February 

Fr. Alex’s Corner, February 25, 2018

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The Second Sunday of Lent

“He who did not spare His own Son…,

how will he not also give us

everything else along with Him?”

(Romans 8:32)

       I really mean it.  If and when I get to Heaven, and once all the catch-up hello’s are over, I hope to sit down with Jesus – just Him and me – for a cup of coffee (I’m sure He drinks real coffee and not the decaf junk!), and, yes, I have questions.  Remember now, this is just Jesus and me.  One question will be:  “WHO came up with the idea of Your crucifixion?”  There must have been an easier way – equally effective and salvific.  Definitely easier!   Maybe a sudden heart attack!  An accidental drowning while walking on the Sea of Galilee.  Sad, but notable!   But all this blood and gore of crucifixion? (I still can’t watch past the second fall in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”) “Jesus, I know that You and  Your Father love us, but wasn’t there an easier way?   I can’t imagine any father demanding that, and if it was YOUR idea…, WHY?”    

That’s on my mind as I reflect on this Sunday’s readings. The First Reading tells of Abraham’s faith when God asks him to offer up his son.  The Second Reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, is quoted above. The Gospel is the Transfiguration story, where God the Father declares His love for His “Beloved Son.”  I’ve written before on the Transfiguration and I’m sure I will again.  But today, let’s talk about Abraham and his beloved son.

       Genesis tells us that Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were in their 80’s when God promised them a son, and through him, a people as numerous as the sands on the seashore.  At 80!  But it happened.  Abraham and Sarah loved their son, Isaac.  They believed in God’s promises, and responded to His challenges. They were people of faith.  Now, God tells Abraham to take Isaac up on Mt. Moriah, and offer him “as a holocaust.”  WHAT?  But, God said to do it, and Abraham, of course, obeyed.   And so, already in Genesis, we have a prophetic image of a beloved son, walking up a mountain with wood on his shoulders, on which he was to be sacrificed.  Millennia later, Jesus, God’s Beloved Son, will walk up to Mt. Calvary with wood on His shoulders, on which He will be sacrificed.

Much later, King Solomon built the Temple on Mt. Moriah.  It was destroyed by the Assyrians, rebuilt, visited by Jesus, and destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.         Much later, a great shrine of Islam, the Dome of the Rock, was built on the same spot.  (Pictures of today’s Jerusalem show that golden dome.   The sole remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple is one foundation wall, “The Western Wall,” where Jewish people still pray and hope to rebuild their own Temple.)  That is Mt. Moriah.   One more thing:  it was not un-common to offer human beings to the gods in those times. Humans were sacrificed to the gods in preparation for wars, and servants were offered to the gods to assure their service to their dead royal masters.   But this, the child of Abraham’s old age, how could it be?   We know the rest of the story, but Abraham didn’t.  Only after he and Isaac climbed up did God say “NO” to Isaac’s sacrifice.  God provided a ram for holocaust, and blessed the heroic faith of Abraham.

But when it came time for Jesus to be sacrificed on Mt. Calvary, that had to happen.   He had to die.  Oh, yes, His death was reversible. He would rise again. But He had to suffer and die!

       My friends, as we continue our Lenten journey, let’s pause and give some thought to what Jesus did for us.  I still don’t know why it had to be so painful.  (Maybe my chat with Jesus will clarify that.)  In the meantime, all the Saints agree this happened out of LOVE, PURE LOVE, of God.  If God loves us so much that He offers His Only and Beloved Son for our salvation, there is NOTHING He will withhold from us.   Abraham believed that.   We should, too.   So, DO NOT BE AFRAID. As long as God is with us, who - or what - can be against us?       PEACE

Fr. Alex’s Corner, February 18, 2018

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The First Sunday of Lent

The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert,

and He … was tempted by Satan.

(Mark 1:12)

Fr. Alex’s Corner, February 11, 2018

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6th Sunday in “Ordinary Time”

Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand,

TOUCHED HIM,

and said: “I do will it. Be made clean.”

The leprosy left him immediately….

(Mark, Chapter 1)

     How appropriate to speak about healing in the grip of a FLU epidemic.  Also, today’s feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is the World Day of Prayer for the Sick.   Let us pause to pray for the sick and suffering.  May Jesus the Healer touch them and heal them.

     The Gospels are filled with Jesus’ healing stories. But there is a unique detail here, with a hint from our First Reading from the Book of Leviticus (Ch 13).  Religious law at that time demanded that lepers be separated from healthy people to prevent the spread of that illness.  Leviticus demanded that no one should touch a leper.  Only temple priests could declare a leper healed from his infections.  Then, and only then, could the person return to his home and family.   Two points:  the leprosy spoken of in the Bible may not be the Hansen’s Disease we know as “leprosy” today.  It might have been any highly contagious skin infection which could be deadly where people lived in close quarters and hygiene was far from ideal.   Secondly, people at that time often associated serious illness with demonic possession. Remember the apostles asking Jesus about the blind man, whether it was he or his ancestors who were sinners….

     In today’s Gospel Jesus reaches out and TOUCHES THE LEPER.  That was a no-no and THAT was the news!  But Jesus did it and the leper was healed! People who connected illness with possession saw the devils leaving the sick who were healed, and made the unmistakable connection between the coming of Jesus’ Kingdom of God, and the exit of the devil.   THAT was also the news.

How important is TOUCH?  Perhaps you have heard of the Red Cross doctor who touched a leper and the leper began to cry.  Thinking that he had hurt the patient, the doctor apologized, only to be told that the leper wept because this was the first time that anyone touched him.  I can’t go into detail here, but many studies have shown that little babies who were cared for in orphanages, but rarely touched, developed serious health problems. What about when Mommy touches the scrape on the knee of a little child and the kid stops crying.

Touch is therapy.  Now, be careful here, because we are hip-deep in accusations of people who touched others and caused harm.  There is a difference between a touch that comes from love and care, and one that seeks selfish pleasure or to inflict pain.   Princess Diana was admired for embracing AIDS patients whom no one else would touch.

     Jesus touched the broken bodies and souls of people and He healed them. Jesus continues healing us through the Sacraments we receive. Have you noticed the Sacred Touch in our Sacramental rituals?  In Baptism and Confirmation there is the anointing of the head with Sacred Chrism.  In Confession, the priest places his hand on the head while saying the words of absolution (this can’t be done with the screen).  Anointing of the Sick requires the priest to place his hands on the head of the sick and anoint the forehead and hands.  Holy Orders is passed on by the imposition of a bishop’s hands.  In Holy Matrimony it is the bodies of the married couple coming together that seals the marriage bond. And in the Eucharist the Body and Blood of Jesus unite with our very own body and blood.   Our Catechism teaches us that when the priest administers the Sacraments, he does that “in the person of Christ.”

     So, through His Sacred Touch Jesus continues to heal us, to embrace us, to forgive us.  There is no hurt that Jesus’ touch cannot heal.  Whether it’s the FLU, your fears, or your foolishness, do what the leper did.  Ask Jesus for healing. That’s what He does.  That’s what He was sent to do.

PEACE

Fr. Alex’s Corner, February 4, 2018

5th Sunday in “Ordinary Time”

“ ‘Everyone is looking for you.’

So Jesus went into their synagogues,

preaching and driving out demons,

throughout the whole of Galilee.”

(Mark, Chapter 1)

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There are many “schools” of spirituality, including the Franciscan, Jesuit, Carmelite, and those inspired by particular saints or gospel movements.  Each has its own ways and means, and they produce saints.  “Different strokes for different folks.”  For us Christians, it must be Gospel-based.   Jesus is the Word of God.  What He says and what He does is fundamental to all schools of spiritual growth.  

Every “school” emphasizes careful and prayerful reading of the Gospels.  We learn from Jesus and respond with our prayers and lifestyle.  “The Bible is not so much a book to be read as a Voice to which we respond.”

When you read the Gospel stories, place yourself in the scene.  Be anyone you wish:  an apostle, a bystander, a sick person about to be healed or a sinner about to be forgiven, or one of the critics standing about….  Or, you can be Jesus.  Read slowly and carefully.  Think about the setting and scene.  Do some stagecraft. Become an ACTIVE part of the scene.  Talk.  Ask questions.  Answer questions.  

Our problem is that we don’t often “hear” the same thing Jesus’ audience heard, because we lack the context.  If a stranger walked into your church on a Sunday morning and cried out: “Repent and sin no more,” you might dial 9-1-1.    When Jesus did it, He sent all of Galilee into a fit and frenzy.

Last week I wrote how John the Baptist heard the Voice from Heaven – others did too – identifying Jesus as “My Beloved Son.”  That was some thunder!  I also wrote about what “Lamb of God” meant to the bystanders.  It stopped them in their tracks.  Now, let’s move on, using Mark’s Gospel which our Ordinary Time Liturgy features this year.  

After John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus comes into the Synagogue and declares, “The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the gospel.”   The people were expecting a Messiah to restore the kingdom of Israel, and to evict the Roman empire.  When Jesus announced the kingdom of GOD, he wasn’t implying a PLACE to live as much as a WAY of living.  The Roman authorities and their priests heard “KINGDOM,” and they were thinking REVOLUTION.  From that time Jesus was a marked man.  The people heard “OF GOD.”   That meant REFORMATION.   A spectacular miracle which followed - right in the Synagogue – was the expulsion of an evil spirit from a sick man.  The evil spirit yelled for all to hear: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?  I KNOW WHO YOU ARE – THE HOLY ONE OF GOD!”   Connect that to the Voice from Heaven which John heard, and imagine what the people are thinking!  Then they hear the expelled devil calling Jesus “the Holy One of God.”  WHOA!

Yes, this IS an EMERGENCY.  But not for 9-1-1.

People brought the sick and Jesus healed them!  What would YOU think if all this was happening in your church?  I doubt if you’d be reading the Bulletin in church!   And if YOU were one of those healed from some long-time malady, what would you be thinking?

That, my friends, is what Mark is writing about.  And this is only Chapter One!  It’s about chaos, frenzy, excitement, some fear, “what will He do next, and WHERE, because I want to be there!”

Jesus starts teaching.  He isn’t quoting. He’s teaching like One With Authority. Like the Beloved Son.  Like the Holy One of God.  And the healings!  Devils are running from….  People are running to….

My friends, begin planning your Lenten daily Bible Readings.  Let’s try to see and hear these Gospel stories with the eyes and ears of those who were there.  JESUS, EVERYONE IS LOOKING FOR YOU!

PEACE

      Once again we enter the holy season of Lent.  From Ash Wednesday, when Christians proudly wear the Cross of Ashes on their foreheads, until Easter, the Church is at penance and prayer and many of us try to be more serious about living our faith.   It is a powerful time to seek God’s mercy and Jesus’ healing.  Get into it.  Contribute to the holiness of the season, and take your share of its graces.

The Gospel for this Sunday is about the temptations of Jesus.  Mark speaks very briefly about this, but the other evangelists provide the details. Jesus was baptized by John, and He (and others) heard a voice from Heaven saying “You are my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  At our baptism, we are given a name.   Jesus was given an identity.   If not before, He now knew exactly who He was!

      The Gospels testify that after Baptism He was led into the desert by the Holy Spirit for forty days of prayer and fasting.  Afterwards the devil took advantage of His weakness and tempted Him.  That He was led into the desert by the Spirit is a critical detail. Jesus did not go for a walk in the park.

      Some years ago Nikos Kazantzakis wrote “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which was made into a popular movie. (He also wrote “Zorba the Greek,” and a novel on “St. Francis.”)  Of course, Hollywood had to sprinkle a little sauce on the story and hint at a hot romance between Jesus and Mary Magdalen!  But that was not Kazantzakis’ theme. His novels explore everyman’s tensions on the road to a virtuous and meaningful life.  In one place he writes, “the struggle between God and man breaks out in everyone, together with the longing for reconciliation.  The spirit desires to wrestle with flesh which is strong and full of resistance. It is a carnivorous bird which is incessantly hungry….”  

       In his psycho-dramas Kazantzakis opines that every person is created in the image and likeness of God and tends to “God-ness.”  But our human senses and experiences often distract us from God into a world of our own making. “Temptations” are not necessarily towards evil and sin. They entice us to create our very own world where we become, in essence, our own god.  How a person confronts his temptations, so does he “create” the person God wants him to be or the person he prefers to be.

       That’s my simple explanation of Kazantzakis. I’m not sure how scientifically coherent it is, but it’s an interesting construct.   In Jesus’ case, He has been “confirmed” as God’s Beloved Son.   That means He is powerful.  And if He is also the Messiah, well, He has some unique prerogatives and powers.

So, after a 40-day fast, He is hungry.  Like God, He can provide bread in the desert.  Imagine the Surf- and-Turf or the Terrific Tacos He could order from an Angel-chef. But no, He resists that temptation.  His power is for others, not for selfish gains.  The devil also tempts Jesus to seek prerogatives and worldly power.   Jesus resists.  In His resistance we (and the devil) see who He is.  He is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.   Jesus makes it quite clear WHO HE IS, AND WHAT HE WILL NOT BECOME.

      How about us?   So many things can tempt us away from God.   All things are not bad, but if they lead us from God, that’s too bad!

The Lenten call is to conversion.  The word means to walk a different path.   To avoid sin, of course!  But to listen to the Word of God, and live it, that is a life-style.   That is an identity.   It tells us WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE WILL NOT BECOME.

“Lead us not into temptation,” we pray.  God will never lead us into sin but the devil has a pile of stuff that can lead us away from God.  Watch out!

    + My friends, whisper a fervent prayer for the victims and families of the Florida School shooting.  Lord, show us the way to PEACE and send leaders to lead us!  +           

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