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.

Yet it was our infirmities that He bore,
our sufferings that He endured.

  • One of those moments.
  • The light goes on.
  • We see ourselves and the world in a new way.
  • Wow! Now I get it.

This day, this Good Friday, in the midst of pandemic and crisis, causes us to stop and absorb reality in a new way; to understand what life is really about. To focus on Jesus.

Brothers, sisters,

Jesus took on the world. He took on the sinful state of the world. Why?

When sin entered the world, along with it came all of sin’s consequences. Sickness, pain, poverty, abuse, injustice, war, disease, plague, destruction, pandemic – these and more. Man finds ever new ways to take the gifts of God and to corrupt them.

Along with all that came death. It was not death as we, in our Christian perspective and understanding, perceive it. It was death without hope, without a promise. It was a long, an eternal holding pattern.

The souls of the dead were warehoused.

Why did Jesus take on the sinful world? The why is answered in this: By Jesus’ love sacrifice for us He frees us of all hopelessness and reorients us. He reorients us. He offers us a powerful, beautiful, and hope-filled life pointed at the eternal. What life is about.

The Cross is not an occasion. Good Friday is not a day. It is profound change. Our future, our direction was changed this day. We gain today an understanding and appreciation for what life is about.

Remember those warehoused souls? It was Jesus’ first act – to free them from Sheol. He descended to hell, to the dead, and He freed them. From hopeless stasis to heavenly joy and glory, He freed them to what life is about.

Our current crisis brings this reality home. The light needs go on in our minds and hearts. What is life about? What have i been caught up in? Where have I been dwelling? What am I even praying for now? To go back to how it was? To get on with getting on?

  • One of those moments.
  • The light goes on.
  • We see ourselves and the world in a new way.
  • Wow! Now I get it.

We are each called to work out our salvation, as is said, in fear and trembling.

As we come to the Cross, let us pray – not for a going back, but for a going forward. Stop for this moment. Absorb the fact that Jesus took on fever, pain beyond measure, exhaustion, loneliness, dehydration, abandonment. He bore our infirmities to give us far more than the here and now. Let us focus our eyes, minds, and hearts on what we are truly living for and where out life will take us.

  • One of those moments.
  • The light goes on.
  • We see ourselves and the world in a new way.
  • Wow! Now I get it.

Through His suffering, My Servant shall justify many.

The door to heaven is now open. Let us live intent on making it through that door to life eternal. Let us appreciate what life is really about. That is the profound charge we have in the Cross. That is why.

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

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.

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.

Every Ash Wednesday we hear the exact same reading, Epistle, and Gospel. 

The first reading from the Book of the Prophet Joel is quite beautiful. Its poetry, God’s call to return. Come back with our whole hearts! Come back now. Quit whatever we are doing and return. Offer up prayer and tears to the Lord. Punishment shall be set aside, and the Lord will forgive us and welcome us home.

Does anyone know when the Prophet Joel wrote this message? The fact is, no one really knows when it was written. There are no actual historical references in Joel such that a definitive time can be set. Conjecture ranges from 900 to 400 years before Christ. That is a span of half a millennium. How appropriate because Joel’s message is timeless.

From the sin of Adam and Eve to the sins of the people in Joel’s half-millennia, to our present-day, Joel’s words ring true. It is our weakness to be seduced by sin and to fall away over-and-over. Yet, we have ready help, the grace of God, the promptings of the Holy Spirit to help us cast off sin and to reach out such that Jesus lifts us to stand again.

The Holy Church in her wisdom gives us the season of Lent to double down on our return and on our tears, to build up our reserve of spiritual strength, and to put into practice those virtues that countermand sin. Lent is our opportunity to return, to do the necessary workout, and to resolve not to fall again.

Lent calls us to a discipline of action and thought. It calls us to fortify our practice of faith so that what we have done weakly – and that weak and undetermined action insufficient to the challenges of the past – we may now and heretofore do with strength. 

  • If our prayer was occasional and weak, it is now to be a continuous action – life lived as prayer. 
  • If our charity was trifling, it is now to be sacrificial. 
  • If our fasting and abstinence were an afterthought once we were full, it is now to be dedicated sacrifice that causes us to feel hunger and to recall our real hungering is after Christ.

We stand here at the foot of a steep hill. At the top of the hill – the cross. On the other side of the hill the glory of God, a clean heart and conscience. Here at the foot of the hill – well – just where we are. It is time to climb. Now!

Let us together ascend to the cross. Let us linger there and shed tears for what we have said, done, thought, and left undone. Let us – marked with ash – look to the suffering Jesus, His wounds, knowing that a piece of me is in there, and then rush headlong downhill from the cross into the arms of our waiting, forgiving, and loving God.

Throughout this Lent we will delve into the problem of sin and set strategies that move us from self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming, through the struggle to operationalize a life deep in Christ. We will meet the challenge with Christian excellence, an excellence that must permeate our individual and communal life.

Throughout this Lent we will walk through the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth) and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues (humility, kindness, abstinence, chastity, patience, liberality, diligence). We will study contemporary examples of sin in film and literature. In studying, we will find what is required of us. In doing what is required we will grow stronger. Armed with God’s gift of grace freedom freely offered we will overcome! Let us begin.

We have a gift
to deliver.

He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Beside ourselves, who are the sinners we know? Who are the least of sinners, who are the worst?

Our minds might have wandered to that person who had annoyed us, the one who treated us badly, the one who cut us off in traffic. Perhaps our minds dwell on ourselves, how we fall short.

It is probably best to start with ourselves. There is an old story about a person who went to confession after many, many, years. They sat down with the priest and said ‘I haven’t been to confession in years.’ The priest asks: ‘So my child, what sins do you have to confess?’ The person said: ‘Well, I really don’t have any.’ The priest looks up, takes off his glasses, and said: Well now you do, for St. John tells us: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us.” In other words child, you just lied a big lie.

Frankly, as St. Paul instructed the Church at Rome: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Knowing this, we know we have a real problem, and it is not the problem our minds go to.

Who here is forgetful? I know that I am getting more and more forgetful. Without a calendar filled with appointments, I just might not be where I need to be. Thankfully I have a loving wife and a great secretary who keep me on track. I forget stuff at home and leave things behind. Then I have to figure out where I left it. Is it in the car, on my desk, on the kitchen table? Did you ever go to a party and forget the gift you were supposed to bring?

Today, Jesus reminds us that sin and forgetfulness go hand in hand. Being forgetful isn’t sin, but forgetting what we are about is.

The problem is that we are quick to count sin and offense, either our own or that of others. Every person, even those worst at math, deserves a degree in accounting. We can add up sins with real expertise. Yes, all have fallen short. So we can leave that message to scripture. The part of scripture, the gift we forget is what Jesus says today (and every day). We need to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We are to be witnesses of these things.” We have a gift to give and it isn’t our ability to count! Our gift is word of Jesus’s redemption. Through Him all who confess are free.

Reflection for Sexagesima Sunday

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But he hit me!!!!
You’re older. You can take it.

“But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.”

Don’t you just hate it when justice isn’t done, when someone wrongs you and they don’t get what’s coming to them?

In the words above we may find a childhood memory. The young people here may recall saying and hearing the same thing recently. Dad or mom step in and tell us to act our age, take it. There might be some discipline involved, but it is never really satisfying to us. Once someone has hurt or wronged us they cannot take it back. They cannot put the genie back in the bottle or the toothpaste back in the tube.

This is the problem of sin.

Holy Scripture describes sin as the breaking, or transgression, of God’s law (1 John 3:4). It is also defined as disobedience or rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 9:7), as well as independence from God. The original translation of “sin” is “to miss the mark” of God’s holy standard of righteousness.

If someone hates us, curses us, acts as an enemy, abuses us, hits us, or takes our stuff our natural reaction, based on our tendency to sin, is to do the same. Hit back, take their stuff, punish them, and wage war. Doing all that perpetuates sin.

Think of it this way, if someone passes me in their car, cuts me off, honks at me, and is otherwise rude and annoying, what do I feel like doing? My broken self calls out to do the same to them, or even to others. I might be so perturbed that later that day I let a door slam in someone’s face, I fail to hold the elevator, or I give someone a dirty look. What do they do? More of the same! On and on, sin perpetuating the next sin.

Jesus’s instructions break that cycle. They call us to live holy and righteous lives without sin. We live as light in the face of darkness, responding differently.

Jesus is telling us to act our age. He considers us to be the older children of His body. As such we need to act maturely in the face of sin. When the rude driver cuts us off, we need to say a prayer for them and do additional acts of kindness. In doing so we have followed Jesus’ instructions. In doing this we trust in God’s justice. We can’t put others toothpaste back in the tube, but we can make sure ours doesn’t get out. Doing that, we are on the mark, hitting God’s holy standard of righteousness.