HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT,© MARCH 31ST, 2019:
Today’s readings tell us about God giving us newness of life. Quite frankly, the readings today are beautiful.
The first reading from Joshua tells us that God has removed the reproach of Egypt from Israel. That reproach was Israel’s slavery in Egypt. God has ended an era for the Israelites. The Exodus is over. God has led the Israelites into the Promised Land. This period of God’s deliverance concludes. They celebrate the Passover. The next day, the people eat of the produce of the land. So therefore, the manna ceases. It is not needed anymore. This is the end of an era. It is the beginning of a new era: the Israelites will now live in the Promised Land, free of slavery and reproach. God has kept His promise. The Israelites can trust Him completely. Today’s psalm, Psalm 34, is a thanksgiving psalm. The theme is God’s saving power and the fact that God watches over those who trust completely in Him.
St. Paul writes in his Second Letter to the Corinthians that God reverses human standards. God REVERSES them. God MAKES SOMETHING NEW: St. Paul himself. St. Paul has a new conviction. It is that since Christ died, all have died to sin, to self-seeking, and to self-aggrandizement. He tells the Corinthians that Christ’s death for our sins was also a promise that with Him, all will be truly raised up. There is something new: newness of life. It is Christ’s resurrection which provides this new perspective. This is a godly vision which restores all things. So St. Paul tells the Corinthians that we need to see things differently since Christ’s resurrection. Everything is new in Jesus Christ. There are new priorities. All that matters is that one is created anew, reborn. God can recreate us. That is the effect of grace upon our souls. God has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ. Furthermore, God, in Christ, has overcome the obstacle to our sinfulness. God can and does forgive us of our sins against Him. He reconciles Himself to us through Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross. So now, we can become partners in this ministry of reconciliation. So St. Paul tells the Corinthians (and us today) that all who are in Christ are sent into the world with a new message: “Be reconciled.” St. Paul writes this: God has made the sinless Jesus Christ sin so that redemption could penetrate the darkest, most forbidding, isolated, and inhuman part of our human existence. God did this to bring us into holiness. All of this is truly something new, a new life because of Jesus’s sacrifice, coming on Good Friday. On that day, God allowed His Only Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer a punishment fit only for sinners, and in that sense, made Christ a sinner. God did that for us, to reconcile us to Him.
Jesus tells us the beautiful parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus’s parable draws us into God’s world. We are to see and to act as God would. Jesus shows us the breath-taking acceptance available in God’s kingdom. The story is not about the prodigal son. The story is about the father’s love for his two sons. The younger son demands his inheritance. Then he cuts ties with his family, with no regrets. There is no hope of return. Then calamity strikes. He ends up lower than the swine. The swine eat. He doesn’t. He can’t. So he comes to his senses and offers to return to his father as a hired servant. He rehearses his speech. But his father still loves him! He runs to meet his son and he immediately restores dignity to him. The father accepts his wayward son with no thought of recrimination. The son is alive. The son himself is more important than anything he has done. That is a new perspective. Then the father goes out to bring in the elder son. He loves both sons and wants them both to be happy, together. The elder son is trapped in his self-righteousness. He cannot see beyond propriety. The father acknowledges the loyalty of this elder son but he says that is beyond the point. What is happening is much more important: A son and a brother has returned from the dead. He is lost and has been found. Everything else fades in importance. What is important is reunion. This is something new. God is astonishingly kind to man’s frail nature. God’s mercy even anticipates the sinner’s repentance and pursues him to render him worthy of forgiveness and new life. This is indeed something new: newness of life. One era is over and a new one begins.
Jesus shows us in this parable the joy which overflows from God His Father’s heart when He wins back one of His children by repentance. Publicans and sinners draw near to Jesus to hear Him. Jesus speaks this parable to answer the Scribes’ and Pharisees’ complaints against the familiar friendliness He shows sinners. Jesus speaks this parable to inspire confidence in sinners to approach God for forgiveness, love, and mercy. Jesus speaks this parable also to those friends of God who, themselves, do not realize the fathomless depth of God’s mercy to sinners.
There is one more thing. All of this leads up to Easter Sunday. But the Roman Catholic Church, Holy Mother Church, in her infinite wisdom, has established the first Sunday after Easter Sunday as Divine Mercy Sunday. All of us can seek His mercy. All of us can receive this newness of life.
Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent ©, March 24th, 2019:
The readings today give us a very good description of the God who loves us so much. God is holy. In the first reading from Deuteronomy, God tells Moses “Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground”(Deut 3:5). God’s presence alone makes the ground holy. God is also actively concerned. God tells Moses “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering”(Deut 3:7). Another characteristic is that this God reveals Himself. Moses notices the burning bush. He was simply tending sheep when God called him. God is also compassionate. He watches closely, lovingly. God’s name reveals being. God being means active participation and involvement. Yahweh will act on behalf of His people. He also forgives and protects. God is faithful to those who are faithful to His covenant. He is also just.
The Psalm tells us how we should react to this loving God. We ought to bless the Lord with our very souls. We ought to bless his holy name (Ps 103:1). We ought to pay God respectful conduct.
St. Paul also gives us directions on how to act towards our loving God. He tells the Corinthians to be careful and fervent. Always hold onto our love for Jesus Christ and the state of sanctifying grace in our souls. In other words, guard against complacency. St. Paul writes: “Therefore whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall”(1Cor 10:12). Complacency is defined as “secure satisfaction with oneself and one’s lot.” That is a dangerous place to be. St. Paul warns the Corinthians to avoid idolatry. He says don’t be so smug that you think you can participate in idolatry and keep your blessed relationship with Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells the Corinthians about the Israelites during the Exodus. He says they rebelled and God punished them. St. Paul tells the Corinthians to learn from Israel’s mistakes. God led them through the Red Sea and gave them manna. These acts are blessings which show God’s active involvement in His care for His people. But God punished them because they worshipped idols, turned away from God, and grumbled against Him. St. Paul says their story is in Sacred Scripture as an example of people not to follow, imitate. He tells the Corinthians that they have received superior blessings to the Israelites. They have received the sacraments of this Church. So he tells them to not be complacent, overconfident, and complacent in the face of anything connected with idolatry. Then, St. Paul intensifies his warning to the Corinthians. St. Paul tells them that God delivered all the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. But most of them perished in the desert. God destroyed them in His wrath because they decided to serve false gods instead of Him. The Scriptures show the Israelites as examples to avoid.
Jesus shows that God His Father is slow to anger. But Jesus Christ in today’s gospel encourages repentance from sin. Jesus wants us to repent now. Jesus requires decision and reform from us. He says in the present age, neither disaster nor good fortune indicates a man’s spiritual state. But those who are evil will certainly experience disaster in the coming judgment. Jesus tells those people in today’s gospel the parable of the fig tree. He says “But I tell you, if you do not repent (now), you will all perish as they did”(Lk 13:5). Jesus says now is the time to produce fruit/evidence of a life dedicated to God. The time might even be extended as it was for the fig tree. But ultimately, God’s judgment will come. So Jesus urges immediate repentance. He says to ignore, neglect, or reject His call to repentance is to invite disaster. Holy Mother Church, in her infinite wisdom, has even set aside time for us to do that. It is called Lent. This is a time of grace and prayer for each of us individually and collectively. It is given to us because God is slow to anger and of great kindness. But we must guard against complacency. Complacency hardens our hearts and makes us unresponsive to God’s grace. So, do you really want to know why this Church requires you to fast, pray, and give alms? It is to guard against complacency. It is to prompt us to repent immediately. It is to love Jesus unreservedly. It is to bring us close to Him and to keep us there.
Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent ©, March 17th, 2019:
Today’s readings deal with transformation. “Transformation” is defined as “to change in composition or structure” or “to change the outward form or appearance of” or “to change in character or condition.” All three of those definitions fit. To “transfigure” means “to change the form or appearance of” and “to exalt or glorify.” Those definitions fit too.
The reading from Genesis shows God promising Abram descendants and land. Remember last week’s reading from Deuteronomy. Abram is the wandering Aramean, and ancestor of the Jews who receives the land God promises him in today’s reading. Abram is old and childless. God promises him descendants as numerous as the stars. It says that “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness”(Gen 15:6). So we can see from this reading that Abram now has complete trust in the Lord and he is righteous. These are two attributes that we can identify in Abram because of what his reaction to God’s promise is. From there Abram trusts Yahweh completely and moves beyond his anxiety and doubts. Abram’s total reliance on Yahweh puts him in right relationship with Yahweh. Yahweh promises Abram a son who will be his heir. This heir will be the biological son of Abram and Sara. His name is Isaac. The Lord enters into a covenant with Abram to make it happen. Yahweh will do what He promises to do. Psalm 27 describes the type of faith and trust Abram has placed in God and His promise.
St. Paul also encourages the Philippians to transform themselves in the Christian life they live. St. Paul tells them that their citizenship is in heaven. They await their Savior, Jesus Christ, who will come in glory as our Savior from heaven. St. Paul tells the Philippians to imitate him and others in the community who live like he does. He models his own life after Jesus Christ so he appeals to the Philippians to follow his example. Conform your lives after Jesus by conforming your lives after fellow Catholics who also conform themselves to Jesus. We have many models to choose from. They’re called saints. That’s why we have them. That’s why we remember them. That’s why we venerate them. That’s why we must imitate them and their love for Jesus.
St. Paul also tells why he wants the Philippians to imitate him and conform themselves to Christ. They must stand firm to withstand those who are enemies to Christ. He does not want them to give way to their opponents, who attack and deride their Christian faith, and pursue their own worldly pleasures. St. Paul says those enemies hold themselves back from heaven and hasten their own doom. Then St. Paul says that when Jesus comes again on the last day, He will change our bodies and glorify and immortalize them. They/we will have bodies like Christ’s.
Jesus Himself is transformed, transfigured. It happens as He is praying, in front of Peter, James, and John. Jesus Himself trusts God His Father. Jesus will do His Father’s will, which is to suffer, to be rejected by God’s Chosen People, to die on a Cross, and to rise on the third day. Then Jesus will be glorified but only after His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. God the Father calls Jesus “my chosen Son” and then says to us, “listen to Him”(Luke 9:35). God the Father tells us who to listen to and who to imitate so that we are transformed and transfigured too: Jesus Christ, His Words, His teachings in His Church, this one, the Roman Catholic Church. Jesus must be followed just as the Israelites once followed Moses.
We take from this our own promise to obey Jesus and be transformed into images of Him, by Him. Why? For our salvation, of course. But also to remember who we are, and who we pledge our allegiance and love to. We do that to Jesus, by being here and by stating our belief in the creed we will pray and recite next.
Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, ©, March 10, 2019:
This first Sunday of Lent, may we remember who we are. We need to remember who we are because there is still a little bit of the devil within me. Lent is our time to get rid of whatever bit of the devil remains in us. We do that by overcoming sin in our lives. So, how do we do that? Today’s Bible readings help us.
From the first reading from Deuteronomy, the Israelites conducted a ritual to thank God for His blessings of land and freedom. There is a creed in that ritual that the Old Testament Jews recited to remember who they were: “My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien. But there he became a nation great, strong, and numerous. When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us,…we cried to the Lord,…He brought us out of Egypt…bringing us into this country, he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey”(Deut 26:5-9). The Israelites sinned when they forgot who they were and what God had done for them. They forgot the greatest miracle in the Old Testament, the Exodus, and sinned. We do the same. We forget the central belief in our creed, that Jesus Christ died and rose for us. Then, we sin. Lent is a time for us to remember Jesus’s passion and death, so that remembering, we repent of sin. Then, when we celebrate the central belief of our creed, the resurrection of Jesus during the Easter vigil, we will have died to sin and risen to new life with Jesus Christ. The core of this reading from Deuteronomy is the Israelite making an annual offering before the Lord. The worshipers remember their origin as a people without land or freedom. They are now free to give a tithe to the Lord only because God freed their ancestors from the Egyptians, then gave them a bountiful harvest and land as their new home. This was part of a tithing ritual in the Temple. After this ritual, the entire group assembled by this successful farmer celebrated God’s bountiful love by sharing a meal. That should ring a bell for us: the liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Make it your top priority this Lent to come to Sunday Mass, to confess your sins, and to receive Jesus bodily in Eucharist. That is a successful formula to help us to overcome sin.
St. Paul writes to the Romans that Jesus Christ is the end of the Law. Faith in Him is the righteousness that counts. Jesus Christ has come to us, has died, and risen from the dead. God’s salvation is available in Jesus Christ. St. Paul emphasizes that no one who places faith in Jesus will be cheated or confounded. Placing faith in Jesus Christ is us remembering who we are, placing our faith in this central creed. It is important to recognize and declare Jesus Christ as Lord, a phrase very likely borrowed from early church worship. We remember who we are and what Jesus Christ has done for us by coming here, to the Sunday Mass.
Finally, in today’s gospel from St. Luke, Jesus is tempted in the desert. Jesus’s forty days in the desert are meant to parallel Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus. It was a time of testing and failure by the Israelites. It was a time of testing and remaining faithful to the Father by Jesus. By allegory, Jesus goes into the wilderness of the desert to rescue man from his exile in sin. Christ wrests man from Satan’s grip.
Jesus saves us. He came to us, died for us, then rose from the dead to return us to God His Father. That is the central part of our creed, our faith. When we remember that, we stay faithful and through Jesus, overcome sin. That’s what this Lent is all about. That is why we fast, pray, and give alms. The devil tries to divert Jesus from His central mission of suffering for us to enjoying earthly power for Himself. The devil fails. Jesus remembers who He is. The worshiping Israelite who gives tithes remembers who he is. May we do the same and place our faith in Jesus Christ, who saves us.
Homily for Ash Wednesday, March 6th, 2019 ©:
The individual and the community are urged to return to God through conversion and repentance. That message becomes very clear in today’s readings.
First, the psalm reading is the famous lament of Psalm 51. It is believed that King David wrote that psalm after committing adultery with a married woman and then arranging for her husband’s murder, when he cannot cover up her pregnancy by him (David). The psalmist prays to God and asks God to deliver him from sin. This offender relies exclusively on God’s fidelity and graciousness. He also admits that his guilt and suffering are deserved and self-inflicted. But the psalmist wants more. He prays for removal of sin but he also asks for a state of nearness to God Himself. It is a joyful state that this author wants God to renew for him. He promises that he will speak from personal experience to other estranged sinners about God’s gracious forgiveness. He will speak this to all people who are banished from God’s presence.
The first reading from the prophet Joel encourages the Israelite community to return to God. “Even now…return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;…”(Joel 2:12). The prophet Joel urges the Israelites to return “even now” because “For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment”(Joel 2:13). The verses in this Old Testament reading suggest an immediate response to the coming day of the Lord. The prophet urges the entire community to lament her sinfulness. “Even now” suggests that God will consider an action other than destruction and gloom. “Even now” offers hope to the sinful Israelite community. God is calling Israelites to return to Him with their entire being. Participation in a communal liturgy of lament for their sins is encouraged to express the community’s collective and universal commitment to God. God might yet relent. Because God might yet relent from punishing the Israelites, The prophet Joel’s call to the Israelites to lament their sins is urgent. This call includes everyone. This is a call to universal, communal repentance. Everyone is required to repent: children, infants, brides, and bridegrooms and others. This is urgent for the Israelite community and it is urgent for the individual sinner, represented in the psalm.
Yet, Jesus tells us to perform religious acts to honor God, not themselves. Jesus criticizes pious self-display. Jesus does not condemn the pious act itself. Jesus wants His disciples so free from self-showiness that they don’t even know what they are giving. Jesus also encourages His disciples to avoid making a public spectacle of themselves in prayer. Jesus promises that God will reward genuine, sincere prayer offered to Him sincerely. Jesus does not criticize public prayer. Jesus also condemns the public display of fasting, not fasting itself. Jesus tells His disciples to prepare to fast as if they’re preparing for a holiday.
So, God is calling us to repent, both publicly and privately and shows us how to do it in the privacy of our own home and in public.
February 12, 2017
October 23, 2016
October 2, 2016