50 SHADES OF TEMPTATION

Hi everyone - here's my homily for FEBRUARY 22, 2015 - THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/022215.cfm.  As always, thanks for reading; your feedback and comments; and for  sharing this blog on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and elsewhere on the web.  God Bless you on your Lenten journey, Fr Jim

HOMILY:
 
As rough as winter has been for us here in the New York area, and despite the rivalry that often exists between NY and Boston - in this instance they most definitely win. In the competition of "who has had the harsher winter," they have definitely seen one of the worst, if not historic of seasons. I'm not sure how accurate the reports are but I think they've gotten 90 inches of snow..and I know I heard this (but again this may be an exaggeration) that since Christmas they've only had 9 days of school?? This extreme weather is definitely getting to the people living there:


Last week, after yet another blizzard hit, one Boston resident spent a great deal of time and effort digging his car out of the snow on the street and clearing the spot for himself. Before he left for work, he put a "space saver" there – you know, to hold his spot. When he returned he found the "space saver" was moved and someone parked their car in it. The guy decided to take all of the snow – at least a foot if not more that he had removed and "put it back" on the car. Complete with pictures of the car now re-shovelled with snow - the story went viral on the Internet - on NBC's Today Show, and all kinds of news sites - with some laughing, calling it awesome, absolutely hilarious.

Interestingly the man who had posted the story on Craigs list "Rants and Raves" section – after feeling somewhat vindicated and justified at his actions (I can’t read you his exact feelings about the guy who parked in his car – I try to keep my homilies at least PG rated here) – and winning praise from strangers all over the world soon pulled the post off of Craigs list. Reporters who were able to track him down since the post was "screen grabbed" (just a friendly reminder, everything you post online never goes away) and they said that the man insisted on remaining anonymous.

Last week there was some other news. The movie "50 shades of grey" - the highly controversial and pornographic movie (that is trying to be passed off as a main stream movie) was released breaking all kinds of box office records. In the avalanche of hype and media attention leading up to its release; one commentator, from Britain, summed up a lot of little interviews and stories all together in one neat paragraph. She wrote:

I’ve been following the Fifty Shades press tour with mounting delight, because every single person involved seems to hate it. The author hates the director. The romantic leads hate each other. All of them hate the original fans. And in a variety of increasingly creative ways, they have independently and politely requested we don’t see the film, ever…. Most interviews with [the male lead actor] Jamie Dornan have included quotes about how uncomfortable he was with the sex scenes. Most interviews with [the female lead actress] Dakota Johnson have included a quote about how fans of the book are probably going to hate it. [As well as this profoundly revealing quote:] "I don’t want my family to see the movie, because it’s inappropriate. Or my brothers’ friends… Also there’s part of me that’s like: I don’t want anyone to see this movie," she told Glamour [magazine]. "Just kidding..."

What hit me just hearing and seeing both of these stories was that in both instances – people decided to do some pretty extreme things and make them public: A guy at 12:00 midnight was so ticked off –he spent time re-shoveling snow on top of a car, taking pictures of it, posting it on Craig’s list before going to bed. Everyone involved in this film "50 shades of grey" knew from the very beginning that there was something wrong with it. The actors, directors, producers knew going into it, knew that this isn’t ever going to be an inspirational film, a classic piece of cinema, something that will win any award, receive any acclaim (in fact many reviews have ripped it to shreds) The motivation for making this film: greed. "Sex sells" they say (and by the box office receipts, their correct). Both the "angry shoveler" and those involved in that film in hindsight are all expressing that they don’t feel particularly proud of what they’ve done. In fact they’re feeling something called shame.

Sadly our culture seems to be celebrating both examples. Having the crew of NBC Today Show kind of laughing and highlighting your angry tirade on national television – Having headlines saying "Grey topples Christ" (referring to the fact that the premiere of 50 shades of Grey broke a previous February box office record held by the premiere of The Passion of the Christ). Yet, in both cases, the Boston man has yet to come forward and accept his notoriety and the filmmakers, while enjoying their financial success, stories continue to come out of continued infighting that has caused delays towards making a sequel.

Temptation.

We can all relate to it:
the feelings of being tempted to doing something;
the thing in our gut that tells us this isn’t right…
the failures we’ve suffered in giving into temptation; and that feeling of shame after.  
The desire to make excuses for it or justify it I only did that once; I’ve seen people do worse… look they had it coming…


Every year on the first Sunday of Lent, we hear an account of Jesus’ being tempted in the desert. In today’s Gospel we see how Jesus is driven out into the desert for forty days. He’s going on retreat. He’s leaving the world behind to clarify in his heart and his mind what it is that the Heavenly Father has sent Him to do. And as He enters into this time where he wishes to be united with His Heavenly Father, what happens? He’s tempted by the devil! Imagine that, even Jesus had temptations! While the accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke give more detail than this account, we don’t really need too many details. Just reading the words that Jesus was "tempted by Satan" says it all.

He didn’t have his friends, there were no apostles or disciples to rely on... He didn’t even have the help of his family, his Blessed Mother Mary at that time. The Gospel simply says that He relied on; he "leaned on" angels who helped him to keep faithful to His Heavenly Father who had sent Him to earth with this Mission to save humanity.

For you and I as we begin this season of Lent, we often start this time of "spiritual renewal" with a hope, a desire to grow closer to Jesus Christ. We look at the state of our lives, the choices, decisions we’ve made in our lives and start to consider how can I make some changes? How can I deal with some of the mistakes and failures I’ve made? How can I be rid of the shame I feel from those missteps? We set out from Ash Wednesday with great intentions. Yet, quickly our motivation starts to wane. Our attention gets diverted. And the temptation to just let go of our hopes, our desires to grow closer to Jesus Christ are replaced with everyday tasks, unnecessary distractions and even a sense of despair as we start believing the lie "I’m never going to really be able to change."

Its true, we’re not like Jesus Christ during his time in the desert. One blessed difference is that we have Him to lean on as we embrace this lenten journey. But that’s one of the key factors – we have to choose to focus on Him. Because if not, this somewhat jaded, cyncical world around us will try to discourage us at every choice, every decision, every opportunity we have to make whether we will follow Christ or go along with what the "other guys on the team" are doing – Satan will whisper lies to us making us doubt we’ll be able to resist what everyone else is doing, so why even try.

It’s true, the story of some guy who comes home and discovers someone parking in his not resorting to dumping 12 + inches of snow back in retaliation won’t go viral. The actors and film makers who passed on being any way involved in "50 Shades of Grey" might be a footnote in a Wikipedia account on the history of this film. But the point is, when confronted by whatever temptation: big or small; whether it comes to us in a barely audible whisper or if it’s something that confronts us face to face; whether it’s something extraordinary or a daily temptation that is all too familiar – the choice, the decision we make: to give into Satan’s cunning, clever attacks or not – isn’t about what the world thinks of those choices. It’s much bigger than that, it reveals what is in our heart. Sometimes we can be blinded by the "ways out" when our focus is on the temptation. Our natural self allows the temptation to remain in our mind for a while rather than making the choice to cast it out. The casting out process takes inner strength … a decision made … the Holy Spirit is in us so that we can do that … we have the power, but we need to plug into it for it to become active.
shoveled out parking spot and him

The loving message that the Lord offers us as we engage in this battle is to remember – no matter how many times we struggle, or even the many times we fail – He is victorious. He is victorious in withstanding the temptations in the desert. He continues to reject temptations, even when they lead to the Cross and His passion and death. And in His resurrection, he has ultimately defeated the tempter: Satan, for all time.

May we recognize how Jesus meets us in our vulnerability, in our moments of weakness where we feel tempted to give into whatever lie that Satan is putting before us. In those moments, we have Jesus himself that we can rely on to minister to us. Are we willing to withstand the ridicule of the world to live only for him? Are we willing to admit we're weak, but have confidence in His strength to complete us? Are we willing to work past our shame and guilt and let the Holy Spirit guide us to better things, things more worthy of His temple, which we believe our bodies are? Let us continue this great season of Lent that we began so earnestly on Wednesday, and let God's love for us strengthen us and lift us up and fill us with the gift of hope, of a new life in Him, a gift that He so desperately wishes for us to receive.

MAKING SURE ASH WEDNESDAY ISN'T GROUNDHOG DAY

Hi everyone - here's my homily for ASH WEDNESDAY - February 18, 2015.  Thanks as always for reading; sharing it on facebook, twitter, reddit and other social-media sites; and all your feedbacks and comments.  Have a Blessed Lent!  Fr Jim

HOMILY:

A few years back, a group of about 75 members from Newman Catholic here at MSU and I were on a bus to Orlando Florida for a FOCUS conference over Christmas break. I underestimated how rough 24 hours on a bus was going to be – even with the luxury of having TV’s with DVD players. You would think that would make the ride more bearable. But then one of our members insisted - and because he was an Eboard Officer demanded - that we watch "Transformers II."  Which was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen (this "fan" argued that’s because I had missed the first Transformers. After patiently (or as patiently as I can) watching that thing, I claimed the right to pick the next flick. Which was one of my favorite films of all-time. Groundhog Day.

I hated that when I looked it up, I realized that came out in 1993 - some of you weren’t even born yet (another thing I hated realizing) In the 21 years since it’s initial release, the film has grown in critics estimation with it landing on a bunch of different lists ranking the best American Films of all time.

It stars comedian Bill Murray who plays this arrogant, condescending, self-centered weatherman named Phil Connors... who is sent to Punxsutawney Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities.  He grudgingly files his report about the groundhog seeing his shadow and predicting 6 more weeks of snow (such a bizarre legend), the crew packs up their gear into the van, and they attempt to leave.  But a blizzard hits, which forces them to stay an additional night. 

When Phil wakes up the next morning right away he recognizes something’s "off."  The same exact song comes on the clock radio ("I got you babe") he encounters the same people at the exact same spots that he had the day earlier having the same chit-chat conversations.  He soon realizes that he’s reliving the exact same day - Groundhog day - and he’s the only person in the whole world that realizes he’s stuck in this time loop. 

The first time it happens he kind of brushes it off as maybe he must be dreaming and is kind of in disbelief. But when it happens a second time, and a third time - he begins to realize he is trapped in Groundhog Day.  Life just keeps repeating itself over and over and over again with everything being exactly the same as it was the last time. 

He goes through an emotional roller-coaster.  One day he just binges eating and drinking whatever he wants.  Another day he realizes that he’s learning people’s secrets - so he’ll go up to a woman he’s attracted too and ask her a bunch of questions so that he can immediately sweep her off her feet the next "Groundhog Day" and she has no idea how he seems to know everything about her.   He’ll move to despair and anger and hopelessness as the day repeats over and over again as he’s imprisoned in the endless Groundhog Day.

Only in time, after suffering through the repetition: dealing with his own self-absorption which continues to get in the way of him changing — slowly,  he drops his defenses. He begins to use his knowledge of how the day will unfold to help people.   For example, knowing that a child will always fall from a tree at a certain time, he makes it a point to be there and catch the child every time. Knowing that a man will choke on his meal, he is always at a nearby table in the restaurant to save him.  When Phil ultimately goes about the difficult work of changing himself:  becoming a sensitive, caring individual- that ultimately this "spell" trapping him in the loop of Ground Hog Days finally ends and he makes it to February 3rd.

I couldn’t help but think about that movie (maybe the weather has something to do with it) and what we’re celebrating here today.  If we’re not careful, Ash Wednesday and this season of Lent can become "Groundhog Day" for all of us – we can find ourselves in a similar "loop" - simply repeating the same thing over and over again – coming together for this ritual of putting ashes on our heads; hearing the same scripture readings we did last year; following these lenten practices of giving something up, refraining from eating meat today and on Fridays. Some people even look forward to giving up the same things each year – "Off Facebook for 40 days" - giving up deserts and making this almost like the Lenten Diet to drop a few pounds in time for Easter - which aren’t bad things. But Lent is more than an opportunity to lose some weight or give ourselves a well-needed "virtual" time out.

In the first reading, the Jewish prophet Joel proclaimed to us - Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.   St. Paul pleads with us in the Second Reading:  Brothers and sisters... we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled with God... NOW is an acceptable time... NOW is the day of salvation.

Even though these words are thousands of years old. 
Even if they’ve kind of flown over our heads in years past and we’ve kind of mindlessly made our way through Ash Wednesday and Lent in previous years, Jesus meets us here and now - in the present.  We’re not to buy into that lie that it’s the same old thing, every year.

Something drew you here today. 
In some way, the Holy Spirit touched each of our hearts to break from our busy, busy lives to be here.  These ashes are meant to remind us that without God’s breath of life, this is all we would be, a pile of ashes.  It’s His amazing, lavish, mysterious love that we even exist.  And everyone of us - from me as your priest to everyone gathered here - in receiving these ashes, we recognize that we don’t always live our life with a reciprocal love.  In fact, we may have eclipsed God from our daily lives at times.  Perhaps that’s become a pattern, a routine in your life as well.

As the ashes are put on our head we’re called to Turn away from Sin and be faithful to the Gospel.  And even though we’ve heard them over and over; year after year.  They invite us to recognize that we don’t have to keep doing that same thing.   We can take this opportunity to really change, to begin a new. 

+ Maybe this Lent I’ll finally go to confession, because it’s been a really long time. 

+ Maybe this Lent I’m going to start getting back into the habit of going to Mass every Sunday. 

+ Maybe this Lent I’m going to join a bible study or participate in some community service to help others. 

+ Maybe this Lent, I’m going to reach out to someone I’ve been angry with or haven’t resolved a fight I’ve had with.

Its up to us to make sure Ash Wednesday doesn’t become like "Groundhog Day" - an annual, recurring, loop. What is the something new, something different that Jesus Christ is calling you to today?   How does he want you to come to meet Him and Know Him in a new way.  Pope Francis in his Lenten Message very beautifully said:    


God does not ask of us anything that he himself has not first given us. ‘We love because he first has loved us.’
He is not aloof from us. Each one of us has a place in his heart.
He knows us by name,
He cares for us and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him.
He is interested in each of us;
His love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us.

Think how mind blowing that is... God - He is interested in us. He is not indifferent to us. In a particular, specific and individual way Jesus is inviting you and I to go deeper within ourselves and make the next 6 weeks a time to break our destructive patterns. 


To be reconciled to God and one another.
To Free ourselves of being trapped with self-focused thoughts and truly live as the liberated sons and daughters of God He calls us to be. What would that mean for you? Would you, like Bill Murray’s character Phil, do something different - become someone different?  Would you draw closer to Jesus Christ who is already close and waiting for us?  

Let us turn towards Him, with love.  
Let us wake up from our recurring nightmare, from the sameness of our sins, and ask the Author of originality what wonderful thing, what amazing person we can become, through His grace.  While Lent may be a time to deny ourselves the little luxuries, the ‘extras’ that crowd our life and consume our time, Lent is also a time to indulge in one-on-one time with the Lord, with peaceful meditation, with talking to Him, openly and honestly, about who we are and who we yet might become, once transformed through His love.  

Today is Ash Wednesday.... I can promise you, the calendar will not stop - it will be followed by the 40 days of Lent, the Easter Season, then Ordinary Time and Christmas and another Ash Wednesday... another Lent.  May this one always stand out in your memories as the one where you - where I - finally let go of our fears and self-doubt, our worries about tomorrow and tomorrow and the tomorrow after that. May we truly hear St. Paul’s words "NOW is a very acceptable time... NOW is the day of Salvation..." and trust that Jesus and His love will always be with us, always be enough for us, more than enough.  Trust that no matter what tomorrow may bring, His love can change us, can make us new, will make us His. 

TO BE NOTICED... TO BE LOVED

Hi everyone, thanks for stopping by.  Here's my homily for the SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - Feb 15, 2015.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021515.cfm.  I appreciate your sharing this blog on twitter, facebook, reddit and everywhere else it seems to pop up -- as well as your feedback and comments.  My prayers and best wishes for everyone as we enter into the holy season of Lent this Ash Wednesday (for those here at MSU our Mass schedule is 12:15, 3:00, 5:30 & 8:15 pm in the Student Center Ballroom with confessions before and after all the Masses - more info at www.MSUNEWMAN.com)  God Bless!  Fr Jim

HOMILY:


So I was trying to find this article or where I had read this story some years ago – it’s hard to believe in this Google world that you can’t "find" something – but after spending way too much time on that search, I gave up searching for where I read this story:

After Mass one Sunday afternoon in the city, a group of friends went to have lunch at a restaurant - some local diner. As they were sitting there, talking to each other, catching up on their weeks, enjoying their meals, they noticed a man sitting alone at a nearby table. He was an older man, he was looking a little ragged. He had finished a simple sandwich and a cup of coffee. They could see he had this anxious look as he had the bill in front of him and was frantically searching his pockets for enough dollars and change to pay for his meal. They could see that he was becoming increasingly nervous – it was obvious he wasn’t going to have enough to cover the check.

One of the friends who had gathered for the lunch got up as if to go to the restroom, and as he passed the man’s table, he leaned down, pretending like he found a $10 bill on the floor. He did it so naturally that when he offered the bill to the distracted man, the man’s whole body language changed. He started saying "Thank you – thank you so much, I was sure I had enough to cover the bill." The poor man was beaming. The friends at the table were so deeply moved by what they witnessed. Not the gift of a $10 donation, but the gift of great gentleness, great care and respect given to the man – something more valuable than the $10.

To be noticed... To be loved...

That’s what’s at the heart of tonight’s Gospel. This leper comes forward to Jesus. Think about it - we don’t even know the man’s name. And in this day and age, we don’t hear much about the disease (even though there are people who still suffer from it around the world) Leprosy is a bacterial infection of the skin, which can eventually paralyze someone and ultimately kill them. It is repulsive on many levels: people’s body parts literally decay in plain sight; there is a horrible stench associated with it; and (as if all that weren't bad enough) it is highly contagious. That's why lepers were separated from the rest of the community, and even required to wear a bell to announce there presence - so people could run away from them.

Because of all this, people afflicted with leprosy not only suffered physical pain - but imagine how alone they felt, how isolated from the rest of the world they were. The suffering in their bodies was matched by the suffering in their souls.

For this man suffering from Leprosy in the Gospel, we don’t know how long it had been since someone shook this guy’s hand, patted him on the back, put an arm around his waist, hugged him, touched his cheek, wiped a tear from his eye, or kissed him... The truth is, all those things were merely a memory as he lived in the leper colony in his cave.

Until he met Jesus and cried out to him: "IF YOU WISH, YOU CAN MAKE ME CLEAN." Not - can you do this for me? – Not I’ve heard about you, you’re the miracle guy, right, can you help a leper out? In his heart and soul he recognizes that in Jesus all things are possible. That Jesus desires our wholeness, our healing, our connectedness. He recognizes that Jesus can heal him, can clean him, can restore him...

In that moment, Jesus’ healing more than miraculously restores this man’s physical health. That truly is an amazing gift - but the deeper thing, the longer lasting thing, the thing that will change the lepers perspective, change his life:

To be noticed... To be loved.

Whether it’s the guy at the diner in NYC or the leper in Galilee 2,000 years ago - yes, they are both very extreme and different examples. But what unites both men, is that sense of aloneness, shame, isolation. More than likely, we can search our own memories and remember times where we can relate. Times where you felt alone, felt unloved. Moments of despair and isolation. Overwhelmed with a darkness and a despair convincing you there’s nothing that will lift it. Perhaps you’re going through one of those times right now. If that’s the case - then thank God you’re here. Because then you’re like the leper - believing in some corner of that darkened room in your heart those words "If you wish, you can make me clean." He does... He desires it. He can do it. He will do it. If we remain open, vulnerable, trusting to His presence and activity in our lives.

But we’re also meant to recognize we’re not always the leper in the story. St. Theresa of Avila once said very beautifully:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ's compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

Do we recognize the "lepers" if they are in our sight or are they part of the background that we may not notice because of our schedule or priorities? Sometimes the healing is in the seeing. Choosing to make an effort to notice those who are hurting will in turn bring healing to our souls that may have intentionally or unintentionally distanced ourselves from them. Who needs healing more? Us or them?

Who are the "lepers" - the "unclean" among us? Who are those looking for healing? Who is it that is looking to be noticed, to be loved? Who is it wallowing in the darkness of sin, the painful isolation of sickness or disease? Who is it that the Lord is putting on our hearts right now who we know, we know that are hurting in some way that we are equipped right now in some real way to bring some healing, some relief, some love and compassion to?

Will we answer the call or turn away? Who is it that is waiting for an invitation to come to meet Christ - someone you can invite to come with you to Mass - someone who’s been away from Church and simply needs someone to show them care, show them authentic friendship to invite them...

Maybe it’s a classmate, a colleague, a relative... maybe its someone not that we’re not too close to or think about that much but that the Holy Spirit is raising in your mind right now. There’s someone he’s trying to utilize each and everyone of us to bring the power of His love, His life, His light into the deepest, darkest recesses of their souls. Not to solve all their problems. And definitely not to enable them and keep them in their same places of suffering. Rather to proclaim to them that they are noticed - that they are loved - with a true, authentic love. They "the lepers" of the world are crying out to you and I - if you wish, you can make it clean. Do we?

"THE SADDEST THING IN LIFE IS WASTED TALENT"

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for February 1, 2015 - Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/020115.cfm Thanks as always for reading, sharing and your feedback. Have a great week - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:



How many of you have heard of the movie "A Bronx Tale?"

It’s a bit of an older film being released back in 1993 and I’m not sure if it ranks as a "Classic" film to anyone other than Italian Americans like myself. It starred Robert De Niro and a man by the name of Chazz Palminteri. A couple of years ago, when I was on Lino Rulli’s "Catholic Guy Show" he had Mr Palminteri in as a guest. He was coming to talk about a new film he was in that was opening soon. But Lino, was really huge fan of "A Bronx Tale." He had seen it numerous times (to the point of having lines and scenes memorized), so he really was more excited to have the opportunity to talk about "A Bronx Tale." Funny - I don’t even know what the new film it was Mr Palminteri was promoting. (Not sure if Mr Palminteri would think so)

Because most actors promoting a new film wouldn’t be too eager to talk about a film they made 16 years earlier. But in all honesty, Palminteri lit up as he talked about "A Bronx Tale." Probably because, (which I didn’t realize until that interview) Palminteri wrote "A Bronx Tale." Most if it is based on his own life. The story is of a kid growing up in the 1960's with, basically, two father figures - his natural father and a mob boss - each competing for the opportunity to impact the kid's growth and development. Before it was a film, "A Bronx Tale" was a play, which was also written by Palminteri. In the interview, he said that he was offered great deals by different film studios for the rights to the play - but he refused all of them and went with a less lucrative deal because he wanted to write the screenplay and play one of the main characters.

Just hearing that you might think "here’s another actor with a huge ego," but as he talked, you could tell that wasn’t it. That became most evident as Palminteri discussed one of the most famous quotes from the movie. In one of the most dramatic scenes (which I won’t spoil for you), the Father is almost trying to impart to his son these words – The saddest thing in life is wasted talent. Palminteri movingly recalled how his own father had written those words on a piece of paper and had taped it on his mirror when he was growing up, so he would see them every day and never forget them. Now that he’s a father himself, he tries to impress those same words on his kids' hearts and minds. If you’ve ever seen the film, you can see that, in many ways, those words inspired Palminteri to write the play and the film

It became obvious that Mr. Palminteri is so protective of this story because the words mean something to him. They are important words. They are words passed down from one who loved him to ones he now loves. These aren’t merely lines an actor needed to memorize; they came from his heart and soul. And just hearing him say that line live in studio, you could hear that reality.

Think about it – when someone speaks words that mean something - that are genuine, that are sincere, that come from a person’s heart and soul - you can tell. You get a sense of their authenticity. We probably can think of a number of illustrations of that reality. For example, people say, "I love you" all the time - but you can tell the difference between a celebrity saying those words to their fans on Oscar night, and a Mother and Father saying those same words to their child.

Of the four Gospels, the Gospel of Mark is the shortest. Not because Mark doesn’t have a lot to say - but because he focuses so precisely on some very memorable aspects of Jesus' character.

Three weeks ago, we heard Jesus ask, "What do you want?" Last week, Jesus inaugurated God’s Kingdom by saying, This is the time of fulfillment - The Reign of God is at Hand - Repent - Believe the good News. In today’s Gospel, what’s astonishing to the people isn’t so much the words Jesus speaks but how Jesus speaks, how he teaches. He’s not just a man reading the words of the prophets who went before him. He’s not someone who is simply delivering a message. He is in fact the message... The Gospel describes the crowd as being amazed that He’s teaching as one who has authority. These holy words - these divine encounters of the scriptures that Jesus draws upon as he teaches, take on a deeper meaning coming from him. Why?

Because they are His story. They are His words. They originated from Him. And so Jesus speaks with the genuineness, sincerity, and understanding of one who has authority.

His authority is so evident - so effective - so obvious, that even his enemy - the one who wishes to defeat and destroy Jesus (Satan) obeys his word. We heard in that Gospel passage how a demon had basically captured a man’s soul - tormenting him - enslaving him; and yet, with one rebuke from Jesus, the demon comes out of the man who is instantly healed and restored.

As Christians, each one of us is granted authority by God to speak in his name. We are called by Jesus to go out and to preach and teach and heal. To care for others and to show them God’s love. That’s not accomplished simply in repeating or memorizing scripture passages like we’re reciting a spell or something. That only becomes possible when His words become our words. When they come from our hearts and souls. When we realize these are words that were passed down by one who Loves us – who wants us to love one another as well.

Jesus entrusts us with His words and His story. We have the power, the authority, the duty to make Jesus’ name, his Presence, his activity alive today. How deeply that takes root today depends on how serious we take this call. He in fact has gifted us with the ability, the means, the opportunities to do just that. Our Lord has great expectations of us. Jesus might borrow Palminteri’s line and agree that the saddest thing in life - for us, for those around us waiting to come to know and love Jesus - would be our wasting our talent - and missing this opportunity...