I have to tell you that it’s been a long week. I was out late on Friday, then got called to the hospital int he night. Of course yesterday was an early day; had a running event on the east side in the morning, then over 100 kids were here on retreat preparing for their first communion. I finished with that around 12:30, then had a party, then a marriage prep. Then I looked at the clock: 3:45pm, less than an hour before confessions and Mass. Plenty of time to write a homily. OK, thought I, I will be able to concentrate better in the rectory. So I went to the house. Then I took a nap. Woke up from the nap. 4:10. Still 20 minutes to write a sermon. So I made a sandwich. Then God gave me the topic of my sermon. Mayonnaise.
Today’s readings offer us a glimpse at how the Devil likes to work. We see, if you will, a pattern he likes to follow. We see his modus operandi. I want to look at the Devil’s actions, his strategy in our Gospel today.
First, the Devil tempts Jesus. Now Jesus had been “led by the Spirit into the desert.” This is when the Devil likes to attack: when we are in the desert. Lent is a desert for us, a time of silence and simplicity. The desert is a symbol of one’s getting closer to the Lord. They warned us in seminary that the Devil works harder the closer one gets to ordination. The devil does not want another priest. This is true for everyone who seeks God. The closer we get, the more the Devil wants to stop us. He does not want stronger Christians. And so there is dryness, temptation, difficulty in prayer, in life. There, in the midst of our desert, in the midst of our coming closer to Jesus, is the Devil. First, he tempts us from afar–with a distant idea, or a small wondering, a whisper in the ear (“No need to pray tonight”; “Skip Mass just this once”; “Go ahead, say that thing you shouldn’t” etc). Then….
Today we celebrate Ash Wednesday. We will receive two things at this Mass: the ashes and the Eucharist. First, the ashes. One thing that the ashes remind us of is that without God, we are a pile of dust. Remember how he made Adam? He breathed into the dirt, and boom, there was man. We are simply a pile of dirt without the Lord who breathes into us life. Now the second “thing” we receive at this and every Mass is far more important than a pile of dirt (it saddens me so many are so much more excited to receive dirt on their heads than Jesus within their bodies and souls) is the Eucharist. The Eucharist, it reminds us that, with God, we are holy, we are Jesus! We who receive the Eucharist are divinized, we become Jesus! Jesus lives his life within we who receive him in the Sacrament! The school is focusing these days on “Becoming What You Receive.” When we receive the Eucharist, we become Jesus, we become the one we receive. We have a lot of ways of remaining what we receive–Jesus names them in our Gospel: pray, fast, give. Let us do that and do it generously this Lent.
Today’s Gospel contains my favorite scripture verse, Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,and all these things will be given you besides.” I suppose I like this line, this promise of Jesus so much, because it delivers to us a beautiful promise straight from the lips of the Lord. He says that as long as we follow after God, as long as we seek him with a sincere heart and with all we’ve got, everything takes care of itself. We have a temptation to want to always take care of things ourselves and then, if there’s time, follow God. We get it backwards. This line reminds us Jesus is our Shepherd and we don’t have to worry. We just need to follow, to seek after him. He’ll cover the rest.
It has been said that Good Friday is the day that the Devil has his day. The tabernacles are empty, just as he wants them. The crosses are covered, as the devil wants it: he wants the cross, he wants Jesus out of sight. The altars are bare as he would want them always to be. There is no Mass today. There are no baptisms, no weddings or funerals. We don’t eat or drink much today, that is, we don’t party. This is all the devil’s will. And today he has his day.
Our readings remind us how the devil had his day with the Lord Jesus 2000 some years ago. That is what we remember today. We recall how Isiah’s words played out in the life of Jesus: “He was spurned and avoided by people, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom people hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.”
Today we remember that Jesus was spurned, that he was spat upon, that he was mocked, that he was tempted, that he suffered bitterly, and that no one seemed to give a darn at all about what he was doing–and yet he suffered to the end.
When you walk the stations of the cross in the Holy Land, where the Lord Jesus walked them on this day long ago, it’s interesting because the way of the cross is in the midst of a big market center. It was like that years ago, too: everybody was busy, too busy to recognize what was going on around him. Those that did see what was happening–they spat on Jesus, mocked him, mumbled behind him. But most were simply indifferent to it.
But Jesus bore his cross anyway. It crushed him. It caused him to fall. And then he was nailed to it. This morning the eighth graders did a living passion play of sorts for the school. It was powerful. The sound of the cross hitting the ground. The sound of the hammer. It stung me to my bones, gave me chills. Those are the sounds of our salvation.
The cross, originally an instrument of death, God has transformed into the instrument of our salvation. That is why we kiss it. Strange, isn’t it–that thing we should hate the most, that thing that the Devil used to have his day, that is the thing we kiss–because Jesus redeems the cross. The cross is the power of our faith.
You and I carry parts of his cross even to this day. He carries them with us. Today we are called to touch our lips to this cross and to all the crosses of our lives. The things we hate the most, they might be the same things that save us. Today we kiss them.
The Devil indeed has his day today. And he loses.
The palm branches that we hold in our hands, they remind us of the welcome that we always want to have for Jesus. We hold our branches up as a way of welcoming the Lord, just as folks did in Jerusalem when the Good Lord entered there at the start of the first holy week. We will place our palm branch behind a cross or a picture of Jesus or Mary in our houses. Let it always be a reminder that we need to welcome Jesus into every part of our lives. We welcome him into our houses, our families, our relationships, our jobs, our thoughts, our feelings, our dreams, our bodies, our everything. We need Jesus. Let us welcome him always into our lives. And when we invite him into all those places, he will transform them all, raise up whatever needs to be raised up—as surely as he raised himself up on Easter Day. This week, the holiest week of the year, we have some great opportunities to welcome the Lord into our lives a bit more, to let the mystery of our salvation touch our hearts. Let us take advantage of them. Go to the penance service on Monday at 7pm here. Celebrate with us on Thursday the institution of the Eucharist, the last Supper. Come on Friday at 1pm and remember the moment that Jesus died…for you. Join with us on Holy Saturday at 9pm to welcome into the church a whole bunch of new members, the renewal of the church around the world and the renewal of our lives! Let us enter into this week and let God enter into our hearts.
Lent is almost behind us. Thanks be to God. A few days ago on Friday there was a little gathering of priests. We were talking about the visions that various saints have had as a result of their Lenten disciplines. St Catherine of Sienna ate nothing for seven years except the Eucharist! And she had many visions. St. Faustina had many visions of purgatory. Then one of the priests asked if any of us had had any Lenten visions. It being a Friday in Lent, one of our less reverent brothers said, “I’m having a vision right now of a cheeseburger and fries right now.”
Lent it almost over. That is a good thing. It is a good thing to be excited about what is coming, to be looking ahead. It is an important disposition of a Christian to be excited about the future, about the things God has in store.
I say that because I think there can be a tendency to be preoccupied with the past and its failures and mistakes. I know a number of people who relive the things that didn’t work out, who love to keep a woe is me attitude. They’re always opening old wounds and talking about them like they happened yesterday. I think there are many folks who are prisoners of their pasts, who have a hard time letting a bygone be a bygone.
Look at the readings today. We see the folks in the first reading who had suffered slavery, and the only thing that got them through it was the prospect of coming home. And then they came home only to find that it had been destroyed. Their past–it was filled with difficulties and trials. They were in a state of woe as they cried and cried over their recent afflictions, over their past. But then God says, “I’m doing something new!” Calm down. Forget about the past, mourn it, but look towards the future, towards a time of restoration. In the Gospel, we see the woman caught in adultery. Her life was over because of her past, but then Jesus comes to meet her. He gives her a new start, a new lease on life, and he tells her that now that she is forgiven, it’s time to move forward, time to move on. She must have been overjoyed! And then we have the second reading. St. Paul looks back on his past, even on the good stuff. He says it’s all nothing compared to what God has in store, to his future in Christ Jesus. Paul is telling us to look forward.
It’s am essage for us all, myself included. The other day I put a few pieces of pizza in the staff fridge. I went back for them later and they had were gone. I spent five minutes looking in every corner of the fridge, and then I spent the next hour wondering who could be responsible and how such a tragedy could take place on parochial soil. That injustice done to me–I didn’t forget about it and I was still talking about it the next day. Now I’m talking about it now. God wants us to let it go and move on.
But it happens with so many bigger things in life, too. The marriage that failed, the friendship that seems lost and maybe is, the word that was yelled that seems to have wrecked everything. Sometimes it’s being fired from a job or just having been mistreated. Sometimes it’s the bad geometry grade or the broken high school heart.
God is inviting us today to bury our pasts. Yes, they made us who we are–thanks be to God. But God is telling us we don’t have to relive our mistakes and failings every day. Give them to the Lord in prayer and confession and forget about them. One time, a priest told me after confession, “Your sins are forgiven and forgotten.” Those were the words I needed to hear. Pope Francis says God forgets our sins, he chooses to forget them: the is scripture. He buries our past. We have to do the same. Maybe we did mess up and we wish we could take it back. It’s time to move on.
I’m reading a book now called The Walking Drum. There was a line in what I read just the other night. They are on a boat and one of the characters remarks, “the boat doesn’t sail by yesterday’s winds.” The wind of the Spirit is doing something new in our lives. Yesterday’s wind brought us to where we are today. The Spirit today, he is doing something new! What thing int he past do you need to let go of? Leave it behind and look forward, see where the Spirit is taking us now. As our Eucharistic prayer says it today, we have a God who never ceases to spur us on to possess a more abundant life.
The Church this extraordinary year of mercy has a concrete way for us to walk out of what was and into what is and will be. Every diocese has a holy door. Because we’re big e have two: one at the Cathedral and one at St Meinrad. The idea of the door is that we are leaving the past behind and walking into the new life God has prepared. We are planning a trip to both the Cathedral and St Meinrad. In both cases, there is a plenary indulgence. This is something that comes from the treasury of the Church’s grace entrusted to the pope. It means that when you die, all punishment for your sins committed until now is wiped away. You can also walk through the door for a loved one. It’s a way of reminding us that we are meant to move forward into a wonderful place God has prepared for us.
We get a new start–like the ones in the readings today–at every sacramental encounter. With each sacrament, God invites us to something new, to put the past away and walk into a more glorious future. All the sacraments. Soon we will see some new folks get baptized here. They will leave Egypt behind and enter the Promised Land of the Church. We will see the Spirit enter about 50 souls. Msgr says he has never seen as many confessions as we’ve had lately in all his priesthood. It is time to go. I’m doing more marriage prep than I can keep on top of; five couples just this weekend. Soon we’ll see ordinations. And of course there is the anointing of the sick, which ushers a person right into Glory. And the Eucharist. Our every reception of it ought to change us, make us better, help us enter a more blessed, more favored future. Let us go to the altar of God!