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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil!

Homily - 1st Sunday of Lent (Year A)
First Reading: Genesis 2: 7-9, 3:1-7           Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19             Gospel Reading: Matthew 4:1-11

A Homily Adapted in part from a work written by Father Albert Lakra

Last Wednesday, 'Ash Wednesday,' we began our Lenten pilgrimage and today is the First Sunday of Lent. As you are aware, Lent is a Holy Season, a time of grace, a period comprising of forty days during which the whole Church renews itself through prayer, fasting and works of piety. And for this week, the common theme in the Scripture Readings is of ‘Temptation.’

In the 1st Reading from the Book of Genesis, we hear about our first parents, Adam and Eve, and of them being tempted by Satan in the Garden of Eden, and in the Gospel Reading from St. Matthew, we hear about Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness. These two temptation stories are essentially about making choices – either in favor of God or against Him. 

Temptations come to all of us in our lives as well – in various disguise of course. They are part and parcel of each of our lives. So what is a temptation? A temptation is a trick, a deception, a lie. It conceals the truth and presents falsehood to us as the truth. A temptation may even offer us something good, but entices us to use it in a false and selfish way. These temptations come from the devil, who is called the “father of lies.”

In the story of Adam and Eve we hear again about the perfect world God created for humans, and how through a temptation Adam established a pattern that led to sin and death. The Eden story was actually a drama woven of pretense and cover-up. Adam and Eve were the first to bite on a big lie: a lie that included the denial that we as creatures of God are dependent on God. The serpent, that cunning beast, that lord of lies, taunted their obedience and reliance on God. Ah, the attraction of having no limits. To be God. To be self-sufficient, self-made. The pretense was attractive, desirable. The trick looked so wise.

The devil, being the master of deceit, knows human psychology only too well. His first task was to get the attention of Eve. Thus his question, "Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?" Eve right away saw the half-truth in the question so she corrected him saying that they could eat of the fruit of all the trees except that of “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad.” And God's command was clear, "You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die." We see here how Eve, by arguing with the devil, got hooked. Then the devil took immediate advantage of his gain. He told Eve that they would not die; instead he stated, "Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad." Her curiosity was aroused. Eve saw that the fruit was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom. Eve then took a fruit and ate it. She gave one to her husband Adam who likewise ate it. All of a sudden both of them realized that they were naked. Ashamed of their nakedness in front of each other, they covered parts of themselves, and now being afraid of God, they went into hiding. They had fallen and sin had entered the world!

Sin brings about a dislocation in relationships. Instead of openness – hiding or covering–up became a way of relating to God and to each other. This is not unique to Adam and Eve, but is true to us as well. And sadly, we justify our weaknesses and sins with all kinds of rationalizations. And if we are honest, This story represents our life as well.

But there is hope, Let us now turn our attention to Jesus and the story of his temptations. After his baptism by John the Baptist at Jordan River, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert where he prayed and fasted for forty days and nights, and afterward he too was tested.  The testing was done not by God directly but by the Evil One, the Tempter. The three temptations of Jesus are the same three essential weapons that the devil has in his arsenal to destroy us too, humanity.

The first temptation is of appetite, that being (pleasure / gluttony / and materialism) – to change stones into bread. It demanded that miraculous power be used to provide for basic material needs. The tempter sensed a weakness that Jesus was hungry, that he had not eaten for forty days. The tempter said that if he was truly the Son of God, he could command the stones to become bread. To this Jesus responded through the words of Scripture that a person does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Here Jesus is indicating that his mission was not fulfilled by providing for basic needs, but rather by proclaiming the Word that is life.

The second Temptation is that of ambition (power / fame / and boasting) - to jump from the pinnacle of the Temple. It demanded that Divine power be used to produce a spectacular 'sign' that would compel anyone to believe. In this temptation, the devil offered him a chance to prove his power as God’s son by throwing himself down from the parapet of the temple. He knew that as recorded in the Psalms, Jesus could do this without being hurt. Jesus using a passage from Scripture, from the Book of Deuteronomy, responded to Satan by saying, he would not test God’s word by doing something foolish or unnecessary. He would trust his Father in the direction of his mission.

The third temptation is that of arrogance (pride / vanity / and idolatry) - To worship the devil who can give power and wealth. In this final temptation, Jesus was placed by the devil on a very high mountain and offered the kingdoms of the world in return for worshiping him. Jesus absolutely rejected the offer and told the devil to go away from him. He once again quotes the Book of Deuteronomy which says that every creature has to worship the Lord God, and serve Him alone and no one else. It is the cardinal truth of the Scripture taken from the Ten Commandments to worship God alone and no other gods. Jesus was not swayed.  He indeed had won over the subtle temptations of the devil.

These three temptations are also our temptations, and to them, somehow, all temptations are connected. The devil invites us to turn towards self. And in contrast, Jesus invites us to turn towards God. In fact, these three tests are really symbols of the real tests that not only do we find in the life of Jesus, but in our lives as well. They draw attention to our Appetite, Ambition, & Arrogance.They speak of our desire for Pleasure, Power, & Pride. 

We must never forget that all temptations come to us under the guise of some kind of goodness. I seriously doubt that anyone here would willingly choose to do something purely evil, but we are tempted when there is a positive benefit that may come from a less than honorable action.

So what is it that Christ is trying to teach us? I believe that we must realize that we are all on a human journey that includes fall and redemption. Like Adam and Eve, and Jesus, we all face temptations. Original sin reminds us that we humans tend to give in to temptation. It is a family trait. The mother and father of the race did it, and we also do it. So, when we are tempted, we should not trust in our own abilities or strength, because we are sinful from our origins. How many of us had fought against temptation and lost! All of us!
Instead, when confronted with a temptation we should trust in Jesus and his strength, because God is gracious and has been from the beginning. Where humanity fails, Jesus prevails. So the point is that we should follow his lead when we face temptations. We should look at how Jesus faced temptations. We should learn from his example. Then when we face the same temptations, those temptations of: Appetite, Ambition, & Arrogance, of Pleasure, Power and Pride, which we all do, we can then resist them, and be victorious over them.

I would be remiss to not say that in our imperfection, when we all fall, we are to run to the healing that is found in confession. Do not let our pride or shame prevent us from accepting God’s grace, the grace that can be found in confession, to heal the sinful stain upon our souls, and accepting the grace that can help empower our ability to fight temptation. Confession is our weapon against the devil. He hates it! God’s mercy and strength is waiting….. but He allows our free will to accept it, or reject it!

And finally, Let us take some time during this Lenten season to prayerfully reflect upon our lives, identifying the specific temptations that the devil uses to initiate our fall, our sinfulness, and ponder how we can ask for, and use, God’s grace to grow in holiness.

This is Lent, a time for prayer, fasting, and works of Piety (charity).
In this time of quiet reflection, in our prayers, let us not forget the prayer that Jesus himself has taught us, “The Our Father,” which includes those powerful words– “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

You are The Salt of the earth, and the Light of the world

Homily – 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) 
This homily was adapted from a homily written by Father Albert Lakra 

 I believe that most of us are aware that our culture has become somewhat darker in regard to immorality and anti-Christian behavior, but we must not close our eyes to the good that has come from the growing darkness. It is in the darkness that light can shine the brightest, and in today’s readings, Christ has a powerful message for us. He speaks to us and gives us direction on how we are to live our lives, especially in times of darkness. He states: “YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH; YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.”

Let me share with you a short story that might help us understand what Christ was trying to teach us. An ancient king once asked his three daughters how much they loved him. The eldest daughter said she loved him more than all the gold in the world. The middle daughter said she loved him more than all the silver in the world. And the youngest daughter said she loved him more than salt. The king was not pleased with the final answer. However, the wise cook overheard the conversation, and the next day he prepared a wonderful meal for the king, but left out the salt. The food was so insipid, so tasteless, that the king couldn’t eat it. It was then that the King understood what his youngest daughter meant. He now understood the value of salt. 

Salt is a basic and essential item in our diet and the greatest and the most obvious quality of salt is that it lends flavor to food. Food without salt is sadly insipid, bland, and can even be a sickening thing. Salt is so important that one can’t even imagine living without it. In times of past, Salt was connected with purity, for it came from purest of all things visible, the sun and the sea. Salt was also the commonest of all preservatives. It was used to keep things from going bad and preserved things from getting corrupted. Salt was considered so important, that even the Jews added salt to their offerings to God. So, when Christ said to his followers – “You are the salt of the earth,” it simply meant that a follower of Christ must lend flavor to life, bringing joy & gladness, happiness & peace, justice & love, care & concern, hope & consolation, among those in their lives. 

A follower of Christ, a Christian, also has to be an example of purity, in speech, in conduct, and even in thought, living a life of honesty, diligence & conscientiousness. The Christian also has to preserve the good and prevent the evil in the society, and save it from deteriorating. By our very presence we are to defeat corruption of all kinds. So When Christ used this image of salt, He was trying to teach us how a disciple of His should act and live in the world. But He also warned us by describing that just as insipid salt, salt that has lost its taste, its strength, is of no use in flavoring or preserving food, so too, the so-called 'disciples' are of no use if they choose to fail, especially by a lack of effort, or in a life content with being Luke-Warm in the faith. The corruption of the best is the worst. Those called to be the greatest, Christians, constitute the worst tragedy if they choose to fail, especially after being shown the way, the truth, and the life. 

Christ goes on to say to His disciples: “You are the light of the world.” He speaks of our visibility in the world. Let me share with you another short story that may help us better understand Christ’s words. The story is told of a little girl who was shivering her way along a main street in one of our great cities. Seeing the beautiful lights of a church building and hearing the music coming from within, she went in and warmed herself as she listened. In the Priest’s homily, he focused on and stated, "I am the light of the world." At the close of the Mass, the little girl went to the Priest and said, "Did you say you are the light of the world, sir?" The Priest replied, "No, dear child. Christ is the light of the world; I am only one of the smaller lights." The little girl looked at him for a moment, paused, and then solemnly said, "Well, sir, I wish you would come down and hang out in our alley, 'cause it's awful dark down there!" Christians are indeed, as Christ said, "The light of the world." And as one of those lights, let us ask ourselves: Do we ever purposely go to any dark places, to shine our light? Or do only “Hang out” with other lights? Or do we hide our Light? 

It is important for us to remember that a light, especially a light of Christ is something which is meant to be seen and not hidden. And in reality, there really is no such thing as a secret Christian disciple, because the secrecy will ultimately betray the discipleship or the discipleship will ultimately destroy the secrecy. Thus a disciple of Christ must be visible in the world, and our light is meant to be a guide by shedding its rays and showing the way, especially in the darkness. Our light also often sends a warning, a warning when there is a danger lying ahead. We are to be an example to others and to positively influence them; while at the same time lovingly giving them warnings of the dangers of the evil in the world. 

This idea of being visible to the world was so important to Christ that He used two more images to emphasize it. He spoke of a 'city set on a mountain,' and how it sticks out like a sore thumb, and that there is no way to hide it. And he spoke of a 'lamp on a lamp-stand.' And declared, “What is the point in lighting a lamp then covering it up? Clarifying that we are either a light to others, or we block the light. 

We must remember one powerful thing; to truly follow Christ is always radical. And we must honestly decide! Do I want follow Christ, or do I want to follow the world? The two are in direct contrast, and we can’t do both. If we try, we will do neither well, and we will become insignificant. Let us not become insignificant. Let us become true followers of Christ. In doing so, we don’t need any special talents or abilities, just as St. Paul says in the Second Reading, proclaiming to know nothing but “Jesus Christ, and Christ crucified.” Simply, we are to be, “The Salt of the earth,” and “The Light of the world,” and that through our lives – in action & speech, with our work & words, through our behavior, while fully trusting not in human wisdom, but in the power of God, that we can truly be that reflection of Christ’s light, that light that clearly shines, that light that shines especially bright today in our world’s darkness.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Baptism of our Lord

Homily – Deacon Pat Kearns
The Baptism of our Lord

Many have questioned why Jesus needed to be baptized, especially since he was without sin. It has been said that Jesus’ submission to the baptism of John was to demonstrate that he was a faithful Jew who obeyed the Law and the practices associated with good Jewish life.

As you know, Jesus taught us so very much through example, through his actions. There are many lessons and insights available to us through today’s experience. But for many of us, especially those of us whom had been baptized as infants, might have either forgotten the significance of a catholic baptism, or frightfully, have never really been taught.

So what does it mean to be baptized?

As baptized Catholics we have been invited and accepted to join as members of a Godly people. God has called us and we have responded to fulfill all righteousness, to be faithful, to obey the laws and practices, and for doing so, we are told that we are beloved, and that God is well pleased with us. He has taken us by the hand and kept us. He has given us a covenant, ensured us eternal life, and has asked that we share the good news of salvation with others.

As God’s loved people, we are to be the light of the world. A city built on a hill that cannot be hid. And realizing that no one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but rather on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. So too are we to be that light. As baptized Catholics, we are called to let our light shine on the prisoners of darkness, those who are slaves to sin, so they may escape the darkness that chains their souls.

But how is it that we are to call on those who do not believe?

How are we to share our belief with those who have never experienced God or his loving spirit?

I recall the words of Saint Francis of Assisi who once told his early followers: “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.” Meaning – that we teach most effectively and most abundantly though our actions, not necessarily with our words.

It is through the witness of our lives, our holy actions, our generous hearts, our forgiveness, and our love, that others will experience who and what a Christian is. It is often through the love witnessed by others that God begins to reveal himself. It isn’t preaching, nor chastising that inspires pagans or fallen away Christians to seek God, but rather a desire to have something that is witnessed in the lives of others.

I have heard from so many lost souls, that when they saw the joyfulness, peacefulness, and such love in another; they wanted to posses what that other person had, and when they inquired, and heard that the source of this delight was God, it was then and only then, that their eyes were opened, and then could see that there was something more to life.

Our actions, our behaviors have such power, and much more influence than you might imagine.

We must keep in mind however, that all in this world have a free will, especially those who live in darkness, and unless they recognize their blindness and their imprisonment, they cannot be cured, nor freed.

Many cannot see the darkness of their own lives since it has become usual and routine, yet when held against a contrasting light, a contrasting life, illuminated with God’s grace and love, it is then that the contrast is recognized. God works in mysterious ways, and his ways are not our ways, yet he places certain situations and people in our lives for specific purposes.

You might be thinking, who me, how or what can I do for God? Not unlike John the Baptist who when confronted by Jesus for baptism, immediately felt unworthy, don’t we often feel unworthy or incapable of taking a lead role, especially in things religious?

But how did Jesus respond to John; “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill righteousness.”

And by Jesus being faithful to the laws and practices of the faith, and upon his baptism, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit came down upon him. The same is true for us, that through our baptism, through our submission to the church, obedience to the laws and practices of our faith, the Holy Spirit descends upon us and filled us with something so much greater than ourselves. It is this spirit that illuminates us, it is this same spirit that strengthens us and motivates us to do things beyond our usual comforts, and it is this spirit within us that is recognizable to others as good and holy.

To sum up the message for us today and the message from the gospel…..

We much understand that as we begin to embrace our baptism and we acknowledge that through our baptism we have become holy, we have become united with Christ, and when we help share the good news of salvation, forgiveness, love, and eternal life with others, that voice from heaven says:

This is my beloved Son, My beloved daughter…. With whom I am well pleased.