FINDING JESUS IN COMMON, INAPPROPRIATE, UNEXPECTED PLACES

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! Here’s my homily for the close of the Christmas Season - the SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY - January 8, 2017. The readings can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/010817.cfm. Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog, for all your shares on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for your feeback and comments. Have a great week - God Bless - Fr Jim



HOMILY:

A few years ago on a Friday morning, a young man entered the Metro station in the heart of Washington, DC shortly before 8am. Casually dressed and carrying a violin case, he stopped took out his violin, threw a dollar into his opened case, and started playing classical music. He began with six very difficult, yet beautiful, pieces by the classical composer J.S. Bach. On a normal weekday, approximately 2000 people pass through that station between 8-9am, most on their way to work. It took three minutes before anyone even noticed him. A middle-aged man stopped briefly and hurried on. 4 minutes after that a woman threw a dollar into the carrying case, but didn’t stop. Ten minutes after that a three year old boy tried to stop and listen but was dragged away by his mother.

After 45 minutes of playing, a total of six people had stopped and listened but only for a brief time. The young musician collected a total of $32. After he had been playing continuously for over an hour, in which easily over 1000 people had passed by, he stopped playing. No one noticed, applauded or gave any form of recognition or appreciation.

This mysterious street musician actually turned out to be a world renown concert violinist named Joshua Bell and the Bach pieces he played are some of the most intricate pieces of music ever written. He played his Metro "concert" on a Stradivarius violin which is worth $3.5 million dollars. Amazingly, three days prior, he had played a sold out concert at Boston’s Symphony Hall where the average ticket price was $100 to easily over 2,500 people...

Bell’s gig as a street musician was part of a social experiment about concept, perception and priorities conducted and videotaped by The Washington Post. They wanted to know: In a common place environment at an inappropriate time - do we perceive beauty?; Do we stop to appreciate it? Can we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

Today we celebrate one the last feasts of the Christmas season. It’s ironic that most of the world has already moved on and "dropped" Christmas. Yet, today’s feast is an essential part of this season- the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. The word epiphany in Greek means appearance or manifestation and refers to the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the wise-men we just heard about in the Gospel. Guided by the appearance of a star, these Magi traveled a great distance in search of the newborn baby who was foretold to be the King of the Jews. And as we just heard, they find the baby Jesus in a common stable, at an unexpected time and in an unexpected context. It is there that they find the King of the Jews - the Word of God made flesh, – God, the very source of all that is Good, True and Beautiful, was made manifest.

And yet, very few took notice of it, let alone appreciated it. Not just in his birth and infancy, but throughout Jesus’ life. The Gospels show throughout Jesus’ ministry and teaching, even in the face of spectacular miracles how the Scribes and Pharisees along with a vast majority of people of that time and era would miss this, miss Him. In the Christmas commemorations we know that there were some who "got it": certainly Mary and Joseph did; the shepherds got it, as did these Wisemen. Even Herod got it to a certain extent, sadly not with appreciation but rather with fear and jealousy. But for the many, this "Glory of the Lord" that was shining was missed.

Which is surprising. Because we heard in that first reading how Isaiah had predicted this dawn of light a few hundred years earlier. So people should have been looking for it, expecting it, anticipating it... But for the most part, people were most likely distracted by their own concerns and the usual tasks of everyday life to take notice of the true beauty that was radiating right there in their midst. Kind of like thousands of people missing a world renowned musician playing beautiful music as they race to catch a subway train on a typical Friday morning.

In our celebration of the Epiphany today we are reminded of the need to continue to seek Christ. To not take it for granted that our being here means we’ve "found him." Because too often we can fall into that mind set and limit Jesus’ presence and activity to something we just do here on a Sunday (or Saturday Night). Yes, He reveals himself here in a somewhat common and what many in the world would find inappropriate way: bread and wine becoming Jesus’ Body and Blood and offered for us commoners to consume doesn’t exactly match up to what people would expect as the place to encounter God. Yet our faith has made this miracle somewhat commonplace to Catholics. Sadly to the point that, sometimes, we don’t even fully appreciate the radiance of this beauty that we receive on a regular basis.

But beyond these walls, beyond this Eucharist – How often do we recognize how Jesus continues to make Himself manifest in our daily lives? In our world that’s strangely become closer in terms of communication, we as a society seem to be becoming more isolated. Judging and lumping people into categories that allows us to remain indifferent to one another. Yet what if we stopped and thought for a moment that all the people we encounter, all of the different relationships, situations and experiences we have as ways that Jesus is revealing his presence to us? Calling us out of ourselves, to stretch ourselves... So yes, that annoying co-worker perhaps is an opportunity for us to be charitable and patient (recognizing how Jesus is incredibly charitable and patient with us). That sick person who "yeah I’ve been meaning to reach out to," is that face of the suffering Christ who longs for our compassion. Jesus manifests Himself in the people and circumstances of our everyday life, yet, so often we fail to see Him in those ordinary and sometimes unexpected contexts.

Epiphany calls us to "set out" to encounter Jesus Christ but perhaps in a way that moves us out of the walls we’ve confined God to. In that, the Magi who we celebrate with this feast can help be our guide. Pope Francis explained how on Friday in his Epiphany Homily:

The Magi’s hearts were open to the horizon and they could see what the heavens were showing them, for they were guided by an inner restlessness. They were open to something new.

That’s one of the final gifts of the Christmas season - to realize that the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ - Emmanuel - God With Us - is meant to open us to experience something new. To speak to that restlessness that we can experience in our own lives, in our own time. But we have to be honest and open about that in order for anything meaningful to change, for us to have a meaningful encounter with God.

Thinking back to that experiment of experiencing Joshua Bell’s beautiful music in a common an inappropriate context - in that train station during morning rush hour - I can pretty much guarantee I would have walked past him as he performed his beautiful music (at 8 in the morning, most likely I would be searching a Dunkin Donuts for coffee than anything else). And like the thousands of others who passed by, it would have been a true loss not to take in such a gift. I’d allow the noise and busyness of life to distract me from something that could speak to deeper needs and desires that need attention.

God wants to speak to our inner restlessness. He wants to reward our desire to find Him as He did the Magi. May we set out as we leave this place with hearts and minds attuned to how Emmanuel: God-with-us

– continues to manifest himself

- radiates His glory

- offers us opportunities of encounter that we might not be expecting in common, inapproptiate, unexpected ways.

May we not be too busy to notice them.

WHERE IS THAT PEACE ON EARTH?

MERRY CHRISTMAS!  Here's my homily for THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD - CHRISTMAS DAY - December 25, 2016.  The readings for today come from the "Mass during the Night" http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122516-midnight.cfm.  As always, thank you for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for your feedback and comments.  They're always appreciated!  My prayers and best wishes to you and yours for a blessed Christmas - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

A couple years ago, there was a Christmas advertisement by a British supermarket company (that doubtfully many of us Americans have ever heard of) named Sainsbury’s in which they commemorated an event that happened 100 years ago during World War I. In the 3 minute commercial, they dramatically portrayed the true story of how at the height of battle, there was, what has been referred to as "The Christmas Truce." British and German soldiers from Christmas Eve through Christmas Day had a cease-fire. There would be no warfare - lest anyone would got hurt or killed on Christmas, a holiday all of these soldiers from different nations, different "sides" celebrated.

The commercial shows the soldiers receiving care packages from home - how the strains of "Silent Night" could be heard first being sung by the German Soldiers, which when the British Soldiers heard, they responded, picking up the familiar Christmas hymn in their own language. Eventually both sides slowly emerged from their trenches, began to greet one another, share some of the gifts they had received from home with one another, even enter into a game of football. The beautiful advertisement ends with the words "Christmas is for sharing" on the screen with the company logo. (If you want to see it, you can click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWF2JBb1bvM )

But that’s really not the end of the story. As soon as Christmas, ended, so did the truce. A shot fired from one side to the other. The fighting resumed. The first world war would continue for another 4 years with over 37 million people killed. No wonder the marketing agency that made the commercial wanted to delete that part. Sadly history cannot.

Hearing the story of the "Christmas Truce" - seems to be met with two types of reactions. The optimist sees the glimmer of humanity, the glimmer of hope that for a moment "Christmas" won. In the midst of the madness, the cruelty that is war, Christmas won the hearts and minds of enemies; Christmas circumvented the politics, the angry rhetoric, the extremism that marched people from opposite sides to take up arms one against one another. Christmas was able to evoke a truce, even if the government leaders and officials of the warring factions refused to declare one.

The pessimist sees this as simply postponing the inevitable for just the day. A nice sentiment, but what’s the point? So one Christian can kill another Christian - except on Christmas? Why, was it out of guilt? Is it just another example of Christian hypocrisy?

I first heard this story maybe 22 years ago - and I found myself very conflicted about it. Debating in my own mind and heart those two views - the optimist versus the pessimist and not sure which side I agreed with. On the one hand it’s so idealistic and hope-filled for just a moment, just a second that these grown men, these soldiers could become so peace-filled. But knowing the reality of things - that soon after they resumed where they left off, it’s so harsh, discouraging, frustrating, defeatist even.

But something struck me when I saw the commercial and thought about the story again and the mix of emotions. Don’t a lot of us find ourselves similarly torn with those optimist versus pessimist views as we gather together once again for Christmas? We gather in Churches - familiar, peaceful, safe surroundings filled with sentiments of glad, good tidings - the beauty of music, artful decorations, peaceful depictions of the Son of God - Jesus Christ being born as a baby under the loving glances of his Mother, the blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, the animals. It’s all so familiar, so hope-filled.

Yet we know as we leave this place, the world is far more harsh and discouraging. From terrorist acts disrupting Christmas celebrations in Germany to the ongoing horrors and violence in Syria are just two major international headlines that comes to mind. But it’s not hard to find words and actions of hate, anger, terror in our own borders. More closer to home – in our homes, whether it’s the unresolved dispute, the tension in the family, the illness that’s causing fear and anxiety; the loss of someone we love that has left an empty seat at our tables - many of us find sentiments resounding "Joy to the world" and "peace on earth" hard to believe in. We have good reason to think, to believe that Christmas seems to only win for a moment.


Yet, we find ourselves here again. Perhaps with a flicker of new hope that somehow, someway this cycle will finally be broken this time, this Christmas. That somehow the arrival of December 25th will miraculously put an end to all anger, all hatred, all strife that we see and hear, we experience and confront. That the "Prince of Peace" will do his thing. And that these Christmas moments that seem fleeting whether it’s in leaving this place or on that battlefield 100 years ago will become far more lasting.

But what we celebrate today is that Jesus’ entrance into humanity isn’t as some conquering King, vanquishing all enemies, establishing his rule and protecting us from any threat to this peace we so desperately long for -both personally and universally. Instead, He comes as a child, as a baby. He enters into our mess in a mess – no room at an Inn, relegated to being born in a manger with animals, to two individuals who 9 months earlier had their own dreams, plans and ideas of their life together pretty dramatically altered. Yet for those two people, for the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph - their saying Yes to God, their obedience to His will - not just for that moment or that day- but for their lives - made Christmas real, made CHRIST real not just for a fleeting moment - but for all of human history.

That is the key, that is the difference. He’s not here to do all the "fixing" of things that we want and need fixing. Being fully divine, and fully human, He shares Himself with all of us to lovingly guide, challenge and call us to the hard work of holiness. When we recognize that, we realize:

That moment on that battle field didn’t have to be a moment.

Those soldiers chose to create that truce, honor that truce.

They allowed Christ into their hearts and their lives - so much so that not even the orders of their governments, who had balked when Pope Benedict 15th had begged for a Christmas truce - not even those Governments and their orders could stop Him from being real, being present in the lives of those soldiers and bringing that elusive peace to reality on that battlefield.

But on December 26th, they chose to stop following Him. They stopped obeying orders from the Prince of Peace and followed the orders of man - leading to more destruction, more warfare, more pain, more loss.

What will it be for us? The hope-filled promise of the entrance of Christ into our lives - our messy, pain-filled, trying, real lives is renewed with this celebration of Christmas to remind us that He wants to be here - Jesus wants to walk with us, wants to be with us. Not to commiserate and quietly observe us struggle. But to be that light that Isaiah prophesied about in the first reading - that light shining to the people who walk in darkness and gloom. Calling us out of that darkness, out of that gloom.

He calls us to be that people who will follow that light - in this moment, and every moment to follow. To be that light to one another in those difficult situations in our homes and at our tables - as well as in our workplaces, campuses and throughout all the varied public squares of our nation that seem to be growing darker, getting angrier.

Pope Benedict XVI a few years ago said "The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow Himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through a stable, there are people who see His light and pass it on."

May you and I be the ones who see His light and pass it on... Merry Christmas

GOD GIVE ME A SIGN

Hi everyone here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 18, 2016. The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121816.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, for sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for your comments and feedback. Hope you have a blessed week - God Bless - Fr Jim

One quick commercial... I know how many requests we all get for all kinds of great causes.  I'd appreciate you're considering helping our Newman Catholic Center and our mission of bringing Jesus Christ and His Church to our college students.  Read more about it at http://www.MSUNEWMAN.com/appeal - THANKS AGAIN!!!
HOMILY:
How often have you asked God to give you a sign?


When you reflect on that, it probably happens more often than we might initially think. God, what am I supposed to do with my life? Lord is this the person I’m meant to be with? Jesus, give me a sign that you love me (this one is usually followed with a suggestion on how He might do that). It’s understandable. We’re told that God loves us. That He answers everyone of our prayers. So in a way, we admit that maybe we’re a little dense, perhaps we might have missed that answer or not clearly understood His plan when things aren’t going the way we think they should. So we want some clarity, some understanding, some reason brought into whatever situation it is we find ourselves that causes us to pray in this way: Where we look for more clues, more evidence of God’s presence, His activity in our lives. We ask for a sign.

So often we’ve heard or seen so many variations of the Christmas story that different details and aspects of it are so familiar that other areas can kind of get overlooked. For example, we remember that both Mary and Joseph had an angel tell them and explain to them how Mary was going to become the mother of Jesus even though Mary and Joseph had not been married and not had relations with one another. But there’s a detail about this that kind of fascinates me:

Mary had an angelic visitor greeting her one day in her home in Nazareth. She has this dialogue with the angel, and a further confirmation of this wondrous news with further wondrous news that her elderly relative Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist. Joseph has an angelic visitor too, but the angel comes to him in a dream... and the angel comes not to announce glad tidings to him like the angel does for Mary. The angel comes in response to Joseph’s being at a loss, being perhaps sad, confused, angry even... The angel comes as Joseph was looking for a sign.

Because after Mary experiences this encounter and agrees to what the Lord was inviting her into, we know that she goes and tells Joseph. And then the scriptures kind of just matter-of-fact tell us that Joseph was planning on divorcing her quietly. But the more you reflect on it and dig into this, you realize that Joseph must have been broken hearted. Because Mary and Joseph were betrothed, but not living together. We often use the term "engaged" to explain this, but in ancient Judaism, betrothal was more than just what we would understand as engagement. Betrothal was the time when the couple were already legally married but before they lived together. From the betrothal on, they could only be separated by death or divorce (which wasn’t very accepted in ancient times).

So Mary tells her betrothed, Joseph, of her encounter with the Angel Gabriel. How she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit, how this Child was to be Jesus and what his birth would mean for humanity. And we read Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man yet unwilling to expose her to shame decided to divorce her quietly. That one sentence says a lot. Joseph is identified as a righteous man. Learning that he would not be the biological father of the child his wife was carrying is something that would bring shame to him, to his family. Had he been simply self-focused he could have demanded that his righteousness be protected. He could have divorced her publically, not even enter into the debate about this story that Mary was presenting to him.

But Joseph loves Mary. Maybe he thought Mary cheated on him - that’s kind of far-fetched for us to consider; maybe he just didn’t understand what Mary was saying - that’s probably more easy for us to appreciate... it’s doubtful we’d begin to understand hearing such a story ourselves were we the first recipients of it... We can’t read Joseph’s mind wondering what were his thoughts on hearing all of this news from Mary. But we can imagine what was going on in his heart... Most likely a broken heart that didn’t know how to reconcile this tale, with the plans, dreams, hopes this betrothed couple had imagined of their life together. Joseph can’t see another way out to be the righteous man he was, and allow his betrothed wife to enter his home, already pregnant and not feel shame... More than likely Joseph asked God for some answers, some clarity, some understanding... a sign.

Which is what we heard in tonight’s Gospel - God was unwilling to let Joseph move on through life with a broken heart. God the Father sends an angel to Joseph in his sleep, and invites Joseph to let go of the hurt he feels with his dreams disappearing and instead to dream His dream. Dream His dream of being a father to His Son Jesus in a spiritual and real way. Dream his dream of taking his wife Mary into his home, to love, honor, cherish, protect her all the days of his life as a more urgent task now that this child is to be born who He has even bigger dreams for.

St. Joseph has taught me a few beautiful lessons with this - that has helped shape my understanding of God and I think is really important for each of us when we have our moments of asking for a sign. First is that we have to be open to how the Lord wants to speak to us. Just because your betrothed gets an angel popping by the house one afternoon, doesn’t mean that’s how God is going to "visit" you. And that’s a good thing. For me, while there’s times I kind of want that type of unambiguous, awesome, definitive direction from the Lord - there’s probably a reason why God doesn’t speak to me that way (probably a couple good reasons). He who made us, who knows us so intimately that scripture tells us he knows the exact numbers of hairs on our heads - knows how best to speak to us. So I can’t let jealousy or envy that God speaks and works differently in one person’s life compared to mine enter in. Because if I do that, more likely I’m going to miss how God is speaking to me.

The other lesson is that we have to be connected to the Lord in our everyday lives so that we can know how to see Him, hear Him, encounter Him in those bigger moments when we are crying out for signs. Joseph had to have been a man of great faith, and trust, and prayer... He had to already have been a man in relationship with God to have been able to appreciate and accept this "dream." Had he not, it would’ve been easy to dismiss it as a crazy dream. (I knew I should’ve passed on eating that Camel last night) Because Joseph knew the Lord already, He was able to hear Him speaking to Joseph in this difficult hour.

As we enter this last week of Advent - it’s good to remember what this season is all about. Pope Benedict XVI said "Advent...invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention he has for each one of us." So, in other words, more than simply commemorating Jesus’ birth over 2,000 years ago, we’re being invited to see that Jesus is Emmanuel - meaning God is with us. His presence continues to dwell with us in a lot of ways, but most obvious - in these scriptures, in His Body and Blood which we are offered to take and eat - thereby making Him really present in our body’s and souls. In these ways, Jesus becomes even more intimately close to you and I than he ever was to St. Joseph. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that He would be speaking to us, inviting us to continue His work of salvation in our day and age, helping to bring Him to birth here and now – and providing signs of those realities. May you and I be open and attentive to the ways He is speaking to us - speaking to our fears, our doubts, our worries; inviting us into deeper love and trust with Him, His plans, His dreams for us; so that we too can make Christmas truly a celebration of His birth - for each of us, and for the world once again.
 

JESUS - ARE YOU THE ONE?????

Hi everyone here’s my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 11, 2016. The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121116.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, for sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for your comments and feedback. Hope you have a blessed week - God Bless - Fr Jim

One quick commercial... I know how many requests we all get for all kinds of great causes.  I'd appreciate you're considering helping our Newman Catholic Center and our mission of bringing Jesus Christ and His Church to our college students.  Read more about it at http://www.MSUNEWMAN.com/appeal - THANKS AGAIN!!!



HOMILY:

It’s a beautiful, while at the same time challenging part of priesthood to hear on any given week some of the real burdens, challenges, crosses that people are struggling with... For example:

- He is only in his early 40's, he got some really bad news that he wasn’t expecting from the doctor. To say he’s anxious is truly an understatement.

- She and her sisters cannot even look at each other any more they are that angry. It’s gone from a disagreement that no one imagined would be a big deal, to giving the cold shoulder, to a blow up after their father’s funeral and now the only way they can talk to each other is through a lawyer.

- He still can’t believe that he was fired from his job. Not laid off, not had his job or position cut... he was actually fired. Was he perfect, no, but it didn’t warrant this. It’s like they were looking for a reason to get rid of him, and objectively speaking, it sure seems that way.

- They are struggling... neither one of them knows when their relationship went from being life-giving to simply hard work, and they don’t know if they can take it anymore.

- He has legitimately been trying...he’s actually gone to class, done the homework and he’s still failing...
In the week of a priest, you could hear countless variations of those stories. The names, faces, details vary. But it’s just reality striking again... Life can be extremely hard. No doubt everyone of us could fill in the blanks with names, faces, details that each of us know – or perhaps are going through ourselves. These are some of the intentions that we "hold in our hearts and now recall in silence" as we pause for a moment in the Prayer of the Faithful that never seems long enough to get them all in.

There’s something about hearing these stories, knowing these realities exist in mid-December that seems extra-wrong. As if we should be able to lodge a complaint somewhere with a customer service rep for the Lord to remind Him that this is supposed to be a "sadness-free" zone through his Birthday (we can negotiate whether we get a full 12 days of Christmas... but at least a couple) As you get older, as you’ve gone to a hospital or nursing home on Christmas day, you realize that whether it’s the Christmas season or not... whether you’re the most devout of believers or an atheist who’s trying to fit in by saying "Happy Holidays" - the reality of Bad Things happening to all people, good, bad, somewhere in between... is just that. It’s a reality we have to acknowledge. And it’s a reality that, in short, sucks.

This past week, just sitting with my own list of names, faces and details and praying with this Gospel reading, the realization of how no one is immune to the harshness of life – seemed to hit home even harder. Particularly with this Gospel we just heard this story about John the Baptist. Because listen to that line that John asks of Jesus - Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another? That’s kind of a big deal because we have to remember a few things about John the Baptist:

First of all - John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins. Remember when their two mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, met after they were pregnant with these two baby boys, what happened? John "leapt in the womb" - the future prophet was already recognizing that in Jesus, God was coming to the world in a dramatically new, history shifting way.

Fast forward a few decades and scripture tells us that John gives his life to proclaiming God’s word to His people. Calling people to "prepare the way of the Lord." To repent, to turn away from their sins, to receive this baptism of repentance in the Jordan river. When cousin Jesus comes to the river, looking for this Baptism, John hesitates - knowing that Jesus is "mightier than he is" - even arguing that it should be the other way around, that he, John should be baptized by Jesus. John the Baptist relents, (Jesus can be convincing) and as he Baptizes Jesus, and we learn that the sky break into two, the Spirit descends upon Jesus -oh and yeah, the voice of God is heard saying "This is my beloved Son, listen to Him." How awesome a moment, what greater validation could John have ever experienced that Jesus was truly the one... The Son, the Lord, the Messiah - the one all humanity had been waiting for.

With all that in mind, we come to today’s Gospel. We get a completely different side of

things. John has a group of people who’ve been following him... listening to John preaching in this exciting, convincing manner that the Lord was coming. John sends these friends of his to go to Jesus and ask him a question. A question he can’t ask himself... (He can’t ask it himself because he’s been imprisoned, chained and tortured and has his life in the hands of a tyrant who will ultimately decide to behead him because of the bizarre request of a woman who basically gives the tyrant a lap dance). The question John asks his friends to ask Jesus, Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?

John the Baptist, who Jesus will say after hearing that question that there has been "none greater", this prophet gives voice to all of our fears, all of our doubts, all of our discouragements. In all of our countless trials, in all of the extremes we encounter in life... when we can easily feel helpless... hopeless... that question from John can speak to those questions that may remain unasked... Jesus - it’s not supposed to be this hard, this difficult.... Jesus it’s hard to believe in you when all these rough things are happening to my friends, my relatives - to me... Jesus, are you the one who is to come?

John the Baptist’s humanity comes out as he’s sitting in this cell he’s experiencing a dark night of the soul. But rather than seeing this as a lapse of faith, I think it’s kind of the exact opposite.  Because he asks the question and that tell us: John hasn’t given up his faith in Jesus.   Had he given up, he would've simply abandoned Jesus, perhaps lashed out about him to his friends and simply tried to find a way out of the terrible situation he finds himself in.  Somewhere in the midst of the darkness, with the heavy heart of a man who is cut off, alone, and facing an uncertain future, his memory still recalls that day in the Jordan river when he heard that voice of the Father calling Jesus His Beloved Son. It probably seems a distant memory at the moment; it might seem so far removed where he’s wondering was that a dream or did that really happen? But that memory still resonates in his heart. John still believes... as hard as it might be in that situation, he still believes.

Rather than closing in on himself, letting the fears and doubts to continue to eat away at his faith, his belief, his trust in Jesus - What does John do?  He shares his pain, shares his fears, his doubts with his friends, his followers... telling them to do what? To Go to Jesus... to ask that question - Jesus are you the one? And what an amazingly beautiful, hope filled response Jesus gives to them. No parables. No dodging. No short-answers. He says GO TELL JOHN WHAT YOU HEAR AND SEE - THE BLIND REGAIN THEIR SIGHT, THE LAME WALK, LEPERS ARE CLEANSED, THE DEAF HEAR, THE DEAD ARE RAISED, AND THE POOR HAVE THE GOOD NEWS PROCLAIMED TO THEM.

Jesus is ushering in a new era. He proclaims to John and to all who will listen how the world is changing. God has come, and remains with us. Emmanuel - God is with us. Yes, with that arrival, all of creation is being renewed... John might not feel it at that moment... and we might not either when we know so many who are suffering, or are in pain, or are feeling lost, or feeling without hope.

Yet the good news is that those aren’t the ends of any of our stories. As messed up, as painful as that dark night you are going through might be... As terrible or scared or afraid as we might be... The call of Advent is to not give up. Jesus is the one.

The very fact that we are here is because people have experienced some of that renewal that re-creation. So we’re encouraged to "rejoice" this Sunday at what has already been experienced in the world... To not let the waiting for our darkness to disappear, to not let the ongoing trials we face to prevent us from going to Jesus.

St. James in the second reading tonight said You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm because the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do we still believe that He is the one? Can we open our hearts to welcome him in? Are we willing to wait for Him to change us, to renew us, to heal us? Because - in ways we don't expect or sometimes appreciate - He will, if we let Him.

BRINGING OUT THE GOOD - 2nd Sunday of Advent

Hi everyone... Here's my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT - December 4, 2016.  The readings for today can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120416.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog, for your comments and feedback - and for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and wherever else on the social media world... I'm shocked looking at some of the stats each week, and deeply grateful.  Have a great week!  Fr Jim

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HOMILY:

At the height of last month’s bitter campaign and election, after a deluge of awful advertisements from both campaigns that just made people more fearful, angry, politically charged and left people feeling more divided than perhaps any other campaign has done before, there was one TV commercial that was quite different. First off it was a three minute advertisement. In a media world where we’re used to 140 character tweets, and 30 second commercials at the max, that’s already outside of the norm. That it came from Pedigree - a dog food company also seemed odd - as they are hardly used to big budget marketing campaigns like Budweiser or Ford or some national company like that. It opened with pictures of both campaign rallies showing signs saying "Hillary for Prison" "Dump Trump" and so on. The commercial then introduces this "social experiment" that they wanted to try out. They had a young woman go to both Clinton and Trump rallies with what she describes as a lost golden retriever. At each event she goes to, she is wearing the opposing candidates shirt.

Even though it was a commercial - so you had to guess how it would work out, I mean, would they spend all this money on a commercial if it went horribly wrong? -but, as any good film-maker or story teller is able to do, you kind of got sucked into this short story very quickly not really knowing what would happen. You see this woman with this dog wearing a Hillary Shirt at a Trump rally and vice versa. She quickly starts engaging people asking "does anyone know someone here who’s lost a dog." The first time I saw it, I felt the knot in my stomach thinking "oh no... please... no... please don’t have people say or do something stupid or mean."

After initially some chilly receptions, people were kind of drawn to trying to help this woman find the dog’s owner. The care and the concern turns to the "poor lost dog" with the attendees at the rallies and this "enemy" supporting the opponent, all petting and talking about the dog. Political differences were cast aside as both Hillary and Trump supporters bond with the woman over their love of dogs. That three minute ad, entitled "Vote for Good" which was shot over the last two weeks of the campaign and shown on the day before and the day of the election may become the most memorable ad as it went viral and was viewed millions of more times online. "I love that apparently when it comes to dogs, there's no political party," says one Clinton supporter "We do agree that we love dogs, and dogs love us," says a man dressed in a Trump shirt. The ad closes with: "This election has brought out the worst in us, We sought to remind people what brings out the good."  (You can watch the video here:)



What brings out the good. That’s something that comes to mind when we look at these scriptures we’ve just heard. Today’s readings from Isaiah and the Gospel of St. Matthew, probably to our ears sounded a bit too unrealistic, too off putting. In the first reading we’re hearing about a wolf being a guest of a lamb, leopards lying with kids, calves and lions browsing together with a child guiding them - cows and bears being neighbors and baby’s playing in a cobra’s den... that’s right - A Cobra’s den. You could be forgiven for thinking "what was Isaiah on that day?" We don’t see how any of that is real how any of that is possible - so our impulse is to dismiss it.

Similarly in the Gospel reading - we hear about John the Baptist - this guy wearing camel’s hair, eating locusts and honey living out in the wilderness. He calls the religious authorities of the day "vipers" and calls the rest of the listeners to "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Again, it’s not shocking that some might be initially dismissive of this rather eccentric guy and wonder - "Uhhhh... what?"

But both Isaiah and John are prophets. Prophets are messengers sent by God to put forward a message from the Lord to His people that God will intervene dramatically to transform the world in some way... to give people Hope, to give them time to prepare, to give them time to respond. 


Isaiah’s prophecy of this ideal, peace-filled vision probably seemed as far-fetched to his first hearers as it does to us. But part of the reason that’s the case is that we rarely see the goodness of the world that God created - the goodness of one another. We are hurt, angry, frustrated by things, people, events - which often results in us responding in equally hurtful, angry, frustrating ways.    It’s why some 3 minute commercial isn’t so silly. In those three minutes, we got to see real people dropping some real animosity and tension over a lovable animal. In that moment, albeit brief, we can maybe begin to have Isaiah’s even more expansive and glorious vision of a peace-filled earth that the Messiah will usher in.

But in order for that to happen, we have to want that vision to be our vision. And we have to make our vision, our mission. Which is where John the Baptist picks up. We hear these kind of stark words from the prophet "Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees...every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire..." not exactly sounding like he’s in the Christmas spirit (someone get John a candy cane). But he’s trying to get us on the right path to the true meaning of Christmas. Not our pretending like Jesus is going to be born again in Bethlehem to Mary. That happened 2,000 years ago. But rather our bringing Christ to birth here and now.  We do that when we start to repent of our pettiness, our grudges. We do that when we reach out to those we’ve been estranged from.   When we become prophets ourselves and engage in the hard work of bringing some peace, some compassion, some mercy into this world around us. To play the roles of John the Baptist and Isaiah in our homes, workplaces, campus.  May we hear the challenge of the season of Advent that calls us to celebrate, to uphold, to seek out and call attention to all that is good in God’s creation... recognizing how Jesus has reconciled all creation and revealed God as our Loving and Eternal Father.  Then we will remind others - and maybe even remind ourselves - of the good there is inside us.

WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE - FA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT - November 27, 2016. The readings can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112716.cfm . Thanks as always for reading, your feedback and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Grateful for your support! Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim.

HOMILY:

Here we are, Thanksgiving weekend. Hopefully we’ve had a nice gathering with our families and friends over a large (more than likely too large) dinner. Maybe you followed up the tryptophane - induced slumbers with Black Friday shopping or continued in semi-coma’s watching Football or binge watching something over the weekend. Over the weekend, people seemed to be moving into "the Holiday Season Mode" decorating inside and outside of their houses. Tuning into Christmas specials popping up on television more frequently then they had been since Columbus Day. One reporter on Friday speculated that people were so glad that such a divisive political campaign and election this year was over they were embracing the Christmas Season even more than usual as an escape from such negativity.

With all that in mind, this is one of these times where people might look at the Church as being unable to connect or reflect with the moods of many people. You definitely don’t get a Christmas vibe here... in fact, the one Christmas song we sing almost every Sunday, the "Glory to God in the Highest" we’ve ditched until we celebrate Christmas in a few weeks... The color scheme here isn’t Christmas green or red (or gold or white) but this dark purple - which is meant to be a reminder that Advent calls us to simplicity, to some fasting and penance... to soberly prepare for Christ’s coming. Not simply Christ’s first coming that first Christmas. But how Christ comes to us here and now, and even more urgently, for his Final coming when he will come for us at the end of time - either our personal end time at our deaths or the end of the world, whichever comes first.

Fa la la la la la la la la....

I know how often I’ve felt this tension myself between wanting to throw myself into the "Christmas season," and then being at Mass and hearing these dire warnings like we did in the Gospel. The basic message "STAY AWAKE, YO U DO NOT KNOW ON WHICH DAY YOUR LORD WILL COME." That seemsmore appropriate around Halloween with a Vampire like voice. It’s too depressing to think about.


But if we’re honest isn’t that the problem? We don’t like to hear or think or even dare to talk about the end of our lives. And there’s never a good time to talk about it. Whenever we do bring the subject up, there’s a knee jerk reaction of "why are you bringing that up." Then when death does hit close to home for us with the loss of a loved one or friend, many of us, even the most faithful of us, can feel completely unprepared.

The reality is that there were more than a few Thanksgiving tables where people were mourning and grieving (either outwardly or deep inside) the fact that loved ones who were there in the past weren’t there this year. And whether we like to think about it or not, we have to acknowledge that death is the one consistent among every human being - no matter how rich or poor, what race, religion, gender you are... everyone of us will die. And it’s unpredictable, as Jesus observes in today’s Gospel: Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. He’s not just something referring to the end of the world. Jesus is pointing out the seeming randomness of death. My brother on Thanksgiving morning was pretty shaken talking about how a custodian at the school he works at, who was his age, with three little kids – died the night before from an Asthma attack. I’m sure we’ve all heard and know similar stories.

But rather than letting this depress us, it’s meant to remind us of what’s most important. Which isn’t the cars, chiseled abs, Nike, clear skin, newest clothes (on sale for 50% off this Black Friday weekend) or any of the other stuff we’re bombarded with in terms of advertisements.

The important stuff is our selves, our souls, how we hear God’s word in our lives and try to respond to it - the joy that comes from that; the love we experienced as a result of that; the dignity and strength we discover after being tested and challenged throughout our lives. That’s why Jesus is sharing these stark words: stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. It’s something that becomes more and more obvious as we get older, the realization of how much time we wasted on the most petty of stuff. Most of you returning tonight for these final weeks of the semester are starting to angst about finals, papers, projects... Here’s a truth for you - the day after my graduation from college - not one person ever asked me what my GPA was. Not that I should’ve blown off my studies and not worked hard - but I shouldn’t have been so anxious and obsessed about trying to get great grades (which most times I failed to achieve anyway) Same is true with many other endeavors and pursuits - people who work an abundance of hours not to make ends meet but simply for more wealth. Or those who invest an unhealthy amount of time and energy in sports, or TV programs; or games... Not that any one of those things are intrinsically bad - most of them aren’t. But often we can allow those things to become more important as away to numb us, distract us from these more eternal realities. The things that will become crystal clear with our eyes wide open for us on our death beds.

A Jesuit priest friend of mine, Fr. William O’Malley put it like this-

"[When I ] I own these truths, I never wake up grumpy.
"Oh, God. Another day!"
Nope. It's, "Oh God! Another day!"
Many people worthier than I didn't wake up this morning; I did. The number of our days is finite, so each one is incredibly precious. We don't value dirt because we have so much. But the gold supply’s limited. Imagine squandering months of boredom, self-pity, hurt feelings – then dying? Imagine one day next week is your last. Some day will be.


May this message not depress us, but be a gift for you and I to truly make this pre-Christmas season of Advent truly a time of recognizing that this lifetime of ours is precious and limited. Life is a gift that God gives us in order that we might come to know and love Him deeper, fuller, here and now in this world he Has given us: in the fellow creatures He has blessed us to share this time and space with - only as a glimpse of the eternity to come. May we use this season of Advent to truly behold God’s presence in all that is loving, in all that is beautiful, in all that is life giving and nurturing... so that we prepare to meet Jesus Christ, today, tomorrow and for all eternity.

SAVE YOURSELF?

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the SOLEMNITY of OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE - November 20, 2016. The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112016.cfm . Thanks as always for reading this blog, for your feedback and comments and for sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Thanks again and a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving to you and your families - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

This Gospel unsettled me each time I read it. Which is a good thing - we should be unsettled when we hear part of the story of Jesus’ Crucifixion. But something stood out in a way that I hadn’t noticed before. In this short, 8 verse passage we heard these three quotes:

Let him save himself...


If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself

Are you not the Christ? Save yourself...
Three times Jesus is mocked, ridiculed with pretty much the same words... a cold and detached sentiment – "save yourself." For me it showed a level of hatred I hadn’t noticed before.

We know that Jesus has been nailed to the cross, dying, not as a punishment for being a criminal that on some level you could argue "the guy is getting what he deserved" (not that anyone deserves that type of cruel punishment) With this repeating of the phrase "Save yourself", we see the depths of evil. Because if Jesus isn’t God, as so many of them argued He wasn’t – then he was just some crazy guy, a blasphemer who was starting trouble. If that was the case, then the leaders, the guards, the passers-by wouldn’t need to stand there, witness this spectacle (they didn’t do that for other "criminals")

Yet they make a point to be there, to witness it all. So if Jesus was just a crazy trouble maker, who they taunt over and over with a heartless "save yourself" to this poor man who was powerless and clearly dying... that seems beyond cruel.

The other possibility is even more frightening. That maybe they did recognize Jesus was who He said he was. That’s why it wasn’t enough just to have him sentenced to death... they wanted to be there. If that’s the case, at best, they’re putting God to the test – well Jesus supposedly you did all those miracles and stuff, let’s see you get out of this one Jesus.

At it’s worst, well, they decided to kill God.

Both sound so shocking that can’t be it, right? Which is why I think it bothered me so much. But let’s think about it. And we don’t have to look back at this scene as just some historic event; Good Friday of 2,000 years ago. Because isn’t this scene played over and over? Don’t we continue to put God, put Jesus to the test?

God if I get that promotion,
Lord if I ace that test,
Jesus if you cure me of this. . . then. . . then

Then what? Then God is God? Then Jesus deserves my praise, my worship? Then I’ll know He loves me? And if not, if those things don’t happen - then... well, the alternative means what? That this has all been some colossal hoax, a 2,000 year conspiracy?. . . That Jesus is not really who he said he was? . . . That there’s no hope, nothing to believe in? Sitting in Church on a Sunday hearing those two extremes laid out like that, we can realize how unreasonable those two options are.

Yet when we didn’t get that promotion, ace that test, get that miracle cure, those lies told by the father of Lies enters into our hearts. The doubts and fears take root... We start to think that God doesn’t care. That Jesus doesn’t love us because he’s not operating the way we think he should be. We start to believe that there’s nothing left to do but to "save myself." We start to go it alone, becoming stuck in a world of isolation. Thinking that because God hasn’t responded in the way I thought He should, I’m not interested in what Jesus has to say, how He wants to speak to my wounds, my pain, my fears... I’ve shut him out. I’ve convinced myself that I have to save myself. If that’s our reality, it’s easy to hear people look at Jesus on the cross and say, yeah Jesus you can go save yourself...


The other possibility - still plays out too.. That some desire to kill God and replace Him with a new one that seems more fashionable (the height of ego - we’d rather choose something that we ourselves have made). When that happens, Science goes from something that helps us unlock and explore the secrets to this complex and beautiful creation of His to trying to disprove His existence. Philosophy and Politics goes from reflecting on what it means to be a community, how to create a just society and how we should see and treat each other as made in His own divine image – to the state becoming a god itself and our value is determined by what we do for the government. At least with the first lie that "because God didn’t answer my prayers the way I wanted them - then he doesn’t love me" - we can say people fell for that because they are upset over some pain, some hurt, some disappointment in their lives. This second lie seems far worse because it’s so arrogant. We tell ourselves that we are masters of our own destinies. We have convinced ourselves that we can save ourselves.... For those who approach life from these vantage points, they can look at Jesus on the cross and want him dead, want God gone because they see him as a threat to even more scientific advances or being able to have more power and control over each other (as some ideologies have done throughout history). They arrogantly conclude Yes we can save ourselves... Jesus you should do the same.

Our King calls humanity to His throne – the wooden, blood soaked cross of His. The reality is that He could save himself - He could end the insults. Take out his enemies. And quickly get things under control once and for all. Make us subject to him demanding our loyal obedience.

But he doesn’t.

He listens to the taunts being uttered at Him. Questioning His motives, Doubting He is who He says he is, as humanity sits as judge, jury and executioner. Instead of dealing with us on our own terms, he submits to the torturous death. He allows the madness of the crowds embracing of sin, and for the Father of lies to believe for this moment that they’re victorious as the chorus repeats over and over in its demeaning, condescending way "Save yourself."

Jesus Christ our King, remains resolute. Looking past all of this madness, He remains committed to all of us, His brothers and sisters, His Father’s beloved, but sometimes misguided children - looking at us with His eyes of Mercy. And reigning from that cross Jesus Christ reveals the depth, the sincerity and ultimately the victorious authority of his Kingdom which is ruled by His Law of Love as he responds to all of humanity, I’d rather save you.