St. Paul gives us a warning. "Some," he says, "have become enemies of the cross of Christ." (Phil. 3:17) You might think he is talking about people who have committed terrible sins like adultery or robbery. But what he says is that the enemies of the cross are those whose "only god is their belly."
We don't talk much these days about the sin of gluttony, but it is one of the seven capital sins which means other sins flow from it. I know some of you are thinking, "Oh, no, Father Bloom is standing up there. He's thin. He's going to make me feel bad because I am struggling with my weight." But I don't think for us today the sin of gluttony so much means stuffing ourselves. We're surrounded by food so we don't have to eat maybe like people do who don't know where their next meal is coming from. But our sin tends to be insisting on certain types of food. "I just want food prepared correctly and and on the table when I'm ready for it." Do you see how this type of gluttony quickly leads to other sins, like anger and impatience?
Regarding this my mom gave a good lesson when I went up to visit her and my brother this past Monday. On the way I stopped at a bakery to buy some of her favorite pastries. After the normal greetings, I showed her the pastries. There was a moment of silence. "It's Lent," she said. "I've given up pastries for Lent."
"That's OK," I said. "Louie and I will eat them. But one of the Hispanic ladies from Holy Family works at Seattle's Finest Chocolates." (You know them--they are the best candies on the planet.) "She sent up some chocolates for you." Another pause. "I've given up candy too."
You know, I thought, if my mom who is about almost 80 (in fact she has her eightieth birthday this Saturday) can can give up something for Lent, What about us? Are we willing to deny ourselves something--even something small--to say "no" to some of our cravings? When we do than we are tellng to God, own selves--and maybe even other people--that we're serious about being Christians. In other words, are we willing to embrace a certain voluntary suffering for the sake of a greater good? Archbishop Hunthausen used to talk about this. He used to say "Look a the word disciple and the word discipline. They are almost the same. You can't be a disciple without discipline, without being willing to deny yourself."
That is very much what this Sunday's Gospel is about. When Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus, they didn't talk to him about the weather. They didn't say, "Don't worry, nothing is going to happen." No, they came to talk to Jesus about his "passage" in Jerusalem, the fact he would have to suffer. His friends would turn their backs on him, he would be made fun of, he would be falsely accused, he would be tortured and be put to a shameful death. But Moses and Elijah did not say, "Don't go to Jerusalem." No, they encouraged him to embrace the cross.
Eleven years ago when I became a Maryknoll associate priest, the superior general gave each of us a mission cross. This is what it looks like. An ordinary crucifix. I kept it with me those seven years in Peru and when I came to Holy Family I brought it with me. It has been a powerful reminder when I hit some low points.
During Lent I almost always give the same penance when people come to confession: to just spend some time looking at Jesus on the cross. And if you have a crucifix in your room, just hold it in your hands and spend some time contemplating Who this is and Why he is there. And maybe when you finish, press the crucifix to your heart.
There is so much healing in the cross of Jesus. That is certainly the case with this mission cross. On different occasions here and in Peru, I have blessed people with it, particularly if they were suffering emotionally. It was amazing what happened. There is a tremendous power in embracing the cross. If our married couples would kneel down before the crucifix, do you think we would have so much discord in our marriages? If families would pray around a crucifix, would there be so much fighting and disobedience in our families?
That's what Moses and Elijah talked to Jesus about. They also talked about the fact that with the cross, not apart from it but thru it, Jesus would enter into his glory. We need to see a bit of the glory from time to time. When the disciples woke up they got a glimpse of it. Jesus was transfigured before them. His garments became dazzlingly white. What does all this mean? Why did the Transfiguration happen? I believe St. Thomas Aquinas has the best explanation. He uses the example of drawing a bow with an arrow in the string. He says that you have to see the target in order to aim in the right direction. Before we set out on a journey we need to have the goal in mind, otherwise we will just wander aimlessly. I think that is why so many people today feel like they are spinning their wheels, just kind of wasting their time, getting nowhere. They don't have a goal in mind.
Today we get a glimse of the only goal real worth pursuing. It's not getting rich or having a successful career. Those are all right, but once a person is close to grasping it, it is like trying to grab hold of smoke. It just disappears in our hands. A more noble goal is to dedicate ones life to other people, particularly to a spouse and family. But even that cannot completely satisfy the human heart. The one goal which transcends all the others is eternal life with God, the Resurrection. That is what the apostles, Peter, James and John, got a glimpse of when they woke up from their sleep.
Some of the people who have participated in Eucharistic adoration have had an experience like the apostles. To spend an hour in front of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is powerful. If we want the prize, the beautiful thing that we perhaps only see dimly now, we have to make a certain sacrifice. One of things we are challenged to do as part of our Lenten discipline is receive the sacrament of reconciliation, to confess our sins to a priest.
We Catholics have learned to experience forgiveness in a lot of different ways in recent years: personal prayer, the penitential rite of the Mass, communal penance services and so on. They are all good, but they cannot replace that one-on-one experience of confession. Now that can be a little scary, maybe even like we sometimes feel about going to the doctor. We sense that something is physically wrong with our body, we feel some strange pressure or pain. We can read an article, maybe even hear something on the radio or talk to someone who has had a similar problem, but nothing really replaces a visit to the doctor to ease our mind.
It can be the same for us spiritually. We can sense that things aren't completely right. There's nothing like getting up the courage to go to confession. We're going to have a communal service here in a few weeks, on April 2. About ten priests will be coming so there will be time for everyone to make an individual confession. I want you to know that as your pastor, hearing confessions is an important part of my ministry. During Lent I've scheduled four times each week for confessions: Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturday morning at 9 a.m. and Saturday evening at 8 p.m. All of those times are open ended; I will stay until all are heard. You can confess behind the screen or face to face. I don't give long lectures, so often confessions can be brief. I have noticed that some people, especially young people, want more time and I am willing to take it, particularly to try to answer the kind of sensitive questions that come up in confession. As a help to making a good confession, this weekend I put in the bulletin a list of ten commandments with an explanation of what each commandment forbids and commands.
Whether you are a senior citizen like my mom--or a young person--I encourage you to use well this time of Lent. Fasting, prayer, almsgiving--all of which should lead us to a deeper repentance, a deeper union with Jesus.
From Archives (Year C homilies):
They Spoke of His Exodus (2004)
Voice from the Earthquake (2001)
Enemies of the Cross (1998)
Homilies for Second Sunday of Lent ("Transfiguration Sunday")
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C