Archive for February, 2008

Seeing and Believing

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

February 28, 2008

Fourth Sunday of Lent

1 Sam 16: 1, 6-7, 10-13; Eph 5: 8-14:

Jn 9: 1-41

Dc. Larry Brockman

The English Poet Ralph Hodgson once said:  “Some things have to be believed to be seen”.  Consider the Blind man in today’s Gospel.  Jesus gave the blind man two precious gifts:  First, he gave him physical sight.  This brought much joy to him-  finally, he was able to add color and texture and context to the sounds and words and touches that had been his only experience of the world since birth. 

It’s hard for all of us, sighted since birth, to appreciate what a gift that was.  Because we are blind ourselves to the fruits of that gift.  We take it for granted- the visual symphony of the sky and landscape; the subtle meanings expressed by body language; the look of love you receive from loved ones.  Imagine the joy this man felt when his eyes were opened.  But this man was given a second gift- spiritual sight.  He was given the gift of faith. 

The Pharisees and Priests of that time were much feared.  There was no secret to their opposition to Jesus.  The Gospel story makes that very clear.  It is also clear that the blind man’s parents feared the Pharisees.  They didn’t stand up to the Pharisees out of that fear.  But the Blind man recognized his second gift, and put it into practice.  First, he prostrated himself to Jesus, and worshiped him.  This man had been given faith- a conversion of the heart.  Then, he proved his faith by standing up to the powerful Pharisees despite any consequences.  Indeed, he knew that no matter what they did to him, they couldn’t take away the two gifts of sight that Jesus gave him.  He could physically see, yes; but he could also see spiritually.  He believed and so he could see. 

 Not so the Pharisees.  What was important to them were the laws of Moses- no working on the Sabbath; no healing on the Sabbath.  In other words, their lives were structured to occur within boundaries. And those strict boundaries are like a certain blindness.  They are blindness to change, to challenge, to growth; blindness to a vibrant, living light that leads to a richer understanding of God, one that leads to a personal relationship with Him and the joy and light at the end of that tunnel that goes with it.  They could not see the light beyond the darkness of their own blindness. 

When you think about it, all people, including the Pharisees, are given two gifts by God.  First, the gift of life itself, symbolized by physical sight in the Gospel.  But also, the gift of Spiritual life, symbolized by faith in God.  For us, that second gift is faith in Jesus Christ.  And along with that second gift of believing, comes the spiritual insight we need to develop a personal relationship with Jesus.  But, our first gift, the gift of life, tends to blind us to the spiritual gift.  The pleasures and cares of our first gift, life upstage the need for our spiritual sight.  And so, we are blind.  We want to be popular; we want to be successful; we want to be comfortable.  These things take up all of our time and efforts, so that we are blind to the second gift- blind to the importance of spiritual sight, because life here is not what life is all about. 

There are two things that you can do to pursue the second gift.  First, you must strengthen your faith.  No matter what happens to you physically and in a worldly sense, never falter in your faith in God- faith that God exists, that he loves you, and that he has the best in mind and in store for you.  Second, show that faith to others.  That confirms to God that your faith is not just in “fair weather”, but is lasting.  We are used to hearing stories about people who were martyred for their faith.  But that‘s just one way to show faith.  All of you that are here have been given the grace of a long life.  Your families and friends see in you a history that prefigures their own destiny.  You can demonstrate to them that your faith is strong and vibrant no matter what your age or condition.  That can do much in helping them to keep their faith.  Indeed, you can help them to understand that “Some things have to be believed to be seen”   

Shortening the Distance Between Your Head and Your Heart

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

  February 24, 2008

Third Sunday of Lent

Ex 17: 3-7; Rom 5: 1-2, 5-8; Jn 4: 5-42

Dc. Larry Brockman

“Shorten the distance between our heads and our hearts”.  That quote from a prayer by Pope John XXIII came to mind as I heard the gospel today.  You see, there are two kinds of thirsts in this world:  Horizontal thirsts, and vertical thirsts.   

Horizontal thirsts are for the things around us.  They are driven by our heads.  You thirst for food, drink, companionship, money, and all the things of this world because your head tells you that you want or need them.  They are things you need to survive; things that give you pleasure; things that put you in control.  Implicit in the search for them is your own will. 

Before the exile, the Israelis had food and water, and they had security.  What they lacked was freedom, the ability to worship their God and to choose their own destiny.  They saw the need to pursue the second kind of thirsts.  These are the “vertical thirsts”; the things of the heart, things that truly lift spirits.  Vertical thirsts are for life’s higher meaning.  The Israeli’s were slaves, and had no hope for a future.  They prayed for freedom, for meaning to life; they prayed for salvation from slavery.  And because they put their trust in the Lord; God answered their call; God delivered them from the Egyptians in the Exodus.  They followed his commands, and did as he commanded them through Moses.  But soon after their deliverance they forgot how important God and God’s will was.  As they traveled through the desert, they craved water, food, and security.  They held back when God nudged them on their way.  They hardened their hearts toward the Lord, grumbling against the Lord and Moses.  They even dreamed to be back in Egypt where they had food and water and security.  They did not trust in the Lord to provide for them.  Their priorities became messed up.  The Israelis had shifted from the Lord’s will as the priority to their own will, the will to be comfortable.   

Consider now the woman at the well in the Gospel.  Most people went to get water from the well early in the morning, before the heat of the day or late in the day, after the hot sun was gone.  We find this woman going in the middle of the day- perhaps because she wanted to avoid others, and the scandal of her situation.  She had gone through 5 husbands, and was living with someone else- a sixth man.  She thirsted for happiness, and tried to find it in companionship.  Yet, clearly, the companionship she chose did not make her happy.  Indeed, we find that she is not a happy woman at all.  From the conversation she had with Jesus, she is anxious for the “living water” that would give her eternal life- still hoping to find the magic worldly solution to happiness.  Again, her priorities were messed up.  Indeed, the worldly solution to happiness is an illusion- the illusion that the longings of our hearts can be satisfied with earthly treasures.   

However, Jesus has another view.  The things your head tells you you’ve got to have; when these are your primary focus, then your priorities are not straight.  They are not what will make you happy.  The things of the heart are what really make you happy.  These are the spiritual water and food that Jesus speaks about.  Note that when the disciples returned from the market with food, Jesus tells them that He already has food to eat.  He tells them that “My food is to do the will of the Father”.  Jesus makes his top priority striving to follow God’s plan in his life knowing that if He does that, God will provide all else.    Likewise, all of you need to follow God’s will for you and not the illusion of worldly happiness. 

And what is that- God’s will for you?  It is a reflection of God’s attitude towards all of us.  God loved us by sending His own Son to suffer and die for us.  As St. Paul says, through that act of love, we have all been justified,  God loves all of us that much.  So, God’s will for you is that you love one another, as He loves us.  That means that you care as much about the needs of the people around you, both spiritual and material, as you do about your own needs.  You do that by speaking well of others; thinking well of others; and acting on behalf of others in their needs.   

Lent is that special time of the Church year when you are all called to reflect on life, reflect on your relationship with God, and reflect on your priorities in life.  Are you buying into the illusion of happiness through the things of the world, through horizontal thirsts motivated by your own will?  Are things and comforts what is driving you?  Or is your priority doing God’s will, by spreading your love in your families and relationships with others?  In other words, are you shortening the distance between your head and your heart?