Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lent: What’s It For?

March 9, 2014
1st Sunday of Lent


Gen 2, 7-9; 3,1-7 / Rom 5, 12-19 / Mt 4, 1-11

We’ve begun the season of Lent.  I’d like to talk about Lent.  It’s important that we understand what Lent is about.  What’s Lent supposed to do?

We usually understand Lent to be a serious time for soul-searching, prayer and penance.  And so it is.  But Lent is more – much more than our observances.  Listen to how the Church presents Lent to us in a Lenten preface prayer.  That’s the prayer said right before the Eucharistic prayer.  There we pray: Father, by your gracious gift each year your faithful await the sacred paschal feasts with the joy of minds made pure.  The Church would have us regard Lent as a time for becoming joyful as we look forward to Easter.

Lent prepares us to celebrate the greatest of all Christian feasts – Easter – the celebration of our dying into new life with Jesus, the Lord.  Historically Lent actually grew up as a kind of afterthought.  The Church had always celebrated Easter but learned we needed time – time to be able to enter into Easter’s joy.  So we might do well to take a look at Lent’s destination to see where we are headed – resurrection and new life.

There’s an ancient, ancient homily for Holy Saturday written anonymously and found in the Roman breviary.  The Roman breviary is a prayer book for priests and monks.  And so this homily is what the Church would have all serious Christians reflect on as they prepare for Easter.  In the homily the author imagines the Risen Jesus descending into hell and crying out: “Adam, Adam, arise!  Come forth, Adam!  For now into eternity you and I are one.  You and I are one, undivided person.”

“You and I are one, undivided person.” Jesus says.  Easter and Lent are given us to help us to understand and own more deeply our being one with Christ.  Jesus is the Word of God that names me and names me true.  Jesus identifies who I am.  His Father is my Father.  His Spirit is my Spirit.  His life is my life.  And, as we learned in the gospel, his temptations are my temptations.

The temptation stories we heard in the first reading from Genesis and in the gospel emphasize our struggle to recognize the truth about ourselves.  In the garden Adam and Eve are tempted and fall for the lie that they are not already made in the image and likeness of God.  Remember the words of the serpent: “If you eat the apple, you will be like God.”  The whole creation story had emphasized they already are like God – already are made in God’s image and likeness.  In the desert Jesus is tempted and overcomes the lie to identify himself with what he has – with what he can do – with what people think of him.  He chooses to remain firm in the reality of who he most truly is: Son of God, Child of God, Beloved of God.

 In Lent we learn to stand firm with Jesus in his choice – as sons and daughters of God.  We learn these temptations are only the lure to become less – to become diminished – to embrace illusion and endless discontent.  Our Lenten journey is toward endless discovery.  We want to own our true name and identity – inhabit our true life – the real, eternal life that can never be taken from us – not even by our own sin.  Sin hasn’t the power to break God’s presence to us.  The gift has been given!

In Lent let us allow ourselves to be surprised and stunned by what God will do to bring our identity with Jesus to clarity within us.  Let God astonish you!  Let God say to you:

You are my son.  You are my daughter.  Apart from all you have – apart from all you can do – apart from all that people think of you – it’s in you that I am well pleased.  It’s in you, as you are, that I have my delight!   You are my beloved – now and into eternity!
Fr. Pat Earl, SJ

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Doing What Comes Supernaturally

February 23, 2014
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lev 19, 1-2,17-18 / 1Cor 3, 16-23 / Mt 5, 38-48


Whenever I hear these words of Jesus – words about turning the other cheek – about giving to everyone who begs – about loving your enemies – all sorts of images and feelings come up.  I see myself walking along Tryon Street, meeting a homeless man, being asked for money and referring him to Urban Ministry.  Usually the comeback is: “I’ve been there already.  They can’t help me.”  And usually my comeback is: “Sorry, I can’t give you money.”  My feelings in all this are very mixed, as are my thoughts.   Am I doing right here?  Am I just avoiding doing the right thing?

Then there are the times I recall my not so loving feelings toward someone who loudly disagrees with me or clearly dislikes me.  As I said, my inner feelings, my secret words to myself are not at all loving or kind or understanding toward that person.  Can I react differently?  I try.  But you come at me in a threatening way – I can’t promise you a turned cheek or a loving response.  I can’t promise you that.

But then there are the times when – in a modest way, even in a stumbling way – I really try and somehow do manage a bit of love toward those who hurt me or dismiss me or just ignore me.  There are those times when I can almost hear Jesus saying: “I think you’re getting it, Pat.  Keep at it!”  These are times when I feel myself being stretched.  And the stretching is not all coming from me.  The stretching hurts, and yet feels right, feels good, feels: This is as it should be.  It feels like a gift – like a demanding grace.  And I’m doing it.  I’m doing what grace is demanding of me.  And what grace demands is that I begin to love as God loves.

This is the amazing grace and the amazing challenge that Jesus is giving us in the gospel: to love, yes, - but to love as God loves.  It is to be good as God is good.  That requires moving beyond what common sense tells me to hold on to: to my suspicions, fears and angers.  And I do feel the push to move beyond these.  After all, my life can’t be made to depend on what I fear and hate.  These can’t be defining for me.  There’s got to be more – more to me – more to life.  And Jesus says:  You’re right!  There is more, much more to you and to your life than fear and anger.

It is deeply true, it is gospel truth that this sense within me of the more-ness of life – that life has got to be more than the confines of my fears and angers – it is deeply true that this sense within me is the call, the voice of Jesus.  It is the voice of the Living, Risen Lord calling me to follow him – follow him in the way he makes present to the world how God loves.

It is the Lord!  Those are the words we hear in the gospel from people who recognize the Risen Lord’s presence to them.  It is the Lord!  It is ever the Lord’s call to us to the more-ness of life – to the more-ness of love.  It will confuse us.  It will humble us.  And it will free us – for deeper life and deeper love.

It is the same Living, Risen Lord at this Eucharist who calls us to take in his life and his love – to take into ourselves his way of living and his way of loving.  He calls us to have communion with him – communion with him as the one who feeds and forms the way we are with other people.

So let us respond to the call.  Let us be good as God is good.  That is what makes us a parish.  We try to make it a little easier for each of us to be good as God is good.

 Fr. Pat Earl, SJ

Monday, February 24, 2014

Jesus: The Wisdom of God

February 16, 2014
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sir 15,15-20/ 1Cor 2, 6-10 / Mt 5, 17-37

Paul speaks to us about wisdom.  It’s a wisdom that’s not for everyone.  It’s not easily understood by people who follow the delights and decisions commonly valued by our society.  The wisdom that Paul is speaking of is Christ.  Christ is the Wisdom of God.

Today’s gospel scene - the Sermon on the Mount – presents Jesus to us as the Wisdom of God.  But here we need to be absolutely clear.  Wisdom is much more than knowledge.  Knowledge gives us the facts of life; it knows about life.  Wisdom knows how to live.  Knowledge can define life.  Wisdom decides how we are to live life this day.

Jesus is the Wisdom of God.  He shows us how to make decisions that fulfill “the law and the prophets” – meaning – how to make decisions that do God’s will – decisions that will make God’s vision of life into everyday reality.  So it would be deeply wrong to understand what Jesus is saying in the Sermon on the Mount as offering us wonderful ideals – a powerful ideology to inspire us.  What Jesus is saying is not there for us just to appreciate and applaud, however fervently.  Rather, Jesus tells us: “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Obeying is actually doing the commandments.  The obeying is the doing.  And when we actually do the commandments, then, in that way, we also teach the commandments.  The Sermon on the Mount is all about obeying, doing, teaching.  It’s all about obeying Jesus by doing Jesus – and so teaching Jesus.  When we don’t do Jesus, then we reject him.  And we deny his divinity.  After all, he can’t be much of a God to us if we do not obey him by doing him.  And perhaps we have found something else or someone else to rely on - maybe our American culture - perhaps ourselves.

The Sermon on the Mount wants to be a practical sermon on how we are to live Jesus – do Jesus – and so, teach Jesus to others.  And take note of this. In the sermon Jesus pays special attention to where our actual behavior comes from.  His thinking is that if we can get a handle on that, then we have a real chance at doing what he says.

For example, he says our violence comes from the heart – from our anger.  If we have a care for where our heart is and where our anger is leading us, then we can begin to do Jesus.  Imagine a family, a parish, a church – where we keep in touch with where our hearts are.  That’s a community where anger can be transformed into forgiveness.

Jesus says our adulteries – our abuse and betrayal of others – these come from how we perceive people.  “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust,…” he says to us.  We need to become aware of how we really do perceive people.  They are not there for our use and convenience.  People are not appliances.  That would be the worst kind of pornography.

He takes on the culture of his day and its practice of divorce.  In that culture the husband only needed to make a declaration of divorce to effect the divorce and send his wife away.  Marriage and divorce embodied male privilege.  Jesus is saying to us: become aware of the power structures in which you live.  Unjust structures enable unjust behavior.  “Thou shalt not” also applies to accepted institutions and practices.  What is powerful and who are powerful must be held to accountability.  I think in the Church we have a challenging journey ahead of us: to create suitable structures of accountability for all the people of God – including pastors and bishops.
Finally, he talks to us about how we are to talk and communicate with one another.  And he says we are to let the simple truth guide our conversations – simply the truth.  Doing that simple truth will enable us finally to trust one another.  That’s a trust we so much need to move beyond our suspicions and cynicism.

Above all, we should let our lives speak Jesus – speak Jesus simply.  He is our way.  He is our truth.  Jesus is our life.  As Pope Francis reminds us, what the world yearns for is not more words, however clever and eloquent.  What the world yearns for is witness – the witness of our lives as disciples of Jesus – the living Christ.

Let us obey Christ.  Let us do Christ.  Let us teach Christ – the Wisdom of God.

Fr. Pat Earl, SJ

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Being Full of Life

February 9, 2014
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 58, 7-10 /1Cor 2, 1-5 / Mt 5, 13-16

Jesus said to his disciples: You are to be the dullness in life.  You are to be life’s blandness.  And you are to be the paleness, the dimness, the murkiness we find each day in life.  So, among yourselves, just be cool and indifferent.  Let your reactions to whatever happens be lukewarm.  And as for your words to one another – let them be nicely shallow, politely predictable and pleasantly superficial.  Basically, just be “bread and water” for one another.  In summing up your relation to life as it comes at you, let these words do the summing up: “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable.”

Now Jesus did not really say such things to his disciples, did he?  In fact, he chose very different images for his disciples – images that directly contradict those we’ve just heard.  As disciples, he says, you are not to be bland – not dull.  Rather, you are to be the salt of the earth.  Your very presence is to lend taste to life.  It is to enhance life’s flavor and bring out for others their own savor and spice.  It’s in your absence that life should seem to become bland and dull.

You are not to even give a hint of appearing pale or dim or murky – because you are to be light for the world.  Your presence brings brightness and warmth – allowing others to recognize and rejoice in the brilliance and fire they bring to life.  It is in your absence that life should seem to become shadowy and lives should seem to remain unthawed and stiff.

Jesus chose simple yet life-giving, nourishing images to describe his disciples – to describe us.  Salt: it opens up a person to flavor – even to their own flavor.  Light: it allows a person to see and grasp reality - even their own reality.  We are to feed, fuel and flame up one another’s lives.

That is how Jesus would have us understand and imagine ourselves.  Stop and think on this!  What would our everyday lives look like – if we really took on to ourselves, really inhabited the images Jesus is using about us?  I am salt!  I am light!  I give flavor to life – to others.  I am a lamp bringing luster – to others.  Imagine wanting to say to others: I want to feed and flow into your life.

Jesus recognized just how powerfully images communicate.  Remember he told us he wanted to become “bread and wine” for us in our life journey.  He wanted to share his love and his life with us.  He recalls us to those images at every liturgy.  I want to be bread and wine – body and blood for you.  Take from me and eat.  Be nourished.  Take and drink me in.  Be satisfied.

Images are such powerful communicators.  But stop and think on this.  What if you imagined yourself not “bread and wine” but rather “bread and water” – a diet given to people to chasten, sadden and punish them.  You could not – you would not dare invite another to take of my life and drink me in.  Sadly, you could not dream of yourself bringing nourishment and goodness to others.

Self-image tells us who the person is we really live with.  Who am I – to myself?  Am I here – as a disciple?  Am I here – trying to learn how to be a disciple?  Or, am I here – just to go to church?

At this Eucharist let us allow Jesus to speak to us his self-image and our self-image: bread and wine – body and blood – given out for the life of the world.  Let that be our communion with the Lord and with one another.  Together we give ourselves out – for the life of the world.
Fr. Pat Earl, SJ

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My Eyes See Your Salvation!

February 2, 2014
The Presentation of the Lord

Mal 3, 1-4 /Heb 2, 14-18 / Lk 2, 22-40

Luke recalls the presentation of the child Jesus in the Jerusalem temple.  He makes a point that this child will be raised as a Jew.  Three times he says Joseph and Mary fulfilled what the law of Moses required.  Jesus will be raised in a kosher home.  He will grow, become strong and wise as a Jew.  But in the gospel Luke is also making another presentation.  And it’s a more underlying presentation.  He is presenting Jesus to us.  He is showing us who Jesus is and therefore what it will mean for us to follow him – to become his disciples.  Luke does this through Simeon – through what Simeon does and says.

Simeon takes the child into his arms.  The action describes what the disciple does: takes Jesus into his life.  And Simeon blesses God saying: Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace…  These words follow the traditional formula used to free a slave from bondage.  The words describe what becomes of the disciple: he becomes free.  Taking Jesus into your life is freeing.  Becoming a disciple takes away old bondage.  The way John the Baptist will put it in the Gospel of John is that following Jesus will take away the sin of the world.  Following Jesus will mean removing the grip, the stranglehold sin has on us and will open us up to being really free.  Returning to Simeon, he puts the same thing this way: here in the way Jesus will live his life among us – here we actually see what our salvation – what our freedom- will look like. My eyes see your salvation!  We see in Jesus the shape of our salvation and freedom as his disciples.

But I want to focus on what Simeon says next.  He says something crucially important to understand the real shape of our freedom as disciples of Jesus.  He calls Jesus a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel.  The importance lies in the order: first, a light… for the Gentiles, and only then, in second place, for the glory of your people Israel.  To mention Israel after the Gentiles represents a real reversal.  It conveys the sense that Israel’s “glory” consists in having a role to play for others – for the Gentiles.  Israel’s “glory” is not holding on to herself for dear life but letting herself go – going beyond her own boundaries – to become “light for the world”.  Israel’s “glory” is not to exist just for herself – but for the world.  Her glory is that she does not belong to herself – but to the world.

Jesus, the son of David, the faithful Jew becomes the son of Man – becomes the man for others – not just for Jews.  He does not cling to religious boundaries.  Though deeply grateful for them, he does not insist on his own Jewish identity and traditions.  Rather, he calls anyone doing the will of God – doing the love of God – he calls them my brother and sister and mother [Mk 3, 35].  Jesus does not exist for himself.  He does not belong to himself.  He belongs to the world.  And his belonging to the world – his belonging to others – shows us the shape of our freedom.  As his disciples we do not belong to ourselves.  As individuals, as parish, as Church we simply do not belong to ourselves but are there for the sake of the world – for the sake of other people – especially the neediest.  Church is us being there for all – and so becoming brother, sister and mother to Jesus.

 Following Jesus will mean for us taking away the sin in our lives of being there just for ourselves – just for our group – just for our church. It will free us from the narrow life, lived in constant self-concern and self-reference, and open us to the beauty and the needs of other people.  As our Catholic sisters and brothers from Latin America assure us, “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort.”[Aparecida Document, 360].

We gather as good Catholics – as disciples – called to belong to Jesus by no longer belonging to ourselves.  Let us be Church – there for all – and so become brother, sister and mother to the living Jesus.
Fr. Pat Earl, SJ

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


January 26, 2014
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 8,23-9, 3 / 1Cor 1, 10-13, 17 / Mt 4, 12-23

This entire year we will be reading the Gospel of Matthew at our Sunday liturgies.  Matthew’s gospel is the longest of the four gospels, and one of the things it wants to do is present Jesus to us as a prophet.  But, what is a prophet?  Our first answer might be to say a prophet is someone who predicts the future.  To prophesy is to predict – to foretell what’s going to happen.  But that is not the biblical understanding of prophet and prophecy.  According to that understanding, a prophet stands before people and points to the presence of God among them.  The prophet announces God’s powerfully acting presence in our world and then urges us to join in with God’s work – to join in with God’s working presence among us.

In the Hebrew scriptures the prophet is always a kind of cheeky challenger taking on the religious establishment.  Whereas priests might urge people to more devotion and religious ceremonies, the prophet announces God’s real presence and work go beyond our safe sanctuaries and into our streets, homes and workplaces.  God’s grandeur is to be experienced in unlikely people and places.  What we think God-less, the prophet calls God-filled.  The prophet is controversial, unsettling – embarrassing.  He rarely lives a peaceful life or lets others live their lives peacefully.  For Matthew, Jesus is The Prophet the prophet pointing to God’s presence in the world in an absolutely reliable way.  Jesus calls that powerful presence among us “the Kingdom of God”.  The “Kingdom” is where he finds God’s working clearly, unmistakably present in our midst.

Today’s gospel shows Jesus beginning his ministry as a prophet.  His first word – to all and to us – is “Change!”  “Change your life!”  And with that he is announcing God’s presence.  God’s work is our change.  God’s work is our lives being changed.  The change that Jesus announces is deep – very deep.  The Greek word Jesus uses for “change” is metanoia.  And that kind of change means a radical re-thinking and re-understanding – a radical re-valuing of life.  That’s God at work – both within us and among us: changing our perspective, changing our take on things.  We then start to understand what it is to really be alive.

To be alive – to be fully human – comes to mean:  being full of compassion –being compassionate as God our Father is compassionate: bringing mercy, help, support to those in need.  The change, the metanoia God is bringing about is truly something joyful.  It cleanses our hearts of the narrow, selfish interests that so diminish our daily lives.  It frees us from things we do not need and frees us for people who do need us.

Our God-worked change, our metanoia, our conversion begins when we discover that the truly important thing is not figuring out how to earn more money – but how to be more human.  Not how to get something – but how to become ourselves – how to become our fully human, compassionate selves.  That’s the Kingdom of God Jesus declares is coming upon us.

The Kingdom of God is God’s work and it is our change.  Jesus, our prophet, is pointing to God’s clear, unmistakable presence among us in an absolutely reliable way.  And he calls us to join in with God’s work.  He invites us to become part and partner in our own wonderful transformation.  He calls us to become his disciples.

“Follow me”, he says to us.  And together we will heal our sisters and brothers from everything that destroys and degrades their humanity.  Change!  Change your life!  And become my Church on earth!  Change!  Change your life!  And become God’s Kingdom come down to earth!  Change!

Fr. Pat Earl, SJ


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Living Jesus

January 19, 2014
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 49, 3,5-6 / 1Cor 1, 1-3 / John 1, 29-34

The decorations are gone.  The crib is gone.  We have celebrated Christmas and Epiphany.  We have left behind the babe in the manger.  Now we are coming to meet the adult Jesus.  Liturgically we call this Ordinary Time – meaning we are focusing on Jesus’ everyday, unspectacular presence and ministry among us now.  Ordinary Time is a searching time when we look to find the Living Jesus among us here and now – not the Jesus of mere memory – but the Jesus of real presence who brings us grace and peace.

So Ordinary Time can be an exciting time.  In our first reading from the prophet Isaiah we hear this can be a time when we actually see God’s radiant glory being revealed among us.  For us as Christians this is the powerful presence of the Living Jesus.  But how – how do we search for and find Jesus’ real presence?  What are we to look for?

John the Baptist found Jesus.  He recognized him to be what he called “God’s lamb who leads us out of our sinfulness”.  But what did John actually see in Jesus?  What was he looking for?  John the Baptist can help us learn what to look for, as we search for the Living Jesus.

John’s testimony gets very interesting.  At the same time he is testifying to who Jesus is, he also tells us he did not know who he was.  Twice he tells us: “I did not know who he truly was.”  The only thing he sees in Jesus – and the only thing that really matters to John – is that he sees and senses God’s Spirit resting in Jesus.

So if we are going to find the Living Jesus, we have to look for the presence of God’s Spirit.  Traditionally, along with St. Paul, the Church has taught we can actually recognize the presence of God’s Spirit in what are called “the fruits of the Holy Spirit”.  Where God’s Spirit is present, this is what we see:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  But these things do not exist all by themselves.  Joy can only be found in joyful people and so too with love, peace and all the other signs of God’s Spirit.

We find God’s Spirit in people.  And that is where we find the Living Jesus.  The Living Jesus is people – is us.  That’s why we call the people who bring love, joy, peace into the world the Body of Christ.

We are recognizably the Living Jesus when we – like God’s Lamb – help people out of their sinfulness by being generously and gently loving to them.

There’s a woman – a poet who recalls having the very same experience as John the Baptist.  She recognized the Living Jesus, God’s Spirit resting in a person.  And this is how Alice Walker describes her experience of a minister in a little church in Oakland, California.  This is what she found in the minister.  Listen to her words.

…a Spirit that “helps us to love one another – to shed our fears of unworthiness – to shed our habits of self-hatefulness – to shed our greed to be accepted as something other than what we are.  …a Spirit helping us to see that so many of us “are starving for the sight of something Real – dying for the sound of something True.”  …a Spirit praying within each of us so we may “know that nothing stops a lie like being yourself.”

I would like to meet that minister in Oakland.  During this Ordinary Time we are called to search out and find the Living Jesus.  He will be found within each of us.  He will be found in people – in our families and friends.

But he will also be found – and this is so important for us to realize – the Living Jesus will also be found in those we call stranger – in those we call immigrant and undocumented – and even in those we call enemy.  We will just have to learn to admit as John the Baptist did: “I did not know who he truly was.”  It will be in just this way that the Living Jesus, God’s Lamb, will be leading us out of our sinful, dark world and into the bright world of his real presence – his real presence in each one of us.

Fr. Pat Earl, SJ