2nd Sunday of Lent

Obedience.

It comes from the word obey; to comply with or follow the commands, restrictions, wishes, or instructions of someone in authority.  In the first reading today we have the classic example of obedience.  The Lord tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son.  Without questioning, Abraham heads off to the mountain with Isaac, his son.  He is fully prepared to do as the Lord asks.

The Gospel is the story of the Transfiguration, one we’re very familiar with.  In Mark’s telling of the story the voice of God says to Peter, James, and John: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”  Then, on the way down the mountain, Jesus tells the Apostles not to talk about what they’ve just seen until He has risen from the dead.  Mark tells us “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.”  That’s what we call obedience.

 

God the Father told the disciples to listen to His son and that’s what they did.  They didn’t know why.  They didn’t understand what “rising from the dead” meant.  They didn’t question Jesus.  They just did what He told them to do.

You and I are also called to do what Jesus tells us.  Unfortunately our society encourages us to do just the opposite.  People have either forgotten what Jesus told us, or they just don’t care.

 

Our Church has been all over the news lately.  The big national story is the Health and Human Services mandate that Catholic employers provide free contraception to their employers.  Locally, the Church is under fire for firing a Catholic school teacher for marrying his male lover.  I don’t want to talk about either of those stories today, but let’s look at them in the context of obedience.

 

Our Church along with many others teaches that artificial birth control is a sin.  It’s not a suggestion.  It’s not something that you might want to avoid.  It’s a sin.  That doesn’t mean you can’t do it. But, according to our US Constitution, the Church shouldn’t have to pay for you, or anyone else, to do it.

 

But this whole HHS mandate thing isn’t about birth control.  It’s about religious freedom and it’s about obedience.  The “Letters to the Editor” section of today’s (yesterday’s) paper was full of comments on this issue.  Here’s what one person wrote:  “I am Catholic and do not believe the Department of Health and Human Services contraception mandate is an assault on religious freedom and conscience; it is about Church power and control.”

 

This whole issue will be resolved one way or the other and we’ll deal with it when it is.  We’ve been dealing with the consequences of Roe vs. Wade for a long time.  The HHS mandate, if it stands, will not destroy the Church.  The Church has survived much worse.

 

What drives me crazy are people who don’t take the time to learn the truth but still want to express their very-public opinion anyway.  Let’s be clear.  The Church doesn’t control anybody.  She doesn’t control you.  She doesn’t control me.  The Church teaches.  Remember when Jesus said to the Apostles “Whoever hears you, hears me.”  (Luke 10:16)

 

The Church teaches on behalf of Jesus.  Whether you listen or not is up to you.  Through its teaching authority the Church passes along to us the will of God.  When we go along it’s called “obedience”.

 

But what about free will.  God gave us free will and a conscience.  He never makes us do anything.  Adam and Eve had free will.  God had given them two commandments; only two.  “Be fruitful and multiply” and “don’t eat the apple”.  So, being human and having free will, what did they do?  They ate the apple!  Two rules!  Just two rules and they could only manage to obey one of them.  They were 50% obedient and the rest is history.

 

We have a duty to God and to ourselves to form our conscience. The best way to do that is to live according to the teachings of Jesus and His Church.  With the Internet available to just about everybody there’s no excuse for not knowing Church teaching.  There’s no excuse for not being obedient.  “THIS IS MY SON, LISTEN TO HIM!”  There’s really no excuse for making a fool out of yourself by starting a letter to the editor “I am Catholic” then proceeding to criticize Church teaching. A logical person would read this guy’s letter and wonder why he doesn’t just leave the Church. Our obedience (or disobedience) doesn’t add up to Church control

 

Look at it this way.  When we’re little our parents pretty much control our lives.  They tell us what to do and when to do it.  They feed us and dress us and don’t give us a whole lot of choices.  Why do they do that?  Are they control freaks or are they trying to protect us, keep us safe, and teach us right from wrong.

 

Gradually, as we get older and smarter, they start to give us more choices.  We can decide what we want to eat (up to a point).  We start to pick out our own clothes.  And we get more freedom.  Anyone who ever had a teenager in their family knows that we all reach a point where we reject what we think of as control and start bending the rules to see how much we can get away with.  Hopefully, as parents, we’ve helped form the kid’s conscience so they know right from wrong.

 

When my kids were little I told them not to play with matches.  It wasn’t me (a large person) trying to control them (small people), it was me trying to save their lives.  They’re all grown ups now, they’ve not set themselves on fire (that I know of), and I don’t think any of them play with matches.  Clearly the result of my superior parenting skills.

 

It’s the same with the Church.  She teaches us right from wrong.  She helps us form our conscience.  But, it’s up to us to decide what we’re going to believe, what we’re going to do.  We can choose to be obedient, as Abraham was obedient; as the Apostles were obedient.  Or, we can be disobedient like Adam and Eve and get thrown out of the Garden.  It’s up to us.

Transfiguration of the Lord

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to Him!”

Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of the Lord.  Jesus goes to the top of the mountain with Peter, John, and James.  They, and we, get a small glimpse of what God has in store for His Son, and for us.  His garments become white as the sun and Moses and Elijah appear with Him.

The three Apostles have fallen asleep.  I guess the climb was too much for them.  These guys do have a bad habit of dozing off at crucial times.  Remember the Garden of Gesthemani?  Fortunately, they wake up in time to see what’s going on.

Of course Peter, in his enthusiasm wants to build tents so the people can come and see Jesus and the other two.  But the sky suddenly gets dark and God’s voice booms out from the clouds:  “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.” The Apostles fell silent and didn’t tell anyone at the time what they had seen.

Of course, what they had seen was very important.  It was a rare look into the future.  Jesus was transfigured, just as He was and you and I will be when we enter into God’s kingdom.

What they hear was even more important.  It’s the second time God has spoken directly to human beings about His Son.  The first time was at the River Jordan as He was baptized by John.  He IS my Son.  Listen to Him.

The message is no less important today than it was way back then.  That’s why we have an annual feast to remind us.  When He says “Listen to Him” He doesn’t mean sometimes.  He doesn’t mean when it’s convenient or when it won’t separate us from our friends.  He means always.  Every day.  In every circumstance.  His words are truth.  Anyone who speaks against His words is a liar.  That’s it.  End of story.

I don’t think they do so much anymore, but for a while it was a fad for kids to wear bracelets and T-shirts that said WWJD?, What would Jesus do?   But that’s not really the point.  Jesus walked on the water to get to his friends in the boat.  We can’t do that.

A better slogan might be WDJS?  What did Jesus say?  There’s no situation we can run into where the answer doesn’t lie in Jesus’ words.

“This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”

2nd Sunday of Lent

Listen to Him!

If you’ve been watching television for the last two weeks the scene in today’s Gospel seems a little familiar, doesn’t it?  Three men standing side-by-side on top of a mountain.  But, in this case, they haven’t come there to receive gold, silver, and bronze medals.  Moses and Elijah have come to meet Jesus, as Peter, John, and James look on; the famous story of the transfiguration.

Actually, the Winter Olympics analogy is pretty weak, even for me.  Jesus lived in the desert.  I don’t think He was into winter sports.  He could have lived anywhere He wanted to and you notice He didn’t choose Minneapolis of Toronto.  Good for Him!

As usual, Peter, my favorite saint, gets it all wrong.  He wants to build tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.  Maybe he wants to sell tickets so people can come and see them.  Of course, the point isn’t for anyone else to see the three together.  It’s specifically for the three Apostles.  A cloud passes over them and the voice of God booms out, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” Kind of like the day that Jesus was baptized.

Of course, when the cloud passes, Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophets, are gone.  The symbolism here is profound.  God is telling the Apostles, along with you and me, that we no longer need the Mosiac law or the words of the prophets.  All we need is the Son of God.  God the Father says, “Listen to Him.” Interesting.

His Father says “Listen to Him.”  At the site of His first miracle, his mother said, “Do whatever He tells you.” In John’s Gospel He even tells us Himself, “You are my friends if you do what I tell you.” I guess, maybe, we should listen.  What do you think?  But this listening thing can get a little complicated.  It’s pretty easy to read the Scriptures and see what He’s trying to tell us…….sometimes.  But not all the time.  Even after all the classes I took and all the reading I’ve done, sometimes I’ll read a passage and go “huh???”  What the heck is He talking about?  I really hate it when that happens on a weekend I have to preach.  If I only talk about the two readings, or the responsorial psalm, or last week’s Gospel, chances are I don’t get what Jesus is telling us that day.

I once went to a two day workshop put on by a priest, Eugene LaVerdier.  Amazing.  I can’t remember where I left my car keys ten minutes ago but I remember Eugene LaVerdier.  Anyway, Fr. LaVerdier has spent his entire life studying Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.  Two books!  His whole life.  And he wasn’t a young guy.  He spent the entire first morning talking about just the first chapter of Luke.  This guy knew his Luke.  But on the second day a young lady, a PSR teacher, asked him a question.  He looked at her and said, “I never thought of it that way.”  I thought he was going to cry.  Listening to Jesus isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

Then there are the other times He talks to us.  You know, when you’re feeling sorry for yourself because your feet hurt and you meet someone who has no feet.  It makes you feel pretty silly.  Or maybe you’re meal didn’t turn out exactly the way you hoped it would, and you walk outside and there’s some pour soul begging for money to buy food.  I think these things happen to us more times than we even realize because we may not be paying attention.

Someone taught me a very simple, but very effective prayer that I try to say every morning.  “Lord, what do you want me to learn today?” Why is it a good prayer?  I’ll tell you.  Think about the last time you were shopping for a new car.  After you’ve narrowed your choice down to a pickup truck, but you haven’t decided on the brand, do you notice that about every third car on the road is a pickup?  They’re everywhere.  This is the same principle.  The prayer gives you a focus and you start to notice answers coming at you from every which way.  If you ask the right questions, answers will come at you from the places you’d least expect them.

Every once in a while, someone will come up to me after mass and say, you were speaking right to me today when you said….whatever.  And, I’m thinking to myself “what?”  Did I say that?  And I look at my notes and, sure enough, I did say it.  It wasn’t the main point.  It may have been just a phrase or a sentence, but for that person, at that time, it was exactly what they need to hear.  That’s why you can’t fall asleep when Father and I are up here talking.  Jesus may be talking to you and ou might miss it  I’m just sayin’………….

Finally, which is what I usually say before I make three or four more points, but this time I really mean it.  Finally, something happened to me this week that was pretty serious.  In the last few days, between the mass readings, the daily Liturgy of the Hours, the little Lent book that Father sent us, even in the stations of the cross, answers have been coming at me like questions at a presidential news conference.  “Deacon Mike!  Deacon Mike!  Have you thought about this?  How about this idea?  Think about how I suffered!”  It seems like either Jesus really wants to help me through this so badly that He can’t stop talking to me, or I’m just so much in need of help that I’m really paying attention.  I even had a message in a dream the other night.

God would never have told us to listen to His Son if His Son wasn’t going to have something to say.  So, as we make our way through this season of Lent, we can all recognize that there’s more to this than just eating fish on Fridays and giving up whatever we’ve decided to give up.  A very good practice would be to take God the Father’s simple two sentence instruction from today’s Gospel to heart.  “This is my chosen Son.  Listen to Him.”