Thursday, March 17, 2016

Walkin' Around Like We're Dead...

Lent 5th Sunday Year C (Scrutinies) 2016
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

As thirsty and blind as we are, you’d think we’d be dead by now.
No matter who you are, your education, background or tax bracket – we’re all thirsty.  As thirsty as that woman Jesus met at the well.  Thirsty for love, understanding, justice, and peace – thirsty for holiness and freedom from sin; thirsty for a life of faith that means something, for a relationship with Jesus that is as real as what we hear other people talking about. Whoever we are, we’ve come here today thirsty… But Jesus comes to quench our thirst: ‘whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.’  We thirst – and Jesus satisfies. 
We’re thirsty and blind – like the man in last week’s gospel, we are born spiritually blind.  Our eyes might function, but we cannot see.  We’re blind to the dignity of the impoverished and imprisoned, blind to the healing available in the Confessional, blind to the sacredness of creation and the tender care Mother Church offers us in her traditions and disciplines.  We’re blind – but Jesus restores our sight!  He mixes a salve of his perfect humanity and complete divinity soon to appear on this altar in the form of bread and wine…and then sends us to wash – to wash in our service to the marginalized, to wash in our respect for the earth, to wash in docile receptivity to the Church and in the cleansing humility of Confession – and just like the man born blind, when we receive Jesus and go to the places we are sent, He restores our sight! 
As thirsty and blind as we are, you’d think we’d be dead by now…but we’re not, are we?  We feel like it sometimes.  Walking around under the burden of our thirst and blindness…carrying around what we know in our heads about the living water that comes from the One who can cure our sight, but somehow missing that reality in our lives. Desperately trying to live in the fullness of life in Christ, carrying the dead thirst and blindness around with us that we’ve been hauling around for longer than we want to think about…hauling it around like a dead limb…dragging it behind us…like…like… well.. like a zombie.
I just can’t get into the zombie craze that has been rippling through our culture for decades.  Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, World War Z –Wikipedia lists more than 400 Zombie movies released from the 1940’s through today.  That doesn’t count the comic books, novels, video games and hit television shows like The Walking Dead.  Like them or not, there’s no avoiding the fact that the zombie phenomenon is a real and persistent part of our cultural backdrop.  And the premise is all basically the same.  There’s some illness, some mysterious contagion spreading through humanity – quietly at first, so sneaky and uncontrollable that it threatens to swallow up everyone around us in a strange sort of living death.  Those infected become blind to humanity – their own and anyone else’s; with a driving thirst for more – more money, more success, more – more – MORE – that turns them into creatures who appear to be living but are oppressed by the weight of the death they carry around.  Living creatures oppressed by the weight of the death they carry around…  Desperately trying to live in the fullness of life in Christ, carrying the dead thirst and blindness around with us that we’ve been hauling around for longer than we want to think about.
Thus says the Lord God:  O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back…I have promised, and I will do it!
…But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness…the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his sprit dwelling in you.
‘Master, the one that you love is ill.’  When Jesus heard this He said, ‘This illness is not to end in death.’…’I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’…And when he had said this He cried out in a loud voice, ‘Come out!’ and said, ‘Untie him and let him go.’
As thirsty and blind as we are, you’d think we’d be dead by now…but we’re not, are we?  We feel like it sometimes.  Walking around under the burden of our thirst and blindness…carrying with us all that we know in our heads about the living water that comes from the One who cured the blind man’s sight to show us He wants to give us the fullness of spiritual sight.  We may feel like we’re dead inside sometimes, but the One who calls us will not give up! 
The One who comes to quench every thirst of our hearts is pursuing us right now, in this very moment, and He isn’t going to quit.  The work of the water begun at our baptism is at work even today: it’s calling you, tugging at you, amplifying the voice of your conscience and thundering like Niagra Falls as it pursues you – patiently but persistently pursuing you so that you might drink more fully from the compassion and forgiveness and healing and eternally quenching font of love.
The One who gives us the healing salve of complete divinity mingled with perfect humanity and then sends us to so that our sight might be restored – sends us to wash in the pool of charity and service, in the pool of humble sacramental confession and the pool of discipline and obedience in the school of the Church – He is tugging at your heart even now, knocking gently but persistently to break through the stone rolled over the tomb of pride and shame and stubborn bondage to perceived comfort – and He won’t give up, doesn’t give up, all the way to the cross, to the altar where He comes even today to quench and heal and bring you back to life with His own body and blood that we break and trample with the death in us that tries to chase away the life He has come to give us.  But He doesn’t give up – isn’t giving up…
…and He will win.  Oh brothers and sisters, He will win if we just let Him.  If we’ll just reach out to find Him there. 
The time is short, but it has not yet run out.  What thirst and blindness in your own life is the Lord Jesus working on today?  What new life does the Lord Jesus wish to bring forth in your life when we reach the Resurrection of Easter?  When we once again embrace the waters of our own baptism and revel in the light of the Easter Candle – the Light of Christ that chases away all our darkness and brings sight to our spiritual blindness?
Listen now…listen in the quiet of your heart…what invitation is Jesus speaking to you for these last days of Lent?  What illness is he speaking to you that He wishes to overcome with His own water, light and life?  Can you hear Him calling?  This illness is not to end in death.’…’I am the resurrection and the life…’  Can you hear Him calling to you, ‘Come out!...Untie him – untie her – and let her go – let him go!’  Come out into new life!!!

What invitation is Jesus speaking to you – and how will you respond?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Thirsty and Blind...

Lent 4th Sun Yr C (Scrutinies) 2016
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

Thirsty and blind…
Last week we encountered the first of the great images leading us out of the desert of Lent into the Promised Land of Easter – water.  Like the woman at the well, we all thirst:  we thirst for love, for understanding, for acceptance and a sense of belonging; we thirst for justice and peace, for comfort and rest, for holiness, faith, and freedom from sin.  And like the woman at the well, when we encounter Jesus authentically, with all of our masks removed and no longer attempting to hide our sin from Him, when we encounter Jesus authentically He quenches our thirst.  Whoever we are, whatever our background, age, gender, or tax bracket, we thirst – and Jesus is for us the water that completely satisfies: ‘whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.’  The water of the baptismal font and the holy water we use to bless ourselves and our homes and sacred objects – our sacramental use of water is a tangible reminder throughout our pilgrimage on this earth that we all have a basic, deep thirst that finds its satisfaction only and permanently in Jesus Christ. 
We are all thirsty…and blind
That’s right friends – whoever you are, whatever you do for a living, whether you’re in school, work full time, or are enjoying your retirement – boy, girl, man, woman, faithful or backslidden, confessing your sins or carrying them around bottled up inside of you – whoever you are somehow you managed to get here this morning though blind as the proverbial bat
The story of the Man Born Blind is truly an ‘everyone’ story, because you and I were born blind.  Our eyes might function, but we cannot see.  Everyone incorrectly assumed this man’s physical blindness was a result of his parents’ sin, but we know our own spiritual blindness actually is a result of our sin. 
Our spiritual blindness is so much a part of our vision that we hardly ever acknowledge it, but its there.  We see sloth, vice, and danger in the poor, downtrodden, imprisoned and outcast, blind to the human dignity as fundamental to their existence as yours or mine.  We see in the Sacrament of Reconciliation an antiquated holdover from a misguided age, blind to the workshop of humility and tangible encounter with grace that frees us from sin that confession truly is.  We mistake the beauty of creation for nothing more than a picture-perfect portrait meant for our casual and occasional pleasure, blind to the giant arrow pointing to the masterful Creator worthy of our worship who carefully crafted for us a paradise in which we can walk and talk with Him so that we can come to know Him intimately on our journey toward heaven.  We see in the ancient traditions of the Church celebrated faithfully according to the rubrics and rules and without innovation nothing more than empty ritual that binds us to the past and prevents us from doing what we want or what we have always done, blind to the beauty and freedom they represent and make real in our lives.  We see in the rules and disciplines of the Church nothing but chains that bind our preferences, blind to the spiritual freedom and authentic discipleship they lead us into.  We are BLIND!
Oh Father, we’re not blind to those things – others might be, but we’re not.  Isn’t that a convenient lie?  Friends, our actions speak louder than words.  Let’s be clear this morning – we’re blind in all these ways.  Our actions speak louder than our words.  We toss a little of our extra toward the poor, but that’s more to calm our conscience than to respect their dignity.  We don’t darken the door of the confessional no matter how often it is preached.  We don’t recycle, limit our energy usage to protect the earth’s natural resources, or give any thought to our gasoline usage apart from its impact on our checkbook.  We start our conversations about liturgy with our preferences and the customs we’ve grown to like rather than beginning with the millennia-tested vision handed to us by the Church that Christ made custodian of His sacred mysteries.  We plain and simply ignore the precepts of the Church that require us to Confess at least once a year and prohibit the reception of Holy Communion when there is unconfessed mortal sin – partly because we’re blind in our pride that rejects the reality of mortal sin and its impact on our relationship with God.  Just like the subject of the Gospel, we sit here today blind.
Our blindness is a result of sin, a sin that has so captured our sight that we can’t see past it or through it to The One who frees us from our sin.
But Jesus came to give sight to the blind!  Notice, friends, how the Lord cures the sight of the man born blind.  A simple two-step process that He replicates in the Church even to this day if we’ll only humble ourselves to receive it.  First, he makes a salve of His incarnation to treat the blindness.  Did you ever stop to consider the meaning of mixing his own spit with the clay to form the healing salve he tenderly applied to those blind eyes?  A tangible manifestation of his own incarnation – the divine essence from within himself mixed with the same clay from which all mankind is formed.  Jesus Christ, fully divine and fully human, himself a sight restoring salve – the same incarnation that comes to us every time we gather around this altar:  the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.  Every Sunday we receive the sight-restoring salve that is the perfectly blended divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ from this altar.  For the most part, we’ve got this first part down – receiving the incarnated humanity & divinity of Jesus Christ from this altar.
But…notice carefully friends…the man’s sight was not restored from the paste alone.  After smearing the clay on the blind man’s eyes, Jesus said to him, ‘Go wash in the Pool of Siloam – which means Sent.  So he went and washed, and came back able to see.’ 
Friends, our spiritual blindness cannot and will not be cured until we go the places we are sent and do as we’ve been sent to do.  Our blindness will not be cured until we go to the Confessional to be washed…and return there each and every time our blindness tries to regain its hold over our lives.  Our blindness will not be cured until we go to the poor and outcast to whom we’re sent, until we go the Church to receive with docility her teaching, instruction, and discipline (setting ourselves and our personal wisdom in obedience to the Church Jesus left to guide us safely to Him.)  We know all the places we’ve been sent by Jesus…but we’re just too blind to actually go there, aren’t we?
Our Easter candle will soon make it’s way back to its prominent place in our worship, burning brightly as a beautiful testament to the Light of Christ that pierces the darkness and blindness of men and women everywhere who were born spiritually blind – blind like you and I.  That same light of Christ that will burn brightly again from our Easter Candle in a few weeks, and that burns at every baptism. 
You and I came here this morning as spiritually blind as the man in today’s Gospel…  Will we, too, receive our sight?  The salve of Jesus Christ – the sacred mixture of His humanity and divinty is offered to us on this altar.  After we receive it, will we go to where we have been sent – to the Confessional, to the world, to the poor, sick, outcast; will we go like beggars to the teaching and discipline of the Church – so that by going where we’ve been sent our sight will be restored?

So they said to him, “What did He do to you?  How did He open your eyes?”  He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen.  Why do you want to hear it again?  Do you want to become His disciples, too?”

Sunday, February 28, 2016

What Are You Thirsty For?

Lent 3 Sun (SCRUTINIES) 2016
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

What are you thirsty for?
The children of Israel, wandering long in the desert, had grown thirsty.  So thirsty they thought they were going to die.  So thirsty they thought it might be better to return to the bondage and slavery they endured in Egypt rather than have their thirst go unquenched. We’re like them.  Whoever we are, each and every one of us comes to the Mass today thirsty.  What are you thirsty for?
We thirst for love, for understanding, for justice and for peace.  We thirst for security, for acceptance and a sense of belonging.  We thirst for comfort and rest – for holiness, freedom from temptation, and distance from sin.  We thirst for a life of faith that means something – that makes a difference in our lives and the lives of others.  We thirst for a living relationship with God that gives us a lived experience of Jesus as our brother and friend that goes beyond the merely theoretical.  We thirst for a life of meaning, so that our rising in the morning and going to bed at night over and over again, day in and day out, means something – we’re thirsty for a life of adventure that means something. 
All of us are thirsty for something …many of us are so thirsty we think we might die…and most of us fall into the age-old pattern of the Israelites: our thirst is so powerful, we’re so thirsty, we’re willing to go back to old ways of living, our old and worn out patterns that never quench our thirst – our thirst is so powerful, we’re so thirsty, we’d rather go back to the prisons and chains that bind us in our old ways of thinking and living because in their familiarity it sometimes seems like we’re not really thirsty there.  ‘Send us back to Egypt – sure we were prisoners there – but at least we weren’t thirsty.’  No wonder we find ourselves year after year, week after week, in the same old places struggling with the same old doubts and hurting in the same old ways.  We get thirsty – so thirsty we’d rather go back to the same old patterns than press ahead long enough for God to quench our thirst.
Time and again, human experience has proven that we’re never really thirsty for what we think we’re thirsty for.  Talk to the recovering alcoholic or drug addict, listen to the testimony of one who found real freedom from pride, dishonesty, or envy.  Hear the story of someone who truly overcame their lack of faith or hope.  They all have the same thing to say in one way or another:  they discovered they had been going to the same old wells over and over trying to quench their thirst, only to discover that what they could draw there never really satisfied.  We try to quench our thirst for love in the bottle; we try to quench our thirst for faith in the intellectual study of scripture or the rote and empty repetition of prayer.  We try to quench our thirst for meaning and adventure in life with worldly success.  We try to quench our thirst for intimacy on the computer screen.  We try…but it never works.
We thirst…that’s the first part of the pattern.  We thirst – and we return time and time again to old places, old habits, old ways of living only to discover that our old wells don’t satisfy.  But the good news today, friends, is that God is always there trying to quench our thirst for good.  We thirst – God provides.  If we journey far enough through the desert, trusting in God and moving farther and farther away from our entrapments one step – one day at a time – if we follow God far enough away from the same old pitiful wells, the same old ways of living, if we travel far enough with God into glorious unknown with Him we eventually encounter the deep well that quenches our thirst more perfectly than we ever imagined.
‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst…’  It’s never quite where we expect it.  The thirsty Israelites found life-giving water in the dead dryness of a rock, and the woman at the well found lasting satisfaction for her thirst in the admonishing love, acceptance, and welcome of a rule-breaking, line crossing, strange-talking, haggard and weary man named Jesus Christ.  Day after day, she came back to the same old place, seeking to quench her thirst from the water at Jacob’s well, only to find that the satisfaction it provided was temporary – just like day after day we return to our old patterns of living – until one day, she finally encountered what she’d been thirsty for all her life:  the love and acceptance and freedom from sin only Jesus Christ can provide.
Friends – here we are, you and I.  Here we are, journeying toward Easter, carrying our thirst around with us.  What are you thirsty for?  Life?  Love? Acceptance? Faith?  Freedom from sin?  Whatever it is – I can promise you this:  your thirst can never really be quenched apart from a real and ongoing encounter with Jesus Christ, and in the context of looking at Him face to face, holding nothing back, not even your sin.  (Did you notice that Jesus quenched the Samaritan woman’s thirst in part by lovingly naming her sin and inviting her to stand free from it?  There’s a hint for us in that reality, friends.  If you’re thirsty, meet Jesus in the confessional, give Him your sin and let Him love you past it.  Make your confession this Lent!)
Whoever you are, each and every one of us comes to the Mass today thirsty. Like the woman at the well, we come seeking that which satisfies and fulfills our deepest longings.  Jesus is that living water – poured out from heaven – poured out in the honest confession of sin in the Sacrament of Reconciliation – poured out in the appearance of bread and wine on this altar.
The question is a simple one:  will you run back to Egypt seeking the familiarity that seems more comfortable because its known but that can never truly quench your thirst?  Or will you risk the encounter with Jesus in Confession and approach this altar to encounter Him – will you run back to Egypt or look into the “face of the Father’s mercy,” Jesus Christ, who comes here today to give you living water?
What are you thirsty for?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Springtime in the Desert

Lent 1 Sun Yr C (2016)
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

          Did you know that the Latin word for Lent literally means “the forty days”?  It’s no surprise, then, that today’s Gospel is about another Lent – the forty days Jesus spent in the desert fasting.  In some ways, all of the “forties” in the Bible are images of Lent – the Lent you and I are just beginning now.  The forty days and forty nights through which Noah brought God’s creation to new life through the flood.  The forty years Moses shepherded God’s people through the desert to the Promised Land.  The forty days Jesus spent in the desert to be tempted.
          Those Old Testament stories have a common theme, you know.  The “forty days” is a passing through some sort of death or dying away in order to get to new life.  I wonder if that can help us answer a burning question I’ve always had about this Gospel reading:  Why didn’t Jesus take any food into the desert?
Was Jesus just not hungry?  Did Jesus just not plan ahead well enough to bring provisions?  That seems pretty unlikely.  You and I, imperfect as we are, would pack quite a bag of supplies if we were heading into the desert for forty days.  And if we knew that we were going to be tempted, we’d really be loaded down.  I’d have a gallon or two of Holy Water and my relic of the True Cross for certain.  I don’t know about you, but I’d also have a cart full of beef jerky, some peanut butter, and plenty of water.  It just doesn’t seem very likely that Jesus forgot to take food with him into the desert – which leaves me with the conclusion that – just like He went into the desert specifically to be tempted – Jesus seems to have gone into the desert intending to fast.  He entered His Lent – His “forty days” with the intention of fasting and knowing He was going to be tempted…
This leaves a huge question screaming to be answered:  “WHY?”  Why go to be tempted?  Why not bring any food – especially when I assume Jesus knew his first temptation would be about food.  Turning stones into bread wouldn’t really be a temptation for me if I’d carted around my beef jerky and peanut butter all that time.  Who needs some stony bread when their belly is full?  Not eating for 40 days is a funny way to prepare to be tempted with food.  What was Jesus thinking?  Why was he fasting?  Why did he go to be tempted?  How does this make any sense?  Could it be that Jesus knew He needed to be freed from the human experience of needing food so that He could answer his first temptation well?  Could Jesus have planned to fast so that He’d transform His humanity to be able to reject that first temptation? 
The beginning of Luke’s Gospel charts an interesting course.  After His birth, Jesus is presented in the temple and then in a flash he’s a teenager teaching in the Temple.  In the blink of an eye John the Baptist baptizes an adult Jesus and the Holy Spirit descends on Him…and then immediately drives Him into the desert to be tempted.  After the temptation, Luke says Jesus is “filled with the power of the Holy Spirit [and] began to teach.”
The Spirit descended on Jesus at His baptism, but it isn’t until after the desert fasting and temptation that Jesus is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.  The 40 days seem to be about being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit so He is ready to begin his ministry.  And however we shape it up, one thing is clear:  Jesus’ ministry is ultimately about Easter.  His preaching, teaching, and miracles – His passion and death and resurrection – His whole journey on this Earth are ultimately the new life of Easter.  So it seems that the forty days are specifically about being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to more perfectly encounter the Easter message, proclaim the Easter truth, and enter into the Easter reality. 
Now it seems like Jesus had a perfect plan!  There’s a transformation that comes from fasting – one that makes it possible to face temptation and walk the rest of the way to Easter.  That’s what the desert was about then…maybe that’s what our forty days is about now.  It seems like it’s not really about the fasting, but what the fasting does in ushow it transforms us – how the forty days enables us to face temptation and walk all the way to into Easter glory.
Here we’ve been running around hiding all the chocolate and sweets and meat, we’ve been testing the rules of the Lenten fast to make sure we don’t break them, trying to discover if we can eat alligator on Fridays or if we can put cream in our coffee on Ash Wednesday – discussing whether or not we can drink the beer we’ve given up for Lent on Sundays or not (because after all, the forty days doesn’t count the Sundays)… here we are focusing so much on the fast itself that maybe we’ve forgotten the purpose of the fast. 
Maybe the forty days is less about the ‘giving up’ and more about how the ‘giving up’ will transform us.
          The question worth asking, you see, is not ‘What am I giving up for Lent?’ – or ‘What more am I doing this Lent?’  No – the question worth asking is Why? … For what purpose?  Why am I giving up chocolate?  Why am I giving away my things?  How do I hope my extra prayer will change me?  How do I hope to be transformed – to be more free – to be more filled with power of the Holy Spirit – how I hope to be different when we make it together to the glory of Easter? 
The Latin name for this season literally means ’the 40 days’ – but do you know what our English word for the season – Lent – means?  Lent itself comes from the word for ‘Spring’ – our great Lent is our springtime during which we’re doing our part to bloom with new life in the coming light of Easter.  Every day, every step of the way, is a movement toward Easter.  You see – its not about the fast itself; its about where the fast is taking how, how the fast is transforming us into freer, more Christ-like people to be resurrected again with Christ in the promised land of Easter on the other side of this forty days. 
If we stay focused on the destination, if we keep the purpose of our Lenten observances clearly in mind, if our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is intentionally and explicitly about being transformed ever more into an Easter people, then we will overcome our temptations – even in our momentary failures, the devil will not win – because with our hearts and minds and eyes set clearly on the new life of Easter we will be transformed

How are you hoping to be transformed this Lent?  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The First Story Pope Francis Told

Lent - Ash Wednesday - 2016 (Yr C)
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

          In his first Angelus address just days after his election, Pope Francis told a beautiful story.  It was the story of an elderly woman he encountered right after becoming bishop in 1992.  There had been a huge gathering to pray for the sick, and he was hearing confessions.  Just as he was getting up to leave, Pope Francis (then Bishop Jorge) encountered her.  In his own words:

          [A]n elderly woman approached me, humble, very humble, and over eighty years old. I looked at her, and I said, “Grandmother” — because in our country that is how we address the elderly — “do you want to make your confession?” “Yes,” she said to me. “But if you have not sinned…” [I said.]  “We all have sins...[and t]he Lord forgives all things,” she said to me with conviction…I felt an urge to ask [if she had earned an advanced degree in theology], because that is the wisdom which the Holy Spirit gives: inner wisdom focused on God's mercy.
Let us not forget this… God never ever tires of forgiving us…the problem is that we ourselves tire, we do not want to ask, we grow weary of asking for forgiveness. He never tires of forgiving, but at times we get tired of asking for forgiveness.

          The first story Pope Francis told the world was a story of mercy – God’s mercy.  The first story Pope Francis told the world was a story of God’s mercy, and the confessional – God’s mercy waiting for us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation …and our hesitation in receiving that mercy.
          Isn’t it funny how eager we are to connect with our need for God’s mercy – this gesture and symbol of our sinfulness in the ashes we receive today?  Students skip class and people take half days from work to receive their ashes.  Last year, in the middle of the worst snow storms in years, folks drove on treacherous roads to get their ashes and mark their need for God’s mercy.
Isn’t it funny how motivated we are to claim our need for God’s mercy…but how deftly we avoid encountering the mercy we so desperately need in the confessional?  Nation-wide, almost half of us never go to confession - half; not once a year, not once a decade, never…half  – but 90% of us make it to Ash Wednesday.  We go out of our way to acknowledge our sinfulness and our need for mercy on Ash Wednesday…why do we have such a hard time reaching out to receive God’s mercy by making a good confession?
I have a confession to make…I was part of that 90% for my first 15 years as a Catholic.  I went to confession just before coming into the Church, and then didn’t go again until just before I left for seminary.  Even my first 4 years in seminary, I struggled to make it to confession.  I was embarrassed and ashamed that I continued to fail at loving God and others the way I should.  What Pope Francis said in that first Angelus address was so very true in my own life – God hadn’t grown tired of loving me, forgiving me, showing me mercy.  I had grown tired of reaching out to receive His patient, loving mercy.  I had grown tired of so desperately needing God’s mercy.
Every year on Ash Wednesday I was ready to admit – I needed to admit to myself and others that I was a sinner and needed God’s love and forgiveness – every year I reached for the ashes from the depths of my soul because I knew how desperately I needed God’s mercy…and every year I made a promise: this year, Lord – this year I’ll make my confession.  I prayed for the courage to confess.  I hungered for the relief of knowing that experience of God’s mercy in the confessional.  I wanted to confess my sins – I wanted absolution – I wanted to experience God’s mercy…and every year, I waited. 
Sometimes my embarrassment at how long it had been won out.  Sometimes that embarrassment led to me getting defensive when someone invited me to confession (or when someone preached a homily like what I’m preaching now)…and in that mindset, I got very good at looking for reasons that I didn’t need to go to confession.  But every year – every year – some part of me was desperate inside to feel God’s loving embrace in the sacrament.
We tell ourselves that we don’t need to confess…that we haven’t sinned badly enough to need confession…that the Church is mistaken in showing us our need to encounter Christ in the confessional as the most perfect expression of God’s mercy.  We sometimes decide we might go, and then we wait.  We sometimes acknowledge deep in our hearts that we desperately want to hear those words of Christ spoken by the priest, “I absolve you from your sins…” – sometimes we feel that desire deep in our souls, but we just can’t seem to get there…  I know, friends…I’ve been there…I was there…until one day God broke down the walls of my heart and whispered my name and brought this poor sinner face to face with His mercy in the good and honest confession of my sins. 
And friends…I have never been the same…never been the same… because what I found in that confession – what I find every time I go to confession – is God’s love – I come face to face – literally – face to face with the reality that God’s love and forgiveness are so much more powerful and beautiful than my reluctance.  Face to face with Jesus Christ who loves me and forgives me.  I come face to face with mercy…
Why is it that we come out in droves to receive our ashes, but shun the confessional?  Pope Francis is on to something when he say, “The problem is that we ourselves tire, we do not want to ask, we grow weary of asking for forgiveness.  [God] never tires of forgiving, but at times we tire of asking for forgiveness.”
Friends…God bless you for being here today to acknowledge our need for God’s great mercy.  His mercy is huge.  It is boundless.  It is patient.  It is filled with love.  But let’s go deeper…go deeper than acknowledging our need for mercy, and stretch out your hand to receive it, to feel it, to experience it.  As we travel this Lent together – this Lent, this year, in this time, together let’s do whatever it takes to help one another to encounter the mercy of God. 
I’m not pleading with you alone – I’m pleading with Pope Francis, who is himself a beautiful and beaming face of God’s mercy – Pope Francis who says about this Lent in the Year of Mercy, “Let us place the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the centre once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands. For every penitent, it will be a source of true interior peace.”  I’m pleading to you with Pope Francis – and there is not anything – anything I won’t do to help.  You name it – and I’ll do it.   
Friends…God’s mercy is so real – and you are so loved – and Jesus desperately wants to show you that mercy in the forgiveness of your sins.  Will you go deeper than acknowledging your need for God’s mercy with ashes this year? Will you make your confession this Lent?  Will you?

Behold – now is a very acceptable time…Behold, now is the day of salvation.