Feb 27, 2021

Sanitizer for Your Eyes


Just think of it, we spend so much time sanitizing our hands against a virus we cannot see, what could we be able to see if we could sanitize our eyes - sanitizing them from flat screens, smart phones, painted, dyed or digital colors?

There is one line from today’s opening prayer of the Mass for the Second Sunday of Lent, 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”.

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 19, 2021

God’s Dare. Go deep.



I having been hearing Confessions for nearly 30 years. I have been regularly receiving this Sacrament myself since the age of 7. In the broad spectrum of Catholics, the sense I have is that many of us fall into two camps - 

1. Those who are too afraid, embarrassed, don’t know where to begin or dismissive of the need to go to Confession. 

2 Those who find themselves confessing the same sins again and again.

Wherever you find yourself on this spectrum let me be up front by first saying that the actual confessing of sins is the easiest part of this Sacrament. Any Catholic of the legal age of reason can confess, whether they are prepared or not, sincere or not, or even sorry or not. Whether the Sacrament will be effective, wasted or fruitful in one’s life depends on the active collaboration with God’s grace. That takes both faith and work.

And maybe that’s often where the difficulty usually is - not in the actual confessing of sins, but on our ability to use our God-given minds to reflect on our lives and to see our relationships objectively. And then doing something. 

Often we spend so much time reacting to, recovering from, or distracting ourselves from the demands or the responsibilities of the world we actually live in.  I suspect many people who have begun reading this, will not get to the broken line below.

Why? We increasingly rely on programs, apps, shows, websites, experts, commentators etc. (saints and sinners) to do all our thinking for us. It’s very easy to simply react or hide behind them. If we habitually do so, over time we stop doing our own thinking, or we get lost in an avalanche of thoughts coming from every direction at once. 

I have to be careful here by what I am now sharing. I do not want to force anyone to go to Confession or into making an Examination of their life. Nor do I want anyone to presume they need not to. Instead, all I can offer is an opportunity to stand back and, with fresh eyes, personally seek out the truth about yourself and the relationships you are engaged in and, without fear, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide one to gratitude and/or repentance and a necessary change in attitude and behavior afterwards.

As a pastor of souls, I suggest this examination exercise. Before you do so, you are going to have to do something courageous. Copy, paste and print out the following text and switch off all your electronic devices. If you are stuck using a smart phone, switch it to airplane mode and set your alarm or timer for 30 mins. If you can not do any of these, I suggest you stop reading now and make a commitment or reminder to do so when you are in fact ready. If you continue reading unprepared, or just out of curiosity, you will probably give up after the first short reflection or read it through and forget it afterwards!


———————————————————


Examination

Using God’s Ten Commandments as a guide, simply draw out their implications in your life and lifestyle. Think, reflect, ponder and see yourself in your relationships


1:  I am the LORD your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve. Do you give yourself a lot of attention, concerned about how you appear, what others think about you, wanting to be beyond criticism or praised? Do you live your life through your phone, your work, your children, finances, politics, your job, your personal interests, sports or cravings?


2.  You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. How do you use the name Jesus or Christ in conversations or your thoughts? When you say or hear His Name, does it lift your mind up to God, or does it simply pass without attention?


3.  Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day. What is your attitude to Sunday? Is it primarily a lazy day, only a free day to catch up on errands or family business? Do you make excuses not to attend church, or only attend church simply to be seen or meet with friends. Do you have anything in place that actively keeps Sunday holy unlike other days?


4. Honor your father and your mother. Do you give them at least respect and allow them to offer advice? Do you give them time, opportunities for visiting or pray for them by name? If they are in true need, do you try to help them as best you can? Do you see their value only in terms of their assets or their weaknesses?


5. You shall not kill. Have you deprived the defenseless, innocent and vulnerable of their life or potential livelihood - an unborn life, child, adult, the sick or elderly? Have you ignored the injustice of abortion or facilitated acceptance of this evil?


6.  You shall not commit adultery.  Have you remained faithful to your spouse in body and spirit, through your words and who or what you look at? Have you sinned against the Covenant of Holy Matrimony by sexual relationships outside of Marriage or are willingly accepting of non-biblical definitions of marriage? Have you entertained sexual feelings alone, anonymously, by seduction or manipulation?


7.  You shall not steal. Have you willfully taken something not belonging to you against the presumed wishes of someone else? Have you purposefully not given your employer the expected value of your work and time? Have you wasted time through laziness or invested your time in idle pursuits? 


8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Have you purposely lied, damaged the reputation or presumed the guilt of someone else? Have you hidden behind an online profile, a position or manipulated circumstances to serve your own needs? Are you quick to make rash judgements?


9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse. Have you allowed your thoughts, actions or habits to look at another person, real or imaginary with lust or obsession? Have you acted out of jealousy or envy to damage someone else’s relationships? Have you ignored or taken for granted your own responsibilities to a spouse, family or friends?


10.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.  Do you actively appreciate and care for the things you own? Do you spend a lot of time shopping, browsing, imagining having items you can truly live without? Do you harbor resentment for the apparent success of others? Are you selfish with your time, resources and blessings?


Now what? 


A. Repent and Believe in God’s Forgiveness and seek to be assured of this personally through the Sacrament of Confession.

B. Stay as you are and accept the consequences that God has promised.

Feb 18, 2021

Outside, inside, inside out!

 



"He, (that's Christ), remained outside in deserted places and people kept coming to him from everywhere." There is a sense of irony here in this last line from the Gospel passage we have just listened to. Christ, who so often would be preaching inside synagogues would now forced to stay outside, while these who where suffering from the contagious disease of the leprosy virus, once exiled to these places, were now back inside the synagogue.

Because of the pandemic, were forced offer Mass outside, then we where inside for a bit, then outside again, and hopefully now we are, for the most part, inside for good! I hope and pray that the Lord can keep up with us. 

Our experience as Christians and the Gospel for this Sunday should help us to stand back and, maybe, reflect on what sickness and disease look like - not from the perspective of the Center for Disease Control, or from a doctor’s perspective. But from God’s perspective.

What is Christ's attitude to sickness and disease? Our modern English translations say that Christ was "moved with pity". The older more literal translations say that Christ was "provoked with anger' this is at the core of what we mean by the word "compassion". "Com" means "with" - compassion - with passion - that same passion which moved Christ to throw out the moneychangers in the temple. It is along these lines that we identify crimes of passions with anger.

With a person contaminated with leprosy, Christ is moved with anger for he sees before him an example of how the beauty and nobility of man has been distorted and ruptured by sickness and disease (which were never intended by God for humanity). Christ is moved with anger at how this son of Adam has been cast into the wilderness by his brothers and sisters when God had declared, when he formed Adam, that it was not right that man should be alone.

Today’s Gospel was first read to the early Christians of Rome who were being persecuted by their fellow citizens, who treated them harshly like lepers, outcasts. Might we be reminded, maybe as the early Christians were, that to be a Christian is to often go against the trends and attitudes found or taken for granted in our society, that in many ways we do not fit in, any more than Christ himself who was cast out of the city and abandoned on a cross. It was there on that cross that Christ took upon himself that sickness and disfigurement of all humanity – that of sin and death.

Like a leper Christ was stripped down and hung on the cross, and most of his disciples kept their distance from him. As he did so in the gospel this Sunday to the man who asked for cleansing, through the sacrifice of the Mass, and as he does so in the healing of the soul offered in Confession, Christ stretches out his hands from Calvary, touches us all, and from the cross says to us, "Be cleansed", not with hand sanitizer, but with his healing touch and mercy. But we have to have the courage to go to him.

“Let us consider here, dear friends, if there be anyone here that has the taint of leprosy in their soul, or the contamination of guilt in their heart. If anyone has, let them adoring God, say, “Lord if you wish, you can make me clean”. (Origen) May each one of us be able to hear Christ's reply, "I do will it. Be made clean".

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Feb 6, 2021

The Helping Hand of God

 


The Gospel passage we have just listened to is very simple and, because it involves Our Blessed Lord, it has value and relevance for us today as it has been throughout the ages. The Lord went into Simon Peter and Andrew’s home. They first tell him about Peter's mother-in-law who is sick and with a fever. Jesus took her by the hand and raised her up and she was healed. The fever left her and she immediately set about serving them.

Within this one episode we can see the whole mission and ministry of Jesus portrayed. Jesus enters into our lives, visits our homes and finds us sick, consumed with fevers of various illnesses. Our fever comes in many different forms, for we can be found consumed with pride, envy, anger, lust, laziness, gluttony and greed, Through the sacraments of confession and the Holy Eucharist, the Lord gives us his hand, lifts us up and heals us.

When we are strengthened by the grace of God, we are better able to serve him. In the Gospel passage we heard today, we note that, after she was raised up out of her bed, Simon Peter’s mother-in-law immediately began to serve Christ and to be available to all who are now, whether she planned for it or not, a part of her home and life.


Jesus stayed overnight at Peter's house, but the Gospel also tells us that Our Lord “rose before dawn while it was still dark and went out to find a deserted place to pray”. Although by nature he is divine, Jesus also has a human soul. What does that mean? It means, like us all, Jesus thirsted for communion with his heavenly Father. In his prayer, Jesus united his human soul with all of humanity’s hunger to be one with our father in heaven.


Jesus had learnt to pray as a child from his mother Mary, from the prayers of his own people in the synagogue at Nazareth and the Temple of Jerusalem. Yet the uniqueness of Jesus’ prayer was found in his self-awareness that he was the one and only, true Son of God. When he prays to his Father in heaven, he does so in the unique and intimate relationship he enjoys with his heavenly Father. 

Everything that Jesus is, his miracles, his preaching, his life and his love, his obedience to the will of God, flow out from his own continuous communion with his heavenly Father. It is into this Father/Son relationship we are invited. “No one comes to the Father except through me”, the Lord will remind us.


In this way the passage of the Gospel teaches us as Christians, that Christ must be at the center of our homes and our lives. If he is not, the fever of a life without God will consume us.


“Therefore, let us ask the Lord to grasp our hand. ‘And at once the fever left her’. Immediately as her hand is grasped by the Lord, the fever flees” (St. Jerome). May we never be afraid or too proud to reach out to Christ who stands before us and to grasp his hand, knowing that he alone can bring us back to true strength, enabling us to respond to the Gospel message not just for our own salvation but for the sake of a whole world still hungry for God.


5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jan 30, 2021

Faithful Surrender


Too often when we picture Jesus Christ, especially in our imaginations, we have the tendency to see Him as a reassuring presence, a friendly face, a comfort in the midst of the storm and challenges of life. 

Unfortunately, too often we have an unrealistic picture, often influenced by devotional pictures, religious imagery and artistic impressions. Granted, there are no actual  photographs of Jesus, apart from maybe the imprint of His likeness on His death shroud. 


Of course, we have the perspectives of the early apostles and disciples who wrote the New Testament portion of the Bible. They had the privilege of seeing Christ through the lense of His Resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven and could now see Him clearly through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who helped them to understand and articulate the life and mission of Jesus even for us today. 


But we should not forget another point of reference, a unique perspective of seeing Christ which speaks volumes of the power of His personality and the invisible dynamics of His soul which were often on display. How did the demonic actually see Him when Our Lord stood before those unfortunately processed by them or influenced by evil spirits. 


Although the people who encountered Jesus did not know him as yet as “God with them”, the demons knew. They even shouted out in horror and fear, for they knew that through the eyes of Jesus of Nazareth, God was looking right at them! 


You see, the devil and his demons are theologians with true knowledge about God. They are not atheists!  They know that God exists.  In fact the devil is very spiritual. He knows about the complexities of the soul - his demons know the hidden fears of the human heart, the thirst and hunger each person has for God.  They are theological and spiritual experts. But they are without faith, forever obstinate, forever stubborn in their refusal of God's influence. These fallen angels are perpetually caught up in their own burning furnace of pride and arrogance and they refuse to let go of their recycling behavior. 


When Christ came upon those possessed by evil spirits and demons, what did He in fact actually see? What did God see through the eyes of Christ? Did He see demons before Him like frenzied hyenas with blood-red eyes and razor sharp fangs and claws, dark creatures with flattering bat-wings? 


I would say no.  The gaze of God saw, first and foremost, children with diseases, men and women suffering from sickness and epidemics, those enslaved by addictions and deep wounds.  In short, God saw first and foremost our injuries and our ailments. God looked at us through the eyes of Jesus and His gaze was one of compassion, not revulsion - His gaze was one of mercy, not disgust. The loving and tender gaze of Christ, like a powerful sword, cut through the devil's suffocating cloud. His word evaporated the demonic hold.  


God saw right through them and saw you and me, in all our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities and our broken spirits. God gives "us" the attention, not the demons. As we heard in the Gospel today, He doesn't even allow them to speak theology.  Christ will instead patiently wait for us to surrender to Him, not out of fear, but from faith in His strength and out of need of His love.


What does this tell us? We can not pride ourselves in simply having the true knowledge about God.  The devil, in fact, knows more than we do!  Instead, we should not be afraid to look at Christ, and to look at Him eye to eye.  But to do so takes great courage on our part, for we must, in a way, “capture” His gaze - allow it to purify us from any pride, selfishness and recklessness. Christ's gaze is disarming - it can be frightening and we might experience a battle of wills. But by laying down our arms, of all the things we often hide behind, and submitting to Him, then only we will find true liberation.  


So that we may see the face of God and live (cf. First Reading) may our preparation for Holy Communion with our Lord always begin with a careful examination of our souls, not simply in the light of our knowledge of the faith, but also and in particular, under the gaze of Christ’s patient mercy and healing, so generously made available in the Sacrament of Confession. 


Never be afraid of Confession. It reminds us, as St. Paul spoke in the second reading, that before anything or anyone else in this world, Christ claims you and me first. If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart. Stop fighting, surrender and claim the prize of victory, and peace of body and soul is assured.




4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jan 24, 2021

Fish out of water


Third Sunday in Ordinary Time:  
  
The story so far. John the Baptist has been arrested, silenced by his enemies. He no longer has a platform to preach to his followers. They now look to Christ to lead them. We read that the Lord withdraws to the most northern part of the country, Galilee. The Lord does not flee, he is not afraid for his own life now, nor is he on the run. In military language, perhaps His strategy might be termed “cover and move”.

Instead Christ resists the temptation to go fearlessly straight into the battle. To come face to face with his enemies at the beginning of his ministry, tempting as it may be, would not allow the Lord accomplish great things in the lives of others, such as with Peter, Andrew, James and John – the fishermen of Galilee.

And as He moves from town to town on His mission, what is His message. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. The Lord’s message highlights that there is time, but also that our days are numbered. His gift of a way out of darkness will cause joy for some or will or will cause others to seek out new hiding places, but not by the fishermen in the Gospel today. They recognized an opportunity for salvation, and they like fish jumped at the bait provided by God, even to the point of leaving behind all that was familiar in their lives. 

Why fishermen to be the first disciples? Peter, Andrew, James and John, understood the world of the sea and ocean. In a way, the creatures that live in the depths can reflect humanity living in darkness. The depths of the ocean, as beautiful as they may be to the underwater diver with snorkel and mask, it is a place where creatures live in constant fear of everything, where the inhabitants will either disguise themselves in their surroundings, armor themselves with beauty or with poison, or hide themselves in cracks and rocks afraid or lying in ambush. 

Caught in the tides and undercurrents, they are all swept along. Christ would instruct his fishermen-apostles to rescue men and women from such a life, and bring them to dry land where they would finally find their feet and stand upright in the light of day and be able to see the world from a heavenly perspective.

With the Season of Lent fast approaching, it would be wise to begin early our response to the call of the Lord to repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. It is only the stubborn, the proud and the fearful who find refuge in darkness and to their own destruction. We, on the other hand, should be happy and grateful to be given the opportunity to respond to the Good News, the gift of salvation. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95)

Jan 17, 2021

You can’t teach sins away!


St. John the Baptist had attracted many people by his message of repentance and the need for conversion in preparation for the arrival of Christ. Now as the Lord has entered into the scene, John points his own followers in the direction of Christ. John, having attracted thousands of people now retreats back into obscurity. He has fulfilled his mission, to prepare the way for the Lord. 

He could have joined Christ, and the two of them could have been a powerful force together, but no. What Christ had now to do must come whole-heartedly from the motivation of God, not man. Even John the Baptist’s former disciples, could not look back, now that they have been introduced to the Lord. 

In the same way, there are many methods of prayer, of reading and appreciating the Scriptures, ways of preparing to receive the Sacraments. But once we make contact with Christ himself, we must be prepared to let our Lord teach us personally and allow him to lead the way.

And this He does through two great sacraments. St. John the Baptist helps us to understand these by identifying Jesus as the” Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” In Confession the sins of the repentant are taken away. “It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father from whom one has strayed by sin.” CCC 1423

How does Christ do this? Does He just cover them up, delete them, wash them away? No. He puts them to death. Christ the Good Shepherd took the place of the most vulnerable lamb of the flock and gives His own life in sacrifice for the sins of the world. That sacrificial death is renewed, made present, in an un-bloody way in the Mass we offer to our Heavenly Father. By actively participating in His sacrifice with mind, body and soul, with sorrow for our sins, and repentance from them, our trespasses are forgiven and our life begins anew. 

We stand before the altar of God conscious of our “constant need” to be purified of our sins – the purification of our minds (for we carry the memories of bad choices we have made), the purification of our bodies (which too often bear the side affects of our sinful disposition) and the purification of our soul which cries out for union with God and is often ignored. Like the disciples in the Gospel today who left their past associations to follow Christ, we must allow our Lord to point us too in the right direction. And this takes time, thank God.

Even though Jesus is introduced as the Lamb of God, the disciples in the beginning chapters of the Fourth Gospel, at this beginning stage of their journey simply address him as “teacher”. Only a little later, when they are invited into his house, do they recognize him as the Messiah. But it will take the later chapters of their lives when they are introduced to the cross and the resurrection for the disciple to humbly acknowledge Jesus as “my Lord and my God”.

Having left the season of Christmas, the Church calendar today introduces us to the first part of Ordinary Time. It will take us to Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. This journey is reflected in the color of green. It announces life, growth, looks forward to spring. It is a color which comes forth after storms and rain. It must mark our own journey of continuing conversion and growth, seeking deeper insight and renewed faith in Jesus Christ through the Church which he has made Holy by his presence in our midst and though the Sacrifice of the Mass. In this great sacrament he takes away the sins of the world, beginning with yours and mine, if we allow him to. Time will tell!

Sanitizer for Your Eyes

Just think of it, we spend so much time sanitizing our hands against a virus we cannot see, what could we be able to see if we could sanitiz...