The Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I often wonder how people get through the hard times of their lives if they don’t have faith.  We can all probably think of a time in our lives when we were sorely tested, when our lives were turned upside-down, and, looking back, we can’t figure out how we lived through it except for the grace of our faith.  During the course of my priesthood, I have been present to a lot of people who were going through times like that: whether it be illness or death of a loved one, relationship struggles, job issues, or financial struggles, or a host of other maladies.  Some of them had faith, and some who didn’t.  It was always inspirational to see how people with faith lived through their hard times, and very sad to see how many who didn’t have faith just broken when their lives stopped going well.

That’s the experience that today’s Liturgy of the Word puts before us, I think.  Let’s look at the context.  In last week’s Gospel, Jesus has cured two people miraculously.  He actually raised Jairus’s twelve-year-old daughter from the dead, and he cured the hemorrhagic woman, who had been suffering for twelve years.  So both stories had occurrences of the number twelve, reminiscent of the twelve tribes of Abraham, and later the Twelve Apostles, both of which signify the outreach of God’s presence into the whole world.  So those two miraculous healings last week reminded us that Jesus was healing the whole world.

But this week, we see the exception.  This week, Jesus is in his hometown, where he is unable to do much in the way of miracles except for a few minor healings.  Why?  Because the people lacked faith.  And this is in stark contrast to last week’s healings where Jairus handed his daughter over to Jesus in faith, and the hemorrhagic woman had faith that just grasping on to the garments of Jesus would give her healing.  Faith can be very healing, and a lack of it can be stifling, leading eventually to the destruction of life.

We see that clearly in the first two readings.  First Ezekiel is told that the people he would be ministering to would not change, because they were obstinate.  But at least they’d know a prophet had been among them.  Contrast that with Saint Paul’s unyielding faith in the second reading to the Corinthian Church.  Even though he begged the Lord three times to relieve him of whatever it was that was his thorn in the flesh, he would not stop believing in God’s goodness.  Much has been said about what Saint Paul could possibly mean by this “thorn.”  Was it an illness or infirmity?  Was it a pattern of sin or at least a temptation that would not leave him alone?  We don’t know for sure, but this “thorn” makes Saint Paul’s story all the more compelling for us who have to deal with our own “thorns” in our own lives.  Saint Paul’s faith led him to be content with whatever weakness or hardship befell him, and he came to know that in his weakness, God could do more and thus make him stronger than he could be on his own. That assurance gives us hope of the same grace in our own struggles.

We people of faith will be tested sometimes; that’s when the rubber hits the road for our faith.  Knowing of God’s providence, we can be sure that he will lead us to whatever is best.  And our faith can help us to make sense of the struggles and know God’s presence in the dark places of our lives.  People of faith are tested by the storms and tempests of the world, but are never abandoned by our God.  Never abandoned.

The First Sunday of Lent: Remembering Who We Are

Today’s readings

The devil wants more than anything for us to forget who we are.  He really didn’t care if Jesus ruined his fast by turning some stones into bread, or if he killed himself trying to test God, and he certainly had no intention of making him king of the world.  What he wanted, what he really wanted, was for Jesus to forget who he was and give himself over to him.  And we see in the first reading that that’s how it all started.  The serpent didn’t care what tree Eve ate from, he just wanted her, and Adam, to forget who they were, to forget that they were beloved children of God and that God would take care of them.

So if I could suggest a theme for us for Lent, it might be “Remembering Who We Are.”  That’s why we have the Cross up here, front and center.  I want us to see that in the Cross, God gave us the very best he had, and that when we take up our own cross, God sustains us and makes us more than we could be on our own.  Just as Jesus remembered that he was God’s Son and that he came here for a reason, and that reason was to save us from our sins, so we have to remember that we are sons and daughters of God, and we are here for a reason.  The devil will try all sorts of tricks to get us to forget that.  He will throw at us job difficulties, serious illnesses, the death of loved ones, family strife, and the list goes on and on.  He will tempt us with the latest gadgets, the job promotion, the opportunity to get rich quick, and that list goes on and on too.  He wants us to forget who we are.

Because if we forget who we are, the devil’s job is an easy one.  If we forget that God made us and redeemed us out of love for us, then he’s got his foot in the door.  Once that happens, hell looks like something glamorous, enticing and exciting.  It feels like living on our own terms, looking out for number one, and doing what feels right to me.  And that’s awesome, except of course, that it’s hell.  And the glamour fades and the excitement turns to rancor, and we’ve wasted our lives chasing after stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

The antidote to this hell of our own making, is letting go – giving what might even seem to be necessary to us, and trusting that God will give us what we need.  That can be the treasure of Lent for us.  In fasting, we can let go of the idea that we alone can provide what is necessary for our survival.  God can feed our hungers much better than we can.  In almsgiving, we can let go of the idea that everything is ours if we would just worship the one who cannot give us what we truly need.  God gives us what’s really necessary in life, and also life eternal.  And in prayer, we can let go of the fading pleasures of this world and of Satan and take on the enduring luster of a life lived as a son or daughter of God.

And so I would like to suggest a program of retreat for these forty days of Lent.  It’s nothing new; I didn’t create it.  It’s what the Church gives us every Lent, and I feel like if we want to remember who we are, we should take it on in its entirety.  So this retreat consists of the three things I just mentioned: fasting, almsgiving and prayer.  And our parish gives you so many resources for choosing something to do for each of them.  You may have seen our Lenten tear-out sheet in last week’s bulletin.  If you missed it, we will be mailing it to each house in the parish in the coming days.  Take a look at it, post it on your fridge, and plan to make this Lent a good one.

For fasting, we have our day of Fasting and Reflection on April 1.  It’s a day that you do independently with some input from us.  Fast that day from 6am to 6pm, attend 8am Mass and pick up the reflection guide, attend Adoration from Noon to 1pm, then end the day with Mass and making lunches for PADS at 6pm.  It’s a day of making sense of fasting, and letting God give us what we need while we hunger for him.

For almsgiving, I’d like to encourage us to help with the 40 Cans for Lent.  Our parish food pantry is in need of restocking right now, and so your donations of a box or can of food each day of Lent help so much.  You can also help our Knights of Columbus in this effort by distributing food bags on March 4th and collecting them on the 11th.  And that’s just one example of almsgiving that will really make a difference.

And for prayer, our parish is doing the “Living the Eucharist” series this Lent.  This is an opportunity for us all to come to a greater understanding and love of the Eucharist that we share each week here at Mass.  So you can pick up a copy of the individual reflection booklet at the information desk today.  I’ve been using them for prayer the last few days and they are really good.  We also sent a family activity book home with each school and religious education family, so if you have one, please take some time as a family to work through it.  We also have a weekly reflection each Sunday of Lent in the bulletin.  And finally, it’s not too late to sign up for one of our “Living the Eucharist” small discussion groups; you can do that at the information desk today.

Fasting, almsgiving and prayer remind us that we are beloved sons and daughters of God who are always taken care of by God, if we let Him; that when we give of ourselves, we all become more; and that as we become more our prayer leads us into the life of God himself.  May we have a blessed, and joyful Lenten retreat, all of us, sons and daughters of God.

Monday of the Twenty-sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Satan uses all sorts of things to trip us up, and he can be seen front and center in today’s readings. In the first reading, he has this curious dialogue with God about Job, who will suffer much in the readings to come this week. Satan points out that it is no big deal that Job has remained faithful, as much as God has blessed him so far in life. He wagers when that’s all taken away, things would change in a hurry. But Job’s faithfulness is deeply-rooted, and Satan was wrong, it wasn’t just because of his blessings. Job remains faithful and does nothing disrespectful of God.

In the Gospel reading today, Satan uses envy to stir up trouble. First it’s envy of one another when the disciples waste their time trying to figure out which of them was the greatest, kind of like some kids trying to figure out which one was dad’s favorite. Even when Jesus puts that to rest, they then get envious of some people not of their group casting out demons in Jesus’ name.

What’s important is that we need to discern when Satan is working on us. We don’t want to be used as his plaything. We need to be serious about our faithfulness and say with Job, “blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Monday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I think today’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a good one for us to hear.  How often are we beset by all the frustrations of the world, and all of the sadness that our own lives can sometimes bring?  I’m not saying that every day is horrible, but we all go through times when it seems like it’s too much, like one more phone call and we’ll explode.

And to all of that today, St. Paul advises us to “put on the armor of God.”  Because when things go wrong, we have two choices.  We can go to pieces, wondering where is God when we really need him, getting angry with God, ourselves, and others, and lashing out at anyone and everyone in our lives.  Or, we can realize that what God allows he doesn’t necessarily wish on us.  We can join ourselves to him, and draw our strength and courage from the Lord himself, knowing that he walks with us in good times and in bad.

Because we know which one the devil himself would choose for us, right?  That evil one wants to use the trying times to drive a wedge between God and us.  And we need strength to guard against that “evil day.”  And so, St. Paul tells us, “In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the Evil One.”  And that shield, he says, is prayer: “With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.”  Prayer and faith are the armor we need to get through the trying times of life without falling victim to the evil one.

Sometimes life can feel like a war, but as the Psalmist says today, “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.”  Our stronghold is that whatever life brings us, we are never alone.  Never.