Sunday, February 28, 2010

Entourage, The First Season (2010 Feb 28, Lent)

This is my homily for 28 February 2010, second Sunday of Lent. Feel free to respond with comments. To view the readings, go to and click “February 28” in the calendar.

Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18 | Psalm 27 | Philippians 3:17-4:1 | Luke 9:28b-36

[__01.] Just as big stars, athletes, and entertainers will be found on expensive furniture or in limousines so also will they be found surrounded by their entourages, their inner circles.

Such stars tend not to go out in public alone.

And, while the stars might prefer to keep the attention focused on themselves, sometimes, the lords of the manor must spend some time cleaning up after the servants.

This Gospel is one such example. Jesus is the Lord; and Peter, James and John are his servants, his entourage.

[__02.] The inner circle leans something that others will not know about for some some time until after the Good News is proclaimed.

However, the inner circle fails to recognize what’s really happening.

Before we dismiss Peter, James, and John, for their errors, however, let’s give them their place in the opening and closing credits:

• Peter, James and John climb the mountain;
• Peter, James, and John enter into prayer with our Lord.
• Peter, James and John put their friendship with Christ first … this is why they’re in the inner circle.

[__03.] But, on this particular day, the climb is about all they can handle. They must have be exhausted. A little while later, they are asleep. They have dozed off and are awakened by the dazzling white vision.

Peter, James, and John will also nod off into their dreams in the Garden of Gethsemani, in the agony in the garden. Maybe, they have not been getting enough rest.

For this Lenten season, one practical thing we might ask for – and work on – is also this restfulness, this restful spirit.

Peter, James and John demonstrate the opposite in restlessness. For ourselves, we could ask the Lord not only refresh us spiritually but also physically.

Ask the Lord to refresh so that we might not only praise him when we are meditating, but also praise him when we are studying, when we are with our friends.

Ask the Lord to refresh so that we may make good choices, wise choices about our friendships and our work. Ask him to rise with him to new life every day that we wake up.

It is good that Peter James and John put Christ first, showing that it’s not what you know it’s who you know.

But, in some ways, what they are also doing is trying to to figure out what Jesus wants to hear. Then, Peter, James, and John tell him that.

On the mountain, they see the dazzling white vision. In a rush of loyal feeling, they suggest the building of monuments: “Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Luke 9:33)

[__05.] An very objective view of this statement might elicit a swift criticism.

Fortunately, “Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness” (Psalm 103 : 8).

Neither the Father, Son, nor Holy Spirit jumps into expose their error directly.

[__06.] Their error.

What Jesus really wants them to see in this transfiguration as one step toward another glorification. What the disciples see now is the dazzling white; what they will later see is the Lord’s passion and resurrection.

This second transfiguration – from death on the cross to new life in the tomb – will be their salvation. This picture is much less attractive and glorious at first glance than the first transfiguration on the mountain.

It will take some time for the apostles to grasp.

On the mountain, they feel relatively prosperous and comfortable. And, the mountaintop experience of dazzling white brings the hope of future success. They want to capture the moment. And, they have new confidence in their well-connected friend Jesus.

[__07.] Their error is not exposed directly. Rather, the Lord tries to meet us where we are. Simply a voice from the heavens says,

“This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Luke 9:35)

[__08.] Peter, James, and John are trying to be humble servants, team players.

And, as they go through life, they will go the way of many entourages for their connected Jesus who is reviled by some very powerful people. And, in their continuing evangelization and struggle to make Jesus known, they will also be arrested, jailed, convicted.

But, in this case, they are not convicted for their crimes but for their Christian faith.

By that time, however, they will also understand that they are suffering for and with Christ.

We are called to do the same.

We are called to realize that our relationship with Christ does not depend on what we build or establish or prove. And, this relationship may bring conflict or trouble, trying to do the right ethical thing.

As Psalm 50 says, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” In other words, you need not build the tents nor achieve anything material.

[__09.] Our success also does not come about by telling others what they really want to hear.

And, our real contentment does not come by hearing what we want to hear.

Rather, our real contentment comes by opening ourselves to the challenges life brings.

And, our true contentment comes in humble service. This means, at least occasionally, hearing what we don’t want to hear and applying it to our lives. It may also mean saying a challenging word to another, doing so lovingly, saying even the thing the other person does not want to hear.

This will really bring us into the inner circle of a relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Desert Temperature, Negative & Positive (21 Feb. 2010, Lent)

This is my homily for the first Sunday of Lent 2010. Feel free to respond with comments. To view the readings, go to and click "February 21" in the calendar.

[01.] These are the temptations of Jesus in the desert.

Depending on our perspective, we might view the desert optimistically or pessimistically. We might -- as pessimists – remember that the desert there is little to drink. As the pessimist would say, the glass is hardly half full – probably empty – in the desert.

On the other hand, the optimist might see positive benefits in the desert wilderness. If you were trying to win a gold medal in the 1,500 meters or the mile, you would view the desert as the training ground par excellence.

You could test yourself, try yourself. You could endure the trials – and temperatures of the desert for 40 days or 40 weeks or 40 months so that you will be full, full of strength, improved lung capacity, and speed. The desert water glass might not be half full; but you will be full. This would the optimistic view.

The truth lies somewhere between these two viewpoints of optimism and pessimism.

[02.] Are we attracted the desert; or, are we repulsed by the desert?

Jesus himself enters the desert quite full, full of the Holy Spirit. He is filled with the Holy Spirit and led by the Spirit into the desert for 40 days.

He is full of God’s Spirit, full of enthusiasm. This is how the Lord begins his ministry, seemingly optimistic.

It’s a good place to start. This fullness – this satisfaction – may also be where we start certain things on ___ the first day of school; ___ the early years of our marriage or family; ___ the early years of retirement.

We might meditate on our fullness and satisfaction. On the other hand, sometimes, as we go through life, we find ourselves in the desert. We might end as pessimists.

Don’t end there. The truth is somewhere in between.

[03.] We might find ourselves running dry or scarce at times. In the desert, everything is scarce, water, food, other people.

And, during these 40 days, we are called to meditate on the ways we discover scarcity in our lives. Scarcity of __time, __companionship, __money, __comfort. Certainly, going to school full time, we are often running out of money if not also time.

[04.] Jesus goes into the desert to teach us about scarcity, teaching us also to turn to God alone when we might be tempted to someone else or to the selfish path, the wicked path that has only short term satisfaction, or immediate fullness.

“One does not live by bread alone” is not only a message about dieting and nutrition. It is also a message about all forms of physical satisfaction we might pursue.

This is where the truth lies.

The Lord does not only want us to be fulfilled physically but also emotionally. When things are scarce, we can be tempted to turn to the most immediate form of comfort.

The desert – the forty days – teaches us about the wisdom in waiting for greater and more lasting fulfillment. This applies to our relationships as young men and women; it applies also to our aspirations for work and success.

We do not live by bread alone; the scarcity of the desert commands us to have a plan for survival. And, Jesus also wants to give us a plan for survival and prosperity.

[05.] Jesus goes out to worship in the desert; to be united with God the Father and the Holy Spirit in the desert.

Jesus does not go out into the desert to be alone.

What can astonish us about competitive runners in the desert is that they can achieve so much without resources. They take no breaks; they have no teammates; they only run. Their individual perseverance gets them through.

If they were to give up the run, they would also give up their lives. In this regard, the competitive athlete goes out into the desert to be alone. Lent is not, however, a competition in solitude

Lent is, rather, a communion and a relationship with the Lord who is already in the desert.

[06.] A competitive spirit and drive may motivate us to go into the desert. We will escape for a while. However, we do not really go into the desert or on a retreat or to pray so as to escape.

We go to discover who we really are and who the Lord is calling us to be.

Does this calling come with some pain? Some sacrifice.

Yes, the Lord is calling all of us to renounce sins. In other words, the physical fasting (e.g., no meat on Fridays) is just a reminder that we are also called to turn back to him for things that will really satisfy. After all, one does not live by bread – or meat – alone.

[07.] A competitive spirit or drive will help us to see the desert as something positive.

But we are not in the desert to come up with our own personal survival plan. We are in the desert of Lent to beg the Lord’s help in all of our temptations, all of our sufferings, in all of our scarcity.

This is the benefit, the optimistic view, of an otherwise very punishing climate and difficult challenge. [__end__]

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Marks on Paper (Ash Wednesday 17 Feb. 2010)

This is my homily for Ash Wednesday. Feel free to respond with comments. To view the readings, go to and click “February 17” in the calendar.

[__01.] What are we here for? What am I here for? We might ask such a question as a general on the day of a particularly --- Difficult classroom experience or day at work or conversation with a family member.

We often ask ourselves – what are we here for? What are we after ?

In other words are we seeking something visible, external or something not so easily seen.

A few years ago (40?), the question was posed in a book, movie, and TV show called The Paper Chase. This took place at Harvard Law School.

And, the title – The Paper Chase – was meant to summarize something about the student-academic experience. That is, when we enter school, we do not necessarily have to wrestle with the question of …

Why am I here?
What am I here for ?

And, do we focus on the external rewards only?

That is, by focusing on the “paper” that we “chase”, we can avoid this question.

By “paper”, what I mean is:

 diploma
 degree
 money, salary

All of these are made of paper. And, if we focus on the paper that we earn (on the outside) then, we really don’t have to worry too much about what we learn (or don’t learn) on the inside. As long as we have the paper, we’re fine, right?

In the movie The Paper Chase, we meet …

“[Hart, a first year law student at Harvard] -- he's actually interested in learning, not just for the material rewards that may follow, but for the power of the intellect to impose order on the chaos that most of us muddle through. Hart's hero is Professor Kingsfield, a brilliant, irascible old professor of contract law,” (Vincent Canby, New York Times review, 1973)

The law professor – played by John Houseman – is also a powerful protagonist in the film. “Professor Kingsfield” is Hart’s American Idol:

“On the first day of classes, Kingsfield haughtily informs the students that they've come to him with their heads full of mush and that he intends to train their minds. It isn't many movies that even acknowledge the existence of a mind, much less take it seriously.

Kingsfield has what is, in effect, a contract with his students, an agreement to turn them into first-class lawyers in return for their dedication to learning. He pushes them, bullies them, ridicules them, "Fill this classroom with your intelteligence," he tells Hart, who gets sick to his stomach. He treats the students as if they were abstractions. There's no sentiment in his discipline.” (Vincent Canby, New York Times review, 1973)

[__02.] The movie asks both an intellectual – and spiritual question – will my life be only about what is external, visible? Or, will my life also be about what cannot be seen so easily?

Today, we receive ashes on our forehead as a visible sign of our humanity, that we are dust.

Yet, this humanity and our place in God’s plan and universe is not so easily seen. We receive these ashes as a sign that we will return to dust – but we do not know when that exactly will be.

We do not know exactly what will happen between now and then. The ashes indicate that we are open to the Lord’s mysterious plan for our lives.

[__03.] Lent, 40 days, ashes

We also chase something, someone the Lord who has risen from the dead, who is visible in Holy Communion, but not quite visible in the way we might wish.

We start these 40 days of Lent knowing that he is here with us. We know that we receive him in Holy Communion. We know that he died for our sins. But, he did all this not exactly before our very eyes. Even this sacrifice of his life was made in secret for you.

And, he invites to come in secret to him. This is the message of the Gospel: “go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Matthew 6:6)

It would be a paper chase if we were to focus only on the external sacrifices – and inconveniences of Lenten penance and prayer.

These external sacrifices, abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays are real. And, they bring us together as a Catholic community.

Yet, these external sacrifices are also the start of another journey.

[__04.] What the Lord is asking us to do is to bring our hearts, our interior, our true selves to him.

[__05.] For example, confessing our sins, going to confession,.

Lent is an excellent time to examine our lives – not only for what we may or may not have achieved – but also for what we may have intentionally done to distance our selves from him.

When we go to confession, we begin again with a clean heart.

[__06.] The ashes we receive today shows our desire to change our hearts, our desire for conversion.

These ashes also are a sign to others that we are open to more than outward success which is “on paper” or “in the bank”.

Rather, we are seeking – through the mark of these ashes another mark of contentment and joy.

The Paper Chase indicates that if you receive a good mark on your papers, you will receive even more valuable papers: the diploma, the job offer, the money.

Then, you can leave your mark on the world.

Ash Wednesday – on the other hand -- indicates that if you have the mark of the ashes, then you also have the mark of the Holy Spirit, the Lord will make his mark on you and help you in all your endeavors and chases.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Snow Day (2010 Feb 14)

This is my homily for 14 February 2010. Feel free to respond with comments. To view the readings, go to and click “February 14” in the calendar.

[__01.] The snowfall has the effect of making all the land and terrain appear the same.

But, not all mountains are created equal, are they?

This is the news right now from the Winter Olympics.

If all mountains were created equal, then all the trails at Whistler in British Columbia would have fresh white powder instead of snow that has been trucked in and kept cold artificially with dry ice.

But, the mountains of B.C. do not have enough snow. The Colorado Rockies have snow; Vermont has snow. I’m also told that B.C. experiences heavier snowfall in March. Oops.

Anybody got a calendar?

[__02.] Not all mountains are created equal.

The same is true from the base of the mountain from the ski lodge at the bottom of the mountain.

[__03.] The variation in terrain is not so visible to the eye. Sure, we can see some trails are wider or narrower. Some skiers come down very fast, some slower.

At the bottom of the hill, turning my eyes upward, I can hardly distinguish the actual incline, the difference between a double-black diamond ♦ ♦ expert trail and a green-circle ● easy trail (for me). The snow makes them look the same.

It’s only when we reach the top of the mountain and look down that we realize how different the terrain is, how different each challenge is going to be in our lives.

In this way, some of the terrain can strike terror in the heart of the novice skier. Maybe you’ve been there. I’m still there.

[__04.] The mountain is a theme and setting in the Gospel today. Jesus, with his disciples, comes down from the mountain to “stand on level ground.”

Jesus does not speak to us on high with a public address system or megaphone.

Rather, Jesus speaks to us by walking among us. He speaks to us by experiencing what we do. And, by knowing the everyday experience here on earth, the everyday experience of poverty, hunger, sadness, persecution.

We may, at times, find ourselves without the money or contentment or popularity we desire. This is poverty, hunger, sadness, persecution.

Each of these conditions calls us to trust God’s grace. It also means trusting in the goodness inside of ourselves – and the goodness in others – even when we fall and crash coming downhill.

For example, it is challenge to put others first, to sacrifice. This can lead to falling.

[__05.] It also lead to being buried, buried in the snow and also reflecting on the idea that the Christian life is always a dying and rising again, being buried and rising again.

This is true for a child at baptism; it is also true for any of us when we confess our sins and receive forgiveness and absolution.

We are buried with Christ and we die and rise to new life with him.

So, it is Good News to be buried. For the past week, we also might have thought that being buried with snow was Good News. Such burying closes the school and, it would seem, gives us a little holiday.

Nonetheless, burying is Good News. But, it is even better news when we rise up and are able – with God’s help to travel across the snow (or things) that had previously buried us or beaten us down.

[__06.] This means, at times, coming down from our own mountains of fear and pride.

Coming down the mountain is a difficult balancing act. In the Olympics, the skiers have to practice long and hard to descend the mountain at such high speeds.

And, we need practice too, the balancing act of:

*** letting go (letting go of our children – for parents).

*** letting go (letting go in a relationship where we may want the other person to bend to my will).

*** letting go (letting go by asking God’s forgiveness for my faults)

This means every day – often - balance and teamwork – also, compromise and commitment. And, we may wonder – at times – why did this look much easier from the bottom of the hill?

While this may not be easy, this also takes us to new heights and to new joys that we did not see back on the ground. We will reach new vistas with a new perspective on what is important.

The snow makes everything appear to be same; every mountain appears the same.

We not being called to ski or climb mountains in general but very specific mountains. No two skiers or climbers will lose their footing in exactly the same place. Also, no 2 families are exactly alike. Each family – and couple – will call out to God in unique ways and at unique times.

And, with God’s help, we can reach the bottom, and reach our destination here on earth where the visibility is still pretty good to see the unique challenges of our lives.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Into the Deep (2010 Feb 7)

Biblical readings: Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8 | Psalm 138 | 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 | Luke 5:1-11

This is my homily for 7 February 2010. Feel free to respond with comments. To view the readings, go to and click “February 7” in the calendar.

[__01.] If we were to go out on a boat or sailing (maybe not today), we would be asked to follow certain special instructions.

To do things we might normally not have to do:

*** wear a life preserver;
*** walk – don’t run – on board the boat;

All of these are special instructions. Why?

For safety. That’s why it’s called a life preserver, right? And, we are conscious of the dangers because we respect the power of the natural forces – waves, tides, ocean, storms.

Sometimes we forget how powerful nature is. These natural forces can bring benefit or harm.

And, the message of the Gospel today is about the power of nature, about the power of God working through nature. In the Gospel – and the Bible – we see the Lord doing great things:

** fire on Mountain Sinai when Moses is receiving the 10 Commandments
** the burning bush
** and, the parting of the Red Sea. The parting of the Red Sea in the Exodus is the water miracle par excellence.

In fact, water is typically the site of God’s visible and miraculous achievements. The mountain, on the other hand, is typically the place of solitude with God.

[__02.] This is also true in Christ’s life; for example:

** Jesus walks on water; Peter will try to walk on water too, but only makes it a few steps, having forgotten the special instructions to follow Christ who is leading him.

** also, on the lake, Jesus will calm a storm, bringing and end to the thunder and waves.

** in this Gospel, Jesus is responsible for a miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11)

The apostles are taught about the power of Jesus and of nature. The catch of fish is very meaningful. And, it inspires more than simply respect for nature in Peter the Apostle.

[__03.] The miraculous catch of fish also brings a crisis.

A crisis means something is going wrong; and, now, we have to examine how we are going to survive.

Peter is also trying to figure out how to preserve his life. Peter knows that something is not right.

Up to now, as a fisherman, he has been able to float along the surface of the lake quite easily. Now, the water is coming to surround him, to engulf him.

Simon Peter and his friends have been trying to catch fish all night. They are unsuccessful.

[__04.] Along comes Jesus of Nazareth who has no specific experience, no resume as a fisherman, no net, no line and, certainly, no boat.

In fact, the episode in the Gospel begins when Peter steps into Peter’s boat, steps into Peter’s life.

In your life, and my life, in our relationships, Jesus is also trying to step into our lives, into our boats.

[__05.] Suppose you feel some anxiety in making a decision. You know what the right choice is. However you may be tempted to do a little bit less or take a shortcut.

At these times, we also hear the Holy Spirit – through our consciences – telling us what the right thing is to do. This may be the call to do the right / honest thing under difficult circumstances.

This can shake things up, rocking the boat.

[__06.] A boat is rocked, caused to pitch or sway, when someone steps on board. And, Jesus may be stepping into your boat and my boat, reminding us of the need for repentance, conversion, the need to turn back to him for help, healing, forgiveness.

[__07.] When Peter hauls in the net with the fish, he is not simply catching something to eat for dinner.

Rather, he is also starting to “catch on” to a new reality. And, in the beginning, this is a crisis.

Peter does not want to set sail on these particular waters. Peter wants to stay on the land at least temporarily.

Wanting to stay on the land, Peter is moved to turn Jesus away, saying “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8)

[__08.] Peter is already successful in one way, as a fisherman. But, now, he is being asked to do something else. And, this is the crisis

I often want and you may often want not too much change. We don’t want to rock the boat. We don’t want our boat rocked by anyone.

But, the Lord is doing is rocking the boat, causing it (and you and me) to search for balance.

Now, maybe, if we were to own a large enough vessel, we would prevent this movement. Perhaps, a gigantic cruise ship. On the other hand, we are also cautioned about being too immersed, submerged in material things. This could cause us to sink. It’s better to have a smaller boat where the Lord can still touch us and move us more easily.

[__09.] We are being asked to go out into deeper water. What is the deeper water?

Maybe the deeper water is a transition from, say, one school to another ___ from one job to another __ or from working to retirement ___ and most profoundly, the transition after the death of a person we love.

We may wander around on the dock or beach, wondering what to do after the death of someone we love. Meanwhile, Jesus is inviting us forward. This often happens through our loved ones who help us during a crisis.

[__10.] Jesus is trying to work with what we have, to board our boats. Jesus wants to work with what we have and who we already are.

[__11.] This is why Jesus says to Peter, “I will make you fishers of men.” (Luke 5:10)

In other words, I will use the talents you – Peter - already have (and you and me here too), I will encounter you as the authentic person you already are to take you out into the deep waters, to take you out into the deep waters of God’s love and mercy, and into the depths of your own talents and into the depths of your own life. And, seek him for stability on the water.