Tuesday, February 27, 2018

2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle B - February 25, 2018

2nd Sunday of Lent
 Cycle B
February 25, 2018       

A Parishioner Transformed

In one of the parishes where I was pastor, I began to notice a man who would sometimes come to Mass.

For our purposes today, let’s just call him Wayne.  He appeared to be a few years younger than I am.

Wayne had long, almost shoulder-length hair and always wore a baseball cap.  He dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt or sweat shirt.

I wondered who Wayne was and I perceived him as a bit different from most people his age.  And then, one day I got to meet him.

We talked and before long we started to meet together at times over a coffee and a bagel in the morning.  I discovered a person with a rich life experience – a marine who had served in Vietnam, a husband and father of four children. 

I discovered a person who read and thought deeply about things and was every bit my match intellectually.  In fact, he has a Doctorate in International Studies. 

He and I have become good friends.  So, Wayne was always Wayne, but my perception of him really got transformed.

Jesus Transformed

This personal experience helps me to appreciate what happens in today’s gospel.

Peter, James, and John had already seen a lot of Jesus.  They and others were amazed at his wisdom and insight in the synagogue. (Mark 1.27)

They had already seen him heal a paralyzed man.  To that, some people said, “We have never seen anything like this.” (Mark 2.12)

They had seen him calm the stormy sea.  They themselves had said, “Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4.41)

So, they had seen all of this, but they still didn’t really get it.  They still didn’t see him for who he really was.

And then it suddenly happens on this mountain.  It all comes together for them, something like my experience with Wayne. 

They see him as the One who brings to fulfillment the Ten Commandments that Moses had given.  They see him as the One promised by the prophet Elijah.

They even see him as the beloved Son of God.  They finally get it.

This is the divine, it is God breaking into the world in this person.  So, much as with me and my friend Wayne, Jesus was still the same Jesus, but now the disciples’ perception of him is transformed and they see him for who he really is. 

Our Transformation

This transformation in the disciples’ perception leads me to this idea.

We are to see our time on earth as a continual process of transformation.  We are to keep our eyes on Jesus and allow ourselves to be transformed little by little into his likeness.

This work is life-long and it ends only when someday we see God face to face.  This, I believe, is the way to understand our earthly journey and very importantly, it is also the way for us to look at one another. 

None of us is finished with our transformation in Christ.  The important thing for all of us is that we are looking at Jesus – as Peter, James and John were – and that we are in the process of being transformed.

Pope Francis and Transformation

One final idea! 

I think this understanding of our need for ongoing transformation lies behind Pope Francis’ basic approach. And I find his approach very refreshing. 

This is why Pope Francis does not judge people.  He made that now famous statement: “Who am I to judge?”

This is why he is reluctant to draw insider/outsider boundaries.  It’s why he is reluctant to exclude people from being an active part of the Church.

Instead, Pope Francis looks beyond differences and looks more deeply at people.  He sees himself – and I think he is urging us to see ourselves – as one with others, regardless of differences. 

He is calling us to see everyone – beginning with ourselves – as in the process of being transformed in Christ.  If we are, that’s enough. 

We can gather here and pray and worship together – one in Christ.  So, that’s my take on today’s gospel!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle B - February 18, 2018

1st Sunday of Lent
Cycle B
February 18, 2018       

Our Daily Grind

I think that many of us sometimes just feel overwhelmed with the daily grind of life. 

It may be the day in, day out caring for the children whom you love very much – getting them to school, taking them to scouts and sports and on it goes.  It may be just keeping up with the housecleaning, laundry and meals.

It may the commute to work on I-95 or whatever road it is.  It may the stress of the job that we no longer really like. 

On top of all that, it may also be worrying what the future will be like with groups like ISIS around.  Some days we may feel that we cannot deal with one more thing. 

I have felt that way at times.  Especially when I was the pastor of a parish, there were moments when I felt that I couldn’t deal with one more thing.

Jesus’ Daily Grind and His Desert

The gospels convey that the daily grind even gets to Jesus at times.

Today’s passage tells us that he goes into the desert to be by himself.  And what Jesus does here may really serve as a pattern for us. 

1) He first goes off and claims a bit of space just for himself.  I imagine that in this space, he gets a renewed sense of who he is and what he is feeling and what he is to do with his life.

The gospel then says that 2) he is “tempted.”  I wonder if this means that he becomes aware of his own humanity and of what is pulling him away from the mission that the Father has given him to do.

Apparently, he is renewed 1) by this space and 2) by this awareness of himself.  I say this because he comes out of the desert 3) saying “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

He is able to see goodness and God in his midst and in himself.  And finally, he invites us 4) to “Repent and believe in the gospel.”

I am thinking that he means: do what I just did.  You need to pull away a bit from your daily grind in the way that I just did here.

Our Desert Space

So, 1) maybe for us the “desert” or the space is when we are driving alone in our car.  Maybe it’s going up to your bedroom, closing the door and just being alone and quiet for five minutes. 

Maybe it’s taking a walk or spending a few minutes in church.  Whatever the desert or the space is, we need to plan it, to be intentional about it, and make it happen.

And then, in that space, 2) we may also see, as Jesus does, how we are “tempted.”  Maybe we will be aware of how our stress is causing us to be impatient and insensitive toward others.

Maybe we will discover that we have too many possessions to take care of.  Maybe we will realize that we are not exercising appropriate control over the family schedule. 

And then, 1) with the space and 2) with this awareness of self, we can 3) “Repent and believe in the gospel,” as Jesus puts it today.  We can resolve to do what we need to do.

And maybe this repentance or resolve will simply be to stay grounded, especially grounded in the Lord by making space for ourselves amidst the daily grind.  Maybe that’s what we need to do above anything else.

And then, with all of this, 1) with our space, 2) with our awareness of temptation, and 3) with our repentance or resolve, 4) we can say with Jesus: “The kingdom of God is at hand.”  We will be more able to see goodness and God.

We will find ourselves at least somewhat refreshed.  We will be able to greet the daily grind in a different way.


For me, this is an entirely new approach to today’s gospel.

But it seems right to me.  Maybe this is the way to approach the entire Season of Lent.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B - February 11, 2018

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle B
February 11, 2018

Hospital Isolation

Last winter, I visited a man named Jim at Upper Chesapeake Hospital.

Jim was seriously sick with a bacterial pneumonia.  There was a “Do Not Enter – Report to the Nurses’ Station” sign on his door. 

I was required to put on a hospital gown, a mask and gloves before entering his room.  Jim’s wife and I approached his bedside and I leaned over and spoke to him for a minute or two, even though he was barely responsive. 

Then, I led us in prayer and in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  As I left, I took off the hospital gown, the mask and gloves and was instructed to wash my hands thoroughly.

I have to admit that I felt some anxiety about contracting the bacteria that had attacked Jim’s lungs.  I also wondered how Jim was feeling emotionally, since he was so alone and so isolated.



That experience gives us some appreciation of the situation of lepers.

In Jesus’ day, they labeled as leprosy many skin diseases, whether they were real leprosy or simply something like psoriasis. Lepers were excluded, cut off and alienated from society. 

Today’s first reading tells us that lepers had to shave their heads and wear torn clothes so that they could be easily identified and avoided.  They had to live alone, outside the town and declare themselves “Unclean!” if anyone approached them.

They had to be feeling physically bad, at least to some extent.  But probably worse than that was the pain of isolation, of being unwanted and cut off from others.

Jesus’ Response: To Feel and to Heal

This is the context for today’s gospel.

A leper dares to approach Jesus.  With humility and trust, he says, “If you will it, you can make me clean.”

And how does Jesus respond?  He feels and heals the pain of this man.

Jesus reaches out and touches him.  His compassion – his feeling the pain of this man is so strong that he ignores the risk to himself and touches the man.

Jesus says, “I do will it.  Be made clean.”  And then Jesus tells the man to follow the rules of the day for being declared clean because he wants the man to be re-included and restored to the community.

And this is something that Jesus consistently does.  He consistently feels and heals the pain of those on the outside, the excluded of his day.

We see him doing this with the poor, with women, with sinners and on it goes.  He feels and heals the pain of those on the outside and draws them back into the community.

Our Response: To Feel and Heal

Jesus’ example calls us to do the same.

For example, there are homeless persons in Baltimore City and probably in every county of Maryland. Often we do not physically see them and the danger is that they can lie outside of our vision and concern.

They easily become lepers – unwanted, outside and alienated.  Jesus’ example calls us to draw these people back into the community by reaching out and providing – to feel and to heal.

In terms of our Church, sometimes those who are divorced feel very excluded and unwanted.  Sometimes our approach makes these persons feel like lepers.

We need to feel the pain that many of these people have suffered, often quite innocently.  Jesus’ example again calls us to reach out and make sure these people feel welcome in our community – to feel and to heal.

I also think of those who are grieving.  Sometimes we tend to step away from the widowed or anyone who is grieving.

Maybe we distance these persons because we are afraid we will not know what to say or afraid to deal with our own feelings.  Again, Jesus’ example calls us to listen, to be with and to include – to feel and to heal.


So, a very powerful gospel with a very challenging example and lesson for us today. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B - February 4, 2018

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle B
February 4, 2018
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4pm
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11am


Today I want to talk about respect.

One word – respect. It may sound simple, but it may not be.

The Word Respect

Our English word respect – like many of our words – is derived from Latin.

It is made up of two Latin words: 1) re (spelled R-E) which means back, as in going back, and 2) specere (spelled S-P-E-C-E-R-E), a verb that means to look at. And so, our word respect literally means to look back at, to take a second look.

And from this, the word has come to mean to treat someone with regard and dignity. Negatively, it means to refrain from injuring someone.

The connection between the original and the developed meaning of the word is clear. If we don’t just take a quick look, but if we look back and take a second look, then we are valuing others.

As a result, we are much more likely to act out of that – to treat them with regard and dignity. And, of course, we are much more likely to refrain from any behavior or word that would injure.

Okay, so why am I so focused on this word respect today? Why? Because I see respect lying beneath today’s gospel.     

Jesus Respects Women

The context is that Jesus goes into Peter’s house.

Peter’s mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. I have to wonder if it was something like the flu that has been going around this year.

At any rate, and here’s the key point, Jesus goes right up to this woman and takes her by the hand. Now to us, that may not sound like a big deal, but it was in Jesus’ day.

In those days, men were forbidden to touch any woman other than their wife. They couldn’t even shake hands with a woman.

Now it’s important to know that this prohibition did not exist out of respect for women. On the contrary, it existed out of disrespect for them.

It was a highly patriarchal and male-dominated culture. Women had no rights and were seen as at best inferior.

So, a point that’s easy to miss here is that Jesus, right at the start of his ministry, is breaking a barrier. I mean, this is chapter one of Mark’s Gospel – Mark talking about the first things Jesus does in his ministry.

And here, Jesus breaks the gender barrier. He respects this woman as a person with dignity, as a person in need, and he wants to help her.

Apparently, Saint Mark is really out to make a point about this. I say this because at the end of the gospel, as Jesus ends his ministry, dying on the cross, Mark carefully notes the presence of women.

He points out that these women were disciples of Jesus. So Mark’s entire Gospel is framed or bookended with Jesus showing respect for women.

Respect Women Today

All of this got me thinking about something very current.

I think that Jesus would be supportive of the main thrust of today’s #MeToo movement. Today his respect for women might be shown by speaking out on behalf of the dignity of women.

He would speak out against verbal abuse, demeaning jokes, sexual harassment of any kind, and even less pay for the same work and same competence.  I believe that Jesus would call out all of this as wrong.

He would want us to take a second look at what’s been going on. He would want us to be respectful in our attitudes, our words, our workplace policies, and in our Church practices.

So, yes, there is a spiritual and moral dimension here. There is a gospel-dimension to the women’s isue that is before us.

Respect Everyone

I want to add one more point.

Jesus pushes this respect beyond the gender barrier. In various other incidents, Jesus breaks through other barriers – religion, race, culture, and nationality.

And Jesus always does this out of respect. He respects the dignity of all persons.

He wants to bring a wholeness and fullness to our lives. And he wants to do this for us as individuals, for our society and for all of humanity.

So, he treats all persons with respect, with no barriers allowed to stand in the way. His example raises the question: are we doing the same?