GOD UNDERSTANDS (In Irish and Italian...)

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 22, 2012.  The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072212.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading and your feedback and comments.  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

    A good friend of mine who’s a priest, and is 100% Irish, we’ve learned a lot from one another about each other’s culture.  And we’ve observed that the phrase – “GOD UNDERSTANDS” means different things to Irish people than it does to Italians.  He says that when an Irish person says that, they say it, but there’s a part of them that’s not really sure... or isn’t completely convinced when they say that.    For us Italians, I’ve seen and heard relatives and friends say that and they use it extremely loosely and freely - they stake everything on it.  In some ways, it’s a religious take on some ethnic stereotypes.  The Irish have often been characterized as being guilt ridden while Italians, maybe Mom or Dad can make them feel guilt (when Grandma or Grandpa play the card - you can see how they are experts!) - but in many ways, they are characterized as a little more free-wheeling in a lot of things.  Much more relaxed.

    Two sets of friends from a parish I was assigned to kind of illustrated the example:   Family 1 was going on vacation - I’ll call them the McReilly’s, they were looking up online to find the local parish near the vacation spot so they could go to Mass that Sunday.  They saw the schedule, planned to make the 1:00 Mass, and arrived at 12:45.  Only when they arrived at 12:45, they found the Mass Schedule had been changed (and the website hadn’t been updated) and they had missed the last Mass of the day.  Mrs. McReilly said to her husband - well, God understands - we tried to make it - we did all that we could to be here today.  And he nodded in agreement, while being disappointed and frustrated... His two teenage children were a little less disappointed by the turn of events, but anyway....  So they left the church to go and have lunch, and do some sightseeing.  Mrs. McReilly was saying at Lunch they had just finished ordering and she was distracted by something with the kids, when she notices her husband was on his iPhone, looking up local Catholic churches in the area to see if there was any place in the 30 mile radius that had an evening Mass.

    Family 2 -we will call them the Bacciagaloop Family, they go on Vacation, going to Mass isn’t even on their radar screens - because, as they explained it “We go every week - we’re on Vacation - God Understands.”

    There was something about these two, true anecdotes, that came to mind when I was praying with this Sunday’s scriptures that I think we can reflect on.  In this Gospel, we have Jesus looking at his apostles returning from a successful time ministering.  Jesus says to them “come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”  Isn’t that incredibly comforting?  To hear Jesus wanting to care for us, how he wants us to rest, how he wants us not to work non-stop, 24/7...

    But it’s funny, we have a tendency to take that thought to another level.  We can use that in a sense to give ourselves license to do whatever we want.  And so my friends the Bacciagaloops for example say “what’s the big deal, for missing one Sunday Mass.  God Understands!  What, should we be as obsessive and anal as the McReilly’s trying to GPS their way to the next parish and not even enjoy their time away?”  Hearing today’s Gospel, they probably would use that to elaborate their point “even Jesus told them to relax - to take it easy - we work hard!”

    (Because I’m Italian, I can anticipate such comments)

    And it’s funny because there’s a point to that.  I think my friends the McReilly’s had done all that was ever imagined or expected of them to attend Mass and (because I know Mr McReilly) part of this was more about his anal- OCD-ness kicking in.

    But the thing is I think that both families, who are both good Catholic people seem to be missing something.  And all of us can miss something in reading these things into them and trying to simplify it too much or tailor it to our needs.

    Jesus invites the apostles to come away with Him.  To rest in Him.  To be rejuvenated in Him.   And so often we have this approach to Sunday Mass or to prayer or to anything with our faith lives as something we have to do.  Another responsibility, yes, an obligation.  And because everyone is working so hard all week - Parents, kids, all seem to be running from one obligation to the next and then trying to cart everyone together on time for Mass - it’s understandable that we can start to treat Mass as simply a habit where we look at this obligation as something we do to “appease God” or what people like to jokingly refer to as alleviating our Catholic guilt (which seems to wane more and more each day – not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing)

    Yet, coming together as a community - (no, you know what, I don’t like that term) - as God’s Family - as we pull out of the world to this special place to celebrate the Eucharist, it’s meant to be our time of refreshment, of renewal.   To come to Jesus after life has taken us in varied and different directions - to share our joys of seeing how present and active God’s life has been in our life.  To share our struggles, our burdens - how we keep trying to do the right thing each day - how we keep trying to avoid that temptation or sin... And in all of that to listen to His loving, gentle, challenging voice.  To be nourished by the most intimate gift he could give us, His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  To be strengthened in our connectedness with Jesus so that when we go out into the world again, we can face all that it is we need to face - but renewed in our faith that he is with us through it all. 

    Because the reality is - yes, God understands.  God Understands how tired, how burdened, how weary we can be... God understands - how desperately we need to slow down, take time, to rest, to be with one another.   God understands perfectly who we are and all that we need.  The question is do we understand how much we need Him?

JESUS WANTS YOU

Hi everyone, here is my homily for JULY 15, 2012 the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/071512.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading and all your feedback!

God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    Of all the things I read during preparation for the priesthood, there was one article that was one of the most effective things we were given that I’ve reflected on over the last 13 years over and over again.  It was written by a Jesuit priest named Fr. Michael Buckley, and he observes that Americans have a tendency, which actually makes good common sense, to suggest careers, livelihoods for people by looking at a person’s strengths and trying to match them up to something that they would be successful at.  So for example, Jane is an excellent public speaker, she has natural leadership abilities, she is effective in debates - Jane would make an excellent lawyer.  Or Michael is very athletic, always defends someone who is being attacked, enjoys helping his community - Mike might make a great cop.  Seems obvious enough - not really earth shattering observations.

    Fr. Buckley points out that there is a “tendency to transfer this method of
evaluation to the priesthood... Because a man is religiously serious, prayerful, socially adept, intellectually perceptive; possesses interior integrity, sound common sense, and habits of hard work -- therefore he will make a fine priest.”  Fr. Buckley very bluntly said –  I think that [if we were to transfer this method of evaluation to the priesthood it would be ] disastrous.

    It kind of threw me reading that.  And if I thought that confused me, the next line really hit me between the eyes - which is why this one article has stayed with me ever since - He said the question that should be asked instead Is this man weak enough to be a priest? Is this man deficient enough so that he cannot ward off significant suffering from his life, so that he lives with a certain amount of failure, so that he feels what it is to be an average man? Is there any history of confusion, of self-doubt, of interior anguish?  Has he had to deal with fear, come to terms with frustrations, or accept deflated expectations? These are critical questions and they probe for weakness.  His point is that when a priest is in touch with his weakness he realizes that the ministry is not his because of some merit on the priest’s part or that he is better than anyone else.  Being in touch with their weakness, the priest is forever aware that truly doing all of these ministerial things are way beyond him.  For some reason, known to God alone, Jesus Christ has called and chosen this man to be the means that God’s love will be shared and taught through these very humble, meek means.

    This has always been a very personal meditation that like I said, I’ve gone back to many times over the last 13 years.  But in reading these readings today, I also thought how much they can apply to all of us as well, who by our very baptisms have been called as well - called to serve, called to be prophets and teachers, called to bring Jesus’ love, called to bear witness to Christ’s life in the world outside the doors of this Church.  Because so often we think - it can’t be me.  There’s someone else who’s job that is.  Someone else is holier than I am, or can argue better or is stronger in the faith than me..  Let someone else do it... Yet, God consistently calls very ordinary people to be the messengers and presence of his extraordinary Loving presence calling out to the world:

    The first reading we heard about this guy by the name of Amos.  Amos has been called by God to be a prophet.  He’s been speaking words to the people pointing out (very similar to what we are experiencing today)  that the authority of God and His Word weren’t being appreciated.  In fact, the temple priest who he’s speaking with in that first reading today is more focused on the ruler of the earthly kingdom than God.  So the temple priest basically doesn’t want to hear Amos pointing out the error of his ways and tells him – GO AWAY!!!  (Just like today, some people don’t like to hear the truth!)  And Amos very simply says - Look buddy, don’t shoot the messenger (well he didn’t say it like that) - but he says - Look I was a shepherd, I was doing my earthly jobs and stuff - God told me to tell you - you’re not doing what you’re suppose to be doing.  How incredible that this simple shepherd goes to “the religious authority” and calls him out.  God is using this humble man to preach words of humility to try to re-awaken in the people that the more they rely on themselves and focus on themselves and LOVE themselves, the more doomed to failure they are. 

    In the Gospel, it’s a little less obvious if we’re not familiar with the disciples and their lives.  But if you study they, you learn how these are very ordinary men - fishermen by trade, some were extremely young, some weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed.  Jesus says to them: go and preach, and heal and drive out demons, and cure, and anoint – Lead the people who are struggling in a world of darkness and let them know - there’s a light calling out to them.   The thought that the call to salvation, the call to eternal life, the call to an abundant life now was done through these very weak, deficient vessels is awesome when we think about it.

    For us as Catholics, we have a tendency to be very good and faithful people, but somewhat passive in sharing that faith.  And I include myself in that too.  I know there’s opportunities I have on a daily basis to be a witness and presence of God to someone else that because of my stupidity or sinfulness I miss.  Or, there are times I back down thinking - I really can’t confront that issue.  They’re talking about gay marriage? - I don’t want to get into that...  Let someone else do it.  I got a call from a friend the other day who wanted to share a story of clergy abuse they had just read - I still haven’t called them back.  What will I say?

    And the point is it shouldn’t be about what I will say or what I want to talk about.  It’s about realizing that as an ordinary person, I’m called to bear witness to the truth - the best that I can.  When Jesus sent the disciples he tells them - I’M SENDING YOU - DON’T BRING ANYTHING WITH YOU - (in other words, don’t try to plan the whole thing out) PREACH MY WORD (don’t try to convince people or fight them, just share my word which you have embraced with others) AND IF THEY WELCOME YOU, GREAT - IF NOT, LEAVE THERE AND GO ON. 

    Amos and the disciples are meant to inspire us that we are meant to be prophets and missionaries to a world that is more obsessed with the death of Tom Cruise and Kate Hudson’s marriage than the cultural wars that kill people physically, spiritually and emotionally every day.  God’s challenging us today - asking us to look at all of the thoughts and doubts we have in our minds and hearts about our abilities to witness to His Love, His Presence, His Action in the world.  Recognize how often we use those things as excuses not to bear witness to God’s truth and the beauty of our Catholic-Christian faith.  If instead we embrace those weaknesses, and trust that God has called each of us to speak His word and to share His love we will find it was never about us - it is all about Him. 
   

RUNNING - WITHOUT LEGS

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - July 8, 2012.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/070812.cfm  As always, thanks for reading and your comments and feedback.  God Bless -  Fr. Jim

HOMILY

    We’re about 20 days away from the 2012 Summer Olympics.   Most people know that, whether they’re into the games or not.  It’s hard not to with Television commercials running non stop, the Olympic symbol appearing all over the place, the music (DUM, DAHHH DAH DUM DAH DUM DUM).  Stories and articles with names and faces we know, but maybe haven’t heard about in 4 years re-emerging (like Michael Phelps for example)

    Whether you’re an avid sports fan or not, one of the things that catches people’s attention about the Olympics is hearing and seeing so many inspirational stories.  One that stood out – way before the opening ceremonies this past week that simply had to deal with a man who qualified to compete in this year’s games.

    His name is Oscar Pistorius.  His sport is running.  He’s an Iraqi war veteran.  What makes his story so unique, so inspirational is that this Olympic Athlete is a double amputee who lost both of his legs 25 years ago when he was 11 years old.  He was born with a condition that left him without both fibulas (the bone that runs from the knee to the ankle).  The doctors outfitted him with these prosthetic legs.  And for 25 years he’s thrived with these prosthetics.  Oscar wasn’t deemed eligible out of pity or out of a desire for a feel good story leading into the Olympics.  He’s a serious contender, considered to have a real shot at the Gold Medal in the 400 and 1600 meter races.

    Just seeing pictures of the guy, standing on the race track with these limbs made out of carbon-fiber was amazing.   Because we’re not used to seeing, hearing people thriving despite these obstacles.   To see someone being “made  strong” in their weakness.  In our world, weaknesses are to be eliminated, ignored.    You have to wonder how many parents learning that there child would be born with this condition would’ve been counseled to abort him (that’s not meant to be overly dramatic - it’s a legitimate question  considering the number of parents I’ve met who were given less serious predictions about their children – which often times never came to pass by the way – and were counseled to do so)   Or How many people suffering from a “disability” such as this would’ve simply accepted that their lives were now limited, diminished from what others were able to do?

    Yet Oscar runs.  He didn’t accept the limitation of not having fully developed, functioning limbs.  He had to think outside the box.  He had to allow his world to be stretched in ways that probably few could ever have imagined.  He had to find Faith, and to believe there was something more than these limits were telling him about Himself and his life.  And so Oscar runs.

    How sad to see the complete opposite in today’s Gospel reading.  Here Jesus was returning to his home town.  He’s speaking in ways that were catching people’s attention.  They’re witnessing amazing miracles taking place.  They’re hearing a teaching that’s new to them.  And what happens?  They immediately start to dismiss it.  They limit  God - limiting Jesus Christ.  And perhaps not even realizing how in the process they were limiting themselves as well.  

    Because they argue - this guy Jesus - we know him.  He’s Joseph and Mary’s kid - the carepnter.  His family is here (by the way, the brothers and sisters that are mentioned here by St. Mark, were not his blood siblings.  There wasn’t a word to identify that these were what we would consider cousins of Jesus)   They simply see Jesus as a fellow citizen of Nazareth.  So when we think about it, when they reject him, they are also saying - that God could not do something amazing in their own town, in their own corner of the world – or even in their own lives. 

    How many of us feel the same way about ourselves?  Tell ourselves similar lies about ourselves?  Thinking the ideas of being a holy person, a saint; someone that God could use to change the world – that’s not possible for people like ourselves.  We’re too this or that  - as we rattle off our lists of inadequacies, our failures, our sins. 

    Which is why the second reading is so perfect to hear today with the Gospel.  In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we hear some of the most comforting and encouraging words that the Lord spoke to St Paul and that he speaks to us.  Yes we are weak.  Yes we are sinful.  Yes we have things that inhibit and limit and hold us back from being the sons and daughters the Lord calls us to be. 

But when we start to believe that the Lord has called us to greatness. 
   
That he desires us to be fulfilled people. 
   
That we don’t have to remain in the limited spaces or places we find ourselves in or confine ourselves to and trust the Lord, then we too hear the words of the Lord are spoken anew to us -My grace is sufficient for you... power is made perfect in weakness.

    God is constantly trying to break through the formidable shells we build around our hearts that keep him at a distance.  That limit us from seeing the power, the potential of what can be in our own corners of the world, in our own lives if we truly were to let Jesus in and to be who He says He is. 

    Oscar Pistorius as he prepares for his Olympic competition is already a member of an extremely elite group of people - surpassing what great majorities of so called able bodied individuals will never have the opportunity to do.  But rather than challenging ourselves to go out for a 20 mile run today, perhaps we can use his example to look interiorly at our own faith lives.   Will we be like the citizens of Nazareth who missed the opportunities to have their town, their world, their lives transformed by Jesus Christ or will we do what the Saints have done for thousands of years.  Knowing that the Lord, despite our imagined or legitimate deficiencies  is calling us to do amazing things, and that if we let Him, He will supply the legs or whatever else it is we need to run the race and win that eternal prize.

MAHWAH TRAGEDY & THE WORD OF GOD

As some of you may know, I just returned from Illinois Friday evening after serving as a chaplain for three weeks at FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University students) Summer Training.  When I returned home, I found out that in Mahwah NJ, (where the parish I help out on the weekend is located) there was a horrific tragedy (http://www.nj.com/bergen/index.ssf/2012/06/elderly_couple_dead_in_mahwah_murder-suicide.html) So today’s homily is directed towards this community.

The readings for today’s Mass for July 1, 2012 - 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/070112.cfm

Please keep this community and especially this couple’s family in your prayers.  God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    Late Friday night, listening to 1010 WINS as I was brushing my teeth, I was stunned when I heard about the tragedy that took place here in Mahwah Friday morning.  Being in the NY metro area, I suppose even though it’s not a common occurrence, we’re not surprised to hear about a“murder-suicide” on the news.  But to hear that such a thing took place here in this quiet, peaceful town, 45 minutes (and seemingly a world away) from the harsher realities of the City shocked me, so I can only imagine what many of you who are residents here are thinking.

    No doubt many are looking for answers or simply trying to make some sense of things.  At times like this, it’s amazing to realize how our Scriptures demonstrate that they are the living word of God.  By providence - listen again to those first words from the First Reading from the book of Wisdom: God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being... he formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature.  The wisdom writer points out that it is through the “envy of the devil” that death, that sin, that evil entered into this creation that God had particular plans, hopes and dreams for. 

    That’s probably not very comforting, but it’s an important first point to remind ourselves of.  It’s very easy for us to let the range of emotions people are experiencing to disturb us and trying to answer the question “how did this happen” to eventually isolate us from God.  When we’re dealing with such a violent tragedy, our own humanity looks for logic where there is none.  And our faith is tested to wonder, where is God in this?

    Which is why the Gospel for today is so appropriate as well.  We read of two of Jesus’ miracles  - the first where Jarius, a synagogue figure who’s daughter is gravely ill and then this woman who has been suffering hemorrhages for 12 years.  And in both cases, amazing, radical, unprecedented healings take place. 

    These miracles stories aren’t about Jesus demonstrating how amazing he is - what feats he can accomplish.  They reveal something essential about who He is.  They answer where is God.   Because what we see in today’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t hesitate to wade into the messiness  the difficulty, the struggle, the sometimes absurdity of life.  Jesus notices the pain of the woman suffering the hemorrhages.  He hears the cries of a father for his daughter.  And through Him, people experience relief, people are restored.

    But an important thing for us to recognize here is that these healings didn’t erase all the pain, the trial and struggle that preceded it.  It’s not like these people were transported to a time machine where the little girl had never been sick, the father had never been filled with intense anxiety and fear, or this woman hadn’t  suffered for 12 years.   The reality is some terrible, awful  things happened to innocent people.  Which is why we always have the crucifix - not an empty cross, above our altar.  We know Jesus is risen from the dead and we receive Him in the Eucharist from this altar - but we never forget what preceded this miraculous gift.  That Jesus himself  suffered and died for us.  We don’t simply have a God who enters into our messiness - We have a God who knows how illogical, how unfathomable, how incomprehensible evil wreck lives because He experienced it as well. 

    These miraculous healings were just one hope filled sign of what was (and is) to come.  Jesus demonstrates the wholeness, the fullness of life the Lord desires all of humanity to experience as he performs these miracles.  These restorations were so dramatic, so unprecedented that 2,000 years later they are remembered and treasured. 

    As the living word of God, Jesus still desires to bring wholeness and fullness of life and healing.  And today He wishes to do that to the pain of this community, of this poor family dealing with such a horrific tragedy.  Now more than ever, we as members of this community are challenged to bring His saving message and presence to life.  Which happens when we truly open our hearts to Him, knowing that He who suffered such a painful death at the hands of the evil of the world and was restored to life in His resurrection has promised to be here among us until the end of time.  That He does desire to bring healing and restoration and will use us to do that if we allow Him too.  That He will be attentive to the cries of those who call out to Him.  That He will restore us, if we but listen to his words of invitation he shares in today’s Gospel -  to “not be afraid- only have faith.”