Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 11, 2018
Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor
2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
There is a cathedral in Finland. Over its main doors are carved four words, large enough for the preacher to see clearly from the pulpit, lest the preacher ever forget. The words: WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED.
We are attracted to happy, so-called positive, messages in the Church. And the Church does have Good News to share, but such a light-hearted message is one-dimensional and incomplete, because the scriptures proclaim Christ crucified.
Of course, the crucifixion was not the end of Jesus’ story. Easter completes the Good News. Because of the Resurrection, you and I are empowered to think and act positively. You and I can experience and even become miracles -- because Jesus was raised from his grave.
But first Jesus had to be “lifted up” on a pole to bring us life and hope, like the healing, bronze serpent Moses lifted up at God’s direction so the Israelites would find healing from the scourge of deadly serpent bites as they wandered the Sinai Desert.
Jesus had predicted his physical death on a cross, when he would “be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Jesus was lifted up on a cross so that he could be lifted up to glory and bring you and me the healing we need.
Sometimes life gets discouraging and things seem, more than ordinarily, difficult: disappointing relationships, financial burdens, the heartache of caring for someone chronically ill, personal hopes and dreams unrealized, grief at the death of a loved one, even sin itself.
At these discouraging and painful times, it seems that God may have wandered far from us. It is certain that we have lost control. The message of Christ crucified is that even in the darkest moment -- in fact, especially in the darkest moment -- God is near. For, it is precisely in such a moment that God can most demonstrate his love. It is in these moments that every delusion that you and I are in control has been torn from us because we can no longer deny our own weakness. It is from painful moments that God lifts us up. Saint Paul wrote: "God ... brought us to life with Christ ... raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus...."
The message of Christ crucified is a message of incredible love and mercy. This is central to the Christian faith. At this altar, where you and I gather sometimes with disappointment and worry in our hearts, we see the sign of Christ crucified in the Bread that is his Body broken for us, in the wine that is his Blood spilled out for love of us. At the same time we recognize the sign of Christ risen from the dead and victorious. At this altar, you and I can stop pretending our self-reliance and invincibility. You and I can stand vulnerable before the one who loves us. In the Eucharist, Jesus Christ is the nourishment not only to endure the difficult moment, but to rise from it.
Second Sunday of Lent
February 25, 2018
Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor
Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
Psalm 116:10, 15, 16-19
It’s about listening. Five Januaries ago, on a quiet night at Burger-King, I was the only customer. All the tables were empty. There were no cars at the drive-thru window. And I placed my order: “I’ll have a Whopper with no cheese, please; and large onion rings, to go.” And counter worker looked at me and said, “So, that’s a Whopper with cheese?” “No; without cheese.” “Will there be anything else?” “Yes; onion rings.” “What size?” “Large.” “Will that be for here or to go?” 
Our Burger-King employee was certainly not a born listener. In fact, “No one is a ‘born listener’ anymore than anyone is a ‘born speaker’ or [think of the Winter Games] a born Olympic ice skater. Listening, like speaking and [competitive ice] skating, is demanding…. It demands … personal sacrifice without which one does not listen, speak or skate well.” 
As I reflected on today’s scripture selections, it seemed evident that listening is a component to God’s message to us. Today I will not explore deeply the context of Abraham’s dramatic sacrifice of his son Isaac. We know that Abraham had obeyed God when he was required to leave behind his past, moving from his homeland in Ur to a place yet unspecified by God. Now Abraham faces the ultimate “test,” being asked to abandon his future that is rooted in Isaac, the son of his old age. Unlike Abraham, we readers are privileged to know this is but a test; God does not really desire the death of Isaac, or any human sacrifice.
Instead of the brutality of the test, let’s concentrate on something that may be of contemporary help to you and me. That’s where listening comes in. God calls, “Abraham!” Abraham first has to listen. And he responds to the voice: “Here I am,” literally “Behold me.” At my ordination over 40 years ago, each deacon’s name was called and each shouted, “Present.” This is rather pedestrian, like the homeroom teacher’s calling the rolls. But when ordination was in Latin, the response was “adsum,” a powerful word that means “I am present for a purpose,” or “standing-by, awaiting orders.” That’s what Abraham responds, “Behold me; awaiting orders.”
In this instance, the word spoken is shocking. Abraham could not possibly have understood where God’s words would lead. He could not have understood why God had directed him to sacrifice his son, but he obeyed nonetheless. As the test reaches its dramatic culmination, God provides a more pleasing resolution: a ram caught in a thicket to be sacrificed – instead of Isaac.
The consequence of Abraham’s listening and obeying without comprehending the meaning of God’s word is that Abraham’s descendents would become as numerous as the stars, or as grains of sand on the shoreline. But this is not a reward for passing a test, for that promise had already been made by God to Abraham.  Through this test, however, God truly experiences who Abraham is. He is truly our father in faith.
What is the one command God gives Peter, James and John on the high mountain when Jesus is transfigured before their very eyes? Do you remember what the voice in the cloud commands? “Listen to him.”
It’s about listening. You and I are to be people who listen to our Heavenly Father, to his Son Jesus, our brother. In every life God calls and knocks. Most likely it will not be a voice from a mountaintop cloud, nor will it be hearing one’s named called in a clear, audible voice. But it is my earnest belief and personal experience that God does call, does knock, and if we are listeners, we will hear the call, hear the knock. We will hear not with our ears, but we will hear nonetheless. God calls and our listening is the only fruitful response to that call. Listening “implies opening the door, being ready to open the door.” 
God stands at our door. He summons. And if we answer “adsum,” “present and standing-by for a purpose,” God will provide us a task, reveal a direction. We shall not always understand to where the direction will lead us. And sometimes the task will be burdensome, even painful or scary. But there will always be a consequence that brings satisfaction, a pleasing consequence validating that ours is a loving God.
It seems to me that listening to each other in this society is as alien to us these days as is listening to God. Readiness to listen applies to human interaction as well as to spiritual growth. Listening may lead to dialogue with people with whom we disagree. Real dialogue implies the sharing of truth. “It is not just that I want to share my truth with another. It is also that I want to share the truth the other has that I do not have. It is so easy to be convinced that I am right that my mind may be closed to what the other has to say. When this happens I don’t really hear what the other is saying. I simply wait until they have had their say and then [I] proceed to ‘set them right.’”  And the consequences of that kind of not-listening are evident in our society today, especially in our political discourse.
Of course, unlike listening to God, the opinions of our fellow citizens are not to be trustingly obeyed. As President Reagan was fond of saying, “Trust but verify.” But without first listening, there will never be trust between people. And, of course, listening to God is not as much about dialogue as it is about obeying God. God will entertain a little give-and-take from us, but ultimately God is God and we are not.
Lent is a fitting time to test out our spiritual “ears.” That “ears” are sometimes not tuned-in to hearing God’s word “may explain to some extent why we are not challenged and transformed through [the gospel of Jesus Christ]. Perhaps very little prayer is happening.”  So, this Lent, make some time for quiet prayer and reflection. Consider whether there has been enough listening in my own life, especially listening for God. When you or I are listening and we respond to what is heard, God will experience who we are: God’s attentive and ready children, prepared to do God’s will.
 Me, at Burger-King, North Street, Hyannis, MA, January 17, 2013.
 Paula Ripple, Called to Be Friends (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1980), p. 60.
 Genesis chapters 17 and 18, esp. 17:4-5 and 18:17-18.
 Jacques Loew, Face to Face with God (New York: Paulist Press, 1977), p. 88. [Emphasis mine.]
 William H. Shannon, Seeds of Peace: Reflections on Contemplation and Nonviolence (New York: Crossroad, 1996), p 126.
 Robert E. Lauder, Loneliness Is for Loving (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1978), p. 111.
First Sunday of Lent
February 18, 2018
Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor
1 Peter 3:18-22
People say “literally” a lot. And they are wrong. “Literally” means to express or hear something word for word – not imaginatively, not figuratively, but actually. So, someone might say, “I literally couldn’t stop laughing.” That is not true, because they actually are not laughing now, so they literally could stop laughing.
A story of literalness comes from years ago in another parish when I brought small groups of First Communion students to the rectory for a chat. The parents sat behind, on sofas, and I sat on a hassock with the children sitting on the floor around me. I was trying to evaluate whether the lessons in a new program were reaching these children’s imagination. Well, one of these conversations was not going well, so I decided to regroup and start over again, and said, “Let’s take a step back.” And in unison, all the children got up, stepped back and sat down again. They interpreted my words literally. (Kinda funny!)
There is a respected, ancient theological tradition that Jesus is our Redeemer. The literal meaning of this is that Jesus bought something back. It is the same as the redemption center buying back the empty Coca-Cola can or the empty Budweiser bottle for a nickel. The idea of divine redemption is that humankind had lost its relationship with God through sin, and had to be bought back by Jesus’ dying in our place for those sins. In almost a legalistic or contractual sense, Jesus had to “pay the price” that human beings owed, that could never be repaid by us, so that we could freely approach God once again.
This is a classic theological tradition and I don’t mean to contradict it totally. But what Jesus did was so much more than just to redeem you and me from sin. Consider with me that the sacrifice of Jesus was not so much a contractual arrangement as it was a way for God to focus you and me on God’s unending, unstoppable love for God’s creatures. Jesus dwelt among us and died on the cross to show that even sin – even our total rejection of God – will never overcome God’s compassionate love for you and me.
God created us this way: to be loved by our Creator, and for us to love God in response. Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity become human flesh as God’s visible expression of that original relationship and offer of love. Christ on the cross was the expression of how far God would go so that you and I would understand and accept that love. Forgiveness for any offense against God is freely and lavishly offered by our Creator.
This resonates with today’s first reading from Genesis, the story of Noah. God had washed away sin in the Great Flood. Now God makes a covenant with Noah. It is not a contract between equals, as when a person has a car to sell and another has money to buy a car – so they make a contract, a sales agreement. God’s covenant is not like that. God’s covenant with Noah is a free promise on God’s part not to destroy humanity in another Great Flood.
This promise is one-sided. It does not depend on Noah’s response; it does not depend on our response. Humanity may bring (and has brought) sin into the world again. But the rainbow represents God’s sign that God still remembers the promise, the covenant. And God will never see humankind as God’s adversary. Forgiveness for any offense against God will be freely and lavishly given by our Creator.
The same resonates with today’s gospel. We heard Mark’s rendition of Christ’s experience in the desert – a literal desert. Mark gives very few details, unlike Matthew and Luke with their extended descriptions. But Mark’s four verses are packed with information anyway: The Spirit led Jesus (in fact, “drove” Jesus) into a desert, where he stayed for forty days. Satan was there, tempting, with Jesus safe among wild beasts and ministered to by angels. From his desert journey Jesus shared a simple message: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Now, the English word “repent” seems to mean sorrow with an intent to change. But the Greek word used in Mark’s gospel means something like “come to your senses.” It goes far beyond sorrow or regret; “repent” invites a person to take a new view on life, to look at things from a new perspective. This ties-in closely with the rest of the Lord’s words: “Believe in the gospel:” believe in the good news that God loves you. Believe in God’s compassion. Get ready to receive God’s love. And be ready to share it with others. Come to your senses and believe this good news.
During Lent you and I are invited into a desert. This is not a literal desert. A literal desert is a scary place – believe me I’ve seen it: sand as far as the horizon, nothing friendly living there – blazing hot in daylight, barren in moonlight. We are not in a literal desert for these forty days of Lent. But we are invited to find some quiet time – solitude even for a few moments each day – to allow the Holy Spirit to touch our heart. It is only when you or I take a break from everyday life – again, even if it’s just for a few minutes – to enter the silence of the desert, and to quiet our heart so we may become alert to the temptations we face in life. It’s the moment when we might repent, come to our senses, and grasp the good news of how completely we are loved. And if one discovers in this symbolic desert that we have sinned, we will also come to know the joy that forgiveness for any offense against God is freely and lavishly given by our Creator.
Solemnity of Our Lady of Lourdes
This Parish’s Patron Saint Day
February 11, 2018
Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor
Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
What do environmentalists, computer-chips manufacturers and God have in common? Environmentalists demand pure water, and we can all cheer for that: pure H2O that is immaculate: nothing polluting anyone’s thirst. Silicone chip manufacturers want immaculate composing rooms, where computer components are assembled in a dust-free environment, workers clothed in space-age outfits to prevent contamination.
And God sought someone immaculate: a person who would be the portrayal of what God had always intended humanity to be. This someone humankind could look to in our striving and struggling as we try to fashion some perfection for ourselves: someone not all bashed-in by the lying and cheating and self-aggrandizing that cut a corrupting swath across the fields of humankind.
Through humankind’s selfishness sin entered the Paradise God had created. This was the Original Sin, which is the specific sin that Adam committed, but that also is the consequence of that first sin: the hereditary stain with which we, as descendants of Adam, are born. Since humankind’s banishment from Paradise, we have wondered, “What will it take to get us back to that Garden with our God?”
And, God holds up before us in the art gallery of life what God had always had in mind, something not twisted or distorted, something truly immaculate – and immaculate from the very beginning. This is what our Church proclaims in a defined article of faith: that our loving God put together a human being with immaculate perfection, someone whom sin would never touch or dent or mangle because she came into this world with no blemish or scar of sin. Her name is Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854, in the Constitution lneffabilis Deus, pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of Original Sin.” This was neither Mary’s doing, nor her parents’. Mary was granted “the merits of Jesus Christ,” that is, freedom from the effects of Adam’s sin, just as you and I were granted this same grace at our baptism. In preparation for her unique role in salvation history, however, Mary received this baptismal grace ahead of time. In order to provide a fitting place for the birth of the Author of baptism himself, Mary was born without Original Sin – the Immaculate Conception.
Bernadette Soubirous was raised in an impoverished but loving family in Lourdes, France. By age 14, she was still studying the simplest Catechism intended for 7-year-old children. Thus she was intellectually ignorant of the Catholic Church’s declaration of the Immaculate Conception about four years previously, which was soon to have a great impact on her life. For on February 11, 1858, Bernadette experienced her first vision of “a beautiful lady.” Upon hearing of Bernadette’s encounter, her parents forbade her return to the grotto where she had seen this “Lady in White.” Uncharacteristically, Bernadette disobeyed, and on Thursday, February 18, she made her way again to the grotto for a third time, now accompanied by a few grown-ups. This was the first time the Lady spoke to her, saying she could not promise to make Bernadette happy in this world, only in the next.
Bernadette’s visions at that small grotto in Lourdes were doubted by many. She was thought by some to be a fraud or by others to be mentally ill. At their ninth encounter, the beautiful Lady told her to drink from the spring. Not seeing one, Bernadette scraped the earth and found a little muddy water to drink. In days following, water started to flow from the spring where Bernadette had been digging. From this spring flowed water from which people have had miraculous healing experiences even until today. About 7,000 people have claimed to be cured at the Lourdes shrine. Around 3 score of these have been authenticated by the Catholic Church as miracles without explanation or doubt.
On several occasions, the Lady only smiled when Bernadette asked her name. But on March 25, 1858, the Lady declared to Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” At the time, Bernadette did not realize the significance of those words. In 1862, the Church validated these apparitions as authentic. And on December 8, 1933, Pope Pius XI added Bernadette’s name to the canon of saints.
God holds up before us in the art gallery of life what God had always had in mind, a human being not twisted or distorted, something truly immaculate – and immaculate from the very beginning. This is what our Church proclaims in a defined article of faith: that our loving God put together a human being with immaculate perfection, someone whom sin would never touch or dent or mangle because she came into this world with no blemish or scar of sin. Her name is Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior. And in a special way our parish finds in Mary our particular patron: Our Lady of Lourdes, the Immaculate Conception.
Scripture teaches that God is the author of all life, and each life has purpose. Mary’s being born as the Immaculate Conception was for a purpose. Nonetheless, Mary still had the freedom not to cooperate in God’s will for her. We thank God that she said Yes to God’s invitation to become the mother of our Savior.
Your life and mine are similar, for we are also chosen, for the intention of God. We have the freedom to refuse to cooperate with God. Or, we can choose to allow the Immaculate Conception to guide us in embracing the Christian values by which we can live. Though you and I were affected by Original Sin, we were absolved through baptism. Though we may not always choose to live in that grace, God is so merciful that God forgives over and over again. Mary made the choice to live in God’s grace and by God’s will. And the Church’s doctrine of the Immaculate Conception reminds us: so can we. [*]
[*] I am heavily indebted to the homily suggestions in The Priest magazine for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in the years 1995 and 2008, as well as a variety of articles found on-line.