Sunday, March 27, 2011

Third Sunday of Lent

Link to Mass Readings:

How do we keep faith in the desert?

When we struggle, we need encouragement. We need people to tell us we are doing a good job, that what we are doing is worth doing. When we are depressed, we need people to tell us that we are loved, that we are good people. When we are hurt, we need people to tell us things get better, that it won’t always be like this. We need support.

In the desert we need water. The desert is a dry place, and the sun beats down relentlessly. Water is what refreshes us, renews us, and lets us keep going even though the harsh surroundings keep tempting us to stop, stop. Water runs through each of the three readings today, and it is important to see how water is used because it speaks to our own experience of being thirsty and in need.

In the first reading, the people of God are wandering in the desert and they are tired. They are also thirsty, and even though they were led through the Red Sea on dry ground, even though God sent plagues to convince Pharaoh to release them out of Egypt, they worry that God will abandon them. Because of this, God sends Moses with the elders of Israel to give them water out of the rock. He gives them a sign of encouragement, and renews their faith in him with life-giving water.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus offers to give the Samaritan woman living water. After she drinks this, he promises she will never be thirsty again. She thinks he means that she will never be physically thirsty, and is confused. But then He reveals Himself as the Messiah, and she spreads the good news of his arrival to the rest of the town. Jesus stays with them two days, and afterwards the Samaritans told the woman: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

There is a parallel here between water and hearing the Word of God, and the living water and knowing God. We can go to church and hear the Word, and leave renewed and invigorated. We can go on retreats, or have deep conversations with believers and feel inspired by the mystery of God. We can read books, or see movies, or hear incredible speakers and be moved in faith but unless we come to know God personally we will always be like the Israelites who demand sign after sign because they are never satisfied.

When we have the living water, God is enough. We don’t have to look for signs from other people because “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Church, music, movies, people, retreats, and conversations will never be satisfying unless we haven drunk of the living waters. We often think it is enough to believe like the Israelites or as the Samaritans did at first, basing our faith on the faith of others and relying on their faith to carry us through. We hear conviction in the voices of those who testify and believe because they tell us to. But we are called to hear for ourselves, and know personally the savior of the world, who died for us while we were still sinners.

How do we keep faith in the desert? During Lent, we try to surround ourselves with holy things like the Mass, rosaries, prayer, and fasting. And these are good. But we should not just drink and be renewed, but drink of the living water and never thirst again. In the scarcity of Lent let us draw closer to Jesus, and know Him intimately in a way that leaves open all our vulnerabilities. Because we hope in the glory of God, and hope does not disappoint.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Second Sunday in Lent

Link to Mass Readings:

The desert is a hard place. There isn’t the plenty we are used to, and it’s uncomfortable. Where before we could just take what we need, in the desert we need to go without. We suffer, and deprive ourselves. The desert is also lonely; while other people may be suffering as well, to suffer is an intensely personal thing. No one feels what we feel, and our pain is entirely unique. The desert can be beautiful in its starkness and severity, but no one wants to live there. And yet, during Lent we put ourselves here on purpose.

Christians have been removing themselves to the desert for a long time, and in the early centuries of the Church it was a popular spot for monks. But the desert doesn’t make loving God easier. What the desert does is remove from us the things we surround ourselves with that make us comfortable, which makes us not need God because we have these things. In the desert, these things are gone. But we are still left with the choice, to choose God or not. We can find things in the desert to distract us, and hide our heads in the sand if we want to. But it’s harder to hide from ourselves in the desert, and when we turn away from God here we know exactly what it is that we are doing.

The readings today are about the glory God brings to us if we can choose Him through all the suffering. Paul tells us to “bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Even in the desert God is here, and His strength is the Rock of Ages, the waters of everlasting life. God has saved us and called us to a holy life; He will preserve us in that life if we call on Him, and to survive in the desert we have to. Only God is strong enough for what He wants from us.

Abraham is the best example of God preserving His servant through suffering. Abraham wandered in the wilderness most of his life, all because of the promise God gave to him. We don’t know how much Abraham struggled with what God asked of him, but we do know that Scripture tells us “Abram went as the Lord directed him.” Because that is the important part, more than our pain, or feelings, or insecurities, or temptations; are we, or are we not going as the Lord directs us?

The Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop is one of the few times where God reveals the glory of Jesus in a visible way. The disciples see Jesus robed in white talking with Elijah and Moses, who represent in the Old Testament the Prophets and the Law. When the disciples see Jesus talking with them, they see that Jesus is equal with these two legendary figures. But then God says “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The disciples then know that Jesus is greater than the Law of the Old Testament, and all the Prophets. In Him is their fulfillment, and the glory He shows on the mountaintop is with Him always, if only they had eyes to see.

It is hard to suffer for the kingdom. God only tells the world publicly two times that He is well pleased with Jesus. The rest of the time, Jesus must continue to struggle on in faith. That is what we must do; we must continue to struggle on in faith through the desert, and trust God, because He is trustworthy. When Abraham was done with his wandering, God did indeed make of him a mighty nation, and preserved him through all of his trials. Jesus brought to fulfillment all the He had been destined for and conquered sin; He rose in glory because He trusted God and persevered until the end. Our crown of salvation waits for us too, to make it to the end and not give up.

I like the words from the psalm today: “Our soul waits for the Lord,/ Who is our help and our shield./ May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us/ who have put our hope in you.” We have removed ourselves from the things in life that can keep us from God, and in our severity we have put our trust in God. We believe that God is trustworthy, and will bring us through this suffering to the glory of salvation He has promised us. Amen.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

First Sunday in Lent

Link to Mass Readings:

“For, just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”

This is the thought of the Church as we journey through Lent: all people are sinners, and have been so from Adam and Eve through to us this day, this moment. Before Jesus, there was no escape from sin, because even when we had the Law and knew what was right, we still sinned. But with Jesus there came grace, and with grace freedom from sin; because though I cannot stop from sinning, Jesus within me can.

The readings today make that contrast. Adam and Eve were perfect, but disobeyed God, and through their disobedience came the punishment of original sin for all people. But Jesus was perfect and withstood every temptation, yet was punished anyway. He in His obedience bore the punishment for all sin, and because of that we can be forgiven our sins. Sin requires punishment, and because of Jesus we do not have the justice we deserve, but the grace we have not earned.

This is what we meditate on during Lent, that we are sinners, but one righteous man paid the price for our sins. We sacrifice in honor of that memory, we sacrifice to be more like Him, and we sacrifice to remember more clearly the gift that we have been given. The last few weeks the readings have all been about the choice between God and destruction, but there is so much stuff that distracts us from that choice. We worry about jobs, about girlfriends or boyfriends, we worry about being liked or respected, we busy ourselves with catching the latest tv show or new song on the radio. But we give these things up not to enjoy suffering, but to place ourselves in the desert with Jesus to remember the choice we are given, the one that Moses put before the Israelites: to choose either the blessing or the curse.

Enjoy the suffering. Embrace it as a gift, because it is a small thing we do in memory the sacrifice we will celebrate in 40 days. The desert is hard, and hot, and we become lean and frustrated as we have to do without all the comfort we are used to. But in the desert we cannot hide from things, and all the hard things about ourselves and the blemishes on our souls must be seen in the harsh sun. The Psalm today embraces what Lent is about, and if we did nothing else, it would be worth praying each of these 40 days. Because what we want, is to be changed during Lent, and overthrown until we are worthy to stand before Jesus on Good Friday and remember what He has done for us.

Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.

For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.”

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

“I set before you here, this day, a blessing and a curse.”

These past few weeks Scripture has been emphasizing, over and again that we have two choices: God or destruction. Today continues this theme, but also questions what it means to make the choice for God. We as Christians say we have faith, but what does it mean to believe in Jesus as our Savior?

This is what we believe: that we are sinners, and therefore not righteous. God is righteous, and even though following the Law would make us righteous, no one could do it perfectly. But Jesus died for our redemption, and we are justified as righteous by His grace. Because of Jesus, we can be like God.

Paul tells us: “For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” This means we cannot become righteous by our own merits following the do’s and don’ts of the law; we can only become righteous through Jesus, whose grace is available for all who believe. For we consider that a person is justified by faith.

But faith is more than believing Jesus exists. Even Jesus said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” The Church becomes so divided between people saying that we are saved through faith, or saved through faith and works, but it is a pointless debate because there should be no distinction. There is no faith separate from works of our hands, and likewise there should be no work separate from our faith if we are God’s people.

But what kind of works? Even if we do miracles and great things in the name of Jesus, we are told that isn’t enough for Heaven. It is only those who do the will of God who will enter the kingdom of Heaven. This then is faith: to acknowledge Jesus as our Savior from sin, and follow the will of God in every action of our life.

The psalmist know what it means to live a life for God: “Be my rock of refuge,/ a stronghold to give me safety. / You are my rock and my fortress;/ for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me.” It is not enough for us to be churchgoers; Jesus did not come to establish churches, He came to make disciples. Disciples follow their master closely, believing every word as truth and doing everything he says. How faithful are we?

This week the Church begins Lent, a time when we strip away the things that cover our eyes against God. So often we hear God’s voice, but we are scared or too comfortable to listen. In Lent, in the desert, there is less to stop us from listening to God. This is why the poor are blessed, because all they possess is the Lord.

Let us be faithful. God is our savior, and there is none like Him. This Lent, let us listen when He speaks to us, and not turn away from the way He has ordained for us.