Homily: First Sunday of Lent, 2014

Last week, I taught a class for students who are planning to receive the Eucharist for the first time this year. This particular class was focused on Biblical literacy and included the reading of various Scripture passages. One of the passages we read was Genesis 3, the same as today’s first reading. After we read the Scripture, the students shared their reactions. One student remarked that if Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned, nothing bad would have ever happened and we would not have lost Heaven. Another student quickly responded by saying: “Yeah, but then we wouldn’t have been born.”

On April 19 of this year, Catholics throughout the world who attend the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter will hear the Exsultet proclaimed, which contains the phrase: “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a redeemer!” This is the point that the second student was unknowingly making. Without the happy fault we would not have Christ. If we had not lost supernatural grace and our innocence, we would not have needed Christ to restore it. But God, who deeply desires us to know Him, love Him, serve Him in this world, and be happy with Him forever in Heaven, wanted more. He wanted more than the humanity he first created. He wanted us to be transformed through the loving gift of his own Son. For this reason, this fault of Adam was not only a happy one, but was also necessary. And it is this word, this idea of necessity, that I feel is worthy of more consideration.

For me, it is difficult to narrow down a list of things in my life that are truly necessary. There are many important things that I do, but I realize that they are not always necessary. I think this is one of the messages that we can take away from today’s readings. If we look also to the Gospel, we read in the first line that Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil, and then to fast for 40 days and 40 nights. This moment in our salvation history, which mirrors the 40-day fast of Moses, and the 40-year wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness, is another example of God’s will being realized through necessary occurrences on earth. Jesus himself experienced fasting, trials, and temptation, not for his own sake, but so that we could become what God needs us to be. In the same way, we too must experience the necessary things from God. It is sometimes difficult to look around us and see so many challenges to our faith and our morality, but we must never stop trusting that God will be there for us. As St. Augustine tells us, when we face tribulation, we cannot know what to pray for, so we simply must pray. By the same token, we need to allow ourselves to be led into the desert because it is only then that we can experience the fullness of God’s mercy and salvation.

As we continue our Lenten journey, as we wander further into the desert, let us not merely remember Christ’s temptation, but, more importantly, his victory. A victory he won for us by his triumph over the devil and over death on a cross. Our wandering during the Lenten Season may last for 40 days, but the season of Easter lasts for 50.

May God bless you.

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Homily: Ash Wednesday, 2014

As I was studying the Scripture readings for today, the first questions I asked myself were: “Who is Joel?” and “Why is there an entire book of the bible dedicated to him?” Scholars who have studied him note that very little is actually know about him. The writings we have are a collection of speeches that he gave to a group of elders during a time when Judah was being devastated by draught and a locust infestation. He was giving practical warnings for surviving the trials at hand, but was also speaking allegorically of the danger of the coming invasion of armies from the north.

Just as Jesus did in the Gospel, Joel was calling those who heard his plea to change their lives and prepare for coming tribulation. In the speech we heard excerpted today, he warned those around him to “rend their hearts,” “proclaim a fast,” and pray fervently to the Lord. This is not unlike the call from Jesus to a life of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Joel was certainly working to prepare those he knew for the tribulation at hand, but he was also working to prepare their lives for whatever may come. Jesus did the same for us in the Gospel. Let us consider, for a moment, what this might mean for us. If we only hold penances service during Lent or Advent, does it heighten our awareness of the need for Reconciliation, or cause us to see Confession as something we only need once or twice each year? If we only sing chant during these times, does it cause us to think of chant as something that is only associated with the penitential times of the year? And, if we only recall Christ’s agony and suffering through the Stations of the Cross on a handful of Friday’s, are we robbing ourselves of the opportunity to be regularly reminded of something we should never forget? By the same token, if we only follow the Lenten prescriptions during Lent are we missing an opportunity to fully experience life as Jesus instructs?

My brothers and sisters, I deeply believe that Lent should be a time for us to refocus on the need for penance and on the ways Christ taught us to prepare ourselves to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. But I am also suggesting that Lent not be a stopping point for this transformation. Let us not treat it as a quickly forgotten resolution after the new year, or a short-lived attempt at a diet. Let us change ourselves, down to the very core, to be all that God intends us to be. As St. Paul tells us, “now is a very acceptable time,” “now is the day of salvation.”

Homily: 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, 2014

Today, the universal Church is celebrating Year A of the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Scripture readings we heard today were last proclaimed in 2011 and, before that, 1987. For those of you who are keeping score, I was 7 years old in that year. This infrequency occurs because Lent typically begins in late February and the first half of the season of Ordinary Time ends after only a handful of weeks. Today’s Gospel passage actually occurs chronologically after the passage we will hear proclaimed in a few days at Mass on Ash Wednesday, and is an excellent lens through which to see the teachings of Jesus during Ordinary Time and to anticipate Lent.

The Gospel passages in the previous weeks were all taken from the series of teachings from Jesus that are collectively known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” This collection of discourses by Jesus is the longest in the Gospels, and includes many cornerstones of our faith, such as the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the aforementioned Lenten prescriptions of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. For this reason, it may seem odd, at first, that Jesus tells us to stop worrying about our lives. He tells us to let go of the world around us and to instead turn to the birds and wildflowers as examples of how to live. This passage ends with him telling us not to “worry about tomorrow” because “tomorrow will take care of itself.”

Now, Jesus is not trying to suggest that we can simply live without materials goods and shirk our responsibilities. But he is warning us to be careful that worldly trappings do not become just that: traps which hinder us from living our lives as God intends. His admonition to “seek first the kingdom of God” tells us that the kingdom of God and, God Himself, are the only necessary good, and is what we, who were lovingly created by God and are so much greater than worldly goods, are to find. If we seek the Gospel and the kingdom of God for the sake of worldly goods, we place those goods first, and the kingdom of God last. We then face the very real danger of finding fulfillment from worldly goods and having no need for the kingdom of God. But, when the kingdom of God is ordered as first and necessary in our lives, God provides all that we need.

As we enter into the season of Lent, let us use today’s Gospel to help frame our Lenten journey. Let us not fast for the sake of fasting but, as Jesus instructs, for the kingdom of God. Let us pray for the wisdom to understand the necessity of ordering God before worldly goods. And, let us give in such a way that our gifts are a sign of God’s love to all in this world. Let us, together, seek first the kingdom of God.