Sunday Word

Lent is ‘Extreme Makeover: Faith Edition’

Father David Scotchie
Sunday, March 1 First Sunday of Lent
Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Ps 51:3-6, 12-13, 17; Rom 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11

“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” was a TV series. The show’s producers coordinated with a local construction contractor for a makeover of the home of a family dealing with a hardship. The TV show helped families of veterans, single parents, and children with cancers or disabilities. It raised awareness of families suffering from domestic violence, gang-related crimes and drug abuse.

The family was sent on a weeklong paid vacation. If the house was beyond repair, it was replaced. The materials and labor were donated. Many volunteers assisted in the crash renovation of the house. In short:

The family and its home were in great need of an extreme makeover

The extreme makeover was done at no cost to the family

The extreme makeover made the home better than new

The next five weeks of Lent is “Extreme Makeover: Faith Edition.” I don’t have a bullhorn like the TV host. We won’t be chanting “Move that bus!” But I will make the same points:

We are in great need of an extreme makeover

The makeover is done by the Lord at no cost to us

The makeover makes us better than new

Today, just the first point: You and I are in great need of an extreme makeover.

The problem started when the serpent showed up in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve declared that God forbade them to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent countered, “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil” (see Gen 3:1-5).

The serpent did not say, “Eat the fruit.” Instead, it slyly put God’s goodness into question. It cast doubt whether God’s warning about death was the real reason not to eat from the tree. Did God give the warning so that the man and woman may flourish? Or did God want to keep Adam and Eve in their place?

The temptation raised doubts in their minds. Is God loving or not? Does God want what is best for me? Or does God want what is best for God?

Adam and Eve fell for it. They believed the serpent’s lie. The woman took some of the fruit and ate it. She gave some to her husband, and he ate it. In eating from the tree, they believed the serpent more than they believed God.

Like Adam and Eve, we fall for the serpent’s lie. The catechism teaches, “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 397).

The fundamental temptation is to disbelieve God’s goodness. We are seduced to think that we, not God, know what is best for ourselves, our family and friends, our health and wealth, our work and play. Once the seed of distrust is planted, it grows into disobedience of God’s ways. And so we fall.
In 1989 a medical alarm company called LifeCall ran a commercial. An elderly woman on her bathroom floor activates her medical alert pendant. The dispatcher asks her what the problem is. Mrs. Fletcher cries out, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

Adam and Eve fell for the serpent’s lie. Sin and death entered the world. Paradise became purgatory (Gen 3:8-13). Humanity was helpless. We’ve fallen and we can’t get up.

The good news is the Lord is in the extreme makeover business. At no cost to you, he makes you better than new. (Note that he does not necessarily take away temptation!)

During the forty days of Lent we will hear how the Lord Jesus did extreme makeovers for the women at the well, a man born blind, and his friend Lazarus.

Next week, I will be talking especially to retirees who are 70 years and older. The Lord can do extreme makeovers even for you.

To take to prayer: When have you fallen? What did the Lord do?

Father Scotchie is the pastor of Nativity Parish, Longwood. He is the co-author of “Rites of Passage: Preaching Baptisms, Weddings, and Funerals.”

The Spirit of God dwells in all of us

Father Alfredo Hernández
Sunday, Feb. 23
Lv 19:1-2, 17-18; Ps 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48

This week, as we prepare to enter into Lent, we continue reading the section of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus calls his disciples to live out the law of Moses in a new and radical way. This Sunday’s passage (Mt 5:38–48) offers some of the most frustrating of Jesus’s teachings, for many of us, because it can seem as if he is excusing injustice: “But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” Turning the other cheek, walking another mile for the one who has pressed us into service, and loving our enemies are difficult concepts to wrap our heads around, much less to accept as ways to live. Jesus himself says at the end of this passage that we should be perfect as our “heavenly Father is perfect,” but isn’t that too much to ask for?

In truth, the second reading from St. Paul (1 Cor 3:16–23) offers us the reason why we should worry about others and love them, even those we don’t particularly like: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” Our vocation to perfection stems from the fact that we are the “temple of God.” The obligation to honor the image of God in all other persons is also rooted in their deepest identity, even if perchance they do not recognize it, as those who are or are called to be temples of God. This truth also makes it easier to acknowledge that it is up to God to exact vengeance for offences against his temple, not to us, so to suffer injustice unites us to Christ, the true Templet that was destroyed, but was raised up on the third day.

Accepting this teaching is very difficult. We want to defend ourselves when we are offended. When we look at the world around us, in which there so much is war and so many abuses against human rights, do we not demand retribution? When there has been pain in our own families, caused maybe by those who should have most cared for us, can we truly let it go? When someone has offended us directly, don’t we just want to hit right back? This desire for vengeance, which is quite different from real justice, does nothing to bring about real peace in our hearts. The truth is that the desire for vengeance is in the end unworthy of us, as temples of the Holy Spirit, and does not respect the dignity of others.

There is no doubt that all of this goes very much against the grain for us. It went against the grain about 2,500 years ago when the author of Leviticus wrote, “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It went against the grain when Jesus said that we should love our enemies. It goes against the grain today when the tendency is to quickly vilify the person who dares to think differently than ourselves, using any means available, including social media.

Jesus does not ask us to support or tolerate injustice. In many places he affirms that it is necessary to speak the truth and challenge evil, and he does so himself. Our road to perfection, however, requires walking with Jesus on the way to Calvary, as we will do in the Lenten season that begins Wednesday. It is this road that opens the way to true justice, the justice of the Kingdom of God. The next time we are tempted to react against those who have hurt us, perhaps it would be helpful to remember who I am and who the other is: the temple of God.

Father Alfredo Hernández is Vice Rector and Academic Dean of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.

Jesus is calling us to a wider view than we realize

Father Alfredo Hernández
Sunday, Feb. 16
Sir 15:15-20; Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Mt 5:17-37 or 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37

After the Beatitudes and last week’s beautiful words about our mission to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world,” the section of the Sermon on the Mount we read today is downright frightening. We hear talk about Gehenna and cutting of hands and plucking out eyes. One of the few scary movies I remember giving me nightmares as a child involved an overly literal interpretation of one of the several tough teachings in this week’s Gospel: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” How do we understand the harsh words of Jesus in this passage?

The bottom line is that Jesus is showing His authority as the new Moses. He is not canceling the Law of Moses, but renewing it and giving it its full power. To those who read the Law seeking to see how little they could do and get away with it, much like people who read the tax code looking for a loophole, Jesus is making clear that this approach is all wrong. Maybe the key section is this: “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

We are accustomed to a very minimalistic way of looking at morality. Like high school kids trying to figure out what is the least they can do to get by with a B–, instead of doing all they can to get an A, we can tend to look for the easiest way. We may sometimes think of the moral law as if we were playing limbo and trying to see how low we can go without falling into trouble, instead of trying to see how we can do our best. In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is raising the bar. He is calling us to a wider view. It is good for us to consider how we want to fulfil the mission of being “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” Can we dedicate ourselves totally to fulfilling God’s will, as Jesus did?

This is an important point. Jesus did not present us with difficult teachings as if he were giving us orders, without being willing to live up to them himself. He is the one who is fulfilling the law completely, with his life, with his ministry, and in the end with his Passion, death, and resurrection. To submit ourselves totally to God’s will without looking for shortcuts is the way of living our lives as followers of Jesus, because this is what he always did.

On this Valentine’s Day weekend, when married couples and sweethearts celebrate their love, it is good to consider today’s Gospel particularly from the point of view or married life. Jesus speaks of faithfulness in marriage as something that should be absolute, not only in acts but even in thought. No bride or bridegroom would like to hear their beloved ask: “What is the minimum I have to do for you to stay with me?” Shouldn’t their question be instead: “What is the most that I can do to show my love for you?” Love between spouses should be like this, as should our love for God.

We are given a choice today. As the Book of Sirach expresses it: “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” Jesus presents us life and the means to have life, as we follow him. The Psalmist puts it even more simply: “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.” The road to blessing is the road on which we follow Christ. Finally, St. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, speaks to the question of whether all of this isn’t just outdated moralism: “We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.” What is passing is not the God’s law, but the wisdom and the rulers “of this age.”

I invite you then to read today’s Gospel in this light. Know that we are invited to share in something more wonderful than we can imagine, as we are called to follow Jesus. As St. Paul writes: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” Instead of asking what the minimum is we have to do, let’s ask what is the full “Yes” Jesus is calling us to: “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’” In our “Yes” we will find the joy “God has prepared for those who love him.”

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United States Conference of Catholic Bishops