Sermon Notes by Fr.Eugene A. Thalman M.Mfor Homilists and Religion Teachers. Embargo: Catholics are welcome to read after Noon, Sunday.
[Our Lady of Fatima is a Catholic parish of the Hong Kong diocese. It is located on a one-square mile island. The total population is over 30,000. About 50 Filipino Catholics attend the English/Tagalog Sunday Mass and about 120 Chinese Catholics attend the Chinese Mass. The Church is also a center for pilgrimage. The pastor, Fr.Gene Thalman M.M., ordained 1960 is a Maryknoll missioner. He enjoys sharing with you his weekly struggle to make the Word of God relevant to this particular community.[email protected]. . Cf. also Social Concerns Lessons at (www.acpp.org) under "Library."]
THE GENTLEMAN IN THE RED FLANNEL UNDERWEAR
02/13/02 First Sunday of Lent Year A Matt: 4:1-11
In 1951, China was in turmoil. Many people fled China and came to Hong Kong. At the same time, there were also foreign missioners who were expelled from China by the Communist government. These missioners had one question. "What would God like us to do in Hong Kong?"
I began my first parish assignment in 1961. I was in charge of a noodle factory and each day we distributed noodles to the refugees. We also made bread. We opened a clinic for the sick. There were few secondary schools. After sixth grade many children began their working life. We had an Adult English School and I taught English. Each month, I had an "Evening Show" for non-Christians. I had a big tape recorder and a 16-mm projector. Those were some of the things that priests like myself did in the 1950ís and 1960ís to carry out the mission given us by Jesus. In St. Matthewís gospel, the final chapter, the second last verse Jesus commissioned all of us: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations."
JESUSí MISSION Jesus is about thirty years of age. During those past thirty years, Jesus got to learn a lot about Godís Word, the Holy Scriptures. Jesus loved to think about the things that God said and did for his chosen people. Like all of us, Jesus realized that his life was precious. Like all of us, Jesus realized that his life had a purpose. God has given him a special mission.
However, God did not give Jesus a detailed handbook of how to carry out this mission. So Jesus, all by himself, went into the desert to find out. He needed to be alone with God, his Father. He needed to do some thinking.
Now the apostles were not with Jesus in the desert. One day Jesus decided to inform the disciples of the things that happened in the desert? Of course, Jesus could have said: "While in the desert I brainstormed a long list of possible approaches to mission. I examined this list and compared each with the Word of God. Afterwards, I formulated this plan." But that would be a dull lecture and the apostles would soon be yawning. But Jesus was a great speaker. He knew how to hold an audience in rapt attention.
When Jesus taught anything really important, he would use stories. These were exciting stories and often made people laugh like festive hyenas.
Jesus must have said something like this:
"At the beginning of my public ministry, I had some important decisions to make. I decided to spend forty days and nights in a quiet place. I wanted to recall the 40 years that Moses and the chosen people spent in the desert and how God tested their Faith. I wanted to see what I could learn from their successes and failures.
"Well, as you can guess after forty days, I was tired and hungry and still hadnít come to any concrete plans. So this guy comes. I am immediately suspicious because he had an ugly face, a sneaky smile and wore red flannel underwear. I immediately suspected that this fellow might be up to no good. But God sent him to administer to me three tests. He offered three options. At first sight each of these options had merit. The examination paper required me to evaluate each option from Godís perspective.
"There were some old stones laying there and this guy reminded me that I was hungry and suggested that I change those stones into bread. Perhaps he was hungry, too. He suggested that this would be a practice run and I could open a gigantic bakery and feed everybody in the world. I would be popular. Then the poor would listen to my words and follow me."
(Later Jesus actually multiplied loaves and fishes on two separate occasions. But that was because Jesus felt sorry because the folks were hungry and might faint on the way home. Also Jesus wanted to show people that he was the new Moses and that he was trying to liberate them from sin.)
Jesus went on to say what happened next:
"Red flannel underwear can be itchy in a hot desert, so this examiner took me to a cool spot on the parapet of the temple. The devil suggested hiring a band. At the finale, I would signal to the crowd below and jump. The folks would be impressed and everyone would want to be baptized."
[In point of fact, there was a magician who lives around this time. His name was Simon Magus. He boasted that he could fly through the air. Before a large crowd, he demonstrated this ability but the results proved unsatisfactory and his career ended abruptly.]
"The devil likes to study the bible and quoted Psalm 91: ëGod will bid his angels to take care of you Öthat you may never stumble on a stone.í"
(Now we know that Jesus did a number of fantastic miracles. like walking on water and changing water into wine. But this wasnít to get converts but to help out the newly weds and to teach us about the Kingdom of God.
Jesus answered with Deut: 6:16:
"íYou shall not put the Lord your God to the test.í
In other words, God expects us to get off our bottoms and do our part. Jesus continued:
"Finally the devil took me to the top of a big mountain and showed me all the kingdoms of the earth. With political power, I could introduce Christian principles, free the slave population of the Roman Empire, sort out the national revenues and distribute the goods of the world justly. It was a tempting approach to mission. But I knew that time was short and I would have to make too many compromises. I would have to form alliances with shady characters and attend too many banquets. Of course, the poor would be grateful but I also came to save all sinners including the wealthy sinners.
"So I thanked the fellow in the red flannel underwear. To his credit, he did give me some useful suggestions which I sanitized and passed on to my followers."
Now that Jesus had the undivided attention of his apostles, he outlined his plan. Jesus gave himself a three-year time frame.
Jesusí destination would be Jerusalem, he would concentrate doing three things. Firstly, Jesus would teach his "Happiness Plan." [Beatitudes]. Secondly, he would heal the sick and suffering. Thirdly, he would expose hypocrisy and injustice." Evidently God the Father liked the plan because he sent some angels to serve Jesus a delicious meal.
But I doubt if the apostles were slapping hands when Jesusí told them about his great plan. Indeed, the apostles didnít feel that the plan held out much promise. They thought it might end in defeat, suffering and death. It did.
However, the apostles did not yet know about the Resurrection. And the plan wasnít that bad after-all.
Our challenge this morning is: "During Lent 2002 will we at Our Lady of Fatima be Catholic sightseers? Or will we be Jesusí collaborators and disciples on this journey to Jerusalem?"
On this first Sunday of Lent, we ask ourselves two questions: "What is our mission?" And "How will we carry out this mission?" Like Jesus we have no detailed instructions. God doesnít impose his will on us. However, from studying Godís Word, we can have a pretty good idea of what kinds of mission activities and strategies that God likes a lot.
INDIVIDUAL RESPONSEEach person in this Church this morning has a mission. This mission involves not only God but also: family, parents, wife, husband, children, employer, neighbors. All of these people must be factored into our mission plan. Each person individually and each family unit requires some "desert time."
(For example, I enjoy listening to the radio news between I fall asleep at night. Sometimes I fall asleep and radio stays on all night. But during Lent I need to forgo this recreation and spend this time in the desert in case God wants to remind me of one of his Words.)
(Or a family, may wish to forego an hour of TV Fridays each week to evaluate their plan to accompany Jesus on this yearís trip to Jerusalem.)
COMMUNITY RESPONSESEach of our parish societies need "desert time". This may take the form of a weekend retreat, a half-day retreat or two hours of discussing Godís word and revisiting your parish groupís plan. Our parish societies test their plans to see whether they fit in with Godís values. We will not be sightseers but companions in mission.
FINALE: I will give you two minutes to plan how you will find "desert time" alone, in your family and in your parish group."
HOMILETIC NOTES AND STUFF
02/13/02 First Sunday of Lent Year A Matt: 4:1-11
TWO WORDS: Mission planning
THEME: In Lent, the Church invites us to the desert to plan our mission.
TEXT: "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the
Father, as a result of this sermon, I spent several hours in the desert. I am going to talk to our pastor about the possibility of the priesthood. I hope he says I am not fit.
Father, as a result of this sermon, I spent several hours in the desert. I am going to inquire about the Maryknoll China Volunteer English Teaching program.
CHURCHíS POINT OF VIEW
"The Lenten season has a twofold character: 1) it recalls baptism or prepares for it; 2) it stresses a penitential spirit. By these means especially, Lent readies the faithful for celebrating the paschal mystery
after a period of closer attention to the
Word of GodÖ."
[Emphasis added: et] [Walter M. Abbott, (Editor), "Liturgy", Documents of Vatican II (New York: Guild Press, 1966), #109, p. 169-170.
(This was a difficult sermon. We had many ideas but it was hard to arrive at a sharp and realistic focusóthat one word. For a time, temptation as examination gave hopes of providing the glue. But in the end, everything focused on mission. seemed to be the direction. Below are some of the thoughts we did not use. However, Lent is forty days so these may come in useful in future Lenten talks.)
IDEAS #1: Moses=Jesus Matthew likes to show us that Jesus, the new Moses, had an examination quite similar to that of the chosen people when they were in the desert. The Chosen people failed each test. But Jesus passed with flying colors.
IDEAS #2: We only live once. Life is short so we donít want to waste time and energy. We want to pursue that plan which will most effectively bring us to our destination. During Lent we administrator tests to ourselves to determine to what degree our plans correspond to the criteria set by Godís word.
IDEAS #3: (A "test" is amore accurate English translation of the Hebrew than the word the seducing word "temptation.") Many students dislike examinations. But the Good News of our Lenten examination is that we correct make our own examinations. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, each parish group marks its own exam. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, each of Jesusí disciples marks his/her own exam.
Chewing, Digesting and Practicing Godís Word
02/13/02 First Sunday of Lent Year A Matt: 4:1-11
nAME_________ WOMAN I LEAST LIKE IN BIBLE_________ Grade______
5. What "desert time", will you set aside during Lent 2002? ______________