First Sunday of Lent Homily, Lectionary Year A

the-fall

Once every three years, we read the account of the Fall of Man at Sunday Mass.  To begin Lent.  We remember that somewhere in the murky past, we human beings had at least one moment of purity, when we enjoyed a better life–a life without all the struggles we now have.

We weren’t always this way.  We did not always lurch through our experiences in such a Homer-Simpson-like manner.  Our hearts did not always start fluttering whenever we see a frozen yogurt machine or a chocolate-chip cookie.  We did not always have such a hard time concentrating on God’s Word, while meanwhile having such an easy time concentrating on why so-and-so should have spoken to me before speaking to that other person—how dare she snub me!

We would still live in that paradise, in that peaceful Garden of a bigger life—if only we human beings did not have such a hopeless penchant for false pride.

“Oh, okay, Mr. Serpent!  You’re saying we human beings actually know better than God?  Really?  Well, we wouldn’t necessarily have thought that…  But if you say so.”

False pride.  True pride would have said to the serpent:  “Wait a minute.  God made us.  He loves us.  He has the best plan.  Maybe we don’t understand His rules perfectly.  But we will understand, in the end.  All will come clear in God’s time.  Meanwhile, we trust our heavenly Father!”

But:  We human beings tend to confuse ourselves with God.  Satan preyed on this.  He tricked us into doubting the heavenly Father’s Providence.  And we fell.

televisionA question:  We know from experience what it’s like to live now after the Fall of Man.  But how could we possibly know anything about what human life would have been like before the Fall?  How can we say what kind of life Adam and Eve had, before they ate the fateful apple?

Anybody know the answer?  In the fullness of time, the un-fallen Eve and the un-fallen Adam gave us a window into what our life was originally meant to be like.  Who brought the Garden of Eden back to the earth?  The Blessed Mother and her Son. Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin enjoyed perfect intimacy with the Creator. That intimacy teaches us about what life was like in the Garden of Eden. And, of course, it teaches us about heaven, too.

Question 2Death.  We fell from grace in the garden, and our mortal nature kicked-in. We are dust, and unto dust we shall return.  Did God punish us by allowing this?

Well, our First Parents succumbed to false pride.  Therefore, all their children inherit human flesh bearing the humiliating mark of inevitable death.  Sounds like punishment.

But maybe death came as a remedy for the Fall?  We lost the peace of perfect friendship with the Creator, and so this pilgrimage comes with daily doubts and struggles.  Death means the end of all this confusion and strife, the human agony that the Fall has caused.  Death means that our “fallen-ness” doesn’t last forever.  Death means the Lord has opened up a doorway that leads to something else, something other than just a life of tv, and failed diets, and paying bills, and never quite getting everything right.

The intimacy of Jesus with the Father.  The hungry man Who feeds on God’s truth says to the tempting devil, “Man lives on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  The perfectly free, perfectly self-possessed man, united with the Creator, says to the tempter, “We owe our service to God alone, and we must not put His Providence to the test.”

christ-fastingNow, God may test us.  He may give us an unusually hard Lent.  A terribly frustrating Lent.  A Lent of good intentions that limp along lamely, well short of the mark.  If such be the Lent that the Lord has a mind to give us, so be it.  We will trust in His love and His mercy.  We will try to die to our own false pride.

If the Lord uses this Lent to draw us into a dark night of the soul, and we don’t feel His presence, and any good and hopeful future seems a long way off—we will praise and bless Him for it.  Nothing draws us closer to God than when He demands that we live by pure faith, without any consolations in this world.

Each of us has his or her own particular problems.  But we all have one problem in common:  We are members of the fallen human race.  And the Lord offers us all a common solution to our problem:  Faith.  Faith in Jesus Christ and faith in the heavenly Father Who, out of pure love, sent His eternally begotten Son to live a human life, so that we sinful human beings could get to heaven.

We want the intimacy with our Creator that we lost when our First Parents fell, the intimacy that we hope to have in the heaven that Jesus won for us. Indeed, we do have that intimacy even now—when the Spirit leads us stumblingly out into the desert, into the dark cloud of pure Christian faith.

What Does ‘Fish for Men’ Mean?

riverside-shakespeare

Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19)

Lord Jesus offered this invitation to the Galilean fisherman brothers, Peter and Andrew. He offers the same invitation to us: Come, Christian! Come, child. Follow me, your teacher and Lord. Follow Me, the one true Christ, into Whose mystery you have been baptized. And I will make you fishers of men.

He says this to us, right here and now, like He said it to Peter and Andrew.

They made their living pulling up their large nets, full of fish. They labored in the hot sun. They rowed; they hunted; they spread their nets; they waited.  Then they acted quickly, decisively. They pulled up the nets and dumped everything in the hull; they paddled hard to the shore; they sorted; they salted; the organized and stored.

But: To fish for men…What does it mean? Two-part answer. And I think we have to start here: “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” (Isaiah 9:1)

We can fish for men because God caught us first. Almighty God has done two equally amazing things. He has laid out the heavens and the earth; He has knit everything together according to His design. He has given us life, existence. He has given us everything as a gift—above all, our very own selves. He has formed us, equipped us, empowered us, and presented us to ourselves, saying, Behold, child! I give you yourself as a gift!

And: Into this vast cosmos which He has arrayed so wonderfully, He Himself stepped, and He lived like us. He walked. He ate fried fish. He talked with His friends over a campfire. He has touched our homeland Himself, Personally, as one of Mother Earth’s citizens. The light of the world, Jesus Christ—tender healer, demanding teacher, crucified for us, risen, and ascended to the heavenly Jerusalem, the divine-human High Priest of our religion.

Edward Armitage Call of Apostles fishermenWe can fish for men because this Light of God has shone. The net we use? Nothing less than that same eternal and glorious light. Why would any human being toil and labor in vain, alone and friendless in a windswept universe arcing towards nothingness? No: our Maker made everything with a plan. He piled up the mountainsides for a reason. And Christ reveals the reason: everything Almighty God does, He does for friendship, for communion, for love. Orphans under a silent sky? No. When we pray, we pray to our Father. And He hears us, and loves us, and knows what we need a hundred times better than we do.

An analogy. For twenty-five years I have cherished a particular possession I have. It has traveled with me, through a dozen moves from seminary to parish to parish to parish. And it weighs a lot, like ten or fifteen pounds. It’s the collected works of William Shakespeare, all his plays and poems in one big book, with excellent essays about them all. The Riverside Shakespeare.

This ten-pound object could hold any door open, or serve as a tv stand, or keep a picnic blanket from fluttering away in the wind. But that’s not why I love this possession so much; that’s not its purpose. I love it because I can read it.

In the same way, a human soul can pursue all kinds of things–like fleeting pleasures, or selfishness, or worldly power. Or a human soul can sink into slavish laziness. But the true reason why a human soul exists is: friendship with God in Christ. When we live in the friendship with God that Jesus offers us, then we know ourselves, and we are ourselves.

Part Two of what ‘fishers of men’ means. In the net, the fish come together. We fish for men because the light of God draws us together, together in Him.

I’m not going to get into politics right now, other than to say this: Inauguration Day left me with the sense that our USA is experiencing a profound identity crisis.

A special day for patriotism. Indeed, we take pride in our great nation. But patriotism is meant to offer us a firm sense of who we are as a people. When we proudly say, I am an American! My home is the USA! that should have a clear meaning, a meaning that calms and comforts the soul. But we Americans struggle with that right now. We struggle to find the comfort of a calm home that embraces with sweet harmony all the people who live here.

Lord Jesus has the answer. People, come together around Me! He tells us Christians: fish with that net. Jesus Christ, alive and well, pouring out His Holy Spirit through His Church—He can and does purify, elevate, and ennoble the minds of everyone Who lives in His friendship, so that we can live in fruitful harmony together. Gathered around Him, each of us can exercise every particular faculty of our own unique, individual selves, and it’s all for the good of everyone around us! Jesus gives us that kind of communion. The life of God is perfect peace. And that peace fills the hearts of those who live in Christ, giving us a sacred bond of friendship.

Fish for men! He commands us. The Light of God has shone. Man can live free. Man can know and be himself. And mankind can live and flourish in common harmony—when we get caught up in the beautiful net that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.