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It is Good for Us to Be Here

A reflection for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, Year B. The readings are Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Psalm 116; Romans 8:31b-34 and Mark 9:2-10.

Transfiguration by Feofan Grek from Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral in Pereslavl-Zalessky (15th c, Tretyakov gallery) Created: early-15th century.

“Rabbi, it is good for us to be here!” (Mark 9:5)

It is so good that we are here at Church. So many have not been able to be here and starting tomorrow, where we live, we will not be here again for a few more weeks. And so, it is so good that we are able to be here. But I can’t help but think that a year ago, maybe we would not have felt the same way. In fact, I also preached a year ago – second Sunday in Lent, Gospel about the Transfiguration; March 8, 2020. That was the last Sunday we had Mass before that first lockdown. Remember going into “self isolation” that first time?

After the year we’ve had, “it’s good that we are here” has a completely different meaning.

And that’s so often how it goes. We get used to things. We take things for granted. When things are good and we have what we need, we don’t feel we have to work at it. We have Mass. We’ve always had Mass. But I guess we never really thought about what that means, until we don’t have Mass anymore.

It may be a bit of a stretch, but I kind of think that it was the same for the apostles. They knew Jesus. They had been with Jesus about three years. I don’t know what they thought about him – they’d seen the miracles and heard his preaching; they’d seen the crowds. But what did they really think of Jesus? Peter had just told Jesus that He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. That’s exactly what happens right before this story, in the previous chapter (Mark 8:29). But I am not sure they knew what that meant. They definitely did not understand the cross, nor did they understand the Resurrection. How could they? And in order to help them understand and to help them prepare for what was to come, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain and he gives them a little glimpse of what it’s going to be after the Resurrection; He gives them a little taste of what it will be in Heaven. But they still don’t understand. (At least they thought that it was good to be there.) But clearly they didn’t think of Jesus as God or as divine – because when they saw him transfigured, Scripture tells us that they were terrified.

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The End Times

A reflection for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B. The readings are Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 25; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 and Mark 1:14-20.

Image by Joachim Nusch from Pixabay

The readings today make me think of the song by the group R.E.M:  “It’s the end of the word as we know it…” ♪

Except that they maybe don’t make you feel fine at all.

Several hundred years before Christ, people were telling stories about Jonah and how God was going to destroy Nineveh. Then John the Baptist appeared on the scene telling people to “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:1-2). Then Jesus came and said, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). About 30 years later St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “The world as we know it is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31).

3000 years before that, the Mayans created a calendar that ended 5,125 years later. That was interpreted to prophecy that the world would come to an end in 2012. Remember the Mayan Apocalypse?

There are so many other end-of-world predictions that don’t make us feel fine.

I looked some of them up:

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I Am the Servant of the Lord

A reflection for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B. The readings are Samuel 7:1-5,8b-12, 14a, 16,  Psalm 89; Romans 16:25-27 and Luke 1:26-38.

I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Those famous words, spoken by that teen-age girl, in Galilee, so long ago are a great conclusion to our Advent series this year.

For the last month we’ve been reflecting on what the Church calls the “Theological Virtues”: Faith, Hope and Love, as a response to all the doubt, despair and fear that seems to be all that we hear nowadays. The darkness of doubt, despair and fear can be turned into a holy darkness by Faith, Hope and Love.

Four weeks ago we learned that the best way to respond to doubt is through Faith and trust and that we should always ask the Lord to increase our Faith. Then we learned that Hope is like a light and that we, as Christians need to constantly be bringing the light of Hope into the world. Hope is so important that we dedicated two weeks to it. It’s not just important to bring Hope into the world, but we have to do so with Joy. Those messages of Hope are meaningless if they are not Joyful Hope.

Today we are going to talk about Love. Not only does perfect Love cast out all fear (1 John 4:18), but Love is the perfect virtue to bring everything we’ve been talking about together.

 It’s hard to control what we feel. We may feel doubt or despair and not be able to control those feelings. We may feel afraid and not be able to change how we feel. Even with Faith and Hope – you cannot force yourself to feel Hope or feel like you have Faith.

Love is an act of your will. We choose to love. Love is something we do. It doesn’t matter how you feel, you can still love. That’s how we can love our enemies. If Love were a feeling, Jesus would not have hung on the Cross out of love for you and for me because I can guarantee you that it didn’t feel good.

I ask couples that are getting married this: What do you mean when you say, “I love you”? Usually when we say “I love you” we mean, “I love how you make me feel” or “I love how I feel when I’m with you” or “you make me feel so good”. That’s not “I love you”, that’s “I love me”! I love you should mean, “I am going to put your needs before mine all the time, no matter what.”

Of course that’s what we do in Marriage – that’s married Love. We can’t love everyone that way all the time – but, we do have to consider that loving a stranger means doing what’s good for them, not what we think is right for them or how it makes us feel. 

Our readings today give us two great examples of how this can play out.

In the first reading we hear about King David. David loves God. Scripture tells us that he is a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). And God has been so good to David. He is now king and lives in a great palace in Jerusalem. He has no more enemies, life is great. And he notices that God lives in a tent. That’s because the people of Israel believed that God was present in the Ark of the Covenant, which was kept in a tent called Tabernacle. That’s how it had always been since the time of Moses so that it was easy to transport. But now there was no transporting necessary and God could not stay in a tent – not if David lived in a great palace.

David is doing this out of love for God, but, is he? Is he thinking about God’s needs? God doesn’t need anything from us. So how do we love God? We do what He asks us to do.

We can also learn something from how God loves David: He has given him so many blessings and will continue to give him blessings and even his descendants will get blessings. God gives David so much and David doesn’t have to give anything back. That’s the love of God: free, unconditional and faithful. You have it, no matter what. There’s nothing that we need to do in return. But we should respond to God’s love.

Compare that to Mary. The angel appears and Mary is afraid. She expresses doubt. That’s what she feels, but how does she respond? Her response is motivated by love. This is different than what happens with Zechariah (Luke 1:5-25). Same angel, same message, same doubt and same questions – but the motivation is different. We know by how the angel admonishes Zechariah that his response is motivated by doubt and fear – maybe even anger. Instead, Mary responds with love. Mary questions, but despite the doubt and the fear, she realizes that nothing is impossible for God. Mary considers: “What is the Lord asking me to do?” She prayerfully discerns and then responds: “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary’s responds by surrendering to God. And how does God love Mary? He asks; He doesn’t impose Himself. He surrenders to Mary too. Mary could have said no.

And how do we respond when we feel doubt, despair and fear? With love. It’s ok to question and to prayerfully discern. But we must realize that nothing is impossible for God.

I don’t know if what’s happening in the world right now is God’s will. But I do know one thing: Nothing happens in the world if God doesn’t allow it – so surrender to God: “I am the servant of the Lord.”  What does God want from us? He wants us to love. But not because, as some people say, “it’s all about love.”

You may not be able to control your feelings of doubt, of despair and of fear. You may not even be able to make yourself feel Faith and Hope. But you can love. That’s how we turn this darkness into a holy darkness. When you love you are saying “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” And when we do, Christ will be born through you, just like He did through Mary, and you will be able to deliver Him into the world.

Not just at Christmas, but all the time.

I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to His will.”

Advent is a Time of Hope

A reflection for the 2nd Sunday in Advent, Year B. The readings are Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3:8-14 and Mark 1:1-8.

Holy darkness, blessed night
Heaven’s answer hidden from our sight
As we await you, O God of silence
We embrace your holy night.

Holy Darkness, by Dan Schutte

 Last week, we heard that it seems that this year there has been so much darkness. But that we can take that darkness – that can sometimes be an un-holy darkness- and turn it into a holy darkness. Our pastor told us that everywhere we turn nowadays, it seems that all we hear – whether it’s in the news or anywhere – are messages of doubt, despair and fear. It’s easy to fall into doubt, despair and fear, but as Christians, we must always respond to doubt, despair and fear, with its opposites: faith, hope and love. Our pastor reminded us last week of how important faith and trust are in order to fight doubt – and how we must always ask God to increase our faith, so that we don’t fall in doubt. (Go to Holy Martyrs of Japan’s YouTube channel to listen to our pastor’s homily last week.)

Today, we are going to speak about hope.

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