WHO ARE WE LISTENING TO?

Hi everyone here’s my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT - February 24, 2013.  The readings can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/022413.cfm .  As always I appreciate your reading, your comments and feedback and your sharing the links on facebook and twitter...  God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    There once was a Native American boy who, at the age of 16, as was the custom of his tribe, sent out into the wilderness - alone for 30 days.  Throughout those 30 days, the young man would have to take care of himself, make his own shelter, find his own food, defend himself against wild animals . . . After the thirty days were completed, the men of the tribe would search for the boy out and then “initiate him” as an adult into their community after he had proven himself in such a way. So, this one young boy set out.  And for a few days, things were fine . . . Plenty of food, no wild animals, he found suitable, safe shelter each night.  Around a week into it, though, he was having difficulty finding food . . . as a day or two turned into three or four, he grew more and more frightened, more and more anxious. Thoughts of starving, as his stomach was grumbling more and more with each passing minute, made the boy search more frantically. By the fifth day without eating, he looked up and saw a mountain in the distance. He thought, “If I wander up that way, up the mountain, maybe there will be some food.” So he went off in that direction, started climbing the mountain, and as he did so, he found a path that seemed to lead towards the top of the mountain, so he started to follow that. After  a few hours of following that path, moving more and more upwards, his stomach continued to growl in hunger, he was exhausted, but he kept trying, stumbling around the top of the mountain.

    Suddenly a rattle snake came across the path in front of the young boy. Terrified, he stopped dead in his tracks as he looked at the snake and the snake looked at the boy. All of a sudden the snake started to speak to the boy. He said “Boy - I’m lost up here in the mountains, you’re the first person I’ve seen here in a long time so I know you can help me . . . show me the way down the mountain.” The boy said “No way - I know you’re a rattle snake . . . I know what you can do to me.  Any moment you can strike me, you can bite me, you can kill me.” The snake said “You look tired, you look hungry.” and the Boy answered - “I am, I’m exhausted, I’m starving.” And the snake said to him - “Listen to me - if you would just pick me up, bring me down the mountain, I know where there’s great abundance of amazing food that I can give you.” “But you’re a rattle snake, I know what you can do to me.” The snake responded, “Listen to me, I promise you I’ll lead you to food - I promise you I won’t hurt you.” The boy thought for a moment, and said to the snake, “You promise?” The snake said, “I promise.” So the boy took the snake all the way down to the bottom of the mountain. And when they got to the bottom of the mountain the snake led him to an amazing, abundant supply of food. The boy ate and ate and ate . . . He was so overjoyed and excited.  And the snake saw how happy the boy was, and started to dance and the boy danced . . .  and the snake and the boy were eating and drinking and dancing more and more and it was just glorious after such a hard week for the boy. All of a sudden the snake struck him. He bit down hard on the boy. And the boy screamed, wreathing in pain and fell to the ground. The snake slithered over to the boy and the boy, crying, said to the snake “You Promised . . . You Promised you wouldn’t hurt me.” And the snake answered, “You knew what I was when you chose to listen to me…”

    As we’re entering this second week of Lent, this time of repentance, this time of renewal, we’re confronted with the question - what are the things that we’ve allowed into our lives, people that we’re listening to that influence who we are, what we do, what we think . . . “rattle snakes’  that we listen to, that we know at any moment can strike us . . . things that are leading us into places that we know aren’t right . . .  that can – that do hurt us, and hurt others around us?

    This is why, in this early part of Lent, we hear of another story from another mountain top.   This amazing experience of Jesus being transfigured in the sight of three of his closest disciples, Peter, James and John. And what an experience it must’ve been. Jesus’ appearance is transformed.  Moses and Elijah appear, and are speaking to Jesus. While the gospel says they were at first fearful (which is understandable) almost instantly that fear gives way to ecstasy.  They are blown away by what they are experiencing . . . what they are privileged to witness and be a part of. Peter gets so excited he doesn’t ever want to leave.

    Why would he? Now that Peter’s seen a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, a sign, an affirmation of what their hearts had been telling them was true . . . the faith that they were still coming to appreciate and understand, he doesn’t ever want to leave this revelation. But Jesus has work to fulfill, a mission to accomplish. He needs to go to Jerusalem to defeat evil once and for all on the Cross. The Voice of God the Father is heard and speaks to Peter, to John, to James . . . and to you and I.  If we want to experience that victory ourselves, if we want to defeat the evil one in our own lives, The Voice of God says of Jesus Christ, “THIS IS MY CHOSEN SON. LISTEN TO HIM.”

     “Listen to Him.” Three words - sounds so simple. Yet for Peter, he would very quickly discover that when voices of anger, voices of fear, voices of convenience and lies – voices he knew better to avoid, he could still listen to them, and still makes that tragic choice. In that moment, he would forget this encounter, he would let this memory disappear and stop listening to Him and instead listens to those voices of harm and destruction.  He would deny the confirmation of who Jesus Christ was by God the Father, saying the words of betrayal three times during Christ’s passion -  'I know not the man'

    While we sadly recognize how often we make that same mistake in our lives, allowing voices in that discourage us, lie to us, diminish us - telling us that we’re weak and can’t resist the temptation to sin; telling us that we’re foolish in believing that there’s anything better than what’s in front of us (so we might as well get as much as we can, despite the fact that we seem less fulfilled, less satisfied with each purchase, with each pursuit of worldly desire). Yes, there’s rattle snakes advancing lies and offering, promising us happiness by listening to the shortcuts they represent.

    Yet the transfiguration of Jesus calls out to us. Wherever we find ourselves, we are to turn away from those failures and mistakes, those times we’ve allowed unworthy influences to enter in and have our attention.  We can also turn it around, like St. Peter ultimately would do. WE KNOW who Jesus is... God’s Chosen Son.  Knowing that, remembering that glory of Jesus, Remembering the amazing future He’s promising, experiencing the happiness of that future right now that can be ours if we have to make that choice to Listen to Him and Him alone.
           Listen to Him as he tells us to excise those sinful things.

           Listen to Him as calls us to make a good confession and to be reconciled with God, and to others.

           Listen to Him - knowing that we can trust His promises, even if the world deceives us.

           Whose voice will it be that directs our path this day, this week, this Lent, this life of ours?

THE (sadly not) LAST TEMPTATION OF FR JIM

THE (sadly not) LAST TEMPTATION OF FR. JIM

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the First Sunday of Lent, February 17, 2013.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021713.cfm .  As always thanks for reading and for your sharing these posts, sharing feedback, etc.  God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

    One thing abut the devil - something I’ve learned from personal experience is how logical  he can sound.  No that he is logical, but he sure as hell can sound logical (pun intended).  Taking something and twisting and manipulating it to the point that it almost sounds good, or reasonable or understandable...I’ve shared before a particularly rough time in my life, about 7 years ago I took a leave of absence from the priesthood.  When I thought I was “done” with being a priest.  And that’s a complicated, long story to be sure.  (Available soon on paperback - haha) But with reflection I see a lot of things that happened in the years prior to that which contributed to that vocation crisis.  And one part I wanted to share today is how I’ve learned how logical the devil can sound. 


    After the horrors of 9/11, and being at the funerals for men who were all around my age (I was 27 at the time) the reality of how quickly life can end for anyone of us and alter for so many others really became crystalized for me.  Add discouragement or disillusionment that I was dealing with in things that were happening in my experience of the priesthood at that point; and then my taking shortcuts, or cutting back and finding loopholes to my own prayer life (saying things like “well my work is my prayer” or “well I’ve celebrated 2 Masses today - that’s prayer” - which are true, but no substitute to the personal holy hour that I need) It was amazing how I let the devil creep in.  And how patient he was (and is...)

    A couple of years later, with my prayer stagnant, and all those other issues I was frustrated with continuing to get worse (surprise surprise that would be the case with a poor prayer life) - this one day I read in the paper this advertisement for the FDNY (New York City Fire Depratment).  They were accepting applications as long as you had not reached your 29th birthday by the application deadline.  I was 28 -- my birthday was after the deadline...  One of several paths I had always thought about growing up (which being ordained now you would rightly think I had discerned and closed the door to) was being a firefighter.  That day I cut the ad out.  Focusing on that one line about the age requirement.  I kept thinking about it.  And the thought came -“it’s only $25 to apply to take the test - what’s the harm?  You don’t even have to end up going to take the test... but if you don’t send it in by Sept 29th, you’ll never be able to do that.  Your just keeping your options open.” 

    Yeah... keeping your options open, there’s nothing sinful about that, right?  I didn’t even realize it at the time, but right there I let the devil in and allowing him to stick around in my head.  Practically inviting him to manipulate things.  And the more I kept my “options” open... and kept pursuing those open options, the more he would play with me.  I ended up taking that written test, (what’s the harm, give it a shot just for a laugh and see how you would do) and I got 99% on it.  HMMM - didn’t think I’d do that well... well maybe God was backing this “options open posture” (in case you can’t read that, that’s sarcasm... especially since my personal prayer life was so pathetic)

    So then the next step was this physical test – what’s that all about?  Can I do that?  Can I pass that?  Can I get into the shape for that?  Can the kid who couldn’t play football growing up because of asthma get into condition to do a stairmaster for 6 minutes with 50 lbs of weight on you without breaking the maximum heart rate they had determined   - followed by successfully completing a timed course of 8 different firefighting simulated maneuvers?  All of these old pains and wounds of feeling “inferior physically”from my youth came up; all of these curiosities of “did I have what it takes” – yeah, all of a sudden, I wasn’t even thinking about my priesthood anymore.  I had become fixated on passing this test.  In occasional moments where I would hear the Lord slightly challenging me, I would answer “whats the harm? - best case scenario Lord, I’ll be in good shape.” – Good shape physically – and I never really thought about the worst case scenario.

    Which was quite simply that I aced that part of the exam too.. A test that I saw a few of the most physically fit guys fail or struggle with.  All this did was continue to be a distraction, an “alternative”; an “option” should my present situation not improve.   Which how could it improve...  I had already checked out mentally, spiritually.  I just didn’t realize it. 

    Eventually I ended up being placed #2,363 out of the almost 20,000 people who took the test - which meant I was offered the job.  The long form (or longer I should say) of this story is that one day all I had to do was sign the acceptance letter to be accepted as a member of the FDNY.  I could feel the Holy Spirit just very gently nudging me to “not to do it today” and I listened and started listening again, praying again, and turning away from these temptations and thoughts.  Finally I could see the mess that I was in (even while being in great physical shape) and I eventually find my way back.

    And I look back with a great sense of thankfulness.  Yes the devil was patient - but the Lord was even more so... Thank God.  And I look back with absolute horror realizing how right to the edge I had become.  How the devil and his cunning lies, his sounding logic (when in fact it’s twisted logic) can really entrap us in our moments of weakness, in moments where we’re vulnerable. 

    Which is why the Church wants us to focus on the fact that the devil is very real and \what his ultimate desire is:   to entrap us, and turn us away from God.   Just think about this Gospel we just heard.  The  devil is arrogant enough that we see how he actually goes after Jesus.  And being the devil he’s not creative... it’s the same MO - he tries to use his twisted logic in moments of weakness or vulnerability.  Here Jesus has gone into the desert, to be away from the world, away from all its distractions desiring to be alone with his Heavenly Father - listening to His voice, he’s reflecting on what His Father was saying to Him.  After those 40 days, there’s one of many contests between Jesus and the Devil – a showdown of good versus evil.   The devil tries to be logical and clever with Jesus.  Here Jesus emerges from these 40 days with a clear sense of what His Father was calling him to do. He emerges from the desert with a vision in His mind. He knew who He was - and He was prepared to accomplish the mission His Father had given Him.   But as a human being, 40 days of fasting and praying is a LONG time. A difficult thing to do!  For those who’ve given up drinking coffee or eating chocolate for these 40 days, we can only imagine... So here’s the Son of God, and He’s hungry. It’s probably going to be a little while before he gets back to town - to His family, His friends, His disciples.  He’s probably wondering about getting something to eat.  Maybe he’s thinking, I wonder if Peter was even able to catch some fish without my help...  And so the devil starts putting these thoughts to him – you’ve spent 40 days with your Father - you’ve reflected on how you’re God’s son, right? You’ve grown - you KNOW he Loves you - You Love Him... so you’re hungry (you should be...) Go ahead - do one of your tricks - why don’t you just take that stone and make into some bread for yourself... what’s the big deal?  What’s so wrong with fulfilling a basic human need? Jesus is able to recognize it immediately - that his power isn’t to be used for mere convenience, especially when he’s inviting his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him in a life of self-sacrifice and service...

    The other two temptations are similar - they try to attack that same sense of vision, relationship, and understanding that Jesus had of what the Father was asking the Son to do and how to do it... The devil proposes to Jesus “You’re GOD’S SON - why not just be King - why do you have to answer to a bunch of purported religious authorities, debate them, be questioned by them... Who are they to tell you who YOUR FATHER is??? Here, you can be ruler, king over all of them...” When that didn’t work, the devil comes at it another way “Alright, alright you know what would really get these people’s attention... imagine you jumping from the highest height of the temple. You know God’s going to take care of you. Forget all this selflessness and service.  You want attention - That would DEFINITELY create a buzz!”

    My brothers and sisters - if the devil can be that arrogant to go after Jesus and to even present somewhat logical, persuasive arguments to try to even for a moment enter into His mind and twist it, how eager do you think he is to do that to each and everyone of us who are trying to follow Jesus Christ today?  And he uses the same approach (like I said, he’s not creative).  The guy or gal who has an extra marital affair never planned on it, and usually after it’s happened doesn’t know how they got to where they are.  But if they look back, they see those moments where there was a slight whisper “what’s the harm in having a cup of coffee with that person?”  The drug addict never ever would’ve chosen that life for themselves, but in a moment of weakness and vulnerability the promise that “you’ll feel better, just try it” seemed too good to be true.  The student who cheats his way through school never imagined he would do that, but that one time when he felt frustrated or unprepared and that voice saying “hey everybody does it once in awhile” seemed reasonable enough for them to find a shortcut that seemed easier to give into with each new challenging course.

    Which is why at the start of Lent it’s important for us to be clear about this enemy whose twisted logic continues to diminish and destroy so many.  To identify that he is a threat and how he operates.  Trying to sound so logical and persuasive.  We have to recognize how the slight compromises to what is right that we make, the seemingly most insignificant “venial” sin isn’t slight or insignificant - they  are openings, steps in the wrong direction to make us that much more comfortable with living slightly less noble, less righteous lives.  “It’s only a ‘white lie,’” “Don’t be such a prude, it’s only a joke...” “What’s the harm, you’re not going to end up like so and so...”  We have to identify all those lies, all those ways the devil slowly eases in to twist us with his twisted logic and persuasions. 

   Fortunately we have a savior who’s love defies all logic.   Who’s love is assured on the cross for each and every one of us for all eternity.   Who the minute we become aware of how we’ve allowed this enemy into our hearts and minds is instantly eager and ready to defeat him once again - particularly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we make a good confession and turn away from those lies and into his loving embrace.  May we move forward these 40 days of Lent vigilant in our rejection of the devil and single  minded in our following of Jesus Christ alone.

WHO WE ARE & WHOSE WE ARE

 Hi everyone - HAPPY LENT!  Here’s my homily for ASH WEDNESDAY - FEBRUARY 13, 2013.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021313.cfm.  As always, thanks for all the sharing, your feedback and comments.  I hope you have a meaningful Lent that draws you closer to Christ.  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
    Two questions that Ash Wednesday puts out there for us:
    Who we are
    and Whose we are

    I know that sounds very Owl-esque. But if there’s two questions to keep in mind and your heart from your time here today on this Ash Wednesday it’s those two: Who we are and Whose we are.
     So quick show of hands - how many of you watched the Super Bowl a week and a half ago? Does anyone remember the headliner of the half-time show?
Woman by the name of Beyonce - right?
     Beyonce has been in the news a lot lately. Before the Super Bowl she sang at President Obama’s Second Inauguration - one of the hardest songs for a vocalist to perform - The Star Spangled Banner. And by all accounts people were amazed by it. Comparing it to the high standard that Whitney Houston had years ago at the Super Bowl in the 90's.  Anyway, soon after it was discovered that she didn’t sing it live - but had recorded it earlier. Not only had she not sung it live, but the orchestra had recorded the accompaniment as well. So she (and the orchestra) mimicked performing to a recorded track. It was very embarrassing. So Beyonce a couple days before the Super Bowl sang live at a press conference and promised that she would perform live at the epic game.  To be honest, there was more stuff going on on that stage during half time that evening that I doubt people were even wondering whether she was singing live or not. From the over the top production with pyro techtronics, to the “costumes” or lack thereof.  It was jaw dropping.
    The thing that was so sad to me is that Beyonce has an amazing voice . . . she didn’t have to fake it at the Inauguration or diminish it with a risque act at the Super Bowl.  But because there’s many who tell you the answer to the question who we are  - is what we do – so it has to be exciting, it has to be perfect, it has to get people’s attention and whose we are - is how many friends or fans or followers we have.  That’s how, Beyonce’s God-given talent (and it is from Him; if you doubt it, ask yourself where you could get a voice like that if you wanted one) - her God-given amazing voice – isn’t enough. She has to worry about competition from other vocal artists and performers.  She has to keep her act “fresh.”

    Lance Armstrong - he’s another guy who’s been in the news a lot. The story about this man who was a professional cyclist. Who – what was it 10, 15 years ago – found out he had an aggressive form of cancer that his doctors felt the prognosis was pretty grim.  But he defied the odds, beat cancer, returned to cycling, started the LiveStrong foundation, inspired cancer patients all around the world, and then won the cycling event the Tour De France something like 8 times. 
    After years of speculation, charges, accusations and denials on his part, he finally admitted that he took illegal drugs that made him the cycling champion.   Again, the thing that was so sad to me is that Lance Armstrong had an amazing story . . . to go from being given a death sentence, to defeating that terrible illness, to doing all of this for the world to see, to get back into shape to even be able to cycle again and compete again . . . That was amazing enough. He didn’t have to use illegal drugs (and certainly didn’t have to lie about it and lie about and seek to destroy everyone who implicated him)   But again, if we buy into the world’s perspective of who we are it wasn’t enough to be a survivor, he needed to be a Champion who destroyed his competition and whose we are -  with an unquenchable desire for endorsements (aka, money) becomes too tempting to resist.  All of a sudden Armstrong was blinded to all the gifts, the talents and somewhat miraculous things that have already happened in his life  (In fact, sadly, Armstrong has says  he doesn’t believe in God at all)
    For each of us, who don’t have TMZ or ESPN or paparazzi following us, we still face those same temptations - to live by the definitions and expectations the world puts out there; which affects how we look, what we do, what we think is really important in life or not. . .  Which is why what we do today is so revolutionary.  Ash Wednesday gives a bold, stark contrast to the examples we see and are tempted by ourselves. . . an answer to the question of Who we are and whose we are.  They are the words we hear as the ashes are put on our heads:
    REMEMBER YOU ARE DUST AND UNTO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN -
    Hearing those words can be frightening.  People can’t accept that we are merely “dust.” That we are not in complete control of our beginnings and endings. And that tension can make us turn inward, give into the temptations give into the lies that tell us we are what we feel, what we want, what we do and that we can do whatever we want - because YOLO! –Or, if it is true, we might as well enjoy as much as we can for as long as we can till it’s all over.  Who cares if Beyone’s lip syncing or that Armstrong is cheating...they look good?     
    Ash Wednesday invites us to seek a different answer, to go deeper. To accept, to own that, yes I am Dust and unto Dust I shall return.  That in the history of creation, God, our all loving Father had you and me in mind as a part of this masterpiece of creation.  That he took that dust, and fashioned and shaped it and made each of us just a bit different, just a little bit special from one another and breathed His amazingly miraculous breath of life into each of us.
     That’s Who we are . . . and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, He came down from heaven. . . He came to be a brother to us, to make us Sons and daughters by living for Him, by following Him.  He came to save us from our sins... Save us from ourselves and the temptations we give into that always promise to make us something or someone else but always fail, always make us feel empty in the end. Because of His life, death on the cross and resurrection, Jesus’ is whose we are . . .
     As we get marked with these ashen crosses and hear those words, we’re not to be filled with fear but with an amazing awareness of God’s love.  That He must have thought pretty highly of us to take something so dirty and lifeless and make it into something so special - you and me. That He still feels that highly of us, that he constantly reaches out to us - to make this Lent the time, the opportunity where we turn away from the messages the world keeps shouting at us and evaluate how we are living for Him, following Him.
     If you’re like me, you’ll realize, despite our best efforts or intentions, we’ve fallen short. We’ve messed up. We’ve let other things enter in that take up more time and space than they should have.  But, nevertheless, take this opportunity to do something - Go to confession - take this booklet and read why we go to Confession and how to truly be free of the things that have weighed you down or diminished you.  Think of ways that you can Fast, Sacrifice (by giving money or your time), help someone else and Pray. If you have fallen out of the practice of going to Sunday Mass, resolve to start again. It’s never too late. That’s the beautiful thing about this amazingly beautiful day. We have that opportunity to once again reject the lies of the world around us and remember - Who we are, and Whose  we are.
    And, once we realize that, once we begin to glimpse the wonder of that fact, then we will also begin to understand that, even after we have returned to dust, it doesn't end there.  Now is the time we make our preparations; but God has also been making His- preparing for us, His people, a life after death, a joy after sorrow, and a love for us which will live forever.  May you and I be strengthened by Him who touched our hearts to make this time to be here today and get to this eternal, important work.

POPE'S RETIRING? WHATS UP WITH THAT?

The Pope is resigning?

As the cartoon character of South Park fame, Mrs. Brovlowski would say – what, what what???

That was my initial thought...along with a wide array of random other thoughts with this surprising news this morning that Pope Benedict XVI is planning on stepping down from the Seat of St. Peter as of February 28th. 

I’m flattered that so many people have sent me text messages asking if I’m being considered, or more seriously, “What’s up with that?”   Because I keep saying some of the same things over and over, I thought I'd put some ramblings down to paper, err... blog, so, here's what I got (and thanks for caring to even wonder)

As you can tell by the spastic media who never like to be surprised or not in the know (and have now tried to speculate every conceivable reason for this decision) this is definitely unprecedented for our day and age.  Especially for people in my age group who have little to no recollection of a Pope before John Paul II.  We grew up with Pope John Paul II, and loved him.  As years went by, we watched him age and deteriorate, and mourned his passing like we did our Grandfathers.

I can’t say I was completely shocked or surprised with Pope Benedict's decision to retire or resign.  I remember back some years ago when then Cardinal Ratzinger making headlines while Pope John Paul II was still alive for saying that there’s nothing to prevent the Pope from resigning due to ill health or advanced age.  When that was reported, of course some in the media were speculating that it was a not so subtle jab from Cardinal Ratzinger to the Pope  -hey you should step down.  Which was ridiculous.  Ratzinger’s love and admiration for John Paul II remains to this day.  Back at Pope John Paul II’s beatification, he shared these personal words:

     I would like to thank God for the gift of having worked for many years with Blessed Pope John Paul II. I had known him earlier and had esteemed him, but for twenty-three years, beginning in 1982 after he called me to Rome to be Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I was at his side and came to revere him all the more. My own service was sustained by his spiritual depth and by the richness of his insights. His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me: he remained deeply united to God even amid the many demands of his ministry. Then too, there was his witness in suffering: the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a “rock”, as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined. In this way he lived out in an extraordinary way the vocation of every priest and bishop to become completely one with Jesus, whom he daily receives and offers in the Church.

It's obvious Benedict loved and admired Pope John Paul II and was even inspired with his determination to serve until the last moment of his life.  

So what’s different? 

Quite simply we have a different Pope. 

Pope Benedict recognized that his election to the papacy at age 78 would make this, as he called it, a “short” papacy.  (As it turns out, 8 years, while shorter than John Paul II’s 26 years is by no means “short”) He expressed his personal shock at his election and how he had feelings of reluctance and hesitancy when it appeared to be moving in that direction.    But he knew the Lord had called him to assume this role at this time.    He expected his papacy to be “transitional” – another way of saying “short.”  Having Pope John Paul II for 26 years was a bit unprecedented as well.  So that the Cardinals through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would pick a man in his late 70's seemed to indicate that as a Church we were still absorbing all that John Paul II did for us as our Holy Father.  Since his death, we still miss John Paul II  – which is why his tomb remains one of the most popular sites to visit in St. Peter’s Basilica, rivaling St. Peter’s tomb itself.

Benedict being a long time collaborator and friend to John Paul II was a consoling choice to us who loved JPII.  He provided comfort that in this fast-moving, quickly changing world to those of us who looked at John Paul II as our Holy Father and not simply an “authority figure” or whatever other caricature is sometimes attributed to the Pope.  He did that in his humble, somewhat quiet, unassuming demeanor.  He did that in not trying to be Pope John Paul II, but being himself.  And leading, and teaching the Catholic faith as his unbroken line of successors have done in a way that was needed and appropriate for these very bizarre and rapidly changing times we're living in.

Being the brilliant and selfless Church man that he is, who is reading the signs and the times (as the Church is called to do) he took stock of where things are moving, what is happening and the needs of the Church and felt that we need a new Shepherd.  One who would not be so constrained by age or slowing down due to health issues. 

Personally, I’m saddened with this news.  But it’s solely on that level - personal.  Because I have grown to love and admire Pope Benedict in a way I never thought possible after having such deep love and admiration for John Paul II.  Which I suppose is one of the gifts I take from this papacy.  To be reminded that in the Pope, the Lord continues to raise up the next “Peter” to be the rock on which His Church is founded.  To see how generous the Lord continues to be that we have been blessed with such selfless, generous, sacrificial men to serve as the first Peter did in service to Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago.  And to have a unique experience where we don’t have to be weighed down with mourning as we anticipate who the Lord will raise as the next successor.

Pope Benedict XVI - thank you and may the Lord bless you with many years of health and joy in retirement.

Blessed Pope John Paul II - pray for us!

FROM HERO TO ZERO

Hi everyone here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME - FEBRUARY 2, 2013 - The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/020313.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading, for sharing links to the blog, for your feedback...  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:

    On this Super Bowl weekend, professional football is pretty much on the minds of fans and non-fans alike.  Every year it remains the most watched sports event in the United States - and has taken on a social aspect that has made it almost a holiday atmosphere - with families and friends having parties (whether their favorite teams are in the game or not). So much so that there’s even been a movement in our nation with a campaign and petitions for the day after the Super Bowl to be declared a national holiday (why we can’t move the game to Saturday night instead of Sunday as a more reasonable option escapes me . . . but I digress)

           For me, the thing I like about the Super Bowl is that it means it’s only about a week and half before pitchers and catchers arrive for Yankee Spring training with the rest of the team due about a week after that.  For you non-Yankee fans (what’s wrong with you - how can you not like the Yankees? Are the 27 world championships, the single most number for any professional team - not enough for you? ) but for those of you who aren’t Yankee fans, you might not have been following things and realize that the Yanks are having some problems this year.

    The teams players are pretty old - which in a sport like Baseball where you have to play 162 regular games in the season, after two months of practice and if you’re as fortunate as the Yanks have been to be in the Playoffs and World Series on a regular basis which adds another month to the schedule - that gets kind of hard the older you get.   But aside from the age problems of the team, the more negative news is that the steroids and performance enhancing drug scandal has once again plagued the Yanks. Within the last week or so, allegations surfaced (once again) that Alex Rodriguez was among a list of other ball players who may have used these illegal drugs to help him maintain his athletic edge, to reduce the effects of aging on his performance as recently as 2009. Alex Rodriguez hasn’t really ever been fully accepted by Yankee fans for a variety of reasons - and because he has admitted to using drugs in the past, I can imagine it’s going to make things particularly hard for him this coming season - whether he’s in front of the home crowd or on the road.  So I can’t say that it’s bothered, surprised or saddened me as much. But those stories that have implicated other players has done that to me in the past.

           Like when it came out a few years ago that Yankee pitcher Andy Pettite was using banned substances. He always came across as such an honorable man both on and off the field that when he admitted to using them it really bothered me.  Unfortunately we know this isn’t contained to baseball... For my brother - he’s been an avid cyclist for years, competing in races around the state, being one of the few who actually watches it on television on a regular basis - he had such respect and admiration for Lance Armstrong, I haven’t had the heart to ask him what he’s thought since Armstrong’s final admission just a few weeks ago.

           In all these incidents it’s amazing to see how quickly athletes move from, as they say, Hero to Zero.  If you think about it though, that’s really unfair, isn’t it?  I mean, as human beings we’re all prone to temptation. We’ve all experienced failures and sins in our lives.  That these athletes are prone to those same weaknesses and failures as we are shouldn’t surprise us, nor entitle us to be as judgmental as we can be at times. Part of our reaction, part of this “Hero to Zero” fall that they experience is our own fault.  Because fans have invested so much admiration for them over the years as they supported them, followed them, cheered them - when these sad truths come to light, fans can go through something that is almost similar to the stages of grief. First denial - it can’t be true - Anger - that (fill in the blank) Bargaining - (everyone does this, so what’s the big deal? They should just legalize the drugs and end this) Depression - I’m never going to watch that sport again or be a fan of some athlete again - to Acceptance - so and so let me down, and it was a crappy thing to do, but that doesn’t change my love of the sport or my admiration of the other players who do keep on the straight and narrow. 

           While a fan may eventually get to a place of forgiveness, enjoy the sport again - for the most part their image of this “Hero” has been so radically shifted that they will never look at things the same way again - and definitely won’t look at that particular athlete implicated in these scandals the same way, either. 

           On a certain level, we hear a similar type of reaction, a similar experience happening to Jesus in today’s Gospel. Before his hometown crowd, his local “fans” if you will, Jesus has just read Sacred Scripture to them all. He read the words of the Prophet Isaiah (which we heard last Sunday) announcing that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him - that He was the Anointed One proclaiming to the people this Good News of salvation. He takes those words from the Prophet Isaiah and makes the shocking, but long hoped for claim, Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing. And so far, so good - the crowd is psyched . . . The Gospel says people “spoke highly of him” and “were amazed.”  What does that mean? The people probably experienced Jesus’ charisma - that when he spoke and preached and was simply in their company there was something amazingly different in Him then there that was in anyone else they had ever met. They probably had heard stories about miracles happening, and were eager to see what might happen next. 

           This claim that Jesus was the Messiah was an exciting prospect.  Because the people Jesus was speaking to wanted to be saved. Or at least they thought they wanted it.  See, they wanted the Roman occupiers who had conquered them, treated them as second-class citizens in their own homeland to get what was coming to them. They wanted a Messiah to come for them and to re-established them as the “Chosen People.”  They wanted an earthly Kingdom to be reestablished, for their place as royal citizens to be certain.

           When Jesus goes out of his way to explain to them it’s not going to happen like that, they feel betrayed.   Jesus cites all of those examples – the widow, the leper – to remind the hometown crowd how God worked through individuals who don’t conform to people’s expectations.  It was Jesus’ way of explaining to His listeners that His Messiah-ship wouldn’t conform to their expectations, either.   Jesus makes it clear God wasn’t (and isn’t) interested in saving just a small group of people in a particular, exclusive earthly kingdom. This Good news of salvation is for Everyone . . .    And they definitely got the message...

           This claim was so radical - is so radical - that, to them, Jesus goes from Hero to Zero in their eyes. Look at their reaction. They don’t yell at Him saying you’re a liar for saying you’re the anointed one - you’re not the Messiah after all . . . They respond in anger wanting to kill Jesus. Their overreaction, their unleashed rage reveals how this image they had of what a Messiah should be, of what He should do, was so deeply ingrained in them, that they missed the possibility that Jesus was offering something far greater than their misconceptions would have produced.  No, He wasn’t the Hero they were hoping for, but their hardness of heart made them miss that, far from being a “zero,” Jesus was the single most important man in the History of Humanity.

           In our day and age, there’s more than enough example of people who’ve sown seeds of doubt, who have made us cynical to believing anyone on anything.  We can easily make the same sad mistake as Jesus' hometown crowd, the same sad mistake as Israel, the same sad mistake as countless numbers who have allowed those bad experiences, allowed their expectations or experiences or misconceptions to keep them from recognizing that God can work among us, work through us. We can't take God’s miraculous action for granted simply because we’ve judged it as not miraculous enough.  We can't limit ourselves to being “zero’s” because we are looking outside of ourselves for another hero . . . failing to see, to hear, to accept all that Jesus’ has done, is doing and will continue until the end of time to do for us in establishing His eternal kingdom. 

    If we accept Christ for what He really is - so much more than we ever imagined a Messiah could be - then, finally, He can go about affecting our salvation, bringing His love and His peace into our lives, in this world, and in the next.