Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dress Rehearsal

Homily from the 2nd Sunday of Lent - Year A

On Friday afternoon, I stopped by the Parish Hall to watch our parish grade school students rehearse for their production of "The Wizard of Oz."  It was the last rehearsal before the shows on Saturday; a sneak peek, or preview, of the show to come.

You could say that in the Gospel today, Jesus gives the Apostles a preview of what is about to happen.  The Transfiguration is a sneak peek, if you will, of the Resurrection.  We hear in Sacred Scripture: “He was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.”  The Apostles see Jesus in his glory.

We might ask ourselves, why does Jesus reveal himself in this way?  Why does Jesus become transfigured and why does he allow the Apostles to see this sight?  He does this because things are about to get very bad.  Very soon, the Apostles are going to see a very different Jesus.  They will soon see the tortured face of the crucified Christ on Calvary.

Not long before this episode, Jesus predicts his passion for the very first time.  He tells the Apostles, in very explicit terms “that he must go to Jerusalem and be killed.”  And he tells the Apostles, they’re going to have to follow in his footsteps: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

So he wants to show the Apostles, through his Transfiguration, that his death is not the end of the story.  When they see him go up the mountain of Calvary, he wants them to have the hope of the mountain of the Transfiguration. 

When they see him hang upon his Cross with a thief on his right and a thief on his left, he wants them to remember that there was one on his right and one on his left, Moses and Elijah, on the mountain of the Transfiguration.

When they see the darkness of the hour of his death, he wants them to be mindful of the glory and brightness of his face.  He wants them, in the midst of the horror of the crucifixion, to remember, if they can, the Transfiguration and look forward with hope to the Resurrection.

The Apostles are about to see real horror in the Crucifixion.  We see real horror too.  All you have to do is look at the news over the last couple of weeks.  The people of Japan will continue to suffer for a very long time from the effects of the earthquake and tsunam; there is violence and war throughout the world; domestic abuse in the family; and so on.  These are all modern day crucifixions.

I’m sure you can look at your own life and point to an episode present or past and say with certainty, “This is how I am being crucified.”  Perhaps you want to cry out like Jesus and ask your Father, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”

Jesus reveals to us in his Transfiguration that our Father is always present.  Like the Apostles, we follow Jesus up the mountain; the mountain of our struggles and crucifixions.  A cloud overshadows us.  And from that cloud, we hear the voice of our Father say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 

And we’re afraid to listen to him.  Because he’s telling us to take up our cross and follow him and we don’t want to face that kind of trial.  And like the disciples, we fall face down and are very much afraid.

But look at what Jesus does next: the Gospel tells us,  “But Jesus came… and touched them… saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”

You will frequently hear Jesus say, “rise" to people.  It means a lot more than just "get up."  When Jesus says "rise," he's alluding to the Resurrection.  For example, when he tells Martha, "Your brother Lazarus will rise."  Or, when he says to the little girl "talitha koum" which means, "little girl arise."  Other times, he's speaking about a spiritual resurrection like when he tells the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, "Rise and take up your mat."

In our lives, we do see and experience horrific things.  We feel like we’re being crucified.  And sometimes it’s going to get worse before it gets better.  It did for Jesus.

How are you going to let Jesus touch you and say "rise" to you this Lent?  Perhaps you need to let him do this in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Perhaps you teens need to let him do this at the LifeTeen retreat next weekend.

Yes, we do have to go through the Cross.  But death and crucifixion and the pain you’re going through is not the end.  Let Jesus touch you; hear him say “rise.”  Let him lead you to the glory of his Resurrection.  And let him lead you to your glory of new life in him.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fundamentals, Not Slam Dunks

Homily from the 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

Click here to see Blake Griffin's dunk.
Did any of you see the Slam Dunk contest at the NBA All-Star Game a couple of weeks ago?  The winner was Blake Griffin of the LA Clippers.  It all started with a gospel choir coming onto the court and singing "I Believe I Can Fly."  Then, a car was parked in front of the hoop.  Griffin sprints toward the car.  A friend of his was inside the car, standing through the sunroof and he alley-oops the ball to Griffin.  Griffin jumps over the car, grabs the ball in mid-air, and slams it home.
A very impressive slam dunk.

However, Blake Griffin’s free throw percentage is 63%.

Out of 130 qualified players ranked in the NBA, Blake Griffin is 127th in free throw percentage.

Now don't get me wrong, Blake Griffin is not a lousy player.  He was the #1 pick in the draft last year.  He’s one of the top scorers and rebounders in the league.  He’s #2 in double-doubles.  And he’s obviously really good at delivering a very flashy slam dunk.

But his Achilles Heel is standing perfectly still, 15 feet in front of the basket, and making a free shot, with no one guarding or blocking him.

I like to pretend to golf every now and then.  Sometimes, I can be really good off the tee.  When I make good contact, I can drive it over 200 yards – but rarely.  Most of the time, I’m slicing it off into the woods, hitting into water, or hitting it off the toe or heel.

But why not every time?  Because I don’t practice... I don’t have good fundamentals.  I don’t have a good swing drilled into my head.  I just walk up there and clobber the ball.  And 1 out of every 50 shots or so are great.  But the other 49 stink.

Anyone can make the flashy play every now and then.  But only those who practice the basic fundamentals over and over and over again will become real players of the game.

In our first reading, Moses tells the people, “Take these words of mine into your heart and soul. Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant on your forehead.”  Today, Orthodox Jews still wear a Shel Rosh – little black box which contains a verse of the Torah on their foreheads.  They take Moses' words: drill these words into you, have them before you all the time, very literally.  Moses is saying, make them second nature to you; don’t forget the fundamentals.

What are the fundamentals?  Obey the commandments of the LORD, your God and turn away from following other Gods.  This is, of course, the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.”  We are to worship God alone.

And there are consequences to worshipping God as we ought or failing to do so.  Moses says we will receive a blessing for obeying and a curse for not obeying.

We should remember that God's commandment to obey is not some power play on His part.  When a coach is trying to teach an athelete, he's not being arbitrary and tyrannical.  There is a right way to hit a golf ball and there are many wrong ways.  There is a right way to make a lay up and there are many wrong ways.  There is a right way to enter the Kingdom of God.  And that's by following God and His commands alone.

In the Gospel, Jesus says that the one who listens on his words and acts on them will be like a house built on rock.  In other words, you will be someone who practices the fundamentals and basics. 
Whoever listens to his words and does not act on them however, will be like a house built on sand.  Like I said, everyone every now and then can accidentally hit a good drive.  But when the pressures come; when you're facing a water hazard or a sandtrap or the trees along the fairway, will you have practiced the fundamentals well enough to hit it down the fairway without fear or anxiety?

When the rains fall and the flood waters come and the winds buffet your house, will you be swept away?  Or will you stand strong with the grace of God?

And the Lord has something to say about our "slam dunks," our flashy play, our false piety.  He says that not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the Kingdom of God.  But only the one who does the will of the Father.  Doing the flashy things won't get you into Heaven.

We don't want to reach the end of our lives and say to the Lord, "Did we not prophesy in your name?  Did we not cast out demons in your name?  Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?  Did we not perform awesome "slam dunks" in your name?"  Jesus is not interested in the flash.  He wants you to practice your free throws in the quiet solitude of the gym called Lent.