Sunday, March 01, 2009

1st Sunday of Lent - homily

Recently, a father of eight children told a story involving one of his sons. It happened at the dinner one night when the boy was around 4 or 5. The son had only eaten a small portion of his dinner. There was a lot of food left on his plate, but he asked to have dessert! The father said no way. The son said he was done eating dinner; the father said that he needed to eat more of his dinner. They went back and forth for a while. There was some complaining and some crying (that was just the Dad).

Finally, the father said, “look, you can’t do anything else until you eat more of your dinner. I think you need to go to your room and think about this. When you’re ready to have more of it, your dinner will be here. We will take this into tomorrow if we have to”. The son went up to his room. The father could hear that his son was upset and crying. After some time, he heard the boy call out to him, “Daddy…”. “Yes”, the father said…“can we start over?”

We’ve probably all been a part of that experience either as a child or as a parent. We all definitely have that experience with Almighty God, our Daddy in Heaven. We know that we can always say, “Daddy, can we start over?”, and He will start over with us. No matter how much food we have on our plate, no matter how messy our plate has become, no matter if we’ve complained or argued with God, no matter how long it has been that we’ve been in relationship with God…we can always start over with Him.

We know this because we know through our faith who God is. When we come here each week, we hear from Scripture that God is merciful, compassionate, and caring toward us. We hear stories like the one from our first reading (Gn 9:8-15). In this story, God takes the initiative in starting over with us. He wipes the slate clean with all of his creatures after the Flood. And, He makes a covenant with Noah and all creatures on Earth. God has been in covenant – in deep relationship, like a marriage covenant – with us from the beginning. He began a covenant with us through Noah, continued it through Abraham and Moses, and fulfilled it with a new covenant in his Son, Jesus Christ.

We know that we can always start over with God. But, there are people who don’t come here anymore and who don’t believe that they can start over with God, for whatever reason. They might think that there is too much food on their plate, that they’ve made too much of a mess, that it’s been too long since they’ve been in friendship with God or the Church…that they can’t say, “Daddy, can we start over?”

We know people like this in our families, among our friends, and among our co-workers. We can help them to know that He will start over with them. We can invite them back to Him. We can invite them back to Church. We can give them an envelope that invites them back. We have these envelopes in the vestibule of Church that contain written invitations from the Archbishop. We can simply give these invitations to them (and then run away if we want, as the Archbishop has said!). If they ask us how to come back, then we can give specific suggestions: “come to Mass with me… come to Confession with me…come pray with me…give Fr. Mike a call…give Fr. Greg a call”.

We have probably thought for a long time that we should do this with these people. Well, as our Lord says in the Gospel, now is the time! Now is the time to invite them. This Lent is the time. And, what time does Jesus say it is? “Now is the time of fulfillment”. Jesus is our fulfillment. He is our satisfaction. We find our happiness and fulfillment in Christ, especially at Mass. We are fulfilled by the Eucharist - the Bread of Life satisfies us. We are fulfilled by the Word of God. We are fulfilled by prayer. We are fulfilled by going to Confession. We are fulfilled by coming here as a family in worship. And, we want those who have been away from us here to experience this. We want them to be fulfilled by Christ.

So, let us take courage, not be afraid, and invite them back to the Lord and back to the Church. Through our invitation and God’s Grace, may they say sometime soon, “Daddy (in Heaven), can we start over?”


At 12:44 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

I have to remind myself that God can do all things- things beyond my capabilities and understanding, like (for me) wiping a slate clean. I think it is so hard for many of us to “start over” and receive forgiveness because we have a difficult time extending this to others. The other day, Fr. Mike gave a homily about giving up things for Lent. He mentioned the idea of giving up a negative thought or feeling about another. Immediately, I thought, “But how?”

In playing games with each other, I often hear my kids call out to, “Do-over!” They have a rule in playing certain games each one is entitled to a remove their last play and try again. It really is a child’s concept, and the older I get, the more I realize I need to be like a child in approaching the Father.

At 7:03 PM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

My daughter "c" claims she has a special section of her stomach that is just for dessert. So, the regular section may be filled up but the dessert section can be empty.

My husband and I have never bought into this assertion, but that hasn't stopped c from giving it a try.

At 7:43 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

Something cute-

Many of the new altar servers began serving this weekend. I saw one of the boys coming out if 10:00 Mass and he said, "I'm serving for the first time at the 11:30 Mass. Are you coming?" I said, "Didn't I just see you coming out of this Mass?" He said, "Yeah, I wanted to watch it one more time first." I thought it was sweet.

Btw- my son also served for the first time today and didn't drop, break or burn anything. Whew!

At 11:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Took me a little while to find this-

When you've made your plans and they've gone awry
When you've tried your best and there's no more try
When you've failed yourself and you don't know why...
Start over.

When you've told your friends what you plan to do
When you've trusted them and they didn't come through
And now you're all alone and it's up to you...
Start over.

When you've failed your kids and they're frown and gone
When you've done your best but it's turned out wrong
And now your grandchildren have come along...
Start over.

When you've prayed to God so you'll know His will
When you've prayed and prayed and you don't know still
When you want to stop cause you've had your fill...
Start over.

When you think you're finished and want to quit
When you've bottomed out of life's deepest pit
When you've tried and tried to get out of it...
Start over.

When the year has been long and successes few
When December comes and you're feeling blue
God gives a January just for you...
Start over.

Starting over means "Victories Won"
Starting over means "A Race Well Run"
Starting over means "God's Will Done"

Don't just sit there....START OVER!

At 6:46 AM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

mindy, LOL at "didn't burn anything."

Really, no sacristy is complete without scorch marks from an alter server over-zealously wielding a candle of those butane ones that you can crank waaay up.

At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fr. Greg, This is a very powerful homily and so perfect for our 1st Sunday in lent. I thank our Lord for you.

At 12:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm trying to "come back" to the Church at the urging of some dear friends, but it is so hard for me to go to Mass. All I hear about there is death, suffering, blood, hell, and more death. You don't go 2 minutes in Mass without hearing about something dark. I have enough depression in my life, and Mass is just more of it, at least for me.

At 1:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To 12:30 anon-

My daughter went through a period of time when she was afraid at Mass. She didn’t want to look at the crucifix and definitely didn’t want to come up with me when I received. She had thoughts of blood and gore that overshadowed beauty. It was eye opening for me. In listening to her, I realized my focus. I, too, focused on suffering, pain and injustice- to the point that I almost missed the beauty. For me, it took talking through that with another to have a better understanding of what I was seeing. My vision still isn’t exactly 20/20, but I do have a better perspective on the talk and meaning of suffering. So, while I still commiserate with Christ, and He’s been a very good companion there, during the Mass, I try to focus on celebrating His victory; His victory is mine, and that’s inspiring.

It’s funny- when I hear someone talk as you do, I get excited for them. For, if you allow it, you are in for a remarkable journey. So, (hopefully), “Welcome back!”

At 1:51 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

Cynthia- I wasn’t so much worried about scorch marks in sacristy as much as I was thinking about his lighting his cincture. He kept fiddling with it! I was picturing it becoming a fuse that set his alb ablaze. I was actually trying to remember if we were told what fabric they were for cleaning and wondering how flame retardant they might be.

At 7:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

mindy, perhaps you can use the following on the cincture and alb:

Nonpermanent Flame Retardant
2.5 ounces borax
2 cups boiling hot water

Combine the borax and boiling water in a bowl and stir until all the borax is dissolved. Pour into a spray bottle, shake, and spray onto the clothes. Don’t rinse. Let dry before dressing the person in the clothes. Reapply the spray after each wash.

At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This question goes along with Ash Wednesday's post, and with giving your whole heart to Christ during Lent.

I need help understanding something. Jesus is a big proponent of forgiveness. I get this loud and clear.He forgives even the biggest and worst of sins. But, it seems to me that His forgives is conditional.

In order for a sin to be forgiven, we have to go to Confession and own our sins; we have to admit them, which requires the examination of our conscience, a humbling thing to do. When we go to Confession, we state how long it's been since our last confession, we state our specific sin(s) and frequency, we receive council (hopefully) and penance from the priest, express true desire to sin no more through the Act of Contrition, we receive absolution, perform our penance and then take a deep breath and move on, free of the burden of that sin. Awesome stuff, but hard to do.

If a person close to you; i.e., brother/sister, boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, etc. knows they are sinning, admits to you that they have sinned, have offended you, but will not mention this to a priest, in other words, won't go to Confession, how is it that Jesus forgives them, or does He? Doesn't the sinner first have to own the sin and open their heart and ask for help and forgiveness before Jesus offers it? Jesus is always there, ready to hold us and forgive us, but don't we have to open our heart to him in order to be forgiven? Or, do we just take his forgiveness for granted?

If a sinner is too proud to admit their faults to a priest, how do we forgive them? What does one do when the closest admission to the sin consists of, "C'mon, cut me a break, I'm human and I'm doing the best I can."? Do we forgive with the hope that they'll change? Or, do we sin through forgiveness which allows or enables the behavior to continue?

At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“But, it seems to me that His forgives is conditional.”

Our mortal sins require a restoration to the state of grace. I don’t really look at Confession as the condition for forgiveness but rather the steps toward that restoration. Confession is healing. The Church gives us the way to accept God’s healing. It’s a gift of forgiveness not a condition.

“If a sinner is too proud to admit their faults to a priest, how do we forgive them?”

If they are admitting their faults to YOU and asking YOU for YOUR forgiveness, that’s how Christ calls us to forgive, as He does- upon request. I don’t think it’s appropriate to question another’s sincerity based upon what you think they may or may not do regarding the confessional. There was a post here a while back about brotherly admonition, so a gentle suggestion regarding Confession is probably okay, but your forgiveness shouldn’t be conditioned upon that.

At 9:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, bad choice of words. It seems to me that His forgiveness (forgives was a typo), which returns us to a state of grace, requires self examination and acceptance or ownership of one's sins. In the particular scenario I mentioned earlier, this person is not asking for forgiveness through Confession (that's none of my business anyway), nor is he/she asking for forgiveness from me. There's simply the assumption that forgiveness should just happen because it is part of the package that goes along with a close relationship.

Talking about problems or differences and working them out is not necessary, it's not part of the package. One simply accepts the differences, offenses or hurt as normal, as part of being human, and carries on. One sweeps the bad gunkies under the carpet, forgets about them, and moves on. Life is then tidy and neat, or so it seems; until the next explosion, when the cycle of hurt begins again. And this is where I get stuck.

I have a hard time discerning or understanding forgiveness within this paradigm; does forgiveness offer the hope needed for a "new beginning" or does it enable and tolerate the continuation of sinful behavior?

At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Katherine G. said...

There are many times I wish I could start over, or at least know what people are thinking about stuff. I know I shouldn't really care what people think of me, because I can probably never do right or come off right in a lot of people's eyes. Or change a first impression I made. Sometimes I feel like I can't be myself around people, and if I could start over, I would go back and be my fun, happy, bubbly self despite all the stuff I've been through lately.

At 5:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Talking about problems or differences and working them out is not necessary,"

Communication is important. If something is being swept under the carpet, you can stop it from happening. It takes only one person to change a relationship dynamic but it requires two (or more) to keep it the same.

If someone isn't coming to you and saying, "I am truly sorry for having offended you. I was thoughtless and I am sorry. Please forgive me," maybe you could say, "It really hurt me when you did X, Y and Z. Can we talk about it?"

At 6:58 AM, Anonymous mindy said...


If I thought someone had a bad impression or was upset with me, I turned it over in my head until it grew into something larger and more ominous. Then, because I was hard on myself, I justified “their” awful opinion. It’s a waste of time. You really don’t know what’s in someone else’s head (or heart). If what others think is important to you, make the choice to believe that they think something good. Let that be the thing that takes on a large life.

Hiding who you are from the world becomes a habit that’s really hard to break. You’re young- don’t start that. If it’s hard- be yourself. If it’s a struggle- be yourself. If it’s uncomfortable- be yourself. Btw, no one is bubbly all the time. Being yourself is also sharing the lows.

Omt- first impressions are important for job interviews. You make a new impression each time you see someone.

At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

9:50pm post

This package you speak of must be something more of a friendship. And it seems like you have been hurt from this individual. How do you know if this person went to confession already? God will forgive them in confession when this person is ready to restore their relationship with God. And for you to forgive a person yes it does require self examination of yourself. Are you in anyway giving this person a chance to explain and ask for forgiveness? God gives us all another chance. I feel as humans we should do as God would do. I do not know what hurt you carry, but it seems you want to work it out. So talk with the person and see if a “new beginning” can be struck. Successful relationships know how to discuss their differences. This is not something that comes naturally to anyone; it's a learned skill. And once you learn it, all the energy that goes into your explosions propels your relationship forward. Just as we speak to God when we are hurt and ask for his forgiveness in/out of confession. Speak to this person about your pain.

At 5:51 PM, Blogger fran said...

Anon 9:50-

To me, forgiveness is offered along with the expectation that change will (hopefully) occur. Has this been discussed? (I don't understand not "talking about problems...not part of the package." What does that mean?) One cannot assume, however, that this change will actually occur.

- Maybe the person is trying to change, but it is simply not on the terms of the forgiver.
- Maybe change is going to take a long time. (perhaps additional intervention is needed)
- Maybe change will not occur at all. In this case, those involved will have to determine if they can live with that, and figure out how to do so.

Forgiveness should be freeing for the one to whom it is offered, but I suppose I can see how it might be perceived as enabling, especially if the one offering it is being taken for granted.

I don't think that continuing to offer forgiveness, in the absence of change, is a sin as that would make Jesus a sinner - He who offers it to every repeat offender each and every time we enter the confessional.

At 6:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't think that continuing to offer forgiveness, in the absence of change, is a sin"

So- here's where I get stuck. I've been told that the remedy to anger is forgiveness. If change does not happen, and we aren't then obligated to forgive on ongoing transgression (how could one, really?), what is the remedy for anger in that situation? It's where I am and I'd really like someone to offer an answer.

At 6:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pray for the person. Pray that they change. Also, pray for patience. Regularly.

At 9:16 PM, Blogger fran said...

"...we aren't obligated to forgive an ongoing transgression..."

Why not? Don't we receive forgiveness for our ongoing transgressions? That's what I was trying to get at the first time around. If Jesus forgives us our ongoing transgressions, are we not called to do the same?

Since I don't know what the ongoing transgression is, in your case, it is hard to give a specific answer. If the person is not willing to change, in the slightest, then a third party is probably necessary to help those involved, seek a solution.

For me, in a personal situation of my own, the remedy for anger was to simply let it go. The anger, that is. Not easy. Not fast. But that is what I did.

At 9:43 PM, Blogger fran said...

I just wanted to add, if the ongoing transgression, that results in anger, is abusive, then professional intervention is obviously needed.

At 11:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Pray for the person. Pray that they change. Also, pray for patience. Regularly."

That's what I do- all the time. What I've come to realize is that my anger, even righteous anger, left unresolved, can become an ugly force. The Gospel reading today had a lot of meaning.

At 6:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cycle- there are lies (among things). I find out about the deceit. I deal with the consequences. We discuss the situation. There’s an apology. I forgive. The cycle begins anew. Been through the third party thing- a couple of times. So, I do what the anon here suggested, I pray- for everyone involved.

Some of the consequences of the deceit have been enormous. Some of the consequences make me sad. I’ve lost friends and family. In general, I’ve lost a lot. When I’ve been lonely and confused, anger has been a companion.

Additionally, anger becomes a kind of armor. When I’m angry, I anticipate and protect myself and don’t get slammed quite as hard. But sometimes, no matter what, I feel tired, battered and bruised (not literally, though sometimes I actually wish I were physically bruised- at least then I could make sense of pain).

This Lent, I really, really wanted to give up this anger (probably more accurately hatred at this point), but I don’t seem to be able to. But, I can do better with what I did learn via one of those third party sessions- my anger doesn’t always need to be expressed.

It does seem to me that forgiveness can be an enabler to those who are habitual abusers.

At 8:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Also, pray for patience. Regularly."

Everytime I hear something like that, I think back to something Fr. Mike said sometime ago in one of his homilies- if you pray for patience, God may give you the opportunities in which you will be able to practice patience. Be careful what you pray for!

At 10:50 PM, Blogger fran said...

Anon 6:20

I am so sorry and saddened that you have lived and continue to live, surrounded by deceit and broken trust. It is clear that your pain is enormous.

This might not make sense, and I am not trying to minimize any of your feelings of anger, but I am thinking, that if things have remained the same (lies, etc.)with anger present, would/ might they be any different without the anger?? I know that is kind of a non-answerable question.

This is obviously a deep seated problem with the one who continues to abuse in this way. Please stay safe. I will blend my prayer with yours, in the hope that some desire to change permanently will be seen in this person.

At 11:06 PM, Blogger fran said...

For the same anon -

Don't be too hard on yourself. While I am still reluctant to say that forgiveness is an enabler ( if a clergy member would weigh in on that one, it would be nice to know ) I do believe that it is your love that enables this person. And I mean that in a GOOD way!! You obviously have a great deal of love ( and strength, I might add) in you, to endure this cross. Prayers....

At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can be hard on myself- usually until someone tells me not to be. So, thanks.

Someone else told me to think about dealing with my anger with this person in the same way I deal with my children. I thought that was a good suggestion, one worth passing along. I need to change my thinking in order to change my (emotional) responses. I don’t “sit” in my anger with my kids. I react appropriately but I don’t hold onto anger in dealing with their actions. So, I know I can let go of anger. When I look at the root causes for why this person does what they do, I guess I can even forgive- again, and again (and again and again…).

Also, I’ve proven to myself that I can handle what may come my way via this other person. I’ve proven it over and over again. So, I can take fear out of the equation. I may not know what will come, but I can handle what may happen.

I do believe everything that happens is part of God’s plan. While this definitely wasn’t what I envisioned, I’m stronger in faith, clearer in my beliefs and more determined than I ever thought I might be. All in all, I think I am better for it all. But, that doesn’t mean I have to like it all. It is helpful to look at the situation as a cross rather than a bitter pill.

At 1:00 PM, Blogger fran said...

Anon 9:44-

Reading your last paragraph brought something to mind -something I was going to say earlier, but did not feel the time was right to voice it.

A week or so ago, my daughter spoke of homily given by Fr. Greg, at a school mass (maybe it was Ash Wednesday ?) in which he had the kids saying, "It's all good!" This reminded of an article I read in the WashPost after the Redskins season was complete (sorry) this year.

It was an article on coach Jim Zorn, a man of obvious faith, as recounted in the article, and how he dealt with all of the disappointments of his team, his own shortcomings and an overall reflection on a frustrating season. He, and his wife, speak the phrase, "It's all grace," whenever life throws them a curve ball, (yes, I know that is a baseball, not football term) - in the goings on in their own family or outside of it. They acknowledge that is by
/with the grace of God, that they are able to navigate both personal and professional troubles.

So, when I read your line, "I am better for it all," it seems to me that "it is all grace," in your set of circumstances too.

At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My kids talked about that homily (think it Fri.) too. They were doing a whole "raise the house" thing in the car on the way home. They also learned a new word- Raqa. I will wait to say thx to FG about that when when I see if they remember the lesson rather than use it in talking about one another.

Omt about third party mediation, therapy, counseling, etc. In those things, I’d been given techniques to quiet my mind- kind of “stop thinking” so much. I get restless and my thoughts race. I have yet to master the kind of quieting of my mind that was prescribed. I think that’s probably hopeless! Instead, I share my thinking with others. In the proper context, it’s healing. I spend regular time in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I spend time in front of the tabernacle. I’ve spent more time than I ever would've thought in confession. It helps because it’s gives me a place to express that restlessness rather than ignore it. God gave me an active mind, so I have to think that kind of restlessness and mental frustration means something.

St. Paul said, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” It seems to me that the times in which the Bible talks about transformation, actually using that word, big things happen. Maybe talking through my stuff and changing my thinking on one aspect of something doesn’t amount to the transformation about which St. Paul spoke, but I think it’s a step in the direction.

I do think its all grace, but most often that's in hindsight. But, then, isn't hindsight 20/20?

At 11:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

6:20 AM anon:

I was saddened to hear another human being living with trepidation, confusion and anger; it sounds as if we've been walking in the same pair of shoes. I interact, on a daily basis, with what I call a difficult, and at times, down right psycholigically abusive person. Again, no scars to justify the pain. There is admission to inappropriate behavior, and that professional intervention is probably needed, but it has yet to happen for more than 2 – 3 visits. Watching a person say one thing and do another does me in, especially when there are children involved. God asks us to forgive, but I don't think He wants us to stay in an environment that threatens one's physical or psychological state.

I find forgiveness the easy part; I offer it, and my conscience and heart become clean. I have trouble with the trust that is destroyed with repetitive nasty or inappropriate behavior. It seems as if every time I trust again, and believe change will happen, albeit at a different level, I find myself smacked on the side of the head - again. Then I get angry at myself for letting someone or something get the best of me – again.

I feel like forgiveness should return a relationship to its original state, but it doesn't, at least not for me. My brain can't seem to forget what it's heard and/or seen, and, I'm not sure it's reasonable for me to expect myself to forget. Slowly I'm beginning to think that I can genuinely forgive and love a person, and yet not trust them as I once did. I'm beginning to realize that I've probably spent my life defining trust in temporal terms, through and in people and things that I can see, smell, feel, etc. I'm beginning to get the concept that trust in Christ should never disappoint me. I have a long way to go until I can say that trust in Christ will never disappoint me. When I get to this point, I think I'll be free of trepidation, confusion and anger.

At 10:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:53 anon-
Sounds as though we both have some well worn shoes...

Jesus forgave and loved, but he did not entrust himself to everyone. He warned us to “Beware of men.” So, I have to think that love and trust aren’t the same. Forgiveness and love must go hand in hand, but not trust. I can’t say I forgive someone and hate them at the same time, but I can forgive someone and keep my distance. This is the understanding that gives me license to let go of the hate. I’ve been challenged there. I really thought I had to hold onto to hate to maintain a safe distance.

I can act in love without entrusting myself to someone who hurts me. I’ve decided that my “love” for this other person will come in the form of praying for them, but I’m still keeping my distance- emotionally, psychologically. Additionally, without going into a lot of history, I think the most loving thing I can do for this person is to maintain strong boundaries and to hold them accountable for their actions. I know I must forgive, but I also must protect my well being and that of those who are under my care.

Forgiveness is unconditional, but trust is earned. Because I need to look for signs of trustworthiness does not mean that I do not forgive. Not trusting another does not mean that I do not love. I finally understand that.


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