Tag Archives: Lent

Set Your Parish on Fire

Sacred Heart 20It’s been a while –– I’ve stopped writing our my homilies and recording them has been a bit challenging, so there hasn’t been much to post. I’ll work on it. In the meantime, I’ve added some other audio files.

Last week I gave a Parish Lenten Mission for Holy Family Parish in St. Albert, Alberta based around the book Divine Renovation and the current need for Parish transformation –– moving toward a missionary dynamic in the Parish. The Mission took place on March 5 & 6 (2018). Below are the two talks.

Talk 1 (45 mins.)

Talk 2 (73 mins.)

I welcome your feedback. Enjoy!

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Homily – Sunday Lent III B

Ex 20:1-17
Ps 19       R/. Lord, you have the words of eternal life.
1 Cor 1:18, 22-25
Jn 2:13-25

Mosaic in the Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria Nuova di Monreale,  Sicily. 12th century.

Mosaic in the Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria Nuova di Monreale, Sicily. 12th century.

Many people in our world today find this Gospel passage rather disturbing. This scene of Jesus ‘getting angry’ and ‘violently’ chasing the merchants out of the Temple doesn’t sit easy with them. How can Jesus, God’s love incarnate, get angry and violent, how can these actions be compatible with love, they ask?

There are two common solutions to this problem. One: simply ignore this passage, and never talk about it; pretend it’s not in the Bible, because is doesn’t fit our understanding of who Jesus is. Or, two: attribute this ‘outburst’ to Jesus’ humanity, and see it as an example of weakness just as if one of us did it.

I’m sure you’re not surprised –– I hope you’re not surprised… ––, but what a bunch of nonsense!

We can’t ignore a passage of Scripture because we don’t like it; if we did that, the Bible would be empty. If we think it doesn’t fit our understanding of God, then either we don’t understand God, or we don’t understand the passage. And if we think that Jesus’ humanity lead Him into an outburst of anger, a tantrum, which would be a sin, then we haven’t paid enough attention to the doctrine that Jesus was without sin (cf. Heb 4:15).

So then, I guess it would seem that if we’re confused by this passage, then we just haven’t understood it… and that’s ok! There’s nothing wrong with not understanding, only with not wanting to understand.

Yes, Jesus got angry, no one denies that. But John doesn’t use the word ‘anger’, he speaks of ‘zeal’ — enthusiasm in pursuit of something. Now this is important because, contrary to what many people today think, anger isn’t always sinful. Injustice, deception, falsehood, or any other form of scandal, should make us angry, because we recognise in our heart of hearts that such things are evil and that they cause us (and others) grief. The presence of sin and evil should stir in our hearts the desire to get rid of it, to fix it, to bring back goodness and proper order. That was part of the lesson of the Ten Commandments in the first reading: God’s people are called to live a life of order, one ordered to the greatest good of all, God Himself (cf. Ex 20:3-5).

This anger against evil is called ‘righteous anger’, and not only is it not a sin, it’s actually a gift of the Spirit, because it’s the Holy Spirit that stirs within us this outrage in the sight of evil (cf. Neh 5:6; Ps 69:9; Ps 139:19-22). And this is what John means here by ‘zeal’: that Jesus, stirred by the Spirit, was outraged at the way the Temple was being disrespected and misused as a place of commerce and cheating. It was a violation of the sacredness of the Temple.

You see, the Temple merchants were renown for cheating. Jews came from all around the known world to worship and offer sacrifice in the Temple. The merchants offered them money-changing services, but frequently ripped them off. So in chasing them out, Jesus was purging the Temple of wickedness and evil to restore its sacredness. He was chasing out sin.

But notice how John also makes a point of telling us that Jesus also added a deeper meaning to His actions. John says that Jesus also spoke about the Temple of His Body (Jn 2:21). You see the Temple was a symbol of God’s presence in the midst of Israel, and Jesus is God among us. He is the true Temple.

With this, Jesus and John are trying to tell us something about us. You see, because of Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we, too — you and I, and all the baptised —, have become temples of the Holy Spirit. And like the Temple of Israel, we, too, need to be properly ordered to the pure worship of God. Like the Temple, we need to be cleansed of our idols and sins. This is why the Church gives us this reading in the Lenten Season. We need to chase sin out of our lives with the same zeal and force Jesus had in cleansing the Temple. This is the role of grace!

Grace and sin cannot co-exist. Either sin takes over and destroys grace, or grace purges sin. So we need to open our hearts to Jesus and ask Him to cleanse the temple of our souls; we need to ask Him to chase out our sins and idols from the depths of our hearts. And so, this passage of the Gospel is essentially an invitation to repentance and purification. This Lenten Season, may we allow Jesus to restore the sacred order in our hearts. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday Lent II B

Gen 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18
Ps 116   R/. I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
Rom 8:31-35, 37
Mk 9:2-10

Frangelico_Transfiguration

In the first volume of his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI talks about how Moses would glow after his encounters with God, and that he would veil his face until it faded so as not to scare the people. The Pope continues, saying that Jesus also veiled His divine glory from the people, but when He unveils it during the Transfiguration, we notice that Jesus’ illumination isn’t reflective like Moses. Rather it comes from an interior light: Jesus isn’t radiating because He’s in the presence of God (as Moses did); Jesus is glowing from within Himself; it’s His own divine light that’s shining forth!

And the Transfiguration isn’t merely another encounter that Jesus has with the Father; it’s a moment when He reveals His divine glory to three Apostles, to His ‘inner circle’ — Peter, James, and John. And in case this wasn’t obvious enough for them, the revelation is supported by the presence of Moses and Elijah, and witnessed by the voice of the Father: This is my Son, the beloved… listen to Him.

Jesus’ divinity is revealed in the presence of the Law and the Prophets, represented by Moses and Elijah: the Law and the Prophets testify to the divine nature of Jesus and to His messianic mission. This’ll come to light again on the road to Emmaus when the risen Jesus, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, explains to the two disciples the things about himself in all the scriptures (Lk 24:27).

Now, in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Transfiguration takes place immediately after Jesus makes a prediction of His Passion and Death, and invites His disciples to follow Him by carrying their own cross. So the Transfiguration needs to be understood in connection with the Cross.

In this context, Jesus’ divine glory is revealed so as to sustain the Apostles through the dark hour that’s about to come. They didn’t understand this in the moment, but it would, in due time, help them to make sense of the events.

And so the Church offers us the reading of the Transfiguration on this second Sunday of Lent to remind us of Christ’s glorious and divine nature so that we too aren’t lost in the midst of darkness and suffering, but rather that we might keep our eyes fixed on the vision of Christ in His glory, our hearts fixed on the hope of the resurrection.

And the Church does this to help us on our Lenten journey of prayer. Just as the three Apostles witnessed Christ’s divinity while in prayer with Him, so we, too, are invited and encouraged to pray with Christ to encounter for ourselves His divinity, allowing His glory to penetrate our being and illumine our hearts. This is at the heart of the baptismal symbols of the white garment and the candle. Through the cleansing Sacrament of Baptism, we’re freed from our sins and are made resplendent with Christ; the light of His glory now shines within us.

And the Church also calls us to turn to Scripture, recognising in the witness of the Law and the Prophets — the Old Testament — the many signs that point us to Jesus as the one, true Lord.

As we continue our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, may we be brought closer to Jesus, to be transformed by the power of His grace and be strengthened in faith, hope, and charity. May His light, which we received at Baptism, continue to burn brightly within us, safe from the poison of sin. Amen.

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part XXIV

This is a multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.
We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part XXIV: Chapter V: The Liturgical Year, continued

As discussed in previous segments, the entire Liturgical Year hinges on the Paschal Mystery, annually at Easter and weekly on Sunday; our whole faith-life revolves around the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. The Council Fathers sought to help us rediscover the importance, beauty and spiritual wealth of the Liturgical Year.

As we saw, they restated our obligation to attend Sunday Mass (no. 106) and directed our hearts and minds towards the feasts of the Lord (no. 108). But the they also wanted us rediscover the true meaning of the sacred Seasons, especially Lent:

…by recalling or preparing for Baptism and by penance, [Lent] disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the Word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the Paschal Mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the Liturgy and by liturgical catechesis. Hence: a) More use is to be made of the baptismal features proper to the Lenten liturgy. Some of them which were part of an earlier tradition are to be restored…

  1. b) The same may be said of the penitential elements. But catechesis, as well as pointing out the social consequences of sin, must impress on the minds of the faithful the distinctive character of penance as detestation of sin because it is an offence against God. The role of the Church in penitential practices is not to be passed over, and the need to pray for sinners should be emphasized.

During Lent penance should not be only internal and individual, but also external and social… Nevertheless, let the [solemn] Paschal Fast be kept sacred. Let it be celebrated everywhere on Good Friday and, where possible, prolonged throughout Holy Saturday, so that the joys of the Sunday of the Resurrection may be attained with uplifted and clear mind (nos. 109-110, emphasis added).

But in all of this we must always remember that penance is not about suffering. Penance is about sacrificial love: it’s about letting go of something good for the sake of something better, out of love for Someone greater. Love is to be the motivation for penance; in this way it helps us to grow in charity and in the detestation of sin (no. 109). It also helps us to refocus our hearts and minds on Jesus and the importance He is to have in our lives, and to redirect our efforts toward our salvation.

[Jesus’] divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, … so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world …[and] become participants in the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble (2 Peter 1:3-7, 10).

This concludes Chapter V, The Liturgical Year. (To be continued…)

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Holy Week 101

Sorry about the tardiness of this post… the week went by in a whirlwind…

Image

This Sunday we begin the most sacred liturgical time of the Church: Holy Week. We begin with Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as we rejoice in His presence and hail Him King and Messiah, Hosanna in the highest! But as the liturgy of Passion Sunday intimates, we quickly turn from cheers to jeers, as this joy sours into hatred and Christ’s Passion.

Nonetheless, these are holy days, as “the Church celebrates the mysteries of salvation accomplished by Christ in the last days of his life on earth” (no. 27), and these “days of Holy Week, from Monday to Thursday inclusive, have precedence over all other celebrations” (no. 28).

Passion Sunday (or Palm Sunday) shows vividly the contrast of the crowds, but also the connection between Jesus’ mission to save the world, His true Kingship and the Passion that He must undergo for the salvation of the world. This, in a way, sets the tone for the Paschal Triduum (triduum is Latin for ‘three days’).

“This time is called ‘the triduum of the crucified, buried and risen’; it is also called the ‘Easter Triduum’ because during it is celebrated the paschal mystery, that is, the passing of the Lord from this world to his Father. The Church, by the celebration of this mystery through liturgical signs and sacramentals, is united to Christ, her spouse, in intimate communion” (no. 38).

The Triduum begins with the Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, when we recall Christ’s institution of the Eucharist, the Priesthood, and the great mandatum (command) to love one another as He has loved us. This joyful moment then leads us into the Garden of Gethsemane to watch and pray with the Lord as He anticipates His Passion with fervent prayer.

In this same moment, as the Lord is arrested, we return to penance and begin the sacred fast and abstinence of Good Friday, “because the Spouse has been taken away” (see Mk 2:19-20). (For this same reason, after Mass on Thursday, the altar is stripped bare, and Mass cannot be celebrated again until the Vigil.) We are highly encouraged, if possible, to continue this fast and abstinence into Holy Saturday, “so that the Church, with uplifted and welcoming heart, be ready to celebrate the joys of the Sunday of the Resurrection” (no. 39).

On Good Friday, “when ‘Christ our passover was sacrificed’ (1 Cor 5:7), the Church meditates on the Passion of her Lord and Spouse, adores the Cross, commemorates her origin from the side of Christ asleep on the cross, and intercedes for the salvation of the whole world” (no. 58). This is perhaps the most sombre Liturgy of the Church, as we reflect on the brutality of our sins and the love and mercy of God.

Silence, stillness, sorrow for sin, and gratitude to God are key elements of this Liturgy. These lead us to adore the Cross as an act of worship offered to Christ for His loving sacrifice. It is the only time we genuflect to something other than the Eucharist.

After the Liturgy, the altar is once again stripped bare; only the Cross remaining, with four candles, so that we might contemplate the mystery of the depth of Christ’s love for us (see Rom 5:8). The Cross is bloodied; Christ is dead; the temple is empty, the Tabernacle deserted… “On Holy Saturday, the Church is, as it were, at the Lord’s tomb, meditating on his passion and death and on his descent into hell, awaiting his resurrection with prayer and fasting” (no. 73). We will not rejoice or celebrate again until the following night, when we gather for the Vigil.

The excerpts cited above are taken from Paschale Solemnitatis, the instruction on the preparation and celebration of the Easter feasts issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (1988).

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Homily – Palm Sunday

Mt 21:1-11
Is 50:4-7
Ps 22         R. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Phil 2:6-11
Mt 26:14-27:66

 

Entry into Jerusalem, by Bl. Fra Angelico

Entry into Jerusalem, by Bl. Fra Angelico

My brothers and sisters, with this Mass today we enter into Holy Week, the most solemn week of the year, as we journey with Christ in His Passion and remember God’s great love for us. In these next days we’re going to relive the last moments of the life of Jesus through the various liturgies that will take place, and I encourage you to really enter into these events with prayer and reflection so as to encounter the drama of this week in a deeper way.

I use the word ‘drama’ here not in the sense of theatre, but in the sense of the emotions that we experience at the unexpected events of Christ’s Passion. You see, we began Mass today with Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, when He was joyfully greeted with cheers and waving of branches: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven! (Mt 21:9).

The pilgrim crowds who followed Jesus from the countryside were essentially proclaiming Him King. The whole scene is filled with strong Messianic symbols for Israel: the king had the right to borrow without permission someone else’s donkey for his own use; Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was reminiscent of Solomon’s riding to Gihon on a donkey to be anointed king (cf. 1 Kg 1:32-48); and the Prophet Zechariah had prophesied, Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zec 9:9).

But by the time we got to the usual place of the Gospel, we heard nothing of joy, but only anger and jeering: Let him be crucified! Let him be crucified! (Mt 27:22, 23). The residents of Jerusalem — who were not the same crowds who greeted Him earlier — didn’t know Jesus, so they refused to acclaim Him; they rejected Him.

My brothers and sisters, the drama of today’s Mass is a microcosm of the whole of Holy Week, as begin today with joyful hosannas and end on Friday with the gruesome Cross. But is this drama not also a microcosm of our own lives?

How easily we often turn away from God when we don’t take the time to know and recognise Him, when we don’t take the time to pray! The drama of this day — indeed of the whole week — reveals to us the ugliness of sin, which brings about only death.

But more than that, the drama of these events reveals God’s tremendous love, the Love that urged Jesus to carry His Cross and offer His life for us! And so our journey with Jesus in this Holy Week is meant not only to help us grow in our sorrow for sin, but also in our love for God and in our joy for the gift of His love.

Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, humbled Himself and willingly accepted His Passion and embraced the Cross for love of us. May we, in turn, enter into His Passion and embrace the Cross for love of Him. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday Lent V A


Ez 37:12-14
Ps 130:1-8b    R.  With the Lord there is steadfast love and great power to redeem.
Rom 8:8-11
Jn 11:1-45

Today is the fifth Sunday in Lent; Easter is now just days away.  As we enter into these final days of Lent, the Liturgy intensifies: you may have noticed over the past two weeks that the Gospel is getting longer, and we’re focussing more and more the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ; the Paschal Mystery, by which we’ve been given new life and a guarantee of the eternal life to come.  The story of Lazarus points us toward this great and glorious gift.

The Raising of Lazarus, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, ca. 1310-1311. Tempera and gold on panel

The Raising of Lazarus, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, ca. 1310-1311. Tempera and gold on panel

The text tells us very clearly that Jesus purposefully delayed His visit to Lazarus and his sisters, knowing full well that he would die, but so that the Son of God may be glorified through it (Jn 11:4).  You see, as John unfolds his Gospel, the miracles of Jesus become more and more powerful, more and more ‘miraculous’, each pointing to the greatness and power of Jesus; each pointing to His closeness to the Father; each pointing to His divinity, to His power over creation, and today, even over life and death.  That’s why this is the last of Jesus’ miracles in the Gospel of John, because the miracles have reached their theological climax: Jesus the Christ is the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in [Him], even though they die, will live (Jn 11:25).  He is Lord of the living and of the dead (cf. Rom 14:9).

Furthermore, the resurrection of Lazarus — which John makes a point of clearly saying it was real: Lazarus was dead four days and already decomposing (Jn 11:39) —, the resurrection of Lazarus is a foreshadowing of Christ’s own Resurrection from the dead for His faith and obedience to the Father.  For his friendship and closeness to Christ, Lazarus is given the gift of new life, but not in the same way Jesus will after His own Death on the Cross; Lazarus would still die once more.  And so in this miracle we see a symbol of the baptismal gift of new life; that life rooted in faith, rooted in Christ, and given by the Holy Spirit.  In other words, it’s the life of the Spirit of which Ezekiel spoke in the first reading: I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live (Ez 37:14).

The gift of new life given to us at Baptism is a direct result of the gift of the Spirit that dwells in us through this Sacrament.  Cleansed by water and anointed with the Spirit, we’re re-created into the image and likeness of Christ and become, as He is, temples of the Holy Spirit.  And from the moment of our Baptism we’re called to live according to this Spirit, because as St. Paul says, Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom 8:8).

Now it’s important to understand what Paul is saying here.  He’s not saying that the body is bad or evil, as some have thought.  Rather, Paul uses the term flesh to mean all that’s not of God; in our contemporary words, he means the ‘spirit of the world’ that teaches us selfishness and materialism.  That’s what Paul means by the flesh.

But, as he continues, you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit (Rom 8:9).  Because of Baptism, we’ve been freed from the bondage of the flesh, freed from the bondage of the world, so that we might live according to the Spirit.  John symbolises this in his Gospel by Lazarus rising from the dead all wrapped-up in strips of cloth.  And just like He did for Lazarus, at Baptism, Jesus cries out for each of us, Unbind him, and let him go (Jn 11:44).  Baptism frees us from the bonds of the flesh, which keep us from God.

But if we’re to live according to the Spirit, we have to allow the Spirit to lead us, to heal us, to transform us.  Though Baptism gives us the gift of the Spirit — the gift of new life —, we still need to abandon ourselves to this Holy Spirit and let Him work in us.  In this way, we can even live a taste of eternal life here on earth, a life rooted in God’s love and grace; a life lived in the hope of the glory and fullness of life that awaits us in Heaven, where the flesh will have been vanquished, fully and forever, and we live only of the Spirit.

And so the Church gives us this Gospel passage in these last days of Lent to challenge us, to challenge us on where we stand: Are we living according to the Spirit we’ve received in Baptism (and Confirmation)?  Or are we still living according to the flesh?

Lent is a time for conversion, conversion of heart, and the readings today renew this invitation to turn our hearts back to God, allowing His love and His grace to heal us, to free us, and to give us life.  As we enter into these final days, may we open our hearts more and more to God’s love, embracing the grace of our Baptism, and allowing the Holy Spirit to truly dwell in us, leading us into Life.  Amen.

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