"RENT" and the Holy Trinity?

Here is my homily for The Feast of the Holy Trinity - May 30, 2010. Thanks as always for reading and your feedback - Father Jim


A couple of years ago, my cousin took me to see one of her favorite Broadway plays – the musical Rent. It is (very) loosely based on the Opera La Boheme, and there’s a bunch of different themes that come out in the story.

But one of the core points is this coming together of a group of young New Yorkers almost by accident on Christmas evening. Two roomates, a long lost friend, a neighbor from upstairs, a former girlfriend among several others all come together and sadly one of the things that joins them is dealing with AIDS – several of them have the disease or are good friends with those suffering from that deadly illness. When one of the members of this community dies from the disease, the friends get into a blow out fight and end up going their separate ways.

Reflecting on the loss of that community, in one song they recall that evening they first met and ask themselves (in song) - What was it about that night? Connection in an isolating age. For once the shadows gave way to light. For once I didn’t disengage. At the end, they come to an important realization as they sing I’m not alone.

While many point to the modern production set in the 90's and the rock music score as two reasons for it being so successful, running for over 12 years and becoming one of the longest shows to run on Broadway, I wonder if people overlook the story - overlooks that core theme about “Connection in an isolating age” as another reason for the success of the show. Because when you think about it, that seems to be a core thing for every human being. People long for connection to others. We are designed, we are constituted to be in connection. And we have to recognize that going into isolation is something that is against our nature.

Just think of the happiest, joyous moments of your life – probably a huge majority of those were shared with someone else – a parent, a spouse, a child, a brother or sister, a good friend... And the moments of deepest sadness were moments of aloneness – someone dies, someone moves and we feel the loss. those who get stuck in aloneness become depressed. We can see how some who’ve been isolated for so long eventually will reach out to anyone for acceptance (one reason that cults can be successful sometimes). They will even compromise who they are or what they believe to feel like they belong, feel apart of a group a community. So desperate to fulfill their nature - to experience connection.

Community - connectedness. That’s what this feast of the Holy Trinity is all about. We can recognize that we are designed for those things, because we are made in the image and likeness of God. Trinity Sunday reminds us that image, that likeness finds it’s oneness, it’s wholeness, it’s completeness in the revelation that our God is one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Too often I think we come to this feast of the Trinity looking for an answer to a riddle or a mystery, looking for an explanation on how this one God in three persons is possible. If you want me to solve that for you, I’m sorry to disappoint you (St. Patrick with the clover is probably the best answer I have heard)

But I think that the Feast calls us not to focus on the HOW but rather on the WHO that is revealed today. Our God this one God in three persons tells us their existence is based on being in relationship to one another. The depth of love uniting Father, Son and Spirit makes it impossible to consider each person independently.

We find then that every striving of our souls for union, every reaching our for companionship, every urge for a hug an embrace, every act of love gives testimony to the Trinity. We look for “connection in an isolating age” because we can’t help ourselves – We who are made in the image and likeness of God find a need within ourselves to mirror our origins.

Remembering Grampa - Jim Trippodi; March 16, 1916 - May 23, 2010

Hi everyone. Thanks to everyone for all of your thoughts and prayers for my Grandfather Jim Trippodi who passed away on Sunday and for my family during this difficult time. I appreciate all of your personal words of support and encouragement as I prepared to offer the Funeral Mass and preach at the funeral this morning.

It's strange that his funeral should be the day before my 11th anniversary of ordination to the Priesthood. Each newly ordained priest was invited to have a family member bring up a ciborium of unconsecrated hosts up to the Archbishop at the Preparation of the Gifts during the Mass. I was blessed that he was able to do that, so the pics are of him bringing that ciborium up the main aisle of the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart; as well as pics of me and him during the first blessings.

A couple of people had asked if I was going to post the homily from today's Mass. I hadn't thought about it initially, but as a tribute to him, I'm happy to share it.

Again, thanks for all of your words of love, support and especially your prayers - Father Jim

HOMILY – Grandpa Jim Trippodi's Funeral on May 28, 2010

Grandpa just turned 94, this past March. And the remarkable thing to me was that even though he moved a little slower in these last years, other than that slight change physically he was still the same Grandpa we always knew . . . His laugh. His smile. His desire to turn all of us onto eating cashews, Gergen's Pickles, Peanut M & M’s (that one he was successful at). We were all convinced that he had to have stock in Walgreens where he would buy those things for us...

Maybe because he was alive and in such good health for so long, we kind of thought he’d always be here, which is why all of us were kind of shocked when he died so abruptly on Sunday. With this coming so suddenly, it’s easy and understandable for us to be really sad and to really miss him.

But one thing that seems to be helpful is our memories. After 94 years of them, we have a lot. For myself they're like a huge box of photographs that had fallen from the top of a closet, pictures in no particular order - but whose randomness somehow makes sense. I didn’t really know where to begin. So I asked my brothers and my cousin Tracey to kind of help me sort through some of them. Here are some memories they have of Grandpa . . .

For Craig, one thing that stands out about Grandpa was his being the ultimate bargain hunter. Craig talked about how one time when he came home from college and Grandpa told him to go into the basement to do some shopping. Craig said, “There was literally enough laundry detergent down there to wash all of the clothes in New Jersey.” Every time the detergent was on sale, grandpa bought it.

His bargain hunting often had Grandpa finding ways to "get one over" on “the man.” For example, Craig said that just this past spring Grandpa had been ordering model cars from this company. They must have sent him the wrong model, so he called and reported it to them. By accident, they sent him two of the correct models. So now he had three cars. He called to try to return the one, and had the package and was ready to go, but apparently the man never came to get it . Grandpa called to complain about that, so the company refunded him the money he paid for his original order. Thus, he got 3 cars for free.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that Craig realized how much Grandpa had influenced him. Craig had had a flood in his basement. A couple of friends were over to help him clean up when they went into his laundry room they looked at him like he was insane, asking, “Craig, why are there 10 jugs of laundry detergent in there?" Craig replied, "Because it was on sale... my Grandpa would be proud." No doubt that he was proud of you, Craig, and for more than just that reason.

My Cousin Tracey’s memories seemed to give credence to a suspicion of ours that comedian Ray Romano must have been spying on Jim and Minnie Trippodi for inspiration for the characters Frank and Marie Barone in his hit TV show Everybody Loves Raymond. Tracey recalled a night down in Wildwood Crest when my Mother, Uncle Phil, Aunt Lorraine, Grandma, Tracey and I went for a “short visit” to Atlantic City and had told Grandpa we would be back by 10. The reality was we didn’t pull up to the Jolly Roger Motel till almost midnight. We couldn’t help it, Grandma was on a hot streak and we couldn’t get her off the slot machine she was winning on. Well, there Gramps was, sitting on the porch. Everyone in the car got quiet - even Grandma knew she had a weak defense for making him get so anxious, for being so late; so much so that she somewhat conceded defeat (at least to us) as she mumbled, “Oh Geez, look at this.” Even as she tried to deflate the argument as she walked out of the car by saying, “Listen, I came out ahead,” you could tell he wasn’t interested in hearing about it. She might have lost that battle, but the Min - Jim show would continue.

Driving around town near Christmas, seeing houses all lit up with Christmas lights and decorations, Grandma would wait for the opportune moment to drop, “Yeah, doesnt that look beautiful - it looks just like my house” - noting that Grandpa didn’t want to be bothered putting up any Christmas lights that year. Tracey’s memories of Grandma and Grandpa busting each others' chops definitely made me laugh and showed one more reason why they were married for over 55 years - they - and we could laugh at the small stuff; but when things were tough, like during those last three years when Grandma was in a nursing home - there he was at her side every day.

My brother Chris asked me exactly what would be appropriate to share in terms of his memories of Grandpa. Considering Grandpa’s love for The Three Stooges, and that type of humor, I think I can leave it to your imagination some of the - shall we say colorful jokes and humor that made Grandpa laugh hysterically to the point that he wouldn’t be able to get his joke out he would crack himself up. Chris said the first thing that came to mind was how Grandpa would laugh hysterically whenever the movie Blazing Saddles was on TV.

There’s something powerful about memories. They almost transport us back in time. Just hearing those stories and remembering them, – those scenes, those places are summoned up in a mysterious way. You can almost smell Grandma’s gravy on the stove, and see Grandpa walking in with Vitello’s bread. You remember the feelings that were so vivid at that time that, that for a moment at least, you can forget the pain of this moment.

That’s not because we deny this moment, or skip over the painful memories. But rather those memories remind us of bigger realities. Realities that aren’t tangible. And cannot be measured by balance sheets or awards. But things that are even more real than those things - like family, like joy, like love.

Which is why I think the use of memory is so important to Jesus. Look at what Jesus does in this gospel with these two disciples. Here they were so convinced that Jesus was the one - the one they had hoped for, the one their relatives had been anticipating for generations. So convinced were they that they had given up everything to follow Jesus. So why do we find them at the start of this story on this 7 mile trek from Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus?

The answer is Good Friday. After watching Jesus be arrested, tried, mocked, ridiculed, tortured and die on a cross . . . those horrific images devastated them. So much so that even when some of their fellow disciples report to them that the one they had believed in had risen from the dead, they couldn’t fathom it. Friday’s events had so shaken them that they couldn’t even consider that possibility. So blinded by their pain were they that they didn't even recognize Jesus as he walked and talked with them on their journey of 7 miles.

How does Jesus open their minds to consider what was so inconceivable? How does he open their hearts to even entertain what seems impossible to believe? Jesus engages their memories. He makes them remember all that God has said and done. He makes them recall the faithfulness of God. He points out the love and the joy of God so much that suddenly they are transported. They see and remember bigger realities. And after this sharing of memories, we read that their downcast, heavy hearts all of a sudden began burning within them.

Which is why we gather today. We have to allow our hearts and minds to engage these memories so that the frightening and sad reality we face doesn’t discourage us from our belief that this isn’t the end for Grandpa or for any of us. The unbeliever can look at a dead body and be distraught. But Jesus invites us to recognize that if our hearts can be transported by loving memories of our Grandpa to transcend the sadness we experience today - then that is exactly how Jesus wants to share his presence with us right now.

We can begin to let these eternal realities, these ancient promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ - promises guaranteeing eternal life for all who believe in that (a reality which Grandpa himself looked forward to as he prayed every day - longed for these past 13 years, waiting to be reunited with Grandma); these promises, these realities; these memories reveal how - right here, right now Jesus Christ is with us. In this place, in these memories, in his word - how Jesus is with us now, and how Grandpa is right there, beside him.

Of the flood of memories I’ve had, comes one from when I must have been 5 years old. Grandma, Grandpa and I were in Grandpa’s pickup truck sitting in a cemetery during the burial of a relative. Being that little, I didn’t really know what had happened or what “death” meant - but I remember Grandma and Grandpa very calmly and confidently telling me that “it’s when we go home to be with God... it’s sad because we’re going to miss them, but it’s okay, one day we’ll all be together again.”

The "FATHERHOOD" of Priesthood

HAPPY PENTECOST SUNDAY EVERYONE! This week, I didn’t have to prepare a homily for Mass since I will be at the ordination of men to the “Transitional Diaconate” (men who will be ordained priests in May 2011). With the end of the Holy Father’s “Year for Priests” coming to an end, I thought I might share a variation of a letter I wrote to the students I minister to at Montclair State University at the Newman Catholic Center reflecting on the “Fatherhood” of Priesthood.

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited with our FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries to speak in a Religions of the World Class on campus about Catholicism. It has always been a nice opportunity in the past to speak in this venue to a class of over one hundred students about our faith and our ministry here. Usually we give a 20 minute presentation and then allow the class to ask any question that’s on their minds.

Sometimes they might ask “Where’s the Newman Center?” or “where do you have Mass on Sunday?” Sometimes they’ll ask something they always wondered like, “Why do Catholics have to go to a priest for confession?” Or it could be something that they’ve seen in the news and want to talk about, like “What do you think about the clergy sex scandal?”

This time, things didn’t go as “usual” though. A student asked the missionaries “Why do you call him (pointing at me) FATHER when Jesus explicitly tells us not to in the Gospels?” Which, somewhat surprisingly, was greeted by applause from a few students in the back of the lecture hall, who obviously agreed with the question. The question (and tone that it was asked) takes Jesus’ quote out of context and attempts to slander Catholics as not being authentic Christians. We responded to the question, as the student, who was not listening, seemed to be preparing for his next scriptural/question to ask/debate.

But the whole time I kind of smiled at the question. Why do you call him Father?

It’s not something I had thought much about in my early years as a priest. I understood the theological reasons for the title. How it came into our tradition. But it was something that seemed a bit odd to me. Being ordained at the age of 25 and being the youngest person in many gatherings in my first assignment, I often saw the title as simply a title of respect, while admitting that it did feel a bit awkward at times to have a woman in her 70's calling me in my 20's “Father.” I suppose at that point in my priesthood, being called “father” simply humbled me - always reminding me that being a priest was more than just a “job.” I had a spiritual responsibility to the people God had called me to serve.

Being assigned as the Chaplain at Montclair State University though, I have to admit that I see the title “Father” in a whole different light. When Archbishop Myers was assigning me to come here he joked that at my age of 33 that I was closer in age to many of those I’d be ministering to, that many of them might relate to me more like an older brother than as a “father.”

And truth be told, that’s happened a lot which on a level I really enjoy. I never had little brothers and sisters, and as Christians we are brothers and sisters, so that’s been a beautiful reality I didn’t quite expect and appreciate.

But as we prepared to see a large group of students graduate and leave from MSU, I kept finding myself getting really choked up. At first I wondered why am I getting so emotional about all of this? The reality is, tears point to a greater reality. They reflect something deeper going on. Part of it was that I could see how all of these students have grown so much in these short - fast moving – incredibly memorable years. And with that observation I found myself worrying did we do enough - have I done enough to help them grow closer to Jesus Christ, to help them hear His voice, to bolster their confidence to follow His call for them in their lives.

But even more, the tears taught me something much more important - I realize now on a much more intimate level the beautiful gift that priesthood is. That God could entrust these young people as my kids and that He has called me to be their Father.

And so with some a lot of tears, there are a lot of things I give thanks to God for as I reflect on all that these students have all done over these years: from building up our Newman Catholic Campus Ministry into the thriving, respected, talked about organization that it is on campus; to the most important thing - growing in their love of Jesus Christ and the Roman Catholic Church that He founded. Just reflecting back on all that has happened here in these three years that accomplished both of those goals through all of us coming together and working together, I’m blown away by it.
But on a purely selfish level the thing I so appreciate is that these kids have made so dynamically real to me the “Fatherhood” of being a priest. In some ways, I can understand the fears, the concerns, the worry, the love that some of my friends who have kids themselves share in their experiences of being parents. On a different level I “get it.” I can look at my parents with a deeper sense of gratitude for their sacrifices realizing how often I must have caused them sleepless nights and anxious days (and probably still do...) Because I have come to see how much I truly love these students - not just as my little brothers and sisters; but as my spiritual children.

So I simply ask them for forgiveness for my many weaknesses and failures. Everyone learns - whether they have children themselves or if God is calls them to be a priest or religious and he gives children in a different way - there’s not a manual on how to do all of this parenting stuff.

To be a parent, you simply give yourself, empty yourself for those you are called to offer that gift of self to in whatever vocation it is that God has called you to. None of us can do that perfectly, and so I know as I look back there are things I wish I could re-do or do better.

But I hope that the weaknesses and failures don’t obscure the love I have for all of the people I’m called to serve. And even more, I’m grateful because this has caused me to love Christ even deeper. As much as it hurts “letting go” of all of the students who leave, I’m blessed that he put them all in my life in the first place. And I know that, unlike a professor, an advisor, or a coach – they will always be a part of my life, my family.
And I will always remain, their Father Jim...


Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 9, 2010. The readings for the day can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/050910.shtml. Thanks as always for reading and your feedback! God Bless, Father Jim


“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

Part of me reading those words thinks, “of all the dives and dumps for God to come visit – let alone want to stay and make a dwelling – meaning he’s more than just stopping by for a weekend guest... this place wouldn’t seem to be high on his list to even want to stay.”

I mean, was this the best that the Priceline negotiator could come up with for God? I kind of imagine that episode of the television show Seinfeld where Jerry and Elaine are getting on an airplane. You know the one when Jerry make’s Elaine sit in coach while he takes the first-class seat arguing to her that since she’s never sat in First Class she wouldn’t know what she was missing; while he could never sit in coach after having been in first class many times before. I’m thinking that from all we’ve ever heard about Heaven it’s gotta be like a 5 star resort. So why would God, the owner of such a place want to stop by this, at best 2 star motel?

It’s amazing that for some of us, it’s easier to believe the incredible, miraculous, foundation of our faith that Jesus’ died on a cross and then rose from the dead in a new glorified body three days later on Easter Sunday than we can ever believe this good news... No this tremendously good news... That God is that interested in us, thinks this highly of us that he’s not keeping tabs on us with a giant excel sheet with our names on it with a score card of sins-vs-good deeds on it to see how we stack up in the end. No, God wants to make a dwelling within us.

It is that truth, whether we recognize it or not, that pulls us here each week around this altar to hear these words that are addressed directly to each one of us. Each week we come to physically receive Jesus body and blood in this Eucharist. In his word and in the Eucharist, Jesus keeps knocking on the doors of our hearts, and comes in for a time. Yet we seem to rush him out the door as we rush out the doors of this place.

Thanks for stopping - see you soon. Maybe we don’t say those words, but we might as well, because that’s what we seem to do. Because in order for God to make His dwelling with us – that involves more than just our recognizing the desire for that to happen, it requires a choice. We have to choose to welcome Him in. We have to invite him to stay with us. We have to want Him to make a dwelling place within us.

And the Gospel tells us that we do that when we choose to love Him, when we choose to keep His word... when we choose to make those hard choices, those somewhat difficult decisions to turn away from sin and to turn towards the Gospel.

People often shut down when they hear things like this, saying to themselves “yeah but that means I can’t do whatever I want to do.” It’s amazing how the evil one can trick our minds. Because the reality is yes, we can do whatever we want. That’s what makes this a loving decision, is that we’re freely choosing to Love God first, to listen to Him, to let Him make his dwelling place with us. Yes, making that choice to Love God means saying “no” to other choices, it affects other decisions, it even means we have to face down and reject many other temptations that are out there which we seem to make allowances or justifications for. Those things that we try to say to ourselves - yeah, we love God, but we are uncomfortable with Him dwelling with us because we still want to be able to sin, that’s what we meant by saying we want to do whatever we want to do.

It’s no wonder then that we can think so poorly of ourselves. Imagining ourselves as some 2-star divey, dirty flea bags motel unfit for God to visit, let alone stay at. Yet Easter is meant not to be a historic event from 2,000 years ago that we recall. It is a present day reality that dares us to imagine a world - our world truly transformed by the Love of God. The first Easter did what was unimaginable in raising a dead man to a new glorious eternal life. Will we choose to let this Easter raise us up to a new, glorious life - creating that place where God restores us to the 5 star resorts he imagined us at the start of creation, and still desires to dwell in today?