Monday, February 12, 2018

Tattoo


6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle B

Lv 13:1-2,44-46

1 Cor 10:31-11:1

Mk 1:40-45

Imagine for a moment that you wake up tomorrow, lift yourself out of bed, and trudge into the bathroom to brush your teeth. You peer bleary eyed into the mirror and see something truly horrible. Overnight, in bold colors, the name of a sin you had committed the day before had appeared written on your forearm, sort of like a tattoo. No amount of soap and water or hard scrubbing would remove it. Horrified, you put on a long-sleeved shirt to cover it up.

But that’s not the worst of it. Every day afterwards, when you wake up another sin you had committed appears tattooed somewhere else on your body. The little sins are little tattoos and the big ones are big tattoos. Some are in inconspicuous places that are easy to cover up, but one morning after a particularly fun night out, a large red tattoo appears right in the middle of your forehead. And this sin is a doozy, a particularly embarrassing one. There’s no easy way to cover that one up, so you decide to stay inside until you can figure out just what’s going on.

Each day your sins are always before you. You can’t escape them and the guilt you feel. They are constant reminders of your failures. You are desperate to wash them away, to remove them from your sight. And finally, you have to leave the house. You have to go out into the world, and now everyone can see your sin. It has physically altered you and you no longer look like other people. Just like Hester Prynne in the Scarlet Letter, you are shunned and mocked by everyone you meet. You will do anything, anything at all, to be rid of them. You vow that if they are removed you will never sin again. Ever.

What if your sin was as visible to you as leprosy? What if your sin was always before you? How would it make you feel? To what lengths would you go to remove it?

What if your sin was as visible to the world as leprosy? What if everyone you meet knows exactly how you have sinned? How would they treat you? How would it make you feel? To what lengths would you go to remove it?

We hear today Moses’ prescription for the treatment of lepers, and it seems pretty harsh. Lepers were to be treated as outcasts from the community. Even the suspicion of leprosy meant exile. There were two reasons for this; first, it was a public health issue. Leprosy is extremely contagious, so it made sense to isolate those suffering from it. However, it was also a question of morality. The ancient Jews believed that the sick suffered because they were sinners. If you pleased the Lord He would bless you with good health, wealth, long life and children. If you were poor, sickly or barren it was because you or your parents had done something sinful, and God was punishing you for it.

Lepers had to actually take the posture of the penitent - rending their clothes and uncovering their heads – not because they were sick but because their sin had made them impure. They were unclean and to have contact with them not only exposed you to their illness but to their sin. Sin was just as contagious as leprosy, so sinners were shunned and ostracized. To touch the unclean made you unclean. To consort with sinners made you a sinner.

And people would be very cruel to the unclean. They would drive them away, throw rocks at them, and cut them off from everything they loved. They would be publicly humiliated and shunned. They would lose everything and live in desperation.

The only way the leper, the sinner, could return to the community was to prove that the ailment no longer existed. If the outward signs of the illness were gone, that indicated that the inner sinfulness was gone, too. That is why the healed had to show themselves to the priests. The priests were the representatives of the faith community. They had to verify that the person had turned from their sin and could then be reconciled to the community.

The leper didn’t come to Jesus because he believed he was the son of God. He had just heard that Jesus was a powerful healer, and believed that he could be healed himself. He would do anything, try anything, to remove the stain and the pain of his disease. He also believed, like everyone else did, that he was suffering physically because he was a sinner. He fell at Jesus’ feet and groveled in the dirt. And he said basically, “You are the only one who can make me clean. You are the only one I trust not to judge me. You are the last person I can turn to and I desperately hope you won’t turn me away. Please make me clean. Please see me as a person of value. Please don’t join in the shaming but accept me. Forgive me.”

And Jesus did. What else could he do? He didn’t see before him a sinner being punished for what he had done. He saw him as a complete human being. He returned his dignity to him. He forgave him his sins. And he made him feel that he was free from the effects of his sin. It’s as if all had been wiped clean.

We are the same. All we need to be cleansed of our sin is to turn to Jesus and believe that we can be forgiven. For some that is really hard to believe. Sin makes us feel dirty, cut off from those we love, unworthy. We have to believe that there is hope. I think that today most people do not have a sense of sin. They have moved away from God and so have lost hope in forgiveness. They feel those feelings of being unworthy but do not know the reason why. They cannot name their sin and therefore cannot hope to be cured of it. It would almost be better if we could see our sins pasted right between our eyes.

We can also turn to Jesus and be healed. It was no coincidence that Jesus tells the man to show himself to the priest. He calls us to do the same so the priest can declare us clean.

The man could not contain his joy at being healed. He went and told everyone he could about what had happened to him. Whereas before he cowered before others, now he stood tall. What if we felt that same way when our sins are forgiven? What if we left the confessional and went out and proclaimed to everyone that our sins have been forgiven and we are now clean. What if instead of a big red tattoo on our foreheads there was a shining light surrounding our faces, a glow of deep joy that everyone could see? How would that make you feel? How would that affect the people around you?

The season of Lent is upon us. What better time to be healed? Why not take a good, close look at yourself in the mirror every evening and take stock of how you had lived that day? See all the blemishes for what they are, even the ones that are hard to find? Why not sit down with those closest to you, the ones who can also see your sins as if they were tattooed on your forehead, and ask for forgiveness and reconciliation? Why not go see Jesus, throw yourself down before him in the confessional and say, “If you will to do so, you can make me clean”.

I assure you, he wills to do so. And I guarantee you, your joy will be great and your joy will be contagious.

Role Models


4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle B

DT 18:15-20

1 Cor 7:32-35

MK 1:21-28

 
We all have many roles to play, don’t we?

We all wear a lot of hats. We are man or woman, husband or wife, parent, child, employee and boss, friend. And then there are they myriad of other roles we take on with our activities, sports, volunteering, organizations we belong to, and oh yes, our faith. It is really hard to juggle them all, isn’t it? It is really hard to separate them and give them each the attention they deserve at any particular moment. Life can seem so out of control at times, and we are pulled in all directions at once. And it doesn’t seem to be getting any better as the world gets smaller and larger at the same time.

Deacons are a strange breed, a mix of the profound and the profane. We are sort of the missing link. We are clergy and we are secular. We are in the world and outside it. We serve as a bridge between the world and the Church. We bring the needs of the world to the Church and we bring the gospel to our everyday lives. And while some would think that is sort of cool – we get the best of all worlds – it can actually be sort of confusing and difficult to pull off.

I often think that priests have it easier, even though they are always on call and might find it difficult to have personal lives. But a priest knows what he is and what his focus is on at all times. He is always a priest, always has a single role to focus him. People always see him as a priest and their expectations of him are based upon that role. I find it difficult oftentimes to know which hat to wear at which time.

I find it easy to focus on my life as deacon when I serve in the liturgy, especially on weekends like this one when I preach and serve at every Mass. At these times I can be single minded and I find I can really concentrate on and enter into the mystery. At these times I feel very close to God and his people. But other times, such as when I am traveling for work or am involved in some important project, it is hard to remember that I am a deacon and keep my eyes on who I really am and should be doing.

Being a deacon shouldn’t be what I do, it should be who I am. Intellectually I understand and believe that this isn’t my part-time job but the overriding purpose of my life, but in practice it’s easy to forget. When I was ordained I was permanently changed, and I committed myself to a life of service. That life and belief should change how I look at all my other roles, especially when it comes to my relationships. I should be a better husband and father, employee and boss, friend and counsellor, because I am a deacon. Most of the time it doesn’t happen. Most of the time I lose sight of who I really am.

You know, you’re no different than me. When you were baptized you were permanently changed, and you were consecrated to a life in Christ. Your faith should change how you look at your other roles, especially when it comes to your relationships. And you should be a better father or mother, husband or wife, child, employee and boss, and friend. And I think most of the time that doesn’t happen for you as well. Most of the time you lose sight of who you really are.

I think that is what St. Paul is talking about today. He is talking about being single minded in the Lord. For some people Paul’s model can work, especially for young people who are beginning to discern their life’s vocation. And it can work well for those who have already chosen to dedicate their lives solely to God, such as priests and religious. Most of us don’t have that luxury. We have been living our lives this way for a long time, and we can’t just jettison our families or our careers without disrupting everything. For us to do so would be worse than maintaining the status quo. But I don’t think Paul is calling everyone to that type of life.

I don’t think Paul is judging which life choices are better or worse than others. He is simply stating the fact that some folks find it easier when their focus is singular. Later on in this same letter Paul gives the Corinthians the analogy of the Body of Christ, where he states that every role in the Church has a necessary function and value. And the end result for all disciples is that, no matter our vocation, everything should be focused on Christ.

Last week we heard St. Mark’s story of the calling of the first apostles along the Sea of Galilee. When Peter and Andrew, James and John were called personally by Jesus they left everything behind and followed him. It seems that they jettisoned their families and careers and all their responsibilities and roles to follow him.

I imagine the reality was a bit different. I think for them it was a bit more like us and our experience. They all lived at the time in Capernaum by the sea. Chances are that was not the first time they had heard of Jesus. It was a small place. And probably they would hang out with Jesus frequently, but still handled their other responsibilities as before while they were close to home. And we don’t know if the apostles had wives and children, and if they were left at home or traveled in the company of the disciples. I can’t imagine that their families were not as captivated by Jesus as they were. The spark of faith that sprang up from the apostles ignited the entire world. Why would it not have started within their own families and among their own friends and associates?

Isn’t it the same with us? We are all called to follow Jesus. That call usually comes through other people. Peter was introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew. Our faith was introduced to us by our parents as children or through the example and witness of someone we know. Whatever our state in life, we have all been called to live in the Kingdom with our King as the center of our lives.

As with everything in our busy lives, it takes an effort to keep our priorities straight. The difference with our role as disciples is that everything else flows from it. If we focus on Jesus then everything else will fall into line. “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” How many times have we heard that, and still we try to organize and control things ourselves, the way we want them? And how many times have we fallen short and have to re-correct our path?

If we treat our discipleship as just another task to check off in our day planner, we will always find ourselves having to rebalance the books. A disciple shouldn’t be what you do, it should be who you are. It is the underlying framework for your entire worldview, that affects all your activities and all your relationships.

Sound difficult? It really isn’t. It’s just a single decision. You decide on who you want to be and how you want to live. No need to micromanage your life. Make the decision and cede control. You decide who is the center of you life – you or God. If you choose yourself all the responsibility and effort is on your shoulders. And all the consequences. If you choose God everything else will fall into place. But you have to trust Him. You have to pray, truly pray, and study, truly study, so you can know, truly know Him, so you can serve, truly serve Him.

 

 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

It's All About the Children


Christmas Eve
 

There’s a saying that Christmas is for children, and I guess in many ways it is. I was sitting in front of the Christmas tree while writing this homily, and I got to looking at all the ornaments on the tree. Nancy and I only put ornaments up that have some significance for us. No generic bulbs for us. Most of them are handmade from early on in our marriage, when we couldn’t afford to buy ornaments. Many of them have our children’s names on them, along with the year they were acquired. You know, baby’s first Christmas, things like that. And as I was looking at the ornaments I was remembering what my children were like at those various stages of their lives, and it brought me closer to them and to the spirit of Christmas.

There’s something about children at Christmastime that makes it what it is. If we adults were in charge it would lose a lot. To us old folks Christmastime is often full of stress, with so many things to do and plan. We have parties to host and attend, presents – and not just any presents, but just the right ones – to buy, wrap and give. And we have so many responsibilities around Christmas that we have to weave in and around the whirlwind of our everyday lives. Many of us dread Christmas because of this. We have so many expectations of what the perfect Christmas should be that we get all wound up in the stuff of Christmas while forgetting what Christmas was for us when we were children.

For children, especially little children, Christmas is so much simpler, so much easier, so much more wonderful. Little children have not yet been spoiled with the expectation of presents. For them it’s not about what they expect to receive that is so wonderful. It is all the sights and sounds and smells, especially around the baby Jesus. There’s something about a newborn baby that captivates us all, but especially for the little children.

I love to see parents each year bringing their little ones up to see the holy family statues here. You see it at every creche. Moms and dads clutching little hands, bringing them up close to see the manger scene, pointing out the baby Jesus. Telling them the story of that first Christmas. When I was young my job was to set up the creche in our home. I would carefully unwrap each porcelain figurine and gently place it in its particular place in the creche.

After everything was just right we would then as a family read the story from the gospels of that Christmas night. Many of you have similar traditions, or I hope you do.  That is one of the first lessons in faith many children receive from their parents, the reality of the baby Jesus. Silent night, holy night. Calmness, heavenly peace, shepherds and angels on high. Peace on earth, goodwill towards men. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? For one shining moment, the entire world is focused on one single event in history, on one single person, on one single baby.

Children understand what Christmas is really all about. That is, until we spoil it for them. They understand the reality of what a baby truly is. A baby is hope. A baby is the ultimate proof that God exists, with its perfect little fingers and toes, in its wonderful complexity and simplicity. We don’t remember what we were like as babies, we must see in our children what we once were.

Jesus was once like that. Have you ever stopped to think about just how radical the Christ child is? The very thought that this little baby, so vulnerable and innocent and perilous, is God himself? The most radical and cataclysmic event in all of human history, the incarnation, God becoming man, started out in such a simple way? God chose to become one of us in the same way he chooses to have each of us enter the world. And the result of that is peace on earth, goodwill towards men, glory to God in the highest. In a newborn baby we see the goodness of the world, the rightness of creation, even for a brief moment. That’s how we all started and how we should all view ourselves, as goodness and right. As persons of hope.

Jesus said that unless we become like little children we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Unless we become like the perfect child, Jesus Christ, we will not and cannot be one with him forever in heaven. Because that child, who started out so innocent and calm, shook the world to its core and set up a choice that has divided the world for 2000 years.

You see, the entrance of God into history as man demands a choice for every human being. We have no choice in how and when and why we are born. But we are all ultimately confronted with a choice. Will we follow that perfect child? Will we model our lives after His? Will we submit to the will of the Father has he did, and can we live with the consequences of that choice?

That child grew up and lived an unconventional life, a radical life. He cured the sick, raised the dead, admonished sinners, set the existing religious order upside down, challenged the status quo in every individual heart, and had a simple message. Come, follow me. He demanded of us no less than what he himself did. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners, care for the poor and the marginalized, go out and make disciples of all the nations, spread the good news that God himself has become one of us so that we can become one with Him.

Do you see that man in the creche before you? Do you see the choice before you tonight? Can you see that beyond all the sentimentality of the scene and the season is the awesome reality that that child was born to die? His very reason for living was to die…for you. The quiet and peace and innocence of the baby’s nativity was to end in the horrible violence of the cross. Do you see that just as we enter into the remembrance of his birth we must also enter into the reality of his death and what that means for each of us? The hope that began with Jesus’ birth continues in the hope of his resurrection and his promise of eternal life.

It is good that we become like little children at Christmas. It is good that we enter into the sights and sounds of the season in order to reconnect ourselves with the simplicity and innocence of the manger scene. It is good that we, for one brief moment every year, look upon the baby Jesus and see ourselves, what we can become, what we are called to become.

The message of Christmas is one of renewal. Our children are our hope for the future and each newborn baby is a sign that things will continue. Each newborn baby is a regeneration, a renewal for our families and for our world. I think that is one reason we are all drawn to them, wonder at them, and make such a fuss about them. And I think that is why Christmas is for the children. Because it is about the children. It’s about the children we once were, and about the children we can become again.

It’s all about the children.  It’s all about the child.