GUARANTEED FIXES FOR EVERYTHING!!!!

Hi everyone - here's my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER - APRIL 30, 2017.  The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/043017.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading; for sharing it on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook and for your comments and feedback.  Thanks as always!  Fr Jim

HOMILY:
On Friday’s The Catholic Guy Show, the host, Lino Rulli talked about this growth of what can be described as "Catholic Self-Help" books and programs... Which as we started to look at the advertisements for them, you could be concerned they were making some lofty promises and outrageous claims. One guaranteeing to free you from any addiction. Another one promising to help you achieve the peace, the happiness you’re longing for. All you have to do is buy their book!  

One "program" in particular that I found particularly frustrating was directed to parents saying "You wish your child would return to church?" and then after sharing some frighteningly true statistics about the number of people who’ve stopped going to Mass, or claim not to be Catholic anymore made the bold claim ‘You need proven strategies that work’ - as they introduced their 16 part video series that promises "How to get your child back to the Church."

While it’s troubling to see such dramatic claims like that, I realized part of that disappointment came from them reminding me of some personal experiences. I don’t know how many conversations I have had over the years that start with "Yeah, I was raised Catholic, I used to go to Mass, but . . ." And then it might go in a whole bunch of different directions - I got a divorce . . .  The priest in my parish was accused of abuse . . Both of my parents died within three months of each other . . .

Or something like,
I prayed and prayed for my friend to be healed from this awful illness; for this job to come through; to win this award or that competition; to get accepted to that school, get that scholarship; and it didn't happen, so. . .

They leave. They check out. They don’t see the point to it any more. They might not have made a conscious decision about it. They might not have removed their names from the membership rolls. But in their hearts or their minds - they’ve left. I have to confess that earlier in my priesthood, when a story started with "Yeah, I was raised Catholic, I used to go to Mass but . . ,"  I used to be prepared to get into 'debate mode,' prepared to argue. I was going to make them see the light, I was going to get them back, trying to score another point with Jesus (Look, Jesus - I brought another one back!) 

I'd say, 'You got a divorce? Well, maybe we can meet and I can help you get an annulment' (as if that would erase all the pain involved in divorce). Or I'd say, 'Your priest was removed? Well, did you know that the number of priests like that is statistically very small compared to the vast numbers of good guys' (as if that would somehow would make those horrific atrocities go away)

Sure I was well intentioned and there was some truth in those statements. But when I think back I kind of cringe at those memories. For one thing, I can’t remember any time where that approach actually worked.  In fact, those times were all utter failures. Because my focus was on me and what I wanted to do... I was going to logically convince them they were wrong - I was going to get them to go to Church, be a part of a community, fix whatever problem or mistakes, so that - so what, exactly?


So that I'd feel important? So that I'd be right? So that I'd feel I earned my paycheck that week? What I finally learned was that it's not until you go through your own tough times, your own struggles, your own times of doubt and despair that you realize how inadequate this approach is.

If a relative dies, and someone tells you, "It’s great because they're with Jesus now," that doesn't help - it just brings you deeper into sadness (sure, I’m happy they’re with Jesus, but I’m still really, really sad, and I still really, really miss them). 

If a person you love is sick, and a well intentioned friend tells you that, "God never gives you more than you can handle" that often times makes people feel worse and it just leads you deeper into confusion (as if God wants evil for any person).

People say these types of things, share these expressions and the last thing they want to do is cause any more pain or hurt, but they do hurt.  These well intentioned folks want to be a light, relieve pain, somehow make things better -  and, somehow, they end up arguing with you, demanding to be heard, telling you how wrong you are. And because they seem so confident - and you can’t see it - can't hear it - can't understand it - you feel even more lost, even more disconnected.   

For us as Catholic Christians, it might be a novel idea to actually look to Jesus for an example on how to handle difficult, delicate, painful situations. Like we just heard in this Gospel. Where we hear of the two people on the road to Emmaus, on their way out of town. It's all been too much. Jesus was tortured, mocked, killed.   That was traumatic enough. In their minds, their hope is gone... Jesus’ vision and promises have all been crucified on that cross with Him.  In addition, they themselves have all been miserable failures in being able to stop the madness - or even have the guts to stand by their friend as he died. While Jesus was in the tomb, they had huddled together with the other disciples, hiding in fear.  Then, here it is Easter Sunday Morning, they hear these crazy reports from the women announcing they've not only seen angels, but angels proclaiming Jesus is alive.  Their response: They hit the road.

It's just too much for them to believe. And so we read they are "looking downcast" - basically,  they’re depressed – they're arguing among themselves- and they’re on their way out of town.
"Yeah, I was a follower of Jesus, but . . ."


What stands out in reading this beautiful encounter is that what ultimately brings their slow hearts back 'up to speed' is how they meet Jesus in their depression - on their roads of sadness, in the midst of their confusion.   They discover Jesus’ loving presence in the midst of their pain, doubts, and failures.  And how does Jesus do that? He patiently listens to them, (notice he doesn’t jump out and say "Uh, guys, it’s me...") Because He knows what they’ve gone through has been awful - Not that Jesus hasn’t had a bad couple days too – but in His selfless love, he listens to them share their pain and because He Listens to them, they are prepared for Jesus to share His story - even though they don’t at first realize it is Him. 

And what do they hear? That were able to hear Jesus recount to them that even in the midst of incredible suffering, He knew His Father was with Him- Knew he wasn’t abandoned and knew the Father was leading Jesus into His Glory. As they listen to Jesus, little by little, the unbelievable words of the women became a little less unbelievable . . . 

As these Emmaus-bound travelers listen to the Jesus they still don’t yet recognize, something about what He is saying is different - their hearts start to "burn within them." They can hear in His words the testimony of someone who has gone through incredible pain but never doubted God was present to Him, was present in Him.

They want that too. 
And so - as this 'stranger' seems about to leave them behind and continue His journey - they ask Him, and He agrees to stay with them. And in that staying with them, in that sharing in the Eucharist, their eyes are opened and they finally see that Jesus has been right there with them, all along.

That’s the central message that this Gospel wants us to rejoice in. Easter wasn’t just a historic event that happened thousands of years ago and ended. We as Jesus’ disciples 2000+ years later have come to know, and experienced and believe that Jesus is right here with us, too.  But we can’t allow our faith our belief to blind us to those we know who aren’t with us - or perhaps even some who are - who might not feel that; might not believe that – because of some pain, confusion, doubt, uncertainty they’re experiencing in their lives.  Something that is causing distress or despair in their spiritual lives that makes it hard for them to see Jesus, knowing Jesus is present to them in whatever trial, whatever cross they are bearing...

Rather than trying to explain to them how He is, Jesus invites us to listen to their pain. Instead of looking for proven strategies to get them to come to Mass, Jesus wants us to help them carry their cross. Then perhaps, our Love, our daily walking with each other through, at times, unbelievable difficulties, will make these words of scripture believable, relatable. We will experience and be able to share how our own hearts 'burning within us' as Jesus becomes present to us - in the Eucharist, in His word, and in our service to one another. And rejoice that Jesus remains and has indeed, 'stayed with us.'

POPE JOHN PAUL II and EXPECTING THE UNEXPECTED

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER - APRIL 23, 2017.  Thanks as always for reading, commenting and sharing this blog on Reddit, Twitter and Facebook.  I'm grateful for the feedback and support!   Have a blessed week - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
Some years ago, a priest was visiting Rome and was fortunate to have an audience with Pope John Paul II.  Just an FYI, that’s not an extremely common thing.  Being the head of over one billion Catholics, the Pope’s a busy man - I can’t just email the Holy Father’s secretary and schedule something.   Anyway, this priest had an hour free before he was to meet with the Pope so he decided to go to the Church across the street from his hotel to pray before his meeting.  On the steps of the Church were several beggars.  As the priest passed to go in to pray, he thought he recognized one of the beggars sitting on the steps.  But, he passed him by and went in to the Church to pray.  As he knelt down in the Church, he realized where he knew the beggar from. He rushed back out of the church and asked the man, “Do I know you?” To which the beggar replied, “Heh, yeah, we went to seminary together.”  The priest replied, “So, you’re a priest then?” And the beggar replied, “I used to be, but look at me now.”  So the priest kind of speechless for a moment told the beggar he would pray for him to which the beggar replied, “Lot of good that will do.”

The priest left for his meeting with the Pope but was saddened and startled by this unexpected reunion.  So much so that, ordinarily when someone meets the Pope, it’s a pretty formal thing - there’s usually some brief introductions and a respectful gesture and that’s it... Not a lot of chit-chat or anything.   But when this priest went to meet the Pope, he bowed his head and found himself kind of blurting out the story about the beggar he had met earlier in the day.  John Paul looked concerned and told the priest that he would pray for this beggar.

So the following day, the priest went to the same church and saw his beggar classmate once again. He told him, “Guess what, not only am I praying for you but now Pope John Paul is!” The beggar replied, “Yeah, so what, it won’t do anything.”

Later that day, the priest got a call from the Pope’s office. The Holy Father wanted to have dinner with the priest and he wanted him to bring the beggar. So, the priest tracked down the beggar a third time and told him, “The Pope invited me to dinner and he said that I had to bring you as well.” “Me?” said the beggar, “Look at me, I haven’t showered or shaved in who knows how long and look at my clothes.”  “I rented you a room in the hotel across the street and got you some clothes as well, but we have to hurry,” said the priest.

Not long after, the priest and the beggar were meeting with the Pope to have dinner. They met in the Pope’s private residence and enjoyed wondrous hospitality. The first course came and the second and third. Before dessert, the Pope motioned to the priest and asked him to leave the room for a bit. So, the priest went outside and left the Pope and beggar in the room by themselves. Almost a half hour went by before the priest was allowed back in for dessert.  After which the two men said goodbye to the Pope and left.

When they were outside, the priest asked the beggar, “What did John Paul say to you in there, what happened? ”  The beggar said a little timidly and quietly, that the Pope asked the beggar if he would hear his confession. The beggar said, “Me! How could I? I’m just a beggar now.”  The Pope replied, as he clasped the man’s hands in his, “So am I.”  So he heard the Pope’s confession, and then the Pope returned the favor and heard the beggar-priest’s very lengthy confession.  Not long after that moment of reconciliation, the beggar was re-instated as a priest and the Holy Father sent him to that parish church where he once begged to minister to those who still did.

Think about those words of the priest-beggar said at first– “A lot of good that will do” when his former classmate from seminary promised his prayers for him... or “It won’t do anything” when he learned the Pope was praying for him.  Those cynical words aren’t so unfamilar to us are they?  We’ve may have heard them – maybe even said them ourselves... and often times about the same things:   What good will going to confession do, I’m just going to repeat the same things again?  What good does going to Mass do– it’s so boring... What good does any of this faith in Jesus do when awful things keep happening to me, to my family and friends, to the world around us...

What we celebrate this season of Easter is a God who tells us that when we turn to Him, we should expect the unexpected... In raising Jesus Christ from the dead, God has shown in a way that has altered history forever very clearly to expect the unexpected.  In this Gospel, the apostles who knew that they had failed miserably are gathered together.  There weren’t able to stop Jesus from being arrested, falsely accused, tortured and crucified.  They weren’t able to stop it, because they weren’t even there! They had bailed on him.  In the midst of that failure of epic proportions, their worlds must’ve seemed to have been destroyed forever.  More than likely that first Good Friday and Holy Saturday, they remembered all Jesus had said and done over those three years they followed him, and maybe a cynical thought came to mind saying – yeah, a lot of good that did.   Perhaps somewhat jaded themselves thinking there was nothing left to do, they lock themselves and isolate themselves from the world.

And it is right there... There in the midst of that isolation, that cynicism, the sense of defeat that the resurrected Jesus Christ comes to meet them.  He stands in their midst, not inhibited by the locked doors or their broken, dis-spirited hearts.    He doesn’t offer words of condemnation, or judgment on their failures. “Uh, guys, so what happened???” - Instead he comes and says “Peace be with you.” And then He tells them what they’ve just experienced, this undeserved forgiveness, they are to go forth in His name and do the same, share the same (which is one of the places in Scripture we see the basis for the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession by the way...)

In the matter of moments, these first followers experience Easter themselves... something quite unexpected became real to them.  Not just that Jesus was risen from the dead, but that they too were to rise up from their own feelings of death, their own experiences of destruction and to start anew.

Then there’s Thomas, who is I think, a bit unfairly is considered by many to be the cynic, the “doubter” because he misses this first encounter.  (I always wonder what he had going that night?  He should be the patron saint of people who miss Mass on Sunday Night, cause “something else came up”) But the reason I think it’s unfair that he’s simply referred to as “Doubting Thomas” is because it’s understandable that he would doubt.  The story sounded too good to be true, the failures on their parts were all too real.  Yet, we can’t miss something that’s so important to this story:  There’s a part of him that wants to believe and Hopes it’s true - Hopes that the Easter news is real.  Wants to expect the unexpected himself.  How do we know that?  Because HE’S THERE the following week.  Despite his objections and initial dismissal of his fellow apostles testimony, he’s with them in that upper room the next week and is able to experience the Risen Jesus Christ revealing His living presence to him.  And so now Thomas experiences how real Easter was as well.  And the God who had raised Jesus from the dead would continue to do amazingly unexpected things in all of their lives.

Which is the promise of Easter for those who continue to follow Jesus Christ.  The sad reality is that a week ago, churches were overflowing with present-day disciples who came to hear, once again, this good news of Jesus’ victory over death.  And yet with their absence today, you wonder if as they heard that news recounted again do they think to themselves “so what?  A lot of good that will do?”  Even for those of us who are here, maybe some of us are going through things that make us doubt... have had things that have hurt us and left us somewhat cynical.  Like Thomas, we hope for the best, we want to believe but... we’re not getting ourselves too excited lest we are let down again.

Yet Easter calls us to expect the unexpected.  The new life of Christ wants to resurrect that which has been beaten down, even died within us.  Just think about it, in the matter of a dinner, and experiencing the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Pope John Paul II was able to help a beggar become an active priest once again.  Jesus Christ was able to reach this man who had felt abandoned and enveloped in darkness through a former classmate and through the Pope.

What is going to be our story?  Right now, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead wants us to expect the unexpected - to do amazing, life-giving things for each one of us – and in fact is counting on us to be His ambassadors to people who feel abandoned and isolated.    Too often we find ourselves like the apostles were that Easter night - limiting ourselves by our mistakes and failures and forgetting what wonders our God is capable of (which is exactly what Satan, the prince of darkness wants us to do).  How is Jesus trying to cast his glorious light into the darkness of our lives?  How is He trying to break into the rooms of isolation we lock ourselves away in to speak his words of Peace, of Forgiveness of Life-altering transformation?  If we open our hearts to let Him, we might be surprised to find the good it will do.

A NEW VISION

ALLELUIA! 
JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD! 
HAPPY EASTER!!!    Here is my homily for EASTER SUNDAY, APRIL 16, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/041617.cfm (Gospel is the second one from Matthew).  Thanks as always for reading, for sharing this blog on Reddit, Twitter and Facebook - and for you feedback and comments.  So grateful for your interest!  God's blessings to you and your family for a Joyous Easter!!!  Fr Jim


HOMILY:
As I’m getting older I’ve noticed some changes... less hair, which happens to be more grey... recently having to get glasses... and even more surprising to me - I’m becoming a bit more schmaltzy... What I mean by that, is that I kind of find myself getting moved to tears a bit more often than I ever used to. Like the other night: 

On ABC World News Tonight, host David Muir told this heartwarming story about Noel Stafford of Lakeland Florida. For 66 years, Noel has been "color blind." On his birthday, his children and grand children had a surprise for Noel, which his grandson Carson captured on video. As Grandpa Stafford is seated with a smile on his face, he opens his gift and is kind of perplexed as he reads the label "color for the colorblind." His family had all chipped in to purchased a pair of EnChroma glasses - an amazing new product that helps people who are color-blind to see in color. His son tries to explain that once he puts these glasses on, he will be able to see things how the majority of us sees. Noel kind of has this look of disbelief on his face, as he quickly opens the box and removes the glasses from their plastic wrapping: So.. I can put these on, and I will see things how they’re supposed to be? He asks... as he puts them on... And he does, and he looks for maybe a second, and takes them off, he is so overwhelmed that he starts to cry and can’t hardly talk. He puts them on again, and again, takes them off, he literally cannot believe what he is seeing, as his daughter Molly comes and hugs him as she breaks down in tears. It’s unbelievable to him... It can’t be real. This man who’s been a landscaper for most of his life, who could never see the vibrance, the different hues and shades and splendor of the flowers, grasses, trees and plants he’s been working with his whole life - instantly sees it all in it’s glory. Finally, he puts the glasses on a third time, sits back in his chair, and just has this profound look of happiness – something even more than that — this look of awe at how quickly his vision has changed forever.
(you can see it here:   



In a way that is even more profound

In a way that is even more historic

In a way that is meant to be a remedy to every human being who is plagued by signs, by experiences of death - Easter comes and is meant to change our vision forever.

Just look at what happens in this Gospel account we just heard from Matthew about Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. They who had witnessed Jesus’ brutal, horrific, grotesque passion... They who had seen his dead body taken down from the cross... They who had watched as the body of Jesus is laid in a tomb and sealed... They go to the tomb to mourn, to grieve, to try to make sense of the senseless - and any or rather all of us who’ve experienced mourning, grieving know how maddening that can be. They go with tear-filled visions to a grave - not wanting the nightmare they experienced to be real, but needing to see it for themselves, to confirm its awful reality, its finality in their lives.


And, in an instant, their vision is changed. There’s a great earthquake... An angel rolls back the stone... The guards run away in fear... The angel tells them to not be afraid but to look and see the place where he lay... but where he lays no more as the tomb is empty. They see Jesus, risen from the dead. Truly alive, having conquered death - telling them "do not be afraid."

My brothers and sisters - these women’s testimonies, as well as the testimonies of the apostles who became even more credible witnesses by offering their very lives. The apostles accepted equally brutal, terrifying, horrific deaths as martyrs. Deaths which they almost eagerly embraced rather than deny this amazing event of Jesus rising from the dead and His presence with and among them for 40 days afterward. These witnessesare meant to change our vision as well.

That as we suffer betrayals,
as we endure our own passions,
as we suffer under the weight of our own crosses...

Jesus, the risen one’s words to those first witnesses, He now speaks to us Do Not Be Afraid:

All the sufferings we endure,
all the losses we’ve experienced are not the end of the story. 
Death does not have the final word.  

For Grandpa Stafford, as the video of his birthday surprise closed out, you saw him enjoying a colorful animated film with his family with an excitement that seemed to surpass that of the most curious child experiencing something for the first time. He marvels during one scene of a sunset as he says " See how the sun goes down like that... [Before] it was all fuzz and haze... it wasn’t like a distant ray." The joy of Easter is meant to change the way we see things, too. To see how the hatred, the shame, the selfishness of that first Good Friday, and the Good Fridays continue in our own day that cast fuzz and haze on our lives and our faith - that it can be transformed with the eyes of Easter faith. We can see it in every act of love, every movement of compassion , in every offering of forgiveness, in every embrace of reconciliation, in every instance of justice and peace. 

May you and I be witnesses of these things and help to bring that vision to a world that desperately needs and longs to see the Risen Christ alive in our midsts. Happy Easter!

GOD IS GUILTY?

Hi everyone... Here's my homily for PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION - April 9, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/040917.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit; and for your feedback and comments.  My prayers and best wishes for a sacred and meaningful Holy Week.  God Bless - Fr Jim


HOMILY:
If you take a look through your channel guides this week, then no doubt you will find a bunch of specials about Jesus Christ on television. Television executives know that a large numbers of people will be coming to Church over the next week for what we call "Holy Week," and realize that even the casual church-goer finds themselves thinking, to some extent, about the Passion of Jesus Christ. So different documentaries, movies or specials are scheduled covering different aspects of the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

One special a few years ago that caught my attention was simply titled "who really killed Jesus?" You think that would be a pretty cut and dry question to answer - how would they milk a few hours out of it? But they explored different aspects of the passion narratives from the Gospels, including this one from Matthew we just proclaimed and look at the list of possible defendants:

Judas seems the logical first target – after all he delivered Jesus up for thirty silver pieces. But then again, he had to deliver him to someone, so Caiphas and the Jewish Chief Priests are considered – they wanted him dead after all, for some time in fact, but then they had no legal way to do it (religious or secular law) So Pontius Pilate ‘s name surfaces as the one to blame. Ultimately he was in charge, he could have stopped it. But as the guards lead Jesus off to nail him to the Cross, Pilate is said to be washing his hands of it, so then we’re left with a bunch of Roman guards, the ones who actually put the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet as responsible. But they, like soldiers of other atrocities throughout history argue they were "just following orders."

Amazing isn’t it? How quickly a seemingly clear question gets muddied? We could, if we were defense attorney’s, in a sense find "reasonable doubt" for each of these individuals.


What some academics - historians, theologians - eventually propose (whether they realize it or not) is that no one specifically is guilty... somehow the madness, the evil occurs – somehow Jesus Christ, the enfleshment of Love is brutally killed... and then some simply conclude that "God wanted it that way." Some go further and say "God the Father has done this" because "He allowed this to happen." In other words, the answer to the question of "who’s guilty of killing Jesus?" Comes the remarkable response "God is guilty."

It sounds pretty shocking, doesn’t it. Part of us is struck by how ridiculous that sounds. But if we think about it, hasn’t humanity been saying that from the beginning of time? Think back to that first day when sin entered the world - back to the Garden of Eden, and what happened? God says: "You have eaten, then, from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!" The man replied, "The woman whom you put here with me--she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it." The LORD God then asked the woman, "Why did you do such a thing?" The woman answered, "The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it."

It wasn’t Adam’s fault it was Eve’s;
It wasn’t Eve’s fault, it was the serpent,
It wasn’t the serpent – Why did God put that tree there in the first Place
– who’s guilty? – God is Guilty.

And thousands of years later, it’s no different Who’s at fault?:
The guards of Auschwitz?
The husband cheating on his wife?
The student who cheats on that exam? 
The roommate who gets drunk or stoned?
The corporate executive who bilks the company of millions;
The physician giving lethal doses of morphine in a nursing home?

Everyone has excuses:
I was following orders,
I have uncontrollable needs and desires that must be satisfied;
Everyone does it,
We must relieve the world of useless lives (or put more nicely, to end their suffering).
We add justifications, qualifiers: 
My parents weren’t attentive to me,
I was deprived,
I was spoiled,
it’s in my genes.

No matter what the crime, the situation, the "ethical dilemma" inevitably the cycle of questioning and finger pointing will come back to the philosophical question of "Well how did evil come about in the first place" and then, ignoring our own bad choices, we ask with all presumption: If God is all good and all powerful, then how do these evil things happen, how come he let’s these things occur YEAH, that’s the question – and once again, ultimately we make the same conclusion: Who’s guilty? God is guilty.

Like rebellious teenagers screaming at their parents, IT’S YOUR FAULT, we find ourselves in the Garden of Eden reaching for the fruit. We find ourselves in Jerusalem in the crowd that first Good Friday. We might not have been the ones fastening Jesus to the Cross, but as the madness of that day happens, we find that we are there – we are part of the crowd convicting God.

The difficult truth we are confronted with on Palm Sunday is that Humanity is Guilty and We ourselves are Guilty:

of the evils we commit on each other;
of the manipulations of one another we masterfully do;
of the bad choices we make;
of the silence we hold instead of standing up for the truth.

And so Jesus hangs on the Cross. And there’s nothing we can do to change that.

The Passion of Jesus Christ though calls us to consider the thing that we can change - which is ourselves. Jesus’ death doesn’t have to be in vain.

The response to this proclamation is not simply to listen and talk about, but rather to live Jesus’ message of Love and Forgiveness .

That is what has saved us from our Father’s justifiable wrath.
That is what Jesus commands us to do.

And with Easter on the not so distant horizon, we will find that He doesn’t emerge from the tomb with a list of people he needs to "settle a score" with. No, for Him – His last words say it all – Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.

Can we Forgive like that? Can we stop blaming God for our own failures, our own sinfulness? Can we stop the cycle of Hatred and choose to Love? Can we – will we vindicate Jesus’ death by our lives?

LORD IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE... (Where were you? Where are you???)

Hi everyone... here is my homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent.  The readings for today's Gospel can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040217.cfm.    Thanks as always for reading this blog, for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit - and for your comments and feedback.  Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY: 
Lord if you had been here... my brother would not have died.
The two sisters of Lazarus - Martha and Mary - were previously encountered in the Gospel having an argument that you might see any siblings having: over who was doing the more important work on one occasion when Jesus had visited them; when Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet and Martha was getting the house and meal ready for His visit... 

Well, on this occasion with Jesus, they are in agreement. Saying the same exact words: Lord if you had been here... my brother would not have died.

You get the sense that Martha said it with some frustration - aggravation... Jesus was more than a preacher, a prophet, a miracle worker. Yes He was those things, but even more - He was their friend. They loved Jesus intimately, personally. He had dined with them, visited with them. They had sent word as soon as Lazarus had gotten ill... They had seen or heard about all that he had done for complete strangers – some blind guy just got healed... So there’s a sense of disbelief, perhaps anger on the part of the no-nonsense, straight talking- make-my-sister-help-me-out-Lord, Martha- LORD IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE, MY BROTHER WOULD NOT HAVE DIED.

Mary on the other hand, was too distraught initially to even go out to meet Jesus like her sister did. She’s overcome with grief. The Gospel tries to capture the emotional moment where the one she loved, trusted and had faith in, arrives at the scene of such heartache and loss; far too late for it to matter any more. Lazarus has already been in the tomb for 4 days- the Gospel captures the hopelessness of the situation with the words: surely there will be a stench. Mary drops to Jesus’ feet and says those same words her sister had – but with disappointment, hurt, despair on the part of the sitting-on-the-edge-of-her-seat-never leaving-his-side-other sister, Mary - LORD IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE, MY BROTHER WOULD NOT HAVE DIED.

This is a Gospel that is so rich with images, encounters, memorable phrases... including the shortest Scriptural verse in the entire bible, Old and New Testament - John 11: 35 - And Jesus Wept - three little words that say an awful lot. But for me, that phrase from Martha and Mary kept coming to mind. It didn’t take long for me to figure out why...


A few months ago, I met this guy who was an NYPD hero by the name of Terry O’Hara (if I can even say that since we only met through Twitter of all places). Terry was a few years younger than me - and had worked at Ground Zero in the days, weeks and months following 9/11, trying to initially help rescue trapped people - then recover people who were dead after that horrific terrorist attack. Tragically, 9/11 still is devastating people in our area almost 16 years later, as Terry got cancer as a result of his efforts... That’s unfortunately how I even knew of him. A friend of mine before Christmas had retweeted something about Terry’s fight, asking for prayers for him - pointing out he has two little kids and a loving wife that Terry said in one of his direct messages to me gave him "Too much to live for." 

In the months since, I really grew to admire this man’s no-nonsense, positive (but realistic) attitude - He knew he was engaging in a tremendous fight but he had this "Kick-Ass" (sorry, there’s just no better description) attitude that made you believe that he was not going just to beat this, he was going to eviscerate Cancer. And the beautiful thing was to see how many other people, suffering from the same illness, looked to him for inspiration.

A couple of weeks ago, I had read about another experimental treatment that was being offered for cancer. Apologizing as I shared it with him for offering unsolicited advice while foolishly thinking just in case he hadn’t heard or seen of it -as if he wasn’t well versed in every possible option. Anyway - he wrote back "Thanks Father..." and then after explaining why it wouldn’t work added: "I can’t say how much it makes me happy to have you im my corner. Crazy thing is, I’m not religious. But for some reason, I love having your support. Thank you for being there for me." I wrote back "I’ll be religious for both of us, you keep fighting." Which he did. Posting pics of him getting Chemo and then recovering from the treatment with Titos vodka, and building Legos with his kids. A couple of weeks ago, he had to go back in the hospital and just sent out a message to all his twitter followers saying "please don’t reply/like.. Still in hospital I’m having serious cancer issues. But I’m still in the fight. Thank you all. Much Love." I kept thinking, and praying for him - and really believed he was going to be successful in this fight. Right before Mass a few Sundays ago, as I kept checking his feed for an update, I somehow saw a tweet that his brother had posted "here is Terry’s information - " with a link to a funeral home website.

Lord if you had been here... my brother would not have died.
 
As a priest, I can't explain the challenge of meeting so many people who are facing, fighting so many different things:

People with depression or anxiety.

A young person struggling with suicidal thoughts.

A parishioner dying from a terminal disease.

Or even things that aren’t life and death matters, but for those going through them it sure feels like it:

a lost job,

a broken relationship;

a failure;

an embarrassment that makes you feel overwhelmed with shame...

The beauty of the priesthood is that, through no logical reason that I can come up with, Jesus wants me to bring His priesthood to these situations... To be His presence...To bring His healing, His love, His mercy to these people He loves so desperately who are going though so many trials, tribulations, struggles - dark nights. 

And so often I can get as frustrated or sad as Martha and Mary were, wondering to myself why didn’t that person get miraculously healed when I offered them Jesus’ anointing of the sick? Why didn’t that person feel restored, healed when I absolved them through the power of the Holy Spirit from their sins in confession? Why didn’t that person experience the immense, all encompassing love of Christ when I offered them His body and blood in the Eucharist? Why wasn’t my being religious enough for Terry to be valiant in His fight against cancer?

And to be brutally honest - I don’t have an answer that is perfectly satisfying to our immediate needs and desires. Because even reflecting on this Gospel: after Martha and Mary’s statement; after Jesus’ weeps; we have another fantastic miracle - where Lazarus is raised from the dead. But, and not to be negative - the reality is, we don’t have a 2,000 year old man walking on the planet. Eventually Lazarus died... again. Eventually his family mourned and grieved that absence again. Eventually Martha and Mary would die as well.  

But the difference was... and is... in experiencing that miracle, the words, the promises that they had heard Christ make before... words that they remembered before the miracle. Words that they on some level obviously believed in, even while they were in pain, while they were in anger, and disbelief, and grief, and mourning - that Jesus is The resurrection and the life and whoever believes in Him even if they die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in Him will never die Despite the mix of emotions, the doubts, the fears, they still had that certitude, that knowledge, that trust, that Faith in Jesus. So strong was it, that heaven and earth unite in that graveyard, in front of that tomb. And a dead man is restored to life that day. And they could move forward and face those sicknesses, those dark nights, those trials and tribulations- those deaths to come – knowing He would not abandon them, forget them, or let them perish - even if in the face of the world it sure appears that way.

For you and I, we’re left with these testimonies, and witnesses to speak to us, whether or not we feel like Martha or Mary ourselves... angry, disillusioned, struggling as we fight that constant battle of faith I believe - help my unbelief. Or, even if we feel like Lazarus - spiritually dead, entombed. Jesus wants us to believe that God the Father has sent Him. Sent Him to order the stones keeping us entombed to be rolled away and calls us out of those tombs into His new life, here and now. Removing stones of fear... freeing us from the solitude of tombs we find ourselves locked within.... moving heaven and earth just to be with us in the midst of whatever it is that we struggle with, that threatens us, that diminishes us and to tell us you and I are made for the glory of God and that the Son of God will be glorified through us.

We can't always see the Big Plan, see the Why or the How behind everything, any more than Martha or Mary or, for that matter, Lazarus could. But we have faith. Faith in Jesus that there is a plan, that we are a part of that. That, no matter what happens, we will always have Him. And He is enough.