LEAVE CHIP AND JOANNA GAINES ALONE...

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 24, 2017. The readings for today can be found at: As always, I’m grateful for your stopping by to read this blog; for your comments and feedback; and for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Redditt. Have a great week! God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
Over the last few years I have become a fan of HGTV. Not too long ago I shared how the show "Property Brothers" ruined my life when I watched their show decided I could complete a do it yourself project of ripping wall paper down in the Newman Center. Not only did it take up a whole weekend and resulted in a lot of unsatisfactory feelings about myself, the world, and Jonathan and Drew who are the Property Brothers... it also resulted in me having to hire someone to finish the job anyway. Despite this experience, it has gotten me into a couple of other shows on the network. Maybe in this world with so much craziness on TV it’s calming to see a house that is run down get a transformational make-over in an hour.

One of the shows that I’ve gotten into is called Fixer Upper. If any of you have seen it, you know it features a husband and wife team, Chip and Joanna Gaines who are real estate people, contractors and decorators. Despite my loathing of dad-jokes - and Chip could be the inventor of them - overall, just seeing a husband and wife who love each other, their kids and working and supporting together, well I guess it seems kind of rare to see that depicted, so I’ve gotten to become quite a fan.

Well a couple of weeks ago I was talking about this unlikely viewing choice for me with some former students and they said "you heard Joanna is leaving the show" - which I didn’t believe and figured it was "FAKE NEWS" . When I went on the internet to prove it, I saw other stories popping up not saying she wasn’t leaving the show, but that she was leaving Chip... Which I really couldn’t believe. I mean if you watch the show, the two of them are not the greatest of actors. So their relationship, their love for each other seemed even more real. So it just seemed VERY FAKE NEWS.

Which in fact was the case. The two appeared - together- on NBC’s "The Today Show" and they were asked if they were ever prepared for the fame that their program has brought them, and you could see their unease. Joanna talked about these rumors, the stories popping up saying "... I don't do great with seeing that kind of stuff, reading into it, I just don't know what's going on... someone [will] come up to me and say, 'I hear you and Chip are getting a divorce.' I'm like, 'Where did you hear?' You know, I don't know any of this is going on."


For the most part I’m kind of dismissive of celebrity stories. I just don’t get the whole fascination and the amount of time and energy many devote to following them, so I don’t usually pay any attention to these headlines. But this really bothered me. Here’s two people from Waco Texas who have worked hard for their marriage, their family, their business and were able to build this into something that became a TV hit and here comes these bizarre, untrue stories not about their craftsmanship, or their real estate expertise. But about their marriage and family. Some people seem intent on wanting to tear them down.  Why?  Quite simply - jealousy. 

That seems to be what drives a lot of the TMZ/Entertainment Weekly/celebrity based "media."  Sadly there has to be a tremendous amount of public consumption for it otherwise people wouldn’t report it (if people aren’t tuning in or buying these magazines, they would disappear).  In fact there’s so much public consumption that even "legitimate" news organizations will delve into speculative, salacious reporting.   Celebrities and other public figures are held up as people who seem highly successful - excelled in some area, have financial wealth or security, have power or influence – and that drive, that desire among many of us to be like that - to be "famous" - rich, popular... when we don’t achieve that same level of success, it turns to anger and can feed into jealousy. 
This isn’t a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. Look at the effect of jealousy at play in today’s Gospel.  This parable is probably one that is the least  favorite for many people - at least in my unscientific study or experience.  No matter how many times or ways I’ve preached on it, people will inevitably come out after Mass and say "You know Father, I still don’t think it’s right...it’s not fair..."

What’s not right? That this landowner hires people at dawn, at nine in the morning, at noon, at three in the afternoon and even at five o’clock - and eventually pays them all the same amount - they get a full days pay.  There’s almost this internal trigger that’s set off in people’s minds saying "that’s just not right" (as if the landowner was taking an opinion poll of people about how he should conduct his affairs)  The people in the story who work all day gripe, they complain - they become jealous of these late comers.  Probably there was more criticisms being offered - those people must’ve been lazy not to even worry about finding a job till late in the day - and now look they just waltz in here and here I’ve been working all day.  Somehow the day-long workers believe they’ve been wronged, diminished, or slighted by these late comers being the beneficiaries of an extremely generous landowner.
What makes this even more unpopular for listeners to the story is when they recognize that Jesus is using this parable to illustrate His generosity, His lavish love for humanity.  That someone could come to know, come to follow Jesus later in life - and still experience the same eternal kingdom that we have been longing for.  They get to enjoy the same blessings of this heavenly eternal reward that we’ve been denying ourselves and not conforming to the things of this world for some time in marking ourselves as citizens of that kingdom already. 

But as is often the case with jealousy, it blinds us from the good news that we’ve experienced:

How Jesus looks at each of us as individuals. 

How He knows when we’re struggling and trying. 

How He knows when we think we’re getting one by him - or found a loop hole. 

How He sees when we’re making a genuine, sincere effort... just as clearly as when we’re acting like two year olds, stomping our feet at the perception that they’ve been slighted because someone else got a sip more milk in their cup than we did...


In all those highs or lows - Jesus isn’t looking at us and comparing us to someone else.  He’s not bringing an account ledger out like some Santa Claus with a "Naughty vs Nice list" (that’s a whole other story. "You better watch out...."). Jesus is loving us as his brother and sister.  He’s loving us - knowing all those ups, downs, failures, successes, fears, dreams, doubts, triumphs that are there... He’s seeing past those times where we’ve rejected him - longing for that moment where we turn back to Him- and recognize Him and His Father and the Holy Spirit’s amazing action in our life that is the source of all of our gifts, talents, and opportunities... Even more, how he is the source of the very breath of life that we breathe.  And that once we recognize those things, he asks us to glorify Him with all that we have - in all that we do.

I know in my own life, when jealousy has entered the picture - whether it was something someone else had or was doing or achievement they had attained - there’s two wounds that it causes: First I have these negative feelings towards another in my jealousy - and equally as destructive... I start to ignore what God is doing in my life. In doing that - I miss the opportunities that are before me. I am blinded by the jealousy that perhaps God wants to use me and other people to do something new, something different, something that will glorify Him in a whole new way that I can’t conceive of. In the end - what does someone else’s things; or Chip and Joanna’s marriage have to do with me and my life.  

Jesus’ urgency though in sharing this story is when we recognize it’s not a story about employment. Those of us who were blessed to be born and raised Catholic-Christians, we can’t forget how blessed it is that we’ve known the truth of those words from the first reading to– seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near. Jesus wants us to see how we are renewed in those blessings when we find a newcomers has found their way here (or better yet somehow found their way here by our witness our example). Jesus wants us to rejoice when those who’ve wandered away come back. Jesus wants us to never stop sharing the good news of the landowner, or rather the Loving Father who never gives up on those still lost, still afraid, still believing lies like "God doesn’t want me" or "I can’t go there, I’m not holy enough" or the other opposite extreme "I don’t want to go there - they’re a bunch of hypocrites."

Because in the end, this Gospel reminds us of a simple but important truth. All of us are blessed to be here, not because of anything we’ve done, but because God has sought us first.

THE EXTREMES OF ANGER AND FORGIVENESS

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - September 17, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091717.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this; for sharing it on your Twitter, Facebook or reddit; and for your  comments and feedback.  Hope you have a great week!  God Bless- Fr Jim


HOMILY:
Of the many mysteries of life that exists - one that I have little explanation for is the effect that sports and being a fan has on many of us. And yes, I am including myself into this discussion. I can’t explain the passion, the range of emotions that accompany following or rooting for a team. Much of it is irrational. And when mixed with superstition, which tends to happen a lot, things can get out of hand.

For example, the Chicago Cubs and their alleged being "cursed" comes to mind. Just a quick recap - Way back in 1945, this guy who owned what was called the Billy Goat Tavern brought his goat, named Murphy to Game 4 of the 1945 World Series. Murphy’s stench, rather than the fact he was, well, a goat, seemed to be the determining factor on why the animal wasn’t allowed into the game. The goat had his own ticket, after all.. Because they were asked to leave the outraged owner declared, "Them Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more!" And they didn’t - for decades. They came close - a bunch of times. And of course everytime they failed to advance to the playoffs, or got swept in a series or something, the explanation that seemed to make the most sense wasn’t that the other team was better; or that the complexities of the sport allows for random, unforseen things to happen -no - the reason they didn’t win was "the curse."

Fast forward to 2003: the Cubs were in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS, with Chicago ahead in that game 3–0 and holding a three game to two game lead in the best of seven series. At a critical moment, several fans attempted to catch a foul ball. One of the fans, named Steve Bartman, reached for the ball, deflecting it and disrupting a potential catch by the Cubs outfielder. If the ball had been caught it would have been the second out in the inning and the Cubs would have been just four outs away from winning their first National League pennant since 1945. Instead, the Cubs ended up giving eight runs in that inning and eventually losing the game, 8–3. When they were eliminated in the seventh game the next day, the "Bartman incident" was seen as the turning point of the series. 


 The "curse" lived - and a life-long fan who in the excitement of the game did what any other fan would’ve done - tried to catch a ball - became the new "Murphy" the new personification of the curse. He was chased out of the stadium that night. Six police officers had to protect him and his home; the Governor of Illinois suggested he might want to enter the Witness Protection Program; The "ball" which was called the "Bartman Ball" was auctioned off and sold for over $100,000 which was publically destroyed in 2004. The man became infamous. Became a pariah. And the amazing thing was in this celebrity obsessed culture where people seem to long for any attention, even bad attention, despite many lucrative offers to do commercials, appearances, interviews - (including a 6 figured ad that would’ve run on the Super Bowl) Bartman steadfastly refused, pointing to his immediate response that he was truly sorry - he was a true Cubs fan and hated that his actions could’ve had a negative impact on his beloved team winning.

A year ago, as many of you know, the Chicago Cubs broke the Billy Goat Curse the Bartman Curse or more accurately - won the World Series for the first time in 71 years. And the Cubs made a pretty amazing gesture. They gave Bartman a treasured World Series ring - something that only the players, the management and those closest to the organization ever receive to mark this momentous achievement. In their statement they said "We hope this provides closure on an unfortunate chapter of the story that has perpetuated throughout our quest to win a long awaited World Series. While no gesture can fully lift the public burden (Steve) has endured for more than a decade, we felt it important to know he has been and continues to be fully embraced by this organization."

Bizarre isn't it? The players, the team, pretty early on recognized this guy did nothing wrong. The fan knew in his heart of hearts that he never intended to hurt his teams chances. Yet the irrational anger, rage of so many spun out of control that the guys life was made a living hell by so many "fans" - people who would’ve done the same thing - try to catch a stupid ball. So much so that the Cubs wanted to recognize in an incredibly classy way that Bartman had truly been forgiven for the perceived atrocity he had committed.

When I first read about this over the summer the craziness of the whole thing just - I don’t know - unsettled me. One silly misstep is overblown, exaggerated and for 14 years what should’ve been a night that a guy and some friends remember as a playoff baseball game they went to together became this source of shame, anger, bitterness. How did it ever get to that extreme?

How did it ever get to that extreme... That’s the question every one of us is faced with as disciples of Jesus Christ as we hear this call to reconciliation and forgiveness today and immediately think about the angers, the hostilities, the rage we are holding onto. We think about this tall order that Jesus levels on being lavishly generous in offering forgiveness to those who’ve hurt us... and in some cases it was something stupid and silly and petty that got way overblown to an extreme... in other instances there are legitimate and valid and just reasons that we’re still hurt and angry about a horrific thing that has happened. And for most of us, this gospel leaves us feeling a bit more confused or conflicted.


I hate to confess how much I personally struggle with this myself. A few months ago, I had decided that I would offer a decade of a rosary a day to enemies - people I was angry with - who there’s been some break down of a relationship. To pray for that anger, that hurt, to be gone - yet sadly that list of friends (or former friends) relatives - even fellow priests is still there. (Actually it seems to grow) People who’ve hurt or taken advantage of me (or at least I think they have) I can give you names, dates, specifics of the incidents. There are some on that list where there might have been some conversation, even words exchanged saying "I forgive you" - but that last line from the Gospel - calls me out - it’s not a true forgiveness from the heart. I still feel the anger and it’s not really completely forgiven.

I share that not to be defeatist about it though. Because the thing that "praying for my enemies" has done for me has renewed my hope that my forgiveness - my real forgiveness from the heart - will happen. That the extremes that have caused such gaps, such brokenness will be repaired. And that absolutely will happen not on my own strength, desire, or even willing it to happen - but only through the Lord.

Which is why this Gospel and this parable are so powerful. The characters we most relate to most aren’t some mystery... What Jesus is trying to get us to do is - to want this... to want to do this - to want to forgive. Not to wallow in our inability our unwillingness or our struggles with forgiving others... But to want to experience another level of God’s love - of offering his amazing love to someone who may not- and probably doesn’t - deserve it. Whatever happened between us and whoever it is that’s coming to mind right now - is not beyond God’s healing. But will we let that happen? Will we let go of whatever scenario we run through our minds where we want the other to suffer, apologize, make up or pay back our loss? Can we commit our hurts to God and ask Him to handle it, and help us? Those are the first steps we need to take so that we to will know what it’s like to experience the generosity of the king when so often we can relate all too well with the servant who has received the forgiveness yet withholds it for something far less. And then, in the process to bring healing and new life into situations in most need of it.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2017 - Stretch out your hand...

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for September 11, 2017.  The Gospel reading for today is - Luke 6: 6-11

On a certain sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and taught,
and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.
The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely
to see if he would cure on the sabbath
so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.
But he realized their intentions
and said to the man with the withered hand,
"Come up and stand before us."
And he rose and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them,
"I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath
rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?"
Looking around at them all, he then said to him,
"Stretch out your hand."
He did so and his hand was restored.
But they became enraged
and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

HOMILY:
Of all the many emotions, memories, images that come to mind on 9/11 - one of the strongest for many people was the overwhelming sense of powerlessness we all felt.  It was an unprecedented attack, it was so violent, it was so devastating...   In a day and age where we expect instant answers and instant resolution to problems - the fact that people from the President to the most common of citizens had no idea what was happening only exacerbated that feeling of powerlessness in the face of such evil.

This paralyzed man in today’s Gospel can relate to that feeling, that emotion of powerlessness.  His withered hand had limited his potential, his ability, his stature in the community.  He was viewed and treated as an outcast.  He had to rely on the very limited compassion of those around him.  Jesus’ miracle was more than just restoring this man’s hand.  It was very much about Jesus upsetting the balance of power.  If those in authority, particularly religious authorities would look down on this man, judge this disability as divine justice reigning down on him, and then use God’s law to keep the man in this limited space (sorry, it’s the sabbath- we can’t do anything for you....) Jesus would take it away from them.  And in one moment, the paralyzed man is told stretch out your hand.  Healing...Unprecedented shifts... Unexpected moment of God’s power and presence and love are revealed in that moment.

And that is very true when we think about what happened on this very difficult day.  I think of just some of the men I’m privileged to serve as Chaplain to from the West Orange Fire Department - the first group of firefighters who responded to the devastation after the FDNY - who had that drive, that desire, that impulse - yes even that divine call in the face of evil desired to restore power to those for whom it seemed to have vanished.

16 years later, it’s hard not to see that there’s been quite a mess of things from that very day.  I think about the loved ones who were lost - and the reality that there is no expiration date for those who grieve is validated once again. If you tuned into the annual reading of the names, you could see and hear that...  Those wounds, those pains are very real and present - they just seem to recede a little bit in the years that have passed then they were real in the immediate aftermath.

16 years later, I often wonder how different our world would be today had those few dozen of maniacal terrrorists been unsuccessful.  The wars that might not have been waged - the course of history that would have gone in a different direction.  But then I catch myself.  That’s idle and somewhat useless to fixate on.  We have to accept what has happened and face the world as it is rather than how we wished it would be...

But we don’t have to allow the world to remain that way.  We can change the present and shift the course of the future.  And so, to us, Jesus tells us Stretch out your hand...  He tells us to recognize the power that can go forth from our hands, as St. Ambrose once explained:  “Hold it out often... Hold it out to the poor person who begs you. Hold it out to help your neighbour, to give protection to a widow, to snatch from harm one whom you see subjected to unjust insult.  Hold it out to God for your sins.  The hand is stretched forth; then it is healed...”

WHY CONFRONT WHEN COMPLAINING IS EASIER?

Hi everyone, here's my homily for SEPTEMBER 10, 2017 - 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.  The readings for today can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/091017.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading this blog; sharing it on your social media (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit); and your comments and feedback.  Have a great week & God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
A week ago, the freshmen arrived at Montclair State University, the campus I’m blessed to serve at as their Chaplain. Seeing the students arriving at the dorms on Sunday, it was hard for me to believe that it was 26 years ago I first left my home in Clark NJ to drive out to DeSales University. Watching all of them, wading through the terrible rain and traffic I couldn’t help but think of all the nerve-wracking, challenging things I faced moving away from home and leaving the safety of my loving parents. The scariest part for me was meeting my roommate.    Mind you - this was before Facebook (even before Myspace... even before Email)   So the only information I had about the guy was getting a card in the mail that had his name, address and phone number and having had a few phone conversations with him over the summer.

He sounded like a decent guy. We joked about different sports teams... He was from an Italian family too, so it seemed like we would get along.  But by move-in day, I was a nervous wreck ... arriving on campus, getting to the dorm, finding the room, walking in and meeting the guy for the first time who I was going to be rooming with for the next year.  There were so many fears. What if we didn't get along? What if he was weird? The cliche goes you never really know someone until you live with them. I wasn't sure at that point if I really wanted to know him. 

But things seemed to start on a good note. We both tried those first days to be understanding of one another:  "You want that bed? Sure... that’s fine..." "We’re only allowed one refrigerator in the room - let’s buy one and split the cost."  We tried to work around each other’s air conditioner needs, music preferences, shower schedules. Things seemed to be going okay. It wasn’t perfect, but I was relieved he wasn't a mass murderer on the run. And part of the whole thing about living away, I was told, was learning how to deal with someone elses quirks...

For example, Chris liked to go to bed early. By early I mean 10 PM lights out.  It was true, we both had early morning classes - we had the typical, terrible Freshmen schedule – meaning we were stuck with 8 AM classes 5 days a week.  But there was no way I was ready to go to bed that early - even if it was good for me.  I was living the dream - no Mom and Dad telling me to get to bed at 11, and instead hanging out; going to the Diner at midnight for a nutritious snack like cheese-fries and gravy (as a 43 year old I shudder to think about attempting to do that now... nor do I want to talk about the 30lbs I gained that year)

Anyway, I would leave my room by 9:45 pm every night and hang out somewhere else till I was ready to go to bed; then fumble my way around the room whenever I would get back in darkness; try to get in and out of the bathroom (which was near his bed) without making any noise.

A few weeks into the semester, I came in around 12:30. I was tiptoeing, using the sink (which was in our rooms) in the dark and all of a sudden I hear Chris just start cussing at me as he turned over in his bed. (Which obviously I can’t repeat what he said here)  I think I said "excuse me?" (Something like that) and he mumbled a few more choice words as he turned again and then seemingly went back to sleep.

I was ticked.  I mean really perturbed.  I was so angry that I stormed out of the room (slamming the door of course) and went down to one of the lounges and stewed for awhile.  Barely got any sleep that night. Next day, I got up, and took off for breakfast without Chris, thinking "that'll show him that he can't treat me that way." I huddled with my friends and unleashed to them about what happened to me as I said:   "The guy’s a lunatic - he thinks we’re in West Point and that it’s got to be 10 pm lights out … no exceptions."  To justify my anger and play the total victim role further, I added   "Here I’ve been trying to be respectful of the guy and all and what does he do? He cusses me out for brushing my teeth?  Is he for real?"  Of course my friends - being the good friends that they were – totally supported me. They  probably threw a few more "dura-flame logs" onto a blazing fire - reminding me of other things that annoyed me about Chris - so now I got more and more ticked off.  So for the next couple of days I kept my distance.  I knew what his class schedule was so I was able to avoid him, dodge him and blew him off a few times at meals for at least three days.

By Thursday afternoon, we both happened to be in the room at the same time and he said to me "Jim are you angry about something... did I do something?"  I was almost stunned by his arrogance even asking the question and I just let him have it - "Do something! Are you for real? Yeah you can say that... you rip into me because I happened to wake you up Sunday night, you cursed me out... and you wonder why I’m ticked?"  At this he’s literally staring at me with this look of genuine confusion which, after what seemed to be a minute of silence, he just kind of chuckled... as he shared, "Oh... I guess I forgot to tell you that sometimes I talk in my sleep." 

He had zero recollection of the whole incident.  Didn’t even hear me when I stormed out and slammed the door that night. Yeah.  I’m still embarrassed when I think about this whole episode. I felt like the biggest idiot in the world.  Not because this was my first time in 17 years of life that I had encountered someone who talked in their sleep (the worst I had dealt with was sharing a room with one of my brothers who would snore) I felt like an idiot because I had treated the guy like crap all week and bashed him to anyone who would listen. I was ticked off and wanted my friends to agree with me. I wanted revenge for my mistreatment. Even retelling this story now some 26 years later I feel ashamed. And sadly, even though we both laughed it off that night, there was still carnage on our friendship to the point that by the end of the semester, we switched roommates.

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone..." This advice Jesus offers in tonight’s Gospel is so seemingly simple, it’s common sense logic to listen to when we are sitting here as mere listeners to his words being proclaimed.  But when any of us think about the various incidents, faults, sins we’ve experienced from our roommate, our relatives, our friends, it’s a lot harder not to succumb to being outraged, angry and give into the drama.  Especially in this Facebook age.  I can’t tell you how many statuses I see flash by that are really berating someone – sometimes they’re named, but often times they’re not. Where someone will post something like "really sick of some people who all they do is take people for granted" - followed by a slew of "likes" and comments agreeing how such people stink...  We seem always ready to jump on the bandwagon against someone else. Probably because we think it’s just easier to get it off their chest in this way rather than possibly have to confront someone over something and possibly end up in a fight.

But Jesus thinks otherwise. Why?  Aren’t their bigger things to worry about?  Quite simply, He is telling us that if good is going to conquer evil; if love is going to conquer hatred in our day, in our age, in our lives - it has to start on the most basic, immediate level.  It has to start in our own hearts.  Sure we can look at all kinds of horrific things that are going on around our country or around the world - but what Jesus is trying to make us see is that each and everyone of us has to deal with the horrific things going on in our own worlds: the angers, the resentments, the hatreds that are there inside of our hearts and minds.

We have to get a handle on them and allow the Holy Spirit to direct us.  If we can think of someone right now we’ve labeled our enemy - it wasn’t just one day they did one thing that just set us off.  More than likely there were a lot of little things that preceded it, that maybe went unchallenged, undiscussed.  We kept them filed in our mind (dates, times, occurrences). Those things started to build up to the point that ultimately something happened … a button was pushed and the file drawer flew open and all the evidence of that person's wrongs against us came to the forefront of our mind. We were prepared for battle like a lawyer. We were going to completely trash this person and dismiss them.

Jesus’ point is that if we can come to that place of hatred and dismissal of one another on such a personal, "local" level - than how much easier is it for that to happen on a greater level?  Racial tensions; religious divisions; wars; intolerance - we can see on much grander scales what happens when collective anger festers and is shared. The opposite is true as well. If we can take those first steps to heal whatever rifts and angers we’ve experienced now and in the manner Christ has said; if we experience that reconciliation and share the joy that comes from that healing on a collective level then we begin to live the Gospel and not merely listen to it being proclaimed. 


Pope Francis put it like this:  If evil is contagious... well then, so is goodness. Let us be infected by goodness and let us spread the good contagion. Yes it’s probably easier to stew... to be angry... to share that and bash those who’ve hurt us. But that’s also how a brother (or sister) becomes an enemy. Jesus is calling us to set ourselves free from the prison of bitterness. A prison we put ourselves in by building walls and bars of anger. Breaking free with the power of reconciliation and forgiveness is possible. If we take those steps of faith, then we are truly being a Church because then we genuinely gather in Jesus name and experience his presence in the midst of us.
 

DEPART FROM ME, A SINFUL MAN...

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for Thursday, September 7, 2017. The Gospel for tonight was from the Gospel of Luke 5: 1-11
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God,                                                he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
"Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch."
Simon said in reply,
"Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets."

When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
"Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men."
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.

HOMILY
So often when writing a homily, it takes me awhile to see something (or rather hear something) that the Lord is trying to underline or point out for me. But a Gospel story like this is quite the opposite. There’s almost too many things that stand out... too many beautiful lines.

But to keep this limited, I’ll tell you the line that resonates so personally for me: Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.

When St. Peter utters those words - he’s a man who’s exhausted... who’s frustrated... with his efforts that seem to be useless (both in fishing and discipling) - with his fellow disciples - perhaps even with Jesus himself. He’s trying to follow the Lord. He’s trying desperately to be a good leader. He’s trying to fulfill his responsibilities as a fishermen. The stress starts to catch up to him.

As the hours passed by, as he realized they weren’t catching anything - the panic starts to set in – how would he pay for his bills, his needs... How would he get by and make ends meet. He’s probably at his breaking point - when who shows up - Jesus who invites him to go back out. The fact that Peter’s response to the miraculous catch was "I am a sinful man" gives us an idea of what probably went through his mind when Jesus said that to him. Maybe it was something like "Oh For the Love of God" (as it turns out pun intended) He does go out.

One of the reasons I love St Peter is that he reminds me, – who is all too well aware of his own sins, failures, screw ups; who can get caught up in my own frustrations and allow stress and worry to overwhelm me - that Jesus called and chose me as an imperfect broken man that He wants to use. But it is up to me to allow him too. He’s never going to force himself or intrude or manipulate me. Because Jesus loves me, it has to be a sincere and loving decision on my part to allow him to lead me. And so sometimes I just cant get there until I’m broken, exhausted and Jesus looks at me and says - are you done? Ok then, let’s go back again and try again...

My - much - younger friends... one thing that troubles me so much working with your age group is the despair, the discouragement that plagues your generation which often leads to apathy. Where the evil one has convinced so many of you there’s no way Jesus could be calling me, ever want to use me... "I’m too (fill in the blank with whatever terrible put down you have for yourself)" I struggle with sin X" (or I don’t even struggle with it... I give into it way too often) Where you somehow allow those things to not only undermine your confidence in God’s plans for you - you almost don’t even imagine that as a possibility. I’ve seen that in guys and women I’ve spoken to about the call to priesthood ore religious life - I’ve heard it in students as they encounter these different forks in the road on what they are going to do with their friends - or in their classes - or after college... Somehow there’s a blockage there.

This Gospel should give us great hope -
Jesus is never going to be discouraged by our sinfulness - and neither should we
Jesus is never going to see the inadequacies that we so often label ourselves with - He made us for greater things and He never loses sight of that beauty and that specialness - and He hopes we will see that too.
And Jesus is never going to depart from us sinful men or women... He already knew that's what we were --  which is why He came in the first place, to save us from that.

Tonight - as we enter into this Holy Hour - maybe you can just let Jesus look on you with that love. To feel that acceptance - that joy that He has in you being you - and you choosing to be here with Him...

If those lies you’ve told yourself about yourself are too painful - if the sins you’ve committed are weighing you down - then I’ll be happy to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with you.

Peter was able to move past the embarrassment, the shame, the failures - which would happen multiple times by the way, this was by no means a one and done thing – Peter was able to move past all that and stop pushing Jesus away. Will we do the same?

MOTHER TERESA & ASTONISHING GOSPEL LIVING

Here's my homily for the feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta - the readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/090517.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading... and sharing.

HOMILY:
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta - or more simply, Mother Teresa. One of the beautiful things about Saints is that we are able to draw from their lives - the way they live their lives - an illustration, an example of Gospel living.


That was one of the things that struck me reading this Gospel reading - and thinking about Mother Teresa. In the Gospel, people are "astonished" at Jesus. They are astonished because He speaks with authority (meaning, he’s not citing another Rabbi when he teaches, He is speaking from within - and that catches them off-guard) They are astonished by his ability to confront and cast out demons - the very ones people shy away from, are scared of, ignore - Jesus is able to step into it and lovingly bring healing.

In Mother Teresa, we find an amazing, modern day example. She didn’t just "care" for the poor - she loved the poor. She didn’t just attend to the needs of the dying, she walked with them. She didn’t just witness to life - and the need to defend it, particularly in the unborn child in the womb, the sick, the vulnerable - she astonished the powers that be by breaking social convention, political correctness and proclaiming that need to cherish life at all times.

Supposedly, years before Hillary Rodham Clinton was running for president and she was first lady, she asked Mother Teresa "Why do you think we haven’t had a woman as president yet?" And Mother Teresa responded "Because she has probably been aborted." But despite taking such strong positions which so often inspire division and tension, Mother Teresa remains universally beloved (Mrs. Clinton wrote of Mother Teresa - Over the years, she sent me dozens of notes and messages with the same gentle entreaty. [But] Mother Teresa never lectured or scolded me; her admonitions were always loving and heartfelt...

Mother Teresa shows us we can be loving without pandering or denying who we are or what we believe, as so many today seem too do. That’s much harder, for sure. But when we do, we truly are the children of the light that Paul describes in that first reading - who authentically encourage one another and build one another up...

"YOU CAN DO BETTER" (Careful saying that to Mom)

 Hi everyone, here's my homily for September 3, 2017 - the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/090317.cfm  Thanks as always for reading this blog; sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and your comments and feedback.  Appreciate it!  Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:
Growing up Italian, one of our most sacred of traditions was Sunday dinner. My mother has continued to make the most valiant attempts to gather us all together as family for this utmost important event, but sadly, it has gotten more and more difficult over the years. We still gather together as a family for a Sunday dinner, but maybe only once a month ... usually to celebrate someone’s birthday or a holiday. But I gotta give my Mom credit - she still tries really hard to get all of us to break away from our crazy, non-stop schedules of work, chores, and other commitments that we try to slip in on the weekends, and get us to come together more regularly. She’ll put out feelers to see if she can find a day we’re all available, then mix in some Italian guilt in here and there, and even bribe us with making one of our favorite meals.

One Sunday, about 15 years ago comes to mind. I was a parish priest at the time, and between the four different Masses, I had run up to my room for a few minutes and saw that my answering machine light was blinking. It was my Mom saying "Hi Honey - I just wanted to see if you had nothing going on this afternoon. I'm making lasagna." My ears perked up...Lasagna - really? Wow - I mean, even though I don’t know how to cook, I do know that’s like a really, really big deal. There’s so many intricate steps. It’s so much more work - you have to boil the noodles, then you lay them out on these big trays as you try to pour the layers of cheese and meat and keep stacking them – which is a real pain to do since the noodles are wet and soft and slippery. I was really surprised that late on a Sunday morning that this was been the first I heard of this.

So I called her back and said "You’re making lasagna, really?" She said "Yes, I just had a taste for it, so I decided to make it." I asked her if my brothers were coming and she said - "No, it’s just your father and I - can you make it?" Quickly I looked at my appointment book: "Well I have a baptism after Mass, and I have a wake to attend, but I can go to the wake tonight instead of this afternoon, so I probably can swing it." She said "Good! I’ll see you then." 

The rest of the morning, I was eagerly anticipating Mom’s homemade lasagna... even tasting it as I drove home. As we sat down, Mom was already pushing meatballs and bread on me - which I was kind of dodging as I didn’t want to get full even before she took this tray of lasagna out of the oven.

I said it again that I was surprised she had made it just for the three of us (and I wasn’t even a guarantee to attend till that morning) and Mom just dismissed it saying "Well, you can take a plate home and I can freeze and save some for your brothers..." Then she brought the tray out, took the aluminum foil off the top. I took a look and just blurted out - "What’s that?" Somewhat defensively (which I guess after blurting out a question like that) Mom very simply responded "Lasagna" - "But - What happened to it?" (At which point my Father is trying to stop himself from laughing and is shaking at the end of the table) My mother, now holding a knife in her hand just said "Nothing...nothing happened to it" "But why does it look like that?" It kind of looked like someone had deflated a regular lasagna – like it was a flat tire... Angrily slicing it and serving it, she said "Just shut up and eat it...it’s good - just try it" - "Come on Mom... how could it be good, when it looks like... well, I don’t know what it looks like, but it doesn’t look like your lasagna - what happened?" Still denying there was anything wrong or different about it, I got up and went over to the garbage - which she tried to block me from doing... As I opened it, I found an empty box of what was labeled "No boil lasagna" - "I KNEW IT" - "Just try it" she argued... which I did. I said "Mom - if I were making this, that would be one thing. That would be a massive feat for me to put these things together and make this thing... but
there’s no way this is anywhere near as good what you normally make."

To this day - she will not admit I was right. But a few weeks after this terrible incident, she made the real lasagna. When I said "See, I mean, come on, I know it’s a pain to make, but tell me you don’t see the difference" she simply told me to "just shut up and eat it." But she knows the truth- 15 years later she’s never made the no-boil lasagna again. As much as I probably sounded like a brat (at least that’s what my mother called me that day) the reason we could have that honest of a conversation and be that brutally honest is because of the depth of love. My mother is a phenomenal cook and knows how much I love her that even my rudeness (and accuracy) could be quickly forgiven.

The reality is that none of us likes to hear "You can do better..."

If it’s just some random person who offers that unsolicited estimation we might be more dismissive "Who asked you, Jerk???" But if it comes from a parent, a teacher, a coach, or perhaps a really good friend – that’s quite a different thing, isn't it? In those instances, we realize it’s coming from someone who cares about us, who knows us, and probably knows - we’re capable of much more than whatever it is we’ve offered.

When we hear Jesus basically calling St. Peter "Satan" in today’s Gospel, that sounds like a pretty awful put down. There’s literally nothing worse someone could call someone else. Even the most diabolic of figures in history are often compared to him or assumed to be heading to or residing in Satan’s abode - Hell. And it seems even more shocking coming after what we heard just a week ago. The sentences right before this Gospel passage was the conversation where Peter responds to Jesus question "Who do you say I am?" with "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." In that moment of testimony, Jesus exclaims "Blessed are you Simon Peter! For flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father! You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church" (Matthew 5: 18) Now just mere moments later – this"blessed" rock is being called "Satan."

And my Mom thought putting down her lasagna was bad...
The thing that struck me though is that Jesus had to have loved Peter and Peter had to have loved Jesus in order for Jesus to be that brutally truthful...laying down some "tough love"calling him to greater holiness, sharing with him his greater expectations, even in a way trying to foreshadow for Peter that not only will Jesus himself suffer and die a terrible death - so would Peter.



Jesus is making it abundantly clear that being the rock, the "foundation" Jesus was building his Church upon wasn’t going to be a position of honor or prestige, but one of selfless, sacrificial service. In throwing out "get behind me Satan" Jesus is purposely being dramatic to illustrate just how crucially important it is that Peter – who he thinks so highly of, who he has such great hopes for and sees such great potential for -that he truly understand the implications in being this rock, being this foundation, being the first Pope. Scripture doesn’t capture for us Peter’s initial reaction - was he stunned? was he hurt? Was he confused? Was he disappointed in himself? We can only speculate. But obviously this encounter was memorable for it to have been recorded. And knowing the rest of the story, that Peter would still falter, and struggle throughout his ministry tells us that these types of correction while humbling (embarrassing even) didn’t destroy him. Peter wanted to be all that Jesus imagined him to be. Peter doesn’t lose sight of the love Jesus has for him with this fraternal correction.

How about us? We know all too well how difficult, how challenging it is to follow Jesus Christ, follow his teachings ourselves. We struggle, we’re tempted, we fail and fall. Sometimes multiple times a day (an hour?) But hopefully what makes it possible for us to dare to come before the Lord here each Sunday for Mass is that in spite of those struggles and failures, we have experienced, we’ve come to know and believe in the immense love and mercy of God for us. We can’t forget that we’re one confession away from being washed completely clean of all our sins. As Pope Francis has said repeatedly "God never tires of forgiving us, it is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness." Jesus casting his light into our darkness isn’t meant to hurt or embarrass us. It’s the complete opposite.
Jesus is telling us we’re worth the time, worth the concern... He knows us, knows how capable we are - the potential we hold. He knows we can do better. And will not give up on us in pursuing us and calling us into deeper relationship with him. Are we experiencing that deep relationship with Jesus where we know he has the best for us in mind? If we’re not, we’re challenged to seek that kind of closeness with him. He will always give us his best, and he wants our best for him. May we never lose sight that these corrections we experience are being offered in love. May we never forget that essential point in offering "Gospel corrections" to those we meet.