TO SERVE & PROTECT

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 27th, 2013. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102713.cfm. As always thanks for reading, sharing the blog and your feedback and comments. God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:


Usually cops follow the motto "To Protect and Serve" - well this story has the potential to flip that to serve and protect.  This past week, what started out as a somewhat routine, common shoplifting call to a Miami-Dade Police Officer became an international news story. Police Officer Vick Thomas, who’s been a cop for over 20 years got a call from a local supermarket that a woman had been detained after filling her shopping cart with almost $300 worth of groceries and simply walking out the front door. As Officer Thomas arrived on scene, she went to the general manager who took her to the young lady who had been caught in the act. As she met Jessica Robles, and asked her "why did you do this" - through her tears Jessica said "My children were hungry."

Officer Thomas admits she’s seen sad stories, she’s helped people out on the job in ways that most in the public never will know about. But she admitted "this really impacted me." She knew that some of the local food pantrys and soup kitchens probably were closed by this point. Robles confessed "I’d love to be able to promise you I’ll never do this again, but I can’t because my children are hungry." Thomas’ thoughts turned to her kids and grandkids. She told the woman to wait with her partner while she grabbed her debit card, went back into the store bought her enough groceries to get her and her kids through the week. After driving Jessica to her home, Officer Thomas met two of her three children. "She went into the house and said, ‘Come outside. The officer bought us groceries,’" Thomas said. "They came outside and they were helping us bring the groceries in, going through the bags asking, ‘Can I eat this? Can I have that?’"

Officer Thomas said "I honestly didn’t know the magnitude of how bad it was until later," she said. "We got the groceries in and I got back in my car and took the next call."

It’s doubtful that Officer Thomas was taught to do this by some instructor at the Police Academy. Nor is it a standard protocol that would be explained in a manual or something that her supervisors would expect her to do. Had she chosen to, she could’ve simply done her job, fulfilled her duty as a police officer and arrested the woman and not given a second thought to this sad situation. But as Officer Thomas explained "I had to act."

We need reminders like this – stories like this – we need women like Officer Thomas (and men like
NYPD officer Larry DePrimo who made headlines some months ago when he bought a homeless man a pair of shoes one cold night last winter) People who don’t just do their jobs, but are able to see these individuals who are in these bad situations as a fellow human being and not just whatever label so many would attach to them – to see the needs of their fellow human being and are compelled to do something, to know they have to act.

To not allow themselves to fall into the trap of becoming self-focused or self-involved. Because when that happens - it affects everything. That’s what’s at the root of tonight’s Gospel - the thing Jesus wants to warn all of his hearers to consider. Because when that happens, when we are self-focused or self-involved, We can get so stuck on ourselves that even our prayer becomes focused on us.

Look at this guy in tonight’s Gospel reading. The Pharisee says - O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity– greedy, dishonest, adulterous - or even like this tax collector I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income." There’s nothing wrong with what the man in the Gospel has done:

– not being greedy or dishonest are good things

– Jesus would totally be onboard with that avoiding adultery...

– and fasting, tithing, are good spiritual practices.

But the thing is - the guy in the Gospel seems to be praising and worshiping Himself rather than God. He uses the word "I" 4 times, and God’s name is uttered once in that whole prayer. Because he’s doing everything, he sounds like he doesn’t need God or even prayer for that matter. He keeps saying I do this and I do that... and in saying (and believing) that, he is the active one. God is just an afterthought. He’s just making sure God noticed...

We hear the complete opposite from the Tax collector - he never uses the word "I"- Instead his prayer is simple, it’s humble, it’s correct: God be merciful to me a sinner. The tax collector knows that his life is a mess. He know’s he’s made some mistakes. He’s cheated people, been rejected by his own people (for aligning himself with the Romans instead of with his fellow Jews) - he’s all on his own. To straighten his life out – he needs Mercy. He needs Forgiveness. He needs God and He knows that only way things are going to change in his life is by God showing him Mercy - By God working in his life. By the tax collector letting God be God and letting him into his heart and soul. . . things can change for him.

That all of us have chosen to be here tonight is a great thing. But there’s a temptation for us to congratulate ourselves because we know that we’re missing a great number of people that we wish were here. We can either stay in that mind-set there, be proud of ourselves for being here and not like those who are watching the Red Sox tonight (I don’t recommend either of those things – being proud or watching the Red Sox by the way) or you and I can be like the tax collector, look into our hearts and be honest with ourselves and with God.

We can ask ourselves the difficult questions: What changes do we need to make in our lives? How are some of our desires out of whack? What are our limitations? Unlike the Pharisee, we don’t have to compare ourselves to others. God sees the empty spaces we have that we need him to fill - God knows the sins we carry that need his Mercy. So instead of congratulating ourselves for being here, we can be grateful to have the opportunity to be here. Grateful to let God be God and to let Him do His work in our lives. By our sharing in this Eucharist, who knows what work God might accomplish?:

- We might find ourselves being less critical;

- giving someone the benefit of the doubt;

- letting God be judge of things instead of us;

- not just forgiving - but forgetting ours and others past mistakes and offences.

The possibilities are endless.

Officer Thomas’ selfless act of kindness and generosity more than likely will recede from the public view as these stories eventually do for all of us. But in an interview she shared that this whole experience has been "life-changing" for her, for Jessica, for her family - as more and more people heard this story and were moved to assist Jessica find a job and were challenged to see who were some of the people around them that perhaps they had been quick to judge and dismiss who simply needed there help.

When it comes to our lives, we need to change too. And when it comes to things like Prayer and our relationship with God, Jesus calls us not to be blind or narrow in our perspectives. The Pharisee was too pleased with himself and all that he has accomplished to recognize anything that needed to change in his life, and so he leaves the temple no different than when he came in. The gospel says the tax collector went home "Justified"—changed. That means he was in right relationship with God. Something had changed in him through his prayer. The choice is ours - which of the two characters do we pattern our prayer after? Do we need, do we desire, and do we know that it is God who can ultimately change us?

ITALIAN GUILT - and what it can teach

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for October 20, 2013 - the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102013.cfm. As always, thanks for stopping by to read, for sharing this blog on Twitter and Facebook - and for all your comments and feedback. Have a great week! God Bless - Fr. Jim

TO LISTEN TO THE MP3 OF TONIGHT'S MASS, CLICK HERE:

HOMILY:


NO MOM - I'm not saying you're like
Doris Roberts was in "Everybody loves
Raymond..."  This was the best image
that came up online when I typed "Italian
Guilt" for an image search
Over the years, my friends and I have debated which is worse - Irish guilt, Jewish guilt or Italian guilt. Each of us has valid examples as evidence of how our own ethnicities are the champs at making us feel bad that we didn’t do the "right thing", it’s stories like this that I have from this past week that make me believe that we Italians, particularly those with Italian mothers of a Sicilian and Calabrese background that makes us the winners by far:

So this past Wednesday, we had a special election in the state of New Jersey. I’m still registered to vote in my hometown which is about 30 minutes away from here (quite simply as a priest, it’s just easier to leave my permanent address at my parent’s home than to worry that each time I’m moved/transfer as a priest, I have to change my voting information) Anyway, when I looked at my schedule I realized I had a really small window to go vote Wednesday Morning. I had Mass at noon back here at Montclair; had to be at Seton Hall in the afternoon and then had some obligations in the evening in Kearney. So I rushed out of here before 10 am.

As I was pulling off the parkway, I kind of smiled and laughed to myself at this memory that came completely out of nowhere. It was this flashback when I was in 4th or 5th grade and driving up to Nutley with my mother who had a doctors appointment in her old hometown. I remember my mother coming out of the appointment, looking at her watch and somewhat exasperated saying, we gotta hurry and stop in at Grandma and Grandpa’s, but it’s just going to be a quick visit, because we’re already running late. At the tender age of 9 or 10, still somewhat innocent and naive yet or rather, still in the early stages of being introduced to Italian Guilt, I asked "well, since we’re already running late why don’t we just go home?" (It wasn’t like we didn’t have dinner at my grandparents every Sunday) And my mother just said "Oh no - if Grandma and Grandpa knew that we were in Nutley and didn’t stop by they would be upset!"

Again, I laughed at that flashback as I drove to the polling station, realizing my own sophistication at not being troubled by such crazy thoughts. I went in, voted, got in the car, started driving back to the Parkway, when as I’m driving down Raritan Road, who passes me in the opposite direction. Yep I saw the Cadillac and recognized the license plates - it was my mother. I didn’t want to honk to distract her (I swear) I was completely mind-blown. I can’t believe it... It’s like I was 5 years old again and got caught. So now all day as I went from one obligation to the next, I’m telling people this story and I’m wondering to myself- did she see me? Did she get to the polling place and one of her friends ratted me out that I was there? But my parents usually vote first thing in the morning - it was 10:30 by the time I got there... but I was only the 7th person who voted by then.

I was on my way driving home from Kearny when my cell phone went off. And the Caller ID said MOM. I swear the display on the phone just looked bolder and there was this angry vibration from the phone as it was ringing. Being that I was driving, and I NEVER TALK ON THE CELLPHONE WHEN I’M DRIVING, I let it go to voicemail. (Actually I have blue-tooth, but again, it wasn’t synced - I swear... and anyway I was only 10 minutes from getting back here to MSU, and alright, yes, I wanted to use her voice mail to try to figure out what did my Mom know..) Being the master that she is her message was very non-descript – it didn’t reveal anything - "Hi Jim it’s Mom - it’s 7:30 call me when you get a chance."

So I call home... and the first question - the FIRST QUESTION - "So when did you vote today?" Before I even answered I told this entire story as she laughed and said how she’s not like Grandma and Grandpa were with her and my Uncle – but how she was "surprised" that I didn’t stop by - even though she "understood..." She didn’t want me to stress out - even though she would’ve loved to see me (but no guilt!)

My family jokes about this "Italian guilt" - but in reality when you look at the definition of guilt: According to Bing - Guilt is defined as an "awareness of wrongdoing: an awareness of having done wrong or committed a crime, accompanied by feelings of shame and regret – the reality is my mother doesn’t want me to feel shame or regret that I didn’t stop by - or even to feel like I’ve done something "wrong." Does she wish her son didn’t have as crazy a schedule as he does? Yes.. Would she have loved to have had a mid-week surprise visit - absolutely... But she doesn’t want me to be "shamed into it" or feeling like if I don’t stop by, I’ve done something wrong. We use this negative idea of "guilt" to illustrate something deeper...

Which is how I see what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel. Because if we’re not paying careful attention, we can get the mistaken notion that Jesus is saying that when we’re praying, we are some annoying, whining, needy people who need to look at God as an unjust, dishonest judge who only finally concedes, goes along with, or relents to the demands because we annoy the heck out of him. Look at the parable we just heard: because this widow keeps bothering me I will deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me! Nice images to associate us with our prayers to God ? It’s so negative negative.

But we have to look closer and see the deeper message Jesus making. He’s not saying our prayers are annoyances, and that if we just hound God enough, nag Him enough we’ll get what we want. But He is making a critical point in saying that we are weak in our prayer. We give up too easily. In fact, He’s going so far as to say that we approach God with less confidence than this determined widow had in a crooked judge. Just think about that. This widow knows this judge is a jerk, but she knew that if she kept at it, she would get to him. Yet, how often do you and I doubt God. Thinking that because he doesn’t answer us in the way we expect him to he isn’t answering us at all....

Jesus is challenging us - If we just keep at it...

If we remain faithful - meaning that we keep at our prayers, and keep asking for God to reveal his presence, show his ways, direct our hearts, even when we don’t feel like he’s doing that... no - especially at those moments...

If we begin to give up our demands that His answers go along with our suggested answers and surrender ourselves to Him, entrusting ourselves to Him - knowing that He desperately loves us and wants what is best for us.

If we can really enter into prayer which pulls us out of ourselves, out of this world and the things of this world and open ourselves to the things of God -

Then our weak, little faith can start to grow...

our confidence in the providence of God begins to mature...

And Jesus’ rhetorical question at the end, which seems filled with sadness or concern – When the son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth? Will be answered with a definite yes... yes Lord, we do believe... Yes, we eagerly await your return so that we can experience the fullness of life you promise us.

My mom doesn’t want me to visit her out of "guilt" - anymore than Jesus wants us to view prayer as an annoyance of God. But the reality is sometimes these seemingly negative examples shake us up to a new perspective. I know that the "Italian guilt" is meant to remind me how much I love my parents, and that as a son, I need to make them more of a priority - even more than an important civic duty like voting.

Jesus is hoping that we’ll learn a similar type of lesson from his parable tonight. To recognize- that if the annoying widow can receive justice from a dishonest judge because of her persistence, how much more would the God who came down from heaven, lowered himself to share in our humanity, suffered the effects of our sin being nailed to the cross, and rising gloriously again to new life – all to demonstrate how deeply he loves us - and that there’s nothing that could separate us from that Love... How much more would this God delight in our crying out to Him? How ready is our Father to turn and answer our needs as we come to Him?

May we take that truth to heart, calling out to Him not out of guilt... but out of love.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - MASS MP3

So from time to time, people have asked for an MP3 of my homilies.  Which I'm always grateful for the interest.  It's taken me some time, but I've finally (hopefully) figured out how to post them here.

Below is the entire Mass - so you can hear our tremendous choir/instrumentalists under the direction of Mr. Bruce Mauro.  The homily starts at around 19:00 minutes