Homilies for March 2022

For March 2 (Ash Wednesday), March 6, March 13, March 20, and March 27

Ash Wednesday – March 2, 2022

Readings: Jl 2:12–18Ps 51:3–4, 5–6ab, 12–13, 14 and 172 Cor 5:20—6:2Mt 6:1–6, 16–18    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/030222.cfm

One Shrove (Fat) Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, I visited my primary schools to speak about Ash Wednesday. All set to talk about the beginning of Lent and segue seamlessly into Ash Wednesday, I asked: “what does Lent begin with?” Twenty-five little hands shot up with a resounding cry of “L” — “Lent begins with ‘L’!” They had been doing their phonetics and spellings! Ash Wednesday was far from their minds.

The school visit brought home to me how focused we can be on our own interests, and how we need Lent to regain perspective and refocus on the Gospel, to rebuild our lives on the Lord, to be converted. What strikes me anew about this Gospel — one we hear on this day every year — is the relationship we are meant to have with our Father in heaven. At first, the Gospel seems to be about how we deal with others, social dynamics, people trying to impress others and be highly esteemed. Then we move to basics like prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But it goes even deeper than that, to the purpose and source. Our attention is drawn to the Father himself. This realization is helped by the repetition of “and your Father, who sees all that is done in secret, will reward you.” This gospel is about our relationship with the Father. It’s about rejoicing secretly and intimately in the love of the Father, in our private room, that is, in the depths of our being.

We bask in the Father’s relationship deep within because we are his children. That is our identity. It is what matters most. It is our new life. Through Baptism, we are truly sons and daughters of the Father and therein lies our great dignity. Pope Francis explains this well: Baptism “is an act that touches the depths of our existence. We are immersed in the inexhaustible fount of life that is the death of Jesus, the greatest act of love in history; and thanks to this love we can live a new life, no longer at the mercy of evil but in communion with God.”

Why then, parade good deeds before men, when we might draw close to the Father in sincerity of heart? Why crave passing adulation, when we can build our lives on the solid rock of the love of the Father which endures forever? This is the love that overflows into the whole of life, making it holy and wholesome and attractive. If any admiration is worth having, it comes, not because we seek it, but because we seek first the Father. We seek the Father by studying the face of Jesus. Looking at Jesus opens us to the Father. Lent is an extended and intentional look at the Lord, purifying our sight that we may see him and live in him; purifying our eyes that we may look upon the unveiled Cross with new eyes on Good Friday. That is the great reset — the return to that inner chamber with the Father — the interior conversion that shapes a new life.

While it’s not too late for conversion, there is an urgency. “Even now,” Joel says, “return to me with your whole heart,” fasting, weeping, mourning. Second Corinthians pleads with the same urgency: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” This return to our private chamber with the Father is achieved most of all in the eucharistic cenacle with the Son. There, like the Beloved Disciple close to the heart of Jesus, we learn the Father. We learn sincerity, authenticity, reality. Lent and this Gospel passage challenge us to work on speaking and doing the truth from the heart. Nothing for show: everything for the Lord in sincerity of heart!

We find the Father in the depths of our soul, where he has made his home through Baptism and has made us his children. Saint Catherine of Siena counsels: “Make yourself a cell in your soul and never leave it.” This is no escape from the world or from reality — Catherine never lived in a convent and was more involved than anyone in the world, justice, the poor, and politics (Claire Dwyer, This Present Paradise, 33). Entering our private room with the Father is where our strength and authenticity comes from. From that private room we emerge “ambassadors for Christ,” with God appealing through us (2 Cor 5:20). We abide with the Father, we find our true selves, and we attract others to Christ.

First Sunday of Lent – March 6 2022

Readings: Dt 26:4–10Ps 91:1–2, 10–11, 12–13, 14–15Rom 10:8–13Lk 4:1–13  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/030622.cfm

My father (not a wandering Aramean!) went to daily Mass and listened attentively to the Word of God. He also had a garden. One year he brought in the first strawberries and handed them to me saying: “The first fruits to the priest.” I’m reminded of this in today’s reading from Deuteronomy. The first fruits of the harvest were offered to the priest and so given over to the Lord. Offering the first fruits to the Lord meant that the Lord came first. Offering the first fruits meant offering one’s entire life to the Lord — we give him everything — “like the poor widow who put into God’s treasury her whole livelihood” (St. Irenaeus).

Something similar — but greater — happens at Mass. A wondrous exchange takes place. We offer the fruits of the earth, the toil of human hands, and they become the Bread of Life and Spiritual Drink what are in fact the Body and Blood of the Lord. We offer what we have, and we receive God himself.

The formula that Moses gives for offering the first fruits (Deut 26:4–10) speaks of the Lord delivering his people from slavery “with his strong hand and outstretched arm.” It recalls the exodus and how the Lord saved his people. It also points beyond the offerings to the Offering of the Cross. On the Cross, the “strong hand and outstretched arm” of the Lord is literally held out for our salvation.

That definitive liberation is extended to us at every Mass where we stand beneath the Cross, under Christ’s “strong hand and outstretched arm.” There, most of all, we offer our sacrifices and our whole life by the hands of the priest. The altar crucifix with its “strong hand and outstretched arm” reminds us of what is before us on the altar after the Consecration — Christ given up for us. The Eucharist is “Jesus handing over his life for his people” (Charles de Foucauld). All down the ages God’s people have asked him to renew the wondrous acts of his “strong hand and outstretched arm”: “Give new signs and work new wonders; show forth the splendor of your right hand and arm” (Sirach 36:5). It is an appeal made most powerfully when the Sacrifice of the Cross is made present in the Eucharist.

Recently a young father, active in the Church, admitted he had just learned (from a podcast) that the Mass is a sacrifice and there, most of all, we offer ourselves with Christ to the Father. It was big news to him: he had never heard it before. This insight completely changed how he understood the Mass — and how he lived his life. The downward movement of gifts — from God to us — is met by an upward movement in which we join ourselves with Christ’s sacrifice. We give God our love, joy, sorrow, fidelity, and surrender. We give ourselves back to him. Our most important active participation in the Mass is that we offer ourselves with Jesus. Joined to Christ’s perfect act of love, our sacrifices take on eternal significance.

The Gospel reminds us that temptation often comes at the weakest moment. Jesus, physically weakened by his fast, will not negotiate with the devil. Rather, he confronts him with the Word of God. Satan’s half-truths are met by divine Truth. Jesus refuses to turn stones into bread to satisfy his own hunger or concede to the Evil One. Christ refused the cheap miracle of turning stones into bread to satisfy himself or impress Satan. He would, however, change bread into his “flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51) because “one does not live on bread alone” but on the life-giving Body of Christ.

There is an immense difference between the attitude of sacrificial offering glimpsed in the first reading and the Eucharist, and the temptation to convenient, gratifying, or sensational signs proposed by Satan in the Gospel. For the Lord’s “strong arm and outstretched arm” to conquer, it will be nailed to the Cross in the self-gift of the One who surrenders all to the Father for us. The highest love is expressed in letting-go, handing-over, offering-up. In Jesus’s victory, our temptation to settle for less, to settle for self, to settle for sin, is overcome. As we offer ourselves with Jesus in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, he gives us the true Bread on which alone we live.

Second Sunday of Lent – March 13, 2022

Readings: Gn 15:5–12, 17–18Ps 27:1, 7–8, 8–9, 13–14Phil 3:17—4:1 or Phil 3:20—4:1Lk 9:28b–36  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/031322.cfm

When we pray, we look to the heavens, like Abraham in the first reading (Gen 15:5); we look to the mountains, “from where comes my help” (Ps 121:1); and to Mount Tabor of today’s Gospel (Luke 9). We ascend the mountain of the Lord. We are transformed to radiate the glory of God: “let your face shed its light upon us” (Ps 67:2). It happened with Moses who afterwards veiled his face. It happened with Jesus, whose humanity radiated his divine glory. It happens with us.

We arise from prayer different from before. We arise refreshed, renewed, restored — even if we still carry a heavy burden. After the Transfiguration, Jesus still had to face the agony of the Cross. Though he was God the Son, though his glorious resurrection was glimpsed in anticipation, the Cross was not removed. Thank God for that, because only through his passion and death could we come to the glory of the resurrection. There is darkness and light in prayer, Cross and resurrection, and the Lord is close in both.

It’s interesting that in the first reading (Gen 15:5–18), the Lord is closest to Abraham when the sun sets and the darkness surrounds him: “As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him. When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch . . . It was on that occasion that the Lord made a covenant with Abram.” It’s interesting that the Lord’s Old Testament presence in the holiest place is in the “thick darkness” (1 Kgs 8:12; cf. Ps 97:2; 18:9).

In God, however, there is light in the darkness. In the Lord, darkness turns to light. In our crosses, God frequently gives us assurances of his presence and glimpses of his glory. He guides us through the bitter valley and makes it a place of springs (Psalm 84:6). Often this happens through a kind deed, a word of Scripture, an inspiration, a first step, or the peace of God that enfolds us and flows from the Blessed Sacrament. We meet Jesus in the silence of prayer just like Peter, James, and John fell silent when left alone with Jesus on the mountain. That silence continued, even when they came down the mountain. They didn’t yet tell anyone about the Tabor experience until the right time. There is a time to be silent and a time to speak (Eccl 3:7). The time will come to speak up — evangelization — but being silent with Jesus in prayer comes first. From the Mount Tabor of prayer, we carry the Gospel of Christ to the world. Prayer is foundational to any fruitful Gospel proclamation.

The Old Testament, here in Moses and Elijah, points to Christ. In Luke’s Gospel, he is the “New Moses” leading the “New Exodus” from the slavery of sin and death. Fear of death is sometimes the greatest slavery. It has been observed that behind all fear lurks a deeper anxiety about death. Jesus is the perfect Love that casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18). He saves those enslaved by the fear of death (Heb 2:15). In his body, Christ reveals the destiny of his members. He will “change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body” (Phil 3:21). But the way of glory is the way of the Cross. This, too, is part of that listening to the Beloved Son commanded by the Father. The Cross is unavoidable in today’s readings. Those preoccupied with greed, shame, and earthly things, Paul describes as “enemies of the Cross of Christ” (Phil 3:18).

In Christ, however, glory is always on the horizon. The Transfiguration signals that death is transformed by Jesus. Death is awful. There is nothing easy or nice about it. But death in Christ is something else entirely. It is glorious. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once commented on the glorious reality behind death in Christ: “Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.” Approaching his imminent death, Bonhoeffer was cheerful and serene because, when you embrace the Cross, you realize “there is nothing in life of which one need ever be afraid” (Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, 531, 515). The Transfiguration teaches us that when we listen to the Beloved Son, when we embrace his Cross, there is nothing left of which to be afraid.

Third Sunday of Lent – March 20, 2022

Readings: Ex 3:1–8a, 13–15Ps 103: 1–2, 3–4, 6–7, 8, 111 Cor 10:1–6, 10–12Lk 13:1–9  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/032022-YearC.cfm

God draws us in ways that attract, and God’s communication takes place within a context of encounter. God respects human freedom, addresses human fears, and reassures. The episode of Moses and the burning bush shows how the true God relates, and the respect with which he approaches us — something unparalleled in the Ancient Near East. Rabbis note that “God does not tyrannize over man but dialogues with him” (Greenberg, Understanding Exodus, 76). The Lord draws Moses and leads him until Moses, in turn, can lead his people. Moses’s mission is signified by his name: he is drawn from the waters as a child in a basket, and he draws his people through the waters of the Red Sea. But first there is the wilderness, and Lent places each of us in the wilderness.

In Scripture, the wilderness is the place of testing, trial, and first love. In the wilderness, the Lord speaks to the heart. The Lord of Sinai initially draws Moses to himself through an unquenchable flame in a bush. Moses was probably eighty years old at this stage. Purified in the wilderness where he had lived for forty years (he was forty when he fled Egypt), he is still open and ready to be amazed by God. In the words of Cardinal Martini, Moses was ready to receive the newness of God. Moses likely thought: “I am a poor, frustrated man, but God can make something new out of me” (Through Moses to Jesus, 28). Moses was open to God doing a new thing, to the gaze of God on his people, to the “God of Surprises.”

At the burning bush, the Lord reveals his name: “I AM.” It’s not a name like the names of the surrounding gods. It doesn’t contain God. It reveals but also conceals. It brings us to the threshold of God but preserves his holiness. There is presence and mystery. The divine name — the Lord himself — is shrouded in a cloud of mystery. In the Holy of Holies he dwells in “think darkness” (1 Kgs 8:12). But this is not a remote or distant presence. Just before the Lord reveals his name to Moses, he reveals that he has heard the suffering cry of his people and will come down to save them through the exodus, an event ever re-lived in the lives of God’s people. The experience of Moses at the burning bush would be available for all the people at Mount Sinai. There too the Lord speaks to Moses “from the midst of the fire” as a “consuming fire” (Deut 4:12, 15, 24). That fire, too, would accompany the people on their journey though the wilderness.

The exodus had two related goals: 1) freedom from Egyptian slavery and 2) worship of the Lord in the wilderness. The command, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness” (Ex 7:16), is repeated four times. The service intended here is liturgical. The same idea is echoed in the Second Eucharistic Prayer in the allusion to being in God’s presence and serving him. It is an attentive, liturgical ministering to him, like Samuel’s in the Shiloh Temple. It involves obedience and flows out into all of life. Israel departs from Egypt, not to be like other nations, but to serve the Lord, in whom there is real freedom.

The Sabbath would be the great sign of covenanted freedom. Its neglect would reduce that freedom and return the people to new forms of slavery. Freedom without purpose becomes emptiness, like wandering in circles in the wilderness for forty years. In our time, the erosion of the Lord’s Day has led to frantic and frenetic overreach. If the Lord’s Day were lived by Christians, a new freedom would permeate the whole week — with ripples for wider society and the good of all. We cannot prepare to celebrate Easter fully, without considering how we live every Sunday, for every Sunday is a little Easter.

While the biblical books emphasize obedience, they also acknowledge human weakness. Repentance keeps the door open to the Lord and presents the option of life or death anew. In today’s Gospel Jesus states candidly: “if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” There is urgency without ambiguity. Jesus, the New Moses, holds out a greater offer than the Old Moses through whom God spoke: “Behold I set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life . . . !” (Deut 30:15, 19).

Fourth Sunday of Lent – March 27, 2022

Readings: Jos 5:9a, 10–12Ps 34:2–3, 4–5, 6–72 Cor 5:17–21Lk 15:1–3, 11–32    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/032722-YearC.cfm

The Parable of the Prodigal Son gives the lie to Satan’s whisper that God cannot be trusted and is not always good. The emphasis is on the father, image of God the Father. We glimpse his strength, tender mercy, and faithful love. We learn how the Father looks on us, his prodigal children. That look is enough to inspire us to “get up” and return to the Father. The reality of the Father’s mercy, presented here, heals at the very core of our being—even from our worst sins and deepest shame. His embrace restores. He waits with arms outstretched—rather, he hastens toward us. Our security lies in knowing that the Father is coming. Indeed, he sends his own Son for us.

The Prodigal Son didn’t just wander away: he repudiated his father. Demanding his inheritance while his father lived, indicated that he wished his father dead and intended to have nothing further to do with him. The father’s greatness is seen in the freedom he gives, his waiting for the return of his son, meeting him more than half-way, making return easy, not humiliating, forgiving entirely, restoring dignity, status, and relationship, and rejoicing. He doesn’t grudgingly forgive; he honors the son and holds a banquet. He acknowledges how difficult it must have been for the son to return and how low he must have fallen. He knows the pain the son must have experienced in his sin. The Father seeks the lost — whatever we have done or however far we have wandered — and raises the dead to new life. Every time a priest absolves from sin, the dead are raised.

Forgiveness characterizes Christianity. A reluctance to attempt forgiveness is difficult to reconcile with Christianity. Certainly, some things seem beyond forgiveness — though with God, all things are possible. Sometimes it takes a lifetime or a death-bed. Our world is selectively harsh and unforgiving, and sometimes prefers to stigmatize and demonize. Yet this person who has done something terrible is a human being, a brother or sister — a prodigal son.

Today Jesus assures us that there is hope of forgiveness when we turn back to the Father, even if we are far away and estranged from him. Sometimes we live as if God our Father did not exist or matter. To turn back to him in our heart, even at the end, provides the space for God to enter and save, so that all is not lost. Yet to delay is to miss out on so much! Life far from God the Father is a truncated life, missing that essential relationship. It becomes as empty as trying to satisfy human hunger with the hollow husks that fed the swine.

In desperation — sometimes “out of the depths” — we can always turn to the Father. Praying to God as Father pulls at the heartstrings of God, especially pleas like, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” Praying the Our Father changes us. Another prayer, as profound as it is simple, is “Abba, Father.” We pray it in the Holy Spirit who prays deep within us in sighs too deep for words. Christian prayer is essentially being swept up into the relationship of Jesus with the Father in the Holy Spirit. We are sons and daughters in the Son of God. In Jesus we are given the power to be children of God (John 1:12). This is a power we did not have before. Baptism changes us utterly and so our lives should be different.

This Lent, we might focus on our restored dignity as children of the Father. We are in his hands, the strongest and safest hands — the most merciful hands. It’s no accident that the ancient and venerable Eucharistic Prayer, the Roman Canon, begins with recourse to the most merciful of fathers: “To you, therefore, most merciful Father . . .” This Lent, we might focus on this most Christian of relationships. This gift cost Jesus his blood. There is no cheap grace, but there is no limit to divine mercy.

The soon-to-be canonized Charles de Foucauld (May 15) expressed this relationship with the Father in what became known as the “Prayer of Abandonment”: “Father, I abandon myself into your hands. Do with me what you will . . .” It is a prayer of utter surrender into the hands of the Father. To pray it sincerely feels like giving God a blank check to do what he wills with us. It involves a huge leap of faith. Only in the last line does it all make sense: “I want to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.” This complete surrender is possible because God is my Father. He wants only my good. I can trust him completely.

Rev. Joseph Briody About Rev. Joseph Briody

Fr. Joseph Briody, ordained in 1995, is a priest of the Diocese of Raphoe (Donegal, Ireland). He is Professor of Sacred Scripture and on the priestly formation team at Saint John’s Seminary, Boston MA. He studied at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth (STL), the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome (SSL), and Boston College School of Theology and Ministry (STD).