2/17/2021 0 Comments
Ash Wednesday - February 17, 2021
Have you ever said to a child, “Don’t worry about other people think, just do what is right and everything will take care of itself!” or has anyone ever said to you, “Follow your heart and don’t worry about what other folks say!”
Today, we begin the great season of Lent. Often times we engage in actions that are suggested by the Church. We skip a meal here or there – give up chocolate or TV, we throw a few extra dollars in the collection basket, we say a few extra Hail Marys and Our Fathers, but then we we carry on as usual.
Lent is about preparing for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Lent is about deepening and strengthening our relationships. Traditionally, the Church invites us to engage in fasting, prayer and almsgiving. It is not about going hungry, saying more prayers or giving a little extra money to charity. These three practices are intended to help us deepen our relationship with ourselves, with others, with creation and with our God. When we engage in these practices it is about changing our hearts. If our Lenten practices are not changing our hearts then we need to adjust what we are doing.
Lent is a season that prepares us for the death and resurrection of Jesus, for the celebration of the paschal mystery which gives us direction, which sustains us and gives meaning to our lives. The death and resurrection remind us that our journey is towards life, life for us and for the world.
With the pandemic there is much suffering in our lives – loss of jobs and income, loss of family moments – spending time with each other, loss of opportunities to travel and to enjoy holidays, an inability to gather and celebrate our faith as we normally do.
The prophet Joel tells the People of Israel, now is the time to make an adjustment, to return to the Lord, to focus on God and on what God wants from them. Joel invites them to gather and listen to God together. He reminds them that the pathway to God is not simply about me – it is about us.
In the Gospel, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, helping them to deepen their relationships – it is not about the external things – it is about internal things. Their prayer, their fasting and their almsgiving is not about impressing others – it is about causing a change within themselves.
Paul reminds the Corinthians of who they are – the work that is their work – the work of reconciliation, of working together with Christ to bring life and healing to our world.
Given the suffering that so many are experiencing at this time, let our fasting make room in our hearts and minds for others.
Given the suffering that so many are experiencing at this time, let our prayer be a conversation with God; a conversation where we use our voice to speak and we use our body to listen carefully for the voice of God.
Given the suffering that so many are experiencing at this time, let our almsgiving have an impact on us and on those who are most in need.
Lent is about relationships; our relationship with ourselves, with others, with creation, with God. Let us stop and take a long loving look at all our relationships. Let us take care of these relationships in ways that bring life to us and to the world in which we live. As Lent unfolds I encourage us to stop every now and then and ask:
Is what I am doing helping me to move in the right direction – am I moving towards God?
Today in our first reading from the Book of Leviticus we hear how the People of Israel understood and reacted to those who were lepers. The author offers us a description of leprosy and then suggests how the individual is to respond to the disease. What is most striking is that the individual was forced out of the community.
In the Gospel, Mark tells us the story of a leper who approached Jesus for healing. This is against the Jewish law and so this person had incredible courage. Jesus likewise did a remarkable thing – he touched the leper – a forbidden action. As the story unfolds we discover the person is healed and Jesus invites him to return to the Jewish leaders so that his healing could be verified and so that he could return to the community. We don’t know if the man went to the religious authorities. We do know that the man becomes an enthusiastic witness to Jesus, he tells people what happened to him despite being asked by Jesus to say nothing. The point is made. When you are healed of leprosy, how can you possibly keep quiet. It is simply not possible.
In the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians, Paul tells the early Christians to imitate him as he imitates Christ. They are invited to do everything for the glory of God.
Wednesday, we begin our Lenten Journey. With Ash Wednesday just a few short days away our thoughts naturally turn to God – to the reality that our lives are fragile. Because of the Covid-19 virus and our desire to safeguard the health and well-being of people we care about, we have drastically reduced our social contacts. Many of us are feeling the pain of separation – of isolation. There is a longing within us for some easy social interactions – meals, coffee, shared prayer, play, visiting, sports. We want to connect with others.
In ancient times leprosy, the fear of leprosy caused communities of people to banish those who were infected with the disease. As we heard in Leviticus everyone knew what to do if Leprosy attacked their body. They were as good as dead. Jesus had pity on one such person. He healed him, he restored him to his community. He gave him life again. The man could not keep silent about this gift of life. He had to tell others. This gift came from Jesus and he wanted everyone to know what had happened to him.
Mark tells us that he was so effective in his witness that crowds came to Jesus. He could not function as he normally did because so many people wanted what the leper had been given.
As I sat with this realization, I asked myself about the power of my witness. Has Jesus touched my life – given me new life? What am I doing to share this good news with others? As a Christian, what am I willing to do so that others hear about Jesus? Am I busy sharing Good News or do I leave people discouraged, weighed down and sad when they walk away from me?
Today the readings remind us that today, our culture, our society continues to banish people. There are lepers in our midst? Who are they? There are also Jesus figures – men and women who reach out to create life and healing wherever and whenever they can! Who are they?
This week it is good for us to think about who we are. Am I the one cast out? Am I doing the casting out? Am I doing the healing? As a Catholic, as a Christian you and I are called to be healers. We are to stand with Jesus in the actions of healing. We are to stand with the lepers, with those who have been cast out.
Today, God’s word inspires us to change. Today, the Body and Blood of Jesus nourishes us so that we can become more and more like Jesus. Our capacity to heal, to make a difference is made possible because of our encounter with Jesus. In the name of Jesus let us welcome one another, in the name of Jesus let our touch give life, in the name of Jesus let us become healers, people who lift one another up. In the name of Jesus let us do all things for the glory of God.
Today we celebrate the fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time. This week on Thursday, we will celebrate the World Day of the Sick. As I mentioned at the beginning of mass I will offer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to any who would like to celebrate it. Before we do that – I want to share just a couple of thoughts about our Scriptures.
In our first reading from the Book of Job we hear Job speaking to his friends. They believed that if you did good things God would reward you and if you did bad things you would be punished by God. Job was a good man and here he was suffering beyond belief. He responds to his friends by telling them what it is like to suffer – to be without hope. We are left there today – with Job’s reflection that there is nothing that can be done for him. He is discouraged and so he tells his friends and God, that he is without hope.
In the Gospel Mark tells us that Jesus and the disciples enter the home of Peter and his brothers. Peter’s mother in law is there and she is ill. Jesus heals her of her fever. Her response is to serve Jesus and his companions.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about what Christ has done for him. He is a willing servant of Jesus – a slave of the Gospel message because it brings life to people. He proudly proclaims that it is the Gospel of Jesus that moves him to do all that he does.
It is appropriate that we pray for the sick – millions of people are suffering because of Covid-19 – close to 2.5 million people have died because of it. Because of the Covid-19 virus countless people are struggling with their mental health, with relationships, with their jobs, and with work – thousands are out of work and/or have lost their businesses and their homes. Now is a good time for us to weep and to speak to God about our suffering and the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Now is a good time for us to ask our God to hear us, to see us, to heal us.
Now is a good time for us to realize that doing the right thing does not always result in blessing and doing the wrong thing does not always result in punishment/suffering. Our relationship with life and with God is much more complex.
The readings remind us that when we are suffering it is right and good and normal to speak of our suffering to God – to shout about the unfairness of life. The readings also remind us that our relationship with God cannot be reduced to an “I’m good, I deserve a blessing” or a “he is bad, he deserves punishment” dynamic.
We are reminded that we are called to be like Job – to acknowledge our suffering and to speak to God about it. We are reminded that we are called to service – whether life is good or not – God calls us to service. Finally, the one thing that ought to shape our behavior is the presence of God in our lives. All that we do, should be done because of God. God has given us everything and the only response worthy of such a gift is gratitude and service.
As we continue our prayer let us remember that there is room in our bodies, hearts and minds for anger and hurt and there is also room for faithful service, thanksgiving and praise. God does not walk away from us when we fail! We do not walk away from God when pain and suffering become a daily part of our lives. Let us live for the sake of the Gospel!
Last week we celebrated the Feast of God’s Word and the ending of our week of Prayer for Christian Unity. During the week we also celebrated the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul and the dramatic way that God entered into Paul’s life.
Today, the author of the Book of Deuteronomy tells us that God promises to send the people of Israel a prophet. The prophet will come from among them. As for the people, they are to pay attention to the words of the prophet. God is sending them a prophet because this is what the people are asking for. God tells Moses that the one he raises up had better speak the Words of God – had better be faithful because if not, God will punish the prophet – the prophet will die.
In the Gospel, Mark tells us that Jesus goes into the Synagogue and shares some insights from God’s Word. Mark tells us that the people are amazed and astounded at his teaching. (This is not a good thing – in the Gospel of Mark this means that they are not catching on to what Jesus is saying!)
Mark tells us that an evil spirit asks Jesus a question and, in the process, acknowledges that Jesus is the Holy One of God. The People of Israel have seen what Jesus is doing – they are amazed and astounded. How is it that an evil spirit recognizes Jesus but the faithful people of Israel who worship in the Synagogue fail to see, hear, understand, believe and worship the Son of God? How is it that unclean spirits are witnesses to God’s presence but the faithful people of Israel do not?
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells the early Christians, “I want you to be free from anxieties.” Paul suggests that the way to be free from anxiety is to focus our lives on the Lord. In the text, Paul is not telling people what to do with their lives (stay single, get married); he is telling them how to be, given their status in life. As they go about life their primary concern is to be God!
Are you ever anxious or worried? Most of us, at one time or another are worried or anxious about something. Our anxiety and worry can keep us from seeing God’s presence in the world around us and in our own lives.
This week when I came back to work after two weeks of rest and relaxation and prayer I discovered that:
The Parish Office furnace was not working,
One of our faithful parishioners had died,
There were reports and forms to be filled out,
There were phone calls and appointments to make
There were liturgies to be celebrated,
There were Facebook messages and questions to respond to and countless other things.
This is the state of our lives. We all experience this busyness. How do we handle this busyness? How do we keep our eyes focused on the Lord?
I think the readings today give us a couple of clues. First of all, they invite us to listen to the prophets that God sends to us. God does not leave us to find our way on our own. Prophets help us to see what we are missing – what is right before us. Being a prophet is not about predicting the future – it is about seeing, touching, hearing what is right before us. Prophets remind us of God and they ground us in the now. God is still sending us prophets to help us – are we paying attention to them?
The readings also invite us to be open, to let God’s Word find a home within us. Sometimes we ask questions but we are not really looking for answers. We know what we want to hear and even when we get solid, clear information we dismiss it because it is not what we want to hear. We act as if we know everything already (pride). Parents and children experience this in their relationships – this pattern is repeated in all our relationships and it is repeated in our relationship with God. The People of Israel could not see Jesus the Messiah because he was not what they expected him to be.
The readings invite us to focus/to pay attention. So often we pay attention to and give priority to things that are passing away. St. Paul tells us that whether we are single or married our focus ought to be the Lord. Full stop.
Too often we replace God with our work, with our religious practices, with our relationships, with our ‘personal causes’ and with our leisure activity. God is present everywhere and, in all things, and in all manner of things.
God is with us when we feed our cattle, when we play hockey or baseball, when we pack groceries, when we go fishing, when we prepare a meal and when we gather here for prayer. We are accustomed to doing either/or and we forget that we can do both/and. Sometimes we are so focused on what we are doing that we miss the opportunity to notice and make room for the presence of God. Like the people of Israel in the gospel we are astounded by our experience and we do not see God.
Today we are invited to listen, to be open and to pay attention – to look for God in what we are doing every day. Prayer, whether personal or liturgical is not primarily about us saying words or doing rituals. Prayer is about pausing and making room for God’s voice, for God’s presence, for God’s call; for God. Unfortunately, like the people of Israel we think we know what God wants and we are not so good at listening, at being open and at paying attention. This is true for those who do not come to Church and it is true also for those of us who do.
The words we say, the rituals we do have a purpose; they are to make space for us to hear and to see the Presence of God. When we gather here let us listen, let us be open, let us pay attention so that we see the HOLY ONE OF GOD. Let us take what we see and what we hear in our prayer and let us change the world in which we live. Let us love one another as Christ loves us. It is the Holy One of God who asks this of us!
Last week we were invited to be a light, learning to listen, to recognize and encounter Jesus, and we were invited to let the Holy Spirit guide our words and our actions. Last week we began our preparations for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
This week we are celebrating the Sunday of the Word of God. Pope Francis instituted this Feast with the idea that we would celebrate, reflect and share more generously the Word of God. The Pope wants us to pay more attention to God’s Word.
According to Cardinal Sarah who is in charge of how we celebrate the sacraments, this feast is a means to help people, “reawaken an awareness of the importance of Sacred Scripture for our lives as believers, beginning with its resonance in the liturgy which places us in living and permanent dialogue with God.”
Every time we celebrate the liturgy we read from God’s word. We have a history of focusing on the Body and Blood of Jesus, we tend to focus less on the Word of God. The second Vatican Council invited the Church to change that. We are slow to follow through with this invitation but the establishment of this feast tries to move us in the direction of honoring the Word of God.
Today, it is the word of the Lord that is guiding Jonah in his journey. This is a great story and many of us are familiar with the story. Today it is good for us to focus on the details. Jonah hears the Word of the Lord and responds but he does so reluctantly. His proclamation of God’s Word touches the people and they change their way of being. God is moved by the response of his people and chooses not to punish them.
In Mark’s gospel, we hear that John is arrested and that Jesus starts telling people that the Kingdom of God is near; it is time to repent and believe the Good News. Mark tells us that Jesus begins to gather disciples, calling people to follow him. And they do; they follow him when he calls.
St. Paul tells the Corinthians that it is urgent for them to make changes in their lives. He tells them that their lives are short. It is time to act, to change their behavior. He reminds them that this world as we know it is temporary.
There is a belief that when we graduate from grade 12, we become adults and we can do what we want. It is true, when we turn 18 we can do many things that we could not do before our 18th birthday. It is true, when we turn 18 our lives are changed. We are free to do more things and with that freedom comes responsibility.
As baptized Christians, we are called upon, from our earliest moments, to pay attention to God and to God’s Word. We are called upon to seek God with our whole being. We are called upon to do what God asks of us.
One of the most common verbs in the bible is LOVE! According to scripture scholars the word love is used in the NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION about 500 times. 500 times we are encouraged to love one another.
We find many reasons not to love one another but God’s Word encourages us to ‘love one another’. This is what God does, this is what Jesus calls us to and this is what Paul asks of us.
St. Paul, in Chapter 13 of his first letter to the Christian community at Corinth tells us what love looks like. Most of us know this text off by heart. Many of us spend our time telling one another “DON’T DO THIS OR THAT.” Sacred Scripture, God’s Word tells us to DO – TO LOVE!
Jonah resents God’s interference in his life – he does not love! Jesus appreciates his Father’s presence in his life and he sets about doing what he has been sent to do!
St Paul reminds his people that life is short. What are you going to do with yours?
The feast of God’s Word invites us to love! What will you do with your life? Whether you are 8, 18 or 80, this is a choice that you can make!
Last week we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Mark tells us that as Jesus came up out of the water, the Spirit descended and a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Today in the Book of Samuel, we are told that Samuel hears a voice calling his name. He does not recognize the voice and seeks advice from his elder Eli. Eli fails him twice. Eventually, Eli encourages Samuel to respond to the voice. He encourages him to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” This listening changed Samuel’s life.
In the Gospel reading, we hear that John the Baptist and two of his disciples recognize Jesus as he passes by. John the Baptist says, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” His two disciples follow Jesus and we hear Jesus invite them to, “Come and see.” The disciples follow Jesus and we are told they stay with him. One of them, Andrew makes a statement of faith, acknowledging that they have found the Messiah. He brings his brother Simon Peter to and encounter with the Lord.
In Paul’s letter to the Christians at Corinth, Paul reminds the people to avoid sin. He tells them, that they were created for the Lord, that their body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul says, ‘You are meant to glorify the Lord in your body!’
At times our relationship with God is great and when it is we give thanks and praise to God. We bless others and we work for the Common Good. Sometimes we find ourselves successful, powerful, arrogant, rich and filled with pride. Sometimes we find ourselves lost, confused, hurting, sad, and filled with grief. When we are successful we think we have it made but we don’t really. When we are lost we should be looking for light. In both instances we should be asking deeper questions. We should wonder about the purpose of our life. We should wonder about and ponder how we are with God.
Sometimes we hear statements from government leaders, from family and friends, teachers and priests that we are in charge of our own bodies. We hear statements that suggest we can do with our bodies what we want. We hear statements that suggest we live and we die. These statements are true – but they are incomplete.
Today, sacred scripture challenges these statements and completes them. Yes, this is my body and I am responsible for it. We hear very clearly that this body comes from God; God calls us, God gives us life and God dwells within us. When we open our eyes, we can recognize the presence of God and we can recognize that there is something more to our life than what we can see with our physical eyes.
Today, these sacred texts invite us to pause and ask some questions:
What do I do when the voice of God calls to me? What is my response?
What do I do when I recognize the Lord present in my life and in the lives of those around me?
How do I respond to the Spirit who dwells within me? How do I honor the Spirit in my body? Can people recognize that the Spirit dwells within me?
At this time in our history we need people like Eli, who will invite us to stop and to listen to the Lord. The Lord speaks to each of us today!
At this time in our history we need people like John the Baptist who will point out to us the presence of God. The Lord walks among us today!
At this time in our history we need people who will follow Jesus, and who will stay with him. We are invited to be one with the Lord today!
At this time in our history we need people like Andrew, who will recognize Jesus and who will lead us to an encounter with Jesus that we might hear from him who we really are. Jesus seeks us today!
At this time in our history we need people like St. Paul to remind us that – within my body – the Holy Spirit dwells. We need people like St. Paul to encourage us to glorify God not only with the words we speak but with our actions. We need people like Paul who will encourage us to be our best selves. God needs us today!
We are good at many things. Let us become good at listening, at recognizing Jesus, at encouraging our brothers and sisters to encounter Jesus. Let us become good at recognizing our dignity as temples of the Holy Spirit. Let us become good at letting the Spirit direct our words and our actions.
As this week unfolds let us be a light, that our brothers and sisters might see their path more clearly and seeing might take one more step so as to stand with Jesus.
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI