Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday 2010

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”
- Luke 19.38

"He emptied himself,taking the form of a slave."
- Philippians 2.7

"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
- Luke 23.42

"If you are a Simon of Cyrene, take up your cross and follow Christ. If you are crucified beside him like one of the thieves, now, like the good thief, acknowledge your God. For your sake, and because of your sin, Christ himself was regarded as a sinner; for his sake, therefore, you must cease to sin. Worship him who was hung on the cross because of you, even if you are hanging there yourself. Derive some benefit from the very shame; purchase salvation with your death. Enter paradise with Jesus, and discover how far you have fallen. Contemplate the glories there, and leave the other scoffing thief to die outside in his blasphemy.

"If you are a Joseph of Arimathea, go to the one who ordered his crucifixion, and ask for Christ’s body. Make your own the expiation for the sins of the whole world. If you are a Nicodemus, like the man who worshipped God by night, bring spices and prepare Christ’s body for burial. If you are one of the Marys, or Salome, or Joanna, weep in the early morning. Be the first to see the stone rolled back, and even the angels perhaps, and Jesus himself."
- St. Gregory Nazianzen

Sunday, March 14, 2010

12 Hours of Grace

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C
Joshua 5.9a, 10-12 Psalm 34 2 Corinthians 5.17-21 Luke 15.1-3, 11-32

There is a story is told of St. Damian of Molokai. Born in Belgium, Fr. Damian was sent to Hawaii to serve as a missionary in the 1860s. He spent 16 years on the island of Molokai, a leper colony. For most of that time, he was the only priest on the island. Because many people were fearful of contracting leprosy, the residents of Molokai were never allowed to leave the island, and the only way to visit the island was to promise to never leave. In his journals, Fr. Damian wrote about the struggles of ministering on this island of disease and death. But his greatest personal struggle had nothing to do with the lepers in his care, the rejection by the local government, or the danger that he might himself contract leprosy – which he did. Fr. Damian’s greatest personal struggle was that, since he was the only priest on the island, he did not have the opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation very often. Whenever a ship would come toward the island, Fr. Damian would run to the shore. As the ship passed by or threw boxes of supplies into the sea for the residents of the island, he would shout to the ship, asking if a priest were on board. On the rare occasions that a priest was on board the ship, he would ask if the priest would hear his confession. With the priest standing on the deck of the ship, Fr. Damian would shout his confession from the shore, with the priest shouting back his penance and absolution. This sacrament gave him the strength to minister to an island of dying people. And St. Damian’s greatest struggle on that island of death was that the Sacrament of Reconciliation was an infrequent grace.

Too many of us live almost in fear of the sacrament we call Reconciliation or Confession or Penance. We are afraid of what the priest might think of us, we are reluctant to admit our failings to another person, we don’t know why we can’t just go directly to God and bypass the ministry of the priest confessor. But the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not really about sin – it is about love. Look at the different reactions by the father and the older son in the familiar parable we heard today. The older son is fixated on his brother’s sins, swallowing up their father’s property with prostitutes, among other things. From his perspective, it is the sin that determines how his brother should be treated. He is angry at his father who sees things from a very different perspective. The father never once mentions the sins – he knows what they are, he knows that his younger son has come to him in humility to beg forgiveness. But the sins are not part of the father’s vocabulary. Instead, he shows unconditional love and compassion; he rejoices that his son who was lost has returned home. Their relationship is based on love, not on sin. And that is what we experience in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

There are two things that happen in this sacrament: God forgives our sins, first of all, but he also gives us grace. And how we need that grace! The only way we can be the holy person we are called to be is with God’s help. It is impossible to be patient all the time with a 2-year old or a 17-year old without God’s help; most often, they would say the same thing about their parents. It is impossible to be faithful to a life of prayer and service without God’s help. It is impossible to rid our lives of the Big Seven, the Seven Deadly Sins, without God’s help. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God has promised the grace and strength we need to overcome our sinfulness and to serve him with all our heart, our mind, and our soul. Remember, it’s not really about sin, it’s about love. God loves us so much he forgives us whenever we come to him. God loves us so much that he wants to help us love him back. And as we are reminded by a priest would spend up to 18 hours a day hearing confessions, St. John Vianney: “The good Lord knows everything. Even before you confess, he already knows that you will sin again, yet he still forgives you. How great is the love of our God: he even forces himself to forget the future, so that he can grant us his forgiveness!” Truly, how great is the love of our God!

This Thursday, here in this church, we are offering an unprecedented opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We’re calling it 12 Hours of Grace. From 9 am to 9 pm, two priests will be available constantly for this Sacrament. Short prayer services will be held three times during the day, but the church will be open and the priests available for all of those 12 hours. Come when you can – come as you are – to receive the healing grace of forgiveness and love. If you celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation every month or each year during Lent, join us sometime on Thursday. If it has been 30 or 40 years since your last confession, join us sometime on Thursday. You will find that there is no judging here, no confrontation, no fixation on sin – only peace, love, and joy in the great gift that God is ready to give us. We all need God’s love, we need his help and guidance to follow his light in a world of darkness. This Thursday will be a day of great rejoicing, because the old things will pass away, and God in his love will make everything new. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whenever we celebrate it, we come to God as sinners, we leave as saints.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Big Seven

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year C
Exodus 3.1-8a, 13-15 Psalm 103 1 Corinthians 10.1-6, 10-12 Luke 13.1-9

Pride. Anger. Lust. Sloth. Greed. Envy. Gluttony.

The Seven Deadly Sins, they’re called, or the Seven Capital Sins. From these seven come all of our failures and our mistakes. From these seven, we become experts at turning inward toward ourselves. From these seven, the temptations of the world push God more and more out of our lives. We can all relate. We know the gluttony that comes with the third helping of ice cream as a late-night dessert or the constant munch of snacks throughout the day. We know the sloth of being able to change channels with the remote control without even looking at the buttons, because we spend so much time sitting and watching TV. We know the pride that convinces us that we deserve the good things in life, even at the expense of the people in Haiti or Uganda or even other parts of our own town. We know the anger that boils inside when we get behind the slowest person ever in the line at the grocery store. And if you think that you are immune from these big seven, then you must be dead or not human or so filled with pride that you have become spiritually blind. Simply because of our human nature, we constantly battle the Seven Deadly Sins.

Taken as a whole, what these big seven do to us make it difficult for us to bear fruit. If we are filled with envy, or jealousy, of other people’s possessions, then it is difficult for us to develop the habit of generosity; instead of confidently sharing what we have with others, we try to get more ourselves. Or if we are so lazy and slothful that we do not nurture our souls and spend time getting to know God, then it is difficult for us to commit to the effort to evangelize, to spread the Good News. In many ways, we’re like the fig tree in the parable Jesus tells us today. Our inward-focused lives keep us barren, unable to bear fruit, unable to work for justice, unable to love others in more than a superficial way. Our sin enslaves us, and it is often impossible for us to break free on our own. We need help.

And that’s where the gardener comes us. In the parable, the gardener convinces the owner of the fig tree to let it live, to give it another chance. During the next year, the gardener will fertilize it and nurture it and give it special care – everything that is needed for the tree to bear fruit. The gardener, of course, is Jesus himself. And he does the same thing in our lives. He provides the fertilizer – the grace of the sacraments – that we need to help us grow in holiness, humility, generosity, and love. He nurtures us with his word in Scripture, with the support of a community of faith, with the example of people who have succeeded in bearing great fruit for the Kingdom of God. By ourselves, we are doomed to destruction. But with the Master Gardener at work, we have everything we need to bear abundant fruit.

But there is a condition that the gardener gives to the owner. After the tree has been fertilized and nurtured, if it still does not bear fruit, it can be cut down. Christ offers us the grace of the sacraments and the support of the Church – he gives us everything we need to root out the big seven in our lives. But if we build a fence around us so that he can’t get in, or if we refuse to cooperate with his tender care for us, then our fate will be the same as the tree that does not bear fruit. On our part, we must open our hearts to God’s love. We’re still going to be human – we’ll still make mistakes – but the more we allow God in, the less the big seven will rule our lives, and the more fruit we will bear, as we look forward in hope to God’s kingdom.