It is something to think about isn’t it, although we probably don’t want to go there. And here it must be acknowledged that a little bit of fear is a good thing-it can help to keep us safe and even alive. Fear can be a very logical reaction to a situation at hand. But a point that St. Matthew is making is although fear may be a reasonable response and is indeed something to which we should pay attention, we must not let fear by itself control us. We should not let fear prevent us from living as the disciple that Jesus calls us to be. Ultimately, he makes the point that fear can actually lead us to hell. He urged the disciples of 2000 years ago to not let fear prevent them from living their faith in the daylight, even in the face of persecution. He urges us to do the same. He tells us that there truly is no reason to prevent us from living as Jesus commands because He is always there with us and will be through the end of time as long as we keep His commands. And Matthew’s teaching goes farther even than that. He basically tells us that when it comes to the time of our judgment we will not be able to use even our legitimate fears as an excuse for not fulfilling the will of God. Jesus says that if we acknowledge Him before others, He will acknowledge us before God, but if we deny Him before others, He will deny us before God. Very sobering, indeed, isn’t it? Fear might keep us from doing a lot of things, getting on planes, public speaking, going over bridges, going through tunnels etc. and all this can be very sad indeed. But the ultimate tragedy would be if we let our fear keep us from getting to heaven.
Alright folks, we have arrived at this most significant week; this most important week in our life as a parish- the week of the feast day of our patron saint, Saint Aloysius himself. If you don’t mind my saying, I remember seven short years ago, when I first arrived here at Saint Aloysius Parish, and I did just happen to move in on June 21 (which is Saint Aloysius’ feast day, and I do not believe in coincidences!), I instantly made up my mind that we were going to mark our parish feast day with a novena, with Forty Hours and a parish feast day celebration. I am very happy to say that at the end of my seventh year, because of the tremendous support of all of you, we now have a wonderful tradition of celebrating our Feast Day with Forty Hours devotions and a parish festival. We begin this Saturday and Sunday with Fr. Jack Timlin preaching our Masses here at Saint Aloysius Church. Father celebrates our Spanish Mass each Sunday and will be helping us even more in the days to come. He will be preaching our Forty hours this year. On Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, June 24 and 25 we will be holding our parish Feast Day Food Festival in Begley Hall. I humbly ask that you participate in our Festival. Please stop in and enjoy our ethnic cuisine or hamburgers/hotdogs, etc. Also, our Forty Hours celebration will take place this Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evening June 18-19 at 7 PM. The Blessed Sacrament will be exposed after the Noon Mass on Sunday and morning Masses on Monday and Tuesday until the evening services at 7 PM. Please find time to come and adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and pray for our parish through the intercession of Saint Aloysius! On Tuesday evening we will venerate the relic of Saint Aloysius and process down Hanover Street toward King Street with the relic, our Saint Aloysius statue and the Blessed Sacrament before returning to church for the closing Benediction. After the Benediction there will be a light reception in our Gathering Center. Every one, and especially our First Communicants, and Altar Servers, (dressed in their communion attire, and their albs) are strongly encouraged to participate and walk in the procession. Of course, it promises to be a tremendous celebration of who we are….SAINT ALOYSIUS! Do not miss it!
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.” These words make up perhaps the most famous scripture verse of all, but do we understand them in the context which Jesus spoke them? Further, do we truly believe them and finally, are we willing to live as if we believe them? Jesus spoke these words to a man named Nicodemus, a Pharisee who came to see Jesus “while it was night.” Why? Because he was afraid of the Jews, and especially the other Pharisees. The last thing he wanted to do was to let others know that he had an interest in Jesus and the things that He was saying. And as we listen to what Jesus is saying to him it becomes rather obvious that Jesus, who is facing death in just a few days, is rather frustrated with him. He says to Nicodemus that certainly, he who is a learned man and a teacher of the people, can see that every thing He (Jesus) is saying is correct and true, and if that is the case, why is he slithering around in the dark? Why isn’t he proclaiming the good news of Jesus in the daylight? After all, God sent Jesus so that every one who believes in Him will be saved, not condemned. What is Nicodemus afraid of? If he (if we) believe in Jesus, he (we) should be afraid of nothing. Then Jesus presents him with the ultimate challenge: “…the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” And so what is Nicodemus (what are we) going to do? Is he (are we) going to boldly live and proclaim his (our) faith in the light of day, or is he (are we) going to continue to slither around in the dark for fear of every one else?
Well folks, I might as well come right out with and finally say it, and maybe you have already figured it out, but I tend to be a rather skeptical person. I definitely would fall into the “trust but verify” category. It is not my normal way to just accept things, especially those things that seem to defy reason and logic without at least some kind of serious scrutinizing on my part. In my late teens and young adulthood, which is probably at least somewhat typical, I did not know what I believed; I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God. I questioned pretty much every thing. And I truly questioned the Resurrection; I was not impressed by the fact that the stone was rolled away or even that Jesus’ body was not there. I mean, really, if you were Mary Magdalen, would those circumstances have led you to conclude that Jesus was alive? I don’t think so. Than we get into the eyewitness accounts, and while they do give more substance, I probably would still remain a doubting Thomas. I mean, after all, like Thomas thought, if the other apostles had seen the risen Jesus, then why did they stay locked in theUpper room? As a matter of fact, they stayed in that room until guess when? Pentecost would be the answer. I have no doubt something really big and really special happened on that day. Whatever it was that did happen put their hearts on fire and allowed them to change the world and literally bring us to our pews today. I have no other explanation for what happened after Pentecost, except that the apostles were literally transformed on that day. It is pretty clear that they were going nowhere before Pentecost happened. But after Pentecost there was nowhere they didn’t go. Furthermore, it only makes sense that what they proclaimed was the truth and the inspired Word. For me, Pentecost, is what makes it all make sense. Just look at what didn’t happen before and what did happen after. I challenge any one to come up with another explanation. The long and the short of it is that because of Pentecost I believe, and it just might be why you believe as well.
With today’s celebration of the Seventh Sunday of Easter we find ourselves between the time when Jesus has left His mission completely up to His Apostles and before they were fully empowered by the Spirit to accomplish that mission. That will not come until Pentecost. For now it is good for us to reflect on what Jesus says to us today: “Holy Father, I pray not only for my disciples, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.” It seems to me as if the Lord is saying is that if His teaching and presence to us on this earth are to be of any enduring value they must be put at the service of the Lord’s will to bring all people together in faith in God the Father so that the world may know that the Father has sent the Son, and that the Father loves all of us just as He loves his own Son. Right here, Right now we need to ask ourselves in a very practical way, how the Lord’s gift to us can help us to accomplish the mission that the Lord has put before us. To help us to answer this question we need to look no further than the Words that Jesus will speak to us next week on Pentecost Sunday: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always. “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Those who do not love me do not keep my words.” Yes, it always comes down to this: loving Jesus means keeping his commandments. Any accomplishment that we achieve through the grace of God is fulfilled when we give to it the purpose of helping us to better keep His commandments and love Him which by definition means to love all people as one in union with the Father and the Son. We do need to ponder this truth, and even be awestruck by it, but at the same time we need to understand one of the lessons of the Ascension. Of course, the apostles were completely dazzled and utterly speechless as they saw Jesus ascend into heaven, but they were soon brought back to earth by the words of the angels who said to them: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking up at the sky?” While we must reflect on the awesomeness of God and His message and His commands and how they relate directly to our accomplishments, we must not fall into the trap of admiring and marveling at Jesus so much that we forget to follow Him that we forget that we must do what He does. As Jesus forgives, we must forgive; as Jesus heals, we must be agents of healing; as He loves, we must love. When we get caught between the Ascension and Pentecost, we cannot allow ourselves to become so awestruck by the glory of God that it prevents us from doing His will. Instead of just “standing there” we need to do His will, in the faith that that the Spirit of Pentecost is right around the corner.
Why live? Why laugh? Why love? Why hope? We need to be ready to explain our living, our laughing, our loving and our hoping. Why? Because we are called to do so. Today’s Second Reading from the first letter of Saint Peter says: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” We can’t expect others to be hopeful if we can’t give them a reason to hope, so we have to be able to identify our reasons for hope. Now, let me say that while all of us here may well be in many different places on the “hope spectrum,” I would argue that no one in here is hopeless. Some of us are undoubtedly going through very difficult times and facing very difficult circumstances and may feel like they are desperately searching for hope; but searching for hope is indeed a sign of hope. Maybe you are here precisely because you are searching for hope, you are hoping for hope. If you are hoping for hope, you do have hope. And you can become more hopeful and you can even convey your hope to others once you can identify your reasons for hope. But how do we do that? Well, Saint Peter gives us some wonderful clues. He says, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” Folks, it always starts there. If Christ is not Lord of our hearts the troubles that we are bound to face will multiply and be compounded, but if He is Lord of our hearts, then we will always have hope and our crosses will be less and they will be more manageable. Saint Peter goes on to say that we must keep our consciences clear so that “when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.” If Christ is Lord of our hearts and we keep our consciences clear we do indeed provide ourselves with a firm basis for hope and we become examples of hope for others. So basically, if we do what we are supposed to do, we have a basis for hope. And this leads us directly to the Gospel in which Jesus says “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” For me, a very practical but stubborn Irishman, the converse of that statement is also true; if you keep His commandments, you will love Him. Jesus goes on to say that if we keep His commandments, He will ask the Father, and the Father will send us the Spirit, who is of course, our truth and our hope. So, to sum up today’s message, in order to receive the Spirit who is Hope, we must strive to make Jesus the Lord of our hearts and keep our consciences clear by loving Him through keeping His commandments. My guess is that although some of us may not have been able to articulate it in this way before now, that this is at least part of the reason why many of us came to Church today. But now we can say it and share it with others as a means of explaining our reasons for hope. And you know what we can not only share it with them; we can invite them to come to Church with us!
When someone loses a job, Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” When someone learns that he, she or someone they love has a serious illness, Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” When someone faces persecution, Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” When someone we love dies, Jesus says to us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Whenever our hearts are troubled in any way, Jesus says to us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” When we are in the midst of pain, sorrow, distress, injustice and grief, etc. it might seem odd that Jesus would say these words to us, but it is precisely those times that He does so. It is when we are in turmoil that we most need to hear those words from Him. He speaks them to us when we are troubled not because He is out of touch with how we feel, but because He is very much in touch with our pain. When He tells us to not let our hearts be troubled, He is letting us know that He understands our pain even more than we do and that He is right there beside us. He is telling us that the pain we feel at any given moment is just that; a moment in which He asks us to embrace with Him. He is with us always. When He says those words to us, he is inviting us, commanding us, enabling us, empowering us to gradually move through and overcome the pain and walk with Him to a place of peace. He is letting us know that when we reach out to His extended hands, we have the power and the grace to bear whatever cross and whatever pain might be in our midst. Whenever we are suffering, we need to allow ourselves to hear Jesus speaking those words to us; we must allow them to become a mantra in our hearts. If we do we will be able to bear the crosses that come our way with the full knowledge that we are not alone and that Jesus is leading us to the house of His Father and our Father so that where Jesus is we also may be.
If we lived in Israel at the time of Jesus, we would instantly relate to what Jesus told us today in the Gospel. Sheep were the people’s main source of meat, milk and cheese. They provided wool for clothing. And they were regularly used for sacrifice in their liturgy.
If I were to try to think of something in our culture today that would be similar to the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep, the best comparison I can come up with is a mother who needs to care for several toddlers. Just as toddlers depend on their mother’s care, the sheep depend on the care of their shepherd, and the shepherd, who usually, had dozens of sheep, is kept busy all hours of every day.
Today’s gospel makes reference to an activity that was part of the shepherd’s daily routine. Each night, a number of shepherds would come together with their sheep and put them in a common pen. Then they would sleep as one shepherd would stay awake to guard against thieves or predatory animals. In the morning, each shepherd would call out for his own sheep to follow him to pasture. The sheep knew the voice of their own shepherd and would follow only his voice when they were called, and would ignore the calls of the other shepherds. Remember, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.”
Some people are offended to hear themselves compared to sheep. Maybe that’s because they don’t realize they need God’s constant care at all times and not just when they become aware that they have problems or are in need.
We live in a society where everyone is trying to get our attention. We constantly are bombarded with commercials on radio, TV, internet, social media, as well with all kinds of signs, posters and billboards all over highways, streets and buildings trying to catch our eye. Sometimes, we have a tendency to simply follow the latest message we’ve heard, or sometimes, because we hear so many messages, we might be tempted to just follow the crowd. However, if we want to follow Jesus, we have to be able to hear and to recognize His voice, from among the many that are competing for our attention. We have to make a conscious effort to shut out all kinds of noises so that we can listen to Him. If we don’t do so, we can easily lose touch with Him. We need to take time to be quiet, to be still, to pray, so that we can stay in touch with the Good Shepherd.
Our Lord does not want to lose any of us. He wants us to be with Him forever. He wants to wipe every tear from our eyes. He leads us through the Eucharist we celebrate each day and each week. He speaks to us in the Scriptures and He feeds us with His own body and blood. Sheep may not be the most intelligent creatures, but they are smart enough to know that they need their shepherd and to recognize his voice. May we also be intelligent enough to know that we need Jesus and smart enough to recognize His voice so that He might lead us to the eternal pasture of Heaven.
I am sure that we remember the words that Jesus spoke to Thomas last week. He said to him “…do not be unbelieving, but believe.” We might see today’s Gospel, the story of the Road to Emmaus as a continuation of the Doubting Thomas story. In the Emmaus story Jesus says to the two disciples, “Oh, how foolish you are, how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke.” During this Easter season Jesus makes many apparitions. But these apparitions have a very basic purpose. As my Mom would say, they are “not for nothin’.” With each apparition He commands His followers to believe.
He demands belief. He doesn’t beg for it. He doesn’t merely suggest it. He doesn’t stop at the level of invitation. He demands it. Unbelief frustrates Him. This may seem a bit odd to us, because we humans are probably more comfortable with the idea that Jesus has to present His case to us, and then we will decide whether or not to believe in Him. However Jesus doesn’t see things the way we do. Surprise, surprise! He does not to earn or merit or belief. Actually, He judges us based on whether or not we believe. We don’t get to put Him through hoops; if anything, it is the other way around. He is always there for us, but still we doubt. While it is true that He does not force any one to believe, italso is true that He always has the last word. He always did and always will. He has the last word over Thomas, He has the last word over the Apostles, He has the last word over death and He has the last word over us. Once we realize this, that He has the last word, and that it is good for us that He has the last word and that we believing is something that He commands us to do, it will go much better for us in this life—and the next.
So here we are, celebrating the Second Sunday of Easter, the Sunday within the octave of Easter, the Sunday also known as “Mercy Sunday,” and, as per usual, we hear the story of “Doubting Thomas” and we know how that story goes. The Apostles were locked in the Upper Room for fear of the Jews, the Romans and whatever else might be “out there.” But I don’t think that’s all they were afraid of. I think they were also afraid of what was inside as well. I think they were afraid of what was in their hearts, of the future, of who they were, and how they would go on, even if what was currently “out there” was no longer out there. Remember, each one of them, with the exception of John, had betrayed Jesus, they failed to stand beside Him in His hour of need. I am pretty sure that a lot of soul searching was going on. I am pretty sure that, yes, they were scared, but I bet they also were pretty remorseful, pretty sorry, pretty regretful, pretty down on themselves. And so the doors were locked. Do we ever do that? Do we ever lock the doors of our hearts, of our souls, perhaps because partially we are afraid of what’s “out there,” but maybe even more so because of the regret that’s already in our hearts to the point where we just can’t take any more? I am pretty sure that we do, I am pretty sure that many of us have done this, that many of us are doing it right now, and that many of us will do it again. But that’s where the lesson of this Second, Sunday of Easter, this “Doubting Thomas” Sunday, this Mercy Sunday comes in. Although the doors were locked we are told that Jesus came and stood in their midst. That’s what He did for the disciples, and that’s what He does for us. Imagine, their amazement, but also imagine there shame and their fear because of their guilt? But what does He bring? “Peace be with you,” He says to them. He brings mercy and forgiveness and gives them a mission- to forgive the sins of all. That’s what He brings to us, and to our locked hearts. Peace, Mercy, Forgiveness and New Purpose. Amazingly and Unbelievably… Are your doors locked? They might be able to keep the bad guys out there, but take heart, they won’t be able to keep Jesus out, not if you long for Him.
Maybe I am a little bit behind, but even as we are celebrating Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus I still find myself reflecting on the story of the raising of Lazarus, which we heard two weeks ago. I kind of can’t get past the fact, and I know it is probably a small detail, that Jesus commanded that the stone that was blocking Lazarus’ tomb to be rolled away before He raised him from the dead. I also find it amazing that His command is a very real and clear foreshadowing of the stone that was soon to be rolled away from Jesus’ own tomb. I am kind of stuck on this idea of stones being rolled away from tombs. Stones that are rolled away so that life, new life, freed life, resurrected life can come forth. And you know what else, we know, at least in the case of Lazarus’ stone, it wasn’t Jesus who rolled it away. I wonder who rolled away His stone-but I will wager that it was not Him. I think that Jesus’ life and ministry make it quite clear that the ones who roll away the stones are not Him but us. As a matter of fact, Jesus never performs a miracle, without demanding that those involved do something. It might be filling jugs with water, it might be the selling of possessions, it might be handing over five loaves and two fish, but it is very true that miracles are performed only when we humans do something that Jesus acts. We might say that only when we do what we can-when we do the possible, that Jesus does the impossible. We roll away the stones, we pour the water, we anoint with oil, we offer bread and wine and Jesus confers the sacraments. And He won’t, if we don’t. So as we celebrate Jesus’ rising from the tomb let’s reflect for a moment on who it might have been that rolled that stone away and be very grateful that it was. But further we need to look around our own lives, our own hearts, our own souls and see how much like Lazarus we have become. I bet if we look around a little bit it won’t take too long for us to see the stones that are blocking paths to life for us or others in our lives. Maybe we see so much damage that has already been done that it is just impossible to repair. That’s just how humanity was when Jesus came to earth-it was in an impossible situation. But He went around challenging people to do what they could in support of Him and then He did what He could. That’s what Easter is about. The lesson of Easter is that Jesus is commanding us to do what is possible so that He might do the impossible. If we don’t, He won’t. If we do, He will.
Believe it or not, it is Palm Sunday, 2017! We are about, once again to enter into holiest of all weeks of the year, as we begin by commemorating the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His Passion. Next Sunday of course, we will celebrate His Resurrection. But what about all the days in between remember it is “Holy Week;” it is made up of seven days, not just one or two. Our invitation and challenge is to make sure that we do not miss it, that we accept the invitation and challenge of Jesus to walk with Him from the time of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, through His sorrowful passion to His joyful Resurrection. I firmly believe that here at St. Aloysius Parish you will have ample opportunity to do just that. Of course, we will began by participating in today’s celebration of the Mass of Palm Sunday. Note that we are invited to leave from Mass in silence as a sign of the fact that we are beginning the most solemn journey with Jesus through the holiest of weeks. Perhaps you would consider participating in daily Mass at 8:00AM on Monday or 6:30AM on Tuesday or Wednesday, so that you might continue walking with Jesus as He moves closer and closer to the Upper Room and Gethsemane. I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity on both Monday and Wednesday evenings at 6:30PM to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Please note that this is your last chance to receive the sacrament before Easter. Then on Tuesday evening at 6:30PM in church our seventh and eighth grade students will present the “Living Stations.” They have been working so hard and they have done a fantastic job; you will not want miss it! Then, on Holy Thursday we will celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7:00PM. Join us as we present the newly blessed sacramental oils, celebrate once again with Jesus the Last Supper, the First Mass, the institution of the Eucharist and of the Priesthood. At the end of Mass the altar will be stripped, statues, etc. will be covered in black and we will process the Blessed Sacrament down Hanover Street and back into the Gathering Center to the Altar of Repose which will be wherethe Sacred Heart statue now stands. As the Triduum continues we will commemorate Christ’s passion and deathwith the celebration of Morning Prayer on Good Friday. Adoration will continue throughout the day until our Celebration of the Lord’s Passion at 3:00PM. This is an absolutely moving service which includes the most powerful ritual of the Veneration of the Cross. On Holy Saturday morning, we will pray Morning Prayer once again in the barren church. Immediately following morning prayer, at 8:30AM, you may bring your Easter food to church to be blessed. Then we wait with heartfelt expectation for the blessing of the Easter Fire at 7:42PM on the evening of Holy Saturday as we begin the Easter Vigil and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. As you can see, this is indeed the holiest of weeks. Do not miss it!
In the Gospel Jesus brings to the light how important it is to make sure that the physical is in line with the spiritual. The theme that runs throughout is that we human beings can suffer from both spiritual and physical blindness. Jesus’ point of course is that both are indeed very important but although we may not be physically blind, that doesn’t mean that we enjoy spiritual sight. Spiritual blindness means not being able to see clearly as Jesus sees, as God sees, for they see reality as it is. The Pharisees could not see what was right in front of their faces; that Jesus had healed a man who had been blind from birth. Jesus also makes it clear that both the physical and spiritual dimensions of a person are very important by the very fact that He heals this man. However, while Jesus heals the physical dimension the spiritual dimension is much more our domain because it involves our free will and ability to choose and Jesus will not impinge upon that. At the end of the story Jesus says to the Pharisees and to us, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind," but then they responded, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" Jesus goes on to say, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains." This is a sobering exchange, is it not? Basically He is saying to them and to us, that as long as we sin, we are blind. If we could truly “see,” in the fullest sense of the word, we would never sin; sinfulness would have no place in our hearts. What’s worse is that many of us cannot see that we cannot see. We have so lost a sense of what sin is that we don’t even realize when we commit sin. Many times in confession people will say that they really don’t have any sins, but they want the grace of the sacrament? Really? The first step to sight, as Jesus speaks of it, is to be able to see that we are sinners who need the forgiveness of Jesus. Beyond that, it is only when we truly stop sinning can we say that we can see.
I think that this story that we know as “The Woman at the Well,” could just as easily be entitled “The Messiah at the Well” because it is truly more about what Jesus did at the well than what the woman did. After all, the woman was probably there virtually every day, while Jesus, as far as we know, was only there this one time. So, what did Jesus do? Well, He crossed boundaries, big time. (I can’t help but wonder what Jesus would think about our “over-boundary” conscious world of today.) He sent His disciples off so that He was by Himself. Was He asking for trouble? He had to know that there was a fair chance that a Samaritan woman would come by to draw water from the well. He knew that it was not kosher for a man to be with a woman alone in broad daylight; let alone a Samaritan woman! And when such a woman did indeed come along, what did He do? He engaged her in conversation and even asked her for a drink! Why did He behave in such a way, a way that He had to know would have been seen as imprudent? I think that the very simple answer is that He was, as He shared with the woman, thirsty. He was thirsty for souls. At this point He was thirsty for the souls of the Samaritans. He was determined to make a connection, even if He had to break a number of behavioral norms. Perhaps He felt as though, He had been preaching to His own people, and even to His disciples, without the success, without the response He was looking for. Now He was in Samaritan territory and He was not going to pass through it without taking a shot at winning their souls. We, because of original sin, political correctness, etc., etc., are literally held bound by all kinds of social norms, but the Lord is not. One of the lessons in the story of “The Messiah at the Well” is that when it comes to winning our souls, He has never ending thirst and that He will not be prevented by any boundary from quenching it.
We are all very familiar with the story of the Transfiguration and that could be a problem. The fact that it is so familiar might prevent us from hearing it anew as it is proclaimed over and over again. We might tend to “click it off” and let our minds wander, since we feel like we know it through and through. We live in a world of sound bytes, text messaging, and web and channel surfing. Everything and everyone gets about 3 seconds of our time, because, if someone or something is too familiar to us we feel like we have “been there” and “done that” and immediately want to move on because there are so many other people to see and things to do. This extremely worldly pattern of behavior does not sit well with pondering Sacred Scripture. Scripture really does not lend itself to being packaged as a sound byte. It is meant to be studied, prayed and reflected upon. It is always new, but we have to spend time with it in order to realize that the insights it gives us are never ending and always fresh. For instance, with the story of the Transfiguration, if we spend time with it, we just might come to see that it is much more than a story explaining how Jesus’ clothes turned dazzlingly white one day. We might come to see that it is as story that shows us that if we spend time with Jesus, as Peter, James and John did, we just might receive a wonderful gift. We might just be given the opportunity, if but for a brief moment, to see Jesus as His Father sees Him. Of course, to see Jesus as the Father sees Him is to see Him as He truly is. Now, wouldn’t that be something? But there’s more. What if we could see everyone and everything with the Father’s eyes -our loved ones; and our not so loved ones? Don’t you think your life would be different if you could see as the Father sees-if you could see God’s world and His people as they truly are? The message of the Transfiguration is that you can do just that, that you can see as the Father sees, but in order to do so you have to go to the mountaintop with Jesus in prayer in order to do it. And you can’t be too fast with the clicker.
Feeling more temptation than usual? ‘Tis the season, and here’s how to recognize and respond to it:
The Lord said to satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on him.” - Job 1:12
Have you experienced any of these temptations this Lent?
1. The Temptation to Distraction
Lent can very quickly become about doing way too many things or nothing at all. The devil wants us to either drown in penances or feel discouraged right away and give up. The thing is that Lent should be about God, not our activities, as well-intentioned as they may be. It is better to ask God to help us focus on one key thing during Lent, and then despite our failures, ask Him for the grace to persevere.
2. The Temptation
If we are naturally more disciplined or strong-willed than those around us, there is a temptation to spend Lent patting ourselves on the back and comparing ourselves favorably to others. This is exactly what the devil wants. He wants us to think we are better than other people and to grow in pride, which is precisely what we should repent of during Lent. If we have this tendency, or are experiencing it this Lent, the best antidote is to choose a penance that is absolutely impossible to achieve perfectly and that challenges our tendency toward pride. This helps us to realize that Lent is not about being perfect, type– A, judgers. It is about realizing that even with the natural gifts that God has given us, we are still sinful and very much in need of grace.
3. The Temptation to Self-Improvement
Lent can very quickly become only about losing weight or ending some bad habit that has become an irritation in our lives, rather than growing close to God. And the devil would love for Lent to be all about us. But this is not what Lent is about. As Father Anthony Gerber pointed out in an excellent post on this subject; “Lent is...about failing miserably, about you reaching that third week of doing the difficult, of choosing the nails and thorns of love...But then denying Jesus for a few pieces of silver, of comfort, of selfish, selfish self-love. And in that moment, you’re going to be brought to your knees and you’re going to lift your arms to the heavens and say, “Lord, I cannot do this by myself! Lord, help me! I’m so bad at love!” We are usually good at loving ourselves, and bad at loving others. This is why it’s important to choose penances that will help us to grow in selfless love.
4. The Temptation to Division
Division is one of the devil’s favorite tools in his toolbox. He just loves to get between Christians and cause rivalries, confusion, jealousies, anger and paranoia. The devil wants us to look at other Christians and see the enemy rather than recognizing that the only real enemy among us is the devil (and ourselves when we let him work on us).
So of course, during Lent the devil may try to incite division among Christians in our homes, in our parishes, and even online. If you read material online from various sources, a good question during Lent (and really at any time) would be: “ Does this material help me to love my fellow Christians more, or does it lead to division?”
Recently deceased Supreme Court justice and faithful Catholic, Antonin Scalia, once said: “I attack ideas. I don’t attack people.” This is a sign of character. And it is a distinction that is increasingly lost in our society. If what you are reading or writing online focuses on attacking people rather than working for unity in Christian love, it may be the tool of the devil to keep you (and others) from growing in the spiritual life.
5. The Temptation to Discouragement
The devil likes nothing more than to make us as miserable as he is. And he knows that if we are feeling discouraged we are likely to be less cooperative with God’s grace. So, during Lent the devil can tempt us to feel like giving up on living the penitential spirit of the season. He can make us feel like we are constantly failing and just no good at this. The thing is– no one is “good” at Lent. If you think you are, you are not choosing the right penances. So, when we feel discouraged, it is an opportunity to thank God with loud shouts of joy for saving us from our mediocrity and sin. It makes no sense to be lost in discouragement if we really believe the Gospel message. Even in Lent, we know that Jesus has died, yes, but He has also risen, and joy and grace is available now for us to be transformed. And thank God for that!
Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, is the author of the Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved One Back to the Church. She recently pronounced her fist vows with the Daughters of Saint Paul.
Jesus says to us “Seek and you will find,” “Ask and you will receive,” and “Knock and the door shall be opened unto you.” We, as the good people we strive to be, very much want to believe His words, but we all can come to remember situations in our lives in which we have sought, but have not found, have asked, but have not received, and have knocked without finding an open door. So how do we reconcile His words with our faith? Certainly we believe whatever Jesus says, but we might have some trouble understanding them when we match them up with our experience. Jesus also tells us that we have a Father who very much wants to say yes to His children. Jesus gives us the example of a human father who very much wants to give good things to his children and explains that if we want so much to give our children good things, even though we are so imperfect, than how much more must our heavenly Father want to give good things to us? But then why is it that we pray for things and not receive them? Perhaps we can look to what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel. He says, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” Basically He is saying that we will either choose ultimately to conform ourselves to the selfishness of the world or to our Father in Heaven. What happens with us is that we continually find ourselves torn between our own desires and the desires of God. God wants those things that are good for us and wants always to say “yes” to us but, for own good, will not say “yes” to those things that are not for our good, even though, they may look nice and shiny to us. What parent would quickly run to pull a nice shiny sharp object from the reach of his/her toddler, even though this will cause the little one to cry? That is how God is with us. He wants so much to say “yes” to us but in order for Him to be able to do that means that we need to conform our hearts and minds and wills to His so that we are truly able to seek first the Kingdom of God. Once we can do that, than all the abundant blessings of our Heavenly Father will be added unto us.
“When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” You’ll probably never guess who these words of Jesus remind me of, but I do think a number of you (especially Eagles’ fans) will remember him once I say his name. Well, they remind me of Ty Detmer, a quarterback who played for the Eagles for a short time in the 1990s. You might remember also, his younger brother Koy, who was a third string QB for the Eagles for several years up until about 10 years ago. Anyway, Ty was a fill in for a short time for Randall Cunningham. And he did make quite a splash for several weeks. He defied the experts who said he was too short to be a successful NFL quarterback for a few weeks winning (I think!) 5 games in a row. But then, reality set in. His short stature prevented him from seeing over the opposing defensive lines and his passes, which somehow evaded the hands of the defenders for the first several games evaded them no more. It got ugly, real fast. Just like that, he almost could not complete a pass, let alone be competitive in a game. It all came to a climax during Monday Night Football game against, who else, the Dallas Cowboys. Ty had beaten them in his previous meeting, but not this time. In one series he was sacked on three successive plays. I forget the score (I know we lost by a lot) but what I do remember is the words of a Dallas defensive linemen which were spoken about Ty after the game. He said that at the end of one of those sacks, as he was literally laying on top of Ty, he said to him, “Rookie, I hope you’re ready for this because we will be coming every play.” Ty’s response was very simple. He said, “I’ll be here.” I remember this because I think it gives us a glimpse into what Jesus means when he talks about turning the other cheek. It’s not about weakness, it’s about strength, it’s about being there, it’s about choosing not to make the same kind of choice that everyone else makes. Isn’t that what Jesus did? Isn’t his death on the cross the ultimate turning of the other cheek? Isn’t it the ultimate statement of what it means to be there and not being like everyone else? Remember, Jesus consistently teaches us that we are not to think and behave like the rest of the world does. We are called to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
These words, taken from today’s first reading from the book of Sirach, give me reason to pause. They also remind me of similar verses that can be found in Scripture. For example, in Deuteronomy, chapter 30 verse 19 we find these words: “…I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live…” In Joshua chapter 24 verse 15, we find these words: “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,…as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD…” (This verse is particularly meaningful to me, because it always reminds me of my father, and I chose this passage from Joshua to be proclaimed at his funeral Mass.) So, at least in my mind any way, there does seem to be a theme running through scripture which has found its way into our Sunday Lectionary today. Within this theme are the ideas of free will, life and death, and serving the Lord. And remember this, for the ancient Hebrews, life, by definition, was that precisely which proceeded from loving and obeying God. Therefore, if we choose to serve God, we are choosing life. Death was defined as the rejection of God. Therefore, if we choose not to serve or obey the Lord, we choose death. But we need to understand that our choices affect not only eternity-they affect today as well. If I want to live today, it means that I choose to serve the Lord today. If I choose not to serve the Lord today, it means that for today I have not chosen life; I have chosen something else, and what follows from that choice will not be the life that comes from God but something else, i.e. isolation from Him- which is the same as death. Remember, what we choose will be given to us, so let’s be sure to choose to serve the Lord and not some other god, let’s be sure to choose life, so that we will live today and throughout all eternity with the Lord.
These words, of course, are part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He spoke these words, remember, to the poor, the outcast, to those who were mourning, to the persecuted, etc. He told them that they were blessed and that the kingdom of heaven belonged to such as them. And then He told them that they were salt and light. Now even today, 2000 years after He spoke these words we still appreciate salt and light as valuable commodities. However, I think that we have no idea just how valuable salt and light were to the people of Jesus’ time. To them, salt was not just something that improved the flavor of food. It also preserved it. Without salt, food would spoil and people would have nothing to eat. Salt was so valuable that it was used as salary for Roman soldiers. Even today, we need to realize that we can survive without gold but we cannot survive without salt. Today we have all kinds of light all around us and at our finger tips. In Jesus’ time people literally lived in darkness. Again, try to imagine, how these lowliest of people must have felt when they heard Jesus’ words and know that He is saying them to us as well. It is truly amazing that the Lord sees us as blessed, as salt and as light. Notice that He does not say, “You are like salt and light,” or “You should strive to become, like salt and light.” No, He says, “You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world.” He makes a definitive statement. But, then, the more I think about it, the more it sounds like to me that He is giving us a command, more than He is making a statement. He is commanding us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He is charging us to be everything that salt and light was to the people of His time. And this we must do during this season of Ordinary Time so that our light will shine brightly before others and that they may give glory to God.