SMELLY FLOWERS & IMPORTANT LIFE LESSON

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - July 31, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/073116.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim


Quick commercial... thanks to everyone who's helped with the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - We've hit about 20% of our $20,000 stretch goal for this year... Please check out our website for information:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!

HOMILY:

Not being a botanist, it shouldn’t be surprising that I had never heard of one of the worlds largest flowers - the AMORPHOPHALLUS TITANUM which is a part of the NY botanical gardens in the Bronx. On top of it being one of the worlds largest flowers, it’s unique in two other ways. The first - which seems to be driving the most interest, the most press at the moment is the Amorphophallus Titanum’s reputation as having the smelliest, foulest, most repugnant of scents. It is for that reason that is more commonly known by it’s nickname "the corpse flower." (Kind of says it all, doesn’t it) Capitalizing on that, The Guardian, a newspaper from England, sent a reporter to NY to ask people to describe the smell of the Corpse flower. There responses kind of said it all: - it smells like lettuce when you take it out of a bag; It smells like an aquarium - like the penguin enclosure... It smells like my cat’s liter box, only stronger - it smells worse than a thousand pukes.

Those - colorful - descriptions seem to obscure the other amazing thing about this plant. The Amorphopallus Titanum takes over a decade to grow for it’s huge lily like - flower to finally bloom. After that, it’s bloom lasts 24-36 hours before it dies. In fact it started to bloom on Thursday - and they had a Youtube live feed so you could see it online (http://time.com/4430658/corpse-flower-bloom-live/)  - so it is probably already in decline by now. Having first read about this on Friday, I had considered driving into the Bronx for my first -non Yankee related trip to the borough today just to see it - but unfortunately didn’t have time to do so. 


There’s something so beautifully simple when you think about it - this plant has been nurtured, grown, cultivated, all for this one moment - these 24-36 hours where the fulfillment of it’s life will be on display for all to see - and then it will fade away.

Hearing about this plant and reflecting on this Gospel throughout the week, the message that kept hitting me was not particularly earth-shattering or breaking news to any of us - Life is fragile. Our time on this planet is unpredictable. For a vast number of us, that reality often hits us in dramatic, unexpected ways that are jarring


- like when we heard the horrific story this past week of an 84 year old priest who was killed by Islamic Terrorists while celebrating Mass in France before a horrified congregation

- like when any of us have heard a loved one with a terrible diagnosis, or when we have had an unexpected loss in our families.

Those moments snap us out of the ordinary, routine, day to day busy ness of life that we so easily allow to manipulate all of our mental, physical and sometimes even spiritual energies. Most of us don’t like to think about the end of our lives - let alone talk about it. It can be upsetting and heavy, particularly on a hot day at the end of July where we’re on the cusp of August (forget the end of our lives, we’re probably wondering where is the summer going so quickly?) It’s jarring... and that’s why this gospel kind of catches us off guard tonight.

Jesus sounds somewhat frustrated in this Gospel reading. Some guy in the crowd yells out to Jesus - "tell my brother to share the inheritance with me." This guy has probably seen or heard or experienced something that made it evident that Jesus has power, has authority. Maybe it was a miracle... Maybe it was Jesus’ preaching... Maybe it was just being in His presence - something made this guy discern that many people who’ve had problems, difficulties, struggles, questions about life went to Jesus and found what they were looking for. So he decides to go to Jesus to share what was on his heart, what was troubling him in life. And what was that? His anger with his brother over his inheritance.

That’s where Jesus hits him with this short parable about the rich man who obsesses about his wealth, his possessions, his goods. He has such an abundance of them that he worries what to do with this abundance. How can he better store everything? How can he find bigger barns, warehouses for all his possessions. Not realizing that all of that will be meaningless that evening as his life will be at an end - and very starkly, Jesus tells him - none of that will matter to God.

In God’s creation, plants are fortunate. Their entire existence glorifies God by their very lives. They don’t have to make choices or decisions. They’re programmed in a sense to do what they do. The unique Amorphophallus’ entire existence for 12 years builds to this beautiful climax where the bloom is revealed (the scent is smelled) and God is glorified by it. And it’s over so quickly.

For you and I, this Gospel is a reminder that we do make choices, decisions that either glorify God or not - that preach his Gospel or diminish His presence to the world. He gives us the tools, the talents, the gifts, the abilities - the opportunities - to determine how we will bloom. But - none of us knows the length of time. That’s a part of the mystery of life and being apart of God’s creation. Heavy stuff - I know, particularly in the middle of the summer.

Yet maybe that’s why its good that this Gospel reading itself catches us in such a sudden, unexpected manner. How many New Year’s Resolutions have fallen by the wayside for us. How many Ash Wednesday with our Lenten promises didn’t quite turn out the way we had expected or hoped... There seems multiple opportunities we’re given in our lives to "clean the slate" - to start over again. Rather than focusing on the past failures -- all the opportunities we’ve had up to this point to change something about ourselves, our relationships with God, our relationships with our family and friends - the Gospel message is meant to constantly remind us of a Loving God, a forgiving God who never stops encouraging us, calling us again and again to try again – try again to make things right that need to be made right....


Those opportunities continue to be there. Maybe someone is coming to mind right now that you feel a nudge to make ammends with. Maybe there’s something that’s been weighing on your heart for some time that you want to bring to confession. Maybe this call to examine how much I own, how much I possess and how much I share - especially with the poor, those near to me - and those who are strangers is resonating in a way it never has. The Holy Spirit is going to hit each of us in a different way with this proclamation.

Whatever it is, we can be confident and are guaranteed that each and every day we wake up God our Father is patiently there waiting for us to choose to Glorify Him by our very lives. But where a sense of urgency comes from is that we don’t have a guarantee on is how many mornings we will wake up... how many opportunities we have left to glorify God and choose to be a beautiful bloom in his Creation.
 

9/11; 7/26 - DARE I SAY ‪#‎IAmJacquesHamel‬

"The world looks to the priest, because it looks to Jesus!  No one can see Christ; but everyone sees the priest, and through him they wish to catch a glimpse of the Lord!  Immense is the grandeur of the Lord! Immense is the grandeur and dignity of the priest!" - Pope St. John Paul II 

After September 11th, it was observed that for some people around the country, they didn’t feel the same emotional impact as those of us living in the New York Metro area.  That’s not meant to sound judgmental or have some sort of claim on what was the worst terrorist attack in American history.  It’s simply the reality.  Those who were killed were our relatives, our friends, our neighbors.  Those fighting to rescue and save them came from our communities.  The twin towers weren’t sites that we visited on a sightseeing trip - they were apart of our daily landscape.

It was an unwanted education.  Before that fateful day, seeing and hearing of other atrocities that had occurred around the world where “hundreds were killed, thousands were injured” - there was something anonymous about it that made it unreal.  September 11th was very real.  Speaking for myself, I know I’ve never been the same.    Every fall, the calendar feels different.  The names of the men whose funerals I concelebrated immediately come to mind (though I never knew them before).  The New York City skyline, visible from our Newman Center - while in one sense is a testimony of how we were resilient in “rebuilding” - the “Freedom Tower” to me still doesn’t look right and remains a daily reminder of what we lost in the horror of that day.  I still can’t bring myself to see the September 11th memorial.

Today July 26th I feel similarly.  I didn’t realize that at first, when I just heard short headlines, brief reports:  ISIS attacks at Normandy Church; Priest killed at Mass.  Later getting a fuller picture of the true horror, it’s rocked me in a way I haven’t felt since September 11th.

Father Jacques Hamel, an 84 year old priest, was filling in for the local parish priest at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Church in Normandy, France.  He was celebrating the daily Mass for the parishioners who were, just like Catholics all around the world, honoring the grandparents of Jesus, the parents of Mary - Sts. Joachim and Ann.  That’s when two ISIS terrorists burst in, wielding knives.  Congregants; turned Hostages; thankfully now turned witnesses say that Fr. Hamel tried to protect his people - a crowd that included nuns, lay people who had gathered to hear God’s word and receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  Fr. Hamel was forced to his knees, beheaded before the congregation, while the terrorists went on an angry rant spewing their hate before being gunned down themselves.

It doesn’t take a therapist to explain why it would hit somewhat personally.  Mass is not simply something “we do” it’s essential to who we are as priests.  Mass, the Eucharist is that essential to us as Catholics that it is offered every day (sometimes multiple times a day) throughout the entire world.  So it’s not uncommon that when one of us is away on vacation, on retreat, and is away from our local assignment, we have another brother priest “fill in” for us.  So technically, the people of St. Etienne-du-Rouvray’s Church weren’t his people -  But they became his people as he put on the same vestments, putting the ribbons in the pages of the same Roman Missal; checking that the scripture readings were turned to the same readings that millions of us priests were all doing around the world this very day - July 26th.   He was helping a brother priest out by assuming his daily responsibilities.  Fr. Hamel had come to stand in the person of Christ.  He was there to offer Jesus’ once and for all time sacrifice on the cross, making it real to those gathered... never imagining that he would be called to lay down his life literally after decades of doing so humanly, spiritually, emotionally as a priest.

There will be plenty of ink about ISIS; political pundits will weigh in and assess the impact this attack will have in France, in Europe and the world over... sadly I suspect more blood will be shed at the hands of terrorists and in response to them.  And when I allow my mind to go in those places, I feel the same anger, the same fury I did on September 11th.    Tonight, I’m reflectively wondering how faithfully, how fully do I live out the promises I made on my ordination day - when I became a brother priest in Jesus Christ with Fr. Hamel?    Even more, as has become custom, there was a hashtag that was trending where people reflecting on the tragedy and solidarity with this simple parish priests said - ‪#‎IAmJacquesHamel‬.  For me, I wonder if would I ever be able to “fill in” for Fr. Hamel?

Eternal rest gant unto Him O Lord, and let the Perpetual light shine upon Him.  May He Rest in Peace - and Pray for all of us, especially his brother priests - that we be as selfless in our sevice of Christ and His People.

HOW TO CHANGE HOW YOU LOOK & FEEL ABOUT YOURSELF

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - July 24, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/072416.cfm Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim


Quick commercial... thanks to everyone who's helped with the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - please check out our website for information:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!

HOMILY:

Some random night I was skimming through Facebook - reading a variety of statuses that were absolutely essential for me to read -including a friend ranting about how some birds are waking him up at 5 in the morning each day, a student asking "Why did I think eating 2 boxes of fiber one carmel bars was a good idea?" and someone sharing a very important link to a story on NBC revealing that Cap’N Crunch is not really a captain (glad that the journalists out there are tackling the really hard stories in investigative journalism...) Interspersed with these posts they mix in advertisements. So out of nowhere I see this post that had one line that was hard to ignore:

Our underwear will change the way you look and feel about yourself


That’s a pretty bold claim. Curiosity no doubt gets a lot of people to click it. Heck, it can even disturb a priest enough to wonder – Can underwear really do that? It might be made of a different material, manufactured in a unique way that can be new to you. But I wonder after wearing them once or twice, (and hopefully laundering them in between those uses) - how many people would recognize that life has pretty much stayed the same as it was before they ever heard of this new underwear.

Marketing executives who create these campaigns are good in knowing how to target their goods to their potential customers. How to pitch things in such a way that it somehow addresses something bigger that you desire, something you need, something you want. These underwear advertising executives are trying to be clever, catch people’s attention, and curiosity - which is pretty impressive when you think about it. How do you make something so ordinary, so routine stand out?  

By tapping into deeper desires of humanity:
that there’s some part of ourselves that we want to experience change in -
something that affects the way we look and feel about ourselves -
that we can experience that...

Hopefully all of us here at least realize that some underwear can’t do that. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that an underwear company can make that ridiculous claim because they know that people are searching for that something... Desperately longing, searching for that thing – whatever that thing is - that can accomplish a radical change in their lives that alters the way they look and feel about themselves.

In this Gospel, however, what Jesus offers us has the potential to do just that... change the way humanity does look and feel about itself. We just heard St. Luke's version of "The Our Father" - The words of this prayer are so memorized and known that it was observed that on Easter Sunday at some point over 1.5 billion people were uttering them that day alone. That familiarity makes us lose sight of how incredibly powerful this prayer is– and especially how incredibly radical this prayer was that day Jesus first uttered it.

Up until the moment when Jesus first utters this prayer - and commanding us that this is
how we are to pray - humanity never referred to God (or‘gods’) as Father. Even our Jewish ancestors, while they acknowledged God as the "Father of their nation" they never went so far as to address Him personally in prayer as "Father." Dr. Scott Hahn explained in a lecture called Allah or Abba - where he was pointing out one of the major differences, even obstacles, between Muslims and Christians discussions - one major source of division is that we dare to refer to God as Father. For Muslims that is seen as blasphemous to ascribe a human characteristic to God.

To a world that seems more unpredictable with each passing day; with people (even some of those who closest to us) sometimes acting irresponsible or self-focused; to a culture that seems more disconnected, more buying into a commercialized, materialistic society that wants us to keep consuming and purchasing things promising to meet our ever need – including those deepest needs about our identity - how we look and feel about ourselves... we can’t lose sight of the radicalness of what Jesus offers us:

A God who is Father...
who is close,
who is caring,
who is generous,
who is kind,
who is forgiving,
who is attentive
who makes us a Family.

Pope Francis a few weeks ago explained - Jesus always used the word "Father" in the most important or challenging moments of his life, saying our Father knows the things we need, before we even ask Him. He is a Father who listens to us in secret just like Jesus advised us to pray in secret. It’s through this Father that we receive our identity as children. And when I say ‘Father’ this goes right to the roots of my identity: my Christian identity is to be his child and this is a grace of the Holy Spirit.

May our daring to utter these beautiful words daily remind us of this essential truth, and offer testimony to all humanity of the only way that we can truly change the way we look and feel about ourselves – in knowing Jesus has revealed God as Our Father and we are His beloved children.

PRAYER SHAMING - IN DEFENSE OF PRAYER

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - July 17, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/071716.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim

Quick commercial... as we enter into Summer, it's time for the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - please check out our website for information:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!

HOMILY:

Last December, after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino which left 14 people dead and 22 injured, which was horrific enough, sadly there was an ugly episode that followed among politicians, celebrities, and media - on social media.

In the immediate aftermath, a number of individuals in the public eye simply shared the sentiment “Thoughts and Prayers” to the victims and their families.  Which somewhat shockingly received a backlash.  “GOD IS NOT FIXING THIS” one NY newspaper had on their cover as they angrily argued that the attack was the fault of not having more stringent gun control laws.  This wasn’t the first time that praying was demeaned.  In the wake of other terror attacks, like the ones in Paris last November, when the phrase and image #PrayForParis was trending, some media outlets pushed back with images saying “Don’t Pray for Paris - Religion caused this tragedy in the first place.”  When the terrorist attack occurred just a few weeks ago in Orlando, killing almost 50 people, one late night TV host sarcastically responded to the call to pray for the victims and families -The biggest, most helpful thing you can do to ensure this never happens again is sit quietly in a room with your eyes closed, talking to nobody.

An article, which appeared in The Atlantic - after the San Bernardino attack called these responses “Prayer shaming” - which they explained was when one side seemed believed they were more caring because they were advocating doing something, taking action - while the other was in their opinion offering meaningless prayers.

There’s probably many reasons that this is happening.  The most obvious that some point to is that we are living in an increasingly secular/non religious society is one.  But even more likely, the fact that there has been more and more violence, evil, killing in terrifyingly extreme ways has left many scared and angry.  So there’s this frustration that we want to immediately see some action.  And we see it from every political angle one side wants the violence to end by demanding we “Pass new gun laws” the other side responds “Bomb them...” or that we need to “take the fight to them...”

I’m not getting into those different viewpoints.   Not because these, and many other serious issues don’t need to be discussed and important responses on how best to protect people enacted.  These discussions, debates, politics - they’re all important.   it’s understandable that as we feel more vulnerable and angry the calls for someone to do something - anything begins to get louder.  We see, yet another horrific terrorist attack Thursday night, with a man driving a truck into innocent people simply out enjoying the fireworks on Bastille Day in Nice France - leaving another horrific toll of those killed, those injured - and countless numbers of people who’s lives have been shattered once again.  And our frustration, our impatience grows as do our fears over what next?  There’s that impulse within ourselves to do something.  And sadly, prayer seems less and less a priority.

But one of the points that The Atlantic article so accurately made in their article on Prayer Shaming was that Prayer and political action have a deeply entwined history in America. From civil rights to women’s suffrage, nearly every social-justice movement has had strong supporters from religious communities—U.S. history is littered with images like the one of pastors and rabbis marching on Selma, side by side with political activists.

Prayer and actions shouldn’t be seen as mutually exclusive things.  Nor do they need to be competing activities.  Like if you’re a person of faith that you can’t be in favor of gun legislation; or that a member of the military who is out in battle isn’t prayerful.  But for some reason that seems to be a mentality that some have loudly argued is the case.

This debate between doing something and praying isn’t a new one... as we heard in today’s Gospel. This classic episode of Jesus coming to the home of Martha and Mary.  The encounter is often described as a metaphor of one who is active (Martha) and the other contemplative, prayerful (Mary) On the surface, Martha’s working her tail off, trying to be a good host, Mary’s simply enjoying being with Jesus; and when Martha’s overwhelmed by the tasks and complains to Jesus, he seems to side with Mary, the "slacker" in the story.

But it goes a lot deeper than that. Jesus isn’t judging the tasks or the work that either sister is doing. He’s not unappreciative or dismissive of Martha’s contributions or even saying that Mary’s doing something more important when he says she has "chosen the better part."   Jesus is speaking of what is going on in each of these women’s hearts. Martha has made a judgement about Mary’s responsiveness to the Lord as less important than what she’s doing. She’s determined that Mary shouldn’t be doing what she’s doing and she’s become bitter about it to the point of complaining openly about it.   In doing so, whatever generosity of spirit Martha may have had is pushed aside as she goes about her tasks, more and more frustrated that Mary hasn’t offered simply to help her (I wonder if Martha even thought to ask for help or had she simply expected Mary to read her mind and offer to help her?) Perhaps as all of this was going on Martha might have forgotten who it was she was busy preparing the meal for in the first place - that Jesus was right there in their midst.  That lapse causes her to become judgmental and critical kind of ruins the atmosphere.  Rather than Jesus being welcomed into their home and experiencing true hospitality, being welcomed, attended to and responded to in appropriate ways, he ends up mediating between the two.

That’s what evil does.  Turns people against one another.  Sure in this Gospel encounter, it’s a momentary lapse that Jesus gently corrects and the sisters are reconciled (as they will both be looking to Jesus later in the Gospels when their brother passes away).  But I can’t help but think that as we are facing so many incidents of diabolic evil inflicting such brutality and chaos on the world - that one of the devil’s bigger successes is turning us against one another.

For us to confront the great difficulties of our day, the evil that is unleashed in violence, terrorism, extremism - we as Christians need both - we do need to act, we do need to protect, we do need to examine laws and policies on a whole host of fronts that seem to be playing out in dramatic, violent ways all at the same time.

But the foundation for that is sincere, deep, genuine prayer.  And that means it’s not enough to simply tweet “PRAYERS FOR (insert latest tragedy)”.  We have to actually do that.  Connect with the Lord in our prayer.  Prayer which opens us to hearing and responding to the Holy Spirit’s promptings; Prayer which keeps me open to the Word of God; Prayer that is attentive to that which is good, which is beautiful, which is just.  Prayer that is loving, that is focused on those who are suffering and in need.

A few months ago, Pope Francis, on the feast of Sts Peter and Paul, preaching to a gathering of new Archbishops, being sent to their various Archdiocese’s around the world, emphasized the need for prayer in the face of difficulties, of trials, of persecutions, of evils.  He said:  
Fear paralyzes us, it always paralyzes us; it makes us close in on ourselves, closed to God’s surprises... Prayer enables grace to open a way out 
from closure to openness, 
from fear to courage, 
from sadness to joy. 
And we can add: from division to unity. 

Our being here is an important first step.  To hear God’s word, to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist - as Catholics, this is the foundation of our faith lives, our prayer lives.  But if you’re like me, it’s easy to run out from Mass and get consumed by the day to day challenges, obstacles and try ourselves to fix, to mend, to heal, to attend to each and every need we encounter.. . without first pausing for a moment, and connecting with the Lord, asking Him to direct our words, our actions.  

A priest one time said to me when I had lost sight of how much emphasis I was putting on fixing a couple of different problems saying to me “We already have a Savior and you ain’t Him”.  And he was right.  I laughed and said “yeah I guess the best I can say is I’m one of Jesus’ customer service reps... and it’s my responsibility to tell him he’s got a problem call on Line 1, 2, 3, 4... - and what if anything he’d like me to do about it.”   Probably not the most eloquent or pious of images - but it’s an image that works well for me.  And keeping that image in mind, when I look at the boss - Jesus that is - and recognize he always prayed, especially before doing something big, then it’s important for us, His followers to as well.

God moves through prayers... He loves us and desires to give the best gifts to us.  In a world that seems spinning out of control, where evil is on the move in dramatic and frightening ways, may you and I continue to reach out to Him, who has promised He will never leave us as  orphans with no one to run to.  He is here for us... always.  Amen.

POST DALLAS: NOT OTHER... BUT BROTHER (and Sister)

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - July 9, 2016. The readings for today's Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/071016.cfm  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, twitter, Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet - and for all your feedback and comments.  God Bless You and Yours and have a great week! Fr Jim

Quick commercial... as we enter into Summer, it's time for the NEWMAN CATHOLIC 2016 SUMMER APPEAL - please check out our website for information:  http://www.msunewman.com/#!appeal/cbjb  We appreciate your consideration and your support!

HOMILY:

I’m a bit frustrated today. I had spent a considerable amount of time working on my homily and had finished it Thursday Afternoon. And then in light of the assassination of 5 police officers in Dallas Texas, the shooting of 7 other police officers and 2 other civilians, I didn’t feel my homily for this Sunday was appropriate. So I’m frustrated... angry.

Not that I had to pull other words together - but the reason why I had to. This wasn’t some natural tragedy like, God Forbid, another Super Storm Sandy - or massive earthquake - resulting in massive devastation, and injuries and deaths to innocent people - which would also demand attention. This is, once again, the manifestation of true diabolical evil - the second time in less than a month - that has caught our collective attentions. A few weeks ago it was 50 individuals who were simply out for a night at a club who were gunned down by an Islamic Terrorist in Orlando. This week, these police officers were fulfilling their sacred oath - to protect and serve - at a rally which wasn’t exactly pro-Police. It was a rally, where people gathered to express their outrage over the deaths of black individuals in police-related shootings - most recently in Minnesota and Louisiana. 

Like I said, from this pulpit just two weeks ago - we as a nation need to get back to basics - first as human beings to remember how to simply be empathetic, compassionate, caring to people who are hurt and suffering losses - rather than immediately jumping to facebook groups and twitter posts -retweeting or "liking" whatever angry statement most closely captures my agenda and ratcheting the rhetoric up even more with outrageous responses, more debates with those on the other side - while in the process forgetting those who’ve died, those who are mourning, those who are in pain. It’s human to be empathetic to people in pain. And as Christians, we’re called to a lot more than simply that call to empathy and compassion.

This latest escalation has me even more troubled. Because it’s becoming more obvious that we’re not only forgetting the basics of humanity and Christianity - we’re seeing citizens turning on one another in a way that some are comparing to the civil unrest that happened around the nation in the 1960's - but I’ve never seen or experienced in my lifetime.

That is what it is that is so worrisome. That there is this general distrust, dislike for

"others." That other who we label as"those" people who are blank - and fill in the blank by race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and so on. Which is happening on all sides of every issue by the way. That distrust, dislike is turning to hatred, to evil in our words, our thoughts, and in sadly some dramatic ways like the horrific actions we’ve seen, where those we look to for protection and keeping order have been made out to be the bad guys, are literally assassinated on television.  EVEN THAT has not been enough to cause everyone to stop in their tracks and do some soul-searching.

That’s the devil at his finest - causing division, stroking fears by our constantly looking at "the other" as the problem, the blame, the cause of our problems. The devil not unique or creative... just an honest look in history we can see similar things that triggered horrific movements where on the other side of them, humanity promised "never again" to allow those things to happen.

Yet here we stand. Another crossroads as society.

All of these realities are causing widespread fear, anger, tension. People seem more unsettled, more unsure - which if we’re not careful, can cause any one of us to make some bad decisions moving forward that will only further isolate and divide us as we continue to look at one another as an "other".

God’s word today - as it always does - demonstrates how eternal, universal it really is. Here Jesus’ encounter with a scholar some 2,000 years ago can speak right to our experience, right to our situation. This passage is simply referred to as "the Good Samaritan." Most of us Christians, on hearing the title recall pretty instantly the main outline, the cliffs notes version of the story: Jewish guy gets robbed, beaten up and left on the road. Three different Jewish religious leaders see the guy and step over him... ignore him. A Samaritan guy sees him, physically takes care of him, then takes him to an inn and pays them to attend to the guy and promises on his way back, if the innkeeper spends more to take care of him he’ll pay for it.

For the most part, we look at this as Jesus talking about radical generosity and calling us his followers to imitate that. And that’s true to a point. But it kind of misses an even deeper point that Jesus was making.


Just a quick historical context to explain that. We often hear that Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along... even though for the most part, Samaritans were Jewish. You might describe Jews and Samaritans as "cousins" - who like many families, had a history of fighting. In their case, it went on for almost a thousand years! On everything from how they worshipped, their relationships with pagan people (Jews forbid any marriage outside of Judaism; Samaritans had inter-faith marriages, hence Jews saw them as "unclean") So there was long hostility brewing that got worse the 100 years before Jesus was born. At that point, it’s a toss up if the Jews hated the Romans, who had conquered their territory and basically occupied them, more than the Samaritans. And that was true on the other side. Samaritans despised the Jews for their looking down on them, for treating them unfairly. Jewish leaders had destroyed Samaritan cities, their capitol, some of their important sites. Samaritans would attack Jews enroute to Jerusalem on feast days. It was so bad, the hatred, the animosity was so deep that not only didn’t they have anything to do with each other. They avoided each other at all costs. Jews would go through the much more difficult, challenging task of crossing the River Jordan to avoid walking through a Samaritan town in their travels. Calling someone a Samaritan was on the same level as saying they were possessed.

So that’s how hated they were. That’s how deep the bitterness was. So when Jesus is asked by this Jewish scholar, who has already demonstrated an ability to do the basics that were expected (following the commandments) - What do I have to do - how do I achieve eternal Life? And Jesus responds to this Jewish audience by sharing this story of radical generosity being offered by a Samaritan - the epitome of "the other" to this man a Jew (after the Jew was ignored by his fellow Jews), he is calling us not simply to radical generosity, but radical Love - a Love that extends to our enemies. And not love in simply a ho hum, begrudging, generalized, let’s add it to the list of petitions "Pray for my enemies" - but a true love that demands much more. A love that transforms the other... into brother  (and sister).

A truly personal commitment to reach out; to care - without counting the cost; doing so not for notoriety or accolades (notice the Samaritan is nameless... we simply know him to be "Good") This gospel of radical Generosity, radical Love, radical Mercy - in answer to the question "What must I do" attaches to us the same responsibility.... the same demands.

While our hearts and minds are deeply troubled and thinking at these global, societal
examples and wonder is this possible? - Republicans and Democrats; Muslims and non-Muslims; Different racial groups - - we see the anger and hostility erupting as it did in Dallas Late Thursday / Early Friday morning where a protest went from angry (but peaceful) to horrifying and violent as a madman shot down 12 Police Officers, brutally killing 5 of them... We see these, and sadly countless other really evil stuff going on and probably feel defeatist and want to isolate from the world - away from any potential threats, any possible confrontations.

Yet Christ calls us to do just the opposite... Not to let that darkness intimidate, defeat or frighten us. And instead to begin to take this challenge of the Good Samaritan on a more local, more personal level. To think of the neighbor who because they played their music too loud and you called the cops on them you have never spoken to again. The friend who no longer fits in that category over whatever fight it was that ended that - who you learned just got horrendous news about their health. The co-worker who deep inside you’ve allowed envy and jealousy to color your image of them into something that’s probably not accurate at all. The relative - that son, that daughter, that parent -you haven’t spoken to in months, years because of that hurt, that pain, that wound that hasn’t been healed or even acknowledged at this point.

When we summon those types of examples, when the feelings and emotions that are attached to them come to mind and we supplant us and "them" into this story, the reality of just how difficult Christianity really is becomes apparent once again. But Jesus doesn’t present this to us to make us feel badly about whatever brokenness we have in our life; nor to make us feel defeated as we think "there’s no way I can love like that to whoever it is that comes to mind as we fill in the blank..." He wants us to realize how freely, selflessly, completely he loves us. When we’ve sinned, when we’ve turned away, when we’ve in a sense made ourselves enemies of the Lord and wallowed in our own messes and found ourselves poor, beaten down... kind of like the poor man in the story- when our friends and those we expected in this world to be there for us and they weren’t, the Lord is the Good Samaritan to us, He doesn’t abandon us, ignore us and pass on the other side of the road.

Love, the Lord tells us, is never abstract or distant; it "sees" and it responds. The compassion shown by the Samaritan is an image of the infinite mercy of God, who always sees our needs and draws near to us in love. Pope Francis.


Can we perhaps even begin to imagine letting go of some of the bitterness we’re nursing; the anger we’ve gone from being justified for to using as an excuse for not doing something we feel that nudge in our hearts to do (making that phone call, sending that card, reaching out to that person) Can we look at those we despise and imagine trying to be loving to them simply because that is as deep as Jesus loves us? Jesus showed us the best in the Samaritan. Can we really settle for anything else? What does our hearts tell us?

The evil, the hatred we see between groups of other people - we can feel powerless to change. But the amazingly beautiful point of today’s Gospel isn’t about how Samaritans and Jews as groups reconcilled. They never really did. But how two individuals from those two different groups chose not to let that evil "group think" confine them, define them, determine their responses. The Jew was in need, the Samaritan lovingly responded. And 2,000 years we’re still moved by that encounter.

How will you and I respond? Black lives matter... Blue Lives Matter... All Lives Matter. These camps, these movements all contain nuggets of truth that demand our rational, reasonable, attention. But Christ makes it clear in today’s Gospel, we’re called to more. Much more. May you and I leave here, having been nourished by Jesus word and His Body and Blood - with the resolve to at least begin to try to move beyond seeing, labeling one another as"other" and instead as beloved brothers and sisters.