Saturday, February 10, 2018

2018/02/11 - If you wish

Before Mass:  Pay attention to the first reading, because it really sets the stage for the Gospel.  You’ll notice it talks about how Lepers are to be treated… then in the Gospel Put yourself in the shoes of the Leper who comes to Jesus.  The whole homily is on only two phrases In the Gospel, the first line and what the Leper says to Jesus.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Lectionary: 77
    Reading 1 Lv 13:1-2, 44-46
    Responsorial Psalm Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11
    Reading 2 1 Cor 10:31—11:1
    Gospel Mk 1:40-45

One Friday morning this past November, Mary went to Celestine church to setup for Mass like she always does.  After setting up, she went back to her car to get a book – and noticed something sitting next to her rear bumper that wasn’t there when she arrived 10 minutes earlier.  It was dark yet, so her eyes couldn’t make out what it was – it sorta looked like a cat, but it was bright orange on top.  Finally getting close enough, she could tell it was indeed a cat with it’s head stuck in a Cheetos bag.  As she got close, the Cat heard her approaching and meowed pitifully, as if it was asking Mary for help.  Mary reached down and pulled off the Cheetos bag, and the cat meowed a bunch as if to thank her – rubbed against her a bit – then trotted away.  What’s interesting about this is, how did that cat know Mary was there?  Since it couldn’t SEE, how did it manage to get up to the parking lot from wherever it had been?  And why did it come to the church?  My guess is that he heard the sound of her car pull in and heard her get out, so he make his way up the hill toward the sound – that sound was the cat’s only hope – he knew he needed a human to help, since he had been unable to help himself.  One human hand made a difference.

That cat is similar to the Leper in today’s Gospel.  Let’s look at two phrases of the Gospel which will make my point.

Like that very first line:  ‘A Leper came to Jesus’.  We could stop right there – it’s packed with meaning.  Based on what we heard in the first reading, a Leper should NEVER have approached Jesus.  They were publicly shunned and forced to live apart.  If anybody did come close, they were to shout UNCLEAN just to keep anyone from accidentally touching them – because if anybody touched them, they immediately became unclean and would be forced out of town as well.  But this guy CAME TO JESUS.  It shows a remarkable faith he must have had that he would endure the public humiliation of moving through a crowd of people – think about that – there was always a crowd around Jesus – so in order to get close to Jesus, he would have had to shout UNCLEAN over and over – and people would have recoiled – grabbed their children and ran away – it would be like somebody coming in here with Ebola – we’d all be scared to death that we were going to get it, we’d be shouting at HIM to go away!!!.  So this guy endured the public humiliation and ridicule in order to get to his last source of hope:  Jesus.

He only says one thing, but it’s powerful:  ‘If you wish, you can make me clean’.  If you wish… most translations say ‘if you’re willing’ or ‘if it is your will’ – which ought to remind us of a prayer we pray all the time… “thy kingdom come, THY WILL BE DONE”.  Like the Leper, we cannot DEMAND that God do anything for us.  No – we simply go to the feet of Jesus, tell Him our need, and say ‘if it is your will, you can make me clean’.  Two places I can think of off the top of my head where we already do that.  First – just before Communion we pray a little prayer which sounds very similar:  “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and I shall be healed”.  We ARE the Leper in the story, approaching Jesus so that we can be made whole again – so that we can be brought back into the community – back to our family.  Leprosy meant loss of all relationships – but Jesus can restore those relationships if we come to him.  I’d say more than anything, Jesus DOES will to restore relationships…with each other, and with God.  That’s why we call it Communion…  because it restores the relationship of the whole community with God.

The other place we are just like the Leper is in the confessional.  We come to the feet of Jesus and ask Him to heal us spiritually.  Now – in case you don’t know where the confessional is in our church, let me point it out.  A lot of people are nervous about confession, but let me assure you Fr. Eugene is great at this Sacrament.  He is a vessel of God’s mercy, waiting to pour out on all of us.  During Lent, there will be multiple options for going to Confession.  If you’ve not been in a while, just tell Father that and he’ll very nicely guide you through it.  Or – if you’d rather, contact me and I’ll walk you thru the process once so you might feel more comfortable.  Oh –something else somebody asked me just the other day – how do I know if Father is in there- and how do I know I’m not walking in on somebody?  Well – if the green light is on, it means Father is in there – and if the red light is on, that means somebody else is in there, so you should wait.

Now here’s some great news:  you do not have to confess your sins to a Priest!  Did that wake anybody up?  Don’t leave – I have to explain.  You do not have to confess your sins to a Priest.  A lot of people think that Catholics are blaspheming to force everyone to confess to a Priest – why – only GOD can forgive sins!  And I’d say, they’re right!  Only God can forgive sins!!  Fortunately for us as Catholics, every time Father puts on his stole, which is the sign of his office, when he does that, he is acting ‘in persona christi’ – which is latin for ‘acting in the person of Christ’. What that means is, when you confess your sins to Fr. Eugene, it’s not Fr. Eugene you’re confessing to – but it’s Jesus himself!  Fr. Eugene is simply allowing Christ to use his body to perform the Sacrament.  When Father raises his had and says “I absolve you of your sin”, it’s actually Jesus saying those words through the mouth of Fr. Eugene.  Jesus says, “I do will it – be made clean.”

We are all like the cat in my first story.  We all have our head stuck in a Cheetos bag – we all have leprosy – we are all sinners in need of spiritual healing.  We try as long as we can to fix ourselves – imagine that cat pawing at his head all night long, trying desperately to get the bag off – probably scared to death.  But once he came to his senses and realized he couldn’t save himself, he knew he needed a human touch – so he sought that human touch at our church.  Likewise, we try to fix ourselves – buying self-help books, thinking ‘if I just pray harder’, I can handle this myself.  At some point, we all have to admit, this sin disease we have is not something we can cure.  When we are as desperate as a cat with his head stuck in a Cheetos bag, we will risk humiliation to get the help of a human hand.  When we really want to get cleansed of our sin, we will realize the only option is to do what the Leper did – Come to Jesus.
One other thing about that cat story –That morning, Mary was a conduit of grace for that cat.  Not only did the CAT feel good about that encounter, it filled Mary with the Grace of God to be able to reach out and help someone.  Mary has told this story a dozen times or more.  It made a difference for both the Cat and for Mary….and maybe this weekend, that little story will make a difference in your life as well.

See – we are all called to reach out with our own human hand to touch others.  WE are supposed to bring the Grace of God to others – and when we do that, not only are those people helped, but it makes us feel good as well.  That’s how the Grace of God works… the more we give it away, the more we get.  Would YOU like to feel the Grace of God in your own life?  We all can, just by doing something to make a difference in somebody’s life. 

I want to challenge everybody to find a way at LEAST once a week to go out of our way to make a difference for somebody.  How about taking on that challenge instead of giving up chocolate for Lent this year!?  Maybe you can send a card to someone to lift their spirits – or do a random act of kindness like paying for the coffee of the person behind you in line.  Maybe you know somebody who REALLY needs help – like an older person who just needs somebody to stop in and talk once in a while – or take out their trash –or help with grocery shopping.  Maybe you know somebody with a lot of medical bills – don’t we all know somebody like that?  The more we give of ourselves, the more Grace of God that comes back to us.  God cannot be out-given.

This challenge is for everybody.   We ALL should be looking for opportunities every day to BE the hand of God.   However, I want to offer an incentive to our students – everybody age 5 through college raise your hand – Those hands are the hands of God.  I want to give you $5 to use to make a difference in somebody’s life.  Can you imagine the impact on our community with this many people all making a difference at the same time!  It COULD be awesome!  You can decide how much time you want to put into it:  send a card, buy a box of chocolates and take it around a nursing home just to spend time talking with people, Pick your favorite charity to support.  We’ve had some creative ideas over the years from our students from simple to big.  Be creative, and if you need ideas – look for these colored binders in the back of church.

Now- I know a lot of parents kind of discourage their kids from participating in this, because it becomes something the parents have to do, since the kids won’t take initiative to do it on their own.  So – students – read my lips - make this YOUR Lenten project that YOU do.  You can ask your parents for help, but don’t make them have to nag you!!  Remember, It doesn’t HAVE to be a big deal.  Ask God what HE wants you to do!  There are only two requirements:  1) you can’t keep the money and 2) you should share with me a short description of what you did.  Anyone interested can catch me after Mass to sign up and get your $5.

Everybody - Go out there and BE the hand of God in our community.  Go make a difference. 

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