Saturday, August 19, 2017

Homily for 20 Aug 2017

20 Aug 2017
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

There are events in human life which repeat themselves.  And one of these we might “exile and return.” 

In 586 B.C. the city of Jerusalem was overtaken and destroyed; the people were sent into exile, spending the next forty-seven years in Babylon.  And then they were free to return home.  But when they got back to Jerusalem they had to rebuild; not only their buildings and such, but also their way of life: their values, their standards, their practices . . . everything.

Or think about World War II.  The Jews were thrown into exile again, only that time in their own country.  And then after the Nazis were defeated, Germany as a whole was in exile.  Both Jews and Germans found themselves in a new world, in a new reality.  And in order for them to “return,” they had to rebuild; not only buildings and infrastructure and the economy, but also their ways of life.  It wasn’t until 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down that we might say they finally came back from exile.

And then, lastly, we can take the events of September 11, 2001 as those which changed the world as we know it.  Society was thrown into exile, into a foreign world where we had to figure out how to deal with the new threat of terrorism.  And that’s an exile that we’re still trying to find our way home from.

There are events in human life which repeat themselves.  And one of these we might call “exile and return.”  In the world of philosophy it’s called an “epistomological crisis:” a crisis where everything we thought we knew has been suddenly turned over, and we’re left with a mess that we have to make sense of.

Just this past week a local family lost both a mother and daughter in a drunk driving accident.  In a split second, an entire family was thrown into exile; into a foreign land where everything is turned over and nothing makes sense. 

And on a parish-wide level, of course there was the merger of three communities into one eight years ago.  And that’s very definitely an experience of being in exile.  We’re in a territory that’s unfamiliar; we’re experiencing a way of living in the world which is foreign.  We’re not used to thinking of ourselves as a single parish. 

We might think of how things used to be, when there were men’s groups and ladies’ groups; when everybody had their own parish picnics, when people really got involved in their local communities and there was overabundance of volunteers and energy.  But all of that—all of what we thought we knew about being a Catholic parish—was overturned. 

And while the temptation is try to “go back” to what once was, it can’t be done.  Once the Jews were hauled off to Babylon, there was no going back.  Once World War II happened, there was no turning back.  There’s no way to undo September 11th; there’s no way to undo a tragic accident; there’s no way to go back to the way things were before.  The only way to get out and to “return” is to go forward.

The Lord spoke through the Prophet Isaiah, saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  And Isaiah wrote this after the exile; he wrote it when the people had returned and had to rebuild.  “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  And that statement reflected the terms and conditions of their new reality.  They were back in Jerusalem, but life was going to be very different.

Foreigners had never been entirely excluded from the worship of God, but now in their post-exile life, the doors were thrown wide open to people who were not Jewish.  That was part of the new reality.  It didn’t mean that their understanding of things before was wrong; it just means that life was different now, and there was a new set of rules and standards to live by.

But even while the rules had changed, the fundamentals were the same as they always had been.  The people who belong to God (as Isaiah says) are those: who observe what is right, who do what is just, who join themselves to the Lord and minister to him and love him, who become his servants, who keep holy the Sabbath, and who remain firm in keeping God’s covenant.  That’s the core around which the Jews rebuilt themselves.

In effect, the Lord was saying to them: It doesn’t matter what race somebody is, as long as they do these things, they have proven that they belong to me.  When Jesus encountered the Canaanite woman, we see that she was put to the test.  In God’s eyes, the fact that she was a Canaanite was irrelevant; Jesus saw in her someone who was a truly faithful person.  She turned to the Lord for help, to offer her pleas of intercession for her daughter, and she remained firm in the Lord’s covenant in spite of the fact that others would look down on her for doing that.

Jesus says, “I came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  And in that Canaanite woman, he found one of his lost sheep.  She was a Canaanite by birth, but she was an Israelite in her soul.  It wasn’t really until Saint Paul started to go out and preach the gospel to the Gentiles that the Jew’s return from Babylon finally reached its fulfillment.  That was almost 570 years later!

It can take a long time to come out of exile, and for life to be ordered rightly again.  It just takes time.  It can even take generations.  Think of the ancient Hebrews wandering in the desert for forty years.  When we think of our own situation in the parish, why should we expect that life will be “normal” again quickly? 

The only ones among us who know St. Clare as St. Clare are those who are 13-14 years old and younger.  I’ve heard that it can take at least two generations for a parish merger to move from “exile” to “return.”  It can take forty years of being “in the desert” before we can say the merger is complete, and we can get on with what we’d call a “normal” parish life.  We only have eight years under our belt; we have a ways to go yet, and that’s to be expected.

In the meantime, we listen to what the Prophet Isaiah says, and we try to implement it: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  It’s a pretty straightforward instruction from God to his people who find themselves in a new reality.

When he says the word, “house,” the Lord means two things.  He means a physical building as well as a family (or “household”).  When Jesus quotes that line from Isaiah in the gospel of Matthew (21:13), he uses the Greek word, “oikos.”  And “oikos” is the same word used for a dwelling or a family. 

In the first Letter of Peter, we hear: “Come to him, a living stone . . . and let yourselves be built up into a spiritual house” (2:4-5); into a spiritual “oikos,” a spiritual family, a dwelling place for the Spirit of God.  When we strip away everything else that happens in the church, in a parish, the core that’s left is what Saint Peter talks about here.  Whether we’re in exile or we’re on the return journey, the core of what we’re about is that, first, we come to the Lord and, second, that we let him build us as a spiritual, holy band of disciples.  That is essential.  Without that core understanding of what we’re about, then we’re not only in exile, but we’re also lost and without hope.

“My house”—my church buildings, my people—“will be a house of prayer.”  If we had a banner with a coat of arms on it, it would show a heart pouring out in prayer, in supplication, in love to the Holy Trinity.  We’re not just a community of people; we’re a community of pray-ers.  Just like that Canaanite woman, God recognizes us as his own by the fact that we turn to him; that we offer him prayers of intercessions for the needs of others; that we meditate on his great love for us individually; that we pray with faith, hope, and charity.

We’re a community of people—a “house”—which is God-oriented.  It’s no mistake that in Catholic churches, the altar, the tabernacle, the ambo, and the crucifix are our focal points.  It’s not a mistake that the seating is arranged such that the people of God are all facing toward those symbols and signs of God’s presence.  The church building itself—God’s “house of prayer”—is a physical reminder that at the core of our identity is the fact that we are God-oriented.

We come here to go to the Lord.  We come here to pray, to intercede, to offer our thanks to God.  What we have here, in effect, is the Church within the church; the “house of God”—the “family of God,” gathered inside the “house of God”—the church building.  “My house will be a house of prayer,” says God.  Whether it’s brick-and-mortar or flesh-and-blood, the house of God is directed toward God. 

As we go from “exile to return,” while we adjust to new realities in life, we also commit ourselves to what is essential and unchanging.  We keep God as our focus, and let ourselves be built up as a spiritual house, as brothers and sisters who worship and pray to the one Lord of all, Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Homily for 17 Aug 2017

17 August 2017

The Church is often referred to as the “pilgrim” Church; in other words, we’re going somewhere.  We haven’t arrived yet in the promised land of eternal life.  Just like Jesus (especially in the Gospel of Luke), we are travelers heading toward Jerusalem; or, rather, the “New Jerusalem” of heaven.

We’re on a journey.  But along the way, there are potholes and detours, events in life and the peskiness of sin that sometimes get in the way. 

And that’s similar to the Red Sea and the Jordan River in ancient times.  The Israelites were trying to get to the Promised Land, but those massive bodies of water (not to mention the deserts and such) were like barriers along the way.  But they carried the Ark of the Covenant in front of them, and that’s what kept them safe; that’s what made the journey to the Promised Land possible—the Ark of the Covenant.

As we journey through this life, and we’re navigating all the many challenges we face—especially those that challenge our faith, it’s a good thing to keep the Lord as our guide.  He’s already promised to lead us home safely; if only we let him lead the way. 

When we’re tempted to doubt the Lord’s promise, remember all the good things he has done, not only for “me,” but also for others.  When we’re tempted to lose faith, pray to the Lord: “Lord, I need more faith in you right now.”  When we’re lost, seek the guidance of Scripture, the Church, trusted and faithful friends, and the help of our Blessed Mother and the angels and saints.

We’re a pilgrim Church, travelers toward heaven, and the road has lots of potholes and detours.  But the Lord will see us through safely; if only we trust him to be our navigator.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Homily for 16 Aug 2017

16 Aug 2017

“God is entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”  So the spirit of forgiveness, humility, and peace should be part of our lives.  And it’s such an important part of our Catholic lives that it’s even part of the Mass.  We have the “Sign of Peace.”

“Let us offer one another the sign of peace,” we hear.  And it isn’t just a moment to exchange pleasantries; it’s a moment to do a self-check and to ask, “Can I offer everyone here—and in the Church everywhere—the sincere gift of peace?”  “Do I have that spirit of reconciliation in my heart?”

And that isn’t always an easy spirit to maintain, especially if someone has “trespassed against us.”  But that’s the spirit the Lord gives us, the spirit of a forgiving heart, the spirit of giving a fellow Christian the opportunity to make peace.

Of course, as we hear in the gospel, sometimes a fellow Christian has no interest in being reconciliation.  And, in that case, we don’t write them off; but we do keep them at arm’s length until they express the desire to be reconciled. 

God is entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  The most we can do is to offer that reconciliation and peace to others.  What they do with it is their business.  But let’s be sure to do the “most we can do,” and make our offer of peace truly heartfelt.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Homily for 13 Aug 2017

13 Aug 2017
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Most of us know the prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is offense, let me bring pardon. Where there is discord, let me bring union. Where there is error, let me bring truth. Where there is doubt, let me bring faith. Where there is despair, let me bring hope. Where there is darkness, let me bring your light. Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.”

And in between each of these pairs of opposites is the word “me.”  In between hatred and love is “me.”  In between discord and unity is “me.”  In between darkness and light is “me.”  But that’s the position a prophet stands in.  A prophet puts him- or herself in the middle of the tension, to be an instrument of the good. 

When I was sent to St. Clare it wasn’t only to be a priest and a governor.  I was also sent to fulfill a prophetic role: to stand in the middle of the tension, and to be an instrument of the good.  Not somebody else, but me.

Think of your families and your friends.  You find yourself in a situation where the grandkids don’t go to church anymore, and the kids don’t seem to care.  Or you find yourself standing between one friend who’s practically an atheist, and other who’s a firm believer.  Or maybe you’re a young adult and you’re surrounded at home, or at school—or even at church—by a lukewarm approach to faith.

A prophet is someone who stands in the middle of the tension and tries to be an instrument of the good.  And it’s something that takes practice to get good at.  After all, putting ourselves out there in the middle of the tension isn’t our first instinct.

We hear today how Peter started to walk on water (which is kind of a dangerous idea).  But he was also practicing to be a prophet in Christ’s Church.  Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  And there’s that little word again—“me.”  “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  It’s strange; I mean, if Peter was trying to get proof that it really was Jesus standing there, you’d think he’d say something like, “Lord, if it’s you, then make the storm stop, or come over here yourself so we can see you better.”

But he doesn’t do that.  Instead, Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command ‘me’ to come to you.”  Peter put himself out there.  He was practicing what it means to be a prophet; he was practicing how to put himself in the middle of the storm, and to be an instrument of God’s peace in the storm.

In the Church today we hear a lot of talk about evangelization, especially the New Evangelization: the idea that the world—and the Church herself—needs to be revitalized and redirected by the Holy Spirit.  The New Evangelization isn’t only about spreading the gospel; it’s about being a prophet in a time in history when faith, God, Church, religion aren’t taken all that seriously.  The “storm” the Church faces today, it seems, is so often a storm of indifference and apathy.

A couple weeks ago I was teaching a class in the summer Religious Ed program.  And there were some kids who really didn’t seem like they wanted to be there.  So I just said to them, “You know, you don’t have to be here if you don’t want to be.  You’re free to go.  This isn’t a prison.”  And, of course, they didn’t leave. 

But that was an instance where the “storm” we sometimes face as a Church is a situation of indifference and apathy.  And the truth had to be interjected there, in a prophetic and gentle sort of way; the truth that being a disciple of Christ is a voluntary thing.  In fact, that’s the heart of the Church: that spirit of a voluntarily giving “me” to God and his body of believers.

But, as I said, being a prophet takes practice, and it means putting your neck out there when you’d rather not.  It means being like the Prophet Daniel, and letting yourself be put into the “lion’s den.”

A few years ago, when I was in seminary, I had to do a summer internship at a hospital as a chaplain.  And that was one of the most difficult experiences for me in my training.  What I found difficult was just going through the door—not the door of the hospital, but the door of a patient’s room.  It was absolutely nerve-racking for me to do that.  In fact, the first time I couldn’t even do it.

I’d get up the courage to go in, but then I couldn’t do it.  And then I’d wander around some more, thinking, “I gotta go in there.”  So I’d head back to the patient’s room, and as I approached the door—I kept on walking.  I just couldn’t go in the room.  I could not put my neck out there yet.  Luckily, I saw some nurses go into the room, and I knew they’d be there a while.  So I just left. 

I was on my way to the car, saying to myself, “I’m not cut out to do this.  I’m not made to be a ‘priest, prophet, and king’ like Jesus.  I’m outta here.”  I was like Peter, who started to sink and let the storm of fear overtake him.  But over the next twenty minutes or so, Jesus calmed me down and he shifted the focus away from me, and toward that person who was lying in the hospital bed.  God had put me there in that situation to see that person.  And that’s what I had to do.

So I went back.  I had a rosary in my pocket; I said a quick prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;” I took a deep breath, and went through the door.  And since then, I’ve made hundreds of visits to the hospital, to nursing homes, and to people’s homes.  I’ve been put in the middle of many difficult situations I’d never dreamed I’d be asked to deal with.  But that was all part of my training and practice at becoming not only a priest and governor in the parish, but also a prophetic voice.  It takes practice.  It takes practice to be like Peter and say, “Lord, command ‘me’” to do this or that.

People come to me in the confessional.  And I hear things like: “Father, there’s this situation in my family regarding faith, and I’m not sure what to do; I’m not sure how to approach it.”  Or I hear: “Father, my co-workers say uncharitable things or they’re gossiping, and I know I should say something, but I just can’t.”  Or sometimes I hear: “Father, I’m afraid to show my faith in public: when I go out to eat, I just can’t bring myself to say a meal prayer or make the Sign of the Cross; I feel embarrassed.”

Well, those are all situations where the more you put your neck out there, the easier it becomes—and the more natural it becomes.  You know, it so often seems that people who have rejected faith and God are quite vocal about it.  They’re not afraid to shoot down our beliefs.  Catholicism is very much under siege today, as it has been for several decades (and, really, for centuries).  But the ones who keep it going are those who embrace their calling to be a prophet.  And, really, it’s a calling we each have by virtue of having been baptized.

Being a prophet doesn’t necessarily mean shouting from the hilltops and across the fields; it doesn’t necessarily mean standing on a street corner, handing out pamphlets and literature about the Catholic faith.  Being a prophet means learning, first and foremost, how to be someone who takes his or her faith seriously; learning to be someone who lives life with the inner conviction that there is a God, that Jesus is the Lord, that there’s more to life than meets the eye, and that it’s a good and praiseworthy thing to get on our knees and take our direction from God, who is both Lord and Companion.

Being a prophet isn’t about being boastful or confrontational; it’s about learning to be humble before God, and then simply doing what he asks of us.  Sometimes that’s easy; sometimes it isn’t, and ends up taking a lot of practice. 

When Peter was getting ready to walk on the water, he knew he had to have faith that Jesus would see him through it.  Peter knew he couldn’t rely on himself; there was no way he could walk on water without the Lord’s help.  And so when Peter said, “Lord, command me to come to you on the water,” he was also saying, “Lord, test my faith in you; Lord, test my humility.”

And for a few steps, it worked!  Peter had faith, and he was doing the impossible!  But then, just for a moment, doubt entered his heart and he began to sink.  No worries, though!  Jesus caught him, and it was a good practice.  Now, if we find we’re afraid to do what’s right, well, admit that to God.  Just be humble and honest and say, “Lord, there’s no way I can do this—not by myself.  I don’t have it in me.  Lord, you’re gonna have to do all the work, because I just can’t.”

And prayer like that is music to God’s ears.  He loves the prayer of a humble person, the prayer of a person who’s trying to put his or her faith into practice.  Being a prophet in the world today isn’t about being boastful, or harsh, or confrontational; it’s about learning to be humble before God, and then just doing what he asks of us—in the situations we find ourselves.

And we don’t have to do it all ourselves; in fact, we shouldn’t.  For example, if there’s a family situation going on and you’re not sure what to do, well ask someone else.  Asking for help to do the right thing is a great sign of humility.  Prophets always speak from a position of humility.  Or, if the situation calls for it, involve others in doing what’s right.

About a month or so ago, I was driving by a house and I heard a man yelling.  And as I checked it out, I saw that he was yelling at his kids, who were probably grade school age.  He was yelling at them, screaming at them, and I was concerned for the kids.  So I got out my cell phone and contacted Child Protective Services for the county, and they took care of it.  Being a prophet means looking out for your neighbor, and sometimes asking for help when the Kingdom of God needs to be brought into a situation.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love.  Where there is despair, let me bring hope. Where there is darkness, let me bring your light. Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.”  A prophet puts him- or herself in the middle of the tension, to be an instrument of the good.

And the world today needs prophets; it needs humble men and women of living faith who can say, “Lord, you put me here.  Help me to do what you need me to do.  Make me an instrument of your peace.”

Friday, August 11, 2017

Homily for 11 Aug 2017

11 Aug 2017

Patronal Feast Day: St. Clare

When you think of parish mergers, you don’t normally think of blessings; it’s usually the trials that stand out.  But there is at least one blessing of being a merged parish, and that is that we have the help of several patron saints.  Our church buildings remain under the patronage of Saint Paul, Saint Patrick, and Saint Mary.  And we certainly hope that their examples of faith, hope, and charity continue to inspire us.

But eight years ago, we gained another patroness: Saint Clare of Assisi.  She’s our primary patroness because she was chosen to be a companion, guide, and protector of the community specifically.  We don’t have a church building dedicated to her; instead, we have the church community under her patronage.  And that is a very great blessing.

Saint Clare was chosen because of the history of Franciscan sisters having been teachers in our schools.  And a blessing here is that, in addition to the Lord our Master Teacher, we also have Saint Clare herself as a teacher to us.  And she has much to teach us.

Like so many of the saints, our patroness lived a life of conviction; there were no half-measures when it came to her devotion to God.  She ran from the society of the time to find shelter under God’s wings.  She was the first woman to write a common Rule for those women living in religious community.  And, even though others tried to convince her to adopt a different way of life, a life of less stringent discipline, she remained firm.

She maintained prayer as the central activity in her life.  She lived and breathed the commandment to love God above all.  And that spilled over into a life of charity towards her sisters in community.

Even though we here aren’t members of a religious community—we’re not enclosed in a monastery as Saint Clare was—our patroness has a lot to teach us.  Things like: devotion to God, being unafraid to live an authentic Christian life, living “in the world” but not being worldly, taking the Gospel as our Rule of life, keeping prayer as foundational, and being charitable to others as God inspires us to be.

We have a powerful intercessor, companion and teacher in Saint Clare of Assisi.  And the first lesson she teaches us is the importance of going to God: going to the altar, kneeling at the feet of the one Master Teacher, and learning from him what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ.  Being a merged parish, we especially need that wisdom of God to guide us, and the peace of Christ to keep us at peace.

Thanks be to God for our patroness, Saint Clare.  She is a blessing to us because—like all the saints—she points the way to something, someone much bigger than ourselves.  May we be so blessed to follow her guidance and come to know the one God of all.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Homily for 4 Aug 2017

4 Aug 2017

There’s the saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  And that’s what we see in the gospel today.  Jesus is unable to teach people “in his native place.”  They were too familiar with him; they knew him as a child, they knew his parents Mary and Joseph, they knew he was just the son of a carpenter.  They knew Jesus too well (or, they thought they did) for them to respect Jesus as someone they could learn from.  Familiarity breeds contempt.

In our own faith lives there can be a tension between Jesus our Friend, and Jesus the Lord and Son of God.  For example, when we hear a challenging word from Jesus—either in Scripture or through the mouth of a preacher—do we reject it because “that’s not really what Jesus would say; Jesus is too close a friend to challenge me in that way.”  Or do we take his challenging words as coming from Jesus, Lord and God?

Another example is in the idea of “reverence.”  Jesus is the Lord, Second Person of the Trinity, and we bow and genuflect to him, as we should.  But he’s also our most faithful and intimate Friend and Companion.  Is it not also reverent to smile when we think of Jesus, or to even have some “warm fuzzies” come into our heart when we realize again how much we are loved by him.

Familiarity breeds contempt; it closes us off to the whole reality of who Jesus is.  As much as we know Jesus, it’s good to maintain a healthy sense of curiosity about him.  May we not become so familiar with Jesus that we stop listening to him, either as a close Friend, or as the majestic Son of God that he is.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Homily for 3 Aug 2017

3 Aug 2017

The Dwelling of God was a tent, in ancient times. And the Ark of the Covenant inside the tent was meant to be carried from place to place.  And that’s because God’s people were on the move.  And they were on the move not because they were restless, but because God himself was on the move.

We see that in the gospels, too, especially Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  God is moving; Jesus is moving; he’s going from place to place along a journey.  And those crowds of disciples just follow wherever Jesus goes.  If he stays put for a while, then they stay put.  If he gets up and moves to another place, they go with him.

And that’s what the faithful do: they follow God.  For us, of course, God has come to us in the Holy Spirit, and his dwelling place is the Church.  When the Church moves itself along the journey toward final reunion with God, the faithful go with her.  Sometimes the Church and her leaders stay put for a while, so the faithful can rest.  Other times, the Church moves so the faithful don’t get too settled.

The gospel, the “good news,” today is that God dwells among his people; he’s always lived among his people.  Our God wants us to be near him, and he wants to be near us.  But sometimes God moves and challenges his faithful people to go with him.  And sometimes he stays put for a while so they can rest.  Regardless of what God is doing, can we move with him?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Homily for 2 Aug 2017

2 Aug 2017

The Kingdom of heaven has a price.  But it isn’t the money involved in buying “the pearl of great price,” or “the treasure buried in a field.”  The cost is what happens first: a person “sells all that he has.”  The Kingdom of heaven has a price, and the price is letting go of what we thought was important; it’s about reprioritizing our priorities.

Importantly, however, this shouldn’t be an occasion for sadness.  That person who finds the buried treasure sells everything “out of joy.”  The Kingdom of heaven is something that should give us excitement; it should make us want to hand over everything to get it. 

The Kingdom of heaven has a price, and it’s a price we should be more than happy to pay.  But if we find ourselves unwilling to the pay the price—unwilling to reprioritize our priorities—then either we haven’t uncovered the Kingdom of heaven yet, or we’re simply unwilling to let go. 

God wants us to be happy with him, not miserable.  So whenever we’re ready to pay the price for the Kingdom of heaven, he’s there ready to give it to us—but not until we truly, joyfully want it.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Homily for 1 Aug 2017

1 Aug 2017

There’s a danger in what Jesus says today.  Or, rather, the danger is in how we hear him.  When he talks about the “fiery furnace” in contrast to “the righteous shining like the sun,” it’s easy to hear that in black-and-white terms.  You know, like: there’s “heaven or hell;” or there are “the evil doers, and then the righteous ones;” or there are “bad people” and then there are “good people.”  And the danger in hearing it that way is that it doesn’t reflect reality.

The reality is that each of us is a beloved son or daughter of God, and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  But the reality, too, is that we’re also sinners; we gossip and murmur, we can be selfish and puffed up with pride, or we can just get lazy and apathetic in our faith and stop trusting God.  We’re fundamentally good in the eyes of God, and yet, we’re also tinged with the stain of sin—more or less.  The reality is that we’re a mix of sin and virtue.

But it’s God mission to free us from sin; it’s his desire to clean us up; to make us not a mix of sin and virtue, but to make us entirely virtuous.  And, in that, “the Lord is kind and merciful.”  He pays more attention to our desires to be good, rather than our tendencies to sin.  But, at the same time, he wants to get rid of whatever causes us to sin.  Happily, though, we want the same thing.

The “fiery furnace” is there to help get rid of our sinfulness.  It’s like God’s version of 20-Muleteam Borax.  It can be a little harsh, but it serves a good purpose, that “fiery furnace.”  And we know it serves a good purpose because God is kind and merciful.  Our God is not a vengeful God; he is Jesus, who is loving toward those who desire to love him. 

And so, that “fiery furnace” is a punishment only for those who want to go there; whose basic desire in life is to sin.  But, for the rest of us—God’s beloveds who desire the good, but still fall and stumble sometimes—for the rest of us, the “fiery furnace” is a tremendous help.  It “burns off” all the crud and stuff we don’t want hanging on our souls.  And that eternal fire is the Holy Spirit of God.    

Come, Holy Spirit, fire of God.  Take from us our tendencies to sin; burn off all that weighs us down.  Make us purer of heart, Lord, in your kindness and mercy.