A Jewish Rabbi and a Catholic Priest met at the town's annual 4th of July picnic. Old friends, they began their usual banter.
"This baked ham is really delicious," the priest teased the rabbi. "You really ought to try it. I know it's against your religion, but I can't understand why such a wonderful food should be forbidden! You don't know what you're missing. You just haven't lived until you've tried Mrs. Hall's prized Virginia Baked Ham. Tell me, Rabbi, when are you going to break down and try it?"
The Rabbi looked at the priest with a big grin, and said, "At your wedding."
How committed are you to your faith? During Lent, many Catholics are exercising Lenten practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Last week a parishioner, who is a convert, asked me, “Father, I don’t understand the reason for fasting. What is it for? Why do we fast? For me, it only makes me feel hungry and becomes cranky. Because when I am hungry, I become cranky!” It is true that naturally when we fast, we feel hungry. On Ash Wednesday, I was walking in the neighborhood for my morning exercise; I smelt fried eggs and sausages. It made me feel really hungry and tempted. However, the purpose of fasting during Lent is not to make us feel hungry, but to remind us to pay attention to our souls, to take a little time off of our bodily needs and pay attention to the needs of our soul, our spiritual living.
There is a constant warfare between body and soul. At every moment of the day, both are vying for dominance. Who is in charge of this warfare? You and I, each of us is in charge of this warfare. There are also allies and enemies in this warfare. The enemies of this warfare are the devils and the world. The allies are God and the Church. Satan and his friends are not concerned for our spiritual well-being. They are not supporting us in seeking the salvation of our souls. They are not helping us to walk in the land of the living. They are interested in leading us into the land of the dead. Only God and the Church are interested in the salvation of our souls. We practice fasting during the season of Lent not because we want to punish ourselves or destroy ourselves, but rather to express sorrow for our sinfulness and to be restored to wholeness. Fasting is an expression of our repentance to show God our sincerity, our desire to seek God for the salvation of our souls rather than to seek pleasures in the world. It is important that we are committed to the Lord.
So the Lenten practices of fasting, prayer and almsgivings are the expressions of our conversion in relation to self, to God and to others for the salvation of our souls. The world and the culture of our land do not help us in this effort. They are actually pulling us away from our eternal salvation.
Are you committed to God or to the world? We are living in a very critical time. Our nation is moving away from God. Our government is promoting a secular culture and becoming more hostile to religion and to Christian values. We are becoming a Godless nation. We cannot depend on the world and the states for support and helping us to walk into the land of the living. They are leading us to the land of the dead. We know through revelation that:
The American Catholic Bishops are protesting the government’s policy requiring the church to pay for free contraceptives through healthcare coverage because this policy is contrary to the teachings of the Church. This practice is not good for the souls of our people. Following this policy is not leading us to walk in the land of the living but in the land of the dead. However, our government and many people are not agreeing with the Church and the Bishops. I am not sure how accurate the report is. But a CBS News/ New York Times survey is claiming that a majority of Americans support the use of contraceptives. The public is generally in favor of mandating birth control coverage for employees of religiously affiliated employers. The survey found that 61 percent favor the mandate, while 31 percent oppose it. And it says, even Catholics, whose church strongly opposed the recent government mandate, support the requirement about as much as all Americans support it. I don’t know how did they do the survey, but I can also do a survey that 100% of Catholics agree with the teaching of the Church and the U. S. Catholic Bishops. I can go to Sr. Lucy’s convent and survey all of the sisters there and get 100% agreement. I can survey all of you here at the Church today and possibly to get if not 100% at least 99% and I will have to talk to the 1% who would disagree. But even the majority of the people in the world disagree with the Church’s teaching; it doesn’t mean that the Church is wrong. Does God cease to exist if the majority of people in the world do not believe in God anymore? The Church is here not to please the world like the politicians. The Church is here to teach and to preach the Good News of salvation to the world. And if people and governments are abandoning their moral principles and their faith, it is more important that the Church speaks out to call them back to God and to moral living.
God clearly let us know what he wants from us. God is telling us in the Gospel today, "This is my beloved Son, listen to him!" And Jesus tells us “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:15-16). God wants us to listen to Jesus. And the Church is here to remind us about God’s will for humanity.
Many people are saying that the Catholic Church is out of touch with the world. The U. S. Catholic Bishops are losing ground on moral authority on this matter. I strongly disagree. The Catholic Church is very in touch and engaged with what is going on in the world. The Church sees where the world is heading. It is heading toward the land of the dead. The U. S. Catholic Bishops are not losing ground on moral authority. But our government and our people are losing their sense of morality. We should listen to the teachings of the Church and the leadership of our Catholic Bishops, the teachers of the faith and morality. The president and his administration are not leading us to God. Our Government is losing the sense of authentic Christian morality in exchange for a secular way of living and a Godless nation. Listening to God and obeying God’s commandments will lead us to the land of the living.
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” This is not a recommendation. It is a command. Only listen to Jesus and follow his teachings will lead us to the land of the living. In the prayer of "Our Father" Jesus teaches us to pray for God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And Jesus himself saying, "I come to do the will of my Father." People who disobey God will face consequences.
It is clear right from the beginning of creation that God loves the world. God loves Adam and Eve. God created them and blessed them. God gave them the whole world. God continues to love their descendants as well. God only asks them to obey and follow his commandments. But Adam and Eve didn’t obey. And their descendants continue to disobey God down to our modern age. There are many stories in the Bible telling us about the consequences of disobedience to God. Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden because of their disobedience. Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt because she disobeyed God’s command not to look back at the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Pharaoh refused to follow God’s demand to let the people of Israel go; he and his land of Egypt suffered ten plagues and great destruction. All Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and charioteers went after them right into the midst of the sea. Jonah disobeyed God and while he attempted to run away from his divine commission, was cast overboard and swallowed by a great fish. There are consequences of disobedience.
There are also many stories of good people who are willing to obey God. Abraham is a good example. The first reading says that Abraham is willing to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. The test of Abraham's faith in today's reading is very severe. "Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you."
God has promised to Abraham that descendants shall bear his name through Isaac. And now God is asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, to kill the only child through whom God’s promise seemed likely to be fulfilled. Nevertheless, without hesitation, Abraham is prepared to do what God commands him to do. As Abraham takes the knife and he is about to slaughter Isaac, the messenger of God stops him, saying that he has proved his devotion to God. Because he does not withhold from God his own beloved son, God renews his promise that Abraham would have numerous descendents through whom all nations of the earth would find blessing. The Messiah would come from his descendants. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac shows his devotion and commitment to God.
You and I can also show our devotion and commitment to God through our ovedience to God and to the teachings of the Church. In obedience to God, we will experience what the three disciples experience at the transfiguration. We will be entering the land of the living where it is far better than anywhere else. We will inherit eternal life with God. We will feel as Peter feels, “Teacher, it is good that we are here.” St. Paul tells us that the glory which belonged to Christ as the Son of God that He put aside when he assumed our condition. The glory that finally came to him was a glory he won by a life of obedience to his Father.