Sunday, March 18, 2012

4th Sunday of Lent: By the Streams of Babylon

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept, remembering Zion.

There is the water. Flowing. Moving away. Its movement mimics the tears on their faces. Only memories are left now. Memories. But they aren’t enough. Not enough to bring air to their vocal chords. Not enough to play the song. Not enough to move. Not enough. So they sit. The water flowing. Moving away. Zion is gone. Jerusalem is gone. God seems gone. They are exiled. Punished. Hopeless. The Israelites were lost in a land that could have been hell for all they cared. They wanted to go back. They wanted their home. They wanted. But they did not know the way. On the current hope drifted away. Silent. Scared. Still.

Perhaps our present day situation is not much different from theirs. Sure, we don’t have the streams of Babylon as the Jews did. But the mighty Ohio flows by. Flowing. Moving away. Its movement mimics the tears that are often on our own faces. Tears shed because we too feel like exiles. Tears shed when we search deep inside ourselves, and we know that something is missing. Something is gone. Something is empty. We desire to find our home. We desire to lay in bed at night and shut our eyes in peace. But this world seems less and less like our home. For we too feel like exiles.

We have been exiled to a land of death, where the most innocent of our culture stand no chance. We have been exiled to a land of individualism, where false personal freedom results in me consistently trumping we.
We have been exiled to a land of isms where people are labeled, typed and chained in.
We have been exiled to a land of division where even people of the same cross can’t converse.
We have been exiled to a land of hookups and one night wonders that leave us empty and alone.
We have been exiled to a land of bullies staining our classrooms with fear.

As families fall apart and our children are gunned down in schools and our teenagers are brainwashed to sexually objectify each other and nations race to raise arms and innocents are slaughtered at the hands of their rulers—who can say that this place we find ourselves in is nothing less than a land of exile? A foreign place. A place that we struggle to call home.

To make matters worse, in this land of exile, we are taunted. Just as the Israelites were mocked by their enemies to play a song on foreign land, we too suffer insult. We have become the laughing stock of the media. From papists to cannibals to out of touch to anti-Christ to undermined. We receive the blows and yet respond with no song. No voice. No tune. We wonder deep inside why we are even Catholic. Catholic…what does that even mean? And so our memory of home drifts further away. Further. Maybe we’ve almost completely forgotten.

Forgotten what home actually is.
Forgotten what we have been made for.
Forgotten who we are called to be.
Forgotten what it means to love.
Forgotten what it means to live.
Has our hand withered because we no longer hope for something more, dream for what can be possible, long for the land of milk and honey where we can at last say that we are home?

The one thing the Israelites feared, more than the Babylonians or even death, was to forget.
To forget what Jerusalem was like.
To forget that they had been chosen.
To forget that they were a race that belonged to a land that had a religion that worshipped a God who was love. He was love. But perhaps they did forget. Perhaps they needed a reminder.

Well this reminder came.
He came as the prince of peace.
He came as a child and then a man who healed the sick, who gave a voice to the voiceless, who forgave the sinner.
Their reminder came from a man who felt their fears, who fought their temptations, who suffered their pains.
Their reminder came from a man who showed his love by going all the way—all the way to the cross.
Their reminder came from one who taught them love, who taught them about home, who taught them about life, who taught them what it meant to truly be human. This reminder came. This Jesus came. This God came.

Maybe we need to be reminded too. Maybe this Lent is a time for us to be reminded. There is still time left. There is always time.

Time to turn off the TV and to actually eat with our families.
Time to make Mass a priority every week not just every month.
Time to talk to our children about how precious they are.
Time to say we are sorry to our spouses.
Time to give up our will, our way, our plan.
Time to admit that if truth is a personal entity that we are drowning in falsity.
Time to finally admit that we need help, we can’t do it on our own.
Time to believe that if God actually gave us his son, and this son’s life of love and sacrifice won us our salvation, then we know how to find our home.

Our home is in him.
Our destiny is in him.
Our hope is in him.
Our dreams are in him.
Our life is in him.

Here we sit. Here is the river. Flowing. Moving away. Our harp is there, hanging on the tree. Grab it. Play the song. It is time to go home.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Forgiveness and Confession from 7th Sunday OT

Nothing can paralyze a group of middle school boys like a member of the opposite sex. Back when I was in middle school we used to have school dances. Looking back these were such awkward occasions. All the kids would be gathered in the gym. The lights would be dim. The music would be playing. And inevitably, the boys were on one side of the gym. The girls were on the other. My friends and I would be doing the tough guy thing, checking out the girls from across the way. We would be talking big and confident. And once in a while, we would be shocked—a girl would walk over to our group. God bless her. We had no idea what we were doing. She would flip her hair back, smile, wave her eyelashes. And she would see if anyone wanted to dance. Mouths open—probably drooling--we would stand silent. Not moving. We talked big, but no one had the courage. We were paralyzed!

Now as familiar as this scene may be, we all know there are other, more serious ways that human beings can be paralyzed.

We encounter two other ways in today’s gospel. The first is more obvious. A man who is physically paralyzed is brought to Jesus by his friends. We can see their desperation. Who knows how long this man has endured, unable to move. Their only hope is the man who is known to heal others. If only they could get their friend next to him. Yet the crowds are too great. So they break the roof open. They lower him down. They are desperate. They are finally of front of Jesus. And yet, this man’s physical paralysis is far from Jesus’ first concern. Rather than heal this man’s body, Jesus heals this man’s soul. He first forgives him of his sins. He only later heals the man of his physical paralysis. In attending to the man’s soul first, perhaps Jesus is giving us an insight into a more common form of paralysis that we all may experience—a paralysis of the soul.

The HBO series The Pacific chronicles the United States Marine’s effort to hold back and defeat the advancing Japanese front during World War II. Eugene Sledge is one of those Marines. After many horrific months of war, he is able to return home to Alabama. On the final episode of the series, Eugene is walking through the woods, hunting doves with his father. Holding a shotgun, the scene is reminiscent of the many marches he has made through Pacific islands and mountains. He begins grasping for air, he sobs, and then falls to the ground on his knees. At this point he is bawling uncontrollably. His father rushes over, only to hear him mumbling “I am sorry. I am sorry. I am so sorry. I can’t do it.” His father drops to his knees, embraces him tightly, and allows his jacket to soak the tears. Eugene had physically survived the war, but his soul had been paralyzed. He simply couldn’t go on.

Perhaps we too have been paralyzed in the soul. There are memories and experiences that continue to haunt us, over and over. They keep playing over in our mind. They drop us to our knees. Some may be of sins we have committed that haunt us in the quiet hours of the night; those things that we fear no one could ever understand; those things that cause shame that eats at our stomach. Some are even the sins that have been committed against us. We have been hurt. We have seen too much. We can’t go on. We can’t return to the innocence that we once had. Yet the Gospel today speaks that there is something more.

As I’m sure you are all aware the Church has been in the news a lot lately. One of the criticisms that people often have is that the Church is restrictive and only concerned about rules and law. I can understand that some people would feel this way. Yet first and foremost, our Church must be seen and experienced as a placing of healing and love. We approach this alter bringing the pains of the week and lay them at the foot of Christ. In just a few minutes, some of us will be anointed, and the same hand that healed the paralytic man will extend healing to us. And as we move into Lent, we will all have an opportunity to go to confession. To drop at the foot of a priest—who stands in for Jesus himself—the great weight of our heart. We can lose those things that keep us paralyzed in the soul.

You know, maybe we won’t be dropping through the roof to receive Jesus in these ways. But let us not pass up the opportunity to also say: we have never seen anything like this!!!