Hi everyone... here’s my homily for the FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT - February 26, 2012. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/022612.cfm . Thanks as always for reading and your feedback. God Bless - Fr. Jim
As most of you know, I’m a Yankee fan, and have considered myself such throughout my life. So, some might be shocked to learn that there are some unflattering pictures of me as a high school-er with a Mets gear (one such picture, taken at a High School "pool party" is one example). You have to remember that back in the 80's when I was a kid, there wasn’t as much hatred between Yankees and Mets. I think part of the reason was because there was no inter-league play back then, so there wasn’t much reason to have animosity towards one another back then. There’s another reason there was no real hostility for Yankee fans towards Mets fans: Throughout most of their history the Mets have been awful; while on the other hand the Yankees have been elite, world-champions over and over, and over (I could say this 27 times, but I won’t) But during that childhood era of mine - my brother Craig liked the Mets and it didn’t bother me, and I wouldn’t mind watching games with him or even rooting for them on occasion. To be completely honest in the 1980s, the Yankees weren’t exactly on a Championship run, so there wasn’t much bragging on either side. So that’s partially a disclaimer about any photos people should dig up. But more seriously, it’s an introduction of how I’ve always been a fan of Gary Carter.
When I think of Gary Carter, the catcher for the second (and only second) time the Mets won the World Series in 1986, I just remember that the guy always seemed to have a smile on his face. He just looked like he was having a fun time. He came across as a player that was just a real man: His ego was in check, he worked hard, played hard, could be counted on for a big hit, and unlike some of his peers, you never heard anything bad about him. I still remember the one Mets game I went to as a kid with my brother and parents, seeing Gary Carter hitting a home run (and that ridiculous Apple popping out of the Mets hat in the outfield... sorry, I’ve really grown in my dislike of the team)
That’s why I was saddened to hear that he died over a week ago after a somewhat short battle with Cancer. Sadly with the non-stop coverage of Whitney Houston’s death and funeral, there seemed little coverage at all about this passing. But a friend of mine (a die-hard Mets fan I might add) forwarded me an article about Gary Carter that really was enlightening about him. One thing I learned was the origin of his nickname: “the Kid.” Because that name was said so openly and Carter seemed to embrace it, you might have thought (like I did) that it was just a term of affection that had been handed down to him over his team in the Majors. It seemed endearing. Even last week when reporting his death, the NY Post had a headline that said “GOODBYE KID.” But the truth of the matter was quite different. The WSJ article shared the truth from a friend of Gary Carters who said: In the oft-ignorant, oft-shallow world of baseball, Carter was deemed a geek from the very beginning. He didn't drink and didn't smoke. He didn't curse and he didn't talk smack. He showed up to work early, played hard, embraced home-plate collisions and—by all accounts—worked his tail off. He was loyal to his wife, Sandy, and an involved and dedicated father to their three children. Yet this was rarely good enough for teammates... Such behavior didn't sit well with many of the Expos, who mocked him behind his back and made him the butt of their juvenile jokes. Carter's famous nickname—The Kid—was born of neither love nor appreciation, but scorn. As he was rising through the Expos' minor league system in the early 1970s, Montreal's players used to irritate the team's starting catcher, a gruff beer barrel named Barry Foote, with taunts of, "The Kid's coming! The Kid's gonna take your job! Watch out for The Kid! To his credit, Carter embraced the moniker. The way he saw it, he was a man being paid big dollars to play a child's game. Hell yes, he was a kid.”
For some reason this took me by surprise. That in “professional” sports, there would be such immaturity. (Not quite sure why it was surprising since it’s far from new...just think two words: Tim Tebow) But perhaps because when I remembered the rest of the roster from 1986 World Series Championship team that included names like Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Lenny Dykstra - all who were great on the field, but you can google to read about their antics off - who continued to mock and ridicule “the kid” when he was a member of the Mets for being a good guy - who was a devout Christian trying to live that life rather than just saying he was... well it saddened me... But it also made me admire Carter even more.
Because learning that he endured such pressure from his teammates... no, pressure’s not the word, rather their ridicule, you appreciate even more that you would never have known what was going on when he was on the field. He didn’t let it affect his play. He rose above it. But even more what made Gary Carter a man of character wasn’t that he didn’t let it affect his game, but that he didn’t let it change who he was.
If you read any biography of a baseball player, a common thing is how far from glamorous a life it is. As they travel all across the country far from family and friends, and can be traded and moved around frequently, you see that while they are “just playing a game” that they get paid ridiculous amounts of money for, it can be extremely lonely for them. The obnoxious money they make can though can make the temptations to give into drugs and alcohol, the temptations to give into pre-marital sex and infidelity and all kinds of demons that much easier.
How was Gary Carter able to resist those temptations? He was able to take the ridicule of his peers, resist those temptations because he was following the one who withstood them and empowers us to do so as well. In today’s Gospel we see how Jesus is driven out into the desert for forty days. He’s going on retreat. He’s leaving the world behind to clarify in his heart and his mind what it is that the Heavenly Father has sent Him to do. And as He enters into this time where he wishes to be united with His Heavenly Father, what happens? He’s tempted by the devil! Imagine that, even Jesus had temptations! While the Gospel of Matthew and Luke give more detail than this account, we don’t really need too many details. Just reading the words that Jesus was “tempted by Satan” says it all. He didn’t have his friends, there were no apostles or disciples to rely on... He didn’t even have the help of his family, his Blessed Mother Mary at that time. The Gospel simply says that He relied on; he “leaned on” angels who helped him to keep faithful to His Heavenly Father who had sent Him to earth with this Mission to save humanity.
For you and I as we begin this season of Lent, we often start this time of “spiritual renewal” with a hope, a desire to grow closer to Jesus Christ. We set out with great intentions. Yet, quickly our motivation starts to wane. Our attention gets diverted. And the temptation to just let go of our hopes, our desires to grow closer to Jesus Christ are replaced with everyday tasks, unnecessary distractions and even a sense of despair as we start believing the lie “I’m never going to really be able to change.”
Its true, we’re not like Jesus Christ during his time in the desert. One blessed difference is that we have Him to lean on as we embrace this lenten journey. But that’s one of the key factors – we have to choose to focus on Him. Because if not, this somewhat jaded, cyncical world around us will try to discourage us at every choice, every decision, every opportunity we have to make whether we will follow Christ or go along with what the “other guys on the team” are doing – Satan will whisper lies to us making us doubt we’ll be able to resist what everyone else is doing, so why even try.
Yet Gary Carter is one more witness of someone who wasn’t weighed down by the mocking of the world around us and found his affirmation not on the field or from his fellow teammates, but from Christ alone. This Lent, you and I are invited to recognize how Jesus meets us in our vulnerability, in our moments of weakness where we feel tempted to give into whatever lie that Satan is putting before us. In those moments, we have Jesus himself that we can rely on to minister to us. Are we willing to withstand the ridicule of the world to live only for him?