Monday, April 15, 2019

Testing our motives

The political commentator George Will once wrote that the largest growth industry in America was the manufacture of “synthetic indignation”, people acting as if they are upset and concerned about a particular issue. 

In today’s gospel we see an example of synthetic indignation on the part of Judas. Jesus goes to the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Mary anoints Jesus’s feet with an expensive oil. 

Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” 

Suddenly, Judas is acting like the head of the parish social justice committee. 

But so there is no confusion, the gospel goes on to explain.

He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.

While hopefully no one reading this is embezzling like Judas, it does remind us that we need to examine our motives. All of us can look for an excuse to justify our behavior. 

We humans are funny creatures. When we don’t want to do something, we can always find an excuse.  When we do want to do something, we can always find a way. 

What excuses do we use for not taking time to actually pray or read the Word of God?
What excuses will we come up with for not going to the Holy Week liturgies?
What excuse do we use for not contributing to the work of our local parish?

Like Judas, we always ground our excuse in some truth. Should we be concerned for the poor? Absolutely. Was that really Judas’s motivation? Not really. 

In these last days of Lent, there is still time for us to take the hard look at ourselves, and test our motives for the choices we make or the attitudes we hold. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Nine more days

We are coming down the homestretch of Lent. 

In the gospel today we are reminded once again that everything is a matter of perspective.

Jesus says a very simple declarative sentence. 

When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM

What is the lifting up? Crucifixion. That’s right Jesus refers to his murder as a lifting up.  Jesus turns it all upside down.

- Jesus is I AM, that is, God.
- the Cross is His thrown.
- the. Crucifixion is his Exaltation, his lifting up over the people. 

Some people will ask why we Catholics wear crucifixes, why we have them hanging everywhere.

Blame St. John.  It is his Gospel above all that transforms the image of death into an image of healing and life. 

 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up,

We should be very careful before we judge some event in our lives as good or bad, blessing or curse.  Truth is, we can never be sure. 

Perhaps rather than labeling a situation, the best thing we can do is hold on tight to our faith, trust that Jesus is with us in every moment, and know that with him we will not only get through but come out better. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Ten more days

Perhaps you are looking back on Lent and thinking how it didn’t go as you had planned. On Ash Wednesday we all have the best of intentions. We make decisions about prayer, fasting, and charity. We take home our Operation Rice Bowl boxes and there they sit. It’s not too late. 

Lent ends on Holy Thursday. With the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we begin the Easter Triduum. That means that, as of today, there are 10 more days left in Lent. There is still time to dig in and make this a fruitful Lent. 

The readings for this last full week of Lent move away from the usual pattern. Each day we read from a different book. 

Today we hear the story of Sussana, a woman who some could call a victim of her culture and the legal system of the time. 

In the story a group of men decide to trap her into having sex with them. 

the garden doors are shut, and no one can see us; give in to our desire, and lie with us. If you refuse, we will testify against you that you dismissed your maids because a young man was here with you.

The Jewish law requires a minimum of two witnesses. Roman law would follow the custom, with the dictum, “One witness is no witness.” 

More problematic was the list of people who could not be witnesses. Maimonides lists ten classes of persons who are not competent to attest or testify, namely: women, slaves, minors, lunatics, the deaf, the blind, the wicked, the contemptible, relatives, and the interested parties.  

The reason for the exclusion of women was grammatical. The noun for witnesses in the Old Testament is always masculine. This placed a woman at the absolute mercy of two men or more. 

Sussana decides that the only real judge that matters is God. 

In the short run this means great pain and humiliation for her. She is accused and forced to go to trial, with all the public scandal that would have accompanied this. We can imagine the chattering of the people, particularly because she was beautiful. She will get the death penalty if convicted. 

God stirred up the holy spirit of a young boy named Daniel, and he cried aloud: “I will have no part in the death of this woman.” All the people turned and asked him, “What is this you are saying?” He stood in their midst and continued, “Are you such fools, O children of Israel! To condemn a woman of Israel without examination and without clear evidence? Return to court, for they have testified falsely against her.

Because of this boy who himself cannot be a witness under the law, the men are separated and questioned. One says they were under a mastic tree, the other says under an oak. The men are therefore convicted of perjury. Under the law of the time, if you were convicted of perjury, the penalty you attempted to inflict on another was inflicted on you. The men were put to death. 

Unfortunately in our modern legal systems things do not always work out so neat and tidy. And then we have the court of the Internet.

More than ever the examp,e of Sussana is worth our attention. She chose to focus not on the court or on what people would say. She focused solely on the judgement of God. The only truly just Judge. The judge who unfailingly sees the truth. 

In these last ten days of Lent, perhaps it is time for each of us to look deep inside and ask how we would stand before the judgement seat of Christ. Of what would we stand convicted?

Th good news is that Christ has given us a way, even when we are guilty of sin, to have it expunged. We call it the Sacrament of Penance, confession. Through Pennace and yes Indulgence, God washes us clean and restores us. 

Let us fearlessly face our sin and in trust embrace the mercy of God. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

What do we want?

Today we reach chapter 5  in the Gospel of St. John.  Jesus has gone to Jerusalem and there, at the pool called Bethesda, Jesus encounters a man who has been disabled for a very long time. The precise nature of his condition we do not know. Nor do we know how long he has been this way. Whatsoever the case, Jesus asks what would appear to be a very strange question,

Do you want to be well?

What is stranger is the fact that we never get the answer to that question. Instead of answering, the man changes the subject. 

Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.

For any of us it is easy to get comfortable with where we are, even when it is a very uncomfortable place. In our present culture, being a victim can be a badge of honor. 

The good news is that Jesus heals the man in spite of himself.  

He doesn’t touch him. He doesn’t make magic mud. He simply gives him three commands. 

Rise. Take up your mat. Walk. 

The man doesn’t answer the question. He never expresses faith. He doesn’t even know who healed him. He is as ignorant as he can be. And Jesus healed him anyway. 

It is easy for us to think that it is about us. That we need to be the subject of the sentence – I need to have faith –I need to ask God. We forget that it is always God’s work, God’s plan.  We are at best lowly cooperators. 

The man in the story didn’t know much. But he did have sense enough to obey. He got up, took his mat, and walked. He didn’t just wallow in his condition. 

Can we hear the voice of Jesus commanding us? Will we obey? Do we want to be healed?

Monday, April 1, 2019

The one humanity

We know that it is through faith that we are saved.  But we make the mistake of confusing faith with individual professions of faith. 

The Bible begins by telling us that God created a single humanity (adam) of which we are all a part. It was only sin that fractured that humanity. 

In our culture, we tend to worship the fracture. We focus on the individual. Everything can be customized to meet your individual needs. 

Today’s gospel reminds us that while sin may have fractured the common humanity, it could not be broken. 

In the gospel it is the son who is in need of healing. But we hear nothing about his faith. As is often the case with us human beings, the ones most in need of help are the ones least willing or able to ask for it. 

It is the father who goes for help. It is worth noting that even this father’s faith is seriously flawed. He thinks that Jesus needs to go and do something. He thinks there needs to be some spectacle. He forgets that in the beginning God merely spoke and it all came into being. 

Jesus finds the people’s desire for spectacles frustrating. 

Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.

But despite that, the faith of the man is enough. 

“You may go; your son will live.” The man believed what Jesus said to him and left. 

The faith of the man saved the son. 

How easily we forget.  Faith itself is a gift from God. He gives it as we need it. 

What do we do? As with all gifts, we merely accept it and are grateful. 

On this Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent. Can I look inside and find my faith?  Perhaps for some it is right at hand. Perhaps for others it has fallen into some dusty corner of your soul. Wherever it is, pick it up and embrace. Show it to the people around you. And most of all say thank you. Be grateful for the gift of faith. Your faith may also heal someone in need. 

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Week 4

As we begin week 4, we are told to be glad. The symbol of that joy is the rose color that we use in vestments and decorations. But isn’t it strange to rejoice in the middle of Lent? Not at all.

Hopefully, since Ash Wednesday, every day we have done some penitential act. Hopefully, we have increased our daily prayer time. We have looked for extra ways that we can be charitable. And if you have not, we still have two and a half weeks of Lent. It’s never too late to start. 

If your parish is using cycle A, you are hearing today about the man born blind. He is all of us. Because of original sin, we were all born blind. Only faith, which is itself a gift from God, and the grace of baptism can heal our blindness. 

But truth be told, it never heals completely in this life. Only in dheaven Willy be have spiritual 20/20 vision. Part of our problem is that we think we see, we think we know, and we judge.  We judge based on our partial vision. 

Even for us who are baptized believers, St. Paul tells us, 

Now we see dimly as in a mirror, then [in heaven] we will see face to face.

It is our partial blindness that can often lead us to sin. We think see. We think we know. We think we know what we need. We think we know what is best for us. We don’t.  We need to keep the limits of our vision in mind. 

Firstly, to remind us that we need a guide.  We need to pray every day for the Holy Spirit to help us to see, to help us to know, to help us choose wisely. 

Also, we need to remeber our partial vision whenever we judge another person. We need to remind ourselves that we never see the whole picture. Only God sees that. 

As we age our physical eyesight fails just a bit more.  Let us pray that as our physical eyesight fail, God may increase our spiritual eyesight. 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

At the end of week one

Perhaps you have had a great first week of Lent; perhaps you have already “failed” at the Lenten tasks you set for yourself. Whichever the case, today that week comes to an end and we look forward to tomorrow, the Second Sunday of Lent. 

On this last day of the first week, the gospel could make us throw up our hands and give up, as Jesus tells us to be “perfect.” It’s seems impossible until we remeber that the text uses teleios, and not anamartetos.  We are commanded to be perfect not sinless. 

Perfect in the Greek or Latin sense means complete. It grows out of the understanding that when each of us was created by God, he already had in mind the person we were meant to be, there is a goal (Greek-telos). For each of us that goal is both unique and identical.   We each fit into God’s plan in a unique way. On the other hand, the goal is the same for all of us, oneness with Him. 

In this season of Lent, we use bodily discipline, fasting. We use prayer. We use charity. All of these serve a double purpose. 

In the first place, we look back. We do them as Penance for sins committed. 

In the second place, we look forward. We use the discipline of Lent to help us focus, so that we might adhere more closely each day to path that God has marked out for us, the path on which we walk with Christ. There is no discipleship without discipline. 

Tomorrow we begin week two. Take some time today to plan how it will be even better than week one.