Monday, February 27, 2012


Confrontation is hard. We try to avoid it at all costs. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to completely avoid because whenever we have to make a hard decision we are confronted by whatever choices we have to make. That means we have to weigh all pros and cons; the consequences we can foresee good and bad. Often times, when we have to make moral decisions we are confronted by our inner beasts lurking in the dark shadows of our souls, and the angels who, in speaking God’s Word, help us to make the right decisions. We are confronted with sinful temptations. We are confronted with the truth flowing from the consequences of our decisions, teaching us the lessons of life which help us when we have to make similar decisions in the future.

Like the great prophets before him, Jesus took a forty day journey into the desert where he faced dangerous beasts and the demons of temptation which haunted him day and night while he fasted and prayed. This confrontation with hunger and evil was balanced by the goodness and beauty of the angels who comforted and consoled him. This time of testing was necessary because, if he was able to survive such an ordeal as fasting and praying for forty days and nights in the desert, his voice would carry the weight of authenticity as he confronted the people of God with the Gospel.

Lent is a time for each of us to enter into a similar kind of experience, one that helps us to live as authentic disciples of Jesus Christ. The desert is both dangerous and beautiful, no matter where, or what kind it is. In the foothills 25 miles south of Denver, Colorado there is a Jesuit retreat center. It is in the middle of nowhere, and the terrain is very dry, like a desert. I spent a month there in the summer of 1999 on a silent retreat. The scenery was majestic. The grounds of the retreat center beautifully groomed. The rooms were comfortable, the food was well prepared. The liturgies were simple but moving. There were no T.V.’s or radios, no computers and no cell phones. There was also no talking, except for on very controlled occasions. After a day, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

Each day I walked out on the pasture trails that led into the foothills. One sunny afternoon a mile or two away from the retreat house, I stopped to look at the most colorful wild flower I had ever seen. I was thinking to myself how interesting life can be when we force ourselves to be silent for a long time. Right next to the flower was a fresh, what we call in Iowa, “cow pie.” I was pondering how my life is just like this strange conglomeration of the stuff I really don’t like very much about myself. Then, just as I started thinking about the idea that there is real beauty in my life, I heard an explosion of thunder louder than anything I had ever heard in my life. Storms like that pop up as they pass over the Rockies. It was bright and sunny when I heard that thunder, but 30 seconds later, it was pouring rain. Never before had I longed so much for home. On that day, there were a little over three weeks left of the retreat.

Lent doesn’t usually feel this intense to us, but still, it’s an important time to examine our consciences. We take stock of what’s going on inside our souls. We look at everything, the good and the bad, the beautiful and ugly, the sins of our pride and greed, the virtues of humility and generosity. In our fasting, prayer and alms-giving, we face the temptations of making excuses: “I know it’s Friday, but chicken is all I can find in the fridge and I gotta eat something with my salad.” “There is so much to do today and so little time, I’ll go to daily Mass in the morning. “We bought that laptop a few weeks ago and don’t have any more money in the budget for charity.” We so easily sabotage ourselves with excuses that can lead to sin. However, our better angels inspire us to try harder, to resist the temptations to sin, if we’re willing to listen.

Immediately after Jesus’ time in the desert was over, he preached an urgent message that sounded like thunder in the desert. The very first words we hear Jesus say in Mark’s Gospel are “This is the time of fulfillment.” Salvation has come into the world, and it’s time NOW to confront ourselves with the truth of sin and its consequences in our lives. It’s time to make a decision, “Do I follow Jesus Christ and take up my cross? Or, do I live my faith according to my own will?”

Lent, is a time for us face our sins, and to do the best we can to turn away from them and to seek the ministry of the angels that are found in prayer, fasting and giving alms to the poor. We find the ministry of the angels in the crosses we bear. It is in their caring for us that we discover the beautiful truth of who we really are.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


We usually feel compassion for people who are paralyzed.  Underneath that empathy we think about how horrible it would be to never walk freely, drive a car or rise up from bed each morning.  The paralyzed man in the gospel might bring up similar thoughts in us.  How sad that he could not walk up to Jesus. It’s too bad he had to have help getting to Jesus.  We might even get angry that the crowd of people listening to Jesus didn’t cooperate with this strange group struggling to get to Jesus.  But Mark is not asking us to feel anything.  He wants us learn something, he wants us to observe what Jesus does.           

You see, there is more than one kind of paralysis a person can experience.  The crowd of people was so spellbound by Jesus’ preaching, they couldn’t rouse themselves to make room so that the paralyzed man could get to Jesus.  They were, in a sense, paralyzed.  You could say that the scribes were paralyzed by their closed mindedness.  They didn’t like what Jesus had to say.  They thought Jesus was a blasphemer because he said, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”   

Jesus asked them, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic your sins are forgiven?  Or to say rise, pick up your mat and walk?”  They believed that only God could forgive sins. The reason they held this belief was that if forgiveness was offered there needed to be some kind of proof that the burden of sin had been lifted.  So, without answering the question, Jesus gave them the proof they needed, that he had the power to forgive sins merely by telling the man to rise and walk. 
This had never been seen by anyone before!  It proved that Jesus had the love to heal the paralyzed man.  It also proved that he had the divine power to forgive the sin that caused him to be paralyzed.  No questions were asked.  No judgments were made.  Jesus just lovingly told him, “Child, your sins are forgiven, rise, pick up your mat and walk.”  God’s grace has the power to heal the afflictions of the flesh and to forgive sins.  To this day, it is difficult for us to believe these things are possible, especially when we know that our own sins have caused us to be spiritually paralyzed.

Sin has a profound effect on our lives.  Knowledge of our sins invades our thoughts and so we distract ourselves with whatever numbs the pain.  Those distractions are painkillers with spiritual side effects that render us unable to move towards the healing we need.  Sin causes us to be in a state of paralysis God’s mercy can heal.  We need to hear the voice of Jesus Christ say, “Child your sins are forgiven, rise, pick up your mat, and walk.”
There is a way for us rise up from being spiritually paralyzed by our sins.  God’s mercy is available in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  In the grace of absolution the sins we confess are taken away from us.  Unfortunately, though, in our spiritual paralysis we find it impossible to get ourselves to Christ.  What causes this inability to rise up?  I’ve heard it said that there was a priest here once who told people that it’s not necessary to go to confession.  That’s not true.  I don’t mean to call the man a liar, but clearly there was some inaccurate information spoken.  Our lives are very busy and we don’t feel that we have the time to get confession, so we just tell God we’re sorry.  Daily examination of conscience, and speaking the words “I’m sorry” are very good things.  We believe God is very forgiving.  But it is through the grace of absolution that we are truly given the ability to rise up and walk.

This brings us to the four men who carried the paralyzed man to Jesus. He could not do this on his own.  He needed their help.  The four men had the faith to get him to Jesus, and they wouldn’t let anything stop them, not the crowd, not even the house where Jesus was.  They took the paralyzed man to the roof, they tore off the grass, they dug through the mud and they lowered him to the floor at Jesus feet.  That was their mission.  Who are these four men?  They are the Church.  The Church has a mission to make it possible for people who are frozen in their sins to receive God’s healing love. 
I stand before you as one of those men.  I stand before you as one who has been given the ability to rise up from my own paralysis caused by sin.  I stand before you, also, in persona Christi, in the person of Jesus Christ.  I stand before you to say that the miracle of healing happens every time I raise my hands in that gentle gesture of blessing and say, “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins.  Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Some people say that Catholics have “lost their understanding of what sin is” and that’s why they don’t go to confession anymore.  Perhaps the real truth is that sin has a paralyzing effect on us.  We know what sin is.  We feel its impact when others hurt us.  We feel the weight of the sins we commit against others.  Sin hardens our hearts to the point in which it becomes almost impossible to seek God’s mercy. 
But the Church has been given the mission of offering the healing grace we need.  In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we hear Jesus Christ tell us to rise from the paralyzing effects of sin, and shame, division, anger, resentment and scorn.   “And I absolve you from your sins.  Rise up, walk in peace, my healing love has set you free.”

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J. wrote a poem called EACH DAY WRITES, he says:

“Each day writes in my heart’s core
ineradicably, what it is to be human.”
I have to be honest with you, not only did I not know what the word “ineradicably” means, I could hardly say it. Usually if I can’t even say an English word, I have to look it up to find out what it means. So I looked it up and found out that it means “unable to be destroyed or removed.”

He is saying that each day of life writes a message in our hearts about what it means to be human; a message that cannot be destroyed or removed. Each day tells us that our suffering, the commitments of our hearts and the ways we are present to others who suffer, express what it means to be human. And there is no force in heaven or on earth that can remove these messages, these lessons of life.

Job teaches us that the confusion caused by suffering leads to the desire to understand why pain is so much a part of his life. He had it all; money to buy anything he could ever want for the rest of his life, a wife he loved faithfully, children who were the delights of his heart, land, animals and the gift of faith that kept God near to his heart always. He lost it all in Satan’s bet with God that if Job were to suffer enough he would lose his faith because that’s what human beings do. In wrestling with his pain, Job came very close to cursing God, but God intervened reminding him that all that exists in the universe does so because God caused it, and Job, whether he is in tremendous pain, or is having the time of his life, will never change God. All Job has to do is make a decision: he has to decide if he is going to remain faithful to God, or, abandon his faith. Despite all the odds in his favor, Satan lost his bet. Job chose to keep his faith.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, reminds the Christian community of his obligation to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ:

Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!
St. Paul tells us that preaching the Gospel is an ineradicable obligation: one he could never walk away from; one he could never abandon. We have faithful obligations imposed upon us in our daily lives; obligations to love expressed in the vows we make, obligations to care for, nourish, protect and love our children, obligations to pass on the blessings of our faith, obligations to care for the poor, to forgive sins, to offer compassion for the sick and the grieving, obligations to love God with all our hearts, souls and strength and neighbors as ourselves, obligations to please God by the ways we live.

As always, Jesus shows us by the examples he sets how to fulfill these ineradicable obligations that are written on the core of our hearts. Read chapter 1 of Mark’s Gospel this week. It will take about 15 minutes. Mark tells us that Jesus Christ was sent by God to bring healing to the sick, to call sinners to repentance, and to proclaim the Good news of God’s love to the world. Read about how Jesus was present to the people. He was present as an authoritative voice that freed the man possessed of a demon at the synagogue in Capernaum, he cured Peter’s mother in law and all the sick from around Galilee. He touched a leper and told him of his desire to heal him. Jesus was present to the sick and lowly people of Galilee. He preached the gospel from the from the ambo of his divine humanity by using the language of love, and by being present as a human who offers healing, forgiveness, and a hand that tenderly touches even the lowliest people in the world.

“Each day writes in our heart’s core
ineradicably, what it is to be human.”
Each day tells us that our suffering, the commitments of our hearts and the ways we are present to others who suffer, the joys we share in laughter, the romantic moments when our hearts burst open with the delight of being in love, sacred moments of prayer, the shame we experience when we sin, and the mercy that cleanses our souls in forgiveness; all these moments express what it means to be human. And there is no force in heaven or on earth that can remove or destroy these lessons of life.

May I suggest that we take a few minutes of prayer, to ponder the lessons of this day that tell us what it means to be human. These are the messages that are permanent, they are eternal; they can never be taken away from us. Let the mystery sink into the core of our hearts to reveal the truth of who we really are.