Lent: A Time To Rest On Our Lees?

In wine making the bottles are placed on their sides and left to sit for a time so that the residual impurities can settle to the side of the bottle.  After awhile, the winemaker slowly decants the wine into a clean bottle and again places it on its side so additional impurities can settle out.  Over time, the purity and thus the value of the wine is enhanced.  The more settling and decanting, the better the wine.

As humans we need to let the impurities in us settle out as well.  Lent is a good time to settle.  It affords us the opportunity to reflect on our thoughts and habits and attitudes and make the necessary changes to purify ourselves and enhance our own value to others.  Symbolically, Lent can be a time of settling and decanting and then moving on with the Risen Christ at Easter.  Historically, we have been encouraged to give up something as a sacrifice and to do positive things to reset ourselves and after the forty days to emerge afresh and anew with our value enhanced.

Lent is a microcosm of life.  Over our lifetime God provides us with many of those same opportunities.  The difficult times, the problems, the unexpected, all provide us with opportunities to settle and decant.  Unfortunately, the upshot of all of these things is the call to improve and to change.  As humans we don’t suffer change lightly.  We hold on and resist change and cling to the status quo and therefore miss our opportunities.

So, let us ask the Lord to use the Lenten season to set the pattern that we can continue throughout the rest of the year.  Show us how to settle and rest on our lees for a time by reflection and then decant ourselves into clean vessels by necessary change, leaving behind our impurities and thereby enhancing our value that He may use us to help others.


He Promised To Be With Us Always

From the early days of my life I remember hearing the scripture where Jesus said He would be ‘with us’ always.  Since I thought of Him as being present through His Spirit I never gave much thought to His promise.

Later in life I realized that He is present in His people gathered together in worship, ie, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in their midst”.  And, He is present in His word as it is read.  The rhema reading of His word can transform our hearts.  Finally, He is with us in the real presence of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  Those three instances represent His way of being ‘with us’ always.  All three are beautiful and powerful, but lack His physical touch.  Can we really expect to experience His touch?

It never dawned on me until a good friend explained that His actual touch is given to us by our friends.  When a friend touches our hand or puts an arm around our shoulder or gives us a hug, it is Jesus reaching out to touch us through them.

So, let us thank God for our friends for bringing His gentle touch to us!  Let us reciprocate and reach out and touch them in His name!

“But, Who Do You Say That I Am”

This Gospel reading on this Thursday of the sixth week of cycle B in Ordinary Time is a priceless reminder to all of us to continually check in with the good Lord to make sure our relationship is progressing.  It is a reminder that we are to know Him at the deepest levels.

It also shows that the Lord is always reminding us to make sure our relationship with Him is a personal one.  Many of us are satisfied with knowing ‘about Him’ as if that knowledge alone was sufficient.  While knowing about the Lord may be sufficient to impress others with our knowledge, it does not bring us the closeness our heart really needs.  Nor does it give us all that we need to walk daily in His truth.

Psalm 86 says, “Teach me, O Lord, Your way, that I may walk in Your truth; direct my heart that I may respect Your name.

Knowing God’s ‘way’ is far more detailed than knowledge about Him.  It’s like that 4-year-old child who runs through the room where his dad is sitting on the sofa.  When he sees his dad he goes back and crawls up in his lap and snuggles up close and listens to His heart beat.  Maybe no words pass between them but the bond grows.  Finally, he jumps down and runs off to play.  The bond of love will continue to grow in the days ahead and the child will watch what his father does and learn from it.  Others will say of him when he is grown that the acorn didn’t fall far from the tree.

Meanwhile, dad sits there on the sofa with a tear forming in his eyes as he relishes the fact that his son wanted to be close to him.

Let us find ways to crawl up in God’s lap and listen to His heart beat.  Let us learn His ways so we can walk in His truth because of that growing bond between us.  Hopefully, people will say that we as Christian acorns didn’t fall far from the tree of God.  And, just maybe we’ll cause a tear of love to form in our Father’s eye.

Homily On World Marriage Day

Homily, Feb 11 & 12, Cycle B, 6th Sun Ord Time

Today is World Marriage Day!  We celebrate the sacrament that is marriage.  It is sponsored by World Wide Marriage Encounter & began in Baton Rouge in 1981.  This is the sacrament where two people pledge their love to one another for a lifetime.

Fifty years later, after children, grandchildren, & great grandchildren, they look into one another’s tired eyes and say, “What were we thinking?”

With the First Reading and the Gospel telling us all about Leprosy, you might ask Marriage Encounter the very same thing, “What were you thinking to choose this weekend?”

Even though Marriage seems to be under assault today and the world does not offer husbands & wives much support anymore, Marriage itself offers spouses many positives.  Studies have shown over & over the positive effects brought about by Marriage, ie, long life & quality.

Someone once said that Marriage provides an environment of sharing where we double our joy & feel one-half our pain.

When we live with another up close, in Marriage, we come face to face with joy and pain as we live our own lives and live vicariously through the other – double exposure. Offering simple presence to one another when we are hurting, when we are confused & uncertain, can bring both of us, deep joy.

It brings the quiet joy of being there for another, and living in deep solidarity with them in the human family. It reminds us that Jesus is there with us as well.

True joy is often hidden.  It can be fragile.  True joy is being with another as a friend, a fellow traveler, on our journey through life.

Again, when we live with another up close, in Marriage, we are called to daily forgiveness.  Forgiving does not mean forgetting.  When we forgive another, the memory of the wound might stay with us for a long time.  But, forgiveness changes the way we remember.

It can convert the curse into a blessing.  When we, as children, forgive our parents for some slight, when we as aging parents forgive our children for their lack of attention toward us, or forgive our friends for their failure to support us as we were going through a crisis, we no longer have to experience ourselves as victims of events over which we had no control.  But, it is a choice, we are the “Nation of the Offended” & at times enjoy holding on.

Forgiveness allows us to claim our own power, & not let those events destroy us.  It enables them to become opportunities to deepen the wisdom of our hearts.  Forgiveness, indeed, heals memories, & puts a smile on God’s face as well.

Again, when we live with another up close, in Marriage, we come to understand more fully, the gift of friendship.

Friendship is one of the greatest gifts a human being can receive.  It is a bond beyond common goals, common interests, or even common histories.  Sometimes, friends have almost nothing in common, yet enjoy being together.

It is one of life’s strongest bonds & when it is lived out in life’s closest human environment, that of Marriage, it is deeper than a shared fate and more intimate than any other bond.

Friendship is being with the other in a unity of souls that gives nobility and sincerity to love.  Friendship makes all of life shine brightly, and it makes a Marriage shine with a brightness for all to see.

As I said in the beginning, Marriage offers many positive qualities and benefits to the two people involved.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of all is that it softens our loneliness and alleviates our isolation.

🙂  This brings us to our Readings today on Leprosy.

The OT Law dealing with Leprosy prescribed separation from the village.  Some of the diseases of the skin were not, in fact, leprosy(Hansen’s Disease), but until the priests could be sure, the person was treated “as if” & isolated.

People declared unclean because of Leprosy had to live apart from their families, usually outside of town.  Some lived on the hillsides overlooking their own homes and could see family members going about their normal lives.

That must have been especially cruel, yet, what else could society do since it had no real cure.

Leprosy is a slow developing disease of the nerve endings, with lesions & skin sluffing that can lead to death over time.

During the time of Jesus, the more immediate fear was  not so much death, but the required isolation.  That pain of loneliness was the stronger motivator for lepers to approach Jesus asking & begging to be cured.

When He healed them of their physical illness, He was also healing them of their isolation from their families to which they so desperately wanted to return.  They longed to return to those benefits of Married life we talked about earlier.

In light of our readings, the symbolic question for us to consider today is:  What is our equivalent of leprosy?  What causes our isolation and aloneness?

Certainly, there are lifestyles that promote, even demand, aloneness such as widowhood, religious life, empty nests, divorce, and major illnesses, to mention a few.

Perhaps the saddest form of loneliness is that which we bring on ourselves by our behavior.  Unlike the lifestyle induced loneliness, behavior caused loneliness sometimes goes on below our own radar.  We are not aware that we cause it.

Most of the time it’s simple stuff, like for example, in conversation:

–     Being a know it all, (sweetest people can be that way)

–     Talking only about ourselves, incessantly, not allowing others to get a word in

–     Being negative or complaining, we all prefer happy people

–     My personal favorite, being a left-brained, hard headed German who even tics people off trying to be funny

Small things; we’re not axe-murderers, but we can be very lonely due to our own small behavior paterns.

If our problem is a lack of awareness; if we don’t know why people back away from us, then I have a great prayer for you, honed by many years of use by me.

It’s called the personal responsibility prayer: “What is there in me, Oh Lord, that evokes that kind of response in them toward me?”  And, it’s corollary, “Please send someone into my life that I trust who will speak the truth I need to hear about me”.   Two Powerful prayers…

It’s World Marriage Day, let’s resolve to do a little Spring-Cleaning.  Lent is right around the corner, 10 days until Ash Wednesday.  Lent gives us a great opportunity to examine how we treat our spouses & friends & others.

Maybe during Lent this year, we can re-double our efforts to be more Kind to those close to us, Building them up, Encouraging them, & Treating them as if they were the most valuable person in our world.

🙂  Who knows, maybe they’ll live up to how we treat them, and even return the favor!

“Life Is Like Licking Honey From A Thorn”

The news of a young niece, suffering from migraines, forced to drop out of med school for a season, brought tears to the eyes of all who know her and her family.  The family has faced similar devastating news from another family member for years.   And, yet again just today, more devastating news from another family member showed up during a routine physical exam.  The onslaught of difficult news just seems to keep coming to that family.  It makes all who hear it think of the Book of Job, or at least, the modern-day book entitled, “When Bad Things Happen To Good People”.

When you consider the concept of God’s every response to us is the most loving response, it’s hard to reconcile that concept with the way life plays out sometimes.

A well-known evangelist recently said that he had always thought there were good times and bad times and that God must maintain some kind of balance.  But as he considers his own life he is having to change that viewpoint.  Today, he says that it now seems to him that life is like a set of railroad tracks that run side by side, the good and the bad coexisting all the time.  True, he says, there are times when one seems to be more prevalent than the other, but both are always present nonetheless.

He states, that even in the worst of times there is good going on around us if we will refocus our view we will see it and that will soften some of the pain.  I have come to believe his new side by side viewpoint is more accurate than the old flip-flop viewpoint and therefore appreciate the quote that is the title of this piece, “Life is like licking honey from a thorn”.