Thursday, March 30, 2017

Jesus Revealed

The atheist Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say to God if indeed He did exist. He answered, “I would ask Him, ‘Sir, why did you take such pains to hide yourself?’”

In some ways, Mr Russell’s question is accurate. We do not see God directly. He is hidden from our view.

On the other hand, God has revealed Himself to us in nature. When we look at the vast universe and the harmonious order with which the planets orbit the sun, we can see that a superior intelligence is behind it. When we look at ourselves, at our ability to be conscious of ourselves and our ability to judge between good and evil, we realize that, as human beings, we are made in the image and likeness of this God.

Not only has God revealed Himself through the world He created, He has also revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Him we learn that this All-Powerful God is not distant from us. He knows us and loves us. In fact, He loved us so much that He became one of us, sharing our weakness and vulnerabilities. In Jesus, we discover a God who is not only All-Powerful but all loving. And in Him, we discover our fullest potential as human beings by loving Him in return and our neighbor as ourselves.

Both through nature and through Jesus Christ, we find enough evidence to believe that God exists, that He is good and that He loves us.

Nonetheless, there are many who still choose not to see the evidence and to not believe. There are some who will only trust what they can observe and measure. If they cannot see, hear or touch it, they will not believe it exists or believe it is worth troubling themselves with. There are some who live for their own comfort, chasing every pleasure that is available to them. They are not willing to give up these pursuits for a God they cannot see. Sadly, there are some who have experienced much suffering through the death of loved ones, disease and mental illness. They ask why a good God could allow so much pain. Finally, many do not believe because they see us who profess faith in God not living up to our calling as His sons and daughters.

We have been blessed with the vision of faith to see God active in the world and in our lives. We know Him personally through His word and experience His transforming power in the sacraments. We have welcomed Jesus into our lives and His light has illumined the darkness of our hearts. We know where we are going because Jesus lights the way before us.

It is up to us, then, to bring this light to others. As Saint Paul tells us in today’s second reading, “Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” When we love our neighbor, forgive those who wrong us, pray for others, feed the hungry and care for the needy, the light of Christ that is within us through baptism and faith shines forth. That light then opens the eyes of the people we meet. They see Christ shining within us and are able to see clearly His presence among us. They in turn welcome Him into their hearts and begin to shine with His love. Before long, even more eyes are opened, what was hidden becomes visible and lives are forever changed.

It is important for us to be able to explain to others why it is reasonable for them to believe that God exists and that He loves them. However, no argument will ever fully persuade anyone to give his or her heart to Jesus. Even those who heard Jesus’ speak and witnessed His miracles often refused to believe as is the case with the Pharisees in today’s gospel. What will really convince others is the goodness they see in us. When the fruits of the Holy Spirit are evident in our lives - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control - they will know that something is at work in us and they will want it for themselves. That is our opportunity to share with them  that the difference in us is not someTHING but someBODY - Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

Jesus warns us in the Sermon on the Mount that, before we try to take the speck out of our neighbor’s eye, we must take the plank out of our own. Therefore, it is important for us who profess faith in Jesus to make sure that the eyes of our soul are healthy and that we are seeing clearly. It is easy for us to fall into the trap of the Pharisees, thinking we know God’s will but failing to see His plan unfolding before our eyes. That is why we must keep our eyes focused on Jesus. He is the One who lights the path ahead of us. He is the One who can heal our vision so that we will continue to see clearly. We do that through daily prayer, Scripture reading, going to confession as often as necessary and participating in Mass.

Gathered in this sacred space today, we will see Jesus Himself. He will reveal Himself to us hidden in bread and wine. We will receive Him, our eyes will be open to His presence among us and the torch of faith will be ignited in our hearts. Then we will be sent from here to bring that light of faith to the dark areas of our world - to our homes, our schools, our neighborhoods, our places of work - all blinded by doubt, fear, anxiety and shame. We go there in the confidence that Jesus makes a difference and that His light has the power to illuminate and warm every human heart.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Outside a busy Walmart Superstore in Florida,  a 70 year old man suffered a heart attack inside his car. Slumped over the steering wheel, his decomposing body was not discovered until two days later. Shoppers parked their cars and rushed in and out of the store, but no one took the time to notice the man or check on him.

In California, a 53 year old woman showed up for work at her Los Angeles office. While at her computer, she tragically died and slumped over onto her desk. Stunningly, her co-workers went about their business unaware that she had died. Her body was not discovered until the next day by a security guard.

These stories may sound hard to believe, but they are true. And, sadly, such incidents are not uncommon. Every week we hear about elderly persons who die alone in their apartments and are not discovered until weeks later. We read about people in distress calling out for help who are ignored by passers-by.  It happens more frequently than any of us would like to believe.

Why do such things happen? Because, as a society, we have become blind to our neighbors. Our busy lives and hectic schedules keep us from noticing those around us. We are no longer able to sympathize with those who suffer. We no longer see the dignity of the unborn child, the poor or the sick. We are so focused on ourselves that the cry of the oppressed fails to move us. As a result, our world is stumbling through the darkness of loneliness, fear and anxiety.

How different our God is! Though the world is populated with billions of people, he sees each one. He knows all our needs. He feels what we feel. He cries and laughs with us. No one is so small as to go unnoticed by our All-Seeing God. He can look straight into our hearts and read our thoughts. He knows and loves each of us as we are. As He says to the prophet Samuel in the first reading: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.”

This God also has the power to open our eyes so that we can see the world as He sees it. He can enlighten our hearts so that we can begin to sympathize with and care for our needy brothers and sisters. He can take away the selfishness and fear which block our vision. He can teach us to love others just as He loves them so that we can begin to tear down the walls of loneliness, hatred and prejudice.

Jesus opened the eyes of the man born blind in today’s gospel by caking mud on them and having him wash in the pool of Siloam. However, to cure our spiritual and emotional blindness, He prescribes two more powerful remedies - the Bible and the Sacrament of Confession.

Reading the Bible daily is an important step toward recovering our spiritual sight. We read in the book of Psalms that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Because it is His unchanging word, the Bible reveals to us the mind and heart of God. The Holy Spirit inspires us as we read so that we begin to take into our hearts the truth it teaches. Eventually, our way of thinking and feeling becomes more similar to God’s way of thinking and feeling. Our eyes start to open and our lives begin to change. Reading the Bible and memorizing passages that speak to us are indispensable elements for the Christian life and a sure way to cure our spiritual blindness.

The second remedy Jesus offers us is the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession. This sacrament is a beautiful opportunity for us to bring to Jesus all the ways we have failed to love others as He calls us to. As we reflect on our behavior and the choices we make, His grace leads us to see how we have overlooked people, how we have treated others with less than the full dignity they deserve, and how we use others rather than serve them. The more we reflect and the more we confess our failures to Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the more our eyes are opened to all the blessings around us. We become filled with joy because our spiritual blindness was not only keeping us from seeing the needs of others, it was also covering our eyes from seeing the beauty of creation, the love of our family and friends and the presence and action of God in our lives.

The Pharisees in today’s gospel were blinded by ambition, the need for control and fear of the Roman authorities. In our day, we are blinded by indifference, the need to keep up with our hectic schedules and fear of what others may think of us. God wants to remove all that from our lives so that our eyes can be opened not only to the needs of our neighbor but to the goodness of this world He has created. If we spend the rest of our lives stumbling about blind, we will miss it. But Jesus offers us a cure if we will only trust Him enough to allow Him to touch our eyes.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Blind Man Sees

On a talk show one morning, a blind man was promoting a book he had written about his life. During the interview, he talked about how he considered his blindness to be a "blessing in disguise". He told the woman interviewing him that, since he was not able to see her,  he could not judge her by how she looked or by the clothes she wore. The only idea he had of her was from the words she spoke and the sound of her voice. And so, with his heart, he could "see" her - the real her - better than those who could see her with just their eyes.

Being able to see something with our eyes and being able to understand it with our mind and heart are two different things. There are many things we see and yet do not understand. There are many times as well that our eyes get in the way of our understanding because of prejudices we may have against those of a different race or those of a different economic or social status.

In today's first reading, God sends the prophet Samuel to Jesse's house to choose a king for Israel. If Samuel had relied just on his eyes, he would have picked one of Jesse's older sons. But, Samuel was listening to God. Samuel did not choose based on what his eyes told him, but what God told him. As God says to Samuel: "Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart." And so, having trusted God and not his eyes, Samuel anoints David as the next king of Israel. It would turn out that David would be Israel's greatest king. Later on in Scripture, God will say of David that he is a "man after my own heart." It is from David that the Messiah would be born.

Jesus also understood very well how seeing is not always believing. He knew that, though people saw him with their eyes, they did not always understand who he was. In today's Gospel reading, we find that it is the blind man who comes to really see Jesus for who he is and to testify to him as the Messiah. The people who should know better - the religious leaders - cannot get past their own squabbling to really see with their heart who Jesus is. They are too concerned with maintaining control and their authority to see that Jesus is the Messiah they have been longing for. 

As we look now at our life, do we really see what's going on? Do we grasp the grace which God is showering us with everyday? Do we notice the beauty of the day? Do we notice when someone needs our help? Do we know what are children are up to? And, if we see it, do we understand it? Do we see God taking us beyond the appearances into the reality, into the truth?  

There are a lot of reasons we might want to stay in the dark and not see. There is a lot of ugliness in the world such as war and famine. There is a lot of sadness in the world. If we were really to see it, we might feel overwhelmed. We might not know what to do. Or maybe for the first time we might actually be shaken out of the comfortable little world we have made for ourselves and feel as though we needed to do something about it. It is fear that keeps us in the dark. It is fear that so often keeps us from wanting to see.

However, when we choose to stay in the dark, we also miss out on what is beautiful about the world. We do not see the people who give of themselves to make the lives of others better. We do not see the children whose purity of heart reminds us of the goodness which surrounds us. And we fail to see God working in powerful ways to bring food to the hungry and comfort to the afflicted.  

Even the healthiest eye needs light to see. Jesus is our light. He is light for the world. We do not need to hide in the cold night of fear. We do not need to cower before the seemingly endless problems of our lives and of our world. We have in Jesus a Savior who helps us to see ourselves and see our world as God sees it. God sent Jesus to the world to be its light because God thought that we were worth saving. Each one of us is precious in God's eyes. God has paid a high price to secure our salvation - the price of His only Son. How wonderful each of us must be that God was so moved to rescue us from sin and death. And, if we are that precious in God's eyes, what a tragedy it is when any one of us suffers.

When we start to see ourselves and our world in this way, how can we not, then, be moved with the same love to reach out to those who are hungry, to those who are homeless, to those who mourn?

There are many in this world who live in darkness because of fear. Many of them are desperate for light, but don't know where to turn. We know where the light is. We know that Christ is our light. We received that light at our baptism. It is by that light that we live. It is by that light that we see as God sees. How could we ever close our eyes and return to the darkness of fear, now that Christ has given us his light? And, how can we not bring that light today into a world shivering in darkness?  

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Worshiping In Spirit And In Truth

From now until Holy Week, we will be treated to long, rich readings from the Gospel of Saint John.

Each gospel reading, such as the one we heard today, is like a sumptuous meal. We could savor each bite. In fact, there is no doubt that we could preach a sermon on just about every line from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

Today, however, I would like to focus on these words from the gospel: “...the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”

In the middle of our Lenten fast, we do well to ask ourselves: “What does it mean to worship in Spirit and in truth?” And, perhaps more importantly, “Do I worship God in Spirit and in truth?”

Simply put, worshiping God in Spirit means applying our mind and heart to our prayer. It means that I am not only speaking the words but contemplating their meaning in my mind. It means that I not only ask for forgiveness from the Father but that I commit myself to really changing my attitudes and behavior. It means that I not only go to church every Sunday but that I participate by singing, responding and reflecting attentively and reverently on all that is taking place. Worshiping God in Spirit means that I apply my whole being to prayer - my body, my mind and my heart.

What would any of relationships be like if we said, “I love you”, but didn’t really mean it? How could we have friendships if we spent time with those we love but our mind was distracted by a thousand other thoughts? What kind of parents would we be if we made promises to our children but never followed through on them? Just so, if we are going to have a relationship with Jesus we must mean what we say and follow through on our promises. That is what it means to worship in Spirit.

There is also a deeper meaning to what it means to worship God in Spirit. It means putting God’s will before my own. Many of us have had the experience of praying only when we needed something. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, our Heavenly Father wants us to take all our needs to Him and to rely on Him to provide for us. However, we can begin to develop the attitude that God is there to follow our agenda. We think that prayer is a way to get God to do our will.

However, those who worship God in Spirit have a very different attitude. They say, “God, what can I do for you,” rather than, “God, what can you do for me.” In their prayer, they seek God’s will rather than trying to get God to do their will. They put God at the center rather than themselves. Our Heavenly Father is able to accomplish great things through such believers because they are open to doing whatever it takes to please Him. Such people truly worship God in Spirit.

Not only does God desire that we worship Him in Spirit but also that we worship Him in “truth”.

To worship God in truth means to worship Him in the reality of who He is. He is God, the Almighty and Eternal. He is the Creator of the Universe, the One who sustains all things in being. He is the One to whom we owe our existence and our salvation. There is no other who is worthy of the praise, glory and worship we lift up to Him.

To worship God in truth means that we have to understand who He is. How do we do that? By reading and studying the Bible, especially the gospels. The Bible is the word of God which reveals to us the truth of who God is. When we read and study Scripture, we gain access to the mind of our God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We come to understand how He sees the world and how He acts. We learn what is most important to Him. As we grow in our knowledge of Him, we are able to worship in truth.

To worship God in truth means also that we approach Him in the truth of who we are.

The woman in today’s gospel gives us a great example of someone who approaches Jesus in the truth of who she is. From the outset, she understands that she is a Samaritan woman and Jesus is a Jewish man. She understands that Jesus is taking a risk in speaking to her. Moreover, when Jesus confronts her about the truth of her life - that she has had five husbands and that the man she is living with is not her husband - she does not dump her bucket of water over His head and tell Him that He has no right to judge her. Rather, she accepts the truth of who she is without making any excuses or trying to justify her behavior.

In just the same way, each of us comes before God as sinners. All of us have fallen short of the full and abundant life God has planned for us. Approaching God with humble and contrite hearts has to be the starting point of all our prayer. Then we will come to understand how merciful our Heavenly Father is and love Him all the more. Ultimately, that is what God wants - not just to be feared and obeyed but to be loved. When we come to God acknowledging our sinfulness, then we are worshiping Him in truth.

“God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth”. We know that our prayer is pleasing to God when we give Him our full attention, when we put His will before our own, when we worship Him in the truth of His Being as our Creator and Savior and when we approach Him humbly, acknowledging that we are sinners. If we apply ourselves everyday to worshiping God in Spirit and truth then His loving presence and action will become a reality in our lives. Then we will echo the words of the Samaritan people at the end of the gospel who profess: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the World.” 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cast Out And Into The Arms Of Jesus

She was an outcast, a nobody. Whenever she walked by, people would pretend they did not see her or whisper gossip to one another about her. She would never be invited to any parties or gatherings in the town. If she had any children, they too would have no friends. The other children would have been warned not to play at their house or go near them. She did not have a friend in the world.

For this reason we find her walking alone at the hottest time of the day to get water from Jacob’s well. At noon she hoped that everyone would be inside their homes avoiding the heat. She would not have to put up with the stares of the people in the street. And at the well she would not have to deal with the awkward silence that would come over everyone as soon as she approached.

Though she expected to be alone, there was someone at the well waiting for her. A Jewish man. At least he would not speak to her, or so she thought. What she did not know was that Jesus was there waiting for her. This man knew her loneliness. He knew all the choices she had made in the past which now haunt her, leaving her with no friends and no peace. What she also did not know was that He was the only one who could make everything right for her.

With the purest of intentions, Jesus begins to seduce her. He intrigues her with His offer of living water. In her mind, she thinks that if she could get this living water she would never have to come to the well again and face the other women of the town. But Jesus is talking about an even greater gift than that. He is offering her a refreshment that she has never known and could never imagine having. He is offering her peace with God, a relationship with Him that can sustain her. He is offering her a new life based not on shame and loneliness but on awareness of God’s love and freedom.

The woman is overwhelmed by what Jesus tells her. Forgetting her shame, she now no longer avoids the people of her town but runs up to their homes knocking furiously on their doors beckoning them to come to the well and meet the one who told her “everything she had ever done.” Though they may have thought she was crazy, they did come out to meet Jesus and they eventually believed in Him.

As the town’s greatest sinner, she was the most unlikely person that Jesus would meet. Even more, she was the most unlikely person to carry His message to others. But she was precisely the one whom Jesus chose. She was precisely the one whom Jesus sought out, because His delight is in finding the lost, in rescuing those most in danger and in bringing love to the most abandoned.

Like the woman going to the well, we have come here to this church today looking for something. Perhaps we are lonely and feel that we do not have a real friend in the world. Perhaps we are burdened with shame, haunted by the sins of our past and frightened that we lack the strength to not repeat them in the future. Perhaps our hearts have grown cold and hard and we need faith, hope and love to rejuvenate them. Perhaps we are tired from all the responsibilities of life and just need to rest.

Jesus is waiting for us here. In fact, Jesus has been expecting us. He wants to refresh us with the living water - His word which revives us and His Holy Spirit who sustains us. He wants to reassure us that He knows everything we have ever done. He understands the burden of shame we carry, but He loves us anyway and He wants us to put that burden down for good. If we give it to Him, He can carry it for us instead. If we have been feeling distant from God, He wants to teach us how to worship in Spirit and in Truth. We know that His word is truth and that when we gather here with other believers the Holy Spirit is among us. Finally, He wants us to know that He is the Messiah, the Saviour of the World. He is the One we long for. He is the One we have been searching for to soothe the aching of our hearts. He is here, and He is waiting for us.

Just as the Jews wandering in the desert found water in the most unlikely of places - a rock - and just as Jesus chose the most unlikely of persons - a sinful Samaritan woman - to carry His message, so we will find Jesus in the most unlikely of places and the most unlikely of persons. If we have found God to be elusive or fulfillment to be beyond our reach, it could be that we have been looking everywhere else except where He can be found. It could be that we have to slow down and begin opening our eyes to everything and everyone around us. God loves us, He is waiting for us and He is looking for us. It could be that we just have not noticed it yet. One thing we can be sure of is that when we do slow down, open our eyes and begin to notice it will be a surprise.

How will we know when we have met Jesus and have found the spring of living water? We will know for sure when we want to share it with others, when we want to tell our family, friends and neighbors all that God has done for us so that they can share our joy. Joy - a contagious, overflowing joy that we cannot keep to ourselves - is the sure sign that God is living within us. If that joy is still elusive, all we need do is ask Jesus for the gift of living water. He has been waiting a long time to offer it to us. Let us lay down our burden of shame, our fears and our doubts believing that just as He loved us enough to die for us on a cross He will not refuse us the living water our hearts long for. Then let us open our eyes to marvel at all the surprising ways in which He will answer our prayer.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


What are you thirsting for?

What unfulfilled dreams drive you? What unrealized goals motivate your actions? What is the “something more” that exceeds your grasp and pushes you to try harder?

All of us in the pit of our being live with an unmet need. At times we experience it as anxiety or restlessness. It can be the lingering feeling of disappointment when we reach a milestone that does not seem to satisfy us the way we expected. We know that we are made for great things, for that “something more”. However, no matter how hard we look, it manages to elude us.

In today’s gospel, Jesus meets a woman who was thirsting for that “something more”. Her drive for love and intimacy took her through five marriages. As if that were not enough, she was living with a man who was not her husband. There is no doubt that she was restless and unsatisfied.

What did her life-long search for love and belonging get her? Much heartbreak. With each of those failed marriages she must have felt devastating rejection and numbing shame. She had become an outcast in her village. That is why she sets out at the hottest hour of the day in the desert to draw water from the well. She hoped that she would not bump into the other women of her town. She hoped to avoid their condescending stares and mocking whispers.

All her life, she thirsted for love and belonging, but found herself heartbroken and alone.

And so, in the middle of the desert, underneath the blazing midday sun, whom does she find waiting for her at the well? Jesus.

She is amazed that he would even speak to her. Not only does he speak with her, it turns out that he already knows her. Though he knows her soul and reads its secrets, he does not ridicule or blame her. Rather he wants to be her friend. He makes it clear that he alone can provide her with the water she so desperately needs. He alone can quench the thirst she has been suffering with for so many years. She believes and runs back to the village leaving her water jug behind. She has found the love she was craving and wants to tell everyone about it.

Has your thirst for love and belonging taken you to places you should not have gone? Have you looked for friendship from people who could only take from you and who left you with less than you started with? Has your shame weighed so heavily upon you that you are convinced you do not deserve to be treated any better?

Have you finally had enough? Are you ready to let your thirst lead you to the one who has the power to really satisfy you?

God placed that emptiness within each one of us so that we would search for him. He is the only one who can fill it. Just as we thirst for him, Jesus thirsts for us. He longs for us to come home to him. We can be confident that he will not condemn us or heap more shame on us. Rather, he will heal our broken hearts and fill them with joy. He will restore our dignity, our freedom and our sense of meaning. We will no longer be groping in the dark for that “something more” that has eluded us. Rather we will have a personal relationship with the one for whom our hearts were made.

On the cross, Jesus cried out, “I thirst”. Blood and water flowed out from his pierced heart so that our thirst could be satisfied. Turn to Jesus, then. Be fed by him. Know the peace that he alone can give. And go from this place in joy to tell others so that they can receive the living water that only he can give.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Going To The Well

Please take a few seconds to think about the teachers who made a difference in your life. If you're like me, I remember them not because of what they taught, but because of how they taught. Good teachers do more than lecture students and spoon-feed them raw data. Instead, they try to draw out from them an understanding of the material and an ability to relate that information to real life. By engaging them in the learning process, a good teacher not only teaches students what to learn, but teaches them how to learn.

Like a good teacher, Jesus did not get his point across with lectures or by assigning book reports. Instead he encountered people face to face and sought to draw faith from them.

In today's gospel, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well. Under the hot, noontime sun, he sees an opportunity to draw faith from the well of this woman's soul. By speaking to her and asking her questions, Jesus guides her through a gradual understanding of who he is. At first, she recognizes him to be a Jew. When he offers her living water, she asks if he is greater than the patriarch,  Jacob.  Then, when Jesus tells her that she has had five husbands and that she is living with a man who is not her husband, she recognizes that he is a prophet. Finally, when Jesus tells her that true followers will worship in spirit and in truth, she asks him if he is the Messiah. Elated at her new discovery, she drops her water jug and runs off to the village to tell the people that she has found the Messiah. Like a good teacher, Jesus did not just tell her who he was, but revealed himself to her gradually in a way that she could take to heart.

But not only is there a change in the woman's understanding of who Jesus is, there is a change in the woman herself. Remember that Jesus told her that she had had five husbands and that she was living with a man who was not her husband. That's probably why she was at the well at the hottest time of the day, to avoid the disdainful stares of the other women in town. She was the town harlot, a public sinner, who lived as an outcast. But now that she had encountered the Messiah and come to believe in him, she went from being the town sinner to a herald of the good news. She leads the people from the village out to meet this man "who told her everything she ever did!"

We are now in our third week of Lenten prayer and sacrifice. Through our prayer, Bible study and works of charity we have sat at the foot of our teacher, Jesus, and learned from him. By his presence in our lives, we have come to a deeper understanding of who he is. We may know in our minds that Jesus is our Messiah, but to have it change our lives is another story. Like a good teacher, Jesus is patient with us. He knows it will take time for our understanding of him to penetrate our hearts and to make a real change. The important thing is that we keep going to the well, that we keep seeking out Jesus, that we keep learning from him. Jesus will not deny us the living water when we approach him with sincerity and humility.

Jesus thirsts. Jesus thirsts to have us know him and to live a life of intimate friendship with him. He also longs to quench our thirst for hope and truth. We are gathered here today to worship in Spirit and in Truth. Our worship is guided by the Holy Spirit who was poured into our hearts at our baptism. And, we worship in the truth revealed to us in the Gospels and taught to us by our master, Jesus. If we open our hearts this day to that truth and to that Spirit, Jesus will draw from the well of our hearts a living water which is the promise of everlasting life with him in heaven. And, we will leave this place forever changed.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ad Astra Per Aspera

When a man and woman first fall in love, they cannot get enough of each other. As often as possible, they spend time together. In their conversations, they want to learn everything about each other. As trust grows, little by little they reveal different facets of their personality. They become increasingly comfortable being themselves as they learn to accept one another.

As time goes on, the deeply felt emotional moments begin to fade and the near ecstatic experiences of love become fewer and fewer. If the couple marries, the glow of romance gives way to the demands of everyday life - maintaining a household, earning a living and raising children. Though the feelings might not seem as intense, the love itself does not go away. Rather it is growing stronger as it grounds itself not just in emotion but in a total, lifelong commitment.

The same is true with our spiritual lives. As we fall in love with Jesus, we want to spend increasingly more time with Him in prayer. We pour over the Bible and other books trying to learn as much as we can about our Savior. At Mass or at adoration, we experience intensely deep emotions, even breaking down into tears as our Heavenly Father’s love becomes more and more real to us.

However, with time, those emotional highs become fewer and fewer. We experience dryness in our prayer and often find it a chore rather than a joy. If we are involved in the Church, we may begin to wonder if our efforts are making any difference. We may doubt that we are making any progress in the spiritual life at all. However, like a married couple, our faith is growing deeper and basing itself not on emotions but on a real commitment to Jesus, His word and His Church.

Today’s readings offer us stories about intense spiritual experiences and the hardships that followed them. .

In the first reading, we hear the call of Abram. In a mystical vision, God reveals Himself to the man who would be the father of the Israelite people.  God promises to make Abram the father of a great nation, though he is an old man. No doubt, this spiritual experience was very intense for Abram. However, it came with a condition. He had to leave his ancestral land to travel to a far off place where God’s promise would be fulfilled.  

This mystical experience, then, was followed by many years of traveling. He and his wife, Sarah, endured many hardships making their way from Ur to Canaan. They suffered famine, witnessed the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and dealt with all the dangers involved in traveling in the ancient Near East. We also know how much God tested Abram’s faith, especially when He asked Him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. There must have been many times when Abram wondered whether he had done the right thing in leaving his homeland and he must have been tempted to go back. However, the mystical experience of God and His promise gave him the strength to continue. Through it all, Abram trusted in God’s promise. He did not always have intense mystical visions but, nonetheless, he remained faithful to God in his everyday life.

The second example comes from the gospel account of the Transfiguration.

Jesus invites Peter, James and John to join Him in prayer on Mount Tabor. It is an invitation they had probably accepted numerous times as they followed Jesus. However, this time would be different. Jesus is transfigured before them, Elijah and Moses appear, and the voice of God is heard booming from a bright cloud which overshadowed them. In the intensity of the experience, they fall to the ground, trembling with fear. In a privileged moment, they witness Jesus in all His glory as the Son of God. However, just as soon as it begins, it is over. In a short while, they are walking down the mountain with Jesus who is telling them to keep the mystical experience to themselves.

By showing Peter, James and John the mystical vision of His glory, Jesus was strengthening them for the hardships that would follow. Once they left the mountain, they would be traveling to Jerusalem where Jesus would be put to death. The disciples would have their faith tested as Jesus was arrested, dragged through the streets and finally put to death. They would wonder whether they had made a mistake in believing in Him and following Him. By showing them His glory, Jesus hoped to encourage them in their faith, to help them believe that He was in control and that He really would rise again in three days as He promised.

Unlike Abram and the disciples, few of us have been blessed with intense mystical experiences. However, most of us have sensed God’s presence in a particularly tender way at one time or another. We may have been overcome with a feeling of His care. In our prayer, we may try to recapture such moments, trying to recreate the experience which gave us so much consolation and peace. However, those experiences are a gift. God gives them to us when we need them. There is no way to repeat them. We have to simply wait until our Heavenly Father feels it is time to grant them to us again.

At the same time, we should not be looking for such intense experiences. They should not be the goal of our prayer. We should be thankful when they do come, but we should also remember why God gives them to us. He gives them to strengthen us in times of temptation, to encourage us in time of hardship and to remind us of His love when we are feeling abandoned or overwhelmed.

As we enter another week of Lent, we recommit ourselves to the sacrifices we have promised to undertake. They too will strengthen us to face temptation. When we begin to feel weak, when it seems that we cannot go on, when we are tempted to abandon it all, that is when we should call to mind all the gifts which our Heavenly Father has bestowed on us. Also, we should be quick to share with others the joy and consolation we have experienced in prayer and in good works. Our God stands with us, ready to give us what we need on our journey to everlasting life.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Transfigured In Prayer

Saint John Vianney tells the story of a parishioner of his who, after Mass, would sit in church staring up at the tabernacle. He asked him one day, “What is it that you are doing when you pray?” The man answered, “I look at Jesus, and he looks at me.”

There are few definitions of prayer as simple yet as beautiful as that. Prayer, at its heart, is looking into the face of God, seeing his beauty, contemplating his love and allowing ourselves to be changed by his grace and power.

Because all of us are called to know and love God, prayer must be a part of our life. It does not have to be complicated or difficult. It is a simple matter of opening our hearts to God and allowing him to touch us.

Today’s gospel reading - the story of the Transfiguration - gives us some clues as to how all of us can grow in our spiritual lives. They are steps which we need to take in our journey of prayer. First, we must climb the mountain; second, we must look upon Jesus; and third, we must go  back down the mountain to tell others what we have seen.

First, we must climb the mountain. In today’s gospel, before revealing his glory to Peter, James and John, Jesus first leads them up a high mountain. Climbing a mountain takes a good deal of effort. There is always the danger of falling off a cliff or running into a wild animal. Also, it is very tiring because the higher one climbs, the thinner the air is and the harder it becomes to breathe. Peter, James and John must have wondered to themselves why Jesus was taking them on such a demanding hike. Whatever it was that Jesus wanted to show them or tell them, couldn’t he have chosen someplace easier to get to?

The apostles’ experience teaches us something very true and profound about the spiritual life. God does not reveal himself until we are willing to make the hard journey up the mountain. That mountain could be a sin that we have to overcome, an unhealthy relationship in our lives or sickness. Every difficulty and challenge we experience is an invitation from God to climb the mountain so that he can reveal his glory to us. Like the apostles, we may not understand why God has put those obstacles in our path and made things so hard for us. However, if we ask him, he will give us the strength to endure whatever may come. And, with time, we will see and be amazed by God’s mercy.

The second truth of the spiritual life which today’s gospel teaches us is that we are meant to see the vision of God. Unlike the apostles, we do not see Jesus face to face. How, then, do we get a glimpse of him in all his glory? The central and most important way is in the Mass. At every Eucharist, the Risen Lord is truly present in our midst. When the readings are proclaimed, it is Jesus’ voice that we hear. The bread and wine we offer are truly transformed into his Body and Blood. They are not merely symbols, but Jesus himself in his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. When we receive the Eucharist, we touch the body of the Risen Lord just as the apostles did, and we are transformed by him.

For that reason, the Sunday Mass is an indispensable part of our Christian life and spirituality. While it is very good to read the Bible, pray the rosary and contemplate the beauty of nature, none of those activities compare with the gift offered us in the Eucharist. While those activities can give us some insight into Jesus and his love, they cannot actually give us Jesus himself as the Eucharist does. There is no substitute for the real, life-changing encounter we have with the Risen Lord in the sacrament of his Body and Blood which we receive every Sunday.

The third truth of the spiritual life is that we cannot stay on the mountain. We have to go back down to witness to others the Jesus we have come to know.

The experience the apostles had of Jesus was overwhelming. It filled them both with awe and fear. Understandably, Peter does not want it to end. He wants to stay there, camping out with Jesus, Elijah and Moses forever. But Jesus does not allow it. The vision of his glory comes to an abrupt end, and he leads them back down the mountain to continue preaching the good news and healing the sick.

Many times when we are praying and feeling God’s presence all around us, we do not want it to end. We want to stay basking in the warmth of God’s love. That is entirely natural because we were created to praise God and never feel so much “at home” as when we are praying. But it is not enough. The spiritual life is never just a private affair. From worship, we must go into service. We have to bring the love of God we have experienced to others. We must come down the mountain and point out the way to encounter God to others so that they may share our joy.

The spiritual life is not only for priests, deacons and nuns any more than food and exercise are meant only for professional athletes. All of us are called to cultivate a deep life of prayer in whatever way suits our lifestyle, personality and calling in life. No matter what our individual prayer lives look like they will all have some characteristics in common. They will require us to climb the mountain of sacrifice and self-denial, they will lead us to gaze upon the face of Jesus and they will lead us back down the mountain to some type of service to our neighbor. All of these aspects of the spiritual life will revolve around the Mass which is the source and summit of our Christian life.

As we look upon the face of Christ, we will be changed by the vision of his glory and will begin to reflect that light to everyone we meet.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Taste Of Future Glory

Have you ever noticed in supermarkets a lady at the end of the aisle with a table full of little goodies to give out as samples? Usually the goodies are little pieces of cheese or meat served on a cracker. What the store hopes is that we'll get a taste of the product and want to buy it. It is a powerful means of advertising a product by enticing us to give it a try even before we have committed to buying it.
In today's gospel reading, Jesus is offering a little taste of his glory to us. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain and reveals to them his glory as the only Son of the Father. They had already come to believe in him because of his words and because of his miracles. In the previous chapter of Matthew's gospel, Peter had made his profession of faith that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. This, now, was an opportunity to see for themselves the divine glory of Jesus which was hidden in his humanity. Jesus was giving them a little taste of who he was as the Son of God.

Jesus didn't bring Peter, James and John up the mountain just to show off to them. He had a specific purpose in mind. Jesus wanted to give them a taste of what his resurrection would be like, so they would desire it enough to endure Jesus' passion and death, and to endure the demands that ministry with Jesus would place on them.

Jesus was asking a lot from Peter, James and John. First of all, he asked them to leave their families and jobs. Secondly, he asked them to believe that he, a carpenter, was the Son of God. Thirdly, he asked them to proclaim that to others. Finally, he would ask them to accompany him through his suffering and death. Remember, it was Peter, James and John who would also go up to the Mount of Olives with Jesus as he suffered the agony in the garden.  For them to accomplish all this, they would need something to hold on to, a memory of Jesus' glory to sustain them along the way. And so, Jesus' transfiguration gives the apostles a taste of the future resurrection to help them accept the suffering and shame of the cross.

Paul encourages us in the second reading: "Bear your share of the hardships which the gospel entails." Jesus is asking a lot of us as well. Unlike the apostles, we have never seen Jesus, yet he expects us to accept him as Savior and Lord. To each of us he has given a certain mission which he expects us to undertake. Whether our mission is to be a good parent, a good student, a good spouse or a good priest or deacon, we need help, especially when we encounter hardships. We need the hope that things will turn out okay, that things will get better, that we will adapt to whatever difficult situation we may find ourselves in. For us to be faithful to Jesus and to the mission he's called us to, we need small tastes of his glory. It could be as simple as someone telling us we're doing a good job when we feel like a failure. It could be a beautiful, sunny day reminding us of the beauty of our God. Or, it could be a powerful experience of God's presence in prayer. Whatever it may be, we need to hold on to those experiences to give us the strength to endure whatever difficulties we may encounter.  And, we need to ask God to open our eyes to his presence in our life so that we can take notice of those transfiguration moments in our day to day lives.

God is revealing to us His glory in the face of Christ so that our desire to know and love Him will be greater than any difficulty we may face on our journey to Him. Peter, James and John were privileged to see for themselves Jesus transfigured in glory. We have to hold on to less dramatic manifestations of Jesus' presence in our lives as a small taste already on earth of the life that we will share with Jesus in heaven. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Eucharist. Bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ to give us on earth a taste of the intimacy we will have with God in heaven. Through the Eucharist, Jesus is really present among us and within us. We hold on to that small taste of future glory to sustain us during the hardships which come with living the gospel message of love. And, we claim it as a promise that one day that glory will be ours with Jesus at the end of time.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sweet Victory

The pinata is a children’s game frequently played in Mexico whose popularity has been spreading throughout the world.

It is made of a paper-mache box filled with candies and decorated with colorful streamers hung from a tree branch or a ceiling. Children are blindfolded and then get turns trying to break the pinata open by hitting it with a stick. When the pinata finally is broken, the candy spills out onto the floor to the delight of the little ones who run up to grab as many of the treats as they can carry.

Those this game is associated with Mexico and other Central American countries, it is believed to have originated in China. As the story goes, Marco Polo brought the game to Europe. In Italy, it became customary to play the pinata at the beginning of Lent, so much so that it was common to call the First Sunday of Lent  “Pinata Sunday”.

The game of pinata as we know it today, however, took shape when it was brought to Central American by Catholic missionaries eager to convert the indigenous population to Christianity.  Because the native peoples already had a game similar to pinata, the missionaries thought they could use it to teach them about the faith and, in particular, about the reality of temptation and sin.

The paper-mache box decorated with streamers and confetti represented temptation. It always comes to us packaged in an attractive and alluring disguise. Because the devil knows that if we saw him as he really looked, we would run away from him, he changes his appearance to make it more pleasing and desirable to us. In just the same way, he presents sin to us as something pleasurable so that we will desire it.

The blindfold represents faith. As Saint Paul tells us, “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). Though temptation and sin come to us in an alluring package, we have to close our eyes to it so that we can see it as it really is. In faith, we have to turn within ourselves and remember that, no matter how pleasurable sin may seem, we desire something greater - life with Jesus. Therefore, we do not rely on our eyes or on appearances, but on God’s promise which we hold on to through faith.

The stick that is used to beat the pinata represents all the weapons we have to fight against sin and temptation. It represents prayer which keeps us grounded in the promises of God and the desire to be in relationship with Him. It represents the virtues such as patience, self-control and wisdom which give us strength to fight against evil. It represents the sacraments such as Confession and the Eucharist which strengthen our resolve to be good, loving people. And it represents the Church which helps us to understand right from wrong so that we will see evil for what it is.

Finally, the candy that spills out of the pinata once it is broken open represents the joy we experience when we overcome temptation. It represents the sweetness of overcoming the devil and the traps he sets for us. When we persevere in fighting against temptation with all the weapons that God gives us, we find a satisfaction that is deeper and longer lasting than the fleeting and false pleasures sin offers.

So this children’s game has much to teach us about the Christian life, particularly as we begin this Lenten Season. Just as Jesus ventured out into the desert to confront Satan, so we live these forty days by practicing self-denial in hopes of conquering our weakness. During this first week of Lent, we can be enthusiastic about all the penances and good works we want to perform. However, as the days drag on, we can begin to lose focus and our motivation can wane.  As we  confront our sinfulness and selfishness, we will be tempted to think that it is more than we can handle and may want to give up. However, by calling to mind this simple children’s game and remembering the example of Jesus in today’s gospel, we can find encouragement to carry on.

One thing to remember - temptation always starts out as something which seems minor and insignificant. In today’s first reading from the book of Genesis, all the serpent was asking Eve to do was take a bite of a piece of fruit. What harm could come of that? And in the gospel, all Satan is asking Jesus to do is ease his hunger by turning stones into bread. How could that hurt anyone? However, we know that eating that piece of fruit directly contradicted God’s command and resulted in the loss of Paradise. Also, if Jesus were to turn those stones into bread, He would be using His power for His own good rather than for the good of others.

Just so, it is likely that we will be tempted in small ways throughout these forty days. It could be to tell what seems like an innocent lie. However, before long, we are telling other lies to cover up for the first lie and our friends begin to distrust us. It could be that we are tempted to skip praying one morning. It seems harmless enough. However, once we get out of the habit of daily prayer, we find it harder and harder to regain our rhythm and, before we know it, the days become weeks and we have lost precious time with our Lord.

If we are to make progress in holiness throughout this Lenten Season there are two truths we must remember - sin always comes to us disguised as something pleasurable and harmless and it always tries to convince us that the temptation is insignificant. Once we understand this, we can see sin for what it really is and then we will find the focus and motivation to fight it with all our strength and will all the weapons God provides us with. Then, like candy falling down from a pinata, we will know the joy that comes from overcoming our weakness and living in friendship with God. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Forbidden Fruit

“Forbidden fruit tastes sweet”, or so the saying goes. When someone tells us that there is something we cannot do or something we cannot have, it automatically becomes appealing to us.

We know how true this is just from these first few days of Lent. Whatever we have sacrificed during these forty days all of a sudden tempt us in ways they did not before. Out of the blue, we cannot imagine how it will be possible to get through the day without a piece of candy or a glass of wine. During the year we may have no trouble having fish for dinner, but as soon as we begin abstaining from meat on Fridays we begin craving hamburgers, pulled pork sandwiches and chicken enchiladas.

It is human nature to desire what is forbidden to us.

The devil knows that and uses it to his advantage. In today’s first reading, from the book of Genesis, the serpent draws Adam and Eve to the tree that God has forbidden them to eat from. He invites them to look at it, to see how lovely the fruit is and, eventually, to taste it. He whispers to them that God does not want them to enjoy themselves. He tells them that if they do taste the fruit it will make them more knowledgeable and more powerful.

Unfortunately, we see just the opposite happen. Because they disobey God, Adam and Eve experience shame at their nakedness. They become self-conscious and uncomfortable in their own skins. Not only do they lose friendship with God but they lose their home in Paradise. The devil used the lure of forbidden fruit to cheat Adam and Eve of everything they had and held dear.

Looking at ourselves, we can see how the drama of Adam and Eve’s sin has played itself out in our own lives. We fell into temptation because we believed the lie that sin would liberate us from the constraints of our parents’ morality, that it would empower us to live the way we wanted to and that it would give us pleasure and fulfillment. Sadly, we discovered just the opposite. Choosing sin left us in bondage to addictions. It poisoned our friendships. It saddled us with guilt, remorse and shame.

Thankfully, by turning to God we learned that we could break free from the allure of forbidden fruit. We discovered that by confessing our sins, we could leave our shame and guilt at the foot of the cross. By reading the Bible daily and receiving the sacraments, we became empowered to make healthy, holy choices that gave us the fulfillment and peace we were seeking. As we grew in our faith, the lies of the evil one were exposed to us and we found it increasingly easier to not fall into his trap.

All this is possible because of Jesus’ victory over the devil. Saint Paul tells us that sin entered the world through Adam and all of us fell victim to it. However, through Jesus, forgiveness and reconciliation have now become possible to each of us. By His victory over the devil, each of us can know true freedom from sin, unhealthy habits and the grinding shame they inflict on us.

In today’s gospel, Saint Matthew tells us that Jesus goes into the desert specifically “to be tempted by the devil.” What He is doing is drawing the devil out from the shadows. Like a good soldier, He is forcing the enemy to reveal himself where there is nothing to hide behind. In the desert, the devil’s lies and deceptions are brought into the blazing heat of day. And Jesus defeats the temptations one by one causing Satan to make a hasty retreat with his tail between his legs. In the desert, Jesus won the victory for us and makes it possible for us to recognize the devil’s lies and defeat them ourselves.

The devil’s first temptation has a lot to teach us in this Lenten season. It would not have been a sin for Jesus to change stones into bread. He would be doing nothing wrong. However, Jesus had been fasting for forty days. Fasting was the way that Jesus was strengthening Himself to face the evil one. By saying “no” to food, He would then be strengthened to say “no” to temptation. The devil knows this and wants to undermine Jesus’ self-control and willpower.

The same temptation can happen to us, especially during Lent. The sacrifices and good works we are undertaking teach us good habits of self-control and willpower. They teach us how fulfilling it is to do good and control our emotions and desires. The devil knows this and will whisper to us that it will not hurt to take a break from our disciplines, that it will not harm anyone if we cheat on our resolutions. He hopes that if he can get us to fall to these small temptations we will be more vulnerable to serious temptation.

We have to fight those deceptions of the evil one, as small as they may seem. Remembering that Jesus has already won the victory for us in the desert, we can draw on His strength in our own temptations. The same Spirit that drove Jesus into the desert to do battle with Satan lives in us to vanquish all the his deceitful tactics.

At the same time, if we do fall because of our human frailty, we do not have to carry a burden of shame. We can turn to Jesus for forgiveness and for the strength to try again. Rather than believe the lie that our Lent is ruined because of one mistake, we can get up again and recommit ourselves to building up good habits and stronger discipline through our Lenten practices and sacrifices.

Just as Adam and Eve had everything they could ever want provided for them in Paradise, so we have every spiritual blessing in the heavens at our disposal through the Holy Spirit. Though Adam and Eve lost Paradise through their sin, we can never lose our friendship with God. Even when we fall, we can turn back to Him and expect mercy and forgiveness. Most importantly, we do not need to fall into temptation and sin at all because Jesus empowers us to fight it with the weapons of faith, love, joy, patience, kindness, generosity and self-control that He offers us. Strengthened by all these gifts we can know His victory in our lives and our homes.