Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday, March 11, 2012 - Third Sunday in Lent

A wonderful reflection by Deacon Jim Miles!
Based upon what was published yesterday in the New York Times, I have re-written my homily of the today.  It follows.

His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me.

Today, as we begin our third week of Lenten discipline, we give thanks to Holy Mother Church.  We give this thanks because, without her guidance and authority , we like so many smaller “non-denominational” Christian churches could take a piece of scripture like the one proclaimed in the Gospel and run with it.  We could develop a complete view of Jesus’ message based upon this one incident where he drives the money changers and merchants from the Gentile Court of the Temple in Jerusalem.
You may say to yourselves; “What is the Deacon talking about?”  But taken out of context, this one verse could direct a group of unsophisticated believers down a path of violence.  And there are people willing to listen to violence, especially when the alternative is to lie down and be walked on. 
This is especially apparent today because it is the way we should all be feeling. If you feel about the Church, as Jesus obviously felt about the temple, then your blood should be about boiling right now. 
Jesus became irate because he walked into the temple and saw that unscrupulous merchants had taken over a part of the temple normally set aside for non-Jewish people to come and pray – the region called the “Gentile Court”.  Instead of accepting the invitation to worship God from this place, they had set up merchant stalls, taking advantage of Hebrew pilgrims coming in from all over the world. 
These pilgrims would come needing to sacrifice at the temple and pay their temple-tax.  They faced two challenges.  First, if they were coming a long way, and most were, they would need to carry this animal with them to be sacrificed in accordance with Hebrew Law and it needed to be alive.  It was much easier to purchase one at the end of their pilgrimage.  The second challenge they faced was they were going to have to pay a “temple tax”.  It was like passing the collection basket once a year.  The problem here again was the temple did not accept Roman currency, only the Tyrian half-sheke was accepted and those traveling from other parts of the empire needed to change their money.
When Jesus entered and saw these merchants had turned a place of prayer into a place of commerce, he became outraged.  Scripture tells us that he uncharacteristically use physical force to drive those who preyed upon the pilgrims from the Gentile Court.  In taking that physical stance against them, he probably signed his own death warrant.  Not only did he create animosity on the part of the Temple leadership (who were likely getting a piece of the action) but he also created enmity between he and the secular profiteers whom he had displaced.
We understand why the Lord became so upset.  As St. Luke says, his disciples recalled Psalm 69 “…Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Now the question; Does it consume you?  All but the most ardent Catholics will be unaware of what landed in the New York Times yesterday.  A secularist group from Wisconsin spent $52,000 to take out a full page ad inviting us to “…quit the Roman Catholic Church.”  That’s right, the New York Times basically accepted a blatantly anti-Catholic advertisement that attacks our Church as “…a tyrannical and autocratic, woman-hating, sex-perverting, antediluvian Old Boys Club?
If past experience is any indicator, there will be little or no mention of this undisguised “Hate Speech” in the broader media.  Just like the HHS Mandate, which has been pointedly ignored by the major news sources –ABC, NBC, CNN and the rest, this attack will not be reported for what it is.  Secularists do not like it when the Church gets “uppity” and complains when their rights get trampled on.  It’s OK for the Catholic faithful to be forced to pay for someone else’s pills and, according to the popular press, it’s not OK for us to object. Brothers and Sisters, we must object.  Zeal for our Father’s house must consume us.
It is ironic that the very freedoms we feel are threatened by the administration’s stance - that conscientious objection to policies that violate our religious freedom are irrelevant, is being challenged by a group depending upon the same Bill of Rights provisions to protect their freedom of speech. We should all share a great sadness that this kind of attack is supported through complicity by so many.
Today our quest for the peace of Christ is once more disrupted by persecution.  Those that seek only freedom from responsibility and to embrace the “sins of the flesh” have decided to lash out.  Holy Mother Church guides us to remember that the Lord calls us to love our enemies so today, even as we feel the justified outrage at their hatred, we return what Christ calls on us to return – love.  We must feel sorrow for those, so misguided as to think our moral character can be compromised by mere words.  This action does have one positive impact – it reminds us that this battle is not won, rather it is just beginning.

Link to the open letter published by the NYT

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Commands are Cures for A Christian – A Reflection on the First Reading for the Third Sunday in Lent

The first reading today contains the Ten Commandments and thereby communicates a brief but sweeping summary of the Christian and Biblical moral vision. Now, there is a tendency to reduce the Christian moral vision merely to a set of rules. And it is a sad fact that the Catholic Church is often identified by many more for her rules than anything else.

TO be fair, EVERY group and activity has rules. If you join a bowling league there are rules, if you drive on the highway there are rules, if you go work or even to the store there are rules. If you speak a language there are rules. Rules are a necessary reality whenever two or more people interact.

But to see the Christian Moral vision, or the Ten Commandments  simply as a set a rules is to wholly miss the point. For the Commandments seek not so much to have us obey as to have us be open to what God can do for us. They seek not so much to compel us as to conform us unto the image of the transformed and glorious humanity that Christ died to give us.

The Commandments do not so much prescribe, as describe the what the transformed human person is like. And their imperative form is not merely to order us about, but rather is to convey the power that comes from God’s Word. For the same God who commands: “Let there be light” and thus there is light,  also says, “Be holy” and thus conveys to us the power to actually become holy, if we will accept his transformative work. He thus commands to create in us the very holiness he announces.

If we would but see the Commandments as promises, as power, as proleptic (i.e. announcing ahead of time what we will become fully the case later), we would be far let resentful and far more joyful in what the Lord offers. Lets consider aspects of these Commandments today that may help us come to a more helpful understanding of the Christian and Biblical moral vision. For they describe the life Jesus died to give us, a wholly transformed and increasingly glorified life, as we see sins put to death and every kind of virtue come alive.

I. I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. In the first Command, is the promise that we experience increasing love God above all things, above all people and above life in this world itself.

We were made to know God and to have our life centered on him. This is what properly orders and orients us. Whenever we prize any thing or person above God, our lives become miserable and disordered very quickly. If we live for money, power, sex, possessions, popularity, or anything less than God, we are unhappy and our life goes out of order very quickly.
In the first commandment God promises us an increasingly well ordered heart that loves him and his heavenly kingdom above any earthly things. He promises us freedom from the shackles and slavery of this world which seek to claim us, divide our hearts and disorder our life from our true goal.
In this command the Lord seeks to heal our duplicitous and adulterous hearts and to order us to the “one thing necessary,” which is to know and love God above all things. What a blessing, what promise to have our petulant, divided and wounded hearts made whole and directed to God.
So much serenity comes from being focused on the ONE, who is God. And God can do this for us.

II. You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain – In this command the Lord  promises a heart with which to love him. For to revere the Name of God is to have deep love for God, a deep experience of wonder and awe. It is to have also experienced God’s tender and abiding love for us. And with this gift to love God, comes a heart that is sensitive and open to every gift the Lord wants to give.
When we love God we keep his ways not because we have to but because we eagerly want to. To fear his name is revere and love God, to have deep gratitude and to be docile and open to his every word. We love God’s name because we love him.
God can give us this gift to love him in a deep and  abiding way. He promises it in this commandment.

III. Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God. In this Commandment the Lord promises us a joyful sense of resting in him and of allowing him to minister to us.
Too many see Church as a duty, but to those who are transformed by God and alive in his love, Holy Mass is the greatest privilege of their life. What a joy to go and be with God and among God’s people, and to hear the joyful shout, and to praise the God we love. What a privilege to be taught by God and fed with his Body and Blood, to be strengthened for every good work.
And as the Lord begins to transform our hearts, we begin to look forward to the greatest day of the week, Sunday. We joyfully anticipate going to be with our Lord and hearing his voice and having deep communion with him and all the saints and angels.
Yes, God can give us a heart for worship, a desire for praise, a hunger for his Word, and for the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. No more is Mass a tedious ritual, it is a transformative reality. Again, God promises this and he can do it for us.

IV. Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you. Here too is a promise of God to give us a deep love for our parents, elders, lawful authority and an openness to the wisdom of the elders who have long preceded us. He promises to cool our pride and the rebellion that close us off from the blessings of obedience and reverence for the wisdom of the elders.
One of the chief problems of the modern age is our disrespect for elders. Even parents and elders who are not perfect (and none are) have important things to teach me. I learned probably as much from my parents struggles as from their strengths.
But without reverence and respect there can be no teaching, no handing on of previous wisdom and knowledge. We live in times that are largely cut off from the past and we are dismissive of previous generations.
Because of our pride there comes forth a hermeneutic of discontinuity, of disconnectedness from the past. We do a lot of stupid things and lack wisdom that was common in the past. In this command the Lord promises us a heart that is docile, i.e. open to instruction, a heart that reveres and listens to the wisdom of elders, lawful authority and past generations.
The Lord wants to unlock for us the collected wisdom of thousands of years of experience wherein he taught our ancestors and guided them over and through many trials, difficulties, victories and joys.  In this command the Lord describes and promises to quell the rebellion and pride that lock us down and turn us in ourselves.

V. You shall not kill. - In this Command the Lord promises to quell the anger, hate, resentfulness and revengeful spirit that eat at us and unleash terrible destruction.
The Lord describes a transformed person who has authority over his anger and is able to love even his enemies, who is able to forgive and keep serenity even under trial.
The Lord describes a person who loves and respects life, a person who works to build up life in others rather than tear down.
He describes a person who reverences the sacredness of every human life and sees in it hand and the love of God.
God describes here one who is joyful at life, ecstatic over eternal life and eager to share life and love with others, both here and in the life to come. What a gift simply to love others. And God can do this for us.

VI. You shall not commit adultery. – Here the Lord promises to quell the often unruly passions of lust. He declares that the transformed human person has authority over his or her sexuality. The Lord also offers us a joyful reverence for the sacredness of human life in its origins and for marriage.
Too many people today are enslaved to sexuality through terrible addictions to pornography. Many have difficulty with fornication, masturbation, adultery. Homosexual acting out is also a terrible problem today. And the consequences of all the sexual bondage of our times is high: STDs, AIDS, abortion, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood (absent fatherhood), high divorce rates, cohabitation, and the huge toll all this takes on children who are raised in all this confusion, and lack of proper family foundations.
God wants to set us free. He wants to cool our lusts, give us authority over our sexuality and bring us to sexual maturity.
The transformed human person God describes here reverences the gift of sexuality and knows is purpose and place. God can give us pure hearts, and minds and promises it in this commandment.

VII. You shall not steal. - In this commandment the Lord wants to instill in us a gratitude for what we have, and to quell our greed, and cool our fear. For some steal out of fear that they do not have enough, others on account of greed, still others because they are not satisfied with what they already have.
God also, in this Commandment wants to give us a love for the poor and desire to share our excess with them. For if I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor. And to unreasonably withhold my excess from the poor is a form of theft.
The transformed human person God describes, is generous, grateful, and increasingly free of the fear that makes him hoard. Here too, God promises a new and generous heart and he who commands it is he who will accomplish it.

VIII. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. - God here describes and promises a great love for the truth and a reverence for the reputation of others. In a way there is nothing more precious in human terms than our reputation for by it all other doors are opened.
The transformed human person loves others and is eager to point to their gifts when others would detract or calumniate. He is not interested in sharing or hearing unnecessary information about others and says only the good things that people really need to hear.
The transformed person also speaks the truth in love. He or she has a well trained tongue and speaks only to glorify God. His conversation is always full of grace, seasoned with salt (Col 4:6). God who commands this is the same God who can will do this for us.

IX & X . You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him. Here the Lord whats to quell within us the fires of Greed. Greed is the insatiable desire for more. And when greed takes off we are miserable, never having enough, always wanting and needing more.
The Lord wants to set us free from the aching desire to possess what another has.
He wants to give us a heart that is increasingly set upon and satisfied with the good things waiting for us in heaven. Yes, the Lord describes the transformed human person as once again freed from enslaving passions.
God who commands this is also the God who can do this.

See how different this understanding is from understanding the Christian and Biblical moral vision as rules? They are not rules, they are releases. They are not hoops to jump through, they are hopes that inspire. How do you see the Commandments?

In the Gospel today Jesus cleanses the temple and says they have turned it into a marketplace. But you are the Temple of God, and the danger for us is that we sell ourselves short by accepting mediocrity. We sell our souls to the world, the flesh and the devil, and take, in exchange, their false and empty promises.

The Lord enters the temple of our souls and seeks to drive out every huckster who seeks to buy us out. Jesus has already paid the price of our redemption. And our totally transformed life, the life described in the Commandments and the moral vision of the Scriptures is the life that Christ died to give us. Do not settle for anything less. 99 1/2 won’t do, Got to make a Hundred.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunday, March 5, 2012 - Second Sunday in Lent

This is a great homily by Msgr Charles Pope for the 2nd Sunday in Lent

Beams of Heaven As I Go – A Meditation on the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent

What is it that gives hope, shalom peace and serene joy to the Christian life? Briefly put, it is the vision of glory, a glimpse into the Promised Land of heaven which the Lord can and does give to his people. Today’s Gospel shows forth a kind of process wherein the Lord lays the foundations of hope, peace and joy for his disciples and for us. Lets look at four aspects of how the Lord lays this foundation.

I. The Paradoxical Prelude - The Text says Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. Note how the Lord, in order to get them to a place where they can see glory must first lead them “up a high mountain.”

Now we often pass over this fact, that they had to climb that mountain. And the climb was no easy task. Any one who has been to the sight of Tabor knows what high mountain it is. The climb was almost 2000 feet, high and steep. It may have taken the better part of a day and probably had its dangers. Once at the top it is like looking from an airplane window out on the Jezreel Valley (a.k.a. Megiddo or Armageddon). So here is a symbol of the cross and of struggle. A climb was up the rough side of the mountain: exhausting, difficult, testing their strength.

I have it on the best of authority that as they climbed they were singing gospel songs:  
I’m comin’ up on the rough side of the mountain, and I’m doin’ my best to carry on! Another songs 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.
Now, this climb reminds us of our life. For often we have had to climb, to endure and have our strength tested. Perhaps it was the climb of getting a college degree. Perhaps it was the climb of raising children, or building a career. What do you have that you really value that did not come at the price of a climb…. of effort and struggle? And most of us know that, though the climb is difficult, there is glory at  the top, but we have to endure and push through. Life’s difficulties are often the prelude to success and greater strength.

And herein lies the paradox, that peace and joy and hope are often the product of struggles, of climbs, of difficulties. These things are often the prelude, the paradoxical prelude to seeing and experiencing glory. Scripture says
  1. 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 (Romans 5:3-4)
  2. 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. It is 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 test tube of fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of his return (1 Peter 1:6).
Yes, there is a paradoxical prelude to glory and it can only come through God’s wisdom, for human being just don’t think this way. An old hymn says:
Trials dark on every hand. And we cannot understand, all the ways 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.

II. The Practices Portrayed – The text lays out various aspects of how they come to experience a joyful peace in the presence of the Lord’s glory. The text says:  
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.”  
In effect we can see three ways that they come to this joyful peace:

1. They are those who See – The text speaks first of the event itself that they see. It uses a word that says the Lord was μετεμορφώθη (metemorphothe), that he was “transfigured,” that his appearance was gloriously altered. In many ways this word, while common in the Christian vocabulary is mysterious and difficult to understand. The text supplies some data, telling us of a brightness that shown through the Lord, a kind of dazzling light.

But we ought not get lost in speculation and miss the point. And point is that Peter, James and John are given a glorious vision! Beams of heaven! Yes, this is Jesus. This is who he really is. And the magnificence of his glory so astounds them that they fall down in reverence.
Have you ever seen or experience glory? Maybe it was at the birth of a child, or upon hearing wonderful news. Perhaps it was a profound experience of relief, or a deep vision in prayer or at the liturgy. Yes, look for glory and rejoice when it comes!

We have got to learn to see things as they really are. What ever trials and struggles we must endure on the way, if we are faithful, our end is glory.
So look for glory and expect to find it. The Lord can and does give us glimpses of glory in our life, beams of heaven as we go! Do not minimize glories when they are revealed and cultivate a spirit of wonder and awe and what God has done and continues to do in creation, and in your life. Glory is all around us. And learning to see this glory is one of the ways God produces peace in us.

2. They are those who are Scriptural - Do you notice how the text says that Moses and Elijah appeared with him. Why them? Because Moses and Elijah represent the the Law and the Prophets, which is a Jewish way of speaking of the Bible. And thus, another way of having peace produced in us is to search the Scriptures. The other day I “cheated” and looked at the last page of the Bible. I know, we are not there yet, but looked anyway, and guess what it says? It says Jesus wins and so does everyone who is with him. We have got to stay rooted in our story, and the end of our story, if we stay with Jesus is glory. Know your scriptures, and thereby know your story, a story which ends with glory.

3. They are those who Savor – Peter wants to stay on the mountaintop, to pitch tents and stay put. Some preachers give him a hard time for this, but I see it as a good thing in itself, even if excessive. The point is to savor glory;  to store our good memories and experiences of joy and glory deep in our soul; to cultivate a deep gratitude for the good things the Lord has done for us; yes, to savor deeply our experiences of glory.

III. The Prescription Proclaimed - The text then says,  
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.
The prescription couldn’t be simpler and yet how poorly we often follow it: Listen to Jesus! In other words, carefully ponder every word of his teaching and begin to base your life on what he says.

How much pain, anxiety and strife come into this world and our lives simply because we do not listen to the Lord and obey his teachings. Our stubbornness, our lack of forgiveness, our unchastity, our greed, our lack of concern for the poor, our idolatry, our lack of spirituality and the fact that we are often just plain mean, bring enormous suffering to us and to others.

If we would but give our life to the Lord and ask him to conform us to his word, so much suffering would vanish. We would have so much more peace and experience greater joy and hope.
Listen to Jesus and by his grace actually conform your life to what you hear him say. There is not greater source for joy, peace and hope.

IV. The Persevering Purpose – The text says,  
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.
There is a fairly universal agreement that the purpose of this mountaintop experience of glory was to prepare the apostles for the difficult days ahead. And thus, while Jesus tells them to keep it to themselves, they were to keep it, they were to remember it! Having seen and savored glory, having “seen what the end shall be,” having been bathed in beams of heaven, they need to keep this memory alive and remember who Jesus is as the passion sets in. If they do this, they will be able to endure the folly and suffering of the Cross.

Did they successfully persevere in keeping the memory alive? Well, only John made it to the foot of the cross but, frankly, one out of three isn’t so bad. Having experienced peace, joy and seen the Lord’s glory, John made it to the cross, enduring its shame and remembering the glory he had seen.

What of us? Have you seen the glory of the Lord? Have you experienced his love and glory deeply enough that, when difficulties come they cannot overwhelm you? Have you come to experience and possess a peace and joy that the world did not give and the world cannot take away? Have you allowed the Lord to lay in a foundation of hope in your life? Have you let him take you up the mountain and show you you glory? Have you seen into the promised land and have you seen what the end shall be? This is what this gospel describes and promises.

There is an old hymn by Charles Tindley that says,  
Beams of heaven, as I go, / Through this wilderness below / Guide my feet in peaceful ways / Turn my midnights into days / When in the darkness I would grope / Faith always sees a star of hope / And soon from all life’s grief and danger / I shall be free some day.

Notice what it is that gets us through: “Beams of heaven!” Yes, it was those same beams of heaven that Peter James and John saw on the mountaintop. And those beams, having been experienced and remembered, shine on every darkness and show the way. Those beams of heaven give us hope and turn our midnights into day.

Let the Lord show you his glory, savor every moment and never forget what the Lord has done for you. And the light of his Glory will lighten every way. The hymn goes on to say: 
Burdens now may crush me down / Disappointments all around / Troubles speak in mournful sigh / Sorrow through a tear stained eye / There is a world where pleasure reigns / No mourning soul shall roam its plains / And to that land of peace and glory / I want to go some day.
And a wonderful reflection by Father Cassian Sama . . . 
Today's gospel reading, Jesus invites us to the mountain to be with Him. There are some steps we can take to have a mountain experience to be still before God. 
First of all we need to find a quiet place for prayer. We can go to our rooms and close our doors. Let us be realistic, it is very difficult nowadays since we are always distracted with computers, TV, and persons around the house. 
The next best alternative is to go to the church or chapel where Christ is present in the tabernacle as a prisoner of love in the form of bread waiting for us to reveal Himself and our true self. 
Also, if you really want an authentic mountain experience, I will encourage those of us who are very very busy to take time off and go for a five days or weekend silent retreat at a monastery or a Catholic retreat center. A retreat is simply a withdrawal from ordinary activities for a period of time to commune with God in prayer and reflection. We need retreats to be refreshed and recharged; to get rid of unnecessary baggage that weigh us down from climbing our mountains to pray in silence with Christ in solitude --> Father Cassian Sama,OP