Lent, 3rd Sunday - homily
Friday night was amazing here in the Church! We had Adoration for an hour, as we do every Friday. There were about 100 people here, among them some very special guests. A large group of our third graders came with their parents, and were here for about ¾ of the hour. I told the parents that how grateful I was that they brought them there. It was a very meaningful night for me because it brought together the two loves of my life: the Eucharist and youth.
I explained to the kids what Adoration is…that we bring Jesus out of the tabernacle and onto the altar, placing the Eucharist in a vessel called a monstrance. We can then see Jesus, and adore him in the Eucharist. It’s an invitation to be with and talk with him. At the end of the hour, I processed the monstrance through the Church, having explained to them that it’s really Jesus walking among them. As the Eucharist came by them, they were very prayerful and reverent, making the sign of the Cross as he passed by. Several of them came up to me afterwards, and said how much they enjoyed it. One girl struggled for words, and said she was “inspired”. One of the parents has told me since that these kids “get it” about the Eucharist. Amazing!
I tell this story, not just because it is a great story about our kids, but because it is directly related to our readings today. Moses had a similar experience to the third graders. He has an encounter with God in the burning bush. He finds himself in the presence of God! He hears God speaking to him from the bush, and they engage in a conversation. He buries his head out of fear of the Lord…respect for God. God calls him to be his spokesman to his people, telling them that he will save them from their suffering.
Moses will go on to tell God that he is not the right person for the job. He says that he is too young and not an eloquent speaker. God assures him that he is the man for the job, and that he will help him. This encounter with God changes Moses’ life forever! He has an experience of the realness of God. He is in the presence of the Almighty in a real way. He can hear him, and talk to him as he would his best friend. This experience leads him to give his life to God. The hope from Friday night is that the lives of our third graders are changed forever, and that they will give their lives to Jesus.
Christ calls us to repent - to change our lives - in today’s Gospel. He calls us to give our lives to him so that we will not perish. He uses the image of a tree to symbolize the life of each of us. He says that our trees - our lives - need to be bearing fruit. He doesn’t just tell us to change, and then leaves us on our own to do it. He says that he will cultivate and fertilize the soil of our trees. He cultivates our soul through prayer and fertilizes it with his grace.
For the third graders (and all of us who come to Adoration) and for Moses, the encounter with God in prayer is a life-changing experience. When we put ourselves in God’s presence, he changes us. He changes our minds and hearts if we are open to Him. We begin to see things as he sees them, and get a bigger perspective on our lives. Ultimately, we hear God speaking to us, not in a voice like Moses did, but in our hearts. He gives each one of us a calling. He reveals himself to us. We have a real experience of his presence, his love, and his life. This changes us.
He fertilizes our soul with his grace, primarily in the sacraments. The two main sacraments of conversion after Baptism are the Eucharist and Confession. We certainly experience a change in the Eucharist, but also with Confession. I have heard of two stories of conversion recently involving people who heard really bad news about their health. One of the first things they did after receiving the news was to go to Confession. They had heard this Gospel in their hearts. They realized they had branches that weren’t bearing fruit, so they brought them to the Lord in Confession because they don’t eant to perish as the greatest sinners do. That’s what happens in that sacrament – we bring all the stuff that’s not bearing fruit, and give them to the Lord to throw them into the fire. We just want to have the good branches on our trees, and have them grow. Christ calls us to change. He calls us to conversion. Christ calls us to Confession.
Finally, I would recommend that each of us reads chapter 15 from John’s Gospel. It talks about a different kind of tree – a vine, actually. Christ says that he is the vine and we are the branches, and that apart from him, we can’t bear fruit. He says that if we remain in him and him in us, we will bear much fruit and live forever. This is the same language he uses in speaking about the Eucharist in John, chapter 6. In a few minutes, we will eat his flesh and drink his blood – he will remain in us and us in him. When Christ remains in us and us in him, we will bear much fruit, and live forever.