WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN - TO THE GOOD AND BAD?

THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT - February 28, 2016

GospelLK 13:1-9

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
Jesus said to them in reply, 
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way 
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed 
when the tower at Siloam fell on them—
do you think they were more guilty 
than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”

And he told them this parable: 
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, 
and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree 
but have found none.
So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?’
He said to him in reply,
‘Sir, leave it for this year also, 
and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; 
it may bear fruit in the future.
If not you can cut it down.’”

HOMILY:
Don’t worry if after hearing that Gospel you’re immediate reaction is - Uhm, what? Did I miss something?  From the first words of this passage -  “Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whos blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices?” followed quickly with another quick headline “...or those 18 people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them”  - it’s almost like we’ve dropped in mid-conversation to two terrible events two horrific incidents that had all of Jerusalem talking 2,000 years ago.  To give some context, Pontius Pilate - same bad guy who we remind ourselves in the creed every week was the one who sentenced Jesus to be crucified - was pretty horrid outside that eternally remembered crime.  Some people were angry that Rome was using their temple funds for other building projects in the empire and began having demonstrations, rallies... So Pilate had sent in soldiers disguised as protestors among the crowd and at the appointed signal, took clubs out and killed massive numbers of them.  The other incident was this terrible construction accident which killed 18 people.

Why do bad things happen to good people?  That’s what the “some people” coming to Jesus were getting at in telling him this story... That’s what probably some of us want to know as well.   We hear a story on the news - like the other night where a gun man went into a lawn care company in Kansas - shot and killed 3 people and injured another 14 – or the Uber driver in Michigan who Saturday night went out and shot and randomly killed 6 people.  Why?

Or this horrible story which caught my attention - a 78 year old woman named Tona Herndon’s, who’s husband of 60 years ago had died just two weeks earlier, went to the cemetery to visit her husbands grave.  Vulnerable, grief stricken, she didn’t even see it coming:  a robber waiting, stalking her.  As she walked to her husbands grave the man jumps out, mugs her, steals her purse with $700 in it.  What did she do wrong?  Trying to wrestle with the reality of death, and the grief that accompanies it is bad enough.  But then to have something like this happen... it’s enough to make anyone question where is God - or even more is there a God?  Because - the thinking goes - if He’s real, He’s sure got a weird way of taking care of his friends.  

Which is what the people coming to Jesus were getting at.   Some people in Jesus’ time - probably some of those in this Gospel story - assumed or believed that - well obviously God hadn’t protected them from these calamities because they must have sinned.  They must have done something in God’s eyes which resulted in him taking his eyes off of them.  If you take anything from this Homily - If you only remember one thing,  let it be this – NO  - Jesus is VERY pretty clear to say how wrong this argument is.   Jesus expands that point by asking Do you think the people who suffered Pilate’s evil - do you think the people who died in the construction accident were bigger sinners than those who happened not to be at that demonstration or not on the construction scene the day of that accident?  

Jesus is trying to break that mentality that believes God is doling out punishments and rewards – that somehow the bad things that happen, the good things that happen in this life are directly attributed to our sins or our good deeds.   We need that reminder today too.  Cancer afflicts good and bad people. There are very innocent, holy people who are killed in an earthquake as well as some murderous criminals.  And just because we’re at Mass today, doesn’t mean we’re going to ace that test, find that job or win the lotto tomorrow.

So we’re back to the question of “What’s the point then?”  Does this mean that God doesn’t
care?  If he’s not going to take care of us when we’re good and get even with those who are bad, why relate to him.   Part of the problem is that we know in our own lives we sometimes are good, and sometimes not.  We’re not perfect, and when we make bad choices, when we do evil things, when we choose to sin, our sin affects others.  Maybe not as dramatic as a gun man going on a shooting rampage that kills 14 people - but does it matter how many are hurt and how badly they are hurt?

My nasty gossip, or my bullying someone that causes unseen wounds that a person carries around for years later - that can destroy someone else’s self image can be pretty devastating to that person.    And our Heavenly Father cares intimately and personally for each and every one of us.  So He’s concerned about that one person who is in the depths and pain of those wounds as much as each of those killed in a random shooting spree at the hands of a madman, or the poor widow Tona Herndon, attacked and mugged as she was as she’s going to visit her husbands grave.  We don’t have satisfactory answers to the random evils we encounter; despite all the advances in computers and technology, we can’t anticipate or control natural disasters - which are part of the brokenness of a world corrupted by sin.

But Jesus uses the opportunity to say to us we can control our own personal disasters.  Which is why God doesn’t dole out punishments on our sins in the day to day.  He has given us this life - this moment to change.

In the first reading today, God reveals himself to Moses. He says that his name is “I AM”. That can sound sort of confusing.  So another way of understanding the meaning of God’s name is I AM THE ONE WHO WILL ALWAYS BE THERE FOR YOU. The Jewish people’s history gives testimony to that. Yes, evil still happened to them - sometimes because of sinful, bad choices they had made, sometimes sinful bad choices made by others.  But in all of that they kept coming back to this promise that God would lead them out of affliction, out of slavery into the promised land.   In Jesus, the God who has always been there for us comes a step closer -- even MORE than a step... God becomes one of us -
dwells among us
stays with us.  And Jesus isn’t denying that bad, horrific things happen to good and bad people.  But he’s clear that the evil isn’t coming from His Father and tells us how saddened by sin, saddened by evil God is that Jesus has come to save us from it.   So Jesus the Son comes to remind us we need to get things right ourselves.  That’s what this season of Lent is all about - to repent of the evil we’ve done; to turn away from our sin, our bad choices and turn back to God.    Maybe we need to experience God’s love through going to confession, acknowledging our sins and experiencing the healing that comes from that reconciliation as God removes those places of darkness in ourselves so that his life and light can once again be reflected through us.

For Tona Herndon, the widow mugged at the cemetery, that happened in a very profound way which made this random horrible story so newsworthy.  The criminal who had mugged the poor woman, thanks to Tona’s description, was arrested pretty quickly.  The son of the robber, a 15 year old boy named Christian, saw the story on the news, and recognized the mug shot being his father.  His parents had divorced at a young age.  His father had not been very present in his life - being in and out of prison over the years.  There’s a lot of things Christian could’ve done.  He could’ve ignored recognizing his father in the story (it’s not like anyone was asking Christian about it).  He could’ve allowed the actions over his father’s abandoning him and hurting others to fuel his own anger.  Instead what he did, was ask to meet Tona.  He said to her that he believed on behalf of his family that he needed to apologize to her for what his father had done (saying if I didn’t apologize, who would) and then reached into his pocket and said that his father had recently given him $250 so that he could go on an upcoming band trip.  He added I don’t know if it is yours, but I’d feel bad if I didn’t give it to you.  The woman accepted the apology he didn’t have to give, the restitution the young man didn’t need to offer... and quite beautifully said “this is my money to do as I want” as she handed it back to Christian to go on the trip.

My brothers and sisters, the God who has always been there for us - Jesus Christ, His Son who remains with us empowering and strengthening us with the Holy Spirit, can transform us from being stuck simply fixated on asking the unanswerable question Why do bad things happen to being His presence in the world with the call to action asking - What am I going to do about it...

God has given each of us whatever is needed to answer the call of becoming the solution to the problem. Signs of God’s love are evident as we reach out and help one another amidst the worst of times being the hands and feet of Jesus. Life is hard, there’s no doubt about that, but because of God’s love for us, He gave us Jesus to show us how to live and shine His light. So instead of asking “Where is God?” a better focus  in life may be to ask the question “What does God want to do through me?”

POPE FRANCIS, DONALD TRUMP & JESUS CHRIST - Who are we listening to?

 Second Sunday of Lent - February 21, 2016


LK 9:28B-36
Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen.

HOMILY:

Who do we listen to? Who do we believe? While listening, do we just pay attention to the words coming out of people's mouths or do we pay attention to their actions, their behaviors in other areas?

So this past week, you might have heard this HUUUGGE story that Presidential Candidate Donald Trump and His Holiness, Pope Francis got into a bit of a war of words.  A quick glance of the headlines on Friday gives you a slightly skewed view of what happened: NY Times - TRUMP FIRES BACK AT SHARP REBUKE BY POPE FRANCIS; Wall Street Journal - Pope Francis and Donald Trump Spar over Immigration and Candidates Faith... and the ever reliable NY POST (with a photo shop that looks like it was done by the Ted Cruz campaign) TRUMP & POPE BIBLE BELTERS

Just to set the scene, you have to remember that Donald Trump has made a major part of his campaign the proposal to build a "huge" wall across the southern border of the United States to stop the flow of illegal immigrants coming into the country, as well as to provide security from terrorists, drug cartels, etc. He has also expressed his desire to deport 12 million people who have entered the country illegally and at different times called for banning Muslims from entering the country. 

On the other side of this story, Pope Francis, had spent the last week visiting and celebrating Mass with hundreds of thousands of people from stop to stop in his visit to Mexico.  He spoke to the struggles that the people were dealing with; the evils they were suffering under; the temptations that they encounter: Young people victimized by out of control criminal factions (so bad in fact that a group of criminals basically run a prison... the government, the police are seemingly powerless to deal with it). Poverty and drugs have devastated mass numbers of people.  So in one city after another, the Pope talked about the need to resist the voices of evil, the voices of temptation, the voices of fear, the voices of convenience and false hope.  On his last day in Mexico, he celebrated Mass near the US-Mexico border; praying at that spot that many have tried to cross, and many have died in the process he said "We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis…each step, a journey laden with grave injustices: the enslaved, the imprisoned and extorted; so many of these brothers and sisters of ours are the consequence of trafficking in human beings. Injustice is radicalized in the young; they are 'cannon fodder', persecuted and threatened when they try to flee the spiral of violence and the hell of drugs. Then there are the many women unjustly robbed of their lives."

At the conclusion of trips like this to different countries, the Pope makes himself available for press conferences where reporters basically can ask anything.  And this trip was no different. Pope Francis was asked questions about his historic meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (which was HUUUGE - even if you didn’t know that by the media coverage... first time these two heads of their respective churches met in almost 1000 years since the Catholic-Orthodox Schism is a major deal); he was asked about Clergy Sex Abuse scandal - a horrific evil the Church still is looking for healing from; he was asked about the Zika Virus which has become a crisis in parts of the world, particularly for pregnant woman (and the proposal that some are advancing to allow abortions or contraception because of this crisis).  In each of these varied, complex questions, the Pope answered from the heart as a voice longing for and hopeful for reconciliation; a voice asking for forgiveness; a voice of understanding and compassion but rooted in truth.

Then came the question that everyone has talked about, focus on and mis-characterized:

Phil Pullella, Reuters: Today, you spoke very eloquently about the problems of immigration. On the other side of the border, there is a very tough electoral battle. One of the candidates for the White House, Republican, Donald Trump, in an interview recently said that you are a political man and he even said that you are a pawn, an instrument of the Mexican government for migration politics. Trump said that if he’s elected, he wants to build 2,500 kilometers of wall along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, separating families, etcetera. I would like to ask you, what do you think of these accusations against you and if a North American Catholic can vote for a person like this? That we call a loaded and a leading question... It’s almost like asking a husband "Have you stopped beating your wife?" They’ve set an extreme narrative, premise and made it difficult to answer in a way that wouldn’t be controversial.


Pope Francis responded: "I thank God that he has said I am a politician, as Aristotle defined the human being as an 'animal politicus': at least I am a human being! And that I am a pawn … perhaps, I do not know. I will leave that to your judgement, to the people. A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever that may be, and not bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. With regard to what I would advise, to vote or not to vote: I would not like to become involved. I would say only that this man is not Christian. It is necessary to see if he has said these things, and for this reason I would give the benefit of the doubt".

Since then it’s been game on. The media loving any fight seized on this. Kanye West versus the world all of a sudden went from top of the headlines to a forgotten story. Donald Trump used this as another opportunity to dominate the media where he expressed outrage, adding If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President.... No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith. They are using the Pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant. In the days since, he’s backed off realizing that the original reports of what the Pope said were nowhere near accurate.

But in the meantime, various commentators went all over the place - some spewing Anti-Catholic hatred Who does the Pope think he is weighing in on US Presidential politics (obviously forgetting he was asked a question, which he answered) some "Catholics" attacked the Pope (and have continued to do so) for obviously being a socialist, a marxist, or a communist (obvious missing all sorts of instances where he’s leveled criticisms at all those different ideologies) Some called him a liberal who only cares about the poor and accused him of not speaking about other important issues like the right to life (conveniently missing how in the same press conference he said: Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. I’m waiting for the Pro-Mafia supporters to share their anger and outrage that the Pope used them as an example)

Who do we listen to? Who do we believe? By listening do we just pay attention to the words coming out of their mouths or do we pay attention to their actions, their behaviors in other areas?

It’s timely to think about that as we just heard this Gospel of the transfiguration of Jesus.  This remarkable moment for Peter, James and John to see Jesus as he is communing with God the Father in this intimate, deep moment of prayer transfigured before their eyes - revealing physically, spiritually what they were coming to believe but didn’t fully understand. That Jesus wasn’t simply a great leader, a religious figure unlike they had ever encountered.  He was the fulfillment of the entire Jewish tradition - the law and the prophets (illustrated by Moses and Elijah appearing and talking to him). He was more than the Messiah they had longed and hoped for... Jesus, as God the Father’s voice is heard in this fantastical scene reveals is "my chosen Son."


With that, the Father’s voice adds this important command "Listen to Him." Just a cursory read through the Gospels - this isn’t the first time God’s voice identifies Jesus as His Beloved Son with the command to "Listen to Him" (we heard that a few weeks ago when we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord - when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist - the same thing occurred).  You would think these dramatic encounters would provide clarity for the listeners and more careful attention, following, and listening to all that Jesus would say. Yet, again, a casual read of the Gospels reminds us that’s not the case either.  Voices of fear, of opportunism, of jealousy, of confusion would constantly grab their attention... distract them... cause them to forget that and at times abandon Jesus: some for a short time, like Peter denying he knew Jesus during his trial, his passion and crucifixion; some even more consequentially - like Judas who after betraying Jesus is so overcome with despair he hangs himself.

What has been lost in this crazy controversy this past week over Pope Francis and Donald Trump was how easily deceived many were, how divisive the words became, how foolish many of the reactions and responses were... particularly when you hear the context and the acutal responses rather than the soundbites, the 8 word headlines, the 140 character-tweet versions.

All of us who claim to be Christian – whether it’s Donald Trump, Barrack Obama; Pope Francis; you and I - we have a tremendous duty to Listen to Him - listen to Jesus Christ. 

Listen to Him in the Scriptures.
Listen to Him speaking through the Church. 
Listen to Him calling us to see past our own particular agendas, our own biases, our own ideologies. 
Listen to Him who calls us to tremendous – albeit difficult and in fact revolutionary - love, which the world so often fails to embrace. 
Listen to Him who sees in each and every human being
- from the unborn child in the womb,
to the terrified unwed pregnant teenager,
to the desperate family fleeing a place of crime and poverty hopefully looking for a new start, a new opportunity;
to you and I who have our own struggles and trials and try to balance those in the light of faith
– who sees in every human being his creative hand, his tremendous love, his hopes and dreams in the flesh.

That’s not easy.  And, no we’re not supposed to to check our brains or our hearts when the Pope (or any politician for that matter) speaks and blindly follow whatever that particular leader says.  God blessed us with brains and calls us to use our faith and  reason. And as broken, imperfect, susceptible to sin, human beings we are ever prone to fail. 

Yet, if we Listen to Him we hear the call to reconciliation, to experience His forgiveness. We hear His call to go a bit further, a bit deeper and expand our minds and our hearts beyond our own interests, our own desires and be a bit more thoughtful, a bit more discerning in who we support, who we follow, who we listen to in the day to day.


This fall, we are free to vote for whatever candidate we feel will really make our country great, really help her be true to her Founding Fathers, to the Constitution, to the things that truly make us a beacon of hope for so many.  But, before we vote, before we decide on the candidate, before we spend one more minute in debate or argument or even genuine confusion at all the political posturing going on - we must look inside ourselves, to that small, quiet space where Christ is talking.  We might need to stop our bickering long enough to hear His voice, His call for example of justice AND forgiveness, for domestic safety AND humanitarian aid.  In short, we must do what God the Father told those assembled two thousand years ago to do; Listen to Him.  And then - with time, and patience, with respectful dialogue and the use of our reason, as well - we will make that bridge our Holy Father calls us to start building today.

Thanks as always for stopping by and reading and sharing this blog on your facebook, twitter and reddit - and your comments and feedback.  Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim 

TAKING THE DEVIL SERIOUSLY

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for FEBRUARY 14, 2016 - THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT - the readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021416.cfm. Thanks as always for reading this blog, for sharing it on your facebooks, twitter and reddit - and your comments and feedback. God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

It’s sad how at the age of 42 I can still trace some of my formation to Saturday Morning Cartoons. You kids today have no idea with your cartoon networks and your on-demand cable. Growing up, Saturday Morning cartoons were a big deal. Pretty much every Saturday morning, from about 7 am to 11 am, the three major channels, out of a grand total of 11 tv stations all had cartoons on. (It is really weird thinking back to that... the antenna on top of the TV and all, it really seems like the stone ages compared to our High Def TV’s with 1,000 channels) Anyway - so Saturday Morning, there we were, me, and my two older brothers, downstairs, watching cartoons. Our deprived childhoods, we only had the one TV in the living room, so after the usual weekly fights over what cartoon to watch, (being the youngest I usually lost) the one thing we could agree on watching was Looney Tunes - Bugs Bunny and crew...

Their influence on me is a bit embarrassing. In college, one day, I was sitting in Music Appreciation Class (a class to satisfy a Gen Ed requirement which I foolishly thought would be easy) our professor had a quiz where he would play a classical piece of music and asked we had to identify it (style, composer...etc) and this piece, the only thing that came to mind was "From Bugs Bunny - that’s when Elmer Fudd sang KILL THE WABBIT." (The answer was actually Rossini’s The Barber of Seville – which full disclosure, for this Homily, I still had to look that up)

Even theologically, Bugs Bunny messed me up. There was an episode where Yosemite Sam is chasing Bugs Bunny and I forget how Bugs had set it up, I think Sam got eaten alive by some Lions. But in the next scene you see him on an escalator, going down in this subterranean world that was all red with fire. At the end was this creature, all in red, pointy eyebrows, pitchfork in hand. This was the devil. The devil looks in this big book and says to Sam "OOOH, you’ve been a nasty fellow, haven’t you?" Sam begs the devil for "another chance" and the devil sends him back up to earth for the express purpose of "getting that rabbit" he’s been after for so long...

Fortunately, after 4 years of seminary, I know how wrong that episode was. But it’s amazing how that and so many other images, depictions of the devil, depictions of temptation can shape our perspective on who the devil is and what temptation is. To some extent, these might be a reason why some don’t even believe in the devil. Or if they do, they kind of imagine the devil as a somewhat non-threatening annoyance, a mild distraction. Oh, I knew I had eaten enough but that steak was so good, I couldn’t resist that temptation to have ANOTHER Steak - that pesky devil! Got me again! And we kind of laugh him off like a Saturday morning cartoon character — BLAST YOU YOSEMITE SAM!

The reality though is very different. We hear in the Gospel that the Devil has one aim in his existence - to turn us away from our Heavenly Father and who God is calling us to be and he will use any means possible to do that. Which is why we hear this passage on the temptation of Jesus at the start of this season of Lent. During Lent, the entire Church is on this 40 day retreat together. To see where we are with God. How our relationship with Jesus is. How we are living as a disciple of Jesus Christ’s in my relationships with those around me - those I’m close to, and those I’m not... The Church takes this time, recalling that Jesus himself took 40 days to draw closer to his Heavenly Father.   Jesus went into the desert, away from the world and its distractions and is just alone with his Heavenly Father - listening to His voice, he’s reflecting on what His Father was saying to Him.

So today’s Gospel is after those 40 days, and we hear of this contest between Jesus and the Devil – a classic showdown of good versus evil. It’s easy to let our imaginations picture this little devil with his little pitchfork going up to Jesus with these temptations, and Jesus easily refusing them . And if that’s the image we have, we can discount the whole thing as a type of cartoon.


The thing is, though, the devil knew what he was doing with Jesus, and knew Jesus. So he’s trying to get him distracted in very clever ways. Look at this encounter again. So Jesus emerges from these 40 days with a clear sense of what His Father was calling him to do, with a vision in His mind. He knew who He was - and He was prepared to accomplish His divine mission this divine Plan. But as a human being, yeah, 40 days of fasting and praying was a LONG time. A difficult thing to do! For those who’ve given up drinking coffee or eating chocolate for these 40 days, we can only imagine... So here’s the Son of God, and He’s hungry. It’s probably going to be a little while before he gets back to town - to His family, His friends, His disciples. He’s probably thinking about getting something to eat. Maybe he’s thinking, I wonder if Peter was even able to catch some fish without my help... And so the devil starts putting these thoughts to him – you’ve spent 40 days with your Father - you’ve reflected on how you’re God’s son, right? You’ve grown - you KNOW he Loves you - You Love Him... so you’re hungry (you should be...) Go ahead - do one of your tricks - why don’t you just take that stone and make into some bread for yourself... what’s the big deal? What’s so wrong with fulfilling a basic human need? Jesus is able to recognize it immediately - that his power isn’t to be used for mere convenience, especially when he’s inviting his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him in a life of self-sacrifice and service...

The other two temptations are similar - they try to attack that same sense of vision, relationship, and understanding that Jesus had of what the Father was asking Him, the Son to do and how to do it... The devil proposes to Jesus You’re GOD’S SON - why not just be King - why do you have to answer to a bunch of purported religious authorities, debate them, be questioned by them... Who are they to tell you who YOUR FATHER is??? Here, you can be ruler, king over all of them... When that didn’t work, the devil comes at it another way Alright, alright you know what would really get these people’s attention... imagine you jumping from the highest height of the temple. You know God’s going to take care of you. Forget all this selflessness and service. You want attention - That would DEFINITELY create a buzz!

It’s amazing, how easy it could be to entertain these thoughts. They can even sound a bit reasonable. And that’s the point, each of us can make a case for giving in to whatever temptation we have, arguing I’m still being a good person... as we give in to the devil's proposals... as we turn away from God and turn towards the devil. You have a big test coming up, you’ve had a bunch of projects to do, a lot of other things going on - maybe you have a side job... there’s so much stress and pressure. All of a sudden the thought, or the opportunity to take a short cut, to cheat presents itself. You’ve never done it before - you say you would never do it if things weren’t so tough right now - and you promise you’re never going to do it again (if Jesus just helps you to make sure you don’t get caught). They always come in these small measures, small doses to get us to move slowly - but deliberately in a different direction than we know is right - that we want to follow. For example, the devil isn’t going to tempt you to abandon your faith in one fell swoop - He’s not going to try to convince you to leave Catholicism to become a Hari Khrishna or Scientologist (Tom Cruise, please don’t sue me) but he probably tempted you to not come to Church today. Nothing big - maybe just - It was a long week, you’re tired, it’s like 10 degrees outside... you should take care of yourself... you got a lot to do, you’ll make it next week or the week after that... God understands...

This Gospel tells us that He does understand. But the Gospel asks us to be clear about whose side are we on? This isn’t a message meant to scare us, or to give the devil more power than he has. Jesus beat him in these temptations and he beat him once and for all on the Cross on Calvary. But far from some harmless little cartoon devil, as we hear the Lenten call to renew our relationship with the Lord, do we realize or recognize the different voices competing to win our hearts and souls? Do we recognize the devil for the distracting, for the persuasive, for the not-so-funny being that he really is?

ASH WEDNESDAY - WITH APOLOGIES TO THE PROPERTY BROTHERS

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for ASH WEDNESDAY - February 10, 2016. The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021016.cfm . Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog with your followers on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and for your comments and feedback. Grateful for your support! God Bless you and a Blessed Lent to you and yours... Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

Anyone who’s been to Newman Catholic knows that we’re blessed to have two beautiful houses that make up our center – but two very old houses... both are over 100 years old. Over the years we’ve done a bunch of renovations and updates to make it comfortable, efficient and clean... attempting to do a few projects each year: A new porch one year; finishing the basement; painting, and so on. 

One area that for the most part was ignored was the upper level of the one house where I live. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m "roughing it" - not by any stretch of the imagination. My apartment is very comfortable, and very nice... But those areas have really always fallen last on the list of priorities - because they are. Who, but a handful of people see the old carpet that’s ripped, dusty, and worn going up the stairs? Who knows about the stove top and oven in my kitchen where two of the burners don’t work and the oven temperature is at best an approximate guess (I don’t cook, so as long as the microwave works, I haven’t cared about the stove or oven for over the 9 years that’s been the case). For the most part that’s been, and continues to be my attitude.

But I do have ADD and if something does grab my attention it can be like a rabid dog grabbing onto raw meat... I can’t stop thinking about it or noticing whatever that thing might be. Which is what happened this past summer. The hallway on the second and third floors of the Newman Center had this old, yellow-ish colored - burlap wall paper that honestly - anyone who saw it would say - was disgusting. There were stains on it - so the ugly color of it was even more discolored. It had collected visible dust. And was starting to peel in different corners. So, this caught my attention in a new way back in June. Everytime I left my apartment I would look at that ugly wall paper, see it’s disgustingness it would look more and more gross by the day and I would get more and more frustrated. To the point that on a rare weekend where I had absolutely nothing to do - no pastoral responsibilities at any local parishes I help out at (so no need to write a homily) and things quiet here on campus - I decided that was going to be the weekend I would get this awful mess down and paint it. How long could it take? It should be easy, the paper was already starting to peel itself I figured.

I went to Home Depot, bought the "wall-paper tiger", scraping tools, sprays etc that I
Pictures are worth a thousand words... Actual wallpaper, before
and during with bottom right being where I ended
knew you needed for this project, remembering how my father and brothers and I had done this a couple times when we were growing up (which my memory told me wasn’t too bad a job). In any event, very, very quickly I realized how horrible an idea this was. About 5 hours into this project on a hot Friday night I had gotten about two large strips down. Yes the initial corners came down easily but then I’d come upon massive sections which had the most stubborn, old glue holding that burlap tight as I scrapped and was putting scalding hot water mixed with fabric softener on the walls to try to get it down. Where’d I get that little tip for hot water and fabric softener on removing wallpaper that (as it turned out was put up in 1961?) The two people I choose to blame for subconsciously getting me into this mess. That’s right - Jonathan and Drew Scott - the Property Brothers from HGTV. That hit me probably mid-day Saturday as I continued to inhale this toxic brew and was covered once again with glue and grime and desperately looking for a scapegoat. For 9 years I didn’t care about this stupid wallpaper, now because I had seen the Property Brothers show while running on the treadmill and not having anything else to watch a bunch of times ... I started to get hooked on their show. Seeing them talk people (or rather highly encourage them) to buy a fixer-uper and then watching them do renovations to these homes to make them their dream homes -all in the magic of TV in an hour time – had obviously a bigger impact on me than I imagined. As I cursed the two of them for the remainder of Saturday and the entire Sunday - where I worked till about 9 PM and at that point abandoned my DIY (Do it yourself) project (and called someone the following morning to finish the job) the whole experience stayed with me.


Why are shows like "Property Brothers" - or for that matter the entire HGTV network appealing to so many? If houses aren’t your thing, there’s all kinds of successful variations of them suited for almost every interest: "Bar Rescue" does the same thing for bars; "Kitchen Nightmares" for restaurants; there’s tons of car-repair/refurbishment shows. We even have shows that do makeovers for people - how they dress, how they look, how they eat, how they live ("The Biggest Loser" for one). Huge numbers of people are drawn, are fascinated seeing something that’s unattractive, that’s broken, that’s been neglected, that’s been ignored - come back to life in a dramatic way.

Which is what this day, Ash Wednesday - and this season of Lent is all about. Jesus Christ invites each of us to look at our inner selves, at our relationship with Him and with one another and see what interior "jobs" have been neglected, been ignored, that are desperately in need of attention. Particularly looking at our own individual sins that we’ve committed through our own faults; whether they were uncharitable thoughts or words, sinful acts (where we made a bad choice), or sinful non-actions (when we knew what the right thing was and decided not to do it). All those things cluttering our hearts and souls; all the things deflecting our true, God-given beauty and dignity which he created us to be.

On Ash Wednesday - it kind of reminds me of that first rip of the wall paper back in the summer... We start off excited, energized, hopeful - thinking "yeah, there are things I want to look at - there are areas in my life I want to change... I do want to grow closer to God... over the next 40 days. " But very quickly it can be scary, it can be intimidating, it can be overwhelming. But this isnt a DIY job. That’s why we come together and we put these dirty ashes on everyone of our heads –> this guy being one of the first to do so.... because we’re all in the same boat. We’re all sinners. We all have stuff that needs to be dealt with. Whether it’s the priest standing here preaching or the person that this is the first Mass you’ve been to in a while.

Jesus looks at each one of us with love, with joy. Joyful that something moved us to move
ourselves to be here today. Something within us knows and wants to see something or somethings in our lives changed. And he plots out the plans for renovation. The Gospel tells us what to do: to FAST - to PRAY - to GIVE ALMS.

Fasting - so today we have only one meatless meal and every Friday we’re supposed to avoid eating meat. Sometimes people add something else - like they give up coffee (God Bless you folks who do that) or something else. Doesn’t seem like a big deal. But by breaking us out of our routines, our patterns - forgoing something, it helps us to be a bit more thoughtful about our priorities. A friend told me that one Lent he gave up television. Once he had, he quickly realized all the things he said he never had time for - including prayer, he did have time for all along, it had just been wasted. That’s one of the fruits of fasting - to help us re-prioritize things... hopefully making God the center, where He should be.

Prayer - the most important prayer that we as Catholics have is Mass. So whether here on campus Sunday nights or at your home parishes, that’s where we worship - we give praise, thanks to God. In our world that is so often so self-absorbed - worship helps us to look out of ourselves - to see our many blessings, to see the many gifts we have from our very lives, to our opportunities to be a student here or to have a job here, to family, to friends - to see that God has been very generous to us and so at Mass we gather together as his Family with our brothers and sisters to give Him praise, and to receive His word and His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Along with that, maybe it’s been awhile - a long while since you’ve been to confession. In our Mass booklets today theres an explanation of why confession is a good thing, how to go and an examination of conscience to help jog our memories of areas of failure, mistakes where Jesus wants to meet us, heal us, and forgive us. Maybe make that promise to yourself this Lent to make it to confession.

And Almsgiving - giving to those less fortunate. That helps us look at those struggling, those in need and seeing them as our brothers and sisters... and not simply feeling sad about it, but doing something. Maybe you’ll join our community service who are serving the Homeless or doing a Habitat for Humanity build (giving the gift of your time) A student a few years ago told me that they gave up their MoccaFrappucinoLatteCappucino from Starbucks which cost them about $3 a day. Saved that $120 (40 days of Lent times $3) and donated it to St. Jude’s Hospital for children with cancer. (Nice combo - 2 for 1- fasting and almsgiving together, very efficient!)

Those are ways we can make Lent meaningful, even life changing. It’s not supposed to be a suffering olympics that we try to tough it out to Easter and then go on some over-indulgent extravaganza celebrating our achievement. But rather taking a step back... recognizing that each and everyone of us needs Lent. We need this opportunity to do some interior renovations. Clearing out what is dirty, what is broken, what is ignored and renewing ourselves, experiencing what Jesus’ redemption and salvation are all about - making us new creations.

And more importantly, it’s not just our work. It’s not a DIY job. If we treat it like that, then fear will enter in, or our enthusiasm will wane in the days and weeks ahead. No, Jesus himself wants to walk with us, work within each of us. C. S. Lewis, one of the greatest Christian writers of the modern era gave one of my favorite quotes of all time. He said: "Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."

My brothers and sisters - may you and I, this Lent, let Him do the work he needs to do, to re-create us into those palaces He intended us to be so that we may be a worthy place for Him to live in.

A GIGANTIC CROSS - A LIVING WITNESS

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME - February 7, 2016. The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/020716.cfm . Thanks as always for reading, sharing this blog on your Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and your comments and feedback. Have a great week - enjoy the Super Bowl! God Bless - Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

Out of Texas came an interesting story this past week of an ambitious and unique construction project. In the city of Corpus Chrisi (which is Latin, by the way for "The Body of Christ" which the City was named by a group of Spanish-Catholic settlers in honor of the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament we receive at Mass) a group of Christians broke ground on building what they hope will be the largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere.

The plans call for a 210 feet tall (or 19 story) structure, built on this plain of land that would be easily visible for at least 5 miles away (and 10 miles from air). This will beat the nearby Texas cross in Houston which is about 170 feet tall - but will still fall short of the world’s largest cross which can be found in Madrid Spain and is more than double this one - at 495 feet! This Corpus Christi Cross will not come cheap - it will cost close to a million dollars of which about 20% has already been raised.

The idea for this came to a local pastor from Corpus Christi who while traveling with his family saw the cross in Houston. He recalled how just seeing it from a distance captured his attention and amazement and made such an impression on him that he didn’t stop thinking about it. In the days and weeks following, that image, that sight stayed in his mind and heart. He went back to Houston to talk to some of their local pastors and heard "story after story about lives that were changed, suicides that were aborted, relationships that were restored because of the influence of the cross, reminding them that the Redeemer could restore their brokenness." Not long after, he rallied people in his own community to join in making this ambitious plan a reality in their own community. They hope by year’s end for the cross to be completed.


It’s a unique, creative, ambitious plan for this group of Christians. But that gigantic cross - or even our own beautiful Crucifix that we have in front of the Newman Center - only has meaning, will only be able to be a symbol that would resonate in anyone’s heart and mind if you and I take to heart what we just heard in tonight’s Gospel.

In this passage, Jesus the carpenter after speaking with crowds tells the fishermen to go back out into the deep waters after an abysmal night fishing to try again. You can sense Simon Peter’s frustration, apprehension bordering on dismissal of the suggestion... What does the carpenter (Jesus’ craft) know about fishing? The tired and defeated fishermen are a bit grumpy. Yet Peter yields to Jesus- out of respect for all that they had seen and experienced so far. Those experiences have told them there’s more to Jesus then they fully understand. And then when they do, and experience this abundant catch, Simon Peter is embarrassed that he doubted, hesitated, was reluctant to follow Jesus commands. Rather than embarrassing him (Can you imagine Jesus screaming "TOLD YOU SO, YOU DOPE" "WHAT DO YOU THINK OF ME NOW CHUMP?" No - we can’t... ) Jesus instead calls these simple fishermen who had been listening to him, accompanying him, experiencing his interactions with the crowds and invites them to follow him in a much more committed manner. He calls them to leave behind their former ways of life: leave behind their ambition, their self-reliance, their selfish desires; leave behind their self-centeredness, their sinfulness, and to trust that He can fulfill their deepest longings, their greatest needs, heal their great hurts; relieve their tremendous burdens.

To follow Him as a disciple who will share this good news to the world. He calls them - he prepares them - and us - to be living bearers of his Word in our own homes, communities, dorms, classrooms...

As Pope Francis recently put it, Jesus needs us to be "men and women who radiate the truth, beauty and life-changing power of the Gospel. Men and women who are channels of God’s grace, who enable his mercy, kindness and truth to become the building blocks of a house that stands firm. A house which is a home, where brothers and sisters at last live in harmony and mutual respect, in obedience to the will of the true God, who has shown us, in Jesus, the way to that freedom and peace for which all hearts long.

Jesus has called, gifted, empowered each and everyone of us in our Baptism into discipleship. You and I are called to be living images of what the cross signifies. We are called to transform what is bleak and dark and hopeless by our words, our actions, our lives. May we even find in the small, simple, and unheralded acts of compassion, healing and justice that we can be that living sign which that gigantic Cross represents.