Sunday, April 14, 2019

Check your Attitude...

The Catholic Liturgy for Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019. Gospels: Lk 19:28-40 (Entry into Jerusalem); Luke 22:14-23:56 (The Passion) Theme: Check Your Attitude…

It’s always such an amazing thing to me to see how the crowds in Jerusalem went from cheering Jesus and giving Him literally a King’s welcome on Palm Sunday, to screaming out bloody murder for his execution just a few days later on Good Friday.

You see, for centuries the people were expecting the Messiah to be a mighty Warrior-Hero-King. A Liberator who would finally be the one to kick the cruel Roman oppressors out of their Promised Land, restoring them to what they all imagined and hoped would be the best and happiest of lives.

When they learn that Jesus has been taken prisoner, beaten and tortured by the enemy, all their hopes for this Hero-Messiah were trashed.  Turns out He wasn’t the one after all.  Or to put it better, He turned out to not be the kind of Messiah, not the kind of Savior, that they wanted, that they expected in their lives.

Their idea of liberation and happiness was not as far-reaching and all-encompassing as was God’s idea.  They were focused only on this short earthly life. God sees the bigger picture and had in mind an entire eternity of joy and fulfilment.

It seems so very easy to judge and condemn the people of Jerusalem for being fickle and hypocrites. And yet…before we point that finger at them…we have to stop and examine our own attitudes towards Jesus and how he has acted in our lives.

How often have we shaken a fist at God because he was not the kind of Savior we expected Him to be in our lives?  How often have we grumbled or complained at Him or about Him because he was not carrying out the plans we intended, we expected in our lives?

As we proceed into Holy Week and approach Good Friday, let’s pray for the grace to always maintain a solid and loving relationship with God.  And let’s each keep this thought in mind: Do I trust Jesus enough to let Him to God in my life no matter how things may seem?

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Great Fixer-Upper

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 5th Sunday of Lent, April 7, 2019. Gospel: John 8:1-11. Theme: The Great Fixer-Upper

I have to confess that I am an ardent viewer of the home improvement shows that are so popular these days. The designers and carpenters are amazing fixer-uppers who have a real gift of being able to look beyond the mess and destruction of a run-down house and seeing its possibilities. I enjoy watching the various stages of renovation that result in the same old bones of a building being totally transformed into the best version of what it can be!

And you know, it dawned on me that we can also look at Jesus, the Carpenter from Nazareth, in that light.  He really is the Great Fixer-Upper who looks beyond the outside of who we are or who we pretend to be, and peers into our depths and sees we can truly become.

Unlike the self-righteous men in today’s Gospel who only see a woman guilty of sin and deserving of death, Jesus looks beyond the mess and destruction in her life.  He sees – and as God he knows – her possibilities.  He touches her heart with divine love and grace, enabling her to get up and move forward. He gives her a fresh new start for a new way of living, if she wishes to embrace it.

And you know, every one of us – in one way or another - are very much like that woman, very much like those salvageable homes on TV that I like to watch.  Some of us might be like houses that have endured quite a lot of wear and tear over the years, having only have the cement foundation going for them, because everything else has been so terribly mistreated and broken down. Others of us might not have had it so bad and only need a few cosmetic touches.  But all of us - without exception - need some kind of work to be done, so that we can become the best version of the persons God created us to be.

And Jesus has both a burning desire and the power to do this for us, if we allow Him. He came to planet Earth and lived among us precisely to heal what is sick, to drive out what is evil, and to fix what is broken.  That was His mission; it is what He gave His very life to accomplish.  He has his mind and heart set firmly on carrying out this work of restoration in each one of us just as He did for the adulterous woman. And He invites us to accept it just a she did.

So, I suppose a big question on our minds would be: How do we let Jesus be this Savior, this Master Carpenter, who can enable us to remodel our lives and bring about this beautiful transformation? By simply talking with Him in prayer from the heart.  Speaking plainly about what’s on our minds, what’s burdening our souls, what we are struggling with in our lives. With trust and hope we need to hand over and surrender to Him all of our pain, all of our shame, all of our sins and all of our brokenness.

I think we can learn how to do this by looking at the woman in today’s Gospel and following her example.  Like her, we must personally encounter Jesus, make no excuses for our sins but instead, own up to them, reach out for his hand and open ourselves to the new life of interior peace, healing and freedom that He offers us.

When we come before Him and own up to our sins, asking forgiveness and reaching out for His hand, we are so very much like that sinful but repentant woman at His feet.  And His heart is as moved with mercy for us as it was for her. We should hear His parting words to her as being also addressed personally to us: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on do not sin anymore.” With the help of His grace, these parting words can become a reality in our lives, enabling us to embrace a new way of thinking, a new way of living, a new way of loving God and others.

Of course, as with any renovation job, there are bound to be obstacles and setbacks in this task of changing our lives. When you open up the walls of a house you never know what you are going to find behind them. Similarly, when we tear down the walls we have built up in our lives and open our hearts to Christ, we are bound to discover hurts and wounds, behaviors and attitudes that need to be fixed, rewired and repaired. Some of these discoveries may be so great that they might even seem to threaten the whole job itself!

But we need to trust in the Master Carpenter and always keep in mind that Jesus is able to see beyond the cracked walls and scuffed up floors that often make up our lives. He has a plan in mind to remake each one of us into the person as we were created to be. And He is going to make that plan a reality and rebuild us step by step, no matter how long it might take.  And no matter how long it might take, we can be confident that Jesus can and will do all this for us, because He is indeed that Great Fixer-Upper who always sees a renovation job through to its completion.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Out With the Old...In With the New!

The Catholic Liturgy for the 4th Sunday of Lent, March 31, 2019. Readings: 2 Cor 517-21; Luke 15:1-32. Theme: Out with the Old…In With the New!
Today is Laetare Sunday, which means “Rejoice” and it comes midway in Lent to remind us not to give up the hope we have of a brand-new life that in Jesus Christ.  This is why we are wearing vestments that are rose, the color of joy, as we give praise to God who wipes the slate of our lives clean when we return to him with repentant hearts and have the good intention to make amends. 

Now, some people find our Christian message of a new life for anyone who desires it too good to be true. Maybe it’s because they have a hard time forgiving themselves for things they have done. Or maybe it’s because they have never experienced real forgiveness from others.  But the reality and awesomeness of God’s forgiving love reminds me of something astounding I learned when I was a college student.

I attended a Jesuit University and there was a priest there who had been appointed as the official exorcist for the diocese. He had quite a lot of experience in that ministry. He would always take a group of Catholics with him as a prayer-team during an exorcism and he had two non-negotiable requirements for those who accompanied him.  First, they must fast for a couple of days before the exorcism.  Second, they had to make a thorough honest confession. 

He said that fasting was required because Jesus Himself taught the apostles that demons are driven by the spiritual power of prayer combined with fasting. And he had a very interesting explanation for the non-negotiable of an honest confession.  It seems that during an exorcism, the demon tries with all his might to get that prayer-team out of the room because they are, after all, his powerful opposition. And so, the evil spirit will start picking off people in the team by calling out their most private embarrassing sins! 

And so, to take away any fear of this happening and to encourage everyone to truly make good confession, he shared with us an experience from a recent exorcism. When the time came for the demon to try and accuse and scatter the team, he remained silent. No one had fingers pointed at them; no one had sins called out. When the priest demanded that the demon tell him why this was so, he got this defeated reply: “No one here has sinned! There is nothing I can accuse them of having done!” 

Well, the team-members were astounded because they knew very well they had sinned. They knew that others in the group had sinned. That’s not much of a secret when you’re college kids living and socializing together. So, what was up?

The priest explained that this shows the power and the mercy of the Sacrament of Reconciliation that Jesus gave us.  When our sins are honestly and humbly confessed with repentant hearts, and we receive sacramental absolution from the priest, they are not just forgiven, but completely annihilated…totally obliterated.  It is as if they were never even committed in the first place. This truth is 100% solid teaching of both the Bible and the Catholic Church.

We come out of the confessional with a totally clean slate, with yet another chance for a fresh new start. It’s just like St. Paul says in today’s second reading: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. "The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:17-19)

We also see this total forgiveness and a fresh start in life in today’s Gospel of the Prodigal Son.  The father in the parable represents God and the prodigal son is each one of us who sin. Notice that when the son returns home with a contrite heart, his father eagerly runs out to embrace him, not even making the slightest mention of his past, of how he has hurt the family or of what he has done. It is all forgiven and forgotten and a new life begins. The son is fully restored to the family and given all the signs of belonging: sandals, a fine robe, a ring.

So, it seems to me that through today’s readings, God’s Word is calling us to be truly free of those things that still weigh us down in conscience and hold us back from enjoying real freedom in Christ. Let’s each ask ourselves: How long has it been since I have made a really good, honest and sincere confession? What better way to prepare for Easter than by throwing ourselves into the loving embrace of God and receiving a fresh new start through the Sacrament of Reconciliation!