3.19.17 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A
There are three things mentioned in our gospel that I want to base my homily on. By looking at these three things, and what they symbolize, we will get greater insight into the spiritual life, our relationship with God. They are 1. The water from Jacob’s well, 2. living water, and 3. the woman’s water jar
Water from Jacob’s well
Symbolic of all the things of this world. All the finite goods. Not bad in themselves. But incapable of completely satisfying.
Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.”
The things of this life can never completely fulfill us. So the problem is when we expect them to. When we think more or more, or greater this or that will make me happy. Because they cannot, by definition, completely fulfill us. We have a part to us, our soul that is made for the infinite, the divine, the eternal. So to try to fill that part our desire for God for the divine, with more vacations, money, fun, food, pleasure, comfort, we will just be left frustrated. Trying to fulfill our desire for the infinite, with finite, earthly goods.
Living water is divine life, grace, the seed of eternal life that we first receive at baptism. This is the water we long for.
Jesus says, “But whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.” When we drink this water. When we have God’s divine life within us, we don’t attempt to find happiness in things that cannot fulfill us. When we receiving the living water, we won’t be disappointed when the things of this world leave us thirsty again, because we won’t expect them to fully satisfy us. The key is having the correct expectations. Yes, many of the things of this world are good, but we can’t expect ultimate fulfillment from them. And when we are receiving the living water, all those other desires will be rightly ordered.
The living water is what we all long for. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and For God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” (CCC 27)
We receive this living water from Christ who works through the Sacraments. The sacraments are pipes connecting us to Christ. Living water, God’s divine life flows into our souls through the Sacraments. They connect us to Jesus. We touch Jesus in the Sacraments.
But this living water is also increased and nourished through a life of devotion. Daily prayer, Sunday Mass, Monthly Confession, Scripture reading, learning the faith, praying the Stations of the Cross, doing acts of penance.
The Woman’s Water Jar
When Jesus and the woman finish their extraordinary conversation, she leaves her water jar behind. This is a very important detail that we cannot miss.
The water jar is what she used to draw water. So it symbolizes her seeking to find happiness and fulfillment in the things of this world. The water jar symbolizes her seeking to find happiness in those five husbands and the one she is currently living with. So by leaving the water jar behind she is leaving her old sinful life behind.
And she is able to leave the man she is currently living with because she has found a greater love. A perfect love. A true love. Jesus. When we know Jesus, when we acknowledge his love for us, how he suffered and died for us, how he continues to bless us. When we acknowledge that, then we want to love and serve him in return. We don’t want other relationships that take us away from him. For the love of Jesus, we are willing to leave harmful, sinful relationships.
I know many people like this Samaritan woman. That because they have found Jesus and want to love and serve him, they have either ended or made right sinful relationships that they were a part of. People have stopped cohabitating, people have sought a decree of nullity after being divorced and remarried, I know of people who have even stopped living a homosexual lifestyle because they met Jesus.
At first, people in these relationships say it feels right to them so they justify it. They even may say that they are happy. But they aren’t truly happy. We can’t be truly happy and at peace unless we live in the light and in the truth and according to God’s will. Any relationship that is contrary to God’s will, by definition, cannot bring peace and happiness.
As a priest, I get a firsthand look at this. Recently two people, one a man and one a woman, from separate relationships, have come to me and admitted that although they may have acted ‘happy’ they were not. They admitted they were living a lie. But now having left those relationships and turned back to God. They are at peace because they have found the living water and they have found true love. They want to love and serve Jesus.
Many people will say Jesus doesn’t care about what you do in the bedroom. That all he cares about is feeding the poor, and being nice to people. But that just isn’t the truth. He does care about sexual morality. And we see it here. He challenges this woman who is living with a man who is not her husband.
My friends, we see a microcosm of the spiritual life in our gospel today. The water from the well symbolizes all the things of this world that will leave us thirsty again. We must admit that this water will not satisfy us and not expect it to. The Living water that only Jesus can give symbolizes his divine life, grace, eternal life that he wants to share with us. We must receive this living water through the sacraments and nourish it through a life of faith. When we do, we won’t grasp and be attached to the pleasures of this life. And finally, the water jar symbolizing the desire to find happiness in in the things and people of this life. When we meet Jesus and love Jesus, we are willing to leave all that is not holy, we are willing to leave all that keeps us from him so that we can have him, the pearl of great price! “Everyone who drinks the water I shall give, will never thirst!”
3.12.17 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A
St. Leo the Great reminds us of the reasons for this Transfiguration, this miraculous event was “to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples.” Jesus knew that his being arrested, beaten, and crucified would make it difficult for the disciples to believe. So Jesus gives them a ‘shot in the arm’ an awesome memory to fall back on when things get difficult.
The Transfiguration is also for us, even for us at Blessed Sacrament in the year 2017. It gives us a glimpse at the type of glory we hope to experience in the life to come, and reminds us that happiness in heaven is infinitely greater than the difficulties and sufferings of this life. As St. Paul says, “The sufferings of the present age are as nothing, ‘are as nothing’, to be compared to the future glory that is to be revealed in us!”
Now, the truth about life is that there is an alternating reality between seeing and believing, and not-seeing yet still believing. In life, there are times when it is easier to have faith, and there are times when it is more difficult. Sometimes we see and believe, other times, most of the time, we don’t see but still need to believe.
This is what our readings express today. In our gospel, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain and there Jesus is transfigured before them. Jesus shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. Moses and Elijah are there.
There is a bright cloud that overshadows them, and a voice saying, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” God is confirming Jesus as his Son. This is a taste of Jesus in his glory, in his kingdom. This is such a remarkable event, such an awesome reality taking place that Peter says, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” Peter wants this moment to last. He doesn’t want this experience of God’s glory to end. Peter, James, and John are seeing and believing.
We all have had experiences similar to this. Maybe not this ‘extraordinary’, but we’ve all had mountain top experiences. Times when we have said, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” Times that we don’t want to end. Times when we say, “I do believe.” Maybe the day of our wedding, or times spent at the lake with our family. Or one dad mentioned praying with his young son as he tucked him into bed and what a blessing that is. These are times when we say, “Lord, thank you for this. And I believe in you.” These are times that we see and believe. And we need to remember these times so that we can persevere through the difficult times.
Because, we like Peter, James, and John must come down from the mountain. Most of our lives are lived not on the mountain, but down from it….Pope Benedict said, “No one, is permitted to live "on Tabor [the mountain]" while on earth. Indeed, human existence is a journey of faith and as such, moves ahead more in shadows than in full light, and life is no stranger to moments of obscurity and also of complete darkness.
While we are on this earth, our relationship with God takes place more by listening than by seeing.”
Our lives are more often like Abraham’s in our first reading. God tells Abram, “God forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” Keep in mind this is before Sarah gives birth to Isaac at an old age. This is before God granted Abraham any substantial blessings. Nonetheless, Abraham went as the Lord directed him. He did not ‘see’. Yet he still believed. He and trusted God and faithfully followed what the Lord asked of him. Most of life is ‘not-seeing’ yet still choosing to be faithful.
Oftentimes today, people are using ‘not-seeing’ as a reason to choose not to believe. They don’t see God and therefore, they say he doesn’t exist and therefore they don’t believe. And unfortunately, I’m seeing this in younger and younger people. Teenagers say they don’t believe in God because they can’t see him. Maybe a loved one is sick and they pray and pray for a miracle and it doesn’t happen so they despair, they lose faith. Maybe some pain or difficulties, some embarrassment comes their way and they get discouraged. They ask God to show them that he is present and cares for them. But then they don’t feel better. They don’t ‘see’ him, and start to doubt he is there, or if he even cares for them. These are real experiences of real people, even young people. These are experiences of ‘not-seeing’ and they make it difficult to believe.
It’s also the case that some use the fact that they don’t ‘literally see God’ as an excuse. They use this as an excuse so that they can just do what they want rather than what God wants them to do. They may have a gut feeling that Christ is real, that the Church is real but they don’t want to obey God so they tell themselves that because they can’t actually see God, they can rationalize doing things their way.
This type of thinking that ‘God needs to prove himself to me, that he needs to show himself to me’ also expresses a great deal of arrogance on our part. That we are the ones who judge God. That he needs to operate according to our expectations and demands. If God is real, he needs to prove himself to me. In fact, this is the attitude of the soldiers while Christ hanged on the cross. Remember, they jeered at him saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” This is a type of arrogance on our part, to expect God to act according to our expectations.
But why doesn’t God make himself more apparent? That’s a fair question. Why doesn’t he come up to each and every one of us when we are struggling and say, “Hey, it’s me, God. I’m here.” Why do we have to believe without seeing, why do we need to have faith?
Well think of the alternative. Picture adoration. Instead of Jesus being truly present under the appearance of bread, imagine it was actually the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit, not hidden but fully visible to us.
Well, we wouldn’t get anything done! If we actually saw God in his glory, we would never leave the chapel. Basically, it would be heaven. We would be totally in awe, full of supreme happiness.
Or think of the Mass. Imagine if we could actually see what is taking place. If we could see the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. If we could see all of heaven coming down to this altar. God, the angels and all the saints. We would die of the awesomeness taking place. But God doesn’t want us to die here, blown away by his majesty. This life is a life of faith. He wants us to say to him, “Lord, I can’t see you, but I believe you are here and I adore you with profound reverence. I know that you see me and you hear me.” He wants us to touch him through faith. He wants us to see him with faith.
This life is about faith. Eternal life is about seeing. But as for now, this life, as St. Paul says, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”…There are three theological virtues. Faith, Hope, and Charity. We need all of them here on earth. Faith, is faithfully following Christ and his Church. Hope, is the virtue in which we long for God and heaven as our ultimate goal. And Charity is friendship with God. But in eternity we only will have Charity. In heaven, there is no need for faith, because we will see God face to face. In heaven, no need for hope. Because we will be with God, whom we longed for here on earth. But we will still have Charity, because we will be perfect friends with God for all eternity.
So here’s the point of it all. If don’t remember anything, remember this. The point is, it’s okay if you don’t ‘feel’ God all the time. It’s okay if you don’t ‘see’ God’s presence all the time. It’s okay if you don’t ‘sense’ God. You are not a hypocrite if you still choose to believe, if you still give your life to faithfully follow Christ. This life is about faith. We must choose to follow Jesus. We must continue to persevere in our faithfulness to God. There is no other option.
And there is a blessedness to ‘not-seeing- yet still believing. Remember St. Thomas. He didn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead when the other disciples told him. And what did Jesus say to him? He said, “Thomas, you saw and believed. Blessed are those who don’t see yet still believe.” Many of you have difficulties, struggles. There are things in your life that make it hard for you to ‘see’ God. Jesus says to you, “You are blessed! Keep believing, keep being faithful. Blesse are you for believing even if you don’t see me.” Because a life without God is a life without meaning. A life without Christ is without purpose. A life without God leads to emptiness and misery. We live our life with God here on earth through faith. We touch God through faith. Faith is Not-seeing but still choosing to believe. “Blessed are those who do not see, yet believe!”
2.26.17 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
It’s important to remember where we are with our gospel today. We continue to hear from Jesus’ famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Jesus’ greatest speech. It is his most complete speech. It details what it means to follow him. And it is a radical proposition. It isn’t contrary to what Jews have been expected to do, but it is a fulfillment of it, a perfecting of it. As Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.” And it’s important to understand who he is speaking to. He is speaking to his disciples. Now granted it’s early on in his ministry, but these people are interested in following him. And he is telling them what it means to be his disciple. He is speaking to them as his beloved followers.
And so we come to today’s gospel passage. And here Jesus makes the distinction that I make time and time again. And I make it because Jesus does. That his followers are special. That they aren’t like everyone else. Therefore, they can’t live like everyone else. He distinguishes them from the ‘pagans’. Jesus tells them, “So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ ‘Or what are we to wear?’ All these things the PAGANS seek.” His followers are different than the pagans, they are different than those who live as if there is no God.
And because his followers are different. They can only have God as their master. Because they aren’t pagans, God can be there only master. He says, “No one can serve two masters.”
It’s as if to say, “You don’t have to follow me. You are free to decide. But if you do choose to follow me, you have to be all in. None of this half way stuff. If it’s going to be me, it’s got to be only me.” God can be their only master.
And notice Jesus just doesn’t tell us that we are not to serve two masters and leave it at that. Rather, he gives us the reason why we can’t. He says because, if you have two masters, “You will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.” And this makes sense when we think about it. When we have God as our master, but we also have other masters, other things that we allow to dominate our lives, and then God asks something of me, I get resentful of Him. When God isn’t our only master, we despise God when serving him inconveniences us. When God isn’t our only God, we get resentful of God when it’s not easy to serve him.
Think about it. How many times have you been resentful when you realized you had to go to Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation? Have you ever been irritated that Mass goes longer than the arbitrary yet sacred and inviolable one hour time limit? Or there was a family that had a funeral on a Friday during Lent last year. They were upset that they couldn’t serve meat at the luncheon following the funeral…This is why Jesus tells us that we can only have one master—God.
If we have other masters or gods, we get resentful towards God.
Whereas if we have God as our only master, then we are happy and willing to do whatever he asks of us and we won’t get resentful. We will want to serve him and nothing else.
I think one of the reasons we have other masters besides God is that we don’t trust that he will take care of us. We don’t trust that serving him, and only him, will fulfill us. So we have to grasp and create happiness for ourselves. In a word, we tend to serve other masters besides God because we don’t see God as our Father.
And this is where the problem lies. Some of you know I was on retreat a week or so ago. And during my retreat I came to a deeper understanding of who God is, as Father. And one of my convictions at the end of the retreat was to continue to help people to know God. I want you to know God as Father and go deep into that mystery. Because to acknowledge God as our Father is the foundation of the Christian life. Knowing that we are sons and daughters of a Father God who loves us is the key to being Catholic. If we don’t appreciate what it means to have God as our Father, then we don’t get what it means to be Christian. It’s that important!
Today, Jesus gives us some insight into the Fatherhood of God. He says that God takes care of the birds. God takes care of, and makes beautiful the flowers. And if he cares so much for those things, how much more does he care for you, you who are worth an infinite amount more?
Don’t worry about the lesser things, what you will eat, what you will wear. Don’t worry about creating happiness for yourself. Rather seek first the Kingdom of God, and God your Father will take care of the rest.
In the time before Jesus, we hear about the Israelites and their up and down relationship with God. Over and over again, they forsake the Lord God and actually worship the gods of other nations. They would come among foreign people and actually start to worship their foreign gods, gods such as Baal, Ashtorech, and Molech. And we can get pretentious and judgmental towards them. Saying, “How could they do that?! What’s wrong with them?! How can they forsake the Lord?”
When in reality, we do the same thing. We get sucked in and worship the foreign gods of today. Their names may not be Baal, Ashtorech, and Molech. But rather the gods of today are sports, hockey, comfort, money, and what others think of us. These are the foreign gods we are tempted to worship today. These are the things taking us away from serving the true God.
There was a point in the history of Israel when they arrived in the Promised Land. And Joshua gives this great speech. Joshua was the successor to Moses. He was the one to lead them into the Promised Land. So Joshua gives a beautiful speech recounting the goodness, the providence of God. How God had taken care of them as a Father would. And he gives all the Israelites the choice, they can either recognize The Lord God as their God and serve only him or they can serve other gods. He says, “If it is displeasing to you to serve the Lord, choose today whom you will serve, the gods your ancestors served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling.” But then Joshua ends with this line. It’s one of my favorite. It’s so manly. He says to all the Jews gathered there, “AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSEHOLD, WE WILL SERVE THE LORD.” He says, “I don’t care what the rest of you do, but “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
My friends, as Catholics, we live in a foreign land with foreign gods. The gods of wealth, pleasure, honor, sports, comfort, materialism, what others think of us. Are you going to serve these ‘gods’ or serve your heavenly father alone? I’m especially asking the men out there, the fathers, the leaders of your households. You need to speak for your family you need to lead them. Enough with making God just one of your many masters that you serve. Enough with having other things take priority over your faith. Your neighbors may serve these other foreign gods of today, I don’t care. I want you to say like Joshua and say, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” The other families on the hockey team serve and worship the god of hockey. It doesn’t matter. This Lent, say it and mean it, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!”