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Monthly Archives: February 2016

THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT

1-7

In the Church, we are made children of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God who makes known His name and His ways to Moses in today’s First Reading.

Mindful of His covenant with Abraham (see Exodus 2:24), God came down to rescue His people from the slave-drivers of Egypt. Faithful to that same covenant (see Luke 1:54-55, 72-73), He sent Jesus to redeem all lives from destruction, as today’s Psalm tells us.

Paul says in today’s Epistle that God’s saving deeds in the Exodus were written down for the Church, intended as a prelude and foreshadowing of our own Baptism by water, our liberation from sin, our feeding with spiritual food and drink.

Yet the events of the Exodus were also given as a “warning” – that being children of Abraham is no guarantee that we will reach the promised land of our salvation.

At any moment, Jesus warns in today’s Gospel, we could perish – not as God’s punishment for being “greater sinners” – but because, like the Israelites in the wilderness, we stumble into evil desires, fall into grumbling, forget all His benefits.

Jesus calls us today to “repentance” – not a one-time change of heart, but an ongoing, daily transformation of our lives. “unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” Referring to the tragedies current in those days

God made us in love and gave us free will, freedom to choose how to respond, how to act. Jesus says don’t be distracted by looking at what happened to someone else. Instead, look at yourself – while you still have time.

Jesus refuses to get caught up in the question of whether or not what someone else is doing, or why things happen to them and instead asks another question: What in your life needs repenting, acknowledging, and turning around? What needs to be turned over to God? What needs to be forgiven?

Things will happen. And while the gift of earthly life is still ours, we need to ask ourselves, how is our relationship with God? Do we love our neighbours as ourselves? Are we relieving the suffering of others or just pointing our fingers at them and trying to connect the dots between their suffering and sin?

Our own repentance is the issue, because deserving isn’t. The scandal at the heart of our faith is that God already loves us; that God doesn’t need a ledger or tally sheet because we don’t do anything to deserve God’s love. We have no favour to earn, because God already sees us as God’s beloved ones. All we have to do is live and explore the amazing mystery of our acceptance. We can’t lose God’s favour and make bad things happen to us because we don’t earn God’s favour in the first place.

Life is short. Don’t be distracted by the wrong questions. And don’t be disappointed if Jesus asks you to love God more than you love answers. Because Jesus will do that. When people asked him questions he often responded not with an answer, but with a story. Like he did in the next part of the Gospel lesson.

A man planted a fig tree. The fig tree in His parable is a familiar Old Testament symbol for Israel. The fig tree used up a lot of nutrients but didn’t produce any figs. “Why should I let this do-nothing fig tree use up good soil?” asked the man. “Cut it down.” But the gardener replies, “Let it be for one more year. I will do everything I can for it. If it bears fruit, great! If not, cut it down.”

The gardener in this story is not efficient, practical, or exercising his authority to do what’s most logical. He’s going to waste more nutrients, efforts, and space on a tree that doesn’t show any signs of producing figs.
Does the fig tree deserve it?

That’s not the question. It’s just a story about a fig tree and an extravagant gardener who should remind us of another gardener from way back in the beginning, who just couldn’t help it when he picked up some dirt. God just had to form it into a human and breathe life into it. God just had to make it into someone to love, someone who would be free to choose to love in return. Maybe we can hear this gardener at work in our own lives, saying, “Wait. Give me another year. I’ll do all that I can to nurture this tree.”

Lent should be for us like the season of reprieve given to the fig tree, a grace period in which we let “the gardener,” Christ, cultivate our hearts, uprooting what chokes the divine life in us, strengthening us to bear fruits that will last into eternity. God will always give us another chance. But will we give God a chance?

 

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Posted by on February 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT

1-7

LUKE 9:28b-36    KEY VERSE: Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (v 35).

What we choose to listen to depends on our taste and mood. We select music and programming that we find enjoyable. That is especially true when it comes to talk programs. We generally choose programs where the opinions and views of the hosts and their guests are in line with our own. We tend to listen to people who reinforce and support what we believe.

In this Sunday’s Gospel St Luke tells us that Jesus summons Peter, James, and John to the mountaintop. We recall that just a few verses earlier in chapter 9, Jesus tells the disciples that he must undergo great suffering, be rejected, killed, and then rise from the dead.

“If any want to become my followers,” Jesus says, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” As Peter, James, and John journey with Jesus to the mountaintop, they are forced to come to grips with the truth that Jesus, their friend and leader, must suffer and die!

When they reach the top of the mountain, the Gospel tells us that Jesus was transfigured before them and Moses and Elijah appeared. As the disciples beheld their Lord, they realized that they were in the very presence of God. But even in this incredible moment of divine transfiguration, Peter could not forget what Jesus had told them before they came to the mountain.

“Master, it is good for us to be here,” Peter petitions, “Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

At some level, most of us can’t help but sympathize with Peter. Who among us would knowingly submit our self or our loved ones to pain and suffering? Peter’s efforts to protect Jesus are undoubtedly acts of love and devotion – but they are also acts couched in Peter and the disciples’ need for safety and security. They had seen a glimpse of God’s glory in the face of Jesus, and they wanted desperately to hold onto it, to protect it.

But the moment that Peter gets into cahoots with James and John to try and hold onto and protect Jesus, is the moment that a voice from above breaks in, proclaiming: “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!”

And notice what happens next: As the disciples came down from the mountaintop, they didn’t rush into the closest town and tell the first person they saw about what they had just witnessed. They didn’t wait until Jesus wasn’t looking to talk about it. And they didn’t take to Social Media with the news. Luke’s Gospel tells us that they “told no one any of the things they had seen.”

Although most biblical scholars interpret the disciples’ silence as a mark of fear over what they had seen and heard—which is certainly a plausible explanation—perhaps there’s more than one dimension here. What if the disciples’ silence allowed them to be obedient to God’s command?

The disciples had heard God say, “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!” So instead of running and telling the world what they had seen on the mountain, what if they chose instead to obey; to be silent so they could listen?

In a world bustling with noise and chaos, where words and rhetoric are shouted with impunity, stirring up fear and angst, perhaps this is the word from the Lord that we need to hear.

Amidst all of the joys and heartbreaks of the world; in the face of all of the delight and despair that surrounds us; and despite all of the things we know and can never know, God beckons us, ever so gently: Listen.

Imagine for a moment, what the world might look like if we listened—not in preparation to respond, but in order to understand.

What might our politics look like if we listened more and argued less? What might our schools look like if we taught our children how to listen as intently and deliberately as we taught them how to speak and to write? And what might our churches look like if we listened intently for the voice of God from those who differ from us?

As our Lenten journey continues, and the world presses in with voices of despair clanging in our ears, may we remember how to listen. For it is in listening that we truly hear one another.

This time of Lent challenges each of us to consider how well we are listening. And it is in listening that we hear the voice of God.

 

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT

1-7

LUKE 4:1-13 KEY VERSE: “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve” (v.8).

It is the first Sunday in Lent and it seems as if Christmas was just a few weeks ago. During Christmas, we were faced with the incarnation and its meaning: God entered our humanity in a specific place, at a designated time, in the form of a particular man – Jesus of Nazareth.

Then Epiphany arrived and we watched the reality of Incarnation acknowledged by the wise of this world, the magi. We stood in as Jesus emerged from the waters of the river to hear the words that would set him apart while at the same time plunging him into the sufferings and joys of daily living: the words uttered at his baptism, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Now, we enter Lent with a strong awareness of the incarnation, of the full humanity of Jesus, He goes to the wilderness to think upon these words and their meaning, as they would affect the rest of his life.

So, like Israel Jesus has passed through water, been called God’s beloved Son (see Luke 3:22; Exodus 4:22). Now, as Israel was tested for forty years in the wilderness, Jesus is led into the desert to be tested for forty days and nights (see Exodus 15:25).
We don’t know exactly what span of time forty days actually means because this number is so common in the writings of the times and so imbedded in the Hebrew stories. Obviously, it was a considerable span of fasting and of profound thinking and wrestling. The evangelist tells us that at the end of the fasting period he was “hungry.”

In that weakened state the devil first tempts Jesus to prove himself by performing a miracle to satisfy his own needs. In response Jesus, says that “It is written: One does not live on bread alone.” Jesus teaches us that the gnawing hunger within us cannot be satisfied by any physical thing. We have a deeper hunger within us that yearns for a loving relationship with God, with the God who created us for himself.

In the second temptation, the devil tempts Jesus by promising him worldly power and glory if only Jesus would put the devil before his relationship with God. In response Jesus says “It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” Jesus proclaims that a relationship with God is of greater value than all the power and glory this passing world can offer. Having a place in God’s heart outweighs any position or status in society.

Finally, in the third temptation, the devil challenges Jesus to demonstrate his special relationship as the Son of God by hurling himself down from the wall of the Temple. Jesus answers the devil by replying that scripture says, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Jesus shows us that we are to live with trust in God’s loving care. Such trust does not demand that God pass any tests that we creatures might require before we love him in return.

Both Matthew and Luke agree that when, finally, the terrible temptations were finished and the tempter left him alone he did so only for a while. “to return at the appointed time.,” Luke writes. Because of the incarnation, Jesus would be tempted again. There is that heart-breaking time when Peter tries to dissuade him from following the road that would lead to his death. After all, the tradition did not say anything about Messiah suffering and dying! But Jesus hears in Peter’s rebuke, the echo of Satan’s temptation: “I have the authority, I will give it to you.” Once again Jesus turns away from the temptation, and from his good friend, knowing that his own way of obedience to God would lead to his early death.

This is how the season of Lent begins, with the victory of Jesus over temptation. The knowledge that he belongs to God and to God alone keeps him from succumbing to any thought that he has that he might rely on his own powers alone. The knowledge of Scriptures, of the words of the Lord, as Jesus describes them, becomes a shield to protect him from the meddling of the tempter. Jesus’ connection is never torn because, in prayer, he always turns to God.

Lent is to teach us what we hear over and over in today’s readings. “Call upon me, and I will answer,” the Lord promises in today’s Psalm. Paul promises the same thing in today’s Epistle (quoting Deuteronomy 30:14; Isaiah 28:16; Joel 2:32).

This was Israel’s experience, as Moses reminds his people in today’s First Reading: “We cried to the Lord…and He heard.”

We’re going to receive Jesus in the Eucharist in a few moments. Comfort and esteem and success can never fill our hearts. Only God can. Let’s ask Jesus to help us to choose God above anything else.

Let us bring our whole selves and deepen our trusting relationship with God this Lenten season.

 

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-16

Suppose you lived in an isolated land where no adult grew beyond 4 feet in height. Would you consider yourself as being short?

Suppose you grew up in an area where everyone was nearsighted and had to wear glasses to see distant objects. Would you believe you had poor vision?

In each case, the answer would be “no.”

We only think of ourselves as short when we are in the presence of people who are taller than we are We only imagine we might have less than 20/20 vision when we realize that there are people who can easily see distant objects without wearing glasses or contact lenses.

The same thing it true when it comes to being aware of our sinfulness our calling and our need for God’s mercy. We become aware of our sins and failings when we are in the presence of good people. A person, for example, who grows up associating only with thieves will hardly think it wrong to steal.

If being in the presence of good people makes us aware of our failings, how much more so does being in the presence of God who is all good and all holy.

In this Sunday’s readings, we meet three people who are dramatically made aware of their sinfulness when they come in contact with goodness itself, when they come in contact with God, and are called by God despite of their lack of being worthy

In the First Reading (Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8), the prophet Isaiah has a vision of God seated on his royal throne surrounded by angels proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” In response, Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips.” Isaiah realizes his unworthiness before God.

In the Second Reading (1 Corinthians 15:1-11), Saint Paul speaks of himself as “the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle.” Paul’s encounter with the Lord on the road to Damascus completely changed Paul’s understanding of himself. He was not doing good as he imagined, but rather in persecuting the followers of Christ he was opposing God himself.

In the Gospel (Luke 5:1-11), Simon Peter allows Jesus to use his boat as a floating pulpit, and then at the instruction of Jesus he rows out from shore, lowers his nets, and catches an amazing number of fish. What happens leads Peter to realize that he is in the presence of more than an itinerant rabbi. Simon Peter cries out, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Simon Peter, the fisherman, is the first to be called personally by Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. His calling resembles Isaiah’s commissioning in the First Reading: Confronted with the holiness of the Lord, both Peter and Isaiah are overwhelmed by a sense of their sinfulness and inadequacy. Yet each experiences the Lord’s forgiveness and is sent to preach the good news of His mercy to the world.

No one is “fit to be called an apostle,” Paul recognizes in today’s Epistle. But by “the grace of God,” even a persecutor of the Church—as Paul once was—can be lifted up for the Lord’s service.

In the Old Testament, humanity was unfit for the divine—no man could stand in God’s presence and live (see Exodus 33:20). But in Jesus, we’re made able to speak with Him face-to-face, taste His Word on our tongue.

God’s Word comes to us as it came to Peter, Paul, Isaiah, and today’s Psalmist— as a personal call to leave everything and follow Him, to surrender our weaknesses in order to be filled with His strength.

Simon put out into deep waters even though, as a professional fisherman, he knew it would be foolhardy to expect to catch anything. In humbling himself before the Lord’s command, he was exalted—his nets filled to overflowing.

These readings that are proclaimed this Sunday before Ash Wednesday are a perfect preparation for Lent. They challenge us to look at ourselves not in comparison to other imperfect people, but rather to look at ourselves in relationship to our good and holy God. When we do that we will realize that like Isaiah, Paul, and Peter, we are unworthy and sinful. Like them, we are in need of God’s mercy and grace.

We are in need of this coming season of Lent to turn from sin and to grow in holiness!

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2016 in Uncategorized