Monday, February 27, 2012
We hear some very amazing stories in the Bible, don’t we? I am also spell-bound by the story of Joseph that we hear from Genesis today, even though I have heard it time and time again and know the ending of the story. We hear how out of jealousy and greed, Joseph’s brothers turn on him because his is the apple of their father’s eye. God’s grace operates in the story, as Joseph’s life is spared. They sell Joseph for pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, foreshadowing how Judas will later betray Jesus for monetary gain as well. Joseph is taken into Egypt, setting up the circumstance that will bring the people of Israel to Egypt where they will eventually become enslaved, and where one of their own, Moses, will be brought up by God in order to lead them out of slavery and into the promised land.
When we look into our own lives and the lives of our ancestors, we can see the ups and downs on our journey. But we can also see God’s grace there as well, even in the midst of the struggles and the sufferings. And that is what is wonderful about Sacred Scripture – there is always so much we can learn from, as well as so many connections we can see with our own lives. Let us have these stories strengthen us and nurture us as we continue along our Lenten journey.
I think that often times we see ourselves as blessed or cursed based upon how we are doing in the ways of the world. If we are successful at work, esteemed by family and friends, if we are economically successful and are able to make a good living, then we see these things as blessing from the Lord. We take a lot for granted though, don’t we? When we are in good health, when our personal relationships are doing ok, we chug along in life and don’t even think twice about it.
But our reading from Jeremiah tells us that we are cursed if we put our trust in human beings, if we put the things of the world ahead of God. But, whether it is subconsciously or very consciously, I think that is what a lot of us do. If we don’t put our trust in the Lord, Jeremiah tells us that we are like a barren bush in the desert that stays static and does not change with the seasons. May we look into our hearts this Lenten season to see how we need to change and return to the Lord.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Isaiah addresses the people of Sodom and Gomorrah today, telling them to wash themselves clean of their sins, that they can instead put aside sins that are a brilliant scarlet red, making them as white as snow. Sodom and Gomorrah are infamous in our day for cities who have turned their back to God and who have reveled in their sins, really making a mockery of God. Recently the historic district neighborhood of Yazoo City, of which we are a part of, was named as one of the best neighborhoods in the South by a national publication, something for which we can be proud. Yet, when our city is suffering from crime, violence, and unemployment, when I am so jumpy and skittish to be in the parish offices at night alone because of a recent break-in, when our schools are riddled by gangs and our young people have to leave the area in order to make a decent living, I wonder what it means to be called one of the best neighborhoods in the South. I wonder if God would be proud of us, or if he would give our community a warning like he did to Sodom and Gomorrah.
“Repent, and believe in the Gospel!” We heard this in our Gospel reading on the first Sunday of Lent. That seems to be the theme that Isaiah is bringing to us today as well. We need to search our hearts to see where God is asking us to change, both as individuals and as a community.
Last week, on the first Sunday of Lent, we heard of one journey that Jesus took, a journey through the desert wilderness for 40 days, a journey in which he was tempted by Satan and surrounded by wild animals. On this second Sunday of our Lenten journey we hear of another journey that Jesus made. This time, he goes up to the mountaintop, as he is joined by the great prophets Moses and Elijah, as well as several of his disciples. We hear about Jesus’ journey to the mountain today in the beginning weeks of our own Lenten journey, because, in many ways, this mountaintop experience foretells the glory, honor, and adulation that awaits him in his Father’s heavenly kingdom, where he will be King of Kings, where he will sit at the right hand of the Father, where he will await that day when he will ultimately judge all of the living and the dead.
We might wonder why Jesus has to leave this mountaintop if he already made it up there, why he needs to return to the mundane life back on earth, to return to his journey to his death on a cross. Jesus left this mountaintop experience of his transfiguration where the light of his divine identity made him more brilliant that anything that exists on earth. Jesus returned to the jealousy of the scribes and the Pharisees, to the inner-politics that was going on in Israel and in the Roman empire, to the struggling belief and arguments among his group of disciples.
Although Jesus was fully divine, he also came to earth as one of us, which is why he had to leave that mountain to return to humanity, to be with us, to fulfill his destiny and the will of the Father. Jesus did not come to lord his identity over us, but rather to come as a servant, to journey to the cross, to his death and resurrection. Jesus faced his fears, his brokenness, his loss, in coming down that mountain, in being in solidarity with us.
On that mountaintop, the disciples saw a cloud come over Jesus, casting a shadow over him. Out of the cloud came this voice: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” As I was talking to the adult religious education class a couple of weeks ago in the parish hall, we were noting that there is no longer a sense of respect in our world today that we even had twenty years ago, not the same level of respect for God, not that same respect for our fellow human beings. Think of the awe, wonder, and respect that James, Peter, and John had for Jesus when they witnessed his transfiguration on that mountain. If we could all capture that sense of awe, wonder, and respect for God as a part of our Lenten journey, to have it carry over into our lives even when Lent is over, then we would have gained something very precious in our lives indeed.
When we enter God’s house here in the Church, in our beautiful parish buildings here in Yazoo City and Belzoni, do we feel God’s presence, just like the disciples felt God’s presence on that mountaintop? When we knelt down at the start of mass today in the procession in silence, did we feel a sense of awe and wonder as God was in our midst? And if not, what can we do to capture that sense of awe and wonder? Is there something missing in our lives or in our hearts that keeps us from feeling God’s presence in this way?
What should inspire us and deepen our love and respect for Jesus, is in our knowledge that whatever dark periods we have gone through in our lives or are currently going through, no matter what struggle and sacrifices we are undertaking, we know that Christ has been there before us. And we know that Christ is there with us uniting his struggles with us. No matter where we are on our Lenten journey, whether we feel like we are on a mountaintop, or whether we are lost wandering around in the desert, Christ is with us.
Tomorrow, we will have a group of priests traveling to Yazoo City for our community reconciliation service. This is an important part of our Lenten journey, an essential part of our Lenten disciplines. We invite all of you to come, to be in God’s presence in this way, to reconcile with God and with our brothers and sisters in the ways that we are called to do so. There are many facets to our Lenten journey. Please make the sacrament of reconciliation part of your Lenten experience of God.
Monday, February 20, 2012
Cuando emprende un viaje a un lugar desconocido, primero, nos informamos y consultamos el mapa o el internet o nuestro teléfono celular para indicar las rutas, las salidas, y las distancias de nuestro viaje. Esta información es necesario para viajar a un destino nuevo. Pero, mas necesario aun es saber a donde se va.
Como cristianos, comenzamos nuestro viaje cuaresmal esta semana. ?Pero, sabemos en que ruta estamos? ?Sabemos a donde vamos? Algo que no esta señalado en el mapa de carreteras o por el internet es el lugar llamado tentación, y tentación es también una parte del viaje en nuestra vida de fe. Este viaje cuaresmal es el de la vuelta a la casa de nuestro Padre por la ruta de Jesús. Jesús es la carretera que nos lleva a la casa de Dios.
Jesús, también, consultó un mapa para conocer la voluntad de Dios en su vida y para hacer el camino de Dios. El Evangelio dice: “El Espíritu impulsó a Jesús a retirarse al desierto, donde permaneció cuarenta días y fue tentado por Satanás.” Como Jesús, nosotros consultamos el mapa del Espíritu, nos dejamos guiar por el Espíritu, escuchamos al Espíritu, nos purificamos con el fuego del Espíritu, y vencemos al cansancio del camino de nuestro viaje con la fuerza del Espíritu.
Jesús sufrió los ataques y las tentaciones de Satanás en su viaje hacia el Padre como cualquiera de nosotros. Jesús, como nosotros, sufrió la tiranía del cuerpo, de sus necesidades y urgencias – el hambre, el cansancio, la desilusión, el abandono. Pero, Jesús vino a enseñarnos que solo hay un Dios al que adorar y servir. El nos enseña a dejar los dioses falsos que ocupan nuestros corazones y a hacer el camino cuaresmal solo con Dios.
?Cuando no sabemos donde estamos, que mapa vamos a consultar? ?Cuando estamos tentado, a que nombre vamos a invocar? ?Cuando olvidamos de donde vamos, a quien vamos a preguntar? Dejémonos conducir por el Espíritu Santo.
Ezekiel brings forth the message of the Lord this afternoon, telling us that the Lord does not delight when a wicked man stays in his wickedness and earns punishment, but rather the Lord delights when the wicked man turns his back on his evil ways and has a change of heart. We have so many in our world today who turn their backs on the laws of God and the laws of man, who want to stay on those evil paths and who do not want to hear the voice of the Lord calling out to them. We may say that the laws of God and the laws of man are unfair, but what about the ways that we break those laws, that we give into temptation and into our evil ways?
We hear this message during the first week of Lent, because Lent in all about change our ways and turning back to God. It is hard to break old habits and to reform our lives. It is hard to break out of the chains of addictions, out of our laziness and complacency. But that is what the Lord is calling us to do. And he will rejoice when we are able to do so.
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” We hear this famous verse as a part of the Gospel reading from St Matthew this afternoon. I remember that when I was talking to the seniors at St Richard during the Lenten retreat I was giving them about the different names we have for God, one of them remarked that she did not like the image of a door, because for that person, she was envisioning a closed door that put up a barrier in reaching God. However, another person at the retreat said that they envisioned an open door that gives us access to God. Our image from the Gospel today tells us to knock at the door, for it will be opened for anyone who knocks.
Queen Esther was a Jewish girl who became a maiden at the court of the Persian king, and she eventually became Queen. Through her wisdom and courage, she thwarts a plot against the people of Israel. In our first reading, Esther prays to the Lord that she may speak his word, asking him: “Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion.” She wants to speak God’s word to the king of Persia, to be God’s holy message. Esther has great fear, since she knows that her life and the lives of many Jews in hanging on what will happen next. Yet, in the face of this adversity, she places hear faith and trust in the Lord.
Sometimes we are afraid to open the door. Sometimes, we fear what will happen next in our lives. Sometimes, it is difficult taking that first step or taking a risk. The Lord tells us to knock at the door – we have to be willing to take that chance no matter how scary it may seem.
The tale of Jonah in the Old Testament is often thought of as a children's story complete with a whale & a great adventure. In fact, as a college student, I recall attending a Sunday morning service in a Baptist church in which there was a tent fashioned into a whale at the front of the church in order to re-enact the story of Jonah. All of the children entered it in order to simulate the fantastic journey that Jonah took, & they seemed absolutely thrilled to do so.
Yet, the real message of the book of Jonah is a very adult one that gives us all an opportunity to stretch our understanding of God & his salvation. Today’s first reading tells of God's 2nd call to Jonah and his less than enthusiastic response.
God tells Jonah "to go to Nineveh, the great city." Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the nation that had destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and held the southern kingdom of Judah as a vassal state for almost one hundred years. Assyria was a brutal occupying force that forever changed Israel's future. Jonah is called out by God to go and prophesy to the capital city of Israel’s enemy.
We could berate and criticize Jonah for his little faith. However, it might be more helpful for us to identify with Jonah for a moment rather than to criticize him, to empathize with the seemingly impossible mission to which God has called him. With the tasks we are called to do in our modern world, we could consider Jonah a patron saint to whom we ask for intercessory prayers. The message we receive from our modern secular world is that we cannot make a big difference in the world, that we might as well just fall in line and make the best living we can for ourselves and our family. Our calling from God and our values may tell us we need to head East to Nineveh, but we all too often turn around, walk away, and get on the boat with Jonah as a means of escape. Perhaps we find it too difficult or too lonely to walk the way of our faith, to choose the path of faith over the ways of our secular world. And by running away, perhaps we find ourselves in the belly of the whale, or out of touch with our calling from God, or very distant from a sense of meaning and purpose.
We need to think about those things that we try to flee in our life of faith, things that we are being called to do by God, but we are scared or uninterested or just don’t have the inclination to do what God is asking us to do. This story of Jonah’s calling gives us pause to think, doesn’t it?
We hear a very short two-verse reading from the prophet Isaiah today. We hear from Isaiah a lot in the seasons of preparation of Lent and Advent, since the prophecies from this prophet often foreshadow events that will later occur in the life of Jesus. Our region of the Mississippi Delta is known for its rich farmland. And I have been told that some of the finest farmers in the entire Delta are right here in our own parish. So, our analogy in Isaiah about how the snow and the rain hit the soil so that seeds and grains will burst forth in the fields, producing bread for those who are hungry. God’s word is supposed to do the same in our lives. It is not supposed to return to God with empty promises, but rather to accomplish the purposes for which he sent it to earth.
What purpose does God have for us this Lenten season? How is God calling out to us during this holy season? What seeds are being planted in our lives? These are good questions for us today as we hear this very brief message from the prophet Isaiah. Just as we are hoping for a good planting season and harvest for our farmers this year in the Delta, we are hoping for a good Lenten season for us that will produce a bountiful harvest in our own lives.
I recently read a quote by Pope Benedict about his hope for all of the faithful during this holy season that we are now entering: “May Lent for every Christian be a renewal experience of God’s love given to us by Christ.” Those are very good words for us to hear on the first Sunday in Lent.
Lent is a season that has a very distinct identity. At the beginning of mass this morning, we did not hear one of our traditional hymns proclaiming Christ as the Light of the World, or as our Savior and Redeemer. In fact, we did not start mass with any processional music at all. Instead, we started the procession on our knees and in silence. That’s a big contrast to how we normally start mass, so right from the very beginning we know we are in a very special time of the year in our Church. We Catholics use a lot of movements and body gestures during mass, don’t we? Kneeling is very profound body posture for us in which we acknowledge that we are in the presence of the sacred and the divine, that we are involved in an act that is so very different than anything else we do in life. People in the ancient world would kneel before kings and princes, so we today kneel before the king of kings.
Yet if Lent is supposed to be a period of renewal and an experience of God’s love for us, what does it mean to be thrust into a desert, to accompany Jesus during these forty days of his journey in the wilderness? Verse 10 in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel tells us that the Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus like a dove when John the Baptist baptized him in the Jordan River. In today’s Gospel reading, just a few verse ahead of that, it is very curious that we hear about this same Spirit of God driving Jesus into the desert wilderness where Satan tempts him. Jesus was not surrounded by friends or family members in the wilderness, but rather amongst Satan, wild animals, and chaos. Yet, amongst all of that, God is still with Jesus. God sends the angels to minister to him, to be with him, to support him, to help him through this journey.
We kneel today out of humility and penance during this penitential season of Lent, emulating the humility and resource shown by the many men and women who fell to their knees in this same way in the Old and New Testaments. We kneel putting God at the center of our lives. We kneel, knowing that we have an intimate relationship with God, or knowing that we want such a relationship.
I was with Father Mike O’Brien, Father Brian Carroll, and some friends from Jackson last week for dinner, when one of them was asking me how I survived all of the malaria and the other tropical diseases I had as a missionary. They asked me why I stuck with it and why I didn’t just return home. And the Father Mike joked how while I was once surviving in the jungles of South America, and now I am surviving up in Yazoo City.
Lent is a really good time for all of us to go through each year. It doesn’t matter if we’re young or old, if this is the first Lent we’ve gone through faithfully, or if we’ve done this for decades. It doesn’t matter if we’re in Yazoo City or the jungle, or what is going on in our personal lives. Lent is 40 days accompanying Jesus in the desert wilderness – 40 days accompanying him on his way to the cross. We need this opportunity each year to examine our consciences, to look at what is going on in our lives, to see where our faith is at this very moment, to go through a conversion of heart and to be re-directed to God. And just as Jesus had the angels ministering to him on this journey, we have God’s grace and our faith community accompanying us along our journey during Lent.
If you have ever been to a desert wilderness, it might seem very stark and desolate, but there is a lot of life going on as well that might not be so obvious on the surface. One of the most beautiful places I have visited in California is Joshua Tree National Park, a massive area east of Palm Springs located in both the high and low desert region of that state. It is certainly a desert ecosystem, but there are all kinds of birds, insects, and lizards there, and I’ve even seen jack rabbits, big horn sheep, and coyotes there as well. In the desert there is all kind of life and activity going on, just like there will be a lot of movement, nudges, and activity going on in our own lives if we take our Lenten disciplines seriously and if we really try to get a lot out of our own desert experience during Lent.
So, welcome to our 40-day journey in the desert as we recognize the first Sunday of Lent. May this be a very meaningful time for all of us.
Monday, February 13, 2012
Cuando recibimos las cenizas sobre nuestra frente en la misa de hoy, escuchamos una de estas frases: “Recuerda que polvo eres y en polvo te convertirás" o “Arrepiéntete y cree en el Evangelio”. Estas frases significan que hoy comenzamos un nuevo tiempo litúrgico: la Cuaresma. Es un tiempo especial de gracia en el que Dios nos invita a vivir una conversión en nuestras vidas. Recibimos esta bendición en la misa y la imposición de las cenizas.
En sus enseñanzas en el Evangelio de hoy sobre las obras de piedad y la manera de orar, Jesús nos enseña sobre el reino de Dios. ¿Qué es el Reino de Dios? Es dejar que la voluntad de Dios se realice en la vida de cada uno de nosotros, viviendo como Dios quiere que vivamos. El Reino de Dios se nos manifiesta y se hace presente en el mundo a través de Cristo. Porque Cristo, en cada momento, realiza la voluntad de Dios. El Reino de Dios es hacer en todo momento lo que agrada a Dios y hacer siempre lo que Dios nos manda. Lamentablemente, el pecado nos apartó de la voluntad de Dios. El pecado nos lleva a hacer nuestra propia voluntad dejando a un lado la voluntad de Dios. El pecado es lo que nos aleja del Reino de Dios. Este miércoles de cenizas, Jesús nos invita a hacer presente en nuestra vida el Reino de Dios. El nos invita a abrir nuestros corazones a lo que Dios quiere y espera de nosotros.
Jesús quiere que nuestra vida se realice de acuerdo a los planes de Dios; por eso, necesitamos vivir una conversión. Conversión quiere decir “cambios” en nuestras vidas - cambios en el modo de vivir en nuestras relaciones con nosotros mismos - cambios en el modo de vivir nuestra relación con los demás, con la naturaleza, y con Dios.
Creer en el Evangelio no significa simplemente estar de acuerdo con lo que nos dice la Palabra de Dios, pero significa ponerlo en práctica; vivirlo; hacerlo vida. Una persona que dijera que cree en el Evangelio, pero que no se esforzara por vivirlo, no estaría diciendo la verdad. El camino que nos lleva a vivir el Reino de Dios, por lo tanto, es la conversión. No hay otro camino. Todos nosotros somos responsables del mal y del pecado que llena actualmente el mundo. Si queremos que las cosas cambien, necesitamos empezar a cambiar nuestra propia vida, de tal manera que el Reino de Dios se haga presente en cada uno de nosotros.
La Cuaresma que ahora comenzamos es un tiempo de gracia. Es un tiempo de salvación. Dios nos concede la oportunidad y los medios que necesitamos para emprender un cambio y una renovación en nuestra vida personal y comunitaria. Aprovechemos la ocasión que se nos presenta. San Pablo nos decía hoy en su segunda carta a los corintios: “En nombre de Cristo les pedimos que se reconcilien con Dios.” Nos recuerda que Cristo entregó su vida por nosotros. El nos quiere como verdaderos hijos y hijas de Dios. San Pablo decía también: “Como colaboradores que somos de Dios, los exhortamos a no echar su gracia en saco roto….ahora es el tiempo favorable; ahora es el día de la salvación.”
La ceremonia de la imposición de la cenizas que tenemos hoy debe ser la respuesta que nosotros demos a esa invitación a la conversión. La imposición de la cenizas significa que nosotros aceptamos la invitación que Dios nos hace a la conversión y que queremos, en serio, vivir un cambio en nuestra vida. El cambio no es para nuestro mal, sino para nuestro bien. Si vivimos de acuerdo al Evangelio, nuestra vida va a ser más plena, seremos más felices y haremos más felices a los demás. Necesitamos aprovechar de este tiempo de gracia en la Cuaresma, en este tiempo de penitencia y de renovación espiritual.
Jesús está en una casa en Cafarnaum, proclamando el reino de Dios, anunciando su mensaje. Pero, hay una supresa, hay una interrupción. Hay un grupo de amigos, y ellos están quitando una parte del techo para entrar en la casa y hablar con Jesús. Este grupo llevó su amigo, un paralítico, buscando curación en la vida de su amigo. Jesús vio la fe que este grupo de amigos tenía, y dijo al paralitico: Tus pecados quedan perdonados. Es extraño, estas palabras de Jesús, porque el paralitico está buscando una curación de su salud física, y Jesús está perdonando sus pecados.
Los pecados y las enfermedades eran inseparables en la mentalidad de la gente en la época de Jesucristo. Cualquier judío habría estado de acuerdo en que el perdón de los pecados era condición previa para la curación. Pero, para estos judíos en esta época, y para nosotros en el mundo moderno de hoy día, tal vez no entendemos que hay curación de nuestras enfermedades y nuestros problemas físicas, pero también hay curación en el nivel emocional, y psicológico, y espiritual. Hay una interacción de todos de estos aspectos de nuestra vida, de nuestro ser.
Había un choque para los escribas y los maestros de la ley, porque el perdonar de los pecados era una exclusiva de Dios. Para ellos, para escuchar estas palabras de Jesús, es la blasfemia inexcusable. Podemos venir a Dios como los escribas y los maestros de la ley, con nuestra arrogancia y nuestra propia voluntad, con nuestras ideas rígidas, o podemos venir como este grupo de amigos del paralitico, con confianza en Jesús, con la voluntad de hacer cualquiera para tener el amor y la curación de nuestro Señor en nuestra vida. Necesitamos venir a Dios con fe y con nuestras oraciones, pero no podemos quedar en los margines del mundo sin hacer nada. Necesitamos acción en nuestra vida de fe, para participar en la vida divina, para llevar esta presencia divina a todos los rincones de nuestro mundo. Necesitamos recordar que los amigos del paralitico lo llevaron a Jesús hicieron todo, con su creatividad y su tenacidad, con su constancia y insistencia. Esta actitud es importante en nuestra relación con Dios, en la obra de evangelización que debemos hacer en nuestro mundo. En verdad, vamos a encontrar los estorbos y los obstáculos en nuestra vida de fe, pero con el Espíritu Santo y nuestra fe, con la gracia de Dios, podemos avanzar en nuestro camino.
Estamos cerca de Cuaresma, cerca del miércoles de las cenizas. En estos domingos pasados, escuchamos muchos cuentos de curación en los primeros capítulos de Marcos – del la curación del hombre con un demonio en la sinagoga, de la suegra de Simón, del leproso, y del paralitico hoy día. Jesús dijo al paralitico: “Tomó su camilla y salió de allí a la vista de todos." ¿Qué debemos hacer para tener la curación de Dios en nuestra vida, para avanzar en nuestra vida de fe, para preparar en esta Cuaresma?
Sunday, February 12, 2012
In our reading from Isaiah, we hear about fasting, about repenting for our sins, in wearing sackcloth and ashes and publicly declaring our desire to repent and change our hearts. We all just received ashes on our foreheads this past Wednesday, as we were told to turn away from sin and to believe in the Gospel. Yet, what does this matter if we do not practice peace and justice in our lives? Sharing our food with the hungry, bringing the poor into our house, helping to clothe the naked – this is what the Lord asks of us in our fast, in our Lenten disciplines.
I have heard people sometimes mock our Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and good works, but they are there for a reason. They are what God desires of us. And hopefully they will work hand-in-hand to change our hearts, to change our lives, to change our actions. As we begin our Lenten season, may we find disciplines that change our lives and help us live out the values of our faith that we proclaim. May our fasting and our Lenten rituals not become hollow and empty for us. It is easy to hide behind a trite phrase or slogan – may our Lenten practice really change and convert our lives.