For Sunday Liturgies and Feasts
Homilies for March 2014
Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent
8th Sunday in Ordinary Time – March 2, 2014
Only with God are our hearts at rest
Purpose: Our human experience is filled with reasons to be anxious and man’s search for meaning in worldly pleasures leaves him unsatisfied. Only in surrendering our whole lives to God every day do we discover authentic human fulfillment.
Readings: Isaiah 49: 14-15; Psalm 62; I Corinthians 4: 1-5; Mathew 6: 24-34.
One of my favorite spiritual axioms is the famous line from St. Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” In a world where we observe much restlessness, and many failed searches for purpose in life, these few words zero in on the reality that we can never find fulfillment until we rest in God’s embrace. Human persons have, for a long time, looked for love in the wrong places, and attempted to create happiness by their own ingenuity. Promiscuity, drugs, gambling, alcohol, and other forms of vice and addiction, are man’s search for something to fill up his emptiness. Responsibility and stress burden us, and we seek relief. Soon, however, every one of us discovers that joy is not found at the bottom of a bottle, or in a fleeting moment of pleasure. The emptiness within man is a bottomless chasm that can only be filled with the divine. Man is made in God’s image, and nothing less than God is worthy of serving as man’s end or fulfillment. Even the greatest of earthly loves are not things or events, but persons: beings capable of reciprocal love, which is itself a foretaste of the divine love we crave. We will always be restless until we rest in the One who made us, and for whom we were made. Evil will persist on earth as long as man chases after mirages, and counterfeit loves. We will be empty until we allow God to fill us.
The bottom line, then, is to surrender. In order to rest in God, now and in the life to come, a person has to divest himself of attachments to this present world, and its fading realities. Furthermore, one needs to overcome fear and anxiety in order to give to God the openness of our hearts, allowing him to come into our lives in a profound way. Then, we will discover him leading, nourishing, and providing for us. A recent television commercial creatively diagnosed “FOMOF”—“the Fear Of Missing Out on Football.” That’s the real obstacle: people today don’t want to commit to God, and the Church, for fear they might miss out on something better that might come along. They might lose something of themselves, or have to give up something fun. But, that’s exactly the point: as Jesus gave up his life, so must we lay down our lives for him. Jesus fulfills the whole ancient law as he mounts the Cross, and so provides us with the example of authentic love. As he has loved us, so we must love. Football is great to watch, but it will not bring us salvation! Human persons are made for God; we need God’s love to be complete.
We cannot serve God while remaining a slave to the anxieties of the world: fashion, popularity, financial security. Instead, the disciple of Christ knows the Good News that only in God is my soul at rest, and that our Heavenly Father knows all our needs, and will provide for them. Our part is to strip away all that is not of God, and to use the things of this world in a healthy way, always devoted to seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. The Lord must be first in our lives if we are to enjoy prosperity. Trying to provide for all our needs on our own will only lead to continued frustration. We soon realize we cannot do everything on our own, and that we need to surrender and allow God to take over and direct our paths. Serving two masters leads to inevitable failure.
Each morning, as your feet hit the floor, and you take the first steps toward the bathroom to begin getting ready for the day, make a morning offering. Offer your life to God in total surrender. Ask him to use you, each new day, for his purpose, trusting that he will provide for your needs. Be not anxious about the days to come, but seek only to serve God faithfully today. Hand over your fears and worries. Rest in the Lord, and discover a peace that ends your restlessness.
Additional reading: CCC 2544-2550 / Surrender by: Father Larry Richards.
Ash Wednesday – March 5, 2014
Public and private devotion
Purpose: As we begin the season of Lent, the Scriptures being proclaimed reveal God’s expectation of both public penance and private mortification, seemingly contradictory commands. It is necessary for us to develop a hidden prayer life, as well as to observe what the Church asks of us, together with the faith community.
Readings: Joel 2: 12-18; Psalm 51; II Corinthians 5: 20 – 6: 2; Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18.
The holy season of Lent is the very acceptable time to pause for spiritual inventory and renewal. Lent is a grand retreat for the whole Church. We step back from the ordinary to spend a little time amid somber décor and music, abandoning the Alleluia and the Gloria, as if going out into the desert, like the first monastic communities, to seek a deeper experience of the Lord in silence and emptiness. This is the moment given to us by the Church each year to examine our consciences and repent of all our sins, so we can experience the happiness of the one whose offense is forgiven (Psalm 32). These are the sacred forty days when we commit ourselves to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In so doing, we discipline ourselves to think less of the self and its cravings, and more of the needs of the poor. Prayer deepens the relationship with God begun in Baptism, and renewed each year at the Easter Mass. By our Lenten observance, we are prepared to accept, once again, the baptismal commission to reject sin and believe in God. We are made ready to honor and serve him all the more.
We are ambassadors for Christ, and effective ambassadors need to know the mind of the one they represent. Putting on the mind of Christ means deepening our conversation with the Lord in prayer, in particular prayerful contemplation of the Word of God, disciplining our wills, and looking outward to serve the poor in our midst. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the traditional Lenten observances, taken from today’s Gospel, which help to make us more like Christ whom we serve.
In the reading today from the prophet Joel, the Lord demands a public observance of penance: “blow the trumpet…proclaim a fast, call an assembly; Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble he elders…” In contrast are the words of Christ: “do not blow a trumpet before you…do not be like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray in synagogues and on street corners…do not look gloomy like the hypocrites…that they may appear to others to be fasting.” This is one of those instances when we perceive a contradiction between the Old and New Testament readings. Should we proclaim a public fast, or should we quietly go about our spiritual discipline?
Through the valuable “both/and” lens that Catholicism wisely applies to many areas of spirituality, we appreciate the significance of both public and private devotion. The Church calls us to a fast and summons the congregation to observe Lent as a worldwide faith community. As Catholics, we have an obligation to follow the norms of spiritual discipline established by the Church. In fact, it is one of the Precepts of the Church, one of the basic “house rules” of our family of faith, that we abide by the laws of fast and abstinence during Lent. Another Precept of the Church is to financially support the work of the Church, including her charity to the poor. This includes generous support of the parish, diocesan, and national collections devoted to the work of serving the needy and marginalized. It is our obligation as disciples of Christ to support the work of the worldwide Church, as she is the face of Christ to those most in need. Public prayer is obviously essential to our Catholic life, especially the Mass. Without the Eucharist, we would be detached from Christ, and deprived of spiritual nourishment. Life without the Eucharist is like being a fish on dry land! Attending Sunday and Holy Day Mass is a third Precept of the Church. Even more than that, Jesus said we should pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” We have the opportunity every day to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, and this season of Lent is a great time to add to our spiritual routine, and attend Mass more than on Sunday. The blessings we receive from Holy Mass are infinite and life-giving!
At the same time, the Lord reminds us that spiritual things are never to be done out of a prideful desire to be seen as “holy.” If we are fasting, we cannot justify complaining that we’re hungry. We need to quietly endure the little moments of suffering that Lenten discipline brings for the sake of Christ and the poor. Otherwise, the sacrifice is without merit. It is good to show an example of prayer to others, but the real reason to pray is to please God, never to win the esteem of others. When we give to the poor, it is for more than a tax write-off, or to be seen by our friends as generous. Quietly going about the performing of our duties and penances in order to honor the Lord, and build up the lives of the less fortunate, is a sacrifice holy and pleasing in the sight of God.
May this holy season draw us closer to the heart of Christ through our obedience to the Church and our humble prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Thus may we come to the joy of Easter with renewed hearts, and lively devotion to him who loves us beyond measure.
Additional reading: CCC 2042-2043 / Lent and Easter Wisdom from Fulton J. Sheen
First Sunday of Lent – March 9, 2014
Christ, our remedy for evil and example of virtue
Purpose: Satan tricked our First Parents into denying their identity as children made in God’s image, and lured them into grasping at the forbidden tree under the pretense that it would make them like gods. Christ comes as the “New Adam” to cleanse humanity of the burden of disobedience, temptation, sin, and death laid upon humanity by Satan.
Readings: Genesis 2: 7-9; 3: 1-7; Psalm 51: Romans 5: 12-19; Matthew 4: 1-11.
Humanity’s troubles in our modern world are traceable to a crisis of identity among human persons. Many people simply do not know who they are. If we examine the sordid escapades of celebrities and public figures, we see fundamentally inhuman behavior: abuse of power, property, and the human body, that contravenes basic respect for the dignity of others. This is the trick of the Evil One, which we see him carry out from the beginning in the words of Genesis. He says to the woman, as he cajoles her into eating of the tree that God had forbidden for them: “…your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” He turns the woman and the man in on themselves, and they forget their true identity. They could not be any more like gods than they are, created as they are in the image and likeness of the one, true God, whose own divine life he breathed into them. They are already in Paradise, free and open to one another, and united with God in love. God has revealed to them in the garden a variety of blessings to enjoy. Yet, their weakness is the deadly sin of pride. Satan convinces them that they need more, that God is withholding something from them that will enhance their life, and his rules are limiting them. They neglect all the other beautiful trees, and selfishly grasp at the one that God said is not good for them. They make a self-centered choice to turn from God, and serve their own desires. This is the root of sin. After sinning, they become ashamed and afraid. They are no longer other-focused and loving. The body becomes an object and, therefore, it is necessary to hide the most private parts of it.
From this moment, and throughout human history, sin abounded. Death, pain, and concupiscence resulted from that original sin, which caused humanity to continually stray from God’s design. Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more, as God sent his Son to be our redeemer. This great act of love displays the Father’s heart: He will not leave us in the sin that is our fault.
Aquinas wrote that the Cross is both a “remedy and an example.” The Cross, as the Altar on which Christ the Priest and Victim offers the one perfect sacrifice of himself, is our remedy from sin. He was incarnate in order to take on our sin and accept the punishment that we deserve in order to make us whole. As the New Adam, Christ overturns the Devil’s trick, and its consequences. He is obedient where Adam was disobedient, and so brings life in place of death. Where sin abounded in the man, Adam, now grace abounds through the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
The Cross is also an example of how God shows us who he is, and who we are to be: persons made in the image and likeness of God, who is love and, therefore, destined to live the fundamental vocation to love like God loves. Jesus shows us what that love looks like: from the Cross, as the supreme pulpit, he proclaims forgiveness, trust, and self-offering. He commands us to love one another in just the same way. Christ tramples on our worst temptations—to place trust in material things, to tempt and bargain with God, to worship false idols that we perceive will bring us happiness—and shows us the example of how to resist them, and place God first in our lives. He is the exemplar of humanity perfected. He experienced all we experience, good and bad, without falling into sin.
Still today, we forget who we are! We sink to the level of pathetic behavior beneath the dignity of the human person, and the image of God. We grasp at what we want. We fail to recognize our high calling as disciples. We serve our base passions. Christ can overturn that crisis of human identity, and cycle of evil in our lives. He who died that we might live, shows us the perfect example of who we truly are.
As we approach the Eucharist, we are nourished with food from Heaven for the journey of faith we walk on earth. Christ, who feeds us, shows us the way to love— patiently, mercifully, as an oblation for others—so that we can be our best selves, and rest forever in his sacred embrace.
Further reading: CCC 396-412 / The Passion of the Lamb by Father Thomas Acklin.
Second Sunday of Lent – March 16, 2014
Trust in God as you make your way through the world
Purpose: The figure of the Patriarch Abraham models total trust in the Lord. As Christ’s disciples, we go about our daily lives—seeking to bring him into our daily experiences and make him known among those we meet—we need to first trust in his promise. We bear our burdens for the sake of the Gospel with trust in God’s constant care for us.
Readings: Genesis 2: 1-4; Psalm 33; 2 Timothy 1: 8-10; Matthew 17: 1-9.
Indiana Jones meets the ultimate test of faith, in the presence and goodness of others, when he is near the end of his quest for the Holy Grail in the movie, “The Last Crusade.” With his enemies at his back, and with no feats of skill and bravery left in his arsenal, he must trust in the wisdom of his father recorded in the pages of his archeological diary, and abandon himself to the unknown. Between him and his goal is a great and deep, rocky chasm. He slowly extends one foot and leans out into the vast abyss. Suddenly, from beneath, a bridge swings up into place, and he walks safely across to find the old knight who guards the chalice of the Lord’s Supper. His trust has been rewarded.
Abraham is also such a man. From the land of Ur of the Chaldeans, where his family has made their home for generations, the Lord calls him “Abram” to go forth from the land of his kinsfolk and his father’s house, to a land of God’s choosing. What is more, he asks Abram to go without knowing the destination. God says it is a “land I will show you” later, as you travel. He further asks him to trust in an unseen promise. Still, Abram goes as the Lord directed him. He first believes that the call he hears is from the Lord and creator of the world. He is willing to uproot his family, and leave his ancestral homeland, in order to serve the Lord. He hopes in the promise God speaks: that he will be blessed, and his descendants will be a great nation. God eventually gives Abram a new name—”Abraham”—to this man of trust and devotion, who becomes the Father of God’s People.
Abraham displays the Theological Virtues: faith, hope and love. He has total faith in God, who calls him to a new way of life. He desires to serve God out of the love of his heart. He hopes in God’s unseen promises. Abraham is able to be a man of holiness, and the father of a great and holy nation, because he first surrenders himself to the providence of God.
When Jesus takes his inner circle—Peter, James and John—up the mountain, and reveals the full depth of his divine glory in the mystery of the Transfiguration, the three men are captivated by the sight of the glorified Christ, and the apparition of Moses and Elijah. They are overwhelmed by the moment to the point of speaking nonsense: Peter wants to build three tents! Finally, they become stricken with fear at the thundering sound of the Father’s voice. The Transfiguration of Jesus opens up the eyes of the three Apostles to understand more about the purpose of the Incarnate Christ. This is no ordinary itinerant preacher. Clearly, Jesus is God in the flesh, and he possesses the Father’s approval and love. Christ has come to bring us the blessing of sharing in the glory of the Father, in which he himself already shares. He lowers himself in assuming our humanity so that we might be lifted up by the power of the Resurrection to share in his divinity.
This is obviously a moment which changed the lives of Pater, James, and John. They would naturally want to build tents so they can stay up on the mountain in the glory of the Lord, and avoid the suffering and persecution Jesus predicts for all of them. Would we not like to stay in church where it’s happy, and full of blessings, avoiding the struggles of life? Jesus takes them back down the mountain, however, to return to the trials and triumphs of their earthly ministry.
This is also a moment which any man would want to share with everyone he knows. Would you not want to tell the world that you saw a vision of Christ and the prophets? Yet, Jesus insists that they keep quiet about what they have seen until his time comes to reveal it. They must trust in God’s timing—something we find difficult as human persons because we impatiently want things to happen immediately. Even good things often have to wait until God is ready to reveal them. We have to bear our burdens that we wish could be lifted sooner for the sake of the greater good God has in mind for us. We can only do so with the strength that comes from our friendship with God.
In our daily experience of living our faith, we are sent forth from the Holy Mass, having been nourished by Word and Sacrament, to encounter the good and the bad of human existence. We leave the mountain where we see Christ glorified on the Altar, to return to life where we labor for the sake of the Lord. That journey demands the trust of Abraham, the trust of Indiana Jones. We look to Sacred Scripture, and delve deeply into personal prayer, in order to find the wisdom that will guide our journey of faith. Then, we can step forward in faith to follow were God leads us. When we trust in God who made us, and who loves us beyond measure, we are able to seek and discover holiness, in order to serve with the love of the heart of Jesus.
Further Reading: CCC 554-556
Third Sunday of Lent – March 23, 2014
Openness to the generosity of Christ’s love yields fruit in conversion and holiness
Purpose: Jesus gives the thirsting soul of the Samaritan woman the water of life—not merely natural water to quench bodily thirst, but the power of his love to quench the longing of her soul. She, who comes with sincere faith seeking a deeper experience of life, is sent away renewed and ready to take up the mission of bringing others to conversion and encounter with Christ.
Readings: Exodus 17: 3-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5: 1-2, 5-8; John 4: 5-42.
Thirst is an uncomfortable and even painful feeling: dryness, emptiness, craving for water. We have all been thirsty and know what it feels like to long for a glass of cold water, though most of us will never truly know the agonizing thirst of people stranded in the desert, shipwrecked, or in desperate poverty. The thirst of the Israelites in the desert was so severe that it caused them to doubt God, grumble against Moses, and even question God’s providence in leading them out of slavery in Egypt. They tested the Lord and sought water as a sign that he was really with them.
To the well in the Samaritan town of Sychar comes a woman drawing water for her household. She comes at noon, in the heat of the day, not in the morning when the other women of the town routinely fetched water. She avoids the crowd out of shame for her less than honorable lifestyle. Jesus reveals that she has had several husbands, and is now living with a man who is not her husband. Jesus thus uncovers her real thirst: the thirst of her soul for intimacy and belonging. The pain of loneliness, and thirst for fulfillment in life, has led her down a path of heartache. In response, he promises to give her living water that will quench her thirsting soul for good. This water of life is his love, his presence. Just by being with Jesus, and experiencing his compassion and understanding, the woman’s life changes for the better. Once she comes to realize he is the Messiah, there is much joy in her heart—joy that overflows into her inviting others to meet him. Jesus’ voice, heard with sincere faith, softens the woman’s heart, and changes her life forever. She embarks on a new journey of peace and intimacy with God after encountering Jesus.
The love of God has been poured into our hearts, Paul reminds us, through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us in our Baptism and Confirmation. Seeking the living water we need to quench our thirsting souls means tapping into the grace of our Baptism, and asking the Spirit to make the gifts we have received from him come alive in us. His love never disappoints, and can always break the chains of fear, shame, and sin in order to free us to live a new life with God. This new life then becomes attractive and fruitful in the conversion of those who see our Christian way of life, and want to be part of it.
Lent is a time of conversion, of focusing more on our Baptismal vocation to love God, and one another, in preparation for the renewal of our baptismal promises at Easter. In this Holy Season, we have the blessed opportunity to encounter Christ more deeply through the Stations of the Cross, the music and prayers of the season, and the Lenten call to more prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Ask Jesus to give you the living water of his loving presence. Ask the Spirit to open up the gifts of your Baptism. Seek intimacy with God. He will give you love that will not disappoint, love that will change your life for good, forever.
Encountering Christ is the gateway to conversion and evangelization. Listen carefully to the Lord’s voice, and allow his compassionate word to soften your heart, and direct you in a path of holiness. Then, others will see the change conversing with Jesus makes in your life, and will want to meet him as well. The Lord, who is in our midst, has a tremendous gift to offer us—a gift of love that will quench the thirst of our souls.
Further Reading: CCC 2558-2565
Fourth Sunday of Lent – March 30, 2014
God chooses the lowliest to be his light in the world
Purpose: Samuel chooses David, the youngest of the sons of Jesse, and anoints him as king. Regardless of the lowliness of our age or ability, God chooses the unexpected among us and equips His servants with the grace necessary to carry out His mission. If we allow Him to open our eyes to the power of what His love can do, we receive the light of Christ. That light illumines the world through His disciples.
Readings: I Samuel 16:B, 16-7, 10-13A; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5: 8-14; John 9: 1-41
Many of us have experienced being left out because we’re too small for the game, too young for something we want to do, too inexperienced for a job. Our world places all the attention on the powerful, the strong, and the degreed experts. Sometimes, the best people for a task are those without a lot of letters after their name. When Samuel comes to seek out the Lord’s chosen one in order to anoint him as king, Jesse does not even include his youngest son, David, who is left out in the fields tending to the sheep. He is chosen by God, and anointed by Samuel, to be king of Israel.
Every disciple of Christ has been given a place in the saving work of the Church. In every age of life, we are called to serve the Lord. The anointing of Baptism confirms the grace of God in us, supporting us in our destiny as servants of the Gospel. Discipleship is expensive: we have to lay down our lives like Christ in order to bring life to others.
First, we need our eyes to be opened. Christ, the light of the world, opens the eyes of a man born blind, allowing him to experience life in a new and dramatic way with the restoration of his sight. There is another kind of blindness, blindness of the spiritual life, that plagues the Pharisees. Even those of us who think we are good Christians can be limited in our perception of God’s presence. We continually need to be opened to see where God is present in our daily experiences, and how we can love him in serving the needs of others. We need God to open our understanding of morality where we sometimes want to rationalize our actions, or pretend the teaching of Christ does not apply to modern humanity. This takes humility and openness to changing with the movement of God’s grace. When the light of Christ penetrates our stubbornness and selfishness, it illumines our mind and heart to see clearly the way to be our best selves: by following God in intimate communion.
Jesus delivered humanity from the clutches of darkness by his death and rising. Through the sacraments, we experience the power of this great mystery at work in our lives. In the Lord, and through our Baptism, we are in the light. We are called, as Paul says, to abandon the works of darkness, exposing them for the lies that they are. Fellow Christians, live in the light always, and do not succumb to the dark forces that are beneath your Christian dignity!
Once we experience the light of Christ by humbling ourselves under the power of his Word, that light makes us a beacon of hope for others. The light of Christ shines in the words and actions— even the prayerful thoughts—of His disciples. People can see that we live differently because we have hope in Christ’s light and saving love. Other may even ask us why we are hopeful in sorrow, why we have certain moral standards, why we are kind in the face of insult. Then, we can be prepared to tell them: we have found Christ and we live in his light!
Open the eyes of your hearts to see the Lord more clearly, and perceive his will for you. Allow his light to penetrate and transform any traces of darkness that remain. Be prepared for that light to change you into a beacon of light for the glory of the Lord.
Further Reading: CCC 152-162