Monday, February 25, 2013

2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C - February 24, 2013

2nd Sunday of Lent
 Cycle C
Saint Margaret Parish
February 24, 2013         9:30 and 11am

Rothschild Mansion

There is a story that back in the nineteenth century, some tourists were passing by the famous mansion of the Rothschild family in London.

These tourists noted that on one end of the mansion, the cornices and exterior wall were unfinished.  They wondered why this was so since the Rothschilds were one of the wealthiest families in Europe.

The explanation is interesting.  Lord Rothschild explained that he was an orthodox Jew and according to Orthodox tradition, the house of every Jew was to have some part left unfinished. 

Why?  To bear witness that the occupant of the house is like Abraham, in a sense unfinished, a person on a journey with no lasting home on this earth.   

Life as Circle

That practice helps us to appreciate today’s Scripture readings.

It helps us to realize that we are all on a journey.  About ten years ago, I read a book entitled The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill.

Cahill states that up until the time of Abraham, ancient peoples viewed life as a circle.  They believed that what had happened in the past would happen again in a continuous circle.

They also believed that everything was determined by heavenly powers.  And so, our task was to meditate on the ceaseless, circular flow of life.

We were to do this until we came to peace with this and with our own death as part of that great circle.  Now, as I said, that was the ancient view of life, but one of the gifts of the Jews was that Abraham changed this way of thinking.

Life as Journey

The background to today’s first reading is that Abraham has listened to God’s call and set out to an unknown land.

He sets out on a journey and ever since then the way to look at human life is as a journey.  This change of outlook now means that there is much more to life than the past simply repeating itself.

Now there is the possibility of a different future and we have responsibility for creating it.  The Old Testament also reveals that this journey is not just from one country to another, as it was for Abraham and Moses.

It is not just an outer journey, a journey outside me.  Instead, it is primarily an inner journey, a journey to our inner self where we can find God.

It is a journey of becoming one with God and becoming more and more like God.  In the long run, it is a journey back to God.

A Journey with No Tents

This understanding carries right over into Christianity.

The gospels consistently show Jesus on a journey to Jerusalem.  They also call us to see our lives as a journey and they add an important caution about this.

The caution is that we have to resist the temptation to pitch our tents, in other words, to stay put.  In today’s gospel, Jesus will not let Peter do this because he knows that there is still a lot of the journey ahead and a lot of work to do.

The question is: how might we find ourselves pitching our tents today?  We might be doing this when we say things like: “This is the way I’ve always done it.”

Or, “This is the way I learned it and have always understood it.”  Statements like these might be saying that we are closing ourselves off to looking at things differently or doing things differently. 

For example, we can pitch our tents in the understanding of ourselves.  Maybe we just turn off any comment that calls us to examine our attitude or way of speaking about certain persons or groups of people.

We can also pitch our tents in the understanding of our faith.  Maybe we resist understanding faith as primarily a relationship with God that is to grow and deepen – a living relationship instead of just a static list of truths.

The point is that like Peter in the gospel, we need to resist the temptation of pitching our tents.  This is what the Season of Lent that calls us to do – to keep growing, to keep on the journey of life.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle C - February 17, 2013

1st Sunday of Lent
Cycle C
February 16-17, 2013    10:30 and 12 noon

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

The Desert and Demons

Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus goes into the desert east of Jerusalem to face his demons.

His doing that symbolizes the need we all have to go into a desert-like place, into the silence of our own hearts.  It symbolizes the need we all have to wrestle with the dark sides of our lives. 

If Jesus finds it essential to wrestle with these dark sides, shouldn’t we also find this essential?  And beyond that, isn’t it possible that the demons or dark sides Jesus has to face are some of the basic ones we have to face?

1. Stone to Bread

The first demon Jesus faces is the temptation to change stone to bread.

Jesus responds, “One does not live on bread alone.”  Those who first heard Jesus and observed his lifestyle realized that he was in touch with a life that went beyond the physical and the earthly.

Jesus is saying that we are to live on bread, but “not… on bread alone.”  The early Christians believed this and fed hungry spirits with the food of God’s Word and also fed hungry stomachs with real bread.

Their commitment to do this came from following Jesus’ invitation to make a 180-degree change in their value system.  They were to look upon all others with a different mindset – as God’s sons and daughters.

With this different frame of mind, we are moved to take care of the immediate needs of others.  And we are also moved to examine the social structures that probably helped to create these needs in the first place. 

No question, Jesus’ plan to change mindsets will be more difficult and it will take longer, but in the long run it will produce lasting good.  So, the demon here is the temptation to reject doing this.

2. Power over All

The second demon Jesus faces is the temptation to gain power over everything.

In Jesus’ time, people expected the Savior to come with great power.  Jesus’ response again shows a different plan: “You shall worship God alone.”

It is tempting to worship power, to resort to power and force to do even good things.  The problem is that this usually leaves some death and destruction in its path – what is sometimes called “collateral damage.” 

We can see this in the relationships between nations and also in our personal relationships.  Jesus cautions about power and force and calls us to be respectful of others and seek what is good for both sides. 

Sometimes it may not be possible to do this, but Jesus calls us to this way whenever we can.  He calls us to stop playing the power games of win/lose with each other where I come out on top and the other person is diminished.

Instead we are to seek the mutual flourishing of ourselves and others whenever possible.  The demon here is the temptation to reject what Jesus calls us to do.       

3. Proving Our Greatness

The third demon Jesus faces is the temptation to jump off the roof of the temple to prove his greatness as God.

Jesus responds, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”  The issue here is that sometimes we want to make ourselves the center of focus.

Sometimes we want to impress others with how much we know or how successful we are.  Sometimes we do not really listen to others but interrupt and get things focused on ourselves again.

We need to recall that the risen Jesus did not feel the need to appear at the front door Pilate’s home with a TV crew and say, “Look at who I really am and how stupid you were.”  Instead, he just appeared to his followers as a way to continue his work.

So for us, we can become more and more God-like and even feel better and better about ourselves not by calling attention to ourselves, but by living responsibly and doing the best we can in everyday life.  The demon is the temptation to reject Jesus’ example here.


So, the demons Jesus confronts in the desert are probably the same ones we need to confront in the silence of our hearts. 

This Season of Lent invites us to go into the desert of our inner selves.  It invites us to deal with the demons we find there.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - February 10, 2013

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle C
February 10, 2013         7:30 and 9am

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

Being Aware of Who We Are

Usually, in our Catholic Lectionary, the first reading, the passage from the Old Testament and the Gospel are complementary.

They have a similar or identical theme.   Often the gospel passage is a kind of fulfillment of the message in the Old Testament reading.

The middle reading pretty much stands on it own.  We hear over the years many passages usually from Saint Paul, and the idea is just to give us a sense of Paul’s thinking and teaching.

In this way, the middle reading usually has little to do with the other readings.  Well today, all three readings have virtually the same focus.

Isaiah in the first reading, Paul in the second, and Peter in the gospel, all have the same experience.  Let’s just look at Peter.

With the great catch of fish, Peter becomes aware of the presence of the divine in Jesus.  He responds by saying, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

In other words, “I am nothing, O Lord; I am nothing.”  So Peter has this intense experience of God in Jesus and with this awareness, he becomes aware of himself and his own humanity.

This awareness – first of God, and then of self – this enables Peter to do great things.  It enables him to grow toward being the kind of person God calls us to be.

This awareness is also important for us – the awareness that I and we are all equally human and all in need of God.  Now there are three moments here in the celebration of Mass for us to be aware first of the presence of God, and then of our humanity and our need for God.

Moments for Awareness

The first moment comes right at the beginning of Mass in what we call the penitential prayer.  The core of this is our becoming aware first of God, of God’s presence with us. 

Then, with this awareness, we can get in touch with ourselves.  We realize that we are not God.

We become aware that we are human, a mix of light and darkness.  With the openness that this awareness brings, we can then allow the Lord little by little to make us whole and permeate our lives more and more.

Then the second moment for being aware of who we are is with the readings.  We believe that these are inspired passages – that the human authors are inspired by the Holy Spirit and this is really the Word of God.

The readings consistently place before us the unconditional love of God.  They consistently express the compassion, wisdom, and holiness of Jesus.

And again, with this awareness and comfort, we also become aware of some discomfort, some area where we need to live up better to our side of the relationship with God.  So again, this is an opportunity to be aware of God and of ourselves, our humanity.

And then the third moment for being aware of who we are is when we receive Communion.  We believe that Jesus is present and comes to us in the bread and wine.

Our receiving the Eucharist gives us an intimate relationship with God.  This is why we call it Holy Communion.

And so again, with this awareness of God’s presence, we are also aware of our raw need for relationship with the divine and for the strength that comes from this for everyday life.  We are aware that without this, we will be lost, without purpose, and probably sinful.


So we have these moments for awareness right here at Mass – to be aware of God and aware of self.

And perhaps the important insight is this.  We are only really aware of our humanity when we are aware of God.

It is only in the presence of God, the all-holy One, that we can gain the fullest and most accurate sense of self.  This is one reason why our participation in Mass is so very important week after week.