1st S. Lent 2021: Gimme A Sign!

Today’s homily is for the 1st Sunday of Lent, February 21, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here soon.

You may remember the pop group, Ace of Base. One of their more popular songs was called, “The Sign.” I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes / I saw the sign / Life is demanding without understanding / I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes / I saw the sign. Those words are very true and speak of our need for a sign.

Jesus begins his public ministry with the words, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus both announces and inaugurates the Kingdom of God. The first chapter of Mark’s Gospel announces this Good News and the whole rest of the Gospel delivers the signs that are evidence of this truth. 

A sign points to the truth of something that can sometimes be difficult to see, or hard to remember during difficulties and trial. As Ace of Base points out, “I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes,” which of course leads to a fuller understanding and peace in spite of present circumstances. A sign helps us to know, to remember, and to live in response to that truth. For Noah and his generation, the sign of God’s care and covenant was the rainbow. When we look to the sky and see the sign we remember God’s covenant and find peace.

Signs matter; the bow for Noah, and Jesus’ life, miracles, and healing that the Kingdom is in our midst. God uses signs to reveal his love and covenant relationships–because we need to be reminded regularly that God’s love endures: through plagues, pandemics, drought, and flooding, through earthquakes, sadness, sickness, and death…we need a reminder. Signs aren’t just for Noah and Jesus, we all need signs, and need to provide signs of our love to others!

I remember all the cards and flowers I bought for my wife as I earnestly pursued her, and when she finally said yes I put a ring on her finger as the sign of our eternal bond…and I am a bit embarrassed to say that the number of times that I have bought flowers and chocolate since then can be counted on one hand. I mean, she knows I love her, right? Does she really need all that stuff? Actually, today is Jill’s birthday; she knows I love her, do I really need to get her a gift? Of course all the ladies out there are saying, “Yes!” And the guys are turning a bit red from guilt. Signs matter. My wife and I have been in a covenant bond for almost seventeen years, but signs matter as much now as they ever did; flowers, a hug, a kiss, a letter or card, date nights, or a thinking-of-you Starbucks once in a while! She’ll say she doesn’t need it, but it always feels nice. I need to remember. She needs a sign. Rainbows matter.

Is it any different with our children? My kids don’t ever get tired of signs of our love–good morning hugs and kisses, gestures of kindness, and cuddles in the evening. Even as kids get older and parents become “cringy,” they still enjoy the signs of our love. And it is especially important for kids–dad’s listen up! Because we’re so busy with formation of hearts and minds, attitudes, and responsibility (the necessary and good work of parenting), discipline and tough love are sometimes the order of the day. But discipline feels like earthquakes and destruction, fire and floods! We know it is for their formation toward holiness and sainthood, but it can sometimes feel to them that they are not loved. So discipline is not enough. That’s not Godly. Godliness is discipline and signs of covenant love. Give ’em a sign. 

We too must be equally dedicated to signs of love and concern for others. During the season of Lent, we learn to be more like God. Signs of love are a good place to start. Start with those closest to you–your parents, children, your wife or husband. Almsgiving might start with those closest to you but it must extend to people we don’t know–generosity toward strangers; people we don’t know but need a sign. That’s Godly. And that’s what we’re supposed to be.

I want to encourage you this week to be like God the Father, be like Jesus, and give ’em a sign. No matter how small it might seem, it makes a great impact. I need to go buy a card and flowers! You probably should too.

Ash Wednesday 2021: Now Is a Good Time

Today’s homily is for Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. Sorry that this didn’t get out yesterday…but now is still a good time. 🙂

Remember: From dust you have come, and to dust you shall return. That is where we’re from and that is where we’re going. There’s no escape. Thomas Paine said, “There is nothing more certain that death, and nothing more uncertain than its hour.” The question is not a matter of whether or not we will die, but where we’re going when we do.

The formula for Catholics seems simple enough: come from the dust, get ashes, pray, fast, give alms, return to the dust. That is life on this earth. The from the dust and back to dust is a simple enough concept to grasp, but can be very difficult to appreciate from moment to moment, and so the ashes are a reminder. We receive these ashes and hear the words, “Remember, From dust you have come, and to dust you shall return.” I think on Ash Wednesday we should have a sign above the entrance to the Church that reads, “Y.O.L.O.” You know what that means, right? It means, You Only Live Once. My students used to say it as an excuse for not living right! I said, “Johnny, it looks like you didn’t study for your test at all! You got an F,” to which he replied, “YOLO,” to which I relied, “Yep, you got an F and failed the class…YOLO.”

Each of us, upon hearing the truth of our mortality and the brevity of life should think, “Man, time is running out, I need to get my act together! The Psalmist tells us that God is merciful! But we must repent. We must desire to change our ways. We must turn away from sin and toward God, our Savior.

But why prayer, fasting and alms? All sin is personal, but no sin is private. My brokenness–my anger, addictions, and perversions are my issues, but they don’t just affect me. They affect everyone around me! My dad’s alcoholism, drug addictions, and violence affected me and our family. His personal sin affected all of us. God calls us to love him above all else, and to love our neighbor as our self. Whenever we sin, we sin three times. We offend God whom we are called to love and follow. We offend our self and who we are becoming by these wrongful actions, and we sin against our neighbor, whom we are called to love.

When we pray we repair the damage between ourselves and God. When we fast, we discipline ourselves and deny our primal and worldly urges, and when we give alms, we are generous with the community that we have affected by our sin. So we pray, fast, and give alms to help remedy, or make right what we have made wrong through our sin. But Jesus warned people in his own day and we need the reminder in ours – don’t do it for show and to impress others or to gain their sympathy…do if for God! God sees and he repays. But if you’re looking for attention from others…well, you’ll probably get it, but you’ll get nothing from God.

So, Lent is a 40-day boot camp where we get right with God, Self, and neighbor. It starts with Ashes today, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, where we die to our unhealthy wants, unhealthy relationships, and those things that cause sin so that we can rise with Jesus at Easter. We rise with him so that we can live with him forever. Remember, from dust you have come, and to dust you shall return. Y.O.L.O.

6th S. 2021: Unclean! Unclean!

Today’s homily is for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 14, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here soon.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem was a theologian of the early Church who lived around 350 AD. He wisely asked, “Have you run so many circles of the years bustling vainly about the world, and yet you don’t have forty days to be free for prayer for your own soul’s sake?” Ash Wednesday is just a few days away, and we too are called to take a good, hard look at our life, how we spend our time, and how well we live our Christian life. Over these next forty days, I’ll be sharing what the Season of Lent is really all about, and how we can make this journey to Calvary meaningful and transformative for ourselves and our family. 

Let me first start with wishing all of you a happy Valentine’s Day! Just know that Deacon Stephen loves you very much, that I think about you often, and that my desire is for your absolute joy and happiness. St. Pope John Paul II said, “Love wills the good of another.” I do will the very best for you because I love you. Not a sticky, kissy, romantic sort of love (maybe a bit huggy, if I’m being honest), but instead a love that wants you to be strong, and healthy, happy, and holy. That’s the love that God has for us, you know. God desires us to be our very best. 

That’s the sort of love that Jesus had for the leper in today’s Gospel. Lepers were condemned men and women. We heard about the law concerning lepers in the first reading from Leviticus. If you have even a small sore, you cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” The person had to “dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.” Leprosy took everything away, your possessions, friends, family, and eventually your life. Jesus does not want us outside the camp. He wants us inside, with the community, with him. Clean. 

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? We’re not clean. Our over-indulgence in food, drink, and comfort. We seek entertainment and live slothful, unholy lives. We watch shows that we should not. Listen to music that we should not. Treat others in an unloving way, and dishonor our leaders, our pastors, our parents, and others charged with our care. Our leprosy is not on the outside–we care far too much and spend far too much on looking good for that–our leprosy is instead on the inside. We heard on Wednesday last that defilement comes “from within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.” 

And so we cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” and we approach the throne of God’s grace not for justice for we could never stand, but we, like the lepers that we are, approach for mercy, knowing that if he wills it we will be made clean. And that is what Lent is all about–a forty day bootcamp of holiness and sacrifice, of discipline and prayer, of healing and transformation. As St. Paul says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God, and avoid giving offense.” Lent isn’t about eating or not eating, it’s about ending the offense. It’s about plucking out our eye and cutting off the hand that causes us to sin. These next three days should be spent in solitary reflection, prayer, and evaluation of the quality of our Christian life. This is a planning period that is launched on Ash Wednesday. What will you cut off, or pluck out? What will you do to grow in holiness?

Are we yet done running circles and bustling vainly about the world? Can we not commit forty days to be free for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for our own soul’s sake? We shall indeed return to dust, will we go as a leper covered in sores, or ones who have been healed and transformed by our merciful Lord?