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!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

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.