DEFAULT EMOTION: OUTRAGE?

Hi everyone! Here’s my homily for the 7th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - Feb 23, 2014. Today’s Mass readings can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/022314.cfm . As always, I’m grateful for all the sharing, posting of my blog on Facebook, Twitter, reddit - and for your feedback and comments. I’m humbled that the Lord may use me as one of His instruments in sharing His word. In Christ - Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

A couple of weeks ago, days after the untimely death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman - the prolific actor who had been found dead in New York City as a result of a drug overdose - there was an interesting article in the New York Post entitled "The Outrage Factory." Author Sarah Stewart pointed out that Hoffman’s death which raised a wide-range of emotions from fans being shocked, angry, sad – well thanks to the Internet, the collective feeling on the topic "found a way to return to its default emotion: outrage." She shared an example of how another actor had re-tweeted his feelings about Hoffman’s death saying: "Sad isn’t the word I’d use to describe a 46-year old man throwing his life away to drugs ‘senseless’ is more like it ‘stupid’ is another." Soon after there was a backlash against that actor as being insensitive, cruel, and stupid himself for not understanding that addiction is a disease.

Reasonable people can probably see that:

- Obviously the death of a young actor (being 40 years old now - 46 seems young to me!) is sad...

- Drug addiction is horrific and has claimed way too many people’s lives and destroyed many others, including the families and loved ones of the addicts (just a point, Hoffman did leave behind a wife and children)

- Yet, at the same time, some in our celebrity-centered press do seem to mourn the deaths of individuals like Hoffman or Whitney Houston as if they were tragic accidents with a sense of inevitability to them where people seem to distance anyone from having any responsibility for such terrible things.

But Stewarts point is that "reason" seems to be pushed aside as we allow ourselves to go to that "default emotion: outrage." As she put it: "In our age of ceaseless, monotonous outrage. Another day, another lone target for collective shaming. As I pondered one example after another from recent months, I kept picturing a stoning...[and how] these are high times for rock throwing." With each 140 character worded tweet (or worse, not even being clever ourselves and simply "retweeting"someone else’s thoughts) we’re not having debates or discussions - we’re growing more and more addicted to feelings of moral superiority over whatever the issue is.

That’s why extreme "outrage" based shows are as popular as they are. Doesn’t matter
This was one of the "tamer" illustrations which while highly
offensive demonstrates the point of the extremes
we find throughout the media
what end of the dial you turn to (figuratively or literally) - Whether it’s the Daily Show with Jonathan Stewart; HBO’s Bill Maher or one of the programs you find on Fox News - they often tap into issues, are selectively outraged about a topic or a person and feed into their audiences agreeing with them, going into a deeper snit and feeling "I am so much smarter and better than my enemies! They are soooo wrong, and I am soooo right!"

Sadly those types of things happen on a much more local level as well. Recently, my home parish’s Catholic school announced they were closing. It is sad news, and most definitely evoked a wide range of emotions for a number of valid reasons. While I can understand the painful feelings people had over the announcement, but reading the nasty, horrendous comments that were directed at the pastor; looking at that anger one thought that came to mind reading them was "if this is how the people of that parish or that parish school think, or act – well how Catholic of a school is it?"

And, if we’re really honest, you and I know we can look even closer, go even more local: look at our own lives, and see how this strikes even closer to home. A sarcastic word, a misinterpreted act, a snarky response - and people get angry, hurt, become embittered...How many friendships, families - relationships which were built on a heck of a lot more than one misstep, a legitimate mistake or even a bonafide hurtful act but then the sum of that relationship is "ended." How quick are we to allow relationships to be broken, ended, dismissed as "unforgivable" because we too fall back to that "default emotion: outrage"

You have to wonder if Jesus were on facebook or twitter if people would react like that to him as well... I was thinking just looking at tonight’s Gospel, can see Jesus tweeting: "I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." – That’s a nice twitter length message - Jesus still has about 70 characters to go! Would Jesus get slammed with responses like "Easy for you to say #Impossible #Hypocrites #IFYOUKNEWWHATIWENTTHRUYOU’DMINDYOUROWNBUSINESS"

Sadly he probably would - if not worse. But it doesn’t matter... For us, for us Christians, this Gospel we are given commands to LOVE OUR ENEMIES - TO FORGIVE THEM, TO TURN THE OTHER CHEEK– and Jesus is clear, they are commands... Jesus isn’t offering a suggestion for our mental well being; he’s not given us tips on "how to make friends and influence people" – he isn’t even guaranteeing that following this command will be "successful" in turning someone from making and doing awful things. While so often throughout the Gospels Jesus is directing us not to focus on ourselves but to be attentive to others - in this instance he is solely telling us to fixate on ourselves. Forcing us to ask ourselves:


How is our heart? Has it become embittered? Cold? Because if it has, what are the things we’re holding onto there? Fixated on? Obsessing over? Allowing to color our vision, our tenor, our response to other things? Because when we hold onto them, when we withhold forgiveness or don’t even attempt to be open to that possibility- that changes us. And not in a good way. Can’t help but think, how many people who referred to Philip Seyomor Hoffman’s death as "stupid" were reacting to people they knew who died similarly which is why it provoked such a strong reaction to someone who is a stranger to a vast number of us commenting on him?

What Jesus is offering us with this command is a way to experience the most powerful and ultimate gift of freedom... Think about it, "enemies" no longer having any hold over you... The pursuits and energy expended of trying to get even with or stewing over in fury angry at them and angry that we’re not able to do anything about it.

And the thing is, Jesus isn’t speaking about this from a philosophical perspective - like he’s waxing eloquently about something for us as His followers simply to do. He will intimately enter into this difficult task. He will experience it Himself. He’s foreshadowing his own Passion, Death and Resurrection. He’s inviting us to experience ourselves how sin will be ultimately defeated and the effects of sin are conquered. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we see the Son of God - who is without sin, who is completely innocent - savagely, ruthlessly attacked and destroyed.

So often when I picture that scene, and try to imagine if it were me, I’d be fighting, I’d be yelling, I’d be ready to tear people down - try to turn groups against each other... All those natural, base emotions are there. Yes, I can see within myself, sadly the default emotion of outrage.

Yet, Jesus’ eyes are fixed solely on the Father.

It’s Jesus’ DNA to be united in the absolute Love of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy
Spirit. And so as his fellow brothers and sisters are doing horrendous things to Him, as people in the crowd are almost waiting, maybe even slightly hoping Jesus lashes back at them so that they can point and say "SEE, SEE - THERE’S A BREAKING POINT - THERE’S ALWAYS A BREAKING POINT!" That never happens... it never occurs. His last words directed towards his adversaries "Father Forgive them..."

Jesus isn’t blind to our pain. Or pretending that this isn’t hard to live up to - or even to consider it as a realistic option in our lives. But he’s trying to include us in the true power that comes from being one of his followers... To experience the freedom of the Risen One ourselves. To allow ourselves to be open to true healing; To letting go of some of the pain we’re holding onto. For some of us - that might seem impossible - the pain is too fresh, too raw, too real. And if that’s the case - he’s gently inviting us to begin simply by praying for the desire to forgive. But the reality is the Lord is clearly telling us we cannot be comfortable with outrage or anger or hate. Following Him means our default emotion has to be Love. Yes it hurts, Yes its painful. But it's the only way to truly be His.

WHAT'S OUR MOTIVATION? OBLIGATION OR LOVE???

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - February 16, 2014. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021614.cfm. I’m most grateful to everyone for reading, sharing this blog throughout the internet-universe (last week, someone posting the blog on reddit made it a record number of "hits") and for all of your comments and feedback. Have a great week and God Bless - Fr. Jim


HOMILY:


If there ever was a good illustration of people
working in the same place with different motivations,
Jim Halpert and Michael Scott from
The Office would definitely qualify
What is the difference between a job and a vocation?

Often times for Catholics, we’re so used to hearing the word vocation associated with the calling to Priesthood, and religious life - which is most definitely true. But outside of Catholic circles, in a non-religious setting these words are used a lot and there is a difference between the two.

To me, it’s really not a matter of what type of work that a person does– but rather the attitude the mentality that people bring to the tasks. A job is basically something that pays you for doing something. A vocation - while hopefully it "pays the bills" - that’s often something that is secondary to that desire, that passion that is drawing you to a certain career, a certain life’s work. Teachers often describe their work this way... Doctors and Nurses.... Police and Firefighters... do as well.

More than likely, you’ve encountered people in all of those "fields" - who treat it both ways - some simply as a job, and others who do see it as a vocation. The teacher who is there early everyday, or late afterschool; who over the summer is thinking of creative lessons or seeing something in the store that would help her be more effective and purchases it themselves; or sees extracurricular activities as another way of teaching and guiding students and volunteers to advise or coach them. Those are the ones who see teaching not as a job but as a vocation. Being the son of a teacher (and the brother and brother in law of teachers as well) I was exposed to this a lot. I can remember going into that hot, un-air-conditioned school with my mother over summer break to help her clean her classroom, put bulletin boards up, make dittos so that she would be prepared to welcome the 6 and 7 year olds who would make up her second grade class for the year – while many classrooms remained untouched till the day before classes started. To my mom, teaching was a vocation.

Hopefully right now you can instantly think of teachers like that yourself. More than likely they rank as some of "your favorites" – for me Mrs. Gagliardi in 5th grade remains on my list of favorites. I can still remember, I had no idea who she was when I was assigned to her class, but she was the only teacher who sent me a post-card over the summer welcoming me to 5th Grade. That was a small, but important difference that demonstrated this was only the beginning of a year where Mrs. Gagliardi would demonstrate her love for teaching and her love for students which made me start to actually look forward to going to school. In a similar (albeit quite different in personality) Mr. Epps is another favorite teacher of mine from High School English. Mr. Epps was probably was one of the hardest and most demanding teachers I had in class. He was also one of the most present to students and active in all sorts of activities of the entire faculty - advising Student Council, our school newspaper; announcing at the football games; chaperoning (and fronting a band) for our proms. There were plenty of teachers who approached things simply as a job: sign in at 8 am and sign out at 3pm; fulfilled their contractual responsibilities and did what they were "supposed to do." I’m sure all of us can remember more than a few of them that we encountered in our lives - and it’s not a judgment on them as people or their "job performances." But I suspect few of those teachers who treated their work merely as a "job" remain nearly as memorable or had a life-long impact on you, like teachers who saw it as a vocation, like Mrs. Gagliardi and Mr. Epps had on me.



That’s true of other professions as well. The cop who doesn’t simply complete their 8-10 hour tour; but volunteers to help at a summer program or afterschool program. The fire-fighter who organizes charity events to collect food, or clothes from the community and bring them to people they’ve met "on the job" to help them out. The doctors or nurses who spend time away from the office continuing to try to help their patients and aren’t primarily concerned with is this covered by insurance or not?

You get the sense, you can see the difference in someone who sees these things as "life calls" as opposed to treating them simply as jobs. To put it in religious terms... as the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said (who was a Christian pastor first and saw his call to fight the injustice of civil rights abuses as an outgrowth of his Christian faith) "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."

Just as we can see the difference between "doing a job" and responding to a vocation - In today’s Gospel, Jesus is basically making the point that to be one of his disciples isn’t a job - it’s a vocation. We’re not to simply look at the Commandments and fulfilling the "contractual obligations" in a narrow way. Rather in following Him, Jesus tells us to go beyond the letter of the law and see and desire and pursue the more demanding "law of love." Jesus goes through the commandments and he points out that we can’t simply have this narrow view of "DON’T DO THIS" – fill in the blank with one of the commandments and think that’s it, that’s enough... that’s it... So to use the juiciest example - "Don’t commit adultery" and then people say to themselves "Oh ok, well I’m not married, so everything else is okay then? So I won’t sleep with a married person...." Is that really living out this call to be a follower of Christ? For those who still want to disillusion themselves Jesus is pretty clear - ah, no... And he uses equally extreme examples to make his point. If your hand or your eye causes you to sin, cut it out... Thankfully there doesn’t appear to be self-maimed people so I think we get His point...

He doesn’t want us to literally cut our body parts out to avoid sin. But He doesn’t want us to be similarly literal in our approach to the Commandments, in our approach to following Him. That’s why so often in moral debates of our day and time there’s ridiculousness on all sides of issues when it comes to how does a disciple of Christ apply biblical principles to present day situations. "There is no commandment about downloading songs for free off the internet..." True... but if we’re honest, if we dig a little deeper, if we reflect a little more, could we see how that’s sort of covered by "Thou shalt not steal?" Often times we try to find those loopholes and say "well technically Jesus never said anything about" and then follow it with whatever we want a "pass" on. When we start doing that, we find temptation harder to resist as the "tempter" presents more and more things that on one level sound reasonable or logical - when in our heart and soul we know we’re trying to get away with something.

Jesus reveals to us a God who, thankfully, doesn’t act in a similar way. His generosity with Mercy, Forgiveness, Love opens Him to being taken advantage of by every one of us. Yet he continues to take that risk, knowing that His laying down of His life for everyone of us is the greatest lesson of Love that Christ the teacher could offer; the greatest example of sacrifice that has ever been made. His hope is that such a lesson will be as memorable in our hearts and minds to not approach him, follow him as a mere job where we do the minimum hoping to get "what is owed." Rather that in living for Him, following Him, loving as He calls us to do, we find our fulfillment in life now and for all eternity.

THE NEED FOR PATIENCE (Coming from a most impatient priest)

Merry Christmas! - Today we celebrate the FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD - 40 Days since Christmas, which is the final feast of the Christmas Season - (just saw a picture that at the Vatican, the Christmas tree and creche are still on display in St. Peter’s Square) The readings for this feast day can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/020214.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog on Twitter and Facebook - and for your comments and feedback. God Bless, Fr Jim (* oh and Happy Super Bowl - Go Broncos)

HOMILY:

I am not a patient person.

 There -I’ve admitted it. For some of you who know me, I’m pretty confident that this isn’t earth shattering news or even a remotely profound revelation as you can probably offer your own examples and observations of me that confirm this fact. But it really is something that was on my mind this past week.

You see last week my computer was starting to act up. By "act up" I mean, I got the blue-screen of death a few times; unexpected just "shutting down" of it; and worst of all the computer has been moving slow - really slow. I mean it took at least five minutes for me to open Outlook to get my email - and five minutes more for fire fox to start. (At least it seemed like five minutes). And yeah I had spent time downloading some program, to defragment my drives, clean my registry and all these other things that I have absolutely zero idea what they mean or do - but have been doing only because they promised that it would speed things up.

After some recent frustrations with this computer on Saturday I made the difficult decision that comes every few years for me to purchase a new computer. I argued with myself that I can’t fool around with this thing - the last thing I needed was for this computer to completely die on me. I need it to be more efficient, more reliable - and definitely faster. So I went to Dell.com. which is always comical - because honestly I have so little idea what I’m doing there. Because I’m not a patient person - it’s not like I took a lot of time to investigate or talk to people, ask individuals who might know better what is the difference between MB and GB and how much do I need to make this thing fast and reliable? So I race through the website, I pick something, start clicking here and there responding to different upgrades and all. Get set to order it - and then I get to the shipping section and realize that the soonest I can get this new (and much more expensive than I ever wanted to spend) laptop was 4 days later - on Wednesday! I was legitimately frustrated by that - which caused me to be further frustrated when I started to reflected on my being frustrated! Because in short: I’m aggravated that a computer system with all its programs, specifications, etc (that I had customized) was going to take a total of 4 days to be prepared, shipped and delivered to my front door - all so that I could eventually open my email and internet browser in less than 20 seconds. It’s pathetic: I’m not a patient person.

I know that I’m not alone in this. Last month, there was reports out there that Amazon -
which has already made it possible to order seemingly everything from Books (which used to be the primary thing they sold) to Deodorant to anywhere - gift wrapped if you’d like (interesting to gift wrap deodorant, but...) And have it in a day or two. They’ve decided that’s not enough, so the owner of Amazon shared that they are trying to make these drones so you can order something and these little things will fly to your house and deliver it to your house in hours. I mean, I remember when getting a Pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less was a big deal, so this, how cool is this? The potential that I can get a DVD box set of Law and Order delivered in 30 minutes without leaving my home is on the horizon! Go Amazon!

We are not patient people.

One of the challenging things in this instant gratification culture is the effect this has on us in other aspects of our lives. People aren’t patient with institutions: So and so got elected last November, why isn’t everything fixed yet? People aren’t patient with each other: I texted you 10 minutes ago, and on my iPhone I can tell that you received it, why haven’t you responded back to me? People aren’t patient with themselves: I want to go on a diet and lose 20 lbs in 2, maybe 3 days tops.

And people aren’t patient with the Lord: You know God, I took time out from my busy schedule, I came to Mass, I spent a whole hour there (I even turned off my cell phone and tried to pay attention to what that priest was saying up there – something about buying a new computer or something) and YOU STILL HAVEN’T ANSWERED MY PRAYER (and if you have - I don’t like the answer because it’s not exactly what I want)

Today we celebrate a special feast day called The Presentation of the Lord... In our impatient culture that has Christmas trees on the side of the road on December 26th, it’s hard for Catholic Christians to realize that today, February 2nd, which is 40 days after December 25th is the final feast of the Christmas Season. What we celebrate is when the Blessed Virgin Mary and her Husband Joseph bring their child Jesus to the temple to "present" Him - to offer Him up to the Lord. This wasn’t just something for Jesus because he was Jesus - this wasn’t something Joseph and Mary were doing to acknowledge that this was the Son of God. This was something that all Jews did - present and offer their first born to the Lord as a recognition that all children are a gift from God and ultimately they belong to God. So this was a somewhat common Jewish custom.

 What was unusual is what happens once they’re there. These two individuals - Simeon and Anna – we meet them this one time in the Gospel - on the surface they are minor characters in the story of Jesus. Because of that, we might have missed an important thing that they teach us about our relationship with God. The need for patience In their day and age - this expectation that many Jews had of the coming of the Messiah was one of impatience and frustration. Partially because they were focused on their own wants, their own desires. We want a Messiah now to kick these Romans out - To punish them for what they’ve done to us, God’s Chosen People - to free us from their rule, their demands, their work and make us a great, a powerful, a glorious nation... Simeon and Anna, saw things differently. They recognized that God was thinking of something bigger than just the temporal needs and the earthly frustrations of His people. These elderly and intimately prayerful people weren’t focusing on their demands, their wants... both of these incredibly humble people were a part of a small minority of Jews who weren’t looking for the Messiah in the next revolutionary, the next "community organizer" or what have you that came on the scene. They lived in prayerful watchfulness - patiently waiting for the Lord. Simeon knowing that once He would see the Messiah, his life’s fulfillment will have been achieved. Anna, who after having a whole life in the world had through age and choice had less connection to the things of this world and found her life consumed with waiting for the Messiah.


They catch sight of Jesus in the temple and instantly they recognize their prayers had been answered. And in a sense it had to have been quite surprising. Of all the ways for the Messiah to come to earth, maybe He imagined a chariot of fire coming down from the heavens to bring down the Messiah? Perhaps... Instead, these two poor people, Joseph and Mary – so poor they have to use the poor persons option in terms of temple offerings of two pigeons rather than the customary offering of a lamb – they come forth with this newborn baby boy - Jesus.

Simeon and Anna who have been patiently waiting on the Lord can recognize the "dawn of salvation"; the arrival of the Messiah in their midst. And that’s enough for them. They won’t live to see how or when things will be fulfilled. They had trusted in the Lord’s promise that they would see the Messiah. And that sufficed. That brought them tremendous joy.

For you and I, we can get caught up with our impatient mentalities that we are missing out on mystery. For example, when I work with college students who try to discern "what is it God wants me to do with my life" - maybe it’s trying to determine what to study, what career – sometimes it’s ‘where’s this relationship going?’ or "Is Jesus really calling me to be a priest?" There’s often this tension "Why won’t God just tell me? Like Now - so I can register for my classes." Like now - so I can break up with him? And when we do that, we lose sight of how God is walking, talking with us. Gently inviting us to be a part of His ongoing story of salvation that continues to unfold in our day and age through our laying down our lives, dealing with the normal human tension that occurs when we do that - but choosing that - trusting that God is acting, God is calling, God is moving through each of us... we just have to be patient in waiting for it to all make sense.

A great Jesuit by the name of Teilhard de Chardin had this prayer called "Patient Trust."

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
we are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability— and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
May you and I make those words ours as we patiently wait for the Lord to work in our lives... finding that true joy isn’t in the instant response to our wants and desires from dell, amazon or anyone else... The joy of Simeon and Anna; the joy of Joseph and Mary - is true joy that comes from the birth, life, death, resurrection and continued presence Jesus alone can give.