Message: The devil constantly tries to distract us, but if we turn to Jesus, he can transform distractions into instruments of salvation. We see this as we celebrate the three Scrutinies.
This Lent I am speaking about prayer. The first week I spoke about discernment - how prayer enables one to know God's plan and avoid the devil's designs. Last week we saw how to use one's imagination to enter the Bible mysteries. This week I address distractions - what they mean and how to deal with them.
Everyone faces distractions. You may have heard about the man who claimed he never has distractions. Another guy says he will give the man his horse if can say the Our Father without getting distracted. The man starts, "Our Father who are in heaven..." Then he looks at the horse and says, "Does that include the saddle?"
Well, we all get distracted and it's best to laugh at oneself and gently refocus. Distractions and dryness underscore the importance of having a discipline, a structure of prayer. And ss I mentioned last Sunday, distractions can help us by reminding us of someone to pray for - or perhaps some personal problem where we need God's help.
Distraction can serve an even deeper purpose. Inside you and me exists a vastness - like a dark ocean full of strange creatures that sometimes surface. Our constant distractions indicate an immensity, a longing, an emptiness.
We see that yearning in the Woman at the Well. She comes alone in the middle of the day. Isolated from others, she's seen it all and done it all. She thirsts, for what she does not know, but her heart quickens when Jesus speaks of living water. She thirsts, observes St. Augustine, because God thirsts for her salvation.
When I was in Peru, I visited a convent established by Blessed Mother Teresa. In their chapel, below the crucifix, they have Jesus' words: "I thirst." He thirsts for us. For that reason you and I have a thirst, a longing, that nothing here below can quench.
In this book on "Spirituality for Real Life" Fr. James Martin describes the inner longing: "I felt an overwhelming happiness," he writes. "I felt happy to be alive. And I felt a fantastic longing: to both possess and be part of what was around me."*
It seems that almost everyone has had at least some experience of joy. But it is like a butterfly. If we try to grasp it, we crush it and its beauty turns ugly. You cannot package joy. No one can achieve constant happiness.** We try to create our own happiness. "You've had five husbands," Jesus tells the woman. A person can cling to some vice (alcohol, gluttony, gambling, television) although it brings less and less pleasure - and no joy.
This delusion pervades our society. The devil appears to be in the driver's seat. But Jesus does not see things that way. "Look up," he says, "see the field ripe for the harvest."
Jesus has the final word. We see that this Sunday as we begin the Scrutinies, the Lenten exorcisms. Don't be afraid. An exorcism solemnly declares the power of Christ, so much greater Satan.*** For sure, the devil constantly tries to distract us, but if we turn to Jesus, he can transform distractions into instruments of salvation. We see this as we celebrate the three Scrutinies. I'd to conclude this homily with words of the first exorcism prayer:
Grant that these catechumens,
who, like the woman of Samaria, thirst for living water,
may turn to the Lord as they hear his word
and acknowledge the sins and weaknesses that weigh them down.
Protect them from vain reliance on self
and defend them from the power of Satan�
They open their hearts to you in faith,
they confess their faults
and lay bare their hidden wounds.
In your love free them from their infirmities,
heal their sickness,
quench their thirst and give them peace. Amen.
*In "Joy of the Gospel" Pope Francis writes about "the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart." Two other quotes pertain to us as homilists:
To speak from the heart means that our hearts must not just be on fire, but also enlightened by the fullness of revelation and by the path travelled by God�s word in the heart of the Church and our faithful people throughout history. This Christian identity, as the baptismal embrace which the Father gave us when we were little ones, makes us desire, as prodigal children � and favourite children in Mary � yet another embrace, that of the merciful Father who awaits us in glory. Helping our people to feel that they live in the midst of these two embraces is the difficult but beautiful task of one who preaches the Gospel.**At least in the emotional sense. Our founders had something different in mind when they spoke about "pursuit of happiness."
The homily takes up once more the dialogue which the Lord has already established with his people. The preacher must know the heart of his community, in order to realize where its desire for God is alive and ardent, as well as where that dialogue, once loving, has been thwarted and is now barren.
***An exorcism brings liberation, but it is not a once-and-for-all event. Next week I will address the need for a structure, a discipline of prayer.
From Archives (Year A homilies for Third Sunday of Lent):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
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Bishop Bob Barron's Homilies
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