Wednesday, March 4, 2015

God So Loved the World

It is one of the most well-known and popular verses in all of the New Testament. Fans hold up signs with this verse on posters during sporting events. Athletes write it on their uniforms.

It is from the gospel of John chapter 3 verse 16:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever
should believe in Him may have eternal life.

Because this verse is so well known, its power and meaning can sometimes be lost on us. So let us listen to it again - God loved you and me so much that He gave His Son to save us. God saw how lost we were and what danger we were in because of our sin. He loved us so much that He refused to leave us in such a state. To rescue us, He sent not only prophets and other people of faith, but He sent His Son. And He sent Him not only to teach us, but ultimately to suffer a cruel death for us. He loved us so much that He did not spare His only Son to save us. It is an awesome thought that the God who created the universe with all its wonders would care so much about you and me who have so often gone astray and betrayed Him. Yet God shows how great His love for us is through Christ Jesus our Lord.

It is important for us to understand exactly what we mean when we say that Jesus is the Son of God. He is not simply a good man who obeyed God and helped others. He is not merely a powerful prophet and wonder-worker. When we call Jesus, “Son of God”, we are saying that He is God. That is what we mean when in the creed we say that Jesus is “consubstantial” with the Father. We are saying that He shares the same nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Like them, He existed from all eternity. Along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, He created the world. Whatever we can say about God, we can also say about Jesus.

That is why God the Father proclaims in today’s gospel account of the Transfiguration, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to Him.” When Jesus speaks, it is God Himself speaking. When Jesus heals, it is God Himself healing. And to bring it up to our day, when we receive the Body of Christ in Communion, we are receiving God Himself.

Therefore, when God gives us His only Son to save us, He is giving Himself. He is giving all that He has to give. He has nothing else left to give us.

In today’s second reading, Saint Paul explains the implications of this beautiful truth for our lives. If God’s love for us is so great, what else will He not do for us? If He would give His Son for us, then can we not trust Him to provide for all our other needs as well? What can be lacking to us when God has already given Himself to us? What do we have to fear when God has already saved us?

Brothers and sisters, it is important for us to reflect on this great truth every day of our lives but especially as we begin this Lenten season. If the love of God can really sink into our hearts, minds and souls then everything else will fall into place. We will live with profound joy knowing that we are surrounded by the presence of God. We will live with abiding confidence knowing that God will see us through whatever may befall us. We will also show loving concern to those we meet as we realize that God also has loved them. Just as Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, so we will be transformed as our knowledge of God’s love penetrates us. Our whole lives will exude and radiate peace. How many lives could we touch and change if we entrusted ourselves totally to His love?

It is important to keep this in mind as we practice our Lenten sacrifices. We do not perform them to punish ourselves or to prove how strong-willed we are. Rather, they are a response to how much God has sacrificed for us. If He could give His only Son up for us, what should we be able to give up to show our love for Him? Like Abraham, we show our devotion to God by being willing to give up everything and anything to serve Him. And by practicing small acts of penance and charity, we will be ready to answer His call and willing to obey.

We gather here once again to celebrate all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We come to listen to Him as our Heavenly Father commanded. We come to receive the Body He gave for us on the cross and the Blood He spilled as an offering for our sins. In His love we discover the real meaning of our existence and find the power to live as He commands. We now must go from here to bring that love into a world that is torn by hate and violence. So many in our world do not know that there is a better way. The only way they can ever learn is if we really live the message of love we have received and carry it from this place into our neighborhoods and marketplaces. Then we will see a real transformation brought about by love.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

God Did Not Spare His Only Son

Losing a child is about the worst thing that could ever happen to anyone. It is every parent's worst nightmare. Parents who experience such a tragedy tell us that for many years afterward they continue to struggle with grief, anger and guilt over losing their child. Even when they are able to accept the loss and find some measure of peace, the thought of their child is always on their mind. And tears are never far away.

All of us experience death and loss in our own lives. We will never know why some people suffer more tragedies than others. What we do know is that we have a choice as to how we will react. We can either turn inward and grow bitter. Or we can reach out to help others and find some measure of serenity in our grief.

Today's first reading presents us with a man who is faced with the imminent death of his son. What was going through Abraham's mind when God told him that he was to sacrifice his only son Isaac on Mount Moriah? Was he angry that God would ask so much of him? Did he wonder what good killing the boy could possibly do? If these thoughts were going through his mind, the Scripture does not tell us. Just as shocking as God's request is Abraham's determination to obey God's command. And God rewards Abraham's heroic faith and obedience by sparing his son and declaring that he will be the father of many nations.

We might think that God is cruel for requiring so much of Abraham. But have any of us ever thought that, while God spared Isaac by having Abraham substitute a ram in his place, he did not spare his own Son, Jesus, but gave him up to death for us? What we most fear - the death of a child - is exactly the price God was willing to pay to save us from our sins and to hold out for us the gift of everlasting life. God loved us so much, that he was willing to do the unthinkable to ransom us from the power of death.

It is very tempting for us to think that Jesus' death was not traumatic for God the Father because he knew that Jesus would rise from the dead within a few days. And since God the Father and God the Son are one, they can never be separated, even by death. But the Bible tells us that God has compassion on all his creatures and that he has a special love for the poor and the suffering. If God the Father can be moved by our suffering, how much more was he troubled by the suffering of his Beloved Son? It was no easier for God to experience the death of Jesus than it was for Abraham to think about sacrificing Isaac or for any parent to lose a child. And yet he allowed it to happen out of love for us.

If it is hard for us to relate to what God the Father would have felt at Jesus' crucifixion, we can certainly relate to Jesus' own suffering. Just before he was handed over to the Roman authorities, the Bible tells us that the agony he felt was so intense that he sweat blood. Jesus felt real pain and suffered real torment throughout his crucifixion. The knowledge that he would soon rise from the dead did not make the agony any easier. Jesus' death was no easier than the death of any other person who ever lived. And yet he accepted such a cruel death out of love for us.

In today's second reading, Saint Paul reminds us of the sacrifice that God the Father made for us. And he assures us that if God would go so far as to offer up his Son for us, he will provide us with whatever else we need to grow in faith and holiness. God has shown us how absolutely committed he is to us. God has shown us how deeply he loves us. We need only place our lives in his hands with total trust, like Abraham, that whatever happens, no matter how traumatic or how awful it may seem, God will never leave our side through it all. And, more importantly, God will make some good come from it.  

Every second Sunday of Lent, the Church offers for our reflection the story of Jesus' transfiguration. In the presence of his three closest disciples, Jesus' glory as the Son of God shines through his human nature, and God the Father's voice is heard booming from the heavens: "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!" We reflect on this story at this point every year during our Lenten journey so that we can be reminded that, when we embrace sacrifice and suffering, the power of God can shine through us. Saint Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans that the sufferings of the present are as nothing compared to the glory which will be ours in Christ. When we accept our suffering with love and trust, we become more like Jesus.  For this reason, we can even rejoice in the trials we face, because faith teaches us that our difficulties are transforming us more and more into the image and likeness of Christ.

At this altar, we will recreate Jesus' sacrifice by offering bread and wine. Can we offer ourselves along with Jesus? Can we join our suffering to that of Jesus on the cross? Can we trust God enough to give him everything we have and are in perfect and absolute trust? If we can, then we will see our lives changed along with the bread and the wine, and we will bring God's love to others in ways we could never have imagined otherwise.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Waters of Baptism

The story of Noah and the flood is one of the best known and fascinating narratives in the Old Testament. Not only is it a gripping saga about a family trying to survive a devastating natural disaster in an ark filled with animals, it is also a tale about the destructive power of sin and God’s desire to save us.

The book of Genesis tells us that, when God saw the wickedness on the earth, “[He] was sorry that he had made humankind....” (Gen 6:6). These words sound harsh to us today; however, God does not utter them out of anger and contempt. Rather, He says them out of profound grief. The people whom He breathed His own life into and created to be “very good” had turned out to be wicked. God is saddened by the sinfulness of His people.

This story gives us some insight into how sin offends God. Our Heavenly Father is all good and He created us to be good also. However, when we sin, we reject the goodness God placed within us and choose something less. To use a very mundane example, imagine putting our time and effort into cooking a meal and it ends up getting burned. It would be natural that for us to feel disappointed that it did not turn out to be as delicious as we imagined. In much the same way, we disappoint God when we are not the good and holy people He created us to be.

Because sin offends God who is “all good and deserving of all our love”, it warrants punishment. In civil society, when laws are broken,  a fine or jail sentence is handed out to restore justice. Just so, when God’s commandments are broken, a punishment must be inflicted to bring the evil doing to an end so that no one else may be harmed. In the story from Genesis, that punishment comes in the form of a devastating flood.

However, the story does not end with sin and punishment. For all the terror and destruction the flood inflicted on earth, the point of the story is that God wants to save us, not punish us. For that reason, He commanded Noah to build the ark to protect his family and to give His creation a fresh start. When the waters recede, He makes a covenant - that is, a sacred promise - that He will never destroy His creation again. God makes that promise on His own initiative because He wants a relationship with the people He created. In the end, God is willing to put aside His right to punish us so that He can loves us and  be loved by us in return.

The ultimate sign of God’s desire to save us comes in the person of Jesus Christ. He took upon Himself the sins of the world and endured the punishment we deserve by dying on the cross. Any good works or any penance we might perform over a lifetime could never begin to make up for the offense against God that only one of our sins causes. However, because Jesus never sinned, His offering on the cross is pure. Also, because as God, Jesus is infinite, the blood He shed on the cross can be extended to all people who ever lived and ever will live. It can never be used up. There will never be a point where the wickedness of humanity will exhaust all the forgiveness that flows from the cross of Jesus Christ.
The forgiveness of sin, therefore, comes through Jesus Christ. He has paid the price of salvation for us, a price that we could never have paid on our own. Because of the cross, sin has no more power over us. It has no claim on us. And, just as new life and a new creation followed the flood, so new life and a new creation flow from the cross of Jesus Christ. Because He rose from the dead, Jesus not only conquers sin but the ultimate punishment, death. Not only are we offered the forgiveness of our sins through the cross but everlasting life with God in heaven.

How are the graces and merits of Jesus’ death on the cross applied to us? How do we get credit for what Jesus has done? Through baptism. Saint Peter makes this clear in today’s second reading. Just as God saved Noah and his family from the waters of the flood, so we are saved through the waters of baptism. At our baptism, the death and resurrection of Jesus was applied to us. Our sins were forgiven and we were given faith through the Holy Spirit which makes us children of God and empowers us to live good and holy lives. The new creation and new life of the cross and resurrection of Jesus flow to us through the waters of baptism.

However, baptism is not magic. We have to live out the victory of Jesus over sin and death in our everyday choices. We have to reflect in our character and in our actions the goodness and holiness which is fitting of a child of God. Like Jesus, we have to struggle against temptation. In the face of injustice, we have to right wrongs and protect the vulnerable. We have to serve others with the power that God gives us. Ultimately, baptism is not a one-time event but a lifestyle in which we place ourselves in God’s hands and commit to doing His will.

We no longer have to fear punishment. We do not have to be defeated by sin. We do not have to despair because of the shortness of our lives on earth. Sin and death have been defeated on the cross. Everlasting life is offered to us through the resurrection of Jesus. This everlasting life which is ours through baptism is not something we will reach only at the end of our lives. It is a power which is at our disposal even now to defeat temptation, to fight injustice and to do good. It is simply a matter of drawing on it when we need it. Then we will be truly living out our baptism and experiencing the victory of Jesus every day.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Father Who Keeps His Promises

The popular Catholic writer, Scott Hahn, begins his book, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, with a story from the 1983 earthquake in Armenia which killed 30,000 people. A father had just dropped his son off at school when the devastating earthquake hit. He ran through the streets yelling out his son’s name. When he arrived at the school it had been reduced to a pile of rubble. He called his son’s name out again and again, “Armand! Armand!” but he could not find him. Some of the bystanders put their arms around him and told him that it was no use. There was no hope of finding any of the children alive.

However, the father remembered the promise he made to his son that if anything should happen to him, he would be there to save him. So the father went over to the pile of rubble that had been his son’s school and started to dig. He cleared away bricks, chunks of asphalt and broken glass. At first, some of the bystanders tried to help him. But as the hours went on, they abandoned him telling him that it was no use. But the father, driven by the promise he made to his son, would not let up. Ten, twenty hours passed and he was still at it clearing away as much debris as he could and yelling out his son’s name.

He continued his efforts well into the next day even though the police came by to tell him there was no hope. Finally, after over thirty hours of digging, he called out his son’s name and heard a faint voice calling out from under the rubble,  “Papa, Papa!” Digging with even more fervor and calling out his son’s name, he was able to reach the place where he and several of his classmates were,  rescuing all of them. Everyone was amazed and overjoyed. Young Armand turned to his classmates and told them, “See. I told you my father would keep his promise.”

This moving story cannot help but make us think about our Heavenly Father. No matter what, He keeps His promises. There is nowhere we can go that He cannot find us. There is no trouble we can get ourselves into that He cannot lift us out of. If an earthly father can take such care to keep his children safe and rescue them when they are in danger, what lengths will our Heavenly Father who is love itself not go to rescue, save and comfort us?

Today’s first reading from the book of Genesis gives us a beautiful example of one of God’s promises. After rescuing Noah and his family from the flood, God seals a covenant with them promising never to devastate the earth again. As a sign of His promise, He paints a beautiful rainbow across the sky. God makes a promise that He will not punish His people but save them. He will treat His people tenderly rather than harshly. He will show compassion rather than judgment.

Throughout the Old Testament, our Heavenly Father made many other promises as well. The greatest of these promises is that He would send a Messiah, a Saviour, to free His people from their sins and deliver them from death. For many centuries the people of the Old Testament held firm to that promise. They knew that God was faithful and that He would keep His promise no matter how long it took.

When Jesus appears on the scene in Galilee preaching the good news, His first words are, “This is the time of fulfillment.” With Jesus, all of God’s promises are fulfilled. Through His death, we are delivered from our sins. Through His resurrection, we are delivered from death. Through the gift of His Spirit, we live with our hearts set on the things of heaven. And when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, we will receive the inheritance of eternal life He has kept for us in heaven from the beginning of time. God is a Father who keeps His promises. And all of His promises are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

As we begin our Lenten journey, it is important for us to keep our hearts and minds focused on this great love our Heavenly Father has for us. Though this is a time for us to mourn our sins and to strengthen our resolve for doing good through penance, we must never lose sight of why we want to rid ourselves of sin. Sin displeases God. It offends the One who has shown us so much love. If He did not love us, our evil-doing would not hurt Him as much as it does. As we meditate on His fatherly care for us, it makes us even more determined not to hurt or offend Him again. We may be able to change our behaviour through fear or guilt, but love is the most powerful motivator. It is love that should be motivating and driving whatever penances or acts of self-denial we undertake throughout these forty days.

All  the promises God made to the people of Israel He now extends to us through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son. They are given to us through our baptism, as Saint Peter reminds us in today’s second reading. Through that great sacrament, our sins are forgiven and God’s Holy Spirit takes up His home within us. It gives us the right to be called sons and daughters of God and to inherit all the promises He makes to those who love Him. We should call to mind our baptism every day and lay claim to God’s promise that He will be there to save us whenever we call. He is a Father who keeps His promises. No matter what happens, we can be sure of that.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Help On Our Way Through The Desert

The Bible is rich with imagery and symbolism. Today's readings offer us the symbol of the rainbow - the sign God placed in the sky of his promise to never destroy the world he created. We also read about the desert which the Bible uses as a symbol of the place where we encounter God.

In the Bible, not only do things have symbolic value, but numbers do as well. For instance, the number seven is a symbol of the covenant. And when Jesus chooses twelve apostles, it is symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel.

One number that has great symbolic value in Scripture is the number forty. For the ancient Hebrews, the number forty represented change and transition. When the Jews left their bondage in Egypt to enter the Promised Land, it took forty years, symbolic of Israel's transition from an enslaved people to a kingly people. Today's first reading recalls for us the great flood when it rained for forty days and forty nights. This is symbolic of God's desire to transform the world from a place of wickedness to a place of justice. And, in the gospel, Jesus is compelled by the Spirit to spend forty days in the desert doing battle with Satan. Jesus' forty day retreat was symbolic of his transition from a hidden life in Nazareth to a public ministry of announcing God's Kingdom which will eventually lead to his death and resurrection.

This past Wednesday, we began the forty days of preparation called "Lent". They are forty days of change for us. Like the Jews who traveled forty years in the desert, we are to spend these forty days transitioning from slavery to sin into the freedom of the Spirit. Like Jesus who spent forty days in the desert, we are to do battle with the devil by facing our weaknesses, our temptations and our sins. These forty days are meant to change us.

To help us maximize these days of preparation for our great celebration of Jesus' death and resurrection, the Church gives us three practices - three tools - so that we may overcome our weaknesses and temptations. They are prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Prayer is simply communicating with God. Whether we pray the rosary, read the Bible or spend time quietly before the Blessed Sacrament, prayer is about tuning our minds and hearts to God's voice so that we will be ready to respond to him when he calls. To pray, all we need is time, a quiet place and a willing spirit. God will provide the rest. If these forty days are going to be a time of growth for us, we all need to make extra time for prayer. And that will require sacrifice whether it means skipping our favorite TV program, waking up earlier in the morning or taking time out of our lunch break. But we can be sure that if we make the time, God will bless us with much insight and consolation.

Fasting is the practice of going without food as a sacrifice. There are two days in the year when all healthy Catholics are asked to fast - on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting is a powerful tool in our struggle against sin and temptation because it trains us to say "no" to our desires and impulses. It also helps us to grow in sympathy and compassion for the poor who go without food every day. Fasting also helps us in our prayer because it slows our bodies down making us better able to concentrate. And so fasting must be an important element of our Lenten journey.

Finally, almsgiving means giving money to the poor. Jesus teaches us that our religious practices are meaningless unless they help us to grow in love and compassion for our neighbor. Giving to the poor is one of the highest forms of sacrifice because what we give up actually benefits another person. It is also an act of faith by which we recognize that everything we have comes from God and belongs to God. It is a very good practice during Lent to take whatever money we may save from our sacrifices, whether it is ordering water instead of beer with dinner or not going out to eat on a particular day, and donating that money to a charity. By thinking more about others and their needs, our heart becomes more like Jesus', and we grow in love and faith.

These forty days are a time of transition and change in preparation for the celebration of Jesus' death and resurrection during Holy Week. They are a time for us to go into the desert with Jesus to face our temptations and sins. The desert is a symbol of the place where we encounter God. But it is also the place where people can get lost and die! By using the tools of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we can be sure that the Holy Spirit will help us to grow beyond our slavery to sin and make real in our hearts the freedom we are called to by our baptism.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

Paul was about to lose everything.

When the economy was good, he made a lot of money as a building contractor. But he overextended himself buying cars, eating out at expensive restaurants and taking lavish vacations. Now that his work had slowed down, he was left with a huge mortgage and credit card debt that he knew he could never pay off. His personal finances created so much tension in his home that his wife eventually left him. Finally, the bank foreclosed on his home and he had no where to go until a friend offered to let him live in his basement.

A client whom Paul had done work for in the past heard about his dire situation and decided he would try to help him. He had a piece of land sitting vacant and decided to hire Paul to build a house on it. He immediately agreed and was excited to finally have some work. At the same time, Paul was not sure when he would work again so he wanted to make as much money at this job as he could. He cut corners on the construction to save money and pocket the difference. Though his client provided good quality materials such as granite counter tops and hardwood flooring, he would sell them to other contractors and buy cheaper quality products instead. At the end, it was not the house he agreed to build but a much inferior product. He figured he would probably never see this client again so he was happy just to make whatever money he could out of the project.

When the construction was complete, Paul went to the client’s house to deliver the keys to him. However, the client surprised him when he said, “No. You keep them. I am giving the house to you.” Paul was shocked. “What do you mean?” he asked. The client answered, “Well I knew you were struggling and I had this piece of land which I wasn’t using, so I figured I would help you out by not only giving you some work but providing a home for you to live in. It is yours.” Stunned by his client’s generosity, Paul was left speechless. At the same time, he realized that if  he knew he was going to end up owning the house, he would have done a much better job building it.

Today, we begin the great season of Lent. Forty days to reflect on our lives as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is a time for us to think about what kind of house we are building for ourselves. What are we doing with the materials God has sent us? Are we using them as he intended or are we trading them in for cheap substitutes? Are we putting our best effort into building a life that is pleasing to God or are we just trying to get by with as little work as possible? At this point in our journey, are our lives something that we can be proud of or have we really made a mess of things? These days give us time to look over what we have done, to repair what is broken and to resolve to do a better job going forward.

The key to building a strong home is first laying down a firm foundation. The foundation of our lives is Jesus. He created us and sustains us with His grace. He provides everything we need to build holy and good lives. If our lives are not what we want them to be, if we are not happy with the direction in which our lives are headed, the first thing to do is turn to Him. He will provide the answer. Once we fix our relationship with Him through confessing our sins, doing penance and resolving not to sin again, the other broken things in our lives will start to be repaired. These forty days of Lent, above all else, are a time for us to get back to what is most basic, our relationship with our Lord.

When our homes need repair sometimes it is very tempting just to make cosmetic changes and not fix the real problem. For example, if we have a hole in the wall, we may want to just hang a picture up to cover it rather than do the work of plastering the wall and repainting it. The same is true of our spiritual lives. We may show up at Mass, not eat meat on Fridays and sacrifice something small throughout these weeks of Lent out of a sense of obligation rather than out of a desire to make our lives pleasing to Jesus. We think we may be “covering our bases” but in the end we are really cheating ourselves. We are missing out on the opportunity to make a real change in our lives. Jesus explicitly tells us in today’s gospel that He is looking for more than outward expressions of faith. Rather He is looking for real, heartfelt conversion. He does not just want a change in our behavior, but a change in our heart. That can only happen if we come to Mass and make sacrifices not out of a sense of duty but out of a sense of love. It can only happen when we allow Jesus to touch our hearts and change us.

That is what Jesus expects from us during this Lenten season. And it is possible because He has already provided us with all the materials we need to build lives that are pleasing to Him. Have we settled for cheaper substitutes? Have we failed to give Him our best effort in return for all He has done for us? As Saint Paul tells us, now is the time to change that with God’s help.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Saint Damien of Molokai

He was the Mother Theresa of his day. Just as Mother Theresa brought the plight of the poor in Calcutta to the world’s attention, so this saint showed the world the suffering of those living with leprosy on the island of Molokai.

His name was Saint Damien of Molokai.

Born in Belgium in 1840, he joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts with his brother. Though his brother was originally supposed to go to Hawaii, he became sick and Damien would have to go in his place.

Upon arriving in Molokai and witnessing the inhumane conditions the lepers were forced to live under, his heart went out to them. In fact, the conditions were so difficult that missionaries were only sent to live there three months at a time and then were sent back home to rest. However, Damien asked to stay past the usual three months, so much did he desire to bring comfort to them. Through his efforts, he was able to build permanent housing and bring medical care to the colony.

After working so closely with the lepers of Molokai, he eventually contracted the disease himself. Rather than make him bitter and resentful, it drove him to give even more of himself in service to those most desperate of people. As he wrote in a letter to his brother, “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Christ.”  The disease finally took his life in 1889, but his efforts inspired a generation of Christians to seek out and share their lives with those who suffer from disease and poverty.

Jesus touched many people during his brief life. None were more desperate than lepers. They were true outcasts. As they journeyed about they were forced to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn people that they were nearby. Imagine what it would be like to have people run away from you whenever they saw you. What a lonely, painful life it must have been!

Not only were they ostracized because of the ugly sores the disease produced on their skin, they were also considered the worst of sinners. It was believed that it must have been because of some terrible sin they committed that they would be punished with such a painful illness. So not only did lepers feel rejected by the community, they also felt abandoned by God.

So imagine what it would have been like to have Jesus not run away from them, but actually reach out and touch them. Imagine being looked at with love for the first time in years. Imagine hearing Jesus say to you, “I do will it. Be healed.” Imagine the hope of being finally reunited with your family, finally able to embrace your wife and children, finally being told that you are welcome back home. It must have been an exhilarating experience to finally have hope again, to finally have a life worth living.

Thankfully, diseases like leprosy are not as widespread and as untreatable as they were in the past. And thankfully we understand how illness works and do not consider it a punishment from God. However, there are still many people who are physically healthy but in their spirits suffer the same torments as lepers. They feel unloved, alone in their struggles and abandoned by God. They are teenagers who need so desperately to belong but are  unable to relate to their parents or to their peers. They are the elderly who have lost so many of their loved ones and have no one to share their memories with or to visit them. They are the divorced who live with deep feelings of rejection and failure. They are each one of us who struggle with sin and our own weaknesses, who feel so often like hypocrites because we believe the words of Jesus but can find them so difficult to live out. All of us need hope. All of us need to know that we are loved despite our warts and bruises. All of us need to know that someone cares and that we are not alone.

That is what Jesus came to bring. Hope for the hopeless. There is no one outside of the circle of God’s faithful, unconditional love. There is no wound He cannot heal, no obstacle He cannot overcome and no sin that He cannot forgive. The more desperate our situation appears, the closer Jesus is to us. Jesus never rejects or abandons anyone. He died so that all of us could find forgiveness, healing and salvation. In fact, when Jesus appeared to the great mystic, Saint Faustina, He told her, “The greater the sinner, the more right he has to my mercy.” Jesus came for sinners. He came for you and me. We can go before Him with confidence for He knows what we need and He desires to heal us.

Where can we go to find this healing that Jesus offers us? Where do we experience the depth and power of His mercy? The best first step on the road to healing and recovery is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Confession is one of the great healing sacraments. There we honestly reveal our wounds to Jesus, and He reaches out to touch us and help us understand that we are loved. Jesus is really present to us in this great sacrament through the ministry of the priest. We are telling our sins directly to Jesus and we are being forgiven directly by him. Many people avoid going to confession out of fear or out of a bad experience they may have had in the past. That is understandable. But why carry that burden of shame and fear any longer when we can know real healing and forgiveness by a simple act of honestly confessing our sins? Why continue to feel alone in our grief and anguish when we can lay them at the foot of the cross and know joy again? All this is offered to us through this great sacrament of healing, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Jesus came to teach us how to live a full and joyful life. He wants us to know real, lasting peace and freedom. We can go to Him as we are, with our weakness, bruises and warts and be confident that He will love us no matter what. All He asks in return is that we show the same love and forgiveness to one another in return. Like Saint Damien did, we are to reach out to the lonely, the sick and the imprisoned to bring them the hope we have discovered in the love of God revealed in Jesus.

Who in our lives could use a little love and compassion? Let us bring those people to Jesus in prayer as we continue this liturgy and ask for the courage to show them the loving face of Christ.