Today, Good Friday, is the saddest day of the year. A man named Erich Fromm said that one cannot be deeply responsive to the world without being saddened very often. Well, at least from time to time. Today we call good because Jesus was the most responsive a person can be to the needs of the world. Our God loved us and loved us to the end. It is sad that it had to come to that, but our Christ gives us a beautiful example: sadness should lead to responsiveness.
We are sad also because today is the devil’s day. The tabernacles of the world are empty, as he wants them to be. There can be no baptisms today, no new life. There can be no sacraments except penance and the sacrament of the sick in cases of emergency, and the devil loves this because he hates the sacraments. The crosses and statues are covered, just as he wants them. The adoration chapels around the world are empty and dark and closed, as the devil wants them. The normal happy conversation and fellowship that happen after we gather here in prayer, it should not happen today (for we disperse in silence), and the devil loves that lack of greetings and hugs and laughs that are the norm. Normally I take solace sometimes in knowing that, at any moment during the day, at least several hundred priests around the world are celebrating the mysteries. But not today. There is no Mass today. And that is what makes the devil the happiest.
Yes, today is the devil’s day. It is a sad, sad day. But the saddest day leads to the happiest day, and that is just around the corner. The devil does not have the final say. Tomorrow we will have the loudest and most glorious Masses around the world we can dream of. It will be time to feast, time to celebrate with pomp and circumstance, time to baptize the heck out of people. I can’t wait!
But wait we must, and we wait in silence and prayer and reflection. We give the devil his day. And we watch him lose.
Today, Wednesday of Holy Week, we call Spy Wednesday. It is the day when Judas spies for a way to hand Jesus over. He turns his back on God for 30 pieces of silver. Esau in the Old Testament turns his back on God for a meal. Many turn their backs on God nowadays, too. Some for a football game, preferring to watch a game than attend Holy Mass on a Sunday. Some turn their backs on God because they don’t want to wait for the annulment, and others for pornography or drugs or, like Judas, money. We must be very careful.
A good way to read scripture is to read a passage until a word jumps out and tthen talk to God about it. The word that jumped out at me today is one that pops up a few times in our text today. It’s “bystander.” The bystanders are the ones who sit on the side, who don’t really seem to care at all about Christ. They stand in opposition to Blessed Mother who never leaves Jesus’ side, Simon of Cyrene who carries the cross, Veronica who wipes his face, and the women who minister to him.
God is preparing us, little by little, for the forthcoming celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Last week we had rose vestments, we’ve got our penance services going on, it’s Spring Break, and it’s getting a bit warmer out. And now God has given us these readings—all about the resurrection of the dead. I almost hesitate to preach on the resurrection given that it is still Lent, but the readings seem to suggest I do. So I will.
I want to focus, at least for a moment, on the resurrection of the dead. It’s an important dogma of our faith, but one that is I’m afraid often glanced over these days. It is a belief which we have held from the beginning. We believe that, when Jesus returns, God will raise our bodies up from the earth and they will become glorified bodies in heaven. We proclaim belief in this every time we recite the Creed at Holy Mass: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead….” It’s in the Scriptures: all of our readings reference it today, and you’ll find it in plenty of places. For example, 1 Cor 15. It’s also in the Catechism (CCC 1017). It’s everywhere with the Church Fathers. And in particular, it is in the prayers of the funeral Mass and the burial. It will be a beautiful day, that glorious day when our bodies are gloriously raised up! They won’t be these decrepit bodies, but glorified bodies says scripture. I think I will have hair in heaven!
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.