The Gospel for today is
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
For as you judge, so will you be judged,
and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
How can you say to your brother,
'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,'
while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter from your brother's eye."
Two weeks ago yesterday - about 150 of the men in this Chapel gathered here together to pray, to talk about the scourge that the pornography industry has had on our culture, and then to go to a local “adult boutique” (is it me or is it even creepier that they call those places boutiques?) to pray in front of the store. The discussion before and after this prayer vigil - complete with exposition of the blessed Sacrament in front of the store thanks to Fr. Lager – was how a great majority of people have been afflicted by pornography; to explain to the men that in bringing the light of Christ to this, and to maybe share that struggles with this sin with one another- that all of us together can start to break the hold this industry has on our culture that leads to addiction, isolation, denegration of women, not to mention abuse. .[Video Clip of the Men at prayer]
It was powerful to experience the strength in numbers to have all these guys praying the rosary together at that place. And it was great that some passers-by offered words of encouragement and support. But the opposite happened as well. There were a few who yelled at all of us saying things like “you bunch of hypocrites - now you can go home and... (you can fill in the rest).” Having gone to the March for Life in the past, I’ve heard similar things, and it’s not uncommon that when people level the whole “hypocrisy” label on you, how quickly they will misquote this Gospel passage that we just heard saying “DOESN’T JESUS SAY JUDGE NOT?” - basically implying that unless you’re perfect, then you better not say anything about anyone’s imperfections.
Which is why it’s important for us, especially for those in ministry - priests, religious- and for missionaries preparing to go across the country to proclaim the Gospel on the various campuses your going to – for us to unpack this. We read this line where Jesus says “stop judging, that you may not be judged - For as you judge so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you...” and the sentence sounds Dr. Suess-like that we ignore that and get stuck on the whole splinter/wooden beam part of the Gospel which can easily be misinterpreted as “I better just keep my mouth shut.” We treat it like an insurance policy - if I’m not critical of someone else, God won’t be critical of me. In more popular terms it’s the “I’m ok - you’re ok” philosophy. Even some relativists will quote this scripture to try to lull us into thinking that Jesus is okay with -you do what you think is okay, and we’ll do the same and leave each other alone.
Really is that what Jesus is saying?
No – that’s what happens when people take select passages out of context. Let’s look at the Gospel scene where the woman was caught in adultery. Jesus calls out those with stones in their hands who were ready to hurl them at her because they were incredibly self-righteous, not to mention violent, and unjust in not holding the guy the woman was found with accountable. After Jesus levels them with “let the one without sin throw the first stone” they leave. But Jesus doesn’t excuse the woman’s sin. He’s quick to gently, lovingly forgive her and tells her to “go and sin no more.” That part gets left out by some who want to inhibit us Christians from confronting sin in the world.
That Gospel is a great illustration of what Jesus’ is getting at in today’s passage and what his expectations are in confronting evil, dealing with sin. We’re not to be walking around, patrolling the world with our catechism and bibles ready to hand out summons or tickets to people who’ve violated something. It all about our hearts, our intentions. We have to be pursuing holiness in our own lives first. Just going back to today’s passage – do we really think Jesus is okay with us walking around with wooden beams in our eyes? That’s why that example works so well - it’s not good for any of us to have beams or specks obscuring our vision of Him...
Which is the point – that you and I need to be dealing with our sins all the time. When on a daily basis we realize how we fall short. When we on a daily basis are thankful for God’s generous gifts of Mercy and Love and make use of those gifts in the Eucharist, in prayer, and in confession – that is what removes the beam from our eyes. That removes the judgmental and sometimes arrogant approaches we can have towards others who are struggling. That is what gives us peace, joy, freedom – because we are living in a loving relationship with Jesus. That is what attracts someone to see and notice there’s something different about how we’re living and then want it too.
Think of it like this: when you’re really great in soccer and someone sees you playing like that and wants to be like that, they start to follow you, ask you what makes you so good at that, and how they can play better as well – asking you to help them see their mistakes and deal with what’s preventing them from being better at soccer.
The men here who went on that prayer vigil weren’t claiming to be perfect in holiness, or trying to embarrass patrons or owners (if there’s nothing sinful about it, then there wouldn’t be any embarrassment, right?) Instead they gently brought their prayerful presence into an area that is so devoid of it, in a non-accusatory, gentle way – hopefully opening the hearts of those suffering from the effects of that sin to have Hope that they too can experience freedom from it and begin to desire it.
May each of us continue to engage the difficult work of removing all of the various wooden planks in our eyes not just for our salvation, but with the hope that others will engage the struggle and experience the new vision and sight that comes when each of us does the same
SERENITY NOW !!!- Anyone who’s a Seinfeld fan, probably recognizes that phrase from a classic episode of the legendary TV sit-com. Jerry Seinfeld’s friend George Costanza is in the car with his parents, Frank and Estelle. And it’s a typical ride around town for them. They go from annoying one another, to bickering, to shouting. With one difference on this go round. Frank is in the middle of launching into a rant on Estelle when he cuts himself off and shouts “SERENITY NOW - SERENITY NOW” George is confused and asks him “Serenity now? What’s that?” And Frank answers “The Doctor gave me a relaxation cassette. When my blood pressure gets too high, the man on the tape tells me to say, 'Serenity now!' George asks him “Are you supposed to yell it?” To which Mr Costanza replies - “The man on the tape wasn't specific.”
Before you know it, other characters join in. And throughout the episode you see as much as they try to use the phrase... as much as they want “serenity now” as the various things of life continue to annoy them - from a screen door blowing off the front porch, to being unable to open a bag of Potato Chips, none of them seems to be experiencing any peace. They find that it doesn’t magically make things better simply saying (or screaming) that phrase. Towards the end of the episode, George and a nemesis from High School named Lloyd Braun, discuss the self-help relaxation tapes. Lloyd says to George: You know, you should tell your dad that 'serenity now' thing doesn't work. It just bottles up the anger, and eventually, you blow. George suddenly defensive to his father and the tapes says: What do you know? You were in the nut house. Lloyd responds : What do you think put me there? George says I heard they found a family in your freezer. To which Lloyd issues the quote of the episode: Serenity now. Insanity later.
The whole episode is based on a real-life experience of one of the writers who’s father tried that relaxation technique (to similar, unsuccessful results) As much as some of these techniques, methods, self-help programs can be somewhat useful... they can help some people calm down or change their attitude... The fact that there’s still an ever-growing industry trying to help people find peace, find resolution, find serenity, would seem to point to the fact that there’s yet to be a quick answer, or an easy fix- solution.
Because when we’re faced with stresses, trials, struggles in life - just shouting “SERENITY NOW” isn’t going to magically erase those problems away. You find out someone’s dropping from your support team... Your assignment to a campus wasn’t what you were expecting... Your loved one is sick... A friend betrays you...or has been saying just plain untrue stuff about you... Your family life is just a mess - shouting SERENITY NOW might be a release for a second, but doesn’t really change anything about those realities you’re dealing with.
In the Gospel, we hear of similar terrible things that people face and Jesus’ solutions to them. People being hit in the face... getting robbed... enemies persecuting others. And upon first listen, the advice Jesus gives seems about as useful as “that man on Frank Costanza’s tape.” Turn the other cheek... don’t offer any resistance , give your cloak as well... love those who hate and persecute you. It all seems insulting to our sensibilities. At the very minimum we demand justice. If someone comes in and steals your ipad... Someone decides they just don’t like you and they come up and punch you in the stomach - we’re suppose to stop, go give them our Television set, offer our face to get punched and smile thinking we’re being faithful to Jesus?
Jesus is pretty single minded in his focus. You see, he’s not so interested in the fact that we as humans can become attached to things that can be broken as easily as stolen (and replaced). He’s not interested in us getting in the last word (and being proven right - or at least putting whoever opposes us in their place) He knows that as His Father’s most prized possession - you and I are God’s most prized, precious creation – how bruised and wounded we are through the evil done by others and that our anger, our thirst not just for justice but retribution can easily turn a loving heart into something quite different. That’s what it means when it is said that - Jesus has come to save us - he’s come to save us from Sin and Death... He’s come to save us from the evil that is done to us. He’s come to save us from the evil that we can become as well.
Because the reality is that potential is all too real for each and everyone of us. The hurts and pains we’ve endured at the hands of others... The anger over the lack of justice whether it’s on some global scale or things happening right in our own lives that could all be legitimate things to be angry about - all of that can change us. And by giving into those feelings, feeding and nursing those hurts - we can easily become what we hate... we allow the thing that has hurt us and inflicted pain on us to be the thing we go to as a source of justice.
(The Devil is really sick in his manipulation of things, isn’t he?)
Jesus isn’t simply spouting off trite sayings for us to follow when we are faced with trials and struggles. He’s giving us a preview of how He himself will deal with it. How he will endure beatings, how his clothes will be stripped of him and gambled away, how as he lay dying on the cross he will pray “Father forgive them...” The reality was, Jesus showed that there was nothing, nothing that the darkest, evilest of hearts could perpetrate on him that he would not endure - that those things would not conquer his Sacred Loving Heart. Knowing that by withholding even the slightest of remarks, resisting staging the meekest of defenses in an arena of such cruelty and injustice would thousands and thousands of years later still convict the hearts of us, his followers. We still marvel at that strength displayed in such seeming weakness. We are at a loss to comprehend the most bloodless response ever mounted to such an attack. We cannot deny how it unveiled the greatest victory that has ever taken place in human history in Jesus rising from the dead, destroying death forever.
That doesn’t mean we’re to be punching bags to the abuse of others. Allowing an abusive husband to continue unabated as we “turn the other cheek” - pointing out to a robber ransacking our homes “don’t forget the laptop in my office” all of that would simply enable our brothers and sisters who are doing these terrible things to continue unchecked, unapologetic - and further endangering their souls. Protecting ourselves, our loved ones - and loving the other to call light to the ways of darkness they’ve embraced isn’t violating what Jesus is saying here. At the core though, Jesus is sensitive to the fact that our longing for “justice” can easily blind us into rage and anger which makes these bad situations worse.
Here is my homily for the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (Corpus Christi) - The readings can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/061012.cfm Thanks for reading and your feedback! God Bless
It’s hard to know when the shift happened when reality TV went from a documentary type of thing (like COPS) where you get a window into another person’s life to the twisted genre that it has become. But one example that really signaled a major warning alert was from a few years ago. And were it not for the students I work with at Montclair State University, I would have never even heard of it. It was called “Jon and Kate plus 8" - a show that followed a Pennsylvania couple as they go about raising twins and sextuplets.
It was a pretty popular show - despite my blissful ignorance of it. There was over 100 episodes before it became even more popular as well as becoming front-page news. Jon and Kate supposedly, allegedly, possibly had been unfaithful to each other. So the normal fan base or regular television audience of about 5 million doubled with this year’s season premiere. One columnist observed (in the Star Ledger – Leonard Pitts, 6/11/09 “So Many Lives Falling Apart. Now that’s entertainment!”):
“The premise was that viewers would follow the Pennsylvania couple’s adventures in parenting... but apparently, 100 episodes later, viewer interest has been shifted by the fact – and I only know what I read – Kate is a nagging harpy and they’ve both maybe been unfaithful. Now people are parsing episodes as they once parsed diplomatic communiques from Cold War summits, looking for clues to the state of their union in body language and offhand remarks. Two lives are falling apart for your amusement.”
This columnist pointed out numerous other examples of what falls under the category of “Pop culture” - what if you have a question about paternity? Tune into Maury! Gambling Addiction, well, Dr. Phil is up at 4:00. If you’re toddler goes missing, the second call is to the publicist. He concludes by saying, “We watch this family’s tragedy as if it were baseball ... but there is something deeply...debasing.... that touches both the watchers and the watched. It 'changes' us."
That line struck me: How we’ve grown accustomed to watching “lives falling apart for our amusement.” It seems we’ve crossed a truly sad line, doesn’t it? It was one thing to watch a soap opera or a drama on television. Even Law and Order had shows that were “ripped from the headlines.” But here we are tuning in each week as we pry into people’s brokenness. And the observation that this changes us is a troubling, yet true reflection. Some fans of Jon and Kate seemed more upset that characters in a drama they enjoyed have acted “out of character.” Some seemed more concerned about the future of the show than the future of this family. Sure, they are complete strangers to most of us, but the tremendous lack of concern or empathy that we justify with, “Well, they put themselves on the air, in the public spotlight,” seems to give voice to a tremendous lack of love.
What is it that we are feeding on? What is this consumption doing to us?
After filling up on this type (and countless other examples) of “junk food", we come together on a special feast - the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. A celebration the Church has where we are invited to focus on what our God does for us. That God has kept his promise - that he would never leave us. And not as some observer out in a distant heaven. Jesus gives us His Body and His Blood - He tells us to “take it” - to feast on Him. To consume Him. And if we do this, worthily, He will consume us. Jesus will become intimately united with us as we share Him.
Is He really present in that consecrated bread and wine? Catholics are asked that all the time in polls and surveys, by friends who aren’t Catholic. And rather than be afraid of that - perhaps that’s a question we need to really reflect on for ourselves. If we don’t believe or have trouble believing or are struggling to believe - then why is that?
It’s not that the priest is celebrating Mass wrong. It’s not that the Church has messed up. For 2,000 years - the Church has gathered professing the same belief that Jesus gave those disciples in that upper room that night of the Last Supper. So if as I’m coming forward to receive Jesus, what is my doubt saying to me? What is that question that’s lingering in my head? What makes this that I receive seem unreal to me, as opposed to the things I receive and perceive more easily as “real”?
Can God make this bread and wine Jesus’ Body and Blood through His Holy Spirit moving through the Church, through the priest? Can we move beyond our selfish ways? Can we bring healing to people’s hurts? Can we bring justice and hope to those who are victimized and abused? Can we bring life to a culture of death? The Church has professed and witnessed an emphatic Yes to those questions. Yet, at the same time, each of us has to live that Yes we profess in our own hearts, our own souls, our own lives.
St. Augustine preached thousands of years ago, “Through the bread and wine, the Lord gives us His body and blood. If you receive them well, you are that which you receive; you become what your receive; you become what you eat.”
In short - this consumption has the ability to change us, too. Not for our amusement, but to bring God’s very life and love to a broken world.
A couple of years ago there was extensive stories done and interest in a convenience story attempted robbery. A masked man walked into the Long Island store, pulled a bat on the owner and demanded that he empty the cash register as he attempted to rob the store. The store owner, in turn, pulled out a rifle, at which point rather than attempting to run and flee, the would be robber collapsed to his knees, started crying and begged forgiveness.
The owner said that as the robber was crying like a baby, he explained that he was out of work, and that the reason he was doing this was that he needed food for his family; he was sorry and begged the man not to call the police. So, the owner put his rifle down, gave him $40 and some groceries, as the man promised never to do this again. The robber, so stunned by this act of compassion, asked the owner why he was being so kind, and the owner spoke briefly of his devout faith in God that called him to do so. The robber so touched by this prayed with the store owner shook hands, and the man disappeared.
You have to wonder if the fact that this happened in New York made it even more seemingly unbelievable to the point that it made international headlines. All too often we’ve heard of similar circumstances that occur with varied results – a gunman comes in to rob a place, the store owner is justifiably scared and outraged at the same time. He can get robbed, call the police, hope that his insurance will cover his losses... He can fight back and take a chance at risking his life... To hear this story – that the owner would risk his life in confronting the robber and then instantly forgive the man and restore his dignity (while never losing his own) - well, we know that’s the stuff of great works of literature like Les Miserables, but in real life? We almost can’t believe that someone actually would do that.
The store owner, responding to all the attention ,very humbly said 'I'm a very little man. I just did a good job, I have a good feeling in my heart.” It’s amazing - here’s a situation that could go so wrong in so many ways, and yet, somehow, the store owner is able to reflect God’s love and compassion - changing both men’s lives, and, no doubt, countless many others who heard it.
A question that comes to mind is How do we reflect our relationship with God? One way we do that is by knowing Who our God is.
Today we celebrate the “Holy Trinity” - That one God is three persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There’ s a natural tendency for us to get hung up on the “How.” And quite simply, that puts us on the “dead end” (at least in this life) of “it’s a mystery.” Something we simply can’t fully understand. But this feast is really meant not to focus on the How but rather “WHO.” We’re gifted that our All powerful, All loving, All knowing God reveals His secret to us – WHO He is.
That’s what we hear in these beautiful readings today. In that first reading, you can almost imagine Moses kind of just taking all of these amazing things that have happened to him and his fellow Jews and he saying - 'Do we realize what’s going on here? We have a God who is pursuing us, who is reaching out to us, who is engaging us. Our God speaks to us. He has his strong hand and outstretched arm leading us - we have to LISTEN to Him, we have to keep his commandments.'
St. Paul follows that up in the Second Reading by saying that the Father sending His Son Jesus to us was a game changer. God wishes to deepen the relationship so that we aren’t simply creatures of the creator - Jesus has made us Children of God, we are God’s sons and daughters. That’s why we hear this Gospel where Jesus at His Ascension says to his disciples - look, “All power on heaven and earth has been given to me” (anyone who rises from the dead pretty much has evidence to support this statement). And he offers that to us. He says that we too can enter into this eternal, loving family of God by being baptized into the Trinity. The Holy Spirit enters into our hearts, our lives, draws us to Jesus the Son, who draws us to God the Father.
God has revealed this to us not to give us a riddle to try to solve or to make us enter into some mental gymnastics as we simply try to contemplate how He is - but rather that we would allow Who he is to enter into our lives. For that store owner at the end of a long day, all he expected was to clean up and close up shop. In a flash, everything changed, and yet, he was still able to experience God’s presence in his life and in the life of this man before him.
Hopefully we won’t encounter such a dramatic experience to challenge us and our faith. But in our day to day life, there’s always that opportunity for us to see Gods presence in our lives and in the lives of all those around us. May we who profess that God is by his very nature this loving, eternal relationship - reflect that reality to others in our living and our sharing of our faith.