Confronting the Grief

A global pandemic, vicious in scope and merciless in depth, has altered ordinary life beyond measure.    Beneath the scrambling to cope with medical, educational and social needs dwells an inestimable grief, an incomprehensible uncertainty, and a profound fear.  And yet, today, travelling through a small town in the back of a pickup truck, a priest raised the Blessed Sacrament in blessing on homes and families.  People cannot go the churches, and he brought the gift to the people.  On  this Fifth Sunday of Lent, the readings remember the rising of Lazarus, the presence of God and the power of faith.  Like that priest, the Fifth Week of Lent  offers encouragement in confronting the horrors that have visited ordinary lives.

There is a pervasive sadness in this, the recognition that what once was has been forever restructured.  We cannot live in a world that does not yet exist; yet there is a lingering sense that this is an unending tranistion.  Sitting on the edge of this, life and death demand real consideration.  What is the role suffering plays in being human?  How can suffering and life be negotiated, survived?   To do all that, the Gospel describes the companionship that God provides.

God in these stories is not a tyrannical power arbiting life and its vicissitudes.  Instead, God is intensely caring and real.  Love is visible and varied, binds the characters in the story into one.  There is friendship, admiration, mutual respect, kindness and questioning; there are men and women struggling to deal with the incomprehensible, with loss.  Jesus is the companion on this journey, the one recognized, admired, and challenged.  He, in turn, draws on the presence of God in calling Lazarus.  And that rests as a reminder to us that even in these challenging times,  God is present.  Life is still sacred, and God is still present to our sufferings and fears.

The second reading is a prelude to that theme:  in Romans, Paul frames the reality of  the Spirit of God dwelling within.  That reality is an impetus within us towards goodness, purpose, and growth.   The energy of existence is born of this Spirit and enables, empowers, decision-making and choices.  The Gospel overflows with those decisions and choices: choosing to believe, to question, to act.  Martha and Mary, the Jews, Jesus and Lazarus.  Each one speaks, each one decides.

That is what we are doing now.  Choosing. Deciding.  Doing that with a confidence in the presence and reality of a loving God makes a huge difference.  It means allowing a liberating understanding.  In essence, the idea that there is something far greater than self, that ultimately,  God’s Hands are far greater than our own.  Struggling to control what is actually beyond human control deepens conflicts, tensions and confusion.  To bravely acknowledge that means stepping into faith, much the way Mary and Martha and even Lazarus did.  It is about response to reality, which is a big part of what we need to do right now.    The Fifth Week of Lent is an invitation to recognize and to respond, to choose and to act.  To believe.










The cruelties of COVID-19 stretch out now under the brightness of spring’s first blue skies.  Realities and restrictions are depriving us of complacency.  Fear and anxiety are driving  waves of hoarding; skepticism and denial are preventing others from even the most simple precautions.  Life has been upended, routines have been broken, and new patterns are emerging. But this is Laetare Sunday, and there is a sense of summons to becoming something more than what we were before.   There is the chance to review and re-examine what life has given us: to prioritize what really matters, to see the world and our lives  from a deeper, fuller perspective.

Everything once taken for granted has won new significance.  For decades, we were treated to stores overflowing with goods, an abundance of choices about clothing, food, health care and education.  We rested comfortably, and now we are invited to consider what really matters, who really matters, and how to negotiate this crisis as individuals and as a community.

Companionship has taken on a whole new meaning, and life a new purpose. At the core of Laetare Sunday are two elements: recognition of the presence of God and the grace of  commitment.  Each of them speak to this present moment with eloquence and each offers a chance to grow.  There is a real temptation to despair under the mounting reports of hospitalizations and fatalities.  It would be easy to forget that even here, and now, there is a faithful God walking with us, weeping with us, staying with us.  And among us, there are persons providing comfort and leadership, fortitude and direction.  There are helpers and healers and heroes.  Laetare Sunday is reminder that grace abounds even in suffering, and if we look carefully, we will see those moments intertwined with the painful realities of this new world.

Laetare Sunday is about seeing things more clearly, and shifting our perspective to embrace the reality before us without fear.  It is about moving from darkness into the light. Confusion, misunderstanding, judgment and mistakes are part of the human experience on every level, but that only means that there is a chance to walk in the light .

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 

                                                                                                                      Ephesians 5: 8-13


The Gospel from John 9 carries it all a step further.  It is a healing story, full of overtones about the Pharisses’ misunderstandings about Jesus.  Jesus heals a blind man, enables him to see, to step into the light.  Jesus challenges the Pharisees  to come further, to go beyond where they were, to become better people.  

 It is the same invitation to us.  Jesus invites us to come into the light, to be the light for one another, to companion one another even in the most challenging of times.   

The choice is ours.


In the Presence of God

Headlines are hollering and the store shelves are bare; service workers are being laid off, and handshakes have retreated to awkward elbows.  There is the roar of  the national emergency, and the contentious political rhetoric placing blame.  An anxious tension is carved into the faces of our elderly and countless gazes are haunted by grudging fears.  There are mandates from governors, warnings from leaders and the presidential declaration of a national emergency.  And yet, there is a cumbersome uncertainty about how to get through this unfamiliar scenario.  Against this backdrop, on this Third Sunday of Lent,  Jesus meets the Samaritan Woman at the well.

She is skeptical of him, and he seems to see right through her banter.  While she is sharp and defensive, he is focused and accepting.  He keeps moving through the conversation without negativity or disdain.  He focuses on what is, and she becomes engaged.  She questions the reality she lived with so long, and wonders who he really is.   For me, she revealed a reality that had escaped me in all the planning and organizing and attempting to somehow forestall the spread of the coronavirus.

Even now, in the midst of he Black Plague of our time, we are living in the Presence of God.  As it was hers to begin to acknowledge that, so it is ours to begin to see that.  The virus has demonstrated that even with the advances and comforts of the 21st century, humans are not in control of the environment.  There are forces more powerful than self.  What matters are the choices we make.  No matter who we are or what we are about, we are only a stone’s throw from the Samaritan woman’s situation.  We can step back and acknowledge the presence of God in the midst of all the suffering and dysfunction, or we can walk away.

To acknowledge that Presence means taking the time to recognize we are all in this situation together.  The virus is not simply attacking individuals but whole communities and cultures.  Just as the virus is spread thorugh contact, support for one another must come through one another.  There are thousands of ways for us to make that happen; perhaps some we have not even imagined yet.  We live in a time dazzling with technological possibility and layers of talent.  There are steps we can take to assist one another in awareness of the problems and in meeting needs.  In an individualistic society, such an endeavor requires so much more than simply providing for self and family.  Somehow, the echo of the Samaritan woman talking with neighbors comes to mind.  She did not keep her burgeoning awarenesses to herself.  And now, for us, conscious of the Presence of God among us, sharing the comfort and peace of that with others in whatever way possible, has real meaning.

It may not be any talk of God at all.  It may be very practically calling an elderly neighbor, face-timing a grandparent, making dinner for a medical family, picking up coffee for first responders.  There are so many possibilities to live in the Presence of God and to share that even now.

“Preach the Gospel.  If necessary, use words.”Francis of Assisi



Daylight Savings Time and the rapidly spreading coronavirus have disrupted the  predictable rhythms of daily life.  Coffee shop conversations wrap around continuous hand washing, the  upcoming quarantines,  being prepared.  There is an undercurrent of fear, a display of uncertainty, some grasping for rationality.  To all this, today’s Gospel of Matthew speaks:  the story of the Transfiguration, the transformation of Jesus.  He glows in the vision, is paired with Elijah and Moses, is recognized as a prophet and then named as the Beloved Son of God.   The unexpected nature of that moment pairs with the crises of our time while  the very clarity of it contrasts deeply with the ambiguity of now.  

Unexpected matters.  Humans find a certian comfort in routine;  there is an expectation that what is familiar is known and understood.  It  is somehow manageable in whatever form.  But the Transfiguration radically altered what was familiar.  It evoked  fear and awe in the disciples.  It demanded an acknowledgment of change.  Reality, that Jesus was more than what anyone really knew,  was  overwhelming.  And yet, the often overlooked moments in the story were the disciples attempting to meet this revelation.  There was fear, misunderstanding, new responses; basically, there was a learning curve.

The current situation is much the same: truths and realities have impinged on what is most comfortable and familiar.  Nations and persons are struggling to respond to this new reality and are living out a similar learning curve. It is all occurring within the limitations of who and how we are, much like the disciples struggling through their glimpse at the big picture.  Just as it was for them, the question for us is, “What now?  How to proceed?”

The crystal clarity of the disciples’ view of Jesus is in sharp contrast to the converging chaos of images about the cornoavirus and the attendant information sources.  In a world where the dominance of media and internet sources has shaped a public forum for crisis and despair,  beginning to glimpse what is really happening is daunting at best.  Making wise choices for individuals and communities is not at all simple or clear.  Instead, it is a testament to how very much we need the best from each other right now.  But, wait, isn’t that what Jesus and the disciples needed from one another?  The very best from one another?

The Transfiguration made clear who Jesus was, but it did the same for the disciples.  In a sense, this moment in time is showing human beings who we are in the same way.  It is a moment asking us for more.  It is not enough to think just of now, of self.  This is about looking at the whole perspective of how we respond to news and make choices,  how we respond to each other, how we look at illnesses and health care.  It is about looking at what really matters and what we can do about it.  It s about believing that it matters, that we matter, and that we can make a difference.  After all, that was the path the disciples chose. 




Lent’s somber tone, ironically, occur just when spring returns to New England.  For most of my life, there seemed an awkward disconnet between the two.  But perhaps the rich purple hues of Lent have a unique and unexpected nuance.  Perhaps it is no accident that Lent is launched with the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.   And, perhaps it was no accident that this morning a young homilist offered the words that brought it all together.

Temptation is not really just a feeling, a desire, that presents a choice.  Temptation is not just about choosing between self-gratification and sacrifice; it is not just about looking at short-term rewards vs. long-term effects.  Today, that young homilist offered a perspective I had not thought about before.  He suggested that Jesus’ temptation was actually a challenge to identity.

Jesus, Son of God, unique, special, well-loved., challenged in the desert to usurp the identity of another, to reject who he was and what he was about.  That Gospel is a reminder to us that we too have an identity that matters.   And so, for us, loved by God and strenghtened by Baptism, temptation is also a challenge to our identities as human beings.  Our choices explore  the boundaries and depths of what that identity is  actually all about.  Temptation is the challenge to distort, shape, negate and nullify all that.  It is  about more than the simple right or wrong; it is the ultimate challenge to choose to live as who we really are.

Jesus knew who he was.  Facing the reality of human life means  knowing ourselves so well and becoming so grounded in our identity that our choices deepen, broaden, enrich that identity.  Realizing the reality of temptation, recognizing it for what it is, and reaching out for help when it happens means there is a sense of who we are, who we want to be, what we can be.    The ideal of perfection  dies to that truth; hypocrisy has no place within our choices.   More than anything else,  facing temptation means entrusting  ourselves  to the reality that we are human beyond doubt.  Facing temptation means acknowledging need, especailly for help and courage.  Courage  enables us to admit the fragility of who we are and accept that.  Help means admitting sorting out the confusion and consequences that temptation so inevitably presents is challenging.  Actually reaching out for clarity and assistance is a step towards better understanding who we are, why we are here and what we can do.

That was Jesus, standing in the desolation of the desert confronting His reality.  This is us, centuries later, grappling with the same, simple human choice:  “What do I do now?”  The answers may seem simple, and the judgements obvious.  Even a quick glance reveals that as human beings, the scenario is different today but the ultimate choices are the same.

We will fail.  There will be times when temptation beats us.  It happens for all kinds of reasons: emotional, psychological, lack of self-awareness, greed.  But there is always a  chance for a pause, a re-set.  In those humbling moments when the reset is most necessary, we learn the most about the God who loves and sustains us on the journey.  That God believes in us in ways that we can only imagine.  That God is waiting for us at the desert’s edge. welcoming us home.