Saturday, February 17, 2018

1st Sunday of Lent

Mark’s gospel today offers only a few details, but it is everything we need to know.  His account of Jesus’ time in the desert mirrors our lives and shows us what Lent is.  As short as Mark’s story is, a careful look brings us some often forgotten reminders.

First, and most importantly, the Holy Spirit is always with each one of us and has been since our baptism.  As the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, so too the Spirit wants to lead us, perhaps even drive us, as well.  Do we listen to the Holy Spirit?  Do we follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit?  Jesus followed the Holy Spirit, even though the Holy Spirit led Him to a difficult place.  We may be asked to go somewhere we would rather not go as well.

Secondly, Satan tempted Jesus for 40 days in the desert.  We too are tempted.  Are we aware of the temptations in our lives?  Do we fight them or do we give in?  Do we know what do to when we are tempted?  Jesus battled with Satan.  Do we realize that Satan wants to rough us up spiritually also? Or has the evil one remained hidden so we aren’t even aware of what is going on when we struggle?

Thirdly, angels and wild beasts were with Jesus in the desert and surround us in our lives as well.  In Psalm 91, God promises angels to minister to us.  Do we believe that?  Do we ask the angels, especially our Guardian Angel, for help?  Angels will come to our aid, but we need to ask them.  The wild beasts symbolize all those things in life that may harm us.  Do we trust the Lord for help and strength to overcome them? God will do that for us, but again, we need to ask for help.

Lent is our time in the desert where we fight the spiritual battle.  We fight to become holy.  Our Lenten practices of penance, almsgiving, and prayer are the weapons we use.  Taking up our cross and following Jesus is the way forward for us.  We won’t win every fight, but perseverance to the end will guarantee us a share in Christ’s victory. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday  - 14 February 2018                                                                       
Yap Catholic High School

Praying over today’s Gospel got me thinking about three places here on Yap: the Dump, the Hospital, and the Post Office

We three Jesuits of Yap have house jobs. My job is to go to the Dump.  Once a week, I take our garbage, put it in the car, and drive to the dump.  The Dump fascinates me. It’s so big, and filthy, and smelly.  There are piles, almost mountains of garbage.  There are flies buzzing all over, and the worst looking dogs you’ve ever seen, and occasionally even a person or two down at the bottom of the pit, going through everything, looking for something to save. 

So what does the Dump have to do with Lent?  Good question.  Each one of us here, if we are honest, knows that we have some garbage inside of us that we really should get rid of.  Our garbage is not good for us.  It’s all the nasty stuff that we try to ignore or stuff down, or pretend it’s not there.  If we don’t get rid of it, we run the risk of becoming rotten, or at least smelly, or someone no one wants to be around.

Like the garbage at the Dump, our garbage comes in different forms.  Some of it is our sins – cheating, lying, hurting or taking advantage of others, not giving our best, being jealous, not being grateful to God.  I could go on, but you know what I’m talking about. 

Some of it is our personal weakness (laziness, haughtiness, selfishness, disobedience, self-pity).  Some of it is our false beliefs, especially about ourselves – “I’m better than she is.”  “God doesn’t love me.”  “I can do whatever I want.”  “Everyone hates me.”

Lent is a time to get rid of all that garbage.  Clean it out.  We can do that with the Sacrament of Confession. Nothing is better than feeling brand new after making a good confession.  We can get rid of our garbage by deciding to live differently.  We can do it by believing that we are loved. We can do it by putting more discipline in our lives.  The Church calls all of that penance and it is one of the three traditional practices of Lent.  Penance is anything extra we do, or something that we do without, and it helps to make us stronger and more open to God.

The second place I thought of is the Hospital.  I have been there as a patient and as a priest to visit and pray with people.  Whenever I am at the hospital, I see sick people, of course, but I also see all kinds of other people who are taking care of the sick.  Nurses, and doctors, but family and friends of the sick also, just sitting with them, or giving them some food, or doing whatever they can.  All those people – whether it is the medical personnel, or friends and family – are focused on the people who are sick.  They aren’t looking out for themselves; they are giving of themselves to those in need.  Giving to others is what the Church traditionally calls almsgiving, and like penance, it is one of the three main practices of Lent.  From what we have, we give to those who don’t have.

The third place I thought of is the Post Office.  When one moves thousands of miles away from home, the Post Office becomes a very important place.  If people write you a letter, or send you a package, it comes to you through the Post Office.  No visits to the Post Office, no letter.  No visits to the Post Office, no package.  And, unfortunately, sometimes when you go to the Post Office, there is no letter and no package waiting for you.  But that’s no reason to stop going.  Maybe next time, right? You have to keep going back.

The Post Office for me is a reminder to pray, to take time to speak to God, and more importantly, to take time to quiet down enough to hear what God has to say.  If I don’t do that, I’m not going to be connected to God.  I won’t be able to tell the Lord what I need to tell Him, and He won’t be able to tell me anything either.  Prayer is the third traditional practice of Lent.  We need to take some time during the 40 days of Lent to pray more.  I believe that God has something to say to everyone here, but that requires that we take time to pray, to go to the Post Office, if you will.

So, today and for the next six weeks, in your imagination – go to the Dump, go to the Hospital, and go to the Post Office.  Go to the Dump to get rid of the garbage that is keeping you away from God.  Go to the Hospital to look for someone who needs you, and be there for that person, and go to the Post Office and expect a letter or maybe even a package from God.  Then put it all into action in your life.

Have a good Lent.  Expect God to bless you, but be sure to do your part.  

God is counting on you.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The first reading from Leviticus reminds us of the difficult life lepers had due to their disease.  Once the priest had seen the leprosy, life was not the same.  No doubt the hardest part was the hopelessness of being without family and friends.  Having to warn others of one’s presence in what one wore and having to call oneself unclean must have been painful. 

Yet, at the end of the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, we see a leper who has hope because of his belief in Jesus.  He goes before the One he knows has the ability to make him clean and he humbles himself in both posture and language.  And he is not disappointed, for Jesus has pity on him, reaches out and touches him, and makes him clean.  Sent off to see the priest to make his new life official, he tells everyone about what has happened to him.  Even without his words, it would have been evident that life was now good and there was reason to be joyful and at peace.

The Jewish priest was the one who saw the leprosy and called it what it was and explained what it meant.  And at the other end, he was the one who, after examining the person, declared that he was free of the disease.  The priest would explain the necessary sacrifices to be made before rejoining the community in prayer and its daily life.

In a few days we enter into Lent when we again look within ourselves for all that needs cleansing.  Like the leper in today’s gospel, at some point during the holy season,we will approach Jesus in humility and hope and trust in order to be healed and made whole in the Sacrament of Confession.  Just as the Jewish priest had two functions, so too the Catholic priest both hears the sins cause spiritual decay and eventually death, if left untreated, and then, taking the place of Jesus, the he mediates the healing touch of Christ with the prayer of absolution.  We sinners are made whole, offer a sacrifice of some penance and once again rejoin the community and the life of the faithful as free as we were on the day of our baptism.

In an unrelated, yet relevant way, Paul in the second reading offers a second Lenten practice that is simple but powerful.  We ought to rededicate ourselves to imitate the Lord in our lives.  We know Him through the Scriptures, but we know Jesus in others ways as well.  One of the best is the one Paul offered to the Corinthian Christians, namely, imitating others who are imitating the Lord.  Jesus shines forth in others, especially when they are being patient and kind, courageous and faithful.  None of us needs to look far to see people worthy of imitation.  Reading the lives and writings of the saints is also a way to learn how to imitate others who imitated Christ.

Like the leper we will seek out Jesus this Lent and humble ourselves before Him.  We need healing and can find that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  That will help us grow in holiness, as will imitating the holy ones who are in our lives and in the history of the Church.  The Holy Spirit will lead us into the ways of holiness.  Let us quiet ourselves and listen for the Spirit’s gentle words, and then step out in faith, as the leper did.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s Scriptures offer many people to ponder: Job bemoaning his life, Paul excited about his call to preach, and Jesus busy reaching out helping others, and then trying to get some time in prayer alone.

One whose story can help us is Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, sick with a fever.  Mark tells us that others immediately tell Jesus about her.  In response, Mark says Jesus “approached, grasped her hand and helped her up.  Then the fever left her and she waited on them.”

What a beautiful, simple description that promises so much to us.  We desire to know Jesus better.  We yearn to have Jesus to heal us.  We want to be of service to the Lord in some significant way.

Jesus is aware of what lays us low at times.  He no longer needs anyone to tell Him. He wants to be with us as He was with Simon’s mother-in-law. The Lord will always offers us a hand.  All we need do is reach out and let him grasp us.  He will help us up.  The word Mark uses is the same word used for what the Father did for Jesus at the resurrection.  Jesus will help us up by giving us new life.

Like Jesus, take some time to pray today.  Imagine Jesus seeing you, reaching out to you, grasping your hand, helping you up.  Look carefully at His face.  See the love and total acceptance there, along with the joy that He has for you.  Feel the warmth of His smile and the strength of His grasp as He lifts you up.  Listen then as He tells you how you can best serve Him today.  Rest with Him a while and then go and greet Him in others.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

In the first reading, Moses, the great teacher and leader of his people, the one who spoke with God, promises his people that the Lord will send other prophets to speak God’s word.  And God is faithful to that promise for years with faithful prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and John the Baptist.

Yet, God had an even better plan and it begins to be revealed in today’s gospel from the first chapter of Mark.   Jesus is at home in Capernaum and joins the community in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  When He teaches, the people are amazed.  Here is one who teaches with authority, with energy, with a power that has never been seen before.  This young rabbi is unlike anyone else the people have seen or heard.

For Mark, Jesus is the Teacher who has come to reveal who God is, how much God loves us, and what God has in store for those who will believe in the One whom God has sent.  What is first seen today will all develop over time.  For now, the people are left to marvel at this man who is in their midst.

Immediately, however, it is clear that the demons recognize who Jesus is.  They know that He is the Holy One of God who has come to destroy them.  The demons can sense that the battle, which began in the Garden long ago, is about to get serious.  Jesus silences their shouting and sends them out of the man whom they had been tormenting.  Jesus does eventually want all to come to know Him, but it will not be from demons, but rather from the power of His own words and the witness of His works.

Jesus has begun His work.  He has called His first disciples.  He has shown Himself to be a Teacher who is to be listened to and He has power over demons and wills to set people free.  What needs to be done has begun.

Mark the evangelist sees life as a battle between good and evil.  He knows that we need to be saved from our sin and from all evil that seeks to destroy us.  More importantly, Mark knows that this battle will be won through the Passion and Death of Jesus.  That is the main story Mark is about to tell. 

As Mark’s story of the good news continues, what we need to do is to remember that Jesus is always at the center, teaching and setting people free.  We trust Him to do the same for us.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s first reading is six verses from the book of the prophet Jonah.  The 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B is the only time we read from the book of the prophet Jonah at Mass, so we hear it only once every three years, and even then it’s just a few verses.  That’s a shame to me, since Jonah is one of my favorite books in the Old Testament.  He and I have much deal in common, so I like to read it when I struggle with Jonah-like moments in my life.

The whole book of Jonah is only four short chapters, a total of 48 verses, so I would encourage you to take some time this week to read Jonah in its entirety.  It won’t take long and it gives us a good deal to think about.

In today’s brief selection, Jonah seems like a hero.  He preaches the word from God, the pagan people of Nineveh listen and obey him and are saved from destruction thanks to God’s mercy.  But there is so much more to the whole story.

For starters, today’s reading is Jonah’s second chance to do what God asked of him.  When he was first told what God wanted to do, he refused to do it and ran away from the Lord.  He was moved by hatred and fear and perhaps laziness. He got on a ship and headed in the other direction.  But he found out fast, you really can’t run away from God and get away with it.  A huge storm comes up, Jonah gets tossed overboard by the others who don’t want to die because of Jonah.  But he doesn’t die; rather, a huge fish swallows him and he spends three days in its belly.  That’s Chapter 1.

Chapter 2 is the beautiful and desperate prayer that Jonah offers from the belly of the fish. God hears the prayer, has the fish vomit Jonah onto the land, and that is Chapter 2.  God now sends Jonah again to the great city and this time Jonah is obedient.  His preaching meets with immediate success on his first day in the city, the people are saved from death and destruction.  Chapter 3 ends well, for everyone but Jonah.

After all that, it turns out that Jonah is disappointed and upset.  He is angry that God did not destroy the people.  God then teaches him a lesson by having a big plant grow up to protect Jonah from the scorching sun, but then God has a worm eat the plant, leaving Jonah more upset than before.  God then points out to Jonah that he is annoyed that a plant has died, but wanted the inhabitants of Nineveh, over 120, 000, to die.  One can only hope Jonah got the point. That’s the end of Chapter 4 and the book.

So why do I like the book and what do Jonah and I have in common?  First, since the Ninevites were fierce enemies of the Jews, Jonah had no interest in helping them.  He hated them and that hatred was controlling his actions.  He also questioned God in his heart for God’s willingness to love the Ninevites and offer them a chance to turn from away from their wickedness. 

Then Jonah’s worst fear came true when the people listened to him.  God got God’s way and the people were not killed.  Jonah was unhappy and bitter and disappointed that God did not see things the way he did.  When I am honest with myself, I know that I too have had hatred in my heart, and have questioned God’s way of doing things.  I also have had the fear that things were not going to go the way I think they should.  Granted, I may not have been as harsh as Jonah (or have I?), but all of that has been in my heart at various times.

Also, when I don’t like what God is asking of me, I hesitate, or ignore it, or don’t do it at all.  Instead, I try to get away or at least distract myself.  And, inevitably, God causes some storm, even if it’s a lack of peace in my heart, to envelop me, forcing me to reconsider.  Reluctantly, then I take the second chance that I know God is waiting for me to act upon.

Finally, there are not a few times when I am not merciful and instead look forward to seeing others get what is coming to them.  When that doesn’t happen, I can get resentful and perhaps even angry at God because bad people don’t deserve such a break.  Jonah, like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, and I, share that same harsh pettiness and desire for justice, as we see it.

Reading the story of Jonah reminds me of those areas of weakness within me and serves as a reminder to pray again to be delivered from such sinful tendencies.  Take a few minutes, read the book of Jonah yourself and see what you think.  God may speak a word to you too.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

God desires to have a relationship with each of us.  The Lord knows us and loves us more than we can imagine and wants us to know and love Him in return.  Each day God reaches out to us in ways that we may miss if we are not expecting them or watching for them.

In today’s first reading, young Samuel has had not yet experienced God speaking to him.  Eli is older, but has not maintained a relationship with the Lord God, and instead is lazy and drowsy in God’s presence, no longer listening for or expecting God to speak.  He is so lacking in a relationship with the Lord that when God call out to Samuel, it takes Eli a while to realize what is happening.  But he tells Samuel what to do when he next hears the call, and Samuel is obedient and replies to the voice of God, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” We need to do as Samuel did.

In the second reading, Paul assures the new Christians in Corinth that they belong to God in every way; in fact, even their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, although they live in a place saturated with sexual immorality and promiscuity, they are to shun all that.  Rather than lower themselves, they are to glorify God with their bodies, for their union with the Lord is total: spirit, mind, and body.

In the gospel reading, Jesus sees two of John the Baptist’s disciples, and offers them an invitation to come with him, and their lives are changed forever.  Andrew, one of the two who spent the day with Jesus, then goes and finds his brother Simon to bring him to meet Jesus as well.  When Jesus sees Simon, He looks at him, and gives him a new name and a new identity. 

We too can trust that the Lord will call us, and we need to be as docile and open as young Eli was.  Like the Christians at Corinth, we too belong to the Lord totally, for we also have been purchased at a price: the Body and Blood of Jesus offered on the Cross.  Our lives then need to glorify God in every way as well, for we belong to the Lord: spirit, mind, and body.

Finally, we need to seek Jesus, aware of what we are looking for and eager to discover where He is present in our lives.  This requires time in prayer, allowing Jesus to look at us and offer us an invitation and an opportunity to change our lives.  Reading the Scriptures, sharing our faith with other believers, and participating fully in the sacramental life of the Church are other ways that will reveal Jesus alive and active in our world and our lives.

God knows, loves, and serves each of us, with much delight and desire.  Loved as we are, we are to respond with the same delight and desire, holding nothing back.  When we do, God is glorified and our lives are filled with a peace that nothing and no one can ever take away from us.  The Holy Spirit will fill us with grace and power and we will know the presence of Jesus in our lives.  May we come to know and believe in the love God has for us each and every day.