Saturday, March 25, 2017

Lent IV [A]: I Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41
This is the Fourth Sunday in Lent, traditionally known as Laetare Sunday, derived from the Latin word “rejoice,” (based on the words of Isaiah 66:10).  Today’s readings both remind us that it is God who gives us proper vision in body as well as in soul, and instructs us that we should be constantly on our guard against spiritual blindness. By describing the anointing of David as the second king of Israel, the first reading, illustrates how blind we are in our judgments and how much we need God’s help. In the second reading, Paul reminds the Ephesians of their new responsibility as children of light: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Jesus’ giving of sight to a blind man, teaches us the necessity of opening the eyes of the mind by Faith and warns us that   those who assume they see the truth are often blind, while those who acknowledge their blindness are given clear vision. In this episode, the most unlikely person, namely the beggar born blind, receives the light of Faith in Jesus, while the religion-oriented, law-educated Pharisees remain spiritually blind.  "There are none so blind, as those who will not see."  To live as a Christian is to see, to have clear vision about God, about ourselves and about others.

In the context of the Lenten RCIA scrutinies, the Church challenges us to see this man’s journey from darkness to light as a paradigm for our own spiritual lives—from the darkness of doubt to belief (for catechumens preparing for Baptism); from the darkness of sin to the light of repentance, mercy and freedom (for those of us already baptized, who are called to renew our Baptismal promises, and to “own” our Baptism more consciously). From earliest times, today's Gospel story has been associated with Baptism. Just as the blind man went down into the waters of Siloam and came up whole, so also believers who are immersed in the waters of Baptism come up spiritually whole, totally healed of the spiritual blindness with which all of us are born. Raymond Brown comments that in the lectionaries and liturgical books of the early Church, there developed the practice of three examinations before one's Baptism. These correspond to the three interrogations of the man born blind. When the catechumens had passed their examinations, and were judged worthy of Baptism, the Gospel book was solemnly opened and the ninth chapter of John was read, with the confession of the blind man, "I do believe, Lord," serving as the climax of the service.  The early Christians looked at their Baptism as leaving behind blindness and darkness and stepping into the glorious light of God. In other words, they realized that their becoming Christians and then continuing as followers of Christ, was indeed a miracle - as great as, if not greater than, the healing of the physical blindness of the man in the Gospel today.

The Pharisees suffered from spiritual blindness.  They were blind to the Holy Spirit.  They had religion but lacked the spirit of Jesus’ love.  They were also blind to the suffering and pain right before their eyes. They refused to see pain and injustice.  There was no compassion in their hearts.  In short, they were truly blind both to the Holy Spirit and to the human misery around them. “The blind man’s progress in spiritual sight is paralleled by the opponents’ descent into spiritual blindness.”

According to Pope Benedict XVI, the miracle of the healing of the blind man is a sign that Christ wants not only to give us sight, but also open our interior vision, so that our faith may become ever deeper and we may recognize Him as our only Savior. He illuminates all that is dark in life and leads men and women to live as "children of the light".

Life messages: 1) We need to allow Jesus to heal our spiritual blindness.  In real life, we all have blind-spots -- in our marriages, our parenting, our work habits, and our personalities.  We often wish   to remain in the dark, preferring darkness to light.  It is even possible for the religious people in our day to be like the Pharisees: religious in worship, in frequenting the Sacraments, in prayer-life, in tithing, and in knowledge of the Bible – but blind to the poverty, injustice and pain around them.  Let us remember, however, that Jesus wants to heal our blind-spots.  We need to ask him to remove from us the root causes of our blindness, namely, self-centeredness, greed, anger, hatred, prejudice, jealousy, addiction to evil habits and hardness of heart. Let us pray with the Scottish Bible scholar William Barclay, “God our Father, help us see Christ more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly.”

2) We need to get rid of cultural blindness.  Our culture also has blind-spots.  Often it is blind to things like love, happiness, marriage, and true, committed sexual love in marriage.  Our culture has become anesthetized to the violence, the sexual innuendo, and the enormous suffering of the world around us.  Our culture, our media, our movies and our values, are often blind as to what it means to love selflessly and sacrificially. Our culture, in spite of scientific proofs, is blind to the reality that life begins at the moment of conception, and it callously promotes abortion.
This   cultural blindness can only be overcome as each one of us enters the living experience of having Jesus dwelling within us and within others, through personal prayer, meditative reading of the Bible and a genuine Sacramental life.

3) We need to pray for clear vision:  Peter Marshall, the former chaplain to the United States Congress used to pray, "Give us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for, because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.”   Jonathan Swift said, "Vision is the art of seeing things invisible."  It resides in those who never give up hope.  Let us pray for the grace to see and experience the presence of a loving and forgiving God.

Friday, March 17, 2017

LENT III [A]: Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4: 5-42
Today's liturgy makes use of the symbol of water to refer to our relationship with God. Water represents God’s Spirit Who comes to us in Baptism. Baptism is the outward, symbolic sign of a deep reality, the coming of God as a Force penetrating every aspect of a person’s life. The Spirit quenches our spiritual thirst. Just as water in the desert was life-giving for the wandering Israelites, the water of a true, loving relationship with Jesus is life-giving for those who accept him as Lord and Savior.  The Holy Spirit of God, the Word of God and the Sacraments of God in the Church are the primary sources for the living water of Divine Grace. 

The first reading describes how God provided water to the ungrateful complainers of Israel, thus placing Jesus’ promise within the context of the Exodus account of water coming from the rock at Horeb.  

The Samaritan woman in this story was thirsty — a thirst caused by the absence of God in her life.  A meeting with Jesus gave her the living waters of friendship with Jesus and the anointing of the Spirit of God which restored her dignity and changed her life. 

 This woman belonged to a heritage rejected by the Jews.  In addition, she expected scorn simply because she was a woman, for in the ancient Middle East, men systematically degraded women.  Finally, this Samaritan woman seemed unwanted by her own people.  Since she had had five “husbands,” and was living with a sixth “lover,” she seems to have been considered by fellow villagers a social leper, and she seems to have been driven from the common well of the town by the decent women.  Perhaps she had not stopped wishing that somewhere, sometime, some way, God would touch His people — that He would touch her!  Jesus’ meeting the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well illustrates the principal role of Jesus as the Messiah: to reconcile all men and women to the Father.  Hence, Jesus deliberately placed himself face-to-face with this person whom, apparently, no one else wanted.  Jesus saw in this social outcast and moral wreck a person who mattered to God.  The Samaritan woman must have unburdened her soul to this stranger because she had found one Jew with kindness in his eyes instead of an air of critical superiority.  She was thirsting for love that would last, love that would fill her and give purpose to her life. Just as Jesus confronts the woman at the well with the reality of her own sinfulness and brokenness, we must confront our own sinfulness and, in doing so, realize our need for God. 

Jesus not only talked with the woman, but in a carefully orchestrated, seven-part dialogue he guided her progressively from ignorance to enlightenment, from misunderstanding to clearer understanding, thus making her the most carefully and intensely catechized person in this entire Gospel.  Jesus always has a way of coming into our personal lives.  When Jesus became personal with this woman and started asking embarrassing questions about her five husbands, she cleverly tried to change the subject and talk about religion.  She didn’t want Jesus to get personal.  But Jesus wanted to free her, forgive her, shape her life in a new direction, and change her.  He wanted to offer this woman living water.  At the end of the long heart-to-heart conversation Jesus revealed himself to her as the Messiah, which in turn led her to Faith in him.  This growth in understanding on the part of the woman moved through several stages: first, she called him a Jew, then Sir or Lord, then Prophet, and finally Messiah.  When the Samaritans came to hear Jesus because of her testimony, the affirmation of Faith reached its climax as they declared that Jesus was the Savior of the world.  Step-by-step Jesus was leading her in her Faith journey. 

Jesus wants to get personal with us, especially during this Lenten season.  Jesus wants to get into our “private” lives.  We have a “private” personal life which is contrary to the will of God.  Christ wishes to come into that “private” life, not to embarrass us, not to judge or condemn us, not to be unkind or malicious to us.  Rather, Christ comes into our “private” personal life to free us, to change us and to offer us what we really need: living water. And when we have the living water welling up in us we will bear witnesses to Jesus like the Samaritan woman. Let us have the courage to share our experience of Jesus with others. Let us also have the courage of our Christian convictions to stand for truth and justice in our day-to-day life. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

LENT I [A] Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Rom 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11

A lark flying safely high in the air, observed a small object moving slowly along the path in a garden below. Out of curiosity it descended to take a closer look. He discovered it was a small wagon with a cat pulling it and chanting all the time, "Fresh worms for sale. Fresh worms for sale!" Interested, the lark alighted on the path -but at a safe distance. He asked what the worms were selling for. "Three nice worms for one feather from your wing." said the cat. The lark thought that was a bargain and pulled a feather from his wing and enjoyed the delicious worms. Then he took off and soared again but the thought of those juicy worms brought him down to the wagon again. This time he bought twice as many, and bartered away two more feathers. The same thing happened several more times. But the pussycat was watching closely. Robbed of wing power, the lark was not able to get away when the cat sprang at him… and thus met his death in the garden where temptation had proved too strong for him. 

Today’s readings give us the notion that testing comes to us by an agency apart from and in opposition to God.  But the truth is that, while testing comes from the outside, temptation comes from within ourselves.  However, the good news is that, though we are tempted and often succumb, God’s grace provides the way of salvation for us.

The first reading from the book of Genesis (Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7) describes the “Original Temptation" – "You will be like gods, knowing what is good and what is evil."  This is the story of the first sin, symbolized by the eating of the forbidden fruit. It tells us that Adam and Eve were given the possibility of making a choice. The fundamental choice was to live for God, dependent upon and obedient to His will, or to say no to God.
Paul reminds us of the social consequences of sin. Sin is never a private affair, affecting only myself. When we sin, all our relationships are affected: our relationship with our inner self, our relationships with our brothers and sisters, our relationship with our God and our relationship with nature and the world in which we live.
 Today’s Gospel (Matthew 4: 1-11) teaches us how the "desert experience" of fasting, praying, and soul-strengthening was a kind of spiritual “training camp” for Jesus which enabled him to confront his temptations successfully and then to preach the Good News of salvation. 
The first temptation has to do with Jesus’ own need for food.  The second temptation involves a wider circle in Jerusalem and the Temple.  Finally, the third temptation takes in the whole world.  Matthew saw the sequence of the three temptations as significant in that they moved to greater heights, from stones on ground level, to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, and finally to a mountain top from which all the kingdoms of the earth could be surveyed.  The progression was also greater intensity and scope, from personal food to power in Israel and then to rule of the whole world.
It was a temptation to do the right thing using the wrong means.  Jesus was being tempted to win the world by worshiping the devil.  Why not compromise a bit?  Why not strike a deal with the evil powers?  Spirit-filled, sanctified, spiritually vibrant Christians are still subject to the same temptation.  We need companionship, acceptance, the approval of others, love and appreciation.  We are tempted to fulfill these legitimate needs using the wrong means. But these temptations never could win him over as he was himself the Son of God.
As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon in the West. Wanting to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, "Are you trying to break this bridge?" "No," the builder replied, "I'm trying to prove that the bridge won't break." In the same way, the temptations Jesus faced weren't designed to see if He would sin, but to prove that He couldn't.

A group of mountain hikers came across an old woodsman with an axe on his shoulder. "Where are you going?" they asked him.” “I’m headed up the mountain to get some wood to repair my cabin." "But why are you going up the mountain?" they asked incredulously. "There are plenty of trees all around us here." "I know," he said, "but I need strong timber and it grows only on the highest elevations, where the trees are tested and toughened by the weather around them. The higher up you go, the stronger the timber grows." And that is what God desires for us — that through the winds of trial and the storms of temptation we may grow strong and live on a higher level — strong to resist the devil's urging, strong to serve God, and strong as we stand together in Faith and service to one another. Our sinful nature has to be chastised, disciplined, and rightly ordered. The attainment of true joy comes, in a sinful world, at the cost of some suffering.
Temptation is a very real part of life: temptation to stray from the values we hold dear, temptation to take short cuts, to avoid struggle, to find the easy way through.

Harry Emerson Fosdick was one of the greatest American preachers of this century. He described his preaching as counseling on a large scale. Few people knew that as a young seminary student he reached the breaking point after working one summer in a New York Bowery mission. He went home and was overcome by deep depression. One day he stood in the bathroom with a straight razor to his throat. He thought about taking his own life. And then -- and then he heard his father in the other room calling his name, "Harry! Harry!" It called him back. He never forgot it. It was like the voice of God calling him.
So I want to remind you today that in those times when you are in the wilderness, trying to find your way through, and when temptation comes and offers you the wrong answer, the wrong choice -- the wrong use of power, the way to popularity, the wrong kind of partnership -- then you remember that God has called your name: "This is my beloved son, my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased." And, you remember that because God has called your name He will see you through.

During this lent let’s  set aside a place and time to be alone daily with God, a time to distance ourselves from the many noises that bombard our lives every day, a time to hear God’s word, a time to rediscover who we are before God and a time to say yes to God and no to Satan as Jesus did.  

Video Message from Bishop Robert Barren.