Sunday, March 26, 2017

4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A - March 26, 2017

4th Sunday of Lent
Cycle A
4pm Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville
11am Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore    
March 25-26, 2017    

Jesus Initiates

The first thing I want to say about today’s gospel story is that Jesus takes the initiative.

He sees the man who was born blind.  He notices him and does not turn his head and look the other way.

Then Jesus initiates the action.  He makes a kind of mud paste with soil and saliva and smears it on the man’s eyes.

He tells the man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.  And notice that the passage carefully says that the name “Siloam” means “Sent.”

 So this man is sent to the pool to wash.  And then, after his healing, he is also sent to proclaim faith in Jesus and he does that.

He proclaims Jesus as a good man, then as a prophet, and finally as the Son of Man.  That title – the Son of Man – originally meant the best person, the human being closest to God.

Eventually, it came to mean the Son of God himself.  So the man born blind is given his eyesight and then he is sent and he goes.

We Initiate

For us, a lesson here is that we also are to take the initiative in assisting someone in need.

Like Jesus, we don’t have to know the background or worthiness of the person.  We help because they are in need and, sometimes in our helping, there can also be a sending. 

For example, if someone is seriously sick, we can assist with companionship or caring for their personal needs.  And then, our sending this person may be our encouragement to pray and draw upon God for strength.

Or if someone we know has an addiction, we try to hang in there with them without enabling them.   And our sending this person may be our guidance toward a twelve-step program. 

They Are Afraid

The other point in this passage I want to note is that some people are afraid of Jesus’ gift of seeing.

The man’s parents and neighbors and religious leaders do not rejoice in his eyesight.  Instead, they find fault with Jesus.

And their reaction gets to the underlying gift that Jesus is giving here – spiritual eyesight, spiritual seeing.  The passage uses the word “afraid.”

These people are afraid to admit that Jesus enables the man to see physically because then they will have to admit that he enables all of us to see spiritually.  They are afraid of this because they are not sure what it will mean for them.

They are afraid because it might mean that they will have to change in some way.  So their fear leads them to remain spiritually blind.

We Are Afraid

Well, being afraid can also keep us from seeing – from seeing spiritually, from seeing the way Jesus wants us to see.

Lately I have been thinking about the fear that some people have of Muslims.  That fear leads some to demonize all Muslims.

I think it is something like the dynamic we see in today’s gospel.  The religious leaders see Jesus as sinful because he broke the Sabbath law.

And because of that, they believe that nothing good or nothing of God can come from him.  They figure that if a person does one thing wrong, the entire person is bad.

This same dynamic can happen in how we see whole groups of people – like Muslims.  If some of them do something evil – like ISIS and all the terrorists – then the whole group, all Muslims must be bad.

Fear, being afraid is really what leads to this.  When we let fear control us, we are like the parents and neighbors and religious leaders in this story.

We are blocked from seeing – from seeing the way of Jesus and his treatment of all persons as God’s daughters and sons.  That fear and its blindness led the people to reject Jesus and can also lead us into an unfair rejection of others.


So, to wrap this up: today’s gospel calls us 1) to take the initiative in assisting others who are in need, and 2) to work through our fear and be open to the spiritual sight that Jesus offers.

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.