I CAN'T

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - NOVEMBER 18, 2017.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111917.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and other social media; and for you feedback and comments.  I am always grateful to see how many people check this blog out every week and how the Holy Spirit could use me to hopefully speak to you.  My best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families - God Bless, Fr Jim


HOMILY:

"I can’t."

If you’ve ever been around or worked with little kids, it’s a bit stunning when you’ll hear them utter those two little words when they’re invited to do something:

Jump in the water, it’s okay, you’re going to be fine!

Try riding this bicycle, you’ll be okay - it’s got training wheels

Tomorrow you’re going to school for the first time
Hearing "I can’t" from a kid to those things is jarring. Not just because we know that they can do it... but there’s a sadness in hearing this young person has imposed limits on themselves. Maybe it’s from fear or self-doubt. Maybe they have trust issues. Whatever the reason, they’ve somehow limited their potential, limited what is possible, and are not able to see what is right there within their reach as they make their short declaration – I CAN’T. That’s where others - parents, coaches, teachers, other relatives and friends are so important, so essential. Hoping to remove that fear, helping them to see past their self-imposed limits and encourage them to move beyond those two defeatist words with two little words of encouragement – just try.

Jump in the water, it’s okay - you’re going to be fine! I Can’t...Just try, your coach is right there, see all the other kids, they used to not be able to swim either, and he was right there able to help them... Just try

Try riding this bicycle, you’ll be okay – it’s even got training wheels on it I CAN’T Just try - Mommy and Daddy are right here, we promise if you even start to fall, we’ll catch you...

Tomorrow you’re going to school for the first time I CAN"T- I don’t know anyone, Just try! you’ll do great - when I started school, I was scared too, but once you get in there, you’ll see, it’s not bad, it’s okay – Just try....

When we think about it, those types of experiences don’t end in grammar school or on the playground. Throughout life, fears and doubts re-emerge and seem more justifiable as our mind conjures up seemingly more logical reasons that make them seem true. The lack of trust we have in others, the lack of confidence we have in ourselves can hinder us. We might not vocalize the words but say them in our mind – I can’t.

If I told my family, my friends that I was thinking about doing this with my life – I can’t

I want to help him out, but there’s so much going on in my life, I can’t

I should reach out to her - this fight has gone on long enough and it’s stupid, but I can’t...


With added responsibilities and commitments we make through life, with the desire to always be succeeding and not wanting to look like I failed; with the fear of being vulnerable, it’s not as easy to hear the words"just try" as encouragement as we get older. Perhaps that’s why it bothers us so much when we hear little kids being so defeatist. We don’t want them to believe those lies they’re telling themselves that diminish themselves. We know that those demons can crush a person’s spirit... and that people can become too comfortable with saying "I can’t" as they close their hearts and ears from considering a person’s hopeful invitation to "just try".

At the heart of this Gospel, Jesus’ parable is making a similar point. The Master in the parable isn’t just some CEO or disconnected administrator demanding a profit from nameless employees. He knows his "servants" intimately, closely. He knows their strengths and weaknesses. He knows what they’re capable of and what they’re not. That’s why one guy gets more "talents" than the others. (An interesting vocabulary quirk - in the original language refers to a large sum of money - for us we use the word "talent" to mean skills, abilities...) The Master knows what each of his servants is capable of. What’s so frustrating to the Master in the parable – is that the one servant doesn’t even try...

Here he has given these talents not to maximize his own personal fortune (if he had, he would’ve given them all to the first guy). He’s interested in seeing the servants taking what is so precious to him and doing something with it. Making something greater. And this one guy opts out of it completely.

It’s not hard for us to recognize the deeper meaning in the parable. God has entrusted us with Jesus Christ. He gives us His Word; His Body and Blood... It’s great that we are here - that we recognize our need to receive these gracious gifts. But that’s not enough... It’s not enough for us to simply receive them. We’re expected in this time we have on this earth to somehow invest them, to make them increase the already vast expanse of the Kingdom of God right here in our little patch of it.


Pope Francis said something very early after being elected Pope that makes me think he’s a big fan of this Gospel passage. Particularly since he said it in a few different homilies, interviews and in writings: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security... If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. (Evangelii Gaudium 49)

What the Pope, and Jesus is trying to say is that too often, we get stuck saying "I can’t" - even as a collective body as "the Church" - but that happens when individuals, you and I, give into that pessimism:

I can’t even tell my family or friends that I go to Mass let alone pray with them or invite them to come with me...

I can’t go on a mission trip, or work at a soup kitchen – it costs too much, I have too much to do...

I can’t go to confession, it’s been too long, I’m afraid the priest is going to yell at me.

I can’t visit that person in the hospital, in that nursing home, I’m too scared

I can’t help that homeless person, what can I do, I’m just one person

I can’t take chastity seriously, my boyfriend won’t want to stay with me/my girlfriend will think I’m not interested in her...

I can’t be bothered with pro-life, pro-family issues – that might lead to a fight or a disagreement and I can’t deal with it...
As brother’s and sisters, we’re meant to support one another in these challenging things. To point out examples of people who said "I can";
To be living examples of people striving to say "I can" –
I can live selflessly.
I can live lovingly.
I can center my life on Christ.
I can reject the glamourous, the false lies and empty promises of this world.
I can live chastely.
I can do all of these things – and countless others – if I can truly believe that God has created us, saved us and sanctified us for Him. That He has given us the capacity, the ability the "talents" to be saints. Not plastic statues on the wall - but real, holy people reflecting his presence in our day and age here and now.

That seems out of reach to us. Our humanity kicks in and all those old bad habits re-emerge making us pause and utter I can’t. Jesus Christ pleads with us though – just try...

"THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS" - DO THEY REALLY MATTER?

Hi everyone - here's my homily for SUNDAY NOVEMBER 12, 2017 - the 32nd Sunday in ordinary time.  The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111217.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this; for sharing it on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your feedback and comments.  God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:
Another week, another horrific tragedy. 

Between devastating storms, a massacre at a concert, a terrorist attack in NYC, and now, this past week, a massacre in a Church, which left 26 people dead - ranging in ages from 18 months to 77 years old - the psychological, the emotional, the spiritual toll that all of this is taking on Americans is hard to assess. I worry that we’re becoming numb or even worse, indifferent, as the tragedies pile up. A commentator remarked that the number of tragedies isn’t really different than it has been years ago - the difference is that now we can instantly share them globally like never before. I do not know if that’s true - or if it provides any comfort at all.

One thing that is true in this information age is that people can instantly weigh in on whatever event it is that transpires. So, when the news out of Texas spread last Sunday after noon, there was an impulse (and in some cases, an expectation) that people would say something in 140 characters (or now I suppose 280, after Twitter’s recent update). A common reaction was observed from people through their similar response posted online, which mostly read ‘thoughts and prayers’, to the victims and their families.

It didn’t take too long for the phrase to turn into an issue and initiate a debate. Some criticised the politicians who offered their ‘thoughts and prayers’, accusing them of using it as a cover for not proposing a new legislation that they believed would help prevent such types of tragedies from happening. Politicians and others who offered such a sentiment countered that they were being empathetic to people who were in pain and that it wasn’t appropriate that their intentions were being questioned. Before you knew it, the debate over "thoughts and prayers" became something vehemently argued. I hesitate even bringing this up, because there’s a part of me that’s just disgusted with this "outrage" mentality where - no matter what the issue, what the topic, what the opinion - there seems this default posture of people taking just one side while criticizing the other in a snarky short message bantered around the social media.


However, something hit me the other afternoon, which took me by complete surprise. Maybe the critics do have a point. What does it mean when we say "thoughts and prayers?" Because if it’s just a default response to whatever tragic situation we’re encountering - whether it’s the tragedies that affected large numbers of people in Texas, NYC, Las Vegas; the regions affected by the Hurricanes - or some troubling news we receive on a closer more personal level - My best friend’s husband left her... My father died... my aunt has got cancer... to say "Sad to hear this news... Thoughts and prayers" – then perhaps that’s not enough - (in fact, that still leaves 95 characters , if your twitter hasn’t upgraded and your still confined to only 140 characters).

Part of the reason this came to mind was when I looked at what St. Paul says in today’s second reading (Thessalonians 4: 13-18). As I looked at it, it hit me that St. Paul has a tweet-length sentence that could be similar to "Thoughts and Prayers." He offers this hope-filled sentence "We shall always be with the Lord." He shares those words in this passage where he is writing to a community who also have been dealing with death - and they’re fearful. Christianity was still relatively new. They had been taught that Jesus was going to return and that God’s kingdom would finally be established. And they were expecting it to happen pretty quickly. In fact, the apostles themselves were expecting it to happen in their lifetimes as well. When that didn’t happen and fellow Christians started dying, some from the natural course of life, others from the persecutions being leveled on early Christians, they become more and more anxious.

Paul started out saying in this passage "We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope" - and then he explains to them what he believes with his very heart and soul - that those who believe in Jesus and who died before His second coming, will also be brought into God’s presence because we shall always be with the Lord. More than just saying "there, there... don’t worry...." these words spoken by him matter. Paul believes in these words with every fiber of his being.

As the Thessalonians first read those words, they probably had flashbacks to Paul preaching to them. They could imagine him speaking these words from his heart and soul - just as he did when he first shared the faith with them. As you and I hear these words today, we know of his conviction, recalling how St. Paul gave up the comforts he enjoyed, his livelihood, his status, and eventually his own life, all because of his encounter with Jesus Christ, because of his conversion, because of his relationship with Him.


So some people’s visceral reaction to our sharing our "thoughts and prayers" is because they objectively don’t see the point. Maybe they haven’t seen the effect of these prayers in their own lives. Maybe they have fears and doubts that they feel aren’t being given attention. Maybe they can’t reconcile how thoughts and prayers to a good and loving God are doing any good when such evil is experienced and still exists after all these thousands of years later. And even more, maybe they don’t see or hear Christians being Christian. That last point really rang home with this whole thoughts and prayers debate. This one actor whom I’ve always liked in the different roles that he’s portrayed wrote an initially dismissive tweet about thoughts and prayers. Soon afterwards he retracted them - apologizing and stating that in his initial shock and horror at this horrifying story he was too impulsive and didn’t mean to attack people of faith. Three days later, a news commentator, again someone whom I also like (who proudly professes his Catholic Christian faith) used the actor's initial tweet in a diatribe on the "war against prayer", completely ignoring those follow-up tweets that was posted by the actors. This disappointed me a great deal.   If I knew the rest of that story - this reporter most definitely did and opted not to share it.  To me that's just dishonest and more than slightly awkward in a diatribe "defending thoughts and prayers."

For thoughts and prayers to mean something, for them to be more than a mere sentiment or trite saying, they need to truly matter to those offering them. We have to be truthfully offering our thoughts and prayers to the Lord. Which means, we have to be in a relationship with Him. That’s what Jesus is trying to explain in this parable in today’s Gospel. At the core of it, what he’s getting at in all these bridesmaids and lamps and oil is about having an authentic relationship with Him That’s different than simply knowing him, or invoking him in moments of crisis. An authentic relationship with him leads to a belief, a faith like St. Paul had - where our life becomes more like Christ’s. That lamp in the parable represents a living knowledge and friendship with Christ - a dynamic, personal relationship with Him. That lamp’s oil is our good works - when we actually put our faith into action to help those who are suffering, those who are struggling, those who are in need. That lamps oil is exemplified in acts of mercy and justice. That lamps oil is in the difficult acts of forgiveness. That lamps oil is in our authentic acts of love - like when one of the survivors of the terrorist attack on Halloween who lost 5 of their friends, came here to celebrate their 30th anniversary of graduating high school said: We will forever mourn our friends. It was love that brought us here and love will continue to unite us... We want to make a plea: that love conquers hate, that life overcomes death." That lamps oil is exemplified in our faithfulness - like when the Pastor of the Sutherland Springs Church in Texas said, as he mourned his "beautiful and special" 14 year old daughter killed in this unspeakable evil, - I don’t understand, but I know my God does.

When our lamps our filled with that type of oil, when our faith is that fixed on the Lord, than we won’t allow ourselves to be distracted from being attentive, empathetic, caring for those injured, those who died in such an atrocious manner - and for their loved ones who are left behind. And even more, people will know that our thoughts and prayers come from places of authentic friendship with Christ.

"THERE'S NO HEROES ANYMORE"

Hi everyone here’s my homily for NOVEMBER 5, 2017 - 31st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110517.cfm Thanks as always for reading; for sharing this on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for you comments and feedback. Appreciate the support - God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:

"There’s no heroes anymore"

That’s exactly how one person described it to another on the line at Dunkin Donuts the other day. I couldn’t help but overhear the two talking about the latest development in what seems to be an ever growing list of revelations of horrible stories emanating from Hollywood. A few weeks ago, several actresses publicly shared stories of how they were sexually harassed, assaulted - and in some instances - raped by a powerful Hollywood producer... which seemed to have opened up a flood gate of actors and actresses who have been sharing similarly heart wrenching stories... including instances when they were children. The scandal, (not sure if that’s the right word… perhaps plague describes this horrifying phenomenon more accurately) - was also revealed to be prevalent in other sectors of media, given that news agencies are apparently having reporters make similar allegations against their superiors on different networks or news rooms.

What makes this even more shocking- beyond the disgusting depravity of so many high-profile individuals - is to see in these world renown centers of creativity like Hollywood or what was thought to be other prestigious institutions like the news media where so many of these instances occurred for years are now only coming to light. Hollywood, which is often thought to be a dreamland of fantasies for so many aspiring actors and actresses, along with the News industry - which is said to be the beacon of light that holds those in power accountable - have suffered deep-rooted self-inflicted wounds the damage which, will be hard to assess.

I understand why my fellow coffee drinkers feel the way they did that they would say "There’s no heroes anymore." Particularly as a Catholic Priest. It’s been more than 15 years since the clergy sex scandal was exposed to the public. The sheer number of cases throughout the country, the grotesqueness of accusations, the cover ups - not only reeked of a horrific scandal; it actually scandalized so many of us when we realized how many people in authority within the Church acted horrendously and with such impunity, made evil choices, with some being calculated and trying to cover things up to others who proved to be grossly incompetent.


It’s hard not to read this Gospel, and for some of these, and I’m sure countless other examples come to mind. We hear Jesus excoriating people who thought of themselves as superior to others; who humiliated others as a way of stroking their sense of superiority...those who are arrogant. The hypocrites who preach but they do not practice... all their works are performed to be seen. There’s no shortage of examples that we can cite from our newsfeeds - and more than likely from our own personal experiences: bosses, professors, administrators and perhaps even those who are closer to us - people in our own families - who could be legitimately held up as examples of people that Jesus would have serious and understandable criticisms for.

Reflecting upon all of these sad examples and this poignant Gospel passage, Jesus does NOT come across as defeatist. And, he doesn’t want us to feel that way either. Yes, he’s putting a spotlight on those who may be in places of honor, authority and leadership... He’s not denying that some are corrupt – and even worse. But far from calling us to simply give up, or radicalizing us to be revolutionaries in taking these people down - He calls us to develop greater maturity of faith:


To be more discerning in whom we place our trust in;
To be more cautious in whom we entrust leadership with;
To have greater expectations of them and ourselves.

As always, that’s where we have to start - ourselves. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus sets out his expectation for those of us who call himself his followers: "set your hearts on his kingdom first and his righteousness and all these other things will be given you as well." When we humble ourselves - which by the way doesn’t mean talking negatively about ourselves in a needless self-deprecating manner or diminishing our gifts and talents - but rather recognizing that those gifts, talents, and our own selves are all gifts that were accorded to us - God’s proper place in our lives is nothing short of secured. It is then that we can see how the seeming random circumstances and opportunities that come up, and the unique abilities we are blessed with are all there on purpose. They open us up to the limitless potential for success where we can transform our lives, the lives around us, and most importantly, build up His Kingdom. Do we want to set our hearts on ourselves, on the opinion of the world or on God’s Kingdom?

The more I chose to live and serve God’s Kingdom – the more I expect that of myself, the more I start to seek it out in others in positions of authority. And more than likely, we find that they will not be the loudest, the most famous as those shown on TV or movies... I think of NYPD Police Officer Ryan Nash, who did what countless men and women in uniform do on a regular basis when a terrorist went on a rampage in New York City on Tuesday, . This was the opposite of common sense – he ran towards the danger rather as opposed to escaping it, thankfully put an end to the madness before the situation exacerbated (and was able to do so without ending the terrorists’ life). I think of this single mom, who, in my first parish assignment, sent her son - this little guy Darryl - on public transportation far away from his neighborhood into our parish school only because she wanted him to have a good Catholic education in a happy, safe environment (that she could afford) - worked extra hours to make ends meet. That was over 15 years ago as well. Having bumped into him recently and seeing him graduating from one of the most prestigious Universities in the world and married - and seeing how he remains a grounded, humble, kind young man (who was attending Mass with his mother) was truly gratifying.

 Stories and examples such as these reinvigorate my hope in goodness and all things that Jesus stood for, exemplified and calls us to emulate. Both examples include people who were selfless, sacrificial and committed - and their service literally changed the world for the better. Both stories remind me about the comforting truth that there still are heroes in this world. It’s just that they are too humble to call themselves that. And, therein is the beauty of it all – their humility, dedication and focus to do things that matter without expecting any sort of credit for their acts.

WHO WANTS TO TALK ABOUT DEATH?

Hi everyone - here's my homily for Thursday, November 2, 2017 - the commemoration of all the faithful departed (ALL SOULS DAY) - The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/110217.cfm.  Thanks for reading this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your comments and feedback.  God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:

Last night we had our co-sponsorship with LASO talking about some of the similarities with the Mexican celebration Dia De Los Muertos (the day of the dead) and the Catholic commemoration that we mark today, All Souls Day.  It was, as always, a great event.  It was tremendous to have so many people from both organizations come together to talk about something that few of us want to talk about - death.

One of the things that struck me was when the student from LASO was sharing her experience of losing her grandmother a couple of years ago.   She recounted traveling to Mexico to be with her grandmother and family before her grandmother died - and then staying together, having a wake for her grandmother for 9 days and then burying her on that last day.  How the whole family came together to grieve, to be together, and that the whole village would come out as well- come to the home for the wake.  At one point, this student observed that she felt it was awkward how we do it here as Americans because it seems so fast, so short and that people don’t have the same opportunity to be together like she experienced.

She’s right.  Coming from an Italian-American family - when I was growing up, there was a lot of similarities to this student’s experience.  We would have a wake for 2 or 3 full days (in the afternoon and the evening) and then the funeral take place the third or fourth day.  Between the hours of the wakes, we would be together at someone’s home for dinner.  After the evening wake, we would be at someone elses home for coffee and desert.  After the funeral we would be together for a meal.  A month after the person died, we would gather as a family to go to Mass and then have a dinner together.  (Yes I realize there’s a lot of meals and food being discussed... like I said I come from an Italian family so what do you expect?)

In at least the last 15 or 20 years though, there’s been a shift.  Some families have bypassed funerals all together.  Others have abbreviated the services where there will be a wake an hour before the funeral.  Even when my father died unexpectedly 3 years ago, the new norm was to have a wake one day (for one long stretch of 4 hours) with the funeral the next day - which in the shock of his sudden passing seemed to make the most sense to “simplify” and “make it easy for us to get through”.  But the truth is - it didn’t.  At least for me.  The four hours of the wake were a blur because we only had that one shot and so many visitors, we could only speak to people visiting for a brief time.  In one sense it made things simple and perhaps a bit easier in the short term to go through.   But in the long term it sure didn’t. The pain of my dad’s loss even three years later is never far from my heart and mind - nor my family’s. And I’m sure for most of us, we can all think of someone, if not several people who’ve gone before us that it can still be hard to talk about - even saying their name.

Grieving is hard, is painful.  And as Americans are becoming more and more secularized that reality is something that frightens and disturbs.  And because there’s no way around it, we try to avoid it, deny it, minimize it.  I couldn’t help but think of how Tuesday night we had this horrific terrorist attack which killed 8 people in broad daylight.  The impulse is to continue life as usual - so the Halloween parade went off, the World series was played... and I get the need to be resilient and not let the terrorists win by completely changing out way of life.  But in a sense couldn’t we argue that the terrorists do win if we just allow the senseless, horrific death of 8 people to pass by as just a bad story that we clicked on a link about and then moved on?   Those were 8 souls - who’s lives were ended quite unexpectedly... who’s families lives have been forever changed.  We need to stop, to pause, to remember, to grieve... to respect the person who’s no longer with us.

That’s why the Church in her wisdom forces us in a sense to not simplify, make easier or in any way diminish these losses with this commemoration of All Souls Day and the traditional remembrance of our beloved dead through the month of November.  The Church doesn’t do this to re-open wounds, to force us to grieve again nor to make this an annual time of mourning.  That’s not to say some of those feelings won’t arise - but the purpose of this time is remembering those who died... friends, loved ones, perhaps people you weren’t close to but knew (teacher in your school?  A neighbor down the street who you knew but never talked to).   We remember them... we acknowledge their absence.  We recognize how fearful, how painful that reality is and the Church gently points us to remember other things... God’s word... His promises:
The souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them - the Hebrew Scriptures reminded us in the first reading they seemed in the view of the foolish to be dead   and their passing away was thought an affliction  and their going forth from us utter destruction but they are in peace...

Those words often calm me down when I start to get choked up thinking about loved ones who I miss - to know that they are in the hand of God.    Jesus goes even further and is even more explicit, more direct.  Saying that everything that the Father gives me will come to me... and that the will of God the Father is that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life and that Jesus will raise [us] up on the last day.

Those words of comfort, of assurance are important and essential.  But as human beings there’s often a desire to do something - to want more certainty of that reality.  Which is why the Church invites us to remember and to pray for our loved ones.  Not in a fearful way... not like they are suffering torment if they haven’t yet reached heaven and are in purgatory (that’s one of the main reasons we pray for our departed loved ones who might not have reached the fullness of eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom... but unlike how it’s depicted, purgatory isn’t a torture or a prison - but a final preparation, a cleansing and purification so a person is fully prepared to be in God’s presence for all eternity)

Our praying for our loved ones, is meant to expand our hearts, minds and visions to remember all those who’ve died.  And that these bonds and connections aren’t ended in death.  In many cases that brings joyful memories that might cause us to miss them - but some times they can bring painful memories that are difficult.   People can think of some who have died that there were  resentments, lack of forgiveness or reconciliation on this side of heaven.  In those instances, - our prayers for all the faithful departed are meant to help bring healing and peace on both sides of heaven for the one who might have died and caused those things and for those who remain and are still affected by them.

Difficult stuff to be sure.  But important work for all of us to enter into.  To let God enter into our pain - our pains of loss, of sadness, of mourning... To let God renew our faith and trust in His promises so that we truly believe that our loved ones are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them.  To pray for those who have died who perhaps aren’t loved ones  - to us or anyone else... that the loving sacrifice Jesus offered for the salvation of the world is theirs and ours.

ALEXA, WHAT IS THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT?

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - October 29, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102917.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for you comments and feedback.  I'm grateful for the support.  Have a great week and God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
It was just about a year ago that my mother, out of the blue, suggested: "If you’re looking for Christmas gift ideas for me - I’d like to have that Alexa thing." That "Alexa thing" - for those of you who don’t know, is an electronic device from the company Amazon. It is also called a "smart-speaker" system. Once you own it, you can simply use commands like "Alexa, play some classical music" or "Alexa, call my brother's cell phone" and the system, which links all your different electronic devices to the internet, will respond to your requests (Santa never did bring Mom "Alexa" ... with ‘Yours truly' having to occasionally act as my mother’s IT/electronic gadget guy, that felt like a nightmare I was not prepared to face).   

Alexa and other similar devices seem to be growing in popularity and as such, expectations for its usage and usefulness have grown. Developers are constantly working with other computer companies and voice recognition analytics to improve their abilities so that eventually, you will be able to command "Alexa get me something for dinner" and based on preferences and settings, a full dinner will be delivered without you having to move from your home (and who knows with all these robotics and drones and similar stuff, perhaps you won’t be required to even move from your couch)

But a disturbing development - at least to me - caught my attention in a Wall Street Journal article last week. "Alexa, can you prevent suicide?" the headline read as the story explained that soon after it first hit the market in 2014, Amazon realized that many of its customers wanted more than weather reports and Lady Gaga songs. More than 50% of people’s interactions with Alexa now fall into what is categorized as "non-utilitarian and entertainment related." To put it in more human terms, people were making admissions of loneliness, sadness, requests for help as they would say "Alexa I’m depressed; Alexa I’m being abused; Alexa, I’m considering suicide."

While legal experts responded that technology companies do not have a legal responsibility to respond to extremely personal questions and requests like these, to their credit, the developers recognized quickly having the device responding "I don’t understand that" wasn’t super helpful. So, they have been discussing with national crisis counselors on how to provide specific answers to their customers. As one developer explained "These are high-stakes answers. So, we definitely have to classify them with an extremely high accuracy. We get aggravated if Alexa plays the wrong song or calls the wrong person. Every failure, to me, is a pain."



Reading this, I was reminded of something pretty powerful that Mother Teresa once said. This would-be saint, who had served the poorest, the sickest in the worst of conditions imaginable; remarkably said: "The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God." Just thinking about the fact that Mother Teresa said this over 20 years ago, long before the internet was something we could carry with us in a cell phone-way ... before any of us imagined the technological advances that would occur, sort of makes it all the more depressing when you think about it. I think many would agree that culturally and sociologically, this greatest disease, this lack of love, has metastasized to such an extent that we’re trying to build machines, program our devices to, if not cure it, at least address some of its symptoms.
For the last few weeks at Sunday Mass, we’ve been hearing this back and forth between those who didn’t accept Jesus, who were trying to entrap Him, accuse Him, discount Him, raise more critics or opponents to Him. So, this passage we just heard picks up from this ongoing debate. Today we hear how another scholar comes forward and comes at this a different way. He asks, of all the Laws that the Jews had, and they had a lot – not just the 10 commandments, there were over 613 laws that could be found in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) – out of all of those - which one was the most important. The reason this was another "trap" was that a variety of Jewish leaders, teachers would all have had different answers to that. Depending on how Jesus answered, he could be attacked or mocked. He could lose followers with one answer (it was like an ancient example of a modern political debate, one wrong answer and you’re done) And just like we’ve heard these. past few weeks. with each of this back-and-forth, Jesus’ speaks in such a clever way that He is able to get out of whatever bind that he’s presented with.

On the surface, today’s response seems like he’s answering by not answering. He doesn’t choose one of the 613 they were expecting. Jesus answers by saying "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind... you shall love your neighbor as yourself."  In saying this, Jesus is shifting our entire perspective on all the laws... all the Commandments. They are all about Love. We don’t follow His commands, we don’t obey His word out of fear... we do it because that’s the only thing that we can offer Him. The only thing God could possibly want for us is living in right relationship with Him. By coupling this with the command to "love your neighbor as yourselves," Jesus is pointing out that most of the laws and commands that God has laid out for us is about how we treat one another. That’s what we heard in that first reading coming from the Old Testament book of Exodus. "Thus says the Lord" the reading began as it called us to be attentive to the alien, the widow, the orphan. Because each of them were on their own, they were the most vulnerable in society and so the expectation was that everyone needed to protect them, take care of them.
Jesus takes it to another level in saying more than just taking care of them, more than protecting them, we’re called to love them and all of our neighbors. That might sound strange because the word "Love" has been so misused and misunderstood in our day and age. Sometimes people say the word "love", when they actually mean is "lust" or "taking advantage" of someone.

Love is something that costs something, means something and demands something. Love is more than a feeling. Love is a choice, a decision. Love in the Christian understanding is perfected in Jesus laying down His life for us on the Cross. When we lay down our own desires, wants, needs; when we are willing to "die to self" for another – whether it’s seen in the parent’s taking care of dirty diaper in the middle of the night; the child giving their allowance to a charity; the college student waking up early on a Saturday morning to help at a Soup Kitchen - in these and countless other ways, we see glimmers of that Love reflected in our own lives.
But the other thing we should note is that this isn’t one sided. When Jesus’ highlights this "command" to Love God in this way, He is revealing something really important. He’s telling us this is how He loves us. God – the creator of the universe - loves you and me with all His heart, all His Soul, all His Mind. Jesus invites us to let those words penetrate our lives. To open ourselves to experiencing that Love - in His word; in His body and blood in the Eucharist. And even more, to live that Love - sharing our very selves with one another. It’s overwhelming when we think about it and can seem unbelievable.
Yet we know that each and everyone of us has that deep hunger for love, that deep hunger for God. You and I, and the rest of the world desperately is seeking to experience it... and needs it. As wonderfully advanced as the developers might work with each future upgrade, that’s not something we can ask Alexa to assist us with. It is something e-devices will never understand.
Instead, it is something that Jesus explicitly puts on to you, me, and every single one of his followers to fulfill.
 

REPAY TO APPLE WHAT BELONGS TO APPLE?

Hi everyone - here's my homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time OCTOBER 22, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102217.cfm Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, reddit and twitter; and for your comments and feedback.  I'm grateful for your support and interest!  Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim


HOMILY:
A few weeks ago Apple announced after months and months of speculation whether there would be an iPhone 8, an iPhone 10 (celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first iPhone) that in fact there would be both. The iPhone 8 which is an improvement over last year’s iPhone 7s with a new camera and new processor, better battery life was released in September. In a few months the new iPhone X which is a total redesign with even more perks including facial recognition, larger screen, smaller body, that can be recharged without plugging it in and weighs less will be available. Oh there’s another difference between the two phones: iPhone X will cost about $1000 (or $50 a month for 24 months) $200 more than the iPhone 8.


I’ve had iPhones for the last 6 or 7 years... can’t even remember to be honest. And I’m kind of shocked how much this thing has become a part of my life. Far from a phone, it’s what keeps me connected to the world whether it’s the internet, social media; it has games which can be somewhat addictive (love competing with my mother on Words with Friends) I can even read books on it; and the Waze GPS app on this thing has saved me from traffic jams I don’t even know how many times.

Like clock work, I had just made my last payment for the iPhone 7 and now these new models were being offered. In the past I dutifully followed the directions to sell that phone and upgrade to a new model. It was just general busyness - coupled with confusion about how much of a difference there was between the two models (other than the price) that had stopped me from completing the friendly email reminder from iPhone to pre-order today!


Well about a week or two ago, driving in Manhattan, from the distance I could see an Apple store and I started thinking"oh shoot that’s right, I could’ve had the iPhone 8 already... I wonder if I should wait a few more weeks and just get the X... but then some people are saying you want to wait on that because there might be some glitches yet..." That was the interior dialogue that was going back and forth in my head when I saw him. This middle aged guy across the street on the corner with a sign that I couldn’t make out (but instantly knew what it said) along with a cup in his hand which most people people seemed to not see or ignore as they looked at some model of iPhone or other phone as they walked past him. I felt embarrassed and ashamed over the inner debate I was having.

Because the reality is, this iPhone is fine. It’s more than fine. It does more than I even know it can... I’m sure of it. And before I simply upgrade for some other upgrades I have no idea how to use or how in such small somewhat insignificant way it improves my life, does it warrant another $50 a month?

Reading today’s Gospel - this familiar back and forth between Jesus and this new group of Jews that want to quarrel with him (last week it was the Pharisees - now it’s the Herodians) there’s the brilliant, masterful way Jesus bypasses the trap that they had set for him. Saying they shouldn’t pay the tax would side with the Jews who were angry about being occupied by the Romans but would get him in some major trouble with the Romans. As would saying the opposite not appease both sides. By pointing out the hypocrisy of those asking the question - who by the fact that they were carrying the Roman coin had in a sense already bought into the Roman Empire’s currency so they really had no room to ask whether they should pay the tax what was lawful (it’s like holding a pornographic magazine and saying "is it moral for people to make this magazine or publish it or not? you already bought the magazine)

So Jesus points out - they’ve signed onto this government’s authority by using this economic system, so they have to fulfill their obligations to it: Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar... But then he adds and give to God what belongs to God.

More than just a church-state discussion... More than what is just to pay to the government as a Christian (or a devout Jew) - this Gospel asks us to go deeper... Who have I made my Caesar and What does belong to God? Repay to Apple what belongs to apple.

Jesus isn’t dismissive of the everyday concerns of human life. He’s not saying taxes aren’t important. And looking at the Gospels we know that he enjoyed meals and wine which all cost money as well (sure, He made the wine out of water in Cana, but the rest of the wedding cost some money as well). But that’s where the homeless guy outside the Apple Store did give me a gut check. - Perhaps I have given Apple enough... and perhaps God is asking me to revisit my priorities and seeing am I giving Him all that he deserves?


You guys as college students - you’re on budgets. And so it’s a little bit limited now. But not completely. I know in my own time in college (as long ago as that may be) if 10,000 Maniacs were coming to the Meadowlands - it wasn’t even a question I was going to the concert... when a CD came out that I really wanted, I magically had no problem putting the cash out, and if my friends asked if I wanted to go to a Yankee game the financial cost wasn’t even an issue. But when someone would ask me to donate for something, then I became an accountant and started looking at how much cash, how much I had in my checking account...

It’s an intensely intimate, personal question that demands some self reflection and maturity on each of our part. It’s too easy or to simple to simply say "don’t buy that phone if you love Jesus"... And that’s not what Jesus is saying. Rather Jesus wants us to look in our heart and see what are the priorities. what are the things we’ve singed on for. And even more, have I made Him a priority that I even ask what belongs to Him?

A HEART OVERFLOWING WITH GRATITUDE

Newman Catholic Chapel - late last night/early this morning

Looking at my watch it's about 1 am... The last of our cleanup crew left a couple of hours ago (not that we're "done done"... we were just done by then) and I had stopped back in our chapel.  Earlier in the day, we had temporarily moved the altar, pulpit and presider's chair outside to the tent we had raised for the 50th Anniversary Celebration - and at one point when I was leading Cardinal Tobin out to the reception, I watched as several of our "kids" carefully brought the altar back inside.  In a night that was filled with many, many, many beautiful mental snapshots - that one hit me stopping back in here to offer a simple prayer of thanksgiving.  It kind of is a perfect mental image for me right now.

So many of our "senior alumni" who I had just met for the first time this evening - some from as far back as the late 1950's  didn't stop raving about "your kids."  How welcoming they were... How interested they were to hear stories from their time here at Newman.    At one point earlier in the evening, one of those "kids" said to me "Father - you look like you're shining" - which I laughed and dismissively said "it must be the medication..."(I've been a little stressed with all these preparations the last few weeks) but truthfully - I was glowing with pride and joy.  Just to see so many people who had very deep, profound memories from the past (I remember when a friend of mine died back in 1972 how this was the place we came to grieve, to pray for her... I can't explain what an impact that has on me to this day) to hear from them how happy they were to see the "Newman of today" -- to in a sense validate what I know to be true and I'm privileged to be a part of each and every day - the unique opportunity it is to share our faith as a community - and to nurture the faith of these young people. 

That reminder... this whole celebration... not even the Yankees losing game 7 could diminish this joy :)

CAN I DO ALL THINGS IN HIM?

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 28th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - Oct 15, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/101517.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for all your feedback and comments.  Have a great week-  God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:

More than likely at some time, in a variety of different situations and contexts, you might have seen someone planting a bible verse (or the book and verse number of where to find it) in some very different - even unlikely spaces outside the walls of a Church. For example, It’s not uncommon to see someone at a football game holding up a sign saying "JOHN 3:16" with the hopes that people would look it up and read what many consider to be the "Gospel in a nutshell". People looking up that passage would find the words "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not die, but have eternal life" which succinctly encapsulates a theme that is central to being Christian. Or, a good friend of mine just returning from a trip to the Holy Land was excited to share that after talking about it for over 10 years, he finally got a tattoo. After seeing a sketching of a cross with the words of scripture found in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection "He is not here" right outside the tomb where Jesus rose from the dead - he decided to have that cross and scripture inked over his heart.   Even priests, in preparation for their ordinations, will usually design a prayer card as a memento for their guests - and include some verse that holds some personal significance (for myself, I put the words that John the Baptist said about his ministry in light of Jesus Christ He must increase, while I must decrease... John 3:30)

I was thinking about all the different scenarios of seeing scripture quotes in different contexts when reading today’s scriptures. Because in that second reading we heard from Paul's lettter to the Philippians - it contained one of the most popular, most cited passages: Phil 4:13. Just do a Google search and you’ll see artwork, tattoos, posters, t-shirts, billboards containing these beloved words of scripture. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. When I saw it, I had the same reaction I’ve had when encountering this passage: some really mixed emotions. Because I know it’s not something I could ever tattoo on myself (well I can’t tattoo anything without my Mother killing me, but that’s a different story altogether). Don’t get me wrong; it truly is a beautifully powerful testimony; it’s a sentiment that I truly want to believe. It’s a statement that on many deep levels I know to be true - but it’s also something that if I’m completely honest - I struggle with.

Because when we read this passage, St. Paul isn’t merely speaking self-help words designed to motivate people to look beyond their weaknesses and challenge their limits. St. Paul is in prison and is writing to the people he brought the Christian message to after which they became Christians - they were now suffering persecutions and facing an uncertain future. Amidst all these circumstances, Paul is being reflective. He’s realized that after a multitude of very different experiences he has gone through, including being rejected, losing social status, being beaten and tortured - in addition to partaking in a gamut of life-altering positive experiences where he was well received, able to preach the Gospel in an effective manner - he realizes that regardless of his circumstances, positive or negative, or even in the face of life or death - Paul concedes that I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.  He’s not speaking inspirationally; he’s stating a fact.


And that’s what’s frustrating to me. I want to be able to say the same thing with that same certitude and authenticity. But the reality is that the struggle is real. I know how easily fear, anxiety, worry enter in that would render some of my words ineffective and lack authenticity. I know how often temptations and sinfulness can undermine the pursuit of living that truth. I can still say cite that scripture I chose for my ordination with great authenticity He must increase while I must decrease... if anything, those words seem truer now than they did 18 years ago. But saying I can do all things in him who strengthens me entails a deep sense of responsibility of living those words and not stopping short of stating them. I know the truth of these words in my head, but saying those words from my heart would reveal some doubt or hesitation that would almost undermine the truth of that statement.

Sitting with that for a few days, today’s Gospel provided me with unexpected comfort. Because we hear another somewhat bizarre parable. This is part three of an ongoing back and forth interaction Jesus is having with the Jewish leaders. Today, they’re talking about the Kingdom of Heaven which is being described as this incredible party being thrown by the King (God) for his son (Jesus); the servants inviting the people are prophets who people refused to listen, are distracted, are too occupied. That’s bad enough, but the people do kill the messenger which enrages the King. The parable is pretty straight forward and understandable so far.

It’s this final part that sounds weird. A guy that does shows up - is not dressed in a tux (or whatever) and the King gets fired up...more than fired up - he casts him outside. It seems like a gross overreaction. But we have to understand that in Jesus’ time, the guest would’ve been offered the "wedding garment" by the hosts of the wedding. So it’s not like he didn’t have enough time to get the right thing, or wouldn’t have known what was expected. The guest must’ve refused the garment. Maybe he wanted to go with his own clothes. Maybe he didn't see any need for "their" clothes. Maybe he simply felt his presence was enough. That’s what upsets the King in the story- it’s like the guy didn’t even try.    He shows up - so he knows it’s important... he knows what’s expected... he is given the ability, the opportunity. But in his self-conceited arrogance, he goes at it on his own - in his own selfish way.


I think that’s what upsets Jesus. He’s offering us the garment we need for the banquet - He’s given us the path to eternal life with Him in Baptism - He’s given us everything we need to live in union with Him here and now as well as the gateway to eternity in His company. He’s not asking us for perfection. He’s not asking us to take care of everything on our own. He simply wants us to want to be with Him. So we come to the banquet when the garments of our life our filled with hurts, fears and trials. We come to the banquet when the garments of our life are filled the joys, the triumphs, the constant rediscoveries of how loved we are by God. We've heard God's invitation, we welcome it, and we bring ourselves as we are– not putting on any facade or withholding something...we come with unbridled honesty and with complete faith in Him - bad and good alike.

The more we do that,
the more that becomes the norm in our lives,
the more we lean on Him than on ourselves
the more we thank Him for the countless blessings that continue in our lives — even in the midst of trials and tribulations -
the more we stop comparing ourselves to others in some never ending competition of "Who’s more Christian"
the more we start to realize how much Jesus is a part of the picture... and that He is the picture himself.
He is the goal, the focus, the everything...

Then maybe, just maybe we will be able to state that emphatically not simply on a post, a billboard, or even a tattoo that

I have been able to,

I will do . . . and

I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.