Saturday, March 31, 2012

"You've got Holy Week!"

Time to Cool Down

THOMAS MASSARO | AMERICA MAGAZINE | MARCH 26, 2012

the cover of America, the Catholic magazine
Olympia Snowe, explaining her decision last month to retire from the Senate, cited political “polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies” as prominent reasons for her departure. After 33 years in Washington, Snowe, a Republican from Maine, found herself one of the few moderates left in Congress. Her laudable pragmatic streak had been frustrated far too often by the hyper-partisanship that glows white hot these days, from the halls of Congress to church life.
Something inside me envies Senator Snowe. Her retirement affords her an honorable exit strategy to escape an overheated situation. The Catholic community in the United States enjoys no such luxury. The controversy stemming from new regulations that mandate contraception coverage for employees even of religiously affiliated institutions appears bottomless. You need not have scrolled through blogs, trolled Web sites and digested media coverage as much as I have in recent weeks to know the bitter landscape. Tempers have flared and angry words have been exchanged, targeted at those with variant opinions, questioning their good will, their prudence, even their intelligence.
We must trade the culture warrior agenda for one of diplomacy.
I have no novel opinion or particular expertise to share on the divisive topic of whether Catholic institutions should accept the Obama administration’s compromise on conscience clause provisions. I wish simply to relate my fear that we as a religious community are choosing to walk the wrong path. I am addressing not the outcome of the policy debate, but the regrettable style of our recent engagement of this issue.
One option would be to keep ratcheting up the inflammatory rhetoric. Portray those with divergent opinions as insolent enemies who must be defeated in a pitched battle. Take no prisoners; make no concessions. We were on this path already before Rush Limbaugh used his broadcast on Feb. 29 to attack Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student and vocal supporter of broader contraception coverage, in the most scurrilous of ways. By then, the echo chamber of vituperation was in full operation. Bloviating media pundits are the most obvious offenders, but my unscientific sampling of Web posts reveals lamentable excess coming from all points of the political compass and all segments of the Catholic community.
A superior option would be to trade the culture warrior agenda for one of diplomacy. Turn away from invectives, jeremiads, hyperbole and hurtful name-calling. De-escalate the overblown rhetoric that paints opponents with the brush of idiocy, poor judgment or willful deception. Exercise the kind of magnanimity that refuses to demonize anyone. Invite others into civil conversations that emphasize mutual respect and a willingness to listen, even when that proves uncomfortable.
Why is the path of civility and fair-minded patience better? Why is it imperative that we tone down the harsh rhetoric? Because members of our religious community who might seem like fierce opponents today are going to be with us long after the flame of today’s controversy eventually settles down. Whatever policy outcomes unfold this year or next or further down the line, those of us lucky enough to be given a longer span of life by our Creator will find ourselves sharing the Eucharist (and much else) with thousands of those with whom we are not currently seeing eye to eye. Should our future sharing of the bread of salvation be compromised by our current failure to share a modicum of civility? Let us not give such power to present disagreements that it will be impossible to forge a decent modus vivendi afterward.
This advice may strike some as indulging in an overly milquetoast approach to important issues that resist compromise. There are many matters of conscience for which a hard struggle is justified. But to advocate civility in discourse is not to urge capitulation.
Regrettably, election years like this one have usually shed more heat than light on complex church-state issues. The 2012 campaign trail is proving once again to be a crucible of inflammatory rhetoric and repeated appeals to our fears about religion in public life, not of nuanced analysis. When religion becomes a wedge issue, we have all lost. Maybe Senator Snow was wise to look for the nearest exit. I hope that Catholics still have a chance to cool down the rhetoric.
Thomas Massaro, S.J.teaches social ethics at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rejoice! For God so loved me!

HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT, Laetare Sunday, March 18, 2012:
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John Smith was the only Protestant to move into a Catholic neighborhood. On the first Friday of Lent, John was outside grilling a big juicy steak on his grill. Meanwhile, all of his neighbors were eating cold tuna fish for supper. This went on each Friday of Lent until his neighbors just couldn’t take the temptation any more. So, they decided to try and convert John to Catholicism. They went over and talked to him and were so happy that he decided to join all of his neighbors and become a Catholic. They took him to Church, and the Priest sprinkled some water over him, and said, "You were born a Baptist, you were raised a Baptist, and now you are a Catholic." The men were so relieved--now their biggest Lenten temptation was resolved. Lent rolled around again the next year and on the First Friday, as supper rolled around and everyone was setting down to their tuna fish, the smell of steak cooking on a grill wafted through the neighborhood. Everyone ran to John’s house to see if he had forgotten it was the first Friday of Lent? The group arrived just in time to see John standing over his grill with a small pitcher of water. He was sprinkling some water over his steak on the grill, saying, "You were born a cow, you were raised a cow, and now you are a fish."

Today in our Lenten journey we celebrate what is called Laetare Sunday. Laetare is the Latin word for rejoice and it comes from the entrance antiphon prescribed for Mass today from Isaiah which says, “Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her". In the midst of our penitential season, the Church invites us to rejoice; to be joyful. Our vestments reflect this sense of joy today. Precisely in the middle of our very serious Lenten attempts to turn away from sin; to make a change for the good, towards the holy in our life; our liturgy says, “Take a deep breath and rejoice a little bit.” Why?

Well, there is a story that took place in Germany in 1456 when Gutenberg was printing the first Bible that I think helps to give us some of the answer. The printer had a little daughter, Alice, who came into the printing press and picked up a discarded sheet of paper that had only one incomplete line printed on it. The line read: “For God so loved the world that He gave,” and it ended there. Now, these were times when popular religion was a matter of living in fear and trembling before the awesome wrath of God. So little Alice put the paper in her pocket and kept on thinking of the fact of God being so loving, and her face radiated with joy. Her mother noticed her changed behavior and asked Alice what was making her so happy and Alice showed her mother the sheet of paper with the one printed line. Her mother looked at it for some time and asked, “So, what did God give?” Alice said, “I don’t know, but if God loved us so much to give us something, then we don’t need to be afraid of Him.”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” God so loved the world. What a powerful sentence. For God so loved you and me and everyone that ever has or ever will be. What is this “love” that God has for us? Love can be a challenging word for us in the English language. It is horribly imprecise. Just think we use the same word to say things like: “I love the Red Sox!” “Oh, how I would love a Shamrock Shake today!” (Happy St. Patty’s!) And the same word for love to express the way we love a spouse, a friend, a child, and yes, the way we feel about God. Surely the way I feel about God is different than the way I feel about the Red Sox or a Shamrock Shake!

Luckily, much of the Bible was written in Greek and the Greek language doesn’t suffer from our lack of linguistic precision. In Greek, there are three words that talk about love. There is eros which means romantic or sexual love; like the love between a man and a woman that leads to marriage. In English we get words like “erotic” from eros. Then there is philia which means a brotherly love or a type of fellowship. Think of the city of Philadelphia two Greek words that mean literally city of brotherly love. This type of love would be where the Red Sox come in. And, then there is agape which is unlike the rest. Agape is unconditional, all-encompassing, self-sacrificing love; like the love that makes a mother risk her own life for her child.

“For God so loved the world.” Now, you can probably take a guess at which Greek word is behind our translation of “love” in the Gospel today. God loves us with the love of agape. God’s love for us is all-encompassing, it is powerful, unconditional and it is obviously self-sacrificing. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…so that we might have eternal life” Our God not only loves; but He loves us so much that He gives; He gives His only Son; and He forgives so that we might not die, but might live forever with Him. This is the kind of love God has for each and every one of us. And, this is the kind of love we should have for one another. This is the kind of love that is lived in Heaven. And it is the kind of love that will get us to Heaven. And, this, my brothers and sisters, is why we rejoice.

A certain saint asked God to show her the difference between Heaven and Hell. So God sent an angel to take her, first to Hell. There she saw men and women seated around a large table with all kinds of delicious food. But none of them was eating. They were all sad and hungry. The saint asked, "Why aren’t you eating?" And he showed her his hand. A long fork was strapped to their hands so that each time they tried to eat they could not get the food to their mouths and it ended up on the floor. "What a pity," said the saint. Then the angel took her to Heaven. There the saint was surprised to find an almost identical setting as in Hell: men and women sitting round a large table with all sorts of delicious food, and with long forks strapped to their arms. But unlike in Hell, the people here were happy and laughing. Shocked, the saint to one of them, “Why are you so happy in this condition?" "You see," said the man in Heaven, "Here we feed each another." Agape, the love of God, the love we’ll find in Heaven is a love which gives without limit.

Today the Church invites us to reflect on God's love for the world and to be joyful because of it. God loves each and every one of us, so much so that He gave us His only son. Today we are invited to say yes to God's love. We may sometimes feel as though it is hard to believe that God loves even me, but we believe it because we know that God loves unconditionally. We can count on it. For God so loves us that we can say, like little Alice, “If God loved us so much to give us something, then we don’t need to be afraid of Him.”

Let us truly rejoice today and as we continue onward to Easter that, unworthy though we may be, God loves us with a love so powerful that it can bring us all the way to Heaven.

May God give you peace.

Brian Corcoran singing "Danny Boy"

St. Patrick's Day 2012: Facts, Myths, and Traditions

A performer in the Saint Patrick's Day Parade in London, United Kingdom.
An entertainer dressed as St. Patrick performs in a St. Patrick's Day parade on March 12, 2005, in London.
Photograph by Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images
John Roach
Updated March 16, 2012
On St. Patrick's Day—Saturday, March 17—millions of people will don green and celebrate the Irish with parades, good cheer, and perhaps a pint of beer.
But few St. Patrick's Day revelers have a clue about St. Patrick, the historical figure, according to the author of St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography.
"The modern celebration of St. Patrick's Day really has almost nothing to do with the real man," said classics professor Philip Freeman of Luther College in Iowa. (Take an Ireland quiz.)
Who Was the Man Behind St. Patrick's Day?
For starters, the real St. Patrick wasn't even Irish. He was born in Britain around A.D. 390 to an aristocratic Christian family with a townhouse, a country villa, and plenty of slaves.
What's more, Patrick professed no interest in Christianity as a young boy, Freeman noted.
At 16, Patrick's world turned: He was kidnapped and sent overseas to tend sheep as a slave in the chilly, mountainous countryside of Ireland for seven years. (See Ireland pictures.)
"It was just horrible for him," Freeman said. "But he got a religious conversion while he was there and became a very deeply believing Christian."
St. Patrick's Disembodied Voices
According to folklore, a voice came to Patrick in his dreams, telling him to escape. He found passage on a pirate ship back to Britain, where he was reunited with his family.
The voice then told him to go back to Ireland.
"He gets ordained as a priest from a bishop, and goes back and spends the rest of his life trying to convert the Irish to Christianity," Freeman said.
Patrick's work in Ireland was tough—he was constantly beaten by thugs, harassed by the Irish royalty, and admonished by his British superiors. After he died on March 17, 461, Patrick was largely forgotten.
But slowly, mythology grew around Patrick, and centuries later he was honored as the patron saint of Ireland, Freeman noted.
Is Your Shamrock Real or Bogus?
According to St. Patrick's Day lore, Patrick used the three leaves of a shamrock to explain the Christian holy trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Today, St. Patrick's Day revelers wear a shamrock. Trifolium dubium, the wild-growing, three-leaf clover that some botanists consider the official shamrock, is an annual plant that germinates in the spring.
Other three-leaf clovers, such as the perennials Trifolium repens and Medicago lupulina, are "bogus shamrocks," according to the Irish Times.
John Parnell, a botanist at Trinity College Dublin, said that Trifolium dubium is the most commonly used shamrock today, which lends credence to the claims of authenticity.
However, he added, the custom of wearing a shamrock dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries, and "I know of no evidence to say what people then used. I think the argument on authenticity is purely academic—basically I'd guess they used anything cloverlike then."
What's more, botanists say there's nothing uniquely Irish about shamrocks. Most clover species can be found throughout Europe.
No Snakes in Ireland
Another St. Patrick myth is the claim that he banished snakes from Ireland. It's true no snakes exist on the island today, Luther College's Freeman said—but they never did.
Ireland, after all, is surrounded by icy waters—much too cold to allow snakes to migrate from Britain or anywhere else.
Since snakes often represent evil in literature, "when Patrick drives the snakes out of Ireland, it is symbolically saying he drove the old, evil, pagan ways out of Ireland [and] brought in a new age," Freeman said.
The snake myth, the shamrock story, and other tales were likely spread by well-meaning monks centuries after St. Patrick's death, Freeman said.
St. Patrick's Day: Made in America?
Until the 1970s, St. Patrick's Day in Ireland was a minor religious holiday. A priest would acknowledge the feast day, and families would celebrate with a big meal, but that was about it.
"St. Patrick's Day was basically invented in America by Irish-Americans," Freeman said.
Irish-American history expert Timothy Meagher said Irish charitable organizations originally celebrated St. Patrick's Day with banquets in places such as Boston, Massachusetts; Savannah, Georgia; and Charleston, South Carolina.
Eighteenth-century Irish soldiers fighting with the British in the U.S. Revolutionary War held the first St. Patrick's Day parades. Some soldiers, for example, marched through New York City in 1762 to reconnect with their Irish roots.
Other parades followed in the years and decades after, including well-known celebrations in Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, primarily in flourishing Irish immigrant communities.
"It becomes a way to honor the saint but also to confirm ethnic identity and to create bonds of solidarity," said Meagher, of Catholic University in Washington, D.C..
Dyeing the River Green for St. Patrick's Day
Sometime in the 19th century, as St. Patrick's Day parades were flourishing, wearing the color green became a show of commitment to Ireland, Meagher said.
In 1962 the show of solidarity took a spectacular turn in Chicago when the city decided to dye a portion of the Chicago River green.
The tradition started when parade organizer Steve Bailey, head of a plumbers' union, noticed how a dye used to trace possible sources of river pollution had stained a colleague's overalls a brilliant green, according to greenchicagoriver.com.
Why not use the dye to turn the whole river green on St. Patrick's Day, Bailey thought. So began the tradition.
The environmental impact of the dye is minimal compared with pollution such as bacteria from sewage-treatment plants, said Margaret Frisbie, the executive director of the advocacy group Friends of the Chicago River.
Rather than advising against the dye, her group focuses on turning the Chicago River into a welcoming habitat full of fish, herons, turtles, and beavers. If the river becomes a wildlife haven, the thinking goes, Chicagoans won't want to dye their river green.
"Our hope is that, as the river continues to improve, ultimately people can get excited about celebrating St. Patrick's Day different ways," she said.
Pint of Guinness on St. Patrick's Day
On any given day 5.5 million pints of Guinness, the famous Irish stout brand, are consumed around the world.
But on St. Patrick's Day, that number more than doubles to 13 million pints, said Beth Davies Ryan, global corporate-relations director of Guinness.
"Historically speaking, a lot of Irish immigrants came to the United States and brought with them lots of customs and traditions, one of them being Guinness," she said.
Today, the U.S. tradition of St. Patrick's Day parades, packed pubs, and green silliness has invaded Ireland with full force, said Freeman, the classics professor.
The country, he noted, figured out that the popularity of St. Patrick's Day was a good way to boost spring tourism. (Get National Geographic Travelermagazine's list of the best hotels in Ireland.)
"Like anybody else," he said, "they can take advantage of a good opportunity."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

We are temples of the Holy Spirit

HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT, March 11, 2012:
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A man went to confession and said, “Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. I’ve stolen some lumber.” The priest asked, “Are you sorry for your sin, my son?” “Yes, Father,” the man replied. The priest said, “For your penance say three Our Fathers and four Hail Marys. Your sins are forgiven.” The next week, the man returned: “Father, forgive me. I stole some lumber–again.” “Again?” the priest asked, “Well, are you sorry for your sin?” “Yes I am Father, and I’ll work harder to avoid this sin in the future,” the guy said. “Very well,” says the priest. “For your penance, say three Our Fathers and four Hail Marys. Your sins are forgiven.” But the next week the man was back again. The now exasperated priest said, “What? Again you stole lumber?” “Yes, Father, I have. I am so ashamed,” said the man. “Well now,” the priest said, “For your penance this time, you’ll have to make a novena. Tell me, my son, do you know how to make a novena?” Shaking his head the man said, “Father, I don’t know how to make a novena. But if you have the plans, I have the lumber.”

I want to invite you to think about a simple question today as we gather here in our Church. Why was this church built? There are a couple of ways to answer that. Historically, our Church was tied directly to the Cape Cod Canal that sits right out our front door. For those who didn’t know, St. Margaret’s was built in 1915 as a mission of Corpus Christi Church in Sandwich mainly to serve the population that suddenly appeared here as a result of the digging of the canal at the same time. We didn’t become a separate parish until 1946 when two mission churches – St. Margaret’s and St. Mary’s (which was a mission of St. Patrick’s) were formed into a single parish community.

So, that is one answer to the question of why this church was built. But, there is also another answer – this church was built to be a temple. This Church – in fact, every Catholic church – are not built to be merely ordinary spaces. This isn’t a meeting place or an auditorium or a theater where we go to see a play or a concert. A temple is a building that is built for a singular and unique purpose – to immerse us in the drama of our relationship with God. And, notice that I said “our relationship with God,” not “my” or “your” relationship with God. Because while we may come here for private prayer from time-to-time, the main reason for this building is to serve as the place where we as God’s family play our roles in the great drama of God coming to us and our going back to God as His family.

A temple is, of course, a building dedicated to God. But it's more than that. It's a sacred space, a space unlike all others and one where we enter so that we can be truly present with our God. A temple is God's house; a place where God and you and me, can be together with each other. God is really and truly present here; as this is His house. The flickering red candle with its eternal flame always burning is a signal telling us that the Eternal One dwells here, in this place.

And, it is because of that real dwelling of God that we act differently here than we do everywhere else. Have you ever thought about that? We have a whole set of rules and customs and behaviors that we do here and only here. Just think of the ways that we show a special reverence here. We enter with a spirit of prayerful silence. We genuflect to the Real Presence of Christ dwelling in the tabernacle. Men remove their hats. We all dress respectfully. Here we kneel and bow and give our attention in a way that shows that we know that God dwells here and we have come here to worship Him.

This brings us to our Gospel today. This extraordinary passage that is really the only recorded angry outburst of Jesus in Scripture. What explains the anger we see today as Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables and drove the them out the Jerusalem Temple? The Gospel gave us the answer, “Zeal for [God’s] house will consume me.” In today’s passage, Jesus found the Temple being treated like a shopping center, or a bank. Jesus viewed this as an insult to God – to change His house; the place where He dwells into anything other than the sacred space it was meant to be. And how right Jesus is. I’m sure we, too, would react the same if this temple, this church, were being used in a way that somehow insulted God.

But, there is something more to this passage today as well. The Jerusalem Temple was not the only temple. This Church, and any Catholic Church, these are not the only structures where God dwells. In His resurrection, Jesus reminded us that each of us, too, is a temple. That, through our baptism, through Confirmation, through each and every Eucharist, God dwells in us. Each one of us here is a Temple of the Holy Spirit; a dwelling of God’s presence. Each one of us here was brought into being and designed by God for the purpose of making Him present to others, especially when they enter encounter we who believe in Jesus. Each one of us here is a walking, living temple of God’s presence through which we are meant to make God present to others. We receive the living Body of Jesus in Holy Communion so that God might dwell within us. Here we become what we truly are - the living stones of God's temple here on earth.

Remember what was said of the early followers, “See how these Christians love one another.” As living, breathing, walking, talking Temples of the Holy Spirit; Temples of the Presence of God, we are meant to be visibly different in the world – different in a way that makes others feel as though they have encountered something of God when they meet one of His followers; when they meet us.

”Zeal for [God’s] house will consume us.” The fundamental question for each of us today is simply this: What sort of Temple am I? Am I a Temple of God that would find favor with Jesus? The answer to that question is what Lent is all about. Lent is given to us each year so that we might examine and perhaps change what is inside of us that keeps us from being a truly holy Temple.

Lent comes to us in the springtime, in fact the word “lent” means “springtime.” Spring is a time when we usually do our spring cleaning. We open up the windows and let the warm spring breezes blow through our houses to clean away all of the stale winter air. We plant flowers, we paint the walls, and we fix up and clean up so that our dwelling places can be healthy places in which to live, and inviting places for others to enter. Shouldn't we do the same for God?

My friends, allow this Lent to be a time for the warm breezes of the Holy Spirit to sweep through our souls; refreshing us, making us new. Allow God to renew and strengthen His deep abiding presence in each of us so that we can reflect Him to the world around us. Make the Sacrament of Reconciliation a key part of your spiritual spring cleaning this Lent. And as you receive Holy Communion today – God’s true and abiding presence – welcome that same living God to dwell in the Temple that is you once again. Let zeal for God’s Temple that is you consume you.

May God give you peace.




(Based on a reflection by Fr. Charles Irwin. http://www.catholicweb.com/)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

"It is good that we are here!"

HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT, March 4, 2012:
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Father Murphy walks into a pub, and says to the first man he meets, “Do you want to go to heaven?” The man said, “I do, Father.” The priest said, “Then stand over there against the wall.” Then the priest asked the second man, “Do you want to go to heaven?” “Certainly, Father,” was the man's reply. “Then stand over there against the wall,” said the priest. Then Father Murphy walked up to O'Toole and said, “Do you want to go to heaven?” O'Toole said, “No, I don't Father.” The priest said, “I don't believe this. You mean to tell me that when you die you don't want to go to heaven?” O'Toole said, “Oh, when I die, yes. But, by the look of things, I thought you were getting a group together to go right now.”

“Rabbi, it is good that we are here.” We hear these uplifting and joyful words of Peter in the midst of this truly glorious scene of the Transfiguration of the Lord on the mountain. “It is good that we are here.” The joy contained in Peter’s statement should actually be for us a model of our own Lenten journey.

In our passage from Mark, we first hear that Jesus and the disciples went up a mountain to pray. Now, this alone should be a tip off that something incredible is on the horizon. We know that mountains are extremely important Scriptural symbols for us. Think about Scripture for a moment– important things always happen on the mountain. Abraham encounters God when he goes up the mountain to offer sacrifice; Moses meets God on the mountain and receives the Ten Commandments there; Jesus, again from the mountain, gives us the Beatitudes. So we know that on the mountain, big things happen. The same is true for us as well. We may wonder how we can ascend the mountain to encounter God as we sit here at sea level in Buzzards Bay – there aren’t any mountains in sight. But liturgically, this place where the Lector stands to proclaim our readings, and the priest or deacon stands to offer a homily is not called a pulpit or a lectern, as we commonly hear, it's proper name is an "Ambo" – and “ambo” is the Greek word for, guess what? Mountain. And so, even in the midst of our own town, this is our mountain. From this place, God speaks to us – through His Word proclaimed, and through His ordained minister who preaches in His name. And so, when God speaks from this mountain, we too, are meant to take notice. We too, are to realize that it is also good for us that we are here.

When we have the strength and the courage to climb the mountain, there we encounter God in unique and powerful ways; in ways that lift us up and help us and give us the strength to see who we really are in God’s sight. Mountaintops are places of God; places of Divine Revelation. And, so we’re not surprised then when we hear that Jesus and the disciples went up the mountain to pray. We’re not surprised, then, when during that mountaintop time of prayer, God reveals His glory and wonder and power in a truly spectacular way. And, we are not surprised when Peter responds to this event so joyfully exclaiming, “Master, it is good that we are here.”

And so too must our hearts be full of the same joy. Lent is our time of mountaintop. It is as though Jesus said to us, “Let us go up to the mountain for these 40 days. Let me reveal my heart to you; my love to you; my desires for your life.” We are given this special time to go away to the mountain – disciples with their Lord – to experience Him in a profound way. Even our prayers proclaim this. Our Opening Prayer today called us to joy as it said, “be pleased to nourish us inwardly by your word, that, with spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold your glory.” So the question for us all today is this: have we really taken the message to heart that this is a “joyful season?” Are we experiencing a joyful Lent? For some reason, we tend to forget the purpose of our penance and see only penance and we can become a joyLESS people during Lent – as though it were joy itself that we gave up for Lent. Not so, says Jesus. Not so, says Peter. Instead, Peter says, “It is good that we are here.” You know, St. Theresa of Avila once prayed, “God, please deliver us from these sour-faced saints.” Or as I’ve also heard, “It looks like some Christians were baptized in pickle juice.”

Drawing nearer to God; growing in holiness; living up to the call of our baptism – the very things that we focus on during Lent – these are not sorrowful things. If we are naturally and authentically drawing near to God – that absolutely must fill our hearts with joy.

And so, my brothers and sisters, welcome to the mountaintop. God is here. Truly present in the proclamation of His Word, in the person of His priest, in the bread and wine that will become His Body and Blood, and in you – gathered in His name: “Where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” God is here, all around – just as wondrously as He was on that day of Transfiguration. Just as Abraham offered sacrifice on the mountaintop altar – we too will offer sacrifice on our altar – and God will be here in our midst – just as dazzlingly transformed as He was on the mountain.

God draws us near during this Lent so that we can become people renewed in Him; in His Word; in His Sacrament; in His Love – so that when our time comes to leave the mountain and return to the world we will truly be His people and His joyful presence to the people we encounter. There’s a saying among the Baptists, “Did you know that you have been saved? Please, inform your face.” Let us radiate the joy that comes from being the Children of God.

Lord Jesus we thank you and praise you for visiting us on this mountain today. “It is so very good that we are here.” Let us be strengthened and renewed by the joy of this Lenten season so that we can overcome our sin, turn to You, and truly be transformed and transfigured into Your people and Your presence in the world.

May the Lord give us His peace and His joy .