Friday, January 13, 2017

Year I First Friday in Ordinary Time

It's been awhile, but I had the privilege again today of preaching at the weekly Mass for St. Olaf School.

Readings: Heb 4:1-5.11; Ps 78:3-4.6-8; Mark 2:1-12

In the minds of many people today, Friday the thirteenth, is an unlucky day. For those of us who have in Christ Jesus, we don’t believe in those kinds of superstitions. In fact, because we are gathered together around the Lord’s altar, we can say that today is a blessed day because together we we receive the Lord in the Holy Communion. We are blessed because He wants to give Himself to us.

While Jesus gives Himself to us in many ways, it is important to understand that the most important of all the ways the Lord gives Himself to us we call sacraments. But even in the Mass, Jesus does not only give Himself to us in one way. He really and truly gives Himself to us in the Mass in four distinct ways. First, He is among us as simply through our gathering together. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name,” Jesus said to His disciples, “there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). Second, He is present to us in a special way through the presence Fr. Rene, our pastor and priest, who acts in the person of Christ and without whom we could not celebrate Mass. Third, Jesus in present to us in our reading from the Scriptures. Just as He goes into us by our eating the bread and drinking and the wine, through the proclamation of the Scriptures He also enters into us if we will simply listen. All of these ways together prepare us to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. Another and very important and necessary way we prepare to receive Jesus in Holy Communion is by going confession.

Our Gospel today is one of my favorite episodes in Jesus’ life. After going around preaching and teaching in His native Galilee, Jesus and His disciples returned to Capernaum, which, during the early part of Jesus’ ministry, was their headquarters. No doubt stories of Jesus healing the blind, the deaf, and lame had made it back Capernaum. When people found out where Jesus was staying, they went there bringing with them everyone who was sick in the hope we would heal them. Before conveying that Jesus healed anyone, the inspired author of St. Mark’s Gospel tells us “he preached the word to them” (Mark 2:2).

Because so many had come to hear Jesus and have Him heal those who were sick, “there was no longer room for them, not even around the door” (Mark 2:2). The friends of the man who was paralyzed, rather than wait in line, went up on the roof of the house. They lifted their friend, whom they carried on something like a stretcher, up on the roof with them. Then, after making a hole in the roof, they lowered him down right in front of Jesus.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus was not upset with them? He didn’t tell the men on the roof to come and get their friend and go to the back of the line. What Jesus saw was the great faith of the paralyzed man and his friends. He was moved by how eager they were to encounter Him; how eager they were to receive what only He could give them. Jesus knew that the paralyzed man was sick in a way that needed to be healed more than he needed to have the use of his arms and legs. “When Jesus saw their faith,” St. Mark’s Gospel tells us, “he said to him, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark 2:5).

Unsurprisingly, some of those who were present were scandalized by Jesus telling the man his sins were forgiven. They did not recognize Jesus as God made man for us. In order to give them some proof that He has power to forgive sins, Jesus said to the man: “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home” (Mark 2:11). When the man did so, everyone, including those who doubted His power to forgive sins, were astounded. Their astonishment led them to glorify God.

Do you have faith like the paralyzed man and his friends? Are you eager to encounter to Jesus? Do you badly want to receive what only Jesus can give you? If you answered these questions with a “Yes,” I have good news for you. We really could call the sacraments “Encounters with Jesus.” The Lord gave us a sacrament in and through which Jesus will give you the same kind of healing He gave the paralyzed man in today’s Gospel. It’s the Sacrament of Penance, sometimes called the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but most often referred to simply as “going to confession.”

While it is necessary in confession to tell our sins to the priest, we don’t go to confession to admit our failures. We go to confession to claim the victory Jesus won for us by His dying and rising. We don’t go to confession to find out whether or not God will forgive us. We’re always already forgiven through Jesus Christ. We go to confession because that is how we experience for ourselves, like the paralyzed man in today’s Gospel, God’s mercy and forgiveness by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus power is astonishing because His power is love. Jesus loves you. He wants to heal you. He wants to draw you to Himself and keep you close. In the words of our first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews: He wants to lead you into His rest. All He asks is that you let Him. Even among the sacraments, the greatest proof of Jesus’ love for you is His coming to you in Holy Communion.

Jesus loves you so much that He makes Himself small enough to fit into your hand, to be drunk from a cup. He wants you to love other people just like He loves you. Loving God with your whole heart, might, mind, and strength and loving your neighbor as you love yourself is what you are sent out to do and the end of each Mass. Sometimes we fail to love God by loving our neighbor. Sometimes we fail to love God by not doing what He asks of us, like coming to Mass on Sundays and holy days, avoiding going to confession, etc. It is then that He beckons you, like He beckoned the paralyzed man and his friends, to come into His house to be healed.

It is fitting to discuss confession today because, as Roman Catholics, Fridays are days of penance. We observe Friday as a weekly day of penance either by abstaining from meat or by performing a significant act of charity, which means going out of your way to do something kind and caring for someone else. We are able to love because God - who is love because God is Father, Son, and Spirit - first loved us: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life" (John 3:16)

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