Saturday, March 27, 2021

What Kind of Savior Do I Expect?


Homily for Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021. Gospel of St. Mark 14:1-15:47. Theme: What Kind of Savior Do I Expect? 

It’s always such a mysterious thing to me when I think about the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. The crowd went from cheering and giving Him literally a King’s welcome, to screaming out bloody murder for his execution just a few days later on Good Friday. However, it seems to me that we can’t be too quick to judge or point fingers. After all, we have the advantage of knowing who Christ really was and we know how the whole story ends! 

So, let’s try and put ourselves in the shoes of that crowd in Jerusalem for a moment. For centuries, the Jewish people had passed on prophecies about the Messiah, the Christ, God’s Anointed One. They told and retold hopeful stories of how he would be a mighty Warrior, a national Hero, a powerful King. He was supposed to be their Rescuer and Liberator who would victoriously eject the cruel Roman oppressors from the Promised Land. That crowd of people looked forward to the day when the Christ would bring to Israel all that they been praying for and imagined. It was to be the best and happiest time of their lives as a nation, as God’s people. 

When they learned that Jesus of Nazareth, whom many had thought was the Christ, had been taken prisoner, beaten and tortured by the enemy, all their hopes for this Hero-King were trashed. Turns out He wasn’t their hoped-for Promised One after all. Or to put it better, turns out he was not the kind of Messiah, not the kind of Liberating Savior, that they had wanted, that they were expecting. You see, a huge part of the problem, a big blind spot in their spiritual vision, was that their idea of liberation and expectations for happiness was limited to worldly success and political nationalism. It wasn’t as far-reaching and all-encompassing as was God’s idea. 

For centuries, their leaders had been reading and interpreting the Scriptures about the Messiah in a way that they thought best. They were searching the Scriptures for what they wanted to see in them. They were praying to God for what they wanted to happen in their nation, rather than asking that his Kingdom come, whatever that might look like. It’s so very easy for us to judge and condemn the screaming crowd of Jerusalem. And yet…before we point that finger at them…we have to stop and examine our own attitudes towards Jesus and how he acts in our lives. We have to ask ourselves quite honestly if we also read and interpret Gods Word in our favor, seeing in it only what we want to see, and ignoring the things that we prefer not to hear. Do we mean it when we pray in the Our Father for God’s will to be done in our lives? 

Let’s each ask ourselves on this Palm Sunday: have I ever shaken a fist at God, so to speak, because he wasn’t acting like the kind of Savior I expected Him to be in my life? Have I grumbled about Him because he was not carrying out the plans I intended, the hopes I set my heart on? Do I trust him enough to be at peace in every circumstance, and especially those that are out of my control, knowing that he has me safely in the palm of his hand, in the recesses of his heart? 

As we celebrate Palm Sunday and proceed further into Holy Week, let’s pray for the grace to be faithful to Christ during these most special days of the entire year and, of course, for all our lives. 

Let’s thank Jesus for the most precious Gift of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, which he gave us on that first Holy Thursday, and through which we remain united with him and with one another. 

Let’s venerate the holy and life-giving Cross of Jesus in our hearts, as well as in our liturgy on Good Friday with devotion and confidence, remembering that our beloved Brother and Lord has loved us to the end. 

And let’s ask the gloriously Risen Lord Jesus to bless us with a special Easter gift of trust in him, so that we might remain faithful no matter how things may seem and be open enough to his grace to allow God to just be God in our lives.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Grain of Wheat: New Life, New Heart


Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent, March 21, 2021. OT: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Responsorial Psalm 51; Gospel John 12:20-33. Theme: The Grain of Wheat - New Life, New Heart 

Turning to God for healing and transformation in order to begin living a brand new life is the message we hear in today’s readings. Through the prophet Jeremiah God promises in the first reading to give us a new life and new heart. Our responsorial Psalm has us begging for this new life when it repeatedly puts on our lips the words, “create a clean heart in me O God…”. And in today’s Gospel, Jesus uses the dynamics of a grain of wheat to explain the transformative process of dying to self in order to live a new life. 

When the grain falls into the ground and is buried in the soil, it dies. It gives up its seed-form and begins the process of becoming something new, something that gives life to others. This process is hidden and hard to see at first, but eventually it will show itself. Just as a farmer trusts the process of planting and harvesting, so must we trust the process of dying to self in order to find the new life that Jesus holds out to us. 

For me this brings to mind the true story of Mary, a beautiful young Catholic girl who lived in Egypt. By the time of her teenage years, she had become a prostitute and we are told she became very rich but also very bored. Mary began to seek out the thrill of new challenges and she got an idea that was horrible – demonic even. She decided to go on one of the very popular pilgrimages to Jerusalem for Holy Week, not out of any religious devotion, but solely for the thrill of seducing the men on pilgrimage. And stories tell us that she was quite successful. 

And then one day her very own experience of being like the grain of wheat took place and here is how it happened…When the pilgrims were going to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to venerate the empty Resurrection-tomb of Jesus, Mary joined them solely out of curiosity. Everyone was able to pass through the church doors…except for her. Oh, not that she didn’t try…but every time she DID try an invisible force prevented her entering. After several failed attempts, her eyes caught sight of a picture of the Blessed Mother hanging above the doorway. It seemed to come to life and spoke to her saying, “Repent of your sins. Ask forgiveness from my Son and change your ways. Then you shall enter.” 

Mary repented then and there over her wayward life and begged a priest who was walking by to hear her confession. Then, going back to the entrance of the shrine, she walked right through the doors without a problem and spent the entire day there in prayer and meditation.  She spent the rest of her life dying to selfishness and growing in a new way of thinking, a new way of living that sprang forth from her new heart and new life. She has been honored for centuries now as St. Mary of Egypt. And as a matter of fact, in some parts of the Catholic world, the 5th Sunday of Lent that we are observing today is dedicated to her honor because she is such an outstanding example of complete transformation in Christ.   

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives each one of us the same message that Mary was given:  to give up your ways of thinking and living that lead to spiritual death. We are each called to turn away from any attitude or behavior that is holding us back from living as authentic Christians. The change of heart and life that Jesus promises begins with the awareness that Christ truly loves me personally and passionately. That he loved me enough to die for me. This realization changes me from the inside out. It makes me want to respond to His love by living a life that is truly pleasing to Him in return. It frees me from my past - whatever that might have looked like - and allows me to embrace a new way of thinking, a new way of looking at life, a new way of living like St. Mary. 

This all becomes a possibility for us when we choose, once for all, to stop enthroning ourselves and our desires as #1 in life and begin to trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. We will then begin to find power and freedom by the grace of God. As Christians, we always have this hope beyond hope that our dying to sin and selfishness will result in a new and transformed life, making us and all that we do something beautiful for God and others.

Ancient icon of the Blessed Mother which spoke to St. Mary

Saturday, March 13, 2021



Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent, March 14, 2021. Readings: Ephesians 2:4-10, Gospel of St. John 3:14-21. Theme: Laetare! 

Today, we mark the midway point of Lent. It is “Laetare Sunday”, which is a Latin word that means “to praise”. The usual Lenten penitential color of purple gives way to pink, which is the color of joy, to remind us that today is a time for praise and rejoicing because we are quickly approaching the events of Good Friday through Easter Sunday. We are drawing closer to the celebration of the Pascal Mystery by which the human race has been rescued from the kingdom of darkness and freed from the bonds of sin. And so, we are moved to praise God who wipes the slate of our lives clean when we return to him with repentant hearts and who gives us the hope of a brand-new life, of genuine rehabilitation from sin through, with and in Jesus Christ! 

Now, some people find our Christian message of a brand-new life too good to be true. Maybe it’s because they have a hard time forgiving themselves for things they have done and believe the devil’s lie that they are beyond redemption. Or maybe it’s because they have never experienced the healing power of real forgiveness from others. But the reality and awesomeness of God’s forgiving and rehabilitating love reminds me of something astounding I learned when I was a college student. 

There was a priest at our university who had been appointed the official exorcist for the diocese. And 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 a non-negotiable requirement for those who agreed to be on this team. They had to make a thorough honest confession of their sins. He had a very interesting explanation for the non-negotiable condition. It seems that during an exorcism, the demon tries with all his might to get true believers out of the room because their prayers become part of the all-powerful intercession of Christ. And so, the evil spirit will often try to drive people out of the room by calling out their most private embarrassing sins! 

To encourage everyone to truly make good confession, he shared with us an experience from a prior exorcism. When the time came for the demon to try and accuse and scatter the team, he remained silent. No one had sins called out. No one had their most private and darker moments revealed for all the know. When the priest demanded that the demon tell him why this was no one was being outed, he got this defeated reply: “No one here has sinned! There is nothing I can accuse them of having done!”  

Surely among these college kids there were sins that could have been named and shamed. So, what was up? I think the best way to explain it is to use the words of Blessed Jean-Joseph Lataste, who started a religious order open to rehabilitated former prisoners, which was something totally revolutionary or his times. He used to always say, “God doesn’t look what we have been or done; he only cares about what we are today.” In other words, when God forgives, he also chooses to forget. 

You see, when we honestly and humbly confess to God with repentant hearts, and we chose to live our lives trusting in Jesus as Savior, our sins are not just forgiven, but completely annihilated. Totally obliterated. It’s as if they were never even committed in the first place. God grants us a totally clean slate, with yet another chance for a fresh new start. By God’s grace we receive such a true and complete rehabilitation from sin that even the memory of them is erased from the mind of God, so to speak. 

This is precisely what St. Paul says in today’s second reading when he beautifully describes the effects of the Paschal Mystery of Good Friday through Easter Sunday: God who is rich in mercy and because of his great love for us…brought us to life with Christ and raised us up with him… For by grace you have been saved through faith…and this is the gift of God.” St. John proclaims this same beautiful truth to us in today’s Gospel when he says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” In biblical language, “to believe” means to trust. Those who trust in Jesus as their Savior, living with confidence in his merciful love, receive this totally awesome and free gift of a brand-new life in God’s eyes. 

It seems to me that through today’s liturgy, 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 and receive the hope and promise of new life at Easter than by running to the loving embrace of God and receiving from him a fresh new start through the Sacrament of Reconciliation!

The Paschal Mystery means the....




and Ascension...

of Jesus Christ for our salvation!

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Thirsting for Love and Acceptance


NOTE: For the Third Sunday of Lent the Church gives us two options for the Liturgy of the Word.  One option is the Gospel of Jesus Cleansing the Temple. The other choice is the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman at the Well.  The following homily is for those who wish to reflect on the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman at the Well.

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent. Gospel of St. John 4:5-42. Theme: Thirsting for Love & Acceptance 

In today’s gospel St. John as he takes us to Samaria, a place despised by the Jews as morally unclean and spiritually unworthy of God’s presence. And there we meet a woman who, because of her lifestyle, is considered to be unclean and unworthy even by her own townsfolk. So, we have in this woman an Outcast who is shunned by a people who are Outcasts. You cannot get much lower than that in the mind of the 1st century Jews who first heard this gospel. And that’s a theme that St. John wants us to keep in mind as this story unfolds.  

We are told that the woman is coming to Jacob’s well at noontime. This would strike the hearers of the story as extremely odd because they all knew that the women go to wells early in the morning or late in the evening so that they can escape the intense heat of the sun. There is only one reason why the woman would go at noon: to avoid her gossiping neighbors. She did not want to encounter yet again their condemning stares nor the screaming silence of their shunning. Again, we encounter the Outcast rejected by Outcasts. 

To round out our picture of this woman, St. John tells us that she was living with a man who was 5th in a string of lovers who had replaced her original husband. He lets us in on this aspect of her life so that we can understand that she is someone who desperately needs to be in a relationship, someone who thirsts for love and acceptance. Her need for belonging is so great that she is willing to compromise herself into living a lifestyle that she knows is morally wrong. And who can’t relate to that in one way or another? Our built-in human need for love and our yearning to be accepted for who we are, run so deep within us that it can even make us blind to what we are doing to others and to ourselves. 

Throughout this story what St. John is really saying to us is: this woman is YOU. This woman is each one of us for we all outcasts in one way or another, at least in our own minds. We all try to either numb or to fill up the deep void within us, thinking and hoping that the people or places or things that we cling to will make us feel loved and accepted. But these things, are like ordinary water that we drink and still become thirsty again. These distractions quench our desire for a temporary time, but cannot truly satisfy our innermost thirst. 

As the story moves on, St. John is hoping that we will connect the dots in our own lives and see that in Jesus we are about to meet the One who can satisfy our deepest longings for genuine live-giving love. In Jesus, we will find the one who provides fresh Living Water that bubbles up and never runs dry. And we do not have to work hard to attain this water, as the woman would have to do with her jar on a rope lowering it into a well! Jesus will give us this Living Water freely if we but trust in him as the Christ, like the Samaritan woman did, and turn to him as the One sent by God to heal us of sin from the inside out. All we have to do is come to Jesus, spend time with him in prayer, trust in him with hope and this Living Water, which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s love and grace, will be ours! 

What St. John is saying in all this, and what the Church wants us to take to heart from today’s liturgy is that we were created, we were built, with an innate desire to know and love God and to be known and loved by Him. Yet like this woman before she encountered Jesus, we spend so much of our time seeking this love and acceptance in so many ways apart from God. We most often unfairly expect this from other people – spouses, lovers, friends – none of whom can ever satisfy us completely because they are as thirsty, as empty, and as searching as we are! 

Like the Samaritan Woman, we must ignore the false voices around us and within us that say we are outcasts, that we are unworthy of love. Like the Samaritan Woman must spent one-to-one time with Jesus. We need to spend time alone with him in honest prayer from the heart. We need to ask him questions and listen in moments of silence to his voice within us. And when we come before Jesus in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament or when we receive him really and truly present in the Eucharist, let’s ask Him for the grace to be like the Samaritan Woman. Let’s ask Him to fill our empty jars with that never-ending spring of spiritual water so that we no longer needed to satisfy our thirst in the old ways as that we had been doing.

The Three R's: Rules, Religion, Relationships


NOTE: For the Third Sunday of Lent the Catholic Liturgy gives us two options for the Liturgy of the Word.  One is the Gospel of Jesus cleansing the Temple. The other is the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman at the Well.  The following homily is for those who wish to reflect upon the Gospel of the Cleansing of the Temple.

Catholic Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent, March 7, 2021. Gospel of St. John 2:13-25. Theme: The 3 R’s: Rules, Religion, Relationships 

Today’s Gospel has caused me to really reflect upon what we have all been going through for the past year in regards to the meaning and purpose of our church buildings. We see Jesus stand up very vigorously for the proper respect for - and use of - the temple of God in Jerusalem. But we also hear him talking about another temple, that of his body, which brings to mind the teaching of the New Testament that all of us Christians are temples of God, living stones who make up a living Church. It seems to me that we have been experiencing both of these forms of God’s temple these many past months. 

Jesus starts out by passionately teaching us, by both word and actions, that the temple made of stone and mortar is a holy place, a house of prayer, a point of conscious contact with God. The history of the Jewish people and the experiences of us today clearly point out that a sacred building is not strictly necessary for the worship of God. But this does not mean that a physical sacred space is optional. If it was, Jesus would have had a very different attitude towards the Jerusalem temple. He could have used the occasion we witness in today’s Gospel as an opportunity to teach the people to worship God as they saw fit, in wherever way or place they might find most meaningful to them. But he doesn’t do that. Instead, he is filled with righteous anger that the House of God has become a means of robbing the people of their spiritual birthright and that the people’s devotion expressed in temple worship was being abused by those in leadership positions. 

We have seen and experienced a similar dynamic in our own lives with the coronavirus driven restrictions placed upon us by both church and civil leaders. Using highly questionable reasons and scientifically-debatable data, they chose to instill fear in us, disrupt our usual religious observances and closed our churches. At times, even people who came in good and simple faith to pray before the Presence of the Lord in the holiness of his house were often chased away or treated in an unwelcome manner. And then when we chose to gather as the living stones of a living Church to worship at the Eucharist outdoors, these same church and civic leaders enacted burdensome and at times even conflicting rules, placing before us various hoops to jump through if we wanted to participate in public worship. 

And yet, the Jewish people in their simple faith, and knowing that they were being mistreated, still came to the temple because their focus was on the Lord their God and not on his ministers and leaders. Their hearts were hearts open to worship and their outward devotion was expressed to the best of their abilities. And so today, like them, we still come to stand or kneel outdoors with our hearts focused on Christ present among us, in both the reality of the Holy Eucharist and in the assembly of his Living Stones. No one and nothing, not even bad weather, can stop us from gathering because we too, like our Jewish ancestors in faith, have hearts that burn to worship the Lord our God and our devotion, like theirs, is carried out to the best of our abilities. 

So, what might the Lord be telling us today in this Gospel of the Temple? I can think of two things that come immediately to mind. First, the rules and regulations of our church and civic leadership have been turned by God to our good, because they have served to show us how much we truly value, honor and desire to worship in the sacred space that is our parish church. Second, the words and actions of Jesus in cleansing the temple teach us that an over-emphasis on rules is a danger that tempts those in authority, even in church leadership, to abuse their power and over-exaggerate the scope of their position. But Christianity rejects these things and teaches a religion that is first of all rooted in relationships, not in focusing on rules and regulations. 

Religion as relationship opens wide the door of our hearts to God. Religion as relationship opens wide the doors of God’s heart to us. Religion as relationship does not see authority as something to be used to manipulate and control others, but sees leadership as humble service to the needs of God’s people. Religion as relationship treats the stone-and-mortar temple of God as a House of Prayer, but it venerates with profound respect the Presence of the Living God dwelling within the Living Stones that are his people, whom he cherishes with all his heart.