Sunday, February 21, 2016

Wednesday of the 1st Week of Lent, Cycle C - February 17, 2016

Wednesday of 1st Week of Lent
February 17, 2016         6:30am


The background to today’s first reading gives us a helpful human lesson.

God has called Jonah to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh.
Jonah resists.
His preaching of repentance – that we hear this morning – comes only after a near death experience in the belly of a whale.
I’m sure we all recall that famous Bible story.
At any rate, Jonah is so threatened by that near-death experience that he reluctantly succumbs to God’s command and preaches repentance to the people in Nineveh.
Why doesn’t Jonah really want to do this?

I see three reasons and human tendencies at work in Jonah and leading him not to want to get the people of Nineveh to repent.
First, Jonah sees them as foreigners.
He thinks that God’s love and salvation is exclusive and is restricted only to the Jews.
Second, Jonah looks down on them.
He feels that they are so sinful they should be punished and not given the chance to repent.
And third, Jonah wants to be proved right.
He has prophesied the destruction of Nineveh because of its errant ways and he does not want to be proved wrong.

Of course, God’s ways are different from Jonah’s.
First, God’s love and offer of salvation reaches to everyone, not just those of our own religion or our own country.
Second, God never gives up on us no matter what we have done.
And third, God expects us to be humble servants of his and not just promoting our own egos.

So, Jonah, a good man with some human foibles at work, gives us some things to think about this morning. 

Tuesday of the 1st Week of Lent, Cycle C - February 16, 2016

Tuesday of the 1st week of Lent
February 16, 2016         6:30am

In today’s gospel Jesus kind of sandwiches his teaching of the Lord’s Prayer it between two lessons.

Prior to teaching the Prayer itself, Jesus warns against thinking that our prayer has to be lots and lots of words.
I love his expression, “Do not babble like the pagans.”
So, Jesus wants our prayer to be sincere, direct, and from the heart.
Even if we are praying set prayers, like we do in the Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours or novenas or the rosary, even there, he cautions us to make sure we are into the praying and that it is coming from inside us.
That is what counts, not the number of words we recite.

And then, right after teaching the His Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, he gives us a lesson on the importance of forgiveness.
And this lesson kind of underlines that part of the Lord’s Prayer where we ask God to forgive us as we forgive one another.
The idea is that we cannot pray for a closer union with God when we are responsible for the lack of union with someone else.
Prayer cannot be genuine when we are isolated or cut off from others and there is something we could do to remedy the situation.
Maybe another way of putting it is that there must be a consistency between our praying and our living.

So, Jesus gives us some things to think about when we are praying.

Monday, February 15, 2016

1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle C - February 14, 2016

1st Sunday of Lent
Cycle C
February 14, 2016        8:00 and 10:00am

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

My Commitment

When I was a young priest, about four years ordained, I went through a real crisis.

Suddenly I was no longer sure that I could do this for the rest of my life.  It was a period of real darkness for me.

So I went to another priest who was experienced and wise.  He was a spiritual guide for me.

And I also went to a professional counselor.  I did this for many months and painstakingly worked through the issues.

From the very start of this, something within told me to maintain my commitment while I was going through all of this.  At times, I just forced myself to keep going.

This, I believe, had to have been God acting empowering me.  At any rate, eventually I began seeing light at the end of the tunnel and things got resolved.

Jesus’ Commitment

I share this personal experience because of the underlying message in today’s gospel.

Jesus is tempted.  The refrain in the temptations is: “If you are the Son of God…” 

“If you are”, then do all these self-serving things.  Jesus is tempted to abandon his commitment to who he is and to his Father and his mission.

But, he doesn’t do it.  He remains steady and committed.

Our Commitment: to God

So, commitment is the key message here.

It is an important, even fundamental reality in our lives.  As I see it, we are called to live with commitment on two basic levels.

First, commitment to God.  This means that we live with a conscious relationship with God, with some prayer and prayerful reflection in our lives. 

It means that we try to make our relationship with Jesus the way of understanding and making sense of life.  This will not always be easy. 

Sometimes it will demand things of us that we would like to avoid.  Here we need to draw on the strength of God in our prayer. 

Sometimes we may be tempted to throw in our commitment to God completely. Here it is a good idea to talk with a wise, honest, and empathetic person of faith and test out the maintaining of our commitment to Jesus.

Our Commitment: to Others

And then we are to live with commitment to one another.

This could be my commitment to you, the people of Saint Margaret Parish.  It could be the commitment of a married couple, of two close friends, of parents, of children, and on it goes. 

In each of these situations, the first thing to do is to really put ourselves into the relationship.  You know this.

Living with commitment over the long haul doesn’t just happen.  We need to be intentional about it and work at it.

Still, there will probably be experiences of discouragement and darkness.  We may be tempted to abandon a commitment.

And when we are, I think at least for a while, we will just need to draw strength from God through prayer to hang in there.  And, we may also need to talk with someone, maybe a professional, to help clarify what is going on.

In truth, we will be discerning what God wants us to do.  This will give us the best chance of making a mature and spiritual decision.

And, by the way, in saying all of this, I in no way intend to judge those who have changed a life commitment.  This happens at times.

It happens in the priesthood and I have welcomed as active members of this parish a number of men who have chosen to leave the priesthood.  This also happens in marriage and I again welcome those who have gone through the pain of a change of their commitment.   


So, today I lift up the importance of commitment as something for us to pray about during these weeks of Lent.  How are we doing in living our commitments to God and to one another?

Friday after Ash Wednesday, Cycle C - February 12, 2016

Friday after Ash Wednesday
February 12, 2016         8:30am

Today’s readings are a bit challenging.
They both deal with fasting – one of Lenten practices – but in a way that really makes us think.

God, through the prophet Isaiah, says:
What matters is that you care for those who are in need.
God wants us to fast, not so much from food, but from indifference, prejudice, a sense of superiority, and an unwillingness to share.
He wants us to care for those in need, no matter who they are or whatever the issue might be.
Jesus in today’s gospel acknowledges that we will fast when he, the bridegroom is no longer with us, but he doesn’t really pump it up as a priority.
Maybe because he knows that it is not an end in itself and that we might slide into thinking that it is an end in itself and judge ourselves as good just because we do it.

So, I see these as somewhat challenging readings.
I do believe that fasting plays a good part in our spiritual life.
But it plays this part if our fasting from some amount or some kind of food leads us to go within and to really look at and know ourselves.
Fasting plays a part if it leads us to identify what attitudes and conversations and actions we need to fast from, and what attitudes and conversations and actions we need to embrace.
If we do that, we will be moved, as Isaiah says, to care for those in need, no matter who or where they are.

In our Catholic tradition, we call this charity and social justice.  
That’s the purpose of fasting according to today’s readings.

Perhaps that is much more challenging than the fasting itself.

Ash Wednesday, Cycle C - February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday
Cycle C
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air
February 10, 2016        8:30am


I am always struck by how many of us come to church on Ash Wednesday.

We have almost made it a self-declared holyday of obligation!  Yesterday, I was doing some reading and I came across an insight into why this may be so.

The idea is that Ash Wednesday speaks to realities that we usually like to hide and not think about.  But we know it is safe to look at them here today with God and with other persons of faith.

So, the ashes speak of our mortality.  They remind us that our time on this earth is limited and that someday we will return to God.

The ashes also speak to the incompleteness or fragmentation of human life.  Maybe each one of us has the experience that our lives or relationships are not exactly what we would like them to be and we are not quite sure what to do about that.

And the ashes also speak to our human imperfection.  We know that we have our dark sides and weaknesses and growth edges and we can bring all of that here to God.

So, the ashes speak powerfully to us and that is why we come here this morning.  And then, Jesus in the gospel passage sends us forth with three spiritual practices in mind: fasting, prayer, and charitable giving.

These are to help us to live out of the awareness that the ashes create.  As I see it, fasting is the pivotal practice because it leads to prayer and charity.

Fasting as the Key

The Church calls us to fast – to limit the amount of food we eat on two days:  today and on Good Friday.  The Church also asks us to abstain from eating meat today and on all the Fridays of Lent.

That’s really not all that difficult, although the Church also asks us to consider adopting some form of fasting or self-denial that is personal to ourselves – maybe giving up chocolate or beer, things like that.  But, if we just do the minimal fast that the Church asks, that’s fine.

Our fasting has three purposes.

First, the experience of a little bit of physical hunger helps us to experience our spiritual hunger for God. 

It is only God who can satisfy this deeper hunger within us.  In this way, our fasting can lead to some prayer, to make time for reflection, to read some Scripture each day, to pray the rosary, just to speak to God from our own hearts, just to pray in a way that is good for us.

Second, our voluntary experience of a little bit of hunger helps to create a bond with those who are hungry without choosing it.

It gives us a sensitivity to those who are in need.  In this way, our fasting can lead us to charity and to do what we can to assist others.

And third, fasting from food often connects us with some behavior from which we need to fast.

For example, maybe we need to fast from talking negatively about others or always putting ourselves and our own preferences first.  This is what repentance means.

So, may the ashes speak deeply to each of us today and lead us to a closer relationship with Jesus through this Lenten Season.