Mar 18, 2018

His Finest Hour

Today's Sunday Mass for the Fifth Sunday of Lent 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. He then starts talking about a seed having to die in the depths of the earth in order for it to come to life, to 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. He bleed to stop us bleeding! 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 present oneself refined and polished, sophisticated, ready in an instant to pose for the camera - anything to avoid looking interiorly, within the history of our lives, searching with for that old wound that still slowly bleeds.      

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 pose and philosophize, admire the museums and gaze at the pretty pictures.  Instead, the journey always takes us to Jerusalem, into the very Heart of Christ, opened up for us on the cross and its power to heal harnessed through every Mass where we know ourselves to be forgiven, freed of our sins, strengthened by His love most pure, and fed by His glorious and Risen 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 10, 2018

Spoiler Alert : )

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 the portrayal of Christ on the Cross here at St. Margaret's.  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 3, 2018

God's Violence

The Gospel we have listened to (John 2:13-25), 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 typical shepherd had a slingshot which he used on various occasions, not only on the wolves, but on any 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 our Lord's example can never be 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.

Feb 24, 2018

Take off your shades!

There is one line from today’s opening prayer of the Mass, the Collect as we call it, that captures everything that we have just listened to in the Gospel. It reads, “With spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold your glory”.

Just think of it, what would we be able to see if our spirit sight was pure? We would be able to see, with our actual eyes, the divine nature, unfiltered!

I reflect first on our Blessed Mother, Mary - Mary Most Pure. What did she see when she held her child Jesus for the first time and looked upon His little face? She could see in her plain sight, as clear as day, the glory of God shining through every fiber of His body. No one else could. But because her spiritual sight was pure, Mary always saw the glory of God in Christ. She always rejoiced. 

And even when Mary lost Him from her sight for three days, when she arrived at the temple she only had to scan the crowd of thousands and she could instantly see where the tiny figure of her Son was hiding. “There He is,” Mary would have said to Joseph pointing into the mass of people. “I see Him. There He is. There, in the middle of that crowd”. “I’m looking! But don’t see Him,” Joseph replies. “All I see is people. They all look the same!”. But Mary most Pure, was able to see and behold the one person alone who shone brightly with the glory of God. That’s probably why she, herself, went into the crowd of people and took the young Jesus by the hand, and brought Him home, not without a few words of her own!  

But, to everyone else, Christ appeared to them as just another man. When they looked at Him, some saw Him as a teacher, or a performer of miracles. Others, when they saw Him, only could see a Jewish rabbi with long hair and a beard, a good inspirational speaker, a great teller of stories, a wandering holy man. When Pontius Pilate looked at Him, all he could see was a criminal. Only with spiritual sight made pure, can anyone of us see the glory of God.

Interestingly, when the devils looked at Christ, because demons have also pure spiritual sight, they screamed in pain and agony!

But what about Peter, James and John we hear about in the Gospel, how were they able to see the glory of God shining through Christ’s body?

By themselves, they couldn’t. They had to be led up to that mountaintop by Jesus Himself. He gave them, but just for a little while, the gift of the spiritual purity of sight. In that moment, they were allowed to see what angels and heavenly beings could only see. Their reaction? They were dumbfounded, tongue tied, mesmerized. But, sadly, their eyesight would quickly return to its familiar way of seeing Jesus as they saw Him before - a Jewish rabbi, albeit one worthy of a monument with His name upon it.

The season of Lent that we have entered into offers us an opportunity to renew the purity of our sight, to help us see clearly where the glory of God is, and where He is not. 

The disciplines of Lent, especially Confession and almsgiving, if entered into with faith, can allow us, not only a new insight to ourselves and a new way of seeing those around us, but will help us to see God, with our very own eyes.

For many of us, we are blind to the glory of God, often because we are too busy looking at ourselves, more concerned about how we are seen by others, how we appear in public, wanting to be admired.  You can spend a lot of time, energy and money maintaining and polishing your own image, exaggerating your own importance and achievements, insisting on the best of everything to look good and be admired. But, what does this do? Instead of drawing others attention to the glory of God, I am drawing their attention, for whatever reason, to the glory of “me!”.  You are guilty of breaking the first commandment - “You shall not put other gods before Me, says the Lord.” 

And what is the first casualty of self-fixation? Relationships - blindness to the feelings and needs of those around you, a total lack of compassion.  

It happens to the clergy, when we want to be the center of attention, or praised for good works or insist on titles and privileges.

It happens between spouses and friends, when one makes no effort to share in the suffering or hardships of the other.

It happens in family life, when no one really talks to each other because everyone’s too busy working, studying, watching movies or updating their profiles.

It happens to even single people, when they try to get noticed by others or try to become invisible or not noticed.

This is why the practice of almsgiving is so important for the Christian. We do it, not to feel good about ourselves, or we are back to looking at ourselves in the mirror. No, we do it because we seek to see the glory of God, shining in our neighbor, the poor, the lonely, the forgotten, even the one who is suffering because they think that God is nowhere to be found in their life.

When St. Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, by Christ appearing to him transfigured in glory, he fell to the ground and became blind. On the third day, he was baptized and instantly regained his sight, but now with a clearer vision of what God was asking of him. 

Is that not where our journey to Easter also leads us? To the waters of baptism, renewed and cleansed every time we go to Confession. 

So that, as the opening prayer reminded us, “With spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold [God’s] glory”.

Feb 18, 2018

Keep Moving!

First Sunday of Lent  

When we open the Book of the Gospel and hear it read from this place, in a certain sense we do not simply hear words spoken out loud. We do not simply follow along in our own books, or just listen. Instead, the source of these words come from God himself. Go beneath the surface of the page, God invites us into the actual event.

On this First Sunday of Lent, God invites us to put ourselves into the very heart of a battle between good and evil.  We are not detached observers watching a fight break out at a hockey game or watching from the comfort of our home a youtube clip of a huge tsunami wrecking damage and destruction. Instead, incredibly, when the Scriptures open up a window into the Christ's one-on-one with Satan, we have been thrown into the very arena itself!

Because it is a familiar image to us, especially living on the Pacific coast, consider the similarities between, for example, that much covered tsunami, some years ago, that destroyed so many lives and livelihoods; compare that tsunami with the devil and the forces of evil that likewise destroys lives and livelihoods.  When Satan appears on the horizon, he can often be ignored.  If we ignore the signs and signals of danger, looking out to the edge of the world, Satan appears distant, non-threatening. It’s easy to dismiss him, even to conclude that he’s not real nor dangerous.

But as he gets closer, there is a certain curiosity, even a fascination with his potential power. Let’s wait and see what happens.  It’s so easy to be drawn to its power, it’s form, and you want to watch it, study it, in a way – to entertain it. Evil seduces, it excites - evil always begs our curiosity, demands our attention, entices us into its own adventure.  But notice how it does so.

It captures our attention, it literary “captures” our attention, and we become frozen. Our rational thinking becomes twisted, illogical.  You stand in front of a giant monster and you want to take a photo of it, you want open up a dialogue – you think you can outrun it, or tell it to go back where it came from.  But then, as if with one click on a keyboard, like the mighty wave that crashes on the land, evil revels itself.

When we allow sin, in all its disguises, to entertain us, in a way, we are surrounded by the force of darkness and we loose our freedom.  We surrender our mind to its madness, our body to its rage and our soul to its poison.

When we ignore the signals, when we allow ourselves to be curious, when you want to get closer for a better view, when we sense the shimmering of excitement like a wild animal tasting blood for the first time, what message do we send Satan? Consent, consent to overpower us, and upon us to heap all the junk and debris which comes with the wave of destruction. 

And if we come out of it alive, with a dumb look on our faces, we say, it just happened.  Amazing. We see it coming our way, we know the signs and signals that alert us to danger, and we say to the power of the devil, “bring it on”.  The arrogance we have, thinking that we can, with our own strength, defeat and outrun Satan.

But we can defeat him and be free from our curious attachment to evil. Only by running to Christ, standing with him on higher ground can we hope to be delivered and win back our freedom. 

To do so, first we have to be honest with ourselves and with God. We have to acknowledge our stupidity, our arrogance and our weakness, and do so before God. God always shows mercy to the sinner who wakens up, who wakes up, the sinner who comes to their senses, the sinner who has the humility to confess their own sins and trust in His divine mercy.

For this reason, after He conquered the devil's power over death itself, the resurrected and victorious Christ breathed his Holy Spirit into his apostles and told them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven" (John 20:23).  The power of this sacrament Christ has given to His Church, unleashes the powerful but gentle breath of God that pushes back waves of sin and darkness that too often engulfed us. 

During the On Saturday's at 5:15pm and Sunday mornings, as usual, we are offering a continuous opportunity to go to Confession. If it has been a while and you know in your heart you should go, don't let the battle between good and evil, subtle as it sometimes is in your life, become a spectator sport. Know that God invites you (and me) to His side and take encouragement that Christ our savior has won the good fight to leads us, as a good shepherd does, to a place of safety and freedom from fear and all that could harm us.

Feb 14, 2018

How do you plead?

St. Valentine's Ash Wednesday - Lent begins.  

I am very aware that tonight is, for many couples, date night. But I want to assure you, that even St. Valentine himself went to church on Ash Wednesday. And instead of receiving a kiss on the forehead leaving the smudge marks of lipstick, he was smeared with ashes that left a really dirty mark. That’s better than a slap on the face by someone saying, “Who do you take me for? A fool?”

Tonight I am going to go out on a limb. Some of you might react to this reflection by thinking to yourself, “that priest is talking blarney”. Some of you might react with by getting upset. Some of you may switch off or get up and leave. How you react is your own business and I’ll get to that the end if you give to speak and the hold my peace. 

But what I’m about to say is really not any of your business. It is God’s business. And He has made our lives His business because He gave you and me 10 Commandments to obey. We are either guilty or not guilty of disobeying His laws. The fact that any of us have shown up tonight is an indication, that somewhere in our God-given lives, we know ourselves, in good conscience, to be guilty of disobeying Our heavenly Father’s law, laws given to us for our own protection - from others and even ourselves. 

To each of God’s Commandments I will now ask that you, not loud, but only in your heart and mind, to respond to yourself, “guilty”, or “not guilty”. That’s all. 

God’s First Commandment: “You shall not put any god before Me”. 
You are accused of spending more time and giving priority to your friends, your family, your job, or your pastimes than to God. You are accused of revolving your life around the internet, sports, financial security and what you own. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Second Commandment: “You shall not take the name of God in vain”. 
You are accused of using the divine given name “Jesus”, a sacred name that even the demons tremble when uttered in prayer - of using the sacred name out of habit to channel your frustrations or your fears. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Third Commandment: “You shall keep the Lord’s Day holy.”  
You are accused of not going to church every single Sunday, regardless if you do not receive Holy Communion. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Fourth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother”. 
You are accused of disrespecting your parents, by showing anger at them, ignoring them, not looking after their welfare, not praying for them, using your own position as a father or a mother to control. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Fifth Commandment: “You shall not kill”. 
Regardless of circumstances, be it at the gallows, in battle or at a clinic, hospital, hospice or highway, you are accused of taking a human life, encouraging a life to be taken, not intervening to save a human life, putting your own life or other’s lives in any sort of danger. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Sixth Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery”.
You are accused of entertaining lust in your heart, you are accused of directing it towards another person, you are accused of lustful self pleasure, you are accused of looking at pornagraphic images, you are accused of unnatural sexual acts with your own kind or kindred. You are accused living like a married couple when you are not. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Seventh Commandment: “You shall not steal”. 
You are accused of taking what you know does not belong to you and that you should not have. You are accused of using other people for your own gain. You are accused of hoarding your possessions and not giving or making sacrifices for anyone. You are accused of not helping to support the Church to the best of your ability.  In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Eighth Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness”. 
You are accused of speaking ill about some else. You are accused of lying, embellishing the facts or ridiculing another person. You are accused of using flattery or charm to deceive or distract someone from the truth, bragging or belittling someone regardless of the circumstances. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

God’s Ninth and Tenth Commandments: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or your neighbor’s goods.”
You are accused of being envious, jealous, living in a fantasy world. You are accused of thinking yourself superior to others. You are accused of being reckless with your money, flaunting your riches or your personal gifts or talents. In the secret of your heart, Guilty or not guilty?

These are God’s Commandments- plain and simple. If we are guilty of sin, we are guilty as charged. If you are guilty and knowing so makes you react with anger or frustration, don’t blame me, the Church, your upbringing, your environment. Just look at the actual sins you committed and laws of God you broke. If the speedometer says you were driving 80 miles and hour, you likely were doing that speed, regardless of why you were. If you’re not guilty, then you’re not. You are guilty or not guilty. That’s the truth.

But if any of us are guilty of breaking any of  God’s Commandments and refuse to answer directly, the our guilt will come out one way or another. Even though we are very good at trying to cover up our guilt, God’s law catches up with all of us.

My dear friends, the reason we are here tonight, whether we realise it or not, is that, underneath all the masks we wear and excuses we make, we know that we are guilty and need to do something about it. 

Today is a step in the right direction to owning up to our sins. Receiving Ashes on our forehead is a sign we are pleading guilty to breaking God’s Commandments. And I will be the first to accuse myself and make my own head with ashes. If you do not follow through with what we are going to do tonight, and leave here without truly acknowledging your guilt and being resolved to keep God’s Commandments from this hour on, then you’ll either be on the run for the rest of our life with a mark on your head or you will be constantly angry at God for loving you the right way!

Guilty or not guilty. We have 40 days to present any new evidence. In the meantime, in lieu of bail, we must fast, pray and give alms.

(P.S. If you are guilty, show up for sentencing on any Saturday at 5:15pm or on Sunday morning at 8am or 10:30am, and take a number!)

Feb 11, 2018

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Our Lord did not go out looking for the leper so that He could to heal him. The leper came to him.  What would have been his motivation to seek out Christ’s healing touch?

I would like you to consider how the leper must have seen himself to begin with. This might be a good place to start for each one of us, as Ash Wednesday is in three days, beginning the annual season of Lent when we are called to make an examination of conscience, to look at ourselves truthfully. We do this, not by looking at ourselves in the mirror. There are three reasons I think this is often unhelpful.

First, the mirror is by its nature an instrument of “self”- reflection. What if you looked at it and you didn't see what liked? What if you looked at it and saw only what you liked? What if you avoided a mirror completely?

Let’s test this out with the leper.

1.  He could have looked at himself in the mirror and seeing his face he was horrified. He saw his disfigurement. He smashes the mirror and depressed, climbs into a dark hole and begins licking his wounds.
2.  He could have looked at himself in the mirror and seeing himself, remarked how he had the power to evoke fear and mayhem. People would see me, drop everything, and just move in and take their valuables. Easy picking. 
3. He could have avoided the mirror completely but then he’d get angry that this family and friends were avoiding him, or running away from him. He’d start seeing them as threats, and as problems, never really understanding why he is being isolated, left alone to wander from one deserted place to another.

So what motivated the leper to seek out the Lord? Was it a final desperate act of someone depressed because he was being eaten up from the inside? Was it a calculating move of someone who knew he would get something from a healer without having to spend a dime in return. Or was he attracted to the Lord’s power so that, having been restored to full health and strength, the leper could now be in a position to repay all those who had mocked him, avoided and punished him unnecessarily?

We all have leprosy. It affects us in various ways. And in our fear, our pride or our frustration, we are often masters at covering it up, or exploiting the goodwill of others or taking it out on our family or friends. Even though you may not be able to detect it in your own life, the devil, like a shark, has a nose for the even the slightest smell of blood or an open wound, even from miles away.

So, back to the question: in this incident in the Gospel, what motivated the leper to seek out the Lord? Desperation, advantage, opportunity? None of them.  No one can truly seek to go face to face with the Lord, unless God had first given them the grace to do so. The grace of a truthful examination of conscience.  And from the opening words of the Gospel it is apparent that that grace was given to him, and he courageously, even though he was hurting, or angry or being ashamed, he saw himself in the purifying light of God. How do we know?

The first sign is body language!

The leper knelt down before Christ. When one kneels before anyone, it's a sign of surrender and vulnerability. That’s why the devil has no knees.The proud can not kneel, only those who are humble before God. The virtue of humility is not natural. It is instead, a grace from God. In preparation for a true examination of conscience, ask God for the gift of humility.

The second sign is attitude!

The leper begged. He didn't ask nor did he presume he was entitled to anything. He begged. But more so, he was not ashamed. He knew he was diseased, empty, hurting, filled with anger, pain and wounds that he never asked for, that it wasn't even his fault. He could have felt he was entitled to be cured, that the world owed him, that it was now his time to take his rightful place before the world. But no. The leper begged. When he begged in the past from other people, he was no doubt many times rejected, scoffed at, belittled. That’s probably why, when said, submissively to the Lord, “If you wish, you can make me clean”. He knew that he had nothing, nothing at all to offer God. In preparation for a true examination of conscience, ask God for the gift of poverty!

Finally, how did the Lord respond when the beggar hoped he might be cured?

We are told “he was moved with pity”.  It’s not a great translation into English. How can we find any words to describe the inner emotions of Christ as he saw this shell of a man, humble, broken, alone and vulnerable, kneeling before him covered in rags of rotten flesh? Christ was moved. He experienced within himself great affection and love, compassion and tenderness. And reaching out His hand to grasp his, he responds, “yes I want to”, “Yes, with all my heart I want to. Be made clean, be healed, be touched again, but now with gentleness and love. You can go home now, to your wife, to your children. But before you do so, go to the priest and in a quiet word whisper thanks to God.”

As we prepare ourselves to truly examine our conscience, once again, do not look at the mirror. Instead, I would suggest, look at a crucifix. And on that cross, look at the body language of the man who is nailed upon it, he was abused, tortured and spate upon. Christ became the leper so that you and I could be healed from our own wounds. Listen to the words that come from his mouth - He is a begging His Father for your life and mine.

As the season of Lent is now at hand, seek out the Lord. You will find Him on the cross. Kneel before him, submit to His power. And beg for your life. The rest, He will look after.

His Finest Hour

Today's Sunday Mass for the Fifth Sunday of Lent allows us to contemplate on how our Blessed Lord gradually prepared himself to for...