OPEN MOUTH, INSERT FOOT

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for August 28 , 2011, the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.  The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082811.cfm.  Thanks as always for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless,  Fr. Jim

True story:

    This young woman had just started a new job and had to go thru three days of training.   Right away, she felt that the job was absolutely terrible, but she had never quit a job.  She didn’t know what to do since she felt that throughout the training she was being treated like an idiot and it was making her angry.  After her third day of training, she came home so angry and worked up she decided to go down to a small bar to have a drink (yes she was over 21 folks).  She walked in and her friends started asking her about the new job and she just went off with and unloaded everything that had been pent up inside her from the past three days:  How the place stunk, the people were jerks, how she couldn’t believe the place stayed in business with such morons running the place.  The bartender started laughing so hard, he was practically doubled over falling on the ground. He looked at her and said, it’s probably too late to tell you this, but you are sitting next to the general manager of your new company.   Must’ve been fun going to work on Monday, huh?

    Sticking your foot in your mouth - when we hear story like that we are REALLY uncomfortable, and probably laugh not only because they’re just so BRUTAL and INSANE but because we know we’ve been there too.  All of us can remember times when we’ve “stuck our foot in our mouth.” 

    In today’s gospel, St. Peter has that kind of experience.  St. Peter (in the verses right before this passage, which we heard last Sunday) says to Jesus when he’s asked “Who do you say I am” - Peter responds - you are the Christ, the son of the Living God - and Jesus says to Peter – who so often is just a screw up, who so often gets it wrong, who so often ends up with HIS foot in his mouth –  Blessed are you - you are Peter, and upon [you] I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you [Peter] the keys to the kingdom of heaven - whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven. 

    So that had just happened.  Peter’s feeling like, for once in a LONG time, I’m having a good day - and, here it comes... - Jesus tells his disciples - look guys, things are going to get bad - we’re going to Jerusalem, everyone’s going to turn on me, I’m going to get tortured, killed - and on the third day I’ll be raised from the dead.  And Peter jumps up “God forbid Lord!  No such thing shall ever happen to you” - and with that, Jesus the son of God calls Peter - Satan.   YIKES!   Sorry Peter, Open mouth, insert foot...

    But on the surface, it doesn’t seem like a foot in a mouth thing though, does it?  I mean, Peter’s trying to look out for Jesus, and saying “I don’t want you to suffer and die.” Jesus seems a bit harsh, doesn’t he?

    What Jesus was trying to do to Peter was to say - you can’t just think in human, earthly ways - you can’t let emotion get the best of you or operate out of your feelings all the time.  You can’t go from calling me “the Christ, the son of God” to then not listening to what I’m telling you, to not believing that my Father and I know what we’re doing...You can’t think you know the way to go.  You have to follow me...

    So in this case, maybe the problem wasn’t the foot in his mouth as much as it was the foot in his ears closing him off from listening to what the Son of God was saying - it was the foot in his heart (or would that be on his heart? Whatever..) The foot on his heart blocking those words challenging him to have that deeper faith, more intimate, more powerful relationship with Jesus - a relationship he would need in order for Peter to be our first Pope and lead the Church after Jesus’ ascension.

    Jesus was trying to get Peter out of himself, out of his ego of thinking that “here I am, Jesus just said I’m the Rock, I’m going to be the Pope” - he’s moving Peter out of thinking simply in human terms and to realize he must always be focused on Jesus alone.

    That’s what Jesus is challenging all of us to do as well in this Gospel passage tonight.  To as St. Paul put it, not conform ourselves to this age - to take up our cross and follow him.   Jesus is telling us that when we do that when we embrace our cross, follow Him, and live as he did - we find true freedom, we find true independence, we find our very selves.  Then, our feet remain far from our heart, ears and yes, even our mouth.  In embracing the cross our feet end up being right where they belong – taking steps to follow Christ.

WITH APOLOGIES TO MRS. JONES

Greetings everyone!  Here's my homily for SUNDAY AUGUST 21, 2011 - the 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME  - The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082111.cfm.  As always, thanks for reading and your comments and feedback are appreciated.  God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    With Back to School Sales in full swing (if I see that stupid Target commercial with the guy singing about Denim one more time I’m going to lose it) - I can’t help it that my mind goes right into school memories this time of year.    I remember the teachers that were my favorites – 5th Grade with Mrs. Gagliardi still ranks as one of my all time favorite years in school ever.... High School English with Mr. Epps and Mrs. Allen – both extremely different, both highly memorable for a variety of different reasons – Mrs. Allen being much more formal and demanding, Mr. Epps - well let’s say he was “colorful”, insanely entertaining, but no less demanding than Mrs. Allen.   The three of them still stand out as some of my all time favorites.  

    Just as vivid in the memory are quite a few of my teachers that didn’t rank high on my or my classmates lists.  The ones that either we didn’t like them, they didn’t like us, or it was a mixture of the two (perhaps it’s one of those chicken and egg type questions – which came first - them not liking us or us not liking them?)

    One science teacher that comes to mind, in hindsight, I believe it was us, the students, who did her in every year.  She really tried.  Every September she would have that hopeful look in her eye.  That somewhat nervous smile as the 6th, 7th and 8th grade students would pile in.  Mrs. Jones (not her real name) would talk about the various stuff that we would be doing to try to excite us for the year to come.  And no matter what she did it seemed always to turn  into a disaster.  Someone would eventually do something that would set her off - we would get out of control, she would start yelling, we would start laughing.  And we all make Mrs. Jones just lose it... in fact we kind of wanted to make her lose it. 

     This one time we had to dissect frogs...I’ll never forget it.  Now honestly, I wasn’t looking for trouble.  With two older brothers, the oldest who always got into trouble, the middle guy, well he was a Phi Beta Kappa honor student from Kindergarten through Graduate school.  I somehow as the youngest, fell in the middle of the two.   So I really wasn’t trying to ruin Mrs. Jones’ day.    So we were to dissect this frog.  And I’m looking that the thing, and in my head I’m saying “Nah, I ain’t touching that...”  Now Mrs. Jones had already instructed us to open it’s mouth, to make an incision here, make a cut there - I don’t know it’s gross thinking about it... but she was about 4 steps ahead and I’m sitting there staring at this dead frog.  Well she came down the center aisle, started screaming at me - thinking I was just being another nuisance, another pain, not paying attention or whatever...  And I remember she said “don’t be a baby” - which I admit ticked me off, so now I was definitely not touching the thing.  So I just said “no way, I’m not touching it, it’s nasty.” To which she grabbed the frog and said “What’s the big deal, just break open it’s jaw like this” and without the instruments or whatever, she just used her fingers, used whatever anger she had at that moment and broke open the frogs jaw.  Yes, Mrs. Jones was much more brave than I was.  I couldn’t let this, in my mind, old, crotchety teacher make me look bad so as she did it, I pointed out that she had opened the frog with her hands and then had brushed her hair.  (Which she did by the way).  The class started laughing at her, she started yelling, they made more and more stupid remarks.  It was just a bad, bad scene.  We never even finished the lesson that day... All those dead frogs were wasted.

    Somehow I survived and passed the class and I never had Mrs. Jones again.  What makes Mrs. Jones stand out in my mind though is that to this day I feel guilty about her.  And I know why.  This one Sunday, a few years after I had her for class, I went to Mass at a neighboring parish for some reason.  And that Sunday I saw Mrs. Jones was there at Church. She sat there with her husband and her kids.  Then at communion, she went up and served as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist.  I was too embarrassed to go up to her for communion.  Not because it was Mrs. Jones the science teacher all of us tortured in 6th, 7th and 8th grade... But because she was so much more than that.  I finally saw her as Mrs. Jones a wife, a Mother, a devout Catholic-Christian woman  As time went on I started to learn of all the charitable things she did.  The volunteer work she did at the parish.  What an incredibly loving mother she was (I actually met her daughter at a meeting a few years ago).  I had missed a whole lot more of who she really was.  Perhaps had I not been so narrow minded about Mrs. Jones, I would’ve reacted differently not just the day with Kermit’s friends, but all those other days that I dismissed her and her class.

    No matter how many times we go through a similar experience, we never seem to fully learn that lesson, do we?  How our perception of someone can greatly affect our relationship with them.  That’s why Jesus’ question is such an interesting one.  He looks to his disciples and says “Who do people say that I am?”  But then quickly turns it to something much more direct - Who do you say that I am?  The responses, reactions, expectations we see and hear not just in today’s passage but all throughout the gospels show there was a variety of different thoughts on Him.  To some Jesus was simply a miracle worker.  By this point people had heard of healings, water becoming wine, massive amounts of food being supplied from a few loaves and fish...  He was definitely a master orator that could draw crowds who wanted simply to listen to him as he spoke to them.  Jesus was a brilliant teacher who could use those opportunities to pass on eternal truths that to this day even unbelievers respect.  All of those attributes and qualities are true.  But they’re narrow.  And for those who saw Jesus only as those things - or as a prophet or mistaking him for John the Baptist, or Elijah – they were missing so much.

    Peter is able to discern Jesus is so much more than the sum of all those things.  He has left everything to follow him not because he does incredible feats or says memorable things...  The only one who would deserve the gift of his life, where he has dropped everything and followed him is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

    Our perception of people very often affects our relationship to that person and our perception is greatly influenced by our proximity. How much time we spend with them.  More time allows us to know more things or aspects about them.   Peter’s confession of faith was possible because the Holy Spirit had nudged him one day to listen and pay attention that day when he first met Jesus.  And he listened to that voice and was willing to leave everything and spend his days in the company of Christ.  This allowed him to have an intimacy that he would really know Jesus– all the many things that made him perceive Jesus’ true identity as the Messiah.

    I suppose our answer to that same question would also depend on our perception of Jesus and our perception is also influenced by our proximity to him.  To really know Jesus is no different than anyone else – it requires that we spend time with them and that takes...well, time!  How much time do we really spend getting to know Jesus?  “And you, who do you say that I am?”.  May you and I take time, literally, before we answer that.

HOW COULD FATHER LEAVE THE PRIESTHOOD?

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, July 7, 2011.  The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/080711.shtml.  Thanks as always for reading and your responses and feedback.  Thanks Fr. Jim

    On the list of challenging, difficult, even awkward things for Catholics to discuss (and there’s quite a few things on that list) has to be when parishioners learn that a priest has decided to leave the priesthood.  It’s something that can be shocking, and saddening for people - both parishioners and priests alike.  People describe it as this weird mixture of emotions that would often be associated with a death or a divorce – while at the same time the parishioners want the man to be happy and at peace.  It’s confusing.   What makes it so shocking is that after anywhere from 4-7 years of prayer, study, talking, discussions, and formation people assume that a man would be reasonably sure of who they are, what they are called to when they are finally ordained.  And there’s some truth to that.  It’s not like it’s a surprise on ordination day to find out that priests make promises that include obedience and chastity.

    Probably the most public example of this was about a year ago involved a priest by the name of Fr. Albert Cutie, who had a popular television show in Florida.  After a tabloid found him on a beach with a woman, he admitted he had an affair - and within weeks, left the Catholic Church joined the Episcopal Church, got married, is considered a “priest” in their Church and even has a new TV program.  Examples like that give life to this (mistaken) belief that if only priests could get married, things like that wouldn’t happen.

    This isn’t to judge Fr. Cutie or interpret the actions of other priests who’ve left.  It’s true what they say – that we can never know what’s in another person’s heart or what it is they are going through.  So I’m trying to be careful not to make assumptions and lump everyone together because no two cases are the same.  But a great spiritual director once shared an insight he gained from his experience in counseling many priests.  He said that whenever a priest would tell him that he is leaving the priesthood, the first question he always asks is “When did you stop praying?  When did you lose sight of Christ?”

    I know that when I was on the receiving end of that question about 6 years ago when I was at a crossroads and was close to leaving the priesthood, I was ticked off by the question.  Because in my mind I was leaving not because I had a girl friend or anything like that but because I was ticked off about certain things, disillusioned about others.  And this spiritual director’s question ticked me off even more - because I knew that my anger was justified, my disillusionment were valid - and his question to me... well they were completely appropriate.  I’m embarrassed to admit (and can realize now) that I had invested more energy in the things I was upset about than my prayer life.   I had relied on myself more than on Jesus (because I didn’t like the way He was handling it), and so I found myself at the breaking point... and I give thanks to God that I wasn’t too far gone - that in time with help and especially the prayers of good friends, I was able to call out to the Lord and found He had been there all along, waiting for me to do so.

    That’s the lesson that Peter learns in the Gospel we just heard.  Just hours before this episode (as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel) Jesus had fed thousands with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.  That was an amazing experience for everyone, especially the disciples to witness and experience.  Now Jesus had gone off on his own, we learn, to pray (right there we should take notice and realize, that if Jesus would need time to connect to God then perhaps that is telling us something...)  Not long after, the disciples find themselves in a jam - the winds pick up, the waves start crashing, they grow increasingly scared and fearful.  So Jesus, taking the short cut - walks right on the water towards them.  Peter who’s seen so many incredible things isn’t sure what’s going on, so he says “if it’s you, tell me to come out and walk on the water to you.” And Jesus does!  Peter experiences yet another amazing feat...

    Yet his amazement is soon diminished.   The waves, the winds, the fears, the distractions... they grab his attention and he stops looking, stops going towards Jesus and the second he does, he becomes overwhelmed, he starts to sink, starts to flounder, starts to drown. 

    Being a disciple of Jesus Christ, a follower of His can be hard.  Because we know all of the miracles and incredible stuff that He is capable of.   We hear in the Gospel “Nothing is impossible for God.”  And when we see the miracle, those words ring true.  But what about when those storms, those winds creep in...  When we’re tempted to something (or someone) that makes us compromise our commitments, our values, our promises... When we’re overwhelmed by bad news, trials and struggles.  What do we do?  Do we turn inward and believe the lie that Jesus has forgotten us because he hasn’t rectified all these situations, or made us stronger to resist those temptations?  Or do we cry out with all our hearts “Lord save me?”
   
    The beautiful thing we learn in this Gospel is that as soon as Peter does cry out with those very words, he comes to find that Jesus hasn’t gone anywhere... in fact he hasn’t stopped looking at Him.  Jesus respects that first gift given to us – our free will – so much that even when he knows what’s better for us, He is not going to violate that without our invitation. 

    Unfortunately as we go through life, we realize that this isn’t just a one time experience or test that we’ll encounter at some point and never go through again.  In many ways, this is a daily challenge that we as followers will go through over and over again - whether we’re priests, married people or single people...   Again, look at Peter - he will learn all too well how often the temptations, the distractions re-emerge.   Good Friday, in the midst of His Passion, not only would Peter not look to Christ for strength for himself - he abandoned Jesus at the moment Christ needed him.  Yet, we’ll read how after Jesus rose from the dead, he searches Peter out, and lovingly reaches out to him, inviting him to trust in Him again...

    For each of us, as we go through life with our own commitments to the Lord and to one another, it might feel like we’re all alone at times, that Jesus has forgotten us as we’re going through whatever it is that makes us believe that.  Yet the reality is often the reverse.  It’s  us who lose sight of Him.    And everyone one of us is susceptible - whether it’s a college student going through a difficult time, the couple on the verge of a divorce or the priest who “leaves” the priesthood.  The question, “When did you lose sight of Christ” or more directly Jesus’ words from the gospel ask “...why did you doubt?”  Too often we forget that its more than just showing up to Mass and being in Church waiting for something to happen, we have to do something and want something more.  The good news we have heard today is that Jesus never leaves us.  He is waiting for us, looking for us in all humility and sincerity to cry out “Lord Save Me.”    Will we let go of our egos, lift up our eyes to God, look into His, and say those same words - and trust Him?