Archive for February, 2022

Do We Need Lent? 2-27-2022

Friday, February 25th, 2022

Someone asked me in the grocery store, do we really need Lent?
A good question.
There was a time, of course, when all Christians thought they
didn’t need Lent. After all, they had been baptized; they were filled with
the Holy Spirit and lived life quite differently from the pagans. The first
real Lenten people were not Christians, but those preparing to become
Christians. But all of that changed when the old-timers in the Christian
community noticed something remarkable at the Easter baptism. They
were struck by the joy and the radiant faces of those just baptized. They
realized that they had become too ho-hum in their faith and decided to
do something about it. And so, the next year, some Christians began to
join the catechumens in their preparation for baptism at Easter. They did
this so that they could feel once again the joy of rebirth at Easter. And
that’s how Lent gradually came to the church, out of need.
The liturgy for the First Sunday of Lent focuses on a need that
Jesus had before he began to save the world. Even though he had just
been baptized and was “full of the Holy Spirit,” he felt a need to go into
the desert. In the desert Jesus realized who he was and what he was
called to do. But in the desert, Jesus learned that God cannot be bought
and that life is more than bread or fleeting moments of magic and glory.
One Ash Wednesday, a few years ago, while I was wondering how
to face another Lent, I received a phone call from a former player I
coached. He was now a struggling graduate student. The young man was
crying out for help. When I got to his apartment, I found a tortured
person, filled with self-doubt and booze. Eventually, I got him to go to
his first AA meeting. But even though he was an alcoholic, he told me
that he couldn’t go back to another AA meeting because, “I’m not like
those people.” I’ve never forgotten that line, “I’m not like those people.”
It taught me that the first temptation to avoid is to convince yourself that
somehow you are different, that you don’t share the pain of life, that you
don’t need to go into the desert. The early Christians, even though they were baptized and
convinced of their importance, they learned from the desert experience of
Lent that they too were in need of renewal and of finding out who they
were and who God was calling them to be. Jesus, just baptized by John
and “full of the Holy Spirit,” went into the desert and came out with a
gospel and a firm faith in his Father that he would take to Cavalry.
My young friend was wrong. We are like those people who share a
common struggle and a common pain. We are all driven by some
doubts. We sometimes make choices about the most important events of
our lives without reflection, without faith, without prayer, without God.
We cannot force Lent upon ourselves. Each of us must find a need for it,
a need to go into the desert and face both our gifts and our limits, a need
to face ourselves, our demons, our God. For those who ask the question,
do we need Lent? Trust me – we do! Let’s go into the desert together
and see what we find.

A Difficult Challenge! 2-20-2022

Friday, February 18th, 2022

I find this Gospel very difficult. I say to myself – what a
difficult challenge! What helped me were these two stories. Listen.
When Abraham Lincoln was campaigning for the presidency, one
of his arch-enemies was a man named Edwin Stanton. For some reason
Stanton hated Lincoln. He used every ounce of his energy to degrade
Lincoln in the eyes of the public. So deep rooted was Stanton’s hate for
Lincoln that he uttered unkind words about his physical appearance and
sought to embarrass him at every point. But, in spite of this, Lincoln
was elected the sixteenth president of the United States.
Then came the period when Lincoln had to select his cabinet,
which would consist of persons who would be his most intimate
associates in implementing his programs. He started choosing men here
and there for the various positions.
The day finally came for Lincoln to select the all-important post of
Secretary of War. Can you imagine who Lincoln chose to fill this post?
None other than the man named Stanton. There was an immediate
uproar in the president’s inner circle when the news began to spread.
Advisor after advisor was heard saying, “Mr. President, you are making
a mistake. Do you know this man Stanton? Are you familiar with all
the ugly things he said about you? He is your enemy. He will seek to
sabotage your programs. Have you thought this through, Mr.
Mr. Lincoln’s answer was terse and to the point: “Yes, I know Mr.
Stanton. I am aware of all the terrible things he said about me. But after
looking over the nation, I find he is the best man for the job.” So,
Stanton became Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War and rendered an
invaluable service to his nation and his president.
Not many years later Lincoln was assassinated. Many laudable
things were said about him. But of all the great statements made about
Abraham Lincoln, the words of Stanton remain among the greatest.
Standing near the dead body of the man he once hated, Stanton referred
to him as one of the greatest men who ever lived and said, “He now
belongs to the ages.”
If Lincoln had hated Stanton both men would have gone to their
graves as bitter enemies. But through the power of forgiveness Lincoln
transformed an enemy into a friend. One simple act of forgiveness can
change people’s lives. Are there any Stanton’s in your life right now?
Some years ago, a pastor in Boston was being harassed by a
woman in his congregation. She started false rumors about him. She
wrote vicious letters about him to his bishop and others. She initiated
petitions to have him removed. After several months of this, the woman
moved to another city and not long afterward was converted to Christ.
Part of the process of her conversion was to realize the terrible wrong
she had done and all the pain and suffering she had inflicted on her
pastor in Boston. Consequently, she wrote him a long letter explaining
what had happened to her and how deeply she regretted what she had
done to him. The pastor immediately sent her a telegram with three
words on it: “Forgiven, forgotten, forever!”
Is there someone we/you/me need to say those words to and mean
them? Forgiven, Forgotten, Forever or do we want to live life like that
trapped rattlesnake filled with resentment and bitterness and bite
ourselves to death! I hope not. Lord help us!

Blessed Are You 2-13-2022

Saturday, February 12th, 2022

A college lacrosse coach had heard about a high school
player who had all the tools. The coach went to see the student play and
then met with him after the game, offering a scholarship to play for his
team. The student was interested, but declined, telling the coach he
wanted to wait until next spring before making a formal commitment.
But he did give the coach a verbal commitment to play for him in the
fall. The coach said he would hold the scholarship for one year.
Throughout the fall and winter, many college recruiters came to
watch the student play, hoping to sign him up. The student turned them
all down.
When spring arrived, the coach met with the student again and the
student accepted the scholarship. The coach asked why he waited so
long to make his decision.
The student explained, “Coach, I don’t know if you noticed, but a
lot of colleges come to see me play each week. Most of my teammates
weren’t getting scholarship offers or even being recruited earlier this
year, but now they are. By me not committing anywhere, all the college
coaches who were coming to see me play get a chance to discover how
good some of my teammates really are. If I signed early with you, all
the other coaches would’ve stopped coming to the games and none of
my teammates would’ve gotten recruited.”
The coach was stunned. At an age when most young people are
ambitious and self-absorbed, this 17-year-old was already thinking how
he could help other people realize their own hopes and dreams.
This student mirrors the “blessed” of today’s Gospel. In Luke’s
Gospel, the “blessed” are those who see beyond their own needs and
wants in the present moment to work for a better future not only for
themselves but for other – but “woe” to those, Jesus warns, who seek
their own “fill” now with no concern for the future or for others. In this
“Sermon on the Plain” Jesus challenges us to put aside the “woe” of self-
centeredness and embrace the “blessedness” that can only be
experienced by seeing ourselves not as the center of the world but as a
means for transforming the world for the “blessedness” of all. Jesus
calls us to measure our life’s worth not in terms of wealth or power or
fame but to embrace a vision and perspective of life that honors humility
and compassion, that places the common good before our own, that frees
us from the pursuit of the things of this world in order to seek the lasting
things of God.