CAN I DO ALL THINGS IN HIM?

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 28th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - Oct 15, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/101517.cfm.  Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for all your feedback and comments.  Have a great week-  God Bless, Fr Jim

HOMILY:

More than likely at some time, in a variety of different situations and contexts, you might have seen someone planting a bible verse (or the book and verse number of where to find it) in some very different - even unlikely spaces outside the walls of a Church. For example, It’s not uncommon to see someone at a football game holding up a sign saying "JOHN 3:16" with the hopes that people would look it up and read what many consider to be the "Gospel in a nutshell". People looking up that passage would find the words "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not die, but have eternal life" which succinctly encapsulates a theme that is central to being Christian. Or, a good friend of mine just returning from a trip to the Holy Land was excited to share that after talking about it for over 10 years, he finally got a tattoo. After seeing a sketching of a cross with the words of scripture found in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection "He is not here" right outside the tomb where Jesus rose from the dead - he decided to have that cross and scripture inked over his heart.   Even priests, in preparation for their ordinations, will usually design a prayer card as a memento for their guests - and include some verse that holds some personal significance (for myself, I put the words that John the Baptist said about his ministry in light of Jesus Christ He must increase, while I must decrease... John 3:30)

I was thinking about all the different scenarios of seeing scripture quotes in different contexts when reading today’s scriptures. Because in that second reading we heard from Paul's lettter to the Philippians - it contained one of the most popular, most cited passages: Phil 4:13. Just do a Google search and you’ll see artwork, tattoos, posters, t-shirts, billboards containing these beloved words of scripture. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. When I saw it, I had the same reaction I’ve had when encountering this passage: some really mixed emotions. Because I know it’s not something I could ever tattoo on myself (well I can’t tattoo anything without my Mother killing me, but that’s a different story altogether). Don’t get me wrong; it truly is a beautifully powerful testimony; it’s a sentiment that I truly want to believe. It’s a statement that on many deep levels I know to be true - but it’s also something that if I’m completely honest - I struggle with.

Because when we read this passage, St. Paul isn’t merely speaking self-help words designed to motivate people to look beyond their weaknesses and challenge their limits. St. Paul is in prison and is writing to the people he brought the Christian message to after which they became Christians - they were now suffering persecutions and facing an uncertain future. Amidst all these circumstances, Paul is being reflective. He’s realized that after a multitude of very different experiences he has gone through, including being rejected, losing social status, being beaten and tortured - in addition to partaking in a gamut of life-altering positive experiences where he was well received, able to preach the Gospel in an effective manner - he realizes that regardless of his circumstances, positive or negative, or even in the face of life or death - Paul concedes that I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.  He’s not speaking inspirationally; he’s stating a fact.


And that’s what’s frustrating to me. I want to be able to say the same thing with that same certitude and authenticity. But the reality is that the struggle is real. I know how easily fear, anxiety, worry enter in that would render some of my words ineffective and lack authenticity. I know how often temptations and sinfulness can undermine the pursuit of living that truth. I can still say cite that scripture I chose for my ordination with great authenticity He must increase while I must decrease... if anything, those words seem truer now than they did 18 years ago. But saying I can do all things in him who strengthens me entails a deep sense of responsibility of living those words and not stopping short of stating them. I know the truth of these words in my head, but saying those words from my heart would reveal some doubt or hesitation that would almost undermine the truth of that statement.

Sitting with that for a few days, today’s Gospel provided me with unexpected comfort. Because we hear another somewhat bizarre parable. This is part three of an ongoing back and forth interaction Jesus is having with the Jewish leaders. Today, they’re talking about the Kingdom of Heaven which is being described as this incredible party being thrown by the King (God) for his son (Jesus); the servants inviting the people are prophets who people refused to listen, are distracted, are too occupied. That’s bad enough, but the people do kill the messenger which enrages the King. The parable is pretty straight forward and understandable so far.

It’s this final part that sounds weird. A guy that does shows up - is not dressed in a tux (or whatever) and the King gets fired up...more than fired up - he casts him outside. It seems like a gross overreaction. But we have to understand that in Jesus’ time, the guest would’ve been offered the "wedding garment" by the hosts of the wedding. So it’s not like he didn’t have enough time to get the right thing, or wouldn’t have known what was expected. The guest must’ve refused the garment. Maybe he wanted to go with his own clothes. Maybe he didn't see any need for "their" clothes. Maybe he simply felt his presence was enough. That’s what upsets the King in the story- it’s like the guy didn’t even try.    He shows up - so he knows it’s important... he knows what’s expected... he is given the ability, the opportunity. But in his self-conceited arrogance, he goes at it on his own - in his own selfish way.


I think that’s what upsets Jesus. He’s offering us the garment we need for the banquet - He’s given us the path to eternal life with Him in Baptism - He’s given us everything we need to live in union with Him here and now as well as the gateway to eternity in His company. He’s not asking us for perfection. He’s not asking us to take care of everything on our own. He simply wants us to want to be with Him. So we come to the banquet when the garments of our life our filled with hurts, fears and trials. We come to the banquet when the garments of our life are filled the joys, the triumphs, the constant rediscoveries of how loved we are by God. We've heard God's invitation, we welcome it, and we bring ourselves as we are– not putting on any facade or withholding something...we come with unbridled honesty and with complete faith in Him - bad and good alike.

The more we do that,
the more that becomes the norm in our lives,
the more we lean on Him than on ourselves
the more we thank Him for the countless blessings that continue in our lives — even in the midst of trials and tribulations -
the more we stop comparing ourselves to others in some never ending competition of "Who’s more Christian"
the more we start to realize how much Jesus is a part of the picture... and that He is the picture himself.
He is the goal, the focus, the everything...

Then maybe, just maybe we will be able to state that emphatically not simply on a post, a billboard, or even a tattoo that

I have been able to,

I will do . . . and

I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.

IS THIS WHAT THE END OF THE WORLD LOOKS LIKE?

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - October 8, 2017 - The readings for today can be found at:   Thanks for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, reddit and twitter; and for your comments and feedback.  Have a great week.  God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
Usually when people hear speculation of the "End of the World, these prophecies seem to come from rather different, non traditional, out of the mainstream Christian preachers or groups. In some instances, these groups have gone so far as to have marketing campaigns, advertising the exact day they have determined as the "end day" (which quickly gets recalculated for another day). For the last year or so, I’ve been surprised at the number of articles, posts and speculation calling these days the "end times" coming from Catholics. They’ll point to some significant anniversary (for example - it’s the 100th anniversary of when the Blessed Mother appeared in Fatima) and then, point to the conditions of the world around us and think "this has to be the end."

I don’t put any stock in these religious speculations - whether it’s the Protestant who claims to have unlocked some new clue from reading the bible or a fellow Catholic who is speculating on things from our tradition – primarily because Jesus is pretty clear throughout the scriptures that we will not know the day or the hour that the end of the world will occur. I say all of this though not to be completely dismissive of the underlying emotions being expressed. Because I can completely appreciate Why people feel that this is the end of the World.


In the last few weeks - Natural Disasters with a frightening ferocity captured our attention as Hurricanes devastated peoples lives and homes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and throughout the Carribean... Earthquakes ravaged the peoples of Mexico. Then there’s been this growing sense of division that people are recognizing throughout our nation - where it doesn’t seem to matter what the issue or topic is, but we don’t seem to be able to communicate with someone who has a different opinion anymore. And then, this past Monday, we woke to the horrifying news of not just another mass-shooting, but the worst mass shooting in United States history. I hate to admit I was almost numb when I first saw the headline pop up on my phone of "Shooting at Concert" before I went to bed Sunday night that I didn’t even react to read the initial reports... Well no way was I prepared to read of how utterly diabolical this news would be. Hearing how people just out for a fun time at a Country concert would be targeted massacred and injured in such great numbers in such a sick, evil, calculated manner - I don’t have the words.

Talking with my mom Monday night, I couldn’t argue with her when she joined the chorus asking "is this what the end of the world looks like?"

That had been on my mind all week, and was definitely there when I was looking at today’s scriptures. When I got to the second reading - St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians - it hit me again what a beautiful book of scripture this is and in God’s providence - how badly do we need to hear these words? Brothers and sisters - have no anxiety at all... but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

There’s an initial sense of it being too simplistic reading those words in light of the litany of tragedies we’re all aware of. It sounds like Paul is saying just pray – and everything will be all good? But that’s when context is so important. St. Paul is writing these words while he’s in prison - and the people that he’s writing to are suffering great persecution... He didn’t know what was going to happen to him or this community that he had great love and care for - so yeah, maybe they all kind of felt like we feel right now - like it’s the end of the world.

Yet Paul writes those hope filled words to them have no anxiety at all. Not because he’s delusional or trying to "fake it till he makes it" - but he’s discovered the truth - which he shares with us: Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise - think about these things



Did you catch that?  St. Paul’s not just saying in that beautiful litany those are things we should aspire to, those are ideals we should strive to achieve - he tells us to think about those things. I’ve been working with a Catholic psychologist who’s been helping me with that in my own personal life... who’s been pointing out how easy it is for us to take legitimate, painful stuff that we’ve experienced and how that can color our moods, distort our visions to the point that we keep focusing on those struggles and then some other things painful things from our past or outside of ourselves enter in until it continues to spiral out of control.*  I think that is true collectively as well... especially when we’re subjected to a seemingly never ending drum beat of bad, negative, horrifying news, how much easier is it for us to give into despair. To think - or even worse - wish this were the end times.

That’s why St. Paul's counsel is so essential:  Think - remember - emphasize - focus on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious...   Even in the midst of all these terrible stories, we know of stories of people helping one another, saving one another, looking out for one another... not looking at the color of each others skin, asking what political preferences they hold. There were far more true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and gracious people in Texas, Florida, Mexico, Puerto Rico - and yes in Las Vegas then there were of the opposite.


Like off duty Los Angeles Police Officer Mitchell Tosti, who went to the concert in Las Vegas with his fiancee and friends - who in the confusion of people running in panic spotted this woman, Cassidy Huff who had collapsed behind a car after trying to run. Cassidy had recently finished a course of chemotherapy and had gone to the concert with her mother to celebrate when things turned horrible. " I wanted to run but my body wouldn’t let me. My legs are still really weak, so they buckle under me" she explained. That’s when Officer Tosti came upon them and said "I’ll carry you" as he told his fiancee to grab Cassidy’s mom, who did and followed him to safety.

When we think, remember, emphasize on things like this that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and gracious - then Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel comes to life. Because on the surface, this parable doesn’t make sense... The story is an allegory showing how God has given his people dominion over his creation - and so often, many misuse, take advantage, even destroy it.  They ignore warnings, calls to conversion and repentance.  Yet, even when God sends his son, Jesus will suffer the same horrific treatment. But despite that human impulse which demands justice, or rather retribution for such treatment - Jesus shocks the listeners. No God won’t simply obliterate those who individuals who subject Jesus to a wretched death... but rather his death would unleash God’s love, mercy and forgiveness in a way no one ever anticipated.

No, we can’t ever forget that Good Friday happened. But focusing on Easter Sunday changes our perspective. As we go forth from this place - where we’ve come to hear and receive Jesus both in word and His Body and Blood in the Eucharist - we are challenged to do the same thing. Yes, recognizing all the things that seem to challenge our sense of security, of safety, that seem to point to a world that if it’s not coming to an end at least seems to be spiraling out of control. But then to remember Paul’s words: Have no anxiety at all.. Jesus is ultimately in charge... and when we think about that and remember all the other things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious - our hope is renewed as we recognize the truth that St Paul tells us - the God of peace is with us.

* If you're interested in "Catholic Mindfulness" - check out Dr. Greg Bottaro's www.catholicmindfulness.com 

ST FRANCIS OF ASSISI - More than just an animal lover


The "Transitus" of Francis -
from the Basilica of St. Maria Maggiore, Assisi, Italy
Saint  Francis of Assisi

Just hearing his name, people have immediate thoughts. Some will think of him as the "saint who loved animals"; while others may cite the "Make me a channel of your peace" prayer attributed to him (which, spoiler alert - although in it’s tone and message is very "Franciscan" it wasn’t written by Francis)

I remember the "Blessing of Animals" and sang that hymn at Mass many times growing up, and I’m sure those gentle images of Francis are what made him such a beloved example of a "saint" to me growing up - and are most definitely why his popularity continues to soar centuries since his death from people of all (or even no) faith.

It wasn’t until I was in the Seminary, attending a retreat that was based on St. Bonaventure’s "Life of Francis" that I developed a great love, a deep admiration that was so strong I started to pray and discern whether the Lord might be calling me not just to the Priesthood, but to be a Franciscan priest. And one of the profound things that came from that retreat was realizing that all those admirable qualities that we so often attribute to him don’t even skim the surface of St. Francis.

Quite simply, this man had a radical encounter with Jesus Christ... He so clearly heard God’s voice, that when he did, he answered him.

Not always immediately.

Not always perfectly.

For example, he knew that God was prompting him to care for the poor. This one day he would encounter a leper on his path as he was returning home (at the Lord’s direction) and his gut, his impulse was one of "horror." But that call of Christ to truly die to self - to move past that revulsion and instead see and love Christ before him in the leper compelled him to stop his horse on that plain, get down and run and kiss the man - giving him his alms and his affection. As he mounted his horse to continue his journey, he looked around at all the open plains around him - and it was completely clear.. The leper couldn’t be seen anywhere.

That experience - miraculous, mysterious - that encounter with Jesus Christ captured Francis’ heart. And so he would renounce everything to follow Christ. And when he Christ called out to him from a cross found in a dilapidated church to "Rebuild my Church which has fallen into disrepair" - he with a single-minded focus simply started picking up rocks and rebuilding the physical structure. And as he kept working, he began to realize – OOOHHH - not just this Church – not this Physical building - but THE CHURCH - the humble man, the "Poverello" of Assisi did - because He Loved Jesus and Loved Jesus’ Church. And he wanted to repair the damages that caused and came from The Protestant Reformation.

What draws me to Francis, what’s made me love him is his Love of Christ, his Love of the Catholic Church.
It’s his imitation of Christ.
It’s the somewhat spontaneous responses he makes.
It’s the struggles he had to make those responses.
It’s his mistakes and willingness to learn from them.
It’s that relentless pursuit of Christ and how Jesus was calling Him throughout his ministry.
It’s his simplicity in living on this earth.
It’s his depth of desire for the transcendent.
It’s his utter devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
It’s his immense humility.
It’s his brutal honesty.
It’s his ability to see Christ all around while at the same time his humanity which at times frustrated him with those around him he found it more consoling to preach to the animals (where his "love of the animals" came from - they were often more receptive audiences)

This complex but simple man who’s been tried to be imitated so often that there’s dozens of religious communities founded that try to follow his example in trying to follow Christ truly fascinates me... inspires me...

While I never did end up in one of those many orders, I still consider myself a friend of Francis’ who I pray will continue to pray for me... encourage me to live up to his words as a Priest of Jesus Christ "now that we have left the world, we have nothing else to do except to follow the will of the Lord and to please Him."

Happy Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

CALLING ALL ANGELS

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Guardian Angels... where we acknowledge our belief that God has such a tremendous, particular, special love for every one of us individually that he has appointed an angel at our side at all times - as a support, as a guide, as an encouragement, as an intercessor for us. 

That this happens to fall on the day where we’ve been seeing and hearing all this horrific news from Las Vegas of the worst mass shooting in US history is jarring.

At first I was kind of dismayed by the intersection of both these realities.  The contradiction of these things.  But after the shock of the unimaginable evil sadly sunk in, it almost seems providential.  That as people of faith, we have to remember, have to proclaim in our loving and gentle ways to a world that seems less familiar to who God truly is or may have a distorted image of Him  --  to proclaim that God has not abandoned them, or us. 

As we mourn the senseless destruction of life - and pray for the souls of those who were lost; pray for those injured, pray for those who are mourning; pray for those trying to bring peace and comfort;  we also give thanks to God for our guardian angels and pray that they continue to be at our side to light, to guard, to rule and guide us.  May we be God’s messengers to a world that desperately needs His word.

TO STAND, TO KNEEL, TO BE OF ONE MIND

Hi everyone, here's my homily for OCTOBER 1, 2017  the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Today's readings can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/100117.cfm .  Thanks as always for reading, sharing this on Facebook, twitter or reddit - and for your feedback and comments... Have a great week and God Bless - Fr Jim  

HOMILY:
I was talking with a priest friend a couple of nights ago and at one point we were discussing homily ideas we were both throwing around for this weekend. That’s when he said to me "the last thing I would ever want to go near this week is the NFL - National anthem controversy." I appreciated his reluctance... but it seems hard to ignore. Whether or not this deserves this amount of time, energy, attention, discussion that it has really isn’t the point now. With the extent of coverage on this controversy, I would think even those who have no interest in football at all have heard something about this issue and probably have an opinion on the matter.

One athlete’s decision about a year ago to take a knee (rather than the traditional standing at attention) during the playing of the national anthem before a football game as a protest of what he felt were wrongdoings against African- Americans and minorities in the United States - has now evolved into a national debate. Teams and players are being forced to take sides, make their opinions known on different positions on even more controversial issues that have popped up... which seems to embroil people into even more passionate arguments. The focus on the games themselves seem to be an afterthought as people tune in to see "will they or won’t they" stand. And if they don’t - what will they do? Will they not take the field like the Pittsburg Steelers last week? Will they lock arms as a sign of unity? Will they kneel before the anthem and then stand?

I found myself getting drawn into the various arguments and debate about all of this as I’m sure many of you did as well. A couple of friends of mine started going at this issue online with each other. One thing I’ve always advised students is to never post something on facebook that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Well reading some of the exchanges back and forth, I could actually hear those words being said to each other. These guys have always liked to be loud and obnoxious... and enjoy going at each other. But the tone got angrier and more personal. The language started getting more rough. And by the end they had basically unfriended each other. Perhaps not just on facebook.


We seem to hear, see, maybe even experience that type of thing more often about more than one issue. Yeah I could just say the name of certain political leaders as an example - but that’s too easy. I’ll give you one that kind of startled me - Last week a student stopped me after a talk I had given and said "I’m not Catholic but I’m curious because you seem to like Pope Francis – but it seems to me like a lot of Catholics have very, very different opinions on him. Like some Catholics don’t really like him" That really bothered me. I understand some of the things that have been considered "controversial" with Pope Francis but I have great love and respect for him as our holy father. That some of the "debates" about different things the Pope has said or done has caught this young man’s attention and left this impression that there’s extremes of belief about the Pope within the Church really took me aback.

Division. There’s this seemingly growing chasm between people in a growing number of areas that at least to me seems new... different... and incredibly dangerous. All these different but similar incidents stayed with me praying with these scriptures. Usually when I look at the readings for Sunday I gravitate primarily towards the Gospel, but this week, I found myself reading over and over this second reading from Saint Paul to this Church in this ancient Greek city of Philippi. Paul had peached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Philippians and they had received it so eagerly and gratefully that Paul had considered them close friends. One of the reasons this selection is important is that it contains one of the oldest hymns that the members of the Early Church must have sung about Christ that it is considered almost one the earliest creeds. But for me the section that hit me was the introduction to that hymn. It almost has this tone where Paul is pleading to the people he cares so much for. Listen again:


Brothers and sisters:

If there is any encouragement in Christ,

any solace in love,

any participation in the Spirit,

any compassion and mercy,


complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love,

united in heart, thinking one thing.

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;

rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,

each looking out not for his own interests,

but also for those of others.

Have in you the same attitude

that is also in Christ Jesus...

I kept thinking about all the different areas of division that we’re surrounded with or are arguing over in our day and age and kept coming back to Paul’s begging his fellow Christians on the need for being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. That one thing has to be Jesus Christ. We have to be looking to His example. We have to be trying to imitate His example (as hard as that might be). We have to be doing that both within the Church and outside these walls. That doesn’t mean there will never be disagreements, debates or arguments, but it does mean we have to at least try to start with the appreciation of what it means to be brothers and sisters.


As brothers and sisters, we have to pause in the midst of heated rhetoric and divisive language and attitudes and ask ourselves questions that take the other into consideration:

Can we as Christians be of the same mind that racism is hateful - is sinful?

Can we be of the same love to see that the relatives of someone who died at the hands of police as well as the relatives of police officers lost in the line of duty both experience tremendous loss, tremendous pain, tremendous grief?

Can we be united in heart to want to be attentive to those who are suffering - and not put that up as a competition to say one person’s suffering is worse than another?

Can we put on the mind and heart of Christ Jesus and put others as more important than ourselves before we post that next snarky comment to someone?

All of this is difficult.  As a priest, I try to always keep in mind the fact that we’re all sinful people, myself included... and how hard it can be even to listen to one another - especially when people are coming from two very different perspectives. I know how challenging this is as I minister to minorities who talk about their fears and their angers. While at the same time I count police officers as some of my closest friends and know of the dangers they face in what is becoming an even more thankless job. But we can rip each other apart in our pain.  ‘You hurt me.  You hurt him.  He hurt her.  She hurt us.’ The list of injuries and insults, of neglect and hatred and abuse can escalate, can go on forever and ever until no one is justified, no one is sanctified by the forgiveness Christ died to leave us with.

With a well-informed conscience and guided by the Holy Spirit, we must do what we believe to be right, not only avoiding evil but doing our best to minimize its impact on our world.  And while that may be done with zeal, it first must be done with kindness.  With compassion.  With genuine caring for the other - for their pain as well as for their person - before we can hope to bring Christ into this world and, as Paul says, complete our joy.