The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Reflection: Morning Prayer, Sunday, April 26, 2015

This past weekend Dear Diane and I joined other deacons and their wives on a couples retreat sponsored by the Office of the Permanent Diaconate of the Diocese of Orlando. It was a wonderful retreat, conducted by Fr. Daniel Renaud, OMI, and held at the San Pedro Center in Winter Park, Florida. The theme of the retreat centered discipleship and was based on the beautiful passage from Luke's Gospel describing the two disciples who are joined by the risen Jesus on their walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus [Lk 24:13-35].

I was honored to be asked to lead Sunday Morning Prayer in the chapel. The reading, which I have included below, is from Acts 10 and consists entirely of the words of St. Peter as he preaches to the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, and his household. After the reading I shared the following brief reflection with my brother deacons and their wives.
"Yes, this man God raised (on) the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” – Acts 10:40-43
What a wonderful passage. These are, of course, St. Peter’s words. In fact, Peter is preaching to the Gentiles for the first time, to the Centurion Cornelius and his household.
Peter at the home of Cornelius the Centurion

Peter begins by summing up the Good News of Jesus Christ, and at the same time lets us know what God desires of each of us.

Jesus, who died on the Cross, has been “raised up on the third day” [Acts 10:40]. He’s alive! He eats and drinks and walks and talks among the faithful, just as He did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Yes, Jesus lives. He’s no disembodied spirit. Indeed, His glorified body bears the marks of His passion and death. How fitting that these marks remain eternally, a constant reminder of God’s enduring love.

But there’s more Good News. His Resurrection brings the fulfillment of a promise; for we, too, shall rise. The longed-for hope of humanity is finally realized. Death is overcome by eternal life.

Is it any wonder Jesus so often tells the disciples not to fear? Yes, the Good News just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?

Peter now echoes what the Lord told the disciples along the road to Emmaus: “…beginning with Moses and all the prophets…” [Lk 24:27] Yes, “beginning with Moses,” the law-giver. Peter goes on to tell us that Jesus “is the one appointed by God as judge…” [Acts 10:42] That’s right. Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead – the judge who fulfills the Law and brings it to its perfection.

But perfection means more than justice, certainly more than human justice. For in Jesus we come face to face with divine justice, a justice tempered by mercy. As we stand before Him we see the marks of His passion, the marks of God’s love, the wounds of His mercy…and pouring out of them comes hope and forgiveness.

How did Peter put it? “…everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name” [Acts 10:43]. Yes, through Jesus, and only through Jesus, comes our salvation.

The Road to Emmaus
But Jesus is more than a judge. He fulfills more than the Law. Just as Jesus told the disciples on the way to Emmaus, Peter reminds us…“To Him all the prophets bear witness...” [Acts 10:43] All the prophets point to Jesus: He is the Word of God made flesh and through Him the Word of God revealed is brought to fulfillment. Indeed, as Christians we don’t read the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament, for its own sake, but always with Christ and through Christ and in Christ. Jesus Christ, the Lord of History, fulfills all.

Then, in the very heart of this passage, Peter reveals exactly what’s expected of the disciple… and, brothers and sisters, that includes us. We are called to “preach to the people and testify” [Acts 10:42] – to bear witness to Jesus Christ. It’s a call back to the basics, to the very core of our faith, to the core of our diaconal ministry.

And, yes, it might be our ministry, but we must never forget it's God's work. As the psalmist prayed, "Non nobis, Domine..." -- "Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory" [Ps 115:1].

It's a ministry that will get no easier, for the world may deny Jesus Christ, but we, His disciples, His servants, cannot.

The world can imprison us, but it can’t imprison the Truth.

It can silence us, but it can’t silence the Word of God.

It can even execute us, but it can never kill God’s enduring love.

The Word of God will always sound through the lives of God’s faithful ones.

Even our own sinfulness can’t silence it, because Jesus Christ heals all who come to him. The personal tragedies of our lives can’t silence it. We might be tested, but if the Word of God is deeply rooted in our hearts, we’ll survive the test. Even when we’re unfaithful, Christ remains faithful to us.

We’ve been given a mission, brothers and sisters, one that Pope Francis, Peter’s successor, reminds us of today. We are called to bear witness to Christ crucified and risen from the dead, to testify, through our lives, to the Good News of God's mercy and forgiveness, to remind the world that God is love.

And we’re called to return that love to Jesus; for Jesus is the poor, He is the homeless, the hungry, the dispossessed, the rejected; Jesus is the ill and the dying. Yes, we are called to remind the world of God’s love and to do so without fear.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Diplomacy of St. John Paul

I just received the latest issue of First Things, one of the few journals I could not do without. If you don't subscribe to First Things I urge you to do so. You won't regret it unless you dislike being challenged...end of commercial.

Opening this latest issue I turned first to the lead article, Lessons in Statecraft, by George Weigel. Weigel, probably best known as the historian-biographer of the papacy of St. John Paul II, offers the reader a glimpse of the pope-saint as diplomat and statesman. Although this great pope was first and foremost a man of faith, he was also, out of necessity, a world leader who, as Weigel suggests, used a "different toolkit" from that of the typical politician and diplomat. The times, typified by the ongoing cold war waged between East and West, demanded the active presence of a witness who could stand on the global stage and call for the defense of religious freedom. And more than anything else, St. John Paul II was a true witness who, as if responding to Joe Stalin's famous question -- "The Pope? How many divisions has he got?" -- simply says, "The Church doesn't need armies. She has Jesus Christ."

In his article Weigel offers seven "lessons" distilled from the statecraft of this remarkable pope. I'll list them here, along with just a brief comment or two, but I hope you will take the time to read Weigel's entire article. One can only hope that our current generation of politicians and diplomats, who have made such a mess of the world, will also read it and perhaps take a few of these lessons to heart.

Lesson 1: Culture drives history. John Paul rejected the prevailing ideologies that fallaciously assume history is driven by politics, or power, or materialism, or economics, or any other "ism". History, he believed, is driven by culture. As Weigel says, " the center of culture is cult, or religion: what people believe, cherish, and worship; what people are willing to stake their lives, and their children's lives, on." I first encountered this lesson many years ago in the writings of Christopher Dawson, one of the last century's greatest historians. If you haven't read Dawson, do so. Perhaps the best overview of his thought can be found in Dynamics of World History.

Lesson 2: Ideas count, for good and for ill. Few of today's politicians seem to understand this truth. Too many see movements like Jihadism and dismiss its stated beliefs, the ideas that brought it to life, as irrelevant and attribute its existence to more convenient and politically correct causes. Pope John Paul took ideas seriously because he realized how powerful they were.

Lesson 3: Don't psychologize the adversary. Trying to change the behavior of ideologues through psychological means -- "If we're nice to them they'll forget about making that bomb" -- will always be perceived as weakness by the adversary who will inevitably take advantage of what is offered. An ideologue is, in effect, a slave to his ideology and will use all available means to advance it.

Lesson 4: Speak loudly and be supple in deploying whatever sticks, large or small, you have at hand. Pope John Paul, probably as a result of his years spent under both Nazi and Communist rule, understood the power of the bully pulpit and used it to perfection. He also knew when to approach a situation as a "quiet persuader" to achieve the ends he sought.

Lesson 5: Listen to the martyrs. For almost two decades the persecuted Christians behind the Iron Curtain were largely ignored in the hope that such appeasement would lessen future persecution. It didn't. Pope John Paul, who had witnessed martyrdom firsthand, realized this and didn't hesitate to publicly acknowledge "the witness of [the Church's] sons and daughters who had taken the risk of freedom and paid the price for it."

Lesson 6: Think long-term and do not sacrifice core principles to what seems immediate advantage. Pope John Paul understood well the Church's core values and would do nothing to jeopardize them. The Church, for example, cannot be true to its primary mission of evangelization if it enters into agreements with political powers that place severe limitations on its ability to carry out this mission. Or, as Weigel states when describing the pope's refusal to agree to a political accommodation proposed by Poland's communist government, "In John Paul II's ecclesiology, the Church could not be a partisan political actor because that role contradicted the Eucharistic character of the Church."

Lesson 7: Media "reality" isn't necessarily reality. Pope John Paul II knew that the secular media, even those so-called "experts" on Church affairs, really don't have a clue when it comes to the Catholic Church. Almost universally they tend to view and report on the Church through lenses colored by their political and cultural biases. In other words, they are almost always wrong. Because they are largely irreligious, most media types consider religion to be irrelevant and fail to recognize the importance of religious issues to the majority of humanity. 

I hope my brief description of these lessons will lead you to read George Weigel's article and also encourage you to subscribe to First Things

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Homily: Saturday, Octave of Easter

Readings: Acts 4:13-21; Ps 118; Mk 16:9-15
Today, as we approach the end of the Easter Octave, our eight-day celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, we find in it the perfect sign of hope. The Resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love. Really, could God provide us with any better guarantee of what He has in store for us?

What I have done for My Son, I will do also for you. As My Son is now with me in glory, so too will you come and dwell with us in eternal happiness. You need only do what the Son asks of you: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” [Mk 1:15].

These words – “Repent and believe in the Gospel” – are among the first words of Jesus we encounter in Mark’s Gospel. As a writer, Mark didn’t elaborate a lot, but just gave us the bare-bones facts. Indeed, he begins his Gospel with another matter-of-fact statement: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” [Mk 1:1]

No theological subtleties there. No, Mark gets right to the point of it all: Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and the Son of God. It’s as if Mark is telling his reader: Just keep that in mind as you read this Gospel and all will become clear.

The passage from today’s Gospel reading is no different and includes some of the final verses of Mark’s Gospel. The last verse of this passage is equally straightforward, with the risen Jesus telling His small band of eleven apostles: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” [Mk 16:15]. No exclusions, no dispensations, no excuses. You and all those who follow you – and, that, brothers and sisters, includes you and me – must proclaim the Gospel always and to everyone.
"Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel..."
And, remember, these 11 apostles weren’t the most faithful of disciples; and the death of Jesus had pretty much dissolved what little faith they had. They certainly didn’t expect a resurrected Jesus. After all, they believe neither Mary Magdalene nor the two disciples who had encountered our Lord on the road to Emmaus. No, it took Jesus Himself to convince them; and even then they were filled with doubts. It was so bad that Jesus, when He appeared to them, actually chewed them out “for their unbelief and hardness of heart” [Mk 16:14].

But, wasting no time, Jesus continued and gave them that final command, His great commission to proclaim the Gospel to all the world. Matthew, in his Gospel, adds a bit more: “Go therefore,” Jesus commands, “and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” [Mt 28:19-20]

But regardless of the version, it’s kind of a scary command, isn’t it? After all, how much Gospel proclaiming have you and I done this week…this month…this year? I suspect it was scary too for the disciples who actually heard Jesus say it. If His Resurrection were unexpected, then this command was even more so.

“It is impossible for us not to speak..."
But then everything changes! We encounter the power of the Holy Spirit, and we see how, in an instant, He can change minds and hearts. His power is manifested in the remarkable witness of the Apostles in today’s reading from Acts. Peter and John, these fishermen, these “uneducated, ordinary men” [Acts 4:13], were doing miraculous things in Jesus’ name while proclaiming the Gospel throughout Jerusalem. They did so because, in their words, “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard” [Acts 4:20].

And so, if you’re a little behind in your Gospel proclaiming, recall again those first words of Jesus: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” -- for they are the key. Immerse yourself in the sacrament of Reconciliation; in repentance let the Holy Spirit shower you with His grace. Open yourself up to Him in prayer. Ask Him to guide you, to help you proclaim the Gospel by living the Gospel, so you, too, will be a witness to the Good News of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Homily: Healing Mass - March 21, 2015

This morning our parish celebrated Mass followed by a healing service. I was honored to have been asked to preach, and privileged to join my wife, Diane, as one of the prayer teams who prayed over (and with) those who came for healing. It was a beautiful morning. My homily follows...

Readings: Jer 11:18-20 • Psalm 7 • Gospel: Jn 7:40-53

What a wonderful crowd -- God’s people gathered here today to taste His healing and forgiveness. And I can only assume you’re a very different crowd from that which John just described in our Gospel passage. How did he put it?

“A division occurred in the crowd because of Him” [Jn 7:43].

I trust we have no division here today, certainly no division “because of Him.”

Yes, you and I know who Jesus is. As Peter would later confess, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” [Mt 16:16]. But the crowd that day was divided. They had gathered at the Temple in Jerusalem during Sukkoth, or the Feast of Tabernacles. And as they listened to Jesus proclaim God’s Word, they could only ask each other: Who is this Jesus who walks among us and speaks with such authority? The answers were many. Yes there was division because of Him.

A few in the crowd, the unimportant ones, thought He was the Prophet, and they said so openly: “This is truly the Prophet” [Jn 7:40].  It’s the same claim many had made about John the Baptist.

Not “a prophet” but “the prophet.” In this they went back more than a thousand years to the words of Moses, to the 18th Chapter of Deuteronomy. Here Moses had prophesied that God would raise up a prophet, one greater than Moses himself [Deut 18;18].

To others in the crowd Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah; and they, too, spoke openly: “This is the Christ” [Jn 7:41].

But they were scolded by the Pharisees, the self-righteous aristocrats of dogma. This Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah. Just listen to Him. Can’t you hear that Galilean accent? Haven’t you read the prophets? It’s right there in Micah: the Messiah will come from Judea, from Bethlehem, the city of David. He certainly won’t come from a backwater like Galilee.

Yes, the common people – those the Pharisees considered ignorant, lawless, and “accursed” – saw Jesus more clearly, didn’t they? It’s evident the Pharisees despised the people. Indeed, the very name “Pharisee” means “separated ones.” Separated from the people, the “accursed,” they knew all they had to know about Jesus; but of course they were wrong. Indeed, they were so convinced Jesus was a fraud they wanted to arrest Him.

And yet, how did John put it? “No one laid hands on Him” [Jn 7:44]. Even the Temple guards, sent by the Pharisees to arrest Jesus, were unable to do so. And what prevented them? John tells us: nothing less than Jesus’ Word, nothing less than the Word of God Incarnate. The guards, themselves, confessed it: “Never before has anyone spoken like this man” [Jn 7:46].

Yes, “this man” speaks like no one else. Jesus speaks, God speaks, and things happen. Not only does God create a universe with His Word, but he also changes least some hearts – hearts that are open and receptive, hearts that ache to experience the forgiveness and healing power of their Savior.

Is your heart, is my heart, open and receptive to Jesus Christ? Are you and I gathered here today to praise God, to thank Him for the gift of life, for our very being? Are we here to ask that He send us His Holy Spirit, that He touch us with His healing power, healing us in ways we’ve never dreamed of?

And, believe me, He will touch us…oh, yes, he’ll touch each one of us today, simply because He promised to do so. When we come to Jesus in faith, when, in all humility, we approach Him with our broken bodies and in our sinfulness, He wants only to heal and forgive.

The question is: do you believe that? It’s an important question because our faith, or perhaps more accurately, our acceptance of God’s gift of faith, is a key ingredient when it comes to God’s healing power.

And so this is our first healing principle: Faith, a deep, living faith, brings healing.

We encounter this again and again throughout the Gospel. At our parish Bible Study, we’ve spent the past few months digging deeply into Luke’s Gospel; and it’s remarkable how often Jesus said those wonderful words: “…your faith has saved you.”

We hear it when Jesus healed the ten lepers, but only one, a Samaritan, returned to thank Him [Lk 17:19]. We hear these words again when He gave sight to Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho, a man the disciples tried unsuccessfully to keep from Jesus [Lk 18:42].

Jesus also said, “…your faith has saved you,” when He forgave the sinful woman who anointed him in the home of Simon the Pharisee [Lk 7:50]. Unlike the leper and Bartimaeus she was neither ill nor handicapped. To our knowledge she received no physical healing. But just like the others she too was a sinner. She needed salvation; she needed saving; she needed healing, spiritual healing. And it seems she was a public sinner since Simon and his friends apparently knew all about her. Indeed, her very presence in their midst was for them a great scandal. No, Simon and his guests weren’t very happy about her crashing their party, were they?

But Jesus? Moved deeply by her faith, He could do nothing but love her, love her with divine, forgiving, merciful love. And because her faith was a deep repentant faith, she too could do nothing but love. For that’s what her act of anointing was, an act of love, born of repentance.

As St. James instructed the first Christians: “Confess your sins… and pray for one another, that you may be healed” [Jas 5:16] Yes, we’re called to both repentance and prayer: Confess your sins…and pray for one another. We repent, then, for our own healing, and we pray for the salvation and healing of others.

This, then, is our second healing principle: A true, living faith always leads to repentance, and true repentance will manifest itself as love.

When we love each other, we pray for each other, and in that sense each and every one of us is called to the ministry of healing, a ministry of love. We see this manifested most beautifully in all three synoptic Gospels when the paralytic is carried by his friends to Jesus [Mt 9:1-8; Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26] But because Jesus has attracted such a huge crowd they can’t get near Him, so what do they do?

Why, they get creative. They make a hole in the roof, lower their friend on his pallet through the hole, and plop him down right next to Jesus. What a remarkable act of love!  But notice, the paralyzed man never says a word. He asks for neither healing nor forgiveness. No, his friends do all the asking, not with words, but through their own faith and their act of love. This moves Jesus to act. All three Gospels declare that Jesus, seeing their faith, first forgives and then heals. He forgives first so we will know that our salvation is the more important result.

This leads us to a third principle: The living faith of the community, a faith that manifests itself in acts of love for others, brings forgiveness and healing.

Of course, whenever we look at faith and healing, we inevitably find ourselves asking: Just how strong does my faith have to be? Faith – that all-important element of true healing – is a gift, but it can be a troubling one for the Christian

I’m sometimes approached by those who are distraught because they prayed for physical healing and believe God has ignored them.
“Deacon, I’ve prayed for God to take away my cancer…or to ease my pain…or to remove this debilitating illness, but nothing has happened. I guess my faith just isn’t strong enough.”
No, I tell them, it’s not because your faith is weak. But sometimes you and I aren’t open to God’s will for us, and so we ask for the wrong things. More than anything else, God’s wants our salvation. That’s why Jesus so often said, “Your faith has saved you.” It’s your salvation and my salvation He desires more than anything else. Whenever physical healing occurs, it’s simply a manifestation of God’s will for that person.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg...How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” [Lk 11:11-13; See Mt 7:7-11]

All too often, almost willfully ignorant of God’s will for us, we ask for the snake or the scorpion and then wonder why God gives us something else. How often do you and I ask for His Holy Spirit, the greatest of His gifts?

The Spirit is waiting for you to call for Him. He wants nothing more than to fill your entire being with His presence. And it’s a miraculous presence, one that will bring you to understanding and acceptance of God’s will for you, one that will bring the healing God wants for you.

Each one of us is here for a purpose, brothers and sisters, and that purpose will always involve the Cross; for it is Christ, the crucified one, who stands at the door and knocks at the heart of every man and every woman. Recall the words of Jesus in the Garden as He prayed to the Father:
“…if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” [Mt 26:39].
Yes, Jesus suffered and died, and did so for all of humanity. His plea to the Father was not for Himself, but for us. You may be here today for healing, but healing for whom? Are you focused solely on yourself, while some of those seated all around you are in desperate need of your prayer, in need of your healing touch?

This is the wonderful thing about our loving God: He doesn’t force Himself on the world; no, He wants us to do His work, to bring the world to Him. It’s summed up well in the beautiful Lenten hymn we all know:
"Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim, ‘til all the world adore His sacred name."
That’s what we’re called to do: to lift high the Cross, to proclaim the love of Christ Crucified to all the world. It’s a task that must start right here, with you and with me. Just look at each other. Look to your left and right. Look at those in front of you and behind you. Do it now!

Unlike the people in Jerusalem, we aren’t just a crowd. We are a community, brothers and sisters, a community of faith and love. We’re not a mere collection of individuals who happened to come here today to beg God for what we think we need. We are the universal Church – One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic – present here and now in Wildwood, Florida.

Later, at the sign of peace, will you reach out in love to these others in our community, in this holy Church, others who need your prayers? Will you offer your prayers for them when the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord and lifted up for your adoration?

God has a plan for the world, but He also has a plan for each one of us, a plan for our salvation. And so our prayer today should echo Jesus’ prayer in the Garden: “…not as I will, but as you will.” Let God be God, brothers and sisters. Let Him decide what is best for you, what will bring you to salvation.

Come to Him today in faith, in repentance, in love, and experience God’s healing touch.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Homily: 1st Sunday of Lent - Year B

Readings: Gn 9:8-15; Ps 25; 1 Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15
Back in 1968, a few weeks after Diane and I were married, the United States Navy ordered me to San Diego; and so the two of us set out on the cross-country drive from Massachusetts.

One afternoon, as we drove through Arizona, we pulled off the highway and stopped the car, totally captivated by a distant thunderstorm moving across the desert, truly a remarkable sight. Because it was so distant, we could see the entire storm. We watched sheets of rain on the horizon as bolts of lightning struck the ground one after another. It was a spectacular display, but because it was so far away it just didn’t seem real.

That same sense of unreality can affect us whenever we view events from a distance; just as today when we hear about the horrendous persecution of Christians in distant parts of the world. Yes, those storms seem very distant too, don’t they? They’re certainly not happening here…at least not yet. Many Christians simply push it all aside, not really accepting that hundreds of their brothers and sisters in faith are being martyred almost daily. In a word, they become indifferent to it all. Others look out at the world and its troubles and its sinfulness and that’s all they see. They wear blinders of pessimism, all the time forgetting that God has promised to be with us always.

Just turn again to today's first reading from Genesis, where we encounter one of the first of God's promises, His covenant with Noah. It's a promise He will renew and expand throughout salvation history in anticipation of the Incarnation of the Word of God among us.

Brothers and sisters, there’s no place in the mind and heart of the Christian for either indifference or pessimism.  Indeed, the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is a message of total unabashed optimism. This is what Lent’s all about. It's a time of optimism, a time of renewal. It's a time to turn away from yesterday, focus on today, and look forward expectantly to tomorrow.

Look again at today's Gospel. Jesus entered into the desert, right into the heart of a spiritual storm. Did He have to go there? Did He have to perform such a radical sacrificial act? Did He have to subject Himself to the direct and personal temptations of Satan? Of course not! His Divinity guaranteed the outcome. But He went for us; He always offers Himself to us as a model. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, like us in everything but sin, voluntarily submitted Himself to temptation.

For Jesus it was a time for prayerful communion with the Father, a time of formation, a time to prepare Himself for His ministry and, ultimately, for His passion, death and resurrection. In many respects it was the defining turning point of His life, a sharp dividing line between His hidden private life and His public ministry.

God has given us a Redeemer whose love for us is boundless. No matter what sufferings, pains or temptations we experience, we have our God leading us, telling us to have confidence in His mercy, since He too has experienced these same temptations. Recall the words of today's responsorial psalm: "He shows sinners the way" [Ps 25:8].

In giving us this season of Lent, the Church encourages us to follow Our Lord’s example. The Church leads each of us, as the Holy Spirit led Jesus, to confront our own very personal deserts. Each one of us here today has a desert or two to contend with, some of those inhospitable places that expose the barrenness of our lives, places we’d rather avoid and maybe just look at from a distance.

Has your relationship with God become a desert? Has your prayer life become arid, something you struggle through mechanically only on Sunday morning? Or like the person who claims friendship only when he needs another’s help, is your prayer reserved for times of need?

St. Paul instructs us to "pray constantly" [1 Thes 5:17]. What does this mean? Only that God wants us to place everything – all our plans, burdens, worries, pains – at His feet. He’ll pick them up and bear them for us. Come to Him in prayer. Share your sorrows and joys with Him, and taste His goodness.

Has your family life become like that chaotic storm roaring across the desert? Has mutual respect and patient understanding been replaced by the thunder of arguments and bolts of bitterness aimed at the hearts of those you love? Learn to forgive as the Father forgives, and love as the Father loves. Come together in daily prayer and watch as God unfolds a miracle in your lives.

Or is your desert one of self-absorption or materialism? Do you ignore the hungers of those around you, concentrating instead on your own needs and wants? People hunger for more than bread. They hunger for a kind word, for someone who will listen, for a reassuring touch. And most of all they hunger for God’s love in their lives. Will you be the one who brings it to them?

Do you suffer in the desert of habitual sin? Put it behind you. Taste the forgiveness and mercy of God this Lent in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Or do you live in the desert of pride, in that dark polluted spring, the source of all other sin? The temptations to which Jesus refused to submit are the same temptations we all face, temptations that ultimately merge into one: the temptation to pride. To trust in one’s own power. To trust in Satan’s power, the power of evil. To trust in the power of the world. They all amount to the same thing. This is the great temptation down through the ages: to imagine we can achieve through our own efforts what only God can give.

Remember how they taunted Jesus on the cross: “He trusted in God; let God deliver him if he loves him” [Mt 27:43]. No angels came to Jesus on the cross, but God’s plan wasn’t suspended. Although Jesus seemed abandoned, His trust in God never wavered. Nothing separates Jesus from the Father, not even the desert. Jesus sets His heart on the Father, believes in Him, trusts in Him. And the Father vindicates the Son when and where He chooses. But He does vindicate Him.

Through His resurrection Jesus assures us that victory is ours if only we desire it and persevere in faith and trust. That’s why the Church calls Lent "a joyous season." Yes, Jesus calls us to repentance, but He doesn't stop there. "Repent and believe in the Gospel", [Mk 1:15], He commands us. Believe in the Good News.

Brothers and sisters, the Good News is life, the life God wants to share with us. Believe in life! Christ's life and your life, life here and eternal, life now and forever. Like Jesus, use this Lenten season to confront your deserts, and leave them behind. For Lent is not about yesterday. It is about today.  And yesterday is death, death devoid of meaning. Today is life.  So if you want to repent, live! Come alive! Let Christ live in you and through you. Open your life to Him and to the will of the Father.

Yesterday is sin. Today is love. God's love for us and the love He wants us to share with others. It’s the love that keeps His commandments. The love that can overcome even death, the crucified love that takes away the sin of the world. If you want to repent, love! Love God and love one another.

Yesterday is despair, the despair of a world without a living, loving God. The despair of horoscopes and palm readers, the despair of new-agers resigned to become one with an uncaring universe, the despair of gloomy theologians preaching the heresy of predestined damnation. For today is hope. Hope in God's message of love and forgiveness, the Good News of eternal life. So if you want to repent, hope! Come to know the mercy of God.

Yesterday was slavery, slavery to sin, to pride, to fear. But today is freedom! Not the false freedom of doing whatever we want, but true freedom -- the power to choose good over evil. So if you want to repent, be free! Open yourself to God in free obedience to His commandments, and to each other in unforced love.

And do you know something? The wonderful thing is, you don’t have to do it alone. Indeed, you can’t do it alone. But if you call upon the Father, He will send His Holy Spirit to lead you just as he led Jesus.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Homily: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Readings: Jb 7:1-4, 6-7; Ps 147; 1Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39
A day in the life of Jesus – this is what we see in today’s brief Gospel passage. Here at the beginning of his Gospel, Mark offers a glimpse into Jesus’ ministry throughout Galilee. Indeed, I suspect Mark had a purpose here: to let us experience the urgency surrounding Jesus’ public ministry; that from the very start Our Lord was driven by the Spirit to teach and to heal as He preached the Good News to all He encountered.

Jesus had just called the first of His Apostles to Him: two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John. He had called and they hadn’t hesitated. They dropped everything to follow Jesus. Together they entered Capernaum. It was the Sabbath, so the day began in the synagogue.

“…He entered the synagogue and taught” [Mk 1:21], Mark tells us.

The synagogue was a place for prayer and for teaching. Jews spent serious time on the Sabbath reading and commenting on Scripture, so you can be sure Jesus’ teaching wasn’t presented in little, ten-minute homilies.

Mark goes on to say, “The people were astounded at His teaching” [Mk 1:22].

They were astounded because never before had they encountered someone like Jesus. He was different. Unlike the scribes, “He taught them as one having authority” [Mk 1:22]. To punctuate this authority, to prove its divine source, He cured a man possessed by a demon, a demon who openly proclaimed Jesus’ identity: “the Holy One of God” [Mk 1:24].

And so Jesus’ fame spread…

Leaving the synagogue, he and His four companions go to Simon Peter’s home, probably for the day’s main meal. But as soon as He arrives, He’s told that Peter’s mother-in-law is ill with a fever. This telling is in itself a form of prayer.

We’ve seen this prayer before. At Cana Mary simply said, “They have no wine” [Jn 2:3] – no request, just a statement of fact, just a telling. And Jesus responds and does so miraculously. Here in Capernaum Peter need only tell the Lord that his mother-in-law is ill, and Jesus heals her quietly with just a touch. The effect is instantaneous.

Has a miracle taken place? Certainly. It all happened because Jesus is there. That’s the one precondition for every miracle: God’s presence. But the miracle seems almost incidental to the reality of the new relationship between Jesus and the woman He has healed. We come to understand this when Jesus comes near to us; for when He approaches us, something good must happen. When Jesus draws near, the gift of faith deepens, conversion begins, vocations are defined, miracles happen.

All these things and more will follow when, in the presence of Jesus, we allow Him to take us by the hand and lift us up. Instead of simply telling God of our sorrows, our joys, our problems, how often does our prayer consist of telling God how He should do things? How often do we try to drag God to our way of thinking, to do what we want? In truth, though, we need only come to Our Lord with our problem and let Him deal with it.

What does this grateful woman do? Jesus has reached out to her, so she lets Him take her hand and help her up. She then waits on Him and the others. She thanks the Lord by serving the Lord.  This, too, is a prayer.

Brothers and sisters, God's healing power restores us not only to health but to active service and the care of others. God has given each of us a service ministry and this is what it’s all about. It’s a prayer, a form of thanksgiving to God for enabling us to serve Him by serving others. But first we must be healed.

You know you’re in need of healing, don’t you? We all are. But have you allowed Jesus Christ to heal you? Have you come to Him, thrown your sins down before Him in the sacrament of Reconciliation and asked for healing?

In the midst of our short lives, our limited, less than transformed lives, Jesus approaches each of us. He calls us by name. He grasps our hand, heals us, and frees us with a touch. And then He helps us up, lifting us up to the freedom He wants for each of us, energizing us so we can respond to His call, so we too can serve.

What about the Apostles? Do you think they knew what He was calling them to do? Probably not. They were likely too overcome by the wonder of it all. Imagine having been called by Jesus, by this man who does the miraculous, called to be His companions, His special friends. They don’t yet know that soon enough they will be doing what He is doing; and soon enough they will experience the cost of discipleship, they will experience the Cross.

Paul, of course, knew this when, in our 2nd reading, he told the Christians of Corinth, “I preach the gospel…and woe to me if I do not preach it!" [1 Cor 9:16] Yes, we’re all called to evangelize, and woe to us if we do not. We are called to share the Good News with the world, even if our little corner of the world might be small indeed.

“His fame spread” [Mk 1:28], Mark tells us. Jesus had become an instant celebrity in Galilee. The sick, the possessed, the confused, the curious – all of these and more ether came to Jesus or were brought to Him by others. Many, led by the Spirit, came in faith, begging Jesus to heal.

“The whole town was gathered at the door” [Mk 1:33].

Does Mark exaggerate? I don’t think so. Everyone came to Him. And why not? Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you want to see Him for yourself, this man who did such remarkable things. Mark sums it all up briefly:

“He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him” [Mk 1:34].
Interesting, isn’t it? The evil one recognizes Jesus for who He is, but so many others haven’t a clue. What about us? Do we know Him…well enough to take our troubles to Him in expectant faith?

Jesus wants to heal.

He wants to help us with all our troubles.

He wants to free us from every form of bondage.

Again, we need only ask, ask that God’s will, the will of the Father, be done in our lives. We need only ask just as the people of Capernaum had asked. No doubt they asked far into the night.

It had been a long day for Our Lord; and yet an exhausted Jesus rose early and off by Himself, to a lonely place, to pray. Did you notice how Jesus’ time of prayer – His time with the Father – energized Him? It gave Him the strength to continue His mission of bringing the Good News to God’s People. Through prayer Jesus brought healing and comfort to thousands.

How about you and me? Is our prayer like the prayer of Jesus? What do we pray for? Do we pray for strength in carrying out the mission God has given us, in carrying out the Father’s will in our lives?

Jesus walked this earth. He knows our hardships. He knows the sorrows and joys that fill our lives. He knows our sufferings because He suffered Himself. Yes, He became human to conquer death; but he also came to bring hope – not only to the people He encountered 2,000 years ago, but to all of us…today and every day.

“I came,” Jesus proclaimed, “so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” [Jn 10:10].

Life! Life here and eternal life. Today, as we actually partake in God’s Divine Life, as we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, as we experience this miraculous Communion with God Himself, let us remember that we too are called.

Have you responded to His call?

How is He inviting you to come closer to Him?

Can you, with childlike abandon, grasp His hand and let Him lift you up?

Will you join Him on His mission to bring God’s love, to share the Good News, with the world?

For this is our calling.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Homily: Wednesday, 4th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1

Readings: Heb 12:4-7, 11-15 • Psalm 103 • Mk 6:1-6

In my previous parish on Cape Cod I used to visit a local nursing home a couple of times a month. After conducting a Liturgy of the Word with Communion I’d take Eucharist to the rooms of those who were unable to attend. Once, right after I’d given Communion to a 96-year-old man, a doctor, who looked to be in his early forties, entered the room, introduced himself, and began to examine the patient.

After a long moment the old man looked closely at the doctor and said, “Wait a minute! Aren’t you Jack Snow’s little boy? What was your name…Charlie wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” the doctor replied, “and it still is.”

“Yeah, well you’re the kid who was always getting in trouble, always doing stupid stuff. And now you’re a doctor? Well, you can’t be a very good one. I don’t want you working on me.”

The doctor simply said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place” [Mk 6:4]. Then he added, “Apparently it’s the same for doctors…now, open your mouth and say, ‘Ahhh.’”

Of course, I can no longer read this Gospel passage from Mark without thinking of those two men. It seems many of us are not unlike the Nazarenes. Of course the young doctor wasn’t divine. He was imperfect, a sinner like all of us. But his elderly patient just couldn’t accept him for who he was.

Jesus teaching in Nazareth
The people of Nazareth ask, “Where did He get all this?...Is this not the carpenter?” [Mk 6:2-3] Yes, those who recognize Jesus bind Him to the limitations of His earthly profession, and set the same limits to His ministry, His teaching, and His miracles. What they really want to say is, “Why isn’t He just doing what carpenters are supposed to do?”

They then push their doubts even farther: And isn’t He just “the Son the Mary”? [Mk 6:3] Don’t we know all His relatives? But Mary – the theotokos, the Mother of God whose mission is part of her Son’s mission – means nothing to them. They can’t grasp the truth because they know only the woman, not the Blessed One, only the carpenter, not the Redeemer.

And so they take offense, for how can the local carpenter bring the Kingdom of God into the world? How can the Son of Mary be the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets? Yes, they take offense because they refuse the truth, the free acknowledgement of the truth that comes with the acceptance of God’s gift of faith. Jesus chastises them for their lack of faith; He exposes them, puts them in their place, the very place He came from.

But the Lord perseveres. He heals some, a few Mark tells us, apparently a select few. Nazareth rejected the Good News of salvation, and Jesus left them…at least for a while. He would gladly have received them all, worked miracles among them, deepened their faith, but they don’t want Him. They have taken offense. Amazed at their lack of faith, He does nothing to break their resistance. He moves on to other more welcoming places.

What about you and me? Do we see the necessity of faith? Have we kept the Lord from working miracles in our own lives? Has weakness of faith blocked the healing God wants for us?

Brothers and sisters, there’s no limit to Jesus’ power. He asks only for faith, God’s door into human hearts, but one that can be opened only from within.

Open your heart to the Lord. Call on the power of His Holy Spirit and let His gifts, His healing, fill you, and bring you the joy He promises.

A few chapters later, Mark introduces us to a man whose faith has been tested. He is one like us who strives to accept God’s gift of faith in the midst of distress. Chastised by the Lord, He responds prayerfully: “Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief!” [Mk 9:24] Let us pray the same.