  We know that.  And ask any teacher and they will probably tell you that they are sick of students quoting Wikipedia and their lot.  Even if a site isn’t intentionally giving poor information, there’s almost no way to verify what they’re telling you, unless they have provided proper sources or footnoted their claims.

And the same is certainly true for those who would give us opinions on religion.  I can hardly count the number of religious opinions I have been given that began with the words “In my opinion…” or “I think…” If you hear someone start a comment on religion or morality with those words, you have my permission to stop listening to them, because quite frankly, it’s very likely going to be a waste of your time.  When it comes to matters of faith and morals, one’s opinions don’t really matter; what is important is what is truth.

In today’s Gospel, the people are astonished at what Jesus was teaching them.  They couldn’t believe their ears.  And what is striking about that is that they are astonished because Jesus was obviously preaching with authority, “and not as the scribes.”  That’s a pretty sad condemnation of the scribes of the day, because the scribes were charged with copying the Scriptures and making sure the faith was taught to all people.  If they couldn’t be trusted to speak the truth, well then, who could?

What is astonishing for them is that they finally found the One they could trust: the One who spoke with authority.  Jesus didn’t give them some lame opinion or say “I think…” No, he gave them revealed truth, revealed in his words, and in his miracles, and ultimately in his sacrifice.  The religious leaders of his day might not like what he was saying to them, but they certainly could not refute the Truth he preached.

And that Truth wasn’t just for that one time and place.  That Truth is authoritative today.  Against the widespread opinion that one can be “spiritual but not religious” – whatever that means; against those who think that human life is expendable, or that it can be manufactured for research, or that it can be regulated by government mandate; against those who think that matters of conscience and freedom of religion don’t matter when they become inconvenient; against those who think that any religion is just as good as another, or that religion should never tell people what is right and wrong – against all these lies, Jesus’ Truth stands eternal.

Today, our Candidates for Full Communion with the Church have joined us and we have welcomed them.  We are one in Baptism, because our Creed proclaims one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  But they wish to draw nearer to Christ and to be one with us in the Eucharist, to be Confirmed in our faith.  They will receive these sacraments soon, and today we pledge to journey with them.  Together, we embrace the Truth our Christ reveals and we proclaim the truths that make us one Body, one Spirit in Christ.

Our Psalmist today reminds us that if today we hear God’s voice, we should not ever harden our hearts.  As we continue our worship today, may we renew our commitment to seek the voice of God in every moment, embracing the Truth that is revealed to us.  And may we be a people who open our hearts to that truth, and eagerly live it and proclaim it by the way we live our lives.

The Third Sunday of Lent [A]

Today’s readings

Winter is always rough on people, health-wise.  If it’s not the flu, then it’s some sort of virus making its way around.  That’s been true this winter for sure.  Staff members here at church and people in my family have been coming down with one form or another of seasonal illness, and I was glad I got my flu shot this fall.  But this week it was my turn: despite the flu shot, I had a fever, fatigue and some light-headedness that made me think it was a sinus thing cranked up a few notches.  It’s been hard to shake it.  One thing you learn when you have a fever or something like that is that you should drink a lot of water.  But eventually, that becomes tiresome: you get sick of drinking just plain water, no matter how good it may be for you.  So this week I supplemented it with tea, of course, and I even gave myself permission to do something I don’t do very often, and that was to drink some soda – 7up or ginger ale mostly. And those drinks tasted better than just plain water, for sure, but because they are sugary, sooner rather than later I’d be thirsty again, and the only thing that really helped was – water.  I drank a lot of water this week!

 

I thought about that experience as I was preparing today’s homily, because this set of readings are all about water.   When the Church talks about water, it sees something different than most of the world does.  Water is a striking image in the literature of our religion: when we hear of water, maybe we think about the waters swirling around before creation, or the waters of the great flood.  During Lent, we might think often about the waters of the Red Sea, through which the Israelites passed as they fled from slavery in Egypt.  We might think of the water that flowed from the Temple in Isaiah’s imagery, that gave life to all the world.  And of course, as we near Good Friday, we cannot help but remember the water and blood that flowed from the side of Christ, giving life to the Church.  And then we could think sacramentally, couldn’t we?  Whenever we see this much discussed about water in the Sunday readings, we should always think of a certain sacrament. Guess which one? Right, baptism. And so we’ll talk about that in just a minute, but before we go there, let’s take a minute to get at the subject of thirst. That, after all, is what gets us to water in the first place.

 

The Israelites were sure thirsty in today’s first reading. After all, they had been wandering around the desert for a while now, and would continue to do so for forty years.  At that point, they were thinking about how nice it would be if they had just remained slaves in Egypt so that they wouldn’t have to come all the way out here to the desert just to die of thirst.  Better slaves than dead, they thought.  The issue was that they didn’t have what they thirsted for, and had not yet learned to trust God to quench that thirst.  So Moses takes all the complaining of the people and complains to God, who provides water for them in the desert.  Think about that – they had water in the desert! And they had that water for as long as they continued to make that desert journey.  Read the whole story of the Exodus – it’s a good Lenten thing to do – they never ran out of water, they didn’t die of thirst, God proves himself trustworthy in a miraculous way.  The end of the reading says they named the place Massah and Meribah because they wondered, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?”  What a ridiculous question!  Obviously, the answer was “yes.”

 

Which brings us to the rather curious story we have in the Gospel reading.  If we think the story was all about a woman coming to get a bucket of water, then we’ve really missed the boat, to misuse another water metaphor!  This story asks us what we’re thirsting for, but at a much deeper level.  Did Jesus really need a drink of water?  Well, maybe, but he clearly thirsted much more for the Samaritan woman’s faith.  Did she leave her bucket behind because she would never need to drink water again?  No, she probably just forgot it in the excitement, but clearly she had found the source of living water and wanted to share it with everyone.

 

In the midst of their interaction, Jesus uncovers that the woman has been thirsting for something her whole life long.  She was married so many times, and the one she was with now was not her husband.  She was worshipping, as the Samaritans did, on the mountain and not in Jerusalem as the Jews did.  And every single day, she came to this well to draw water, because her life didn’t mean much more than that.  She was constantly looking for water, or something that would quench her unsated thirst.  She didn’t even know what she was seeking, and yet she was thirsty all the time.

 

And all of this would be very sad if she hadn’t just found the answer to her prayers, the source of living water.  One of my favorite hymns is a hymn written by Horatio Bonar in 1846 called “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.”  This hymn is sung all during the year, but I think it may be the quintessential Lenten Hymn.  One of the verses speaks beautifully to this wonderful Gospel story:

 

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

 

Which is exactly what happened to the Samaritan woman, isn’t it?  She drank of the stream of Jesus’ life-giving water, and she now lived in him.  She couldn’t even contain herself and ran right off to town, leaving the bucket of her past life behind, and told everyone about Jesus.  They were moved to check this Jesus out, initially because of her testimony.  But once they came to know him as the source of life-giving water, they didn’t even need her testimony to convince them; they too lived in him now.

 

But remember that I said earlier that, whenever you see this much about water in the readings, the point is always baptism.  The readings for this Sunday are particularly chosen for the First Scrutiny in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.  So if we had anyone becoming Catholic in our parish, which we don’t this year, we would be reflecting in a particular way on their upcoming baptism.  The Catechumens of the Church in these Lenten days are, like the Samaritan woman, coming to know this Jesus who is the source of life-giving water.  Since we have no Catechumens in our parish this year, I want us to reflect on two things.

 

The first thing is to reflect on our own baptisms.  Because we too find baptism in our Lenten journey.  Lent, as is often pointed out, means “springtime” and during Lent we await a new springtime in our faith.  We await new growth, we look for renewed faith, we recommit ourselves to the baptism that is our source of life-giving water.  We have what we are thirsting for, and Lent is a time to drink of it more deeply, so that we will be refreshed and renewed to live with vigor the life of faith and the call of the Gospel.  As we approach Easter, then, we should reflect on our own baptisms, perhaps received before we could even understand or remember them, but certainly renewed as we have journeyed through life.  Those baptisms have called us to a particular way of life, leaving behind the buckets of life in the world and the well that can never really quench our thirst, so that we can embrace Jesus the Lord, our source of life-giving water.  He alone gives us water in such a way that we will never thirst again.

 

The second thing is to commit ourselves as a parish to the task of evangelization.  Just because we have no Catechumens this year doesn’t mean that there is nobody unbaptized among us.  We all know people who need to know the Lord.  Maybe they are unbaptized, maybe they are baptized in another Church, or maybe they are just not practicing any religion.  But because we know the source of life-giving water, they we know that everyone should be drinking of that water.  We have to bring the message to them.  Maybe not by preaching on the street corner, but more by the witness of our lives.  We might also need to extend the invitation, bring someone to Mass, encourage them to join us.  These Lenten days take us to Easter and beyond with water that we can pour out in every time and place where God takes us.  The life we receive in baptism can revive a world grown listless and droopy and make it alive with springs of refreshment that can only come from the one who gives us water beyond our thirsting, that follows us in our desert journeys, that springs up within those who believe.

 

The Israelites wondered, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?”  Surely we cannot be as unbelieving as they were.  We see the marvels God does for us, we experience the assurance of our faith in good times and in bad.  We see lives changed as they embrace the faith.  So how would we answer the question, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?”  Absolutely, yes he is, always and forever.  Amen.

 

Fifth Sunday of Lent [Scrutiny III]

Today’s readings

I love when our readings lead us down a path and we have them all figured out, and then out of the blue, we find out they mean something completely else!  So here it is, brothers and sisters in Christ, I’ll just say it: this story about the raising of Lazarus isn’t really about Lazarus at all!  I mean, look at the story: Lazarus is easily the least significant character in the whole episode. Even though he would seem to be the center of attention, he is dead for most of the story, never says anything himself, and Jesus only says three words to him in a five-minute reading. All of these are big red flags that the Gospel writer has been playing a little joke on us and the real story is somewhere else.  I love it when that happens!

And it might be easy to accept that. Okay, the story isn’t about Lazarus, but it is about how Jesus can raise people from the dead, right? Well, yes and no – it depends on what you mean by dead, I guess. Certainly, Jesus has the power to raise people from any kind of death, we know that, but I absolutely don’t think that simply resuscitating people from physical death is what the story is about. Actually, even though the story talks about eternal life some day, I’m not even sure the story is even about that kind of death and life. After all, Jesus doesn’t wait until some future resurrection to bring Lazarus back to life; he does it now, right before our eyes.  I think we have to look a little harder and find the life that is right here and now.

Maybe today’s first reading can shed some light on what Jesus was talking about by death. Here the people of Israel are, for all intents and purposes, alive. But they are in captivity in Babylon, so as a people – as a nation, they are pretty much dead. They have no place to worship, they are subject to the harsh cruelty of their captors, and their whole way of life is being systematically exterminated. That’s a kind of death that’s hard to miss. But even now, the prophet tells them, God will open their graves and have the people rise out of them. God will heal their affliction and give them life in spirit. The kind of life God will give to the Israelites is, as the Psalmist says, “mercy and fullness of redemption.”

So the kind of death we’re talking about here is a death that comes about as a result of our daily living. It’s a death brought on by situations in which we find ourselves. We experience death in too many forms to name. For example: wars have left scars for generations; poverty sucks the life out of families, neighborhoods and nations; conflicts divide Christians and set religions against one another; rivalries and ambition among church people give scandal to outsiders; rancor rips apart families; the innocent are abused, political corruption in poor countries depletes essential resources, and so much more. Jesus comes to bring life to people dead in those situations.

And there’s also a kind of spiritual death that St. Paul talks about in our second reading today. “But if Christ is in you,” he says, “although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” We all experience some kind of spiritual death in our lives and it is so painful to deal with it. Patterns of sin drag us down from our relationship with God. Addictions tear us apart from our loved ones and from our Lord. Indifference, apathy, and even scandal break us away from the human family and from the Church. Jesus comes to bring life to all of us who struggle with sin and experience this kind of spiritual death.

And he brings life to us in these situations right now, if we will let him. He doesn’t wait until some far-off resurrection time to make it happen. In another place in the Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that life is his primary mission. “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly,” he tells us. Even so, Jesus is not put off by our death. As embarrassed as we may be about our own brokenness, as dejected and frustrated as we may be about our failure to drag ourselves out of the sin in which we find ourselves, Jesus still comes to us. Martha makes a big point about how Lazarus has been dead four days, as if there were nothing Jesus could do about it. That’s because the Jews believed the soul of a person hung around for three days, and after that he or she was really, really dead. But Jesus was able to raise Lazarus anyway. So it doesn’t matter how dead we are, because our death and our sin are never, never, never more powerful than the mercy of God. Never.

And the Tempter would try to convince us that we are not worthy of this kind of mercy and love and forgiveness and resurrection. He may convince us that, like Lazarus, we have a big heavy stone sealing us off from God. Our sins might seem that big sometimes. But Jesus will have none of that: “Roll away the stone,” he says. The Tempter might want us to be so embarrassed about our sin that we become convinced we actually stink of death, that there will surely be a stench. But Jesus assures us that if we believe, we will still see the glory of God and our stench will be dispelled by the breath of God’s Spirit. The Tempter might even make us think that our sins have bound us up so much – like Lazarus in his burial cloths – that we can’t even take a step forward to come out of our graves. But to all of that, Jesus says, “untie him and let him go!”

The Elect have been hearing special readings at the Masses they have attended these last three weeks.  They are readings about our baptism, and so they relate well to the conversion they are experiencing and the preparations they are making for becoming one with us at the Easter Vigil in less than two weeks.  But these are also readings for you and me, that we might look back at our own baptisms and recommit ourselves to our Lord once again.  Conversion is something that goes on all of our lives if we are attentive to it.

So these readings have been incredible, particularly the ones from the Gospels.  Each of these readings has been focused around one person who could well have been a catechumen, one of the elect, someone undergoing conversion to the faith.  Two weeks ago, the woman at the well found Jesus to be the source of living water, a water that gave relief to the dryness of her faith. Last week, the man born blind washed in the pool at Siloam and came out able not only to physically see, but also to come to see Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. Today, I think, the Elect one is Martha. She experiences death in the grieving of her brother. But she comes to new life as Jesus attends to her faith and raises not just her brother, but her too, to new life. At the end of it, she goes to her sister Mary – this Mary who in a previous story sat at Jesus’ feet rather than help Martha cook for their guest but now refuses to even come out to see him. Martha has to go and tell the little white lie that Jesus is asking for her before Mary will leave the house. But this is how Martha witnesses to her faith, a faith which is made new and given new life with the raising of her beloved brother.

We’re all on different places of the journey in these closing days of Lent. Maybe, like Lazarus, we are all bound up, stinking of our sins, and sealed up in the tomb. Maybe, like Mary, we are hurt by all our resentments and refuse to even come out of the house. Maybe, like Martha, we have a fledgling faith and throw ourselves to Jesus asking to be made whole. Maybe, like the apostles, we don’t really get it, but are willing to go and die with Jesus anyway. Wherever we are, whatever our brokenness, whatever our sin, however long we have been dead and buried, Jesus comes to us today and beckons us to rise up and come out and be untied and to live anew.

And so, maybe in these closing days of Lent, we still have to respond to our

Lord’s call to live. Maybe you haven’t yet been to confession before Easter. We have confessions before and after next Saturday’s 5:00pm Mass, and then again on Tuesday the 30th at 7:30pm, and we invite you to come and have the stone rolled away and to be untied from your burial cloths. Perhaps in these last days of Lent, you have relationships you have to renew with the new life that Christ gives you. Wherever you find yourself, I urge you, don’t let Easter pass with you all bound up and sealed in the grave. Lent ends just before Vespers or Evening Prayer on Holy Thursday.  That gives us around ten and a half days to take up our Lenten resolutions anew, or even make new ones, so that we can receive new life in Christ.  Don’t spend these days in the grave.  Come out, be untied, and be let go.

Third Sunday of Lent [Scrutiny I]

Today’s readings

NB: This homily is based on the readings from cycle A, which was read just for the Mass of the Scrutiny.

Last year about this time, I got the flu – bad.  It was one of those rare occasions when I was so sick, I couldn’t even get out of bed.  I had a fever, chills, aches and pains, the whole deal. When it was at its worst, I was trying to drink a lot of fluids, which is pretty much the only thing you really can do when you have the flu. So I drank a lot of water, but as time went on, I got sick of drinking a lot of water. So I supplemented it with tea, of course, but I even gave myself permission to do something I don’t do very often, and that was to drink some soda – 7up mostly. And that tasted good, the 7up, but because it’s sugary, sooner rather than later I’d be thirsty again, and the only thing that really helped was – water.

I thought about that experience as I was preparing today’s homily, because this set of readings, which are being used just for this Mass because of the Scrutiny we will pray in a few minutes with our RCIA Elect, these readings are all about water. Whenever we see this much water in the Sunday readings, we should always think of a certain sacrament. Guess which one? Right, baptism. And so we’ll talk about that in just a minute, but before we go there, let’s take a minute to get at the subject of thirst. That, after all, is what gets us to water in the first place.

The Israelites were sure thirsty in today’s first reading. After all, they had been wandering around the desert for a while now, and would continue to do so for forty years. At that point, they were thinking about how nice it would have been if they had just remained slaves in Egypt, so that they wouldn’t have to come all the way out here to the desert just to die of thirst. Better slaves than dead, they thought. The issue was that they didn’t have what they thirsted for, and had not yet learned to trust God to quench that thirst. So Moses takes all the complaining of the people and complains to God, who provides water for them in the desert. Think about that – they had water in the desert! And they had that water for as long as they continued to make that desert journey. They never ran out, they didn’t die of thirst, God proves himself trustworthy in a miraculous way. The end of the reading says they named the place Massah and Meribah because they wondered, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?” Can you imagine that?  God had led them out of slavery in Egypt with great miracles and signs, and is guiding them through the desert with a column of cloud by day and a column of fire by night.  Is the LORD in their midst or not?  Obviously, the answer was “yes.”

Which brings us to the rather curious story we have in the Gospel reading. If we think the story was all about a woman coming to get a bucket of water, then we’ve really missed the boat. This story asks us what we’re thirsting for, but at a much deeper level. Did Jesus really need a drink of water? Well, maybe, but he clearly thirsted much more for the Samaritan woman’s faith. Did she leave her bucket behind because she would never need to drink water again? No, she probably just forgot it in the excitement, but clearly she had found the source of living water and wanted to share it with everyone.

In the midst of their interaction, Jesus uncovers that the woman has been thirsting for something her whole life long. She was married so many times, and the one she was with now was not her husband. She apparently couldn’t find what she was thirsting for in her relationships.  She was worshipping, as the Samaritans did, on the mountain and not in Jerusalem as the Jews did. And every single day, she came to this well to draw water, because her life didn’t mean much more than that. She was constantly looking for water that would quench her, and yet she was thirsty all the time. Kind of reminds me of having the flu.

And all of this would be very sad if she hadn’t just found the answer to her prayers, the source of living water. There is a hymn written by Horatio Bonar in 1846 called “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” that speaks to this wonderful Gospel story.  We’re going to hear it in a few minutes as part of our scrutiny, but I want to focus on the words of that hymn because they relate to today’s Gospel story:

I heard the voice of Jesus say,

“Behold, I freely give

the living water; thirsty one,

stoop down and drink, and live.”

I came to Jesus, and I drank

of that life-giving stream;

my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,

and now I live in him.

And that’s exactly what happened to the Samaritan woman. She drank of the stream of Jesus’ life-giving water, and she now lived in him. She couldn’t even contain herself and ran right off to town, leaving the bucket of her past life behind, and told everyone about Jesus. They were moved to check this Jesus out, initially because of her testimony. But once they came to know him as the source of life-giving water, they didn’t even need her testimony to convince them; they too lived in him now.

Today’s Scriptures plead with us on the subject of conversion.  The Israelites were wandering through the desert learning to trust God, being converted from the Egypt of their past sinful lives to the Promised Land of God’s inheritance.  The Samaritan woman was being converted from the stagnant water of her own past life to the living, life-giving water of new life in Christ.

Remember that I said earlier that, whenever you see this much about water in the readings, the point is always baptism.  Conversion is necessary before baptism can happen.  And that’s what brings us here today. Lent, if we give ourselves to it, is totally about our baptism and our need for life-long conversion. For those among the Elect, that’s quite literally true. Our elect have been walking the desert journey to come to God’s promise just as the Israelites did. And they, like the Samaritan woman, have come to know the source of life-giving water. Just four weeks from yesterday, they will stand before us, have water poured over their heads, and receive what they have been thirsting for all this time.

But the rest of us, too, find conversion and baptism in our Lenten journey. Lent, as is often pointed out, means “springtime” and during Lent we await a new springtime in our faith. We await new growth, we look for renewed faith, we recommit ourselves to the baptism that is our source of life-giving water. We have what we are thirsting for, and Lent is a time to drink of it more deeply, so that we will be refreshed and renewed to live with vigor the life of faith and the call of the Gospel. These Lenten days take us to Easter and beyond with water that we can pour out in every time and place where God takes us. The life we receive in baptism can revive a world grown listless and jaded and make it alive with springs of refreshment that can only come from the one who gives us water beyond our thirsting, that follows us in our desert journeys, that springs up within those who believe.

The Israelites wondered, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?” As we see the waters of baptism refreshing our Elect, and as we ourselves are renewed in our own baptism, we can only answer that question with a resounding “YES!”  So – is the LORD in our midst or not?

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