Sunday, February 28, 2021

Second Sunday of Lent

A few recent foggy mornings reminded me of this story about a ship captain who saw what looked like the lights of a ship heading toward him. He signaled: “Change your course 10 degrees south.” A reply came: “Change your course 10 degrees
north.” The captain answered: “I’m a captain. Change course.” To which the reply was: “I am a seaman. Change course.”

The infuriated captain signaled: “Change your course. I’m on a battleship!” The reply: “Change your course. I’m in a lighthouse.”

As we journey through Lent, and life, let Jesus be our lighthouse. 

 Last Sunday in the Gospel, we were in the wilderness where Jesus faced down the devil. Jesus challenges us to have our priorities straight: God, service to others, generosity.

This week, we're on a mountaintop in the presence of God. The earthly Jesus is transfigured into a heavenly Jesus and a voice from heaven proclaims: “Listen to him.”

Lent is a time to affirm our faith in the good news that Jesus is alive. And because he lives, we live, especially through the sacramental signs of our world-wide faith community: water in baptism, bread and wine in the Eucharist, oil in confirmation and the anointing of the sick.

The word of God also takes us back almost 4,000 years: to Abraham, whose call is a watershed in the history of our salvation. God puts Abraham to the test: sacrifice your only son. We may wonder: what kind of God would ask such a thing? But Abraham has committed himself completely to God. And for his trust, God spares Isaac and promises Abraham countless blessings.

Paul in his letter to the Christian community in Rome invites us to be men and women of courage. God sent his only Son into our midst—the Word become flesh—and this Jesus through his death and resurrection re-established our relationship as adopted sons and daughters of God our Father. Paul urges us to persevere so God can transform us.

In the Gospel according to Mark, the disciples experienced the transfiguration of Jesus; they saw the unique and awesome presence of God in Jesus. As the scriptures describe this experience, the face of Jesus became as “dazzling as the sun,” his clothes as “white as light,” an allusion to the white cloth at baptism. The disciples saw a vision of the “glorious” Jesus, beyond the Jesus of flesh and blood in everyday life.

 Yes, God's ultimate aim is to transform us into the likeness of the “glorious” Jesus.  This transformation has already begun in us through baptism in which we have become “new creatures.”

 And just as Jesus became a transformative person ushering in the kingdom of God, Jesus calls us to become transformative people as well.

 We, as co-workers with God, have to do our best to transform hate into peace, to transform indifference into compassion, to transform unfairness and prejudice into fairness and tolerance; sorrow to joy, despair to hope. Yes, transform self-centeredness to other-centeredness, so that God can transfigure us.  


Sunday, February 21, 2021

First Sunday of Lent

Our Florida weather has been getting a bit balmy, so it's hard to realize other states are struggling with snowstorms.

 And I don’t know about you, but I have been reading signs more carefully. Here are two that made me stop and think:

         In an office:

         After tea/coffee break, empty the pots and stand upside down on the drain board.

         Outside a thrift shop:

         We exchange anything—bicycles, appliances, etc. Bring your husband or wife and get a bargain!

         Did I read these signs right?!

         Last Wednesday, we began our Lenten journey from Ashes to Easter. Lent is a time to renew ourselves, a time for a change of heart: to become more aware of God’s presence in our daily life; and to pay closer attention to the needs of one another.

         In the Gospel passage, Jesus is in the wilderness for 40 days, where he overcomes dark or evil forces of human existence, and then begins his public ministry of preaching that the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the Good News.

         My good friends, this Lenten season let us examine the course or direction of our own lives. Are we on the right track? Do we have our priorities straight? If we’re a bit off course, how can we get back in the groove?

The Church offers three Lenten practices to help us steer in the right direction: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Let's treat ourselves to these three ages-old disciplines of our Christian/Catholic community.

       Yes, re-treat ourselves to prayer. Prayer is an awareness of our        absolute dependency upon God, a grateful response to God for our fragile lives. Prayer simply brings to consciousness the   presence of God that is already around us and within us. Now there are many approaches to prayer: like the Our Father, the Eucharistic liturgy, and prayers of silence or petition. All of these approaches are windows or pathways into the presence         of God.

            Second, re-treat ourselves to fasting. Fasting and almsgiving are Gospel twins. Foregoing food can enable the hungry to eat. Our Lenten fast can also mean doing without anger, impatience, selfishness, negative judgments about others, excessive alcohol and addictions of one kind or another. Yes, doing without whatever prevents us from living a life of discipleship with Jesus.

            And finally almsgiving. In early Christianity there were no government agencies to provide assistance to the needy. Almsgiving was seen as an essential addition to prayer and fasting, not only in Lent, but every day. Let's re-treat ourselves to sharing what we have with others. Share our time – stay in touch with friends and loved ones, the sick, people all alone. Share our talents by volunteering wherever we can. Share our resources with needy people: how about Catholic Relief Services or St. Vincent de Paul or Catholic Charities. Share ourselves – smile more often and let others know that we want them to share our joy.

            So I invite all of us to re-discover and re-treat ourselves to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, to refocus during these forty days on what truly matters in life: our relationship with God and our fellow human beings.

   Have a blessed Lent.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Happy Valentine’s Day.

In the Gospel according to Mark, a person with a disease begs Jesus to restore him to health. This man was not supposed to be around people. He’s isolated…unable to live with his family, or work, or attend religious services…rejected. Yet he chooses to face yet another rejection by approaching Jesus. And Jesus, “moved with pity,” heals him. Jesus goes on to say: “Tell no one” -- the so-called Messianic secret.

The highlight for me is this: the prayer was answered. Sometimes our prayers are answered. More often, they’re not, at least not the way we want. Indeed, we sometimes receive a no, and later realize that some good came out of that “no.”  

We may pray to God for one thing or another, and we sense silence. We may even feel like giving up on God; or we may start thinking negatively about ourselves. What to do?

Let us pray not to succumb to negative feelings, but to rise above those feelings by reflecting on certain faith themes. Let's:


      Re-examine our image of God. Some think of God only as a judge. But the bible offers a collage of God-images. God is a walking companion in Genesis, a passionate debater in the Book of Job, an anxious parent and a comforting mother in Isaiah, a prodigal father in the Gospels. God is our ever-faithful companion.

    Remember God’s providence and care for us. Yes, count our blessings. How often the ancient Hebrews forgot the wonders God worked for them. Like a skilled pickpocket, God is present in many different ways and we don’t know except by the evidence afterward. Our faith says God is with us always.

       Know that you are in good company. Many others have known the silence of God. Job in his misfortunes. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The point is: keep praying. Because God is God. God’s ultimate purpose is for us to be like God, to see God face to face. God is our all-mighty creator, ultimately in charge; we are simply his creatures, marvelously created out of nothingness.

       So, as we think of the leper whose prayer was answered, and as we think about our own prayers and relationship with God, remember God’s blessings and God’s continuing care for us. 

The great 16th century saint Teresa of Avila, declared a Doctor of the Church, gives us this perspective: 

Let nothing disturb you;

Let nothing dismay you;

all things pass;

God never changes;

Patience gains everything;

they who have God

lack nothing:

God alone suffices.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A quick question: how many will be watching the Super Bowl? I say, go Bucs. Now if you don’t like football, consider the advice of humorist Andy Rooney: find something you
don't like about one team -- say, the color of their uniform -- and cheer for the other team. It will make things more interesting for you. I definitely will enjoy the ads.

In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus makes a house call to Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus heals her. Townspeople suddenly appear at the house, with their sick ones. Jesus works signs and healings and exorcisms that signal the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.

Now imagine if we were at Capernaum that day; what so called demon or addiction or character flaw (e.g., greed, lying, prejudice, alcohol or drugs) would we ask Jesus to drive out of us?

The Risen Christ, by virtue of the waters of baptism, empowers each of us to choose our better self: to give our time and talent for others. That is what our baptismal calling is all about. Every one of us has gifts or talents that can empower or “build up” other people.

It often seems our culture is celebrity-driven, but celebrities -- like Tom Brady -- are not the only people with talents. You and I have special gifts or talents by virtue of our baptism.

Within Christian life there are many splendid vocations or callings. Father or mother, teacher or student, doctor or lawyer, business person or artist, whoever you are, you have a specific calling: to give your time and talents for others, to take a stand by doing the right thing, especially by being an example of such a lifestyle. We possess the power to believe, to hope and to love. 

And what makes us a missionary disciple of Jesus is the Spirit of God within us. Oh, personality can be a blessing. But more importantly the Spirit of God works through us as we are. The Spirit illumines our mind to know the way we should behave, and strengthens us to behave in that way despite obstacles. The Spirit gives us gifts: “love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and discipline.”

That Spirit empowers us to help others become more human, more godlike, in our relationships with other people. 

          Here's a little reflection or prayer I found that sums up some of these thoughts about meaning and purpose: 

Fortunate are the persons,

Who in this life can find,

A purpose that can fill their days

And goals to fill their mind.

For in this world there is a need,

For those who’ll lead the rest,

To rise above the “average’ life,

By giving of their best!

Will you be one, who dares to try

When challenged by the task,

To rise to heights you’ve never seen,

Or is that too much to ask? 

          May each of us realize that the purpose in life is to make a difference for the better by giving our best in service to one another, by always seeking the greater common good.