The Return of Spring and the God-Man

Bulletin Letter, Divine Mercy Sunday

I may have mentioned before that during my time in Rome, I studied with a number of seminarians from Australia. Living in the Southern Hemisphere, their seasons are the opposite of ours. Their Christmas celebrations, for example, often include a trip to the beach. And this time of year, they’re coming off of summer into the fall season.  

I’m thankful that here in the Northern Hemisphere, as we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead and the new life He offers us through the mystery of His Resurrection, we also see and hear so much coming back to life in nature around us. We had some nice rain during the week. Hopefully that will help the green return to the grass and the trees. I’ve noticed people walking outside more often to take advantage of the warmer temperatures as well. I haven’t been out for any long bike rides yet, but I’m looking forward to it. 

One thing that’s new more recently that you may or may not have noticed is a change to the conclusion of the opening Collect at Mass. The change took effect on Ash Wednesday and involved the deletion of just one word. The Collect has a longer conclusion than many of the other prayers. The conclusion with the deleted word struck out goes like this: “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.” 

The reason for the correction given by the Congregation for Divine Worship is that the original Latin does not include the word “one,” and the word for God in this instance, “Deus,” is not referring to all three Persons of God, in which case it might make some sense to also emphasize their oneness in Divinity. Instead, “God” is renaming the first one mentioned, namely, “our Lord Jesus Christ,” emphasizing the Divinity of the Son. Early heresies—specifically Arianism—failed to confess the full Divinity of Jesus, being of the same substance (sharing one divine nature, “consubstantial”) with the Father and with the Holy Spirit, so it is not surprising that prayers even from the first centuries would place special emphasis on Jesus’ Divinity. 

With St. Thomas the Apostle, as we behold the Risen Christ and contemplate the five wounds He retains even in His glorified Body, we cry out, “My Lord and My God!” May the Divine Mercy continue to shine out upon us from Christ’s Most Holy Wounds. 

Silent as the Grave

Homily, Easter Sunday

One of the great privileges I experience being a priest is that people are so often willing to talk to me about their spiritual lives. Even someone I’m meeting for the very first time will often ask me about prayer, about faith, the Church’s sacraments, and our relationship with God. And a lot of the time, I hear very similar things from a wide variety of people. Things like: “Father, I pray, but I don’t feel anything. It doesn’t seem like anything’s happening or that it does any good. I’ve gone on retreats and mission trips, I’ve tried using the Scriptures to pray, but still, I don’t feel anything. I try to follow God’s commandments and the Church’s teachings, but I’m not sure if it’s making any real difference.”  

On this Easter morning, it’s good for us to recall that the most significant event in the history of the universe was felt by no one. The moment that changed the world for all time and finally revealed that in Jesus Christ, we can live forever, the event of the Resurrection was seen and witnessed by no one. It happened in the darkness of a tomb. Jesus alone. None of the disciples, none of the women, were there to see it. When the first Man rose from the dead never to die again, it was felt by no one else. Everyone missed it. There were many witnesses to the Risen Christ, those who met Jesus again after He had Risen. St. Paul tells us there were over 500 witnesses at once, but the only ones at the tomb at the very moment of the Resurrection were the guards stationed outside, fallen asleep. 

 None of those first disciples saw, heard, or experienced the greatest event to ever happen. And dryness, lack of feeling in our spiritual lives must not stop us either. Like those first disciples, we still encounter the Risen Christ in mystery, seemingly in disguise, like the Gardener that Mary Magdalene meets, like the Stranger walking the road to Emmaus, like the Man on the seashore of Galilee whom the disciples were slow to recognize. We encounter the Risen Christ upon this altar, in this tabernacle, in the Sacrament that He Himself entrusted to us at the Last Supper as His abiding Presence, under the humble appearances of bread and wine. It takes real faith, not just a fascination with signs and wonders. We are also called to encounter the Risen Christ out on the streets, disguised as a poor man asking for our help. We are to learn to see the Risen Christ in our next-door neighbors and in our family members, especially those whom we find the most difficult for us to love. And we discover the Risen Christ within ourselves, when we find ourselves able to love in the way that Jesus loves us: to forgive and do good, even to love those who hate us, to have patience with those who annoy us to no end, to give, without expecting anything in return. 

And as we encounter the Risen Christ in the silence of prayer, in the sacraments we receive, the sacred mysteries of His Church, and in the works of mercy done for those in need, we too become witnesses to His Resurrection for the rest of the world today, even as His first disciples carried His Name to all the ends of the earth. Even as the women at the tomb became apostles to the Apostles, prompting Peter and John to see the empty tomb as well.  

The precise beginning of the Resurrection of Christ was experienced by Jesus alone in the darkness of the tomb, felt by no one else, as we sing in the Exultet at the Easter Vigil: of that sacred night, which alone knew the time and hour of Christ’s rising from the underworld. But the effects and power of His Resurrection and His Presence among us has continued down to our very own day. In faith, we need to keep our eyes wide open, to the realities and opportunities that we encounter each and every day, open to recognize the Risen Christ revealing Himself in our midst. “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14). In baptism, we have been enlightened by Christ. Jesus gives us eyes for seeing and ears for hearing, what we might otherwise gloss over and miss out on, to recognize the Risen Christ in disguise around us every day. We are to walk always as children of the light, whether we feel like it or not. Jesus is still the only One who offers us real meaning, purpose, fulfillment, eternal life. How much longer shall we continue to wander in the darkness, looking for life apart from Him? Jesus is and always will be the only Way. 

Till He’s Gone

Homily, Good Friday

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but that’s only true when that absence is noticed and felt. There’s nothing worse than getting back from a long trip, seeing a good friend and asking, “Well, did you miss me?” only to hear their reply, “Oh, were you gone? Hadn’t really noticed.” 

We should notice something different about the church today. When I was in seminary, one of the priests on staff would always say something that at first I thought was kind of strange, but I’ve learned to appreciate it more and more over the years. He told us to make sure that during these days of the Easter Triduum, we take some time to pray in the church in front of the bare altar, and the empty tabernacle. To notice that absence and allow ourselves to feel it. When we came into the church today, did we notice these things? Or did we just genuflect, like we always do, and go into our pew?  

Do we take these things for granted? Well, we’ll always have priests to say Mass for us. Will we? Jesus will always be there in the tabernacle waiting for us. We like to believe that, but the reality is that to continue having priests, to continue having the sacraments available and parishes open, especially to continue having Jesus in His Body and Blood upon our altars and in our tabernacles, someone—not just someone else—someone needs to answer that call from God to follow Jesus in that way. And those who are Catholic actually need to come to Mass on Sundays to fill our churches, if we want them to continue to remain open and available in the future. 

As we continue to contemplate the Lord’s Passion, His death, His burial, don’t let the anticipation of Easter cause you to miss out on these graces of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, when we notice it, when we allow ourselves to feel it. Experiencing absence helps us to not take for granted or just gloss over the immeasurable, constant blessings that God bestows on us. As we pray at this bare altar, in front of this empty tabernacle, let’s pray for vocations, for many holy priests. Let’s pray for a renewal of our Catholic commitment to our Sunday obligation. Let’s no longer take for granted the greatest Gift of Christ’s Body and Blood. The Blessed Mother and the disciples were overwhelmed with sorrow as the Body of Jesus was sealed in the tomb. Many of them could not fathom that they would ever see Him again or hear His voice. What must that have been like? Let their sorrow touch our hardened hearts. Let their love for Jesus move us to always live for Him. 

God Gives Himself Forever

Homily, Holy Thursday

Because of the words that we just heard from the Gospel this evening, and because of what often takes place as an extra part of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, many people—when they think of Holy Thursday—they think mainly of the washing of the feet, and this beautiful expression of Christ’s humble and loving service as His washes the feet of His own disciples, and His command that we love one another even as He has loved us. But the most enduring expression of Christ’s love for us is and always will be the gift of the Most Holy Eucharist, the gift of His own Body and Blood that He continues to pour out for us at each and every Mass. 

Beyond being the evening when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, that night of the Last Supper was when Jesus instituted the Mass and the holy priesthood. Before He would go to die upon the Cross for us, He wanted to ensure that His Apostles and their successors would be able to continue to make Him present, throughout all the ages and throughout the world, not just in a spiritual way through their love and service, but also by giving them the power to change bread and wine into His own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. 

Over the centuries, there have been many Saints that have reflected on the fact that Jesus was born to die. That in a very real sense, even from the manger, the Life of Jesus was always pointing to the Cross. He took on our flesh so that He could be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, precisely by laying down His life for us. In a similar way, we can also recognize that God became Man so that He could speak to us with human language, in ways that we can understand, so that He could become visible to us, tangible, even edible. Not just a God far off in heaven, but One that has drawn intimately close to us in every possible way. 

And Jesus wanted to be visible and tangible not just to one generation of those who happened to live in Israel during the 33 years of His earthly life. Even those who actually met Him during His public ministry account for a very small percentage of the world’s population at the time. Jesus wanted to be present in this intimate and tangible way to all generations that would follow, and throughout the entire world. And the way that He chooses to do this is through the Eucharist. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer,” (22:15) because now He would finally bestow the great Gift of Himself to all generations of His Church. What a tremendous Gift, but how difficult, to really believe, that through the Eucharist Jesus is just as present to us today, as He was to His Apostles on the night of that Last Supper. Do we believe this? Do we recognize, not what, but Who this is upon the altar, after the words of consecration? 

This is my sixth Holy Thursday that I’ve celebrated as a priest, and already God has poured out so many blessings upon me, that I can hardly even begin to repay him for the great gift of the priesthood, for allowing me to share—and to continue in the world today—His own ministry of proclaiming the Gospel, of healing souls of their sins, of washing and bringing to new birth so many sons and daughters of God through holy Baptism, and above all of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, continuing to offer the one perfect sacrifice for the salvation of the world and to make Jesus visibly present to His holy People. 

I’m very thankful for having the privilege of serving the Parishes of St Anthony and St Augustine. Please pray for your priests. We need it. Pray for your bishop. The washing of the disciples’ feet, the feet of the very first Christian priests, is not just a gesture of humble service. It’s also a reminder that the men chosen by Christ to become priests are sinful, imperfect men, who are as much or often more in need of God’s mercy than the members of the lay faithful. Pray for the bishops and for your priests, and pray that reverence and worship of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist might everywhere increase, that we might continue to strive in every age to fulfill His command to love one another, even as He has loved us. The only way that we can love as Jesus loves is to allow Him to love through us, to transform us into what we receive in this Eucharist, that we may become His Body, His Blood poured out for others, His hands and His feet working in the world today. 

Lifelong Discipleship

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday 1B

As we reach the end of the season of Lent, I’m probably not alone in thinking it could have gone better. There are resolutions I could have kept more faithfully, sins I’ve still made little progress in overcoming, good that I’ve left undone, unfinished. But just because Lent is over does not mean we should stop trying to make progress in our spiritual lives. Certainly the Easter season has its own character of great rejoicing at the victory of Christ over sin and death, and some forms of penance would seem inappropriate, but the discipline of discipleship is something that Christians should live out every day of our lives. 

The term used for this response to Christ’s call to “take up your cross daily and follow” Him is Christian asceticism, from the Greek word for training, exercise, discipline (Luke 9:23). From the beginning of the Church, Christians were known for their consistent practices of self-denial. Unlike many of their pagan neighbors—who often lived merely for the enjoyment of the good things of this world and the avoidance of hardship—followers of Christ knew that we were made for something more than this passing world. Their daily practice of asceticism was a reminder of that fact. 

From the Beatitudes of Christ to the exhortations of St. Paul, to “make use of the things of this world without becoming immersed in them; for the world in its present form is passing away,” some forms of self-denial and discipline should be practiced year-round (1 Cor 7:31). Even for our physical health and sanity, regular exercise and a certain amount of discipline in our diets and schedules is necessary. Don’t let the Easter season become an excuse for laziness and loss of virtue, overindulgence and sin. 

This Tuesday at 7 p.m., Fr. Scott Traynor, Dr. Chris Burgwald, and Eric Gallagher will be coming up from Sioux Falls to explain and discuss Bishop DeGrood’s vision for the diocese, summarized as “Lifelong Catholic Missionary Discipleship Through God’s Love,” and what it means for us in East River South Dakota. We’ll be hosting them in the parish hall (basement) of St. Anthony Church in Hoven, but this discussion is meant to serve all the parishes in the wider area. Hopefully, a large number of people will be able to attend to make their long trip worthwhile, and many others will be able to stream the event. For more information and streaming options, visit sfcatholic.org/discipleship/

Love unto Folly

Homily, Palm Sunday B

The history of the world and the history of salvation and the Church is largely a history of unrequited love, God’s endless initiative and our lackluster response. From the beginning, God reaches out in love to humanity, to Abraham and his descendants, to Moses and the nation of Israel on Mount Sinai, and eventually to all the nations of the world through the Gospel of Christ. God continually demonstrates His great love for us, His providence, His faithfulness, in freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, bringing them into the promised land, and Jesus would go to the point of sheer foolishness, spending Himself entirely for our salvation, to the very last drop of His Blood from His pierced side upon the Cross. 

And this great love and fidelity of God has largely been met with the indifference, forgetfulness, infidelity, and even open hostility from those that Jesus came to save. And its not just the mockery and rejection that Jesus experienced during His trials from the Sanhedrin or from the Roman soldiers. All that Christ suffered out of His endless love for us is still often met with indifference and hostility today. And the mockery that we inflict upon Christ through our sins, we who profess ourselves to be Christians, is far worse than the mockery He received at the hands of unbelievers. Even when we do attempt to love God in return, it’s often so miserly and measured. We’ll give God just so much and nothing more. Only what’s still seen as reasonable and respectable in the eyes of the world. 

But God is not measured in His love for us. He goes beyond anything reasonable in sending His only Son to die for us. And Jesus continues to pour Himself out in this Sacrament of His Body and Blood. He holds nothing back. Many Saints recognized how uneven our response to God tends to be, considering the extravagance of His love for us. St. Paul talks about being seen as “fools for Christ’s sake,” that we should go beyond what would seem reasonable or respectable because that’s what Jesus does for us. St. Thérèse of Lisieux always strove to love Jesus to the point of foolishness, to give everything back to the One who gave His all for us.  

I’ve always found the Reproaches of Good Friday to be a rich source of meditation, especially to consider how we so often fail to respond to God with a love like His own, boundless and without measure. “My people, what have I done to you: or in what have I offended you? Answer me. What more should I have done, and did not do? I led you out of the land of Egypt, and you prepared a cross for me. I opened the Red Sea before you, and you opened my side with a lance. I gave you a royal scepter, and you have given me a crown of thorns. With great power I lifted you up, and you have hung me on a cross. My people, what have I done to you, or in what have I offended you? Answer me!” 

Abandonment to Divine Providence

Bulletin Letter, Palm Sunday B

With Palm Sunday comes the Passion Narrative from the Gospel according to St. Mark and the end of our reflections on the Last Words of Jesus. The 7th and final Saying of Jesus from the Cross, moments before He died, is found in St. Luke’s account. “And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, he said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’” (23:46). Psalm 31:5 has almost the exact same prayer, but Jesus has added the word ‘Father,’ His usual way of addressing the One from whom He proceeds as Son from all eternity. 

Jesus’ final prayer is one of great trust and surrender of Himself into the hands and providence of His heavenly Father. Keep in mind the great trepidation and revolt of the human nature of Christ against the prospect of dying that was witnessed during His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. St. Luke is also the one who mentions that His distress was so great in the garden that Jesus began to sweat blood, a condition known as hematidrosis. One known cause is tremendous psychological stress. So it was no small thing for Jesus to pray in the garden, “If it’s possible, let this cup pass without my drinking, yet not my will but yours be done.” And it is no small thing for Jesus on the very threshold of death to once again surrender Himself into the Father’s hands and the Father’s will. 

For human beings, death is the ultimate unknown, and despite the 100% mortality rate, there’s still something in us convinced that we are really meant to live forever. Death entered the world through sin. Being without sin, Jesus Himself did not have to die. But He submitted Himself to the scourging and crucifixion for our salvation. He teaches us to have confidence in God even in the face of death because ultimately, He is able to deliver us and raise us up to new life beyond this world. Blessed Charles de Foucauld composed a prayer likely inspired by these final words of Jesus: 

The Prayer of Abandonment 

Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. 

Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.

Drawn to the Cross

Homily, Lenten Sunday 5B

If you’ve paid close attention, you may have noticed that during these past few Sundays, our Gospel readings have been coming from the Gospel according to St. John rather than from Mark. This Year B of the Sunday Lectionary draws mainly from Mark, but Mark’s Gospel is the shortest, and since John does not get a year of his own, his gospel shows up quite a bit during Lent and in the Easter season, and there’ll be six weeks around August of this year as well that we get the Bread of Life discourse from John’s Gospel. For those that read the bulletin, back in Advent I had written about some themes and point of emphasis in the Gospel according to St. Mark, to prepare for this lectionary year, but it might helpful for us now to do an overview of John’s Gospel to put the passages from these last few Sundays into their proper context.

One noticeable difference about John’s Gospel compared to the other three is that John tends to be much more selective in describing miracles that Jesus performed during His public ministry. The other gospels tend to give a sense that miracles were happening all the time through Jesus, casting out demons, even legions of demons, healing the sick, even whole towns and crowds of people, multiplying loaves and fish not just once but twice to feed several thousands of people, and there’s no doubt that the other gospel writers recorded those events because they really happened. There were lots of witnesses. Jesus did perform miracles everywhere He went.

St. John records just seven miracles, and he doesn’t even tend to call them “miracles.” He calls them “signs” instead, as if to make sure that we understand that they point to something beyond themselves. They’re meant to teach us about Jesus and the kind of kingdom that Jesus was establishing. Not just to get caught up in wonders and miracles and extraordinary events, so that we continue to chase after novelties and get bored with the faith when things become too ordinary. Our Gospel today comes after the last of these seven signs, seven miracles that John describes. Having raised His friend Lazarus from the dead—the last of the signs that Jesus would perform—He now prepares Himself and His disciples for the great scandal of His death on the Cross. This great wonder-worker would soon have hands and feet held fast to a cross, now seemingly made powerless. But His crucifixion, His willingness to suffer on our behalf, His being “lifted up from the earth” in apparent weakness and helplessness would be the occasion for Him to “draw everyone” to Himself.

Just think of how many times throughout history someone has looked upon the image of a crucifix and considered who that is dying on a cross. And why? For me. For you. Think of how many Saints have meditated upon all that Christ suffered out of love for us and found themselves consumed, set on fire for the love of God, who went to such lengths to bring us back to Himself. To bring us back from our own self-destruction. More than any of the miracles and physical healings that Jesus performed or any of the extraordinary signs that John describes in his gospel, none of those have had such a lasting effect as the Cross of our salvation. A seemingly ordinary Roman execution, but to those who know Jesus, the definitive sign of His most extraordinary love. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

Jesus was reassuring His disciples that what they were about to witness and experience, which would shake their faith and cause to wonder whether it had all been for nothing, His crucifixion and death would lead to the glorification of God’s Name and the most lasting defeat of the evil one. Jesus wants to reassure us as well, that some of the most important and monumental events in our lives don’t seem very extraordinary. They can even be really difficult and painful. But Jesus comes to meet us with His grace in very ordinary ways, through seven signs, seven sacraments of His Church. And this Eucharist which is celebrated every Sunday, even every day, or every moment of the day throughout the world in various parishes and chapels in different time zones, this Eucharist which seems like a very ordinary ritual is actually the renewal of that most monumental Sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross, His Body given for us, His Blood poured out for the sins of the world. Lord Jesus, strengthen our faith that we may see the wonders of Your love for us. Draw us to Yourself as You are “lifted up from the earth” in this, Your perfect Sacrifice and endless glory.

The Consummation of Love

Bulletin Letter, Lenten Sunday 5B

The 5th and 6th of Jesus’ Final Sayings from the Cross follow in quick succession in the Gospel according to John, separated by only one verse. “After this, Jesus—knowing that all was now fulfilled—to fulfill the Scripture says, ‘I thirst.’ A vessel full of sour wine had been set there, so putting a sponge full of sour wine on a branch of hyssop, they brought it to his mouth. Therefore, when he took the sour wine, Jesus said, ‘It has been fulfilled,’ and having bowed his head, he handed over his spirit” (John 19:28-30).

This might not be the most familiar phrasing of the 6th of the Last Words. “It is finished” or even, “It is consummated” might be closer to translations we’ve seen, but I wanted to be consistent in translating words related to the same Greek term, appearing three times in these verses: telos, meaning “end, intention, goal.” The verbs derived have the connotation of things reaching their perfection or coming to completion, and most often when used of prophecies contained in Scripture, reaching their fulfillment.

Jesus came to fulfill all that the Law and the Prophets had foretold, most especially the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the innocent sufferings of the Lord’s righteous servant. “He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace. With his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Reaching the end of His life and the fulfillment of the sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross for our salvation, Jesus has brought God’s plan of love to full completion and perfection.

The other Scripture being referenced in these verses of the Gospel is probably Psalm 69:21, “They gave me gall for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” Vinegar and sour wine refer to same thing. It also recalls the words of Christ at the Last Supper, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine again until the kingdom of my Father has come” (Cf. Mt. 26:29; Mk. 14:25; Lk. 22:18). Having now fulfilled the Father’s will perfectly, Jesus already reigns as King from the Cross, and God’s kingdom has shone forth upon the earth.

St. Teresa of Calcutta and many other Saints have seen in the words, “I thirst,” the cry of Jesus’ Sacred Heart, His great desire not so much for any earthly drink, but for our response of love. We satisfy the thirst of Christ when we give ourselves to Him, when we strive to honor His supreme sacrifice by following His will in our daily lives.

Live in the Light

Homily, Lenten Sunday 4B

Among groups that work toward recovery from addictions, you might hear the adage that we’re only as sick as the secrets we keep. But this is true for all of us with unhealthy behaviors and bad habits. We’re only as sick as the secrets we keep. Not much has changed in the 2000 years since the coming of Christ. “This is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.” As we come to this Laetare Sunday, with more than half of the season of Lent behind us, how well are we doing? Are we living more in the light today, than when we first set out on Ash Wednesday? Or have we already begun to hide and cover over those ways in which we’ve fallen short or cut corners in our Lenten resolutions?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really liked telling other people about what I’m doing or giving up for Lent. In some ways, it seems too much like boasting. Or it infringes on the intimacy of our relationship with God, the hidden sacrifice that we offer, to “our Father who sees what is secret and hidden” (Cf. Matthew 6:4, 6, 18). Or we might be a bit superstitious, thinking that Lenten resolutions are like birthday wishes, that if we tell someone, it won’t come true.

But we might have another reason for not wanting to share with others our Lenten resolutions. If the people around us don’t know what it is we’re doing or giving up for Lent, then they’re less likely to notice when we’re not quite following through. They’ll be less inclined to keep us accountable or to ask how it’s going with the extra prayers we wanted to say, or with keeping our room clean or limiting our screen time or whatever we’ve decided to do or not do. If the people around me don’t know what I’m giving up, then I still have a way out, when it becomes too difficult or tiresome. We’re only as sick as the secrets we keep.

Do we ever challenge ourselves not only to depend more on God rather than on our own strength, but also to depend on the people around us, to hold us accountable and really live in the light? Hopefully, this Lent has already been an opportunity for us to live more in the light of Christ. If we’ve actually challenged ourselves in what we’re trying to do or give up during Lent, then we’ve probably struggled at times, and failed, and been humbled, and found that we’re not as strong as we would like to be. How well do we handle our own limitations? Is our instinct only to try and hide our weaknesses? Don’t let anyone see. Only by willingly coming into the light, by being honest with ourselves in the sight of God about the corners we cut, our laziness, our selfishness, by being honest with others about how we’ve wronged them and failed to live up to our own word and our responsibilities, only by willingly living in the light when we’ve faltered and fallen—and not just when we’ve managed to do something right—when we’re finally willing to let the light show just how dark our darkness is, then we’ll start to have the strength to stand without shame in God’s pure light.

We’re only as sick as the secrets we keep. I used to be as ashamed and humbled as anybody to go to Confession. And it still can be a humbling experience for me today to go to Confession to another priest. But I used to think my sins were so unique. “The priest has never heard such awful things confessed by someone who’s supposed to be holy.” But in my experience, even the newest priest—after just a month or two of hearing Confessions—has already heard most of what he’ll ever hear in the confessional throughout his life, and it’s not that interesting. We tend to think our struggles and sins are so unique, but priests, we live in the same world. We know the temptations that surround us. And most people struggle with the most common sins and struggles. It’s not all that shocking, least of all to a priest in the Sacrament of Confession. And I don’t know anyone who’s ever thought less of another person for owning up to his mistakes. When someone actually has the courage to ask for help, we’re far more inclined to admire them and root them on.

So whatever shame keeps us from living more in the light, bring that to God. Ask Him to heal it. Whatever pride keeps us from humbling ourselves in the Sacrament of Confession and in being accountable to the people around us, ask God to take it away, to open us up to His light. “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” If we hope for perpetual light to shine upon us in the next life, then we’d better make sure our eyes and our manner of life start to grow accustomed to that light even now. No matter how much light God offers us, those who have blinded themselves and refused God’s healing will see only darkness. O Light of Christ, free us, save us, heal us, and make us whole.