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Monthly Archives: February 2018

SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT

1-17 Last Sunday, we heard the trial of Jesus in the desert. In this week’s First Reading, we hear of how Abraham was put to the test. The Church has always read this story as a sign of God’s love for the world in giving His only begotten son.

In today’s Epistle, Paul uses exact words drawn from this story to describe how God, like Abraham, did not withhold His Only Son, but handed Him over for us on the Cross. The Gospel reading proclaims the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. This event is reported in each of the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This year, we hear Mark’s report of this event.

The Transfiguration occurs after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus’ prediction about his passion. In each case, Jesus takes three of his disciples—Peter, James, and John—to a high mountain. While they are there, Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus. Elijah and Moses are significant figures in the history of Israel. Moses led the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and received the Ten Commandments. In appearing with Jesus at his Transfiguration, Moses represents the Law that guides the lives of the Jewish people. Elijah is remembered as one of the most important prophets of Israel who helped the Israelites stay faithful to God. Some Jews believed that Elijah’s return would signal the coming of the Messiah for the Jewish people. The appearance of these two important figures from Israel’s history with Jesus signifies Jesus’ continuity with the Law and with the prophets and that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that was promised to the people of Israel.

On seeing Jesus with Elijah and Moses and having witnessed his Transfiguration, Peter offers to construct three tents for them. Mark reports that the disciples are terrified by what they have witnessed, and that Peter’s offer is made out of confusion. As if in reply to Peter’s confusion, a voice from heaven speaks, affirming Jesus as God’s Son and commanding the disciples to obey him. This voice from heaven recalls the voice that was heard at Jesus’ baptism.

This is who God is. We might balk at the word “consubstantial” in the translation of the Nicene Creed in the 2010 liturgical translation, but what it means is that when we listen to Jesus we listen to the very voice of God. There is no other voice of God but the voice of Jesus.

“Listening to Jesus” offers us a valuable practice as we enter this second week of Lent this year. As we listen carefully to his voice in the daily reading of the gospel we will come to know a God who calls us to deeper relationship with God’s self. As we listen carefully to his voice in the daily events of our lives we will come to know a God who is present during our lives as we go about our work, celebrate or struggle in our relationships with parents, children, spouse or friends, or as we fall and pick ourselves up repeatedly. As we listen carefully to his voice in the events of our world we come to know a God who suffers with victims of violence and injustice, who longs for a world where people treat each other as sisters and brothers, who longs for the repair of our “common home.” As we listen to Jesus we are drawn more and more into his own life.

Listening to Jesus is not a test. It is a challenge, a challenge to believe that Jesus is the sacrament of the Love and Mercy that is at the centre of Reality. But as we answer his challenge, Jesus—the true face of God—will be with us all the way. We hear the Father speak of Jesus as God’s beloved son. In the same way, in our own time of testing, God assures us that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters. Because God is for us, as Paul says in our second reading, nothing can really prevail against us. This was the promise of Jesus’ transfiguration. This is God’s promise to us.

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Posted by on February 23, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT

1-17On the first Sunday of Lent, the Gospel reading in each Lectionary cycle is about Jesus’ temptation in the desert. This year we read Mark’s account of this event. The details throughout Mark’s narrative are sparse.

The temptation of Jesus follows his baptism by John the Baptist. In Mark’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus went into the desert immediately after his baptism, led by the Spirit. Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee begins after his temptation in the desert. No polite invitation, but rather an urgent driving, almost violent force, compels him into the wilderness. The Tempter was waiting. “Prove yourself,” is the temptation. The Tempter knows that things happen in the wilderness. The wilderness is the mirror, the temptation is to look away. Jesus looks, with the voice of creation still ringing in his ear. “You are my Son, the Beloved.” The days turn to night. Night turns to day. Longing, hoping, praying. Forty days

The fact that Jesus spent 40 days in the desert is significant. Throughout the history of God, we see our spiritual ancestors spending their time wrestling with the barren places. From the call of Abraham and Sarah to the wandering of the people of Israel for forty years, the wilderness has become a place of refining and self-discovery.

But our forbearers never faced the desert alone. For forty years, God journeyed with Israel. For forty days, God watched over Noah. The prophet Elijah also journeyed in the desert for 40days and nights, making his way to Horeb, the mountain of God, where he was also attended to by an angel of the Lord. Remembering the significance of these events, we also set aside 40 days for the season of Lent. For forty days, God stood with Jesus. And for our time, God will stand with us.

During this Lenten season of fasting and focus, of praying and preparing, we are tempted to simply go through the motions. We are tempted to skirt the wilderness, to turn away from encountering the wild places in our lives and in our world. We are tempted to turn away from the mirror of the Tempter. But if we are to follow Jesus, if we are to be renewed for new possibilities and prepared to hope once more, we must face the wild.
In Mark’s Gospel, the desert marks beginning of Jesus’ battle with Satan; the ultimate test will be in Jesus’ final hours on the cross. In a similar way, our Lenten observances are only a beginning, a preparation for and a reinforcement of our ongoing struggle to resist the temptations we face in our lives. During Lent, we are led by the Holy Spirit to remember the vows of Baptism in which we promised to reject sin and to follow Jesus. Just as Jesus was ministered to by the angels, God also supports us in our struggle against sin and temptation. We succeed because Jesus conquered sin once and for all in his saving death on the cross.

God’s work begins with a pesky Holy Spirit sometimes dragging, driving, and drawing us out into the wilderness. Jesus has been there. The angels are there. His footsteps can still be found. Out in the wilderness, we are faced with many temptations. But the biggest temptation is to not enter the wilderness at all.

We need this time to renew our baptismal commitment to God and to strengthen our bonds of fidelity with God and with the people to whom we are committed. Traditional Lenten practices can help us do that: a more focused effort at personal prayer; healthy acts of self-sacrifice that awaken our hunger for God and our solidarity with the millions of hungry people in our world; the gift of our time and treasure to the poor and others in need; the commitment to work at reconciliation in strained or broken relationships.

Six weeks from now, at our celebration of Easter, we will publicly renew our baptismal vows and be blessed with the Easter water, a sign of new life in Christ. During this time of preparation, we gaze on the cross of Christ. May we see in the outstretched arms of Christ the singular sign of his love for us, his undying commitment to us. May this Lent be a season of grace for each of us, a time to renew our covenant with God and with the people to whom we are committed.

Jesus Christ is calling. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Amen.

 

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Ash Wednesday

1-19Lent moves us in quite a different direction from our culture. For most of the year we Christians follow our culture, listen to the same news, watch the same movies, read the same bestsellers. But when we come to Lent, we come to a cultural parting in the road. The Lenten journey asks a different question of us than does our pop culture. Culture asks us, “How do you look today? How do you feel today? Not too good? Well, we can change that. So, thanks to Viagra, tummy tucks, health clubs, Clairol, tax-free investments, retirement, and of course, by using Garlic tablets, we hang on to our eternity just a bit longer.

But Lent, on the other hand, just sits there like some monk, chanting Psalm 50. Asks us quite a different question: Is it well with your soul? Feeling and looking good is important. But Lent reminds us that beneath the cosmetics, the hair colouring, the nice threads, our job, salary, family, and cat, there is a soul that needs grooming and care. That beneath all the layers of our activities and commitments, and leisure and work is a soul that has been damaged by sin. The chanting in Psalm 50 this morning asks us point blank, “How is it with your soul?”

I appreciate this psalm because it is honest. Gut level honest. No beating around the bush. No gentle segues that lead us to the discovery that in some small way we might be sinners. Just gut level honesty. If we want to enter conversation with Psalm 50, we must also be honest. Honest to ourselves. Honest to God. So, Psalm 50 keeps our halos ajar, tilted downward toward the earth. It has our name on it.

The first thing that strikes me is a confession–the uses that three-letter word, “sin.” Calls it a lot of things, iniquity, sin, transgressions, doing what he calls “evil,” and death. In the Hebrew language and thought our three-letter word required eight or nine Hebrew words to completely describe it.

To sin, was to miss the bull’s eye of an archery target. King David had several Annie Oakley kinds of archers who it was said, “could fling a stone within a hair-breath of the bull’s eye, and not miss.” That image came to describe what sin was like: to miss the bull’s eye of God’s will for our lives. To fail to live up to the fullest intent of God’s plan.

Another Hebrew word for sin described it as not doing what we should’ve and doing what we should’ve. We call such sins in church language the sins of omission and the sins of commission. Such sins, it was believed, poisoned the soul, and could infect the entire community.

Yet another Hebrew word describes sin as being unfaithful to the covenant between neighbour and God. All life is upheld by covenant; when we attend a wedding, we are watching covenant making in action. When we worship on a Sunday morning, there is an unwritten covenant between God and us that we honour. To break covenant is to sin. Every time we come to that part in the Lord’s Prayer where we say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we’re praying for forgiveness of this kind of sin, for breaking our promises to God and neighbour.

Finally, the ancients had a word to describe the kind of sin that gets front-page coverage in the newspaper–deeds that are so violent, senseless, destructive, and evil and we cringe and draw back.

What’s behind all these words that describe sin? Behind all the types of sin was the belief that sin poisoned the soul from within and led to its complete destruction. Sin is chaos that mars and destroys God image within us–our soul. It threatens the order and parameters of our community and nation. And it’s lethal! The opposite of sin is contained in what we call Chicken Soup for the Soul. The belief that good actions and words will lead to good results. The power of Chicken Soup for the Soul is in the stories of warm-hearted, brave, self-giving people who, by their actions, set in motion good results. Someone is loved and that person, in turn, expresses that love to the next person.

There are three things that we can do that will empower us to nourish our soul rather than starve and fragment the soul. First, be honest to God. Remember the ashes of Lent that remind us that we are all of us sinners and in need of repair.

Secondly, remember what ashes stand for — from dust we came and to dust we shall return. So, what are we doing with our lives between the dust? Look at your life from the standpoint of dust! From the standpoint of eternity. Take a friend of mine. This person lived a tough life no doubt. Made some bad choices. Five years go, he started listening to that strange chant of Psalm 50 and now he is a Christian. A Christian who is aware of dust. He recently was given less than a year of life. So, what does he do? He enrols in college; wants to learn how to preach the gospel. Wants to give the hours that remain in his life to sharing God’s good news with others. Sometimes he makes it sometimes he’s too ill, but he reminds me of what Psalm 50 and the season of Lent says, from dust we’ve come and to dust we’ll return. So be sure that you’re spending your energies in the right places, with the right people, doing the right kinds of things.

Thirdly, Psalm 50 and the ashes of Lent remind us not only that we are sinners, that we are from and return to dust, but also that we are God’s property. God is the healer who begins to change us from the inside when any sick soul cries out for help. The Gospel doesn’t guarantee your physical well-being, or slow the aging process, but it does something much more. Our confessions and God’s forgiveness begins the healing process in our soul. Ashes in the form of the cross remind us that we’re God’s property.

So, this week take a piece of Psalm 51 — say the part where the psalmist says, “Create in me a Clean Heart O God. And pray that again and again. Make it a soaking prayer that permeates your being. Then begin to walk in newness of life that has begun. Amen.

 

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-17In today’s Gospel, we continue to hear Mark report the miraculous healings that Jesus performed in Galilee. The Gospel begins with Jesus healing a man with leprosy. Leprosy is a disfiguring, infectious skin disease that has been surrounded by many social and religious taboos throughout history. Since the 1940s, medical treatments have been available, and the patient no longer needs to be isolated once long-term treatment has begun.

In the Old Testament, leprosy is depicted as punishment for disobedience of God’s commands Considered “unclean”—unfit to worship or live with the Israelites, lepers are considered the living dead (see Numbers 12:12). Indeed, the requirements imposed on lepers in today’s First Reading—rent garments, shaven head, covered beard—are signs of death, penance, and mourning.

People with leprosy lived in isolation from the community. They were instructed to rip their clothes and to announce their presence with loud cries when moving in the community. If the sores of leprosy healed, the Law of Moses provided a purification rite that permitted the person to return to the community.

So, there’s more to the story in today’s Gospel than a miraculous healing

In today’s Gospel, the man with leprosy took the initiative, approaching Jesus and asking for healing. In doing so, the leper violated the religious customs of the day by approaching a person who was clean. His request to Jesus can be interpreted as a courageous and daring act. The confidence of the leper in Jesus’ ability to heal him is evident in the words of his request. But his words can also be read as a challenge to Jesus, asking just how far Jesus was willing to extend himself to heal someone. While healing the man, Jesus touched him, which also violated established social norms. This is an important sign of the depth of Jesus’ compassion for the man and an important statement about Jesus’ interpretation of the Law of Moses.

Although Jesus touched the leper, he did not break completely with the Law of Moses. He instructed the man not to tell anyone about the cure and told him to present himself to the priests as prescribed by the Law of Moses. The first instruction sounds nearly impossible to honour. Certainly, the man would want to share the good news of his healing, and his quick improvement would require an explanation. The second instruction honours the Law of Moses.

Mark’s Gospel tells us that after this healing, it became difficult for Jesus to travel freely. There are several possible explanations for this. There might have been concern about the repercussions of Jesus’ breach of social and religious norms. In touching the man with leprosy, Jesus made himself unclean. Mark’s narrative, however, leads to the conclusion that Jesus’ movement was hampered by his popularity. Despite his instructions, the cured man spread the word about Jesus’ healing power.

We come to know something about the humanity of Jesus. Jesus acts with a deep feeling of compassion, and he touches a leper, thereby affirming his shared humanity and incurring ritual defilement on himself. When God in Christ Jesus reaches out to heal us, it is neither from a distance nor with a bolt of disembodied power. Instead, the healing of God is a healing, a touch that requires the God of creation to bow low to embrace us in the chosen humility described in the Letter to the Philippians (2:5-11). In this sense, we see on display the full solidarity of the Word-made-flesh–a solidarity that leads Christ Jesus to take upon himself the burdens, wounds, and suffering we experience.

We pause the liturgical season of Ordinary Time this Sunday and we begin Lent, we reflect on whether and how our faith leads us to Christ. Do we have the humility to recognize our need for healing, the confidence to trust in God, and the openness to learn about who we are and who Christ is in the process?

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-17Today we continue to read from Mark’s Gospel, learning more about the ministry of Jesus. The Gospel completes a picture of Jesus’ ministry: preaching, curing the sick, driving out demons, and then moving on to continue this work in another place. Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus did this throughout Galilee.

In the 1st Century world of Jesus, sick people only had a few options. The first thing they could do was try a folk remedy. These varied and most are completely ineffective, especially with serious diseases and injuries. The second thing a sick person could do was to pay for a physician to see them. This was costly and therefore only accessible to the privileged. and was not much more effective than the folk remedies. Another option for sick people in Jesus’ world was one or many religious healing practices. With these limited and ineffective options, sickness in the ancient world changed a person’s identity.

Sick people would stand out in a village. They were often visibly scarred or marked. Being labelled a sick person led to very low status in society. The identity of a sick person in Jesus’ day also carried with it the stigma of God’s judgment, most illnesses were linked to some sin or indiscretion, rather than a scientific cause

The sick person in our Gospel reading is Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. She has a fever and is so weak that she cannot get out of her sickbed. Her condition is of concern to the disciples, and so Jesus is ushered in to see her. Jesus touches her hand with his hand. She rises at once and the fever leaves her. It is not a very dramatic scene; there is only a hand touching another hand. There is only Jesus reaching out to this sick woman. What Jesus has done for Simon’s mother-in-law, He has done for all humanity

And then we are told that she starts to serve them. She now has the strength to offer the customary hospitality to her guests. Her identity is no longer a bedridden, fevered person, but a gracious host to a visiting teacher and his disciples.
And then a horde of sick, demonized, and injured people swarm Jesus, begging for healing. What we saw happen to Simon’s mother-in-law, we see happen to a multitude in the village. Notice all the words of totality and completeness in the Gospel. The whole town gathers; all the sick are brought to Him. He drives out demons in the whole of Galilee. Everyone is looking for Christ.

Now he reaches out his hand to us. This is what Jesus does: he brings people back to wholeness and health. Jesus can bring you back to wholeness and health.

But all this healing takes a toll on Jesus; he disappears in the dark of night to pray. On these occasions of prayer, we are seldom told the content. They seem to be a conversation between the son and his father. The only time we know the content of Jesus’ private, night time prayer is in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed.

Jesus’ sense of mission empowered him to do the work God had called him to do. When he is exhausted, he goes off and prays in the night, and he comes back renewed.

Perhaps we do not so much need rest as a renewed sense of our mission and calling by God. It was how Jesus found strength, and many Christian saints through the ages found time alone with God to be renewing and refreshing.

Jesus is reaching out his hand to us today, calling us to a life filled with service and community. We too have found Him. By our baptism, He healed and raised us to live in His presence.

Like Simon’s mother-in-law, there is only one way we can thank Him for the new life He has given us. We must rise to serve Him and His gospel.

Our lives must be our thanksgiving, as Paul describes in today’s Epistle. We must tell everyone the good news, the purpose for which Jesus has come—that others, too, may have a share in this salvation.

 

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2018 in Uncategorized