Untie Him and Let Him Go Free – A Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent

In today’s Gospel, we hear the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The story marks a significant turning point in the ministry of Jesus: it is because of this incident that the Temple leadership in Jerusalem resolves to have Jesus killed; a supreme irony to be sure.

As is proper with all the Gospel accounts, we must not see this as merely an historical happening of some two thousand years ago. Rather, we must recall that we are Lazarus; we are Martha and Mary. This is also the story of how Jesus is acting in our life.

Let’s look at this Gospel in six stages and learn how the Lord acts to save us and raise us to new life.

I. HE PERMITS. Sometimes there are trials in our life, by God’s mysterious design, to bring us to greater things. The Lord permits these trials and difficulties for various reasons. But, if we are faithful, every trial is ultimately for our glory and the glory of God.

Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary, and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to him saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Notice that Jesus does not rush to prevent the illness of Lazarus. Rather, He permits it temporarily in order that something greater, God’s Glory in Jesus, be made manifest. In addition, it is for Lazarus’ own good and his share in God’s glory.

It is this way with us as well. We do not always understand what God is up to in our life. His ways are often mysterious, even troubling to us. But our faith teaches us that His mysterious permission of our difficulties is ultimately for our good and for our glory.

  1. Rejoice in this. You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials. But this so that your faith, more precious than any fire-tried gold, may lead to praise, honor, and glory when Jesus Christ appears (1 Peter 1: 10).
  2. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).
  3. For our light and momentary troubles are producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:17-18).

An old gospel hymn says, “Trials dark on every hand, and we cannot understand, all the way that God will lead us to that blessed promised land. But He guides us with his eye and we follow till we die, and we’ll understand it better, by and by. By and by, when the morning comes, and all the saints of God are gathered home, we’ll tell the story of how we’ve overcome, and we’ll understand it better by and by.”

For now, it is enough for us to know that God permits our struggles for a season and for a reason.

II. HE PAUSES. Here, too, we confront a mystery. Sometimes God says, “Wait.” Again, this is to prepare us for greater things than those for which we ask.

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.

Note that the text says that Jesus waits because he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. This of course is paradoxical, because we expect love to make one rush to the aid of the afflicted.

Yet Scripture often counsels us to wait.

  1. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD (Ps 27:14).
  2. For thus says the Lord God, the holy one of Israel, “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet an in trust, your strength lies” (Isaiah 30:15).
  3. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance … God’s patience is directed to our salvation (2 Pet 3:9).

Somehow our waiting is tied to strengthening us and preparing us for something greater. Ultimately, we need God’s patience in order for us to come to full repentance; so it may not be wise to ask God to rush things. Yet still his delay often mystifies us, especially when the need seems urgent.

Note, too, how Jesus’ delay enables something even greater to take place. It is one thing to heal an ailing man; it is quite another to raise a man who has been dead four days. To use an analogy, Jesus is preparing a meal. Do you want a microwave dinner or a great feast? Great feasts take longer to prepare. Jesus delays, but he’s preparing something great.

For ourselves we can only ask for the grace to hold out. An old gospel song says, “Lord help me to hold out, until my change comes.” Another song says, “Hold on just a little while longer, everything’s gonna be all right.”

III. HE PAYS. Despite the design of God and His apparent delay, He is determined to bless us and save us. Jesus is determined to go and help Lazarus even though He puts himself in great danger in doing so. Notice in the following text how the apostles are anxious about going to Judea; some there are plotting to kill Jesus. In order to help Lazarus, Jesus must put himself at great risk.

Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” He said this, and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” So the disciples said to him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.” But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.” So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”

We must never forget the price that Jesus has paid for our healing and salvation. Scripture says, You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Pet 1:18).

Indeed, the Apostles’ concerns are borne out: because Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Temple leaders plot to kill him (cf John 11:53). It is of course quite ironic that they should plot to kill Jesus for raising a man from the dead. We can only thank the Lord who, for our sake, endured even death on a cross to purchase our salvation by His own blood.

IV. HE PRESCRIBES. The Lord will die to save us. But there is only one way that saving love can reach us: through our faith. Faith opens the door to God’s blessings, but it is a door we must open, by God’s grace. Thus Jesus inquires into the faith of Martha and later that of Mary.

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

Jesus prescribes faith because there is no other way. Our faith and our soul are more important to God than our bodies and creature comforts. For what good is it to gain the whole world and lose our soul? We tend to focus on physical things like our bodies, our health, and our possessions; but God focuses on the spiritual things. And so before raising Lazarus and dispelling grief, Jesus checks the condition of Martha’s faith and elicits an act of faith: “Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe.”

Scripture connects faith to seeing and experiencing great things:

  1. All things are possible to him who believes (Mk 9:23).
  2. If you had faith as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there” and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you (Mt 17:20).
  3. And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith (Matt 13:58).
  4. When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you” (Mat 9:28).

So Jesus has just asked you and me a question: “Do you believe this?” How will you answer? I know how we should answer. But how do we really and truthfully answer?

V. HE IS PASSIONATE. Coming upon the scene Jesus is described as deeply moved, as perturbed, as weeping.

When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.”

In his human heart, Jesus experiences the full force of the loss and the blow that death delivers. That He weeps is something of mystery because He will raise Lazarus in moments. But for this moment, Jesus enters and experiences grief and loss with us. Its full force comes over Him and He weeps—so much so that the bystanders say, “See how much He loved him.”

But there is more going on here. The English text also describes Jesus as being perturbed. The Greek word used is ἐμβριμάομαι (embrimaomai), which means to snort with anger, to express great indignation. It is a very strong word and includes the notion of being moved to admonish sternly. What is this anger of Jesus and at whom is it directed? It is hard to know exactly, but the best answer would seem to be that he is angry at death and at what sin has done. For it was by sin that suffering and death entered the world. It is almost as though Jesus is on the front lines of the battle and has a focused anger against Satan and what he has done. Scripture says, by the envy of the devil death entered the world. (Wisdom 2:23). And God has said, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ez 33:11)

At the death of some of my own loved ones, I remember experiencing not only sorrow, but also anger. Death should not be. But there it is; it glares back at us, taunts us, and pursues us.

Yes, Jesus experiences the full range of emotions that we do. Out of His sorrow and anger, He is moved to act on our behalf. God’s wrath is His passion to set things right. And Jesus is about to act.

VI. HE PREVAILS. In the end, Jesus always wins. You can skip right to the end of the Bible and see that Jesus wins there, too. You might just as well get on the winning team. He will not be overcome by Satan, even when all seems lost. God is a good God; He is a great God; He can do anything but fail. Jesus can make a way out of no way.

He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth.

I have it on the best of authority that as Lazarus came out of the tomb he was singing this gospel song: “Faithful is our God! I’m reaping the harvest God promised me, take back what devil stole from me, and I rejoice today, for I shall recover it al1!”

VII. HE PARTNERS. 

So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go free.”

Notice something important here: Although Jesus raises Lazarus, and gives him new life, Jesus also commands the bystanders to untie Lazarus and let him go free. Christ raises us, but He has work for the Church to do: untie those He has raised in baptism and let them go free.

To have a personal relationship with Jesus is crucial, but it is also essential to have a relationship to the Church. For after raising Lazarus, Jesus entrusts him to the care of others. Jesus speaks to the Church—parents, priests, catechists, all members of the Church—and gives this standing order regarding the souls He has raised to new life: “Untie them and let them go free.”

We are Lazarus and we were dead in our sin, but we have been raised to new life. Yet we can still be bound by the effects of sin. This is why we need the sacraments, Scripture, prayer, and other ministries of the Church through catechesis, preaching, and teaching. Lazarus’ healing wasn’t a “one and you’re done” scenario and neither is ours.

We are also the bystanders. Just as we are in need of being untied and set free, so do we have this obligation to others. By God’s grace, parents must untie their children and let them go free; pastors must do the same with their flocks. As a priest, I realize how often my people have helped to untie me and let me go free, strengthened my faith, encouraged me, admonished me, and restored me.

This is the Lord’s mandate to the Church regarding every soul He has raised: “Untie him and let him go free.” This is the Lord’s work, but just as Jesus involved the bystanders then, He still involves the Church (which includes us) now.

I Went, I Washed, And Now I See – A Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, the Light of the World, brings light to a man born blind. If you are prepared to accept it, you are the man born blind, for all of us were born blind and in darkness. It was our baptism and the faith it gave that rendered us able to see and to come gradually more fully into the light. The man in today’s Gospel shows forth the stages of the Christian walk, out of darkness and into the beautiful light of Christ. Let’s take a moment to ponder the stages of the blind man’s walk, for each of us is the man.

I. The Problem that is Presented – We are introduced to a man who was blind from birth, incapable of seeing at all. As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

So there is the problem: he is blind; he has no vision. On account of Original Sin, we lost all spiritual vision. We could not see God or endure the light of His glory. This lack of vision causes many to have no “vision” for their life. They don’t know why they were made or what the true purpose of their existence is. Many cannot see past the sufferings of this world to the glory that awaits. Others have retreated into the material world and cannot see beyond it. Still others have retreated even further, away from reality into the realm of their own mind, their own opinions. St. Augustine describes this condition of the human person as curvatus in se (man turned in on himself). Yes, there is a blindness that imprisons many in the darkness. Even for us who believe there are still areas where it is hard for us to see. Coming to see God more fully, and to see ourselves as we really are, is a journey; one we are still on.

While the disciples want to dwell on secondary causes, Jesus sidesteps these and focuses on solutions. Assessing blame is unproductive; healing the man is uppermost. In a statement dripping with irony, Jesus says that the works of God will be made visible in a blind man. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength (1 Cor 1:25). Yes, God can make a way out of no way and write straight with crooked lines.

II. The Purification that is PrescribedHaving diagnosed the problem, Jesus begins the work of healing this man. When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam”—which means Sent. So he went and washed, and came back able to see.

Hopefully, you can see baptism here. Jesus tells him, “Go wash … he went and washed, and came back able to see.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this of the Sacrament of Baptism:

This bath is called enlightenment, because those who receive this [catechetical] instruction are enlightened in their understanding … Having received in Baptism the Word, “the true light that enlightens every man,” the person baptized has been “enlightened,” he becomes a “son of light,” indeed, he becomes “light” himself (CCC 1216).

Baptism is required in order to truly see. It is no accident that John mentions the name of the pool to which the man goes: Siloam, a name meaning “sent.” Jesus sends him and He sends us. Baptism is required. Jesus says elsewhere, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5).

Notice that the man comes back able to see. But just because you’re able to see doesn’t mean you actually do see. Right now I am able to see the Statue of Liberty; my eyes function properly, but I do not see it; I have to make a journey in order to do that. Similarly, the man here is able to see Jesus, but he does not yet see Him. He has a journey to make in order to do that. He has a long way to go to see Jesus fully, face to face. Baptism is not the end of our journey but the beginning of it. It renders us able to see, but we are still newborn babes. We need to grow. We can see, but there is plenty we haven’t yet seen.

III. The Perception that is Partial – The man can see but still does not know much of the one who has enabled him to see. His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.” And they said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I don’t know.”

So he’s able to see. But he hasn’t yet seen much. The man must grow in faith to come to know who Jesus really is. Look at how his partial perception is described. For now, he merely understands Jesus as “the man called Jesus.” To him, Jesus is just “some guy.” When asked where Jesus is, all he can say is that he doesn’t know. Although he is able to see, he does not yet actually see Jesus.

This describes a lot of Christians. They know about Jesus but they don’t know Him. Many Catholics in the pews are “sacramentalized but unevangelized.” That is, they have received the sacraments but have never really met Jesus Christ; they do not know Him in any more than an intellectual way. Many don’t even expect to know Him. He is little better to them than “the man called Jesus.” They’ve heard of Jesus and even know some basic facts about Him, but He is a distant figure in their lives. When asked questions about Him, they respond like this man: “I don’t know.”

IV. Progress through Persecution and Pondering – The text goes on to show us the progress that this formerly blind man makes in coming to know and finally see Jesus. It is interesting that this progress comes largely through persecution. Persecution need not always be understood as something as severe as being arrested and thrown in jail. It can come in many forms: puzzlement expressed by relatives and friends, ridicule of Catholicism in the media, or even those internal voices that make us question our faith. In whatever form, though, persecution has a way of making us face the questions and refine our understanding. Our vision gets clearer as we meet the challenges.

Notice the man’s progress thus far. He has been baptized and is now able to see, but he still knows little of Jesus, referring to Him only as “the man called Jesus,” He doesn’t know where Jesus is. He is about to grow, though, and does so in several stages.

In stage one of the man’s post-baptismal growth his neighbors turn on him and bring him to the Pharisees, who interrogate him because Jesus had healed him on the Sabbath.

They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a Sabbath. So then, the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.” So some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a sinful man do such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said to the blind man again, “What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

Notice what this persecution does for him. As he is challenged to say something about Jesus, he moves beyond calling him “the man called Jesus” and describes Him as a prophet. The man has gained some insight. A prophet speaks for God and Jesus is the Word made flesh.

In stage two of the man’s post-baptismal growth the Pharisees doubt his story and broaden their persecution, interrogating and threatening his fearful parents.

Now the Jews did not believe that he had been blind and gained his sight until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How does he now see?” his parents answered and said, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ, he would be expelled from the synagogue. For this reason, his parents said, “He is of age; question him.”

In stage three of his post-baptismal growth we note that the continuing persecution seems to make him grow even stronger and more able to withstand his opponents. Note his determination and fearlessness during the second interrogation he faces, which includes ridiculing him and placing him under oath:

So a second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give God the praise! We know that this man is a sinner.” He replied, “If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” So they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” They ridiculed him and said, “You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.” The man answered and said to them, “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.

The result of this is to further deepen his vision of Jesus. At first, he saw Jesus only as “the man called Jesus.” Then he sees Him as a prophet. Now he goes further and sees Him as “from God.” He’s progressing from sight to insight. His ability to see, given to him in baptism, is now resulting in even clearer vision.

V. Perfection that is Portrayed – The man has been thrown out of the synagogue, as many early Christians were. He has endured the hatred of the world and the loss of many things. When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.

Now the man’s vision is clear. After all this, he finally sees. Not only does he see Jesus, he sees who Jesus is. First he saw Him only as “the man called Jesus.” Then he sees Him as a prophet. Next, he says that He is from God. The final stage is the best of all. He actually sees Jesus and falls down to worship Him. Jesus is not only from God, he is God. Christ has fully enlightened him.

This is our journey, moving in stages to know Jesus more perfectly. One day we will see Him face to face; we will see Him for who He is.

Where are you on this journey? If we are faithful, our vision is getting better daily, but it is not yet complete. Scripture says,

  1. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood (1 Cor 13:12).
  2. Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).
  3. My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when can I enter and see the face of God? (Psalm 42:2)

For now, make this journey. Make it in stages. Come to know who Jesus is.

I have it on the best of authority that the man, on his journey to Jesus, sang this song:

Walk in the Light, beautiful light. Come where the dew-drops of mercy shine bright. Walk all around us by day and by night, O Jesus the Light of the World!

Let there be light!

Just A Little Talk With Jesus Makes it Right – A homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

As we examine the Gospel for this weekend’s Mass we do well to understand that is about human desires and how the Lord reaches us through them. Prior to examining the text in detail, let’s consider a few things:

  1. What it is that really makes you happy? We desire so many things: food, water, shelter, clothing, and creature comforts. We long for affection, peace, and a sense of belonging. Sometimes we want stability and simplicity, at others we yearn for change and variety. Our hearts are a sea of desires, wishes, and longings. Today’s Gospel says that a woman went to the well to draw water. She represents each one of us and her desire for water is symbolic of all our desires.
  2. In reality, your desires are infinite. Can you remember a time when you were ever entirely satisfied, when you wanted absolutely nothing else? Even if you can recall such a time, I’ll bet it didn’t last long. That is because our desires are without limit.
  3. The well in today’s Gospel symbolizes this world. Jesus says to the woman, Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again. The world cannot provide what we are really looking for. No matter how much it offers us, it will never suffice, for the world is finite while our desires are infinite. In this way our heart teaches us something very important about ourselves: We were not made for this world; we were made for something, someone, who is infinite, who alone can satisfy us. We were made for God.
  4. The water offered is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said elsewhere, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive (Jn. 7:37-39).
  5. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the meanings of our longings:

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for. … With his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about God’s existence. In all this he discerns signs of his spiritual soul. The soul, the seed of eternity we bear in ourselves, irreducible to the merely material, can have its origin only in God (Catechism # 27, 33).

  1. Scripture speaks to us about our desires: Of You my heart has spoken: “Seek His face.” It is your face O Lord that I seek; hide not your face! (Psalm 27:8-9). Only in God will my soul be at rest, he is my hope, my salvation (Psalm 62:1).
  2. Augustine wrote these classic words to describe our truest longing: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee” (Confessions 1,1).

With these in mind, let’s look at the journey that this woman makes to Jesus. Things start out rough, but in the end she discovers her heart’s truest desire. The journey is made in stages.

Rendezvous – Notice that Jesus is the one who takes the initiative here. As the Lord teaches elsewhere, It was not you who chose me, It was I who chose you (John 15:16). Jesus encounters a woman from Samaria at Jacob’s well. She desires water, but Jesus knows that her desire is for far more than water or in fact anything that the world gives. Her desire has brought her face to face with Jesus. It is a holy and fortunate rendezvous. Jesus begins a discussion with her about her heart’s truest longing.

Request – The discussion begins with a request. The text says, It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” Imagine, God asking you for anything; what a stunning thing! What can she or anyone really give God? The answer is simply this: the gift of our very self. God has put a threshold before our heart that even He will not cross unless we first say yes to Him. Jesus’ request initiates a discussion, a dialogue of two hearts. As we shall see, the woman struggles with this dialogue. To be sure, it is a delicate, even painful process for us to accept the Lord’s invitation to self-giving. Something within us makes us draw back in fear. Scripture says, It is an awesome thing to fall into the hands of living God (Heb 10:31).

Rebuke – Sure enough, she draws back with fear and anger. She says, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans. In our journey to God, we do not always trust or understand Him at first. Some are afraid to relate to God because they think they will lose their freedom or that they will have to change too much. Others loathe the commandments or fear that they cannot keep them. Still others are angry at the unexpected twists and turns of life and do not want to trust a God who doesn’t always give them what they want. The woman’s anger is not really at Jesus; it is at “the Jews,” with whom the Samaritans have a hostile relationship. This is sometimes the case with God as well. It is not always the Lord Jesus, or God the Father, whom people hate or distrust; rather, it is Christians. Some have been hurt by the Church or by Christians; others have prejudiced opinions influenced by a hostile media and world.

Repetition – Jesus repeats His offer for a relationship. He says, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” I don’t know about you, but I am mighty glad that the Lord does not merely write us off when we say no to Him. Jesus stays in the conversation and even sweetens the deal by making an offer to give her fresh, living water. The Lord does the same for us. First He gave the Law, then He gave the prophets; now He gives His Son. It just keeps getting better. First He gave water, then He changed it to wine, and then He changed it to His blood. Despite our often harsh rejection of God, He keeps the dialogue going.

Ridicule – The woman is still hostile and now even ridicules Jesus: “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” To the world, the teachings of God often appear to be foolishness. People often dismiss religious faith as fanciful and unrealistic.

Reminder – Jesus now re-frames the question by reminding the woman of the obvious: Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. What she is relying on can’t come through for her. The world’s water does not satisfy us; the world’s delights are transitory. They promise ultimate satisfaction, but soon we are thirsty again. The world is the gift that keeps on taking; it takes our money, loyalty, freedom, and time, while giving us only temporary—and ultimately unsatisfying pleasures—in return. It’s a bad deal. Every one who drinks from this well be thirsty again.

Re-upping the offer – Jesus says, “… but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Here the Lord speaks of happiness and satisfaction that he will give, that grows in us and makes us more and more alive. The “water” he offers (as noted above) is the gift of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit lives in us and transforms us, we become more and more content with what we have. As the life of God grows in us, we become more alive in God and joyful in what He is doing for us. This is what the Lord offers us: the gift of a new and transformed life, the gift to become fully alive in God. I am a witness of this. How about you?

Result – The woman has moved toward Jesus; she has warmed to His offer. She says, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Here is the result of the Lord’s persistence. Thank God that He does not give up on us. He keeps calling, even when we say no, even when we sin; He just keeps call our name!

Requirement – Jesus wants to give this gift, but first He must help her to make room for it. For the truth is that she has unrepented sin. A cup that is filled with sand cannot be filled with water. The sand must first be emptied out and then the cup cleansed. Thus Jesus says, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” Now she does what most of us do when we are in an uncomfortable spot: she changes the subject. She attempts to engage in a discussion about where to worship. Jesus is patient and answers her, but ultimately draws her back to the subject at hand: her heart and what her desires are really all about.

Reconciliation – At this point the conversation gets private; we are not permitted to listen in. It is just between her and Jesus. But whatever it was, she is elated and will later declare, “He told me everything I ever did.” There is no sense in her tone that Jesus was merely accusatory. Rather, it would seem that Jesus helped her to understand her heart and her struggle. An old song says, “I once was lost in sin but Jesus took me in and then a little light from heaven filled my soul. He bathed my heart in love and he wrote my name above and just a little talk with Jesus made me whole.” Here, Jesus reconciles her with God and with her own self.

RejoicingThe woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” They went out of the town and came to him.” Do not miss that little detail: she left her water jar. She left behind the very thing she was depending on to collect the things of the world. What is your “water jar”? What do you use to gain access to the world and to collect its offerings? For most of us, it is money. Scripture says, For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Tim 6:10). At any rate, the woman is joyfully empowered to leave this enslaving water jar behind. Freed from its load, she is able to run to town and declare Jesus to others. Her joy must have been infectious, for soon enough they are following her out to meet the Lord!

This is the journey of a woman who represents each one of us. This is our journey, out of dependence, out of an enslaving attachment to the world. It is our journey unto Jesus, who alone can set us free. Here is our journey to understand that our desires are ultimately about God.

You can listen to this homily here: Just a Little Talk With Jesus.

I have it on the best of authority that as the woman joyfully journeyed back to town, she was singing this gospel song:

Every Round Goes Higher – A Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent

The second Sunday of Lent always features the Transfiguration. This is because we are following the Lord on His final odyssey to Jerusalem, and this journey up Mt. Tabor was one of His stops (with Peter, James, and John).

It is commonly held that Jesus did this to prepare His apostles for the difficult days ahead. There’s a line from an old spiritual that says, “Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down, sometimes I’m almost on the ground … but see what the end shall be.” This is what the Lord is doing here: He is showing us what the end shall be. There is a cross to get through but there is glory on the other side.

The purpose in placing the account of the Transfiguration here is that it helps describe the pattern of the Christian life, which is the paschal mystery. We are always dying and rising with Christ in repeated cycles as we journey to an eternal Easter (cf 2 Cor4:10). This Gospel shows forth the pattern of the cross: the climb, the rising, and the glory of the mountaintop. Then it is back down the mountain again only to climb another one (Golgotha), and through it find another glory (Easter Sunday). Let’s look at today’s Gospel in three stages.

I The Purpose of Trials Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.

We often pass over the fact that they had to climb that mountain, no easy task.

Anyone who has been to Mt. Tabor can attest to its altitude: almost 2000 feet. Ascending it likely took the better part of a day and was probably somewhat dangerous. Looking down from the top on the Jezreel Valley (a.k.a. Megiddo or Armageddon) provides a view similar to what one would see out an airplane window.

So we have here a symbol of the cross and of struggle. A climb up the rough side of the mountain was likely exhausting, testing their strength.

I have it on the best of authority that as they climbed they were singing gospel songs like this one: “I’m comin’ up on the rough side of the mountain, and I’m doin’ my best to carry on!” Another song says, “My soul looks back and wonders how I got over!” Yet another says, “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder, every round goes higher, higher.”

This climb reminds us of life. Often we have had to climb, to endure, to have our strength tested. Perhaps it was the climb of earning a college degree. Perhaps it was the climb of raising children or building a career. What of real value do you have that did not come at the price of a climb, of effort and struggle?

Most of us know that although the climb is difficult, there is glory at the top if we but endure. Life’s difficulties are often the prelude to success and greater strength.

Although we might wish that life had no struggles, it would seem that the Lord intends them for us, for the cross alone leads to true glory. Where would we be without some of the crosses in our life? Let’s ponder some of the purposes of problems:

God uses problems to DIRECT us. Sometimes God must light a fire under you to get you moving. Problems often point us in new directions and motivate us to change. Is God trying to get your attention? Sometimes it takes a painful situation to make us change our ways. Proverbs 20:30 says, Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inner most being. Another old gospel song speaks of the need for suffering to keep us focused on God: “Now the way may not be too easy, but you never said it would be. ‘Cause when our way gets a little too easy, you know we tend to stray from thee.” Yes, God sometimes uses problems to direct our steps to Him.

God uses problems to INSPECT us. People are like tea bags: if you want to know what’s inside them, just drop them into hot water! Has God ever tested your faith with a problem? What do problems reveal about you? Our problems have a way of helping to see what we’re really made of. I have discovered many strengths I never knew I had through trials. There is a test in every testimony and trials have a way of purifying and strengthening our faith as well as inspecting it to see whether it is genuine. 1 Peter 1:6 says, In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure.

God uses problems to CORRECT us. There are some lessons we learn only through pain and failure. When you were a child, it’s likely that your parents told you not to touch a hot stove, but you probably really learned by being burned. Sometimes we only learn the value of something (e.g., health, money, a relationship) by losing it. Scripture says, It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees (Psalm 119:71-72). Before I was afflicted, I strayed. But now I keep you word (Psalm 119:67).

God uses problems to PROTECT us. A problem can be a blessing in disguise if it prevents you from being harmed more seriously. A man was fired for refusing to do something unethical that his boss had asked him to do. Although his unemployment was a problem, it saved him from being sent to prison when management’s actions were finally discovered. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph speaks to his brothers: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

God uses problems to PERFECT us. When responded to properly, problems are character builders. God is far more interested in your character than your comfort. Romans 5:3 says, We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Peter 1:7 says, You are being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold; so if your faith remains strong after being tried in the fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of his return.

So here it is, the cross symbolized by the climb; but after the cross comes the glory.

II The Productiveness of Trials And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

All the climbing has paid off. Now comes the fruit of all that hard work. The Lord gives them a glimpse of glory! They get to see the glory that Jesus has always had with the Father. He is dazzlingly bright. A similar vision from the Book of Revelation gives us more detail:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, … His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev 1:12-17).

Yes, all the climbing has paid off. Now comes the glory, the life, the reward for endurance and struggle. Are you enjoying any of the fruits of your crosses now? If we have carried our crosses in faith, it has made us more confident, stronger. Some of us have discovered gifts, abilities, and endurance we never knew we had. Our crosses have brought us life! St. Paul said, that this momentary affliction is producing for us a weight of glory beyond all compare (2 Cor 4:14). He also said, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom 8:18).

So here is the glory that comes after the climb. Here is the life that comes from the cross.

III. The Pattern of Trials – Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Although Peter wanted to stay, Jesus makes it clear that they must go down the mountain for the time being and walk a very dark valley to another hill (Golgotha); for now, the pattern must repeat. The cross has led to glory, but more crosses are needed before the final glory. An old spiritual says, “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder … every round goes higher, higher, soldiers of the cross!

This is our life. Always carrying within our self the dying of Christ so also that [the rising of Christ], the life of Christ may be manifest in us (cf 2 Cor 4:10).

There are difficult days ahead for Jesus and the Apostles, but the crosses lead to lasting glory. This is our life too. The paschal mystery is the pattern and rhythm of our life.

Here is an excerpt from the song “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” The song repeats, “… every round goes higher, higher.” One can almost imagine a spiral staircase as the rounds get pitched higher musically. This is the pattern of our life: we die with Christ so as to live with Him. Each time we come back around to the cross, or back around to glory, we are one round higher and one level closer to final glory.

Flee to the Truth When Tempted – A Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

The Gospel today says that Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert. Hebrews 4:15 also affirms, For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

How exactly a divine person, with a sinless human nature, experiences temptation is somewhat mysterious, and yet the text affirms that He does. A Lenten antiphon from the Breviary teaches that He did this, or allowed this, for our sake: Come, let us worship Christ the Lord, who for our sake endured temptation and suffering (Invitatory Antiphon for Lent). Hence, even without pondering too deeply the mystery of how He was tempted or experienced it, we can still learn what Jesus teaches us about how to endure temptation and be victorious over it. (More on the question of how Christ was tempted is available here.)

Before we look at each temptation, we might learn a few general aspects of what the Lord teaches us in electing to endure temptation.

Temptation and Sin – The fact that the Lord is tempted yet did not sin tells us that there is a distinction to be made between temptation and sin. Too often the very experience of temptation makes us feel sinful, as if we have already sinned, but that is not necessarily the case. Jesus, who never sinned, experienced temptation. Therefore, experiencing temptation is not to be equated with sin. One of the tactics of the devil is to discourage us into thinking that way. Some of our past sins may influence the degree to which we feel tempted, but we need not conclude that we have already sinned, or newly sinned, merely because we are tempted. Rather than to feel shame and run from God, we ought to run to Him with confidence and seek his Help.

Temptation and Scripture – Notice that Jesus responds to every temptation with Scripture. This is not to be equated with proof-texting or pronouncing biblical slogans. Rather, it indicates that Jesus was deeply rooted in Scripture, in the wisdom of the Biblical vision. In rebuking temptation in this way, Jesus is teaching us to do the same. It will not be enough for us to know a few biblical sayings, but to the degree that we are deeply rooted in the wisdom of God’s truth available to us through Scripture and the teachings of the Church, we are able to strongly rebuke unholy, worldly, or fleshly thinking. Half the battle in defeating temptation is knowing instinctively its erroneous vision. Having our minds transformed by the teachings of Scripture and the Church is essential in fighting temptation. Scripture says, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). Ephesian 6:17 speaks of the Word of God as the sword of the Spirit, with which we are properly armed for spiritual warfare. Thus, we are taught here by the Lord to be deeply rooted in His Word.

Temptation and Strength – Jesus is tempted three times, after which the devil leaves Him. In a certain way, the spiritual life is like the physical life, in that we grow stronger through repeated action. After lifting weights repeatedly, our physical strength increases and we are able to overcome increasingly difficult challenges. It is the same with the spiritual life. An old gospel song says, “Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin. Each victory will help you, some other to win.” Scripture says, Resist the devil and he will flee (James 4:7). We need not conclude from this that Jesus needed to be strengthened (He did not) in order to understand that He is still teaching us what we need to do. The battle against temptation is not a “one and you’re done” scenario, but an ongoing battle in which each victory makes us stronger and the devil more discouraged. As we grow stronger, the devil eventually stops wasting his time tempting us in certain areas. At times the battle may weary us, but in the long run, it strengthens us. Jesus illustrates this with his three-fold battle with Satan.

Having review a few general principles, let’s look at the three temptation scenes.

Scene I: The Temptation of PassionsAt that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

Hunger, as a desire, is a passion. It is not evil per se, for without it we would perish. The same is true of other natural desires for things like life, drink, and procreation (sexuality). We have other sorts of passions such as anger, love, joy, aversion, hatred, hope, despair, fear, and courage. Of themselves, these passions are neither good nor bad. Passions become bad only in relation to their object or insofar as we allow them to become inordinate.

Hence there is nothing wrong with Jesus as He experiences hunger. What the devil tries to do is to draw Jesus into the sin of yielding to His hunger and using His power inappropriately. Remember, Jesus had been led into the desert by the Spirit in order to fast and pray. This is His call. His hunger is real and without sin, but now He is tempted to set aside His call and to yield to His hunger in an inappropriate way, by rejecting his call to fast. Jesus is tempted to serve Himself. He obviously has the power to turn stones into bread, so a second temptation is to use His power inappropriately, to gratify and serve Himself rather than to glorify His Father.

What about us? We have passions, too. They are not wrong in themselves, but we can allow them to become inordinate or gratify them in unlawful ways. Remember that we, like Jesus, are called to fast. Our fast is from things like sin, injustice, unrighteousness, sexual impurity, unlawful pleasures, and excessive indulgence. We have it have it in our power to choose to reject our fast and to gratify our desires by rejecting our call to serve God. The devil tempts us to reject our call and to use our power to gratify our passions by lying, cheating, stealing, venting our anger, fornicating, and being gluttonous or greedy.

Jesus has recourse to God’s Word: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus tells Satan that He would rather live and be sustained by the Word than by food; His food is doing the will of His Father.

What about us? Can we say, Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food (Job 23:12)? Can we say that God’s Word is more important to us than my desires for satisfaction, sex, self-preservation, popularity, worldly joys, power, prestige, or possessions? Can we say that our strongest desire is for God and the things awaiting us in Heaven and that we will gladly forsake everything for it?

Scene II. The Temptation of PresumptionThen the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

It is important to trust God, but this is not an invitation to act recklessly. There will come a time when Jesus will throw himself down on the cross with the complete assurance that the Father will raise Him. He has this command from His Father. But now is not that time and Jesus must act to preserve and protect His life so that he can accomplish His full mission.

Presumption is a terrible problem today. Too many people think that they can go on sinning and that there will be, or should be, no consequences. This is true in both worldly and spiritual ways. Too many engage in risky and ruinous behavior and think, “I’ll be OK. I’ll escape. I won’t be a statistic. I won’t get caught. I won’t lose my job.” Many think, “I can use drugs without becoming addicted. I can have evil friends and still stay good and live morally. I can skip school and still get good grades. I can be promiscuous and won’t get a disease or become pregnant. I can drive recklessly and won’t have an accident. I can be disrespectful and still command respect.” In all this people are simply “cruisin’ for a bruisin’.”

Regarding the moral presumptiveness of thinking that no matter what we do, Heaven will still be the result, the Lord warns,

Say not I have sinned, yet what has befallen me? For the Lord bides his time. But of forgiveness be not overconfident adding sin upon sin. … Delay not your conversion to the Lord, put it not off from day to day for mercy and justice are alike with him (Sirach 5:4).

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in well‑doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart (Gal 6:7).

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. (Hosea 8:7).

But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices. If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! (Psalm 81:11)

God clearly warns us that sin sets us on a path that hardens our heart and makes our final conversion increasingly unlikely. In this Lenten season, He is pleading with us to be serious about sin and its consequences. Sin renders us not only unfit for Heaven, but incapable of entering it.

A bad idea – Presuming that everything will be fine is not only a poor strategy, it is a snare of the devil, who seeks to cloud our mind with false hope and unreasonable expectations. Jesus has a very clear message for the devil and for any of us who would engage in presumption: Don’t you dare put the Lord your God to the test in this way. Obey Him out of love, but do not put Him to the test. Yes, presumption is a very foolish idea.

Scene III. The Temptation of Possessions Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”

Here is the obvious temptation of worldly possessions. Everything, everything, is offered to Jesus in exchange for a little worship of the devil. Tt may seem strange to us that having an abundance of things would be linked to worshiping the devil and forsaking God, but Scripture attests to this connection elsewhere:

  1. Adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).
  2. Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (1 John 2:15).
  3. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Matt 6:24).

This is all pretty blunt. We want to have both, but the Lord is clear in rebuking this temptation by insisting that we must serve God alone, adore God alone. The inordinate love of this world causes us to hate God more and more and to bow before Satan in order to get it. Don’t kid yourself. If this position seems extreme to you then you are calling God an extremist. The Lord is warning us that there is a major conflict here that steals our heart. For where a man’s treasure is, there is his heart (Matt 6:21). It is not wrong to desire what we really need to live, but our wants get us into trouble. The desire for riches ruins us and makes God seem as a thief rather than a savior. This is a very severe temptation and Jesus rebukes it forcefully. Him along shall you serve.

We need to beg God for single-hearted devotion to him. The Book of Proverbs has a nice prayer in this regard: Give me neither poverty nor riches, lest in my poverty I steal or in my riches I say “Who is the Lord?” (Prov 30:8-9, gloss)

In the end, temptations are real; we either accept God’s grace to fight them or we are going down. The Lord wants to teach us today about the reality of temptation and how to fight it, by His grace. Remember, the battle is the Lord’s and no weapon waged against us will prosper if we cling to His grace. In the end, the choice is clear: either tackle temptation (by God’s grace) or risk ruination (by Satan’s “ministrations”).

This song says,

“Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin. Each victory will help you, some other to win. Fight valiantly onward. Evil passions subdue. Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through. Ask the Savior to help you, comfort strengthen and keep you; He is willing to aid you, He will carry you through.”

A Picture of the Transformed Human Person – A Homily for the Sixth Sunday of the Year

The Gospel for Sunday’s Mass is from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), specifically 5:17-37. In a way the Lord is drawing a picture for us of the transformed human person. He is presenting a kind of slide show of what sanctity really is. In understanding this rather lengthy text we do well to reflect on it in three parts.

I. The Power of New Life in Christ – We have discussed before that an important principle of the Christian moral vision is that it is received, not achieved. Holiness is a work of God. The human being acting out the power of his flesh alone cannot keep, and surely cannot fulfill, the Law. The experience of God’s people in the Old Testament bears this out. True holiness (not merely ethical rule-keeping) is possible only by and through God’s grace.

We must understand the moral vision given by Jesus as a description rather than a mere prescription. Notice what the text says here: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill [the Law]. It is Jesus who fulfills the Law. And we, who are more and more in Him and He in us, do what He does; it is His work.

Jesus describes these signs that we are transformed human beings:

  • Jesus Christ really begins to live His life in us (Gal 2:20).
  • The power of His cross goes to work in us and puts sin to death (Rom 6:2).
  • Jesus increases and we decrease (Jn 3:30).
  • Our old self is crucified with Him so that sin will no longer master us (Rom 6:6-7).

This is a work of God; the power is in the Blood and the cross. The power comes to us by grace. It is all a work of God.

Hence, in today’s Gospel, Jesus is not giving us a rigorous set of rules to follow (and they are rigorous), but is describing what the transformed human person is like. His description is not an impossible ideal, but is set forth as the normal Christian life. The normal Christian is a transformed human person. The normal Christian man has authority over his anger and sexuality, loves his wife and family, and is a man of his word. All this comes to him as the fruit of God’s grace.

It is very important to understand that this is a life offered to us by God. If we do not see it in that we, we are simply left with moral rules: Don’t be so angry or unchaste; don’t get divorced; and don’t lie. Rather, what is offered here is new life in Christ such that, on account of an inner transformation by the power of grace, our anger abates, our unchastity diminishes, our love of others increases, and we speak the truth in love. The power to do this comes not from our flesh but from the Lord, through the power of His cross to put sin to death and bring forth new life in us.

II. The Principle of New Life in Christ – Jesus’ moral vision is that, by His grace, we do not merely keep the Law, but fulfill it. The key word is “fulfill,” meaning to fill something until it is full, to exceed the minimum requirements. When we fulfill the Law, we enter into the full vision and meaning of the Law.

Thus, to use Jesus’ examples from today’s Gospel:

  • It is not enough to refrain from killing. True life in God means that I harbor no vengeful hatred. I love even my enemies and am reconciled with people I have wrongfully hurt or offended.
  • It is not enough to avoid adultery. True life in Christ means that I am chaste and pure even in my thoughts. By God’s grace, I have authority over what I am thinking and shun unchaste thoughts.
  • It is not enough to follow proper divorce law. True life in Christ means I have no desire to divorce my wife. I love her and my children. I am reconciled to her and accept that she is not perfect, just as I am not perfect.
  • It is not enough to refrain from swearing false oaths. True life in Christ means speaking the truth in love, being a man of my words. The grace of God keeps me from being duplicitous and deceitful.

In all these ways, the Law is not merely kept; it is fulfilled. It is filled full in that all these implications are abundantly and joyfully lived out as Jesus Christ transforms me. Christ came to fulfill the Law, and as our union with Christ grows more perfect we also fulfill the Law. For what Christ does, we do; we are in Him and He in us. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).

III. The Picture of New Life in Christ. – The Lord then continues on to provide six descriptions of a transformed person. Today’s Gospel contains four of them. These pictures are often called “antitheses” because they are all formulated in this way: You have heard that it was said … but I say to you …. The key point is to see them as pictures of what happens to a person in whom Jesus Christ is really living. Let’s look at each.

A. On Anger You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever says to brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. The Lord teaches us that the commandment not to kill has a deeper meaning. What leads to murder? Is it not the furnace of anger, retribution, and hatred within us? We may all experience a flash of anger and it passes. Further, there is such a thing as righteous anger, which is caused by the perception of injustice and sin. The Lord Himself exhibited this sort of anger on many occasions. This type of anger is not condemned. Rather the anger that is condemned is that which is born of hate and vengeance, anger that goes so far as to wish harm to another or to deny his human dignity; this is what leads to murder.

That the Lord has this sort of anger in mind is revealed in the examples He cites, which use the words Raqa and fool. These words express contempt and hatred. Raqa has no clear translation, but seems to have had the same impact as the “N word” does today. It was a very hurtful word expressing deep contempt. Such utterances cannot come from a person in whom the Lord authentically lives. And to the degree that we allow Christ to live in us, they will not. Increasingly, we cannot hate others, for the Lord is in us and He died for all of us out of love. How can I hate someone He loves?

The Lord makes it clear that if we don’t rid ourselves of this anger, we are going to jail: Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. Either we allow the Lord to effect this reconciliation in us or we’re off to jail! Whether the jail is Hell or purgatory (for it would seem that there is release from this jail after the last penny is paid), it is jail. We are not going to Heaven unless and until this matter is resolved. Why delay the issue? Let the Lord work it now. Don’t go to jail because of your grudges and your stubborn refusal to admit your own offenses.

B. On LustYou have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. The Lord teaches us that the commandment against adultery has a deeper meaning. It is not merely about transgressing marital boundaries. To fill this Law full means to be chaste in all matters, in mind and in heart.

It is certainly wrong to engage in any illicit sexual union, but if one is looking at pornography or fanaticizing about others sexually, one is already in adultery. What the Lord is offering us here is a clean mind and pure heart. He is offering us authority over our sexuality and our thoughts. For those who are in Christ, self-mastery increases and purity of mind and heart become a greater reality. Our flesh alone cannot do this, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory in Christ. It is His work in us to give us these gifts.

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. We have to be serious about these matters. The Lord is using hyperbole to make a point: it is more serious to sin than to lose your eyesight or one of your limbs.

Most people don’t think this way; they make light of sin—sexual sin in particular. God does not make light of sin. Jesus teaches here that it is worse to lose our soul than to lose a part of our body. If we were to lose our eyesight or a limb to cancer, we would probably beg the Lord to deliver us. Why do we not think of sin in this way? Why are we not horrified to the same degree? We are clearly skewed in our thinking. Jesus is clear that these sorts of sins can land us in Hell (which is here called Gehenna). Lustful thinking, pornography, masturbation, fornication, adultery, contraception, and homosexual acts are not part of life in Christ, who wants to give us freedom and authority over our sexual passions.

Many people today are in some pretty serious bondage when it comes to sexuality. Jesus stands before us all and says, “Come let me live in you and give you the gift of sexual purity. It will be my gift to you. It will be my work in you to set you free from all disordered passions.”

C. On DivorceIt was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife—unless the marriage is unlawful—causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. At the time of the Lord Jesus, divorce was permitted in Israel, but a man had to follow certain rules. But the Lord says that to fulfill marriage law is to love your spouse. He teaches that when He begins to live His life in us, love for our spouse will grow; love for our children will deepen. Divorce won’t even occur to us! Who wants to divorce someone he loves?

If the Lord can help us to love our enemy, then He can surely cause us to love our spouse. Some of the deepest hurts can occur in marriage, but the Lord can heal all wounds and help us to forget the painful things of the past.

The Lord is blunt here. He simply refuses to recognize a piece of paper from a human judge approving a divorce. God is not impressed by a legal document and may well consider the couple married despite it.

The Lord says, “Come to me, bring me your broken marriage, your broken heart. Let me bring healing. Sometimes one of the spouses simply leaves or refuses to live in peace. In such a case, the Lord can heal by removing the loneliness and hurt that might drive one to a second “marriage” in which there is more trouble waiting. Let the Lord bring strength, healing, and a restoration of unity. He still works miracles and sometimes that is what it takes.

D. On OathsAgain you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one. The people of Jesus’ time had lots of legalism associated with oaths and lots of tricky ways of watering down the truth. The Lord says, just be a man or woman of your word. When Jesus begins to live His life in us, we speak the truth in Love. When we make commitments, we are faithful to them; we do not lie; we don’t “play games” with the truth. God is truth. As He lives in us, we become the truth, speak the truth, and live the truth. This is the gift that Jesus offers us here.

So, then, here are four pictures of a transformed human being. Remember, the Sermon on the Mount is filled more with promises than with prescriptions, descriptions more so than prescriptions. The Lord is telling us what He can and will do for us.

I am a witness to the transformative power of Jesus’ grace and love. I promise you, brethren in the Lord Jesus Christ, that He will do everything He offers us here. It is already happening and is taking deep root in my life. How about you? Are you a witness?

This song, “Breathe in Me,” speaks of the power of Jesus to transform us and of our need for His grace.

You breathe in me, and I’m alive with the power of your holiness.
You breathe in me, and you revive feelings in my soul that I have laid to rest

Chorus: So breathe in me, I need you now.
I’ve never felt so dead within, so breathe in me. 

Maybe somehow you can breathe new life in me again

https://youtu.be/9k5Ep24Br7U

Pass the Salt and Turn on the Lights – A Homily for the Fifth Sunday of the Year

In the Gospel today the Lord describes metaphorically what a Christian is and what He expects of us. Note five things about what God says:

I. The Definitiveness of His Proclamation The text says, You are the Salt of the earth. … You are the light of the World. … But if salt goes flat it is good for nothing. … No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket.

The Lord is definitive in two ways. First,He says, “You.” He is not talking just to people long ago or to the person next to you. He is not merely talking to your pastor or the Saints. He is talking to you. Youare salt. Youare light. You. It’s too easy to say, “Look at what the Lord is saying to those people long ago near the lakeside.” It’s not long ago; it’s now. It’s you.

The second way that the Lord is definitive isin saying that bothimages depend on us; if we are not salt and light then no one else will be and we will have utterly voided our worth.

The metaphor of salt: You are either salt or you are nothing; in fact, you are good for nothing. As Christians, we have signed up to be specialists. This means is that if we go off and do something else instead, we arenothing and are good for nothing. It’s an all-or-nothing scenario. Jesus says that if you have decided to be His disciple you are either going to do that or else be nothing. You may go on to be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, laborer, or social worker, but the Lord has plenty of those (and so does the devil). Your first and only mission is to be a true and uncompromised Christian; everything else is mere commentary. You may be a great doctor, but if you don’t do it as a clear and visible Christian you are nothing. You may be a skilled social worker, but if you don’t do it as a Christian you are good for nothing. Any non-believer can be socially useful as a doctor or social worker, but only a Christian can be a Christian. If you don’t do “job one,” you are nothing. If you supply your children with every good thing, but do not act as a Christian witness to them and bring them to Christ, you are good for nothing. Any parent can provide his children with material things, but only a Christian can give them Christ. Got it? You’re either salt (a true Christian) or you are nothing.

The metaphor of light: The Lord says that you are thelight of the world, not merely alight. What this means is that if we do not shine, the world is darker; no one can take our place. If we don’t shine by living our faith and proclaiming it, the world is in darkness. Buddha can’t help. Mohamed can’t pull it off. Science and humanism can’t substitute. Either we are light or there is none. Some may call this arrogant, but I just call it Scripture. The Lord said it, not us. We are either light or else the world is dark. And if the world is getting darker, whose fault is that? We need not go far. Too many Christians fulfill Isaiah 56:10, which says, Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. You may be an exception, but too many Christians are not.

Therefore, notice the definitive pronouncement the Lord makes here. We Christians are either with the Lord or we’re nothing. We’re either light or the world is in darkness.

II. The Dynamics of Salt– When Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth, what are some of the lessons we can learn? Consider these four things:

Salt seasons.Christians are called to add spice to life, to bring beauty, joy, and hope to the world. Joy is the surest sign of a Christian. Even our keeping of the Commandments is a source of joy, as we experience God’s power to put sin to death in us and bring forth order, self-discipline, and holiness. Hope, too, ought to distinguish us from a world that is often cynical and thinks sin is inevitable. To this world we are not only to declare that the Commandments are possible and bring joy, but to demonstrate it in our lives. We are to be zesty, passionate, alive, and free from sin in Christ. Yet, sadly, we Christians are known more for what we are against. Too many Christians are not spicy; they do not really add flavor. They are more like bored believers, depressed disciples, fearful faithful, and frozen chosen. In our best moments, look what spicy things the faith has contributed: Art, music, churches, hospitals, universities, the scholastic and scientific methods, and holidays (a mispronunciation of Holy Days). Our tradition and Scriptural teaching of justice, mercy, love, and the dignity of the human person has blessed the world. Do you bring spice to the lives of others? Do you bring hope and joy? Scripture says, Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you(1 Peter 3:15). That means that people notice hope in you! Do they? How?

Salt preserves. Before refrigeration, people often used salt to cure or preserve meat. The salt killed bacteria and other microorganisms that caused rot and decay. As Christians, we are called to prevent further decay in this sin-soaked world. The truth that we proclaim is meant to preserve people from the decay of sin and overindulgence. Chastity, justice, generosity, and the proclamation of the truth, are like salt that preserves this world from decay. We must be salt. If we are not, nothing else is. Youare the salt.

Salt heals. In the ancient world, salt was used on wounds. It helped to stop bleeding, killed bacteria, and prevented further infection. So, too, the Christian faith. Through our doctrinal and moral teaching, and our living of it, we are called to bring healing to this world, which is wounded by sin, strife, war, jealousy, anger, bitterness, retribution, promiscuity, unfaithfulness, greed, and countless other errors. The Word of God and His plan is a healing medicine for what ails this world.

Salt burns. Yes, salt stings when applied to wounds. We Christians aren’t just sugar and spice and everything nice. When salt is applied to wounds it burns and often brings out loud protest. The truth stings, too. The truth of the Gospel can be irritating to a world that is wounded by sin. But despite the protests of the world, the sting is a healing one. It is driving out the disease of the world and preventing further infection. Just because people protest the Church and howl in complaint at the truth of the Gospel does not mean we have done anything wrong. In fact, protests often show that we are doing exactly what we must.

III. The Destination of Salt The Lord says that you are the salt of the earth. He did not say that you are the salt of the Church. For salt to be effective it has to get out of the shaker! Too many Christians are bold in the pew but cowards in the world. They will speak of the faith in the relative security of the Church and among certain friends, but don’t ask them to preach to their spouse, their co-worker, or even their children; that’s too scary. And don’t even thinkabout asking them to knock on doors, or to go to the local mall and witness, or to stand in front of an abortion clinic.

Salt in the shaker is useless. It has to come out of the shaker in order to make any difference. You don’t salt salt. Witnessing to fellow Christians may have a limited benefit, but it is not really the true destination of salt. The salt has to go forth. When the priest or deacon says “The Mass is ended go in peace,” he might as well be holding up a salt shaker and shaking it!

It’s long past time for the salt (you and me) to go forth. Consider these observations about life in our country today:

    • In the last fifty years there has been an increase of more than a 500% in violent crime.
    • There are more than half a million abortions each year.
    • Since 1970, the divorce rate has quadrupled. The overall number of divorces may have declined recently, but it is due more to people not getting married in the first place.
    • More than 40% of children today do not live with both their biological parents. Since the 1970s, the percentage of children living in single-parent homes has tripled.
    • As the family has broken down, here is what has been happening to our young:
      • a quadrupling in juvenile arrests,
      • a 400% increase in births outside of wedlock,
      • one million teenage pregnancies annually,
      • three million teenagers treated annually for sexually transmitted diseases,
      • a 200% increase in the rate of teenage suicide,
      • a drop in average SAT scores,
      • two-thirds of high school students have experimented with illegal drugs.
    • In the schools, one cannot pray or mention religion, yet condoms are freely available and all sorts of aberrant and alternative lifestyles and philosophies are openly promoted.
    • Parental consent is required for a child to go on a field trip or to get an aspirin, but in many states abortion referrals can be made without parental consent.
    • Our neighborhoods are devastated by poverty, injustice, crime, and despair.

All of this has happened on our watch. It’s time for the salt to work. The world needs the salt to get out of the shaker and do its work of seasoning, purifying, and preserving.

The Designation of Pure lightYou are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.You don’t light light; it is the darkness that needs the light. Light is meant to be seen. There are too many undercover Christians, secret agent saints, and hidden holy ones. Jesus didn’t light our light so that we could hide it under a basket out of fear. He wants the Church, you and me, to shine. The Lord wants every Christian to be a light so that it’s like a city on a hill! He wants us to shine so that we can’t be hidden.

The Details of Light Jesus goes on to say, Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. Let’s consider four things about this light:

The CAUSE of the light – Notice that little word: “Let.” We are to yield to Christ, to allow Him to shine through us. He is the cause of our light. Let your light shine. There’s an old gospel song that says, “When you see me trying to do good, trying to live as a Christian should, it’s just Jesus, Jesus in me.”

The COST of the light– The light is to shine, but there is no shining without burning. Shining costs us something. It may be Christ’s light, but it shines through us. This means sacrifice. It means letting Him use you. It means not always sleeping when you want to. It means not just sitting at home and saying, “Ain’t it awful.” It means getting out and getting involved. It means getting “out there” and risking a few things. It means being visible, targeted, and identified with someone (Jesus) who is hated by many. And in a world that prefers the darkness to light (cf.John 3:19-21), it means being called harsh, out-of-touch, and hateful. There is no shining without burning.

The CONCRETENESS of the light –Letting our light shine is no mere abstraction. Jesus speaks of deeds. Shining involves concrete behavior. Your light shines by the way you live, the choices you make, the behavior you exhibit. It shines when Christians get married and stay married, stay faithful to their commitments, and are people of their word. Our light shines when we tell the truth instead of lying, live chastely instead of fornicating, are courteous and respectful instead of rude. It shines when we respect life, drive safely, and shun reckless and risky behavior. Our light shines when we clean up our language, give to the poor, and work for justice. It shines when we refuse to purchase pornographic, violent, or other degrading materials. Our light shines when we love instead of hate, seek reconciliation instead of revenge, and pray for our enemies instead of cursing them. It shines when we walk uprightly and speak the truth in love, without compromise. That’s when our light begins to shine.

The CONSEQUENCE of the light– God is glorified when our light shines. We do not act or get involved merely to vent our own anger or to fight for our own sake. We are light to glorify God. It is not about our winning, it is about God shining and being glorified. When we do get involved, too often we seek merely to win the argument rather than to glorify God. Often we act in order to garner praise rather than to have God glorified. We need to pray for good intentions, for it is possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason. The desired result is God’s glory not our glory.

OK, now pass the salt and turn on the light!

Perspectives on the Presentation—A Homily for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

The liturgical focus of the Feast of the Presentation, which we celebrate today, is light. Christ is our light, and the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light! In the Gospel, Simeon holds the infant Jesus and calls Him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” Thus, this feast has long featured the carrying of candles by the faithful in procession and the blessing of candles. For this reason, the feast was often called Candlemas.

Today’s feast celebrates the “purification” of Our Lady. As a Jewish woman, she presented herself forty days after giving birth to be blessed and welcomed back to the community. I have written more on the history of that practice here: The Churching of Women.

In this reflection, we will attend to four teachings or perspectives gleaned from the readings. We are taught that our relationship with Jesus is cleansing, consoling, compelling, and communing.

Cleansing– The Gospel opens with this description: When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

It might strike us as oddor even irritating that a woman would need to be purified after giving birth, but ancient Jewish practice exhibited great reverence for the rituals of both birth and death. On account of the deep mysteries of life represented by these events, as well as the fluids (e.g., blood, amniotic fluid) that accompanied them, a purification or blessing was deemed necessary for return to the community. (Read more at the link above.)

Remember that this is nota moral purification, for nothing immoral had been done. Rather, it was a ceremonial purification wherein one was cleansed or made fit again to enter into the public worship and liturgical actions of Israel. Consider, for example, that even in our culture a person who has been outside working and comes back sweaty and in soiled clothes is expected to bathe and put on clean clothing before going to Mass; this does not mean that there is anything sinful in good, honest, necessary work. The Jews extended this idea much further than we do today and there were detailed (frankly, often bewildering) rules about what made one unclean and how/when one should be purified. Very early on, the Church simplified and/or largely abrogated these ideas about certain foods being unclean and what made a person unclean (see Acts 15).

While we may wonder (or even scoff) at these older notions, all of us need purification and cleansing. We are sinners, and we live in a world tainted by sin. The Lord must purify us all; unless this happens, we will never be able to endure the great holiness, glory, and purity of God.

Jesus our savior alone can cleanse and purify us to make us able to endure the glory of God. The first reading describes our need for purification and points to Jesus as the one who purifies us:

But who can endure the day of [the Lord’s] coming? And who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye. He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD. Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the LORD, as in the days of old, as in years gone by(Mal 3:2-4).

Yes, only the Lord Himself can purify us to endure His glory. Thank you, Jesus, our light and our savior, for the sanctifying grace without which we could never hope to endure and rejoice in the glory that awaits. Thank you, Jesus for your grace and mercy, by which we are able to stand before our Father and praise Him for all eternity. Thank you, Jesus, our purifier, our savior, and our Lord.

Consoling Well aware of the burden of sin, ancient Israel longed for a savior. The pious knew well that sin brought strife, pain, and grief. Among the pious who longed for the Messiah were Simeon and Anna, who frequented the Temple looking and longing.

Of Simeon we are told:

[He] was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.

Of Anna, who is described as among those who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem, we are told:

[She was] a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.

Simeon and Anna are two of the pious of Israel longing and looking for the Messiah who would save the people and bring consolation and peace.

What does it mean to have true consolation and peace? It is to be reconciled to the Father, Abba; to once again see Him and be able to walk with Him in the Garden in the cool of the morning. True consolation and peace are found only when the gates of Heaven are opened, and we look once again upon the glorious and serene face of our Father who loves us.

This is a gift that can come only by the ministry of Jesus, for no one knows the Father but the Son and anyone to whom the Son reveals Him. Jesus is our peace and our consolation by leading us back to His Father in and through His Sacred Heart and by His Holy Passion.

Holding the baby Jesus, Simeon is holding the Gift of the Father, a tremendous gift of peace and consolation come to him in a kind of prevenient way. So, Simeon can say,

Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.

Such a consolation it was to hold the infant Jesus and know that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to save us! Simeon could now go forth in peace from this world for He had beheld the light of God’s saving love in Jesus.

Compelling– In today’s Gospel we are told that Jesus is no inconsequential figure. He is the one on whom all human history, collective and personal, hinges. The “hinge” is our choice either for or against Jesus.

Simeon says to Mary,

Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted—and you yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

Jesus compels a choice.We are free to choose for or against Him, but we mustchoose. Upon this choice depends our rise or fall.

Jesus says, Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters(Matt 12:30).

St. Paul writes (in Acts), In the past God overlooked ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead(Acts 17:30). And in Corinthians he writes, We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God(2 Cor 5:20).

Where will you spend eternity? That depends on your stance toward Jesus. Will you choose Him? You are free to choose, but you are not free not to choose! On this choice your very life will rise or fall.

Communing Jesus did not merely save us from on high. He became flesh and lived among us.

In today’s Gospel we read,

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Consider the intimacy of Jesus dwelling among us then and tabernacled among us now in the Blessed Sacrament and in the temple of our heart through His Spirit. Our Lord seeks communion with us and is not ashamed to call us His brethren (Heb 2:11).

On this Feast of the Presentation, allow the Lord into the temple of your heart. Give Him access to your soul by receiving Him in Holy Communion and seeking His presence tabernacled in our churches. Today, Jesus is presented not only in the ancient temple but to you. Reach out to hold on to Him. Like Simeon, receive Him in your heart. Like Anna, run and tell others to come.

Jesus, our light and our salvation, is here.He brings with Him cleansing, consoling, and communing. He also compelsa choice. Choose Him now; run to Him. He is here, and He is calling!