4th Sunday of Lent Year A – 17

4th Sunday of Lent Year A – 17

1Sam.16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Eph.5:8-14; Jn.9:1-41

A blind man is walking down the street with his guide dog one day. They come to a busy intersection and the dog, ignoring the high volume of traffic zooming by on the street, leads the blind man right out into the thick of the traffic.

This is followed by the screech of tires as panicked drivers try desperately not to run the pair down.  Horns blaring around them, the blind man and the dog finally reach the safety of the sidewalk on the other side of the street.

The blind man pulls a cookie out of his coat pocket, which he offers to the dog. A passerby, having observed the near fatal incident, can’t control his amazement and says to the blind man, “Why on earth are you rewarding your dog with a cookie? He nearly got you killed!”

The blind man turns partially in his direction and replies, “To find out where his head is, so I can kick his rear end!”

But as for that blind man in the gospel, he didn’t even have a dog to lead him. He was blind, he was a beggar, there was nothing that people saw in him, and there was nothing he saw in himself. So, it was, until Jesus came along and then things changed.

Earlier on, the disciples had looked at the blind man and asked whose sin it was that caused the blindness – his sin or his parents’ sin?

And then after when the blind man was healed, the Pharisees looked at him and asked what kind of sinner it was that healed the blind man. It is strange that the disciples and the Pharisees and those who had sight could only see one thing – sin!

The disciples saw blindness as a punishment due to sin, and the Pharisees saw that man who was healed of his blindness as a sinner. As for the blind man who was healed, he had his sight restored, and he could see just as the rest who had sight could see.

But as much as he could now see like the rest, there was something he saw that made him different from the rest. When he was asked: What have you to say about him yourself, now that he has opened your eyes? His reply was: He is a prophet.

Not only he saw Jesus as a prophet, that former blind man became a surprise witness in the whole drama. He even confronted and refuted the Pharisees by saying: Now here is an astonishing thing.

He has opened my eyes and you don’t know where he comes from. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t do a thing. That was a stunning statement from a surprise witness who was once blind but now could see deeper and see more than the rest.

But this gospel passage is not just about another miracle of healing a blind man. Jesus proclaimed that He is the light of the world. His light is in all of us so that we too can see deeper and see more.

The light of Christ is not some kind of special talent that is given to only some or a few, and which can only be discovered through some kind of talent contest.

We have the light of Christ so that we can see deeper and clearer, and to choose what is from God and reject what is not from God. Indeed, we need the light of Christ to see what is from God and what is not from God because they can look so similar.

For example, HATE has four letters, but so does LOVE. ENEMIES have seven letters; so, does FRIENDS. LYING has five letters; so, does TRUTH. NEGATIVE has eight letters; so, does POSITIVE. UNDER has five letters; so, does ABOVE.

CRY has three letters; so, does JOY. ANGRY has five letters; so, does HAPPY. RIGHT has five letters; so, does WRONG. Jesus gives us His light so that we can see clearly and choose wisely. Let us choose what is from God, and reject whatever that is not.

We have all heard the phrase “Seeing is believing.” The idea comes, I suppose, from skeptical people who won’t believe anything is real or anything is true unless and until they see it for themselves.

In today’s Gospel account the phrase “Seeing is believing” is paradoxically both proved and disproved. It is proved by the blind man eventually seeing Jesus and acknowledging that indeed Jesus is “from God.” The blind man recognized Jesus for who He is.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, men who were sighted, did not or would not see Jesus for who He is. The blind man could see, the sighted Pharisees were blind. Seeing, they would not believe.

Let me turn your attention now to the fact that the blind man’s recognition of who Jesus really is came about gradually… through a process.

When first questioned, he told his neighbors that “the man called Jesus” made paste, put it on his eyes, and told him to go wash in the waters of Siloam. When asked where Jesus was he said he didn’t know.

When brought to the Pharisees who questioned him as to the man who healed him, the blind man said, “He is a prophet.” The Pharisees, as we know, refused to believe that Jesus was anything other than a sinner.

Finally, at the conclusion of the episode, Jesus searched him out and when He found the man he acknowledged that Jesus was the “Son of Man” and then worshipped Him, an act that one gives to God alone. Worshipping anyone or anything else other than God is blasphemy and idolatry.

In short, the formerly blind man acknowledged the divinity of Christ. So, for the blind man, truly, “seeing is believing.” The blind man’s progress in gaining spiritual insight is matched by the spiritual leaders’ step-by-step journey into darkness and blindness.

Even though Christ, the Light of the World, was standing before them their stubborn reliance only on themselves and their blind pride led them into darkness.

Once again, we are dealing in this Gospel account with St. John’s major themes: order out of chaos, light out of darkness, good out of evil, and life out of death. The question now presented itself to us here in this church is: Do we recognize what our real struggle is all about?

What about the presence of God in our lives? Do we have eyes to see and ears to hear Him or do our many concerns blind us? We don’t have to go to the trouble to try and find God. He has come to search us out just as He did the blind man.

God comes to us on this very day and on this very Mass. The Light of the World has come and the darkness shall not overcome it.

There is only one darkness that can prevail, the darkness of our own lack of attention and our own lack of vision when it comes to His presence in our lives. It may be true that we do not willfully ignore God and are blind to His presence, but if “seeing is believing” how can we believe if we do not see?

Lent is time set aside when we try to see God in our lives. Lent is a time when we try to step away from all of our worldly concerns and give some time and attention to what’s going on in our souls.

To strengthen our faith and our belief we need, along with the blind man, ask: “Lord, that I might see” and then expect a miracle, the miracle of seeing the Light of the World in our darkened days.

Our blindness is not the blindness of the Pharisees. Ours is being too busy for time with God, too worried about the cares of this world.

“Seeing is believing.” Oh, Lord, let me see your light, let me recognize your presence in my life; open my eyes because I know who you are and I know what you can do. Oh, Lord, that I may see. Amen.

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3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A, – 17

3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A, – 17

Exo.17:3-7 / Rom.5:1-2, 5-8 / Jn.4:5-42

Did you ever feel like saying or hear someone say, “There must be something more to life.” Whenever we feel like saying or hear someone say, “There must be something more to life” it shows we need more of Jesus in our lives.

Having Jesus in the center of our lives makes our whole life better. Every day is better with Jesus in the center. When we have Jesus where he belongs our whole life just falls into place.

A father wanted to read a magazine but was being bothered by his little girl. She wanted to know what the United States looked like. Finally, he tore a sheet out of his new magazine on which was printed the map of the country.

Tearing it into small pieces, he gave it to her and said, “Go into the other room and see if you can put this together. This will show you our whole country today.” After a few minutes, she returned and handed him the map, correctly fitted and taped together.

The father was surprised and asked how she had finished so quickly. “Oh,” she said, “on the other side of the paper is a picture of Jesus. When I got all of Jesus back where He belonged, then our country just came together.”

Yes, when we allow Jesus where he belongs our whole life just falls into place. This season of Lent is a gift from Jesus to get Jesus back where he belongs in our lives and to allow everything in our lives fall into place as it should.

The Prefaces for Daily Masses during Lent – the prayers after the “Holy, Holy, Holy…” – express beautifully this aim and goal during Lent:

Each year you give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heat renewed. (Preface of Lent 1)

This great season of grace is your gift to your family to renew us in spirit. (Preface of Lent 2)

Through our observance of Lent, you correct our faults and raise our minds to you, you help us grow in holiness… (Preface of Lent 4)

So, at the end of Lent we want to have our mind and heat renewed, to be renewed us in spirit, to have our faults corrected, our minds raised to God and to have grown in holiness.

At the end of Lent, we want to have the picture of Jesus put back together again properly in our lives because Jesus is the “something more to life” that we are looking for.

This is precisely what happened to the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well. This thirst of Jesus is symbolic; it was for her faith that Jesus thirsted. So, during the conversation Jesus gradually helped the gift of faith to grow in her heart.

We see the woman’s faith growing by the way she addresses Jesus; the titles she gives to Jesus show more and more respect and faith as their conversation progresses.

Firstly, she says, “you, a Jew” (Jn.4:9). Then she calls Jesus, “Sir” (Jn.4:11, 15). Then she calls Jesus a prophet. (Jn.4:19) Finally she refers to Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah (Jn.4:29)

All the Samaritans of that town call Jesus the Savior of the world after the two days he spent with them. (Jn.4:42) Jesus awoke faith in her heart. The Preface for today’s Mass says,

“When he asked the woman of Samaria for water to drink Christ had already prepared for her the gift of faith. In his thirst to receive her faith He awakened in her heart the fire of your love.

Let us just go through the Gospel. The conversation began with Jesus asking her for a drink. We hear of two thirsty persons – Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

They are not desperately thirsty but water was their topic of conversation. Jesus was thirsty enough to ask the Samaritan woman for a drink, though Jews do not associate with Samaritans; the gospel makes it a point mention it.

Furthermore, it was a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman! But thirst can make people discard formalities and reservations. Jesus was tired and thirsty and He wanted a drink.

The Samaritan woman was also thirsty and that was why she came to the well to draw water, although it was at an odd time – it was at noon, a time when people would stay indoors because of the heat (and that tells us something about her).

But as their conversation went on, more and more was revealed. The Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well to quench her physical thirst. But there was another kind of thirst that she could not quench.

She could not quench her thirst for true love – she told Jesus she had no husband. But she already had five husbands and the one she has is not her husband. Jesus knew her secrets, but He was gentle in revealing it to her.

He revealed it to her with love and compassion. But He also knew that she had a thirst that wasn’t quenched and that’s why she had secrets that she wanted to hide. Her thirst made her act strangely – she tried to avoid people and she tried to hide her secrets from Jesus.

But Jesus, who is the living water, slowly quenched the thirst in her heart, and with that she did the really astounding thing.

She hurried back to the town, to the people that she had been avoiding, and to tell them to come and see the man who had told her everything she ever did! Her spiritual thirst had made her hide her secrets from people.

But Jesus gave her the living water and the courage to face the truth. Yes, the thirst of the heart can make us irrational and act strangely. In our spiritual thirst, we will even turn to dead waters.

But that will be like trying to quench our thirst with sea water; the thirst will come back with a vengeance. We turn to dead waters when we give in to our desires – our desire for attention and status.

Our desire for success and to prove that we are better than others and to show-off. Our desire for pleasure by indulging in pornography and engaging in immoral acts with others. Yes, we try to quench the thirst of our hearts with dead waters.

But Jesus knows all that we have done. He wants to cleanse us with His living water in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus wants to quench the thirst of our hearts with the living waters of true love, which only He can give.

Let us turn away from those dead waters that will create more dark secrets and make us hide from God and from others. Let us turn to Jesus who gives us the living waters of truth and love, so that our hearts will be at peace with God and with others. Amen.

2nd Sunday of Lent Year A – 17

2nd Sunday of Lent Year A – 17

Gen.12:1-4a; IITim.1:8b-10; Mt.17:1-9

The common theme of today’s readings is metamorphosis or transformation. The readings invite us to work with the Holy Spirit to transform our lives by renewing them during Lent, and to radiate the grace of the transfigured Lord around us by our Spirit-filled lives.

The Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain reminds us that the way of the cross leads to Resurrection and eternal life and that the purpose of Lent is to help us better to enter into those mysteries.

Both the first and second readings present salvation history as a response to God’s call, a call going out to a series of key persons beginning with Abraham and culminating with Jesus Christ and His Apostles.

Faith is presented here as the obedient response to the call of God which opens up channels for the redemptive action of God in history, thus transforming the world.

In answering this call, both Abram and Saul broke with the experiences of their past lives and moved into an unmapped future to become new “people of the Promise,” for a new life.

The first reading presents the change or transformation of the patriarch Abram from a pagan tribesman into a man of Faith in one God and the father of God’s chosen people, Israel, and somewhat later the transformation of his name from Abram to Abraham.

God asked Abraham to leave his land, take everything and everyone with him and move to a new land. Later God asked Moses to take the Hebrews from Egypt into a promised new land. And what about Jesus?

Well, He too had to leave Joseph and Mary back in Nazareth and begin his mission out on the road. Jesus once remarked: “The foxes have their dens and the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

And when He was crucified and died, He didn’t even have a tomb of His own. One of the hardest things I face as a priest is not having my own home, a place I can call my own. My only home is the Church.

My only family is all of you… along with all of the other members of Christ’s family throughout the world. I usually tell people, “I have everything but I have nothing.”

Many people today experience homelessness. Lots of people, even young kids, live out in the streets. Many members of gangs belong to gangs because they are looking for family, for someone to belong to, for a “home” that they feel they never had with their moms and dads.

Many of us as adults and parents also feel like we are in a lot of ways strangers and exiles living in an alien and hostile culture, or environment, or world. Many of us watch what we value as it is being de-valued in the world around us, a world in which we no longer feel at home.

The feeling is not new; the feeling is, as a matter of fact, quite old. In a time when Christians were being hounded down, chased out of town, marginalized and even arrested and killed.

St. Peter wrote in one of his Epistles that we must remember we are strangers living in exile, that our citizenship and our real home is not in this world but rather in God’s kingdom.

St. Paul, too, wrote in one of his Epistles that “we have here no lasting city,” and that our citizenship is in heaven after our sojourn here in earth is ended.

Nevertheless, God wants us to have roots, to have a place, to belong. We all need a place in which we can find ourselves and a family in which we can belong. If we don’t have that we become very angry, act out, and engage in what is called “anti-social” and hostile behavior.

In other words, in our rage at not belonging we end up attacking everyone around us. One of the remarkable things about the Catholic Church is the fact that in it you belong no matter where you find yourself on the face of the earth.

I have entered churches in many other parts of the world, participated in Masses in them, and instantly felt at home even though the language wasn’t English or my own language.

Likewise, we need to be able to respond to God the way others have when He called them to be about His tasks, to be about His purposes, to accomplish His work. Could you leave everything in back of you if He called you to make a radical change in your life?

Like Abraham, you would have to leave your security and your familiar surroundings behind you. Sometimes God calls you to empty yourself in order that He might fill you with what He wants to give you. Could you, do it?

There’s a story about a Sufi Master who was approached by a young man who wanted to be his disciple. To impress the Master the prospect went on and on and on about his academic achievements, his experience and about all of his accomplishments in serving and helping people.

The Master listened in silence. Then while the young man was running on and on and on about all that he had done the Master began to fill a teacup with tea. When the cup was filled, he kept filling it with more tea until it spilled all over.

“Stop, Master!” cried the young man, “the cup can’t hold any more tea.” To which the Master replied: “Neither can I teach you anything. You are too full of yourself now. Come back when you’ve made some room within you to hold a new thought.”

Abraham made new room for God. So, did Moses. And Jesus totally emptied himself in order to be completely filled with God’s Holy Spirit.

We speak of Lent as a journey, a moving from one place to a new and better place. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus from Bethlehem where He was born, to Nazareth where He was raised, out into the desert, then to Jerusalem where He was crucified and died, and into the tomb in which He was buried, and then into the Garden of the Resurrection, the new Garden of Eden.

One day we will follow in His path by joining Him in His Ascension into heaven along with the Assumption of His mother Mary who was also taken up from this alien world into the home God has prepared for us.

The tomb of Jesus is empty because the things of this world are all destined to turn into dust. Inside of them, all of the things of this world are as empty as the tomb of Jesus. Why? Because reality is something spiritual, not material.

We are dust, and unto dust we shall return, along with all of the glitter of this world. Our citizenship and our home are elsewhere and our hearts will not rest until they rest in the home God has prepared for us.

Our hearts can experience some of that peace, some of that rest, right here in this church, in God’s house, in His Presence here in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Why not stop in here to be at home for a little while with Jesus, here in His house?

Why not give your heart the love it seeks, namely to be here at peace and in union, in love, with the One for whom your heart was made by God in the first place?

To whom do I belong? Where is my home? Here at least, here in God’s house in the Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, you will be strangers and exiles no longer. This is God’s house, and therefore it is your house, your home.

This is where your family shares its Sunday meal and where, whenever we come here, we know at last we belong. God, bless you. Amen.

1st Sunday of Lent, Year A – 17

1st Sunday of Lent, Year A – 17

GN 2:7-9; 3:1-7; PS 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17; ROM 5:12-19; MT 4:1-11

A man took his young son to a baseball game. While they were sitting there, he asked the boy what he was going to give up for Lent. The boy replied, “I don’t know, Dad. What are you going to give up?” His father said, “I’ve thought about this a lot and decided to give up liquor.”

Later in the game, the beer man came by, and the man ordered a beer. His son objected, “Hey, I thought you were giving up liquor!” His dad answered, “Hard liquor, son. I’m giving up hard liquor. This is just a beer.” To which the boy replied, “Well then, I’m giving up hard candy.”

Thinking back to life before ordination, I can count on one hand the number of homilies I heard based upon the day’s Responsorial Psalm. To be honest, the same goes for the number of homilies that I’ve preached about the Responsorial since being ordained.

Why is it so rare to hear a homily reflecting at length upon the Responsorial? One possible reason is that the psalms are poetry. The western world in our day and age is very prosaic and practical, unfortunately. This is largely because we’ve made ourselves so dependent upon technology.

But God is a Poet, and while the Psalter—that is, the Book of Psalms—is not the only book of the Bible to feature poetry, we might well say that the psalms are God’s poetry par excellence.

The excellence of the Psalter comes in part from the breadth and depth of its poetry about God and man, and about how they relate to each other.

But the Scriptures on this First Sunday of Lent focus upon the needs of man. While the entirety of the Psalter speaks to man as created in God’s grace, and as fallen by his own sin, today’s Responsorial specifically considers the pride of fallen man.

Fallen man needs humility to accept the redemption that comes from Jesus alone. Today’s Responsorial is taken from Psalm 51. This psalm is, arguably, the most profound of the seven psalms that are traditionally called the Penitential Psalms.

For many centuries, the seven Penitential Psalms have helped Christians to focus on their need to accept God’s mercy, and to practice penance. Here, at the beginning of Lent, you might consider copying one of the Penitential Psalms, carrying it with you throughout Lent, and praying it every day.

If you’re unsure about which of these seven to choose, try Psalm 51. Today’s Responsorial is drawn from just eight verses of Psalm 51.4 But in these verses, the Psalmist—that is, the author of the Psalms—proclaims in poetry what today’s other three Scripture passages touch upon through narrative and doctrinal exposition.

Consider each set of verses that the Church sings today between the repetitions of the refrain. During the first set of verses, we repeatedly petition God. Four times the Church sings of our neediness. But these four needs are of a specific sort.

We might say that they’re negative in nature. Of course, every need is negative in the sense that we’re asking for something we do not have: asking God to fill a void, whether it’s an empty pantry, an empty savings account, or an empty garage.

But in this first set of verses, we ask God to have mercy on us, to wipe out our offense, to wash us from our guilt, and to cleanse us from our sin. What these four needs have in common is that we’re asking God to restore to us something that we once had but have lost.

The second set of verses complements the first. If we admit in the first verses what our need is, the second set of verses helps us answer the question “Why?” Why do we need what we are asking God for? Why did we lose what we once had?

The answer is that we need mercy, and our offenses wiped out, and our guilt washed away, and to be cleansed from sin because each of us has freely chosen to sin. Each of us has sinned, and each of us needs to admit this fact.

What the Psalmist in the first set of verses implied, he makes plain in the second. The Psalmist admits in four different ways that he has sinned.

He says: “I acknowledge my offense”, “my sin is before me always”, “Against you only, [God,] have I sinned”, and I have “done what is evil in your sight”. The Psalmist is willing to admit not only that he has a problem, but that he is the problem.

Admitting our sinfulness like the Psalmist might sound simple, but experience shows how bedeviling it is. Because we are sinners, you and I speak and act not like the Psalmist, but like Adam and Eve.

In the First Reading, we heard about Adam and Eve committing the original sin. But what did they do afterwards, when God confronted them? They rationalized. They pointed away from themselves. They blamed others.

They did everything except admit the simple fact that they had sinned. It’s not easy for anyone to admit that he’s a sinner. But the Church during Lent helps us to do so, in order to approach the Sacrament of Penance with heartfelt sorrow, and a true sense of the sins we’ve committed.

The Church offers written examinations of conscience based upon her authentic moral teachings. Likewise, attending a solid retreat during Lent can help us face up to our sins. Even watching a good movie about the Lord’s Passion or the sufferings of martyrs can lead us to greater honesty about the price of our sins.

So, while the first half of today’s Responsorial confesses the loss resulting from our human sin, the second rejoices in what God offers us through Divine Mercy. This second half consists of seven petitions, and one promise.

But these petitions aren’t like those in the first half. The first half’s petitions ask God to remove what is negative: to wipe out offense, wash away guilt, and cleanse one of sin.

But now in this second half, the Psalmist asks God to restore and sustain what is positive. The Psalmist asks God to restore to him a clean heart, a steadfast spirit, and the joy of God’s salvation. He asks God to sustain in him God’s presence, His Holy Spirit, and a willing human spirit.

Finally, the Psalmist sings of his end. In the last two verses of today’s Responsorial, we hear the goal both of God removing from the Psalmist’s life what is negative, and sustaining within him what is positive.

Here, each of us needs to consider herself or himself to be the Psalmist. What is true of the Psalmist is true of each of us, especially in terms of our Lenten fasting, prayers and almsgiving.

The final petition of the Psalmist is different from the others within the Responsorial. Now, the Psalmist sings: “O Lord, open my lips.” The Psalmist makes this petition with the aim of making God a promise: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.”

Praise of God is the end of mankind. Each of us during Lent needs to keep in mind that all our fasting, prayers, and almsgiving are oriented to this goal. This is what God created Adam and Eve for “in the beginning”.

The final Adam, Jesus Christ, lives and dies upon this earth to restore to each of us the chance to fulfill this calling from God: to proclaim His praise all our days on this earth, and forever in Heaven. Amen.