Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 14 
Luke 6: 17, 20-26   World Marriage Day

Today is the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time and it is also World Marriage Day. The idea of celebrating marriage on this day began in Baton Rouge, LA, in 1981, when couples asked the Mayor, the Governor and the Bishop to proclaim “St. Valentine’s Day” as “We Believe in Marriage Day.” This proved to be a very successful venture and it was adopted by Worldwide Marriage Encounter’s national leadership. In 1983, the name was changed to World Marriage Day and it has continued to grow year by year. This year it falls on Sunday and we will join the parade with our daily homily.

As a parish priest for many years, I officiated at many, many marriages. Personally, I loved to preside at the marriages themselves but didn’t enjoy the wedding rehearsals very often. I finally got around this by initiating the marriage director position where married people of the parish would conduct all the rehearsals. They did a better job at this than I and everybody was happy.

Years ago I had a little story that I liked and I converted it into a homily for marriage celebrations. I thought it fit real well, but the marriage director in the parish had heard it a few too many times perhaps, and told me she didn’t care for it all that much. There was a lot of friendly guff going back and forth between us about that homily. Anyhow, even though I don’t preside at marriages anymore, I’m going to tell the story one more time. Are you ready?

Once upon a time there was a mud-pie and a dry leaf who were very good friends. You might think this is a funny combination for friendship, but that’s the way it was and they were always together. One day, while talking, they decided to go together to a distant city on a pilgrimage to a shrine. They realized this trip held a few dangers for them that they would have to solve before they left. The first problem was the rain, for if it rained on the mud-pie, the rain would dissolve it to nothing and wash it away. The other danger was the wind, for it would blow the dry leaf away to heaven knows where. So they decided that if it rained, the dry leaf would sit on top of the mud-pie to protect it from the rain washing it away. And if the wind blew, the mud-pie would sit on top of the dry leaf to keep it from blowing away.

So off they went on their pilgrimage and their plan worked perfectly. Until ….. one day the worst thing that could have happened, happened: the rain fell and the wind blew at the same time. The mud-pie was washed away to nothing and the dry leaf blew away never to be seen again. End of story.

The moral of the story: No matter how great your friendship, no mater how close you are and love each other, you can’t do it alone as a married couple. God has to be part of your marriage and your family, and then and only then, will the love and joy, peace and fulfillment you desire be yours. The rains and winds of life will not bother you.

Happy World Marriage Day to all Married Couples.

Fr. Howard

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 8: 11-13

One thing I notice in myself and others as we grow older is the tendency to embrace the negative more than the positive things in life. All of the sudden, the glass begins to be half empty far more often than it appears half full. When I look at the world I live in, I see all the junk; I see the violence, rage, greed, hatred, prejudice, resentments, and anger that is going on. I fail to see or even look for the caring, the love people have for others, the kindness, understanding, forgiveness, compassion, the service that goes on in the world all the time. The same thing with the people and events that happen; I look for all the bad without focusing on the good.

All of this negative stuff is what Jesus was picking up in the Pharisees trying to trap him all the time. Do you suppose the Pharisees were growing old?

Lord, help us to focus on the positive things in life, people and events, and to be able to put all the negative stuff aside. Amen.

Fr. Howard

Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 8: 14-21

Yesterday’s homily dealt with the negativity that the Pharisees drifted into, mainly because they didn’t understand Jesus. They wanted some sign they could understand. Jesus was exasperated with them. He told them no sign would be given to them and walked away.

In today’s Gospel, his disciples do not understand what has been going on. He warns them to guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. “Leaven” was considered to be a symbol of pride or being puffed up. Maybe a good word for it would be self-sufficiency. They were all tied up in themselves and didn’t have enough faith and trust in the Lord Jesus. Consequently, they misunderstood him and things got garbled.

So ….. there are now two things to look our for when trying to understand Jesus’ actions and values: drifting into the negative and letting pride destroy our trust and faith in Jesus. Being positive involves having faith and trust.

Lord, help us to grasp what you are saying, to see things through your eyes and not through our own clouded vision.

Fr. Howard

Ash Wednesday
Mt. 6: 1-6, 16-18

Today we begin the ever-beautiful and rich season of Lent. We shift gears now from Ordinary Time to the penance and repentance of this season. We want to look at ourselves, we want to be able to see clearly all the blocks we have that are diminishing our more intimate relationship with God and with our neighbor. God wishes us to return to him with our whole heart, to focus again on being a truly whole, complete, holy person, eliminating the blocks that prevent this from happening. We pray with the words of Psalm 51, the Responsorial Psalm for today: “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.”

Today, Ash Wednesday, ashes are blest and given to us in a sign of the cross on our foreheads. These ashes are to remind us that God is our final destination. “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is the symbolism of the ashes. I came from God and to God I am destined to return. In order to do this, we must remove the roadblocks and detours that take away from my faith and trust in the Lord. This is where the repentance, the U turns, must happen.

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble focusing on more than one thing at a time. I realize this when I play the accordion and sing at the same time. In order to do that effectively, I have to know either the notes or the words of the song by memory so I can watch only the one I don’t know by memory. If I don’t know either the notes or the words by memory, then I am in trouble. A new song is difficult for me because I have to watch both at the same time. The result is usually not good. Hence, the need of practice.

In trying to change some of my character defects, I think it is wise for me to do try and do one at a time. Two or more is more than I can handle at one time and usually nothing gets done. I share this suggestion with you at the beginning of this U-turn-season of Lent. If we all just remove one block, one defect, during this time, Lent would be for us a roaring success.

Lord, strengthen our resolve to return clean and whole to you.

Fr. Howard

Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Luke 9: 22-25

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

We could just as well phrase the above words to Jesus to read: “If anyone wishes to return to me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” This makes sense, doesn’t it? Jesus is in effect telling us that every day (daily) is Lent. We used to have a Cleric Master in the seminary who was forever telling us: Everyday is Christmas. It is, if you want to look at it in that way. And it is the same thing regarding Lent.

The cross we are to carry daily can consist of many things. We have spoken many times before of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s idea that our daily cross is forgiving one another for the harms we do to one another. Carrying the burden of our brothers and sisters is a cross we all have to carry. There are many other crosses we are to carry every day. Lent gathers this all together into 40 days when we pay particular attention to carrying these crosses.

Lord, give me the strength to do things the way you teach me, particularly during this Lenten season.

Fr. Howard

Friday after Ash Wednesday 
Mt. 9: 14-15

Fasting is primarily the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food or drink or both for a certain period of time. Why and how this is done varies greatly and we certainly are not going to be able to cover all of it here in a few moments. For me, as I just said before, Lent is a time to focus on what needs changing in my life to produce a better relationship with my God and my neighbor; to focus on removing the blocks to these relationships. Fasting can help create an atmosphere of focus.

Also, it is probably that this idea of fasting is where the idea of “giving up” something during Lent came from. One may give up candy, desserts, booze, cursing or whatever during Lent. Per se this all seems an OK thing to do. But the trouble with this “giving up” is that all too often it turns into an end in itself. One “gives up” something and that’s all there is to Lent, that’s all she wrote. My Lent is going to be successful or not depending on whether or not I succumb to taking or using what I have given up. This, to me, is not what Lent is all about. If there is any “giving up” of things during Lent, it should be a means to an end, the end of focusing on various blocks we were just speaking of. If fasting is a means to an end, go for it. If it is an end in itself, forget it.

Lord, help me to focus on my spiritual life during Lent and not on the many other things that make no difference to it at all.

Fr. Howard

Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Luke 5: 27-32

“I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

Today’s Gospel narrates the invitation of Jesus to Matthew (Levi) to “follow him.” And Matthew got up, left everything behind, and followed Jesus. Matthew was a sinner and yet Jesus invited him to follow him. We, too, are to leave everything behind; we are to leave all the things, all the blocks that keep us from following Jesus in a more intimate way. To follow is to leave everything behind, all of the excess baggage. When we accept his call, this is what we are saying we will do.

Tomorrow we begin the first week of Lent. The introduction of Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday is over. Now we know what we are about for these 40 days. I would suggest we all make a decision, a commitment, to get busy now and make this a profitable season for us spiritually.

Jesus, help me to love you as you love me.

Fr. Howard

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