4th S. Lent: Communion

Today’s homily is for the 4th Sunday in Lent, March 27, 2022, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Today’s readings tightly link the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation. Together they are both an efficacious sign of communion. In the Eucharist we enjoy the Father’s generosity as we receive the bread from heaven, as our Lord said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (JN 6:47-51) What a beautiful meal the Lord has prepared for us–but first, we must be reconciled with him. 

The Catechism reads, “Anyone who desires to receive Christ in the Eucharist must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.” (1415) Of course, all sin is wrongdoing, but not all sin breaks communion with the Lord and with our neighbor. 1JN makes it quite clear that some sin causes death to the love between neighbor and God, and for that degree of sin a different response is required. “If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” (5:16-17) The word that we use for that less-than-deadly sin, is venial, which has its roots in Late Latin, venialis, meaning “pardonable.”

For deadly sin (a.k.a. mortal sin), which is not “venial” we lean on St. Paul’s teaching to the community of believers in Corinth. He says, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2COR 5:18-20) To be clear, priests do not in themselves forgive sins and reconcile believers, but rather it is God who reconciles us to himself, God forgives sins, and God appeals through his ministers both for us to be reconciled, and to give us the message of reconciliation. 

In the Gospel today, one of the man’s two sons left for a distant land. He was separated from his home and his father’s love. There was indeed restoration, celebration, and feasting that awaited him in his father’s house, but to enjoy the father’s favor and the feast, he had to first return home! He was not in communion with his father, quite the contrary, he was in a distant land, that promised life, and happiness, and every good thing–which is always the promise the devil makes us if we would just leave the Father’s house. But the devil and sin has not, cannot, nor ever will bring life and happiness because Satan does not possess those things to give! He promises but he cannot produce what he does not possess, which to every man’s despair is plainly revealed just as soon as the money runs out, and we find ourselves in a wretched, pitiable state, living in a way that is far beneath our dignity. And that is when we “come to our senses,” when we finally hear the call to conversion and humbly begin the journey home. We leave rich and proud, we return poor and broken. 

We cannot even imagine a full embrace by the father–we’ve gone too far, we’ve asked too much, and we’d be content only with being treated as nothing more than a servant. But to our great surprise, our Father has been waiting for our return all along! We confess our wrongdoing, he wraps his loving arms around us, places sandals on our tattered and bruised feet, clothing over our bony shoulders, a ring upon our finger, and not once mentions the wrong we have done. We recall Isaiah, “Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool.” (1:18) The loving Father is just glad we have returned, that we are safe, that we have returned home. And for those who return, a feast awaits. 

So, although there may be no assurance of salvation, there is always assurance that the Father’s grace conquers sin and death, removes all guilt, and restores us to right-relationship with God and neighbor. There is always assurance that the Lord bids us come home and welcomes us and sits us down at the Table of the Lord where we receive Communion because we are indeed back in communion. Little wonder Reconciliation must precede Eucharist. The feast awaits, but we must come home–we must be in communion to receive it in truth.

3rd S. Lent: …And Justice

Today’s homily is for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 20, 2022, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

It’s hard to miss the contrast between the Responsorial Psalm, “The Lord is kind and merciful,” and St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.”…so much for kind and merciful! I believe the key to understanding is in the verse before the Gospel, “repent, says the Lord; the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”(MT 4:17) Many people today like to lean on the love and mercy of God; they remind themselves and others that the Lord is kind and merciful, but are quick to forget that the Lord is also just. God’s justice demands accountability; it demands that he give everyone what is rightfully due to them: honor to whom honor is due and punishment to whom punishment is due.

The traditional word to describe the sin of leaning on God’s mercy, and denying God’s justice is “presumption.” The Baltimore Catechism explained it like this, “Presumption is the rash expectation of salvation without making proper use of the necessary means of obtaining it.” It’s a lot like the notion of “Once saved always saved,” as understood that regardless of what I do after baptism, I will always be saved. Clearly today’s readings contradict such a position. Repentance is what’s required! Time and time again, we lean not simply upon the kindness of God, but on the mercy of God for those who humbly fall to their knees and seek forgiveness time and time again. As Jesus says, “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” And if you’re anything like me, repentance is a daily need!

When speaking to the Church, St. Paul even speaks of God’s generosity in providing the Church an example! God warns us, says St. Paul. “These things happened as an example for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. Do not grumble as some of them did.” There is a clear comparison between those who perished in the desert, and the Church. St. Paul says, “All of them passed through the sea and were baptized, at spiritual food, and drank spiritual drink that was Christ,” a clear reference to the early Church’s baptism and Eucharistic gatherings…yet they were struck down as an example and a warning. St. Paul warns them, “Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”

The Second Vatican Council courageously affirmed those words when they wrote of the Church, “He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity…All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be more severely judged.” (LG14) Yikes! Sounds harsh…but really it’s the truth of God’s justice.

The Catechism reads that there are two kinds of presumption. On the one hand, we presume in our own capacity, thinking we can save ourselves without help from God (lots of that going around today), and the second is that we presume upon God’s mighty power and mercy in the hopes of obtaining forgiveness without conversion, and glory without merit. (2092) Indications of the sin of the presumption would be putting off confession–especially in instances of grave sin, putting off amending our life and repenting for sin, being indifferent about the number of times we fall into temptation and break resolutions, thinking we can avoid sin without its near occasion, and by relying too much on ourselves and our strength and holiness while at the same time neglecting the wisdom of the the Church, the warning of Scripture, and failing to nourish our relationship with God through prayer, service, and sacrifice.

As we journey through this third Sunday of Lent, we celebrate that the Lord is kind and merciful, full of gentleness and compassion, but we remember also that the Lord is just, and requires conversion of heart and mind, repentance from sin, and a constant renewal of our resolve to follow him in the way of love and service. The lesson of the fig tree is a reminder that there is still time–cultivate virtue, avoid vice, and bear fruit…or be cut down.

2nd S. Lent 2022: Listen

Today’s homily is for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, March 13, 2022, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

You may not know that I was a wrestler in high school and college, and it is common that the wrestling coach has a chair at the corner of the mat. It’s there so the coach can support his wrestler during the match. During my matches there could be hundreds of people yelling in the room, but my coach was the only person I heard. That’s very important. What’s also common is that teammates enthusiastically watching the match, gather along the edges of the mat to encourage their friend and teammate. We had a guy on our team named, Spiro, and one time while my friend, Alex, was on the mat Spiro was yelling at the top of his lungs to get Alex’s attention. “Alex!” he yelled. “Alex” he yelled again and again. Four or five times he bellowed Alex’s name. Alex, in the middle of a very difficult match, finally looked over to Spiro to see what good advice he might have for him that had to be heard at that very moment. I remember like it was yesterday, Spriro finally got his attention and said, “Listen to coach, Alex. Listen to coach.” Of course, the coach had also been trying to get Alex’s attention too, but Sprio just yelled that much louder, I guess. I thought it was the craziest thing, yelling for someone’s attention, only to point them toward another person once you had their attention. 

But that’s exactly what happens in the Gospel today. Jesus has been trying to get through his disciples’ thick heads, they climb all the way up the mountain, and God the Father says, “This is my chosen son, listen to him.” Jesus had been trying to get their attention all along. Thank you, Spiro. 

I think the Holy Spirit pulls a Spiro all the time! I think all throughout our day, the Spirit uses everything and everyone to get our attention–always trying to get us to listen to the voice of our Lord. Of course when God says to “listen to him,” he’s not just talking about our ears. Listening happens with our ears, eyes, and heart. 

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and Jesus tells us that his disciples know his voice, they listen to him, and they follow him. We need to listen. We get busy, we get distracted by the crowd, our lives are filled with so much noise that we cannot hear the voice of the Lord whisper to us in the silence of our heart—but luckily Jesus sends us his Spiro to get our attention. How does Spiro, Jesus’ Spirit, turn our eyes and ears to Jesus? 

One very obvious way is through the person of the priest. At Mass when the priest says the words of consecration, “This is my body, do this in memory of me.” Do not be distracted by Father Manuel, hear our Lord on the night he was betrayed. Again through the priest during Reconciliation, do not be distracted, hear Jesus himself say, “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” In that moment we are there, at the Lord’s feet, being forgiven. 

How many of you have ever heard a homily or a talk at Church, or anywhere else, really, and God just spoke right to your heart? Right in the midst of life, God gives us a precious gift—his blessing and consolation through a priest, a deacon, someone or something else. We also hear God’s voice speak to us in Sacred Scripture. The Second Vatican council document, Dei Verbum reads, “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them.”(21)

God speaks to us through our spouse, our friends and family, a coworker, and even sometimes through those whom we may not even like that much—through anyone at any time (Those are the Spiro’s in our life). God speaks to us. Spiro gets our attention—Jesus speaks to us. In any particular moment of our life, he speaks to us through our conscience. Listen to him.

Finally, I want to encourage you to set aside some time in your day, just to sit and be with the Lord. When it’s still dark outside, and it’s quiet, get up, light a candle and pray. Share your joys and thanksgivings, but share your burdens and your difficulties too. Share…and then listen with your eyes, ears, and heart. You will be amazed and moved by what you hear.