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A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at a meeting when a friend turned to me and asked if I had an extra pen. I took a look, and on the bottom of my backpack, I saw an old ball-point pen. The plastic outer shell of it was broken. It was kind of dirty too from dust, lint or whatever other particles made it into this bag that doubles as both my gym bag and briefcase. At any event, I pulled the pen out half not realizing I had done so, as I said "No, I don’t."
He looked at me kind of in disbelief trying to figure out whether I was stupid or busting on him as he said "Uh - what’s that?" And I said "Oh this, you don’t want to use this, I mean look at it, it’s old, it’s broken, I doubt it even works." He grabbed the pen, swirled it on his pad a few times and then it started working again (gotta hand it to Ballpoint, they do make a good pen) and he said "yeah - this is fine..." as he proceeded to use it for the next hour without even the slightest of difficulties.
Here I was - maybe out of embarrassment, or a mistaken belief that there’s no way this would be useful - prepared not to give my friend something he needed at the moment he needed it, because I had already judged the pen inadequate. Kind of a silly example, but we see something similar happening in today’s Gospel.
In this reading, we hear of one of Jesus’ most famous, most recounted and remembered of miracles - the feeding of the multitudes with 5 barley loaves and two fishes. As told by St. John, this version contains an interesting detail. When Jesus sees the crowd of well over 5,000 (considering that was only the number of men – with women and children, the crowd was probably well over 15,000) He shows his love, his concern and makes it clear that he wishes to get them something to eat. Turning to his closest followers, his inner circle, his apostles, Andrew seems to be the only one with any ideas (the others are probably thinking, as we hear in the other gospels, to send them home thinking the crowd is to big). Andrew points out that a young boy has come forward and offered all that he had: 5 loaves and 2 fish. But as soon as Andrew acknowledges this offer, very quickly, he dismisses it as inadequate saying "what good are these for so many?"
How often in our land of plenty and abundance do we look at the material things we possess as inadequate as we almost get into this competition of sorts with one another. (I’m just as bad as anyone else. As soon as a new iphone is released I start thinking how inferior, how much slower, how much worse my phone is in comparison)
But more personally, more directly: how often do we see the gifts, the talents, the abilities that we possess as "not good enough?" Sometimes it’s out of fear, embarrassment – where we’ve determined what we possess isn’t as good as it should be or worse out of comparing ourselves to others what we possess isn’t as good as somebody else.
I’ve heard it in parishioners saying they can’t volunteer to help teach CCD because "they’re not good enough" or I won’t sing with the choir because "there’s people who sing better than I do." People will skip opportunities to help at a soup kitchen "what can one person do?" Sometimes people will resist going to visit someone who is ill or being with a family at a funeral saying "I don’t know what to say..." Even sometimes young men dismiss thoughts of a priestly vocation or young women think they could never be called to be a religious sister because "I’m not holy enough." There’s a whole bunch of examples we can think of pertaining to each of us in our different aspects of life.
One lesson this Gospel tries to point out is that it’s not about us. We can get so worked up trying to evaluate things conceiving a plan, speculating how things will work out (and in the process, undermine how blessed we truly are as we compare ourselves to others) that we can get overwhelmed, doubtful in our faith and stifling ourselves into inaction.
Yet look at how Jesus takes this nameless boy’s example to speak to us today. If like him, we simply, humbly offer to Jesus all that we have, all that we possess, all that we are - it is then that He is able to work miracles through us and with us.
If that were something that was lived by every disciple, then this wouldn’t be simply a miracle story we recount once a year, remembering this one day where a multitude of people had their physical hunger alleviated. It would be a model of how Jesus Christ continues to transform the hearts of his believers and the world around them. Jesus would continue to be working miracles, fulfilling the deeper hungers, alleviating the spiritual and physical malnourishment that so many are suffering simply because we’ve been stuck asking ourselves as we look at our gifts, our talents, our possessions - "What good are these?"
Jesus is willing to show us exactly how good they are, if only we would be willing to share them.
A week ago, I returned from a 10 day pilgrimage to Italy where we visited the cities of Rome, Assisi and Orvietto. Some of you know that the fact that I’ve been able to get over my fear of flying has been a big feat I’m still working on. I’m nowhere near as anxious as I was 7 years ago when I flew for the first time in over 16 years nor as panicked as I was 4 years ago the first time I traveled outside the United States (that’s when I realized it wasn’t just air travel I was fearful of, but the whole traveling abroad experience, but I digress)
But I realize I still have a ways to go with this whole traveling experience... Primarily when it comes to packing. Here I was going away for 10 days and you would’ve thought I was moving residences. First I was going through the prescriptions I’m on - make sure I had all of those for my trip. Then I thought "I should bring some of the over-the counter stuff I take - Advil, Zantac" Then as I’m looking in my medicine cabinet I started thinking what about Pepto Bismol (just in case) or Tums... I don’t use them often - but what if? Then it was toothpaste, soap (because of course they don’t have those things in Italy?) shampoo (for the ever decreasing head of hair) deodorant. Then it was packing clothes, how many shirts, pants, socks... how many shoes, flipflops. Books - I was going to be in Assisi, so I wanted to bring a favorite "Bonaventure’s Life of Francis" – something for the plane. Oh that’s right, for the plane, I need my iPad (as well as my iPhone, with chargers, and wires; headphones) Then every time I went to the store and was walking near the travel/trial size section I stated adding more things like Tide-detergent packets, bounty "wrinkle release" sprays, etc. well, you get the idea.
I most certainly did not pack "light" for the journey. While some of the things were necessary – I’m sure my fellow travelers were happy I included my deodorant – truth be told as I was unpacking things Sunday night, (after re-packing them Saturday night in Italy) I noticed that there was a bulk of stuff, things, items that I never used once. The book I thought would be so essential to my visit to Assisi, I had left in the hotel room and never once cracked it open. And just looking at all of these things I realize how they helped weigh me down, slow me down, distract me, attach me to certain fears or worries that I carry.
But it’s much more than that. At the heart of this Gospel, Jesus is saying Just go; just trust me... - my words, my invitation to follow me more than anything else in the world.
That’s harder to do then learning to pack lightly: To trust Him. To trust He has a plan. To trust He is with us. To trust He wants what’s best for us. To trust that it’s going to work out (even when our rational minds argue with us it can’t or it won’t) To trust that our security isn’t tied to what we possess and cling onto.
In inviting us to be His followers, Jesus wants us to simply and solely possess and cling onto Him
Because what I found is my suitcase can be a good life-metaphor too. What things are we holding onto in our hearts and minds in our life journey’s? What things do we carry with us that weigh us down, slow us down, distract and diminish us? The angers, the resentments, the disappointments. The jealousies, rivalries, anxieties and all the other "ies" that we keep schlepping along as we go to work, go to school, interact (or don’t) with relatives, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
Jesus asks us to unload them and trust in Him alone in supplying us with what we need to carry with us place to place, day to day; making room for the possessions of God that He wants us to carry and lavishly share: His love, His forgiveness, His mercy, His generosity, His hope. In the end – the real end - when our journey’s are at an end - we’ll find those are the only things we needed, the only things that truly mattered.
Hi everyone... We're on our last day of Pilgrimage. Here's my homily for the feast of St Thomas the Apostle (readings at usccb.org - July 3) Thanks as always for reading and your feedback - and prayers
St. Thomas, the Apostle who’s feast day we celebrate today gets a pretty bad rap. Think about it if you were asked how you’d like to be remembered 2,000 years later in three words or less, how amazingly difficult that would be. Yet for the apostles, we seem to have a bunch of them: Peter - The Rock; John - The Beloved; Judas - The traitor... And in those three cases, you have to admit that scripture and tradition seemed to have gotten those just right. Peter as the first pope, with all his strengths and weaknesses led the Early Church after Jesus’ Ascension and proved to be a firm “rock” of leadership for the Church. Judas, despite whatever good he might have done in his life, after selling out Jesus for 30 silver pieces, well, it’s kind of hard to recover from that and so, he’s simply known as the traitor. And John, the faithful friend of Jesus, the only one of the 12 to stand at the foot of the cross, the one Jesus entrusted the care of Mary, His Mother for the rest of her earthy life, it seems obvious why he is remembered as “the beloved.”
But ask many people about Thomas - an almost immediate impulse is to label him in a similar way as “The Doubter.” We even use the term calling someone a “Doubting Thomas” to describe someone who’s negative or cynical - all because of his giving voice to to the disappointments that he had with himself and the others as he speaks with candid honesty in saying “I will not believe.”
Seriously, why wouldn’t he react like that? As we visited the Sacra Scala, as we visited this church of Sancta Croce with the relics of the Holy Cross on this last day of our pilgrimage - we know these aren’t just historic artifacts or pious relics to look at curiously. They put the passion, the death of Jesus Christ front and center. And looking and reflecting on these things, these sites from St. Thomas’ perspective - well we have to image that there was so many things that had happened that he couldn’t believe, couldn’t wrap his mind around that gave birth to his doubts:
- It was scandalous to him that Jesus would be betrayed by one and denied by another of the chosen 12.
-It was horrible for him to consider that the rest of them couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to do anything to stop what had happened to Jesus;
-It was unimaginable to him that the one who had given them faith, hope and love; the one that they had left everything in their lives behind to go and follow - that Jesus was left for dead on a cross.
That three days later, he’s hearing these reports that Jesus had been raised from the dead,
that Jesus had accomplished what he had promised he would,
that indeed hell has been defeated,
that death has been conquered.
Thomas is hearing all of this remarkable news from the same people who had been such failures so recently, who could blame him from being beyond skeptical? So Thomas’ seems to dismiss this incredible news of the Resurrection of Jesus, an event that would change human history forever with those simple words “I will not believe.”
But if we are able to move past his impulse his initial moment of heart-wrenching honesty, maybe we can look at Thomas in a different light and even consider changing the idea of Thomas being labeled “the doubter” to something else... Perhaps Thomas “the faithful.” Because in truth, his doubting words don’t match his actions of faith.
Because the week after this whole “doubting” scene, look at what happens - Has he let his doubts drive him away from the others? Has he let his unbelief discount all that he had come to believe that Jesus had taught? Does he let his realization of what complete and utter failures he himself was as well as the others were in not standing up (or even standing by) Jesus at his hour of need, does he let that drive him to loneliness or despair? No, a week later, we find Thomas is there in the locked room with the others. Because he remains faithful WITH his doubts, because he has been honest about his unbelief, Jesus the risen savior is able to meet him. Jesus is able to heal him of the unbelief that had been so deadly to the heart of the believer. That’s why Thomas can be such a great model for us.
Because truth be told, We have our doubts too, don’t we? Sometimes it’s borne from the actions or lack of actions from others. We know that there are things, scandals that have plagued our Church over the last few years and every time the news reports one of these things they bring a flood of angry, disappointed, heartbreaking, nauseous feelings to all of us. We have our doubts about our politicians, our government leaders... Seeing tension, animosity, extremes fighting each other with no compromise in sight that leaves us questioning our faith in those institutions. Closer to home there’s things that makes us wonder, makes us question, makes us doubt. Things that undermine so many important aspects of our Christian lives. Sickness, death, divorce, people who are suffering - all those different intentions we’ve had with us all week, when we return home and are away from the beauty and the amazement of this place and this time, those intentions can sometimes return to simply being crosses in our lives that have the potential, if we allow them to, to be deadly to the hearts of us believers as well.
Thomas, formerly known as “the doubting” - Thomas the faithful though gives us an essential lesson to deal with all this: and here it is - Having doubts is okay... giving into them is not. Because that night when Thomas encounters the risen Christ as he gathers in that locked room full of flawed, failed, broken individuals like himself, yes as he gathers with the Church... It is there that he realizes something within him that wants to see past the scandal of the cross, that something within him wants to see past his own doubts and disbelief. When he does his vision is transformed: All he is able to see is the hands and the side as he beholds the risen Jesus Christ in his midst.
For us that is the challenge that we face as our Pilgrimage draws to a close. Will we accept the challenge? Not to deny our doubts, but not to give into them either.
Rather, - bringing them to the Risen Lord who we encounter at every Mass in the Eucharist where his body and blood are present among brothers and sisters who are also pained by scandals,
- bringing them around the altars of our home parishes knowing we are all united by that Eucharist as one universal family who shares that very common bond and hope, wishing to move past the legitimate fears we are so often challenged by from some harsh realities of the world;
-bringing them among others who have also doubted that God is so interested in us loves us personally that He actually has a dream for us... A dream that if we ever truly considered it could radically open our hearts and minds to conceive something greater for ourselves than we ever imagined.
If we like Thomas allow ourselves not to be limited by our doubts, but to be moved from unbelief to belief as well; then this time in Assisi and Rome not to be just a trip... then these saints we’ve visited and learned about over the last few days aren’t just new trivia facts we’ve learned to pull out the next time we’re watching Jeopardy or something, but heroes in the faith spurring us to join them in our own ways, responding to God’s call to holiness in our own particular way... then this pilgrimage will have eternal significance in helping each of us become Jesus’ faithful disciples as well. own particular way... then this pilgrimage will have eternal significance in helping each of us become Jesus’ faithful disciples as well.
Hi everyone. Thanks again for following along on our pilgrimage. Today we were blessed to celebrate Mass at the grotto of the tomb of St Peter which is beneath the main altar of St Peters Basillica. The readings can be found at usccb.org for Thursday July 2, 2015
Do you ever encounter people of such great faith it just humbles you... makes you wonder if you’re able to trust like them, believe like them, forgive like them - love like them – and you somewhat suspect the answer to those questions would be no?
About two weeks ago, in the United States we had that horrific news of that disturbed young man who unleashed such atrocious evil, shooting and killing 9 people in a South Carolina Church - after sitting with them for over an hour as they studied the bible, prayed together... They were so sincere, so genuine, so loving the killer admitted “I almost didn’t kill them because they were so nice.” It was sickening on so many levels. And after so many racially tensed incidents over the last year that have been broadcast and regurgitated on our 24/7 news cycles, was another concern for many that this could explode into something even more heinous.
Not two days after the murder, as the killer appeared before the judge, an absolutely amazing thing happened. The relatives of those who were killed got to address this young man in court. Some sobbing, some with their voices shaking and breaking down mid sentence - they all expressed that they forgave him.
I thought of that amazing incident, amazing forgiveness, amazing love, amazing faith - as I read this first reading from Genesis. Here Abraham and Sarah’s first born - the one they longed for, hoped for well into their advanced ages. And God calls Abraham to “sacrifice him.”
There’s a whole lot going on here that troubles our sensibilities: Why would God ask him to do such a thing in the first place – the quick answer, for Abraham to recognize how deep his faith truly was - that Abraham got to a place where he knew and trusted the same God who somehow brought Isaac into existence in the first place would somehow make sense of this as well)
But in a similar way, we can see how these courageous family members from South Carolina recognized the command by the Lord to offer their radical forgiveness, in a sense is just as troubling to our human sensitivities. Our human condition constantly pecks at us to ignore what faith call us to, doesn’t it? There would be plenty of commentators, many of us who would say “we totally understand” had the family member who just had their loved ones killed in a Church – had called for revenge, if they cursed the guy... Just as there's a part of us who might feel that hearing that first reading we would totally understand had Abraham said to God - I can’t - I won’t do that.
Which is why we’re in the perfect place. Not just God’s house. Not just this most beautiful basilica in the world (I feel safe making that declaration even not having seen all the other ones) But here, at the tomb of our first Pope - St. Peter. Because in St. Peter, we see a man who we can relate to those feelings probably better than most. He wanted to have the faith of Abraham, He wanted to have the ability to love and forgive as Jesus commanded - but so often (and very often publicly) fell short in dramatic ways: asking Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew - so how many times do I have to forgive someone??? Declaring “I don’t know the man” just hours after promising he would follow Jesus wherever he went - even if it lead to his own death.
But one thing St Peter reminds us is that faith, and trust - it’s kind of a chicken and egg thing - we don’t really know which comes first. They’re so intertwined. And to be a true, obedient disciple, you need both... Peter shows that even though he personally failed in his own faith at times- he still trusted in Jesus’ words, Jesus’ teachings, he still trusted in Jesus’ faith and trust in Peter. That caused him immense personal suffering (after his Good Friday denial, the Gospels tell us he wept bitterly) But it also enabled Peter to not forget, not lose his trust that the same Jesus who offers his Mercy and forgiveness so radically like he did to the paralytic in today’s Gospel (as well as curing him) that Jesus could do that for Him as well... not just 7 times...
That trust he had for Jesus would constantly call Peter back to the Lord, calling him to deeper faith, deeper trust himself - till the day Peter humbly, willingly offered his very life as a martyr not far from this very spot where we stand now, where he is buried. The fisherman, the rock that Christ would build his Church upon was far from perfect throughout his following, his discipleship, his papacy. But his honest, sincere, heartfelt attempt... His ability to keep getting up and going to the Lord for forgiveness is what ultimately transformed him into the Rock that Jesus imagined him to be.
May you and I who look to St. Peter as an example, an inspiration– ask for his prayers when we struggle, when our faith and trust aren’t as in sync as they need to be for us to truly become transformed into the disciple of Jesus Christ, He imagines us to be.
Hi everyone. Thanks again for checking in. Here's my homily for WEDNESDAY 7/1 - given in the city of Orvietto. After Mass this morning we return to Rome. God Bless - Fr Jim
Every once in awhile people will ask - What’s the hardest thing the hardest part of being a priest? From their reactions they seem to have certain expectations of what they think the answer will be: The promise to remain chaste for life – forsaking having a wife and family? The promise of obedience to the Archbishop - recognizing that any day the Archbishop could call and say "I need you to go to a new assignment" - and there’s an expectation that you would put aside your wants, desires and say "Yes" - for the good of the Church.
There’s some truth to those examples - and other challenges come to mind. But over the last 16 years of priesthood - for me, the hardest part has always been the extremes that a priest can encounter just in the course of one day. Being a part of one family’s incredible joy and then another family’s incredible pain in the matter of a few hours. That became crystalized early in my priesthood when on this particular Saturday I ended up celebrating 5 Sacramental encounters: A morning Daily Mass; a Funeral Mass; A wedding Mass; a 5:30 PM Saturday night Mass and then giving someone in the hospital who was sick and dying viaticum - his last communion before his death.
As prepared as I thought I was - homilies printed out in different colored folders (don’t want to mess that up!) I had no idea how difficult that was going to be. Seeing a family devastated at the funeral mass for a young person who died in a tragic loss and a few hours later family’s (with similar aged young people) gathering to celebrate the joy of uniting a husband and wife... two regular parish masses with people on all ends of emotional specturms themselves - then driving up to the hospital and being witha family who’s loved one had been suffering from cancer for some time. It was a lot to encounter.
It was during the 5:30 pm Mass that I had a spiritual revelation that has never left me. When we were preparing the altar for now the 4th time, and I saw parishioners gathering again to bring the bread and wine up the altar that it clicked that I had seen this happen 4 times in this very Church, to very different congregations. First to a group of mostly elderly parishioners who faithfully attend Mass every morning; then to a Church of people - some stunned, some numb in grief; then to family’s filled with joy as well as fear as they watch two young adults make one of the biggest steps in their lives - to now at the end of the day, 300-400 ordinary parishioners ranging from newborns to 80 something’s gathering together as they did week after week. In some ways, each of these Masses couldn’t have been more different.
Yet they all came to the same altar. They all came, as they were, looking to be fed with the Body of Christ. Part of the sadness was my own expectations not being met. Because:
That Eucharist I wish I could say instantly removed all pain and grief for the one family.
That Eucharist I wish I could say guaranteed the newly married Mr and Mrs protection from all pain and suffering and only the richest of blessings for the rest of their lives
That Eucharist I wish I could say just as miraculously transformed everyone’s "ordinariness" into something "extraordinary" as bread and wine becoming Jesus body and blood did.
But sadly that wasn’t the case. People still sobbed. I’m unsure of what happened to that couple the days, weeks and years since they left after they got married and moved out of state... and taking a look around during that 5:30 - despite my best efforts, some people were yawning and didn’t appear to have changed much during that Mass.
But I realized those were my own expectations that were messed up - and I walked away with a new appreciation. What everyone had in common; what everyone desired on some level (whether they could ever articulate it completely or not) - and very personally what I knew to be true at the end of that long day – what had sustained me, and nourished me - we all wanted Jesus’ very presence in that Eucharist: Mourners, wedding-guests, parishioners from every extreme imaginable - that was we all sought. And in all those moments throughout the day He himself fed us with his very flesh; He himself quenched our thirst with his very blood.
It was Jesus’ presence, and His presence alone that every group of people desired on some unspoken level. It was Jesus Himself that would be with one family in their darkest, most painful moment - and that He would remain with them every day, as they tried to come face to face with this loss in their lives. It was Jesus Himself that was the guest at this Wedding Feast - who would remain with that couple in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health - all the days of their lives. It was Jesus Himself who made the ordinary extraordinary and that daily, weekly nourishment would impact and change the lives of every soul who welcomed Him, received Him - really consumed Him and allowed Him to change their very lives.
That’s the thought that came to mind... so often as Catholics we struggle with doubts over the Eucharist and because we tell ourselves that we’re bad Catholics if we struggle or have doubts we suppress them even more. Yet I think it’s our expectations about the Eucharist which is what gets us tripped up rather than any serious question of faith... Which is one of the consolations we should take being here... in this beautiful place here in Orvietto. Here in the 13th Century, a priest who is described as pious -- in the deep recesses of his heart, where he was most honest with the Lord, he revealed his doubts, his reservations how the God of the Universe could somehow be really present in a piece of bread and cup of wine. As he celebrated Mass, he hadn't even gotten to the words of consecration and inexplicably blood started to come from the host onto the priests hands and onto the corporal and altar cloths. Making this place a place of pilgrimage.
What is part of the exciting thing about our relationship with the Lord. He knows specifically what it is we need at the time we need it. Instead of comparing and allowing jealousy and envy to enter in when we don’t experience something like that miracle (as much as there’s a part of me that would myself, there’s another part that thinks maybe not that....) To look for, to have wider visions and see what God is doing in our lives... To trust and believe how He is very real, very active, very present not just at Mass, but when we leave the walls of the Church. To appreciate despite how profound a gift, a mystery, that is the Eucharist... what it is we actually believe it to be: Jesus’ promise of his abiding presence to all who receive him... In the midst of our daily struggles, in all the crazy extremes of life that all of us inevitably encounter moving from joy to sorrow and sometimes monotony in the day to day. Yes this place of pilgrimage reminds us at every Mass to look for something miraculous - to look for Jesus presence in the Eucharist to transform us, to guide us – and calling out to us to do as he does: to lay down our lives, to give, to share... to in fact love Him as He loves us... to make that real presence real in the lives of others.