Saturday, March 26, 2011

My soul thirsts for You my God

HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT, March 27, 2011:
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“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.” When I was 16 years old, I spent a summer working on an apple and peach orchard in Acushnet. I really enjoyed the work - it was an outdoors job, and although hard physical work, it was a lot of fun. But, it got pretty hot after 8-10 hours in the sun in July pruning trees or picking fruit. After a few hours in the sun, I would daily an ice-cold Coke in a few seconds flat. It didn’t take many days on that job to start realizing that I would be thirsty very quickly after, and even more thirsty than the first time. The reason of course is all the sodium in canned soda that was just absorbing the fluid as quickly as it went in. The soda was not satisfying my thirst in the hot summer sun – it was just leaving me more thirsty.

We all know what it is like to thirst, but the more important thirsts in life aren’t the physical ones, but the spiritual ones we encounter. Our Scriptures remind us today that we don’t always look to the best source when it comes to satisfying our spiritual thirsts.

We find many references to the spiritual life as a thirst for God in the Old Testament. Psalm 42 says, “As the deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I…thirst for You, the living God.” Isaiah prophecies that God said, “Come to me, all you who are thirsty.” Jeremiah compared God to “a spring of cool water.” We all feel a thirst for God. It isn’t new. It is the same inner thirst that people have experienced since the beginning of time. The great Church father, St. Augustine explained it this way, “Our hearts are made for God, and they will not rest, until they rest in Him.” Another way of saying this is that we have a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only God can fill.

And this is the dilemma of our times. We spend our time trying to fill that God-shaped hole with things other than God. We try and quench our spiritual thirst for God with things that can never get the job done. The human heart has an intrinsic thirst for God; for spiritual things. But, in our world today, instead of satisfying it with God’s presence, we try and satisfy it with material things. Trying to satisfy the thirst for God with materialism is like trying to satisfy a physical thirst with a can of Coca Cola or a glass of salt water. The more we drink, the thirstier we get.

The point is that worldly success alone, leaves us empty; leaves us thirsty. There is something inside us that cannot be satisfied by material things. St. Augustine called it spiritual restlessness. Others have called it an absence of meaning; or an inner void. But, it all comes down to the same thing. In every human heart there is a thirst no water can quench. There is a restlessness no success can satisfy. There is a void that no material object can ever fill.

And this is the Good News that Jesus shares in today’s Gospel as He encounters the woman at the well. The symbolism in our passage is there to remind us that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the thirst in our hearts. Numbers are often significant in biblical interpretation. According to the biblical symbolism of numbers, six is a number of imperfection, of lack, of deficiency. The woman in her sixth marriage is, therefore, in a situation of lack and deficiency. Seven, on the other hand, is a number of perfection, completion, finality and sufficiency. Jesus comes to this woman as the seventh man in her life. She opens up to Him and finally experiences the satisfaction of all of her soul's desiring, the full quenching of her spiritual thirst.

Why does Jesus make such a tremendous impact on the woman? Because for the first time in her life she meets a man who really understands her. In her excitement she forgets her water jar and physical thirst and runs back to the village inviting the villagers to come and see “a man who told me everything I have ever done” - probably the first man to know her so well without rejecting her. Before you know it the convert has become the missionary bringing others to Jesus and to the joyful experience of faith.

Isn't this the kind of experience we wish for ourselves during Lent? Jesus offers us the same satisfaction as He does the woman at the well. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.”

Jesus, and Jesus alone, can calm the restlessness of our souls. Jesus, and Jesus alone, can satisfy the thirst in our hearts. Jesus, and Jesus alone, can fill the void in our lives. Jesus is the Son of God, who has come to fill that God-shaped hole in each of us. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, who has come to calm that restlessness of our hearts. Jesus is the water from heaven, who has come to satisfy that spiritual thirst we feel.

Lord Jesus, You are the life-giving water for which we thirst. You are the happiness and success for which we strive. You are the peace and joy for which we search. Lord Jesus, our hearts were made for You, and they will not rest until they rest in You. What will you turn to, to satisfy your thirsty heart and soul and life? Let it be Jesus.

May God give you peace.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

An Airport Encounter

NOTE: Wow!! Thank you Archbishop Dolan!

THE GOSPEL IN THE DIGITAL AGE
By Archbishop Timothy Dolan

It was only the third time it had happened to me in my nearly thirty-five happy years as a priest, all three times over the last nine-and-a-half years.

Other priests tell me it has happened to them a lot more.

Three is enough. Each time has left me so shaken I was near nausea.

It happened last Friday . . .

I had just arrived at the Denver Airport, there to speak at their popular annual “Living Our Catholic Faith” conference.

As I was waiting with the others for the electronic train to take me to the terminal, a man, maybe in his mid-forties, waiting as well, came closer to me.

“Are you a Catholic priest?” he kindly asked.

“Sure am. Nice to meet you,” says I, as I offered my hand.

He ignored it. “I was raised a Catholic,” he replied, almost always a hint of a cut to come, but I was not prepared for the razor sharpness of the stiletto, as he went on, “and now, as a father of two boys, I can’t look at you or any other priest without thinking of a sexual abuser.”

What to respond? Yell at him? Cuss him out? Apologize? Deck him? Express understanding? I must admit all such reactions came to mind as I staggered with shame and anger from the damage of the wound he had inflicted with those stinging words.

“Well,” I recovered enough to remark, “I’m sure sorry you feel that way. But, let me ask you, do you automatically presume a sexual abuser when you see a Rabbi or Protestant minister?”

“Not at all,” he came back through gritted teeth as we both boarded the train.

“How about when you see a coach, or a boy scout leader, or a foster parent, or a counsellor, or physician?” I continued.

“Of course not!” he came back. “What’s all that got to do with it?”

“A lot,” I stayed with him, “because each of those professions have as high a percentage of sexual abuse, if not even higher, than that of priests.”

“Well, that may be,” he retorted. “But the Church is the only group that knew it was going on, did nothing about it, and kept transferring the perverts around.”

“You obviously never heard the stats on public school teachers,” I observed. “In my home town of New York City alone, experts say the rate of sexual abuse among public school teachers is ten times higher than that of priests, and these abusers just get transferred around.” (Had I known at that time the news in in last Sunday’s New York Times about the high rate of abuse of the most helpless in state supervised homes, with reported abusers simply transferred to another home, I would have mentioned that, too.)

To that he said nothing, so I went in for a further charge.

“Pardon me for being so blunt, but you sure were with me, so, let me ask: when you look at yourself in a mirror, do you see a sex abuser?”

Now he was as taken aback as I had been two-minutes before. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Sadly,” I answered, “studies tell us that most children sexually abused are victims of their own fathers or other family members.”

Enough of the debate, I concluded, as I saw him dazed. So I tried to calm it down.

“So, I tell you what: when I look at you, I won’t see a sex abuser, and I would appreciate the same consideration from you.”

The train had arrived at baggage claim, and we both exited together.

“Well then, why do we only hear this garbage about you priests,” he inquired, as he got a bit more pensive.

“We priests wonder the same thing. I’ve got a few reasons if you’re interested.”

He nodded his head as we slowly walked to the carousel.

“For one,” I continued, “we priests deserve the more intense scrutiny, because people trust us more as we dare claim to represent God, so, when on of us do it – even if only a tiny minority of us ever have — it is more disgusting.”

“Two, I’m afraid there are many out there who have no love for the Church, and are itching to ruin us. This is the issue they love to endlessly scourge us with.”

“And, three, I hate to say it,” as I wrapped it up, “there’s a lot of money to be made in suing the Catholic Church, while it’s hardly worth suing any of the other groups I mentioned before.”

We both by then had our luggage, and headed for the door. He then put his hand out, the hand he had not extended five minutes earlier when I had put mine out to him. We shook.

“Thanks. Glad I met you.”

He halted a minute. “You know, I think of the great priests I knew when I was a kid. And now, because I work in IT at Regis University, I know some devoted Jesuits. Shouldn’t judge all you guys because of the horrible sins of a few.”

“Thanks!,” I smiled.

I guess things were patched-up, because, as he walked away, he added, “At least I owe you a joke: What happens when you can’t pay your exorcist?”

“Got me,” I answered.

“You get ‘re-possessed’!”

We both laughed and separated.

Notwithstanding the happy ending, I was still trembling . . . and almost felt like I needed an exorcism to expel my shattered soul, as I had to confront again the horror this whole mess has been to victims and their families, our Catholic people like the man I had just met . . . and to us priests.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Eyes wide open

HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT, March 20, 2011:
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Moses, Jesus and an old man in a flowing white robe and long white beard went golfing. Moses went first and hit the ball. It sailed over the fairway and landed in the water trap. Moses parted the water and chipped the ball onto the green. Next, Jesus hit the ball. It went sailing over the fairway and also landed in the water trap. Jesus walked on the water and chipped the ball onto the green. Finally, the old man hit the ball. This time, it sailed over the fairway headed for the water trap. But, just before it fell into the water, a fish jumped up and grabbed the ball in its mouth. As the fish fell back down into the water, an eagle swooped down and grabbed the fish in its claws. The eagle flew over the green where a lightning bolt shot from the sky and barely missed it. Startled, the eagle dropped the fish. As the fish hit the ground, the ball popped out of its mouth and rolled into the hole for a hole-in-one. Jesus shrugged His shoulders, turned to the old man and said, “Dad, if you don't stop fooling around, we won't bring you next time.”

Jesus “was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” Take a moment to take in that sight. What must it have been like for the disciples to see something so incredible – Jesus is transfigured, glorified, wrapped in the mantle of God’s wonder – all in the sight of three simple fishermen, Peter, James and John.

As we enter into our Second full week of our Lenten journey, our liturgy gives us a reminder that our spiritual practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving are not meant to bring us down – but that they have glory as their goal; the same glory that the disciples experienced on the mount of Transfiguration. We remember that while we focus so much on the Cross during this season, it is a Cross that leads to the ultimate glory.

For Peter, James and John, this moment of Transfiguration was a defining moment in their lives. Up until now, they had seen Jesus in normal, everyday ways. Yes, He was a teacher unlike any they had ever experienced up until that point, but He had not yet really revealed His divinity to them. In this moment they saw Him in a new and spectacular way; they experienced this miraculous presence of Moses and Elijah; they heard most wondrously the very voice of God echoing from Heaven, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” And, from this moment, everything was different. From this moment, they began to see Jesus in a different light.

And it was an experience they would never forget. We know this from the Second Letter of Peter, where St. Peter writes, “With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there when he was given honor and glory by the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, ‘This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased!’ We ourselves heard this voice coming from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain.” This letter was written 35 years after the resurrection; shortly before St. Peter would also be crucified. He remembered this moment until the end.

While we may not have had quite the experience that Peter, James and John did; hopefully, we too have had some experience of transfiguration in our own lives. Hopefully, we have also had moments when, even for a split second, we seem to glimpse a reality beyond this one. These are moments when for an instant we see beyond the ordinary to something extraordinary - God’s true presence in our midst.

For me, the Eucharist is this moment of transfiguration par excellence. We gather in this church around this simple table and present mere bread and wine. And just as amazingly as on that mountain, it is transformed in our midst, transfigured into the very living presence of God. We begin with elements that are common, ordinary, mundane. We end up with something heavenly, extraordinary and miraculous. If our hearts and our spirits are well enough attuned; if we listen carefully, we too may hear a heavenly voice say, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

The problem is that too often we don’t believe these experiences are real. Perhaps we forget that they have happened. Perhaps we close our selves off to the heavenly realm – only allowing ourselves to accept what can be seen, touched and verified. How sad this is. The reality is that Jesus is constantly revealing Himself to us. When our eyes our opened we begin to see that we live in a near constant state of Transfiguration. But, we are usually too busy or otherwise occupied to notice. We have stopped our hearts from hearing Him; seeing Him; allowing ourselves to ascend that mountain.

Jesus is calling us all today to leave this world behind; to ascend the holy mountain. He wants us to leave our earthly distractions that keep us from seeing His presence all around us. He wants to take us up to a high mountain alone with Him as he did with Peter, James and John. Our Lenten challenge is to shed away the things that blind us from being witnesses to Jesus’ miraculous presence all around us – so powerfully in the Eucharist, but also in our families, among our friends, in the faces of the homeless, the poor, the needy – everywhere we look, Jesus is there if only our eyes are opened.

As we prayed in our opening prayer, “Lord, open our hearts to the voice of your word and free us from the original darkness that shadows our vision. Restore our sight that we may look upon your Son.”

Yes, Lord, restore our sight that we may look and wherever we look, see you’re your Son.

May God give you peace.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Throw down your stones

HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, March 13, 2011:
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One of Aesop’s Fables is about an argument between the wind and the sun. The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveler coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveler to take off his coat shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveler. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveler wrap his coat round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone gently; getting warmer and warmer upon the traveler, who soon found it too warm to walk with his coat on and took it off.

I was thinking of this fable because it reminded me in a way of what we hear today taking place with Jesus in the desert. In our Gospel, Satan is like the wind trying to prove that he is stronger than God. He tempts Jesus in every way he can imagine – wealth, power, fame. But, as in our fable, the Son is stronger. It wasn’t the might of these worldly temptations that won over Jesus, but the gentle persuasion of prayer and fasting that won the day.

While Jesus faced his temptations in the desert, ours usually have a way of finding us. Satan’s first temptation gives us a helpful image for understanding our own temptations. Satan said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” [Hold up stone] Look at this. This is what Satan wants Jesus to turn to in order to find happiness in life. My brothers and sisters, this stone is dead. Satan has got it all wrong. He wants Jesus to turn to a dead stone – something that is completely lifeless, completely unable to help Him, completely inadequate in making Him truly happy – in order to find satisfaction. The great insight of Jesus in this moment is that He knows only God can give Him true life; and true happiness. Satan wants Jesus to command the dead stone to become life for Him.

And isn’t that an apropos image for what we do in our own lives? We all have stones in our own life that we stare at commanding them to give us life; commanding them to make us happy; commanding them to make us popular or successful or wealthy or powerful. These things will never give us life. Perhaps your stone is pride, a need to be right all the time even to the harm of relationships with family and friends. Perhaps it is a stone of jealousy, failing to be thankful for the blessings that God has bestowed in our lives and instead only coveting what we don’t have; or wanting what others have. Perhaps we seek life from a stone of materialism, that shop-till-you-drop mentality that causes people to simply want and seek more things, all the while blinding ourselves to the needs of the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the sick and the neglected that are all around us.

Maybe we look to a stone of food; instead of eating to survive, we instead turn to food to stuff our feelings or feed our guilt. Perhaps it is drugs or alcohol; using these to number ourselves so that we don’t have to feel. Maybe it’s television or video games or the Internet – do we spend more time staring at the box than we do spending time with our families or just as importantly in prayer with our God?

All of us have stones that we look at; we stare at; that we command to give us life and happiness. But, my brothers and sisters, these rocks are dead. They will never – ever – give us life. Perhaps you’ve come to this recognition in your life – that the stones you have turned to are not providing what they promised? Perhaps you are seeking something truly life giving; something with real meaning; that gives true and lasting happiness?

As always, Jesus has the answer. As always, Jesus IS the answer. My friends, as find ourselves on this first Sunday of our Lenten journey, right here, right now, today in this church, Jesus is inviting us to do something radical – He is inviting us to put our stones down. He wants us to let go of those things that we falsely think will give us happiness, life and peace. All that these stones are successful at doing is binding us, holding us down, stealing our freedom, making us slaves – slaves to sin. Jesus wants us instead to put those stones down and journey with Him to a place of true freedom; true happiness; true peace – the fullness of the life He promised us.

Let us pledge today to pray for one another during these weeks of Lent and beyond. Let us pledge today to throw away the stones. Let us pledge today to turn away from a life of sin and slavery and choose the life of freedom and holiness that Jesus offers to us. Let us pray in the words of our opening prayer, Loving Father, “bring us back to you and to the life your son won for us by his death on the cross.” My friends, throw away the stones.

May God give you peace.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The courage of surrender

HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY, March 9, 2011:
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“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart.” With these words, God once again invites us into this great season of renewal. The words are challenging. If we are returning to the Lord, it reminds us that perhaps we have been away from the Lord. If we are returning to the Lord, it reminds us that we must be leaving something behind – namely, our sin.

But, even in the midst of this, it is important to remember that Lent is not a time of battle, rather, it is a time of surrender. Sometimes we envision Lent as the great spiritual battle of our year. We see Lent as a conquest. We say, “I will overcome this sin or that vice;” or, “I will succeed in giving up this thing or that practice.” But, what Lent is really calling us into is the realization that we can never overcome our sinfulness on our own. Ever. Triumph over our sin is not found in ourselves. It is found in Christ alone.

Listen to the words of our Psalm today, “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense;” and, “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” Notice the psalmist is aware that God is the active party. He doesn’t say, “Help me wipe away my offenses;” or “Help me create a clean heart in myself.” Rather, God creates the clean heart, God wipes out the sin. The task is to surrender everything to God – only then will our offenses be wiped away and a renewed and clean heart created by God.

Our Lenten goal – our spiritual goal – is to give ourselves totally to God, as He has given totally of Himself to us in Christ. To surrender. To let go. To let God. There is a story of the way African hunters trap monkeys. They slice a coconut in two, hollow it out, and in one half of the shell cut a hole just big enough for a monkey's hand to pass through. Then they place an orange in the other coconut half before fastening back together the two halves of the coconut shell. Finally, they secure the coconut to a tree with a rope, then retreat into the jungle and wait.

Sooner or later, an unsuspecting monkey swings by, smells the delicious orange, and discovers its location inside the coconut. The monkey then slips his hand through the small hole, grasps the orange, and tries to pull it through the hole. Of course, the orange won't come out; it's too big for the hole. To no avail the persistent monkey continues to pull and pull, never realizing the danger he is in. While the monkey struggles with the orange, the hunters simply stroll in and capture the monkey. As long as the monkey keeps his fist wrapped around the orange, he is trapped. What the monkey doesn’t realize is that it could save its own life if it would only let go of the orange. It rarely occurs to a monkey, however, that it cannot have both the orange and its freedom.

This is exactly what we are reminded of each and every Lent. Similarly, we cannot have both our freedom in Christ, and continue to keep our hands and our hearts clutched on things that are not of God, on our sins. To be free, we must let go; we must surrender. And this should be our focus over the next 40 days of Lent.

In a few moments, we will put ashes on our foreheads as the outward symbol of this penance, of the surrender we’re prepared to undergo during this Lent. If all we are here for today is for these ashes on our foreheads, and don’t enter into Lent honestly, then we leave the church today with nothing more than dirty foreheads. So, what should we do to make this an effective Lent? Well, whatever we do, it should involve sacrifice – it should cost us a bit, hurt a bit, pinch a bit, and challenge us a lot! Lent is about conversion, from what was to what can be. So, let me offer three ways we can make this Lent special - one personal, one communal and one universal.

First, the personal. You know that even as I share these words, God is putting something on your heart that He wants you to leave behind; that He wants you to surrender. It isn’t the simple and superficial practices of giving up sweets or eating between meals. Perhaps it is something major and challenging like giving up the desire to gossip; giving up the anger that controls your life; to heal grudges and past hurts, to turn away from problems with drinking or even drugs. Whatever it is, you know God is calling you to something specific, something personal, something that desperately needs to change if you are going to grow in holiness.
Whatever this personal thing is, God calls us to surrender it to Him so that we may grow better in His sight.

The second things we need to do is communal. During Lent, we have many additional opportunities for our community to gather in prayer. We have daily Mass at 8 a.m. each day. We have added an additional time for Confession – Friday nights or anytime by appointment – so you can purify your soul. We have Stations of the Cross on Friday nights so we can meditate upon the sacrifice Christ made for us. We will have a simple meal of bread and soup together after Stations to be united as a people of faith. The point is, if we are going to successfully navigate this time of penance and prayer, we need to do it together. We need to pray together, prepare together. We need each other. We can help each other. None of us should make this Lenten journey alone. Let’s travel together towards Easter joy.

And something universal. We should all let this Lent help us to focus on others – contribute some money to the poor, to local charities, to the Church, to the St. Vincent de Paul. One mark of our growth in holiness is a greater awareness of the needs around us. Our small sacrifice here can have a big impact on the lives of others elsewhere.

So, these are the things we can do – something personal, something communal, something universal. Let us pledge ourselves wholeheartedly to these 40 days of Lent that that this may be a true and effective Springtime of faith in our lives.

“Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.”

May you have a holy season of Lent and may God give you peace.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Walking the walk

HOMILY FOR THE 9th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, March 6, 2011:
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A man was being tailgated by the car behind him on a busy street one day. As he approached the intersection, the light turned yellow. Being a responsible driver, he came to a stop before it turned red. The person in the car behind him went nuts, screaming in frustration, arms flailing, laying on the car’s horn. Still in mid-rant, the driver heard a tap on the window and looked to see a very serious police officer standing there. The officer ordered the driver out of the car with hands up, and took him to the police station where he was searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a cell. After a couple of hours, the policeman approached the cell and let the now calmer driver out. The officer said, “I'm very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn and yelling at the car in front of you. I noticed the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, and the bumper stickers that said, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ and ‘Follow Me to Church’, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally, watching your behavior, I assumed you had stolen the car.”

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name; drive out demons in your name; do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.’” Our Scriptures remind us today that when it comes to faith, it isn’t enough to talk the talk; we have got to walk the walk. Sometimes we take the wrong approach treating faith as some kind of spiritual force by which we ourselves achieve salvation. That’s the self-help, New Age, Star Wars point of view, which says that faith is our way of tapping into unseen powers – the Force – and using them to achieve our personal goals.

That’s not Christian faith, as St. Paul explains today. First he tells us that “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” In other words, sin has cut each of us off from God and so we cannot save ourselves, make ourselves truly happy or give lasting meaning to our lives by our own efforts. We are not gods. Then, St. Paul continues, that we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus.” Simply put, it is Jesus who has redeemed us; Jesus who saves us; Jesus who has opened the Gates of Paradise for us. It is only through friendship with Jesus that we can experience a grace-filled life now and forever.

It is also wrong to think that Christian faith consists only in acknowledging a list of abstract doctrines. There is no faith test – our faith in Jesus isn’t pass/fail. The doctrines that we believe, that God has revealed to us, have practical consequences for our lives. As Moses says in the First Reading, we need to “take these words... into our heart and our soul.” God gives us these doctrines, these Truths, these rules, not to be blindly followed but because they are good for us. Jesus tells us clearly today that we must not only listen to Christian truth, but we must “act” on it, we must build our lives on it. Our faith, when it is real, should inspire us to live exactly as friends of Christ ought to live. Christian faith is neither an impersonal force nor just abstract dogma: it is a living relationship with God in Christ; it is a way of life.

Imagine, for a moment, that you discovered an ancient treasure map. The first thing you would do would be to learn how to decipher the symbols, shapes, and letters on the map. You would consult experts, find ancient books in secret libraries, and learn to understand what the map says. What would you do then? Would you use your new knowledge to give lectures on ancient treasure maps? Would you put the map in a frame and hang it on your living room wall? Of course not! You would go and find that treasure!

Our faith is kind of like that and we have the map – it is called the Bible. There is an acronym for the BIBLE that I love which says that “BIBLE” stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. The Bible is not a group of nice stories to remember, rather it is an instruction book on how to live. What God has revealed to us in Scripture and Tradition is a map leading to the greatest treasure of all: a truly fulfilling, meaningful life, for ourselves and for those we love, for now and forever. How foolish we would be not to learn all about it and follow where it leads! The adventure lies in understanding our faith and then, with the help of God’s grace, living out its consequences.

St. Polycarp, the aged bishop of Smyrna, expressed this beautifully when they put him on trial in the second century. His persecutors told him that unless he abandoned his Christian faith and worshipped the false Roman gods, he would be tortured and killed. He answered: “You threaten me with a fire which burns for a short time, and then goes out; but are yourself ignorant of the judgment to come, and of the fire of everlasting torments which is prepared for the wicked... I have served Christ these 86 years, and he never did me any harm, but much good; so why should I deny my King and my Savior?”

Christian faith is a way of life, but it is not an easy way of life. Jesus showed us that when he died on the cross. In our sinful world, doing what is right and following God’s commandments often requires personal sacrifice. Because of that, sometimes we fail. Sometimes, we give in to temptation. Sometimes we sin. This is why we begin every Mass with the act of contrition, publicly calling to mind our sins and asking for God’s forgiveness. But even in the midst of life’s temptations, even in the aftermath of our sins, Jesus is close to us. If we go to him, he will help us rebuild what has collapsed. If we go to him, he will protect us from the storms. Perhaps the most amazing expression of His faithfulness is the Sacrament of Confession. We are the only religion that has it. Only Christians can kneel down before God’s representative and speak personally, intimately, heart-to-heart about their sins, and then hear the unmistakable words of comfort, compassion and forgiveness spoken directly to them.

Even if we have been building on sand, it is not too late to put in a new foundation. If our house has already collapsed, it is not too late to build another one - with God’s help. In fact, nothing would please Jesus more. A good thought to keep in mind as we prepare to begin another season of Lent this week.

“Remember these commands and cherish them. Tie them on your arms and wear them on your foreheads as a reminder…Today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse;” between a lived faith and one in name only. So, what would Jesus do? And do we have the courage to follow?

May God give you peace.