Saturday, March 29, 2014


March 30, 2014 –– 4th Sunday in Lent
John 9:1–41

The Scriptures use blindness as an analogy of sin. But there is a twist––a paradox: Those who are physically blind know it. On the other hand, those most blinded by sin are those who are most adamant about what they think they “see.”

Being able to see––spiritually––means:
––not being wise in our own eyes
––not merely looking on the outward appearance
––not embracing the views of those around us just because they are popular
––not even “adjusting” Christian Faith to our own perceptions

Seeing means looking first to Jesus.... and humbly accepting that we only know Jesus truly through the witness of the Church.

It is in coming to Jesus and His Church, admitting our own blindness, that we begin to see.

The Greatest Commandment

Friday: 28 March, 2014 –– 3rd Week in Lent
Mark 12:18-34

I think all of us must have heard someone say, "Well, it doesn't matter what your religion is as long as you love people." That kind of sentiment could be called "Dear Abby religion." "Love" is used to justify almost anything––from not going to church to non-boundaried sex. Some people even think Jesus was pitting a sentimentalized love against all organized religion.

What should be our response to God? How do we witness to God's life in us? Well, we need to start with what God has told us. We we cannot find God by ourselves. We cannot see the light unless God opens our eyes. The Scriptures are the record of God revealing himself, and Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of who God is.

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.... the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. As Jesus lived among the people who had been given God's commands there were questions. Perhaps the most important is in today’s Gospel: "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" The answer Jesus gave takes us to the heart of God: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:29-31).

At first, one might think the standard of the Old Testament's commands has been lessened––that as long as we mean well, it’s good enough. That's not what Jesus is saying. An earlier reading this week was Jesus saying: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matt 5:17).

Keeping God's commands is not merely outward behavior. Keeping God's commands is a matter of both pure inward desires and rightly ordered decisions. If we have pure desires above everything else, then we keep the first command––it is the pure in heart [who] see God. Then, if we truly love God, we will keep all the rest of the commands. The problem is that we are not able to love God just by “trying” (even if we try). We are broken people.

When Jesus gave this answer to the greatest command, he was not giving an easy way out. If we think "love" is easy, then we have not truly heard and seen what God has said about love. If we start with our own definition of love, we are putting ourselves first, and that by itself denies God.

Every one of us has something or someone we love most, and we ourselves are usually at the center of it. Jesus showed us what it means to love God most, and it’s a standard we cannot reach by ourselves. John writes in his first letter: ....this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:10,11).

This brings us to the place where love can actually begin to work through us. When we see and truly believe that our sins can be forgiven only by Jesus having died in our place, how can we respond any other way than to love Jesus and completely give him our lives? After all, the only life we have is the one he has made possible by his death. It's not our life any more––it's his. That's what Paul meant when he said  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).

The death and resurrection of Jesus enables him to come live inside us. The Spirit of the same Jesus who died for us comes to live inside of us so that we enter into a relationship with the Father like Jesus had. Having a relationship with the indwelling God is what the Bible calls Eternal Life.

This is when the new commandment, the law of love, begins to be practical for us (i.e., when we can begin to think of "practicing" love). When we love Jesus because he died for us, he lives inside us, and we begin to find out what love is. Then and only then do we, first, love God. Jesus says this the first commandment. When we embrace the cross we begin to know what it cost for him to love us. We begin to understand that his commands are for our good, and not to deprive us. Of course, we do not love perfectly, but his Spirit is always calling us to forgiveness and transformation. Then our love will increase, because God living in us means God loving through us. “Love” is not merely up to us.

It is right to expect our love to begin to be like God's love. We know that God loves people (since he loves us), and so we want to love others the way God does (since it's his love that is in us). This takes care of the second commandment, loving our neighbor.

Jesus amplified this teaching of love in John’s Gospel: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:34,35). When we understand that it's God's love we have been given, and it's God's love that we are to give, this teaching that is so misunderstood by the world does not seem so strange (although because of our human brokenness it's never easy). It is certainly not the kind of "love" that is so popular today as counseled in what I call "Dear Abby love." It’s not a not a mere sentimental love, but a love that exists and acts in all that it means to be holy. 

This call to love God and love our neighbor is actually a call to know Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jesus, the Law, and Us

Wednesday: 26 March, 2014 –– 3rd Week in Lent
Matthew 5:17–19
Jesus, the Law, and Us

The scribes and Pharisees were some of the most outstanding people in the nation. The scribes were the people who spent their time teaching and expounding the law; they were the great authorities on the law of God. The Pharisees were the people who set themselves apart by following a rigid set of rules based on the law of Moses. Jesus contrasted all of that by his interpretations of the Old Testament. Jesus was not a scribe yet his authority was unlike anything used by the scribes. Jesus did not respect the observances of the Pharisees. He healed on the Sabbath. His disciples ate when their hands were ceremonially unclean. Jesus associated with the people that Pharisees avoided and called sinners. So it was said that Jesus did not respect the law of God as given in the Scriptures.

In contrast to that, hear the words of Jesus: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (v17). Some say the Old Testament portrays a jealous and wrathful God, and that the New Testament shows a God of love and mercy. But when we look at these words of Jesus we see that such ideas just are not true. There is a unity in all of Scripture, and the unifying factor is Jesus Christ himself.

One word in v17 helps us see this: fulfill. This does not mean "to add to something." Some people think the Old Testament started a certain teaching and carried it to a point, and then Jesus came and carried it a stage further. That is not what Jesus did. Everything was already there. Jesus made it clear. The meaning of fulfill is "to carry out." Jesus portrays the commandments of God. He illustrates them in real life. Thus he shows what obedience means for his disciples.

And there is good news is this: Jesus did completely fulfill the law of God. All that the Old Testament foretold and shadowed has come true in him. He has kept the law for us so that the law cannot condemn us. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor 5:21). And because that is true, the same Jesus who perfectly fulfilled God's law comes, through his Spirit, to indwell those who believe in him. Just as Jesus obeyed the law, his Spirit in us motivates us and enables us to obey God––and not in some external, quantitative way like the Pharisees, but in a way in which our hearts respond to God and seek his righteousness.

The law is fulfilled in us, too, as we become his kingdom people. The life of Jesus in his kingdom people is the way God’s truth can be seen in the world today. Jesus fulfilled God’s law. As Jesus lives in us, God’s law is expressed even through us––that is why Jesus could say, You are the salt of the earth. . . you are the light of the world.

God’s law is beautiful to the Christian. Because of Jesus, it does not condemns us; it shows us what our Father is like. As we follow Jesus, we become like him, even as Jesus is like the Father. That is how things work in the kingdom of God.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Thirst of the Human Heart

March 23, 2014 –– 3rd Sunday of Lent
John 4:5–42
The Thirst of the Human Heart

Image is a big thing in our world. Advertisers work hard and spend millions to manipulate us into thinking that more and bigger and better and “beautiful” are sure ways to find fulfillment and happiness. Most of us are conscious of what we think others expect of us, and we usually “put our best foot forward” almost automatically.

This matches a brokenness in our hearts that we inherit from Adam. And like Adam and Eve did with God, we try to hide the things in our lives that show weakness or cause shame. We know that weakness and shame do not make us happy, and being “happy” is the one thing we think––and that popular opinion tells us––will give us fulfillment.

The human heart hungers and thirsts for fulfillment. We ache to be “satisfied.” It seems that every voice, both within us and around us, says “indulge yourself.” If you can get the applause of those around you, then the big SELF at the core of your being will find peace.

This is one way to understand the context of the woman who met Jesus at the well. She did not volunteer the whole truth, only a discreet and very partial truth: I do not have a husband.

Jesus brings the truth into the open (and not to belittle or condemn her, but to open the door to the true meaning of love). Again, we live in a world that runs from truth and a world that totally distorts love. “Love” is diminished and then used as tool for self-indulgence. This is destined for disappointment and pain because self-indulgence destroys love. They are mutually exclusive.

The “woman at the well”––as she has come to be known––was evidently using men (or allowing them to use her) in a search for “love.” This is not just an old story. This is happening all around us all the time. Our society has accepted it as normal and blesses it as a path to happiness. I do not know of any “happy” people who are living in a cycle of serial relationships.

At this point it might seem this story is about the misuse of sexuality and the need for chastity and purity. This could, indeed, be a sub-theme, but it is not the point of the Gospel. Regardless of what a person might use to try to find fulfillment or even grab a moment of happiness, this story is an invitation to consider the deep cry of the human heart. Perhaps “in the Church” we already know the answer. One popular quote by St Augustine is from his Confessions: You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you. But even if we “know” this, at least in our heads, it does not by itself take us where we need to go.

The true thirst of the human heart is for love, but not the distortion of emotional titillation or lust with their accompanying self-indulgence that the world calls “love.” Love is an acceptance of who we are in a context of what is truly right, good, and true. So much so that Love and Truth cannot be separated; this is why these two characteristics are ultimately defined within the Godhead.

The first way that Jesus loved this woman at the well was to bring her face to face with the truth about herself. Trying to hide behind an image or seeking love from something that is not true ultimately causes pain. It is when we face this reality that we are in a position to receive love.

When truth and love come together in a person’s life, the result is a deep and true happiness. After the truth-telling encounter with Jesus, the woman joyously went into the town inviting others to meet Jesus by telling them the one thing she had tried to avoid and cover: Come see a man who told me everything I have done. The only way such truth can bring joy is when it is coupled with true love. It is that kind of love that satisfies the thirst of the human heart.

Every one of us feels the pull to hide behind an image. All of us likely have things in our lives that we would not easily share with others. All of us are thirsty for true love.

There is a way to find peace and joy in the core of our lives. We see it in this Gospel story, and it is a paradox. Instead of hiding the things about us that make us weak in the eyes of the world, and instead of trying to indulge ourselves with the things that promise a bit of momentary relief, we are invited by a loving God––who already knows the full truth about us––to be honest with ourselves and invite his love and truth to reach deeply into the crevices of our hearts.

We can do this alone in the silence of personal prayer.

But because it is so easy for us to rationalize and excuse ourselves, our Lord has given us tangible help. We have the Sacrament of Confession. There is healing and relief when we are openly truthful about ourselves and receive the love of our Lord in return.

It is also good to be in spiritual direction with someone who helps us with both truth and love. It can be beneficial to have a spiritual accountability partner with whom we exchange truth and love.

Ultimately, we all desire what this woman at the well so deeply wanted: relief for the thirst of the human heart. Jesus is here to meet anyone who is willing to face their own truth. Jesus is here to give us the love that quenches the thirst of the human heart. We can know what the people discovered that day: We know that this is truly the savior of the world.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


March 16, 2014 –– 2nd Sunday in Lent
Genesis 12:1–4a / 2 Timothy 1:8b–10 / Matthew 17:1–9

Do you ever connect going to church with heaven? One of the things that drew me to the Catholic Church was the way Mass brings heaven to earth in the re-presentation of our Lord’s sacrifice. As we live in this world, we need ways to “see” the  eternal. Today’s Gospel reading tells us of one way Jesus allowed three of his disciples to see this way. The Transfiguration always triggers in my mind the phrase “a brief picture of reality.”

Think of things the world around us calls “reality.” We live in a WYSIWYG world: —What You See Is What You Get. People are obsessed with pleasure, convinced that is the way to happiness. People try almost anything to avoid the big threats in life—poverty and illness and what is assumed to be the finality of death. The focus is on the here-and-now, and people want life to be comfortable and convenient.

Why should we believe––and seek––anything different? Christian Faith says the reason is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But how can a “modern mind” dare believe this is true?  This story of the Transfiguration offers a single picture of the bigger truth.

When Jesus was on earth, what people saw when they looked upon the Incarnate Son of Man was.... a man. Sometimes they saw him do some amazing things, but he was still a man who dressed like them, ate like them, walked the roads and paths like them.... a man who the Scriptures and the Church confess to be fully human.

Yet Christian Faith came to recognize there was more. John wrote about Jesus: we have seen his glory. The writer to the Hebrews says that the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. The glory that covered Adam and Eve at the beginning, the glory that came down on Mt. Sinai and caused Moses’ face to shine, the glory that inhabited the Tabernacle and the Temple, and the glory promised by the Isaiah and Ezekiel came into our world in the person of Jesus Christ.

Still, those looking at Him during those earthly years would have asked (if they had been told this Man was the glory of God): Where? How? In a WYSIWYG world, Jesus seemed—even though he was engaging, puzzling, commanding, divisive and exasperating—just another man.

But one day—one time on one particular day—three of the disciples had their own WYSIWYG world expanded.  Peter, James and John saw His glory as he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. This “brief picture of reality” helped lay a foundation for understanding the coming reality of the crucifixion and resurrection. Peter gave this clear witness and exhortation in his second letter:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

What do you “see” when you come to church? Do we limit our vision to the human side of the liturgy? Do we ever wonder:  If Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, why isn’t there an obvious and overwhelming glory? That is a question sparked by a WYSIWYG mentality. What if Abraham had acted only on what he could see?!

Jesus let three of His disciples see His glory once during those ministry days. It was enough to pave the way for a Faith that would change the world. We can believe today because there is a credible eyewitness record that has been established as an Apostolic Rule of Faith. Peter and John both wrote that they saw.... and they testified that these things are true.... and then they lived —in such a contrasting way to who they previously were—so that people looking at them took notice that they had been with Jesus.

The Transfiguration calls us—warmly and powerfully invites us—to “see” the glory of God in a way that goes beyond the WYSIWYG existence of the world-spirit around us. Paul reminded the Philippians: our citizenship is in heaven. The glories of this world do not last. The best earthly happiness is temporary. At the same time, the threats of this world do not have the last word, not even death. When we follow Jesus we have the promise of resurrection—the glory of the Son which is the inheritance of all who belong to him. But it’s not apart from, first, the cross with the accompanying darkness of not having everything yet fully visible.

As Christians, we live in the hope of glory, knowing that Jesus is the way. As we journey through these days of Lent, let’s not forget the bigger picture. Jesus gave this early glimpse of his glory so that his disciples—and that includes us today––could have a brief picture of reality. We are invited to see again and again when Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist. It’s heaven come to earth.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Sign of Preaching

The following is a greatly abbreviated version of a longer sermon….

Wednesday: March 12, 2014 –– 1st Week of Lent
Luke 11:29-32

How do people hear God speak? One of the ways that God communicates is in the context of something the Bible calls preaching.

Preaching is something that has always suffered probably more than its share of ridicule. People laughed at Noah’s preaching. People were still laughing when, centuries later, Jeremiah was preaching. Paul admitted to the Corinthians that both the message and the medium of preaching was foolish (1Cor. 1:18-21). Yet preaching is something that has been chosen and set apart by God. Paul said that preaching is God's chosen medium of communication and salvation. He wrote, God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.

Solomon was one of the people God spoke through in the past. Jonah was a preacher that God once called to give his Word. Then the Son of God himself came and gave God's Word perfectly and completely. The words of Solomon were sign enough for the Queen of Sheba to believe. Jonah's words were sign enough for the Ninevites to repent. And now that the Son of God himself has come to show us God's Word, we should have more than enough of a sign for our own faith.

But that's not always the result. Sometimes the Living and Written Word is preached and people do not believe. There is no repentance, only a continuing in wickedness. That was the case with the crowd surrounding Jesus. They heard the Word of God from Jesus himself, but it wasn't enough. The Queen heard Solomon, and Solomon was enough. The Ninevites heard Jonah, and Jonah was enough. The crowd heard Jesus, but the preaching of Jesus wasn't enough.

When the preaching of Jesus isn't enough (either the preaching Jesus did or a message that's centered on Jesus), all that's left is judgment. Preaching is something to take seriously. It's God's way of calling us to faith and building us up. It's God's "sign" ––the sign of preaching.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Legacy of Temptation in the First and Second Adam

March 9, 2014 –– 1st Sunday in Lent
Genesis 2:7–9; 3:1–7 / Psalm 51 /Romans 5:12–19 / Matthew 4:1–11
The Legacy of Temptation in the First and Second Adam

How many people in our churches hear or try to read St Paul’s letters and often say Huh? Even Peter, in his second letter, admitted There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures (3:16–and note, too, that this is an early witness to Paul’s letters being recognized as “scripture”).   Yet this is how God chose to disclose his Truth to us! If we believe that God has spoken in the  Scriptures (and that our own souls are important), then it is worth the effort to understand what God says and how he says it.

It is often said that Catholicism is a “seamless garment”––everything interfaces. This is no less true of the Scriptures. The Old Testament often presents a problem or a promise (usually the two are integrally connected). The Gospels tell how Jesus solved the problems and fulfilled the promises. The Epistles give an early commentary, with Apostolic perspective, of the way the Old Testament stories and Gospel narratives can be connected together and applied to our ongoing human situation. 

If you give close attention to the Scriptures today you will see how God’s Word works for our instruction through the varied stories and styles and its many different details. In Genesis we have the story of the original temptation with its horrifying results. Don't you ever wonder how it could have happened? The man and woman were in touch with God.... in a world that had not yet succumbed to evil.... without the inherent weakness that we know so well in ourselves. It seems that everything was in their favor to say "no" to temptation and "yes" to having God rule their lives. But it didn't happen that way; Satan confused our first parents with contradictions and lies and a promise that humans could be “like” God.... and they fell for it.

Ever since then, temptation and evil is no stranger to us humans. We all know what it is to do something we shouldn't do. We even sometimes do things we don't want to do, things that make us feel depressed and ashamed as soon as we do them. Why is it that we can successfully ward off a series of temptations only to succumb in a moment of weakness? We all know temptation and its nasty effects.

The whole story of the human race can be summed up in terms of what happened because of Adam and what has happened (and will yet happen) because of Christ. How did the sin of Adam affect everyone? Paul says that the trespass―the disobedience―of one man (Adam) brought God’s judgment―physical death and spiritual condemnation―to all Mankind. Somehow, all of humanity participated in what Adam did. St Augustine, the great theologian at the turn of the fifth century, said the human race sinned in Adam “in embryo” at the time of his disobedience.  So the Psalmist admits, in guilt I was born, a sinner was I conceived (51:7). Every person born into this world comes with an identity in Adam. It is an identity that brings with it alienation from God (guilt), a tendency to live for one’s self (commit sin), an inevitable curse (death) and a threat of God’s future wrath (eternal punishment).

But.... (this is Paul’s forceful interjection earlier in Romans––3:21) God has chosen to provide another identity: in Christ―another, second and last Adam (1Cor 15:45)―so that all that we  received from the first Adam can be undone and reversed in the second Adam, Jesus Christ. This is what Paul is telling us in Romans 5.

Jesus comes into our world in continuity with all that has preceded in the Old Testament. Jesus comes as a human being––born of a woman (Galatians 4:4). Jesus also comes as someone vastly different than you or me––without human father, because he is the Son of God. Because Jesus was totally human, he developed as humans do. Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was no stranger to temptation. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are––yet without sin. A crucial issue for our understanding of salvation is how Jesus affected humanity just as Adam did. Even as we have been condemned on account of what Adam did, so we can be justified on account of what Christ did.

Again from the Hebrews letter: Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted. I need that help. You need that help. In the story of his temptation, we see Jesus identifying with us by undergoing the same temptations that made the first Adam cave in. John describes the temptations like this: the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1Jn 2:16). These are temptations we still face every day.

There’s the temptation to give in to physical desire. In Jesus’ case it was hunger. Jesus was in the desert, on a fast without food. When he was at his weakest, the temptation impulsively came to satisfy his hunger. We all have those temptations. We feel the basic desires stir within our bodies, and they demand immediate attention. It can be hunger, thirst, sex, or anything else that comes out of what we can call our animal instincts. Because they are so much a part of what we are as creatures, we find it easy to rationalize them. But Jesus knew there is a time even to say "no" to our most common desires.... and he did it.

There’s the temptation to lose perspective. We tend to think this world as-it-is is the “real” one because it's the one we see and feel. Satan showed Jesus an amazing display of the splendor this world has. And this world does have splendor––it's still part of God's creation even though it is “broken.” Satan wasn't offering something he couldn't give.... for a while.

A third temptation is the most insidious. Satan urged Jesus to show himself in ways that go beyond God's nature and intention. It’s the error of sensationalism––if we aren’t going to outright disobey, then there’s the trap of being ostentatious and smug and even judgmental (“I’m really something––compared to you!”).... and thinking this is a sign of spiritual faithfulness.

Here’s the main point: We do not have a choice not to be born in solidarity with Adam. Yet, we do have a choice to live in solidarity with Jesus Christ. The good news is that we do not have to keep our identity in Adam. God has done something through his Son so that we can embrace an identity “in Christ” and live a life of following Jesus.

When God first created Man, he made him needing to say “yes”―needing to accept freely the Life that only God can give. God wanted Adam’s “yes,” but instead he received Adam’s “no.” In his love and mercy and grace, God offers a second chance through a second Adam in order to  establish a second creation. On God’s side of things, forgiveness of sins is done; on our side, we must “appropriate” it. It’s like a free meal: the meal is already paid for, but unless a person goes and eats, the benefit is lost.

When we say “yes” to God’s life in us we must say “no” to sin. We do not have to settle for ordinary lives that we inherit from Adam. Anyone can live for the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. That is human life in DEFAULT mode. On the other hand, we can be people in whom Jesus Christ himself lives and acts. That is what it means to be “in Christ’ ––a Christian. That is why these Scriptures are given to us this first Sunday of Lent. There is a contrasting legacy of temptation from the First Adam and the Second Adam. Which identity are you choosing?

Site Meter