Change our hearts this time, your word says it can be.
Change our minds, this time, your life can be make us free.
We are your people your call set a-part.
Lord this time, change our hearts.
Like Noah and his family after the waters of the flood – through the life-giving waters of Baptism God sets us apart through a call to be God’s people. God makes a covenant with us - God will always be there for us and God expects us to live our lives in gratitude for all the blessings showered down upon us.
As St. Peter reminds those in Galatia, Cappadocia, and Asia as he sends them a letter - Baptism – is not a removal of dirt from the body – but an appeal to God for a clear conscience.
However clean our conscience may be after Baptism, they usually don’t stay that way.
We get so bombarded by contrasting values to the Gospel –which pull us in may different directions and so we easily get lost and confused.
We get tempted to follow the ways of the world rather than remaining faithful to God and kingdom values.
But God can change our hearts - long after the waters of Baptism have touched our heads. God can change our minds.
The grace God gives us can make us free from all the things in the world that are trying to pull us down.
This time – this Lent - can be a time of renewal, refocus, and readjustment – through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. A time to be healed – a time of fulfillment - assuming we want it to be.
Because like that man we heard about on Ash Wednesday who was ill for 38 years – sitting by the pool of Bethesda, never getting into the water – we can grow so comfortable with our lives and our faith and want to just stay the way we are – and so we don’t see the need or have the desire to change.
We can become so complacent, that we don’t even see our sins or our need for Jesus to heal us.
So we need God to take us, move and shake us – we need to be disturbed - so God can make us anew.
The desert is a great place to go to get disturbed –
It’s quiet – which might scare a lot of us – because we’re not used to it. . . We’re used to our lives being constantly filled with noise - from the television, from our phones, from the street, from the dogs barking and sirens blaring. But we need the quiet of the desert to think and pray.
The desert is also a place of solitude, a place where we are alone - which, again, scares many of us. We like being in the thick of things, constantly on the go, surrounded by people and things. But we need the solitude of the desert to think and to pray.
But: think and pray about what?? About what is holding us back from God. About what distracts us from embracing Gospel values. About what needs to change in us in order for us to be more Christ-like.
Pope Francis in his Lenten message for 2024, states that “through the desert, God leads us to freedom.”
He continues, “the desert is a place where our freedom can mature in a personal decision NOT to fall back into all the things that enslave us and keep us from being the people God is calling us to be.”
Today’s Gospel from St. Mark presents us with a short version of the Temptation of Jesus in the desert. Both St. Matthew and St. Luke in their Gospels give many more details about the temptations Jesus faced.
But Mark simply states the fact that Jesus was driven into the desert by the Spirit, where he was tempted by satan. Jesus was driven into the desert by the Spirit — which meant God wanted him to be there.
And after Jesus faced down his temptations - he was stronger in Spirit, more assured of who he was and what he stood for – and began his ministry by announcing the kingdom of God was at hand.
The same thing can happen to us – God wants us to go to the desert from time to time - to b e strengthen and renewed.
Which may mean we simply go to our room, close the door, and sit in quiet.
It may mean that at the end of the day, before going to sleep, we review our day and thank God for the good things that happened, and ask God’s help for the things that did not go so well or still need to be resolved.
It may mean that we retreat from the busyness of our daily lives and go out for a long walk in a park or in a woods – any place where we can clear our minds and open our hearts to listen to God speak to us.
Ant there in the desert – can we allow God’s voice to disturb us enough to identify our temptations – to name them, claim them, deal with them and overcome them – so we can be stronger in Spirit, more assured of who we are and what we stand for – and then go out and proclaim the Good News of the Gospel??
We go to the desert to get disturbed – shaken from our complaceny - awakened to the awareness that the clear conscience we had after our Baptism needs to be renewed and refreshed by asking:
What is the greatest temptation in our lives? Perhaps we struggle with a habit or sin that we fail at time and time again.
Perhaps it’s a temptation of the flesh: eating, drinking, smoking, or viewing inappropriate materials – way too much.
Perhaps we struggle with anger, self-righteousness, dishonesty, greed, lust, gossip, or negativity.
Whatever our temptation may be, we need to name it, claim it, deal with it and over come it – knowing we have all we need to do this– because of the grace given to us through our Baptism, strengthened by our Confirmation, and fed on a regular basis by our participation in the Eucharist.
God can change our hearts and minds. The grace God gives us can make us free from all the things in the world that are trying to pull us down and keeping us from being the best version of ourselves – the person God is calling us to be.
If we spend time in the desert God can disturb us and lead us to freedom.
Change our hearts this time, your word says it can be.
Change our minds, this time, your life can make us free.
We are your people your call set a-part.
Lord this time, change our hearts.
Every once in awhile, the pool of water near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem, known as the pool of Bethesda, would be disturbed. The waters would bubble and swirl and when that happened - the people thought an angel of God was troubling those waters - and the first person, and only the first person - into the pool as the water was swirling - would receive the touch of God and they would be healed.
In the shade of one of the porches surrounding those waters, laid a man who had been sick for 38 years - and from the details of the Gospel of John, we assume he was lame or paralyzed – because he was not able to get up and get to the waters before anyone else.
And while we don’t know how long he had been lying in the courtyard, the sense we get is that he had been there for quite some time. So when Jesus comes along, he knows this man has been lying near the waters for awhile, but never getting in them – and asks the man what seems like an absurd question – do you want to be healed?
I think it is strange to ask the man if he wants to get well – but maybe it’s not so strange – because if this man REALLY wanted to be healed - you think he would have found some way of getting into the waters first. . .
He could have asked someone for help to get him to the waters as soon as they were stirred –
he could have stayed right at the edge of the pool and just rolled himself in when the waters were troubled - he could have set up some type of numbering system where people didn’t push and shove others out of the way, but simply waited their turn.
One would think there would have been some way, after all these years - to get in before anyone else did — assuming the man really wanted to be healed. Maybe he had grown comfortable with his situation. Maybe he had given up hope. Or may he just did not care anymore.
Notice the man never gives Jesus an answer ot his question – but just complains about how he can never get to the water first.
A friend in seminary, when we studied St. John’s Gospel, called this Jesus’ miracle of healing the whiner - because that’s what the man did. You would think he would shout out enthusiastically: yes! I want to be healed. But that’s not what he did – he just whined out his excuses. . .
I am glad Jesus did heal the whiner – because at times, aren’t we all just a little bit of a whiner??
We make excuses as to why we can’t come to church more often, or how we don’t have the time to pray or read the Bible, or to be more involved in the life of the faith community. Or that money is so tight we can’t possibly help anyone but ourselves. . .
But in the midst of our whining and in the midst of our complacency, the good news is that Jesus still comes along and asks: do you want to be healed?
Let me ask Jesus’ question in other ways: do we want to grow in our faith? Do we want to get closer to God? Do we want to experience more of God’s power, more of God’s presence, more of God’s truth, more of God’s love?
Then today is a day for us to shout enthusiastically: YES! I want to be healed!
Because the season of Lent is all about growing in our faith. Lent is not just about giving up chocolate or coffee for 40 days.
It’s not just about eating fish on Fridays or attending a pancake breakfast on Mardi Gras.
These are meant to be only a means to an end:
growing deeper in our faith. And it’s about being made well. It’s about – getting out of our paralysis and walking more faithfully with Christ.
So I think today Jesus is right here asking each of us – as we ash distributors will say in a few minutes - do you want to be healed? And about us saying YES!
Now there’s a difference between the man at the pool of Bethesda and us. Jesus just had to say to the man: rise, take up your mat, and walk.
And it happened.
For us, it will take a little more effort and a bigger commitment. For most of us, we are going to be healed and we are going to grow in our faith when we venture from the safety of the side of the pool into the stirred up waters of life.
We will deepen our faith and trust when we are willing to get up out of our comfort and ease and allow our lives and our faith to be disturbed - with a little prayer, a little fasting, and a little almsgiving: to help stir the waters of our souls.
Because I think way too many of us have become like the paralytic – we’ve grown so comfortable with our lives and our faith just the way they are – and we don’t even see the need or have the desire to change.
I think sometimes we have become so complacent, that we don’t even see our sins–
or our need for Jesus to heal us.
And that’s why I am inviting you to pray as often as you can – ideally every day - the prayer that was in the bulletin this past Sunday – and is also available by the doors as you leave today.
It’s a prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake and was written in 1577. I think it is a powerful prayer – and that there is power in all of us praying this for ourselves and for the members of our faith community throughout Lent. This is the prayer:
Disturb us, Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves – when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little - when we arrive safely because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the waters of life. And having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity. And in our efforts to build a new earth - we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly. To venture on wilder seas where storms will show us your mastery.
Where long losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push back the future in strength, hope, and love. This we ask in the name of our Captain, who is Jesus Christ.
Pray this prayer often during Lent for yourself and for this whole faith community
Dare to be disturbed this Lent.
“If someone has on their skin a scab or blotch which appears to be the sore of leprosy, they shall be brought to Aaron the priest and declared unclean.”
This is just one of many rules to be followed in the Jewish Law when it comes to the disease of leprosy.
Why would the writer of Leviticus and others make such a big deal of leprosy?
Because leprosy WAS a big deal in Old Testament times.
Not just because it was thought to be a contagious disease, but because it was also thought to be make one unfit to worship God.
Because those with leprosy had to live apart, had to isolate themselves because their disease could effect others – not just physically - but spiritually as well.
Leprosy was a big deal because it was a sour apple — and one sour apple can effect the whole barrel.
And for these reasons, one had to keep their garments torn, their heads bare, and their beards muffled – or covered.
By their dress and by their cry – lepers declared themselves unclean - and so had to live on the outskirts, in order to avoid infecting other people.
Lepers were forced to live in exile, forced to live alone outside the towns and cities, away from their family and friends. They joined all the other sour apples of the day – the possessed, the paralyzed, Gentiles, Samaritans, and all other unclean folks. All living far away from the warmth and love of the community of the physically fit and the spiritually strong.
It is important to understand the severity of the isolation which came with leprosy to truly appreciate the miracle of today’s Gospel.
For Jesus’ miracle is not just a cure of leprosy, but Jesus also heals the wound of EXILE.
This leper approached Jesus with the request to be cured. And Jesus freed him from a disease which the leper had no control over.
It was a disease that deprived him of his home, his family, his job, his neighbors – and his identity as a Jew – as a member of the chosen people of God.
Jesus touch of healing was NOT just a physical cure - it was also an act of liberation: one which restored the leper’s identity and his membership in the chosen people of God.
Jesus’ miracle removed the barriers that kept the leper apart from his community and support systems.
In healing the leper – Jesus declares that in God’s kingdom there are no outcasts, there are no exiles, there are no sour apples: ALL ARE WELCOME.
It was not until the 1940s when a cure for leprosy, or Hansen’s disease as it is properly known, was found. BUT DON’T THINK THAT WE NO LONGER HAVE LEPERS AMONG US:
People who are forced to live apart, to isolate themselves because their problems may become our problems – they might effect us physically or spiritually - so we better stay away from them.
It seems to me that today we have two types of lepers, two types of outcasts.
We have the “untouchables” and we have the “forgotten.”
The untouchables are seen to be socially inferior. They carry a stigma – something that makes them stand out in the crowd.
The untouchables for some are those who belong to certain ethnic or racial groups, they are our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, they are convicts and ex-cons, alcoholics, unwed mothers, the divorced and remarried.
The other group of lepers, the forgotten – includes the homeless, the poor, the elderly, the widowed, the institutionalized, the lonely, the grieving.
As Jesus miracle removed the barriers that kept the leper apart from his community – our compassion and understanding, our gentleness and kindness – will remove the barriers that keep us apart from the untouchables and the forgotten.
What does keep us, though, from showing our modern day lepers the compassion and understanding that they need? OUR FEAR.
Not our fear of physical or spiritual disease so much as our fear that in reaching out to those exiled in our society – WE will become exiles – that we will suddenly lose our status with our family and friends – because they won’t understand what we are doing. . .
Our fear of being different, our fear of being dropped out of the social circles we are used to being in – keeps us from reaching out to the untouchables and the forgotten.
There is no more appropriate time for us to ask – but what would Jesus do??
Jesus would tell us to get over it. To start seeing people with His eyes – without the blinders of fear or distrust, without the names and labels that limit generosity and set up boundaries around those who are in – and those who are out of the kingdom of God.
The Gospel writer’s language even suggests that we should have a healing of perception.
This story comes at the end of a whole serie of healing miracles.
Those who have previously been healed are identified by their diseases:
There was a “man with an unclean spirit.”
A mother-in-law “sick with fever.”
Those who were “sick or possessed by demons.” And today “a leper.”
Finally at the end of all of these stories, St. Mark uses the phrase, “people kept coming to Jesus from all sides.”
NOT the diseased, not the outcasts, not lepers or the broken – but people,
It may be a little thing – but I think it is a big distinction.
For our task today is not just to recognize that we are all somehow diseased and in need of healing – but our being diseased or broken makes no difference to our identity!
We are all people, God’s people, members of God’s kingdom here on earth.
And just as there is no limit to the reach of God’s acceptance and mercy and love – there must be no limit to our embrace.
God’s kingdom embraces all - -not just those who are physically fit, spiritually strong, who wear the right clothes or sit in the right place. . .
No one is excluded. All are welcome at this altar – for all are equally healed by God – and hopefully by us – of whatever divides us.
We have all been lepers, exiles, outcasts, sour apples. But we are no longer to the extent that we do not permit others or ourselves to be branded, labeled, categorized or put into a box.
If we do not deny our freedom – if we accept God’s healing – if we do everything for the glory of God--
Then we will not be afraid to reach out and touch the u ntouchables and to remember the forgotten. For no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey – all are welcome.
I first came to this parish in 1994 - 30 years ago! When I came for an interview to teach in the school - I had to ask, like many others have to do - and where is St. Patrick? And was told, as we still say today - right across the street from St. Pius. . .
I was attending St. Anthony parish in the Northeast part of Kansas City, where I was living at the time - but once I started teaching, I joined St. Patrick – and worshiped in the gym like so many of you remember doing.
I found St. Patrick a welcoming parish. A strong parish under the leadership of Fr. Mike Roach, and Deacon Mike Lewis – who have been friends ever since.
I met some of you then who had kids in the school – the Guttermanns, the Jannings, the Gosoroskis, the Dunsings. [Sansone’s] I was fortunate to call Jim Flournoy and Mary Jo Fontana and Kay White my colleagues.
St. Patrick was a real white shoe parish – where, no matter what happened, people kept walking along singing their song, because it’s all good.
But, like any parish, St. Patrick encountered its rough spots. After Father Shawn Ratigan was your pastor – many people left – and did not return.
But many of you stayed.
Thank you for not judging all priests on the behavior of a few.
Even though we may have stepped in some blueberries and our white shoes became blue – we kept on walking and singing our song – because it’s all good.
After a pastor you just began to know and even love – Fr. Robert died – many people left - and did not return.
But many of you stayed.
Thank you for hoping in a time of darkness - when, by the way, hope is most important.
And even though we may have stepped in a puddle of mud and our white shoes became brown - We kept on walking and singing our song - because it’s all good.
And then covid hit and many people left – and have you noticed? Some have not returned yet. . .
But many of you stayed.
Thank you for believing that it is still very important that we gather together as the Body of Christ - that we see and interact and pray with each other face to face – week after week so as to support and encourage, to challenge and comfort one another.
Even though we may have stepped in a pile of freshly mowed grass and our white shoes became green – we kept on walking and singing our song - because it’s all good.
And as we kept walking and singing, and celebrating that all is good – we were able to achieve a remarkable thing – the reason for this story and for this homily – because we haven’t talked about — our red shoes yet. . .
We stepped into a large pile of strawberries 17 years ago – and our shoes turned red – with debt. . .
First a debt of $2.4 million on the remodeling of the school which included new windows and air conditioning for the first time.
Second a debt of $120,000 on a house you bought for your pastors in the Green Hills neighborhood - a house, by the way, that I find very comfortable and more than adequate to live in.
Look at the pillars that surround us – each of those red shamrocks equals $10,000 – so on this one pillar - that is what $120,000 looks like —
And on these seven pillars – that is what
$2.4 million looks like.
I got tired just putting the shamrocks up – how tired you must have become using your debt envelopes every week!
BUT today I am happy to announce that for the first time in 17 years – the parish of St. Patrick is free of debt — that’s the remarkable thing we have been able to achieve – throughout having our white shoes turned blue, and brown, and green.
Thank you for believing that together, we can achieve so much more than we can as individuals – which is the only explanation for our ability to pay off these debts – that, and the grace of God!!
Just one more thing to mention – and another pillar to talk about. When we stepped into a puddle of mud and our shoes turned brown after the death of Fr. Robert —
weekly collections plummeted – probably because people were trying to figure out that if the Bishop was going to keep this parish open – why wasn’t he sending a pastor??
Because of those low collections – we were unable to keep up with our payments to the diocese which covers such things as benefits and insurance for our employees, and insurance on our buildings and property.
As you can see on this pillar - that amounts to $300,000 that we still owe to the Diocese – but our finance council is not worried too much about it – because we pay no interest on it. We are obligated to pay back $25,000 a year – so we really don’t care how long it takes to pay it back.
Unless we come into a windfall of money, we will just continue to chip away at that $25,000 at a time.
Notice how those shamrocks are green - for the money will still owe the diocese – and they are smaller – because I don’t want us to be too worried about it. . .
What does the future hold for us? Well only God knows that. . . But we are sitting in the newest building of our parish – which is approaching 30 years old. Our school is almost 70 years old. And the parish offices are over 40 years old --
And you know with your own house – that the older things get – the more problems you have – so maintenance of our facilities is certainly in our future.
Which is why, if you noticed – you no longer have a debt reduction envelope every month – but a maintenance fund envelope - to help us build up a reserve to use when future problems arrive.
We’ve got our white shoes back on! I still believe, as I did 30 years ago –that St. Patrick is a welcoming parish, one where no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey – you are welcome.
A place where, like with Simon Peter’s mother-in-law – Christ will grasp our hands and always lift us up to bigger and better things - sometimes things we never even imagined!
And where no matter what happens – we will keep walking along and singing our song – because it is all good!
–Invite Finance Council up for burning ceremony. . .
Moments in time...