I had the blessing to spend last weekend at our deacon Lenten retreat led by our new Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg.
What an energetic, affable guy, and gifted storyteller.
Hopefully, we can have him in our parish community soon.
Bishop Daniel shared an interesting story about his time in Italy serving as Vice Rector of the North American College. This is where many of the priests from our archdiocese are formed in Rome.
His story was about the seedy side of our human nature when met with the light of Christ.
The Vice Rector’s role is similar to a Chief Operating Officer at a corporation. The CEO is the Rector, his boss.
One day around Christmastime, Bishop Daniel was invited to lunch by one of the contractors doing construction work on campus. It was a thank you lunch for the opportunity to do business with the college. The two went to a fancy restaurant and had a nice meal and conversation.
As they were saying their goodbyes, the man told the now Bishop how he looked forward to working with him more in the future, then handed the Vice Rector what he thought was a Christmas card as they parted.
When Bishop Daniel later opened the envelope, he found 15-thousand dollars in cash inside.
Bishop Daniel didn’t hesitate. He immediately reported what had happened to his boss, the Rector, who pulled out stationary to write a thank you note to the man for his very generous public donation.
What was meant to be something done in the shadows (a bribe) was brought into the light of Christ.
According to stewardship experts there are three kinds of Catholic donors:
“The first, and the largest, group consist(s) of those Catholics who love the Church and simply want to assist in its mission. The second group is more or less interested in the Church’s mission, but they really value the acclaim…, the picture with the Bishop, their name on some building. They, too, are not really problematic. The third group does not give, it seeks to buy. They want control. They will make a bishop’s life hell.”
I have no doubt we’re all in the first category of givers. Right?
Not sure where the Italian businessman’s bribe fits on that scale. But thankfully, due to the integrity of our new Bishop, the man's secret action was brought into the light of Christ.
And shouldn’t all our actions come into the light of Christ, never ever remaining solely in the shadows of our own human hearts?
How many of us feel convicted when all of our actions are held up to the light of Christ?
The time we got angry in traffic and raged against the motorist who cut us off? The time we scolded a teenage waitress for getting our order wrong? The time we said or did something hurtful or rude to someone we love, or a colleague, or even a total stranger?
The evil side of our human nature is getting the better of us these days. In fact, unethical behavior, nastiness and rudeness seem to be in vogue.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves, Why? Why do we feel free to be this way?
Last week we heard about Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers outside the Temple in Jerusalem. Maybe some of us justify our actions by saying, “Look, even Jesus got angry.”
Yes, but Jesus got angry only once in the Gospels. His anger was measured and appropriate, and directed at those polluting the Holy Temple experience.
Every time we take Holy Communion we become a Holy Temple of the Lord. Do we not pollute this Temple when we do such sinful things?
This is what the second Book of Chronicles is addressing -- infidelities leading to exile into slavery and destruction of the Temple. We pollute the Lord’s Temple with such abominations.
And this is what Jesus is talking about, too, when he said, “everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.”
But God gives us an abundance of second chances. In God’s eyes, we’re all works in progress.
In the dark of night, Nicodemus comes to Jesus, the light of the world.
Nicodemus is a member of the Pharisees and many of his brothers are not fans of this man called Jesus. Hypocrites rarely like the person who points out their hypocrisy.
Nicodemus is also part of the Sanhedrin (the court of Jewish law). They’re not happy because Jesus is calling them out for their sinful behavior, deeds done many times in the shadows, in darkness.
But Nicodemus sees in Jesus’ teachings a bright light of wisdom, and in His healings an amazing connection to God. He’s curious about the man and comes in the dark of night when no one can see him for a personal chat.
Nicodemus refers to Jesus as rabbi, or teacher, but is still missing a key fact about who He is.
In this conversation, Jesus is talking about second chances, about being “born again.” Nicodemus appears to be missing the point. Jesus is talking about a spiritual rebirth, not a physical one, but Nicodemus is still confused. So, Jesus reveals his true identity.
It comes in one the most-quoted passages of the bible: John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”
This passage sums up God’s loving plan for the world.
God calls us to follow the example of Jesus; to love God with all our hearts, minds and souls, and love our neighbors as ourselves -- as we follow the Holy Spirit and live in the light, not in the shadows.
The words “faith” and “belief” never appear as nouns in John’s Gospel. These words always appear as verbs. Our faith and our belief in the Son of God must always be put into action.
So as we take Holy Communion and turn our bodies into Holy Temples for the Lord, let us ask ourselves. Are we modeling Christ?
I read something recently that hits on this point.
Here’s what it said,
“Being rude is easy. It does not take any effort and is a sign of weakness and insecurity. Kindness shows great self-discipline and strong self-esteem. Being kind is not always easy when dealing with rude people. Kindness is a sign of a person who has done a lot of personal work and has come to a great self-understanding and wisdom.”
So, who do we choose to be?
Followers of Christ who let their lights shine before others?
Or Christian who prefer the shadows and darkness, afraid to expose everything they say and do to the light of Christ?
Are we, as St. Paul said, “dead in our transgressions”? No, we are not.
On this Laetare Sunday, let us rejoice and thank God for His abundant Mercy.
Lent means spring, and spring is a time of new life and the promise of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What a blessing to be focused on our repentance in this Lenten season. What a blessing to have the Sacrament of Reconciliation and rediscover God’s forgiveness. What a blessing to practice prayer, fasting and almsgiving to keep us connected to our salvation.
May the light of Christ permeate our every action, our every thought, and our every word. May this light transform us, and conform us better to Christ.