Homily 3rd Sunday of Lent Cycle C February 28, 2016

The words of Jesus are very pointed and sharp. “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.” Very politically incorrect words for today’s world; words that are not concerned about someone’s feelings. Instead, they are concerned about our eternal salvation.

At the heart of our “making it to the next level,” as athletes like to say, is this business of repentance. A spiritual word that calls for a certain type of response that finds its origin at the very core of our being. If repentance doesn’t reach the inmost part of our souls, then it’s something other than repentance, like half-baked repentance, or going through the motions.

I remember one encounter when I was over on the west side at Christ the King Parish. It was about 8 or 9 years ago. The person entered the confessional, a very nice person, it was face to face, and instead of saying “Father, forgive me for I have sinned,” this person said “Father, I can’t think of any sins that I want to confess. I just came in to tell you that.” “Well, thank you for coming in, but if you look deep enough, you might be able to find something.” Nothing was ever found that day.

I bet some of you just had the very brief thought that I was going to tell you someone’s confession. Only if I wanted to be excommunicated from the Church would that happen, being the result of breaking the seal of confession. All the armies of World War II could never get me to break the sacred and holy seal. I would go to jail, and I would die the worst death before I would ever do such a thing.

I can tell you that story because no confession took place in our polite conversation. Interestingly, I don’t remember any confessions out of all the ones I’ve ever heard. Even just a week or two ago, I don’t remember what was said, and I thank God for that incredible grace of forgetfulness. But I do remember the only one where there was no confession. So make sure you go to confession when you sit down with the priest, so you don’t make it into his homily 8 years down the road.

“If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.” These are words of everlasting life. Jesus doesn’t send threats our way. Our Lord’s intention is not to lay down the law, or else. That’s for governments and ideologues to do. Jesus is a gentle Shepherd who lovingly challenges his sheep.

The question for us is, “What is repentance?” It’s a question for every day of our lives, but especially a question for the season of Lent in preparation for Easter. It’s a question for this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

For those who are humble enough to consider this virtue and willing to cooperate with repentance, it is first the willingness and desire to set things right before God. That itself is a grace, the desire to be in perfect communion with God. We all fall short; even the person who stopped by the confessional at Christ the King to let me know how good they were. Repentance is the honest, humble recognition that we are creatures who fall short of God’s perfection daily, even in the slightest ways. Of the 1000’s of men and women in the Communion of Saints, there is not one of them, outside of Mary, the Mother of God, who did not fall short of God’s perfection every day of their lives.

The desire for repentance, the desire for wanting to be perfect before God, even if only briefly, is a divine gift realized through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If you have that desire, you have a beautiful gift. It sets the table for the search for living a holy life. There are times when most of us get caught up in the world so much that we lose sight of the fact that God calls us to a holy life.

Personally, my greater fear is not for those who have been away from the practice of their Christian faith for years and years, and have not desired the gift of God’s repentance in the Sacrament. My greater fear is for anyone who calls themselves Catholic, come to Church most or all Sundays, but fights and battles and disagrees and is so critical about the teachings of Christ that are preserved, protected, and taught by his Church. Especially when it’s a public person who publicly misrepresents the truth of our faith in any area, telling Mother Church She is wrong on the moral issues of our day. It’s a grave sin that will almost never be confessed because of pride. In the last verse of Paul’s reading today, “Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” Standing up for Christ we avoid the spiritual abyss of ignorance.

The desire for repentance opens the door for action that benefits our souls, along with benefitting those we serve. The action is an examination of conscience. To shift our focus from what everyone around us is doing wrong, and to look at ourselves only, being honest about our spiritual pitfalls.

The best acts of repentance, and the most sincere moments of confession, were the worst confessions in name and number. Meaning, there was a long list, or very grave short list of God being offended. Those are the confessions where God’s mercy is so richly abundant. It doesn’t do us much good to say we took a bite out of the apple when we ate the whole thing, core and all! Not a seed was left! Confessions that examine the conscience so deep as to bring forth the entire apple are by far the most grace-filled moments of repentance. It’s the premiere action of the word repentance.

So, Jesus’ word today; “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did, the Galileans and those killed when the Tower of Siloam fell on them.” These are holy words of invitation, spoken in our Lord’s manner of loving honesty.

Repentance is desire and action. The desire to stand right before our Creator, and the action of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to ensure our standing is not crooked.

 

Homily 2nd Sunday of Lent Cycle C February 21, 2016

This past Monday, President’s Day, our daily Mass was offered on behalf of Fr. John Nicholson and his 68 years of priesthood. Fr. John was in attendance for the Mass, doing pretty good at the age of 94.

Before Mass I met him out here in the hall, and he handed me something wrapped in gift paper. When I got back to the rectory, I opened it up and it was a frame with an artistic picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd with the words, “Shepherds should smell like their sheep.” Those are the now famous words of Pope Francis spoken early in his Pontificate directed at all the priests throughout the world. In other words, don’t just sit at your desk; don’t read a good Civil War book all day; don’t go taking naps on the sheep; but be with them in the trenches. Smell like your sheep. With a few of my experiences over the years, if I literally smelled like the sheep, you wouldn’t want to be within 10 feet of me.

Smelling like the sheep goes hand in hand with the Transfiguration of Jesus, before, during, and after this one-time event on the mountain.

As Jesus is walking up what is believed to be Mt. Tabor with Peter, John and James, I’m certain the Good Shepherd smells like his sheep. The reason being that they probably haven’t showered for days, or washed in the Jordan River or the Sea of Galilee. By today’s standards, with underarm deodorant, perfumes, and after shave, these four would stink real bad. Just like that dead skunk I crossed paths with on Holden St. the other day when I was out walking. There’s nothing like praying a Rosary with your head down, meditating upon the mysteries, and two feet away is a dead skunk lying in the snow. Jesus, Peter, John and James probably smelled as bad as that skunk on their way up the holy mountain.

But this is what our Lord does for us. He takes on our smell. Meaning, before his transfiguration and resurrection, he takes all our sins to his heart, all our diseases and addictions into his sacred body, all of our broken relationships – remember Judas and Peter – into his soul; he takes on not some, but all our weaknesses, doubts, and anxieties into his life, and allows a few Roman soldiers to nail them to the Cross he’s crucified on. He smells just like us in every conceivable way in this life, right now, wherever we happen to be faith-wise.

The journey we presently trod is Jesus’ hike up the mountain with his three chosen Apostles before he is transfigured in their midst. He takes on their smell. He’s the only Shepherd who can take on every one of our smells. All the good ones, and all the bad ones. And there are plenty of both. As the 1st reading says, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.” That’s how many smells we have.

Once they make it up there, all sweaty and smelly, we discover our true purpose and dignity as children of God. We see on the mountain God’s power at work, bypassing all human power by leaps and bounds. If you ever meet someone you know who is consumed by their human power, abusing their human power, ask if they have the power to transfigure themselves into a resurrected, eternal body. You’ll get an answer in their funny look. On the mountain we’re given a glimpse of God’s power. A scene of hope. A view of our future. A vision of promise. In Peter’s words, “Master, it is good that we are here.” You bet it is, Peter! Truer words were never spoken.

The Transfiguration of Jesus is the Lord bringing us into his smell. No wonder why Peter says it’s good that we are here. The Word became flesh, taking on our smell; the good, the bad, and the ugly. And it doesn’t get any uglier than crucifixion. But this 2nd Sunday of Lent is an early promise of indescribable joy that will arrive 5 weeks down the road after we depart from the desert.

In the Transfiguration, the Good Shepherd brings us sheep into his smell, where the bad and ugly are left behind forever, and it’s all good. This is what we hope and pray for our beloved departed, this solemn Catholic tradition of praying for our deceased. If they’ve made a pit stop in Purgatory, there’s still some bad smell God will clean up. But they’re on their way to the permanent good smell on top of the mountain.

The memory of the Transfiguration is meant to hold us over until we arrive at Easter, especially with the words, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” Listen to him! His words keep us above water. As Christians, we listen to other people only when they speak his words, and his truth, and not someone’s personal stuff that can smell so bad it will sever our relationship with the Lord. Most especially during an election year. If I can use the words of St. Paul today, there are those who conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction…But our citizenship is in heaven. Don’t be misled by any double-tongues who smell bad.

On the way down the mountain, after this brief moment of unforgettable glory enters the memory banks of the 3 Apostles, they head back to Lent. We will do so tomorrow (Monday). We still have 5 weeks of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and the grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

You, my friends, are the ones who can make a difference for Christ in the real world. It’s the lay faithful who labor on the bottom of the mountain, so to speak. It’s the many lay faithful who bring the Good News of our faith to others. I can do it here. And I can do some as a priest out there. I’m much more restricted than you are out there. When I walked through the doors of UPS for the last time, besides having a huge grin on my face, I left behind the ability to bring the hope of God’s message in the Transfiguration to others in that setting. That’s an area where you are to smell like the sheep.

We give thanks to God for people like Fr. John Nicholson and his 68 years of priesthood. But I thank him for the reminder of the words of Pope Francis to all of us, “Smell like the sheep.”

Homily 1st Sunday of Lent Cycle C February 14, 2016

It’s nice to be a priest on Valentine’s Day. It’s very economical. It hasn’t always been that way.

The number three has a very prominent place in the Gospels. Jesus rose from the dead on the 3rd day. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Jesus later asked Peter three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” to the point of exasperating Peter, causing him to say to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” These are known as Peter’s three confessions of faith drawn out of him by the Risen Lord, overturning his three denials. And the conversation ends with Jesus saying to Peter three times, “Feed and tend my sheep.”

There were three places where Jesus received nails through his body when crucified. Scripture tells us it took Jesus about three hours to die once on the Cross, with his death taking place around 3:00 in the afternoon before sundown. So, there are lots of three’s used for both symbolism and reality.

But all these differ greatly from today’s three; the three temptations of the devil directed at Jesus. Peter certainly had the devil in him when he denied knowing Jesus in the presence of his accusers: ‘You’re one of those Galileans who is with him.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” “I am not!” “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” Peter denied it. “That was my twin brother, not me!” Lies, lies, and more lies. Then the cock crowed. The Devil had a victory. But Peter, unlike Judas, repents and finds forgiveness with his Lord and Master. Peter had a Lent, whereas Judas did not. The head Apostle threw the Devil out of his soul. Even though the Devil came so close to sifting Peter like wheat, he overcame the Devil by being open to God’s mercy and grace. A good spiritual teaching for all of us this Lent.

But this three today is on a whole different level. This is like Coke vs. Pepsi. UPS vs. Fed-Ex. Red Sox vs. the Yankees. This is an encounter in the desert between two big wigs, where what takes place is so far above our spiritual pay grade. Yet, it is also very, very close to us.

The Devil’s first attempt is to corrupt Jesus through his hunger pains. Not eating for 40 days in the desert will create hunger pains. Jesus basically tells the true Corrupter that there are many more foods to enjoy besides bread. Man does live on bread alone. God’s generosity is bountiful and varied.

At the heart of this temptation by the Devil cast upon the Son of God is the Devil’s wickedness of directing his first attention at our weak spots. “Go after them where they hurt the most! Are they dealing with anger issues? Let’s see if we can get them to lash out and become violent, and make a bad decision that can alter their life for the worse.” Or, married couples who desperately want children who are unable to have a child. “Let’s see if we can get them angry at God for refusing them the gift of a child.”

We don’t always have to be on the top of our game when it comes to loving God perfectly. He knows, he understands, and he forgives. God loves us unconditionally. But we can at times have spiritual amnesia when addressing the imperfections of life. Guess who is the root cause of them? Guess who is the root cause of abortion? Guess who is the root cause of gangs that upset neighborhoods and cause fear and all kinds of mayhem, like that insurance commercial? It’s not the Creator of the world. It’s one of his fallen angels. It’s the Corrupter who attacks our apparent weaknesses in order to create a greater separation between us and God’s love and mercy.

The second temptation addresses worship. Jesus’s response to the devil connects worship to service. You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.

We serve our brothers and sisters in the Lord, as well as those who do not know the Lord, because we worship the one true God. Service to the poor, the sick, the elderly, the dying, and those struggling with addiction is bonded to our worship of God alone. And if you find yourself worshipping any persons, be them athletes, someone who holds political office, or even your spouse, that’s an unhealthy way of relating to another person. There’s a great difference between love and worship.

Worshipping the devil, and there are those who do, leads to eternal damnation. There’s no other way to put it.

The third temptation is about protection. The angels will guard you and protect you if you throw yourself down. The only person in the Gospel who throws himself down is Judas. He refused God’s free gift of mercy.

Who is our protector? The instinct is to think we can protect ourselves. That’s a false and dangerous instinct. This temptation is not about physical protection. That the angels whom God created can somehow protect Jesus physically if he jumps off the parapet. That’s called a crock of chili. When did the angels start protecting God? It’s God who protects the angels. If this temptation was about our physical protection, then Jesus would not have died on a Cross. God would not have allowed the body of his Son to be crucified by evil men.

The devil here is chasing after our spiritual protection, namely, the angels who did not join him in his rebellion against God. We’re all going to be thrown down, meaning we’re all going to die in the body. But the devil wants us to doubt that God will protect us and wrap us up with his angels, especially at the end when we’re thrown down into a casket.

Please never doubt God’s continuous protection, especially his final protection at the end.

This set of three, the 3 temptations, is on its own level. Between the Source of all love, and the source of all evil. Yet, it’s very close to us. It’s personal for us. Continue to choose the Source of all love. He’s someone we can trust.