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.

2nd Sunday of Lent

As you might imagine, I talk to a lot of people who have problems.  Just this week I visited a patient at Saint Clare hospital who was very despondent about her poor health and her strained relationship with her family.  She wasn’t angry at God but she couldn’t understand why he had “abandoned” her.

I also spoke with a lady this week who was out of work.  She had had a good job but now she’s basically homeless, hoping that she might be able to move in with friends.  She is mad at God.

These are a couple of extreme examples, but we all have personal problems from time to time.  Some problems are worse than others.  And we all react in different ways.  In our second reading today, Saint Paul writes to Timothy and gives him, and us, some pretty good advice on handling problems.  “Beloved:  Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.”

I suppose you’ve heard the old saying, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” And we all know that “God never gives us more than we can handle.”  That’s what Paul wrote to Timothy and it’s what I said to the two ladies I spoke to this week.  But, when you’re in constant pain, or your family seems to hate you, or if you’re out of work with no place to go, words don’t always give you the comfort you need.  Even Jesus asked His Father why He’d forsaken Him as He hung on the cross.

In fact, in today’s Gospel we hear God the Father speak of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to Him.” Hopefully we do listen to Him and hopefully we also pay attention to what He didn’t say.  Here’s what He didn’t say.  He didn’t say that this life would be easy.  He didn’t say that we’d never be sick.  He didn’t say that everyone would always treat us well, even though He did tell us to treat others well.  Like the song says, “He never promised us a rose garden.” In fact, He told us that to get to heaven we’d have to take up our cross and follow Him.

And so we do.  But deep down we hope that He won’t ask too much of us.  We all do it.  I can suffer a little bit, but please God, don’t make me suffer too much.  Please God, let me win the lottery.  Please God, find me a job.  Give me patience, Lord.  Do it now!  I’ll carry my cross, Lord, but could you please make it one of those balsa wood ones.  Give the really heavy one to someone else.

But, what did Paul say?  He said “Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Aha!  There it is!  Don’t ask God to take away the hardship.  Ask Him to give you strength.  Or better yet, ask Him to help you get strong.  There is a difference.

I’m a bicyclist.  I enjoy riding but this has been a pretty rough winter.  I didn’t ride nearly as much as I would have liked to and frankly, I hate riding a stationary bike.  So, I’ve gotten a little soft.  Where I was riding thirty to forty miles at a time last fall, now I’m struggling to ride twenty.  I know I’m not going to jump from twenty miles to forty miles overnight.  I’ll go from twenty to twenty-two.  Then I’ll go from twenty-two to twenty-five.  Slowly but surely, I’ll be back to riding long distances again.

I could get down on my knees and ask God to give me the strength to ride forty miles and then sit back and wait for it to happen.  Maybe what I should do is to ride a little more each day until He gives me the strength I need.  If I ride two or three times a week, it should take Him about a month to answer my prayer.

My point is that God does give us what we need but He doesn’t always give us what we want.  Sometimes we have to do our part.  We may have to do some work.  We’re having stations of the cross here on Friday mornings at 11:00 during Lent.  I’d love to see more people come.  But I have to be honest with you.  Coming once, or even coming for the rest of the Fridays of Lent isn’t going to get you into heaven.  What it will do is strengthen your “spiritual muscles”.  Like me riding my bike an extra two or three miles each time I ride to build up my endurance, regular, faithful devotions, no matter what form they take, build up your spiritual endurance.

We Catholics are fortunate to have so many different kinds of devotions.  Whether it’s stations, or the rosary, or a daily devotion to a particular saint, each of them makes us spiritually stronger.  And it’s that strength, that originates in our faith in God, that allows us to keep on going, even when the times are tough.

Remember, God exists outside of time.  He doesn’t make things happen but He knows what’s going to happen.  He knew what His Son was about to go through, just as surely as we know it.  It was with that knowledge that He said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus was glorified through His suffering just as you and I are glorified in ours.

So, as we continue with our Lenten observance, maybe it would be a good idea to spend a few minutes every day considering just what we should pray for.  Instead of praying for that balsa wood cross, maybe we should pray for the strength to carry whatever cross we have to bear.  Remember that often our cross is of our own making.  By living our lives according to the Gospel, maybe, just maybe, we can lighten our own cross;  maybe even avoid it altogether.

Friday of the 1st Week of Lent–TGIF

Thank God it’s Friday!  I wonder why we don’t say TGIS (Thank God it’s Saturday!) or TGIW (Thank God it’s Wednesday!)  Obviously if you work a normal forty hour week TGIF makes sense.  It’s the last day of the work week.  But when you get right down to it, God gives us every day, including Friday, and we should give thanks for them all.  Believe me, if you haven’t already, at some point in your life you’ll realize that each day is precious.  Our days are numbered and none of us knows how many we have left.

Friday has a special significance for Catholics.  It’s the day Jesus Christ gave up His life so that we might have a chance of getting into heaven.  It’s always been a day where we’re called upon to do some form of penance.  Once-upon-a-time, we weren’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays.  Guess what.  That rule was never lifted.  In 1966 the US Bishops modified the requirement to include other types of penance. In other words, if you do eat meat on a normal Friday, you’re supposed to do some other form of penance. Somehow that little detail has slipped a lot of people’s minds.

But this isn’t a normal Friday.  It’s a Friday during Lent and for us Catholics, that means “no meat.”  No hamburgers, no hot dogs, no barbecue.  And, that’s a good thing.  It really is.  First of all, if you like fish, it’s really no penance at all.  Even if you hate fish, there’s pasta, and vegetable stuff that tastes like meat.  What it is is a reminder.  Hopefully three times today you’ll stop and think that today’s a day of abstinence and you’ll think about why.  Why can’t I eat meat?  Because today’s the day we remember what Jesus did for us.  He died a horrible, painful death on the cross so you and I might have eternal life.

That’s what today is all about.  So enjoy your macaroni and cheese  But don’t forget to remember what Lent is all about.  TGIF!  God gave us this day.  Let’s make the most of it.

Thursday of the 1st Week of Lent–Saint Patrick’s Day

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me. From the Breastplate of Saint Patrick
So, what does the Patron Saint of Ireland, this 5th Century missionary, have to do with green beer, corned beef and cabbage, and leprechauns.  To tell you the truth, I haven’t the faintest idea.  All I know is that I’ve partaken of my share of the first two and may have seen, at least once or twice, the third, depending of course on how much I’ve had of the first two.
Saint Patrick’s day became a big deal in the US because lonely Irishmen who had left their families behind to come to America needed a way to escape from their loneliness, at least for one day.  (Here in Saint Louis, Paddy’s Day is more of a multi-day affair.  We have two parades, one on the Saturday before and one on the day itself.  But that came later.)
Here’s the thing:  I plan on being at the parade today.  Though I won’t be drinking any green beer, I will enjoy the corned beef and cabbage (a foreign food on the Emerald Isle, by the way.)  But I’ll also remember that we are in the midst of Lent, I’ll take time to remember dear ol’ Paddy for the saint that he is, and I’ll lead Stations of the Cross tomorrow evening.
If you plan on enjoying the secular festivities today, I hope you’ll take time out to do the same.

Wednesday of the 1st Week of Lent–Sackcloth and Ashes

Maybe it was the immediacy of it.  When Jonah went through Nineveh he announced, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.”  When the people heard Jonah’s prophesy they proclaimed a fast and everyone dressed in sackcloth.  Heck, even the king took off his robe, covered himself in sackcloth, and sat in the ashes.  He made the fast official by royal proclamation.  Even the animals were forbidden to eat or drink.  What’s more, every man (and woman?) was to turn away from evil ways and violence.

The king hoped that by these acts of penance they might get God to change His mind, and He did.

Fast forward to Jesus’ time.  Here’s the Son of God preaching repentance and the people want to see signs.  His response is that there will be no sign.  They’ve already received the sign of Jonah.  Of course we know that some of the people believed Jesus but many didn’t.  For some folks, even the appearance of the Son of God wasn’t enough.

Today, 2,000 + years later, the world is in bad shape.  The idea of a king or any other political leader proclaiming that his or her subjects should turn away from sin and violence is laughable.  If anything, most of our political types are in favor of sin.  After all, anything that can be taxed must be good, right?  Here in the United States it would be impossible for the president to declare a time of fasting because that would violate the separation of church and state which is presumed to be in the Constitution, even though the defining document of our government contains no such language.  (But that’s a topic for another day.)

Obviously the folks in Jesus’ day were right in assuming there was no hurry, even though every human being has a limited number of days on this planet.  All these centuries later, the world is still revolving around the sun, though it still refuses to revolve around the Son.

Clearly the solution for you and me is to put on our personal sack cloth, conduct our own private fast, be it from food or something else, and to follow Jesus’ greatest commandment, “Love one another.”  Whether we have 40 days or 40 years or even more time left in this life, time passes very quickly.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if we were called home today and weren’t ready.  After all, we have been warned.