FERUARY 25, 2024 
2nd Sunday of Lent

 GOSPEL MEDITATION

ENCOURAGE DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF SCRIPTURE

      As a college student, my prized possession was an aftermarket car stereo. It was my pride and joy: glorious audio, eye-catching display screen, and multi-disc CD changer. It drained my hard-earned dollars, but it was totally worth it. It drenched me in music everywhere I drove. On Ash Wednesday of my senior year of college, Father Tom, the Jesuit priest at my university said, “Pray for God to tell you what he wants you to sacrifice for Lent.” I did. In my heart, the answer came: “Give up listening to your car stereo for forty days.” I winced. Not possible, I thought. Can’t do it. I made other plans. The next morning, I was stunned to find that my car had been broken into, and my fancy stereo ripped out and stolen. 

     God’s command to sacrifice what we love is no joke. This week in Genesis 22, God says: “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love — Isaac — and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Believe me, I know. We like to be in control. It chaffs us that God sets the terms of what we must sacrifice, and how. But this is no impersonal, tyrannical process. Remember that God uses their names, Abraham and Isaac. God knows each one of us and the precious gifts He commands us to offer. Finally, our sacrifices are for our own good. Do we trust this enough to do what Father Tom asked me to do? 

      Lenten challenge: This week, I dare you to ask God: “What do you want me to give up?” He may ask for that which you love most. It will be something precious to you: time, money, a relationship, a dream, an opportunity. What matters is we trust Him and act sacrificially in line with His command. Whatever we sacrifice will of course come back to us as surely as the Risen Jesus — but that doesn’t make it easy.

Father John Muir ©LPi

 

FERUARY 18, 2024 

Deacon Ken’s Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

     My grandfather’s name was Alva Ray Stewart. He spent the early years of his life working in a coal mine. Later, he got a job in a factory as a “Stator winder”. If my memory serves me correctly, a Stator winder winds the coils around parts in car generators and starters that make those parts magnetically produce electricity. My Grandparents lived in Bluefield, West Virginia, and their house was on the top of a mountain. From the back porch, a person could see all of Bluefield. Grandpa Stewart was one of the funniest people I ever met. Once, while eating supper he stood up, reached to the center of the table, grabbed a slice of bread and sat down. Grandma Nora said: “Alva, don’t you have a tongue?” Grandpa replied: “Yes, but my arm is longer”. Another time my dad and Uncles Jim and Raymond had reached my Grandma’s last nerve. I never learned what infraction they committed, but when Grandpa got home from work Grandma told him: “Alva, you need to whip those boys”! She was mad! Grandpa took the three boys into his bedroom and began to tell the boys why they shouldn’t cause their mother so much grief. As he was talking to them, he slid his belt out of the loops. At the end of his lecture, he said: “Grab that pillow and bring it here to the end of the bed”. He looked at the boys and said: “When I swat this pillow, you cry out, understand”. They said they did. Grandpa swatted that pillow and all three boys cried out. Grandma thought Grandpa was being too harsh on the boys and she went to the bedroom to save them. Grandma opened the door just as Grandpa was striking the pillow. Grandma was really mad at that point. She grabbed the belt, ran Grandpa out of the room, and the boys got their whipping!

      The season of Lent, when lived as God wants us to live it, is not an easy time. It’s a time when we are called to look back on the events in our lives to see when we were walking with God or walking away from him. It is a time when we walk in the desert of our lives to see when we have gotten on God’s last nerve. It is a time to discover that when we were tempted by the evil one, did we submit to the will of God, or to the will of him who has come to kill and destroy. No, lent is not an easy time.

      I shudder to think of what the world was like that God had to destroy his creation and start anew. I wonder if it was anything like our world today. Surely, it couldn’t have been much worse, could it? I think of our world today where people have no concern for others. People rob, steal from and beat others with no thought of the consequences of their actions or the welfare of their victims. Babies are allowed to be killed in the womb up to the day of their birth. Children are being sold into slavery and prostitution. It’s seems to me to be as if we’re asking God to flood the world again. Thankfully, God made a covenant with Noah, that He would not ever flood the world again. 

      A covenant is more than just a promise or pledge. It is a sacred, binding, solemn agreement between God and human beings and it involves commitments and guarantees. Saint Peter talks about Baptism. Baptism is the first covenant we make with God. We promised to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, always remember Him, keep His commandments, and serve Him to the end. Another covenant is Matrimony. The marriage covenant refers to the relationship between the husband, wife and God: a permanent union of persons capable of knowing and loving each other and God.

      Our forty days in the desert is taking us to the Paschal Mystery. The Paschal Mystery is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is the reason you and I have hope. As Saint Paul tells us, if we live with Christ, we will die with Christ. Just as Christ rose from the dead, so will we. To journey to the Paschal Mystery, God tells us to follow his Son and listen to Him. That’s easier said than done, isn’t it?

      Just as God gave Noah a rainbow as a covenant sign, He gives us signs that point to the Paschal Mystery. First and foremost, God gives us the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover from death to life. Each Sunday we are reminded in the Eucharistic Prayer and the Profession of Faith, that Jesus: suffered for our sins, was crucified, died and rose from the dead. Through the Paschal Mystery our salvation is accomplished. As we begin our Lenten journey, God asks us to focus, not on the ways of the world, but on the ways of those Christians who have gone before. God asks us to focus on how we can make a difference in the world, by sharing our love with our neighbors. We are asked to focus on what brings us closer to God. As we make our Lenten journey, may our focus be on doing God’s will, and turning away from evil. This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand, Repent, and believe in the Gospel!

 Hopefully, we don’t end up on God’s last nerve. Welcome to Lent!

 Deacon Ken Stewart

 

 FERUARY 18, 2024 
1st Sunday of Lent

 GOSPEL MEDITATION

ENCOURAGE DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF SCRIPTURE

      When I feel down, I sometimes watch the famous “Double Rainbow” video on YouTube to feel better. It’s hilarious. A young man camping in Yosemite Park sees two rainbows stretching across the sky. He bursts into a kind of ecstasy. “Double rainbow, all the way! Oh my God!” he announces. Then he starts to weep. He cries out, “What does it mean?” Beneath the humor of his glorious overreaction is the deep intuition we all have, I think, when we see the colorful bow in the sky. This Sunday, God sends a rainbow to Noah, and to us. What does it mean?

      Long before YouTube had the double rainbow, Dante’s medieval poem The Divine Comedy featured one in his image of paradise. Seeing two rainbows, he muses that one is born of the other. The bow is God’s promise of peace. For Dante, it’s even more: nature’s encrypted image of the Trinitarian God. One visible rainbow (God the Son) is begotten of another usually invisible one (God the Father) united by invisible light between them (God the Spirit). Like invisible light, Trinitarian glory surrounds us in every moment — but Jesus has made it visible in his glorious body.

     Lenten challenge: This might seem silly, but this Lent I invite you to find a rainbow and meditate on it. You might have to make one yourself, like this current desert-dweller will. Gaze on it. See there a natural gift from the Creator, saying to you, “Here I am! I will love and protect you, surrounding you in My glory.” This Lent let’s embrace that with confidence, rain, or shine.

 Father John Muir ©LPi

 

FEBRUARY 11, 2024 

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time 

 GOSPEL MEDITATION

ENCOURAGE DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF SCRIPTURE

      Recently I had a skin rash, and it was awful. (Please don’t tell anyone.) I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t handle it well. Complaining, whining, begging for sympathy, and crying were my responses to the merciless itching and burning. In the aftermath, a silver lining emerged. I feel a new heartfelt sympathy for all those vexed with chronic skin problems. If you’ve ever had a seemingly unending skin problem, you know how that sympathy flows up from deep inside.

     This gut-level compassion is something like what the Gospel describes in Jesus when the sore-covered leper says, “If you will it, you can make me clean.” At this, just before the healing, Jesus was “moved with compassion.” The Greek word used here is strong and earthy, closer to “his bowels and guts trembled with the deepest emotions of sadness, pity, and love.” In Jesus, God heals our infirmities not from a divine distance but by learning what it feels like to be us. He acquires first-hand experience of what it costs us to be afflicted and still be faithful to God. He sympathizes with the burning, itching, and blistering of human existence in the deepest, first-hand way. To discover that is to touch Jesus’ heart.   

      What in your life, right now, is breaking out like diseased skin? What is getting worse the more you try to soothe it? Perhaps only you feel it. Or maybe it’s exposed to all. A bad habit, broken relationship, loneliness, fear of failure, self-hatred? Name it, and then find a way to bring it confidently to Jesus who will feel what we are feeling, and thereby heal us. 

— Father John Muir ©LP 

 

FEBRUARY 04, 2024 

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time 

 GOSPEL MEDITATION

ENCOURAGE DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF SCRIPTURE

      Maybe I’m weird, but I like spending time in doctor’s offices, confession lines in churches, auto repair shops, prison cells, and support groups of various kinds. It’s refreshing to be with people who humbly admit something is wrong and forthrightly set out on a path toward a solution. When we ignore what is off kilter, we become alone and fragile. In places where people are honest and hopeful about brokenness, sturdy if subtle fellowship usually ensues.

     Consider the image we see of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. “…they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by a demon. The whole town was gathered at the door.” The entire human community is afflicted in various ways, and so it gradually forms a strange new community around Jesus. The healer from Nazareth is like a sun of health around which orbits a throng of humanity absorbing his healing rays. These blessed souls can’t fix themselves and become healthy, and they know it. But they have found in him the living source of all imaginable healing. 

     It’s the Church, isn’t it? A sin-sick community gathered and healed is what happens at the beginning of every Mass. We shuffle in through the door from everywhere and announce that we are not okay, and we can’t fix it. In doing so, we are drawn into the orbit of the healing power of Christ and into a renewed community with the whole human family. It’s nothing to fear or rush. Maybe we can even learn to enjoy more how good it is to be in such a happy place.

Father John Muir ©LPi

 

JANUARY 28, 2024 

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time 

 GOSPEL MEDITATION

ENCOURAGE DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF SCRIPTURE

      I love movies about exorcisms. Apparently, so do many others. The 2023 movie “Nefarious” features a possibly possessed inmate on death row. Critics were not impressed, but audiences scored it at 97% on the website Rotten Tomatoes. Most people have an appreciation for the demonic realm, even if cultural elites are generally embarrassed about it. As is standard in exorcism movies, the afflicted person (in this case, a man named Edward Brady) thinks and acts like multiple persons. He is someone besides himself. We know what that is like. We feel fake sometimes, not ourselves.

      The same dynamic is on dramatic display this week in the Gospel. Jesus the Exorcist approaches a possessed man who utters, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Notice the plural, us. The basic effect of the demonic is division. The man’s identity is fractured, divided, and thus many. Jesus powerfully expels the spirit by saying, “Quiet! Come out of him!” Jesus’ word has the power to restore the man’s singularity — him — and indeed it does.

      All this helps us to dismiss childish images of demons sporting red goat tails. Equally, it overcomes the cultured aloofness that dreams demons are mere metaphors for evil. We see instead that fallen angels are conscious and intelligent beings who orient their agency toward division. They bring about schism where there should be unity, e.g., in persons, families, communities, politics, and so on. Thankfully, Jesus commands demons to flee from all these places to restore wholeness and peace. What if we made room for his word where we need it?

— Father John Muir ©LPi

 

JANUARY 21, 2024 

Deacon Ken’s Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Call stories. Jonah had his, the disciples have theirs, and we’ve got ours. Jonah failed his miserably. He was a “prodigal prophet”. God wanted Jonah to deliver a message to the people of Nineveh and Jonah wanted no part of it. He hated the Ninevites. Ninevites were Assyrians, and it was the Assyrians who had conquered the northern half of Israel and carted most of the Israelites off to slavery. There was no way Jonah was going to inform the Assyrians of Nineveh that if they didn’t change their ways, that God was going to destroy them. So, Jonah struck off to try to hide from God. He boarded a boat destined for Tarshish, a journey of about twenty-five hundred miles. On the way God created a huge storm. The waves were so big the people of the boat were afraid it was going to capsize, and they began throwing their cargo overboard to keep the boat from capsizing. The boatmen, recalling that Jonah had told them he was trying to escape God, threw Jonah overboard, and when they did, the sea was calmed. You’ll recall that Jonah was swallowed up by a big fish and three days later was vomited up on a beach in Nineveh and it was then that he took up the task God had given him.

     In contrast to Jonah, Jesus was preaching in Galilee telling all that he saw to “repent and believe in the Gospel”. He walked by some fishermen and simply said “follow me”, and they did. Why would Jesus’ pick fishermen over prophets? Some would say that Fishermen:

Follow orders well.
Work together well.
Are courageous.

These are all great skills that every Christian should have in their toolbox. We should listen to God and then do what he asks of us. We should be joyful that God has called us to work with Him, cooperating with him to bring salvation to the whole world. We should be willing to act with courage because God is always with us, and he will not ask us to do anything that we couldn’t accomplish with his help.

     God is always good; He is always loving and kind. But God is also demanding. He asks us to change from who we are now, to who he needs us to be. Hence, we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?

     Like the disciples he called, He needs us to tell the Gospel story to those who have lost their way or, to those who have never heard the word of God.

     Welcome to the Sea of Galilee where Jesus calls some men to follow him and become fishers of men, and others to remain fishermen. Welcome to our Sea of Galilee. Where Moms are called to doctor scrapes, scratches and kiss boo-boos, and Dads are called to change from business suits to coveralls to teach their child how to repair their car.

    Welcome to our Sea of Galilee where our God sent his Son to die in our place so that when we turn from evil and repent, he will save us from ourselves, just as he did the Ninevites. Where God wants to spend all of eternity with us, and his love and mercy will never fail. Where our God is especially fond of us. Where God calls us to do the great and mundane things in life. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Time is running out. Repent and believe in the Gospel.

Deacon Ken Stewart

 

JANUARY 14, 2024 

 GOSPEL MEDITATION

ENCOURAGE DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF SCRIPTURE

     As a priest, I’m amazed how happily married couples remember the tiniest details of their earliest encounters. They effortlessly report things like: “he wore a blue shirt,” “we ordered brussels sprouts,” “her hair was up in a bun,” and “he spilled shrimp cocktail sauce at my family’s open front door when it was ten degrees below zero,” (that one’s courtesy of my mom). We delight in remembering and speaking of when our new life of love began. The little details are glorious reminders that it’s all real.

     It’s similar for John the Apostle. He tells us of the two disciples who followed Jesus into his house, “…they stayed with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” Why does that tiny detail matter? Because that’s the time of day when they encountered the love of Jesus the Messiah in their lives. Our religion is not primarily about abstract truths about God, no matter how true or sublime. It is about God meeting and saving us in our human nature. It’s about a human relationship.

    What was the time of day when you first recall encountering Christ and his Church? Who was there? What did you feel? How did things look and smell? What happened? Take some time to recall it in detail. For me, it was inside an old, rickety church on a hillside in Jerome, Arizona. It was about 9 p. m. on a Saturday evening. I was with my friends Jenny, Brad, and Laura. We were praying, singing, and laughing. When was it for you? Remembering the details isn’t empty nostalgia. It reminds us now that God’s love for us in our humanity is real.

— Father John Muir