2nd Sunday of Lent Year – B – 2015

2nd Sunday of Lent Year – B – 2015

Gen.22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Rom.8:31b-34; Mk.9:2-10

The old farmer from the countryside who was visiting a big city for the first time with his son, stood speechless before the elevator of a big hotel, watching in wonder, as an old woman got into the elevator and, within minutes, a beautiful young woman came out. He called out to his son who was registering at the reception. “Son, put your mother into that miracle machine immediately. It will transform her into a beautiful young lady.”

Abraham loved God so much that he was willing to give his most precious, the son that he loved, to the Lord. I could preach about how wonderful it is that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, and how we need to be willing to give everything to God, and then someone will go home and sacrifice their children. We all would consider them a monster, but they could say, and rightly so, “I wanted to give God everything.”

That is not what happened in the reading today. The story of Abraham and Isaac is full of high drama. The demand that Isaac be sacrificed seemed to utterly contradict God’s promise that the boy would pass on Abraham’s line into the distant future. It was a radical trial of faith, and no greater test of obedience could be set.

If someone ever tells you that there is any virtue in killing your children as a human sacrifice because you love God so very much, do not believe them. If you think that God is asking you to kill someone to please him, stop and get medical care.

So what was going on in that reading? Abraham knew that God was going to stop him. That story is about faith. Abraham had a promise from God: Isaac will give you grandchildren. Isaac had not yet had any children. So Abraham knew that even if he took Isaac up on the mountain, God would save him.

Even if Abraham stabbed Isaac through the heart, God would save him. Even if Abraham killed Isaac, God would raise him from the dead. Abraham knew, as he walked up the mountain with Isaac, that Isaac would yet have children. He believed the promise. He had no doubt, and, therefore, he had no fear.

We could see the faith of Abraham when the boy asked the innocent question, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering? With all faith in God, Abraham answered “God will provide.” The position that Abraham is in with respect to God, is the position that Isaac is in with respect to Abraham. Consider that time period. There was no government.

There was no social structure other than the family. Isaac did not go to school. There was no such thing as a book. Isaac learned everything he knew from his father and mother. For all he knew that he had to go with his father to the mountain. What was going through Isaac’s mind? I imagine that he thought that his father was performing a secret ritual, something symbolic. He trusted that his father was not going to kill him. He knew that his father loved him.

This is also Abraham’s position with God. How did he make sense of all these messages from God? We do not know. He only has a voice which speaks to him and makes promises. He had learned to trust these promises completely. So Isaac goes up the mountain not knowing exactly what will happen on the top but trusting that his father loves him and will not harm him.

Abraham goes up the mountain not knowing exactly what will happen on the top but trusting that God would never break his promise to provide children through Isaac. God demanded that Abraham take Isaac up that mountain knowing what would happen at the top.

Usually the story of the sacrifice of Isaac is considered as a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus. Isaac carried the wood on his back; Jesus carried the Cross on his. Isaac was a beloved son; Jesus was the Beloved Son. Abraham said to Isaac that God would provide the sacrifice; Jesus was the sacrifice that God provided.

However, as the Church shows us today by this choice of readings, that story also foreshadows the Transfiguration. In the Gospel today, Jesus climbs a mountain with Peter, James, and John. On the top of each mountain, a glorification occurs. The voice speaks from heaven. To Abraham the voice said, “I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants like the stars of the sky and the sands on the seashore.”

Abraham goes up the mountain as just another man, but comes down the mountain as our father in faith. To Jesus, or rather, to his disciples, the voice said, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” God made a promise to Abraham, but about Jesus he merely stated a fact and gave a command. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

When Abraham took his son up that mountain, he was declaring himself to be for God 100%. He was a servant of God. He was devoted. He trusted God and believed his promises. God said, “March your son up a mountain” so Abraham got up early the next morning and set out.

Likewise, when God sent his Son into the world, he was declaring himself to be for us 100%. Yes, if God is for us, who can be against us? Since he did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for us all, will he not give us everything else along with him?

You might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia, he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk: you just add water, and you get milk.

Then I saw powdered orange juice: you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, ‘What a country!’” Yes he is just joking but we make these assumptions about Christian Transformation—that people change instantly at salvation. Some denominations make Christianity so simple: accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, confess your sins to him, you are instantly saved and born again. Some traditions call it repentance and renewal. Some call it Sanctification of the believer. Whatever you call it, most traditions expect some quick fix to sin.

We go to Church as if we are going to the grocery store: Powdered Christian. Just add water and you get disciples! Unfortunately, there is no such powder, and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born. They are slowly raised through many trials, suffering, and temptations.

The transubstantiation in the Holy Mass is the source of our strength. In each Holy Mass, the bread and wine we offer on the altar are changed into the crucified and risen, living body and blood of Jesus. Just as Jesus’ transfiguration strengthened the apostles in their time of trial, each holy Mass should be our source of heavenly strength against temptations, and our renewal during Lent.

In addition, our Holy Communion with the living Jesus should be the source of our daily “transfiguration,” transforming our minds and hearts to will of God so that we may be addressed by God as His beloved sons and daughters. Amen.


1st Sunday of Lent Year – B – 2015

1st Sunday of Lent Year – B – 2015

Gen 9:8-15; 1Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15

A long line of men stood at one of Heaven’s gates, waiting to be admitted. There was a sign over the gate which read, “For men who were dominated by their wives while on earth.” The line extended as far as the eye could see. At another of Heaven’s gates, only one man was standing. Over this gate there was a sign that read, “For men who were not dominated by their wives.” St. Peter approached the lone man standing there and asked, “What are you doing here?” The man replied, “I don’t really know. My wife told me to stand here.” It could be the other way too.

This is the temptation to dominate. Today is the First Sunday of Lent. Lent is a 40-day period which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends before the celebration of the Paschal Triduum excluding Sundays. ‘Forty’ is a number often associated with intense spiritual experiences. God caused it to rain for forty days and forty nights to cleanse the earth (Gen. 7:12).

The Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years. Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai (Ex.34:28) and Elijah journeyed forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb (1Kgs 19:8). Today’s gospel passage, St. Mark narrates that Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River and after fasting for forty days and forty nights, He is tempted by the devil in the desert.

But Jesus is able to resist the temptation because of His determination to be faithful to the mission entrusted to Him by His Father. Then He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel.” This cry of Jesus summarizes the challenge for all Christians during this season of Lent. And so on this First Sunday of Lent, we are invited to reflect on the urgency of the call for repentance.

The primary purpose of Lent is spiritual preparation for the celebration recalling Jesus’ death on Good Friday and his Resurrection on Easter Sunday. The Church tries to achieve this goal by leading her children to “repentance.” It is a type of conversion – the reordering of our priorities and the changing of our values, ideals and ambitions – through fasting, prayer and mortification.

Temptation is a struggle, strife, a contest, a dispute, and an argument. It is a physiological, political, psychological, spiritual crisis in the church, in the Parish, in society, in organizations, in persons and in individuals. Temptations are so strong especially when we feel depressed, deprived and frustrated because we don’t know what to do and we are in a state of emotional instability.

Temptations are always there because there is God and there is the devil; body and soul; spirit and flesh; love and perverted sex; good and bad angels; good and evil; virtue and vice; sacred and profane; Christ and anti-Christ. So it is good for us to begin this First Sunday of Lent by remembering, who are the enemies that declared war against us and against whom we declared war too.

In the question and answer portion of a Miss Universe contest, a candidate was asked: “If you are to choose a man for a husband, what kind of man would you prefer, a smart man, a wealthy man or a powerful man?” She replied, “I would choose a smart man because if he is a smart man, he would also become wealthy and powerful.”

Her answer appeared witty and she got a high score from the judges. And yet we wonder, can a smart man guarantee her happiness in life? If being smart is the end-all of everything, why is it that Christ did not give in to the temptation and yet it was the easiest way for His mission? If being wealthy is the key to happiness, why Christ was born to a poor family? He can be born to a royal family?

That is why the church gives us some form of discipline for the purpose of strengthening ourselves. A reflective way of looking at life is to see it as a struggle between sin and grace, selfishness and holiness. Our time on earth will be successful in the measure that we put aside sin and try to live by the grace of God. Today’s Scriptures show two contrasting reactions to temptation.

Temptation in one form or another is an unavoidable part of life. If we honestly examine our daily experience, we can find many aspects of temptation: impulses or tendencies counter to the right way of doing things. Our real growth to Christian maturity comes by acknowledging and accepting the vocation of struggling against temptation, to achieve the kind of behavior and attitudes Jesus expects.

So when Lent approaches we begin to ask ourselves, “What can I do for Lent?” “I’ll give up smoking.” Sometimes this becomes more of a sacrifice for those we live with than for ourselves. “I’ll give up candy.” Here we start by imitating a squirrel’s storing nuts for winter. When Easter arrives we partake of our savings of candy and make up for lost time.

“I will pray an extra hour each day.” What good is that if I can’t make it through my workday because I’m so tired from lack of sleep? I would like to propose a new look at, “What can I do for Lent?” How about doing nothing for Lent? What I mean is, during Lent do what we normally do, but do it better.

Outside of Lent, I may act like a very inconsiderate and insensitive person. During Lent I will become more Christ-like with others. What a sacrifice! Outside of Lent I am always so busy or preoccupied with my work that I have no time to waste with anyone else. During Lent I’m going to spend quality time with others. What a hard thing to do!

Lent is a personal journey in which we follow Christ to His death and then experience the greatest of all hope in His Resurrection. During Lent, instead of adding more items to our already busy schedule, why not just live normally and become more conscious of how we are doing things and improve on them?

Ask the questions: “How would Christ do this? How would Christ say this?” And then do it as Christ would. Wouldn’t it be great if we did improve our lives during Lent and were still improving by Lent in 2016? Wouldn’t it be great if we had grown closer to Jesus by Easter through seeing what it means to be a real Christian? Let’s all pray for the grace to be more like Christ.

Let us make Lent a time of renewal of life by penance and prayer. Lent should be a time for personal reflection on where we stand as Christians accepting the Gospel challenges in thought, word and deed. It is also a time to assess our relationships with our family, friends, working colleagues and the other people we come in contact with, especially in our parish.

Let us convert Lent into a time for spiritual growth and Christian maturity, may be by: 1) participating in the Mass each day or at least a few days in the week; b) setting aside some part of our day for personal prayer; c) reading some Scripture, alone or, better still, with others.

d) Setting aside some money we might spend on ourselves for meals, entertainment or clothes and giving it to an organization which takes care of the less fortunate in our society; e) abstaining from smoking, alcohol and other evil addictions; f) receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation in Lent and participating in the “Stations of the Cross” on Fridays.

Let us use Lent to fight daily against the evil within us and around us by practicing self-control relying on the power of prayer and Scripture. Amen.

6th Sunday O T Year – B – 15

6th Sunday O T Year – B – 15
Lev.13:1-2, 44-46; 1 Cor.10:31-11:1; Mk.1:40-45

St. Francis of Assisi, at one time in his life, he had a terrible fear of lepers. Then one day when he was out for a walk, he heard the warning bell that lepers were required to ring in the Middle Ages. When a leper emerged from a clump of trees, St. Francis saw that he was horribly disfigured. Half of his nose had been eaten away; his hands were stubs without fingers and his lips were oozing white pus.

Instead of giving in to his fears, Francis ran forward, embraced the leper and kissed him. Francis’ life was never the same after that episode. He had found a new relationship with God, a new sensitivity to others and a new energy for his ministry. Today’s Scripture lessons teach us that the sick and the maimed are, for us, not to be objects of scorn, but potential reservoirs of God’s mercy.

I am sure that there are people all over the world right now who are hearing a homily that suggests that Jesus was kind while the law was cruel. The Jews cast the lepers outside the community, while Jesus was willing to touch the leper. We may say what nonsense all that is! Who made the law that said that lepers had to stay away from other people?

The Lord did, the God of Israel, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a good law. It does not say that the people should kill the lepers on first sight, but it also tries to prevent the spread of disease. Jesus does not touch the leper because the law was wrong. He touches the leper because Jesus is more powerful than leprosy.

In our readings today, we clearly see the difference between the law and grace. Our first reading is from the Old Testament, the covenant of the law; and the Gospel is from the New Testament, the covenant of grace. The readings deal with the same problem: leprosy, but in different ways. The law deals with it as the law deals with all things: by separating, cutting off, and preventing the illness from spreading. There is no cure, only clarification.

Jesus, who came to give us grace upon grace, does something else. He takes away the leprosy of the man. He rebukes it, and immediately it is cast out. He proves that he is more powerful than the law. The law is like a castle with outer and inner walls, trying to prevent the hordes from rushing in. Jesus is like a knight who rides out to defeat the spreading evil.

In a community without antibiotics, when someone catches leprosy, the best anyone can do is to prevent the leprosy from spreading to another person. St. Damian went to live with the lepers and cared for them. After 12 years, he caught leprosy himself and died 4 years later. St. Damian is an inspiration and a martyr, showing us God’s love.

That an individual could go and give up their life serving the very sick is a vocation and a sacrifice, but not everyone should go and become sick. Some people should stay back and do research into a cure, as we have today. There is nothing wrong with this law. It is wise and prudent, but grace is stronger. Until Jesus came, people were only able to stop the spread of disease, but he was able to cast out the disease itself.

What does leprosy have to do with Church? First disease is a human concern, and all that concerns humans concerns God. He loves us. Second, leprosy is a symbol of sin. Sin is like a disease. Sin is like leprosy. What leprosy does to the body, eating away at it, destroying it piece by piece, is what sin does to the soul. We can easily see leprosy working on the body, but it is more difficult to see how sin works on the soul.

And sin is contagious like a disease. If I am mean to you, you will be mean to someone else, and they will be mean to another person. If I steal from you, you will steal from someone else, and then they will steal from another person. Our entertainments are infected with sin. How can someone watch television anymore and hope to remain clean of lust and sarcasm and disrespect?

People act as if the moral law is unnecessary and oppressive and then wonder why the world is filled with selfishness and unhappiness. Sure, it would be wonderful if men could look at women dressed in any fashion whatsoever and see them as a whole person, but most men cannot.

It would be wonderful if people would care for the poor freely and generously, if every poor person were surrounded by people trying to assist them, but they do not, so we should pay taxes that go toward food and shelter for the poor. The world is not perfect. And not only the world, but we ourselves are filled with contradictory desires. Not everything we want to do is good.

We need some laws that tell us not to do some things, even if we want to do them really badly. These laws serve to quarantine the evil that is within us. So long as we need this defense, we should not complain of being restrained. But grace is greater than the law.

It is encouraging that desire within us to do right than putting down the parts of our soul inclined to do wrong. God gives us the grace to do right, if we will choose that. As St. Paul says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If we do what is right, we can stop not doing what is wrong.

And when what is good has begun to spread in our soul, we can be contagious too. St. Paul imitates Jesus Christ, and tells us that we should imitate him. So the good spreads from Jesus to Paul and from Paul to us. And not only Paul, but all the saints in the whole world. What if goodness started spreading like an epidemic?

This would not be possible without grace, but with God all things are possible. Being kind to people even when they are cruel to us would be impossible if it were not for grace. We could keep it up for a little while, but we would fail, but grace gives us unlimited energy. We will always have enough energy to do good, so long as we stay connected to God in prayer.

If life is without purpose, as most people imagine, just filled with whatever meaning we can invent, then the best we can do is have a law that prevents people from hurting each other. But life does have a meaning, life does have a purpose, every morning when we wake up, there is something that we should accomplish that day. If we do that with all our hearts, we do not have to worry about what we should not be doing.

We need to trust in the mercy of a forgiving God who assures us that our sins are forgiven and that we are clean. We are forgiven and made spiritually clean from the spiritual leprosy of sins when we repent of our sins. This is because God is a God of love who waits patiently for us. No matter how many sins we have committed or how badly we have behaved, we know God forgives us.

The only condition required of us is that we ask for forgiveness with a repentant heart. We need only kneel before him and ask him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” We are sure to hear his words of absolution, “Very well– your sins are forgiven and you are clean” echoed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Amen.

5th Sunday O T Year – B – 2015

5th Sunday O T Year – B – 2015

Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1 Cor.9:16-19, 22-23; Mk.1:29-39

There is the funny story about a woman listening to her pastor preach a Sunday morning homily about Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, ill with a fever. Since it was a boring homily the woman left the Church after the Mass, feeling somewhat unfulfilled. Consequently, she decided to go to Church again that day, out in the country where she had grown up.

When she arrived, she discovered to her dismay that her pastor had been invited to be the substitute priest and again, during the Mass he preached on the Gospel of the day about Peter’s mother-in-law being ill with a fever. Believing that there was still time to redeem the day, the woman decided to go to the hospital chapel in the evening.

As you may have guessed, her pastor was assigned to say the evening Mass there and he preached the same homily on Peter’s mother-in-law and her fever. Next morning, the woman was on a bus riding to downtown and wonder of wonders, her pastor boarded that bus and sat down beside her. An ambulance raced by with sirens roaring. In order to make conversation, the pastor said, “Well, I wonder who it is?” “It must certainly be Peter’s mother-in-law,” she replied. “She was sick all day yesterday.”

Today’s readings challenge us to avoid Job’s pessimistic and cynical view of life as a chain of pain and sufferings. We need to accept the pain and suffering with hope and optimism as a precious gift from God. We need to use them to do good for others and spending our time, talents and lives for others as Jesus did and as St. Paul did.

The readings today challenge us to go courageously beyond people’s expectations by doing good as Jesus did, instead of brooding over all the pain and suffering in the world that we cannot end. They invite us to explore the importance of work in our lives and to learn a lesson in work ethics from Job, Paul and Jesus.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” One such person comes to us this morning in today’s first reading. He name is Job. I’m sure most of you are familiar with his story that comes to us from the Old Testament. We enter his story today finding Job as a successful businessman, enjoying good health, some considerable wealth, at the peak of happiness, surrounded by a loving family, and married to a good wife.

But good fortune is like the wind. Suddenly everything changes. Savage bandits slaughter his servants and steal his flocks. A dreadful desert storm takes the lives of all his children. Under terrible pressure and stress his health fails and his entire body is covered with painful sores, the physical consequences, no doubt, of unendurable inner pain. In the end, his beloved wife tells him to “curse God and die.” And we know the reaction of his friends?

“Well,” they tell him, “God is punishing you for some horrible secret sins in your life.”  We hear similar judgments in our own day when misfortune befalls people. But while most of us have not suffered to the extent Job suffered, most of us have experienced what was sent forth in today’s first reading — never-ending sleepless nights filled with fear, anxiety, guilt, and self-punishment. Some have felt tempted to literally curse God and die. Many have cursed the Church and died.

Many who have greatly suffered have likewise faced the temptation to curse heaven, blame God, and then resolve to die in nothingness. Modern psychology teaches us that it is only our totally free actions that bring us real fulfillment in life. If our life is filled with drudgery and our days are without hope, it may be because we have never dared go beyond the security of other people’s approval and acceptance.

Jesus shows us that we can reach perfection only by allowing the risk of suffering into our lives, and submitting ourselves to God’ Wisdom and His loving Will in all things. Jesus had no interest in being the center of attraction, of being popular, of being “successful.” He simply wanted to be where he could tend to the needs of the people.

He came to bring spiritual salvation and blessing to all people. That is why, for the remaining two years of his life, he went from town to town preaching the kingdom of God. He used his energies to bring healing and wholeness into the lives of the people. Jesus’ purpose was to teach, to serve, to give, and to share.

Three men were pouring into a large container a mixture of water, sand, lime and other ingredients. A passer-by asked them what they were doing. The first said, “I am making mortar.” The second said, “I am laying bricks.” But the third said, “I am building a cathedral.” They were doing the same thing, but each looked at it differently. And what a difference that made! What a difference in their attitudes?

Today’s readings reflect those differences. Poor Job says that life is hopeless. Most people can identify with Job. St. Paul takes a different approach. Few people worked as hard as him or went through so many trails. Yet he says this about his works: “I do so willingly; I have been entrusted with a stewardship.”

Today’s gospel presents a fascinating example of stewardship through St Peter’s mother-in-law. She was in bed, sick, when her son-in-law brought Jesus as an unexpected guest. Jesus went to her bedside, took her hand and she sat up. The fever went away and she waited on them. As someone says, “To serve is hard work and often, humbling but being a servant of Christ is Joy.”

We have to remember, we are not simply mixing mortar. We are building a cathedral. We do not give time and money grudgingly; we are building the body of Christ, because we have been entrusted with a stewardship. It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good to check up once in a while and make sure you haven’t lost the things money can’t buy.

Bringing healing and wholeness is Jesus’ ministry even today, He continues it through the Church and through the Christians. In the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, the Church prays for spiritual and physical healing, forgiveness of sins, and comfort for those who are suffering from illness. We all need the healing of our minds, our memories and our broken relationships.

Jesus now uses counselors, doctors, friends or even strangers in His healing ministry. Let us look at today’s Gospel and identify with the mother-in-law of Peter. Let us ask for the ordinary healing we need in our own lives. When we are healed, let us not forget to thank Jesus for his goodness, mercy, and compassion toward us by our own turning to serve others.

Our own healing process is completed only when we are ready to help others in their needs and to focus on things outside ourselves. Let us also be instruments for the exercise of Jesus’ healing power by visiting the sick and praying for their healing. But let us remember that we need the Lord’s strength, not only to make ourselves and others well, but to make ourselves and others whole. Amen.