Working to change.

But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.

Lent calls us to change, to reform. Lenten discipline presupposes that we need reform. We may need reform because we lack an understanding of God’s call, or our religious practice has become just habit, or we are just going through the motions without knowing why, or just maybe, we are comfortable and do not want to change or reform.

Throughout our shared Lenten journey, we are studying the means and methods by which we achieve conversion, change and reform. We study to help us reset our lives, right set our expectations, and get to the change and reform necessary to be ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way.

In the first week of Lent, we focused on fasting. We learned that as we fast from what pulls us away from the gospel, we feel Jesus filling the space we cleared with new longing to live the gospel.

Last week we studied giving. Giving or sacrifice is a call from God that awaits a response. If we respond without holding back and grumbling, God recognizes our devotion. He not only sees it, but also blesses us more than we could ever imagine.

In the coming weeks we will continue with the subjects of prayer and proclamation. Today we focus on study.

Study is a long-valued Lenten tradition. In these forty days we are called to increase our study of the bible, and beyond that to find worthy reading materials that help us to understand God better. That reading may be a work by a Church Father, a study on the life of a saint, strategies for growing the kingdom through evangelism (i.e., how to talk to others about Jesus), or perhaps a book on how a person overcame a struggle we may face to become a more faithful follower of Jesus.

God had commanded the Jewish people to keep His word ever in their thoughts and before them. That is why faithful Jewish people recite the Sh’ma Yisrael twice a day: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one” which references to the Ten Commandments we heard today. They place the Sh’ma on the doorpost of their homes fulfilling the command to, “write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house.” The Orthodox wear Tefillin on their heads and arms, containing verses from the Torah.

Faithfulness requires us to do more than recite words or place them in our homes. We are called to go deeper into God’s word, His direction for our lives, to cherish His word and to put it into action. Let us resolve to do so by our study this Lent, and by study know God’s nature even better.

Working to change.

As they were coming down from the mountain, He charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Lent calls us to change, to reform. Lenten discipline presupposes that we need reform. We may need reform because we lack an understanding of God’s call, or our religious practice has become just habit, or we are just going through the motions without knowing why, or just maybe, we are comfortable and do not want to change or reform.

Throughout our shared Lenten journey, we are studying the means and methods by which we achieve conversion, change and reform. This study will help us to reset our lives, right set our expectations, and get to the change and reform necessary to be ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way.

Last week we studied the discipline of fasting. We learned that as we fast from what pulls us away from the gospel, we feel Jesus filling that space with new longing to live the gospel as well as His grace power to do so. 

In the coming weeks we will continue with the subjects of prayer, study, and proclamation. Today we focus on giving, also known as sacrifice.

There is no more poignant call and answer to giving than Abraham’s. As the Passover sacrifice of a lamb prefigures Jesus, so Abraham’s offering of his son prefigures God’s giving of His Son Jesus.

Sacrifice is a call and a response. Abraham could have easily said: No, I’m too busy, I don’t feel like it, Your request goes too far, Moriah is too far. Yet, no matter how impossibly difficult it was for Abraham he answered yes, “Here I am!” In Lent we are called to answer yes to sacrifice and giving more than we normally would, to doing the harder things, and to permanently change the way we answer.

In our sacrifice and giving, God recognizes our devotion. As He said to Abraham: I see how devoted you are. God recognized that Abraham did not quit or hold back. Even more, God recognizes the fact that Abraham did not grumble afterward, but rather saw the gifts around him and he gave them to God. Because of that, God promised His abundant blessing in terms of descendants, victory, and that others will find blessing because of Abraham’s giving.

In Jesus dying and rising those gifts are carried forward for us. Because of Jesus’ devotion to His Father’s call and His giving response, we can call ourselves His descendants. We have the only victory that matters, and others find blessing in us. 

Lent calls us to give and sacrifice. Let us respond recognizing that we are doing so from the storehouse of abundant blessings He gives us and as the legacy Jesus left.

Working to change.

Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

On Ash Wednesday we heard that Lent calls us to change, to reform. 

Lenten discipline presupposes that we need reform at different levels. Perhaps we need to reform because we lack an understanding of God’s call. Perhaps our religious practice has become habit rather than challenge. Perhaps we are still doing things because mom or dad said so. Maybe, just maybe, we are comfortable and just do not want to change and reform.

Here we are and now is the time to convert, to change and reform. But how do I get there and do it?

Throughout the Lenten journey we are sharing together we will study the means and methods by which we will achieve conversion, change and reform. This study will help us to reset our lives, right set our expectations, and get to the change and reform necessary to be ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way.

Here is what we will study – the disciplines of the season: fasting, giving (sacrifice), praying, study, and proclamation – and how though these disciplines we come to conversion, change and reform.

Each of the Lenten disciplines are work. If any were easy to us, we need to find a way to make them a challenge. It may not be just in doing more of x, but in doing x in a different way.

Let’s say we love fasting; it is never that hard. Well, let’s fast in a different way, from a thing other than food, from a thing that pulls us away from living the gospel way.

Today we focus on the fast. As the hymn proclaims, these forty days of Lent O Lord, with You we fast (and pray).

Fasting is a means by which we rend (i.e., break) our hearts, tearing them away from the attractions that trap us and hold us back and refocusing our time and attention on Jesus’ gospel path. In fasting we separate ourselves from the things that distract us from the gospel cause.

There is so much that tries to distract us, pull us away from the gospel way. Here is a great question to ask ourselves in relation to our fasting: I would be sitting here reading scripture or praying or doing good works except that I am _______. I would be reading scripture or praying or doing good works far more often if I wasn’t _______. There is our stop doing that.

As we fast from what distracts and pulls us away from the gospel way, we will feel Jesus filling that cleared space with new longing to live the gospel and the power to do so. 

Turning point.

“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.” He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”

As I noted last week, the end is near! Well, the beginning of the end. As Christians we are to be always prepared for the end times, for the last things, for we will be called to account for how we have carried out our lives, how totally on-board with Jesus we were. So, let us begin again today. Let us take this very moment as our turning point.

Last week introduced us to the beginning of Jesus’ teaching on the end times. Next week we will go deeper into those teachings. Today we reflect on the lives of the saints, those already taken into the Lord’s presence. It is what we will see one day if we accept our turning point. Thereafter, and throughout November, we will pray for those who have died and are still awaiting that moment, who are going through a time of purification, who missed their turning point. Your prayers, and offering of the Holy Mass, for departed loved ones helps them get into the Lord’s presence, so it is a worthy thing to do.

Revelation talks about “the ones who have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” These are the saints of God, the martyrs, confessors, abbots and abbesses, bishops, priests and deacons, evangelists hermits, kings and queens, monks, penitents, princes, virgins, widows, writers – the people who have been faithful to Jesus in how they carried out their  lives, who were totally on-board with Jesus. They all took Jesus’ beatitudes seriously in the moment they came to their turning point.

We are all familiar with the heroic virtues of the saints, but often miss that moment they encountered their turning point. That turning point pushed aside their self-created ideal life. They finally listened to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. The Lord doesn’t want you to do that, but to use your life to accomplish something so much greater. The Lord wants you to turn away from your sin and to live out the opposite beatitude. This is what we must hear, what we are called to say yes to.

In recent decades, saints have been cranked out; people being called saints through a process that is more political and publicity than a recognition of complete life altering transformation. We must not be fooled by cheap processes. The call to sainthood – our call – requires we encounter that transformative moment, accept it, and live new lives in accord with what God desires from us, the beatitude life: poor in spirit, meek, thirsting for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, insulted and persecuted. This very moment is our turning point chance to be among those wearing white robes and standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

His image.

Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.

Today we celebrate the ineffable nature and character of God made known to us by Jesus. That is enough for us. As the psalmist desires, we too only wish to live in the house of the LORD all the days of our lives, delighting in the LORD’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.

God’s wonderful mystery will be fully revealed to us when we finally go home to Him. In the meantime, we have work to do.

St. Paul tells the Corinthians and reminds us: Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

If we can simply do that, the God of love and peace will be with us.

Mending our ways is hard work, work that requires the full-on help of God’s grace. Mending our ways takes conversion, a turning of our hearts. It takes action, a doing of the right and a rejection of the wrong, a rejection of our own sinfulness. Yes, we sin, and we sin grievously.

Each night I review my Facebook feed. I find much good there, positive words, connections, mutual support and encouragement, an ability to be with distant family and friends and a chance to keep each other informed. Unfortunately, I also see words of hate, words that come from prejudice (a pre-judging of people), words that reflect frustrations, inordinate fears, and frankly a lack of knowledge pivoted to accusation and hate. Individuals are turned into “them” and “those.” I see it when people turn away from others physically, when we see someone approaching and turn the other way. How did we forget the Gospel lesson: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. The world – all of us. Given to save, not to condemn.

If we think ourselves God’s followers, those who give God praise, glory, and honor, how can we hold any prejudice toward anyone? If we believe God, we know we are all created in His image. If we dishonor, disrespect, blame, accuse, or prejudge anyone we do so to the face of the Father. We do it to Jesus. We disrespect the Spirit. We must learn to agree, live in peace, and greet all with a holy kiss. We must mend our ways. 

Mending our ways from the overt and covert sins we engage in holds promise, not just for the moment God will be fully revealed to us, but here, today, for that is the action of kingdom builders. LORD, pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.

Cleanup
here and now.

Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.

Another poignant Gospel testimony. Jesus borrows a boat and is teaching people along the shore. We can picture this beautiful day, crowds gathered, wanting to see what was going on, eager to hear this new prophet. The sea – calm. The fishermen continue washing their nets, half paying attention to Jesus, half involved in their duties. Then, Jesus asks one of the fishermen to put our farther. “Lower your nets,” He says. The fishermen are incredulous, there are no fish out here! Maybe they laugh to each other thinking that it is a joke. They lower the nets just to see what would happen. Either He is a prophet or a joke. Then the nets are full, full to overflowing, so full they need another boat. Jesus’ revelation is confirmed in their sight and by their experience. 

Jesus’ revelation, His appearance and His words have brought renewed life; essential change in the lives of those who chose to encounter Him. It was not just netting full of fish or beautiful sunny days for those who accepted Him and listened. Rather, it goes much deeper and is not just long-lasting, but everlasting.

Today’s reading from Isaiah makes the change the Lord brings very clear. If you notice, the words from Isaiah 6 are used as the basis of the priest’s prayer before proclamation of the Gospel and the Sacrament of the Word.

Isaiah saw the Lord and was enveloped in unworthiness. Isaiah is shocked and scared. He says: “Woe is me, I am doomed! Yet the Lord will not let that sense of doom and gloom stand. He sends His angel who takes a coal from the heavenly altar and touches Isaiah’s mouth, making him clean and worthy. Isaiah’s life is renewed. When the Lord asks: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah readily answers: “Here I am, send me!”

What have we done with the renewed and everlasting lives our encounter with Jesus provides? How has Jesus appearance and revelation mattered to us? Are we caught up in fear and trepidation or will we say: “Here I am, send me!” Those who get discipleship see not just where they are, but where their cleaned and renewed everlasting lives will take them.   

you shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the LORD.

Jesus again enters the public scene. What better place to do that than at a wedding?

From Christmas forward we see the revelation of Jesus increasing. First, His obvious revelation to Mary and Joseph, the first to behold Him. Soon the crowd starts finding their way to Jesus. Helped by angels, the shepherds see Him, believe, and go forth to proclaim Him. Simeon, the priest and Anna, the prophetess, behold Him in the Temple. The wise men, guided by a star, find Him and the nations of the world pay Him homage. The people of Egypt come to know Him as a refugee and exile. Next, it is the inhabitants of Nazareth, the crowd on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the teachers in the Temple, John and his disciples at the Jordan and the heavenly proclamation: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

What’s amazing about the Christmas season is the repeated opportunities the world had and has to encounter Jesus. We don’t just jump from shepherds to Magi to John the Baptist to Cana. Rather, it is thousands of smaller, more intimate encounters with Jesus. It is chances (focus on the plural) to encounter Him, be changed by Him and be something different.

The wedding at Cana is a reminder of the encountering and the changing, as well as the work of those who point to Jesus (at Cana, it was Mary). Cana reminds us that things have changed. We are called to reconnect, to re-recognize the ways in which we are different and the ways we fall short of how different we must be. Things have changed – we are changed by our meeting with Jesus. We have more capacity and room for encounter and change.

At Cana, the usual was changed. The good wine came our later. The disciples came to believe. The usual became wonderfully unusual.

Isaiah reminded us that things would be and must be different. We get a new name – we are called differently. What was usual in us becomes wonderfully unusual. Encounter to change, change to further encounter, more change.

Encounter be changed. Call to mind and bring to action the discipleship of being something different in Jesus. 

Did that
happen?

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.

As we look into the experience of Peter, James, John, and Jesus at the Transfiguration we first face the question of: Why did this happen? Is there a specific purpose for this account? Let’s take a moment to analyze the possibilities.

The Transfiguration was limited to only a few of the apostles. Why weren’t all apostles invited? Often times the Transfiguration is used to point to the fact that Jesus wanted to give His apostles reassurance before his Passion. If they were to face His humiliation and death, and maintain some level of faith, seeing Jesus in His Divine state would provide this reassurance. So, the question, why weren’t the rest of the apostles there, why were they excluded from this Divine reassurance?

Perhaps the Transfiguration was to point to the fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of both the Law and the prophecies. The appearance of Moses and Elijah who represent all the Law and the words of the prophets signifies that fact. More than that, Jesus transcends the Law and the Prophet as the Father’s voice directs the apostles, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Again, who would know all this except Jesus and the three apostles?

The whole episode of the Transfiguration adds little to nothing to the public ministry and teaching of Jesus. It had no direct import on the wider public Jesus was trying to draw into the Kingdom. In fact, Jesus told the apostles to keep silent about it, to tell no one, until after His resurrection. Yet it is recorded in three gospels and Peter speaks of it in his second letter. Why so?

When something totally and remarkably unusual happens, a lot of people refuse to believe it. We can see this with the moon landing in 1969. There are people, who to this very day, refuse to believe it happened. The Transfiguration event is certainly amazing, it is certainly beyond our comprehension, and that’s exactly why it is recorded. It is recorded because it is unique to people of faith. We, Christians own this event by our faith in Jesus. Only the faithful get it and are changed by it.

The word “transfigured” means a change to the outside so that it matches what is inside. The remembrance of Jesus’ transfiguration is our call to get it and be changed by it. It is our call to show faith that holds hope greater than fear, that allows us to shine in godly destiny, to overcomes the earthly with glory. Let us then be changed – believing our astounding God holds amazing joyous life for us.

Relationship
changed!

I, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus, urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment; I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother.

Today we encounter Paul’s shortest letter. It is a letter to his friend and co-worker Philemon and his family. This letter is only one chapter containing twenty-five short verses.

Generally any letter from Paul deals with a crisis at hand. In this case the crisis is neither doctrinal nor a confused morality. Philemon and the fellow Christians that meet at his house seem to have their faith on straight. This letter is about one man and his relationship to another. Philemon’s slave Onesimus had run away, perhaps guilty of theft in the process. Onesimus ran off and found Paul in Rome. They had likely met during Paul’s stay with Philemon. Paul brought Onesimus to knowledge of and faith in Jesus. Onesimus spent time helping and serving Paul during his imprisonment in Rome. Now Paul was sending Onesimus back as a changed man.

Paul knew that in sending Onesimus back, Philmon would have to confront the reality of his faith. Paul’s lesson here, his teaching of the Gospel, is focused on getting relationships straight. For Paul, the essential fruit of the Gospel is transformed relationships. Who was Onesimus now – and how was Philemon supposed to relate to him?

Philemon and Onesimus were both to learn that being a Christian means being transformed and being part of a new relationship between oneself, God, the rest of humanity, and the world.

Faith in Jesus is to bring change to our lives. It is not just an interior thing, but also an exterior one. They way we relate and interact with others is to demonstrate our faith – faith truly lived. This changed relationship often stands at odds with the surrounding secular order. Philemon could easily and rightly have Onesimus killed in dozens of horrible ways for even the slightest of offenses, much less running away. Thus the social conflict that emerges from being Christian in an anti-God world. Paul focuses on this interpersonal conflict and the way we must revise and reform our relationships. How will our relationships be changed despite the world’s rules? How will Philemon react? Will Christ or the world rule our relationships?

Paul reminds Philemon of his encounter with the Jesus. So we must be reminded. The strength of our life in Jesus is tested in relationship. In daily crises let Jesus change our lives and our way of relationship.

Reflection for the 2nd Sunday of Lent – 2014

WeWillBeChanged

He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

The Lord appeared in all His heavenly glory before three chosen Apostles at the Transfiguration.

Just a short time before Jesus had asked His disciples, “Who do the people say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist; but others say, Eli’jah; and others, that one of the old prophets has risen.”

The Church Fathers tell us that the primary purpose of this Transfiguration was to clarify, for them, Who and What He is – God come to earth. It was also to reassure them.

Jesus knew the suffering, pain, humiliation, and disgrace He was about to face. He would be whipped and spit on, nailed naked to a tree in front of the entire city, His mother, brothers, and sisters. And, He would die. If He had not provided this glimpse of heaven, of Himself, His followers would have been completely crushed.

To further strengthen them they heard the voice of the Father – “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Going forth from that mountain Peter and James and John had a lot to think about. So do we.

We know that Peter, after having seen and experienced all this, still denied Jesus. Peter, James, and John would fall asleep in the Garden twice on the night of the Lord’s arrest. None listened very well.

We have the benefit of having the testimony of witnesses to this singular event, and the testimony of these witnesses to all Jesus said and did. We know that His death was not it, but that He would return gloriously resurrected. We have the witness of centuries of holy men and women, the saints, and our own ancestors who found strength, comfort, and power through faith and in and following Jesus. Yet, we too fall and fail. We may not outwardly deny Jesus, but we do fall asleep. We falter in our commitment. We fail to listen.

During this season of repentance and self-denial we are presented with the picture of Jesus in glory – the glory He offers to all of us. As Jesus did with the Apostles, He gives us this moment to strengthen our faith while we work toward the changes we must make in our lives. We are called to stay awake, to listen, to be changed. We clearly see not only His glory, but are helped in understanding that the struggles of today are nothing compared to the glory we will see, and change we will share, in the life to come.