From "SWEET JESUS GET ME OFF THIS PLANE" to Frequent Flyer?

Here is my homily for June 28, 2009, the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/062809.shtml - Thanks for reading and all of your feedback. Fr Jim

I hate flying....

Well maybe that’s not the best way to describe it. I have an incredibly irrational, (yet very real in my mind) white-knuckle fear of flying - and when you add that with my desire to keep away from things that make me that nervous and anxious, flying would not rank high on a list of things I like to do. This fear/hatred has made me outright reject considering travel opportunities for years.

It started about 15 years ago. My best friend from grade school was graduating from Boot Camp at Parris Island, South Carolina when he became a United States Marine. His parents had invited me down to his home in Virginia to surprise him when he arrived home. So my parents reasoned with me that it made much more sense to fly down rather than to drive - especially since I only had a few days before I had to return to start my senior year of college. And flying down was great. We were up in the air, down, nice quick 45 minute flight. I couldn’t believe how easy it went. That was great - that would have taken me easily 9 hours to drive and I was there in 1 . . . piece of cake!

The return from Norfolk to Newark that was quite a different story. You see, going down it was this big plane that was going to Florida and just made this quick stop in Norfolk. Going home, I was on a small little plane that had those propellers on the side. I think there might have been 20 people onboard. It was rainy. We never even got above the clouds. We hit turbulence. So I was growing more and more nervous and anxious the entire flight. At one point, I looked out the window and the propellor to the plane stopped. It really did. The plane made some noises. I started to freak out. The stewardess very mater-of-factly said to me, “It’s okay sir, we’re just gliding right now.” Sorry, that wasn’t much comfort. At which point, I just started praying/freaking out as I started saying out loud over and over again, “Sweet Jesus get me off of this plane . . .”

I made it home alive (obviously) - kissing the tarmac, looking whiter than I ever have in my life. I swore to my parents when we got in the car that I would never fly again. There was nothing out there that I needed to see. Our relatives had left Italy to come here, why would I want to ever go back there? We live in the NY-metro area, it’s basically the center of the universe (at least we seem to think so) - what’s the point? And basically, I have never flown again.

This past week I made 4 flights in a matter of 2 days. My good friend Fr. Bill Sheridan (who is a campus minister at another college) and I had been invited to go to University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois, to meet the teams that would be working on our campuses this coming year. These are members of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and they are recent college graduates who make a 2 year commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church to serve college students by doing peer-to-peer ministry, Bible studies, witnessing that you can be a young person and passionate about your Catholic-Christian faith. So they’ve been out there for about 6 weeks praying, studying and preparing to come to our campuses in a few weeks.

I’m so excited that they’re coming to our campus this year (as is Fr. Bill) - but when I got the invitation to come and meet them in person, I began to freak out a little bit. I went to Map Quest to see how long it would take me to drive (about 18 hours) - which Fr. Bill told me there was no way he was doing (I suppose I’m a little lead-footed in driving). For some reason the train was going to take the same amount of time - it would have sent us to Atlanta, then to Chicago then to Champaign - it was crazy. And because there was a limited time we could spend with them, and because both of us had obligations and responsibilities back here, it really was becoming more and more difficult to plan this trip. It came down to either we had to fly out there - or - not go.

And I really considered not going. Fr. Bill and I couldn’t coordinate our schedules to go out together, so it would mean I’d have to fly alone on top of everything. We were on the phone and the computer sites for about three hours a week or two ago trying to figure this out. And it really came out to that choice - either to fly or send word to these kids that I was sorry I couldn’t make it, but looked forward to meeting them in August.

That’s when it really hit me. Here these 5 young people are sacrificing their lives to serve Christ and His Church, His people. Is it inconceivable to think that since they’re coming from all over the country that maybe they’re a bit anxious to come to big old, crazy New Jersey, to this chaotic NY metro area? The Lord’s called me to be a priest, he’s called me to be their spiritual father, don’t I have a responsibility to get over this irrational, fear - if not for my own well being or my own interests - than for His and the people He’s sent me to serve?

And so I went. And so I survived (obviously). And you know what, it was still an awful, awful experience. Every flight had some issue - one plane they couldn’t get the door shut. They had maintenance come on, where this guy kept slamming the door and couldn’t get it to remain shut (as he shrugged his shoulders and scratched his head) - but for some reason after an hour it seemed “OK” and we took off. Another flight, it looked like the same exact plane I took that first inspired my fear with the propellers on the side, and because a 10 year old kid was scared to be responsible to open the emergency door on the wing (in the VERY unlikely event of an emergency) - they asked me, the priest sitting two rows behind if I would mind switching with him (which I ended up doing more out of the embarrassment of saying I was just as scared as he was than anything else). Another flight, we ended up sitting on the tarmac for about 2 and a half hours before take off.

Yeah, I still don’t like flying much. But here’s the thing... I really didn’t feel the incredible fear I did on Monday when I was going to the airport. It was okay. And of the many things I am grateful for this week, I realize how the Lord continues to challenge me and challenge all of us as to move beyond our fears and to trust in Him.

That’s what this Gospel is all about. You have Jarius - his daughter is deathly ill . . . you have this woman, she’s been suffering with these hemorrhages for 12 years. Two great, amazing stories. Jarius as a synagogue official had to know that going to Jesus would not be looked on well by his fellow colleagues of the synagogue who were (at the very least) skeptical of this Jesus. What does he do? He moves beyond that fear of, “What will my friends and relatives think if I go to Him?” - He moves beyond the fear of being mocked when those friends and relatives tell him, “Your daughter is dead, what’s Jesus going to do for you?” - His faith moves him beyond all of those, and no doubt many other fears, to have this encounter with Christ.

The woman who’s been ill for 12 years - she’s been told by all the doctors and experts - look there’s nothing you can do - you’re unclean. It’s too bad. Keep away from everyone else, lest you make them unclean. And so physically, emotionally, spiritually she’s been isolated. Her faith moves her beyond the fears of, “What will the crowds do if they see me out in public?” “What will Jesus’ reaction to me be?” - and so she had this encounter with Christ.

And so my brother’s and sisters, Jesus is calling out to us. What is it that’s holding us back from having that deeper relationship with Him? That’s holding us back from the “imperishable life” that God created us to have that we heard about in that first reading - how God created us in his image - that’s not an image that gives into fear.

This one meditation I was reading about this Gospel said, “‘Do not be afraid - only have faith.’ If we really learned this one lesson, it would revolutionize our lives. Do not be afraid of what other people will think of you: follow the way of Christ. Do not be afraid of failure: following God’s will is the only path to everlasting success. Do not be afraid of changing your personal plans in order to follow God more closely, His plans are even better. Fear, confusion, lack of trust in Christ – these are the kinds of things that tie our souls into knots, causing untold needless suffering and keeping us from experiencing the life-giving power of God’s grace.

As I was reminded of this important lesson sitting on various runways this past week, that didn’t mean Jesus would magically protect my plane from something bad happening or that each flight would be smooth sailing (or smooth flying) - that’s dependent obviously on a lot of other factors and people. What Jesus was able to make me see was that I needed to move beyond my fear. Not simply to do something He was calling me to do, but to let go of something that has limited my life experiences and made me pass up many great opportunities.

What fear is holding you back from what Jesus is offering you? What will you be able to accomplish, if only you’re willing to trust him?

"HEY JESUS - DO SOMETHING???" - "Why don't you ask???"

Here is my homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 21, 2009 - the readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/062109.shtml - Thanks as always for reading and your feedback! Fr Jim

HOMILY:

The other day I was on “The Catholic Guy Show” on Sirius Satellite Radio and we asked a question on air “What drives you crazy at Mass?” People were invited to call in to give us their complaints. In the close to two years I’ve been going on this show, I don’t think we’ve ever had that many phone calls. The phone lines were jam packed for over an hour and a half, the host got a flood of emails, so much so, that he continued the topic the next day for another hour. One of the amazing thing was with all of these calls and emails, I didn’t hear one “repeat” - every caller had their own issue, their own pet peave - and everyone, from the Priest, to the music people, to the lectors, to the people sitting to the right, left front or behind in the pews got critiqued.

It was really funny, as people called with stuff I hadn’t even thought about - for example one lady called and said “I can’t stand it when someone’s cell phone goes off, and then the person is flustered and embarrassed, so they jump on the phone and hit the button that silences the ringer, but they don’t realize the cell phone is still on, so when the person is finished leaving a voice mail, 20 seconds later we have to hear that loud voice mail ringtone go off...” the woman continued “now not only am I distracted and aggravated, I’m wondering who called this person and what did they have to tell them.” Another guy complained “this just happened to me yesterday - this little kid is sitting in front of me at Mass, and he turns around and stares at me, so what am I supposed to do with that? I try to ignore him, but he’s like got a staring contest going on and I don’t want to lose, but I don’t want to pay attention to him...” They were pretty funny.

One person said “I just can’t stand it when all of us, priests, people are just so dull in our responses. We almost are sighing through the Mass - could we be more bored as we say “The Lord be with you” “And Also with You” “Lift up your hearts...*Sigh* We lift them up to the Lord....” Or when we recite the Holy Holy Holy - here we are joining the song of the angels praising and worshiping God - and we recite it very robotic, mechanical... maybe we even try to speed it up to shave a few minutes off of Mass.

Like I said, it was an interesting segment (to say the least) as people called with one observation after another - and more than a couple seemed familiar on some level. But I have to admit that the part about how we pray kind of stuck with me, and it came back to me as I was reading this Gospel today.

As Catholics - there’s a beauty to our Mass that we don’t simply do whatever we want or create our own liturgy. We don’t come and decide one week “let’s just have a Gospel reading, skip those other ones - who cares about Job - that’s not an easy story to tackle, so let’s just skip it and get to a nice Jesus Gospel story, maybe add some poems or something at the beginning or some pop song that the kids like.” We participate in a liturgy that unites us with our brothers and sisters throughout the entire world as well as our ancestors in a liturgy that Jesus began and the apostles handed down to us. That’s a real gift we have. But there’s a challenge there that because it’s so familiar, because there’s a set pattern, we can be almost numb to it and not really think about what we’re doing.

Now some might be thinking “here it comes, one of those homilies on our behaviors at Mass. That’s not really my aim, in the traditional “Uh oh, Father Grumpy is going to tell us we better shape up.” I know for myself how often I can slip into the routine and not really think about what it is I’m hearing, I’m responding to, I’m praying.

And that’s what I think the Gospel is trying to challenge us with today. What is it that we believe - We believe that God is speaking to us in these readings. That this Liturgy of the Word contains truths that our God wants us to hear and apply to our lives today. We believe that in the Eucharist, when we receive communion, that we are given Jesus’ body and blood... God couldn’t be more present more close to us. He continues to reach out to us.

Yet, at the same time, so often many of us has some cares, some fears, some things that we are troubled about and we wonder “Does Jesus really care?” “Does God listen to my prayers” “I go to Mass, why do bad things happen to me or to my family or to my loved ones...”

If we go back to that gospel reading - the disciples are basically in the same position. Here they are physically in the boat with Jesus. They floating out and this violent storm comes - waves are crashing - it’s FILLING UP WITH WATER - and the disciples finally wake Jesus up and say “DON’T YOU CARE?” Don’t you care about the storm? Don’t you care we’re going to die!!” And with a confident voice, Jesus speaks, and nature obeys. Three words from Jesus “Quiet be still” and the wind ceases, there’s great calm - there’s great peace.

Jesus DID care. Jesus hadn’t left them. The problem was, The disciples hadn’t gone to him. They didn’t trust him. They didn’t expect much from him - they let him sleep as they continued to worry, continued to watch their boat fill up, continued to prepare for (and expect) the worst to happen. Just because they were in his presence, they expected some divine bubble to shield them from the storms - rather then going to Him and realizing in the midst of this violent storm, Jesus was there - and if they truly spoke to Him, let Him in on their fears, ask Him to help calm the storms that had distracted them from his presence (rather than just expecting Him to do it for them) they would have found there was nothing to be terrified about and that their faith was stronger than a some nor-easter

In some ways, I think that’s what happens to us. As we come to Mass, and allow ourselves to be distracted by routines or pet peeves or other nuisances - rather than focusing that Jesus is here with us. He wants us to trust him that He does care for us. He does have the power to quiet the storms in our lives. If we really were attentive to His voice, His presence not just in all the aspects of Mass, but in all the aspects of our lives, we might be surprised at how faith in Him does have the power to quiet the waves, winds and storms that terrify us.

So, in the end, we need to stop listening to that ring-tone, stop trying to win that staring contest, stop reading that teenager's T-shirt in the pew in front of us - and remember who truly brought us all here in the first place, and more importantly - who alone can truly bring peace into our lives.