Good Friday

Good Friday is a day of fast and abstinence in preparation for Jesus’ glorious resurrection. We’re all encouraged to attend services today, but it’s not a Holy Day of Obligation. You don’t have to come to church today. You can’t eat meat and you can’t eat between meals, but you don’t have to come to church. I think that’s a little bit odd. On the day that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to save you and me from our sins, I think we should be here. Obviously, so do you.

On the other hand, the fact that this isn’t a day when we’re obliged to come to church, says something about those of us who do come, and those who don’t. One of my wife’s pet peeves is people who don’t send thank you notes. It seems like that simple, common courtesy has fallen by the way side. It’s just good manners to thank someone who’s done something for you. If it’s bad form not to thank someone who has given you a toaster, how much worse is it to not thank someone who’s died for your sins.

Our church will be full tomorrow night for the Easter Vigil. Doesn’t it make sense that it should be full today too? Even in this politically correct, what’s in it for me, don’t mix religion and politics, world, a lot of people get today off. Good luck trying to find a politician in Washington DC today. They’ve all gone home for the Easter break. You’d think that more people, not having to work or go to school today, might take an hour to drop by and say, “Hey, Jesus! Thank you for suffering terrible torture, being beaten and ridiculed, and for dying the painful death on the cross for me.”

If you were here yesterday you heard Father Paul talk about what was in the roads in Jesus time. Washing feet was generally done by servants because people’s feet were pretty nasty. The road was full of animal waste among other things. Remember that Jesus fell three times on the road to Calvary. That alone is more than enough reason for us to thank Him.

But, no. I could have told you ahead of time who would be in church today. I can also tell you a lot of people who aren’t. But you and I are here. We love Jesus and we’re thankful that a loving God would send His only begotten Son to die so that we might live.

Today is a solemn celebration. We mourn Jesus’ death. We see Him lying in the tomb and we realize that if it wasn’t for our sins, He wouldn’t be there. We’re sad and we’re sorry for what we’ve done. We also have the advantage of history telling us what’s about to happen. Tomorrow the tomb will be empty because He’s risen from the dead. Where today’s service is solemn, tomorrow’s will be joyful. There will be candles and bells and incense and we’ll rejoice that He’s overcome death. We will celebrate His resurrection because it’s the precursor to our own resurrection!

In a few minutes we’ll quietly leave church anxious to return tomorrow or Sunday for the great celebration.

Thank you Jesus for saving us from ourselves.

Saturday After Ash Wednesday

“The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’  Jesus said to them in reply,  ‘Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.  I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.'”

I suppose there are two ways we  can respond to Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel.  One would be, “Thank goodness I’m righteous.  I don’t have to repent. ”

The other would be, “I’m a sinner.  I guess He’s talking about me.”

Hopefully, your answer is the second one.  How could any sane person believe that he was without sin?  Yet, a lot of people must feel that way.  Just count the empty seats in church this weekend.  It’s  just over a month and a half since Christmas.  On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day our churches were filled to capacity.  Many had standing-room-only crowds.  Where are those people now?

Now we’re at the beginning of Lent, the time when we’re called to prepare ourselves for the coming celebration of Jesus’ glorious resurrection.  Fasting.  Prayer.  Charity.  These are our three obligations.  But more than obligations, these things are a prescription.

Jesus’ says to us, “‘Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.”

You and I are the patients.  Jesus is the doctor.  Our illness is sin and the remedy is His three-fold prescription.  Fast.  Pray.  Be charitable.  If you have the flu, you go to the doctor.  He’s probably going to give you a prescription.  If you expect to get well, you get the prescription filled and do whatever the doctor tells you to do.

Yet we all have the spiritual flu.  We also have the prescription to make us well.  The question is, do we follow the divine physician’s instructions as faithfully as we do our human doctor’s.  Considering the consequences of our sin, the answer would seem obvious.  But aparently to some folks, it’s not.

Friday After Ash Wednesday

Listen to the Podcast

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said,
“Why do we and the Pharisees fast much,
but your disciples do not fast?”  Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?

The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

It seems like someone was always calling Jesus out because He and his disciples weren’t following some Jewish custom.  In this case, John’s disciples, who were following the law wanted to know why Jesus and his disciples weren’t fasting.  And Jesus gives them a straightforward answer.  “When I’m gone, then they can fast.”

Well, He is gone and so we fast.  Not that twenty-first century fasting is such a big deal.  First of all, we only fast two days a year, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  And most of us here this morning don’t even have to do that.  The ages for fasting are from 18 to 59 years.

The other requirement is that we abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent.  Again, it’s not that tough.  For eight days we have to settle for shrimp instead of steak, fish sandwiches instead of Big Macs, pasta con broccoli instead of spagheti and meatballs, or if it’s really that hard to give up meat, we can buy soy meat substitutes that look and taste an awful lot like the real thing.  No, even today the Jewish people make a lot more food sacrifices than we do.

So today while you’re enjoying your Filet ‘O Fish for lunch and your tuna steak for dinner, hopefully you’ll give some thought to why you made that choice.  You might even say a prayer of thanks that you can observe the Lenten food regulations without really giving up that much.

Thursday After Ash Wednesday

Listen to the Podcast.

“Blessed the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.”

It’s kind of a paradox, this Christian faith of ours.  Today’s Responsorial Psalm is just one example.  We’re blessed if we delight in the law of the Lord.  Here we are, just beginning Lent, a time of penance, but we’re called to delight in the sacrifices we’re asked to make.

If we’re doing it right, this is a time of giving things up, a time of doing more, yet we delight in that.  We’re even asked to meditate on God’s law day and night.

Throughout Church history we see examples of saints who made huge sacrifices, including martyrdom, yet they were full of joy.  Very few of us will ever be asked to give up our lives for the faith, but if we are, we’re expected to do it happily, blessing our tormentors.

That’s a big order.  None of us really knows for sure how we’d react in that situation.  But we all know someone who can’t be bothered to fast for two days, or to abstain from meat for eight days.  You ask them what they’re doing for Lent and they tell you that they’ve given up some trivial thing, maybe even something that they never enjoyed to begin with.

No, most of us will never be called on to be martyrs.  But we are called to do things that may be incredibly difficult.  How we respond says a lot about our faith.  Some couples refuse to follow Church teaching on birth control.  In spite of the fact that natural family planning is by far the most reliable form of birth control, it takes effort and the occasional sacrifice and that’s just too much for some folks.  It’s much easier to take a pill every day in spite of the proven connection between those pills and cancer.

Think about that for a minute.  Once in a while, not that often really, NFP requires a couple to abstain from sex.  Most of the time, thought not always, this is more of a sacrifice for the man than for the woman.  Rather than show his love for his wife by the simple act of postponing his own gratification, many men prefer to ask the woman they love to take a drug that could cause her to have serious health problems down the road.  That’s love?

Heck, we all know people who can’t even be bothered to go to mass once a week.  There are 168 hours in a week, but spending just one of them in church is asking too much.

No, the “old-fashioned”  idea of sacrifice may be foreign to many of us, even during Lent.  That’s too bad.  Sacrifice truly can make us joyful.

Ash Wednesday

Listen to the Podcast.

“Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

This is one of the formulas used for the imposition of ashes today.  Maybe we should include it as part of our daily prayers the other 364 days of the year.  It’s a sobering reminder of the reality of this life.  Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel,

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.”

Today we make an exception.  Today we wear the ashes on our foreheads as a sign of our humanity, our sinfulness.  We are dust and to dust we shall return.  Tomorrow the ashes will be gone, but our sacrifice continues.

The tradition of the Church calls for prayer, sacrifice, and charity during the Lenten season.  Many of us have a human tradition of “giving it up for Lent”, but are we really doing enough.  “Giving it up”,may satisfy the sacrifice part.  But prayer and charity are just as important.

Saying a rosary every day, or even just a Hail Mary and an Our Father, are acceptable too, just as long as we do them faithfully and with the proper reverence.

As far as charity, it can be giving our treasure, our time, or just being nicer to people, especially people you don’t particularly like.  If someone notices the change, you can tell them joyfully that you’re waiting for the day of Christ’s resurrection.  You’re following the Lord’s instructions in today’s Gospel.

“Fat” Tuesday

Listen to the Podcast.

You have to love Saint James.  He always lays it on the line in simple words that we can all understand.  In today’s first reading he says,

“No one experiencing temptation should say,’I am being tempted by God’; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one.
Rather, each person is tempted when lured and enticed by his desire.  Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.”

How many times have you heard someone say, or maybe you’ve said it yourself,  “God is testing me.”  As James tells us today, God doesn’t test us.  It’s just not His style.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  If we’re tested, it’s Satan who’s doing the testing, not God.

We’re about to enter the season of Lent.  Our faith tells us that Lent is a time of penance.  As faithful servants we make a promise to either give up something or to do something additional as a way of emulating Christ and to prepare ourselves for His death and resurrection.  Remember that Satan tempted Christ and He was up to the challenge.

But you and I aren’t Christ.  The evil one knows that we’re likely to give in to temptation, and so do we.  Like a modern-day terrorist, he works in the shadows, keeping his identity secret until he strikes.   No, temptation doesn’t come from God.  But temptation is very, very real.

So how does this apply to you and me and to our Lenten observance?  This past week was very busy for me with a wedding and a rehearsal and a baptism and baptism prep meeting.  I also had two communion services and preached at three masses over the weekend.  I jokingly said to my wife Sunday afternoon, “I think I’ll give up weddings and baptisms for Lent.”  Of course there are no baptisms or weddings during Lent, so my “sacrifice” wouldn’t mean much.

Our Lenten penance should be something that stretches us, makes us think about what we’re doing, and requires an actual sacrifice.  But what if we overestimate ourselves.  What if we just can’t make it for forty days?  That’s where Satan, and our humanity come in.

God knows what we can and can’t do.  He knows we’re not perfect.  He knows we may fail.  In fact, in failing we may just be showing God how much we love Him.  If you’re not tempted during Lent, if you don’t slip at all, maybe you haven’t chosen wisely. And if you do have a lapse, getting right back on track and not giving up is the greatest gift we can give God.

As Thomas Merton wrote in Thoughts on Solitude,

“I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.”

So choose your penance wisely.  And don’t expect perfection.