"QUIT IT!" Vying for the Father's attention...

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the 18th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - July 31, 2011.  The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/073111.shtml .  Thanks as always for reading and for your notes and feedback.  God Bless, Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    “QUIT IT” the one brother screams at the other as they annoy each other...

    If you ever have the opportunity to watch little brothers and sisters interact, (and sometimes even not so little) - a somewhat common experience is when they seem to be vying for their parents attention and affection almost in a competitive sense.    Children sometimes fear that when Mom and Dad give love, give time, give energy to one child there won’t be enough for them.   And while they are in the throws of this “competition,” the kids can resort to all kinds of things - tattling on each other, faking illnesses or injuries, sabotaging family activities, even picking fights with one another to see who’s side Mom or Dad will side with.  It can be somewhat severe and disruptive for a family.

    Hopefully in time, the children will learn there’s no reason to fear or doubt the love of their parents.   That Mom and Dad have more than enough love for all their children  - there isn’t a limited supply of love - the more it is given, the more it multiplies. 

    That image of possessive children unwilling to share the love of their parents came to mind in today’s Gospel.  Jesus’ heart is moved with pity for the crowds - he is attentive to them and what is the disciples reaction?  They tell him “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” 

    They want Jesus all for themselves.  They don’t want to share Him, share His love with anyone else, and in fact, how many times through the Gospels do we see the sibling rivalry among the disciples themselves? 

    One realization that comes from the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is that when we give love, it isn’t a limited supply, the more it is given, the more it multiplies - it can supply more than enough, even an abundance to all those who need it.  5 loaves and two fish feed thousands and the left overs fill over 12 baskets full.

    For some reason though, that lingering doubt, that fear can still creep in over time.  We see someone else is blessed in some way, and we become jealous – why doesn’t God do that for me?  A prayer that we have been praying for isn’t answered the way we want it answered and we become frustrated – why doesn’t God answer my prayers the way he does for other people? 

    And the more these doubts, these fears, these irrational childish thoughts run thru our heads, the more we begin to feel God doesn’t love us as much as his other children. 

    Which is why today’s reading from St. Paul to the Romans is one of my favorites.  St. Paul basically puts that question out there - what can separate us from the Love of God?    When do we have the proof that, yeah, he must love His other kids better than us?  When we have tribulations?  When we experience death?  When we are being persecuted or feel abandoned?  When we are poor, and needy and hungering and thirsting?  Is that it?

    Paul responds - Nothing can separate us from the Love of God poured out in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    No matter what circumstance, situation, or position we find ourselves in at this moment...  No matter what our sometimes childish behavior or attitudes might seem to be telling us - God’s extravagant, overwhelming and generous Love is for all of us.   There’s not a limit to it for us or for anyone else.  And if we are willing to take the risk to share that Love, instead of annoying each other, attacking each other, acting like possessive children vying for our Father’s affection – we might be surprised to see how that Love is more than enough to fulfill all our needs, and those of all those around us.

...DISCOVERING THE KINGDOM OF GOD - Priceless

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the 17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - JULY 24, 2011.  The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/072411.shtml Thanks as always for reading & your feedback and comments.  God Bless (and if you’re living in the East-Coast of the United States - STAY COOL!!!!)
Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    The only way you wouldn’t know the tag-line for Mastercard would be if you haven’t turned your television on in the last 15 years.  Since 1997 the motto “there are some things that Money cannot buy, for everything else there’s Mastercard” has been practically drilled into our brains with new commercials all based on the same simple but incredibly effective marketing technique.  They itemize a list of things that people spend money on and present it under the umbrella of why people are spending this money, why the cost is worth it. 

    The creators did that intentionally.  By the mid 90's when the economy was roaring along (remember those days) and people were spending in more and more extravagant ways, credit cards became more and more associated with greed, with excess.  Which wasn’t attractive to the public.  It wasn’t so unattractive that people changed their ways - but it was harder to “sell” or market credit cards in a positive light.  So these advertising geniuses came up with this strategy that they called the “What Matters” umbrella.  That there’s a valid, greater reason, some noble purpose, people need to spend this money, even if it is expensive, for something else that is - priceless.  So an ad goes something like this “Tickets to Yankee Stadium $80; Souvenier T-shirt $25; Hot dog $8 - taking your son to his first baseball game - priceless.”

    It has been so successful an advertising campaign that not only has it continued for over 14 years here in the US, it has spread to over 100 countries in over 40 different languages.  It seems almost a universal understanding that there are some things that money can’t buy - that there are priceless things out there.

    What are those priceless things for us?  Pretty quickly we would probably rattle off the list of family, friends, our health.  If we were to poll all of us here, no doubt we would add “our faith” to the list - perhaps out of obligation, perhaps because on some level we do believe that to be true.  But it’s interesting to look at today’s Gospel and hear how Jesus is asking us, is it really? 
    Is He someone we see,
    is what He is offering, namely eternal life, something we desire,   
...are these Priceless to us?  Are we willing to pay whatever the cost to achieve them?

    A few weeks ago, this speaker I was listening to shared a story.  A woman had been a religious education director in her parish for over 30 years.  She had worked tirelessly in her parish preparing kids for First Communion, Confirmation, supervising all the other grades whether in CCD classes or in the Parish Elementary School - monitoring the books used, the tests given, attendance reports.  After doing this for close to 25 years she said she had felt burnt out.  She was busy, she was tired, she was working hard.  But it seemed year after year was just flowing one year into another.  There were lots of kids in CCD, few at Mass.  The Parish School was getting smaller and fears that it would close were becoming more real.  The parish itself seemed “stuck”.  So she had gone to this conference sponsored by “Renewal Ministries” which is dedicated to helping Catholics have a deeper appreciation of the love that Jesus Christ has for them individually and once they’ve met Jesus in that way - once they recognize that, the response is people want to grow in holiness themselves.

    After this weekend long conference, this religious ed professional had an earth-shattering realization.  She told one of the main speakers whom she had been listening to all weekend, that after 25 years of service she didn’t believe that she had ever brought a single person into relationship with Jesus Christ. 

    Imagine that?  There’s a part of us that wants to dismiss that saying she’s being hyper-critical of herself.  But she was brutally honest saying the kids looked cute at their First Communion; the young men and women behaved appropriately at their Confirmations, and the class attendance sheets and religious ed books were all accounted for.  But for her, when she heard the Gospel presented to her anew.  When she heard the story afresh of how Jesus Christ has this personal, intimate love for her, that were she the only person to have ever lived in the whole world, he would still accept the Passion, the Cross, the Death for her – that’s how much God loves her - she realized that she and all of those with her in her parish had lost sight of what was essential in the faith and in the process had taken all these other beautiful, important things of our faith and in a sense made them empty.

    She went back to her parish and with her Pastor and her Bishops approval, they simply asked over and over “Is Jesus Christ the Lord of my Life?”  “Is he the Lord of this Classroom?” “This parish group?” “This school?”  If He wasn’t, then they made Him such, or they got rid of it.  Within 5 years the parish had been transformed.  The school went from near closing to having a waiting list.  The Parish was thriving in every way imaginable.

    When we find the treasure - When we find the pearl of great price – When we truly believe what we say we believe and realize that nothing else compares to it... nothing else matters, even remotely in importance, then we start to see, experience the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the lives of all those around us.  That one woman felt convicted in her heart that Jesus wasn’t Lord of her life or her parish, so she made him it.  She might have doubted she brought people to Christ before, but ever since, Jesus had changed her and many others lives.

    I know personally how difficult that can be.  For me these past 12 years of priesthood have gone quickly.  And the ways that I’ve diminished Jesus Christ in thoughts, words, deeds, or lack of thought, word or deed, well those are reasons I find myself in confession so often.  How often have I not spoken up to defend my faith because I was afraid “someone might be offended.”  How many opportunities have I passed on an opportunity to be a witness to my faith because I worried how others might perceive me?   In each of those opportunities, on some level, I said my ego, my fears, my whatever where more valuable than my faith in Jesus Christ.

    I don’t want to keep doing that anymore - do you?  And that’s the point - we have to want it - we have to have a change of vision recognizing that what Jesus is offering us is “What Matters” most.  We have to realize that it’s not just going to cost us a little, it’s not something we can put on our Mastercard (or Visa or AMEX for that matter) - it’s going to cost us our reputations, our pride, our egos.  It’s going to cost us friends and being comfortable.  Yes it will cost us our whole lives.  But in the end, we will find that discovering, and living in the kingdom of God is... priceless.

THE GUY WHO CAUGHT DEREK JETER'S 3000TH HIT

Hi everyone - thanks for reading my homily for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time - July 17, 2011.  The readings for the day can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/071711.shtml.  As always, thanks for reading and your feedback and comments.

“The Kingdom of heave is like a mustard seed... it is the smallest of seeds, yet when full grown it is the largest of plants.  It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”
    So imagine, for a birthday gift a good friend buys you tickets to a baseball game to see a team you’ve been a fan of your whole life - the New York Yankees (would there be any other???)  You’re there with your dad.  One of your favorite players comes to the plate, Derek Jeter, and the entire stadium of over 50,000 people is waiting and wondering will this be the time he hits his 3,000 career hit.  Jeter steps to the plate and not only does he get the hit, but he launches it - a Home Run ball that after it bobbles in your dads hands, lands in yours.

    Not only is that the stuff that every little kid whose a fan (even some of us kids not so little or “young”) dreams of happening to them, but what’s even more amazing about this occurrence is this isn’t just being apart of a historic sports moment, but it’s like winning the lotto too.  Before the game, sports memorabilia experts were saying that the value of the historic ball could gain 100,000-250,000 dollars from sports fanatics.  With the additional theatrics of this being a home run ball hit in Yankee Stadium, some said it could have hit $400,000.

    When all of this happened to a young man named Christian Lopez a week and a day ago though, unlike so many others in our day and age who would immediately think “what can I get for this, what do I deserve for catching this ball, who is going to give me the most or owes me the most...”  Lopez’s reaction was that he just wanted to give Derek Jeter the ball back.  Immediately he simply said this was Jeter’s milestone - he’s worked hard for his entire career for this, he deserves it.  The story sounded way too good to be true.

    And the guy wouldn’t budge at all believing that this was the right thing to do.  Even when his father said he didn’t know if this is what he would’ve done.  Even though, as the public learned later in the week,  the guy has something like $100,000 in student loans to pay back, and on top of everything else the government was making noise that he might owe them taxes for this whole thing even though he didn’t make any money off of it.   But for Christian, he just kept saying he knew that it was the right thing to do.

    In the grand scheme of life, the story is kind of silly.  Yeah it’s a game that people get paid way too much to play - It’s a baseball that people seem to get attached to like its some relic.  All of us know there’s so many other more serious things that people face on a daily basis and real heroes are often not acknowledged for true selflessness.  But this simple, small act of selflessness of a guy who didn’t want to hold a baseball hostage because he knows that Jeter has the money to pay for it if he wanted it is so refreshing, isn’t it?  And the effect it’s had has been unprecedented too.  Modells Sporting Goods is calling this Christian Lopez week and will donate 5% of the proceeds from any Yankee Merchandise purchased to help pay the guys Student Loan debt (with a minimum of $25,000 guaranteed) Miller Brewing is offering to pay for the tax bill saying “he should not be punished for doing the right thing.” Steiner sports, the company that would have probably auctioned the ball had Christian wanted to sell it, is auctioning a bunch of Yankees memorabilia with the profits going to Lopez, saying “the kids been good...I just wanted to do something good for him.”

    So now all of these other people and companies have been moved by this simple, small act by this young man, that it made them want to do something to help him out... So now a whole slew of other people have been able to participate and continue this great story. 

    Christian Lopez helps illustrate part of what Jesus is getting at in these parables.  When we were baptized, when we became a part of the Kingdom of God, we entered into the story of how His kingdom continues to grow.  Christ’s message, his presence, his word is as alive as when he first walked and talked on this earth.  That message, that presence, that word comes through you and I.  People are changed and influenced by our witness, our testimony to what Jesus Christ means in our lives.  They either are inspired or scandalized by the decisions, choices, and examples we put forth.

    And it’s true, there are more than a fair share of weeds we can all point out to – both in and outside of the Church.    And we get distracted by them and wonder “God why don’t you just eliminate all the weeds once and for all.”  When we’re in a state of grace, knowing we’re free of some mortal sin, it’s easy to say such things.  Fortunately, God is much more patient with all of us.   On the other extreme, we can get down on ourselves.  Arguing that sainthood, holiness is out of our reach.  We look at someone like Mother Teresa who years after she’s died still captures our imaginations and think “we can never do what she did.”

    But if these parables tell us anything, Jesus is inviting us - you and I into His story.  He’s  reminding us that when we chose to imitate Him in whatever corners of this vast creation in this precise moment of history - He is glorified.  When we allow His voice to come out of our mouths, His gaze from our eyes, His gentle touch from our hands - the seemingly smallest, insignificant things can take on proportions larger than life.  The mustard seed becomes this huge bush, the brush of yeast makes this doughy mass rise...

    Who is it that will encounter Jesus Christ’s presence through you and I this day, this week?  Who’s very life will change because of that encounter?  Just because we simply reflected in a simple, small, loving way the love we’ve experienced ourselves in Jesus Christ?

    What Jesus is trying to tell us in the parables is that Sainthood, holiness is only out of our reach if we choose to let it be.  It was Mother Teresa who encouraged people to do small acts with great love. Those small actions done with great love are the seeds of our own holiness and they impact peoples lives in ways we may never have imagined.  Christian Lopez returned a baseball he felt rightly belonged to someone else. Again, in the grand scheme of life it was basically a small act. But that small act had within it the seeds of kindness, charity, civility and selflessness which inspired a somewhat jaded, cynical world to act in the same way. Who would ever have imagined that right here in New York?

    In the parable of the mustard seed, Christ reminds us that the same opportunity is ours if we so choose.

WE INTERRUPT THIS BEAUTIFUL BEACH DAY FOR BREAKING NEWS...

Hi everyone!
This is my homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time - JULY 10, 2011.  The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/071011.shtml.  As always, thanks for reading and your comments and feedback.  Always appreciate people taking time to read and respond... God Bless,  Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    This past Tuesday was a beautiful, 80 something degree, sunny, light wind blowing off the ocean afternoon.  I had escaped for a few days down the shore and was enjoying the peace, quiet and tranquility of the afternoon.  What made it a bit more quiet was, uncharacteristically, my family and some of their close friends who sit with them on the beach hadn’t arrived yet.   But to be honest I was enjoying the solitude too much to notice.

    Not exactly sure how much time had passed when I heard my Mother’s voice.  She was still a little ways off, but she yelled to me “ I DON’T BELIEVE THAT... DID YOU HEAR???” “Hear what” I asked, somewhat startled out of semi-consciousness.   “The Verdict!”  (Do I even have to mention which verdict?)  Before long the entire circle of family and friends had formed and a debate about the trial, the verdict not to mention a wider-variety of tangents ranging from dissecting what’s wrong with the justice system, our country, kids, parents, morality in general with everyone giving their theories, opinions and explanations.  Even people at the circle next to us were chiming in. 

    Just your average, perfect, summer day on the beach, huh?

    Very easily and quickly I got drawn into all of the discussions and debates myself.  I found myself getting aggravated and upset with some of the conversation.  I could feel the blood pressure starting to rise.  And before I knew it, my peaceful, relaxing, beautiful day on the beach was spoiled (at least a little bit).

    For those of us not into gardening and kill full grown plants so easily that we wouldn’t even think about messing with seeds...  Just looking at this Gospel reading, it hit me that my less than perfect beach day could be a modern take on Jesus’ parable.   Because in the past, when I’ve heard this parable, I kind of looked at it as Jesus is affirming us who are here week after week and kind of shaking his head in a mixture of anger and sadness at all those who don’t join us every week (or at all) .  We’re the good seed, the good plants - they’re the rocky, weed infested soils...

    But the more I’ve prayed with it, it seems that the point of the parable is to question us about the state of our own souls:   How’s our soil. How open are we to God in our lives? Because one of the central things Jesus is asking us here is How easy is it for people, events, things to distract us?  How easy is it for our faith to be undermined, our relationship with Jesus to be questioned, our joy in Him to be robbed?

    On days when things are okay, when all is well with family and friends, we can come to Mass and feel reasonably comfortable that our faith is strong.    But then we see our neighbor has that new car and we fixate on it and then we  look at our dependable, reliable, paid off car with contempt... We see friends and relatives who are losing their jobs and we wonder how secure our job really is? A family member is rushed to a hospital and is awaiting results... There’s an unexpected death of a loved one...    All of those somewhat random, but absolutely real things can shake our faith, cause us to doubt, unleash fear, makes us wonder – How present is Jesus to us?  Is He really listening to our prayers?  Why even bother praying; why follow Him when I can’t seem to get ahead, or even get by for that matter. 

    Everyone of us will at sometime endure weeds entering our soil... or there will always be something that disrupts our pleasant, sunny, beach days.  The real-life crises and tragedies, the temptations that we endure (and sometimes succumb to) can make the most devout, devoted of believers begin to doubt.  Which is why Jesus is gives us this bit of a pulse check, asking How is our soil, or rather our souls?  How deep are our roots in Him? 

    Because he’s trying to tell us that it’s in the day to day, week to week, somewhat routine parts of life that we keep nourishing and deepening our relationship with Him that makes it possible to withstand those varied things that life throws at us and still remain faithful, still trust that He is with us, still know deep within that He is  the only way, the only truth, the only life worth following.  If we can attune our ears to His voice and set our eyes and see His presence in the everyday... if we allow His word to speak to us, His Body and Blood nourish us on a regular basis, then we are more and more confident that His grace is enough to help us endure whatever it is we face. 

    When we do, it’s true we might not see the miracle we want.  God may not answer our prayers in the exact fashion we want (I know that’s often the case in my own prayer life).  But here’s the thing, we will be okay with that, because we would know on a personal, intimate level that He does desire what is best for us.   We might suffer through some painful situations, but our faith will be remain and even grow... Our seedlings would grow strong... even our beautiful beach days could endure a few disruptions without forgetting the beauty and peace that was there (and remained) before we were interrupted. 

DEMEANING OURSELVES AS "LITTLE ONES"

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - July 3, 2011 - the readings can be found http://www.usccb.org/nab/070311.shtml Thanks as always for reading and your feedback! God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

In terms of "little ones" in my life, I’ve been blessed with God-children, cousins and my two little nieces, one who will be no longer five but five and a half, as she corrected me in about 2 weeks and her little sister who is a year and a half... Lizzie and Gracie.

Thanks to them, my understanding of this Gospel passage has changed a great deal. When Jesus speaks of what is hidden from the learned and wise that has been given to the "little ones" - well in the past I sort of understood that as Jesus making a comparison of two "opposites"; that Jesus was contrasting two groups of people - The adults are the educated, the somewhat worldly or sophisticated... while the children, not to diss them, but understandably are not as educated, they’re innocent... It seems a bit demeaning to become like a "little one." Throughout our lives we’re encouraged to grow up, to be mature, to be responsible. Hearing this seems to contradict all of that. With this contrast I kind of imagined that Jesus was telling us we can be too smart for our own good when it comes to our relationship with God and that Jesus was telling us that if we wish to have that yearning within us fulfilled, that yearning for God that every human heart has, we have to be like the little ones... more simplistic - not over-thinking things, just follow along.

But as I’ve learned, little ones can be quite smart, they can be quite creative, and not for nothing, they’re hardly innocent! Watching 1 and a half year old Gracie who loves to eat, so much so that she’s learned where Mom and Dad keep a loaf of bread, she’s learned how to open the drawer all by herself and she might not know how to open the plastic bread, but that’s okay, she just bite right into it to get what she wanted – after she was told "no more" - well that was just one more example to me that you cannot simply dismiss the "little ones" as simple little people that are easily led. Gracie is also now into exploring things, so she likes to grab, feel, touch just about anything. Especially the family dog Buff. She grabs the poor guy’s ears, tail. Last week she went over to him and the dog is looking at me with this pitiful look like "please help me" - she slowly was petting him, nice and gently and I said "That’s nice Gracie, be nice to Buff" and she’s staring at me, watching to see if I was watching as she slowly in her little fingers started to grab hold of his hair, getting ready to pull it - and I just looked and said "NOOO, GRACIE, NO, DON’T DO THAT, BE NICE..." and she just stared me down and walked away.

I really don’t know how you parents do it.

I’m sure parents out there can give even more colorful stories. So what characteristic is it that Jesus is seeing in these "little ones" that he finds so essential in terms of growing in knowledge, deepening our relationship with God the Father? Trust. Because as I’ve seen, "little ones" might not want to listen all the time, but they always, always know who to run to. When my nieces don’t get the answer they want from their Uncle Jim or from Grandma or Grandpa, they run to Mommy and Daddy and try there. Or when they get scared or hurt or upset... they cry out for their parents. In their little hearts and minds, they might not always get what they want, but they know who to go to...They might not fully understand, the "Why" behind the "No Gracie you can’t eat bread all day" - but they trust that eventually, Mom and Dad will provide them the bread they need. They trust their parents. Which is why when that trust is hurt, violated or broken, it has such long term consequences beyond the moral failure of that one instance. It can warp a person’s mind for life. Maybe that’s why Jesus warns people about that saying if you do it, it would be better for you to have a stone attached to your neck and you were thrown into the sea. That trust is essential for each of us, that trust is what is at the core of what Jesus is saying will unlock our personal encounter with God.

To trust in God the Father, to trust that God is our Father. Trust that God the Father wants what’s best for us. That’s why our older brother Jesus is reminding us of that. And what Jesus tells us through word and example is that when we can trust in that childlike way, then the other theological virtues – Faith, Hope and Love make sense. We have Faith when we trust that what God reveals is true. We have Hope when we trust that what he promises will come to pass. We have Love when we trust that what He asks us to do is what we should do. If we put our trust in God - then we will find God. (The Better Part, John Bartunek - p. 163)

The other night, I heard a story on the radio of a woman some years ago who had given birth to her second son. One morning she confirmed a fear that she had, that something was wrong, as she took the child out into the bright sun light and those infant eyes didn’t blink or change at all. She realized her son was blind. They then discovered some other physical ailments. And the mother was devastated... she was solely focused on all the things that would make the child "different" or in her mind, "less than" every one else. The older son, retelling the story, said "then one day she walked into Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris France with the infant in her arms and as she prayed the ‘Our Father’ and got to the words ‘thy will be done’ - she described it as the first time that she actually prayed those words and meant it. And the change in her heart was almost instant. It was as if the fears left and this peace came over her as she stopped looking at his deficiencies and saw this child as a pure gift, a pure joy and simply loved her child."

When she was able to go past her disappointment and trust God again, no her son wasn’t miraculously healed and able to see... but there was a miracle that was even more important for an even more important bodily organ – her heart was healed.

It would be hard to imagine anyone not sitting here today who doesn’t have some trials, fears, or sadness they’re dealing with. Suffering doesn’t seem to bypass any of us, it’s usually a matter of to what extent or degree. And the hurts we’ve suffered, the trusts that have been violated make us cynical or skeptical. To open ourselves up can make us vulnerable... and as adults we don’t really like to do that.

Jesus isn’t being pollyannaish here. Jesus knows true suffering... another reason that we always have a crucifix before us to remind us of that reality that he endured. And as we look at that crucifix, we are captivated by the trust that he had throughout his life and death in His Father. The rest of the story finds us here today - that trust didn’t stop Good Friday, but brought about Easter Sunday - and continues to make Jesus really present in His word and in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist here today. He’s making himself vulnerable to us, inviting us to receive Him, to trust Him, to come to Him - finding when we do, the peace that we long for. Suddenly, becoming a child, becoming like a "little one" doesn’t seem so demeaning.