From the Archives: Fr. Metzler’s Homilies

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

“The Beauties of the Earth”

Isaiah 55:10-11   Romans 8:18-23   Matthew 13:1-23

The readings for this mid-summer Sunday reflect the beauties of the earth, its golden harvests, its astonishing Spring, its delicate birds, beasts, mountains, hills and plains. Infinite surprise for those whose eyes can see.

In the First Reading the Lord uses the ebb and flow of seasons to show how his sensitive love for the earth works.

Just as the rain and snow come to earth, he says, and return to the heavens when they have done their job of watering, making the lands fertile and fruitful, so too does God’s word. It comes to the world and does not return until it has moistened and nourished life in every single creature that will receive it.

St. Paul speaks of all creation groaning in labor pains even until now. Human beings too groan within themselves like seeds which break open and push their way through tough ground and then evolve into full trees that stretch up for Christ’s light.   Fr. John Foley, S. J The Center for Liturgy at Saint Louis U.

The parable of the sower is a story about the fruitfulness of the earth. It assures us that the harvest will come in spite of the many obstacles that stand in its way. In the end, the rocks and birds and trampling feet cannot nullify the fact that the seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.

Paul talks about the salvation of the world, pointing out that the world itself will be freed from its slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Meanwhile, all creation groans and is in agony: we pollute the clear air and the fresh water; we drive plants and animals to extinction; we clear-cut forests and we strip-mine, leaving ugly scars in the land.

Our opening prayer today calls on us to reject what is contrary to the gospel. Isn’t it contrary to the “good news” to waste and destroy God’s creation? The Creator has greatly enriched the land. How dare we impoverish it.     (Gerald Darring The Center for Liturgy Sunday)

In another sense, parables both reveal and conceal the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Many of us, even though we hear the words of a parable, refuse to recognize the voice of divine wisdom calling us to conversion of heart and to healing.

Matthew transforms the meaning of the seed from the word which initiates life to the person called to life in the kingdom. Some persons hear the word without understanding its deeper meaning; some receive it, but fall away when tribulation comes; some hear it, but worldly anxiety and greed choke off the life it gives; some hear the word, understand it, and bear an extraordinary amount of fruit.

Jesus tells us the good news that the seeds of God’s kingdom have been abundantly sown everywhere in the world. Despite all the violence and despair that threaten us, we can live in expectation. God’s kingdom has already come, will continue to grow, and will ultimately triumph. Henry David Thoreau once said: “Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

Because it, too, is a parable, the human-divine mystery of God’s kingdom itself means that we cannot grasp its meaning as we do the realities of this world. It is only in the humble attitude of prayer that we may receive the gift of faith’s understanding and conversion of heart.

Jesus warns us that even if we have heard his word, worldly anxiety or greed can destroy our Christian life. God’s Spirit will grant us perseverance in living so that God’s kingdom will flourish beyond measure.  (Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.)

Can such rich images apply to you and me? How good is your own soil?

God pours his grace into it always. Do you and I groan and yearn for the goodness of God, which He has already lavished upon us? Do we take time each day to let love in? Or do we listen on Sunday, perhaps with some interest, but then forget everything by Monday?

Jesus lists a number of things we might have to correct in order to accept the gifts he has ready for us. We might be shallow, shallow ground, he says. Or rocky soil. The weeds of our preoccupation with the things of the world might choke us. How discouraging. Well, must I pretend to be rich soil, even though I know my shallowness? No. I must only be fully myself and allow God to do the rest. The Indian poet Tagore once said:

“Be humble. Join in the revolving refreshment of all earthly things. Like the cloud that stands humbly in a corner of the sky.”

Just let God, like the morning, crown you with splendor. Open your leaves. Allow in the sun.   (Fr. John Foley, S. J.)

 

 

 

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

“Go Gentle”

Zechariah 9:9-10   Romans 8:9,11-13   Matthew 11:25-30

How beautiful Jesus’ words in the Gospel are this week. And yet so hard to trust in them: Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves; for my yoke is easy, and my burden light.’

Great comfort! There is a place to go to when death or loss or suffering descend upon us. Thank God!

Another very honest viewpoint is given by Dylan Thomas, the poet, who was not wiser than Jesus, but does suggest a different viewpoint. He wrote the following to his dying father:

‘Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ Rage is quite different from the easy, light burden Jesus promises.

Dylan Thomas was a ragged man who—if rumor is true—drank himself to the death he wrote about. He loved his youth and sang glad song to it, but hunkered down in the shadow of death.

What would Jesus say? He went through torture and death: surely he should have raged! Yet he says his yoke is light. How to understand such a puzzle?

Perhaps God does not mean to erase labor and suffering from our lives, not throw them away, but instead means them to be pathways to a solid ground that lies beneath our troubles, to a quiet grounding that is real stillness and rest.  What would that solid ground be?

Jesus seems to say that it is meekness and humility of heart. In the desert Jesus spoke to the devil humbly about food itself, saying that we do not live by bread alone but by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Maybe the only real good in life is rooted firmly in

the love that is God. There, meekness and humility have their source.

“Watch me,” Jesus says, “I am meek, and riding on an ass,  Watch me on the sad height of Calvary and see. I have let it all go. Belongings, beloveds, achievements, all. One thing remains and I find my rest in it. Make this thing your life, whatever your sorrow is, whatever is your result of living and of dying and facing troubles. One thing. Love. It will not be heavy—it is the reason why my burden is light.

If we can begin to let go into the arms of God’s Great Love, if we can give our life away instead of raging, we will know respite from our burdens. We will see how death is actually the ultimate act of giving yourself away.  Lets try it out: take our troubles and hand them gratefully to the One who can give us rest.

“Come to me, all you who are weary.” Let’s listen to this passage as presented from the Message Bible, whose free translation I have come to love so much:    “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

©   John Foley S. J.  composer and scholar at Saint Louis University

 

 

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: Feast of Corpus Christi, Cycle A

“Eucharist as the New AA”

Deuteronomy 8:2-3,14b-16a    1 Corinthians 10:16-17    John 6:52-58

A friend of mine, an alcoholic in recovery, likes to explain the dynamics of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting this way: “It’s funny”, he says; “the meetings are always the same, the exact same things get said over and over again. Everything is totally predictable; everyone, except those who are there for the first time, know already what will be said. And we’re not there to show our best sides to each other. I don’t go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to share my talents or to be a nice guy.

No. I go because, if I don’t, I know, and know for sure, that I will start drinking again and eventually destroy myself. It’s that simple. I go there to stay alive!”

In a curious, but accurate way, that can also be a description of the Eucharist, at least of one important aspect of it. Among other reasons, we go to the Eucharist to stay alive. The Eucharist is meant to be God’s regular nourishment for us, daily manna to keep us alive within the desert of our lives.

We get this theology from John’s Gospel. The gospels, as we know, do not have just one theology of the Eucharist. The various communities in the early church each emphasized different things about the Eucharist.

In John’s Gospel, where the other gospels have the institution of the Eucharist at the last supper, he has Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. John, in placing the washing of the feet where the other evangelists put the words of institution, is reminding us that washing each other’s feet, service to and humility before each other, is what the Eucharist is really all about. But John also emphasizes another aspect of Eucharist.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that the Eucharist is the new manna, the new bread from heaven, the new way that God gives us daily sustenance. It was understood not as an extraordinary ritual to commemorate only the last supper, but as an ordinary, ideally daily, ritual to give us sustenance from God.

The Eucharist nurtures us by giving us God’s physical embrace, and, like a Quaker-silence, it gives us a oneness with each other that we cannot give to ourselves. And it provides us with a life-sustaining ritual, a regular meeting around the word and person of Jesus that can become the daily bread of our lives and our communities.  (Ron Rolheiser, S.J.)

Pentecost is the feast when Jesus showed He actually was staying with us here on earth in the most important way possible. He was sending his inside life, the Holy Spirit, into our souls. Christ’s heart would become our heart and by this we would become his new and continuing body for the life of the world. With Spiritual eyes we would be able to see as Jesus sees, the needs around us that He yearns to transform with Love.

But some people feel vaguely dissatisfied with God’s presence with and in us through Holy Spirit They want to touch Him. We live in a material world, so we don’t see how a Spirit way down deep inside us can cope with that. Besides, we sin, often, and by doing so we cast out the Spirit, or at least hide it. We have very short memories, and even with the Spirit we forget about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

The Body and Blood of Christ, this Sunday, here and now, Jesus gives us himself in bodily form. We approach the table of sacrifice and there He gives his body and blood to our body and blood. It is the wonderful way we are joined to the worldly life of Christ. His body becomes one with our bodies in an intimate metamorphosis.

And so the Easter season of the Lord’s coming among us to feed us, to suffer with us, to die with us and to bring all life back to its original source — God-Love – comes full circle; Sunday’s feast of feeding becomes a physical sending of us out into the physical and spiritual world to be Christ for it.

And the world had need for Him, the world awaits Him. And we are up for the task.  (John Foley S. J.)

 

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: Trinity Sunday, Cycle A

Throughout today’s Gospel and in fact throughout all of his Gospel, John the evangelist tells us that what he has written has been done so that we may come to believe in Jesus, the Son of God, and so, have life in His Name. And to help us come to this belief, he talks about people like us — some who believe, some who half-believe, some who refuse to believe. Today’s gospel passage is part of the story of Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, who comes to Jesus ‘at night’ and who represents those of us who hold back, and so never completely leave the darkness to enter the light and love of Eternal Life.

The very first sentence of this passage is that verse so well known as John 3: 16 — summarizing John’s entire gospel about the meaning of Jesus and the meaning of our human existence: “God so loved the world” it says, “that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”

In each Sunday gospel, Jesus makes the Father’s truth and love present in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit. Every good work we do is our chance to share in Christ’s mission of making the Father’s truth and love present in the world because we share Christ’s Spirit. Each time, we experience peace and joy in living in communion with the divine love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The gospel of Trinity Sunday reminds us of the reality which Jesus shares with us every time we hear the gospel. That reality is the ‘world’ which God loves so much as to give it his only Son. We are that world — human beings tragically alienated from God, alienated from each other, alienated from our own deepest personal identity as children of God. This is the world described in the first chapters of Genesis in the story about Adam and Eve, in so many of the stories of the evening news on television, in our own experience of life.

And we are children of God, every one of us. We know that, and that’s why it so breaks our heart to hear of those times when we human beings do not act like God’s children. We feel it most in the great tragedies that we hear every night on the news, more today, it seems, than ever before.

Particularly this year, when many in our world seem to prefer darkness to light, when so many ignore the terrible sufferings of such great disasters throughout our world, we need to acknowledge our oneness as God’s children with prayers of steadfast hope. God still does love the world. And we can still come out of its dark night to accept His only Son, whom he has given to us so that we might have life in Him.

But it is equally as true in more personal ways – in the ways we slight our own brothers and sisters at times, or even carry grudges and resentments toward them for months or even years. And in the way we make off-handed racial and ethnic slurs, fully expecting a response of humor or approval.

It continues on and on. Wars are only the ultimate conclusion of the hatred and contempt we carry in our hearts every day. We who are all children of the One God, the Loving God, the Creator God of us all. We hear it again. “God so loved the world.. that we, all His children, might have Eternal Life. Only in His light and in His life can we enjoy peace among ourselves and within ourselves, a peace that truly surpasses all human understanding.   (Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B)

 

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 4th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

Have Life in Abundance”

If there’s one sermon all of us are willing to listen to to the very end it’s this one. And I mean that quite literally.

 In this passage from John, Jesus says that he has come so that his followers — all of us — may have life and have it more abundantly. Life, obviously, is good, desirable, important. How much more so, then, abundant life? There was a time when I had developed a very bad habit. If someone told me of their difficulties, their struggles in life, I would respond, “Well, survival is progress.” But, in fact, survival is not progress. Progress is progress.

 The chance to not simply endure, or even persist, but to thrive; to not simply exist, but to flourish. To have a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment; to know and be known, accept and be accepted. I believe that if there is one thing that pretty much everyone here today — and those not here as well – desire, even if they can’t name that desire, it’s this. More than that, I believe we regularly make all kinds of sacrifices in the hope of earning or achieving or purchasing this life, and each time we fail it kills us just a little.

 The PBS documentary series, Frontline, in a recent episode about the changing nature of advertising and our culture, shows how keenly we seek a sense of fulfillment and purpose — that is, abundant life — often from the things we buy.

Advertising in our country has shifted from making promises about the quality of the product to promises about quality of life. It showed how ‘emotional branding’ seeks to fill the empty places that civic institutions like schools and churches used to fill; and although the things themselves may be perfectly useful — a great laptop or pair of running shoes — they can’t provide the abundant life of meaning and purpose that we so desperately seek. Ads even try to convince us that we can achieve abundant life through such things as our choice of a tooth paste or a deodorant.

So here we are, seeking meaning and fulfillment — that is, abundant life — from things in part because we no longer find them in our prayer life or education and reading or especially in charitable works, in doing for others.

But authentic abundant life flows ultimately from having meaningful relationships. Certainly in our relationship with Jesus and through him. So much of our life is instead about protecting ourselves: giving the impression that we really do have it all together. But we can’t experience abundant life without exposing, even celebrating, those very vulnerabilities we want to hide. We can’t go selectively numb. And in trying to protect ourselves from hurt and disappointment, we have so numbed ourselves that we have cut ourselves off from the very things that can allow us to really feel alive: love, and satisfying work and appreciation of both of these as seen in the great works of art and literature.

So much of our life is caught between wanting intimacy and honesty in our relationships — with each other as much as with God — and yet simultaneously holding back, not risking, not exposing ourselves fully to others for fear that they may reject us. It’s a legitimate fear, of course; people have rejected us in the past. And so we ensconce ourselves in emotional armor, living half-truths and sometimes outright lies about who we are, hoping to protect ourselves from hurt, perhaps all the while knowing that as long as we are not honest about who we are, we cannot trust the love and acceptance others would offer us. After all, would they accept us, we silently ask ourselves, if they really knew us?

It is this very real human condition and dilemma that God embraces in coming to live on earth, taking on our lot and our life in the flesh and blood of Jesus. The man born of woman, born under the law; the one who experienced love and laughter, sorrow and disappointment; the teacher of love and peace who accepted death on the cross, trusting the power of His Father to overcome even death — this one knows the deepest recesses of our fears and insecurities and has embraced them all. And when he is resurrected, he comes bearing the peace he has offered all along, accompanied with the promise that his love is greater than fear and that his new life is greater than death.

Which means that the second thing we need to do is declare this promise. And it is a promise! Abundant life is not something to earn or achieve, buy or barter for. Rather, it is a gift, the sheer gift of a God who loves us enough to lay down his life for us. There are so many thieves and bandits in this world who would rob us of life, who would cheat us of abundance. And so Jesus comes as the gatekeeper and good shepherd, the one who knows his sheep — intimately and truly — and who calls us by name so that we, hearing the difficult truth about ourselves, may believe and receive the second and wonderful truth about God’s great and victorious love for us.

In fifty years of priesthood, the thing I have most come to understand is that most people don’t like themselves very much, and so they cannot understand how God could ever like them either. And so, proclaiming these two truths, — the truth about how often we search for love and life in all the wrong places and the second truth that God in Christ understands, embraces, and redeems us in love — are the most important messages I can impart to you so regularly. And I call on you to share and to accept this good news, above all. “I have come”, He says, “that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”       (David Lose)

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Raised Up, the Breath of Hope

Ezekiel 37:12-14   Romans 8:8-11   John 11:3-45

We are so near to Jerusalem. To Jerusalem, and Calvary, and the cross. In fact, today’s gospel story told at the tomb of Lazarus says we are “two miles away,” in this place of death and mourning, at the grave and with those who gather nearby, troubled in spirit: the family and friends of Lazarus, including Jesus. And we are, in church time, only two weeks away from the empty tomb. How fitting, then – and how challenging – to read this Gospel of the raising of Lazarus, set firmly within, even entangled with all the hope and confusion and the controversy that swirl around Jesus as we approach this Holy Week to come.

But first, there is his own grief over the death of his friend. In this story, there is so much of the human experience of loss: receiving word of a loved one’s illness and need; decision-making and complications to be considered; frustrations, questioning, and lack of understanding on the part of those closest to us; grief and mourning by loved ones and the community encircling them. Our swirling thoughts of ‘what might have been’; courage, anger, and weeping; and finally the loss, the death; the trust of Mary and Martha, even in the face of physical reality. We do not hear a single word from Lazarus or know of his response to his extraordinary experience. We see only release, glory, and Jesus’ own gratitude to God.

We hear the words of Jesus, “Unbind him, and let him go. We are all held back in one way or another and bound by the old habits that the fear of dying has taught us so well,  How many of us have known the feel of those strips of cloth, the grave’s apparel, that wraps us up in a leaden existence and makes us long for release, for the light of day and the feel of fresh air in our lungs? What are the ‘strips of cloth’ that bind us, the addictions and fears, and the feelings of hopelessness and loss? Perhaps grief, anxiety, financial troubles, hatred, resentment, or a lack of faith has put us in our own tomb of despair.

Jesus stood outside that tomb and called out, “Lazarus, come out!” God is still speaking to us today, calling us out from our tombs of despair, denial, and death to new life, right now, right here. What are those tombs for you and I? What is the tomb for our parish community? In what ways  are you part of the unbinding, when God is trying to release the bonds, when God is trying to bring new life in the face of death? How are you ‘unbinding’ and ‘letting go’ those who have been put into such places of death?

In a world where the dead have returned to life, the word ‘trouble’ loses much of its meaning. Perhaps there are some in our congregation today, standing around and watching, formulating their judgments and deciding what they’ll believe and how much they’ll believe it, or maybe they’re moving to the center of what’s happening, pulling back the ‘stuff’ of death, the things that surround death, and releasing the new life that God has granted, the new life that lies just beneath the surface of what appears bleak and beyond hope. Perhaps there are some among us who are calculating the costs and the possible unpleasantness of giving ourselves over to the power of God, even, ironically, to healing and new life.

Martha’s great profession of faith is also an powerful moment in this beautiful and complex story. How do we move from just saying what we believe to giving our selves and our lives over to transformation and the new life that God brings? How often, in fact, we do say we believe but live as if we do not? Where does our religious imagination fail us, stop, refuse to move to places of new life and possibility? What does the world tell us about “real life” and how does that contrast with a gospel vision of being truly alive? What do we think we need to do in order to achieve or accomplish new life, as if it were our doing, and not God’s?

It is not easy to convey a sense of wonder, let alone resurrection wonder, to another. It’s the very nature of wonder to catch us off guard, to circumvent expectations and assumptions. Wonder can’t be packaged, and it can’t be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement.

How and when have we been Lazarus in this story? Perhaps just as important: how and when have we been part of the crowd, which moves around in the background, trying to figure out what’s going on, drawing conclusions, not wanting to miss anything, helping to release the dead man…and then going back to our lives, transformed, believing, experiencing new life – or being critical, suspicious, cynical?

If you live in the dark a long time and the sun comes out, you do not cross into it whistling. There’s an initial up-rush of relief at first, then–for me, anyway–a profound dislocation. My old assumptions about how the world works are buried, yet my new ones aren’t yet operational.

There’s been a death of sorts, but without a few days in hell, no resurrection is possible. Where do you stand? Oblivious to death? In that initial numbness of denial? In the Hell of awaiting and facing it?

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 3rd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Journey to Living Water

Exodus 17:3-7;   Romans 5:1-2,5-8;   John 4:5-15,19b-26,39a.40-42

Gospel Summary

It is high noon when Jesus stops to rest by the well of Jacob. His revelation about life-giving water will provide a light that challenges the sun. When he asks the Samaritan woman for a drink, she is amazed that he seems so unaware of how things really are.

Does he not know that, as a woman with several husbands, that she has been condemned to social invisibility? After all, women were supposed to be ignored in public and she was also a despised Samaritan. How can Jesus be so out of touch?

When Jesus answers her, we discover that it is she who is out of touch, because she doesn’t know about the “gift of God” that Jesus offers–a gift that is as refreshing and enlivening as bubbling, cool spring water, and so very much better than the stale, stagnant well water on which she’s been trying to survive. The woman’s eyes must have sparkled like the waters in the sun as Jesus awakened in her the dream of a life of freedom and dignity. “Sir, give me this water.”

We learn about the nature of this “living water” a bit later when the woman asks Jesus whether it is better to worship in Jerusalem or on the holy mountain. Jesus tells her that such considerations are no longer relevant. What counts now is to welcome the Spirit, who can transform the hearts of people by enabling them to experience the ultimate truth of God’s love for them. Religious places and rituals remain important only insofar as they lead to us to experience of God’s love in our personal union with Christ.

Life Implications

It ‘s all too easy for most of us to identify with the Samaritan woman when she experienced life as often unfair and unjust, that is, like stale well water. How many of our powerful human institutions conceal systematic injustice, opportunities and rewards provided only on the basis of connections rather than ability or merit.

Even those who benefit from such arrangements can sense the lack of that joy in not being rewarded for one’s accomplishments. How sad that so many live a life of emptiness and futility. If only they could realize that a life of loving concern for others, where we ourselves not only give love, but get it in return is so much more important than a constant yearning for security. To shrug off injustice as simply ‘the way things are’ is to be condemned to the half-life of stagnant well water.

The woman runs off to tell all the townsfolk, those who hold her in such contempt, that she has found the messiah. The disciples return; and one sees through the eyes of Jesus the crowds she has stirred up coming across the fields, their robes waving like wheat in the wind. The fields, He says, are ripe for a great harvest.

He invites us to understand the yearnings of so many in nations throughout the world, and in our own country, in revolution for true freedom, who dream about the possibility of a world where opportunity and hope replace the bondage of fear and despair and oppression. God really does not want us to live a life of quiet desperation. Jesus has come to reveal the Father’s love and the Spirit is ready to convince us of that fact.  .

The Spirit of Jesus whispers constantly to us: as he did to the downcast woman: “If you only knew the gift of God…” Our eyes too can sparkle as we dare to imagine a world, at least within our hearts, where the experience of God’s invincible love becomes a source of refreshing, life-giving water to quench our thirst for goodness and justice.

A cynical attitude toward life will not be sufficient. We need to realize that the Holy Spirit wants us to redeem our own little corner of the world. We do not need to be a Messiah, but we do need to inject some messianic hope into the area of life that we can influence. The conversion of the world begins with the conversion of a kitchen or a dining room or a workplace. If each one of us would do that, the larger world would soon become what God intended it to be–a place where justice blossoms and where love bears wonderful fruit.

Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.

 

 

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Journey to the Mountaintop

Genesis 12:1-4;    2 Timothy 1:8-10;    Matthew 17:1-9

When Abram was 75 years old, at rest in a comfortable village of his own people, — somewhere in southern Iraq, we are told — God’s blessing came by calling him to move toward a new place. It was a land far from his own, between Turkey and Syria, and it was already occupied by a people alien to him.

In the Far East, the sons of Abraham terrorize each other in these same lands and in Palestine,. We have to wonder how Abram’s resettlement journey could possible bear hope for peace. And yet Abram’s moving into it is supposed to bear the blessing of God’s intimacy for “all the families of earth.”

Abram was called to let his material blessings go and walk into a future of mysteries, from the familiar, the self-serving, what he knew to what he did not  know, from what he had to what he did not have, from the comfortable to the strange and the unpredictable.  Today, most everything in our culture, education and employment encourages us to journey in the opposite direction: from what we do not have to what we think we want and need, making every effort to remove the strange and unpredictable in order to guarantee the safe and the secure.

In a similar way, three young men go up a mountain with Jesus whom they have grown to know as friend. They return down the mountain men called to believe what they think they saw. Jesus reveals Himself as more than friend. They see Him talking with Moses, a representative of the law, and Elijah, a prophet. Their friend, they see, is keeping pretty good company. They see their friend in a different light, a light so strong that it baffles the senses. They hear words which challenge their knowledge. They have known Him in one way and now they are being asked to give up that familiarity and move to an “out-of-sight” relationship involving not knowing, not seeing, but listening and walking back down the mountain in faith.

Abram left his familiar relationship with God through the land. The three apostles had to relate with Jesus by trusting in what happened when their friend was transfigured into their Lord.

Lent is calling each of us to embrace the familiar for what it is, a blessing. We are being called also to embrace the unfamiliar for what it is, a blessing as well. We love the security of the known and can hug it, possess it and make it our own, identity, our little god. We can relate habitually with the same ideas, friends, places, and no longer experience them as the blessing-gifts they  were meant always to be.

The Jesus of our younger days, as with the three mountain-climbers of today’s Gospel, changes. Maturity involves seeing former things, persons, ideas, differently as we advance.

Perhaps the three companions of Jesus could never explain what had happened “up there”. They were learning to walk with Jesus with their human doubts about Him and themselves. The big thing is they did walk into their futures less confined by the human demand to know and explain perfectly. The three transfixed-followers who witnessed the Transfiguration  hadn’t  seen perfectly, could not explain it perfectly, what they saw did not make them perfect, but they walked back down the mountain to continue their journey with Jesus more on the level of faith. We believe, because we kind of understand. Like love, we go deeper into it so we can find out our security is in the fact of Jesus more than the facts about Him.

The longest and hardest journey is not the journey without but the journey within.  Abraham’s journey becomes a metaphor for our spiritual journeys. The geography of Canaan pales in comparison to the complexity of the human heart.  It is far easier to leave Canaan than to leave greed and seek self-giving, to travel from envy, regret, apathy and bitterness and arrive at destinations such as gratitude, service and forgiveness.

You see, Lent is not about giving up chocolate, meat or alcohol. Those are only external reminders of an internal transformation that we seek.  Our ultimate journey is to move from a self-centered heart curved in on itself to an other-centered openness to the love of God, a love for others, and a love for all God’s world. That, of course, is a journey that lasts a lifetime.

The twin journeys of our outer choices and our inner hearts are closely intertwined.  Each one shapes the other. The outer choices we make, for example, about our time and how we use it, our money and how we spend it, our jobs and how well we do it, in some mysterious way, shape the person we are becoming, so that in a sense, we form ourselves by a lifetime of accumulated decisions. We decide our own journey. It’s destination is not as uncertain as it seems.

And so therefore, as we grow in the inner depths of our hearts, we learn to make choices that are wise and good for both us and for others.

Pastor Craig Barnes once wrote: The truly good news of Jesus is that “all of the roads belong to God”, and that “the Savior can use any road to bring us home.”  Quoting CS Lewis, he reminds us that God can even use the wrong roads to take us to the right places.

 

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies, 1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

“To Whom Shall We Listen? The Threshold of Truth”

Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7;    Romans 5:12, 17-19;    Matthew 4:1-11

Our First Reading today is quite a story. It’s a good story for us all, because it is a story of us all. We are Adam and Eve every day as we are so available to our wanting to be like God and even, our being God.

We hear, not the whole story, but selected verses about the disobedience of Adam and Eve. This story is about our tendency to disobedience, or sin, as we call it. It tells us how it began somehow; and the painful consequences pictured in these early chapters are a reminder and warning to us as it was to the Israelites of what will happen if they, too, disobey and refuse to listen and make their own fatal choices. It all began here, at the beginning of their and our religious history; and other stories in Genesis reemphasize the pattern.

The serpent speaks to the “woman” about what God had spoken to them and speaks now to us. There’s the tension, to whom shall we listen for life, its meaning and completion? To whom shall we listen for wisdom, for what is really good for us as humans?

The Gospel is also about the power and necessity of listening. Jesus has just heard of His true identity and relationship with His Father in the narrative of His baptism. “You are My Beloved Son” God said. He has been listening to the implications of this relationship and identity for forty days and nights of fasting and reflecting and is very vulnerable to being tempted. The devil approaches him with the scriptures in hand. He challenges Jesus’ identity and His relationship with His Father.

“If you are the Son of God” is the come-on through which the devil invites Jesus into the world of the ‘what-if”. Jesus replies with His scriptures handy too, and shifts the mood to the factual – to the ‘what is’.

Jesus lived that to which He listened in His desert experience. He took time to listen to the voice of God that spoke within Him and it profoundly changed His outlook. As Adam and Eve didn’t listen and so were disobedient, Jesus remained obedient and lived this reality even to His death.

This First Sunday of Lent we are encouraged to begin listening to what God speaks to us in our very being. We need to take time to find out who we really are, to discover our true identity and our sense of direction in life. We are invited to listen to the many voices telling us who we are, what is our meaning and value. We are urged during these days of Lent to face those things which tempt us to replace our solid relationships with God with illusions and pretenses. The reason for our prayer is to move through “what if” to “who am I”, from “maybe I could” to “thank You for who I am”.

It would be so much easier to be governed by laws and fears. But we as God’s children, must cross the threshold and be governed instead by love and hope.

We need to face our temptations joyfully, because they are a means of affirming how strong our relationship is with God. Our temptations are the very means by which we discover who we truly are, Because we, too, have been baptized into being God’s “Beloved”.

Yes, temptations should not be feared. Because they invite us to look at what is the good in ourselves that is being tempted to devalue, to under-use, or abuse or over-do. Temptations should set off our prayer-alarm, telling us that we should not be praying empty prayers. We don’t have to feel dirty or too human for prayer right now, because we’re being tempted. We need to pray about what is really happening to us right now, every moment of our lives. Temptations tell us about a most human condition.

They help us know our true holiness and help us to accept our true self.

Use this Lent as a time to explore what are the temptations of your own life. Are you tempted to live a life of selfish self-indulgence? Are you tempted to overlook the needs of your loved ones, of those closest to you? Are you tempted to patterns of laziness, underusing the wonderful gifts God has given you to make an impact in your world? Or is your temptation to live a life of empty pleasure and self-gratification. You may be tempted to ignore, even to be blind to the needs of those in the world who are starving, tortured or oppressed.

Find out what your own true temptation really is, and tailor your prayers and your whole prayer life around it. Listen to the voices of God within you, and cross that threshold that will take you to genuine, sincere, authentic truth about yourself. (Larry Gillick, S.J. Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality)

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Sirach 15: 15-20    1 Corinthians 2:6-10    Matthew 5:17-37

With A Loving  Heart

Monday is Valentine’s Day; and I want to again wish all of you a very Happy Valentine’s Day and let you know that I love all of you very much.  I will be keeping you and your special Valentines in my prayers at Mass all this weekend and at Mass on Monday.

I have a radio on which I often listen to the news and to sports events. It can pick up stations from a long distance away and the static and other stations crowding in can make it hard to hear. But, you know, I find that I hear what I want to hear.  Sometimes it seems I just make the effort to hear it … and I hear it.

When I am not interested in something, well, I don’t listen and so don’t tune in. What I want to hear, want to know, that I find the energy to hear. And often I think and I wonder what we as God’s People want to hear in the Scriptures and also what we do not want to hear. Where is our energy for listening?

As we move through this weekend’s liturgy, I suggest we pray with and reflect a bit upon what we want to hear from God, from the Church, from life. Our personal and family problems get our attention easily. We long to know more, to feel deeply, to understand mysterious things. But we need to listen to what The Book of Sirach, our first reading today, says to us, with all its wonderful images and wise sayings about most aspects of life. The whole book centers around the depth, presence and practicality of Wisdom.

Today it tells us that a great part of being Wise is knowing how to choose. God sets before us fire and water, life and death, good and evil. Whatever we choose will be given us. Wisdom is God’s way and we are choosers. We have been given the gift, or burden, of our freedom. Our wisdom is using our knowledge according to our faith in God’s ways. Wisdom gives us understanding, but it also allows us a freedom to exercise just how deeply or to what extent we will share it. And to what levels we do not want to hear as well. It’s all about listening and hearing. So, stay tuned!

Today’s continuation of the Sermon on the Mount contains twenty long verses about what has been heard in the past and what is to be listened to now. Jesus is not spinning the Law and the traditions passed on through the prophets. He is applying a proper spirit to what had become too legalistic. He is giving us a new way of living the Old Law as well.

Mark Twain, the great  American humorist, once wrote that the New Testament is one of those books you wish everybody else would read. This whole Sermon, at the beginning of Jesus’ preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, is not meant for exact execution, but for our interiorizing the heart and mind of Jesus. It is not about doing this or not doing that. It is about the ‘why’ of our doing anything.

For instance, we are encouraged not to lust sexually in our relationships with each other, but it is about reverence of the human body and the sacredness of love and life that is important. This sacredness of life extends to killing all forms of human life as well. Killing relationships with our brothers and sisters is a violation.

This is a long Gospel today and the whole Sermon takes much pondering. We here in the United States love the exactness of laws so we know what’s right and how we can get around or through or under or above what’s written. God so loved the world that God sent a Loving, Relational Person to share the sacredness of our lives and the sacredness of God’s relationship with us. The Wisdom of Jesus is not ‘how’ He lived, but the ‘why’. He came and continues coming, respectful of our freedom, to encourage us to reverence our lives, the time we have and the lives and times we have with others.

                            (Larry Gillick, S.J.  Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality  Creighton University)

  Life Implications

The ideal expressed in this gospel passage reminds us that external religious observance, though certainly important, will never suffice to make us authentic followers of Christ. It’s relatively easy to observe rituals and to affirm doctrines but, unfortunately, such observance can easily co-exist with an interior attitude that is judgmental and unforgiving. As the gospel reminds us, reconciliation with the alienated people in our lives (and often families) is more important than meticulous, or even scrupulous, religious observance.

In the case of murder, he points out that it is not just the act that is reprehensible but that the sin is present already in the hatred that often leads to murder. In a similar manner, viewing another person as a sexual object is so demeaning that it is already a serious sin, even if it does not actually lead to adultery.                (Demetrius Dumm O.S.B.)

 

The Need For Critical Self-Examination

There is a laundry list of justice issues that demand our energies and time to addressing, but they require that we engage in critical self-examination before we can lend ourselves to the task of bringing about equality. It is hard to overlook the many suffering people who have no place tosleep or food to eat and are left begging in the streets. Our nightly newscasts are filled with story after story of individuals who are dehumanized and rendered victims of a society that no longer values relationships and has ceased loving neighbor as self.

The primary importance of human relationships seems to be lost as individuals are rendered less-than because of race, gender, and sexual orientation. In the first-century church, would anyone dare admit that they were contributing to the problems Matthew wrote to address? It is easy to look at the problems and name them as the fault of others but the bigger challenge comes when we dare to find ourselves in the midst and ask how am I contributing to the problem? Or, how can I bring difference to what I observe around me?                          

(Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson U.C.C.)

What is required then is an interior conversion that recognizes one’s own shortcomings and is thus prepared to allow others to be imperfect also. What is most important, however, is an attitude of loving kindness that enables us to notice how others are hurting and which gladly reaches out to them, not because they deserve our help, but simply because they are in need and our hearts are sensitive to the fact. To love in this way is to be a child of that God who certainly loves us more than we deserve. As such, we will also be true followers of Jesus as we make his love present in our world.                                                  (Demetrius R. Dumm)

Seeing The World With A New Heart

This Gospel passage challenges us to see the world in a new way. In each of the scenarios Jesus is calling for an entirely new way of viewing human relationships, Behind the prohibitions lies the vision of a restored humanity. What is our view of humanity? Do we have a vision for justice that will bring about racial healing and equality? Do we have a vision for reconciliation that will provide a hope and a future for those who are marginalized and ostracized by society? The text takes us to hard places which involve looking at our hearts and creating newness within.  (Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson U.C.C.)