From Sucker Punch to Saint

5th Sunday of Lent (March 22, 2015)

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 51:3-4,12-15

Hebrews 5:7-9

John 12:20-33

I want to share with you a true story that I shared with our youth group a few years ago. It’s the story of a boy named Peregrine. He was born in the Italian city of Forli about the year 1260. He was an only child and his parents were very wealthy and heavily involved in politics. Unfortunately, the politics they aligned with were anti-Catholic. Their political party was so powerful that they were able to ban Catholics from celebrating Mass and the Sacraments within the city. The Pope, trying to help the situation, sent a holy priest named Fr. Philip Benizi to the city. Fr. Philip’s job was to try and heal the hatred and anti-church political fury that was rampart in Forli in hopes to allow the celebration of Mass and the Sacraments once again. One day, Fr. Philip was in the town publicly preaching forgiveness and reconciliation when Peregrine and some of his friends, all teenagers at the time, started heckling Fr. Philip. Apparently Peregrine inherited his parent’s very anti-Catholic political beliefs. Fr. Philip ignored the heckling so Peregrine started tossing stones at the priest. When the stones failed to silence the priest, Peregrine approached him and sucker punched Fr. Philip right in the face. The response from the holy priest was to literally turn the other check to Peregrine. This action floored Peregrine and he immediately sought forgiveness from Fr. Philip. From that moment forward, Peregrine’s life went a completely different direction. He became Catholic and went on to join the Order of Servites who dedicate their lives to prayer and service. At the age of 30, Peregrine founded a Servite house in his hometown of Forli. This once confrontational, cocky mouthed, anti-Catholic teenager was now using all of his energy for the glory of God. Peregrine was eventually canonized a Saint on December 27, 1726. Interestingly enough, Fr. Philip, the priest St. Peregrine punched in the face, was also canonized a Saint.

St. Peregrine

St. Peregrine

I love this story because it teaches us about the power of transformation. If St. Peregrine did not transform his life, if he did not die to his old self, we probably would not be referring to him as a Saint. This is exactly what we hear in today’s Gospel from John. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” This death can be a figurative or literal one. In the case of St. Peregrine, his conversion didn’t take place from a literal death, but from a death to his sinful and worldly ways that were keeping him away from God. This transformation allowed him to live a life for God and he is now a powerful intercessor in heaven as the patron Saint of cancer patients.

As incredible as this transformation story is, there is one even more powerful, which involved a literal death. As you very well know, Adam and Eve’s original sin broke our perfect communion with God. This one event led us to be slaves to sin…constantly struggling to decide between doing good or doing evil, following God’s will or following our own. God Himself saw that the only way to make things right again was through His own intervention. So to ransom a slave (us), He gave away His only Son who “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9). But this could only take place after Jesus conquered sin and death for us. As the Easter Proclamation that is chanted at the Easter Vigil so beautifully puts it, Jesus “Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father and pouring out His own dear blood, wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.” It took a literal death of God’s only Son to open the gates of Heaven offering us salvation. Jesus Christ transformed death by being lifted up on the cross on Good Friday, dying and resurrecting on Easter Sunday. Where original sin pulled us away from God, Jesus’ death on the cross brought us all back.

crucifix

But here’s the catch, as Christians, we must be willing to follow His example if we hope to walk through those pearly gates one day. You must be willing to transform your life…to turn away from sin here and now. Jesus tells us, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” The phrase “Hates his life” is a Semitic idiom for “is willing to give up his life.” Jesus is telling us that if you love this earthly life more than heaven, you can keep it. He’s not going to force you to do something you don’t want to do. But if you desire heaven so much that you’re willing to do whatever it takes, even be willing to die for Christ, then you will live an incredible life with Him in heaven for all eternity. This is the ultimate transformation experience that we all need to be striving for.

So I challenge you, take these last two weeks of Lent to root out all the sin in your life. Pray for God to help you get over any addictions you are struggling with. Then take these sins and struggles to the sacrament of reconciliation and ask God to help you avoid committing them again. But most importantly, take time to sit in silence and pray for God to transform your life. This is probably the scariest thing that anyone can pray for…transformation. Because transformation will quite often lead you to do God’s will rather than your own. It will often lead you to die to yourself.

Do not be afraid.

Remember, Christ already did the hard part. He was raised up on the cross so that He could raise you up to His Father in heaven. Please don’t miss out on the opportunity of allowing this ultimate act of love to transform your life.

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Live In The Light

4th Sunday of Lent (March 15, 2015)

2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23

Psalm 137:1-6

Ephesians 2:4-10

John 3:14-21

Since this is Lent, I’ve been reflecting a lot about sinfulness and repentance. I’m trying really hard to live a life that is holier and learn from my past mistakes. In order to do that, I realize that I have to first acknowledge my past sins so I can try to avoid doing them again. So, if it’s ok with you, I need to get something out in the open. So bear with me as I proceed with a little “public confession” session with everyone here today.

I was either in 7th or 8th grade and was at a friend’s house for a sleepover. There were probably around 8 or so of us there, we all played together on the same baseball team. He lived out in the county and his closest neighbor was probably ½ mile away. We were bored and we were teenagers, which is never a good combination. Someone may have brought up the idea that it would be fun to toilet paper a house. For those unaware of this, it’s when you take perfectly good toilet paper and throw it as to make streamers on someone’s house and in their trees. None of us could drive so, you guessed it, we decided to TP the closest neighbor’s house. Did I mention we were bored teenagers? We at least had enough common sense to wait until dark to lessen our chances of getting caught. So after nightfall, dressed in black and with ninja-quiet-like skills, we snuck over to the neighbor’s house with armfuls of toilet paper. Because it was dark I didn’t see a low hanging tree branch and ended up running right into it leaving a nice cut across my right cheek. We turned the neighbor’s trees and bushes into a winter wonderland made out of toilet paper and got away with it. I’m not proud of my actions and hope you, my church family, can forgive me for my past transgressions against my neighbor.

TP

I believe this story speaks to today’s Gospel passage. In it we hear that, “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.” We didn’t toilet paper the neighbor’s house when the sun was out because we didn’t want to get caught. We knew that what we were doing was wrong, so we tried to hide in the darkness. Isn’t this the root of deciding what is sinful and what is not? If you are on the internet but you have to keep looking over your shoulder to make sure nobody can see what you’re looking at, chances are you looking at the wrong site. If your parents don’t approve of an outfit because it’s too revealing and immodest so you only wear it when they’re not around, chances are it’s the wrong outfit. If you only live your faith on Sunday’s because you know that’s when you’ll see your priest, but then push your faith to the back burner the other 6 days of the week, chances are you’re not living a life for Christ.

And this, my brothers and sisters, is the ongoing struggle we have with being Christians. Jesus Christ is the light that came into the world to illuminate it. That means that the darkness that we think we’ve been hiding in is no longer actually there. All of your actions…good and bad…can be seen by Him. We can continue to fool ourselves and think that we can live with no accountability, but with Christ that is no longer the truth. We will all one day have to face our Creator in heaven and will have to answer for how we lived our short time on earth. So I’m asking you now…what are you doing with the gift of life that God gave you? If I told you that you are going to die exactly one year from today, how would you start living your life differently? Will you continue to listen to the world that proclaims, “If it feels good do it” and “there is no right or wrong” or will you start giving your life to Christ and His Church. Will you start “living in the light?”

Jezus-is-het-Licht

Many of you are aware of the persecution of Christians currently happening in the Middle East. I was sickened when I saw the news feed of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian men who were beheaded this past month by members of ISIS who also videoed the event and posted it on the internet. This is about as pure evil as it comes. Just recently, I read an interview with a Coptic priest named Fr. Anthony from Arlington, VA. He said that for Coptic Christians, “They’re not as shaken by these things as we (Americans) are, because they count every day as a gift from God.” He went on to say that “Their public faith could mean the end of their life.” Fr. Anthony said that the “differences between Egypt and the U.S. are striking and the hardship for Christians in Egypt is difficult for Americans to truly grasp. Faith for the Copts is everything, a life that they’re willing to lose for the sake of their faith.” He explained that, “for us (Americans) you can get by with a Sunday-only faith. They can’t, because every day of their life they see in front of them, the decision to follow Christ does impact the grades they get in school, it impacts which customers will come in their stores. And in some cases, their public faith is met with death.” (“Cross Roads”, Volume 25, Number 20, Feb 22, 2015 pages 3, 8).

These 21 martyrs lived their life in the light…everyday of the week. And in the end, they gave their life for Christ so that they could be with Him in heaven. A family member of one of the martyrs said in an interview, “When we saw the video we were filled with joy. They were like lions, none of them left their faith. We thank God.” I personally couldn’t bring myself to watch the video, but it was reported that the men, right before they were killed, we seen mouthing the words, “Ya Rabbi Yasou” translated, “My Lord Jesus.”

Making a decision to “live in the light” is not always comfortable. But in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “You were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”

Live in the dark or live in the light….the choice is yours…