March 30, 2020

Reflection for Palm Sunday 2020: We Commemorate the Lord’s Entry into the City of our Salvation

Jesus entering Jerusalem

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, April 5, 2020

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois
'Therefore, with all faith and devotion, let us commemorate the Lord’s entry into the city of our salvation, following in his footsteps, so that, being made by his grace partakers of the Cross, we may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life.'
These words come from the opening prayer of the Liturgy of Palm Sunday, which is the solemn entrance into Holy Week. Throughout Lent, the faithful have been preparing for the great mystery of Easter. Today they stand at its doorstep, ready to enter the most sacred moment of Jesus’ life. The Church wants its people to do more than “celebrate” these sacred days. Rather, the faithful “follow” in his footsteps, “partake” of the Cross, and “share” in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, as the prayer above states.

Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday and includes Holy Thursday and Good Friday, concluding with Easter Sunday, is more than just a study of the life of Jesus from afar. It is not George Washington or Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, days in which Americans celebrate the life of either great president. Americans do not enter the life of Washington or Lincoln on those days. Christian disciples, on the other hand, follow, partake, and share in the final steps of the life of Jesus Christ.

On Palm Sunday, the faithful stand with him as he enters Jerusalem. As he goes into that sacred city to celebrate the Passover, on Holy Thursday the disciples and Jesus gather in the upper room for the Passover; the feast becomes the first Mass. The faithful are sitting at that table with the apostles, eating and drinking the bread and wine that is Jesus’ body and blood. On Good Friday, today’s disciples are standing at the foot of his cross, bringing their own sin, suffering, and death. And, finally, the faithful rise with him on Easter Sunday. Hope has conquered all evil and the human person is redeemed through the blood of Jesus. It is an incredible journey in just a few days! But it is the journey from death to life, from despair to hope. It is the most important journey the faithful will ever take.

Obviously, the faithful today are not attending the events listed above in a physical way. They do so sacramentally and in prayer. Each and every celebration of the Mass makes Calvary present for those participating. During the Penitential Rite in the beginning of Mass, one’s sins, suffering, and baggage are brought to the cross of Jesus Christ. In receiving Holy Communion, each person is at the Mass of Holy Thursday, the foot of the Cross on Good Friday, and the empty tomb of Easter. Christ is present at each Mass, in the person of the priest celebrating and in the assembly, in the opening of the word, and under the appearance of bread and wine. Each and every celebration of the Mass is the faithful Christian’s encounter with Christ, who suffered, died, and rose. This is how the faithful follow, partake, and share in the final moments of Jesus. In the Eucharist, the faithful are one with Jesus.

As you stand at Palm Sunday and contemplate the week ahead, remember that it is your week. You have prepared for this week through works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving throughout Lent. Bring to the cross your own sin, suffering, and death. What do you want to bring to the cross? In what area of your life do you need Christ’s healing touch?

Homily for Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020, Year A

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

Blood is life-giving; it is the essential element in sustaining us in life. Babies the womb receive oxygen and nutrients from their mothers’ blood. When natural disasters occur the Red Cross appeals for blood donors. During surgeries it sustains patients in life. In many cultures the bonding of people is sealed in rituals that mingle blood. In all cultures blood has a deeply religious significance.

When God brought the Hebrew people out of their slavery in Egypt, the blood of sacrificed lambs marked their homes and they were spared the punishment that fell upon their Egyptian captors. Later, on Mt. Sinai, when God bound Himself to His people, Moses offered animal sacrifices and then took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Moses then took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:6-8)

As we enter now into Holy Week, blood and the cup of suffering are the centerpiece of God’s saving and life-giving actions. In the blood of Christ which flowed from His crucified body we are liberated from the ultimate consequences of our sins if we follow in the way of Peter and not in the way of Judas. God offers, we respond, and everything depends upon our response.

The importance for us of St. Matthew’s account of Our Blessed Lord’s passion, suffering, and death cannot be overstated. Today and this week our Church takes us to the core of God’s forgiving and self-emptying love for us. At the Last Supper as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

How will we respond to Him? Can we and will we accept God’s forgiveness? Judas did not. Peter at first could not but later he did. Pontius Pilate tried to wash his hands of it, denying responsibility. The Jewish leaders accepted responsibility. “His death is upon us and upon our children,” they declared. Many people in Jerusalem at that time simply didn’t care; they couldn’t be bothered. What about us?

When we drink of the cup, the cup of suffering, we have our own opportunity to drink of God’s life-giving force that empowers us to face this world’s unfairness and injustices. The harsh truth is that millions of innocent people suffer. The harsh truth is that Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, was innocent and unjustly suffered terrible rejection and pain. Instead of allowing himself to be imprisoned in resentment and hatred, he walked the path leading to redemption and resurrection.

What about us; do we enter into the passion and death of Christ? Or do we simply not care and not be bothered? God offers; what is your choice?

March 25, 2020

Prayer During This Pandemic

By Msgr. Bernard W. Bourgeois

Dear Heavenly Father:

We come before you today as a people of faith imploring your intercession. Our society, our schools, our churches, and much of our work has come to a standstill in light of an unseen enemy known as the coronavirus.

Dear Lord, to begin with and most importantly, we pray for those who contracted this hideous disease, most especially those who are physically most vulnerable; the aged, the sick, nursing home patients, and any with compromised immune systems. We offer up to you all those on the front lines of fighting this disease, most especially those in the medical profession, public health officers, scientists and government officials who are working day and night to find ways to beat this disease. Inspire them, O Lord, with minds filled with knowledge and hearts filled with love as they work to protect the rest of us.

We also pray for those who are supplying us with food, gas, medical supplies and oil for our homes. We thank you and we pray for those who work to protect us, namely, firefighters, police officers and ambulance attendants. And we pray for all those whose jobs make it necessary that they go into work and thus make themselves vulnerable to this disease.

Dear Lord, I now ask you to help the rest of us who are not on the front lines and are being asked to distance socially from one another. We are feeling restless, anxious, and a bit on edge, Lord. We are starting to find it hard to sit home and just wait this thing out. Wild news reports are filling the airwaves and it is hard for us to discern those that are real. Our children are getting antsy without school. We worry about supplies in stores, our jobs and livelihoods. 

Give us faith, give us courage and inspire us to do the right thing. Inspire us, O Lord to stay vigilant and strong through this. Inspire us to keep our distance from one another and thus keep our children, families and ourselves safe from this disease.

All this we ask through Christ our Lord. Amen.

March 22, 2020

Reflection on the 5th Sunday of Lent | The Raising of Lazarus, "Untie Him and Let Him Go." John 11:1-45

The raising of Lazarus

The Fifth Sunday of Lent (A) March 29, 2020

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

"Untie him and let him go." (John 11: 44) 

Nearing the end of the season of Lent, the Church this Sunday is knocking at the door of Holy Week (which begins next Sunday, April 9, with Palm Sunday), seeking entrance to the events that together form the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the annual reminder of God’s love for His people!

During Holy Week, the faithful will visit the Upper Room during the Passover. At this meal, Jesus takes bread and wine and declares it to be His body and blood, which will be poured out for the many. Good Friday is the next stop on the journey. Kneeling at the foot of the cross, the people of God will adore that wood on which their Savior died. The story does not end there! At the Easter Vigil Mass, the people will stand in awe and wonder at the empty tomb. Jesus is risen! Alleluia!

Through Jesus Christ, God has conquered all sin, suffering, and death. While all of these realities are part of our lives, they will not have the final say. The final chapter of the book is hope! Through His passion, death, and resurrection, Jesus has carried all of humanity’s sins, suffering, and death, including yours and mine. The path to eternal life goes through the Upper Room, to the cross at Golgotha, and stops at the empty tomb of Jesus Christ. The lives of Jesus’ followers have meaning, life, and hope because the Word who became flesh at Christmas now has suffered, died, and risen from the dead. The celebration of Holy Week is the most important week of the liturgical calendar and every Christian should make it a priority to celebrate these mysteries in their respective parishes.

The Gospel for this final Sunday of Lent is a microcosm of the journey of Holy Week, and thus is quite fitting for those banging at the door of Holy Week. It is the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Recall that Jesus is friends with Lazarus, and his sisters Martha and Mary. At Lazarus’ death, Jesus makes His way to Bethany to console Martha and Mary. Martha and Jesus have a conversation outside the village in which Martha professes Jesus to be the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus weeps as He nears the tomb of Lazarus. Having been warned of the stench of death if the stone is removed from the entrance of the tomb, Jesus orders it moved anyway. He cries out to Lazarus who came forth from the tomb wrapped in his burial cloth. “Untie him,” Jesus said, “and let him go.”

You are Lazarus! Your sin, suffering, and death binds you in much the same way as death bound Lazarus. Sinfulness controls the human heart and soul, holding it prisoner. The scourge of suffering, whether it is mental, physical, or emotional, is the result of the human condition. It can drive the person to despair and hopelessness. Wallowing in the pain, one can feel bound as Lazarus. Sin and suffering ultimately lead to death, where there is no hope.

That is not the end of the story! There is hope because Jesus intervenes. He orders the stone rolled back. There is a stench that emanates from the tomb, the horrid smell of death. Jesus, who is God Himself in the human person, does not avoid that stench. He is not afraid of it but walks right to it. Jesus is close to His people. Sinfulness and suffering are the effects of the raw human condition that plagues everyone. That condition does not scare off the Lord! He has come to be united with His people, to bring hope, forgiveness, new life, and ultimately to get rid of that which causes the stench.

Finally, Jesus orders Lazarus to be untied and let go. He is free of sin, suffering, and death. The stench is no longer filling his nostrils. Free to live, Lazarus walks this earth once again. And so, too, Jesus frees all of His people from sin, suffering, and death. The Catholic faith is based on the hope of the resurrection. To Holy Week each person brings that which binds him, asking Jesus to nail it to His cross. Stand in awe and wonder at that empty tomb on Easter Sunday and realize that you are Lazarus, and from your den of stench and death you too will walk away, unbound, free, to live with God for all of eternity. Now, that’s real hope! Don’t be afraid to bang away at the door of Holy Week! You must be allowed to enter the most sacred moment of the year, that you might be a person of hope and new life. Jesus is risen! Alleluia!

Homily for the 5th Sunday in Lent, March 29, 2020, Year A

The raising of Lazarus

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

All of us, I am sure, have read recent accounts about the decline of interest in religion among Americans. A recent survey reports that 20% of Americans have no religious affiliations at all and feel no need of God or belief in God. It seems they feel that they are self-sufficient; God is not necessary.

So why are we here? Our motives are many and mixed. Some are here in their need seeking God’s help. Some are here seeking God’s forgiveness, others out of love of God, others out of thanksgiving for all that God has done for them. Some are here simply out of a sense of duty and others out of mere habit. All of us are looking forward to everlasting life with God in heaven.

In the opening prayer of today’s Mass, we heard the words: “Help us to embrace the world that you have given us, that we may transform the darkness of its pain into the life and joy of Easter.”

In the first reading from the prophet Ezekiel we heard: “Thus says the LORD GOD: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them…”

Well, what does this mean for us, living out our lives as we do in 2017 America?

To answer that I would pay some attention to what we frequently hear, namely the spirit of defeat often quoted in our newspapers and which sometimes infects our own hearts and thoughts. Fortunately there are words of optimism coming from many people who surround us countering those transmitting a spirit of defeat. Perhaps some of our own sons and daughters, nieces or nephews, relatives or friends, speak of how awful life is, or about how much they are life’s victims. They blame other people for being so mean to them, they blame their depression in the economy, they talk about their own lack of fulfillment, they tell us they’re getting nothing out of life, and so forth. Doubt, disillusionment, discouragement, and depression hold many people in bondage.

What are the causes of this defeatism? Well there are many of course. But here I would like to examine four of them and then turn to what we can do about them.

The first source of defeat for so many people is what I call extremism. It’s the sort of attitude that converts what is really happening only occasionally into something they claim is always happening. “I always goof. I never do anything right,” we hear them say. “People always take advantage of me.” These words and similar phrases are symptomatic of the spiritual condition such people are in. These thoughts come from a way of looking at life that is either extremely idealistic or else extremely pessimistic. They see life as either one or the other, not balanced. Defeat is guaranteed them because they do not have a balanced view of what really happens in life. Life isn’t “either-or,”  “black or white,”  “all or nothing.” In reality, life is a complicated mixture of many factors and forces.

The second source of defeat comes from the sort of mentality that continually makes comparisons. This outlook dooms one into never thinking that one has enough. This kind of person is forever comparing his or her lot in life with people who are better off. Someone else is better looking, has more money, lives in a better house, has a better job, and so on. Depression is guaranteed them; defeatism finally takes over. This is one of the major sources of defeat and frustration in our culture today. The entire advertising industry is built on the business of comparing yourself to others so that you will buy their advertised product and then be as wonderfully happy as others are.

A third source of defeat that infests many souls is what is called “passive resignation.” We simply surrender ourselves to our feelings and then call it “fate.” Phrases like the following are its telltale signs: “Well, that’s just my lot in life,” “I was never destined to do any better,” “That’s life, and I might just as well accept it,” “It’s God’s will that I suffer,” and so forth.

The final source of defeat which I’d like to point out is too much reliance on self and the things of this world, and not enough reliance on faith in Christ and the things of God. The underlying problem is a lack of real belief that God can or will do anything to help me. Either we think we’re not worthy because we’re too evil, or else we think that God really doesn’t care because He never seems answer our prayers anyway. The result is that we make the hidden assumption that if we’re going to be happy and successful in life, we’ve got to achieve it ourselves because God won’t take care of us until we get to heaven… if in fact we do get there.

In the face of all this, God’s Word in today’s readings comes to us with a challenging question.

That question hits each one of us. I want you to seriously listen now to God’s question and think about your answer to it. The question is this: “What is your heart wrapped around?” Put another way: “What is the thought that’s constantly on your mind? What continually absorbs your attention? For thus says the Lord: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new!” God wants us to see things afresh, not in our usual ways but rather in His renewing ways.

You see, we must begin to think now of what can be in our future and stop thinking about what has been in our past. All of the Sacraments are the acts of God in Christ. The Sacraments are not merely symbols, nor did men invent them merely to be pretty ceremonies. Sacraments are the acts of God Himself in Christ reaching out to make things fresh and new for us. Baptism is a Sacrament of beginning a new life for us. The Sacrament of Reconciliation gives us a fresh start, a new beginning, and a new lease on life. Matrimony, Ordination, Anointing of the Sick… all are opportunities for us to pick-up on life where we left off, if only we will let God do His work in us, if only we will do things with Him in His ways.

Really, then, what is defeat for us? When you get right down to it, nothing can defeat us except the spirit of defeatism. We recall that in the bottom of the Great Depression in the 1930′ s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt cried out: “We have nothing to fear except fear itself:” And we know Roosevelt was right. Once our national self-confidence was restored and once we shook off the spirit of defeatism and isolationism, those two great works of the devil designed to make us weak and impotent, we then began to come out of our depression.

The same is true in our own personal and individual lives. For Easter is the religious and theological statement that, for the Christian, there is really no ultimate defeat. To be sure we shall suffer temporary setbacks. And to be sure we shall suffer in the future. But defeat? We should see that because of Christ’s Easter Resurrection we can never be totally defeated. What is required is that we stop constantly feeling sorry for ourselves and let our faith in God replace our own lack of faith in our selves.

Am I preoccupied by my own failures and misfortunes? Is my heart wrapped up in the illusory comfort of feeling sorry for myself? Am I passively resigned to my fate in life? Well, now is the time to throw open the doors of that self-made prison. The stone has been rolled back from the tomb of poor Lazarus. Christ has commanded that he be released from all that bound him up, and then set him free.

The same is true for you. Christ has rolled back the imprisoning stones that entomb our hearts. It’s time to go free because God in Christ wants us, like poor Lazarus, to be free, to be happy, and to enjoy life. He wants to us walk in the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

Defeatism is the sacrament of the devil, along with his other sacraments of doubt, depression, and disillusionment. For if we walk with Christ and join our passion and suffering into His, then we can walk away from all in life that’s cold, dead, dreary, depressing, and all that which leads us into the hell of our own defeatism.

“Remember not,” your God says to you now, “the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new.” This Easter, let God do something new within you. The Resurrection is God’s promise that we can have a new life.

March 15, 2020

Homily for the 4th Sunday in Lent, (Laetare Sunday), March 22, 2020, Year A

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

We have all heard the phrase “Seeing is believing.” The idea comes, I suppose, from skeptical people who won’t believe anything is real or anything is true unless and until they see it for themselves.

In today’s Gospel account the phrase “Seeing is believing” is paradoxically both proved and disproved. It is proved by the blind man eventually seeing Jesus and acknowledging that indeed Jesus is “from God.” The blind man recognized Jesus for who He is. The Pharisees, on the other hand, men who were sighted, did not or would not see Jesus for who He is. The blind man could see, the sighted Pharisees were blind. Seeing, they would not believe.

In this Gospel account Jesus gives us some additional clues as to who He really is. You will recall that in the Book of Genesis we find God creating us from “the slime of the earth.” Here we find slimy mud formed from Jesus’ saliva bringing light into the blind man’s darkness. Bringing light into the darkness, we recall, was God’s first act of creation along with fashioning us from the slime of the earth.

A second clue as to who Jesus really is can be found in the fact that Jesus didn’t use water to form the mud. If He had used water some might say that the miraculous power that gave the man sight came from water. No. Jesus used His own saliva to demonstrate that the miraculous power giving sight to the man born blind came from Him and from Him alone.

Let me turn your attention now to the fact that the blind man’s recognition of who Jesus really is came about gradually… through a process. When first questioned he told his neighbors that “the man called Jesus” made paste, put it on his eyes, and told him to go wash in the waters of Siloam. When asked where Jesus was he said he didn’t know.

When brought to the Pharisees who questioned him as to the man who healed him the blind man said, “He is a prophet.” The Pharisees, as we know, refused to believe that Jesus was anything other than a sinner.

Finally, at the conclusion of the episode, Jesus searched him out and when He found the man he acknowledged that Jesus was the “Son of Man” and then worshipped Him, an act that one gives to God alone. Worshipping anyone or anything else other than God is blasphemy and idolatry. In short, the formerly blind man acknowledged the divinity of Christ. So for the blind man, truly, “seeing is believing.”

The Pharisees give us the skeptical side of the phrase. Sighted though they were, they were in fact blind and living in darkness apart from God.

At first they suspended judgment about Jesus. Doubting the blind man’s testimony they sent for his parents and questioned them. They gave their testimony but it didn’t help the Pharisees to see things at all. Their doubt only increased. They declared Jesus to be a sinner and sent for the blind man to testify once again. Quite forthrightly he told them that he had already given his testimony. He then bluntly asked the Pharisees why they wouldn’t listen. He went on to declare: “Now here is an astonishing thing! He has opened my eyes and you turn around and say you don’t know where He comes from!”

The blind man’s progress in gaining spiritual insight is matched by the spiritual leaders’ step-by-step journey into darkness and blindness. Even though Christ, the Light of the World, was standing before them their stubborn reliance only on themselves and their blind pride led them into darkness.

Once again we are dealing in this Gospel account with St. John’s major themes: order out of chaos, light out of darkness, good out of evil, and life out of death.

The question now presented itself to us here in America in 2017 is: Do we recognize what our real struggle is all about? Sure situation in Iraq vexes us, the war against Islamic terrorists continues, the economy is faltering, drugs and pornography beset us, and the cost of living has gone through the roof. But what about the presence of God in our lives?

Do we have eyes to see and ears to hear Him or do our many concerns blind us?

We don’t have to go to the trouble to try and find God. He has come to search us out just as He did the blind man who had miraculously been given sight. The basic movement is the coming of God to us. From the time God entered the Garden of Eden in search of Adam and Eve, to the time when He was born among us in a manger in Bethlehem, to the time He came upon us all in Pentecost, to this very day and this very Mass, God comes to us. The Light of the World has come and the darkness shall not overcome it.

There is only one darkness that can prevail, the darkness of our own lack of attention and our own lack of vision when it comes to His presence in our lives. It may be true that we do not willfully ignore God and are blind to His presence, but if “seeing is believing” how can we believe if we do not see?

Lent is time set aside when we try to see God in our lives. Lent is a time when we try to step away from all of our worldly concerns and give some time and attention to what’s going on in our souls. To strengthen our faith and our belief we need, along with the blind man, ask: “Lord, that I might see” and then expect a miracle, the miracle of seeing the Light of the World in our darkened days.

Our blindness is not the blindness of the Pharisees. Ours is being too busy for time with God, too worried about the cares of this world.

“Seeing is believing.” Oh, Lord, let me see your light, let me recognize your presence in my life; open my eyes because I know who you are and I know what you can do.

Oh, Lord, that I may see.

March 8, 2020

Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2020, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

One of my favorite Scripture quotations is, “As cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” (Proverbs 25:25)

Today, however, I feel I should quote Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink.” The first half of the quotation seems apt for today’s readings. Water, water everywhere!

In their wanderings in the desert, the Lord led his people to an area where, as we read: “There was no water for the people to drink.” The dramatic scene depicted in the first reading follows immediately. Here water is obviously meant in the strictly literal sense.

Water is even more prevalent in today’s Gospel. The word occurs eight times in Jesus’ conversation with the woman of Samaria. But here, as often happens in John, the literal sense is soon eclipsed by a deeper symbolic sense. As we read, it becomes clear that Jesus is using the image of water to talk about the gift of grace. Even when the conversation turns to other things, the same reality is present. Worshiping God “in Spirit and truth” is, after all, possible only for those who have received the “spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

What about the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans? True, the word “water” does not occur, but the symbolic sense is present nonetheless. St. Paul writes, “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Poured out like what, if not like water?

This conjunction of water and Spirit goes right back to the beginning of the Old Testament. Most translations of Genesis 1:2 read, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” So too in the New Testament. Early in all four Gospels we find John the Baptist saying that while he baptizes with water, the one coming after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, Peter begins his discourse with a quotation from the Prophet Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all mankind.”

“Pouring out” occurs as well in another, quite different context, quoted in every Mass. “This is the chalice of my blood... which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.”

Which takes us back to the first reading: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” This same idea is expressed in a wonderful poem attributed to St. Francis Xavier, translated from the Latin by the brilliant poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. It reads in part:
O God, I love thee, I love thee---
Not out of hope of heaven for me...
Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me
Didst reach thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedst nails and lance,
Mocked and marred countenance...
Yea, and death, and this for me.
And thou couldst see me sinning!
The water of baptism cleanses us. The blood of the Eucharist saves us. The Holy Spirit is present in both.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t just make an appearance once a year at Pentecost. Lent is certainly a good time to open our hearts and minds to the constant presence of the one whom we call in the creed, “the Lord, the giver of life.”

Spirit, Spirit everywhere. And always more to drink.

March 1, 2020

Reflection on the 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A, Matthew 17:1-9

The Second Sunday of Lent (A), March 8, 2020

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 33; 2 Timothy 1:8b-10; Matthew 17:1-9

"He saved us and called us to a holy life." (2 Tim1:9) 

The annual retreat of Lent is upon us once again. It is an intense period of prayer in which we unite our hearts, minds, and souls with Christ as He walks His final days on earth, remembering who we are and to what we’re called. Holiness is the key to Lent. A holy life is one that is united with Christ. Through works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the hallmarks of Lent, the disciple will focus her attention on the person of Jesus Christ, and His passion, death, and resurrection. In the journey toward holiness, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving will help the person understand the centrality of faith.

One can become holier through fasting. It is an ancient practice in which the person usually sets aside some portion of food for a greater cause. However, one can fast from more than food. The point of fasting is to put aside something that you find important and to fill that space with prayer and Christ. One can survive without that favorite food or activity! Linked with prayer, fasting helps the person see it is Christ and His life that provides meaning in life. Food and favorite activities are temporary fixes in our lives. We will hunger again (and probably soon!) and want that activity again. Christ fills the person completely. In Him, there is no more hunger, for He brings fulfillment to the human person. Detaching oneself from certain foods and activities will only aid in uniting with Christ, and thus further one along the path of holiness.

Almsgiving is another ancient practice of Lent, which unites the person to Christ. Generosity has always been central to the journey of Christian faith. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus reminds His people of the need to be generous. Within the season of Lent, this practice takes on greater meaning. If it is the goal of Lent to be united with Christ, then it is incumbent upon the person to take stock of her life. How much time does the person invest in material possessions? Do those possessions have control over one’s life? The practice of almsgiving, much like that of fasting, will help the person in her goal of uniting herself to Christ. It’s about getting rid of the distractions that hinder the person from fully uniting with Christ. Through fasting the person learns that no food or activity could fill the heart. The same can be said for almsgiving. Giving to others is a direct command of Christ.

Finally, fasting and almsgiving lead the person to prayer. Detaching oneself from worldly realities will lead the person to a posture of prayer. Through fasting and almsgiving, the faithful Christian sees that life is really about Jesus Christ, and the life of holiness. Spending time in prayer is the natural result of fasting and almsgiving. Prayer is not so much the use of words as it is time spent with God. Formulas of prayers learned in childhood have a special place in our hearts and lives; they lead us into prayer, or conversation with God. Offer your fasting and almsgiving to the Lord in prayer that He may see your efforts at detaching yourself from unneeded things and your desire to unite yourself to Him. Spend time with the Word of God found in the Scriptures, that you might know Christ beer.

Let’s make Lent a real retreat this year. Take the time to fast, pray, and give alms. Find ways of going beyond the minimal requirements of the Church for this great season. Everyone can fast, pray, and give alms, to some level. Detach yourselves from earthly and transitory realities in order to unite yourselves to Christ. Thus, on Easter Sunday you will wake up to the Resurrection, finding hope in Jesus Christ who has conquered sin, suffering, and death. You will know Christ because you have united yourself to Him, thus making you holy.

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2020, Year A

The Transfiguration of Christ

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

God asked Abraham to leave his land, take everything and everyone with him and move to a new land. Later God asked Moses to take the Hebrews from Egypt into a promised new land. And Jesus? Well, He too had to leave Joseph and Mary back in Nazareth and begin his mission out on the road. Jesus once remarked: “The foxes have their dens and the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” And when He was crucified and died, He didn’t even have a tomb of His own.

One of the hardest things I face as a priest is not having my own home, a place I can call my own. My only home is the Church. My only family is all of you… along with all of the other members of Christ’s family throughout the world.

Many people today experience homelessness. Lots of people, even young kids, live out in the streets. Many members of gangs belong to gangs because they are looking for family, for someone to belong to, for a “home” that they feel they never had with their moms and dads if, that is, they even know who their mothers were and know who their fathers are. A great deal of the trouble in the schools of our big cities comes from the countless numbers of children within them that have no place they can really call home, no family that they can truly call their own – except perhaps the gang that has accepted them and taken them in.

Many of us as adults and parents also feel like we are in a lot of ways strangers and exiles living in an alien and hostile culture, or environment, or world. Quite a few feel that it’s not possible to be a good Christian, or a total and complete Christian, or Catholic, and at the same time live in the sort of world in which we find ourselves. They feel like the standards of our culture are being “dumbed down,” that our laws and rules are being redefined so that people can do simply what they feel like doing. Many of us watch what we value as it is being de-valued in the world around us, a world in which we no longer feel at home, much less want to raise our children.

The feeling is not new; the feeling is, as a matter of fact, quite old. In a time when Christians were being hounded down, chased out of town, marginalized and even arrested and killed. St. Peter wrote in one of his Epistles that we must remember we are strangers living in exile, that our citizenship and our real home is not in this world but rather in God’s kingdom. St. Paul, too, wrote in one of his Epistles that “we have here no lasting city,” and that our citizenship is in heaven after our sojourn here in earth is ended.

Nevertheless, God wants us to have roots, to have a place, to belong. We all need a place in which we can find ourselves and a family in which we can belong. If we don’t have that we become very angry, act out, and engage in what is called “anti-social” and hostile behavior. In other words, in our rage at not belonging we end up attacking everyone around us.

One of the remarkable things about the Catholic Church is the fact that in it you belong no matter where you find yourself on the face of the earth. I have entered churches in many other parts of the world, participated in Masses in them, and instantly felt at home even though the language wasn’t English (or Latin, for that matter). It’s a wonderful feeling to enter St. Peter’s basilica in the Vatican and be able to say: “This is my church!” I’ve entered great cathedrals all over Europe  and been able to say: “I feel at home here. This is my church. Jesus is here in the Blessed Sacrament. These people represented in statues stained glass windows are a part of my family and I belong to them just as they belong to me.”

Likewise we need to be able to respond to God the way others have when He called them to be about His tasks, to be about His purposes, to accomplish His work. Could you leave everything in back of you if He called you to make a radical change in your life? Like Abraham, you would have to leave your security and your familiar surroundings behind you. Sometimes God calls you to empty yourself in order that He might fill you with what He wants to give you. Could you do it?

There’s a story about a Sufi Master who was approached by a young man who wanted to be his disciple. To impress the Master the prospect went on and on and on about his academic achievements, his experience and about all of his accomplishments in serving and helping people. The Master listened in silence. Then while the young man was running on and on and on about all the he had done the Master began to fill a teacup with tea. When the cup was filled he kept filling it with more tea until it spilled all over. “Stop, Master!” cried the young man, “the cup can’t hold any more tea.”. To which the Master replied: “Neither can I teach you anything. You are too full of yourself now. Come back when you’ve made some room within you to hold a new thought.”

Abraham made new room for God. So did Moses. And Jesus totally emptied himself in order to be completely filled with God’s Holy Spirit.

We speak of Lent as a journey, a moving from one place to a new and better place. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus from Bethlehem where He was born, to Nazareth where He was raised, out into the desert, then to Jerusalem where He was crucified and died, and into the tomb in which He was buried, and then into the Garden of the Resurrection, the new Garden of Eden. One day we will follow in His path by joining Him in His Ascension into heaven along with the Assumption of His mother Mary who was also taken up from this alien world into the home God has prepared for us.

The tomb of Jesus is empty because the things of this world are all destined to turn into dust. Inside of them, all of the things of this world are as empty as the tomb of Jesus. Why? Because reality is something spiritual, not material. We are dust, and unto dust we shall return, along with all of the glitter of this world. Our citizenship and our home are elsewhere and our hearts will not rest until they rest in the home God has prepared for us.

Our hearts can experience some of that peace, some of that rest, right here in this church, in God’s house, in His Presence here in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Why not stop in here to be at home for a little while with Jesus, here in His house? Why not give your heart the love it seeks, namely to be here at peace and in union, in love, with the One for whom your heart was made by God in the first place?

To whom do I belong? Where is my home? Here at least, here in God’s house in the Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, you will be strangers and exiles no longer. This is God’s house, and therefore it is your house, your home. This is where your family shares its Sunday meal and where, whenever we come here, we know at last we belong.

February 23, 2020

Ash Wednesday | 2020

Christ the Bridegroom

February 26, 2020 
"Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return."
On Ash Wednesday, Catholics receive ashes in the shape of a cross traced on the forehead. The rite evokes Saint Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians: "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15: 21 - 22) Adam’s sin condemned man to sin and death. But the instrument of our salvation, the cross, reminds us that in Christ, man is redeemed and the gates of heaven are opened.

The original injunction conferring ashes: "Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return," contrasts with the words of the Nicene Creed concerning the Incarnation: "For us men and for our salvation, he [Jesus] came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man." In becoming man, Christ assumed our iniquities: offering himself as a supreme sacrifice in expiation for man’s sins. The forty days of Lent culminate on Easter Sunday. Christ’s joyous Resurrection fulfills God’s promise to save humanity and reveals our final destiny, if we persevere in love.

Almighty Father, as we begin this Lent, give us the grace to be steadfast in our resolutions, drawing ever closer to you by means of our prayer and sacrifices.