Category Archives: Lent

Transfiguration: Why We Should Pay Attention

Dear Folks,

This Sunday we read about the Transfiguration. The Second Sunday of Lent always gives us the Transfiguration, so that leads to the question why is it so important for Lent? In fact, what do we do with the Transfiguration besides “Wow! Isn’t that cool?” Of course, it is really cool, but if we look closer, it gets even more interesting. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have some differences, but they all have the Transfiguration, and they also have Jesus’ three predictions of the Passion. There is the first prediction that “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised (Luke 9:22).” Then Jesus tells us that to be His disciple, we must be willing to take up our cross and follow Him, and that if we try to save our lives we will lose them, and if we lose our lives for Him we will find them. Then Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain and they see a glimpse of His glory. When they come down the mountain, Jesus exorcises a boy with a demon, and then there is a second prediction of the passion. The fact that all three Synoptic Gospels follow this pattern gets my attention.

Notice that:

This glimpse of His glory shows them there is more to Him than they realized (What does it take to get people’s attention?). He is not just another prophet.

Only Peter, James, and John were given this gift. God has no problem giving certain gifts to some people and not to others. Even for Peter, James, and John, there was only a glimpse, and then back to work.

Jesus showing a glimpse of His glory is wrapped in discussion of the cross (also, in Luke we see Moses and Elijah discussing the “exodus” that he is to experience in Jerusalem [Luke 9:31], a reference to His crucifixion).

The presence of Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, says that what is going on is the culmination of all the history of Israel, and all they had been taught and all they had hoped for until now.

So, what now? There can be a tendency to treat our practice of the faith as one task among many, and it can feel like it. This reminds us that more is happening than meets the eye. Christianity is either everything to us, or it is nothing.

Some gifts, some consolations, are given to some and not to others. If you haven’t had a mystical experience, it does not mean you are a failure in your spirituality. The call is to be faithful.

A little bit of consolation sometimes has to go a long way. The times when our faith feels dead, but we strive to be faithful anyway, are often the most meritorious and fruitful.

Jesus is the fulfillment of all truly human desires. Those desires that do not point to Jesus (greed, cruelty, lust, sloth, etc.) are distortions of our humanity, and though they promise happiness, will leave us empty.

Whatever cross we are called to carry, it leads to glory. Whatever glory we long for, it is found in the cross.

May remembering God’s glory give us strength as we shoulder whatever crosses we are called to carry.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Facing Temptation in the Desert

Dear Folks,

The journey of Lent has begun. As we look at our Sunday readings (and we shall be using cycle A readings for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays), I’m suggesting focusing on how they show encounters with Jesus. Everything we do as Church can be summed up into two things: We encounter Jesus and we share Jesus. If we are doing something that does not serve encountering Jesus and sharing Jesus, why should we do them?

This week we see Jesus tempted in the desert. One might first think the encounter was Satan encountering Jesus, but I’m thinking in terms of Jesus encountering Jesus. In His humanity, Jesus faces His strengths and weaknesses, His doubts and fears, His hopes and dreams. He tests Himself. I heard of one Army sergeant who said that they never know how the soldiers with do in battle until they actually get there. Some, including some of the really big, tough guys drop their rifle and run, while sometimes the little mousy guy will step up and do the job. The courage of many Ukrainian people has been amazing and inspiring. Those of us who have never been there cannot say how we would do. When we are tested, we learn that perhaps how we imagined ourselves to be is not quite how we are.

I like to look at how the four Gospels compare, and when they are different, I get curious why. The Gospel of John does not include the temptation in the desert. John emphasizes Jesus’ divinity, and generally shows Jesus in control of the situation. John does not include the agony in the garden, and the only suggestion of Jesus’ struggle is “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father save me from this hour?’ But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour (John 12:27).” Even when He is being arrested, it is clear that Jesus is in charge (see John 18). Mark is she shortest of the Gospels and will often give briefer accounts of events. Matthew has the dialog with Satan as well, but there is a twist. Matthew and Luke both begin with the temptation to command the stones to become bread (of course, Jesus could have commanded them to become prime rib if He wanted to). When we are really hungry, that is generally first and foremost in our minds. They switch the order of the other two temptations, and that makes me ask why? Matthew has the dialog culminate with the offer to worship Satan, while Luke has the last temptation be to fling Himself from the parapet of the temple. I’m thinking the last temptation would have been seen as the greatest and most important. Matthew, the most Jewish of the Gospels, would see the greatest issue as right worship, beginning with worshipping God, and Him alone. If we don’t get our worship in order, the rest of our lives will not be in order. Luke, however, culminates with the temptation to fling Himself from the parapet of the temple and have the angels catch Him. This is a temptation to be protected from the suffering of life, in particular the suffering of the cross. Luke emphasizes that Jesus shares in our condition. He delivers the sermon on the plain at people’s level, not from the mountaintop. Might this be why Luke is the one Gospel that doesn’t mention Jesus walking on water? I don’t know, but I wonder.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention Jesus telling us that we must be willing to pick up our cross and follow Him (Matt 16: 24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23) right after the first prediction of the passion. Only Luke mentions that we must do it “daily.”

During Lent, we test ourselves in different ways. Let us consider Jesus walking closely with us in this testing, and sharing our journey. May we encounter Jesus personally in these Lenten exercises.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Basic Housecleaning for the Soul

Dear Folks,
We never outgrow reviewing the basics. This week we read the Ten Commandments (Exodus
20, see also Deuteronomy 5). Pope Saint John Paul said that the Ten Commandments formed
a foundation, and the Beatitudes were a structure to be built on that foundation, reaching
higher and higher with no limit. To have a sound structure, we must regularly attend to the
foundation.
We begin: “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of
slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in
the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the
earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them.” The first principle is Who is
God and who is not. We want to be in charge and do things our way. From the beginning,
there has been temptation to do things our way rather than God’s way (see Genesis 3 about the
Fruit Incident, and Genesis 11 about the Tower of Babel). It forbids carving idols, not because
God hates sculpture (He doesn’t: see Exodus 25:17-22; Numbers 21:4-9), but because of the
danger of thinking they could possess God. This goes back to who is in charge. This was a
problem with the Temple as well. There was a sense that God was uniquely located in the
temple (see Psalm 18:7), and some people thought that as long as the temple was in Jerusalem
God would take care of them no matter what they did. Jeremiah said, “Do not put your trust
in these deceptive words ‘The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The temple of the
Lord!’ (Jeremiah 7:4).” If they didn’t do things God’s way, there would still be
consequences. Imagine thinking that a St. Christopher medal would protect me so I don’t
have to drive carefully: it isn’t going to work.
Do not take the name of the Lord in vain. Nowadays, cancel culture has sometimes raised
language policing to ridiculous levels, but it is true that how we talk matters. Our talk should
always contribute toward reverence for God. Keeping holy the sabbath day means that we
break from the usual routine to focus especially on God. Of course, central to that is
worshipping at the Eucharistic Liturgy. When people need to get tasks done and not doing
them would cause hardship, we remember it is supposed to liberate, not strangulate. Sometimes people must work on Sundays, but still, it is important to find some way to break the
usual pattern so it is not just another day.
Honoring Father and Mother is a particular case of respecting authority. That is part of the
recognition that our understanding and our perspective is limited. It also means putting what
we think and what we want in second place. In our society, that is a radical idea.
Do not kill. This means respecting all life, from conception to natural death. It includes
standing up for the lives of others and helping those who cannot sustain themselves. This also
means respecting each person’s dignity. This is a huge job. Where people are viewed as
objects or commodities, standing up for life is a battle. We have a lot of work to do.
Do not commit adultery. God made marriage, sexuality, and family core to what it is to be
human, and they are sacred beyond words. Revering how God made us is an enormous part
of protecting human dignity. We have a lot of work to do, and it begins with learning more
about theology of the body. You shall not steal. The right to property is a part of human
dignity, and we are called to honor that. You shall not bear false witness against your
neighbor. This would include passing on rumors and memes that are harmful and that we
don’t know are true (but we want them to be because they match our prejudices). Even
recognizing that much would be a great step forward for our society.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife (or husband) and you shall not covet your
neighbor’s stuff, two distinct but related commandments. If it is sinful to do something, it is
also wrong to enjoy fantasizing about doing it. There is a part of our brain that doesn’t
distinguish between fantasy and reality (which is why we are sad when a fictional character
we like dies in a story). It may seem harmless because it is in our heads, but that is the most
crucial territory of all. When we entertain ourselves by fantasy about doing bad things, it
rewires our brains to believe, bit by bit, that it is not so bad, that it is good and friendly, and
then, even if we do not act it out, it means our hearts are less and less in doing what is right.
Much housecleaning to do.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Jesus heals a leper. He can heal sin.

Dear Folks,
Today Jesus heals lepers. I’m always in favor of physical healing, but I would suggest that
when Jesus heals, He is also teaching something deeper. We do not look at someone
suffering and conclude they are being punished by God. Jesus closed that door (John
9:3). However, leprosy does teach us some things about the effects of sin.
Our foundational teaching about sin is the infamous Fruit Incident in Genesis 3. After
sinning, they were alienated from their own selves/their bodies (v. 7), from God (v. 8), from
one another (v. 12) and from nature/the earth/work (vv. 16-19). A leper experiences similar
alienations. Their bodies became their enemies. They were not able to enter the temple or
the synagogue, and so were cut off from much of the practice of their religion. They could
not be with their families, friends or community. They could not engage in any trade to
earn a living and couldn’t even draw water from a well. When Jesus healed a leper, He not
only cured the disease, He restored their lives. They could reenter the Temple and the
synagogue. They could reconnect with friends and family, with the community. They
could earn a living again. Their bodies became home again and not a prison.
When people go to heaven, God glorifies their bodies (1Corinthians 15:35-49; Philippians
3:21). People of every tribe and tongue and nation will be gathered around the divine throne
(Revelation 7:9). There will be a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). We shall
know God face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2). The challenge now is to live like
people longing for that future.
In a couple of days, we start Lent. It is a time for examining ourselves and repenting of our
sins. Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we shall have a chance to see ourselves in a
clearer way. We seek to know our sinfulness so that we can better repent and follow Jesus
more faithfully. It is a time to grow in our desire to become more like what God made us to
be. It would be good to consider the four areas of healing:
• Relationship with God: Do we treat God at least as well as our best
friend? Where do we need to grow in trust? Is He welcome in every aspect of
our lives?
• With others: Where do our relationships need healing? Is there something we can
do? Are there situations where the other person will not try, and we just need to
keep ourselves as safe as we can, pray for them, and avoid giving into hate?
• With nature and labor: Balance between work and rest? Care for the
environment? How are we focused on leaving the world better than it would have
been without us?
• With ourselves: Are we growing in chastity? Are there times we look upon others
as objects rather than beloved children of God? Do we treat our bodies with at
least the care and respect we give our smart phone or our car? Do we engage in
destructive self-talk? When we fail or make a mistake, do we spend time and
energy berating ourselves, or do we learn from it and strategize how to do better?
Obviously, these questions are not a complete list, but just a few examples. What might
God be calling us to become in the four aspects of ourselves? How can we better receive
God’s gift of Himself, and better give ourselves as gift to Him?
Blessings,
Fr. Jim