Sunday, February 24, 2013

Second Sunday of Lent Homily 2013

Genesis 15: 5-12, 17-1/8

Philippians 3: 17-4.1

Luke: 28b-36

I am sure there are many here among us who could tell a story of an event that occurred to them that changed their lives forever.  We see two instances of this in today’s readings.  We first hear of Abram, a man who hears a voice calling to him to leave his homeland, a place were he felt safe and secure, with everything he owned, with everyone he held dear; and journey to some unknown land.  Once he arrives in the land, the Lord again speaks to him, promises that from Abram, a great nation will spring forth, that the land Abram is standing on will be his.  Now Abram is a practical man, he wonders how he will be able to hold such a vast land; how he, who is past his prime, will father a nation?  God confirms this promise by performing a miracle!  This is the first miracle Abram witnesses in his relationship with the Lord!  Can any of us even guess at the emotions that he experienced from this event?  The promise is confirmed, and Abram’s life is forever changed, he is no longer just a nomad, wandering the plains and hills of Palestine, he is now the father of a people.

In today’s Gospel, we see the disciples of Jesus, Peter, John and James, following him up a mountain to pray.  They have been following Jesus for sometime now.  They have heard him preach and were inspired by his words.  They have witnessed him performing many miracles; and they are in awe of him.  Earlier in this Gospel, we would have read how Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ!  Now, they may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but do they really understand what that means?  On the top of that mountain, Peter, John and James witness the transfiguration of Jesus.  They see him in all his glory, and they hear the voice of the Father confirm that Jesus is the Son of God.  The words the Evangelist Luke uses, I think, fail to adequately describe what those three disciples saw and experienced.  The three persons who came down from that mountain were men whose lives had been changed forever.

I think the common factor that Abram and the three disciples shared, was that they were already persons with open hearts.  They may not have realized it at the moment, but they were ready for God to come in and do something wonderful, that would change them forever.  During this season of Lent, the Church is encouraging us to open our hearts; hearts that may have grown hard over time.  Through fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, we break our attachment to those things that may have become a barrier between us, God and other persons.  We have an opportunity to break ourselves open, and become totally receptive to the love and power of God.  We can hear, with open ears, the Word of God; we can see, with eyes of faith, the miracle of the Eucharist happening before us.  And when we receive Christ in Holy Communion, we open ourselves up to the power of His love.  And with each of these encounters, Jesus will, as St. Paul wrote, “change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.”  We have the opportunity to enter into a new way of life.  Now this can be somewhat frightening, scary.  We may be comfortable with the way our life may be, right now.  We may be tempted to stay in the place we are, to remain at the base of the mountain.  However, God is offering us so much more.  Now it comes with challenges, but it also comes with so much joy.  We only need to have the courage to set out on the journey, to have the courage to climb.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

First Sunday of Lent 2013

Deuteronomy 26: 4-10
Romans 10: 8-13
Luke 4: 1-13

Note:  The Catholic parishes of Beverly, MA, are part of the first phase of reorganizing the parishes of the Archdiocese of Boston into 2 to 3 parish collaboratives, under one pastor and pastoral team.

Today’s Gospel reading continues the story after the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.  Jesus has experienced the Holy Spirit coming upon Him, has heard the Father confirming that he is the Son of God.  He must have been on a spiritual high; he is “the man.”  Now we see the Spirit leading him into the desolation that is the desert.  We are told that Jesus fasted for forty days, and was “hungry.”  Now, those of us who are dieters, or failed dieters, we may think we know what it means to be hungry, but that is nothing compared to the hunger Jesus must have experienced, and what the effects it must have been to his body.  This combination of hunger and surviving the desert, must have definitely taken him out of his comfort zone.  It is then that the devil challenges Jesus, tempts Jesus.  He first tempts Jesus to change a stone into bread.  Then he tries to have Jesus doubt his own power as the Messiah, by accepting power from the devil, at the price of worshiping him, rather than the Father.  Finally, the devil tries to have Jesus get the Father to confirm that He is the Son, by saving him from a fall.  All these actions, changing stone into bread, accepting power from another, seeking the Father’s reaffirmation; these are all self-centered actions.  And Jesus came not for himself but for others.

So Jesus drew on the divine power that was in him all the time, which was and is at the center of his being.  The Evangelist Luke expresses this power by having Jesus quote the Hebrew Scriptures.  It is the power of the Word of God that will drive the devil away.

Now, all of us experience temptation at different times, and in different ways.  We are tempted to reach for that cookie on the plate, even when our mother says not to.  We are tempted to reach for the game boy, rather than doing our homework.  We are tempted to join in the gossip about a coworker, rather than defend him or her.  And sometimes we are tempted to give in to despair, because life has gotten so hard, so dark.  In moments of temptation, great or small, we all need to turn to Him who has experienced it himself, who knows what we are going through.  If we open ours hearts to Him, if we let His word take hold of us, have faith in Him, we will ignore the temptation, have hope and not be put to shame.

Lent is a time when the Church challenges us; through fasting, increased prayer, and almsgiving, giving of ourselves for others; to leave our comfort zone, to set sail on uncharted spiritual waters.  And now this year, as a parish community, as a community of Catholic believers here in Beverly, we are being asked to go on into even more uncharted waters.  Some of us may be tempted to withdraw within ourselves and not participate in the process.  As the process moves on, for whatever reasons, some of us may be tempted to jump ship.  And on top of all that, we hear that Pope Benedict is resigning, and now the way forward looks even more uncertain, the horizon more shrouded in fog, in uncertainty.  What I ask of all us to do is to trust in Him, who built the Bark, the Ship of St. Peter, trust in him who gave St. Peter the keys of the kingdom, and asked him to care for the Lord’s sheep; believe in Him who at a word, calm the winds and the waves.  He will bring us to safe harbor.