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Monday, April 24, 2017

Everyone Needs Mercy (2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A)

To listen to this homily, click here.

         Almost twenty years ago, St. John Paul II designated the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. He did this to help deepen Catholic awareness and appreciation of the gift of God’s mercy. In instituting Divine mercy Sunday, the Holy Father also showed the connection between the resurrection and mercy. In order to understand Easter and the resurrection we have to embrace forgiveness.

         There is not a single person in who doesn’t want mercy. It's something we've all experienced and even begged for at one time or another.  Kids, you know how much you shoot for mercy when you’re grounded. For whatever reason your parents tell you that the car, the xbox, the computer, the phone, or TV are off limits. Naturally, when you are grounded these are some of the things that you want to do the most. Which one of you doesn’t ask “Mom, please, can’t I just watch my favorite show?” or “Dad, I know I am grounded but all of my friends are going out tonight and they asked me to go with them?”

         Those of us who drive know the horrible feeling when we look in the mirror and see a police car behind us with the lights on. The feeling of dread and doom as the officer approaches often turns into a plea for mercy and forgiveness. “Officer, I did not realize how fast I was going,”, "I didn't see that stop sign", or “I thought the light was still yellow.”

         Many of us might also know how the desire for mercy springs up after flunking a test. We suddenly find ourselves asking the teacher for a chance to retake the test, earn extra credit, or be graded on a curve. This is especially true when we feel like it wasn't our fault; maybe we had a game the night before, we were sick, or the teacher asked unreasonable questions.

         In each of these cases, we desire mercy; we want a break even if we don’t technically deserve one. And often people go easy on us. Any one who has driven away after being pulled over with a mere warning knows how good mercy feels. The same could be said for those cases when a teacher grades a test mercifully or our parents ease up on us when we are grounded.

         I vividly remember one of my first experiences of mercy. I was a mere lad of 6 or seven and while I was playing outside, I broke our neighbor’s window. I was devastated. I had no money to pay for the window and there was no way to fix it either. I ran into the house distraught and told my mom; then I waited for the police to show up. I figured jail was the only way I could pay the penalty for breaking a window. A short while later my mom came and told me that I was not going to jail. Our neighbor told me not to worry about the broken window at all and he was not angry about it. Let me tell you, this small act of mercy took the weight of the world off my shoulders.

        


         Of course, these examples of mercy are only a taste of the mercy God has for us. Our mercy towards each other is shown by words and actions. God’s mercy is so powerful it actually became a person: Jesus Christ. Jesus is the mercy of God who came to save us from sin and death. He did not have to become man, suffer, and die. He had no sin; but he suffered and died because of his merciful love for us.

As Christians, the celebration of the Easter resurrection is inseparable from mercy. In the resurrection of Christ, God’s mercy is fulfilled; sin and death are defeated forever. The message of Divine Mercy Sunday is that God is offering each of us the freedom over sin and death. Just as he opened his arms on the cross, Christ waits with open arms to give you and me mercy.  But he will not force it on us; we have to meet him halfway.

Do we take advantage of opportunities to receive mercy? As Catholics, we have the wonderful sacrament of reconciliation, where God wipes away our sins. Do we go and encounter Christ in this sacrament of forgiveness or do we put it off month after month and year after year? Don’t wait any longer!! Christ wants to heal you if you just approach him!! We can’t fully appreciate and understand the joy of the resurrection if we are not receiving God’s mercy on a regular basis.

But mercy is not simply about receiving; it must also be given. Think of it as a two-way street; in the gospel, Jesus reminds us we will be forgiven to the extent that we forgive others. Some of us have people in our lives who are waiting for our unconditional forgiveness. Some of us might be withholding mercy because of grudges, past hurts, or pride. We cannot become people of the resurrection until we show mercy to all those in our lives: friends and enemies, those we enjoy being with and those people who drive us crazy. Our lives must become a continual cycle of giving and receiving mercy over and over and over until it becomes part of who we are.

 Living mercifully is difficult and we will need God's help to do it properly. When we step out of church we will be faced with opportunities to give and receive mercy. For some of us this challenge may seem overwhelming. There might be many things we have to do in order to become merciful. Let’s resolve to start with small things, perhaps a kind word when we are losing our patience, a compliment to someone we don’t necessarily care for, or letting someone go before us in line.  If we commit ourselves to the practice of mercy every day then we will truly understand the joy of Easter and the meaning of the resurrection. May we reflect Divine Mercy to everyone we encounter this week, knowing that God will repay it many times over in forgiving the wrongs we have done.



  

Monday, April 17, 2017

Jesus the Hero (Easter 2017)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Last Summer, July 7th to be exact, a tragedy unfolded that exposed both the best and worst of human nature. It was a Thursday night in Dallas, about 9pm and protestors were finishing up a demonstration against recent police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota. Without warning, an enraged gunman opened fire on police officers. Because of the ensuing confusion and his previous training in the military, this shooter killed five police officers and wounded nine others, along with 2 civilians before he was stopped. Having several family members in law enforcement, I followed this particular story closely. A theme came up time and time again in witness accounts of that evening (and remember, many of the people telling the story were there originally to protest the actions of police in other situations). Over and over again witnesses observed how the police officers ran into danger as everyone else was running away. Not knowing they were the target, they focused first on getting all of the protestors to safety rather than saving their own skin. Many of the demonstrators praised the police for their selfless service, for putting their own lives on the line, moving to neutralize the suspect when every instinct was telling them to run away or hide.

That is the true definition of courage, the real meaning of hero: to put one’s own safety, comfort, and very life on the line to help or save another person. We hear stories of true heroes fairly often, not only in law enforcement, but in so many first responders, soldiers, medical professionals, organ donors, and good-hearted strangers who see someone in trouble and jump in to help.

The only appropriate response to a hero is gratitude. Those who are saved or protected have been given a new lease on life. Through the sacrifice and courage of another, they are alive and more than likely, will never take another day for granted. Many times, the price of being a hero is significant; for some it costs the ultimate price, life itself. For that reason, there is something within our human nature that venerates a hero and never wants to forget their sacrifice. 

Today, on this happy day we call Easter, Christians around the world celebrate the ultimate hero, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead! Before the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we were in mortal danger from sin and death. Nothing we could ever do would release us from its grasp. Until Christ, not a single person could enter heaven. The human race was a prisoner to its sins and weaknesses. Because of that first offense of Adam and Eve, each and every one of us was born into darkness with the tendency to resist God and live for ourselves. God did not have to save us. We did nothing to deserve his salvation. But God has a heart of Love and couldn’t bear to watch his children suffer. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned, throughout the centuries, he prepared the world to receive his Son, who would be willing to do anything to save us. 

When Jesus was born into the world, he wanted to experience everything we do, except for sin. He grew up in a family, he learned a trade, how to pray, and so many other things that each of went through as a developing human. He did not choose an easy life for himself because he never wanted anyone to doubt his love for each and every one of us. Ultimately, Jesus would pay for his kindness in the worst way possible. He would be tortured, humiliated, betrayed by one of his closest friends, and executed on a cross. Let’s not forget, Jesus did not have to do this! He could have tapped out at any time or called on armies of angels to destroy those who were trying to destroy him. Instead of pulling back or running away, he goes headlong into the worst that humanity has to offer. By laying down his life, he ends up saving ours.

Easter Sunday is a reminder to say thank you to the hero who saved our souls. It is a reminder that God loved each of us so much he died for our sins and made it possible for us to be with him in heaven. Today, as we gather with friends and family to celebrate and enjoy time together, let’s make sure we don’t neglect to thank the very person who gave everything so we would no longer have to be prisoners to sin and death. Let us not take that sacrifice for granted! Every Sunday is a little Easter and every time we come to Mass, we say “thank you” to God for running into danger on our behalf and saving us.

May the joy and peace of Easter fill our hearts and homes. May we never take this gift of salvation for granted or fail to thank our heavenly hero, Jesus Christ, risen and victorious forever!




Sunday, April 2, 2017

Jesus Wept (5th Sunday of Lent, Year A)

To listen to this homily, click here.

About 21 years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, my family was in the middle of a lot of activity. I was in the first year of high school. My mom was pregnant with child number 13, my sister Theresa Rose. We had recently sold the home we grew up in in Hazelwood and moved to a larger house in St. Peters. Life was pretty good and exciting but that was all going to change very quickly. One night my mom started to experience extreme pain unlike anything she had felt before. What she didn’t know at the time was she was bleeding internally, something that quickly put her life and the life of my unborn sister in extreme danger. In the middle of the night, while many of us still slept, my mom was rushed to the hospital. By the time the doctors diagnosed the problem, my mother had lost half of the blood in her body and my baby sister had been without oxygen for a devastating amount of time. Theresa Rose was delivered immediately to give her and my mother the best chance of survival. Within a short time the doctors gave us terrible news; my sister would not survive the day and my mother’s condition was critical.

This is the news I woke up to that day. First being told I had a new baby sister and secondly that she would not be with us very long. I cannot describe the impact of the news; I was shocked, I was in disbelief, I had trouble breathing; it was too much to handle. In the following hours I remember pleading with God asking him to spare my sister, to save my mom, to make all of this go away. I wondered how He could let this happen, I wanted to know what I did wrong, what I needed to do to make it all better.  I was frightened, I was sad, I was angry with God. But these thoughts and feelings did not change the reality; my sister would soon die and pass from this world to the next. Perhaps one of the most beautiful and difficult moments of my life came when mom and dad called me into the room to hold my little sister for the first and only time, to kiss her and to thank God for her life which would end moments later in my parents arms.

There were few words that could console me after my little sister died. But the shortest verse in the bible did, the verse in today’s gospel from John. Jesus also loses someone close to him, his friend Lazarus. And when he sees the grief and confusion this death causes to Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha, dear friends of Christ, the shortest verse also becomes one of the most powerful and profound. It simply says, “And Jesus wept.”

The power of this verse is that it reveals the heart of God, the heart of Jesus Christ. He was a man like us, He felt love and joy and anger and yes, even sadness at the death of a beloved friend! This verse reminded me in my suffering that I was loved and cared for by a God who was not indifferent to the hardships of life. He knew how I felt because He himself had wept for a loved one who had died. 

I believe now, more than ever, we need to remember this extraordinary scripture! At a time when our world seems to falling apart with natural disasters, civil unrest, multiple conflicts, horrendous crimes and heartbreaking tragedies, it can be easy for us to wonder where God is. Does He even care when we are suffering? Does it matter to Him whether our loved ones live or die? We can easily question his Love for us, his Power and Wisdom, and why He continues to let bad things happen to innocent people. 

The end of the gospel story gives us the answer to that seemingly impossible question. The tears that Jesus cried for Lazarus were not tears of despair or hopelessness. They were tears of sadness, profound sadness at the pain of death and the confusion and separation it brings. But after He cries, Jesus shows us that neither death nor sadness is the final word. He raises Lazarus, He calls him out of the tomb to show the people of his time and people of every age that his power defeats all death, every evil. His life is now the final word for all who believe in Him and nothing, not even death or the separation it brings can defeat his Divine Love. The good news of the gospel is that we have a God who loves us so much he is moved by our sorrow, our suffering, and our loss. He is never indifferent

This power of Jesus, his victory over death didn’t heal my sister or bring her back to life. It will not always take away the loss and pain we are bound to experience in this fallen world. But it always gives meaning and value to those awful moments. God doesn’t cause our sufferings, He is saddened by the loss and the pain they cause. He loves us so much he desired to experience all of the emotions that we do in our daily lives.

Although I didn’t see it right away, the power of the resurrection was found in every aspect of my sister’s death. Before she died, she was baptized and confirmed, assuring her a place in heaven with the God who made her. And as short as her life was, she taught me the dignity and value of a life, no matter how short or damaged. And perhaps most beautifully, it was through her 14 or so hours here on earth that my own heart was opened to hear God’s plan for me. My sister’s death helped me to hear God’s invitation to the priesthood.


Reflect often on the lesson of today’s gospel where Jesus shows us his power over death. Let it free you from those fears that paralyze you. Let it bring you courage and hope in difficult times. Let it bring meaning to your own suffering. Christ turns loss into gain, defeat into victory, sadness into joy, death into life. Let us be faithful so that He can do the same in our lives!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Treasure Within (4th Sunday of Lent, Year A)

To listen to this homily, click here.

One of the destinations during my recent pilgrimage to Italy was the great city of Florence. Florence is one of the world’s cultural gems and the home of the powerful Medici family for hundreds of years. Even today, it is still one of the premier places to see fine art, eat good food, and buy the best clothing and jewelry. One of its most famous sons was  the incredible Michelangelo Buonarroti and some of his best work is displayed in the Florence Academia of fine arts. One of the many artistic gifts Michelangelo had was the ability to visualize his sculptures within a block of marble. For him, creating a masterpiece was just releasing the figure trapped within. There are a handful of unfinished statues in the museum and you can almost feel the figures struggling to escape their stone prison. Just down the hallway is his renowned sculpture of King David as a young man. This 17 foot, 11,000 pound image of the great Jewish king took two years to craft and is amazing to behold. The features are unbelievably lifelike, with muscles, veins, and other details so finely carved you begin to forget he was working with stone and not something soft like clay. Even 500 years later, this great statue holds your attention and impresses from every angle.

The seemingly supernatural vision of Michelangelo to look at a piece of stone and see a masterpiece within is just a hint of God’s ability as he looks at us. Today’s readings tell us stories of God seeing something in people that everyone else misses. The ignored and dismissed become the glorified as they are handpicked by the divine artist and their lives sculpted into something great. 

In the first reading, the Lord sends the prophet Samuel to anoint the next King of Israel. He heads over the house of Jesse, as the Lord directs him, and gets out his flask of oil. The oldest son walks over and Samuel thinks to himself, well, this will be easy, here is the next king. But God cautions him not to judge by appearance but to wait for the Lord to look into the heart. The eldest son is dismissed and the next one follows, one after the other until seven sons pass by Samuel, yet none are chosen. Finally, the baby, the Fr. Boehm of the bunch, the most unlikely to be the next king, strolls in, and immediately (we can almost hear the excitement in God’s voice) the Lord tells Samuel to anoint him so the Holy Spirit can rush down upon him from that day forward. We know how this story played out; God worked on David over the course of his life and he became a magnificent king, an unstoppable warrior, a holy ruler who brought peace, prosperity and holiness to the Chosen people. God saw something great in this simple shepherd boy and drew it out, little by little, like the Divine Artist he is.

Something similar is at work in gospel. Jesus is passing by a man born blind and the prevailing wisdom at the time suggested that his affliction was due to some sin committed by him or his parents. Once again, God sees into the heart and knows there is something special in this man. His physical blindness does not mean he is spiritually corrupt. To walk past him, to assume his blindness is because of sin would be to ignore a masterpiece in the making, a figure  who is stuck in stone, trying to escape the prison of suffering and rejection. Jesus knows this man’s true potential and heals his blindness. Not only that, but once he regains his sight, he becomes a teacher to the religious authorities who thought they had nothing to learn. The irony is that the person who once was blind ends up seeing who Jesus really is: the Savior and Lord. Meanwhile, the Pharisees remain completely blind in their hearts and only see Jesus as an enemy and imposter.

Far too often, our fallen human nature judges other people and writes them off. Even though it is impossible for any of us to look into a person’s heart, we often draw damaging, hurtful conclusions from someone’s decisions, actions, words, income, or status in society and perpetuate the blindness displayed in the gospel. This is one of the wounds of Original Sin.

Thankfully, not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.” When Jesus looks at you and me and every person who has ever lived, he does not see a failure, a weakling, or a disappointment. He envisions a potential masterpiece; as Catholics, we also call them saints, friends of God. Most of the time, we see far less potential in ourselves than God does. Our hopes and plans for ourselves and the people we love will always fall short of what God wants to do for us. His dream for us is always so much more refined, rewarding, and joyful than we would ever dare imagine. 

As the Divine Artist, Jesus wants the artistic freedom to sculpt us according to what he sees hidden behind the block of sin, weakness, and fear. He won’t come at us with a jackhammer or a stick of dynamite; he waits for our permission. If we let him, he will work on us like Michelangelo did on his sculptures, personally, lovingly, one little chisel mark at a time until all the rough edges are smoothed out and every little detail is highlighted for all to marvel at. The degree we have faith and allow God to sculpt us will be the extent of our glory and happiness in the life to come. The more we cooperate with his grace, the quicker the process. The more we fight and resist, the longer and more painful it will be. Because he is so kind and merciful, as long as we die in the state of grace, Jesus will continue to perfect us after death in purgatory so we can eventually live with him in heaven.

Let us thank God for taking such a personal interest in each and every one of us. Let’s pray to be healed of our spiritual blindness that causes us to judge others and write them off. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for that Divine Gift of seeing the masterpiece within each and every human person, to appreciate the potential greatness and holiness of everyone we encounter, no matter how hidden or trapped it might be!


Sunday, March 19, 2017

To listen to this homily, click here.

Almost fifteen years ago ( I cannot believe it was that long ago!!), in the summer of 2002, the Holy Father traveled to Toronto, Canada for World Youth Day. There was a great deal of excitement among North American Catholics for this opportunity to see the great (now St.) John Paul II so close to home. Many people drove, others flew, but a number of priests and seminarians from St. Louis, including me, decided to go by a different way; --- we rode bicycles. And during the 13 days that it took to travel from St. Louis to Toronto, we all experienced a number of things like sunburn, soreness, hunger, weariness, and a general feeling of discomfort in posterior region from sitting on a bike seat for hours at a time. We also enjoyed incredible sights, camaraderie, inspiring examples of faith and kindness from the people who hosted us and general sense of how good people are and how beautiful our country really is. 

But the overwhelmingly universal experience we had during that 1000 mile bike ride was thirst. We were drinking water all the time: while we were riding, during our breaks, while we prayed, and even hours after we had finished riding. I just remember experiencing a deep, persistent thirst-----a thirst that took hours and gallons of water to quench.  

This experience of thirst is what our gospel is all about; man’s thirst for God, God’s thirst for us, and the living water of God’s grace that he wants to give us to satisfy all of our desires. 

First, let’s take a look at the woman at the well. She is quite a character with a checkered past; according to the social norms of the day, there is no reason Jesus should have been talking to her. This is for two reasons: first of all, she is a Samaritan. Samaritans were scorned by the Jewish people and Jews were not allowed to eat or drink with them. Even the use of their dishes was forbidden because that would make the Jewish person “unclean.” The woman knows this and that is why she is so surprised when Jesus asks her for a drink. The second reason that Jesus should not have been chatting with this woman is the fact that she appears at the well around noon. In the ancient world, women would go to the well early in the morning to get the water, while the sun was low in the sky and before the heat of the day was at full strength. Those who went at noon would likely be people who made their living in the night, people who were known to be public sinners.

But these reasons didn’t stop Jesus from talking with her. He knew the Samaritan woman was thirsty. And he knew that each and every day, she endured the shame of drawing water from the well late in the day in an effort to alleviate her thirst. But her thirst was much more than a bodily desire for water. This woman had been married five times and the man she was with now was not her husband!! She was clearly searching for some---thing, some---one that she was unable to find in her husbands. Day after day she would come to the well, parched in body and spirit and draw water. And day after day she would return, still thirsting. She had spent her life looking for love, compassion, attention and salvation but still was not satisfied.

Then Jesus comes and asks her for a drink. Jesus intrigues her with his offer of living water. The woman wants her thirst to go away and seeks to understand his offer. When he tells her that his water will take away her thirst forever, she says, ‘sir, give me this water so I will not have to come back here again and draw water.’ As the conversation continues, Jesus makes it clear that the water he is speaking of is spiritual. And slowly but surely the woman comes to believe in him. 

But the Samaritan woman was not the only thirsty one here. Christ is also thirsting; thirsty to share the good news of the Gospel with those he meets. In addition to his physical need for water, Jesus is thirsty for souls. He wants all to experience his saving grace and he longs to give living water to those who would believe in him. Jesus gently draws the woman at the well to the living water of eternal life. He satisfies her thirsty heart with the saving grace that comes from the well of his most sacred heart. And once she has received this gift from Jesus, she goes and shares it with the people of her town, who drink it up eagerly.

We aren’t so different from the Samaritan woman at the well. And while we may not have not been married five or six times, we are all thirsting in our hearts for love, acceptance, and fulfillment. Like the woman in the gospel, we can try to satisfy this longing in ways apart from God himself. How often do we return to the wells of this world day after day in an attempt to satisfy our thirsty hearts? How often we believe that if we can just buy this one thing, get that one promotion, or achieve a higher status, then we can be happy, our lives finally complete. Perhaps it is our career,-- saving money,-- experiencing pleasure, -- acquiring material possessions, or keeping ourselves constantly busy. Whatever the case, all of these ultimately fail to satisfy us; and inevitably we find ourselves wanting more. 

Jesus offers us the same living water that he gave to the Samaritan woman in today’s gospel. Christ’s love is the only thing that can ultimately satisfy our hearts. He wants to take away our spiritual thirsting with his grace; his grace which never fails, never goes away. But we have to believe and we have to be willing to leave our sins behind. 


As we continue to journey through this Lenten season, let us ask Jesus to give us the living water of the gospel. Let us allow him to satisfy the thirst in our hearts by spending time in prayer, going to confession, and doing good things for others. After he has filled our hearts with these good things, let's not be stingy in sharing those blessing with others. Finally, as we prepare to approach this altar and receive the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ here in the Eucharist let us remember that we are coming face to face with Jesus himself, the source of this wonderful and eternal living water. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mountain Top Experiences - 2nd Sunday of Lent (Year A)

To listen to this homily, click here.

No doubt, many of us, have heard the term “mountain top experience.” Even if we’ve never heard that specific phrase, hopefully the experience resonates in our heart. A mountain top experience is a moment when we experience the euphoria of being in the midst of divine greatness, coming face to face with the grandeur and overwhelming might of the Almighty. Any of you who have climbed a mountain peak after hours of hiking, watched a sunset near the ocean’s edge, or been awe-struck at the beauty of nature, know what I am talking about. We also have these moments in meaningful events like running a race after months of training, graduating after years of studying, or perhaps most profoundly, watching the birth of our children into the world. In all these cases, whatever the specifics may be, we are swept away by the extraordinary; transformed by this moment which we happily return to in our heart many times throughout our lives. Mountain top moments, by their very nature are special; they don’t happen every day but just a few of them can sustain us for a lifetime.

Throughout the Bible, when God wants to teach his people something important, he tells them to go up, to get away, to come closer so they can experience a taste of his greatness. Abraham, Moses, Elijah and Noah all encountered God on the heights. In the gospel, Peter, James, and John are just continuing a long tradition! This moment on the mountain, which we call the Transfiguration of Jesus, holds some clues about how God wants to speak to us and why he will be waiting for us to join him at different points of our life on the holy heights. Rather than just reflect on this incredible story as a neat thing Jesus did for three of his apostles, let’s pray about how it might be a pattern that applies to us and our relationship with the Lord.

Jesus invites his friends to come with him and pray. Taking time to pray is a regular part of Jesus’ life and if he made it a daily priority, so should we. It is often in the rhythm of routine prayer that the Lord invites us to come closer to be inspired by his glory. What then, is significant about the mountain? When you climb one, you need to leave everything behind except the essentials. No one wants to be lugging anything more than what is needed; it is hard enough to get ourselves to the top. Even today, going to a mountain is a break from the normal, the cell phone probably won’t work, you are not going to get mail and you are forced to live in the present. It’s not something we do accidentally, we have to put our mind to it. A journey to the top of the mountain with God requires personal sacrifice, patience, and perseverance. Most importantly, it demands a sort of interior hunger to do something more; we can’t just be content. Strictly speaking, it is never necessary to climb a mountain but it is always deeply satisfying.

Mountains, by their nature, thin the crowd. It’s easy to admire one from a distance but to actually go up one, well, that is enjoyed only by the dedicated. Sadly many people will never experience this moment because they are too practical, set in their ways, or feel too“busy” to step out. I am sure the apostles had some of these thoughts rolling around in their minds as they journeyed with Jesus on the narrow, winding path that led to one of Jesus’ favorite outlooks. They were probably wondering if it would be better to stay down below where everyone else was so they could keep teaching, healing, and spreading the Good News. There is a time and a place for these practical thoughts. There is also a time and place to rest with God and let him lead us to his favorite spot for prayer.

When they arrived at the peak of the mountain, how different everything must have looked?! A new view greeted them and their hearts were prepared to see the gift Jesus shared with them. He revealed a hint of his divine glory and the apostles were overwhelmed with awe and holy fear because they were face to face with God. Matthew says a "bright cloud overshadowed them." They were unable to see the surroundings and were at the Lord's mercy. They lost their point of reference and God said out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." We have to give God complete control of our lives. That is what we have to do day in and day out as best we can; this is how we “listen to him.”

At the end of the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John have a new perspective. When the cloud lifts and God’s voice fades away, what remains, who remains is Jesus and him alone. They have been changed by this experience and it will get them through the terrible moments of the Passion and Death of Christ. This glimpse of divine glory will help them look past the pain and doubt they are experiencing. Our journey up the mountain of prayer also gives us a different outlook. We can glimpse a bigger picture, more than we could ever see on the level ground that comes from living for the things of this world. A mountain top experience changes us because we see God’s glory and sense a tiny piece of what he has in store for all those who listen to him.

One final note. The apostles want to stay on the mountain for a long time. Peter offers to build three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. When we experience a spiritual high, we often want the same thing; we don’t want it to end. But we are not meant to stay on the peak forever, at least not in this life. Our mountain top experiences are real, they are holy, but they cannot be permanent until we get to heaven. Until that time, they serve to keep us moving towards God, they keep that spiritual hunger alive so we don’t get complacent, lazy, or self-satisfied. They also encourage us when things get tough and monotonous so we never forget that something much better is waiting for us in the next life. 

So, if you have had a mountain top moment in your life, cherish it and allow God to bring you back to it so you can be inspired. If you haven’t yet or its been a long time, have faith, spend time with the Lord each day so he can invite you to go with him the next time he goes up the mountain. He still reveals his glory to those with open hearts and he never gets tired of encouraging his friends to catch a glimpse of the heavenly transformation we were made to experience. May Jesus count us among his trusted friends, the blessed ones who share that mountain top experience with him!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Golden Rules for Fighting Temptation (1st Sunday of Lent)

To listen to this homily, click here.

The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is always the Temptation of Christ in the Desert. This year, we have St. Matthew's version and while there might be some differences between the gospels, they all agree that Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert. It is from these forty days of fasting that the liturgical season of Lent came about. If you take out the Sundays, which even in Lent are a celebration of the Resurrection, Lent is forty days long and imitates Jesus' time in the desert. 

It could be difficult to know what to make of Christ's temptation since most of us wouldn't think the offers the Devil places before Jesus are very tempting. Jesus, being completely unique, needed to have his own tailor-made set of temptations. The kinds of things which would tempt us wouldn't tempt Jesus and the kinds of things that might be thought to tempt Jesus definitely wouldn't interest us. 

I say ‘the things that might be thought to tempt Jesus' very deliberately because I don't really think that Jesus is susceptible to temptation. When you read the accounts in the Gospels it doesn't sound as though he was interested in anything the Devil was offering. The things Jesus was presented with sound more like challenges or taunts. 

We know, of course, that the Devil was a loser from the very start. How is it even possible that the Son of God could be tempted by any created thing? He had perfect communion with the Creator, settling for anything less would be unthinkable! Maybe the best way of looking at his trial is to regard it as a sort of spiritual work-out that Jesus went through. It was a period of time at the beginning of his public ministry during which he stretched his spiritual muscles before entering three years of healing and teaching. 

In the desert, Jesus engages in a kind of spiritual joust with the Evil One. They are fencing using scripture rather than swords; each one quoting from the Word of God in alternate challenge and counter-challenge. Something very similar happens every day in our soul, whether we realize it or not. It can be a life-saver to reflect on how to deal with temptation as we begin Lent. This is the time of year when we make worthy resolutions which we are quickly tempted to back out of. Lent is always a time during which we struggle with temptation. We might think the temptations we experience are fairly low-grade such as being tempted to eat sweets, drink alcohol or whatever we decided to give up. 

However, the lessons we learn about resisting little temptations are not so different from those we need to deal with much greater temptation such as sexual sin, theft, gossip, or other deadly sins. 

The first golden rule in resisting temptation is to pray. If we think we can overcome temptation and sin by sheer willpower or heroic discipline, we have already fallen into the trap of pride and self-reliance. It’s humbling to me how often my first response to temptation is to call on my own power and strength. Only in God can we be victorious and experience life-changing conversion! One of the very best prayers in time of trial is the Our Father, especially the line which says, ‘lead us not in to temptation.' Say this prayer slowly and really mean it. You will be surprised at the effect it has. 

The second golden rule is to do our best to avoid situations where temptation will be waiting for us. Obviously this won’t always be possible because some circumstances are beyond our control. It is a sign of true humility and self-awareness to know what things tempt us and to respect our weakness enough to stay away from those situations. 

So, if you are trying to give up sweets, don't have them laying around the house. The same goes for more serious things. If you are tempted to visit inappropriate sites on the internet then don't put your computer in the bedroom but in the living room. If you access the internet in an environment where other people are around, you are far less likely to visit sites you shouldn't. When an occasion of sin presents itself the key word is to flee. Along with prayer, this is the best way to deal with temptation from the very beginning. 

The third golden rule of resisting temptation is to make a decision to reject it —— but this is much more difficult. At this stage we are face-to-face with the cause of our temptation and what now begins is a battle of wills. Once we are at this point, the best way to deal with it is to make a decision. It sounds simple but a decision here means something firm and decisive, an absolute decision you might call it. 

Most people have made many decisions during their lives, often in the form of a rule such as ‘I will never tell a lie'. Decisions such as these are good because they keep us safe. The important thing in making a decision is to wait until you are in a calm, prayerful frame of mind and then decide what rule you want to make. And time matters; if you can keep a resolution for a week then you are much more likely to be able to keep it for a month and then a year, and even much longer. 

Never underestimate the power of a decision. ‘I will never tell a lie,’ ‘I will never take something that is not mine,' and ‘I will never speak badly of another person,' these are all examples of rules we make which help keep us on the straight and narrow. 


Remember these three things: praying, fleeing, and deciding. Make these golden rules part of your life and be confident they will help you become spiritually strong and fit during these 40 days of lent.