Sunday, February 17, 2013

First Sunday of Lent

There was a story being passed around on e-mail a few years ago.  One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside the human person.  He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.”  "One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.  "The other is Good -  It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."  The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"  The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

This is a great analogy for explaining the season of Lent.  During Lent we feed the good inside us and starve the bad.  The Lenten practice of fasting is one way to starve the evil wolf.  Prayer and almsgiving are ways we feed the good wolf.  If we put this analogy of the wolves into Christian terms, our example is Christ himself.  Jesus always fed the good wolf, so to speak.  Thus, he was filled with the Holy Spirit as we hear in today’s Gospel.  And he was able to fight the temptations of the devil.  We also are to strive to be filled with the Holy Spirit so we will be able to fight against temptation.  What are some of the ways we can feed the good wolf?  How are we filled with the Holy Spirit?  We are by living the life of Christ; by living the virtues; by participating fully in the Sacramental life of the Church.  If we are avoiding any of these, we are not full of the grace of the Holy Spirit.  If we are not filled with the Holy Spirit, we will not be able to fight against temptation.  If we give in to temptation, we are that much further from the crown of victory.  So we can see how it snowballs.

That sacramental life of the Church is huge: especially the Eucharist.  We are fed with the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord.  That’s the perfect food for feeding the good wolf of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.  Many people in this season of Lent attend daily Mass a few times a week, making the goodness inside themselves that much stronger.

And there’s much more that Christ does for us.  Whenever we are tempted and think we are alone in our struggle, this Gospel tells us that we are not alone.  Jesus was there first.  He lived through this struggle.  He appreciates how difficult it is for us when we are tempted.  God took on human flesh and endured temptation out of love for us.

St. Augustine points out: Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial.  We progress by means of trial.  We come to know ourselves through trial.  We can only receive the crown of victory after the victory over the trial.  But notice how often we want the crown of victory without having gone through the trial.  Christ was tempted and victorious in that temptation.  We follow in his footsteps.  In Christ we are tempted.  In Him we overcome the evil one.  If he were not tempted he could not teach us how to triumph over temptation.

Why do we give in to temptation in the first place?  This is the age old question.  St. Paul asked, “Why do I continue to do the evil that I don’t want to do?”  The old Cherokee illustrated it as a fight between two wolves.  No matter how we discuss it, we give in because God seems secondary.  We buy into the lie that giving in to the temptation will give us some kind of fulfillment.

As we go through this season of Lent, feeding the good inside us and starving the bad, we go through a transformation.  God is really good at transforming our lives if we let him.  We notice in the first reading that God transforms a small household into a great nation.  In their generosity of offering God the first fruits of their produce, He transforms their slavery into deliverance.  He who did great things will continue to do great things.

Growing the good in our lives and decreasing the bad will produce good fruit.  We will then be able to follow St. Paul’s command to not only believe, but say what we believe.  And we know that we say it not only in words but also in our actions.  This season of Lent helps us build conviction of heart which is of utmost importance.  Conviction of heart allows me to witness to the Lord.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Pilgrimage to Honduras

I spent last weekend in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, on a pilgrimage to celebrate Our Lady of Suyapa, the national feast of the country.  The apex of the pilgrimage was offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, concelebrating with his eminence Oscar Cardinal Rodriquez, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa.  The Basilica of Our Lady of Suyapa was packed with thousands of pilgrims.  Officials estimate that three million people filter through the basilica grounds during the days surrounding the feast.  I have no trouble believing it.  There were several times as many people outside the packed basilica as inside.  Hundreds were camping in tents on the basilica grounds.  Some set up booths to sell things, others set up restaurants in tents.  Many were walking around enjoying the festivities.
Seeing the crowds around the basilica gave me great hope.  Many of the Honduran people have abandoned their Catholic faith to become Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Mormons, etc.  The country is still about 80% Catholic, but these other sects are in a full-court press to get the Honduran Catholics "saved".  Each of the four times I have traveled to Honduras, I noticed groups of people from the United States on mission trips in the airplane.  Some are Catholic, but most are well-meaning evangelicals heading there to do mission work, set up churches, or build things for a couple of weeks.  At times it can seem overwhelming that so many people have to be catechized on such limited resources in the poor country.  But the crowds at the basilica showed me that Honduras is still a Catholic country that loves the Blessed Mother and her Son's Church.
I am trying to think of a comparison with something that we do here in the United States.  We don't really celebrate our national patron like they do in Honduras.  Our national feast is the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but the December day seems to come and go without much mention of her as our national patron.  Perhaps it's because our country has never been recognized as a Catholic country like Honduras has.

Fr. Javier Martinez, Deacon Francis Wagner, Fr. Jason Bedel, Archbishop Schnurr, Fr. Jan Schmidt
Cardinal Rodriguez, President Lobo, the First Lady
Finally, it's worth mentioning that about 40 people from the Archdioces of Cincinnati participated in the pilgrimage including the Most Reverend Dennis Schnurr, our own Archbishop.  It was a privilege to spend time with him, the Cardinal, my fellow pilgrims and people I had met in Honduras in years past.  On Saturday night, there was a big concert celebration.  I met Mr. Lobo, the President of Honduras, his wife, and the President of the Congress.  Interestingly enough, my front row seat was in front of the Supreme Court and other government dignitaries. Not sure how that happened...