3rd Thursday of Lent

Play ball!

I don’t know about where you live, but here in Saint Louis we celebrate our own holiday–Opening Day.  It seems like this civic celebration normally happens the first week of April, but this year it falls on the last day of March.  I guess it’s like Easter.  It doesn’t come on a specific day of the calendar, but this year it seems early.  On the other hand, given the weather we’ve had this winter in the Midwest, it can’t come soon enough.

Don’t get me wrong.  This “official” start of summer is no respecter of the weather man.  It has been known to snow here on the “boys of summer”.  But today is a rite of passage for most of us and spring and summer can’t be too far behind.

During the course of the year, we have no shortage of harbingers, days that mean that something is about to happen.  For most of us Memorial Day means the beginning of summer and Labor Day means the end, even though the calendar says otherwise.  The thing is, we all need hope.  Without it, we wouldn’t even bother to get up in the morning.  Saint Paul tells us that of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love.  And, it’s hard to argue the point.

But, hope springs eternal.  Hope keeps us going.  And some of us may even hope for love.

Of course, the greatest sign, the greatest promise of hope is Easter, when Jesus defeated death and made eternal life possible for you and me.  As we enter the second half of Lent, I hope that you find encouragement and hope in whatever penitence you’ve chosen for this special season.  I promise I will continue to pray for you and I hope you will pray for me.

3rd Wednesday of Lent–Take Care not to Forget

The Church offers us two readings today about the law.  In the Gospel Jesus tells the disciples, including you and me, that He hasn’t come to abolish the law but rather to fulfill it.  Of course the law he speaks of is the Mosaic law, or the Jewish law.  Many of His teachings run contrary to the Jewish beliefs and, of course, for us Catholic Christians, Jesus’ words take precedence.  But He makes it very clear that where He doesn’t contradict Jewish law, you and I are just as bound to it as our Jewish ancestors.

Modern-day Catholics are often critical, or at least confused by all the “rules” of the Catholic Church.  The Code of Canon Law is a huge book and much of it is beyond the comprehension of the average person.  “Canon Law” is a specialized field much like civil law.  Just as the average person understands what to do at a stop sign, most Catholics get the idea that we’re supposed to go to mass on Sunday (though the majority of them don’t).  On the other hand, civil contract law or the Church’s requirements for a valid and licit marriage are much more complicated.

Let’s get back to Moses for a minute.  In the first reading he tells us,

“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the Land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.”

Notice the spirit of the law.  It’s not about controlling anyone.  It’s about giving us the grace to live.  In Moses day the goal was the “promised land.”  Since Jesus, it’s about gaining a heavenly home.  Eternal life in paradise.

Moses goes on to say that if we observe the law carefully, we will give evidence of our wisdom and intelligence.  People will say, “This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.”

Isn’t that what people used to say about the United States?  Weren’t we considered a great nation?  Weren’t Americans looked up to as wise and intelligent people?  But, what happened?

The reading closes with these words,

“However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and your children’s children.”

I’m not here to talk politics. There are plenty of places for that.  But I also don’t believe you can separate a nation’s politics from it’s core beliefs.  This great nation has given up it’s place as the city on the hill.  The faith of our founding fathers is what gave us the system of government that has made us a great nation.  But somewhere along the way, we stopped listening to Moses’ words.  We have let what we’ve seen with our own eyes slip from our memory.  Worse, we’re not teaching it to our children and our children’s children as Moses and Jesus commanded us.

Lent is about 1/2 over.  Our Lenten glass is either half full or half empty, depending on your outlook.  I’d like to think that we have three weeks left to pray for any number of things.  Of course we pray for our own redemption, our own spiritual growth.  Let’s also pray for our fellow American Catholics; that those who have fallen away might come home and that those who have put their Catholic faith on the back burner, might rediscover the wonders of the faith again and show their wisdom and intelligence to all the nations.


3rd Tuesday of Lent–Forgive Us Our Trespasses

The Gospel for today is the story of the ungrateful debtor.  The master, in his mercy, forgives the debtor a large debt only to learn that the debtor refused to forgive a smaller debt that was owed to him. He retracts his forgiveness and turns the debtor over to the torturers.  The story concludes with Jesus saying,

“So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

Surely one of the favorite prayers of most Catholics is the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father.  As children we’re taught to say this prayer early and often.  Jesus, Himself, when the disciples asked Him how to pray gave us this prayer.  Some would say that since this is what Jesus taught that it’s the only prayer we need.

But, since we pray it so often, sometimes automatically, do we really mean what we pray.  Think about it.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Is that what we really want?  Have you really forgiven everyone who’s ever sinned against you–unconditionally; the way you want to be forgiven?  While we may be asking God to forgive us, we’re also asking Him to give us the grace to forgive.

Maybe this season of Lent is a good time to think about everyone who’s ever done you wrong; not to rekindle old grudges, but rather to forgive them in the same way we want God to forgive us.

3rd Sunday of Lent

Just a brief comment this morning since I know you’ve been to church already and have heard a homily on today’s readings.  On a more general note, today’s the 3rd Sunday of Lent.  It’s three weeks until Palm Sunday, four weeks until easter.  We have plenty of time left to get our spiritual houses in order.

My suggestion for you today is to spend some time alone in quiet reflection.  Turn off the TV (gasp!) and just think about (1) all the blessings you have in your life, and (2) what you can do to make yourself the best possible version of yourself.  Ask for God’s help.  Pray to the Blessed Virgin for assistance.  Ask the Holy Spirit to descend on you and help you to achieve your goal.  Remember that Sunday is the Lord’s day.  Spend part of it, other than the 45 minutes of mass, in prayer and reflection.  You’ll be glad you did.

2nd Saturday in Lent–Forgive Me Father, for I Have Sinned

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get very frustrated by my own inability to avoid sin.  Especially during Lent, when we’re called to penance and prayer, a time of personal reflection, I can’t help but wonder why it’s so #%^#@ hard to confront our demons and, with God’s help, boot them out of our lives.  But it’s harder than it looks.

In today’s Gospel we read of the prodigal son.  There’s no need to repeat the story here.  I’m sure you know it.  If not, click the link and read it for yourself.  It’s probably one of the most analyzed pieces of scripture in all the Bible.  But, being a simple guy, I prefer to look at the story in its simplest terms.  The young man turned away from his father, spent his money on wine, women, and song, then when he was at rock bottom, he came back to his father hoping for some food and a place to sleep.

Instead, his father forgave him and welcomed him with open arms.  In other words, the young man was you and me.  Our father, our Heavenly Father, will always forgive us.  He’ll always take us back, if………  See, there’s a condition on God’s forgiveness.  We have to ask for it.

How do we ask?  For Catholics it’s simple.  We swallow our pride and step into the confessional.  Jesus gave his Apostles the power to forgive sins.  By extension, He gave the same power to the successors of the Apostles, our bishops.  The bishops have the power to appoint priests to act on their behalf.

By the simple act of saying, “Forgive me father, for I have sinned” and then spelling out what we’ve done, we can obtain forgiveness, not from the priest, but from God himself, acting through the priest.

Confession, or the Sacrament of Reconciliation as it’s more properly called, isn’t as popular as it used to be.  Trust me, you most likely won’t have to wait in line, even during Lent.  But, even if you do, it’s well worth it.  You may not enjoy actually going to Confession, but I challenge anyone to tell me that they don’t feel better when they’re done.

2nd Thursday of Lent

“Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord.”

The prophet Jeremiah (Jer 17-5-10) reminds us of something today which we should already know.  Our fellow man (or woman) is never going to live up to our expectations.  We may love them and be proud of them, but somehow they’re going to let us down.  Maybe it’s because we idealize the ones we love and set impossibly high expectations for them.

For those we don’t love, we may be less likely to be disappointed because we don’t expect much of them.  When a total stranger reaches out to us, even with something as small as holding the door open for us, we’re suitably impressed.  But we may expect our best friend to hold that door and when they don’t we’re disappointed.  Even more likely, if they do hold the door, we don’t consider it to be a big deal because it’s what we expected.

God, on the other hand, does everything for us.  He gives us everything we have.  Guess what?  Chances are we don’t think it’s enough.  It’s easy to take God for granted.  He’s already given us the greatest gift of all, the gift of His Son.  What more could He do?  Yet, if we don’t get that promotion we’re looking for, if we get sick, or if someone we loves is called home, we’re disappointed, maybe even angry.

But, God never lets us down.  He gives us everything we need.  He doesn’t always give us what we want.  But how often does it turn out that what we wanted wasn’t really the best for us?

Lent is a wonderful time to examine all the gifts we’ve received from God and to be thankful for each and every one.

The Annunciation of the Lord

What to say about today’s Gospel story that hasn’t already been said.  The angel Gabriel comes to a little town in Galilee, called Nazareth.  He announces to a young virgin girl that she is going to become pregnant and give birth to the Son of God.  “How can this be since I have had no relations with a man?” she asks.

How can this be, indeed?  To appreciate everything that’s going on here, we have to take a few steps back and view this scene from a distance.  Nazareth was a little town, in a little province, on a little river.  Mary was a young girl, a virgin.  Everything about this picture is small.  Nothing exciting ever happened in Nazareth.  If it weren’t for Jesus, we would probably never have heard of it.

But, here’s this little town taking center stage in the “Greatest Story Ever Told.”  And, this little girl, this virgin from this little town is the star.  The angel calls her “full of grace”.  This isn’t some second-rate angel, not Clarence from “It’s a Wonderful Life”, it’s Gabriel, the archangel, one of God’s right hand men.  And he’s come to Nazareth to announce the birth of the Son of God!  It’s all up to Mary.  Will she agree?  Will she cooperate?  Imagine if she had said “no”.

Part of Gabriel’s sales pitch is to tell Mary that cousin Elizabeth, elderly cousin Elizabeth, is also pregnant.  That news alone boggles the mind.  Maybe that was Gabriel’s plan.  Shock Mary with the news of Elizabeth and she’ll be more likely to accept the news about God’s plans for her.

Anyway, as we all know, Mary did say “yes.”  Her “yes” set in motion a series of events that would lead her through great joy and great sorrow.  Her life was changed forever and so were yours and mine.  More than 2,000 years ago, this little girl from this little town said “yes” to something she couldn’t possibly have understood.  She did it because she had faith.

How many times does God ask things of us?  How often does He give us a chance to say “yes”.  And how many times do we disappoint him?  I think we’d all like to say “never.”  But you know it wouldn’t be true.  That’s why Mary is so important to us Catholics.  She’s a model of how we should respond to the Lord.  That’s why we so often say, “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.”

She knew when to say “yes”.  Hopefully some of her obedience will rub off on us.

2nd Wednesday of Lent

OK, today’s Gospel tells the famous story of the sons of Zebedee.  The main character in this story (except for Jesus, of course) is the “mother of the sons of Zebedee”.  I suppose that means she’s Zebedee’s wife.  For our purposes here, we’ll assume that’s the case, if only to make the prose a little simpler.

Anyway, Jesus is telling His twelve disciples that He’s going to Jerusalem where He will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes to be crucified and to be raised on the third day.  This is some pretty serious stuff and a lot for the twelve to absorb.  Matthew says that Jesus took the twelve off to the side to tell them this, apparently for their ears only.

But, somehow Mrs. Z. overhears the conversation, or maybe her sons tell her about it.  So, here she comes.  She wants Jesus to make sure her boys get to sit on his right and his left when He comes into His kingdom.  I have a feeling that she doesn’t understand that her sons have to die to join Him in His kingdom.

Now, we have two things going on here.  First, the Jewish mother, in her pride-fullness wants her sons to be special.  She wants them to be ahead of everyone else; not an uncommon wish for any mom.  She’s committing the sin of pride.

Then we have the other ten men who resent Mrs. Z’s implication that her boys are somehow better than them.  They’re angry at the two brothers.  Personally I think their anger is misplaced.  After all, who among us hasn’t been embarrassed at one time or another by our mother.  They always think their kid is best.  It’s just the way they are. I imagine the boys were thinking to themselves, “Aw, Mom.  Don’t you have somewhere else to be?”

Once again, Jesus takes the opportunity to remind everyone who was there, and to remind us, that the first shall be last.  Whoever humbles himself will be exalted and whoever exalts himself will be humbled.  He says this so often that I think we should really take it to heart.

We belong to a Catholic Church that teaches us over and over again that humility will go a long way toward getting us into heaven.  Lent is a good time to keep this in mind.

2nd Tuesday of Lent

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  Maatthew 23:12

We’ve heard this quote from Matthew’s Gospel hundreds of times.  The question is, “do we believe it?”  Everyone likes to be appreciated.  Everyone likes to be praised.  We all enjoy having the place of honor.  It’s who we are.  But the key is that when the appreciation, the praise, or the seat of honor are given to us by others, it’s not so bad.  It’s when we hold ourselves up as something special that we’re headed down a slippery slope.

This is an issue that I personally struggle with.  As member of the clergy, I get to do things that “lesser mortals” don’t.  I sit next to Father on the altar at mass.  I get to wear fancy vestment.  I get to share my pearls of wisdom when I preach.It’s not too hard to get caught up in that stuff.  But the fact is that I”m just one more servant of God.  I’ve been called to a particular position in the Church, but it’s a position of service.  If I’m singled out  by my vocation, it’s because I’m ordained to serve.

In fact, we’re all called to serve.  Whether we’re parents, or grandparents, or conversely, children and grandchildren, we have certain areas of service that we’re supposed to do.  If we do those things humbly and without complaining, then we’re serving God and our fellow human beings.

Remember in the Gospel for Ash Wednesday Jesus told us to wash our face and comb our hair and not let the world know that we’re fasting.  We fulfill our true calling in life when we serve without calling attention to ourselves.

2nd Monday of Lent–Don’t Blink

Something different today.  Instead of my words of wisdom, I thought I’d offer you, without comment, this video from Kenny Chesney. Enjoy.

PS, thanks you, Megan, for the link.