Monday, April 28, 2014

Mercy: the Medium that is the Message

This morning I went town to Rockport to give a workshop at the youth convention about technology and social media.

So this past week, as I’ve been preparing this weekend’s homily, I was also preparing the talk I would give.   One of the people who I referenced in my talk was the Canadian professor Marshal McCluhan, who some of you may remember.  Many do not realize that McCluhan was a Catholic convert, or as he said “A Catholic of the worst kind.”  But his field of research was modern social media and communication.  He coined the famous phrase “The Medium is the Message.”  In other words, he said, it is not just the content, but the way that the content is experienced, that is the message.

So this idea was floating around my mind as I was reflecting on the readings for this weekend, for Divine Mercy Sunday.

This is a remarkable weekend for our Church, an historic weekend, as we watch two current popes at the canonization of two popes of recent, modern memory.  And on Divine Mercy Sunday.

This is not accidental.  The timing of these canonizations, and the saints who are canonized come together to teach us something very important as we seek to follow Christ in the modern world: that mercy is the medium of the message of God’s love.  Mercy is the way that our modern world is able to hear the Gospel.

What do we mean by mercy, by divine mercy?  I think sometimes we can have this idea that it is God’s pity for us.  We think of the forlorn looking statues…  Mercy is paired in our minds with guilt, as if we cannot celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday without feeling guilty.  And we might even wonder why St. John Paul II decided to place this Sunday not only within the season of Easter, but on the 1st Sunday afterward.

But if we think of Divine Mercy as the medium, as the way that God’s love is lived and experienced, I think what becomes clear is that this Sunday is actually a deep reflection on the Easter mystery, on the mystery of Christ, risen from the dead.  Last weekend as we came to the empty tomb we learned that in Christ love is stronger than death.  This weekend we find out how much stronger.

And this is because what characterizes mercy, what defines mercy is love in a certain contrast.  Mercy is love in the face of sin, love in the face of falsity, love in the face of ugliness.  Mercy is light in the midst of darkness.  Divine mercy is the reality of God’s immeasurable love powerfully at work, not in the perfect places in our world, but at the furthest reaches and darkest corners.

Divine Mercy reveals the breadth of God’s love: how far his love will go - that it will go all the way to the gates of hell, that God’s love will leave the 99 in search of the 1, that there is no place in the universe that is isolated from the love of God.  Divine Mercy shows us that Gods love is universal in space.

And Divine Mercy shows the faithfulness of God’s love – that God’s love never fails, that it never ends, that it is without limit.  The love of Christ is always ready to forgive, to extend backward and forward in time to bring healing.  No time is isolated or deprived of God’s love.  Divine Mercy shows us that God’s love is universal in time.

As we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, then, we are really celebrating the universality of God’s saving love in time and space – that through the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, all time and all space is permeated with love of God.

And so it is very fitting that we canonize these two popes on Divine Mercy Sunday.  They were men who emphasized the wideness, the breadth, the faithfulness of God’s love.

I’m not sure how much you have heard the media coverage of the canonizations, but I have found some of it to be very frustrating – just continually politicized.  “Pope Francis chose to canonize Pope John XXIII to please the liberals, and to canonize Pope John Paul II to please the conservatives,” I heard recently.  I’m not sure where to even begin in responding to that… it’s just such an impoverished and distorted understanding of what is happening.

No – Pope Francis chose to canonize these two great men together because, he said, that he wanted to show that they worked in harmony, teaching and guiding us along the same path.  In a sense we might think of St. John XXIII as the pope who taught us of the faithfulness of God’s love, of his mercy in time – that he has not abandoned the Church in the modern world, but that he still walks with us and guides us.  And Saint John Paul II taught us the breadth of God’s love – as he traveled all over our world he spread the message that God’s love reaches out to all people and extends to every corner of the world.  In a sense we could say that St. John XXIII opened the doors of the Church, and Saint John Paul II walked through them.  Both of them worked to bring the Church more deeply into an encounter with the modern world so that we could be the medium of mercy, the tangible presence of God’s love among all people today.

In our second reading today, St. Peter, the first pope since he was the first bishop of Rome, proclaimed this same message of God’s mercy:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
And he also taught us about the universality, the breadth of God’s mercy and love, saying that in Christ we have received “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”

This weekend let us pray for the intercession of our two newest pope saints along with St. Peter - to help all of us to proclaim the same message, to be signs to our world that the Easter victory of God’s love over sin and death was not limited to the tomb on Easter morning, not limited to certain holy men and women, and certainly not limited to those who worship within these walls.  We show that by being the presence of God’s love in the darkness, in the furthest corners of life – by showing that God’s love extends to  the places where people think God is absent.  There may we be the medium that is the message, the light in the darkness, the vessels of Christ’s merciful love in our world.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Christ Our Beloved Friend Is Risen!

Homily for Easter Sunday, 2014

There is this you tube video – I believe it’s called Jeff Gordon test drive - you may have seen it.

Jeff Gordon is a world famous race car driver.  So they set up this prank – he goes in disguise to a car dealer and asks to test drive the chevy camaro. The salesman gets into the passenger side with him, and – well, let’s just say that Jeff Gordon puts that car through its paces.  Over the course of their hair raising test drive, his passenger has what we might call a “come to Jesus” experience - he is calling out to God, he is praying, begging God to get him out of that car.  When Jeff Gordon finally skids to a stop back at the dealership, the salesman jumps out, ready to call the police.  Jeff and the camera crew stop him, they show him the cameras, and Jeff pulls off the disguise.  “It’s me, Jeff Gordon – you’re on camera.”  The salesman stares for a minute, still breathing hard – then asks “Want to do it again?”

Now that he knew who was behind the wheel, everything was different.

Another story, this one not on you tube, I made it up:

A new neighbor moves in next door – he immediately comes over and introduces himself to the family and over the next few years he becomes great friends with all of you.  He is incredibly smart and generous.  He tells wonderful stories, he mows the lawn and takes care of the pets while you are away.  He is out there shoveling the snow before you wake up so that you never get a chance to start up the snowblower.  Just an incredible guy.  You see each other just about every day – he is at all the family functions, he shares your holidays with you, you go on vacations together – you couldn’t ask for a better friend.

Then one day you see all these black SUVs pull up, haul the guy out of the house and take him away.  What is going on? You are all in shock.

Three days later you get a call.  It is your friend – he is calling you from Saudi Arabia.  He is fine – actually, he is the new Saudi king.  He was hiding out in your neighborhood, concealing his identity while he was completing his doctoral studies.  He wants to know your bank account number so he can transfer a gift your way.

When we teach others or talk about Jesus, often we start with the idea that Jesus is God, and then we talk about how he became a man.  And certainly, as far as time and space are concerned, we know that Jesus was God before he became man – that Jesus has always been God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

But that was not the experience that the disciples had, was it?  For them, Jesus was first a man.  For most of them, he was a man who just walked up one day while they were working at their boats.  Certainly, he was a remarkable man – so remarkable that they left everything and followed him.  They traveled with him and listened to his teaching, they saw him heal thousands of people and feed thousands more from just a few loaves and fish.  And over the course of their years with him they became his friends.  He saw them at their best and their worst – when they were arguing and grumbling, and when they were praising God for his goodness.  It was an incredibly intense three years of ministry that they spent together with him – and they grew to love him as a brother, as a father – and they knew that he loved them dearly.

They had an inkling, they had a notion that he was chosen by God, that he was the promised Messiah – but they were not sure what that meant.

And certainly nothing prepared them for Easter morning.  On Easter morning, they were confronted with a most incredible fact: their friend, the man that they had been travelling with, the man who had been so good and generous to them and who they loved, was alive.  And not just alive - he was glorified.  He was unlike anyone they had ever seen – he was the person of God himself.

Their friend, their teacher, was the God of heaven and earth.  Can you imagine trying to comprehend such an incredible discovery?  You can understand why they were so stunned - why it took them a long time, and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, to wrap their heads around what was happening.

Because it wasn’t just Jesus whose life radically changed in the resurrection, was it?  Since Jesus was their close friend, since Christ loved them so dearly – the fact that he was the Almighty Ever-living God in the flesh meant a radical change for each of his disciples.  They were now friends of God!  They had been for a while, but they had not realized what that really meant until they saw that empty tomb.  Until the disguise came off, they had not realized who was behind the wheel.

Now what are we to make of this on Easter morning?
Brothers and sisters – too often, I think, we begin with God in the highest, and then try to become his friend by being good.  We start with God who is all powerful and the creator of all things, and we try to cozy up to him.  That is not what happened to the disciples, that was not their experience, and that is actually not what has happened to us.

No – Christ has never been a distant and remote God for us either.  He called each of us by name in Baptism, just as he called his first disciples.  He has ministered to us as his friends: he has fed us at this altar, he has forgiven our sins in confession, he has healed us when we have been anointed, and he has sent us out two by two, just as he did those first disciples, to spread the good news of the kingdom.   And we have heard his voice – the same teaching that he gave his first disciples.  He has given us the same promises, and he has shared with us the same mysteries of the kingdom, and he has told each of us, as he told them, of his great care for us, that he knows every hair on our heads, that he loves us and will never abandon us, that we are not his slaves, but his friends.

And so today, as we come to the empty tomb, we realize that  Jesus - who has called us, who has nourished us, who has healed and forgiven us, and who has taught us of his great love for us – that this dear friend of ours is the living God.  The bread that we break with him is the bread from heaven!  The teachings that he gives us are from the mouth of God!  The forgiveness we receive when we confess our sins to him is the mercy of God!

You and I will only understand the full impact of the empty tomb, when we understand that the person behind the wheel is not a distant savior, but is Jesus Christ our dear and beloved friend.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Do Not Be Distracted by the Blood

Homily for Good Friday, 2014

Today, as we contemplate the passion and death of Christ, we must face a truly horrifying scene. Recent movies have dragged our imaginations down the streets of Jerusalem, following in Christ’s bloody footsteps, shuddering at the pain he endured, wanting to turn away as we watched him tormented by his executioners.  Who could do this to someone, we might ask?  How can people be so brutal?  And I think we can, subconsciously place ourselves as spectators in the scene – onlookers.  We haven’t crucified Christ, we have not beaten him, we have not spit on him or mocked him, or nailed his hands and feet to a tree.

And it is true.  We haven’t.  We are his disciples – we are like those who followed him throughout his ministry and were instructed by him and fed by him in the upper room - and that is why today is especially painful for us.

Christ surely knew the Roman soldiers for what they were – thugs and brutes.  He knew that to them he meant nothing – that he was just one more crucifixion in a vicious world.  The pain that they inflicted upon him was ruthless, to be sure – but he knew that they were doing what they were trained to do – to be brutal.

It was when he looked out at the crowd, as he looked up and searched their faces, that the most cruel and agonizing pain enveloped him.   The 72 disciples with whom he had labored for months and years – teaching them the mysteries of the kingdom, multiplying loaves and fish to feed them were not to be found in that crowd - they were gone.  He was scorned like a leper by the lepers he had cured.  Cast aside by those from whom he had cast demons.  Overlooked by those to whom he had restored sight.

And the twelve…  The twelve who he had called by name, who had followed him all over the countryside, who had shared in his joys and sorrows, who had seen him walk on water, transfigured before them, who had watched him raise Lazarus, to whom he had revealed the mysteries of the kingdom, promising that he would never abandon them, that he would give them eternal life – and who he had warned on multiple occasions of precisely this dark day, who had sworn that they would not abandon him, that they would remain faithful.  Where were they?

The only faces before him he recognized were those of his mother, of the women who could be there without danger, and of the youngest of his twelve, John, who was still such a child, a bit of a mamma’s boy.  The rest had deserted him.

As we look upon this cross, brothers and sisters, do not be distracted by the blood.  The most excruciating agony of the cross was not the violence inflicted by strangers, but the betrayal and denial inflicted by friends.

And of that we are most assuredly complicit.  For as Christ looked out upon our world from his cross, his gaze was not limited to the crowd that gathered on Golgatha.  His gaze penetrated the depths of time and space – even to now, even to here in Winthrop.  He looks out upon the vast crowd of his friends, the friends that he nourishes through the sacraments, that he teaches through the scriptures, that he guides through his Spirit present in the Church.  And he searches for the faces of those he loves, who he is dying to save, for our faces in the crowd.

Sometimes he finds them to be sure, but today we acknowledge how often he has not, how often we have turned away through our sins, as if we have not known him, do not know him.

Yes, it is true, that when we speak ill of others, when we are stingy, when we neglect prayer, when we objectify others, when we give vent to anger and desire revenge, when we spurn those who ask forgiveness, when we manipulate or deceive others, when we lie or steal, when we obsess over the things of this world – these actions require that we turn away from the gaze of Christ on the cross, that we act as though we were not his friends, as if we were not his followers, as if he were dead to us.

Our Lord speaks the words of Psalm 55 to us today:
If this had been done by an enemy I could bear his taunts.
If a rival had risen against me, I could hide from him.
But it is you, my own companion, my intimate friend!
How close was the friendship between us. 
We walked together in harmony in the house of God.

This, brothers and sisters, is how you and I crucify our Lord.  We crucify him not with whips and scourges, with nails and spears.  Through our sins we crucify Christ with the weapons only a beloved friend possesses: denial, betrayal, and rejection.
And these weapons make nails and spears seem mere toys in the hands of children.

Oh wonder of your love for us, Lord.  That even as we crucify you, even as we reject you, your pour out your life for us.  Tonight we praise your infinite love and mercy!

Friday, April 18, 2014


Homily for Holy Thursday, 2014

Who is going to have their feet washed this year?  It seems to be one of the penances for someone in the parish each lent: trying to find people who will have their feet washed – especially men.  For some reason, men just don’t line up every year to have their feet washed.

And, as we hear in the Gospel today, there is a long tradition of this – going all the way back to St. Peter himself.  “You will never wash my feet,” he says, as he sees the washbowl coming his way.

Why not?  What is it about guys not wanting to get their feet washed?  I would say that for many, feet are kind of a private thing.  I mean, who knows the last time you clipped your toenails, right?  I bet most of the people who are having their feet washed this evening have already washed them, scrubbed them, today - maybe even a full pedicure.  Talking to my sister last night she said if I was washing her feet she would have written on her toe nails “Hi Fr!”  That’s why she is banned from coming into this parish.

But we have to face a certain amount of social inhibition during this rite, don’t we?  Especially we mainers.  Is that what was going on with St. Peter?  Did he have ugly feet?  Maybe a big wart on his toe?  Probably not, and certainly that is not the lesson of our Gospel today.  One thing is certain, Christ is not trying to teach us to let go of social inhibitions.  Christ is teaching us something more profound.  He is teaching us that we who have been invited to sit at his table, to share in his inheritance, must allow him to wash away a different kind of inhibition, a spiritual inhibition.

Something inside us protests with Peter at the idea of God washing our feet: “Master, are you going to wash my feet?”  “This part of me that is caked with the dust of the road and the refuse of a thousand animals?”  Why does Jesus need to wash them?  It just doesn't seem right, seem appropriate.  God should anoint our heads, a slave should wash our feet, right?  They are way down there for a reason – they are dirty, they are smelly!  They are functional – they get us where we need to go, that’s about it.  Why can’t they just be left to themselves under the table while we share a meal together?  Would it not be more appropriate for us to at least wash our own feet?

“Unless I wash you,” Christ says “you will have no inheritance with me.”  That is not a suggestion, it is a fact.

Remember after Adam and Eve sinned.  What was one of the first things that happened to them in the garden?  They became spiritually inhibited.  They hid from God, they covered themselves.  They were no longer comfortable in his presence. They no longer were comfortable with him ministering to them, they felt unworthy of his love and care for them.

Christ has come to heal this division, to wipe away this reticence, this inhibition in his presence.  We are no longer strangers, he says, but friends. When we come to receive his most holy Body and Blood in the Eucharist, he invites us to enter the Holy of Holies, the Heavenly Jerusalem.  Here, his love is poured out for us, his friends, at the intimate setting of his own table.  He calls us in this Eucharist to share in his own inheritance, to be members of his family.

And this should be humbling.  It should be overwhelming, that God would wash our feet, would care about our daily lives, the road we travel, the places we walk.  That he would want us to be refreshed – not just in some esoteric way – some heady theological way – but from our heads to our toes.  That he would come down from heaven and take the form of a slave so that we can walk with him in newness of life.

In a homily on Holy Thursday, Pope Benedict spoke about Jesus washing our feet.  And I would like to close with his words:

“God is not a remote God, too distant or too great to be bothered with our trifles. Since God is great, he can also be concerned with small things.

God's holiness is not merely an incandescent power before which we are obliged to withdraw, terrified. It is a power of love and therefore a purifying and healing power.

God descends and becomes a slave, he washes our feet so that we may come to his table. In this, the entire mystery of Jesus Christ is expressed. In this, what redemption means becomes visible.
The basin in which he washes us is his love, ready to face death. Only love has that purifying power which washes the grime from us and elevates us to God's heights.

The basin that purifies us is God himself, who gives himself to us without reserve - to the very depths of his suffering and his death.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

So Much for Milk and Honey!

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, 2014

In our Gospel today, we do not hear about the resurrection of Lazarus: we hear of the raising of Lazarus – his resuscitation.  In other words: Lazarus was only revived by Jesus – revived in order to finish out his earthly life and finally meet death like all of us.  He was given new life: but not the new life of heaven, the new and eternal life we await – no, Lazarus was given new life in this world; he was brought back to life as a mortal man, as the same old Lazarus who still would have to deal with all the trials and challenges of life in this world.

It probably did not take him long, as he stumbled out of that tomb and took in a big breath of the stench around him, to figure out that he was not in heaven.  Maybe that’s why we don’t hear anything about what he says after Jesus raises him.  I can just imagine him being kind of upset: “What the…?”  "So much for milk and honey!"  He must have been relieved to find out that he was just resuscitated!  And maybe after they got those wrappings off him and gave him a bath he was even grateful to have a few more years to be in this world before the Lord would finally take him home and give him the eternal life for which he truly longed.

Now we have no idea what resurrection will be like: maybe a few glimpses here and there.  But in Lazarus, we can gain insight into how Jesus resuscitates his people in this life: about what it is like to be resuscitated.  And this insight is critical for us, because unlike the resurrection, which happens once at the end of life and is shrouded in mystery: Jesus wishes to resuscitate us continually in this life in a myriad of different ways: to give us new life, to remove the chains of sin and death from us in this world as we continue our earthly journey.  And the season of Lent is especially a time when we ask for and think about this process, this experience of resuscitation, of renewal, of conversion.

So what can we learn from Lazarus’ experience of resuscitation that will help us to be open to the new life Jesus wants to give us?

To be patient.  Jesus waited – he did not go right away when he heard of Lazarus’ illness, but waited two days.  And notice that no one could really understand why Jesus did not intervene earlier.  “If you had been here,” Martha tells him, “my brother would not have died.”

How many of us are tormented in the same way that Martha was – and we ask the Lord “Why haven’t you intervened?”  With my children who are struggling, with the illness that my spouse is battling, with the sins that I cannot break free of?

We all, at one point or another ask why God hasn’t resuscitated us or those we love yet.  And so listen to Jesus today: When giving new life in this world only God can understand how and why and when.  The new life Jesus breathes into this world when he resuscitates us comes from beyond this world and doesn’t conform to the logic of this world, it is beyond our control: mysterious.

And so most of the time we must simply trust, as Martha did: that if we seek what is good and true and beautiful, God will accomplish what is good for us.  But as for how and when: that is up to him.

A second lesson to be learned, is that Jesus empathizes with our suffering.  He did not stand by like some passive observer as his dear friends mourned for Lazarus.  He joined in their tears, he felt their pain.  As much as we may feel alone in our sin or in suffering because of the evil in this world, Jesus is never far.  He does not withdraw from sharing in our guilt, our shame, our suffering.  He embraces us where we are, and he suffers with us, he sheds tears with us.

How important it is for us to remember that when we confess our sins, Jesus not only stands before us as our Lord, but he also stands beside us as our advocate and friend and brother.

A third insight we learn from Lazarus is that Jesus’ compassion for us causes him to act, to resuscitate us, even now.  This is the sign of Lazarus, that even now, before the resurrection, we can share partially in the redemption that is to come.

Jesus Christ does not wait until death to give us life: we live in a world permeated by his Holy Spirit, who works within the limitations of time and space to bring heaven to earth in a thousand different ways.

So we should not be content with mediocrity, with settling, trusting that things will get worked out at the end of life – sitting back and waiting for the final judgment with dread or foolish confidence.  No, Jesus wants to intervene now in our lives, just as he intervened with Lazarus.  He does not want us to wait for his life until the Resurrection, but even now he gives us a taste of that new life and freedom of heaven.   What are the sacraments, if not one of the principle ways that Jesus gives us the life of heaven even while we still live in this world?  We Christians have been given the bread from heaven, and we should settle for nothing less, not even in this world.

A final lesson of our gospel?  To recognize, as Lazarus surely did, that there is a great difference between resuscitation and resurrection.  We must remember that we live in a world where the stench of death still remains, the wrappings of sin still remain.

As much as we should settle for nothing less than a share of heaven, we must also recognize the limitations on earth.  Even after he was resuscitated, Lazarus came out of that tomb wrapped in smelly rags, blind, and unable to do much.

Lazarus shows us that resuscitation - that conversion - does not mean the end of suffering and pain, like resurrection.  In fact, sometimes it can mean that we suffer more for a time, as we begin the hard work of removing the bonds of sin that have been killing us. And so, like Lazarus, we need the help of the Church, of the sacraments and of one another to heal from the effects of our sin after Jesus has resuscitated us.  And sometimes that can be a long process.

Today let us ask for the intercession of Lazarus and pray with him:
Lord, please save us from the death of sin, not only for ourselves, but for the good of our families, our community, our parish.  During this season of Lent come to us as you came to Lazarus.  Reach out to us where sin and evil have kept us bound and in the darkness.  May the beauty of your eternal life shine through thousands of little resuscitations in our parish this lent, bringing glory to our Heavenly Father.

"Give Me A Drink"

Homily from the 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A  2014

Normally in the sales world, you begin by telling someone what they will get, then you tell them the price.  When I was in Europe, there were merchants who would do this sometimes – they would come up, especially to kids, and give them a toy or something, and then they would ask them to pay for it after they had it. Sometimes you had to leave the item on the ground.
They would not take it back.  That’s what you call a hard sell.

But Jesus is not a salesman.  And he is not selling a product, that is clear in the Gospel today.  What is the first thing he says to this woman who he does not know at the well?  “Give me a drink.”  No please, no explanation like “I normally would not talk with you but my disciples are away and I am really thirsty.”  Just “Give me a drink.”

I was tempted to preach about all kinds of things this weekend – the dynamics that are at play, the way this beautiful drama unfolds in the Gospel this weekend.  But I decided to stop right here – with the first sentence.  “Give me a drink.”

It is a short request that we will hear from Christ again in just a few weeks, isn’t it?  “I thirst.”
When I offered Mass for the Missionaries of Charity at their little soup kitchen tucked into the Vatican wall, on the wall of their little chapel they had those words “I thirst.”  Later, I went to Kolkata and realized that Mother Teresa insisted that those words be on the wall of every one of her sister’s chapels.

As we know, the word of God is not ineffective.  It is through God’s word that all creation exists.  God spoke his word and all things came into being.  He commanded and all things were made.

But we are not like the rest of creation.  God does not command our obedience, he does not require our service.  He makes a request, he asks – and he is willing to enter into the difficult and messy circumstances of our lives to make his request.  He risks the scandal of being seen alone with a woman at a well.  He risks the greater scandal of being seen crucifies between two criminals. He goes where he must go in order for us to hear him, to hear his request “Give me a drink.”

Now, it may not be a command, but it is not a suggestion either.  The request is clear.  It is jarring.  Christ asks us to cast aside the social conventions of our time.  To go out on a limb.  To be inconvenienced.  To act in a way that will draw the disapproval of others.  To be seen with a stranger, with a foreigner. To be associated with a religious radical, a “churchy” person.

“Give me a drink.”

She resisted.  It was against the conventions.  She would be judged.  “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”  How could he ask this of her?  She had so many things on her plate, so many challenges.

But he responds “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Christ teaches the Samaritan woman, and wants to teach each of us – that his request is actually a gift.  When we listen to him, when we serve him, when we give him what he thirsts for, then he quenches our thirst – a deep thirst that many times we did not even realize we had, that we had tried to ignore or to wish away.  A thirst for fullness of life with him, for living water.

But we must lower the bucket first.  We must listen to his words and respond, willing to risk the conventions of our time and to be inconvenienced.

How many times a day do you hear it?  Those simple words.  “Give me a drink.”  Do you stop?  Do you pray?  Do you give?  Do you forgive?  Do you listen?

“Jesus is God,” Mother Teresa said.  “Therefore His love, His Thirst, is infinite. He the creator of the universe, asked for the love of His creatures.  He thirsts for our love… These words:
‘I Thirst’ – Do they echo in our souls?”

Climbing Mount Tabor

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A  2014

Jesus and his disciples journeyed for many days on their way to Jerusalem.  It was a religious pilgrimage that they were making, with thousands of other Jews who gathered in the temple area for the celebration of the Passover.

It is not easy to be a pilgrim.  Traveling far from home, trying to find the things you need, relying on the generosity of others.  We know of some instances when Jesus and his disciples were not welcomed in certain towns.  And because word traveled fast about him, Christ had the added challenge of navigating the mobs of people who followed him hoping for a sign or a healing.

Then, as we hear in the Gospel today, Jesus decides to go up to the top of a high mountain to pray.  Not just any old mountain, but a high mountain.  I know from experience that when you have been travelling on foot for miles, the last thing in the world that you want to do is go up a steep mountain like mount Tabor.  I can just imagine the comments:  “Why do we have to go up that mountain to pray?  What - is God not down here?  All this preoccupation with externals and symbolism.  We are wasting precious daylight!  There are people waiting for us, people following us.  We need to get to our evening destination and figure out what we are going to have for dinner and where to stay.”

So I don’t imagine that the other nine were particularly upset to not have been chosen by our Lord to go on that hike up the mountain. Peter, James, and John might have wondered why he wanted them to come, since he had gone off alone to pray on so many other occasions.  What was different about this time.  But the followed as he led them away from the dust and the chaos of the road and up the steep pathway that led to the summit of the mountain.

As they reach the top, Christ was transfigured.  Quickly, Peter realizes that something incredible is happening.

“Lord, it is good that we are here.” He says.  Suddenly the hike was worth it.

Life is a pilgrimage.  Christ walks with us and teaches us and heals us along the road.  We encounter him many times in the dust and chaos of the road – busy work and prayer schedules, the constant interactions and errands and appointments.  And it may seem like this is enough – it may seem that this is what we are called to – that this life of the road demands our attention and that we do not have room for anything else.

And to an extent that is true.  To know and serve Christ in this ordinary, daily way along the road is the bulk of our Christian life.  But there is a hazard if we never leave the road.  We can begin to obsess on the daily grind, the experience of the pilgrimage, of traveling, of our needs and of the social dynamics around us, and we can lose sight of what we are doing, where we are going, who we are traveling with.  Our lives can begin to become superficial – looking for our next meal, the next thing at work.  Soon, like the disciples, we find ourselves arguing about who is the greatest.  Or, like Peter, we begin to question why Jesus should allow suffering and death to be a part of life.  Our vision becomes worldly – we become secularized.  And we start to lose our way, to forget where we are going and why we are traveling along this road in the first place.

I think this happens to us more easily than we would like to admit.  We are fickle.  We get caught up with the road.  Something bad happens, and then the whole world is against us.  Something good happens and God loves us.  Our moods change and we can easily find ourselves muddling along just putting one foot in front of the next.

Christ knows that we have this tendency – to be distracted, to be superficial, to be moody.  That is why, especially at decisive moments in life, he asks us to follow him up mount Tabor, to leave behind the preoccupations of daily life and to climb the mountain, to be with him in prayer.

Some of the ancient churches used to have long, steep stairs that climbed up to the front door, making it clear that when we came here, into this holy place we were leaving the superficiality of daily life behind and ascending to a place of encounter with God.  The Church architecture wanted to teach us that when we come here we follow the command of our Heavenly Father, who says to us “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

As Peter came to the crest of that mountain he realized why Christ had invited him: so that he could be grounded in the truth, in the transcendent.  And we need that too: to be reminded of why we are on this pilgrimage in the first place.  We need the perspective of prayer.

I will close with a quote from C.S. Lewis:

“Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church-going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?”

If we never climb the mountain, if we stay on the roadway of life, we risk getting lost or distracted or confused… It is easy to drift away.  Lent is meant to be a time of intensified prayer, a time when we allow ourselves to be led up the mountain – to remember who Christ is, to remember who we are, and why we are here.  Christ wants to reveal himself to us, to teach us about who he is and about the incredible plans he has in store for us.  We are challenged in this time of Lent not to settle for a superficial faith, not to settle for the dusty road.  To follow Christ up the steep path to Mount Tabor, trusting that when we reach the top, we too will say with St. Peter, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”