Archive for the ‘Repentance’ Category

Zephaniah & the Beatitudes Call to Conversion

January 29, 2023

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Jesus’ Beatitudes are words of consolation and hope but they are also a call to conversion. Our first reading today comes from the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah who proclaimed God’s words in the land of Judah. Zephaniah denounced his people’s unfaithfulness, warning them:

“Near is the great day of the Lord,
near and very swiftly coming…
A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and desolation…
A day of trumpet blasts and battle cries
against fortified cities,
against lofty battlements…
Because they have sinned against the Lord.”

Less than one lifetime after Zephaniah preached, Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians and Judah’s earthly kingdom fell.

Zephaniah denounced those rich in material things, who hungered for feasts and comforts, who thirsted for wines and pleasures, who fashionably clothed themselves in unrighteousness. These proud rich would not be satisfied. Zephaniah said, “They will build houses, but not dwell in them. They will plant vineyards, but not drink their wine…. Their wealth shall be given to plunder and their houses to devastation…. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them.

However, Zephaniah’s strongest condemnations denounced the idolatry among his people. Some worshipped idols in pagan temples, while some bowed down on roofs to worship stars, and some bowed down to the one true Lord God but would swear oaths by other gods. Zephaniah notes some said in their hearts, “The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.” They lacked faith, and hope, and love for him in their divided hearts. But with unclean hearts, they would not see God.

Today we hear Zephaniah say, “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth… seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.” Then Zephaniah announces that the Lord “will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord: the remnant of Israel. …They shall pasture and couch their flocks with none to disturb them.”

In fulfillment of God’s word, in response to a Jewish revolt, the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 587 B.C. They tore down the city’s walls, systematically burned its palaces and houses, and destroyed the Jewish temple. Those Jews who had made war were either killed or deported far away to Babylon, along with everyone else their conquerors saw as a threat. Yet “they left in the land of Judah some of the poor who had nothing and at the same time gave them vineyards and farms.” Blessed were the meek, for they inherited the land.

Yet even before Judah was conquered and thousands of Jews were carried off to Babylonian exile, God promised them a future return to Jerusalem. The Lord foretells through the Prophet Zephaniah: “At that time I will bring you home, and at that time I will gather you.” Blessed would be those people who remembered to mourn the loss of God’s temple and holy city, for they would be consoled. Less than one lifetime after their departure, once that Babylonian empire had been conquered by a Persian empire, the Jews were allowed to return home.

The words of Jesus and Zephaniah and the stories of their people should give us pause today, for “near is the great day of the Lord” always. How are we using our great riches? Which desires do we feed? Do we mourn the evils that we see in the world? Unless we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will never be satisfied. We might not worship golden idols or swear by pagan gods, but idolatry still exists today. If our priorities (as reflected by our finances, Sunday sports or vacations, worldly desires or addictions, or any other things) usurp our Lord from his rightful throne in our hearts, then our hearts are not yet so pure as he wills them to be.

Seek the Lord… seek justice, seek humility… do no wrong and speak no lies.” Practice mercy and pursue peace. Christ offers you his strengthening grace. Blessed are they who heed what Jesus tells us gains his Kingdom.

The Allegory of the Jordan River

December 4, 2022

2nd Sunday of Advent
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Preceding Jesus’ public ministry, St. John the Baptist appeared preaching in the Judean wilderness. People from Jerusalem, all Judea, and the Jordan River region were going out to see him. John said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” The crowds regarded him as a prophet and were being baptized by him as they acknowledged their sins. Like a bath which cleanses one’s outer self of dirt and odor, John’s baptism was an appeal to God for an inner self cleansed from sin. John’s ministry prepared for Jesus Christ and foreshadowed Christian baptism. The Jordan River in which John baptized embodies an allegory whose symbolism remains important for us today.

The fresh waters of the Jordan River originate in the north from the living Sea of Galilee, a large lake full of fish and ringed by trees. The Jordan’s waters flow south and come to one of either two notable ends. Most of the river’s water just goes with the flow. It flows downhill (as all rivers naturally do) ultimately descending seven hundred vertical feet. These waters remain on the edge of the Promised Land without entering in. And at the end of their journey, they empty out into the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on the face of the earth. After the river drains there, the water has nowhere else to go. As it evaporates to nothingness, the water leaves behind trace amounts of salt which over many, many millennia has made that sea ten times saltier than the oceans. In this oppressive saltiness, no plants nor fish can live. The Dead Sea is thoroughly dead.

Some of the Jordan River’s water, however, does not simply go with the flow downhill. This water escapes the fate of the Dead Sea, by giving itself to the Promised Land. This water enables life and generates fruit among many trees in an otherwise arid place. Jeremiah the Prophet writes of a tree planted beside the stream: “It does not fear heat when it comes; its leaves stay green. In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.” And the 1st Psalm likewise says: “a tree planted near streams of water… yields its fruit in due season; its leaves never wither.” These baptismal waters are willed by God to give life and bear fruit for the Promised Land.

Most of John the Baptist’s contemporaries were convinced he was a prophet, yet the Jewish religious leaders disbelieved. When John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he admonished them: “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance! … Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire!” It would not be enough (for them or us) to just say the right things and go through the motions. Our faith and repentance must be real, producing of good fruit.

As the life-giving Sea of Galilee is the River Jordan’s source, so God above is the source of every spiritual grace and good thing in creation here below. Having received Christian baptism, we can respond in one of two ways on this life’s journey. In this world, we can go with the natural flow of things, descending more and more, ending in the dead abyss without entering the Promised Land. But that is not Jesus’ will for us. As G.K. Chesterton once observed: “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” Jesus wills for us to cooperate with him, to be changed, and to change the world around us. So believe in the Lord, acknowledge your sins and repent, and bear good fruit with Christ. What is one area — just one thing — one habit or virtue, you can acknowledge today and grow in throughout this Advent season with the grace of God?

“Keep Watch!”

November 27, 2022

1st Sunday of Advent
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

Today we begin the season of Advent. The Church invites us to be ready and prepared to receive the Lord. The word Advent means waiting. The 1st Sunday of Advent gives us the warning to be watchful, waiting, and prepared.

The Titanic was the world’s largest ship when it was built. It was considered unsinkable. During the night of April 14–15, 1912 it struck an iceberg, ripping a three–hundred-foot hole in the ship. The crew received many warnings that they were speeding into an ice field, but the messages were ignored. The crew was preoccupied with dinner menus and other unimportant matters. They disregarded the danger of the weather and there were not enough lifeboats on board. It sank in two and a half hours killing 1,513 people. Sometimes we believe that our ‘ship’ is unsinkable, our life is all well planned, and the unthinkable can never happen to us. We need to pay attention to the warning signals.

Jesus is coming again and He is coming whether we are ready or not. Today’s Gospel tells the story of what happened in the time of Noah. In the days leading up to the flood, people were very naughty, not keeping the commandments and they did not care. They did not heed the warnings of God. God sent the flood. Only Noah and his family were safe inside the Ark. Everyone else was destroyed by the flood. No one knows when the end will come, ONLY GOD KNOWS!

Jesus gives us another example “Two men will be in a field; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding their meal; one will be taken and the other will be left behind.” Jesus then says to his listeners: “Stay awake! You do not know the day your Lord is coming. Be sure of this, if the owner of a house knew when a thief was coming, he would be watchful and prepared. You also must be prepared. The Son of Man is coming when you least expect it.

To be ready means to be awake. It means that we live in the present moment with God. Always be aware of His presence in our life. Everything we do, work, rest, eat and drink, we give glory to God. Today we celebrate the Sunday of Hope in God, and His Son, Jesus Christ, through whom God has promised to save and redeem us.

What is the pattern of your life? Do you share your time, talents and love with your family, your neighbor or even people you do not know? if we choose to do these things, we are preparing to welcome Christ. Shouldn’t we pray every day Lord, Show me someone today with whom I am to share your love, mercy, and forgiveness. St. Mother Teresa said, “Whatever you do in your family, for your children, for your husband, for your wife, you do for Jesus.” Every night let’s ask ourselves, where have I found Christ today? The answer will be God’s Advent gift to us that day. By being alert and watchful, we will be getting an extra gift: Christ Himself.

Minutes from a Demonic Meeting

November 13, 2022

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Once upon a time, an unknown number of years ago, there was an important meeting of demons. Amidst hell’s fires and shadows, with putrid smoke hanging in the air, the demonic hierarchy plotted their next strategy for how to mislead humanity. Since the rebel angels cannot hurt God directly, they tempt and attack those he loves, hoping to corrupt and dominate us. When the Lord Jesus comes again to rule the earth with justice, the demons do not want us to experience his healing rays; they want us to burn and suffer like themselves.

As the demons met and brainstormed schemes, one of them suggested, “What if we try deceiving them that there’s no such thing as evil?” The chairman, after pouring out a stream of insults, said, “The humans will never believe that! Do you think that we can pit person against person, nation against nation, souls against our Enemy above, without them noticing the sadness, sufferings, envies, jealousies, impurities, rivalries, hatreds, resentments, injustices, murders, and cruelties which follow? Humans see proof of evil in nearly every headline! They are reminded something is wrong with their world whenever their alarm clocks ring, their toes get stubbed, or their weather is less than perfect! You’ll have to do better than that!

Then another demon dared to suggest, “What if we deceive them that there is no such thing as goodness?” The chairman spewed abuse at that one and said, “The humans will never believe that either! Our Enemy above has littered their world with too many beauties and blessings to count! They have this inherent desire for happiness that our Enemy has built into them! Everything they do is in pursuit of something they perceive as somehow good! Is anyone here not a useless fool?

Finally, one of the chairman’s most cunning underlings proposed another strategy, an idea which was immediately welcomed with cruel smiles by the malevolent assembly. This dangerous demon said, “Let us deceive the humans that there is no need to hurry.

In every generation, there has been Christians who believed that their generation would be the last. In his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul admonishes some idlers, freeloaders, and busybodies living there who have quit their labors because they assumed the Lord was returning very soon. Personally, I do not expect the second coming of Christ to happen in the very near future since it remains legal to be a Christian throughout so many regions of the world. There are grave evils on this earth, including in our country, but the final attack of hell against Christ’s Church in the final days should be far worse than this. Yet whether or not Christ’s return is imminent, we must always ready to go to him. We do not know when he will return, nor do we know when any of us will die. But the certainty of our coming encounter with Christ should not make us afraid but motivate us to prepare.

Rather than being idlers and busybodies, neglecting our spiritual growth and enthralled by our distractions, let us get busy treating the most important things as the most important things. If you knew with certainty that you would die three months from today, how would you begin living differently? Would you pray more every day? Would you go to confession and Mass more often? Would you crush your lingering vices? Would you work harder to do good works? Would you forgive your enemies? Would you show more love toward God and the people around you? Thinking seriously about what you should you do differently knowing you are going to die is a good place to start in living more intentionally for Christ, with your eternal goal in mind. Do not believe the demonic deception that there is no need to hurry, for your last day is closer than it was yesterday, and it may be much closer than you think.

Be Not Afraid, Be Well-Prepared

November 5, 2022

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Today we see the Sadducees come forward and put a question to Jesus, but who were the Sadducees? They were a Jewish religious group less popular than the Pharisees but in some ways more powerful. The Sadducees were the party of high priests, aristocratic families, and wealthy merchants, and they were well-represented among the members of the Jewish high council, the Sanhedrin. Theologically, unlike Pharisees, the Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Bible as scripture: that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These five books are called the Torah (the Law) or the Pentateuch. The Sadducees denied the inspiration of all the other Old Testament books and only accepted religious beliefs which they thought were contained in those first five books.

The Sadducees did not believe in life-after-death nor in eternal punishments or eternal rewards hereafter; and they saw no scriptural evidence for the idea of a resurrection of the dead. Therefore, to challenge Jesus, they pose a hypothetical question about the resurrection involving a woman who had multiple husbands, a question they think will lead him to a ridiculous conclusion. In response, Jesus explains that life and love in the coming age are far more mystical than they imagine. But today I want to highlight the end of Jesus’ answer.

The Sadducees were hobbled by having accepted a truncated faith less than the fulness of all God had revealed (as is the case with most Christians today). Jesus desired to show them that life-after-death is proclaimed by God, but he had to do so using evidence they would acknowledge. So Jesus cites an event from their own accepted Book of Exodus. Jesus says: “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

Jesus highlights how at the Burning Bush the Lord did not identify himself to Moses by saying, “I was the God of Abraham, I was the God of Isaac, and I was the God of Jacob.” The Lord declares, “I AM the God of your fathers,” because even though their bodies had perished long before their souls remained alive to God. Jesus teaches that those who have died still live and that the dead will rise again, just like the Christ rises from his tomb in both his soul and body.

This time of year, throughout November, we remember in a special way those who have died. On November 1st, we celebrate all saints now in heaven. On November 2nd, we pray for all those who have died and whose souls continue being purified in Purgatory so as to be made perfect for heaven’s glory. In this fall season, as our trees’ leaves fade and fall and our farmers’ fields are harvested, the Church is nearing the end of our liturgical year (which begins anew with Advent). And the focus of our readings at Mass in these final weeks turn toward the last things, including death.

Unless Jesus Christ returns in glory first, each of us will die one day. And if we die, our bodies will one day rise again. In light of these facts, how should we live and prepare to die? Many people avoid thinking about death because it makes them feel so uncomfortable. Like a child who closes their eyes in order to be invisible, some choose not to consider their own death all. However, this strategy does not change reality and creates a grave risk of dying ill-unprepared.

Do not be spiritually unready; you probably have less time left than you think. So believe in our Lord and be converted, do what is right and reject your sins. For instance, stop skipping Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligation. If we do not wish to worship and obey God he will honor that decision… forever. So repent and do his will.

Do not neglect or postpone receiving Christ’s sacraments, Confession, the Eucharist, and the Anointing of the Sick. Even if it is possible to reach heaven without the Last Rites (including the Apostolic Pardon, Viaticum, and Extreme Unction) why would you risk foregoing these graces? Be well-prepared to die.

Throughout this month of November pray for the souls of the dead, befriend and ask help of the saints above, and grow closer to our Lord Jesus Christ through his sacraments. Jesus says, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. So do not be afraid of death; instead, be well-prepared.

Our Divine Physician

October 22, 2022

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Jesus tells us a story of two men who go up to the temple to pray. One is a Pharisee, a group with a reputation for holiness. The other is a tax collector, a profession associated with injustice. The Pharisee, entering the temple courtyard, walks to a more prominent place and speaks this prayer to himself: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.” Jesus presents this Pharisee as an example of someone convinced of his own righteousness and despising of everyone else.

The tax collector, in contrast, stands at the distant edge of the temple court, keeps his eyes cast down, and beats his breast (an ancient sign of contrition) praying, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” The Pharisee exults himself while the tax collector humbles himself before God. And Jesus tells us the tax collector went home justified, reconciled with God, while the Pharisee did not.

Imagine going to the hospital clinic for your annual check-up. Sitting there in the waiting area, you glance discretely at the other people around the room. Your secret thoughts become filled with observations and guesses at what ailments brought them there. “I’m in much better health than these people,” you think to yourself with pride. Then your name gets called. The doctor greets you, you sit down, and asks if you are having any issues with your health. “No, nothing’s wrong” you say, but that’s not true.

Awhile back, you cut your hip on an exposed piece of jagged metal, and your concealed wound is not healing. It’s been oozing a smelly, yellow fluid and the skin all around the wound is swollen, red, and painful to touch, but you’ve been mostly able to ignore it. Either embarrassed at your injury or oblivious to the danger, you say, “I’m fine,” and leave without presenting this infection to your physician who has the ability to heal you.

In a sermon about Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, St. Augustine once preached:

How useful and necessary a medicine is repentance! People who remember that they are only human will readily understand this. It is written, ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ The Pharisee was not rejoicing so much in his own clean bill of health as in comparing it with the diseases of others. He came to the doctor. It would have been more worthwhile to inform him by confession of the things that were wrong with himself instead of keeping his wounds secret and having the nerve to crow over the scars of others. It is not surprising that the tax collector went away cured, since he had not been ashamed of showing where he felt pain.

Do the sins of others bother you more than your own? Do you know what your sins are? Are you contrite for them? When was the last time you went to Confession? Will you present your infected wounds to our Divine Physician and then follow his prescription for your good health?

Gratitude for our Healer

October 8, 2022

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

My dear brothers and sisters, God is the creator of every human being. He has given life to all of us. He continually gives us sustenance, His protection and care. What is expected of us is to be grateful to Him and become more aware of how much we have been given. Gratitude is an expression of the heart, counting our blessings and acknowledging everything that we receive. Giving thanks makes people happier, it strengthens relationships, it improves health, and reduces stress. The readings of today present the theme of gratitude, showing that it should come spontaneously from the heart of every individual.

In today’s first reading, we heard the story of Naaman, the military general of the king of Aram. He was a great man in high favor with his master because, by him, the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. The king sends him to the Kingdom of Israel for his healing. The king of Israel, however, misunderstands the entire motive of his coming and shows his anger. This anger is countered by the Prophet Elisha. In the name of Yahweh, Elisha sends a message to Naaman to cleanse himself in the River Jordan. Even though Naaman refuses at first, he carries out the order given by the prophet and is healed. Here we see the conversion of a pagan into believing in the true God. St. Paul, in the second reading, advises Timothy to be grateful to God even in his physical suffering and amid the dangers associated with spreading the word of God. Why? Because God will always be faithful to His people. And in today’s Gospel, we have the narrative of Jesus healing the ten lepers. The incident of the ten lepers happened when Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, where he was to receive His cross and suffer for us.

The Gospel reminds us of the love, kindness, and mercy of Jesus to all classes of the people. Even lepers are not excluded from it. Jesus said to the lepers “go and show yourself to the priest.” While on their way they were gradually healed, one of them, the moment he realized that he was healed, knew that Jesus had healed him and returned to him before going to the priest to fulfill the obligation. He came and prostrated before Jesus, a sign of deepest respect and honor. This act of the Samaritan leper pleased Jesus but was He surprised and sad at the ingratitude of others.

The word of God today tells us that we all need to be grateful to God every day of our life for the graces and good gifts we have received in and through him. He has not only given us our life with all its joys and sorrows, but he has prepared for us a future life of joy and happiness. We often fail to acknowledge the good he has done to us. What is needed in our life is the recognition of these goods and the acknowledgment of gratitude towards God and all persons who come to us as instruments of God.

Also, let us realize the truth that we all need healing from our spiritual leprosy. Although we may not suffer from physical leprosy, the ‘spiritual leprosy’ of sin makes us unclean. Jesus is our Savior who wants to heal us from this leprosy of sin. Since Jesus is not afraid to touch our deepest impurities, let us not hide them. Just as the lepers cried out to Jesus for healing, let us also ask him to heal us from the spiritual leprosy of sins, including all kinds of impurity, injustice, and hatred.

What Makes Good Friday Good?

April 14, 2022

Good Friday
By Deacon Dick Kostner

I have always been puzzled with the question of why an all loving God would ever will or direct that his Son be required to die in order for the door to heaven be unlocked so that we might enter into eternal life. I thought this would be an excellent reflection for us to enter into for this Good Friday Service. My research disclosed an informed reflection that was given by a Fr. Terrance Klein, a priest in the Diocese of Dodge City, last year on Good Friday as a homily he presented to his parish.

He indicated we must go back to our creation story in the Bible to find the answer to this question and it all goes back to the fact that the Father desires his children to love him and the fact that one can never order someone to love them. Love can only be obtained if someone has the free will to decide for themselves if someone deserves their love. Free will is a requirement for real love to exist.

God created humans in his image and likeness, but he also created them with a free will to accept or refuse his fatherly teachings and laws which was gifted to us to help us find happiness and yes eternal life with him in heaven. As Fr. Chinnappan told us at our Parish Mission, God does not send us to heaven or hell at the end of our earthly lives, we send ourselves to that place by and through our free will decision to live out our lives either believing and following the advice of our heavenly mentor Jesus, or by refusing that advice.

God sent his son to us in human form so that we might better understand his words and teachings. He sent Jesus with the mission to share salvation instructions so that we might not only be happy in this life but also join God in heaven after this life for all eternity. He did not send Jesus as death sacrifice for our salvation rather he sent Jesus to us with a mission to bring us into the heavenly family by and through use of the key to salvation which is love of God and neighbor. It was the tremendous love that Jesus has for each and everyone of us that he gave his life so that we could witness the fact that death does not trump God’s love for us, his children. The question for us to ponder is do we desire to love God and neighbor and accept his love for us, or not?

On behalf of our Parish I would like to thank Fr. Chinnappan for an insight on the last words of Jesus on the Cross which revealed to this Deacon as to why today is called “Good Friday.” So why is this day “Good?” Maybe it is because it was through Jesus’ Passion and Death that human death came to an end for all of us who have listened to the Word and obeyed His directives for happiness not only in this life but the life to come.

Preparing His Way Within

December 5, 2021

2nd Sunday of Advent
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

This season of Advent is a time of grace for us. It is a time of grace given to us to prepare our hearts, soul and mind so that we are ready to receive Christ at Christmas. Advent is a time of grace to remind us that Jesus is the reason for Christmas. Advent is the time of waiting as we prepare ourselves to welcome God who became man and who by example showed us how we should be able to live like him for others. We wait for someone we love and we long to meet that person.

In the first reading, Prophet Baruch reminds the people of Israel that they have to share the gift of joy with others by calling them to put on the garment of integrity. God is asking them not to be part of the sad story of corruption. In this reading, God is assuring that he will flatten any high mountains and fill any deep valleys in order to make the ground level. This is an invitation to change their external behavior and reconcile them with the Lord. In this prophetic song, God promised to bring back His people from exile in Babylon.

The Prophet says by giving the people hope and confidence, inviting them to stop mourning for the past and prepare to celebrate the future. They should replace the robes of mourning with garments fashioned from the justice and glory of God. The garment of our sorrow and afflictions is the death and suffering that has come upon the Israelites because of their disobedience. The word glory appears repeatedly in the reading. The prophecy states that God would bring His people back to Jerusalem. Through sin, humankind has experienced spiritual death and the absence of the Divine Presence of God. Jerusalem is known as a mother about to receive back her exiled children.

In the second reading, we have the apostle Paul stating that he prays with joy for the Philippians, his loyal partners in the work of evangelization. He was praying for them to be blameless and pure. He prayed that they may have the grace to discern between right and wrong, good and evil. We too, like the Philippians, must be known to be men and women of goodwill. We can be witnesses to the world and to one another by maintaining our Christian morals and values. Because God the Father will begin and complete his good work in them

Today’s Gospel reading presents us with the words of John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth: and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” He calls out, “Prepare a way for the Lord!” John the Baptist comes “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

There are three words which are closely linked – baptism, repentance, and forgiveness. Baptism is the call to be initiated in the life of Jesus and be cleansed from all sins. It is a symbolic action through which people expressed their reconciliation with God by hoping that their sins were totally washed away. ‘Repentance’ is the forgiveness of sins and is understood as meaning change of Heart, not just sorrow for past sins but a total and radical change of outlook in our relationship with God and other people. It calls for radical and genuine renewal and conversion of heart. Forgiveness means letting go, liberation from the chains of sin and evil. Forgiveness is seen as the dropping off of heavy baggage or burdens.

During this Advent let us prepare our hearts for Christ by turning away from sin and evil and giving ourselves completely to God so that when Christ comes, or when we are called from this life, we are ready and prepared. What better way of doing this than making a very good confession receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

Cutting Off the Near Occasions

September 25, 2021

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus says if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter into eternal life maimed, or crippled, or half-blinded, than with two hands, two feet, and two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna (into hell) forever. There are two mistakes one can make with this gospel teaching. The first mistake is less grave than the other.

This first mistake would be imagining that one’s hand, foot, or eye were the source of your sins. If that were what Jesus meant, how could he think that plucking out just one eye, would be an effective solution? Pretty much any sin you can do with two eyes can be done just as easily with one. No, the Church does not encourage elective amputations because that’s not what Jesus is saying here. Jesus is using hyperbole, over-the-top rhetoric, to vividly drive home an important point.

As much as you enjoy your hand, your foot, or your eye, you can live without them. So if any of these were leading you to your death, you would be a fool not to part ways with it. How much more so is this true for the lesser things people enjoy which lead to spiritual death?

Human beings, for better or worse, are creatures of habit. The sins we commit and the virtues we practice tend to be habitual. So think: is there a person, setting, or thing that often leads you to sin? Whom do you sin with? Where and when do you sin? What object, substance, or technology do you sin with often? Jesus knows that you know your pattern of weakness and sin, or that you could easily recognize your pattern with a little self-reflection, and he wants you to take this issue seriously. For the love of God who loves you, for the good of your own soul and the souls of others, curtail in your life the near occasions of sin or, even better, cut them out entirely. Make a firm resolution, make a conscious renunciation, make a good confession, and begin better living the life Jesus wills for you.

Now here is the second, graver mistake people make with Jesus’ teaching. Since Jesus uses hyperbolic imagery about chopping off body parts some think that he isn’t being serious about the dangers of hell. Yes, Jesus uses symbolic imagery to describe it, but hell is very real.

Gehenna, for instance, was a valley southwest of Jerusalem, just outside the walls of God’s holy city. It had once been the site of pagan temples where children were offered as holocausts to idols of Baal and Moloch. The Jews went on to use that shameful place as a smoldering garbage dump, with rotten, worm-infested refuse and continuously burning trash. Will there be literal fire in hell? Maybe not. We would not say hell must have “undying worms” for Jesus’ teachings to be true. But fire does speak to great agony and worms to corruption.

In Jesus’ parable of the royal wedding guests, the king finds a man unfit for his feast. The king says to his servants, “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” Wailing accompanies despair and the grinding of teeth, violent anger. As light is to vision and wisdom, the outer darkness is to blindness and error – error which is not innocent ignorance but falsehood blamefully embraced.

In that parable, the condemned one is utterly bound, hand and foot, and thrown out. Yet in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, the condemned go off on their own. Christ tells us that when he returns as king he will sit upon his glorious throne and turn to the unrighteous goats on his left and say, “Depart from me, you accursed…” And these, he tells us, “will go off to eternal punishment.” Hell is their sentence, but hell is also what they have freely chosen.

Grave sin, freely and knowingly chosen, is a rejection of the Kingdom of God. Mortal sin rejects Christ’s Way; it rejects the life of heaven. This decision to stray is ours, but the decision to respond to God’s grace and return is ours as well.

People today assume almost everybody is going to heaven, but the early Church Fathers were far less optimistic. Whether the number who will be saved in the end is a majority or a minority of the human race, I want all of you to make it. So please take Christ’s words to you seriously. Repent of your sins and change your ways. This is Jesus’ loving will for you.

“You Have Nothing to be Ashamed of”

April 17, 2021

3rd Sunday of Easter

When I was 26 years old, in my second year of major seminary, I was bothered by a worrisome question or doubt. “Of course, God loves me,” I thought to myself. “He loves everyone – even those in hell. But does he like me? Even the eternally damned are loved by God though they don’t love him back. I know that God loves me, but is he pleased with me?” I was burdened by this question for several weeks until, I believe, God personally addressed my concern.

During the summer of 2007 near the end of an hour of prayer (which is called a “Holy Hour”) sitting in a chapel before Jesus in the tabernacle, I heard him say in my thoughts: “You have nothing to be ashamed of.” I replied that I would love for him to say that, but how could it possibly be true? I knew my sins, and he knew them far better than I. So he would have to convince me.

He asked me, again in my mind, “When you sin in a big way, you always try to get to Confession, right?

Yes,” I answered.

And when you sin in a small way, once you realize you’re doing it, you try to stop, right?

Yes, that’s true.”

And then he said, “You’re for me.”

I recognized in this an echo of a verse from the Letter to the Romans: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Jesus was telling me, “If you’re for me, how could I possibly be against you?” The nagging doubt I had carried for a couple of months he resolved in a couple of minutes by highlighting my concern over the very sins which had made me feel ashamed.

On Pentecost Sunday, fifty days after Easter, St. Peter preaches to the crowd in Jerusalem:

[Jesus the Christ] you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence when [the governor] had decided to release him. You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The Author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.

Peter is charging them as accessories to deicide. He is declaring them guilty accomplices in the murder of God. And this crime is ours as well, because the sins of all humanity sent Jesus to the Cross. But Peter is preaching not to condemn the world to hopeless shame, but so that the world might be saved through Christ. “Repent, therefore, and be converted,” Peter proclaims, “that your sins may be wiped away.

In our Gospel, Jesus shows his disciples the wounds in his hands and feet not as a bitter reproach but that they may share his joy. The greeting of the risen Lord is not “I condemn you,” but rather, “Peace be with you.

As St. John writes in our second reading:

My children, I am writing this to you
so that you may not commit sin.
But if anyone does sin,
we have an Advocate with the Father,

Jesus Christ the righteous one.
He is expiation for our sins,
and not for our sins only
but for those of the whole world.

In conclusion, know and remember that guilt is different than shame. We should feel guilt for the sins we commit. When I sin, guilt says, “I have done foul, ugly, and unlovely things, and I must repent.” But shame says, “I am foul. I am ugly. I am unlovable. And I cannot be saved.” The feeling of guilt can be a gift from God, but the Evil One wants you to feel ashamed. Shame is unhealthy, causing us to despair and hide from God. Guilt, on the other hand, is useful when it spurs us to conversion, to spiritual health and our salvation.

Jesus loves you and he likes and is pleased by every good thing about you. Repent, therefore, and be converted that your sins may be wiped away and your love of God may be truly perfected in you.

The Ashes of Sin

February 17, 2021

Ash Wednesday

One evening when was a teenager, I was alone at my uncle and aunt’s home in Illinois experiencing a particular temptation. Knowing the direction where things were headed, I prayed to God for some kind of diversion, saying, “Lord, give me something.” The next moment, as I scanned the living room bookshelves, I saw a paperback book. Its red cover shows the faceless silhouette of a horned demon dressed in formal attire, a suit, beneath the book’s famous title: “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis. That night God delivered me from temptation through what would go on to become one of my all-time favorite novels.

In it, we read the letters of a senior demon named Screwtape to a junior demon, his “nephew” Wormwood. Screwtape instructs Wormwood in spiritual and psychological techniques for misleading human beings, describing how to draw the soul of one’s target (called the “patient”) away from God (called “the Enemy“) and toward the devil (called “Our Father Below”). The book is really wonderful, seasoned with dry, ironic humor and containing great insights into human nature and spiritual realities. In one passage, Screwtape reflects upon the use of pleasure in tempting souls:

I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His [God’s] invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. … An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. … To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return — that is what really gladdens our [Father the devil’s] heart.

Indeed the demons and every sin always take good things and corrupt, distort, or misuse them.

Reflect upon fire for a moment. Is fire a good thing or is it bad? St. Francis of Assisi, in his poetic hymn “The Canticle of the Creatures,” praises God for his creation of fire:

“Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.”

Fire gives light, it offers heat, and it dances with a fascinating beauty. If fire were evil, would the Holy Spirit have descended in the likeness of tongues of fire at Pentecost? Yet fire, though God’s good creation, can be misused, at wrong times or wrong places or for wrong reasons, causing great suffering, destruction, and even death. Whenever we sin (be it through lying, stealing, lust, greed, gluttony, or whatever) we take some good thing God has given and set it aflame. Our misdeeds may yield heat and light for awhile, serving some purpose we find useful, but when they burn out we are left with ashes.

Do you know where the ashes we use on Ash Wednesday come from? Customarily, they are the ashes of burnt palms used on previous Palm Sundays. Like the people of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday who waved palms and sang “Hosannas” for Jesus and then went on to crucify him, so our sins are major or minor denials or rejections of Christ.

There’s another famous book about temptation and sin I’d like to mention that’s by an author named Oscar Wilde, who himself lived a sinful life but repented on his deathbed and died a Catholic. In “The Picture of Dorian Gray” a very handsome, very wealthy young man sits to have his portrait painted and offers his soul in exchange for the wish that his portrait would age instead of himself. The wish is granted and as the years pass by the picture of Dorian Gray ages while his own youthful appearance remains unchanged. However, as he lives a wicked, selfish life, the state of his sinful soul is reflected by the increasingly hideous portrait which Dorian keeps secretly hidden and covered up in his attic. Are not most of our unrepeated sins like this? Unseen by others yet marked on our souls and clearly visible to God who sees what is hidden. We have played with fire, we have been burnt by it, and we are left with ashes.

In the Old Testament, God’s people put dirt or ashes upon their heads as a sign of repentance. In the Book of Nehemiah “the Israelites gathered together while fasting and wearing sackcloth, their heads covered with dust.” And the Book of Daniel records how the prophet “turned to the Lord God, to seek help, in prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” This year, because of the pandemic, the Vatican has asked us to put on ashes in a way common in other Catholic countries but which is different from what we’re used to. Rather than marking our foreheads with a cross, the top of our heads will be sprinkled with ashes.

Even if no one else notices these ashes atop our heads today, they will outwardly symbolize the ugliness of our secret sins and the uncleanliness of our invisible souls, and appeal to our merciful God above who is able to make us clean. Repent and believe in the Gospel, discouraging the demons and delighting the angels. Make the most of Lent this year by confessing your sins and to drawing closer to the Lord and to that holy image of yourself which God envisions for you in Heaven.

The Fire of God

December 6, 2020


2nd Sunday of Advent

Eighteen years ago, when I applied to become a seminarian for our diocese, one part of the process was taking the MMPI, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Test — 567 True-False questions that help to detect psychological disorders. Of all of those written questions this one is for me the most memorable: “True or False: I am fascinated by fire.” How would you answer that question on a psych exam? I recall thinking at the time, “Yes, yes I am fascinated by fire, but I don’t want them to think I’m a pyromaniac. And I’m not a pyromaniac so maybe I should answer ‘False.’” But then I considered that wouldn’t be honest, so I reluctantly filled in the bubble for “True.” In the end, the diocesan psychologist did not diagnose me as crazy, so they sent me to seminary, eventually ordained me, and here I am today. But upon later reflection, I think this question is something of a trick.

Why do people pay more to have a fireplace in their home when a central heating system is sufficient to keep everyone comfortable? When people sit around a campfire, what does everybody look at for hours into the night? I strongly suspect this question (are you fascinated by fire) isn’t looking for pyromania so much as it is checking to see whether people will lie, because everyone is fascinated by fire. Fire is beautiful, it’s mesmerizing, dynamic and powerful; it’s well-known to us and yet surprising, an incredible blessing yet dangerous to the unwary.

The Sacred Scriptures often speak about fire. In today’s in gospel, we hear the preaching of St. John the Baptist. In the parallel passages of Matthew and Luke, St. John similarly cries out:

I am baptizing you with water… but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Fire is also mentioned in today’s second reading. The Second Letter of St. Peter tells us:

The day of the Lord will come like a thief,
and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar
and the elements will be dissolved by fire…
the heavens will be dissolved in flames
and the elements melted by fire.”

The coming and presence of the Lord is associated with fire in the Old Testament as well. God first spoke to Moses through a burning bush. And during the Exodus the Lord went before his people, leading them in a pillar of cloud and fire. The appearance of God’s glory was like a devouring fire atop Mt. Sinai. The mountain was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended upon it in fire. Smoke rose up from it into the sky and the whole mountain greatly trembled. The Lord commanded Moses to warn the people not to approach, not to climb up the mountain, lest they be struck down in their unholiness. Listen to this vision of God the Prophet Daniel had in a dream one night:

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.

Is the fire of God of which John the Baptist, Peter, Moses, and Daniel speak something for us to fear? Scripture says the punishment of God’s judgment is fire, but it also speaks of fire as God’s means of purifying his own. In regards to judgment, the Prophet Isaiah writes, “the Lord will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.” At the Last Judgment, Jesus Christ the King will turn to the goats on his left and say “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And the Book of Revelation says anyone whose name is not found written in the book of life will be thrown into a lake of fire: “[A]s for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, & all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” This is a fire to dread and to earnestly avoid.

Yet God’s prophets also speak of God’s purifying fire which perfects his people. Psalm 66 says “you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried;” and a verse from the Book of Proverbs says, “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” Ancient gold and silversmiths would melt their precious metals with fire to separate out and burn away any impurities which they contained. Likewise, through the Prophet Zechariah, God says, “[I will put my people] into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” This is why Jesus exclaims, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!

Jesus would separate and burn away in us everything impure, false, and worthless. This purification can happen for God’s faithful friends in this life on earth or afterwards in Purgatory. St. Peter writes to the Church in his First Letter, “Now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” And St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day [of the Lord] will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” Is this a fire we should fear and dread? No, as illustrated by this story from the Book of Daniel:

In the days of the Babylonian Empire, King Nebuchadnezzar had three servants named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When the king set up a tall, golden statue and commanded that all bow down and worship it, these three faithful Jewish men refused. Enraged, the king commanded that they be bound with rope and cast into a white-hot furnace. Once this had been done, the king looked inside the furnace. He became startled and rose in haste, asking his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” “Certainly, O king,” they answered. “But, I see four men unbound and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.” Then Nebuchadnezzar came to the opening of the furnace and called: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out,” and the trio came out of the fire.

The fire had had no power over their bodies; not a hair of their heads had been singed, nor were their garments altered; there was not even a smell of fire about them. Yet notice, all of the ropes which had bound them were burned away and gone. Recall that the burning bush at Mt. Sinai was not destroyed by God’s fire. And when the Holy Spirit came down as tongues of fire at Pentecost, the disciples touched by the Holy Flame were not tormented by pain but rather filled with rejoicing. The process of conversion may entail some pains because change is often hard, whether on earth or in Purgatory, but I urge you not to fear it. God’s purifying fire would take away what binds you, it will not destroy what is good in you, and its fruit will be joy.

The Book of Wisdom tells us:

Chastised a little, [the souls of the just] shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;”
They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their King forever.

So just souls become as sparks of fire and rule over the nations. They will rule like God their King and they will share in God’s fire. The New and Old Testaments agree, as the Books of Hebrews and Deuteronomy say, that “our God is a consuming fire.” The Lord your God is a consuming fire – beautiful, dynamic and powerful; well-known to us and yet surprising, an incredible blessing yet dangerous to the unwary. There is no approaching God without encountering his fire. Perhaps the delights of the saints and pains of damned have the same source – the unveiled presence of God. In this life, many people dismiss God while others long to see Him. But beyond the veil of this life the Holy One can no longer be ignored. Either we will eagerly run toward him or desperately desire to flee. The same Holy Fire is loved or despised according to our openness to love and honor and serve like him.

The call of Prophets Isaiah and John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord is addressed to us this Advent. In the wasteland of your imperfect soul prepare a straight and smooth highway for our God. Repent and confess your sins for forgiveness. When St. John the Baptist appeared in the desert, people from the whole Judean countryside and the city of Jerusalem were going out to him and being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins aloud. They would devote an entire day to walk or ride an animal out to where John was baptizing; wait in a single, very long line; and then confess their sinfulness in front of everybody in the mere hope of being forgiven by God. Jesus Christ makes it so much easier for us in the Sacrament of Confession. His minsters are not just one, but many, and his churches are not far away. We get to confess our sins privately in the quiet of the confessional, and with every good confession our forgiveness is assured.

St. Peter tells us “the day of the Lord will come like a thief,” that is, by surprise; we know not when. “(Then) the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.” Since this is the case, St. Peter asks, “what sort of persons ought you to be?” Conduct yourselves in holiness and devotion. Do not delay your repentance and conversion. Jesus says, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.” If this would be the case with precious limbs, how much more surely should we now cast off our worthless sins?

To give you that opportunity, for the forgiveness of your sins and a new infusion of God’s graces, I will be hearing confessions all day this Wednesday, December 9th at St. Paul’s. This Wednesday, from 10 AM to 8 PM, at the top of every hour, I will come to St. Paul’s main sacristy to hear the confessions of all penitents, either face-to-face or anonymously, masked and socially-distanced until all are heard. I sincerely hope you will come, and bring your family too, for the purifying fire of God is far sweeter than his fire which will punish unrepentance.

Which Son of the Father Sinned?

September 27, 2020

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Because I am a sinner, I receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis. About twice a month, typically on my day off, I drive about twenty minutes away to confess my sins and receive absolution from another area pastor. The gracious gift of this sacrament helps me to be a better man than what I would be without it. After my most recent confession, Father and I went for a walk and talked about several topics. Something he said in our conversation made me laugh because there is some truth to it. He said, ‘The homilies that get the most compliments from parishioners are the ones they think that other people need to hear.’ (“That was a great homily, Father! You really told ’em.”) The homilies that we think we don’t need to hear – but that we think other people do – can make us feel good about ourselves without us actually becoming better people.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks the chief priests and elders of the people, ‘Which of these two sons did his father’s will? The first, who when asked by his father to work in the vineyard, refused, but then changed his mind and went; or the second, who when approached by his father with the same request replied, “Yes, sir,” but chose not to go?’ The Jewish leaders answered that it was the first son who did the father’s will. But did they answer correctly? It’s true that the first son eventually did go to work in the vineyard. However, the Jewish leaders discount the fact that neither son did the Father’s will perfectly. One son sins by not going to the vineyard at all, but the other son sins by disrespecting his father, disobeying him to his face. No one obeyed the father completely.

The Pharisees had a similar blind spot. Once, when they saw Jesus and his disciples dining with many tax collectors and sinners, they objected: “Why does [he] eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. … I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” But wait, doesn’t Jesus come to call everyone and save everyone? Yes, but the Pharisees, the chief priests, and the elders of the people did not accept that “Christ came to save sinners,” and that this included themselves. When they confronted Jesus with the woman caught in adultery and he replied to the crowd, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” Jesus was not expecting there to be one such person among them. Even the most religious among them had sins to repent of.

Jesus would point this out, at times calling them hypocrites. Jesus’ words were hard against hypocrites, yet his words were gentle with sinners. So what’s the difference between a hypocrite and a sinner? A hypocrite is not just someone who professes one thing and does another. (Unless they lack moral principles, all sinners do that.) A hypocrite is more than a sinner. A hypocrite is someone who says one thing, does another, and doesn’t care anymore about the disconnect, if they ever cared at all.

Jesus was hard with hypocrites in hopes of shaking them from their deadly complacency. But the tax collectors and prostitutes knew they were sinners and wanted to change their lives. They were unhappy and hoped for more. They wanted a better life. They desired the way of righteousness that John the Baptist and Jesus were offering. But the Jewish leaders did not, and tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom of God before them. As the Prophet Ezekiel records in our first reading, the Lord is more interested in the direction we are headed than where we have been. The person who turns from wickedness to do what’s right can live and be saved, but the one who turns away from virtue to do evil can die and be lost. This is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so important.

Regular confession helps us to not be hypocrites, complacent in and comfortable with our sins. Confession helps hold us accountable, it helps to make us face reality and live in the truth. A good confession forgives our sins; in the case of grave sins, it saves our soul and reconnects us to Christ. The sacrament is an encounter with Jesus Christ, and we leave confession with a new beginning, a fresh start, new graces, and a fresh perspective. We walk away much lighter and more joyful than before.

When was your last confession? I offer confession times every week, but I have heard very few in recent months. Perhaps the posted times and places are inconvenient for you. If so, then contact me to make a confession appointment, for yourself or your whole family. We can do it in church or out of church in a way that is safe and convenient for you. Please make me busy hearing your confessions. What could our lives and community be like if we unloaded ourselves of sins? Is this a homily that you’ve needed to hear? Is the Father calling you to confession? Then please respond by doing your Father’s will.

Moses & the Rock — 2nd Sunday of Lent—Year A

March 8, 2020

You’re familiar with the story of Moses: his being saved from the waters of the Nile as a baby, his growing up in the household of Pharaoh, his flight as a fugitive after killing an Egyptian taskmaster, his years shepherding in the Sinai Desert until God called him from the Burning Bush, how God used Moses to free the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery with great plagues and awesome miracles, how God through Moses gave his people the Law of the Old Covenant. Moses shared an incredible intimacy with God.

In the Book of Numbers, God said:

“If there are prophets among you,
in visions I reveal myself to them,
in dreams I speak to them;
Not so with my servant Moses!
Throughout my house he is worthy of trust:
face to face I speak to him,
plainly and not in riddles.
The likeness of the Lord he beholds.”

The Book of Deuteronomy declares: “Since [that time] no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” So one would imagine, one would think, that Moses saw God’s face. The Book of Exodus says: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a person speaks to a friend.” However, following soon after in that same chapter from Exodus, Moses asks the Lord, “Please let me see your glory!” And the Lord answers: “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim my name, ‘Lord,’ before you … But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live. Here is a place near me where you shall station yourself on the rock. When my glory passes I will set you in the cleft of the rock and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back; but my face may not be seen.” So Moses met with God in intimate conversation as one friend speaks to another, in his holy presence, yet it is not clear that Moses, during his lifetime, ever beheld God’s face. Similarly, God gave Moses the mission of leading his people from Egypt to the Promised Land, the land promised to Abraham and his descendants, yet Moses during his lifetime never entered the Promised Land himself.

Why was that the case? Early in their desert wanderings, the Hebrews complained against Moses because of their lack of water. Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me!” And the Lord answered Moses: “Go on ahead of the people, and take along with you some of the elders of Israel, holding in your hand, as you go, the staff with which you struck the Nile. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb. Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.” Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel and the crisis was adverted.

However, on a later occasion, when the community again lacked water, they held an assembly against Moses and Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses, exclaiming, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt, only to bring us to this wretched place [to die]? It is not a place for grain nor figs nor vines nor pomegranates! And there is no water to drink!” The Lord said to Moses: “Take the staff and assemble the community, you and Aaron your brother, and in their presence command the rock to yield its waters. Thereby you will bring forth water from the rock for them, and supply the community and their livestock with water.

So Moses took the staff from its place before the Lord, as he was commanded. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly in front of the rock, where he said to them, “Just listen, you rebels! Are we to produce water for you out of this rock?” Then, raising his hand, Moses struck the rock twice with his staff, and water came out in abundance, and the community and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “Because you did not have confidence in me, to acknowledge my holiness before the Israelites, therefore you shall not lead this assembly into the land I have given them.

Years later, at the edge of the Promised Land, the Lord told Moses: “Ascend this mountain [Mount Nebo] and view the land … which I am giving to the Israelites as a possession. Then you shall die on the mountain you are about to ascend, and shall be gathered to your people, [because] you broke faith with me among the Israelites at the waters of Meribath-kadesh in the wilderness of Zin: you did not manifest my holiness among the Israelites. You may indeed see the land from a distance, but you shall not enter that land which I am giving to the Israelites.” And there, Moses the servant of the Lord died as the Lord had foretold. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.

What was behind this punishment from God? Moses had been disobedient to the Lord, striking the rock twice instead of speaking to the rock as instructed; and this was more than just some desert rock—the rock carried spiritual, symbolic, prophetic significance. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul saw the Church and her sacraments prefigured in the story of the Hebrews and the Exodus. St. Paul writes: “Our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ.

So the rock in the desert symbolized Jesus Christ. The first time, God told Moses to strike the rock, and it poured forth from its side saving water for God’s people. But the second time, when God told Moses to speak to the rock, Moses disobeyed and struck it twice. Jesus Christ has already been struck, beaten, and suffered violence once, for you and me in his Passion. We are no longer to keep striking him, again and again, through our sinful disobedience. Rather than choosing sin, we are to speak to Christ, asking him to pour forth his saving gifts. Jesus says, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. … To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water.

I fear that sometimes we might think, “I can keep on sinning, it’s no big deal, because if I keep on going to Confession and have my sins forgiven it’s like they never happened—they don’t really matter.” Yet every sin is a lost opportunity to do God’s will. Every sin refuses God’s “Plan A.” And sins, even after they are forgiven, can bear earthly consequences which remain for the rest of our lives. Moses sinned, and repented, and remained God’s friend, but he was refused entry into the earthly Holy Land to his own great disappointment. Even convicted murderers can be forgiven by God, but they still remain behind prison bars and their victims bodies remain buried underground. Let’s not be complacent about our sins, for every sin is a lost opportunity to follow God’s better plan and, even if forgiven, sins can have irreparable consequences in this world for the rest of our lives. But, thanks be to God, our Christian hopes are not for this lifetime alone. Moses died and was buried, but that is not the end of his story.

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.” St. Luke’s telling of today’s Gospel story notes Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory and spoke of [Jesus’] exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.

Sometimes people ask how the apostles knew it was Moses and Elijah. Most likely they either introduced themselves, or Jesus introduced them. Some people have the notion that the dead forget who they were, forget all their memories, and care nothing about the events on earth. But Moses can only introduce himself if he knows who he is. And if Jesus said, “This is the prophet Moses,” there’s no indication that Moses replied, “I am? Where am I? What is happening?” Moses and Elijah can converse with Jesus about the exodus he is going to accomplish in Jerusalem (that is, about his coming Passion, death, and resurrection) because they know who they are, remember their lives, and are concerned about events among the living.

At the Transfiguration, we see the not quite fully-satisfied aspects of Moses’ life reaching their fulfillment. Moses never entered the Promised Land in his lifetime, but here he stands in Israel upon Mount Tabor with Jesus. Moses seems to have never seen God’s face, but now he speaks face to face with Christ. Consider how privileged we are to stand in this holy place and have such intimacy with Jesus Christ in his Holy Eucharist. It is good that we are here.

God greatly desires that we not sin. And if we have sinned, the Lord desires that we promptly repent and sin no more. Now, this season of Lent is an excellent time for repentance—especially while we’re still healthy. This world is scarred by sins, some forgiven and many not; and these painful wounds grieve us and prevent our full satisfaction in life. Yet the full story of Moses shows that our hopes are not merely limited to this life. Our hope extends beyond death, and St. Paul says, “God works all things for the good of those who love him.” And in the end, as St. Julian of Norwich says, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.