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. 

as the hypocrites do, like the hypocrites.

Nobody likes hypocrites, and not to put too fine a point on it, Jesus in particular called out the sin of hypocrisy in others. No sin was as sternly denounced by Jesus.

In Hebrew, the term actually meant ‘godless.’ To be a hypocrite was to be without God, that is to be dishonest/untruthful. In Greek, hypocrisy meant play acting at religious observance. The exterior of the person did not reflect their interior. To be a hypocrite was to be all show, no go.

In Luke 12:1-2, Jesus warned his disciples against following the practices of Pharisees who engaged in hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and stepping on each other. Jesus turned first to his disciples and warned them, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy. The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all.

The bottom line on hypocrisy is that it is not a determination pointing to a person being intrinsically evil, but rather that they have either:

  • Failed to realize the nature of God’s call, or  
  • Are failing to properly live out the call they have.  

Religious hypocrites don’t really get it and make a mistake by interpreting their actions as true religion versus having a complete metanoia – a complete change in one’s life, from heart to mind, soul, spirit, and outward; all coming from spiritual conversion.

Some practical examples as Jesus points out today: Fasting and appearing as if one is suffering. Why not bother if it is just for show? Giving to be seen as giving. Why bother if it is just play acting? Why pray if it is only to hear oneself mumbling words made meaningless because they are not meant?

Jesus’ points about already being repaid pales in comparison to His warning from Luke 12 – if you are only doing it for show, unthinking, without inner change, play acting – everybody is going to find out, it will be revealed, you won’t be able to keep it a secret.

Lent calls us to change, to a genuine metanoia. The Lenten call presupposes the fact that we are all play acting at different levels. Perhaps it is because we lack a complete understanding of what God is calling us to. Perhaps our religious practice has become habit rather that challenge. Perhaps we are doing things because mom or dad said so. Maybe, just maybe, we are comfortable and just do not want to change.

Now is the time to have our hearts convicted, to convert and to change. We are called to rend our hearts, to break our hearts for failures and to learn a lesson from that heartbreak – a lesson that pushes us to be genuine, to live God’s call fully and completely, to be changed throughout.

St. Paul nails it: do not receive the grace of God in vain. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We have to work at truly being God’s vision of us this very minute, now, and stop any play acting we are doing. God’s grace stands ready to get us there – we must not take that opportunity in vain.

Why we do what we do is key to right perspective and true religion, to ending hypocrisy. This is what we will focus on throughout the Lenten journey we are sharing together. Understanding gained in this process and study will help us to reset our lives, right set our expectations, and get to the metanoia that will bring us to being genuine (not hypocritic) bearers and livers of Jesus’s gospel.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

December 2011, a stage jam packed with artifacts, boxes, materials, technology, bric-a-brac, and everything else. A counting room, two sacristies, choir loft, closet, and an odd side room off the parish hall similarly situated. It took months, but much of it was reorganized, labeled, filed, sent to the diocesan and general Church archives, and some simply recycled or discarded. But some of it… it ended up in that odd side room off the parish hall awaiting a decision. Here we are in February 2021, nearly ten years later and the time is now. That, my brothers and sisters is what Pre-Lent and our walk through Lent is all about. It is about assessing what we have, the stuff in our lives that stands as clutter between us and God. The amazing thing about our Lord and God is that He has no clutter, no obstacle – He is ever available to us. We, on the other hand tend to have stuff that gets in our way to Him. Over years of Pre-Lenten and Lenten seasons we have worked to remove those obstacles. Yet we still have those set aside rooms where there are lasting issues, stuff remaining between now and paradise. It is time to diligently set to cleaning out those things that stand between where we are and where we must be as Jesus’ disciples. Once we identify the clutter, let us take steps to clean it out and discard what gets in the way. Those things in us await a decision. They nag at us, will you cling to me, the clutter and mess, or will you give me up? Now is the time to clear out.

February is here and we are celebrating the Pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima and preparing ourselves for the beginning of the Great Lent. 

Lent in our 100th year as a parish gives us amply opportunity of reflect on what we must clean out so there is room for what Jesus has prepared for us.

We have an incredibly busy month ahead.

This month we focus on Jeremiah the Prophet and the Spiritual Works of Mercy in our discipleship journey. We hold our annual meeting, a tradition and obligation instituted by those who organized our parish – honoring each person’s voice and vote in the governance of the parish and the management of its funds. We hold our annual month long Valentine’s Raffle event. We celebrate Scout Sunday and also encourage you to apply for music scholarships, and share a reflection on “Being a Light in a Dark World.” Don’t forget about our weekly “Together in Faith and Love” Zoom get-togethers.

Check out all this and more here in our February 2021 Newsletter.

Perfection among us.

But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit.

The perfect King of Kings enters His holy city. As you may remember from past homilies of this day, the arrival of a king on a donkey was the sign of a king’s arrival in peace. And so, the Savior of the world enters in peace to shouts of Hosanna to the Son of David.

Jesus, God made man, the perfect Son, enters into a city far from perfect. In fact, it was a broken city. 

In one corner the Chief Priest and his council were planning to kill Jesus and were not too shy to use bribery to accomplish their ends. They were not afraid of soliciting false testimony or engaging their enemy to accomplish their ends.

The Temple was filled with salesmen and money changers. The House of God was turned into Crossgates Mall. The worship of God was nothing more than a reason for commerce.

There were revolutionaries in the street. There was the persecution of the Roman overlords who took advantage of the people. The Roman governor set up his palace opposite the Temple for all too see, so they would know who was really in charge.

The once great city of David had become a city without God. In fact, God had not spoken to His people for several hundred years. Malachi, the last prophet before the Baptist, pointed out that God loves Israel, but that the people do not return His love. The people withhold what is due to God, and if they do give, give only what is defective. People divorce their spouses to marry worshipers of other gods. Sorcerers, adulterers, perjurers, and people who take advantage of workers and the needy abound. Priests tell people whatever they want to hear, suppressing God’s word. Things had not changed in the 478 years since Malachi! Talk about a losing streak! Things were far from perfect. 

The perfect Lamb enters breaking through people’s focus on everything wrong, calling their attention to Him. But it would not end there. Again, and again, Jesus broke through the whispers and silence of corruption. The Son of God broke through just as the sun breaks darkness.

Jesus, the perfect Savior, is finally lifted up over the city, and in that moment of salvation He changed the world. He crushed death and its fear and made us new FOREVER. Amidst our imperfection let us set fear aside and rejoice in the King’s power to destroy every imperfection and redeem what is broken.

Seven.

“I am going to awaken him.”
“Let us go to him.”
So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go”
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him
[Martha] went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him.

Throughout this Lent we delved into the problem of sin and have used our study to set strategies that move us from hard-hearted self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus. Walking through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues, we have found what is required of us. In doing what is required we took the time to grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

We have covered pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, and greed. Today we tackle the last, Sloth.

Being cooped up at home these days, it might be easy to let sloth creep in. We may have cleaned everything there is to clean, have organized everything there is to organize — Right? Perhaps we are working or studying from home? Being active in those pursuits?

Getting things done may seem less of an activity and more sedentary now. Keeping that in mind, it is vitally important that we keep busy, not just doing whatever, but active in organizing our prayer and scriptural reading, in reaching out with cards, letters, and calls; in making good use of this time to grow deeper in relationship with Jesus and each other. Let us not be slothful – another term for wastefully lazy. Let’s not be Gilligan or Patrick.

It is said that there are special punishments in Hell for the slothful. This one is very apropos: You’ll be thrown into snake pits. Dance, sinner, dance!

Jesus, and those closest to Him, loved by Him, did not avoid physical and spiritual action. Even when Jesus told His disciples to come away and rest – it was to rest in prayer.

Our contrary virtue, our call in these extraordinary times, is a call to diligence, to doing the physical and spiritual work necessary for our sanctification and that of the world. We are called every day, and most poignantly in these times, to redouble our efforts so that walking out of Lent, out of crises, we enter Easter strong in faithful diligence across the board.

Seven.

Brothers and sisters: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.

Throughout this Lent we are delving into the problem of sin and are using our study to set strategies that move us from hard-hearted self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus. Walking through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues, we find what is required of us. In doing what is required we grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

We have covered pride, envy, gluttony, and lust. This week we tackle Anger and Greed.

These two deadly sins are the ‘nothing else matters’ sins. They are the, ‘I’m going to take over your life sins.’ We see in these sins the surest way for people to break relationship with each other. They are the nuclear options of sins for they leave nothing but devastation.

Anger spurns all love. Personal fury, the desire to hurt, the pull of hate drives love out. The hate that comes with anger is nothing more than a deep desire, wish even, for another’s death. The contrary virtue is patience. Love requires, as St. Paul would say, that we bear all things. Phyllis Diller said: ‘Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.’ In that we see, with some humor, how we should live. Let us not destroy ourselves in anger, especially in the midst of crises, but fill ourselves with the virtue of patience.

Greed too breaks relationship. Our desire for stuff, for gain or wealth, causes us to ignore both God and each other. It too is in plain evidence in times of crises. Its antidote is liberality, a generosity that is free and without limit.

Today we hear of the man born blind whose sight was restored by Jesus. He helped that man to see anew, to see differently. After the healing, we hear of a long ordeal. People reacted in different ways – all of which were sinful. The neighbors in their confusion brought the man to the Pharisees. There he was questioned, abused, and when he spoke the truth, they threw him out. They reacted out of anger and greed; anger at the man and greed for power and position now being questioned by the man and Jesus. I love how the man pointed to the amazing nature of their reactions.

Jesus’ life, His teaching, His judgment helps us to see, to clearly see, how sin destroys, kills, and takes, and how His light gives life, renews, frees, and generously makes us whole.

Seven

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Throughout this Lent we are delving into the problem of sin and are using our study to set strategies that move us from hard-hearted self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus. Walking through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues, we find what is required of us. In doing what is required we grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

We have covered pride and envy. Today we will focus on gluttony and lust, two closely related deadly sins. Both have to do with inordinate desire – for more than we require and for the pleasures of the body.

Look at our world right now, right here, locally. Gluttony and lust have taken hold – just look at the paper products, hand sanitizer, or the bread aisle in stores. We need to practice the contrary virtues of abstinence and chastity, a self-denial that raises Christ above all things. Putting Jesus first and trusting in Him shows the world where our great love lives.

Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at a well. Through their talk Jesus draws out her confession. He presents her with the chance for living water – His baptism, word, and forgiveness. She is shocked, for Jesus tells her everything she had done. Those tough sins of gluttony and lust that had controlled her life were laid bare. Her encounter with Jesus bore fruit, for people came to encounter Jesus through her testimony – and they evolved in their faith. Now, no longer reliant on her word alone, they came to know Jesus personally and to personally experience His living water.

Now is the time to witness. It must not be a witness of sin, but of virtue. We need to show our reliance on and faith in God, the truth of His word, sacraments, and His living water. We need to offer His living water to a scared and sinful world. We need to be truthful, that we are not in control. We can and should take steps, but none of that puts us in charge. God is in control regardless of whether we see it or not. We need to pray for non-believers around the world. Pray that in this time they be protected and that they come to know Jesus’ living water by our faith witness. Fear and worry are not the mark of a true Christian. Instead, let us have a faith that conquers worry and a peace beyond understanding. If Lent is about living our faith more truly, then this is the test. Now is the time to get it right and to be right with God. Like the Samaritan woman, let us hear His voice and open our hearts, let us tell of our encounter with the living water, for that will lead others to Jesus, and in the end, will be what saves us.

Seven

Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Throughout this Lent we are delving into the problem of sin and are using our study to set strategies that move us from self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus.

Throughout this Lent we are walking through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues. We are studying contemporary examples of sin in TV, film and literature. In studying, we find what is required of us. In doing what is required we grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

Last week we covered pride, the first and core deadly sin. As we said, that sin is foundational to all the others. Today we cover Envy.

Envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation. We engage in envy because we see others as so much luckier, smarter, more attractive, and better than we are. Of course, this stems from the pride we take in our own perceptions rather than the reality of others’ lives. If we take the time to set envy aside and learn about, empathize with, and care for others we will quickly learn that our envy is unfounded. By way of example, we have all heard that talented handsome actor or beautiful actress tell someone, much later in their career, ‘I thought I was ugly and untalented.’

Looking to television, in Gilligan’s Island, Mary Ann was the symbol of envy. She felt – and key on felt – that she could never achieve Ginger’s glamour. The interesting fact is that those characters, those sins, were portrayed on a castaway island. Sin indeed separates us and keeps us apart, abandoned, and lonely. In that, we nurse our envy.

Ok, I have to throw in SpongeBob – where envy is perfectly exemplified by Plankton. He was so envious of others that he never saw their struggle, he never came into relationship with anyone else.

The cure for envy is charity and kindness. We see in Jesus’ instruction on the vine that we are all part of Him, that His father cares for each of us, and that we need to be pruned from time-to-time. In pruning we feel some pain and that is our tool to overcome envy – to take the time to really know our neighbor, understand them, and support them in their struggles, to feel their pain. To do so with kindness and in the end to be truly fruitful

Seven

For if by the transgression of the one, the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.

For those many who joined us on Ash Wednesday, you heard me speak of our reflection for this Season of Lent. Throughout this Lent we will delve into the problem of sin and use our study to set strategies that move us from self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus.

Throughout this Lent we will walk through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues. We will study contemporary examples of sin in TV, film and literature. In studying, we will find what is required of us. In doing what is required we will grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

Pride. That word stands on its own as the first of the seven deadly sins. Indeed, pride alone is the root sin cause of all other sins. We see it in Genesis. Pride took hold of Adam and Eve and they decided they could do what they please without regard to God’s instruction. I am smarter than God, I am more powerful than God. I stand on my own, full of myself, believing only in my own abilities, and say thanks/no thanks to God’s grace.

Pride. Why do we do it. Why are we so full of ourselves? One individual wrote: ‘We do it because our well-meaning elementary school teachers told us to believe in ourselves.’

If you have ever watched Gilligan’s Island, pride was portrayed as the Professor – smarter than all and the source of all solutions. He didn’t need anyone else. If you like SpongeBob, pride is Sandy the Squirrel. Sandy, from the Big State of Texas. She believes herself to be the best at everything from karate to extreme sports, and she boasts about it all.

St. Augustine wrote that pride changed angels into devils; and it is humility that makes men as angels. As we take inventory this first full week of Lent, let us consider the parts of our life where pride has taken root. The strategy is to chop at those roots with increased humility, to be other focused, to consider the other more important than myself, to do without seeking recognition, when recognized to be gracious, and to follow the example of Jesus who left the glory of heaven to teach us and die for us. Let us be genuine in humility and ask God to humble us all the more.