Sunday, March 29, 2020

The new "normal" after quarantine


If you're here early, the link for the video of my homily is not yet available. When it becomes available, I'll embed it here.
Homily: 5th Sunday in Lent – Cycle A
“Now a man was ill, Lazaras from Bethany.”  Perhaps we’ve heard this scripture a number of times before, but I’m guessing that, because of our present circumstances, we might hear these words in a new way today.  In this time of heightened anxiety about the severity of illness that the coronavirus can cause, none of us can sit back and hear the words, “Now a man was ill...” and not think of the countless men and women who have fallen ill over these past months; perhaps even more so given that men and women increasingly close to home are also starting to fall ill.  Any of us who have a human heart beating in our chest have, perhaps, become much more sensitive to news of anyone becoming ill.  Maybe today, therefore, as we hear these words, we are even more anxious to hear what good news the Gospel can speak to us; and so, let us see what our Gospel reading speaks to us today.
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were close friends of Jesus.  The Gospel tells us that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus”.  Because of this close friendship, the three of them had come to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and they put their faith in his ability to heal even mortal sicknesses.  And so, when Lazarus fell ill, Martha quickly sent word to Jesus, hoping that he’d come to save her brother from this illness. Jesus didn’t come right away, however, and Lazarus died.  In fact, by the time Jesus had arrived, Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.
Because of this, Martha and Mary both confront Jesus, saying: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!”  They are hurt because Jesus did not appear to respond as quickly as they, because of their friendship, expected that he would.  Jesus, in spite of already knowing what he was going to do, nonetheless displays the fullness of his humanity when, confronted by the sorrow being experienced by these sisters whom he dearly loved, he himself weeps.  It’s a touching moment that we would do well to consider any time that we experience a loss in our own lives, but especially now when this experience is so tangibly apparent. But let’s imagine for a moment that the story ended there: Jesus weeping while Lazarus remains dead in the grave.  If that were the case, he’d be a great teacher, prophet, consoler, and even, perhaps, friend, but he wouldn’t be God.
Thus, when we hear Jesus tell Martha plainly, “I am the resurrection and the life”, we hear something different.  With these words, Jesus is telling her that it isn’t just his belief that Lazarus will rise, but rather it is his concrete knowledge of who he is and of what he is capable.  Friendship with God, Martha discovers, is not divine protection from pain, suffering, or even death, but rather a guarantee that, in that pain, suffering, and even death, God will be with us.  When Jesus weeps, we see the most touching, but telling evidence that he, indeed, is with us, in the fullness of our humanity. When he calls Lazarus from the grave, however, we see the still greater evidence that not only is Jesus with us—the great teacher, prophet, consoler, and friend—but that Jesus is, indeed, God: and that, in Jesus, God himself is truly with us.
Thus, in Jesus, the words of the prophet Ezekiel have been fulfilled.  When Jesus called Lazarus from the grave, he brought new light to the rebirth foreshadowed in his promise to bring back his chosen people from exile.  Those people thought themselves dead because they had lost the land from which they took their identity. Thus, when the Lord “brought them back to the land of Israel”, they truly felt reborn.  Little did they know, however, that one day God himself would take on human nature and walk among them and would, literally, open the graves of the dead and have the dead rise from them.
Notice that the ancient Israelites were not prevented from experiencing exile because of their friendship with God.  Rather, it was because of their friendship that they were eventually restored to their land and given “new life”.  Notice also, that Lazarus was not prevented from experiencing illness and death, nor were Martha and Mary prevented from experiencing the loss of their dear brother, because of their friendship with Jesus.  Rather, it was because of their friendship that Lazarus was raised and they were all given “new life”.  So it is now, that our friendship with God will be no guarantee that we will not experience sadness, difficulty, or pain.  Rather, our friendship with God is a promise that God will lift us from that sadness, difficulty, or pain, if we remain faithful to our friendship with him.
Friends, this is the message of Lent: that we are dead because of sin, but through Jesus we are raised to new life.  The threat of physical illness, like that caused by the coronavirus, is serious and has raised in us new levels of compassion for others.  I pray that it is also raising in us a new awareness of our need for a savior.  I pray that this time in which we’ve been forced to isolate has helped us to examine our consciences a little more deeply and to become aware of how deeply rooted our sinful inclinations can be.  I pray that we will use this time—even as it extends into Easter—to turn back to the Lord in love, to grow our friendship with him, so that we might be given a “new life” when our social restrictions are lifted.
You know, when Lazarus was raised from the dead, he didn’t come back like a zombie.  Rather, he came back as himself.  I guarantee you, however, that his life never went back to the “normal” it was before he died.  I’m sure that he, and his sisters, began anew and created a new “normal”... a better one... one that united them more deeply to each other and to Christ and in which they worked to build the kingdom of God.  Friends, may the externally imposed penances that we are experiencing this Lent lead us to greater conversion, so that the new “normal” that we create after coronavirus restrictions are lifted—anchored, as it surely will be, in the Eucharist—lead us to do as Martha, Mary, and Lazarus did: uniting ourselves more deeply to Christ and to each other and dedicating ourselves to proclaim the Risen Christ and to build his kingdom until he comes again in glory.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – March 29th, 2020

Monday, March 23, 2020

Don't give up on Lent!



4th Sunday of Lent – Cycle A
Friends, we all know that Lent is a time of penance and preparation.  Hopefully, we all know that the penance part has a purpose: that is, for preparation.  Preparation to celebrate the great solemnity commemorating the Resurrection of our Lord (otherwise known as Easter) and for us to meet our Lord when he either calls us home to himself or returns to usher in the “end of the ages”.  To that end, one of the things that we do during this time is to take a hard look at our lives to identify in what ways we are still in need of conversion: that is, of turning back to the Lord.  Then, having identified those ways, we set ourselves to that work of conversion.
I think, however, that it is safe to say that there are only a handful of us who are truly heroic in embracing this work: that is, persons who let nothing get in the way of doing this work of conversion.  Most of us are rather weak-willed (“stiff-necked” is how the Bible often describes us) and so it is hard for us to be both self-convicting and energetic in conversion.  We are either very hard on ourselves, but then do very little to produce change, or we are soft on ourselves, but very energetic trying to stamp out a little fault (all the while ignoring some larger, more serious faults).
This year, however, God is challenging us to something more.  The coronavirus pandemic has upended our lives and is forcing us to confront ourselves in ways that, for many of us, may be—to put it lightly—uncomfortable.  Let me say clearly that I don’t believe that God is allowing this pandemic because he wants anyone to be hurt.  But he has allowed it and, if he has allowed it, he must be allowing it so that good could come from it.  I can see two goods right off the bat: a sense of solidarity with those who are suffering and with those who are on the front lines of battling this pandemic and, as I have already mentioned, to provide us with an opportunity to look more sharply at ourselves and to see our ongoing need for conversion, both as individuals and as a society.  Nevertheless, the question still holds, “Why is this happening?”, and our Gospel reading gives us light into the answer.
There, Jesus and his disciples encounter a man who was born blind.  The detail here is important.  The man was born blind: he didn’t become blind at some point, but rather he had always been blind.  Nonetheless, the prevailing thought of the time was that any deformity (like blindness) was a punishment due to sin, either the individual’s sin or the sin of his parents, that was being inflicted on him.  And so, when Jesus and his disciples encounter this “man born blind”, Jesus’ disciples ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answers with an enigmatic answer, saying that this isn’t because of sin, but rather so that God’s glory and power can be made manifest.  It’s a reminder that we are not often directly punished for our sins or another’s sins, but rather often suffer because of an indirect effect of sin being in the world.  Even still, Jesus is reminding us, this suffering is intended to be an opportunity to manifest God’s glory and power.
In this case, the man born blind is given sight and, thus, led to recognize Jesus as the Christ.  His blindness from birth humbled him and made it so that he could see the truth in the reality of things.  Thus, when he was cured, he did not look to explain it away, but rather marveled at what had happened and held in great esteem the one through whom it was made possible.  The Pharisees, on the other hand, who had never had a problem with physical sight, were, nonetheless, unable to recognize the truth that was manifest in front of them.  Thus, the man born blind could recognize Jesus as the Christ, while the Pharisees, worried as they were to protect the way they had constructed things, could not recognize Jesus as the Christ and so fought to explain away what he had done.
Friends, as I said at the beginning, this time has been given to us so as to guide us into the light of Christ.  We need to be open to seeing the ways in which we are still in need of conversion: that is, the ways in which we still cling to our own ideas of how things should be.  We need to look at the reality of things and respond to them, like the man born blind did: “If he is a sinner, I don’t know.  One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”  There’s no speculation there.  Just a clear vision of the reality of things that provides him with a way to respond.  We, too, need to allow the reality of things to point us to the one in whom all reality finds its end: Jesus Christ.  And we need to rejoice that, through the grace of baptism, we have been united to him; and, thus, to rejoice that it is possible to find our end in him.
Friends, I’ve said to a few others already, that I can see one of two ends to this crisis: First, that we will one day in the relatively near future return to our churches for Mass and the sacraments; or second, (and I don’t mean this flippantly) that the virus will wipe us all out.  My opinion, looking at the reality of things, is that the latter is not at all likely.  So, let's use this time courageously to seek the reality of things—especially our need for ongoing conversion—and, seeing the Lord with eyes made new, let us worship him and build his kingdom here on earth.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – March 21st and 22nd, 2020

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Trust in God in times of distress


Homily: 3rd Sunday in Lent – Cycle A
It’s news to no one here that the “novel coronavirus” has upended our lives and is causing great deals of distress.  Distress about individual health, anxiety about the uncertainty of how this virus will spread and if we’ll be able to contain it.  Distress about how to deal with the “novel” situations of having kids home from school for an extended period of time, of providing care for them, of providing food for them, and of facing any financial insecurity because we either must take time off of work or spend unbudgeted money on caregivers.  Distress, finally, (and possibly especially) about whether or not our healthcare system is equipped to respond to widespread exposure.  The number of you who are NOT here today is a sign that this distress is affecting all of us.
This distress is not unlike the distress that the Israelites were experiencing as they began their journey in the desert after being liberated from Egypt.  After having emerged triumphantly from the Red Sea, they set out towards the land that God had promised to give them (the Promised Land, in which they would live free from slavery).  A couple of days into that journey, however, (led, as they were by the cloud in the day and fire by night), having seen no water and with no signs of any ahead, they all begin to experience distress.  Insecurity always gives birth to anxiety and being without something as necessary as water for more than a day is certain to heighten one’s sense of insecurity.  It’s no surprise, then, that these folks begin to cry out to Moses, God’s point man leading them on this journey.
This journey was not only practical, however, but rather catechetical also.  The practical was to get them out of Egypt and into a land in which they could live as a free society.  In the absence of trains, buses, or planes, a journey on foot was necessary.  The catechetical, however, was to teach them complete reliance on God and his providential care for them.  In other words, the catechetical journey was to increase and solidify their trust in God alone.  Thus, the way that they followed from the Red Sea was a way on which there was no water.  God, through Moses, then provided them water in a miraculous way, just as he had already provided them with food in the form of manna and quail.  Through this, God shows himself worthy of their faith.  They were in distress, the called out to God, and God responded.
The Samaritan woman whom Jesus encounters at the well is also someone who learns to put her faith in God, but in a different manner.  She was not necessarily looking for help, but the details of this story indicate that she was certainly in distress.  She came to the well at midday: the time when, because of the midday heat, no one else went to the well.  In other words, she was avoiding others.  She encounters Jesus there and he reveals his knowledge of her and her life.  She has had five husbands and is living with someone to whom she isn’t married.  Women couldn’t live on their own at that time and if a woman was married and divorced, she couldn’t return to her father’s house and so would either have to marry again or would end up destitute.  We can’t know for sure, but it seems like this woman may have struggled to be in a stable marriage, but continued to seek it out so that she wouldn’t become destitute.  She certainly would have been looked down upon in that society and so she worked to avoid contact with others.
This day, however, she encounters Jesus, who peers into her soul and speaks to her in a way that opens her eyes and lets her see that relief from this distress is possible.  In other words, he helps her to see that there is hope for her on this journey, that the promises of the God of the Israelites could be fulfilled, and that even the Samaritans—even she, herself—could receive their benefits.  Her life was out of order, but her encounter with Jesus gave her supernatural hope that God was leading even her to freedom from this distress.  Her response was to go off and tell of what she learned to all of the people in the village.  Let that sink in for a moment: before her encounter with Jesus, she wanted to avoid all contact with the people of her village.  Now, she goes to them to share what she learned.  This is a person who has found hope and who has placed her trust in God and in his promises.
Our newly Elect, who will now intensely prepare for baptism at the Easter Vigil, are on this same journey.  Over these next three weekends, they will be called to encounter Jesus through what is called the rite of scrutiny, in which they will be challenged to see their lives, disordered as they have been by sin, and encounter the hope that, through Jesus, they can be set free from this disorder and receive all of the blessings that God has promised to those who are united to him.  Having encountered this hope, they will be exhorted to put their faith in God and to follow the path to holiness that has been laid out by Jesus.
This, of course, is not only their Lenten journey, but each of ours as well.  Every year, each of us is challenged to recognize the distress under which the world places us (this year, it is particularly apparent) and to allow ourselves to encounter our Lord, who names our distress and provides an answer to it.  This, for sure, is not always relief.  Rather, it is often a challenge to trust and to order our lives to more closely follow him.  In other words, it is the challenge to respond in faith to the distress of our lives.  One of the ways that we do that is through our intentional engagement of our increased giving program.
Last weekend, we heard from parishioners who have all had this experience of distress and have responded to it with faith and so have grown in trust of God.  Part of their experience was finding support and resources through the many ministries and programs that we at Saint Mary’s provide: ministries and programs made possible by your generous financial support.  Today, I am asking you to continue to put your faith in the fact that God is responding to the needs and distresses of peoples’ lives through the ministries and programs of Saint Mary’s by continuing and even increasing your financial support for our parish.
You know, all of us are on a journey through the desert and at different times and for different reasons we may each find ourselves in distress.  Your ongoing financial support of the ministries and programs at Saint Mary’s means that we’ll be able to respond and to help assure you in your trust in God who, like he did with Moses for the Israelites, works through us to relieve our distresses.
I hope that you brought your commitment cards with you today.  As I mentioned before Mass began, we WON’T be passing around the collection basket as a precaution against spreading germs.  If you’ve already dropped your commitment card in the box by the entrance, great.  Thank you for doing that.  Please hold in your heart your commitment as your offering to be united to the sacrifice of Jesus here at the altar.  If you still have your commitment card with you, I encourage you to keep it close to you during the Eucharistic Prayer as a reminder to unite your commitment to the sacrifice of Christ on the altar.  You may drop the card in the box near the entrance on your way out today.  If you did not bring your card, but would like to complete one today, please feel free to use one of the blank cards in your pew and do the same.  In other words, however you brought your commitment with you today, please make an intentional effort to unite it to the sacrifice of Christ that we will offer here at the altar.
As I said earlier, this “novel coronavirus” has upended our lives and caused a great deal of distress.  Very quickly, however, I saw signs that God is working among us to relieve it.  On Friday afternoon, I received an e-mail from our “Saint Mary’s Cares” ministry coordinator asking if it was okay for them to contact other parishes to formulate a plan to assist anyone, like our homebound parishioners, get groceries, prepare meals, etc. so that no one feels alone or abandoned during this time.  I’m grateful for their dedication and for the support of all of you that helps make their ministry possible.  Thank you, again, for your courageous commitments.  May they lead us to trust God even more as he leads us to our reward in heaven: the reward foreshadowed by the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – March 14th & 15th, 2020

Friday, March 13, 2020

Letter to Parishioners of Saint Mary's Cathedral



Dear Parishioners of Saint Mary’s Cathedral,

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has generated an unprecedented set of conditions that is having a dramatic impact on our lives. The staff at Saint Mary’s has been regularly evaluating the advice and directives of both public and diocesan officials and, thus, what our response should be. Our main focus has been and will continue to be the health of our parishioners and our students during these challenging times.

As a result of Governor Holcomb’s announcement from March 12 that non-essential gatherings must be limited to no more than 250 people, Bishop Doherty is dispensing from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for the last three weekends of March (March 15, 22, and 29) for Catholics of the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana. This is not a permanent dispensation.

Given this, we have decided that we will continue to follow our normal daily and weekend Mass and Reconciliation schedules (including Eucharistic Adoration). However, beginning Saturday March 14, in an effort to curb the proliferation of the Coronavirus, we have decided to cancel ALL church activities at Saint Mary’s Cathedral until further notice.

The dilemma of what we know and what we don’t know about the Coronavirus will continue to complicate our decision making. This is a humbling fact: We simply don’t know what the situation will be now or a week from now. We will continue to assess the spread of the virus and will communicate any changes as they occur.

Additional instructions/information:
  • If you are sick, have symptoms, or have a compromised immune system, please stay home from Mass.
  • Bishop Doherty will be celebrating 8:00 a.m. (Eastern) Mass at Church of the Blessed Sacrament for the next 3 Sundays (March 15, March 22, March 29) which will be livestreamed here: http://churchoftheblessedsacrament.yourstreamlive.com/ and would love the presence of those unable to attend their parish Mass.
  • All nursing home and home-bound visits by laity should be canceled.
  • Weddings/Funerals/Confirmations will continue as planned unless further recommendations are issued by the local health department. However, we will NOT be hosting funeral dinners during this time.
  • Families should also strive to unite as family in charitable acts for those affected by the Coronavirus and other family devotions such as the Rosary, novenas, Lectio Divina and refrain from any unnecessary work.


Again, for the time being, we will follow our normal Mass and Reconciliation schedule (including Eucharistic Adoration). Please pray for all those affected by this pandemic and for our parish.

God bless you and may Mary keep us safe,

Fr. Dominic Petan
Pastor

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Letting Go


Homily: 2nd Sunday of Lent – Cycle A
          One of my favorite preachers is Father Larry Richards and in one of his most well-known talks he tells the story of a man from Crete, which is one of the islands of Greece.  This man, he says, was a great man and he loved his land.  Not only did he love his land, but all the people of his land loved him.  Whenever somebody died, he was always the first person to come and offer condolences.  Whenever a new baby was born, he was always the first person to come and offer congratulations.  And all of this because he so deeply loved his land and his people.
          Finally, when he was ninety-nine years old, it was time for him to die.  Surrounded by his ten children, he asked them to carry him out to the secluded spot in the back of his farm, which was his favorite spot to pray, and to lay him down on the earth.  There, as he closed his eyes for the last time, he clenched in his hands the dirt of the land he so dearly loved and he died.
          He awoke to find himself standing at the gates of heaven and when God came forth to welcome him in, he first asked the man what it was that he had in his hands.  “This is Crete,” he said, “it is all that I ever loved in the world.”  God looked at him and said, “Sorry, no dirty hands in heaven.”  Upset by this, but unable to let go of the one thing he held so dear in his life, the man turned away and God went back into heaven and closed the gate behind him.
          As the story goes, God would return two more times to implore the man to let go of the remnant of his beloved land so as to enter into heaven.  At the first, the man still refused to let go.  But at the second, the man found that the dirt in his hands had become so dry that it was now slipping uncontrollably out of his hands.  So, at God’s prompting, he opened his hands and just then the Spirit of God blew forth a strong wind that swept away every last remnant of the man’s beloved land.  Then, taking the man’s hand, God led him through the gates of heaven.  And when the man entered heaven what do you think that it was that he saw, but the land of Crete laid out completely before him.
          I share this story with you today because it is a great story and a great reminder that God never takes anything away from us, but rather only asks us to let go of some things so that he can give us more.  I also share it with you because I think it demonstrates for us just how short-sighted our vision can be at times.  This man thought that he had everything that he had ever wanted in the land of Crete and thus he let the vision of his life become limited to the years that he spent on earth.  He couldn’t imagine heaven being anything better than what he enjoyed on earth and so he tried to take his greatest joy on earth with him into heaven.  He had lost the vision that God promised to give him the “fullness of joy” in heaven and so stubbornly clung to the passing joy of the earth until it finally (and literally) passed out of his hands.
          In a way, this is the same lesson that Jesus is giving to his disciples Peter, James, and John in our Gospel reading today when he invites them up onto a high mountain to reveal to them the fullness of his nature.  Now, when the Scriptures speak of going up onto a “high mountain” they are always referring to the place where man encounters God.  There, Jesus reveals the fullness of his nature—the divine nature that coexists with his human nature—in order to point to the transcendent end of his being on earth (that is, to the fact that his coming in this world wasn’t meant for this world alone, but rather to re-open the possibility for man to enter the glory of God in the next world).  The disciples, however, are slow to see the meaning behind this and focus, rather, on clinging to the event in this world.
          “Well, this is nice,” Peter said, “why don’t we build some tents and stay here?”  Jesus, however, intended for this to be a lesson that would extend their vision beyond an earthly end and towards the end that he came to establish: that is, the return of man to perfect communion with God.  Thus, the cloud (which, in biblical terms, always indicates the presence of God) descends upon them and overshadows them, and the voice from the cloud speaks to them, and it is then that they realize that something otherworldly is happening to them and they fall down in reverence and in fear of the absolute power that has overshadowed them.  Thus, we see that Jesus didn’t take them up on that mountain to have a “nice” experience or to show off his divine nature to them (good as that was!), but rather to have an experience of the absolute holiness that he possessed and that he was calling them to enter into.
          I think that if we look at our own lives that we, too, will find that our vision of what we are here for has become somewhat limited.  If I asked you what you thought is the prevailing moral norm that governs our society, many of you might say “To love your neighbor as yourself”: and that’s good!  But if I asked you to tell me what that means in real life, I suspect that the answer many of you might give would be “To be nice and try to get along with everyone.”  Well, this is fine if all that you are concerned with is trying to have a peaceful life here on earth.  If, however, we are placing our vision on our eternal end in heaven, then we need to take just as seriously Jesus’ other, very strong moral mandate: “Be yourselves holy just as your Father in heaven is holy!”  This goes beyond being “nice” and sometimes means that we will have to act rather harshly with others.  It reminds us that while harmony in this world is a goal, it isn’t our end.  Our end, rather, is the vision of Jesus’ glory and being overshadowed by the presence of God!
          My brothers and sisters, Jesus did not say “just be good and nice to each other and you’ll be fine.”  Rather, he said “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all the rest will be given to you.”  And what is God’s righteousness?  Well, nothing short of the absolute holiness that he revealed to Peter, James, and John on the high mountain that day!  Don’t just be nice, then, but be holy!  And what does that mean?  Well, it means overshadowing the world with God’s presence: with his uncompromising love for each and every one of his creatures, most especially our brothers and sisters who live among us.
          Friends, this time of Lent is a time for rediscovering this incredible gift that God has given us in restoring our humanity to full glory in Jesus; and for reconciling ourselves with, and re-conforming ourselves to, that truth so that we might overshadow the world with God’s love and one day enjoy the Easter glory of Jesus in heaven; the glory that we encounter in sacrament here in this Eucharist.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – March 7th & 8th, 2020

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Pop quiz for the 1st Sunday of Lent


[My format looks weird today because of the way that this homily was set up and presented.  It just worked better this way.  Sorry if it is hard to read in this format!]
Homily: 1st Sunday in Lent – Cycle A
          Okay, friends, today, on this first Sunday of Lent, we are going to shake things up a bit and start off with a little pop quiz based on the readings we’ve just heard.  Don’t worry about it, though, because you’re going to know most of the answers and there are no grades.  Ready or not, here we go!
  •         Is humankind responsible for the presence of suffering and death in the world, yes or no?  [YES]

o   Even though it wasn’t included in the reading today, we all know “the rest of the story”, that Adam and Eve were punished and expelled from the garden so that they couldn’t eat from the tree of life and, thus, would have to suffer death.
  •         Has humankind been able to eliminate suffering and death from the world, now that they are present in it, yes or no?  [NO]

o   Just look around.  Suffering and death are still very present here.

  •         Is there any reasonable hope that humankind will ever eliminate suffering and death from the world, yes or no?  [NO]
o   Suffering and death have been part of the human condition for as long as history has been recording it.
  •         Who is the only human being that ever existed who died, but then raised himself back to life?  [JESUS]
  •         Is it reasonable to expect that this could be possible for any human being ever, yes or no?  [NO]

o   Again, human beings have been around for 200,000 years and we ain't figured it out yet!
o   Why then do we stubbornly act like we will?  DON'T ANSWER THAT!
  •         If this Jesus has done something that no human being has ever been capable of doing nor will ever be capable of doing, then he must have super-natural powers (that is, powers beyond natural powers), true or false?  [TRUE]
  •         Since this Jesus has done something that no other human being has ever been capable of doing, something that we cannot reasonably expect any present or future human being as being capable of doing, is it, therefore, reasonable to think that this Jesus could also do the other thing that humankind has been incapable of doing: that is, is it reasonable to think that Jesus could also eliminate suffering and death from the world, yes or no?  [YES]

o   It is reasonable to think that because we don’t know the limit of his powers.
  •         Has this Jesus revealed the secret to unlocking resurrection (that is, the secret for overcoming suffering and death) for each and every one of us, yes or no?  [YES]
  •         What is that secret (hint: it’s in the Gospel reading today)?  [OBEDIENCE TO THE WILL OF THE FATHER.]

o   Saint Paul said it in his letter to the Romans:
o   “For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”
§  The one who was disobedient was Adam and we were reminded of that in our first reading today.
·        Eve said, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.’”
·        They ate it, in clear disobedience of God, and suffering and death entered the world.
§  The one who was obedient was Jesus and we were reminded of his first great act of obedience in our Gospel reading today.
·        Satan said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down… Jesus answered him, …'You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’”
·        Jesus countered Adam and Eve’s disobedience by his perfect obedience.
·        His final and culminating act of obedience was his passion and death.
  •         Friends, this is what Lent is about: returning to the garden through obedience.

o   If our Lenten practices are not freeing us to give our obedience more fully to the Father, then we should stop them and choose practices that will!
o   The first practice, of course, is giving up sin!
§  None of us should be giving up chocolate unless we have first decided to do the work of giving up sin!!!
o   Once we’ve done that, however, we take on physical discomfort (that is, giving up something good that we enjoy or taking up a good task that, perhaps, we don’t enjoy), so as to do two things: a) to show God that we are truly sorry for our sins, and b) to face our spiritual discomfort that God is calling us to still greater holiness (...a call, by the way, that never ceases!)
§  I think that we get “a)” no problem, but how many of us have ever really faced “b)”?
§  Not sure what I mean?  Let me give you an example. 
            Last Friday afternoon, I was working in my office and I had an e-mail that I had to write that was important and complicated to compose.  I was tired and really didn’t want to do it.  So there I am, staring at my computer screen, not wanting to do the thing that I knew I needed to do, and so what did I do?  Well, I opened up a new tab on my browser and hovered over the Facebook link.  Before I clicked on it, however, I remembered that I decided to fast from social media on Fridays during Lent and so I stopped myself and went back to my e-mail.  Soon, though, I was in a new tab hovering over the Facebook link again.  Once again, though, my commitment to what I was giving up one over and I went back to my e-mail.  Finally, I dug in and wrote the e-mail.  The point being that, if I hadn’t chosen to give up a physical comfort (checking out what was going on with my friends on Facebook), then I wouldn’t have confronted my spiritual discomfort (completing the work that I had been given to do).  Fasting from social media, therefore, showed both that I was sorry for my sins and made it so that I could confront this spiritual battle.
o   We have to give up sin, of course, but then we should give up (or take up) something good, both to show God that we are truly sorry for our sins and to face our spiritual discomfort that God is calling us to greater holiness and so put ourselves to work to do it!
§  THIS, in a nutshell, IS OBEDIENCE!!!
§  Obedience, Jesus has shown us, leads to resurrection and eternal life.
          Okay, a couple of more questions a then we’ll call it a day.
  •         Is Jesus still alive, yes or no?  [YES]
  •         Will we meet him, face-to-face, one day, yes or no?  [YES]
  •         What, then, should we do during Lent?

o   A question you must answer yourself.
o   Whatever your answer is, it should be something that leads you to deeper obedience to the will of the Father so that, when Easter comes, you’ll be ready to die with Christ and so rise with him again.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – March 1st, 2020

Monday, February 24, 2020

Evil has no power to destroy us


Homily: 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Cycle A
          Perhaps many of you have heard about a new film series that was recently released named The Chosen.  It is yet another dramatized biography of Jesus pulled from the accounts of his life and ministry in the Gospels.  It has gotten some very positive reviews and the first episode is available free on YouTube.  I haven’t watched it yet, but I hope to do so soon when I have some time.
          While multiple films and series about Jesus have been made ever since man started making films, for me the watershed film has to be Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.  For those of us who grew up watching too much TV and are thus “imaginationally challenged”, this film answered a lot of those “I wonder what that was like?” questions.  I know that many people decided not to see it because the filmmakers did not hold back in depicting the violence that Jesus suffered (almost, perhaps, overdramatizing it).  But if you are an adult and you haven’t seen this film, I think that you should.  Because if you’ve never pondered Jesus’ passion as graphically as this film depicts it, then you’ve never deeply meditated on what Jesus suffered to save us from our sins.
          All that aside, however, one of the things that the film does highlight is the fullness of Jesus’ humanity.  The film begins with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane suffering in his agony over what he is about to endure.  Jesus is both fully human and divine, which means that he has both a human will and a divine will.  Although Jesus’ divine will is powerful enough to override his human will at any time, it never does.  This because, in order for Jesus’ self-sacrifice to be truly salutary for us, he had to be completely obedient to the Father’s will by using his natural human will alone.
          Thus, we see him in such great turmoil in the Garden.  His human will is resisting to its fullest extent what the Father has planned for him to endure.  It begs, it pleads to the Father that there would be some other way to accomplish his will, but there isn’t; and from there—that is, from the moment that Jesus accepted in perfect obedience the will of his Father—we see Jesus in complete control.
          When the soldiers arrived to arrest him in the Garden, Jesus offered them no resistance (and even commanded his disciples who were with him to do the same).  When they struck him, he did not strike back.  When they questioned him, he did not evade their questions, but gave them more than they asked for (that is, more than they had hoped he would in order to condemn him).  And when he was so mercilessly scourged he did not beg them stop, but remained silent through it all.  He accepted all of the evil that was done to him and, in the end, still loved those who had subjected him to it: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
          Jesus did all of this using his human will alone, for it had to be so.  In doing so, he modeled the human perfection to which he called his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek,” he said, “turn the other one as well.  If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well.  Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.”  What Jesus was teaching us, and what he modeled for us, is that we are to accept all of the evil that befalls us in this world; and that we overcome it, not by resisting it or by trying to destroy it, but rather by living as if it has no power to destroy us.  In other words, it seems as if Jesus is teaching us that an evil force loses its strength when the object of its attack absorbs it rather than resists it.
          Now Jesus is not advocating passivism that leads us to be perpetually abused.  Rather, he is indicating the kind of passivism that “takes the wind out of the sails”, so to speak, of those who do evil by turning around and loving them with a self-sacrificial love instead.  To turn the other cheek says to the person, “you may strike me again, but I’m not giving up on our relationship.”  To give your cloak to the one who demanded your tunic is to say to that person, “if you so desperately need clothing, here take all that I have and be well.”  And to go two miles with the one who presses you into service for one says “I hold no grudge, I harbor no rancor in my heart for you.”  To do this makes plain their wickedness and, as Saint Paul would say later in one of his letters, it “heaps burning coals onto their heads.”  This, Jesus is teaching us, is the way to “be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.”
          “Oh, but father, isn’t this kind of perfection impossible for us?”  By our own human will alone—broken as it is by sin—of course it is!  But it isn’t about that alone.  Rather, it’s about our nature and our end: our nature as creatures made in the image of God and our end which is to be one with him forever.  In other words, this is not about some moral code imposed on us from outside of us that is impossible for us to achieve.  Rather, it’s about becoming who it is that we truly are: creatures made in the image and likeness of God, destined to be perfectly united with our creator forever.
          In order for us to achieve this destiny, therefore, me must strive to conform ourselves to this image in which we have been created.  God, our creator, endures countless evils from his creatures.  And does he ever retaliate against us?  No!  Rather, what does he do?  “He makes the sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust”, doesn’t he?  In other words, in spite of the way that he has been treated by his ungrateful creatures, he continues generously to pour down on us all that we need and then some.  Our work of perfection, therefore, is to strive to live this model.
          My brothers and sisters, by enduring his passion in perfect obedience to the Father using only his human will, Jesus has shown us the way to perfection.  In giving us the Eucharist, he has given us the spiritual strength that we need to follow him.  Let us, today, say “yes” to the grace that perfects us and thus be transformed—or rather set free—to achieve the perfection that awaits us: our perfect communion with the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – February 22nd & 23rd, 2020