ALEXA, WHAT IS THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT?

Hi everyone, here's my homily for the 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - October 29, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102917.cfm.  Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for you comments and feedback.  I'm grateful for the support.  Have a great week and God Bless - Fr Jim

HOMILY:
It was just about a year ago that my mother, out of the blue, suggested: "If you’re looking for Christmas gift ideas for me - I’d like to have that Alexa thing." That "Alexa thing" - for those of you who don’t know, is an electronic device from the company Amazon. It is also called a "smart-speaker" system. Once you own it, you can simply use commands like "Alexa, play some classical music" or "Alexa, call my brother's cell phone" and the system, which links all your different electronic devices to the internet, will respond to your requests (Santa never did bring Mom "Alexa" ... with ‘Yours truly' having to occasionally act as my mother’s IT/electronic gadget guy, that felt like a nightmare I was not prepared to face).   

Alexa and other similar devices seem to be growing in popularity and as such, expectations for its usage and usefulness have grown. Developers are constantly working with other computer companies and voice recognition analytics to improve their abilities so that eventually, you will be able to command "Alexa get me something for dinner" and based on preferences and settings, a full dinner will be delivered without you having to move from your home (and who knows with all these robotics and drones and similar stuff, perhaps you won’t be required to even move from your couch)

But a disturbing development - at least to me - caught my attention in a Wall Street Journal article last week. "Alexa, can you prevent suicide?" the headline read as the story explained that soon after it first hit the market in 2014, Amazon realized that many of its customers wanted more than weather reports and Lady Gaga songs. More than 50% of people’s interactions with Alexa now fall into what is categorized as "non-utilitarian and entertainment related." To put it in more human terms, people were making admissions of loneliness, sadness, requests for help as they would say "Alexa I’m depressed; Alexa I’m being abused; Alexa, I’m considering suicide."

While legal experts responded that technology companies do not have a legal responsibility to respond to extremely personal questions and requests like these, to their credit, the developers recognized quickly having the device responding "I don’t understand that" wasn’t super helpful. So, they have been discussing with national crisis counselors on how to provide specific answers to their customers. As one developer explained "These are high-stakes answers. So, we definitely have to classify them with an extremely high accuracy. We get aggravated if Alexa plays the wrong song or calls the wrong person. Every failure, to me, is a pain."



Reading this, I was reminded of something pretty powerful that Mother Teresa once said. This would-be saint, who had served the poorest, the sickest in the worst of conditions imaginable; remarkably said: "The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God." Just thinking about the fact that Mother Teresa said this over 20 years ago, long before the internet was something we could carry with us in a cell phone-way ... before any of us imagined the technological advances that would occur, sort of makes it all the more depressing when you think about it. I think many would agree that culturally and sociologically, this greatest disease, this lack of love, has metastasized to such an extent that we’re trying to build machines, program our devices to, if not cure it, at least address some of its symptoms.
For the last few weeks at Sunday Mass, we’ve been hearing this back and forth between those who didn’t accept Jesus, who were trying to entrap Him, accuse Him, discount Him, raise more critics or opponents to Him. So, this passage we just heard picks up from this ongoing debate. Today we hear how another scholar comes forward and comes at this a different way. He asks, of all the Laws that the Jews had, and they had a lot – not just the 10 commandments, there were over 613 laws that could be found in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) – out of all of those - which one was the most important. The reason this was another "trap" was that a variety of Jewish leaders, teachers would all have had different answers to that. Depending on how Jesus answered, he could be attacked or mocked. He could lose followers with one answer (it was like an ancient example of a modern political debate, one wrong answer and you’re done) And just like we’ve heard these. past few weeks. with each of this back-and-forth, Jesus’ speaks in such a clever way that He is able to get out of whatever bind that he’s presented with.

On the surface, today’s response seems like he’s answering by not answering. He doesn’t choose one of the 613 they were expecting. Jesus answers by saying "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind... you shall love your neighbor as yourself."  In saying this, Jesus is shifting our entire perspective on all the laws... all the Commandments. They are all about Love. We don’t follow His commands, we don’t obey His word out of fear... we do it because that’s the only thing that we can offer Him. The only thing God could possibly want for us is living in right relationship with Him. By coupling this with the command to "love your neighbor as yourselves," Jesus is pointing out that most of the laws and commands that God has laid out for us is about how we treat one another. That’s what we heard in that first reading coming from the Old Testament book of Exodus. "Thus says the Lord" the reading began as it called us to be attentive to the alien, the widow, the orphan. Because each of them were on their own, they were the most vulnerable in society and so the expectation was that everyone needed to protect them, take care of them.
Jesus takes it to another level in saying more than just taking care of them, more than protecting them, we’re called to love them and all of our neighbors. That might sound strange because the word "Love" has been so misused and misunderstood in our day and age. Sometimes people say the word "love", when they actually mean is "lust" or "taking advantage" of someone.

Love is something that costs something, means something and demands something. Love is more than a feeling. Love is a choice, a decision. Love in the Christian understanding is perfected in Jesus laying down His life for us on the Cross. When we lay down our own desires, wants, needs; when we are willing to "die to self" for another – whether it’s seen in the parent’s taking care of dirty diaper in the middle of the night; the child giving their allowance to a charity; the college student waking up early on a Saturday morning to help at a Soup Kitchen - in these and countless other ways, we see glimmers of that Love reflected in our own lives.
But the other thing we should note is that this isn’t one sided. When Jesus’ highlights this "command" to Love God in this way, He is revealing something really important. He’s telling us this is how He loves us. God – the creator of the universe - loves you and me with all His heart, all His Soul, all His Mind. Jesus invites us to let those words penetrate our lives. To open ourselves to experiencing that Love - in His word; in His body and blood in the Eucharist. And even more, to live that Love - sharing our very selves with one another. It’s overwhelming when we think about it and can seem unbelievable.
Yet we know that each and everyone of us has that deep hunger for love, that deep hunger for God. You and I, and the rest of the world desperately is seeking to experience it... and needs it. As wonderfully advanced as the developers might work with each future upgrade, that’s not something we can ask Alexa to assist us with. It is something e-devices will never understand.
Instead, it is something that Jesus explicitly puts on to you, me, and every single one of his followers to fulfill.
 

REPAY TO APPLE WHAT BELONGS TO APPLE?

Hi everyone - here's my homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time OCTOBER 22, 2017.  The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102217.cfm Thanks as always for stopping by to read this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, reddit and twitter; and for your comments and feedback.  I'm grateful for your support and interest!  Have a great week - God Bless, Fr Jim


HOMILY:
A few weeks ago Apple announced after months and months of speculation whether there would be an iPhone 8, an iPhone 10 (celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first iPhone) that in fact there would be both. The iPhone 8 which is an improvement over last year’s iPhone 7s with a new camera and new processor, better battery life was released in September. In a few months the new iPhone X which is a total redesign with even more perks including facial recognition, larger screen, smaller body, that can be recharged without plugging it in and weighs less will be available. Oh there’s another difference between the two phones: iPhone X will cost about $1000 (or $50 a month for 24 months) $200 more than the iPhone 8.


I’ve had iPhones for the last 6 or 7 years... can’t even remember to be honest. And I’m kind of shocked how much this thing has become a part of my life. Far from a phone, it’s what keeps me connected to the world whether it’s the internet, social media; it has games which can be somewhat addictive (love competing with my mother on Words with Friends) I can even read books on it; and the Waze GPS app on this thing has saved me from traffic jams I don’t even know how many times.

Like clock work, I had just made my last payment for the iPhone 7 and now these new models were being offered. In the past I dutifully followed the directions to sell that phone and upgrade to a new model. It was just general busyness - coupled with confusion about how much of a difference there was between the two models (other than the price) that had stopped me from completing the friendly email reminder from iPhone to pre-order today!


Well about a week or two ago, driving in Manhattan, from the distance I could see an Apple store and I started thinking"oh shoot that’s right, I could’ve had the iPhone 8 already... I wonder if I should wait a few more weeks and just get the X... but then some people are saying you want to wait on that because there might be some glitches yet..." That was the interior dialogue that was going back and forth in my head when I saw him. This middle aged guy across the street on the corner with a sign that I couldn’t make out (but instantly knew what it said) along with a cup in his hand which most people people seemed to not see or ignore as they looked at some model of iPhone or other phone as they walked past him. I felt embarrassed and ashamed over the inner debate I was having.

Because the reality is, this iPhone is fine. It’s more than fine. It does more than I even know it can... I’m sure of it. And before I simply upgrade for some other upgrades I have no idea how to use or how in such small somewhat insignificant way it improves my life, does it warrant another $50 a month?

Reading today’s Gospel - this familiar back and forth between Jesus and this new group of Jews that want to quarrel with him (last week it was the Pharisees - now it’s the Herodians) there’s the brilliant, masterful way Jesus bypasses the trap that they had set for him. Saying they shouldn’t pay the tax would side with the Jews who were angry about being occupied by the Romans but would get him in some major trouble with the Romans. As would saying the opposite not appease both sides. By pointing out the hypocrisy of those asking the question - who by the fact that they were carrying the Roman coin had in a sense already bought into the Roman Empire’s currency so they really had no room to ask whether they should pay the tax what was lawful (it’s like holding a pornographic magazine and saying "is it moral for people to make this magazine or publish it or not? you already bought the magazine)

So Jesus points out - they’ve signed onto this government’s authority by using this economic system, so they have to fulfill their obligations to it: Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar... But then he adds and give to God what belongs to God.

More than just a church-state discussion... More than what is just to pay to the government as a Christian (or a devout Jew) - this Gospel asks us to go deeper... Who have I made my Caesar and What does belong to God? Repay to Apple what belongs to apple.

Jesus isn’t dismissive of the everyday concerns of human life. He’s not saying taxes aren’t important. And looking at the Gospels we know that he enjoyed meals and wine which all cost money as well (sure, He made the wine out of water in Cana, but the rest of the wedding cost some money as well). But that’s where the homeless guy outside the Apple Store did give me a gut check. - Perhaps I have given Apple enough... and perhaps God is asking me to revisit my priorities and seeing am I giving Him all that he deserves?


You guys as college students - you’re on budgets. And so it’s a little bit limited now. But not completely. I know in my own time in college (as long ago as that may be) if 10,000 Maniacs were coming to the Meadowlands - it wasn’t even a question I was going to the concert... when a CD came out that I really wanted, I magically had no problem putting the cash out, and if my friends asked if I wanted to go to a Yankee game the financial cost wasn’t even an issue. But when someone would ask me to donate for something, then I became an accountant and started looking at how much cash, how much I had in my checking account...

It’s an intensely intimate, personal question that demands some self reflection and maturity on each of our part. It’s too easy or to simple to simply say "don’t buy that phone if you love Jesus"... And that’s not what Jesus is saying. Rather Jesus wants us to look in our heart and see what are the priorities. what are the things we’ve singed on for. And even more, have I made Him a priority that I even ask what belongs to Him?

A HEART OVERFLOWING WITH GRATITUDE

Newman Catholic Chapel - late last night/early this morning

Looking at my watch it's about 1 am... The last of our cleanup crew left a couple of hours ago (not that we're "done done"... we were just done by then) and I had stopped back in our chapel.  Earlier in the day, we had temporarily moved the altar, pulpit and presider's chair outside to the tent we had raised for the 50th Anniversary Celebration - and at one point when I was leading Cardinal Tobin out to the reception, I watched as several of our "kids" carefully brought the altar back inside.  In a night that was filled with many, many, many beautiful mental snapshots - that one hit me stopping back in here to offer a simple prayer of thanksgiving.  It kind of is a perfect mental image for me right now.

So many of our "senior alumni" who I had just met for the first time this evening - some from as far back as the late 1950's  didn't stop raving about "your kids."  How welcoming they were... How interested they were to hear stories from their time here at Newman.    At one point earlier in the evening, one of those "kids" said to me "Father - you look like you're shining" - which I laughed and dismissively said "it must be the medication..."(I've been a little stressed with all these preparations the last few weeks) but truthfully - I was glowing with pride and joy.  Just to see so many people who had very deep, profound memories from the past (I remember when a friend of mine died back in 1972 how this was the place we came to grieve, to pray for her... I can't explain what an impact that has on me to this day) to hear from them how happy they were to see the "Newman of today" -- to in a sense validate what I know to be true and I'm privileged to be a part of each and every day - the unique opportunity it is to share our faith as a community - and to nurture the faith of these young people. 

That reminder... this whole celebration... not even the Yankees losing game 7 could diminish this joy :)

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.