Sunday, March 26, 2017

4th Sunday of Lent - Blindness

Which sense would you be least willing to lose if you had to lose one of your five senses? For most people, sight is the sense they would pick to keep most out of the five. While we don’t want to lose any of them, sight seems to hold sway because it is the most useful for everything we do. Without sight, we cannot experience beauty, we would never know the faces of those we love, we would lose a tremendous amount of knowledge. Could you imagine not knowing colors?
Yet we not only possess physical sight via our eyes but rational sight from our minds. Unlike the rest of the animal world, we are able to possess knowledge and wisdom, to grow in our experiences and shape the reality as we have made it up to this time. But, just as our physical eyes can suffer from glaucomas, our rational sight, our inner eye, can become darkened. We can lose that pristine vision we once had of right and wrong, good and evil, holy and wicked and begin to see the world in bland greys. What causes this inner eye to lose the light? It is sin that darkens this eye, and only one can cure us.
In our Gospel, we hear that a man who was blind from birth receives his vision by the healing power of Jesus. This man can represent each one of us, for we too were born blind, not due to a physical defect, but to the defect of original sin upon our souls. And just as Jesus lifts the blindness from the blind man’s eyes, so too does He lift our original blindness from our souls in baptism. But we can lose that original vision over time, and we can even become blind once more, only we are trapped in a worse blindness because we had seen the Light of the world and beheld His glory, yet rejected it for something else.
We all have something that blinds us to the total truth which Jesus teaches us. For some, it is a favorite sin. For others, it is arrogance. Some are blind because of ignorance while others are blind from apathy. Whatever it is that stands in the way of clear vision, it is something that can be removed. But do we want it removed? We may be like the child who sits too close to the TV and doesn’t want to lose that spot, even though we may gain better vision because of it. We may be like the Pharisees in the Gospel, who do not believe that they are blind, which is the worst kind of blindness.
Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light proceeding from light, as we profess each Sunday in the Creed. He does not want us to remain in darkness, the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of pride, the darkness of sin. He wants us to see clearly, to be the children of light, as Saint Paul wants also, as we hear in the second reading. But to remain in the light means that we must be freed of sin, for the light only “produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth”. It means that we must cast off that which blinds us or keeps us in the darkness, and walk in the light. We cannot have it both ways, pretending to be children of light while assisting at Mass but living as if we belong to this world, the world of darkness, remaining secret and hidden rather than visible to all.
Brethren, let us be the children of light! Let us not remain in our sins or in our pride or whatever makes us blind. Let us be healed by Jesus the divine Physician so as to see clearly the Son of Man leading us to God. Let our hearts not find their rest in the filth and darkness of sin, but in the glory and light of God. Let us see the dawn of Easter rising on this day, the midway point of Lent. If we have done little to amend our life, let us not delay! The sun of the Resurrection rises in the east. Do we look for it eagerly, or do we cower in our blindness? Do we wish to remain in the darkness, or shall we be healed of our blindness, so that we may see the light in this world, and rejoice in that same light in the world to come?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent - Living Water

What is the most essential element we need in order to live? Water. Without water, there is no life. NASA has a motto in their search for life beyond our planet: “Follow the water.” Wherever there is water, there is life. Humans can survive better without food than we can without water. It comprises most of the material in our body and is essential to almost every activity we do in order to live. Without water, there is no life. Jesus in our Gospel today offers the Samaritan woman not just any ordinary water, but “living water”, as He tells her. What is this living water? How do we get it? And can we lose it?
The living water which Jesus offers is our union with God in the Holy Spirit, who is poured out for us in the sacraments. We should automatically think of baptism whenever we hear about water in the Scriptures, for just as water gives us earthly life, baptism gives us heavenly life, opening for us the gates of heaven to be joined with God. We listen to this Gospel on this Sunday of Lent in order to help our catechumens prepare to receive baptism, hence the beginning of the scrutinies on this Sunday. We should recall our own baptism which gave us this living water to drink. But this is not the only sacrament in which we receive this living water, in which we receive the Holy Spirit.
Brethren, it is possible to lose this living water, to allow the well to dry up and become spiritually parched. And just as we have no physical life if we lose water, so too do we have no spiritual life if we do not have the living water of the Holy Spirit. How do we lose this water? How do we become spiritually parched? This happens when we fall into sin, when we violate our baptismal promises to reject Satan and all his works and all his empty show. It happens when our hearts become hardened by sin, as were the hearts of the Israelites in the first reading and the psalm. It happens when we lose faith in God, and thus begin to lose our justification, as Saint Paul says in the second reading.
Is it possible to regain these living waters? Is it possible to regain our faith and thus regain our justification? It is quite possible, but there is only one means of doing it. How? Through the confessional. God does not pour out His Spirit upon us only once at baptism or confirmation, but He desires to renew us constantly, just as the earth is renewed by rain. Yet we must not seek rain where it cannot be found. Would it not be foolish to build a house in the Sahara Desert and plant a garden and wait for the rains to come? Then is it not also foolish to ask God to increase our faith and pour out His Spirit upon us if we remain in the spiritual desert of sin?
Brethren, I spend one hour before this Mass in the confessional not because I’m bored or I need to be somewhere. I am in there because God has given me the authority to forgive sins and to restore the living water to you. I am in there because, like Jesus, I thirst for your salvation. In my nine months of being here, there are many of you whom I have never seen nor heard in there. Why? What prevents you from coming and receiving the mercy of God? What prevents you from being refreshed with the living water that Jesus wishes to give you? What prevents you from being free of your sins in the ordinary means God has given to you?
Many of you go to confession perhaps once a year yet come up to receive Communion every week. Would to God that it were the reverse! What’s the point of receiving Communion if you’re still parched by your sins? Why receive the Bread of Life if you still eat the bitter herbs of sin? Jesus does not want you to remain in your sins, that’s why He died on the Cross. But we must imitate the Samaritan woman and acknowledge our sins before Jesus if we wish to be truly refreshed by His living water. We must imitate her humility in order to be elevated to glory.
Brethren, let your hearts not be hardened! Hear the voice of the Lord calling you to repentance, calling you to drink deeply of His living water. Do not be like the Israelites at Meribah - testing God, challenging God. Do not remain in the desert of sin but come and be refreshed by confession. Yet we should not do this only in Lent, in this season of penance and sorrow. We need to take every opportunity to be freed of our sins and refreshed by the Holy Spirit so as to continue to be justified. I encourage you not only to go to confession this week, but to also go at least once a month. Then we can be like those who heard the Samaritan woman’s testimony and encountered Jesus themselves: they not only believed because of what she said, but because they joined her in humbling themselves and recognizing Jesus as the one true savior of the world. May we do the same, so that we may boast not in arrogance but in hope of the eternal and joyful glory of God.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

2nd Sunday of Lent - Transfiguration

NB: This homily is short due to the bishop's video for the Diocesan Parish Annual Appeal.

We hear the story of the Transfiguration on the second Sunday of Lent. Tradition tells us that this event occurred about forty days before Jesus’ passion and death. St. Luke in his Gospel sees this event as the moment when Jesus sets His face toward Jerusalem, towards the sufferings of Good Friday. Why does Jesus do this? This happens for two reasons. First, Jesus wants His inner circle, His closest disciples and us to see Him as He really is. Who will be suffering that Passion? Who will be undergoing that cruel death? It’s not just any man, but it is God in the flesh. Jesus reveals who He is so that we may be comforted in knowing that He suffers with us.
But Jesus also reveals His full glory so that we may know the end of our journey. We like to know where we’re going. If we know our destination, we will make a greater effort to reach it. What Jesus reveals is not just His glory, but the glory that we will share with Him if we survive our passion. Our life is like Lent: we have many struggles with only a few moments of joy. But Jesus’ passion and death is not the end, for He rises on the third day. So too will our Lent come to an end, and if we have been faithful, we will experience our own Easter Sunday.
Let us rise and be not afraid to follow Jesus, to carry our cross daily. Let us remember the glory of the holy mountain, the glory prefigured for us in the Holy Mass. Let us be strengthened by the Eucharist to toil away at the work of our lifetimes, just as Jesus did after this day. Let us endure the toils of our daily Lent, so that we may join Jesus in receiving the wondrous glory when we join Him in the resurrection on the last day.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

1st Sunday of Lent - The Desert

We are the children of temptation. As we enter into the first full week of Lent, we should reflect on this sentiment first: we are the children of temptation. We hear in the reading from Genesis and in the Gospel about temptation. Genesis shows us that first temptation of our parents Adam and Eve, and their giving in to the tentation. This is the original sin, the sin in which we were conceived, the sin in which we were born, the sin in which we lived in need of a Redeemer.
The Gospel shows that Redeemer beginning to do His great work of redemption, but the first battle He wages is not against any human foe; it is against the one who first tricked our parents into sin, the one who tricks all of us into sin: Satan, the devil. It was the devil who took the form of a serpent and tricked Adam and Eve to eating the apple and disobeying God. It is the same devil who tries to tempt Jesus away from obeying His heavenly Father. Satan tries using the three usual temptations, as outlined by our Saint John: the lust of the flesh, the pride of life, and the lust of the eyes (cf. 1 John 2:15-16).
First, the devil tries to make Jesus make bread of stones. He is hungry after fasting for forty days; why shouldn’t Jesus eat? But Jesus reminds the devil that we live not by bread alone, but by the will of God. Next, the devil tries to make Jesus proud by demonstrating His power before all the people in the area of the Temple in Jerusalem. If only Jesus would throw Himself off the top of the Temple, the angels would save Him, and everyone would believe whatever He said. But Jesus, throwing Scripture back at the devil’s Scripture, reminds us that we shall not tempt God into signs and wonders, but humble ourselves before His majesty. Finally, the devil demonstrates his so-called power by showing all the worlds in his supposed control, calling Jesus to worship him and receive a reward. But Jesus forcefully reminds the devil that God alone has full dominion and power, and that everything truly belongs to God.
In undergoing these temptations, Jesus is beginning to unravel everything that was done in the garden so many millennia ago. Saint Paul in our second reading highlights this, reminding us that by the first Adam, we all have sinned, we are all children of temptation, but by Jesus our new Adam, we all have the possibility of justifying ourselves. We are all the children of temptation, but we can become once more, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, the children of God.
Brethren, let us throw off sin once and for all. Let us imitate our Redeemer and fight against Satan and all his temptations. Yet, even if we have sinned, let us rush to the sacrament of mercy, let us rush to the confessional, be freed of our sins, and strengthened by God’s grace to fight Satan once more. Let our Lenten penances not be a means of pride, but the seed of humility by which we shed off the old man of temptation and sin, and are clothed in Christ. Let us not remain the children of temptation, but let us be the children of God, the children of His promise, the children of heaven.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday - Darkness

NB: On the morning of March 1st, a powerful storm blew through Carrollton, knocking out power for at least 12 hours. The morning Mass became the distribution of ashes and Holy Communion. This is the context in which this homily was composed in the afternoon. I half feared that I would be saying Mass by candlelight!

  Many of you experienced the darkness of the power outage today. Some of you may still be experiencing it, just as we are here in church. We never like it when these things happen. We feel weak, helpless, incapable of doing anything. We'd do anything to get rid of this feeling. And once the power returns, life goes on like normal. What if we experienced sin in this same way?
  Sin has the same effect upon our souls as the loss of electrical power. When we commit sin, we lose the light of Christ which we received in baptism and are plunged back into the darkness in which we were born. Only when the sin is removed from us does the light of Christ shine once more in our hearts and minds and we can return to our holy lives. But we must desire to return to this condition of freedom from sin, just as we must desire to return to living with electrical power once more. To wish to remain in sin is like wishing to remain in darkness, and who really wants to reject the light?
  The Church calls us to penance once more on this Ash Wednesday, to pray, to fast, to give alms, to discover once more the day of salvation. Repent, sinners, and return to the light! Weep over your sins and beg God for mercy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and be marked with ashes, the sign of humility and penance. Go to confession and be freed of the spiritual darkness in which you are currently stuck, so that Christ’s light may shine once more. Let us seek to make this Lent the opportunity to be freed of our sins so that we may joyfully receive the light of Christ once more at Easter, to rejoice that. We are not just sinners sitting in darkness, but repentant sinners moving towards the light.