Abe's Ash Wednesday

From a Homily on Ash Wednesday

Abraham Lincoln never took himself or his faith too seriously. He once told the story about how he slept during a sermon. The pastor, seeing Lincoln asleep, asked the congregation to stand if they desired to go to heaven. Everyone rose except Lincoln. The pastor then asked those who wanted to go to hell to stand. Lincoln awoke at the very moment the pastor yelled ‘stand up!’ When the pastor asked Lincoln what he had to say for himself, the future president responded, “Preacher, I don't know what you're voting on, but you and I seem to be the only two for it.”

He Who Can End the Fight

Dear Parishioners,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

There we have it. John 3:16. Perhaps the famous line in all of Sacred Scripture. The citation we see on signs at football games and on billboards. Why is this line so remarkable?

We could write a whole book on why. Here is one reason for your consideration: God does not start the fight, but he can end it.

God is blamed unfairly for many things. What is good is that he is God—he can handle the blame. But still, it's not always just, the anger directed at our God. Cancer—why did God do this? War—where is God to stop it? A tragic car accident–how could God allow this? The stray bullet, the divorce, the drug addiction, the teen suicide, and so on. Fingers usually point to God.

Passion

Dear Parishioners,

The one thing in Scripture we are told Jesus ever made, though he was a carpenter, was a “whip out of cords” (Jn 2:15). It's in our Gospel this Sunday: the scourging of the temple. It's amazing to think that this simple weapon could drive out the dozens and dozens of moneychangers, animals, and other traffickers. And though Jesus was a strong man (years of carpentry would have made him so), he was not that big and strong, such that he would intimidate people. It wasn't as if Dwane "the Rock" Johnson were cleansing the temple. How was Jesus able to disperse all these sellers and animals, and avoid arrest by the temple police and Sadducees? Author Frank Sheed writes, “there must have been something in the personality they could not stand against, in the blaze of the eyes or the icy condemnation in them; otherwise Jesus would have been beaten to the ground in the first few minutes, and the money-changing and the animal-selling would have gone on with hardly an interruption.”

Silenzio!

Dear Parishioners,

I spent a decent amount of time in the Sistine Chapel during my six years in Rome studying to be a priest at the Pontifical North American College. The Sistine Chapel, of course, contains perhaps the most famous works of art in human history: Michelangelo's painting of the Last Judgement. It is also where the papal conclave is held. I must confess, though, that I usually smirked at least once on each visit to this sacred place. As noticeable as the works of art were the Vatican Security Guards yelling, “Shush! Silenzio! No foto!” Upon this command, the throng of people would stop, silence their conversation, and put away their cameras...for about a minute. Then, after a minute, would come the, “Shush! Silenzio! No foto!” This tennis match between the tourists and security guards went on all day.

Chicken McNuggets and Chuck. E Cheese

Dear Parishioners,

We all know how Chuck-E-Cheese works: you play games, earn tickets, and then, at the end of your time, use those tickets to redeem a prize. It's a fun place, but hopefully the concept is not something we maintain in our spiritual lives. That is, hopefully we don't see our spiritual endeavors as simply means to an end.

During this season of Lent, the Church proposes to us three special devotions: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These are like the games at Chuck-E-Cheese. The temptation is to "do" these "things"—or anything in our faith lives, i.e., going to Mass, Confession, etc.—so we can get enough tickets to get to heaven. What a strenuous proposition! Does that mean if we eat a chicken McNugget on Friday we go to Hell?

Reconciliation

Dear Parishioners,

In Ancient Israel, an individual with leprosy or any other skin malady was seen to be spiritually unclean. It was thus required for the infirm to go before a priest, be quarantined by the priest, and then ultimately be declared by the priest fit for worship. This is what we hear in our first reading from Leviticus, chapter 13.

Jesus continues this injunction when orders the healed leper to report to the priest (cf. Mk 1:40-45).

These readings can be seen as foundational for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Today's responsorial psalm also sets up the Catholic sacrament: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not. I said, ‘I confess my faults to the LORD’, and you took away the guilt of my sin” (Ps 32).

A Problem We Want

Dear Parishioners,

How I wish we had the problem today that is present in our Gospel this Sunday! “The whole town was gathered at the door” (Mk 1:33). Jesus is so successful preaching and healing that he can barely move. He has no time for himself. He runs off early in the morning to a quiet place to pray. But even this doesn't work. “Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’” (Mk 1:36-37).

These people wanted Jesus so badly. They pursued him relentlessly. Why? Because Jesus is good for them. He is good for us. Jesus makes us whole. He heals us. He inspires us to be better people. He unites us to the Father, which is our ultimate purpose and fulfillment. “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted (Ps 147).”

Divided We Fall

Dear Parishioners,

Notice the demon in today's Gospel refers to himself in the plural. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” (Mk 1:24).

When we are not in union with Jesus Christ—when we are separated from him—we are divided internally. We eventually disintegrate.

Practicing our Catholic faith unites us. Our faith makes us whole, or holy. Saint Paul writes in our second reading, “I should like you to be free of anxieties” (1 Cor 7:32). What's one way to be combat anxiety? Pray and have a relationship with God!

Fishers of Men

Dear Parishioners,

If you remember the Gospel from last week, we had the calling of the brothers Andrew and Peter. It was from the Gospel of John, and a slightly different version than what we have this Sunday from the Gospel of Mark. In John, Jesus simply walks by and Andrew follows him. Andrew then finds his brother Peter and brings him to Jesus. In Mark, Jesus approaches Andrew and Peter, who are fishing, and says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They drop their nets and follow. Jesus is more proactive in today's version. So, which version is accurate?

It could be both. Historically speaking, John's version might have occurred first and then Mark's been a further occurrence. That is, after being introduced to Jesus (John), Peter and Andrew might have gone back to fishing and then Jesus called them again (Mark).

Salvation History

The ancient Romans believed in many gods, and their chief god was Jupiter. The title they gave Jupiter was, in Latin, Conservator, or savior. Salvation, in the pagan mindset, consisted in the conservation of Rome: the preservation of the status quo of Roman society. For Christianity, our God, who is also a savior, is not a conservator—one who preserves the particular society—but a salvator—one who renews and transforms society. The Church, the Body of Christ the savior, is always moving forward, renewing and transforming herself. This is why we qualify our history as salvation history. The Church is not related solely to the past, but lives in the present, bearing within itself the character of hope and pointing to the future.