Saturday, February 24, 2018

Becoming luminous beings


We just heard a truly amazing story unfold in our Gospel. Jesus “was transfigured before them; his clothes became dazzling white.” Take a moment to take in that sight. Imagine 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. For them, this moment of Transfiguration was a defining moment in their lives. Up until now, they had seen Jesus in normal, everyday ways. He had not yet really revealed His divinity. But, in this moment they saw Jesus in a new and spectacular way; they experienced this miraculous presence of Moses and Elijah. They heard the very voice of God echoing from Heaven, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” From this moment, everything was different. From this moment, they began to see Jesus in a new light.

It was an experience they would never forget. We know this because St. Peter himself tells us in his second letter, “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.” St. Peter wrote those words 35 years after the resurrection; shortly before he would be crucified. He remembered that moment for the rest of his life.

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

The Eucharist we gather for every week is our preeminent experience of transfiguration. We gather 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 living presence of God. We begin with elements that are common, ordinary, mundane. We end up with something heavenly, extraordinary and miraculous. It is as if the voice of God says to us, “This bread and this wine are my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

The challenge for us is to live with an openness that believes that God can be transfigured in our midst today, just as He was then. It is an invitation to not close our selves off to the heavenly, to the miraculous because the reality is that Jesus is constantly revealing Himself to us. When our eyes our opened we can see that we live in a near constant state of Transfiguration – that Jesus reveals Himself to us in countless ways every day. He invites us to climb that mountain of transfiguration with Him and experience something of His divine glory.

A few years ago, the BBC did a story on St. Mother Teresa and her sisters at a shelter that they ran for the dying in the slums of Calcutta. The shelter where they brought the TV crew was poorly lit inside and the crew thought it would be difficult to get any usable footage. To everyone’s surprise, the footage turned out to be spectacular. The whole interior of the shelter was bathed in a mysterious warm light impossible to explain. Writing about this, one journalist said, “Mother Teresa’s shelter is overflowing with love. One senses this immediately on entering. This love is luminous, like the halos artists make visible around the heads of saints. I find it not at all surprising that this luminosity should register on film.”

My friends, Jesus takes us up that mountain of transfiguration with Him once again today and invites us to recognize His presence in our midst. But, it isn’t just Jesus who becomes transformed and transfigured. We see how transfiguration changed St. Peter’s life forever; and how it changed the life of Mother Teresa forever. God is inviting us to become transfigured too and change our lives forever.

My friends, let us open our hearts to experience transfiguration together. Jesus is calling us all leave the ordinary behind and ascend the holy mountain. He wants to take us up to be with Him as he did with Peter, James and John. And here, in this moment, Jesus reveals Himself to us if we only open our eyes. Let us see Jesus made new before us and become once again the luminous beings that this encounter makes us. Let us together stoke the flame of our faith so that we might see Jesus more clearly all around us; and be His luminous presence in the world.

“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Coming home

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, February 18, 2018:

An Irishman walked into a pub one day and ordered three beers. The man does the same for the next several evenings, and curious the bartender finally asks him why. The man answered, “Well, you see, I have two brothers, and one went to America, and the other to Australia. When we lived in the same town, we always enjoyed each other’s company over a beer each night. We promised each other that we would always order an extra two beers whenever we’re at the pub as a way of maintaining that tradition.” One day, however, the man came in and ordered only two beers. The bartender poured them with a heavy heart certain that something must have happened to one of the brothers. The bartender said, “I’d like to offer you my condolences on the passing of your brother. You know-the two beers and all...” The man chuckled for a moment, then replied, “You'll be happy to hear that my two brothers are alive and well... It's just that I, myself, have decided to give up drinking for Lent.”

“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” That is a passage from one of my favorite books called Home by Marilyn Robinson. If you’ve never read it, it is good Lenten reading. Home is a sort-of prodigal son story as it tells of Jack, the black-sheep of the Boughton family, who returns home after many years to reconcile with his father and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in his life. But, when I read that particular passage, I couldn’t help but think how fitting a description it is of our annual Lenten journey. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”

Lent, after all, is a journey that is all about coming home to the constant and eternal faithfulness of our God. And this is the message in our Gospel passage from Mark today. Mark gives us a familiar story; that of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, but Mark gives us the Cliff’s Notes version of it. We’re more accustomed to Matthew’s rendition which gives us the details of each of the specific temptations between Jesus and the Devil. But, Mark’s version cuts to the chase. We hear only that Jesus was in the desert for 40 days, that the Devil tempted Him and angels served His needs. And, then, we hear from Jesus, who says, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Now, don’t be fooled by the brevity of the proclamation. Although Matthew gives us more detail, even this brief statement in Mark is packed full of meaning. Jesus, first tells us to “repent.” What does it mean to repent? We often think of the word “repent” in terms of sorrow. When we repent we are sorry for what we’ve done or what we’ve failed to do. That is true enough, but repenting, especially in its Lenten sense, has an added quality to it – the quality of return. When we repent, it isn’t only about what we leave behind, but about what we go towards – we return to the ways of the Lord. Our sorrow for our sins doesn’t leave us in our sin. We don’t say “I’m sorry for my sins,” and then just keep on sinning. Rather, when we repent, we recognize that we have wandered, to use Robinson’s language, and that we need to we turn ourselves back around; not only express sorrow for our sins, but go back in the direction of home; in the direction of God. When we repent, it is the very beginning of the journey of return.

Secondly, Jesus tells us to “believe in the Gospel.” This belief is the effect of our repenting, our turning around, because you see for the believer, the Gospel is our home. When we turn away from sin, we return to the home of the Gospel. The word Gospel means literally, “Good News” and our return home is the good news of our salvation, the good news that God loves us, God cares for us, God desires us to be close to Him; God wants us to come home. Whenever we are far from that home, God stands at the door waiting for our return. So Jesus says, don’t merely hear the Good News, but believe it. Jesus commands us to live it; to live in it, as we would live in our home. Hold that Good News in the certainty of our hearts with the knowledge that what we have heard proclaimed is true! We have wandered away from that Good News and during Lent we come to learn what it means to come home.

“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” My friends, we may find ourselves here today feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, sinful, even far from God. But, God calls each of us today to come home once again; to be renewed in His love and in His grace; to leave behind our sins; to turn around and head towards God once again; to be the people He created us to be. Just like in most prodigal son stories, there is nothing so great that would ever keep the Father from welcoming us back into our home. How strongly our God wants our own 40 days to bring us back into closer, more intimate relationship with Him.

So, my brothers and sisters, come home this Lent; return to God with all your heart; repent and believe the Gospel; the Good News that God loves you, that God cares for you, that God wants to hold you so very close to His loving and forgiving heart.

“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Why does God allow suffering?


Two men shipwrecked on an island. One of them started screaming, “ There's no food! No water! We're going to die!” But, the second man sat comfortably against a palm tree as calm as could be. He said, “Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. I make $100,000 a week.” The first man said, “What difference does that make?!? We're stranded with no food and no water! No one will find us! We’re going to die!” The second man said, “You don’t understand. I make $100,000 a week and I give 10% of that to my church every week. So, don’t worry. My pastor will find me!”

Our Scriptures today invite us to contend with the most difficult question in all of religion: Why do we suffer? It is a question that each one of us has thought about at one point or another on our spiritual journey. Our first reading today is the most iconic story of suffering in Scripture in the story of Job. We heard his desperation, “Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” Job lost everything; his land, his possessions and even his family; add to that a plague of boils and other horrors. Listen to the anguish in his words, “My days come to an end without hope…I shall not see happiness again.”

Job sees no purpose in his suffering. He can’t make meaning of what he’s enduring and so he complains to God. Job feels helpless and hopeless. I imagine that when we hear these words of Job, we can identify with him in one way or another – either in trying to make sense of our own suffering or in trying to understand why others suffer. We’ve all felt like Job wondering why things have to be the way they are. Why bad things happen; especially to good people.

The story of Job reminds me of my good friend Fr. Mike’s mother Adele who passed away a number of years ago. Adele was a wonderful, joyful, beautiful woman, but she also had many Job-like moments in her life. She lost her father when she was very young, her brother died at 16, she had 7 miscarriages before finally carrying a baby to term in her 40s, she suffered through cancer, heart attacks, lost her kidneys and had to undergo dialysis for years, and she suffered from diabetes that in the end required the partial amputation of a leg. She had sufferings that could give Job a run for his money and she could have very easily said like him, “I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me.” But, Adele never spoke the words of Job. Instead, she said regularly, “Don’t waste your suffering. Offer it up and unite it to the suffering of Christ.” Even when faced with amputation, she didn’t ask how she could avoid the pain and suffering of that procedure; she didn’t ask why this was happening to her. Instead she asked, “What does God want me to do with this suffering?” And before she was taken into surgery, she prayed thanking God for the use of her legs all those years, for carrying her around, and allowing her to be a good mother. She was an incredible witness of faith to the transformative power of suffering.

The famous dramatist Paul Claudel said poignantly, “Jesus did not come to explain away our suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” You see, for we who believe in Christ, suffering is never without meaning. With the eyes of faith, in our suffering we can participate in the great act of our redemption. What our world forgets in our no-pain-day-and-age is that suffering is an opportunity to be united with Christ in the greatest moment of the history of the world – we can be united with Him on that cross and in the salvation of the world. Souls can be redeemed and saved and prayers answered when we direct our suffering, offer it up, to this spiritual end. And, importantly, in our suffering, we are not alone. Jesus is right there by our side carrying the cross with us, filling our suffering with His loving presence.

So, we can continue to ask why there is suffering in the world, but the evidence would suggest that we are not going to get an answer to that question. Suffering and pain seem to be part of the human condition. We do know this – they are not caused by God. We do not have a spiteful God content with afflicting people. When we stop asking why is there suffering, we can move on to the more meaningful question, “What can I do with this? How can I invite God to be with me in this moment?” These are the questions worth asking and the ones that invite us into the amazing opportunity to invite God into our suffering to transform it. Let God fill it with His presence; fill it with His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, healing, and the very salvation of souls. Remember that even Job in the midst of his suffering was able to proclaim, “I know that my redeemer lives.”

My brothers and sisters, let us bring whatever pain and suffering we experience; as well as all of the suffering that we see around us and in our world – let us bring it all to the Lord and ask Him to fill our suffering – as well as every part of our lives – with His presence and then let us bring that presence; and God will transform it into nothing short of glory.

May the Lord fill you with His presence, especially through this Eucharist, and may the Lord give you peace.

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...