Saturday, March 25, 2017

Surely we're not blind?

HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF LENT (Laetare Sunday), March 26, 2017:

Join me in song for a moment – you all know this one: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” Thank you. Beautiful. I think we might have some new members for the Choir here.

I was blind, but now I see. You may have noticed that our Scriptures today are full of these opposing images of darkness vs. light; and blindness vs. sight. “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” is the surprising question that we hear from the Pharisees and it is a question that is meant to resonate in our hearts today as well. Surely, we are not blind also?

Today’s Gospel passage gives us an incredible story of Jesus that functions on different levels. On the surface is a spectacular story of the power of Jesus; His power to heal. How amazing it must have been to be present and see this scene. Everyone knew this man to be blind all his life. And, now through this dramatic action of mud and saliva, Jesus restores physical sight to the man. And, all are amazed, but the story quickly shifts away from that level to the deeper level that asks where true blindness exists? Is it merely in the eyes? Or is real blindness in the heart; in the soul?

The author John Howard Griffin is well known for his book Black Like Me, which describes his experience of living disguised as a black man in the South in the early 1960s during years of bitter racial turmoil. It was also later made into a movie. What is not widely known about Mr. Griffin, though, is that during World War II, he was blinded in an airplane explosion; and he lived for 12 years completely blind. He could not see anything. Then one day, walking down a street near his parent’s home in Texas, he suddenly began to see what he described as “red sand” and without warning his sight returned. A specialist later told him that he had been suffering from a blockage to an optic nerve that had suddenly cleared. Referring to that experience, Griffin told a news reporter, “You can’t imagine what it is like for a father to see his children for the first time. I had constantly pictured them in my mind and then there they were - so much more beautiful that I had ever imagined.”

Blindness, whether physical or spiritual, whether interior or exterior, is about what we are failing or unable to see. You know, the very first words that God speaks in the Bible are these, “Let there be light.” The very first words of God are to make it possible for our eyes to see the beauty of His creation; to literally see His presence that is all around us. When we are spiritually blind – that is really the heart of the matter – we are blind because we have failed to see God who is right in front of us; all around us; speaking to our hearts; speaking to our lives.

Surely, we’re not blind too, are we? This question meant to echo in our hearts today challenges our own blindness that keeps us from seeing God around us. Can we see God here, in this Church? Do we see Him present in His Word and Sacrament; in each other? More importantly, what happens when we walk out of those doors? Do we see God there? In our husbands and wives; in our sons and daughters; in our friends and family and co-workers? How about in the homeless person, the drug addict, the lost and the forsaken? How about in the immigrant, the refugee, the prisoner, even in our enemies?

Our blindness has not fully been healed until no matter where we look, we see only God; we see only a brother or a sister; we see only the Kingdom. There was a curious throw-away line at the beginning of our Gospel. It said, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam — which means Sent.” We gather in this Church so that God may clear away our blindness, and then we are sent into the world to be His light. So, let there be light. Let us see the light. Let us be the light.

Surely, we are not blind too? Invite God to shine His light on any blindness in our lives; to heal any blindness in our hearts; to illumine any places where we can’t see Him. And let us hear the words of St. Paul meant for us, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.”

“Lord that we may see.”

Join me again, won’t you? “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

May the Lord give you peace!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Do you believe in a God who loves you?


“Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?” These questions came from a pastoral letter issued last year on Ash Wednesday by Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, the bishop of Springfield, and they are words that get at the heart of what Lent is all about.

Bishop Rozanski used this letter as an opportunity to do something rare for a church official – apologizing to and seeking reconciliation with those who have ever felt unwelcome in Church because of their gender, their race, or their sexual orientation.

“Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?” I was moved by the bishop’s words because they are words that I know many Catholics have been longing to hear, but also because they struck me at the start of this Lent as the kind of words that should define the very attitude of every Christian; perhaps a sort of mission statement for us all. Pope Francis said early in his papacy, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”

Our Gospel today presents us with the temptation of Jesus in the desert. In this moment, the Devil tempts Jesus with very worldly things – he tempts Him with all the power and glory, wealth and fame, that the world can muster. Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He knows that the things being offered to Him are weak and pitiful in the light of what is real and true in God’s sight. He knows that all of the money or power in the world can’t bring about the change that mercy, love, reconciliation, compassion, healing, forgiveness, and joy can. He knows this with certainty in the depths of His heart and so these temptations, in the end, are no temptation at all.

My friends, as we stand at the start of this Lenten journey once again I ask you: “Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?” Because these are the things that matter. These are the things that have the power – true power – to change your life and the lives of those around you. I also believe this is where too many of us struggle. We are perhaps uncertain of God’s love for us, or perhaps have never truly felt it. Maybe we have not sought out God’s forgiveness in far too long, or no longer believe we need it; or worse, no longer believe we are deserving of it. We, too often, fear to break the ice with the person from whom we need to simply say, “Please forgive me. I was wrong.” But, these are the words that change lives. These are the words that heal hearts. These are the words that change the world. Perhaps this Lent you will speak them yourself. God never tires of forgiving us. God’s mercy has no limits. God is love itself and invites us to dwell in that love. Do you believe?

So, what do you want your Lent to be about this year? Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven. But, YOU are the Church – not this stone and mortar, stained-glass and marble – you are the church.

May this Lent help each of us become more and more a place of mercy, may we become people of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed loved and forgiven. This is what our Lent should truly be about. This is what really matters.

“Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?”

May the Lord give you peace.

With hearts that have grown by three | #FriarFriday

By Tom Washburn, OFM

ave you ever stopped to think that the word “Lent” is a bit of a strange word?  It is one of those words that we simply know, but perhaps we’ve never thought about where it comes from or what it means. We simply know that it is the name that we give to this liturgical season, but have you ever thought about what the word means?
[Lent]When we invoke the word “Lent” we usually think about things that are very austere. We think about the things that we give up during this season.  For example, the British newspaper The Independent conducted a survey and these were the top things that people give up during Lent: chocolates and other sweets; social networking like facebook and twitter; alcohol, meat, coffee and carbonated drinks.  These are the sacrifices that we make and are usually the way we define this season – as a time of fasting and prayer, a time of penance and sacrifice.     
But this brings us back to this curious word, “Lent.” The word “Lent” does not mean sacrifice or penance or any of the austere terms we associate with the season. It means literally “springtime.”  The word “Lent” comes to us from the Old English word “lencten” which is the root of words we know today like “lengthen.”  It is a reference to springtime because it was used to describe the time of year when the days begin to get longer and brighter as the sunlight lengthens. So, Lent is about springtime and springtime is all about renewal, new beginnings and new life.
In his message for Lent this year, Pope Francis said, “Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts,” to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord.”
This image of springtime, of newness, of lengthening, is the appropriate one for us to embrace during Lent. We engage in our penitential practices, our sacrifices, not to punish ourselves for being far from God the rest of the year. We do these things so that they will renew us as the springtime renews our world. As the warmth of spring embraces our land, we welcome the warmth of the Holy Spirit to warm our hearts and rekindle in us the fire of God’s love. We do these things so that they might lengthen and increase the capacity of our hearts to love more, to be more kind to others, especially those we sometimes struggle with, to offer compassion, especially to the immigrant and refugee, the hungry and the homeless, to all those who are in need, to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged, and to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us. Just like springtime, the season of Lent invites us to let light conquer our darkness, to let that light shine a bit more brightly as each day of our Lenten journey passes.  
[How the Grinch Stole Christmas]There’s a wonderful line towards the end of Dr. Suess’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It says, “The Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!” My friends, as we embark on our annual Lenten pilgrimage, let us begin again. Let embrace the newness, the renewal, the lengthening and strengthening and increasing the capacity of our hearts that Lent offers each of us. Let us reach the joy of Easter with hearts that have grown by three so that the true meaning of our faith might be evident to all who see us.
Pope Francis concluded his Lenten mission by saying, “Lent is the favorable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor. The Lord shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need. Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter.”
The Holy Father also offered this advice for our Lenten fast. And so I’ll end by sharing it with you:
Fast from hurting words and say more kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with greater gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with peaceful patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with profound hope.
Fast from worries and trust in God’s plan.
Fast from complaints and contemplate holy simplicity.
Fast from pressures and be more prayerfully present.
Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with overwhelming joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled to one another.
Fast from words and be silent so you can hear the simple voice of God.
May the Lord give you peace.

Changing the impossible

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