Sunday, March 26, 2017

We've Been Blind All Along...But It's OK

Lent 4 Sun Yr A 2017
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

Well – here we are in the desert – where it’s hot and dry.  We’ve been up on a high mountain already.  We are seeing Jesus more clearly for who He is – and coming back down the mountain, we’re finding it has transformed us (if we are letting ourselves be transformed, that is).  Did I mention it was hot in the desert?  And we didn’t bring any food or water – but we did that on purpose.  Just like Jesus, we want to rely on God for our sustenance.  And it’s working - because last week we came upon a well in the desert, and met someone there who seemed to be a stranger.  But He said He’d been waiting for us all along – waiting for us to ask Him for a drink of living water that quenches all of our thirsts forever.  He can’t be a stranger…He knows everything about us – everything – even the things we try to keep hidden from others and ourselves – He knows everything about us, and still loves us, gives us this water if we ask.  We’re transformed again as we trust Him more and let ourselves be known by Him who already knows us perfectly.

Yes – it’s hot and dry in the desert – it’s hard in the desert – we do without in the desert.  But – this desert seems to be doing something for us – it seems to be doing something to us.  Like ancient Israel following the pillar of cloud and fire, we’re discovering that we’re not really wandering in the desert.  Sure, it sometimes seems like we’re wandering, struggling with the same old stuff – not seeming to make any headway, not really getting anywhere in this life of faith and discipleship and relationship with Jesus.  But we can see, if we look, that we’re really headed toward something.  That’s why this Laetare Sunday we change our purple to rose; because we’ve been transformed, we’ve been refreshed with living water – and we’ re beginning to see that there’s hope…

But then – when things seem to be looking up – that’s when we discover that we’re blind.  Blind as the proverbial bat.  It would be horrible to go blind in the middle of the desert.  But this is worse!  We didn’t go blind – no, we realize we’ve been blind all along!  No wonder it’s so hard here in the desert; we’re blind and we didn’t even know it!

Our spiritual blindness is so much a part of our vision that we hardly ever acknowledge it, but it’s there.  We think we see sloth, vice, and danger in the poor, downtrodden, imprisoned and outcast, but in the desert we realize we’re blind to the dignity of the marginalized that is as fundamental to their existence as it is to ours.  We think we see in the Sacrament of Reconciliation an antiquated holdover from a misguided age, but in the desert we realize we’re 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, but in the desert we realize we’re 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 think we see in the return of the ancient traditions of the Church an empty ritual that binds us to the past and prevents us from doing things the way we want, but in the desert we’re realizing we’re blind to the beauty and freedom these thousands of years of tradition represent and make real in our lives.  We think we see in the rules and disciplines and clear moral teachings of the Church nothing but chains that bind our preferences and rob our freedom, but in the desert we’re realizing we’re blind to the spiritual freedom and authentic discipleship these disciplines lead us into.  

In the desert of our Lent, we’re realizing that we are BLIND!

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Were blind – but it’s OK.  It’s OK because…He is here.  The One we followed into the desert and up the high mountain.  The One who was and is and always will be – the source of all that is good – the exalted King of All Creation who stoops low enough to take us by the hand and lead us through the desert to the promised land.  The One who was waiting for us at the well of living water and gives it to us freely if we ask.  Jesus is here!  And what does He do when we discover how blind we are?  Here – in the silence and the hunger and thirst of the desert – here in the desert Jesus gives us living water that quenches our deepest thirsts, and here in the desert Jesus restores our sight!

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Search your hearts – look for your blindness.  Are you blind to sin?  Blind to love?  Blind to trust?  Are you blind to your own dignity and worth?  Blind to how precious you are in the eyes of God?  Search your hearts – are you blind to the mercy of God that forgives – the mercy of God that calls you on a mission in this world no matter what your faults and failings are – are you blind to the mercy of God that pours out upon you the love of the Savior no matter what, if you’ll only ask for it.  Search your hearts – look for your blindness – and when you begin to see your blindness, trust Jesus – trust Him to cure your blindness and restore your sight.  It’s why He brought you to the desert…

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Along with those preparing to enter the Church this Easter, the Lord restores our sight, sending us on our way – better able to see the goodness of the Lord, better able to leave behind the darkness of this world in exchange for the works and ways of light.  “Brothers and sisters, you were once in darkness – but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of the light!  Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light!”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

In the Desert on a High Mountain...

Lent 2 Sun Yr A - 2017
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville

Last week, we entered the desert of Lent – we left behind what we know, our patterns, our normal, our familiar, to get into the desert.  We left behind our triumphant and jubilant hymns to enter into a greater silence, so we can hear the Lord speak to us more clearly.  We left behind the water we draw from old familiar wells of earthly success and praise; we left behind water drawn from the wells that never satisfy for longer than a few moments – you know – the water of feeding our appetites indiscriminately with screens and food and cheap love – we left that water behind to seek and find the water of life that is the only drink that can satisfy our longing.  We entered the desert by committing to a program of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to let go of the ‘extra’ in our lives – the ‘extra’ that weighs us down in the stark dryness of the desert and will, if we don’t drop it, prevent us from moving through the desert to the garden of paradise and new life on the other side.

We may still be struggling – trying – having difficulty getting into the desert, but we recommit today to the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving because they help us get into the desert – because our hope of making it through the desert to Paradise and new life lies in following Jesus into the desert…  In Lent, we have to get into the desert, where we are transformed, find living water and begin to see, and are brought back to life.  Can you say that with me?  In Lent, we have to get into the desert, where we are transformed, find living water and begin to see, and are brought back to life.  Very good – remember that – chant it – say it over and over again – let it guide us through Lent to Easter.  In Lent, we have to get into the desert, where we are transformed, find living water and begin to see, and are brought back to life.  Very good. 

So…here we are, in the desert, in the dry stillness and stark simplicity of the desert…here we are, in the desert, with Jesus…

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A few steps – just as we really begin to get into the desert – a few steps into the desert, still tentative and halting, still trying to adjust, let go, shed sin and death – a few steps in the desert, listening in the stillness and looking for Jesus, walking with Him in the desert…and what’s the first thing we see?  Oh great – a mountain.  Here, just inside the desert, there’s a mountain.  

Well isn’t thaaaatttt speciallll...

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Just inside the desert, there’s a mountain.  And not just any mountain – a HIGH mountain.  I can’t walk up a hill, no less a mountain – a high mountain.  But, apparently, Jesus thinks we should go with Him.  The good news I guess – if there can be any good news that goes along with having to climb up a high mountain – the good news is that Jesus leads us up the mountain.  Like Gandalf guiding the Fellowship, Jesus leads us up this mountain.  There must be something important up there for Jesus to lead us up that mountain so soon after following Him into the desert.

And – of course – there is something important up on this high mountain.  Something that has to happen before we can find living water and begin to see – something that must happen before we can be brought back to life.  Something that must happen before we can journey through Lent to Easter...

We must be transformed!

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In my Bible – in every Bible I’ve ever seen – the little heading over this passage of scripture tells me it’s the Transfiguration.  As if what this story is about what happens to Jesus on the mountain.  But – does anything really happen to Jesus?  He is the same person coming down the mountain as He was leading us up the mountain, right?  

Peter and James and John saw His face shine like the sun for the first time, but Jesus is the Bright and Morning Star!  It wasn’t like Jesus began to shine at that moment – He had been and will be forever the bright shining light chasing away the darkness of our night in the valley of sin and death.  

Peter and James and John saw His clothing appear as white as light itself, but Jesus is the pure Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  It wasn’t like Jesus began to be radiantly pure and unstained by sin at that moment – He had been and will forever be the perfect, innocent, unblemished lamb that is the only acceptable sacrifice to rescue, redeem, and sanctify you and I and all humanity from the stain of sin and death.

Peter and James and John saw Moses and Elijah – the law and the prophets – conversing with Jesus; but Jesus is the very Word and Wisdom of God.  It wasn’t like Jesus began to be the source and completion of the law and prophecy at that moment – He had been and will forever be the fulfillment of all that the law and prophecies have pointed and will point toward, rescuing you and I and all humanity from the perils and pitfalls of sin leading us into death.

This story doesn’t really seem to be about what happened to Jesus at all – He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  No, this story seems to be about something that we who follow Him into the desert and up on the High Mountain – Jesus isn’t changed, He is revealed.  And – by encountering Him more completely as He truly is we – you and I – WE are changed and transformed!

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Peter and James and John – and any of us who bravely get into the desert and follow Jesus up the high mountain – we’re transformed when we encounter Jesus more completely for who He truly is.

Our desire to capture moments and stay so stuck in them that life won’t move on is transformed into a willingness to leave it all behind and follow Jesus into whatever great adventure He has planned for us.

Fitting Jesus into a little box where He isn’t really anything more than a sage teacher telling us to be nice to each other is transformed into a recognition that Jesus Christ is true God, the Only Son of the Father; Christ the King and Jesus the Friend – who calls and leads and has enough – is enough – to bring us to the other side.

Our fear at seeing Jesus for who He truly is is transformed into love and courage and strength – our fear is transformed into a burning desire to follow Him wherever He leads, no matter what the cost.

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We so often avoid the desert and the high mountains of life because they are uncomfortable, we have to leave the familiar behind, it’s hard in the desert… We avoid the desert and the high mountains because change is hard and sometimes it hurts.  But in the desert – on the high mountains – as we fast, and pray, and give – in the desert and on the high mountains we encounter Jesus more completely for who He truly is – and that encounter always – every single time – encounter with Jesus always transforms us.

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“Well – that’s all well and good, Father.  But you haven’t told me anything I can use.  I hear what you’re saying – but I don’t know what to do with it.  Tell me something useful.  Tell me what I need to do – tell me where I need to go and what I need to go do.”


I wish I knew…but I don’t.  I don’t know anything about where to go or what to do – what I do know about is how.  How to live life in the desert and on the mountain.  Pray this week – in the silence of the desert, pray – pray and listen for Jesus so you can encounter Him.  Fast this week – fast from screens or food or complaining or despair – fast so you’re hungry for Jesus and can encounter Him.  Give – notice others around you and take some of what you’ve got that they need and give it to them – time, attention, resources – give to others and see Jesus in them so you can encounter Him.  If you live life this way this week – you’ll encounter Jesus on the High Mountain in the desert, and – seeing Him more perfectly for who He truly is – you will be transformed…

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Get Out of the Boat, and Into the Desert

Lent 1 Sun Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville, KY


We began Advent with a common theme in mind.  Do you remember?  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.”  My Advent Angel gave me a miniature sailboat which is displayed in the rectory to remind me every day that if I’m not paying attention, I’ll miss the boat.

But – Lent – Lent is different.  Lent is a time to bravely and intentionally get out of the boat – because: In Lent, we have to get into the desert, where we are transformed, find living water and begin to see, and are brought back to life.  Can we try that together?  In Lent we have to get into the desert, where we are transformed, find living water and begin to see, and are brought back to life.  I have a feeling we might hear that once or twice again… 

Yes – this is the time of year where we must get out of the boat and into the desert.  That sounds fun, doesn’t it?  Yeah right.  Nothing about that sounds fun to me.  Deserts are hot and dry places.  There are snakes and scorpions in the desert.  There’s no food or water in the desert.  The desert is a place of dryness and death.  Maybe that’s why we sometimes try to gloss over the desert of Lent and dress it up to be something different.

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I’ve noticed this trend over the last decade.  We focus on something else besides the desert during Lent.  Let’s sing happy songs in a happy way, and fill our ears with as much lively music as possible to distract us from the stark silence of the desert. Let’s dress up our Churches as beautifully as they are during Easter, to add some color to the blandness of the desert.  Sure – we’ll use a different color – but our worship spaces should be as beautiful and inviting during Lent as they are during Advent and Christmas!  Because if they look and feel and sound like the desert, no one will want to come…  Well, I get that.  If you told me that to get to Easter I needed to walk through a desert – a real desert – I’d look for a path that seemed the most non-desert-like possible.  But then – that begs the question:  Why go through the desert at all?

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That’s a very good question, actually.  Why go through the desert at all?  Why did Jesus go to the desert?  No – really…why?  And – why not bring some bread and water.  I’m not the omniscient Son of God, all-knowing and all-seeing, but I think I’d be smart enough to bring some food and water if I was going into the desert.  But Jesus didn’t…  Why?  Could it be because He knew we had to walk through the desert just like it is – dry, hungry, hot, difficult – that we have to walk through the desert to get to Paradise on the other side?

That’s what today’s readings are telling us, by the way.  We all were meant to live in Paradise, but that got messed up by one person.  So, one person (Jesus) fixed it for us so we could get back.  But, in order to do that, He first had to walk through a desert – and if we trace the rest of the story we know that desert leads to certain death.

That’s why we have to go through the desert, isn’t it?  That’s why we can’t miss the desert.  Yes – things die in the desert…but only the things that are preventing us from living.  In the desert there’s no time or energy or room for all the ‘extra’ that we surround ourselves with that hold us back from life; in the desert we drop all that to keep moving.  What’s your ‘extra’ – hurt, resentment, sins that just won’t seem to go away?  Computers, television, relationships?  Lust, gluttony, pride?  What’s your extra that you’ll have to drop in order to make it through the desert of death to the garden of life?  In the desert, instead of clinging to our old selves – the selves we hold to so tightly today – instead of resisting change and sanctification and growth, in the desert we have no choice but to let go of what isn’t useful and let ourselves be transformed.  

We don’t bring the pitiful water that only quenches for a moment into the desert…it won’t help us.  That water that comes from the same old familiar wells that leave us thirsty: focusing on careers and the success of the world, the accolades and praise of others, or dreams of building such a powerful bank account that we’ll never have to rely on God for anything because we only need to rely on ourselves and what our money can buy.  No, we go into the desert without that pitiful canteen so we can find the living water that can sustain us.  In the desert where the sun is so bright and glaring, we have to ditch the false lenses we’ve let the world put on us that blind us.  The lenses that say there is no such thing as objective truth, the lenses that suggest morality can ignore or re-interpret God’s Divine Law to fit my desires or circumstances.  In the desert we have to abandon that, so that our sight can be restored, and we can find our way to the other side where we are restored to life.

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Yes – the desert is a place of death and dryness and dying – but only a dying away of what is holding us back from real life!  In this desert, in this Lent we find a path toward springtime, new life, eternal life – because what dies is sin, what dries up is our attachment to vice and our focus on this world.  We strip our Church bare so we’re not distracted or pretending the desert isn’t empty – because in the emptiness we empty our hearts of all that keeps us from letting the desert dry up and destroy whatever in us isn’t from God.  We sing less, and sing more somberly to repent, to change, to be different – and to let us hear and encounter Jesus here with us in the silence of the desert.  We sacrifice our preference for beautiful and lively Mass parts, and willingly – yes, willingly, whether we like it or not – learn or re-learn the ancient solemn chant in the ancient language of the Church so we can travel more closely with all the saints and sinners who’ve gone through this desert before us…and we do this…why?

We do this, because it’s in the desert that we are transformed, find living water, begin to see, and are brought back to life.  In the desert…

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Just one last thought…

Part of our parish Lenten observance is the invitation for each and every one of us to come pray with Jesus here in the Church sometime during Lent.  Preferably during Adoration on Fridays between the noon Mass to 5pm.  I read something this week that was a powerful game-changer for me.  “Jesus’ human nature longs for human consolation…”  Think about that.  

Sure – as completely God and completely Divine, Jesus has no need of our praise or presence.  But – as fully human – He knows the need and longing for human consolation and companionship.  We all know what it’s like to long for human relationship and human companionship.  Last Wednesday, at the beginning of our Lent, Jesus entered the desert.  He entered there for us – He entered the desert looking for us – and I believe He entered the desert longing for us.  Imagine His longing…His desire…His sense of hunger and agony in waiting for us to find Him, join Him, be with Him in the desert.  Won’t you be a part of our parish’s effort to “Console the Heart of Jesus” in the desert this Lent?  We’ve prepared some guides to help you pray a Holy Hour if you’ve never done it before – all you have to bring is yourself, and a desire to be with Jesus in a special way.

Go ahead and sign up today.  And – even if you can’t sign up – even if you can’t make it a whole hour – come visit Jesus this Lent in the Eucharist to be with Him in the desert while He’s in the desert for you and looking for you…