Mar 21, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Today's Sunday Mass allows us to contemplate on how our Blessed Lord gradually prepared himself to forfeit his life for us on the Cross. Christ’s immediate preparation for His death is put into context in this Sunday Gospel with the arrival of certain Greeks who approach Him.  We are not told exactly what they said to Him, but one thing's for sure - Our Lord seemed, from our perspective, agitated and then starts talking about a seed having to die in the depths of the earth in order to come to life, grow and bear fruit.

Some have speculated about what the Greeks could have said to Our Lord. Maybe, because of the mounting political opposition to Christ and with His arrest imminent, maybe the Greeks offered Him asylum.  Maybe they asked Him to return to Greece with them - that He would have crowds listening to him in Athens - He could dialogue with their great philosophers and wise men!  He’d be safe in Athens.  And even if He felt compelled to die for His beliefs, the Greeks would have reminded Our Blessed Lord that He could have a death like the great philosopher and wise man Socrates who, arrested for spreading new ideas and refusing to worship the Greek gods, he willingly accepted, even welcomed his execution and death.

And that Socrates was not put to death in a long, drawn out excruciatingly painful and barbaric execution, but instead was given the opportunity to die with dignity and respect. He was given a cup of poison to drink, then allowed to walk around until he felt drowsy. He was then given a comfortable couch to lay down and put his feet up, until he quietly slipped away in the gentle embrace of the sleep of death - beautiful and dignified!

How did Christ respond?  He couldn't respond quoting Scripture. The Greeks didn't have the Jewish Bible.  So instead, Our Lord used images from the language of nature. “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

Our Blessed Lord was not trying to be a philosopher. The prospect of the Cross does disturb Him greatly. He calls His approaching death by crucifixion, He calls it His “hour”. He says “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.”

But what was that final purpose.  His final purpose was not to influence our minds, our to give us a new teaching or philosophy of life - or a school of thought, or a manner in which we can become all better people.  As important as all that is - Christ’s final purpose is to save our souls and to help us to reach heaven.  Because of His love for us, He will take upon Himself the price of human sinfulness and pay that price Himself.  

Christ could have avoided it. He had the divine power to even prevent his body experiencing any pain whatsoever.  But no.  Because of His intense love for you and me so that we would not die in sin and lose the opportunity to reach heaven, He willingly, freely, He desired with every fiber of His being to save us, even though in justice we do not deserve it.

The horrific truth of Christ’s crucifixion, is that you and me are fully responsible for it. If we truly believed that, it would provoke us to look into the face of our sins, confess them with true sorrow and amend our lives.  But often, we try to be like the Greeks in the Gospel today and offer Him a “more comfortable” solution.  We so often resist soul searching - so uncomfortable it is - it’s so much easier to read books, think positive thoughts and distract ourselves with this and that.  Christ will not allow us to try to save Him from the Cross.     

This year, we have 25-30 men and women who will be coming into the Church at Easter, to be fully initiated into the life of the Church, through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. Easter will be their sacred hour, as it is ours, as it is for us every Sunday. Their journey, our journey, is not one that takes us to Athens where we can philosophize and admire the museums and look around at the pretty pictures.  Instead, the journey always takes them, takes us to Jerusalem, into the very Heart of Christ opened up for us in the Holy Mass, where we know ourselves to be forgiven, freed of our sins, strengthened by His love most pure, and fed by His Body and Blood.

Let us pray, brothers and sisters, that we will have the strength and the humility to accept the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for our sins and respond by confessing our sins, professing our faith and living lives worthy of Christian discipleship.

Mar 17, 2015

St. Patrick, Apostle to the Irish

In the month of September in the year 1866, an English gentleman, Edwin Wall, was traveling through the north of Ireland and wrote home to his family:

“I was at Ballymena station the other day when I saw a distressing scene. A company of stark young peasants were leaving by the train for Derry from whence they were to take shipping for America. The whole platform was crowded with their friends and relatives, all simple rustic folk. From the hoary headed aged leaning upon its staff to the unconscious infant crowing in its mothers arms - that parting scene was painfully touching.

"Every eye was drowned in tears. And the wild unrestrained cries of affection as they embraced each other again and again moved even the porters to whom such scenes were familiar.

"As the train began to move slowly away two or three of those on the platform clung, screaming to the carriage doors until dragged away. And amongst the wild outcry from those left behind one poor woman fell back upon a seat against the wall wailing, 'oh my darling, my darling'. Whilst an old white haired man, hard by, dropped down upon his knees and with uplifted eyes cried 'Oh may the hand of the blessed God be about thee, my own son.'"

In days past theses were very much the telling scenes of Irish men, women and children, who boarding those great ships packed, with immigrants left home, knowing that they would never see their families again. Whereas today a vacation or business trip could take us half way around the globe without much thought, for the Irish of yesterday and generations past, like many of the immigrants from all over the globe who built up this great county, the Atlantic Ocean was a great expanse so vast that beyond it there was no distant land - it was a new world and a rapidly changing one.

Saint Patrick himself was no stranger to separation from family and his own native land. At the age of fifteen, then a nominal Christian, he was abducted from his father’s villa in Britain and sold into slavery across the sea in Ireland. He was, at heart, a lonely young man and even later in his grown up years as a priest and bishop, his writings reveal that he never really was able to shake off that feeling of being isolated and unwanted. As a teenage prisoner on an island not of his choosing, of course he had no friends or advisors even to guide his journey through the difficult years of adolescence, while condemned to forced labor, watching over livestock, on a hillside my own local tradition of County Antrim identifies as the Hill of Slemish. For six years, practically alone and exposed to the elements and the rapidly changing seasons of a rugged Irish landscape, the young Patrick communed with nature in all her changing moods. His personal sense of isolation also helped awaken him to the peace and beauty of his own Christian faith, which had until them, remained dormant. This way, he was able to always avoid despair and disillusionment.

His six years of forced exile from his own homeland, had made matured him. For suffering is, like the blows of a chisel bringing character to hardened rock can define us beautifully if we are open to grace . Little did he know that God was preparing him to be a loving, patient, tolerant as well as a skillful Good Shepherd, which would one day be required of him through every season of every year. And it was, within his isolation that he gradually yielded to the promptings of his soul which awaked the Holy Spirit within him. It was this Spirit which highlighted the twenty one year old's opportunity to escape his captors, to flee Ireland and return home to Britain, but no doubt, now as a changed man. And it would also be the Holy Spirit who would direct the young Patrick to rediscover his faith, not something born from a fertile imagination or a faith peculiar to his own personality. When he found his way home to his father’s house, he re-discovered the faith of the larger Church, fittingly called even in those early days “catholic”.

Patrick did not return to his former captors to teach them a lesson, or to impose a religion upon them, instead through his love of the Scriptures, and reflecting on the life of Christ, instead of anger and resentment for his imprisonment, he learnt to forgive his enemies. In his soul now purified by prayer, he could hear the “Glor na Gael”, the voices of the Irish calling out, not for him, but for Christ. Patrick would later return to the pagan Irish as the first missionary bishop since the days of the apostles.

What was the reason for his success in bringing Christianity to the Irish? It was his honesty. His writings reveal a man who was not afraid to speak the truth and he did this without fear. His whole life was an open book and his vocation, as was his ministry was always in response to something bigger than himself. Because of this he was listened to, respected and even feared. Probably evoking memories of his own enslavement as a boy, it was Patrick’s influence that saw Ireland as the first nation in the world to legally outlaw slavery, one thousand four-hundred years before the American Civil war defined that question throughout these lands.

Many times in the face of opposition and jealously, he was tempted against his mission, and even tempted against his faith. But he persevered, praying constantly, working relentlessly for the salvation of the Irish, explaining and teaching the Christian faith in a language they could understand, using nature herself to explain the true God, the creator of the heavens and the earth. Despite the pain of exile he always felt, in thirty years he transformed a whole nation, and within one generation all of the Irish from kings to peasants accepted the Christian faith and were baptized into the Church.

(Only one other county in the history of Christianity would witness a mass conversion of its indigenous people to the faith without force or coercion – Mexico after the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who likewise spoke to the people of the land in a language they understood, using imagery taken from a culture likewise rich in symbols from nature describing the world of the heavens and who it spilled over into all creation.)

The Church looks to Patrick as a saint. In doing so she places before us someone whose life is worthy of imitation - a life that pointed to Christ and salvation through him alone. We are not followers of St. Patrick, but the One whom he followed faithfully through every season, Jesus Christ. St. Patrick did not simply share himself with others. Because his life was intimately configured to Christ’s, he could not offer his own life without offering Christ’s.

Patrick was Christ-like through and through. The Son of God became an exile far from home taking the place of a slave, carrying the heavy burden of humanity’s suffering to a hill called Calvary where as a shepherd, he not only watched over his flock, but gave his life for as a ransom for many. And even after death, he returned, resurrected from the grave to bring light to those in darkness and to show us the true path that leads to salvation. 

Through this Holy Eucharist what nature has given us will be touched by the breath of God. Bread and wine of the old order is transformed into the first fruits of the new order creation who is Christ himself, through whom all things were made and remade. For the wayward traveler , the holy pilgrim and even the passer by, the Holy Sacraments are beacons of the Light of Christ pointing the disciple along the right way, no longer as exiles far from home, but brothers and sisters. 

Let us support and encourage each other on our journey to the hill of Calvary and the empty tomb of Easter and beyond it still, to the land of promise – which is everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Mar 14, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Lent

This Fourth Sunday of Lent, traditionally known as "Laetare Sunday," is flavored with a sense of joy. Although this season is marked by the sobering disciplines of penance, today we hear the words from Holy Scripture "Rejoice Jerusalem!" as we sang for our introit, that is our entrance hymn, which sets the pace of our journey. Halfway through Lent, we can say, we have the Holy city of Jerusalem in sight with an expectation of Easter ahead of us.

And this is good news! It assures me that there is a goal to which we are striving for, and it is in sight. Today, we get a hint of it.  The penances we do and the sacrifices we make are not an end in themselves. That would be sheer cruelty - even a hell!  Instead, our penances and sacrifices help up reach a happy goal.  Yes, they can take much effort and endurance to do, like rowing a boat at times through rough waters and then through various storms.  But then we hear someone cry out “land ahoy!”, we don’t stop. Our rowing instead becomes animated with a joy that what has been sometimes like a dream is now becoming a reality. Christian hope and joy are inseparable.

This is why, I want to assure you and encourage you, that the sacrifices you make out of love of God and your neighbor, are well spent.  And that has to be the motivation - love of God and our neighbor. If the motivation of my sacrifices is to make me feel good about myself - then the focus is not God, nor God’s beloved sons and daughters - the focus easily becomes selfish. When I depend on others to make me happy, when they don’t, then how easy it is to be filled with the opposite of joy. The opposite of joy, is not sorrow.  It is despair.

And that does not please God. What does?  “God loves the cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7), the one who can rejoice, even when burdened, who has an inner strength even when weak, who can disarm the strong even when injured, who can heal even when weak, and can give life abundantly even when dying.

Of course, this is Christ - Christ on the Cross, lifted high and shown to the world by God. A terrorist would flaunt a crucified man on a pole in front of us to to frighten us, to scare us into submission or provoke us to destructive anger.  But our Heavenly Father lifts high the Cross of His beloved Son, not to bring fear - but freedom, healing, strength and - even joy!

Now, you may say that this does not make sense. You are right! It does not make sense if we do not believe in the Easter event, the resurrection of Christ from the dead.  (“Whoever does not believe has already been condemned”) To see the Cross in the light of the Resurrection, allows us to rejoice, to have hope that what we are asked to endure, the sacrifices we willing make for the sake of love God - do in fact bring us to a new life. “So that everyone who believes in him might not perish  but might have eternal life.”

I will therefore encourage you by making a point with a visual reminder.  Look at this portrayal of Christ on the Cross.  Unlike other crucifixes you might see that might show Christ in all his agony and unimaginable pain - look again at Cimabue's cross above the rood screen in this church. Does it not hint of his resurrection - as if Our Lord was gracefully being lifted up from death itself in the powerful but gentle dance of the resurrection? The cross is never the final word. 

Let us ask God for the grace of a new motivation to carry whatever cross we may find ourselves with  and do so joyfully, knowing that, if we do so out of love of God and neighbor, then we too will share in the joy of our own resurrection from the dead.

Mar 9, 2015

Third Sunday of Lent

The Gospel we have listened to, has exposed us to "violence". Too often we can fall into the  habit of thinking of Christ in the images we are so accustomed to seeing him portrayed in stained-glass windows or holy cards. As beautiful as the image of Christ the Good Shepherd, gently carrying a little lamb on his shoulders - rewind the story. 

You'll notice that the shepherd had a slingshot which he used, on this occasion, not on the wolves, but on a wayward lamb that separated itself from the flock, hitting him with precision right on the ankle. That got to hurt!  The little lamb was hurting bad, couldn't walk, was mad as hell with the shepherd. It probably tried to wrestle itself away from the shepherd, but the more it struggled, the more that ankle throbbed with pain. 

I'm sure the shepherd also suffered some cuts and bruises, maybe even a few bites, as he tried to steady the lamb securely around his shoulders! After some time of violent protest, the lamb had to give up - it was to weak, tired, sore. It abandoned itself, submitted to the commandments of the shepherd.  It would take time to heal, during which, "forced" to be hanging around the neck of the shepherd, that lamb would slowly beginning to trust the shepherd, become "attached", so much so that when the swelling came down, the bruising disappeared and the pain subsided, when it was placed on its all-fours again, the lamb would never leave the shepherd's side again. 

I provide this image as an introduction to the passion of love that "rages" within the heart of God, revealed to us in the scriptures today.  The first reading describes God as a jealous lover, as someone who is very protective of us, knowing how easily we can be lead astray. The Commandments are to protect us from ourselves, and from each other. God knows how his children behave when he's not looking! When we break the commandments, we break our heavenly Father's heart, who knows the dangers we are often tempted to entertain.
And in the Gospel, we see our God in Jesus charging around the holy temple, smashing and destroying anything which stood to exploit and abuse the tender faith of his people, particularly the poor and vulnerable so close to his heart.

But let be careful that Our Lord's example does not become an excuse for our own "righteous" violence.  When we are passionate about something, we tend to destroy, we tend to want to get even, we bully and intimidate in order to teach someone a lesson, or to make a point.  Christ not only overturned the tables that were set up like barricades between God and his people, Christ turned the tables around, "destroy this temple (do violence against this temple) and in three days I will raise it up." When we destroy something, all we can do is try to glue it back together.  But it's never the same - even the memory of our past sins and injustices can still haunt and shame us.

This is why, as Christians, the only "destructive behavior" we can embrace, must be modeled on the actions of Christ. Is not the Lenten practice of penance, in a way a type of "violence" against our natural tendency to be complacent, to be lazy, apathetic, even bored with what we become so used to in our relationship with God, our neighbor and our brothers and sisters?  Our temples do need to be cleansed, sometimes, a deep cleansing. At times we have to do violence to our fallen nature, so that with God's gentle but powerful grace, we can be cleansed from the pollution of sinful attachments, destructive habits and selfish attitudes. 

If we allow Christ the Good Shepherd of our souls to get in there and cleanse this temple, even allow it to be toppled, as scary as it might be, then we might be finally free to love with genuine passion, with purity, with justice but must of all without fear or suspicion, regardless of the world we find ourselves in.

"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up".  We are told the disciples remembered Christ saying this after the resurrection.  But, they forget it during his crucifixion.  The only one who didn't, was Christ's mother. She stood beside the cross, while they slowly destroyed and crucified her Son to death. She experienced violence, barbarity, cruelty and utter destruction.  But she believed, even in the hour of death, that God would triumph and Christ would rise again. When you feel the rage within, the anger around or the violence about, stay close to mother Mary. She always assures us that the Good Shepherd never abandons his flock.

Mar 2, 2015

Second Sunday of Lent

I hope that the novelty of the Season of Lent has not worn thin after just over a week!  We often try to start new beginnings with much enthusiasm. We often attach ourselves to particular points of reference as starting points. The New Year, Ash Wednesday, when I’m 21, at the age of 40. When I get out of school. When I retire.  How long did your New Year resolution last? It’s ten days since Ash Wednesday.  Has anything changed? Has it been hard work? Or did we even begin?

Sometimes when we try to push ourselves we often become easily disappointed when we either fail or when we do not meet our goals. And we seem to be always playing “catch up”, running a little late and arriving a little out of breath.

Here is the good news. It’s not about being pushed. It is about following and seeing.  Christ does not push us up this big mountain. He is not the drill sergeant. No. He leads the way and we follow.  But where does he want to take us?

It’s not so much that he wants to take us to a place. Christ wants to show us something, something that we can not see right now, something over the horizon.

Now, I think all of us have this experience in some way. Do you remember the first time in school you looked through the lens of a microscope, or looked through a telescope, or you arrived to somewhere like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park? And all of a sudden, what was always there before you in everyday ordinariness, it  now exploded with new life.

(I remember as a young boy, my teacher leading us over to his desk and having us, one by one, to look down a microscope at a blade of grass. It was incredible. I was staring at a wall made up of green bricks and glass cement!  And then at university, at an outside astronomy class, the first time I looked through a telescope at what I thought was the bright star in the night sky.  But what I saw was a luminous and yellowish round orb, with a ring around it and nearby what looked like a tiny golf ball! It was the planet Saturn and one of its moons. I was transported to a world seven and a half million miles away. I would never look at the ground beneath my feet or the stars above my head ever in the same way again.)

Now, of course, our life can be full of experiences like this on a much grander scale or at times, we get little glimpses of things wonderful.  But we have to be careful, because sometimes our imaginations, our dreams or even our nightmares can color our perceptions.

We live in a world of sleek advertising, simulations and special effects. When we see something and our reaction is “wow” or “cool” - that’s not what I’m talking about.  It’s not about walking into a world of Alice in Wonderland.  Rather, it’s when you do not see a different world. But it’s when, all of a sudden,  you see the world differently. You can no longer take it for granted or at face value. You see the world, or you glimpse something of it and it brings you to its original purity, or its beauty, its innocence, to its raw strength or in its magnificent majesty or to its most noble simplicity - you see, and dare I say this, you see with the eyes of God!  

Jesus asked his disciples to follow him up this mountain - to see something that would change their way of seeing everything.  But at first, his disciples, like ourselves at times, we tire easily and we get bored with the ordinary routine things. We take for granted what’s around us. “You’ve been to one mountain, you’ve been to them all!” So while they curled up and snoozed, Christ, wide awake, stood on the top of that mountain and bathed himself in the glory of God - he immersed himself the power and purity of divinity - which resonated through him, his body, his clothing - every cell and fiber of his body - it sang with the harmony of God himself. It was beautiful, powerful.

When the disciples rubbed the sleep from their eyes, and somehow got a glimpse of this, a visual hint of Christ’s unique relationship this Father, they didn't say, “wow” or “that’s cool” or “how does he do that”.  The disciples where - and here’s an expression used by the Irish - they were “gobsmacked!” - so astonished, taken aback, blown away with amazement - they were speechless - and even when St. Peter opens his mouth to say something - he starts blabbering nonsense!  But it was something joyous, wonderful - beautiful, powerful.

Christ did not want his disciples to go up another mountain in the same way ever again.  And, of course Mount Calvary, where he would be stretched out between heaven and earth and crucified to death - he wanted to prepare his disciples to see his sacrifice on the cross, not distracted by man’s inhumanity to man, or by the barbarity of being tortured to death. Could they see his sacrifice of his body and blood on the cross as the greatest manifestation of love, human and divine that could ever be made in all the universe?

As a child, when I looked down that microscope for the first time, or when I saw right before me, the rings of Saturn, did I fully understand, really appreciate what I was looking at. When we are allowed to glimpse the power and beauty of God, we often do not understand what we are experiencing at that very moment. But with time, it can change, not the world, it can change our lives.

I would encourage you, when you get a glimpse of the glory of God, don’t try to put it in a bottle, or take a photograph of it. When you go to confession and then within twenty-four hours sin again, do not despair.  Instead, enkindle in your mind what you saw with the eyes of God and ponder on its wonderfulness.  Remember that sense of relief, joy and freedom you experienced when you left the confession box with a lighter step than when you arrived. In those moments when it is dark, try to see once again with the eyes of God.

"I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words. All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,

His cross is every tree.”  
Joseph Mary Plunkett (1887-1916)

Feb 24, 2015

The Journey to Easter - Part One

As guide through this Holy Season which points us towards Easter, I am offering these reflections based on discussions I have begun with some of those who are on the journey into the heart of the Catholic Faith.

The season of Lent is very important especially to those adults who are seeking entry into the Church through the Sacraments of Initiation. We must support them in our prayers and encourage them by our example. It is my hope, all might find these reflections helpful in our own journey of faith.

Step by Step

A “leap of faith” is generally not one big jump from one side of the river to the other. The journey is sometimes as important as the destination.  To that end, I’m offering some “stepping stones”.  

If you use them, take your time. There is no hurry. We will often want to test and secure our footing first before attempting to take the next step. Sometimes we might find ourselves stuck on one stone and a little fearful to move. Be assured, when Jesus invited his disciples into the boat he said to them "Let us go to the other side". The context of that event might be helpful.

Read the Gospel of Luke 8:22-25

Even though a storm developed and the disciples panicked, remarkably Jesus was sleeping. It would seem that he would have good reason to be annoyed with them for disturbing him! Why? He had told them they were going to the other side of the lake. The implication of God telling us this, is that, if we stay on the ship where Christ is (that's the barque of Peter) we "will indeed" get to the other side, regardless of any storm, upset, being thrown off course or distracted by pirates!
The reason is simple. Christ travels with us. It matters not if he is above or below deck, awake or resting, the ship is secure.

Every week, I’ll add a few more steps.  
With perseverance we will get to the other side!

First Reflection:  

What are my own experiences of sickness, suffering, weakness, violence and evil in my own life and in the world around me?

Read Book of Job, Chapter 7 Verse 1 to 6

Meditation on Psalm 68 (in generic Bibles it is usually numbered as 69)
It begins with these or similar words - “Save me Lord for the waters have come up to my neck…”

Second Reflection:

Can someone really be an atheist? “I don’t believe that God exists.” Reply, “Do you care if God exists?” Why do you care? Why do you not care?

Read Book of Job, Chapter 7 Verses 16 to 21

Meditation on Psalm 13  (in generic Bibles it is usually numbered as 14)
It begins with these or similar words - “The fool says in their heart, there is no God…”

Third Reflection:

The difference between knowledge and faith.  “I know” and “I believe”.  Can I say I “know” God?  Can I “believe” that there “is” a God without really having knowledge that God exists? Why is there anything instead of nothing? Can I reasonably assume there is a God? Does knowledge by itself necessarily tell me that God is personal, relational, intimate or even good?

Read Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 17, verses 21 to 32

Meditation on Psalm 8
It begins with these or similar words - “When I see the work of your hands…”

Fourth Reflection:

Think of how big this universe is and the size of this planet in relation to the Sun, the solar system, our galaxy and the millions of galaxies that make up this universe.

Consider that the God who created (from nothing) the universe (which for Him is like what a particle of dust is to us!) - consider that this all-powerful God takes an interest in a small unsophisticated desert tribe of people.  

Read Genesis Chapter 12, verses 1 - 7

Read Leviticus Chapter 26, verses 11- 13

Feb 22, 2015

First Sunday of Lent

In the Desert with Wild Beasts

The Gospel we have just listened to recalls that Christ found himself in the desert in the midst of wild beasts.  We too find ourselves in the midst of a world where there are wild beasts and dangerous creatures of every kind.  I’m not talking about those that we know look menacing and we can easily avoid.

Did you know that one of the most poisonous creatures in the animal world is the box jellyfish. It floats around the warm waters off Asia and Australia. This creature is so transparent that it is practically invisible. It has tentacles that can stretch to nearly ten feet. It’s venom is so poisonous it can cause a heart attack and death within 5 minutes.

Unless someone is fully protected, why would anyone in their right mind go swimming in an environment known to be infested by these type of near-invisible creatures? Because, there are many times when we are not in our right mind.  

Now, when I talked about the box jellyfish, I was careful to note that it was one of the most poisonous creatures in the “animal” world. The all-time most poisonous creature, not nearly invisible, but in fact, truly invisible, that exists in any world, is in fact the devil, and his legion of angels, we call demons.

These creatures, extremely intelligent, will never engage with their prey in open face to face combat.  Think of it like a malicious and devious computer hacker who will try to get into a secure network and once in, attempt to cause damage by disrupting all the protocols and commands. Once inside, the system can easily be manipulated to do things it was not designed to do by its creator.

To illustrate how the devil does this (Bishop Fulton Sheen provides good insight into the whole psychology of temptation) let’s look at the human brain.  From the outside, it looks unremarkable - there is no color to it.  In fact, think of the mind as (and I’m using coded language here) - think of the mind as “fifty shades of grey”. Even though from the outside, it looks nothing remarkable, very plain, even boring, deep within, there is embedded particular impulses - we’ll call them “flammable material”.

The first is “sex” in all its natural purity. It’s the reason we have families - the reason we all have mothers and fathers. In itself, as intended by our Creator, it’s natural. The second natural impulse is that desire to go beyond our limitations, to learn new things, to reach out beyond the stars, to be curious how things work so we can improve our world. A third natural impulse of the mind is to have things, ownership - an external guarantee of security, protection. It’s why we build homes, why we protect our space, what we own.

Each one of these desires are good in themselves. But what happens if an outside agent is able to get into your mind, or expose your mind to evil influence, even remotely?  If you do not have a strong defense, a shield or the assurance of a firewall of some sort, then we open the door and allow, for example, these natural desires, to become corrupted. It begins with the corruption of our thought processes. We start justifying corrupt behavior. We say things like, “everyone does it”, or “this is a free society - we should be free to do anything we want”, or “I am entitled to get what I want, because I’ve earned it”.

This is how the devil can slowly break down our defenses and get inside our minds.  If he stays there and we give him free room and board, what he will want to do is to reprogram our minds, not only to justify bad behavior, but also he will want to get us to repeat the bad behavior again and again and again, creating a unending habit.  Think of how a spider uses his web. One thread is weak and easily broken. But if you are in the habit allowing the spider to circle you, if you do not try to break that habit, your freedom is compromised.

If we do not guard our natural instincts from external manipulation (what we watch, look at and compare ourselves with) and we if do not break bad habits that we will instinctively justify (by saying things like, I’m not breaking the law, or it’s nobody’s business what I do) then not only do we play into the devil’s hand, we will head down the road to suffocating loneliness, desperate anxiety and destructive violence.  And that is to find yourself in a desert with wild animals.

But there is a way out.  Christ has gone into that desert where wild beasts and creatures roam.  He has gone there looking for me and for you - to rescue us from loneliness, the boredom and the emptiness of the desert - to bring us home, to the refreshing waters of Galilee.  How? The Sacrament of Confession gives us the assurance of God’s protective love against the evil one.  It gives us the resolve to break bad habits that we become so accustomed to.  It free us to seek love in all its purity, holiness in all its power and strength and freedom to have, to hold and to give our lives joyfully in the service of our brothers and sisters.

In the Season of Lent, we will continue to have confessions before the Sunday Masses, on Wednesday night at 7pm and throughout north county at various other parishes during the coming weeks. Check the bulletin for local listings!