Tuesday, March 21, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A - March 19, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent
 Cycle A
March 19, 2017

Life without Faith

Have you ever thought about what life would be like without God?

Or without Christ?  Or without faith?

I am thinking that we would lack a sense of identity, because that depends, at least to some extent on having a sense of where we came from and where we are going.  We would lack a sense of purpose, of what we are to do with our time on this earth. 

And we would lack a moral basis, a basis for knowing what is good and bad.  I think this is what life would be like without faith in God and Christ. 

Faith is crucial and this is what today’s gospel story is about.  Its message is very basic, very fundamental.

For What Are We Thirsting?

The bottom line of the whole story is Jesus asking us: are we thirsting for something more?

Most of us have to spend a lot of our energy and time just making a living and keeping up with things.  And beyond this, we can easily get caught up in wanting more and more things to quench our thirst, things beyond the necessities – like a new SUV, the latest iPhone, a wider screen TV, and on it goes. 

None of these things is bad, but if we think about it, they never quite satisfy us.  They don’t satisfy us forever or even for very long.

My hunch is that underneath all of this, we want a water that will quench our thirst forever – something that will satisfy our deepest human longings.  And that is why Jesus really catches the attention of this Samaritan woman today.

Without even being conscious of it, her fascination with Jesus goes way beyond the issue of physical thirst.  She senses that there is something much more here.

Jesus is offering her a relationship that really quenches our thirst – a relationship with himself, a relationship with God.  He is inviting this woman and us to faith. 

Find Faith in the Gospels

Today’s gospel story helps us with how we can come to faith or to a fuller faith.

This happens for the Samaritan woman through her encounter with Jesus.  She listens to him and observes him as a person.

We too can listen to and observe Jesus right here in the gospels.  That’s why they were written and why we have them.

The gospels, I believe, need to be the center of our spirituality and prayer life.  Reading a passage, allowing ourselves to encounter Jesus, carefully listening to what he says and observing what he does – this is crucial for drawing us to faith or to a fuller faith. 

We Believe You Are the Savior

At the end of today’s passage, the people say: “We know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

So, if we make time to encounter Jesus in the gospels, we can also come to this kind of vibrant, living faith.  We will know him as the One who saves us from a lack of identity by naming us the sons and daughters of the heavenly Father and revealing that we will someday return home to this loving Father.

We will know him as the One who saves us from a life without purpose by calling us to grow in his likeness and, in our own way, to bring his presence to the world around us.  And we will know him as the One who saves us from a life without direction by giving us a moral basis for life, a way for knowing what is good and the strength to do it.    

So, we are to make the space to encounter Jesus in the gospels, listening to what he says and observing what he does.  It is much like what the Samaritan woman does at the well. 

We are to make this the center of our prayer and spirituality.  And if we do this, we too will be able to say with conviction, “We know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

Monday, March 13, 2017

2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A - March 12, 2017

2nd Sunday of Lent
Cycle A
March 12, 2017  

Others – More Than Meets the Eye

It is easy to label people.

It is easy to slide into the habit of summing up others with a one or two-word description.  We might say that a co-worker is lazy, or that a neighbor is moody, or that an in-law is very self-absorbed.

Sometimes we make quick conclusions about the character of others and sum them up in a word or two.  We may even be partially correct.

But, if we are honest, we also have to admit that we are likely seeing only part of the picture.  We all know that there is a lot more to an iceberg than what shows on the surface.

Well in a similar way, we cannot sum up ourselves or another person in one or two words.  There is more to a person than what meets the eye.
Jesus – More Than Meets the Eye

Today’s gospel gives us a similar message about Jesus.

It says that Jesus is transfigured – or transformed – before the disciples.  The voice from the heavens proclaims: “This is my beloved Son.”   

And then there is the presence of Moses and Elijah.  Up to Jesus’ time, they did not refer to the Scripture as the Bible.

They simply called the sacred writings “The Law and the Prophets.”  So when Moses – the giver of the law, the Ten Commandments – and Elijah – the last great prophet – when they appear with Jesus in the middle between them, the meaning is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets – the fulfillment of everything in the Scripture.

So Jesus’ unique relationship with God and his unique mission shine through here.  His divinity shines through.

Before this moment, the disciples had been seeing just the tip of the iceberg.  Here the disciples discover that there is a lot more to Jesus than what meets the eye. 

For Us – More Than What Meets the Eye

There is also more than what meets the eye in each one of us.

We are composites of many qualities.  Our task is to allow the divine, God-like qualities shine through us more and more. 

Maybe this is a good way of understanding the mission we have for our time here on earth.  We are to allow Jesus to transfigure or transform us.

So maybe we are demanding, but we can also allow our gentleness to emerge.  Maybe we are very task-oriented and hard-working, but we can also allow our easier, person-centered self to shine through.

Maybe we are cranky at times, but we can also allow our positive self to be seen.  The idea is that there are divine-like qualities in each of us, like forgiveness, imagination, generosity, joy at the accomplishment of another, and on it goes.

There is more to us than what meets the eye.  The gospel calls us to allow Jesus to transfigure or transform us too.

How to Be Transfigured/Transformed?

I want to recommend one specific way of doing this.

My thought is that we use the Penitential Act at the beginning of Mass to help us with this.  And on the other days of the week, we do a brief examination of conscience on our own.

Pick out just one thing in my life that is blocking a divine, Christ-like quality from emerging.  Just pick one thing and keep bringing that to God maybe for three or four months.

Ask God’s forgiveness for this as we feel it is needed.  And also ask God’s grace for the flip side of that quality to emerge in us – like patience instead of impatience.

Maybe even think of a way to take the initiative and express in a specific situation the divine, Christ-like quality that needs to shine through.  Over time, this will be a way to allow what is more than meets the eye in us to emerge, a way to be transfigured or transformed.

Monday, March 6, 2017

1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle A - March 5, 2017

1st Sunday of Lent
 Cycle A
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4pm
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11am
March 5, 2017

Jesus in the Desert

“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert.”

They are the opening words of today’s gospel passage.  Ten years ago, an American author named Alan Simek wrote about his experience in the deserts of our American Southwest. 

I want to quote just a few sentences from his writing.  Alan Simek says: “The desert is a vast and lonely landscape. 

“Even the best prepared may meet the unexpected, the freak storm, the slip or fall off a trail, the sudden strike of the rattlesnake.  Only the fool thinks he can rely on his own strength and skill. 

“In short, the desert escapes my control.  For this reason, my mind is drawn quietly, naturally toward someone outside myself on whom I can lean. 

“In the desert I think not so much of causes as of The Cause.  The experience of the desert is … about recognizing God’s glory. 

“And like Jesus, we may meet and be tempted by the enemy in the desert.  One thing is certain: If we come to the desert, we will change.”   

We Need the Desert

I believe that each of us needs the experience of the desert.

I am not suggesting that we have to travel to Arizona or the Mohave Desert.  But I am saying that we need desert experiences, desert moments, and the Season of Lent reminds us of this. 

Our Deserts

We find our desert or desert moments usually in silence.

It may be when we driving to work alone with no news on or music playing.  It may be sitting in a chair looking at a candle or gazing outside at a tree.

It may be walking and taking in the cold or warmth, the cloudiness or sunshine of the day.  It may be sitting here in church, maybe with our eyes closed.

All of these situations can be our desert experiences.  And to have these experiences, three things are necessary.

First, we need to make time for them.  We need more than a passing or accidental moment.

I recommend, especially during Lent, that we plan on five minutes a day.  And, make it a set time each day, in the morning or whenever it is that works for you.

The second thing needed for a desert experience is a place where you will have the opportunity for this.  I have already mentioned a few possibilities, and you can probably think of others in your own life situation.

And the third thing we need in a desert experience is silence.  The idea is just to be alone and alone with God.

Try to tune into yourself and into God.  God will be with you in the silence and may well speak from your inner depths or soul.

“Temptations” in Our Deserts

So, in these desert experiences we almost naturally become aware of God.

And then, we also become aware of ourselves.  The gospel says that Jesus is tempted in the desert.

We may not be tempted, but what I think will happen for us is that we will become aware of anything unresolved in our lives.  Anything not attended to, any area where we are not at peace – this will come up.

It could be allowing ourselves and our family to be so busy that we are not really there for one another.  Or, on the level of our society, it could be our attitude or mindset toward religious or nationality or ethnic or racial groups that are different from us.

I believe that the Spirit drives all of us into the desert and we all feel the need for this.  And yet, at the same time, we resist it because we instinctively know that the desert will move us to address parts of ourselves that we may not want to face.

Go to the Desert

I want to conclude with the author, Alan Simek whom I quoted at the beginning. 

He writes this one sentence, as a result of his desert experience. “Reflection is the kind of inaction that alone makes action meaningful and focused on what is good.”

Let me repeat that and let’s just try to take it in.  “Reflection is the kind of inaction that alone makes action meaningful and focused on what is good.”

That, my friends, is what the desert will do for us.  So, go into the desert for five minutes each day this Lent, be with God and with yourself in silence, and your life will be changed.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - January 22, 2017

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A
January 22, 2017
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4pm
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11am

The Holocaust Museum: Lessons

Last Saturday, one week ago today/yesterday, I visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Probably some of you have visited this.  I had never been there before. 

As you know, the Museum is a memorial especially to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in the 1940s.  This genocide by the Nazis killed 6 million Jews. 

The Holocaust eventually included other targets, like citizens of Poland and the Soviet Union, gypsies, homosexual and disabled persons and others.  The Nazis exterminbated a total of 11 million people. 

As I slowly walked through the Museum, I found myself sad, in disbelef, in horror, and at times I became aware that I was just shaking my head NO!  It is just too hard to imagine this. 

Well, that experience quickly put me in touch with some thoughts that have been maturing in me over the last year or so.  I have boiled these down to two reflections and I want to share them with you today.


1.    Words Are Powerful

My first reflection is that our words are powerful

The words we speak and the words we write or text or email – these can be very powerful.  We need to be aware of this.

For example, have you ever said something and the moment it is out of your mouth, you wish you could take it back?  Maybe in frustration, we said to a teenager: “You’re never going to amount to anything.”

Or to someone: “You’re a lazy, self-centered waste!”  Or: “You’re a good-for-nothing blankedy blank.”

Our words can help a person develop and grow.  Or they can freeze a person right where they are and even send them backwards.

Our words can build up self-estemn and self-confidence.  Or they can tear it down and injure someone for a lifetime.

Our words can give positive vision to a group or community.  Or they can lead those same people to harmful ways.

So, I am suggesting, we have to pause, reflect, and go within ourselves before we speak.  We have to get in touch with our true inner self and with God who is within us.

We have to consider the effects of our words for today and tomorrow and the future.  And then, we have to decide what to say and when to say it and how to say it.

So, knowing that our words have such power is very important.  We need to use our words in a mature and holy way.

2.    Negative Stereotypes Are Destructive

My other reflection is related to the first.

Negative stereotyping is always destructive.  And it is always wrong.

This is what happened in Nazi Germany and what caused the Holocaust.  Thoughtless and hurtful words were applied to the Jews. 

These words and labels led to negative stereotyping.  In that instance, we know the horrific results.

Some scholars tell us that negative stereotyping arises from the human temptation to scapegoat.  We make another person or an entire category of persons the scapegoat for our problems.
So, we need to resist negative stereotyping of others.  Today, it might be directed to Syrian refugees or Hispanic immigrants, to women or African Americans, to members of the LGBTQ community or to Muslims.

We need to have the inner strength not to paticipate in this.  In fact, we need to label it as morally wrong.  

Instead, we are to follow the way of Jesus.  In today’s gospel, Jesus calls the first apostles to follow him.

Jesus calls us to do the same.  But following him means more than coming to Mass and receiving the Eucharist.

And one thing for sure that it means is that we use the power of our words constructively and caringly.  And it also means that we resist negative stereotyping and treat all persons as God’s daughters and sons.