Sunday, December 25, 2016

...He's Been Here All Along!

Christmas Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

On December 26th 1957 a usually fun-loving and joy-filled man woke up in a foul mood.  As he stood there brushing his teeth and staring at himself in the mirror his own reflection seemed monstrous.  Sure, it was his face, his eyes, his nose, his mouth and eyebrows.  It was indeed his own teeth that he was brushing – there was no doubt about that.  But there was a strange, gloomy, joyless countenance that he saw staring back at him.  He could almost see the gloom that had settled over him floating around his reflection like a dirty green haze almost.  And he began to think – there had been no real joy that year during the holidays at all.  

He was befuddled – and a slight bit angry at first.  He thought to himself, ‘Something must have gone wrong with Christmas!’  And then he felt a bit betrayed – after all, if Christmas couldn’t give him some joy and life, what could?  What good was Christmas anyway if it couldn’t bust him out of his funk… Something must have gone wrong with Christmas…so much for Christmas.  All he saw in the mirror that morning after Christmas in 1957 was (in his own words) a “nasty anti-Christmas monster that was really [himself].”

//

Then something clicked …telling the story later, he says he realized that Christmas wasn’t to blame; it was more likely that something had gone wrong with him.  “I wrote the story about my sour friend the Grinch to see if I could discover something about Christmas I had obviously lost,” Dr. Seuss said.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas tells us the story of finding the light and love of Christmas when we’ve lost it.

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I think we all have Grinch-like tendencies from time to time.  Think about it – isn’t there a moment every year when you realize you’ve not quite got into the season yet?  We might not be roaming around sneaking into the houses of our neighbors stealing their Christmas toys and decorations.  But nearly every year there is that moment when I looked around and see all the Christmas preparations taking place around me and began to wonder why it all seems to be happening out there and nothing seems to be going on inside.  

We say our simple prayers, trying desperately not to miss the boat – but we’re not sure if it really worked or not.  We try our best to get ready – we go to confession or think about it.  We try not to be afraid – because we know that Jesus is coming.  We hear our pastor ramble on and on for four weeks about it all – and we try our best.  But I think all of us at some point end up a bit Grinchy.

It’s not a knowledge problem – we’ve got that pretty much down.  Knowing wasn’t the Grinch’s problem either.  ‘Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot – but the Grinch who lived just north of Whoville DID NOT!  Now please don’t ask why, no one quite knows the reason… I think the most likely reason of all – may have been that his heart was two sizes two small!’  You see – all the ideas and truths about Christmas can be firmly planted in our heads – but the struggle to get into the Christmas spirit is that we can’t do it with our heads – we have to do it with our HEARTS.  Until our hearts experience the joy and truth of what we’re celebrating, we’ll be Grinchy – if not on the outside, then certainly on the inside.

Remember what happened to the Grinch that changed everything?  It wasn’t a change in ideas or reasoning – he tried to think things through – in fact, he ‘puzzled three hours until his puzzler was sore!’  That didn’t work for him, and it won’t work for us.  Do you remember what made the difference?  ‘What happened then?  Well…down in Whoville they say, that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.

The secret of Christmas – the secret to being transformed by the joy and beauty and miracle of Christmas is to let the small baby in the manger into our hearts.  And then – in those moments of pure joy – to realize that we didn’t do that to ourselves…but that it was really Jesus – really the One born that first Christmas – really the One John tells us has been here all along – that it was really Jesus who has come and transformed our hearts.

//

If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready – Jesus is coming!  But don’t be afraid…He’s already here!

Every year when I notice that the world around me seems to be getting ready for Christmas ‘out there’ I find myself missing what I know should be happening ‘in here’…and I get…well, I get Grinchy.  But then something happens.  I find a gift to share with someone I love.  Or I hear a Christmas song on the radio…I bake some cookies or make a Christmas cake.  And then it happens…without even noticing it’s happening I discover that my heart has swollen ‘three times its size’ – and I’m singing along with the songs or whistling a Christmas tune; I have a little more giddy-up in my step…and all of a sudden what’s been happening ‘out there’ has made a home ‘in here’ …and I discover, I’ve been made ready for Christmas.  And just in time, too. How did it happen?

//

Whatever has brought us here this morning – Grinchy or as happy and filled with joy as little Cindy Lou Who – whatever has brought us here this morning…Jesus is doing everything He can to break into our hearts.  He was in the beginning…but that wasn’t enough.  And so He came in the flesh…he came as a baby…he broke into the darkness of our shrunken hearts in His miraculous birth in Bethlehem that first Christmas.  And every year at Christmas – He bursts in again…

It’s that moment when Christmas finally comes to you – that moment when you feel the joy of Christmas through the eyes of a child.  It’s that moment when Christmas starts to feel like it’s happening ‘in here’ not just ‘out there’.  It’s that moment of happiness and peace, that moment of relief and nostalgia and fullness – fullness that wells up into a fountain that love starts to pour out in laughter and stories (and yes, sometimes even in tears) – that moment when Christmas is different somehow than any other day of the year…

…you know the moment I’m talking about…

…you’ve felt it……you might be feeling it now…

...don’t fool yourself – that moment is real…that moment is Sacred…

That moment …that moment is Jesus – He’s been here all along.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

But Don't Be Afraid...

Advent 4 Sun Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid

For weeks now, we’ve been preparing for Jesus to come – and its only days away.  We’ve been getting our hearts and minds on the same page as a family of faith to help us prepare.  Our young people are hearing the message – they’re repeating it at home and using it to decorate for Christmas – reminding us:  If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready – because Jesus is coming!  But don’t be afraid…  Say it with me, family – If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready – because Jesus is coming!  But don’t be afraid…  

Just days away from Christmas and there’s still time to pay attention – saying our simple little prayers asking Jesus to help us notice him so we don’t miss the boat like the folks of Noah’s time; so that we don’t miss Him in all the ways He comes to us.  Just days away from Christmas and there’s still time to get ready – to follow the urgent plea of John the Baptist to produce fruit of our repentance in the confessional.  Just days away from Christmas and there’s still time to recognize that Jesus is coming – and to get excited enough to rejoice and make our plans around Him above everything else.

But, if we’re honest, sometimes all that leaves us a little afraid…

//

Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid…

Have you ever noticed how often the announcement of Messiah’s coming is followed by the words do not be afraid?

On the surface, it doesn’t seem to make much sense.  Christmas is joyful and happy…the coming of Christ is exciting…at least it’s supposed to be.  But as I prayed – I could admit I’m afraid in some ways this Christmas.  Sometimes I’m afraid I won’t find the right gift for the people I love.  Often I’m afraid I won’t have time to do all the things that need to be done, and I’m afraid of what others will think of me if I don’t get it all done – truth be told, I’m sometimes afraid of what I’ll think of myself if I don’t get it all done.  Sometimes I’m afraid of the sadness Mom and I will feel in these holidays without my dad and my Grandmother – afraid the grief will overwhelm us.  (Many of you experience this fear whether your loved ones have gone this past year or years ago.)

If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat – so we have to get ready, because Jesus is coming!  But - what if He comes before I’ve found a way to show how much I love Him?  What if He comes before I find a way to love those in my life well enough?  What if Jesus comes before I’ve taken care of my spiritual things to do list?  What if He comes before I’ve been able to overcome the same pesky sins and habits in my life that I know the Just Judge of All Creation finds contrary to His goodness?  Sometimes ‘Jesus is coming’ leaves us a bit afraid.  

Sometimes there are parts of us – mingled with our genuine Christmas cheer – that are afraid when we hear that Jesus is coming because we realize we can never get ready on our own.  And we wonder…are we worthy…have we done our part…have we done enough…will we be ready?

//

That’s why I think we so often encounter the reminder to ‘be not afraid’ when the coming of Christ is announced in Scripture.  To refocus us.  To remind us that the coming of Jesus Christ is the coming of Emmanuel – God with us; that this Jesus who is coming comes to us – as one of us – to save us.  His name literally means “God saves…”  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; the Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor, the God who is Mighty enough to kill death, destroy sin, and SAVE US!  And in light of His coming, we have nothing to fear – not even our own inadequacy.    

//

St. Paul tells us why we have no reason to be afraid.  Yes - the Just Judge is coming – but we don’t have to be afraid, because through Jesus we have received – you and I have already received by virtue of His first coming the grace that brings about the obedience of faith.  In a manger, beneath the shadow of a cross cast by that glorious star and among the triumphant serenade of heaven’s choirs, Jesus came and did the work that would give us the free gift of grace that can make us ready.  We have no need to fear the coming of Christ… because He accomplished at His first coming everything we need in order to be ready for His second coming!

//

The Blessed Mother was troubled by the message of the angel because she was called to be something that seemed beyond her reach.  St. Joseph was afraid because life circumstances were spinning wildly out of control and beyond what he’d prepared for or imagined.  But – they were told:  

Do not be afraid!

Do you ever fear who you are called by God to be?  Priest?  Deacon?  Mom?  Dad?  Husband?  Wife?  Do you ever fear the way life seems to be spinning out of control – heading in a direction vastly different than what you’d planned or what you thought you wanted?  Those are ways that Jesus is coming to you!  Can you hear it?  In these last days before Christmas can you hear God saying Do not be afraid…for you have found favor with God…You can do this thing that God has called you to do…you will be mother or father to these children…you will serve the Church in this ministry…you will witness to my love throughout the world…you will teach others to know me personally as Lord and friend, Mighty God and Wonderful Counselor…(you will be my priest…)…you will do this because the Most High God has already done the work needed in your life…just keep paying attention…keep getting ready…because Jesus is coming…but don’t be afraid – just follow the example of Mary and Joseph; say:  Behold, I am the servant of the Lord…let it be done to me according to your word…, and then get up and do what God is asking you to do.

//

Tanner Clark is a contemporary Christian artist; one of my favorite songs of his is not a Christmas song on its surface.  It’s called “Do Not Be Afraid.”  But it speaks to us in these last days of Advent.  Fear ain’t nothing but a liar – you don’t need to be afraid!  The coming of Christ means we can always hear these words in our heart: Don’t be afraid for I am with you, do not fear – I won’t let you fall. Do not be afraid.

//

If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready – Jesus is coming!  But don’t be afraid…

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Because Jesus is coming...

Advent 3 Sun Yr A/2017
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

Two weeks down – two to go.  How’s Advent unfolding for you, family?  Most of the presents are bought – or at least some of them.  Christmas cards are getting in the mail; I know, because in your kindness you’re sharing your cards with me, along with pictures of your families and reflections on this past year.  We’re getting ready for our family celebrations – and many of us are getting ready spiritually, too.  This past Wednesday was one of my most amazing days as your pastor.  And hour of confessions before Mass – 45 minutes after – and a packed house for a weekday Mass.  Some of us are getting ready for Christmas – that’s great!!

Because – for two weeks now we’ve been singing the same song together – getting on the same page with our Advent readings this year.  If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready!  Because Jesus is coming.  But don’t be afraid.  Say it with me family – If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready.  Because Jesus is coming!  But don’t be afraid…  

Two weeks ago we began our Advent journey – our season of preparation for the coming of Jesus – recognizing that we have to pay attention.  You remember what Jesus said: “As it was in the days of Noah so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man…they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage…they didn’t even notice anything was happening until the flood came and swallowed them up.”  In other words, if we’re not paying attention we’ll miss the boat!  We talked about how ironic it is that all of our preparations for Christmas – shopping, cards, wrapping, lights – all of our preparations for Christmas can distract us so much we miss Jesus.  Are you saying those little prayers before whatever Christmas preparations you make?  “Jesus, help me see you in the people I encounter and the preparations I make for Christmas…”  There’s still time – keep praying those prayers, or begin to pray them for the first time.  Because if we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So we’ve got to get ready!

We heard John the Baptist tell us last week to get ready: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  His message is urgent.  Not next year or next month or next week – right now.  The axe is already laying at the root of the trees to cut down the ones that don’t produce fruit.  Do you remember the kind of fruit John said we must produce to show that we’re ready or Jesus to come?  “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance,” John said.  Compared to the number of hours we’ve spent shopping, wrapping, sending cards – how much time have we spent bringing forth evidence of our repentance?  And what’s the primary fruit of repentance we can produce?  You remember – I know you do.  That’s right – going to confession.  Our 12 2nd graders preparing for 1st communion know it – we can’t be ready to receive Jesus until we’ve first made our confession.  And many of you know it too – those of you who’ve made your confessions in the last couple of weeks.  And there’s still time!  Remember, if our scheduled confession times don’t work, all you have to do is call me.  My cell number is right on the front of the bulletin – I’m available to you – to all of you – any time day or night.

//

If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  Say those little prayers…  So get ready!  Make your confession…  Why?  Because Jesus is coming!  Friend – Jesus really is coming.  He’s on the way.  Just like Isaiah says, “Here is your God – he comes with vindication – with divine recompense.”  Here’s the real kicker, friends: “He comes to save you!”  Here is your God – He comes to save you!  And how will he do that?  Wherever in your life you feel blind – unable to see God’s plan, unable to see where to go or how to go forward – wherever in your life you feel blind – He comes to save you!  The eyes of the blind will be open.  And wherever in your life you feel unable to hear God – unable to hear Him call your name – unable to hear Him proclaim His love for you – wherever in your life you feel unable to hear – He comes to save you!  The ears of the deaf will be cleared.  Wherever you are lame and mute – unable to leap with the joy of the Lord this season because of grief or illness or difficult circumstance; wherever you are unable to raise your voice in praise of God and to encourage and love your neighbor – wherever you are lame and mute – He comes to save you!  The lame will leap like a stag – the tongue of the mute will sing!

Isn’t it exciting?!?!?!  Isn’t it amazing?!?! Can’t you feel it in the air?  Jesus is coming – He really is!  He’s coming to us – coming to be with us – coming as one of us.  Jesus is coming to save us!!!  That’s why we pause in our purple anticipation to bask in the warm and rosy glow of the promise!  All of our preparations, all of our waiting, all of our Advent – it all really will lead somewhere!  The promise is real – the excitement will get us there if we let it – if we let the promise fuel the preparations and move on from this place ready to greet Him when He comes!  If that doesn’t stir something in you – if that doesn’t excite you or at least help you hope for the excitement of Jesus coming to you in new way – a bigger way – a broader way – if that doesn’t stir something in you, even if its deep down in a place that’s hard to reach, then nothing will.  But it’s there, friends.  It’s there, even if its way deep down there – it’s there or you wouldn’t be here.  And you know what?  If it’s there, the Holy Spirit can reach it – the Holy Spirit can reach you – and Jesus will come to you even more completely than before…

if you let Him…

If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready!  Get ready friends – because Jesus is coming.  He’s coming at Christmas.  He’s coming today.  He’s coming into your heart.  He’s coming to call you…to take you on a great adventure.  He’s coming.  So…keep up the little prayers asking Him to help you pay attention to Him.  He’s coming…so get ready – make your confession.  He’s coming…

If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss the boat.  So get ready.  Because Jesus is coming!  But don’t be afraid…

Sunday, December 4, 2016

So Get Ready!

Advent 2 Sun Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

So – family – how’d we do?  Last week kicked off Advent – our season of preparation for the coming of Jesus – recognizing that we have to pay attention.  Do you remember?  If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready! Because Jesus is coming.  But don’t be afraid…  Can you say that with me?  If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready! Because Jesus is coming.  But don’t be afraid…  

We said that Advent was a training ground for living the Christian life, because the Christian life is lived waiting for Jesus.  We’re waiting for Him to come at the end of our lives and at the end of time – we’re waiting for Him to come every day to help us become more holy, more free from sin, more free for love – for loving God and others.  And do you remember what Jesus said in last week’s Gospel about His coming: “As it was in the days of Noah so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man…they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage…they didn’t even notice anything was happening until the flood came and swallowed them up.”  In other words, if we’re not paying attention we’ll miss the boat!  

Every day of the Christian life is a struggle to pay attention to Jesus…and that’s especially hard when we’re doing all these things to try to get ready for Christmas.  Isn’t that ironic?  Shopping, Christmas cards, wrapping presents and stringing up lights – and even our Christian service if we’re not careful – all these things we’re telling ourselves we’re doing to get ready for Christmas can be do distracting that we miss Jesus.  If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat!  

Last week I offered two simple, concrete suggestions to help us pay attention.  The first was to say a little prayer asking Jesus to help you notice Him in whatever you do to get ready for Christmas – and the second was to do one concrete thing to pay better attention to Jesus, like attending a daily Mass each week of Advent or reading the daily reflections in the little purple book.  There’s still time – we’re only one week in – I hope you’ll still do those things… because if we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready!!!

//

So get ready!  That’s what John the Baptist seems to have been all about, don’t you think?  Trying to tell people to get ready.  He even wore funny so folks would notice him, maybe hear his message above the buzz of everyday life: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  Everything John the Baptist said or did was in service of that one message:  Get ready!

There was a sense of urgency about it too, wasn’t there? “Even now the axe lies at the root – produce good fruit to demonstrate your readiness – every tree that does not bare good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”  There’s no ‘maybe next year” in his sentiment; no “there’s plenty of time” – no, there’s a sense of urgency.  If you’re a tree, and you’re expected to produce fruit or be cut down and tossed into the fire, things are urgent when the axe is already laying by your roots.

Do you feel a sense of urgency when it comes to getting ready for Jesus?  Let’s try a little comparison to open our eyes a little bit.  Raise your hand if you spent any time shopping or considering Christmas gifts this past week…let’s see, how many is that? OK.  Now consider: this past week I heard only 5 confessions apart from our boys and girls who made their first confession… Is it possible that our children get it better than we do?  How does your sense of urgency to get to the mall or get that online shopping done compare with your sense of urgency to get to confession before Christmas Eve?
Let’s try another one – how much time have you spent decorating your home for Christmas, writing Christmas cards, or wrapping presents since Thanksgiving?  3 hours?  5 hours?  More?  How does that compare to how much time you’ve spent praying…?  Friends – there’s no doubt that we’re busy getting ready for something... but if how we’re spending our time is the measure – and I think it is – I’m just not sure what we’re getting ready for is Jesus. That’s why John’s message is so important!  “Repent!  The Kingdom of heaven is at hand!  The axe is already laying at the root of the tree!  Get ready – Jesus is coming!!!

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How do we get ready for Jesus to come?  Well, John the Baptist gives us a concrete recommendation: “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance,” he says.  We’re Catholic.  We believe that Jesus works most powerfully in our lives through the sacraments.  And each and every one of us here today has room for repentance – each of us has sin (mortal or not) – each of us has something to confess.  In that context, it would seem the primary ‘good fruit’ we can produce to show our repentance is to get ourselves to confession.  Many of you will not like this truth – but it is the truth nonetheless:  No one can be ready for Jesus to come without making their sacramental confession.  Period.  All around the world – and all through our parish – people are celebrating the breath of fresh air that Pope Francis is bringing into the Church.  I see bumper stickers that say “This pope gives us hope!”  And that’s wonderful!  But many of us who are celebrating Pope Francis are only celebrating the parts of what he says that we want to hear.  If you listen to his whole message, you’ll realize Pope Francis is a champion of sacramental reconciliation and believes we need to go to confession to get ready for Jesus to come!  If you’re a Pope Francis fan, it’s time to get to confession…

Our 12 second graders preparing to receive the Eucharist for the first time did it – because they know there’s no way to be ready to receive Jesus when He comes without confessing.  Is it really possible that they need confession before Jesus comes more than you and I do?

//

If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boar.  So get ready!  Because Jesus is coming.  But don’t be afraid…

Friends – this week, let’s keep our hearts and minds focused on paying attention by saying our small little prayers asking Jesus to help us notice Him in our Christmas preparations and by coming to a daily Mass or reading our Advent reflections each day.  And let’s get ready by making our confession. 

This week, confessions will be heard 5-6pm on Wednesday, and after Mass as time allows.  There will also be confessions on Friday evening at 5:30 until everyone in line has been heard, and again on Saturday from 3-4.  And if those times don’t work – let me know and we’ll schedule something – my cell number and email address are right on the cover of the bulletin.


If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready! Because Jesus is coming.  But don’t be afraid…

Sunday, November 27, 2016

If We're Not Paying Attention, We'll Miss the Boat!

Advent 1 Sun Yr A/2016
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville


The message of Advent is one we often overlook; it’s a simple message, though not always easy to live.  The Advent readings in this liturgical year tell the story quite well – we’ll be telling that story together here throughout Advent.  It goes something like this:  If we’re not paying attention we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready!  Because Jesus is coming – but don’t be afraid.  Can you say that with me?  I want to get that story lodged in our hearts and minds together as a family of faith as we prepare ourselves for Christmas. One more time – say it with me – If we’re not paying attention we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready!  Because Jesus is coming – but don’t be afraid.  There’s one last punchline in the story – the most important part of a story is always the ending, isn’t it?  But you’ll have to wait until Christmas for that.  If we’re not paying attention we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready!  Because Jesus is coming – but don’t be afraid.

//

Advent is one of my favorite seasons because it teaches us so much about how to live every season of the Christian life.  Think about it.  Advent is jammed right in-between our celebration of everything that Jesus accomplished – the amazing celebration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – where we see visions of the world to come and acknowledge that the love of Jesus is powerful enough to redeem us all (if we’ll let Him). Advent is sandwiched between that celebration, and the great feasts of Christmas which mark the coming of the Savior that makes all that happen.  Just like our family of faith thousands of years ago before Bethlehem were waiting for their salvation to dawn upon them, our family of faith today thousands of years later waits for the final coming of Christ when all His work will be perfectly realized in us and in our world.

Every day of our life is sandwiched between acknowledging the salvation Christ has won and realizing that salvation in our lives, in our times, and in our world – just like Advent.  And how do we live well in that space of longing?  Well – it’s simple really – the message of Advent:  If we’re not paying attention we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready!  Because Jesus is coming – but don’t be afraid.

//

Our Advent journey – our practice for living every day of the Christian life – our preparations to welcome Jesus at Christmas all starts here:  If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  Jesus said so Himself in today’s Gospel: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man…They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage…They didn’t know [anything important was happening – that God was trying to save them; they didn’t know] until the flood came and carried them all away.  So it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be with us this Christmas – so it will be with us at the end of our lives – so it will be with us when Jesus comes for us…  They weren’t paying attention, and they missed the boat.  If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss it, too.  Christmas…the coming of Jesus into our lives…Jesus saving us, helping us grow in holiness.  If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss it!

Eating and drinking – marrying and giving in marriage; the things that distracted them weren’t bad things.  We eat and drink to survive.  God created marriage.  It isn’t always bad things that distract us – but it doesn’t matter.  If we’re not paying attention, even if we’re focused on seemingly good things, if we’re not looking for Jesus, preparing intentionally for His arrival, we’ll miss Him when He comes, and get swept away and swallowed up.  

Friends, it’s just as easy to miss Jesus because we’re distracted with sending Christmas greetings, shopping for, and even serving the poor and less fortunate.  It’s not only about how we’re spending our time – it’s about what has our attention, what we notice, and whether or not we make room in our hearts and minds to look toward heaven and pay attention to God and what He’s up to…  

So tell me – what’s on your mind as we turn this corner toward preparing for Christmas.  Cards, shopping, events, parties, and decorating?  There’s lots of good and joy and love that can be shared when we do those things well – but even then, if we’re not paying attention to Jesus – setting aside time to make Him a part of our gift giving and merry making – if we’re not paying attention we’ll miss Him…and that has disastrous and eternal consequences.  One of the things I’ve come to love about our parish is how much we focus on serving those around us.  Soups On Us, the Amen Corner, our Prison Ministry, ringing the Salvation Army Bell, participating in the Angel gift giving program, knitting prayer shawls.  And my guess is we ramp all these things us very nicely as we move toward Christmas.  There’s lots of Christian service and loving our neighbor that can take place if we do these things well – and I’m glad we’re doing them!  But friends, if we’re not careful, we can get so busy doing all this good that we forget to do it for Jesus and in His name; we can get so busy doing all this good that we lose any sense or idea of what Jesus Himself is actually doing in our lives – and if we do that, we’ll miss Him when He comes – and that has disastrous and eternal consequences.

It all starts here and now, the holy season of preparation for the coming of the Lord.  And it doesn’t matter how good or wholesome or holy our busy-ness is, if our busy-ness keeps us so distracted that we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss Jesus.  And a lifetime lived, doing even in the best of works, that misses the coming of Jesus into our lives will swallow us, and carry us away forever like Noah’s flood.

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If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  And we don’t want to do that.  So what does that mean for our Advent this year?  Well – the answer is simple: pay attention.  Why not say a little prayer before you do anything at all related to the coming holiday?  Sitting down to write Christmas cards: “Jesus, help me notice you coming into my life.”  Going shopping: “Jesus, help me see you in those I meet today – help me see you in those I’m shopping for.”  Decorating your home: “Jesus, help me make sure we’re creating a real place for you among these lights and trees and bows.”  Sometimes taking a moment just to orient our minds and pray can help us pay attention.

And what about doing just one simple thing specifically for the purpose of paying better attention to Jesus during the Advent season? What if we took the time to come to confession after really examining our consciences to see where Jesus is alive and working in our lives.  What if we made a commitment to come to at least one daily Mass each week during this Advent season? That might give us another moment in all the hustle and bustle to pay attention to Jesus and how He’s coming more completely into our lives.  How about taking the time to actually read and pray with our little Advent booklets every day, asking ourselves each day where we’re seeing and encountering Jesus in our lives.  Those are the Christmas preparations we most need to make…

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The story of Advent is a simple story – If we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss the boat.  So get ready!  Because Jesus is coming.  But don’t be afraid…  Let’s get a good start, friends, and make sure we’re paying attention to Jesus who is coming to us.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

God Used Them Anyway...

14 Sun OT Yr C/2016
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

Can you imagine how cool it would have actually been sent by the Lord to prepare His way? Imagine – being given a real stake in Jesus' mission like that! How amazing…and at the same time, how frightening! After all, Jesus said they would be like fluffy, gentle, trusting little lambs in a sea of ferocious, devious wolves. The seventy-two had to have had some of the best stories of all the first followers of Christ – sent out two-by two – adventuring, questing – and just imagine the things they saw – even demons that had to follow their commands! No wonder they came back rejoicing… Wow!

But…even in all of that – in all of the amazing adventures they experienced – somehow they missed the boat. When they start telling all their amazing stories, Jesus rebukes them because they seem to have missed what was most important.

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Yes, the seventy-two missed the boat. They return rejoicing - they're excited - they come running, right up to Jesus almost giddy with excitement: "Lord - it’s amazing - it was so incredible! You're name is so powerful that even the demons had to do what we told them!" But Jesus is clear: "You don't get it," He says. "Of COURSE the demons have to obey your command - I've given you power over them. But that's not what this is about at all - don't rejoice because they obey you - they obey you because your name is written down in heaven!” They missed the point, you see. Their power, the success of their mission, wasn't what was important - what mattered was that their eternal salvation had been taken care of. THAT'S something worth rejoicing about.

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Little Katherine seemed like a natural baby-sitter. She would always gather her baby dolls together and be concerned to take care of them. As she grew, she would play school with them, she'd feed them, she'd tuck them in bed at night. It was no surprise, then, when young Katherine came bouncing up to Mom and Dad the evening after her first real babysitting gig. Her cheeks were glowing as she plopped down in the chair, counting her dollar bills. Grinning ear to ear, she looked up at Mom and Dad and said, "Babysitting is SO COOL!!! I just LOVE IT!!! I mean, they have to listen to me and do everything I tell them to, and if they don't do it, I put them in time out and they're in trouble when their parents come home."

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Katherine might have been a very good baby-sitter - the children might have enjoyed having her watch them, and I'm sure they were safe and kept from getting into trouble. But Katherine kind of missed the boat, didn't she? Baby sitting is about being a protector, being trusted and acting responsibly - it’s not really about making other people obey you, is it? Just like Katherine, the seventy-two completely missed the boat...

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...they missed the boat, but God was able to use them anyway! Isn't that something? They were as confused about what was really going on as young Katherine, but God used them to spread the good news anyway. Katherine and the seventy-two aren't the only ones, are they? If you're anything like me, you miss the boat every day of the week and twice on Sundays. But that doesn’t excuse us from playing our part in the kingdom of God. He seems to always find a way to use us even when we miss the board, doesn’t He?

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Saints Peter and Paul have always been among my favorite biblical people, because both of them seemed to mess up at least as much as they got it right. St. Peter was always raising his hand, putting his foot in his mouth, clamoring to answer first – occasionally he got it right, but just as often (at least early on) he totally whiffed. Three steps on the water than, splash, flailing and drowning. “Get the behind me Satan…” – Peter got it so wrong one day that he earned that reproach. And St. Paul – well, the first half of his story, he was hell bent on killing anyone who even looked remotely like a Christian. But, Jesus used them anyway…

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We don't always have the heart and mind of God - we're not always good at picking out the right motives or noticing what is most important. Like the seventy-two, we sometimes miss the boat. But the good news is that just as God used them anyway, as long as we are willing to keep working at the task He's given us, God can use us, too.

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Friends, I’m already so grateful for who you are, how you seem to love and care for one another, and how wonderfully you seem to welcome the stranger among you. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to journey with you on this Great Adventure of discipleship and mission and ministry. Unfortunately, I have to admit something that is perhaps disappointing and disheartening right up front – I’m absolutely certain that I’ll mess it up from time to time. I’ll miss the boat, I’ll make mistakes, I’ll frustrate you and even worse, I’m certain that I’ll disappoint you. And I’m so sorry for that.

Maybe that makes this Gospel perfect for the beginning of our journey together – because, as certain as I am that I’ll miss the boat from time to time just like the 72, I promise that I won’t ever give up, that I’ll continue working with all my heart at the ministry that God has given us. And I hope you’ll make the same commitment – that no matter how badly I miss the boat, you’ll continue working with all your heart at the ministry that God has given us. Because just as God used the 72 no matter how badly they missed the boat, if we remain committed to the work He’s entrusted to us – the work of loving each other and building each other up, the work of spreading the Gospel in our neighborhoods and the town square, the work of introducing others to Jesus Christ – if we remain committed to this work that He’s entrusted to us, then God will use us, too.

Friends – we are being sent. We are being sent from this place just like the seventy-two were sent. It is not a coincidence that we end Mass every time by receiving the instruction to GO. Everything we do throughout the Mass leads to that command – everything we do at Mass empowers you to accomplish that mission. As you go this week, remember that we all sometimes miss the boat, but that God will always continue to use us if we just keep working at the tasks He has given us.

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.
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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.
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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.’
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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. 
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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…
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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.
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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?
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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?
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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?
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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?
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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.
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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.
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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.
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‘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.
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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!)
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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?