TEXT: 4th Sunday of Lent, March 26, 2017

4th Sunday of Lent

March 26, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Ever since the first Good Friday 2000 years ago,

the Cross and the suffering of Jesus

have been the focus of constant meditation and veneration by the Church.

We continue this tradition today, as we observe the season of Lent

–40 days and nights of meditation on the Cross of Jesus,

in preparation for the remembrance of the days

of his death and of his resurrection.

 

Lent is full of constant reminders of the Cross, and the suffering of Jesus.

For example,

we begin the season on Ash Wednesday

with the cross of ashes on our foreheads,

all during Lent we do the Stations of the Cross,

and we end Lent on Good Friday with the Solemn veneration of the Cross.

But perhaps the most vivid reminder of the Cross in Lent

are the small sacrifices we make:

the things we “give up” for Lent.

Each one of these is a reminder of the pain and suffering of Christ, of the Cross.

We are, truly, following our Lord’s admonition: “take up your cross and follow me.”

 

But these small crosses we choose to carry in Lent, also remind us

of all the other crosses in our lives that we don’t choose to carry:

the small and large crosses of every day life.

All of us have crosses we carry:

maybe we, or someone we love, has a serious illness;

maybe we’re struggling in school with grades or with friends.

It could be a million different things.

 

In today’s Gospel we find a man who’s carried a heavy cross all his life:

the man born blind.

And because of his blindness he also had the heavy cross of poverty

—he had to beg for a living.

 

Why do we have these crosses?

If God is a good God and he really loves us, why do we have to suffer?

If Jesus could heal that man born blind,

why won’t he heal you or me from our suffering,

why won’t he take my cross from me?

What is the purpose, the meaning, of suffering?

 

I think this is one of the worst parts of suffering: we can’t figure out “why me?”

When we look at Christ’s suffering, the meaning seems very clear:

he suffered and died to save us.

But for us, we don’t always see any reason at all for our suffering.

But the thing is, every suffering we endure has a reason.

Just as Jesus transformed his suffering and death on the Cross

into the Resurrection,

God always has something good he wants to bring out of our suffering.

____

A few years ago, one of parishioners suffered from a terribly debilitating illness,

that went on for years, leaving her in almost constant pain,

both physically and emotionally.

But through that pain her faith in Jesus Christ shined through.

So that time and time again,

she would tell me how she had met a doctor or nurse or another patient

in the hospital or doctor’s office.

And how somehow, they would always come around to asking

about how she was able to cope with all the suffering with so much peace,

and how she would then share her faith in Jesus

and the grace he gave her to carry her cross.

And time and time and again, she would come back a few weeks later

and tell me how that stranger had been

an atheist but now was starting to read the bible,

or Protestant but was starting to pray the Rosary,

or a fallen away Catholic but was coming Mass again.

And time and time again she praised God for giving her that cross, to help bring people to the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.

____

Now, suffering can be directly caused by many different things.

One of the most prominent causes is sin: either our sins, or sins of others.

When we sin, there’s usually some sort of painful consequence

–a woman gets drunk on Friday, she has hangover on Saturday.

The same is true with other people’s sins

their sins cause you pain:

–one teenager gossips about a second teenager,

and the sin of one ruins the reputation of the second.

–a father abandons his family, and wife and children are devastated.

 

But sometimes suffering has nothing to do with sin:

sometimes God chooses to allow us to endure suffering

simply as part of his plan for the salvation of the world.

In today’s Gospel we read:

“His disciples asked [Jesus],

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,

that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned;

…[ he was born blind] so that

the works of God might be made visible through him.”

 

God allows the suffering as part of his plan for some greater good, and ultimately for some part of salvation.

It’s as if God gives you something important to do,

but like all important things it will be difficult to accomplish.

Troops in battle endure great hardship,

but they know their suffering is necessary

for the success of in the mission.

Mothers endure great discomfort for nine months,

and then the agonizing pain of childbirth

—and then smile like the sun holding their newborn babies.

 

God always intends to bring good from suffering

–but sometimes we fight that good.

And it’s not always easy to see the good.

But if you can have just enough faith and confidence in the love of God,

that in his plan, all the suffering in life will work out for the good,

if we allow it to,

then you can know there is a reason…and a great reason.

Think of it: your suffering is part of God’s plan for something great

—what difference does it make if you don’t know exactly what it is?

____

Even the suffering we bring on our selves, the suffering caused by sin,

even that has a purpose for the good.

Most people nowadays don’t want to think about this kind of suffering

as a kind of punishment—but that’s what it is.

We have a hard time accepting this, because most of us still view punishment,

like we did when we were 4 year olds: “daddy’s mad at me.”

Instead of looking at it like an adult, realizing that fathers who love their children

allow them to learn from their mistakes, to suffer the consequences.

As Scripture tells us:

“For the Lord disciplines, him whom he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.”

So even when we suffer from our sins, God either allows it for our own good

—so that we can repent and change;

or for some other good in the greater plan he has for the world.

___

Now, sometimes people talk about “accepting” suffering.

What they usually mean by this is

that they’ve simply accepted the inevitable.

But what they should be doing is not merely accepting suffering,

but rather “embracing” their suffering.

This is where suffering, amazing as it sounds, can bring us joy.

 

Embracing the Cross as Christ did:

not as an act of masochism, of eagerness to suffer,

but as an act of love: Jesus loved us and the Father,

and so embraced the Cross to

fulfill the Father’s plan for our salvation.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that

the man born blind had been blind from birth and all his life.

Imagine how many people discovered the love of God,

and the Lordship of Christ because of the blind man’s illness,

or rather Jesus’ curing of his illness:

maybe his parents or neighbors, even some of the Pharisees?

Imagine the joy of that blind man to know,

not only that God had healed him and spoken to him,

but that God, Jesus, had allowed him to help in healing and speaking to

billions of readers of the Gospel for 2000 years.

 

And so, in the light of Christ’s Cross we read and understand

“Come to me, all [you] who find life burdensome…

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;

…For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.””

___

Today we read that Jesus cured the man born blind….

but we know he didn’t heal every one.

Sometimes suffering is necessary…

The question is: how do we deal with suffering?

 

Let me say, we are certainly free, and sometimes even required,

to try to overcome suffering

—the sick normally should accept the cures modern science offers,    through the mercy of God.

But when that’s not possible, do we try to reject suffering altogether?

This is useless, because the suffering remains:

and we only wind up in frustration, and despair.

Or do we merely accept it?

This is better, more realistic,

but it can still leave us wallowing in pain and confusion,

and even bitterness toward God.

 

Or do we embrace our suffering

—do we pick up the cross as Christ picks up his Cross?

Embracing it with love, rejoicing as St. Paul did when he wrote to the Philippians:

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,

and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ

for the sake of his body, that is, the church,”

____

Today priests wear the bright Rose vestments of “Laetare, or “Rejoice,” Sunday,

instead of the dark penitential violet of the other days of Lent

to remind us that glory of God

always shines thru the suffering of the Cross.

As we approach this Eucharist today,

let us see that just as the love of Christ Crucified

transforms the suffering of the Cross

into the glory of the Resurrection,

in this Eucharist that same love transforms

the bread and wine into his own Body and Blood,

and our sacrifices into part of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross,

and our suffering into a share of the joy of the Resurrection.

____

There is a reason for all suffering.

By God’s grace, the man born blind was able to see the reason for his suffering.

Let us pray today that God give us the grace in this Eucharist

to see the particular reason for our suffering.

But more importantly, let us pray for the grace

to see our suffering as truly Jesus’ gift to us

and to embrace our crosses in love.

“So that” like the man born blind,

“the works of God might be made visible through” us.

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Lent, March 19, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent

March 19, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“I thirst.”

Jesus said these words as he hung on the Cross.

But he also could have said them as he came out of his 40 days in the desert

where he was tempted by the devil.

And he also probably said them to himself

in the scene recorded in today’s Gospel,

as, tired from his long journey, he sat down by a well in the hot mid-day sun.

 

But, while Jesus’ thirst was genuinely physical in each of these cases,

his was also a spiritual thirst that came from being surrounded by sin,

like the very fires of hell burning hot all around him.

The thirst of those deprived of the waters of ever-lasting life and grace.

It is not his thirst, just as it is not his sin, but it surrounds him and assaults him.

 

And thus spiritually parched he encounters someone

who has contributed greatly to his thirst by her many sins:

A woman who comes out in the mid-day sun, the hottest time of the day,

in order to avoid her neighbors:

she is a notorious sinner–an adulteress—

both spurned by others and afraid of their animosity.

 

And yet this is exactly why Jesus is here

—he’s come specifically to meet her, because she is a sinner.

 

And Jesus deals with her the way he deals with all sinners.

First, he goes someplace he knows sinners will be.

For example, he goes to dinners with tax collectors and prostitutes,

and he goes to the temple, to meet the hypocritical priests and scribes.

And he goes to the Samaritan well in the heat of the day

to meet the adulterous woman.

 

And just like he does with all sinners, he waits for her.

Like the father in the story of the prodigal son,

he waits for sinners to return to him.

Patiently, he waits for you and me for years and even decades.

Tired and thirsty in the heat of the mid-day sun,

he patiently waits for the woman at the well.

 

And when she approaches, he is the first to speak

—he will not be silent in the face of sin.

And he speaks to her in very direct and clear tones: “Give me a drink”

Right to the point, but drawing her into conversation.

And right to the point—he quickly confronts her with the truth

Just as he spoke to the Pharisees, confronting them very directly with their sins:

“you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup …

but inside you are full of …wickedness.”

And to the money-changers in the temple, telling them they had,

“made it a den of thieves.”

So he speaks to the woman at the well:

“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’

For you have had five husbands,

and the one you have now is not your husband.”

 

And finally, he treats each person uniquely

—he knows very well that every sinner is different,

and that each needs a slightly different approach.

So sometimes, with sinners who needed it,

Jesus had to raise his voice in righteous anger:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, …you brood of vipers,

how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

And sometimes he resorted even to physical force to make his point:

even making a whip to drive the money-changers out of the temple.

But sometimes, the sinner simply needs

a calm and gentle, but strong and clear, voice,

as with this broken, lonely woman at the well.

This is how Christ is: adapting to the person,

but always with directness and truth,

never compromising or backing down,

and no half-measures.

 

It’s incredible, all Jesus does just to save sinners.

He suffers for and because of our sins,

and yet he comes seeking us,

waits patiently,

tells us the truth, even when that might mean we’ll walk away.

and approaches each of us in the way best suited for us personally.

 

Yet even all this isn’t enough to win sinners back.

Because God loves us so much that he gives us the great gift of “free will”

–he gives us and respects our freedom to choose.

Two weeks ago we read how Adam and Eve made the wrong choice.

Today the woman at the well must also choose.

She brings her dry, empty water jar out

looking for a way to temporarily quench her thirst.

But rather quickly she discovers she has a choice.

She can choose to be satisfied temporarily with pleasures of the world,

and die in sin,

or she can accept the love and grace of Jesus and live forever.

She can wallow in the filth of her own sin,

or she can be cleansed and refreshed in the waters of Baptism.

 

Like Eve before her, she must choose.

But unlike Eve before her, this time she chooses well.

So, unlike Eve, who hid from God when he came looking for her in the garden,

the Samaritan woman admits the sins of her past to God—Jesus—

and repents.

So that while before, she carried her empty jar as a sign

of her dependence on the pleasures of the world

now Scripture tells us:

“The woman left her water jar and went into the town.”

Now leaving her sins behind, she’s no longer afraid her neighbors,

but now runs to them to tell that she has found the Messiah.

 

____

The choice might seem simple and obvious to us.

But if it’s so easy, why do you and I have such a hard time imitating her?

Why don’t we leave behind our sins like an empty water jar,

and then run out and tell the good news to our neighbors?

To choose Christ is hard

—especially when it means rejecting a whole way, or “pattern,”

of sinful living accumulated over years.

 

Consider for example 3 patterns of life

that effect almost everyone in one way or another today

—patterns as old as the story of the Samaritan woman,

and even older than that.

 

First consider the debasing attitude she had toward sex

—she had committed the sin of adultery over and over again.

Today we’re surrounded by this same mentality.

And the incredible saturation of society with immodesty and lust

makes it so overwhelming

that for some, sexual sins become almost like an addiction.

Whether large or relatively small, mortal or venial,

from the way they dress to they way act,

otherwise good people get so easily and unexpectedly caught up in it,

and try as they might can’t seem to find a way out.

 

Look, for the example,

at the pressure on young couples dating and struggling to be chaste.

Or look at pornography—or rather don’t look at it.

But it’s everywhere—and God didn’t make us for this kind of

constant and unnatural barrage of the senses and appetites.

Then there’s the terrible debilitating habits of masturbation and contraception

—both so easy to fall into,

but both so degrading to sexuality and the human person.

The woman at the well knew how hard this type of life is to put behind you

—and unfortunately, way too many people today do also.

 

Then consider the related pattern of life that degrades marriage itself.

It became too easy for the Samaritan woman to set one man aside

and take another

—or perhaps for one man to set her aside leaving her prey for another.

The same is true today:

look at all the folks who so easily set aside their marriage vows;

and then attempt to marry others, without God’s blessing.

Or all the couples who are cohabitating without being married.

—just like the woman at the well with her current man.

 

And finally, consider the world’s attitude toward women.

The woman at the well lived in a time

when men were forbidden to even talk to a strange women in public.

Today we pride ourselves on the progress we’ve made in respecting women.

But have we really progressed?

Then why is spousal abuse and abandonment so common?

And why is the degradation of the female body the centerpiece

of the booming pornography industry?

And why does society degrade the women who want to be mothers,

and encourage mothers to kill their unborn babies?

And why do we deceive women into thinking that contraception

will somehow give them greater freedom,

when in fact the exact opposite is true.

The woman at the well knew how it was to be trapped like this,

and so do many here today.

 

____

Most of us don’t get to see Jesus face to face, in the flesh,

like the Samaritan women did.

But even so, Jesus promised the apostles:

“Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”

And on the first Easter he told the apostles:

“as the father has sent me, so I send you.”

…whose sins you forgive are forgiven.”

And so he continues to come to sinners

in the person of His priests and in His sacraments.

In particular, he comes to us in the sacrament of penance:

where he waits for us, speaks to us,

and meets us with the compassion or correction we need to start again.

And in Jesus’ name the priest washes us clean from sin in the grace

that flows like water from the well of His Heart pierced on the Cross.

 

And yet, how few take advantage of this wonderful sacrament.

Think about this:

last week we gave Communion to maybe 3000 folks

at in this parish.

And yet we heard just a little over 100 confessions all last week.

That’s about 3% of Communions.

And a lot of those folks who came to confession

go to confession at least once a month, if not more often.

Which means a huge number of folks just don’t go confession.

 

In just a few minutes Jesus will come to us sinners,

truly present in the Eucharist—body, blood, soul and divinity—

just as surely as he came to the woman at the well.

But remember, before Christ would give the Samaritan woman

the life-giving water, he first had her face and confess her sins,

and leave her life of sin behind.

How many of us need to confess and leave our sins behind

before we ask Christ to give himself to us in the Eucharist?

 

___

Now, of course you only have to go to confession before Communion

if you have a mortal sin to confess.

Maybe you don’t have a mortal sin to confess—but then again, maybe you do.

I’m not saying you’re all terrible sinners,

I just know that sometimes we just get so used to our sins

we sort of accept them as part of us,

like the woman at the well did—until Jesus confronted her with the truth.

That’s why I made that purple pamphlet that’s all around the church,

the Guide to a Good Confession and Examination of Conscience,

to help us to stop and carefully look at our lives,

and perhaps recognize the sins we’ve simply come to ignore or accept.

 

But, even if you don’t have a mortal sin to confess,

why wouldn’t you want to go to confession

to be washed clean from all your sins—even venial?

To make a brand new fresh start on life?

Why wouldn’t you want to take the time to examine your conscience well

and humbly confess your sins to Christ,

and really commit to live the life He calls you to?

And more importantly,

why wouldn’t you go just to receive the grace poured out on you

in the sacrament?

Remember, it’s not just the priest in the confessional

—Christ himself is waiting,

like he waited for the Samaritan woman at the well.

 

____

But in both of these sacraments, as in all things, he needs us to choose.

We can come to confession or not, we can make a good confession or not.

We can choose to receive him worthily in Communion…or not.

And we can be open to the grace of both Communion and Confession…or not.

We must choose.

 

This Lent, imitate the woman at the well

and recognize that Jesus comes to us and waits for us, and loves us

—sinners that we are.

As she leads us to Christ,

let us choose to allow him to change our hearts and our lives,

so that we will no longer seek the temporary satisfaction

of the empty pleasures of the world,

waiting to die in the thirst of our sins,

but instead choose to let Christ fill us to overflowing

with the waters of everlasting life,

and live in his love—now and forever.