Monday, March 15, 2004

Homily for The Third Sunday of Lent

Cycle C

Exodus 3:1-8a,13-15
1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
Luke 13:1-9



I want to begin with a question for all of you. I'd like to a see a show of hands to answer this. How many of you want to be Holy? Good. Almost everyone, it looks like. Now, how many of you want to be Saints? Hmmm. Not as many hands... I think some of you are getting suspicious; you're wondering what I'm going to get you into here...

Well, I think most of us, when asked, would answer "yes" to those questions. Most of us, at some level, want to be Holy, or at least we know we're supposed to want to be Holy. But if we mean what we say, that means we have to be serious about repentance.

Jesus makes that clear. He said, "If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!" Now, Jesus was talking to good Jews. They were people who kept the Law. These were people who went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, and went to the Temple on Holy Days. These were people who probably thought "hey, I'm doing what I'm supposed to do." But He says to them "If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!"

These words of our Lord present a challenge to us. They were not merely addressed to his hearers 2,000 years ago. They're in the gospel because they're addressed to us as well. And we're like those good Jews Jesus was addressing: we're the people who go to Mass on Sunday; we're the people who try to raise our kids Catholic; we're the people who support the parish. We're the people who might be tempted to think, "I'm doing what I'm supposed to..."

Once I knew man, I went to college with him. He was pretty successful: married, had a couple of kids, nice house, made good money. He had what you might call the "prototype" life of middle class comfort and respectability. He wasn't very religious at that time: he went to Mass once in a while. Well, one time I visited him shortly before I was to go to the seminary, and he asked me "come on Rob, you're not really serious about this priesthood stuff...?" I told him I was totally serious. And that got us to talking about faith, and he shared with me his view on things. He said "I'm a pretty good guy. I try to be decent to people. I don't cheat on my wife. I don't steal. I try to be good to my kids. I think God will give me credit for that."

Well, I think sometimes we're all tempted to think that way. I know I have been at times. And so St. Paul warns us against that: "whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care..." Or, as C.S. Lewis put it, "it's at those times when I feel most confident that I'm doing right, and all is well with my life, that I am probably at my worst." So I had to burst my friend's bubble, and perhaps ours too.

Those things he mentioned are all good and necessary, but they're not Holiness. Jesus didn't say "Be decent to people." He said "Be Holy, even as I am Holy."

We get a glimpse, a hint, of what Holiness is like in our first reading. Moses was afraid to look at God! He hid his face. Holiness is not warm and fuzzy: it is not a "Tender Moments" figurine. It is something in whose presence we feel awed.

And in the presence of holy people, we feel awed: A friend of mine knew Mother Theresa. He worked with her quite a bit, and helped her found a couple of her missions in the U.S. One time, he told me, he had spent a day working very hard in helping to move sick people into one of these new missions, and Mother Theresa, in gratitude, gave him a hug. Now my friend is a big guy, like me. And Mother Theresa was a tiny woman. He said to me, "Rob, it was like hugging an oak tree. She's that solid, that substantial. You could just feel the strength in her, like she's rooted to the ground."

If we are to be Holy like that, we have to be people of repentance.

Repentance not about big things: most of us aren't bank robbers or adulterers or swindlers. If we're looking for big changes, we're looking in the wrong place. Repentance is about little things. It's about bringing all the little details of our lives in conformity with God's will and plan.

Repentance is about doing penance for the times we swore at people in traffic. Repentance is about doing penance for the times we said "yes, dear" to our spouses without really listening. It's about doing penance for the times we were with people who belittled the faith, but sat silently and allowed it to go unchallenged. Repentance is about doing penance for our kid's school play that we "attended", but all the while we were on the cell phone with work, or thinking about what we had to get done at the office the next day.

Repentance is about doing penance for the times we've gossiped or backbitten one another. It's about doing penance for the indecent movie we watched at the hotel when we were away on business. It's about doing penance for the times we've given to the parish or to charity out of what's "left over", and not from our substance. It's about doing penance for the times we've attended Mass, but were here in body only, and not in mind or spirit. It's about desiring God more than anything else.

Now, if we don't feel that sort of desire, we can ask God to give that to us. He will, if we ask Him. We are called to be Holy, but we're not on our own. We don't have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We have God's grace, given to us through Jesus. We have it through prayer. We have it in the support of our brothers and sisters. And we have it, most powerfully, through the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God will give us whatever we need to be Holy, if we but ask for it.

If we ask for holiness, and become people of repentance, we will be like the fig tree in the parable. The gardener gave it an extra year: we have been given the time and opportunity for repentance. By repentance we will become like that tree: watered, nurtured, and fertilized, and we will bear rich and abundant fruit.