March 15, 2020 Third Sunday in Lent Fr Andy Upah

Homily for Nativity on the Third Sunday of Lent 3/15/2020


    Being a young pastor, I really wanted to come up with a really great plan for Lent.  I wanted to look ahead at the readings, make sure I focused on the three key aspects of Lent - prayer, fasting, and almsgiving - staying on track, covering all the bases, and making sure everyone was prepared for Easter.  

    But with the rise of the CoronaVirus, each weekend I just feel like I have been reacting to what is happening.  I never made that plan so it’s not like it’s going to waste, but I feel the need to react a little more today.

    First of all, this virus can be spread by touch, so even though we are accustomed to it, it is not necessary to reach into the holy water to make the sign of the cross as we enter Church. So if infected people have coughed or sneezed on their hands and then placed their fingers in the holy water font, the virus could be left there. 

    The holy water is meant to remind us of our baptism, but it is not necessary.  I remember growing up that our fonts would always be filled with sand during Lent to remind us that we are in the desert with Jesus.  I was in Jesup on Thursday and theirs were filled with rocks for a similar reason.

    For our purpose, I have taken the bowls completely out.  I could have just taken the water out, but my feeling is, people won’t recognize that there is no water in them, still reach into the bowl, leave their germs in there trying to feel for the water, and that will happen continuously with more and more germs being passed.

    Someone said on the way into church, “maybe you should have replaced the water with hand sanitizer.” And I would have except we can’t buy it anymore and I am trying to conserve what we have.

    Second, but along those lines, it is not necessary to hold hands for the Our Father.  This is not so much of a thing here because we are so spread out, but if and when you attend other churches, I want you to know it isn’t necessary to hold hands, flu season or not.  

    I’m not sure where holding hands came from but I used to find it very distracting.  I’m more worried about holding their hand than about praying… am I holding too tightly? Too Loosely? Are my hands sweating?  What is my thumb doing?  All these thoughts and pretty soon the prayer is over!

    Many people hold their hands out like this.  That can be confused for people wanting to hold hands when they really don’t. But actually this is the Orans position of the priest, and liturgically, the only direction given by the Church is that the priest is to hold their hands out, it doesn’t say what the people are to do.

    Generally, in that situation, when no change is called for in the ritual, it is best to not do anything different.  How were you praying 30 seconds earlier?  Most likely by kneeling with your hands folded.  So stand up, and continue praying with your hands folded.  

    When there is a deacon here, that is what he is supposed to be doing, hands folded.  The deacon is usually a good one to imitate in these matters.  

    Similar to last week when I said I am not going to dictate how you receive Jesus in the Eucharist, in the hands or on the tongue, I am not going to dictate what you do with your hands during the “Our Father” either.  I just don’t want people to feel guilty for not holding hands.

    Do whatever helps you feel more connected to God, what helps you pray better.  The “Our Father” is an important prayer, given to us by Jesus himself.  It is so important, in fact, that when I introduce it, I say, “At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say…”

    “We dare to say!”  That’s pretty loaded if you think about it, if I am daring you to say it, to pray this important prayer.  So we should pray it full of reverence, not worried so much about what we are doing with our hands as we are about living the words coming out of our mouths.  Living that prayer is the difficult thing.

    Third thing, the sign of peace.  Did you know that the presider (or deacon) has the option to say, “let us offer each other the sign of peace.”  Although we almost always say it, it is totally optional, according to the big red book. 

     I’m not going to delve into the theological aspects of the sign of peace, but I just want to say, I’m going to keep saying it for now and you can do what you want as far as shaking hands or not.

    Here we are so spread out anyway, it seems people are just doing this (peace sign) quite often.  

    An alternative, if people are closer, is to keep your hands folded like they were in prayer, like this, and just look around and say “peace.”  If you are in the same family, go ahead and shake hands, you are most likely all gonna get sick together or not.

    Just don’t feel guilty about not shaking hands, okay?  That goes for before, during, or after Mass.  I love to shake hands, but don’t feel bad about not shaking my hand either, any time of the year.  I probably shake more hands than anyone, I am probably the biggest germ carrier here if you think about it.  

    Bottom line is, you are your own best health care advocate… do what you think is right. As with any illness, we are not culpable for mortal sin if we refrain from attending Mass due to serious health concerns and set aside time for prayer or watching Mass on TV or the internet, or even listen on the radio. 



    Please take care of yourself, but if you are not a vulnerable population or not displaying symptoms, then our obligation to Mass in this Archdiocese remains for now. If you have questions about this, please don't hesitate to contact me.

    I just don’t want anyone to die from this.  Personally, I’m not worried about it.  I just went to confession on Friday so I’m not worried about dying.  

    The worst thing that could happen from my perspective is if the Archbishop tells us to stop saying Mass publically, so we could no longer gather together to pray with and for one another and receive Jesus in the Eucharist, but the nice thing about being a priest is that I can celebrate the Mass on my own, I can always receive the Eucharist.

    For me, when something like this happens, it’s always cause to stop and say, “what is really important?” There’s really no point to sit around and question God as to why this is happening, it’s better to question what can I learn from this? How can I grow through this?

    For instance, you know I love sports and they’ve basically all been cancelled or suspended indefinitely.  My two favorite sports days of the year were coming up this week, Thursday and Friday, the first round of the NCAA tournament.  Thirty-two games in two days, win or go home, every game matters, many upsets, it’s a lot of fun.

    But suddenly on Thursday the whole tournament was cancelled.  And you know how I felt, after that initial shock and a little bit of sadness?  I felt relief.  

    Deep in my heart, I felt relieved that I no longer needed to spend the better part of three weeks watching games, I could focus on my prayer, I could focus on my ministry, I could stay more in the desert of Lent with Jesus, so to speak.

    I thought what I wanted was to watch basketball until my eyes dried out, but it turns out what my heart really wanted was more time with God

    “What is really important” to me is that relationship, to know I am in a state of grace thanks to confession and to continue to receive the Eucharist, to continue to have that quality time with God. 

    In today’s readings, people are confronted by their thirst, they are confronted by what is really important.  See, we are all searching for happiness, we are all thirsting for something. 

    But so often we try to satisfy that thirst with the wrong things.  In our Gospel, the Samaritan woman was trying to satisfy her thirst for love with multiple husbands.  But once she found Jesus, she trusted that he would be the one that could quench her thirst with life giving water.

    Like her, sometimes we try to satisfy our thirst for life with our relationships with people.  Sometimes we try to satisfy our thirst for life with sports.  There are so many things out there that we try to quench our thirst with, things that we believe will give us happiness, joy, peace, hope, and any combination thereof.

    On Thursday night I turned on ESPN, which is the primary channel I watch, and since there were no sports, I just watched SportsCenter. As I was listening to the announcer, Scott Van Pelt, he said this:

    “That’s my biggest fear, is, I think that we, naturally, given what it is we do, we view things through the prism of sports and I believe, and have long held, that sports provide us the greatest place for us to gather, and in the absence of that, I just feel like we're all going to be looking for something and some place to gather and feel better about things, but I guess for now, we oughta just sorta keep our distance from one another and just hope for the best.”

    Did you catch that?  Scott believes that “sports provide us the greatest place for us to gather, and in the absence of that, I just feel like we're all going to be looking for something and some place to gather and feel better about things...” This quote struck me, obviously.

    I believe the Church is the best place for us to gather, not just now in the absence of sports, but always. The Church is the best place to help us feel better about things when we realize everything is out of our control, we let go of our own ideas and are open to God’s plan.  

    And we can keep our distance and hope for the best, but not just hope like Scott said, we come here and we pray for the best, we trust that Jesus is going to give us the best and He is going to be with all of us in this.  

    Sometimes, in the absence of certain things, we can come to our senses about what is really important, what we truly search for.  God has made us for Himself, and our heart is restless until it rests in Him. 

    We must stop trying to quench our thirst in what does not satisfy, and rest in the One who was born to restore us to friendship with God through his life, death and resurrection.

    Like the Samaritan woman who recognized her need for a savior, we too must recognize our need for salvation from our sins, and turning from those sins, we find true life in Christ.   

     Thanks to the CoronaVirus, we are entering deeper into this 40 day desert of Lent.  May God help us to recognize Jesus Christ as our only Savior, the only One who will satisfy our thirst for life.