Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 20th, 2014)

What is the great story of the Bible?  Yes, I know, the Bible contains many stories.  But there is one story in which all the stories of the Bible coalesce, all the stories come together, and this story, the whole story of the Bible, is about how God is the world’s true king.

And the Bible is not just referring to any God that we might prefer, but the God of Israel- the God who reveals himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… The God who spoke to Moses and revealed himself in signs and wonders through the Biblical prophets… And finally, the God who in Jesus Christ, accepted for himself a human nature and lived, like us, a real human life- this God, the one, true God is the world’s true king.

For those who accept this story, the implications are extraordinary.  One is accepting not only that God exists and that he is personal God who involves himself in his creation and the lives of his creatures, but that our lives belong to him and fulfill their purpose only in relation to him.  In other words, if God is the king, he can’t just be for us a nebulous universal force, an idea in our minds or a feeling in our hearts.  If God is the king, God is a divine person, and my life, your life, our lives belong to him.

All this cuts against the grain of the culture into which we have been immersed.  Our culture doesn’t want a king.  No, our culture wants a untold number of kings and that’s everybody.  In our culture the individual and their desires are king and so help anyone who gets in the way of those kings.

Thus we are in a predicament and faced with a decision.  Who is will be our God and king?  The culture gives you an answer- you.  The Lord Jesus gives you answer- him.  No one can serve two masters.  We all have to make a decision.

If you choose yourself, you are choosing a particular way of life.  If you choose Christ the King, you are choosing his way of life.  This is what being a disciple of the Lord Jesus is about- choosing his way of life and learning how to live it.

The predicament, the decision that we must make now (that)- either God is our king or someone or something else is our king is not new.  In fact, the whole Bible is commentary on this decision for or against God the king.  What happens to us when we choose a king other than God as our king?  What happens when we choose God as our king?  Two different ways of life emerge- one leads us to sin and culminates in death.  Sin is not just violating some kind of legislative text.  Instead, sin is a loss of relationship with God for which we have been created, and with this loss, there is a diminishment of our dignity, a loss of meaning and purpose.

This is what happens to us when God is not our king.

There is an alternative.  There is another way.

The other way leads us to God and culminates in participation in God’s own life- a participation that will look like the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

This other way opens up for us and reveals its grace and truth when we accept the invitation of the Lord Jesus to follow him, when we accept Christ as the king of our life.

This is what the Church is all about.  The Church is the way of life that Christ gives to us through which we live out the implications of having accepted Jesus Christ as our king.  It’s not an easy way, and compels us to change, and for these reasons we try to make the Church into something more palatable to our tastes.  We reduce the Church to a faith based initiative and tell ourselves that we are serving Christ simply by making sure the institutions we support serve our personal needs. The Church’s efforts become mere extensions of our political and ideological causes.  The Church’s worship becomes faith-based entertainment.  The Church’s way of life becomes a means to achieve your personal ambitions.

In these ways we miss the true way.  In these ways we refuse Christ the king and try to seize his kingdom for ourselves. It never works.  But try we do.

The Bible knows all about this and reveals the consequences.

This is precisely what the Old Testament Book of Samuel is all about, an excerpt from which we heard today.

The Book of Samuel is about how Israel refuses to accept God as their king and what God does about that refusal.

What he does is set in motion events that will lead to the revelation of Christ, and one of the pivotal events leading to Christ’s revelation is described in today’s scripture today from the Book of Samuel.  What does God do? God chooses a king for Israel (a man named David), but not for the purposes Israel thinks.

Israel thinks that God is giving them a king so that they can have wealth, pleasure, power and honors.  But this is not God’s purpose.  God’s purpose is to set up for himself a family, David’s family, through which he (God) will come into the world, become a man, and reveal himself as the world’s true king.  That is what God is up to.  He is getting to show the world the real king.

This actually happens in the revelation of Jesus Christ.  God enters human history, inserts himself into the family of King David and reveals himself as Christ the King.

Once the true king is revealed, then humanity will be compelled to a decision and faced with accepting a distinctive way of life.  This is what the revelation of God in Christ bears into the world and into our lives.

We have to make a decision.  Do our lives belong to God the King- Jesus the Lord?  Or are we playing some kind of faith-based game that is simply a pious mask we are using to cover up our refusal of God the King?

That pious mask is really a blindfold and this blindfold is what St. Paul is referring to in his Letter to the Ephesians.

He is saying those who follow Christ were once like people who were groping about in the dark looking for a light.  Christ is that light and you come to see him by removing all that is in your life that is obstructing your vision of him.  What is obstructing our vision of Christ?

Saint Paul says “evil deeds”, deeds that are often times done in secret.  By this he means that we often try to appear to be virtuous when in actual fact we are the opposite.  The appearance of virtue fools people, but it doesn’t fool Christ.  He sees through the mask.  He casts light on the truth of what we have done and failed to do.  He pulls off that blindfold.

And what happens to us when that blindfold is removed is what today’s Gospel is all about.

In his Gospel, the Lord Jesus restores sight to a blind man.  What does this mean?

On one hand, you are seeing the divine power of God the king.  Jesus Christ is God and he does things that show forth not only his divine power, but how he will exercise his power.  His power is about restoration, healing, setting things right.

Thus does God the king, Jesus, heal the blind.  To show us the kind of king that he is for us.

But on the other hand, the blind man is a stand in for ourselves, who being rescued from the darkness of our sin and coming to know Christ are faced a decision- a decision that will radically re-orient our lives.

To be for Christ the King will necessarily mean that we are against other kinds of kings.  To live Christ’s way of life necessarily means that we are living differently than other ways of life.

The blind man, once healed, finds himself positioned differently in terms of the world, in terms of his relationships.  Once he has been claimed, that is, healed by Christ, his life is necessarily altered.  He has changed and a lot of people don’t like it.

And there is the lesson.

To know Christ the King, to accept him as your King, and to follow his way of life by necessity changes you, re-orients your life and your relationships.  You are fooling only yourself if you think that the way of a disciple of Christ is one of easy accommodation and assimilation.  His kingdom is not here for us to negotiate and manage.  We change for him.  Christ doesn’t change for us.  Christ’s power does not come from popular consent.  He chooses us, even before we choose him.

And in terms of what happens when the mask is lifted, when the blindfold comes off and finally in Christ we see things rightly know this:

Opposition to you because you are his disciple is not just a theoretical possibility- you can count on it happening.  After all, there are a lot of other kings who think they have a great deal to lose if the true king returns and takes back his throne.

And Christians, listen to this:

If you are unwilling to change your life for Jesus Christ, then you are not willing to accept him for who he really and truly is.  And who is Jesus Christ?

He is God the King.

CuracionciegoGreco

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Friday of the Third Week in Lent (March 28th, 2014)

The Book of the Prophet Hosea is about a marital infidelity.

The husband and wife that have suffered this infidelity are God and Israel.  The prophet Hosea likens the relationship of God and Israel to that of a husband and wife and he testifies that the wife, Israel, has been unfaithful to her spouse.  How so?  Idolatry. 

How has idolatry disrupted the relationship of God and Israel?  The disruption can be likened to the effect of infidelity in the marriage.

In our culture, infidelity is considered to be justification for a couple to divorce.  Few marriages will survive infidelity.  There is little hope of reconciliation, and even if forgiveness is offered, few marriages in which infidelity has separated the spouses will endure.

Infidelity ends marriages.  Not so for the God of Israel and his spouse, Israel.

God’s passion for his spouse has only increased as a result of the infidelity and though Israel has separated herself from her spouse, what God wants in to be re-united with his beloved.

One of the peculiar revelations of the God of the Bible is that God remains willing to love us even though his love is undeserved, unappreciated, and often times not reciprocated.  

The relationship of God to Israel is not ended with the revelation of Christ, but is instead, transformed.  Christ comes as God the Bridegroom “in the flesh” and in his love for Israel, manifested in gift of his own divine life on the cross, transforms Israel into the reality we know as the Church.

In this way, God and Israel, Christ and his Church, the rifts of infidelity that are opened up by our idolatry are closed, and a broken marriage is restored.  It is possibility that the prophet Hosea foresees in this morning’s scripture, and that possibility that Hosea foresaw, becomes real for us in the Mass.

The Mass is not just a time-honored cultural custom or the community affirming its values in songs and stories.  Instead, the Mass is our participation in the reconciliation of God and Israel, and the marital union of Christ and his Church- bridegroom to bride, husband to wife, heaven and earth, God and humanity.  It is this communion that is the meaning of the Holy Communion that in the Blessed Sacrament we beg the Lord to receive.

The wedding vow of this mystical marriage is expressed in the great commandments to which Christ testifies.  The Church as Christ’s spouse gives herself over with a love that is meant to be total and complete.  And further, the Church as Christ’s spouse will love what Christ loves.

This is the meaning of Christ’s call to love with “one’s whole soul, mind and strength” it is to give oneself over to Christ in the manner that in marriage one’s surrenders the totality of oneself to one’s beloved, without equivocation, without reservation, and with a fidelity that is absolute.

And to love our neighbor, the Church does this because in doing so we love what Christ loves.  We do not love our neighbor because it is easy or because our neighbor is likable, but because in the marriage of Christ and the Church, the Church loves and cherishes what Christ loves and cherishes.  All this is disrupted if we cling to idols, rather than to Christ our Lord. 

Our desire for things like wealth, pleasure, power and honors; or our rapacious need to be right, to advance our causes and ideologies, or to accept the way of Christ only on our own terms- all these idols, poison our relationship with the Lord with the same venom that infidelity poisons a marriage.   Lent demands we abandon these idols.  Have we?

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Wednesday of the Third Week in Lent (March 26th, 2014)

Moses is understood to be the one who delivered God’s Law to the Israelites.

Now, by Law, our understanding is likely somewhat different than that of the Bible.  Likely we think of statutes, prohibitions, sanctions and penalties all carefully codified and interpreted by jurists.  This is what the Bible presents, but the Law of Moses was deeper than all this (a point that the Lord Jesus repeatedly in his Gospel).

The Law of Moses was a Way of Life, what we might understand as a culture. Cultures have laws, rules and obligations, but what a culture goes deeper than any of that. The root word of culture, the word “cult” is illuminating of what precisely a culture is at its depths- at the heart of every culture is a cult, that is, a relationship between the society and their God.  Show forth what a culture believes about God or esteems as ultimate concern, and you will know what that culture is all about.

The “cult” of Israel was the worship of the God of Israel, and from that worship came a whole way of life.  This is what Moses encourages the people to accept today, not just statutes, rules and prohibitions, but a way of life in which their culture manifests the God in whom they believe.

What is our relationship with God?  Whatever that relationship is reveals our way of life.

The culture of the Church begins and ends with the worship of the Church called the Mass.  This is why the Second Vatican Council aptly named the Eucharist, that is, the Mass as “the source and summit of the Christian life.”   If you want to understand what the culture of the Church is all about, what the Church holds as the highest value, take a careful look at the Mass and the truth of the Church’s culture will be revealed.

Unfortunately, the Mass is too often not the reference point for our understanding of the Church’s way of life.  The Mass is often displaced by an ideology or an opinion or an ethnicity or an institution and it is for this reason that the mission of the Church falters and fails. The Church becomes whatever we want to be, a faith-based non-for-profit, a clubhouse, or self-help discussion group, rather than what the Lord Jesus intends the Church to be- a unique way of life, through which his divine life and presence are presented to the world.

If we do not understand the cult of the Church we will not be able to comprehend the Church’s culture.  If we don’t know who we are, we most certainly are not going to know what we are supposed to believe or do.  If the Mass is not your starting point in your attempts to understand and practice the Church’s faith, you will get the Church entirely wrong.

Christ speaks today of the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets of Israel. For many, this means that he is getting rid of something- getting rid of Israel or getting rid of what we call religion.

So much nonsense!

Christ is speaking about the definitive meaning and purpose of both the Law and the Prophets- in other words, through him Israel and the world will come to know how God understands the Law and the Prophets, and this revelation will bring to the Law and the Prophets into their proper orientation- we will know, through Christ, what the Law and Prophets are all about. And we will know the meaning of the Law and the Prophets not through the clever theories of men and women, but through the revelation of God!

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, many people drifted into clever theories of sociology, history and psychology and privileged these theories as being the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, indeed the fulfillment of Christ himself. This was little more than idolatry and how quickly what was thought to be definitive passed away!

There is only one who is the fulfillment of the scriptures and that is Christ the Lord.      Moses

Third Sunday of Lent

Our first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Exodus.

The Book of Exodus describes the extraordinary ways in which God intervened to rescue the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  Through awe-filled displays of his divine power, God defeated the gods of Egypt and freed the Israelites from bondage.  Once freed, God directed the Israelites to leave Egypt and return to their ancestral lands.  The Israelites were led by Moses, the greatest and most important of all the prophets of Israel.  Moses is understood as a foreshadowing or anticipation of Christ, in him we see qualities or characteristics of Christ the Lord.

Remember, it is because the Old Testament foreshadows or anticipates Christ and his Church that is the reason we listen so attentively to the Old Testament.  We are not just studying literature and history or using the Bible as a self-help manual, but we are learning from the Old Testament who the Lord Jesus is.  Knowing Christ we know who we are as his followers, and knowing who we are in relation to Christ we understand better what precisely Christ wants us to do.

Today’s excerpt from the Book of Exodus presents the Israelites languishing in the wilderness as they make their way out of Egypt and back to their ancestral lands.  Water is scarce and the people fear they will die of thirst.  Their sufferings provoke a spirit of rebellion and they turn against Moses.  Moses appeals to the Lord and the Lord acts through Moses to draw water out of solid rock.

What is this story all about?

Saint Paul provides the interpretation in the 10th chapter of his 1st Letter to the Corinthians.  The apostle tells us “the rock is Christ”.  The water is therefore his own divine life which he pours into the Church through the Sacraments.

Saint Paul is referencing here not only the rock from the story of Exodus, but the Body of the Lord Jesus on the cross.  How so?  Remember the pierced side of Christ “from which flowed blood and water.”  This detail is remembered and interpreted as indicating the divine life of Christ poured out into the world which takes the form of the Sacraments of the Church. 

We are dealing here with symbols that direct us to the deepest truth about what the Sacraments are all about.

The Sacraments are not just community celebrations of our values or rites of passage which mark our matriculation through faith based programs.  The Sacraments are Christ’s divine life, and through them we are given his divine life as his gift.

Bereft of the Sacraments, or not appreciating the Sacraments for what they are, we are akin to the Israelites described in the Book of Exodus, caught up in fear and overcome by a spirit of rebellion.  It is only from the living waters of the Christ’s divine life that the Church, the new Israel, can be sustained.

And this is a great challenge.  The fear and rebellion that afflicts the Church right now manifests itself in a preference for a Church pre-occupied with ideologies and emotions, rather than the Sacraments.  We put our faith in opinions and feelings about God, rather than receiving the one, true God through the Sacraments of Christ’s divine life.  We pile up rocks and shape them into faith-based institutions and yet no living water flows from them.  We set aside the Sacraments for faith-based entertainment, preferring faith themed songs and stories, and pretend that we can make God present by these things, rather than surrendering ourselves to sacramental grace.  Why are we doing this? 

The spirit of rebellion distracts us.  We have forgotten who the Rock is and doubt his power.  The Rock is Christ.  And seeking other streams of water in ideologies, opinions, ideas and feelings, songs and stories, we are just dying of thirst.  Only the living water that is the divine life of Christ can save us and that living water only comes to us through the Sacraments of the Church.

Our second scripture is an excerpt from St. Paul’s magnificent letter to the Romans.

Saint Paul reminds us that the cross of Jesus Christ gives us something that is undeserved and utterly surprising- what is it?  God’s mercy.  God’s forgiveness.

His point is this: Humanity proves itself capable of the absolute worst by torturing and killing the Lord Jesus.  Remember, that spirit of rebellion that tortures and kills Christ the Lord is in each and every one of us.  What does a humanity capable of this deserve?  The only answer could be wrath and condemnation.  But what does God impart?  Mercy and forgiveness.  God manifests his mercy in the cross because he doesn’t give us what we deserve, we gives us what we need more than anything else- mercy.

God mercy is undeserved and its revelation is a total surprise.

The living water of God’s mercy did not dry up long ago, but springs forth into the lives of the faithful through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  In that Sacrament we participate in the same underserved forgiveness and surprising mercy that is given by God in Christ on the cross.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation isn’t an invented by the Church.  It isn’t merely a cultural phenomenon.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus Christ given to the Church by Christ.  It is the living water of his divine life. 

Yet how long has it been since you have sought out that living water?  Drinking from that wellspring is no more an “option” than hydrating our bodies with earthly water to sustain our health.  And yet so many have come to believe that the Sacrament of Christ’s mercy is no more than an option. 

Do we think that we can simply declare ourselves to be forgiven?  Do we think that we can make ourselves righteous?  If we do, that is a spirit of rebellion, that wants us to deprive us of divine life and leave us to die in our sins.

A Church that does not have frequent recourse to the living waters of forgiveness that are given to us through Sacrament of Christ’s mercy will become desiccated and lifeless.     

Today’s Gospel is lengthy and rich in detail. 

Christ encounters a Samaritan woman and begs of her a drink and then offers her living water- which is his divine life.

Again, like our first scripture for today, the Gospel immerses us in symbols that direct us to consider the deepest truths of our Faith in Christ.

At its heart, Christ’s invitation to the woman to drink of the living water he gives is an invitation to participate in the Sacraments of the Church.  In fact, the woman is herself an image or symbol of the Church, to whom Christ beckons over and over again to receive his divine life.

The Church, who is comprised of us sinners, is beloved by Christ as a bridegroom loves his bride, but she has been unfaithful, like the Samaritan woman.  How so?  Look into your heart.  Examine your conscience.  How many of us live in a relationship with Christ that is compromised by our infidelity to the Gospel?  How many of us, while at the same time professing to believe in the Lord Jesus, give so much of ourselves to idols, to false gods.  The desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors pre-occupy us and many of us are unfaithful to Christ because of our desire for these things. 

Like the Samaritan woman who has not one, but several husbands, we have not one Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus, but serve many lords and many saviors, all the while pretending our infidelity to Christ is of no consequence.

Like the Samaritan woman, who seeks to satisfy her thirst in earthly water, we seek to satisfy our spiritual thirst, not in the living waters of Christ, but in wealth, pleasure, power and honors.  We drink deeply from these shallow and fetid pools and our thirst is never satisfied.

And yet the Lord Jesus beckons us, his Church, his Bride, to drink from the living waters of his divine life.

This wellspring of his divine life is offered to you in the Sacraments of the Church, particularly the Blessed Sacrament.

Drink of these waters and you will have not only life, but Christ’s divine life.

And that water he gives will become a fountain of eternal life within you.

Homily for Saturday, March 22nd (2014)

After the death of King David’s son, Solomon, a civil war began and the tribes of Israel were divided into two kingdoms- a territory called Israel in the north and a territory called Judah in the south.

This divided kingdom was not what God wanted and a spiritual and moral decline set in that manifested itself in idolatry and finally resulted in catastrophe.

The prophet Micah spoke the Lord’s word of truth to the tribes of Israel who lived in the northern territory.  He warned them, that God was not deceived, and knew of their infidelity to the covenant.  The time had come to repent, and if their repentance was genuine, God would forgive them and restore them in relationship with himself.

In other words, what God wanted most was not the destruction of his people, but their restoration.  He would meet the Israelites with mercy, if only they Israelites would let him.  God wanted to forgive his people, the only problem was that in their arrogance and self-absorption, they didn’t want God’s forgiveness or a relationship with him.  They were content with their idols.

Micah’s invitation to mercy would not be heeded, and in the year 722 BC, the false gods the people worshipped would deliver them into the hands of the Assyrians.  The tribes of the northern territories would be scattered and disappear.  Those that remained would be assimilated into the cultures of the pagans.

This was not what God had wanted for his people.  It was what his people had chosen.  It was the consequence of their refusal of his mercy.

The restoration of the lost tribes of the northern territories was one of the tasks of the Messiah.  The Messiah would do what no ordinary man could do, gather the lost tribes and restore unity to God’s people.  

 Christ manifests that he is doing this in his outreach to the poor and afflicted, the tax collectors and sinners, the pagans and outsiders.  He is not just being nice and inclusive, he is gathering those tribes who had been scattered.  All these I have mentioned are stand ins for the lost tribes, and as Christ gathers them in relationship with himself, he offers them his mercy, his forgiveness and signals to all of Israel that in him God has come to gather, not only the lost tribes, but all the nations, and offer all the possibility of holy communion with his divine life.

Not all were pleased with this revelation.  Many believed that what the Lord Jesus was doing was unfair- it was unjust.  Unworthy people were getting something they did not deserve.  It is to those who protest, that Christ offers the parable of the prodigal son.

The parable of the prodigal son presents in a story what the prophet Micah had delivered to the Israelites in prophecy.  God’s desire is not to destroy his people, but to restore them.  He meets them in their repentance, not with words of recrimination, but of forgiveness.  God does not will for the sinner what they deserve, but what they need the most.

This should be an occasion of joy, but because it challenges worldly standards of justice, many do not find in God’s offer of forgiveness to the sinner a reason to rejoice.  God, unlike ourselves, does not suffer from the pain-filled inability to forgive.

In Christ, all of us are given a possibility we do not deserve and cannot earn- he forgives us and where we have lost the power to set things right before God, he intervenes, by giving to us what we lack.  So much of our lives are characterized by refusals of our Heavenly Father and we spend much of our lives far from home, squandering what God has given us, or lost in bitterness and regret.  This is who we are.     

When we refuse to forgive or seek forgiveness, when we think we know better than God how he should judge the sinner, we have forgotten that all of us are, in the sight of God, his prodigal sons.

Homily for Friday, March 21st (2014)

The story of the sons of Jacob appears in the first book of the Bible called the book of Genesis.

Jacob was the grandson of Abraham and he had 12 sons who would be the progenitors of the 12 tribes of Israel.  The 12 tribes would eventually be united by David into a Kingdom called the “Kingdom of David”. 

The story of the 12 sons of Jacob is a story about parental favoritism and sibling rivalry.  Jacob does not conceal that his love for Joseph exceeds that of his other children and Joseph foolishly seeks to capitalize on his relationship with his father.  The heat of resentment builds and finally boils over- Joseph’s brothers turn on him and sell him into slavery, delivering him into the hands of the enemies of Israel. Joseph’s brothers than tell Jacob that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. 

Joseph then languishes as a slave in Egypt, until through the mysterious workings of God’s Providence he is appointed to the highest office in Egypt after that of the Egypt’s great king called the pharoh.  Years later, in a time of great desperation, Joseph will act to save the lives of the very brothers who had treated him with such great cruelty. 

 It is the great story and the Church provides this small excerpt today and beckons us to see in it a kind of foreshadowing or anticipation of Christ.  Christ is like Joseph, rejected by his people, delivered by his own people into the hands of Israel’s enemies, he suffers terribly, even seeming to be dead to those who loved him and yet he is exulted in a most extraordinary and unexpected way, becoming the means by which the very people who rejected him are redeemed and saved.

The Church is helping us to think about Christ’s identity and mission by presenting to us the story of Joseph and inviting us to see similarities.

 In this way the Church is saying to us that the means to fully appreciate and understand the Old Testament is by referencing the revelation of Jesus Christ.  It is Jesus Christ who reveals the meaning of the stories of the Old Testament and explains what God is up to in the history of the Israelites.   This is the meaning of the words we profess in faith in our great Creed at Mass when we say that we believe in Christ, who is the fulfillment of the scriptures.

Today’s Gospel is itself a foreshadowing or anticipation.  Christ utilizes a parable, a story, to indicate that he will suffer and die and because of his suffering and death, God will transform Israel into something new.

This new Israel will be the Church and through the Church, Christ will extend membership in his chosen people beyond those who are the physical descendents of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons.

For some, the story of the Lord Jesus is reduced to being about an innocent man who is unjustly put to death, whose teachings endure to help us to be nice to one another.  This is A story about the Lord Jesus, but it is not HIS story, and it is not the story of the Gospels.

The Gospels are about how God, in Christ, makes Israel into something new, and how God does this in a surprising way.  In Christ, God initiates a new way of being in communion, in relationship with him and this communion, this relationship happens in the Church. 

This is the real story about Christ the Lord, but is it the story we know?  Is it the story in which we believe?

 

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent (March 12, 2014)

The Book of the Prophet Jonah is a comical, action adventure tale with a serious message about what God wants for the sinner.  Many think that God wants to destroy the sinner and prophets are sent to remind folks of the inescapable hell fire that is coming.

The Book of the Prophet Jonah has a different message in mind.

For those of you who are familiar with the Book of the Prophet Jonah, you will remember that Jonah is the most reluctant prophet in the history of Israel.  Called by God to preach repentance to the enemies of Israel, he cuts and runs, literally running in the opposite direction of where God wants him to go.

When God intervenes and gets Jonah where he needs him to be, the reluctant prophet scarcely whispers his message of repentance and becomes the most successful prophet ever- not only do the people repent, but every living creature in the city.

The message?  The lesson?  What God desires most of all is the restoration of the sinner, not their destruction, and further, that God is willing to forgive even those we might deem least worthy of forgiveness.

Jonah finds this lesson hard to take.  We shouldn’t simply pay lip service to this biblical insight.  It’s tough stuff, especially when those who are on the receiving end of God’s forgiveness are those who have hurt us.

God’s willingness to forgive and his desire to restore the sinner is precisely what the Lord Jesus himself is making reference to in his Gospel.

What is the sign of Jonah?  It is the sign that is revealed in the aftermath of the cross, whereas God manifests the intensity of his desire to restore sinners in his willingness to insert himself into the depths of the consequences of our sins- but also more than this, to forgive what is essentially unforgiveable.  The cross is not just a quaint symbol of a faith based non-for-profit- it is a creation of humanity’s cruelty which we impose not only on each other, but on God.

In response to this, God acts and this is where the sign of the cross becomes so surprising.  What was deserved because of the cross is not what is delivered.  Instead God acts through the cross to reveal just how willing he is to forgive us.

The cross does not render repentance unnecessary, but intensifies the experience.  God is willing to receive us, to forgive us, to go to the absolute limit to set things right.  Why do we resist?  Our resistance only makes things difficult for ourselves, not for God, who has demonstrated on the cross that his power far exceeds any of the means we might employ to resist him- even a means as cruel and sinister as nailing him to a cross!

In Christ, many who were considered to be unforgiveable or unworthy are set in right relationship with God and offered a share in his divine life.  The boundaries that were set for membership in Israel were opened and the Gentiles came in and were claimed by Christ as his people.  This shocked and surprised.  We are the beneficiaries of this gift.  And the gift is the “sign of Jonah” that Christ refers to in his Gospel.

All this was made possible by repentance, a willingness to accept that we needed to be set right, a humble acknowledgement of what we have done and failed to do, an acceptance that one’s life would henceforth be different and we would live in a new and different way.

This happens concretely for us in the Sacrament of Penance, in which we repent, receive the forgiveness of Christ and are restored in relationship to God and his Church.  The Sacrament of Penance is a privileged moment of participation in the mystery of the Cross.

Unfortunately, too many of us have become as reluctant to receive that Sacrament of Penance as Jonah was to receive his mission.  And it is for this reason that for so many of us the “sign of cross” remains opaque and our understanding of it’s meaning unclear.  Like Jonah, we refuse what God wants us to receive.

We cannot see the sign of the cross and understand its meaning if we are unwilling ourselves to receive it.Image