Message: Place yourself under the banner of the cross.
Last week we asked God for spiritual sight - a new mind and heart - so we can see reality as it is. Like the disciples at the Transfiguration, we want to see the inner reality of Jesus - and his cross as the central event in human history.
If everything did not become immediately clear to you, do not despair. Each day you and I need to ask God for sight: Lord, open my eyes. Help me to see. Give me a new mind and heart.
This Sunday we ask for spiritual sight in order to address a difficult question. I am sure you have heard it and maybe even asked it yourself: Why is there so much violence in the Bible? And in today's Gospel we see Jesus himself committing an act of violence. He makes a whip out of chords and uses it against sheep, cattle and human beings - overturning tables loaded with coins and driving money changers out of the temple area.
Why such violence? Since our Lord never sinned we can assume his anger is justified, that some good outweighs the violence. We make a similar assumption about the violence God ordains in the Old Testament. Although I have to admit, when I first read the Bible through, I sometimes asked myself: What's going on here?
To solve the puzzle of violence in the Bible, I've been helped by commentaries. But what has helped most are early Christian writers - men like Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria and Augustine. They saw the biblical violence in relation to the spiritual battle. When you look at the texts, most of the violence is against idolatry - the worship of false gods. As we hear today the first commandment is, "I am the Lord your God...you shall not have other gods besides me."
The first and biggest sin is idolatry because it means we place some thing ahead of God, above God. It means making a created thing more important than the Creator. Many people value their bed, their TV, their leisure more than God. It would take a stick of dynamite get them out of bed to go to Mass. But they will get up for a fishing trip.
We all know people who put sports or their career or some other person above God. They say, "I don't bother God. Why should he bother me? Why can't he just leave me alone?" But God can't leave you alone. If he sustains every quark and photon, he also sustains you and me. If God left you alone, you would disappear like a puff of smoke. And more to the point, he wants your happiness and mine. And he knows we can never be happy apart from him.
We need a new mind and heart to recognize God at work. He does sometimes use extreme measures - even violence - to get our attention. St. Paul speaks about going to an extreme - the cross (the most horrible act of violence in human history*). That's what Paul proclaims: Christ crucified. Some preachers, he says, come with signs - fireworks. And others come with wisdom - secret knowledge. But Paul preaches Christ crucified.
The cross has everything. It is the mirror where we see who we are - how much we are loved and how much we have gone wrong. Our sins placed Jesus on the cross. The cross brings true judgment, but it also brings healing:
When someone tells you he doesn't believe in God, invite him to the cross. I have a lot of sympathy with an honest atheist - with someone who rejects God not because he wants to do his own thing, but because he feels God-forsaken. I ask him to go to the cross with an open mind and ears. Hear Jesus say, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
You and I need a new mind and heart to see Jesus and his cross. We are in spiritual combat. When soldiers go into battle, they follow a flag or banner. Are we going to follow the banner of Christ and his cross or banner of Satan and his idols?
This Sunday we have the first Scrutiny - the first of three exorcism prayers leading up to the Holy Week. Please join the Catechumens in placing yourself under the banner of the cross. The exorcism prayer will help you have a new mind and heart. Here is part of the prayer:
Protect them from vain reliance on self
and defend them from the power of Satan
They open their hearts to you in faith...
quench their thirst and give them peace. Amen.
*Committed against a man completely innocent who only did good and who embraces the sufferings of all.
From the Archives (Third Sunday of Lent, Year B)
Year A (RCIA):
Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
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Fr. Brad's Homilies
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2015 Peru Mission Trip
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