DREAMING OF HAPPINESS

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME- OCTOBER 25th 2015 - which was also the close of our "TRUE HAPPINESS" Intercollegiate Retreat. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102515.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit and all your feedback and comments. Have a blessed week - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:
What was the last dream you had? Can you remember what it was? When you had it?

Scientists admit that trying to figure out Why we dream is still one of the greatest unanswered questions. Researchers have offered many theories: consolidating of memories, a way for your emotions to be regulated, threat simulation— but coming to a consensus on why or what they all mean remains, a pipe dream. 

Supposedly every time we fall asleep, we dream - but whether we remember them or not depends on a whole host of factors - like how deep a sleep we’re having, how we wake up, at what point in the "dream cycle" we awake. It might have to do with what type of dream you’re having: There are times when we will wake up heart pounding, terrified by something (in case you weren’t sure – that’s a bad dream – or a nightmare) Sometimes it might be somewhat mundane - Like a repeat of some daily events or routine encounters (I’ve had dreams where I’ve called and had conversations with people that are so ordinary that I will think the next day they actually happened). In other cases it’s a bizarre fantasy or the weirdest story that not even the cheesiest TV producer would ever consider (then again, maybe they would)

There are other dreams though

- things that aren’t just the fantasy that our subconscious unleashes which we have no control over

- things that are there not just when you’re asleep... but continue well after – when we’re awake, when we are fully aware, that resonates deep down inside in our hearts, our souls.

What is it that you dream of?

This Gospel story we just heard remains one of my all time favorites. It’s the one that pretty much every person I’ve met for Spiritual Direction or confession on a regular basis might have heard me reference at one time or another. Just to recap - here’s Bartimaeus - a blind man, sitting on the roadside, begging. He hears Jesus is passing by and cries out for attention. After being rebuked by the crowds, Jesus calls for him to come forward. I’ll never forget one time praying with this scripture and trying to picture the scene - moment by moment - imagining this one on one encounter - Jesus Son of the Living God face to face with Bartimaeus - you can sense the drama, you can almost feel the build up... Almost like a movie... And then Jesus asks "What do you want me to do for you?" I remember sitting there thinking that might be the stupidest question of all time. Like if it was a movie scene and I’m the director I’m screaming CUT - Sorry Jesus, let’s take this again. He’s a blind man - He knows you’re God - "What do you want me to do for you?" Don’t you already know? Is it that hard to figure out?

But then it hit me. If I was Bartimaeus – in fact I am Bartimaeus in a lot of ways - my answer might not be so obvious. Because it’s not hard to imagine Bartimaeus asking for something else... Something like: "Jesus did you see how all those people were trying to shut me up as you were coming by.... Did you see how many people ignored me and treated me like crap. That’s just the tip of the iceburg Lord. Seriously. This world sucks. Here I am begging, groveling and these people who aren’t blind don’t give me the time of day let alone help me as I’m begging. I want you to give it to them... tell them off, smite them, do something..."

Jesus patiently listens to all of our prayers. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to take all of our suggestions. That’s not to say that He wouldn’t be troubled (or rather, isn’t troubled) by the indifference of others in our world to the hurts, the sorrows, the pains of those in need. On the cross, He experiences all of that himself so He is very attuned to all of that and is in fact close to us when we are suffering from our crosses as well.

But if that was the prayer ... if that’s what comes forth from Bartimeaus heart and soul... if that’s what He’s dreaming of - whether he’s awake or asleep - that reveals a hardness, a bitterness, an anger of heart that is devastating the man’s soul. And that, his soul and every soul - is much more important to Jesus than the physical limitation we may suffer... He would be just as disturbed by the anger, the hardness of heart, the bitterness that would need healing as he would be to the callous, lack of care and compassion of those who passed the blind beggar by.

Which is why Bartimaeus response is beautiful as it is very clear and direct... What does he say?... what is it that he has been dreaming about for sometime? What he desires is something whole and entire: Master I want to see. Notice he doesn’t say "I want my blindness cured" - which would take care of just his physical limitation. It’s deeper than that - I want to see.  

I want to see beauty,
I want to see joy
I want to see fullness
I want to see love
I want to see healing
I want to see YouI want to see the effects and power You have on the world...
I want to see me in Your eyes

What do you want me to do for you... 
What is it that you dream of? What is it beyond the superficial... beyond the bizarre... beyond the genie-in-the-lamp pipe dreams (I want to win the powerball lotto) that we dream of? What is it that when you hear Jesus asks the question What do you want me to do for you comes to mind?

Maybe we’re not sure. If you’re like me, so often I do have the shallow "Jesus get back at those people" type responses... or maybe not that negative, but silly – Jesus I gotta get this project done...(and he's kind of looking at me like - well yeah, that’s why you gotta get your stuff together and stop procrastinating and do some better time management...) Or maybe there’s some bigger stuff going on in your heart and your soul and it’s hard to know for sure what it is we want to ask for. And that’s okay. Because it’s a lot deeper question than we’re sometimes used to thinking about.

This past weekend a bunch of us from the Newman Center were on retreat with about 60 others from campuses all around the Archdiocese. And the focus of the retreat was on what is often described as a universal desire - something that every human being longs for, dreams of – for themselves and those closest to them: True Happiness.

But the problem is that so often we’ve been chasing after things that promise us happiness that seem to lead us further away from it. We’ve settled for shallow things. We’ve listened to and been convinced of lies of others saying if we do this - or buy that or follow them that we can be happy only to be let down, discouraged and so often fall for the same cycle again and again.

One part of the retreat we showed a film called "The Human Experience." It’s such a powerful film - I’ve seen it maybe half a dozen times now. And it’s basically about these two brothers search for "the meaning of life" by spending time living with the homeless in NY, disabled orphans in Peru; those dying from AIDS and Leprosy in Africa. The film is deeply moving and well worth you’re watching the 90 minute documentary (like I said I’ve seen it 6 times) But nothing’s blown me away as much as one of the first times when we had a screening for it for a particular class on campus. The professor invited her students to offer anonymous reactions and submit them to her. One student wrote: I’m watching this film where we meet disabled orphans who were abandoned after they were abused; people facing life-ending, debilitating diseases and yet when here I am a healthy, wealthy American who’s a senior in college and I can’t help but think "how are they happier and have more joy than I do?"

Yes, the desire for Happiness is universal - but the pursuits can be very different.

What do you want me to do for you - Jesus asks us today... What is it that in our heart of hearts we seek? What is the happiness we desire, we dream of? What does that look like? How does that take shape?

St. John Paul II in the year 2000 as he met with Young People at the World Youth Day of that time answered it this way:


It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness;
he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you;
he is the beauty to which you are so attracted;
it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise;
it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life;
it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices,
the choices that others try to stifle.
It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives,
the will to follow an ideal,
the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity,
the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal


As we come to meet Jesus in the Church, in the Sacraments, in one another, in our service to one another, at this Mass in this His Word and in a few moments in receiving His Body and Blood - over and over, He keeps giving Himself to us - again and again. In these and many other ways, Jesus reveals what is His dream what it is He wants . Quite simply: us. He dreams of and desires you and I to be with Him, to be apart of Him now and always. May we like Bartimeus have our sights restored by Him
and truly see Him,
and in Him – True Happiness.

A "YELP" FOR PEOPLE? LORD HELP US

Hi everyone - here's my homily for OCTOBER 18, 2015 - the 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - The readings for today's Mass can be found at:  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/101815.cfm.   Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog and for all of your shares on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - as well as all your feedback and comments.  Have a great week - In Christ, Fr Jim

HOMILY:
Add this to the ever-growing list of signs of the collapse of our civilization number...Who knows at this point? I’ve lost count. Reportedly in a few weeks a new App will be launched for your iPhone, androids and every other computer device imaginable; where everyone you know will be able to rate you. Yes, someone has basically created what’s being called a "Yelp" for people. We are in a world where you are able to rate everything from restaurants, to cars, to your professors, to government agencies and to even bowel movements. (That one has to be on that list of signs of the collapse of our civilization as well). Now comes this news that everyone will be a fair game for everyone to rate, comment, and scrutinize over.

As the reporter in the Washington Post breaking this story a few weeks ago accurately pointed out: "the most surprising thing about the ["App" (whose name I will not share)] may be the fact that no one has yet had the gall to launch something like it. When the App does launch, you will be able to assign reviews from one to five-star ratings to everyone you know: your exes, your co-workers, that old guy who lives next door. You can’t opt out once someone puts your name in the App’s system. It’s there unless you violate the site’s terms of service. Also, you can’t delete bad or biased reviews. That would defeat the whole purpose. Imagine every interaction you’ve ever had suddenly open to the scrutiny of the Internet public."

One of the things that surprised me was that in this era where we’ve seen the effects of cyber-bullying, you would’ve thought we wouldn’t have to point out what an atrociously horrific idea this whole thing is. However, I guess it’s hard to dissuade people like these developers who have over $7.6 million in investors’ money available, and are believing their own Public Relations, marketing spin, that this will be a great thing for everyone. They explain that everything that you do will be reviewed, judged in the open, public format under three categories: professional, personal or romantic. As one of the developers said: "That’s feedback for you! You can really use it to your advantage."


Uh - Thanks...

It would be great to think that one could possibly use this App for self-improvement, for "fraternal correction." But the reality as the inter-webs has proven time and again, is that technological advances aren’t always used for the advancements its developers had imagined. Sure, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram - they’ve all changed how we communicate and receive information in a number of ways that has been beneficial and convenient. But it’s not hard to think of examples where social-media has allowed for some awful behaviors to rise. A person feels more uninhibited, hiding behind the seeming anonymity of a profile they’ve created or some pictures they’ve chosen to share on a computer screen. We’ve heard of where people are threatened, harassed or attacked online.

But these bad behaviors don’t have to be the obvious or extreme examples or stories. There’s the more common, less obvious things that happen which this new App seems perfectly suited to expand upon. Where we look to exalt ourselves or see ourselves as great, as important by picking apart someone else’s faults, scrutinize their weaknesses, relishing their failures as a means to somehow feel better about ourselves – "I’m better than they are at this; I look better than that - I’m not as bad as this person is..."

Why does that happen? Why do so many of us seem to give in to that temptation? Probably because we want to deny our fragileness; we want to forget our weaknesses or diminish our brokenness. So by diminishing those around us, and making ourselves feel more important we try to do just that.

As "technologically advanced" as we might be with our smart-phones (that seem in instances like this to be an oxymoron) - humanity hasn’t advanced much at all. Rivalries, jealousies, envies, gossip, arrogance, moral superiority still occur just as they did thousands of years ago. Look at the gospel we just heard. What was the first thing we heard in that passage?

"Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you"


Uh - what? Talk about a QUESTION – (There’s a descriptive term that I want to use, but it’s not appropriate in a homily. The nicer way of saying it is moxy...) James and John have some MOXY. LOTS AND LOTS OF MOXY to start off like that. That’s how the two brothers started out as they lay out for everyone to hear, their power-grabbing scheme. "Grant that in your glory we may sit one on your right and the other at your left." It wasn’t enough that Jesus had chosen them to be in his inner circle; to be one of the chosen 12 apostles. They wanted to be #1 and #2. I wonder how they had worked it out amongst themselves, who was 1 and who was 2. Despite Jesus trying to gently point out the arrogance of their request, the others were just as deaf to Jesus as James and John were. As we read "when the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John." If it was happening today you could imagine Peter texting Thomas #WhoDoTheyThinkTheyAre, #ArrogantBrothers.

Mind you, this whole scene took place moments after Jesus had once again told them all that He is about to be handed over. To be condemned to die a brutal, torturous death and after that He will rise again. They kind of ignore the "cross stuff" – It’s the Glory they all want a part of: – Let’s just fast forward to the good part... yeah Jesus when that Glory happens, can we be on your right and your left.

We all crave that - to be a part of the "glory"... And ignore the other part.   The difficult part... 
Whether they are obvious or hidden from the rest of the world:  We can’t ignore the wounds, the brokenness, and the weakness that every one of us suffers from. Maybe it’s a sin that you feel ashamed about. Maybe it’s an addiction that you continue to struggle with. Maybe it’s a physical illness or pain that has taken a toll on you. Maybe it’s an emotional wound or personal pain that you haven’t shared with anyone. Maybe it’s a loss you continue to grieve about that you don’t want to admit to.
Every one of us have our own wounds, our own brokenness, and our weaknesses. It’s not defeatist to admit that. We are defeated when we deny that; when we diminish ourselves as we diminish others.


But - we can see we’re not defined by our wounds, we can begin to experience healing for our brokenness, we can overcome our weaknesses that when we listen to what Jesus is saying. Because He did not tell the apostles about what was going to happen to him – about the Unjust trial, conviction and sentence he wold face to prepare them for battle, (he knew they’d fail in that regard as they would abandon him anyway). He’s telling them and all of us He’s giving His life freely - so that we might have life. He’s offering his life to save us... What does that mean? In short, He’s teaching us that any real, life-changing love will costs us something.


Let me say that again. In a world where words like "Like" or "Friend" or "Love" have been bastardized so badly, we need to remember that love isn’t just a warm, fuzzy feeling. Love isn’t just when I feel happy about something. Love isn’t something I like to do for people who like me who I want them to do nice things for me in return... Those are at best - nice gestures and at worse, self-centered manipulation.

Jesus teaches us that Real, Life-Changing Love will costs us something. This past week, when I stopped by the Hospital where MSU Student Anna Semioli who is still in a coma from the hit and run crash she suffered here a little over a week ago - seeing her mother, her family and friends who were there for days and they refuse to leave her bedside... that’s costing them something - everything in fact - - that is Love.

When you see a person who is lonely, who is struggling and you give them your attention that costs you something, that is Love. When you choose to take care of someone else, whether it’s working at a homeless shelter, volunteering on campus or reaching out to your grandmother or grandfather who is elderly - and you give them your time and your presence - that costs you something - that is Love. Yes, to actually step into someone else’s brokenness, someone else’s weakness, someone else’s "woundedness", that will costs you something - that is Love.


But we are able to do that because He loves us this way. That’s what the cross is about. He gives up his glory, He gives up his power, and He is allowed to be made weak, to be broken, and to feel our fragileness our "woundedness." The "woundedness" of a world where human beings still try to pretend that they are gods. That they are the centers of the universe and in the process hurt themselves and others. He steps into that and it costs Him something - that is Love.


But He’s willing to make that sacrifice. To make that attempt, as He himself tells us in the Gospel tonight: "For the son of man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many." And tells us – Do you truly want to be great? You really want to be on my right or my left? Do the same.

HATING ON POPE FRANCIS


Hi everyone - here's my homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time - OCTOBER 11, 2015.  The readings for today can be found at  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/101115.cfm Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog on Facebook, twitter and reddit - and all of your comments and feedback.  Have a great week.  In Christ - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

It’s been about two weeks since Pope Francis made his first trip to the United States - where he visited Washington DC; New York and Philadelphia. And it was quite a historic visit: He became the first Pope to ever address the joint session of Congress; He became the first Pope to ever visit an American Prison (talk about your extremes in terms of historic firsts!) He was greeted by enthusiastic crowds; TV anchors seemed giddy and caught up in the excitement and genuinely moved by his speeches and homilies.

It was overwhelmingly a positive visit and experience for the Church and arguably for the country. It was one of the few times that we saw politicians from opposing parties genuinely happy and in unity over anything. Beautifully I saw Democrat (and Jewish) Senator from NY Charles Schummer called the Pope’s speech to congress one of the best speeches he’s ever heard and talked about how he was feeling "twinges" in his spine throughout the address.

That good-will seemed to have gotten sidetracked not long after the Pope returned to Rome. News surfaced that Pope Francis had a secret meeting while he was in Washington DC with Kim Davis, the county clerk from Kentucky who made headlines in the US a few weeks ago for refusing to sign marriage licenses of same-sex couples. Very quickly, the Press which a few days earlier had been offering positive reviews to his addresses turned on him. One headline in a newspaper read "Kim Davis? What was Pope Francis thinking?" with an opinion piece that trashed him and likened it to people supporting segregationists who refused to let black students enroll in a school in Alabama during the Civil Rights Battles of the 60's.

Maybe a day or two later, another "secret"meeting was revealed. Pope Francis met with a former student of his from when he was a teacher in Argentina. What made that visit news worthy was that this former student, Yayo Grassi, is an openly gay man who now identifies himself as an atheist and brought his partner with him who is Muslim. The meeting came about after Yayo had sent an email to the Pope (how come I can’t find his email address?) where he said he knew it was a long shot, but, since he now lived in Washington DC, he would like to see if it was possible to meet the Pope while he was in town. Pope Francis phoned him personally and said "if you have time I would love to give you a hug in Washington." To put it mildly, now people on the other side of the same-sex marriage debate lost their minds.

On some level it was fascinating watching as spokespersons, commentators, pundits, politicians adding to the confusion in the days that followed. Some parsing the Pope’s words (and actions) for their own set narratives. Others expressed disappointment, anger, even outrage. Very few seemed to be able to see past their own agendas and political stances. They liked the Pope when he conformed to their ideas. When he seemed to be on their side or with those they felt allegiance to. But in the views of the extremists on each side the Pope made the unforgivable sin of meeting with who they considered the enemy. This was just one example (and the one that seemed to get the most attention most likely because of how Kim Davis has become a polarizing figure in a very divisive debate) But look at other issues that the Pope raised and it was the same thing- Abortion; Death Penalty; care for the environment; care for the immigrants - and there was similar anger from different corners of the political/societal worlds. He was called a socialist, a communist, a Marxist, a leftist all because of his concerns about the Poor, and the immigrant. Newsweek even had a deliberately provocative cover where in large letters it asked "Is Pope Francis Catholic?" obviouslly picking up on this theme:


It was amazing seeing how people went from loving the Pope to hating on him pretty quick. Stories about the Pope’s favorable and unfavorable numbers (like he’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton) popped up - even breaking them down on the difference between Republicans and Democrats views on him; or how Catholic who attend Mass every Sunday vs those who attend less frequently. 



Quite honestly (and I’m not the Papal spokesperson, so I hope he’ll forgive my speaking for him) I don’t think Pope Francis cares. Because in short, those extreme reactions are all about the people having them - not the Pope nor the Church he leads, nor the Lord he serves for that matter. Because He is demonstrating for us Gospel living... The radicalness, the completeness of the Gospel that defies convention, defies any one particular political party, defies any one person’s particular narrow beliefs and challenges them. Because the Gospel is supposed to make all of us uncomfortable at some point. To break us out of the arrogance of our sometimes common, modern-day approaches thinking I’m right, you’re wrong - ergo I hate you and all that you stand for because obviously you’re a (fill in the blank with your own list of descriptive vocabulary). It’s okay to have strong beliefs, but not at the expense of recognizing the person that is there on the opposite side of those beliefs and our obligation to follow the greatest of all commands to love one another. To have the humility to recognize the failures, the struggles, the sins in my own life that I desperately hope the Lord will look at me with more mercy than I do to my enemies... That’s what the Pope is trying to demonstrate with us by living that Gospel message. And if we’re not challenged by that it’s either because we’re Saints or we’ve created a religion of our own.

Which is one of the fatal flaws the "Rich Man" makes in tonight’s gospel: He has created his own religion where he feels comfortable... He goes up and down the list of commandments like a checklist- Didn’t murder anyone - CHECK, Didn’t commit adultery - CHECK, Parents are okay - CHECK...and thinks I’m good... yet he can’t get past that gnawing feeling within himself that doesn’t feel completely fulfilled. There was something missing. Jesus very gently tries to probe his mind and his heart and finally underlines it for him. He’s basically saying "Buddy, why are you here? Why are you trying to justify yourself? Do you see that you have a superficial relationship with the Lord. You’re treating the Commandments like minimum requirements on an application that need to be fulfilled in order to have a reservation in heaven - meanwhile your money, your material goods, your wealth and riches - they’ve become your god, they are your master... they are the thing you think you can’t live without.

But this Gospel is more than just about riches and poverty. So often we can listen to this somewhat feeling self-righteous thinking that guy with the Jaguar is getting hammered this weekend. But the deeper message is about looking at how our relationships with the Lord can sometimes be superficial as well. That we can look at our religious practices as obligations that need to be met so we can get into heaven. We look at that - heaven, eternal life - as a different life - and that doing these basics is simply saving for our future deposit and we hope to God we have enough to get in.

Yet Jesus wants us to experience heaven now - here. And there can be a lot of things – other than money – that can be blocking us from living that life, experiencing the Kingdom of God now. Like our egos, our prejudices, our angers... Like our sinfulness, our pride... I’ll never forget one time meeting with someone in spiritual direction who had been striving to be a good Catholic, a devout Catholic - her faith had been and was becoming more and more important - but she was struggling with a particular sin and said to me "I know what I’m doing is wrong, I know what the Church is teaching is right - but I know I’m not going to stop doing it."

It’s hard for us to let go of whatever it is we’ve convinced ourselves will make us happy, or whatever it is that we think justifies our feelings (or our inadequacies). Jesus though is constantly going to be trying to get us to have a bigger vision than we’re willing to allow ourselves. To look beyond our wants, our needs, our desires. To not forget that yes He wants to have a personal intimate relationship with each of us, but that He came to save all humanity. And He is going to continue to go about that - one stubborn, sinful heart at a time.


From an article:  http://theweek.com/articles/580405/why-media-lost-mind-over-kim-davis-meeting-pope-francis


To be honest, when I first heard that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis, I’m ashamed to admit that I started postulating all kinds of excuses for people who were angry or expressed disappointment about it saying things like- he meets a lot of people; he probably didn’t realize how controversial a figure she was, he must’ve gotten set up or sandbagged by someone – mostly because I didn’t want the good press to end on the Papal Visit or get into a debate with people on what’s become such a harsh debate (so I guess my sin would be a pride/ego thing? Or I suppose I should say one of my sins) And it was funny, a friend agreed and pointed out"how weird is it that Pope Francis can meet with two brutal dictators - Raul and Fidel Castro a few days earlier and barely anyone got angry in the media about that - but now that he met with her, it’s like they want him to resign now or something." And we went back and forth over the different complexities of all those different stories.

Yet the more I reflect on it, it’s much, much simpler. One author writing about the Pope’s meeting seemed to hit the nail on the head: Some might see [the meeting with Kim Davis as a] mere routine in the pope's encouragement, but the eyes of faith see something more: an act of humility, imposed by his lofty office. Even an act of trust and love. [Where Pope Francis was saying:] The world hates you. I do not.

Isn’t that what Jesus is saying… Isn’t that what Jesus went through himself being hated by the world?   Isn’t that what Jesus is trying to save us from – succumbing to the lures and the ways of the world – whether they be in riches or opinions – and allow His Love to transform our lives?

LIFE IS TOUGH (duh... really?) ON MARRIAGE, DIVORCE...

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for OCTOBER 4, 2015 the  27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.  The readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/100415.cfm.  As always, many thanks for reading, your comments and feedback - and for sharing this blog on your facebooks, twitter and reddit.  Have a great week - In Christ - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
Just reading this Gospel, reflecting on it on and off all week, one thought that kept coming to my mind wasn’t particularly earth-shattering and certainly wasn’t something unique or a ground breaking revelation.
Life is tough.
Like I said - not the most profound of realities or truths to come upon.  It’s a universal truth. It’s something that every person, every individual at this Mass (or reading this online) can agree to.  Even in this relativistic culture and society where every universal seems open to question, scrutiny, debate (is the sky blue?  Well what’s your interpretation of the color blue?) Perhaps this is one that every extreme can acknowledge as true: Life is tough - and simply leave the debates over  the particulars for later (like how tough is your tough?)
Just in the course of this past week:  someone’s parent is dying; another person’s relative has died... this person failed an exam, another is struggling with how to make ends meet and is overwhelmed by financial debt; suicidal thoughts, alcoholic binges, drug addictions; severe depression rooted in a painful experience from the past; a friendship that has ended pitting two people who were so supportive and helpful to one another into a very adversarial spot where the mere mention of the others name turns their stomach...
Those are just a sampling of people I spoke to this past week - it could’ve been any week.  It could have been anywhere.  A look around our state, our country: fears and anxieties over a hurricane that was approaching (bringing back frightening memories of just 3 years ago when Hurricane Sandy hit) – news of another mass-shooting killing 9 injuring scores more who were simply going to college.  Yes, everyone of us can pretty quickly find examples, illustrations that prove (in some cases it seems to be an understatement) Life is tough.
Then we hear this Gospel passage and it seems like things are about to get tougher.  We hear Jesus talking, speaking pretty directly in response to the Pharisees who ask a question about marriage (there’s an un-controversial topic in 2015!)  Actually it was more a response to their question about divorce, in which Jesus ends up giving a clear, precise, direct answer about marriage...God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  So they are no longer two but on flesh.  And just in case they didn’t get it, Jesus says to the Pharisees - whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.
Boom.  End of story.  Or is it?
Because we cannot forget that this is the same Jesus who lovingly, mercifully forgives the woman at the well who was married 5 times and the man she was living with at that time was not her husband...
Ask any married person (any honest married person) - marriage is tough - it’s a result of that first universal truth - that life is tough.  And Jesus came not to add burdens, add struggles...but relieve them.
  This isn’t to say that he doesn’t mean what he says about marriage.    That’s God’s design.  That’s His intention:  That marriage would be this dynamic, unique, relationship where a man and a woman come together - give themselves totally and completely to one another emotionally, physically, spiritually in such a dynamic, unique way that new life was born of that love.  So much so that the rest of the world in seeing that -- would get a glimpse of the presence, the activity of God.  That’s the beauty of marriage.  That’s God’s design for that institution.  
In a broken world, it’s tough to do that.  Life is tough.  It has been for some time, which the Pharisees asking this question of Jesus about divorce - proves.  At that time, Marriage was being destroyed.  Women had few rights and scandalously were being treated more as property than as the “suitable partner” - the “flesh of my flesh” - the perfection of union and communion that we heard about in the creation story from Genesis in today's first reading.  (Notice the question was about a husband divorcing his wife  - there wasn't any consideration that it could've gone the other way)  And people weren’t getting divorced because of abuse or infidelity... husbands were divorcing their wives over a tasteless meal, if a woman raised her voice, if the husband found someone more attractive (The Better Part, Fr. John Bartunek p 438)
They took the divorce decree that Moses left which was borne of the reality that Life is tough - that sometimes humans in this broken world hurt one another - even husbands and wives – and sometimes that could get really ugly, really bad and nowhere near reflect the beauty of the institution of marriage as a husband and wife giving to one another and nurturing their family to the point that it was showing quite the opposite of that ideal - well now that divorce decree was now being twisted for selfish, self-centered needs and in the process destroying the very institution of marriage.
Jesus is calling us to truth, to beauty, to ideals.
Jesus desires to restore the brokenness of this broken world - whether it’s the brokenness we experience in our daily lives or the brokenness we see on a national or global scale.
And Jesus has little tolerance with the Pharisees of yesterday (or today) who look to twist and manipulate God’s design for themselves and their own self interests.
Which is why its curious how this episode seems to abruptly shift at the end to this encounter with Children.  Right in the middle of this divorce - marriage debate, Jesus welcomes children, embraces them... it must’ve been as awkward back then when it happened as it seems a poorly edited Gospel passage today.  Yet Jesus insists on allowing that interruption.  And what does he say with this interruption?  he says those who are innocent, are trusting, are loving and welcoming; those who aren’t suspicious of him, demanding of him, doubting his wisdom – doubting his love - to those who are like Children - especially in their hearts... yes to those, the Kingdom of God belongs.
As we continue to experience how life is tough - Jesus wants us to turn to Him rather than trusting in ourselves and our world.  So especially when marriage is tough,- when a couple struggles with struggles that only the two of them know, do they allow Jesus to lead, to guide, to challenge them how as husband and a wife they can live their vocations better?  How they can persevere?  How there is something good and noble and beautiful in their selfless gift of themselvs to each other and their children?
And yet, when divorces occur, when people are used and abused and taken advantage of; when people are unfairly judged or manipulated - do we allow Jesus to heal, to forgive, to restore, to renew our dignity as beloved sons and daughters?
Or do we, incredibly, pass judgement ourselves?
Moses had a law, and a good one; that law had a ‘safety valve’ in place - divorce was meant as an escape hatch, only to be used in dire emergencies.  Beyond this, though, Christ is urging us to see more, to dig deeper - 'C’mon, he almost seems to be saying to us, ‘Don’t you see it?  There’s so much more here.’  Not less.  More. Christ doesn’t want us to sell ourselves short, cutting our losses, severing ties, discarding people, playing it safe, being isolated, going through our meager existence miserable and burdened and overwhelmed by evil and want.  He wants us to have more.  (As he tells us - I've come that you may have life and have it abundantly Johm 10:10)
Life can be more.  It can be abundant.  Christ doesn’t come to make life difficult, to make life impossible for his followers - He comes to make it more.   By  saving us from the difficulties, the struggles, the failures..  Pope Francis talked about it in a homily last week in Cuba that’s been on my mind ever since.  He said:  Jesus’ love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs. He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness. He sees beyond our rank in society. He sees beyond this, to our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity at times sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul. He came precisely to seek out all those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others. Let us allow Jesus to look at us. Let us allow his gaze to run over our streets. Let us allow that look to become our joy, our hope.
Christ wants so much for us.  He has given us himself, and he wants us to bring Him and His super-abundant grace, His overflowing joy His Hope into our world.  Life may be tough.  But, with Jesus, it’s so much more than that.
        Quite simply, Life is good.