Heaven and Fairy Tales

5th Sunday of Lent (March 18, 2018) Year A

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Psalm 130:1-8

Romans 8:8-11

John 11:1-45

Death can be a very scary thing to talk about. But first, let me clarify. As Christians, there are two types of death we often refer to. The first is dying to sin and being reborn in Christ. This is what happens in the sacrament of Baptism. It’s exciting to know that there are several among us at St. Andrew’s that will be born again in the waters of Baptism at the Easter Vigil this year. They will be further strengthened in their new Christian life that same night when they also receive the sacrament of Confirmation AND receive our Lord in the Eucharist for the first time ever. This is the fun type of death that we can talk about all day long and get those warm and fuzzy feelings because the people who “die to sin” are still with us afterwards.

The second type of death… well…let’s just say… there are not so many warm and fuzzy feelings. I’m obviously referring to the type of death where we lose a loved one, have a funeral and then mourn for days, weeks, even years after their passing.

But the question I’m posing today for your consideration is… WHY? Why do we get so excited to see someone die to sin and be born again into God’s family through Baptism… but so sad when a faithful Christian dies to this world and is granted eternal life with God?

In a way, I believe this is the question Jesus is asking us through today’s Gospel from John. It’s a long passage so I won’t read it again to you. But basically, Lazarus has died and everyone is in mourning. Many of the people blame Jesus for not being around to save him from death. You see… they believe Jesus is the Son of God, but they still don’t yet understand the resurrection since Jesus hasn’t been crucified yet. But Jesus knows. He fully knows what’s to come and has been preaching to His followers that they will have new life in God in this life AND the next.

But still, the people blame Him while they mourn the death of Lazarus. One of my favorite parts of this passage is where Jesus shows us His human side. We read two times that Jesus is “perturbed.” Yes, even Jesus got upset and irritated at people! He is perturbed because people’s faith in His teaching on heaven and the afterlife is very weak. Rather than celebrating Lazarus’ new life with God, they mourned his death and blamed Jesus for not saving him. I can see Jesus’ eyes roll, hand on his forehead, as he gets perturbed and says, “Fine, I’ll give you one more sign but then that’s it! You really need to start believing in what I’m telling you!” Then he turns to the tomb and cries out, “Lazarus, come out!” And he did.

Now, I acknowledge that we mourn over someone’s death because we won’t see them anymore. I get that. It stings greatly. Trust me, I know. But I think we struggle with death and mourn so intensely after losing a loved one because, deep down, our faith might be a little weak when it comes to heaven.

I can see someone get baptized. I can see someone receive the Lord’s Supper. I can see someone get confirmed. But I can’t “see” what happens to someone’s soul after they die.

Death is that one moment where our faith is put to the ultimate test. We are told that we will stand before God right after our bodily death. So death is the moment that we as Christians realize if this whole “Jesus, Church, Bible” thing is true or just a nice sounding fairy tale. And I think that scares us. I know I’ve struggled with this concept for a long time. I would like to think I’m a faithful Christian who tries my best to follow Christian teachings. But I still wonder if at the moment of my death, I’ll be confident in my faith or “hold my breath” (so to speak) as I wait to see what REALLY happens after I die.

I had a very real, very concrete experience that happened to me recently that has strengthened my faith regarding heaven that I wanted to share. We Catholics pray for the “repose of the soul” of someone after his or her death. It’s a very common practice that dates back to the early Church. It’s based on the teaching that people sometimes need to go to purgatory after death, before entering heaven. Purgatory being a final purification stop on the way to heaven. Think of it as a car wash. When we pray for the repose of the soul of someone, we’re asking God to speed up the process, if possible, so they can enjoy life in heaven sooner. After my mom’s death in October 2017, I’ve been praying for the repose of her soul often.

Well… I was at Mass at the Christ the King Cathedral in Lexington this past February. Angie and I were there assisting with the next class of future Deacons. I had just received communion and returned to my pew to kneel in prayer. With eyes closed and hands folded, I prayer, “Lord, I offer up this Eucharist for the repose of the soul of my mother, Joan Wentz.” And then I froze for a few moments. After that feeling passed, I picked up the hymnal and started to sing the communion hymn… but only got 3 or 4 words out and then I froze up again. Still on my knees, I put the hymnal down and closed my eyes again. I couldn’t move… I couldn’t speak. It was at that moment that I felt my mother’s arms around me. It’s as if she was kneeling to my left, giving me a side hug with her head on my shoulder. It was very real and I just kneeled there… enjoying the hug… as I cried silently. A few minutes later, she was gone. I’m not sure if that’s the moment she left purgatory and entered heaven or if God just knew I needed a hug from my mom that day.

I’ve reflected back on that incident a lot since it happened. I have even kneeled down at Mass after communion and tried to “re-create” the incident to see if it was just in my mind. But I’ve had no luck. I truly feel that God allowed my mom to visit me that day for a brief moment. Since then, I’ve had a better sense of peace that my mom is with God in heaven. I decided to tell all of you about it today because, honestly, I think we all could use a little encouragement when it comes to death and the afterlife. Many of us have lost loved ones this past year.

So yes, don’t be afraid to mourn for those that have passed away. But as we approach Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday… really pay attention and allow all of your senses to be flooded with LOVE. Because it is with LOVE that Jesus offered His body to us on Holy Thursday. It is with LOVE that he died for us on Good Friday. It is with LOVE that He overcame death and opened the gates of heaven for all of us on Easter Sunday. And if you can see with open eyes what Jesus did for us on those Holy Days… then you will absolutely realize just how much He loves YOU. And that love WILL continue into the next life because it is NOT just a fairy tale.

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Lent and Donuts

1st Sunday of Lent (February 18, 2018) Year B

Genesis 9:8-15

Psalm 25:4-5,6-7,8-9

1 Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:12-15

Well ladies and gentlemen, how’s your Lent going so far? We are only a few days into our 40-day journey through the desert. Are you going through chocolate or coffee withdrawals yet? Is your swear jar full yet? I hope whatever you picked to give up for Lent this year is both challenging and rewarding. I also hope you don’t look at Lent as “just another thing I have to do as a Catholic.” I pray that you actually get the full experience and all of the graces possible from this journey. In order to help you, I thought it might be good for a little pep talk today since we’re just beginning our desert journey. That way you can evaluate if you’re on the right path or if you may need to fine-tune something. In order to do this, I came up with two questions we need to make sure we understand.

The first question is simply, “Why do Catholics give something up for Lent?” It actually can be taken from today’s Gospel passage from Mark. It says, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days.” And what happens after Jesus’ time in the desert is up? He begins His public ministry. So he needed time away with fewer distractions to prepare for something bigger yet to come. What can we extrapolate from this? We humans, all too often, clutter up our lives with stuff that we don’t need or with stuff we use too often. And unfortunately, these things can divert us from the bigger picture… God. Food, money, technology, stuff. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but often we put too much emphasis on them, which leads us to lose focus on what’s really important.

So we all need to evaluate our lives and ask ourselves, “What do I unnecessarily do or use that could be taking me away from God?” Do I spend too much time on my phone when I could be reading a spiritual book? Do I eat too much of a certain unhealthy food that is leading me to have no energy for works of charity? Do I spend too much time using my speech for negativity rather than prayer? Whatever it is you choose to give up for Lent, it should be challenging. Remember, this is our desert journey. Although I’ve never hiked through a desert, I imagine it is not a pleasant activity.

The second question that needs to be asked and understood is, “Why don’t Catholics eat meat on Friday’s of Lent?” First, understand that when we say “meat” we are referring to non-fish meat like steak, pork and chicken. Back in Jesus’ day, the “common people” lived by the water and ate a lot of fish. It was the food of the poor, it was abundant and it was cheap. The other meat like beef, pork and chicken was for the upper class since it was more expensive. Occasionally, the less wealthy would eat these meats during a special feast like at a wedding.

So not eating meat on Friday’s of Lent, with the exception of fish, reminds us that we are the common people and we’re not celebrating a banquet just yet. We should be using this time to focus on what’s to come…. Good Friday. This act of abstaining from meat on Fridays is something that Catholics around the world do universally and in solidarity with one another. We offer this sacrifice up as a universal Church. The individual things we each give up on our own are a personal sacrifice. These two sacrifices, the universal and the personal, reminds us that we are united as God’s people and that we are not attached to the material things of this world.

Sounds easy right? Nope… not really! Anyone that is willing to change and become closer to God, needs to do it with open eyes. To put it another way, living in sin is easy. Our world allows us the freedom to mess up our lives daily through sin. And once you start going down the path of the “bigger sins,” the “little sins” just keep piling up without a second thought. However, it takes effort to turn away from sin and evil. It takes effort to live with faith, ethics and morals. Why? This also goes back to today’s Gospel from Mark. Remember, we read that Jesus went into the desert for 40 days. Then there are 3 little words in the next sentence that we often skim right over… He was “tempted by Satan.” Yup, just like us, Jesus was tempted by Satan on His desert journey. When you are trying to do better and walk closer with God, it really makes Satan mad. I’m not saying you’ll by physically assaulted by evil or tempted daily, but isn’t it funny how when you decide to give up sweets for Lent, the very next day someone brings donuts to work… hot… fresh…heavenly… donuts.

So use this Lent as a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Detach yourself from the unnecessary material things that you really don’t need. Instead, focus on God. Focus on the Great Banquet that is waiting for each of us after our desert journey is over… Easter. The resurrection of Jesus Christ after Good Friday opened the gates of Heaven for all of us. It gave all of us an invitation to the Great Banquet in Heaven. Use this desert journey to clean up whatever it is that keeps staining your banquet garment. Now is the time to, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” of Jesus Christ!

I’m Thirsty

3rd Sunday of Lent (March 19, 2017)

Exodus 17:3-7

Psalm 95:1-2,6-7,8-9

Romans 5:1-2,5-8

John 4:5-42

Any guesses as to how long a human can live without water? Depending on the environment, 3 to 7 days. After that, you’ll die of dehydration.

Any guesses as to how long a human can live without food? Again, depending on the environment, roughly 3 weeks (but that’s assuming you are still hydrated).

So one could argue that drinking water is even more critical than eating food.

Why? Because 60% of the adult human body is water. Every living cell depends on it. Water lubricates our joints, it regulates body temperature through sweating and respiration and it helps to flush waste out of the body. Water is so important that if dehydration levels cause more then a loss of 10% of your body weight, it’s considered a medical emergency and can lead to death if not reversed.

Why do I bring this up on the 3rd Sunday of Lent? Well… on the 1st Sunday of Lent, we were lead out into the desert to be tempted. On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we climbed a mountain to be changed, transfigured actually. And now, on the 3rd Sunday of Lent, Jesus is telling us that after all that hiking in the desert and mountain climbing, we’re thirsty and in need of a drink of water.

But not just any water mind you! You see… regular water will quench your thirst, but only temporarily. As I said just a moment ago, at the bear minimum, you need to drink water at least every 3 days. But I know if I don’t drink a glass of water every few hours, my throat becomes dry and I even start to feel tired. Therefore we are always looking… always searching for the next glass of water to drink.

Now thankfully, most of us are fortunate enough to live in an area where finding clean drinking water is not a problem. Not so for the Hebrews in the reading we hear today from Exodus. Moses is leading a very thirsty group of people out of Egypt. The Hebrews complained and complained about being thirsty, so much, that eventually God provided water through Moses. God quenched their thirst.

Water is also not so abundant in the town of Sychar in Samaria that we hear about in today’s Gospel from John. The people of this town all get their water from a common well. As you can imagine, one would probably have to go to the well several times each day. They can’t simply turn on a faucet in their kitchen. Therefore, this well is vital to the survival of the people in the town. If something were to happen to it, the people would have to move away or die of dehydration.

It is at this well in Sychar where Jesus and a Samaritan woman have a brief, but very theologically deep conversation. Jesus says to the woman, “Everyone who drinks from this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Here Jesus is acknowledging what we have already discussed… we get thirsty, we drink, our thirst is quenched for a time, repeat. But Jesus then makes the bold statement that there is a new, living water that will forever quench our thirst permanently. No more going back to the well. No more searching for our next drink.

On hearing this, the Samaritan woman replies, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” This is a fair and honest statement that I think most of us would ask if we were in her shoes at that moment. Who wouldn’t want to be fully satisfied? To not have to search anymore? Sounds like a good deal to me!

In Scripture, John 6 is often referred to as the “bread of life discourse.” So I guess John 4, today’s Gospel, can be referred to as the “water of life discourse.” Jesus is the living water that will quench all of our desires. We need to fully immerse ourselves in this water. If we fully and completely let Jesus Christ, the Living Water, into our lives, into every cell in our bodies, He’ll quench your thirst for all of eternity in Heaven.

And by the way, what’s the opposite of Heaven? Hell. Eternal fire. No water in sight. Eternal thirsting. NOT a pretty picture!

So you have a choice. You can drink from the Living Water and be satisfied… or risk eternal thirst by only drinking from “regular”, “worldly” water.

As we continue our journey through Lent, keep your eyes focused on Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can fully satisfy you. He is our Bread of Life, He is our Living Water, He is our eternal salvation.

So drink deeply from the Living Water and never thirst again!

Don’t Be A Zombie

Fifth Sunday of Lent (March 13, 2016)

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Psalm 130:1-8

Romans 8:8-11

John 11:1-45

I’ve noticed a certain fascination that people have had over the past few years. It has developed a cult-like following and doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. From “Night of the Living Dead” to “The Walking Dead,” from “Zombieland” to “World War Z,” our country has an infatuation with zombies. I’ve even seen sincere interviews with families regarding how they are getting ready for the eventual “zombie apocalypse.” In case you never heard of this phrase, the “zombie apocalypse” is when zombies are going to try to take over the world. And apparently if one bites you, you’ll turn into a zombie. So obviously you need to start stocking up on supplies now because one can only imagine the chaos that will result from such an event. Sadly, not a single presidential candidate has put forth a plan on how they are going to combat this impending doom!

Zombie-Apocalypse

I bring this up because people read the Scriptures through the lens of their own reality. And if your reality is “zombies,” I didn’t want you to get confused with today’s readings. The first reading from Ezekiel states, “Thus says the LORD God: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” The Gospel of John recounts the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave. So just to make this absolutely clear…we are NOT talking about zombies here!

I actually did some internet research on the ever so reliable Wikipedia to find a definition of zombie so we can distinguish them from what the Scriptures are describing. It turns out that, “zombie is a FICTIONAL undead being created through the reanimation of a human corpse. The term comes from Haitian folklore, where a zombie is a dead body reanimated through various methods, most commonly magic. Modern depictions of zombies do not necessarily involve magic but often invoke science fictional methods such as radiation, mental diseases, viruses, scientific accidents, etc.” Thank you Wikipedia! Zombies are fictional, soul-less beings that used to be humans. And apparently, these humans-turned-zombies only have one purpose in their lives, only one basic urge to satisfy, to eat. To fulfill this hunger they eat any living flesh they can find. And if they can’t find any, they just keep wandering around aimlessly.

I’m sure this is all fascinating, but why is this Catholic Deacon going on and on about zombies? Because I’m here to warn you! Although I have said twice so far that zombies are FICTIONAL, I truly think the zombie apocalypse has already begun…but not in the way you may think! Think back 10-15 years ago. When people walked around, they made eye contact and said hello to people they passed on the street. Now, we have our heads buried in our smart phones and avoid eye contact. Instead of having an actual face-to-face conversation, we send a text. Instead of watching our kids play sports, we are updating our Facebook statuses on the sidelines. We don’t go outside, we go online. It seems the more we plug into technology, the more we unplug and disconnect from reality.

no-need-to-fear-a-zombie-apocalypse-300x232

Granted, technology can be a good thing, but I’m afraid it has turned us into mindless zombies, wondering around aimlessly through life. And if we keep feeding on what the world is offering, our hunger will never be satisfied and the “zombie apocalypse” will continue to get worse.

Now, I can’t leave you in a state of despair and without hope! I mean, I pretty much just labeled all of us zombies. However, you are in luck… I have found the antidote! It boils down to two words, a name really… Jesus Christ. From today’s Gospel reading, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” This is also what the LORD God was speaking of in Ezekiel when He said, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” Our God was NOT talking about reanimating corpses but instilling LIFE into our lifeless bodies! It’s about dying to sin and our selfish ways and rising to a new life in Christ. Jesus didn’t raise Lazarus to be a zombie; He raised him from the dead to give him new life!

lazarus art

And unlike zombies who feed on any flesh they can find, we Catholics need to feed our souls and sustain our lives by eating the flesh of Jesus Christ in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. He is the food that sustains us, which is why it is so very important to receive Him in the Eucharist frequently.

This time of year, the upcoming Easter season, gives us the best example of how Jesus can give new life by looking at the RCIA process. This Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the process where non-Catholics convert to or come into full communion with the Catholic Church. At St. Andrew’s we have 6 people who, at the Easter Vigil, will die to their old selves and be given new life through the waters of baptism. We also have 4 candidates who have already been baptized in other faith traditions. These 4 will renew their baptismal promises along with all of us. And then these 10 “new” Catholics will receive the Bread of Life for the first time, the Holy Eucharist, to feed that hunger that is deep inside all of them.

John6

So my question for you is this… do you want to continue down the path of the “zombie apocalypse” or do you want to have new life in Christ?

One pathway leads to death and wandering aimlessly. The other pathway gives you life and satisfies your hunger.

So if you’re tired of being a zombie and you want to have new life in Christ, I suggest you frequent this altar as often as possible and receive the only food, the only flesh, that satisfies.

Jesus gives us new life and then feeds us through His Body in the Eucharist. It’s that simple. Now it’s up to us to choose the right path and be faithful!

It’s Game Time

First Sunday of Lent (February 14, 2016)

Deuteronomy 26:4-10

Psalm 91:1-2,10-15

Romans 10:8-13

Luke 4:1-13

“Great moments are born from great opportunity.” This was the opening line of what is considered one of the greatest speeches in sports history. Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team, gave a speech in the locker room right before USA faced the Soviet Union in the medal round at Lake Placid.

Herb Brooks

Herb Brooks

Let me set the scene for you as to why this speech is relevant for us today and how this underdog story gives us hope. At that time in history, the Soviet Union was considered to have the best hockey team in the world. They won the Olympic gold medal in 1964, 68, 72 and 76. This happened at the height of the Cold War where the Soviets were spreading communion and invading satellite countries bordering the Soviet Union. Our country had a deep dislike for the Soviets and everything they stood for at that time. This meant that all hockey fans in this country HATED the Soviet hockey team with a passion. First, because they represented communism and second, because nobody could beat them. And now, the Soviets were playing hockey on American soil… Lake Placid, New York.

On the other hand, the US hockey team was a young group of players from various college teams whom never played together as a unit before training for that Olympics. They were the new guys, with a new coach heading into the lion’s den of Olympic hockey dominated by the Soviets. Somehow, this scrappy, young American hockey team fought their way to the medal round. All the while, the Soviets crushed every team they faced. This David and Goliath match up wasn’t even for the gold medal. It was a game to determine who would go on to play for gold..

1980 USA Olympic Hockey Team

1980 USA Olympic Hockey Team

So in the locker room just before the historic game, with a country united behind a bunch of college athletes, Herb Brooks gave this speech, “Great moments are born from great opportunity, and that’s what you have here tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game; if we played them ten times, they might win nine. But not this game, not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight we stay with them, and we shut them down because we can. Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players – every one of you, and you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Forget them! (I cleaned it up here!) This is your time. Now go out there and take it!” Team USA won that game and won the gold medal that year. In that speech, Brooks gave his team the power for a victory, which inspired a nation.

So here we are, the First Sunday of Lent. Lent is our 40 day journey dedicated to prayer, fasting and almsgiving in preparation for Easter. It’s a time we put an extra effort to make sacrifices and turn away from sin. It’s a time we should be focusing on helping others and spending less time pampering ourselves. If we take this journey seriously, it should be challenging. Today’s Gospel shows us just how challenging it can be.

This Gospel reading from Luke is our underdog story. Jesus Christ is our coach. The devil is our competition. This passage from Luke is our motivational speech for Lent, leading up to the victory of Easter Sunday. Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man. He felt emotions that we feel. He journeyed through the desert and was tempted by the devil just like we are tempted.

Lent is a great opportunity for us to mirror Jesus’ journey through the desert. And that’s what you’ve got here today ladies and gentlemen. That’s what you’ve earned here today. This Lent. You could go through 10 Lents, and 9 of them may not change your life. But not this Lent. Not these 40 days. Today, we walk with Jesus through the desert. Today He is our strength and we shut the devil down because we can. Today, we are the greatest collection of Christians, ready to turn our lives around and change the world. You were born to be alive in Christ. Every one of you. You were meant to journey through this Lent. This is your time. The devil’s time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what the devil wants us to do through all of his temptations. Forget him! This is your time. Now go out into the desert and come out on the other side a champion! By His example, Jesus gave us the power for a victory, now it’s up to us to inspire the world! It’s game time…

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.

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…