4th Sunday of Lent Cycle A March 26, 2017

When a doctor studies an X-Ray, they see things on the X-Ray that a patient would not see. The doctor will point out medical conditions, allowing a patient more understanding of what they face.

                When a football coach in the NFL, such as Bill Belichick, draws a bunch of X’s and O’s on a blackboard or a screen, they see a potential result that an ordinary person without coaching skills cannot see. To such a person, all the X’s and O’s look like Kelly Square on a Friday afternoon at 4:00., while to the coach it looks like Interstate 290 on a Sunday morning at 8:00. It’s the same view on the messy blackboard; they look at the same strategy, but with a different set of eyes and a different result.

                A driver who knows how to use their mirrors well while driving will see the exact same road differently than a driver who is afraid to use their mirrors. They will see much more of the road, potential hazards, and have will more time to react if the car in front of them blows a tire. Whereas the nervous driver will see one lane with their white knuckles on the steering wheel, and that’s it. A different set of eyes while looking at the same road.

                The man born blind had a set of eyes from the day of his birth. Although his physical eyes weren’t working, he could still visualize different objects in his mind, if he was told in detail the dimensions of some object. He just couldn’t see the object through his physical eyes. He had a different set of eyes that were not blind. While his bodily eyes were turned off since birth, his mind’s eye was working at full capacity. But he wanted badly that second set of eyes to be working properly.

Even though Jesus takes the initiative in this Gospel, healing the blind man without the blind man’s permission, the man born blind had no regrets after Jesus, without permission, cured his physical blindness. Nowhere in the Gospel story is there even a hint of “Why did you do this to me, Jesus? Why did you give me a second set of eyes without asking me first? It’s my body! Shouldn’t I determine what happens to it? Maybe I liked being physically blind so I wouldn’t have to see the misery of others, or someone cheating another in the marketplace, or any violence occurring between my fellow Israelites and Roman soldiers!” Not even a whisper of this from the blind man. He enjoyed his new-found gift of a second set of eyes.

In most cases, though, it works the other way around. Where physical deformity of the eyes comes with age, not with birth. Where good vision gradually becomes not as good vision as the physical body breaks down over the years. When I started wearing cheap reading glasses at the age of 40, it was my first self-admission, “You’re getting old.” But for the blind man in John’s Gospel, receiving his 2nd set of eyes worked the other way around.

A strong focus of Lent is about a second set of eyes. A second form of vision. Developing a second set of eyes that incorporate into our daily living the essentials of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the words we first heard back on Ash Wednesday. To see the world around us not only physically, but also through the spiritual eyes of Jesus Christ.                

Jesus sees the blind man, physically. He’s right there in front of him. What would have happened if Jesus did not see the blind man spiritually? Meaning, with compassion, with love, with full understanding as to why this man was born blind? The understanding that his blindness was not the result of someone sinning, either himself or his parents, but it was so because of a physical deformity at the time of his birth.

Jesus’ second set of eyes that followed him down from heaven are the eyes that led him to spit on the ground, make a smidgen of clay with his saliva, rub it into the eyes of the blind man, and tell him to go wash. “Go give your eyes a bath,” Jesus says. The rest of him probably didn’t smell good either. But give your eyes the bath, so that he may have a second set of eyes. So that he may see the great Jewish Temple where he can pray. So that he may see the food from which he can fast. So that he can see his neighbor who is ill, and give alms… the alms of his presence and love, helping them to recuperate, or die in peace.

We all have a second set of spiritual eyes. Do we need to give them a bath? Do we use them to criticize, or do we use them to heal like our Lord, making the world a better place? Do we use them to spread the truth of Christ, or do we use them to spread the false ways of sin? Our spiritual eyes, as Christians, are to be the eyes of Christ. The eyes that love God and neighbor. Not the neighbor who is selling drugs, destroying a community. Not the neighbor who beats his wife, displaying the worst of human relationships. Those types of neighbors need radical conversion. They need our prayers. The neighbor, rather, who benefits from our spiritual vision.

For the man born blind, it worked in reverse. He had spiritual eyes already, which is why he came to worship the Son of Man who healed him of physical blindness. He already, from birth, possessed a humble set of eyes.

For us, we’re continually working, through the grace of God, on our better vision. Our spiritual vision, that reveals that we are followers of Christ. Our vision that commits ourselves fully to the words, ‘I am the light of the world.” It’s good to have a second set of eyes, but only if we understand all the X’s and O’s on the blackboard of our Savior, and use them well for others.                                                                                                                                                   

Lenten Penance Service on March 26

Our Parish will be hosting a Lenten Penance Service on Sunday, March 26 at 2:00 p.m. with the Parishes of Blessed Sacrament and Christ the King. Confessions will be available during the service from Msgr. Thomas Sullivan, Fr. Richard Trainor, Fr. Walter Riley, and our Preacher and Presider, Fr. Jonathan Slavinskas, Administrator of Our Lady of Providence Parish.

Homily 3rd Sunday of Lent Cycle A March 19, 2017

In the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman, “You people worship what you do not understand.”

                Imagine worshipping something or someone, and at some point you come to find out that what we put so much faith, trust, and effort into was false? Some folks just have a hard time accepting they might be on the wrong side of something that is really important to them. If that doesn’t shake a person to the core, then I’m not sure what will.

                A huge part of our lives is accepting that what we do and believe in is genuinely good and proper. That it’s consistent with reflecting the image and likeness of God. Where we can make a rational argument and point out sensibly that the choices we make each day reflect, not love of self in a selfish way, but love of God and others in unselfish ways.

                Could the Samaritan woman have explained to Jesus, or anyone, that her five marriages and present live-in boyfriend reflected her love for God and an unselfish life? That love of God and neighbor was at the heart of her past and present relationships? Very simply, I doubt it. In fact, if she attempted to justify her past lifestyle in good ways to Jesus, it would have been impossible to do so.

                We can come up with some pretty good reasons – at least in our own minds – for defending our belief system and connecting it to love of God and neighbor. Or, we may come up with no good reasons at all, and just say the world is wrong and I’m right. I’ve set up my own standards for living, and it works for me. There’s so much of this in our culture today, where we subscribe to this dangerously false thinking of just letting someone be who they are, and we’ll call it good. Even though a rational justification cannot be made. Such thinking is part of a modern world that believes sin is non-existent. And where there’s no recognition of sin, there’s no need for a Savior. “So here’s your drink, Jesus. Have a nice day.”

                There’s so much to love about the Samaritan woman who encounters Jesus at historic Jacob’s well. I touch on just a couple things. First, she doesn’t make up false and harmful excuses for her past and present relationships. She doesn’t justify herself in the presence of this Jewish man she believes to be a Prophet. She takes hold of what Jesus confronts her with. Things that are deeply personal, and deeply sinful.

                In our culture today, we make excuses for bad choices that reflect selfishness. Every day, sustained choices. The result of making excuses for bad spiritual choices, as well as immoral or false beliefs that are openly antagonistic and in contrast to Christianity, the result is that we remove from our lives the possibility of conversion. Conversion becomes a foreign experience to our spiritual lives, when it should be an everyday experience. Don’t do away in our lives with the awesome Greek word, metanoia. This is why excuses restrict and limit our capacity to be fully human, like Christ.

                The profound beauty of this incredible Gospel story and encounter with Jesus is the Samaritan woman’s conversion on the spot. She didn’t head home to ponder this encounter for some time, over days, weeks or months. She took hold of this encounter with Christ and she owned it. She purchased it right at the well. There were no excuses for her relationships past and present, because it was impossible to justify them. She chose not to drink the water of Jacob’s well that would make her thirsty again. She chose in a moment the living water that wells up to eternal life. She chose the water of Christ when she decided on the spot to make no excuses for bad behavior.

Behavior that confuses and destroys the soul. It is only in Christ and his Church that we drink the clean water. The Samaritan woman left behind the sewer of living for herself, and embraced the clean living of Jesus Christ. Clean living that can lead to martyrdom and being persecuted. But always leads to conversion. She is the Woman of No Excuses, and I love her! I don’t want to be her 6th husband, but I love her!

                And second, how can we all not love her evangelizing skills? It’s like the Samaritan woman wrote the textbook on Evangelization. First edition copy around the year 30 A.D. If you find it at a yard sale, buy it for me. The title is Bringing Christ to Others, by the Samaritan Woman.

                Because she makes no excuses about her former way of life like we do in the 21st century, the woman from Jacob’s well is capable and willing to bring truth to the rest of Sychar. Not her personal truth. That’s the stuff she left behind at the bottom of the well, where it belongs. Every piece of politics that superseded and controlled her faith in God, she tossed to the bottom of the well.

Her life now became defined by her faith, and not by a D or R after her name. Jesus didn’t thirst for her political views. He thirsted for her faith. And he got it! She brought forth to the rest of Sychar the truth of the Man. The God-Man. The Prophet, as she called him. Her conversion was total.

                This is why the Samaritan woman is now welcomed to walk aside of Mary Magdalene, and all the other holy women of Scripture who accompany the greatness of Mary, the Mother of God. All of the holy women are probably playing poker in heaven. The woman at the well is a model for Christians. Not just for Christian women. But for Christian men as well. Conversion and evangelization. No excuses for her lifestyle. She’s defined by Jesus Christ, and all that his name means.

                She becomes the rock in the 1 reading that Moses pumps water out of for the thirsty, complaining Israelites to drink. Her faith is now a rock, because she no longer worships what she does not understand. She worships what she understands, beginning with the understanding that he is the Savior of the world. And that only he, and not the world, can provide us with water that wells up to eternal life.

                I’d love to visit Jacob’s well someday. Not to drink from it. That’s secondary. But to stand in the spot where our Lord brought home a wayward servant. The spot where no excuses were made for sinful choices. That’s refreshing.                                                                                                                                       

Homily 2nd Sunday of Lent Cycle A March 12, 2017

The three who went up the mountain with Jesus were fishermen. Peter, James, and John were experts at sitting in a boat, casting nets, hauling in fish, getting wet from the splashing nets, and bringing the fish to market. They were simple, common fishermen who were experts in their trade.

                In the time of Jesus, like today, there were men, women and even children who excelled at a certain talent after days and years of practice. I remember thinking that after a couple months, I could have delivered my UPS route backwards with my eyes closed. A rather dangerous way to drive it is, sort of like the young person earlier this week who was about two feet from my back bumper on Interstate 290, as I’m watching their head go up and down several times as they undoubtedly texted or played with their phone. From the perspective of the vehicle in front of them, that’s a helpless feeling in that moment.

                In a book I’m presently reading called Mary of Nazareth, and I’ve read this information elsewhere, the author explains how Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was considered an expert weaver. She was instructed by the priests in Jerusalem at a young age to help weave, along with 6 other women, the veil that would separate the Holy of Holies in the Temple from the rest of the outside world. The same veil, by the way, that would be torn in two the day her Son died on the Cross, reveling the emptiness of the physical Temple and the fullness of the new Temple of his body.

                Many people at the time of Jesus possessed expert talent in areas they became familiar with over time. Although the three Apostles were expert fishermen, they were not expert hikers. Fishing and hiking require two separate skill sets. You don’t get wet when you go hiking, unless it starts to rain, or your crossing a stream, you slip on a wet rock and fall in. Been there and done that. And, when you’re fishing, the only time you will huff and puff like you just walked straight up a mountain for a quarter mile is when you have a net loaded with 153 large fish like that resurrection scene in John where Jesus showed up on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias and told them to cast the net to the other side of the boat after catching nothing all night.

                Our readings on the 2nd Sunday of Lent challenge us in our faith lives to extend ourselves into unfamiliar territory. In areas where we are presently not experts, or fully comfortable, where actions are not 2nd nature, or where we cannot weave a veil by instinct. Anyone who has weaved for years can carry on a conversation like they’re not weaving when they are weaving. They will look you in the eye as they speak and weave.

                I remember in seminary down in Baltimore, a city with many different ministry possibilities like any large city, it was strongly recommended that we attach ourselves to a ministry that was unfamiliar to us. Do you think Mother Teresa was comfortable the first time she crossed the boundary into Calcutta? I’m sure she was nervous, a bit anxious, but still full of confidence and trust that God was by her side.

                It’s part of God’s sense of humor that Jesus was transfigured on a high mountain in the presence of three fishermen who were used to being at sea level. Why didn’t he transfigure before them in a boat on the Sea of Galilee? It would have much more comfortable for his three main Apostles. Our Lord’s purpose was not to make them uncomfortable and fearful. His purpose was, in this setting, to expand and stretch their minds and hearts to incorporate an event that will sustain their Apostleship when they begin to preach, teach, and live the Kingdom of God, something they are fully unfamiliar with. What happens in the transfiguration is a deepening of their trust, and our trust, I pray, that victory is assured, and whatever ministry we perform connected to our faith is made possible through the power of God.

                In the 1st reading, God says to Abram, “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk, the land you are familiar with, to a land I will show you.” How much trust did that take on the part of Abram? Changing jobs is one thing. But changing lands is another. Changing territory is more unsettling. Today, that’s like God telling us to move to Australia, or the Far East. ‘I have a plan for your life,” he says, “but you have to move there first.” And how does this reading conclude? “Abram went as the Lord directed him.” No wonder why Abraham is the father of three major religions.

                God isn’t saying to us, “Move to Australia. Move to Japan.” But the Lord is saying to all of us symbolically, “Move to Australia with your personal Christian gifts. Expand your horizons of love and compassion. Take your faith to a foreign land in our community, or beyond our community, and bring Christ to others in a way we have not done presently.” Which is asking much less of us than he did with Abram.

                And if we have the courage to proceed to unfamiliar territory, what we will realize about our faith lived out in action is this, the words of St. Peter; “Lord, it is good that we are here.” It is good that three fishermen are on top of this mountain. We’ve never been up here before. We’ve never done this ministry before. We’ve seen this mountain from a distance when fishing in our boat. We’ve always wondered what it would be like hiking this mountain and looking out from its peak. Now we know. And it is good that we are here.” That’s the ministry that awaits each of us in some form.

                It’s a Gospel of trusting that we can succeed at doing God’s work in unfamiliar territory. Territory that reflect the words of Jesus; “Rise, and do not be afraid.” There’s much new ministry that awaits our attention this Lent and beyond. Much in the ways of prayer fasting, and almsgiving.