Second Sunday of Lent (March 1st, 2015)

The first scripture for Sunday Mass that the Church proclaims to us this year during Lent will all present the great covenants of the Old Testament.

A covenant is perhaps best understood as meaning a relationship. Throughout the history of the Israelites, God established himself in particular kinds of relationships with his chosen people. These relationships that God and the Israelites enter into can be likened to a kind of marriage, in which promises are exchanged and oaths are taken. The relationship is expressed in the Scriptures as the ultimate concern of God and the Israelites.   For the Israelites, the covenant, that is their relationship with God, becomes the central focus of their cultural existence, in the manner that a marriage, that is, that relationship of the husband and wife becomes the central concern of the spouse’s lives.

The Church is a new kind of Israel (constituted by Christ to be as such). Through baptism we are given a relationship with God in Christ and this relationship (covenant) is ratified in the sacrifice that the Church calls the Eucharist. Yes, as a Catholic you have, and are in, a deeply personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This deeply personal relationship with Jesus Christ happens, not just in your minds or your emotions, but in the Sacraments of the Church. In fact, participating in the Sacraments of the Church is the living source of your relationship with Jesus Christ.

Sacraments are not just cultural events or time honored ethnic traditions. Sacraments were not invented by the Church as a way of remembering the accomplishments of the Lord Jesus. Sacraments are an encounter with the divine life and presence of the Lord Jesus. The Sacraments are expressions of Christ’s relationship (his covenant) with us and our relationship (covenant) with him.

Last Sunday, we heard about God’s covenant, that is, his relationship with Noah and his descendants.

This Sunday we hear about God’s covenant, that is, his relationship with Abraham and his descendants.

If you were listening to our first scripture you could not help being perplexed and terrified. The scripture presented a horrific scene in which Abraham, the progenitor of the Israelites, is commanded by God to kill his own son, Isaac, as a human sacrifice.

Abraham complies with God’s command, and in doing so, demonstrates the depth of his commitment to his relationship with God.

Abraham’s faith in God, so absolute and terrifying, especially to many modern folks like ourselves, for whom religious faith can be about as demanding as a hobby, like bird watching or stamp collecting, a pleasant diversion that we take up and put away at our convenience.

Not so for Abraham! It was the covenant, his relationship, with God that was his ultimate concern, a relationship that had no rival; a relationship that brought into proper order all the other relationships in his life.

The apparent ferocity of Abraham’s faith confounds many, but this tale of terror that we heard from the Scriptures shocks us so as to provoke us to seriously consider our own relationship with God. If God is not at the center of our lives, our ultimate concern, then who or what is? God in Christ reveals that he has made each and every one of us his priority- what priority does Christ have in our own lives?

Do we take seriously our relationship with God in Christ or do we make a mock of it by treating it like a hobby, a faith-based diversion?

While our first scripture insists that we come to terms with the state of our relationship with God, our second scripture, an excerpt from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, insists that we comes to terms with the reality of God’s relationship to us in Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul presents to us that God has in Jesus Christ accomplished something extraordinary for us. What has God done?

God has, in Jesus Christ, experienced for himself suffering and death, and he did this so as to unite his divine life to us, so that when we experience suffering and death ourselves, his divine power will transform those experiences from bleak and meaningless ends to new kinds of beginnings. We cannot exempt ourselves from suffering. We have no power over death. Suffering should render life absurd. Death should render life meaningless. But God in Christ, through his own experience of suffering and death, has transformed both, making them routes of access to his divine life.

This is the reason we Christians reverence the cross. Christ on the cross is not just a representation of a victim of political oppression. Christ’s passage from death into resurrection is not just a symbol of seasons passing from winter into spring. Christ’s cross is the astounding moment when God passed himself into the experience of suffering and death so that when we experience those hard facts we always come face to face with him.

In all this, God in Christ signals to us that his relationship (covenant) with us is such that he is willing to give up his life for us, to accept what he does not deserve, so as to give to us what we could never achieve or earn for ourselves.

You participate in what the Apostle Paul describes in the Eucharistic Mystery- the Blessed Sacrament. Eucharist means “thanksgiving” but what are we Christians thankful for? We are thankful for the Lord Jesus, for his suffering and death that transformed our suffering and our death. We are thankful for his resurrection, which reveals that God’s power can transform suffering into love and transform death into a new kind of life.

But even more than this, in the Eucharistic Mystery you ratify your relationship with Jesus Christ. He gives the same divine life and presence that he sacrificed on the cross to you in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. You do not in the Eucharistic Mystery encounter a mere symbol of Christ, but the Lord Jesus himself- who gives his life for you and then if you receive his life, taking his life as food and drink, you then give your life to him. That’s what a relationship with Jesus Christ is all about. That’s what the covenant of the Eucharist is all about- God in Christ gives his life for you and you give your life to him.

The question we all have to answer is whether or not what we are doing through our participation in the Eucharist is actually true. Are we giving our lives over to Jesus Christ? If we receive and have no intention of doing so, what does that make of our relationship with Jesus Christ?

In Abraham’s covenant (relationship) with God, he withheld nothing from God, even what he loved most in the world.

In his Eucharistic Mystery, God in Christ withholds nothing from us and he gives himself to us wholly and completely. A covenant or relationship with Christ must be reciprocal if it is to be truly an expression of love.   When we receive our relationship with Christ, what are we withholding from him?

Finally, in his Gospel, the Lord Jesus presents himself in his divine glory to his disciples. They see him for who he really is- not just a prophet, an activist, a preacher or philosopher- but, Jesus Christ is God.

This moment is truly apocalyptic, which means, contrary to ideas in the popular culture, not just some kind of destructive end, but a revelation of a new kind of beginning.

God reveals himself in Jesus Christ is a manner that people did not and do not think to be possible. God in Jesus Christ accepts for himself a human nature, and through that human nature, he lives a real, human life. The disciples see for themselves in the face of Jesus Christ the face of God!

The new beginning that appears in the revelation of God in Christ is a clarification of who God really and truly is and what he desires from us.

God in Christ reveals that he loves us enough to become like us, entering himself into all of what it means to be human- even into the experiences of suffering and death, and in doing so draw us to share in his own life.

He comes to offer us a new kind of relationship with him, a relationship that is given, not just in the words of prophets, but in the sacrifice of his own Body and Blood, and what he offers us in this Body and Blood is his love that is stronger than death and infinite in his willingness to forgive.

To accept this revelation, and in response, surrender your life to him, and receive his life in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, is what it really and truly means to have a covenant, that is, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

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Saturday of the First Week of Lent (February 28th, 2015)

The Church’s first scripture for today’s Mass is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy. “Deuteronomy” means “the second book of the law” and this means that the text presents important insights in regards to the Law of Moses.

The Law of Moses is a code of conduct for the Israelites. Live up to the expectations of the code and you are a true Israelite. Fail to comply with the code and your identity as an Israelite could be called into question. The code is comprehensive in its scope and concerns the totality of Israelite life and experience- how the people will worship, how they will be governed, how they will regulate their economic affairs, even what they will eat and wear.

Today’s excerpt from the Book of Deuteronomy is both an invitation and a warning. The invitation is that through the code of conduct (the Law) the God of Israel invites his people into a unique relationship- the code will be the means by which the people demonstrate, not just their cultural or civic identity, but their relationship with God. The warning is implicit in the invitation- an Israelites relationship with God is not a matter of mind of emotions, but of the objective fact of the Law of Moses. The Law will be a ruthless test of an Israelite’s sincerity and will be the means by which the people will be judged.

The Law of Moses is at its heart about the demands of justice- stealing is forbidden, as is fraud, as is bribery, and is slander and gossip, as is lying, as is blasphemy, as is vengeance, as is sorcery, as is murder. All these things defy God’s justice and resisting God’s justice brings about terrifying consequences.

The demands of justice articulated by the Law of Moses remain in full force for the Church. Remember, the Church is the New Israel and those baptized in Christ are the New Israelites.

The great biblical insight is that despite any appearance to the contrary, the Lord God orders his creation in accord with justice and if set ourselves against this justice, the result will be misery. We might evade that misery for a time, but in the end, God’s justice prevails.

Yet, God’s justice is not the only power that charges through his creation. The Gospel reveals that love is even more foundational that justice, and in fact, it is love that is the perfection of God’s justice.

Thus, for the Christian, the fulfillment of the demands of justice is never sufficient. God in Christ demands more of us, and what he demands is love- and by love is not meant some product of our emotionally driven needs, but what is called charity. Charity is not simply a donation to your favorite cause. Charity is willing what is good for another, and willing that good, even if that good is not appreciated, deserved or reciprocated.

God in Christ introduces his people to a new code of conduct, a New Law, and this Law is charity. This Law is meant to define the totality of the Church’s unique way of life.

Thus, it is meant to become entirely ordinary that the Christian should forgive their enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and give to those in need even if we receive little or nothing in return. In doing these things the Christian wills what is good for others. In doing these things the Christian practices charity. The world might think this all to be extraordinary, but for the Christian, this is meant to be our way of life.

This way of life is demanding and risky. It sets Christians apart in ways that make Christians seem strange, even troublesome. Christians become vulnerable as a result of the charity that they preach and seek to practice. This way of life may not engender earthly rewards, and it may in fact, cost the Christian much in terms of those things that the world esteems and values. The charity of a Christian is not intended to make the Christian successful, but to make the Christian a saint.

And being a saint is what the Gospel is all about- sanctity is the true measure of our lives.

In the end, all worldly accomplishments will pass away and it will be only charity that will endure, and it will be in relation to our fulfillment of the demands of charity, of love, that each of us will be judged.

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Thursday of the First Week in Lent (February 26th, 2015)

The Book of Esther is one of the most beautiful stories in the Old Testament and it concerns the adventures of a young Israelite woman who through Providential circumstances becomes the wife of the mighty emperor of Persia.

It becomes clear to Esther that her rise to great power and privilege is meant to serve God’s purposes, and she becomes the means by which the Israelites are saved from the cruel cunning and wicked designs of the enemies of her people.

Today’s excerpt, depicts Esther in great distress as she is faced with a decision- she can remain quiet and uninvolved, enjoy the benefits of her servants, the distractions of her fine clothes and jewels, and savor the romance of her husband, the king, or she can insert herself into a dangerous, politically charged situation where her involvement might cost her the king’s favor and result in a loss of her status and luxuries- even the loss of her own life.

The palaces of kings and the halls of the mighty are very dangerous places and Esther in danger up to her beautiful, bejeweled neck.

Beset by her situation, she turns to God in prayers, asking, not to be delivered from her difficulties, but through them. She prays that she might have the courage to act, to speak what is true and do what is right.

Her prayer is answered. She musters the fortitude to take a great risk.

Prayers to be delivered from hardship come naturally (at least for most). In the face of the raw facts of life we look for exemptions. In the face of difficulties we try to find a way to avoid what is unpleasant. The cry of many is that God would deliver us from hardship, and while this is understandable, such a prayer permits us only a limited vision.

Our limited vision in our prayer must be expanded in its power by the revelation of the Christ’s Cross.   With the Cross of Christ as our reference point in prayer we are enabled to pray, as Esther did, not to be delivered from difficulties, but through them.   The Cross of Christ reveals that God will act to make sure that our sufferings always give way to a greater good, even if we do not fully understand or experience what this good could be.

As Christians, our prayer is always “in Christ”. Praying in Christ does not mean that asking for things in the Lord Jesus’ name is like magic and we get what we want.

Instead, praying “in Christ” means that we seek our Heavenly Father’s will, as Christ did, in all the events and circumstances of life- even in those things that are difficult, painful or disappointing.

“Thy will be done” is the most powerful and important of all the prayers of the Church- it is most difficult of our prayers and the one that is always answered.

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Wednesday of the First Week in Lent (February 25th, 2015)

The Old Testament Book of the Prophet Jonah is one of the most delightful books of the Bible and is best described as a combination of an action adventure, a comedy and some of the most intense theological reflection in all the Scriptures

The prophet Jonah was one of the most reluctant and successful of the Israelite prophets. Sent by God to preach repentance to the Ninevites, the mortal enemies of the Israelites, Jonah resists, going the exact opposite direction of where God wants him to go! Jonah’s sense of justice is that it would be best that God destroy the Ninevites and he would rather not have a part in a plan that might deliver them from God’s wrath.

God has his own plans for Jonah and the Ninevites, and today’s scripture illuminates in a radiant display that God is the great giver of second chances. He sends his prophets to preach repentance, not so that people will fear his destructive wrath, but so that they will know that God wants to save us- he wants to give each and every one of us another chance.

But is it a second chance that we want? There is an adage that is sadly, most of the time true- that we would rather be ruined than changed. Repentance means that we are willing to admit that we are wrong and that we have to live differently, act differently, think differently. This is hard, and many prefer the misery of a sin-filled status quo because the prospect of changing seems so difficult.

But the stakes are very high in our refusal to repent, our refusal to change. God’s wrath does not so much mean that he does something horrible to us to punish us, but rather that we are beset with the consequences of our refusal to repent, our refusal to change. These consequences are usually pretty grim- in our refusal to repent we impose upon ourselves heavy burdens that can crush our souls.

Lent is a privileged opportunity to repent and we should take this opportunity seriously. Waiting to repent until some other time or thinking oneself exempt is really quite dangerous. The opportunity to repent is now. We may not have this opportunity later. Then what?

Repentance is integral to being a disciple.

Repentance is not just a matter of thinking that one can be forgiven or feeling that one is guilty. Repentance happens for us in a Sacrament, a Sacrament called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This Sacrament is not a spiritual option invented by the Church, but it is a gift from the Lord Jesus himself. It is in this Sacrament that we receive ourselves what God proclaimed through Jonah and offered to the Ninevites- the mercy of God and the grace of another chance.

Few seem to have recourse to this Sacrament. Perhaps they seek another sign than the sign that Christ has given to us in the Sacraments of his Church. Many think that God’s grace can be invented out of inner experiences of ideas and feelings, but God’s grace does not come to us in this way- God’s grace comes to us in an encounter with Christ the Lord, who gives himself to us in the Sacraments so that we can know him and serve him. If we seek signs other than the Sacraments Christ has given us, then there is no more appropriate a Gospel passage for us (and any other generation that seeks for itself something other than what Christ offers to us so that we might repent and be saved) then today’s excerpt from the Gospel of Luke:

“At the judgment, the men of Ninevah will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah, they repented and there is something greater than Jonah here”.

Indeed, there is something greater than Jonah here- the divine life and presence of the Lord Jesus given to us in the Sacraments of his Church.

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Ash Wednesday (February 18th, 2015)

Today, the Church begins the observances of Lent. Lent is a period of time during which the Christian faithful are called to enact the practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The purpose of these practices is to prepare Christians to receive the great and mysterious revelations of Holy Week. It is during Holy Week that the Church participates in the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

The mysterious revelations of Holy Week are experienced in the rituals, devotions and Masses that are offered, and all of which come to a startling culmination in the full force and intensity of what is called the Holy Triduum- three great days of solemn worship. These three days are known as Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday and the three days culminate in the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead.

Lent is not an end in itself, but it is a preparation for Holy Week.

But also, Lent is NOT just meant to impart comforting religious ideas, make you healthier through better nutritional choices, or engender good will by being generous to your favorite charitable causes. You don’t need a special time of year to do any of that. The practices of Lent are meant to prepare Christians for worship- to prepare the faithful to attend Mass and to do so with a renewed sense of appreciation, reverence and understanding.

The goal of Lent is our participation in the Church’s worship with renewed vigor and vitality.

In order for the practices of Lent to be effective, we must repent.

Repentance means that we make a fundamental acknowledgement about ourselves that is always true for everyone without exception.

This truth is that we are all sinners.

We have all sinned and our sin is evident in what we have done and in what we have failed to do.

What is sin? Sin is our NO to Christ. Christ invites us to be his disciples, he gives us a mission, and gives up his life for us so that we might share in his divine life forever. If we accept his invitation, the mission, and receive his divine life, then we are truly his disciple and we have a relationship with him. This relationship is not a matter of an idea or a feeling, but of a way of life and it truly becomes real when we do what Christ asks us to do. What does he ask us to do?

His request of us is expressed succinctly in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Say YES to the works of mercy and you say YES to Christ.

If we say NO to Christ… If Christ’s invitation is met with a refusal… This is sin and we must repent.

Repentance expresses our sorrow for our NO to Christ and further expresses a renewed willingness to say YES to what he asks us to be and to do.

If we do not repent, our profession of Faith becomes false and despite the appearances of virtue, we are alienated from Christ and living in opposition to his Gospel. An unwillingness to repent has consequences that are difficult to bear and terrifying in their outcome.

The Christian Faithful accept ashes and wear them on Ash Wednesday as an external sign of their internal repentance.

The ashes are NOT intended as a vague ethnic or cultural symbol. There is nothing magical about the ashes. The ashes are NOT a sign that you are a participating member of a faith-based community.

The meaning of the ashes is austere, direct and simple: if you accept the ashes you are saying to the Church that you are willing to repent of your sins and prepare yourself to receive the great revelations of Christ which will be given during Holy Week.

The Scriptures warn us today about hypocrisy in regards to our profession and practice of the Church’s Faith. We are warned to be true to our word, keep our promises, and not use our Faith as a means of appearing to be something that we are not.

The ashes of Ash Wednesday are a sign that we intend to be true to our word, keep our promises, and be faithful to Christ. The ashes are a sign that we will say YES to Christ.

If you receive ashes today, do so in good faith.

Don’t say YES to Christ when what you really mean in NO.

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Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time (February 17th, 2015)oah

Last week the first scripture for Daily Mass were excerpts from the first book of the Bible- the Book of Genesis.

The Book of Genesis is about beginnings- the beginnings of creation and the beginning of Israel. Last weeks we listened to select passages about the origins of creation and we learned that these stories did not so much present insights about geology but theology- the revelation of who God is, what God wants and how God acts.

The great overarching theme of the Book of Genesis is the revelation of the one, true God who exposes the fraudulent claims of false gods and warns us about the sheer follow of worshipping false gods as if they were true. This overarching theme of the Book of Genesis is also the theme of the whole Bible.

Idolatry, the worship of false gods, is the capital sin of the Bible.

The Book of Genesis reveals that humanity grasps hold of idolatry at the very beginning. The first human beings aspire to “be like God”, desiring to decide for themselves what is good and evil, and in doing so wrest power away from God so that they can dominate creation, rather than act as stewards.

This signals to us the worst form of idolatry, which is not the worship of mythological beings, but instead is the attempt to make ourselves in gods.

The Book of Genesis reveals the terrifying effects of this idolatry- it causes a catastrophe and opens a wound in humanity through which sin, death, and the devil gain mastery over humanity and spread their influence like an infectious disease. Nothing in creation is immune from this infection.

Today, the Book of Genesis tells us a story, not of creation, but of re-creation. The devastation wrought by idolatry is so intense that God unleashes a great flood to overwhelm the dark powers and in doing so give his creation another chance and humanity an opportunity to rebuild.

Noah and his family construct a great ship, an ark, and this ship becomes the means by which a remnant of creation is saved from the onslaught of divine wrath represented in the great flood.

The imagery of Noah’s ark means many things. The ancient Israelites understood the story of Noah’s ark as a foreshadowing of the temple, into which a remnant of creation would be gathered and from which new life would be unleashed into the world. The worship of the temple, which is the worship of the one, true God, would save and renew the world. Noah’s ark is an image of that temple.

The Fathers of the Church (great saints and scholars from the earliest years of the Church’s life) understood Noah’s ark as an image of the Church, into Christ gathers his creation and guides them to a new creation. The Church’s passage into this new creation is beset by the gusty winds and turbulent waters of history, but ultimately the ship arrives at its appointed destination.

Noah’s ark is an image of the Church.

The understanding of the ark as a temple and as the Church are both helpful ways of understanding the story of the great flood and Noah’s ark from the Book of Genesis.

Today’s excerpt from the Gospel of Mark records a dispute that arose among the disciples of the Lord Jesus and some of the religious and political leadership of the Israelites.

This dispute takes place after the Lord’s miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes, a miracle that enables the disciples of the Lord Jesus to feed a crowd of five thousand with a few morsels of food.

Christ warns against the influence of the some of the religious and political leaders of the Israelites who either deny the miracle or want to use the miracle to promote their own agendas.

An interesting way to understand this excerpt from the Gospel of Mark is to place it is the context of the Eucharistic Mystery, of which the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is a foreshadowing.

In this understanding, Christ’s warning is about our own appropriation of the Eucharistic Mystery- a warning against dabbling in ideas or trends that would make the Eucharist a source of contention or deny or domesticate its strange and mysterious revelation. Further, accept Christ’s warning as his exposing as fraudulent those attempts that would co-opt Holy Communion for the purposes of an ideological agenda or using the Blessed Sacrament to advance our causes.

The warning is this:

The Blessed Sacrament is Divine Fire cast upon the earth. Its purpose is to warm souls who languish in a world gone cold from the power of sin and death. If this Divine Fire is accepted with reverence and love, its radiance offers healing and hope. But if this Divine Fire is misused, the effects will be devastating and overwhelming.

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Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 15th, 2015)

Our first scripture for today is unusual- an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Leviticus. The Book of Leviticus is a distillation of an ancient Law Code, attributed to the prophet Moses, and it describes those behaviors and practices that which were either acceptable or unacceptable for an Israelite.

The Law Code of the Israelites is not just a matter of civics, but of a relationship with God. The originator of the Law Code is not merely custom or the will of the people, but God and therefore to keep the law makes one righteous in the sight of God and to defy the law code severs one’s relationship with God. This is why the Law Code is more properly called a “Holiness Code”, because it’s principle concern in its presentation is what God wants, not what an individual might expect because of rights of citizenship. The Law of Israel invokes as its authority, not the power of the state or the people, but the power of God.

The Law Code of the Israelites is an artifact of the ancient world, and its understanding of what God wants is influenced by a culture that is foreign to us and far from our experience.

The section of the Israelite Law Code that we heard from today concerns leprosy, which the ancient Israelites came to believe was not only very contagious, but also a spiritual affliction. Leprosy rendered a person “unclean”, and by this is meant not just unhygienic or dirty, but profane, cursed by God. The Law Code is evidently concerned about the possibility of contagion, which in pre-modern cultures, without access to modern medical technology, was absolutely devastating.

The leprous were treated as outsiders to the Israelites, forced to the margins of society and considered to be not only the walking dead, but also the walking damned. Not only to be a leper was a terrifying possibility, but merely to touch a leper had the power to render you as unclean and accursed as they were. It is just terrible to think that somehow treating people so afflicted with a disease in the manner that the Law Code of the Israelites was believed to be what God demanded. But it is the manner in which leprosy was understood, as not only a physical disease, but also a spiritual condition, that provides us with the means to understand today’s Gospel.

The leper was a physical representation of everything that had gone wrong with God’s creation, everything that the powers of sin and death and the devil had done to humanity. The Israelite looked at the leper and shuddered, not just because of the terrifying nature of the disease, but because leprosy represented to them the spiritual condition of living in alienation from God. The Israelite looked at the leper and saw everything that had gone with the world.

Christ’s encounter with lepers in the Gospel is always meant to be understood in this context, what he is effecting in his healing is not just deliverance from disease, but deliverance from the power of sin, death and the devil. Christ is not just restoring health or a person who had been ostracized to the community- he is doing all that- but most significantly he is rescuing a person from alienation from God.

In the restoration of the leper Christ is indicating, not only that he has divine power, but also what his mission is, what he has come into this world to do with his divine power- he has come to restore into communion with God all that is languishing in alienation from God.

That it is a leper that Christ restores indicates just how far into the depths of alienation he is willing to go (the only reality farther from alienation from God that the Israelites could conceive other than a leper was a corpse!).

Christ intends to extend his divine power as far as possible to restore those who are under the power of sin, death and the devil.

What does any of this have to do with us?

Aside from the fact that all of us are in some way lepers, and by that I mean we are all compromised by sin, death and the devil, and cannot heal ourselves or deliver ourselves from our afflictions, the answer to what this all has to do with us can be discerned in our second reading for today, an excerpt from the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.

In that brief excerpt, St. Paul introduces us to an idea that is absolutely crucial to what being a Christian is all about- that idea is expressed in his invitation “be imitators of me as I am of Christ”.

St. Paul is signaling to us that being a Christian, (which is what he is and what we are supposed to be), being a Christian means you become for others an imitation of Christ.

That’s the heart of the matter for being a Christian- being yourself an imitator of Christ.

If you were baptized into the faith of the Church, it was declared to you and all those gathered to witness your Baptism that you had become something extraordinary- an alter-Christus (which means another Christ). “Another Christ”- that’s who you are supposed to be, becoming for others “another Christ” is what your mission, the purpose of your life is all about.

Now connect the reality that being a Christian is to be an imitator of Christ with the presentation of the mission of Christ in the today’s Gospel- you are called by God, a call confirmed by your Baptism, to imitate what Christ is doing in today’s Gospel. What does it mean to become for others “another Christ”?

Christ’s mission was go to the farthest reaches of forsakenness and once there draw back into communion all who languished in alienation from God.

That’s your mission. That’s what it means to be an imitator of Christ- to be for others an alter-Christus.

Practically speaking, this means that the energies and powers of your life should be about the fulfillment of what the Church calls the corporal and spiritual works of mercy:

Feed the Hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead.

Teach the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offences, comfort the afflicted, pray for the living and the dead.

For the Christian, mercy is not a feeling or an idea. Mercy is a work, it is a practical action that is to be accomplished so that we can become like the Lord whose name we bear and whom we are supposed to imitate.

It’s through these works that Christians concentrate our energies and powers to restore all those who languish in alienation from God.

It is a radical engagement with these works that your transformation into an imitator of Christ happens. Being a Christian isn’t just about being nice and polite, or paying your dues for access to the faith-based clubhouse- being a Christian is about works of mercy, and it is through these works that you become for others what Christ is to all of us lepers: the means of restoration for all of who languish in alienation from God.

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