Saturday, February 27, 2010

2nd Sunday of Lent, The Mountain of Boston Mills and the Valley of Labre

Don’t you love this snow? I do because every Tuesday I get to go with the grade school kids to Ski-Club. One of the things that I love about this parish is that it’s in the middle of the Cuyahoga Valley and within minutes of Boston Mills and Brandywine. I can be wearing my collar and saying mass at a nursing home or hearing the grade school kids’ confessions, and then 10 minutes later I’m hitting the slopes. Usually I snowboard and meet up with some of the parents while the kids are taking the lessons. Now that the lessons are over I have some time with the kids. And the great thing is since it is the end of the Season the kids are all getting more advanced. And they want to keep going to higher and higher hills – the black diamonds. There was a moment when a couple of them were with me getting off the lift and we moved towards the cliff of the hill. This one is called Peter’s Pride. From the very top of Peter’s Pride you can see across the entire valley. It really is a beautiful sight all the way down the hill and far off to the right you can see I-271 and the Turnpike. I told them guys, take a look, this is the best view in the place. When they looked over the edge I could tell they weren’t sure if they wanted to go… it is kind of like they were saying… “Father, it is good that we are here on top, I don’t think we should go down!” They were saying what Peter was saying. (“Master, it is good that we are here.”) The only difference is that Peter was saying it because he didn’t want to leave Jesus; they were saying it because they didn’t want to go down the hill.

I think we all have that experience of not wanting to go down the hill, either because we experience a moment of sheer beauty – a mountaintop experience – or of the presence of God, in a moment of intimacy with another. We want to stay there forever. But ultimately this faith is about mountains and valleys. I found myself later in the week going down into the Valley.

On Friday, the Connections group, who are married couples in the parish, did a service project called Labre. The name comes for Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, the patron saint of homeless people. It is a program started by students of St. Ignatius to befriend the homeless and now other schools are picking it up. We met at John Carroll University and piled into two separate vans and went out to be with the homeless. We then spent the next six hours going to all of the stops, from bridges to street corners, and hidden camps back in snow covered fields. One of the trips found us near the Brown’s Stadium walking down a closed road and a trail down the side of a hill to a camp that was nestled at a bend of the river overlooking the flowing waters. This was when I realized I was a long way off from the mountain top and going down the valley.

The primary purpose of Labre is not just to feed and clothe the homeless, but to befriend them. One of my greatest memories is when the two kids from John Carroll pulled the van to the side of the road and got out to check on a guy that was walking across a field under one of the overpasses. It turned out it was one of their long lost friends. He was mute, he literally couldn’t speak, so he began writing on a pad and explaining where he had been and where he was “living” now. He had the warmest smile and his eyes spoke volumes. We also met a couple guys who lived under a bridge. One of whom was from Italy and found a way to rig a shopping cart and a fold up chair into a pull-out bed that he was hibernated in. He would only uncover his face to reveal a toothless smile whenever we handed him any food. As we were about to leave I noticed one of the John Carroll students who is built like a football player gently tuck the blanket around the man’s head and upper body and then he wiped off the snow. The people that we met were kind, loving, grateful, and generous. Not one of them took any more than they needed. Except socks, they all needed extra warm socks.

I found myself truly humbled by both the homeless and these College Students. The kids from John Carroll gave up their Friday nights every week to go down into the Valley and be with the homeless. Students from Ignatius do this every Sunday and there was a student from Case who was hoping to begin Labre there.

As the night came to an end, I was freezing and hungry myself. It was a much different experience than being on top of that hill at Boston Mills looking for Adventure. Now I was coming up from the Valley counting my blessings.

Lent is a time for both Mountain Top and Valley Experiences. Jesus often went up to the Mountain to pray as He did in today’s Gospel when he took Peter, John and James with him. He invites us too, to come with him to the Mountain in prayer. To experience God in the wonder of nature, or in your room at night before you go to bed or in our Blessed Sacrament Chapel during a Holy Hour in the middle of the night. He does take us to be with him. There are many times where he probably invites you during the day to sneak off for a little while with him and go up to the Mountain. But we are also called to come down from the Mountain and go into the Valleys. How do we do this? In Lent especially, we Fast and Give Alms. We are called to go into the Valley and experience some sense of discomfort for a chance to see the Face of Christ in the Poor. Fasting and Almsgiving shouldn’t be done just to prove that we can do something… like boarding down Peter’s Pride. Fasting and Almsgiving should help us to encounter the poor. It should be done in connection with the poor. Does your Fasting and Almsgiving in some way connect you more with the poor? Find a way to connect it. Find a way this Lent to go into the Valley and encounter the Face of Christ in the Poor. Pray on the mountain top with the Lord, but also go with him too into the Valley by Fasting and Almsgiving. You may find yourself grateful for everything that you have even with all of this snow.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Man does not live by bread alone.

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent - Year C - February 21, 2010

I have a really good friend that has been a big support in my life and he’s done something that has really hurt and disappointed me. I’m feeling a great deal of sadness, loss, and abandonment. I’ve tried to do everything I could for him and for our friendship, but he chose not to take the help and the resources that were offered to him. He’s also chosen not to change the behaviors that are hurtful. And so without one of the greatest support people in my life I find myself once more in the desert. It certainly isn’t my will; I don’t know that it is God’s either. But he permits it. So though I don’t want to do this, though I may not be ready for lent, I’m in the desert.

Jesus was led into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights and when it was over he was HUNGRY. He had a need that was unfulfilled and Satan attacked him right there.

The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”

I guess I’ve been tempted by Satan’s IF. If only I can change him. If only he could see what he was doing. If only he could do it another way. If only… If only…

I’ve tried to help him to be bread, but he’s chosen to remain a stone. And so now I must realize that man does not live on bread alone. As much as I have this need and hunger for this friendship, I do not live by this friendship alone.

Maybe you’re experiencing a real hunger right now, a real need to be fed or nourished or loved and you find yourself coming up at a loss. You’ve tried to do everything you can to change your situation, but the stone remains a stone. And like it or not you’ve been led into the desert. Lent is here whether you’re ready or not.

So during this time you will experience emptiness and hunger, you will be tempted to try and control, manipulate, or over power. You may be tempted to try to change something that doesn’t need to change. And through it all, in our absolute hunger and emptiness, we will discover the word of God, the bread of Life. He does feed us. He does sustain me. He does feed you with his word and sacrament. You may feel hungry but you are not unfed. You may lose the feeling of being loved, but you are not unloved. Do not give into the voice of the enemy that says “If you do this, or If you change this, or if you stop this…then you will be fed.” There’s no need for the IF. You are fed, you are loved, and you are blessed. Don’t buy the lie that you are not. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.