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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I Was Blind; And Now I See

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
4th Sunday in Lent, March 26, 2017
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Tucson, AZ
"I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind." (John 9:39)

Today our Church offers us the story of the man born blind (John 9:1-41). Like many stories in the Gospel of John, it gives us insight in the spiritual life.

Last week, Christ used the image of water to address the woman at the well: "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." 

This week, Our Lord heals a man who is blind from birth so “that the works of God might be made visible through him.” Our Lord heals this man while He was in the world so that we may believe in the power of His grace and be freed from our infirmities.

Fr. John Paul Shea 
My brothers and sisters, the blind man in today’s Gospel passage represents each one of us. Each one of us was born into original sin. Therefore, each one of us in a sense is blind from birth.

Some persons come into this world today with deep infirmities. For example, some are born addicted to crack, or with a cleft palate.  Some are born into abusive families. Yet, today’s Gospel reminds us that no matter how small or great our dysfunctions, Our Lord Jesus Christ has come to give us healing.

As Jesus opened the eyes of the blind man, so He wants to remove the blindness from our eyes and hearts so we will experience the healing power of God’s grace. 

Unlike the man healed in today's Gospel, most of us must work out our salvation in fear and trembling. This is why Jesus suffered in our humanity so that we can be healed through His obedience to the Father. Pick up your cross and follow after Him. 

Therefore, today’s Gospel is about letting God remove the areas of sin in our lives that blind us from becoming all who God calls us to be. 
 Jesus uses saliva and mud to heal the blind man’s eyes. For us, He gave the sacraments. 

The Holy Spirit heals us through the words of absolution in the sacrament of confession. He heals through the bread and wine transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ at Holy Mass. The sick receive the holy oil of anointing for physical and spiritual healing.

Just as in the case of the man healed of blindness, God uses ordinary substances to be transformed as a vehicle for the manifestation of His healing grace! 

God’s healing grace is available also when we come pray before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Simply spending a small amount of time each day in front of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is an opportunity for healing. 

My brothers and sisters, God wants to make visible His works through us. He wants to manifest His grace in us. But we must trust in the power of Our Lord Jesus Christ! We must surrender our sins and weaknesses to Him  and refuse to act out of our fallen nature. 

In today’s second reading (Ephesians 5:8-14),  Saint Paul says,
“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Therefore, “Live as children of light.”

We are called to live as children of light. Saint Paul says, “Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret.” 

We live in a world today that is filled with darkness. We live in a world that is blind to the Truth. Instead of acknowledging our disordered desires and striving to turn away from these inordinate passions, our society tells us to act on these desires. Our society tells us that masturbation is normal. Our society teaches us that if we have the desire for gay sex than we should act on this desire. Our society says if we want to live as transgender than we can change the very essence of our human nature though manipulating our God-given gender to suit our sexual choices. 

Let us open our eyes and see the lies of our society. Let us look into the blindness in our
own lives so that our eyes can be opened to receive the healing power of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

For our Lord is coming again into our world for judgment. Those who acknowledge His healing grace will see the blessings of eternal life. But, those who close their eyes and hearts to His message of truth and grace will remain forever in the darkness of their sins. May each one of us open our eyes and hearts to the message of Truth and life that our Lord Jesus has come offer to each one of us. Amen.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lent! Time for Housecleaning.

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai
Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017
St Mary of the Pines Catholic Church, Shreveport, LA, U.S.A.

Let’s suppose that, after we left church today, we locked up the doors—and none of you
came back here until five years later. Not a single person set foot on this very property until Ash Wednesday 2022. When you do come back, what would your church look like after five years of no upkeep? 

The grass would be waist-high, the hedges would be overgrown and uneven, the church sign would be full of bugs and the exterior of this building would have ugly mildew patches all over it. The mailbox would be so full of letters and bills that the mailman would have stopped trying to fill it years ago. And because none of those bills had been paid, the electricity would be off and the entire property would be dark. In short, there would be a whole lot of cleaning up to do before church life here could get back to normal.

This gives you some idea of the state of the Temple in Jerusalem when the prophet Joel was a young man. (
Joel 2: 12-18)    Many years of misuse and disuse had caused Solomon’s once magnificent structure to look more like a building in the slums rather than in the upscale section of Jerusalem. Then, there was a turnaround. At some point, this dilapidated building was cleaned up and refurbished. Remodeling was done, all the debris was cleared away, offerings and sacrifices were restored and temple life returned to normal. Well, it returned almost to normal!

The prophet Joel spoke these words we hear today to the Israelite community because there was, still, a problem. The turnaround was not complete. Everything was looking good on the outside—but there really had not
been much change in the people on the inside. Joel prophesies: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.”

What the Israelites needed to know then—and what we need to know now—is that the Lord wasn’t looking for an outer change as much as He was looking for an inner one. This is why our Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday every year. God is calling us to come back with a total commitment to living life with Him. He is not talking about part time encounters. He’s not talking about occasional drop-ins. He’s not talking about using Him only as a crisis hotline. He is asking for our 
total commitment to Him—because He has never stopped giving His total commitment to us! 

Someone might be thinking: “I don’t have a need to return to God. I’m not that bad.” Someone else might be saying to himself or herself: “I can’t find the time to commit myself totally to God.” Well, Church, there is no one here who cannot afford to get back to God, get close to God and stay close to God! 

If God had not blessed us with the ability to get up and move on our own, we would not have been able to even get away from God!
If God had not given us all that we needed, we would not know how to turn away from God. But because He has done so much for us; because He has provided for us, even when we didn’t ask for it; because He has blessed us, even when we didn’t bother to say “Thank ya,” we have every reason to get back to God! This is what repentance is all about. It’s turning ourselves around and getting back to God for all that God does right!
Return to the Lord with all your heart!
In this season of Lent, the real challenge is for us to return to the Lord different than the way we left Him. This is why the discipline of fasting is important for some house cleaning on the inside. 

Most people think of fasting as giving up some type of food — something we should have been giving up all along. Some people think of Lent as something different to do for 40 days. God’s call to “return to me and rend your hearts” is to make a change — not just for forty days or forty years — but forever! Rend your hearts — not your garments! This is what total commitment is all about!

We will do some fasting from certain foods during Lent. Let us also consider the fact that it is as important to control what comes out of our mouths as it is to control what goes into our mouths. Consider this! Let us start fasting from foul language. The air around us in full of it — and it’s not just on the Jerry Springer talk shows. We can get it in movies, in rap songs, in novels, in magazine articles and in some everyday conversations. We can even hear of children speaking it imitating our adults. 

Consider this! Let us keep judgments of others from spilling out of our mouths. Imagine what a challenge it may be for some to commit to a full day of not passing judgment of anyone else they might meet or hear about. Let us make no judgments about other people: about their motives, their goodness and badness, their social standing, their defects, their clothes, their color, their jobs, their mistakes or just because! Let us commit to seeing everyone as God’s children— the ones Jesus Christ died for—fellow pilgrims on the same journey with us.

Consider this! Let us fast from verbal negatives that slip so easily out of our mouths. Let us start a fast—not just from the hate language but also from the put-downs, the jabs that hurt, the insults, the criticism, the condemnations, the sarcasm, the harmful gossip and the vicious rumors. Sounds like a tall order? 

Not sure if you can do it? Of course, you can! All of us can! All we have to do is start small and build from there. Just choose one day of the week as a “no gossip” day! Choose one day of the week as a “won’t complain/won’t criticize” day. Choose one day of the week as a "no rumors” day! You’ll be surprised at how clean and pure your heart will become and how much more others will see and appreciate all the good that is in you.

Consider this! Let us fast from saying “Yes” to the wrong things and saying “No” to the right things. Let us say “No!” to drugs; “No!” to foul language and foul company; "No!” to infidelity; “No!” to cheating; “No!” to half-truths and blatant lies; “No!” to unhealthy habits; “No!” to profane and vulgar entertainment; “No!” to the ways of this world. At the same time, let us  say “Yes!” to words of healing and comfort; “Yes!” to words of appreciation and encouragement; “Yes!” to generous giving; “Yes!” to service and sacrifice; “Yes!” to patience and acceptance of others; “Yes!” to  prayer; “Yes!” whenever Jesus comes knocking on the doors of our hearts!

Thus says the Lord:
“Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and 
mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.” 

Church, let’s get busy with the housecleaning, so that we will not only return to the Lord, but also welcome Him to come and live in our hearts!