Advent I: The Prophetic Wait

We begin the beautiful season of Advent with a gospel which calls us to be watchful (Mark 13:33-37.) How many times have we discussed the connection between the way we live our life and the way we live our faith; but Advent may be the time of the year where these two areas of our lives depart the most from each other. Advent calls for a time of reflection, requiring a certain slowing down… but during these weeks approaching Christmas, we seldom have time to pause and reflect. As much as we may try, this is one of the busiest times of the year for anybody. How do we live the spirit of Advent in the midst of the hectic activities of these weeks?

Sunday’s line, “You do not know the time,” and its many variations often has been interpreted in terms of preparedness for death—and we discussed preparedness for death when we reflected about the celebration of All Souls. However, this holy preparedness should be understood as an attitude of constant attention to recognizing the presence of Jesus in our lives. Now, one of the beauties of the liturgical calendar is our sense of season: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ordinary Time… each season emphasizes a different attitude, a different dimension of our faith. Each season also identifies with a different dimension of Christ: reflecting about the Risen Christ of Easter may not be the same, spiritually, as searching for Christ in Lent. What is special about the Christ in Advent?

I believe the emphasis in Advent is precisely the absence of Christ. The season helps us reflect on the situations were Christ seems absent. We read the prophets during this season precisely because they denounced the absence of the Holy at the same time that they dreamed and proclaimed the promise of a better future.

Advent is the season of waiting, but not an idle waiting. Advent is an invitation to look at ourselves and at the world around us and to see how much we lack Jesus, how much we and the world around us lack Jesus’ values. To learn to know ourselves and read reality the way the prophets did takes time. Advent is, as we have said about so many things, a process, a pilgrimage, a school in the art of prophetic waiting.

Blog Pic, Advent I

 

Fifth Sunday of Lent: From Death into Life

The lectionary for the Fifth (and last) Sunday of Lent presents us with the powerful gospel of the Resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). John’s gospel is highly symbolic, and because of its theological complexity, it can be interpreted in multiple ways. This gospel needs to be considered along with the two other gospels we have read on the last two Sundays: the Samaritan Woman and the Healing of the Man Born Blind. These texts from John are about growth and transformation: the woman and the blind man become disciples upon meeting Jesus.

However, unlike these two, the third text is not really about Lazarus, who is a silent (dead) character. Rather, it is about Jesus and the reaction to his teaching. Jesus, who knows his own death is imminent (after this episode, the gospel says that the High Priests and the Pharisees decided to kill him), keeps preaching about life, but he is surrounded by the death-like negativity of those around him: his disciples, his friends (represented by Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary), and the anonymous crowd that—like vultures—is seemingly rejoicing at witnessing death.

Like nowhere else in the whole of the gospels, the text says that Jesus, at seeing Mary “weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping” became “perturbed and deeply troubled.” There is no way in any language to better describe profound disappointment: perturbed and deeply troubled. But Jesus is not perturbed at Lazarus’ death, as he knows he is going to raise him. Jesus is profoundly disturbed at the lack of faith and understanding of his disciples, the sisters, the crowd—just when he is to face his own death, only equipped with the promise of the resurrection—and no wonder why he will go to the cross alone.

What does this gospel mean for us? We have reflected about Lent being a process of growth. This is the definitive stretch: growth based in believing in Jesus will bring us back to life. Our life will continue being a slow death if we keep allowing the powerful forces of selfishness, fear, indifference and hopelessness to rule over us. This has been our Lenten journey: an intentional process through which we begin to leave behind everything that keeps us tied down to structures of death—our personal tombs—so that we can, like Lazarus, hear the voice of Jesus ordering us to “come out.”

This is a great gospel to prepare for the upcoming celebration of Holy Week. Despite the appearance of death, Jesus teaches us in the Cross about living fully. The Cross of Christ is not a Cross of death, but Jesus’ ultimate self-giving gift of full life for us.

The Healing of the Blind Man (4th Sunday in Lent)

The gospel on the Fourth Sunday of Lent narrates the scene of the healing of the Blind Man (John 9:1-41). It is the second of three gospels from John, aimed at preparing the RCIA candidates and the rest of the Faith community for Holy Week. Like last week, the text could be interpreted and preached on many different ways.

Let us focus on one single aspect for now. If you have heard me preaching, you may have heard me saying this before: If the point of the gospels would only be to show that Jesus had the power to perform extraordinary miracles of healing, why is so much detail given on how the miracle is performed? There is something powerful about the way Jesus heals the man. In this one scene, Jesus “spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes.”

First thought, what Jesus does is messy, unclean. He touches the eyes of the man, the ground, he uses his own saliva… It is a lesson to us: we sometimes think that serving and helping others can be done in a clean, organized way. Authentic service will always be messy.

But the beauty of the specific way Jesus heals the blind man resonates with the story of the first Creation in Genesis. Out of the original clay, God created Adam, the first man. Out of clay, saliva—spat on the ground, Jesus creates the Blind Man anew—a man that now is able to see. The text says that his neighbors knew him as a beggar—someone who asks—and he becomes a disciple—someone who gives.  His growth is seen in how he is now able to stand up to the Pharisees.

Within the context of our Lenten theme of growth (in a faith that matters), we pray that we also can be created anew—the ultimate growth. What we read this Sunday is a miracle of sight: We will be created anew, we will grow in the measure that we see the way Jesus sees. We may even grow in a new understanding of faith, and live it not as expecting to receive (like a beggar), but as a gift that prompts us to give (like a disciple.)

On Worry (8th Sunday in OT)

We have come to the last Sunday before Lent. We have spent the whole month of February dissecting the Sermon on the Mount. It started with the Beatitudes (which we did not read because it was the Feast of the Presentation), and we have continued reflecting on Jesus’ teaching about the implications of living out the Beatitudes—what we have called “Living Beyond the Law.”

Last Sunday we reflected on the most original and challenging of Jesus’ teaching: a disciple loves, and loves to the extreme of loving the enemy. For many I have talked to, discussing love of the enemy has become a challenging, even painful, but fruitful reflection.  

This Sunday we come to the end of this long “inauguration speech” (Mt 6:24-34). Jesus begins with the famous saying, “You cannot serve two masters,” referring to money (and really, not money but rather greed), but he quickly expands our attitude about material things in the larger context of worry.

To prove that we worry about worry (pun intended), we posted on our parish Facebook page that we were going to preach about worry, and in only one day, the post was viewed by more people than 95% of all our other posts.

We worry about everything, but worry is not really very useful. According to the dictionary, worry is “to give way to unease. To allow one’s mind to dwell in difficult future scenarios.” I credit Fr. Michael White (co-author of Rebuilt and pastor of Nativity Church in North Baltimore) with preaching that we tend to believe that worry is the only way to show that we care (to show even to ourselves!). He also tells us that worry is the opposite of prayer: when we worry, we expand our problems; when we pray, we reduce them. Worry is a dialogue with ourselves, mainly about things that are not really under our control; prayer is (supposed to be) a dialogue with God about things He has already under control.

Worry is also about the future: we construct terrible future scenarios that we start to suffer about even before they actually materialize; or about the past and mistakes we may have made—in both cases avoiding to live fully the present, which is the only time we really have. Thus, a great line in this Sunday’s gospel: “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”

On Being Intentional.

I am gladly surprised with the reception of the new blog: 489 views (minus my own 🙂 ) and five comments (only one from mom). I have thought that one of the things this blog will do is to show the preparation for the Sunday homily. Here you will be able to read where I am in that process. I usually get to read the readings for the first time the Sunday before. During the week I keep thinking about it. I will share the directions of my thoughts here. Sometimes, they will end up being part of the homily, other times the ideas may be totally dismissed. I am not sure if it will be helpful for those of you who will read the posts, but it will certainly be helpful to me–and I hope you comment so I know if I am hitting someplace or not. If you are a parishioner to Sacred Heart, it may help you to prepare for our own liturgies… So here it goes for this week: Sometimes a word pops up during the process of homily preparation. Sometimes the word is in the text of the Gospel, sometimes it is not. In reflecting about the meaning of Jesus’s baptism, the word that came to mind and has stayed is “intentional”. Jesus does not need a baptism of repentance, he was without sin, but he needs a point in his own history and development in which he realizes his mission and embraces it. From that point on, he is “intentional” about his vocation. So we too are invited to become more “intentional” about our vocation. What vocation? Way before we start speaking about our “faith” vocation and how intentional are we about it, we should start by reflecting how intentional we are about our many other vocations: because being a mother, a wife, a husband, a father, a grandparent is a vocation. Being a friend–Facebook allowing–is also a vocation. Many professions are a vocation…and being a member of a Faith community should also be a vocation. The reflection this Sunday may be about this: how intentional are we about our vocations? and then How intentional are we about our very important vocation in faith. Blog to you soon!